Archive for: November, 2011

FOREVER IS A ROOM by Charlotte Lenox

Nov 27 2011 Published by under The WiFiles

A forest at dusk is the first thing you see upon waking… but that’s not right. You don’t remember falling asleep in the first place, certainly not among these strange evergreens. Home was somewhere else, in the deciduous country of dawn at the end of a gravel road. That much, you remember, but as for everything else….

The trees that tower over you thump with an unhappy heartbeat. They urge you to follow the road you are standing on, like a stranger leading a child astray with candy in his palm. Looking over your shoulder, wincing at the tight sensation around your neck, you see only empty road leading back the way you don’t remember coming. The trees, as they press in around you, whisper that there is nothing worthwhile that way. Not anymore. Doubt seeps into your mind, but forward seems the only logical way to go, especially if you want to find out what’s going on.

Or who you even are, for that matter. Why can’t you remember anything except scraps of color and memory? Why can’t you remember your parents’ faces, what school you attend, what city you live in? The reality of your situation begins sinking in, and fear crawls into your stomach as you try to dredge up your name, but that’s gone, too. Without it, you feel like just another can on a shelf stripped of its labels. You are alone but not alone because of the watchful evergreens.

No amount of pinching or blinking or wrenching of your mind changes your dimly werelit surroundings. There is no rush of relief from sitting up in bed, sweaty and shivering but safe. There are no birds singing outside your window to signal morning. Yet, dreamlike, you continue down this road in hopes of finding answers.

Rubbing at your throat, you wonder at the increasing tightness. Again, you consider turning back, but if you had once known your way home, you’d lost it now.

As you follow the road’s leftward arc, the trees on the right thin out enough for you catch flickers of a lake dyed in pale blue. No leaves, fish, or insects disturb its surface. Instead, light rolls across it like a slick of slithering oil. You stand a moment and stare, but the trees shove against your back and turn you away.

At the road’s termination, a complex of buildings nestles among the trees. Only two are visible through their cloaks of vegetation, but the shadows of others are scattered all around you. The largest visible building resembles an 18th century mansion with a papery brown façade and shallow, lightless portico covered in desiccated vines. On the porch, a terra cotta pot lies in pieces, dirty innards spilling over to create mulchy deltas. The other nearby building, more modern with large windows, sits on the lakeshore. Paint is flaking off its siding and lichens are rotting the walkway. Squinting, you can see squat bookshelves inside the main room, as well as some low, round tables and chairs. No lights are on and nothing moves inside.

The trees herd you all the way to the front doors of the mansion, two slabs of varnished mahogany carved with lilies. Although no one seems to be around, the door is partway open, allowing you a stray peek inside. A faint stench wafts out, something like an animal carcass liquefying nearby, but you need to know what has happened.

Inside is a bedraggled foyer with a flight of stairs covered in a reddish runner. The smell intensifies, clogging your sinuses. A small voice in your mind urges you to leave, but your feet are turning sluggish. Looking down, you see that the runner by the doors bears the dusty marks of numerous feet passing by, and spots of fresh mud from a shoe that isn’t yours. These fresh tracks stagger out to the side and into darkness, trailing small, moist spots of dark crimson, nearly black on the runner save for the shimmering hump of fluid.

Something is horribly wrong here, but now you are frozen in place as the temperature in the foyer suddenly plummets. Somewhere deeper inside, an echoing human voice cries out.

Your throat strangles its own cry when a massive shadow materializes in front of you, nearly engulfs you. Its breath condenses into a million screaming ghosts that brush past you, through you, leaving behind the residue of terrible lives and terrible ends. You search for a face, some sign of sentience, but you are further frightened when you find none. Your mind screams for release from your anchorage, but still you stand there petrified. Again, as if this were only a nightmare, you shake your mind, blur out the shadow, push against the invisible membrane between sleep and awake. But you find nothing to shake free of or push through.

In a scratchy voice, the shadow whispers only one word: “Choose.”

“Wha-what?” You croak.

“Choose a room,” the shadow repeats. “You have two days. Like everyone else.” The shadow’s substance fades, causing the hairs on your nape to prickle.

“Why, what do I need a room for? Where am I?” Speaking is painful, every word clawing and scraping its way out of your throat. “What is all this?”

