by Jessica Walker

It's A New Day | Red Meets Blue

Ashley Adcox via Creative Commons

“Don’t leave.”

“Sweetie, I have to.” My daughter’s fingernails left crescent moons tattooed into my skin.

“Please.”

“We’ve talked about this. Why does Mommy have to go?”

“To protect me.”

“And all the other little children.”

“Like Maggie from kindergarten?” Ice tinkled inside her sippy cup. “But not Ellen. She hogs the crayons.”

“Even Ellen, honey.”

She seemed to weigh whether my departure was worth protecting her nemesis. “Will you bring me back a teddy bear?”

“I don’t think they have teddy bears there, but I’ll find something.”

“Christmas present!”

“Let’s make it a surprise. We don’t need a holiday to give a gift sometimes.”

A horn beeped outside. Cinderella’s carriage waited. If only a prince was the prize, and not another tour overseas in a desert far, far away. I slid my feet into my boots, and swung my bag over my shoulder. How long until my hands—which had softened from washing dishes and playing teatime—hugged a rifle’s trigger with ease?

“Be nice to Daddy, okay?” I kissed her, breathing in the aroma of baby powder and freshly cut grass.

She stood with her thumb in her mouth. No smile, no hug.

The taxi drove halfway down the street before the ice inside me cracked, and the tears poured.


Jessica WalkerJessica Walker is a writer who uses fiction to make sense of the world. She has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine, Eye Contact, and Corvus Review. Her best work happens with a cup of coffee in hand.

First Prize

PSL Girls

by Sheri White

Chuck glared at the gaggle of girls waiting to order pumpkin spice lattes. They had been coming every day, wearing their Ugg boots and taking selfies with their cups, since August. In Texas.

They don’t care about the most important part of fall—Halloween. Chuck had tried making conversation with the girls as he swept floors or tidied up the milk and sugar counter. They would pretend to be interested in his descriptions of horror movies, then giggle together when his manager would scold him.

Fremont Coffee Company Skull Latte Art

Michael Allen Smith via Creative Commons

But today was Halloween, which meant that tomorrow, those stupid girls would be ordering peppermint mochas and wearing Santa hats, posting their stupid faces to Instagram.

Today, he would give them a Halloween scare they’d never forget.

Chuck ducked into the back and slipped a hockey mask over his face, the tiny eye slits making it difficult to find the chainsaw he hid under a towel.

He busted through the door, started the chainsaw, then ran screaming into the girls waiting to order, loving the looks of terror on their faces.

It was when the spurting blood blinded him and he was hit by flying limbs that he realized he should have removed the chain.

 
Sheri WhiteSheri White lives in Maryland with her family. She has had a love of horror since she was two years old and watched The Wizard of Oz for the first time. She is a mom to three girls, ages 27, 21, and 18, and has instilled a love of all things scary in them as well. Her one-year-old granddaughter will be gently introduced to the genre as she gets older. Her husband Chris is very understanding.

In addition to reading and writing horror, Sheri also proofreads, edits, and reviews for many horror sites both online and in print. She is also the editor of Morpheus Tales magazine.

She has had fiction published in many small press magazines and anthologies since 2001.


Runner Up

The Tryst

by Dimple Shah

Each day had been interminably long, that first year after his death.

No matter. She would seize the opportunity long awaited and prepare to see him again at the hungry ghost festival.  A yearly tryst would make bearable the other endless days.

She prepared his favorite dishes and burnt joss sticks from dawn to dusk. Paper replicas of his most precious belongings—car, house, wads of money, went up in smoke. All this she did, to ensure that when the gates of hell opened that year to let out the spirits, him among them, all their desires would be sated.

There were things she ought not to do. Dress in red, sleep facing a mirror, open an umbrella indoors.

These too she did. Repeatedly.

Flame

Annie Roi via Creative Commons

Fourteen days she waited. Nothing materialized. No one came.

As the festival ended, she went through the useless motions of lighting floating lanterns and setting them adrift in the river. She did not turn back to see if they extinguished themselves, signaling the return of the spirits to the netherworld.

She woke up to smoke and flames. As the conflagration consumed everything around her, she finally understood.

It was not him who was meant to come and visit her.

 
Dimple ShahDimple Shah moved from India to Hong Kong 8 years ago and promptly decided to forego continuing with a lucrative career in banking for the unquantifiable joys of writing. An avid lover of words her whole life, she has only recently officially donned the mantle of spinner of yarns.


