First Prize

Santa’s Workshop

by Michael Balletti

Christmas lights and snow

Ruben Nijveld via Creative Commons

The annual ritual always left Saint Nick shaken and exhausted. That’s why he used the workshop. This necessary act was not to be seen.

“I’ll clean up, sir. You get some rest,” Chief Elf Elroy said.

Most people thought the reindeer were born with their special abilities. If only that were true. Santa’s magic elixir gave them the power to fly, the stamina to travel the world in one night. But that potion carried a hefty price: madness at sunrise. And only a blow from Santa’s ax could prevent that transformation from taking place.

“Thank you, El. I’m going to the house.”

Mrs. Claus was waiting at the front door with hot chocolate and a tray of cookies. Bless her heart, she had no idea how every Christmas night came to an end.

“Welcome home, Papa.”

Santa kissed her warmly on the cheek.

“How was your night?” he asked.

“Oh, fine. After all these years, I still don’t know how to pass the time while you’re away. So I finally tried some of that concoction you always make. Can’t say I cared for it.”

Santa stood dumbstruck. Dawn was breaking over the horizon, and his eyes shifted toward the workshop.

 

Michael Balletti lives in New Jersey. By day, he’s a copy editor for a marketing research company, and by night, he tries to write as much as time permits. His work has appeared or will soon appear in Theme of Absence, The Last Line, Postcard Shorts, Sanitarium Magazine, Illumen, Black Satellite, MindMares and The Threshold.


Runner Up

The Christmas Key

Shenoa Carroll-Bradd

Once They Unlocked So Many Doors

Viewminder via Creative Commons

He held out an unwrapped present that rattled like a pocketful of quarters. “Thirty seconds.”

She threw back the lid and plunged her hands into the familiar box. There were a hundred silver keys inside, maybe more.

Their first Christmas together, she’d taken too long to decide. She’d thought it was a joke and wound up empty-handed. That seemed so long ago.

“Twenty-one.”

He let her keep the keys that didn’t fit, and she spent the year studying them, learning which patterns were wrong.

“Fourteen.”

She seized on two that could be right, neither had the same pattern as her pile of rejects. But which one was right? Were there multiples in the box? Decoys?

Was the right key even in there?

“Ten.”

She held them up to compare. The left key had a thinner larger first tooth. Was that wrong?

“Four.”

She dropped it. Heart pounding, she scrabbled for the lock fastening her ankle chain to the furnace pipe. Her chosen key slid in.

At last!

She cranked her wrist to unleash freedom.

The key didn’t budge.

With a moan, she collapsed backward, striking her head hard on the cellar floor.

“Zero.” He clapped the box shut with a sigh. “Ah, well. You tried. Better luck next Christmas.”

 

Shenoa lives in Southern California and writes whatever catches her fancy, from horror to fantasy and erotica. Check out more short stories at http://www.sbcbfiction.net/ or in Demonic Visions volumes 2-6 http://a.co/2KcXPH2.


Runner Up

What Johnny Wants For Christmas

by Alison McBain

Milk… check.

Cookies… check.

Stockings hung by the fireside with care… check.

Knife… hmmm…

Dreams or Nightmares? (No. 16)

Nic McPhee via Creative Commons

Johnny dragged a chair away from the kitchen table, as quietly as he could. His father’s snores came from the bedroom down the hall, and every time the sound trailed out, Johnny paused, heart racing. Finally, the chair bumped against the kitchen counter. He clambered up and stretched on his tiptoes, just barely able to slide out the largest blade from the knife block.

When Johnny had asked for a super soaker last Christmas, what had he gotten? A duck, that’s what. A crappy wooden duck. Still optimistic in those days, he had brought it in for show and tell. The other kids in preschool had laughed at him, and laughed even harder when he ran to the teacher, crying.

Johnny shook off the memory. This was no time for weakness. The lights on the Christmas tree twinkled and flashed merrily, reflecting off the cool, smooth metal in his hand. He waited patiently by the fireplace until he heard jingling bells and heavy footsteps on the roof, and then he hefted the blade.

Boy, was Johnny ready for him. This time… this time, the fat man would pay.

 

Alison McBainAlison McBain lives in Connecticut with her husband and three daughters. She has over forty publications, including stories and poems in Flash Fiction Online, Abyss & Apex and Once Upon a Scream. She writes book reviews at www.bewilderingstories.com, blogs at alisonmcbain.com and tweets @AlisonMcBain.

