Forest of Sticks

In a forest of sticks, three await while the fourth summons. Eleven cycles have passed since the calling was last performed. The youngest breaks the silence; patience not yet a virtue she can claim. Eager to know what will come, she inquires. The eldest cautions a quiet tongue while the chant continues. As the moon crests to its zenith, the mantra ends and an eerie stillness falls. Even the young one stands in awe of the thrumming current that churns the air. The caller turns, beckons the last of the three to stand with her sisters. As the kaiju rises, the winds cease. The girls tilt their heads upward in reverent worship. A snort stirs their hair, a tinge of fear sets in. The youngest is not the only child to begin squirming. Their familiar halts their retreat with a slash of glittering eyes before leaping to the ground below. Perched on the brittle limb, the children unknowingly offer the blood of the innocent. The Rule of Three now satisfied, the feline begins to sup then preen as it erases all evidence of the offal left behind.

∼ Nina D’arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Cthulhumas

One week before Christmas, Todd noticed a mystery present under the tree. Purple paper wrapped it; no card was attached. It was paperback size. Todd figured his wife, Kelly, was behind it.

The present had grown the next day. And the next. Todd grinned. Kelly was imaginative. She enjoyed the occasional prank. The mystery entranced their seven-year-old, Hannah. She shook the growing present each evening; it made no sound.

Christmas morning. Boiling with excitement, Hannah hurried her parents to the living room. With amazing restraint, she passed out those presents with names on them. Then she studied the purple one. It was as big now as a wide-screen TV.

The present must be for Hannah but Todd couldn’t imagine its nature. He winked at Kelly, leaned to whisper: “Cool idea. Making it ‘grow.’ She loves it.”

“What?”

“Who gets the purple one?” Hannah interrupted.

“You open it,” Todd said. “Then we’ll know. Anything really cool is mine.”

“Dad!” Hannah protested. But she grinned.

Kelly whispered back to Todd: “I thought it was you.”

A terrible sludge of pressure filled Todd’s gut. As Hannah reached for the present, he shouted, “No!”

Hannah ripped back the paper on a glittering universe of cold stars pinned against a backdrop of one tremendous eye. A huge, mustard-colored tentacle reached from that universe and grabbed Hannah.

More tentacles lashed at Todd and Kelly as they lunged, screaming, for their daughter. All screaming stopped as the Old One shouldered out of his universe into ours.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

Pilgrims

Before our people’s sun went nova, our parents jettisoned us into the stars. In effect, we were once larva on a stick of super fuel. Eventually we were borne to a new home on this beautiful blue planet.

So here we are, the pair of us – fortunately male and female. Our poor brothers and sisters are gone, fatally burned in the fall to earth. It is up to us to save our species from extinction. Care must be taken, for a female is fertile only once in a life-span. Once acclimated, we find an everglade sanctuary. We manage to survive the tumult of summer storms, the winter nights, rife with predators.

Come spring, our hatchlings nest within a stand of reeds while we keep watch. Today we are invaded by a visitor. Along the bank a native wades, a spear in her strong brown hand. She hums to herself as she approaches our nest:

“Some say Peter, an’ some say Paul,
but there ain’t but one God made us all
Wade in de water
Wade in de water, children
Wade in de water, wade, wade, wade …”

The woman’s voice fades suddenly. Even the dragonflies are stilled. Eyestalks at water level, we sink soundlessly into the brown marsh. A flash of movement is quickly followed by a shriek. In shock, we see a spurt of blue-white lifeblood as she rips our newborns from the stick. She stuffs them in her bag and splashes to the bank.

We begin our lamentation, knowing it will never end.

∼ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.

The Feast

There would be bodies. Her mother had already warned her about the smell, about the morbid pull of curiosity. You’ll want to look, she had said. But don’t. You’ll only spoil your appetite.

In her unease, Isa had no appetite left to spoil. She paddled through the darkness, having only old habits to guide her. There was nothing to see but blackness, nothing to hear but the whispering waters against her paddle. She tried to remember her mother’s words, the pieces of advice scattered like bread crumbs to lead her home.

