Zeroflash March Competition Entries

Prey

by Becky Spence

In silence. The moments matter. Each breath. Each tear. A tell. In silence the others listen. Waiting.

Beneath the fire soaked Moors, beneath the soil of another kind. The chosen four travelled deep into the earth. Into the caves. Layers above them the sun burned bright. The eternal flames sending butterfly kisses, yellow whispers warm on their faces.

The misfits had been selected from the Trade, a stock of petty criminals. Plucked for the job. Gear in hand they descended into the shadows, the thick moisture lapped at their skin. A cool film coated their flesh, ripples ran through their bodies. The warmth left above.

Before them stalactites hung like fangs, dripping with blood. Oozing down the uneven walls, forming pools in the darkness. Stretching out into a vast cavern. Tributaries running off at all angles.

‘Right then, this is where we split up, keep your radios on. The pack is due to ascend.’

The youngest boy, white as a line of coke piped up, ‘What do we do…What do we do if we see one’

‘Stick them with the heavy duty prod, radio through and pray.’

They shuffled off down corridors coated with shadows. Radios ready. The boy swept his matted hair from his eyes. Hands unsteady, gleaming with sweat. His pounding heart the only sound.

A scream shattered the silence. The radio crackled, spitting out it’s last static breath before a startled death.

‘No…please…no…’ breath sharp as a knife, chest stuck in a vice. His plea to those he couldn’t see. Their sour stench filled his nostrils. Bile stuck in his gullet. His solitude echoed. Reverberating off the walls. He was a ripple in a lake, a stone breaking the surface. He was alone in the living dark. Not lost, taken.

No God Please, We’re Cornish

by Kathryn Evans

You may know of Cornwall: it is the most remote county in England, situated in the far south west. This story is about a charismatic guy called Damian who lives there and is well known in the area. He used to work in sales, but made enough money so he could stick it to the man. Now he spends his time dabbling in his passions – playing guitar in a rock band, for one.

The other thing he spends his time on is turning people away from religion. To him, it is an evil influence that makes supposedly intelligent humans behave with a herd-like mentality. Brainwashing. He believes you should choose your own path in life, unhindered by fear of what a deity commands.

And so he started a regular meet up where similar anti establishment, freethinking people could join and discuss ways they could reduce the hold religion has on society.

At first, meetings were laidback affairs held in the pub. But like I said earlier, people flock to Damian, and so things took off in a big way. Even he was surprised.

As word got around and popularity grew, Damian realised he’d need to change the venue, and a disused church hall happened to be available.

Sunday mornings were the best time to get everyone together: fewer work commitments.

Although meetings were free initially, once they expanded Damian started asking for voluntary donations to be spent on administration costs.

One day, he produced a draft document containing ten guidelines for how the organisation should be run. It was posed as a collaborative exercise, with members’ input welcomed. However, the final version seemed oddly familiar.

Damian’s next goal is to spread the word way beyond Cornwall. He is committed to his life mission of banishing the malign force that is religion.

Through the wardrobe

            by Myrto Zafeiridi

            Sometimes, Sue could hear crunching sounds coming from her wardrobe at night. Her parents thought she was acting out after their divorce. Her best friend thought she had a wild imagination. Jack, her brother, thought she just wanted to scare him. She had often tried to frighten him with tales which made his hair stand up at the base of his neck, yet also gave him a thrilling sensation, just like countless children which are enthralled by horror stories.

One night, she gathered up her courage and opened the door. There was a green disk made of light floating in mid-air. A portal! Perhaps it will take me to a magical place, she thought, and she plunged in.

Her parents were devastated. They did everything possible to find her, but to no avail. After years of heartache, her mum finally decided to remarry. She had a baby too, and Jack had to give up his room and move into Sue’s old bedroom.

Not long after, he started hearing the crunching sound too. He remembered his sister’s stories and realized she had been telling the truth. He was sure this had something to do with her disappearance. He tried to tell his mother, but she thought he was acting out because of the new baby.

One night he decided to open the door and face whatever was hidden behind it. He saw the greenish light and went through the portal.

Hardly a moment later, a gigantic arm grabbed him. A hideous being, covered in white pus, brought him close to its yellow eyes, to examine him. Petrified, Jack noticed the countless bones scattered everywhere around them.

“Supper,” the creature uttered, and the last thing Jack saw was a slimy mouth and three rows of pointy teeth.

