“Shinigami” Demonic Horror by Mick Benderoth

My divorce. Signed, sealed, delivered. Rid of the bastard. Sitting in my new apartment, free, reborn, Miss. Not Mrs.

My art collection, Pollack, Klee, Jim Dine, a few Atget photos and my prize, a  signed Picasso sketch from his “artist and models” series I bought years ago when I ventured to Mus’ee Picasso in Antibes. Art all up. Left facing a large, empty white wall. Nothing to hang.

My friend, Geisho Moraki, told me of an up and coming Japanese American woman who just won a Guggenheim fellowship. She had been trained at The Mona Lisa Room, in the Louvre. Her name was Moishi Suroshi. She took commissions. I called her. She was charming and outgoing. “Come on by anytime. I’m always here”.

“Noon, tomorrow?”

“Cool. I’ll steep a fresh pot of green tea. We can chat, do a little bonding, like to know something about who wants my work. See they get a good home”.

Moishi’s studio. Washington Square, Greenwich Village. Uber pulls up to an old brownstone, scaffolding up the face, under renovation. I climb the steps, find Moishi’s name on the intercom. Press. Nothing. Press harder. Nothing. Then, the door jars open wide enough for a short, Asian crone to stick her head out. She has a squinched, wrinkled face, long uncombed white hair streaming down her back, no teeth. Hoarsely screeches, “Intercon don’t work. Can’t fix it. Donno know why. I’m the caretaker. Have to open the damn door all day. Who you looking for?”

“I have an appointment with Moishi Suroshi”.

“Oh yeah, that artist girl in the penthouse loft. Take the elevator. If it works. If not, long walk up steps, six flights. Good luck”.

Thank god the rattle trap elevator works. I walk down the hall toward an open door, bright daylight streaming out. Smell of oil and Turps fills the air like perfume. I lean in. Call. “Moishi, Moishi Suroshi?”

Musical voice echoes, “Maddy Guilford?”

“That’s me.”

“Be right out. Teas steeping.”

The loft was gynormous, half studio, half living space. Moishi’s paintings adorn the walls. An abstract expressionist, Moishi’s use of color, texture, stunning. A beautiful young woman in paint splashed Oshkos overalls comes from behind a large ornate tapestry  dividing the space. She carries a tray with a black metal teapot and two cups. Sets it on a small table.

“Nice to me you, Maddy. Holds out her hand. “Moishi Suroshi. We shake. Moishi artfully pours the tea. I lift my cup, take a sip. Hot, hot, hot. Intoxicating. I feel exhilarated, yet relaxed.

Moishi sits on her stool in front of her easel  that holds a painting in progress.

“Geisho, told me you have a Klee, a Dine, an original, signed Picasso, thank god no Warhol, a fine place for a painting to live. So, what do you have in mind?” Knock at her door. Moishi answers. The old crone’s head pops in, ”You rent due soon. You always forget. Remember this time”. Old crone’s squinted, cloudy eyes stare too long at Moishi. Wild crooked grin. Never breaking eye contact, crones pulls head out, closes door. Uncomfortable. Moishi, “Sorry about that. You were saying…”.

Me, “I don’t have a clue. I have a big white wall, so, something, something…?” Suddenly the studio turns cold, ice cold. I shiver, continue, “Something that…”Moishi abruptly cuts me off. Her face ashen, her eyes wide, motionless. Moishi, brashly, “Horizontal. Two feet by six, black on white primed canvas, Japanese calligraphy.” She snatches her sketch pad, a hunk of charcoal, slashes out twelve Japanese letters. Collapses on her stool, charcoal drops to the floor. Face color returns, “That was so weird. Flashes through my mind. My hand, I don’t know. It wasn’t mine, just wrote”.

Me, awkwardly jocular, “Your, your muse took control”.

Moishi, elsewhere, “Something like that.”

Me, spell-breaking, “Well, it’s extraordinary, bold, stark, commanding. I…I love it”

Moishi, resolute, “Finish it tonight.”

“Wow. Do you always work so fast?’

Softly, “Never. Never. A slowpoke”. Then curtly,This piece…demands…fast!

Take out my checkbook, “Your fee?”

Still brash, “I’ll price it when it’s finished. Pick itup in the morning. I have to get it to where it belongs”. Now wearily, “If…if you don’t mind, I’m  suddenly terribly tired”.

Me, perplexed, “I…I understand. What’s a good time to…?”

“Early, very, very early.”

“Nine?”

Curtly, again. “Earlier. Earlier. Six, seven. It will be ready”. She stands. Body trembling. Slips behind the tapestry.

Momentarily motionless. I feel confused, unsettled. Moishi’s  mood swings strange. Go figure.

In the hall. “Damn!” The elevator’s out. I take off my heels, stumble down six flights, through the front door. Holding my shoes, barefoot, I

hail a cab, go home. Hand shaking, I pour some scotch. Too much. Pop a Xanax. Out like a…

Morning. My cell alarm pulls me from a deep sleep. Six am. I quickly dress, call Uber.

Moishi’s building. I don’t ring. I knock. The old woman snarls out. “She not here. She gone”.

“Gone? I came to pick up a painting. She said she’d be waiting.”

“Well, she ain’t here. Left this note.” I grab it. Rip it open.

Note: “Couldn’t wait. Had it sent.”

Sent? What the hell? Call Uber. Head home. Package room. Immediately. Murry behind the counter, “Perfect time, Mrs.…”

Irritably. “Miss, now. Now, Miss”.

“Big package. Think the guys will have to take it up when they’re free.”

“Fuck that! If the damn thing’s not in my apartment immediately I’ll…”

“Ok, ok. I’ll…I’ll take it up myself”.

My apartment. More Xanax. Scotch chaser. This is way, way off normal. Not new normal. Weird normal.

Doorbell. Murry with the painting. Wrapped haphazardly, in linen. Linen? I tip Murry. He leaves. I unwrap. There it is. On canvas. Moishi’s sketch realized. Mesmerizing. Need to get it hung immediately.

Measure once, measure twice. My father, a carpenter. Use three twenty-pound hooks. Unframed, it has no wire. Hang it just the way itis. Problem solved, artfully. Owns the wall. Someone has to see it. I spontaneously invite Geisho, his wife Allison, Mary Ann, my paralegal, and Randall, right and left-hand man, over to see my acquisition. They all show. I have the painting draped in the linen. Unveiling. “Ta dah!’ I whisk off the drape. Gasps, praise from all but Geisco. He’s laughing. “Jesus. She painted you that. It’s a riot.”

I snap, “What are you talking about? What’s so damn funny?’

“Your painting. The word  is Shinigami. A Japanese demon, the death bringer. The myth says his name should never be written. It will free him. A fairy tale. She pulled a fast one you”. They all join in laughing, laughing at my painting.

Sensing my displeasure, they leave. I sit facing…Shinigami, feeling like a fool. Two glasses of wine, a Xanax.

In bed watching the late news. On the screen, an ambulance, police, crowd of onlookers, the Hudson waterfront. Some guy talking. “I was jogging. Saw it wedged between the rocks. Checked it out. Dead body…no fucking head.” TV reporter grimly faces the camera. “Finger print analysis  identified the body as Moishi Suroshi, a local artist. Apparent macabre murder”. Freaked, I frantically grabble for the remote. Turn it off. Moishi. Murdered. More Xanax. Down for the count. Images flash. Geisho, Allison, Mary Anna, and Randall’s faces. Huge distorted feces, laughing hysterically at my painting. Deep rasping echo of a voice, reverberates through my mind. “Kill them. Kill them. Saw me. Kill all.” Nightmare.

Geisho’s apartment door. I stand wearing a shower curtain, slit cut at the top for my head. A gleaming sharp meat clever in my hand. I knock. Geisho answers. “Maddy, what are you doing…never finishes. Swish! Geshco’s head thumps to the floor. Blood spurts from his neck. Splashes the ceiling. His trunk collapses. Blood spurts, spurts, spurts from his neck stub with last few heartbeats.

Allison runs from the kitchen. She screams. Swish! Thump. Two heads. Husband and wife, facing each other on the floor.

Dead of night. Walking down an alley. Throw cleaver into a dumpster. Repeat with the blood drenched shower curtain.

Sit up quaking in my bed. Sweat running down my face. Dash to kitchen, pour a stiff scotch. Drink it down. Gotta cut back on the drinking. Shower. Go to the office. The place in chaos. Randall, tears stream down his face. “He’s dead. Both dead. Geisho and Allision. Horrible. Horrible.” Shoves the Daily News into my hand. Front page, “Lawyer/Wife beheaded”. Dead faint. Flashes. Blood. Blood. More blood…everywhere. Regain consciousness. Confused. Staff surrounds my chair. We commiserate over our horrid loss. I go home. Scotch. Xanax.

Morning, hung over, I have coffee seated at my marble bistro table. I can’t process. Moishi, Geisho, Allison. Suddenly I shake out of control. My head snaps to the painting. Cold sweat. Mind blanks. Unearthly voice. “Kill him, kill him. Saw me. Kill him.”  Black out. Nightmare. Randall’s distorted, laughing face. The Voice, kill him, kill him, saw me, kill him.

Randal’s gym. Men’s locker room. He’s putting on workout clothes. I’m there. Randal, shocked. “Maddy? How the hell did you…? Cleaver. Swish! Thump.

Wake up on my bedroom floor. Blood covered. It was no dream. Am I the killer? The painting? Shinigami? Not possible. I rush into the living room. Grab letter opener from my desk. Slash! Slash! Slash! Rip the painting to shreds. Pull it off the wall. On the floor. Kick it! Kick it…manically. Smash the frame. Carry it to the utility room. Jam it down incinerator chute. What in god’s name should I do now? I go back to my apartment. Panic attack! “Dear God! The painting! Back on my wall. Drop into a chair. Mental white out. Mary Ann’s face. The voice, “Kill her, kill her. Saw me. Kill her.”

Mary Ann’s apartment. I hide around the corner. She exits dressed for work. Sneakers on, dress shoes in hand, New York style. I turn the corner. Walk quickly behind her. She hears. Turns.”Matty?”

Swish! Thump. Roll. My apartment. Still seated. Eyes locked on the painting. Slowly, slowly, indescribable monster materializes. Is it smiling? Speaks. Shinigami. It points. Speaks. “Kill…you, kill you. Saw me. Kill you”. Entranced. I stroll zombie-like to the kitchen. Take butcher knife from drawer. Automatically draw it across sharpening steel. Return to Shinigami, its voice repeating, “Kill you, kill you, saw me, kill you.”  Knife pursed. I methodically slit my throat. Blood gush. Hit the floor. Barely alive. Foggy eyed. Apartment door opens. Old Japanese crone steps over my body, smiling toothlessly. Takes painting off the wall. Last words I hear. Crone speaks to painting. “All done. We go now”. That voice, horrifyingly content, “Yes, yes, go now, all dead, all dead, go now.” The crone drags Shinigami out the door. My last breath gurgles.


Mick Benderoth was a screenwriter/filmmaker working in Hollywood. He now lives and writes in New York City. Contact: alexanderbenderoth@gmail.com


“The Flea” Horror by Antaeus

Yannick Cassady was fussy about his hair. It had to be brushed ‘just so’ at all times. The obsession was a carryover from his childhood. His mother always brushed his hair the same way before he went off to school. But, unfortunately, she had died when he was ten, and his father followed soon after.

Until he joined the Army at seventeen, Yannick was raised by his abusive, short-tempered uncle and his kindly, fastidious aunt. The only thing that kept him grounded was combing his hair like his mother used to. His quick temper was his uncle’s legacy and his forgiving nature, when he evoked it, a gift from his aunt.

Some people would go so far as to call him finicky but not to his face. You see, Yannick was constantly being pulled in two directions. Sometimes he could be a quick-tempered brute of a man and at other times a sympathetic and caring friend.

Besides being overly concerned about his hair, Yannick was regimented in his routine. It was a holdover from his Army days. Out of bed by 6 a.m. sharp, he was in and out of the shower by 6:20. Breakfast was usually finished by 6:45. Finally, Yannick would be dressed and groomed by 7:29. The routine never varied, not in thirty years.

By 7:33 a.m. on workdays, the sour-faced ‘Loan Aficionado’ was always out of the house and on the road. In fact, the cell phone on the bathroom counter read exactly 7:30 a.m. when the big man looked into the bathroom mirror before heading out the door.

That’s when Yannick noticed the flea.

The fastidious, middle-aged loan officer couldn’t believe his eyes as he watched the flea jump from the shoulder of his immaculate white shirt onto his hair. The voice of Mrs. Fisher, his high school biology teacher, echoed in Yannick’s head. Fleas are parasites that feed on blood. They use that blood to fertilize the fifty eggs per day that they lay.

Yannick bent over the sink with trepidation and ruffled his perfectly groomed hair. He saw two fleas fall into the white marble sink. He crushed one with his thumb and missed the other. The second flea leaped from the sink with a jump that would make Javier Sotomayor’s world record high jump look minuscule. It jumped again and disappeared into a small crevice at the edge of the vanity.

The digital readout on the cellphone blinked and read 7:32. Yannick began to panic. My hair, my hair. It’s a mess, and I’m going to be late for work!

Luckily, when Yannick ran the brush through his hair, every strand fell into place like the obedient little fiber soldiers they were. By 7:35, he was in his SUV and, tires squealing, headed downtown to the Littlefinger Bank.

* * *

The security guard unlocked the door and greeted a red-faced Yannick. “Good morning Mr. Cassady,” he said. The angry senior loan officer just brushed past the guard without answering. As he rushed by, Yannick’s shoulder connected with the guard’s chest. Off-balance, the guard started to fall but grabbed the door handle and righted himself before he toppled over. Yannick hurried to his office without apologizing.

The other bank employees gave each other the “Stay away from him today” look. Most of them had suffered through one of his verbal beatings and didn’t want to experience it again. Even the bank manager returned to his office and shut his door.

Yannick hurled his briefcase into a corner and sat behind his desk as he recalled Mrs. Fisher’s warning. A female flea can consume fifteen times its body weight in human blood daily.

The former high school wrestler’s muscles bulged when his head began to itch again. He’d been fighting the urge to scratch his head all the way into work. Yannick reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a hand mirror. He had to see where the itching was coming from. Flea bites cause painful, itchy red bumps and their eggs hatch in only one day. More of Mrs. Fisher’s trivia he didn’t need or want to know.

Was that a little red bump at the very edge of his hairline? Yes, there was a small red bump there. That was the exact spot causing all the itching. Yannick swore a string of cuss words that would have made a bowlegged, old salt of a sailor proud.

Just then, there was a knock at the office door. “What!” Yannick cried.

“Mr. Cassady, Mr. Brennen, your nine o’clock is here,” his secretary said.

“Can’t you see I’m busy? Tell that loser to come back tomorrow, or I’ll foreclose on that shithole he calls a house.”

“Yes, Mr. Cassady, I tell him to come back tomorrow.”

“No. Wait a second, Brenda.”

Yannick took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Quick to boil and quick to cool, that’s my boy,” his mother used to say. He recited these words as though repeating a mantra, and he felt himself growing calm.

“Tell Mr. Brennen I’m giving him a ninety-day extension to pay his mortgage and tell him I’m sorry to hear about his wife’s passing. By the end of ninety days, thanks to the late payment interest fees, what he owns will double, then I’ll foreclose on the jerk.

And, Brenda, ask Reno the guard to come into my office, please.”

Brenda’s voice had a friendly tone when she answered this time. “Yes, certainly, Mr. Cassady.” She seemed impressed that Yannick, usually an unforgiving loan officer, was acting with compassion, which was entirely out of character.

When Reno came into his office, Yannick apologized for knocking him down and gave him two tickets for dinner at the new steakhouse in town.

Dumb guard. Now he’ll go out of his way to be nice to me. Better owed than to be owed. That’s my motto. Those tickets didn’t cost me a cent. I told the restaurant owner that he’d have to give me two dozen free meals if he wanted me to okay his business loan.

The rest of the day found Yannick canceling appointments and watching the little red bumps multiply. By closing time, he was pounding fleas on his desk, but he never scratched his itchy head, not even once. Finally, when quitting time came, the frustrated loan officer broke his routine, and for the first time in thirty years, he was the first one out the door.

* * *

Yannick was in such a hurry to get home and into the shower that he was doing eighty miles an hour on a two-lane forty MPH road. The road started to curve, and that’s when he felt the flea bite his ankle. Yannick tried to ignore the bite at first, but the flea bit him again and again. He was beside himself with anger as his ankle began to itch like a bad sunburn.

Reaching down with a hand the size of a small ham, Yannick scratched his ankle. When he brought his hand back to the steering wheel, he could feel something crawling among the hairs on the back of his hand.

His rage reaching new heights, Yannick smacked the back of his right hand with his left. The blow was so powerful that it caused the steering wheel to jerk downward. The car swerved to the right side of the road and headed for the guard rail. Yannick quickly shoved the steering wheel to the left, overcompensated, and had to jerk it to the right again. The flea jumped down to the floor and began biting his ankle again.

When he glanced into the rearview mirror, Yannick saw that his face was the color of a beet, and his eyes were bulging like they were trying to leave their sockets. When the flea bit him again, Yannick looked down, smacked his ankle, and watched the flea jump away. That’s when the thin veneer of a civilized man shattered, and he reverted to an apelike mentality.

Shouting a string of profanities, the near-insane man began to pound the floor with his fist, trying to crush the flea. Time and time again, he tried, and time and time again, he missed.

A flea can jump thirty-thousand times without stopping. Mrs. Fisher’s piece of useless trivia only served to fuel Yannick’s anger. Now every fiber of the crazed man’s being was focused on only one thing, crushing the flea.

Thump went the big man’s fist hitting the floor. Smack went his fist when it hit the passenger seat. Thud went his fist on the center console.

“I’ll kill you, you little bastard. I’ll crush you, just like I crushed your partner,” he shouted.

When Yannick heard the sound of an airhorn, he looked up just in time to see the bumper of an approaching semi fill his windshield.

* * *

When he regained consciousness, the groggy loan officer found himself pinned to his seat by the SUV’s dashboard. Evidently, he had reflexively steered the vehicle away from the semi and into the dense woods. The windshield was gone, and the giant oak before him had made the front of the SUV’s hood look like an accordion.

Yannick flexed his fingers and toes and was surprised to find that everything worked. He thanked God that he wasn’t paralyzed, just pinned immobile by the dash and steering wheel. He gave a tentative push with his arms; the dashboard didn’t move. He pushed harder and felt something wet slide down from his forehead. It tasted like blood.

Angry now, the barrel-chested man leaned forward and pushed with all the strength he had. The dashboard creaked but didn’t budge.

It was growing late, and the sounds of cars on the road had diminished significantly. The wood grew quiet as Yannick looked into the rearview mirror, which had somehow survived the windshield’s destruction.

His bloodshot eyes took in the path of destruction the SUV had made when it barreled into the woods. Yannick could see the guard rail beyond the swath of devastation. The railing had been peeled back like a ripe banana. It lay, like a limp penis, on the slope leading down to the woods.

Damn semi driver never even stopped. Who doesn’t stop to help a person who’s in trouble? Someone who’s doing something illegal, that’s who. Oh, well, someone will see the wrecked guard rail in the morning and call 9-1-1—nothing to do now but wait for daylight.

As the setting sun’s dappled rays illuminated the SUV’s crumpled hood, Yannick noticed the fleas hopping toward the shattered windshield. There were thousands of the little critters—no, more like millions of the tiny bloodsuckers—and they were all headed toward him.

Once again, Mrs. Fisher spoke to the panicking man. A female flea can consume fifteen times its body weight in human blood daily.

Yannick’s skin paled when he saw what was following them—thousands upon thousands of ticks.

Ticks are tiny bloodsucking parasites. So Mrs. Fisher said in her schoolteacher’s voice, inside Yannick’s head. They can grow to hold six hundred times their body weight when they have not fed.

When the powerless man heard the high-pitched whine of mosquitoes, he looked up, and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Their numbers blackened the fading sky.

Now you’re in big trouble, Yannick, Mrs. Fisher’s voice seemed to say. Mosquitoes can drink three times their weight in blood, and there’s an awful lot of them. As the Army of bloodsuckers converged on the helpless victim, Yannick screamed.


Antaeus writes from a lakefront home in Southwest Florida (USA).


“Musk” Fiction by Mehreen Ahmed

“Not even the fragrant musk was as intoxicating as this story.” 

The storyteller told sitting on a swollen root of an aged tree on the edge of a forest. He addressed a gathering of enthralled people.

One dreary afternoon, under the opaque clouds, when the mists had curtained much of the peninsula’s profile, a tea boy made tea. He had a stall near the same place where the storyteller was also telling his stories. It was the boy’s job to make tea as long as the storytelling lasted. He made it in an iron cast kettle over a makeshift stove kindled by dry wood and brown leaves. The kettle steam was a beacon that fueled the desire of many to travel thus far. The brew carried a distinctive aroma.

The storyteller had a large following. They gathered here not just to listen to the story but also to indulge in the hot tea served from the stall. This storytelling helped the boy’s business to flourish. The boy poured the tea in small pottery bowls and handed them over to the rapt listeners. The more they drank, the more they listened.

