Author Archives: Kenneth Cain

About Kenneth Cain

Dark Fiction Author

Wordslinger Shootout – Round 8

BE SURE TO VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE. AND COMMENT AT THE END. FOR THIS ROUND SCOTT IS GIVING AWAY A SIGNED COPY OF HIS BOOK GLUE AND I’M GIVING AWAY A COPY OF THESE OLD TALES (WINNERS CHOICE OF EBOOK OR AUDIOBOOK) FOR MIKE. YOU HAVE TO COMMENT TO WIN. VOTING AND COMMENTING CLOSE WHEN THE NEXT ROUND BEGINS.

Round8

ODD SHAPED BRUISE

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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!

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MOJAVE MALVADO

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.”

“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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

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Wordslinger Shootout – Round 7

BE SURE TO VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE. AND COMMENT AT THE END. FOR THIS ROUND JOSEF MATULICH IS GIVING AWAY A COPY OF HIS BOOK, CAMP ARCANUM AND JACOB HADDON IS GIVING AWAY AN ISSUE OF LAMPLIGHT MAGAZINE. YOU HAVE TO COMMENT TO WIN. VOTING AND COMMENTING CLOSE WHEN THE NEXT ROUND BEGINS.

Round7

RETURN POST

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.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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MAILBOX

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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Wordslinger Shootout – Round 6

BE SURE TO VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE. AND COMMENT AT THE END. FOR THIS ROUND DAVE RAHBARI IS GIVING AWAY A COPY OF HIS STORY, “THE CELEBRANT” AND C. BRYAN BROWN IS GIVING AWAY AN EBOOK COPY OF HIS COLLECTION, BITS & PIECES. YOU HAVE TO COMMENT TO WIN. VOTING AND COMMENTING CLOSE WHEN THE NEXT ROUND BEGINS.

Round6

COWS

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.

“Julia…”

“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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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
http://msaccade.blogspot.com/?m=1

 

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UNTIL THE COWS COME HOME

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.

Impossible!

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!”

Her?

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

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Wordslinger Shootout – Round 5

BE SURE TO VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE. AND COMMENT AT THE END. FOR THIS ROUND PETER SALOMON IS GIVING AWAY A PAPERBACK COPY OF HIS BOOK, HENRY FRANKS AND PEGGY CHRISTIE IS GIVING AWAY AN EBOOK COPY OF HER COLLECTION, HELL HATH NO FURY. YOU HAVE TO COMMENT TO WIN. VOTING AND COMMENTING CLOSE WHEN THE NEXT ROUND BEGINS.

Round5

THE HERO, THE FAIR MAIDEN, AND THE LUNATIC

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

www.peteradamsalomon.com
www.henry-franks.com
www.allthosebrokenangels.com
www.facebook.com/peteradamsalomon
Twitter: @petersalomon

*********************

PSYCHOBABBLE

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?”

“No.”

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?”

“Please.”

“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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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”

COMING IN SEPTEMBER!

 

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:

Description:

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

 


“A Ring For His Own”

COMING AUGUST 30th!

 

Synopsis of my story:
When a peculiar man arrives in town selling jewelry, Marshal Ben Donegal find himself caught in a predicament that may change his life forever.

Jamais Vu Issue #3 – edited by Paul Anderson:

Description from Amazon:
Jamais Vu The Journal of Strange Among the Familiar brings you the best in dark fiction, poetry, factual morsels, criticism, and more 

Table of Contents:

Fiction:

  • Steven Rasnic Tem – Stick Men
  • Tom Piccirilli – That Hideous Beauty.
  • Damien Angelica Walters – Floating Girls: A Documentary
  • Kenneth W. Cain – A Ring For His Own
  • Kristi DeMeester – To Sleep Long, to Sleep Deep

Poetry:

  • Stephanie Wytovich – Mermaids Can’t Fall in love
  • John Grey – So What Caused This?
  • Christopher Shearer – In the Beginning
  • Lauren Michaud – the Nightmare Room
  • Abigail Rizzo – in which I feel nostalgic about my mother’s death

Plus, new reviews by our usual suspects, Anton Cancre talks about drunkenness in SHAUN OF THE DEAD, an interview with Craig Spector, and a WHOLE bunch more.


“The Hunted”

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COMING SOON!

 

Synopsis of my story:
A man is hunted for his crimes.

Post Mortem Press
44 Lies by 22 Authors – edited by Eric Beebe:

Description:
To follow.

