Golem Queen by Cleo Holmes

Sep 24 2017

Ever since that night I’ve had a million people ask me exactly what happened. I’m not sure why they do, no one ever seems to believe me. I’ve finally given up on telling anyone, but maybe if I write it down someone will find it and understand. So here it is- the first ever written account of the Halloween I lost Malka and possibly my mind.

I always thought she was beautiful, but that night? She was… indescribable. Malka was always more than a little bit of a “Goth princess”. Halloween was her favorite time to really let loose and pull out all of the stops. This Halloween she had gone for less of a punk princess look and decided to be more of a punk queen.

Normally her hair was done up in a cliché scene pouf that changed colors almost weekly. For this occasion though she had died it back to her natural color, a brown so dark most people mistook it for black, just like her amazingly large eyes. Sleek and dark and luscious she had curled it into a ridiculous amount of ringlets and then piled it artfully on top of her head with curls dropping around her face to frame it. The smoky eyed mess of makeup that we were all used to had been replaced with simple eyeliner to make her large dark eyes look even larger. Her lips were painted to match her hair and eyes and she had drawn stitches that curved up her cheeks to create a creepy and whimsical smile no matter if she was smiling or not.

With her plaid skirts and unknown band t-shirts Malka always looked younger than she was, but just like the rest of her “usual” look she discarded these. Combat boots were replaced with platformed purple heels. Continuing up her legs she had tights designed to look like they were stitched together from different pieces of black hosiery. On top of these were ragged black petticoats. She had bought multiple sets and layered them to create an almost cartoon like version of hips. To emphasize the effect even further a skirted purple brocade corset was laced tightly around her waist. Her enhanced hips and even tinier than usual waist both served to make her normally modest bosom look less prepubescent, and more nymph like. Tied around her delicate pale neck with a strip of soft purple velvet was an old and tarnished silver locket. When I asked her about it she laughed and trailed her dark nails across my cheek, “It’s just an old trinket I found in my jewelry box. It completes the look don’t you think?”

It definitely did. I was her current favorite out of our group of friends, but she basked in the adoration of all equally. She had been with each of us at one point or another. She had gone back and forth and repeated favorites sometimes, but mostly she just supplemented herself with fringe followers. I was part of the group from the beginning, all the way since she had moved to town in middle school. She had never chosen me before this school year, but my time had finally come.

Tonight was the first time I was happy she had waited. I was the favorite on her night of queendom. Something no one could take from me. Malka had of course prepared my outfit, nothing near as nice as hers… but I still felt special. My ragged hair was slicked back, and my eyes were lined. My clothes were simple, but complemented hers nicely. A pair of plain dark dress pants and a vintage deep purple button up shirt she had found somewhere. Proving the power Malka had over our group she had forbidden anyone else from wearing anything purple, so it was clear that I was her escort for the evening.

As with most of our group events we were starting the evening at her house and then heading out from there. The group wasn’t entirely sure what all was planned for the night, but we knew we would be with her so no one minded. Looking back? I don’t see why our parents were so OK with it… We got in trouble with her all the time. I guess I should say we got in trouble for her all the time. She always seemed to make it through every scrape with no blame, even though all of our mishaps were always entirely instigated by her. That night wasn’t any different. It actually turned out much worse than usual…

Her parents were out for some sort of charity event, so we were able to do some pre-party work while we waited to find out what else we would be doing. The whole procedure felt a bit like an odd mockery of a Catholic mass. All of the devotees lined up, just waiting. Malka would go to each in turn and make minor adjustments in their costumes and then give her nod of approval. As her current second in command it was my duty to hand out the “body and blood”- this week’s brand of hallucinogens in small wafer form followed by a swig of absinthe. Now I know what you’re thinking, how can my account be worth anything if I was under the influence of who knows what? The truth is that I didn’t partake. I was really hoping that that night would be the night that I would finally get lucky with our lovely queen and I didn’t want to mess it up or not remember it because I wasn’t all there. Not the noblest of motives, but it probably saved my life.

It turned out that our queen didn’t have a firm plan yet, or at least not one she was willing to share with the rest of us yet. There were a few of our regular haunts within walking distance and it was decided that we would be starting with a quick stop in to show off our costumes to our friends and acquaintances. Knowing her the way I thought I did, I assumed that we would end up trying to tag along with some of our older friends to some more exciting college parties. Or possibly even make some new friends and tag along with them if they seemed worthy of Her Majesties presence.

We made it through all of our usual spots with no excitement. Everyone that had something to do had pretty much already filtered away to their own activities. The few people that had been left in the various bars and clubs, the skate park, and the “teen center” were the ones who would be staying in those areas all night.

Our Lady of Fun and Games was getting very clearly frustrated. At that point of the evening I was starting to get pretty nervous. I was positive that if we didn’t find a suitably fun way to spend the evening pretty quick my hopes and dreams of losing my virginity to the girl of my dreams was going to be ruined.

Now remember how I told you I hadn’t taken anything or even had a drink? Keep that in mind while I tell you this next part. I know it sounds crazy, if it didn’t it wouldn’t have taken the last three years to convince all of the doctors as the institute that I wasn’t a danger to myself or others and could be trusted with the crayon I’m using to write this. I was completely sober, and I’m not exaggerating any of it. I wish I was.

When they first showed up I thought that the night was saved, and so did everyone else. They seemed like they would be fun with an edge of danger. There was part of me that wondered if they might be too dangerous, but I didn’t listen to that part. One of the reasons I had never been Chosen was because I was always the one to suggest we look before we leap. I was the wet blanket that usually ruined the fun. Thinking more with my libido than my brain I made up my mind that we had to hang out with these people, if only so we could once again have our benevolent smiling queen back and I could try to get it in with her.

It’s hard to describe them without sounding a little crazy, so bear with me. At first glance they looked completely normal. Just regular people out dressed up for Halloween… but then you realized there was just something a little bit off about them. If I had drank anything I would have chalked what I saw up to imagination and confusion, but like I said before. I was completely sober.

The one that seemed to be in charge was the smallest; he couldn’t have been more than 5’2″ at the most. His head seemed not screwed on right. I don’t mean in metaphorical sense although he was more than a couple of fries short of a happy meal. It was more literal. It seemed like his whole head was screwed on a little bit too much. He didn’t seem able to turn his head at all. To look from left to right he had to move his whole body. His entire face seemed slightly lop sided. The features on the left side were oddly smaller than those on the right side. He was the most normal looking out of the group though. Among the others there were those who seemed to only be able to move at the joints with very little flexibility even there, and then some who were almost too flexible. They seemed to flop more than they actually walked- like rag dolls. The thing that I wished I had noticed then was their eyes. Their eyes were all the same deep dark pools of black of the girl they were so interested in.

I was too caught up in my own plans to realize exactly how interested in Malka they were. Our own little group revolved around her so much it seemed natural for others to do the same. We almost literally ran into them as they came out of an alley in front of us. Thinking back now, their interest was odd. Groups that knew us knew that we were all just extensions of her, but strangers always had to adjust to that way of thinking. They saw her and laughed. Bowing they called her their queen. We all assumed that it was a joke because of her costume, but we came to find that these people didn’t quite understand normal humor.

Their leader didn’t offer a name, but he did offer a “fun time with some different folk”. I could tell that the others in the group were slightly anxious and our Queen was wavering, potentially thinking of refusing their offer. For my own selfish needs I couldn’t afford for her to not have a good time though, so I loudly voiced my opinion that we should go. I wish to God I had actually been drunk instead of just drunk off of the idea of finally getting what I wanted. The night might have ended much differently…

As we walked their leader talked to our Queen casually as if they had known each other for years.

“Well little bubbala, you are certainly farpitzs on this All Hallows Eve.” The rest of us stared wondering what on earth this man was talking about but the lady of the hour just smiled, “It’s been a long time since anyone has called me bubbala… I think my zeyde was the last one who did before he passed away.” We were even more confused now. Still in the frame of mind that I might be considered special I risked a question. “Um… Malka? What are you guys talking about? Those words don’t make any sense.” I knew that there was a good chance that questioning anything she said or did would not just ruin my chances for the night, but could also easily push me out of the favored position. I had a little bit of luck on my side apparently. She was distracted by the strange man and didn’t have the time or energy to be upset at me at all. “It’s Yiddish, silly. My parents don’t practice but my zeyda, my grandfather, taught me some things before he passed away.” None of us really ever remembered that she was Jewish, but this was certainly a reminder and surprise.

They continued talking quietly about various things with the occasional Yiddish phrase thrown in. Our group trailed after Malka like a group of ducklings. We were surrounded by the rest of the odd group who didn’t respond to any of our overtures. Finally we arrived at our destination. It appeared to be an old abandoned warehouse. Looking around I was surprised to see that we had wandered into a part of town that didn’t have a great reputation without noticing. It was this moment where my doubts and hesitations about what I had done solidified into a cold lump of fear in the bottom of my stomach. All I could think was that I had officially messed up big time and now we were all going to have our organs removed and sold on the black market.

The tiny lopsided man led us in through the doors though and we were surprised once again. In this shady section of town, masked by an exterior of commonplace shabbiness, was an incredibly chic and modern club. The clientele seemed to be mostly college age or a little bit older, but scattered throughout were those who could have been in middle school and a few who could have been over 50. A few came and greeted our party, all similar to our escort- dark sparkling eyes and something slightly off about their bodies- but the rest of the club was incredibly varied.

The patrons ranged from tiny little devious looking men in dirty ragged clothes to tall disdainful women with sharp unreal features and clothes that could be only described as “ethereal”. There were also those that seemed very hairy and feral, some incredibly gaunt people with piercing red eyes, and here and there a few people who looked at least slightly normal. It was intimidating and intoxicating all at the same time.

Following Malka’s lead we plunged into the fray, dancing like maniacs to some kind of EDM that you could feel in your rib cage. A couple in our group also followed Malka’s lead in trying various glasses and tubes of different kinds of drinks. I was the only one who didn’t have any. Our Queen’s mood had improved with the new source of excitement and my fear was overcome by new hope that I might still get lucky.

The other patrons ignored us for the most part, but a few came and introduced themselves to Malka, complimenting her costume. Knowing how much Malka disliked jealousy in her favorites I had to contain myself every time it felt like they were attempting to compete with me. The hardest moment was when one of the tall ethereal women came over and kissed my Queen full on the mouth. Malka, of course, laughed delightedly and had no problems. As you might imagine I had problems. Quite a few of them, in fact. Luck was once again with me in this. She saw my face before I could wipe the jealousy off of it. I expected her to be upset at me, but she just laughed.

“It’s just a little Halloween fun! Don’t be upset about something so silly. Here you come kiss me just to prove to everyone that we’re actually together, not just matching clothes.” As always, her kisses were incredibly intoxicating and drove all thoughts of jealousy out of my head. She was right, everyone in here could kiss her, but she would still be mine for at least that moment. Or so I thought then.

I don’t know if it was minutes or hours later, but the fellow who had brought us in came over and had a whispered conversation with Malka. She gestured imperiously to us, her subjects, and we followed. The music was loud and she was walking away but we caught the phrase “…VIP room…”. My fear was back with a vengeance at this point. They had let us have an evening of fun, but now they really were going to take our organs. I knew I couldn’t let Malka go alone, and they’d have more trouble getting all of us at once. Hanging on to this thought I trailed along uncertainly.

As we stepped through the doors into the much quieter room I realized that I was the only one who could be called anything close to sober. The others had all had their “pregame” as well as various drinks throughout the night before the club, but the odd drinks here had done them in entirely. This worried me, I knew you couldn’t exactly trust drunk people in a fight or flight situation.

The group of strange people was the only ones in there, which seemed odd to me. The leader came up to Malka and asked “Well bubbala, do you recognize us?” A faint frown crossed her face as she looked at him. “What do you mean? Of course I do, you brought us here this evening, don’t be silly.” He shook his head sadly, “No sweet girl, I mean from before. Please tell me you have at least some memory of your mishpocha. It would break our hearts if you had no clue at all.”

I moved up silently to stand at her side, hoping that nothing serious was about to happen. Malka had her head tilted and her frown was more than faint now. Her hand reached up to grasp the locket around her neck and she seemed to be thinking very hard. “Mishpocha… family?” Her tone was puzzled, but also seemed as if she might be halfway remembering something she had forgotten a long time ago.

“There’s no way! You can’t be!?” She exclaimed in a slightly panicky voice, “That was all make believe, we had to move because of all of that. Mom and Dad thought I was going crazy. You’re lying!” This last part was said in an angry and unbelieving tone.

“What is going on? Malka, I think we should take everyone and leave.” What I thought was a great idea was completely ignored by both the girl I thought of as my queen and the man who was upsetting her. It was as if I wasn’t even there.

“Why is it so hard to believe bubbala? It was your belief so long ago that made us real. Long ago it took so much time and effort to make any sort of golem, and they had no life or true personalities such as we do. Every once in a long while someone like you would come along, though, someone who could give us true life. It took us so long to find you, please don’t leave now. We may have life, but it has no meaning without our Queen.” The way he said Queen left no doubts that he meant it in a much more literal sense than any of our friends ever did. “Even your name means Queen, Malka. You know that you are meant for this, as did your zeyda. He taught you the old ways for a reason. Don’t turn your back on him, and us, again.” The man’s eyes were almost hypnotic, his tone low and calm. I found his argument so compelling that I almost wanted to agree with him myself, but I also found that I couldn’t intrude on this moment.

Maybe I was drunk on Malka, or maybe my lust was more powerful than whatever was going on. I found that my desire to look at Malka and tell her what I, her current favorite, thought about the situation overcame the drowsy pull of the lop-sided man’s words. As soon as I was looking at her face the spell was broken for me. Her face seemed calm and she was very still, but her hand was clasped tightly enough around her locket to turn white. I didn’t know what to do or even if I should do anything until I saw a tear slowly ran down her face.

I had never seen Malka cry, or even seen any evidence that she had the ability to cry. My love as her longtime friend and loyal subject spurred me into anger that anyone would hurt her in any way. I grabbed Malka by the arm and spun her towards me. Shaking her slightly I looked deep into her eyes and called her name. I had to get us out of there. I slid my hand down to hers and started pulling her towards the door, trying to herd our group of friends as well.

I felt her stop and pull against my arm and spun around, worried that I was going to have to fight the people for her. They hadn’t moved- she had stopped all on her own.

“I can’t leave them,” she told me in the gentlest voice I had ever heard come out of her mouth. My jaw dropped “WHAT? What are you talking about Malka? They are crazy we have to leave.”

“No. They’re mishpocha. I MADE them. They love me. I love them.” Her voice now had the same quality as the lopsided man- Low and hypnotic. I pulled at my hand in hers futilely and started to panic. I wasn’t trying to bring her anymore, I was just trying to make her let go of my hand but her grip just kept tightening. Now I swear I was still completely sober still- possibly even more sober thanks to the adrenaline rush- but this is where things get weirder.

Malka’s eyes got even darker and assumed all of the qualities I imagine black holes to have. Inexplicably dark and impossible to escape I couldn’t move my eyes from hers. Her drawn on smile started looking more real. Her face actually split along the seams she had drawn. I screamed louder than I had ever known I could and with all of my strength ripped my hand away from hers. The force was enough to break a few of my fingers. Turning around I found that while I had been transfixed by her eyes the group of odd people had circled around and taken hold of my friends.

I won’t lie, I screamed. At first I didn’t realize it was me; it sounded so high pitched and not at all like any noise I had ever made. More like some kind of computer generated scream than a real one. The people were… absorbing our friends. It was as if all of the life and realness of the people I had known for years was being sucked into the terrifying doll-folks.

I turned away from Malka but her hand shot out and grabbed mine again, crunching the already broken fingers painfully. Her grip was inhumanly tight. Her face was also becoming more inhuman by the second. I struggled, but I got weaker and weaker the longer I started into her eyes. “Don’t you want to stay with me? You know I am loyal in my own way. I wouldn’t forsake any of you. You might not be true mishpocha, but I could make you part of my family. You have always been happy to serve before, so now shouldn’t be any different.” There was something wrong with her logic, but my befuddled brain didn’t know what. Her fingernails had turned claw like and were digging into my skin hard enough that in a deep dark corner of my mind I knew I was bleeding but I couldn’t make myself care anymore. The world turned slowly gray as I gazed into her eyes. That same part of my mind that knew I was bleeding also noted with a clinical detachment that My Malka was no longer the slightly cruel but completely lovable young woman who had run my life for so many years now. She was something out of a video game or nightmare. Everything was getting darker and darker. I was slowly losing consciousness.

The doors suddenly burst open. The woman who had kissed Malka earlier swept in as if she owned the room. Then she saw Malka as she was now. Malka’s life sucking gaze shifted to her and I was able to also turn and see the slight surprise on the sylvan woman’s face. She bowed slightly. “I just thought all of you would like to know the mortal police are on their way here. It might not be advisable to burden yourself with unnecessary baggage.” This last was said with a hand gesture at me and my friends. As the woman bowed herself out Malka’s gaze turned to the lop-sided man. Apparently their relationship was already much deeper than anything I could imagine because she just nodded at him and he bowed and began to organize the other odd people. The black holes that had taken residence where her eyes used to be sucked my gaze back to her face. She tilted her head. “I had really hoped you might come with me. I had planned to keep you as my toy for quite a bit longer. Oh well. There will be others.” She kissed my forehead and I could feel my skin burning. Her hand released mine and I slowly sank to the ground, blackness again descending.

“Don’t forget about me, k?” Her voice was distant and unreal. I tried to tell her I wouldn’t-I couldn’t ever forget her, but I was already gone.

I came to myself weeks later. I had been restrained in a hospital for the entire time apparently raving like a madman. It was another week and a half before I was brought to this place for “the safety of myself and others”. The cops wouldn’t believe me that I hadn’t taken anything. They thought that my friends and I had been experimenting with some new kind of drug. It turns out I was the only one who survived and I had only barely survived.

The worst part about the week and a half before my transfer was when Malka’s parents came. She still hadn’t been found. I told them the same story I had told everyone. Their reaction was different than the cops, doctors, or the parents of the other kids, or my own parents. Malka’s mother had turned white as the sheets I was laying on and her father’s face seemed like it had turned to stone. I had never noticed how much Malka’s eyes were like his but I saw it now. All he said when I was done was “I see.” I never saw them again, and neither did anyone else. Apparently they packed all of their things and left the next day.

Lately I’ve been dreaming of Malka and the lopsided man. I haven’t told anyone yet because I know it will just put me back under 24 hour surveillance. I’m writing this in the hopes that when I’m found dead or missing someone might finally believe me.

Don’t trust the doll people. Don’t trust the doll people. Don’t trust the doll people. Don’t trust the doll people. Don’t trust the doll people. Don’t trust

Bio: Cleo Holmes lives in the southeast desert of New Mexico with her husband and an already out of womb child as well as one still baking. When she isn’t battling scorpions, or chasing down her toddler and his dog, she is attempting to fit in a writing career.

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The Angry Dead By DJ Tyrer

Sep 17 2017

My clients almost invariably think that it is difficult to reach the dead, assuming either that the veil is hard to penetrate or that finding a soul involves a search through a vast, empty void. They are wrong, very wrong; I see the dead about me all the time: I would love it if I could draw a curtain shut between them and me and achieve a period of respite from their attention. There are so many of them since the war, still so many seeking rest a decade on, all angry at being killed so young in the mud of Flanders and desperate to speak to the loved ones they left behind.

The problem isn’t contacting the dead, but locating the one I want amongst the clamouring hordes. Back before the war, it was relatively easy: Most of the dead gathered at places that held meaning for them, usually their homes or close to their families; and those that had left something undone or unsaid were easy to make contact with. But, now, they come to me, cluster about me, all demanding my attention, fighting one another to reach me, wanting me to pass on messages, some hoping I know some way back, or else the way to move on. Trying to find the one I want is almost impossible.

As a child, the ghosts had scared me, but I grew to accept them and, even, to enjoy my role as a go-between. But, now, their constant presence leaves me with a perpetual, low-grade headache and after a séance I feel drained and ill. I hate to perform them, now.

