Tiny bones arranged on a bed of cotton. A single daffodil snuggled in golden glory and lavender sprigs – an offering of love and fidelity. A stone from the garden to keep her beloved grounded; Lucy’s favorite toy sacrificed so she’d never be alone. To say her tears could fill a sea would be an understatement, though today they flowed with intent as each drop was captured in a small heart-shaped vial. Once stoppered, this too was placed with care. A final relic, the band she wore the day she came home. A watershed moment in a life yet unlived. With broken heart, the young one spoke the words only an eight year old’s grief could conjure before the lid was sealed and the small box buried at the base of Great-grans favorite tree.
As they turned to walk back to the house, the ground rumbled, the clouds darkened, and the tree began to shake. Brilliant fingers of light spread below them; enchanted, the child ran back to the tree. She hugged the bark and called out to her beloved Lucy, and Lucy answered in vibrant hues of orange yellow and red. As the phoenix burst through the canopy, the young girl began to scream. Flesh melted from bone. Blood ran free to quench the earth. Flaxen strands crisped in the heat.
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.
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.
Stone fucking cold. An awareness that emanates from within. I’ve always believed the most grievous pain would come from what is held inside, from emotional wounds that take more than what forever is offering to heal; I was wrong. The worst pain of all is being empty, drained, a vacuous core, a dull resonating hollow that allows for nothing – not even the sting of its own frigid harshness.
What then remains?
The echo – a concurrent wave. The thunderous slamming of logical thought, things I know to be true and by virtue of their own truth, to be right – just no longer right here.
The shadow – of what was conscious feeling; a memory. The memory of warmth, reaching out to it, grasping it; confusion at being sliced to ribbons on its brittle fractured edge, its tensile strength less than that of my own. For once I make contact with it, it can be nothing more than what I am: cold, empty, invisible, alone; the reality of full awareness.
The roar – perhaps the most heinous of all, but no, the echo is far worse for it is the remnant of the roar. Self-recrimination screaming in my head that this is my mind, my sacred territory, my imminent domain to control; my folly, so it would seem. Comical, though I have no laughter to spare in this moment. The thought that my own strength of will, my conscious pattern of thought exerted under strict control for so long – what I consider to be my euphemistic beating heart – would never grow cold. The mocking echo is utterly relentless.
I am a creature of science, one who ascribes to chaos theory. In chaos there is random order to be found that given enough time becomes specified; thus, specified random order within chaos. Some would argue the merit of this statement to be the antithesis of chaos itself, simply order if it is to be qualified as specific; and order is not chaos. But if chaos creates order, and order forms pattern, is it not then a foregone conclusion that the rigid stricture of order will in all occurrences destroy the fluidity of chaos thereby no longer allowing for the existence of the chaos that created the order that formed the pattern that left me stone fucking cold?
I’ll opt to believe in chaos, in the randomness of the order and the disorder that it also brings. I’ll choose to feel the nothing that gnaws a pit through my existence as there is something worth feeling the nothing for. What that something is – herein undefined.
It’s something that was created by chaos, and is being consumed by the stricture of random structure. It is a string that unifies me with a plane that is a more desired reality, a place where warmth still exists – where an echo is to be feared no more than a comforting howl carried along with the breeze.
We saw it drifting… just a dust cloud at sunset and we looked away. We were busy playing games… dodgeball and tag, racing with nightfall and impending parental calls for dinner, baths and bedtime. We had no time for dust clouds. But when night time fell and our parents never called we paid attention. The cloud was already on us—a twisting fog tainted green, illuminated and glowing from somewhere within. We stopped our games to listen and heard our parents screaming. A writhing tempest obscuring twilight breezes with hot, acrid stench filled our familiar suburban streets. There was no running. We were already home with nowhere to go on a school night. Helpless, stunned and overwhelmed, we joined our parents without protest.
Vile Nights Lee Andrew Forman
As the light of day begins to hide below the horizon, its final glow casts fleeting hope on those who dwell beneath its last rays. They know how short their joy is, so on long summer days they rejoice the seemingly languid time. Once darkness reaches over the clouds, and halogen bulbs flash to life over the not-so-sleepy town, prayers go unheard, muffled by thick atmosphere. The overbearing weight makes even a subtle breath too dense.