They want you to believe you don’t belong here. They think your humanity will make you weak, but you can prove them wrong. You will show them you belong.

Belong. It was a strange word—one that never seemed to fit. Did she ever truly belong here among the shapeshifters and specters? Here where the river was dark with spirits and the sun was an unconvincing myth? Those whispers from the water echoed her doubts, but there among the murmurs was another voice, clearer in its familiarity.

They want you to doubt. They want your questions to shake you. They want you to believe you belong to a world you have never seen. But this is your home to claimif you want it.

Wanting was a luxury Isa had never known, though it had built her world. Wanting had driven her mother to the underrealm, driven her to eat their dark feast and trade sunlight for shadows. Isa had been born into these shadows, born of flesh fed by the underrealm. For a time, that had been enough to claim her place. But that time had passed with her mother. Her mother’s wanting had brought them here; her heart and passion had made it home. But Isa did not have her heart. Without its steady rhythm, could any place be home?

Faint torch light flickered far across the water. Isa paddled closer, drawn to the light like the many crawling, scuttling things of the deep. She could sense their movements in the cavern around her. As the light grew stronger, she could see the dark shapes moving along the walls and ceiling, their bodies long as her canoe, their legs, eyes, carapaces gleaming.

At last Isa drew up close to the rocky shore. She pulled her vessel safely up from the whispering waters, away from the paths of hurrying insects. They had cleared trails through the dirt, the torchlight drawing them to earthen tunnels that glowed with a still deeper light.

This was as far as Isa had ever come. Every other year she had sat with the canoe as her mother changed for the feast, disappearing among the swarm. She only knew the feast as a time of boredom and waiting. But not this year.

Isa followed the eager procession of insects, jostled by their long bodies through too-narrow tunnels, until at last they emerged into a wide cavern. Here, the polished stone walls gleamed in the glow of countless torches, illuminating a seething heap at the centre of the chamber that rose high above her. The insects hurried into this heap, hungry for the feast, the air above them filled with warm light and the stench of decay.

You came.

Isa looked up high to the top of the writhing heap. There, atop a tower of bones stripped bare by the frenzy, sat two great beetles. One, purple-black, was feeding on the maggots born of the heap. Beside him, his queen gleamed in emerald tones. She watched Isa, her gaze steady over twitching antennae.

“Yes, your Highness,” Isa said, quickly dropping into a low bow. “I have come to join the feast.”

Why?

Isa looked up into those emerald eyes. Under their gaze, her answers suddenly felt fragile, empty.

“This is my home,” she said at last. “I wish to stay.”

Why?

Isa’s tongue sat empty. She thought only of the whispering river, the voice that carried above all others, speaking in death with more heart and strength than Isa had ever felt in life.

“This is my home,” she said again. “This is the world my mother chose. I choose it, too.”

The emerald queen considered her in silence. Then as Isa watched, those insect features melted, twisted, shaped themselves into a new form. Isa looked up into a human face, beautiful and tragic.

“I know of the choice between worlds,” the queen said. “I know of the strength of mothers, too—how they can tie you to a world of their choosing. But what of your strength?”

Looking into the queen’s face, Isa thought of her mother’s features, her strength. Isa had inherited her eyes, her nose, when what she needed most was her heart.

“My strength is my choice,” Isa said. “I choose to stay.”

“Then eat.”

At the queen’s words, a path cleared through the heap’s frenzy. The bodies of countless dead creatures were exposed—raw and rotten—and despite her mother’s warning, Isa looked. There in the heap was a familiar form with eyes and nose much like her own, though bloated with death and decay.

You’ll only spoil your appetite.

Despite the grief and revulsion churning her stomach, Isa stepped forward. She climbed into the heap, the way wet and slippery with death, but she continued until she reached her mother’s body. Much of her torso had already been eaten away, but her ribcage was intact, its strength guarding her great treasure.