That Thing–by Basel St. Gael

by Patton Hunnicutt

That thing crept upon them when the final bricks laid; They did not notice until it was too late.  Jumping over that wall and kicking out a few was not a tiger, lion, or puma.  This island of Bali offers so much colorful life under afternoon sun, but somewhere along the way, nuclear war made this horrific cataclysm.
Imagine something beyond your wildest dreams growling at two girls shivering, and imagine them running away from the chomp of its four-rowed teeth.  Imagine those three tails flitting whilst cracking bricks behind, and think for a second of the stench that radioactive beasts cannot hide.
Saliva drips to the ground from a frothing mouth, and that grass underneath turns the most horrid brown.  From the garden run two of fight, and they leap down with pistols and swords they shall prescribe.
A shot between the eyes does not a thing, and a swipe of the body reveals blood so green.  A jab through the ribs by a Jester goddess is distracted by a shot through the neck from her bride the redhaired Flower.
That beast cannot bite fast enough to catch as one of its tails is detached.
Facing this thing they take two more shots, and in its mouth those bullets seem to dissolve.
Over the wall it jumps back to an island abandoned by the most terrible holocaust, and these women shiver in fear whilst the doctor comes forward to check.  Not a wound is on them, but they have lost a bit of that safety in this palace.
“Whatever it is,” that Flower of porcelain skin catches her breath, “it must be dead.”
“Gather with me the armor,” her Jester queen of island skin and longest hair of black takes her hand.  “We shall hunt for the fantastic.”

Eden

by Kris McGinnis

Every culture has fables; Taniwhas in Maori legend, Skinwalkers of Navajo myth. The fallacy of folklore is that the essence of truth is tainted by the illusion of fiction.

Each story investigated took me closer to the origin. Discovering my culmination of research was an uninhabited island in the Outer Hebrides, was depressingly bland.

A cameraman and priest joined me. I’m not religious, but it felt right having a man of faith counter my need for fact.

“Dark paths await,” I told him.

“The Lord’s by my side. What guides you?”

“A spider’s web.”

He smiled, bemused.

“An unbroken spider’s web reveals that nothing has crossed its path, laying in wait.”

His faith. My Fact.

We found the neolithic cave, submerged where foaming Atlantic waves met crumbling granite cliffs. I’d seen it before; painted on walls at Lake Wakatipu, foretold in the spiky heat of the Great Basin Desert.

The cameraman dove first. He never resurfaced. Natures elements, I unconvincingly told myself.

The sodden priest and I ventured on, blindly down the caves silent, nocturnal path.

“I feel no spider web,” he said.

“I see no God,” I replied.

For an eternity, we felt our way through the oily tunnel, until a blue hue began to radiate. We entered a large cavern, pools of blue sulfur surrounded a dark gorge. Crouching in shadow, we watched as morbid, grey sludge crawled out of the hole and, upon contact with the blue light, took shape. What appeared to be a Manta ray slithered down the tunnel.

Incredible!

Sporadically, creatures would crawl out and form; some familiar, others not. What came next shook my beliefs.

Human!

The infant lay fragile; cries echoing out.

I stumbled back; the world I knew collapsing.

“Fear not,” the priest comforted.

“What God is this?” I gasped.

Untitled

by Luke Sheehan

On the southern border, armored vehicles arrived at the military base. For ten years, a civil war had been at work in the neighboring country, clearing out the populace and allowing the jungle to loom around the fence, especially in the kilometer-wide strip that had been left in limbo by both nations even before the conflict. Sergeant Wu conferred with the base commander through the night. An incursion by persons unknown had seized one of the guards from his position a week prior, the only part of him since retrieved a boot that had been cut from his leg from the side, then thrown away. The commander listened as Sergeant Wu discussed the known militant groups.  ‘Frankly sir,” said the commander, and related how a hill tribe, supposedly extinct from the mountains, may have kept a foothold within the no-man’s land. “They are primitive. But known for a smelting process they employ for various rituals and to make weapons. We know soldiers from both sides of the conflict have also gone missing. This past year we have found their camps, measuring high in traces of iron, mercury and gold. We have seen the fumes in the north sector. Inhaling those fumes has caused them to become deformed and insane.” The Sergeant interrupted. “Ridiculous! How many people agree with this theory?” There was a cry from an infantryman outside. They emerged onto the steps of the base where it straddled the fence, seeing the morning search team running through the shadows with a stretcher. On the canvas was a man, twisted and black like someone killed in a lava flow. The hands and feet were tied, and a tube of bamboo was stuck in his mouth. A shiny surface sparkled through the coating of black – the soldier was covered in gold.