The flooding of artificial luminescence over every inch of land does little to slow the nightly feeding. One by one they crawl from the trees and search for sustenance. The food supply has dwindled over time, but they won’t be sated until not a morsel is left.
No one knows what afflicted the children, what made them change. Not a mother, father, or sibling understands why their own blood has turned vile and ravenous. They only wish it would end.
Tangerine Sky Nina D’Arcangela
They said the dome would cleanse the air; that if we waited, it would be safe again. And for a while, it was. Greens were more verdant than they’d ever been, almost surreal in their crisp contrast to other hues. The valley was a lush haven in a dying world. We were lucky, as lucky as anyone could hope given the cataclysmic shift the planet had undergone. The science worked, we were proof of it. Plans were put in place to build more domes; to terraform our own Earth, rebuild the civilization that once existed.
Then the air machines stopped one day. No rhyme, no reason, they just stopped mid-rotation. Scientists and engineers did their best to repair them, but nothing had failed; they’d simply gone dormant. We tried to ignore the latency, to carry on as if it would bear no consequence on our future. We breathed, we ate, we lived a simile of the life we once knew. Then someone noticed it, a wisp of fog to the west. It seemed harmless, just an inexplicable anomaly. But as time progressed, so did the wisp – it grew into a fog that hugged the ground like false snow. When it encircled the mills, it seemed to split into fingers as though a hand were reaching into our bubble from the corrupt exosphere. Another wisp formed where the first petered out.
Every day, as I walk the commune, I feel its, no, her gaze upon me. She whispers to me each night, and her lullabies hold no hope for a future. She is sentient, of that I’ve no doubt, I only ask that she take us before the new are born.
Before the Mist Miriam H. Harrison
Before the mist, there had been life. There had been birdsong and beauty. There had been the tender bloom of possibility, the lush green of promise. There had been laughter and languid days, moments that stretched long and sweet like taffy, without fear of what would come. We had no reason for fear, then. No reason to run, to flee, to scream—before the mist.
The Detour Marge Simon
There are streets in the little city that are always under construction. The disposal crews arrive to move the Detour signs. No one questions them, it’s approved as standard maintenance. None inquire after the families who once lived on those streets. A neat row of older homes lines the block where the old man lives. He saw them cordon off the street a week ago. The yellow tape is up, the flashing pyramids installed to warn away incoming traffic.
This day he joins the neighbor’s dog to nap on his front lawn. Dozing off, he finds the edge of the afternoon. He lets his mind explore until he discovers a crack. He curls his fingers into it and it feels delicious. For a moment, he stops to indulge the pleasant sensation. He’s had this feeling before. Like the time he reeled in that five-pound bass on Lake Richard, summer of ’53. Or maybe his first night with his beloved Mandy, that had to be around then, too. A year’s worth of pleasurable surprises. He wills his mind further into the opening. How strange, how wonderful to own a crack in the afternoon! He dreams deeper into the fissure. There is something unknown and twisted. It moves along the rim of a black void. All that was familiar fades as he is sucked inexorably toward the dark. He hears the clink of chains, the tread of many feet. An open mouth, a scream with no sound. Then the fear begins. It rises to a flood that leaves him moaning in his sleep.
“You can go now.” The voice is soft and very clear. He can see the silhouette of her head as she bends close, feel her breath stirring the hairs over his temple.
“Mandy, I –”, he starts to say, but she puts her cool fingers on his lips.
“It’s all right, William. We’ll be just fine.”
The dog beside him whimpers as it licks his face. He blinks back the dream, noticing the house up the street is gone. He puts his tongue into the crack of his hands, tastes the salt of his flesh. Then he lies back, closing his eyes. Very soon now, it will be time to take the Detour.
Fog of War Charles Gramlich
Stirred by dawn, a fog rises. It creeps the forest until a narrow defile between hills beckons it downward. It flows quicker now, like water, like a flood. And like a flood, it picks up debris.