“I need to know my husband is at peace,” demands Mrs Franklin, a large and overbearing woman.

It’s a trite question that’s frequently asked. I’m not sure why people think their loves ones want to be dragged out of their eternal rest just to reassure them they’re comfortable. Did they enjoy being woken early when having a lie-in?

But, while it’s trite, it’s also a question I can answer without actually having to locate a ghost. I let my eyes roll back and give a low moan of the sort people seem to find sounds mystical, despite making me think of indigestion. After a suitable pause and a little shuddering, I ‘make contact.’

“He is at rest. He has found peace.”

“Oh, I’m so glad. Tell him, I love him.”

“He knows.”

“Ask him if I should give Tommy money; he wants to buy a Bentley Speed Six,” she adds, conversationally.

I stay silent, pretending to communicate, while trying to ignore the half-missing face of a ghost pressing into mine and screaming for attention, then manage to say, “Your husband says ‘no’; Tommy needs to learn to look after himself, not rely on gifts.”

Mrs Franklin nods, satisfied. With so many of the dead pressing in upon me, I find it disconcerting to see the living superimposed upon them, somehow able to see both, despite the dead seeming every bit as solid.

I stumble out into the cool night air and my constant companions shuffle out after me, joining those kept waiting without.

“Please, go away, leave me alone!” I shout, finding their presence unbearable. If anyone is watching me, they must think I’m mad. But, then, I’m well known across London as an eccentric…

I hail a cab and ride back to my home in Knightsbridge. Even at speed, the dead keep pace, allowing me no respite.

I put a record on and slump into a leather chair and close my eyes. Jazz wails from the gramophone. I don’t like jazz, but it helps drown out the voices, the demands, the wails. With my eyes shut, I can’t see them, not that it ever made any sense to me: I don’t see them with my eyes, I’m sure. Still, I’m grateful for the quirk, glad for the peace, however imperfect.

My telephone rings. A luxury, but a necessary one in my line of work. Reluctantly, I stand and open my eyes and step past the persistent dead to answer it. A job, of course. I call down to the concierge and arrange for him to detain me a cab and, soon, I’m on my way.

“I want to speak to my grandfather,” says the old man with enormous mutton-chop whiskers that haven’t been in fashion for a long time.

My heart seems to sink towards my stomach.

“Your grandfather?”

“Yes, my grandfather. He was killed in the Crimea.”

The Crimea? That puts the death back, what, fifty, sixty, seventy years ago? A long time. He doesn’t appear to be hanging around and those that have been dead so long usually move deeper into the afterlife, down into its ocean-like depths. Always hard work, I dread going there now.

“I need to know he forgives me.”

I’m tempted to lie again, a simple ‘yes’ to give him the peace of mind he desires.

“Forgives what?”

“He’ll know.” He probably does, but that doesn’t help me. Of course, I could lie, but what do I do if he wants details?

I consider refusing, but something about the man’s eyes persuades me. I wonder if there was a falling out or, perhaps, some youthful indiscretion. I can see the desperation to know he is forgiven.

I say, “I’ll do it.”

This time, the trappings of the séance are less-decoration to gull and misdirect a client, but a necessary step to help me detach my mind from my body and send it down into the darkness in search of a soul. For once, my performance matches with what people imagine about me. Of course, if they knew what I faced, they wouldn’t romanticise it, nor ask me to make the journey.

I sink down through the ocean of years, down into a blackness that must be like that which claimed the Titanic and Lusitania. I sink down, away from my client and his dining room, away from the candles and other accoutrements of my craft, away from the ranks of the restless dead.

I cannot sense the soul I seek, but I can sense it – the ‘it’ that makes me fear the afterlife. I can’t be certain, but I never sensed it before the war. It is formless and angry and, I believe, desires to devour everything; I think that is why it is so difficult to find the spirits of the dead down here.

My theory is that the Great War birthed this horror which lurks like leviathan here in the darkness beyond the grave. I suspect it was born of the rage of all those robbed of life: That would explain why it is filled with what I describe as anger.

The dead demand an absolution they can never have and their rage just grows and grows. One day, perhaps, it will devour all of them. Perhaps, it may even break free to devour us all or, perhaps, it will leak into our world in other ways, bringing death and disaster to rival the horrors that birthed it.

Then, I realise, it’s sensed me.

I begin to flow back up towards my body and I feel the searing force of its anger directed solely at me. Like an ant beneath a spyglass, I feel myself burning. It wants me. It hates me.

Can I escape it?

Around me, I suddenly sense the clustered dead, some reaching out, trying to help me, others screaming at me, unable to grasp anyone’s problems but their own.

It’s close behind me, hungry, angry.

I look around at the fractured faces of the dead, victims of the madness that seized the world, and realise, none can escape their fate.

It’s upon me and I surprise myself as I realise I hate it as much as it hates me.

Life – death – is so unjust.



DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Chilling Horror Short Stories (Flame Tree), Snowpocalypse (Black Mirror Press), Steampunk Cthulhu (Chaosium), Tales of the Black Arts (Hazardous Press), Miskatonic Dreams (Alban Lake), and Sorcery & Sanctity: A Homage to Arthur Machen (Hieroglyphics Press), and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).

DJ Tyrer’s website is at http://djtyrer.blogspot.co.uk/

The Atlantean Publishing website is at http://atlanteanpublishing.blogspot.co.uk/

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The Convert by Carlos McReynolds

Sep 15 2017

It’s not until my fourth trip to the temple that they let me speak to the guy in charge.

“The Grand Magus is ready to see you, Nichi.” The blue-eyed young man who goes by Azoth greets me at the door, his Spanish laced with a heavy Swedish accent.

He waves me into the old warehouse, past the large open area that might have once held lumber or machine parts. An earthy smell permeates the space, red brick walls damp with river moisture. Small groups of cultists in gray tracksuits sit amidst rows of old pews. A few look up, flashing awkward smiles when they recognize me.

At night, they all pack into converted storage rooms, where the aroma of packed humanity lingers. I’ve already taken a look at the sleeping quarters. Nothing there for me, nothing worth the trouble of taking. I know a dead end when I see one.

Since the first days of climbing in through windows, of picking locks, of lifting wallets, I’ve been able to tell an easy mark from a total bust. If there’s a score here, it’s in the big guy’s office.

“It is an honor, you know.” Azoth speaks without breaking his stride, without looking at me. “He does not let many talk to him. You persistence impresses him.”

“I hope I can only live up to it,” I respond. With luck, the Grand Magus is in a chatty mood. I only need ten, maybe fifteen, minutes in the office to plan my next step.

Two rough-looking men in grey robes, one standing on either side, nod to the Swede as we approach. Azoth says some words in an unfamiliar language to them. The guards never shift their gaze to me. They offer no response. Still, one of them opens the door.

An large antique wooden desk dominates the back half of a mostly unremarkable office. No black cloths, no skulls, not even candles. Nothing like what I expected for the self-styled Grand Magus. Oil paintings of abstract figures on the walls. Can’t really say if they’re mystical or just artistic. A few potted plants complete the impression of normalcy.

A small barred window is set high in the wall. I’ve examined it from outside. It will take me less than an hour to silently cut through those bars.

The Grand Magus stands and holds out his hand. We shake. He’s wearing a grey suit–stylish, probably European–with a tie of the same color. His graying hair is neatly trimmed, swept back like he could be on a magazine cover. He looks like an executive for some international bank or manufacturing conglomerate.

“Mr. Lavoisier,” I begin, my tone deferential. “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you.”

“I hope you understand our precautions.” His Spanish is good, with merely a shadow of an accent. Word on the street is he’s Belgian. “The Temple of the Dancing Star does not usually accept new members.”

Only chumps who are young or rich, neither of which I am. Still, when I heard a group of Europeans renting an old warehouse, that got me a little curious. Strange foreigners choosing to linger in a working-class Buenos Aires suburb–had to be a reason for that, possibly an opportunity.

I considered letting it go when it turned out to be a religious cult. Fanatics are the wrong kind of gullible. Still, my instincts told me there was more there, to dig deeper. After I bought him a couple drinks, Hoffman the fence told me about the Europeans in track suits selling gold coins around town. There was a score there, I knew, one I didn’t want to pass up.

“I understand, but then I got to know some of your disciples by accident.” I repress a smile at that last word. “Well, I don’t know if ‘accident’ is the right word… Do you believe in destiny?”

“Men often speak of destiny without understanding it.” Lavoisier raises a graying eyebrow. “It’s true that all existence is a curious interweaving of relationships, yet the nature of this web is understood by very few.”

I let my eyes scan the room as I half-listen to his prattle. There’s a small iron door along one of the walls, half hidden by a large fern. Just seeing it, I know. I feel it, a tingling in my fingertips, in my balls. That’s where the score is. It’s a big one, possibly life-changing.

“Of course,” I respond, bringing my attention back to the conversation. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said ‘destiny.’ Still, the possibility that I would have been passing by that corner and was able to intervene when two of your devotees were attacked…” Attacked by a buddy of mine, in exchange for a hundred mangos. “You no doubt see the hidden working of the universe behind it.”

“The majority of mankind lives in almost complete ignorance.” His gaze shifts upwards. “Even the most educated scientists believe the universe began as a solely physical phenomena, this supposed Big Bang.”

“I’ve heard that before.”

Lavoisier shakes his head. “Merely a crude metaphor which falls short of the truth. You see, before the universe came into being, all of existence existed in a union of physical and spiritual energies. Do you know what gods are?”

It’s no surprise he’s talking about gods now. Religion is the oldest con in existence. Father Hernandez never passed up a chance to hit me for taking the Lord’s name in vain, but that didn’t keep him from visiting the house run by Volyniak the pimp.

It’s not as if the the temple’s ugly side is hard to find. It took me less than hour to dig up their misdeeds: Thrown out of Germany, accused of several assaults. Several devotees locked up in France for drug trafficking. Suspected of kidnapping an Arab girl in Portugal, but the authorities didn’t have enough evidence to charge them.

I’ve dealt with rough characters before, worse than these canallas. Once their gold is in my hands, I’ll get so far out of their reach. So many places they’ll never find me. Good luck even getting help from the cops. They have their hands full with the crisis, the streets filling with protesters, men and women beating on pots and pans.

“To tell the truth, I never thought much of it,” I respond.

“The physical-spiritual union, which encompassed all of creation, underwent a sudden and catastrophic change, like an explosion, which separated the energies. After the initial violence, there was a moment in which new forms arose. These forms, which some traditions have called gods, were the Great Old Ones. They were beings of unimaginable power.”

“How fascinating! And these are the gods of your religion?”

“It doesn’t end there.” Lavoisier shoots me a look like I’m some boludo. “The energy unleashed by the initial catastrophe had not spent itself. New waves of destruction fractured the Great Old Ones, dispersing their energies to the edges of existence. When this unfolding had run its course, what was left was the universe we see around us now. The spiritual energy was also dispersed, mixing with the dust of the earth. This separation is only temporary. There will come a day when the cosmic forces realign, creating new patterns of being.”

“You know, I’ve never heard anything like that before.” Perhaps because it’s the biggest load of nonsense I’ve heard in my life. “How did you learn all of this?”

“Would you really like to know more?” The Belgian sounds surprised. Looks like the act has been convincing. Now, I just have to come back at night, cut the bars, get in through the window, open that metal door. That’s all that’s left to do.

“Of course,” trying to use my most sycophantic voice. “I think you have a spiritual instinct like I’ve never seen in any other man. How do you know all this?”

Lavoisier smiles, opens one of the desk drawers, pulling out a small walkie-talkie, probably their makeshift version of an intercom.

“Sofia, could you bring hot tea?” He puts the device back in the drawer. “How did I learn all this? The truth is that this wisdom has been present in the human cultures since the beginnings of civilization. The Temple is little more than the most recent iteration of a tradition which has always existed, one that will never perish. I can’t deny that I’ve had certain oneiric inspirations which have helped me navigate new directions of mysticism.”

This jerk is really insufferable. What a Russian Salad of idiocies he’s laying down.

The door opens and a willowy young blonde enters. She deposits a tray carrying two brown mugs on the desk.

“Okay, Nichi, I think you may be a suitable candidate to learn the revelations of the world to come.” He places one of the mugs on the edge of the desk close to me.

I raise it to my lips, noticing the sharp herbal smell rising from the cup.

“This is a special tea I obtained in Tibet. How do you like it?”

It take a couple of sips. The stuff is more bitter than unsweetened yerba mate.

“It’s quite good. You honor me by offering me something so special.”

“I am curious. How did you come by the name Nichi? Do your friends consider you particularly philosophical?”

Is wonder if he’s playing some game, messing with me? Best to keep humoring him.

“I received the nickname as a kid, because I was ni chico ni grande.” It started when I was just fourteen years old, and my younger brother started to outgrow me. I was the oldest but often mistaken for the middle child.

“So, it comes from you being a normal size?” There’s a sarcastic edge to his voice. He’s busting my balls. I’ve heard that response too many times, hasn’t been funny in years. At least it looks like the Belgian isn’t suspicious.

“Yes, something like that.” It’s time to disappear. I glance at my watch. “I should go. I have an appointment.”

As I try to stand up, the world slides to the left and then up. The last thing I see is the wood of the antique desk.


“Our guest is waking up.” It’s Lavoisier’s voice. Everything is dark.

It takes a few tries before my eyes open. I have to blink several of times before a shape emerges: the face of the Grand Magus.

“What’s going on here?” My voice sounds strange, my words slurred.

“You’ll know all of it soon enough.”

The face leaves my sight, leaving me with a series of blurs: beige and brown and dark red. The Grand Magus speaks again, his voice weaker now, as if at a distance. Not Spanish, might be French. Still too weak, I can’t make out what he’s is saying.

The beige blur resolves: figures in track suits, wooden pews, brown tile floor, all framed by red brick walls. I recognize the damp earthen smell from my arrival.

I’m still in the warehouse, in the chapel. I feel strange, exposed. I look down to see my own pink flesh. They’ve stripped me naked.

I try to stand. I have to get out of there.

My arms don’t move.

It might be the drugs. Struggling, I feel the ropes. They’ve tied my wrists to the arms of a heavy wooden chair, my ankles to its legs. A belt around my chest completes the fastenings. I’m not going anywhere.

Maybe they saw me casing the place from outside. They could have a contact with the police. If they know who I am…

I take a deep breath. Can’t let myself panic.

Lavoisier returns into view. He’s still decked out in the gray suit, still costumed as an executive.

He goes to a small cart covered with a white cloth. It’s so close, I could reach out and grab it with a free hand, but I have to turn my head to look at it.

“I told you how the spiritual energy of the Great Old Ones was dispersed throughout the physical universe, waiting for the correct catalyst to begin reforming? The energy, you see, has a strong affinity for consciousness, not only human, but that of all sentient beings.”

He takes the white cloth off, like a magician introducing the next act. The cart has two levels. Car batteries, all connected by wires fill up the lower level. The upper has a series of tools: pliers, two hammers, a variety of different-sized knives, three hypodermic needles, an awl, a length of rope, a cattle prod.

It only takes me a moment to understand the purpose of those instruments. I swallow a scream, then make myself breathe deeply. This is not a moment to lose control.

“Lavoisier, che, I don’t know what you’re planning, but none of this is necessary.” I try to sound casual.

The Grand Magus gestures. The two bodyguards stand up from the congregation and come to stand at his side.

“The other connection with this primordial energy is to the stars.” Lavoisier continues. “The astrology you know is but another primitive metaphor for the relationship between the stars and all sentient beings.”

He lifts the cattle prod and hands it to one of the big guys.

“Look, che, I can help you. With anything. I know this city better than anyone.”

Lavoisier says something in French, and the thug shocks me with the cattle prod.

Convulsions rip through my body. Everything goes black for a second. My tongue hurts. I can taste blood from where I’ve bitten it.

“Now, the truth is that the majority of humans don’t have more spiritual energy than a dog or vulture.” Lavoisier lifts up a knife and examines it. He sets it back down. “But there are certain individuals who, for unknown reasons, have an exceptional concentration of this energy. These are known as The Children. The most powerful of them is the Lokakshayakur, whom we have not yet found. Once awakened, The Children will elevate all sentient beings to a greater level of existence.”

I should have gone with my first thought, stayed away. There’s no way to reason with these fanatics.

“Hey, I totally believe you about The Children. I’ll help you find them. Maybe that was the reason I came across you guys.”

Lavoisier raises his hand and makes a fist. One of the large guys grabs me by the throat, cutting off my respiration. My body reacts automatically, panicking, my lungs struggling to draw in air. Fire sweeps through my chest.

The Belgian spits out a word: “Arrêt!”

The force on my throat goes away. I can breath again.

“The Children can be awakened during certain astronomical configurations, but one must know how to read the stars. The same stars, of course, which led us to you.”

I try to talk but it hurts too much. All I can manage is a few groans.

Lavoisier picks up one of the hypodermics.

“We’ve now come to another cosmic alignment. You will help us begin the new phase in humanity’s spiritual evolution.”

I can’t follow what he’s talking about anymore. It hurts too much. I think I might faint.

“The spark of the divine needs the physical organism in order to manifest.” The Belgian holds the hypodermic up, taps it. “The conventions of body and mind serve as a prison or shell, unfortunate limitations confronted by holy men in the East. They developed a series of techniques for mortification of the flesh, in order to transcend that which was not the divine seed. Techniques sadly wasted on mere madmen. Our process is a more advanced form of this mortification, which we’ve developed after some trial and error. You see, we will need to break you completely, body and mind, in order to awaken your true being.”

Their crimes run much deeper than I knew. I feel anger rising within me, stunned by the depths of their cruelty.

“Is this what you do to people? What you did to that Arab girl?”

Lavoisier merely smiles, for once passing up a chance to prattle on.

It’s a nightmare. I struggle against the ropes, feeling the skin of my wrists burn, rubbed raw.

One of the bodyguards grabs my left arm, ties a rubber band above the elbow. Lavoisier finds a vein and sticks the hypodermic into it.

“What are you shooting me up with?”

The Belgian smiles. “Our refinement of the old tools of shamanism, to speed the process along.”

He squeezes the plunger, a yellow liquid passing from the hypodermic into my arm. It doesn’t hurt. Not yet.

“I’m so sorry if I’ve bothered you. If you let me go, I’ll forget all about you. I won’t say anything to anyone.”

“There’s no need to apologize, nowhere to go. This is what we had hoped for from the beginning. It’s why you heard the rumor about gold coins, why we gave you an opportunity to meet us. Please, you needn’t worry. Despite what we’re going to do to you, we will not let you die. Your death would be a tragedy. It would merely displace the cosmic energy without awakening it. We’d have to start all over again, looking for another such as yourself.”

I can feel the tears flowing down my cheeks. My heart might explode. “Don’t do this.”

Lavoisier lifts a finger to my lips.

“Please, that won’t change anything. We know what you are: a thief, a coward, and a liar. None of that matters. Soon you will be divine, transcendent. You don’t know it yet, but you’ve wanted this all along.”

The other bodyguard attaches the wires from the batteries to my bare skin. He hands the leader a small box with more wires trailing off of it.

Lavoisier turns around for a moment, and offers some more words to the congregation. They begin to chant cacophonously in an unknown language.

The Grand Magus faces me again. His fingers hold the red dial in the center of the box. He gives me a quick nod.

The current pulses through my body. My muscles seize up, my teeth rattling in my head. I don’t know how long the pain lasts–perhaps only seconds–but it feels like an eternity.

When it stops, I feel a wetness at my legs. I’ve pissed himself. One of the bodyguards punches my in the stomach. The other grabs a knife and starts slicing down my forearm.

When I starts to scream, the current starts again.

After that, I’m lost in a series of blows, cuts and electrocutions. Sometimes in the pauses, I hear the sound of tools being rearranged. If I get used to the knife or the hits, there will be a pause, a moment of anticipation. Then they turn on the current. The shocks come stronger each time, flames racing through my veins.

