Wordslinger Shootout – Round 10




by “Dead Aim” David Anderson

I sit at the red light, enjoying the night air. The rumble of the engine gently shakes the car, rocking me like a comforting mother. I never feel more peaceful, more at ease, than behind the wheel of Betsy, my 2034 Ford Mustang Classic Reissue. She isn’t the newest model on the road but I’ve added a few customizations that make her unique, make her mine. I like to say she’s black as night, fast as light. Silly, I know, but we all do stupid things for what we love.

A low growl pulls my attention to the left. A brand new coupe, some oddly configured foreign thing, hovers a couple of feet off the ground. It looks like it just rolled off the assembly line on Mars. All the overpriced sports cars are built there now. It’s this hideous neon green with smooth curves and strange patterns etched in the chassis. Hover cars are all the rage among the rich and elite. They’re supposed to be faster than wheeled cars because of less friction. Hopefully, it’s just a passing fad. I still prefer contact with the road. It’s not just the power, it’s the control, the feeling. The pull of the tires on pavement is therapeutic, a woman caressing her lover after a long day.

The driver looks at me and flashes a slimy, stuck up smile. He’s young, cocky, and bottled blonde. A spoiled brat driving his graduation present. His seat covers cost more than I make in three months. He gives me a curt nod and revs the engine again. Everything switched to total electric a few years ago but the manufacturers added gyros to cause the body to shake and fake engine nose to appease public demand. We may be trying to treat the environment a little better but everyone knows how an engine is supposed to sound.

I know I shouldn’t but I nod and smile back. If this kid wants to throw down with me, he better be willing to pay for it. I’ve been in this game a long time. Boy, I think to myself, you have no idea what you’re up against.

The challenge accepted, we both face the stop light. Seconds drag on for years. Both engines rev and growl. The car bodies rock back and forth as we both anticipate the inevitable change. This is the age old competition: old school versus new school. Terran versus foreign. Experience versus technology.

In a split second, the red is gone and before the green can even appear, the other driver takes off. It’s somewhat anticlimactic as there’s no screech of the tires, no smoke from burning rubber. He just glides ahead, leaving me sitting at the intersection. I like to toy with them like this. I shouldn’t, but I do. Give them a good start, a feeling of accomplishment, a false sense of security.

I reach across the dash and flick some of the customized switches. I can still see his tail lights, but they’re pretty far ahead. I stomp on the accelerator and feel the blessed force of gravity pin me to my seat. Right now, I couldn’t lean forward even if I wanted to. In a moment I’ve switched to second gear, then third, fourth. My heart rate increases with the RPM’s. Don’t know how fast I’m going. Don’t really care. I hear an insane sounding cackle and realize it’s me. I can’t deny it. I live for this.

Before I can enjoy myself too much, I’ve reached the other car. Far too easy. I aim a little gizmo at his hood and hit a button. His car automatically slows down and he pulls over. I match his speed then fall behind him. A new safety feature for those fancy flying jobs is a wireless kill switch. Once they hit 350 kph, the switch become active. I bet the dealer didn’t mention that when he was selling it to Mommy and Daddy.

There’s no denying the kid’s been beaten. It doesn’t matter how far or how fast he goes. It doesn’t matter for any of them. I always catch them. I pull Betsy in behind him and flip one of the switches off. The area’s dark except for the custom lights installed under my windshield. Dramatic shadows and all that. It’s not easy but I suppress my smile and get out. I take my time walking up to his window, letting the tension build. It glides down and he laughs nervously. Looks like the poor kid is about to hyperventilate. It takes a minute, but he’s finally able to speak.

“G-Good evening, officer. Is there a problem?”


J. David Anderson is an author of science fiction, horror, fantasy, and anything else that strikes his fancy. He lives in Indiana with his wife, son, dog, and imaginary friends.



by  James “The Judge” Chambers

“More to it than how fast you ride,” Barbary said. “The dead hafta want you to see ‘em. They need a reason. And you gotta have the stones to look. Even then, get out there, pump the needle to the red, still could wind up with nothing but empty road blurring past and wind spitting in your face. This thing I can do don’t always work.”

“Any chance to see Joanie again is worth it,” DeLeo said.

“I get paid either way.”

“The money doesn’t matter, only me and Joanie.”

“Fine, fine. But I gotta see the long green in advance.”

DeLeo placed an envelope on the bar, handing over the last of his money, the last of his hope. Barbary flicked it open, riffled the bills inside. Satisfied, he grunted and stuffed the packet inside his motorcycle jacket. He grabbed the full mug of beer before him and chugged half of it. DeLeo read the words tattooed in black and red across his scarred knuckles, “The Dead,” on his right hand, “Travel Fast,” on his left. Barbary belched, wiped beer suds from his red beard, then flagged down the bartender, tight leather creaking as he stretched his arm.

“Two tequilas, right here, Hambone,” Barbary said, tapping the bar.

Hambone set up two shot glasses, grabbed a bottle, and splashed tequila into them. He snickered at DeLeo, and then resumed wiping down the bar. Barbary raised one of the glasses.

“Seal the deal,” he said.

“You have to drive us later. Should you be drinking?” DeLeo said.

“Drinking?” Barbary laughed. “Call this drinking? Brother, you can’t stomach a sip or three without dimming your bulb, you ain’t got the stones required to ride where you want me to take you. Dig?”

“Okay, it’s just that ever since Joanie’s stint in rehab, I try to avoid alcohol. If she gave it up, so can I.” DeLeo lifted his glass and clinked it to Barbary’s. “But one drink won’t hurt. Seal the deal.”

“Tha’s right,” Barbary said.

The two men drank. The liquor burned DeLeo’s throat and traveled right to his head with a dizzy feeling. Barbary’s face loomed in the mirror behind the bar, and his wild eyes flashed with the amber light of a neon beer sign. A long blues jam freight-trained out of the jukebox, filling the bar with weary rhythms and a sad melody. Barbary seemed right at home here, but DeLeo hated bars like Starry-Eyed Darla’s. He had seen too many dingy, strange places, too many desperate people and the grifters who preyed on them. He hoped Barbary lived up to his reputation.

He placed his empty glass on the bar. “When do we go?”

“Witching time,” Barbary said.

“Midnight?” DeLeo said.

Barbary shook his head. “Tha’s Hollywood bullshit. Three a.m. when the whole damn world’s asleep. Quietest, coldest part of the night. Ever try to keep warm at three a.m.? S’bitch. Hear a lousy pin drop on the highway. The ones you want to see don’t like lights and noise. Sure don’t like crowds. Or heat either. So, three a.m. And, brother, you better be ready, cause I feel something hungry on the road tonight. The dead don’t ever stop moving. Bodies lie down, don’t get up again. Most times anyway. But what goes on after death, they’re a restless bunch. You gotta move fast if you wanta catch up to ‘em. Thing is maybe they got something different than what you want.”

“How bad could it be?” DeLeo asked.

Barbary rolled his eyes. “I seen some shit, s’all I’m saying.”

“It makes no difference. I must see Joanie.”

“If anyone can get you there, it’s me. Let’s meet here at three. Got to get myself ready.”

DeLeo walked back to his motel, where he stretched out on the bed, and thought of Joanie until the ache of missing her made him cry. He paged through his scrapbook of photos, newspaper clippings, autographs, postcards, and other mementos he’d gathered over the years. Not enough to fill the hole she left in his life. He hated himself for not saving her. He had been so near when she died. If only she’d listened to him, let him take her away like he’d asked, she’d still be alive. He closed the book and let his tears fall.

Around quarter to three he walked back to Starry-Eyed Darla’s where light and music erupted from the bar. The life inside did nothing to warm him, chilled to the bone, like Barbary said. And there Barbary sat on a motorcycle with a sidecar attached. His bushy, red hair hung in a ponytail down his back, his beard in a long, tight braid. A silver pentacle glinted on his chest, hanging from a thick chain around his neck. Another chain held teeth, shards of bone, and animal skulls that clinked dully. Daubs of white, red, and black paint sketched a rough skull on his face. He beamed a smile at DeLeo and dismounted. Painted matte black, the motorcycle and sidecar seemed like fragments yanked from the night. Only the glass headlights gleamed in the lights from Darla’s.

“Hop in,” Barbary said.

DeLeo stared at the rig and Barbary’s outrageous appearance. Another waste of money, he thought. Another fraud or a loon or a headcase running a con or looking for losers to validate his delusions of grandeur. And I fell for it, again.

Joanie would be so disappointed.

“What?” Barbary said, smile wilting.

“Thought you’d bring me a helmet,” DeLeo said.

Barbary scoffed. “Can’t wear one on this ride. Gotta have all your senses open and leave your life in the cold hands of fate. Pair of goggles in the hack, though. No need to ride blind.”

DeLeo climbed into the sidecar and donned the goggles.

“When things happen,” Barbary said, pulling goggles over his eyes, “you’re gonna feel it in your sphincter first, then your whole body’ll tense up. You gotta relax. Be cool. Ignore most of what you see. Don’t talk to anyone except the one you’re seeking. We keep moving, they can’t really mess with us.”

Barbary hopped on his bike and coaxed it to life. The engine roared. With a laugh and a last manic glance at DeLeo, he guided it away from Darla’s and opened it up on the road. The icy wind swept DeLeo’s breath away. They accelerated, and Barbary guided the bike onto the highway, abandoned at this time of night like he’d predicted. They passed a lone car and then settled into a ninety miles per hour run down a long tree-lined straightaway. The black bike and sidecar blended seamlessly with the dark, making it seem they rushed along on a stream of night itself. Only the moon and the headlights showed the way. They drove for a long time, Barbary working the throttle, seeking the right speed. Nothing happened.

DeLeo felt cheated and ready to give up.

How long, he wondered, before he brings me back to Darla’s and claims the spirits weren’t cooperating.

Then, like Barbary described, his sphincter clenched.

Every muscle in his body yanked tight.

He struggled in the wind to ease his breathing and stay calm.

The moon vanished behind a dark veil. The ground and trees shimmered. DeLeo felt a sensation of slipping between currents of energy while being stretched sideways.

Firelight appeared ahead. They rounded a curve and came upon a massive bonfire where hundreds of gray figures danced in a circle, darting among rows of gallows that surrounded the conflagration. Bodies hung from the hangman’s beams in groups of three and four, and black, winged creatures fluttered around them. The dancers all watched the motorcycle speed by, their dead eyes staring.

Barbary gave a triumphant whoop.

“We did it! We’re here,” he cried. “Think hard about this Joanie of yours, and keep them eyes peeled. She got a reason to see you, she’ll come.”

As the bonfire faded behind them, they rushed by packs of dead, gray figures roaming the shoulder, their outstretched arms reaching for the bike. The road became a tour of horrors. Wild dogs chased a family around their broken-down car with its hood up, the dogs catching them, savaging them, then letting them go to continue the hunt. Farther on, a line of people climbed to the top of an overpass, jumped off onto the rocks below it, and dragged themselves back to do it again. A tribe of folks with broken legs and knives sticking out of them like pins in a pincushion crawled along the shoulder on hands and knees. Beyond them, eyeless people with razors for fingers sliced each other as they scrambled up a hill toward a dark, clawed giant at the top.

They rounded a sharp S-curve, and a red light flared.

A woman screamed.

“Joanie!” DeLeo shouted.

“You see her?” Barbary yelled.

“Down there!”

DeLeo pointed to the bottom of a slope, where the road dog-legged.

A woman walked there, her silky white dress glowing in the dark, arms outstretched, face obscured by a milky fog. Barbary aimed the bike at her, but as they neared the bottom of the hill, the engine coughed and sputtered. The bike swerved. Barbary struggled to control it. Metal shrieked, and then the bike rolled to a stop, a hundred feet from the woman.

“Oh, shit,” Barbary said.

He tried to restart the engine. It growled but refused to turn over.

The woman rushed them, the fog clearing to reveal her cold, white, beautiful face, and the death marks on her torso. Her caved-in chest. A ragged slash at the base of her throat. A line from one side of her abdomen to the other weeping blood into her dress. She shrieked as she lifted into the air and flowed over Barbary and DeLeo.

“Whoa!” Barbary said. “That’s Joanie Owens! Your Joanie is the freaking movie star?”

“Yes, yes, that’s her! She’s supposed to be with me. We’re meant to be together.”

“Hold it! Wait a minute!” Barbary scowled. “You’re him, ain’t you?”

