HorrorAddicts.net at BayCon, Happening Today!

Come to BayCon and hang with HorrorAddicts.net!

baycon ha

Here are just a few of the panels you can see us on. For a full schedule, go to  BayCon.org

Sunday 3 July, 2022

HorrorAddicts.net – Geek Out Horror Style!

1:00 PM / Synergy 1

Emerian Rich, Loren Rhoads, R.L. Merrill, Laurel Anne Hill, Mark Orr, MD Neu

Come geek out with us horror-style! We will also be talking about our new book Horror Addicts Guide to Life 2, a mostly non-fiction horror anthology. Prizes and spooky fun to be had by all!

Readings – Emerian Rich and Kim Fielding

4:00 PM /Connect 5

Kim Fielding, Emerian Rich

For a full schedule, go to  BayCon.org

 

HorrorAddicts.net at BayCon, Happening Today!

Come to BayCon and hang with HorrorAddicts.net!

baycon ha

Here are just a few of the panels you can see us on. For a full schedule, go to  BayCon.org

Saturday 2 July, 2022

10:00 AM / Connect 5

Confessions of a Slush Pile Reader 

Rebecca Inch-Partridge, Emerian Rich, Lillian Csernica.

Editors and slush readers discuss what gets a story rejected and what they look for in a story to be considered for publications. Does and don’ts of cover and query letters can also be covered.

1:00 PM / Engage

Creating Your Own Anthology 

Emerian Rich, Loren Rhoads, J.Scott Coatsworth.

How do you get submissions, where do you advertise, how do you handle the subs when they come in, how do you vet the subs, should you do blind submissions, how do you pay and contract the authors, and how to do a charity anthology? Whether you want to start a small ‘zine, publish a print book, or go eBook format, this panel will discuss all the ins and outs.

Sunday 3 July, 2022

HorrorAddicts.net – Geek Out Horror Style!

1:00 PM / Synergy 1

Emerian Rich, Loren Rhoads, R.L. Merrill, Laurel Anne Hill, Mark Orr, MD Neu

Come geek out with us horror-style! We will also be talking about our new book Horror Addicts Guide to Life 2, a mostly non-fiction horror anthology. Prizes and spooky fun to be had by all!

Readings – Emerian Rich and Kim Fielding

4:00 PM /Connect 5

Kim Fielding, Emerian Rich

For a full schedule, go to  BayCon.org

 

HorrorAddicts.net at BayCon, Happening Today!

Come to BayCon and hang with HorrorAddicts.net!

baycon ha

Here are just a few of the panels you can see us on. For a full schedule, go to  BayCon.org

Friday 1 July, 2022

Time Zone: PST 4:00 PM / Synergy 5

Everything you wanted to know about modern romantic fiction but were afraid to ask 

Emerian Rich, R.L. Merrill, Kim Fielding, Sue Brown-Moore.

Romantic fiction is so much more than the genre of “romance”. Like science fiction, romance is a vehicle for progressive thinking, for empowerment and pushing boundaries, particularly in the realms of SciFi and Paranormal Romance. The vast array of sub-genres, tropes, themes, and archetypes in a romance writer’s toolkit can be both daunting and exciting.

Saturday 2 July, 2022

10:00 AM / Connect 5

Confessions of a Slush Pile Reader 

Rebecca Inch-Partridge, Emerian Rich, Lillian Csernica.

Editors and slush readers discuss what gets a story rejected and what they look for in a story to be considered for publications. Does and don’ts of cover and query letters can also be covered.

1:00 PM / Engage

Creating Your Own Anthology 

Emerian Rich, Loren Rhoads, J.Scott Coatsworth.

How do you get submissions, where do you advertise, how do you handle the subs when they come in, how do you vet the subs, should you do blind submissions, how do you pay and contract the authors, and how to do a charity anthology? Whether you want to start a small ‘zine, publish a print book, or go eBook format, this panel will discuss all the ins and outs.

Sunday 3 July, 2022

HorrorAddicts.net – Geek Out Horror Style!

1:00 PM / Synergy 1

Emerian Rich, Loren Rhoads, R.L. Merrill, Laurel Anne Hill, Mark Orr, MD Neu

Come geek out with us horror-style! We will also be talking about our new book Horror Addicts Guide to Life 2, a mostly non-fiction horror anthology. Prizes and spooky fun to be had by all!

Readings – Emerian Rich and Kim Fielding

4:00 PM /Connect 5

Kim Fielding, Emerian Rich

For a full schedule, go to  BayCon.org

HorrorAddicts.net at BayCon, Come see us!

Come to BayCon and hang with HorrorAddicts.net!

baycon ha

Here are just a few of the panels you can see us on. For a full schedule, go to  BayCon.org

Friday 1 July, 2022

Time Zone: PST 4:00 PM / Synergy 5

Everything you wanted to know about modern romantic fiction but were afraid to ask 

Emerian Rich, R.L. Merrill, Kim Fielding, Sue Brown-Moore.

Romantic fiction is so much more than the genre of “romance”. Like science fiction, romance is a vehicle for progressive thinking, for empowerment and pushing boundaries, particularly in the realms of SciFi and Paranormal Romance. The vast array of sub-genres, tropes, themes, and archetypes in a romance writer’s toolkit can be both daunting and exciting.

Saturday 2 July, 2022

10:00 AM / Connect 5

Confessions of a Slush Pile Reader 

Rebecca Inch-Partridge, Emerian Rich, Lillian Csernica.

Editors and slush readers discuss what gets a story rejected and what they look for in a story to be considered for publications. Does and don’ts of cover and query letters can also be covered.

1:00 PM / Engage

Creating Your Own Anthology 

Emerian Rich, Loren Rhoads, J.Scott Coatsworth.

How do you get submissions, where do you advertise, how do you handle the subs when they come in, how do you vet the subs, should you do blind submissions, how do you pay and contract the authors, and how to do a charity anthology? Whether you want to start a small ‘zine, publish a print book, or go eBook format, this panel will discuss all the ins and outs.

Sunday 3 July, 2022

HorrorAddicts.net – Geek Out Horror Style!

1:00 PM / Synergy 1

Emerian Rich, Loren Rhoads, R.L. Merrill, Laurel Anne Hill, Mark Orr, MD Neu

Come geek out with us horror-style! We will also be talking about our new book Horror Addicts Guide to Life 2, a mostly non-fiction horror anthology. Prizes and spooky fun to be had by all!

Readings – Emerian Rich and Kim Fielding

4:00 PM /Connect 5

Kim Fielding, Emerian Rich

For a full schedule, go to  BayCon.org

 

Free Fiction : Seeing Out the Monkey by Ann Folks

Alice showed me into the Medical Sciences Research Institute. The pouring rain outside ran in sheets down the floor-to-ceiling windows. Lightning flashed far away in the dark sky.

She handed me a key card and we walked to the elevator that went down to my janitor’s closet in the subbasement. Taped on the back of the door was a calendar and newspaper clipping about the previous janitor that just retired on his 67th birthday, October 1, 2021.   “No more crazy monkeys!” was scrawled across the calendar.  

     Upstairs, Alice explained, “You are almost the only one in the building, the other cleaner quit already.  Phillip works on the animal cages on the       top 3 floors. Your card won’t work on those, put his phone number into your phone. When you need to clean those floors, call him and he’ll               unlock the doors. So just pull the trash, push in the chairs, questions?”

     “Do the keypads on the swipe boxes have codes?”

     “Only for an emergency. Do the month and year, so this being October, the code would be 1021. Again, the top three floors have a different,              longer code. Only Phillip knows it, don’t try to guess, three wrong tries, and you’re locked out or in, depending on where you are. “

     “Leaving…”.  And she was gone. 

Pushing in the chairs was easy, pulling the trash, was somewhat difficult. Some of the trash cans were overflowing. These labs hadn’t been cleaned for days. The lights flickered; beeping came from some of the equipment. On the 7th floor, scurrying footsteps of animals upstairs rattled.  The storm grew closer, the lightning lit up the lab.  I called Phillip. He answered panting.

     “Yeah?” 

     “Hi, I’m the new cleaner and …”

     “On my way down”. He hung up. 

A thirty-something man, of large build, with a limp, walked out of the elevator. He was sweating.

     “Look, I have a situation with Nero. Here’s my card. Just open the doors as you need them.  But do NOT come up to 10.  Nero always acts                freaky during storms, but this one is the worst.  They adjusted his meds and he’s almost uncontrollable.  I’ll find you when I get him back into        his cage.”

He turned around and got back on the elevator. 

     “Remember. Stay off 10”.  The doors closed.

***

On 8, the lights were out. I turned on my phone flashlight. Cockroaches and mice scurried into dark corners.   Puppies and kittens with electrodes attached to their heads whimpered and mewed.  Water was dripping somewhere. Lightning illuminated the lab. I screamed when suddenly something jumped on me, and claws dug into my back. It was just a cat, as scared as I was. It jumped off. I ran out of the lab.

On 9, still dark. Lights flickered on and off.  Open cages were perched on stainless-steel tables, but no animals.   

I was happy to be finished.  I turned to leave the room when I heard Phillip scream from above on 10, the forbidden floor. Another scream emanated from upstairs, furniture was being overturned and something crashed to the ground.  In the elevator, I pushed 10. I had to see if I could help Phillip.

When the elevator doors opened, it took a minute for my eyes to focus. Blood was everywhere. Bleeding from a large wound on his thigh, Phillip sat propped by a desk.  A monkey with a prosthetic leg and one real and one fake eyeball was staring, grinning wickedly, blood dripping from his mouth. I saw a cabinet with glass doors and fruit inside. I threw some grapes at Nero. He ate the grapes, staring back and forth at us. 

     Phillip said, “he’s going to kill us.”

I tiptoed towards Phillip, past Nero. He kept staring at us, back and forth.

I used rags from my cart to try to stop the bleeding. We struggled into an office and locked it. 

     “I’ll call the police and wait with you”. 

      Phillip whispered. “No, you have to let them in. No access.”

      I asked, “Why is Nero so crazy?”

      Whispering again, “Afraid of lightning. The code, it’s his ‘rith day”

He passed out.

I dialed 911.

***

Outside of the office, I blocked the door with a desk.

Lighting flashed again, the room went dark, and uneven footsteps and screeches followed me. 

 I screamed when Nero suddenly jumped on my back. His hand reached around and yanked at the key card from behind. The lanyard started to cut off my air. Searing pain shot through my shoulder as his teeth sunk into my collarbone.  Still screeching, he bit the lanyard and it snapped off my neck, letting me take a deep breath. His jaw moved down to my forearm and spinning around I slammed him against the block wall. He fell down.

I ran to the stairwell and found the code box. I had three tries. I tried today’s date, nothing. The newspaper clipping said he retired on 10/01/2021. Nothing. He was 67. 10/01/1954. It clicked and flashed green, and the door to the stairwell unlocked.  

A searing pain shot through my other shoulder. He was on my back and wouldn’t let go. I ran down the stairwell, slamming him into the walls, the railings, even the steps when I fell. He still wouldn’t let go. Finally, I saw his head leaning way over my shoulder as if he was trying to see where he was going. I ran towards the wall at the 4th floor landing and cracked his head as hard as I could into the block wall. He went limp and fell from my body. I picked him up and threw him down the rectangular hole the banister made down the levels. He landed with a metallic thud on the concrete below. 

I limped as best as I could to the front doors and let waiting police in. They found Phillip, they loaded us in the ambulance. 

It’s the last time I’ll work in the same building as a monkey. 


 

Ann Folks is a beginning writer and so far has only entered her stories into writing contests. I really liked this one and it’s been entered into a contest but it didn’t place. I got some decent reviews on it so I tweaked it and I’m submitting it here to see if I get some good input. All comments are welcome.

Free Fiction: Long Time No See by James Peace

It had been at least three years since I had last seen John. I wondered if “best friend” was still applicable, given the circumstances. Somehow semantics were the last thing on my mind. Who left a voicemail in this day and age, anyway? Only John. His social and emotional ineptitude let him feel, think and act with not a single care for what others found acceptable or “in”. I admired that in him. He was the opposite of me, as I was confident and outgoing. I went to the parties, did the drugs, drank the shots. I had my own place way before he even considered leaving his parents’ home. Yet still, in a way, he had always been far more “free” than me.

Of course, that was back when we were in college. After we parted ways, the journey of life took…different routes for each of us. I ended up enlisting and following a boot’s lifestyle for a few years. John collected degrees like stamps and hopped between part-time jobs. We tried to meet up and connect for cultural events or each other’s birthdays. Life inevitably takes its course, though. Over time our get-togethers dwindled from once a month to once a year. For a long while, not even that. By the time I was 26, I hadn’t spoken with the man I loved as a brother in two years. We met at his family’s summer house by the northern coast for a pair of days. Bars, a casino, the beach, and a penthouse all to ourselves. Still, it hadn’t ended on the best of terms.

Three whole years had passed since then and here I was, tripping over every piece of furniture in my house. I dodged the third lego piece behind the corner of the stairwell, saving myself quite a bit of grief, and went down into the basement to get my duffle bag. At times, I had to question whether my son left these out of negligence or if he was trying to show his old man that he could hunt “big animals” too. Adorable little runt.

Throwing the duffle bag over my shoulder, I dialed my wife’s number into my phone. Life in the army, both during and after Bootcamp tended to prepare one for pretty much anything. The habits of getting up early, making one’s bed, and keeping a bag ready for sudden departures hadn’t been lost on me. With the house locked, the dog fed and the woman of my life appeased with promises of a weekend getaway, I threw the bag onto the backseat and left. Unlike my 99 Astra, life sure had a way of coming at you fast. Much like said Astra, though, I took pride in being a tough bone to chew on. After the dishonorable discharge, bouncing back wasn’t the easiest thing in the world yet I did it nonetheless. I took a couple of swigs from my pocket flask to steel myself against the cold and carried on.

On the way, I lost myself to the roads of memory. The teenage years spent with John, playing video games and geeking out with the other nerds in our group of friends. The wild nights of college when I ran out his patience with the latest of my dramas and mischiefs. I remembered the nights I spent having dinner at his place, his parents still sent me a gift when my birthday came along every year. Great people, all of them odd in their own harmless way. These had been some of the best times of my life. Sure, there were mistakes made along the way, but I for one never liked to dwell on the past.

I found the town by sundown and the coastline was deserted as I’d expected. With the rain and the cold, nobody stepped foot in it. His house was pretty isolated, a couple of miles away from the center. It was very characteristic of his family to keep a comfortable distance. As I slowly rolled into his driveway, I could see the lights were already on. I parked the car and took in a deep breath.  I forced down over half of the contents of my flask, replacing the sobering chill with a vigorous burn.

I stepped outside the car, shaking off the tension in my legs and back, and looked over to his porch. There he was, waving down at me with a big grin on his face. His hair was oily and black, his features rough and germanic. You could see a hint of eastern in his eyes. He wore the same black button-up shirt and brown chinos he’d worn three years before when we “made it big”. I missed him with all of my heart. I didn’t bother waving back as I opened the backseat door. Reaching my duffle bag, I grasped around for a small box and cold steel. As I pulled the Winchester M21 out and closed the door, I slid the two slugs into their respective barrels, glancing at the corner of the yard. The small dirt mound was still where I left it. Where I’d left him. I was holding in my right hand the same gun that had blown a hole through John so cleanly that a dessert plate could have easily fit through. Right through his trusting heart. Right through the shirt that thing, whatever it was, was wearing. I’ve never considered myself a man of prejudice, but dead things should stay dead and certainly not leave voicemails to their former friends.

Turning my attention back to “John”, I could see he was no longer waving at me. In fact, he was no longer smiling, either. Swallowing my fear, I took aim.


 

A young author from Western Europe, 24 years old, fascinated by all things horror and interested in publishing his own horror novel. Currently in the military, pursuing future involvement in Special Forces. Loves people, dogs, and the three F’s of life.

Free Fiction : Come Dine With Me by Pete Kijek

I never imagined in a million years that when I submitted the advert in the local paper asking to have someone for dinner, that someone would actually respond!

The advertisement was only short, necessity and a price per word dictated that. ‘Lonely 41-year-old male seeks like-minded individual for evening meal. Non-smoker, pref. non-drinker, must enjoy secluded weekends away and keeping fit.’ I must confess to being somewhat hesitant to submit, yet submit I did and paid for a four-week run. 

Towards the end of the third week, I received a response. A woman from Tettenhall had written back, saying that she wanted to meet! I read through her profile. She was thirty-five, single, no children, and had recently moved to the Midlands from Durham as a mature student. She sounded ideal! 

I wrote back, asking if she wanted to meet for coffee first, as I understood that simply going for dinner with someone could be a bit daunting for a single woman these days. She replied saying that she would be up for coffee, and we arranged to meet the following Saturday in Coffee Moments in the Wulfrun Centre.

I will confess right now, I have never felt so anxious as I did that Saturday sitting at the shopping centre waiting for her to turn up. I had lost count of the number of times I had re-positioned the little Chicaboo monkey on the table in front of me, propped up on the sugar dispenser.

I knew it was her the instant she stopped outside the shop. Light brown hair tied in a loose ponytail, stonewash blue jeggings and a camel-coloured turtle neck jumper, and a purple cross-body tote bag. She wasn’t fat, but not entirely slim either – I guess the politically correct way of putting it was that she had curves, the classic hourglass figure. In short, she was gorgeous! Far too good for the likes of me.

She grabbed herself a cappuccino and came and sat down at my table. Her name was Lauren, and we sat for hours just talking to each other. I had never known anyone to be so attentive in their listening, so engaging in their conversation. I honestly believe that right there and then was the moment I fell in love with her.

We arranged to have dinner the following weekend, at my place. Now, I must confess, I have never hosted anything like a dinner date before. I mean, I’ve seen stuff on TV, but this was the first time I had ever tried something like this myself. Our first meal together had to be something truly special and unforgettable. I even managed to coax the twins from Number 16 down the road to be a part of it, and when they turned up that afternoon, already dressed in smart, waiter/waitress-y clothing, I could not have been more excited!

The doorbell rang just after 7pm, and I went to get the door. Lauren was there in the most stunning little red number, and I ushered her through to the lounge whilst I ran her coat upstairs quickly.

Coming back down, I entered through the dining room, bringing two flutes and a bottle of prosecco with me, the cork already popped. Lauren took a glass, and I poured the fizzing liquid, eliciting a small giggle as I accidentally spilled some on my hand. 

Holding my eye contact, she softly took hold of my hand, bringing it to her lips and lightly licking the prosecco from my skin. To say the evening was already perfect would be an understatement. I had never known a woman like her. She was entirely bewitching, and I was held entranced by her spell.

I beckoned to her to enter the dining room, where I placed the bottle and my glass down on the table before seating her as every gentleman should.

Disappearing briefly into the kitchen, I returned with a small bowl of tomato soup in each hand. I placed Lauren’s bowl before her, then sat down to mine. 

The conversation was magical. I can honestly say I have never laughed so much – we just clicked, if that makes sense? It was like we had known each other for years, for centuries. 

With the soup course over, I stood placing my napkin carefully on the table and suggested she come with me into the kitchen, as I had a surprise for her. This main course would be to die for! Everything had happened so perfectly, running smoothly and according to plan.

Lauren stood and took my hand, as I led her into the kitchen. 

Taking care to walk over the plastic sheeting that covered the floor and every work surface, I led her to the chest freezer on the far side of the kitchen, being careful not to knock the bags containing the somewhat sanguinary corpses of the house’s previous occupants.

Opening the freezer, Lauren’s eyes widened with anticipation as the chilled but very much alive twin children looked up at both of us, abject horror and despair displayed on both their faces. 

Lauren indicated the boy, which was ideal as I had already provisionally hoped to have the girl. Taking them from the chiller, we led them to the huge island table in the centre of the kitchen, laying them down side by side, and taking hold of the knives with which we would prepare our feast.

“You’ve really outdone yourself this time, Claudio,” said Lauren, as she pierced the flesh of the boy, his screams muffled by the tape around his mouth.

I simply looked at her, lovingly, the charade of being strangers evaporating as I opened the girl from collarbone to navel and started peeling the skin back to reveal the tender morsels within.

“Well,” I replied, “I’ve got another hundred and fifty years to think up the next dinner.”


 

 

Once, many moons and 1 failed marriage ago, I started writing a high fantasy novel, on the urging of my now ex-wife. I really enjoyed what I was writing, and probably would’ve carried on had things not gone awry at home. It is now 2021, I have a new wife, and a new novel idea to write about, which I am currently writing. I have also found a penchant for writing horror. I live with my family, emotional support hound, Fallon, and am addicted to Coco Pops and Hula Hoops

Interview with Eugen Bacon by Renata Pavrey

 African-Australian writer, Eugen Bacon, whose works span across prose and poetry, fiction and non-fiction, talks to book blogger and staff writer Renata Pavrey.

 As part of the upcoming release of her latest book, Mage of Fools, I got the chance to interview author Eugen Bacon, thanks to the publishing house Meerkat Press. I have read and loved other books from this publisher that specializes in speculative fiction, and had also interviewed Bacon about her previous books. Here, I get to talk to her about her newest dystopian novel that revolves around storytelling.

        From the blurb:

       In the dystopian world of Mafinga, Jasmin must contend with a dictator’s sorcerer to cleanse the socialist state of its deadly pollution. Mafinga’s malevolent king dislikes books and, together with his sorcerer Atari, has collapsed the environment to almost uninhabitable. The sun has killed all the able men, including Jasmin’s husband Godi. But Jasmin has Godi’s secret story machine that tells of a better world, far different from the wastelands of Mafinga. Jasmin’s crime for possessing the machine and its forbidden literature filled with subversive text is punishable by death. Fate grants a cruel reprieve in the service of a childless queen who claims Jasmin’s children as her own. Jasmin is powerless—until she discovers secrets behind the king and his sorcerer.

Renata: Hi Eugen, Congratulations on the release of your latest book. You have written The Road to Woop Woop – a collection of short stories, and Speculate – a co-creation of vignettes with Dominique Hecq. Mage of Fools is a dystopian novel. What’s your experience switching between writing forms and styles?

Eugen: I’ve always found it natural to switch mid-text across forms and genres, wearing different faces, hats, and cloaks.  I think it’s because of the immersion I find in writing, and our world is not black and white. I love experimentation, bending boundaries. I tend to resist boundaries that restrict text, and I approach a work with an openness to how a story may morph and shape itself. 

One of my recent stories is a blend between a short story and a script. Some of my short stories have prose poetry hidden in them. Some of my novels have short stories hidden in them. Some of my creative nonfiction—like ‘Inhabitation: Genni and I’ (Sydney Review of Books), where I talk to my other self, or ‘The New Seduction of an Old Literary Crime Classic’ (LitHub), where I pay homage to Peter Temple—integrates excerpts of fiction or poetry in it. 

I love the fluidity of text, as a literary enthusiast, Roland Barthes would have it.  

Renata: Your books fall under the umbrella of speculative fiction – alternating science fiction, fantasy and horror. Is there a genre you prefer, both as a reader and writer?

Eugen: My favourite genre is literary speculative fiction, where imagination is the limit. An introduction to my upcoming collection, Chasing Whispers by Raw Dog Screaming Press, describes my work as ‘towards an Afro-irreality’. Except for a time travel novel (Secondhand Daylight) that I am co-writing with a European slipstream author, Andrew Hook, I never start a story thinking that this is going to be science fiction, fantasy, or horror. 

Renata: Stories occupy an important place in Mage of Fools, where reading is banned and characters try to sneak in their daily dose of storytelling. The novel is peppered with the names of authors. Who are your favorite authors? Any favorite books you would recommend?

Eugen: I was only recently talking about Anthony Doerr and look forward to reading his latest historical and speculative fiction Cloud Cuckoo Land. Peter Temple’s dialogue is genius. 

And Toni Morrison is subversively in Mage of Fools, where I imagine her language in my stories. Anyone who hasn’t read all this Nobel prize-winning author’s fiction is missing big time. 

I am inspired by selfless people, like Nelson Mandela, who give of themselves so generously. 

I also have on my reading list a hardcover copy of Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, written by Octavia Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy, illustrated by John Jennings.  

Renata: When writing speculative fiction, what goes into world-building? How do you balance imaginary scenarios with real-world issues; the new with the familiar?

