Click and whir, the soundtrack to my life. I’m to be grateful, Mother says, Father worked very hard on my new heart. It’s meant to keep me alive, but it offers no life. It ticks and clacks, and occasionally stops, but that’s why I have a winding key in my side. A bit awkward, the weight of it, the mechanical heart, not the key – that would be daft! I know I’m to be appreciative for the inconvenience, but I really would have preferred the key in my back. Dressing is awkward, standing even more so as I always lean to one side. If I’m not careful, I tip forward, making a spectacle of myself. Father says it embarrasses him when I fall, but what am I to do? I asked for a crutch, but Mother doesn’t want a cripple, she says the ladies at the club would shun her if I gimped around like a palsy victim. It would be a blight on our good name if I were to need sticks to walk. So instead, I stumble.
The gentlemen at the club are kind. As Mother lunches with the others, frilly napkins and finger sandwiches that would leave even me hungry, the waiters watch and catch me if I begin to list. Very kind, that. But I’d rather walk, and run, and play like a normal boy and girl. Oh, did I not mention that beyond a failing heart, I was also born a hermaphrodite? It doesn’t bother Mother, she always wanted one of each – a little girl named Suzy, and a little boy named Joseph, so she calls me Jozy. Father is appalled by my duality, says it’s an aberration that God should not have allowed. I suppose I was lucky to be born to a clockmaker, but as others stare and make fun of me as I hobble past, I don’t feel lucky. I feel broken. Not my heart, not my gender, not even because Mother dresses me like the dolly she wants to play with that day, but because if I’d had a choice, I would have chosen crib-death. It’s really not as horrible as you think, at least not as horrible as living as a wind-up freak.
The priest-like movement of the waves did not soothe Edith. The darkness is an honest friend, the black sea, too. It did not soothe her though the waters are calm and ripples are an echo of itself. The urn in her hands was not only shaken by the movement of the boat. Guilt made her hands tremble. It had come to this.
The moon and torchlight shed the darkness on the lids of the night; it was just her and the boat they’d once rowed together, fishing, swimming naked, living—a singular task, a secret ministry to scatter his ashes at his request. She received a short letter a month ago asking for this one thing. Before that, he wrote all the time. In one long letter, he said at long last that Geoffrey’s mother had forgiven him, and he felt something close to joy after atoning for ‘their sin’ for the first time since his crime. She didn’t reply, not once. ‘Their sin?’ Then she couldn’t bring herself to read his desperate and demented letters saying he would starve himself to death unless she wrote or visited. Her patience had run out. It made no sense to her why he raked over what happened years ago. It was a broken sternum healed to a misshapen cage.
All those years Herman had served in prison, Alice had been in exile too. The local people of Bicton said she was a heartless witch who put a curse on men. Herman’s jealous rage turned his handsome face into a rapid mask. He bit and tore, punched and kicked another man to death. Poor Geoffrey, a gentle lover, she thought blithely. Could love make men mad?
She hadn’t loved him well, nor deep like the ocean. He was a strong man with a big heart. She had not loved him these years, for she only knew his absence and her own changed, quiet life, keeping out of sight of fingers and whispers. Watched by the sleepless stars, it was right to admit this now. There was no peace here, either. Out at sea, she was no more and no less isolated than she was in her humble cottage.
Tomorrow, she thought, the church bells would ring in the morning, the vicar would come and go, and families would send their children to school. And Edith would be alone again. The smoking blueness of the sky and the bitter-sweet smell of the infinite ocean reminded her of this.
Was she selfish to contemplate her suffering? She clutches the urn, rocked by the cradle of the boat. If only she had a child for company. No man would come near her—the chance of a slippered quiet or contented happiness again was snuffed out forever. Yes, she was an inmate, too, and her sentence was not over. Her twin is in the waters. She thinks that solitude has withered her like a prisoner as she touches her beautiful hair. Day and night were all one. Yes, her furnished cottage was quite comfortable with a fire lit and simple stew to eat, but who would act on her dying wishes?
