Fiction#Dec/Jan09

The Streets By Jason Michel

It started in the streets. Doesn’t everything ?
Revolutions. Pop culture. Real change.
In the pavement cracks. Widening. A concrete gash. People tripping. Stubbed toes. Scuffed leather boots. Grandmothers with broken legs.
Tarmac bending. Tyres screeching. Airbags unleashed.
Fibres pushing through pavements. That mad green fuse.
We tried to trim them. Yet every cut brought a tougher tendril. Vines pierced fundaments. Entwined lamp posts. Buildings creaked under the creeping onslaught. As they fell we all saw the blossoms in the dust clouds.Opening buds. Spewing airborne seeds from coast to cold coast.

Introducing Gemma Nye By James Hilton

When she first walked in the bar, Adrian ’s eyes had followed her from the doorway all the way across the crowded Newcastle pub.She was wearing or nearly wearing a sheer silk dress. The silver fabric clung provocatively to every lithe curve of her body. The bottom of the dress barely covered her buttocks. Small sequined straps stretched the fabric to almost bursting point. A matching set of gloves and high heels complimented the sexy ensemble perfectly.Adrian licked his lips which were suddenly dry despite the large Jack Daniels and soda in front of him. He half stood up out of his seat in a primitive urge to be closer to this beautiful creature. Then common sense prevailed…what the hell was he going to say? ‘Do you come here often?’ …’What sign are you?’  hmmmn?He slumped back despondently. Firstly his friends had stood him up again – they were probably waylaid down on the quay-side, and now he nearly made a fool, out of himself by trying to chat up a woman that was obviously so far out of his league that it wasn’t funny.The woman seemed to glide through the bar without touching or being jostled by the rowdy crowd. She paused from time to time to peer through the crowd…was she looking for someone?Of course she is, he told himself. A beauty like that is hardly going to be out without some male model type to buy her drinks all night.

Then quite surprisingly, she turned her head and their eyes met…across a crowded bar, if you can take that…then ever so slowly she padded across the bar towards him. Adrian looked around but no one else in the blue neon lit alcove paid him or the woman any attention.

After what seemed like an age, she appeared in front of him. “Hi” she purred “Mind if I sit?”

“No, no, sit down…please” Adrian blabbed. He brushed imaginary dust from the vacant seat.

“Thanks, you’re a real gent.”

Adrian felt himself begin to blush, he hated it, but he turned a deep shade of red whenever he tried his hand with the opposite sex.

The woman held out a slender hand in greeting, “My name’s Gemma.”

“Adrian…Adrian Baxter.” he reciprocated, shaking her hand gently, then, “Nice gloves!”

Gemma smiled, “Yeah I like them, they keep my hands soft and gentle…” she gazed directly into Adrian ’s eyes as she spoke.

Adrian tried not staring at the expanse of bare skin on show as she crossed her very long legs, this causing the already revealing skirt to become almost pornographic as it rode up her upper thighs.

“You meeting somebody here Gemma?” he asked, not daring for a negative response.

“No, just out seeing what I can see.” She answered. Her eyes flashed and reflected the neon on the bars’ windows.

Adrian struggled for a follow up for a second then offered, “Would you like a drink?”

Gemma smiled and tilted her head in subtle response.

“What would you like?” he enquired.

“Oh, you figure it out…” she purred playfully.

Adrian made his way to the bar as quickly as possible, all the while trying to fathom the best drink for someone like his new companion. He looked back at the woman who now appeared as a statue, motionless, bathed in blue light and achingly beautiful.

Minutes later, he appeared back at the table, amazed there wasn’t a stream of men trying their luck with this half naked Venus.

“Champagne with a shot of pomegranate juice?” as he offered the glass.

“Perfect, see I knew you had a talent for it!” She smiled.

“Talent?”

“My drink…it’s what I would have chosen myself” she affirmed.

Adrian smiled in joy, damn it he was making real headway with this babe.

“What do you do Adrian ?” she enquired directly.

“I work at the Body Perfect Gym down at Durham . I’m one of the fitness instructors.”

“Hmmn, that figures by the look of you. You’ve got really good arms. No shortage of meat on your bones!”  She said approvingly.

Adrian felt the blush starting to creep up his neck again. “So what do you do then? Do you live in Newcastle ?”

“Well, no I don’t live here, just passing through. And to what I do for a living, I work with the Cirque de Macabre show.”

“Cirque?…oh, the show at the O2 stadium? What do you do in it?” he asked. He’d seen some of the posters around the town advertising the risqué show. The posters had a few girls in bondage gear in provocative poses strewn around a piratical looking front-man.

He leaned closer and she mirrored his advance.

“I’m one of the performers, Miss Gemma Nye-Panthera at your service!” she announced slyly. A pink tongue flicked across her perfect teeth as if he needed any more enticement to keep him interested.

“What kind of performer?” Adrian ’s trousers seemed suddenly tighter; the bar a lot warmer than it had minutes earlier.

“I’m one of the contortionists. We do the slow tumbling and stretch routines. I work with three other girls. I’m told it’s very…sensual to watch.”

Adrian leaned forward again, more to disguise the swelling in his pants than to hear her. He very nearly asked ‘are you really bendy and stuff?’ then caught himself at the last second. Sexual possibilities steamed across his mind like a newsflash.

Gemma leaned back in her seat stretching her long tanned legs as she did so.

“So where are you stopping while you’re in town?”

“I’ve got my wagon up on the fields near the race-course.” She replied. She swirled the drink around as she spoke, sending a stream of pink hued bubbles spiralling to the top of the glass. “Why do you ask?”

“I…I…just asking, I didn’t mean…”

Gemma smiled, as if taking pleasure in his discomfort. “I’m just being tricky, just teasing.” she laughed.

Adrian took a long pull on his whisky. Then when he had recovered he asked, “How long are you in town?”

“We’ve got one more show at the O2 then we move south. We leave for Manchester tomorrow night.”

“Shit!” he declared under his breath.

“Don’t worry Adrian ; that still leaves tonight. The show finished at nine, so I’ve got the rest of the night to myself.”

“What…what do you have in mind?” he dared to ask.

Gemma leaned forward and whispered a question in his ear, so low and sensual Adrian thought he had misheard her the first time. She asked again and he nodded energetically in response. She smiled and leaned back into her seat again.

“Well I share a caravan with my twin sister; she’s just a little on the shy side when it comes to going on the prowl. So I tend to do it for the both of us! We’re not identical but she’s still a real cute pussycat!” She arched a perfectly plucked eyebrow as if to test his responsiveness to this nugget.

“Twin sister?”

“Yeah, my sister…and me of course…could you be interested in a late supper?” she barley breathed the last words filling them with unspoken delicious suggestion.

“Of course I’m interested!” Adrian grinned. He looked around the bar as if to share his moment of glory but bizarrely, no one seemed to be clocking this half-naked temptress with legs as long as the M6.

“Come on then, no time like the present” she uncurled her body and seemed to glide towards the door.

Adrian Baxter, knowing a chance of a lifetime when it came along, downed the remainder of his drink and followed.

The night air was sharp as he emerged from the bar, but as he followed Gemma’s barely covered rear end across the Big Market, he soon forgot the cold.

Her long athletic legs seemed to defy physics as she traversed the pavement with feline ease.

He trotted to catch up with her. His mates wouldn’t believe what they’d missed tonight. But then again if they’d been in the bar, Tony would have probably scored with Gemma instead. Mr.Good looking – Tony, would just have to miss this one!

“Where are we going?” asked Adrian as he drew level with the object of his now snowballing fantasies.

“I’m parked just round the next corner.” She replied, “Come on, keep up!”

“Lead the way Gemma lass!” he grinned.

In a few minutes of speedy walking, they arrived at a large Freelander.

“Nice!” declared Adrian as they clambered into the large 4 x 4. As soon as the doors were closed, Gemma pulled him close and kissed him so deeply he felt intoxicated by the sudden contact. “Just a little taster before the main course!” she growled.

Adrian flopped back into his seat as she accelerated away north.

“So how long have you been with the show?” he asked.

“I was born into it. I come from a circus family.”

“So was you’re Mam & Dad gymnasts like you?”

“Well I’m not really a gymnast in the strictest sense, but I know what you mean.” She paused for a long beat…then…”My father died years ago in an aeroplane crash. And my Mum, well…have you heard the story of ‘The Elephant Man’?”

Adrian nodded “I’ve seen some of the movie…why?”

“Well, the story goes that Joseph Merrick’s mother was startled by an elephant while she was pregnant and the Elephant Man was born as the result!”

Adrian looked across at the beauty queen as she drove, “I’m sorry you’ve lost me!” he apologised.

“Well, a big cat scared my Mum while she was carrying Della and me and we came out like this!” she cast a teasing look at her male passenger, a wicked grin curling up her glossed lips.

“You’re terrible Gemma, you really had me going for a second there.” he admitted.

“Adrian you’re going to have the time of your life, just sit back and think about everything two perfect pussycats can do for you!…or to you.” she added.

He did just that; phantasms assailed him as he dared to imagine all of his sexual needs fulfilled. And damned if he couldn’t imagine quite a lot!

Within quarter of an hour they turned onto a darkened farm road. The Freelander bumped and jostled on the twin rutted dirt track.

“Not far now.” offered Gemma.

True to her word, within a few minutes, a large caravan was illuminated in the headlights of the vehicle.

The caravan was one of those big types that you see more on residential caravan sites. Not a little weekend tour caravan for sure.

“Come on then!” smiled Gemma as she hooked a gloved finger onto the waist band of Adrian ’s trousers.  “Let’s see what you’re made of!”

He followed her eagerly towards the large silver trailer. He hoped the twin sister was as good looking as Gemma, “Are you sure you’re sister, Della was it? Is OK with me coming back?”

“She’ll love you; don’t worry about it; now come on!”

As they entered the caravan, Adrian ’s eyes took in the most wondrous sight. The caravan was awash with art deco prints and objects d’art. All of the seats and floors were finished with a layer of thick vinyl. Posters displaying nearly naked women were everywhere.

His eyes latched on to one in particular. Although the bottom half of the poster was ripped away it was still plain to see the details on the remaining section. The top half of Gemma’s chest was showing on the poster, a scant costume barely covering her modesty. Red and gold script surrounded her image.

“Wow this is bloody amazing!” declared the impressed suitor. “This is you…” he said pointing to the poster. He began to read; “Introducing Gemma Nye…mistress of the dark, and the Fabulous Della Nye…the Panthera twins…and that’s your sister!”

Gemma smiled, scoring a ten on the sultry meter “You want a drink?”

“Yeah sure!” he replied as he looked at the posters for various stage shows from past and present years.

He took the glass of amber liquid from Gemma and downed it in one. “Now then, where’s this sister of yours?” he asked enthusiastically.

“Oh she’ll be through in a minute.” she nodded towards a double door that halved the caravan’s length.

Adrian sat back on a plush seat as his legs began to tingle. He tried to sit up but was surprised to find that his legs didn’t want to work.

