by Sam Smith
Julian awoke gradually from an extremely deep sleep and attempted to move his head. With a Herculean effort, he swung the dead weight from left to right and felt a nasty twang as his nose was bent against the unforgiving surface beneath him. He kept his eyes tightly shut during the whole manuever. When he opened them, they were watery from the pain and his vision was blurred as a result. A pink shape hovered into view, bobbing from side to side
“Julian? Are you finally waking up?”
He recognised the voice. Last time he’d heard it had been in court.
“Cerys?” He croaked. “Is it you?”
“Yes, my turtle dove.”
He’d always hated being called that.
Her face came into view now, the witch’s finger of a nose as repulsive as he remembered. It wobbled as she spoke, and he had the sudden urge to bite it off.
“Cerys, what the hell is going on?”
“Don’t panic Julian, you’ll be pleased to know the operation was a success.”
From somewhere to his left, he could hear what sounded like a dentist’s drill whirring, and a man’s voice muttering sequences of numbers.
“What operation?” Julian stammered. His breath was escaping in short gasps and he found himself trying in vain to sit up. He could feel the dull ache of an encumbrance from somewhere around his hip, but he couldn’t pivot his head downwards to look.
“The operation to make us whole again”, Cerys explained, in a voice as calm as someone reading aloud from a cookbook. “As of 22:14, we were physically joined together, ready to start a new life as one! Now we can truly be together forever! The only slight snag is your fiance, but there’s always creases to be ironed out right, my turtle dove?”
Below the line
by Victoria Richards
The first comment comes with a self-righteous whiff of semen. “Who is this ‘woman’?”, in indignant Caps Lock. “Who IS she?”
I stumble out of bed, dragging my duvet – and my phone – with me. 96 new Twitter notifications. I make coffee and sit beneath the window, steam stinging my cheeks, pondering my enforced existential crisis. Who AM I?
“Silly slut,” they froth, sounding strangely Victorian. “Whore,” they self-congratulate. “Stupid bitch,” they spit. And then they get personal. “I would,” one says. “You blind?” another counters. “You’d have to wear beer goggles to fuck that.”
I imagine them sitting at home in identikit fury behind the smooth, safe glass of their computer monitors. “She obviously can’t get a bloke,” types Steve_365. “Someone should rape her, teach her a lesson.”
On the Tube on the way to work I tap out a message to Steve_365. “Thanks for the feedback. Can we meet?”
Later, my dad calls. “I’m worried you’re getting a reputation,” he says. “As a… feminist.” This, he whispers.
A week passes, then I’m sitting in a café on a building site in Hackney, waiting for Steve_365. The door creaks and a doughy man in his mid-thirties comes in. He’s wearing a red football shirt.
“It’s Phil, actually,” he mumbles to his feet.
“Thanks for coming,” I say. “It’s really brave,” I add, fishing around in my bag.
“What?” A cigarette hangs limply from his mouth, ash wrinkled to the tip like foreskin.
“After what you said,” I say, bringing my hand to my lap.
Phil reddens. “Look, that was a joke, okay?”
I take out the knife and place it on the table between us. 12 inches of steel, gloriously erect.
“I’m writing an article about castration,” I smile. “I’m so glad you can contribute.”
The Amusement Park
by Eric Percak
We thought it was abandoned. That’s why we went. A place to be alone. We were more worried about someone busting us for trespassing or underage drinking. But it would’ve been better if some authority figure had been around.
Stan got drunk real quick. I think he was scared; he wanted to feel numb. Then the alcohol gave him courage. He rolled up his pant cuffs to the knee and waded to the inside of the tunnel. He shouted back to us and said it was beautiful. A mural or something. I didn’t want to get wet, so I stayed on the land. We couldn’t see him once he got all the way in.
We didn’t see who got Stan. There was a a loud commotion and splashing, but we still couldn’t see inside the tunnel. Instead of going after him, we ran to look for help.
Under the rusted Tilt-a-Whirl we saw a sleeping bag rolled out on top of some cardboard. Whoever got him must’ve had a stiff back.
by Sara Green
You study your reflection in the darkened television’s screen. And, like a makeshift obsidian mirror, your reflection studies you back.
You see Jake’s reflection peering around the corner.
He disappears back into the kitchen. You hear the microwave door shut followed by the hum of the turning plate.
Something suddenly strikes you as odd.
You are smiling.
You lean back into the couch, furrowing your brow, but the woman sitting in front of you remains still and wide toothed.
You see Jake pop back around the corner. The woman jolts up, though you are still seated. Her smile doesn’t wane as she brings a pointed index finger to her mouth.
You turn around and observe Jake. You turn back toward the television and see that your reflection is now gone.
“Look.” You point toward the screen.
He moves closer.
Suddenly, you hear a loud pop, followed by a succession of pops.
“Shoot, babe. One sec.” Jake turns back toward the kitchen.
Your heart quickens. You hear the faint sound of rummaging through cabinets. You scan the screen, but find no sign of your rogue counterpart.
Jack reappears holding a bowl of popcorn.
A slender leg extends from behind him, followed by a contorted body.
Your heart skips a beat when you realize she is holding a knife. All goes momentarily silent.
Still smiling, she drags the blade across Jake’s throat. His eyes widen and jaw slacks. He drops the bowl, popcorn cascading out.
You close your eyes. This isn’t happening.
You manage to pry your eyes open. Your reflection now mimics you. You let out a nervous laugh. It was just my imagination.
You look down and there, laying horizontally on your lap, is a butcher’s knife, smeared with blood.
by Natalie Ortiz
At first, I thought about eating his fingers. One night he was lying in his usual, contorted, fatal fetal position, and I don’t know what it was, but I just wanted to take a little bite, crack his second knuckle with my bicuspids and grind the bone between my molars back and forth until the fingertip fell off. I saw myself sucking his bloody finger kool-aid, licking and slurping and savoring it with delight.