Runner Up

Halloween: An Unlove Story

by Alex C. Renwick

PUNK

FunGi_ (Trading) via Creative Commons

“Remember what I did, remember what I was, back on Halloween?” – The Dead Kennedys

You were so punkrock I was shitting myself for a piece of you. Liberty spikes, kilt over thrashed jeans, and enough steel chain swinging from your studded belt to haul commercial timber up a goddamn cliff. You were the Sid Vicious I’d been looking for and all sixteen years and ten-inch fin of me wanted so bad to be your Nancy I was practically drooling. It was the kind of love story I could get behind: drunken brawls, misdirected nihilism, and all the social dysfunction my teenage heart could bear.

The party was glorious, plastic skeletons and cheap vodka, black candles in the graveyard and sex on the tombstones till sunrise. Then came school on Monday like usual and surprise! you’re the substitute teacher.

Who makes teachers so fine, so young? Whoever that is should be shot.

Gone were your shredded jeans. No trace of ‘spikes, no ghost-clank chains, no smeared black kohl. Shiny and scrubbed, you wore pleated khakis with penny loafers. I was young but decided then and there I deserved a love story that wasn’t fatal, and would occur with more regularity than one day each year.

 
Alex C. RenwickAlex C. Renwick’s stories appear in spooky places like the Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery magazines, Mslexia Magazine‘s special Monsters issue, and The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir. Born in L.A. and raised in Austin, she now haunts a crumbling urban castle in Ottawa. More at alexcrenwick.com or @AlexCRenwick.


Honorable Mention

It’s My Party and I’ll Scry if I Want To

by Christina Dalcher

Judy’s been my best friend for fifteen years, so wishing she would drown in the apple-bobbing bucket might not seem nice, but you weren’t there.

“Johnny, hold my hair back.” “Oh, Johnny, the water’s so cold!” “Look, Johnny, I got my shirt all wet.”

Cut apples

David DeSandro via Creative Commons

Goddamned Judy.

I grab my chef’s knife and pluck one of the apples out of that cold, shirt-soaking water before locking myself in the bathroom.

For the record, I’m not into superstition. Or Victoriana. But a girl needs to know where her future’s headed, who her Mr. Darcy is, whether to keep fishing or cut the bait line. I slice the apple into nine even pieces, an auspicious—if logistically challenging—number, saving the last wedge for the friendly spirits.

On Halloween inside this glass…

Someone knocks when I’m five words into my mantra.

“I’m scrying here!”

…my future spouse’s face will pass.

Talk about lame.

More footsteps on the stairs. Judy’s voice this time.

Fuck it.

I open the door and let her inside. “What?”

“Someone said you were crying.” Judy wraps me in a bear hug, pops the ninth piece of apple into her mouth, says she loves me.

Before we leave the bathroom, I catch her reflection in the mirror.

 
Christina DalcherChristina Dalcher is a linguist, novelist, and flash fiction addict from The Land of Styron. She is currently matriculating at the Read Every Word Stephen King Wrote MFA program, which she invented. Find her at ChristinaDalcher.com or @CVDalcher. Or hiding in a cupboard above the stairs. Or read her short work in Zetetic, Pidgeonholes, and Syntax & Salt, among other corners of the literary ether.


Honorable Mention

Four Swings

by Tasha Teets

Thunk

I had found the green ribbon by chance; stuffed between two hay bales in the back of the barn. I was searching for our spare whetstone, when I noticed the gap between the bales. It wasn’t mine; the last thing my husband gave me was his mother’s wedding ring.

Thunk

axe

Petras Gagilas via Creative Commons

I placed the ribbon back between the hay and decided to put the whole thing out of my mind. The truth, that my husband was unfaithful, was too shameful to bear. Lost in thought, I found the whetstone resting atop an old saddle and headed back toward the wood pile. I never saw my Husband watching me from the top of the attic stairs.

Thunk

One final swipe and the ax’s blade glinted red, reflecting the light from the setting sun. A sudden blow striking my temple brought me to my knees, the ax falling from limp fingers. Dazed, I turned to my attacker and caught a glimpse of my Husband’s face before he kicked me to the ground. He raised the ax and swung it down upon my neck.

Crack

Beheading is a slow, intimate process, but my Husband was resolved to see it through. One secret gift found. Two flinches of hesitation. Three pleas for mercy. Four swings and I was dead.

 
Tasha Teets is the Customer Service Representative for Gerber Collision. She also assists with managerial duties to run day to day operations. Over the past 3 years, she has worked with various Maryland locations to improve productivity and sales. Tasha Teets has taken classes at Anne Arundel Community College and plans to transfer to Bowie State University. She resides in Bowie, Maryland with her family and one spoiled rotten dog.