Olympian

by Mark Warren

I knelt on the scorched red ground at the base of Olympus Mons. Humans had been looking up at Mars for millennia, monitoring it with probes and poring over photographic evidence for water, life or anything. Nothing had been identified. But this – before my eyes – changed everything.

It was smooth, ever so smooth, the sand didn’t leave a mark. Apart from at the centre, where a rough embossed symbol glittered in the little sunlight that reached here. As I rubbed my finger over the symbol it depressed, the ground beneath me fell away and I dropped maybe seven feet. After the initial shock abated I frantically checked my body and spacesuit for damage. All seemed intact.

I turned my attention to my surroundings – to what appeared to be a tunnel. Above had apparently been some sort of trapdoor which hung in two pieces either side of the hole. The walls were covered with markings akin to primitive artwork found in caves on Earth. As I walked along the pictures seemed to tell a story about battles between people and strange creatures, worshippers fleeing a volcano, a mass of tentacles erupting and death.

The story ended but the tunnel didn’t, so I continued deeper into the mountain. It opened out into a cavern lit by fiery magma. Steps hewn into the rock face led down to a raised alter. And then I saw it, writhing in the centre accompanied by a chilling high pitched scream.

I dropped to my knees. The grotesque face with bulbous yellow eyes. A mouth with a million inward pointing teeth. Too many tentacles each with a single golden claw. I couldn’t breathe – the high pitched screaming was coming from me. A flash of gold. My helmet gone. No. More. Air. Only. Gold.

The Angler

by Matthew Bazinet

@MatthewBazinet

I had been in the deep ocean. A treasure hunter by trade, I was following a hint. There was a record of a sunken ship around this area. My companion was in the boat at the surface. The scuba gear seemed heavy before I leapt in. In the water, I felt at home.

“I’ll be back up when my tank runs out.”

“Just keep the tape recorder running.”

I dove down, plunging into darkness. Then it began getting lighter. I looked above, still black as the night sky. I dove further. There was no ship. No, what was there was more valuable.

I saw a gold and marble city. At the far edge was a spherical light. I reached the city. Oddly, there were no fish around. Nevertheless, I swam through wondrous strange halls, occasionally gazing up at the black above. I saw none of the normal trinkets. The walls had golden prongs. I didn’t wish to think of their use. Especially when I turned a corner and nicked myself on one.

Blood trickled out of my wound. I was shaken by a thundering noise. And then the walls and floor started to crumble. I gazed at the light. Everything else left my mind. I swam towards it with vigour as pillars fell around me. I reached the light. The grand light was swaying.

My marvelling was broken by the sudden rise of the light. The light disappeared and my vision was engulfed by an indescribable maw. The maw took in what was almost a breath. I was slowly drawn into the teeth-filled maw along with the remains of the great city. I wish I had the courage to pull off my scuba mask.

I record this to tell anyone who finds this, if anyone does, don’t follow the light.

FACE PLANTS

by Richard Twenty Two

I plucked an aphid from Freddy’s earlobe before rinsing his wilting locks with my watering can. I put a towel to him. I put a trowel to him. I squeezed a pea-sized drip of gel out of the tube and combed his hair back. His eyebrows were untoward so I pruned the uneven bristles. Snip snip. Pete was already bald. I didn’t want to leave him out so I wiped him off and admired the way his liver spots shimmered in the morning air. Thomas drooped dead beside the other two. The window box boys had been a delight yet I knew they wouldn’t make it to Christmas. It was going to be a lonely winter without them to talk with.

Funny how nobody else had realised planting an Adam’s apple had the same effect as planting a bulb except you’d grow a fellow’s head instead of some nonsensical daffodil. My granddaughter didn’t consider the practise humane. But why should I follow her tips? She only ever called around when her debts had reached biting point. She didn’t appreciate how isolated it can feel at my age. There’s only so many times you can go to the doctor’s with some trumped up twinge or visit the bank or complain about the price of stamps to the teller at the post office.

I treat my boys right. I spoon-feed them fricasseed crane flies and let them sip sips of shattered bluebottles for dessert. Come the spring, though, when the new crop comes through, I’ll be up to my elbows in rusks and formula. Those saplings! Their cradle cap crumbles off like diminutive autumn leaves.

