July’s Zeroflash Competition Entries

Link to this month’s theme

Gods of Summer

by Alana Libell

Mabel and Alice sat waiting by the rocks tracing the lines left from the fire and kicking the scraps still stuck to rocks. Alice had always said it was a pity they were the only ones who’d kept these old traditions going without losing anyone. Shreds of the kindling newspaper still twirled on the ground, warning of the sightings by the lake and bodies still missing. Lissie’s golden wire hair came rushing up the hill, then Sarah and Mina as a breeze sweeping silently and stroking the grass. The older ones sat down to make some preparations while Lissie played with their hair and wandered amongst the burned lines for the smell of cinders. The day’s heat was heavy enough to make pine sap begin to shine like sweat and give the air its taste. Mabel rolled some needles round in her palm, turning the points out and pressing her fingers on them, listening as the children jumping into the lake sounded like stones from up so high. At length they stood up, muddled the charcoal lines they had drawn, and each took another’s hand as they set back towards a track down the hill. Forming a careful line for safety down the rocks they settled behind the raised edge of a bend in the track and kept their arms linked across each other in warm solidarity. Lissie had demanded they eat only girls tonight but in the end they had agreed to one of each. The first was soon heard whistling campfire tunes. Mina saw the tanned ankle skin beneath his rolled-up linen and reached out. Lissie was thrilled by the scream.

Return to Pelican Pointe

by Max Shephard

“It’s happening again,” Alan said, pressing the gas pedal to the floor.

“Stop saying that!” his passenger said, her voice a mixture of anxiety and fear. “Unless you’re ready to tell me what’s going on. Who was that on the phone?”

The speedometer’s needle inched past 90 mph. The trees and the road seemed to melt together as they passed, a muddled landscape beneath the clear midday sky.

“Irene…”

“I’m tired of your games, Alan,” she said, unbuckling her seat belt. “I’ve put up with it for thirty miles, but I’m done. Stop the car, I’m getting out.”

“Wait …”

Irene crossed her arms and stared.

Alan inhaled deeply, rolling his left sleeve down and revealing a cross-hatch of scars from his wrist to his elbow.

“See these?”

“Yes, they’re from an accident when you were younger. What do they have to do with you flying like a bat out of hell toward the town you grew up in?”

“Just listen. Thirty years ago, when I was Sheriff of Pelican Pointe, a man showed up in town. Called himself Leonard Coates. He had crows tattooed on each forearm, and when he spoke, the birds came. Crowding telephone wires, blocking the streets. He started demanding things, and when I refused, he got angry. Irene, thirty people died that summer before we drove him out. That’s how I got these scars.”

“From the birds? I don’t understand … “

“I thought we killed him, but he’s back. That was Helen Gaines on the phone, a dispatcher at the Sheriff’s department, she … holy shit …”

Alan pointed at a spot above the highway, about three miles ahead of them. It was so dark, it almost looked like someone had erased the sky.

“That’s not a cloud, is it?” Irene moaned, buckling her seatbelt.

The Doll in the Corner

by Nathan Blixt

Kayla was eight when her great grandmother passed away. The family gathered at a relative’s house after the funeral where she found herself in a bedroom staring at a doll in the corner.

“Grandma gave Lucinda to me years ago.” Her dad’s aunt stood in the doorway holding someone’s coat. “She was always there for me when I needed a friend.”

She picked Luci up and held her gently. “Would you like to have her?”

***

The school bus smelled like rotten sandwiches and dirty kids. Worst of all was Billy who always found demeaning ways to antagonize Kayla.

Billy stood over Kayla as the bus came to a screeching halt. Billy feigned stumbling onto her and she gagged on his stench of hay and piss and shit. Unsettling disgust crept through her as she felt Billy rubbing his crotch on her shoulder. His attacks increased in intensity over the next few days.

***

“I need something old!” Kayla yelled down to her dad.

“Hey, what about grandma’s doll?” Her dad had his hand on the door ready to leave for work.