Ignoring Barbary, DeLeo rose to exit the sidecar. Barbary clamped him by the shoulder and pushed him back down

“Uh-uh. You get out, you stay here. Nothing I can do. That’s how it works.”

DeLeo sat down.

“You’re the one who was stalking her.” Barbary said. “You’re one of those celebrity-worshiping nutbags, and she was running from you when she crashed. You killed her—and you’re still coming after her? Man, I’ve met some weirdos, but, brother, let it go. You already destroyed the thing you love. Move on. Didn’t they put you in jail, anyway?”

“I did my time! Now I want Joanie. I earned it. We belong together.”

Barbary groaned. “I gotta start screening you freaks.”

“There she is!” DeLeo pointed down the road. “Get going.”

Barbary tried the ignition again, and this time the bike snarled to life. He wheeled around, brushing back the dead ones closing around them, and gunned it toward Joanie. She screamed in the road, her beautiful face distorted by anger and sorrow, her body skewed as if her torso might slide free of her hips. She raised her arms and pointed her accusation and fury at DeLeo, who called out to tell her everything would be all right now that he was here, and they could be together.

The ranks of the dead thickened behind her, swarming to block the road.

“Shit, they’re coming for us!” Barbary drove faster, seeking the right speed to slip back to the living world. He felt it so close yet out of reach, and then he remembered reading online—127 miles per hour. The speed of Joanie Owen’s Jaguar when it shot off the road into a bridge stanchion, the collision cutting her in two as she fled from DeLeo.

“Deal’s off, brother. We gotta get out of here now!”

“No!” DeLeo shouted. “Not without Joanie!”

He raised himself in the sidecar and spread his arms, mirroring the embrace Joanie offered. An embrace he’d longed for since he first saw her on the silver screen.

“Sit down, you moron!” Barbary screamed.

They rocketed toward Joanie. Barbary inched the speedometer to 127.

DeLeo screamed Joanie’s name, stretched over the edge of the sidecar, reached for her.

As they passed Joanie, the bike hitched and jerked, and Barbary wrested it steady as more and more dead rushed into their path. With a sound like an enormous bubble popping, the bike and sidecar skidded from one world to the next. In the span of a second empty road replaced the ghosts of the dead.

Barbary braked and shuddered to the shoulder.

Panting, he said, “Made it! Sorry, brother, but we had to jet. No choice.”

DeLeo didn’t answer.

Barbary sighed and lifted his goggles. “Don’t start angling for a refund, cause—.”

He glanced at the sidecar and quieted.

Blood spatters painted the black finish. The bottom half of DeLeo’s body lay wedged in the compartment. The rest of him—well, Barbary figured that part remained in the arms of the one he loved, torn in half like her. Paybacks’ a bitch, and more than enough reason for a dead soul to come meet them out on the three a.m. road.

“Sometimes, brother, s’best to let ‘em rest in peace,” he said and then he rode back to Darla’s.


James Chambers’ tales of horror, crime, fantasy, and science fiction have been published in numerous anthologies and magazines, and Publisher’s Weekly described his collection of four Lovecraftian-inspired novellas, The Engines of Sacrificeas “chillingly evocative.” His other books include the novellas Three Chords of Chaos, as well as The Dead Bear Witness and Tears of Blood (the first two volumes in the Corpse Fauna series), and the story collections Resurrection House and The Midnight Hour: Saint Lawn Hill and Other Tales with illustrator Jason Whitley. His stories have appeared in the award-winning Bad-Ass Faeries and Defending the Future anthology series as well as Allen K’s InhumanBare BoneChiral Mad 2Clockwork ChaosDeep CutsFantastic Futures 13The Green Hornet ChroniclesIn an Iron CageMermaids 13The Spider: Extreme PrejudiceTo Hell in a Fast CarWalrus Tales, and many other publications. He has edited and written numerous comic books including Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals and the critically acclaimed “The Revenant” in Shadow HouseHe is a member of the Horror Writers Association and the recipient of the HWA’s 2012 Richard Laymon Award. He is online at www.jameschambersonline.com and https://www.facebook.com/ThreeChordsOfChaos.


Wordslinger Shootout – Round 9




by Andrew Nienaber

James Gornes had been excited when he signed up for the experiment. It was going to be a little extra money for beer or, if he was feeling like a responsible adult when he left the lab, maybe some of next semester’s textbooks. Five hundred dollars for a day and night of his free time seemed like a small fortune to him. He was not told going in precisely what would be done, only that he would be placed inside a sensory deprivation chamber within a large MRI machine, hooked up to an IV drip for nutrients, and have sense elements subtly added to his environment through the course of the trial. It was meant to test the reaction of the human mind to different stimuli in the absence of other sensory information. It was to last for twenty-four hours. Seventeen hours in, James broke.

It started pleasantly enough. The doctors told him it was alright to fall asleep, and in the dark, silent chamber, he did exactly that. It was difficult to tell precisely when he was asleep and when he was awake, but he was fairly sure he’d spent much of the first few hours napping. After what felt like a long while – the passage of time was, in there, an almost abstract concept which he had no way to measure – the line between his brain’s bored ramblings and actual dreams became hopelessly blurred. He came to recognize when he was awake because he could actually hear the sound of his eyelids blinking, his muscles periodically tensing and relaxing, the blood coursing through his veins. He began to lose track of where his body ended and the warm, salty water in which he floated began. In the absence of any other information to compare it to, the tiny prick of the IV needle in his forearm began to feel like an impaling spike. He spent some time mentally exploring it, trying to divine the shape of the needle, the angle at which it exited his skin. He tried to picture the portion inside his veins. Eventually, even that sensation disappeared, and he was left alone once more.

Then the music started.

It was quiet, nearly subliminal. James couldn’t identify the song, though the tune was familiar. The first time it played was a relief, a beacon of sensation in the abyss. He strained his ears to hear it, tried to suck the sound dry for sustenance. The fifth time it played he began to get annoyed. He quit counting at the forty-third repetition. The song, still tantalizingly familiar but too soft to make out, faded into the void of the chamber, the way traffic noise did on the outside.

Later – he felt it was much later, but wasn’t sure – came the smell. It was floral but dusky, not syrupy-sweet like the flowers in his mom’s garden or the bouquets he sometimes picked up for his girlfriend when he forgot to call her for a week. It smelled older somehow, a scent that spoke of ziggurats and huge, crumbling sandstone cities; a desert smell. It was far from unpleasant. In fact, he found it incredibly soothing. A distant fragment of his consciousness wondered if it were some sort of aromatherapy oil, but the instant the thought crossed his mind, the smell disappeared. He let himself sink back into the void, and a moment later the smell returned, stronger than before. He found it strange that they could make the smell go away so quickly and so thoroughly, but decided to just enjoy it rather than try to analyze it; thinking too hard had made it go away before.


“Interesting,” said Torres. He turned away from the MRI screen. “His Parietal lobe just lit up like a Christmas tree. You didn’t introduce any more stimuli, did you?”

Benson raised his hands defensively. “No, that wasn’t part of the plan. Maybe it’s a sensory hallucination of some sort?”

Torres looked back at the screen. He scrolled his mouse around, changing the angle at which he viewed James’ brain.

“Ah, look! There, down in the brain stem. The olfactory nerve is lighting up too. That’s just…holy shit, Dash, I’ve never seen this happen before. It must be olfactory hallucination subliminally induced by the song.”

Benson snickered. “Yeah, I think I know exactly what he’s smelling, too.”


Something’s wrong. Not wrong, exactly, but…missing. Something’s missing. I feel like I’m…air? Is air missing? Am I suffocating?

No, not quite that. I need air, but I have air. It’s still. Too still. I need the air to move. Why can’t I feel the air anymore? Was I ever able to feel the air? I can breathe, but it’s wrong. Stifling. Out. I need out. I need out into the moving air.


The door to the tank burst open and James climbed out, dripping, trailing diodes behind him. His eyes were wild and he looked around at the lab as if seeing it for the first time. Benson ran into the room to check on him, but James lunged at him before he’d gotten five steps inside the door, knocking him to the ground and slamming his head back against the floor with a crack like the report of a ruler smacking a tabletop. Benson twitched, then fell still.

Torres, watching through the observation window, picked up the campus phone with wildly shaking hands and did his best to dial 911. On his third attempt, just as James began tearing into Benson’s throat with his teeth, Torres managed to mash the right buttons and get a connection. He attempted to explain the situation to the operator while James began pounding on the lab door, leaving behind trails of Benson’s blood. He was crazed, feral, and Torres cowered in a dark corner under a desk covered in computer hardware, willing himself to be invisible in the shadows.

James backed up and took a running jump at the door. It exploded into the observation room, spraying the air with splinters of wood. He fell to the ground, seemingly surprised that he’d gotten through, but scrambled to his feet with the dexterity of a cat. He glanced briefly at Torres and hesitated, as though judging whether or not to spend the time, then turned and dashed out the door into the hallway.

Though the Medical Sciences building that contained Torres’ lab was not large, it took James several minutes of trial and error to find the path to the exit. By the time he saw the warm August light pouring in through the sliding glass doors, there was a phalanx of campus police blocking it, in formation with guns drawn. James stopped running and dropped to his haunches, setting the palms of his hands on the cool white linoleum tiles.

“Sir, stay right where you are,” one of the officers said, his voice audibly strained. Canton was not a large town, and rarely did their municipal police force see this kind of action, much less the University’s much smaller and much less trained security department. “You’re under arrest for assault and destruction of property. I want you to keep your hands on the floor just like that, and I’m gonna come over there and take you into custody, ok? Just nod if you understand me.”

James’ muscles tensed slightly, but he didn’t make a move. The officer began to shuffle toward him, gun leveled at his face, hands shaking visibly. James’ eyes shifted from the man to the opening he left in the police line at the door and back, calculating. He waited.

The officer loomed over him, pulling a pair of stainless steel handcuffs from a pouch on the back of his belt. He flipped one side open with a grinding, ratcheting noise.

“I want you to raise your right hand, slowly, toward me.”

James raised his eyes and looked at the officer, then quickly glanced at the door. He lowered his chin then, in a flash, sprung straight up, smashing the crown of his skull into the policeman’s jaw with a crunch. The cop staggered back, screaming, spitting blood and broken teeth onto the pristine white floor. He began to raise his pistol, but James was already launching himself forward. His head connected with the officer’s chest, snapping a number of ribs and puncturing his lung. The cop fell to the floor hard, dropping his weapon, silent but for a loud, sobbing, wet gasp.

James used his momentum to carry himself forward, rolling off of the coughing, shaking officer and springing back to his feet, and dashed toward the door. Toward the light. Toward the air he craved. He couldn’t even hear the screams of the other campus cops as he barreled toward them, his entire focus on getting out, feeling the breeze on his naked, damp skin. As the first rounds hit his torso he faltered, stumbling forward and losing his balance. The door slid smoothly open in front of him, but he caught one half of it on his shoulder, which twisted him around. He fell to the floor as a second volley tore through him, punching holes through his stomach and his legs. He slid, limbs failing, head-first through the outer set of doors.Tthe rough concrete of the sidewalk grabbed and tore at his face, arresting his movement.

James closed his eyes, felt the breeze cooling the blood that covered his body, and died.


Torres heard the gunshots, but he was too deeply in shock to register what they might mean. He stood in the doorway of the lab, looking at Benson’s body. He was still shaking, but the pool of blood around him seemed to say that he wouldn’t be for long. Torres fought through the fog that enveloped his brain, tried to piece together what could have set James off so quickly and without warning.

But had there been warning? Had the olfactory hallucinations been a signal that they’d simply ignored? Benson had even joked about them, said he knew what James was smelling. Jasmine, Torres thought. He was smelling jasmine.

He continued to stare at Benson’s diminishing tremors as the police filed in behind him, silently taking in the scene. And all the while, nearly inaudible and gratingly tinny, the speakers in the sensory deprivation tank continued their endless loop of song.