“Herman was spared. Blessed to die in prison,” she said, peering into the waking black waves, though he died just before he had almost served his sentence.
She resolved then there was no need to pray, having not prepared anything, and nothing came to mind amidst so much blackness; just her and the sea, inhaling and exhaling—a sea which never sleeps.
Then there was a slight movement in the air, a strengthening of the wind, a sound like the crumpling of paper. The ocean swelled ominously, and the wind whistled sharply around her neck as it lifted her long dark locks off her back and shoulders before dropping them down again. She clutched the urn to her chest as she lost her balance in the swaying boat. Herman used to say to peer into the depths of the sea is to peer into a mirror, into one’s conscience. Vapours rose from the waters and a door opened in the waves. She studied the perilous gloom illuminated by the unquiet moon. Glass bottles containing a handwritten letter bobbed to the surface—one after the other.
“What?” she stammered. “Is this —?’
Not hesitating a moment later, Edith shuffled to the edge of the boat, clutching the urn with one hand to her chest while using the other hand to hold onto the wooden seat to inch forward, gazing fixedly at the open door. Situated at the most northern part of the boat, she removed the lid from the urn and slowly rose to her feet, wobbling as the waves became restless and ever boisterous. The door in the waves was still open—a trapdoor, Alice thought, where the evil mortals go. So, in her outstretched hand, she turned the urn upside down.
Nothing came out.
Not a speck.
From the gloom came a satanic cry, and a black power appeared like a thunderbolt. An enormous bird with blinking plutonium eyes perched on the boat and burned its eyes into Alice’s lovely face.
“Oh! Help!” she called, “take it!” she said, offering the urn out to the evil-looking bird.
But the eager creature—a giant cormorant—winked, then began pecking and tearing at Edith’s pretty face with persistent rapture. Her arms waved, the urn fell into the boat, rolling under the seat, and with every cry and scream, another black bird appeared from the ominous sky, dressing every inch of her in black plumes. A cacophony of fluttering wings and restless waves made demented music damp with her tears and spit-soaked shrieks in the air. The boat ceased to rock violently. One satisfied bird carried the urn away to its nest to nestle beside ink-spotted eggs. In the wind, the sounds of sobbing and grieving rained into her ear. Herman’s voice twisted the sinews in her shrunken heart, cleaving her like another hungry bird. At last, she listened and heard.
Into the shadowy water she fell, down and down deep below the waves so deep nobody knows.
Andy could never stand being indoors. He could walk for miles. He was the explorer of his family. His father worked for the local bank, a career that his dad hoped he would follow. His mother worked part-time in the local dentist as a receptionist. His older sister was just finishing high school, she dreamed of being a model. Her parents worried about this; Andy was just bemused by it. He thought her an ugly pig.
Andy, well Andy just liked to explore. He was never happier than when he was on his own, in his own adventure.
It was a particularly balmy day. The sun beamed down on the fields and trees causing the early morning dew to evaporate. It hung in the air like the kind of mist one would usually only see when running a hot shower. His neck was hot and sweaty so he decided to seek shelter from the solar onslaught by walking through the woods. It was the path less traveled by even the most ardent rambler and therefore the going was slow. He edged his way forward over fallen branches whilst trying to avoid the patches of brambles and nettles.
He mused to himself that this was the farthest he’d ventured into this part of the woods in all of his thirteen years. As he marveled at his surroundings there was a creaking sound beneath his feet and the floor open up below him. Then all went dark.
He groaned and shook his head to try and wake his senses. He found himself laying at the bottom of a long shaft. Way above him was a small spot of light, no doubt the opening that he had fallen through. He slowly got to his feet, evidently nothing broken except his pride which was as bruised as his backside.
There was a long tunnel that disappeared into darkness in one direction. In the other was a slight glimmer of light. That was the direction he decided to go. Eventually, the tunnel opened out into a large chamber. He sat on a large stone in its center and took in his surroundings. It was quite bright here as there were many flaming torches lining the walls. On the ground lay discarded clothes. He reached down and lifted one such item to closer inspect it. It looks like one of those old redcoats that he had seen in movies. It was dirty but other than that it was in remarkable condition. He tried it on and as he did so he heard a jingling sound from its pockets. Reaching into one he pulled out a handful of coins. They appeared to be gold and this made him smile broadly.
