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.