Friend of Mine

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.”

∼ Ian Sputnik

© Copyright Ian Sputnik. All Rights Reserved.

The Last Reading

She gently traced the lines on his hand with her thumb. “I see deceit and malice,” she said accusingly, looking into his eyes with her unseeing, milky white ones. She then  added, “And a disregard for others.”


The palm reader, Alice May, then rose and gingerly made her way to the cupboard on the far side of the room. She gently cast her hands over the trinkets that adorned the old, oak surface. Some were merely ornamental, decorative pieces that she had acquired over many years of her life. Some were more precious to her, and much more valuable.
She sighed, put her hand to her heart and then returned to the reading.


“When you first came to me, I felt something in your lines that confused me. Each time you returned, everything became clearer,” she continued as a tear ran down her cheek.
All Peter could do was look wide eyed with a muffled scream back at the old lady.


He’d been coming for readings for weeks. Each time he’d helped himself to a bit of jewellery. This time he’d sat in the chair in her dusty old den, drank the usual cup of tea that she always offered, but this time had fallen into a deep sleep.


“I don’t think you have a good bone in your body,” she continued, as she felt each line, each intersection on his palm. “I fear you may be a lost cause.”


She stood again and threw the severed appendage into the open fire. Peter tried to scream. His mouth was sealed tight with crude stitching, his legs tied tightly to those of the chair. His wrists were nailed to thick wooden tabletop that he had sat at for the last few weeks of his visits to this mystic witch.


“On the other hand, maybe you’re not all that bad. Maybe you deserve another chance,” she said.


She fumbled for the hacksaw beside the chair, felt her way up to his other arm and started to grind through skin, flesh, muscle and finally bone.


His eyes rolled in his head, his pupils widened in pure, electrifying agony as she began to remove the other hand.
After some effort it detached from his wrist. She then sat down, turned it over, and began to give him a second reading for free. Deep within her, she hoped to find a line that would give her reason to spare him. But, even as she began reading it, she shook her head, solemnly.  All Peter could do was shake his head violently from one side to the other. His muffled pleas for forgiveness went unheard by Alice.

~ Ian Sputnik

© Copyright Ian Sputnik. All Rights Reserved.

Blue Tip Down

He awoke early, too early, yet had no idea why, but would soon find out. His head was itchy. Not just itchy, it was on fire. He dug his fingernails in deep and scratched. God it felt good, although it did nothing but offer temporary relief. 

Dave Driver felt like he was in a living hell. Even as he sat down in front of the TV with his morning cup of coffee, his attention was fixated on his head.  It felt like a thousand ants were crawling around in his scalp.

Being his day off, he decided to numb the pain with a rather large glass of whiskey, and then another. Eventually the discomfort seemed to ebb away.
He woke several hours later but felt much worse. The itch on his head had spread to his eyes. He rubbed them until they were as red as stop signs, and still they stung and burned.

Dave made his way to his bathroom to splash cool water onto his face. The relief was only temporary and the discomfort quickly returned. Only this time the tingling, itching, fire-laden feeling had spread to his nose and ears as well. He could hear a scraping-crawling sound. The volume was excruciating, but no matter how hard he held his hands to his ears, it only increased. Staring bleary-eyed into the mirror, he stepped away from the sink and immediately passed out.

He couldn’t tell if it had been minutes, hours or days since he had fallen, but one thing was evident to him – he was completely blind. He gingerly touched his eyes. The sockets were encased in clumps of matted hair. As Dave screamed in repulsion, he realized the sound was muffled. Had he hit his head when he fell? He reached for his ears only to feel long, thick hairs protruding from his auditory canals. Still on his knees, there was a wretched gagging sensation crawling down his throat. His body convulsed, tried to vomit up the intrusion, but the bile and contents of his stomach were stuck fast behind an impenetrable wall of hair that was working its way down his throat.

After what seemed like an eternity of writhing and spasming in pure agony, he died.