  • Eric Beebe – “All Authors Lie (and Some Editors, Too)”
  • J. David Anderson – “Retirement” & “Happy Birthday”
  • Paul Anderson – ” Passive” & “Lead into Gold”
  • David Bernard – “A Ghoul’s Gotta Eat”, “After Midnight in the Dairy Case”, & “Attack of the Vampire Slayer”
  • Max Booth III – “Like Something Died” & Kurt Cobain Murdered My Father”
  • C. Bryan Brown – “A Vision in Red” & “Legacy”
  • Kenneth W. Cain – “Adaptable” & “The Hunted”
  • Brad Carter – “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Shooter” & “The Legend of Johnny Kudzu”
  • Kyle Dickerson – “Notice” & “Rag Dol”
  • Emma Ennis – “Surrogate”, “The Lady of the Hills”, “Lullaby”, & “Inside Job”
  • Robert Essig – “Moonlight Sonata”, “Names in the Sidewalk”, & “Meeting the Quota”
  • Teel James Glen – “Knight Before Christmas” & “Mama-San”
  • Scott Goudsward – “Winter Wonderland” & “Valentine”
  • K.T. Jayne – “Unionized Freaks” & “They Taste Better with Ketchup”
  • Tally Johnson – “Four Parts of a Prologue for a Novel Not Yet Written” & The Phantom Rider of the Confederacy”
  • M.F. Korn – “Golly Mister, Will You Sign My Laundry List?” & “They Speak Creole French at Those Places”
  • Christian A. Larsen – “Chief Chatzahoaken” & “The Lightning Makes a Stop”
  • Michael Matula – “Mausoleum Monster” & “Copperleaf Road”
  • Josef Matulich – “Foot in the Door”, “Stalker”, “Ukai”
  • Jessica McHugh – “To the Willow”, “Shipwrecked”, & “The D-Word”
  • P. Andrew Miller – “Fifty Shades of Day” & “Troll Hunting”
  • Georgina Morales – “The Beast” & “Memento Mori”
  • Billie Sue Mosiman – “One Too Many” & “Behind the Door”
  • G. Elmer Munson – “Therapy 124″ & “A Man in a Room”
  • Andrew Nienaber – “Colchis, Connecticut” & “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE”
  • Cynthia Pelayo – “Funeral Print”
  • Nelson W. Pyles – “Regards, Eleanor” & “The Trouble with Unicorns”
  • Patrick Scalisi – “Missing Bicycles” & “Residual”
  • Rob Smales – “Spreewald Dreams” & “Was it Good for You, Baby?”
  • Tim Waggoner – “The Good Neighbor” & “A Face in the Crowd”

“Adaptable”

10174872_10151947768702382_6990137743840576814_n

COMING SOON!

 

Synopsis of my story:
An explorer finds himself trapped in a horrifying society.

Post Mortem Press
44 Lies by 22 Authors – edited by Eric Beebe:

Description:
To follow.

  • Eric Beebe – “All Authors Lie (and Some Editors, Too)”
  • J. David Anderson – “Retirement” & “Happy Birthday”
  • Paul Anderson – ” Passive” & “Lead into Gold”
  • David Bernard – “A Ghoul’s Gotta Eat”, “After Midnight in the Dairy Case”, & “Attack of the Vampire Slayer”
  • Max Booth III – “Like Something Died” & Kurt Cobain Murdered My Father”
  • C. Bryan Brown – “A Vision in Red” & “Legacy”
  • Kenneth W. Cain – “Adaptable” & “The Hunted”
  • Brad Carter – “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Shooter” & “The Legend of Johnny Kudzu”
  • Kyle Dickerson – “Notice” & “Rag Dol”
  • Emma Ennis – “Surrogate”, “The Lady of the Hills”, “Lullaby”, & “Inside Job”
  • Robert Essig – “Moonlight Sonata”, “Names in the Sidewalk”, & “Meeting the Quota”
  • Teel James Glen – “Knight Before Christmas” & “Mama-San”
  • Scott Goudsward – “Winter Wonderland” & “Valentine”
  • K.T. Jayne – “Unionized Freaks” & “They Taste Better with Ketchup”
  • Tally Johnson – “Four Parts of a Prologue for a Novel Not Yet Written” & The Phantom Rider of the Confederacy”
  • M.F. Korn – “Golly Mister, Will You Sign My Laundry List?” & “They Speak Creole French at Those Places”
  • Christian A. Larsen – “Chief Chatzahoaken” & “The Lightning Makes a Stop”
  • Michael Matula – “Mausoleum Monster” & “Copperleaf Road”
  • Josef Matulich – “Foot in the Door”, “Stalker”, “Ukai”
  • Jessica McHugh – “To the Willow”, “Shipwrecked”, & “The D-Word”
  • P. Andrew Miller – “Fifty Shades of Day” & “Troll Hunting”
  • Georgina Morales – “The Beast” & “Memento Mori”
  • Billie Sue Mosiman – “One Too Many” & “Behind the Door”
  • G. Elmer Munson – “Therapy 124″ & “A Man in a Room”
  • Andrew Nienaber – “Colchis, Connecticut” & “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE”
  • Cynthia Pelayo – “Funeral Print”
  • Nelson W. Pyles – “Regards, Eleanor” & “The Trouble with Unicorns”
  • Patrick Scalisi – “Missing Bicycles” & “Residual”
  • Rob Smales – “Spreewald Dreams” & “Was it Good for You, Baby?”
  • Tim Waggoner – “The Good Neighbor” & “A Face in the Crowd”

Wordslinger Shootout – Round 4

BE SURE TO VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE. AND COMMENT AT THE END. FOR THIS ROUND WILLIAM IS GIVING AWAY A COPY OF HIS SHORT STORY, “THE APPLE-HOWLER” AND JAMES CHAMBERS IS GIVING AWAY AN EBOOK COPY OF HIS NOVELLA(S) THREE CHORDS OF CHAOS OR DEAD BEAR WITNESS. YOU HAVE TO COMMENT TO WIN. VOTING AND COMMENTING CLOSE WHEN THE NEXT ROUND BEGINS.

Round4 copy

NOWHERE MAN

by  William “Cold War Kid” Grabowski

[DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE FILE #77391: One (1) document, and one (1) video-capture.]

Blake sat at his station 300 feet beneath the Defense Intelligence Agency’s St. Louis field office. No longer could he waste time (or indulge in escapism) watching home-burned DVDs of favorite baseball games, and imagining himself on the mound and in-charge.

He’d read through the document four times, telling himself this couldn’t be real. Whether North Korea, Pakistan, or whoever had conceived the plan to spike tornados with hyper-toxic drones (obviously with inside help), didn’t matter. The massive outbreak of super-twisters, over the last 27 days, offered many, many opportunities. No one yet had taken credit. Did they even know their bristly bio-agent revived the recently deceased?