Leviathan

by Frank Trautman

“There is a swarm of bees amongst the whales. Or at least I thought there was at first.” Dr. Pete Pistil paces, puffing his pipe, “I first noticed it recording mating beluga in Antarctica. Then off Havana, bees overtaking the satisfied grunts of the manatee. There it was again in San Francisco Bay, a soft drone underneath chirping dolphins—a single angry queen slowly joined by a whole buzzing army. Inescapable.”

“They’re in the ocean?”

“They’re everywhere, now. Louder every day. Louder means closer.”

“So?” I collapse in a leather armchair. Classical music plays on a reel-to-reel on his desk. Music and—bees? Pistil offers a snifter of something, noticing my concentration on the tape.

“Hear it behind the orchestra? The buzzing around Holst’s universe?” He giggles, “First measured but insistent around Mars, next a few drones encircle Venus, now, a swarm in Uranus.”

“Bleed-thru.”

He stops the tape. “That’s what my audio tech said about a waveform masking a mewing orca calf. That isn’t it.”

I strain my ears. The faint buzzing continues without the tape. “Tinnitus?”

“That’s what my doctor said about test results shoved into a file. That isn’t it either. It’s in earth itself. See, mucking around the ocean with recording equipment, I was one of the first scientists to notice. But, miners have known it for years. ‘El zumbido’ it’s called in the Atacama Desert; in the gold mines of Shandong province, it’s ‘Dìqiú huángfēng.’ Roughly ‘earth-wasp.’ A little on the nose for my taste.”

“Why have you brought me?” I slam the glass and head for the paneled oak doors.  “You want me to help fight giant bees in the earth?”

“Fight them, Dr. Stamen?!” he buzzes, sharply grabbing me by the lapel with his sticky pollen-covered fingers, “Why would we want to that?”

Soul Supplier

by Gordon Pinckheard

“What system is this?” asked the Galaxy’s Manager.

“It’s identified by the central star,” said the local Soul Supervisor, “Sol”.

“Ah, yes. You have a problem with the third planet; Filth? Dirt?”

“Earth,” corrected the Supervisor.

“Ah, yes. And the problem?” asked the Manager.

“A mis-match of supply and demand,” replied the Supervisor. “There is an advanced life form on the planet with an increasing demand for souls. The supply received is inadequate.”

“Inadequate, you say?”

“Leader, let me explain. This life form calls the duration of their orbit a ‘year’. Until year 1800 – counted from some local Event – there were only one billion of them. Supply easily covered demand. Excess souls went into inventory. But they have a short shelf life. In the next hundred and twenty years the life form doubled in number. And now there are many billions more! You understand the problem. Supply of souls is not keeping up with the demand.”

The Galaxy’s Manager muttered: “Some bring me problems, some bring me solutions.” After a pause: “When we encounter an obstacle we … ?”

The Supervisor thought. “Improvise, adapt, overcome?”

“Good,” said the Manager. “And to address your supply problem?”

“Reduce, reuse, recycle?” the Supervisor suggested.

“Exactly!” replied the Manager. “So?”

“The life form has recently reduced their numbers with their second world wide culling. Births are lowered, lessening the requirement for fresh souls. And I do have used souls in stock that I could reuse. And I could adapt some souls supplied for other life forms and repurpose them.”

“Very good,” said the Manager. “We’re making progress.”

“But it will eventually lead to adult life forms with worn out souls, or with souls of less advanced creatures.”

“We have little choice,” said the Manager. “Will they ever notice?”

Future?

by Eadbhard McGowan

YUQ is unable to move. Running out of energy he recharges his body load cells which control his movements. Though most of this body parts and organs are artificial, consist of metal parts and joint replacements, he felt human. A robo-psychologist, though there is no psyche any more, told him: if you have some of the human tissue, you are human.

YUQ hears a scratching sound which intensifies, as something is crawling nearby. What is causing it? He looks around and sees a gigantic metallic spider hanging over him.

Insects became robots after drones copulated decades ago, multiplied and mutated. A damaged armoured glass bears witness after a robo-wasp crashed against it. To prevent attacks and nesting he hacks into the system of those intruders with his specially designed software.

YUQ tries to turn his head to see the display on the time indicator. His heart, made of plastic material, pumps a blood substitute into areas of his body which are remnants of his human past: brain, left arm, right hand. And genitals. Without use. Robots multiply now on assembly lines, released into an existence, without feeling, empathy and deep sensuality.

