by Alex Ruczaj
‘I don’t like it. It’s too remote. Too many spiders.’ That was what I told him when we looked around this old farmhouse.
‘Well it’s ours now,’ he said. ‘We’re taking over!’ But I knew, they wouldn’t let us. I knew from the strange thickness of the cobwebs in every corner, the sound of the scuttling bodies beneath the floorboards. These creatures would not give up without a fight.
I made him promise he would kill them all, and he did try, to begin with, but eventually, he grew tired of all my fear. ‘For God’s sake, they can’t hurt you!’ And then he began to stay away, ‘Don’t let the bed bugs bite!’ he said down the phone, a girl’s reedy laugh in the background.
Tonight I sat and waited for him to call. I have been sitting here in the kitchen for hours. I sit so still that they have stopped skulking in corners, darting here and there. They seem to sense he has gone, he who would sometimes chase them away, stamp on them with heavy shoes.
They are bold now. They tumble down from above. With fat bodies, and crooked legs, they edge closer. They surface from below, up through the floorboards. They seem to emerge from the walls too. I am already frozen, paralyzed with fear to my high-backed chair.
A strand lands soft and feathery in my hair, and then another attaches to my ankle, cutting deep into my skin. But I do not scream, there’s no point. As layer, upon layer, begins to cover me, as the cocoon thickens around me. My breathing slows. My only comfort now is that he will come back. He will find my body, and try to set me free. And they will not like that.
Ants and a Dog
by Lee Hamblin
Big brother Gerry was teasing me about my first ever girlfriend.
‘Make sure you see what her mother looks like,’ gran butted in, ‘that’ll be her in a few years time. Is she clean? Is she clever?’ So many questions!
I was only 12, and it sure felt like love to me.
That was before gran started seeing ants crawling all over her feet and Gerry had to get the dustpan and pretend to sweep them up for her. Then Billy-the-dog started showing up. Billy-the-dog was a big old Labrador, as black as a newly laid road and armed with a ferocious bark that could wake the dead, they said. She swore he was sat there in front of the fire. We thought it best to play along, all the while sniggering behind her back. Gran didn’t live much longer after that. I felt bad when she died – for the sniggering, mainly.
In a few years time we were married, my first ever girlfriend and I, and I was a father-to-be. I don’t think either of us turned out that clever.
I was 19, and what was that I said earlier about love?
Gerry and I would go drinking of a Friday night; he’d long given up with the teasing by now, more a slap on the back kind of brother.
I get home hammered one night, and there’s this dog barking like crazy. I reckon he’s followed me all the way home, I keep looking round, but I can’t see him. Then I’m at the door, fumbling with my keys, I drop them, and there are hundreds of ants marching to war across the pathway, hundreds. The dog’s gone and now I see something in the bushes, a face… it’s gran, and she’s having a right old laugh.
by Jan Kaneen
He stood silhouetted tall and gaunt before the Great Pyramid of Giza as the sun set into the stifling night.
He locked his jaw and shook his head.
‘No,’ he sighed, ‘I’m afraid that just won’t do. I was thinking, “pilot whale.”‘ He stressed the word whale. It was ironic really because the shapeshift had been faultless. The Aspirant stood before him transmogrified beautifully into a Jack Russell dressed in full 1940s flight dress complete with goggles and leather flight cap. He even had wings. What a shame he was being tested on telepathy.
The Necromancer looked at his clipboard. ‘Let’s see if you can do any better with disapparation,’ and he turned toward the up-lit pyramid behind them.
The Aspirant resumed his default form; small, mouse-like; wearing moon-and-star robes; peculiarly flat ears that always looked like black dinner plates however he orientated his head.
‘Okay,’ he piped, raising his wand.
The Necromancer’s expectations were low. The only other aspirant who’d ever disappeared the pyramid was himself and that had been four and a half thousand years ago, not long after he’d helped Khufu build it. How he missed Khufu and the good old plague days.
Imagine his surprise when he looked up to see only air shimmering before him beneath the slant stars and the pyramid, gone.
‘Leaping Lizards,’ he thought, forgetting that he’d left his mind wide open. The Aspirant seized the opportunity, summoning all his power to melt the sand into water, brighten the night into day and do exactly what was necessary to prove the point. The giant reptile hurtled through the air as the Necromancer’s jaw dropped.
‘The Chosen One,’ he exclaimed, bowing low, handing over his staff and cloak before leaving this astral plane forever, sinking into eternal rest beneath the grey-green choppy waves.
by Stephen Shirres
This is my last chance to say I’m sorry. I bang on the large, old wooden door. A rectangle of wood screeches back to reveal a single eye ball. “Wha do ya want?”