“Summer breeze…makes me feel fine…”


Andrew Nienaber has been an ice cream truck driver, a bartender, a teacher, a writer, a blogger, a director of operas, and all-around theater professional and a long-time observer of the human condition. He is one of the founders of FatalDownflaw.com and his short-lived blog about his experiences selling ice cream, The Ill Humor Man, drew hundreds of hits per day. Andrew’s premiere novel Truly, Deeply Disturbed was nominated for novel of the year by both Pulp Ark and his story “What We Found” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. You can receive periodic updates about his work – as well as a huge amount of snark – through Andrew Nienaber’s Grammar Correction Institute at http://facebook.com/ANGrammar.



by KT “Kalamity” Jayne

Giant crabs are crafty fuckers. Last night they ate the entire town of Willow Point. They. Ate. The. Town. I won’t ever forget the clickety clack of their claws as I watched from my boat on the bay. They crawled over everything and blanketed the ground in a thick red road of shells. They used their claws to open houses and cars like sardine cans. Screams filled the air and blood ran through the streets. When the tide went out, the crabs followed the water along the beach. Down at the end of Christmas Beach is a cave that only appears when the tide is low. The crabs marched like an army into the cave. I waited out on the water for awhile, just to make sure that the coast was clear, so to speak. Around midnight, I decided it was safe and I rowed back in as quietly as I could. Once ashore I ran home to get my gun and anything else that I thought might be effective.

I went down to the basement and found an old duffle bag that smelled vaguely of ancient gym socks and molded jockstrap. I lifted it up and it had quite a bit of heft to it. Sitting it on a pile of boxes, I unzipped it and was pleased to find that the grandsons had stashed a treasure trove of fireworks inside. Everything imaginable type of firework was in there. Including the borderline dangerous.

“Thank the Kraken for little boys!”

I zipped the bag shut once more and headed back up to the kitchen. I opened several cabinets and tried to guess what giant killer crabs might find satisfying as bait. Most of the cabinets contained cans of food that would not lend itself easily to the task. I sighed and opened the fridge. A block of cheese sat on the shelf in a perfect yellow square. An idea began to form in my brain. I turned and opened another cabinet finding peanut butter and Cheez-its, shoving them into the bag with the fireworks. . I didn’t know if it was going to work, but it was a risk I was willing to take. I also didn’t know what I was going to do with one of the creatures, but it had to be worth something.

A trip out to the garage gave me a heavy logging chain that I’d used occasionally to tow cars stuck in deep drifts on the main road. I also dug out the welding mask and gloves. Those fuckers would pinch you if you didn’t pay attention, maybe the equipment would keep me from losing a limb in the process.

I didn’t give myself much time to formulate a cohesive plan. Once in my truck, I checked for my fishing rod and headed back to the beach. It was still deserted, so I drove the truck as close to the cave as I dared. I didn’t know how long I had, but I figured once one had woken up, the rest would follow. Quickly.

I put the tailgate down and sat on it. Pulling the duffle bag close, I spread the contents out. I could hear the crabs rustling in the cave and I felt a sense of urgency to get my hardly conceived plan underway. I worked quickly in an assembly line fashion. I laid out rows of cheese crackers, covered them in peanut butter, sliced cheese, slathered on more peanut butter and then put a row of small firecrackers on top followed by more peanut butter and another cheese cracker. They weren’t pretty, but I thought I could draw some of the crabs out into the open. I found a paper bag wadded up in a corner of the truck bed. I twisted the fuses of several cracker sandwiches together and shove them in the bag. I left myself enough fuse to light and prayed that I had enough fuse to get several feet from the cave. I also left several of the larger firecrackers ready to grab. I dub around and again praised the never realized villainy of my grandson’s. A wand lighter also lay inside. The boys had thought of everything!

I tiptoed to the cave and listened intently. Gentle clacking. My plan was starting to sound foolish, even to me. There was no turning back. I tossed the bag gracelessly into the mouth of the cave. One small curious crab scuttled out and seemed to sniff the bag. It scuttled around the bag several times and then reached out a claw to snip open the bag. Again it seemed to sniff the bag. One claw poked nervously at the crackers and I saw a tongue slide out to taste it. It paused and then vibrated with excitement. It’s excitement drew other crabs out toward him. They approached the package cautiously. They too seemed to sniff it. Before I knew it, several of the smaller crabs had jumped on the package and began to devour it. I lifted the lighter to the fuse and ran like a bat out of hell.

Several pops erupted and I hauled ass back to the truck. I could hear screeching and clacking behind me. I was not prepared for the wall of crabs that I saw coming toward me. I raced to start lighting M-80s and whatever else the grandson’s had deemed high powered pop for little money. I randomly threw them toward the cave. The first one hit a crab and it made a very satisfying bang. Then I was covered in crab. I blinked, wiped my eyes and threw another. And another. And another. Until the bag was empty.

As the smoke cleared over the beach, I was hit by silence. Nothing moved. I waited. It was still. Up toward the park adjoining the beach, a commotion made me look. A news van had pulled up and a cute blonde was heading toward me. I set down in the sand and surveyed the crab meat buffet that blanketed it.

“Hey, did you do this?”

I nodded.

“What’s your name?”

“Artie Glassman.”

“Mr. Glassman, what did you do?”

“I guess I killed all those suckers.”

“But how?”

“Well, darling, it was all about the bait.”

“The bait?”

“Yep, cheese crackers with cheese. And a couple of fireworks.”


Do you know what to do in case of zombie apocalypse? How about when surrounded by a mad horde of Doctor Who fangirls? What if the Mothman invades your town? What if aliens land and start shooting up the place? Lucky for you that you have met KT Jayne. She knows exactly what to do if any of these things happen. She should, she’s spent her entire life obsessing about all these “what ifs” and more. Lucky for you, too, she has Asperger’s and with her out of the box thinking and whiz kid know how, she might just save your skin. Or your soul. Grab your shovel of death and prepare to face whatever form the apocalypse will take. Or just stand behind her. She’ll figure it out. No matter how the apocalypse manifests, KT Jayne does not die at the end.

KT Jayne lives in a small town of central Indiana with her husband.



Wordslinger Shootout – Round 8




by Scott “Snake Eye” Lange

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I boarded this flight a month ago. The time has whizzed by, much like the clouds and the small pieces of debris from the smoldering engine. It started the day my boss, Anthony Niro, called me into his office for my yearly review. Niro is intimidating for a guy who is less than five feet tall, although the power is in his position. Most people would love to toss his ass into a giant Velcro target. In the six mediocre years I have worked for TechCo, my reviews are generalized, copy and pasted crap. Niro isn’t capable of giving substantial feedback. On that day he was honest.

“Son, I know reviews are always bullshit. Hell, most of the time I use the same one and just change the names. It pisses off those pricks in HR, but I don’t really care.” This was refreshing. “You have been the glue of the division this past year, our go-to guy and without you we would have had some serious issues. Your work has been invaluable. I can write any pile of crap I want in the comment boxes, but it’s the numbers that matter. I gave you a 4.5 out of 5 for your total score. ”

Who is this guy and what happened to my asshole boss? “Thank you Mr. Niro, that is very generous.”

“Now, here is the catch son. I’m sure you know, the company hasn’t done as well as we like this year and unfortunately all merit raises have been frozen for the next 12 months. Sorry son, those are the breaks.”

What a dickbag! A 4.5 percent raise is 8 percent of my salary. Damn, I really needed this raise. My wife’s spending habits are bleeding me dry. When I got home to tell my wife, she tells me I should have told him off and threatened to quit. I tell her it’s not that simple. She tells me I am a coward. Fuck my life.

Looking out the window I see a big piece of metal tear away from the engine. The passengers are terrified. I’m not. I guess in the back of my mind I really didn’t care if the plane crashed and I died.

One of the passengers breaks the rules and approaches the flight attendant. They have a brief discussion and the leggy blond hands the intercom to the fifty-something man.

“Brothers, sisters, this may be our last day on earth. Many of us will find our salvation in the kingdom of heaven. If you have not let Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, into your life, it is not too late. Let us pray.”

The elderly lady next to me clutches her bible and prays. Looking around, the rest of the passengers begin to realize this just might be it, we are going to die a terrible fiery death. We will all be celebrities on all the cable channels, at least for 24 hours until some politician is busted for masterbating in public.

About a week after the yearly raise debacle, my wife and I went out for dinner and drinks at a local pub. I’m fond of the place. She hates it. I drink beer; she drinks fancy drinks.

“I have to tell you something.”

Great, she has probably overdrawn the checking account again, or maybe her prescription for Oxycotin has run out or…

“I’ve met someone and I’m leaving you.”

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see that coming. The warning signs were there. I just chose to ignore them. That is the kind of moron I am. We rarely have sex and when we do, it sucks. We agreed to work out the details without lawyers. That is, if agreeing is saying yes because you are numb and don’t give a shit. Fuck my life.

“Lord Jesus, please help us in these final moments of our lives. Help us reconcile our troubled times and bring us peace in our final moments. Your loving arms await.”

Religion works for some, and I respect it. But God and all that stuff just doesn’t make sense to me. I would be totally OK to go to sleep and not wake up. I would never know if I was dead or in heaven. Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire to off myself. But the idea of sweet, sweet slumber never ending is appealing. Looking around the plane I see passengers listening to the word of the preacher man. It works for them. I look out the window, the flames of the engine illuminate the clouds. Damn, I always thought a plane crash happened much faster than this. I am going to die alone in a metal tube full of strangers.

A week after the bitch made the big announcement I got a phone call from the mortgage company. They tell me the payments are 4 months overdue, and they’ve begun foreclosure proceedings. After texting the wife, she tells me she gambled the money away at a casino. Things just went from bad to worse. This was a hasty emotional decision, but I decided to sell every single thing in the house and I don’t care how much money I get. It only took a few hours to empty the contents of my home and carelessly arrange them in the driveway. I sold my brand new 56 inch smart TV to a neighbor for $75. A nice little Guatemalan lady bought the kitchen. Everything, the fridge, stove, dishwasher, appliance, dishes and all the tools and gadgets you might use in the kitchen for $90. I wanted $100, but she haggled me down. I didn’t really give a shit. The living room set went to a single mom for $25. She asked me to throw in the patio set. I gave in. My idiot wife left her jewelry. I gave all of it, all the gold and diamonds to a cute little blond girl to play dress up for free. She came back later and gave me a juice box. I guess she felt guilty. It was tasty. When the day ended, my life up to that point totaled a whopping $976.42. That is how bad I suck, my life is worth less than a thousand dollars. That drippy shit dick Niro was right not giving me a raise. I’m pathetic.

“Friends, give yourself to Jesus in these final moments, he will accept you in his heart, that is what He does for you. Jesus loves and He will keep you safe.”

People in the plane are crying, sobbing, and blubbering. They are scared; I’m indifferent. After the past few weeks, I just don’t give a shit. Why should I? Living, dying, at this point the line is blurred and seems to be the same. Many passengers are finding peace with Jesus. Others, like the teenage girls across aisle, have decided to tweet their last moments on earth. In their final moments they will be retweeted. Duck lips to the end. Pucker up! Mwah! #yoloplanecrash is probably trending.

My view from the window shows panels peeling away from the wing. I really thought the oxygen masks would have dropped by now. My guess, airline protocol states our deaths will be painless if we pass out from the lack of oxygen. Maybe they are doing us a favor.

Things are getting serious on the plane. The aircraft is shaking and rattling. Some folks are puking into the little bags in their front seat pouch. Damn, those little bags are actually there for a reason, to collect the final few moments of your life. Clever. Honestly, this has to be the slowest crash ever in the history of plane crashes. I have way too much time to lament on my lame life. I’m sitting here listening to preacher man pleading with me to accept Jesus into my life. In front of me a young couple decides to fuck the final minutes of their life away. I can’t say I blame them. Why not? I remember being young and in love. I was a naïve son of a bitch. Relationships are disposable, I have had underwear last longer.

I took my $976.42 and bought a cheap plane ticket to Portland. I decided I really need to get away for a few days, maybe do some hiking or simply sit in a pub and destroy my liver. The day of the flight, I get to the airport early. The line for security was long. After I pass through the body scanner, I overhear a remark by a female TSA agent to her supervisor. “He’s got nothing.”   The ladies giggle and laugh. I can only imagine they are laughing at the size of my X-ray dick. One more reason to feel insecure. When I get to the bar for a couple pre-flight beers, the bartender tells me they just ran out of my favorite beer. Predictable.

“Just pour me pint of something.” He does, I gulp it down. It tastes like shit and I order another. And another. And then a couple more.

The shuddering of the plane is getting worse. The puking increases. The fucking couple keeps fucking and prayers keep praying. Suddenly, a top section of the plane is ripped away, oxygen masks drop and preacher man is sucked out of the plane. The teenage girls continue to take selfies. #milehighoxygenbar is probably trending now. I secure my mask and look out the gaping hole in the top of the plane. The stars are beautiful. This is as close to them as I will ever be.