“Gemma, I don’t feel right my l…”

“Legs don’t work?” she interjected. “That’ll be the poison in your drink. Well not a poison really – a paralytic narcotic to be exact. It affects the limbs and your speech…but you can still feel everything else. You just can’t move or speak.”

Adrian’s mind reeled in disbelief as he tried to comprehend the sudden turn of events. “You lied to me…” he croaked before his vocal chords ceased functioning.

Oh no, I told you the truth. My twin sister and I do work in the shows. And the story is supposed to be true about my Mother’s encounter with the big cat in India . But who really knows?” a long dramatic pause followed, then; “Would you like to see some thing really cool?”

Adrian tried to shout NO and shake his head but nothing but a slight tremor escaped him.

Gemma Nye pulled off her gloves and flexed her fingers. A glistening set of two inch long talons sprang from her fingers. The hooked claws looked very capable of rending flesh.

Adrian stared in mute terror at the monstrous claws.

Then Gemma smiled fully for the first time and he saw the long needle like fangs that she had kept covered with her coy smiles and sly glances. “Are you ready to meet my sister?”

As if on cue, the double doors opened with theatrical aplomb.

Adrian screamed with all of his essence, yet all that escaped was a strangled high pitched wheeze. Standing before him was the most horrific beast that he’d never dared to imagine to exist.

The creature defied clear description but between the rolls of deformed flesh Adrian ’s fractured mind recognised details that he could actually register and comprehend.

A brief snap shot from an old horror movie flashed through his mind, the beast from ‘American Werewolf in London ’ stalking through the tube station, silent but menacing to the extreme.

The thing that was Della Nye loosely resembled an immense cat, but devoid of a single hair. Its/her bald and mottled skin held faint stripes across her back but these were as shadows on a lawn at twilight.

Della Nye opened her jaws and Adrian Baxter forgot every thing else in the world! The yellowed fangs were a direct contrast to Gemma’s demure needle fangs; these were huge tusks in comparison and perfect for crushing and shredding flesh and bone.

The twin sister to Gemma walked towards the stricken man on four grotesque feet. Della’s huge back rippled with muscle as she moved.

She appraised Adrian with a bestial gaze.

At that moment their eyes met and Adrian ’s already terror stricken mind started to splinter uncontrollably. Della’s eyes were unmistakably human.

Adrian Baxter began to convulse with shock and Gemma Nye, ever smiling slipped next to him. A single claw raked a neat furrow down his left cheek.

Adrian vomited a stream of bile as the twins laughed at her taunting. Della’s laugh was the bubbling of phlegm in a barrel chest.

“Remember in the club when I asked if you liked to eat pussy?”

A single tear was all Adrian could manage as he recalled Gemma’s whispered question.

“Well this time the Pussy gets to eat you!”

Gemma clamped her needle teeth down onto his right forearm.

Adrian, although completely unable to move; could feel every shred of living agony as his flesh was flensed from his bones.

Then Della clamped her cavernous jaws around his throat and he knew no more.

Paul Whittaker couldn’t believe his luck when the girl he’d been staring at looked up and flashed at sexy smile back at him. He was nursing a beer in Hodge’s bar; one of Manchester ’s better establishments if you were hoping to meet an eligible single of the opposite sex.

The Lycra-clad babe padded over to him, smiling as she came.

She slid into the seat next to him with a feline grace. “Hi there, my name’s Gemma, what’s yours?”

James Hilton has had work published on Thrillers, killers & Chillers as well as on his own site.

website: www.jimhilton.co.uk

Cycle (Part Two) By Frank Duffy

It was true that Jarek missed his rig.  It was also true that he believed little in the ideals of the romantic, seeing a permanent passion as sustainable only in movies and in books.  He was not really conscious of such thoughts, but he felt them, keenly sometimes, other times as vague movements in the afterthoughts that arise from a preceding afternoon of lovemaking.  He was not unkind or overly affectionate. He was somewhere in the middle, a floater, a beginner in life’s melodrama.  His cause was not his wife’s cause.He drove the car up to the Central Disposal Compound.  He took the scenic route before engaging in the chaos that was surely to ensue on arriving at the site of the protest.  The car climbed wooded hills with houses mounted on slopes like climbers grasping onto an outcrop of rock with shaky fingers.  Small eateries glimmered and swooned in the summer glaze, tourists, of which there were many, flowed downhill with casual grace.  Below, canoes and sailboats glided in languid formations across the two lakes.  Students with backpacks sprang from newly arrived buses, some with placards, others laden with bags of alcohol and cheap food.  In the passenger seat Snuff raised his black shaggy head, monitoring the passing landscape for signs of who knew what?Jarek saw the turnoff at the summit of the hill, the road-sign for the Central Disposal Compound, and soon after, a long procession of gypsies, village folk, and members of NCARU he recognised.  At the gates to the compound police in riot gear barricaded the estate and the mountains of waste beyond.  He parked the car and let Snuff out.  There was a camera-crew entrenched between the police and the protestors.  Behind the gates several of the employees had come to watch.Marzena was with Barbara on a grass verge at the side of the road.  They had erected a small tent with a table and some chairs.  He didn’t like Barbara.  She was annoying, a snob masquerading as a liberalist.  When she’d learned that her best friend had married a truck-driver, albeit a truck-driver with his own haulage company, she had made some crack about him not having enough time to read.  He tolerated her only because he was the husband of Marzena, not because he knew better or because he thought time might improve relations.He kissed his wife on entering the tent and picked up one of the red badges.“Hi baby,” she said.

“When’s kick-off?” he asked.

Barbara stood in the background talking to a journalist.  Of course she heard him.

“Wear that badge and you commit to the cause,” she said.

Jarek inclined his head to the right, rubbing a long finger along his cheek.  Its nail was spotless, chiseled.  Marzena had always thought her husband unnaturally clean for someone used to lugging all manner of goods in and out of his rig, someone who days at a time had no access to hot water or a quick shower.

“Here,” she said, and with matriarchal care she pinned the badge to his t-shirt over the broad expanse of his chest.  She put her hand in his.   His palm enclosed over hers as if it were not there.

Marzena was not a small woman, quite often drawing stares if she decided high heels were necessary.  But sometimes she forgot how large her husband was, how tall he was.  Some days he appeared to be taller, even larger than previous, as if his height and weight increased and decreased in syncopation to some unknown order in nature.  He was the same with his lovemaking.  Some nights he brooded such passion that he took her without warning.  Other nights he was tepid, controlled, uncertain of what he was doing, as if some animalistic behaviour suited the bucking and thrusting of his needs.

She patted his arm and strode out of the tent with him.

Jarak felt his wife’s disappointment.

“Quite a turnout,” he said, trying to sound optimistic.

“I envisaged more,” she replied.

The pair of them stood watching lines of protestors breaching the summit of the hill, trawling the road in struggling groups.  Placards bobbed as if afloat.  Cries of  “What do we want…” rose and dipped.

“There’s time yet,” said Jarak.

Marzena noticed one of the compound workers stood at the gates to the compound.  She’d had a terrible dream the night before.  She dreamt she’d crept up on one of these disposal workers and  torn his throat out with her bare hands.

“I hope so,” she replied, not really believing.

*

Much to Kaminski’s relief the protest passed without incident.  Perhaps it was the focus of the media, or perhaps it was the low turnout.  Nevertheless, it was a small and minor victory. They were still no nearer to catching the killer.

The phone on his desk rang.

“Yes,” he answered, the Monday Gazette Wyborska spread out on his desk.

“They’re here to see the bodies,” said a voice.

“Take them down,  I’ll join you in a minute.”

That morning a call had come through from the Chief Inspector of the Tatra County.  Their two departments had been working with each other for almost two months now.  The decomposed bodies of two missing property developers had been found on a roadside in the village of Chelbów just after the late spring thaw.  They’d been dead for some time, but the coroner gauged it at somewhere between four to five months.

He arrived at the county hospital to find the two detectives from the Tatra department examining the five bodies.  The coroner was with them.  He was a serious man and uncle to Kaminski.

“It’s exactly the same.  Same tear marks, same lacerations to the sternum…” said one of the detectives.

His partner nodded, looking the other way.  He saw Kaminski stood in the doorway and crossed the room to shake his hand.

“Detective,” he said.

“Detective.”

The other detective continued with his rundown: “Even the claw marks…”

“Correction,” interrupted Kaminski’s uncle, “not claw marks, not as you mean them.  Those are the result of a claw hammer, not an animal.”

“I don’t understand,” said the detective.

“You and me,” said the other detective, looking to Kaminski as if he might have the answers.

Kaminski remembered the first time he’d had to gaze upon the bodies.  The gaping hole of what should have been the outer structure of the thorax had stayed with him for weeks.  Only when he’d gotten past the cannibalistic theory, did he become fully involved with what Uncle Norbert had told him, that both animal and man had committed the crime.

*

Marzena sat on the patio of the private bar with Barbara rattling on about the woman from the Gazette Wyborza.  From the patio the waters of lake rose and swelled in the sudden gusts.  A canoe that could have been Jarek mounted one wave and ploughed down.

“Weather’s taking a turn for the worse,” said Marzena, hoping to change the topic of conversation.  Their mission was over.  It was up to the people of Łagów now.  Not that she believed anything would change.  In time the resistance to the waste management companies would crumble.  The gypsies would either stay or eke out whatever they could from the paltry benefits they might or might not receive from the government.

She’d left Jarek that morning to see off Barbara.  They were to meet again in two weeks.  Another resort beckoned, another hopeless cause awaiting their final stamp of approval.  Her husband had as always acquiesced to her request that she meet Barbara alone.  He didn’t mind, she knew he didn’t like Barbara.  She glanced at her friend, who was muttering and sipping her wine in equal measure.   Yesterday had felt like an exercise in righteous indignation and nothing else.

When Barbara motored off in her new jeep Marzena decided to cut back to the cabin.  She took one of the many footpaths through the surrounding hills over the small town, admiring the view.  When she reached the cabin, Jarak, as she’d suspected was not at home.  Snuff was which was unusual.  Her husband never left the dog behind, except when he was on a job.  She put Snuff on his leash and went out to the lake.

*

He rang Marzena shortly before sundown.  He told her that the car had run out of petrol and that he was stuck in the middle of nowhere.  He told her not to worry, that he would be back sometime after midnight. She said the dog was playing up again, like he always did whenever Jarak was gone.

Jarak was not as Marzena thought, completely without feeling for her role in NCARU.  Excluding the others, especially Barbara, he knew she meant well.  It was because of this that he now parked his car on the edge of the glade and walked the perimeter of the fence round the Central Disposal Compound.  His wife was a woman of principle and action, but those actions he felt had no chance of fruition unless she disassociated herself from the rest. They were what he called “rebellious conformists”, idle and rich playmates with no real intention of saving anything or anyone. What they did merely passed the time for them, released them from the otherwise routine of their gin-soaked mornings. Where had these people been ten years ago when the farms had collapsed in the east, when the developers had come and driven out his family and their kin?