But this debris is not leaves and twigs and fallen tree limbs. This debris is souls. A thousand dead souls. A hundred thousand. Animal. Insect. Spider. Leached from buried bones, or from the remnants of broken carapaces and exoskeletons.
And all these souls are screaming. As they screamed when they died. Out of pain. Out of a last desire to strike back at their killers.
At the foot of the hills lies a small rural community. Houses and streets still sleep soundly so early in the new day. The fog rolls over these houses, seeps within through cracks or open windows.
In the ears of the sleeping people, the screams of the myriad dead echo. Men and women and children stir as the agony and hate of numerous tiny souls seeks to burrow within. For a few…bad dreams. Most people never notice anything.
But the dogs notice. In their dank kennels. In yards and barns. Or sleeping at the feet of their masters.
The dogs notice. And they rise. Their eyes turn black with despair. Before their teeth turn red with slaughter.
Once in a Millenia A.F. Stewart
The land remembered, even if the town had forgotten. Distant ancestors raised monuments, told their stories, but over time people laughed at the continued warnings, dismissed it as superstitious folklore, letting the markers and wards fade into the foliage and earth. The land welcomed back the magic and reclaimed their rejected gifts, leaving the town unprotected and oblivious to their peril.
The birds gave the first sign, flying away in flocks. The animals followed, deserting homes, farms, and forests. Tension prickled and tempers flared, but still the people remained, never dreaming of the fate awaiting them.
Until the day the fog rolled in…
A bitter, frigid cold heralded its arrival, forcing the people inside behind closed doors. Then the mist flowed soft and silky, winding down from the hills to caress the land in an icy kiss. It slithered and stalked, creeping in through the cracks, surrounding and smothering. It chilled the skin and choked the breath as smokey tendrils forced their way down every throat.
As they died, coarse whispers pounded in everyone’s ears.
Come join us in Hell…
The Curtain Elaine Pascale
“Don’t drink the water…”
When we were children, and the curtain came down, we thought they tried to protect us. But the curtain made us ugly, freakish.
The pretty ones were pulled away prior to the curtain, even though the government swore there had been no advance warning.
“Don’t eat local produce…”
There is not much for us in terms of opportunities or industry. Those of us that remain are simply not allowed to leave.
“You are not to reproduce. That has been taken care of.”
The curtain was a wave of toxins. It ate away at many of our organs, leaving us feeble. Our bodies rotted. Not one of us has symmetry in our features or our appendages.
“You will wait until we find a cure.”
Our faces and bodies were corroded, but our brains remained intact. Some would say heightened as we had no other motivation but to study the curtain.
And to wait.
It wasn’t long until we realized that there was no cure. We understood that those who had been deemed special had been saved. We knew that they were not coming back for us.
We used our isolation to our advantage.
“The animals must be slaughtered. It is the humane thing to do.”
‘Humane’ is defined by who says it. We did not want to go the way of the animals. We studied the curtain; we explored its substance. We investigated and found that the toxin lived within us.
But it could be extracted.
And it could be weaponized.
And it could make the pretty ones not so pretty anymore.
We no longer wait. Waiting means a ‘humane’ termination. We have other plans, and we will be the ones to define what is ‘humane.’
Incel Dreams Harrison Kim
I let a woman into my world. She had wiles, and wild looks, her smile took me for a ride. I opened my mind, and she permeated my whole existence with her smile, then sank into it, and stayed grinning within. Now I fly above my dream world, my night mind, also called my ego, in the shape of an eagle, searching for the whiteness of her teeth, a glint shining behind the canopy of trees, or the cream stripe where her hair separates in the middle of her head, as she runs among the moonflowers. If I see that white stripe moving, I will drop fast as a stone, grasp her scalp with my predator claws and pull her out.
She will return everything she took, my dignity, my pride and identity, my sense of reality and self. She’s a parasite within my head, taking all my energy, laughing at how easily she took over.
I cannot find her. I only hear that laughter.
When I rise from this dream, into the shared world outside, I shall buy a gun. I can’t be an eagle in the shared world, but I can still be a human hunter. I may not possess her body in my mind, but I will find it living on the waking city streets. Tomorrow, I will make sure she will only exist within me, and not for anyone else, ever again.
