by Cath Barton
In the cottage we moved our bed to face the window. To catch the morning sun, you said. And it did, all through that summer. Don’t expect another one like this, the locals said. You laughed and there were crinkles round your eyes. I was blind to anyone else, blind to the risks.
When the door began to close, it happened so slowly that I didn’t notice. And one day it simply clicked shut on the dark. I tried to hold you close for warmth but you turned from me, night after night. I lay with my eyes wide open, willing the time to pass. Which it did. But then, but then. I cannot say the words.
Now a pale morning is showing. I ease myself up and touch the rough blanket enclosing the hump of your shape. I’m as gentle as can be but you start and pull away.
In the kitchen the sound of the radio cuts the silence. What we used to call madness in the world sounds normal. There are sheep on the hillside, as there always are. Eating. I think about how sheep do nothing but eat. My feet are cold. I look down at my bare feet and wonder where my slippers are.
The kettle whistles and I make tea. One bag between our two cups. Just like normal. Your shape darkens the doorway. You have dressed. There is a thread hanging from the left sleeve of your jumper. I want, more than anything in the world, to mend it before it unravels too far.
You gulp down your tea, pull on your boots and coat and sling a bag over your shoulder. And you leave me.
I look out at the hillside where the sheep are still eating. As if nothing had happened.
by Gary Buller
The creatures herd us like zebras towards the impending darkness.
Our bare feet sink deep into an icy sludge where millions of us had unwillingly passed before. We are flanked by statues with reptilian eyes, claws tightly gripping their arms. We sense pity in some of those eyes and we also witness tears that fall like the unforgiving rain, but none of them halt the proceedings. That is what counts.
Up ahead a child of seven or eight years lies face down in the mud. A small pair of fractured spectacles lie besides tiny white fingers that are as broken as our spirits. The creatures do not move the body, but let it serve a purpose under the rolling grey clouds. A reminder of their strength.
We wonder what the child was called. The child deserves a name.
Inside we are tightly packed side by side in a room that smells of sweat, shit and fear. The monsters tell us that we will be cleansed and the claustrophobic panic rises like pins and needles through our numb bodies. The abattoir door is slammed shut and we are blinded. Some of us scream, some of us attempt to climb the walls like terrified cats, scratching the sheet metal with our nails.
Outside, one of them guffaws at another’s folly, the cigarette almost falling from his chapped lips. It may as well be a different universe.
Suddenly, light radiates from above like hope. We all reach for it, stretching our numb fingers to the sky in a silent prayer. Then the crystals fall, glinting in the shaft of luminescence like the first flakes of snow in winter.
The air grows thick, unbreathable.
We fall silent.
Their job is done.
The creatures herd us like zebras towards the impending darkness.
The First Time I Saw Him
By CR Smith
The first time I saw him I knew we were meant to be together. A week later I’d moved into his apartment. We lasted a year before something changed his mind — before he changed the locks and threw me out. He doesn’t even answer my calls anymore. That’s why I’m here, waiting for him.
Laughter drifts along the hallway. A key scrapes against the lock searching for a connection. From the cupboard I spy through a crack in the wood. One of his arms is draped across a woman’s shoulders, the other’s clutching a bottle of wine. She looks familiar — looks like me, in fact. He looks as good as ever.
Shutting the door, he pushes her against it, kissing her passionately. My nails dig into clenched fists, drawing blood. He used to kiss me like that. Jealousy turns to anger as he leads her to the bedroom, repeating words I thought were only meant for me. The walls are so thin I can hear their every move.
Of course, he thinks his housekeeper made his bed, tided his desk, arranged his clothes. She won’t be coming back, I’ve made sure of that. Squatting down I lean against the wall, pulling my coat tightly around my shaking body.
I jump, bright headlights surprising me. They sweep across the window, creating dancing patterns on the shelves before me, drawing my eyes to a spider in the corner. It swings to and fro, weaving an intricate web of silver threads. But before it can scuttle away I knock it to the floor, grinding it under my heel, smiling — imagining it’s her. I run a hand over the weapon in my pocket. Once they’re asleep I’ll strike. He’s mine; no one else can have him. I don’t care if she’s his wife.
by Lee Hamblin
In apartment 1B below lives a youngish man. He might be younger than I think, but what with the sailor’s beard and receding hairline, it’s difficult to say. He’s got black chest hair textured like a fireside rug from the seventies: shaggy, and matted. He smokes too much. I know this because I hear him hacking and hawking all the time. I reckon he’ll be dead before he’s fifty. We never speak, and I only know about the chest hair because whenever I pass by his landing, his door is ajar, and his shirt is off. It smells earthy in there too, quite rancid to be honest, dog, or wolf-like.