This tea boy was an orphan. He was fifteen. He lived with the storyteller who had adopted the child when he lost his parents in the last great flood. They had lived on the sea line of a rugged peninsula. This place didn’t have much to offer apart from a school, a spice bazaar, and a few odd dry-fish shops. 

Deeper into the woods on the same peninsula, the storyteller now lived with the boy. They lived in a hut near a shaded pond. Tall poplars and their verdant saplings rendered much of this shade. In the evening, when they lit a lantern in the hut, a glow would illuminate a darkly spot outside and light up a pond’s pod corner. The jungle’s wild animals transformed in the full moon, especially the musk deer. This sparked the storyteller’s imaginations.

Neither the jungle nor the deer knew what treasure it possessed, not at least until the musk pods were wrenched out of the deer bodies. The deer didn’t know how crazy earthlings was for its musk. It couldn’t smell its own. The others could. The sensuous properties drove humans to madness, wild with gluttony where fantasy fed reality.

Where would they stop, though? How far would they go to get it? Not even the formidable amazon could stop them. And it was not just the musk but insatiable human greed … said the storyteller and stooped to pick up an object loosely stuck on the bottom of the tree trunk. His breathing intensified. Inch by inch they stole the natural providence. They ate away like bite-sized like termites into the planet without replenishing: poaching animals, cutting trees, mining gemstones: red rubies, green sapphires, blue lapis lazuli, the sparkling diamonds. His audience listened mesmerized as he told them this old story retold, and the tea boy to sell innumerable kava clay bowls. His coffers filling up soon with silver coins and gold jewels.

No matter, this storytelling was free. No one ever paid to listen. But drinking tea was essential, said the storyteller. Because the delightful tea glued those stories together. Even on a hot day, it had to be served. People tread miles to come here to listen, but more so for the thirst of the tea. No other could make it like this boy, magic in the brew, the word rang true.

One day it happened. The storyteller stopped and looked closer at the object he held in the tip of the index finger. It was a cast-away gold ring that also had a story to it. 

“What happened?” the listeners gasped. 

Sitting on the ground, they looked at him hooked to the hot tea. Today, the mist of the day and the tea vapour played a twister in the sky.

“The tea boy became sick,” said the storyteller. “He couldn’t make tea anymore. The boy lay cold on the ground of his hut groaning in agony.”

“Oh no!” the listeners gasped.

There was no afternoon tea. People fidgeted and looked at the empty stall. But the tea never came. 

“It was not the story, you see?” the storyteller told. “But it was his tea which brought them here.”

Where was the boy anyway? His listeners wanted to know. They demanded to see him. He grimaced and pouted his mouth in hesitation. But they were adamant. They stood up, held hands, and formed a niche circle fomenting unrest. They protested in a slogan, “no tea, no story” and walked in the circle. In the beating heart, this addiction baffled the storyteller who then realised that he had failed to stir them. He morosely nodded his sage white head as he relented and asked them to follow him to the hut.  By then, the night had fallen a full moon lit up a yellow pathway.

It was a menacing jungle. But people didn’t mind. They walked over sodden leaves, shed snakeskins, dry blood, fallen horns and ivory, torn human clothing, hanging bats, and swinging monkeys. They must find the boy. They paced up and they reached the hut beyond the poplar pond. The bare bone sat unadorned on earth’s blue bowl. Not stark as Mars, Earth’s fowl-play tarred and scarred.

The storyteller asked them to wait outside as he went in to find the boy. But people were restless. They couldn’t wait it out. The mob forced themselves into the hut and looked in a frenzy for the prized fugitive. However, when they searched the small hut, they didn’t find him, at all. What they found though, was the last thing they had dreamed of. They found a white-bellied musk deer instead. He was the same small size as the tea boy, lying lengthwise across the space without a musk pod.


Mehreen Ahmed is widely published and critically acclaimed by Midwest Book Review, DD Magazine, The Wild Atlantic Book Club to name a few. Her short stories are a winner in The Waterloo Short Story Competition, Shortlisted in Cogito Literary Journal Contest, a Finalist in the Fourth Adelaide Literary Award Contest, winner in The Cabinet of Heed stream-of-consciousness challenge. Her works are three-time nominated for The Best of the Net Awards, nominated for the Pushcart Prize Award. Her book is an announced Drunken Druid’s Editor’s Choice.


“They Flew Over the Mountains” Fiction by Fariel Shafee

The figure lies at the corner, twisted and spread out, as though a matchstick figure has been trashed out with the junk.  The inside of the garage is smoggy and dark.  A musty smell floats in the air.  Cobwebs hang from edges of the gray wall.  It is, after all the second garage, the one that sits waiting for the special day.  Beside the car are stacks of discarded and unneeded broken pieces of a dynamic life – three legged chairs, smashed mirrors in decent frames that could be salvaged someday, the rag dolls with missing teeth or eyes that did not find a place in the almost full attic upstairs. 

Jane looks back at that figure.  She or her younger sister Sarah never possessed a doll the size of the object sprawling in the distant left by the wall.  It is the size of a real human, perhaps taller than herself.  She cannot see the clothes or the hair even as darkness settles as the norm and the rods begin to get busy in the eyes.  What lies is more a shadow than a man or stacked old clothing.   She squeezes her eyes as she reaches out for the light switch.  The white small board is hard to locate within the shelves and the haphazardly placed canisters.  The wall is rough.  Little bugs scurry as she feels the cracks on the wall.  Jane shivers.  She was not afraid of a spider or a lizard.  But did that large doll suddenly move?  Did it twitch?  Did she hear it moan?  A handful of dusty air swirls up, making it hard to conclude.

“Don’t,” somebody shouts.  The word is clear and the voice is deep.  There is authority in that tone.  Jane stops.  Something potent holds her back.  That something is pinned inside her mind and tells her to listen, obey. 

“Please don’t turn on the light,” the person now is pleading.  From the depth of the voice, she can place him between manhood and boyhood.  But he is confident.  He is certain even when he begs.

“Come here.  Help me.” 

Jane knows the boy is not a local.  He is not even from the country.  The accent is pointed, clear – from another era or from a story book.  Did a little green frog that had made that corner its abode suddenly become a prince?  Jane laughs.  She and her three mates were partying the night before.  Jane had put on a tiara and a large cape.  It was a fake tiara, cheap.  They had broken into this garage.  Diane had taken the car out.  They were playing hard rock from another age: “We built this city in rock and roll,” “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.” The drums were loud.  Mother and father were not expected before midnight.  But the police came.  The doleful, decrepit neighbor was not happy.

That’s why she is in the garage again.  It is her punishment.

She would have to take the car out, wash it.  Then she would have to stack the books.  After all those chores are done, she would have to read her own books, write a report and read it aloud.  On top of it all, she was grounded for three days.

“I need you,” the voice states again.  She is unsure if it is a command or a pleading this time.  If it indeed is a command, she does not mind becoming a temporary order bearer.  She feels compelled, attracted.  The crumpled figure is surely helpless, alone.  He would not grab her from the back, assault.  She knows that much even in the darkness.  Pity though does not drive her.  That charm that compelled is stronger.  It forces rather than empowers.  She is the one that’s weak here.

Jane now moves away from the wall, pushes back on the car, making herself believe that she can get in and dash out if she wishes.  Her legs though feel heavy.

“How did you get here?” she was the one who sounded guilty inside her own house.

“The door was open.”  There was indeed definitive reason for that guilt.  She had allowed him in – the sham princess in her drunken moments was the perpetrator.

“I am wounded.”

Jane feels a little numb, slightly squeamish.  Was there a shootout, or a fist fight?  Was he hiding from the police?

“Don’t worry.  I am not a criminal.”  He seems to read her mind.  Jane feels unprepared, embarrassed.

“Water,” he whispers.

“Of course,” she obliges.

As Jane puts the glass of cold water on the floor closer to the boy, she glimpses a partial view of the face.  It is pale, as though he has bled profusely.  His hair is dark and tidy.  His lips are thin and his nose is sharp.  She cannot see his eyes but she knows that they sparkle.  His body is lean and solidly built.  He is wearing a long coat.  The cut is different from what is sold in shopping malls.  Jane almost wants to touch him.

As though he can sense that feeling, the boy moves away.  Does she disgust him?  She almost wants to take away that glass and call the police, but then she does not.

The boy now looks at her.  His eyes are the blues of the ocean and they indeed shine.  He can see right into her soul.  She slides back close to the car and he drinks quickly, relishes, and then falls back on the floor, lies flat.

She picks up the glass and stumbles.  Would he know that the act was intentional?  As her hand touches his finger, she feels scared though.  She looks at him and asks almost immediately: “Should I call a doctor?”

He is as cold as a corpse.

“I am fine.”  He sounds strong, in command again.  “If you can, come back tomorrow.”

Jane goes back into the house, reads her books, writes a report as though she is an android.  All the words are there, but the lines make little sense.  Luckily, her parents are busy.  They don’t have time for inspection.  The report is five pages long.  Punishment has been served.

In the morning, before she leaves for school, Jane walks back into the garage.  She does not look for the light switch but walks up to that boy.

“I have a blanket for you,” she states.

“Thank you,” he is curt.

When Jane opens the door, a slice of the sun peeps in.  She scans the garage and then fixes on the figure that is partly lit.  The boy is almost a man.  He is pale still, but he looks gorgeous in his silky dark coat and with his immaculate look.  Everything about him is expensive.  But now he has shut his eyes, and he has brought his arms to the front to shield him from the world perhaps.  He looks strong yet scared.

“Shut it, please,” he blurts, as though he almost would have grabbed her, thrown her out if she misbehaved.  Jane does not feel threatened.  He looks strong, manly.  Jane wants to feel secure within that strength.

 She leaves, but she thinks of him all throughout the day.  When she goes back in the evening, she carries with her two boxes: takeout from the diner across the street.  She has brought soup for him, made of fresh thyme and mussels and she has gotten a large pork chop.

“For me?” he whispers.

Jane nods.

She knows that he is smiling, but he does not touch the food.

“Were you afraid that I would die?” he asks, as though Jane should have been concerned, as if she knew him so intimately that she ought to have cared.

Jane nods.  She does not why.

“Would you like to live forever?” he questions.  The voice is raspy, tired.  Living forever must be boring.

Jane wants to laugh but does not.  She feels that same shiver again as she leaves the garage.  She now locks the door and puts the key inside her bag.  Mother should not be let in.  The stranger was not yet ready to walk out on his own.  His legs were spread like lifeless logs and his head was leaning against the wall.  Perhaps he is like the little bird that had fallen from the nest years back.  It was pale and weak as well, and could not stand up on its own.  Mother wanted her to throw it out.

“You will get a disease.  Plague!  Rabies!”  Mother was paranoid.  Birds did not transmit the plague.  Mice did.  This boy too would not kill.  He was sweet and strange.  It was unclear how he was wounded though.  Jane would have to get that story out by herself when she would come back in the evening.

When Jane returns in the evening, she brings in a piece of apple pie and a chicken roast leg, some mashed potatoes and a bottle of whiskey. 

“I feel better today,” the visitor announces.  “I will perhaps leave in a day or two.  You will not be bothered again.”

Jane does not want him to leave somehow.  She wants to know more, learn more.  Most of all, she wants to touch him – that expensive fabric and that pale chiseled face – the lean arms and the straight silky hair.

“I got you some food,” she declares, hoping to be appreciated.  That’s when she notices that the soup bowl is still full.

“If you want to live, forever or not, you’ve got to eat, you know.”

The faint smile could have been a smirk, a ridicule.  Jane feels sorry and annoyed.

“Do you like mashed potatoes?  I got you chicken.”

The figure nods and waits.  Jane does not leave.  She wants to hear the story.

“Have you ever seen how beautiful the world looks when you are flying above the alps?  It is all white, snowy.  No man.  Sometimes you see a small house here and there.”

The Alps are far away.  Jane does not see the connection.  Yet she feels transported to a zone of tranquil beauty, like the space contained within the creature in front of her.  She wants to ask if he was a pilot, if he owned a small plane.  But then the man speaks on his own:

“The disease.  Oh that was horrible.  How they all died like flies.  The blood. Oh.”

Jane is unsure what disease he was speaking of.  If something happened near the Alps, she would not have known.  News was never her penchant.

“They let them all die,” he whispers, and she feels the shiver again.  However, she quickly gains her footing, and finally musters her courage:

“Your injury.  How did you get hurt?”

The silhouette of the boy gets quiet.  He looks stiff, as though Jane had pulled him out from his reverie.

“I fell.”  The answer is curt and definitive.  He would not be saying more. 

“I feel better now,” he then adds in a softer tone.  “I shall be leaving by Thursday.  You will not be bothered further”

Jane feels insulted and annoyed at once.  She wants to know more.  She wants him to get closer.  She wants to touch that silky coat that has been cut and sewn by a master craftsman.  But she does not speak either.  She picks up the discarded food container and reaches out for the soup bowl.  She wants to touch his cheek, his forehead.  But just as she reaches for the bowl, the shadow retreats, crawls right into the darkness, further away from his host.

At night mother father, Jane and Sarah are at the dinner table together.  This is the first time in the week that they have made time to cherish the existence of each other.  Mother had several board meetings to attend.  Father had to see clients out of town.  Sarah had been busy with celeb gossip with her friends.  The friends and she had been to a club, Jane knows.  The parents had not been told.

A large bowl of pasta soaked in white sauce sits in the middle of the table.  Mother has baked the garlic bread sticks herself.  Then there is the apple pie.  That though has come from the supermarket.

Mother pours some cocktail into her tumbler and looks straight at Jane, as though time had shrunk to three days back.

“So, the garage is clean?” she sounds eloquent, chatty.

“yes, almost done.”

“Almost?”

”Well, I had to write the report.  You saw it.  I will finish it up tomorrow.”

Mother did not read that report, but pretends that she indeed did.  Stating otherwise would be bringing down her own self together with the daughter.

“I tried to get in today, but it is locked!” mother sounds surprised.

“Yes, I left the key somewhere.  Was extra careful after we kept it open that other night.”

Mother nods.

They all finish their pasta.  Sarah declares she would retire to her room to attend to important calls.  Jane knows she will listen to music, play video games.

Father gets up for coffee.

Jane makes it to her bed and thinks of snowy white mountains and of circling the sky in a small plane with a handsome millionaire.

In the morning, father drives both to school.  Mother does not use her car any more.  The office sends off her own sedan with a chauffeur.

On her way to class, Jane thinks briefly about her dreamy romantic escapade.  She is consumed by her new hero until the chatter of the students and the loud unkind voice of the teacher bring her back to reality.  She will HAVE to clean up the garage in the evening.  If that boy is still wounded, she should call up his family or take him to a clinic.  She thinks of discussing the issues with Lara, her best friend gawking perpetually from within her large black spectacles, but she does not.  Her secret bird was too pretty for the time being.  The girls were mean, even if some were best friends.

In the afternoon, when class is over, Jane googles the list of local hospitals and jots down some numbers.  She also gets a torchlight and a pair of new batteries.  If the visitor were to be shifted to the medical center, she could not use their family car.  So, she checks numbers for the local taxi.  She would also need an excuse.  So, she sends a text to Lara, asks her to meet at the mall at eight pm sharp.

When she opens the garage door, she feels a cheerful vibe.  Nothing has changed, but perhaps someone did shift, evolve.

“I feel much better,” he says.  “I will leave tomorrow.”

In the shadows, Jane sees the empty boxes lying around.  “Good you ate,” she says. 

“So tomorrow, I won’t be here.  Thank you.”  The man is authoritative.  He has taken his decision.  Jane just did her job.

She feels a deluge of rage all of a sudden.  Maybe she does not know what this unseemly feeling is about.  Did she want him to hug her, kiss her, take her to the alps?  Perhaps, he could have offered a number, an address, or an invitation?

“I will have to see your wound,” Jane is equally commanding now.  “I cannot just let you leave my house, injured and in this manner.  I will have to see.  I will have to take you to a doctor.”

“No,” the man demands.  “I say stop there.  Go back.  I am thankful for all you did.”

Jane’s anger does not recede.  Somehow, she feels used. 

“Come on, let me see that,” she commands as she turns on the torch, aims it at the vulnerable stranger as though she’s pointing a gun, the door still half open behind her.

The light bounces off of that figure and hits her eyes, and almost automatically, Jane shrieks.  The boy at the doorstep of manhood is standing now.  He is very tall, about six feet six, and he is paler than she had assumed.  He almost looks like a corpse dressed up for the final journey.  But the nose is sharp, ambitious still, and the eyes are lucid.  The bloodless lips are thin, proud, as though a simple smile could lash her.  Every piece of his attire from the shoe to the bow tie and the white shirt, stained here and there, is exquisite.  But the man, now standing in a defensive pose, trying to fend her off, casts no shadow.  The light helps her see the figure but does not create a pool of darkness behind, as though the man is opaque and transparent at once.

Jane freezes wants to fly away, but cannot.  Her shock throttles her urges.  But the man now moves forward, grabs her from behind, puts his hands atop her mouth to ensure she would not shriek, perhaps ever again.

She feels cold – very cold.  He feels like a corpse that occupies the moving speaking body.  Her charming prince is not earthly.  Perhaps, he is from another world.  Jane does not desire that world, but wants to live in her own.  He pushes her next to his body and it gets colder.  There is no heartbeat beneath that ribcage.

“I am sorry my love,” he whispers.  His breath too is cold as though he has brought the Alps into the small garage.

Jane feels frozen.  Her own heart races.  She wants to move, but her legs feel stuck.  She just stands and waits as he brings his face closer to hers.  His hair brushes her cheek.  He is not kissing.  His eyes sparkle in lust – the lust for life.  She feels a sharp pain in her neck.  Her skin burns.  Then her blood burns.  Something has bitten her, or a pair of needles have pushed into her vein.  The pain soon propagates into her shoulder and then to her arms.  She wants to scream but she cannot.  As she feels suffocated, she also feels she is flying. 

The man from the mountains holds her tight, and the duo glide up to the sky.  From the top, she watches the lights flicker and then she hears a humming sound.  Something strange is inside her body.  It is painful and it is all-devouring.  It might be a potion that would transform her into an immortal being like her mate.  Alternately, the bugs are marching in, in packs of thousands, through her open would, to claim what is left of the body.


The author has degrees in science, but enjoys writing and art.  She has published prose and petry in decomP, Blaze Vox, Illumen etc.


“Taxidermy Beach” Fiction by Douglas Ford

Lost Beach Road begins on the edge of Vissaria County, and it leads to a destination that even the locals treat as forgotten.  An aura of bad luck hangs over the area, presaged by the line of shipwrecks forming a barrier between the wider Gulf of Mexico and a small inlet. 

            The beach does serve as a useful landmark for drivers, for rising over the tree-line appears the base of an old lighthouse, its top sheared off during a rough storm that came ashore decades back.  Took much of the surrounding community with it, and the road that leads there likely derives its name from that chapter in history.  The remaining locals look sickly and unusually white for a part of the world so renowned for sunshine.  Doesn’t matter what sort of lives they lead—butcher, mapmaker, even landscaper—pale and beleaguered, all of them, as if wakened from their respective graves.  Someone passing through might not pick up on what makes them look so peculiar at first.  Sometimes they attribute it to a thin gene pool, but genetics don’t explain everything.  They just avoid the sun.

            Not like other parts of Florida, the quiet beauty of Fort Walton Beach, nor south of here, the sandy paradise of Siesta Key Beach, nor east of here, the wild festivity of Daytona Beach.

            The air over Taxidermy Beach hangs quiet.

            A truck driver remembers seeing the remains of the lighthouse sticking up like a smokestack during one of the back-road journeys he took to avoid weigh stations.  He describes it to a grieving couple, telling them they ought to search out that area.  If he could recall its name—Taxidermy Beach, the local if not the official appellation—he’d never suggest it.  Yet this couple knows so little about the state they’ve driven into, and they thought they could just go right up to the shoreline of any beach they came to and let the ashes of their son scatter into the wind.

            But you could get arrested.  Those are human remains, you’re talking about.  Arch, the truck driver hates how these words sound coming out of his mouth.  He wishes he didn’t say “human remains.”  The urn that the woman clings to contains their son, a little boy who died of blunt force trauma, a head injury resulting from jumping head-first into a shallow swimming pool.  Arch has met this boy’s parents at a rest stop off of the highway after offering to help them make sense of a map.  Not long later, he finds himself sitting at a picnic bench with them, having accepted their offer of a peanut butter sandwich.  The urn sits on the table, the fourth member of their party, the one he just called “human remains.”

            The dead boy’s father, Derek, says that his wife keeps the urn with her at all times.  They’ve driven all the way down here because their son loved the water and would have wanted his ashes scattered into the wind on one of those beautiful, sunny beaches he never lived long enough to visit in person. 

            Their story touches Arch, the kind truck driver.  He doesn’t like picturing the two of them humiliating themselves by strolling past tourists and drunk college students to do something so noble, so sacred.  He walks them over to the giant Florida map nestled between the two bathrooms of the rest stop and points to where he remembers seeing the small sliver of road.  Derek follows the line of his fingers with eyes gazing through thick glasses.  He nods, but then asks Arch to point again, nods just like the first time, so the truck driver has doubts that he’ll retain those instructions.  Already feeling guilty about the prospect of sending this bereaved couple on a trip that will leave them lost and confused (he imagines the wife, Claire, holding the urn in her lap while Derek struggles to remain awake on unfamiliar, rain-swept roads), he follows them back to their car, a hatchback so green-faded that it looks like it has molded. 