In response, the shadow darkens, as if midnight is condensing into the beginning of the universe. It says simply, “To haunt.” Then it scatters back into nothingness, leaving you shivering in place. Your mind jumbles–the shadow’s words at first confuse you and seem useless. It answered nothing. But soon enough….

Oh. You latch onto and replay the one clue you were given. Your shivering turns violent when you realize what it means.

No, no it can’t be, you think to yourself. You still have friends, parents, relatives, a life that includes soft covers and a bedroom view of the lake, half-finished homework, sandwiches on a sunny Sunday afternoon. A good life somewhere out there–you must. Your memories are there, percolating through the morass, coming back in bits and pieces. “To haunt”? Only ghosts haunt anything, derelict houses with rooms saturated in so much pain. They are bound there forever, in rooms where unspeakable things happened. And ghosts, you remember, are dead. Murder, disease, accident, suicide.

Tears well under your eyes. There is a mirror in the foyer and, now that your feet are free again, you shuffle over to see your reflection. The hand absently rubbing your neck falls away, and there it is: the angry, abrasive line encircling your throat. Whimpering, you collapse, stumble back upright, and run, run back for the double doors in slow-motion as if you are wading through molasses. Outside, you stumble over the porch and fall…

…From the chair into the tightening noose of your father’s silk tie. The lake-filled windows of your bedroom flash by, spilling evening sunlight across the wooden floor. Images blast through the white, fiery pain as you struggle for ground and pull at the inexorable tie–the black one with blue polka dots, your father’s favorite. The one he didn’t wear to your first music recital. The crossbeam it loops around groans, blaring through the merciless pain. Your justifications clamor on the head of a pin, a single second in time–the laughter that slapped you, the classmates that left you alone to dig for bugs on the playground, the nightmares of your own murderer (who in the end was you, always you). Then there are your failures in writing, your only lonely talent and refuge; rejection after impersonal rejection destroying your self-worth and will to continue. Finally, the deep, blue well that opened up inside of you, that took everything away and still hungered for more, for every scrap of anything positive. Life itself hadn’t been worth living anymore.

Had you left a note before the end? Had it been worth leaving one?

You sink into unconsciousness… reawaken in the dirt of the forest road, still crying. So it was all over, then. Except that it wasn’t. You could still feel everything you had tried to escape. Your stomach churns, holding you motionless on the road to prevent throwing up… what? Your last meal? At this point, it’s ludicrous that anything should matter.

But what would happen if you missed the shadow’s deadline, now that you really had passed on? Maybe nothing. Maybe the shadow’s decree is part of a trap to ensnare your soul. Or maybe it eats homeless souls and counts on your refusal. There is only one way to find out, but how should you choose?

After some thought, finally spent of tears, you rise to your feet. The more you think about the shadow’s words and the potential consequences of ignoring them, the more resigned and fearful you feel. You see no discernible reason why it would lie. It didn’t have to, not here. Neither did it have to spell out consequences–those were apparent from its breath.

And now that you remember your own death, there’s no use denying it. You had entered an afterlife described in no religion, and now you apparently needed a room to haunt for eternity.

Stunned, empty, you reenter the mansion. The first room, besides the foyer, is a square study, windowless, walls lined with empty bookshelves. Another is a bedroom in disrepair, the bed caving in under rot and mildew. Cold air seeps through a crack in the foggy window. Yet another room is a grungy prison kitchen, and another is barren of all furniture. Still others seem to have been ripped from different time periods and bunched incongruously together in this sprawling complex. All of the rooms give off the stench of death. You begin wondering if this is heaven or hell, or some patchy mixture of the two.

The more rooms you see, the deeper your despair sweeps over you. None of these rooms feels suitable, and many times you find yourself shying away from them as if something might reach out and grab you, or kill you all over again. All of these rooms housed horrors beyond imagining.

You sense that time has almost slipped away. The end is near, but you still haven’t found a room. Back outside in the luminous, indigo forest, you make your way down to the shore of the lake, its smooth waters catching the remains of the never-setting, never-rising sun. The blue well surfaces and opens up before you as the crisp, silhouetted landscape of water and silent mountains. Suddenly, you’re so very tired, fatigue weaving deeply through your cold flesh. You might never stand up again. Dipping your fingers into the liquid crystal lapping at your feet, you feel the lake’s invisible blood warming your flesh, which always felt so cold. Slowly, slowly the lake’s water enfolds your fingers, your arm, and the rest of your body.