“What? No! It’s creepy and I don’t know anything about it.”

“Kayla! Just take it and let’s go!”

She presented to her class that Lucinda was from the 18th century. She also said some other things that she made up.

Her stomach knotted that night when she realized that the doll wasn’t in her bag. She must have left her at school. Or on the bus.

***

The detective arrived at the farmhouse and entered Billy’s room. The little boy’s tattered clothes revealed lacerations all over his body that concentrated around his throat. The only thing not covered in blood was a doll sitting in the corner.

Strangest Thing

by Pritam Saikia

I can see the man walking to my house. He is still far away but his path is a straight line to my home. He walks on the asphalt road with the desert stretching out both sides.

I look at the tiny far away figure with curiosity. Could this be an Amazon delivery? Perhaps the government is conducting a survey like they did a few years ago. I try to busy myself with making tea but something doesn’t feel right. My eyes keep darting to the window.

What could be the purpose of the visit? I try to think about what I had done the last few days. I certainly don’t remember ordering anything. I have mostly stayed at home cooking, cleaning and doing my reading. Am I in trouble? Could it be the authorities?

Have I done something? Maybe the neighbours have complained but about what? I have never hurt anyone. Never broken the law. I don’t do drugs. The boiling milk hisses over the pot and spills on to the kitchen counter and the floor.

I can’t bear to look at the window anymore. The man would probably be at the door any minute. My heart starts to race and my mind is overwhelmed as I try to search my memories for clues to help me understand. I try to calm my breath. Breath in. Breathe out. That’s it. I got this.

I remember the gun. It is in the closet. On the top shelf. Right at the back. The gun is loaded. I remember it is. I am smiling confidently as my outstretched hands hold the revolver pointed at the door. The bell rings. I pull the trigger and release a sigh of relief.

Pyrrhic Victory

by Daniel Coronel

Eileen wasn’t alone in the house. She knew that, had known since she got here. First night she’d started hearing things: a muffled thud, a misplaced journal, a rustling-that-was-really-just-the-wind-hopefully. Tonight she heard a voice.

Eileen was no passive bystander; she was going to get to the bottom of this or die trying. Lighting up a cigarette, like always when she was nervous, Eileen began to formulate a game plan.

She’d head to the kitchen first. Call the police, arm herself with cutlery, make for the car. She couldn’t stay another night here, and in fact she wouldn’t.

A shadow passed behind her, the light casting a giant specter across the cavernous hallway. Eileen listened closely. Something was in the wall. Hearing its approach, Eileen braced herself. It was close, now on top of her. Eileen grabbed a marble bust off a stand and waited for the figure to come out in the guest room.

He was behind her.

She escaped his grasp, but she only had one place to take refuge at the moment – the kitchen. She searched for anything to defend herself, but a cleaver to the back brought Eileen down.

As she blearily saw the blood trickle Eileen realized she was never leaving this house. And if anyone came looking for her, they probably wouldn’t leave either.

Without another thought, Eileen stumbled across the stove, turning on the gas as much as she could muster. The man hurried to turn it off. Eileen pulled her lighter and set his black jacket ablaze. She slumped to the ground, her last sight, and sending it over Eileen’s head and onto the stove. The blast engulfed them both along with the better part of the house. The terror of Everhart Manor was gone forever, its last resident the most triumphant.

Fromagegoria

by I. E. Kneverday

My Dearest Elizabeth,

As promised, I am writing to inform you of my safe arrival in Grotte-de-Noyade. So the village exists after all! My journey, while fraught with danger (I nearly lost a toe to frostbite) has not been in vain, for the mere existence of this place suggests that the old man’s map was no mere tourist trinket or forgery, but the genuine item (as had been my conviction from the start). The “village,” if such a term can be applied to what I have encountered here, consists of a series of caverns, the majority of which are inhabited not by people, but by massive cast iron vats. My translator Damien tells me that the villagers use these vats to soak their cheese in a peculiar type of brine, the recipe for which has been passed down among their kind for centuries. This brine is said to allow for the cultivation of a rare bacterium, which gives the cheese a rare taste—and perhaps other properties rarer still. So you see, my dear, how more of the old man’s story has been proven true! I promise I will deliver some of this famous fromage to you upon my return. For now, I must bid you adieu, for it seems the villagers wish to give me a first-hand lesson in their craft. What an extraordinary honor!