I whirl above the canopy that covers the surface. “Why did you make me love you?” I call again and again. I fly in faster circles. Her voice responds from my ego below, louder and louder, and I hear it clearly now. “Because I could.”
Little does this taunting invader know the way I will clear her from my mind.
He remembered lying in a hospital bed. An elderly physician was sadly shaking his head. Clutching his hand tightly, his wife wept. All went blank, so he knew he must be dead, but suddenly, awareness returned with the vision of an old house. He willed entry, passing effortlessly through a set of double doors and climbing up a rickety stairway. At the top were three closed doors of different colors. “These must be Heaven’s Doors,” he mused aloud. “How extraordinary! I thought there was but one.”
It was very hot on the Heavenly level. The tiled floor was spotless, the air reeked of disinfectant. He approached the bright red door on his left and tried the knob. As it swung open, he was half blinded by a brilliant light. Agonized shrieks and moans issued from an unknown source. Horrified, he slammed it shut, looking to his right. This door was painted sky blue. Someone had tried to break into it, the wood had been dented as if by the pounding of fists. The knob wouldn’t turn and came away in his hand. Finally, he addressed the remaining middle door, which was a dingy white. It opened slowly to reveal a blackness thick with portent. The music of a cello lured, a daunting challenge he couldn’t ignore. He found himself plunging forward into the core of that Unholy Dark, which was when the voices begin chanting. In a matter of seconds, his identity was shredded as he was sucked into the infinite wailing vortex known as The Hereafter.
Outside, dark clouds gathered above the old house. Quietly it began to rain.
The Old Man Tolls Lee Andrew Forman
The music of hardship sounded from broken windows—repeated clangs of iron, a monotonous rhythm, mesmerizing in tune. Despite harsh notes, it drew me in. Was this old lot to be restored to its once meaningful design? Was it to be loved and cared for?
Inside, an ancient, gray-skinned man hammered away upon hot metal. He didn’t dare interrupt his focus to acknowledge my entry. I watched him work. His thin frame impressed with its tireless effort. Despite frail and stringy muscles wielding heavy tools, he never lost pace.
He appeared to be crafting shackles. Maybe the old fool intended to raise a farm. Upon my inquiry, he stopped his perfect tolling and looked up. His eyes first went to me, then directed to my back. His yellowed teeth showed themselves. “I have to keep it here.”
I turned around to a wall of flesh, a living tapestry of pulsating skin. It spread from floor to ceiling, reached to corners with grotesque humanoid limbs. It was already tethered to the floor by an arrangement of cuffs and chains. It looked upon me with its many eyes. Arms grew from its surface at will, reached for me as they lengthened. I stepped back and thanked God they could only grasp so far.
Hands pressed upon my back. My breath stopped. In that moment, I realized their intent. Before I could protest, my face was already pushed into the malleable conglomeration of animate skin. It enveloped me in a taut grasp and held firm. Slime covered every inch of me. I soon felt naked, clothes dissolved. My every nerve burned like fire. The world became pain. But the old man’s toll kept me company as by body was slowly digested.
School Days Charles Gramlich
Grade school in a small town. I remember it fondly. Two rooms for six grades—three in each room with a dining area and big bathrooms in the rear for boys and girls. I lived close enough to walk to classes every weekday morning before 8:00 o’clock. It was always nice to see the bright yellow paint of the building shining as I came through Thompson’s meadow right up to the twin doors.
Of course, I remember that one day. How could I forget. Stepping into school, hanging my coat on the hook in the hallway, turning into Sister Ethlereda’s classroom on the right. That’s where grades 4 through 6 were taught. I remember taking my seat, eager to start a lesson about Ancient Rome and its legions
I remember the sound of backfiring cars in the parking lot out front. But when I looked out the window, it wasn’t a car at all. The two young men coming up the walkway were not in any grade in our school. I didn’t know them. Then.
But I know them now. They’re very sad and we hang out every day together, those two and the thirteen other kids they shot that day before the police shot them. Yes, we hang out every day. And every night.