One night by the fire pit, I started wondering if thigh meat would absorb the mesquite in the wood. I figured with a little Worcester marinade, maybe a little garlic, I could get it tasting like some proper Texas barbecue. I licked my lips and it got me thinking about his lips, deep fried and crumbled over some rump roast tacos. I had never made rump roast tacos before but I imagined myself chopping the fat cut of juicy ass meat, seasoning it with salt, pepper, thyme, and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary. Slow ass simmer.
One night we were cuddling on the couch, my hands rubbing through his hair, and I was kissing his neck, and the next minute I’m biting his ear off, Tyson style, and flapping it around in my mouth because it’s surprisingly bigger in my mouth that it looked on his head. He’s holding the side of his head and screaming at me and blood’s squirting all over and I just swallow his ear whole, right in front of him, like an oyster. A flat, flappy oyster. He shrieks like a chicken and reaches his hand out. So I grab it and dig my teeth right into his forearm. I tear his tender meat and run my tongue along his wet bones. He passes out. He never could handle anything.
The Famous Place
by John Burns
Light a candle in The Famous Place
Elin had heard Sophie say this many times. She’d been working with Sophie, visiting her every day, for eleven months.
Whenever Sophie said this, Elin would take the old woman’s hand in hers, running her fingers across the smooth, loose skin and smiling, asking where is it, Sophie? where is The Famous Place?
Then Sophie would smile too and look off to somewhere else.
Eleven months had made Elin love Sophie deeply. 65 years separated them, but the connection was strong. On good days, laughing with Elin at silly magazine articles, or tending to the wisteria crawling up the patio trellis, Sophie could be as sharp as anyone; her mind whirring and alive with bright, shining vivacity.
On bad days, Sophie was mean and sullen, a prisoner of the fading light inside her own head. But even then Elin could see that she was grateful for the company.
Light a candle in a famous place
Where is it, Sophie? Where is the famous place?
On Tuesday, Elin found Sophie’s front door swinging wildly in the morning breeze. She panicked. So unlike her to be this careless, even in the grips of the worst of those worst days.
Inside, a murmuring cold pervading the ground floor, a low rushing wind creeping about the house at ankle height. Upstairs; more sound. Sophie whispering.
Sophie? Sophie, whats happening?
No sign of Sophie on the upper floor, but from the landing a ladder Elin had never seen reached up into a square hatchway in the ceiling. Through the hatch, barely, she could see the flicker of a flame, and three long shadows that quivered in the fractious light.
Come in Elin, the creaking voice of Sophie called from beyond the opening, and light a candle.
by Daniel Diehn
The room was gray. Smoke lingered in the air and my friends danced back and forth as though they were suspended underwater. All of them were here, even the ones who had long since moved away or died. They appeared exactly as I remembered them. Their eyes pierced mine, and I couldn’t look away.
“Congratulations,” they said in unison. It was odd, hearing them speak as one. “We hear you’re going to be a father.”
In that instant I knew that I was and I looked over to my wife while she cradled my newborn child. They were beautiful, my wife and my daughter. Gentle coos flitted and bounced around the room, and joy seized my heart before confusion slowly spread across my face.
“How are we going to get her home?” I asked. “We didn’t buy a car seat. I don’t think we even have a stroller.” I began to grow agitated. “How could we forget such important things? How did we not realize that we would need them?” My voice was hoarse and scratchy, something in the thickly laden atmosphere pushing the sound down my throat.
“We are home,” my wife responded calmly, her eyes soft and gentle.
The air smelled of lavender and spice. “We are, aren’t we?” I replied. My friends nodded enthusiastically as though the gesture were new to them. It was wonderful to see them again.
My daughter giggled with glee as she wrapped a tentacle around my wrist.
“What a beautiful girl,” they said.
“She truly is a miracle,” I replied. I inhaled deeply.
A Perfect Day for Guitar-fish
by F. Trautman
We are canoeing down the Cape Fear. At the falls of it, really. The water’s getting low and the bottom rocky.
That’s when we spot a huge guitar-fish in the shoals. We think he’s dead. But he has a rather contented look as he rests, belly on the cobbles, water rushing over his gills and long snout.
I’d heard that certain sharks. Nurse sharks, in particular, I think, could venture up the freshwater reaches in the Tidewater.
But this doesn’t absolve my 200-lb. friend, here, right now, lounging in the rapids.
We stick right to a small pocket flume to. Without a thought, it snaps out. Takes a healthy chunk out of my helmsman’s paddle.
I back-paddle and take a left, allowing the creature this time to take off my man’s boot, his foot having been dangling carelessly off the bow.
Harry (his name) says something about wishing he had his fishing dynamite but instead fishes under his seat and pulls out a hatchet he’d grabbed in the yard earlier.
As we neared the fish a third time, this time dragged by current alone, he stands, reaches back to swing it.
I tap him from behind with my paddle. Unexpectedly. Not hard. He topples over, into the fish’s maw.
It didn’t seem right to kill it. After all, who didn’t have a guitar-fish as a kid?
But I once had a guitar.
And a fish.
Besides. I’m never going back to Wilmington Correctional Institute. And it’s that sort of hatchet business that raises eyebrows. A bloody mess to explain.
It’s over in a second. Harry went head first, slid right in and didn’t put up too much struggle. Not too much fuss.
And I ducked under the gunwale and drifted past while the guitar-fish chomped.
by Alyson Fortowsky
It’s my signature on the contract that Dr. Paulson hands me. The phone on her desk is ringing. She doesn’t pick it up. I signed on April 13, 2016.