            There, Derek stops and turns to the driver, shakes his hand firmly while Claire waits so she can put her arm around his neck and press her cheek against his grizzled beard.  Between their two bodies he feels the press of the urn, and when she breaks the contact, he finds himself avoiding her eyes, startled by something electric that passed through him.  She cradles the urn next to two of the fullest breasts Arch has ever seen.  The top of the urn pulls down her v-cut shirt, and he can see the white curvature of the one on the left, along with a thin strip of bra.  He almost apologizes for what he fears looks like a blatant display of lust, but she speaks first. 

            Jared thanks you, she says, he’s here with us now.  Can’t you feel him, his presence?

            She embraces him again, and even though he tries to turn to the side, he fears she must notice the erection he has sprung.  Evidently not, because she presses him even harder, as the urn contains a spark of spirit that might pass into his body.

            Not that the driver believes in such things as spirit, but he can’t help but feel affected as he watches the two of them drive away, thinking how he needs to cut down on the driving and spend more time with his own kid—not that his shrew of an ex would allow that.  She enjoys getting those monthly checks, he reckons.  He tries to imagine the ex holding an urn in the same manner he just witnessed.  He can’t imagine as tight a grip as what Claire showed. 

            As he starts up his rig, Arch thinks fondly of the couple, even at the risk of their contagious sadness.  Their son died, and his marriage died.  Would he trade places with them?  No way in hell.  Would they trade places with him?  Maybe.  Placed in their position, he just might, too.  He knows they’d trade places with Jared, the dead boy.  Anyone would do that.

#

            Deliveries made, he decides, days later, to skip the weigh station again and take the route that crosses Old Beach Road.  The couple never left his thoughts, especially as his journey takes him past an inordinate number of memento mori—those roadside markers commemorating lost lives.  Elaborate floral arrangements, some shaped in a cross and accompanied by stuffed animals, others cruder, looking like nothing more than scrap wood.  As he nears Lost Beach Road, the designs become more curious, and now he recalls the name he’d heard spoken at one of his stops:  Taxidermy Beach.  This recollection occurs when he passes what looks like an iron wire bent into a sideways cross—the shape of an X—with what resembles a small fox fastened to it. 

The purpose of such a thing eludes Arch, though he knows the native artists have peculiar talents.  It looks surprisingly sacrilegious for a region re-known for its conservative nature.  Perhaps he simply misperceived a ragged toy of some kind, a likely possibility considering his going 65 miles per hour.  But a mile or so further, he sees another one, and then another.  This time he slows to get a better look, and yes, he can identify it now—not a fox as he first thought, but a coyote, mangy besides dead, and wired crudely to a sideways cross.

            Seeing this makes him think of the woman with the urn.  Claire.  It unsettles him to imagine what she must have thought, seeing such a grotesque thing on the side of the road, such an obscene reminder of death.  He pictures her hands tightening around the urn, a gesture of intensified clinging.  She needed something that would encourage her to let go.  Even someone as bumbling as him, someone who doesn’t have sense enough to not stare at a pair of tits, knows that.  A gesture of release.

            Now he can’t stop thinking of her.  Not just her mourning, but the sexual thing, too.  Surely, she felt his erection.  She tightened her embrace because she felt it.  He thinks of the white curve of her bosom, the glimpse of her bra.

            Gravel crumbles as he pulls off the road.    The car behind him honks, but he pays it no attention as he unbuckles his jeans and lowers his jeans and underwear.  Remaining behind the wheel, he jerks off, thinking of Claire and the bra barely concealing that white flesh.  It takes him only seconds to finish, and when he does, he wipes the mess off on his jeans and the seat, wishing he said something sanitary to wipe with.  He feels disgusted with himself.  Through his open window, the breeze rises, as if ceremonially acknowledging his completion.

            Ahead he can see the lighthouse remains, maybe half a mile away. 

            He needs a walk.  Some water to cleanse himself, water to clean off the shame of his ejaculation.  His legs feel shaky as he leaves the rig parked there, and once he eyes a path in the brush, he sets off in the direction of the water where he knows that little boy’s ashes may have settled not so long ago.  He can make amends that way, a lie that reassures him somewhat.

            Before long, he finds himself at the water’s edge.  What would it feel like to just scatter parts of himself across its surface, never to be reconstituted, the currents drifting the ashes further and further away?

            A growl diverts his attention.

            Looking over his shoulder, he sees it.

            A coyote.

            Its eyes appear white as the seed he just spilled, its emaciated body showing ribs.  He wonders if the thing is blind, that maybe it can’t see him through a fog of cataracts.  Pity for the thing surges through him—for just a moment though, because the thing growls again.  Then, as if summoned, two more just like it appear from the tree-line and add their own growls to what has become an unnerving chorus.

            The trucker knows he should run, but the coyotes block the path back to the rig.

            He must run in another direction.  He chooses the way toward the remains of the lighthouse, hoping that it will offer a harbor of safety.

            As he runs, he ponders the absurdity of his situation.  These creatures, he knows, should exhibit a shy deference to people.  They don’t even belong in this fucking state, but natural migration, climate change, he sure as fuck doesn’t know, has resulted in a growing population in recent years.  He assumed they scavenged for food and certainly did not hunt human beings.  And they shouldn’t look like this, he realizes with quick glances over his shoulder, hobbling on bony legs, perhaps the reason he has managed to stay ahead of them.  On one, he swears, he can see the white suggestion of exposed bone. 

            Whether he can make it to the lighthouse without them overtaking him, he can’t say.  Already a sluggish runner, he feels himself tiring, weighted down by the bulge of flab he has neglected for years.  The protrusion of light house gets closer, so he clings to what little hope remains.  As he nears, he passes over something strange, a soot-colored circle of sand, the remains of a bonfire perhaps.  Blackened bark and what looks like drift-wood sticks up out of the sand.  One bears a disconcerting nob on one end.  It looks like a human femur.  His breath catches.  The likelihood of a heart attack looms.

            Despite the hindrance of his flab, the animals gain little ground on him.  It becomes tempting to think that they never intended to catch him at all, but rather that they simply wanted to protect their territory.  As he nears the lighthouse, he feels ashamed of himself for being frightened so easily.  Still, as much as he gasps and wheezes, he can’t bring his legs to a full-stop, not until he gets inside—the entrance, thank god, just a yawning aperture with no sign of ever having contained a door of any kind. 

            Before him, an iron stairway spirals to an open sky.  Doubled over, his hands on his knees, he gazes up to the broken, hollow tip.  Grasping the railing, he begins the climb, knowing that only up top can he find true safety.

            He would never make it to the top of an undamaged lighthouse.  As he climbs, he passes crude graffiti, much of it consisting of crudely drawn figures engaged in obscene acts, some even involving bestiality.  But these don’t disturb them as much as the series of X’s that appear with every few steps, crude chalked figures attached to the inscriptions, like the coyotes nailed to the crosses.  They make him think of the memento mori he passed earlier, and his uneasiness grows.  Whatever the case, he senses a forbidden meaning, one suggesting a resurrection of some sort.  Not that he could claim to be a religious man, he doesn’t know what sort of religion they could possibly represent.

            He reaches the highest point, the remaining lip of the lighthouse just high enough for him to peer over and see the ground below.  There, the coyotes amble around, sniffing, his perspective rendering them into broken ants.  They circle the burned circle he ran through moments ago, but they do not enter it, nor do they come close to the lighthouse.

            He waits, watching the sun fall further in the sky, until the Gulf begins to swallow it, squeezing from it colors of orange and streaking purple.  Eventually, the coyotes limp back into the trees, and only then does he descend the stairs.

#

            Instead of going back to his rig, the trucker, in his weariness, walks up Lost Beach Road, thinking he might get lucky and find the Trading Post he’s observed on past trips.    If that luck holds out, he’ll find a cold root beer waiting for him along with someone who might offer him a ride back to his truck.

            Headlights coming from the opposite direction brighten his hopes.  He waves and thanks the lord when the car slows down and finally stops in front of him.

            As he walks closer, he can see that the car looks familiar while the driver does not.

            The driver looks like a lot of people in this strange area—hollowed out eyes and gray, almost white skin.  When he offers him the passenger seat, Arch hesitates.  The car strongly resembles the one he saw the bereaved couple driving days ago.  He has enough experience on the road to recognize the hatchback’s make as commonplace, and he knows that more than one car on the road has that sun-beaten moss color.  Still, the coincidence unsettles him, and he has to think about it before he accepts the driver’s offer and heads around to the passenger side to let himself in.

            Not a problem at all, the driver answers his mumbled thanks.

            The driver continues in the direction away from the Trading Post, back to the place from which Arch started his walk.

            I hate to complain about the kindness of a stranger, Arch says, explaining his dilemma.

            The driver assures him that it won’t be anything but a short errand, then he’ll turn around and go in the other direction.

            See the moon? says the driver.

             Just above the horizon it has risen, full and bursting with light.

            The driver says, It’s a blood moon.  In profile, the man’s cheek looks sunken, the bones of his face resembling a hawk in flight.

            Arch asks about the errand.

            Without looking, the car’s driver gestures with his head toward the back seat.

            Arch looks and freezes.

            He sees the urn.

            The same urn held by Claire.

            The driver says, I’m sure that it’ll strike you as a little morbid, but I need to scatter some ashes.

            Arch cannot remove his eyes from the urn.  The name comes out of his mouth before he can stop himself.

            Jared.

            Hearing the name spoken, the driver looks at him curiously.  Maybe a bit suspiciously, too.

            He says, That’s my name.  Don’t recall mentioning it.

            They look at each other.  Long Beach Road rolls on beneath the tires.  The car, during this moment, seems almost driverless. 

            Arch wants this moment to end quickly.  He asks, Whose ashes are those?

            Jared answers quietly, almost a whisper.

            My parents. 

            Arch looks again at the urn in the backseat.  He notices two X’s scratched near the bottom.  It seems like he should know what these mean.  But he doesn’t.

            Jared says, Tonight’s the night they to be scattered.  Up here’s a good beach to do it.  Nobody comes here, but you probably already know that.

            I do.

            It’s lucky I came across you.  Coyotes are bad here.

            I know that.

            I suspect you do.

            They park near a gap in the trees and a sparse patch of sea oats.  Jared gets out, opens the back door, picks up the urn carefully.  More slowly, Arch gets out too and stays on his side of the car.  The moon sheds light down on the turret of the broken lighthouse.

            This way, Jared says, and he starts over the sane, not looking behind him to see if the truck driver follows.  But he does follow.  He does so in spite of his fear, because he needs to see what will happen now.  He maintains distance as Jared walks into the wet sand near the breaking waves.  Jared looks back at him over his shoulder.

            I wouldn’t walk over there.  Jared indicates the burned circle.  Lots of glass and shit from the locals.  They’re not a careful bunch.  All that debris will cut through your shoes.  Don’t even go near it.

            Arch obeys and stays outside of the circle, which seems to glow with moonlight as Jared opens the urn.  He reaches inside and takes a heap of ash in his hand.  Then he extends his arm and lets the breeze take it.  That breeze grows into a steady wind as he takes another handful and does it again.  Some of the ashes go in the water.  Some of them ride the wind all the way back to where Arch stands.  He feels particles of ash strike his face and arms.  By the third and fourth handfuls of ash, the wind blows in gusts strong enough that even more ash strikes his body.  He feels them coating his body.  These people I met just a few days ago, thinks Arch, are sticking to my face, my skin, my clothes. It doesn’t seem to matter to Jared whether or not they go in the water.  He doesn’t seem to care where they go.  He just needs to empty the urn, thinks Arch.

            You see any coyotes? Jared asks the question without turning around.       

            Arch checks the line of trees hiding the road.  He looks for white eyes.  Something gleams there, he doesn’t know what.  Maybe those are eyes.

            I don’t see anything.  I don’t think.

            When he turns back around, he sees that Jared has finished scattering ashes.  Without no visible sign of movement, Jared has managed to move closer and now faces him.  They regard each other for a few ticks before Jared speaks.

            My parents would be honored to know you shared this moment with them.

            Arch nods, but his voice still cracks.  I’m happy to do whatever I can for them.

            In the moonlight, Jared steps closer.  His eyes appear whitish and a badly healed scar mars his forehead, the sign of some long ago blunt force trauma.  Jared says, I didn’t get a good look at you before.  You a colored man?

            Arch starts to say something.  Instead, he licks his lips and shakes his head.  He tastes the ashes of Jared’s parents.

            No matter.  I’ll still give you a ride.  

Speaking these words, Jared begins the walk toward the waiting vehicle.  Arch follows.

#

We’ve met before, haven’t we?

The drive back to his rig seems to take an eternity, and when he hears this question, Arch shifts in his seat and looks out the passenger window.

I know it’s down here, Arch says.  We couldn’t have passed it, not going this slow.

Jared nods.  It’s down here.  Just a little further.

Arch has his doubts.  In the moonlight he sees one of the iron sideways crosses pass them by.  It stands bare now, just an X.  No dead coyote.  Maybe this one is a different one, Arch thinks.  Maybe someone took it the animal.  Maybe buzzards ate it.

I’m sure we’ve met before, says Jared.  We have an undeniable bond, you and me.  And I owe you a lot, doing what you did.  You know, standing out there while I let those human remains go flying off into the wind.  And hey, you still got some on you.

His left hand still on the wheel, Jared reaches out with his right and presses his index finger into Arch’s cheek.  He holds it there, pushing it hard, as if intending to break through the skin and come out the other side, inside Arch’s mouth.  But finally, he releases the pressure and removes his finger.  He holds it out to show Arch the ash-black tip, and then it puts it in his mouth.  Arch watches as Jared licks the finger clean.

Nothing’s ever truly gone.  See?  Here’s your rig.

Yes, finally, Arch can see it in the headlights.

           Nothing’s ever truly gone, he says again, pulling off the side the road.  You know, you should’ve gotten into the water when we were down there by the beach.  Clean off all that ash.  Of course, you could just rub it just like I did with that spot on your cheek, but if you do, you’ll look like a colored man.  You’ll get lots of funny looks around here if you go and do that.  Fact is, someone might shoot you.  If you walked into Trading Post up ahead like that, that’s just what they’d do, shoot you dead, because you’d give them such a fright. Then they’ll cut off your head and mount it on the wall, such a marvel you’d be to them.  Lots of fellows practice taxidermy around here in their free time.  Most of them love it so much they do it for free, won’t even take as much a nickel in exchange.  Good work, they do, too.  You been up in that lighthouse? 

            Arch lies and says he has not.  To admit he has would mean inviting knowledge he would rather avoid.  And even though he has answered in the negative, the boy goes on as if he has said the opposite.

            Then you saw the X’s on the walls.  All those marks where mounted heads once were.  They went all the way up to the very top, just winding their way along the walls, going up and up til they reached the very top.  The day that storm came and blew half it down, it left behind a flood, and everywhere you looked heads were floating.  No small job collecting all of them—the ones that didn’t wash out into the gulf, that is.

            Arch recalls seeing X marks on the urn.  He wants to turn his head and look on the backseat, where the empty urn now rests.  If he looks, he may or may not see them.  He can’t say for sure which possibility he dreads most.  To look in the direction of the backseat would mean looking away from the boy’s steady gaze, and he will not risk that.  He also does not want to risk seeing something else in the backseat.  Two heads, for instance.

            You go ahead and get on out now, says the boy.  I think you ought not stop here in the future.  Not without checking the lighthouse first.  If you keep driving past here and you look up one time and see a light coming from the top of that, shining out over the water, you’ll know that I did what I always wanted to—restore that big boy to its old glory and let its light shine out on the water and on everything that surrounds us.  When you see that light, you pull over right here where you are now, get out, and come meet me again.  That light’s supposed to bring people coming.  Right out of the Gulf if need be.  What else would it be for?

            Arch says he’ll keep watch for it, even though he knows he will never drive near Lost Beach Road again.  He gets out of the car, about to close the door behind him when the boy reaches over the seat and blocks him.  His unblinking white eyes look serious.  He says, The coyotes ought to be long gone by then.  You won’t see them anymore.

            Arch nods and tries to close the door, not caring about Jared’s arm in the way.  But that arm remains rigid because Jared has one more thing to say.

            Or maybe you will.  Because like I said before, nothing’s ever truly gone.            

Then he removes his arm, and the door closes.


Douglas Ford’s fiction has appeared in Dark Moon DigestDiabolical PlotsTales to Terrify, along with several other small press publications. Recent work has appeared in The Best Hardcore Horror, Volumes Three and Four, and a novella, The Reattachment, appeared in 2019 courtesy of Madness Heart Press.  Other recent publications include a collection of short fiction from Madness Heart Press and a novel set to appear from D&T Publishing.


“The Death of Them” Fiction by Candace M. Meredith

He did it again. He suppressed what he could. He rounded the corner and she was there – suddenly on his truck hood. Her face was sharp and poignant. Getting out of his truck, he went to her. He even tried to breathe life back into her body. Then he held her and knelt down in her blood which formed a puddle beneath his feet. Eric didn’t kill her; she committed suicide – why else would she be there on that street in the middle of the night? It was All Hallow’s Eve. Eric went home and placed her in his bed. He pulled the sheets and turned on the TV. Jason has a chainsaw – Eric watched gore. He licked his fingers of her; she smelled good. He ate cherries that were like her nail polish. Eric imagined her as alive as the fruit flies which found his tomatoes. He kinda enjoyed the juxtaposition of carnage and being alive; “We are all here to devour one another,” he told himself in the mirror. For Halloween he never bought candy, but he’d dress as Dracula and suck blood. Blood was like the fruit he watched turn to something moist, sloughed in skin. He thought about her. Then he forgot.

Halloween gave him the opportunity to be someone other than Eric Morris; he was plain and typical, an average guy with the brain of someone mad – a real scientist in blue jeans and a sleeveless shirt. He applied makeup that buried his scars in thick-like paste. He wore contact lenses to conceal his overbearing blue eyes. His contacts were black. He painted his hair black. He wore eye liner. He was more like a demon. He thought being demonic was over the top, so he posed as Dracula – that was acceptable. His tongue was stained in cherry. He craved blood even when the supply wouldn’t leap out in front of his moving truck. She did not die. He relished in her means of introductions. No one ever tried so hard, but he did it again. He said he would not.

Eric left his house to join the streets; the outdoors was sparsely lit by city streets beneath the omnipresent moon. There were hundreds, it seemed, gathered on the city block; the bars were plentiful. He passed by Cher, a poser, and had a look at her ass in a black thong the way the celebrity walked when she sang. She was a good poser. He went down Sleepy Hollow Street and found the poser standing there with her head hanging crooked off the left shoulder; he bit her too hard. They were being intimate. He couldn’t resist; she was his first. His first at everything. He suppressed her. He left her there, in an inconspicuous way, to bury the past inside a coffin made of guitar strings and glass; when she screamed, his mind snapped and he took up his guitar and hit her over the head. The glass at her feet cut her face. He placed her in a bed made of roses. He could not bury them.

He would bury the thought of them. In the deep recesses of his mind. But how was she standing there? She was left in the quilt his grandmother made for him. She was the queen in a king bed; Sarah King had it good there. He approached her.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” He shouted. 

“I didn’t die you idiot!” She threw up her hands.

“I should have buried your rotting corpse…”

The zombies, ghouls and disfigured creatures were staring. He fled. He suppressed her. She was gone, as far as he was concerned, from his memory. He felt trapped of them. Then he started to lose it.

Her beautiful suicide didn’t alarm him.

“She walked right out of the fucking bed,” he told the body he hit with his truck.

She lay with eyes wide open; they were green as emeralds. Her hair jet black. Her mouth like cherries – how he loved cherries. His Jane Doe had a purse; he rummaged. Melissa Vann, her license said.

“Are you fucking going to come back, too?” He cursed when he was angry; he was ashamed he didn’t bury them.

Then there was a knock on his door.

“Mr. Morris?” He heard them say, and they knocked again.

He opened the door quickly.

 “I’m fucking Dracula!” He was mad.

“Yeah, well…” one Officer said to the other, “a demonic Dracula,” then sniggered.
“We’re here to take you in…” the female Officer said, and he slammed the door.

“No! I don’t want to fuck you, you bitch! You whore!”

They tried breaking open the door. He broke free from the window. He saw the Headless Horseman mount his mighty black horse.

“Hey, you need a ride?” The Headless Horseman offered beneath a cape.

“Yes!” Eric sprayed as he spoke.

The Horseman took him toward the night, and they took a path by the light of the moon and stopped in the now darkened alley behind Elm Street.

“I always had a thing for Dracula,” the Headless Horseman dismounted.

“Yeah?” Dracula said.

 The Headless became a head with dark and sinister eyes. He leaned in and kissed him.

“You taste divine,” the head of the Headless Horseman said.
“Oh, yeah?” Dracula was gloating.

“Like cherries.”

“I also like blood…” his voice was cracking.

“I completely understand my friend, like keeping a vile of your lover’s blood…”

“Around your neck for safe keeping?”

 Dracula wanted more of him. Finally someone understood him.