With all my love,

Jonathan

 

Mademoiselle Reeves,

It is with great sadness that I must inform you of your fiancé Jonathan’s passing. I discovered his remains in a brine vat on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, on account of the brine’s bacterial content, it was impossible to recover the body. As a token of their sympathy, the villagers of Grotte-de-Noyade would like you to accept this wheel of cheese, which was crafted with Jonathan’s input.

Condolences,

Damien

Cemetery Rave

by Chloe Gilholy

Cappuccino Shopping Centre was to be his peak. He hoped that he, his wife and his nephews/stepsons would never have to live under the breadline again. He thought of his poverty-driven childhood as he puffed his cigars. Building a shopping centre on an old cemetery turned out to be the biggest mistake in Roberto Cappuccino’s life. Even killing his own brother was nothing compared to this.

Protests on every street. Hate mail written in blood and dog droppings posted through the letterbox, Roberto wanted nothing more than redemption for what he did to his brother. Opening day was a disaster. He walked around the mall and standing at the staircase was the decaying corpse of Alberto Cappuccino.

“Oh Roberto!” Alberto grinned with malice with eyes loose in his socket. Roberto felt his arms dragged into his brother’s dusty bones as his whole body froze. His brother shook his hand. “Why do you look down on me? I’m your brother.”

“Alberto!” Roberto gagged. Breathing became a challenge with the stench of blood and decaying flesh. The maggots on Alberto’s hands crawled into Roberto’s suit. “You’re dead!” He was about to say that he killed him, but at that point he lost his voice.

“And I came back – for you!”

“Look I’m sorry for what I did to you.”

“I’m sorry too.”

Roberto could feel his legs move, but he couldn’t control them. Roberto and Alberto levitated to the elevator. “Where are you taking me?”

“To the cemetery rave!” The doors opened to a monster’s oasis. Hardcore corpses swimming in blood. Creatures dancing and nibbling in delight. Metallic taste in his mouth grew with the burning sensations of being slashed from head to toe. Before he knew it, Roberto and Alberto were identical again.

Hitori Kakurenbo

By Kris McGinnis

The chill of the stagnant bathwater bit as Detective Takabushi’s strokes disrupted the speckles of rice and thread strands which rested at the bottom.

His suspicions confirmed.

Grain smatterings ground underfoot as splashes of water were tracked to the door where his partner, Detective Oshi, stood.

“The ritual was here,” Takabushi declared. “A Doll stuffed with rice to summon a Demon, bound with red thread; then stabbed in the water.”

“Ritual?” Oshi asked, confused.

Takabushi sighed at the rookie’s ignorance.

Water droplets led into a dim hallway, passing a closed door with a harried white line enclosing the frame.

“Salt,” Takabushi said. “Spirits can’t cross it. Her parents were asleep.”

They continued towards a darkened room emitting flickers of patchy light. Greeted by a bitter scent of incense, Takabushi switched on his torch. The fulgurating light came from a static filled television, its strobe flashes drawing attention to a small body lying writhe on the floor.

Torchlight settled upon the child’s contorted, pale face. Red swollen eyes negated moisture, sealed lips. Takabushi knelt down; water soaked into his trousers.

“What did this?” Oshi grimaced.

“Hitori Kakurenbo. An urban myth. Entrap a Demon within a Doll; then antagonize it to seek you in the dark.”

Takabushi parted the lips; a rush of water escaped.

“Fear is a strange concept,” he said, forcing fingers down the throat. “With every imagined noise, natural creak; myth becomes reality.”

He removed his hand, holding clutched fingers aloft.