You will show them you belong.

Isa reached into her mother’s chest and pulled from it her heart. It filled her hand, heavy and still. Could this thing be the same heart that had brought her mother to this place, that had brought Isa to this moment?

She bit into it.

Isa’s mouth filled with a warm wetness, with the taste and smell of rot. But as she ate, her senses changed. Each bite became sweeter, more satisfying, tasting of pomegranates. That taste fed a deep hunger that had gone unnamed. It was an awakening—the answer to questions she had never thought to ask.

Fed by her mother’s flesh, a new strength flowed through her. It sprang  from her own heart, reaching out into the many limbs that stretched from her new-formed body. That strength surrounded her, joining her to the frenzy all around. Her senses fill with life, with connection, with the thrill of the feast.

She ate, savouring the sweetness of home.

~ Miriam H. Harrison

© Copyright Miriam H. Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

Signal to Noise

He regained consciousness in the hospital corridor, finding himself standing in the middle of a stream of people flickering past without pause.  He was dimly aware he couldn’t be seen.  The world he had emerged into was grey, faded and separated from the world he had just left.  It was also silent.  He reached out to touch a nearby nurse, but his hand, insubstantial, entered her arm and passed through without making contact.

As soon as the time of death was recorded most of the staff cleared the emergency room, moving onto the next crisis.  She stood over his shell, stunned, ignoring the nurses who fussed around him, tidying up the detritus of the failed attempt to save him.  She thought back to the accident; they had been walking across the road, moving from pub to pub, then boom, the taxi had hit him.  The next few minutes were a blur; a scream, bystanders arriving, the police, the wail of the ambulance, the emergency room and the medical staff.  Then this, the unnatural quiet.

He found himself floating down the corridor towards an unknown destination.  The world around him was moving faster and faster, the people mere blurs.  He was slowing down, fading from the mortal realm as his life energy dissipated.  He was moving between worlds.

She left him and stepped out of the triage room.  The policeman, who had diplomatically waited outside, agreed to meet her the following day to take a statement.  She signed the required documents and received unwanted, rushed condolences from the harassed admin staff.  It was the week before Christmas, the busiest time of the year for the emergency department.  Falls, fights, drunks and car accidents overwhelmed the staff.  With nowhere else to go she went home, getting back at about ten o’clock.  She left the house in darkness and slumped onto the sofa in the lounge.  An involuntary shudder shook her thin frame, memories returning.  The worst thing was she hadn’t had the chance to say farewell to him, he hadn’t regained consciousness and she knew her whispered goodbye as he lay dying hadn’t been heard.  That, above all, was unbearable.

He started to notice other shapes around him.  Diaphanous, smoke-like figures floated next to him.  The real world, the world of living people could still be seen, but it was blurred, as if observed through a film of ice.  His mortal energy was almost gone, but one thing kept him focussed on the world he had just left.  Her.  He didn’t know if he could, but he knew he had to try.  Concentrating, he steered himself towards his goal.

She tried to sleep, but found it impossible.  She rose and made some tea, watching the darkness out of the kitchen window.  She hadn’t cried yet, the emptiness she felt had driven out every other possible emotion.  She knew with the coming of the dawn she would have to start phoning.  It was then the emotion of the truth would overwhelm her.

He reached for the pay-phone praying he was still able to lift the receiver.  Around him, the shapes of his new companions whirled and danced, some grieving and some celebrating.  His companions were fading away, just as he was, but he had to do one last thing before he left the mortal world.  His fingers, through sheer willpower, made contact with the receiver and he managed to find the strength to lift it.  He had to reach her, had to say goodbye.  The shapes around him scattered in confusion at this merging of the two worlds. 