Honorable Mention

The Dolls

by Grey Harlowe

Little Miss No Name

Hayley Bouchard via Creative Commons

When they started to arrive on Cross Street doorsteps, it was without explanation. Mrs. Blanchard, Sunday School teacher, got one with a pin stuck through its head, then succumbed to crippling migraines. Mrs. Thomas, crossing guard, turned up one on a rose branch, right before she fell smack on her garden rake. It was an ordeal for their neighborhood of neat fences and good jobs.

Mrs. Eckhart kept Edgar and Mary indoors. They were too young to hear the gossip, plus a widow’s life was hard enough.  She hoped, they all did, the dolls would just stop. Then she discovered one inside their mailbox, a string around its ankle.

The next day, Mary tripped and almost fell off the porch. If Mrs. Eckhart hadn’t grabbed her arm, she could have broken her neck. Alarmed, she’d made the pair stay home that week. Things seemed to have settled down until she noticed her sewing scissors missing. And that Edgar had been conspicuously absent all morning.

She found him behind his bed, holding a doll with a blue apron at its waist.

“I had to, Mama. You helped Mary. After you’re both gone, they’ll be no one to get in my way.”

 
Grey Harlowe is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest. Her work has previously been featured by Every Writers Resource, SpeckLit, Cheapjack Pulp, HorrorAddicts.net, Microhorror.com, and The Last Line. She has work forthcoming in The First Line, and Quantum Fairy Tales.


Honorable Mention

Next Year

by Shenoa Carroll-Bradd

The last trick-or-treater has come and gone. You turn off the lights, eyeing the last candy bar in the bowl. Peanuts and chocolate. Your favorite. As your foot lands on the first stair, there comes a loud, slow knock at the door. You stop, and look regretfully at the treat in your hand. You can always buy more tomorrow, but for the costumed kids, Halloween is sacred. With a good-natured sigh, you answer the door.

The shape filling your dark porch is too large to be a child, too broad. “Trick-or-treat.”

Fingers trembling, you flick on the porchlight.

The slump-shouldered man at your door wears a mask that looks exactly like you, except for the deep bruising beneath the cut-out eyes. The parted lips are split and bleeding.

You stare, unable to speak.

The man looks down to where your numb fingers still grasp the candy bar. He takes it from you. “My favorite,” he rasps, raising a gnarled finger to tap the mask’s pale, bruised cheek. He touches your face in the corresponding spot.

The contact breaks the spell and jolts you backward. You slam the door on that gruesome latex caricature.

As you lock the door and sprint up the stairs, he calls to you.

“Next year, trick.”

 
Shenoa lives in southern California and writes whatever catches her fancy, from horror to fantasy and erotica. Check out her fan page at facebook.com/sbcbfiction, say hello on twitter @ShenoaSays, or keep up with her latest projects at sbcbfiction.net.

NaNoWriMo 2013

I’ve been trying to write a post to provide some updates for various happenings in the past month or so. But my efforts to make such a post informative and clever have run up against my decided lack of cleverness. Therefore I will leave the frills behind and simply info dump a few assorted tidbits.

