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 T. L. Sherwood

Mambo is outside, talking to my kids about going back to school or getting his GED. “I drop out, they gotta let me drop in.”

I nod at his reasoning and cut another slice of cheese. There’s a nick in the blade, each piece has a ragged line. Mambo won’t care. Last week he said, “Doesn’t affect the taste none.”

Bumblebee

Tony Cypert via Creative Commons

Jonah, my youngest, tells a joke. I can tell because no one answers right and when he says the punchline, he is the only one laughing. Paula’s next words drip with sarcasm. I want to smack that mouth of hers sometimes. It sounds just like my own, and I know what pain it caused.

I toss some crackers on the plate and go out to the porch. They swoop in like bees to a bloom. Mambo, a bumblebee; mine hungry wasps.

“Damn, this is good, Missus J.” Mambo’s thanks is better than a cat call back in my tight ass high tit days.

“Glad you like it.” I look across the street, a similar after-school connection is being done over there, using Cheetos instead, the easy way.

I say, “You kids got homework?” They shift, moan, go upstairs.

I take Mambo back to my room. We start with orals; he earns his bachelor’s degree.


T. L. SherwoodT. L. Sherwood is the Assistant Editor of r.kv.r.y Quarterly Literary Journal. At Literary Orphans, she serves as a fiction reader, book reviewer, and interviewer. She is the 2015 Gover Prize winner and her blog can be found here: http://tlsherwood.wordpress.com/

by Ahimaz Rajessh

{Fast Forward}

The great ephemeral skin lies splayed out inside the Psi Morgue. Black on the outside and likewise on the inside, not red or white. It must be burning degree six. I consider the minutes before burning degree zero: supple skin pressed against supple skin—warmth given and taken, adrenaline rushing, the moments spent caressing, kissing, suckling of pores, and the kindling of passion, rising and rising upward—the triggering of that unheard of sparkle from the base of spine.

{Fast Forward}

“Tox screen confirms hypercarbic vessels and high alcohol level in the system of the male victim. GI report confirms overly gaseous intestine.”

Guy Mayer via Creative Commons

{Fast Forward}

“Aided by ethyl alcohol and gasses of the male, passion lit up kundalini. Female victim, having sustained burns degree four, could’ve escaped from her lover’s embrace but for male’s upper limb burn contractures. A singular twin case of spontaneous combustion—male source of flame himself, female source of flame male.”

{Rewind}

“Ephemeral skin lies…”

{Long Rewind}

“William Zahida. Paranormal Sleuthing, Inc. Case one.

“My olfaction traces no fuels of any kind, only the whiff of burnt fat. Suspect Kamadeva hypoxyphilia. No visual trace of cigarette butts or electric dildo. Suspect Libido-blocking Agents. I see lovers lying smoked up, Gods charred and embraced.”

{Stop}


Ahimaz RajesshAhimaz Rajessh has been published in Apocrypha and Abstractions, Flapperhouse, The Fractured Nuance, 7×20, unFold, Pidgeonholes, and 200 CCs. His writing is forthcoming in Cuento, Milkfist, theEEEL, and Strange Horizons.

by William Squirrell

It took three beers to smell the sweet grass burning in the pool room of the Pembina Motor Hotel, five to hear the murmur of Cree. One night in December a trucker from Trois-Rivières kept buying rounds. I got so shitfaced I finally saw the ghosts.

gaspesie

clod via Creative Commons

I looked up from my shot and a woman stood over the far pocket. She stared at me through the torn curtain of her wet hair; muddy water bubbled out of her mouth and trickled down her chin. At the table behind her, beneath the flickering Molson Canadian sign, an old man sat smoking Players Menthol. The pack lay in front of him, the foil quivering in the furnace breeze. There were no eyes in his gaping orbits. Sallow skin hung from his cheeks, stained as boarding house sheets.

“Come along with me, boy,” the trucker shouted. “You can see the world. We’ll stop in Thunder Bay. I know a whore there who can make her pussy talk: not whole sentences but words.”

Outside the traffic swept down the highway and through the dreaming suburbs. The dead woman began to sob.

“Are you man or maman? Come on!”

“I think I’ll stay,” I said.


William Squirrell is a Canadian writer living in western Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in Monkeybicycle, Blue Monday Review, AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review and other venues. More information can be found at blindsquirrell.blogspot.com

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.

by Scarlett R. Algee

He swims out to the reef and waits for her, because hell is empty and all the devils are here and he has not yet learned to be afraid.

She comes: bare and white, hair and eyes and skin, flat feet and webbed fingers and thin mouth stretched in a too-toothed smile—

(the sky is lead and the sea is black and she is white save her gills and more secret places, fringed-rich-red, pulsing, waiting)

—and her mouth is too wide for proper kissing but he does it anyway, warm flesh to cold, his hands slotted into hers, short nails pulling at the membranes between her fingers.

