by Sherry M
In unguarded moments, the call catches me, making me shiver. If I close my eyes, I see huge Highland clouds and the clear, calm loch, its surface mirroring the sky. I see Nana and Gramps, and summer holidays. Sometimes we’re having a picnic near the loch-shore, sometimes we’re fishing. I see my brother, Henry, again. He’s eight. I’m ten. The sun is warm on my skin. We’re happy. I try to open my eyes then, so the image doesn’t change.
But it always does.
We figured the pony escaped and came to the loch to drink. With its shiny black coat, thick mane and a tail so long it dragged the ground, it was a mesmerising creature. When it kneeled and gestured towards its back, Henry grabbed its mane, which seemed to twine around his wrists, and sat aloft bareback. I heard a whispered caution floating on the breeze. And stepped back. The pony bared its teeth, rolled its bright green eyes. Then turned and headed towards the loch with Henry.
I told him to dismount. But he seemed stuck, unable to move. He looked back at me confused.
An old man emerged from the woods shouting Cold patch! Cold patch! I didn’t understand the words, but I understood the tone. This time I shouted at Henry to get off the horse, started to go after. But the old man stopped me. We watched as the pony went deeper, with Henry now clinging to its neck, screaming and struggling uselessly, as the horse took him under.
Back at the house, Gramps slumped in a chair while Nana wept. He explained how sometimes calling out their Scottish Gaelic name, Colpach, stops Kelpies. But this time it hadn’t. The malevolent water spirit had succeeded in dragging my brother to a watery grave.
by Sam Bowie
He tried again at lunchtime, but it was hopeless.
“Alfie. What’s the matter?”
“I’m an 88-year-old man trapped in the body of a 5-year-old. Surely you can see that? It’s so obvious, but no-one seems to be able to see it.”
“How about… Uh?!”
“No! I don’t want to play with plasticine. Please listen. Somewhere in Cambridge, a small boy is trapped in the body of an old man.”
“I think someone needs a little sleep.”
“I mean – yes, I do normally have a rest around now.”
“Well then. Let’s take you through to the nap room.”
“But you’re not listening to me! I fought at Normandy. Before that I sailed the world for seven years in a schooner, took lovers in every corner of the globe-”
“This is our most comfortable bed.”
“That does look very comfortable.”
“And look how soft and fluffy this quilt is.”
“Well. OK then. I’ll just have forty winks.”
Discomfiting phantasmagoric memories as sleep overtook him. Hard-faced Lana, the senior ‘carer’ in the home, deposits a cake on the table. “Don’t forget to make a wish,” she says. Then: the lightning strike. Then: the body-swap.
That afternoon, while Oliver makes a car out of Duplo, and Katie draws a picture entitled ‘My Mumy’, he writes an indignant letter to The Spectator about the UK fiscal charter. Somehow, though – his heart isn’t in it. A lightness has come upon him.
That evening, he is carried to bed after a delicious hot chocolate.
“Mrs Barker – please. You must listen-”
“You sleep well. Don’t forget we’re off on holiday tomorrow.”
“Yes, a holiday! You remember.”
“Well… I haven’t had a holiday for ten years. Where – where are we going?“
“A hot country call Portugal.”
“The Jewel of Iberia!”
“Alright… Sweet dreams, pumpkin.”
“Well… I mean… OK. OK, sweet dreams, Mummy!”
by Patrick Widdess
Three days ago Leon ate a fly. The legs dissolved on his tongue, he savoured the wings’ dainty crunch and hint of softness in its shrivelled body. There is little chance of finding anything so substantial out here. Gangs control the few food stores in the city and there are those who will tear you limb-from-limb for the thinnest morsel.
The memory of trees still lingers in the gnarled stumps on the plain. Leon recalls the rough bark on his palms as he climbed, sunlight filtering through the leaves. There was so much green back then but now even memories are becoming grubby and faded. He clings to the sound of birdsong and his father calling from below.
The stumps are dry and rotten with not so much as a leaf or twig to chew on. One has half fallen, its tangle of roots exposed. Leon’s withered fingers probe every surface. At the base of the trunk he sees something like a knot of wood. He prods it and a blackened snail shell falls away. He inserts his finger. The shrivelled body still has a sticky softness. He scoops it out and swallows.
As he’s licking his finger he hears something. A figure is stooping a few feet away. Its eyes bulge from its malnourished face. It cowers as Leon stands. Leon looks at the two remaining shells and the skulking frame of skin and bones before him. He takes a snail, holds it out. The being looks around. Leon indicates a scooping action from the snail to his mouth. It inches forward as Leon beckons and puts its hands together in gratitude. As it reaches out Leon lunges. There is nothing more than a cloud of dust and muffled crunch of bones. Leon devours his prey.
The Book Pimp, or I Don’t Know What to Call This to Not Sound Metaphorical
By Alex Z. Salinas
It used to be I had no books.
I’d always liked the look of them, always liked the feel of them. Hell, I’d even always liked the smell of them.
But like every other Bluecollar Bob and Betty in the country, I’d never committed to one. You might say I was more committed to ingesting a Denny’s Grand Slam than learning about human nature via the fictional story of a displaced Chindian man living in Delaware.
Then one day—isn’t that when it always happens?—I decided to shake things up. I did some research and visited a bookstore.
I found the book I was looking for. I don’t even remember its name, but I was determined to give the sucker a whirl.
And I gave it a whirl, alright.
I realized after a while that I liked the book. I liked it a whole lot.
I read the timesuck everywhere I went. In the crapper, on the way to work, at work, in church.
It twisted my mind into a pretzel. It squeezed out sweet juices from my brain folds that I’d never tasted before.
And I wanted more juice.
So I bought another book.
Then something happened.
As I was devouring the new book, I thought, What would it be like to have another?
So I bought another, and did both at the same time. Not only was it doable, it was supremely more enjoyable.
I eventually worked up to three, six, eight, even twelve books at a time!
These days, I like knowing a twenty-stack is waiting for me when I get home.
I know what you’re thinking:
This wacko’s book addiction is a metaphor for women. Or drugs.
You’d be clever, but also dead wrong, genius.
If it was that simple, I’d be a professional writer.
by Vincente L.Ruiz
But the day has come. Like every sun passing, the day has come. Tonight we feed. Tonight we will satiate our thirst, our craving will be over.
Momentarily. Until we anguish again and wait again.
For a year. That’s our course.
She cursed us all, all those sun passings ago. When she came running and walked among us, and they came after her, and trapped her, and stabbed her and killed her.
Only she wasn’t really dead, no. They gathered wood and made a pyre, and tied her to a stake, and when the flames licked her skin she opened her eyes, and spoke her curse.
We remember the thunder and the lightning and the rain that came afterwards, oh yes, we remember.
She was gone in the smoke, and they stood there, blind. And all of them and their children and the children of their children bore her mark, and endured her curse for many a sun passing.
Our generations grow slower and live longer and wax older. And thus we still remember.
And we crave, and we hunger, and we thirst, because that’s how her curse affected us.
But tonight, tonight of all nights our prey will be coming. They will enter, and they will find us waiting, our trunks and branches and leaves welcoming.
But they’ll never leave.
Alive, at least.
I knew I was in trouble, when I came down for breakfast and found the fog had rolled in on the house again. The last time, we got a worm. A meter in diameter. The head is usually upstairs, in the bathroom—you’ll spot it in the plumbing. It runs through the walls and on wet days flops out a window like a giant boudin. Quite the infestation.