Eugen: The reader must find familiarity in the worlds we create, however strange, through the nature of our worldbuilding, whose intent is to demystify. Credibility is a necessity in any imaginary world. 

It all depends on the size of the story, its nature or setting, where it wants to take me, to determine whether it is a primary world (that resembles our real world) or a secondary world (mostly invented and dissimilar from our real-world). 

But even in a secondary world, an author may want to introduce themes and issues pertinent in our world today, and how the protagonists in those invented worlds deal with them. This is the author as an agent of change.   

Renata: Your writing is often poetic and lyrical, starkly contrasting the dark themes explored. Is this merging of prose and poetry deliberate, or does the narrative lead you?

Eugen: The narrative talks itself, the characters guiding it. Language is important and, in my mind’s eye, is always the musicality of the text. 

Renata: The cover of Mage of Fools mixes the traditional with the futuristic. Could you tell us about the story behind the cover?

Eugen: Ask the publisher, Tricia Reeks of Meerkat Press! She’s the closet designer, discovering herself. She asked for my art preference, and I said something African, maybe a mask. 

Renata: Thank you, Eugen, for taking out time for this interview. We wish you all the very best with Mage of Fools, and other books that follow.

Eugen: The pleasure is entirely mine. 


About the author: 

Eugen Bacon is African Australian—her books Ivory’s Story, Danged Black Thing, and Saving Shadows are finalists in the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Awards. Eugen was announced in the honor list of 2022 Otherwise Fellowships. She has won, been longlisted or commended in international awards, including the Foreword Indies Awards, Bridport Prize, Copyright Agency Prize, Horror Writers Association Diversity Grant, Otherwise, Rhysling, Australian Shadows, Ditmar Awards, and Nommo Awards for Speculative Fiction by Africans. Eugen’s creative work has appeared in literary and speculative fiction publications worldwide, including Award-Winning Australian Writing, BSFA, Fantasy Magazine, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Bloomsbury Publishing, and Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction. New releases: Danged Black Thing (collection), Saving Shadows (illustrated prose poetry). In 2022: Mage of Fools (Meerkat Press), Chasing Whispers (Raw Dog Screaming Press) and An Earnest Blackness (Anti-Oedipus Press). 

Website: eugenbacon.com / Twitter: @EugenBacon

 

Free Fiction: A Handful Of Bones by Anita Dénes

Bird bones, bird bones, rattling in my hand. Small and brittle. I listen to the soft clicking sounds they make as I shake them, cast them like dice on the worn carpet to tell me answers.

They’re not really the bones of a bird, though, they belong to a child or used to. A child with black curls and a quick smile. I’m holding her finger bones, or maybe a part of her foot.

Does that frighten you? Then you’re in the wrong place, love. And anyway, I lied. They’re squirrel bones, you can see a rib, can’t you, and children don’t have ribs that small.

Well, not once they’re born, anyway. Maybe these are child bones, after all, dug up from a worse place than the wet earth.

You decide what they are and what I am, if what I tell you is a lie or a truth. They called me Lügner, back in the old days – it means ‘liar’. Amazing how much a truth can sound like a filthy lie if you decide you don’t like what you’re hearing.

So what do you want to know? Your future? Someone else’s? Do you want to hear how to stop a treacherous heart without being discovered, or give life to a dry womb?

No. You wouldn’t have journeyed this far for that. Mother Lügner’s home is hidden in the whistling reeds, the capricious swamp, and it takes a brave one or a fool to find it. Or someone who has burned every single bridge, even the one she’s walking on.

Tell me, love, or I can’t help you.

You’re so young and lovely like I never was even when my hair was still dark and I had all my teeth. I should hate you for that. But how could I hate you when you sit there crying?

Don’t waste water like that. We don’t have much of it. Wipe your eyes, now, quiet down, and tell me what you want.

The creatures from the mountains, yes, of course, I know them. If you want to know how to avoid them, you need more than my words, I have no power over something that is not human anymore.

You… want to become one?

Oh, I haven’t had a laugh like that since the ash began falling from the sky. Tell me what you really want, and I will grant it to you just for cheering me like that.

Oh.

You were not joking.

You want to cast away your humanity, all you have left in these black days. You want to become mindless, a slave to hunger and cold and nothing else. A beast preying on the few of us that are left, your own family, maybe. You are running from something, but why do you want to run that far?

What have you done?

Ah. So that is why you went so pale when I said I was holding a child’s bones. Hard times beget harder measures, and hunger is the lord of us all.

Did you hold your brother’s bones when your stomach was full?

Don’t run away, love. You will drown in the swamp if you stumble around sobbing like that. I couldn’t care less about what happens to you, but I don’t want the carrion birds near my house. Or your… friends.

Yes, I will help you, if only just to get you out of here. Let us hear what the bones have to say.

Click-click-click, the sound of your future. A handful of bones finding you the road to damnation.

What is that little smile I see on your lips? Are you that eager to throw away all that you are, just to forget?

I cast the bones from my hand. Let us see.

That rib pointing at your foot, that is the direction you will have to go in once you leave my house. Through swamp and wood and snow, follow the line even if the path curves away from under you. Don’t lose it! Straight on until you run into this little vertebra, see? That will be a hill.

You will need to go into that hill, down in its hollowed-out stomach. Just follow the staircase, long ago laid bare by storms more vicious than you have lived to see. You will find a doorway at the bottom of the stairs, the door ripped off its hinges before you were born.

That is where those things came from. The first they feasted on were the people who made them.

You will find the cache in the secret room, untouched inside the hill. Untouched because no one in their right mind would open one of those crates, but you are not in your right mind anymore, are you, love?

They will look like little bottles of clean, cool water, but make no mistake. They are what you need. Open one and drink from it.

It will hurt.

Five of those bottles emptied into a city’s water tank were enough to wipe out thousands of men, women, and children. Drink only enough to moisten your mouth. Even I don’t know what will happen if you drink more.

No one can tell what you will look like once the agony passes. Eight limbs, maybe, eyes all over your skin, or a snout to crush a skull with. All of those at once, even. The tumors will kill you in a few years, of course, but for those few years, you will be free to roam and forget.

You are smiling once again. You disturb me, love, and few things disturb Mother Lügner these days.

You have not told me everything.

Oh. Oh.

That taste of flesh… You cried because you hated it.

And you smile now because you crave it.

Get out.

Get out!

My old heart races so. She will go where I said, no doubt, and destroy herself.

Man on the cross, forgive me. I should have lied to her.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Anita Dénes grew up in Transylvania as an avid reader, and later writer of strange stories, both in English and Hungarian. She published her first short story in a Hungarian magazine at the age of 20. Now, at 23, she is an aspiring author dreaming of publishing a full-length book one day and working on mysterious and macabre tales in the meantime.

Free Fiction: Pockets of Posies by Nexie Maryln

Remember that one nursery rhyme Ring Around the Rosie? Well in this case two kids were in the woods when they heard the nursery rhyme through the wisping fall wind. Here is their story.

One day in October near Halloween, Lyla and Kyla were walking in the woods as the wind picked up putting an utter chill in the fall air when the twins heard a faint sound of a music box and as they neared the end of the woods the sound grew louder and louder so before the twins left the woods, they went exploring and found an old plantation style house was the source of the music. They ventured into the gate with a loud creak. The music stopped and they saw a little girl emerge from the broken door. She couldn’t have been any older than 4 or 5 years old. She looked very scared and was in ripped clothes.

     “Maybe she is homeless?” Lyla asked Kyla.  

Unbeknownst to the girls, the little girl Rosiee was the victim of a game of ouija board Ring Around the Rosie, where they summoned a demon who wanted to “play” with the little girl and her family. As they followed her in, they felt this unfamiliar feeling that made them uneasy. They ventured further into the home not trusting their gut to leave immediately.  Once they caught up to the little girl, they looked at the room and realized that they had fallen into a trap of the demon that possessed Rosiee. With her head cocked to one side, Rosieeand giggled as her eyes turned black and her face slowly began to slide off as her body grew two feet taller. By the time the girls turned to run Rosiee took the form of the demon that possessed her.

As soon as the girls got to the door it slammed shut, trapping the girls who were now cowering in fear. The demon rushed over to the girls and consumed them just like she had the family. 

So if you see three girls beckoning for you to come in. Run for your life before it is too late and you fall victim to the demons of Ring Around the Rosie. 

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Nexie Maryln is a short story author that wants to do this full time.

Free Fiction: He is Coming by S.Tierney

Under bough and moonlight, we bide, the twilight breeze fluttering the hems of our white cotton gowns. Behind us, staving the chill while preventing retreat, a semicircle of elders support burning torches, their grimaces of paternal anticipation veiled behind a portrait mask. 

Before us, awaiting us, beckoning us: a fruitless and endless and altogether lifeless density of brambles, an entwined jungle of octopus tentacle with talon-like thorns for suckers. The wind causes the vines to grind together, sounding a scratching akin to a butcher’s tools being sharpened – yet shortly we must attempt to achieve what the moonlight cannot. Upon the dimming of the moon behind a cloud we must penetrate this barbed mass, run headlong into its jagged crush without a moment’s hesitation, all in an attempt to reach the other side. 

This is the way of it–

And so we are away. Gowns flapping. Faces preemptively scrunched. The initial thorns cut the deepest, fangs puncturing, biting our momentum. Immediately we are lodged, imprisoned within nature’s chains. In animal reflex one cannot help but raise their hands to their face, fearing scars and lacerations and the likely loss of an eye. But this is a mistake. Although we are all virgins to this ceremony and therefore inexperienced, the best of us know instinctively that one’s hands are better put to use not in preservation but in parting. Reach for those brambles! Tear them from their roots! Yes, just as our cheeks, our palms will soon be glossy with blood, that loose skin between the fingers spliced from so much snagging; yet these torments must be ignored. We must hasten. Endure. Suffer. Clench. Scream if you must, cry out! But whatever you do, do not hesitate, not even for a moment.

For He is coming.

He moves faster than us, compelled by a purpose comparable with a predator’s lust. He carves through the brambles with all the impulsion of a stag trampling roses, following those paths of least resistance which we have so courteously made ready. Yes, we benefit from a head start, that interval between the thinning of the clouds and the returning of the moon; but He has strength on His side, power, size, and a rampant desire to capture those laggers who have fallen behind. 

Dare you look over your calloused shoulders you would see that His lumbering structure is barnacled with faces. Masks, to be exact, sunken wicker skulls with only a lacquer of meat depicted across the bone. Not only is His face concealed as per the elders; He is draped in masks as though a stone clustered with oysters, His ribs and shins and forearms and spine consumed beneath armor-like myiasis of haunted expressions, each more pained and repentant than the next. This spore of woven faces seems to cry out as He thrusts them through the brambles, the wailing mill of thorn against willow akin to teeth down a blackboard – not that He fosters any heed. The thorns are nothing to Him. He feels no pain. He only wills the chase. His chase. Our chase. With each stride, He surges faster, grows more determined–

Should you maintain the inclination to escape, you must do the same.

It is impossible to know how deep you are into the brambles – it is all one endless, seizing tract. You may have grappled through an acre or an inch of it, for an hour or a lifetime; and all you have to show is a gown torn to ribbons. Your flesh fares little better, gashed raw that it is. At least be thankful that you are still moving, still breathing, even writhing – which is more than can be said for your fellows…

Having previously been cocooned within a company as numerous as a flock of doves, now the flock is dissipating, His ravenous hawk bringing down you fledglings beak by beak. A begging squawk is stifled within the brambles, snuffed out like a candle. Moments later and out goes another. Then another. Between the vines, you catch a flash of cotton as it is snatched away, pale and bloodied. You feel yourself alone, isolated; you fear you too will soon be snatched, for you are freezing and fretting and all-but naked and exhausted to your soul – yet you must endure, just a little further. Another inch. Another lifetime. Look, the brambles are thinning. The light beyond them swells! Of this, you convince yourself if only to drown out the howling reality that He is almost upon you. Within the reflective beads of blood and sweat and dew and tears which cling to the vines ahead, you see His charging form glinting in the moonlight, unblinking eyes staring hungrily, bared teeth snapping like those of a pack of hounds. As though an extension of his wicker the brambles seem to harden, converge, wrap around you. The light…it is so close now. One final push. One final tolerance of laceration and suffering and-

You collapse to a bed of wild and welcoming grass, the brambles renounced behind your swollen ankles. Your breath is hurried, moist exhalations swirling around the smoke from the semicircle of torches which stand over you. An elder in a red gown lifts your head and presses a chalice to your lips. You swallow as best you can – the tart fluid bubbles over your chin. A mask, a robe, and a torch are awarded – and a second sip.

Thankful, you roll over and glance behind you; each indistinguishable from the other, His wicker masks peer out from the brambles, more innumerous than before. 

And then, in accordance with the moon, they recede.

____________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

S. Tierney is an author of novels, comics, and several acclaimed short stories – which have been translated into audiobooks – and the novella ‘Kin’. Find more of his work on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Scott-Tierney/e/B00J21D0O6?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1641651813&sr=8-1

 

Free Fiction: It’ Hard Out There For A Cryptid by Andy Martin

Devil let Dogman push his advantage, his strength, his reach, but Dogman’s big haymakers were too wild to really connect, claws too short and too dog to do much damage, and when Devil felt Dogman’s whole weight shift forward for the kill Devil dropped back on his wings like he was done for but then kicked out with both hooves, catching the mutt high on the chest. Dogman hit the sand like there wasn’t a bone left in his body.

Devil followed through and landed more or less upright on his hooves, that spot on his back, right above his tail, absolutely screaming. He’d feel that one in the morning.

     “Welcome to New Jersey kid,” he said, wisps of smoke and sulfur for punctuation.  

Dogman’s eyes were rolled over white but he was whimpering so he’d live. 

     “Don’t feel bad. I’ve been pulling that move since the 18th century. One time I turned a grass ape’s head completely around like that, so count       yourself lucky.” He grabbed a handful of Dogman’s pelt and dragged him toward the creek. “Let’s get some water in you.”

***

     “Anything?” Buddy said, his phone on selfie mode as checked his headlamp.

     “I’ve barely got any bars, no, wait, wait, I got it. You’re good,” Steve said, turning his phone with the aftermarket lighting and stabilization rig             toward Buddy. He got Buddy framed up, the pine trunks behind him looking like rotted teeth in the glare of the big light. “Rolling.”

     “What’s up Youwatch, this is Cryptid Buddy coming from deep in the Jersey Pines, but tonight we’re not talking about Jersey Devil, tonight             we’re talking about-”

***

Dogman was on the shore, shaking cedar water from his fur and spitting blood. Devil hopped off a stump and stretched hard, maybe too hard, because Dogman flinched and whined.

     “Relax pal. We’re good.” Except for my back, which is not good, Devil thought. “Friends?” Devil said and offered a claw. Dogman shrunk and           Devil turned his claw palm down, let him come in for a sniff.

     “Good boy. See? We’re fine. Look kid, I was young once too, I get it. 1909? I was all the rage. People were so scared of me, they couldn’t keep       my name out of their mouths. I was chasing trollies and closing schools. I mean, it wasn’t quite the 18th, when I was eating babies and                  burning churches, but I loved it…until some kid in California willed me into existence and a Bigfoot kicked my ass.”

***

“Dogmen. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Devil of Ben Franklin’s day is no match for these carnivorous Cano-sapiens, and I have exclusive information that animal mutilations are on the rise in the Pine Barrens and there have been numerous sightings of large humanoids-”

Steve was fighting to keep up with Buddy in the soft sand, the pines crowding the road and throwing menacing shadows in the camera light-

***

Dogman stopped licking his paw and made a little whine.

     “Look, I get it. You’re holed up somewhere, sleeping that deep sleep, and you feel it, or smell it, or whatever. That scared, eager mind. That            delicious belief. But kid, we’ve all got our patches. I still feel that pull from all over the country, not like ’09, but it’s there. Maybe it’s because          everyone, everywhere, is from New Jersey, but either way, lots of people, all over the place, they step in the woods at night, they think of me.”

Dogman whined again and looked anywhere but at Devil.

     “But you know what? Colorado ain’t my patch. Florida ain’t my patch. Bodwin Moor ain’t my patch. Jersey is my patch, and I still get plenty of         Boy Scout trips out here to keep me going strong. I need a pick me up, I just land close to one of those little circles of tents and scream like         hell, plant that seed of terror that those kids will carry for the rest of their lives and years from now, they’ll be around a campfire and telling             their own kids about what they heard one night, and that’s me, going strong for another few years. You try to be everywhere where someone         thinks they see a Dogman and you’ll burn out. Or some old-timer like me or the Opogo is gonna clean your clock-”

Devil snapped a claw at Dogman.

     “Hey! There’s places you’re meant to be and places you ain’t. The Pines are mine. I’m not pissing on hydrants in Michigan, so do me the                 same      courtesy, you get me?”

Dogman nodded, his eyes still anywhere but on the Devil and skulked into the night.

***

      “What was that?!”

Steve did like he was supposed to and whipped his phone back and forth across the logging road, the sand wetter now, like maybe this was a bad idea and they were walking into a bog.

      “I heard it too!” Steve hissed, but it wasn’t only a stage whisper. Somewhere way out in the night, he’d heard some sort of low moan, half-animal, half-human but all hurt. It left his balls crawling. 

     “There! There!” Buddy shouted and backed up, squelching in the wet sand, banging full on into Steve, the camera spinning, Steve sick to his         stomach and cold all over at the same time. 

Steve heard wings beating, big ones.

     “Buddy, we gotta go,” he said. 

     “What is it?” Buddy asked, more a moan than words, all the bravado gone and then the moon winked out and winked back on, something                huge and black flying over the road, the shadow bending off to the right like it was circling back-

The scream hit them, and Steve pissed Mountain Dew in his pants and they were both running, no thoughts of Dogmen anymore because only one monster rules the night in New Jersey.

 

——————————————————————————————————————————-

 

 

 

Andy Martin is an archaeologist and musician living in South Philly with his girlfriend and cat. He sings songs about shipwrecks and survival cannibalism for the band Clamfight. His fiction has appeared at Cultured Vultures and Necrology Shorts, and he’s authored or coauthored archaeology articles on both sides of the Atlantic.

Free Fiction: The Mighty One by P. M. Thomas

My mind is like a record, left on playback, constantly looping, never stopping, always repeating the same notes, over and over and over. Ad nauseam.

I’m amazed I’ve lasted as long as I have. Most men would have lost it in less than a year. But not me. For over two decades, I have been hearing the same record play the same tune. From the tender age of a boy, it began – a small note, something others would have ignored, but not I.

I listened to the melody, got caught in its vicious trap, its intrusive cycle. Sealed in the routine of the song, the melody grew stronger every day and thereon, it took total control, dominated my mind, controlled my life.

It almost destroyed me on several occasions. Luckily, I managed to survive; luckily, I managed to hold on to the slither of strength I had left.

I suppose you’re wondering, why don’t I just switch off the record and stop listening to it? I have tried, believe me, dear reader, I have tried.
Every time I attempt to block out the endless loop, it always comes back, louder and louder.
What does my mind play, I hear you ask?

Words. Words of great disturbance, words of darkness, words that must be purified. Cleansed of their evil. Decontaminated with the light of goodness.

Now, I hear you say, they are only words … Can words cause harm?

Oh, dear reader, I shall shed light on why these dark words must be purged of their vileness in order to prevent any harm that their wretchedness could bring.

It’s because of the Mighty One.

Who is that? I hear you wonder. Allow me to explain. The Mighty One is a being of omnipotent power, a being that processes my thoughts in a heartbeat and can make them happen.

The Mighty One resides in the far reaches of my consciousness. We are linked – we are one, it and I. We both determine the fate of the world.

I did not ask for such a heavy responsibility, the Mighty One chose me and made me the guardian of all life. You can’t even begin to imagine how hard it is having to hold all our lives in my mind.

My mind. The battlefield. Where every minute of every hour of every day is spent battling the dark words with the words of salvation.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m crazy.

You could be right. Of course, you could be wrong.

Who’s to say that my mind doesn’t have the power to cause pain and misery if the dark words were ever processed by the Mighty One?

The world is a mystery; who knows what incredible things lurk behind the veil of reality, the mask of sanity, the logic of reason?

There is a good chance it all could be in my head. Maybe I have a disturbed mind that needs to make an average guy like me seem important to the world. Or could there be a phenomenon that this mind of mine contains? My mind … the key to the destruction of someone, of everyone and – worst case scenario – of the whole wide world.

Not to mention, the key to destroying my very self if the words wished to.

Might I be a man with an overactive imagination sparked into overdrive, no longer able to tell reality and fantasy apart? Or might I be a guardian, keeping the world and all lives within the world existing every single day, non-stop?

Whatever I am, I stand on the fine line between life and death, good and evil, light and darkness, purity and corruption, peace and mayhem, hope and doom, existence and oblivion.

I suppose you are wondering by now… what are the dark words that may or may not cause catastrophic effects?

You’re not going to like the answer but I can not tell you what the words are. To even speak of them or write them could cause the catalyst. The dark words must remain sealed in my head.

You may not care about risking the possible end of your life, another life, my life or all life in the world, but I do.

I’m afraid I can not take such a risk to indulge your curiosity.

Fret not, dear reader, for while I am unable to give you the apocalyptic words, I can give you the words of salvation that were given to me by the Mighty One.

And when you read these words, think of the difficult struggle that I, your sole protector, must do to keep you going to bed, safe and sound, every night.

There is no rest for me, there is no peace for me. I have a duty that I must uphold till the day I die.

And to you sceptics out there, those who do not believe me, those who feel I am mad or making this up: continue to live your life as you wish, in bliss.

Whether I am a guardian or not, these are the words I must repeat endlessly to keep you all alive and well as I sit here on my own, day in, day out, locked in my little white room.

 

Oh Mighty One, protect the world.

Oh Mighty One, protect all life.

Oh Mighty One, protect me.

Oh Mighty One, do not unmake the world.

Oh Mighty One, do not unmake all life.

Oh Mighty One, do not unmake me.

Oh Mighty One, never forsake the world.

Oh Mighty One, never forsake all life.

Oh Mighty One, never forsake me.

Oh Mighty One, have mercy on all life.

Oh Mighty One, have mercy on me.

Oh Mighty One, give all life strength.

Oh Mighty One, give me strength.

Please, Mighty One, please.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

P.M. Thomas is an author from Birmingham, UK. He has always had a love and passion for the art of storytelling, especially when it’s associated with horror.   Find more of his work at: https://philipbrocklehurst3.wixsite.com/p-m-thomas

HorrorAddicts.net Press Presents: Two Book Birthdays Today/Horrible Disasters and Plague Master Sanctuary Dome

Horrible Disasters

hahdfront-coverA Horror Disaster Anthology
Available now on Amazon.com

HorrorAddicts.net proudly presents Horrible Disasters. Thirteen authors from around the globe share their visions of terror set during real natural disasters throughout history. Travel back in time to earth shattering events like the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and the Winter of Terror avalanches, 1950. What supernatural events went unnoticed? What creatures caused such destruction without remorse? Stock your emergency kit, hunker in your bunker, and prepare for… Horrible Disasters.

Cover Art by: Thierry Pouzergues

Edited by: Larraine Barnard

authors:
Emerian Rich
H. E. Roulo
Dan Shaurette
Steve Merrifield
Mark Eller
Laurel Anne Hill
Timothy Reynolds
Ed Pope
Jennifer Rahn
Chris Ringler
Philip Carroll
Mike McGee
Garth von Buchholz

Proceeds to benefit Disaster Relief by way of the non-profit agency, Rescue Task Force.

Free Fiction: Seconds Left For Tomorrow Melissa R. Mendelson

The clock hands rested across the nine and the eleven. The red second line convulsed, struggling to break in-between. It pushed forward, then fell back. It refused to give up, shaking so hard that it might just snap, but it slipped forward. An inch forward. It was stuck again.

I closed my eyes. The hum of the lights overhead did not help. The breakdown of the seconds did not help. The shouting outside did not help. If only the world could just stop. Stop for one damn minute.  Let me concentrate, and I closed my eyes, drawing in a breath. Come on. Focus. You can do it. Just focus.

“Damn it! Will you all outside shut the fuck up?” I stared at the thin walls, knowing that they heard me. “Thank you. I need to concentrate.” I sat back in my chair and closed my eyes. “Someone turn off the fucking lights,” and the hum died.