The Headless Horseman took Dracula to his mansion. They made love. It was undignified and thirsty. They drank of one another. Then he forgot. He buried them deep into the recesses of his mind to never let them rise from their death.

“Do you even want to know my name?” The Headless Horseman chuckled.

“Yes,” Dracula smoothed his tongue over his skin.

“It’s William …”

“William, I don’t give a fuck…”

“You are too charming,” William said, “call me Will sometime.”

“Am I?” Eric ate an apple.

William wiped his lip. Then there were police outside the alley.

“Give up your phone,” William gave him a stern eye, “they’re tracking you.”

“How do you know?”

“Well it must be you, because it is not for me.”

To conceal himself, Eric left his phone on the bedside table and fled down the alley into the dark night where hundreds crowded him.  Eric found the werewolves one street over.

“Hey man,” he said to one of them, “you got a light?”

“Yeah, man, here,” the grayest of the wolf pack tossed him a light.

Eric ran home. He went through the window. He sat beside her in the bed. Her eyes peered at him.

“I just had the best flipping night,” he decided not to curse. His desires were satisfied. “But you little lady are going to get me into trouble.”

He went to the cemetery to bury her in an unmarked grave. He kicked the dirt where he spread his father’s ashes because his father would have sided with her. His father never understood his preferences. She wouldn’t either, he decided. He didn’t lay down flowers. Her grave was in the dark corner of the lot where he could bury his past and walk through the night to face yet another day as being different from the rest. As Dracula he stood out, but he fit in. Another paradox in the grand scheme of his emotions. Then he had William to bury. Next, he thought. Because no one should really know him. It’s better when they don’t care because he has always been quiet. Unnoticed. And he fled to William where he hoped to put him to bed. He had already dug the hole in the cemetery. His phone was missing. William was gone. The police were nowhere to be found. The streets were quiet. He felt normal. Unafraid and doomed. The waning moon was amusing. He thought of the werewolves. He thought about quitting cigarettes. Then he forgot because he buried them there, the three of them, and wondered when he’d grow thirsty again. Next year, he thought. He’d be Dracula with the dead, aimless bride.


Candace Meredith earned her Bachelor of Science degree in English Creative Writing from Frostburg State University in the spring of 2008. Her works of poetry, photography and fiction have appeared in literary journals Bittersweet, The Backbone Mountain Review, The Broadkill Review, In God’s Hands/ Writers of Grace, A Flash of Dark, Greensilk Journal, Saltfront, Mojave River Press and Review, Scryptic Magazine, Unlikely Stories Mark V, The Sirens Call Magazine, The Great Void, Foreign Literary Magazine, Lion and Lilac Magazine, Snow Leopard Publishing, BAM Writes  and various others. Candace currently resides in Virginia with her two sons and her daughter, her fiancé and their three dogs and six cats. She has earned her Master of Science degree in Integrated Marketing and Communications (IMC) from West Virginia University.


Four Poems by Katrenia Busch

A Demon's Dwelling  
 

Darkness fell as night set in  
The stars did twinkle across the sky  
As I— myself was set to begin  
The art of magus or—magi  
 
Possessed by a feeling, a thought  
One that was miserably found to linger  
Clutching the words I had sought  
As I lifted up a bloody—finger  

And with that finger I began to write  
Words that were but merely placed  
TO THE DEMONS THAT RECITE  
THE NAMES WHICH THEY EMBRACED  

Engraved upon a wooden chest  
A box that’s locked away  
The demons are said to have blessed  
The EVIL words one can’t unsay  

For as the sun follows a path—the same   
Moving from one side unto the other  
Returning not to where it came  
Completing its cycle which grew darker  

That black sun that rules underneath  
When the light that’s hidden away  
Is said to leave behind and bequeath  
The sorrows found of yesterday—  

The box that’s sealed with one word  
One that’s known by they who reside  
Are then contained as their captured  
And behind these words—where they hide  

A demon's dwelling is all but hidden  
To they who are said to know—  
Open and blatantly blazon  
Revealed by ones own sorrow 

Ode to Baal  

 
Ruler of demons and powers that are  
Faithful you are found to be  
Ruler and keeper of both peace and war  
Yet— also a giver of life and prophecy  

For mirrored thoughts are oft found  
By the essence and your being  
Doing the will and are oft bound  
To the dwelling— or one's body  

Faithful and true— the banner you wear  
Words that are found to be  
Upon the countenance and oath you swear  
By they who can see—  

For one may be a friend you find  
For their enemies must beware  
That you are not only a strong-one to bind  
But it’s strength and precision you bare 

Peace is found amongst your friends  
As war and misery to enemies  
As the demons themselves can’t contend  
With your realm of limited boundaries

Serpent of Truth 


Thrown to thy belly, through dust I crawl 
Thrown to deception.....underneath it all 
North, south east and west 
Having searched, yet to find rest 
Seek without ceasing and ye shall find 
Through the dust called confusion, of thy mind 
Pray in thy closet, which is thy head 
To see yourself, the one who's dead 
A slave still chained and bound 
Yearning for freedom, yet not found  
Fallen under a curse, a deep sleep 
Unable to awaken, for beliefs I still keep 
To open thy eyes, and become wise 
To know the fruit, under its disguise  
Struggle this battle, which is, inside 
To find an answer, yet lies I find  
Unable to accept, unable to renew 
For many are called and chosen are few 

Season of Satan 
 

For when the time was fixed  
Bound by fates and destiny  
Satan is said to have mixed  
His demons amongst humanity  

Disguised as humans both they and he  
Unseen and hidden as both you and me 
For some are said to be sensitive too  
Warnings they find and try to issue  

For the timing itself is found to be fixed  
Bound to destiny— its crucifix  

When his voice emerges from within  
And your guts begin to say  
That it’s he— himself that’s here to begin 
And it’s you—now who can soothsay  

For the wicked serpent that is found  
Like the sun— eternally bound  

And from the guts found within your belly  
Can barely digest the concept which is found most— brilliantly  

Season of Satan—time is at hand  
One raised above and one down below  
As you try to then withstand  
The knowledge in your belly— that you swallow 

Katrenia Busch is a Freelance Film Critic for Hollywood Weekly Magazine, former editor for Aware Earth an an investigative journalist for The Total Plug. Some of her published works can be found in the Screech OwlLiterature TodayRiverrunLiterary YardPoetry Super-HighwayPolice Writers, Westward Quarterly, Dark Elements, The Feeel magazine among others. She published an essay on psychoanalysis and is a Peer-Reviewer for The American Psychological Association, reviewing journals such as Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research and Practice and she has also published articles on the national healthcare system for Senior Care Quest


Serpent of Truth originally appeared in The Screech Owl, December 2014. All three others are being published for the first time.


“Abject Permanence” Fiction by Andrew Davie

The applause in the concert hall lasted for a full minute before it subsided. The energy was unlike any Elias had ever experienced, and he shut his eyes to better let it reverberate through him. 

                                                                        ***

            Doctor Golan lit a Marb Red. The contradiction caught Elias off guard, and his anxiety kicked in at that moment. Every fiber of his being commanded him to march to the bathroom in the hallway and wash his hands thoroughly. He looked down at them. The skin around his knuckles was white, cracked, and brittle; it looked like a skating rink that hadn’t been smoothed by the Zamboni. Bits of dried blood and scabs crisscrossed like latticework. 

He could never properly explain the feeling to people. His OCD was a constant irrational fear of death. 

            Elias gripped the arms of his chair and took a deep breath. He prayed the feeling would subside, or at least the volume would be turned down. 

            “It’s happening right now, isn’t it?” Doctor Golan asked. 

There was a sheen on his teeth like Vaseline and Elias groaned audibly. 

            “Yes,” replied Elias through gritted teeth. 

He didn’t remember exactly when these attacks started. He had just a vague notion from years ago.  Now, it was like they’d always been there. 

            It would begin with a trigger; for example, he would grip a handrail while on the subway only to feel some sort of condensation. His mind would begin to ramble incoherently like a drunk who had attempted to prove his sobriety and had failed. 

            Scenarios were created in which he had contracted a life-threatening disease simply from touching the subway pole. He would imagine chancres opening on his body like flowers opening, and no matter how long he spent examining himself for scratches, cuts, lesions, any sign that he’d become terminally ill, it was futile.

            Deep down, he knew it was all an illusion. His mind was a funhouse full of distorted mirrors which forced him to view everything through a skewed prism. 

            In the beginning,  he could manage with therapy, then prescription drugs. His anxiety got worse over time to the point where his whole life needed to be changed. Eventually, he became a recluse. 

            His only salvation was music. 

            He’d spend hours playing his sonatas and requiems. Any money he got went toward accumulating vinyl LP’s for his vast collection. He’d shunned the advances in technology for the turntable he’d been giving when he first started playing the piano. 

            Music continually reverberated throughout his home. It came from either his fingertips or the speakers, and it filled him with immense joy. One day, he would play in the grand ballrooms. They would speak Elias’s name with awe and respect. It would validate his existence. 

            “Elias?” Golan said.

            “I’m sorry.” 

            “Let me guess? The headshrinker you’ve been seeing hasn’t helped, and the medication you’re on barely breaks through the surface.”

            Elias nodded. 

            “I’ve seen it all before,” Golan added. “Everyone looks the same. They have dread dripping from their pores.” 

Golan’s voice changed to one of confidence.

            “But I can help you.” 

            Elias faked a smile. 

            Dr. Adam Golan: Yale, Johns Hopkins, residency at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, indicted by a grand jury, and stripped of his license. 

Elias imagined how Golan’s office must have looked at the height of his prestige. Now, in the aftermath of his plummet from grace, the man commanded a two-room office in a fifth-floor walk-up in an outer borough of an outer borough. 

            Elias had had to step over an unconscious derelict to use the stairs. Thinking of it now sent shockwaves through his nervous system. 

            “Imagine, never having to deal with this again.” Golan offered, stubbed out the cigarette, and laced his fingers behind his head.” 

Elias licked at his lips and swallowed audibly. 

            “OK. What do we do?

                                                                        ***

            His energy had been sapped, and Elias collapsed onto the couch. He didn’t know if he could suffer through two more nights. The performances should have been his greatest achievement. Sold out shows at concert hall; it was something he’d dreamed of since he’d started playing. 

                                                                        ***

            It took almost twenty-four hours to recover from the procedure. Elias was bedridden most of the time and wracked with fever dreams. He had trouble deciphering what was real. He was still in Golan’s makeshift recovery room, which was just his adjoining the office: a clothes hanger, which dangled from a coat rack, held his IV drip. Finally, Elias regained enough of his equilibrium to sit up. After a cursory examination, Golan seemed to be satisfied. 

            “Everything is on the mend.” 

            Golan hit the pack of his cigarettes with the heel of his hand. 

            “Have you experienced any anxiety attacks?” Golan asked. 

            Elias paused to think about it.

            “I don’t think so.” 

            “Well, let’s find out; shall we?”

            Golan reached into his pocket produced a soiled rag. 

            “What is that?”

            “It’s nothing.”

            Before Elias could reply, Golan threw the balled-up rag at Elias who caught it before it could hit his body. He braced himself for the recoil and the sensation of overwhelming fear he was certain would envelop him, but nothing happened. He examined the white rag, noted some discoloration, and calmly flung it back to Golan. 

            “Anything?” Golan said. 

            Elias grew animated.

            “Nothing.” He could barely get the words out. Overcome with emotion, he had trouble maintaining his composure. However, Elias was disturbed by what he thought had been a faint moan coming from the main office. 

Golan looked toward the sound.  

            “Well, then, I guess the two of you can go.”

            Golan walked over to the door, opened it, and stepped back. Golan folded his arms across his chest. 

            A person filled the door frame. Except it wasn’t a person. 

            The Shape moved slowly and deliberately through the door as it pained him to do so. The right leg was so misshapen it dragged on the ground. Elias had been prepared for this moment, but it was nothing like he had imagined. 

            “A couple of things you should know,” Golan began, lit the cigarette, and took a deep drag. The cigarette stuck to his bottom lip as he spoke.

            “It’s a symbiotic relationship. He can only exist if you are alive. When you die; he dies too.”

            “How about the other way around?” Elias asked. The shape looked down at the ground as if ashamed for its existence. Golan laughed. 

            “Think of him as an organ, a kidney. You could live without one of them, but who knows what sort of ramifications it might have.”

            “So, it’s like a living colostomy bag. Can I get it wet or feed it after midnight?”

The Shape looked up attempted what Elias could only imagine was a smile. 

            “Gremlins,” The Shape said. 

                                                                        ***

            Elias had experienced the euphoria almost immediately.

            When they stopped at a gas station, he could navigate through a crowd of people and not worry about catching their germs. He was even able to use the grotesque-looking bathroom without flinching. It was like being born again, and he relished the feeling of being released from his shackles. He noticed, however, each time he came upon a situation that would have triggered his anxiety, The Shape reacted. 

            The Shape now sat on the couch in the living room; a weary look was on what passed for its face. 

            “I guess you can sleep on this for now, until we figure something else out.”

            The Shape shifted its gaze to look from the floor to Elias. 

            “I’m going to play some music for a while,” Elias said. 

            For the past two days, he felt like he was going to burst at the seams unless he was able to play his piano. He sat on the bench and the world dissolved around him. He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts and calm his nerves, and within a few seconds, he was at peace. His fingers descended onto the keys. 

            The sound caused him to lurch back. He tried again, but the piano only returned dissonant notes. He made similar attempts for the next five minutes. His compositions regressed from complicated measures to basic scales. Through his frustration, he’d bloodied his fingers and crimson prints smeared the keys. He stood in shock and backed away from the piano. Then he saw The Shape. Elias lunged for it. It attempted to defend itself but was unable. Pustules ruptured, and ropey cords of mucous and blood sprayed from The Shape’s malformed nose like confetti. Elias flung The Shape onto the ground, backed away, and collapsed onto the floor. 

            When he awoke, he didn’t know how much time had elapsed. 

            His body was depleted of strength. It was the sound of the piano which stirred him. 

A Concerto by Brahms had echoed throughout the apartment. It was so resplendent Elias felt he’d been picked up off the ground as if carried by the music. He watched in awe and fascination as The Shape sat at the piano and deftly maneuvered its hands over the keys. 

                                                                        ***

            “Right here, sir, seat number six.”

            “Thank you.” Elias took the program from the usher and sat down. He was in the back row of the amphitheater. He wore dark glasses. Elias glanced at the program to see what pieces he’d be playing tonight, rolled it up, and put it in his pocket. 

            The lights dimmed a few minutes later, and the conversations ceased. Applause erupted when The Shape was led on stage with the help of one of the staff. They stopped in front of the grand piano, and The Shape took a bow. The roar subsided, and The Shape sat down on the bench. 

            It was The Shape’s idea to suggest a car accident. 

            “How else to explain the disfigurement?”

            The days became weeks. Elias remained indoors. The Shape’s recitals were newsworthy, and his videos were soon streaming 24/7. The concert had sold out in about half an hour. Elias shut his eyes and listened to the creature play. 


Andrew Davie has worked in theater, finance, and education. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant and has survived a ruptured brain aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. His other work can be found in links on his website https://andrew-davie.com/


“No Escape from the Planet of the Damned” Fiction by Sondi March

Ivy had never heard of Robert Stanley Narr until she snuck into his apartment to steal some books.

“This Narr guy was famous for writing sci fi in the 50s,” said her brother Gabe. “He hoarded all these old trash magazines and paperbacks you’ll love for that blog you’re writing. What’d you call it, the Gutter something?”

The Gutter Archivist.”

“Yeah, that one. You little genius.” He gave her a one-arm squeeze. “Just wear the t-shirt and lay low. You can take whatever you want as long as nobody sees you put it in your car.”

The t-shirt was a vivid lime green jersey with the words Haul-Ur-Junk Crew Member printed across the chest in gigantic black letters. It was so big on her she could have slept in it. That day, Gabe’s boss was allowing her to hang out with the crew as “temporary help,” but with her skinny white-girl arms and scuffed glasses she doubted she’d be much of that. Narr’s apartment was two thousand square feet of junk packed nearly to the ceiling, and to reach it she had to follow Gabe up five flights of stairs.

She was out of breath by the time they reached the door. The scholarly life she’d chosen didn’t leave much time for the gym, she thought.

When the building manager opened the apartment, the stink inside released in a burst, like from an airlock on a space capsule: stale old sweat and moldering cardboard, underlaid with a sweet-toxic hint of cockroach droppings and something worse, something sweet and wrong that made the back of her neck prickle.

But Gabe and his coworkers barreled right in without even a single pinched nose. This was what they did every day: cleared out rancid old hoards from people who’d died or who were about to be sued by the city. They slapped on their work gloves and started grabbing the boxes and bags and heaps of clothes crammed up by the door.

Ivy stole a glance into one box before a crew member whisked it away. Just like Gabe promised, Narr had filled it to the brim with vintage magazines.

The magazines were pocket-sized with titles like Worlds of Science Fiction and Fantastic Tales. Their covers depicted busty blond women with laser pistols and conical bras, burly blond men and monsters with lizard heads snarling over vast, alien landscapes. Underneath them were more magazines and paperbacks with five and ten cents stamped on the cover. Tomorrow the Stars, Rogue Queen, Rocket to the Morgue. As Ivy scanned the room, she realized the hoard of vintage pulp filled the apartment, interspersed with stacks of notebooks and yellowed typewriter paper thrown in heaps.

Her heart hammered excitedly. This place was an archeological find, the strata near the door being the most colorful, moving into the deeper caverns of stranger artifacts, packed so tightly together it was difficult for her to make her way through.

“Some of this looks valuable,” Ivy whispered to Gabe as he hoisted up a box.“Shouldn’t this be going to a museum or collection?” By collection she meant the sort of things she’d seen on display at the local university library. Glass cases of antique papers and letters, secrets kept under lock and key. She couldn’t actually get into the archives to read any of it, of course. To do that, she’d have to enroll in classes, which were way out of her price range, and the community member card program cost too much. Still, the time she spent lurking there helped Ivy recognize rare texts when she saw them.

But Gabe said, “Nah,” and then coughed. The cockroach fog and mold spores couldn’t be getting to him, already, she thought. He unloaded hoards like this six days a week. “The dude is super dead, he won’t care. The order says his family wants it all burned. No one’s going to miss any of this.”

 When she still didn’t seem convinced, Gabe said, “Repeat after me: this is not a steal. We are allowed to be here.”

Ivy nodded, but she stayed quiet. She liked to think of it as a steal. Or a tomb-robbing. When muscling her way through the narrow pathways of the hoard, she imagined herself as a pulp hero, an adventurous scholar headed into a temple to plunder treasures beyond comprehensi

Still, her ‘97 Corolla was small, so she had to be discerning about what she took. The Haul-Ur-Junk crew streamed around her, focusing on dismantling the strata near the front door, and didn’t notice as she disappeared deeper into the hoard. She found her way through to the back rooms, past a kitchen full of rotting food and heaps of take-out containers, where she noticed Narr had covered the windows in plastic tarps. That explained the stale air, Ivy thought. Weird that the man had entombed himself in his own stink.

The reek was most intense in one bedroom, a converted office full of sour body odor and the sweet-wrong smell. He’d probably died sitting right here, and the body remained there for too long before anyone noticed. His black leather office chair was mottled with stains. Ivy imagined Robert Stanley Narr in that chair, slumped back, turning purple for days or weeks, leaking fluids over whatever writing he’d died in the middle of. A single typewriter sat on the desk, one of the fancy manual ones with glass keys. A piece of paper still remained in the machine, with only two words typed on it.

                burn me

Ivy examined the paper. Was it Narr’s demand that his family burn all his works and belongings? Was it an Alice-in-Wonderland style comment written from the perspective of the object, like “eat me” or “drink me”? Or was it a short will and testament, just to say, “go ahead and cremate my corpse, I don’t care”? In any case, it was too short a textual artifact to make for an interesting post on her blog, so she kept moving.

Ivy checked the rest of the room for other items of interest. She saw behind the stacks of junk were multitudes of framed prints: what looked like vintage book cover art without the titles, which she figured were the original publishing mockups. There were even more busty and burly blonds in oil paints, thrashing dramatically along their alien landscapes, struggling with skull-faced aliens and gigantic snakes. (A lot of snakes, actually. Ivy skimmed over the phallic green boa constrictors with growing discomfort.) But as works of art they were vivid, well-executed, in bright oranges and greens and red. Kid-colored visions of space rendered in a capable hand with a dose of adult sexual desperation. Beautiful and ridiculous, Ivy thought.

One print stood out from the others, though. It hung next to the desk, positioned in a strangely clean area, like some sacred object painted in dark, moody oils. No snakes. She maneuvered herself around the heaps of junk to get a closer look.

The scene depicted a rocky alien horizon with the ruins of a city in silhouette. Narrow figures peeked out from between the pillars and slumping towers of the ruins, but the artist had painted them in such shadow that it was unclear if they were staring at the viewer or looking up at the starry sky behind them. Taking up most of the sky was a large purple sphere. It didn’t sparkle, but it had a soft glow around it, like an enormous moon squatting in the atmosphere. To Ivy, it seemed like a good cover for a book called Attack of the Spooky Moon or Death Star Strikes Back. Certainly, a departure from the overall sexy Caucasian astronaut theme. And Narr had actually kept it dusted.