He removed his clothes and walked naked into the darkness.

He did not care whether they would see him.  He knew they would not.  He was invisible to them.  To their eyes he was a figment, something primitive. He lay in the grass, watching the stars come out. The curtain of night shivered and shook droplets of light gathering in identical pinpricks of energy.

Several months ago he’d given a lift to two businessmen, property developers whose car had skidded off a back road leading into the Tatra Mountains.  He’d killed them with satisfaction and  ate their flesh without caring.

They would have done the same given the chance.

He crawled to his feet, feeling the stinging pains of change.  He grabbed his trousers from the ground and shook them.   A hammer fell out.  After feeding he would use it to deceive his hunters.  He hated having to resort to such techniques, but it served a purpose.  It implied the work of human savagery, of a shattered mind.  They would never know it was a ruse designed to confuse them, as he had always confused them.  Yet its randomness in an act of normality made him weep for lost traditions.  The modern world was a mediocre one.  He was glad that he had Marzena to help keep it at bay.

Mother moon made her guest appearance in the summer firmaments.

He smelled the grease of a weapon on a fat man in a pair of dirty overalls at the gates to the compound.  He would eat him and relish the taste.  This man like the men in the suits was the enemy.

Jarek stared at the hammer on the ground.  It saddened him to think it had come to this.  Then his flesh began to prickle, to warm, to begin…

He changed.

Frank Duffy is the co-writer of “The Journal” – See the Links Sections for details

Scars by Jodi MacArthur

Scar was but a tall shadow and whispers. Lucy stood in the barn, watching his shadow while she drank wine and smoked a cigarette. The shadow’s whispers pricked her ears. Lucy didn’t understand what Scar’s deep whispers said, but it was comforting. Intoxicating.His whispers grew louder, as they always did, giving his voice substance. The softness and depth dazzled her senses.  She placed the black silk blindfold on as he asked, and let him lead her to the cornfield.They lay side by side on a soft blanket. Lucy imagined the moon drifting in and out of clouds as she listened. He spun his words like spider webs and they floated and drifted like silk in her mind, to her heart.“Scar,” Lucy said, closing her eyes within the blindfold. “Why are you here? Why have you been visiting me all these nights?”“I don’t know if you are ready to hear that, Lucy.” The very way he said this made her body warm. Warm like it never did for her husband Luke. Luke who laid on the couch munching potato chips and slurping beer as if there’d be no football tomorrow, Luke who dinkered in the barn on the old ford truck that never had worked to begin with, when the crops needed to be tended.She had plowed the fields, sown the corn, weeded the rows all by herself this year. The days of the final harvest drew near, and her back ached even now from the hard work.

“You have no idea how ready I am,” she said, hinting the true meaning with the fluctuation of her voice. Although she had never seen his face, skin, she imagined Scar’s body tan, muscled, exquisite, cultured. Lucy ached for him to touch her once. Just once would be ecstasy, anything more, nirvana.

Scar chuckled. It sounded cruel. Lucy blushed, she had said too much, and then she felt angry. Wasn’t this what he wanted all along? “Your laughter mocks me.” It did. And yet she still craved it.

“Lucy, my dear, remember now.”

She remembered everything he’d ever said.

“Remember when we first met two weeks ago.”

“How could I forget, Scar?” Lucy smiled, anger forgotten. “I saw your shadow beside the barn and when you spoke to me…” She trailed off with the memory.

“I left you the silk scarf. Do you remember why?”

“You asked me if I liked the dark, and I said yes. So you told me to close my eyes and you put on the blindfold.”

“Yes, excellent.”

Lucy felt a rush of warmth at these words, so she carried on with the rest. “I remember the feel of your breath on my neck as you tied the scarf around my eyes. You told me your name was Scar. You asked me if I was angry, so I told you about Luke.”

Scar laughed again, deeper. “Then I asked you to play a game with me, do you remember that?”

Lucy whispered, “Of course, I do.” She smiled, and felt him lean over her, so close she could feel his heat.

“I led you into the cornfield,” he said.

“Only by the sound of your voice.”

“And I handed you the scythe,” he said.

“Luke’s scythe, and you told me…”

“To pour all your rage into the field. Cut, slice, hack.”

And I could feel the scythe slice through the flesh of corn

“I did what you said.” Lucy beamed at this.

“And you felt better, didn’t you?” His voice poured deep and thick.

“Yes.” Who knew how much money would be lost because of it. It didn’t matter anymore. None of it did. Lucy knew Scar was the one she was supposed to be with all this time.

“I promise to take you with me tonight, Lucy.”

Her breath escaped, and Lucy giggled at the thought. To be with Scar? She’d do anything, anything.

“First, we will play one more game. Just like the first night.”

“Anything to be with you.” She reached for him, but he wasn’t there. She grasped the cool autumn air. She smelled alder smoke. It warmed the night breeze. Lucy wondered where the fire came from.

“Stand up, Lucy.”

She did, and when an object was placed in her hands, she had no doubt what it was. She recognized the feel by the long crack in the handle. The scythe.

“Follow my voice.” And she did. “Follow me, Lucy.” His voice was straw spun gold. The scent of smoke purged her senses, and she swore she could see firelight through the silk scarf. A muffled noise, like a scream, broke through Scar’s hypnotic whisper. Perhaps it was the breeze whistling through the corn.

“Stop, there. Excellent.”

The fire was on her right. She could definitely see it now. The muffled noise came from before her. She felt uncomfortable about it. It sounded so vaguely familiar.

“Do you remember what he called your mama that last time she came to visit? The very last visit before she died? He’d called her the devil’s whore didn’t he?”

She nodded her head. Anger flashed in her. Lucy never had the chance to apologize before mama had come down with the illness that had taken her life.

“Swing.”

Lucy hesitated.

“Swing now, Lucy.”

She swung. The scythe sunk into something soft. The sharpness of the blade cut through it.  Cornstalks weren’t soft. This felt wrong. Lucy breathed heavily. Completely wrong.

“Do you remember what he did to those kittens last spring? Remember what he did when you begged him not to? He tossed them in the river. You could hear their little mews as they drowned couldn’t you?”

Lucy felt the scarf soak with tears. “Yes,” she said.

“Swing, Lucy.”

And she did, a bit surer now. The muffled noise rose again in pitch.

“You remember when he said he was visiting the Coyers’, but he came home smelling like perfume?”

She nodded. A sob escaped her lips.

“And when you confronted him, he told you you were just delusional. Crazy. But then that whore called late that night and you answered the phone. She just laughed and laughed and laughed.”

Lucy screamed and swung the scythe. She felt it slice threw through solidity. She kept swinging. The muffled cries drained away as she swung, cut, sliced.

“Stop, Lucy.”

Lucy stopped. The scarf hung loosely about her eyes. She could see something hanging from the pole she’d erected weeks ago. She had stuffed hay into some of Luke’s old clothes, complete with hat, to keep the crows away.

The shape she saw hanging from the pole was not what she had put up. A cry escaped her lips.

“You can look now, Lucy.”

She snatched the scarf away to find what her heart dreaded.

Luke’s eye’s rolled back, his mouth draped open. Blood dribbled from his mouth into the mess of gashes she had imposed upon his body.

“No! I didn’t do that…” She shook her head.

“You wanted to play,” Scar’s voice was behind her ear. She could feel his body press against hers. When Scar’s straw fingers pranced their way down her arms, she drew away – confused.  Lucy turned and looked. What she saw made her scream.

The straw hat covered Scar’s face, the brim tucked low to his chin. A red glow came from underneath. He held a cluster of cornstalks licked with flames. “Come with me, Lucy.”

“No!” She turned, tripped over a log, crawled. He snatched her pants, grabbed a shoe. She screamed and kicked his straw hand away, only to look up at Luke, then to the fire lighting up the sky.

“You already made your choice!” the scarecrow barked.

Lucy jumped to her feet and ran towards the fire. It was better to die in the flames then to be consumed by the darkness of the creature.

She reached for the flames. As she did, she felt the bristly arms wrap around her waist. “You made your choice.”

“No,” she wept. “No, no, no, n-”

Lucy gave one more push to jump into the fire, broke free of Scar’s grasp, only to have him grab her ankles. He drug her through the dirt, away from the fire.

The last thing she saw was the pale body hanging from the pole. “Help me, Luke! Don’t be dead!” Lucy roped her arms around the log that had tripped her, temporarily pausing Scar. Luke’s body just hung there. The only sound was crimson dripping from wounds. “I didn’t mean to hurt you!”

Scar yanked her from the log. She dug her fingers into the ground. Her nails snapped. “Damn you, Luke -help me!”

Lucy’s screams pierced the night as Scar the scarecrow drug her into bowing corn and alder smoke.

This story was inspired by Johnny Hollow’s “Dark Things”

Jodi MacArthur serves imagination raw on an open flame. Bring your fork to www.jodimacarthur.blogspot.com. Published online and in print, she is currently working on her first novel, Devil’s Eye.

Cycle (Part One) by Frank Duffy

Marzena Łobscweska peddled the small boat out to the centre of the lake. Jarek sat beside her stroking the back of Snuff’s head, their mongrel astride the stern like a look-out, the three of them enjoying the delirious heat of June. Bars on stilts picketed the shoreline, children splashed at the edges of the lake, and the castle with its single tower rose above the crowded thoroughfares, whilst swimmers dared traverse the deeper parts.”You want me to take over?” asked Jarek.  He leaned out of the peddle-boat, trailing his hand through the water.Marzena ceased pedalling, reaching for the suntan lotion.Her red hair swung across her freckled forehead. She focused on the western shoreline, scanning the slopes. “Put some of this on for me, will you?”  She gave her husband the bottle of lotion, peeling off the back of her bathing costume.  “Get the shoulders,” she said.  While Jarek rubbed  the lotion in she kept her eyes pinned on the rotten stalks of truncated jetties, the legs and platforms sinking into the opaque waters.“Is that it?” asked Jarek, meaning the shoreline.“It’s the worst part, yes.”  Marzena worked for NCARU, the National Council Against Recyclable Units.  It was a five thousand strong opposition group to the municipality of the Lubuska region bringing in Spanish and Italian waste-management companies to deal with the recycling of some twenty-six tourist resorts throughout the west of Poland.  It was big business, yet the companies represented only a small fraction of the rubbish recycled.  In places such as Łagów, a small tourist town with two beautiful lakes, it was the unrecognized gypsies on the outskirts of the great forest that encircled the resort, who collected most of the recyclables and transported it up to the Disposal Compound School. With these foreign companies coming in to apply the latest in their so-called ‘advanced Cleaning and Beautification technology’, not only did the success rate of recycling plummet throughout the entire area, but it was the Gypsies, whose community depended on the revenue generated by the recyclables, that probably suffered more than most.

“I can’t see anything,” said Jarek.