I squeeze my eyes shut. I don’t want to see what they’re doing to me. Everything hurts. I feel mangled. I don’t know what they’ve broken. My hands throb with pain.

Then comes one last jolt of electricity, the most painful thing I’ve ever felt, like a fire shooting from the base of my spine to the crown of my head. After that is silence and darkness.

No, not complete silence. My ears pick up a low, rhythmic sound. It starts weak, as if at a distance, but grows stronger.

There is something breathing, in and out, in the darkness.

The sound communicates something I can’t identify, hunger or malevolence or pain. It’s almost more of a growling than respiration, a sinister sibilance. I am alone here in the darkness with some kind of animal, a rabid beast.

No, I realize, there’s no animal. I’m listening to my own breath.

I open my eyes. Lavoisier and his bodyguards have stopped. They stand there, looking at me with an expression of wonder on their faces. I glance at my broken body. cuts and bruises covering my arms and legs. All forgotten when I see what they’ve done to my right hand.

It’s slimy and yellow, almost unrecognizable. The fingers undulate, not under my control, a foreign organism. Like they’ve cut off the hand, attaching a disgusting yellow starfish to the stump. Yellow lines, the same color as the starfish, creep down my forearm, branching like veins. There’s no pain with it, just warmth.

I convulse, try again to break my bonds, but they hold.

Sickly shades of yellow spread through my arm, then it starts to bloat. The bonds strain against my growing flesh.

The breathing echoes in my ears. The same unsettling sound I heard in the darkness. An alien being breathes through my lungs.

I struggle again, hearing the crack of the wood, and stand, feeling the chair fall away beneath me. The perspective is wrong. My torturers are below me. I shouldn’t up be this high.

Screams catch my attention, the reaction of the congregation. Several have stood up, gazing at me, wonder in their eyes. Wonder and fear and awe and despair.

I hear their voices in my head, their thoughts, their animal instincts for survival. I understand now. My fear is gone. I stretch out what was once an arm, now a mass of yellow-green tendrils. I see my true body.

Several cultists scream louder, clutching heads or chests. The fear breaks something in them. I feel their ends, the life going out of them. A small spark escapes, almost invisible, that fragment of energy within each sentient being. The only part of them that is like me, the part of them that longed to awaken me.

This is what they want, the freedom that their animal bodies can’t understand. A few steps and I am among them, grabbing them with viscous appendages, stepping on them like cockroaches, flinging them against the walls. I slaughter them–not out of anger or hunger or to avenge the pathetic body they tortured. This is the sacrament they sought–to join the ultimate, to be destroyed by the divine.

In a moment, it is done. Bodies and parts of bodies surround me.

Gunshots sound out. Three men remain in the chapel. The bodyguards have guns, rifles, assault weapons. I feel the bullets, the hot pinches as they enter my flesh.

It takes one stride to reach them. They fall to pieces in my hands.

Only one remains. The magus stands within a circle of iron set into the floor, shouting and gesturing. His words are strange, esoteric–an ancient language–but I understand their meaning. He hopes to bind, to command me. To hold back the infinite.

One swipe takes his head off.

I look around. Nothing moves. Only death remains in the chapel.

I feel a spasm, a weakness passing through me. It takes me a moment to understand. My strength is leaving. I know, but I can’t say, what is happening. The idiots have awoken me at the wrong time. The stars are not right. The cosmic alignment only allows me a few minutes in this form. It will disappear soon.

One thing remains: the armored door in the office. I can’t remember what it concealed. Whatever it was, it brought me here. I need to see behind it.

In a moment, I’m at the office, breaking through the wooden door, squeezing into the small room. The metal door hidden behind the potted plant looks more fragile than I remember.

I rip it off its hinges, folding it in half, tossing it to the side. I remember the gold I was looking for, cram my head into the small room. There is none in the dim space.

A weak light bulb hangs from the ceiling, casting weak illumination on a cot covered with a mound of blankets. The mound moves. A small face looks out from it, that of a young young girl, maybe seven or eight, with dark hair and big brown eyes. Her mouth opens in a silent scream, the same look of rapture and terror I saw in the faces of the cultists. Something in her breaks. She convulses and begins to fall backwards but never makes it to the floor. Dark fissures open in her face. A viscous and black fluid, like smoke or oil, begins to pour out of the broken flesh, flowing upwards. The body begins to rise, darkening, growing.

Her energy is a not a spark, not like the others. She is a hurricane, greater even than me.

Another wave of weakness sweeps through me. I am falling, reverting, losing consciousness.

Her power continues to grow, her true form unfolding before my eyes. Her dark mass hits the ceiling, breaking through bricks as if it was they were tissue paper.


It’s not until after my fourth drink that I bring out the pistol. I set it on the coffee table, pausing before the next step. The low hum of the city fills my ears.

I don’t know why it’s been so hard to get to this step.

Life has only gotten worse since they pulled me out of the rubble of the warehouse. Between my rap sheet and being the only survivor of a massacre, I was the obvious culprit.

They called me terrorist, tried to connect the warehouse explosion to the AMIA bombing or the attacks in the US. They showed me photos of the mangled bodies–the earthly remains of the Temple of the Dancing Star. After a week, the interrogators started working me over.

I pick up the bottle of aguardiente, then set it back down. I’ve had too much already. I can’t be sloppy.

I reach into my pocket for the bullet I’ve carried with me the last few weeks, like a talisman, a reminder I can end it anytime.

They never found the little girl, not even a piece of her. I insisted, but they told me she was a hallucination, a product of the cocktail of drugs they found in my system after digging me up–LSD, ayahuasca, other things I can’t even pronounce.

I don’t believe them. The memory of the girl feels more real than everything that’s come after.

I lasted three days under the harsher interrogations. I knew I should have just taken the rap, confessed to planting a bomb, even if they never found one. I couldn’t lie about it, couldn’t tell them what they wanted to hear.

I was almost resigned to dying in that jail cell. Instead, they set me loose. No trial, no explanation, just handed me my clothes and pushed me out the door.

Back on the streets of Avellaneda, I let myself believe I’d won. I’d walked out of the warehouse, walked out of the police station. Twenty-six corpses in evidence, and I was free to find new marks.

It didn’t last.

Every day since my release, the world has only grown drearier. There are no big scores, none that matter. No amount of loot that will change what I am, worth no more than a dog or a vulture. The futility of a poor and shabby existence eats away at me.

If what happened in the warehouse was not real, then maybe nothing is.

I open up the pistol and load the bullet in the chamber. I only bought the one. For the price of the other five I’ve bought a few more nights of drunken oblivion. One bullet is all I need.

My thoughts are interrupted by a tapping at the door. Pistol in hand, I open it, expecting a cop or a thug.

Big brown eyes set in the face of a young, dark-haired girl, look up at me. It can’t be possible. She looks like the one from the warehouse, the one they never found.

I raise the gun, pointing it at her face. She doesn’t move. Not even a twitch of fear. Maybe I’m drunker than I realized.

“I understand.” She meets my gaze. Her tone is flat, emotionless. “After a dream about being a god, I woke up next to a river. I hid away in an abandoned boat house, too scared to do anything but wait to die. Every time I slept, I returned to the same dream. It took me three nights to realize the dream was the reality and everything else mere appearance. Three days despite the few years I had dwelt within this flesh. You’ve lived over thirty years, believing this meat is your true self, wearing a name others gave you.“

It’s like a nightmare made flesh and blood. I shake my head. Little girls don’t talk this way.

“I thought you might find me since you had awoken me. You didn’t, so I went to look for you. I thought the prison was a distraction, holding you back. I made them release you. It was easy to get inside their heads, to convince them they had made a mistake. But still, this obstinate flesh rejected the reality of what you might be.”

This can’t be happening. It’s absurd, impossible. It must be another hallucination.

“You tell yourself that, but you know it’s not true.” She talks as if listening to my thoughts. “I’ll help you to discover what you have lost.”

The gun shakes in my hand. All I have to do is squeeze the trigger. One bullet will end the nightmare.

“Do you remember Lavoisier’s guards? What do you think that crude instrument can accomplish?”

She lifts her arm, reaching out for me. The gun thumps to the floor. Her hand feels warm in my grasp.

She guides me outside where the sun already shines from above the surrounding buildings. A low, rhythmic sound fills my ears, the respiration of something powerful and sinister.

The breathing is alien and it is my own.

Carlos McReynolds was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, grew up in Miami, Florida, and has lived in Chicago for the last few years, where he works in data mining for fraud detection. His youthful love for Verne and Wells gave way to an interest in the weird with the discover of writers such as Lovecraft, Cortázar and de Maupassant. He can be followed at @erdosign on Twitter.

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Good Fortune By Ben Lareau

Sep 10 2017

“Just watch,” Andrew, the head of hospital security said, “It’s not gonna happen ‘cause you’re here. But seriously: the cameras keep flipping out. And the weird thing is, it only happens at certain times during the day.”

“Like when?” Paul asked. He hoped it was now. He didn’t want to have to come back. The camera system had been put in only two weeks ago, and he hated making service calls on things that had just been installed. Nor did he like the idea of sitting in this cramped office; it reeked of stale snack foods, and he was pretty sure that one of the two sluglike, glorified mall cops that worked there recognized him.

“Right ‘bout now, actually,” said Andrew, pointing at the wall of monitors that were themselves sectioned off into a gridwork of small windows, each one revealing a small black-and-white view of some portion of Johnson Memorial Hospital.

“It usually starts with these down here,” he said. In one of the cameras, a car pulled up alongside a curb in a parking lot. The passenger door opened, and then the camera began to sputter, the feed flashing with bars of solid black or creamy white.

“There it goes,” the other, obviously junior, security guy said ruefully. “Just watch: they’ll go, one at a time. Sometimes they cut out, other times there’s just a patch on the screen that’s all wonky.”

Paul glanced at this second officer, who looked back steadily. Still unsure if this was because the guy recognized him from the news, or if that was just how he looked at people, Paul averted his face. The guy’s hospital i.d. badge read “Nick”. Like his boss Andrew, Nick was big and soft. Up until a year ago, back when he’d been a cop, Paul would have looked upon both of them with disdain. But now, here he was performing a valuable customer service for two guys whose workday consisted of sitting around snacking and staring at monitors before going home to watch television.

“How long has it been doing this?” Paul asked Andrew, trying to keep his mind on the task at hand.

“Ever since it was installed.”

“And when you called the helpline, what did they say?”

“They had no idea,” Nick said, rolling his eyes. “They just gave me your number.”

Paul watched the screens. The parking lot feed now looked alright, but another was acting strange: a quarter-sized dot of random static scrolled across the screen. After the dot moved to a corner and disappeared, all was fine for about thirty seconds, then another feed went berserk more in the vein of the parking lot.

“Alright, I’ll start checking the cameras,” Paul said. “I’m going to call you a few times while I’m out: are you going to be here?”

Andrew grunted, which Paul took as a “yes.”

Paul had a small phone-like gadget containing the layout of the entire jobsite: the placement of the cameras, strings of wire that connecting them, and the junction boxes where these lines came together before feeding back to Andrew and Nick’s lair. He went from place to place, checking wiring and running a small diagnostic app on each one that he could reach with the small collapsible step stool he carted along with him. Every camera looked fine.

He called Andrew.

“Are there any cameras not working now?” he asked.

“Uh…yeah. The one on the second floor, near the ICU, in the main hall.” Paul was annoyed. He’d checked that one an hour ago.

“Alright, I’m going to head that way,” Paul said. He began walking quickly. “Let me know if any of the other cameras start acting up.”

“Okay…but the one you’re goin’ for is fine now. Now it’s the one on the same floor by the elevators.”

Paul was already on his way to the elevators, so when he got there, he punched the “up” button.

“How’s the camera now?” he asked Andrew, who was breathing loudly into the phone.

“Still messed up, dude” he said back, sounding bored and a bit annoyed.

The elevator opened, and Paul stepped in after an older woman being pushed on a wheelchair by a much younger man came out. He stepped into the elevator and pressed “2.”

When he got up there, he stepped out and aside, letting a pair of chatty middle-aged ladies in, followed by a small, solemn-looking boy of perhaps ten.

“Second floor elevator camera’s fine now,” Andrew said as the elevator closed behind Paul.

Paul swore, apologized since he was on the phone with a customer, then turned and punched the “down” button on the nearest elevator. Over the phone, he heard Andrew laugh, and then begin eating something dry and crunchy.

“Now it’s the first floor elevator camera,” Andrew said, this time through a mouthful of food. The door in front of Paul opened, and he stepped in, in his haste nearly colliding with an entire crowd of people, all of them sad-looking and obviously together in a single group. By the time he got in and hit the first floor button, he was told through chomps and smacks that the first floor was now working. Paul swore again, and apologized again, while Andrew laughed some more and then shoveled another handful of feed into his mouth without moving the phone.

“You’re gettin’ your exercise today,” Andrew said as Paul stepped out into the first floor. “Now it’s the camera in the main hall that’s freakin’ out.” Paul began walking in that direction; he could in fact see the camera itself—a small, nondescript black half-sphere that stuck out from the ceiling. He began walking toward it swiftly; by the time he reached it, he had nearly caught up to the two ladies and the younger boy, whom earlier he’d assumed was with the ladies, but was not. Paul opened up the small collapsible stepladder he carried with him, and was about to step up on it when Andrew informed him breathily that that camera was now fine, and now the main lobby feeds were malfunctioning.

Paul closed the stool, and began nearly sprinting towards the main lobby. He was halfway there when he realized there was no way he could check those cameras physically; the ceiling was way too high.

“Let me guess,” Paul said. “The lobby cams are now fine.”

“Uh…yep. Now it’s the stairwell to the parking garage that’s bein’ weird.”

Paul bolted for that, not sure if he could reach those cameras or not. When he crashed through the door, he asked Andrew if the cameras were still off.

“Yeah, they’re screwy all right,” he said. “Oh wait, now they’re fine.”

As Andrew heard this, the sound of a closing door echoed up through the stairwell from below. Paul dropped the stool and began pounding down the stairs.

“How’s the parking garage cameras holding up?” he asked as he ran. He wasn’t a cop anymore, but he was still in good shape.

“Well, now some of those are actin’ funny…” he said more, but Paul did not listen. He opened the door that led to the parking garage, and stepped through in time to see the small boy from the elevator climb into the passenger seat of a sporty-looking blue two-door.

“Garage cameras are fine now,” Andrew said. “This is about the time of day it usually stops.”

Paul went back to the security office. Andrew was now gone, but Nick was still around.

“Do you guys have any man-lifts—like for the maintenance guys to change lightbulbs and stuff with?” he asked Nick, who was busy slugging down a long draught of energy drink.

“We have one, but it’s a pain,” Nick said. “Maintenance guys usually use one of those claw-on-a-pole things.”

Paul sighed. It was already three, and he had a lot of things he was formally required by company policy to do when it came to ongoing systemic problems. Even so, he had another idea that itched in the back of his head.

“When those disturbances start—do they always start with the garage cameras?”

“Yeah, pretty much. I mean, sometimes it’s the main door cameras, but most of the time it’s the garage.”

“And do they start when a car pulls up? I mean, is there a car in the frame when it stops working?”

“Uh…I dunno…that’s…that’s an interesting question,” Nick said, though he’d opened up a browser window on one of the monitors and was scrolling through some kind of chat feed. Then he clicked on another tab, and Paul saw a picture of himself come up on the screen. It was part of a news article. The headline read “Police shoot local teen.” Below his own picture Paul saw the photo of seventeen-year-old Michael McAndless, the boy he’d accidentally shot in a dark hallway. Michael had picked the wrong time to come out of his apartment; Paul had been chasing someone involved in an intentional hit-and-run, and came around the corner just as the unlucky Michael stepped out carrying a phone and ball of keys in one hand. In that adrenaline-filled instant, Paul had put two bullets into the kid.

“Hey, man, is that you?” Nick asked. His tone was of slight awe, as though he were meeting a celebrity.

“Nope,” Paul said.

“Aw man, ’cause it looks kinda like you.”

“Not me,” Paul said, glad that he didn’t have to wear a name tag.

Nick looked disappointed.
Because he had no choice, Paul came back for several days straight, and seemed to be working two jobs at once. One of them was official: he was running diagnostics on each camera, and checking the wiring, wherever it happened to be. The other job was more like the one he’d had before his unfortunate run-in with Michael McAndless. This began next day, when it became undeniable that the camera malfunctions centered around the boy. The kid climbed out of the blue two-door at the same time as the day before, and the cameras began to fizz out.

Paul knew the company’s systems inside and out, and he also knew the guys who’d done the consultations and planning of where to put the cameras, along with the crew who’d installed them. They rarely made mistakes. When there was an issue, usually it stemmed from a manufacturer error in the cameras, or else the client had tried to screw around with them, or they’d been damaged, accidentally or otherwise. Every camera he checked was fine–until the boy walked past them.

After the second day Paul waited in the parking lot, and when the sporty blue 2-door showed up, he called Andrew and asked about the cameras in the lot. Once the kid got out, they began to fritz. The distortions continued up through the stairwell, and towards the ICU, which was plagued with problems for nearly two hours before the glitches proceeded back to the parking lot, where the blue car waited.

The really exasperating part, however, came when the boy neared the ICU, which apparently was where he always went. Paul wasn’t close enough to the kid to get into the same elevator with him, and so he had to wait for the next one. This elevator then broke down between the first and second floors, leaving Paul and an elderly couple stuck for close to twenty minutes. Once maintenance–and Nick, who mainly stood and watched–had freed them from that particular trap, he was stuck running around the ICU, calling Andrew constantly to see which cameras were glitching out. Andrew for his part was clearly growing exasperated, and Paul worried that it was becoming clear to everyone that what he was doing was outside of his employer’s typical protocol, and didn’t make sense. Still, he spent the better part of an hour wandering around the second floor in search of the boy—so much so that the staff were beginning to question him with increasing coldness. All the while, he did not see the kid at all until the cameras near the elevators began to malfunction, and Paul tailed the boy down to the parking garage as before.

Paul knew it wouldn’t do for him to appear unstable at work. He’d gotten this job by blind luck, when the brother of a friend from the force offered to hire him more or less out of pity. All eyes were on him, he well knew, and if he seemed unstable, or got himself fired from the security company, he was well and truly screwed.

And so the next day Paul did his best to seem professional, running the usual diagnostics and doing the usual tests–all of which he was certain were pointless. However in the afternoon he took out a ladder from maintenance, went out to the parking garage, and propped it below one of the cameras. Then he called Andrew and told him to call him back when the main lobby cameras began to freak out. He spent nearly an hour going through the motions of checking the parking area cameras before Andrew called back. Paul ran towards the door that opened up from the stairwell, and found an alcove to stand in. A few seconds later the blue two-door pulled up to the curb. From his vantage point he saw the kid come out of the stairwell and head for the passenger door. Halfway there, though, the kid stopped, then turned to face Paul directly, as though he knew exactly where he would be. The boy smiled and waved, then got in. Paul stepped out from his spot as the car pulled away; he couldn’t get a clear view of who was driving, both because of the angle, and because the windows were tinted. It drove off in no particular hurry, however, which allowed him to read the car’s plates.

That evening, Paul paid a visit to a license plate lookup website, got a name–Bryce Chadderton–and from that, an address. Then he called in sick. The next morning he got up, went through his usual morning routine, and then headed to the hospital. He parked in the garage, and waited for the blue car. It arrived at the usual time, dropping off its one small passenger, and drove off. Paul followed it.

The blue car threaded its way back through town, with Paul always no more than a block behind. His own car was nondescript enough that he didn’t feel too worried about being picked out. In any case, if the driver of the blue car noticed he was being followed, he gave no sign. Instead, he drove without any purpose that Paul could really see, frequently doubling back and heading, in the end, nowhere in particular—he certainly wasn’t going back to the address connected to his license plate, anyway. Instead, he zigzagged around town, stopping at convenience stores. Paul parked somewhat nearby, and at each one he watched as Chadderton, a young man in large reflective sunglasses, got out, went into the store, then came out ten or so minutes later and drove off.

