Two Dark Poems by Marcus Whalbring: “The Man in Our Basement” and “There’s a Strange Light Coming from CVS Tonight”

CVS at night with strange glow: illustration for the poem "There’s a Strange Light Coming from CVS Tonight" by Marcus Whalbring
Modified version of the photo “CVS at Night” by Todd Van Hoosear, shared under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 from Wikimedia Commons

There’s a Strange Light Coming Out of CVS Tonight

It draws deer out of pine woods 
who stand at the edge of the parking lot
like they’re listening to an orchestra of cobwebs. 
I watch through the kitchen window while I finish the dishes.
I’d like to go down and see if the light
feels as child-like as it looks, like it would hurt you
just so it could learn to love you. 
The yard fills with tree ghosts
who snuff out fireflies and dissolve moths in their wake. 
Why can’t they leave the summer alone? 
We’ve had rains that draw worms to the sidewalks 
so we can catch them for the compost heap. 
We were outside in a swarm of light last night 
catching fireflies. I wouldn’t have called it a swarm, 
maybe a concert of wicks, 
not a plague, but a symphony.
Or I might’ve called them the punctuation
of sentences unspoken
falling from the tongues of trees. 
Whatever they were, they landed
softly on our hands, like ashes. They didn’t let go 
until we propped them up like small torches
and offered them back to the moon.
They took their time, 
searching our skin for some darkness 
they hadn’t swallowed yet.
Tonight the light from CVS  reaches past the curbs
and makes sparrows in puddles. It turns toward me
with its ecliptic stare as the ghosts surround me
and fill the kitchen with a wind
that smells like October. What do they want me
to remember? How do I see myself
in this new world that’s learning to disappear
one mirror at a time? Does it get any easier, 
staying here? I should have asked 
the firefly last night who paused  
on the young curtain of skin on my daughter’s wrist. 
She was worried it was hurt,
that something was about to die
on her. I told her to put it in the sky
and wait. When it’s ready, it will fly.

The Man in Our Basement 

is covered in starlings. 
Drinks water that drips where the pipes 

are wounded. While I lie in bed, I hear ashes 
falling from the sky of his mouth. 

I hear him staring at nothing. 
I hear the trees outside, 

and they sound like him
while Dad sleeps with the TV on, 

his mouth open, 
a bit of the blue glow pouring down his throat. 

The day I met the man in our basement 
I’d accidentally left the refrigerator door 

open then went to school.
I have a theory that everyone has a window inside them. 

You can hear them breaking underneath 
if you listen hard enough, 

but the harder you listen, the more they break. 
When Dad and I came home that evening 

the milk and all the meat and cheese had gone bad. 
Dad yelled until his face was the color of a bruise. 

He broke a chair, then stormed out. 
I sat in the last cough of daylight.

The kitchen still smelled like Mom. 
I looked out the window and saw 

a silhouetted cloud of starlings 
warping like a tear on the torn twilight. 

Below the floor I could hear laughter 
slowly growing like rust inside the walls.

Marcus Whalbring is the author of A Concert of Rivers from Milk & Cake Press, as well as How to Draw Fire from Finishing Line Press and Just Flowers from Crooked Steeple Press. A graduate of the MFA program at Miami University, his poems and stories have appeared or are forthcoming in, Strange Horizons, Space & Time, Illumen, The Dread Machine, Abyss & Apex, Spaceports and Spidersilk, Cortland Review, Pittsburgh Quarterly, Spry, and Underwood Press, among others. He’s a high school teacher, a father, and a husband. You can connect with him via twitter at and learn more about his work at

“Medah’s Revenge” Dark Western by Gary Thomson

Jeb Trahan slips his seventh card into his hand, fills his spade flush. Heated betting has taken out three cowboys. Now only Tag Donnelly, bully and bushwhacker, faces him.

“First, I’ll take his bankroll,” Trahan muses. “Then end his malignant life. For Medah. And all peaceful citizens in the territory.” He has high confidence from his long years of Army frontier patrols, and barracks gambling.

“Bet five.” Donnelly’s coin skitters over the table’s felt cloth. 

“And… raise five,” Trahan responds. But how? A quick bullet to the head? Or slow and lingering hurt, stake him out in the desert sun?

Donnelly meets the raise. “Soldier boy’s bluffing.” Malicious grin. “Kin always see it in their eyes.”

Trahan hesitates. The blood stain on the floor beside him diverts his attention. Double armed, purplish, ingrained in the ash wood floorboards, the spatter mystifies onlookers. Some times it shows crusty or gauzy; other times iridescent under kerosene lighting. Irish Kate, abovestairs madam, swears one arm will indicate the gentle cowboys, where her girls can feel safe. Defrocked Reverend says it’s an omen of divine retribution. “Ain’t nobody can know its methods.”