***

Dr. Sadler didn’t hear the door open as the two police officers entered the room followed by two other doctors from the facility. As they shook him awake, they were repelled by the stench of alcohol that enveloped him. He stared at them with upside-down eyes, then proceeded to vomit all over the lead investigator’s shoes.

Sometime later, after he had sobered up enough to sit upright, the interview began.

The detectives laid out the facts of Mr. Driver’s sad demise. They then inquired about the procedure Dr. Sadler had performed the day before wanting to know every minute detail of the patient’s hair transplant.

Dr. Sadler cleared his throat and then confidently informed them that he had inserted each of the genetically modified hairs with the utmost precision, and applied the growth agent at the required dosage of 1ml per square inch of scalp. He proudly announced that he had managed to give Mr. Driver double the number of hairs per square inch than most of his co-workers had the skill to deliver.

This new genetically modified hair was even better than the older version, his arrogance proclaimed with a belch.

“Blue tip down, white tip up,” he boasted. “And then the patient will never be blue, or down again,” Drunken laughter punctuated his statement.

Dr. Marigold, one of Sadler’s co-workers who had sat in on the interview, put his hands to his mouth and gasped. “It’s blue tip up on the new hair, and 0.1ml of solution. Please tell me you didn’t…”

Dr. Sadler’s shoulders slumped and his body fell forward, his head made an audible thump as it hit the table; he’d fallen into a drunken stupor, again. 

***

Mrs. Driver put down the flowers that she has brought along to adorn her husband’s grave. She gently laid them on the thick thatch of dark hair that continued to push its way up through the oak coffin and six feet of earth. She had heard the churchyard gardeners mumble and groan as she passed them. Apparently, they were sick and tired of having to mow the Driver plot twice a week, when the surrounding grass only needed doing once or twice a month at most.

Ian Sputnik

© Copyright Ian Sputnik. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 49

As Butterfies
Miriam H. Harrison

They had promised unspeakable beauty. The procedure would unlock new colours, open wide a world of wonder. We would see as butterflies see, unwrap the hues and patterns and glories hidden in our plain sight.

But first, the darkness.

I was proud to be among the first. The first to shed my bandages. The first to step out into the light. The first to see.

The first to realize our mistake.

We were not meant to see what would break us: those things beyond our understanding, hidden in ultraviolet.

Seeing the unseeable, I realized butterflies would scream if they could.

The Drift
Nina D’Arcangela

Petals sway softly upon the breeze; they twirl, they dance, they float, they soar. Glorious in pale pink, flushed deeper on the edges, how you outshone any other. You began to drift away, I reached for you, but there were so many. You sang as you lifted high upon the current, free from my arms at last. Then the air stilled, you spiraled downward and I, stiff with age, could do nothing.

You settled in a soft plume of vibrant green, a lush cushion to rest your head upon. I watched, I smiled, then a moistened pellet struck, followed by another. The torrent began, you were trampled by the onslaught and I wept for your pain.

A week all that is granted, yet too weak was I to give you even that. Whispers among the branches comfort for next Spring’s thaw, but bent and broken, these limbs heavy, I see the point no longer.

The Dream Beyond
Lee Andrew Forman

Upon the tip of the other side, balancing between a heartbeat and silence, I see only beauty. For what has been, what is now, what will be. It exists between every line, in every place, no matter how obscure and ill-lit. Its brilliance rests even in the face of evil itself—in its purity, its honesty. That visage I know well. I’ve gazed beyond and witnessed its truth. The brute I hunted bested me. The intelligence in its eyes told all.

Rows of razor-bone upon my throat is what brought me here, to this realm between the fragile panes of reality. Its color, its shifting form, a wonder unimaginable. What lies at the end? Where does this journey lead?

Perhaps it is no more than a last shedding of chemicals, a dream to end all dreams, and when it ends, all is swallowed by the void. I’d like to believe it’s a transition, that I wait in a heavenly cocoon, soon to open. I’ll spread wings and soar among clouds.