“The game ends by spitting saltwater over the Doll before it can harm you. The problem is she used Halite.”

“She choked to death?”

“Sometimes the game wins after all.”

“Death by misadventure?” Oshi pondered.

“Perhaps. There’s just one issue.” Takabushi discarded the large salt crystal. “She’s the third this month… and I’ve yet to find a Doll.”

Ezra

by Frank Trautman

I do everything Ezra says. That goes without saying. Even though he’s nine. And has no face. Or ears or anything on his head at all. He was born with just a smooth dome atop his shoulders. Except for a lipless slit which don’t speak per se, but he pops a straw into it to suck down beef broth or Aunt Mabel’s okra compote, a nutritious slurry she’d whip up Sunday’s after churching was done.

It was Tuesday and Frasier was on and Ezra was skulking in his alcove when a thought popped into my head. I stood and shut the TV.

Aunt Mabel was one of those snake people.

This wasn’t my idea, of course, but Ezra’s. He thought this about a lot of folks. Like Reverend Kaye, Deacon Jim, and a good deal of the congregation. But Ezra isn’t right about everything. He thought Miss Mittens was one of those special swimming cats. She weren’t. But he was pretty sure about this. We were under invasion.

Aunt Mabel was snoring on the couch, slid down on the plastic slip cover, dentures askew. She must be one of them. Fake teeth. Wig. Not to mention the caked rouge and blue eye shadow. All of it. She was hiding something.

I fetched Earl’s tools. I wasn’t supposed to touch’em but this was an emergency. After all, he’d left us in the care of a reptile while he was off carousing with that waitress from Zeb’s. Fake tits. Another snake no doubt. But we had to deal with our own house first. We had to be sure.

I snatched up a utility blade and a paint scraper. According to Ezra the only way to be sure was to peel back to face and see.

Long story short. He was wrong. Again.

The Milliner’s Cottage

by Mark Warren

Jessica had finally found the shop she was looking for: the “Milliner’s Cottage”. Inside, the shop was dark and claustrophobic, tight corridors formed of racks five shelves high, each holding a row of hat-wearing mannequin heads. Her friend was right, the hats here were exquisite. High grade materials and world class workmanship. Jessica couldn’t help smiling at the thought of wearing one. Perhaps that pink fascinator there.

As she admired herself in the dusty mirror she heard the shop door close. And was that the sound of a lock turning? The shop interior became darker as the blinds dropped blotting out the street light.

“Hello?” called Jessica.

A man approached from the gloom.

“Amazing!” said the Milliner, gleefully rubbing his hands together. “You. Are. Perfect.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

“Don’t worry. It’ll be over soon.” said the Milliner. “Feed, my little ones! Feed!”

Chittering sounds arose from the shelves around her and a beret-wearing head nearby produced a blood curdling snarl followed by a grin packed with razor sharp teeth. Jessica felt the attention of a hundred eyes turn upon her. And then they came.

Mouths bit into her shoulders, legs, arms; anywhere that they could. Ripping chunks of flesh from her and spraying the shop floor with blood. More and more heads diving from the shelves. The weaker ones making do with drinking the blood pooling on the floor.

The Milliner had been correct, it was over very quickly indeed. All that remained of Jessica were some bloody tattered clothes and a perfectly untouched head. He picked it up, closed the slack jaw, and appraised it. “Cheekbones and jawline are superb. And the proportions of the brow. A fine head indeed. It’s going to be a pleasure to make a hat for you.”

DAINTY, DEADLY DOLLS

by Irene Montaner

         The one-eyed gal was back on duty tonight. Her good eye was fixed on us, making sure we wouldn’t move. Her proportions were human but her delicate features gave her away. She was only a doll, the closest thing to a human that the machines had been able to make.

I was on the wrong side of the dorm, so I rolled over and slept. Tomorrow I’d lie on the other side of the dorm and I’d be fast.