I could see it now. The black, square object spinning wildly. Its hum was silent but deafening. It could not leave its orbit. It was stuck like that red second line, convulsing, threatening to break. I slipped forward, pushed back by its electric field. Never had I dealt with such resistance. I reached for it. My hand touched it. I was thrown against the wall, and the wall cracked.

“What is the obstacle here?” the suit asked.

“The obstacle?” I laughed, wiping the blood from my nose. “It won’t let me near it.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

“Are you deaf, man? It won’t let me near it.”

“Don’t you control that thing?”

“There is no control,” I said. “We have a mutual relationship. At least, we did.” I looked down at the blood on my hand. “Something’s wrong,” I said.

“No shit, buddy. We’re on the brink of war, and we’re barely surviving the viral outbreak. You were our last resort.”

“I’m sorry.” I waited for the suit to help me up. Instead, he sat in my chair. “Sure. Just leave me on the floor,” I said. “I’m fine here.”

“None of us are fine, if we can’t see tomorrow. We need to… I need to know. You’re the man that can see the future, and you need to see if there is a tomorrow.”

“I’m trying! I never had this obstacle before. I could always see tomorrow and the tomorrows after that. Too much is happening right now.”

“There is always something happening in the world,” the suit said.

“No. Not like this. It’s like the floodgates were thrown open, and there are too many variables in play. There might be a tomorrow, but what kind of tomorrow? There might not be a tomorrow, but then what did we do wrong today? What did we do yesterday that set off the end of the world? Let’s face it. We are at the end.”

“Try again. Take a moment, and try again.”

“I’ve been at this all day. I just have this really bad feeling.”

“That it’s over?”

“No. There will be a tomorrow, but not our tomorrow.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means buckle up. Whatever is coming our way, there is no stopping it.”

“So, you’re giving up?”

I didn’t answer him. I knew what I had to do. Something bad was coming. Something really bad, and I didn’t want to see it. There was only one thing left then to escape that fate. I found the black, square object spinning wildly in its orbit. I grabbed hold with both hands this time, and I didn’t let go. The electric field pierced through the fabric of my being. My mind split apart. Before I snapped into oblivion, I caught a glimpse. I saw the world from yesterday, and it was burning in orange flames.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Melissa R. Mendelson is a horror, dystopian and science-fiction author,                                                                        whose short stories have been published in Sirens Call Publications,                                                                                        Dark Helix Press and Transmundane Press.

You may find her work at: http://www.melissamendelson.com

Free Fiction : The Glubb by Brittanty Erickson

The Glubb

There once was a lady with no hair. She smoked 5 packs a day in front of endless Golden Girl marathons. She ashed on the couch, ashed on her carpet, her sink, her cats, the parrot ate butts as a snack. She loved to ash in her tub while she sat on the loo. She never used the tub, but once in a while, she’d pour the rest of her Old Milwaukee down the drain, which was clogged with food and ash. The smell was more than rancid. She would often see a mass move in the corner of her eye but always disregarded it as her own mind playing tricks.

She had no kids. Her parents had passed. But, this was more than depression and misery. A spiral of emptiness, a void. She began to think, “Why would anything be real?” 

With her cat snuggling her, fur matted with ash, she stroked his tail. She was laying on the couch, waiting for ‘The Price is Right’ to end. Then she heard a slurping sound. She ignored it as the building’s pipes were in bad shape.

In the bathroom, the mass began to grow. The parrot had disappeared the day before. She figured, “He must have flown away when I chucked out the cans.” She went to have another loo. Walking down the ash-ridden hallway, cancerous dust puffed from her feet. She angled her arm around the corner to turn on the light. It was covered in a moist, unfamiliar material. She reached for her smartphone and clicked the power to light the screen. She heard a loud POP and saw ash fall from the walls. 

“Grhhh-ggh,” came from the tub. She found herself unable to move when she noticed feathers plastered to the walls.

The mass continued down through her tub, into the lower pipes. A man was bathing below, getting ready for work. When he raised his razor to his cheeks, he felt a tickle on his foot. He jerked, cutting his cheek down to his chin. 

“Dammit!” He screamed. The bath began to fill with a black substance. Touching his cheek, he saw red, not black. The water became a dark grey and began to gurgle. It slipped into his pelvis and used his gut to travel through to his wound. The man felt dry, too dry to move. His skin began to shrivel, his hair fell out. The cut on his cheek began to ooze black.

The mass traveled back down the drain, searching for an exit. The pipes of this complex led to the sewer. Soon the city was to become monotone.

Frightened by the explosive amount of ash, the lady was in disbelief. “It’s not real, it’s not real,” she said to the ash. 

The lady laid back down on her couch. She stayed inside her home until she needed groceries 2 weeks later. She never ran the water, and lived strictly on diet-soda. She grabbed her one key and began her walk out of the door. No point in locking it, nothing to steal. 

As she walked, ash flew from her toes. It was such a normal, homely feeling.

It was unusually quiet inside the building, but outside was unusually loud. A gurgling, burping could be heard from the sewer grate under her apartment. She trembled and hugged her flannel jacket closer to her skin.  

She lived only 2 blocks away from her grocery stop. Instantly, she noticed the market had no employees. The food was starting to rot. There was a rancid smell coming from the shop doors. She grabbed a bag and started stealing cans and boxes of non-perishables. On her way back home, no one passed her, no one was walking across the street. She could only hear the “grubble-glubb,” from the sewer beneath.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

Brittany Erickson is a 30-year-old mom who enjoys writing stories and poems. She lives in rural Iowa, USA, always has.

Free Fiction : Susurration by Jarred Allen Schulte

             Awake. 

             Cold. 

             Numb. 

Rolling to his side and scrambling to his feet he took in his surroundings. 

A dark and terrible thing had taken place here. Black and red candles, burned to their nubs, were strewn all around. The charred and broken remains of disfigured beings, their sizes and shapes leading him to believe they had once been children, were arranged at each point of a strange and mesmerizing pattern that had been drawn upon the floor. 

At the center of the cryptic symbol lay a makeshift altar of wood and stones, upon which sat what remained of a skull. The face bloated and sloughing off, the lips peeling back in a permanent grimace, neck ragged and torn. 

Aghast at the scene, he stumbled from the temple to find the surrounding town in ruins. The light was beginning to drain from a sickly sunset. Dusky yellows and oranges painted the surrounding miasma casting a dull glow all around. 

The ground surrounding the temple and spreading in every direction as far as the eye could see appeared foul and blighted, the houses and shops in a state of extreme disrepair, as if left to rot for ages. Possessions inside homes seemingly left where they were last used, pots on stoves with molding meals, brackish water pooling in bathtubs half drained through evaporation.

No other remains could be found, human or otherwise, no one squatted in the rotted-out hamlet. He came to realize something even more disturbing… no animals wandered the streets, rats didn’t skitter between cupboards, no crows lined the rooftops. There was nothing making even the slightest of sounds beyond the rotting leaves blowing through the ruined dirt paths. No grass had grown up, and vines did not choke the lattices. The town was not just abandoned, it was utterly, and completely devoid of life. 

As night gripped the hamlet tighter, he continued his desperate search. 

Wandering the streets and peering into the blackness of doorways whose doors had fallen from their hinges he caught the glint of a torch. 

Or so he thought. 

Darting across the street to where he had seen the fleeting glow in the window of a home whose glass still remained, he rushed inside only to find no traces of passage in the layer of filth and dust that caked the floors. But in the dark closeness of the small entryway, he could see the glow again. 

The wind blew a shrill whistle through the home’s jagged wooden teeth. Upon the left wall was cast a faint and putrid glow, dim at first but growing brighter as he moved closer to inspect the source. 

Only, there was no visible source. The glow seemed to move as he moved, growing dimmer and vanishing as he moved further from the wall and into the house. Moving across the room and toward the window, he saw the glint once again, this time with a clarity that made his chest catch. 

Reflected in the window was the form of a man, his clothes in tatters, a sleeve missing to reveal a sickly and pale arm, grizzly carnage appeared to have dried over his chest and shoulders. What had caused the man’s shock was not the state of the other man’s dress, but rather the head that crowned the gore coated shoulders. 

The swirling mass that sat atop the ragged neck could best be likened to thick steam the color of spoilt custard. Putrid, shifting tones of yellow, brown, and green coalesced into a vaguely head-like form. Opalescent shapes shone in the dark recesses where eyes belonged, the creature seemed to grin as it was noticed by the man. 

It was horrific, but mesmerizing at the same time. 

The man attempted to take a step back to put more distance between the creature and himself when his heel caught on the remains of a woolen rug causing him to tumble backward. The shape in the window lurched out of sight and the man searched the floor for a makeshift weapon in anticipation of the creature’s attack. The sleeve of his torn shirt catching on the splintering edge of a brittle but serviceable table leg, he clambered to his feet brandishing his makeshift club at the doorway.

No creature bounded through the darkness; no fiend fell upon him. He was alone and frightened. 

And yet…

His pulse did not quicken, no adrenaline raced through his veins, he didn’t even draw the gasping breaths of a terrified man. His body was still, completely. 

Chancing a glance at the window again he could just make out the shape of the creature, fainter with distance but still there. It seemed to be waiting for him to come charging through the doorway to attack it. 

Then it dawned upon the frightened man… the creature held in its hands a length of what seemed to be rotting wood. Rotting wood that could very well have once been the leg of a table. 

The man turned fully to see the creature. The creature turned with him. It lowered its club as the man lowered his. 

Moving nearer the filth-coated window, the creature followed suit. Leaning in closer to each other, the light becoming brighter as the face of the creature neared the glass. 

He raised his left arm; it raised the right. Both arms wore a sleeve of torn cloth hanging by shreds to the shoulder and the wrist. The man’s pale hand went to his mouth to stifle his own scream, finding only empty space. All the while his horrid reflection seemed to be stifling a maniacal burst of laughter. All the while he had no throat from with which to let loose his anguished cry of horror. 

All that could be heard throughout the town was the rustling of leaves scratching and scrabbling across the empty streets. A dry and raspy screed, as though the town itself were issuing a cry of anguish from its own ragged and dusty throat.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Jarred Schulte, while new to the world of fiction, is not new to the written word. Having spent the last four years using his skills with the written language to help others find love in the high-pressure Online Dating industry, this Kansas native turned Floridian, is finally getting to flex his muscles in a more creative manner. Growing up on a steady diet of thriller, fantasy, and horror novels, Jarred credits his stylistic tendencies to the likes of King, Koontz, Jordan, Lovecraft, Goodman, and Hill.

To find more of Jared’s work: https://medium.com/@jarreds1 

Interview with Daphne Strasert – Wicked Women Writers Allstar Winner – 2021

Interview with Daphne Strasert – Wicked Women Writers Allstar Winner – 2021 – Interview by  Blog Editor Kate Nox.

NOX:  Congratulations Daphne, on being the Wicked Women Writers Allstar Winner of 2021! How does it feel to have your work honored in this way? 

Daphne: Thank you so much! It feels really great to have done well, especially against such a great group of competitors. I’ve come a long way since I did my first writing competition with Horror Addicts (The Next Great Horror Writer Contest in 2017) and I was happy to be able to share my growth as a storyteller.

NOX: Tell us a bit about your writing history. What made you decide to be a writer? What did you write at first? What are your proudest moments/ awards won/ stories published?

Daphne: I started writing when I was in high school. I wrote fanfiction at first but gradually realized that I had my own stories and my own characters that were waiting to come out. I finished my first novel, Lunatic, right after college. Joining the HorrorAddicts.net Next Great Horror Writer contest was a stroke of luck. That was where I wrote my first short stories. I’ve since had many short stories published (including in the last FOUR anthologies for HorrorAddicts.net!). Most recently, my story “Swipe Right”–about a werewolf on a date with a sasquatch–won an honorable mention in a contest for On The Premises (you can read it here).

Nox: Your winning story, The Blood of Sorus, is a great piece.  How did the idea come about and how long did it take you to write it?  

Daphne: The idea for The Blood of Sorus came about fairly quickly after I was invited to join the Wicked Women Writers All Star Competition. Brazil was assigned as my cultural component, so I researched various aspects of the culture, history, and environment there. I became enraptured with the Amazon Rainforest and how it seemed to have a life of its own. While the concept took only a few weeks to fully form, I didn’t finish the final draft of the story for nearly six months.

NOX: Reading The Blood of Sorus, I particularly enjoyed your descriptions of the dark temple and could feel the danger lurking. Do you have a secret for making such descriptions work?

Daphne: Especially with horror, less can be more. The reader’s mind is always able to fill in something far darker and scarier than I could ever describe. By supplying just enough details (the drip of the water, the rustling of the vines), I can suggest far worse things. In horror, the reader always knows that something scary is just around the corner. I like to make use of that preexisting fear.

NOX: I love your thoughts on the reader! ! Did you find any challenges as you wrote? Any stumbles along the way?

Daphne: In order to create the appropriate length audio fiction, the story itself had to be SO SHORT. The Blood of Sorus came out at just about 1,300 words, which is very little space to do the sort of expansive world-building that science fiction horror requires. The story just kept growing, wanting to be a longer work. I had to chop a lot of good ideas out to keep it the correct length.

NOX: Winning this contest secures your title of Wicked Women Writers ALLSTAR! What are your plans going forward after winning this unique competition?

Daphne: I am still writing, though I’m focused more on novels right now. I have a few novels close to completion that need editing before I submit them to publishers. Of course, I’ll probably write a short story or two as a nice break! Hopefully, those will be published this year.

NOX: Have you any advice or encouragement that would be helpful for new horror writers reading this interview?

Daphne: Keep writing! You have wonderful things in your mind just waiting to get out. The best way to get better is to write them down. No one writes something perfect on their first try. Find some writing friends who can give you honest, constructive feedback. And submit your work! You may not think it’s good enough to be published, but you would be surprised. Don’t reject yourself from a submission call if you feel you have something that fits.

NOX: Thank you for talking with us and congrats once again on being The Wicked Women Writer’ Allstar 2021 Winner. I  know you also have been a finalist in the Next Great Horror Writer Contest.  Tell us what’s ahead for you. And what else can we read of yours?

Daphne: Hopefully, the next big thing for me is a published novel! But until then, you can always read more of my writing on my website www.DaphneStrasert.com and follow me on social media as @daphnethewriter.

PROJECT GEN-X – AN INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA ROWLAND

PROJECT GEN-X – AN INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA ROWLAND

By Renata Pavrey

In a unique anthology of monster, folk, paranormal, and psychological horror as glimpsed through the lens of the latchkey generation, twenty-two voices shine a strobe light on the cultural demons that lurked in the background while they came of age in the heyday of Satanic panic and slasher flicks, milk carton missing and music television, video rentals and riot grrrls. 

These Gen-X storytellers once stayed out unsupervised until the streetlights came on, and what they brought home with them will terrify you. 

Featuring brand new fiction from Kevin David Anderson, Glynn Owen Barrass, Matthew Barron, C.D. Brown, Matthew Chabin, L.E. Daniels, C.O. Davidson, Douglas Ford, Phil Ford, Holly Rae Garcia, Dale W. Glaser, Tim Jeffreys, Derek Austin Johnson, Eldon Litchfield, Adrian Ludens, Elaine Pascale, Erica Ruppert, Kristi Petersen Schoonover, Rob Smales, Mark Towse, Thomas Vaughn, and Thomas K.S. Wake.

As a follow-up to my wonderful reading experience of the book, I interviewed editor Rebecca Rowland, for an insight into how Generation X-ed was conceived, created, and curated.

Hi Rebecca, Congratulations on the release of your latest book. How would you describe the experience of working on a project with other writers, versus individually writing a book?

It’s a completely different animal. In the first anthology I edited for Dark Ink Books, I included one of my own stories; I haven’t done that since. It’s too difficult wearing both hats: as an editor, you have to see the work through the eyes of the reader while simultaneously having the backs of the authors who have contributed to the project. With my own stuff, I just write what I like and rarely consider how readers might respond: I trust in the editor and the press owner to assess and dress it properly for public view. It’s much more exhausting to be an editor, unfortunately, but it’s even more rewarding on some levels as long as I know I’ve done right by those who’ve contributed their work.

Generation X-ed is a niche genre: horror stories set in the eighties and early nineties. How did the idea for the anthology come about?

A few years ago, I made a conscious effort to read and review more independent dark fiction. I also tried to break out of my (painfully awkward, typical writer-introvert-) shell and get to know some fellow independent horror writers. What I found was that more than three-quarters of those horror authors were my age: we shared the same formative experiences in media, music and culture. I was born smack in the middle of Generation X, a group I didn’t really understand the significance of until I was well into my thirties and forties. Now, I look at my generation and I realize, there are touchstones we share that helped shape us into the people we are as adults: the satanic panic, the latchkey phenomenon, the Challenger explosion (witnessed live in our classrooms), the emergence and disappearance of Mtv, and so forth. I happen to think our formative experiences are the most nefarious, which might explain the wealth of horror fiction that has sprung from Gen Xers!

The stories cover a range of horror sub-genres from psychological and paranormal, to comedy and sci-fi. Was this intentional, to feature stories across the horror spectrum?

The Renaissance of the slasher film occurred during Generation X’s childhood/early teens, and the birth of cable television and VCRs (coupled with looser supervision by our parents), made access to hardcore horror relatively easy. When I first conceived the collection, I did imagine it would be focused on the splatter and gore of that subgenre: the X lends itself so well to that, visually and thematically. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that our influences weren’t limited to slashers. Each of the authors chose an individual (real or fictional) who had an impact on him/her as a horror writer. The range makes me realize I did the right thing broadening the parameters of the fiction I wanted to include.

All the writers belong to the latchkey generation and have explored their personal experiences with movies, books, music, political and historical events from the era. How did you gather stories and authors for this project?

I wrote up the call for stories, letting writers know the word count range and that we were really only requiring two things: that the writer be a member of Generation X and that the horror story include something (subtly or otherwise) specific to the generation. As the submissions came in, I was pleasantly surprised: the caliber of writing and the uniqueness in story arcs made whittling the final count down to twenty-two very difficult. There were definitely some stories that it pained me to turn away, but the ones I selected all had one thing in common: they were exceptionally well-written, and they stayed in my head hours or even days after I first read them. I wish I could give a more objective analysis of why these twenty-two ended up together, but my best explanation would be it’s part luck that these gifted authors chose to trust me with their creations, and it’s part my own gut reaction. 

While readers born and growing up in the 70s and 80s would find resonance in the references, the stories are so well written and compiled to be enjoyable for everyone. Did you have a reader audience in mind while conceiving this anthology? As an editor, how challenging is it to cater to different reader tastes when curating a collection?

So far, I’ve been fortunate enough to curate collections where the focus has been something to which I am already drawn, and I know readers are going to choose a book based on whether its nucleus is something that already jives with their preferences. I know putting out a collection that appears age-specific is risky; however, one of the nicest feedbacks I’ve received from reviewers is my commitment to diversity in style and approach, and therefore, I’ve always kept that in mind when I am cutting down the “likely yes” pile to the final lineup. 

I am drawn to read anthologies myself because of the variety: I don’t expect to love every entry, and I don’t expect readers of the anthologies I curate to love every story. However, I never want a reader to find s/he doesn’t respond to multiple stories in a row. Even if the stories have a common thread, I take care to either follow one story with another from a completely different subgenre, or, if the subgenres are the same, make certain back-to-back tales utilize different points-of-view, or possess similar narrators who make very different choices. That way, there really is something for everyone. There are sly winks in Generation X-ed that will resonate specifically with those who are a part of the generation, but the heart of the collection, the things that creep and unnerve and scare the bejesus out of us no matter when we grew up, is what gives it life, so I hope everyone who enjoys good storytelling will take a look. 

Generation X-ed releases on January 26, 2022. 

Links to purchase:

https://rowlandbooks.com/generation-xed#f5bed466-d8ae-4abf-a6cb-8b7d887bb01c

 

Guest Blog: “The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows”

“The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows

Featured Author: Geneve Flynn

Southeast Asian mythology is much less familiar territory for many horror fans. While vampires, werewolves, and zombies are well-known, creatures such as the tiyanak, the penanggalan, the pontianak, and the nukekubi are less so. Does that make them scarier? Let’s dive in and see. 

  Tortured Willows is a newly released collaborative collection of sixty horror poems by four of the authors from the Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, Christina Sng, and Geneve Flynn showcase some of these creepy critters in their poetry. In this blog series, we chat to each of the contributors about their monsters.

Please say hello to Geneve Flynn.

LM: Please tell us a little more about the themes you explore in this collection.

GF: There were a few things happening in the cultural and political spaces in Australia when I was writing my poems. There had been allegations of rife sexism, sexual misconduct, and assault within our parliament, and there has been growing fury at how gendered violence has been handled by the press, the justice system, and the government. Tortured Willows offered a place for me to express some of my own anger and frustration at our very “blokey” culture. I also wrote about my experience of racism as part of the Chinese-Malaysian diaspora. They were the some of the same themes I touched on in my stories in Black Cranes; but, in Tortured Willows, using poetry, I was able to explore these themes from different angles and in a more targeted way. 

LM: Your poem “Penanggalan’s Lament”, a favourite of mine, features one of the most gruesome creatures from Southeast Asian mythology. Please tell us more about her and what she symbolises in your work. 

“penanggalanfullj.jpg” by Kurt Komoda is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

GF: The penanggalan is a Malay vampiric creature that is thought to be a woman who accidentally curses herself with black magic in the pursuit of beauty. She is supposed to soak in a vat of vinegar and eat no meat for forty days. However, she breaks her fast early and becomes monstrous. At night, she detaches her head from her body, trailing organs as she seeks out newborns and pregnant women to feed on. 

I immigrated to Australia only a decade or so after the White Australia Policy was abolished. I was often one of the only Asian kids in school, so I faced racism and abuse. I spent a lot of my childhood and teen years wishing I had blue eyes and blond hair. The idea that you could damn yourself in order to look a certain way resonated with me. Here is an excerpt from my poem:

“All you have to do: soak in vinegar,

hide in a vat; no meat for forty days.

You’ll be blue-eyed, fair, perfect, regular.”

The girl agrees, wakes up, still in a haze.

She’s one of them, not chink: so white, all ways.

Goodbye past, so long; she’s full ABC.

But she forgets: each deal you buy, you pay

your life, if you want to have that body. 

 

LM: Hungry ghosts feature in your poem “Inheritance”, a text which I found both evocative and insightful. What are hungry ghosts, and how did you showcase them in your work? 

“The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Photo 6” by feministjulie is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

GF: Hungry ghosts are said to arise when a person commits an evil deed or suffers a terrible death. When they die, they are tormented by insatiable desire for the one thing they sought most in life. The hungry ghost has a swollen belly and a tiny mouth, and can never be fulfilled. I wanted to write about the opportunities denied to Chinese girls and women, simply because they are often viewed as only fit for filial duty. What does it do to a person to be continually told, no matter your potential, you are only good for one thing? Would it turn you into a wraith, forever chasing validation? Here’s an excerpt from my poem:

Was that when you first

began to swell? Your stomach

bulging and burgeoning,

swallowing the bitter,

the burden, the second-hands,

the not-for-yous? 

Did your mouth begin to draw 

closed like a miserly purse

when you were left behind,

your splendid mind with  

only hunger and no choice

but to turn upon itself?

LM: Thanks so much for introducing us to some of the mythology that features in your poetry. If you’d like to read the poems mentioned in this blog series, Tortured Willows is available from Yuriko Publishing.

Praise for Tortured Willows:

“It’s clear Murray, Flynn, Sng, and Yuriko Smith are nowhere close to finished sharing all of the poems within them, but this is a fine rare gathering you’ll want to revisit time and

again.”—Bryan Thao Worra, former President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association

“Women live with spectres gifted to us by our experiences. Tortured Willows breathes life into these shadows, reminding us that what has shaped us has not broken us.”—Piper Mejia, author of The Better Sister & Other Stories

“A haunting, harrowing exploration of obligation, expectation, and sacrifice, poetry as unquiet fury and a lens on both past and present. Told in four unique voices yet speaking for countless silent generations of Asian women, Tortured Willows grips you by the throat and screams into the night, demanding to be heard.”—Dan Rabarts, award-winning author of the Children of Bane series

“This collection of poetry, without a doubt, will forever remain one of my all-time favorites. No matter how hard I pulled at the reins, I could not stop until every last poem was inside of me.” —Cindy O’Quinn, two-time Bram Stoker Award®-nominated author

Tortured Willows

Bent. Bowed. Unbroken

The willow is femininity, desire, death. Rebirth. With its ability to grow from a single broken branch, it is the living embodiment of immortality. It is the yin that wards off malevolent spirits. It is both revered and shunned.