 


Honorable Mention

Working Conditions

by Jen Gniadecki

Tintin Hull House - small door

Elliott Brown via Creative Commons

A low growl on the other side of the oak door catches her attention. She sighs and thinks how lovely a vacation would be. To get away from all this sorrow gone mad. Caring for them is no problem. They’re lovely, really. Until one can’t take it anymore and goes feral. This is when she doesn’t like her job so much. You cannot expect an elf to work forever, of course, but she had to agree with her husband when he says they should be able to last ten years. They really should be content knowing they give joy to so many children. Yet, the living conditions are awful and there are always going to be weak ones who can’t cope. The growl intensifies and Mrs. Claus knows it is time to act—before he becomes too strong to subdue. She reaches for the cattle prod next to her armchair. It is a shame her husband won’t listen when she suggests a rehabilitation program but he just goes on about the cattle prod and the incinerator. With the abundant supply she can see his point but changes should be made. She raises the cattle prod, turns the doorknob, and vows—as she does every year—to make improvements next season.

 

Jen Gniadecki enjoys dark stories and strong coffee.


Honorable Mention

Another Day in the Life

by Holly Schofield

shiv

theilr via Creative Commons

Determined to make today special, Marnie hung dusty tinsel from the mantle at dawn. The Krawn Occupation had ruined the last four Christmases. Cate had spent them huddled in her wheelchair, battle-ruined fingers stroking her empty stocking.

This year, Marnie had found a gift. She slid the pair of shiny knitting needles into Cate’s stocking then slumped on the sofa, exhausted from her predawn excursion digging through the fabric store’s rubble.

The front door banged open. A Krawn, all gleaming armor and claws. “Marnie Greenlove? You are arrested for treason.” One eyestalk glared down at her.

“Who’s there?” Cate’s weak voice from the bedroom.

“Go back to sleep, it’s just me.” Marnie’s shiv was in the kitchen.

“Stand up.” The Krawn touched its holstered laser.

In one motion, Marnie rose and jabbed the knitting needles into the Krawn’s armpit, aiming for that sweet spot between the armor plates. The Krawn sagged, more quickly than if she’d used her knife. She’d have to tell the others about how well knitting needles worked.

She dragged the corpse behind the sofa and tossed the gore-slicked stocking and broken needles on top.

The creak of Cate’s wheelchair made her turn. “Merry Christmas, Marnie dear!”

“Merry Christmas, love.” She settled Cate next to the fire. Just an ordinary day, after all.

 

Holly Schofield’s stories have appeared in many publications including Lightspeed, Crossed Genres, and Tesseracts. For more of her work, see hollyschofield.wordpress.com.


Honorable Mention

Tied Up With Strings

by Rachel Anna Neff

Somewhere In Between (Re-worked)

Anne Worner via Creative Commons

Joseph worked his way through the crowded mall, ignoring the whispers and stares. Past the three-story Christmas tree, a little girl ran into his leg. She looked up at him, gasped, and pressed a green envelope into his hands. He looked down to see the letter was addressed to “Santa” in the kind of handwriting only a second-grade teacher or parent could love. When he looked back up, he couldn’t find her.

“I don’t want this,” he muttered, looking for a trashcan. He hated being mistaken for Santa. No, he hated being reminded that his grandson Clark loved thinking of him as Santa. His son’s girlfriend had taken off four years ago on New Year’s Eve. With Clark. Without a trace.

His grief was a splinter that dug deeper and deeper each passing holiday. He loved his full, well-groomed white beard. But the recognition as Kris Kringle was too much for the sharp prick he felt in his heart.

“Dye it red, then,” his wife, Edna, had decreed. “I don’t want to hear you complain about this for the next twenty Christmases. You think I don’t miss him too?”

He found a trashcan and set the envelope on top.

 

Rachel Anna NeffRachel Anna Neff has written poetry since elementary school and has notebooks full of half-written novels. She earned her doctorate in Spanish literature and recently completed her MFA. Her work has been published in anthologies, Dirty Chai magazine and Crab Fat Magazine. You can find her on Twitter as @celloandbow or check out her editing venture at www.exceptionaleditorial.com.

 


Honorable Mention

The Bishop

by Mary Casey

Christmas Rush

Matthias Ripp via Creative Commons

The bishop has done it before.