What year is it now?
My broken skull aches. Inescapable under the sharpness of stitched-up skin. A Tylenol 4 would let me sleep. They won’t give me one. NSAIDs impede bone healing, says Dr. Paulson. They give me codeine. I hate codeine. I’d rather not feel the pain than not care about it.
“I don’t remember signing.”
“Effects of the first surgery. It’s in there. You were eager to participate in our research.”
I jump to my feet. Ring. Ring. Feels like the blood runs the opposite way it should, against gravity, to the top of my forehead. “How do I know? I don’t remember! I’ll sue you into the ground. I have rights. I can withdraw my participation.”
A sudden memory – years ago, surely? I caught a mouse in my garage in a humane trap. Meant to save it, but when I picked it up to take it outside and release it, the thing dropped dead of a heart attack.
Dr. Paulson’s expression is worse than mockery. Pity. “You really want to know?”
She’s been waiting. She slides something else across the desk. A stack of photographs.
The phone finally stops ringing. A newsman’s photos. Outtakes, unpublishable. A crumpled bumper. Cubed safety glass. A person, as if asleep on the concrete. Time only runs in one direction: a worse inevitability than pain.
“You remember now,” she says.
I can’t answer. It’s not a question. She already knows.
“Go and rest,” she says. “Your contribution to science is your contribution to the world now. Just a few more weeks till your second surgery.”
by Den Warren
I need to hurry up and squeeze into this CNC machine. Now if I can just check this last connection on this machine, it will be a great night. I’m going to look like a human Q-tip after I get done contorting around inside this thing, smearing snotty-like globs of half-dried coolant all over myself, so I’ll have to hurry up and get a shower beforehand. But then I will be out with my new woman. What a hottie. Can’t stop thinking about her. What a bum on that one. After we go out to that Italian place; then maybe she’ll go to the club for some drinks. Then . . . who knows? IF, I can figure out what the hell is wrong with this thing. It just seemed to stop for no reason.
It’s amazing what you can do with the right motivation. There is just enough room to stand up in it on top of the turntable. Sometimes it pays to be a little short. Our customer never gets enough of the model this thing produces, so gotta hurry. It has to be worked on so they can go back to machining the parts with its array of mills and drills and taps, all which are automatically controlled once the cycle starts.
Oh wait. . . what about this loose wire? “NO!” That rush of compressed air means the cycle will start in a second! TOO SLOW! The turntable is turning already. No way out! Forgot to lock out!
“HEEEEEEEELP!” UGH! Can’t move a muscle! It hurts. Bones Crushed as the table stops with a thud. Coolant Flowing. Can’t yell. Can hear the tool changing. Can’t do anything whatsoever to stop the large drill pointing at my face, ready to quickly drill forward.
by Max Shephard
“Did you know you could fold the universe?” I asked. There were three of them, their pale skin like blank paper. “Fold it a thousand times and it will grant your wildest wishes.”
They must have thought I was joking, because one of them laughed. The other two shushed her as I looked around for their mother.
“See this?” The paper crane was already in my palm. “It has sixteen folds. There’s one for each of you.” They reached out their small hands. It was their consent.
Their mother’s little dog had gotten in the fountain again. She never took more than fifty seconds to dry him off.
“Come see, over here. The frog has seventeen folds. The lion, thirty seven. Can you count how many the raccoon has?
They giggled and followed.
“Did you know if you folded the universe, you’d be able to reach all points at once? Time travel is a folded piece of paper.” I don’t think they understood.
I heard their mother screaming, but they were already in my van. I made sure they were quiet.
I took them down to the basement, one at a time.
Abigail held the frog.
Alexandra held the lion.
Anne held the raccoon. She didn’t want to count the folds.
It was my mother who taught me how to make a paper chain of people. Fold, draw, and cut. Pretty little girls, all in a line. Not origami, but a start.
None of them were conscious when I removed their hands.
I sewed Abigail to Alexandra, Alexandra to Anne, Anne to Abigail, their back creating a solid circle. I had to dislocate their shoulders to make it work.
A human paper chain.
It’s not origami, but every master has to start somewhere.
Skin and bone don’t fold like paper.
Courtship of the Sewer King
By S.E. Casey
Misty slipped between the bent bars of the spillway grate. It was becoming a tight fit; another year and she would be too big to pass through. Careful as she was, her school dress got smeared with rust.
It couldn’t be helped. When he called, she had to obey.
The sewer’s foul sweetness helped erase her worries, as did the singing. The acapella’s volume neither rose nor fell no matter the tunnel she choose convincing her that he was singing directly into her head.
The king could do that.
She walked over the mostly dry concrete plank-ways that sidled the sludge trench. However, where the fecal gunge had crested, or some amphibious sewer creature surfaced to shake off its filth, the fetid puddles hidden in the gloom seeped into her shoes.
Bad day to wear her cute sneakers.
Misty turned through the oft-branching labyrinth without much thought. Follow your heart, he said. And so, she did.
Bathing in the slivers of broken sunlight that bled in from the storm drain above, she found him. He was propped upright, his excrement laden military uniform snagged on some exposed rebar. She wondered how his waterlogged girth had been hoisted there. Perhaps, the other girls…
A wonderful putrescence overwhelmed the sewer fragrance in the king’s chamber. His face was horribly burnt, lips peeled off exposing yellow teeth and white bone and charred gums. He smiled at her this way, loving voids for eyes drinking her in. His throat was torn open, a feast for some gutter beast, but it didn’t stop the singing.
Oh, such a beautiful voice!
He would turn her red. But not today. He only sung for her today.
For now, he bid another farewell. As always, he asked for a kiss goodbye.
