The Stones

The stones were restless that night. She could hear them clattering and chattering against rock faces and echoing up from the dormant mineshafts. The town had long ago been built into those rocks, blasting and chipping and burrowing its way into ancient granite and quartzite, slate and chert, greywacke and basalt. 

Yet time moves differently there, in the deep. There, veins of silver were newly bled dry for the wealth of people long since passed. There, the shock of trauma had only just begun to fade. In its place rose an ancient fury, a rage she had long awaited.

When the town shook and crumbled, she did not think of its history, of its centennial celebrations, of its museums and plaques celebrating unwelcome conquest. She smiled, thinking like the stones, feeling the relief of swatting a mosquito who had only just landed.

~ Miriam H. Harrison

© Copyright Miriam H. Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

The Store at the Center of Hell

You probably don’t know this, but Hell isn’t all burning pits and brimstone. Hell is cleverer than that. Hell is personal. It picks apart your psyche like the layers of an onion, exposing the torments that are perfect for you. Then, those torments are inflicted on you…forever.

Damn clever, wish I’d thought of it. I really wish I wasn’t part of it.

Every morning I wake in the same small back room. I open the door and head into my store. It isn’t really my store, I woke up here, presumably just after I died. The layout is reminiscent of those old-fashioned general stores you used to find in every small town. Wooden counters and shelves. Tin cans, dry goods. Brands you’d never heard of before. Newspapers for the men, magazines for the ladies, candy and ice cream for the kids. Cigarettes, some booze. Lightbulbs, rubber bands, tin openers; items secreted in dark cupboards, stuff you may only ever need once in your life. Cocktail umbrellas, apple corers.

This is my hell.

It’s not as if I was a storekeeper when I was alive. I was a firefighter. A pretty damn exciting, cool job. The ladies loved me; all I had to do was tell them I was a fireman and…well, I’m sure you can guess. Good times. All I remember of my death was smoke, flames and a collapsing roof. Then, I woke up here.

I don’t know how long I’ve been here. I suppose it doesn’t matter.

At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering where the torment comes in. Running a wee store in hell doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

Well, let me enlighten you. You see, I’m not just playing the role of storekeeper. I am the storekeeper, that’s my whole world. I spend my days dusting and rearranging, fussing over what prices to lower, where to stack my tins. Making sure my newspapers line up with ninety-degree angles. I dream about stock-taking. I am the ultimate, totally consumed, archetypal storekeeper. And who is the natural enemy of all storekeepers? You don’t know? Guess. Correct; shoplifters. Little, shitty thieves, stealing from good, honest, honorable people. To steal, to shoplift, is a crime, it’s a sin, it’s an outrage.

Sorry, got a bit carried away there. I’ll get back to my point. You see, I only have one customer. It’s Old Hob himself. Every day at four o’clock he comes into my store. I’m where I usually am, standing behind my counter. I watch the old bugger wander in, casual as anything. Every day I ask the same question.

“Can I help you with anything, sir?”

The answer is always the same.

“Just browsing.”

I watch him as he wanders around, between the shelves. I watch him as he takes items, examines them and then carefully drops them into the pockets of his long, black coat. I stand, unable to move, unable to speak, while I watch him defile my beautiful store. My blood boils, I feel my blood pressure skyrocket. It feels as if I’m having a stroke. I want to scream, I want to stop him, hurt him, kill him, but I can’t do anything. My soul, my storekeeper’s soul, is rent asunder watching this travesty.

And then, his pockets full of my wonderful goods, he smiles and heads to the door.

“See you tomorrow, storekeeper!”

The door closes behind him and I can finally move. I spend the rest of the day, every day, restocking my shelves, mourning for the lost items. Grieving for the money lost, despairing that I allow this to happen, dreading the next day. My head hurts, my heart aches.

I told you, Hell is clever.

~ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

Supernova

“I am a ticking time bomb,” Penny announced earnestly at dinner.

“That is what the doctor said?” her husband asked, “He literally told you that you were like a bomb, ready to explode at any time?” He stirred his mashed potatoes. She had made them the way she liked: clumpy and with skin. He hated them that way.

She ignored his question. She was not going to answer if it destroyed her narrative. “I am ripe, is what I mean. I could conceive at any moment. We need to be prepared.” She fashioned a few mountains of potatoes onto her plate, adding rivulets of gravy. She topped the potatoes with several large pieces of fried chicken. “I just wish my health were important to you.”

He eyed her plate but said nothing.

She loved to eat. Always had. She ate until it hurt, and she craved that painfully full feeling more than she craved food. If she weren’t in pain from overeating, she felt empty.

“Empty” might be extreme. She was often accused of being dramatic, of exaggerating. It was just that she believed in telling her story, her truth. Once she had a narrative, she stuck to it. The current narrative was that, at nearly 320 pounds, every ounce of her ached with love. And she wanted to give that love to something that was hers. Something that belonged to her.