Today, the dog had fallen apart.
Thanking Christ for the programmable coffee pot, I headed to the porch to think and smoke. The fog inched back to its usual position along the tree-line. Good. I hadn’t time for the dog/fog situation. I flicked the cigarette into the wet grass. I had to meet a guy about a thing.
The boxer’s head was panting on the dining table. It’s smiling I thought, but my wife would say I anthropomorphize pets. Regardless, I placed her head by her torso which was still in the foyer in a wicker bed. For good measure, I tucked the neck stump into the collar. I hoped it would just heal somehow. Really though, it was more a cosmetic choice than a tourniquet. My effort earned me a lick on the hand. Next, I gathered the legs and stacked them on top.
I didn’t notice the missing tail until I spotted the nub jumping—wagging perhaps—around the kitchen floor. Eventually, it wedged under the stove and I dragged it out with a spatula and tossed it on the dog pile.
Back in the foyer, something oozed under the doorway. Fog again. It was growing, looking more and more like a flounder. Lopsided eyes blinked. I jumped on a chair. It inched across the Oriental rug towards the dog. She smiled again, face cracking, sending teeth and eyes everywhere.
by J. Maker
As the angry desert sun began to sink beyond the horizon, leaking its poisons into the sky –
vermillion, purple, crimson red – the searing heat of the day gave way to a chill breeze. The sand on
the dunes moaned eerily like women grieving. Soon temperatures would plummet.
Lost, dehydrated and alone, Colin cursed his stupidity at having abandoned the car in such
hostile terrain. Only yesterday, on Skype when his girlfriend back in England had mentioned the
Halloween party she would be going to, demons seemed a million miles away; tonight they felt
Now he saw something that made him shudder. The silhouette that had drawn him to the top
of the rocky outcrop was not, as he had thought in his heat-addled brain, the ribbed wreck of an old
boat: it was the skeleton of a donkey. The doomed creature had died on its back, eaten alive by
predators, perhaps, or mercilessly grilled by the sun. Its skull lay apart, teeth scattered, black
sockets for eyes staring blindly upwards.
Unnerved, but utterly exhausted, Colin slumped down on the rock. He would not sleep, just
rest and gather his strength. When the moon came up he would try to retrace his steps.
For a while, the desert glowed around him like the dying embers of a vast fire, until, little by
little, the cold creep of a moonless night swallowed everything up.
In the dunes, some ancient evil stirred.
When Colin awoke it was dawn. In the east the sky was already bruised a sickly yellow and
mauve. He found himself spread-eagled on the rock, face up, unable to move. The skeleton of the
donkey had gone.
As the merciless sun prepared to be appeased, nobody heard his cries.
by Jeremiah Telzrow
A thousand quick footsteps in the leaves and a shadow overhead.
It had been a lovely afternoon. Strong sunshine and scattered clouds, none threatening. She had come to study them but she should have known better than to walk so far from safety.
The footsteps tapered and then returned, faster now. White balls of hail bounced onto the trail. One struck her head–nickel-sized. She’d never seen hail so large before.
And then it stopped.
There was sunshine ahead. It was the only chance and she ran.
In the sunshine stood a larger tree. Its bulk had created a small clearing and as she stepped into it the shadow fell; there was a flash and she woke in grass and mud, her face half burnt, ears ringing. The tree was smoked and broken and above it hung the shadow, dropping hail.
She stood, wobbled, and began to run. She had read about it, had wanted to study it, had traveled a million miles to see it… Now all she felt was fear and helplessness.
Footsteps in the trees.
The end of the forest was ahead. In the field beyond stood one lone tree and beyond that safety beneath glass.
She ran faster.
The shadow dropped as she left cover… Lower, lower, she felt it–dark and cold–but she did not look. Then lifted, raced ahead, and she knew: the tree.
She wove as the explosion threw her down. She’d been ready, she sprang up and ran.
Rain fell, no more hail. Driving, pelting rain. A sudden maze of puddles and mud. Safety was just ahead.
She tried to leap the puddles. Thirty meters, twenty… Then came a puddle too large to jump and she knew. She stood ankle deep and every hair stood up.
by Hannah Whiteoak
How many students meet the monster in the Cam? I wrestled her nightly. I’d sleepwalk from my college bed and wake trembling in my pyjamas on Jesus Green. By the time I knew I should run, it was too late. Every night, the many-headed serpent reared out of the water, pondweed dribbling from its scales. As its tentacles dragged me under the water, I kicked and fought. Water closing over my head, I thought I’d never escape the hydra’s grasp. But always I hauled myself onto the bank, dripping and shivering, half numb with cold but glad to be alive.
By morning it was as though nothing had happened. I went to lectures and pretended everything was fine. Only the damp pyjamas hanging by the heater could have given me away.
Smiling outside the Senate House, you’d never know the girl in the graduation photos battled monsters. They tried to get me to stay on for a PhD. No chance. I ran away, hoping to never lay eyes on Cambridge again.
Years later, my life is safe and dry. Yet every time I take a shower or get caught in the rain, I long for the intensity of the struggle for breath. Swimming at the local pool is like watching myself on TV. The water rolls off my skin like vapour. Nothing matters. Nothing is special. I’m not special.
Glassy-eyed, I kiss my kids goodnight and catch the last train to Cambridge. Ghosts whisper as I walk familiar streets, passing stressed, blessed students. In disappointingly flat water, my reflection stares me down, gatekeeper to this world of desperate, drowning genius. Please, I pray, don’t be too late. Let the hydra remember me.
by Maura Yzmore
Narcissa sat on the grass by the river, propped up on her arms, her legs outstretched. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the warm sunset.
Daffodils grew all along the riverbank. Most were white or yellow, but there were patches where all the flowers were colored like chestnut or wheat, which Narcissa had never seen before. She sat in one of the few green spots close to the water that hadn’t been covered by daffodils, and waited for Toby.
Narcissa inched toward the river and leaned over the edge. She saw her reflection in the fluid mirror, with freckled cheeks and wavy auburn hair.
The reflection grinned.
She leaned over the edge again, her heart racing. The reflection now looked like an older Narcissa, with deep wrinkles and streaks of silver hair.
Narcissa touched her own face. She moved her fingertips across her forehead, then traced the line around her mouth, nose to chin. The skin was smooth and tight.
The reflection slowly rose from the river, lifted by the water, immersed from the waist down. The top half now resembled an elderly, frail Narcissa, with deflated ashen cheeks sagging below the jawline. The wavy auburn mane gave way to a limp gray wisp.
Tall, the reflection arched toward the petrified girl.
A hand reached out to touch the side of Narcissa’s head…only to tear viciously into it, pulling out hair and ripping off flesh with its nails.
Leaving behind drops of fresh blood on the grass alongside bits of skin and hair, the reflection retracted back into the river, dragging the mauled girl along.
Toby arrived late. He waited for Narcissa until nightfall. As he was leaving, he noticed a patch of auburn daffodils by the river, and was overcome by sadness he could not place.
by Anne E. Johnson
“I curse you.” The man, his tortured heart reflected in his eyes, pointed at Lillian. “May you drown, Devil, for the pain you’ve caused me.”