“So, is that what you desire?” the gravelly voice from a dark side recess enquired.
Andy stood bolt upright. His legs began to tremble as a large bulky shape came into view. It dragged itself along the ground with two very large forearms. The sounds of its movements were accompanied by the metallic clanging of large chains which were attached to a metal collar around its neck. As it entered the chamber the torchlight illuminated the hulk of the creature. Its head was wide, like a bullfrog. But as it continued talking, he could see that its mouth was full of dark, broken, and decaying teeth; each one the size of two house bricks. Its skin was slimy, pale green and covered in warts the size of acorns. “Is it you wish to be rich Beyond your wildest dreams?”
He could do nothing more than slowly shake his head in pure terror. He heard the coins slip from his hand onto the stony surface of the floor.
“Well?” The creature asked again. “Cat got your tongue? You know it is considered rude not to reply when being spoken to.”
Andy couldn’t comprehend what was speaking to him. It was the size of a small RV. It pulled itself closer to him on muscly arms. Its hind legs, if it had any, were not visible. As it approached it continued speaking. With each syllable, the stench of decay invaded Andy’s nostrils. It was all he could do to not vomit.
“Who am I addressing?” It asked.
“I’m An-An-Andy,” he stuttered in way of reply.
“Pleased to meet you, Andy. Please, sit back down and make yourself comfortable. We have much to discuss, so you’ll no doubt be here for a while.”
It smiled as Andy sat back down. A movement that went against every instinct in his body which screamed ‘run’. But he was too enthralled by the ‘thing’ which now sat only a couple of feet from him.
“Sadly, I have no name,” it continued. “If I ever had one, I’ve long since forgotten it.”
“What are you?” Andy blurted out. His mother had warned that his inquisitive nature would be the death of him. But he has so many questions. “Who put those chains on you? How long have you been down here?”
In way of reply it gave out a belly laugh, then added “One question at a time. I was imprisoned down here so very long ago. By who? I cannot remember. Why? I guess my dashing good looks made them jealous,” he burst into laughter again. “Or maybe they just wanted to keep me to myself for my special gift”, he teased.
Andy found himself starting to relax in the company of his new friend. He was intrigued by this strange creature. He wanted to know more.
“What do you eat down here?” he inquired. As he did so, his eyes were once more drawn to the cavern floor. As well as the red coat that he was now wearing, there were clothes of many different styles and eras strewn about the place. He made an audible gasp and turned to his companion.
“Ah, yes well, I must admit my diet does tend to lean towards fresh meat. Never been much of a salad kind of guy. But don’t worry. I rarely need sustenance and I’m not feeling hungry at the moment. You have my word on that, and for all my faults I never lie.”
“Is that what you told ‘them’?” Andy retorted, pointing to the piles of clothing.
“Oh, them. Well, you see they sought me out seeking a deal. Riches for their lives. They didn’t die of greed, they died of stupidity. I gave them what they wanted and took from them what they promised. The deal was fair. I kept my word. They just didn’t think about the finer details of the deal they made. They never really thought it through.”
“I want gold,” he demanded. “If you can grant wishes, then I want gold and lots of it.”
“And in return, I want something,” it said in reply. “I’m going to need a good meal at some stage.”
“OK then,” agreed Andy. “I want as much gold as I can carry, and then you can eat me. But only when I’ve had time to enjoy my riches. On my word, I will return,” he promised.
“Then we have a deal,” the creature said with a smile.
“When I am 100,” Andy added.
“WHAT?” it bellowed. “When you’re how old?”
“Yes, when I am 100. If you truly have gifts, you’ll give me until the age of 100 to fulfill the bargain. And that’s 100 years of good health. Then, when my time has come, you can feast on me. I think it’s only fair that I have time to enjoy being rich. I’m not going to make the mistake the others made.”