“You will,” replied Marzena.  She snapped the straps of her bathing suit back into place, pointed to a group of teenagers stood at the edge of a fractured jetty and began to steer the boat in the same direction.  Snuff had hidden himself beneath a blanket atop the icebox stowed on the lipped shelf at the rear of the pedal-boat.  It was much too hot for him.  They stopped and drifted about twenty metres from the shoreline.  Marzena slung a waterproof transparent kitty bag over her white bony shoulders and stood up in the boat.  Her ankle bracelet rattled as she steadied herself, the tug of the lake rocking them like feeble matter.  “Pedal round if you want,” she said to her husband, “I’ll be an hour,” and dived over the side of the boat into the water.  Minutes later she was striding up the shore to the teenagers building the fire.

Jarek watched his wife untangle the kitty bag and take out her camera.  A pair of sandals and a notebook followed.  It was safe to say that Marzena possessed Herculean properties in matters of leadership.  She could entrance the most obstinate of opponents with a few words of compliment, or if the moment demanded, was able to criticise the worst offenders into submission without them realising it until it was too late.  With a few hurried words in the ears of the teenagers, and with a promise of a hundred Zloty to be shared out five ways, she rallied the troops.  She directed them toward the last visible remnants of a jetty, acknowledging this as their termination point.  Along this ridge of broken bottles, discarded food wrappers and plastic disposables, she gave them their instructions.

As her new band of helpers went about their task, she photographed each of the ten sites that she’d categorised as the worst along this stretch of the shoreline.  She used her notebook to record the kind of refuse collected, its impact on the surrounding environment, logging and dating and then finally photographing the evidence. After an hour there was a three-foot high mound of rubbish giving off a hideous rotting odour.  She paid the teenagers their hundred Zloty and swam back out to the peddle-boat.

She hauled herself up and toweled herself off.

“Pass me my phone,” she said.

“What now?” he asked, his sun burnt face peering up from beneath his baseball cap.

“I need to call Barbara.”

“I thought she was coming with the others tomorrow?”

“She’s already here.  She’s up at the camp.”

Barbara was the official spokesperson for NCARU, and chief coordinator for Sunday’s big protest at the gates of the Central Disposal Compound.  They were expecting a big turnout.  Up and down the lake tomorrow morning over fifty helpers would rein in as much rubbish as possible and transport it to the compound as a symbol of the authorities’ failures.  Usually it wouldn’t have made the national news, something so small, but the fact that three employee’s of the Central Disposal Compound had been murdered in the two months, meant that they could at least expect one or two national new crews hanging around in case of any unexpected developments.  Jarek had expressed doubts; morale doubts he had claimed that he felt the organisation was exploiting the deaths.  Marzena had reiterated her original stance: “We didn’t kill those men.”

*

“You think it’s such a great idea having armed guards?” asked Danuta Dabrowski.  The Gazette Wyborza journalist sat on a stool next to Detective Kaminski’s studying his steaming bowl of Flaki.

He saw her looking

“You want some?”

She shook her head, instead motioning to the open packet of Sobieski Lights on the countertop.

“Sure,” he said.

A purple mirage of light flooded the bar, the backdrop panelled with long mirrors that reflected the light in eddying streams, as if they were submerged inside a giant fish tank.

Dabrowksi took a cigarette and placed a hand on her dictaphone.

“About the armed guards.”

“The union wanted to strike, do you know that?”

Dabrowksi with her square jaw and peroxide bob assented that she did.

“That’s one good thing to come out of it,” he said, regretting the words the second they were out of his mouth.  “I mean at least the system doesn’t break down.”

“But you’re putting lives at risk by continuing.”

“I think it’s quite the opposite.  It’s the most effective way of protecting those men.”

The journalist smiled as if privy to inside information.

“Won’t tomorrow’s protest by NCARU be a problem?” she asked, switching tact.

Kaminski started from his bowl of flaki and looked at her.

“It’s nothing.”  He didn’t sound so sure.

Dabrowski had a reputation for fairness with her interviewee subjects, and she could see the dark circles round the Lieutenant’s eyes.

“There’s talk there planning on storming the gates to the compound.”

“That’s all we need,” he sighed.  Then something he hadn’t thought of before occurred to him.  “How much do you know about this NACRO?”

“NCARU,” she corrected, “as much as there is to know. You want specifics?”

Kaminski was running a hypothetical through his tired brain as fast as he could run with it.

“I want names,” he said.

*

Marzena went alone to the gypsy encampment, while Jarek stayed behind in their little cabin on the edge of the lake they’d boated across the day before.  He’d said he had stomach cramps, making some crass joke about it ‘being the time of the month for him.’  She guessed he missed his rig.   It’d been almost a month since he was last out on the roads.

The camp was beneath a derelict railway bridge, forty or so caravans huddled round its red-bricked legs.  A couple of horses and one sorry looking donkey chewed grass from box in a badly constructed pen.

Barbara was waiting for her in the largest of the caravans with tatty curtains and yellowing wheels.  Most of the noise was coming from inside of it. She came out clutching a newspaper.

“The nationals are definitely in on it now,” she said, flinging it into a black bin-liner draping the interior of an oil drum.

“Who?”

“The Detective investigating those murders gave an interview to Dabrowksi.”

“So?”

“He claims it poor taste and bad timing on our behalf.”

“Forget it.”

“I can’t.  He’s saying people are scared enough as it is without inciting a riot.”

“He’s just trying to frighten people off.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me if he’d got our names down on his list of suspects.”

Until now it hadn’t even crossed her mind the police might suspect them.

“But what about this lot,” she asked, climbing the steps to the caravan and dumping the placards inside the door.

Barbara with her green headscarf and the tight angles of her face, scrunched her eyes together and shrugged.

“He’s already interviewed most of the men in the camp.”

“He has?   Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It was ages ago.  Before we even got this far.  We were only just drawing up plans back then.  Besides, they let everyone go the same day.  They wouldn’t have done it if they thought it was someone from the camp.”

It made sense to Marzena that since the murdered men were all employees of the recently established waste management companies, that the police would suspect someone from the camp.  In reality they had the most to lose.  Ever since the intrusion of the foreign companies, the money paid on returnable and recyclables had plummeted. People’s livelihoods were at risk.

“Shall we postpone?”

“Are you crazy?” asked Barbara, “this gives added impetus. We need the attention.”

Barbara noticed the look in her friend’s eyes.

“Is that husband of yours coming?”

“Yes, though I’m not sure he wants to.  I think he wants to be back on the road.”

“What?  And you two not yet married more than eye-blink.”  Her tone was humorous, but the spite was prominent.

“Paradise is an illusion, trust and reliability, that’s what makes it work,” said Marzena. Later she would wonder what she had meant by that.

* End Of Part One* – Part Two Next Time

Frank Duffy is the co-writer of “The Journal” – See the Links Sections for details

The Window by Danny Hogan

For three weeks I watched workmen tear up the street, from my office window. They didn’t seem to notice me watching them so closely. Observing their habits. Recording the exact length of time of their lunch breaks and see what it is they’re up to. During this time they appeared to take much joy in holding up traffic and pedestrians alike, with their orange tape barricade. They seem to love the barricade. Often they would look at it with admiration. Or tap one of the rusted metal posts with their rolled-up news paper, as one would a pet or rambunctious child. They also harassed women and threaten school children, imitated disabled people and glared at those who are different. Particularly effeminates.One day they spent the entire time mock-fighting each other, roaring and screaming as they did so. A couple of them broke though their treasured barricade and rolled gracelessly into the road, trousers around ankles and hardhats a clatter. They caused a bus, the number seven I think it was, to swerve out of their way and take out the front of the big Boots on the corner. An old lady of eight-nine was killed that day. She had seen war, and probably remembered when Bob Crosby’s version of /Happy Times/ was in the charts. She ended up under the number seven bus, though.On one notable day towards the end, I observed them smash through asphalt, then hardcore until they hit what looked like a mix of dirty black soil and clay. Then they just stood around looking at the hole they made. For four hours. They did not scratch their heads. They did not mutter things about cowboys. They did nothing other than stood there and looked. I wanted them to be staring impassively but they weren’t. They seemed purposeful but without the purpose. For four hours. They neither seemed happy or sad. The next day they filled the whole in, laid fresh tarmac and pulled down their orange tape barricade. The latter was done with much ceremony and I was sure I saw one of them sobbing. The next day they were gone.The whole thing was weird and not normal. What they were up to, I don’t know, but I am sure they were a threat. I’m going to tell the authorities and write a letter to my local paper. They were probably communists.website:
danny@penpress.co.uk

Dead by Jeffrey S. Callico

They said he was dead but the lady in 4G thought different. She saw him just days earlier, setting flowers in the rain outside his door. The flowers died, though, and now no one had seen him. But the lady in 4G said she believed he wasn’t dead, that his life continued, despite the dead flowers.Was he dead? they wondered.The flowers were dead for sure.

——————————————————————————

Jeffrey S. Callico hails from Atlanta. His collection of short fiction, Fighting Off The Sun: Stories, Tales, and Other Matters of Opinion, is available on Amazon. His work has appeared in several
online literary journals, including FRiGG, Johnny America, Dispatch, Origami Condom, Calliope Nerve, The Legendary, Full of Crow, Opium Poetry 2.0 and Spoken War. His website can be found at www.whatisbutmaynotbe.blogspot.com.

The Cinch by James Hilton

Ashley Armstrong smiled to herself as the Royal Mail delivery van pulled away from the front of her house. She knew exactly what was inside the parcel.She’d found it on the internet five days ago. She’d trawled through the plethora of websites promising everything from legal Marijuana substitutes to wholesale Viagra rip-offs.Finally she’d found it, http://www.Cinch.com.The site was tricky to navigate, almost as if it didn’t really want to sell its miraculous weight loss product.Ashley ran a hand over her flabby midsection as she recalled the Cinch Guarantee; ‘Cut your waist size by at least 50%!!!Even at half its current size, Ashley knew that skinny bitch Samantha Leaming might still be slimmer.

Samantha was that girl. Every one in the office loved her.

Isn’t Sam beautiful?

Isn’t Sam funny?

I don’t know how she looks as good all of the time…she could be a super model.

Ashley hated Sam! Not just her though, she hated all of the skinny bitches. She saw the snide looks they gave, whispering about her, about how she looked.

Ashley kept a size ten dress in her wardrobe, even though she wore four sizes up. Ten was her target size.

And now she was one big step closer to wearing it.

The computer screen blinked into life as the DVD drive whirred. The information presented on the disc promised to make using the Cinch as easy as A, B, C.

Ashley knelt on the floor as the presenter gave a dazzling white smile.

It was the same handsome face as on the website. “Hi, my name’s Pim Stansa, founder of Cinch Industries.” For the next ten minutes the smooth talking Stansa explained in a west coast American accent, how all other diets and health kicks were now obsolete due to the miraculous development of the Cinch. He finished with the declaration that within a few minutes of trying the Cinch, all thoughts of weight loss would be the farthest thing from your mind.

Ashley studied the cinch that lay across her knees as the infomercial spouted potted wisdom and told just how great her new life would be.