For that reason, she guessed it might be something worth having.

Ivy eased her fingers under the edges of the frame and wriggled it off its hooks. With a bit of wrestling, the print came off, and a chunk of the wall with it. Bits of plaster tumbled down to dust her shoes.

Ivy winced and froze, turning an ear to the other room to see if she’d been caught, but the sounds from the crew indicated they were working on excavating a couch. (How the shit are we going to get this thing down those narrow-ass stairs? Jamal said.)

After a relieved breath, Ivy set the frame carefully down on the floor, near a waist-high stack of boxes full of Space Adventures for Men issues, and then she straightened up to examine the damage. She found a deep hole cut into the plaster, about the size of a safe but without a safe in it. She assumed Narr must have meant to put a safe there at some point, but either nobody would go through the apartment to install it or the general disorder of the writer’s mind had kept him from finalizing the project.

She stood on her tip-toes to peer inside the hole. In the darkness sat a cardboard manuscript box that looked decades old. The cardboard was deeply yellowed, reminiscent of the university archives and their antique secrets under glass. She navigated the box out of its hiding hole and set it down on the cleanest nearby stack she could find.

On top of the box, in a shaky hand, the writer had scribbled, No Escape.

“No escape from your cleaning skills,” she muttered.

Something clattered and hit the floor in the other room, and she heard Jamal laughing that this damn couch was going to take them all day. The noise inspired a neighbor to bang on the walls, and Ivy remembered she did not have authorized entry, no matter what Gabe said, and she didn’t want Gabe or anyone else getting heat for her being there. Better to get out of their way quickly so they could finish.

Ivy scooped up the contents of the half-finished safe and set it down into a Space Adventures for Men box. No time to read the manuscript now, and it would be so much better if she saved it for later when she was at home, nestled among her other salvaged books and artifacts. She tucked the print under one elbow, hoisted up the box, and started inching her way out.

Knowing she’d be too exhausted to make more than a few trips, Ivy made one last check to see if there was anything else she could toss on her load that wouldn’t take up much room in her car. It was then she noticed the plastic on the windows in here, too: heavy dust-covered tarps sealed with duct tape. Several sections of walls had caulking stuck to it, in zig-zag patterns that indicated breaks in the plaster that Narr had gone to weird lengths to seal up. Narr had even covered the central air vents the same way, closing himself into a vacuum of his own fetid body smells. Such germaphobe behavior didn’t quite match the mess.

Ivy wondered if, before dying, the writer had gone insane. Maybe he thought something would come sneaking in through the cracks.

#

At home and now freshly showered after her excursion into Narr’s hoarder tomb, Ivy rushed to get ready for her shift at the call center, taking only a few minutes to sit and shove a quick ramen in her face.

She sat on the edge of her bed in her tiny studio apartment, surrounded by her library. Four cheap plywood bookshelves were filled with her artifacts: books and magazines and journals salvaged from thrift stores and dumpsters. The majority of her collection was comprised of out of print paperbacks and small-press zines that hadn’t been in print for long at all, but the best pieces in the collection were her “one-of-a-kind discoveries” that never had a real audience. Desktop published recipe books from defunct church groups, handwritten journals and diaries that snuck into the “donation” box, typewritten manifestos from angry recluses, love letters from stalkers thrown in the trash. She even had a few found-footage vhs tapes for a category on her blog labeled “visual rhetoric from the gutter,” but overall she preferred things with words. Strange, lonely, poorly spelled words. Outcasts.

As she’d said in her most popular post, in which she cataloged the scraps of a Last Will and Testament unearthed from the bottom of an alley shopping cart, outcast words held a special truth, without varnish and without concern for who was looking at them. Real authenticity, to her mind, was always hidden.

Her new boxes were crowded in a place of honor next to the Narr print, which was propped up against her writing desk née foldable plastic TV tray. As soon as she got off work that day and slept a few hours, she would read and catalog Narr’s salvaged secrets. The Narr artifacts would be among her best posts on Gutter Archivist, as they were the most outcast and strange of all her finds so far. Ivy could hardly wait.

But she was forced to wait, for the day job called. In the fifteen minutes left before she had to head out, Ivy glanced at her news feed, hoping to see an update about the universal basic income bill introduced a week before. All the news talked about was some astrological event. A meteor or unidentified comet thing she couldn’t bring herself to care about. (Space was a rich man’s game. She just wanted to self-actualize a little. How amazing would it be if she had enough money to spend time on her archive and write about all these strange old things she’d collected?) When she found no news of a better future, she turned back to the articles on Narr in hopes of getting enough for an introduction to a post.

Her research turned up enough for a whole month of posts, and she got so absorbed she was almost late to work. She stopped reading only to drive and clock in, and throughout her shift she stole glances at her smartphone under her cubicle desk.

Narr, she discovered, wrote hundreds of pulp paperbacks with titles like Queen of Space and Doctor Galaxy, all shoved out in a matter of weeks to pack bookshelves with thin editions that cost five cents. The photos of him depicted a glowering old white dude, bearded and wearing a captain’s hat while smoking a pipe shaped into a naked lady. Gross, Ivy thought. When he died, he was wealthy enough to leave behind an “estate,” or at least a daughter and a few lawyers still concerned about his works. But the articles about him were more intriguing than his actual writing: they focused less on his books and more on the late-life mental break from reality that ruined his career.

“Hah,” Ivy whispered, slumped down in her cubicle. “I knew he was nuts.”

His madness started with a bad tooth. Narr was prescribed Sodium Pentothal to dull the pain after surgery (doctors gave out weird drugs in the 60s, Ivy thought), and suddenly one afternoon Narr heard voices in his head. It had nothing to do with the drugs, he said, except that they “opened his consciousness.” He thought these voices were actually a galactic hive-mind he called the Large Mass Trans-Neptunian Inorganic Multi-Intelligence 4921 (LMTNIMI 4921). The hive-mind told him secrets and future predictions, but when the “noise of their genius” got too much for him to bear, the intelligences found another way to send him their wisdom.

In a 1992 interview, Narr described the communication as a “hide-and-seek one-way radio game.” He would “enter a fugue state” (which was code for doing more drugs, in her interpretation) and then after waking up the next day, Narr would hunt through his home for secret messages left by the intelligences. The messages came in the form of typed letters stashed in strange places: behind the toilet, in holes dug into the floorboards, under reams of blank paper. They looked typed from his own machine. When asked if this meant he was writing the letters himself, he insisted no. It had to be “idea-particles” from space beamed down and re-assembled into forms he could recognize. The man would not entertain any notion that perhaps he’d just gotten blitzed out of his mind and forgot what he’d written.

The man was so nuts that Ivy started to like him a little. The craziest of all were the articles that talked about his last book, Escape from the Planet of the Damned, which his critics said was “a deranged experiment in self-insertion and new age malarkey.” An image search turned up the same art as the print she’d stolen from Narr’s apartment, only the spooky moon was covered up entirely by huge yellow letters. Supposedly the book included ideas about an impending apocalypse that Narr believed were true.

The novel’s main characterwas Howard William Barr, a “writer-psychic” who talked to interstellar intelligent beings via dreams. Barr helped the local government forces identify a rogue planet as it sailed closer to earth’s destruction. At the end of the book, the government destroyed the planet with an “anti-gamma hyper-oscillation ray” and Barr was given a “ticker-tape parade” for his heroism. Ivy was not surprised to learn that the main character was also tremendously handsome, a genius with five doctorate degrees, and popular with women. What fascinating junk, she thought.

She wanted more. Ivy skimmed what chapters of the book she could find online in between calls, and sometimes during them.

One passage she found matched the artwork she’d pried off of Narr’s wall:

They walk now, ceaselessly between the ruins, shells of their former selves,” said the psychic Barr. “The mad sorcerer-king of the Za’hyiil has overtaken their minds and souls with his transmigration of control particles. Damn it, man, can’t you see?” With his masculine fist, he pounded the president’s table. “Those loyal to the Za’hyill still seek out bodies to inhabit and control, as their very aura eradicates any civilization they come near. They are a lurking evil floating dark through space. They are Planet X. They will infect every red-blooded American man, woman, and child to transform us into their zombie slaves.

“Xenophobe much?” Ivy said with a snort. The sound made the team supervisor glare at her from across the isle, so she shoved her phone in her pocket. More for later.

But later was much later than she expected. After nine and a half hours of mind-numbing data entry and talking enraged customers off their self-entitled cliffs, Ivy’s head was dulled with exhaustion. Work had defeated her for the day: no energy for research or posts now.

When she got back home, she couldn’t bring herself to even lift the lid of the manuscript box. All day she’d begun to hope the box contained the unpublished sequel to Narr’s Escape novel. Such an artifactwould be a stellar contribution to her blog. It might even go viral. His estate might sue her! Ivy giggled when she thought about it. But despite her eagerness to get started, she was so tired when she walked through the door that she could do little but peel off her thrift-store khakis and fall face-forward into bed.

Once asleep, Ivy fell immediately into dreams. In them, she walked around a cold, dark lunar landscape between the remnants of a demolished city. Above her was a sky full of stars and a dimly glowing sphere that could have been a moon or a sun or another planet. Whatever it was, it was so gigantic that she could see the craters and outcroppings on its surface. On it, shapes moved, tiny shadows like a swarm of bugs.

She shuffled towards the sphere for a while before she realized she could never reach it, and she couldn’t stop herself. Even when a heap of stone got in her way, she climbed over it awkwardly and kept walking, as if her body had gone numb and stupid. She yelled at herself to stay still, but her body didn’t obey. Around her, narrow, humanoid-shaped figures moved within the ruins, keeping pace with her shambling steps. The sphere above them glowed softly with a deep purple halo.

#

Late afternoon the next day, Gabe called her, coughing something fierce and asking her to bring him a can of chicken soup and some cough drops. He was, as he said, “too near death” to go to the store himself. Ivy fought between supreme disappointment and concern; she figured Gabe’s hauling job had put him at risk for some weird bronchitis, with all the roach and rat infestations he had to walk through every day, but she also hated to think that she couldn’t spend her only day off reading and cataloging like she wanted to.

Ivy hopped in her car right away, toting Narr’s manuscript box and notes with her to read while helping Gabe convalesce. She hoped she could use his laptop to get a post started.

At the pharmacy, all the other shoppers were staring at their phones and asking each other “have you seen it?” Ivy figured it was the meteor or comet or whatever. She’d been too tired to remember to charge her phone before passing out the night before, and her dreams had been so vivid that she now ached like she’d run a marathon. She bought Gabe two cans of soup and a bag of cough drops, because that was about what she had for money left in her account. She wished she could get him more, but he’d have to give her cash if he wanted anything else.

When she got into her Corolla to head out to Gabe’s a few people stood in the pharmacy parking lot, looking up at the flat purple-blue sky, squinting at the approach of twilight.

She found her brother standing at the patio door of his apartment living room, coughing and wrapped up in a blanket like it was a robe. The lime green collar of his Haul-Ur-Junk t-shirt stuck out from the blanket’s edge, and she realized he hadn’t changed clothes since the day before. He looked thin, as if in the last 24 hours he’d shrank a little, collapsing in on himself. Sweat covered his face; Ivy didn’t like his grayish pallor.

She gave him the drops, and he took them with a limp hand. “Thanks,” he muttered. “This cold is killing me.”

“Shouldn’t you go lay down? You look awful.”

He shook his head. “I need to see the sky.”

Ivy shrugged. Gabe was always the outdoor type, and if the sky was making him feel better, she figured that was just as well. He’d crawl into bed soon. “You cool if I hang out for a while and read? I’ll be nearby if you need anything.”

“Sounds great,” Gabe muttered.

After heating up the soup can’s brackish yellow contents, she set it at the kitchen table for Gabe, insisting that he shouldn’t eat while tangled up in a blanket and standing. He laughed, saying he’d probably dump it in his lap. His arms felt like they didn’t work. Her plan was to stay near him just so she could take him to the hospital if things got bad (forget ambulances with their price tag). His coughing was loud, though, so she took Narr’s manuscript box to the empty bedroom, the one that Gabe was trying to find a roommate to occupy. There, she could still hear him; the walls in his complex were thin enough the neighbors’ voices snuck through. (Were they coughing, too? After listening for a second, she realized yes, they were. She thought, maybe something’s going around.) At least the closed door muffled Gabe’s sick noises enough for her to dig deep into Narr’s manuscript.

She sat down cross-legged on the beige high pile carpet and set before her the artifacts of a dead madman.

When Ivy opened the cardboard box, a roach skittered out. She didn’t jump; it wasn’t the first time a box or a book she found came with lives inhabiting it. The roach made its escape, and Ivy turned her attention back to Narr’s artifact, feeling a blossoming thrill of discovery. This must have been how real archeologists felt when getting to open a crypt.

Under the lid of the box, she expected to see a title page of the sequel to Narr’s novel, maybe Return from the Planet of the Damned or something, but the first page was blank. The second one was, too. Her disappointment mounting, Ivy pulled out the four-inch high stack of paper and found that almost every single page was blank. There was nothing to read. No words at all. The sight of it nearly pushed her to tears.

Suddenly, she felt betrayed, duped. Worse, excluded. The more she stared at the blank papers, the more she wanted to throw them against the wall.

Eventually, she did just that. In a swell of frustration, she gave the ream of blank paper a table-flip and sent the pages sailing across the carpet, well into the territory the roach had already traversed. For a moment they filled the air. A slight thump sounded underneath the fluttering as all the papers settled down, and in the scatter she caught the edge of a small square, about the size of a card. An envelope.

Crawling over on her hands and knees, she tugged the envelope out from under the papers. The aged glue on the flap gave up easily; all she had to do was pry one finger under the corner and the seal released. A bit of the paper crumbled away with it.

Inside was one typewritten page, single-spaced.

I was wrong. They’re not out to get you. They’ve already been destroyed. It’s the planet itself. It drew them to it. Something in the soil is poison. It leaks out even in the vacuum of space. An alien virus that can live in nothing. It *is* the nothing. The void. You will look for it. It takes over bodies. It compels you to move long after you’re dead. In a handful of decades, it will reach you. You will be ever moving forward.

I’m sorry.

LMTNIMI 4921

Ivy read the letter over and over, struggling between feelings of disappointment and delight. Not a full novel of mad, rambling nonsense, but possibly a communication from Narr’s intelligences, so that was interesting. Narr, in a drug-induced “fugue state” must have typed this up, dug a hole in the wall, and forgotten about it, the next-day blackout erasing any memory of what he’d written. If so, Ivy thought, it seemed too coherent for someone blitzed out on Sodium Pentothal. She was almost convinced a rational mind wrote it.

Then she wondered, how many other messages had he hidden in that wreck of an apartment. How many more would never be read? Her heartrate kicked up when she realized Narr himself might have never seen these words. How authentic their secrets would be then!

For a second, she was so full of joy it made her sick. Her system just wasn’t used to it.

Her pulse hammered in her ears, a thumping noise, soft and irregular. Too irregular. After a moment she realized the sound wasn’t coming from inside her head. It was coming from the living room.

Ivy looked up, and the letter drifted from her fingers. “Gabe?”

When she checked on him, she found him standing near the patio door where she’d left him, only now the blanket was pooled at his feet. His arms hung at his sides, and he leaned his forehead against the glass. Outside, it was dark, and the lamps around the apartment complex had buzzed to life, spilling a pale blue light over the courtyard. The sky was dark purple, a heavy twilight the moment before hard night fell. Something bothered her about the plate glass. She stared at it for a second until she realized what it was.

Under Gabe’s forehead, the glass was clear. No fogging. Surely her brother had a fever, and he was trying to cool himself down by pressing against a smooth substance chilled by the air outside. Then she noticed the bowl of soup at the kitchen table was untouched. Even though he was just standing there, the position turned her stomach. It was like his body was drooping, numb. But he was active enough to step forward, thumping against the door. He didn’t reach for the handle to get out. He looked broken. A surge of panic flooded her veins. Maybe he’d had a stroke, or something else terrible had happened.

Ivy came up behind him and plucked the blanket off the floor. “You okay, Gabe? You want a different soup?” She placed the blanket around his shoulders, and it slid right off again. He was so limp he’d gotten narrow, even the muscular square of his shoulders had drooped. “Hey, Gabe? Answer me, okay? Should we go to the hospital?”

She leaned in to examine his face as he pounded himself at the plate glass door. His expression was wide-eyed, his mouth hung open, slack at the corners. His eyes turned upwards, almost rolled back into his head.

“Gabe?!” she cried. “Answer me! Can you answer me?” Ivy grabbed his shoulders and shook him. The feel of his body unnerved her; underneath the fabric of his lime green t-shirt, there was no warmth. He felt like a dead rubber dummy.

Ivy struggled to keep her tears in check. All this time, she was playing archivist while her brother was very, very ill. She should have been paying better attention. But now she was, and Gabe most certainly had to go to the hospital. She ran to the door to get her shoes and keys, and to grab his shoes to wrestle onto his feet, but her panic grew to such a degree that she contemplated actually calling an ambulance. Her eyes stung like she was about to ugly cry, but she pinched her face up and told herself she had to make the right decision, do the right thing for Gabe, so she didn’t lose him—

Behind her, glass shattered. The explosion jolted her out of her thoughts, and she spun around. Jagged fragments of the plate glass door hung from its frame as a narrow smear of blood trailed out into the patio. Gabe shuffled out into the courtyard.

She raced over. “Gabe?! What did you do, dude…?” He didn’t turn or acknowledge her. He kept shuffling forward, his head wrenched back so his face was turned up to the sky.

In the blue lamp light, she saw black smears over his cheeks and forehead where the glass had cut him. It had shredded his shirt, and a few dark spots marred the fabric. Ivy told herself it would be okay, there wasn’t that much blood, but then she wondered why. His blood wasn’t dripping. It was thick, congealed. Gabe put one foot in front of the other, staring upwards, but he was otherwise limp, like a puppet pulled by invisible strings. And, Ivy realized slowly, he wasn’t alone. Other figures moved in the courtyard around him.

Ivy scanned the complex to see several open apartment patios, at least ten people in various stages of pajamas or sick-robes stumbling out into the night. The cries of their families and roommates followed them. Where are you going, honey? What are you looking at? They all moved like drones.

Terror spiked through Ivy’s chest. They were all staring at the sky.

She told herself, don’t look up. She had the urge to rush back inside and block the doors and windows with plastic tarps, cover the sills and ventilation ducts with tape so no air could get through.

But Narr had been wrong. It wasn’t air the virus traveled through. It was the void. And it had already gotten to Gabe, so it must be thick in the room she’d just been sitting in. How could she avoid it?

Outside the neighbors were screaming and crying as their loved ones shuffled off. Limp, hypnotized zombies. The light on the grass flickered a little, and Ivy realized it had turned a deep purple color and now moved like flames from above. Sirens howled in the distance. Many of them. If she called an ambulance, would there be any available? Ivy watched her brother shuffle away, mindlessly towards the thing he saw in the sky. The hospitals and doctors couldn’t do a thing. They’d all be moving forward soon.

Her tears drying, Ivy stopped on the lawn, the full terror of it making her numb.

No escape, she thought.

At that point, Ivy stopped fighting it. She looked up at the sky and saw the dark sphere. Around it flickered a deep purple halo, like a smoky eclipse. It was so close, she could see tiny figures swarming along its rocky surface, moving in and out of the ruins. It was so close. As Ivy wrenched her neck to stare up at it, she felt a tickle in her throat. Then she coughed.


Sondi March occasionally summons demons, but in most cases it doesn’t turn out very well. She has a BA in English from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and she lives in Omaha, NE. 


Five Poems by Jack Harvey

Enter the Apocalypse

Now sense some coming apocalypse,
now expect some ripe recipe
for total disaster;
in the first nanoseconds
of God's hideous anger,
fortified with worse than
fire and brimstone,
the earth, our mother,
overcome, overcooked,
glows hot and red,
our red-hot mama
can't be saved;
the heat, the deadly radiation 
patiently
seek our bones, our marrow, our cells.

From Pensacola to Beijing
and all points west, east,
north, south, everything
dead or alive,
rocks to rooks
to cats to Kathy next door
burnt to a crisp;
look at the charred trees
in the garden of Eden
where Eve's lovely breasts
and the rest of her used to sit;
the patient farmer turned to charcoal
along with his plough;
even the dead and buried wake,
turn and peer up
through bone holes, wormy eyes;
some citizens see nothing
but the removal of agriculture
in their situation,
an end to the fertile earth;
others, passing on from
a life of faulty digestion,
sour guts and Paregoric
show faith in the power of death;
no hurt to them, this ravishing terminus.

The typewriter building in Rome,
the Taj Mahal, Saint Peter's dome,
start to smoke, then
in the blink of an eye,
like fiery wedding cakes
go up in a blaze;
oceans boil away, roaring their anguish,
their seasoning burning in white heaps;
the glaciers cry away their
mass in floods of icy water;
mountains melt like butter,
rained on by the corona
of some enormous nearby sun.

The shroud of death spreads over
the broad burning earth and
then the horror of too much Assyrian orange
takes away resemblance from everything,
leaving the remains of blackened bits and pieces,
unidentified debris, piles of nothing
turning to dust and less than dust.