Tempest

Jack Flanagan via Creative Commons

She tastes of rain, of salt, of blood: and he has not learned to be afraid—

(he will be found in three days’ time, neck broken in three places, bitten through to porcelain shards of spine)

—and when she laughs quicksilvery he tips his head back, baring his throat, stars wheeling briefly overhead in his vision before blanking out, and there is hunger raw in the rows of her teeth but something in her eyes like kindness—

And he is not afraid, because hell is empty.

Originally appeared in Cthulhu Haiku II (2013) by Popcorn Press.


Scarlett R AlgeeScarlett R. Algee has most recently contributed to the anthologies A Shadow of Autumn, Zen of the Dead, and The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel, as well as to Body Parts Magazine. Previously a teacher and librarian, she lives in the wilds of Tennessee with a Hound of Tindalos cleverly disguised as a beagle, and blogs at scarlettralgee.wordpress.com.

by Ruchira Mandal

I'll follow the sun...

Kaleenxian via Creative Commons

The mountain is like a screw, pressing down the land along the spiral of the road that wounds round it, each bend taking us closer home. I can hear our hearts beating, over the stuttering of the old engine and the noise of the indifferent crowd.

He is standing away from me, under my brothers’ watchful eyes. The mouth that I used to kiss is bleeding. His blood is my blood, the blood of our ancient ancestor. The blood that makes our love forbidden. I wonder if they’ll have DNA testing at the trial. The thought makes me laugh, in spite of the broken bones that feel like they’re on fire. He opens his bruised eye, and smiles at me, like he knows what the joke is. Immediately, my youngest brother bangs his head against the wall. My uncle’s fingers dig deeper around my wrist, warning me to shut up.

“Haven’t you brought us enough dishonor?”

The bus turns at a bend, the wind from the window slashing my face like a knife.

With each turning of the screw, our hearts thump a little louder—a frenzied pumping of iron and oxygen into cells desiring a little more time. The bus rolls on towards our final destination.


Ruchira MandalRuchira Mandal has a day-job as an Assistant Professor of English Literature and tries to write in between checking millions of answer scripts. She has sporadically published travelogues in newspapers, fiction and poetry in a variety of medium and has also been part of a few indie anthologies. You can follow her @RucchiraM on Twitter.

by Tara Bradford

4 U Leonard Cohen

Ex-InTransit via Creative Commons

She bent over, examining herself in the mirror, splayed in folds. She pulled her legs apart and saw the pink recede into darkness, becoming indistinguishable. It disappeared into her, silent, and she thought, no, this will never do. So she rubbed her finger and thumb together until it held onto the leathery tip between her legs. When she pulled, she felt a falling, a lengthening of herself into another place. It rounded in her palm and she let it drop powerfully between her legs. Yes, she said, better.

She felt it swing between her thighs and her confidence expanded with its girth. There were comments on the sway of her hips or the taste of her lips or the fall of her hair long and low down the curve of her back. She could not tell if these voices were echoes in her head or said a moment ago, a week ago, now. The extra girth gave her confidence, though. It bulged in front of her like a light leading her to this instance—this time. She knew, with this thing between her legs, that she would finally be taken seriously.


Tara BradfordTara is an international teacher with itchy feet and busy fingers. Having found inspiration in Japan, England and Kuwait, she is now venturing to Ukraine to see what new stories the ‘Old Country’ will reveal to her. Find Tara on instagram @tarajeana or her website www.tarajeana.com.

First Prize

A Reason to Celebrate

by Tasha Teets

Fireworks

Victoria Pickering via Creative Commons

Fireworks boom and crackle as they soar through the night sky. A kaleidoscope of colors rain down until my view is blocked by the old church steeple; the mounted cross tinted green with rust. Children race through the streets with sparklers in hand while adults gather around grilles and drink cheap beer. I bring the pilfered cigarette up to my split lips for one last drag, the tip burning red in the darkened room; the smoke fading in the humid air. 

My husband would be furious if he caught me smoking his precious menthols. That fat, lazy hypocrite. Tossing the used cigarette out the window I walk toward the kitchen, stepping over the broken lamp still spitting sparks across the dirty hardwood floor. The pool of blood had congealed into a tacky mess while I was watching the vibrant explosions in the sky. In a way I’m grateful for the noise. Any interruptions to the TV would have once heralded screams and fists much stronger than my own. Now, the thundering fireworks had covered his pleas for help as I stabbed him with a carving knife. 

Looking down on his motionless body, a smile curls my lips for the first time since our wedding day. Happy Independence Day to me.