Another rumble and another section of plane is ripped away, taking seats and their passengers. The plane begins to dive. It feels like the first big drop of a rollercoaster. “Hands up!” This is it, I have mere moments left. The G forces make it difficult to keep my arms up, but if I am going to die, I am at least going to enjoy it. Pieces of plane continue to trail away. The burning engine smokes, extinguished by the rush of air. Luggage and barf bags fill the air, spilling their contents. Purses open up and dump their insides, lipstick and tampons have become mini-missiles. I’m pelted by all the shit women keep in their purses, including what I am pretty sure was a purple dildo. It slapped me across the forehead.

Why the hell are the seat cushions a floatation device? A parachute seems more appropriate. This is an aircraft, not The Titanic. As the plane plummets my vision changes. Everything is black and white. I can no longer hold my hands up, the force slams them to my side. I get light headed, my vision tunnels, then turns black. This is the final moments of a wasted life. I’m still alive and hear the rush of air and tearing of metal.

Then nothing.

“Rescue workers found you in your seat. Do you realize how lucky you are?”

“I don’t feel lucky. I told you my story Doc, everything in my life has crashed around me. Then I literally crash in a plane.”

“You are right, your life has not gone well lately.”

“That is an understatement.”

“Let me help you gather some perspective. Your fellow passengers were burned and torn limb from limb. You, aside from this odd shaped bruise on your forehead, escaped without a scratch. You are a miracle, the only person to survive the crash. This is the chance of a lifetime. You have the fresh start no one would ever want but needs to take advantage of. The crash didn’t kill you. You are a tough guy, inside and out.”

The doctor was right; I can always buy new stuff and find a different job. I am still alive. The doctor was hot, so I asked her out on a date. She said yes. My new beginning.


If you like a good beer and a wacky story, you’ve come to the right place. The writings of Scott Lange tell the story of real people who love their beer in unreal situations. Whether the story is about nerds and dead hookers, first dates gone horribly, horribly wrong or an adult who eats GLUE to calm his senses, Lange’s writing are about regular dudes. It could be your best friend or even you. His first book The Beer Chronicles is a collection of interrelated short stories centered on a neighborhood pub and the beer chugging patrons who filled the seats. Lange’s second work GLUE, tells the story of young man suffering from a condition called PICA, an uncontrollable desire to eat things he shouldn’t.  On his way to recovery, the GLUE eater finds a way to not only help himself, but everyone else in need. Both books are available on Amazon in ebook and actual book versions. Cheers!



by Mike “Bones” Strom

A raven descended towards a lone joshua tree, landing on one of its branches that reached high towards the unforgiving sun of the Mojave Desert. While perched in the shade of the tree’s leaves, the raven gazed about the patches of scrub brush that littered the surrounding flat desert terrain. The air was still. Nothing moved. All of its potential prey had burrowed within the ground or slithered under rocks to escape the relentless afternoon heat. The raven sensed other predators, dangerous predators it could not understand, predators bearing an evil intent well beyond the need for survival. Squawking in protest, the raven flew off towards the distant hills. Its departure caused a serrated palm leaf to drop from the tree. The leaf spun downwards landing on a figure draped in black.


“What the hell,” Vince said.

Three men dressed in desert fatigues crouched behind a slight incline, 500 yards from the lone joshua tree. Vince, the group’s leader, was looking through a rifle’s scope aimed at the figure in black. His partners, Blake and Tanner squinted at the bizarre scene.

“What is it?” asked Tanner.

“I think it’s an old woman,” Vince responded.

“What the fuck is an old woman doing out here all alone in the middle of the desert?” asked Blake.

The woman was in a long black dress reaching from her neck down past her ankles. She had a black-laced shawl draped over her head. She was seated in an antique wooden shaker-style chair. An umbrella was attached to the back of the chair that kept her shaded.

“Is she dead?” Tanner asked.

Gazing through the scope, Vince saw that she remained motionless, seated upright, hands folded on her lap. Her head was slightly bowed forward. The shawl covered all of her face except for her lips. A single strand of saliva hung from her open mouth glistening against the desert background. Vince shook his head. “No. I think she’s sleeping.”

“What the fuck,” said Blake.

“There’s no car. How did she get here?” Tanner asked.

Vince remained quiet while taking it all in.

“This is spooky shit,” said Blake. “I mean look at her. She looks like the grim reaper out there.”

Vince put down the rifle and stared at his partners. “It doesn’t mean anything. Nothing has changed. The job will still go as planned.”

Tanner shook his head. “I don’t know. I have a bad feeling about this.”

“About what?” Vince asked.

“About this. It’s a sign. This—“ Tanner pointed to the woman, “—is not normal.”

“Are you telling me that you’re afraid of an unarmed old lady?” Vince asked.

Tanner and Blake looked at each other, and then each stared back at Vince with uncertainty in their eyes.

Vince sighed. “The drop isn’t scheduled for another hour. Let’s just wait here and watch the situation. When the time comes, we’ll make the decision. However, I’m not about to throw away a major payout based on some speculative paranoia.”


The job had been in the works for over a month, starting with Vince and an old friend of his, who was a pilot. The same pilot who was making the heroin drop. It was the pilot’s first drop for the Guerra cartel out of the Durango region of Mexico. During the drop, Mexican-American gang money and cartel drugs would be exchanged at a site deep within an isolated region of the Mojave Desert. The cartel and gang had a long-standing relationship where trust had been built over years of dealings. That trust had made them both sloppy such that during small drops like the one taking place that day, only one man from each side would meet when the exchange was made.

When Vince and the pilot worked out the details, Vince recruited Tanner and Blake for the heist. The plan was to have the three of them out in the desert on motocross cycles with a satellite phone and some serious firepower, ready for the GPS coordinates to be sent from the pilot while the plane was loaded in Mexico. They would then arrive at the drop site before the gang contact showed up, wait until the plane landed, and then take them all in a surprise attack. This was a half of a million dollar deal, netting a full million take. After subduing the gang and cartel contacts, Vince and the pilot would split the take 50/50 with the pilot getting the drugs while Vince and his crew would take the cash. The pilot would then take off to the heroin hungry northwest, and Vince would split the cash between himself, Tanner, and Blake in a 50/25/25 split. That was the plan, and a spooky old woman wouldn’t get in the way of Vince getting his quarter million.


Thirty minutes later, a trail of dust snaked its way towards the drop site. As Vince tracked it in his scope, a shimmering commercial van materialized. The van pulled up to the joshua tree and stopped. No one emerged, as its engine remained idling.

“Why the van?” Blake asked. “This isn’t a pot drop.”

“I just want to know what the hell is in it.” Tanner said.

Vince stared through his scope. The windows were tinted, concealing the cab’s interior. Vince’s heart pounded, hoping that there were no passengers. The old woman was bad enough, yet manageable. However, any further complications and they’d have had no choice but to call it off.

Nothing moved except for the shimmering effect from the heat coming off the desert sands.

“What the hell is he doing?” asked Tanner.

A few minutes later the van’s engine turned off and a man exited holding a thermos.

Vince breathed a sigh of relief. “Gentlemen, meet target number one.”

The man walked over to the old woman, unscrewed the thermos, filled the cap’s cup, and offered it to her. For the first time, the woman moved, lifting her arm towards the cup. The woman’s hand paused. Vince saw her lips move as she spoke. Then they both turned their heads in the direction of the three men. The woman pointed directly at Vince as if her finger was aimed right through the scope and into his eye. The man bolted for the van.

“Shit, they made us!” Vince yelled. “Quick, head him off before he escapes.”

The three men jumped on their motorcycles as the van started. The only road was a mile from the drop site. The terrain was rough and the van was at a disadvantage. The three men on the motocross cycles easily cut off the van before it could have gotten to the road. Punching a few 45-caliber holes in the van’s side panels persuaded the driver to surrender. The three men zipcuffed their hostage, searched the van, and returned to the joshua tree. The four men stood in a circle as the old woman sat motionless in her chair ten feet away.

“What’s your name?” Vince asked.

The hostage remained silent, staring at the ground.

Vince jammed his 45 into the man’s temple. “I’m not going to ask again.”


“Angel?” Blake said, “What kind of angel takes off leaving his grandmother behind?”

“She ain’t my grandmother.”

“Well then who the hell is she and why is she here?” Tanner asked.

Angel shrugged. “She’s a bruja. She’s always at the drop sight. I don’t know how she gets there or leaves. Most times she never talks. I’m just told to bring her water.”

“She’s a what?” Tanner asked.

“A witch,” Vince said, “I don’t have time for fairy tales. What I want to know is who will be picking her up and when?”

Angel remained silent.

Vince cracked the butt of his pistol against Angel’s nose, splitting it open. He then placed the barrel into Angel’s eye socket. “Who brought her?”

“I serve no man. There is only Santa Muerte,” the woman called out.

The outburst was met with silence. Vince walked over to the woman and looked at her face for the first time. The sagging leathery skin was gray and wilted from her face in flaccid jowls. Her eyes were coated in milky cataracts so thick that the pupils were barely visible. She grinned crooked yellow teeth at Vince as if enjoying his unease.

“Santa Muerte?” Vince asked.

“Yes,” she replied, “The goddess of death.”

Vince felt the ground slant and stumbled forward, catching himself before he fell onto the woman.

The woman laughed and pointed an arthritic finger at him. “See? The lady of the dead sees that you have no bones.”

The world became fluid. Vince staggered away from the woman. He shook his head until his surrounding solidified. Then he looked at the others. Angel was kneeling in the sand with his eyes closed as if in prayer. Blake and Tanner stood frozen. Fear filled their eyes.

Vince attempted to regain control. “I’m done with this superstitious bullshit. Throw her in the back of the van.”

Blake and Tanner stepped towards the woman.

“Touch me and reap the wrath of holy death,” the woman warned.

Blake and Tanner hesitated.

“Throw the old hag in the van, now!” Vince ordered.

They walked to each side of the woman, leaned forward, and then started to lift her up in the chair. The umbrella fell. As soon as the hot sun fell upon the woman, a wave of putrid stench overwhelmed the men as if they were drowning in a pool of decayed flesh. Blake and Tanner gagged, dropped the chair, and both knelt as they vomited in the sand.

The woman laughed. “The weak being led by the weak. That smell is your destiny. The rot of your bloated carcasses bursting in this desert sun.”

She grinned at Vince. A pale serpentine tongue licked at her cracked lips. Her face appeared to melt as the ground beneath Vince’s feet liquefied into molten soil. Vince fell to his knees.

“Your souls already reside in the dark underground. Your physical beings are just shrouds of corpse skin that now kneel before Saint Death.”

Vince saw that Tanner and Blake were lying facedown, sinking into the earth as if it was quicksand.

Angel remained kneeling, chanting, “Death, dear to my heart. Don’t abandon me—“

Vince felt himself surrendering to a dark abyss as he passed out.


Vince was afloat in a seemingly endless expanse of blackness when he regained consciousness. Lying face up in the sand, he opened his eyes to the desert night. The realization that he had survived brought on a sense of hope.

“Yes, you’re still alive,” a voice said. “The cat is not yet done with its mouse.”

Vince sat up. The brilliance from the heavens provided a soft glow to his surroundings. The old woman still sat in her chair. The pilot should have been there by then, but they were alone. The others were gone, as were the vehicles.

“Where is everyone?” Vince asked.

The woman laughed. “Such a stupid question.”

A bolt of rage surged. Vince jumped up and screamed, “Tell me where they are.”

“You’ll know soon enough.”

Vince lurched toward the woman, but fell as if tripped.

The woman tilted her head. “Have you not learned? You are powerless. Perhaps you should run.”

As Vince stood up, he saw his 45 lying in the sand. He grabbed the gun and then stepped backwards. He glanced at the landscape. His only chance was to kill the woman and hike his way out. He raised the gun and aimed it at her head.

Her smug expression faded. “No. No, you can’t. You mustn’t. You are not allowed.”

Vince said, “Yes I can bitch,” and pulled the trigger.

Nothing. He pulled the trigger again and again in panic. Still nothing.

The woman closed her eyes, taking pleasure in Vince’s fear. “Ah, there it is.” She opened her milky eyes, grinned, and pointed her crooked finger at Vince. “There is nothing more fulfilling than the begetting of lost hope.”