Smiling, Lillian walked away. Many times she’d been cursed by men who wanted her. Their curses turned to vapor, unheard by the gods, who always protected her. She wanted no man’s love. She took their bodies briefly as it suited her, and then left. Many had hanged themselves or slit their wrists to relieve their anguish. No remorse troubled Lillian, bringer of death, withholder of love.
“Drowning?’ she mused with a selfish laugh. “Let him try to drown me.” Yet she worried. The man who’d cursed her was a priest. He might have great powers or influence with the gods. So, with outstretched arms, she called to the sky, “Create a desert around me to keep me dry. I’ll take no chances.”
Her will was done, for she was beloved of all the gods. Suddenly the land was arid. She wrapped the white scarf more tightly around her head and neck to keep out the sand that flew like arrows in the wind. With her hands over her eyes, she called to the gods: “Calm this gale!”
But the wind grew stronger. The sand ripped her dress and cut her skin. The tiny brown stones drifted to her knees, trapping her feet.
“Let me go! Help me!”
Sand filled her open mouth and eyes. It heaped past her waist, over her breasts. The stones scratched as they slid into her lungs.
It was only in the final second of life that Lillian understood. She was drowning. Some curses cannot be escaped.
Do you wanna play
by K. Nilan
He removes the blindfold . He finds himself lying on a pile of dead leaves. He can hardly remember. ‘Do you wanna play?’ It was a drunken game. What else would you expect from a drunken party. He has never liked heavy partying. He doesn’t know the rules. There aren’t any. He had no idea he would end up in a park in the middle of the night. The park gates must be closed at this time, no point trying. If he finds the wall and climbs over it, he will walk on the other side and look for a bus stop. He slowly gets up, his right ankle is sprained. It is quiet.
The patch by the lake is lined with old trees, their bare branches stretching like giant arms, unrestrained in the dark. They start lashing out at him, hitting him, scratching his face. He tries to walk faster but they are quicker and more eager to touch him, ripping his clothes, reaching for his eyes. He makes bigger steps and falls to the ground. He can barely get up, still on his knees when a branch hits him so hard with its thorns as sharp as canine teeth, he starts bleeding. His legs are trapped under a tree roots thick as ropes. He can’t move.
It’s getting brighter. Where is the glow coming from? There is no moon and it’s too early for the dawn. Many little bright dots are moving, coming towards him. Are they foxes? Or birds? They are coming from the bottom of the lake. The eyes of the lake. They are coming closer, staring at him in anticipation. He understands. They are coming to watch the spectacle.
by Andrew Hodgson
My father was an interrogator, and he loved his job, his remit was with millionaires dodging tax, and white slavers. We’d take walks round the fancier parts of Hull and he’d use my better eyes to read licence plates on Ferraris that weren’t supposed to be there.
My father’s motto was, “you can tell they’re lying when their lips are moving”.
I suppose I’ve inherited some of that, but I’m much more the fool, as he’d chastise me. Since a child I always made the error of supposing someone’s intentions were true when they spoke them, blank face, blank voice, to my own. But I was wrong, and I am wrong. People speak to what they will, how they will; to assume any intransigence of meaning is to err, on the side of humanity as anything but frenetic entities freneticising.
Thus, I alight at my own motto, that I have always attempted, at least, to apply: you show me your truth, and I’ll show you its lie.
It is what it is, whenever it is, however it is. But that is not to claim it is whatever it pertains to be, nor that that will forever, or was ever the whatever of the case.
After all, you can tell they’re lying when their lips are moving.
Wrecked (After Prospero)
by Liam Hogan
The storm loosened its grip in the last hour of the day, a red sun peaking beneath the black clouds and doing nothing to warm my shivered bones.
I lay exhausted on the beach, the mortal remains of my shipmates all around, and glimpsed a white form moving effortlessly towards me. I thought my time had come; an angel sent to deliver me from my torment.
As it neared, I saw he was no angel, merely an aged, bearded man, the loose folds of his cloak dusted with wet sand.
I croaked up at him, my throat salt-parched: “the storm!”
“Yes,” he nodded, “one of my finest.”
My arms that had been reaching for him, desperate for succour, retreated as though burnt.
“Yes.” His eyes dropped from the blood-stained horizon, lingering for the first time on me, a question in that gaze. “What did you think of it?”
“Think of it? I was in it! It was terrible!”
“Ah well,” he said, with a disappointed shrug. “No harm done.”
“No harm?” I spluttered. “My ship! My crew!”
“Yes,” he said, a furrow on his brow. “But you–you are alive.”
I gaped at him as he wandered away, stepping over bodies and wreckage like they weren’t even there.
I’ve Seen You Before
by Edna Scott
Below, down the valley, the lake trembled. Wind began to hustle, then howl. Autumn leaves were flustered to their graves as the lake gurgled slightly, turned darker in the falling night, gloomy, watchful. The Big Man sat on the bank. He licked his knife, cleared a blood stain, work still to be done. He glanced behind. The house was in ruins. He knew that. He couldn’t stop it. Slowly, he toiled on.
The second pumpkin was easier: he managed to clear the pulp, join the dots, cut out the features without the rusting blade biting his hand again. Two down. The Big Man sat back. The wind had begun to curl, the waters hiss. He looked over his shoulder: the door shivered on its hinge, windows swayed. The Big Man searched the mountainside, turned away quickly, pulled his hood tighter and worked on the last one.
The Big Man carefully aligned the hollowed pumpkins, and lit the candles he’d painstakingly stuck inside. Purple, pink, green, one for each of them; sometimes he saw their faces, still smiling, haunting those empty panes.
The wind growled, rain smacked the windows, tears streaking their visions.
The pumpkins shone proudly, flickering across the swelling waters.
The Big Man sheltered the procession, broad back shielding flames from unwanted eyes, keeping the wind from sizzling them out. Those three beacons had to stay alive.
The Big Man pushed the pumpkins out into the lake, gazed as they bobbed, tilted with the swell, huddled under the rain. Candles faded slowly as they followed their path home.
I clutched a rock, peered over the edge and enjoyed the yearly ritual: The Big Man mourning three children he would never recover. I watched his shoulders shake. I chuckled grimly, before wandering off into the hills.
by Stephanie Ellis
Some traditions just had to be kept … even in Death Valley. Bill smiled at the pumpkin smirking on the porch, the tiny skeletons hanging from the Joshua tree. He wondered what trick his brother would pull this Halloween. Bill stepped out of the car, felt the heat slam into him even though the sun was gone.
“It’s hotter than Hell,” his brother had said in that last phone call, his voice strangely rasping. Truth.
The house was empty but a note had been left for him. Follow the trail, was all it said. Bill grinned. Despite the heat, this was going to be good.
Moonlight now bathed the desert, cast an ethereal glow over the shifting dunes. They seemed almost alive.
“Trick or treat.”
Bill spun round, expecting his brother but instead saw the sand miraculously rise, become a swirling mass condensing and solidifying into a grotesque creature, snake-armed and fork-tongued. It wore Lennie’s face.
He laughed. “Good one, Lennie!”
The sand creature continued to sway before him.
“Come on, Lennie! Where are you?”
“Right here,” said the swirling monster.
Bill recalled Lennie’s hoarse voice, identical to this one; a chill of terror washed over him.
“Your brother forgot how hungry we would be when he raised us from our sleep,” hissed the creature. “Did he not tell you the stories of us?”