She was only too happy to oblige.
One Midsomer’s Dawn in the Swamp
by Richard Miller
“Pssst, Moses,” whispered Luke.
Moses opened his eyes and, without moving his lips, said, “What?”
Seeing Moses’ eyes inflate Luke, without moving his lips, said, “Is there something licking my ear?”
“What is it?”
“A very, very big bear.”
After a moment Luke asked, “What color is it?”
Moses studied the moving mountain for a moment, “Black.”
“Black? Is that good?”
“Think so, from what I can remember black bears mostly eat plants.”
“How mostly is mostly?”
“Don’t rightly know,” said Moses, “I’d have to think about that.”
“What should I do?”
“Well, if I remember correctly, the best advice is don’t panic.”
“With a giant bear just about to swallow my head that ain’t something that comes naturally.”
“You need to gain some perspective. You’re always looking at the bad side of things.”
“What, pray tell,” said Luke, “is the good side of this thing?”
“Well, if the bear eats you there’s a good chance he won’t eat me. You’ll be saving my life and you won’t have to marry my sister.”
“Which one what?”
“What makes you think I’d want to marry Mabel? She’s meaner and more odoriferous than a sore-footed skunk.”
“Odoriferous, what’s that mean?”
“That means she smells bad.”
“You saying my sister smells bad? I’ve a mind to bust your nose.”
“You do that and you’ll disturb the bear. He might take exception to you bruising his dinner.”
“Well you mind your manners. She may be on the pungent side but she’s still my sister.”
“Sorry, I guess you’re right. I suppose nows the time, if ever there was one, to start looking at the positive side of things. Like that rustling noise behind you.”
“Rustling? What’s that?”
“It’s a gator.”
by Mileva Anastasiadou
I once was human, yet I lived as a stray dog. Aimlessly wondering though the darkest alleys, searching for food and company, instant gratification my sole purpose. Deep down, I’ve always been a dog, but the actual transformation didn’t happen ‘till recently. Or perhaps, it has been happening gradually over the years, without me realizing it.
As a pack animal, I had friends. We belonged together and watched each other’s back; we were a gang, loyal to each other. Loyalty though, comes with a price.
I then found a home and left them. A good home indeed for as long as it lasted. Only it didn’t last long. The past came to haunt me. My dog friends sensed the betrayal. They came to wreck my new life. The gang burnt the house, stole everything and killed my mistress.
That was the night when it finally happened. I thought I was human, yet I was just a domesticated animal, a pet, or better, a herding dog. For as long as it lasted. Mission failed. That night, under the full moon, my coat turned thicker, my bark became and endless howl, as the tamed dog turned into a ruthless wolf, a proper monster.
The herding dog fell short. It was time for the wolf to take over.
So now, I am a lone wolf. I feed on blood and misery. I’m after my former friends, seeking revenge for all that I have lost. I rip each one of them apart, the moment I isolate them from the pack. I love the sight of their blood on the ground. I love the sound of their screams as they die.
Yet most of all, I love the feeling of vindication. Of justice being served. They should have known;
loyalty always comes with a price.
The Ultimate Party
by Brenda Anderson
Bob answered the doorbell. The six foot cockroach on the doorstep unfurled a wing and saluted. Bob tried to slam the door shut but the roach got his other wing in, first.
“Sir,” said the roach, “I’m suspending the war between our species. See the glow on the horizon? The irradiation’s already hit: just look at me. Lucky for you, we roaches are the canaries of the Apocalypse. I say, let’s survive together.” The roach whipped out a small bottle. “Drink this and shrink. Afterwards, we’ll party.”
Bob frowned. “If I shrink, you’ll step on me.”
“No! No more war!” cried the roach. ”Here’s an identical bottle, see?” It whipped the bottle out. “We’ll drink, shrink and survive together. On my count, one, two …”
The roach downed the contents of his bottle and shrank.
Bob raised his foot to stomp but the Apocalypse rolled in, first.
The now-atomized species merged and danced together.
< Pretty good party >
< you’re stepping on my feet >
< don’t be a princess >
< I’m leaving >
< over my dead body >
< you mean, mine >
< oh! >
< you said shrinking would help >
< it does. We’re ridin’ the river of life, man. It’s the ultimate party and we’re in it, together >
< what do roaches know about parties? >
< seriously? After you guys left the room? You don’t want to know >
< we were messy, huh >
< no kidding >
< you’re right >
< I’m always right >
< will you stop that??>
I’m Sorry, Mommy
by Valentín Chantaca González
—Go to your room, Ari! I’m sick of hearing the same lie over and over again.
—I’m telling you the truth. I saw the spider earlier, and it had gotten even bigger. WHY WON´T YOU BELIEVE ME?!
Ari had just turned 13 years old. Everywhere she went, people told her she would soon become a beautiful young woman. She didn’t know what they meant by that, but lately she had been having trouble controlling her temper and her shouting. She was always angry, although she only remembered half the things that spouted out of her mouth. She could feel the transformation of her body, it felt like a marching band of razors under her skin. It felt like a thunderstorm roaring in her mind.
—Yeah, right. We’ve been here for two months already. How could a huge spider be living right under our noses? Now go to your room! That son of a bitch you call a father is supposed to ring me later.
—FUCK YOOOUU, BIIITCH, I HOPE YOU DIIIEEE!!! DON’T EVER TALK ABOUT MY DADDY LIKE THAT!
The shriek broke the mother’s heart. Ari was always angry and for no good reason. Still, she was mommy’s little girl. That’s why Ari chose to stay with her after the divorce, even though she hated everything about that old creaking house. She felt terrible as soon as she said those forbidden words. She wanted to make it right. After a few hours, she snuck out of her room and went to check on her mother.