But wait, the lake murmurs, there is still something left. Over there. Barely able to stand, you withdraw your hand and stumble your way over to the lakeshore building. A wooden door, inset with beveled glass, leads into a lightless, messy playroom. Large windows line the wall facing the lake, while the shelves, overflowing with ratty children’s books, fill the space beneath them. Chairs and knee-high tables litter the floor. At the far end, another door, cast in darkness, leads to another unknown and irrelevant part of the building. As you move into the middle of the room, your legs quiver and give out. You slump into a cushioned chair facing the windows and soft blue of the water. You are too weak for escape, now. You must wait for the last hour that will call the shadow.

When that hour finally arrives, the shadow appears. It asks only one question: “Here?”

For a moment, you hesitate. Then, you respond, “Yes.” But even though it’s the only answer you can give, the one you felt certain of when you came here, it sounds wrong. Too late, comprehension of your situation is budding. The lake beyond the windows is stirring something inside of you, other memories that are surfacing at last: weekend lunches, comments from flattering teachers, the simple pleasure of bright sun warming cold skin, the house that sheltered you from wind and rain as your one true friend, the parents you left behind and all of the terrible things you said to them, the creation of new worlds and new creatures even if you are the only one who cares about them. What you hoped you wouldn’t feel, you feel now.

If only you had one more chance!

But your hold on this reality is loosening, the decision now made. Your last thought begs of you, in a last ditch effort, to find a way not to give up. Wake up! it shouts. Wake up, please wake up! I want to live, I promise I’ll make it all better. Don’t let it end here!

The knot in the silken tie slips free.

BIO: I was born and raised in Juneau, Alaska. I received my BA in English and MS in Library and Information Science from Drexel University, both degrees great excuses to read and write. In my spare time, I am a chaotic gardener and defunct fisherman. Currently, I live in Philadelphia.

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What to Pack When You’re Bound for HD37531.3 by Aaron Polson