“Ya got pay?”
I hold up three polished pound coins, as golden as a desert sun. The door clunks opens to reveal a cyclops with his hand out. I drop the coins into his bowl shaped Palm. He crunches them like polos. Golden dusty snows onto his boots. He points to a backroom.
Two winged dogs fight over a bone through the forest of bare light bulbs that hang from the ceiling. They give out less light than the faeries dancing in bottles of bright green absinthe. Another cyclops, in a suit about to burst, marches past with an odd looking man in a green velvet coat under one arm on this way to being thrown out.
Inside I find the Angel of Death, Hedes and a teenage goth girl playing cards.
“Hello?” My voice quivers. Only the girl turns round. I hold out the photo anyway.
“She’s your…” She jumps down off her stool.
“Wife. Amanda.” Tears ripe at my eyes. I try to blink them back.
“I’m sorry.” She puts her arm around my waist. I let her hug me. “But we can’t help. We show them the way, no more than that.”
I lose the battle. Tears flow like waterfalls after heavy rain. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry. That I love her. That I never meant to hurt her.”
“She knows. She wanted to say the same to you.”
I try to sniff away my tears. I hope she doesn’t say that to every grieving person she meets.
The Girl in the Green Hoodie
by Jill Hand
I became a social worker because I thought I could change the world. I discovered that the world prefers not to change. But that’s not why I quit.
I would have liked to have stuck it out until retirement, like Estelle, the woman who used to have the cubicle next to mine at the county social services office. I’d hear her praying in there sometimes. “Please, Lord Jesus,” she’d pray. “Please help me keep my temper so I don’t punch one of these sorry hos.”
The sorry hos in question were our clients. They had all sorts of problems. Mostly they struggled with what the textbooks call a lack of self-esteem but what I came to think of as hopelessness. Most of them drank or took drugs as a result. The girl in the green hoodie did something else.
She came out of the restroom one day as I was going in. I may have said hello. I don’t remember. She glanced at me and kept going, a white girl in her late teens, with a scattering of pimples on her chin. She wore blue jeans, white sneakers and a green hoodie.
When I pushed open the door to the restroom there she was on the floor. At first I thought she had scarlet ribbons wrapped around her wrists. Then I realized what I was seeing.
Her name was Shana Eckert. She was eighteen. She wasn’t one of our clients. No one knew why she decided to kill herself in our building.
I saw her at least a dozen times after that, always in the hallway outside the restroom. My heart would stutter and my knees would turn to liquid. No one else ever saw her. Only me. It got so I dreaded going to work. That’s why I quit.
by Daniel Scott White
“Am…bu…lance,” the Mongol said in broken English.
The Frenchman spat at him. “What, you can’t be sick now!”
Jacques, the leader of the expedition, having little patience for sickness, and little care for the English language, never stopped to consider why the Mongol would ask for an ambulance when they were trekking through deep snows on a mountain at 18,000 feet. Khulan had intended to say “avalanche” but got the words wrong. He’d often heard them talk about the air ambulance before setting out and didn’t know the difference.
Thinking this through in a slow way, in the slowly cooling air, as the sun set, the Mongol interpreted the Frenchman’s response to mean if he showed any weakness, the mountain would know it, and like a dog sensing fear, bring down the heavy snows upon them. With what little strength he could muster, Khulan stood a little taller under the heavy load he’d been paid to carry for the Frenchman.
The next day he was up early, setting a demanding pace for the climbing team. He was always ahead of them, around the next corner where they couldn’t see him. In doing so, he appeared mighty to the mountain. He overexerted himself to the point where by nightfall they found him with gloves off, eyes closed, and in prayer, half buried in a snowdrift. The fingers of his exposed hands had turned a deadly black and would be better broken off now than later. Khulan feared this, as a sign of injury, but was too far spent to stop them from doing it.
As a result of his pushing the team beyond what they had expected to cover that day, they missed an avalanche in the snowfield below. It saved their lives, at the expense of his nine fingers. None of them knew about this until later, when they returned from the top of the mountain.
Dogs Will Be Cats
“You’ll get him back won’t you, Mr Connor?” the broad asked. Red lips, sharp suit, high heels, black clutch. She spelt trouble, big trouble.
I shifted uncomfortably in my chair as a mutt in a photograph stared back. I needed a smoke. I tipped one into my mouth and lit it, suffocating the laughter bubbling its way up to my lips.