She walked through darkness and reached the bed.
—I’m sorry, mommy.
Her mother was silent and breathed with wheezing sounds.
—Please, mommy, talk to me. I’m really sorry.
The mother opened her mouth. The spider revealed a new, slimy and bloody nest.
The Blood Clocks
At first there was only one clock. It was faint, but persistent, a regular puncture of the silence from somewhere to my right.
I can’t remember when I became aware of it. It could be a few weeks ago, or a few months perhaps. I know that may seem strange when each second is marked by the ticking and the ticking, but I keep blacking out, and of course there are more now and they don’t all keep the same time. I get confused.
I don’t know how I got here. I was driving, I think. I have a sense of dark trees rushing past, becoming pale with fog, and then – perhaps I crashed? There was pain, certainly. Sharp, brutal.
Now there is just the sound of the clocks.
It took me hours of effort, thousands of ticks, to do it, but one day my restraints finally loosened just enough for me to turn my head. I looked to the right, to see the source. There was my outstretched arm: pallid, waxy skin slashed and re-sutured at the wrist, a tube protruding from it. From that tube, my blood.
The sound of swollen, heavy drips falling incessantly from my wrist. My eyes strained down to see it pooling on the floor, and that’s when I saw them. Creatures slithering silently through a tide of crimson which could not all have been mine, moving with scaled limbs and sinuous tails, faces with bloodshot eyes and wide gummed mouths from which wicked tongues lapped the sanguineous waters.
I only managed it once more, before they bound my eyes. I heard another clock, and saw you. Hands dripping thick and red, your timing syncopating with mine.
by Cath Barton
The sounds were wrong. There should have been the sound of car engines starting up. Only that. But where were all the cars? And what had happened to the lights?
The day had started like any other. The usual traffic stress and beating anxiety about being late for work. I’d made it with minutes to spare, up and round the tight spiral that felt as if it would go on for ever. I parked the car in the usual place, third floor, second bay on the left. In truth I had no right to park there. It was reserved for TDM. I had no idea who or what TDM was.
I didn’t see the notice by the pay station. Because I took the back exit, down the urine-impregnated concrete stairs, head down and holding my nose to keep out the smell.
The day was like any other in the office. If I’d looked out, over towards the car park, I might have seen. And understood who TDM was.
At the end of the day I walked into the front entrance of the car park. Everything looked normal. Except there were no cars. And the lights were out. And there was a loud crunching. As I walked up the stairs, picking my way in the dark, the noise got louder. I stood for a moment with my back to the wall of the stairwell. It was shaking.
At the pay station I used the torch on my phone. I could just make out the words on the flapping notice: “Leave by 3pm, this car park is….” At that moment, behind me, the back wall fell. I could dimly make out the shape of my car. And above it the thing rearing up. And falling, rising and falling. The demolition monster. TDM.
by Stephanie Ellis
Mary held out her hands, palms up. Blood dripped on the floor.
“The stigmata of the damned,” said the priest. She moaned at his words, a bleeding Madonna. His tableau was coming along nicely. “Mother Mary,” continued the minister kneeling down beside her. “Mother, giver of life, but that’s not you … is it?” He nodded at the body lying next to her, still and silent. “Your only begotten son,” he said. “That too is a lie though … isn’t it? For our sins God gave his only begotten son. Would you do the same?”
She shook her head, whimpered in pain.
“No? Another lie,” he said. “You’ve done it before.”
Did she remember? Was that shameful memory buried so deep she’d forgotten? Her sin. A baby left to die. He watched carefully for that light of awareness to reach her eyes, was gratified when he saw it. Now she knew who he was, this preacher she had welcomed so unquestioningly into her home.
“But I didn’t die, did I mother? So here we are—a holy family, a trinity—remembering the message of Easter, the power of the Crucifixion.”
The empty cross he had fashioned stood ready against the wall. Hammer and nails lying at its feet. Metal already bloodied from Mary’s own martyrdom. Now it was Adam’s turn. The priest dragged him across and raised him up onto the wood, ropes holding him whilst iron pierced flesh. When he’d finished, the minister kissed his brother on the cheek. “They named me Judas,” he said, ripping the dog-collar from his neck. “Pretty apt, don’t you think?” Then he turned and walked away, leaving behind a Madonna and Son waiting for a resurrection that would not come.
What Face Is In Fashion This Spring?
by Myrto Zafreiridi
It all started a month ago. My mother and I began to notice that more and more of our neighbours were behaving strangely, as if they didn’t really know us. Frightened, she urged me to check on Mrs Heel across the street. When I opened the door, the sight was indescribable, but the stink was even worse. Let’s just say that the biggest piece of Mrs Heel left had the size of a tennis ball.
And then the creature saw me. It looked just like her. Suddenly, the face peeled off and slid around its neck like a macabre scarf, which revealed muscles and what looked like yellow pus. It screeched loudly and stretched a slimy limb towards me. Luckily, a noise from outside distracted it for a split second, so I shot out of the door and started running as fast as I could.
I didn’t go home because I didn’t want it to see where I lived. I called mum but she sounded very strange, as though she didn’t really worry about what I told her. It was a doppelganger. They had gotten to her and there was nothing I could do about it.
I go to a new city every other day but it’s the same everywhere. It’s hard to notice them at first, but something about them is just off. Plus, there is the smell. They smell like decomposing citrus fruits.
Now I’m walking down the street. I can hear footsteps behind me. It’s two of them. Their telltale sour smell has overwhelmed me.
Maybe the smell is just in my head. Perhaps it’s just a couple of teenagers looking for a quiet corner. I’m panicking for no reason.
Even so, some day it will be them.
This world is no longer ours.