Blake could barely wait to start the video-feed the NSA had yanked from a security-cam in some Omaha biker bar. A looter, less than a mile from one of the F-5 tornados responsible for this clusterfuck, gets on the wrong end of a Droner—a real snuff film.

“Fuck me,” Blake whispered, and clicked on the show.

***

A tall guy with spiky black hair trots into the main barroom, his white T-shirt glaring in dim light. Pausing, he scans the space with jerky urgency—shouts something no one ever will hear—and climbs over the bar for a bottle of Pernod.

Twisting off the cap, Nowhere Man tilts the bottle and swallows a good few ounces of fiery green liqueur, then sets the bottle on the bar. Chest visibly heaving with dread (no doubt induced by awareness of the F-5’s roaring approach), he pulls a compact pick-ax from a utility pocket in his cargos and starts bashing the cash register. After a few seconds, the drawer is open—empty.

Nowhere Man smashes glass, whips the pick-ax out of frame. He’s fucking pissed.

All at once he turns toward what must be the entrance and—eyes wide—jumps back a few feet. He’s really hollering now, shaking his head as if in denial. [Here Agent Blake can read NM's lips] Motherfucker! Motherfucker!

The door must be open, because a shambling shadow stretches toward NM and his terror, until—[“Jesus Christ!” Blake blurts]

A man taller even than NM, wearing a black leather vest and no shirt, black pants to match and engineer’s boots, moves unsteadily—left leg fucked-up, knee bent back like an insect’s. In profile the long-haired dude looks nearly normal, until NM panics and hurls a bar-stool at him.

Unknown Dude, making no effort to avoid injury, takes a direct hit to the left shoulder—which swings him toward the ceiling’s camera-blister.

His remaining eye is filmy like bad milk. The bloody pit where the other ought to be boils with flies. Unknown Dude is a Droner.

Abruptly NM plucks the discarded pick-ax from the floor, rushes the other and smashes his skull.

NM falls hard; the ax stays where he put it, jutting out like an antenna.

The Droner’s whiskery mouth opens and closes like a grounded fish, drools strings of black gunk onto its chest.

NM gets to his feet, climbs over the bar, grabs the Pernod and pours it into a smeary mug. The Droner lurches toward the bar.

NM grins; raises the mug and flings the hooch—bingo! The Droner is even greener than before.

NM pulls a Zippo from his pocket and—flick of the wrist—clicks it open and thumbs the flint-wheel. There is light!

The Droner hits the bar and NM ignites his heart. Immediately the beard is aflame—and the chest. The Droner exhibits no reaction whatsoever, reaches over the bar and pulls out NM like a rotten tooth.

Ashtrays and peanut bowls crash silently to the floor.

Incredibly, NM manages to strip out of his T-shirt, and uses it to snuff the flames now threatening his own greedy ass. It works.

But the Droner is hungry, and displays this by clamping a hand around NM’s throat, lifting him and biting off an ear. [The Droner's Adam's apple visibly pulses as the ear is swallowed. Agent Blake regrets his heavy lunch]

Within several seconds, NM’s face and neck and torso are bloody—his mouth gaping in agony. He collapses and the Droner drops with him. A real bro!

It can’t wait, clutches NM’s right arm, stands and stomps a boot onto the shoulder. NM’s head shakes wildly, flinging blood. The Droner pulls and pulls—and off comes the hairy arm barely connected by an umbilical of cartilage and yellow fat.

NM’s head jerks back and gushes green from his gaping mouth, remaining limbs convulsing.

The Droner takes this opportunity to reach out and touch someone—NM’s lower jaw, which he wrenches from its mooring, sniffs, and tosses out of frame.

NM’s eyes roll back white—he’s slippery with blood and lymph, so the Droner grabs fresh tongue and raises him to a sitting position. Long enough to thrust a stiff hand into the other’s diaphragm, separating thoracic from abdominal regions, and opening NM like a dying Christmas present.

NM’s convulsions cease. The Droner spends a few minutes uncoiling intestines and wrapping them around its waist for, apparently, private dining later.

[Blake—who's seen his share of Al-Qaeda beheadings and mayhem—screeches his waste-basket close and grunts up lunch]

The slightly blackened Droner smolders, grabs the free arm and swings it over a shoulder like a club.

At that moment what looks like a John Deere tractor smashes through the roof and splinters the bar—the CCTV signal dissolves into snowy static and is gone. Score one for the F-5….

Nature abhors a vacuum.

[Agent Blake grinds his teeth, sips from a Monster...wondering if he'll survive to see his next birthday in two weeks...closes out his screen]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Independent writer/editor, author of JOHNNY FLASH, THE UNTOLD, FLOWERS ON THE MOON and over 250 short stories, articles, interviews and reviews in CEMETERY DANCE, BEWARE THE DARK, NPR-associated WIRELESS and others. On Forbes.com (ghosting for NYC “philanthropunk” John Kluge), 2 Paragraphs, Magonia Blog, Hellnotes, Horror World, and elsewhere. Recently, Peabody Award-winning investigative journalist George Knapp lauded Grabowski’s work on syndicated radio show COAST TO COAST AM. Five years with World Fantasy Award-winner THE HORROR SHOW earned him a nomination from SPWAO as Best Nonfiction Writer. Blogs: THE NIGHT RUN on WordPress, and WILLIAM J. GRABOWSKI’S OUTSIDE LOOKING OUT on Blogger. His books and short fiction are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

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EXTRA INNINGS

by  James “The Judge” Chambers

With a crack of the bat, the Riverton Rebels’ right fielder, Tough Tommy Tedesco, planted a long fly ball in the center field bleachers and tied the game in the bottom of the ninth. The home team crowd roared and filled the minor league stadium with applause as Tough Tommy rounded the bases, driving in two runs before tagging home plate. The scoreboard blinked “5-5.” The Crestview Catfish, longtime rivals from the next state, groaned collectively in their dugout as the lead they’d held since the third inning vanished.

