Walking the Plank
I always avoid hitchhikers, a woman of my age shouldn’t take unnecessary risks. But the girl looks so vulnerable, shivering, and not like any trouble at all.
“Where are you going love, in this godawful weather?”
“To my Dad’s,” she says, such a pretty face smothered by an overlarge woolly hat.
“Where’s he live?”
“Oh not far, just at the end of Ship’s Lane. If we walk the plank, we can be there in a few minutes.”
“Yes dear,” I say, gripping the steering wheel a little tighter. I had offered after all.
We say little after that, voices on the radio fill the void. The windscreen wipers tick tock, and the creeping feeling in my toes reaches my throat.
I take the next turning, my car alone on the road. The plank, as everyone calls the tunnel, looms in front of us.
“Not long now,” I say.
The lights at the entrance aren’t working, but those in the distance burn brightly, calling us to come closer.
At first, everything’s okay, until the car starts to gurgle, as though something is choking the life out of it. I turn to my companion for a bit of reassurance. There’s no one there, she’s vanished. The voices on the radio grow slower, as if being suffocated in treacle. Then everything stops.
I hear laughter and wind down my window. Nobody. Illumination replaced by shadows.
“Walk the plank, walk the plank,” invisible voices chant.
I swallow, pick up my bag and lock the car. Eyes straight ahead, I hum a familiar tune, and realise all too late it is something to do with sirens and drunken sailors.
“You’ll be fine, everything will be fine.” I tell myself.
by Nod Ghosh
They slip through the tunnel beyond the watchful gaze of the elders. Only their ancestors know what they’re doing. They enter the cavernous space through a crack of an entrance. It is as dark as disease in the chamber, but they find each other with rabid fingers. He glides into her body.
He infects her with the severity of his love and traps her with his weight.
The carapaces of unknown insects crumble beneath them. The roar of a passing van is deafening.
She touches the membrane of his eyelid with her lips.
I have to go − they’ll be looking for me.
Can you stay a bit longer? He caresses the bud of her breast, and kneads shards of debris into her skin.
This place is haunted. We shouldn’t have come. He senses her shiver, though she can’t be cold in the constancy of the subterranean kingdom.
That’s just talk. It’s perfect − they can’t find us here. Wind howls through the tunnel in the wake of a screeching truck. Hot air brushes their bodies and brings the ghosts she speaks of to life.
No. I have to go. He senses her body twist as she tugs her dress over her shoulders.
When will I see you? He reaches out into extinguished air, tries to touch her.
I can’t do this anymore − it’s wrong.
The spirits. I feel them inside, in my heart. Her voice softens. We shouldn’t have done this.
Don’t leave, he pleads, unwilling to let her go.
But he knows it’s over.
She slips out from the chasm. For a moment a distant light beam ignites her back. Then she is gone.
The scream of a truck assaults his senses. He lies against the dirt, awash with desire and regret.
“Someone is screaming.” Annabel speaks quietly, staring straight ahead through the windscreen into the black.
I reach out, touch her hand. She is icy cold. I turn the heater on. I need both hands to pilot us through the night. Swerving through the bends on the mountain road, I am enjoying this new machine, it growls, it holds the road. I feel safe and invincible.
Mountain country, I am learning to love it. The right kit helps, hence the new vehicle. This is Annabel’s territory, born and bred, this fae woman of mine.
“Someone is screaming.” I glance across at Annabel, so small and contained, sitting neatly cradled in the bucket seat, eyes open but with the film of inward sight I have come to recognise. ‘Someone’ to Annabel could be a person, but equally; a bird with a broken wing, a cow in labour, a lightning struck tree.
Static blares from the radio. The dashboard goes dark. The engine lurches and stutters. I shift down gears, coasting. Panic surges. Nowhere to stop on this treacherous stretch of road. Then, the lights flicker back on; the power returns.
We are almost at the main road, just Eagle Grave tunnel to navigate.
The timbre of the road sounds changes as we enter the tunnel. In my peripheral vision I see Annabel turn. “Someone is screaming.” Eyes wide black. Sweat fear crawls down my back.
Something clawed hits the windscreen. I brake too hard. Skidding, I steer wildly. Over correcting. I reach out to Annabel as we hit the stone walls. Ricocheting. Metal schreeching against rock.
The wham of the air bags. Silence. Before the lights die, I see such sadness in Annabel’s eyes. But we are ok. I breathe.
The lights are on us before I can react.
I am screaming.
By Jan Kaneen
Don’t Read This If You Want To Live,
it said but my mind was made up.