Bed of Needles
by Jack Koebnig
Each time she tried to move tiny impossibly sharp teeth bit into her lower back and shoulders. She knew the teeth were just the dried out pine needles which littered the forest floor but the simple comparison refused to retreat. She thought of those Indian Yogis she’d seen in magazines and wondered if this was why they did it.
Her eyelids were heavy. She blinked and heard them scrape across her dilated pupils.
The branches of the trees which surrounded her stretched to impossible distances above her head. Look out moon, she thought. And giggled when a solitary centipede scuttled across her exposed throat.
Something was approaching. Was it him? How could he have recovered so quickly? She focussed on his return; the shattering of brittle leaves, the snapping of fallen twigs, and closed her eyes. Come then. But this time he didn’t stop. A breeze brushed over the soles of her bare feet and her toes curled forward.
She swallowed and it felt like shards of broken glass clawing at the soft walls of her throat. The sensation didn’t trigger an alarm. It was something she simply accepted. Like her current situation. It was the reason why she hadn’t tried to escape.
She took a deep breath, tasting the many flavours the forest had to offer, then let it out, slowly, deliberately.
‘Damn,’ she whispered, staring at the fading moon. The sun was rising and it was getting light. If you don’t want them to wake, she continued to herself, and discover you’re not in the kitchen, busily preparing their breakfasts, you need to leave now.
She climbed reluctantly to her feet, promising herself that she would return to her oasis of calm just as soon as she could.
by David Whitaker
“Just relax, breathe, you’re doing great.”
The flash pops, the studio flares, the shutter clicks, and my model fidgets.
“Uh-huh, that’s perfect.” I’m not watching the camera anymore. I’m only watching her, trying to soak it all in, relish every moment.
I love the wait; drawing out the dance, toying with my prey.
I’ve been doing it for years, lasting this long because I’m careful, only targeting those from the fringe, those that won’t be missed.
The camera helps, and the business cards too. Defences drop before them, trust effectively bought. Cash typically smooths out any further wrinkles, and I just collect it again after; I’ve been flashing the same stack of notes for months.
My prey is looking at me meekly, an arm held protectively across her breasts, a hand over her crotch.
“Can I put my clothes back on?” she asks.
“No, you can die,” I reply, and withdraw my blade.
I watch her slowly break, her expressions fleeting from incomprehension, to mirth, and finally to fear, as she realises I’m serious. She knows there’s no way out, the studio doors are locked, so she throws herself at my feet, begging for mercy.
I savour her sorrow, lap up her misery, prepare to strike…
A searing pain shoots up my legs and I crumple, biting back a scream. My prey is smiling down at me, her fingernails gleaming like razorblades.
“You’re not my usual prey, you know?” she whispers, her smile a shark’s. “I go for sexual predators, those who do all the hard work of concealing their final movements so I don’t have to. Still, I think you’ll be particularly delicious.”
My trousers are bloody rags, my feet limp, my tendons severed, my knife tumbled out of reach.
I feel fear, for the first time.
by C.R. Smith
I keep waking up with marks on my face. It started around six months ago. I didn’t pay much attention at first but now I’m obsessed with them. They look like insect bites. I had the place fumigated — for all the good it did me! Every morning a new batch appears. The woman in the coffee shop asked if I was contagious and fellow travellers have started giving me strange looks on the train.
As the day passes the marks fade, although I can still feel them. It’s as if something’s crawling beneath my skin. I’ve tried locking the bedroom door in case I’m sleepwalking and once tied myself to the bedside cabinet with my dressing gown’s belt. I even tried wearing gloves. The marks appeared the same as usual. That’s why I set up the video camera. For sanity’s sake I need to know what’s causing them.
Flicking through the recording I see myself sleeping peacefully in a shaft of yellow light. I skip forward several frames, then rewind in disbelief. I should have closed that window. A dark shadow’s cast across me, then another, and another, until I’m surrounded by hundreds of creatures. They turn as one, eyes glowing. They know I’m recording. They don’t seem to care, their mouth’s screeching in stomach-churning unison.
My stomach’s in my mouth. I’m shaking — can barely hold the camera. They’re the most gruesome of beings; half-man, half-bird. Decaying lumps of flesh hang from their bones leaving a seeping trail as their wings spread, consuming me in an amorphous mass. I can’t see what’s happening any more. I don’t need to. I remember how I was paralysed, couldn’t move a muscle, couldn’t even call out, as they pecked at me with their razor sharp beaks.
Abo Regl Maslokha
by Kareem Shehab
It’s so dark. The smell of dust fills every breath with terror. He is only 7 years old.
“What would I do when he comes for me?”, the little boy wonders in fear.
“Mom! Mom!”, he cries. “I should have done my homework.”
Only his mother can hear him.
He lives in a cottage in the countryside of Egypt. Little Khedr lied to his mom and told her he had finished his homework, but his Arabic teacher ratted him out. And everybody knows the fate of naughty children. Abo-Regl Maslokha: the ghost with one skinned leg and another of a goat. He sneaks in dark rooms searching for bad boys who lie to their mothers and eat them. Khedr’s mom had told him the story, and the stories of his victims. And now she handed the poor boy over to him.
“I’m sorry, mom. I won’t ever lie to you again.”, he cries still.
A cold breeze suddenly sweeps in. The little boy sits on the dusty ground, hugging his knees in fear.
“Mom, I’m afraid. Please.”
He hears footsteps outside the room. The steps go away. The terrifying screams of the mother outside. The little boy screams back as tears pour down his face.
Screams go louder. He doesn’t know what is going on. The sound of a body being dragged down violently as the mother vibrates the whole cottage with her voice.