Smiling, Rick and his grandfather, Big Pop, settled back into their seats, praying for the Rebels to bring one more runner home to win the game. But the next batter, Rebels catcher Whit Smiley, whacked a line drive to right field, and Jackson Martinez of the Catfish retired the side with a diving catch.

“Extra innings,” Big Pop said. “You know what that means.”

“Yeah,” Rick said. “Means we might win this one yet.”

Big Pop waved a hand and shook his head. “Means Death’s in the stadium tonight.”

Rick rolled his eyes. “Not again with the baseball myths.”

“It’s no myth, Ricky,” Big Pop said. “Saw it myself, back in ’63 when I was playing third base for the Lewisburg Half Sox. Game went 15 innings and Lou Piscatelli, our second baseman, well, old Lou got himself a new lease on life. I helped keep that game rolling until we won it. We figured Death was aiming for Lou that night, because Lou’s ticket got punched a month later. Car accident. Extra innings or no, everyone’s game ends sometime.”

Rick flagged a concession vendor and bought two cold beers. He handed one to Big Pop. “I’m not eight years old anymore. I’m not falling for stories about magic curveballs and bats made from haunted wood. Let’s just enjoy the game.”

“I made up a few stories in my time, sure.” Accepting the beer, Big Pop shook his head. “But cross my heart, swear to God, Ricky, this isn’t one of them. If a game goes extra innings, it’s because someone gets a chance to cheat death.”

“Uh-uh, Pop, it’s because a team’s trying to win,” Ricky said.

“That too, of course. Sometimes, though, whatever happens later, you only need a little extra time to win.” Big Pop peeled the cellophane from his beer, sipped, and then raised an eyebrow at Rick. “I’d say not dying counts as a win, though, wouldn’t you?”

“Sure, Pop, not dying is always a win. But extra innings have nothing to do with it.”

“Ah, you’re still wet behind the ears. What do you know?”

“I’m twenty-seven. I know about computers, which is how I afford these season tickets I spring for every year,” Rick said. “If your time’s up, Death doesn’t care about extra innings. It’s not like death’s a person anyway. It’s something that happens.”

“You’re wrong about that,” Big Pop said. “Death loves a game.”

Rick eyed his grandfather, searching for the twinkle in his eye and the faint curl at the corners of his mouth that accompanied Big Pop’s tall tales. But Big Pop looked serious, his eyes watery, surrounded by deep wrinkles that seemed out of place and unreal to Rick, who always thought of Big Pop as he knew him from childhood—strong and dark haired.

“That’s only in the movies,” Rick said. “The game was chess.”

“You want to cheat death through chess, you have to win. That’s hard. You want to cheat him through baseball, you only need to make him forget who he’s here to reap.”

Reap?” Rick asked.

“Yeah,” Big Pop said. “He’s the Grim Reaper. That’s what he does, he reaps people. Everyone has a time and a place at the end of their lifeline. You live so long—or short, I suppose—then you die. Where and when is laid out ahead of time, like where and when you’ll be born. Everything in between is up to you. You do what you want with your life. But when your time’s up, you go—unless you trick Death. That takes help from the spirit world because only ghosts—and Death, of course—know where and when someone’s supposed to die. And baseball, Ricky, is a game of ghosts because it’s a game with history. Decades and decades of tradition and ritual. Players wearing lucky socks or blessing themselves in the batter’s box. Babe Ruth and the Red Sox’s curse. That dumb Billy goat in Chicago. Tip of the iceberg. There’s power in all that superstition. Ballplayers look after their own. Sometimes a player who’s passed on will tip the living that Death’s coming for one of them. Sometimes the ghosts even intervene. And the result is extra innings.”

Rick smirked. “So the myth goes, you mean.”

“Uh, yeah.” Big Pop shifted uncomfortably. The game resumed as the Rebels took the field, but he watched the seats on the opposite side of the stadium, behind the first base line, his stare intent. “That’s how the myth tells it, sure.”

“You don’t believe that, do you?”

Big Pop chuckled, but before he could answer, the Catfish’s third baseman, Tino Salud, popped a fly into left field. The crowd stood and quieted with anticipation as the ball sailed through the hazy illumination pouring down from the stadium’s lights, a speck against the starless shell of night, and then it dropped….

With a smack of leather, Tough Tommy made the catch, back pressed to the wall, glove arm extended what seemed like a mile. The crowd cheered.

Except Big Pop, who refused to take his eyes off something across the field.

Rick gripped his grandfather’s arm. “You okay?”

“Honestly, Ricky, I don’t know.” He pointed to the far seats. “You see anything odd over there?”

Following the direction of his grandfather’s gaze, Rick saw seats crowded with a sea of fans in Rebel’s baseball caps and jerseys, foam fingers, and handmade cheer signs.

“By the foul pole,” Big Pop said.

Rick shifted his eyes. More of the same—except about ten rows back from the field sat a man dressed all in black. A big man in what Rick took for a black, hooded poncho. Holding a long pole with a banner on the end.

“That guy in black?” Rick said.