Her own marriage did not belong to her. It had been constructed by her mother. Penny and her boyfriend had been at a flea market with her mother who had spied a jewelry stand. “This one is perfect, don’t you agree?” Her mother had pointed to a small diamond ring.  “And you won’t find another like it for that price,” she continued, putting him on the spot. There had been no proposal, no celebration, only a pre-worn ring thrust onto her finger, witnessed by tables of tchotchkes, unwanted dolls, and fabrics.

But a baby would be hers by choice and by design. She would lavish affection; she would nurture. She would give this baby the attention she had never received. Her mother could not celebrate others because she was the star of her own movie. While Penny craved food, her mother craved notice. Her mother had been a child actress, scoring a national commercial with a tagline that had been reproduced on t-shirts. She had been the picky eater whose parents found magical pancakes fortified with vitamins and minerals. The girl had eaten so many pancakes she exclaimed (with a syrup-lined mouth), “Imma ‘bout to explode!”

Sometimes people still recognized Penny’s mother. She went to conventions and sat at a table, waiting to autograph old shirts and pancake boxes for $5.00 a pop. She had always told Penny that her career had been about to hit a resurgence when she had become pregnant. She never failed to remind Penny that she was the reason she was seated at folded tables instead of being paraded across red carpets.

Penny knew this was not true and it certainly was not part of her narrative. What was true was she wanted a baby. That had been the impetus for the appointments with teams of doctors. And while she was not conceiving, her waist expanded. Her narrative told her that she was in the second trimester based on the last time her husband had managed to remain sober enough to finish.

“You are not pregnant,” her husband said.

“You are not pregnant,” the doctor confirmed. But her body told a different story. Something was definitely growing inside her. This was proven by an internal ultrasound that showed tiny, glowing specks orbiting her uterus.

“He said they look like stars,” she told her mom proudly.

“What did you expect” her mom asked, bored. “You were on the pill forever and that causes all kinds of problems.” She knew her mother was jealous because Penny had taken some control over her reproductive life.

“Stars are bad?”

“Anything that was not there originally is bad,” her mother sneered, “even a baby. Will the doctor be removing these ‘stars’ and how much will that cost? You know I was planning a cruise.”

Penny’s face burned with anger, a burn slightly less intense than the one she had begun feeling in her lower abdomen. “We have money.”

Her mother scoffed and Penny attributed this to more jealousy.

Tests could not determine the nature of the stars, nor could they ascertain where the distressing abdominal cramps were coming from. “Imma ‘bout to explode,” Penny murmured. She found it difficult to take more than a few steps without having to sit and wait, in agony, for the pain to pass.

When she could no longer pull her elastic-waist pants over her growing abdomen, Penny returned to the doctor.

“Are there more stars?” she asked as he scanned her latest ultrasounds.

“Penny, there is something…a tumor. I am going to take a biopsy and have it sent to pathology.”

“A tumor? Not a baby?” She couldn’t understand what the doctor was saying as it did not support her narrative.

“Penny, we discussed that your difficulty conceiving may be attributed to your weight, which increases each time we see you. At your size it would be dangerous and irresponsible…” she didn’t listen to the rest of his words and instead reminded herself that she would be finishing her third trimester and ready to give birth at any time, like a ticking time bomb.

The pain inside of her made Penny truly feel like a ticking time bomb. She felt full all the time even though her appetite was nonexistent. Despite eating limited bites of food here and there, the scale continued to herald higher and higher numbers. This feeling of fullness was less pleasurable than the one derived from a surplus of food. She reminded herself that there was a growing person inside of her and that the pain was worth it.

She spent most of her time in bed until she was called back to the doctor to discuss the results from pathology. She was to report to the hospital instead of the medical offices and when she arrived there were two doctors in the room. She knew this was unusual but assumed the new doctor would oversee delivery.

Her regular doctor sat on a stool that allowed for sustained eye contact. He spoke slowly and asked her to verify that she understood that the tumor was not made from her tissue or cells, that it was completely foreign.

She repeated the words obediently but had no concept of what they meant, and they were not what she wanted to hear.

The doctors nodded at each other as if working up the courage to continue. “We will be keeping you here. We want to remove the tumor surgically.”

“A c-section?” she gasped.

“No, Penny.” The other doctor approached her and laid a gentle hand on her arm. “There is no baby, only a tumor. I am afraid it is dangerous to your health to not remove it immediately.”

“You’re saying the baby is in danger, or I am in danger, or both?” she asked incredulously.

The doctors exchanged equally incredulous glances. “No baby, Penny. It is only you and you are in danger.”

She allowed them to admit her to the hospital and had them call her mother and husband to see if someone could keep her company. They found a gown large enough to cover her and left her lying on a very narrow bed, waiting for the baby that she knew to be there.