She finished her tea and rinsed the mug.  The early morning sun was streaking the eastern sky with reds and yellows.  She knew she would have to reach for the phone soon, to start the task of letting friends and family know the news.  Suddenly, shockingly the phone rang.  She lifted the receiver and placed it to her ear.  A crackle of white noise made her wince, but some hidden emotion kept her from hanging up.  She strained to listen.  A voice spoke, faint beneath the crackling.  The voice was achingly familiar and she gasped when she recognised it.  The voice spoke a simple message, over and over again.  All too soon it faded to nothing amongst the overwhelming white noise, but it had been enough.  He had said goodbye.  Tears flowed down her face.

∼ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

The Visionary

I stare at the first four words of the letter I’m writing.

I am a Visionary.

I put pen back to paper and continue.

The majority of my life has been spent watching others’ lives end. My body used as a signal to Death when it is time for someone to leave our world. The night of my eighteenth birthday I watched my two best friends die in a car accident. I didn’t know what I was then.

 I thought the tragedy with my friends was nothing more than a case of really fucked up deja vu until not long after it happened again. I was at my mother’s house when she said, “Honey, what’s wrong with your eyes? Go look in the mirror.”

An image of my mother on the kitchen floor clutching her chest flashed inside my head.

“Hey, are you okay?” she asked.

My vision of her blinked away. “Yeah, I’m fine, Mom. Let me go look.” Had I known then what was about to happen … not that I could’ve done anything about it.

My reflection in the bedroom mirror stared back, my pupils no longer round, but shaped like the ace of spades. The sound of my mother dropping a pot in the kitchen reverberated in the house. A moment later I stood transfixed as my eyes returned to normal. She was dead before I walked back in the kitchen, a massive heart attack the doctor told me later.

I knew I was different and began to piece it all together after a few more visions. My ace of spade eyes showed me a person in their last moments, then returning to normal when the deed is done. Sometimes Death doesn’t come for a couple of hours so I started carrying sunglasses to hide my spades. I learned to read the subtle changes in my body to know when my eyes were normal and my wait for the next person began.

I’ve never met another person like me, but there must be more of us. Right? I can’t be the only one of my kind, can I?

I lean back in the dining room chair, looking over the words I had written. The last two lines hanging there. Years of being alone living with this curse…the final part of the thought slips away from me. There is still so much more I want to say and explain, but I don’t think it’s going to be possible. I run my fingers through my hair, breathing deep. A sharp pain shoots through my still-raw throat, reminding me of the acidic bile that had filled the toilet in the airport bathroom. I couldn’t handle the visions, it was too much for me, too many people. Men, women, children, I watched them all boarding. My body was shaking as I tried to calmly walk out of the airport when all I wanted to do was run. I couldn’t speak to warn anyone, and even if I could, no one would have believed me.

When I got home I didn’t need to turn on the television to learn what happened. I felt the all-telling subtle shift within me. All of them are gone, and now …

I can barely keep my eyes open. Pushing the chair back, I get up from the table, leaving the letter sitting next to the empty pill bottle. I waver and put my hand on the wall to steady myself. My eye lids are heavy and it takes all my effort to make it the last few feet to the bathroom. Something about this feels very familiar. I slowly look up and see myself in the mirror.

The ace of spades stares back at me.

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

The Dreamer

Two hours later, she’s dead.

As I watch the ambulance take her away, I don’t feel anything. I didn’t know her, and besides, it happens all the time. It’s not always two hours, mind you. Once it took a full three weeks, but that’s the longest so far.

The shortest was about thirty seconds. That time, I had dozed off on the bus when the dream—or whatever it was—came: a woman, a squeal of cars tires, no more woman. I jolted awake in time to see her. The bus had stopped to let her cross, but the driver in the next lane wasn’t feeling so courteous. The screech of brakes was muted by the bus windows and replaced with the screams of passengers. Everyone was moving about, trying to see what had happened, trying to make their voice heard in the mayhem. Shocked faces all around.

I didn’t move. I didn’t need to. I had seen it already: the body crushed between the car and the petunias. It was a stone flower bed, one of those decorative ones that divide the lanes of traffic. It later made its way into social media: the crack in the stone, the mess left by her head, the blood-stained flowers.