In Tortured Willows, four Southeast Asian women writers of horror expand on the exploration of otherness begun with the Bram Stoker Award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women.

Like the willow, women have bent and bowed under the expectations and duty heaped upon them. Like the willow, they endure and refuse to break.

With exquisite poetry, Christina Sng, Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, and Geneve Flynn invite you to sit beneath the tortured willow’s gravid branches and listen to the uneasy shiver of its leaves.

LINK: https://www.amazon.com/Tortured-Willows-Bent-Bowed-Unbroken/dp/1737208334

Geneve Flynn is an award-winning speculative fiction editor and author. She has two psychology degrees and only uses them for nefarious purposes.

She co-edited Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women with celebrated New Zealand author and editor Lee Murray. The anthology won the 2020 Bram Stoker Award® and the 2020 Shirley Jackson Award for best anthology. It has also been shortlisted for the British Fantasy Award, Aurealis Award, and Australian Shadows Award. Black Cranes is listed on Tor Nightfire’s Works of Feminist Horror and Locus magazine’s 2020 Recommended Reading List

Geneve was assistant editor for Relics, Wrecks, and Ruins, a speculative fiction anthology which features authors such as Neil Gaiman, Ken Liu, Robert Silverberg, James (SA) Corey, Lee Murray, Mark Lawrence, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Angela Slatter. The anthology is the legacy of Australian fantasy author Aiki Flinthart, and is in support of the Flinthart Writing Residency with the Queensland Writers Centre

Geneve’s short stories have been published in various markets, including Flame Tree Publishing, Things in the Well, and PseudoPod. Her latest short story, “They Call Me Mother,” will appear in Classic Monsters Unleashed with some of the biggest names in horror, including Joe Lansdale, Jonathan Maberry, and Ramsey Campbell.

Geneve loves tales that unsettle, all things writerly, and B-grade action movies. If that sounds like you, check out her website at www.geneveflynn.com.au.

Free Fiction: Bliss by Webster Grubbs

A man walks silently down an abandoned dusty road. Along the path are vast oceans of waving grass. He paces slowly in silence, focusing on the road in the distance, watching it curve over the horizon. The sun above him crossed over and soon set, drenching the man in blinding shadows. He continues, wading through the drowning darkness. A shimmer of light dances across the field, cast by the full rising moon. 

Over the horizon comes a pair of bright lights, undoubtedly headlights of an approaching vehicle. The man walks on, taking note of the lights as they approached. Soon it was within sight and he stepped to the side of the road, stopping and watching. Upon seeing him, the dusty truck pulls to the side of the road. A lone man exits the vehicle, approaching the stranger slowly.

“Hey, you alright? It’s awful late to be wandering around the back roads.” He says, receiving no response. 

“You deaf or somethin’? It’s dangerous out here. You wouldn’t be the first to get lost out here.” Again, he receives no answer. He approaches the stranger, looking at his face.

“Or maybe you know that. Have I seen you before?”

The stranger turns back to the road and resumes walking. He speaks finally as he leaves. “Maybe so. Been around here for a while; Lotta people seen me here or there.” 

A sheet of rain settles over a small town, filling the air with sounds of water on rusting sheet metal roofs. A hooded man follows the road into the street. He finds his way into the local pub, taking refuge from the rain at a small back table. The locals take note of his presence but ignore him. The few visitors look over their shoulders, curious of the man. No one in the room speaks to him, and they only speak of him in hushed whispers between fleeting glances. 

The man sits, silent and unblinking, staring at the wooden corner wall. He remains deathly still as he waits. An elderly lady gathers her meal and slowly makes her way to the man’s table. She sits across from him and smiles warmly.

“Hope you don’t mind me takin’ a spot here with ya. You seemed kind of lonely. I know people don’t typically prefer to be alone. Tell me, how are ya doin’ ?” She asked, looking up to the man’s young, bearded face. 

He remained silent but did glance at her as she sat.

“Not much of a talker? That’s fine. Some people go on blabbering for too long anyways. Get themselves into all sorts of trouble. Sometimes you just gotta know when to hush up.”

The man nodded slowly, looking back up to the corner of the room. 

“I guess you’re waiting on the rain to stop, yeah? I’ll let you be then.” The lady said, turning to stand.

The man shook his head, looking back to her. “Before you go…would you like to hear an old song? It’s from my childhood, and I quite like it.” He spoke in a half-whisper.

The woman turned back to him and listened as he began softly humming an ancient tune. The old woman found herself enchanted by the song, getting enveloped by the notes of the man’s humming. Moments later the siren’s call was over, and the lady snapped from her trance. 

“Oh, that was pretty.” She exclaimed, looking across to the man. Across from her, however, was an empty seat. Shocked, she looked across the bar, finding it desolate. She looked out the door and saw but a muddy road leading to the building surrounded by carpets of shining broken glass. 

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

I’m a small-time horror author, writing when I have free time from a busy life.

Free Fiction: Manny and the Machines by Marc Dickerson 

The father rapped his knuckles lightly on the door. 

     “Manny?” 

Waited a moment before turning the knob and stepping inside. 

Manny lay in bed, blanket pulled up to his chin, staring at the ceiling. The father could  see that he was shivering beneath the covers. 

     “It’s okay, son. It’s just me.” 

     “Dad. I can’t sleep.” 

The father nodded, moved to sit gently on the end of the bed. 

     “Why is that, son? Is something wrong?” 

     “Of course.”

     “Of course?” 

     “Yeah.” 

     “Son, I—” 

     “It’s the machines.” 

The father sat for a moment, looking first at the shadows on the curtains, then at the child. As softly as he could, he said,       “We’re not supposed to talk about them, son.” 

The son stirred a bit, looking uncomfortable. Quietly he uttered, “I know…” Then he lay still again. 

     “They keep us safe. You know that.”  

Manny sat up, loosening his grip on the blanket a bit. “But they’re so loud, dad. Why are  they so loud?” 

They had always been there. For most of his life, for all of his son’s life, their presence was a constant. Always felt. But always tolerated, never questioned. Though now he could hardly remember how it’d gotten this way, how life had become like this. 

This is the way it is, his own father had once told him when he was a boy. 

Since then, it had become second nature to block them out, to ignore them. He didn’t  even notice the sound anymore. 

But now, in the stillness of the bedroom, the father leaned forward, listened, tried to do this with his son’s ears, tried to remember being young and confused, afraid. Staring at the long creeping shadows on the curtains, listening. 

There it was. Faint at first, then fading up like some mysterious hand slowly turning a  dial. A continuous squeal, low and distant. Metallic, cold. Screeching and grinding. Horrible noises, he knew. He remembered. The spectral shriek of steel along the rails, slow and threatening, around the perimeter of the town. Motorized guards patrolling. Watching. Then the dial was adjusted again, the sound fading back into the stillness of the room. 

The father turned to his son. “Now, Manny…it’s only at night. We have the entire rest of the day. Remember what I told you last time?” 

     “I know. Pretend they’re trains.” 

     “That’s right. Trains help people. Just like them. They help us. Keep us safe.” “You always say that. Safe from what.”  

The father pressed the palms of his hands into his knees, gazing down at the floor.  Finally, he rose from the bed to look down at his son. Manny seemed so much older than even this morning. Yet he knew the boy still had much to understand, much to learn about the way things worked. 

     “I’ve forgotten, son. And that’s good. That’s a good thing. See. They make it so we never have to find that out. Which is       why we should be grateful. Why we don’t mind the noise. Talk  about the noise.”   

He looked over toward the window again. Stared at the curtains. The sound came back, echoing in his head. The grating of gears, the harsh mechanical wail echoing around the town.  Steel ghosts. Watching, circling. He pictured them, tried to picture them (it’d been so long since he acknowledged their existence, let alone dare gaze upon them). What he could remember was only a gray blur of machinery. The frightening deliberate speed of efficiency. And above it, a coughing cloud of steam rising into the night sky, obscuring everything, every star. Dark.  Endless, suffocating. He couldn’t even remember what the moon looked like. Had forgotten the moon. 

The father looked back at his son. Felt his composure, his sanity return. The rational  constitution of adulthood. He felt himself ease back into it. He was a parent. And Manny was a  good boy. Curious, like all boys.  

     “Have I answered all your questions?” 

      “I guess…” 

      “Good.” The father rustled the son’s hair. “That’s what I’m here for.” 

Manny stared up at him like he wanted to say something. Then it was gone, the look, the thought. Vanished, like most irrational young childhood thoughts. The father smiled. 

     “Goodnight.” 

He moved across the room, quietly closing the door behind him.  

The father got into bed. Heard his wife’s voice, raspy with sleep. 

     “Is Manny okay?”

The father smoothed out his pillow, settling under the covers. 

     “He’s okay. He’s going to do just fine.” 

In the dark, he could make out the faint image of the mother’s face smiling. “I don’t want him to be afraid,” she said. “He’s such a good boy. Just scared.” 

     “Like all kids.” 

     “Yes. But I worry sometimes. They don’t tolerate it well. Fear.” 

     “No,” the father said, reaching for the lamp on the nightstand. “No they don’t.” The father turned off the light. “But he is      a good boy. Manny is a good boy.” 

     “Yes. He’ll be okay.” The mother lay still for a moment before leaning in, kissing him on the cheek. Then she turned on her side, away from him. He turned away from her, facing the window. The curtains were drawn. Only shadows. 

Shadows and something else. 

The noise. He could hear it. Far off in the night. 

He shifted to lie on his back. Stared up at the ceiling and listened and did not close his eyes. 

Dark, covering everything. 

The father stayed up all night listening to the sound.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Marc Dickerson is a writer and filmmaker from Philadelphia, PA. He has written short stories, graphic novels, screenplays, and now his first novel, ART FARM. Marc also hosts a podcast about cult/b/underground films called Cult Movie Cult. His work has appeared online and in publications such as Culture Cult Magazine and Burial Day. He currently lives in Bucks County, PA with his wife and daughter.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21183349.Marc_Dickerson

Free Fiction : Midwinter Terror – by Leonardo J. Espinal 


And as the crescent moon reigned over the starry night, offering a post-impressionistic painting of midwinter gloom chaperoned by the phantasmagoric wind, I direly realized that the grotesque silhouette in the corner of my bedroom, which at first sight seemed to merely be my coat hanger, indeed was that of a malignant creature. Excruciating in the eyes as it was rife with all things ill and heinous while wearing the darkness as an extension of its skin. This dweller of nightmares, bearer of a set of dimly lit, red eyes that lusted for no blood other than mine, slowly made its way towards my impotent body from the most treacherous depths of my psyche.

In the midst of it all, the wind bashed my window relentlessly, akin to a distress call from Mother Nature herself. And to make matters worse, even at the sight of such an abomination, my muscles remained unbothered, for the horror was of mental nature alone.

Thankfully, the illusory Frankenstein, the torrid sweating, my drowning chest, my obstructed breathing, the torture of being unable to move anything but my desperate eyes, and the subsequent agony that the former causes were but a devil I knew like the palm of my hand. Therefore, the following routine was deeply engraved both in my brain and muscle memory: 

  •   Keep my eyes wide open and fixated on the approaching demon, for closing my eyes or in other words, relaxation      only serves to prolong the sleep paralysis. 
  •   Try my hardest to take exhaustively quick breaths in order to elevate my heart rate.
  •   Once my heart rate is adequately elevated, some parts of my body will start to react.
  • That’s when I proceed to wake my body up by focusing all my sheer energy on moving either my toes or pinky       fingers; one of the two because my capabilities while in sleep paralysis often vary.
  •  Hope that my body wakes up from its deep slumber before that monstrosity gets too close. I had always been  f  fortunate enough to wake up before its elongated, sharp fingers reached for me.

A familiar hell indeed, but hell all the same because no joyous dream is too long and no nightmare is short enough. Thus, an extra set of claustrophobic seconds went by in a manner that felt like manually counting each falling grain in an hourglass. Nonetheless, I was able to move my pinky fingers, although moving them while in that state always felt like it required all of my tangible focus and then some.

All while my eyes were laser-focused on the bogeyman whose truculent face had now partially abandoned the darkness and was instead dimly lit by the moonlight cascading through the window. But not to worry, even though my heart may have very well been on the verge of collapsing every time that devil took another step forward, there was light at the end of the tunnel since everything was going down as usual. I could feel my body steadily recovering the most precious scantlings of consciousness, which meant that I was at the cusp of finalizing this ever distressful process. A few moments later, I exhaled the densest petrification of agony one could ever withhold, followed by a cathartic inhale while I closed my irritated eyes in an apotheosis of relief.

At long last, I managed to recover my indispensable consciousness, thus bringing the nightmare to a prosaic end, or so I thought. Just as if Poe himself had delivered the pen and ink of my terror, I reopened my eyes to a vivid Beksinski painting that maimed the latent heart of my senses in a fleeting blink of an eye. Both escaping and screaming proved to be futile, for the certainty of my Kafkaesque demise had rendered my body soulless and my screeches were turned hollow by the wolflike winds of that most wretched midwinter night. This last time around, my ocean of nightmares had spilled over into reality.

_____________________________________________________________

Leonardo J. Espinal is a twenty-one-year-old Honduran, bilingual writer who is currently undergoing his bachelor studies in Argentina. As of today, he possess ten literary publications (articles, essays, and short stories) in American, Spanish, and Argentine magazines. To find more of his work please see: https://www.flowcode.com/page/leonardoespinal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://drive.google.com/open?id=12vo_cARkcmlbeKerhGTJjRXX6d19KOI0

 

Free Fiction : Hungry by Alan Moskowitz

 

Other than a bottle of curdled milk, there was nothing left in the refrigerator.  Desperate, Reynolds grabbed the bottle with a skeletal hand and drank the brutally smelling mess down, hoping for a least some nutrition.  It only took a few moments for his stomach to give it back.   His wasted lungs screamed for air as he coughed up the remains of the milk and sucked in the fetid air.  He threw the offending bottle against the kitchen wall, taking some little pleasure in watching it smash to bits.  He staggered over to the cupboard, his stick-thin legs and exhausted muscles forcing him to maintain his balance by grabbing the edge of the rotting counter as he opened the door. 

Bugs scattered, too fast for his weakened fingers.  He swept the inside of the cabinet, hoping beyond hope that one full precious can of anything may have been missed.  All he felt were the brittle carcasses of dead insects. He moaned in disappointment.

The pain of trying to use his emaciated limbs became too much to bear.  He collapsed onto the floor, surrendering finally to the knowledge that there was no more food, the planet was barren and sterile, and he, like the rest of humanity before him, would starve to death.   He smashed his fists into the floor, raging at the horror of mankind’s stupidity. 

Reynolds woke up screaming, jerking up from the bed, heart pounding in terror.  He looked over at Maria, curled up, peacefully asleep, blonde hair cascading over the blanket.  A dream, only a dream, and a nasty one at that. He took in several breaths, lay back, calming himself.  He gently pulled the cover from her and gagged;  Marie’s rotting skull stared back at him, her once vibrant body withered and emaciated, her wasted flesh sloughed off into puddles of ichors on the blanket.  He moaned in terror, too weak to scream, his vocal cords ravaged.  He looked down at his own devastated body, felt his cold gaunt face.  He tried to cry, but he had no tears left.  

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Alan Moskowitz is a retired screen and TV writer living in Colorado enjoying creating genre fiction.

 

To find more of his work see: mosko13@aol.com

Free Fiction : It Came To the Window by J.S. O’connor

“I’ve seen it, Jim. I swear to God, I’ve seen it. Get me a drink to settle my nerves. I would prefer whiskey, but I’ll settle for anything strong and keep them coming. What’s that? I don’t know what ‘it’ was or is, but I’ve seen it just outside my window and I don’t think this is the first time it came to the house, but this is the first time I saw it. Another please, no ice this time and I’ll tell you the story. 

“It was nearly a week back when I first saw the tracks walking my property after work. I guess you could describe them as a large chicken with talons the size of a pocketknife. They were up near the tree line in some mud. Didn’t think anything of it. See a lot of tracks living that close to the woods. I believe that was a Monday. Tuesday the tracks were by the garage, but I still didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t until I heard it. That’s when I thought something strange was happening.  

“Give me another Jim. Nothing like a good whiskey to settle the nerves. I’ll tell you what I heard. 

“It must have been Wednesday night. It was a hard day of work up at the factory and when I got home, I soon found myself at the bottom of a bottle. I’m not proud to say, but the bottom of the bottle is where I find myself most nights. Well for the last two years … but I don’t need to tell you that story. I reckon the entire town knows about it. But it’s the truth. Sitting by the fire in my chair, I remember it being pretty cold and I fell asleep. Don’t know what time Kirby started barking, must have been close to eleven-thirty or midnight and the dog is just sitting there going crazy at the screen door. 

“Got to admit something Jim, had a funny feeling that night but I played it off that I had too much to drink. I got up from my chair and stumbled to the back door. That damn dog shot off into the night barking. Didn’t think nothing of the dog running off, it’s what he does, and he comes back when he’s good and ready. But that’s when I heard it. I swear, Jim, I don’t know how to describe it. But I heard it. Now I know what you’re thinking, but I have heard every animal from those woods. The sound echoed through the darkness. It’s been three days and I still haven’t seen Kirby. Didn’t sleep the rest of the night. Just sat by the fire with my rifle. 

“Next morning before work I went looking for Kirby. Nothing. No trace. It was like the damn dog just disappeared. No dog tracks. No weird chicken tracks. It was like the night before never happened. When I got home, I picked up where I left off looking for that dog. Still nothing. Didn’t sleep that night and had no bottle and no strange sounds. Everything was silent. 

“Sorry, I’m shaking. No more Jim I think that was my last tonight. Four is enough. 

“Last night was when I saw it. It was at my window, Jim. I sit here not wanting to believe it myself. I had my bottle and my rifle, and I sat myself by the fire. The night was getting late, and my eyes were getting heavy. I must admit that the whiskey kept me from sleep’s grasp and that’s when I saw it. It was looking through my window. Its eyes were a pale blue, I don’t know how else to describe them. Its face was a light grey, but it had no mouth or nose it was just blank. 

“I jumped from my chair, the bottle broke on the floor, and I fired at it. My aim was off and the glass shattered just above its head. But I scared it off, and I ran towards the window. I could see it clearly even though it was pitch black. It ran on all fours like some damn animal, but it wasn’t no animal. Its body was the same color, that light grey, but the body looked more human than the face. I watched it until it got to the tree line and there it stopped and looked back at me.  

“You must think I’m crazy for telling you this and if you don’t, then what I’ll say next will make you think I’m crazy. It spoke to me. How? I don’t know the thing had no mouth, but I heard it. Or maybe it was all in my head, but I heard the word inside enter my brain. I don’t know what it means and I don’t think I do. Then it disappeared off into the woods, and I didn’t stay long either. Got in the truck and drove away, stayed the rest of the night at the motel – most of today too, now that I think about it. Been thinking long and hard about what it told me last night and I got me a feeling that when I get home it will be waiting for me inside my home. 

“Here’s the money for the drinks, Jim. Thanks for listening to an old drunk ramble. Be seeing you soon, maybe.”  

Free Fiction : El Dorado by Tawana Watson

I didn’t sleep well last night.  I have so much on my mind that turning off my thoughts was impossible, so another sleepless night. 

I can’t believe how bad my insomnia has gotten over the past few weeks and there is not a medication that my doctor has given me that works, it seems sleep for me is a distant memory.  I turn and look at my clock that is sitting on my bedside table, I have to squint to see the time, just like I feared it was time to get up.

Every day is the same thing. I get up, get dressed for work, and leave the house forgetting my breakfast.  However, today, as I drove down the street something inside me, told me that today was not going to be a typical day.

I got to the office with two minutes to spare, I sat at my desk in my small cubicle, and as my computer powered on the word El Dorado appeared on the screen.  I stood up and quickly looked around at my coworkers as they did their morning routine and nothing seemed out of place so I sat back in my seat.  

The word El Dorado glared back at me, so I started pressing keys to try to remove it from the screen but nothing worked. It just stayed there.  After unsuccessfully trying to remove the word with my keyboard skills, I ducked down under my desk and unplugged my computer.  The computer turned off and after I counted 20 I plugged the computer backup and turned it back on.  Unplugging it did the trick and I got to work on my everyday task list.

My day was dull and boring, I thought as I sat at the traffic light heading home. My whole life is dull and boring I thought as the light turned green and I continued on my way.  As I pulled into my yard I noticed a package at my front door, it was strange because I was not expecting anything. So before pulling completely into my yard I put my car in park, got out, and went to retrieve the package.  As I bent down to pick the package up I noticed in red bold letters someone wrote across the top of the package the word El Dorado.

Once in my house, I dropped everything except the package at the back door.  I went into the dining room, sitting the package on the table before going back into the kitchen to get a knife so that I could open it.  At first, I had a strong urge not to open the package, to just throw it away but curiosity got the best of me.  I took the knife and opened the package. 

The only thing I found was a folded piece of paper.  I  took the paper and opened it.  What was written on it gave me chills, it read;

Once you start this journey you can never turn back. There’s much more to life than the things you can see, and to have a glorious life all you have to do is find El Dorado

There are those words again; El Dorado. 

I dropped the paper and before it hit the floor it was consumed with fire.  I stood there in awe for a second or two but then shook it off and remembered I haven’t slept and I could be in the middle of a dream.  So I pulled myself together and continued with my evening.

I turned my bed down and prepared myself for another sleepless night. My cell phone which I left downstairs began to ring. I hesitated about going downstairs to get it but every time it stopped ringing, it would start again so I went to get it.  

When I reached my phone, I saw that the caller id didn’t show a valid number but a weird number of all 6s.  I pushed the talk button, holding the phone to my ear, and before I said hello I heard a voice  in a low whisper say, 

“You can’t turn back, you have to find El Dorado.” 

I dropped the phone and as the phone hit the floor it started ringing again. I cautiously picked the phone back up and held it so gently, taking the phone into the kitchen, then putting the phone in the sink. As I ran water on it, the ringing faded until it completely stopped. 

I started back to my room and as I went up the stairs I had a sense that I was no longer alone. As I reached my room, I saw a sight that I didn’t expect. 

There I was laying in the bed, and my wrist had been cut. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at and as I stood there trying to figure out what was going on, a hand touched my shoulder and a voice said in a whisper, 

“It’s time. I am here to take you to  El Dorado.”

Free Fiction : It Came To The Window by J.S. O’Connor

“I’ve seen it, Jim. I swear to God, I’ve seen it. Get me a drink to settle my nerves. I would prefer whiskey, but I’ll settle for anything strong and keep them coming. What’s that? I don’t know what ‘it’ was or is, but I’ve seen it just outside my window and I don’t think this is the first time it came to the house, but this is the first time I saw it. Another please, no ice this time and I’ll tell you the story. 

“It was nearly a week back when I first saw the tracks walking my property after work. I guess you could describe them as a large chicken with talons the size of a pocketknife. They were up near the tree line in some mud. Didn’t think anything of it. See a lot of tracks living that close to the woods. I believe that was a Monday. Tuesday the tracks were by the garage, but I still didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t until I heard it. That’s when I thought something strange was happening.  

“Give me another Jim. Nothing like a good whiskey to settle the nerves. I’ll tell you what I heard. 

“It must have been Wednesday night. It was a hard day of work up at the factory and when I got home, I soon found myself at the bottom of a bottle. I’m not proud to say, but the bottom of the bottle is where I find myself most nights. Well for the last two years … but I don’t need to tell you that story. I reckon the entire town knows about it. But it’s the truth. Sitting by the fire in my chair, I remember it being pretty cold and I fell asleep. Don’t know what time Kirby started barking, must have been close to eleven-thirty or midnight and the dog is just sitting there going crazy at the screen door. 

