Ripe

“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.

∼ Nina D’arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’arcangela. 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.

Forgotten

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.

∼ Nina D’arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

The Exile

Earth hangs on the horizon, round and blue. Once, he was a god. Now he is an ice sculpture on a flat forever plain, alone in the terrible cold of the sidereal night. His eyes have become a waterfall of frozen tears. He knows it is his due for sleeping with a Native mortal, though she was of great beauty, body and mind as well. She could never have an equal.

If forgiven, he would know a sluggish awakening after a millennium. His children’s heels would drum the earth, rousing him from dreams of thunder and flame, calling him home. He would remember that insatiable hunger known only to certain gods. His mouth would salivate, recalling the feel of soft pale skin, so like the surface of grapes when peeled for the fruit within. Yet best of all delicious in his jaws, the marrow of the White Man’s bones.

~ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.

Slivers

Slivers, that’s all I ever saw – it peered through the crack of a door that didn’t seat in its jam, between window and sash where the slightest breeze blew, below floorboards that had shrunken leaving the barest opening. Slivers, as it watched and waited. For what, I dared not imagine in my waking hours, though I’d suspect it was for my guard to falter.

Closeting myself in a fully sealed room with no chinks each night, I allowed myself sleep when it would come; my dreams invaded by visions of that godless eye. It stared at me relentlessly, the light absorbed by its depth-less void; a lie of beauty hidden among the allure of its iridescent skin. But I knew far better than to be fooled by its camouflage. Looking into that eye, I could see what it promised – it promised pain, it promised torture, it promised an end that would not come swiftly or easily. Worse yet than the uncaring, unfeeling eye were the endless rows of teeth. They glistened, dripped with saliva. Translucent and viciously pointed; some jutted straight upward to pierce and stab, others curved backward toward its bulbous throat, insuring that once it had snagged its prey, there would be no escape. Teeth designed for ripping, tearing, rending chunks of flesh from bone to be swallowed whole. A gruesome death awaited any that it caught. I did not wish to die that way.

Perhaps worst of all were the moments sleep did not come in my tiny sanctuary. I’d crouch listening as it scratched at the walls, the floor, the ceiling above me. It knew where I hid; it was only a matter of time before it breached my woeful defenses. This we both knew, but still I longed to live just one more day…

∼ Nina D’arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

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.