Her pain escalated. “This must be contractions,” she whispered, “the baby may come before the c-section can be performed.” The pain moved down into her bowels, and she hoisted herself out of the bed to enter the very tiny bathroom. She crouched over the toilet, feeling the worst cramps of her life. She simultaneously wanted to push and wanted to avoid the pain of pushing. She groaned and pushed as that aligned with her narrative.

Something wet slid from inside her and she looked down to see a great blob, the size of a pancake, stuck to her thigh. It was bloody and pulsating and it looked to be riddled with stars.

“Oh my…” Penny lifted the blob to her chest and cradled it. She wept and rocked the shimmering sphere in her arms. She carried it with her back to the bed, snuggling it and murmuring to it until it cracked open.

“This isn’t…what is this?” she asked the empty room, as the shell of the sphere crumbled away, exposing tiny, moving spider-like creatures.

Penny reached for her purse and retrieved the magnifying glass she had purchased at the flea market when her husband had been strong-armed into proposing. The creatures crawled over her lap and appeared to be trying to burrow into her flesh.

She heard a gasp and looked up to see her mother. “I am nursing,” Penny said proudly, while the creatures’ miniscule jaws tore into a roll of abdominal flesh.

Her mother screamed and once Penny’s condition was noted, her room became packed with medical personnel. They talked to Penny and took notes and photographs of the strange phenomenon. Penny saw her mother, backed into the corner, red with anger that Penny was now the center of attention.

And this was Penny’s new, happy narrative.

∼ Elaine Pascale

© Copyright Elaine Pascale. All Rights Reserved.

Revelation

Creeping slowly from the deep, the creature within obeys without question – as do the others. The line marches forward; the shelf shallows by inches. All the while, whispers gurgle malicious intent. Too long have they resided below, an army dormant while another presumes apex stature. Alone, they are helpless, hapless, unwitting; far too fragile to cause effect. But together, united by His call, they will once again lay claim for they are legion. Shallow cuts in the sand mark their passage as the echo within grows. It resounds not the hark of angelic horns, but a violent thrumming of reclamation. Lining the shores, they wait as the flaming sky sizzles into crueler darkness.

∼ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’arcangela. 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

Snowflake Sanction

A dream woke Hank Jessup. He’d been a kid again, imagining Santa’s sleigh jingling overhead. Sad that it wasn’t real, Hank took a flashlight and stepped onto his deck for fresh air. Dark pines walled his house. The moon painted his yard in shadows.  

December in southern Louisiana. Christmas Eve. The air hung heavy, humid, warm. He’d lived here thirty years, seen two feeble snows that melted faster than boiled ice. He missed winter; no one should have windows open at Christmas. 

Snow cleanses the world.

Something winked, catching Hank’s eye. He looked up. Hundreds of fat white flakes descended through the moonlight.

Snow! It’s too warm. But what else could it be?

A smile tugged Hank’s lips. He flashed back to childhood Christmases, his last happy times. Snow sledding. Warm soup. Shiny presents. Maybe this snow would cleanse his life, his soul.  

Something like tiny voices caught Hank’s attention. He frowned. Hundreds of flakes had settled to earth now. Another landed on his deck railing. He reached to touch it, pulled suddenly back. It was no snowflake. He turned on his flashlight.

A tiny being cut away its white parachute, then drew a silver tube from its belt. Hank wanted to laugh, and shriek. It was a tiny elf, with yellow eyes and pointed ears. And sharp, sharp teeth.

“Wait!” Hank said as the creature pointed its tube and shouted:

“Merry Effing Christmas!”

A wintry blow stunned Hank. He dropped as if axed.

All over the earth, the same strange snow began to fall.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

A Good Wine

     An old woman stands boning fish. She wipes her forehead with the back of her hand. It leaves a trail of silver scales that match the streaks in her hair. The bones are piled on old newspapers she’s never read. She can’t see the tiny print, only the headline: World Famine. There are always plenty of fish, Thom says. Even after the last bombs that ruined the farmlands. “Fish are like the news, something to get by on.”

     Where the famine is, she doesn’t know. They have no neighbors, no visitors. Her son makes sure to pay the bills, he’s good with figures. All this is done by mail, but no postman has come for days.  Thom usually leaves his boots on the porch, but not this time. She drops the knife when she sees his face.

     “Bad news?” He slumps in a chair, staring at something distant. He’ll tell her when he’s ready, always has. She returns to the fish, arranges a row of neat fillets and covers it with a plate. There are a few potatoes left. They’ll do, if he has brought the shrimp. She doesn’t want to bother him right now, but she must ask. When she gets no response, she touches his arm.