“Got to admit something Jim, I had a funny feeling that night but I played it off that I had too much to drink. I got up from my chair and stumbled to the back door. That damn dog shot off into the night barking. Didn’t think nothing of the dog running off, it’s what he does, and he comes back when he’s good and ready. But that’s when I heard it. I swear, Jim, I don’t know how to describe it. But I heard it. Now I know what you’re thinking, but I have heard every animal from those woods. The sound echoed through the darkness. It’s been three days and I still haven’t seen Kirby. Didn’t sleep the rest of the night. Just sat by the fire with my rifle. 

“Next morning before work I went looking for Kirby. Nothing. No trace. It was like the damn dog just disappeared. No dog tracks. No weird chicken tracks. It was like the night before never happened. When I got home, I picked up where I left off looking for that dog. Still nothing. Didn’t sleep that night and had no bottle and no strange sounds. Everything was silent. 

“Sorry  I’m shaking. No more Jim I think that was my last tonight. Four is enough. 

“Last night was when I saw it. It was at my window, Jim. I sit here not wanting to believe it myself. I had my bottle and my rifle, and I sat myself by the fire. The night was getting late, and my eyes were getting heavy. I must admit that the whiskey kept me from sleep’s grasp and that’s when I saw it. It was looking through my window. Its eyes were a pale blue, I don’t know how else to describe them. Its face was a light grey, but it had no mouth or nose it was just blank. 

“I jumped from my chair, the bottle broke on the floor, and I fired at it. My aim was off and the glass shattered just above its head. But I scared it off, and I ran towards the window. I could see it clearly even though it was pitch black. It ran on all fours like some damn animal, but it wasn’t no animal. Its body was the same color, that light grey, but the body looked more human than the face. I watched it until it got to the tree line and there it stopped and looked back at me.  

“You must think I’m crazy for telling you this and if you don’t, then what I’ll say next will make you think I’m crazy. It spoke to me. How? I don’t know the thing had no mouth, but I heard it. Or maybe it was all in my head, but I heard the word inside enter my brain. I don’t know what it means and I don’t think I do. Then it disappeared off into the woods, and I didn’t stay long either. Got in the truck and drove away, stayed the rest of the night at the motel – most of today too, now that I think about it. Been thinking long and hard about what it told me last night and I got me a feeling that when I get home it will be waiting for me inside my home. 

“Here’s the money for the drinks, Jim. Thanks for listening to an old drunk ramble. Be seeing you soon, maybe.”  

Free Fiction Week: The Invitation by Alice Paige

The Invitation by Alice Paige

The dinner table is set. The two face each other, both smiling sharp smiles highlighted in red lipstick. A smile is a weapon. Both women knew this from childhood. It’s a kind of truth men aren’t aware of. They see the smile, but not the tongue curtained behind the teeth. 

The two women, both with too pale skin, lean forward in their wicker chairs. The blood-red dresses they wear shine and shimmer in the candlelight cast from a ring of quickly melting candles rimming the room. No light shines from the table. There is no room on the table for light as this is where the corpse lies flat on its back, dressed in a black see-through shroud. The corpse’s face is gaunt and grey, desiccated. The old corpse is set out, as if for a funeral viewing. What is a viewing if not invitation to grieve? 

“But this is no funeral,” one of the women says, or perhaps, both the women say at once. They glance towards the single curtained window in the room. 

Outside, the snow falls. It is not a kind snow; it is a hungry snow that drinks sound from the air. The abandoned London streets are swallowed in a blanket of white. This snow mutes sound and is an offering of violence. A silencing. The streets are abandoned, a feat in the heart of London with its sickly, sprawling populace. 

The two women smirk as they stand from the table. Slowly, they walk across the room, bare feet slapping against the dark, wooden floor, the candlelight flickering between their toes. Quickly they move from candle to candle burning clippings of the corpse’s hair. 

“In case you are wondering,” one of the women begins, “this is for you. A welcoming,” the other woman finishes. Each candle flairs as hair burns and smokes. The room is a mix of sick sweetness. There is the potent stench of corpse flesh and burnt hair, but the candles provide a stark, contrasting smell of sweet honey. 

The room fills with a startling sound like rubber bands snapping. The corpse on the table spasms again and again under its shroud as the final clippings of curled, grey hair burn. The legs of the table hop and scrape against the floor.

The two women hurriedly walk to the curtained window together and throw the curtains back. Sickly, grey light spills into the room. The window faces out upon a small, abandoned city square. Both women grab the base of the large window and lift. Painfully chilled air rushes into the room. The sound outside is still muted but, just on the edge of audible perception, there is a labored breathing that seems to invade the room as the window opens. 

The two women walk back over to the table and place their hands atop the corpse. Their fingers slowly intertwine atop the soft, black fabric and their hands rise and fall with the corpse’s chest. The women’s skin goosebumps. They look at one another with cautioned excitement.

 “Are you ready?” they ask the empty room. It is unclear who or what they are speaking to. They wait a moment, and, despite the lack of answer, they seem satisfied. Slowly each woman leans backwards, fingers still locked, and they begin to chant. The two chant in unison at an alarming pace, their bright red lips quickly enunciate each word with a labored intensity. 

“It juts its fingers into the dirt, finds the face beneath, the orbital, the mandible, 

cracks the ossuary, slithers into this shattered church, makes a blasphemous home 

of once  priest, rips the faith root and stem, hungrily gorges on intently scarified 

meaning, is pulled, is plucked, is jutted like sharpened weapon, we call, we demand, 

we twinned sisters, given twinned names, we control the star pointed razor, 

the space beyond space, we space behind face, we who have pulled host from holy grave to give you shape once again demand you take shape once again.”

The twin voices drone on together, echoing off the bare, wooden walls and spill into the town square. 

And that’s when I feel it. A tug in my guts. Not that I have guts. 

It’s a strange sensation, to not have a sense of self until I suddenly have a sense of self. To be thrust into “I” once more. It’s as if I have been here the entire time, watching, but have only now just arrived. The two women fall into silence. I recognize them. We were friends once. Before. Before what? My mind feels like a waterfall climbing to be a river. Entropy turned on itself. A collecting.

My vision shifts as the room rotates, turning on its head. I feel my chest heave and my ribs crack. I cough because I can cough. 

“You’re here,” Emily says. She is the woman to the left of me. Her voice is slightly softer than her sister, Emilia. I could always tell the difference. 

I try to speak but my throat refuses to move. I am on my back. How did I get on my back? I was watching the room from above.

“You need to give it a moment. The body will be able to speak soon,” Emilia says. 

 I glance down to see the shroud covering the corpse’s body. No, not the corpse’s. Mine. My body. I inhabit the corpse. I can feel it around me like swimming in muck. Its skin is so tight. I try to move the tongue in its mouth and the tongue shifts slightly. Suddenly, I can taste. Its mouth, my mouth, tastes like ash and copper. Emily places a hand on my forehead. Her skin is so soft. So alive. 

“We told you nothing would keep us apart Dahlia,” Emily and Emilia say together. 

I scream in this body that is not mine. The corpse’s vocal cords hiss.


Alice Paige is a trans woman, poet, and essayist living in St. Paul, Mn. Her writing largely focuses on topics like mythology and queer love. Her work can be found at FreezeRay Poetry, Crabfat Magazine, Coffin Bell, VASTARIEN, Button Poetry, Luna Station Quarterly and Take A Stand, Art Against Hate: A Raven Chronicles Anthology. She is also a co-host for Outspoken, a Queer Open Mic.

 

https://www.instagram.com/alicegpaige/

Free Fiction Week: The Get Together by Prapti Gupta

THE GET TOGETHER by Praptui Gupta

“Mom are you ready?” I asked.

“Yes dear, let’s go” she replied.

Today my mom and I are very excited. Today we are going to meet with our father after a long time. I can’t really explain how happy and excited I am. After a lot of struggle and patience, we are getting to meet him. But the sad part is the meeting period is very short, just 10 minutes.

On our way, I was thinking what questions I will be asking him. There are so many but I can’t ask all of them. We reached the place after some time. Mr. Morgan was waiting for us. He was the medium through which we are going to talk with him. 

 He was seeing us in a very strange manner as if he hasn’t seen people like us before. Yes, I admit we are different because we are new to this place but yet we look like human beings. 

“Good morning Mrs. Evans, I was just waiting for you and your son,” he said to us.

“Is everything ready? We can’t wait to meet him; hope you can understand” my mom said to him.

“Yes. The whole process is to be of 20 minutes and you can talk to him for about 10 minutes, not more than that, otherwise, it can be risky for me” he said.

Though we were disappointed upon hearing the time limit, we nodded.

Then he took us inside a room. It was a dark room, in fact very dark.

Okay, let me clear the fact. We are going to do planchette. This is the only method and medium of our contact with him.

My mom and I haven’t talked with him since the day we two died in a road accident a year ago but my father survived!!!!

It’s really a special day for both of us. 

THE END


Prapti Gupta is an 18 year old writer from India.

 

To read more of her work: Wattpad

Free Fiction Week: The Smoky Mountain Monster by Terry Pierson

The Smoky Mountain Monster by Terry Pierson

The Smoky Mountains, full of shadowed silence and untouched grandeur, hum with stories and legends. There was a little log cabin in the woods that was said to have belonged to Davy Crockett. At night a deep mist would form over the leaf magenta grounds but no one was ever there to see it. A big rock rose like a monolith from a dirt patch where nothing else had grown for a long time. 

No one ever saw it.  A volcano could have splintered from the ground and moltend the forest while turning the sky to ash and it would be days before someone drove by an adjacent road and noticed. There was no one back here, the world had moved on and left this little stretch of existence to stagnate and freeze in time, with nothing to disrupt its trajectory. It slumbered. 

So it sat for decades, time unfolding with callous change all through the world. Yet these few acres of country stayed oblivious. Technology pushed, leaders grew and died, empires boomed and collapsed, but the few miles of trees around Limestone in southeast Tennessee rested in tranquility without any concern for what was happening beyond the borders. It felt at ease with its place in the world; a soft warm blanket for those who knew it. 

This seemed destined to continue until suddenly it didn’t. Some ambitious men decided to expand the real estate market further from the nearby market center.  In less than a year, something that had been the same for lifetimes, secluded and undisturbed, was abruptly and violently uprooted, dug, plowed, shoveled, ripped, paved, molded, and shaped to be an entirely new area of the world fit for civilization and pleasant circumstances. The land did not agree and moaned its disapproval. 

Families moved in fast and it wasn’t long before the surrounding area was filled with gas stations and school buildings and soccer fields and fast food establishments. Year after year marched forward and before long the place the area had been for so long was forgotten, washed away in a tide of habitation. The development was a success but the earth did not reserve its protest.

The land grew haunted, wrecked by spirits and atrocities. Nothing else was allowed to inhabit this space. The very fiber of existence twisted in repulsion at its new form. There was something that revolted against what destiny was dictating. The new orchestra of everyday life – with all of its humanity and confinement – chafed against the fiber of all that had come before. 

It was calm at first, residential troubles and local folklore. There was a haunted house or vengeful spirit. An entire barn of animals all perished overnight with no discernible cause. Some thought the lake was cursed. A family of five died in a fiery car crash on an unmarked road. A deranged man from a nearby slaughterhouse assaulted an elderly woman in her home. There was something damned in the space itself and it would endlessly produce whatever menace fit the void. 

Generations disappeared down the family conveyor belt and the daily troubles of the place turned to twilight. Rumors of a ritualistic cult rooted in the community took hold. A flesh-eater preyed on the town. Some unknown beast, described in wild testimonies and interviews as a horned slug the size of a dog, turned the area into a tourist spot. 

The 21st century had begun to wane when the fissure finally erupted. A great mass swelled in the land; bony, titanic shoulders lifted the earth into an illusion of mountains where there had been none. In the very spot where Davy Crockett’s log cabin had sat the ground split and a tremor propelled through the surrounding countryside. A creature, unlike anything, ever rose to the sky, carrying the homes and barns and utility poles up to the clouds. All of that cursed land was swept up in an instant and crumbled to pieces on the back of the mile-high gargantuan. It fell back to the land and crashed like haunted meteorites cratering in the surface. 

The mammoth could not be. Its presence stained and contaminated the dimension of humanity. No reason or spirituality could support its nature. The thing was an intruder that trekked its cosmic mud across the carpet of conceived existence.

The impossible monstrosity evaporated to space in a fantastic fog. Time and gravity warped around it in a spectacular display of color that broadcast against the Smoky Mountain landscape. Geography twisted on itself in impossible spirals. Deep recesses swallowed rolling mounds. The seams of reality frayed and stretched as the entity joined the stars. The monster was never there, it couldn’t be. Everyone already remembered the Tennessee canyons as all the land had ever been. 


 

Terry Pierson creates creepy content as Something Spooky on social media. His signature style blends campfire story spirit and prestige horror sensibility.

https://amzn.to/3rHGom7

Free Fiction Week : I Am Afraid…by RAJALAXMI BEHERA

I AM AFRAID ……. by RAJALAXMI BEHERA

I opened my door, it was dark outside,

I turned on the lights to quit my fright.

The lights glimmered directly on my face,

I rubbed my eyes, my neck did ache.

 

I was tired of the day, I sat on the couch,

Something hit me, I cried out “OUCH!!!”

 

I moved a little, I hardly turned back,

There was a book on the floor, perhaps it fell from the rack.

 

I felt uncomfortable, I went for a shower,

My heart was filled with an unknown terror.

 

And I could hear some strange sound,

But the sounds stopped when I turned around. 

 

 There was a scratch mark on my mirror,

I was shocked, those marks were everywhere.

 

I exclaimed – “  What the hell is happening to me ? “

The next very second, the marks were nowhere to see.

 

I thought I was hallucinating out of my fatigue,

But it could be that there might have been some rogue,

Who might have entered my house to rob,

But I just fearfully thought to stop.

 

My mind was whirling due to all stress,

My eyes fell on the pocket of my dress.

 

There was a note, I read it, it was written – “ GOODBYE “

I did not know who put it there and why.

 

Then came to my sight, my perfume potion,

I could see, in the clear surface, my own reflection.

 

I could see a figure coming towards me,

On the surface of the potion, I could see.

 

Then all at once, I was struck by something heavy,

I turned back, only a MAN IN BLACK I could see…….

ONLY A MAN IN BLACK I COULD SEE…….

ONLY A MAN IN BLACK I COULD SEE…….


 

 

RAJALAXMI BEHERA is a student and writer of poems and short stories

To find more of her work: www.rajalaxmi2365.blogspot.com

Free Fiction Week:The Tomb of the Red King by Hank Belbin

In the Tomb of the Red King by Hank Belbin

The sarcophagus screeched open. Wafts of ancient dust spewed from the yawning blackness within.  Something else came rushing out too. Francis Aberdeen felt its dark presence as soon as he’d pried the lid from the thing. He had felt it as clear as he felt the ripping winds battering the Cornish coastline above the cave. He felt it like he felt the salty spray of the sea as he descended the cliffs to the entrance of the tomb itself. Something evil and old. Something dark. 

So bizarre to find such a coffin in Cornwall. Such practises were seldom discovered this far north of the equator. But there it was, just like the stranger had said it would be. After hours of crawling on his hands and knees through narrow tunnels by candlelight, Francis finally came into a vast domed chamber with a single white light beaming down onto a stone tableau ahead. The tableau was a  huge scalene triangle of ebony stone that raised up in the centre of the cavernous gloomy crypt. The triangle was surmounted with graphite plumbago shards that all pointed northward like rows of serrated teeth on a great dragon. Along the rim were esoteric carvings, hieroglyphics, and other depictions of demonic entities upward reaching to the coffin’s lid—none of which Francis could understand. It was beyond being prehistoric. Judging by the stratum of rock, Francis put the crypt’s age at somehow being of the late Cretaceous period. The walls of the tomb sloped down and back,  headlong into pitch-black nothingness. Around the sarcophagus itself were dusty old black jars containing a fetid red liquid that smelt like rotten meat. Everything in the chamber pointed towards mummification. But there was no body in the sarcophagus. The room was far too old for that.  Francis paused as he considered what to do next, his heart beating hard in his chest. Thick grey mud from the climb down into the tomb clung to his clothing like a cold blanket. His hands shook, and he felt the chill in his bones.  

Although he was positive he was alone, he distinctly felt the air grow tighter the instant he had unwittingly opened the coffin. A gnawing tingling sensation rose from the base of his spine and up into his neck, and it whispered to him softly that he had made a grave error. He knew it too.  Reckless pride and the desire to discover something unknown had blinded his pragmatism. And now the casket in the dark was open. What have I done? Francis cautiously leaned over the edge and gazed down into it. As he did, he felt the lingering thought that something was alive in there. Its aura impossibly glaring back at him from the abyss somehow. He didn’t know how to describe it with mortal words, but he was steadfast that he felt this lean and hungry stare of a spectre looking back at him from down there, in the pit of the coffin that seemed to stretch inward for eternity.  Something had been waiting for this. 

As he stood over the open chest, the damp air descended languidly all around him, laden with primal particles of disease and unknown threats that had seldom felt any other air for aeons. The darkness drew nearer, clutching up from the corners of the forlorn tomb with wide-open talons of shadows. All that was old and mystical was awake once more. All that once was—would now be again. In a flash, his mistakes came tumbling down to him. How could I have been so foolish? 

Days of hiking, hours of precarious scrabbling down the cliffs, even more, indeterminate time going lower into the caves had brought him to this moment, and in one nauseating instant, he regretted all of it. Some things are better left unknown, he thought to himself. How could he have been so careless? Why had he come into this tenebrous little hole in the earth? In the pit of his stomach, he already knew why. 

A tip-off from a dark-eyed stranger in the local tavern had sent him on this quest, bringing him here;  that was what started it. His shadow had crawled across the table as he approached. The hooded stranger had sat himself down opposite Francis in the meager tavern, offered to buy him an ale,  asked him if he was an archeologist; then proceeded to tell the most vivid tale of a seldom-talked about tomb near the tavern that supposedly held one of the last old spirits of the world. A spirit of great decadence. Beside the twinkle of the candle on the table, Francis could’ve sworn deeply that the stranger’s eyes were glowing faintly red—like the blood-thirsty anticipation of some starved hyena.  

But that wasn’t what brought him down into the cave. The real reason why he’d brought himself to the tomb was he had to see for himself if the fable was indeed true. He wanted to discover it for himself, to brand his own mark upon its finding. And with all the deathly stillness of the tomb around him, he had discovered it. Some unexplainable presence was there in the tomb, next to him,  over him, in him. Something unseen. But something that reared up and climbed inside his mind. It clung to him like cold tar. Whispers of all things primordial and malevolent swam through his thoughts—ancient days of death and blood.  

It wanted to be found, the force murmured to him. Of course, it did. It was all so clear now. The expedition was far too easy, the navigation of the unknown tunnels leading down to the stygian crypt even more so. The map was precise, the weather conditions favourable. All that was needed was for him to undertake the route. All it needed was a vessel. All of it made sense to Francis why.  He felt strangely heavy at the revelation. As if cast-iron weights had been suddenly tied around his shoulders.  

The hooded stranger from the tavern whispered one name to him before he departed. Izuzu. The  King in Red. Francis only knew of the title in passing. The King in Red was an old mystic fable that had only been passed down through subdued whisperings and superstitions in various isolated  Cornish villages such as Boscastle. In the tales, it was always associated with death and disease. A  great horned figure who loped between the shadows and spaces. He who controlled life. Something that betwixt all things that are and all things that never will be. Wherever it would roam, decaying slow death would follow. Its cape soaked in the crimson from the blood of the fallen wherever it had trodden. Legend has it that he was entombed in an impenetrable block of ice by the Old One for his amoral acts upon all things living. If he were to be released once more, he would bring with him the black clouds of death to all things. 

In one sickening realisation, Francis knew why the stranger in the tavern had told him about it. He knew Francis was a greenhorn archaeologist. He knew the young clear-skinned boy could not resist the opportunity to make a name for himself. He knew Francis, the naive 20-year-old, would take the bait. He wanted Francis to open it for him. And Francis did. Without hesitation, Francis Aberdeen of Leicester University had unwittingly unleashed all the eternal gloom of Izuzu, the King in Red, unto the world. What would become of the earth next he would never see. Because in the Red King’s steed, Francis would be trapped in the crypt forever. The darkness closed in. The candle flickered nervously then went out. The crypt sealed once more. He tried to scream, but it was cut short.  

_______________________________________________________________________________

I am a semi-professional writer who has published one novel and several short horror stories. I currently write screenplays and offer script treatments also. I am based in the UK and specialise in gothic and folklore horror set in the United Kingdom.

 

http://www.hankbelbin.co.uk

Free Fiction Week: The Blood of the Guilty by Carlos Ruiz Santiago

The blood of the guilty by Carlos Ruiz Santiago

When people complete their revenge the blood just runs in circles but, when Danya Tebens did it, it rained from the sky.

The sword, twisted and rusty, was creating a trembling path in the ground. The tremulous steps of the woman made her moves slow in the land full of bumps. Sacred stones around her, mortuary monoliths of the ones that had fallen before her, empty ground for the ones that will fall after her. All dead despite the blood, the ichor of life, poured grotesquely over them.

Her sight was lost, full of gore. The red crimson blood that fell from the sky was creating puddles of misery. The red scarlet blood that covered her weapon and her ragged armor, blood thrown by something that shouldn’t be able to bleed. The dark blood from her many lethal wounds.

She fell on her knees in front of one of the many tombs. Probably, the most important tomb in the history of dead people. Only a few words carved.

Belen Tebens. Loved son. Gone too early.

Something fell from the sky. Something thick and monstrous. A gigantic feral arm, full of shattered armor. Chains falling from the sky, colored in red godly blood. The vermilion storm was getting worse, the clouds darker, the wind fiercer, the sun barely showed a pair of ruby agonizing light arms that were fading in plain sight. The world itself was howling in agony.

“What have you done?” screamed a terrified voice of some poor fool at her back.

She hesitated a bit. Her mouth was dry, pasty, the acrid taste of her own guts in her mouth. She felt heavy, dizzy. Far away, the ground was pouring black dross. Part of the sliced skull of something that shouldn’t be able to die fell to the ground.

“I found the guilty” she answered in a reedy voice. “We had a few words.”

Then, she fell to the ground, her world quickly becoming black as the world of the living was becoming red with godly blood.

______________________________________________________________________________

My name is Carlos, I’m a Spanish fantasy and horror writer with two published novels ( Salvación condenada and Peregrinos de Kataik) and a participation in the anthologies Dentro de un agujero de gusano, Mitos y Leyendas and Devoradoras. I’m editor of the website Dentro del Monolito. I had written for magazines, such as Morningside and Exocerebros. I also have content around cinema, with the podcast Pistoleros de Gilead and the blog La Horroteca de Darko. Furthermore, I also organize talks and workshops around cinema and literature in various libraries.

https://darkosaurvlogs.wixsite.com/carlosruizescritor

Free Fiction : RELEASING ANGER by Alan Moskowitz

RELEASING ANGER~Written by Alan Moskowitz

Willem looked up with trepidation as the Father swept into the ornate office and took his place behind the worn oak desk, a tight smile on his weathered face.  Willem forced his body to remain still and upright in spite of the nervous energy flowing through him, urging him to leave, to run away.  To make matters worse the Elder ignored Willem as he fussed with the papers, notes and unopened envelopes strewn across the desk.  A bead of sweat rolled down Willem’s face, but he dared not raise his hand to it.

 “Wipe it,” the old man’s voice cracked.  Willem quickly brushed the offending drops away.  The Elder’s mouth twisted into what passed for a smile. “No call for nervousness Son, that is unless you’re not ready for this final meeting.”

Willem remained silent.  Father snapped, “You may talk.”

“I have studied the Book, Father.  I have prayed with the Flock.  I have fasted for a month.  I have stood vigils in the freezing cold, seeking donations, and I have raised many funds for the Holy See.”

“Yes, yes, I know all that. You would not be here otherwise.  Willem, are you still angry?  Do you still hate?  Is there still, after all your training and sacrifice, is there a part of you that hurts that drives you to self-harm?  Think on these things, use what you have learned from the teachings of our Lord, and answer me truly. ” He picked up an ornate letter opener and slit open one of the envelopes on his desk.  He unfolded the paper within and set to reading it, ignoring Willem in the process.