The people in 3B above me (they are two) sleep inside pullout drawers. I know this because at night the last thing I hear from above is a squealing drawer sliding across its runner. I’m sure of this because the ones I have in my apartment make the identical sound. Perhaps they are vampires who’ve evolved their circadian rhythm to seem less conspicuous to the likes of us. She wears stiletto heels (another aural deduction) and loose, dark clothing (visual). I’ve never seen their faces apart from through the window of their motorcycle helmets.
Can you spot a vampire just from their nose and cheekbones? I’m pretty sure I can.
In 2B lives an old man. He lives on the floor above me, and the floor beneath us, and he rarely leaves his apartment. According to his profile he is a horror writer.
If you listen (as we sometimes do) with your ear pressed to the door, you hear the constant tap of fingers on keyboard, the occasional self-rebuke being admonished, sometimes a rambunctious fart.
He seems such a dull old man to be a writer. We can only wonder where he finds his inspiration.
by Jack Koebnig
He opens his eyes and smiles.
It’s early and if he’d set the radio alarm clock perched within easy reach on the cube shaped bedside table, he’d still have a good ten minutes in which to scupper the countdown.
He carefully frees himself from the creased bedsheet and climbs out of bed. The sterile ceramic tiles quickly devour the warmth from the soles of his feet as he progresses towards the thin blue curtain draped modestly across the glass balcony door. He gently grips the handle then slides the door to his left. It opens with an apologetic whisper. He pauses briefly, glancing over his shoulder, then steps outside onto tiles speckled with fine sand.
The sun has not yet cleared the high side wall of the building opposite and the air he inhales in long satisfying gulps tastes fresh, youthful and cocky. That’ll soon change, he thinks, and opens his eyes.
The balcony is identical to the twenty or so in the complex. It isn’t huge but it can easily house a drying rail, a small table and two chairs.
He picks up his sunglasses from the table and puts them on as he sits down. The sun is now rising high into the cloudless blue sky and his arms, which have begun (even after just three short days) to take on a little summer colour, are already glistening with perspiration. He sighs and leans back into his chair.
I’m exactly where I want to be.
‘B-e-n …’ Her voice, coming from the other side of the sliding balcony door, sounds sleepy, seductive. He stands as though he’s following orders, obeying an unspoken agreement, and grins.
It’s moments like these, he tells himself, that’ll get me through winter.
by Alex Z. Salinas
I sat in a faceless crowd in a small viewing room in a concrete bunker. We wore white togas. To our left and right, men dressed like Roman legionnaires herded a group of about fifty frightened looking women down steps leading to an exit door. Through the bunker opening, I saw a small black-water pond.
Once the women were outside, the legionnaires lunged at them. One by one, they were slaughtered. Some were tossed in the air, their limbs snapping upon impact. Others were drowned. The women who cowered against the concrete wall were mashed against it. One legionnaire rubbed his face against the bloody face of a moaning woman on her back before stomping on her neck.
Their screams were guttural. I sat terrified and watched. I did nothing. Nobody did nothing.
I woke up hot, the sheets damp against my sweaty back. I got up from bed and walked to the bathroom. The feeling of dread had faded. For long a while, I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror, noticing small doughy folds under my dark eyes.
That awful feeling began to return, cooling my body uncomfortably.
After I got dressed, I turned on the television. President Obama was talking, looking sharp in a grey suit.
“ISIS can’t destroy us, they can’t defeat us,” he said sternly. “They don’t produce anything. They’re not an existential threat to us.”
I turned off the television and left my apartment.
A homeless woman in tattered fatigues stood by the highway stoplight with a cardboard sign.
NEED $$$ NOT PITY.
I rolled down my car window. The woman approached me, and I handed her three quarters I’d found.
“God bless you and your family,” she said.
I drove away, gently rubbing the impression around my left ring finger.