The heavens vanished, leaving Vince in immeasurable darkness. His body was held paralyzed, as if encased in clay. He sensed a presence near his face, the stench of rotting flesh. Warm breath seeped into his ear as the old woman laughed.


Michael R Strom is an engineer by trade and a writer by choice. His writings tend to explore the darker side of the human condition, emphasizing damaged characters who perceive their worlds in blurred shades of grey. Being a native from Chicago, he now lives with his loving and supportive family in the Northwood’s of Wisconsin.


Wordslinger Shootout – Round 7




by Josef Matulich

Jason felt a clenching in his gut at the sight of the black enameled owl on his mailbox. He had an unfailing intuition for bad news. He knew the moment every check bounced, every bill posted past due, every packet of medical tests arrived with a worsening diagnosis. Always it felt like a fist squeezing around his esophagus, pinching him shut and roiling the digestive juices below.

He opened the front of the box anyway. Disaster postponed was no less painful, but always less manageable. As he expected, the mailbox was full. The crisp white envelopes spit out by the robots in accounts receivable departments took up a large part: laboratory fees, consultations, thick itemized demands from the last days at the hospital, a missed installment on the funeral homes payment plan. He would juggle those when he was paid again next Thursday.

Intermixed with those were the personal notes. Most were petite squarish envelopes addressed in feminine hands. One larger card, its return address showed it to be from the large family of a coworker, was bowed back upon itself to fit into the tight confines of the mailbox. The family’s youngest daughter had decorated the envelope with crude but enthusiastic flowers and bumble bees. The personal things would go onto the stack on the mantle. Laura had always handled those things before. He had no idea what he would do with them now.

Behind all of this, there was a package. Someone had gone to great care to wrap it tightly in glossy black paper. Jason’s address and a return PO Box number were marked on it in silver marker in lettering fit for a blueprint. It was the size of a check box and surprisingly light. Nothing rattled when he shook it.

Once inside his apartment, Jason unwrapped the package carefully as if performing an autopsy. Someone had folded the edges of the paper to give everything a finished look like a well-made cabinet. Matte clear tape covered all the joints to give nothing to catch on the automated machinery of the postal service. When Jason cut it away, a plain white cardboard box was revealed. He saw no markings, no clue of what laid inside. The nesting lid pulled up once Jason cut the tape around its edges. Clean white tissue paper filled the box.

Wrapped up inside the paper was hair.

The hair was honey-blonde shot through with grey, a single skein two or three inches across. Pretty much the same color as Laura’s. The bundle of hair was about eighteen inches long and attached on one end to what looked to be a patch of scalp. The pale, supple skin had uneven edges like a puzzle piece.

Jason held this in his hands for several moments, passively wondering if this was a joke or a funeral tradition he had not been warned about or simply a mistake. In the end, he wrapped it back up in its paper shroud and put it and the box on Laura’s desk in the office. The emotional energy for outrage or curiosity had been siphoned out of him by the system he and his wife had fallen into upon her illness, a world-spanning machine that for the life or death of the patient was really only meant to create mountains of crisp, white envelopes. He went back downstairs to start drinking.

Another box came the next day.

Another skein of honey-blonde hair came shrouded and wrapped in tissue and black glossy paper. He didn’t know what to make of it, didn’t know whether to scream or cry or call the police. He ran it between his fingers and reminisced. It felt like Laura’s hair in the times he would have brushed it out for her. Idly holding the two artifacts up to each other, Jason found two edges matched up to make a larger piece. He left them that way on her desk

Eleven more identical boxes of hair came in the mail. On the fourth or fifth day he bought a Styrofoam wig head and started pinning the interlocking pieces to it. He had nearly a complete head of hair when the teeth started coming.

There was no question that these were Laura’s teeth. He recognized them from three decades of her smile. They arrived by twos and threes in their glossy black postal packages, as dainty and white as always. There was even the bridge at the end where she had lost a tooth to abscess. Jason first thought to press them into the foam head that held his wife’s hair, but the molars proved to be problematic. Ultimately, he bought a black velvet jewelry display tray at an arts and crafts store and laid them out in two arcs as they would have been in life, an hourglass form of enamel and polymers. The head and the tray took up most of her desk, now. The crisp white envelopes piled higher on the coffee table, unopened.

Jason felt close to nothing as he approached the mailbox each day: no premonitions, just a mild curiosity as to what little surprise might be waiting for him.

Exactly one month after the first carefully wrapped package, the eye arrived in his mailbox. It came sealed in a plastic bag beneath the tissue paper, still moist and looking alive. The textured nerves and tendons dangled from the orb like the fins of a tropical fish. Jason swore it turned to focus on him from within its plastic shroud.

This was the first package that included a note. The handwriting was lettering fit for a blueprint. It read:

“You are a good man and soon you will be reunited with your wife.*”

His eyes tracked down to the bottom of the paper where the footnote waited for him.

“*Some assembly required.”


Josef Matulich is an author, special effects artist and costumer. His first novel “Camp Arcanum”, a comedy about sex, magick and power tools, was released by Post Mortem Press in March 2014. The sequel is in the works. His flash fiction has appeared on the Wicked Library podcast and the up-coming compilation “44 Lies by 22 Liars” by Post Mortem. A horror/comedy screenplay of his is currently in pre-production.

Blog: http://dalmatianalley.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JosefMatulciAuthor?ref=hl

Twitter: @JosefMatulich



by Jacob Haddon

Unimposing on a post at the end of a country driveway, the mailbox sat as it had since Grandpa Jones put it there when I was a kid.

When I was a kid, my grandparents would send me to go get the mail. For them it was a simple request of a child with more energy than they had.

For me, it was a mission of the utmost importance: go to the forward line and retrieve a message, and return it to the General, my grandfather.

I would run down the driveway, and grab the message from the forward commander, the mailbox.

The return trip, however, was always fraught with peril. Soldiers from the opposing sides would ambush me, and desperate, I battled up the driveway. My message was too important for them to let me through. My message was too important for me to give up.

My foes would change based on the day. Sometimes it was the blues and grays, and I ran through the woods of Virginia. Other times, the Germans and French and I moved from trench to trench in Europe. Sometimes even just a straight ride through Boston, warning the redcoats were coming–their guns on my back.

Each battle was fought bravely up the length of the driveway. Each time, despite the almost guaranteed sacrifice by the bearer, the message, the mail, was safely delivered to the Grandparents-in-charge and I would know that my duty was done and I had died a good soldier.

Fifty years is a long time. Still, like the mailbox as the end of the driveway, I endured. Maybe a little worn, maybe in need of some paint, but I stand–mostly.

Today the mailbox sat unused. The message came delivered to our door by a Sergeant and a young Lieutenant. There were messages delivered outside of bullets and battlefields, and yet just as important–messages that did not get left in mailboxes.

My son had been ambushed in the deep jungle. The message he carried was too important for them to let him through. The message he carried was too important for him to give up.

The message he delivered with the remains of his life had saved others, they said. His duty was done, and he died a good soldier.

As the SUV drove away, I saw them–Greys and Blues, Germans in metal helmets and Frenchmen covered in mud, I saw British Regulars and Massachusetts militiamen–my childhood army. They stood at full salute, lining the length of driveway down to the mailbox.


Jacob Haddon is the head story wrangler at LampLight Magazine. He prefers his words open range, his horror all natural, and doesn’t mind if his salsa comes from NYC.

You can find him at jacobhaddon.com


Wordslinger Shootout – Round 6




by Dave “El Saguaro” Rahbari

The man from Good News was shaking as he asked the spokesperson from the Brides about the tougher Merit laws enacted earlier today.   “Is there any truth to the rumors of Freedom And Sustenance officers amusing themselves by doing things to the reclaimed anti-prosperity terrorists, the debt traitors?” His feet fidgeted on the white steps of the Clarity And Compassion temple.

The Novice Bride looked down at him from the interview podium. “It’s been clinically proven that below a certain merit level, they really don’t feel pain.”

The reporter couldn’t take the pressure of those cold eyes on him. He looked away and out into the street where a Right To Work march was going past. Their cheerful musicians were playing a popular and patriotic country and western tune. The Novice Bride continued, her voice speeding up, impatient. “Without the capability of speech, the pain centers also shut down. It’s been proven by the Loyalty Board.” She turned around and left him standing there, the microphone forgotten in his hand.

The injection was swift and painful. Alan woke up from the half sleep he had been in since the surgery. He couldn’t tell where the injection had come from because he couldn’t turn around in the place he found himself. He was leaning over, his arms touching the floor, his legs bent uncomfortably. The walls were very close, brown and rust red. The smell struck him like an almost physical blow. He had never smelled anything this bad before, even in the slums in midsummer. The stench was a knockout punch to the face, a giant’s fist full of broken glass laced with dysentery and the oozing of ripe corpses in the sun. Alan tried to raise his hands to his face, and found he couldn’t. He looked down. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He closed his eyes, looked again, and tried to scream until he nearly passed out. The scream was in his mind and he felt it welling up from his throat, the pressure making his head feel like it would burst. He could make no words, no human noise at all. His throat hurt like it had been badly cut up. By straining his lungs and coughing until his throat burned like he was vomiting acid, he managed to make a quiet screeching noise.

The last several days were a blur. Anne’s voice came to him.

“I know it’s your turn to see Ellie. And I know it’s my turn to pay the hospital, but the Infallible Alpha has called the order to a judgment of a suspected prideful ungelded, and we need the entire council. You know I could have you declared a PU. I would if it weren’t for Ellie.”

“You mean taking my creativity privileges for thirty-six months wasn’t enough?” She didn’t reply, so after a moment, Alan continued. “Anne, I really respect your devotion to those you value.”

Silence on the line for several more seconds. Finally she spoke. “Go and try to earn some money for once Alan, if you can.” The line went dead.

Alan wondered how the phone call could so clearly flash before his eyes when he could barely think in the metal box. His agony in this stinking cage was beyond anything he had ever imagined. He could hear terrible noises. He passed out again for just long enough to stumble and fall against the filthy rusted side of the cell. The accident three days ago returned to him. It was the night after his phone call with Anne. The quiet lushness of the west side of town reminded him of days when he thought they had been happy together, when he had faith.

He had been driving back from a late errand. The animals were making pleasant noises in the trees beside the road. He briefly saw the hurtling cargobus come up on his left, approaching the stop sign. By the time Alan realized they weren’t slowing down it was too late. He blacked out for just a few seconds after the impact. It was so loud as to be impossible to hear. Silence and pressure enfolded him. Something had broken in his hip and his side, his ribs. The road ahead through his broken windshield was waving up and down like a seesaw and the shattered glass seemed to dance from side to side. The seat felt wet, as did the armrest. He forced the door open. He saw that the other driver had stepped down from the cargobus. She was wearing microweave, expensive. Clearly a party member. As his eyes tried to focus he noticed the regalia of the All-Ruling Brides Of The Alpha Superior.

Her voice was stiff. “You are taking up my time when I could be serving the Infallible.” Her gelded slaves, so called Fortunate Ones, jumped out of the cargobus. They smiled blissfully. The taller one hauled Alan up, pulling his broken ribs further apart. The younger one, piety ablaze in his blue eyes, kicked Alan in the crotch repeatedly. Ever since the offices of the Alpha Superior revoked his creativity privileges for thirty-six months, his balls ached all the time as it was. The kicking was a rubbing against his ego, he supposed. Purification. He let himself go limp. Wait it out until they feel he’s been punished enough. When he could see again the superiors had left.

After struggling to the hospital and paying the meter to wait in the greasy waiting room, Alan called his supervisor’s office, and got his friend Julia instead.

“Julia? Why isn’t the boss taking her calls?”

“Alan! You sound terrible! What happened?”

“Car accident. A party member. Had her fortunate ones rightsize me. ‘Evolvement Over Ego’ I suppose, right?” He tried to laugh and ended up coughing like concrete chunks rolling down dark stairs.

Julia’s voice was high. “Alan, the Merit And Freedom officer is not in a good mood today.”

“What did she do to you? Did you get another reprimand for health violations?”

“Yes,” Julia sighed. “I’ve tried going several days without showering, cutting my hair badly, slouching, even not wiping. Nothing helps. I gave up and just started taking care of myself normally again. She still calls me ‘Traitor’. She still gives me extra work so I’ll miss the last bus and have to walk home. It’s only a matter of time before one of the Merit And Utility squads finds me alone.” Alan could practically hear her shudder. “I hear they brand you, and– Alan, I’m scared.”