Trahan knows the stain as a hard reminder of his present business: the blood of Medah. Mescalero Apache. Spirit walker, Army scout. His friend. Back-shot by the coward, Donnelly, and bled out here with noone to help him. Now to receive justice for his wandering soul.  

A slow hanging from the oak tree near his shebang at the edge of town, Trahan decides. At home. Where he can keep eternal company with the monsters of his night dreams.

He spreads his winning hand. 

Donnelly leans over his chair arm to spit. “Lotsa time ‘fore you leave  – beat up or broke. I ain’t ‘customed to losing.”   

Donnelly stiffens as the blotch shifts and sparks. A thick mist rises, binds his gun hand like a copper cable. Ropey tendrils enwrap his mouth and face. With a muffled scream he lurches onto the table, dead eyes staring.   

Trahan eases the mounded winnings toward the saloon’s owner. “Fit in new flooring. I’ll carry the medicine board to Medah’s tribal hunting grounds for burial.” 

Gary Thomson is retired in Ontario, where he still enjoys sitting back for a showing of a spaghetti western, or a John Ford classic. His flash / short fiction / commercial magazine articles have appeared in various outlets. 

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

“The Abyss” Dark Science-Fiction by Brady Ellis

We should never have gone to the moon, I understand that now. Throughout human history there have been myths and fables about the price of curiosity and hubris, of greedily seeking more than we were meant for. Babel, Icarus, The Rotating Wheel –so many tales of warning and yet we never learn. If all those years ago I had said “man is not meant to go to space,” it would have been laughed off as cowardly superstition, and yet I think how much pain might have been spared. 

When the president first asked me to head the Apollo program, I could not have been more honored. My team and I all knew our work was making history, that this was to be a great leap for the history of humanity. How could we have known that leap would be one into an abyss? Since the dawn of time man has looked to the stars with wonder, dreaming to sail among them and know what lurks beyond our home. Perhaps it was some Pandora gene in us all this time, driving humanity towards our doom. We should have been grateful with what we had and explored the oceans instead. We should have appreciated the stars from our view on the ground and left well enough alone. But we have always been a reckless lot.

God forgive me, why did we send a manned craft?

Perhaps there is no point in my writing this. After all, the whole world saw what happened that day in 69. We all cheered when we saw the crew set foot on the moon, all watched in stunned amazement as they took those first steps. And then just as quickly we all felt our blood turn to ice when those things stepped out of the shadows before the camera –those towering pale creatures with the empty eyes. Even now I can see poor Neil, my friend, approaching the nearest one, hand outstretched in greeting. Sometimes I wonder if those things could hear us screaming, the whole earth screaming, seconds later as all three astronauts lay floating dead among them.  For myself, I still hear the last seconds of those men’s screams, those men we sent to die out there in the abyss. Most people only talk about what was heard after the camera went black -that single word from the dark echoed by a dozen voices: “repent,” along with the short blare of that distorted choir hymn. I don’t care what it was or what they meant. All that sticks with me are the screams of those men we condemned. 

There has never been a retrieval mission for the bodies or craft, no serious figure has even suggested it. After what the whole world saw that day, it seems that for once humanity reached an unspoken but unanimous agreement: never again would we reach for the stars. After untold generations of wondering if we were alone in the universe, one swift answer to that question has sent us retreating inwards. The American and Soviet space programs are no more, and in most respects these past thirty years have seen the steepest drop in technological advancements since the dark ages. 

Like everyone else, I’ve tried to move on, took a simple teaching job back home in Boston that gave me the first chance in years to reconnect with family. It was a smarter choice than I realized at the time now that the government has added steep restrictions on interstate travel on top of the ongoing martial law. But of course, it doesn’t really matter where you go anymore, there’s no outrunning the trauma anymore than there’s any outrunning the moon. It’s always with us. 

Sometimes people recognize you  out at the park or store, and there’s that brief moment of wondering how bad things may get before they just give you a look or say “go to hell” and move on. For the most part I’ve been lucky and have no real right to complain, not with what has happened to plenty of the other people from Apollo. In the past five years alone one of us was shot dead and two more are still hospitalized after attacks. For the longest time my wife insisted I try to pull old strings and get us in witness protection, but that hope died years ago. What most people don’t realize is that for ages now just about everyone in the government has at least as much disgust for us scientists as the public does. If anything, I’m shocked the current administration hasn’t just thrown us all to the mob, and the truth is I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

If the lunar incident had been all there was it would still have been too much for our world. But of course not even a full month later the missing probe, Mariner 7, crash landed through that house in Gary, Indiana. Most people believe poor Sandra McDougal was killed in the ruble, but a few of us have seen the official police reports and photos. By this point I had lost the clearance to know what they found in the probe’s remains but after seeing what it had done to McDougal I can’t say I want to know. That pale puppeteer body that lurched out of the house, that took down two cops before they could subdue it, that wasn’t a human anymore. All these years later Gary is still quarantined from the world, and while I would like to hope the rest of its people are doing well it feels safe to assume there is at least some truth to the ghost stories.