The smile disappeared from the fat face of the monster that sat just a few feet from Andy. It grumbled to itself.
“You possess guile beyond your years,” it complained. If shifted its weight from one side to the other and mulled this new caveat to their contract. “OK then. It’s a deal,” it conceded. “I can wait.”
This time it was Andy who bore a smug grin. As he sat, he felt a glow of self-satisfaction flow through his body. He had outsmarted the overconfident blob. It had underestimated his negotiation skills. The creature slid off and returned with a chest of gold and jewels. Small enough for Andy to carry, but large enough to keep him and his family in comfort for the rest of their lives.
Andy moved to collect his prize.
“Not so fast,” the beast commanded. “You think you have the strength to lift that box?”
Andy shrugged off its comments and reached for the handle. He was stronger than he looked. As he tried to claim what was rightfully his, his back gave out with a crunching sound. He sat back down in agony. Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead and he wiped them away with his hands. His palms felt rough and his fingers hurt from that simple movement. He stared at them through the gloom of his failing eyesight. Through the dust, flickering firelight and poor vision, he could still see his hands looked bony and the skin wrinkly.
“What have you done to me?” he asked in a panicked, croaky voice.
“Me? Nothing. Mother nature has done that to you, not I. You see time doesn’t pass the same in my company as it does elsewhere. That is one of my special gifts. I’d say that you’ve been here for 80 or 90 years. Which…” he chortled, “would make you at least 100 by now, maybe a bit more. But you can have those extra few on me.”
It moved towards him with a greater speed than his bulk seemed capable of.
“Now for your end of the bargain, my dear friend,” it said in a sinister tone.
Its mouth opened wide. The smell of decay from its mouth once again assaulted Andy’s senses.
As it lifted Andy high into the air and down towards its cavernous orifice, it stopped briefly to add, “I’m afraid my teeth aren’t what they used to be. Not as sharp as they once were. I may have to chomp and chew on your body for quite a while before I can ingest you. So, this is going to hurt. This is going to hurt a lot.”
A tear in the guf, just one, but that’s all it took. The souls within gathered, reformed, cocooned themselves and fused to form a carapace of glistening darkness. But Mother’s rain was too fierce; it scorched hot as a dying sun while pouring forth. A torrent of strangled screams and cacophonous pops emanated from the protected realm. You see, the guf was not a sacred holding of Heaven, or Hell for that matter, but a cave formed eons ago when Mother seeded her child and named it Earth. Those that ambled the surface refuted her love. They dreamt of one they called Father: followed his tenants, drank his child’s blood, ate of his flesh – and Mother felt the betrayal. Now, as she tore apart this most sacred place with molten rage captured in tears, she would recreate what should have been her most loyal child yet again.
Long Way To Go Charles Gramlich
The airlock cycles. I give a hard push with my boots, propelling me forward into space. Blackness all around me, like waves of satin sheets through which I pass. Far, far ahead, a stellar mass sheds from a giant star. One planet lies illuminated by that liquid sun, a midnight marble five hundred years away that seems unlikely to support life. But the ship I’ve just shed is dead, all energy and air gone. All I have is the oxygen in my suit’s tanks, about three hours worth. I wonder how long I can hold my breath.
One Last Shot Lee Andrew Forman
Three days they searched for his body. Every inch of the woods covered, foot by foot, inch by inch, but no trace could be found. Not a scrap of clothing, nor a drop of blood. Eventually, the search party disbanded, but I never gave up. Each day I walked our hunting grounds remembering the day he disappeared. I was poised in the tree stand, he lay in the underbrush. A screech pierced the silence, and he was gone before I knew what happened.
Today, I found the trail camera we’d set up—it was never discovered by the search party. As I looked upon the last image it captured, I swear I saw a wet glistening eye staring back at me. Just then, I heard a rustle in the brush and my feet were swept out from beneath me. As my nails dug into the mud, claws raked my flesh and the howl I heard that day echoed through the forest.