Alan let out a long ragged breath. His head hurt, and not just from the clear guidance he’d sustained from the Bride’s geldings. “Julia… When I get out of the hospital, I’ll walk you home every day. They won’t corner you in some deserted street.”

Julia’s speech was rapid, breathless. “Alan, I’ve heard from Pam in accounts that if someone can’t pay the Brides and they’re convicted as a debt traitor, they remove their hands and… other parts, and make them into a food animal. And the surgery to take away the ability to speak, it’s–” She was hyperventilating.

Alan interrupted her. “That can’t be true. Julia, you know Pam spreads rumors. It’s her way of coping. Her husband was declared last year.” He felt a thudding as his heart sped up. He felt dizzy. “Would the government do that? What do they want extra hands for?”

“Transplants for people with higher merit who need them? I don’t know.” Julia’s voice was very high now.

“Shsh.. Julia, calm down. It’ll be okay.”

“Alan, don’t tell her today, that you’re in the hospital. That you can’t work. I have a bad feeling. She’s asked me to report to her office again. Last time, she hinted that she could have me declared a debt traitor even if I work all the hours she asks. She keeps threatening me.”

“Julia, don’t worry. It’ll be fine. Anne was certified to send me to Union Correctional and she didn’t do it. This woman can’t hate you enough to carry out those threats.”

Julia sniffed. “I suppose you’re right. Did Anne have you sentenced to bond with a government jollux for bountiful orientation training?”

“Not yet. I suppose the pay cut was deemed sufficient humility blessing.”

Julia whispered into the phone. “Alan, I’m glad they haven’t forced you to sicken and die under some trauma-inducing jollux.” Her voice hitched. “When the thirty-six months are over…”

“Don’t say it, Julie. They may be listening. I feel the same way. We just need to be patient.”

“Alan, how is Ellie?” Her voice fast, blurring over the last topic, running away from the ache.

“The same.”

“Think she’ll ever come out of it?”

“I don’t know. Take care of yourself, Julia.”

“I will. You too, Alan. Try to call in after she goes home, so you get the answering service. That would give you a day to mend. Oh! I hear the intercom!” Her voice was full of fear.


“Goodbye, Alan.”

“Julia Weinstein, please come to the supervisor’s office.”

Wordlessly, she walked to the supervisor’s office.

The woman sat behind a beautiful desk that shone with a dark luster as if the wood was transparent for the first several inches. It was smeared with sauce from a large plate of braised ribs. She did not invite Julia to sit down in either of the wide heavy leather chairs. “Julia, you think you’re better than the rest of us, don’t you?”

“Ma’am?” Julia felt her shoulders creeping up to her ears.

“You know what I mean. You look like you exercise every day. You dress like a model. How do you think that makes others feel?”

“I understand ma’am.” Julia looked down. She was extremely conscious that her legs were fit and rounded. She wished that her business suit didn’t show off her curvy waist as much as it did. She shifted the files she had accidentally carried from her desk to attempt to hide her womanly shape.

“I’m concerned that you may not be right for this job, Julia.”

“I understand, ma’am.”

“Remember that there are places for arrogant underlings where exercise and fitness will not be possible. Growth hormone until you can barely hold yourself up. Think on it next time your vanity gets the better of you. Your scheduled raise is postponed until further notice, and your health care payment is due in cash today at the Compassion Terminal. You may go.”

Their supervisor was not a woman to be trifled with. Julia shuddered as she left the office and returned to her work station. She got her breathing under control and typed for several minutes before she stopped and rested her head in her hands.


Dave Rahbari, aka Vincent Carcosa, aka Mordecai Saccades has a spooky little website full of short snippets from the life and writings of Mordecai Saccades, author of weird fiction and contemporary of Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

Gateways of Dread: A Tribute to the Writings of Mordecai Saccades




by  C. Bryan Brown

Sheriff Daniels poured Arbuckle’s into a tin cup and handed it to Mason Davis. The man’s hand shook, sloshing hot coffee onto his knuckles. He made no complaint, however, as he sat in a chair. Daniels rested his hand on his revolver and perched on the corner of his desk.

“Anna’s gone, ya say?” the Sheriff said.

“Yes, sir, gone. Like the others afore her.”

“Now, Mason, I’m still not sure all yer wives are sneaking off.”

Mason set the cup on Daniels’ desk.

“If I was killin’ ‘em, Sheriff, why’d I come here? Not like I couldn’t skedaddle without a soul knowing.”

“Sure, ya could, but then ya’d be leaving yer plunder behind. Ain’t yer style and we both know it. How many wives ya had now, Mason? Three? Four?”

“Anna be my third.”

Daniels nodded and clapped Mason on the shoulder.

“Ain’t natural for a man yer age to have had three wives, Mason. I’m stumped, really, why these men keep marrying their daughters to ya.”

“I’m a likable fella, Sheriff.”

“Yeah, yer likable all right, with land and livestock, a heap of which ya bought after yer first wife disappeared. Naturally, Beth didn’t get on missing until after her father passed and left her all that money. Funny, too, she left it all in the bank for ya, right as a trivet. What woman leaves and takes one single cow with her?”

“Seems ya shot them same bullets when Beth shinned out, Sheriff. They was blanks then and they blanks now.”

“Or just misfires,” Daniels smiled. “Every time ya come up with a missin’ wife, I’m gonna pull my trigger. Soon enough, I’ll hit a live round. Let’s get a wiggle on, Mason. I got to look around yer place. Ya know that.”

“’Course, Sheriff. Whatever ya say.”

Daniels rose and went to the rack in the corner. He pulled down his hat, a faded black bowler, and stuck it on his head. They’d be riding in the sun most of the morning and the last thing he wanted was red, painful skin for the next week.

Mason’s ranch was just beyond the county line, which meant Mason’s problems weren’t Sheriff Daniels’ responsibility, but damned if the four-flusher didn’t keep marrying girls from his county. Daniels had played poker with John, Beth’s father, until his death, and the man had never liked Mason.

“He ain’t someone to ride the river with,” the old man used to say. “Roostered, more often than not, and played out. Ain’t no granger, just a deadbeat, but Beth says she loves him and will till the cows come home.”

“Ah, shut yer bazoo and play a card, will ya?” Old Willy would always say. They’d all laugh and the game would continue.

Daniels didn’t think much of it at the time. He didn’t believe in love himself, and all that namby-pamby talk made his chest hurt. Once his wife had given him two boys, he’d divorced her and taken up with whores for his needs. Still, he’d heard it wasn’t uncommon for a father to dislike the man sticking it to his daughter, didn’t matter if the man was ace-high or not. The peculiarity of fatherhood was that you were expected to marry off yer girls, but destined to dislike every option available. To that end, Daniels was happy he only had sons to deal with.

Once Beth disappeared, his gut reminded him of John’s insults. The old man had been shrewd, and while never rich, he never wanted for anything. His wife died during childbirth with Beth, and he neither married again nor had any bastards. Once he passed, all his lands and money went to Beth, and when she was gone, Mason. Using his wife’s family fortune, Mason invested in cattle, and lured his second wife, Mary, to him. She’d been an ugly, fat woman, and Mason demanded three quarters of her father’s herd as dowry. Mason being Mary’s only suitor, her father complied. She’d gone missing less than a year later.

And now Anna had vamoosed as well.

They approached the hill that shielded Mason’s ranch from the long, flat range he used to feed his livestock. The grass, matted from hooves, was chewed down to stubble and covered in shit. The horse’s tails swatted the flies away as they picked a safe passage over the terrain.

“Where’s yer herd?” Daniels asked as they rode over the crest.

The ranch spread out below him. The house, situated to the north, faced southeast, back towards the county. The barns and cattle pens were south and west of the house, covering dozens of acres. Mason’s cattle should be there, in those pens, but they were empty. The earthy smell of dung saturated Daniels’ nose and he sneezed.

“They should be here,” Mason replied. “Unless that mudsill Parker took ‘em.”

“He’s been yer man since yer first wedding. He ain’t got no cause to take ‘em. And where would he take ‘em? Yer in a valley and the big hills are less than a mile in all directions but the one we came from. We’d have seen him.”

Mason spurred his horse forward and raced down the hill. Having no other choice, Daniels followed, and pulled his mount alongside the first pen’s fence. Ahead of Daniels, near the next pen, Mason’s horse pranced and pulled away, snorting hot air.

“Horse is nervous,” Daniels commented. As they approached the pen, his horse whinnied and jerked its head away, pointing them back toward the county. He patted its thick neck, soothing, and whispered, “Not just yet.”

They tied their horses to the hitch near the front of the house. The stairs squeaked as they ascended and Mason led them into the foyer where they found Parker bound with leather strips to a chair, his mouth and eyes open, but quite dead.

“Is there a wound somewhere? I don’t see no blood, so I reckon there ain’t one,” Daniels said.

“I’m not a doctor—”

Mason stopped talking, interrupted by the mooing of a cow.

Daniels spun and stalked onto the porch. A single cow stood at the bottom of the stairs. A leather collar, with a single golden bell, circled its brutish neck. It stared at him with impassive eyes and mooed again.

Why didn’t I hear the bell?

The door opened and the cow’s attention turned to Mason.

“It cain’t be,” Mason gasped. “That there is Beth’s cow. The one she took with her. It cain’t be here.”

“Why’s that? Maybe she’s come back. Beth!” Daniels cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled Beth’s name again.

The cow put a hoof on the steps, and then another. It mooed and Mason screamed. He ran into the house and the cow snorted, as if amused, and charged. Its forehead connected with Daniels’ midsection. The air rushed out, left him gasping, and his feet left the air. A twist of its neck sent him sprawling to the side. He landed hard, his revolver went spinning away. The cow never slowed as it charged through the half open door.

Daniels patted his body, searching for a gore wound, and finding none remembered it was a cow, not a bull. Inside the house, Mason screamed and a shotgun boomed. Daniels retrieved his gun and headed into the house. The sitting room, just to the right of the foyer, had been destroyed. The cow had trampled the furniture, reducing most of it to kindling. The shotgun went off again, toward the rear, and Daniels hurried that way, finding the dining room and the kitchen in similar disarray. The back door hung off its hinges and Mason’s babbling voice leaked in from the outside.

“Yer dead!” Mason screamed. “Dead!”

Daniels rushed the back door, unsure what he’d find outside, but he wasn’t prepared for what he did see.

The cow had Mason by the ankle and slowly pulled him toward the hills in the distance. Mason’s hand fumbled with his shotgun, loading in two shells. He locked the barrels in place and fired both into the cow. The beast kept moving as the bark of a tree behind it disintegrated.


Daniels moved forward and fired his six shots, each of them striking somewhere beyond the animal. He reloaded and holstered his gun, seeing as how they weren’t any use. He stood, staring, both frightened and fascinated.

“Sheriff! Help me! Don’t let her take me!”


Daniels caught up to Mason and grabbed the man’s hand. Daniels dug his heels in.

“It’s her,” Mason panted. “It’s her. She’s the cow.”

Daniels said nothing; he pulled harder and Mason screamed again.

“My arm! It hurts! Let go!”

Daniels released Mason and went after the cow instead. He latched his arms around its neck and yanked. The cow’s muscles were steel, unmoving, and he grabbed the mouth next, trying to pry the teeth away from Mason’s ankle. The jaw moved and Daniels hollered, triumphant, until he realized the play. His hand slipped forward and the cow bit down, taking two fingers of Daniels’ left hand off at the knuckles. He screamed and fell backward, holding his hand up above his heart, unable to stop the blood from fountaining out over his hand. Daniels tore a strip of his shirt and wrapped the fingers, watching helplessly as the cow dragged Mason another fifty yards. It stopped and turned in a circle, dragging the screaming Mason with it.

“Not here! Oh God, not here!”

The cow stopped and its rear legs, then torso, sank into the earth, disappearing from sight. Its head soon followed and with it, Mason’s leg. Mason kept screaming as the cow pulled him down, down, down. The shotgun stood on end, a silent grave marker, until the last of Mason’s fingers were gone, and then the gun fell over, raising a small, insignificant dust cloud.

The following day Daniels brought two deputies, armed with shotguns and shovels, and the doctor back to Mason’s house. He led them to the patch of dirt where Mason had disappeared and told his men to dig.