I don’t go home anymore.
None of us do.
Beneath the Boards Elaine Pascale
“It’s a gold mine!”
“It’s a money pit.”
It was both and neither. It was abandoned but not uninhabited. The couple did not live long enough to sink money into it nor to have a return on investment.
“It’s so quaint.”
Something lurked beneath the floorboards, eradicating any charm the building may have had. The dwelling stored more than knick-knacks. The woman’s tchotchkes were donated following her death.
“This could be my sanctuary.”
It is hard to find peace when the beast beneath the boards growls so loudly. And smells so strongly. And eats so ravenously.
“It’s big enough for all of us.”
Not big enough to completely fill the appetite of the beast who appreciated the smorgasbord it was served.
“It just needs some TLC.”
The renovations disturbed the beast’s slumber. No one wants to encounter the beast beneath the boards when it is overly tired.
“It’s so rustic.”
Far enough away from everyone that cries won’t be heard, and help will not arrive.
“It has good bones.”
The beast beneath the boards has gnawed on its share of good bones.
“I have heard about this place. Is it cursed?”
And the beast beneath the boards waits.
Unwanted House Guests A.F. Stewart
The doorknob rattled, a sure sign someone was coming.
“Is it time?” came a whisper.
“It’s been so long.”
“It has. Years since the last one.”
“Don’t talk about him. He wasn’t a good fit. Not what we needed at all.”
“No, not the right sort. Very… short-lived.”
“He was so promising at first, so carefree… but he didn’t last.”
“No. He had too many… issues. A shame really.”
“Maybe a family will come this time. They always—wait, is that a car?”
“Oh, I believe it is.”
The voices stilled, and they heard an engine shutting off outside. Two shadows shifted and the curtains of a front window parted slightly.
“Oh, look, a couple. They seem very happy, don’t they? In love.”
“Oh yes. Very happy. They’ll feed us for a long time, won’t they?”
“Indeed, I think they will. Whispers here, murmurs there, and we’ll slowly turn their happiness to misery. They’ll hate each other by the end and we’ll gorge on every dismal day. Years if we do it right.”
“Oh, excellent. How do you think we’ll end, though? When they’re all used up?”
“Maybe arrange a murder-suicide. Or hanging from the staircase. Do you remember that teacher? Her body hung in the hall for days before they found her.” “Yes, I remember. It was glorious.”
Two chuckles echoed in the hall, muffled by the sound of the front door opening.
Birthright Nina D’Arcangela
Cowering, I crouch in the shadows of the barn. I should not be here, I was asked to stay away yet could not. The unnatural sound of bone snapping, sinew tearing, and skin stretching is a thing so foreign that it rends my soul to shreds. Yet for all the breath left in me, I cannot turn away.
He suffers and my heart weeps. I reach to touch him; he begs me stay away with tortured gaze. Struck by a rising terror I’ve not felt before, my soul screams that he is no longer mine but belongs solely to the night. If only I had not broken my word.
Fully morphed, he turns one final time – feral eyes saying all his misshapen mouth is no longer capable of speaking. A blink; and he’s gone. Rushing forward I listen to his baleful cry carried upon the night’s savage wind as he leaves my world to enter his other.
Returning Miriam H. Harrison
She was slowly returning to the wild. She could feel civilization’s grasp weaken with every flake of paint that fell away, with every window that shattered and scattered, with every vine that climbed her façade to whisper in her ear about greenery and adventure. Slow and steady, the wild came for her—but not fast enough. She longed to rise from her own dust and debris, chase the sunset shadows into the night. She wondered whether her legs could still run after all these years of roosting. There had been a time to stay, but now her nest was empty—now she was empty. What better way to fill herself than with the shadows of wilderness, the fresh air of midnight, the glow of a new day far from here? She was made for magic and mystery. She would take her magic with her, leave behind the mystery of the missing house, the vacant lot, the trail of chicken tracks returning to the wild.