On the illuminated screen he sees with this telescopic eye that it is the 215th day-split of techmonth 3018.

The spider scans him with its greenish eyes, its legs are moving, sending sound waves to evaluate the data of its prey. The spider descends on a fine-spun wire rope. Liquid from the tip of the claw drops on YUQ’s skin and he slips into a dreamlike mood. The spider looks into his eyes.

The last he senses is a sting through his skullcap, no pain, only vibrating sensation.

While his senses fade away, he sees green landscapes, humans in white garments surrounding a lamb which they call Immanuel.

THE WOMAN AT THE CONTINENTAL 

by Henry Lara

The bulk of her has disappeared. She is now slim and barely dimming any color or light. After her mothering prime, she lost her glow, used it up to color her children. Nurturing was a natural power of hers. Her four children all received breast milk into their second year of life. Everyday she loved, she pampered, she cooked and swung them up into the skies with vitality. Her daily grind could be heard from continents away and at times, intercepted by strangers. She exhausted herself but each of her children became healthy horned bucks. They’re gone now, each into their own wilderness. She appears sunken. Most of her juice has been extracted and consumed and there are no refills, not for her, not for anyone. She lays on her new old bed at The Continental Hotel. Looking up at the grimy yellow ceiling and with a can of elbow grease, she wishes to do it all over again.

The day of reconciliation

by Jane deBond

“The orb is strange. Is the day finally come?” The Queen looked upwards.

“Yes.” Her wise-woman replied. “Tis the day of reconciliation. See how the darkness cuts into the orb. Soon it will be extinguished.”

“And then?”

“The cave dwellers will emerge.  Their underground waters reflect the orb. They will know.”

“Their men are savages like ours. What will stop them slaying us?”

“There is one, like me. We are kinswomen from many years ago

“A cavewoman? How do you meet?”

“You ask too much.”

“I do not ask, I order you.”

The wise woman frowned. “Come then. We must walk to the rocks.”

 

 

At a shrub-covered rocky area, indistinguishable from any other, the wise-woman pulled back foliage and entered the tiny entrance to a cave where she embraced her cave dweller sister.

“My queen is here.”

“I see. We must tell her all. The time for reconciliation has come but our chief is not attuned. He speaks only of war and killing.”

“You must spellbind him, sister. We do not have long.”

“Our women will hide their men’s weapons.”

“We will do likewise.”

 

 

As the orb slowly disappeared under the crescent of the invading shadow, the cave dwellers emerged from the cave. Standing tall amongst them stood the Chief who strode towards the land dwellers and stood in front of the King.

“It is foretold we will reconcile. What foolishness.”

“It can never happen.” The King agreed. “This shall be the only moment of peace between us.”

The Queen stepped forward. “Men of cave and of land. Bear witness to this miracle for the first and last time.” As they looked up she shouted  “Now!”

In the blackness of day, the men were slaughtered by their women. The Chieftess embraced the Queen and all women were reconciled.

Mother to the World

bu Mark Carew

She made her way to the edge of the Western Woods, a steady line of figures creeping with her up the hill to the old well.

The chanting resumed to the ululating tune she had first heard in the art gallery:

Dalala, a hoo, a hoo-la

Mother to the world

(mother to the world)

Daughter of the void

(no creation)

Sister of mine

(no relation)

Bear him again immortal

Dalala, a hoo, a hoo-la

The ground moved beneath her feet, heaving and trembling.  Each footfall revealed how the thing beneath them was moving up from below.

The chanting grew to a crescendo as the crowd stood around the old stone well.  They stood in between old bones of forgotten people.  The gallery owner called on the thing to appear.  The ground shook momentously and a spray of seawater shot up through the well like a geyser.

Her brother appeared by her side.  ‘You move like cattle.  Have you grown larger?’

‘Aren’t you feeling just a little bit sleepy?’ she asked.

He looked at her with new eyes and smiled.  ‘Not with you in the house, dear sister.’

Another great spray of brine and iodine shot up out of the well.  Four figures came forward and placed a wooden box on the ground.  The box was opened and a small girl, bound in a white gown so that she could not run away, was let out.

The crowd hissed in delight, and then in awe, at the sight of the thing that slowly snaked out of the well head towards the terrified child.  A limb as thick as a tree trunk searched with its intelligent tip for the young sacrifice.  The weight of the limb crunched bones and split skulls as it slithered across the forest floor.