The detestable morning sirens woke us up. Another day of freezing showers, gruesome porridge and endless hours under the sun, mining those rare metals that machines treasured above anything else. That’s how we spent our days now that AI had taken over us.

Evening cannot come soon enough and then we’re served those disgusting churned chunks of meat. No food tasted like that before the machines controlled everything.

I was on the right side of the dorm this evening and the blind eye of the dolly could not keep track of my movements. I rose and tiptoed my way to the door and ran. But not fast enough.

An army of two-eyed dolls lined the corridor and there was no way that my foolish escape could’ve been a success. Soon I was surrounded by a score of those pretty robots and reduced to nothing.

I was brought to the kitchen and it suddenly dawned on me. So this is where that foul mean comes from, and I’m next.

I must have voiced me fears out loud because someone replied. “In the meantime yes. But before you’ll have to atone for your crime. Help me with those bodies to the butchering table.”

I recognized Milo among them. And Steve and Jacko. Those idiots that had tried to run away before me.

In the Village of the One-Eyed, the Owl is King

by Barclay Rafferty

Listen! Did you hear that?”

“Hear what, Rory? The countryside is basically nature’s abattoir.”

“That hoot.” I couldn’t bring myself to mention Bubo by name.

Twit-to-woo would be more appropriate. Just shut up and focus on the newspaper or something.” I didn’t want to end up at the bottom of the lake so I complied:

BUBO SWOOPS AGAIN

Its kind hasn’t occurred here naturally since Britain was connected to the Continent, 10,000 years ago, but the much-persecuted and hopefully soon-to-be-captive (or culled) eagle owl slaughtered a roe deer near Rockingham Castle on Tuesday evening.

A quote from Mrs Tambley-Gobbin categorically states that she saw ‘Bubbles’ flying off with her ragdoll kitty, which had not, she emphasised, run away to a neighbour’s home for cheesy biscuits and cream on that crisp September morning. A crapulent Mr Mountjoy claims to have seen a bird the size of a Saint Bernard stalking him down a cobbled backstreet for a long, dreadful minute, transferring its considerable weight from one taloned foot to the other, each step like meat being tenderised…

Ooh-wee-ooh. Arpeggios jangled an ever-diminishing D major chord as Kate sped away, rolling her eyes while I zipped the fly on my stonewashed denim. Ooh-wee-ooh-oOoh-oOoh.

“I should be home by now,” I whispered, traipsing up Rocky Hill with the redolent scent of new-mown grass filling my lungs. Shoeless footsteps encroached as I passed the inn. Still, golden leaves greeted me upon turning – dancing suddenly, violently. Whoomph! The silence of vespers shattered beneath the dank thunder of undulating wings:

Impossible

to ever

forget.

Descending, pure and black, it clawed my shoulder, dragging me down and making my whole world dark. When my vision returned on a scratchy projector, I saw the village sentinel rising like an invocation towards the night trees, clutching its treasured orb.

Encroaching Nightmare

by Joel Shelley

Something was trying to get in. Its scratching downstairs shook me from my sleep. I imagined the claws chipping away at the front door and turning the wood to splinters. Soon it would find its way into the house and I would not be protected here.

My survival depended on being faster than it. I had to run to safety – to my parents – and I had to be quick. I mustered a burst of courage and sprang out of bed, having to take back control of my limbs which had seized up, locking around the duvet as if I would fall out without it.

Cold air enveloped me. Goosebumps ran up my arms. Any delay would doom me so I hurried out of my bedroom, trusting my senses to carry me through the darkness without harm.

I stumbled onto the landing and stood at the top of the stairs. Safety should have been a priority but I stopped and looked down. The front door was in view. A hooded figure stood behind the frosted glass. I stared at the shadow, transfixed. Only then did I notice the silence. The scratching had stopped. The night was calm for a moment. Then the bolt on the door shuddered. It creeped across the latch and fell out. The chain swayed, clinking. The door swung open and I glimpsed only a billowing edge of the creature’s cloak before I ran. It entered the house and began to ascend the stairs as I raced into my parents’ room. They let me hide under the duvet between them and fell asleep again within seconds.