“You see him?” Big Pop sounded surprised, worried.

“Is that what this is about? You see some wacko fan, dressed up like Death because he wants the Rebels to bury the Catfish and decided to pull my leg?” Rick said. “It’s all a joke?”

Big Pop laughed once. “I’m not joking. Watch that guy a minute.”

Rick did. He missed the next play when the guy in black shimmered like a heat mirage, vanished, and then reappeared in another seat, closer to home plate. A moment later it happened again. Then a third time. Rick blinked and downed half his beer. The man in black now sat right on their side of home plate.

“He’s getting closer,” Big Pop said.

A cold knot crimped Rick’s stomach. “How’s he doing that trick?”

The man in black shimmered again, disappeared, then reconstituted.

“Ricky, I don’t feel so well.”

Big Pop looked pale. Rick touched his grandfather’s arm. Clammy, cold.

“Where are your pills, Pop?”

“Left them in the car.”

“I’ll go get them.”

“No!” Big Pop squeezed Rick’s hand. “Don’t leave me alone.”

On the field the Catfish had loaded the bases with two outs. Their best hitter, Ron Finlay, stood in the batter’s box. Finlay watched the first pitch pass—a strike. He didn’t swing at the next three either—all balls. Finlay fouled off the fifth pitch. Full count. He fouled off the next as well, sending the ball into the bleachers between the man in black and where Rick and Big Pop sat on the edge of left field. The man in black shimmered and flowed steadily nearer, moving from seat to seat, somehow always finding one empty. Finlay fouled off yet another pitch. Rick prayed for Finlay to strike out to keep the game going. Big Pop eyed the man in black, wincing as he flowed nearer. No one else seemed to notice him. He sat only a few rows away when Finlay cracked a high, long shot toward the right field wall. Silence gripped the stadium. The ball sailed into the light then arced down aimed for the deep bleachers. Tough Tommy charged it… threw himself up the wall… stretched for it….

The man in black swooped into the seat right behind Big Pop.

A wave of cold air rolled off him, chilling Rick.

He swiveled, readying to push himself between the man and Big Pop when Pop squeezed Rick’s arm and said, “Look!”

Where the ball sank toward the bleachers stood a ballplayer in an outdated uniform, glove raised, cap tight over his eyes. He lifted off from the stands, racing through empty air to intercept the ball. It passed through the floating ballplayer, and then it dropped, short of a home run, where Tough Tommy caught it, his body stretched halfway over the wall. The crowd stamped their feet and cheered. The Catfish’s four base runners slowed, halted, and Finlay dropped to his knees. Even Death seemed riveted by the excitement. He stood, arms upraised, skeletal hands protruding from the dark wells of his long sleeves, his scythe clutched in one bony fist. Then he shimmered into thin air and reemerged closer to the field—away from Big Pop.

The ghostly player descended to the bleachers. Rick glimpsed the name stitched across the back of his shirt: Piscatelli. He glanced toward Big Pop and tipped his hat, revealing a gaunt, cadaverous face and empty eye sockets.

“Pop,” Rick said.

“Yeah?” Pop said.

“Pop! Did you see that? Was that…?” Rick said.

“A ballplayer? Yeah, Ricky, it was.”

“Hey, Pop, you okay?”

Big Pop nodded. “Yeah.” His color had returned and his breathing relaxed. “I’ll be fine. Back in ’63 I helped Lou, and I think tonight Lou’s helping me.”

The game continued another two and a half hours until the Rebels brought in the winning run in the 17the inning. The man in black disappeared sometime around the bottom of the 16th, and Piscatelli, who had popped up a few more times to help keep the game tied, faded away soon after. Rick never saw either of them again. In the days that followed, he convinced himself they had been only in his imagination, caught up in his grandfather’s story. Over the next month, he and Big Pop attended six more games. None went into extra innings. Then Rick’s wife, Angie, gave birth to a baby boy, their first son, Big Pop’s first great-grandson.

“You should name him Louis, after old Lou Piscatelli,” Big Pop joked.

“Nope,” Rick said. “Going to call him Little Pop.”

Big Pop sat with the boy in his arms, beaming, happier than Rick had ever seen him.

A week later, Big Pop forgot his pills in the house and had an attack in the garage while Angie took Little Pop to a doctor’s appointment. Rick found him when he came home from work. At the sight of his grandfather’s body, he felt a touch of the frigid wind that had braced him that night in the stadium when the man in black loomed behind them. He thought of how ball players looked out for their own—and how sometimes a little extra time is all you need to win.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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 Sacrifice, as “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 Inhuman, Bare Bone, Chiral Mad 2, Clockwork Chaos, Deep Cuts, Fantastic Futures 13, The Green Hornet Chronicles, In an Iron Cage, Mermaids 13, The Spider: Extreme Prejudice, To Hell in a Fast Car, Walrus 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 House. He 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.

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Wordslinger Shootout – Round 3

BE SURE TO VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE. AND COMMENT AT THE END. FOR THIS ROUND I’M GIVING AWAY A COPY OF MY COLLECTION, THESE OLD TALES (WINNERS CHOICE OF EBOOK OR AUDIOBOOK) FOR DAVID ANDERSON AND RACHEL AUKES IS GIVING AWAY A COPY OF 100 DAYS IN DEADLAND (WINNERS CHOICE OF EBOOK OR AUDIOBOOK). YOU HAVE TO COMMENT TO WIN. VOTING AND COMMENTING CLOSE WHEN THE NEXT ROUND BEGINS.