Willem’s lips moved in prayer as he sought that place inside of himself that knows his true self.   He had hated his parents.  Does he still?  They did their best, they said, in spite of his issues.  Their best consisted of locking him in a closet for behaving like a “demon child” as his mother put it; getting “the belt” across his back for a variety of transgressions from breaking a dish to wetting the bed to being a coward, a loser, and “a no-good waste of sperm.” His so-called normal siblings hopped on that bandwagon and teased and tortured him unmercifully until at sixteen, he ran away.  No one searched for him.

Pain, massive pain, mental and physical traveled with him into the streets, where his life only became worse.  He sought refuge in the alleyways and fetid tents of the homeless and useless, an outcast and a pariah.  First, he blamed himself.  But the continued abuse turned that self-loathing into seething anger, a burning hatred for his family and for all those who still spit on him, kicked him and laughed.  It was only a matter of time before he exploded. 

And one night a young woman walked slowly by his filthy hovel and glanced in at him; one more so-called human being dismissing him.  Not this time, he murmured.  He crept after her, bent on doing her harm, making her pay for his lifetime of hurt.  He came up behind her, hands reaching out to strangle her when she suddenly turned and met his red-rimmed gaze.   Her eyes told him that she knew his pain.  And then she smiled at him, pulled him to her, and told him he was wanted and loved.   

She brought him to the Flock and the Father.  He was nurtured with kindness and love and shown that he didn’t need to carry all that pain, hate, and misery.  That The Lord of us all would show him The Way to a better life, through kindness, forgiveness, and passing the word to others. And it was so.  After a year of study, love, and sacrifice and he was complete.

  The Father’s voice broke through his reverie, “Well, my son, as our Lord has said, ‘now or never.’ He chuckled, a thick deep raspy noise, with not a hint of humor.

Willem’s eyes opened wide and bright, the excitement of knowing he would be granted his place in Flock.   “I am ready to forgive all who have harmed me, Father.  I will do our Master’s work for the rest of my life and pray He will welcome me into his arms.” 

The old man stood, that crooked smile curling his lips as he held out his hand to the boy.  “Welcome Son, I see great deeds are to be done.” 

 Willem stood and gripped the Father’s leathery hand in his. “Thank you, Father.”

‘Now go, begin the work, we are eager for you to do the Flock proud.”  Willem bowed once, turned, and left the sacred office.

Willem stood for almost a minute just staring at the familiar door before he pressed the bell.  He twitched at hearing the familiar ring.   Part of him wished no one would answer, but he quashed that idea and stood fast, his duty clear.

The door opened and his mother stood before him, her mouth opened in shock, “Willem?  What is this?  What are you doing here?” 

“I forgive you, Mother.”

She scowled, “for what?”

“The Lord of us all forgives you too.”

“You went and joined a cult?  My God, you’re still an idiot.”

“Not your God, My Lord.  He has cleansed me, taken my pain, so I can forgive you.” 

“Isn’t that nice; tell your Lord I said thanks for nothing,” she muttered, the familiar sarcasm dripping from her mouth.

Willem brought the razor-sharp letter opener out from behind his back and drove it between the two upper left ribs as taught, twisting it as it reached into his mother’s heart.  His mother’s shocked look, fade with her life force as she dropped to the floor.   Willem pulled the opener free, stared down at his mother’s face contorted with pain and confusion.  “Our Lord forgives too, but He does not forget.”

He stepped over her body and went inside, wondering who else was home.


 

Alan Moskowitz is a retired screen and TV writer living in Colorado enjoying creating genre fiction.

 

To find more of his work see: mosko13@aol.com

The trouble translating Ann Radcliffe’s best villain

Ann Radcliffe seems to be a name that has been forgotten, except for those who really dig into their gothic fiction. She was at the forefront of her craft, and when she was releasing her novels in the late 1780s and 1790s, was one of the top-selling writers of the time. She’s probably most famous and known now for two novels, The Mysteries of Udolpho, and The Italian. It’s this latter novel which I want to discuss, and specifically the character of Schedoni, the evil monk. As always, I’ll avoid as many overt spoilers as I can, but there will obviously be some discussion of plot details. You’ve been warned.

The novel itself concerns a young nobleman, Vincentio di Vivaldi, who becomes fixated with the young Ellena. But his parents won’t have it, and his mother enlists the help of her confidant, Schedoni, to make sure that Ellena is out of the picture completely. As the story unfolds, the Holy Inquisition makes an appearance, there’s an escape through secret passages in a nun’s convent in the mountains, and we learn why the monk, Shedoni, is such a shadowy, malevolent figure.

With so many figures to comb through older literature for, and especially in these times of going back and pining for classic characters to bring back to life (we’re always looking back at the old Universal monsters, for heaven’s sake), it seems strange that this one has slipped through the net of popular culture to a certain extent. This is a shame because he’s an absolute monster.

When introduced to him, he is a mystery, and mostly through his own doing. Chapter 2 describes him as ‘an Italian… whose family was unknown, and from some circumstances, it appeared, that he wished to throw an impenetrable veil over his origins.’ He is a gloomy figure, with ‘solitary habits and frequent penances’ that many believe is ‘the consequence of some hideous crime gnawing upon an awakened conscience.’ Already therefore we have hints of past deeds, and his potential to do harm. But never can we believe that he has come fully to see the light, despite being dressed in religious garb, because two paragraphs later we’re told that ‘Among his associates, no one loved him, many disliked him, and more feared him.’ ‘There was something terrible in its air; something almost superhuman.’ In his very first descriptions, Radcliffe goes to great lengths to give us this sense that Schedoni is more than just a monk. There is an air of menace, with eyes ‘so piercing that they seemed to penetrate, at a single glance, into the hearts of men, and to read their most secret thoughts.’ This is not a man to meet on a dark night; there is the feel of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

At first, the man is always Vivaldi’s shadow, stopping him wherever he goes. ‘“This man crosses me, like my evil genius,”’ Vivaldi says of him. He is always around the Marchesa, Vivaldi’s mother, acting as her confidant. Radcliffe sets him up as Vivaldi’s counterpoint; scheming and malevolent in direct opposition to the young nobleman’s straightforward, almost naive, innocence. We’ve all come across this kind of paralleling, from the light and dark clothing of Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader to the doubling prophecy of Harry/Voldemort, a setup also complemented by Harry’s reliance on friends and the dark lord’s reliance on follow

As the story progresses, Schedoni manipulates the Marchesa into agreeing on murder as a course of action to solve her problems, and is willing to get his hands personally bloody in the process. He rats out our heroes to the Holy Inquisition, who will go by any torturous means to get their confessions, even if they may be false. He lies and goes about in disguise. His past is a mixture of betrayal, murder, and pride. A perfect character for a world of today becoming, as Baudrillard would have put it, full of ‘less and less truth, and more and more meaning.’

Yet he is also a conflicted character, one capable of staying his hand. At times he questions whether he is doing the right thing. Many might see this as lessening his menace, but it might also be seen as making him a more well-rounded character. I remember Hayao Miyazaki saying that he didn’t believe any of his characters to be completely evil and that they all had good traits in them (Yubaba’s motherly affection for her baby in Spirited Away is a great example of this). At times, we see these small, but significant, good points creep through, despite his overall menace. But then at the end, his final act is that of murder, and the novel finishes with him being thoroughly despicable. But that’s kind of the point. He had a chance to atone and deliberately chose not to. That’s what separates the good guys from the bad guys.

So when you’ve got a villain this conniving, dark, and malevolent, as your central focus, why haven’t we properly embraced the character as a truly layered evil? Why hasn’t he been resurrected in the present day, maybe as a film or an 8 episode Netflix show? What’s stopping us from taking one of the great early villains of gothic horror and bringing him back to life again?

Perhaps several reasons spring to mind. In many people’s minds, horror kind of stops at Frankenstein, and occasionally they’ll go back for The Castle of Otranto, just for completion’s sake. Then it’s onto Poe in the ’30s and ’40s, and beyond into the future. We forget that many of the fundamentals of gothic texts, and beyond, occur in the few decades before Mary Shelley’s masterpiece. My disappointment that Doctor Who didn’t do anything with the character of John Polidori in the last series’ episode, The Haunting of Villa Diodati, which was set on the night Shelley created Frankenstein was unrestrained. How do you have the guy who pretty much established the foundation of the gentleman vampire, in the form of Lord Ruthven in his novella, The Vampyre, created on the same night, and not take advantage of that?

But I digress. My point is that many of the classics before Frankenstein haven’t made the transition from battered reprints of the novels into TV or Film. As much as Shelley’s novel is fundamental to literature as a whole, you can’t think of it without seeing Karloff in your head. Matthew Lewis, Ann Radcliffe, John Polidori, and even, come to think of it, Walpole’s Otranto, have never really got a foothold on screen. Which is a shame, because all of their works are fundamental to our understanding of how Western horror came about, in slow, incremental steps, and they deserve to be kept alive. We’ll adapt The String of Pearls into Sweeney Todd. We’ll get Corman and Price to do a string of Poe adaptations. And we’ll run Frankenstein almost into the ground with adaptations. But before Shelley, we’re severely lacking in adaptations or at least prominent ones.

So would Schedoni now be seen as something of an anachronism? Would you put him in a film and have the critics say that we’ve seen a thousand characters like him now, so why bring him back? His characteristics have seeped into every film and TV show that now it might seem like trying to hype up a museum piece; all very interesting but not very entertaining. And with Vivaldi being so incredibly naive (or at least not as complex as he could be), you’d need to do some serious modifications to make him as compelling a protagonist to put against Shedoni and create a proper double act.

If it could be handled right, the cloak-and-dagger menace from the late 1700s would be incredible on screen. Someone like Mike Flanagan would have a great time making it as a limited series. But I’m not sure how much of the novel would survive the translation for a modern audience, and Schedoni might suffer as a result. The character, as incredible as he is, may have to remain inside the pages of Radcliffe’s final masterpiece, at least for now. I think that’s an incredible shame, but a necessary evil.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: kjudgemental

Free Fiction:Broken Marble Cherry Bowl by Dan A. Cardoza

Broken Marble Cherry Bowl By Dan A. Cardoza

Grande Nonno died making a living, like Papa. He was born with his blue denim sleeves rolled up. 

He and Grande Nonna are buried just a few miles south of the Apuan Mountains on the Alps’ Italian side. They’ve been rotting away in a small village cemetery near the town of Caravaggio. Caravaggio, Italy, is in the province of Bergamo, in Lombardy, Italy, 40 kilometers northeast of Milan’s municipality. 

Carrara is in central Italy. Carrara is in the provinces of Massa and Carrara. The region is famous for the white and blue-grey marble quarried there. The brilliant, almost translucent blue and grey exist as arteries and veins, frozen in memoriam. The Carrione River gushes in the winter through the canyons of the region. Flash floods in the spring have been known to cleanse citizens clear out into the Ligurian Sea. 

At first glance, the Apuan Alps of northwest Tuscany’s Carrara region are pure white. You can imagine snow being born in the high castle crags. 

Early train travelers through the regional mountains had been cautioned of the risk of blindness due to marble dust and glare from all the whiteness. The talc of powder is said to be under the control of no other than the wind, a stiff wind that wants nothing to do with humankind.

Most travel guides, even today, will tell you the Carrara region is famous for three things: marble, anarchy, and pig fat. This unlikely trio is intertwined as deeply as the mineral veins striating the marbled mountains. 

Since ancient Roman times, Carrara’s Apuan Alps have supplied marble for some of the world’s most prized sculptures. Carrara is the marble of Michelangelo’s Pietà, Jean-Antoin Houdin’s George Washington, and New Delhi’s vast Akshardham Temple. The stone is blessed with luminosity, its networks of blue arteries and veins, nature’s psychological Rorschach test ranges from grayish to purple. In monolithic form, it can support the sky, like Half-Dome in Yosemite, California. It has been winnowed down into the translucence of light itself in thin slabs, a fitting lid on an iridescent coffin. 

My name is David. I’m a little softer than marble but much colder. It’s taken a while to get here, but that’s what you get when you grow up in the middle of a nightmare.

This story isn’t so much about me. It’s mostly about us. Yes, dear reader, you and me, us humans, with all our ugliness, beauty, and pain. It’s about the idiosyncrasies and occasional flaws of raising children, children whose only intent is to live, once born. There’s not one baby book available online or in a storefront about how to raise a monster. I can assure you, the parents that know how-to, don’t need any damned instructions.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a wonderful life, especially now that I’ve lived alone for just over a decade. Papa and Mamma are back in Northern Italy, going on eleven years now. They will be back, not to worry. In most ways, they’ve never really left. They are like shadows that remain hidden, but for midnight. 

When I say that they are not really being gone, by that, I mean there are very few places in this run-down house where they don’t exist. And, outside, they are out there too. 

Papa is in the drippy faucet, the one he couldn’t fix. And so I put up with it, and wait. It’s just off their bedroom, on the second floor. Now that they’re gone, I sleep in their queen. Papa is in the crazy garden. Jesus, it’s insanely productive. Most of us Italian’s are birthed with green thumbs. He’s no exception. Hell, he’s placed enough bullshit in the dirt to turn the backyard into a greenhouse. The soil can’t help itself. It’s rich and loamy. 

He’s in the tomato stakes, the ones he used his machete to ax into six-foot lengths. The stakes are round and made out of two-inch dried bamboo. He uses four to stand up the cages, cages meant to confine the beautiful green and red of the plants. Papa makes the wire cages too. It seems he makes everything except the water. In July, once the plants have taken hold, he uses the iron enclosures to jail all the tomatoes with cheap labor until they are forced to ripen. 

The rake, he’s damned well in it. Papa’s in the sweaty oil on the tacky handle. He’s also in the missing hickory slivers that have ended up in his callused palms. I can even feel him in the shovel, the square, and the round one. Papa’s strong hands are there, the ones that he’d forced around my throat. 

The rounded shovel has a grave digger’s blade, having killed a rat or two. It acts as guillotines and can be used to take out Napoleon’s armies of screaming tomato worms, as well as any meandering garden snake.  

Father is in the pantry, more stubborn than any simile. I swear to it. He’s in the ugly green wooden cabinet, the cabinet built onto one of the garage walls. He had inherited from the previous homeowners. Papa was there when he smashed the planked wooden door on my curious fingers after he’d carelessly left it unlocked. He was as quiet as a panther in the single-car parking space. 

He’d reinforced the shelves, “extra support never hurt nuthin’, he’d said. If I catch you climbing up them again, I’ll crack your eardrums open like a walnut shell.” 

Brandied cherries, thorny blackberries, and drunken raisins, a container of bay leaves, dried leaves broad enough to cover your crotch, they’re all in there, his damned pantry, canned jars of minestrones soups, pickled venison with bone broth, broth he’d used to boil meat off a cats ribs. 

I love Papa. I can’t get enough of him, even though he’d never taught me a damned thing or showed an ounce of affection. He’d beaten me so hard once. He used a messy summer fly-swatter. The kids at school teased me for more than a week. They’d called me porch-face because of the clumsy screen door in the back of the house. I wouldn’t dare tell them the truth. Don’t get me wrong, I truly love him, Papa, way over in Italy, but if not for the distance, I’d kill him.

Trouble in Italy

It’s like when ivory Domino’s fall, Italy. 

One after the other, first cousin Adrianna broke her back. She’d been living taking care of Nonno and Nonna in their two bedroom inherited cottage. Winter had been a bastarda that year. Those cloudy Cumuli scoundrels just wouldn’t let up or leave. 

The storms had come over the ice-box Apuan Mountains like some uninvited frost-bitten diesel train. They huffed and puffed their swollen blue faces, clean out of Switzerland and Austria. The back stoop and steps had frozen. 

In the last atmospheric disturbance, Adrianna had forgotten all their scratchy linens she’d hung out on the clothesline in the AM. When she’d clipped on the wooden clothespins, there had been sunshine, clawing itself over the horizon. The landscape was frozen, but the fragile sunrays had been as dry as a church mouse fart.

She’d seen them as flags, all the sheets, and towels. They’d flapped parallel in the same direction of the sleet. If the sky hadn’t been so windy, they might have frozen all their stiffness in place. 

Both feet had come out from underneath her hefty girth. She attempted to scoot across the stoop and down a short run of stairs. Adrianna’s heard the crunch before, the time she’d chopped fresh kindling for the cottage’s cast iron stove. She’d cracked her cervical spine in three places.

The medicohe had ordered rest and that she lay as stiff as a corpse for at least two months. I don’t know what in the hell they call them in Italy, but the doctor had also thrown a shitload of Benzodiazepines at her to “uplift her mood,” he’d said. 

Adrianna had sounded as if she was a happy zombie. She’d begun to slur her words. So, she used the neighbor on the other end of the phone. This neighbor lady, Arelia, was one of a few in the village who knew broken English. Adrianna had stirred up the whole neighborhood with her high maintenance and melodramatics, most likely from her being high. 

In short order, Arelia, the helpful neighbor, quit. She’d had enough of nursing Arianna, as well as cooking and feeding Nonno and Nonna. She’d shouted in Italian when she’d left the cottage for the last time, “I’m not going to be used as some kind of crazy finger puppet.” That’s when mother and father’s trip was a done deal.

Hearing all this, mother and father had jumped on the first international flight out of San Francisco to Milan. Apparently, Caravaggio, Italy is another Hotel California, like the Eagles’ hit song, once you arrive, you can never leave. 

By god, nothing was going to happen to Nonno and Nonna. My parents had too much invested, not the least the thirty-odd dollars they’d sent to Italy every month.  

I’m sure their leaving had nothing to do with any future inheritance. 

Back at the House

Although Mamma is in Italy, she’s never really left the house. 

She’s in the pasta sauce she taught me to make: Butt loads of fresh garlic, a pinch of brown sugar, a teaspoon of vinegar, fresh basil, Papa’s rusty tomatoes, and her secret weapon, Italian ground sausage with fennel. There are enough jars of Mamma’s pasta sauce in the green pantry to fill up a Venetian Gondola. I almost forgot, add about ½ cup of tawny port wine, not the cooking kind. In Northern Italy, that’s how we roll.

She’d used her intoxicating pasta sauce and pasta to keep papa fat and uncomfortable, too uncomfortable for kinky sex. 

Mamma had been the Comet shine in the scratched porcelain sink. I’m messy. She cleaned the kitchen floor good enough to eat off, vacuumed the rug in front of the big screen TV, left wheel marks resembling perfectly furrowed OCD rows of corn, truer than any in Kansas. I have stacks of dirty dishes on the coffee table. The washer broke, and now I’m using the dishwasher to clean all my clothes.  

I almost forgot, Mamma is down the drain in the bathtub and out the sewer pipes, swimming toward the mainline. Everything she ever did is out there. I hope the witch stays in Italy, never comes home.

Mamma’s into saving. She’s a penny-pincher. 

She’d hoarded change, mainly the spare dimes she could fit into Papa’s discarded whiskey and cognac, Toro Gordo see-through tubes. The nasty cigars never left his mouth. Each tube was gifted at storing their designated dimes, each dime held snugly in its place. Dimes were tight, seemingly pinching themselves into place, each dime a fool, should they even think of leaving the nested affection.  

I’ve spent every one of those Mercury-headed sons-a-bitches, those President Franklin D. Roosevelt, In God We Trust counterfeit dimes. Money is evil. It needed to be punished. I gave them all away at the Thunder Valley Casino, just north of Sacramento. It had taken a lot of liquor, anger, and time to spend the forty-eight tubes of stolen dimes. Losing had never felt so good. Returning at 3:00 AM Saturday morning, I’d slept most of the weekend away, having gorged on an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Canning

With COVID and all, and since Mamma’s cooking is in Italy, I’ve taken up canning. 

Canning has become extremely popular with my generation. I am a millennial. It’s a safe, effective, and simple process, and it’s crazy inexpensive. Mother made me inexpensive, cheap enough to toss away if she could have gotten away with it. She gave me to Papa, expecting he’d use me up. I hate her as much as sin, with her all her paternal conspiracies. 

People can take advantage of canning to preserve just about anything: fruits, peaches, plums, thorny and bloody blackberries picked in the boiling sun, along the Yuba River, vegetables, soups, sauces, and meats, damned right, all kinds of proteins.

In the late 1700s, that crazy war genius, Napoleon Bonaparte, commissioned a regional search for a better method to preserve food. He believed that “An army travels on its stomach.” 

He was looking for a less expensive and more efficient way to feed his armies. He intended to make food last longer and give his armies nutritional food, meat to build up their strength. Their heritage of strength is what allowed the troops to perform more of their carnage in all the battles. And so Napoleon proposed a hefty bounty to anyone who could come up with a better method of preserving food in quantity, with a long shelf life, even though most of Napoleon’s soldiers had a limited expiration date. 

A genius named Nicholas Appert had claimed the prize, though it took until 1810 for him to perfect his discovery. But like most time-proven inventions used for the military, it would take about fifty years before the methodology and know-how would trickle down to the average family. Think of Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars. 

By 1858, this brilliant, cylindrically shaped man, John Mason, had invented the iconic, reusable “Mason Jar.” The Mason jar is the gold standard of canning, even today.

The best thing momma taught me before she left was how to can. I do thank her for that if nothing else, and I will be grateful to her for the rest of my life.

The Supplies:

  1. Boiling water bath canner or a large, deep sauce pot with a lid and a rack
  2. Glass preserving jars, lids, and bands (always start with new lids)
  3. Common kitchen utensils, such as a wooden spoon, ladle, and paring knife
  4. Quality ingredients (fresh fruits and vegetables)
  5. Jar lifter
  6. Home canning funnel
  7. Bubble freer and headspace tool

I admit it’s become an obsession, canning. It’s been more than a hot minute, well, over ten years now, since Papa and Mamma left for Italy. I might have to whisper, but I think I’m a better canner than my missing Mamma. You heard me right. Mamma went missing while in Italy. She’s still missing. 

If I sound a little matter of fact, well, for Christ-sakes, I am. I don’t miss her a bit. Hell, she’s everywhere I turn in this two-story falling apart clapboard house.

Let’s get back to canning. I don’t have time for terribly long stories. 

Bitches, I am the RuPaul Andre Charles of canning. I’ve got canning game. Over the years, I have mastered the art. Yes, you heard me correct. It’s an art: Squatty Stainless steel jar lids, lids that stack in gorgeous, shiny rows in Papa’s garage pantry. Tall, long Masson jars, the glass of stars, full of peaches, their skin’s sloughing off. Don’t you just love the word slough? I eat the juicy peaches, skin first. I’ve preserved Kidney beans and canned eggplant, the kind that resembles the Emoji penis. I’ve canned olives, as dark as jackal eyes, red pimento’s for pupils. Green-fingered asparagus, some as thick as longshoremen’s thumbs, the rest, as long as your middle finger, I’ve stored them all. 

I figure all the canned goods in Papa’s green cupboard should last at least five freaking years. Think about it, not having to shop for food, all the plague masks, all the germs, the disguising people?  

I Quit my Job

I worked for the State of California in IT. My employer was the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. It was a nice fit for the longest time, the past twenty years. But, with all the write-ups, suspensions, and disciplinary action, I told the governor of the golden state of California to shove his state job up his Department of Controller’s ass. I’d had it. 

The talking behind my back and taunting had gone on for months. I was accused of sexual harassment, gender insensitivity, and for keeping less than standard hygienic practices. 

It was never written up formally, by my immediate supervisor had also accused me of excessive flatulence. He’d said, “I’ll save you all the embarrassment by not having it on the record.” 

They assumed father had simply disappeared in the woods. He’d been hiking a lot after Mamma’s disappearance. Well, he’d disappeared too. It was in early February. Ah, em, it had been snowing a lot. The Apaun forests were deep and dark, all that bullshit. 

Think of me as the red stapler man in the hit movie Office Space. I’d been placed in a corner, next to a dingy wall, at the end of a long row of cubicles. I’d been made fun of for the longest time. There had been food on my shirt that I’d made sure to wash at least once a month, the broken clip on my suspenders, my olive oiled hair, a litany of complaints. 

They’d said, “He’s a pig, eats most of his food out of jars, he farts like a bull in a software China shop. He scrambles and breaks every damned software application and Microsoft Excel spreadsheet account that he touches. His math is sloppy. He doesn’t add up.”

“Fuck you,” I shouted when Kevin won the yearly IT award. I wouldn’t have been so bad, but I used the third floors intercom. 

This girl named Nancy had turned me in for wearing real pig’s ears for Halloween. I thought It was appropriate. I used elastic and Velcro and had dried them out. “Fuck you,” I’d shouted when they’d told me who it was that complained. “Fuck all of you, Nancy,” I’d said. “You bitches are going to end up in a Masson’s canning jar.” I was fired the very next day. They walked me clear down the block to the bus stop. 