The cinch itself resembled an extra wide belt. A simple adjustable buckle system allowed the belt to be made a perfect fit. The inside of the belt was decorated by a string of strange glyphs.

Chinese? No.

Maybe rune symbols?

She didn’t know, or care, as long as it worked.

But the real innovation with the cinch was the thousands of tiny magnetically charged crystals embedded within the pliable fabric. She’d heard of magnetic therapy before but it was usually used to alleviate aches and pains or symptoms of arthritis.

With the cinch, it was claimed that the crystals magnetised the fat molecules in your body working in conjunction with the normal healthy levels of iron in your blood. The magnetism promised to bind particles of fat together in pea sized clumps and allow the body to pass them in a natural and painless way.

Ashley could only hope it worked. She’d tried everything else apart from gastric surgery; no way would she ever afford that anyway.

On the screen, Pim Stansa was encouraging the viewer to go ahead and try on the cinch.

Like most products, you could buy accessories and Ashley had decided to buy the whole range. Her set comprised of the Cinch belt, two arm bands to be worn on the biceps, two leg bands for the upper thighs and a soft neck cowl, all presented in a coordinated eye-catching design of course. The material looked like leather but felt more like neoprene as used in wet suits.

She stripped down to her underwear. She was a direct contrast to the dusty skinned model that was posturing confidently on the screen. She looked like a professional fitness instructor; the lycra suit and the Cinch accessories enhancing her form to perfection.

Ashley however looked more like a professional pie eater. Rolls of pale skin sagged over her Marks and Spencer ‘Magic Knickers’ and support bra. Maybe she needed more magic than any high street retailer could provide.

Ashley fitted the belt, then the arm and leg straps and finished by slipping the neck cowl over her head.

Stansa was back on the screen telling the viewer how great they must look and feel.

Ashley did feel good, a strange tingle was emanating from the belt. Maybe this was the real thing!

She looked down and decided that she could go another notch up on the cinch belt.

A quick breath in…another notch.

Damn, but she was looking a lot slimmer just by wearing the cinch. It had shaped her waist like an old fashioned girdle but looked sleek and stylish, if a bit Goth-like for her tastes.

She looked down again.

Could she manage another notch?

She fumbled with the small buckles. As the pin slipped into the next hole on the belt, it cut a V shaped gouge deep into her thumb.

“Ow.” She pulled her hand away instinctively and traced a line of blood three inches long from the buckle along the cinch belt.

The effect was instantaneous. A ripple of energy pulsed through the cinch belt. But it didn’t stop there, the arm wraps, leg wraps and neck cowl vibrated in response.

No not vibrated, squirmed!

The blood was absorbed by the fabric of the belt.

Then the cinch emitted a strange cracking sound. That awful knuckle-cracking sound that the men in the office did to annoy her.

She looked at her waist, bewildered.

The cinch tightened again…on its own!

Ashley tried to release the belt but it was stuck fast.

More of her blood across the cinch fabric.

The belt tightened another inch.

“No!” was all she managed. Then the rest of the cinch set began to reduce in circumference as well.

The neck cowl tightened around her throat. She could feel her pulse throbbing against the fabric. No, it wasn’t her pulse. The cowl was pulsating with an intrinsic energy of its own.

She dug her fingers under the fabric, but as she fumbled and pulled at the band around her throat, it seemed to constrict even more in response.

Ashley started to choke. Cold darts of panic shot through her nervous system.

“No, no, no.”

He computer screen blinked back into life again. Pim Stansa appeared again; smiling as ever. He seemed to be looking directly at her; through the screen.

The waist cinch clicked up another notch. Ashley was finding it hard to breathe now. Pressure seemed to be building all over her body. Her limbs were tight and sluggish as the bands restricted the blood flow to her extremities.

As spots of light danced across her vision, she staggered and knocked the computer monitor to the ground.

The picture flickered then turned a solid blue.

The cinch bands on her thighs cut so deep into her legs they now resembled a roast of meat in a butchers shop. Both her arms and legs had turned a mottled shade of red. Swollen veins accentuated their path like a ghastly road map.

Ashley fell to her knees. Her eyes and tongue sought to escape he confines of her head. Vomit rose in her throat but failed to pass her oesophagus.

The Cinch around her waist tightened with a force that caused Ashley’s bladder to empty.

She fell onto the floor, her fingers clawing without effect at the band around her throat.

The computer screen again flickered to life.

Pim Stansa gazed at her from his horizontal perspective. Then, ever so slowly, he turned on the screen so that he stood perpendicular again.

From his impossible manipulation of the screen, Stansa gave Ashley another perfect smile and a double thumbs up.

The arm bands had nipped through the delicate skin, soft fat and muscle tissues and now encircled the bone itself.

She tried to scream for help, but all that escaped was a thin whistling wheeze. Her mouth worked like a fish out of water, but to no avail.

The waist cinch tightened again, now cut so deep that she couldn’t see it in the folds of her abdomen.

Her legs began to jerk spasmodically. She looked down at her self animated feet. They were doing ‘Riverdance’ of their own accord.

A varicose vein on the inside of her left knee expanded like a child’s modelling balloon. The skin ruptured and a pencil thin stream of blood was ejected under pressure. The crimson stream covered the whole length of the bedroom, some fifteen feet across.

Then her whole body joined in with the jerking of her legs.

From Stansa’s view she looked like a jockey spurring on an imaginary horse.

The waist Cinch tightened again.

Deep inside Ashley Armstrong’s torso, her liver and spleen burst, flooding her abdomen with both precious blood and harmful toxins.

The neck cowl seemed to loosen for a couple of seconds. In that time, the contents of her stomach coupled with the emissions of her ruptured organs spewed forth. She had scant time for one shuddering intake of breath; then it constricted again.

The range of sensations she endured was beyond words. Pain, agony, mind-numbing terror, anguish, torture, suffering, misery; these were words that featured every day in the tabloids. Ashley’s ordeal reset the very parameters of these words.

With an unearthly snap of bone, her left leg detached itself. As she continued to flop on the floor gouts of dark crimson essence spurted over the dismembered limb. The cinch had constricted to such a point that it nipped the top of the lost limb tight around the femur. The amputated appendage now resembled an over sized bratwurst – with toes.

On the computer monitor, Stansa looked directly into Ashley’s bulging eyes.

As she clung to the last vestige of life she watched his name appear on screen in large animated letters. PIM STANSA.

She watched them rearrange themselves; undoing the simple anagram that she’d missed at the start of the presentation.

New torrents of time rendering agony swept her body. With three decisive snaps, her remaining limbs were detached as the Cinch on each reduced itself to a bizarrely small circumference.

Then the waist cinch constricted for a final time, crushing all remaining soft tissue into her spinal column. She was now beyond individual sensations and the loss of her pelvis escaped her.

Ashley’s perspective of vision changed, twin messages of contradicting sights each vying for dominance in her brain. Then she realised that her right eye had popped out its socket and was now lolling downwards on her cheek.

On the screen, Stansa, now framed by his real name gave a cheery wave goodbye.

Ashley was still trying to draw one final breath as her head was severed by the cinch around her neck. What little blood that remained in her torso now trickled lazily from her mangled throat.

The DVD tray on the computer tower opened and ejected the disc. The disc landed on the floor and then curled into an unrecognisable shape resembling a dead crustacean.

Then silence settled on the household of Ashley Armstrong.

James Hilton has had work published on Thrillers, killers & Chillers as well as on his own site.

website: www.jimhilton.co.uk


The Night Shift by Paul D. Brazill

Increasingly, the sounds –a stew of screams, screeching tyres, roaring engines and howls – had begun to drift up from the park  to Horseshadow Hill, coaxing Victor Denton from his already fitful sleep. And that was usually that. Once awake he would just lay for hours in a wan state before dropping off moments before his alarm clock went off.He’d phoned the police many times and complained about the noise and once or twice he’d even heard the whine of sirens or spotted flashing blue lights heading towards the park but a night or two later the noise would just  flare up again.*Almost imperceptibly, winter had crept up and smothered the days with darkness, flushing Victors memories – good, bad and, yes, ugly – to the forefront of his mind. Night after sleepless night his anger brewed and bubbled to boiling point.*The uniform was tighter than it had been but not much. Victor still kept himself in good condition. The part time job at the printers helped but  perhaps it was genetic. Whatever,  he was in much better condition than most sixty six year old that he knew. He pulled on his boots with a struggle, collected up his kit and headed off into the night.

*

There were about ten of them. Mostly male but a couple of females and a dog. Maybe a pit bull, thought Victor although he couldn’t be sure. He’s never been a big fan of dogs. Or cats for that matter. Or people.

The gangling rat faced one with the acne scarred face had a grin much wider than is vocabulary as Victor walked towards  him but it disappeared quickly enough when the bullet pierced his Adam’s apple. The girl kneeling at his groin must have been in her teens and she shrieked as she was pebble dashed with blood .Victor shot her twice in the back of the head without a pause for doubt. He’d  always been an equal opportunities killer.

The next few moments were a flash of fireworks and explosions. A couple of fat boys  and a bottle blond twice their age managed to struggle into a jeep and start it up but Victor’s aim was as good as ever and it exploded like Vesuvius. Just like the old days, he thought.

Then there was silence except for his heartbeat. And a snarling sound. Victor turned saw the dog ready to pounce . As he went for his revolver the dog was on him, knocking him to the ground.

With two shots it was over and Victor was sprayed with blood. Panting he struggled to move the canine corpse and blinked as as a hand grenade rolled onto the ground. And then he looked into dogs mouth with the grenade’s pin attached to one of it’s incisors.

*

The hospital room was antiseptic and depressing, as hospital’s tended to be,  but Victor couldn’t complain. He couldn’t do much since the night in the park. He was like an insect trapped in amber. He couldn’t move a muscle but his brain still functioned.

Unfortunately.

He’s a vegetable, he’d heard one of the nurses say. Look’s more like a mashed up kebab, another had replied.Then they cackled and switched on the radio. It was going to be another long night.

The end

Bio: Paul D. Brazill was born in Hartlepool, England and lives in Bydgoszcz, Poland. He has had stories in A Twist Of Noir, Powder Burn Flash, Thrillers Killers n Chillers, Blink Ink, Beat To A Pulp, and other such classy joints. He can be found stalking ‘you would say that, wouldn’t you?’ at http://pdbrazill.blogspot.com/

The Ambulance by Melanie Browne

Sam scratched his beard and examined his fingernails while standing in the gravel of the parking lot. His father always told him clean fingernails were a sign of weakness. He studied the black lines under the nails and drank a little of his diet Pepsi. He put his nails and diet Pepsi away and quickly pulled off the Moody Blues t-shirt he had been wearing for too many days and tossed it in the back of his rusty GMC ambulance. His stomach flinched in the cold as he held out a new red flannel shirt he bought from his trip to Tyler two weeks ago.  Gripping the five gallon metal gas can, he walked across the road to the Chevron and approached the man wearing the business suit with an occupied toddler seat in the back of his Impala The man in the suit eyed Sam suspiciously and turned to check on his two year old in the back seat. The toddler had spilled chocolate milk on the seat and was trying to use the milk as finger-paint on the window.