“Make it wide enough for a cow,” he said.

They gave him queer looks, but he didn’t care.

Hours later, the remains appeared.

A cow’s skull, with tatters of flesh still clinging to pocked, greyish bone. The deputies took care, clearing the dirt around the body. Daniels hunkered down at the edge of the pit, the sun searing him from the west. He covered his eyes and pointed with his uninjured hand.

“There. Between the cow’s ribs. What’s that?”

A deputy dug around the area and groaned.

“It’s a hand, Sheriff.”

The doctor lowered himself into the hole and examined the find.

“It’s female,” he said. “Here, Jack.”

The doctor tossed a small object upward and Daniels snagged it out of the air. He blew on it, clearing away dirt, and rolled it over in his fingers. It was a gold band, a wedding band, if there ever was one. Daniels wet the end of his thumb and rubbed it clean. He read the inscription on the inside: To My Beth.

Daniels turned the ring in his fingers, watching his men dig, curious as to what they’d find down in the earth with Beth and her cow. Maybe they’d find love, powerful strong, ready to rise up and tear apart another house, another life. Maybe they’d find Mary and Anna, or Mason down there, but Daniels doubted it. With love, things went missing never to be found again, and that was just the way of it. Daniels stared into the deep, dark hole full of love, and knew why he’d never wanted no part of it, then or now.


C. Bryan Brown writes, watches too many movies, and has a great fondness for coffee, liquor, and sex…not necessarily in that order. His first novel, Necromancer, was released in 2012 and his short fiction can be found in numerous anthologies, magazines, and websites. He also writes TV and movie reviews for Destroy the Brain. You can find links to his published work, Facebook, Twitter, and the ramblings that keep him out of jail on his website.


Wordslinger Shootout – Round 5




by Peter “Doc” Salomon

The bride lifted the veil to wipe a tear away. She smiled.

She was always smiling. Laughing. She had a wonderful laugh. She even laughed during his vows.

I laughed as well, there in the shadows where I watched.

“Bobbi,” he said.

I didn’t know his name. No, I knew his name, I’d just forgotten. On purpose. It began with a B, I think. Didn’t matter.

“You’ve made me a better man,” he said. Still talking. He talked too much.

She wiped another tear away. She smiled. The light reflected off strands of hair escaping around the pristine white of her veil.

“You are the other half of me,” he said. “The better half.” She laughed.

I laughed, there in the shadows.

She smiled.

It was time for her to say his name.

I covered my ears, long enough to miss his name on her lips.

“You’ve made me a better woman,” she said. “I never thought I’d find myself again.” She wiped her eyes. Deep blue, full of love and laughter.

I’d drowned into them once.

I was still in there somewhere. Lost in her eyes.

“And then you rescued me,” she said.

He laughed. She laughed. People all over the church laughed as well. They all knew the story. The brave police officer rescuing the fair maiden from the lunatic. The reporters called the police officer a hero. Politicians pinned a medal on his chest.

The lunatic had stalked her, the story went. Stalked her for days and weeks and months and years.

Then, one dark and stormy night—it was always dark and stormy in stories, it made them more terrifying. How frightening would a bright sunny day be? On that dark and stormy night, the lunatic had broken in. Had to have broken in. The fair maiden would never have opened her door to the lunatic. Would never have invited him in. Would never have given her heart to the lunatic.

The lunatic broke in one dark and stormy night. The lunatic threatened. The lunatic attacked. The lunatic raped. The fair maiden cried out. She screamed his name.

The hero broke down the door. Which, of course, should already have been broken down if the lunatic had broken in, right? But the story required the hero to break down the door in order to rescue the fair maiden. And the fair maiden needed to be rescued. After all, the lunatic was threatening. The lunatic was attacking. The lunatic was raping.

The hero broke down the door. He never called the crime in, never waited for backup. There wasn’t time. The fair maiden was screaming. The hero climbed the steps, his flashlight beam cutting through the dark and stormy night. Gun in hand.

The lunatic drowned into her eyes. The lunatic never returned, lost in the waves.

The hero rescued the fair maiden. Shot the lunatic in the back. The lunatic collapsed, blood dripping down to land on the curls of her hair. Her laughter nothing but a memory.

“With this ring,” the Priest said.

The wound had never healed. Still leaking blood if I moved too quickly in the time since I’d been shot. I’d been warned it would hurt. He’d told me it would hurt. I couldn’t remember his name. I’d blocked it out.

It had hurt, when he’d shot me. Even knowing it was coming, even expecting it, tensed up against the sting of the bullet, it hurt. I’d been so focused on her eyes, drowning into them. I was never supposed to notice her eyes. Or the way the light caught the curls of her hair. Or the way she smiled when she laughed.

I was only supposed to scare her. Just a little, enough so she needed rescuing. He’d paid me to scare her. He’d paid me to threaten her.

He knew every detail of her life. Where she’d be every moment of every day. He’d stalked her for days. For weeks. For months. For years.

Watched her every movement, wherever she went. He watched her at work. He watched her at home. He watched her take baths every Saturday night. Studied the way she liked the water temperature just right. Dipping just a couple red-painted toes into the water to test it. Then sinking in. She’d sigh, he said. She’d sigh and she’d smile and, best of all, she’d laugh.

Her whole body flushed red when she’d laugh. He showed me thousands of pictures. Her skin wet and soapy-shimmery from the bath. Thousands of videos. Her bedtime ritual of lotion and creams. The special occasions when she’d entertain a guest. The really special occasions when she’d entertain herself.

He’d follow her guests, he told me. Ticket them for speeding or for failure to use a turn signal or a broken taillight. He knew where they lived. He ruined their lives when he could. He sent pictures to wives or arrested for trumped up charges or, once, poisoned the tomatoes growing in their garden.

She never knew why so many of the men in her life seemed to have problems, shrugged it off to her terrible taste in men. What else could it be, to have everyone she dated turn out to have arrest records or horrific divorces or secret lives they kept hidden not only from the world but, apparently, from themselves as well. Of course, no one believed them when they claimed they were innocent. After all, who would frame an innocent father for poisoning his son with arsenic-laden vegetables?

He told me where she’d be. He told me what to say to get close to her. He told me what she looked for in a date. He told me what she liked to do at night. Where she liked to go. What food she liked to eat. Her taste in wine. Her favorite dessert.

He paid for the first date. He paid for every date. He never told me that what she was really looking for was me. How could he have known we’d be right for each other?

She was delightful. Glorious. Beautiful, yes, she was that. But she was vulnerable and curious and talented and more. But that was just a part of her.

She was brilliant and sweet. Kind and independent, precious and perfect.

He never told me to drown into her eyes. I did that on my own. I couldn’t help it. She was everything I’d ever wanted. And she was, for that one brief moment, mine.

After the hero shot the lunatic, he showed the fair maiden the photographs and videos and typed up notes of the lunatic’s obsession. The lunatic had stalked her. The lunatic had been obsessed with her. For days and weeks and months and years.

The hero had saved her. Had rescued her.

And she believed him. The lunatic was just one more terrible choice in her history of terrible choices in men.

The hero was different. He was always there, supportive as she cried on his shoulder all those lonely nights after the lunatic had been shot. The hero helped her find the truth. He found proof, entered it into evidence.

The lunatic was arrested.

“I do,” the fair maiden said, wiping away a tear with the sweetest laugh I’d ever heard.

“I do,” the hero said.

“I do,” the lunatic whispered in the shadows, yet more pieces of his heart dying with the words. Still drowning in her eyes. Still hearing her voice tell him she loved him, still remembering the way she smiled when he said “I love you, too.”

The bullet missed his heart but killed it anyway. They diagnosed him with depression and a dozen other lunacies. They strapped him down. They medicated him. They found him not guilty by reason of insanity.

The hero spoke at his sentencing. Asked for leniency.

On weekends they’d let me out for good behavior. I’d stay in a halfway house filled with criminals and junkies. They all looked at me funny. Kept their distance. They called me a lunatic. Shot in the act of raping the woman I’d spent my life stalking. They all knew the story. They’re even making a movie of it, the greatest love story ever told. A real life hero saving the fair maiden from the lunatic. I wonder who they’ll get to play me?

“You may kiss the bride,” the Priest said.

The hero, I can’t remember his name, lifted her veil. She smiled. It lit up her eyes.

Her lips were always shiny. Shiny and soft. It’s hard to explain. She was so soft.

Probably from all those lotions and creams every night. He watched the videos over and over again. Ten, fifteen minutes of spreading lotion over her arms and legs and everywhere else. A different cream for her face. Every night.

He laughed. Told me that someday he’d be the one applying the lotion. I didn’t believe him.

The hero kissed the fair maiden.

People clapped. A thousand people or more. The greatest love story ever told.

Depression isn’t the proper word. I’m not depressed. I’m too numb. I would have to be able to feel something to feel depressed. I feel nothing. I’m still drowning.

I drowned.

Yes, he paid me to seduce her. But I’d have done it for free.

She loved me. I know she did. She told me the night she took me to bed for the first time. The night I was shot.

Now I’m nothing but her stalker, her rapist. Her lunatic. She testified against me.

I never broke down her door. The hero did that. I never forced her. The hero did that, too, didn’t he? She fell in love with her rescuer so I guess it’s not rape.

Is it?

Is there a term for what he did? Fraud? Is it even illegal to win your wife’s heart by saving her from being raped?

Who’d ever believe the hero set it all up?

I’m not depressed.

I just have nothing left to live for.

I know what she does every night. I remember all the notes he showed me. I remember her schedule. I remember where she lives. I remember the tree branch he used to stand on every night.

I never stalked her.

So help me God.

Until now.

I watched him take her wedding gown off. Piece by pure white piece. She laughed. He smiled as he rubbed her lotion on.

The lunatic knew things about the fair maiden the hero never knew. He knew the way she whimpered when kissed softly, the softer the better. He knew where she wasn’t ticklish. And he knew where she hid her house key.

The lunatic never broke the door down.

The house smelled like her. It felt like home. The couch where we’d sat after our first date. Where we kissed for the first time after our second date. The kitchen table we’d had a dozen dinners on.

I reached her bedroom door. No need for a flashlight, I knew the way.

The door was unlocked. The hero reached for his gun but I’d passed his holster on a chair downstairs. I smiled when I showed him the gun in my hand.

The fair maiden screamed.

I think they’ll have to change the ending of the movie. No one wants to see the lunatic kill the hero. No one wants to watch the groom die on his wedding day. No one wants to remember the way he died, begging for his life and telling a truth the fair maiden refused to believe.

She cried at his funeral.

She laughed when they sentenced me to die.


Peter Adam Salomon graduated Emory University in Atlanta, GA with a BA in Theater and Film Studies in 1989.

He is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Horror Writers Association, the International Thriller Writers, and The Authors Guild and is represented by the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. His debut novel, HENRY FRANKS, was published by Flux in September 2012. His next novel, ALL THOSE BROKEN ANGELS, a ghost story set in Savannah, GA, is scheduled for publication in Fall 2014 by Flux.

His short fiction has appeared in the Demonic Visions series and he was the featured author for Gothic Blue Book III: The Graveyard Edition. His poem ‘Electricity and Language and Me’ appeared on BBC Radio 6 performed by The Radiophonic Workshop in December 2013. In addition, he edited the first book of poetry released by the Horror Writers Association, Horror Poetry Showcase Volume 1.

He was also a Judge for the 2006 Savannah Children’s Book Festival Young Writer’s Contest and served on the Jury for the Poetry Category of the 2013 Bram Stoker Awards. He was a Judge for the Inaugural Horror Poetry Showcase of the Horror Writers Association. He is also the Chair for the Jury for the First Novel Category of the 2014 Bram Stoker Awards and serves as a Judge for the Royal Palm Literary Awards of the Florida Writers Association.

Peter Adam Salomon lives in St. Petersburg, FL with his wife Anna and their three sons: André Logan, Joshua Kyle and Adin Jeremy.

Twitter: @petersalomon



by Peggy “The Madam” Christie

As Gloria shoveled another spoonful of chocolate ice cream into her mouth, she stared at the business card on the counter. Her friend’s words echoed in her head.

“You need to move on, Gloria. Ron took the bank account, the Corvette, and that 20-year old slut to California. He’s not coming back. Get over it.”