Ok, I get this feeling that you are making fun of me too. This is so personal, and I have been sharing so much of myself. I know you think I’m crazy, reader. You can’t fool me. Don’t flatter yourself, smarty-pants. You think I killed my mother and father and jarred them. No, and No, and hell no!

I’m in Papa’s garage. He won’t mind. I’m using his workbench vice. Grande Nonno had a workbench, too, over there in Italy. He’d used it to sharpen all his slaughtering tools and wheat scythe. Grande Nonno and I had always gotten along. I loved him. He’s the one that taught me why the sheep in the foothills of the Alps have two downhill legs shorter than the other, walking the hills and all, in one direction. 

Papa did everything big, including installing a commercial-sized workbench vice. His vice is industrial red and shiny as glass. I tighten it, tighter and tighter. Nothing ever escaped father. He held me down, two knees on my back, both hands in my long pissy hair, I’d wet the bed again. 

As I grew older, he’d do this, but for other reasons. 

I turn the handle. I have the vices dog fixed in place. I watch as the moving jaw moves in the direction of the stationary jaw. The main screws seem to elongate as the vice grips tighter, one of life’s paradoxes. I crank and crank until Papa’s double-barreled shotgun is fixed in place.

I saw and saw, using the hacksaw. 

As the storm shakes the rafters, I play Papa’s favorite CD using his cheap flea-market vintage player. How he loved him some Brahm, especially the classic-haunted lullabies, steeped in all the Mephistophelian memories they evoked. He loved the anxious melody, all the nervous piano keys, the white noise that kept my–his demons at bay. 

Piano Concerto Number Two was his favorite, with its assemblage of Stradivarius violins fluttering their hyaline wings off. How it reminds me of the times, I’d torn the wings off the butterfly’s whenever the pain ferreted itself into the light, sniffing for vengeance.

Most of the cold steel barrel falls to the floor. I sand and sand what’s left of the barrel until it’s smooth to the touch. It never heats up. It remains cold. 

I snap on the TV in the family room. It takes a while to find the channel with only white noise. Next to me, on the make-shift end table is a mason jar. It’s filled to the brim with pickled pig’s feet broth, mostly bitter vinegar. I grasp the jar in my sweaty palm. I swish the dog’s eyes in a clockwise direction. I place the vacuum-packed jar back on the card table next to the couch. 

The age-darkened sheep’s eyes spin and whirl in a circular motion of sight, no longer tethered to their brains by any pesky optic nerves or even semblance of reality. 

I pick up the jar again. I stare back and spin the wolf’s eyes in a counter-clockwise direction. I smile. I place the cyclone of deception and conspiracy back on the table.

Now I can use my index finger on the trigger. The shotgun barrel is so much shorter now. Using my toes was unrealistic since I’ve gained so much weight after being terminated. Terminated, what a harsh word, isn’t it? Because of all the nutritious canned protein, I’ve become a little cherub. There’s no way my chubby two toes were going to blast me over the moon. 

Dear reader, if you’ve gotten this far, I’m truly sorry. You will have to sit on the couch now, directly across from me, and watch.

You’ll have company. They are watching me too. The feral eyes are strobe lights, a horrific merry-go-round of sight, the son’s-a-bitch, around and around they go. The room fades to black, the TV splatters.

You know most of the rooms in the house by now. After you puke your guts out, you run toward the leaky shower in the master bath. The blistering hot water can’t rub your bloody skin off fast enough, “Fuck the crime scene,” you shout at the top of your lungs, into the ceiling. You contemplate how your pretty world has just shit its pants.

You exit the shower. The room has turned into a psyche ward spa. Everything is a vapor. You splash ice water on your face over the sink in front of the massive mirror. You rub and rub at the steam on the glass.  

Directly behind you, in the mirror, is your new reality. You can see it clearly now. It stands bleeding, broad-shouldered. Somehow the brawny shoulders are holding up a broken marble bowl of cherries. The bloody cherries are globing over the rim of the bowl. 

After you’ve determined the broken bowl is what’s left of my skull, I make you feel the icy barrel against your flesh, directly behind your pounding heart. 

Now, Son’s-a-bitch, the lights really do go out. 

The End


Dan’s most recent fiction has been published in the 45th Parallel, Allegory, honorable mention, Aphelion, BlazeVOX, Across the Margins, Bull, Cleaver, Close to the Bone, Coffin Bell, Dark City Books/Magazine, Door=Jar, Dream Noir, Entropy, Flash Bang Mystery, Gravel, Literary Heist, Mystery Tribune, O:JA&L/Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, New Flash Fiction Review, Overstock, Spelk, Variant, Visitant, Your Impossible Voice, The 5-2. Dan has also been nominated by Coffin Bell for the Best of the Net Anthology, 2021, and best micro-fiction by Tiny Molecules.

You can read more of Dan’s work at https://www.dan-a-cardoza-literature.com,

Twitter: @Cardozabig 

https://www.facebook.com/ 

 

Free Fiction: The White Wood by Carlos Ruiz Santiago

The White Wood by Carlos Ruiz Santiago

Corpses make an odd sound when you step on them. Wet, crunchy. Funny, if you are really twisted. Not the case of Ronel, of course; for him, corpses weren’t more interesting than a piece of dogshit. He knew how that sounded but he didn’t care about it either.

Truths are something twisted themselves, they emphasize pragmatic facts that could crash against feelings. That was why soldiers like him needed to be practical. If your country needed or wanted, something, you bought it. And, if the inhabitants didn’t want to sell, you killed them. As simple as that, anything more complex is philosophical gibberish that makes you miss the opportunity of getting things.

He looked at the horizon, appreciating the orangish sun falling in the cloak of dead savages and their saurian mounts. That nameless island in the middle of the nameless ocean was full of them, like sewer rats, like infection in a wound and prejudices in women. He tidied up his bushy mustache. Yes, like a woman, he giggled. The inhabitants were a tribe of warrior women and emasculated men. Pretty pathetic if you asked Ronel. In the deep soggy jungle, they hid, fought and died. When you fight with bone swords and axes against muskets and blunderbusses it’s what tends to happen. They charged, and men shot and the beasts screamed and men shot again and they howled in terror, mount indistinguishable from rider. A beautiful symphony, monsters dying by the power of the civilization.

Later, men had raided their tribe. Just small children, cowardly males, crowns of fruit, rock and wooden temples full of plants, weird and smelly shit you could expect from savages. If Ronel didn’t burn them it was just because of fear that fire will eat the whole island before they got their reward. Maybe before leaving.

A savage made a hiss from the ground. She had a long scarlet wound all over her side, getting dirty her dark-green skin, almost amphibian. Her eyes were deep orange, shining, and certainly beautiful. Her legs were trapped by the head of an enormous bipedal feathery monster, with the sharp-teeth mouth wide open and the eyes looking at the rotting sky. The lips of the warrior were thin, almost nonexistent. She whispered words in a forgotten language. A soldier sunk his bayonet in her chest, ending her life.

They had killed them all. That was pretty impressive, especially considering women. They didn’t capture anyone, all dead, fighting until their black rotten souls fell to the hells. Just monsters, bloody stinky monsters all of them, but pretty tough ones. Ronel looked for his pipe. Just slimy irrational savages in a forgotten place. There were also dead from his side. Ronel was equidistant: he didn’t care about them either. Why should he? Soldiers die, that’s part of their job. Axes had removed parts of their skulls, impaled by spears of long reptilian bones, the guts out by an irregular cut. A bloody sacrifice. However, it had its rewards, he though, looking in front of him.

The white wood.

There was an immense tree over there, really tall and, especially, wide. The branches were like a hundred hands imploring the demons in the sky, the roots like a thousand tentacles of gods- who knew what kind of pelagic deity. Quite impressive. The amphibian whores adored it like a god. In front of him, all of them had died. A pretty worthless god, if you asked Ronel. They had been looking for that wood for ages, only sparse remains until now. That was, apparently, the only living one. A good reward for the blood spilled. The white wood was harsh to burn, both hard and flexible. His king will have the best warships in the world. And all thanks to him, to people like him. That’s how progress is achieved because blood is the favourite drink of the welfare god.

Then, someone interrupted his peace, smoking from his pipe after the glorious battle. A young one, surprisingly alive, claiming that the tree was hollow. Ronel raised an eyebrow. Nevertheless, and despite the desire of some public punishment to relax the troops after a won battle, the soldier was right. An enormous crack in the tree and, inside of it, only roots and blank spaces, like maggots in a corpse.

Ronel entered the first one through that natural tunnel, two soldiers behind him. It was a straight path, not too regular or wide, but a path nonetheless. Soon, gloom was around them. The walls felt like they were made of insects, of moving and mushy parts, things that crawled through you. Things that fed on your corpse. Or maybe they were too impatient for that. Maybe they could begin now and he will become a corpse, eventually.

Or maybe not, maybe that’s the destiny that Ronel couldn’t stop thinking of now. Dying without dying. Eternal life of the soul, jail of flesh and bone, eternal suffering. Like going through a hole in a tree, not alive or dead. It was the throat of a monster, something wet and hellish, warm and hungry.

They ended up in a wider space. Ronel did all he could to normalize his breath, so no one noticed his rising dread. In the center of the structure there was an irregular rock where the roots came from. He got closer.

Impossible. Senseless. Demented.

Then, from one of the many cracks, an eye looked back at him. Like a cosmic sentence from a monstrous trial. Like the end. Inhuman, immortal, unbearable eyes. Fathomless abyss from the stars.

Not a tree, just like a tree. A parasite. A monster. Something worse. A herald. A newborn god. He tried to shout, to warn that the savages weren’t praising him, but guarding it, that they shouldn’t touch it, shouldn’t move it.

His words were nothing more than the growling of a frothy mouth of a crazy man in the ground, killed for the respect of his figure.


Carlos Ruiz Santiago is a Spanish fantasy and horror writer with two published novels ( Salvación condenada and Peregrinos de Kataik) and a participation in the anthologies Dentro de un agujero de gusano, Mitos y Leyendas and Devoradoras. He is an editor of the website Dentro del Monolito. He has written for magazines, such as Morningside and Exocerebros. He also has content around cinema, with the podcast Pistoleros de Gilead and the blog La Horroteca de Darko. He also organize talks and workshops around cinema and literature in various libraries.

https://darkosaurvlogs.wixsite.com/carlosruizescritor

HorrorAddicts.net Press Presents: Two Book Birthdays Today/Horrible Disasters and Plague Master Sanctuary Dome

Horrible Disasters

hahdfront-coverA Horror Disaster Anthology
Available now on Amazon.com

HorrorAddicts.net proudly presents Horrible Disasters. Thirteen authors from around the globe share their visions of terror set during real natural disasters throughout history. Travel back in time to earth shattering events like the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and the Winter of Terror avalanches, 1950. What supernatural events went unnoticed? What creatures caused such destruction without remorse? Stock your emergency kit, hunker in your bunker, and prepare for… Horrible Disasters.

Cover Art by: Thierry Pouzergues

Edited by: Larraine Barnard

authors:
Emerian Rich
H. E. Roulo
Dan Shaurette
Steve Merrifield
Mark Eller
Laurel Anne Hill
Timothy Reynolds
Ed Pope
Jennifer Rahn
Chris Ringler
Philip Carroll
Mike McGee
Garth von Buchholz

Proceeds to benefit Disaster Relief by way of the non-profit agency, Rescue Task Force.

Women in Horror Month: Always the Fool by Melissa R. Mendelson

Always The Fool by Melissa R. Mendelson

I was meant to be home today, but they called me in, ignoring the pass day. The operator was vague. Some kind of babble about someone calling out sick, but we were all assigned to certain days. If something came up, if someone was sick, the deliveries would be held until the next day, but if I dared question the system, the fine would be heavy. I was already broke.

I reported to the dock at nine a.m. My pay was docked one hour. The system did not care for traffic or construction or any other kind of delay. Work started at eight a.m., and my locker was stuck. It took forever to jar the door open, throw my stuff inside, and slip into that uncomfortable, gray plastic suit. The gloves were even more uncomfortable, and I couldn’t find my face mask. But they didn’t punish me for that.

“One delivery,” the guard said to me as the door opened. “Take it down to the inferno.”

“One delivery? I was called in on my pass day for one delivery?”

“You got a problem with the system?” The guard watched me shake my head. “Good, and where’s your damn face mask? Those fumes will kill you.”

“I don’t know. I think someone was in my locker.”

“Well, you got one delivery, and then you’ll be sent on your way. Just hold your breath.” He signed the clipboard that he held, making a strange, red mark by my name. “Cart’s waiting.” He raised his eyebrows up at me, and I slowly moved away. “What a waste,” he muttered.

I steadied my hands along the cart. Sometimes, they were so heavy to push, but this one was light. The grab slab on the flatbed was the same size, width and height, but it weighed nothing. I was tempted to open it, but I never wanted to look inside those things. I never wanted to know what it was that I was pushing into the inferno. I would not question the system. One delivery, and then I would be on my way like the guard said.

I stepped into the warehouse. I pretended that the cart was heavy, taking my time to the inferno. I could smell it already, an ugly, burnt smell. Where the hell did my face mask go, and who would have taken it? I glanced up at the corridors along the warehouse, spotting others pushing their gray slabs to the inferno, some returning this way with empty carts to reload. One delivery. What a joke.

“Put a face mask on,” a youth remarked as he skid by. This did not bother him. Instead, if he racked up enough deliveries, he could leave early and game all night. That’s what he lived for, but those older knew better. There was no escape from the system.

“Delivery.” I finally made it to the steel doors. Maybe, I should have quickened in pace. I wanted to go home not to game but to sleep. My dreams were pleasant, unlike this harsh reality. I swiped my badge over the panel, but it did not turn yellow. “What the hell? It worked yesterday,” and I swiped again.

“Supervisor notified.” The operator’s voice boomed overhead. She was always cold, indifferent, hardly human, but that’s how she survived. “Please, wait,” she said.

My stomach flipped. I had the rationed meal. One bowl of oatmeal and a glass of milk with a few lumps. I was not privileged for more better quality food or drink. Sometimes, after a successful week, I would be rewarded with a chicken or fish dinner and not that gray stuff that they called meat. I haven’t had that kind of dinner in a long time.

“Collar?” The supervisor appeared on the scene. He stood six feet back. “Collar,” he repeated.

“6543219,” I said.

“Right. Pass day?”

“Today,” I answered, and he caught the annoyed tone. “Called in,” I said. “One delivery.” I hid my tone that time. “Here to deliver.”

“Come inside.” The supervisor swiped his badge, and the steel doors opened. “No face mask?”

“No,” I answered.

“Try not to breathe.” He smiled as he said that, and I did not like that smile. He followed me inside. “You were here for the visit last week?”

I pushed the cart into the dim room, pretending it was still heavy. I felt the fires from the inferno, an ugly machinery with various doors for various floors, all leading to the same end result. Burned. “Yes, I was here,” I said, trying to hold my breath, but I could already taste that smell.

“And you saw him?”

“What?” I realized that the supervisor was close, and I cringed. “Saw who? The Auditor?”

“No. Not the Auditor. Him.”

I knew who he was talking about. I passed by the dining room and saw all that food stretched out on the decorated conference table. I was so hungry, but I did not dare to venture inside, even for a bite. That’s when I realized that he was there at the head of the table, eating like a pig.

“You saw him.” That was not a question. “You watched him eat.”

“Okay. Yeah. I saw him, and I watched him eat. Can I throw the delivery in now?”

“He didn’t like that. You watching him eat.” The supervisor walked away from me. He approached the gray slab on the flatbed. “He reported you, and that’s why you are here.”

“That’s why I was called in on my pass day for one delivery? Because of that? Watching him eat?”

“Yes.” The supervisor did not look at me. He stared at the gray slab. “Do you ever question what it is that you are always burning?” He watched me shake my head. “These gray slabs are large, large enough for a human body.”

I paled at his words. “Excuse me,” I said.

“They are large enough for human bodies,” and he threw open the gray slab, revealing nothing inside. “Get inside,” he said.

“What? Wait. We’re burning people? Alive?”

“Get inside.” I noticed the gun in his hand. “Your choice. Alive or Dead.”

“For what? Watching him eat his fucking food?”

The supervisor’s finger wrapped around the trigger. “You offended him, and this is your punishment. Get inside the gray slab.”

“There has to be another way. Please,” I begged, and the gun went off. The bullet pierced my leg. The next hit my shoulder. I realized that he did not want to kill me. He wanted to burn me alive. I burned so many people alive, and I never realized it. But my supervisor knew, and he knew exactly what he was doing now. And for what? The system? “Please,” I screamed as he lifted me up and threw me into the gray slab.

“Save it,” and he slammed the gray slab shut.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Melissa R. Mendelson is a Horror and Science-Fiction Author.  She has been published by Sirens Call Publications, Dark Helix Press and Transmundane Press.  Her short stories have also been featured on Tall Tale TV.  She is currently working on completing her Horror novel, Ghost in the Porcelain, which surrounds an evil, porcelain doll.

HOW CON: Preventing the End

Preventing the End

by Michele Roger

Remember the voice? She spoke to you the moment when it became clear that combining sounds and letters made words, words made sentences, sentences made stories, and stories made friendships in other worlds. She was the one who opened the door to the first book that swept you away and kept you up all night.

Go ahead,she said. Heres the key to this door.Then she handed you a ring of keys (or she did back then, now kids tell me she just shows them how to use the retinal scanner.)

Later on, it was her who reminded you that while Asimov could take you to other planetary systems, if you didnt stop reading him and start studying for your physics test, youd never get into college. Part of you argued.

College-smollege, as long as I have the library Ill be fine. It worked for Ray Bradbury.

Ooooh,she smiled. You never said you wanted to be a writer.

Wait, what? I didnt say that.

Yes you did.

No. I distinctly remember saying the library worked for other authors…”

Mmm Hmm.

Ok, fine. I admit,I myself confessed at this point. Hence why Im a writer. I wasnt cut out for interrogation. Your experience may be different when it happens to you.

And then it started happening.

They walk (and sometimes crawl) across the earth at night. Sometimes they fill the moonless sky. The ghosts just float up and hover over my bed, chilling my bones in an attempt to tell me their story. The witches arrive next and recite terrifying incantations in my ears. Vampires politely wait outside in the garden. They havent been invited inside but they wait patiently. They have a lifetime to sit outside my window and wait for me to fall in love with one of them on a starry, sleepless night.

The broken-hearted lovers who have died tragically are the worst. All they do is cry and moan, begging to tell their tragic story to anyone, particularly me, who will listen. I toss and turn and put the pillow over my head. I tell them to go away. I have a real job I have to get up and go to in the morning. Go haunt another writer.

Instead, they come. Night after night they become more insistent.

Tell our stories or well cast a spell that makes your door to the hallway return back here to your bed.

I protest, But I have to go to the bathroom!

They shrug, Tell it to someone who cares. Better yet, tell our story first.

The weeping ghosts of dead lovers moan louder as they reach for one another in a perpetual, unattainable grasp.

If she tells our story, we might help prevent someone from befalling our fate.

Now, the vampire is spread out impossibly in my window ledge wearing Armani and drinking a glass of wine. A spider is dancing across his fingers.

I could keep you busy for a million lifetimes.His dark, alluring double meaning isnt lost on me. I have to take a deep breath to prevent myself from swooning.

Enough!I shout out to the voice. I didnt ask for this! This feels crazy. I feel crazy!

The reply isnt shouted back. No. Shes far too calm and clever for that. She giggles and its kind of a whisper at first.

Do you remember all the Ann Rice that you read in college? The Clive Barker, the Poe, Steven King, Nancy Farmer? Not to mention your obsession with Pratchett and Gaiman?

Yes. So?I hold up my keys as if to say that I had permission. I jingle them for effect.

She coos. Permission? Yes. But you couldnt possibly think that all those worlds and friends came free.

Uh,is all I manage to say.

No, no. And all those authors you came to love? Theyve paid their debt back as well. Just look at Gaimans basement cave of a library. You must pay back at least a fraction of what you take. Thats how it works. Other writers, librarians, and even ancient historians have always known this.

But, you never said.

She interrupts me. No. I never did say. You did. You said you wanted to be a writer. Here are just a few of the stories that need to be told.She presents the creatures crowded around my bed. When youve finished with these, I will send more.

More?I ask.

Reading and writing never stops,she explains. If they ever do, it will be the end.

The end of what, exactly?I ask.

She sighs. Everything.

Women i n Horror: Infection by E. A. Black

Hello, Horror Addicts! I write horror as E. A. Black. I’m on social media as Elizabeth Black. I live in Lovecraft country on the northeast coast of Massachusetts. If Innsmouth were a real town, it would be a ten minute drive from my home.

My story, “Infection”, which appears below, originally appeared in the anthology “Teeming Terrors”. Here’s the blurb for the book:

Nature. Filled with wonder, beauty, majesty and mystery. Also filled with things that want to kill us. Normal things, little ordinary things. Things that creep and crawl. Things that fly, swim, scuttle and slither. Things that you might expect and be rightfully phobic about … as well as things you may have never imagined as a threat. Individually, maybe they wouldn’t be. But that’s just it. They aren’t coming for you individually. They’re coming for you in swarms, in flocks and hordes, in masses and multitudes. They’re coming for you by the thousands. They are … TEEMING TERRORS.

“Infection” is one of my favorite stories that I have written, and I’m happy to share it with Horror Addicts for Women in Horror Month. Enjoy!

Infection

By E. A. Black

April Jones was cursed with a stubborn husband. John Jones had been weeding the garden and mowing the lawn this hot July 1st when he ran over strange circles in the grass. Fearing a wasp infestation, he dug into the grass around the circles and poured bug killer into them, despite Mrs. Jones telling him she thought that was a very bad idea. As usual, he wouldn’t listen to her. At least a swarm of nasties didn’t emerge from the grass and sting him.

Oh, no, it was worse than that.

The wound on his calf started as a rash accompanied by fever and chills. A day later, the flu symptoms had passed but his lower leg swelled up, and it was painful to put any weight on it. Tiny pustules erupted where she presumed the bite originated, but there was no bull’s eye so it wasn’t a brown recluse bite. Maybe there were wasps in the grass and one of them stung him, but she had never seen a wasp sting as angry as this. She begged him to go to the doctor but he refused, having the temperament of a mule.

By dusk on July 4th, the pain was excruciating and she finally succeeded in talking him to going to the emergency room. The wound nurse took one look and immediately ordered him to a room overnight for observation. She feared MRSA. Being ordered to stay in the hospital terrified Mrs. Jones. She wasn’t used to being on her own, and who knew how long her husband would be hospitalized? This wound could have been more serious than she and Mr. Jones had originally had thought, and MRSA was nothing to sneeze at. The nurse also ordered a CAT scan since she suspected he had an abscess. Mr. and Mrs. Jones waited in his room for the CAT scan results when he began to squirm with an uncomfortable look on his face.

“April, something’s very wrong. It feels like something’s moving in there.”

“What do you mean, moving? Why didn’t you tell the nurse?”

“I was too scared. It’s probably just my imagination. And the rash is warm to the touch. Are rashes normally like that?”

“None that I’ve seen. I told you to not dig up the lawn. You never listen to me.”

“Don’t nag me now.”

“Something stung you?”

“What else could it be?” He doubled over, gripping his belly in his arms. Mrs. Jones placed a hand on his shoulder to comfort him, but in her fear she really had no idea what to do to help him. She had never before felt so useless. “Oh, God, I’m gonna be sick. Something’s wrong. It’s bad. I don’t like this.”

Blood erupted from the center of the boil to trickle in a thin line down his leg. Pus oozed from the small opening. The tissue around the wound had darkened, turning nearly black. In a panic, since she knew enough about wounds to know black tissue meant dead tissue, Mrs. Jones rushed into the hallway to see if the doctor was on his way. She overheard the nurse said something to the doctor about necrosis, and her stomach seized in fear. The doctor turned her way and caught her eye. She saw alarm and concern on his face as she waved him down.

He quickly made his way to Mr. Jones’s room with the wound nurse on his heels. Mr. Jones had turned on his side on the bed, clutching his stomach. All the color had drained from his face, and Mrs. Jones knew the color had drained from her own as well.