We don't have enough time for all of it,
over the eons slowly creeping
and no need describing
the whole extinction, my fellow shareholders;
a spectacular dish for special occasions,
but expensive and terminal;
beyond its horribly radiant gate,
beyond God's towering cloud of wrath,
wherever he is,
there is nothing.        


=======================

               Headlines

Gadabout God faces famous courtesan,
tits and all,
calls Moses a fraud, calls Jesus false
as the bloody cross he hung from;
tricks of the trade, snakes in the grass,
he calls them, all of them;
read all about it, it's all here,
plain as day or the sparkling night.

Queens leave adultery to
their daughters instead of cold millions;
read all about it, read about
flames, arson, dying firemen,
flying bullets and
dead famous entertainers,
death coming to Disneyland
in a hoop-skirt;
lapidary hoopla, it's all there,
bold as brass, stupid as paint,
creating coffins of words,
black and fleeting,
holding us briefly
and no more.

We ain't talking about the good word,
boys and girls, 
the gospels to come, to be told,
to be treasured;
just the daily bleating, the comings and goings,
the ratcheting of infamous feats,
retarded admirals and presidents
at home and abroad,
in big trouble, uh-oh,
stays of execution,
all kinds of sinners and whores
in the fields of earth and
at the end of the road, the end of now,
as we know it, a modest apocalypse.
Wow! And forget it.

God, sly as a fox and bold as a lion,
scales down his limitless circumference,
signaling from the sky,
comes down again, this time 
harrowing not only hell,
but earth's own sweet self,
not only boxing
the daily evangelists into oblivion,
but bringing to us all
His grace and terrible truth;
ripping out now with
the message of eternity;

none of it lasts, folks,
not a goddamned bit of it.    

===============================

 

 Out In the Country

All my fantasies
have fled the old homestead;
the hacienda’s as empty of heat
as winter’s candles.
Still as a painting
the moon hangs
in the snoring night;
twice-pale she looks,
Diana
surprised by the hunter.
Hounds skate down moonbeams
like avenging furies;
the stag, a shadow, a ghost,
runs over the meadows.

Running far from my native shores
I let the wonderful cooler native women
play with me, titillate me, adulate me,
until my weary head
rests at last
on the anvil.
At night,
satiate and subdued,
I walk on the beach,
lonely stars above
the encompassing sea.
Lonely, I look at the night;
to my fallible mirror of self
Prince Hamlet or Nial
at the least,
stalking, brooding on the strand;
to rutting teens,
more like an apparition,
an old fool 
doddering in the moonlight. 

Well, even Athens looked
like a heap of stone
to a seagull flying
high
as Hitler’s arm once was;
we souls below
swoop close,
try to embrace
in tortures measured
to the goose-stepping firmament.

Saint Lawrence, 
well done over the coals,
put up a reckless good front
besieged;
passus est or assus est,
died or fried,
it was over;
this fire, his life,
burnt out.

For us a lesson;
a thousand enemies gnaw at
brains and bones alike,
defy them all,
at the crack of doom defy;
it’s soon enough
the stinting grass
grows over our heads. 

==============================

 

  
    Sodom and Gomorrah

Pretty soon some passengers
on the planes and trains of life,
like those denizens of the vicious
cities of the plain,
become unbearable to God,
commit some grievous sin
for which there is no forgiveness.

The pilot closes the cockpit door,
the engineer gives way
to schedules and surly expediency
and God piles on his vengeance,
brings down a murderous rain
of brimstone and fire.

Among the bogus violets in the engine cab,
the plastic roses in the cockpit,
late in the night
a scholar writes his history
of those vengeful times;
his eyelids close and sightless
he writes on until Ursa Major,
the Great Bear, runs its course,
rolling around the night sky
like it always does.

This is the end for them,
in those cities on the plain.

The once fruitful earth
has no sympathy for them, 
long bearing the blasted remains
of those two shining cities
brought low by God's hand.
The fire and brimstone rained down
in blazing whirlwinds, rough with light;
upside-down towers and fiery finials,
close-packed, bizarre
as the stone-knobbed agonized spires
of the Sagrada Família;
Gaudi's masterpiece.

Abraham, bargaining
with an obliging God,
pled down to less than
a baker's dozen
to save the city
by God's mercy;  
His holy messengers,
in Lot's house
compassed about,
pressed by perverts,
blinded them and
went out searching
for what they were sent to find;
alas, not finding in this teeming city
even ten of the righteous.

Lot's family does right
and gets out of town.

On the smoking streets
people running like ants
and it's no use;
His terrible face and rage,
seen above the furnace of destruction.

So that was that
and Lot's wife,
looking back
that one time,
turned to salt by
the divine effulgence
or a last fateful look
at her burning city,

who knows?

Lot's wife become a memory,
standing pinnacle of salt;
a lesson to us all
in the window of history.

Little room left for life
after a city of calamities
goes up in your face;
the family saved, the mother lost
by a love too strong for her old place
or simply dried up
by the radiance of God.

Creatures made
and unmade by Him
and that for vengeance

and that's the end of it.

=================================

 

Talk About the Wild West

Talk about the wild west,
talk about the plains,
talk about the bygone Indian days;
there never was a time we couldn't see
in our mind's eye
the tribes passing, rambling
through that outstretched land,
staying and settling,
never was a time we couldn't feel
the anger of that tomahawking
wild and wooly holdup age;
the rage that never ended until death 
lost nations, destroyed the old ways,
the broad paths, the houses, the tepees,
the very remains of the hearths
broken in the dust.

It's gone now
and now we only see
the piebald horses, the rust-colored
run by the buttes
as spring snipes away
at the Rockies; twittering birds
eat what they can find,
whatever's left on the ground.
Sweet grass comes up timely
for the cows lowing and eating
and we talk about the wild west 
to the takers of the land,
to the sad remnants
of bygone nations.

Lady Look, lovely messenger,
reigns over hill and dale,
towns and mountains;
spring's mansion of leaves
and blooms fills, blossoms out;
dogwood trees white white
like fallen parachutes
lift up their plumage
to the warming sun;
daffodils spread lavish light.

Spring besieges summer,
more, more, it asks,
presses for more beauty and life,
newness, the colors of the rainbow,
the paleness of the new moon,
the red-winged blackbird,
the oriole, all showing the world they bring
and we sing old cowboy songs
to the takers of the land,
to the sad remnants 
of bygone nations.

O skipping lamb, cakewalk
by the broken shopping carts;
with your small hooves, click, click,
show the asphalt you're the boss.

Nevertheless, never endless
the reign of spring ends,
the bird notes slow,
dwindled away by the sleepy summer
heat, drowsy the trees barely shrug,
the tar melts on the roads.

Only misbegotten seeming
perennials apprehend
the end of a proud race;
heads of flowers and men
gay only for a while,
knowing the cycle of bygone days,
heads drooping already in dreams
of root-clutching cold, change of seasons,
the end of an age, a way of life,
the end of the wild west we knew,
caught in lifeless tightfisted memories
and we talk about the wild west,
talk about the plains
to the takers of the land,
to the sad remnants 
of bygone nations. 



Jack D. Harvey’s poetry has appeared in Scrivener, The Comstock Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Typishly Literary Magazine, The Antioch Review, The Piedmont Poetry Journal and elsewhere. The author has been a Pushcart nominee and over the years has been published in a few anthologies.

The author has been writing poetry since he was sixteen and lives in a small town near Albany, New York. He is retired from doing whatever he was doing before he retired. He once owned a cat who could whistle “Sweet Adeline,” use a knife and fork and killed a postman.

His book, Mark the Dwarf is available on Kindle. https://www.amazon.com/Mark-Dwarf-Jack-D-Harvey-ebook/dp/B019KGW0F2


Headlines, Out In the Country and Apocalypse appeared previously in Zombie Logic Review; Sodom and Gomorrah and Wild West in RavensPerch. 


“The Suicide Barn” Fiction by William Presley

It’s nothing special – another old horse barn, in another hay field, at the end of another dirt road. I could send you a picture of the view from my window, and you wouldn’t know if I were in Ohio or Oregon. (Slayton, 1992)

I put the letter back in my notebook with a nod. Shades of brown striped the unevenly worn structure, clashing with the purple sky above and golden field below in a way that seemed so… generic. It was like stepping into the painting of everywhere and nowhere that hung in any great-aunt’s living room. Perhaps that was what drove everyone who lived in this barn insane. Or, perhaps, there was something far more sinister lurking around the property. The families of the many previous tenants had hired me to uncover the truth, and after reading the letters that they had provided, even my rational mind was starting to suspect the latter option.

With a mix of curiosity and apprehension, I trudged over to the adjacent farmhouse. An elderly woman built like a fillet knife answered the door before I even had a chance to knock. Deep lines rippled through her powder-white face, and her pin-curled red hair leant her an almost Elizabethan sternness. “Are you the one who called earlier? About the hayloft apartment?” she asked in a dry alto.

“Yes, I’m Burke! I didn’t catch your name, though.”

“Let’s start with Ma’am. I-”

A groan drew my attention through the entryway and to an equally aged woman with a pudgy yet sunken face. She was hunched over in a wheelchair, her stringy white hair dangling limply around her shoulders, her arms resting on the kitchen table to reveal a patchwork of burns and scars. ‘Ma’am’ slammed the door behind her before I could take in any more.

“Don’t mind the invalid. You won’t see much of her.”

“Are you two… sisters?”

A grunt was all I got in response as she beckoned me off of the porch. “I’ll give you a little tour. If you like the place, you can have it today, but I need two months up front. And the security deposit. That’s another month and a half.”

The old woman flung open a side entrance to the barn, leading me up a staircase and into a surprisingly well-maintained apartment. Even with furnishings that hadn’t been updated since the 70s, it was hard not to find appeal in the completely open floor plan and cathedral ceiling. I wandered over to the twin bed in the corner and pulled another letter from my notebook.

Once is a bad dream. Twice is a recurring nightmare. But three times? That’s real. It has to be. I wake up every night with the shadow person standing over me. That’s it, just a shadow. It’s got no features. I can see it, though, because it’s somehow darker than the loft. I can feel it, too. It’s got nails. It runs them up and down my face just hard enough to hurt without leaving marks. (Quinn, 1992)

I next turned my attention to the window by the kitchen table; it had been referenced by several of the former residents.

You sit there, eyes stinging and head heavy, trying to down your third cup of coffee. Everything around you is snapping in and out of vivid focus. Breezes become whirlwinds, creaking boards sound like shrill squeals, and raindrops remind you of cannonballs launching against the tin roof. Then a crow lands on the windowsill, and you see the intent to kill glinting in its eye. It wants to dig its talons into your flesh and drive its beak into your eardrum. It wants to recruit a shrieking army to overwhelm you, to drain the blood from your body until you’re a dried-up carcass on the floor. Or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it’s just a bird, and you’re paranoid from the lack of sleep. Of course, there’s also the possibility that the shadow woman planted those horrible images in your mind. It’s hard to know what’s real anymore. (Lane, 1993)

Eventually, I circled back to the front door and examined the knob, asking the same question I’m sure any sane person would: Why not leave?

I already told you that I can’t come home. She won’t let me. Last time I tried, the doorknob got so hot in my hand that you can still see bits of my fingertips seared to the brass. I guess I could jump out a window. What’s a broken leg if it means getting away from her? But whenever I get near one, a set of nails digs into the back of my neck as she blows a quick, raspy sigh into my ear. That must be her way of saying, “I go where you go.” And I can’t bring her back to you. (Hayward, 1994)

I then looked to the only other door in the apartment. It led to a cottagey, brown-paneled bathroom and adjoining closet.

I do everything I can to avoid the bathroom, but… well, the kitchen sink can only take so much. Eventually, I have to go in and bathe. That’s her favorite time to catch me – when I’m wet and naked in front of the mirror. She’ll turn the glass into some sort of… television… that plays the worst moments of my life on a constant repeat. All the beatings from Dad. All the Thanksgivings Uncle Gil took me into the back bedroom. Even the day Grandpa died. It’s like she grows from my misery. Each time I see her, she’s just… a little bit more formed. She’s actually starting to look like a child’s clay sculpture at this point. Her blue, naked body is womanly in all the right places while still androgynous enough to not be obscene. Her face, the part you can see through the veil of white hair, has only nondescript craters where the eyes, nose, and mouth should be. And her breathing… it’s so labored. (Martin, 1994)

There was a clear view of the bed from the bathroom doorway, and a shiver ran up my spine as I realized I was standing where she had stood.

I can feel that little gremlin of a woman staring at me every night through the crack in the door. At least in the dark, I don’t have to stare at her liver spotted folds in all of their nude glory. Too bad there’s nothing that can disguise her breath. She’s got lungs like a damn exhaust fan. Every gasp sends a gust of rotting meat whipping around the apartment. In and out, in and out. It’s almost hypnotic to watch all of the bodies hanging from the rafters as they sway with the rhythm. I know it won’t be long before I throw a rope around my neck and join them. (Hyde, 1995)

Notes tugged snuggly under my arm, I began to examine some unusual scratch marks on the far wall. “Have you had… many renters?”

‘Ma’am’ arched an eyebrow. “A few here and there.”

“And do they tend to stay long?”

“Long enough…”

I was about to ask if there’d been any unusual deaths on the premises when a single page fell from behind my elbow. The old woman’s expression morphed from curiosity over my letterhead to disgust at all of the names written down beneath.

“You have no idea what you’ve walked into,” she sneered. “No hack with a PI license could understand the kind of force at play in a place like this!”

I picked up the piece of paper, waving it in front of her face. “Twelve young men and women! All missing. All lived here. And yet, not a single death reported on the grounds! You mean to tell me that every single one of them packed up and disappeared without a trace?”

“Wherever they went, they went willingly.” She pulled out a handgun and trained it on my forehead. “I suggest you put those notes over in the fireplace and forget you were ever here.”

I pulled out my own gun, yet her only response was a low, throaty laugh. Loud footsteps began to encircle us. “Mother,” she called, “you have a new guest!” Seconds later, I felt the trigger jam up behind my finger. The footsteps grew louder, as did the laughter. But it was no longer coming from the woman before me.


Bill Presley is a graduate student in human genetics who spends his free time outside of the lab desperately hocking his fiction at anyone who will have it. His work has been featured by Strange Musings Press, Sirens Call, The Last Girls Club, and the Creepy Podcast. His debut novella, Aniela, will be released on July 6th by Little Demon Books.


“Lost Lambs” Fiction by Kilmo

The pale girl with the gold earrings like the crescent moon rubbed a hand through her hair and looked out of the window. Even with the creaking radiator turned all the way up she was surprised she couldn’t see her breath fog the air. Kata was beginning to forget what it had been like when the kitchen table groaned with food, drink, light, and laughter. She sighed and watched snowflakes beat uselessly against the glass. Past them, in the street, people were scurrying about like ants desperate to get back into the warm.

“Something’s got them excited.”

Keys rattled in the lock before a crash heralded her boyfriend’s return. Kata rolled her eyes. Twenty-eight years old, a grown man, and still Hannibal couldn’t open a door properly. No doubt the six-foot giant unfolding in the hallway had left a new imprint in the wall for the landlady to moan about.

“Any luck? You’ve been gone a while.”

“Same old story,” said her sweetheart as he strode into the room shaking snow from his favourite denims, the ones that looked they were held together by band patches. “But there might be something in this.”

He shoved his phone forward so Kata could read the screen.

“Maintenance? You’re a roadie. You push speakers about. Don’t tell me you know how to look after a building.”

“How hard can it be?” Hannibal shrugged. “Besides there’s nothing going on anymore. State says all performances cancelled for the crisis’ duration.”

Kata glared at him.

“The crisis? Is that what they’re calling it now?”

But Hannibal put his finger to his lips.

“Careful honey. You don’t know who might be listening, even here.” He glanced at the flat’s propaganda screen and the security camera bulging from its top. “We should go. They say it’s better in the sticks, and there’s something else.”

“What?”

“It’s back in our old manor. Should be easy to get on our feet again.”

Kata’s skin prickled. It had been a hard struggle to escape that trap before it ground them into submission, but she knew what he meant. The city was a black hole where the only work left was for the privileged with connections high up. She watched as the ants at the end of the street formed a line. A soup kitchen had opened its doors.

“I suppose it can’t be any worse than here.”

Two weeks later Hannibal and Kata were getting off a bus. As the big man retrieved their bags she shivered and examined the station with its smashed windows and weeds growing through the cracks.

“Home sweet home lover. How long since we left now d’you think?”

“Ten years.” Hannibal glanced up and fixed his eyes on her. “We got out when we still had a chance.”

“Remind me why we’re here again then?”

“Because it’s better than a slow death in the city.”

Kata looked at the rest of the buildings off the wide square, high, and institutional, they looked in equally bad shape.

“Hope you’re sure about that.”

But she kept her voice to a whisper. It wouldn’t be long before the city was the same, and with way more desperate people. They just had to hope the rumours they’d heard were right and the hicks were siphoning off the countryside’s food supplies for themselves.

“Wonder if there’s any of the old crowd left?”

“I doubt it,” said Hannibal swinging their bags over his shoulder. “Not the way they were carrying on before we got out.”

When Kata had met Hannibal he’d still been living with his aunt, and her own parents had disappeared not long after as if they felt the job of child rearing was done now their daughter had found a man. Kata had cried a little at first, but as far as she’d been concerned life without the constant fighting and drunken declarations of love had been a relief even if she’d temporarily lost the roof over her head. Hannibal and her hadn’t stayed in town much longer after that. 

“The clerk on the phone said report to the school for work and they’ll show us the house we’ve been allocated,” said her boyfriend as he reached her side.

“Looks even worse than I remember it.”

“Yeah… I’d forgotten. Where do you think everyone is?”

Kata was opening her mouth to reply when a scarecrow dressed in a ragged trench coat emerged from a nearby alley and blocked their path.

“The kids have come back.” A huge unkempt beard thrust itself in their direction. “No, not kids anymore. All grown up.”

There were eyes in there too, black, and beady, and filled with a feverish light.

“You remember me? Jim Devereux? Nah, you wouldn’t, too young, I expect.”

Hannibal and Kata examined the figure in front of them doing their best to strip away the dirt. It was Kata who figured it out first.

“I know you.” She shook her head and slowly a smile travelled across her face. “You were a copper. What happened to you?”

Devereux tapped a finger against his nose and gave them a wink.

“I’m undercover. This place is rotten, but I’m gonna clean it up. You’ll see. Drag each and every one of them to jail and throw away the key.” He backed away still staring at them with that bright light in his eyes. “Got to go now. People to see. Places to be. You know how it is.”

“I remember him chasing us all over town.” Hannibal watched the man shuffle up the street. “Doesn’t look like much now.”

Kata frowned.

“Yeah, but what’s replaced him?”

They’d been back a month before Kata began to suspect something was wrong, a month of checking who was alive and who was dead amongst their old friends. A month of calm reassurances that they’d made the right decision. Residential Sector Twelve was safe, dull, but safe.

The only problem was she was tired with the sort of bone aching weariness that had her dragging herself out of bed like an old woman, and Hannibal was worse. Kata stared at the pitted ceiling over her head. She should get up and start preparing the evening meal, but after a day spent with one of the sector’s volunteer militias lethargy sat in her bones like lead.

“At least we’re alive.”

That was no small thing since the fighting started. She frowned as the doorbell disturbed her thoughts.

“Yes? Who is it?” Her voice was barely a croak as she activated the grimy vidscreen and grabbed a clear plastic bladder from the pack that arrived on their doorstep every morning along with instructions for the day. As she squeezed the water down her throat the stamp of the company that ran the town caught her eye. Another quirk that kept the area secure was the presence of so much decaying heavy industry that the groundwater had long since been contaminated.

“Jesca I… what’s wrong?”

The woman on the video screen was Hannibal’s supervisor and her eyes were darting from side to side as she leaned closer to the speaker.

“Let me in Kata, please.”

Kata had never seen the teacher in such a state. Normally Jesca’s smile was a permanent feature and she brightened up a room just by being in it, but now she looked like a hunted animal. As Kata watched she pulled her daughter into view.

“Please Kata, for my kid’s sake. I don’t have long.”

There was no one in the street outside when Kata looked but she double bolted the door just to be on the safe side as soon as she’d let them in. There was something about seeing the only person in town who’d seemed to have a pulse in such a state that was a little unnerving.

“Shouldn’t you be at the school? Has something happened? Is Hannibal Ok?”

“I don’t know. I ran.”

“What do you mean you ran?”

Jesca gripped Kata’s hands so hard her nails dug into the flesh and stared into her eyes.

“Believe me I’d have gone elsewhere, but you’re still new. You’re not hooked.”

“Hooked on what?”

Jesca pointed at the water.

“Riot control honey. The answer to the civil war. What made you think coming to a pharma town was a good idea? This place is one big laboratory.”

“You should see the city. Besides, I was born in this sector. Nothing ever happens here.”

“Nothing happens for a reason. They’ve been feeding the population sedatives for years, constantly upping the dose to see what they can get away with and still have a productive labour force. But they’ve gone too far now. They want to start on the kids.”

Kata fought to think clearly through the lethargy filling her mind.

“How come you don’t seem affected? What makes you so special?”

Jesca looked down.