The next level of human resourcing

by Jacqui Carter

By the time he arrived for his shift, the newest arrival had already begun its sequencing. He sipped stale coffee and settled down to watch as the robotic arms stitched matter back together. Slivers of bone; slices of skull; passed along and reconstituted. It really had made all the difference, he thought idly, handing human resources over to the machines. A far simpler application process, when new employees could simply be siphoned from the recently deceased.

Nobody really died anymore – you were just repurposed. The next level of environmental conservation, courtesy of artificial intelligence. He chuckled, taking another sip of his coffee. If he hadn’t known it was made by the hospitality AI, he’d have sworn the creamer had expired. The doors opened to admit LORAI (Lead Officer Regarding Artificial Intelligence was a mouthful).

Her repurposed personality was gratingly cheerful. “Morning,” she trilled and drifted across to the terminal. He grunted, his fingers had begun to twitch. His tongue tingled. The stitching was lacing fingers together, the skull and neck fully actualized.

“Announcements are pending for this department,” LORAI offered crisply. “We’re implementing cut backs.”

“Yeah?” He frowned at his hand, shaking it out. His entire face felt like tiny insects were humming beneath the skin. “From where?”

“Areas with the lowest levels of human necessity.”

“Wait …” He protested weakly as the cup slipped from his fingers and he stumbled out of his chair; his knees giving out. He stared as liquid splashed the floor. They’d put nanites in his coffee. “We thank you for your service,” came the nonchalant reply from behind. “You have been a valuable member of our team.”

He wheezed.

“Please do not resist. You will slow down the transfer process.”

He opened his mouth to scream but it was too late, his jaw dissolved.

Checkpoint Inhibition Immunotherapy: Mission Failed

by Laura Danks

 We walked for many days.

The dark had been oppressive, the lack of space claustrophobic, but what we struggled the most with, had been the smell. It was putrid, and rotten.

We had to inhale it to stay alive, and that alone was slowly killing us.

This rescue operation had turned into a suicide mission the minute we lost our backup team but we had a job to do, so I marched ahead of my men, making space through the jungle of wine-red roots that seemed to be growing all around us.

Their pulsing, rhythmic sound, was unsettling, disturbing, like adventuring into the guts of a beast.

The tunnel finally widened and we found ourselves facing the monster, he growled in all his brutality.

 

‘Oh… My… God…’ someone whispered as we watched its dark mass twisting.

‘We aren’t coming out of here alive’

The sob came a second before we were shaken off solid ground by an unexpected earthquake.

Half of my team was washed away by the tsunami that followed.

I held on to the few men I had at arm’s reach. Watched as my troops succumbed to the wave.

‘We are gonna die for nothing’ I thought as we were washed away too.

 

Half choking with the dark liquid that filled my throat, I shouted orders that were not followed, I dried my eyes and saw how enormous it was.

Tentacles deeply rooted. Slimy long limbs set out to grab and take, and the once healthy tissue around it, frayed and dying. This devouring aggressive cancer had already spread on the entire surface of the lung.

 

‘You bastard’ I shouted gargling and spitting as another wave took me under.

Drowning, I thought that we were just too damn late.

MIRROR, MIRROR

by Irene Montaner

I bump my head with the wall yet another time. I look around and I see my reflection four, five, six times. One of them seems to be staring back at me from further afar than the others and I walk straight to him. To me. And I’m further into the labyrinth – hopefully closer to the exit.

I don’t know how long it’s been since I entered the mirror labyrinth. Perhaps an hour or two. Perhaps more. I am getting tired. And restless. I hear a distant roar. I shiver.

I look around trying to figure out which way to go when one of my reflections shows something odd, a black creature looming over me. It has the body of a wolf but is slit-eyed like a cat and two big fangs come out of its mouth, like those of a walrus. Whatever it is, I cannot tell, but it moves swiftly like a fox.

I decide to turn left. And then right. And to my amazement I’m picking the correct way, or so it seems. Still, the beast is getting closer, its howling louder. I can almost feel its breath on the nape of my neck. It’s maddening. I run.

I don’t look where I’m going anymore because I know I will see that beast behind me if I do. I just run. Until I hit a wall once more, harder than ever before. I fall down. I pass out.

A foul smell reaches my nostrils. I open my eyes to a close-up view of those catty eyes. They blink. I blink. Darkness engulfs me. And then I remember the sign posted at the entry of the labyrinth: “You shall not go astray for longer than a day.”