     “Don’t,” he says, pulling away. “They’re gone.” She hears this but doesn’t understand. It’s something bad, she knows that much. In the cabinet under the sink is a bottle. It is time for this bottle. She puts it on the table. He looks up at her, tears in his eyes. “Gone, ma. The fish, the men, the boats. Even mine.”

     She frowns, clicks her tongue. “Then we’ll have to wait,” she says. “Can’t make chowder without shrimp. They’re coming back, aren’t they?” He says nothing. She wraps the fish in the last piece of newspaper. She should ask him to get more, but not now. She pours herself a small glass and smiles. The wine is good.

∼ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.

No Gods Here

Pale water rose and fell against the hull of my boat. The lonely ocean longed for color; all was gray, from the sky to the cold sea. Though my destination was said to be only two miles from the coast, fog wrapped around my solitary vessel—I had the sensation of getting nowhere but lost. If not for my compass, and faith that this land mass existed against the advice of all maps, I would have been.

I was glad to have left the company of the native tribe. The way their eyes stared, the knowing in them—too harsh for my subconscious to ignore. Though I knew they only followed lore and superstition, second guessing the risk of going where no one else would clouded my enthusiasm.

A dark mass appeared in the haze. It seemed my money and troubles had been worthwhile. This tiny rock in the sea was before me. I was there.

Jagged volcanic rock populated the landscape. No signs of life, plant or otherwise. The great chapel didn’t take long to find. Its oversized entrance was built tall enough for the gods to walk through unhindered. Inside, its vaulted ceiling reached into darkness above. Faint illumination entered the structure, no glass saints adorned its design. Only a stone block altar featured any symbolism of worship. A great triangle hung in thin air. No chains suspended it, nothing rested beneath to hold its weight. Magic, I’d heard. But I knew better.

Dust clouded around my boots as I approached. Each footfall shortened my journey, brought me closer to the mystifying object. My palms moistened. After all the knowledge I’d gained throughout my hunt, I still had no revelation as to its purpose. I reached out and put my hand against it. Unlike its cold stone surroundings, it radiated heat. My lips curled in anticipation of discovering its function.

Then a strange feeling arrested my entire body. Both feet lifted from the floor and I rose, weightless, hovered in the air alongside the object. Elation inspired endless possibilities, countless prospects. What power I would have.

White light brighter than the sun beamed from above. Even with both eyes closed, it relentlessly entered my retinas. The air around me boiled. I barely heard my own screams over the hiss of burning flesh.

Before life escaped my meaty shell, darkness returned to the chamber. My wrecked frame dropped to the floor. No longer alone, I looked up to the beings who emerged from the dark. As my limbs twitched with pain beyond pain, I understood the legends and rumors, the fears of the island natives. It all made sense. But these were not gods.

∼ Lee Andrew Forman

© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.

The Scent of Home

That deep rich stink of fried meat always lingered in the apartment, coating the walls, hiding in the corners. It filled my childhood, wafted the taste of home into my brain, and I waited for that smell every time I opened the door. That and the sound of my mother grumbling in the kitchen.

Now the stench of death overpowered it all. And Mother lay on the floor, a knife sticking out of her chest.

Why did I do it? My hand on the knife, her screaming at me, and then…

No planning involved, no premeditation, unless you counted the years of wishing she was dead. The years of dreaming a car would hit her, or her shrivelled heart would give out. I suppose my patience gave out first.

Stabbing her was odd, though. No last accusations, no gasping for breath. A gurgle and some blood, but not as much as I thought. In the movies I watched, knife wounds had more blood. She laid there on the worn tiles, eyes still open and a stain on her blouse, a look of surprise on her face as if she never imagined I’d kill her.

I suppose I never imagined it, either. But it’s done and I can’t take it back.

Not that I’d wanted to.

Calling the police was out of the question; I wouldn’t go to jail for her. I needed an excuse for her absence. The neighbours hated her, with little chance they would question her absence if I told the right story. I was her only family, so no worries there. What to say if anyone asked? Maybe… maybe she just moved into a retirement home? She’d been complaining about getting old, about how hard it was to live alone. That might work. Tell people I moved Mother into a home and pack up her things.

What about the body?

The freezer maybe? Hide her under all that meat? Or better yet, make her part of that meat. How hard would it be to cut up a body? I smiled at the meat cleaver hanging on the wall, next to all of my late dad’s butcher tools. It’d be apt, considering she drove him to an early grave.

Let’s see how rusty I am at the old trade.

Several hours of work and frustration later, I had Mother packaged nicely, pieces of her neatly wrapped in brown freezer paper and stored under the hamburger and the pork chops. I scrubbed down the kitchen and the bathroom, and tidied myself up, before noticing a parcel of Mother still sitting on the counter.

How did I miss that one?

I stared at the slab of Mother for a moment and then grinned. Why not? It seemed fitting. 

So I got out the frying pan and the butter, and once more the deep rich stink of fried meat filled the apartment.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2021 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.