After a few hours of this, Paul lost the blue car. He was less than a hundred yards behind it, with two other vehicles between them, when his quarry turned into the righthand lane, which was turning-only. Paul tried to get in behind him, but there were three other cars between them now, and the light was red. The blue car darted out just as the cross-traffic’s light turned green, and by the time Paul was able to come around the corner, the blue car was long gone. He was disappointed, but had a pretty good idea when and where he’d be able to find the car again, so he picked up some lunch and went back to the hospital. An hour later, the blue car pulled up once again. The boy came out of the stairwell door and got inside. They left, and Paul followed.

This time they headed straight for the address. The place was pretty upscale, tucked away in the wooded hills outside of town. Paul let them get far ahead of him once he was sure where they were going. The blue car was in the driveway when he passed the house. Paul wound further up the road before pulling off and getting out. He walked back down the hill, and stopped when he drew near the house. Rather than go up to the front door, he circled the place, creeping through woods and brush. All the shades and curtains were drawn. When he came back around to the front of the house, however, he could see that the front door was slightly open.

Paul stood there looking at the thin crack of darkness. It seemed like an invitation, and he recalled the boy turning to smile at him as he made his way to the car. The hell with it, Paul thought. If the cameras don’t get straightened out, I’ll lose the job. If they’re somehow screwing with them, I need to know.

He walked across the driveway, up the front porch steps, and to the door. Through the crack came only silence. When he knocked on the door, it swung partly open, revealing a small rectangle of tile surrounded by a sea of thick pile carpeting. Near the door stood a half-dozen plastic grocery-store bags, their tops tied together as though they were waiting to be taken to the trash. Through the filmy white bags he could see what looked like massive numbers of scratch lotto tickets, with the occasional frozen food or takeout container. A faint smell was in the air—a sulfurous, rotten-egg smell.

“Come on in,” said someone from within the house. It was a boy’s voice. “Please close the door.”

Paul did so, stepping first into a rather nice-looking living room; at the far end he could see a wide opening that led to a kitchen. The light was on in there, and he could see part of a large table, at which the boy sat watching him.

Paul closed the door as requested, and walked into the kitchen. As he stepped in, he saw that there was someone else there, seated at a part of the table that he hadn’t been able to see until he entered the room. It was Chadderton, still wearing large reflective sunglasses.

“Have a seat,” the man said, gesturing towards another chair.

“Who are you people?” Paul asked. “And how are you messing with the cameras?”

“Long story,” Chadderton said. “Let’s just say I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.”

“Actually it’s pretty simple,” said the boy. He sounded bored and annoyed—his tone reminded Paul of Andrew, somehow. “Do you know what symbiosis is?”

“That’s like…parasites and stuff, right?” Paul asked. He hadn’t been in biology class for a very long time, and he wasn’t really seeing the relevance.

“Not exactly,” the kid said. “You are confusing genus and species. For our intents and purposes, it’s where two organisms mutually support and sustain each other.”

“Okaaaay,” Paul said, unclear where this was headed.

“He provides me with assistance, and I in turn help him,” the boy continued. “A 10-year-old child can’t just walk around all the time unaccompanied. It raises questions. And walking takes up a lot of energy, especially with these little legs. He gives me rides, and takes me where I can eat.”

“How are you messing with the cameras?” Paul asked. That was really all he wanted to know. He’d dealt with plenty of crazies when he was on the force, and didn’t have much patience them.

The boy glared at him, and for a moment, Paul felt confused. It was as though his eyes and his brain were disconnected somehow, one of them seeing a boy sitting there, while the other picked up something else, though in the end it was a boy he perceived. He was reminded of a visit to a zoo when he was very young. In one glass case there was a large wooden branch covered in brown vines. But then one of the vines flexed slightly, and six-year-old Paul suddenly saw that they were actually snakes; this shock had driven him to tears, and as Paul now sat looking at the boy, it seemed like the child existed in the very thin membrane between being a vine and being something else. It was beginning to give him a headache.

“My kind do not exhibit traits that can be translated electronically,” the boy said. “It’s a side effect, but a useful one, especially here. It wouldn’t do to have lots of footage of a little boy wandering from room to room in an ICU, would it? People might ask questions.”

“Why do you hang around in the ICU?” Paul asked. His head was getting worse by the second, and he was starting to feel a bit confused. The rotten egg smell seemed to be getting stronger.

“To eat,” the boy said. “Not exactly, but that’s the closest to it that you would understand. And you don’t really have a word for what I consume. I’m forbidden from taking or greatly shortening life, particularly life with potential, but when it comes to those who are destined to perish, there’s more than a bit of gray area, and I can draw what I need without upsetting…anything. And in return for this, I repay my friend”—here he gestured to the man in the sunglasses—“with what you would call luck.”

“So…if you’re so lucky, how was I able to find you?”

The boy chuckled. “It would seem you are misunderstanding the situation. You see, good fortune is hard for anyone to come by, but with my help our friend here has a knack for getting or finding what he wants. It falls in his lap, much of the time almost as if by happenstance. And for quite some time now, it would seem, he’s wanted you.”

Paul turned to the man in the sunglasses, who brought up a small handgun from below the edge of the table. It looked to be no more than a .22, but a gun was a gun. With the other hand, he took off the sunglasses, and Paul recognized him.

It was Nathan McAndless, older brother of the late Michael McAndless.

“Hello officer,” Nathan said. “Can’t say it’s nice to see you, but I’m glad you’re here.”

“Look,” Paul said, his temples throbbing now, “what happened to your brother was an accident, and—”

Nathan slammed the glasses down on the table, shattering them and cutting his hand in the process.

“He’s still dead!” he shouted, not noticing the blood pooling between his fingers. “And you’re…what? A security guy? Still got a job, you’re alive, and the rest of us just have to live every day with him gone. That’s not right.”

“So…you’re going to shoot me?” Paul asked. “How’s that going to fix anything? And how do you think you’re gonna get away with it?” His voice seemed distant, and his mouth somehow thick and slow, so that his words had the slightest edge of slur to them.

Nathan’s free hand tightened into a fist. He squeezed several drops of blood from his injured hand and smiled as though this were pleasing.

“The same way we found you,” the boy said. “With more than a bit of luck. And anyway, this isn’t our house. Mr. Chadderton is on an extended vacation, and in a little while, his slightly ruptured gas line is going to blow when the hot water heater comes on. They’ll find bits of your body, which will be a bit of a head-scratcher, but there’s not going to be any trace of us.”

“So can’t you just…wish me dead?” Paul asked.

“It’s luck, not divine power,” the boy said. “You get what you want, but you have to, as you would say, “roll with it.” There are limitations, and some initiative is required at times.”

“Look,” Paul said, turning to Nathan, “you don’t have to do this. It’s not gonna fix anything. Michael will still be dead, and you’ll have blood on your hands. Believe me, that’s not something you want.”

“The heater will come on in roughly fifteen minutes, Nathan” the boy chimed in. “If you must shoot him, do so soon. And not in the head. Do it in the stomach. I want to feed.”

And so Nathan did.


Bio: I’ve knocked around a bit, having lived in Idaho, Massachusetts, Maine, and Utah. Currently though I live in Wyoming with my wife, 4 kids, 5 cats, dog, tortoise, and a revolving cast of fish. To pay the bills and buy animal food, I teach writing at a 2-year college. I’m a longtime fan of the horror genre, and also enjoy running and cooking Indian food. As of now, my children are not allowed to read my stories.

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ELEMENTAL ENCOUNTER By Charles Joseph Albert

Sep 03 2017

Eight officers of United Fleet patrolship HR-ICPMS, newly roused from cryogenic suspended animation, stumbled into the elevator pod. The remaining crew stared on, their still-muddled faces reflecting emotions ranging from jealousy to dread. Commander Sipsclar, tall with stern latin features, entered last, and seeing their disarray, gave a quick reassuring salute. That didn’t cheer up the crew as much as the obscene salute that the ship’s CR, a jovial Botswani named M’Nfeco, shot back. The Comm Relayer was adept at body language as well as standard quantum communications.

As the shipside crew went to work sealing the doors, Sipsclar turned around to face his officers in the pod. The doped panic they were struggling to overcome showed all too visibly in their faces. Even Sipsclar was only able to force himself into a semblance of alertness through an extreme effort of self-discipline.

“All right, men,” he said, trying desparately not to slur his words, “you know that this is an historic moment for mankind. You know the seriousness of this encounter.”

He paused and looked around the pod. Judging from the dilated eyes and clammy complexions, his crew realized all TOO well that this was not just another drill.

“Lieutenant Casctiv! Stand at attention!” Sipsclar barked the command with a dry throat. He knew that if their military conditioning would only kick in, then these men would begin to respond properly. And to his relief, they did come alive at his voice. Amid the miasma of his still-awakening consciousness, the irony was not lost on him that his men were more at ease when being yelled at.

“All right. Good,” he continued. “Officers of the United Fleet, I will remind you that this is NOT the first human-alien encounter.” He made a significant pause, and then continued. “But that does not mean that we can know what to expect.”

Sipsclar licked his dry lips and all eight of them tried not to think of the unlucky crew of the cargo ship who HAD made the first human-alien encounter. A few months after the opening of the wormhole, the ship and its dessicated crew were found orbiting the planet of the H’Helibeb. But after a State Of Emergency was declared and the entire United Fleet was called in, it turned out that this new species was less warlike than… Ignorant.

Ignorant of carbon-based life-forms, and somewhat heedless in their water collecting. It took no small amount of forbearance on the part of the entire human-colonized solar system to overlook that slight lapse of etiquette on the part of that offending species.

First impressions and faux-pas‘s aside, the H’Helibeb had become a lucrative trading partner for the human colonies, who have since been very profitably reclaiming water from meteor ice in exchange for the H’Helibeb’s curious ability to manufacture black holes.

The other five alien civilizations that human star ships had encountered brought varying other disasters to the unlucky crews involved. As a result, inter-space travel through the new wormhole was now strictly prohibited to all commercial spacecraft except in areas patrolled by the United Fleet. Even at that, the patrol ships were allowed only within a few parsecs of the boundaries of the United Colonies.

Mankind had scaled back its manifest destiny of the stars, at least for the short term.

Sipsclar continued his harangue, striving as much to sharpen his own mind as to waken his men. It had now been twenty-two minutes since they were jarred out of suspended animation by the ship’s proximity sensors.

“As you know, we have done a complete scan of the interior of the alien ship. It’s within acceptable temperature and pressure for supporting human life, but of course you all must remain completely sealed into your suits until the BRKR clears it of bio-agents. All weapons will be at the ready until I give the order. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir” their replies crackled back feebly.

“I can’t HEAR YOU!”

“YES, SIR!” They shouted back. The instantaneous ratcheting of their spunk made Sipsclar grin. His men! He was proud of them. He couldn’t ask for a finer group of officers to lead. Even if they were going to their deaths.

“Good. Any questions?” He looked around the pod, his face beaming with male bonhomie.

“Yes, Sir!” Korporal Casctiv, a robust Slav, spoke up from the back. “Who will lead the way when the doors open, Sir?”

Sipsclar thought a moment. K Casctiv had a good point. Would it be worse for the troops to lose their leader, should they be greeted by a hostile force? Or worse to abdicate the responsibility of this first contact to a subordinate? Commander Sipsclar decided to err on the side of boldness.

“I’m coming out first. I want you behind me, ready with your weapons. First Officer Cnofne will assume command from the ship if necessary. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir!” They shouted back this time with outright testosterone, and Sipsclar knew he had them in the state he wanted them.

“Then lower your visors. Contact in twenty-five seconds!”

Sipsclar smiled a confident smile. No matter what the next thirty seconds might bring, he felt confident now. He and his men would meet this situation to the best of their abilities.

He knew that the ship’s proximity sensor had roused the crew because this interstellar… thing… had continued heading for them despite auto-initiated evasive maneuvers. And although the ship’s hailing transmissions went completely unanswered, Ensign CR M’Nfeco was able to tune in to thought processes coming from the alien. This was an unexpected break, because Communications Relayers were not able to “talk” to any of the other five alien species contact thus far. A CR’s purpose was strictly interstellar communication with other human CRs. Since standard light-speed communication can take months or years to reach interstellar distances, patrol ships and colonies all use CRs implanted with quantum telepathy to communicate instantaneously.

When Sipsclar realized why they had been roused from SA, he had the CR contact home base immediately, and within minutes the United Fleet Admiral sent back a reply: “HR-ICPMS is ordered 1) to proceed in contacting the alien species, 2) to transmit all real-time information practicable using the CR, and 3) to collect and transmit full technical data via standard lightspeed communication.” The last command meant that, if the crew were obliterated within the next few minutes, at least some record of this encounter would come drifting back to the United Fleet base, eleven months later.

Despite all of his bravado when required to act, Captain Namgal Sipsclar was a cautious man, and in his view the United Fleet was too trusting with the other alien species. Before getting buddy-buddy with charlie, he preferred to verify their lack of threat to humanity. That is why he left M’Nfeco shipside; in a worst-case scenario the CR might be able to send an instantaneous warning to the United Fleet.

A voice buzzed through his helmet radio. “Sir, Cnofne here. We have radio contact with every member of the party.”

“That’s good. What are you getting on the cam?”

“Well… the sides of the alien’s, uh, landing platform thing have formed an air lock on the elevator pod. CR M’Nfeco is still in contact with the alien, and… what is it, M’Nfeco?”

“Sir, M’Nfeco here. I’m picking up the alien more clearly now. It’s calling itself Tawre, sir. And it’s… inviting you. The thoughts are still hard to decipher, but the feelings are strong… I’m getting clear positive feelings, welcoming feelings coming from it.”

Sipsclar’s heart leapt into his throat but he fought his fears back down. “Okay, M’Nfeco. Maintain whatever contact you can. Commander Cnofne, you remember your orders. Anything happens to us, you will do whatever is necessary to protect the ship.”

“Aye, s-sir.”

Cnofne’s nervousness was audible in his reply. He hated himself for his nervous Germanic temperament, contrasting so noticeably from the icy control of his Catalan commander. But he reigned in his rioting emotions and turned to face his worried ship-bound crew. Of the faces looking back at him, only the CR seemed unruffled. That comforted Cnofne. After all, the CR had the best idea of what was going on within that alien’s mind.

But something looked wrong. The CR was gazing idly into space, a dreamy smile playing on his lips. “M’Nfeco!” Cnofne shouted. “Knock off the daydreaming! Keep that report coming.”

M’Nfeco jerked guiltily to attention, then recommenced his narration, which was being transmitted back to HQ in a steady stream along with scanning data, audio-visual logs, and anything else they could think of. Cnofne stared helplessly through the viewport at the huge brownish blob that was Tawre’s ship. It had attached itself to the shaft and doors of the elevator pod like an enormous wad of chewing gum stuck to a tiny chair.

According to their scanners, there was a tunnel filled with oxygen and nitrogen at one point oh two atmospheres of pressure, connecting the door of the elevator pod to the center of the… the “ship.” No gravity had been established, but that was a lesser consideration. Cnofne glanced at a remote-sensor screen. Nine human forms were now clearly making their way through the tunnel toward the center of the ship. All nine crew members’ transmitters were working clearly, and their dialogue was also being fed into the recorder. Cnofne checked it: every thirty seconds, an update signal beamed off to HQ. It wouldn’t do the crew of HR-ICPMS any good if something went south, but at least mankind’s knowledge would be enriched by the encounter.

Sipsclar was talking to him. “Cnofne! Report!”

“Yes, sir. Nothing to report here, sir. Have you made contact yet?”

“Well, no, we haven’t. There doesn’t seem to be anybody on board at all. M’Nfeco! What’s the damn thing saying to you now?”

A pause. Cnofne looked over at his CR, who was dutifully mumbling into his headset. He shook M’Nfeco’s shoulder and shouted. “M’Nfeco! Report!”

“Uh, right…” M’Nfeco seemed to come back from some place very far away. “Well, it seems to be very curious… about us. It’s also frustrated, which I think is because it can’t seem to understand me very clearly. Evidently our methods of communicating are unintelligible to it.”

“What about this craft? What the hell are we standing in, anyway? It looks like la mierda…” Sipsclar paused, searching for some technical term, and finding none, continued, “like a big blob!”

“Well, sir, I think maybe… it seems the spacecraft itself is… the whatever. The being. Tawre. I don’t know.” A pause of general confusion hung heavily.

“You–you mean we’re INSIDE it? We’re in its GUTS?”

“Well, yeah–yes, sir. But I’m sure you aren’t in any danger.”

“M’Nfeco! ¡Saloperia! We damn well better NOT be in any danger. We’re in the goddamn belly of the beast, and I don’t care to be a goddamned tapa!”

Sipsclar gulped. His hand strayed instinctively to his gun, and so did those of the rest of the contact team. But M’Nfeco reassured them.

“Tawre is not going to do anything bad! It’s very benevolent. But it is extremely curious. It keeps trying to ask me if it can… can merge with you, somehow. I just can’t seem to understand what it wants.”


M’Nfeco insisted that there were no such intentions coming from the Tawre. But the unlit amorphous brown tunnel twisting into blackness began to look like a giant intestine, and the contact party lost all desire to proceed. Within moments, they were back at the elevator.

On the bridge once again, they continued trying–without much success–to communicate with Tawre. M’Nfeco could detect only frustration from the alien. The CR was beginning to complain of a headache: the difference in thought patterns appeared to be too large a gap to bridge. The crew of HR-ICPMS seemed to be stuck with no means of learning anything from the creature. It had wanted to encounter them… how? What could be salvaged from this futile contact?

The ship’s external scanners had shown that the creature was a solid mass of proteins, with no recognizable structure or organs. There seemed to be nothing else to learn. But Sipsclar did have one last recourse. His patrol ship had been outfitted with a containment lab and assigned a BioRecherche-KontaminischeRichter. This was a relative luxury for a patrolship, for only a United Fleet officer with the rank of BRKR was allowed to physically expose himself and a crew to new biomatter. This had to be done in the complete containment of a BRKR lab to eliminate risk to the crew.

Sipsclar ordered the BRKR officer down into the Tawre with a mobile analyzer. The CR tried his best to politely request a sample, and the Tawre seemed to understand because an appendage of it began to protrude out of the wall and into the analyzer.

Nicuzn Gageasse, BRKR Officer on board HR-ICPMS, began a series of non-invasive tests. M’Nfeco had gone back with him to make sure everything went smoothly, and Sipsclar watched from the bridge. After almost an hour of measurements, The BRKR returned to the bridge to show his results to Sipsclar, Mnfeco, Cnofne, and Chief Scientist Bahf.

The BRKR began. “I’m not going to be able to tell you how, but I can tell you what. This sample I examined is pure proteins, as we knew from the ship’s scanners. What we didn’t realize earlier is… there’s no DNA in this sample!”

Sipsclar blinked, uncomprehending. “What do you mean, no DNA?”

The BRKR laughed the quiet little manic laugh of a scientist whose fundamental laws had just been shattered, and continued, “Well, in fact, I’m not sure what it means. But I think it means that the Tawre doesn’t have a fixed DNA, the way we do. I don’t think it even uses DNA for the same things we do. For one thing, it’s capable of replicating entire cells it comes into contact with, down to the DNA level. I’ve observed it replicate eight different kinds of fungi and bacteria while I was scanning it. Watch!” He showed them his video data of Tawre forming into cells.

CS Bahf gasped in amazement. “That’s impossible! Nothing can copy entire organisms like that!” he muttered.

“This is what’s really unbelieveable,” the BRKR narrated as they watched a replay, closer up, of a solid chain of Tawre proteins turning, molecule by molecule, into a fungal DNA. “In fact, M’Nfeco thinks this is a hint into how it communicates.”

M’Nfeco looked up from the video at his commanders. “Well, of course, I can’t confirm something this technical with the Tawre. But for what it’s worth, that’s how it works with us CRs. I mean, our telepathic communications are done at the sub-DNA level–in information space.”