Humanoid

by Claire Fitzpatrick

She must have forgotten to lock the gate. They searched the house first, calling out his name. Jean had gone out the front, worried she might have left the door unlocked. She had walked around the side of the house, to the backyard, and spotted him instantly, lying face down in the slightly green pool.

“Mummy, why bother bringing me back if you don’t want me?”

Jean sobbed, her hand covering her face. “But I do, I do want you, my baby. I do want you. I didn’t know…I didn’t know…you look…”

“What didn’t you know? How should I look? Like the last time you saw me?”

Jean peered through her fingers and stared at the boy, yet all she could see was her poor dead son, so pale and blue.

“Why are you doing this!?” Jean screeched. She reached out and clasped the boy’s hand, shaking it wildly. “What do you want from me?”

‘The question is – what do you want from me? You were the one who spent yours and his life savings to have me created. Does he even know, mummy? Does he know how you lied, you sold your body? Were you planning to dress me up for school, brush my hair in the morning? You’re supposed to love me. I’m a defenceless child.”

“You’re not my fucking child!”

Jean stared at the boy. His face began to twitch, as though struggling with which emotion to display.

Heart thumping, she lunged at him, nails digging into his skin along his jaw. The flap of skin pulled back effortlessly, revealing autonomous machinations. He took a step towards her. She took a step back.

“We’re the same, you and I, mummy. Cold and metallic on the inside.”

He ripped of his synthetic skin, revealing sharpened claws.

Jean screamed.

A Weekend at the Hospital Cave

by Benjamin Niespodziany

I broke both of my arms on a boat in Vietnam. Fell through the floor boards after mixing wine with sad songs. Afraid I might sue, my trilingual tour guide directed me to a hospital cave, telling me to enter and look for a naked man in a swinging doctor’s coat. “He will reset the bones,” my guide promised. “He will sweep the bat shit off of your dome before sending you home in a mixture of bubble wrap and drywall casts.” When I arrived, the doctor was wearing latex gloves, holding a broom made out of whale teeth, and quickly described to me how important it was to keep a hospital cave tidy for the visiting patients. Humans, monkeys, and especially birds. The cave doctor loved birds. “But please, don’t invite piranhas or vipers. We don’t welcome any lice. If they’re sick and in need of help, just let them die.”

Catfish

by Chloe Gilholy

Todd and I are about to meet my sister: the person pretending to be her. I hate people touching me, but I can’t help but smile when he pats my back. “This is it, isn’t it Bobby?” he says to me. “We’re finally going to meet her.”

“If it’s any consolation,” I tell him. “If she was still here, she would have liked you – a lot.”

“It could be her,” he insists. The elevator doors swing open. “Oh god, all these empty food packets. It stinks in here.”

My heart races when whips out a gun and kicks the bedroom door down. I gasp – where on earth did he get that gun from? “Todd! Wait!”

“No!” A part of Todd still hopes that Kathleen’s alive. I’ve told him so many times she’s dead – I buried her. He’s ready to pull the trigger. “You can’t be Kathleen! You’re not the girl I fell in love with. Look at me in the eye! Do you know what you’ve done to me?”

He ignores the walking aids covered in dust. Her extra flesh folds over the bed, but I know that freckly nose and bushy eyebrows anywhere.

“Todd put the gun down, I know this woman.”

“I don’t care if you know her – I’m killing her.”

“SHE NEEDS HELP!”

“Tell me, Bobby, why should I spare this bitch?”

“She’s Kathleen’s friend, Helga Tears. Always together at school. When Kathleen died, she must have turned to food as comfort. Must be why social services took her kids. With the laptop as her only luxury, she pretended to be Kathleen to escape all the misery.”

Helga only nods.

Todd drops his gun. “Why won’t she speak?”

“C’mon mate.” I throw the gun in the bin. “We’ll call the ambulance then after this, let’s go clubbing.”

Tonight’s Entertainment

Ryan Yarber

@YarberWrites

He opened his eyes to see a bulky, metal globe floating above him. The sphere turned to reveal drawn-on eyes and large, endless smile that filled the surface.

“Hello friend,” the metal face said, its eyes unblinking.

“Where am I?” he groaned.

“You’re at the best place this side of the universe my friend. Before it’s time, what’s your name?”

He sat up and ran a hand through his hair. His head felt heavy. “I…I don’t know. I can’t remember,” he finally answered.