Oh God, those stories. Lennie had been researching the Seitaad, monsters formed from sand. Had wondered at the truth of them, had … oh Christ, no, Lennie.
“No,” he whispered, backing away.
“But brothers should be together,” crooned the monster. “We will reunite you.”
“No,” he whimpered as others emerged from the sand.
They pulled him down so that grains choked his mouth, his nose, filled his eyes and he drowned as the Seitaad fed.
by Ben Marie
It’s great to see you all here today supporting and celebrating our little community. We thought we might not get there this year but the sun is shining and the Jacarandas are in full bloom. It’s been a perfect day.
There are just a few people I’d especially like to thank. First of all, thanks to Tim and the band for all the wonderful music today. Jack and his sons for doing the carpentry; if the stage can withstand me it’ll withstand anything. And Marge, where’s Marge? There she is. Marge kindly donated her world-famous rhubarb pies for the raffle. Tickets are selling fast, I know because I’ve bought half of them myself.
But on a serious note it was a very late bloom this year and I know a lot of us were very worried. Although looking at the trees now, in all their purple splendour, it never seemed in doubt. And judging by all the smiles it was a bloom worth waiting for. I think we can expect one of our most fertile seasons yet. But with such success, sometimes we can forget that these blooms don’t just happen. So, there is one last person I’d like to thank. Jerry, I think you better come up here.
Each year Jerry works tirelessly and often thanklessly collecting the fertilizer needed to create this magnificent bloom. He spends months rounding up the homeless, stray backpackers, and hitchhikers from nearby motorways and towns. His hard work capturing, processing and burying these offerings has ensured a full bloom each year for the past 10 years.
So please put your hands together for Jerry, a fertile harvest, and another great Jacarandafest!
by John S Alty
The river below the weir tumbled and swirled and dashed to its destination but above the wall it was broad and placid and deep. The sun was setting behind the trees and the surface was a quicksilver canvas washed with red and orange streaks. Adam knelt at the edge and focused the Nikon. Not long now and the sun would drop behind the land and just before it did he would catch that final flash of light and the wonderous effect on the surface of the water. A winning snap.
The roil of a fish feeding on the evenings hatch took Adam’s thoughts back to the conversation he’d had with his sister earlier in the day and he smiled.
“You’ll not have heard the tales about the pond at the weir.”
They’d been sitting outside the Trout Inn with glasses of cold lager watching the river flow by. Adam’s camera bag was on the table beside their empty dinner plates.
“No, what do they say?”
“A fisherman said he’d seen a huge pike take a dog off the bank. Few years ago, now. Made the local papers.”
“You mean, like, ate it?”
“Yes. But there’s always been strange stories about the weir. Bit of a local legend, really.”
“Wow. A sort of Loch Ness monster” said Adam and they both laughed.
Adam pressed the shutter as the last rays of the sun flashed across the surface. It came for him then, lunging up through the lily pads that fringed the pond. With its jaws locked onto his throat, it carried him upright and then with a twist of its body jerked him from the bank. It was cold at the bottom, in the slime, amongst the bones, but Adam didn’t feel it.
by Sean Crow
Funny, he thought, listening to the water cascade from the small dam into the river. It reminded him of static on the television. The white sound of nothing, but something all the same. It soothed his nerves, as only childhood memories could.
Static was better than arguing.
Static didn’t raise its voice in venomous hate, spitting streams of curses intended to wound. Painful, terrible words that couldn’t be forgotten.
The static drowned it out. It didn’t care to harm or help, it was constant.
Was that why he was here?
Seeking a calm from the rage and cruelty, from the spite in the world?
The soothing consistency of it spread like a warm glow through his body. His scowl faded. A smile took its place.
He watched the glow of the streetlamp along river ripples. Skittering in such a way that it might be alive. Of course, nothing was alive in this river. Nothing but bacteria and bugs in the stinking mud.
A dark outline surfaced, blotting out the dancing lights before submerging again. He watched the spot as it occurred again and again and again.
Caught in the small undertow. Repeating the same methodical pattern that drew his eyes and soothed his turbulent soul.
Then it stopped.
A flash of blue and red painted the river as the police car zoomed by, revealing shadows once hidden.
Her golden curls had caught on something, a stick perhaps, beneath the dam. The torrent of water forcing her eyes open further than they had been in life. She still managed to look shocked.
Who wouldn’t be shocked, he mused, to find themselves without a body?
The lights faded and the image was gone, but he wouldn’t forget.
She shouldn’t have yelled so much.
by Steve Lodge
I can hear the storm singing in the wind as I look down to the weir at Standing Lakes. This point is called Sinister Farewell. A friend told me he’d seen them queue up to jump to their deaths, particularly around Halloweenfest. Now that’s a dark celebration round these parts.
I won’t go near the place at night, even in autumn. The pines and the cypress trees and the white poplars seem to produce a tune of their own, which insinuates into the minds of the folk around here. Especially fond of luring the young. Sirens in the court of a local king, you might say. What the earth needs, it just takes back. Some perish among the pines. For others, it is a watery death, straight down the weir or floating down the river, stuck among the waterlilies, with their heads bashed in.
Bright rays journey from the sun today. Shining on…another body. This one in a poor cave. Beggars use this place when the weather gets too ferocious. They share this paltry shelter with the bones of the dead. Medieval and renaissance texts are daubed over what little is left of the walls. Curses scrawled by travellers from forgotten rivers the other side of the Red Lantern Hills and still further south.
My friend, Robert Dare is his name, knows about these things. Says the weather will change up around supper time. He senses rain. I recall he told me one time that he can smell snow. We’d never have found the body after the world of snow had arrived. As it is, in the few remaining hours of daylight, the cave is chaotic. Let’s get this guy to the morgue, do the autopsy and process the paperwork pronto. Tomorrow is Halloween. We’ll be double busy, I expect.
by Austin Green
This is my favourite part of the year.
The clocks have gone back and the evenings are drawing in
and now on the Eve of Halloween the time for ‘Trick or Treat’ is here.
Every couple of years or so I feel the need to move on to pastures new
and this year I have settled upon this charming village by the sea.
People always believe what they see! And in my case they see an old man
who walks very slowly through the village leaning on his silver topped
walking stick for support and who last Christmas transformed the front of
his small cottage into a festive wonderland. The children loved it and it gave
me such a thrill to see their excited faces.
I happened to mention one day in our local post office that I was once a teacher
and low and behold a few weeks later i was asked if I would like to help the
children with reading in our local junior school.
So in little over a year from being a complete stranger I am now known as that
‘Nice old man’ who helps the children with reading and who every Christmas puts
on a magical display and is recognised by most children and grownups in the village.
But let me tell you something you don’t know. I can pick out a vulnerable child
from fifty yards away, so when I’m sitting next to them in a crowded classroom
it’s a piece of cake.
You must understand I don’t hate children. I love them! I love them all. But that won’t
alter the fact that tomorrow one of them will go missing.
by Rob Nisbet
The fields to her left had been swallowed by the moonless night, so she was glad of the lights from the windows on the right of the lane.
The Marsden house, however, was in darkness; had been for a year now, after her friend Barbara had disappeared last October.
Then the light came on, upper floor, glaringly bright through the open window.
The house should be empty, and who would leave the window open to the elements like this? She went to knock on the door, but it was standing open, had Barbara returned?