Nov 13 2011 Published by under The WiFiles

It began the as the same as the others: Calvin woke in his stasis chamber to the blank near-face
of Earl, a Sonwik SR-150A service robot, the name painted on his grey metal torso in white
block letters. Three robots shared the Lucy Jean: Earl, Kilroy (another SR-150A) and a single
AP-15 pilot droid. Calvin was the only human. They only sent one human on bombing runs. The
robots had made three interstitial jumps while he slept—three Earth months in the cold of space.
The targets hid in the mines of HD37531.3, the third planet from HD37531, a star otherwise
known as Goneril.
AP-15, Kilroy, and Earl guide the Lucy Jean and kept Calvin alive.
He was the trigger.
The ship weighed 1.35 million Earth tons, of which two-thirds was ordinance, thermo-nuclear
penetrators built to cut rock and kill in darkness. Lucy Jean was a “Hellcat” model jump-capable
bomber. Calvin would have called it a “cosmic harbinger of death” if I was prone to hyperbole.
Chum was. Chum had been Calvin’s closest friend in the Corps, if one could think any trigger
could have a friend. Sonwick developed the Hellcat because of the war. It was a light ship but
strong, capable of making interstitial jumps with ordinance intact. Only one Hellcat, Chum’s,
flamed out on a bombing run—one out of nearly sixty runs during the war, a fine success rate.
The Hellcats were orbit-bound and departed from lunar concurrent stations to minimize fuel
load. Big and square with dark titanium alloy hulls, they looked nothing like a cat or traditional
depictions of hell. Being orbit-bound, they dropped ordinance from high atmosphere.
Calvin dropped our ordinance. He was the one doing the killing, not the robots.
Calvin weighed just under two hundred pounds and stood almost six feet tall. His flight suit, the
orange suit which he wore while out of the hibernation chamber, weighed two pounds and
offered a total of ten pockets. He carried seven pounds of personal items, all of which was to be
kept in his flight suit. Most triggers carried a toothbrush, floss, a small tube of lotion for dry skin
and hands, a small pouch of sanitary wipes, a tube of lip balm, a utility knife, and adhesive tape.
The cabin of a Hellcat was notoriously dry. The robots did not care about the humidity aboard
Lucy Jean, but forced hibernation pulled moisture from a man’s skin. Calvin’s skin would just
flake off.
Some triggers carried other things, small trinkets from home, but nothing which pushed the
weight of allowed personal items over the seven pound limit. Before he flamed out over
HD37531.3, Chum carried a small bag of beef jerky on each run. Other triggers brought good
luck charms, medals, and other small mementos. One commonality was the lack of family
photos, notes, or letters. Men with families were never selected to be triggers.
Calvin carried two books, T.S. Elliot’s Complete Poems and Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis,
both in paperback weighing one pound two ounces combined. A trigger aboard a Hellcat
bomber had to be awake during the final jump. Hibernation sickness could cloud judgment, and
no trigger worth his flight suit wanted to be strapped to the toilet when his ship started a run.
Calvin blamed the drip for his diarrhea. When he woke on his fifth and final run, the worst
hangover of his life squeezed his skull in a vice—this despite having fluids pumped in and out of
his body like a human plasma bag during hibernation. No one should eat liquid in his veins for
three months, but Calvin had no better solution. He wasn’t a physician.
He was a killer.
The stretch between waking and the final jump lasted twenty Earth hours. The thirty minutes of
jump time was hell, and the after-effects of hibernation sickness made it worse. Those who
haven’t made an interstitial jump can’t understand how uncomfortable it is, like swallowing a
stone and holding your stomach down with your lungs while your skin peels away, a
meaningless description. Mere hyperbole.
Calvin carried the books for the time between wake up and the bombing run. He read while he
waited for the jump, and read again on the other side, while AP-15 maneuvered into high orbit
above HD37531.3, a planet with no other official name, although the triggers called it the Dump.