As the images flicker, something lurks behind them, creeping in the brief glimpses of black. Between each moment of bliss, it shifts toward me, twists its contorted form. As the dark spaces take dominance, I wait for what comes.

Pink
Elaine Pascale

The dogs had been trained to find me.

Their tongues are as pink as the blossoms above me.

I cannot smell the blossoms; I cannot smell me though I am rotten.

Pink was my favorite color.

The ID that they will find of me in my pocket shows me wearing my best pink dress and pink lipstick.

The leaves and dirt that cover me are not pink, but the worms that feast on me are. The leaves and dirt are messy but not as messy as what I left behind. I was considered a hoarder. When they trace my ID back, they will find this out. They will see my pink furniture and sheets and bed coverings, once they brush aside the pink papers and postcards and paper plates.

My insides weren’t pink when they spilled out on the ground. I wish they had been—clean and fresh. Like my apartment had been when I moved in, before I doused it in pink paraphernalia.

The dogs sit in a circle around me. It is only a matter of time before the people discover me.

And only a matter of time before they go to my apartment and move the pink candles, empty bottles, socks, scarves, books, candy wrappers, umbrellas, bags, soap, erasers, and stuffed animals to see the real pink beneath.

My insides weren’t pink when they spilled from me.

But the insides of others were.

The Forlorn
Charles Gramlich

On an unmarked trail of dirt left by animals, under spring trees which provide a roof of lavender petals, I pause my meander. The perfume of blossoms overhead is so overwhelming I can barely think. I do not remember where I come from or how long I’ve been traveling. I do not remember why I began my walk, or even my name. But I know why I’ve stopped.

The mistresses of God are visiting here!

A whisper stirs the petals overhead. A sinuous shape swirls among them, invisible except for the movement of the tree limbs and their burden of blooms. A mauve rain begins, dropping around me, catching in my hair, brushing my face with the exquisite softness of satin.

Aroused, I shed my clothes like a snake molting. The petals keep falling, and now begin to cling to my sweat-wetted skin. Some things from the trees touch me. Their hands feel like bones softened by oceans of time. Their caresses turn me around, and around, and around. Faster and faster.

I begin to spin like a whirlwind, like a dust devil. Painted in all the perfect shades of purple, I spin until my feet drill deep into the soil. I spin until my toes sprout roots and my arms sprout twigs, until I grow up and up toward the sky. Until I join my new lovers in the sacred grove where beauty screens death.

And now we wait. Amidst the forlorn and the sacrificed. For the next visitor to travel this path.

Blue Sky Somewhere
Marge Simon

Thea parts the curtains on the day ahead, then quickly ducks away. Sunlight unfurls from the window panes sparkling on an unused coffee cup and a basket of imaginary rolls. She knows it’s make-believe, a tableau laid out by habit. Useless to pretend she’s one of them beyond her home, but it is all she’s had for centuries.

On the floor, shadows of cherry trees in bloom remind her spring has arrived. How she longed for a glimpse of cobalt sky above the blooming branches,, a sight she treasured on the shores of Attica. Those sweet days, a memory from centuries ago when she was young, unaware her mortality was soon to change. But now the blood of cities bleeds into a wounded sky; the atmosphere so thick with toxic fumes, few mortals dare to walk the streets without a mask.

It seems unfair that she must bear the situation, knowing it was never her intention. But worse, the shrinking population bodes her ultimate demise. She wanders darkened rooms, touching surfaces, feeling the measure of textures, the contrast of cloth and stone, glass and polished wood. Things in her small world she knows so well. Inside things, held dearly but dearer still the feel of sun on skin. A patch of blue sky, there must be a glimpse of it somewhere.

Why wait any longer?

A twist of latch, an open door. She steps into the light.