She called, but there was no answer, just the glow on the stairs from the room above.
A daddy-long-legs drifted past her towards the light. The grass on the other side of the lane would be a mass of them this time of year, and the open window would attract them like a beacon. They were harmless of course. Still, she shuddered; they were like silent flying spiders.
She climbed the stairs and eased open the door, blinded for a moment by the light.
“Hello,” she called and walked in.
The door was slammed behind her.
Barbara hadn’t left. Her bones lay across the room. And above them the delicate wavering legs of a giant crane fly.
Its wings blurred and it floated towards her, legs wrapping around, pinning her arms, its long face like the skull of a horse but with bulging faceted eyes.
She wanted to scream.
But from the window a cloud of insects swarmed over her face, crawling into her mouth, fluttering down to block her throat.
The giant insect let her drop to the floor. And as her breath and vision failed she saw its eggs clinging to her clothes.
They’d have something to feed on, when they hatched.
by Paul Thompson
A timid knock at the door.
Trick or Treat!
I open the door to find two Triffids standing on the doorstep. Costumes of incredible detail. Textures organic. Flower heads glistening under pumpkin lanterns.
Trick or Treat! they repeat.
Voices garbled. Unnatural sounding. Lucy from next door is in one of the stems. Her face is pale and without emotion. Playing the role to perfection.
I hand out homemade cookies, which they take and place in buckets.
Are Ben and Sarah home? they ask.
No, they are out trick and treating somewhere, I reply.
They leave without saying thank you or goodbye, shuffling away with their buckets swinging.
A loud knock at the door.
It is Lucy’s mother. Black dress and smeared mascara. Difficult to tell if she is in fancy dress or not.
Have you seen Sam and Lucy? she asks. They were meant to be home hours ago.
I check my phone. It has been over an hour since the visit of the Triffids.
Triffids? she says. But they went out dressed as skeletons.
A timid knock at the door. Threatening.
The Triffids are back on the doorstep. Their costumes have deteriorated. Fraying at the seams. Dripping in moisture. Inside Lucy looks different. Like she has lost weight from her face.
Are Ben and Sarah home yet? they ask.
No I say. No, not yet.
I close the door without any further interaction. My mobile phone shows several missed calls. Through the window I can see more Triffids gathering outside, illuminated under a red moon. They move awkwardly, weighed down by the children they wear as costumes.
When the lights give out
by Kev Harrison
Oh, to have been part of that great age of human civilisation, with technology that illuminated our skies and our minds. To have been one of the multitude, instead of one of the survivors, living as we do in the husks of homes and malls and schools and trucks. Living, as we do, in fear.
The sky is burnt, clouded by the debris that the great accident blasted up into the heavens. But still the rays of the sun kiss the skin on my face and the leaves of the plants that stake their claim for dominion more powerfully with every passing day. The light is feint, but the light is light.
It is evening that brings the terror.
Apollo’s chariot drags the sun beyond the western horizon and the world is transformed. Transformed and wrested from us. We light fires against the moonless sky but they show us only shadows. Shadows against the shadow world of night where our eyes are worth close to naught and the predators, growing in number and boldness by the day, scent our fear. Our weakness. Our vulnerability.
Watchers sit at the fire as we sleep, armed with what puny tools we can make. They stay sharp, their slumber coming while the rest of us walk but then, when the sounds come – rustling in the thickets, twigs snapping under foot, the grinding of scrap metal as it is pushed and pulled – who are they to make sense of them? Who are they to defend us against those whose eyes are born for the dark?
We glimpse shadow.
We hear the gasping of breath.
We close our eyes and pray that, for one more night, we avoid annihilation by tooth and claw.
by Ruth Oliver
They’d said the storm was coming and they were right. It was Halloween night and children up and down the street were putting on costumes and painting their faces in readiness for Trick and Treating. By 3.00 in the afternoon the sky was darkening. People stopped in their tracks and stared. There’d been warnings of Armageddon, signs were culminating soothsayers said, echoed by politicians anxious to cash in on fear. Mothers began fussing about warm underclothing and fathers cut their fingers as they hollowed out pumpkin lamps.
At No. 47, Luca waited indoors. He’d no friends to go out with, only his scraggy mongrel pup for company. His mother worked all hours at the chicken factory. Suddenly the dog began whimpering; then the whimper became a long wild moan like the call of an ancient beast. Luca was scared. As rain began flooding from the sky, zig zags of lightening tore in front of the bedroom window where he crouched down. He closed his eyes and clung to the hound.
He was woken by a rapping at the door. Downstairs he could see a rag taggle of children whose faces he recognised, children who called him a dirty Pole and said that he smelled of chicken fat. He hated them. He slipped quietly down the stairs, the dog pattering after him.
As he opened the door he commanded his pet – ‘Grow like the Golem of old’. The dog reared up huge, a demon with jaws like fangs, eyes blood red. Later they said the children had died of fright. None survived. Luca’s mother found her son lifeless on the stair, a cross burned into his chest by fire, the neighbour’s brand of revenge. The dog was never seen again.
by Chloe Gilholy
I’m Lavender Wednesday: famous opera singer in Cambridge. I live in the gentle fountains, but I get no visitors. In fact, nobody has listened to me in years. They cannot see my pale robes. No one feels my presence anymore. They won’t know who I am: because I’m dead! I look forward to Halloween, much more than Christmas. It’s the only time of the year when people seem to know I’m around.
It’s the only time they hear my voice. I don’t know why, but everybody’s sensitivity seems to increase in the autumn. When I was alive, I filled the seats all year round. Centuries later, they only talk about me in October. By the time November comes, I am forgotten, once again.
I sang a cold song that lured people towards the fountain. Kids dressed as sorcerers gathered around, to see where the voice was coming from. They could not see me, but I floated towards the boy with ginger girls and patted his head. He opened his hands and smiled. I summoned his favourite chocolate bar in his hand. I see him every Sunday with his granddad feeding the ducks. So kind, a rarity amongst the rotten brats that fill the city centre.
After the kids left, a young couple sat by the fountain holding hands. I sang something smoother and lowered the pitch, to make things more romantic for them.
The woman gasped, squeezing the man’s hand. “Can you hear that? It’s beautiful.”
“Sounds like a shrieking banshee,” he said, chuckling.
I had never been so insulted. I sucked his face, hurling him into the water.
A skater youth smirked. “One must never insult the ghost of Lavender Wednesday.”
“She doesn’t exist,” the man roared.
I sang at my voice’s peak. “YES I DO!”
The couple fled.
by Max Shephard
Andy’s Halloween costume—a perfect re-creation of the shark from his favorite game—was the best one his mother had ever made.
The back and fins were gray pleather, and the eyes, ordered from somewhere on the internet, were eerily malevolent. But it was the mouth, where Andy’s head was, that was truly frightening. Something about the teeth, with their slimy-looking white paint and jagged edges, made his skin crawl.
Beat that, Joey Pescado. If Joey tried to push him down again at the neighborhood hayride, Andy would pull the string his mother had hidden in the right fin and clamp those jaws down on his sorry head. That would teach him.
That is, if it stopped raining.
For the last three days, a tropical storm had pelted Andy’s suburban home with no signs of letting up. It was projected to continue through Halloween and fizzle out the following week.
Halloween night, the rain fell harder than ever. At the front window, Andy watched the rain rush down the paved streets and into the gutters. Before long, trash and other debris began spilling out onto the street. The gutters were blocked.