I still get a lot of questions from people who assume I’m any less in the dark than the rest of them. Everyone wants to know if there’s a method to lunar entities’ games or if it’s all just random. I don’t personally think knowing either way would bring comfort, because the truth is at this point humanity hardly needs any help making new nightmares from our trauma. We still don’t know who actually replayed their original message on the emergency broadcast system, just like we don’t know what became of the ground crew at Cape Canaveral. In the past people used to speculate how some tragic event or great threat might unite humanity in a common goal, but when the real nightmare came it brought no such ambition. The only thing we’ve been united in is our fear as we all just try to bury ourselves and hide from the world outside. We cheered for the curfew, because who wants to be caught in the moonlight now anyway? We accepted the interstate travel restrictions just as easily as we did the ban on travel in or out of the country. And we’re already on our second ‘dear leader’ with all the answers, despite all the further pain born from the Jim Jones administration. 

I don’t think anyone misses televisions though.

Even after all that has happened, I don’t think I’ve fully processed the Manhattan Rapture. It’s simply too big, too horrific, too unreal even for the world we now live in. Ten years to the day of the original moon landing, an entire island of people just vanished overnight. Of course, now we’ve got all these cults and weirdos claiming it’s all part of some grand design. I don’t know how a healthy mind could have watched the original Apollo footage and called those things angels. No angel could have done those things.

But even I’ll admit they may be right about these being the end times.

I’m told it’s not just the humans, but all animals and bugs too, that were wiped from Manhattan. It’s like they dropped a bomb on the place, but instead of bringing fire and rubble this one simply took, took life without struggle or sound. In the blink of an eye our greatest city became our greatest ghost town. The truth is that I think for most of us it’s worse than if this had been a normal bombing, because we don’t even know these people’s fate for sure. There are no bodies to mourn, no visuals of a world transformed, no answers to that ever-present question of why. 

The only time in my life I felt anything close to the constant dread that now haunts me was a young man in the navy, back at the height of the pacific war. Like now, there was that dread because you knew the enemy would strike again, you knew they were out there planning. But of course, there were two comforting differences back then. The first was obviously that we could fight back, we had a chance of responding. The second is the difference which bothers me most. Back in that war you at least knew what your enemy wanted, what the goal behind their actions was. But now we live in an age where the enemy can make a million people vanish in a second with no notice, where they can toy with us and terrorize us for seemingly no reason at all. So we panic and we hide and we fight each other because we have to fight someone, we have to set free this fear and rage that fills us all. Still each day we wonder, is the big attack coming? Is this all leading up to some grand finale? I think the truth is we all hope it is, because no matter how bad that finale might be, it would at least offer some finality, some escape from this endless torment.

For myself though, I don’t believe there is any end to the nightmare, not for all of us at least, because I think I’ve finally realized what this all is. For so long we were sending things up to space, poking and prodding and seeing what we could learn to feed our curiosity. Now the tables are turned though, and it’s they who are running the experiments, doing what they will to us all just to see what happens and to watch us squirm. We humans gazed too long into the abyss, and now that abyss is gazing back. 

It has taken me a long time to put any words down about my thoughts on this nightmare, but I finally did find a reason to. I could never craft the apology the world deserves for my role with the Apollo program, because no matter how much guilt and shame consume me the crime is simply too big for my words to offer any healing. So instead I’m writing these words to offer my confession. A lot of people from our program aren’t here anymore, and more than a few people have asked me how I manage to keep on despite everything. The shameful truth is that even after all that has happened, I am still curious. As much as it fills me with disgust, I still want to know more, want to see more, just like they do. It is not that I haven’t learned anything, but that I haven’t learned enough. 

I cannot learn enough. 

We gazed long into an abyss that has swallowed us whole, but I gaze deeper still.

Brady Ellis is a writer from Appalachia, Ohio, a graduate of The Ohio State University with a B.A. in English and Political Science, and the associate of multiple infamous cats. When not writing he can be found fueling his caffeine addiction or wandering through the nearest woods.

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