Sipsclar and Cnofne stared at the video display, amazed. As soon as the replicated fungus DNA was complete, the Tawre proteins immediately formed into an entire fungal cell, then a spore, which blossomed, reproduced, and died. Then the proteins re-integrated into the rest of the Tawre.

“There is no reason to think it can’t clone a humanoid.” CS Bahf observed.

“It might be a way for us to communicate with it,” Sipsclar mused.

The BRKR broke in, alarmed. “Are you going to suggest that we let it clone one of US?! There could be serious risks in allowing that,” he said, severely. “It may provide the thing with some very compromising data about humans. We still don’t know what Tawre’s intentions are.”

“That is, if we do not choose to believe the CR’s assurances,” Sipsclar said dryly. “However, we have no reason to disbelieve that information.”

M’Nfeco looked at Sipsclar, alarmed. Sipsclar said, “What is it, M’Nfeco? Why does that remark trouble you?”

“Well, sir… I hesitate to point this out, but… this communication… well, it isn’t like chatting with other humans. I really have no way to tell if Tawre is lying.”

Cnofne mirrored M’Nfeco’s alarmed look. As the implications sunk in, all eyes turned to Sipsclar, waiting to see what he would decide. His dark and inscrutable features betrayed no outward signs as he contemplated various scenarios. When at last he spoke, it was with a convincing authority.

“Well, men, our orders are to gather all information we can pertaining to our encounter here. It’s obvious we have not gathered much information on this Tawre yet. It seems to me that if we were to allow it to replicate our DNA, to clone one of us, then we might be more able communicate with it, to obtain more data on its origin and its nature.”

Cnofne looked horrified. “But what if it uses that information against us! What if we betray the entire human civilization by giving it our DNA!”

Sipsclar did not look at him as he replied. “I think if Tawre’s intentions were hostile, it would be able to do with us as it pleased. Our little patrol ship is no match for that mass of proteins in an aggressive state. And besides, we’re still transmitting the information back to base as we collect it, so our fleet will be alerted if it becomes aggressive.”

Cnofne was unappeased. “What about the wormhole? If it learns about that, it might get to the United Colonies even before our transmissions do!”

Sipsclar’s brow furrowed in irritation. There didn’t seem to be any way a blob of proteins could manipulate the machinery operating the wormhole, but they really had no way of knowing what the Tawre was capable of. Or whether there were other Tawres waiting for this one to come back, possibly to plan some invasion.

“Well, I guess the bottom line is that if the Tawre were hostile, we wouldn’t even be debating this point. I want the CR to contact HQ and propose this course of action.”

Cnofne seemed satisfied. “Yes, I suppose humans will probably better off finding out about it here and now, instead of back home within the boundaries of the United Colonies.”

This proved to be exactly the sentiments of the United Fleet headquarters.

Within ten minutes, Sipsclar and M’Nfeco were back down to the interior of the Tawre. M’Nfeco pressed the glove-release button on his right arm, exposing one bare hand. His dark brown skin looked, oddly, the same color as the Tawre. M’Nfeco reached over and touched the side of the tunnel with his index finger. Sipsclar was reminded of the mythological Michaelangelo fresco in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The wall quivered uncertainly.

“It’s all right. It’s all right!” M’Nfeco muttered audibly in response to a bashful questioning he sensed.

And then, even as they watched, the wall of the tunnel appeared to give birth to a clone of M’Nfeco, which instantly grew and aged until it stopped somewhere between twenty and twenty-five years old. But not just a clone of M’Nfeco… it was a perfected M’Nfeco. At the height of his youth, with smooth unblemished skin and the muscles of an African deity. And, of course, completely naked. He towered in front of them majestically, blinking in the light, making inarticulate vocal noises.

Sipsclar glanced over coolly at the new being. “That’s quite a build you had in your youth, M’Nfeco.” The rest of the crew, watching from the ship’s viewers, giggled. M’Nfeco giggled as well. “Well, Sir, uh… I don’t think I ever looked like THAT.”

The Tawre M’Nfeco’s hands began to explore his own body, and arrested electrically on his groin. Sipsclar was mortified. “¡Hé, là!” he shouted. “Knock that off! Make him stop, M’Nfeco.”

M’Nfeco stifled a giggle. Then, to their amazement the Tawre M’Nfeco repeated Sipsclar. ” ay la nok zat off make im stop minfayko i will not tolurate zis disrespek.”

No one expected the M’Nfeco doppleganger to learn speech so quickly. Sipsclar and M’Nfeco just stared, agape.

“no tolurate zis… not tolerate THIS.” The Tawre M’Nfeco’s tongue was obviously relishing his speech abilities. His hands were still relishing other abilities of a more physical nature. M’Nfeco and Sipsclar continued to stare, completely at loss for words. To make matters worse, the Tawre M’Nfeco was now fully aroused.

M’Nfeco finally snapped out of his astonishment and asked the Tawre M’Nfeco to desist its self-stimuation. It was able to tap into M’Nfeco’s own language abilities, learning to speak even as they stood there.

“oh i sawree not mean to ufend.” He smiled the instinctual grin of a pack mammal backing down in face of its leader’s authority, but then his hands strayed instinctively back to his organ. Sipsclar’s face clearly showed his displeasure. M’Nfeco was so afraid of bursting out laughing that he was fairly paralyzed.

The Tawre M’Nfeco looked up, completely unselfconsciously. “oh, this bothers but organ is making much demand on my awareness… no, i mean on my ssssentral nervoussss system. Central nervous system.” He repeated himself with obvious satisfaction. “this is curious to me because you see even though I now have body information yess yesss very nice i do not understand mind information… Hardware, no software.”

Sipsclar calmed down. “Well, I suppose we could continue, but we will require you to cover yourself. We will not continue with you indulging in such… behavior.”

The Tawre M’Nfeco looked puzzled. “Well, now, see, here, that bes–that is what I talk. About. Here is aspects of human behavior that must has much significance to you. And something here that I crave to know more. About. Why I cannot have this sex. And with your crew would be help.”

Sipsclar frowned, striving to maintain as much diplomacy as he could muster in light of the request. “Sex with the crew is quite out of the question.”

The Tawre M’Nfeco was adamant. “Yes-yes! You not understanding, this is exactly what I need is to understand human behaviors. And say, this sexy-sex cootchie-cootchie is very nice isn’t it?”

Captain Sipsclar wondered how much of the Tawre M’Nfeco’s request was coming from his quest for scientific learning and how much of it was the result of being trapped in a horny twenty-two year old male body. Then Cnofne blurted, “Well, why don’t you turn into a WOMAN! Then we’d be happy to fill you in. Hell, the whole crew would teach you about sex!”

The Tawre M’Nfeco smiled again. “Well, I would be too happy. Where can I find woman DNA? We become many woman, make many sex. Sex for everybody!”

At those words, pandemonium burst out on the ship.

Sipsclar slapped his forehead—he should have seen this coming: after over a year in space, any crew would go berserk when given this kind of offer. Even though this highly disciplined crew spent 99% of the time in cryogenic Suspended Animation, they were not immune to biological urges.

Their situation was aggravated by the unimaginatively bureaucratic minds of the United Fleet administration, who decreed that there must be no distractions such as sex for on board. Patrol ships were all staffed with sexually incompatible people, and in the case of HR-ICPMS, this meant male heterosexuals. Further, since SA slows down time but does not stop it, the Commander knew that now that the possibility of sex had been raised, his crew was going to ache until something happened. Sipsclar prayed it wouldn’t degenerate to mutiny… or worse.

But how could the reluctantly chaste crew find any sample of a woman’s DNA to give to the Tawre? They sprang into action, making comically frantic attempts, Cnofne was digging through data files, Casctiv was looking for a memento in his luggage of some girl back home. M’Nfeco was projecting images to the Tawre M’Nfeco showing the physiological differences between man and woman, but since the Tawre replicated not by description but by contact with the DNA, this seemed to be a doomed effort.

The BRKR was shouting over M’Nfeco’s shoulder to the Tawre M’Nfeco that if he would just take his XY chromosomes and just convert one of them to an XX chromosome, he would have the DNA for a woman. But this also seemed to be beyond the abilities of the Tawre M’Nfeco to grasp.

Several officers stormed the ship’s lab computer and tried to find a file on human DNA. The problem was, even if they found anything, none of them knew how they could relay the electronic data into the organic Tawre.

Captain Namgal Sipsclar looked on impotently from the bridge viewscreen as his crew grew more frenzied. He knew that prolonged journeys through space were dangerous for this reason. He envied the officers and crew of the commercial spaceships who were not segregated by gender or sexual orientation, who never got this desperate.

Sipsclar was preparing to gas his crew into unconsciousness, and was hoping he wouldn’t be impeded in the endeavor by the Tawre, when CS Bahf appeared from the doors of the elevator pod with a gigantic grin on his face. He turned to look back at the elevator camera.

“Good news, Captain! I’ve found an actual specimen of female DNA!” Silence filled the tunnel and ship as everyone stopped talking and strove to hear the CS speak. “It’s from the exterior of the uniform belonging to SB Teixe!”

The crew in the tunnel burst into applause. Shouts and questions were all hurled simultaneously.

“Silence!” Sipsclar shouted with all the authority he could muster. “We will have order, or I’ll give the damn thing my wool beret and see to it you don’t get anything but sheep!” That broke everyone up, and their laughter calmed them down a bit

“Mr. Bahf… how did you happen to come upon a female tissue sample on a ship entirely populated by males?”

CS Bahf grinned widely. “Well, sir, I happened to notice that the Senior Boatswain was in a rather…uh… prolonged embrace with his girlfriend, just as he was boarding. I knew where to look, I guess.”

A lusty cheer went up from the crew. Teixe’s beautiful girlfriend, Osir P. Taugh, TL, their Technical Liaison at HQ, was the object of much admiration. Captain Sipsclar waited for the cheers to die down before issuing his next command. “Well, Mr. Bahf… proceed!” The crew cheered even louder.

As the 34 crewmembers discreetly slipped off, each with his own private Tawre Osir, Sipsclar toyed with the idea of just returning to the ship and waiting their mad orgy out. After all, he was a fifty-two year old man, firmly in control of his libido. You don’t get to be a Captain in the United Fleet for indulging in hedonist fantasies.

Though, even if one of the incredibly seductive Tawre Osirs didn’t come seek him out, Sipsclar was already leaning toward the necessity being “one of the guys” on this one. And, at first, as Sipsclar sat and talked to the Tawre Osir, he had feared that having sex with her would be in some odd way just a meaningless bodily function, like with a sex droid. But in fact the woman sitting across from him was a real person. She was courteous, sensitive to his feelings, and made it quite clear that she wanted him very badly.

The last coherent thought Sipsclar had was that each Tawre Osir, even though only a temporary formation of cloned human DNA, and maybe precisely because of her temporary human existence, was desperate to live as completely as possible.

Two months later, the space vessel HR-ICPMS, emptied of its crew, its biological food stores, its sewage recycling system, and every last strand of biological tissue on board, was boarded and brought home by another vessel of the terrestrial fleet. The on-board cameras, all still functional, had dutifully recorded the final days of the crew and their encounter with the Tawre. There in plain sight was the fact of all of the crew members cavorting with the shipload of naked Osirs, and then, to all appearances, willingly merging into one biological mass with each human portion of that creature—they seemed to be willingly—joyfully, even—abandoning their ship, their duty, their very lives. Some enterprising member of the fleet made a bootleg copy from the records, which became the most popular documentary of the decade.

And, though the Tawre itself was never seen again, it nevertheless inspired billions of humans across the galaxy to expire into the same, immortal, oblivion.


Bio: I am a physicist and writer living in San Jose, CA. My work has appeared in Chicago Literati, 300 Days of Sun, the Literary Hatchet, the Abstract Jam, and Here Comes Everyone.


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PHOTO ESSAY ON THE HUMAN RACE (with footnotes) by Jeanine Marie Vaughn

Aug 27 2017

“Welcome to the Intergalactic Photographers’ Convention,” is what the banner over the hotel’s entrance read. Henrietta, the first human from Earth to ever be invited to attend the convention, stared at it for a full two minutes before dropping to her knees and opening her camera bag.

“Henri, what are you doing?” Came a squeal from her left. The squealer, a spotted brown six foot tall worm-like being, known as an Oblieque who insisted Henrietta call him Ted, was wiggling all around her[1]. He tried to nudge her bag closed with his tail, but she pushed him off.

As she looked into his beady black eyes, her blue rimmed glasses slid down a freckled nose. “I’m gonna take a picture of that banner.”

Ted whined. “You can’t! That picture next to the quote is of Smegmyllion, the most renowned photographer in the known Universe, and he has a policy of never being photographed except for publicity shoots like the one for that banner[2]. He doesn’t even allow pictures taken of his pictures.” Ted pointed with his tail. “You see how green his skin is and those red bumps along the three arms he’s using to motion to the quote? That’s a skin condition called photosynthesis.”

Henrietta nodded. “Yes, we have that on Earth.”

Ted eyed her cocoa colored skin skeptically. Henrietta snorted.

“Not humans, silly!” She hefted a large camera out of her bag with the telephoto lense already attached. “The plants on our planet do it. But that doesn’t explain why I can’t take a picture of his picture on a banner.”

Ted’s head wavered back and forth. “You just can’t! It isn’t done.” His whine turning desperate. “And don’t you remember? You signed a contract!”

“Yes. I signed a contract not to take pictures INSIDE the convention. If you hadn’t noticed, we’re still outside.” She looked up at the purple sky and wondered if she should get her flash out. Probably not for an outside shot.

“Well, yeah, ummm…” Ted stammered, feeling panicked. His skin began to take on the grayish hue of the wavy path they were standing on. “It’s just, you don’t understand. It’s not done!”

She turned to face him. “Look Ted. I’ve been taking pictures the whole way here, through three different galaxies, a wormhole, and a space port. You uttered not a peep. I even have a few pictures of you! What makes taking a picture of a banner so utterly wrong?”

“He’ll sue!” Ted wailed.

Henrietta thought about that for a minute. “Really? Well I’ve never seen the inside of a Space Station Court House so it might be worth it.” She snapped the picture and packed the camera back up. “Shall we go in?”

If Ted had been able to sweat, he would have been a dripping mess. As it was, he felt like he was going to shed his skin and it wasn’t even molting season. Fortunately, no one had been around to see the human’s faux pas, so he thought they might be okay. He nodded, motioning for her to lead the way.

There were booths all around the floor of the convention. Some were still in the process of setting up, but the majority were set and the photographers were lounging, with bored looks on their faces.

“We really are late,” Henrietta mumbled half to herself and half to Ted. Ted was already slithering ahead of her, so she had to scurry to catch up, pulling her cart of supplies behind her. Even though she was hurrying, she noticed all the odd looks she was getting. He led her to a booth all the way in the back of the convention hall. Once she had all her pictures on their stands, Ted started to slither off, but she caught him by his lapel. She quickly found that she couldn’t hold him[3].

“Do you mind?” He huffed, coming back to slide back into the fabric. “I have other obligations besides babysitting the newbie.”

Henrietta cocked an eyebrow. “Sorry to waste your time. I just have a question. That’s all.”

Ted sighed. Of course she had a question. The new ones always did. He was actually surprised that she hadn’t been pelting him with questions their entire trip “Yes, yes, of course. Go ahead.”

“Two questions, actually. Why is everyone staring at me? I mean, I’m not the oddest looking creature here. And, will I be able to understand anyone other than you?”

Ted grinned. “Oh that. Well, you know how I told you there’d never been a human at the Photographers’ Convention?” Henrietta nodded. “While that’s true, it’s just not the whole truth. The thing is, there has never been a human at any of the Intergalactic Conventions because the Consortium of Planets have never before believed that humans had anything to offer. I disagreed and petitioned for the opportunity to be one of the Earth scouts. Then I found you.” His face was very smug. “As far as understanding goes, you won’t be able to understand any of them unless Peeve is attached to you[4]. Fortunately, Peeve has taken to you and wants nothing more than to stay with you. She especially loves your cashmere sweater.”

Henrietta looked down at what she had thought was a pendant that Ted had pinned onto her sweater and realized it was Peeve. Henrietta grinned and gently stroked her little companion with a finger. Peeve made a trilling, purring sound.

“Aw, see? She really likes you!” Ted wiggled away, humming to himself.

Henrietta stood at her booth feeling nervous and out of place. She knew this was a big step for her photography, but was still not quite sure how she was the first human to ever be where she was. After all, she’d only ever won one award. True, it was first place, but it was through her community college. Ted had been her instructor, so when he told her she had been selected for a photographer’s convention near his home and that he wanted to drive her, she thought they were going to be traveling to New York and had been very excited. She made the error of signing the contract without reading it closely and hadn’t even thought twice when Ted insisted she see his doctor for a blood test and retina scan.

“Excuse me.” A pompous sounding voice jolted her out of her revery. She looked up and up and found herself looking at an eight-foot tall creature with golden hair all over it’s face and neck and hands[5]. The rest of the body was covered in what looked like a purple suit, but moved like a robe. “You’re the Earthean, right?”

Henrietta nodded, unable to stop staring. The face pulled into what she could only presume was a smile but two large fangs protruded from the lower jaw that gave the smile a menacing look. The being then bowed and held a hand twice as large as Henrietta’s head. It had three monster fingers that were covered on both sides with golden fur. “My name is Gamoblyxitooniym, but you can call me Ga.”

After a second, Henrietta clasped Ga’s enormous hand between her two hands. “My name is Henrietta, but you can call me Henri.”

If it was at all possible, Ga’s smile widened even further as they shook hands. “Did I do it right?” Ga’s question pulled the I out like taffy.

Lowering her hand, Henrietta was trying not to tremble since Ga’s smile made her think of being eaten. She blinked. “Pardon?”

Ga’s smile slipped a bit. “Did I do it right?”

Henrietta gave Ga a perplexed look. “Do what right?”

“The hand-shake thing.” Ga’s hands fluttered as they talked[6]. “So, I’ve been studying primitive worldlings in my Other World Analysis class at University and we just got to the chapter on Earthenoids. I wanted to try out that weird greeting your kind does so I did that bowing thing then shook your hand.”

Plastering a smile on her face, Henrietta tried not to be offended by the term primitive worldling or the snide sound to Earthenoid. Ted had cautioned her not to take any condescension personally. “You did it perfectly.”

“Oh, that is so delightful!” Ga beamed, stamping and clasping their hands to their chest. The floor of the convention hall shook and several of the other photographers glared over at Henrietta’s booth as they straightened their displays.

“So where’s your booth?” Henrietta asked.

“Oh, I don’t have a booth.” Ga looked down then pulled at a cord from around their neck. Hanging from the lanyard was a long ID badge that looked a lot like almost any convention badge that Henrietta had seen when she was on earth. The big difference was that this one was littered with a bunch of different tiny squiggles and symbols. Ga held it up and pointed to one of the middle squiggles. After staring at it for a moment, Henrietta realized it was a language, a human language to be precise. She took it into her hands and squinted at it. She gave a bark of laughter when it became clear. She was looking at the word “volunteer” in Mandarin[7].

“Wait, how did I know that this says volunteer and that it’s in Chinese?”

Ga chortled. “Oh silly, all Earthanoids speak Chinese.”

Henrietta was about to contradict them, but then Peeve purred and nudged Henrietta’s chin. She looked down to see that the little one had crawled up onto her collar. She petted her gently. “Well aren’t you the sweetest! I didn’t know you did written words too.” Peeve preened.

“Oh!” Ga gasped. “You aren’t speaking Chinese? What are you speaking?”


Ga nodded, though they had no clue what English was. “You must be from one of the more remote areas on Earth. I do apologize.”

Henrietta was too perplexed to do anything but nod.

Ga bowed. “I must leave, my new friend Henri. I have to help the Martians.” They motioned with their chin to a table just three feet away from Henrietta’s. There were four creatures that were all red, naked, and shaped like rocks. Ga leaned in close. “I don’t like them. I know they come from the same Galaxy as you, but those Martians are a pretty exclusive clique of photographers.” Ga shook their head sadly and walked over to the Martian’s booth.