Soon, water was seeping under the front door. Andy shouted for his Mom, but she didn’t answer. He watched, amazed, as the murky water climbed the picture window’s glass.
Andy ran to his room and shimmied into his shark costume. Back downstairs, he stood before the front door, his left hand hesitantly gripping the knob. Then, he pulled it open.
A sheer wall of water, taller than the door, rose before him, but none of it spilled into the house.
Taking a deep breath, Andy pulled the string, clamping the jaw shut, then dove into the black water, swimming furiously toward the bully’s house down the street.
by Kelly Griffiths
The lake floor was crusted over with garbage and cans and the slimy brown bones of a dying tree. Long, leafy willow locks writhed over the water’s edge, and even the gentlest breeze could slough off a confetti of brittle branches.
In the shade crouched a grasshopper, stock-still until a boot slammed into the spongy ground beside him. Startled, the creature performed his usual crescent jump. Not even the boot-owner noticed: at the highest point of the arc the insect crashed into an invisible obstacle. His cracked and oozing exoskeleton plopped into the water.
No one noticed the frogs either. Right off the lily pads a phantom hand plucked their shiny bodies and squeezed until their insides burst from their mouths in a sticky cornucopia. Ducks dipped their iridescent heads, popped their spade-shaped tail feathers into the air where they bobbed on the surface. And were abruptly sucked down.
You’d have to be looking dead on or you’d miss it.
At sunrise a jogger noticed swan feathers floating like opals on the dark ripples. He shrugged and continued on his way. Later, Jimmy came with his mother to float his paper wax boat. By then the feathers were blown to the shoreline. Jimmy pushed them into the mud with his shoe.
When he got too close to the edge, chilly water seeped into his shoes. His boat, his very own creation, gloriously heaved and dipped. With a bounce he tugged on his mum’s coat, thrilled by his own awesomeness.
Then he frowned and yanked hard on his mother. The vessel caught a gust of wind and headed toward the curling punch of overflowing water. Just before the boat crumpled under the force, Jimmy’s mom snatched it and held it high. The water reached her thighs.
“It’s ok, Jimmy,” she said.
one last chance
by Jack Koebnig
‘Are you okay?’
There was a long pause and when Jake finally answered, Billy wasn’t convinced of his friend’s conviction: ‘Yeah … and you?’
Billy nodded, but he didn’t know who he was trying to kid. And for the first time, feeling the increasing pressure of Jake’s shoulder against his own, he wondered if they would actually be able to pull it off. Especially, he told himself, if the next pass would be as merciless as the last one.
‘It shouldn’t be much longer.’
Jake smiled but his eyes remained dull and joyless. ‘It’s ironic, don’t you think?’
‘Well, the very thing we need to finish the job is the one thing which will take us out.’
‘We’d better get ready.’
‘Are we doing the right thing? I mean, I know we are, but … are we?’
Billy thought of the countless times the black creature had come, defiled their home then bounded off without a care in the world. Well, enough is enough. Today it ends. ‘Yes,’ Billy answered, more resolute than ever. ‘Yes we are. We’ll take him by surprise and …’
‘Shhh!’ Jake said, pointing at the black creature racing towards them. ‘He’s here.’
Billy turned his face to the growing breeze, and nodded. As with most things in life (and death), he told himself, timing is everything.
‘Are you ready?’
Before Billy could answer, a familiar blast of ice cold wind ripped them from the thin branch they were attached to and projected them, just two golden leaves tumbling through the autumnal air, at speed, away from their pray; a family dog that had chosen their tree as one of his many pit-stops on his daily walk.
The Animals Will Know
by Hannah Gordon
Mother says you’ll know the end is coming because the animals will tell you.
“Heed the animals,” she always said.
Mom believed in a lot of things, but mostly that animals were more intuitive than humans. Humans with their relationships and their greed and their Internet. She would shake her head at the lot of them, their eyes glued to their phones, and she’d say, “They will not see it coming.”
But you, you will. Because you watch the animals.
It will begin with a single, piercing cry of the Waxwing. Then, everything else will follow. Herds of deer will migrate; not all of them will make it. Birds will fill the sky until they blot out the sun. The world will fall into darkness, and that is when the creatures of the night will flee: raccoons and possums and wolves and cockroaches.
You will need to act fast, because soon, they will all be gone. All of the rabbits and the house cats and the creatures underfoot; big or small, the world will be covered in their prints.
Once they’re gone, it will be too late.
So you best get going. But do not follow them.
by Emily K.Martin
Jasmine ran steadily, nearing the end of the trail. A huge black butterfly swooped before her; its wings undulated dramatically, as if dancing. Jasmine stopped running; she smiled, delighted to witness one of nature’s beautiful performances. The handsome insect soared over the amber field next to the trail and settled atop a milkweed swaying in the warm breeze.
Jasmine took two steps into the field just as the butterfly descended onto a gray, deadened shrub. She raised her foot again; the butterfly dove toward her face. She ducked low, plunging her face into itchy field grass and stalks of goldenrod. Chuckling at herself, she brushed the pollen from her face.
And sneezed again.
She sniffed and rubbed her nose, thankful no one else was around since she didn’t have a—
Jasmine ran down the trail, picturing the smashed box of Kleenex in her car. She sneezed repeatedly, four times. Looking around for a leaf to blow her nose, she sneezed again so violently she nearly lost her balance. She opened her eyes, but her left eye—
Oh my God, no.
Out of her right eye, she spotted the car. She ran, staggering.
Achoo! Achoo! Ach—Ach—Ach—
She fumbled with the keypad to unlock the door of her car. Her fingers shook so badly, she couldn’t push the buttons; she fought to push the number 3, then 5, then—
Blood splattered across the window and dribbled down the door. Jasmine screamed, but the successive run of sneezes cut the scream short, pitifully short. She fell, trembling, sneezing, clawing at her nose. A sneeze detached her right eye, then urine soaked her shorts. Blood spewed with every sneeze, and the gravel darkened beneath her head.
A black butterfly alit on her shoulder, briefly.
Then it danced away.
by Karen Whitaker
Reaching the planet undetected was the difficult part. As it became obvious to the Chicreti that the humans were in danger of achieving the ability to leave their home planet, the increasing human surveillance of their surroundings made this mission to Sol 3 more challenging than previous ones.
Once they reached the planet, the highly evolved slime moulds were easily able to disappear amongst the masses of native bacteria on the planet. Travelling into the guts of the humans allowed the Chicreti to influence the behaviour of their hosts. The humans were under the impression that their behaviour was driven from their brains, so the emergence of some new forms of gut disturbance drew little attention from the human medical community and even less from their SETI project. From the guts of their hosts the Chicreti were sowed the seeds of chaos and disruption across the planet. Undetected by their hosts, they promoted religion and quackery over science.
But it was when one of the Chicreti agents reached the gut of a world leader that their plan really came to its full fruition. Human leaders from across the planet met face to face on a regular basis. The ritual practice of touching limbs made it easy for the Chicreti to move from one host to the next. Soon, Chicreti agents were able to influence leaders across the world. Humans who were not yet infected by the Chicreti watched in incredulity as their leaders appeared to descend into madness. But the Chicreti plan was working. Once an uninfected human reached a level of influence where they might have been able to change things, they would come into contact with leaders, touch limbs and come within the agents’ controls.