That time it was a stranger. I prefer it that way. If I didn’t even know they existed, it’s easier to watch them die. Twice. It’s much harder when it’s someone you know. Someone you love.

I had tried to tell my mother once, at my dad’s funeral. The dream I had had about the boating trip, the accident, the details I wasn’t supposed to know. I wanted to tell her all about it, but I stopped when she didn’t understand. When you’re young, you don’t want your mommy to be afraid of you. I didn’t even tell her when I saw her death coming. It was a heart attack, and by then I was seventeen and already supporting myself. The doctors were sympathetic: “We know it’s a shock—no one could have seen this coming.”

I didn’t bother to correct them.

The woman and the ambulance are gone now. One dream done, one more to go. I step away from the window, back to my kitchen, and add my coffee mug to the dirty dishes in the sink. I have never had a dreamless night, but last night was different. A double feature, with a twist I never saw coming. Lost in my thoughts, I start to fill the sink with soap and water before stopping myself. I almost laugh. Why bother?

The headache begins then. I feel my balance start to go and lower myself to the floor, my right side numbing. I stretch out there in the kitchen, but only one arm moves. My vision starts to go, and so I close my eyes, embrace the darkness.

I don’t know what to expect of death, but I hope it’s dreamless.

 

~ Miriam H. Harrison

© Copyright Miriam H. Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

The Slice of Razored Wings


I lie on cool moss while the sky drips sun. The world brims with light. It stars my eyes until I see little more than a melted, gold-dust haze. But my ears are open and aware. My skin entangles the moment. For a pleasant fragment of time, my mind lies fallow.

Then something with razored wings slices through the stillness and savages my serenity. A kiss stings; a whisper bites. Thoughts and emotions bloom and settle, like bubbles on a slough. They are foreign, alien. I deny them. But subtle movements become a roil. Shapes rise, lift shaggy heads from the mire. They are draped in silken folds of weed and mud. Beautiful and repellant, they smile with bold teeth, they lick lips of glory.

The promises they bear are fanged and holy, like talons dipped in sacred filth. And now I can see the glitter of fatal edges even through my blindsight. Old scars fold open like the petals of rotted roses. Thoughts take wing, hateful raptors that slice through the ruby heavens of doubt. They shriek upon me.

To save myself, I lift the twin shields of kindness and cowardice. But they are worn and rusty. A sharp strike may shatter them and leave me defenseless before this predator. And so in desperation I call out the beast’s name. With hope of a reprieve, I plead for mercy.

From love.

 

~ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

Children of the Ovum White

The bells had been tolling for many hours after they caught the last resister and slit her throat. He had been chosen to carry the infant cut from her womb as they marched through the streets. The newborn squalled, its tiny limbs slippery with blood of the gutted resister. He clutched it tightly, chanting with the rest from Proverbs 24:12 in clipped unison, for it was cold. When they reached the Temple, a white robed nurse stepped out to take the child. Soon after, an Elder came to address them.
“Who brings this babe?”
“We of the Righteous, Sector Five.”
“Who carries the babe?”
“I, Holy One,” he stepped forward.
“And your name?”
“Peter, zero-sixty-five-oh-two, Honored One, sworn by birth to the genetic cycle eternal.” He was careful to modulate his voice in cadence as customary when speaking to Elders. No one spoke with inflection, for that in itself was blasphemous.
“Ah, Peter. I recognize you. You were –” the Elder smiled toothlessly, “one of my favorites. Very well, excellent.” He rubbed his hands, the palms stained with a garish orange, the mark of his status. “And what say the rest of you?” he asked, addressing the shivering throng.
“We are the spawn of the Ovum White. We copulate no more. We bow to the Sperm Bank and Ovum White. Pure is the Sperm Bank and Ovum White.”
In humility and thanks for another day of service to Truth, Peter led the others in the formal bow, lowering his forehead to the stones three times in succession.
Satisfied, the Elder snapped his fingers twice. Several robed priests came forth to mark faces with sanctified chalk. From behind the pillars, lutes played melodies of holy grace.
And Peter, who was to know no greater pleasure than this moment for the rest of his life, bowed again deeply, as the Elder sprinkled a few drops of placenta blood on his shaven head.
Afterwards, he joined the others from Sector Five as they formed lines to march homeward.