I lay awake, listening to my heart beating rapidly. The bedroom door creaked open. Unable to keep my eyes closed, I peered into the gloom, daring the terror to approach.

The Mouth of the Cave

by John Guzlowski

The Mouth of the Cave was hungry.

And it wasn’t the usual hunger it felt in the morning when it woke up, a hunger for something small like a toad or a tabby.

This hunger was something else.  The Mouth of the Cave could feel this hunger in its stalagmites and its stalactites, could hear it in its deepest sea caves and rock shelters, could touch it in its darkest grottos and most hidden caverns.  It was a hunger that pleaded and cried like a mother who had lost her only child and knew with a certainty that God would never give her another.

The Mouth of the Cave was that hungry.

It wanted something.  It wanted someone.  It wanted a man or a woman, or even a child.  It would take a child, as long as it wasn’t too young.  The Mouth of the Cave wanted someone who knew what sorrow and pain were.

It had been a long time since anyone like that had come upon it there in the place in the long, quiet valley where the two mountains brushed against each other like sleeping lovers in the dark night.

How long?

A month? A year? A hundred years?  The Mouth of the Cave grunted and gave a small groan.  Too long.

The Mouth of the Cave groaned then and then groaned again, and the groan became softer each time the Mouth groaned until its silent groans filled the entire valley with its hunger.

***

 

Far far away, an old, broken farmer heard the groaning, and even though he didn’t understand it, he felt something stark and wonderful in his heart, and he dropped his rake in the early autumn field and listened.

Then he walked toward it like it was spring.

Thirty Minutes of Commercial Life Left

by Soren James

“I’ve only half an hour to live. Let’s go to the beach and have fun – like they do in the swimwear ads.”

Tom stared down at his flaccid sense of self. “I dunno. Can’t we shop online?”

“Things would arrive after my death!”

I’d be here to sign for it.”

“For what?”

“I don’t know, wheel trims – whatever.”

“My head’s due to explode in like, twenty minutes! Can’t you think of something other than cars?”

“A carburetor, then? Just a small one for . . .”

“I’m going to the mall! I’ll spend my last minutes choosing a hat.”

“You can’t. You’ll make a mess in public.”

“I don’t care. For the first time I won’t have to clean up after myself.”

“But . . . They’ll probably ask me to do it.”

“Yes. They just might.”

“Although . . . if I start driving in the opposite direction, and get three days away, I’d be too far to return before my head explodes on Thursday. Okay, you shop, if that’s what you want, hon.”

“Jerk!”

Head full of driving ads, Tom picked up the car keys. “Enjoy your bikini shopping, or whatever it is. Wish me luck!”

BAD RABBIT

by Blessing Abu

We finally settled down to a bowl of hot cereal and a glass of milk and I knew it was only a matter of time before they’d be at each other’s throat. I patiently waited for the moment while I enjoyed my breakfast, eyeing them from the top of my bowl. I loved breakfast on the dining table just because of these two, my twin sisters. If my parents were at the table, it doesn’t get interesting at all because they’d have to behave or be shushed before they could start something.

“Mummy, Angel’s calling me a bad rabbit”. Mimi yelled from the dinning table.  Aha! The time had come. The moment I’ve been waiting for. Before you know it Mum is rushing out of the kitchen to scold Angel. I wonder why she bothers, she should be used to them by now just like me. I’ve gotten used to their dramas, look forward to them everyday. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Angel, why would you call your sister a bad rabbit, you better apologise to her now”. Mum cautioned.

Mum, I didn’t call her a bad rabbit”, Angel defended herself. For me, I thought I heard something of that nature –bad rabbit, but I wasn’t sure.

“But she said you did”, Mum said looking from Mimi to Angel.

“She was talking and eating at the same and I told her it was a bad habit” Angel said.

Mum looked at Mimi disappointingly, “Mimi”.

Am sorry mum, I thought I heard bad rabbit” Mimi said grudgingly.