Pink and White
A.F. Stewart

The sickly sweet smell of cherry blossoms filled the orchard, frosted petals descending into the unexpected spring snow; a layer of soft pink atop the white. Prevalent as the scent was, it did not blot out the undertone whiff of copper nor the smell of decay. And pretty pastel colours couldn’t hide all the stains underneath the layers of warring nature.

Changing seasons swirled against the scars and the silence, and hollow time eager to swallow what once existed here. Not claimed yet, the fallen dead, flesh and bones still marking the place of carnage, their blood feeding the soil beneath the snow. Echoes of the war drifted between the trees, chased by the cruel laughter of the mad gods.

Defiance met with death, and rebellion with ruin, a bloody example to all souls that might rise to grasp at the beckoning wisp of freedom. Hope expired within this orchard, and only soft petals fell like tears on their graves, wrapping the remains in velvet spoils, mounds of pink and white. 

Pretty in Pink
Ian Sputnik

“Let’s play a game,” the two boys had suggested to her. Minutes later, Ed and Rob began to wrap the chains around Katrin, despite her protests. They left her bound to the witching tree as they scampered away across the white blossom that blanketed the orchard floor. Glancing back they could see her struggling to get free, her pink dress already stained by the rusty metal.

Rumour had it that those found guilty of practicing the dark arts would be tethered to the tree and left there to die.
As they hid in a ditch at the other end of the field, they could hear her screams of panic turn into sobs of despair. Then all went silent.

Returning some time later, they found her gone. The chains hung from the tree, blood dripping from the links.
They ran, screaming from the scene.

At school assembly after the weekend the headmaster announced that Katrin had gone missing and said that anyone who had information regarding her whereabouts should come forward. The two boys remained silent. They had made a pact never to tell anyone about what had happened.

It wasn’t until the following year that they returned to the orchard. They stood mouths open as they took in the scene before them. This year the blossom was bright pink in colour not its usual white.

They were startled by a voice from behind them. It was Ed’s annoying sister, who must have followed them from his house.

Rob’s mouth turned into a menacing smile as he looked at Emma standing there in her blue dress.
“You ever seen blue blossom?” he asked  Ed.

Ed smiled back and then said to Emma “let’s play a game.”

Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2022

Homecoming

I took another gulp of my drink. The room swirled and I felt sick.

I lit yet another cigarette, one of far too many that I consumed that night. As I breathed in the smoke I played with my lighter. It was a brass Zippo petrol lighter that my parents had given me so many years ago. Although my father was completely against me being a smoker, he abhorred the idea of me sucking on those ‘coffin nails’, he still didn’t begrudge me possessing an instrument of my doom.

He had passed away a few years earlier. I sat there, blind drunk, with a cigarette in one hand and a large glass of neat vodka in the other, flicking my lighter and thinking of him. 

I found myself in my garden with no memory of how I had gotten there. So drunk that gaps of that evening, and of my life were the norm. I looked out across the dark of my lawn and called out to my only friends, the foxes that would visit me. 

I’d started feeding them a year or so earlier.  Even though they’d just take the food and run, I still considered them my pals. It warmed my cold heart to see them tuck into whatever I had decided to put in their bowl each night. 

I heard a rustle in the hedges at the top of my garden and saw one approach. It was beautiful. Its coat was a glorious red with white on the end of its tail. It walked towards me with much more confidence than it usually had. 

As it got within a few feet I fell to the floor. Slumped in my stupor, it continued to advance. Its eyes reflected the light from my kitchen window. They burned bright and they warmed me. As it inched closer, I was lost in the orange glow of them. Its teeth were a brilliant white, and they smiled at me with such affection that I wept. I smiled back with drool dripping from my lips and down my chin. 

I found myself being pulled into its fiery gaze. I was drawn into those orbs of orange as they fixed intently on the wreck of a man that was crumpled on the ground in front of it. Each time its eyelids blinked I heard a click and the light that reflected from them flickered. I could feel the heat from them warming my face and It felt so good.