This year’s soul is dressed in a sagging red and white costume and sporting a soiled beard. The bearded man is standing over a black kettle while ringing a bell as though he is calling for heaven’s notice. He approaches the man and slips a ten dollar bill into the kettle.

“Don’t do it,” he whispers to the man. “Think of your children finding out what you are planning to do. Remember why you ring the bell and who it is for. It will work out. Trust me.”

He smiles and pats the man on his skinny back and walks off into the crowd.

The bearded man calls out. “Wait! It is because of my children I need to do this!”

The bishop stops and turns. “Trust your better nature. Merry Christmas to you, son.”

The bearded man feels a lump in his pocket. He pulls out a wad of cash, exactly the amount he needs to buy his children Christmas presents. Tears fill his eyes and he picks up the bell. “Bless you!” he calls. “What is your name?”

A deep chuckle sounds through the parking lot. “Nicholas,” he answers. “You may call me Nick.”

 

Mary Casey writes from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where she is inspired by her surroundings and two Tibetan Spaniels.


Honorable Mention

Peace on Earth

by Vaughan Stanger

On Christmas Day 2019, billions of Hildreth fell like snowflakes from their orbiting bauble-ships. Summoned from their homes, most of Earth’s population floated up into the sky without saying farewell. Abandoned by his wife and daughters, Bill Dennison contemplated a life as vacant as the chairs
surrounding his dining table.

Twins #1

Siyana Kasabova via Creative Commons

One year on and Christmas Day delivered sporadic gunfire, also a knock at Bill’s door. Lonely enough to accept the risk, he tugged back the bolts. Three Hildreth stood on the doorstep: the tallest chin-high to him, its companions identically shorter. Golden skin notwithstanding, the trio resembled his family closely enough to make him shudder. “Merry Christmas!” echoed in his skull as he slammed the door. He dismissed subsequent visitations from the sanctuary of his armchair.

On the fifth anniversary of his family’s departure, Bill noted the lack of gunfire and his depleted stock of food. The knock came. He heaved a sigh and opened the door.

“Merry Christmas,” he said.

The twins’ smiles set off fireworks in his head.

“Please come in.”

Bill began spooning beans onto biscuits.

The twins spoke in unison. “We’ve something for you, Daddy!”

Hearing another knock, Bill shuffled to the door with tears prickling his eyes. He knew what to expect.

Finally, it was his turn.

 

Vaughan StangerFormerly an astronomer and more recently a research project manager in an aerospace company, Vaughan Stanger now writes SF and fantasy fiction for a living. His stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex, Postscripts, Nature Futures and Interzone, amongst others. He has recently released a new collection of short stories as a Kindle ebook: Sons of the Earth. You can follow Vaughan’s writing adventures at vaughanstanger.com or @VaughanStanger.

by Christina Dalcher

Three weeks

Your last meal at the base camp was spaghetti, bread, carbs carbs carbs. You remember only names, not tastes. Your last meal ever is Bob, whose name you remember and whose taste you’d rather forget. Good old protein-rich Bob. He’s taken you this far. Wherever this far is.

Three days

Ice experimets

Michele Cannone via Creative Commons

Your last match flickers and sputters and…Shit. That was your last match. Necessary for melting all that gorgeous powder around you. Maybe not necessary. Do not eat the snow. Do not eat the snow. Repeat this until you no longer want to eat the snow, knowing you will end up eating the snow.

Three hours

Your last block breaks the shelter’s back and you start again on the walls with hands hard as shovel blades but not quite as useful. At nightfall, you settle for a trench. A shallow, icy cocoon that feels unpleasantly like a coffin. Or pleasantly. Hard to tell the difference.

Three minutes

Your last word (Mommy, not God) stifles itself under a heavy, sliding blanket. In your mind is a mountain, a camp, a friend, spaghetti. You recite the rule of three and think how lovely it is that you will only need to wait three minutes before all thinking stops.


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.

by Howard Rachen

It perched in the weeping willow like a vulture.

Moon Over Pamlico

Jim Liestman via Creative Commons

When the moon arched its highest, the house lay dark. An hour later clouds drifted across the bone-white crescent in the sky, plunging the yard into the deepest of shadows. Only then did it climbed free and prowl across the side yard.