  • I had a piece set for publication last month (it was Lost And Found, if you’re curious). Then a week or so before the issue it was to appear came out, the publication shut down. It was disappointing, but from talking to some of my other writer buddies, this happens a not-insignificant amount of the time.
  • So, while that temporarily kept me in the land of the unpublished, I’m hopeful that my next acceptance will actually see print. The wonderful folks at Buffalo Almanack picked up my story, From The Blog Of Exceptional-Man, and its issue should drop in a mere five days. @BuffaloAlmanack has been tweeting about it (and the other intriguing-sounding stories in the issue) for a little while now so I’m pretty excited. I should mention here that based on the ironsoap.com ratings system, had this been published here I would have rated it R for strong language. It deals with angry Internet postings, so if you spend any time online it’s not something you don’t see a thousand times a day. Still, fair warning.
  • I participated in, and completed, NaNoWriMo last month. They call it “winning” in the sponsoring organization’s materials, but I don’t really like the idea of referring to it as such. The implication is that the people who attempted it and did not complete are somehow losers. In any case, I made it to 50,000 words on a novel I titled Lessons In Necromancy. I intend to have a much longer post about the experience, but on the very real chance I won’t get to it, I wanted to at least highlight the accomplishment once.
  • One of the side effects of the madness that accompanied my efforts to finish NaNo was that I totally dropped the ball on Aspiring Voices for a couple of weeks there. If you’ve been enjoying the series, I’m sorry for the interruption. But, in addition to slipping on the posting schedule, I’ve also been falling behind on the in-progress interviews as well, so I may run into a position where I don’t have any completed ones in the next couple of weeks. Tomorrow you’ll see my interview with the fascinating and unique mind that is Alexander Chantal. Following that, though, there will be a break which we’ll call the holiday break until the new year. I have some great young and working authors lined up, too, so look for 2014 to start off strong.
  • However, while we’re on the subject of Aspiring Voices interview subjects, I thought I’d put out a wider call for additional volunteers and/or recommendations and requests. If there is someone you’d like me to interview, or if you’re a writer working to break in and would like to be featured in the series, add a comment to this post or drop me a line at paul@ironsoap.org. For Aspiring Voices, I have a loose guideline that the subjects should be writers who do not write full time (i.e. their income is not entirely earned through writing). It’s my site and my feature so I can make exceptions if I want, although in some cases I’d be happy to interview people who are more well established, it just may not be posted under the Aspiring Voices banner.
  • I also slipped and goofed a bit on the 200 CCs schedule over the last couple of months. Planning for the future is hard. Anyway, I had originally thought I was set through November (the idea being I didn’t want to have to worry about pumping out two flash pieces per week on top of my NaNoWriMo word count), so as of earlier this month I finally burned through all my backlog of 200 word stories. So when I sat down to write some more I thought back to earlier stories I had done and, recalling Deep Carolina, thought it might be fun to do something else in that vein. So I came up with the Fifty States Of Crime sub-series. Basically I’ll do one 200 word crime story for each of the 50 US states. Sometimes the state-specificity may not be all that heavy. This is intended to be an exercise in quick research and thematic variation, not an effort to capture to the true essence of a bunch of places I’ve never been. As with all my 200 CCs posts, I expect them to be hit or miss. I do these quickly with minimal editing and almost no outside feedback. They’re basically my writer’s scratchpad to try new things and flex my creativity a bit. But I think this will be fun detour. As always, if you see any of these you particularly like, I’d truly appreciate a retweet, Facebook like, Tumblr share, Pin, whatever suits you. They take a few seconds to read and the exposure of getting my work in front of new readers is invaluable.

The Aspiring Voices Contest

The bullhorn poet speaks to the horizon.

lau via Creative Commons

So, while we’re on the subjects of social media and site features, to compensate for the slippage in posting and the sort of unplanned holiday break on the interviews, I thought I’d take a minute to look back on the wonderful guest writers I’ve had the pleasure to talk with and take the opportunity to try and spread the word a little as well as get these amazing writers’ words in front of some new people. I am going to need your help, but I’m willing to game it up a little to make it worth your while.

I’m running a contest with the astoundingly original name The Aspiring Voices Contest. I’ve asked each of my guests so far to tell me about the best book they’ve read recently. They had some fantastic recommendations. I’m going to give away a copy of one of those recommended books to anyone who promotes an Aspiring Voices interview on social media between now and December 31st.

There are some minor stipulations. One is that you have to be able to prove you promo’d the article. This means the easiest way to enter is to promote on a public network and post the link in the comments. You may also promo interviews on private networks (I’m thinking here of Facebook shares behind privacy settings), but you’ll have to provide a screenshot or some other method of showcasing the signal boost. In any case you must comment on this post with a point of contact, the name of the author whose interview you are recommending, the method/network used, and some kind of verification to be eligible. The post must include a direct link to the interview and be an original coming from you (i.e. retweeting someone else’s promo does not count, you have to post it yourself). Also, maybe it goes without saying, but you must be complimentary to the featured authors. I’m not going to reward you for bashing one of my fellow writers. And you don’t have to promote the interview where the book you want is recommended, but I think that adds a nice bit of synchronicity to the deal.

On January 1st I’ll select one verified signal boost from the qualifying entries and ship them a copy of the book that looks the most interesting to them from the following list:

Anma NatsuPride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan

George WellsSpark: A Creative Anthology, Vol. II by Various

Callie HunterImpulse by Ellen Hopkins

Maggie GilesBefore I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

Lea GroverThe Year Of The Flood by Margaret Atwood

ED MartinStrange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Noel AshlandGrave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Alexandra LynwoodMacRieve by Kresley Cole

Melanie DrakeMagic Rises by Ilona Andrews

Krista QuintanaA Tangled Web by L. M. Montgomery

Alisia FaustJapanese Tales Of Mystery And Imagination by Edogawa Rampo

Sam WittBad Games by Jeff Menapace; Wool by Hugh Howey

Note that these are just the available prize titles. You may promote any Aspiring Voices interview that is posted between now and the end of the contest. Also, there are 13 instead of 12 because Sam cheated and recommended two titles. That scoundrel. Personally, I think any of these books would be a great choice, so I don’t envy you trying to choose.

So get posting and win yourself a free book!