The threat was contained.
by Lindsay Beth Maruska
Roderick takes me around back to where the cypress swamp encroaches and trees are filled with white ibises, muttering, preening, lifting off, landing, clack of wings and long legs trailing white bodies against the heavy gray sky.
“They’re meant to represent foolishness and hope,” Roderick says.
“They’re the last to leave before a storm comes and the first to return after the storm ends.”
Roderick is so pale beneath the gathering clouds he’s become transparent, bleeding color into the electric green below, the lurid heat-lightning webs shot above; he’s told me he’s been dying since the day we met but now, for the first time, I know it’s true.
A hot wet wind presses like mouths to my skin. The house rears in the background, moss growing up its roots until it seems a living thing, a mutated bulbous tree spawned by the sinkhole-studded earth. Roderick told me once that the ground here is dangerous, hollow, just the barest film of dirt and grass masking its gaping maws.
“Madeline liked them,” Roderick says after a moment, eyes still on the birds. “She fed them. It’s why we have so many here.”
“Did you kill her?” the words come out before I can stop them.
Roderick looks at me, smiles. “What do you think?”
The air bursts open with thunder. The ibises don’t startle though. They go about their business.
I don’t answer.
Roderick puts an arm around my shoulder, presses his lips to my cheek. “You and her are the only ones I’ve ever loved.” His words feel like earthquakes against the marrow of my bones. “You know that right?”
Lightning paints the sky a flat sick green. Somewhere behind us a door opens; a sharp sudden crack of rotting wood, a shuddering.
“I know,” I tell him.
Halloween Snow Showers
by Michael Carter
The scariest haunted house I ever saw didn’t look like a haunted house at all. It looked like Christmas. I’ll never forget the screaming, melting faces that came running from that house one Halloween.
Old Man Buckley kept to himself. He was a widower and had no friends, except his dog. That dog was his life, until Mrs. Taylor accidentally ran it over.
Buckley never decorated his house for any holiday, except that Halloween. He turned his house into the North Pole, with candy canes lining the sidewalk, lights, and even a snow machine he salvaged from an abandoned ski resort.
Buckley dressed as Saint Nick and sat on his porch. He handed out peppermint drops and miniature gingerbread cookies to all the good little boys and girls. He’d turn on the snow machine as the children left and they’d laugh and run through the snow.
Mrs. Taylor felt obligated to drop by Buckley’s house with the kids because she regretted what happened. The kids were stand-offish when they saw Buckley’s exaggerated grin under his cotton beard. They said, “Trick-or-treat,” and politely took his offerings.
As they walked away, Buckley said, “Now it’s time for snow.” He dumped a jug of liquid into the snow machine and the Taylor kids screamed when the flakes hit their faces. Their skin turned yellow and then red as they ran and scratched at their cheeks.
I still shiver when I walk by Buckley’s place. I can see a stain on the porch where the jug of acid sat until it was seized. A few candy canes remain in the yard and everything is dilapidated. Buckley no longer tends to it because he now resides at Stoneybrooke Penitentiary. I hope he never gets out.
by Juliana Filisanu
Crowded bonfire on the beach. The hottest night of October. Intoxicated youth staggering about in the sand. Kara smiled, gray eyes shimmering with anticipation. It was the perfect scenario for a quick, soundless crime. She neared the flames. Her blue dress, loose on the soft shoulders but tight around the curvy waist, danced in the salty breeze. She was an enticing vision, especially to inebriated eyes.
The options were varied, but she had a type. Gray eyes, handsome face and lean body. They were always the most delicious. Besides, she did not like walking down the street in rags. Kara was a classy girl.
It did not take long to find her favorite. He approached her as soon as their eyes met.
“What is your name?” he asked.
“Kara,” she replied. “And yours?”
“Noah,” he said, sipping beer.
Kara loved the sound of his name. Perfect choice! No reason for further scouting. They talked for a while. He invited her to his hotel room. She conceded. The door closed behind them. He undressed first, waiting for her turn. Impatiently. The world went quiet in Kara’s head, only the sound of his heartbeat afire. She laid a hand on his chest, feeling the heart underneath. Strong and healthy! Some sweet whispers, a kiss, and his thumping heart was bleeding between Kara’s clenched fingers. Noah fell to the ground. Death by gaping hole in the chest. The taste was divine. Kara enjoyed each bite with all her being. She disposed of the body in the usual manner. She called the Cleaners. Not a speck of blood left behind.
The bar was stuffed with poor lonely people, hungry for a human connection. Noah looked around and smiled. It was the perfect scenario for a quick, soundless crime.
by Alexandria Nicole
We walk hushed, the six of us. Ada is in front carrying the flashlight. The roll of duct tape bracelets her wrist. Lucy is behind her, barefoot, shivering in just a white tank and underwear.
A red scarf around her head, covering her eyes. Sarah is next. Then Jamie. Then Darcy. Last is me. I trail fishing wire, making a tail. It shifts snakelike along the ground behind us. We left camp twenty minutes ago, heading west of the tennis courts, toward the woods. Twigs snap loud as bird bones under our feet as we move deep into the forest. We are further than we have ever gone before, even during our overnights when the counselors slept tucked between trees, their sleeping bags squeezing out grunts. It’s late, and Jamie is complaining about missing pizza night. Ada stops abruptly.
“This is the spot.”
When she turns toward us, her long black braid whips from her back over her right shoulder.
We nod. She’s always good at picking the right spot.
“This is my last year of camp. Tonight, I name my successor.”
We tremble as the flashlight moves from face to face, eyeliner smeared into thick black lines underneath each eye, like warriors. We are ready.
“But first things first,” she says, the light flooding over Lucy. She pulls off the scarf.
“Lucy, you tripped and fell, costing us the win.”
Lucy’s glasses are fogged. She whimpers.
Ada slams the head of the flashlight across Lucy’s temple, a softball player’s swing. Her
glasses fly. Sarah and Jamie catch her before she drops and prop her floppy body against
an oak. I string the wire out to everyone’s waiting hands, and we glide like birds around her.
by Scott Barron
Rachel peered over the wall, the graveyard was dark except for the light of the moon reflecting off the snow topped gravestones. Her imagination took over as the graveyard grinned at her like a creature with rows of crooked teeth. Rachel wrapped her arms around herself to keep warm as she waited for her lift home.
‘Sod this, I’m calling a taxi,’ she said to herself, and set off holding her phone in the air struggling to pick up a signal. As she reached the graveyard gates, they opened and someone pulled her in, shoving her down to the hard ground. Hands gripped her shoulders as she was pulled further into the graveyard. Grass and mud found its way into her clothes and broken glass cut into her lower back. They came to rest in a gloomy corner of the graveyard which stank of decay, damp rotting leaves and urine. She tried to scream as she felt sharp teeth bite into her neck, but if she did scream nobody heard her. Her body went numb, she felt nothing. Nothing except her tears as they ran down her cheeks. Rachel blinked hard, clearing the dirt and mascara from her eyes and shuddered in fear when she looked at the face staring down at her.
‘You are not real – you’re just a myth,’ Rachel shouted.