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.


Runner Up

Happy Independence

by Eliza Redwood

Alicia hadn’t wanted to attend her brother’s stupid barbecue. Just because she didn’t have plans for the Fourth of July didn’t mean that she was a social pariah! It was only because she loved “wasting” her life exploring. Not getting tied down with roots anywhere was part of the gig.  

But she was in town, so she had to go to her brother’s stupid barbecue.

As host, he was obligated to slave by the grill, flipping burgers and chattering with friendly-faced strangers. (All strangers to Alicia but important people in his life, she was sure.)

Piano man

Mauro Luna via Creative Commons

So she hovered alone by the dusty piano on the porch.

“Do you play?” a grinning man, a half-drunk beer bottle in hand, asked.

“Not anymore,” she said, inspecting the instrument for dust. “It’s beautiful though.”

“Allow me.” And soon his fingers danced over the ivory, spinning a simple tune that reminded Alicia of home. When it was over, she clapped, taking pleasure in his flushed cheeks.  

“Could you teach me?” she asked.

“Sure, but it takes time.” Fireworks boomed in the background, underscored by the delighted laughter of nearby children.

“I love fireworks,” he said, his boyish grin beaming towards her. “Happy Independence Day.”

Alicia leaned in close, “I think independence is a little over-rated.”

Eliza RedwoodEliza Redwood is a budding twenty-something writer with a mathematics degree that’s been gathering dust and a passion for military history. When she’s not writing, you’ll likely find her on her computer playing solitaire or on her phone playing solitaire. (She just really likes solitaire.) Find her on twitter @ElizaRedwood.


Runner Up

The Machine

by Yohan Luechtefeld

Consider for a moment and compare
The differences and similarities.
Perhaps you’ll chuckle with me
At the glaring hilarity.

Machine

Martin Howard via Creative Commons

The free world minimum security
The unfortunate in super-max.
Varying in degree of suffering
Quality of life and purity.

In a free world you can do what you want
Cough, Within reason.
To expose the mighty machine
Well ‘That’s just treason!’

You’ll eat what WE give you
No you cannot grow your own.
Water your grass and flowers instead
Or risk the wrath history has shown.

You’ll drink the water WE provide
Nevermind what is in it.
Don’t you worry about that Plant next door
WE watch it every minute.
Now the very air we breathe
Chemtrails in the sky?
Hit you from every angle
Hoping soon you’ll die.

You’ll pay more than your share of taxes
Never you mind the rich.
You’ll pay your taxes in prison
Or you’ll end up someones bitch.

Marijuana has been outlawed
Inspite of the benefits you see.
The honey bee being exterminated
‘Can’t have a cure for free!’

When so many examples made visible
‘Well what to do?’
Stand on a corner with a sign?
Hell they’ll come for you its true.

MY suggestion the 4th AND 5th of July
Everyone stay at home too.
Show those in power
The many outweigh the few.

Yohan Luechtefeld
Elmhurst Illinois
Amateur lyricist/musician/children’s book author
Additional works available
JRL112772@gmail.com
Children’s ebook avaiable on amazon


Honorable Mention

Our Loss

by Cathy Bryant

“How could they? They were like our children.”

Tears fell on the old man’s frock-coat.

“I think that was the point,” said his daughter, Cecily. “They’ve grown up. They have to find their own way. And there have been tales that our army has behaved rather badly sometimes – “

“None of that!” His fist crashed onto the table. “The British Army is the finest in the world!”

I expect every nation believes their own is best, thought Cecily.

“It’s the king,” her father went on. “He isn’t himself. Everything’s ending…”

“No!” cried Cecily. “It isn’t the end. Perhaps it’s a new beginning!”

Love Letter

Sean via Creative Commons

Her father seemed a little comforted, and after a while she left him to catch up with her correspondence. There was a particular letter that she wanted to write, to an American boy she had known. They had both been eighteen and – and she could not bear to think that he might not love her any more. He had written secret, passionate letters to her that she treasured.

“Dearest, good luck in your country’s new adventure,” she wrote. “Please forgive us. Then love us, as we love you. Be happy – but don’t forget me!”

She held her head so that her tears did not fall on the letter.


Cathy Bryant worked as a life model, civil servant and childminder before becoming a professional writer. She has won 24 literary awards, including the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Prize and the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest, and her work has appeared in over 250 publications. Cathy’s books are ‘Contains Strong Language and Scenes of a Sexual Nature’ and ‘Look at All the Women’ (poetry), and ‘How to Win Writing Competitions’ (nonfiction). See her listings for cash-strapped writers at www.compsandcalls.com, updated on the first of every month. Cathy lives in Cheshire, UK.

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.