Henrietta wasn’t certain, but the Martians seemed to be snubbing her on purpose. Their rocky bodies had eyes that protruded from the tops of their heads that looked like smaller rocks on a swivel. But every time their eyes reached her booth, they gazed over her head[8].

“Ah, pray tell, what is this Human Race?” The creature addressing Henrietta had five eyes, three heads, and a body shaped like a basketball though colored green instead of orange and with six skinny tentacular appendages[9]. They were holding what looked like a clipboard and making marks on it with its yellow tongue that leaked a grayish ink-like substance from the tip. Three of the tiny tentacles were tasked with moving the creature as well as keeping it balanced, something the appendages seemed uneasy with since the creature was constantly swaying, giving it an almost drunk appearance. The motion was making Henrietta dizzy, so she looked away as the octopus like creature was waving a tentacle in the air while pressing the clipboard to their chest.

“Oh, my apologies, dear one! I seemed to have made a cultural faux pas. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Lord Raymond Halstead the third[10].” He did something that looked like it might have been a bow or him trying not to fall over.

Bowing back, Henrietta cleared her throat. “My name is Henrietta Bobinstock the first.” She didn’t know why she added the first to her name, but was satisfied with it once it came out.

“A pleasure. Now to my question, what is the human race?”

“Well, the human race is the dominant species on planet Earth[11]. I have photographed humans from all over the world.” She indicated one picture after another as Sir Raymond took notes.

“I see,” he said finally. “But what are they racing for or against?”

Henrietta blinked. “Oh, it’s not a race like that.” She glanced down at Peeve. “It’s the same word, but it has a different meaning in my language. The way I was using it meant species.”

“Then why didn’t you just say that?” He chuckled. “These are very good. Unusual techniques, but well executed. I’m going to nominate you myself. You might just win.”

“Win?” Henrietta asked. “What do you mean win?”

“Why the contest, dear human of Earth. Gotta go now. Ta-ta!”

Henrietta stared after him. Ga came stumbling back over waving their large hands in excitement. “Oh isn’t that wonderful? Lord Raymond Halsted the third rarely ever goes over to the newest booth unless something spectacular catches at least three of his eyes!”

Henrietta smiled. “Oh! Well, that’s good. Can you tell me about the contest?”

All the excitement and energy seemed to drain out of Ga. “Wh-what? He told you that you were in the contest?”

Henrietta nodded. “He said he’d nominate me. That’s a good thing, right?”

“Weeeeell…” Ga gulped. “So it’s a good thing to be noticed, but the contest isn’t usually open to newbies, but I guess Lord Raymond is making an exception… which is, in fact, bad.”

Henrietta tilted her head. “I don’t get it. I mean, wouldn’t it be good to be in a contest?”

Ga sighed. “The thing is, the winner gets to choose who the loser is and the rumor has been that the Martian Consortium will most likely be winning this year. They really hate that you’re here, that’s all they talked about while I was over there helping them, so they’ll definitely make you the loser.”

“Okay. What happens to the loser?”

“Oh, just a moment.” Ga hurried over to a stack of chairs against the wall and dragged the largest one over to Henrietta’s booth to mirror her sitting position. Once settled, Ga’s long and pointed tongue flicked in and out of their mouth[12].

“Well, the loser can’t enter, or be entered, into the contest for the next, what is it… Five hundred years, I think? Plus, they’re banned from doing any photography for a year. The last part of the punishment is that all the pictures entered into the contest get burned.”

Henrietta’s eyes were wide as saucers. “No!”

Ga nodded slowly. “I know, it’s kind of… Oh, there’s one more thing… What was it?” Ga tapped a finger against their large lip. “Oh yeah! The losing photographer is forced to space walk, nude[13].”

Henrietta fainted.


“Hello?” A green tentacle was waving in front of her face. She followed the movement with her eyes. There were tracers of slightly lighter green in the air behind the arm. It was very pretty. “Are you alright?”

Henrietta stopped tracking the movement. She saw that she was in a small corner of the larger room. Behind her was an orange wall and a large window that showed a red and stormy sky. She was on something like a couch, but it seemed to move and adjust to her whenever she shifted. She focused on the face in front of her own. It was yellow, with a hint of green. The eyes, there were four of them, were golden and blinked in a slow succession as the large purple mouth frowned. Just below the chin, she thought it must be a chin, was a black and white polkadotted ascot. Below that, was a cluster of tentacles.

Henrietta sat up a little straighter. “Hey, you look like that Smegmyllion on the banner!”

The creature gave a low chuckle. He straightened, all three feet of him, and nodded. “That would be because I am he, or he is me!”

“Oh!” Henrietta gasped. “Ted says you’re famous.” At that moment, Ted slithered into the room, adjusting his tie with his tongue.

Smegmyllion turned to Ted. “Ted, I presume?”

Ted dipped his head in a bow. “It is an honor and a privilege to…”

At this point, Henrietta heard a high pitched squealing instead of words. She covered her ears and glanced down, noticing that Peeve was no longer on her sweater. Looking quickly towards Smegmyllion, she saw that Peeve was mid-launch from her sweater to Smegmyllion’s ascot. Henrietta reached out, cringing at the squealing, and caught her. As soon as her fingers touched Peeve, the squeals stopped.

“…nominated despite being new!” Ted said. Smegmyllion was nodding and looking over at Henrietta’s pictures.

Cupping her palm to hold Peeve, Henrietta looked down at the little one. “Peeve, why did you try to leave me?”

Peeve sat cross-legged in the center of her palm. “This is the first time you ever talked to me. Smegmyllion would talk to me all the time after Ted found him. I missed that.”

“Oh Peeve, I’m so sorry! I will talk to you. So you know Smegmyllion?”

“Of course! I was his translator for three decades[14]. But then he went and got famous, requiring a fancier Clusterinian and my cousin Eddie got the job. I hate Eddie so much! He’s the reason why I jumped off of you. I was going to go fight him. I’m glad you caught me! He’s so much bigger than me and would’ve pummeled me. But since I jumped, it’ll look like I was going to smash him, and you stopped me.” Peeve stood up, leaned over and hugged Henrietta’s thumb.

She glanced over at Smegmyllion’s ascot and saw a bigger Clusterinian making faces at Peeve and shaking a tiny fist.

Henrietta looked back down and smiled. “Glad I could help.”

Peeve kissed Henrietta’s thumb then launched herself back onto Henrietta’s sweater.

“And I promise,” Henrietta whispered. “I’ll talk to you more.” Peeve purred.

Looking up, Henrietta noticed that the entire place had gone silent. Smegmyllion was on a platform in the middle of the room that hovered about five feet in the air and was talking.

“My fellow photographers! It is with great honor that I am here today to announce the winner of the Intergalactic Photographers’ Convention 1,056,003 Best Photo Series Contest. After winning it for the last three decades, I am delighted to pass it on to…” At this point he held out a tentacle and a round orb sitting on his utmost suction cup lit up, giving off a purplish glow. Smegmyllion’s four eyes blinked one after the other in rapid succession. He shook the orb, it whistled at him, he shook it again.

“Get on with it!”

Henrietta couldn’t see where the deep voice came from, but it rumbled the very floor.

Smegmyllion nodded. “This is quite a surprise! The winner is Henrietta Bobinstock the first!”

After a second of silence, the word WHO shouted from every corner of the hall. But no one was as surprised as Henrietta. She stood up from the couch and looked around. She saw Ga clapping, the Martians glaring, Ted preening with pride, and Lord Raymond Halstead the third winking at her.

“Peeve,” she whispered, “what’s going on?”

“I think Lord Raymond Halstead the third pulled some strings.”


Peeve made a trilling sound. “I think he likes you, or at least your photography.”

“So he bribed the judges?”

“Not really. He is the judges, or rather, the judge. You really must’ve impressed him.”

Ted had wrapped his tail around Henrietta’s wrist and was pulling her over to where the platform was lowering. She stepped up on it and allowed Smegmyllion to put something like a ribbon around her neck. A heavy plate-sized hunk of metal hung from it. She held it up so she could see it better. It was silverish and ugly.

“Thank you,” she said, shaking Smegmyllion’s extended tentacle. The room filled with clicks and flashes as each photographer snapped a picture. She was just looking around to see if Ted was taking a picture when three mouths with wings flew at each photographer and swallowed their cameras.

Smegmyllion smiled, stepping off the platform. “No pictures, remember, it’s in my contract.”

Lord Raymond Halstead the third, who had climbed up as Smegmyllion stepped down, nodded his furthest head. The one closest to her whispered, “Now comes the best part.”

The middle head smiled out at the crowd then spoke, “As is custom, the winner gets to nominate the loser.”

Henrietta shook her head, thinking that she hadn’t even had a chance to walk around and look at all the pictures. As she was just about to say that she had no desire to nominate anyone, Ga spoke up from the floor. “She nominates the Martian Consortium.”

“No!” Henrietta shouted as she saw all four rock-like creature turn to glare at her. “I nominate no one!”

“Hey!” Came a small voice from the floor. “We’re not all trash! That’s just mean! You didn’t even stop by my booth. I know I’m small but…”

“Peeve!” Henrietta breathed through clenched teeth.

“Oh sorry,” Peeve said and farted out a better translation of what she said.

“You can’t do that,” said Lord Raymond Halstead the third. “You have to nominate someone. It’s tradition.”

All the other creatures murmured in agreement.

“Fine!” She said. “I nominate myself.” She took off the ribbon and handed it to Lord Raymond Halstead the third. “But since I won, I believe my winning cancels out my losing. Now I want to go home.”

She jumped off the platform and pushed through the crowd towards her booth. As the voices around her rose to a fevered pitch of confusion, she saw Ted. He and Ga were hurriedly packing her staff. Ga motioned her over then quickly led them through a curtain to a door leading out the back of the Convention center.

“We’ll take my ship!” Ga called over their shoulder as the wind was whipping red sand all around them. “It’s the closest!”

Henrietta could just barely see Ted, but was able to follow him. She pulled her wagon, leaning into the wind. The air crackled, sending little electric shocks along her flesh, causing all her hair to stand on end. She reached the ship just as the first raindrops hit her skin. This water was thicker and stickier than Earth’s water so she was happy to be inside the ship when it started pouring. Ga gave her a towel to dry off with, showed her to a couch identical to the one they had lain her on when she fainted, and strapped her in.

“This was the best convention ever! And now, we go to Earth!”

Peeve trilled, she had loved being a mastiff. Ted groaned. While he had enjoyed being human, he had been looking forward to taking on another form. He was also concerned about bringing Ga to Earth. Since the Tryklorians cannot change shape, some humans were sure to notice the massive, golden haired creature trying to imitate them. But the more he thought about it, the more the thought entertained him.

“I’m so excited!” Ga squealed, starting up their ship. “To Earth!”

“To Earth,” Henrietta echoed. A brief smile touching her lips.




Bio: Jeanine Marie Vaughn lives in a town with more dead people than living just outside of Chicago. She runs the webzine cemeteryguardians.com and a library based open mic called the No Shush Salon. She will soon be going back to school to become a teen librarian and works in two libraries. She also fosters cats, walks dogs for a shelter, and has cats and bunnies. Check her out at j9vaughn.blogspot.com



[1] Oblieques, from the planet Oblong of the Galaxy Tridon, have no distinguishing sex or gender and indeed, as a whole, eschew such linguistic delineations. But having lived among humans for three years in a human disguise, Ted was used to using the male pronoun and having a name. He had come to prefer that over the common Obliequean method of calling everyone squish as unto, “Have you seen squish?” “Why yes! Squish is with squish’s squishfriend, squish told me.”


[2] Smegmyllion’s planet of origin and species are unknown.

[3] Oblieques rarely wear clothes. Their serpentine bodies are not suited for clothing. Yet again, this was an area in which Ted had become more human while he was living on Earth. Once he went back to his natural form, he still wanted to wear clothes. Unfortunately, he was constantly coming out of his coat.


[4] Peeve is Ted’s pet Clusterina. While living on Earth Peeve looked like a mastiff, similar to how Ted passed for an old Jewish man from the Bronx, and was Ted’s service dog. Peeve was actually no bigger than a butterfly and just as brightly colored when in her natural form. No wings though, just six very sticky arms. Clusterinas have a gliding capability similar to flying squirrels, plus they can launch themselves upwards. They are parasites from the planet Custros. No one really minds their parasitic tendencies as they eat words and fart out translations.

[5] One of the Tryklors from the planet Tryladok. They love observing and imitating other species, especially if said specie comes from another planet. A popular Tryladokian proverb is: “Find someone to imitate and your life will resonate. Never be yourself.” Unfortunately, they have no chameleon like skills, so they always look like Trykladokians no matter how they act.


[6] This narrator has opted for the usage of the plural pronoun of they, them, and their when the preference is unknown rather than squish since said narrator thinks squish is silly. (Please, don’t tell the Obliequeans this as it could mean the firing of your humble narrator.)


[7] A common misconception among the Intergalactic community is that all Earthling Humans speak Chinese. Ga had actually been practicing their Mandarin on their way over to Henrietta’s booth, but grew shy upon seeing the human and, noticing that she had her very own Clusterina, Ga opted to speak in Tryklorian. This was good since Ga only knew how to ask for potatoes and brandy and how to get out the front door as she was being pursued by thugs in Chinese.

[8] The Martians were, in fact, snubbing her. They were pissed that another lifeform from their galaxy, much less their solar system, was invited to the convention and had argued with the Counsel for Intergalactic Photographers against Henrietta being admitted since all of her photographs were limited to Earth. In the end, it wasn’t a strong enough reason not to admit her since the Garlargians had only ever submitted pictures of one crater from one of their moons. Granted, it was a pretty spectacular crater and every Garlargian Religion was based on the beauty of that crater.


[9] A Florian from Custros, the same planet Peeve’s species hailed from.

[10] This was in fact not his name but the language of Florian is so far from human speech that Peeve’s farted translation merely gave him the closest title, Lord, and a name that Peeve was fond of in English. The only part that was a literal translation was him being the third of his name.


[11] This is untrue, though Henrietta is not to be blamed since that is what humans teach themselves. The dominant species on Earth is Whales.

[12] This is a nervous tick that Ga had since they were but a pup, not a trait they particularly liked.


[13] This is not always a death sentence since some of the species at the convention are fine out in space with or without clothing.

[14] The length of time is not accurate, but it was the closest translation from Clusterian to English.

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The Tracker by Jason K. Smith

Aug 20 2017

Jared Sutton stood there and was the most frightened he’d ever been in his life. While he jogged along old route 68, Jared stopped instantly. He saw a large grayish green person that hurdled the guard rail and vanished into the woods. Whatever it was, was very muscular, fast and naked. It had red hair on its head that bounced up and down as it sprinted. In the winter cold, big, brittle tree branches cracked loudly. But the noises to this extent, meant the damage severe. The sounds were big and powerful, it reminded Jared of when a buck in rut would storm through the forest to pursue a doe. Usually, when he encountered an animal or a big dog in his path, he had short burst of panic, but this was a much different sensation—his body shut down in an effort to avoid imminent death.

When he settled down and felt a bit safer, he walked closer to the clearing the creature had made with its abrupt exit. As Jared approached the space gingerly, he noticed his left foot lost traction and slid. Unsteady in more ways than one, he looked at the bottom of his running shoe while he stared at the bluish jelly that was smeared all over the sole. The jelly was cold, and as it slipped in between his index finger and thumb, he was overwhelmed with the smelled cat urine. It trailed the monster, so it was pretty clear it was injured; at least that’s what he’d put together. Jared involuntarily said Schwarzenegger’s famous line in the film Predator, “If it bleeds, we can kill it,” in his head. As he raised his chin up to the sky, a cool wind swayed the trees nearby. He glanced behind him and saw that the road was clear on both sides of the dual yellow lines. It was silent. Due to the reduction of leaves for suitable camouflage, there was adequate space between the limbs to see a decent distance. There was an embankment just off the side the road and opened up to massive ravine. There was a spring that gradually led to a pond where Jared and his sister, Josephine occasionally visited. As he inched closer to the edge and inconspicuously ducked down, he was stunned pale.

Jared watched the artichoke tinted hominid bound on the floor of the hollow and heard the faded thumps from the force of its feet. As it pounded the earth, the freakish hulk looked back for a brief second. But it didn’t seem to notice Jared’s hidden location. Then again, Jared wasn’t sure if the beast hadn’t seen him as he approached earlier. As Jared stayed hidden, the being eventually galloped too far out of sight. But Jared knew the topography of the area and decided he could follow the thing if he headed toward an intersection about a quarter of a mile up. The real question was did he have the guts to do it. As he snapped out of a trance encouraged by terror and fascination, he said aloud, “No freaking way am I going to chase that.” His chest still pulsed abstemiously from his heart’s frightened reaction. The pumping organ tried to run the hell away from the scene fifteen minutes ago, but acquiesced.  As he started to make his way back home, Jared moved from a brisk walk that steadily sped up. Each step thumped the realization into his mind he might be in serious danger. He thought to himself, “I gotta be in shock.” The twenty-nine year-old was the son of a nurse and psychiatrist and though Jared didn’t work healthcare, he was confident that’s what he experienced. With parents like his, it made him more attuned to changes in his mind and body. He and his sister had always assumed that they’d become medical professionals by osmosis from such a careful and literate upbringing.

The sun’s light disappeared at the rate of someone that slowly turned down the dimmer switch in a dining room for a dramatic effect.  Jared was grateful for being at the mouth of this parent’s long driveway because by now it was dark. He had worn expensive athletic gear that was designed for runners to go out in extreme winter weather. But he was overheated from all of that neoprene, fleece and synthetic material he wore; it covered him from head to toe. He quickly scampered up the hill toward the sandstone colonial with a Navajo colored trim. The lanterns that flanked the garage door weren’t visible until he was with about thirty yards away. This was because the distance from the house to the road was so great, it felt like he’d emerged from a tunnel. The pinhole sized sparkles shone through the thick pine trees only about half way up the incline.

It was around seven, and Jared’s mom had just finished up with the dishes as he slammed the farmer’s porch door and ambled toward the kitchen. Then, he peeled off his thin gloves and knitted skull cap. He said, “Hey, Mom. You’re aren’t going to believe what just happened.” Jared’s mother, Yvette, was a short woman in her early sixties. With short cropped blonde hair, she was cute and religiously adhered to a diet that helped her maintain such a petite figure. “Yeah, what?” Jared apprehensively stuttered, “I, uh, uh, saw a guy.” He realized what he was about to say and suddenly had reservations because he was sure his mom would worry. Yvette responded, “Okay. What was such a big deal about that? Did he try to rob you or something? You know I hate that you run this late; not to mention the fact that cars can’t see you very well.” Jared replied, “No, no, mom, it was a creature of some kind; like an alien or something.” His mother’s pause was plenty of reason to sheepishly retreat with a laugh and say, “I’m just kidding.” Yvette quietly spoke, “What? You’re joking, right? This is a joke.” Jared panicked but knew he had to commit, there was no way he could play off such a weird statement. He remembered the blue stuff on his shoe and lifted up his foot. He said to his mother, “No, mom. Look at this.” Jared showed her, but the goo had tried into a neon crust. Nevertheless, he scraped some off with his nails and put it up to her nose. “Yuck, stop it,” Mrs. Sutton jerked her head back and blurted out, “Eww, it smells horrendous, what is that? It looks like Miracle Gro.”

All of a sudden, there were a series of loud “Bangs,” outside that sounded like the front door was struck by a bunch of heavy objects. The storm door rattled so intensely, Jared and his mother thought the glass had come loose and would fall out of the frame. They were motionless and Yvette sparked, “Oh my God, Jared what was that?” Jared whispered, “I have no idea.” The two of them walked towards the front door, turned on the halogen lights and carefully examined the yard. “My God!!” Yvette screamed. Jared felt sick. A static electricity of emotional terror originated from beneath his cranium, and momentarily settled on his shoulders. Next, it dispersed through his chest and torso, and then zip lined its descent through his hamstrings, and squeezed his balls on the way down.