Sam made sure to stand in the man’s personal space. “Could you spare some gas.?” He asked, and looked the man straight in the face.

“Huh? Sure. No problem.” the man answered but waited until he was finished and then let Sam pump some gas into the metal can.

Sam shook the man’s hand.

“Thank you. I really appreciate it.”

The man smiled and took the receipt from the pump. He got into his car and drove away and Sam walked back across the highway to pour the gas into the ambulance.

He sat in the front seat for a little while and munched on a bag of Sarah Lee Donuts. He examined his weather beaten face in the rear view window and watched the traffic crawl past the stop lights.

****

The next customer he approached was bald and wearing suspenders with a yellowed white t-shirt sipping a giant soda through a straw and humming what sounded like a Willie Nelson song. The man was nearly finished filling his sagging Grand Marquis with gas. Sam walked in front of the man with his metal can.

“Can I help you.?” the man asked.

Sam nodded towards the can. “I was wondering if you could help me out with a little gasoline?”

The man gave Sam a hostile look and looked past him towards toward the highway.

He didn’t say anything for a minute, then he looked Sam straight in the eyes and said “You’re not running some kind of scam are you son?”

Sam said, “No sir, I’m not. Just a little down on my luck. I lost my job and I’m trying to get back home.”

The man nodded towards the can and took the nozzle and filled Sam’s metal can to the top. He then looked around again but didn’t say anything and got into his car and drove away. Sam walked back toward his ambulance, poured the gasoline in the gas tank and put the metal can in the back right where the oxygen masks used to go. He got in and put the key in the engine and started it and drove south.

***

A few hours later Sam was gripping the steering wheel too tight just north of San Angelo. He could feel that old tension coming back in his neck. He tried to take deep breaths to relax, but it wasn’t working. The radio was broken. There was nothing to listen to, just the sounds of an empty diet Pepsi can and some other trash bouncing around in the back. He let his mind wander after the road began to empty. The dreams he had when he slept in the back of the ambulance were always strange. In his dreams his body was riddled with bullet holes, but he was walking around fine, examining the places in his flesh that were open and bleeding. Some of the holes were black and some were bright red.  He was standing in front of the ambulance and a man wearing an old EMT personnel uniform helped him climb into the back. He stepped in and sat on a clean white gurney. The EMT took his blood pressure and frowned. Sam looked at the man and smiled. When he woke up, he felt a little sweaty, a little confused. After that he stopped sleeping in the back of the ambulance. He slept slumped over in the driver’s seat with a Navajo blanket behind his head for a pillow. That seemed to do the trick. His sleep was dreamless and calm.

***

The air was cold but dry. The sun was splashing in the windows into Sam’s tired eyes. The gas gauge was nearly empty but he wasn’t ready to drag the can out to the filling stations just yet. He pulled over to a rest stop and grabbed his yellow legal pad and a pen from under the passenger side seat. He started making a list of supplies for winter.

He wrote: Matches. Soup. Knife. Flashlight. Socks. Boots. Sam put the unfinished list in his pocket and got out of the ambulance and walked to the men’s restroom. He unzipped his pants while walking to the urinal. He urinated and then zipped his pants back up and washed his hands. He walked out to the parking lot and stood there watching as two truckers smoked and laughed. He needed to find his black gloves. It was starting to get dark, the sun playing peek –a-boo behind a steady line of motionless trees just past the horizon.

The motionless trees made him think of the bad thing.
When the bad thing happened to Sam, he was engaged to Tracy. Tracy was a beautiful woman in so many ways – the cowlick in her hair, her eyes, her smile.

The bad thing ruined all of that. Tracy broke it off with him and then Sam started drinking. “You need to talk to a doctor” his friends told him. He knew which kind of doctor they meant. A few years later he thought he had dealt with it enough to start his life again. But it didn’t turn out like he planned. He was there when the bad thing happened in the back of his ambulance. He saw it happen and was forever changed by the young man he couldn’t help.

***

Sam listened to the truckers laugh and he got back into the ambulance and finished writing his list: Wool hat. Propane. New used tires. Then he closed his eyes and fell asleep as the eighteen- wheelers pulled away from the truck stop and onto the busy highway. He felt his mind drift away with the earth and sea and all of humanity.

Melanie Browne’s work can be seen at Commonline, Madswirl, Houston Literary Review.
Work forthcoming in Word Riot and Yellow Mama. She lives in Texas with her husband
and three children.
Co-editor of Leaf Garden press
Heaven is a Giant Pawn Shop/ Poems by Melanie Browne

The Sinner’s Release by Steve Jensen


Transylvania, December 21st 1789
His gaze met mine as I lowered my head and entered the Casa Alba inn. The villagers are often wary of strangers and, as I expected, a few of the drinkers made weak excuses and left shortly after my arrival. I cannot help how I appear to others, but they rarely see me as I really am…In days past, people mocked me for my thin, tall frame, my angelic eyes – they thought me weak, contemptuous, a gentle, simple giant; now, they are struck dumb. But the grey-haired man merely stared as he raised his tankard to his lips. He had the look of one who feared nothing, though his hands shook as he gripped the pewter mug. The black cloak he wore had scarlet stitching around the edges, but his collar and cuffs were marked with fresh blood.I had time to kill. I wanted to hear his story, to savour the knowledge of another’s experience, if only for a moment, to make it mine…and yours; that is what you desire, is it not?I stamped my feet loudly – I just love being the centre of attention – and the snow fell from my leather field boots. The inn’s warmth was welcoming after my flight across Hatzseg’s wintery meadows, and I dragged a chair over to the hearth-side where he sat in silence. Indeed, all was quiet bar the broken, lazy notes of a fiddle player lounging on a back-wall bench, and the spitting of the fire.

“An especially cold night, even for this desolate town,” my new companion said aloud.

“You are not from Lapusniak?”

The old man answered irritably. “No. The devil take this place…” He laid his drink down upon the wooden table and offered me his hand. “Forgive me, this night has almost cost me my reason…and my courtesy, it seems. I am Father Grigore Milea.”

“And I, Alexandru Sabau. I thank you for your time – many shun me, you know, and I am grateful for your indulgence.”

His bearded mouth formed a smile, and I saw at once that he was a hearty fellow, ordinarily. He tried to console me, for what it was worth.

“Well, a man of such…great stature will always make some uneasy, however mild or well-mannered he may be. And many, no doubt, find the colour of your eyes a little curious. But they are quite splendid – I have never seen a brighter shade of blue. I can’t stop looking at them…you are blessed, sir.”

Milea was an exceptional man, as I suspected. I should have liked to continue our idle chatter, but alas, patience is not one of my virtues; the night would be over and his tale untold unless I pressed him. Another forced smile sat uncomfortably on his rugged, anxious face…I recalled the reason why I sought his company; civility bowed to voyeurism, and the insistent demands of time.

“My friend, what vexes you so? I sense that something troubles you.”

“My story is a strange one, Sabau – you might think me mad. But I assure you, I am neither a fool or a lunatic. I was called here by the elders, because, they told me, a plague is upon the town.”

I feigned innocence – that is the device of choice when one wishes to learn secrets, yes? For our purposes here, I made this ruse my own.

“A plague? I have heard nothing of this. Tell me more…”

“My words are addled. Perhaps this ale is too strong…or my mind is weakened.” He was lost in thought for a moment, but then he spoke at a canter.

“I am priest, protector, in the town of Betuczat. I’m a reasonable man and my faith grants me courage. But I confess, it is not the plague I fear, Sabau, for that is the righteous judgment of God; the scourge I speak of is the judgment of the Devil himself – the Strigoi haunts this place, of that I am convinced, so help me…”

Ah, at last, a revelation from God’s own servant. I sallied forth, a false, teasing charge across the list field of conversation.

“The Strigoi? Vampires?” I laughed aloud, “The townspeople talk of such things in their ignorance, but an educated man like you, Milea?” He blushed, and I saw I had gone too far; I made amends, and a tactical retreat.

“Well, I’d sooner believe a man of God than all the idle gossips in Lapusniak – I take you at your word. But I am curious, what have you witnessed this evening that so…disturbed you?”

From the corner of my eye, I noticed the fiddler had ceased his wretched playing and moved towards our table. A stern glance from me, and he returned to his corner. The priest threw a few coins beyond the gypsy’s reach – it appeared that Milea wanted to make this particular confession to me only. But you can eavesdrop, if you wish.

“He has ended the lives of seven villagers thus far. But he is elusive, like the wind! No one has seen him feast, the bodies are discovered in the market, in the schoolhouse…he teases the villagers this way, as if it were some damnable game of hide and seek. I waited for nightfall and made my way through the forest to the abandoned church of St Mircea. There I anticipated the waking of the Strigoi – children, who played amongst the ruins, had seen him rise from a grave marked by clawing on the tombstone.”

“Minutes passed, then hours, but there was no one to be seen. I began to feel cold, unusually cold. The wind, so silent before, suddenly threw me onto my back, and at once, I knew the creature had risen from his infernal sleep. I saw him not; but, as I was to learn to my shame and regret, the Strigoi can take any form he pleases.”

I broke into his reverie. I had enjoyed the prelude, but now crescendo and coda await our delectation. Athough normally I have ‘all the time in the world’ to hear such tales, you have not; in this we are, nevertheless, one – Milea’s story must reach its climax soon; your patience, like mine, is not eternal.

“But eventually, you saw him, did you not?”

“No, sir…a girl, no more than five years old, sat above the headstone, singing to her heart’s content.

She twisted her golden hair in her fingers, and smiled at me. I had never seen a more beautiful child. I tried to warn her, in heated whispers, of the danger she courted – at any moment, the creature may have appeared – but she continued to sing her tuneless song. I approached, not caring for my own peril, and seeing that she still refused to listen, gripped her arm – her skin came away in my hand as I released her! The words of her song tore into my mind…she sang of sorrow and hatred, jealousy of the living – she was Strigoi Mort, the undead!

He shivered and, as a jest which only we can appreciate, I nudged a stout piece of timber further into the fire with the toe of my boot, as if a little more warmth was what he needed. Then I nudged poor Father Milea from his sudden silence.

“Did you not call the demon out?”

“My courage failed me, and in truth, I doubted my faith – I was unworthy of His protection. I fell to the ground, so great was my agitation, and the devil child ran towards me. She lowered her mouth towards my throat, her breath reeking of the grave. But God pitied me in my darkest moment, He gave me strength…I clutched her neck.“

“I am relieved to hear that you vanquished-”

“I felt the rotting bones beneath, Sabau!” Milea interrupted, “She tried to swallow and her blood ran through my fingers! Oh yes, I vanquished the demon, but murdered the child…I looked upon the face of an angel, the innocent I had destroyed. As she expired, a raven perched upon the headstone and fixed me with a cold stare, accusing me! Am I bound for Hell? Has God forsaken me in my weakness?”