It started near the middle of the second sentence at the nape of my neck, where the downy hair is soft, a warning shiver, an icy prickle as I imagined this: dark, walking home late, alone, stone cold sober through a deserted subway, the stink of piss, fag-ends, still litter starting to move, to crawl though there is no wind then distant footfalls echoing closer, walking quicker, breath like ice; like the feeling you’d get in an empty house reading Horror in the shifting moonlight, by open curtains with the rain spitting Rorschach monsters against the fragile window where clinging to the black pane, over your shoulder, near enough to read the words, are leering demons of ink, testing every weakness, desperate to trickle inside. Or like the feeling you get when you realise that the words you’re reading, reading right now, are cursed portals to slithering gobs of evil that lie clinging to the other side of the screen, this screen, watching you, willing you on, staring malice into the wide-eyed middle of you, glaring venom that seeps through every vowel and every phoneme is a slit-eyed curse, a lip-curled spell spun to drag you along to the two hundredth and thirteenth word where, the contract was sealed.
You are lost.
It won’t happen now. Before we drag you through to join us beyond the web-snare glass, we must be fed, stalking your dreams, gorging on your terror. Sleep sound tonight, sleep deep, it will be your last, unless…
Lure two others to read this curse,
from start to finish, prose and verse.
For the spell to move to them from you
they must snub two warnings, given true.
Do not read this if you want to live.
The Dance of Life
By Stella Turner
The glass eyes taunt me, reflected back in shop windows, electronic screens, house windows, mirrors, my child’s eyes, sometimes friendly, inquisitive, but mostly malevolent. They follow me most of my waking day. Watching whilst I wade through the flotsam of life, rubbish strewn carelessly on the pavements, discarded fast food containers, coffee cups, sweet wrappings, fortune cookies, searching. I can’t find it.
She eyes me warily.
I try to appear calm, hiding my sweaty palms behind my back. Had I forgotten all I learnt watching those Forensic TV shows. Over ride the body language, stop licking my lips, blinking my baby blues, twirling my hair, breath normally stop hyper-ventilating. Eventually we will come out of this. She’ll congratulate and thank me for leading her through these passages towards the light. Might be dark by the time we get there. Wonder if this has ever happened. No one mentions the dark unless you are going the other way.
She kicks out.
I rub my shin. They sent me because I look friendly, another woman, less threatening. It’s not going to plan. I try to tell her its okay, fighting doesn’t help, makes it so much worse.
I kick out, those glass eyes terrify me. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not moving from here. One day I’ll find what I’m searching for and it isn’t this path. The Gods can dance a bit longer before that She-Devil takes me.
THE STORY THAT STARTS OFF Y.A.
by Aliner Stefanescu
I trusted her but the brain of things could not be relied upon to remember. I trusted the girl but not the mind of us not to forget.
In the story that starts off Y.A., the girl is not interested in narrating. Her first person is covered in sparkly sequins by which I am beguiled.
I draw closer to the sequins and the girl. I surmount distance only to find what passed for sequins is a series of ordinary holes. I ask where she got those perfect circles. From a dollar store hole-punch, she says.
She wants to know what I think.
I thought they were sequins but there’s no way to say this outright.
She wants me to tell her how to think about things like herself. She wants also to fuck around and have fun. She wants modern hair colors and manicures that don’t play kitten.
I say all the words she needs permission to think. She blows them out like pink bubbles, slow— steady enough to watch them grow, a globe between her eyes.
I warn her to watch out, you could blow one big enough to blot out your face. She giggles and keeps blowing. Bubbles and sequins.
by Aaron Peysack
When I was a child my father taught me that water always finds its own level. All my life I was haunted by those words, like the echo of a tune heard long ago and only half forgotten. I thought they were a metaphor, a key that would open the door to a world I had never understood. Then, one day, while I was sitting on the lido in Venice, I realised that the mystery was all in my head, that my father had been speaking literally when he made his famous remark, pointing out something that every child already knows. Getting to my feet, I walked down to the water’s edge, where the spume met the rasping sand, and with a sudden thrust of my body, plunged into the sea and started to swim.
by Pattyann McCarthy
Long is the way through, the end cast in shadows. Be brave little one and meet your Master.
Open your butterfly wings; the light awaits you or the dark to eat you. I hear you question, can your destiny change once breath has left your body, once you’ve surrendered to death? Is there a moment when your regrets salvage your destination?
I respond though you hear not, the umbilical that bound you to the living, the tether tying you to consciousness has torn. What you take is whom you were, and the moment to repent your actions has ceased to matter. Your concluding journey is traversing this rough-hewn way where you face final judgement. Multitudes traversed before you, and multitudes will come after, but this is your turn.
I see you lift your foot, your first step into the unknown. I feel you’re tremulous. This tells me you’re uncertain, lacking trust in whom you were, where you’ll spend eternity. You falter. I hear you desiring to turn back. You ask for another chance, but you know not, your reckoning is inevitable.