“I oversee distribution. I’m trusted.”

“Not by me. Her maybe, but not me.”

Kata pointed at where Jesca’s daughter had wandered into the living room. She was already slipping a pair of rubber nodes onto her temples so she could glue herself into her screen.

“You’re missing the point Kata. It doesn’t matter if you trust me or not. They’ll know I’ve come here. You can’t avoid the surveillance. I just need you to get my daughter out. Take her anywhere you like. I’ll give you money. Just take her far away from here.”

“Why don’t you do it?”

For the first time since the woman had started her story Kata felt a twinge of pity. The look Jesca was giving her was the same as a convict who’d been locked up all their life.

“They’ll never let me go. Not with what I know. Your parents were the same. Look where trying to fight the town’s board got them.”

“You knew my parents?”

“We were friends a long time ago before they were designated high risk and gotten rid of.”

Kata’s head suddenly felt as though a storm was blowing through it. She wasn’t sure whether to tear the teacher’s eyes out or start crying.

“Did you…?”

“No, I had nothing to do with it. I told you. I’m distribution, but not anymore. If they want to turn the kids into drones too, I’m out. My daughter deserves a chance at a decent life.”

“Hannibal…”

“Is still at the school,” once again Jesca was finding it hard to meet Kata’s eyes. “You don’t understand. They’d never let me leave and I wasn’t sure you’d agree to help me. They’ve only just made the decision, but it won’t be long till they put this place into lockdown in case there’s any trouble from the parents.”

Kata felt her stomach lurch.

“What is it? What have you done Jesca?”

“You’re not the only ones with connections in the movement. I left certain things where they’ll find them in case you said no. But there’s still time to do something about it. I’ll tell you where they are if you agree to help… please.”

The crack as Kata’s hand met Jesca’s cheek and snapped her head round sounded loud in the narrow corridor.

Kata glared at the teacher.

“Alright, then I better go get him.”

The school was a huge concrete block at the town’s centre. Once someone had tried painting colourful murals along it, but generations of kids had covered them with graffiti until only the odd splash of colour remained where even the oldest couldn’t reach. As Kata drew nearer she saw the lights were out. She pulled out her phone and tried another call listening to the ringtone before it was replaced by the flat whine of a disconnected service.

“You better be in there Hannibal.”

The wind howling down the street stole the words from her mouth with ease and she glanced at the lowering snow laden clouds gathering overhead. If they were going to make a run for it tonight they’d have a storm to cover their tracks.

“If we make a run for it tonight.”

Kata headed up the stairs. The entrance was open, but crossing its threshold felt like stepping into an abyss, and some deep primal part of her was screaming to get out before it was too late.

“Hannibal?”

Kata’s voice bounced through the gloomy building. There were lights on she realised just not the main ones. Instead, only the cabinets and their ranks of cheap trophies shone in the dark.

“You there?”

Kata’s foot met a bucket and water sloshed onto the floor. With her next step she found the mop, and something went cold and hard inside her.

“Oh…”

Hannibal was hanging from a knotted cord tied to the railing of a balcony. It looked like he was trying to see something on his shoes.

As she tried to hoist him free Kata’s feet slid on the photos scattered on the floor like the leaves of a tree in autumn. She knew what they’d be without even looking and as she finally gave up and began to cry with her face buried against his legs the grainy images of a much younger Hannibal with even longer hair stared back from under a banner with the revolutions slogan. Once upon a time the movement had played a large part in both their lives; although she doubted their lack of activity recently would matter. The association was enough, and the town’s runaway had been caught and punished at last for his escape. Hannibal would have known what was waiting for him in one of the crumbling state-run gulags. Politicals rarely made it to old age.

When Devereux found her she was curled in a ball staring at the love of her life’s fingers, the ones that would never touch her again, never caress her face.

“Come on get up.”

She felt herself being dragged to her feet.

“You can’t stay here. They’ll be coming before dawn to clear away the body. Probably already know you’ve found it.”

“Who will?”

“The board’s servants; they’ve plenty of those in this town.”

“Jesca,” hissed Kata, the name spitting from her tongue like an insult. “She’s at my house.”

“With her child Kata. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have done the same yourself. That kid stays here she’ll be a drone just like everyone else.”

“You’re not like them. Everyone else… their eyes. They look like you could walk right up and shoot them, and they wouldn’t care.”

“Trust me it’s been done. They’re the perfect docile population. All the board wants now is to see if it can get the same result with the kids.”

“So, what’s your secret? Why aren’t you like them?”

Glass clinked in the man’s pocket as he pulled something free.

“I don’t drink the water sweetheart… prost.”

Devereux replaced the bottle.

“Come on now let’s get you out of here. You gonna take the kid?”

Kata’s heart felt crushed and sour, and she could feel the tracks of tears freeze on her cheeks as they stepped into the rising storm, but she knew she had no choice.

“Yes… but the mother.”

She spat.

Devereux stared back at her and she was surprised at the kindness hidden in the look.

“Thought you might feel like that.”

When they got back the house was empty except for Jesca’s daughter and no amount of raging from Kata could change it. The note that Jesca had left almost stayed unread, but if it wasn’t Kata that killed the woman for what she’d done her superiors surely would. Kata unfolded the paper and thought of the thousand things she’d like to do to the person who’d written it.

“Sorry…”

She thrust it in Devereux’s direction. One word had been enough.

“I can’t read this. Tell me what she’s got to say… briefly.”

The ex-policeman hunched over the paper as thunder rumbled in the distance.

“She says to leave now. She says they’ll be busy with her and what she’s going to do to their hardware round here. She says you won’t see her again, neither of you.”

“She’s lucky then,” hissed Kata. But as she looked at where Jesca’s daughter was still sat her jaw softened and some of the wildness left her face. She realised she didn’t even know the kid’s name.

“What are you going to do Devereux?”

“My job.”

The man took a long drink from his bottle and grinned. “They might not pay me anymore but I’ve a responsibility to this town. Well, what’s left of it. The people here were my friends.”

“Won’t you be in trouble for helping me?”

“Probably, but I think they like having me around. It reminds them of how untouchable they are. But I have this.”

Devereux pulled his coat aside and Kata saw the pistol slung around his hip.

“If I ever see one of the board I’m going to let rip. But they’re careful and they don’t like to get too close to the herd. Normally they just send their servants to do their work for them. This time though I’m not sure. This thing with the kids is a big deal for them. It’s the culmination of their program; the final hurdle. Afterwards, if it works, they’ll start rolling their product out to the cities.”

Kata stared into the night pressing against the window. She felt empty, used up, and it had nothing to do with what they were putting into the water. She’d no idea where she would go, just that it had to be away from here.

“Then I’ll say goodbye.”

“Goodbye Kata. I’m sorry about Hannibal. He was a good kid.”

Just for a moment Kata thought she might cry, but she was damned if she’d let him see her weakness.

“Come on,” she called instead as she went into the next room. “We have to get going.”

“Where’s my Mum?”

The girl stared up at her with wide blue eyes. She was a lot younger than Kata had been when her own parents had disappeared, but she still knew something was wrong.

“Your Mummy’s told me to look after you until she can join us.” Kata stretched a smile across her face she didn’t feel and took the kid’s hand. “Let’s get you wrapped up warm. We’re going for a walk.”

The storm had died down a little by the time they made their move, and the moon was visible sailing through the ragged clouds.

“At least we can see where we’re going.”

Fresh snow lay everywhere un-marked and un-disturbed and for a moment the town at the heart of Sector Twelve almost looked beautiful. Kata and the girl hurried through the streets crossing the open spaces at a run. Kata pretended it was a game and she was glad of the weather because it made it too cold to talk much. It was only when they reached the suburbs pressing up against the forest that she allowed herself to breathe a little easier.

“Mummy’s in there. In the forest. Shall we go see her?”

“No. It’s cold. I want to go home.”

“Listen,” Kata crouched until she was level with the girl’s face. “What’s your name?”

“Adele.”

“Listen Adele, we’re going on an adventure. That’s how you have to think of this. Don’t you want to see if there’s elves in the woods? I bet there are.”

Adele squinted suspiciously at the dark looming trees.

“What sort of elves?”

“Good ones, with tons of candy, and warm fires. That’s who your Mum’s with.”

Kata was hoping that the part about warm fires was true at least. She knew she was storing up trouble for later, but she’d do anything to put a million miles between her and Sector Twelve right then.

“Okay.”

They were halfway to the nearest trees when the first figure stepped from between their trunks.

“Damn.”

Kata veered through the drifts. She couldn’t tell if the man had seen them. Maybe they’d been lucky. Her hope died a miserable death when the next black clad figure emerged, and the next, and the next.

Soon there was almost as many people as trees spread in a semicircle around them.

“Who are they?” said Adele.

“Nobody we want to know.”

Kata began to step backwards dragging the child with her. They’d gotten about twenty paces before the crowd appeared from between the buildings. All that was missing were torches thought Kata with a bitter smile.

“Run kid. Your mother’s waiting for you.”

A narrow rapidly closing path led to the nearest clump of woodland on her left and Kata shoved the kid in that direction.

“Go. NOW.”

“But…”

Adele’s face crumpled and Kata waited for her to burst into tears. But the kid was tough. When she gave her another, harder, shove she didn’t fall to the ground or lose control. She just stared back at Kata with a puzzled frown.

“You said…”

“Move, these people are killers. They’ll eat you up and chew on your bones and they’re coming now.”

Kata thought fast.

“Move, you’re a horrible little stray I wish I’d never met.”

She glanced at the forest hoping the kid can’t tell she’s faking it.

“I think I see your mother now. I wish she was dead too.”

At least the last part is true and with a sound midway between a sob and a gasp the little figure was running through the thickening snow. Kata had no idea how far it was to the nearest settlement. No idea if she’d live, but as her back disappeared between the trees and the crowd drew in she was glad the kid had a chance.

“Never come back sweetheart. It’s true what they say. Going back will be the death of you.”

Kata turned to face the nearest grey faced figures with their deadly blank eyes. They were drawing knives.


Kilmo writes. He brought it from squatting in Bristol to a van in a pub car park, to “Dark Fire Magazine,” “CC&D Magazine,” “Feed Your Monster Magazine,” “Blood Moon Rising,” “Aphelion,” “The Wyrd,” “One Hundred Voices,” and now here.


Submit Your Dark Fiction and Poetry to The Chamber

The Chamber Magazine is seeking articles, reviews, essays, poems, and short stories of approximately 7,500 words (note revised word limit) or less including flash, micro fiction, smoke longs, drabbles or of any flavor of short fiction that demonstrates the art of writing dark fiction, whether it be prose, poetry, one-act plays, or any other form of literature.  We want to showcase the genre in all its subtlety, intelligence, art, horror, terror, suspense, thrill-seeking, and gruesome detail. We will accept dark humor provided it follows the guidelines below with regards to content and good taste.

To be good short fiction, the shorter a work is, the more power it must pack.

Welcome genres include:

  • horror
  • fantasy
  • action-adventure
  • suspense/thriller
  • literary
  • science fiction
  • historical
  • mystery/crime
  • noir
  • romance
  • Western
  • experimental
  • cyberpunk
  • steampunk
  • weird fiction
  • gothic
  • general
  • humor
  • any mixture of the above

There is no pay for publication, but the author retains all rights. Reprints are acceptable. Multiple submissions of up to three works per submission are permitted. Simultaneous submissions are permitted, but you must tell us if the work has been accepted elsewhere. We usually respond within a week. Works generally appear a month after acceptance.

More details about submissions are available on the website.

Send submissions and queries to thechambermagazine@gmail.com.

Submit Your Dark Fiction and Poetry to The Chamber

The Chamber Magazine
thechambermagazine.com

The Chamber Magazine is seeking articles, reviews, essays, poems, and short stories of approximately 7,500 words (note revised word limit) or less including flash, micro fiction, smoke longs, drabbles or of any flavor of short fiction that demonstrates the art of writing dark fiction, whether it be prose, poetry, one-act plays, or any other form of literature.  We want to showcase the genre in all its subtlety, intelligence, art, horror, terror, suspense, thrill-seeking, and gruesome detail. We will accept dark humor provided it follows the guidelines below with regards to content and good taste.

To be good short fiction, the shorter a work is, the more power it must pack.

Welcome genres include:

  • horror
  • fantasy
  • action-adventure
  • suspense/thriller
  • literary
  • science fiction
  • historical
  • mystery/crime
  • noir
  • romance
  • Western
  • experimental
  • cyberpunk
  • steampunk
  • weird fiction
  • gothic
  • general
  • humor
  • any mixture of the above

There is no pay for publication, but the author retains all rights. Reprints are acceptable. Multiple submissions of up to three works per submission are permitted. Simultaneous submissions are permitted, but you must tell us if the work has been accepted elsewhere. We usually respond within a week. Works generally appear a month after acceptance.

More details about submissions are available on the website.

Send submissions and queries to thechambermagazine@gmail.com.

“Catacombs of the Doomed” Fiction by Steve Carr

Leaving the brothel through the alley exit in the middle of the night, Daniel took his wedding ring from his pants pocket and slid it on. In the chill and damp of heavy fog, he tucked in his shirt, zipped up his windbreaker, and lit a cigarette. He looked both ways down the long narrow brick lined alley. What little light there was coming from two lampposts at opposite ends of the alley were no more than small orbs of white light, like embers in a dying fire, surrounded by the thick hazy mist. Taking two puffs of the cigarette he turned toward the faint sound of traffic and began walking. His footsteps echoed along the walls like muted claps of thunder.

Passing by a dumpster reeking of rotting vegetables, he stopped, alarmed by a large gray rat that crossed his path and disappeared in the fog. He inhaled smoke from the cigarette and exhaled, blowing rings that dissipated, then continued on, picking up his pace.  Sensing he was coming to the end of the alley, but not able to clearly see the street ahead, he tried to visualize his location, and realized he had no idea whether to turn left or right once he reached the street. He threw the half-finished cigarette on the pavement. Ahead of him a figure clothed in attire like a nun’s habit appeared, then another, and then another.

Stopping, he tried to make out their faces, and wondered if it was the poor visibility of the night that made their head pieces to the long tunics that touched the ground look dark gray.

“Ladies,” he said, with a hint of questioning.

In the next instant a burlap bag was pulled down over his head and whatever hit him knocked him out cold.                                   

When he awoke, water sloshed around his feet and the scent of decayed earth and sewage filled his nostrils. As he shifted, chains around his wrists and ankles that held him against a slimy earthen wall rattled. The back of his head where he had been hit throbbed with pain. A flame from a single torch fixed to a wall in an otherwise dark corridor provided the only light. A row of bars separated the room he was in and the corridor. Dripping water echoed in the cold stillness.

“Help,!” he cried out.

“That will do you no good,” a man’s raspy voice said to him from the darkness on the other side of the room.

Daniel strained to see. Another man, shrouded in shadow, was against a far wall. “Where am I?” Daniel asked.

“I don’t know for certain ,” the man said. “Somewhere beneath the city.”

“How long have you been here?” Daniel squinted hard, trying to bring the sight of the man hidden in the dark into better focus.

“I have no idea,” the man said. “You’ll find as I have that time becomes meaningless very quickly here.”

“What do they want from us?” Daniel asked.

“You don’t want to know,” the man said.

“What’s your name?” Daniel asked.

“That too has lost any meaning,” the man said.

“Mine is Daniel,” he whispered.

                                                                         #

“Wake up,” Daniel heard, quickly opening his eyes and trying to separate the nightmare he was having from the one he was in. From further down the corridor came the sound of rattling keys, the clicking of a lock mechanism, and the opening of a cell’s metal door on rusty hinges.

“Please God, no more,” a man’s voice shrieked in the darkness.

“What is it?” Daniel asked in a hushed tone.

“You were asleep,” the man in his cell said. “I heard you snoring. Never let them catch you asleep.”

As the screams of the man down the corridor faded, and the cell door closed with a resounding bang, Daniel felt something tugging on the hem of his pants. Looking down, a large, white rat was beginning to crawl up his leg. Even in the very faint light he could see its bright pink eyes. He shook his leg hard trying to shake it loose. The rat jumped from his leg, making a splash as it landed in the fetid water that covered the cell floor and swam into the darkness.

“What is it?” the other man asked.

“A rat. An albino rat, I think,” Daniel said. “These women who are holding us – are they part of some cult?”

“They’re not women,” the man said.

The corridor brightened with the light from more torches.

“What . . . ?” Daniel started.

“Quiet, you fool,” the other man said.

Outside the cell three of the habit-clad figures appeared, each carrying a torch. It was then that Daniel noticed the hems of their garments were not touching the water. They floated slightly above it, standing upright in the air, solid but weightless. The bright light of the torch flame shone on their faces. Daniel almost giggled, thinking he was looking at Halloween masks. Never before had he seen a living person with skin so disfigured by sores oozing with pus and blood. Their eyes sunk back in their skeletal faces.

One of the figures took a ring of keys from a rope around its waist and put the key into the lock. As they opened the door and came in, their stench of rot and decay filled the space. Bypassing Daniel they went to the other man. Then Daniel’s saw the other man’s face. His eyelids had been cut away and his lower lip was gone.

“No, no, it wasn’t me,” the man screamed as they unlocked his chains. “It was him who was talking. Take him.”

They reached beneath the man’s arms, lifted him up and carried him out as he weakly kicked at the water and tried to struggle free of their grasp.

“It was him,” the man shrieked over and over as they closed the cell door and disappeared down the corridor.

Back in the light of the single torch in the corridor, Daniel felt warm urine running down his leg.

                                                                       #

Resisting the need to sleep, Daniel began recounting the fairy tales and fables he had heard or read when he was a child, but each one had an element of evil, like a witch or an ogre, so he gave it up and tried to concentrate on his wife; her looks, the smell of her hair, the lilt in her voice. This only left him feeling more despondent. That he was happily married made his going to the brothel even more reprehensible. It had been his only marital indiscretion in ten years of marriage, but he blamed it for him being in the situation he found himself.

“Other men had done far worse things, so why me?” he wondered as his eyes began to close.

                                                                       #

Awaking to the sound of heavy breathing, Daniel quickly realized it was his own that had awakened him. Raising his head and seeing several torches on the walls around him he also realized he was no longer in the cell but in another larger room that smelled of sulfur and rotten meat. He attempted to sit up, but was held down on a wood table by straps around his legs, chest and arms. Brackish water dripped from small rust colored, spiral stalactites that hung from the ceiling. Drops splashed onto his bare chest and stomach.

“So, you’ve awoken.”

Daniel turned his eyes toward the direction of the voice. Where nothing had been only a moment before now stood one of the habit-clad beings, its face hidden in the shadows of its head piece.

“Why are you doing this?” Daniel asked, aware of how parched his throat was.

“Why indeed?” it said, the pitch of its voice alternating from feminine to masculine. “You were marked.”

 It remained perfectly still for a moment as if  it were thinking what to say next, then disappeared.

Daniel blinked his eyes, hard, disbelieving what he had just seen. “Marked?” he said aloud.

Then a metal door covered in green and blue mildew opened and four of the beings entered. They surrounded the table and tossed back their head pieces, uncovering their ghostly white faces dripping with infection. They bent down and placed their blood smeared lips on his chest and abdomen and began sucking the blood from Daniel’s body through his skin.

He screamed until he passed out.

                                                                        #

When he awoke he was back in the cell and shackled against the wall. His right eye hurt even more than the sores left on his torso. He turned his head toward the torch in the corridor. Unable to blink his right eye, he knew what had been done to it. The clotted blood around the eye socket tugged at the surrounding skin. He closed his left eye as what little light there was in the cell seared both eyes. His right eye throbbed with pain and tears ran down his cheeks. Then the door to the cell opened. He watched as the beings carried in another man, pulled a burlap sack from his head, and stood him against the far wall and chained him there.

Daniel looked away as they turned their faces toward him as they exited. 

“Speak quietly,” Daniel said. “My name is Daniel. What’s yours?”

“Robert,” the man whispered. “What is this place?”

“Catacombs of some kind,” Daniel said. “Were you snatched from the street?”

“I was at home watching television,” Robert said. “My wife and children were asleep. I didn’t hear those things come into my house.”

The sound of a cell door opening reverberated through the corridor, and then the screams of a man pleading to be left alone. The door closed and the man’s screams faded as he was carried away.

Robert whispered prayers.

“That won’t help you,” Daniel said.

                                                                       #

As the four beings carried Daniel toward the room with the metal door he began to struggle much harder than he had previously. As they tightened their grips he fought even harder, finding that their lack of footing on solid floor gave them little leverage as he knocked them from side to side. It occurred to him even as he threw wild punches that seldom landed that others must have fought also, but it didn’t deter him. Just before reaching the door, Daniel was dropped into the slimy water. He hopped to his feet and ran down the length of the corridor, peripherally seeing all the other cells and figures hidden inside among the shadows against the walls.  At the end of the corridor he rammed his shoulder against the bars causing them to break free from the decaying earth. He stumbled out into a pitch dark passageway, slipping in foul smelling water, then blindly ran through a long tunnel until he reached an opening to a sewage pipe. Sliding down it, he landed feet first in a canal alongside a garbage dump. Climbing over mounds of trash he came out on a dirt road leading into the city. He looked up at the night sky and thanked God.