He was weeping now, and the landlord made his way over, perhaps intending to usher us from the inn. Some coins, deceptively glittering riches which somehow turned to base metal within moments, made him vanish – a feat of magic, no less! Inevitably, the prospect of money lured our violinist from the shadows again – more magic! – and he accompanied The Harrowing of Grigore Milea with a suitably tortured piece of his own invention. All we needed was a song or two from the golden girl, but that, I believe, would have halted Milea’s performance indefinitely; another time, perhaps.

was enjoying this! You, my friend, may look upon me as wicked, but if you do…look upon yourself – touché!

The inn door rattled in its frame, such was the sudden violence of the knocking which echoed around the rafters. Milea stopped weeping, and his mouth widened comically until his bearded jaw threatened to polish my riding boots. He had a natural flair for drama, I must confess – I was a tad jealous.

“The Strigoi! He is here!” he screamed, and lowered himself beneath the table until only his shaggy grey eyebrows were visible.

“Relax,” I said, as I heard the quaint singing of the Christmas carollers outside. My God!, I thought, Wouldn’t it be divine if the Demon Child were at their head, leading the chorus! That I would pay to see! But I didn’t care to venture outside now that I was so warm and invigorated. The landlord shooed the children away, and it became a Silent Night once more. Milea finally recovered his dignity and former position.

The priest took a much-needed drink and grabbed my forearms as I rested them on the table – I felt he needed to convince himself, as much as me, that he spoke the truth, that he wasn’t insane, his sin was no such thing…I kept my nonchalant counsel while Milea’s hopeful, hopeless expression told me that his life was in my hands…so to speak. I thought I’d dig my spurs into his flank, just to gee him up a little.

“Ha, your God may not have abandoned you, but I certainly will before the majesty of night is darkened by the impudent sun king.” I laughed at my vainglory, the mockery of my pretensions, and I swear, if Milea hadn’t been so mired in misery he too would have colluded in my comedy. But tonight he was obliged to wear the othermask; behold, the stooge as tragic hero! I…well, my roles are reversible, as are yours – we can be anyone but ourselves ’til the curtain falls and the last act is but a misty memory of moments and…oh dear, there I go again…I really should abstain from annoying alliteration. On with the show!

Milea looked at me askance. My words had evidently dragged him out of the mire, momentarily. “Are you a poet, sir, a scholar?”

“No, a show-off. Now, how did you end up in this…” I stretched out my arm, swept it around us to take in the cast and contents of the miserable milieu, “ …place?”

The holy fool remained in a limbo of perplexity – if God or Dante had been so obliging as to dream up a tenth circle of Hell solely for the herding of docile sheep, I thought, then Grigore Milea would be the first of the flock to be driven into the pen. I prodded him again.

“So I take it that you wandered like a lost lamb until you collided with this,” There goes that flamboyant sweeping arm again… “the twelfth circle?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Oh, nothing…What happened after you left the church?”

“I took comfort in prayer, then…then I buried the child.”

I stamped my foot on the floor, disturbing the slumbering landlord, the table and thus, Milea’s mug.

At least the spilled ale washed out some of the blood – thank heavens for small mercies. “No, no, you are lying, sir! You hid up a tree for half an hour! Then you ran like a mouse from a cat! I saw…” Oh dear…” I mean…I imagine?”

“You saw all this?”

Ah, my mask had slipped. I dazzled and distracted him with a fabricated flashback – needs must:

“Oh no, Heaven forbid! I can just picture you, your Grace, your Eminence – or whatever it is you people call yourselves – lovingly laying the poor girl to rest. I see it now, in my admittedly unruly imagination…” …and in my memory.

“Yes, well, I must admit that my journey here was not a pleasant one – and I did run. But who could blame me? The very forest came to life at the command of the trickster, the Strigoi! A lean, wild-eyed hound of Hell chased me – it became a ravenous wolf; the ravens called my name, mocked my cowardice. And behind me was the vampire himself – never seen, never heard but at one with the wind as it made me stagger and fall – there is your damned cat and mouse, sir! At last, I found myself here.” Milea lowered his gaze, and muttered to himself, “I shall leave in the morning. I thank the Lord for my deliverance from evil.”

“Amen,” I concluded, with a just a hint of sarcasm. “Our time is done, my friend, and so you must depart. It’s always a bittersweet moment, for your kind at any rate – it’s sweet enough for me – and I find that a little music often plays a minor but nonetheless major part in the final act. You,” I shouted at the violinist, “What is your name? I’m sorry, I often forget the names of the bit-players in my eternal drama, though I’m undyingly grateful for their assistance…”

“Vasile, my lord.”

“Well then, Vasile, play us out! A requiem befitting this setting son of the church, if you please – earn your keep!”

Another shower of coins and Vasile danced to my tune. I turned my attention back to the spellbound priest, and focused my eyes upon his. A lamb to the slaughter – I was too powerful for him, of course, when I took hold of his neck and held him aloft. To Hell with that useless child’s body – I won’t be caught in that again! I whispered my thanks for the meal to Father Milea, and also expressed my gratitude for the entertainment he had provided throughout the night. Like all actors, I never tire of death scenes – I could play them over and over; indeed, I have. When at last Milea had gone to meet God or Dante, whichever one was on the door this night, I let him fall into the waiting arms and jaws of Vasile; dogsbodies love their scraps, you know. He fairly chewed on the bones until I called him off:

“Enough, Vasile. The curtain falls, the lights go up, the backdrop needs changing, and…” I espied the landlord as he hesitantly climbed the staircase; I weighed his life in the balance of my ever-changing mood, “…should we clear the stage before we leave?”

My faithful hound scented more blood. The landlord whimpered, and stopped in his tracks. That impudent sun king began to emerge from her majesty’s cloak, so my mind was made up for me – even the undead need their sleep.

“No, I think it’s about time we had a mature review…Vasile, let him be! No encores!”

I tipped my metaphorical hat to the landlord and made it rain imaginary money once more; just for effect, you understand.

I congratulate you on your performance. Take a bow, my friend.

Exit, stage left.

____________________________________________________________

Steven Paul Jensen was born in South Wales in 1965.

He is seeking publication of his first novella, The Poison of a Smile while writing his second book, Ariele – A Ghost Story. Steve is working on a number of literary projects with Frank Duffy.

Credits

Short Fiction:

The Gloom Cupboard

White Magazine

Creature Feature anthology

Yellow Mama magazine (April 2010)

Nonfiction:

The Immortal Story, Cinematique issue, Sein und Werden magazine

Regular nonfiction contributions in The Black Glove magazine

Steve can also be found at Shadows & Illusions:

http://stevejensen.eu

…and The Journal:

http://coaction.wordpress.com

Talking Gun by Dan Krokos

Martin sits in a bar, talking with his gun. Thing won’t shut up. It does this sometimes, stays quiet until he needs to use it. Then it becomes a goddamn chatterbox. “Do it now––in front of everyone. Whee! Think of the stories. They’ll have stories forever, Martin. One time I was drinking in a bar and a quiet man––this man didn’t talk to no one––just pulled out a gun and shot himself.” He feels the weight of the gun against his thigh. Most hitters use shoulder holsters, but Martin likes to feel the gun. He likes to know it’s there.He takes a sip of his bourbon, crunches an ice cube.“Shut it.”“That’s a gift, is all I’m saying. Giving someone that story to tell. Don’t make a scene, don’t stand up. Just tuck me under your chin or against your teeth.”

Martin bangs the glass on the counter. The bartender is over in a flash because Martin looks like a serious man. He is a serious man.

“I got a job to do.”

The bartender stops pouring, looks at him.

“Sorry?”

“Nothing.”

He forgot talking to the gun in his head is the same as speaking the words out loud. In the corner, someone wins a game of pool and does a little dance. Drunk college kids in a bar like this.

The gun is like a closed fist pressing against his thigh.

“So what’ll it be? You gonna do what needs doin’? Or you gonna wait again, wait and wait and wait.”

Martin has a thought, chuckles.

“And what happens to you? Locked in an evidence box, probably until the world rots.”

“It’s already rotting, Martin. You’re proof of this.”

A serious tone now. Martin doesn’t like when the gun gets serious. Takes the fun out of it. The bartender wipes the counter like this is a movie.

“And then what?”

The bartender moves down the bar, having heard enough of the scruffy man who speaks to himself. Martin closes his eyes in a moment of silent embarrassment. Maybe he should just do it, press the gun to a soft spot and squeeze. He knows the places that’ll kill quickest, without pain. God knows he doesn’t want to be a twitching mess on the floor, bleeding out while these fools stammer over him and try to be heroes or cowards. They might call the ambulance in time for a lifelong coma.

No thanks. How many drinks he’s had, he’d fuck it up. An inch to the left, life in a bed. For a second, he forgets why he even came here in the first place. He looks at the bartender and remembers. This bartender who isn’t really a bartender didn’t pay another guy on time. He got some warnings. He said fuck you, so they called Martin. Now they lose the money twice because Martin is here on this stool with a talking gun on his hip.

He breathes.

The gun startles him.

“How close did I get this time? Martin?”

Martin chuckles again. The gun knows when the game is over, when it needs to be quiet for a while. The gun doesn’t know Martin only kills for money, and no one is paying Martin to kill himself.

After a while, Martin says:

“Too close, you shitty gun.”

“Well, not close enough. I’ll see some action though, yes?”
“Yeah.”

Martin pulls the gun with his drunk, fat fingers. Even loaded, he’s steady enough to center it on the bartender’s heart. Too fucked up to off himself, but just drunk enough to kill a man. That sweet spot.

Martin squeezes the trigger and a black hole appears on the bartender’s shirt. Glass shatters behind the bartender. The black hole turns red. The bartender falls back dramatically, arms pinwheeling, and takes out the entire fucking pyramid of bottles behind him. Only a lowly bottle of Old Crow remains. It will be enough.

Martin sticks his gun away, leans over the bar and grabs the bottle. He’s a professional, so he’ll wait until he’s home to partake.

He doesn’t look at the college kids to spare their lives.

He goes home and locks the gun in the safe.

Dan is a crime writer represented by Janet Reid at FinePrint Lit. He is also a twenty-three year old gas station attendant/English student.