You’re shown your life’s deeds on the jagged rock as you stumble in darkness. Tears moisten your cheekbones. Did you not read the words written for you? Do you not know I am come to take you home? I am your Master.
Your long and arduous journey has been but a moment in time for me as you near the finale. I know where you end, but you still question, uncertainty lacing your heart. Tears like dewdrops quiver on your lashes. Is that hope you feel, my new daughter?
Seeing my face for the first time, you fall to your knees, blubbering. I know – I am hideous to look at, but you will succumb to my desires.
by Jack Koebnig
We paused beneath the leaking bricks and until Dave spoke all we could hear were the black puddles by our feet swelling with each warm drip. ‘Guys,’ began Dave. ‘Is this really such a great idea?’
This was bad. She wasn’t known for her patience.
Even Sal, Dave’s sister, who could spit a cherry pip further than any of us, surprised everyone when she said: ‘Maybe we should just … leave. Chris?’
Chris nodded. ‘And it stinks in here. What died?’
We were in danger of turning back, so I said what She’d instructed me to say: ‘It’s only a tunnel, guys. That’s all. It cuts beneath the park and comes out beside Mr Tucker’s salvage yard.’
‘And the cemetery,’ Sal said.
If Sal decided to leave the others would follow.
I took both her hands in mine, looked deep into her eyes, exactly as She’d taught me, and said: ‘Just a little on the west side.’ Sal’s heavy eyelids fluttered and I continued: ‘We’ll be on the other side before you know it.’
‘Know it …’ she whispered.
‘Yeah, that’s it! Ready to go on?’
‘… on …’
I turned to Dave and Chris. ‘Sal’s game, how about you?’
They glanced at each other, both searching for the strength to say ‘No!’ But in the end they
‘OK!’ I clapped my hands together and the dull echo produced sounded like a car slamming into a crowded bus stop.
There would be no more questions and no more resistance. Which was good because we were late. She would be waiting for us; perched in the middle of her web, her fangs glistening in the dark.
She paid well you see.
Much more than the pathetic allowance I received from my parents.
by Cath Barton
Every nerve pricks and tells me to run. But I don’t. I wait. In the middle of the tunnel. There are lights and I stand under one. If there are hidden cameras they will see me better. The group will be back at the surface by now. Someone will have counted. They always count. I think. They’ll have missed me by now. Surely they will. Surely to goodness they will.
I screw up my eyes so I can hear better. Somewhere there’s a creaking. A lift? The creaking turns into a whine and there by my side is my old dog Goose. He’s licking my hand. I smile automatically but then I pull my hand away. It can’t be Goose. Goose is dead. I feel beads of sweat at my temples.
The dog is sitting now, looking up at me, head on one side.
“Goose,” I say his name very quietly and it bounces back at me from the curves of the tunnel’s brick walls. The animal whines again, the way my Goose used to do when he wanted a walk. It can’t be Goose, of course not. Goose died. In a tunnel. I shiver.
Then I tuck in my chin, an old habit I learnt from my Mother. A way she had. A way of dealing with things that she didn’t understand or couldn’t control.
“Let’s go, Goose,” I say to the dog. “You lead the way.”
The dog obeys but trots behind me, the way I’ve come.
“No, not that way,” I shout, but he’s already round the corner and there’s just me and the echoing walls.
I turn. The walls of the tunnel stretch behind as ahead, uninterrupted. There is no corner. I turn back. There’s just me in this tunnel. Left all alone, like poor Goose.
Once I lay in the belly of the beast, an embryo born of the Harlot, floating in the amniotic fluid of sin and corruption but now I hide in this surrogate womb, placed here by my mother. She had been warned that if she carried me to term I would kill her. I can still feel the needle that triggered my decanting from one darkness to another, an abortion bathed in gin-infused waters.
Yet I did not die.
Swaddled in brick, I lie quietly and continue to grow, my gestation progressing silently beneath the unaware feet of thousands. Already I have shed one skin, sloughed off my previous life, outgrown the bonds that tied me to flesh.
Closely, greedily, I watch the workers who descend to my realm. They seem uneasy when they notice the darkness in which I am concealed, counteracting their fear with pathetic little lights that fuse and falter with alarming frequency. Occasionally I stir and the ground shakes slightly, false contractions that send them scurrying back above ground. Then I shift and all is quiet. The moment is coming though, I sense that now, when I will be expelled down this birth canal, delivered at last.
And as I near my time, my hunger grows. I need to feed.
I am no longer passive. I hunt down the two-legged bugs who invade my territory, fill my larder with tender morsels. They will give me the energy I need for these, the Last of Days.
Soon when the seal is broken and the trumpets sound, I will be reborn and take my darkness into the world.