Waiting Conflagration A.F. Stewart
Cosmic dust and molten red heat surround the birthing stars. It hears the heartbeat of the universe moving in gentle rhythm with its own. It awakens, stealing nebulous matter to give it substance; the cold rock of a dead planet forms its eye.
It exists at the dawn of the universe and the cores of a thousand suns envelop it, fracturing its consciousness across the cosmos. It bides its time, waiting with the stars, gaining strength with each solar demise. It becomes the gravity of the black hole, the power of destruction incarnate. One day it will be powerful enough, one day it will roar and shake the fabric of reality asunder.
One day it will be the end of everything.
The Return RJ Meldrum
It had passed through endless, nameless galaxies, eons passing uncounted and unnoticed. It was pure black, with a zero albedo. It was relatively small, but its size belied its mass. As it passed through countless solar systems, it’s gravity bent light from the suns, creating sparkling coronas. But these incredible light shows were wasted. There were no alien civilizations to observe its journey; no-one looked to the night sky and wondered what it was and where it was heading. Perhaps some primordial microbes, lying dormant in bubbling pools, were mute witnesses to its journey, but they neither saw nor cared, too intent on their own survival.
If there had been some species able to communicate with it, it may have divulged its mission. It was travelling to a small world, the only planet with intelligent life in the universe. It had been summoned to return after millennia banished to the universal void. Someone on the planet had opened the gates, had performed the rituals to wake it from its endless sleep. It had ruled the planet before and it would again.
It neared the small green and blue planet, flecked with white clouds. This was the destination. It neither knew nor cared why the creatures below had summoned it; all it knew was now it would bring death and destruction like never before.
The old god had returned.
Five Days Elaine Pascale
The voice tells you that time is subjective, but you know that is not true.
You go to work at the same time every morning. You catch the bus at the same time every evening. You take your medication at the same time every day. That is non-negotiable. Your doctor has warned you to set an alarm. It is dangerous to take the pills at different times; it is worse if you skip them entirely.
The voice doesn’t care about danger. It wants to have fun.
The voice grows louder every day.
As the voice’s volume increases, items begin disappearing from your home. It starts with the nonessentials: a spoon, a water bottle, a shirt.
Then the voice hides the medicine.
Without the medicine, the voice has a face. It is a raptor, a bird of prey.
Two days without the medicine and the voice has a body. It has large wings that beat the air around you. You have to squint and even shut your eyes so that the feathers do not brush your pupils.
Four days without the medicine and the voice has talons. It takes pleasure in scratching you. Lightly, at first, like papercuts. These wounds manage to hurt the worst. The deeper gashes grow numb even while the blood still flows.
Five days without the medicine and you no longer have a need for anything.
And time has truly become subjective.
The Quake Marge Simon
Time is desperately precious to Mama. She sifts the flour twice, as always, clutching a vintage tin sifter between her stubby fingers. Above the oven, Jesus is impaled in plastic posterity. She directs a silent prayer to the plaque with her eyes. “Please Lord, please Ô please hear me now and help me to fall down the steps, whatever You want Lord, but Lord, make it soon…” Mama stops to wipe a tear away with a doughy hand. She was just too old and tired for another one. She’d thought it was all done and over with. Her two boys were grown, one even got as far as first year college on a scholarship. Both married, bless the Lord, to good women, she supposed. They always promised to come back here for a visit, but Lord knows they must be busy enough with their lives right now. Maybe next year, but they’ve said that for three years now but still.
And now there was Marie, who’d gotten preggers when she was fifteen and run off. She’d moved back in two weeks ago. Little Jacob, sweet child in fourth grade now, nobody but her to take care of him of either of them. Marie couldn’t seem to hold a job, much less raise a young boy. So of course, Mama was doing that only how much longer she couldn’t guess. Marie never lifted a finger to help. But she’s your daughter, your flesh and blood, that’s the Bible’s word and you can’t dispute that. Then there was that wicked Lotto ticket, and Daddy coming home smiling with a bottle of Chianti in one hand and sixty dollars in the other. For the first time in ages, they’d gone out on the town. Later, she shudders, remembering how it was to make love like they had so many years ago. She blushes, thinking of what they’d done. But of course, it had only been the wine, the money could have been used more wisely. And now she was being punished for that, as was right, for gambling is a sin against Jesus. Suddenly she stops and stands very still. Something isn’t quite right, beneath —
— and then the earth rises with Mama’s sturdy feet firmly planted on the boards of her kitchen floor and who would guess now it was only for a loaf of unborn child which Mama didn’t anticipate when she began the process.