“I think I’m going to throw up. It’s open and I’m bleeding. The pain is terrible. Can’t you give me something?” Mr. Jones wailed.

“I’m Doctor Frisorra, Mr. Jones. I’m going to open it up and scoop out the infection.” The doctor said. He was a surly sort but his caustic demeanor didn’t hide the alarm in his eyes. “The CAT scan revealed an abscess about the size of a baseball, but your entire lower leg has swelled up. I don’t know why you feel sick. You shouldn’t, but once the infection is gone I’m sure you’ll feel better. We’ll put you on an i.v. of antibiotics and keep you here overnight for observation. Let me get it out of you first and then we’ll give you some painkillers.”

“Something’s moving in there. I feel it crawling around, lots of things, tiny things. Oh, God, it hurts.” Mr. Jones buried his face in his pillow. “Please, get it out of me. Now!”

“Okay, Mr. Jones, I need you to calm down. I can’t open your leg with you thrashing about. Lie on your back and I’ll get started.” The doctor said.

“John, lie back.” Mrs. Jones said. “You’re going to be alright but you have to do what the doctor says.”

He turned onto his back and shoved a fist in his mouth, squinting his eyes in pain. The doctor turned to the wound nurse.

“Gauze and alcohol.” He said.

She handed him both. He poured alcohol onto the gauze and then swabbed the wound and the rash around it. Then, he tossed the waste into a trash can with a red bag inside with biohazard symbols on the plastic.

“I’m going to inject a numbing agent into your wound, Mr. Jones. This will help you with the pain. It’s a topical painkiller.”

The wound nurse prepared the injection and handed the syringe over to the doctor, who injected close to the wound’s opening. A high-pitched but faint buzzing droned around Mrs. Jones, as if it came directly from the wound but much like a cricket’s chirping it was hard to tell exactly where it came from. It sounded similar to air being let out of a balloon. The noise was shrill and angry, but so faint she thought she imagined it. Maybe it was an I.V. alarm going off down the hall. The nurses let those things beep forever, but somehow, Mrs. Jones doubted that was the case. That noise came from her husband’s wound, and it scared her.

“Did you hear that?” Mrs. Jones whispered.

The doctor looked up. “I’m not sure what that was. Let’s get the wound opened and cleaned out. Scalpel.” He said.

The nurse opened a small package to reveal a sterile scalpel, which she handed to the doctor. Mrs. Jones held her breath as the doctor’s steady hand approached the wound, which by now had turned a deep shade of rose with black edges and yellow pustules erupting on the surface. Mr. Jones gripped his t-shirt in his fists so hard his knuckles had blanched. Terror etched across his face. What the hell was wrong with his leg? Was it a brown recluse bite after all?

The doctor leaned over his leg and cut down the center of the boil. Blood gushed out, running down his leg and staining the bed linens. Creamy yellow pus filled the wound. As the doctor picked up the instrument to scrape out the infection, that shrill keening sounded again, coming directly from the opening he had cut.

Mrs. Jones backed away, closer to the bathroom.

The doctor inserted the instrument into the wound, and Mrs. Jones was shocked to see it disappear nearly an inch into his calf. When he scraped along the inside, Mr. Jones cried out in agony, but Mrs. Jones barely heard him. Hundreds if not thousands of tiny mites flew from the wound’s opening, covering the doctor’s white jacket so thickly it appeared to be crawling. They flew onto the nurse, who swatted at them, screaming and howling with surprise and terror. Mr. Jones screamed and crept up the bed towards the wall, but the mites surrounded him, flying in his face and against his arms and legs until they held fast.

Then they began to bite.

A cloud of the creatures attacked Mrs. Jones, but she managed to swat them off as she ran to the bathroom and shut the door. They nipped at her arms and face, biting her with their sharp, tiny teeth. They tore into her skin, drawing blood and stinging her as if she were dying by a thousand paper cuts. She slapped at them, pulled them from her hair, stomped them onto the floor. 

As she wrestled with the creatures, the screaming started outside the bathroom door. She recognized her husband’s shrieking and feared opening the door to rush out to help him. What were those things doing to him? Getting a closer look at the ones she had swatted, she leaned over a dead one on the sink.

The creature was about an inch long and dark green. It had two legs instead of the usual six or eight she expected from an insect or arachnid. It also had two tiny arms with fists it held into balls. She pried one fist open with a fingernail to reveal talon-like claws, sharp as needles. What was left of its head sported blonde hair and a strangely humanoid face. Gossamer thin crepe wings folded along the back.

What kind of insect was this? Was it an immature locust? These creatures moved in swarms, just the way locusts did. The problem was she’d never seen a locust that looked like this. She’d never seen a live locust period, but she had seen pictures of them. This was no locust.

She thought back to the rings her husband found in the grass as he mowed the lawn, and how he dug into a few of them to see the damage they did to the soil. She wracked her brain until she remembered where she had read about rings in the grass.

Fairy rings. Her husband had disturbed a nest of fairies. She stared at the creature as if she viewed a particularly noxious bug. These were not the sweet little Tinkerbelles of Disney movies. These fairies were the vicious and malevolent beings from folklore – and they took up residence in her lawn and in her husband’s leg.

And now they were loose in the hospital.

Screaming in the room and down the hall intensified until it reached a crescendo. Heart racing with dread, she leaned against the door, holding it shut as tiny bodies slammed into the opposite side. Scraping sounds like needles being dragged along the door grated from the other side as if they tried to claw their way in. She stared at the tiny being on the sink, wondering how something so small could cause so much damage.

It twitched.

She wailed.

It shrieked a sound like a tea kettle boiling. As it reared up it split open down the back. Another larger creature emerged from the shell. Now, it was nearly three inches long. Mrs. Jones wondered how many others had molted. She recoiled from it, fearing to even approach it, but as it cried in outrage she gathered her resolve and picked it up between thumb and forefinger by the hair. It writhed in her grip, wings flapping, jaws snapping, trying to claw her with those talons. Glaring at her, it hissed the word “die” over and over again. She started at the sound of its high-pitched voice hissing in English. She nearly dropped it, but she held fast.

Her fingers felt sticky, as if they were covered in slime. The same sticky substance smeared on her arms, legs, and face. She used her free hand to wipe it off her cheek only to streak it further along. It smelled of violets. In fact, the fairies themselves smelled of wildflowers. Mrs. Jones wore a perfume similar to the scent. Could the stickiness have come from their bodies as they rubbed up against her? 

The screaming from the other side of the door had stopped. Fearing what lay behind the door but knowing she had no choice but to free herself, she opened the door. As she took her first two tentative steps out of the bathroom, the fairy in her hand ceased struggling and became quiet. When Mrs. Jones looked into the room, her heart nearly stopped in shock.

The stench of gore and feces slammed Mrs. Jones in the face amid that strange scent of wildflowers. Doctor Frisorra lay on his side, hands clawed in front of his mangled face. His white lab coat was covered with so much blood and tissue it had turned crimson. Heart racing with dread, she looked to the hospital bed where her husband lay. His mouth was open in a scream cut off by violence. Lips and nose decimated and eyelids gnawed away, his face forever would hold a surprised and outraged expression. The skin had been clawed and eaten away from his forehead, cheeks, and chin, leaving muscle and tendons exposed. His hands could not protect his face from the onslaught, since his fingers had been gnawed down to the bone. Blood covered the bedsheets. Mrs. Jones clamped a hand over her mouth, trying to hold back a wail of grief and horror. In her fear, she let go of the fairy in her other hand, and it flew out of the room and down the hall. 

Following the creature, she walked into the hall to be greeted by carnage. Moans of pain and wails of terror echoed along the blood-smeared walls. Nurses crawled along the floor, many with their eyes gouged and eaten out, groping about blind. Stunned, Mrs. Jones made her way down the hallway dodging bodies and slipping in blood. She never before felt so alone. Normally her husband took charge, but now she had to fend for herself. She didn’t think she’d last long, not in her frazzled and frightened condition. She paused by every open door, expecting a wall of the detestable vermin to attack her. She sped down the hallway until she reached the Emergency Room exit. 

The creatures were gone but they couldn’t be far. Where did they go?

An ambulance idled in the entryway. Two EMTs sprawled on the ground at the back of the vehicle. The sky was strangely dark. When she took a closer look upward, panic took over and she urgently sought a place to hide. The creatures filled the sky, blocking the setting sun. They swarmed like insects, attaching themselves to the hospital buildings and rapping their soft bodies against glass. Several grasped rocks and slammed them into windows, attempting entry. Red brick teemed black with the creatures. 

She froze in place, fearing if they noticed her they’d attack. Where had they all come from? They certainly couldn’t all have come from her husband’s wound. She didn’t have time to ponder. What to do, what to do? Her car was in the parking lot across the street. If she walked slowly they might not pay her mind. It was only 50 feet away. If she could make it inside her car and drive away – maybe home – she’d be safe.

Maybe. It all depended on how widespread their reach was.

She held her arms against her body and cradled her head close to her chest, trying to make herself look as small and as unassuming as possible. The creatures flew above her, making a high-pitched humming sound presumably from the flapping of their wings. A few zoomed in front of her as she walked, and she gasped at the sight of them, but they ignored her. She wasn’t sure why, but they had sniffed at her and then went their merry way. Maybe her violet perfume and the residue they left on her skin sent them away? Could they have mistaken her for one of their own?

They flitted about in a hurky-jerky motion like hummingbirds, but not nearly as endearing. Several of them dive-bombed her, nearly getting caught in her hair. It took all her resolve to resist swatting them away. One stopped long enough to give her a quizzical look. It hissed at her, tossed a pebble at her face, but then it flew away, paying her no more attention. 

That one was much larger than the one she held at in the hospital bathroom. It was at least four inches long and a vivid blue. Most of the ones flying about her were the size of the palm of her hand. She passed a tree and saw bodies clinging to it, but upon a closer look she realized she gazed at empty shells – molted skin left behind as the creatures grew.

Finally reaching the road, she was about to take a step into it when a Toyota roared past, wavering all over the asphalt and even jumping onto the sidewalk. Mrs. Jones leaped out of the way before the car could hit her. As it sped by, she saw the driver inside fighting a cloud of creatures so thick the inside of the car had darkened to pitch black. The car zoomed past only to crash into a utility pole and burst into flames. The explosion hurled Mrs. Jones backwards onto the grass. Human screaming amid the shrill cries of the fairies assaulted her ears, and she clamped her hands over them so she would not hear the terror in that person’s voice. The clouds of creatures overhead flew to the wreckage, giving Mrs. Jones time to race to her car without being noticed.

She fumbled with her keys, her fingers not working well enough to grip them. She dropped them as she watched the creatures wailing around their fallen comrades. Stooping over to pick up her keys, her trembling fingers dropped them again. Damn it, woman, get your act together! One last time, she gripped the entire keychain in her hand and shoved the car key near the lock but missed, scraping the blue paint on the door. Finally, she aimed the key at the lock and nailed her goal. Turning the lock, the audible click attracted the attention of the creatures. 

She tore open the door and hauled herself inside just as a swarm of bodies reached the door. Three of them were caught on the door, hissing, spitting and cursing her. When she slammed the door shut, they sliced in half. Their bodies fell to the car’s floor, convulsing in their death throes. The rest slammed against the door and window, howling their outrage at her getting away from them. A cloud descended upon her car, slapping the glass and banging their fists against the sides and roof. Thankfully, they had grown so much they were too large to fit into her ventilation system so they didn’t get into the car through the air conditioning and heating vents. She put her key in the ignition, turned over the engine, and high-tailed it out of the parking lot. 

She needed to get home. Alone, she cried as she drove, not sure what to do to get herself out of this miserable situation. If only Mr. Jones were with her. He’d know what to do.

With a start, she remembered her 24 year old son Paul was home. She grabbed her phone and dialed his number but he didn’t pick up.

Oh, God, I hope he’s alright. 

It was hard to see the road through the bodies but she drove in as straight a line as she could. Turning on the windshield wipers, she shoved fairies aside until she could see her way in front of her. Fireworks celebrating Independence Day lit up creatures that flew overhead. She hit the accelerator until she reached 40 MPH and then hit the brakes. Bodies hurtled from the car, landing on the road in front of her. She pressed down on the gas again and drove over a multitude of little bodies, the car bumping as she drove. They crackled and squished as she drove over them, and she used her squeamishness to continue on her journey. The clouds of creatures seemed to go on forever. Could she safely make it home? First, get onto the main road into town, and then she could worry about her son.

More fireworks burst overhead, competing with the full moon. Mrs. Jones turned on the radio, hoping for some answers.

‘… lock yourself in your homes and board up all entryways including doors and windows. The cause is unknown. The Army has been notified and is on its way to town…”

Switch to a different station.

“… seems to be contained to Norwich, Massachusetts. There are no reports of infestations in nearby Rockport, Ipswich, and Gloucester…”

She lived on the edge of Norwich. If she could get home, get Paul, and get out of town they might be safe.

The ten minute drive home seemed to stretch on for hours. A yellow corona exploded overhead followed by myriad red starbursts. The fireworks provided a strange backdrop for the clouds of fairies following her home. They slammed into her windshield, grasping at the wipers and trying to break them off but they did not succeed. Spraying them with windshield washer fluid only pissed them off even more. Why did John have to go dig up those infernal rings in the grass? 

If he hadn’t, would they have only emerged later to catch them even more unawares?

Neighbors had been ravaged as the creatures had attacked. The Clark children two doors down from her home lay sprawled in the grass, bodies torn as they had played with a Frisbee. The scent of burned meat wafted from a smoking grill. Mrs. Clark lay facedown on the porch, her head on the bottom step and her feet on the top. A tray of burgers spilled onto the ground. The paperboy’s bike lay in the middle of the road. The boy himself had made it as far as the tall oak in Mrs. Jones’s front yard. Fairies squatted on him, tearing at his clothing and chattering amongst themselves. They stopped chattering to watch Mrs. Jones drive by. The sight sickened her. She knew the paperboy quite well. Gave him a gift every Christmas. She didn’t get along with the Clarks but no one deserved an end like that.

She pulled into her driveway, crushing the creatures beneath her tires as she put the gear into park. Paul’s car was in front of her, and it was covered with bodies that by now had grown to be nearly a foot long. They gaped at her from inside the car. Only a half hour ago they were the size of mites. Molting and growing quickly, their formidable natures astounded her. How much larger would they get? Their colors ranged from vivid blue to deep hunter green and violet. Some stretched their wings and wrapped them around their bodies as if they were chilled. Every one of them stared at her from the porch, the stairs, inside Paul’s car, the sills and the roof. Thousands of glowing eyes glared at her. How was she going to get into the house? And was her son alive?

The shutters on both floors had been pulled and locked. The creatures had torn her prized rose bushes to shreds, and she felt a pang of sadness over the loss. There would be many losses today. Before stepping out of the car, she doused herself with perfume hoping to keep them at bay. Fearing her son had succumbed to their attacks, she unlocked her car door and quietly opened it one inch.

The fairies didn’t move. They only continued to stare at her. Why were they so quiet? Was it her perfume? She could only hope.

She opened the door, gently moving several of them out of her way. They appeared to be resting, as if exhausted but not exhausted enough to sleep. Dormant, their hive mind dozed enough for her to emerge from her car and take tentative steps to the porch. One or two lashed out with their sharp claws, drawing blood on her ankles, but she didn’t flinch. With slow movements she took five excruciating minutes to make it to the porch and the front door. She took her key, turned it in the door’s lock, and opened the door enough so she could slip inside her house without the creatures following.

The living room was quiet and dark. No fairies lurked within. Smoke filled the first floor. Ah, Paul must have cooked steak again. He always smoked up the house when he cooked beef. The smoke may have repulsed the fairies enough to keep them outside.

There was no sign of Paul. She resisted calling out his name or making any noise out of fear she’d attract the creatures’ attention and they’d swarm again. 

The only way to find him was to go door to door until he revealed himself. What if she found him as mangled as she found John? No, don’t think about that. Just find him. 

She walked through the empty kitchen and opened the bathroom door to find no one. That left the second floor. She climbed the stairs, careful to not make the third step creak the way it always did. Moving with stealth, she reached the landing and heard thumping sounds coming from one of the back bedrooms. Fearing Paul was being mauled, she raced to the door, opened it, and went inside.

“Paul, we have to get out of here…”

Fairies perched on tables, chairs, and shelves. They clung to the curtains in front of a broken window. When they heard Mrs. Jones’s voice, they came to life and flew from their perches to swarm around her, clawing at her face, her hands, and her bare legs. Wailing, she waved her hands in front of her to fend them off but they only came on stronger; wave after wave of bodies crashing into her. Sliding down the wall as they tore at her hair and bit her forearms, she crumbled in a ball on the hardwood floor. They pushed on the door behind her, slamming it into her lower back and causing pain to shoot into her spine. Then, she felt two large hands grab her feet and pull her through the door’s opening.

“Mom, are you hurt?” Paul said as he shut the door and locked it. The fairies beat against the frame from the other side in a futile attempt to get out.

“I’m okay. What are we going to do?”

“I’ve packed for us. I called you but you didn’t pick up.” He pointed to two suitcases. “Where’s John?”

Mrs. Jones cried. “He didn’t make it.”

“The radio says they’re only here in Norwich. If we can get in the car and make it out of town, I think we’ll be fine.”

“I hope you’re right. I told John to leave those grass circles alone but he wouldn’t listen to me–”

He squeezed her shoulders. “They’re coming from those holes in the back yard. I watched them from the window. I already called 911. The Army is coming to plug them up but we have to get out of here. Now.”

They quietly walked downstairs, Mrs. Jones holding one suitcase and Paul holding the other. More than anything, she wanted to hole up in her house and wait until the Army dealt with the miserable vermin, but she no longer felt safe in her own home. The only thing to do was to leave with her son and wait until it was safe to return, assuming it would ever be safe. She’d never feel safe in this house again.

Before he could open the front door, Mrs. Jones explained their curious behavior in light of her perfume and the sticky substance they left on her skin. She sprayed Paul all over with violet scent. She prayed the fairies wouldn’t attack.

Paul opened the front door, drawing it out as slowly as he could. The bodies on the porch had increased. To her surprise, the creatures had moved but they continued to sit as if dozed. Some sprawled in circles on the porch – large circles, small ones, several where they sat stacked atop each other. They chanted in a language she couldn’t understand, but what they sang resembled an incantation. While they acknowledged her presence as well as Paul’s, they neither attacked nor lashed out. It was as if they operated from one mind and that mind was too preoccupied to pay any attention to the two humans who made their way to Mrs. Jones’s car.

Mrs. Jones swept them aside in slow motions with her feet as she made her way the four feet to the steps. She gazed at her destroyed garden in the direction of the holes where her husband had dug out the fairy circles. Rather than pour from the holes as she expected to see, the creatures flew into them, searching for what remained of their stomping grounds. Fireworks continued to illuminate the clouds of fairies that flew overhead. Such a strange sight – a festival of independence marred by creatures that rendered all humans in Norwich helpless to defend themselves. 

Once they reached the car, Paul placed the suitcases in the back seat, all the while moving as slowly as possible. Neither he nor Mrs. Jones called attention to themselves lest they attract unwanted and tragic attention. Rather than slam the door shut, he closed it with a gentle click. The sound boomed in Mrs. Jones’s ears, and she watched the fairies but they did not attack. Mrs. Jones walked to the passenger side, opened the door, and took the front seat. Paul made it to the driver’s seat without difficulty. Once inside, he placed the key in the ignition, turned it, and the car roared to life.

They sat in total silence, watching how the creatures reacted to the car’s engine. A few pounded on the windshield and stomped on the roof. One stood in front of Mrs. Jones, gnawing at the windshield wiper and scratching its substantial claws against the glass. It was nearly a foot long with filmy wings the hue of an oil slick and a body the color of brick. The malevolence on its face terrified Mrs. Jones, but she clenched her jaw in silence. Paul put the car in reverse and pulled out of the driveway. 

“Let’s head to Gloucester.” Mrs. Jones said. “The radio said they didn’t get that far.”

Paul turned the radio knob.

“… have invaded Rockport, Gloucester, and have been seen as far as Beverly Farms.” Beverly Farms was 15 miles away. She checked the gas gauge.

There was less than a quarter tank of gas in the car.

Maybe by the time they reached Beverly Farms the creatures would have moved on. She gazed out the window. Fairies converged on the grass, tore apart bushes, and danced on telephone lines. Starting up the car must have roused them from their stupor. She turned her head away in horror as a gang of them attacked a German shepherd chained to a pole outside a split-level. Paul drove along the narrow one-lane road out of town, and Mrs. Jones closed her eyes in her futile attempt to ignore the sound of bodies crunching beneath the tires. Her heart raced and she picked the cuticles on her fingernails as they drove in silence save for the radio that just announced the fairies had been seen 40 miles away in Boston.

Maybe they’d make it safely out of town before they ran out of gas.

__________________________________________________________________________________

The idea for this story came to me after my husband spent some time in the hospital with an infection in his leg. It was pretty gross. I based John Jones in the story on him, and he got a major kick out of me killing him off, LOL. We have very bent senses of humor. Here’s a conversation we had about his leg.

Me: “Your wound is really disgusting. Make sure you do what the doctor tells you. Don’t be stubborn.

Him: Me? Stubborn? Never!

Me: Yes. You. Stubborn. That thing looks like it’s going to burst any moment. You know what’s going to come out of it?

Him: Puss?

Me: Spiders!

Him: You have watched far too many horror movies. That’s why I love you.

Me: I love you, too!

Here’s where to find me on the web:

Elizabeth Black – Facebook https://www.facebook.com/elizabethablack

E. A. Black – Blog and Web Site http://eablack-writer.blogspot.com

E.A. Black – Amazon Author Page https://www.amazon.com/E.A.-Black/e/B00BBWHMFM

E. A. Black – GoodReads (I didn’t create this page. I’d like to thank whoever did, if I knew that person’s identity.)

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6468111.E_A_Black

Elizabeth Black – Newsletter http://eepurl.com/b76GWD   

I’ve just started a new writing gig with a game company. It’s so new I don’t have much to report yet, but I will say I’m having a blast. I’m now a game developer! I’m also finishing my first horror novel. Here are my latest appearances in anthologies:

Jester of Hearts – my story is Trailer Trash Zombies

Wicked Women: An Anthology of the New England Horror Writers – my story is The Fetch

The Horror Zine’s Book of Ghost Stories – my story is The Storm

Horror For Hire: Second Shift – my story is A Job To Die For

Fark in the Time of Covid: The 2020 Fark Fiction Anthology– my story is A Skirmish Outside Beaufort

 

 

 

Book Review: Blackwater Val by William Gorman

Blackwater Val  by William Gorman
Reviewed by Ariel DaWintre

This story revolves around a place called Blackwater Val. The main characters are Richard and his daughter Katie, who is six-years-old. He takes her back to where he is from to take care of some personal things. Richard realizes right away that he has forgotten a lot of his past, but that he is starting to slowly remember. Blackwater Val seems so normal at first, but strange things are starting to happen and a dark past is being uncovered. Although Richard starts to remember his past, what he thinks he knows is not always accurate or true and we learn along with Richard.

I found myself writing a list of what I perceived to be the monsters, ghosts, demons, or bad guys in the story. There seemed to be quite a few. I kept wondering who the bad guy was and was he controlling them all. I liked that even though I thought I knew who the bad guy was, it wasn’t that simple. The story also brought in true facts from the past about the Indians in the area and the wrong that was done to them. Although Blackwater Val is not a true place, the locations around it are. I also found myself looking up things on Google, wondering which parts were real and not. I can now officially say I know a lot more about Suak Indians.

This is a definite horror story and there is blood and guts aplenty. This is a classic good vs evil tale, but nothing is simple as lines are drawn and a battle unfolds. The details and story are clear and you will stay up and be kept engaged and rooting for the good guys to win. The story has several twists that will make you go, “Wow.” There is also an element of magic and special gifts introduced into the story. There is not really a romance in the story but it has a romantic element with a strong sense of family and friends.

The main evil in the story is very twisted and scary and relentless throughout the story. Clearly, Blackwater Val brings out the worst in some people. The author does a great job of bringing his characters to life and keeps you wondering how the story will end and who will come out okay. The story gives a good ending but leaves an opening that not all is settled and done. Can’t wait to read the sequel.