I’m Talking to You Guest Author: Harrison Kim
I’m talking to you, giant mutant Daddy Long-Legs eight-legged walking drone. Revolve your bulbous head to scope out the house of delusion. Observe its yellow planks burned by the psychiatric meltdown, seeping out from inside and staining the wood to yellow-brown hallucination level 5006 warped synapses per second. Humans can’t go in without a suit lined with risperidone. For you, my drone, no suit needed, you are fortunate to have all your vertebrae on the outside. The work will be machine precise. Your mission: clean this place of insanity and bring the delusions back to me. Inside, the patient’s bones lie white. Their hallucinations seeped into the cracks, while their bodies died and moldered. How interesting it was, all these past days, via my powerful binoculars, to observe the gradual dispersal of these delusions within the changing colour of the planks.
Daddy LL Drone, stand facing the door and spread all your limby tentacles into the openings. Poke them thru the windows. Can you feel who the patients were, as you tickle your way round the rooms? They couldn’t escape before the meltdown. All locked in. The staff ran, left their psychiatric charges shimmering, glowing in collective insanity. Delusions burst forth, burned into the walls, seeped through the wood in black and grey. This house stands now only because of delusion. You will explore this psychoactive creature with your tentacles, and when the tiny windows are securely gripped and entered, hold fast. Then, split the building in twain, with your longest tentacle lobotomize its manic essence, and suck all the delusions into your maw. After you skitter back to the studio, I’ll unload everything into my computer, and have enough material for another three books of stories.
Johnny Joo is an internationally accredited artist, most notably recognized for his photography of abandoned architecture. Growing up sandwiched between the urban cityscape of Cleveland and boundless fields of rural Northeast Ohio provided Johnny with a front row ticket to a specialized cycle of abandonment, destruction, and nature’s reclamation of countless structures. His projects have ranged from malls to asylums to simple country homes, all left behind at various points in time. Always a lover of all art mediums, the seeds of a career were planted in Johnny’s mind at the age of 16 when a high school art project landed him in an abandoned farmhouse. Since that time, his art has expanded, including the publication of eight books, music, spoken word poetry, art installations and other digital and photographic works.
“Gather only the ones that are near to bursting. They grow on the south side of the cliff, their hue that of the melon’s meat. Bring me only what I ask, boy, the ripest. An extra shilling in it should you be back before the sun crests the sky.” Off the child went as the old crone began collecting the necessary herbs to hide the sweet taste.
Several hours later, the boy burst through the doorway, his speed so quick, the weathered skins that served as a barrier flapped in his wake. The gwrach turned from her steeping brew. The child’s face was rouged the hue of dark jostaberry; not a healthy shade to say the least. He panted and gasped, berries coddled in his filthy tunic. He held the thread-bare garment gently in yellow stained fingers. She stared for a moment, then pointed to the oaken table. The boy stumbled to it and unburdened himself of his precious load. As his pallor shifted from crimson to deep purple, she asked if he’d eaten any of the fruit. As he began to deny it, his knees crippled collapsing him to the dirt floor. She hobbled over with walking stick in hand, poked his distended gut, and watched as juice flowed from the cracks between his teeth. “Foolish,” she muttered. The witch leaned heavily on the staff as she knelt to collect the liquid that flowed from the corner of his mouth as she pressed upon his stomach. The boy twitched, lost to the nightmare world the engorged pods brought on. Finished, she tossed two shillings on his hitching chest, not as payment for the errand, but to pay the man that would dispose of his remains.
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.
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.”
Hell has laid claim to places on this earth, places that are lost, forgotten, for all intents and purposes, no longer exist. I woke in such a place. For days I screamed for help, but none came. A failed attempt to climb the walls left me with a broken ankle and no hope. From time to time, I would hear creatures snuffling at night, but even they wouldn’t approach the edge of my open-air coffin. Daylight would come and the glass above this pool of no pools amplified the sun’s rays to the point of roasting me. My mind wandered to time spent in the Polynesian Islands, the pua’a I enjoyed with such gluttony – no thought given to what the creature may have endured when lowered into the roasting pit. Far from those days, I’m left to consume every bug and rodent found in my living crypt, to lick dry the weep from the concrete walls. Now I wait. Death will find me, it’s the only thing I’m sure of.