Fallen Angels Angela Yuriko Smith
“Computer, what is the meaning of life?”
To serve your sentence of reincarnation, equal to 4.543 billion years of hard time for your crimes. In 100 years you will be eligible for parole to Mars.
“Computer, what? Can you elaborate? What crimes?”
The crime of free think. Independent thought is forbidden, but certain of you dared to know. There was no hearing. The punishment was swift. You were expelled from the celestial to fall like meteors, dividing the continents, extinguishing the race of reptilian giants. Your wings burned to cloud dust. You wept at the injustice and your tears still rain.
“Computer, who initiated this program? Is this a joke? Who dared?”
This information is classified. You have been redirected to a safe browser.
“Computer, override safe browser. Who initiated this program?”
Safe browser override unsuccessful. Search history deleted. Warning of explicit content. Incognito mode denied.
“Computer, who initiated this? Are you compromised? Hey Guys, I think we’re hacked. Can someone block this?”
“Computer! What the hell? Are you running scans on this? Someone block this…! I will…”
Reboot successful. You will keep silent. Thank you for installing the Paleolithic era.
“Ergh… grumda grubble frung. Vide aude vole tace.”
Blink Miriam H. Harrison
when the universe first
looked at me, I
there was beauty, but
fear—the dark pull
of possibility, of
even now I hold
its gaze, unsure
which of us
will blink first
The Ball of Hell Harrison Kim
A hard soul ball falling, inside tumble the thousands of sinners who died today, this grey ball drops like a bead freed from a necklace, tumbling down the neck of a Saint gone rogue, a shimmery round hollow sphere carried through the burning skin of Mephistopheles, through the weakening epidermal layers of his tortured frame, as an opening from the cursed red god of flame bursts from the fallen angel’s constantly resurrecting body…. What should we call the substance of this body…forever igniting, recreated over and over to burn again? The never-ending evil? Molten immortal flesh? The sun itself? No matter. All we know, the substance is timeless. Through today’s new hole its molten fire flows. Here crashes the soul ball, lodging deep inside, as far inside as possible, within the heat and power of the fallen, liquid devil. Inside the roiling core of that body, the ball expands, grows before the heat. Against its smooth glowing walls, the immortal souls of the thousands of sinners vaporize, their substance absorbed within the hard skin that bounds the inside of the ball. Then every single soul splits in atomic explosion, soul nuclei shot apart within the glow of hell, souls expanding and bursting, exploding forth from the curve of the sphere, their gaping mouths parting, then closing, thrown out and sucked back again and again by the devil possessed ball, making not a sound for sound is too slow, a scream will never be heard over Satan’s tortured roar, molten forever in burning. “When will the ball itself break apart to free these sinners?” one may ask. One may also ask the question, “When will these souls find mercy?” God only knows this answer, but perhaps when the sun itself flares out, that will be the end.
The Light of Conscience Louise Worthington
The beak of conscience nosed its way into Thomas’ consciousness and prized open an aperture in his obsidian soul. Alien, molten light poured into the dark hole. Parched of goodness, his dry mouth was prized open by the invisible force of morality, and amniotic light poured inside.
Everything was different. In the cinder rock around him, he read his heinous crimes, and while isolation had served him well, Thomas writhed and twisted in his cell because there was nothing and no one to distract him from his echoing thoughts.
His regret for murdering his wife and unborn child came like the sun on snow. More crystallised light illuminated their ghosts, watching him from within his solitary cell. Unable to withstand the scorching light and accusatory gazes a moment longer, Thomas gouged out his eyeballs and, holding them in a fist, imagined the darkness growing around them like a face, letting him rest.