A bi-pedal behemoth with rusty eyebrows that rested above squinted eyes. It glared directly through Jared and Yvette. The nose was crunched and three fangs descended from the upper lip. Its shoulders violently heaved as if it was prepared to charge. The hands were conspicuously extended to its knees. The pectorals were huge lima beans that overlapped a rippled abdomen. It was so surreal Jared thought it might be fake. It was as more realistic Harryhausen Claymation figure, and could have been a phenomenal Jim Henson puppet, or an excellent costume. It definitely wasn’t a hologram or a C.G.I projection. Jared had heard that the human can detect something artificial very quickly, especially when the audience sees something as cheap as Jar Jar Binks in “Star Wars Episode I.”  This did not come from Industrial Light and Magic, it was a four dimensional entity that was poised to attack.

Suddenly, the monster turned to the right and booked it around the house. As Jared’s friend Bill used to say what made the remake of the “Dawn of the Dead” so frightening wasn’t the better special effects, it was the fact that the zombies were fast! The surge of endorphins motivated Jared and his mom to scurry around and lock everything they could think of, the windows, the door to the screened in porch, the farmers’ porch door, and even the balcony door in the living room.  As Yvette went downstairs to close the French door inspired sliders she hit the switch for the outside lights right after she locked the latch to the door and screamed, “Jared!” With its face pressed against the glass, the monster’s smeared lips revealed awful teeth partially broken but had perfectly intact incisors that made a “tick” and “tack” sound against the glass. It was hunched over in order to position its head low enough to look through the door. It easily cleared eight feet, the long hands attempted to push on sill of the frame to open it.  Jared ran down the stairs, and joined his mother that gawked that the thing that was separated by a pitifully equipped shock proof pane of glass.

Then, the being started to hammer the set of doors with its hands, the glass shook and started to crack. Yvette and Jared stood in awe while totally powerless to stop it. The huge monster bashed through the doors like they consisted of material no more resilient as a roll of outstretched wrapping paper. The creature lunged at Yvette and snapped her torso in half. As Jared turned, the massive fingers sought out to grab his waist but only knocked him over. The monster dropped Jared’s mother on the floor, and darted after Jared with its head that clumped the ceiling as it pursued the petrified human. Jared made it up the stairs, ran through the living room and outside. He got to the driveway, paused for an instant, and saw the creature plodding from around the corner of the house.

From above bright lights shone a spotlight on Jared. He looked up to hear the flapping of what appeared to be the fans of a helicopter. Several sharp clacking sounds flew over his head toward the ghoul that was determined to tear Jared apart. The creature fell to the ground and writhed in agony with intermitted howls. But was the most eerie was that Jared heard it growl the phrase, “Things as black as sin will return from above before a century to come and to eat the angel’s children of the son.” Then, a few armed soldiers clad in special-forces military uniforms descended on ropes and asked Jared if he was okay. A large black escalade pulled up, the soldier led Jared to the direction of SUV and down to the rear passenger side window. A gentlemen in black ray bans, and suit with a black tie instructed him to get in. Jared complied with the request, got in without a word. As he sat there, the man turned toward him and spoke, “Mr. Sutton, we are here help you; we had attempted to neutralize the assailant earlier this afternoon but only injured him; I’m sorry you were involved.” Wide eyed and dizzy with shock, Jared nodded his head. The vehicle turned around in the driveway and headed down the hill while the swat team attended to the lifeless body strewn on the Sutton’s lawn.


Bio: Jason K. Smith, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Communication & Media at a small college. His interests include fiction writing in the genres of fantasy, speculative realism, and sci-fi. And is also published in an academic capacity on the issue of conspiracy theory and counter culture in digital discourse. He enjoys teaching digital production, journalism, media effects, and new media. He lives with his wife and Son in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia.


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Old Faithful by Ty Noel

Aug 13 2017

She was tired of seeing that damn dot flickering in the camera that was stationed in the corner of her house. In fact, she was tired of seeing it in every room of her house. She wished, more than anything, to buy some spray paint and just cover them for good. What the hell do they need to see from an old bag like me? she often wondered.

Her house was as ancient as she felt. At 95, there wasn’t much that Mimi wanted from the world and felt that it shouldn’t want anything from her either. Her wooden floors creaked as much as her joints did when she walked. Most of the furniture was shredded apart from when the stray cats would take refuge in the home, something Walter had absolutely hated.  Outside, the appearance of the house showed its age as much as she did. The shingles were missing in places, the gutters were either clogged or hanging badly from the roof, ready to fall off on any good gust of wind. Most of the siding was weather worn or broken, compliments of the cheap shit they called vinyl. Not that the wardrobe she had was much better. Most of her clothes were either sewn together with patches or were worn from several washes.

Mimi let out a sigh before lowering herself onto the flower patterned couch. In front of her was a big television, compliments of the GGE so everyone globally could keep up to date on the latest news. Not like she cared any for it.

“On!” she said to the television. Nothing happened.

“I said on!” this time she said it louder and with more conviction.

“Oh come on, don’t make me use the damn phone to do this,” she said, looking directly at the camera. Still nothing happened. With another loud sigh and a flip of her middle finger to the corner of the room she grabbed her phone and opened the lock screen. It took her a better part of a month to realize the damned thing had to look at your eye in order to let you do anything around the house. When the phone popped open she nearly dropped it from the light that seared her old eyes through her glasses.

“For fuck’s sake,” she mumbled picking it up. The next five minutes were spent with various things turning on and off around the house. First the lights turned off in the living room, and then went from dim, to completely on. Next, different sinks throughout the house began spouting out water and before she had a chance to stop them, she had managed to flush both toilets in the home. From outside, any neighbors that were watching would have probably been enjoying the light show from Mimi’s home. Finally, the television roared to life in a deafening cry of triumph with the volume being set to 80. For anyone else, it would have been way too loud, but with her hearing close to gone, it was just right.

The weather channel was the first thing on and so she sat and watched with horror as she saw a storm was rolling in from the northeast.

“Well that explains the damn aches pretty much throughout my body,” she said, and just then a boom of thunder shook the house, as if mother nature was responding. Mimi played with the gadgets on her phone a bit more before finally being able to get the television on the game show network, one of her favorites. On the screen there was a man/woman/who knows hosting a show that involved some sort of thing with a computer. There was another clap of thunder before some other noise entered the home, a rapping at the door.

“Who the hell could that be?” Mimi pondered out loud. She let out a loud groan as she stood and reached down to grab her 20 gauge off the floor. The GGE had forbidden anyone from having a gun that didn’t have a hunting license but Mimi just wanted to try and see them take hers away. She moved slowly forward, holding the Old Faithful between her arthritic hands, while she struggled to tighten her faded pink robe. It took her a few minutes to get to the door and during which time the rapping at the door only happened once more. She unlocked two of the three bolts, leaving the chain still there. Cautiously, she poked the barrel of the gun out into the gale that was beginning to form before peaking her head out as well. The front patio was empty.

“Damned kids.” She closed the door and as she locked it, another clap of thunder reverberated through the house. Again there was a rapping at the door, but this time it came from the rear of the home. Mimi’s brow began to sweat and it slowly slid from her recently permed hair down to her face. She wasn’t sure if it was because she was becoming afraid that it may not be the neighborhood kids or if it was because it took a lot of work to get from the living room to the front door. Mimi decided maybe she would call her grandson Walter to come over. Half the house was up to no good because of the phone anyway, it’d be a good reason for him to come over.

She was making her way through the foyer when again she heard a rapping from the back of the house, and this time she was sure it on the glass of her back door.

“Go away!” she let out in a croak. Her voice, much like the rest of her body, had slowly been going and getting loud was always a struggle. Once again in the living room she picked up the phone after guiding her body to the couch and resting Old Faithful on her lap. How she wished she had a dog to deal with hooligans.

“Hello Walter?” she said after three rings.

“Hello grandma, what can I do you for tonight?” he replied, his voice sounding so strong and reassuring to Mimi.

“I was wanting you to come over and help me with this blasted stuff the GGE is making me use,” she said. “Everything is on in my house and no matter how hard I try I just can’t get it to turn off!”

“Grandma,” there was a sigh and she could hear it in his voice, no matter how bad her hearing got. “I’ve shown you plenty of times how to turn those things on and off. Do you want me to text you the video again?” No, I want you to come here and scare away these damn hooligans is what I really want, she thought to herself. But her pride would not allow for it.

“No, that’s okay,” she said. “I’ll just struggle through the damned thing until I figure it out. Don’t worry about your old grandma. Or the money that would go with helping her out.” She knew money was always a good incentive of getting her grandchildren over. That and baked desserts. Another sigh came forth from the other end of the phone.

“Alright Grandma Mimi,” he said. She knew he never used her name unless he felt annoyed or defeated. This time it was both. “I’m currently visiting with the parents but I can be over in twenty. Does that work for you?” She wanted him there sooner, but couldn’t say so.

“Absolutely,” she replied. As she said it another clap of thunder shook her home. “Love you and drive safely.” He responded the same and hung up. She turned her attention back to the game show.

Within a few minutes she could hear the pattern of rain on her roof and the claps of thunder to accompany the sound. She was already starting to feel better when she heard the rapping on wood once again. This time, it was from somewhere in the house. She looked quickly to the camera, nerves beginning to fray her already elderly face.

“Well,” she said, “are you good for nothings going to do something to help me or are those things useless?” Her body was now quavering and she moved to stand up with her gun back in her hand. She stood and listened again for the rapping on some door or wall. A clap of thunder pounded through the rain and for a moment nothing happened. She began to assume that it may just be something that was coming loose from the home, until she heard it again. This time, it came from what the door leading out to the garage.

“If they’re not going to help an old woman like myself,” she said aloud, “then the blood that’s about to follow is on their hands.” She began to hobble down the hallway that lead to the kitchen now. She passed the stairs that were carpeted a bright red, but were now closer to burgundy from years of mud and greasy footsteps. Past the white walls she went, with pictures of her family surviving after the war. She looked with leaky eyes at the picture of her husband, a man that passed a few years too soon. She wasn’t sure if her eyes were leaking in seeing the picture or from fear of what she’d find when she reached the kitchen. Another clap of thunder reverberated through the house and now, yes now she was certain, the rapping was coming from the door leading to the garage.

She hefted her gun up more and prepared to fire as she passed like a ghost through the kitchen and to the door. When she reached for the lock to let herself in where her old jeep lied dead in it’s grave, the rapping at the door stopped. No more rapping, no more tapping, no more wapping at the door. It was if whatever waited on the other side knew she was approaching and stopped its effort.

She flung the door open as quick as she could muster, wanting to have her gun ready for whatever was waiting. The door blew at her quickly and she lost her balance, nearly spilling to the floor and surely ready to break a hip like those dreaded commercials that played on the oldies station always warned of. She used Old Faithful to catch herself and did her best to get into a position to point it at an intruder once again. But there was no one.

Instead, she saw that her garage door was completely open. She assumed the worst at first, someone had managed to gain the code to the outside and had let themselves in. She felt around for a light switch before remembering that they were no longer required with the tech upgrade to the entire house.

“Damnit!” she said under her breath and waited for a round of lightning to show her the assailant lurking in the shadows. And the lightning did come, bright and flashy, like a camera going off in the garage but accompanied by another roll of thunder. She took it all in at once. Her old rusted jeep sitting idly in the middle. Her husband’s old work bench covered with tools. The grandkids old toys scattered through the rest of the area. Everything seemed in order at first, except her old jeep. She looked at it again and saw to her horror a shadowy figure sitting atop of it.

She took a step back and aimed Old Faithful at the figure. Soon enough, another light burst through the air and as she pulled the trigger there was a screech from the thing sitting perched on the jeep. It flopped and shook before hitting the ground. It made grotesque noises as it crawled towards Mimi. She had fallen further back into the kitchen, the recoil from the gun being more than she remembered. As it crawled into her home, smearing blood across her white tiled floors, she was dumbstruck by the creature before her.

The creature, or monster as the blasted reporters called them, seemed to be some sort of hybrid between a squirrel and god only knew what else. Its eyes were slitted like a cat’s and yellow. Its face was longer and looked closer to that of a rat, with a long jaw and two buck teeth in the front. It was completely white from its head down to its body, although the body seemed greatly disfigured, and not just from the gunshot wound it took. The whole thing was swollen to three times its size, as if it managed to inherit the body of a possum as well. There was only the stub of a tail, like that of a boxer, and it slowly wiggled back and forth. It looked up at Mimi with what seemed like some form of intelligence, but she failed to see it.

Mimi hefted up Old Faithful again and as the thunder clashed she brought the butt of the gun down on it’s head. A sickening crunch sound echoed through the kitchen and for one last time, the sound of rapping came into Mimi’s ears. The paws, which were no bigger than that of any other squirrel’s tapped the ground a few times, before the intelligence and life left the slitted yellow eyes. Yellow beams of light quickly began to flood the garage as Mimi stared at her kill, out of breath and tiring greatly. Walter’s door open and slammed shut as he ran into the garage and stared at the dead thing on the floor.

“Don’t worry Walt, I got it,” Mimi said before letting herself slide to the floor. Her head fell to a rest against the wooden island in the middle of the kitchen and everything went black.

When Mimi awoke, she was lying on her couch and Walter was sitting in the chair nearby her. Nearby a flurry of people from the GGE were hard at work. She slowly worked her way up, noticing the afghan that was helping conceal her and her robe, the only clothes she had on.

“What the hell are THEY doing in my home,” Mimi spat towards Walter. She hated them.

“Grandma, you know I work with the GGE,” he said. “What came into your home last night, the thing you managed to kill, is new to us.” He looked at her with sympathy, trying to understand why she was upset.

“I still don’t understand why the hell they have to be in my home,” she said.

“It’s because after you went down, I found a few more of the monsters,” he said. “They had a nest in your attic, basement, and garage. How you had not managed to find one until now is beyond me.”

“So what, are they just exterminating them now?” she replied. She began to cool down a bit. As much as she hated them, if they were clearing those creatures out, good on them.

“They’re collecting them,” Walter said. “The organization I work for is relatively new but we’ve been assigned to capturing these things for study. The nests that you’ve found are helping us to better understand them.” Mimi looked at him with little interest. She didn’t care what the GGE was doing with them, she just wanted them out of her house.

“Alright, well don’t leave until they’re done,” she said. “I don’t want any of them in my home without you. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to try and get some more rest. Maybe next time you’ll come visit just to visit and not just because I needed help.” She gave him a smile that made him wince before snuggling back into her couch.

She awoke that evening feeling refreshed. She looked around and saw that Walter had turned on the television for, despite the volume being far too low, along with several of the lights. She worked her way up to a sitting position and began to look for Old Faithful. That gun was more than just her protector, it also helped with her standing and sometimes walking. It was nowhere to be found. The GGE must have taken it. Damn them. Mimi began to reach for her phone when she heard it. There was a rapping at her door. She froze. It started at the same place as last night, towards the front. The rapping upon the door continued. She tried to stand but found she couldn’t. The absence of Old Faithful made her woozy.

She grabbed her phone and tried to dial out but the “charge battery” icon was flashing at her. She looked at the camera and yelled for help. This time the rapping didn’t stop on the door, but settled in on the backdoor as well. She swung her head in that direction but as she did, she began hearing a rapping on the garage door as well. The tiny thrum of paws smacking on each door made her eyes well up in tears. Soon it began in on the windows. Then it was above her from the attic. It started to come from the basement too, a rapping on that door as well. She sunk into the couch and pulled the afghan over her head. She laid there and cried, tears of fear and sorrow. She listened as the rapping came closer. The windows burst and glass rained down, rapping gently on the wooden floor. She heard things splinter, one at each door. One from above and one from below. The rapping and tapping came pulsating through to her ears over the wooden floors. Soon it would be in the living room and there was nothing she could do. She closed her eyes and embraced the darkness. The rapping continued. She prayed to see daylight, a daylight she knew would never come.



I am from Peru, Illinois and a graduate student at Eastern Illinois University. I am currently working on a collection of short stories that analyzes the horrors of neglecting the environment while critiquing ideas of extreme patriotism. My work is all based in the future and mixes elements of science fiction in with horror. This piece is just one that is going into the collection. I am a new writer and have yet to be published.

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Unlife by Raven McAllister

Aug 06 2017

My work was done in secret, in autumn, on a chill-bitten landscape of leaves. It was done alone. It was only me, the man with the pocked scars along his cheek, clockwork bits scattered across his altar, and wife and child in the ground.

But I was still known in what I did. The people who have been funding my toils for almost six years, up until this day of lord November 30, 1907, have handled the raw materials of my labors since the inception of my efforts. They provided the bodies, after which I did my work of that clandestine nature I’ve spoken of. Then it was finished for another year, until the summer days receded, and the air was again cool and dry, ideal for my task.

And my work was painstaking, yet dreadfully simple in summation: circle, star, diamond.

I am a horologist by trade, a craftsman of all things fine and precise in operation. I had apprenticed in and was eventually contracted by the same shop over the course of my adult life. A simple ‘watchmaker’ I am not, though. My tinkering went far beyond time pieces. It went where it was never supposed to go. But the challenge, and the personal stakes, compelled me to immerse myself in proceedings most arcane.

It was the man who represented the group (out of Eastern Europe is all they’ve ever revealed to me, which as much I could surmise by his accent anyhow) who introduced me to a fundamental working knowledge of the human heart. The organ’s functioning is not terribly removed from clockwork itself; I took to manipulating cadaver hearts rather quickly. There was nothing particularly extraordinary about this.

Rather, the extraordinary element was the material from which he had requested of me to forge the brass hearts. I knew immediately that this was not ‘brass’ in the truest sense, as he had informed me. It was slightly less malleable, and its properties allowed for the impossible. With the proper alignment, the metal allows for the existence of perpetual motion, a bastardization of natural laws that opens the door for…well, my work of that secretive nature. But my time for harboring secrets of any kind is over.

Each brass heart was two and half inches wide by two inches long (‘top’ to ‘bottom’), and took me two months each to forge. The movement (inner workings) demanded the longest attention to properly create, set, and calibrate. The case itself, honestly, was little more than an aesthetic touch. This is my profession, after all, and I do take pride in creating a pleasing, symmetrical shape; in this instance, it was the popular St. Valentine’s Day representation of the heart. This was the work that was done leading up to the three consecutive autumn days on which I backpacked from town, and headed north into the woods between civilization and the Atlantic coast.

Here was the place I was taken once and only once by another, by the man with the accent representing his esoteric group, and shown the altar in the clearing. The altar itself looked very old and worn, chiseled from stone, yet it did not seem to have sat in the clearing for all of its days. I guessed that his group had had it moved here, and he never answered my question about from where it originated (my accented friend mostly ignored inquiries not directly related to the performance of my work). The altar is sized just wide and long enough to accommodate a human being on their back, which may well have been key to denoting a past purpose equally macabre to its present. It stood at waist level to me. Well enough to allow me to do what I came to do.

Most certainly I never expected anyone to happen upon me during the process. The spot was well tucked away between a rocky coastline a little over a mile out, and several miles of forest on all other sides. And if anyone had ever seen me in this place, I would have simply called them mad. Who would believe the horologist, the ‘watchmaker’, was squirreling about the woods performing seemingly occult acts? That poor man, that watchmaker, who’d lost his family ten years ago when they were on that balcony at the Barberry Club in Nolhaft, posing for a photograph, when the whole damn thing collapsed. The whole, shoddy, aged, damned excuse for craftsmanship of a balcony.

I digress. That tends to happen when I ruminate on imperfection. There is little room for that in what I do. But it saturates everything else. Life itself is one imperfect decision after another. That truth I have attempted to embrace, and I feel with commendable commitment.

On the first day, left for me on the altar downwind from where I camped some few hundred yards away, was the first body. Usually I could just smell it.