Silence. The room door suddenly opens up on its own. The little boy stands up with wide terrified eyes. He walks out with unsure steps. He finds a piece of paper on the ground. He picks it up as his hands shake.
‘Dear, Khedr… You probably heard a lot of false stories about me. I’m sorry for the wrong impression. I don’t eat naughty children. That’s disgusting. I only kill heartless mothers. And btw, I don’t have a goat’s leg.’
Waiting for Dinner
by Danny Beusch
She waits upstairs in the dark, legs folded beneath her. The end feels close. In nearly two centuries she’s never known hunger like this. Parents are more protective – and children less curious – so food is sparse. The few who do fall into her trap are almost always boys; their sour after-taste, a mixture of dust and mud and sweat, lingers unpleasantly for days. Still, she can’t be too picky.
Her house is whatever she wants you to see. Something inconspicuous for passing adults: a tree, perhaps, to blend in with the rest of the forest. But for children it is bait: gingerbread houses; fairy castles; video game arcades; fast food outlets. The spoiled brats are getting harder and harder to impress.
She’s slipping away when the smell hits her: fresh and delicious, like sun-ripened strawberries. Saliva spews from her fangs. The slam of the front door is followed by high-pitched, care-free giggles, the cue to scurry downstairs and meet her prey. Sometimes she waits until her foul stench impels them to turn around. But not today.
‘Hello children.’ Her shrill voice gargles with bile and decay.
The two girls look up, aghast, and drop to the floor with a thud. Their petrified bodies are warm and fragrant, like freshly baked bread. She grabs the fattest one and urgently claws it apart, innards spilling into sticky pools on the stone tiles. As she bites into the tender, succulent meat her eyes roll back in pleasure, dislodging scores of maggots who eagerly join in with the feast. The other body should be preserved for later but, high on sugary blood, there’s no way she can resist it.
by Cate EC
When I open my eyes there is a little girl standing next to our bed. She is holding out one long, pale arm, and in her open palm she holds a handful of white pills. I recognise her.
‘What do you want?’
Her face remains blank, but she nods at the pills in her hand.
‘They won’t hurt you,’ She says quietly. ‘They’re sugar-coated.’
I draw back instinctively, into the warm arms of my husband. I turn to look at him in relief, his soft, concerned face.
‘Are you okay, sweetie? Were you having a nightmare?’
I look back. My little girl has gone. I suppose I was.
I don’t see her again for a few days.
I have a headache. I make a cup of tea, dumping in four sugars like I always do, stirring it like a ritual. I look out of the window and see her in the garden, on the swing. Her eyes are bleeding.
‘What do you want?’ I ask again. Dave comes up behind me, making me jump.
‘What’s the matter, sweets?’
I look at him, dazed.
‘I have a headache. But just now, on the swing, look…’
I gesture at the window, helpless. He looks blankly at me.
‘There isn’t a swing, sweetness. Not since Katie died. Do you need a lie down? Do you want some tablets?’
I look at them and then out of the window but only the grass looks back, blank and unforgiving.
When I open my eyes my husband is standing over me, his soft, warm hand over my mouth. I try to move, but I’m too weak. I can see her over his shoulder. She holds out a cup of tea.
‘Sweetheart, I’m sorry.’
The poison is always in the sugar.
by Munira Sayyid
The air is a mixture of smoke and garbage. I am one among the countless sweat slicked bodies, moving through the cacophony of car horns and vulgar remarks. An emaciated woman begs for money as I pass by two men growling at each other and a boy regurgitating milk. The red splotches barely miss my shoes as the frail woman spits angrily. My mechanical movements remain seamless as I inhale my own perspiration. The city’s heat is savage.
I arrive at the station just as the clock strikes thirteen. The asphalt platform seems endless as I squint under the sun’s wrath. Someone hurries past me with a broken nose. My shirt is glued to my back as I watch a fifth woman squeezing herself on a bench made for three. A disheveled bearded man is near the tracks. I’m glad of the distance between us. I avoid his gaze and pretend that I haven’t noticed him. That I haven’t noticed his filthy clothes. His fecal stench. His red eyes burning a hole through me. I keep swiping at my wet upper lip. With a vicious snap, he twists his neck and jumps on the tracks. I gape at the empty spot. My heart’s pounding in my ears. I turn to the others and find them all staring at me. The conductor has given the signal and the orchestra begins. In perfect timing, the melody of cracking bones fills the air as heads dangle from shoulders with unblinking eyes. One by one, they leap on the tracks as the train rumbles past.
The hum of the brakes is the only sound as the open compartment beckons. I stumble inside, the metallic floor blistering my palms, as a ticket falls out. It reminds me of the nine circles I’ve yet to descend.
by Mike Murphy
The door to the blood supply room was slightly ajar. An average person wouldn’t have noticed, but Dr. Steve sensed it.
He unscrewed the head of his stethoscope and removed the key which opened the hidden compartment in his locker. How the crooks knew that 3:20 a.m., when the nurse always snuck outside for a smoke, was the time to steal was beyond him. It was just the two of them on duty tonight, and now he was alone.
He grabbed his homemade weapon from its hiding place. He’d take care of things, as he had for years.
The black-clad man was kneeling before the open refrigerator, drinking from one of the bottles, when Steve surprised him. In shock, he dropped the container to the floor, where it shattered. He looked sadly at the spilled blood. How delicious it would have been!
He lunged at his visitor, but he was too slow. With speed and accuracy gathered from years of practice, Dr. Steve fired the sharpened stake from the crossbow directly into the thief’s heart. The crook fell to the linoleum, twitched a few times, and belatedly passed into the afterlife that had avoided him for who knows how long.