Bad habit, bad rabbit, an insult was an insult no matter how you paint it, I was going to say. Mum just stopped the fun that only just began.

Breakfast with my sisters was always like this, fun.

One of Millions

by Jack Koebnig

@koebnig

‘Gum?’

Jason turned round but this time he held his tongue. He was still reeling from his last comment regarding Cathy’s choice in clothes: note to self, he thought, Cathy’s wardrobe is out of bounds. He switched his rocket-launcher to his other shoulder. Bloody thing weighs a ton!

‘Is that a question?’ Alice asked, ‘or an offer?’

‘What do you think?’ Blake said.

OUCH! Jason thought. Someone’s playing with fire.

‘I bet he’s stopped smoking,’ Cathy said, hitching up the worn seat of her yellow and green striped shorts.

Alice stopped, her bare feet submerged in an occupied rock pool. She didn’t seem to notice or care. ‘You’ve stopped smoking?’ she said. Blake nodded. To Jason he looked like a man taking a stance against something worthwhile. ‘Today?’ A crab with huge razor sharp pincers was approaching Alice’s foot. ‘Why?’

Blake didn’t have an answer. He couldn’t say it was for health reasons that would be laughable, especially under the circumstances. He shrugged and said: ‘Just have.’

‘Well don’t come running to me when you change your mind.’ Alice stepped out of the pool, oblivious to how close she’d come to losing a toe and continued along the edge of the beach. Cathy joined her and Alice pretty much wished she hadn’t; Cathy’s shorts were giving her a headache.

‘Here,’ Jason said, handing Blake a stick of gum. Blake took it, wishing it was a cigarette, stuffed it into his pocket and followed.

‘You know,’ Jason said, once they’d reached the spaceship they’d managed to shoot down, ‘we did get one.’

No one answered.

There were no words.

They were standing, side by side, inhaling the salt scented air, watching the blue sky turn black with the arrival of the alien invasion.

Goat Girl

                                                              by Brenda Anderson

On Christmas Eve, eager gift-givers sat down to wrap their purchases but found the boxes empty, the presents vanished. Worse, whole chunks of the universe had vanished, too.

Astronomers studied their readouts and found, to their horror, unmistakable teeth marks. “Only the Cosmic Goat leaves gaps like that. It’s gobbling everything up! Even regular goats are unstoppable. This is a disaster!”

They called in a goat expert, who assessed the evidence and turned pale. “I swear, this is Juba’s MO. That girl’s a monster. The local Day Care let her show the kiddies her goats. They ate everything in sight and started on the kiddies, before the staff intervened. We’ve locked her up.”

An investigator tracked Juba down and found her at work on the prison farm. He posed a question.

Juba listened carefully. “And in return for ridding the universe of this … goat, you’ll give me, what?”

“Your freedom.”

Juba nodded and found a place where no-one could eavesdrop or make any recordings. “OK, Daddy,” she cried, looking heavenwards. “Spit it out.”

“What? Why?” Her father’s voice sounded somber, remote.

“Because I’ve cut a deal.”

Her father sighed. “Fine, Juba. Just for you.” He spat out galaxies and star systems.

“And the rest,” said Juba. “Come on, give ‘em back their Christmases.”

A hailstorm of goods, baubles and tinsel covered Earth.

The Cosmic Goat coughed, politely. “And in return, I get what?”

“The constellation Capricorn, aka the Goat. Some might say it’s yours anyway. Enjoy.”

“I’ll do that. Leave me alone, now,” said her father.

Juba sighed. She’d better hit the road, and fast. Which corner of the known universe could she flee to? It would take a while for her father to consume Capricornus but she knew one thing.

Daddy would be back.

The Manse

by Hannah Clark

The theme was ‘Romance in the Manse.’ A tongue in cheek nod to the gentle hedonism of the whist players of the Heath Club.