The people of Earth had been fighting and killing those things on HD37531.3 for three years, and
never gave them a name. Calvin read Till We Have Faces on each of his missions, beginning
once his bowels settled and finishing the last few chapters just before he descended into the
bomber’s box.
Triggers were allowed one meal while awake. One meal after the diarrhea subsided and before
they turned their minds to other things.
Earl watched Calvin as he ate and read.
A SR-150A had no face. Neither did the AP-15, but no one ever saw the pilot. It. Earl and Kilroy
moved about the cabin—Earl took care of Calvin’s human needs, food, drink, exercise. Kilroy,
aptly enough considering his name, prepped the warheads. Perhaps a face would have made them
a little too human. If that had been the case, why had the engineers at Sonwik given the SR-150A
human proportions? Arms. Legs. A torso. Even a neck with spheroid head attached, and a dim
glow from the amber eyes in that head.
“What is it you read, sir?” Earl asked.
“Till We Have Faces, just like always.”
“Define always.”
“Every run, Earl. Every run I read this book.”
Earl’s head shape didn’t move. Even a dog might have titled its head while thinking.
“It’s about God,” Calvin said. “It’s about God and faith, how it’s impossible to see the face of
God until…” He stopped. Earl wasn’t thinking. He/it had been programmed to talk with Calvin,
to ask questions and help the trigger feel less lonely. Nothing more.
“Are you finished with your meal, sir?”
“Yes Earl. Yes, I am.”
During training, they told us we use human triggers because of the moral obligation of war. We
were not the enemy, they said. We did not send soulless drones into the atmosphere of a foreign
planet to kill indiscriminately, like they had with London, Tokyo, Mumbai… A trigger always
held the choice to launch his payload or flame out. A trigger could kill or be killed. The enemy’s
soulless drone bombers did not think of these things. Robots did not think of these things, even
those on which were painted names like Earl or Kilroy. The trigger carried the weight of the
faceless dead so as not to become them.
I brought the poems of T.S. Elliot into the “bomber’s box” when the time came. The ship, Lucy
Jean, knew her path. Kilroy pre-programmed the payload to detonate on time. All I had to do
was pull the switch. I was the trigger, and as such I carried the choice: release the warheads or
flame out when they detonated, destroying Lucy Jean, Kilroy, Earl, the AP-15, and hisself in a
final, blazing act. Chum made the choice to flame out on his fifth and final run. Did he break the
routine? Did he think of them as people—humans? Did he imagine the faces of his silent enehis,
those hiding in the mines and caverns of HD37531.3? Were they like the faces of men or God?
Calvin brought Elliot’s book for one poem, “The Hollow Men,” which he read aloud. The words
hung in his ears, echoing above the inhuman growl of AP-15 as he/it barked out distance to
target. He closed the book and shoved it into a waiting pocket once his lips wrapped around the
final lines: “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper.” His hand found the
switch. He slipped his face into the viewport, and when the screen bled green, the decision was
his. His choice. Flame out or kill. Seconds stretched. The distance between Earth and
HD37531.3 slid through the eye of a needle. The universe dissolved in a bead of sweat on his
forehead. His eyes stared back through the viewfinder. Surely families—whatever families the
inhuman inhabitants of HD37531.3 might have had—hid in those mines, under the crust of the
planet the warheads were designed to penetrate. He ignored the imagined faces of children and
mothers and fathers and pressed the switch. The warheads detached and fell toward their targets.
Calvin squeezed his eyes shut before the flash.
His final run. Three years of his life and millions dead.
Goodbye, HD37231.3.
Earl carried the limp body like a bag of straw. He/it laid Calvin in his glass coffin and wiped the
tears from the man’s cheeks before the enehis could scramble and pursue. Calvin was asleep
before Lucy Jean made the first jump, and three dreamless months later arrived home a hero.