From his lab coat pocket, Steve removed the satchel containing the special mixture and sprinkled it all over: On top of the fanged dead man, the stained floor, the broken bottle. All quickly disintegrated into dust. Then the dust turned into dust and vanished.
Not being a rookie at this, Steve locked the door. He filled a paper cup with just a shot of O negative. He drank it down, its sweetness reinvigorating him. He stroked the humming fridge lovingly.
This was his food. He wasn’t sharing it with anyone.
by Ben Marie
Underneath the farm lies the cellar. It is cool, deep and dark. A catacomb stacked to the roof with bottles instead of skulls. The walls read like graveyard tombstones. Pinot Noir born 1945. Chardonnay born 2003. They all wait quietly for their moment.
He offers me a glass direct from a barrel. Using a large crystal syringe he withdraws a sample and deposits it into my glass.
I inspect it. I swirl it. I put my nose deep into the glass and breathe. Satisfied I sip, then tumble the wine around my mouth. Finally I swallow and let the warmth swim through me. When you taste a wine, you taste more than just the grapes. You taste the soil, you taste the weather, you taste the barrel, you taste the people, you taste time itself.
“This is exquisite.” I tell him
He smiles. So I continue.
“It obviously has a little way to go fermentation wise. High acidity, lots of alcohol still. But it has a great mouth feel with tropical fruit flavours, it’s rich and powerful. I think it will be tremendous vintage”
He seems to delight in my assessment.
“And something; something I can’t quite put my finger on. Another flavour, maybe in the soil?”
I taste again. I get a sense of hands working on the vines. Dirt under fingernails and sweat on brows. It’s earthy. Boney. Bloody.
“How many backpackers have you had pass through here?” I ask.
“Oh hundreds. But I’ve never met one with a palette as sophisticated as yours.”
He watches intently as I finish the rest of the glass in a gulp. I hope the alcohol works quickly. I suppose I’ve always wanted to a part of the wine industry.
The cellar feels as if we are one hundred miles underground.
James hated Easter and he didn’t believe in fooling children with egg-hunts.
Upon reaching the event field, he abandoned his young brother into the shrieking egg-search melee and headed instead to the old hilltop barn. Scrambling through the broken window he scraped his leg on the jagged glass and swore loudly as blood dripped onto the straw below.
Grabbing a fistful of straw to stem the bleeding he uncovered a dirty brown egg-shaped stone. As he raised his foot, the egg stone cracked. A small hole appeared and a bloody finger burst through, followed by another, then a thumb.
James froze. Couldn’t scream, couldn’t move as he watched the shell fall away, revealing an eyeball from which the fingers and thumb protruded.
‘Shit!’ James swallowed. Warm wetness ran down the inside of his leg, pooling into the straw under his feet. The eyeball rolled towards him using its fingers for momentum. James shoved the heels of his hands into his eyes. When he looked again, two more bloody eyeballs were heading his way, fingers splayed, gathering straw and piss as they rolled.
‘Help! Get me out of here!’ he yelled hysterically.
‘Jamie! Are you in there?’
The barn door opened. Sunlight burst through, along with Mrs. Griffin and Hugo.
‘Look, Jamie’s found eggs!’ Hugo shrieked.
‘No! don’t touch them, they’re nasty, wicked, bleeding… Easter eggs?’ Jamie gasped as he saw Hugo pick up two shiny silver foiled eggs from the floor. They’d been decorated with silly faces. Ashen, James muttered to himself, stood up and turned to leave. His pants were damp, the straw glistened in the sunlight but no piss, no blood.
Jamie didn’t dare look back. If he had, he’d have seen three bloody eyeballs fingering their way back into their egg-stones, waiting for the next non-believer.
“As a revenue stream, joining a clinical trial had seemed, well, unorthodox, but I needed the cash; gigs had been scarce and I was running out of cigarettes. The website seemed reassuringly scientific; promises of more strength, muscle mass… virility. A couple of release forms later, and there I was, needle in bicep, a freshly pressed ton in my wallet. Easy money. Nothing for a week or two, assumed I was in the placebo group, and moved on. A hundred quid is quickly spent, but then we got a gig. The itch in my hands started through the second set; the hairs broke the skin on my back as I drove home at midnight. Three hours of howling later, I woke up in torn jeans, the taste of raw chicken in my teeth. Phone call to doctors; number not recognised. Not sure how I’ll explain this at the Job Centre…”
by Stephen Lodge
Todd woke with a start. He had been sleeping awkwardly in his armchair and had dribbled a little bit. He sat up, belching. That meat had been very dodgy. He’d had a bad dream too, but he couldn’t remember a thing about it.
He also didn’t remember the TV being on, but on it was. Black and white movie. The scene on the TV was taking place in a room similar to his own. There was a victim tied to a dining chair, bound, gagged and blindfolded. There was another man there, who was looking at the victim, but away from the camera. The man said something in a foreign language and “Back in a minute,” appeared as subtitle on the screen. He returned with a pair of pliers and knelt at the bare feet of the victim.
The man began pulling off the victims’ toe nails. This is so gross, gasped Todd, transfixed. Muffled screams came from the victim. The man then gathered up all the toenails into one palm, went into the kitchen and put them on a plate. He took 2 slices out of the bread bin and put them into the toaster.
“Oh no,” said Todd out loud. “He’s making a toasted toenail sandwich. I bet he adds peanut butter.” He turned off the TV and lurched towards the bathroom. As he opened the door he saw the body of the victim, with bloody toes, scrunched in the bath. Todd passed out.
When he awoke, he was back in his armchair. He rushed in to the bathroom – the bath was empty. He tried to focus. Weird dream. Stop late night snacking, he scolded himself. Then he checked the chest freezer. Yep, a torso, 2 severed heads and a leg were still there.
Then the toaster popped.