The quince had been jellied. The ice crushed and divided, with herbs in one bowl and sweet almond essence in another. Gin floats delicately infused with rhubarb. Cheese warmed to the very temperature recommended and pumpkin-seeded flatbreads fanned out with aplomb on textured turquoise platters.

Yet as the party dissolved into tugged lips, lifted hems and frequent starbursts of oblivion, it dawned on Marcella that effort had been misplaced and her vast energy required redistribution. Sweat beaded the silk wallpaper. Hair pins scattered ancient floorboards. Fingers gripped the fringed edges of settees. The house breathed it all in.

In the morning, nestled amongst the drapes like bleary lovers, stained glasses with lipstick around the rims idled. The bathroom harboured quince smeared napkins and the occasional tooth printed cheese rind. The garden … Marcella did not dare look too long at the garden for what latex signs of rash decision-making and merriment she might find atop the Nordic mulch, and which if any might belong to her. There would be small terrors amongst the roses for sure.

The house had once again had its way.

The Beginning of the End

by Jody Kish

Dinosaurs were first. It lay dormant until the asteroid released It’s magnificent power over the creatures. Few living things survived. It had died off, only to become a stronger strain, morphed into an indestructible force—resting—and waiting, until ready to consume again.

It began again in a small Texas town; an insignificant asteroid barely noticed crashing into the barren land. No one could be prepared for what the virus was about to unleash. Humans were afraid of aliens from another planet, but It annihilated the aliens quickly, and now humans were on It’s mission of destruction.

Carried on the breeze, It eventually found It’s first victim. It snuck into a tear duct of the innocent man. Itching became scratching. Scratching became screaming and tearing of flesh, bloodied and crazed by the virus, he dropped to a heap on the dusty expanse—a torturous death of intestines exploding from his mouth, blood oozing out of each pore, until all that was left was a fly ridden lump of organs spewed on the desert floor. Even the flies succumbed to It’s power. The virus—a rolling force of death—each person meeting the same agonizing fate.

In a week, one became two; two became 2,000. Soon, Earth would become a blank canvas painted in blood and entrails to create It’s new world, again.

A crimson hue enveloped the dying expanse, as It spread quickly on the air breathed in by every living thing. It’s objective was survival, long after the last human dropped to their knees. Tainted drinking water, lakes, creeks; all became an incubator. Even the air was inevitably poisoned with It’s spores.

Another cleansing—only this time, humans were becoming extinct.

Do you have an itch? Do you feel It creeping under your skin?

It’s coming. You’re next.

The Opposite of Wonderland

by Mileva Anastasiadou

I went to greet the rabbit when it first appeared. It looked white and pure and decent. Only it wasn’t decent at all. It didn’t stay white for long either; it turned red the moment I offered my hand to properly introduce myself. Instead of shaking it, the rabbit ate my middle finger.

“You’re not Alice,” he said in a voice that sounded too hoarse for a rabbit. Not that I know how a rabbit’s voice sounds like. Obviously, rabbits don’t speak at all.

“This is not Wonderland either,” he mumbled.

I nodded. Wonderland was supposed to be underground somewhere and I could still see the sun.

“Are you all right?” my drug mate asked me. My hand was bleeding. It hurt bad too. Then again, it was the drugs, right? I was hallucinating. Or so I thought.

“You’re bleeding,” he cried and started to run around. He should have fetched me a bandage or something, yet I knew he wasn’t the useful kind of person, or the calm kind.

I wasn’t either. The rabbit looked at me in the eye, grinning, as if asking:

“Another fairytale gone bad?”

He stormed onto me, getting redder by the minute, biting my hands. I threw that red mass off me, yet I had only two fingers left by then. That rabbit was about to eat me alive. I had to run.

I ran and ran, until the sea. Rabbits can’t swim, right?

“Rabbits can’t speak either, you fool,” he said before grabbing my arm.

A life lesson indeed; that was the last time I relied on preconceptions. That was the last time I saw the rabbit. Or better, that’s the last thing I remember before he ate my eyes and then moved his teeth deeper into my brain.

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