His work can be found @ http://dankrokos.com

Crazy by Melanie Browne

Jim was worried about Tina. She had been sneaking downstairs to eat raw cranberries out of a ziploc bag in the middle of the night.This didn’t seem normal. She had also been craving dirt. He caught her grabbing handfuls from the backyard from where the dog was digging holes and sucking on it when she thought he wasn’t looking. Jim had heard about these types of cravings. He knew there was a word for it. He called it her crazy cravings and he was worried. She wasn’t pregnant or menopausal or even depressed. She wasn’t anything like that. Later he found the word again. Pica. So Jim took Tina to the doctor and they checked her blood for anemia. The doctor said her blood was fine and that she wasn’t anemic. The doctor also recommended a head shrinker but Tina said no and insisted she was just tired and not sure what else but definitely not crazy.Jim started keeping an eye on the refrigerator. He knew where she hid that bag of cranberries. He kept on checking the bag over and over again, feeling its weight, to see if it was getting any lighter and it did indeed get lighter.It didn’t seem right to him. He tried switching the raw cranberries with different kinds of berries but she noticed. The next day she would go shopping and there the damn cranberries were. How could she eat them like that?Jim decided to ignore Tina. To ignore her cravings. To ignore what is normal and what isn’t. He thought about fate and God’s plan, how God decided that it was okay for Tina to crave dirt and to eat handfuls of the cranberries.In time, her cravings started to fade as Jim’s concern started to fade, as if his indifference was all she needed. He no longer caught her sucking handfuls of dirt or eating raw cranberries.

Tina took up knitting. She made beautiful things from yarn. She snacked on pretzels and kept her fingers clean.

Melanie Browne’s work can be seen at Commonline, Madswirl, Houston Literary Review.
Work forthcoming in Word Riot and Yellow Mama. She lives in Texas with her husband
and three children.
Co-editor of Leaf Garden press
Heaven is a Giant Pawn Shop/ Poems by Melanie Browne

2x Paul Brazill

Snap, Crackle & Pop!
By Paul D. BrazillSnap went Larry’s index finger when Mo bent it back. Crackle went the cigar that Mo slammed into Larry’s face. Pop went the pistol that Mo shoved under Larry’s chin.Snap went the paparazzi when Mo was led into court. Crackle went the electric chair when Mo was sent to meet his maker. Popwent the champagne cork in Curly and Shend’s hotel room.—————————————————————————————————————————————-

The Goodbye Kiss by Paul D. Brazill

The Salutation  Bar was stiflingly hot and cluttered with the usual hodge podge of misfits, waifs and strays. Walter sat at a table by the window watching the streamers of steam rise from his muddy coffee. Beside him, a gangling scarecrow of a man slurped his beer with all the enthusiasm of an ex-con in a bordello. Each sip was like leaky tap drip, drip, dripping throughout a sleepless night.

Outside, the cloak of darkness had draped itself over the city, and the moon bit into the sky like a fang. The night was suddenly filled the crackle of exploding fireworks as Lena oozed into the bar like mercury. She stood before Walter and a chill of recognition sliced through him. She nodded and he stood.

The next day a church bell echoed through the granite autumn morning as Walter lay slumped against a gravestone. On his forehead, a smear of lipstick and a perfect bloody circle were all that remained of Lena’s goodbye kiss.


The People And The Music by David LaBounty

The silence started gradually; a familiar silence that snuck up on us over the years. Fifteen years of mortgages and car payments along with child rearing and survival just like every other American family. We were once all over each other like lovers at the end of the world and then suddenly we found ourselves rarely having sex. The sex we did have was sex without love or words, our orgasms like steam released, like air let out of an inflated balloon before it is cinched complete. The sex was less than infrequent, most of our nights in recent years had been spent lying in bed while we tried to fall asleep with the TV on, neither one of us saying goodnight or offering pecks on the lips or cheek, as if the thought of touch was something like extra work, like unpaid overtime. The silence became complete while driving to dinner just last night. We argued about what to listen to on the radio. Mary wanted a Top 40 station. I hate Top 40 music as I find it and the accompanying disc jockey banter banal and dreadful and I even hate the commercials on the Top 40 stations; nothing but jingles for cosmetic surgery and debt consolidation.I wanted to listen to NPR. I wanted to feed my brain and I knew there was no way Mary would settle for listening to NPR so I offered to listen to a classic rock station as a compromise but she didn’t want to do that either. She said classic rock music was boring and I wanted to say something about Top 40 music, how it was silly for a forty-three year old woman to listen to what the kids listen to but I didn’t say anything. I turned the radio off and we drove the rest of the way without talking, the silence was only broken by me grinding my teeth at the various stop lights and Mary wouldn’t even look at me even though I kept glancing over at her. She looked good. A nice new dress that was short enough to be sexy but long enough to be modest and she did her nails and had a new pair of pumps that got me right there and I wanted to break the silence and tell her she looked fantastic.But I didn’t say anything. I was holding on to my principles.We were meeting Frank and Cindy at a steakhouse on the edge of our suburban downtown. A restaurant that had dancing on Friday and Saturday nights and Mary thought it would be fun to put the kids with a sitter and spread our wings a little bit. We barely knew Frank and Cindy. Mary had met Cindy while on the job at the greeting card store about two weeks ago. They got into one of those conversations at the cash register as Cindy was buying a get-well card for somebody and Mary is nosey like that. She asked Cindy who was sick and Cindy appears to be one of those people who will tell you her whole life story, as if dropping her privacy was no different than accidentally dropping a pen on to the floor. So they talked and you know the kind of conversation, the one that annoys everyone else standing in line as the cashier and customer chit-chat like there is no one else in the world.Anyway, Cindy’s alright, I guess. Mary invited her and Frank over to our house for a barbecue that very weekend as Mary is always trying to find us friends. I really have no need for friends or conversation with others. I deal with people all day and everyday doing my job; I don’t really want to talk to anyone if I’m not working but so it goes.

Frank and Cindy came over late on a Saturday afternoon. I grilled meat and drank beer on the patio. Frank came out to talk to me and we talked about sports and politics and the dying economy and how lucky we both felt to be working – me as a salesman selling supplies to car washes and Frank as a mechanic and Frank said his business was actually doing quite well.

The barbecue was tolerant enough and we ate on the patio and Frank and I got along alright and Cindy and Mary talked and talked about everything from children to fears of menopause and they each drank about a hundred little glasses of white wine and they were both giggling to high heaven before the evening was through.

Cindy and Mary agreed to meet at the steakhouse right there on my patio with Cindy saying it might be fun to go dancing and Mary’s eyes lit up at the suggestion and she poked me in the ribs as I leaned back in my patio chair with my hands clasped behind my head because I didn’t know what else to do with them.

I said, yeah, sure, whatever.

And so it went.

We got to the steakhouse and headed inside without talking. Mary walked in front of me breathing hard with her face turned towards the cracked concrete of the parking lot and despite her heels her strides were purposeful and quick and I almost had to run to keep up with her. I wondered what that meant, in her mind, her walking in front of me like I didn’t exist.

But I didn’t run because that would mean I was chasing after her and a man doesn’t chase after his woman, even if his woman was looking so damn good in a new dress and shoes.

We found Frank and Cindy sitting at the bar smiling and holding hands, just like a normal and happy couple, just like Mary and I used to do so long ago and I thought about mimicking Frank. I thought about reaching for Mary’s hand and I looked at Mary and she still wasn’t looking at me. She was looking at Frank and Cindy, at their faces and bodies, looking them up and down with her eyes.

But the hand holding ended because Frank had a beer waiting for me, the same kind I served at the barbecue and I thought he was a hell of a guy for it and I shook his hand and I realized that was about all the physical contact I might get in a good long while. I drank the beer quick and fast and I was relieved that Cindy handed Mary a wineglass and our tension dissolved in the company of others even though Mary still wasn’t looking at me. She talked to Cindy as we were seated at a table right by the dance floor that was then empty as the band was yet to take the stage. .

The dinner conversation was a mirror of the one on my patio. Frank and I talked without conviction about the sorry state of the Detroit Lions and Mary and Cindy talked about everything else in the world with no small amount of animation. Frank and I ate our steaks rather quickly in between bottles of light beer and Mary and Cindy picked at their plates of whitefish as if the whitefish was something that was meant to last forever.

The meal was finished and there was a moment of awkward silence that I filled with ordering another beer even though Frank wouldn’t drink one with me because he said he had to drive.

Yeah, me too, I said feeling like that much more of a shit because not only was my wife not looking at me but I was also being selfish, drinking and not caring that I had to drive, not caring that I put my pleasure in front of my wife’s well-being.

The band took the stage, puffy middle-aged white men just like me but they were wearing Hawaiian shirts and white pants and sunglasses.

I would never, ever wear a Hawaiian shirt.

The music played. Oldies. Songs from the ‘70’s. Music to dance to.

The music played and people started to smile. Men stood up and led their women by the hand out to the small and parquet dance floor.

The music played and Frank and Cindy stood up. Automatically. Like there were springs in their chairs.

Mary and I just sat there and watched.

We watched as Frank and Cindy moved in rhythm with each other as the band played several songs that I’ve heard a million times on the radio. Songs by The Beach Boys. Abba. Van Morrison. KC and the Sunshine Band. Songs light and airy and without any meaning. Songs that showed me the true nature of Frank and Cindy by the way they moved, in time and in step with each other, their bodies wiggling with contented ecstasy and with love in their eyes and smiles on their faces and I could tell the way they moved on the dance floor was they way they moved through their relationship. They probably moved with ecstasy while talking to each other on the phone, while working around the house, while in bed.

The music played. Mary and I continued to sit without looking at each other but I was watching her from the corner of my eye. She was watching Frank and Cindy while wiggling in her seat and tapping her feet and I asked her if she wanted to dance.

She shrugged her shoulders and stood up without looking at me.

She walked out onto the dance floor and I followed.

The music played and we danced. If you want to call it dancing. My body moved in jerky motions, like a gorilla doing ballet and I wasn’t even close to being in sync with Mary who danced very well and that wasn’t surprising to me. I’ve always known Mary likes to dance and that she is a really good dancer. I’ve watched her float through the house while cleaning to music and there have been weddings in the past where I sat nursing a beer while watching her dance with friends and relatives and she’s always looked so happy dancing and I’ve always been happy for her, watching her do something I knew she enjoyed.

But on this night watching her dance was torture. Watching her dance while I moved like a robot on speed made me feel inadequate, something like a public display of impotence.

The music stopped.

And then it started again. A slow tune. A cover of “Feel Like Makin’ Love”.

Mary and I embraced but with a distance as we danced and I watched Frank and Cindy. I tried to copy Frank’s dance steps and mannerisms until Frank started kissing Cindy on the mouth and I knew that wasn’t going to be possible for me.

The music played and I tried to move my feet slowly and carefully while leading Mary in a slow circle that was making me a little bit dizzy.

I stepped on her feet.

I said I was sorry and I tried to give a little laugh and Mary said nothing. She just kept on staring at my shoulder and I was hoping she would lean into me and rest her face against my chest.

But she didn’t.

The music stopped and the band took a break. Mary said she wasn’t feeling well as we went back to the table and would I mind taking her home? I said of course not. So we said goodbye to Frank and Cindy who were sorry to see us go and said what a great time we all had and when should we do it again?

Mary said to Cindy that she would call her. Tomorrow or the next day.

Mary walked out of the restaurant and I followed her to the car. I opened the door for her and closed it.

I started the car and put a piece of gum in my mouth. I turned on the radio and found a Top 40 station.

Mary reached over and turned the radio off.

David LaBounty is the author of Affluenza  :here

One thought on “Fiction#Dec/Jan09”

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