In the back, just over the air conditioning unit, the creature sank claws into the outer wall. It scuttled like a lizard, the only sound the tiny crinkling squeaks of the aluminum siding rending beneath its nails. Small, agile digits scratched and worried at the window until with a shudder the unlocked glass slid up. The screen peeled away like a stubborn cobweb.

With a spider’s artful silence it slid through the window, avoiding toys on the floor as it settled into a crouch. The creature unfolded and crept to the bed.

It peeled back the covers and slinked inside.

Until the sky began to lighten in the east the creature lay curled around its teddy bear, surrounded by the toys it had once knew and the memories growing harder to hold each night.


Howard loves horror. When not writing spine-tingling tales, he sits as an Associate Editor for EMP Publishing. Aside from wringing words of wicked wrath, he writes fantasy under another name.

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 Alexandra 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. RenwickAlexandra 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.

by Will Gilmer

The Pumpkin

Tanya Dawn via Creative Commons

David Douglas, local spot light correspondent, pulls out his pad of paper and writes the headline “Local Woman Carves Hyper-realistic Pumpkins”.

“Mommy they look so real!” a little girl says as she drops a piece of candy into her orange bucket and skips down the porch.

David bends down to get a better look at the pumpkins.

 “With a face like that you’re no trick-or-treater,” says a woman stepping through the squeaky screen door.

“No ma’am, just a reporter. You know if I didn’t come here knowing they were pumpkins, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

“Thank you, it’s a long process. I’m always happy when people appreciate my work.”

“Did you use papier-mache to give them that texture? I’d love to know your secret.”

“Blood, sweat, and tears go into them,” she says casually looking for anyone passing by. “So what paper do you work with?” she asks.

“I’m freelance. I don’t like to have deadlines bogging me down.”

“Well then, how about I pour you a drink and show you how it’s done.”

The reporter didn’t know which alarmed him the most; the makeshift leather works, the surgically skinned human skulls, or the dizziness he felt after finishing his drink.


Will Gilmer

Will Gilmer is a writer and poet with a penchant (attention span) for short form and abstract styles. He lives in Michigan with his lovingly acquired family, obligatory cat, and odd curios.

by Daniel Lind

With an absent heart, my insatiable hunger is turning bones brittle. I fought for Britain, then a bomb blew my platoon into confetti. Some of us ramble in the twilight, but we’re unable to go back to Blighty.

Now we confine ourselves to outskirts, living off scraps and dirt. I don’t feel cold, the goosebumps days are gone. My uniform is unrecognizable. Eastern winds wither what’s left of my face, and the uneven soil fills the potholes in my feet as I stumble through the woods.

Twilight Silhouette

Tony Austin via Creative Commons

Perhaps we won the war: I notice an increase in coaches waving the Union Jack. People picnic in the open, drink tea and eat mince pies—unaware that we regard them with drooling mouths. The innocence in the childrens’ eyes betray them. They don’t know the horrors we’ve endured to allow them this privilege.

Snarling, I point my severed limb towards the family, and my squadron silently surrounds them.

Their fleshy insides are ruptured first. A surge of blood covers the blanket. We’re deaf to their screams; our hunger is louder, and their pleas only fuel our desire.

I put on the father’s stained overcoat, rip its medals off, and leave them behind in the scarlet grass.

With new clothes, and sated cravings, we retreat to await the evening.


Daniel is a Swedish teacher living in London with his wife and two children. He plays the guitar and changes diapers in his spare time. His work has previously been published with Zetetic: A record of Unusual Inquiry, Flash Fiction Magazine, and others. You may find him on Twitter: @lindhoffen.

by Karen Bovenmyer

haunted-house-1124241_640An empty house lived at the end of his street. Trees like claws stopped other kids, as if they grabbed ankles and wrists and hoods of sweatshirts. He found a way there by looking somewhere else, sidewalk-crack-sidewalk, then dead grass. Up. White oval shapes lingered behind black windows. In. A slamming back door echoed staple-guns putting up his HAVE YOU SEEN THIS CHILD posters. Three years later, after his classmates had grown into pimples and too-short jeans, he came out, hollow-eyed and shaking. He struck the trees, also, with a wet axe from the living house, his body now a man’s body, sweating hard. They took him to a hospital, depressingly white and clean and smelling like medicine, but he still saw the house by not looking. When the demolition cranes came, they were like hands that scooped shingles off the roof, the strange Victorian spires crumbled, broken plaster and creaking timbers screamed, undefined white shapes tumbled down in a cloud of dust. The house at the end of the street died. After, he went home with a face blank as a sheet of paper, something so normal and unwritten, and, in the night, his memories clutched at him, as if they grabbed ankles and wrists and hoods of sweatshirts.