“I usually deal in missing persons, not animals Ma’am. They aren’t really my thing. Wouldn’t the local dog shelter be a better bet?” I replied, blowing a couple of smoke rings for good measure.
She shook her long dark hair and pouted. Opening her bag, she grabbed a lace hankie and dabbed her puppy dog eyes.
“But he’s special, Mr Connor.”
“I know Ma’am, everyone’s pet is special to them.”
“No, you don’t understand. He’s not from around here.”
“Not from Manhattan?”
She glared at me, then her eyes softened.
“No Mr Connor, I mean he’s from another planet.”
This time I did laughed.
“Very funny Ma’am, who’s put you up to this?”
She reached into her clutch and pulled out a handsome wad of benjamins. I smiled.
“OK Ma’am, give me the details,” I said, never one to turn down cold hard cash.
How tough could it be to find a missing mutt anyway? As tough as one of Big Koninicky’s steaks, that’s how tough.
It took over two weeks and a lot of calling in favours before I got my first useful lead. That’s why I’m standing on the far end of this dilapidated boardwalk, freezing my nuts off, waiting for the owner of this outta town freak show. Apparently its new attraction has been causing quite a stir lately. Something about a mutt that unzips its fur and turns itself into a fluffy white cat.
Dimming the Past
by Daisy Warwick
“Have you got the correct bulb?” asked Romung.
“Yes,” said Gordron, holding out a small wooden box.
Romung sniffed and wiggled his nostrils doubtfully before peeking under the lid.
“It seems a bit small. We just need to dim the light for now.”
“Sir, everything can be made small these days, even a Star Bulb,” explained Gordron.
“Well, it’s time to let another star rule. Make sure it’s changed before 3000AD,” ordered Romung, returning the red-tinted glass bulb to the maintenance man. “Whilst you’re at it, can you re-wire the lighting on the Norma Arm too?”
“Yes Sir. No problem,” replied Gordron.
“And, I’d quite like it if you could sweep up the remnants of the Earth/Mars collision. Just push them into a Black Hole. We’ve enough bits floating around,” ordered Romung, waving Gordron away.
Gordron shuffled off to the janitor’s quarters, whilst Romung turned to the rest of the flight crew.
“Will one of you ensure that the Sun gets seen to? I don’t really trust Martians or Earthling descendants. They seem to have a soft spot for that over-bloated fireball.”
“Well there’s not much call for the Sun now Sir. The planets are destroyed. I think Gordron will be fine,” replied Marlee, stroking her long blue snout.
“Nostalgia! That’s the issue we have and mark my words if we don’t get that star dimmed it will distract them and blow out of proportion at a later date,” said Romung, scratching his furry forehead before adding, “I can’t be doing with a rebellion.”
“I suppose it has been three hundred years since The Blast,” said Marlee.
Romung nodded and took a seat before replying.
“Just think, they’ve had three hundred Christmas’s and the Plutonites have had to take down the Christmas decorations every single time.”
Paintings In Parallel
by Stephen Lodge
Count Rafis was apoplectic. Yes, OK, admittedly he’d decimated the female population of Ezrgrad, Krimmstad and the surrounding villages with his vampiric tendencies, but when the villagers had lit their torches and it wasn’t even dark yet, and marched on his castle their behaviour was out of control. Looking around now he noted acts of sheer vandalism, arson and the theft of some priceless paintings. He also began to wonder as he searched the charred rooms what had happened to his goldfish.
Something made the Count (played in the movie by Dwight Love) turn quickly, only to see a blurred figure in front of him and feel the sharpened stake piercing his heart.
It would be many years before Dr Molnar would be able to piece together the whereabouts of some of the paintings that had been liberated from Castle Rafis.
Thought irretrievably lost, first Naumann’s “Serpent Of The Deep”, appeared on a wall in the coffee shop in the Great Pyramid one evening as the sun set behind a supermarket in Cairo. Then “The Flying Dog Of Canaxa”, initially attributed to Gustav Pierre Deyna, but later confirmed to be the work of Michael Shearer, was discovered on Space Station Fulurian on the outer rim of the Moreve Annexe Cluster of Galaxy 17 Sector 5.
Luke Harcourt’s stunningly delicious “Sunrise Over The Hall Of The Shepherd’s Pie” still eludes the searchers as does the lefthanded Sebastian Divinovich’s early masterpiece “Man Machine” thought to be the first painting to depict a robot breakdancing.