I did not go to it immediately. Rather, I would wait until the sun had begun to lower behind the skeletal treetops. The coloring of the leaves that crinkled beneath my footsteps was still present, but muted; silhouettes would start to dominate on the western side of the clearing. This was the time I had been instructed to perform the work, and I did not deviate even at the very end.

The growing shadows always made the meticulous operation rushed. There were a few times I had to work by lantern light, with the cold numbing my fingers to the point of their feeling like useless icicles dangling from my palms. This made things challenging to say the least, with an already non-existent margin for error.

When I arrived to the bodies, they were already on the table, on their backs, bare. Beside them were two small satchels. One was a coin purse with my compensation inside. The other contained the final piece to the brass heart. Three days, three bodies, one body per day. It was a solitary, grim half-week to be certain.

Each corpse was not too far removed from their deaths. The bodies were typically in a very preserved fashion, the cause of mortality not ostensibly traumatic to the flesh. Branded upon each chest, at what would become my incision site, was a mark: a circle, a star, or a diamond. There was always just one of each, but their order was always randomly presented to me. I opened up the chest cavity, inserted the brass heart, and carefully clamped the valves into their proper places in the device. The last piece, the gear which was of a particular shape and material different from the pseudo-brass, inserted atop the heart once it was set. I wound this with two clicks, and my movement began to tick imperceptibly away (I could tell only by the slight vibration of the case against the back of my hand).

Then the body was sutured shut (as best as I could manage), and I let it lie in repose. With my tools in tow, I departed back for my makeshift camp. The group then would come in the dead of that night. They would take the corpse away as they left the next subject upon the altar, along with another coin purse and another winding piece. I supposed I was never meant to see the final results of my work, but a true craftsman always finds a way to check in on what he’s done.

I’ve had the most luck (or misfortune) in locating the whereabouts of the circles. Once they had wandered mysteriously, inexplicably, back into the lives of their loved ones, there seemed to be a modest window of normalcy. They returned to work, to grammar school. Then the repetitive behaviors came; they were reported to have paced around their own homes, to have disassembled and reassembled objects around their estates repeatedly, to have said the same phrases over and over for a set number of refrains. These behaviors started as mere eccentricities.

What made them easiest to locate were the newspapers. The headline was typically something to the effect of “GIRL THOUGHT DEAD MURDERS FAMILY IN SLEEP,” or “DRIFTER WITH CADAVER SCARS STABS SEVEN.” The ones brought back by the circle gears spiraled towards homicide. I’ve come across five of them. They’ve all snapped at some point, and began killing indiscriminately. They carried no rhyme or reason. Their repetitive acts simply escalate into the compulsion to kill repetitively. They’ve all been caught and either executed, or stashed into an asylum somewhere.

The stars are very difficult to locate—I’ve only found one. This was the first young man of about twenty I had operated on in my work. His head had been shaved to the scalp, and he looked to have been thin and sickly in life. The following spring, a man came in to my shop with the boy accompanying him. He was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and beige vest, all tucked and neat. However, he had a simple way about him. The boy’s hair was growing out some, but in matted, unkempt curls. He seemed half-present, half-preoccupied with something happening within himself. Naïve to the world would be the best way to put it. He smiled at me briefly, though I’m sure he did not recognize me.

When I asked him what his name was, his father spoke up for him. “He doesn’t talk much. Not anymore. He…had a horrible accident. It left him touched. The most he ever talks about are his dreams. But his mother and I are just happy to have him with us.” He hugged the boy tightly with one arm as he regarded him with appreciation. The boy smiled again shortly, but still seemed distracted. Not once did he speak. The father’s gratitude warmed me, but…I had never been confronted by my own work at that point. I did not sleep well that night. I mostly wondered who the boy was truly before he had died.

The diamonds sometimes found me. I knew them first by their knowing looks and slim, sinister grins. There is a dark novelty to them, one I can’t put a specific label to. I can only speculate that something inhuman has been introduced into them through their resurrection process.

It was an encounter with one that led me to the precipice of what I am about to do.

It was a snowy January night this year when she came. I was the last out of the shop, locking up the cabinets inside and quelling the hearth before I left out and locked the main entrance. When I reached the door to leave, two sharp knocks before me stilled my motion. I opened the shop door, and on the street in the snow stood the woman cloaked in a navy blue scarf and furs head to toe. She had been probably thirty when I last saw her. I recognized the nature of her expression immediately. It stung me as harshly as the winter breeze I’d let through the entrance.

“I know what you’ve been thinking, watchmaker,” the woman with the disdainful smile said without introducing herself.

She was familiar in a way I could not place, and the expression, as I’ve said, gave it away. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we’re just closing up,” I played off.

“You’re right. You know you are,” she went on, just standing there without a step forward. “Go on. How long are you going to make them wait?”

At that point, with a swallow, I decided to skip the charade and ask her what I’d been wondering for some time about the diamond gear recipients. “What are you now?”

She offered neither a verbal response nor a change in expression. I stepped out of the shop, locked the door quickly behind me, and pulled my coat tighter as I faced her in provocation.

“Come on now, out with it! You live and breathe because of me. You owe me an explanation at the very least.”

The woman folded her hands, looked to contemplate, then offered the only insight I’ve ever gotten into the existence of a person who should no longer be alive. “The others like me understand it, even if not completely. They feel it. They know that we are outside of the dead now. Outside of ghosts, and gods. We feel the strings of fate fastening to something else entirely. We feel their every pluck and wane, and we move with them despite you all who are numb to it.”

Her fingers waggled in illustration.

“I am here to urge you to feel it as well, watchmaker.”

Her smile broadened before she turned and walked away abruptly into the snowfall. Yes, she had known what I was thinking, in her black, unknowable way. It was her argument that seduced me to this final decision, to come to this moment where I sit now and chronicle the series of events that led here. I did feel the strings move me in this direction, and I stopped resisting. I let them move me toward what felt like was a natural, terribly imperfect choice.

Bradley was thirteen when he passed. Between his head hitting the cobblestone path below, and the larger timbers impacting atop him from the splintering balcony ledge, his death most likely came from the multiple fractures of his young skull. Had I been conscious directly after the fall myself, I would have most likely cradled him, regardless of the gore and blood I had been told of, and plead for him to wake up despite how obvious his state may have been. I’ve imagined that scene unendingly, at day, at night, no matter where I was or at what I toiled. I was not awake at that time. I was not there for him, or her. I wanted one last chance to apologize for that, to show him how much I loved him. He needed me, and fate didn’t allow that. I was going to be there now.

I spent half of my savings toward my family’s unearthing. You might be surprised how easy it is to hire a graverobber; the expense, really, is the only issue.

Upon their secret delivery to me at a predetermined spot in the woods, I braced for the worse as I examined both the bodies of my wife and my son. Athelia, I feared, was too far gone. Decomposition had left little semblance of proper humanity. But, for whatever imperfect reason, the same embalmer who had prepared my wife had executed his craft well enough with my son as to leave only hints of decay after a decade. His cheeks were shallow, much of his muscle mass was gone, but his skeleton was still covered with skin and some hair. I decided I would take him with me. Bradley would be the last of my secret work.

The operation would have to happen on the first day, when I had access to all three final winding gears. My strongest intuition told me that the altar played a more important part in the process than it would seem, which meant I had to perform the heart insertion where I always had. There would be no residual blood in the body, or perhaps even intact veins and arteries to carry it were it there to begin with. I had many doubts about my objective, but one sentiment was certain: this would be my last trip to the clearing.

I made the journey as I had been doing, year after year, come the autumn cold. I carried my son on my shoulder the entire way, swaddled in off-white linens with burlap tied around him. I did not bother setting up camp when I arrived, late, to my usual nesting ground. Instead, I sat alone with him, on an olive blanket spread out on the ground, holding and rocking him in the dark. I spent hours picturing that horrific day again, hoping this would be the last time that it gnawed at my being.

When the proper hour finally broke the next day, I picked Bradley up, and carried him the rest of the way to the altar. There sat what I had expected: two bags, one body.

This subject was an older man with a horseshoe of grey hair running around his scalp. He had a pointed nose and narrow visage; he looked to have been a rather dire man during his normal life. Atop his chest was branded a diamond. That seemed fitting. I could easily picture being accosted by this stranger unexpectedly one day, with a grim message to bear and a near-malicious smile on his thin, pallid face. I removed his body from the altar. I replaced it with Bradley.

Here it was, then. My light was dying by the minute. I wanted to finish my work, and leave with Bradley back toward town all on that same eve. Once the brass heart was in place, clamped by faith alone into my son’s desiccated chest, I was left with that one last, simple, imperfect choice.

The truth, of course, is that I had made the choice at least a year prior to that moment.

It’s been a few months since my final trip to the clearing. I assume I am done with my secret work. I have neither heard nor seen anything in the way of repercussion from the group which had employed my talents in that time. I spend fewer hours at the shop now, especially now that I am not forging brass hearts behind the scenes. Instead, I spend that time at home, with my son. It is well-known in this town that he is deceased, hence this bars me from allowing him out of the home. This is much to ask of a thirteen year-old boy who, every day, becomes more and more like the Bradley I knew over a decade ago.

I watch him carefully, both out of adoration and appreciation, and for other reasons. I’ve asked how much he remembers of the accident, and what he recounts of the ten years after. Nothing, he says. He seems to forget the accident often, asking now and then when his mother is coming home.

But time has grown short. That is the reason we moved into this cabin, in these very same woods where I played god as if tinkering on a timepiece.

I attempt to train him a little in my craft every day. In particular, I have explained the mechanism of the brass heart which keeps him alive. I explained this to him very clearly, very carefully, and have shown him the place within our home where the very last brass heart is kept. It sits in the satchel with the two unused winding gears.

The old clocks I have him work on for practice he disassembles several times a day, and puts all three back together the exact same way every time. When I tell him to stop practicing, he seems to only ignore the idea. He seems obsessed. He’s breaking one of them down once again, with machine-like precision, even as I write this by candlelight.

This correspondence will soon be left nailed to the exterior of our front door. The door is locked (very well), and windows are about to be nailed shut. I ask much of you, stranger. But I want you to come find my son within, but I do not want you to hurt him. Understand that he, too, will have an imperfect decision to make. Whatever choice he settles with may appear stiflingly unfair. But that is the nature of this mechanism that moves against the natural laws of life. We move with its coarse grooves, or we suffer under the weight of its unforgiving cycle.

You may turn away now, scoffing. But my hypothesis is that you are far too intrigued to do so at this point. Get Bradley in front of my body then, and he will know what to do. He is compelled to do it, after all. The stars have already dreamt it, and of you. The diamonds have already sent you, most likely without your knowing, towards my door. And if I understand the movement of this damnable clockwork properly, the circle will do the rest. I have helped forge this machine, this cycle of unlife, and in so starting it, it may well run forever.






Bio: Raven McAllister is a psychotherapist hailing from southwest Louisiana. His stories have been featured on a number of eZine sites such as Dark Energy Speculative Fiction, Macabre Cadaver, and Flashes in the Dark, and in the print anthology Hindered Souls. His latest story, “The Language of the World,” is part of the Frith Books ghost anthology Restless, and his story “4 Turns” will be featured in the upcoming Between the Tracks collection put out by Oz Horror Con.




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An Overlooked Note by Dimitar Fabijanic

Jul 30 2017

“I never did tell you how I lost my left hand”, ran a voice in the drab, dim lighted bar whose twilight threw an uncanny look over them all, making them appear as nothing more than immovable objects whose shadows seemed more substantial than they were. He sat at the far end of the counter, thinking and remembering something that brought him there in the first place. Yes, remembering something. For he tried to forget that something which crept craftily in his thoughts, budging his conscience, visualizing itself in his memories like a well-remembered dream he didn`t want to have. He came there with the hope that he will be heard, that he might transfer a little from his burden to the rest of them, if only in words.

“What I want to convey to you is the experience of the whole thing, the reality of it.” After he said this he exhaled a grayish smoke from his mouth while a red dot moved along with his right hand, getting ready for the next drag. He cleared his throat and looked at the cigarette.

“I will have to use the clichéd phrase about the curiosity and the cat, but in my case the curiosity killed my left hand, or rather snapped it. It is hard to think of anything else these days after that. When I try to think too hard on it I sometimes ask myself whether it was real at all. But the final verdict I come to is always ‘real’ since my left hand is gone apparently.

For few seconds he didn`t say anything, his eyes fixated beyond the windows, as if brooding upon something inexplicable, something that he began hesitating whether he should relate at all to those present in the dim bar. His eyes now moved and glanced at each of them with a monotonous expression on his face, as though looking for a final approval to begin relating his experience. His face was now half-concealed in the haze of smoke while his eyes were focused and unmoving.

“If you remember the three story house close to the town`s center, the one that recently got knocked down for the new building,” here nods were given, “well, I suppose that you remember the old recluse, Dr. Garret, who rented the whole house for many years before he died some months ago in circumstances not revealed to the public after some noisy business inside the house took place. Some said that it might have been a suicide; others said a burglary, because the old man was seen carrying a gold ring and bracelet every time he went for a walk, so someone might have thought that he had more of the stuff hidden somewhere in the house. Anyway, no one knew exactly what happened that night.

“As you know I worked for the local newspaper then, and this was a story waiting to be written. When I came that night to inquire, I was told to back off the scene. I only saw one police car, an ambulance that carried the body of Dr. Garret and some bystanders. That same night they`ve put the yellow stripes on the door and chained it. But it was easy enough to find a way in; I used the old public building next to it, because they were connected with an underground tunnel for some reason.

“After traversing the short length of the tunnel I entered the basement full of old crates on which the labels were hardly readable; the damp air in the basement was unendurable and suffocating, and in it I could smell a trace of some vague odor which reminded me of rotten plants and rotten meat.

“I entered the first floor of the house, the hall that is. It was dark; the only light was coming from the lamp-posts outside, and was not enough to enable me to see the interior. I didn`t want to turn on the lights and attract attention, so I turned on the light on my phone. The moment I turned it on I saw a door widely open. The room behind it was completely empty and spread on the floor and walls there was something like slime mixed with soil. I then turned to the closed door opposite and opened it. It was the room that preceded the library, as I later found out, with an old chest of drawers in one of the corners, and a fireplace at the wall opposing the windows; above the mantelpiece on the wall there was a recent portrait of the old man. In the middle of the room there was a circular wooden table with four chairs, and on it was a silver candelabrum caked with wax.

“There was no carpet so the footsteps on the creaking floor filled the room when I walked over to the door of the library. The walls of the library were nowhere visible, they were covered with wooden bookcases from the floor to the ceiling; only the windows were left untouched. At the far corner, near one of the bookcases, was a writing desk apparently made from the same wood as the bookcases. When I threw the light on it I saw many yellowed papers scattered on the desk, some lying on the floor, and two old books written in Latin.

“I sat on the chair and opened the drawers. All of them were empty. It started to seem to me that someone came here and in a hurry wanted to find something. I began rummaging through the scattered papers; they all seemed to be research papers of some kind or another. They ranged from biology, botany, geology, geography, chemistry and astronomy, to such obscure and discredited studies such as astrology, alchemy and the occult. On some of these papers were diagrams and illustrations, some familiar from the modern sciences, while the others incomprehensible and even eerie and hideous when I come to think of it. There was some kind of celestial map on which dots were connected to form some route that lead to what looked like to be our Solar System. I came to an old photo showing the old man, then younger, with some man that looked like a Chinese, and behind them a desert landscape filled with sand dunes. On the back of the photo was written `Taklamakan, 1971`.

“Among the papers scattered on the floor I found a torn piece of paper with a note jotted on it. It said: `about their growth, diet and cycles consult the second volume of the Hypostasis`. Suddenly there was a sound from somewhere in the house, and I hurried to take few photos from the scattered papers and the old photo. I then turned to retrace my steps and exit the house.

“I was now at the hall when I heard the sound again. I could more distinctly hear that it came from somewhere in the upper floors. Somehow I felt that I couldn`t bother less if it was someone from the authorities who would throw me out of the house; I took some photos anyway, and it was enough for few speculations. I checked the second floor only to find the two rooms empty with traces of that slime and soil mixture as in the previous room. When I got to the third floor I noticed the same vague odor from the basement, but now more penetrating to my sense of smell. What looked like the door to the attic was locked, so I turned to check the last door.

“It was different from the other doors in the house. This was made from what looked like some strong wood fortified with steel frames. There was no handle on it, but there was a rectangular spyhole in the middle of the door. This opening was wide enough for one to put his whole arm through it. I first illuminated the interior of the room; I couldn`t see anything, only damp walls and that terrible odor. If it could only come to me then to put my phone through the spyhole and take few pictures from the two other corners of the room! In the zest of it all I forgot.

“The next thing I did was to put my right arm through the spyhole and check whether there was any inner lock on the one side I could use to open the door. I couldn`t find anything of the sort. I then put my left arm only to find the other side without a lock as well.

“The second I started to pull my arm out of the hole I felt a firm grip above the elbow. It was some sort of appendage, like a thin, cold and slimy rope tightening around my arm. I tried to pull but it held it very firmly. I then heard a sound as of something crawling on the wall behind the door, something wet. A moment later I felt my arm submerged in a very warm mass of what felt like pulsating flesh. I was so bewildered that I actually didn`t panic, as if I was hypnotized in a way. The odor was now so pervasive that I felt nausea.

“I can`t remember exactly the moment when I fainted, but it was probably when I heard the sound of my hand being snapped. When I came to my senses I was lying few feet from the door, my left hand gone. Now, my first thought was that I would scream the moment I saw that my left hand was gone, but what averted this from happening was that when I looked at my arm there was no blood where the wound should be and I felt no pain; actually, there was only well healed skin, like I never had any hand in the first place.

When he finished that last sentence, he revealed his left arm under one of the bar lights above him. He caused their shadows to stir a bit when in bemusement they saw the arm; it looked like he never had any hand at all, just smooth skin at the end of it. No traces of wound whatsoever.

“It amazes me, it baffles me, and it terrifies me. It is not entirely because of the hand, but because of the whole thing. I didn`t dare to approach the door for the second time and I hurried to the hall. It all started to seem like I was in a dream, but I wasn`t. I exited the building the way I came in and simply went home.

“The following day I called the editor and asked for a few weeks leave, I plainly told him that I lost my hand in an accident; I didn`t want to baffle everyone at work with my miraculous healing wound, and even when I got back to work I had to put a bandage so as to look plausible. I got fired, of course. Why keeping a cripple when you can hire someone with two hands. I decided not to publish the story anywhere because of its improbable nature”.

He abruptly fell silent. They probably expected more, for this was not the way they thought the story should end. But it was all he had to say. All of a sudden he didn`t seem too much distressed as before. Maybe he felt some relief in the telling, or he was already affected by the alcohol. “I think that I will go and get some good rest”, he said. He got up, left the cash and said goodbye. Through the windows he could be seen disappearing between the buildings, with the cigarette smoke trailing behind him.
It was less than a week later when rumors spread of a peculiarly beheaded body with a missing left hand. It was said that someone found it in an alley and thought that it was some discarded wax doll, until a vague odor was felt and trails of slime mixed with soil were detected all around the body.

We will never get to know how he felt when the thin, cold and slimy appendage was tightening around his neck and drew his last breath before his head was submerged in a very warm mass of what felt like pulsating flesh.

Among the scattered papers in the empty library of the late Dr. Garret a torn piece of paper was lying on the floor with the note he previously read. What he failed to notice was that the other side of the paper was filled with words as well: `It seems to know exactly how much sustenance it needs and then closes the wound of its victim as a means of conservation for the next cycle of feeding. It is written in the second volume of the Hypostasis that they sometimes follow their victims, but this is yet to be demonstrated`.

Bio: Dimitar recently started writing short horror fiction. He has one story published in Sirens Call Publication, December 2016 issue. For quite some time he indulges in the words of Gogol, Maupassant, Bierce, Poe, Lovecraft, Ligotti, Ramsey Campbell and others pertaining to the weird and the macabre. He lives in Skopje, Macedonia.

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