From a distance, I could hear pitiful screaming. The sound grew in intensity, as did the heat. The fox now sat with its face mere inches from my own. I was now engulfed by its flaming eyes. 

I suddenly had a moment of clarity in my alcohol-addled brain. I had not walked into my garden at all. I was still slumped in my living room. The clicking of the fox’s eyelids was me clicking on my Zippo. The fiery eyes were the flames that engulfed me. With the spilling of my glass of vodka and the sparks from my constant flicking of my lighter, I had set myself ablaze. As the sounds of screaming ebbed, the vision of the animal returned. It moved so close that I could feel its breath on my face and it spoke to me. The voice was human. It was the voice of my father. “Time to come with me, son,” it said.

Ian Sputnik

© Copyright Ian Sputnik. All Rights Reserved.

Bauble

Alice looked at the exhibit in front of her. She tried activating it. She ran her hand over the smooth panels that were presented to her, but none seemed to work. She guessed that the power banks on them had expired, but could not reach the other panels as they were set too high. She was angry that this unit was obviously set for taller people. At just eight years old she was frustrated that the exhibits at the World Fair were always aimed at adults, especially as this one was held over the Christmas holidays.

She wandered off, leaving her mum to check out the other attractions; but those queues were so long, and Alice didn’t like waiting in line. This one was set way back, right on the edge of the perimeter, and no queue at all. It was such a tall tent, she just had to investigate.

“Hey, careful with that,” came a gruff voice from behind her.

She jumped sideways in a startled fright, not knowing he was there, and removed her grip from the latest panel that she had tried to get some sort of response from.

“I’m sorry mister,” she muttered. “But I think it’s broken already.”

“It’s not broken. It’s working just fine,” he snapped back.

“But what does it do?”

“Do? Do? It does everything, and at the same time, nothing. It’s a perpetual machine. It’s far more superior than the other exhibits here. It’s self powering. Ever heard of a self powering machine?” he asked.

“Alice, Alice?” a panicked voice came from somewhere outside.

Alice turned to leave; but not forgetting her manners, stopped and thanked the man for his time, adding, “It’s different, but kind of dumb.”

The man just smiled and gave her a wink.

She exited and ran towards her mother, smiling as she was lifted off her feet and given a huge hug.

“How many times have I told you not to leave my side?” her mum scolded her.

The old man gave them both a wave and, reluctantly, Alice’s mother smiled and waved back. He was not the sort of person that she wanted her daughter talking to. He looked strange. His clothes appeared tattered and he had an unnerving look about him.

Alice and her mother walked away over the metal platelets that covered the ground, each one lighting against the darkening night as they trod on them.

“Have you had your packed lunch?” her mother asked.

Alice took out a rehydration pill and then her favourite ‘rhubarb and custard’ one. To Alice, and anyone her age that had taken them, rhubarb and custard was just a taste and nothing more.

Bill decided to close down for the day. It didn’t seem worth staying open when no one apart from that one little girl had bothered to visit his ‘Last tree on earth’ exhibit. ‘Last tree?’ that was an understatement. He hadn’t seen another piece of organic flora in twenty years; not since his best friend, Gerry, had thrown his ailing rosebush into the incinerator.

He looked back solemnly. The elm’s leaves, although large, we’re starting to turn a greyish brown. He hadn’t managed to find any fresh soil for longer than he could remember. And as for liquid H2O, or water as it used to be called, that was getting scarcer by the day.

He ran his hands up against the bark and smiled to himself. “Well, my old friend, looks like you’re as about as outdated and unwanted as me.”

He poured an acid compound around the roots. After climbing its trunk and walking the length of its longest and highest branch, he smiled, and at the same time wept. He remembered the historic practice of hanging decorations from real trees this time of year. As he let himself drop with a noose around his neck, there was a quick snapping sound that reverberated around his head for a split second. Within that brief moment he couldn’t help but see the irony of his actions. For, although it wasn’t a fir or pine, he truly would be the last Christmas Bauble that hung from a real tree.