 

– – –

 

Aaron Polson currently lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife, two sons, and a tattooed rabbit.
During the day, Aaron works as a mild-mannered high school English teacher. His stories have
been reprinted in The Best of Every Day Fiction 2009 and 2010, listed as a recommended read by
Tangent Online, received honorable mention in the storySouth Million Writers Award and Ellen
Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year. Aaron prefers ketchup with his beans. You can visit him
online at www.aaronpolson.net.

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King of the Two Lands By Jerome Brooke

Nov 06 2011 Published by under The WiFiles

Astarte was one of the last of a powerful race, with power like unto the gods. Her
people had seeded many worlds with life, and she was paid divine honors in many of
her provinces and cities. She was the mother of Theonas, founder of a line of kings
who ruled with justice and mercy, not fear and dread.
Imperial Annals, XII, p. 1266.
***
Holy Mother, I have been given the Sword of Power. The very voice of the Storm
God has proclaimed me to be favored by the hosts of the heavens. Let my dispatch be
entered into the Annals, if such be your Divine Will. By Order of Theonas, Prince
Imperial.
***
“Theonas, the ancient sword is in the tomb of the King my Father, Diophilas. You
must enter the Sacred Precinct, and take the sword.” spake the Divine Astarte. “All
will see this as a sign of your deification!”
I had been summoned to the presence of the High Queen, seated in the royal pavilion.
“I shall take the sword, and return as one favored by the gods,” I responded. “We
will depart at your pleasure.”
“Your sister, the Princess Isis, will go with you,” commanded the Queen Mother.
“She will be given divine honors by the High Priestess.”
“We shall take the homage, and secure the fealty of the temple,” said Isis. “The home
world must needs to proclaim us as their rightful rulers.”
Astarte rose from her throne, and raised the glowing orb she held. Rays of light
sprang forth from the gems set in the orb, rising into the sky of the open courtyard of
the Imperial Palace. The rays merged to form a great rainbow, surrounded by a
swirling myst.
“Mount your chariot, fair son!” called the Divine Lady. “And there is your road to
the birth world of my sire, the Storm God!”
The royal chariot, bright in gold, pulled up at my side. Isis joined me at the side of
the chariot. I lifted my sister, onto the platform, and leapt up to her side. The
charioteer, a shieldmaiden, saluted us. I bid her to drive forward into the sky. The
chariot pulled forward, with its team of four.
As the chariot moved forward, it was enveloped by the growing myst, and the rays of
color. The chariot was borne upward, and began to follow the rainbow bridge. The
four mounts raced forward, into the firmament.
We soon passed the high arc of the bridge, to another reality and world. We began to
race downward, passing the bow of the arc, down into the myst near the surface. We
reached the ground, with a jolt. As we drove forward, the myst began to clear.
As the way began to clear of the myst, we could see we were on a broad road of stone
slabs. Before us was a temple with massive columns of marble, with a towering
pyramid behind, in the distance.
We followed the road towards the Sacred Precinct. As the neared the portico of the
temple, a group of women appeared from behind the columns. We halted when we
were in hailing distance.
“I, High Priestess, welcome you, as the Prince Imperial. We also welcome Isis, the
Divine Avatar. We pay you homage as divine, and will gladly do thy will!” cried out
one of the women.
“We accept your fealty, lady. We must venture to the royal pyramid forthwith.
Follow us, as ye might, to the tomb of the High King,” commanded Isis.
I touched the arm of our charioteer, the signal to drive forward. A broad processional
way led from the courtyard to the tomb. As we neared the pyramid, Isis drew her
dagger, its hilt rich with rubies. She pointed the blade at the pyramid. A ray of red
light sprang forth from the gems, striking the wall of the structure.
As we watched, a section of the stone wall began to open, descending to the platform
at the base of the pyramid. We stepped from the chariot.
“The Storm God welcomes us, brother. His grace is palpable in this holy place!” Isis
intoned. “We must enter, to honor his presence.”
We climbed the steps leading to the platform at the base of the structure. We went to
the ramp newly formed by the entrance slab. The ramp bore steps, leading into the
interior.
We climbed the stairs, and entered a broad passageway, leading up into the interior of
the pyramid.
“We must now seek to discover the will of my father, the Storm God,” I, the
demigod, did urge.
The passageway was dimly lit by a glow coming from the ceiling. We carefully tread
up the winding ramp, moving into the heart of the tomb. As we climbed upward, the
lights suddenly grew dim. We then heard the call of a bird, and the flapping of great
wings. I pulled Isis to the side, as a great bird, white in color, swooped pass us.
Isis folded me into her arms, and kissed me fiercely. Her eyes were wild, and her
white robes in disarray.
“A servant of my divine father!” I said, holding her tight.
It was said that I was sired by the Storm God. He had appeared to the Divine Astarte,
also his child, born eons ago, and lay with her. Thus, mine was an immaculate
conception.
The light was slowly restored. We turned a corner of the tunnel, and saw a great
double door before us. As we waited the doors swung inward. There was a strong
odor, a mix of the smell of cedar and rare spices.
From the interior, a woman appeared. She was skyclad, and carried a dagger of gold.
She bowed to us.
“Welcome to the presence of the Storm God. I was entombed with him to serve him
in his immortality. Come, and behold!” did say the woman.
We went forward, into the chamber. Everywhere, was the gleam of gold and
emeralds. Directly before me was the statue, made of gold. The God carried a sword
in his hand. He wore the double crown of the two lands. Next to the statue was a
great sarcophagus, also of gold.
“Welcome, Theonas, gift of the Nile!” a strong voice reverberated in the chamber.
“Yours is a great destiny, and many new worlds will you conquer. With your sister
and consort designate, you will sire many sons of great power!”
“Father of the Sky, I will lead forth our legions. All will be as thou doth will!” I
replied.
“Take the sword atop my reliquary. Carry it to victory!” spake the God.
I went to the side of the sarcophagus, and saw at its head a statue of a fallen lion.
From the breast of the beast was a great sword of state. I reached up, and grasped the
handle of the weapon. I pulled, and found that I could draw the sword slowly forth.
I held the sword high, and watched in awe as both the blade and I were momentarily
bathed in a glowing light. I looked back, to see a scabbard lying at the foot of the
lion. I belted on the scabbard, and returned to the side of my sister.
“We must return to the world of the living, Great King. Come, let us leave the God in
peace,” Isis said unto me, her voice unsteady.
She embraced me for an instance, before we both hurriedly left the chamber. We
walked quickly down the ramp, and at last into the waning light of the sun. On the
platform was the High Priestess. She went to he knees before me, kissing my Ring of
the Imperium.
“Thou art the select, the Great King. The scrolls did promise that thou would lead
forth our legions to subdue a vast new realm!” cried the High Priestess. “Command
us, Divine King!”

 

– – –

 

Jerome Brooke was born in Evansville, Indiana.
He now lives in the Kingdom of Siam. He has
written our Lady of Silk and many other books.
His work has been published in many magazines,
including World of Myth – Welcome to Wherever
– Blood Moon Rising – Candidum – Danse Macabe
– Indigo – MelBrake Press blog – First Literary Review
– Penny Ante – Conceit – Inquisition – and Mirror Dance.

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