This story originally appeared in Festival Writer and also appeared in Cavalcade of Terror.


Karen BovenmyerKaren Bovenmyer earned an MFA in Creative Writing: Popular Fiction from the University of Southern Maine. She teaches and mentors students at Iowa State University and is the Nonfiction Assistant Editor for Mothership Zeta Magazine.

by Alex P. Grover

Left Behind

Omar Eduardo via Creative Commons

I still rub my eye a lot. 

I used to rub both of my eyes. I think that’s why the left one started to twitch. 

I’d always been worried something would get inside—I’d seen too many videos of botfly larvae removals, right from the crevice between the globe and the socket. I had a craving for that kind of macabre.  

I don’t know what I touched—what my finger captured, maybe under one of its deep grooves.

Go to the doctor.

It’s not too bad, I’d said. 

Because it wasn’t horrible at first. It’d happen after laughing at a joke. After sneezing. Innocent.

It took only a month. The twitch became unbearable. My left eye swelled up, ripe with hurt, always semi-closed. I couldn’t move without it stirring.

Go to the doctor.

Tomorrow, I’d finally said.

The night before my appointment, I slept. It was rare, but there were moments of rest in between the irritation. I was happy in bed.

I woke calmly to buzzing pain in my face. Then I screamed.

I could only see with my right eye, since the left was out of its socket, optic nerve pulled taut, the whole thing slowly crawling away on six legs.


Alex P. GroverAlex P. Grover is currently a digital production associate at Penguin Random House. His work has been published at Strange Horizons and A cappella Zoo, among other venues for the weird, as well as on the Quirk Books blog. Fortunately, his rational side left him long ago. You can visit www.alexpgrover.com or follow him on Twitter @AlexPGrover to find out why.

by Ville Meriläinen

Ladder

David Alliet via Creative Commons

It was the end of the world as we knew it, but some things never changed. You were always a hopeless romantic, and I hated to let you down. When I said we should start thinking of tying the knot, you thought I meant something sweet, so instead of a noose I got you that ring you were eyeing before all this shit went down.

I took you to the old church and we sat on the roof watching stars and the city teeming with the dead and listening to their growls and the song of nightingales in the park. It was then I realised I hadn’t thought this through. We exchanged vows with no way out.

You asked, “Does it count as consummation if zombies climb ladders and we’re royally screwed?” I’d never seen them do much anything than shamble on without purpose, but I guess we’d find out in time. We were supposed to be home by now. I hadn’t brought any food or water, just some rope.

I wrapped my arm around you and told you, “If zombies climb ladders and death tries to do us apart, we’ll tie our hands together and walk as one forever.”


Ville Meriläinen is a Finnish twenty-something student and a miscreant of the arts, with a penchant for bittersweet stories and a passion for death metal. His noir fantasy novella, Spider Mafia, is available at amazon.com for the perusal of anyone who ever wondered what might happen if cats in suits had to save the world from spider wizards.

by Vajra Chandrasekera

They (find you out and they) make you do it. You (have no option but to parley, to) put your cock in the wolf’s mouth one last time, to be dwarfed on the great tongue. The teeth prick. You grab handfuls of fur (as if) to fuck the mouth that will one day eat the sun but you (throw your head back because you) can’t meet his piss-yellow leer. Your balls are (cold and) burning tight, and whether (or not) you’re flaccid only you and the wolf know.

night wolf

Steve Loya via Creative Commons

They begin the rope bondage while you look the grinning wolf in the mouth, in the eye. (The rope chafes: the root and sinew pinch, the beard itches, the spit and silence irritates.) You’re waiting for that first gloaming of suspicion, the twilit moment when (it all goes sour and fast and hot, and) the war ends, peace in your time, ceasefire in yellow and red seeds seeping into the earth to be ploughed by downed swords. You’re waiting to be found out again.

Later, when they tell this story, they’ll (think they’re taking pity on you when they) say it was your right hand.

 



Vajra ChandrasekeraVajra Chandrasekera is from Colombo, Sri Lanka. If you liked this, you should also try his stories in Flapperhouse, Grievous Angel and Three-Lobed Burning Eye.