Round3

BRAIN MAPPING FOR THE ADVANCED NEUROSCIENTIST

by “Dead Aim” David Anderson

Entry 137 – Voice Transcription Initialized – 14 March

It has taken me many years but I have finally succeeded. Success came while walking in the afternoon sun. I happened upon a man and his son on a stroll. The boy stumbled and his father, without thought, reached out and grabbed him. It was pure instinct, controlled, at least in part, by the spinal column and peripheral ganglia. You see, the mind isn’t simply the cerebellum, the pallium, hypothalamus, and so on. It extends into other areas!

When I programmed my slugs to not only map the brain, but the spinal column as well, it made all the difference. After they made their route through the latest cadaver, I loaded them into the reader and was thrilled to find the data was intact! The subject’s memories had been successfully recorded. I must further investigate the findings for other abilities and skills but it is late and I grow tired.

Entry 138 – 15 March

I spoke too soon, I am afraid. Though the subject’s memories were mostly intact, other functions were lost. From what I understand, in life, this man was a gifted violinist. After combing through every line of code, I found no sign of his ability. The memories were there but the skill he had honed over years of practice had simply vanished.

I know there is something missing but I do not yet know what.

Entry 139 – 19 March

I hesitate to commit this to record for fear of reprisal but in the name of progress some social, and perhaps even moral, limitations must be bypassed. After extensive research, I believe the problem with losing data stems from the subject being deceased. This indicates that, in order for the process to be successful, the subject must still be living when the process occurs.

I must admit that I find myself struggling with this. I do not want to take the life of another human being, but how many lives could be saved if the mind of the world’s foremost authority on cancer research were to be recorded, saved, and duplicated? If his or her experience and thought process could be coupled with that of other brilliant minds in the field, what breakthroughs could occur? Is not the life of one human being a small price to pay to save millions? And over time, billions?

Entry 140 – 26 March

I’ve altered the encryption on these recordings in the hopes of staving off discovery.

While walking to the market last night after the sun had set, I passed a homeless man warming himself by a barrel fire. I would have paid him no mind but he whistled a lovely tune. I do not know that I have ever heard it before but it was beautiful with many highs and lows which he traversed with great ease. It occurred to me that whistling is not a difficult skill to master but this man had a particular talent. If I could be successful in mapping something this simple, perhaps I could move forward in other areas.

I am not proud to admit what comes next. I removed a small bill from my wallet and approached him. He reeked of alcohol and body odor but when he was close enough, I injected him with a strong sedative. He was difficult to drag down alleyway but in the dark of night, I am certain no one saw me.

I put him in my trunk and drove immediately to the lab. After strapping him to the table, I waited for him to regain consciousness. If nothing else, I felt I owed him some explanation. He should know what a large part of history he was becoming.

Of course, he begged and pleaded but to no avail. I must press on in the hopes of saving future generations. Despite his protests, I cut open a small portion of skin to the left of where his cerebellum, brain stem, and spinal column connect and let the mappers get to work.

I fear his screams will haunt me to the end of my days.

Entry 141 – 27 March

Despite the difficulty in coming to terms with what I have done, I was successful! After the initial upload of normal brain functions, I began to see new lines of code; things I had never seen before. They strung along in wonderful characters converting not only a lifetime of practice but also latent talent into quantifiable data! Once completed, I checked the findings four times before convincing myself it was all there.

Next comes the hurdle of transferring that data from computer memory to a useful vessel, another human.

Entry 142 – 1 June

I have not committed anything from the past two months to this record. Installing the port into my skull with no help was a long, arduous, and painful process. Despite this, I have tried the process and it was successful.

Two days ago, I could not recall the tune that caught my attention. I remember it was lovely and I enjoyed it but the details were lost. I uploaded those new lines of code to one of my “mapping monsters,” as I have come to call them. I’m not sure I like the name though.

I placed it next to the port in the back of my skull and waited. The slithering felt cold and unusual initially but once it found entry, the sensation was forgotten. There was some discomfort as I felt it latch onto my brain and begin sending electrical impulses to rewrite portions of my memory. Within seconds I was whistling the tune as if I had been doing it for years.

Think of the implications! The skilled hands of a surgeon being passed along to hundreds of doctors! The talent of the next Picasso or Rembrandt being distributed to so many promising young artists!

I will explore my results further but first, perhaps a celebratory drink is in order. I do not normally imbibe, but it is a special occasion.

Entry 143 – 2 June

I may have over extended my celebrating last night. I wish to resume my work but my head is aching fiercely and I am having trouble maintaining focus. At the very least, I can categorize this as a new experience, scientifically analyze the sensations.

But first, I’m going to take a nap.

Entry 144 – 5 June

I have spent the past few days wrestling with my desire to see my research continue and my reluctance due to moral reasons. I am repulsed by the notion of taking another human being’s life but the greater good of humanity itself hangs in the balance. Despite my reservations, I feel I must continue.

This is why I recently disguised myself and visited the local homeless shelter. The vagrants are less likely to be missed, reducing my chances of being caught. Having never learned to speak another language, I sought out someone who could. I came across a man who used to be a high school French teacher. The “thought slug” has already mapped his brain.

No, I don’t like that name either.

I am now placing the creature near my port. The sensation is still somewhat unnerving. The lubricant excreted helps conduct the electrical charge but it is more than a little uncomfortable.

It is now inside my skull. I just felt a slight pinch as it latched on. Ah!

At-il travailler? Je ne suis pas sûr.

Oh!

Entry 145 – 8 June

It has been a very busy few days. There are limited possibilities with homeless shelters but so far, I have learned to play the piano and speak French, Spanish, and a little Mandarin. Unfortunately, I feel I have reached the end of the possibilities here. Thus, I have begun searching for new subjects in different areas.