How, then, were these 2 magnificent paintings transported across continents, time and, indeed, space? Apparently in his book, Molnar theorises intelligently so we eagerly await the translation from his native Hungarian. This fascinating mystery is clearly not going to lie down and go away.
by Alyson Faye
Our posse had been mandated to the hunt. Every zone was desperate for gold. To buy food and to buy protection against the ‘Grabbers’, who would just as soon cut off your hand for your bracelet as let you keep your flesh.
Our target had been buzzed in the North Eastern sector. Some say he isn’t real. Just an urban myth. Others swear they’ve seen him bestow his ‘gift’. He is a 22nd century alchemist. His touch can turn base metal into gold.
We travel fast, across arid, dusty plains that were once green, lush pastures. None of us have seen ‘green’. It is an alien colour.
Our trackers have him pinpointed inside the ruins of one of the Great North’s cities, populated by ‘Grabbers’, scavenging to survive. A seven fingered brute gives us the tip. We head into the remnants of the city cathedral. Inside the nave we see a shimmering figure, kneeling. We can’t keep our focus. His shapes fluxes with iridescence.
Our orders are to trank him, but one by one we put down our weapons and stare, transfixed. He is a wondrous sight. Fluid, light, hardly corporeal at all. Turning, he beckons us up the ancient aisle.
‘Join me.’ His voice is melodic. ‘I am so alone. So tired of running.’
We approach willingly. Unsuspecting. We are the hunters after all. His smile glitters. From behind his cloak his hand reaches out, pats one of us on the shoulder, another on the ear. He flits among us, stroking, caressing. Silence, then we begin to scream. Those who can. Each touched body part is solid gold, The rest, flesh.
‘Come and receive my followers.’
From behind the fallen masonry, ‘Grabbers’ surge forward. Knives flash out at us. Gold limbs are severed.
We are currency.
By Jack Koebnig
It was at times like these Fred wished he knew more than one person. He didn’t and he knew who was to blame. He turned away from the calm sea and reluctantly took the bait. ‘Hmm … what?’
Ben drew his knees to his chest, wrapped one arm round his shins and with his free hand pointed over Fred’s left shoulder. ‘Is that a boat?’
For the last twenty minutes, time gone and it ain’t coming back, Fred had been sitting on the edge of an uncomfortable builder and when he stood the relief was immediate. He almost asked himself why he’d remained sitting for so long. Almost.
He glanced quickly beyond the tip of Ben’s gnawed fingernail. It wasn’t a boat. Thank Christ for that. ‘It’s just a log … I think.’
Ben shrugged. ‘Maybe I should get my eyes checked.’
‘Yeah? Then afterwards you might want to…’ Fred trapped his tongue between his teeth. No one needed to hear what he was about to say. Especially Ben. ‘Do we have any cigarettes?’
‘We shared the last one … remember?’
Fred remembered. Just as he remembered what they’d agreed to do once they’d smoked it down to the brown filter. It was the reason they’d been sitting in silence for the last twenty minutes.
‘Did you enjoy it?’
‘No, not the cigarette. Being a human?’
Fred nodded and his arms quickly transformed into two perfectly formed pectoral fins, and by the time Ben had joined Fred at the edge of the cliff, his ears had been replaced by a set of gills.
‘Yeah, okay. Who’s up next?’
‘Aaron … I think.’
‘Aaron? Are you kidding?’
The drop was steep but the landing was exquisite.
by Bobby Stevenson
The truth was, is, and always will be, that we were never alone.
Not in the way you would like to think. They were always there, in some form or another. Always watching, always listening – always changing things.
I can guarantee you that anyone who has taken more than a few photographs will have not seen them in the background. Look again, that’s them behind a tree, or perhaps under the stairs, or maybe just a pair of eyes sitting next to your grandmother.
You’re reading this right now and I will bet you that a ‘Tween is sitting watching you. Hey, no point in turning around, that’s not how they roll. They don’t live like us – they live in the ‘in-betweens’. You see, the universe is made up of more space than it is of matter, even gravity and time work in waves. The ‘Tweens live in the spaces between everything. They control everything.
You’ve seen them out of the corner of your eye. Admit it, you have. That wasn’t tiredness, that wasn’t imagination. That was them. The ‘Tweens.
You, who are reading this, think I am mad. Insane. You know what? I probably thought the same about me when all this started. I should have just acknowledged that they were there, and left it at that. But this is me, and I don’t do half-finished jobs. I just wanted to know the truth.
It’s too late for me now but not for you. They are there, just out of your eye-line, watching you – waiting. Just ignore them. I wish I had. You see I am not writing this on any electronic tablet, or computer or ‘phone.
I’m writing this from inside your screen. They took me in the end. I’m living with the ‘Tweens.