She parroted her friend’s voice in a sing-song lilt, ice cream dribbling down her chin. Gloria wondered if Dr. Girault’s specializations of ‘grieving, depression, and anxiety therapies’ might help her or just push her deeper into her depression. It probably wouldn’t hurt to talk to him at least once.

When Gloria approached the one-story red brick building on the day of her appointment, a middle-aged woman exited the front door. Her teased blonde hair had been shellacked into the shape of a cotton ball. Her white blouse was buttoned up to her neck and her cream colored pants had been ironed with a crease that looked sharp enough to cut flesh from bone.

Her immaculate appearance wasn’t what caught Gloria’s eye. It was the whiffle bat the woman swung it back and forth in front of her, as if fending off an invisible attacker. Gloria couldn’t discern her mumblings but her voice sounded gruff and full of hate. The woman got into a little white Mazda Miata and drove away, leaving Gloria to stare after her for several minutes.

When she entered the lobby, an assault of bright hues hit Gloria. Reds, yellows, and oranges colored the walls, floors, and even the furniture, like the entire lobby was set aflame. Overwhelmed, she was unable to move forward. A voice to her right snapped her out of her stupor.

“Mrs. Banner?”

Gloria looked over at a young woman behind an oversized desk. She smiled as she approached.

“Yes, I have a ten o’clock with Dr. Girault.”

“Please have a seat. We’ll call you back in a few minutes.”

Gloria frowned. “Don’t I have to fill out any paperwork?”


She offered no further explanation so Gloria did as instructed. She’d just begun to thumb through the latest trash magazine when the receptionist called her.

“Mrs. Banner? The doctor will see you now. Please follow Kent.”

Gloria looked up to see a tall well-muscled man standing next to an open door. She smiled at him but his stoic demeanor never shifted. His chocolate brown eyes regarded her with indifference for three seconds before he turned away then moved down a narrow hallway.

She quickly followed, scanning the various diplomas and awards dotting the right wall and a disturbing assortment of art hanging on the left. Flaming buildings and charred corpses; demons tearing apart the damned of Hell; The Nightmare by Fuseli. The imp’s eyes followed her as she moved ahead.

Kent stopped and she ran into his back. Gloria mumbled an apology but he simply opened a door at the end of the hall and motioned her inside. She thanked him but he had already closed the door against her nose. Gloria stepped back then turned at the sound of rustling papers. Dr. Girault sat in a gothic style chair, the black leather worn at the armrests. In contrast to the lobby outside, his office stood stark in its spartan color scheme of black and white. Gloria blinked as her eyes adjusted to the change.

“Mrs. Banner, please come in. Sit.”

Dr. Girault stood to greet her, holding out a pale long fingered hand. She shook it then looked down at the long couch.

“Do I need to lie down?”

“Not yet. Let’s get to know each other a bit first. Tell me why you’ve come.”

Gloria sat, her back rigid, not knowing where to begin. As she thought how to voice her issues, she realized how bitter and pathetic they seemed. Her eyes welled and she stumbled over her words.

“A few months ago my husband…”

She found herself unable to continue as the tears spilled and she shook with sobs. Dr. Girault leaned over and patted her hand.

“He cheated on you? Left you for some tramp?”

Gloria twitched at his blunt tone. She nodded and he continued.

“I’ve seen this a hundred times, Mrs. Banner. May I call you Gloria, since you shouldn’t be shackled to that name anymore?”


“Gloria, I know I can sit here and spew all the usual platitudes – you don’t deserve this, he’s an asshole, don’t wallow. But sometimes we need to sit and stew in the miserableness of it all before we can begin to heal. People treat relationship troubles as something not worthy of grieving. They think just because no one died that there is no ‘real’ loss. Well, I call bullshit.”

Gloria looked up at him and barked out a short laugh. The doctor smiled.

“So you agree with me. That’s good. Very good.”

He stood and paced the small office.

“You see, Gloria, I subscribe to what’s called ‘extreme’ therapy. I believe a patient needs to sit with their suffering, really look it in the eye and get comfortable with it, before they can move on. Do you think you can do that?”

Gloria nodded. “My friend keeps telling me to get over it but I don’t feel ready.”

“Then stay in the sorrow, Gloria. Bathe in this depression until it floods every cell of your body, every aspect of your soul. Here are some exercises you can do.”

By the end of that first week, Gloria felt so much better. She was morose all the time but didn’t mind anymore. She was happy in her sadness, taking pleasure in moping and staring off into space as she dreamed of the life she’d once had. She even felt a thrill of goose bumps as she held a serrated steak knife to her own throat while staring at her red and puffy reflection in the mirror.

Within a few weeks, however, she’d lost the joy of wallowing and only felt misery again. When she discussed this with Dr. Girault, he smiled.

“I believe that you are ready for the next phase. Gloria, have you ever heard the term schadenfreude?”

She shook her head and he continued.

“Schadenfreude is a fantastic German word that means to find enjoyment at another’s suffering.”

“You mean how I thought it was funny to see my cranky old neighbor trip and fall in her driveway, twisting her ankle?”

“Exactly! When we can find misfortune in others’ lives, we often forget the pain in our own.”

“But things like that don’t happen every day.”

“You’d be surprised, Gloria. And if you don’t see any misery, you can always create some.”

“What do you mean?”

Dr. Girault didn’t elaborate. He ended the session and bid her good day. Sitting at a red light, a young man crossed through the walkway in front of Gloria’s car, burdened with several heavy boxes marked ‘fragile’. Imagining how easy it would be to trip him up, she laughed aloud. Then she understood what Dr. Girault meant. Glancing around for nearby onlookers, Gloria leaned on the horn. Startled, the guy jumped and dropped everything. Even through the closed windows, Gloria heard a great crash as the breakables shattered around him.

When the light turned green, she veered to the right to drive around the distressed fellow. This was going to be fun.

Over the coming weeks she shared her exploits with Dr. Girault. He praised her creativity, dedication, and perseverance. After six months he introduced the next stage.

“You’ve done very well so far but it’s time for Phase III. For some it’s the last step in their grieving. For others…”

He trailed off leaving her to wonder what could be in store for her future.

“Phase III is to move you past all the afflictions, yours and outsiders. Even if you no longer suffer, the distress of others hurts us all. So I want you to end the pain, Gloria.”

“What do you mean-”

“End it.”

He stared at her over his notepad, his eyebrows arched high. She didn’t understand but nodded anyway.

“Good. Same time next week, then?”

“Yes. Good bye, Doctor.”

She drove the long way home, pondering today’s session. Was she just supposed to end her exploits or did he mean something else?

As she slowed to a stop at a red light, a homeless man lunged at her car and began cleaning her windshield with a dirty rag. He smiled at her around a lone blackened stump of a tooth.

“Clean your car, lady?”

She started to say no but hesitated. She stared at the man’s raggedy appearance, the desperation in his smile, and the hopelessness in his eyes.

“End it.”

Dr. Girault’s message became clear in that moment. She opened her window and smiled.

“I hope you don’t think I’m being condescending but how would you like to earn some money?”

An hour later, Gloria stood over the dismembered corpse of Harold, the homeless man with no job, no money, no prospects. A faceless number in a crowd of the invisible whose absence would never be felt. This poor man wouldn’t have to suffer the elements or know hunger ever again.

Gloria’s exuberance quickened her blood. Listening to his screams excited her in a way she’d never known. She hoped Dr. Girault would be proud.


Edward Girault smiled from his prone position on the therapist’s couch. Dr. Reynolds buried his nose in his scribbled notes, mumbling banalities as he always did during Edward’s sessions.

“I do think I’m improving, Dr. Reynolds. In the past, people like my newest patient would have caused me to falter. However, she’s improving steadily with accepted therapies,” Edward lied.

“That’s wonderful,” Dr. Reynolds replied.

“I do admit that it hasn’t been easy but I see now how my extreme therapy practices were just an excuse to fuel my Conduct Disorder.”

“Good, good.”

More notes and murmuring. Edward knew from his first session that Dr. Reynolds would be the perfect therapist. The state review board ordered that Edward get help, and only from what it considered a qualified specialist, if he wanted to continue practicing psychology. Edward had no intention of informing the board that 78-year old Dr. Reynolds was more interested in ogling his secretary than helping people.

Edward babbled what could be deemed as valuable progress for each recorded session that the review board received an hour later. All the while he would continue to manipulate his own patients, even helping some cover up crimes, to make them believe his therapies were working.

At the end of the hour, Edward sat up.

“So what do you think, doc?”

“I think you’ve made excellent progress, Dr. Girault. I even feel I can recommend to the board that this be our final appointment.”

“That’s great news!”

“It’s not official so until you hear differently, plan to return at your regular time next week.”

“Of course. Thank you, Dr. Reynolds.”

“Think nothing of it. Good bye.”

Edward felt his lip curl into a sneer as he left the office and walked to his car.

“I never do, doc. I never do.”

As he drove to his own office, Edward rolled down the window, breathing in the fresh air of the sunny morning. When he entered the lobby, he smiled at the receptionist.

“Good morning, Miss Wright. Any messages?”

“Just one from Gloria Banner. She was hoping to come in early today. She’s eager to speak to you about something that happened over the weekend.”

Miss Wright gave Dr. Girault a sly smile and he squeezed her hand after she passed him the note.

“Please tell Gloria she may come in at her earliest convenience.”

As Miss Wright dialed the phone, Dr. Girault whistled on the way to his office.


Peggy Christie has been writing horror fiction since 1999. Her work has appeared in several websites, magazines, and anthologies, including Necrotic Tissue, Code Z: An Undead Hospital AnthologyBlack Ink Horror, Elements of Horror, and Vicious Verses and Reanimated Rhymes. Her short story, “Why Be Normal?”, opened the anthologyReckless Abandon from Catalyst Press which premiered at the Horrorfind Convention in 2002. Her collection, Hell Hath No Fury, was published by Hazardous Press in May of 2013. Peggy is also the Secretary of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers. She even has her own webpage. Check it out at themonkeyisin.com. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook, too! (www.twitter.com/@PMonkeywww.facebook.com/authorpeggychristie)

 Peggy loves Korean dramas, survival horror video games, and chocolate (not necessarily in that order) and lives in Michigan with her husband and their two dogs, Roscoe P. Coltrane and Dozer.


“Hired Hand”

Available from:

Synopsis of my story:
A drunkard gunslinger is forced to standoff against horrible plague local miners brought back with them into town. But if he means to succeed, Hanlin must also find the courage to accept his troubled past.

Six-Guns Straight From Hell 2 – edited by David B. Riley:


Weird western, western horror, crossover stories. They’ve been called a lot of things. The one thing no one should call them is some “new kind of horror.” This is a genre that goes back over 100 years. That always seems to surprise people when I’m giving talks on the subject. I don’t know that labels are really important to anyone but the critics, as they seem to have a compulsive need to label everything. I do know I’ve always enjoyed these stories–whether they’re in comic books, the pages of books like this one or even the occasional film.

When I look for a story for a project like this, the main thing I want isn’t just horror elements, but something fun to read. I think the stories that follow in these pages live up to that. Additionally, there is the namesake. You’ve no doubt noticed this is volume two. The first book carrying the name Six Guns Straight From Hellcame out in 2010 and was co-edited with Laura Givens. It was very popular. So, it was time for another one. I hope there are even more to come.

You’ll find a wide variety of horror and dark fantasy in these pages. One story skirts modern times as it tries to deal with some ghosts of the Civil War. Another has an African tie in to an Arizona adventure. Of course we’ve got a haunted mine, complete with a very unusual ghost hunter. And what western-themed book wouldn’t have gunfights? Rest assured, we’ve got ‘em.

So saddle up for a wild ride through the Old West. We open this book with a character from the first volume, starting with a gunfight-laden adventure featuring Joel Jenkins’ popular Native American gunfighter, Lone Crow.

Table of Contents:

  • Joel Jenkins – “Blood for the Jaguar”
  • Dakota Brown – “The Life”
  • Vivian Caethe – “The Feast of Hungry Ghosts”
  • J. A. Campbell – “Brown and the Lost Dutchman Mine”
  • Sam Knightt – ” Uncle Banjamin’s Triple ‘T’ Tonic”
  • Jason Andrew – “A Dream Of A Country Cottage”
  • Kenneth W. Cain – “Hired Hand”
  • Kit Volker – “Another One”
  • David Boop – “The Tale of Uji the Griot”

Cover Art by M. Wayne Miller



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