“That’s too bad. I like to get people’s names, but when you forget you forget. Oh, we’re starting.” The metal head disappeared.

A roaring filled his ears as he stood up and took in his surroundings. He was in the middle of an arena. Twenty-foot walls surrounded him. Above the walls were thousands of creatures cheering and jeering. Littered amongst them were his own kind. A small group of which had formed near the crest of the wall farthest from him.

“Welcome,” a voice boomed over the noise, “to the one, the only, ABATTOIR!!!!” The crowd erupted. The announcer waited a moment before continuing, “Without further delay, I give you the opening round.”

The noise drowned out everything. He spun in time to see the metal face charging at him with six writhing, mechanical legs. Two of which threw him across the enclosure. He hit the ground hard. Before he could react, he was lifted of the ground and slammed against the wall. He looked up and saw the small group from his world. He could hear their curses through the din.

He looked down at the metal arm holding him against the wall. The metal sphere filled his vision. The hollow eyes and endless smile mere inches from his face.

“Goodbye, friend.”

Outside

by Jack Koebnig

@koebnig

‘Is it still there?’

‘What?’ Jess hissed. ‘You’ve suddenly gone deaf or something?’ She hated how she sounded. It’s not me, she told herself. But it was, had been for a long time now.

Angela wrapped her arms around her tiny frame then lowered her head so that Jess wouldn’t see the fresh tears tumbling from her bloodshot eyes.

The ground shook beneath them. It was followed by another explosion; bricks glass and warm corpses spraying in every direction.

‘Here,’ Frank said, returning from a room that had once operated as a kitchen. He’d found a bag of apples. ‘Just eat around the bruising.

Jess removed two apples from the bag and while offering one to Angela she asked Frank where he’d found them.

‘They were in a box at the back of a cupboard. Next to this.’ Frank held up a revolver, its silver barrel gleamed in the dim candlelight.

Angela scrambled into a dark corner.

‘Way to go,’ Jess said, picking up the apple Angela had dropped. ‘How about the next time you warn us first?’

Frank studied the revolver, clueless as to what all the fuss was about.

‘Eat it,’ Jess said, offering Angela her apple. ‘You’ve got to keep up your strength.’

‘Why?’

‘B-e-c-a-u-s-e … you can hear what’s going on outside. We can’t stay here forever. And …’ Jess paused, she didn’t have a choice, she had to say it, ‘… I’m not going to carry you if you’re too weak to walk.’

Angela grabbed the apple and took a bite. The simple act of eating an apple reminded Jess of a happier time, a safer time.

The ground shook again.

‘It’s time,’ Jess said, offering Angela her hand. ‘Can you walk?’

Angela nodded.

Jess smiled. ‘That’s my girl.’

The Ward Round

by Susi J.Smith

The nurses fell into silent rows, backs pressed against the wall, heads bowed. The ward door slid open. Doctor Aaron Matthews strode onto the ward and snapped his fingers at the nearest nurse.

With a small curtsy Nurse Nisbet stepped forward. “Good morning sir. There are four patients requiring your attention this morning; an appendectomy in bed one, a tumour in two, a hip dislocation in three…and an exorcism in four.”

Aaron frowned. “An exorcism? Since when does that warrant hospital admission? Tell the local physician to deal with it and clear the bed immediately.”

Nurse Nisbet picked her nails. “Mrs Jessops didn’t go to her doctor, she went to a priest.”

Aaron rubbed his eyes. “Wonderful. How long has she been possessed?”

            “Three months. The demon’s burrowed into her top gum.”

            “How far has it advanced?”

            “She began levitating this morning. We’re expecting projectile vomit and 360 head rotation within the hour.”

            Aaron’s face reddened. “And she’s still in a bay! Get her into the isolation chamber before we have a whole ward of demons to deal with.”

            “Doctor Crawford’s using it to stage an alien abduction.”

            Aaron scowled. “What about the side rooms then? Move her into one of those.”

            Nurse Nisbet adjusted her stance.

            “Don’t tell me, Doctor Carson’s delivering the son of Satan in one, Doctor Philips is in another impregnating women with the help of an incubus, and Doctor Wexler is using the final one to create a centaur.”

            “A cyclops actually, but yes.”

            “Wonderful. I said this would happen if Disney was allowed to buy up the hospitals didn’t I?” Aaron shook his head. “Give the whole bay antibiotics and intravenous holy water, it’s going to be a long day.”

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