But when the vampire smiled at her, she passed out and lay unconscious until the wetness of snow settling on her face woke her. She stood up, and almost in a trance limped out of the graveyard. Her face was a mask of horror, blood and makeup smudged all over her face and neck. If anybody had seen her they would have paid little attention. If anything, they would have congratulated her for wearing such a good Halloween costume.
by Donna Greenwood
“There’s something unholy in the pond,” he said, and then he grabbed me with his ancient claw, rolled his bone white eyes around his shrunken head and died.
He hadn’t been popular so few came to the funeral and even fewer stayed behind for the wake. I drank cheap rum with his last three friends.
“He said there was something in the pond the last time I saw him,” said one. They turned and looked at me. I was the only remaining occupant of the house. Had I seen anything in the pond? I smiled and reassured them that the pond was cleaned every month and, as yet, there had been no discovery of any hidden treasures.
After they left, I unhooked my coat from behind the door and trudged down the garden; curiosity had gotten the better of me. Had he seen something? He had been particularly agitated in his final weeks and he had been out there when he’d had his heart attack.
The pond was the size of a small pool and quite deep. I bent over the side and gave the water a quick stir so as to shift most of the water lilies. Beneath the green scum, on a ledge below the surface, just out of reach, I could see it. It was a child’s hand. The tattered skin around the bony fingers fluttered like white lace in the murky dark. I looked around the sides of the pond and found a rock about the size of a baby’s head. I dropped the rock into the water and watched it fall upon the ledge. I watched the tiny fingers delicately thrum a final tattoo on the ledge before being pulled down to the bottomless-black of the pond by the gently, settling stone.
by Charles McDonald
The blood soaked the ground of the barn, the slaughtered cow on the floor before him gushed like a beating geyser as it contorted and struggled, his eyes blinked open, his head reeling from where the animal had kicked him, a noticeable dent in the side of his face made him wince as his slender fingers ran along it.
He could hear them, the people, running to save the bellowing cow, at that his legs found strength, and he ran to barricade the door, jamming a pitchfork through the handles and dashing for the fresh carcass, planning to burrow inside like a parasite until the danger had passed, though the booming of his feet revealed a new opportunity.
Two stomps and the board gave way, revealing a tunnel, the cold, damp smell filling his nostrils with joy as he slid down, savoring his victory against the village and hurrying, the door above and behind him breached, the hole was spotted instantly, torches were thrown, and the small passage became one way.
Wind howled outside, limiting his senses, and the pain from his head blurred his vision, the heat made him sweat, until he lay panting at the foot of a small set of stairs, the cellar doors above him begging to be opened, the gale sounding like the roar of an audience anticipating his success, he hobbled upward.
Pushing out a pale hand, the door refused to budge, and he heard the shouts and jeers from the other side, enraged and exhausted, he hit the hatch repeatedly, for seemingly hours, he found it hard to keep track of time, when suddenly the door began to give slightly, he gave it as hard a push as he dared, when the wind caught the door, and the sunlight set him alight.
The Weight of the Sky
by J.S. Chlapowski
The curve of the heavens is never so obvious as on a summer night in the flat open grass of San Angelo, so vast I had to lay down to take it all in, stars here and there, beyond my eyebrow, past my lower eyelid, and it seemed the deeper I looked, the more stars there were. There was more than a little fear in that. I could only look so long before the fear was overwhelming, and I had to close my eyes to keep that fear in. I closed my eyes often that summer, and that night I closed them more often than not, the depth deeper than I remembered it ever being and aching to pull me in. Part of me ached to join it, and that more than anything made me squeeze my eyes shut tight.
Beside me lay Duke, a warm furry heat unaware of the terror around him. I examined his face while the night loosened its grip on my mind. His eyes didn’t squeeze shut like mine did, and the night didn’t take him away from me. “It’s all in my head,” I whispered. “Isn’t it?” Duke licked my hand while keeping his eyes on the stars. “Okay, okay. I’ll give it a try.”
I opened my eyes wide and soaked up the entire scope of the night sky, the weight of infinity bearing down on me and absorbing me in. My heart ran a quick tempo, my body lost track of the ground beneath it, and still I pressed my eyes open and didn’t let myself look away, and for a time I was one with the sky and beyond
All Hallows Eve
by M. Irene Hill
“God bless, Master ‘n Missus! Will ye spare a soul cake or ha’penny?”
The fat butcher slammed his door in Jack’s sooty face.
Cold wind whipped the snot from his nose. Shivering turned into a paroxysm. Cold and hungry, yet a fire kindled inside him after another rebuke from his sire.
A wicked idea clung to his thoughts like a fermenting apple to its branch.
Shrieking wind. Kirk bells. Cacophanous sounds of All Hallow’s Eve revelry muffled the sound of breaking glass. Jack climbed through the butcher shop window.
Eyes clawed through sooty blackness. Groping fingers found an oil lamp and Lucifer matches. A match ignited in a sulphurous whoosh. He lighted the lamp’s wick and replaced the glass chimney.
Shadows crawled across walls. Razor-sharp knives gleamed in the flickering light, reflecting horrific scenes of death and dismemberment. Malodorous pails of dark liquid lurked in the corner of the room. Dirty rags spilled from a wicker basket. Surely there were maggots, too. He shuddered as flies buzzed his matted hair.
Jack placed a burning tallow candle into the basket. Flames licked at bloodied rags and feasted on walls. He wrinkled his nose. Smells of rancid fat, smoke and sulphur. He threw the lamp at the slimy butcher’s block, fueling the fire’s wrath.
Choking breaths, yet he spared another moment to watch the righteous fire. Exhilaration.
Panic. A devilish face appeared in the flames. Satan flicked his tongue at Jack. He tipped his fiery head back, laughing, spewing sparks on Jack’s tattered clothes. He wagged his torch-like finger.
Jack tossed prayers like holy water. Satan glared, eyes like burning coal. He curled upwards, coiling in serpentine fashion. Winged corpses – those butcher’s flies – turned to ash midair.
Satan folded Jack into a fiery embrace, adopting him as his own son, forevermore.
The Witch’s Garden
by Mark Sadler
The misdeeds that brought Pamela Hancock to the gallows at Holloway Prison, while morally repugnant, are unremarkable when held up against the sordid panorama of criminality. She was found guilty of the torture and murder of two children, Jane and Michael Grace, while acting as their governess. In death she has become a model for countless fictional wicked governesses, populating novels aimed at young readers.
What does spark interest is the method that Hancock used, to toy with, and then dispatch her victims.
There was a landscaped area within the grounds surrounding the Grace household where the children liked to play. It comprised flower beds and box hedging, lending it a maze-like quality. In one corner they was a rockery. At the far end, a grass slope descended to a broad stream where a willow inclined itself across the water.
Hancock compelled the gardener to leave parts of this idyll unattended, allowing time for the common meanness of nature to gradually re-establish itself. A loose briar bearing long thorns might arc across a pathway, where the prominent root of some well-established shrub had been allowed to encroach underfoot. The trailing surface roots of the willow that rippled pleasantly across the backs of swimmers were left unpruned and allowed to thicken to a tangled cage, strong enough to hold a body underwater.
These changes were applied so subtly that, when small injuries occurred, they were put down to carelessness. When the children were discovered drowned and ensnared by the willow, this too was initially passed-off as a tragic accident.
It was only the discovery of a ‘treasure map,’ drawn by Hancock, leading her charges along a path down to the water, lined with plants known to exude narcotic scents, that consigned the architect of this witch’s garden to the hangman.