(To be continued …)

∼ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.

Ask About the Sinners

“Do you believe in angels, Dr. Wells?” The rest of the therapy group rolled their eyes.

“There she goes again, on about those damn angels,” Randy growled. He crossed his arms and kicked at the floor, his metallic chair rattling against the tiled floor. “The girl’s got a fixation and I’m sick of it.”

“No, judgements, Randy. You know the rules.” Dr. Wells frowned at him and then turned to Cindy with a condescending smile. “Tell me about your angels.”

Stretching her toes, Cindy softly hummed in time to the thwap of the ceiling fan. The scent of jasmine floated in the air, stirred from some forgotten corner. In the silence, she gazed at the white walls and watched the shadows dance, while tracing a pattern on the padded arm of her chair.

Finally, she spoke. “You must believe in them to see them. I mean really believe, not just Sunday-go-to-church conviction, forgotten on Monday. If you have true faith, they can help you.”

“Fat lot of good they did you,” Randy laughed. “You’re stuck in this loony bin with the rest of us.”

“Randy,” Dr. Wells stared with another disapproving look. “What did I tell you about that?”

“Not to call this place a ‘loony bin’.” Randy slouched in his chair and scowled.

“They did help.” Cindy’s voice interrupted and everyone turned to gawk. “The angels saved me.” She smiled, but wouldn’t elaborate.

Not until the next session.

The last to arrive, Cindy sat down, easing into her chair. She looked at each person and spoke as if no time had passed. “Not all angels have white wings, you know.” She hummed and gazed upward. “Some have black wings. They’re the ones who punish sins.”

“On about your angels, again?” Randy grunted. “They’re not doing a very good job. Plenty of sinners in the world.”

Cindy glared at him, raising an eyebrow and tilting her chin. “You have to ask them first. They can’t punish anyone, if you don’t ask.”

Dr. Wells cleared his throat. “That’s what you told the police, isn’t it? That you requested angels protect you from your parents? And the angels killed them, not you?”

Cindy turned her attention to the doctor. “Yes. I don’t think they believed me, because I ended up here. But it’s the truth.”

Dr. Wells smiled. “Truth can sometimes be complicated. You’re here so we can sort what really happened that night.”

“I told you. Not believing me doesn’t make it a lie.” Cindy laughed. “I’m not crazy. They’re real, and so beautiful. Ebony feathers, ethereal faces and shining eyes, with a radiant silver aura. And the loveliest things about them are their long blood-stained claws.”

“Claws don’t sound lovely.” Randy grunted into the conversation. “Your angels are just made-up monsters.”

“They are not monsters!” Cindy stared down Randy, and he squirmed.

“Stop looking at me like that. I ain’t done nothing to you. Keep away from me with your angel delusions.”

“You have nothing to fear from my angels. You don’t have many sins, even if you pretend otherwise. Dr. Wells has sins, though,” Cindy tilted her head towards the therapist. “Dark ones.”

“I’m a sinner, am I?” Dr. Wells chuckled.

Cindy nodded. “I know what you’ve done and so do the angels.” She leaned forward. “Time for you to pay.”

“Is that a threat?” Dr. Wells straightened in his chair. As he did, he felt something brush against his shoulder and smelled a hint of jasmine. A black feather fell in his lap. An invisible hand reached into his chest, and Dr. Wells felt the last beat of his heart before a force ripped the organ out of his body in a spray of blood, bone, and flesh. His corpse crumpled to the floor. Everyone but Cindy screamed.

And somewhere in the ether, a blacked winged angel feasted on the heart of a sinner.

∼ A.F. Stewart

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