What was that?

Hello?

I must be tired. I need rest.

Entry 146 – 12 June

It seems fortune has smiled on me. At a locale convenience store, a strapping young man came out to find his car broken down. It’s a shame how that happens. He was returning from his sophomore year and attending university on a football scholarship. Quarterback.

The short version is that now, I can throw a football sixty yards and still hit a plastic cup. Strangely enough, this time, it took a little while to master. Though my brain had the knowledge, my muscles took longer to acclimate to the new abilities.

Entry 147 – 13 June

My knowledge remains intact as do my recently acquired physical abilities. I haven’t noticed any real side effects yet. I hypothesized there might be some but so far, nothing.

Entry 148 – 15 June

I think my lab may have become home to a rodent. I keep hearing random noises.

This makes me curious. Could the abilities of a scavenger or predator be successfully mapped and transferred across species? That’s a big question. I will need to do a lot more research.

Entry 149 – 19 June

I think local law enforcement may have become aware of what I’m doing. I keep hearing a buzzing sound and the hint of voices. Could they have bugged my lab? I’ve been very careful to incinerate all evidence. Even the college boy’s car was dumped in the lake. Nothing should be tied back to me but I have to stay careful. I am making too much progress to be stopped. They wouldn’t understand.

As a side note, I still haven’t found that rat. I’ll get him though.

Entry 150 – 21 June

I can sing! I visited a karaoke bar late last night and befriended a man with an incredible voice. He had amazing control and power, even though he was obviously drunk. The promise of more alcohol and perhaps a romantic encounter was all it took to lure him here.

Needless to say, after a brief brain rewrite by one of my mechanical friends and a couple of hours practicing, I could probably get a job with a local band. Ha! Amazing!

Entry 151 – 23 June

I have to find that bug! The police are messing with my head! They want to stop my research. Maybe they want it for themselves. They could use it to create an entire force of super cops. They could take over the city and impose their law on everyone.

I won’t let that happen!

<Crashing sounds>

Entry 152 – 24 June

My head hurts. I need rest but I have to continue my research. What are the limits of my brain? If I continue, how much knowledge and skill can I get? What all can I do?

What did you say?

I don’t know. I’ll get it later.

Entry 153 – 27 June

I can cook! All the wonderful flavors and textures and combinations! It’s fantastic!

I’ll admit that this subject was a little harder to handle. He was rather large. But you know what they say, never trust a skinny chef! Ha!

I wonder if I’ll get fat now.

Entry 154 – 28 June

A cop car followed me for three blocks after I left the grocery store today. They know. I’m sure of it.

Entry 155 – 30 June

I’m not sure where to go next. There are so many possibilities. I’ve lost count of how many subjects I’ve collected. I can do some astounding things now.

What?

Okay, I’ll tell them.

I can juggle! How cool is that?

Entry 156 – 2 July

The bad news is that a police officer came by to ask me if I’d noticed any strange things happening in the area lately, unusual people running around or acting odd. I panicked.

The good news is that I know how to shoot a gun now.

Entry 157 – 3 July

<Banging noises>

<Muffled voices>

They’re here! Here to stop my work! They don’t want me to reach my full potential. I’ll show them. I’m loading everything onto the Net. All the neural maps, schematics for the leeches and ports, and all of my journal entries.

I’d hoped to have more time to research this next part but I don’t. I’m plugging my brain into the computers. I’m going to load my mind and all of its skills on the Net. They may kill my body but not my mind!

<booming noise>

What are you doing? No! You can’t!

Stay away from that! No!

Don’t turn that—

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

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LEECHES

by “Rambling” Rachel Aukes

“Gramps was right,” the man said to his girlfriend, a grin wide on his face. “Gramps told me he found this place over sixty years ago on a hiking trip with his high school buddies. It’s exactly like he described it. Absolutely perfect.”

She wanted to argue, especially after a full day’s drive and a hot morning’s hike out here, but instead she couldn’t help but return his smile. It really was beautiful. A tiny island, hidden among the Cyprus trees, encircled by a moat. A fairytale paradise, truly. Even as he spoke, a couple Monarch butterflies had fluttered by her cheek.

“C’mon,” he said, tucking the hand-drawn map into his cargo pocket. “Let’s get to the island.”

Her smile fell into a frown. The only access to the island was a rickety looking wood plank bridge. “We’re crossing that?”

He cautiously stepped on it and then did a tiny jump. The board creaked but held. He let out a whoop. “It’s fine. Just like Gramps said.”

“That was sixty years ago,” she reminded him.

He shrugged. Confidence filled his steps as he crossed the bridge. When he was on solid ground again, he faced her. “See? It’s a piece of cake.” He motioned to her. “Your turn.”

After a moment’s hesitation, she gave a tight nod and stepped onto the warped two-by-eight piece of wood. She took a deep breath and put a foot forward. The water below was dark and murky. It wasn’t that she was afraid of getting wet. It was the idea of walking several miles in wet hiking books that didn’t set well with her. Step by timid step, she crossed, feeling the wood bend and creak beneath her feet. She took the last few steps in a rush and jumped onto the island with a squeal.

He caught her and pulled her into a kiss. The kiss turned in a caress, which turned into a lovemaking session, followed by the romantic picnic lunch they’d brought in their backpacks. “Here’s to our first year together,” he toasted and clinked their wine glasses.

Afterward, the pair lay under the shade of the tiny island’s single tree, with birds providing music. She snuggled deeper into his embrace, despite the humid heat drenching them.