~ Ian Sputnik

© Copyright 2021 Ian Sputnik. All Rights Reserved.

Heaven Didn’t Wait

What is on the other side? Throughout my investigations, I had been told many things. From utopia to dystopia. From everlasting peace to damnation. I had to see for myself and could not wait for the natural timeline of my life to play out before I discovered the true answer. I had to know now.

So, I stepped across the sacred bridge between life and death by my own hand. A brief moment of pain; no drama, just a feeling of panic as the life ebbed from my veins.

I awoke in darkness with the sound of trudging feet beside me. As I looked up I saw an immense line of the departed walking onwards along a barren path through dust and ash. I joined that line and followed the ranks of that march.

After an excruciatingly long trek, I saw a huge structure ahead of us. It appeared to be an archway with walls that stretched as far as the eye could see. We all quickened our pace, our final goal just another day or so away. Eventually, the line paused as we took in the sight that befell us.

Heavy gates lay impudent on the ground. If these were the pearly gates, they had lost their protective purpose as well as their sheen a long, long time ago. They were rusted and sat decaying in the dry dirt. The walls were scorched and crumbling. The towers were smashed and their stones lay in piles around their foundations.

All around me the shadows of the dead walked with no direction, desire or hope. They were now beaten and defeated souls. As I looked beyond the queue of the devastated dead, I saw hordes of millions, no, billions huddled and howling in the distance.

It was at that moment my predicament finally hit home, like a knife through the heart. The words in the holy book were only based on truth up until a certain point in time, and everything thereafter was a lie. The war in heaven had not been won. Neither side had been victorious. No heaven above, not even a hell below. The two sides had fought to the bitter end. If any had survived, they had long since fled. Either way, they had not been here for many an aeon. All the almighty could offer us was far from redemption, only the burnt remains of an epic battle – his last stand. And beyond our mortality, no last refuge, no final hope. There was, in fact, nothing but an eternity of existing amongst the ruins of Armageddon.

Ian Sputnik

© Copyright Ian Sputnik. All Rights Reserved.

Sowing the Seeds


Andy looked at the bowl of cereal that sat in front of him.

“What’s this?” He complained.

“Muesli.” His wife replied. “You know what the doctor said. Now, when I get back from my sister’s I want you to have finished the whole box. There’s enough there for the week.”

She placed a kiss on his forehead before heading to the front door; a wheeled case in tow.

He reluctantly spooned the ‘chicken feed’ into his mouth. It had the consistency of cardboard and didn’t taste any better.

Within an hour he winced in pain. Strange sounds were emanating from his stomach.

He decided to retire to bed, hoping a lie down might make him feel better. He took a bottle of water with him; he was so parched.

Lying in bed, he attempted to reach for the bottle; that incredible thirst was driving him insane.

 To his utter dismay his arms refused his commands. His joints seemed fused, like a statue.

***

Andy’s wife returned and called out to him.

Not finding him downstairs, she made her way up to the bedroom. Halfway up the stairs she saw Andy’s foot protruding from the bedroom; it spasmed and thudded against the wooden frame. She feared he was having a heart attack.

She gasped. The foot was connected to what was left of his body by a tangled twine of branches. On the bed, a knotted mess of brambles. The only evidence that this was Andy was his head at the end of a crude interpretation of a spinal column, constructed of a stem of thorns. Andy’s face contorted as he let out a silent scream.

His wife fainted.

Unconscious on the floor, vines slowly reached out to her body. He was desperate for the rehydrating properties contained within.

∼ Ian Sputnik

© Copyright Ian Sputnik. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 45

DW_45

Drops
Nina D’Arcangela

With each tear that fell from her cheek, another drop of laudanum fell from the pipette. Chewing her lower lip, she wondered if the choice she’d made was a just one. Closing her eyes, she drew forth a fond memory of her once vital son laughing as he played – a sound she’s not heard in some time. Her knees buckled as her resolve strengthened. A few more drops and his pain would be ended. Climbing the stairs, the glass of apple juice trembling in her hand, she choked back her own wail of agony.