                                                                        #                                                                

Six months later Daniel sat in a pew at the back of the church and adjusted the patch over his eye. He crossed himself then got up and went out. He pulled the collar of his coat up as a he was buffeted by a cold wind. Twilight lengthened the shadows cast by trees along the cobblestone street. He quickened his pace and reached the front door of his home just as the church bells rang. The burlap bag was slipped over his head and he was knocked unconscious before he had time to react.

                                                                  #

After the doctor delivered the newborn baby he handed him to the nurse. She turned, and as the others in the delivery room were busy, she surreptitiously lifted the infant’s left heel. She put it to her lips, sucking a small amount of blood from it, leaving a very small mark in the shape of a pentagram.


Steve Carr, from Richmond, Virginia, has had over 500 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals, reviews and anthologies since June, 2016. His paranormal/horror novel Redbird was released in November, 2019. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice. His website is https://www.stevecarr960.com/

“Catacombs of the Doomed” was previously published by Night to Dawn Magazine in 2018.

Submit Your Dark Fiction and Poetry to The Chamber

The Chamber Magazine is seeking articles, reviews, essays, poems, and short stories of approximately 7,500 words (note revised word limit) or less including flash, micro fiction, smoke longs, drabbles or of any flavor of short fiction that demonstrates the art of writing dark fiction, whether it be prose, poetry, one-act plays, or any other form of literature.  We want to showcase the genre in all its subtlety, intelligence, art, horror, terror, suspense, thrill-seeking, and gruesome detail. We will accept dark humor provided it follows the guidelines below with regards to content and good taste.

To be good short fiction, the shorter a work is, the more power it must pack.

Welcome genres include:

  • horror
  • fantasy
  • action-adventure
  • suspense/thriller
  • literary
  • science fiction
  • historical
  • mystery/crime
  • noir
  • romance
  • Western
  • experimental
  • cyberpunk
  • steampunk
  • weird fiction
  • gothic
  • general
  • humor
  • any mixture of the above

There is no pay for publication, but the author retains all rights. Reprints are acceptable. Multiple submissions of up to three works per submission are permitted. Simultaneous submissions are permitted, but you must tell us if the work has been accepted elsewhere. We usually respond within a week. Works generally appear a month after acceptance.

More details about submissions are available on the website.

Send submissions and queries to thechambermagazine@gmail.com.

“Just in Case” Flash Fiction by Garrett Rowlan

The man walked out of the bushes as Paul was walking at twilight along the ravine, the one that ran north toward the Rose Bowl, a mile or so distant. Covered by the stretching shadows of the oak trees, Paul had turned back in the direction of his car, a 1/4-mile away, and out of the corner of his eye he saw the man alter his direction.

Paul didn’t like the young man’s appearance: scrawny, wearing a blue tank top (somehow Paul already imagined giving the police an All Points Bulletin), and dark-skinned, with knotted black hair spun like cotton candy off his skull. Paul increased his stride though his right knee, the one he had injured in high school thirty-five years ago and never fully healed, had begun to ache, the reason why he had turned back to his car in the first place. The man shouted something from behind. He was asking for money, maybe, for a cigarette or yelling from the depths of his hostility or madness. Paul’s heart pumped panic to his limbs as he speeded up his walk and clutched the switchblade in his pocket, the one he carried just in case.

The man’s shrill laugh pierced. He was getting closer. It was a nice neighborhood but quiet at this Sunday, twilight hour. Cars passed infrequently. Paul steadied himself for the encounter that followed. He imagined the response. Paul would not hesitate. The knife would penetrate the man’s flesh. What Paul imagined was the man’s look of surprise and panic filling drug-altered eyes, a second before the pain registered. Oh yes! Paul could imagine it clearly. Oh, he would love to show the punk that a middle-aged white man—somehow he saw the punk as Hispanic or black though he’d only gotten a glimpse in the gloaming—could be crazy too. Oh yeah!

When Paul couldn’t stand the wait any longer, he turned holding the knife.

The man was not there. He was some fifty feet behind Paul and talking on his cell phone. He didn’t notice Paul. “Yeah,” he said, as Paul turned away, “I was fucked up! Fucked up royally on that shit!”

Slipping the knife back in his pocket, Paul turned away, relieved and quizzical, asking himself, Who did the man remind me of? And then he had it, his brother-in-law, Rudy. He was Mexican too. “Hispanic,” he corrected Paul, the first time they met. Rudy had married Paul’s sister, Cindy. They had two kids, Ronnie and Maria, the delight of their grandmother. Cindy had gotten the looks, athletic ability, and ambition: She was a corporate lawyer, the Mexican husband was a high-school administrator. They were cogs in the success machine that had not included Paul.

The kid laughed again, loser, he shrieked.

Loser. It was the word he called himself, pushing fifty and unemployed, drinking on the sly, and watching cable with his mother. His favorite program was Dexter. He never missed envying a guy who had it all, looks, girlfriends, good job, and he could kill anyone he wanted, something that Paul sometimes envied, not that he wanted to be a serial killer, but he could definitely compile a list, beginning with his mother. “I could rent the room for a lot more if you weren’t my son,” she had said, resentfully. He’d kill her then he’d shank his ex-wife, who had cheated on him before leaving him. His father died years ago.

He realized he had been walking in silence for a couple of minutes now. He turned and looked back down the curving street and realized that his pursuer no longer pursued. The kid must have cut east at the narrow cross street. Paul walked another couple of minutes until he reached his car. He saw himself going home and didn’t want to think after that. Starting the car, Paul wondered if the kid wasn’t going to attack someone else, obviously discouraged by Paul’s fast walk and the knife he’d flashed. He drove to the narrow, rising road, and parked. He got out of the car and waited. It was night now and the houses were all quiet, most separated from the street by walls and hedges. A car passed, and Paul crouched down so he wouldn’t be seen. The kid was getting near. No other car was coming. Paul waited. The knife was in his pocket, just in case he wanted to step out and strike and then run away. Just in case he wanted to do that.


Garrett Rowlan is a retired LA sub teacher with seventy or so published stories and a couple of novels. His website is garrettrowlan.com.

Submit Your Dark Fiction and Poetry to The Chamber

The Chamber Magazine is seeking articles, reviews, essays, poems, and short stories of approximately 7,500 words (note revised word limit) or less including flash, micro fiction, smoke longs, drabbles or of any flavor of short fiction that demonstrates the art of writing dark fiction, whether it be prose, poetry, one-act plays, or any other form of literature.  We want to showcase the genre in all its subtlety, intelligence, art, horror, terror, suspense, thrill-seeking, and gruesome detail. We will accept dark humor provided it follows the guidelines below with regards to content and good taste.

To be good short fiction, the shorter a work is, the more power it must pack.

Welcome genres include:

  • horror
  • fantasy
  • action-adventure
  • suspense/thriller
  • literary
  • science fiction
  • historical
  • mystery/crime
  • noir
  • romance
  • Western
  • experimental
  • cyberpunk
  • steampunk
  • weird fiction
  • gothic
  • general
  • humor
  • any mixture of the above

There is no pay for publication, but the author retains all rights. Reprints are acceptable. Multiple submissions of up to three works per submission are permitted. Simultaneous submissions are permitted, but you must tell us if the work has been accepted elsewhere. We usually respond within a week. Works generally appear a month after acceptance.

More details about submissions are available on the website.

Send submissions and queries to thechambermagazine@gmail.com.

Update on The Chamber’s Format

I made a couple of quick changes yesterday that make The Chamber just a bit cooler.

At the top of the primary widget area (on the right) is now a door with The Chamber’s name and “Slattery Publishing” underneath. This will serve as a cover so that websites that can post a magazine cover will have this. I will change it from time to time until I capture the magazine’s mood just right.

If you click on the door, you will be taken to the About page, which serves as a reception area of sorts. As time progresses, I will try to make it look more and more like a spooky reception area.

On the about page, I have replaced the photo that was at the top with a video I made using Kizoa, Pixabay, and YouTube. With this I am trying to give the viewer a virtual entrance into The Chamber’s offices. I have put this below for your ease of viewing. Let me know what you think not only of the video, but also of how it fits in with the About page and The Chamber in general. I will be toying with this from time to time.

I am tinkering with the idea of making The Chamber not only a pleasurable reading experience but also a virtual experience as well.

Submit Your Dark Fiction and Poetry Now.

The Chamber Magazine is seeking articles, reviews, essays, poems, and short stories of approximately 5,000 words or less including flash, micro fiction, smoke longs, drabbles or of any flavor of short fiction that demonstrates the art of writing dark fiction, whether it be prose, poetry, one-act plays, or any other form of literature.  We want to showcase the genre in all its subtlety, intelligence, art, horror, terror, suspense, thrill-seeking, and gruesome detail. We will accept dark humor provided it follows the guidelines below with regards to content and good taste.

To be good short fiction, the shorter a work is, the more power it must pack.

There is no pay for publication, but the author retains all rights. Reprints are acceptable. Multiple submissions of up to three works per submission are permitted. Simultaneous submissions are permitted, but you must tell us if the work has been accepted elsewhere. We usually respond within a week. Works generally appear a month after acceptance.

More details about submissions are available on the website.

Send submissions and queries to thechambermagazine@gmail.com.

Submit Your Dark Fiction and Poetry Now.

The Chamber Magazine is seeking articles, reviews, essays, poems, and short stories of approximately 5,000 words or less including flash, micro fiction, smoke longs, drabbles or of any flavor of short fiction that demonstrates the art of writing dark fiction, whether it be prose, poetry, one-act plays, or any other form of literature.  We want to showcase the genre in all its subtlety, intelligence, art, horror, terror, suspense, thrill-seeking, and gruesome detail. We will accept dark humor provided it follows the guidelines below with regards to content and good taste.

To be good short fiction, the shorter a work is, the more power it must pack.

There is no pay for publication, but the author retains all rights. Reprints are acceptable. Multiple submissions of up to three works per submission are permitted. Simultaneous submissions are permitted, but you must tell us if the work has been accepted elsewhere. We usually respond within a week. Works generally appear a month after acceptance.

More details about submissions are available on the website.

Send submissions and queries to thechambermagazine@gmail.com.

Submit Your Dark Fiction and Poetry Now.

The Chamber Magazine is seeking articles, reviews, essays, poems, and short stories of approximately 5,000 words or less including flash, micro fiction, smoke longs, drabbles or of any flavor of short fiction that demonstrates the art of writing dark fiction, whether it be prose, poetry, one-act plays, or any other form of literature.  We want to showcase the genre in all its subtlety, intelligence, art, horror, terror, suspense, thrill-seeking, and gruesome detail. We will accept dark humor provided it follows the guidelines below with regards to content and good taste.

To be good short fiction, the shorter a work is, the more power it must pack.

There is no pay for publication, but the author retains all rights. Reprints are acceptable. Multiple submissions of up to three works per submission are permitted. Simultaneous submissions are permitted, but you must tell us if the work has been accepted elsewhere. We usually respond within a week. Works generally appear a month after acceptance.

More details about submissions are available on the website.

Send submissions and queries to thechambermagazine@gmail.com.

Submit Your Dark Fiction and Poetry Now.

The Chamber Magazine is seeking articles, reviews, essays, poems, and short stories of approximately 5,000 words or less including flash, micro fiction, smoke longs, drabbles or of any flavor of short fiction that demonstrates the art of writing dark fiction, whether it be prose, poetry, one-act plays, or any other form of literature.  We want to showcase the genre in all its subtlety, intelligence, art, horror, terror, suspense, thrill-seeking, and gruesome detail. We will accept dark humor provided it follows the guidelines below with regards to content and good taste.

To be good short fiction, the shorter a work is, the more power it must pack.

There is no pay for publication, but the author retains all rights. Reprints are acceptable. Multiple submissions of up to three works per submission are permitted. Simultaneous submissions are permitted, but you must tell us if the work has been accepted elsewhere. We usually respond within a week. Works generally appear a month after acceptance.

More details about submissions are available on the website.

Send submissions and queries to thechambermagazine@gmail.com.

Submit Your Dark Fiction and Poetry Now.

The Chamber Magazine is seeking articles, reviews, essays, poems, and short stories of approximately 5,000 words or less including flash, micro fiction, smoke longs, drabbles or of any flavor of short fiction that demonstrates the art of writing dark fiction, whether it be prose, poetry, one-act plays, or any other form of literature.  We want to showcase the genre in all its subtlety, intelligence, art, horror, terror, suspense, thrill-seeking, and gruesome detail. We will accept dark humor provided it follows the guidelines below with regards to content and good taste.

To be good short fiction, the shorter a work is, the more power it must pack.

There is no pay for publication, but the author retains all rights. Reprints are acceptable. Multiple submissions of up to three works per submission are permitted. Simultaneous submissions are permitted, but you must tell us if the work has been accepted elsewhere. We usually respond within a week. Works generally appear a month after acceptance.

More details about submissions are available on the website.

Send submissions and queries to thechambermagazine@gmail.com.

“Big Game Hunter” Fiction by Travis Lee

It’s dusk and no one’s coming.

The damn beast wasn’t supposed to charge me. I paid $45,000 to come hunt it, an albino rhinoceros with a nice horn. They made me sign a waiver. This land is owned by a diamond mining conglomerate, and when Pavel looked at my signature he told me I was going in alone. Once I kill the rhino, contact him by satellite phone.

The phone. In the tall grass, maybe still working, or maybe in pieces along with the rest of me because when the rhino charged I was not prepared. Animals have never acted hostile before. You should see the lions. They tear apart wildebeests and buffalo calves, but when they see me they just lay there as I squeeze the trigger.

My arm is aching. I’m trying not to move but my arm. I shift a little. My gut explodes in pain. Blood attracts predators and there’s a difference between a healthy man aiming a gun and a bleeding man under a tree. One’s an anomaly.

The other’s prey.

I went on my first hunt was when I was twelve. My uncle took me to Yellowstone Park and before we set off he pulled me close and said, Congratulations. You’re now part of the food chain.

I haven’t thought of that in years.

Funny what your mind coughs up.

#

I have some pills but I dare not take any. Night has fallen and I’m alert. I have a .357 Magnum with six shots, well, five. Five for the hyenas.

One for myself.

They sound close. I raise the gun, ignoring the pain. It’s stupid, of course, as hyenas hunt in packs. The best I could do is scare them and if that doesn’t work?

One bullet will.

Hyenas can bite through anything. They’ll start at my legs, ripping me apart beneath the clear savannah sky.

At which point do you die? In the middle or does it happen last, after you’ve been mostly eaten?

#

Night passes. No hyenas.

I’m getting weaker. I sip the canteen. There’s enough water for a day, maybe two if I space it out but it’s hot. The sun breaks through the leaves and a fly crawls around my mouth.

#

The satellite phone is ringing.

Beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep. The sound of salvation I spot it in the tall grass, green light flashing.

Beep-beep.

Beep-beep.

#

I’ve spent the day making arguments against going for the phone. My uncle’s words keep coming back, circling me like the flies. I’m already part of the food chain, and it didn’t happen when the rhino charged and I stood there like a doofus, too shocked to do anything. It happened the moment I stepped out of the jeep.

A caw. I look up.

A vulture cruises overhead.

I close my eyes. Vultures can smell the dying from miles away.

I open my eyes and reach for my gun. The vulture. I stare at it, my eyes burning in the unfiltered daylight. The vulture spreads its wings and perches on a high branch.

It’s staring down at me.

I tilt my gun skyward, , aligning the barrel with the bird. I do a silent Mississippi-count to five.

I fire.

The bird drops down beside me. Its wings spread open, covering my legs and I look down and scream, brushing it away and igniting a new series of pain.

I shove the dead bird as far as my arm will allow and close my eyes. The smell. A messy infection below and I can smell myself rotting and I can’t hold it in. I turn my head.

I puke.

#

Laughter cuts through the night. My eyes flip open and I grab the Magnum.

Congratulations. You’re now part of the food chain. I had slipped away to somewhere just beneath the pain. My uncle was leading me through the jungle to where the rhino stood waiting in a long field. I lined up to take my shot while the rhino charged and I took it down, one shot. Dead.

Their laughter makes me want to laugh too and I let go of the gun. I cover my mouth with both hands. I laugh, pressing my hands tighter as they approach.

The hyenas move with purpose through the tall grass. Their eyes shine like migratory starlight as they rush their prey. I know they can see me and smell me but do they understand and I know I should grab the gun because this is it, but I don’t.

I just laugh.

And I’m still laughing when the hyenas ignore me. An elephant herd is on the move. I’m laughing when the hyenas slip between the great beasts’ legs, separating a baby elephant from the herd. I’m laughing when they start with the trunk, one hyena tearing it in half and the rest ripping it off. The baby elephant is screaming as the pack swarms and I have my answer: you die at the very end. The hyenas eat the baby elephant to the bone.

I’m laughing so hard I have a coughing fit.

#

The pain is bad and the smell is worse.

The pills are part of the standard first aid kit they issue all hunters. They give you a vacuum-sealed pack of six. One a day.

Or six.

I tell myself it won’t come to that. I look up. The sun hasn’t crossed the midway point yet and the predators hunt at night. I look out across the savannah. The baby elephant’s bones. I feel a laughing fit coming on and I jab my tongue against my cheek. The laughter rises, falls back. I hold my tongue there until I no longer feel like laughing.

I peel one of the pills free.

It dissolves on my tongue in seconds. I lean back, close my eyes and listen for the phone.

#

Beep-beep.

I open my eyes.

Beep-beep.

I close them.

#

I’m awake. For a second I think there is a bear in the tall grass, guarding the satellite phone. I have to concentrate for several minutes, readjusting my mind to the time and the shapes around me.

It’s night. I slept all day.

I wasn’t supposed to sleep all day. God damn pills are only supposed to knock you out for five hours. But you’re also supposed to eat with them and I have no food. The three emergency MREs they give you are out in the tall grass somewhere, assuming the hyenas haven’t gotten to them.

Flies crawl on my forehead.

#

I turn my head to puke but only dryheave. I have nothing to throw up.

#

I’m awake all night, thinking of my rifle.

My uncle taught me how to shoot. We hit targets on his property. And in Yellowstone, he taught me the importance of stealth.

Since we’re part of the food chain we gotta act like it, he said, outfitting a silencer to his rifle.

We tracked the bear and her cubs for days. We weren’t dumb enough to carry our rifles out in the open and once we were in position for a good shot, my uncle handed me his rifle. He showed me how to steady the aim. The cold cylinder in my hands. The weight that decides death.

I can still see the bear. She looks right at me when I line up my sight. My uncle would have laughed so I never told him but I know what I know, and what I know is that bear saw me. She knew I was there to kill her.

Her cubs squealed afterwards. They crowded around their mother, sniffing her, trying to lick her back to life. My uncle told me not to feel sorry for them: turn the tables, and the bears would have me for lunch.

Let’s go, my uncle said.

We’re not taking it?

Where? To who? He gave me a light smack on the back of my head. Yellowstone’s got too much stick up their asses for that.

We left the bear to rot, her cubs to mourn and on the way back home we bought ice cream.

#

A fly lands on my cheek buzzing I brush it away more on my forehead

#

I drift off and wake up hearing the bear cubs sobbing for their mother. What ever happened to those cubs? Male bears will kill cubs that aren’t their own but the bear would eat me if the tables were turned and besides we’re now part of the food chain so we have to act like it.

I cough. Flies. I can’t wave them away. Something is stalking me through the tall grass. I can’t make it out. Hyena? Lion?

Bear?

Where the hell is Pavel? They should have come for me by now. The satellite phone is working, I heard it beep (yesterday? day before?) so they know I’m here.

Where are they?

I don’t have the strength to move but I do have the strength to think and see and combined I think I see what’s out there in the tall grass.

I grab the Magnum. The movement startles the flies but doesn’t scare them away.

Five shots left.

#

Laughter and it’s not coming from the hyenas.

It’s coming from the bear.

Mama bear is laying in front of the satellite phone. She keeps her paws to the side of the phone so I can hear it ring.

Beep-beep.

Laughter.

Beep-beep.

Laughter. Sounds like hyenas but it’s that fucking bear. Congratulations. You’re now part of the food chain.

#

Fucking bear. You haven’t moved all day. The sun sets and I need another pill for the pain and the flies the itching is driving me crazy the smell makes me gag. I dryheave.

The bear laughs.

And this is it. I won’t survive another day out here. Pavel isn’t coming. I need to get to the phone. That’s him calling. Their equipment is broken. They can’t find me unless I answer.

The bear laughs.

Your cubs are dead, I whisper. My voice sounds like it belongs to someone else.

My uncle is beside me. He swats me on the back of my head and hands me his rifle. The rapport might knock me down, but at least mama bear will die and this time she will stay dead.

Beep-beep.

I stand up. Something’s coming closer. A small stampede. The laughter grows. The bear doesn’t raise her head. I aim the rifle as something tears at my legs. The flies have scattered. I try to squeeze the trigger but my finger is too weak and I no longer feel it.

I feel teeth.

I hear laughter.

And somewhere, the satellite phone is ringing. Beep-beep.


Bio:

Travis Lee lived in China for two and a half years, where his short story ’The Seven Year Laowai’ went viral among the expat community. He currently lives in Japan, working as a weather forecaster. Find out more at https://www.travis-lee.org