He chuckled. “While I’d love to stay here forever with you, if we don’t start heading back now, we’ll have to hike in the dark.”

“I wish we could stay here forever,” she murmured before stretching and coming to her feet, reluctant to abandon their newfound Eden. “We’ll come back every year,” she said. “This will always be our place.”

He smiled and kissed her. “Our place, I like the sound of that.” With that, they dressed and packed their trash.

He took the bridge first, each step bringing a creak from the wood. Midway across, a loud crack resounded in the air, and the board broke in half. She gasped as he plummeted into the water in a splashing flurry of limbs and wood.

“Oh my god, are you okay?” she called out, stepping to the edge of the water.

“Fine,” he sputtered out between coughs.

She laughed as he slung a wad of algae from his hair. “Gross!”

He smiled and swam toward her. “Agh!” His eyes widened and he disappeared under the water. It was only an instant before he burst forward onto the land and pulled at his skin.

Her mouth dropped open. He was covered by hundreds of the biggest, scariest leeches she’d ever seen.

“Get them off me!” he cried out as he tried to shake them off him. “Get them off!”

She reached out but didn’t touch him. “I don’t know what to do!” Frantic, she scanned the woods across the water. “Help!” she cried out. “Anyone! Please help us!”

He pulled out his pocket knife and tried to scrape off a leech. “They-they have some kind of shell. I can’t get under them.”

Rivulets of blood ran where he’d cut himself, but the leech remained unscathed, feasting on his blood. His hands shaky, he kept trying while he cried out in agony.

Gripped by terror, she watched her lover grow paler beneath her. When he dropped the knife because he was shaking so badly, she grabbed the blade and tried to peel a quickly growing leech from his skin. But it seemed to have attached itself perfectly, leaving no edge to pry. She tried to carefully stab at it, but its shell was like armor. “I don’t understand,” she whimpered. “Leeches aren’t supposed to be like this.”

He stumbled and fell onto his butt. The leeches grew so quickly, now covering over three-quarters of his body.

After staring at the knife, she jerked around and pulled off her backpack. She rummaged through the contents and pulled out her phone. No signal. She held up the phone higher. No signal. Nevertheless, she still tried to place several calls. Next, she tried to send a text.

No signal.

By then, he’d collapsed onto his back. His shaking had lessened. His jaws were clenched in pain and his movements were becoming sluggish.

Dropping her phone, she continued to scream for help. She went to hold his hand, but leeches covered both palms. “Hang in there, honey. Stay with me,” she murmured before he stood and walked in a circle. “Help us, goddammit! Someone, anyone, help!”

“I-” He tried to speak but no more words emerged.

His face had become shrunken as his precious blood was sucked from his body. It took less than a minute for the life to leave his eyes.

The woman did nothing. She watched in shock as, one by one, the leeches detached themselves and slunk back into the water. It wasn’t possible, she tried to tell herself as she stood there, shaking under the hot sun, but the lifeless body of the man she loved told her differently. When stillness reclaimed the island, she sobbed and clutched him against her.

She cried for help, for him, for anything to make sense, until her voice became hoarse and then abandoned her. She cried until the moon replaced the sun, even as mosquitoes bit her and creepy things crawled over her. At dawn’s twilight, she finally released her dead lover.

She drank what was left in her water bottle and set out the contents of both their backpacks. Some crackers and a quarter bottle of water was all that remained. After all, they’d been planning to return to the car after the picnic. She gazed across the water and prayed for hikers to find her, but she knew how secluded this area was. She searched for ways to cross the water, but the island was barren aside from the single Cypress tree.

She regulated her intake of water, but the day was hot and she was thirsty, and she was left with nothing by noon. She tried to call out for help, but her voice never returned. She tried her phone while walking over every inch of the island. She tried her lover’s phone. She was alone, trapped from the world by a rim of deadly water.

She refilled the water bottle, but the water was cloudy. Still, she took a sip but spit out the horribly rotten-tasting liquid.

By the following night, both phone batteries were dead from her attempts to reach help. Flies pecked at the corpse of her lover, who she’d covered with the red and white picnic blanket. She cried more, but no tears emerged.

The second night was worse. Her energy had been taken by the heat and by exhaustion. Anguish had given way to hopelessness.

By the third night, hopelessness had given way to apathy. She’d lost her strength. Her parched tongue was swollen with dehydration. Welts from mosquitoes covered her skin.

The following morning, her hands and feet had gone numb. Somehow, she still managed to push herself, albeit shakily, to her feet.

She took a step. That one was the hardest. Then she took a second step. Then another.

She stumbled a quiet plop into the water. Another step, and it came up to her neck. For a second, she stood there. The water was still. Nothing attacked.

Hope bloomed.

She shouldn’t have waited so long. If only she’d left earlier, she would’ve had more strength to walk back to the car. She would’ve—

The first sting felt like a molten bullet in her calf. Then, a hundred more followed, piercing every part of her body. If she still had a voice, she would’ve screamed. She stumbled back onto the island and collapsed next to her lover.

Her wish had come true after all.

They did get to stay on that island forever.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Aukes is the bestselling author of 100 Days in Deadland, which was named one of the best books of 2013 by Suspense Magazine and one of the best zombie books by the Huffington Post. Rachel lives in the Midwest United States with her husband and an incredibly spoiled sixty-pound lap dog. When not writing, she can be found flying old airplanes and trying (not so successfully) to prepare for the zombie apocalypse. Learn more at www.RachelAukes.com.

If you enjoyed this short story, you may also enjoy:
100 Days in Deadland

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