Elixer
RJ Meldrum

The last tank was empty. The desalination plants were redundant, there was no seawater left. The humidity collectors had been scrapped, the air was too dry. It was over.

The vial was found in a storage room in an abandoned hospital. Five milliliters of distilled water. It wasn’t enough to share; it was too much to waste. It was a token; it wouldn’t prolong anyone’s life, but before the end came, it was decided to allow one lucky person to have it. A lottery was held.

It was a public event. The winner was paraded on the stage; they were to drink the contents in front of everyone else. It was partly because the elders wanted to share the moment with the community, partly because they wanted to make it clear that it was over, that their world would soon end. They wanted to calm the population, force them to accept their fate calmly. It failed.

As the winner ascended the stairs to the platform, the crown surged and stormed the stage. The vial, the last water on Earth, was knocked out of the winner’s hand, the fragile glass smashing. As the contents drained away, the crowd, the last remnant of humanity, destroyed each other.


Just One Drop
Marge Simon

Dr. Wang Yin Ho, MD, MS, HPLC

11287 47th St. N.E.

Ste. 334

Laurel Canyon Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90046

Dear Dr. Ho:

We are pleased to inform you that your Agent DK-45 has passed rigorous testing and is fit for distribution. to the masses. Just as promised, no other drug has proven so effective and easy to administer. Moreover, only one drop mixed with extender has proven sufficient for hundreds of inoculations. With support from Senators Epstein and Bortz, the FDA has approved it to be processed and sold by a pharma company of the Party’s choice. 

Congratulations for formulating a cure for all viruses, even if they mutate. Equally important, the side effects are crucial to preserving the interests of the Party; after immunization, citizens will believe whatever is told them by the current Party President. As specified, injections shall be given directly into the brainstem.

It is regrettable you were unable to come forth with an antidote, “just in case”. In compliance with the fine print in your contract, you are to be manually terminated within the next twelve hours. Kindly use that time to settle your affairs.

Your heroic service is much appreciated.

Vladimir Naronkov

Nikolas Obanovitch

Polymorph Analysis Specialists


Treatments
A.F. Stewart

He moaned as the syringe plunged into his arm, as the chemicals pumped into his veins. Pain cycled through his body again and his muscles spasmed. The murmur of the doctors drifted against the whir of machines monitoring his vital signs. Part of him wanted to laugh hysterically. ‘Treatments’ they called these daily sessions, essential to his rehabilitation.

Torture, he called it. Brainwashing.

As the drugs coursed into his blood, into his brain, he tried to hold on to his memories, to his resolve. To the brief, bittersweet liberty he had known. For a few weeks, he had been free to view the world as he saw fit, not how the world government dictated. Before they discovered his secret and dragged him here.

That autonomy was over now. It was only a matter of time. The drug regimen would erase his thoughts, his memories, his will. Soon he would be a good citizen once more, the perfect slave to society.

He moaned as another needle slid into his arm.


Miracle
Mark Steinwachs

A miracle drug. Aren’t they all? Science is wonderful but it doesn’t mean shit in here. Or at least it didn’t until the scientists figured out that this magic potion determined if you were a good or bad person as it sent you to your death. They told us about it, not like we understood all the fancy doctor speak. They wanted it to go over our heads. We don’t matter in their eyes. Anyway, it was something about brainwaves and happiness or terror as the person died. Our days were numbered at that point. If we died happy then we were better off than wasting away here. If we died in terror then we didn’t deserve what little we had.

My cell slides open, an officer and a death dealer walk in. None of us resist, it’s pointless. I lay on my bunk. I know what I am, and where I’m going.


Reflections Within
Charles Gramlich

In the slow drip of heavy water, the eye of God reflects the face of the demon in my mouth.

All gangrenous lips and bright teeth, he shreds throats to the arteries. He melts bone to fluid.

In the vacuum, from the absence, I call to the light that screams for release, that begs to fall.

Only in the slow drip of blood am I alive.


Banishing Monsters
Scarlett R. Algee

I should be off work—it’s two days before Christmas—but instead I’m dosing inmates. It’s better this way, the warden says. It gets “the unpleasantness,” as he calls it, out of the way.

The door separating my office space from the infirmary is steel, but the prisoner screaming in that next room may as well be in here for how loud she is, the weighty metal chair she’s strapped to scraping the concrete floor despite the sedative I’d administered before the serum. Turns out even propofol won’t stop the howls or the thrashing; I can practically hear her vocal cords tearing, her bones breaking and shifting as the serum makes them reform themselves. I don’t have to look through my door’s observation window to know that by the time her transformation’s exhausted her, she’ll be a limp, gaunt, nearly lifeless thing: four-inch talons projecting from her toes and fingers, two-inch fangs breaking through her upper lip to overlap the bottom.

I don’t have to see it in this one, because I’ve seen it in the others. Eyes with newly-slitted pupils glazed over by agony. Hungry mouths spilling saliva, but too weak to feed. Easy to deal with, this unpleasantness: easy to drag them outside. Even in the weakest winter sun, it’s over in five minutes. The warden has, at least, justified it to himself: we’re banishing monsters. Nobody can call it murder if we’re not killing humans.

My office is older than the infirmary itself: the staff door opens directly outside. I unlock it and shove it ajar. This vial of serum yields one last dose into a syringe, and on the threshold, I shove the needle into my neck and plunge the liquid home.

Then I stumble out into the sunlight, and wait for the pain to come.


Drink, Drip, Dibble
Lydia Prime

‘If you violate the deal in anyway, he’ll have never known, nor loved you.’ Niustafa’s words echoed inside Kevin’s skull.

Kevin sipped the clear liquid; it didn’t take as long as he’d expected. Seamlessly, he was standing over himself, watching while the alternating shades of blue danced across his features. His mouth leaking acidic foam. Well, that’s attractive… he thought; his right arm dangling out of the porcelain bath, barely clutching that freeing glass vial.


God Bless Us Everyone
Ian Sputnik

I tapped on the bedroom door, used my back to push it open, and entered carrying the tray. I wished Mum good morning, and she wished me a merry Christmas. As she sat up, I put the platter on her lap and bent to kiss her forehead. She asked when Gemma, my sister, would arrive. I told her soon. She smiled and took a sip of tea before tucking into her marmalade-on-toast breakfast.

“Time for your medication, Mum,” I said as I counted the drops from the pipette onto her tongue. She complained of being tired and wanted a few more minutes rest, but demanded I didn’t let her oversleep, as there was so much to be done in preparation for Christmas. I tucked her back in and kissed her head again, knowing Gemma would not be coming.

Her and her husband had been killed by a drunk driver seven months prior. I’d tried to explain it to Mum, but each day it grew more difficult. Every morning was Christmas to Mum. Every morning she awoke excited with the expectation of seeing Gemma.

I wasn’t sure if it was her I was releasing from the ongoing nightmare, or myself. But I couldn’t break the news to her yet again.


Vial Pleasure
Lee Andrew Forman

I cherish these drops of pain and sorrow. True pleasure lies within, deep inside the elixir — a fine-tuned concoction of select donors that appease my taste. Each was extracted with care, distilled with precise cruelty; a cruelty that sweetens the flow. A not-so-gentle stab of the heart, harsh words rasped on whispered breath, a length of hemp knotted and coarse. Extreme cases demand shivs of metal, a sharpened tool; whatever it takes to enrich the aquiline ecstasy. My tongue grows hungry for more, slaps the roof of my mouth with greed as the next is harnessed to satiate the damp organ that roams my mouth.



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