Steve Pease – Dinner Party

Dinner Party

by

Steve Pease

Your surroundings are lavish; marble pillars and balustrades, antique parquet flooring, luxurious velvet drapes that are the crushed blue-black of sin. Crystal that dazzles the eye. A ceiling painted by Michelangelo.

There is too much to take in with just one sweep around the room.

Your host for the night is tall and thin. And, although he is so very, very pale against the midnight of his hair and clothing, yes, he is undoubtedly handsome.

All the women are beautiful and have hourglass figures; as if they’d been sketched by artists from the golden age of pulp-magazines … or by the imaginations of teenage boys on hormone overload.

Generally, you would admit, you are jaded. Life is wealth and position, gained with no merit. And you are always tired, or, maybe, just plain bored. After all, you gave up your three previous partners because they were hugely successful … and hugely monotonous.

But this is different; this promises to be fun.

Early on, you make two mistakes about the evening’s entertainment. Firstly, you discount the female trio, singing in the corner, as paid performers. Then – as men old enough to know better dash good sense against the rocks of their allure – you re-appraise the quality of the dresses they wear, and the jewelry they display. And you conclude that the women are invitees; and that the thrall they cast with their song is not forged for fiscal reward, but for their own empowerment, enjoyment, and desire.

Secondly, you realize that the harlequin you’d assumed to be cabaret is not performing his antics for some master. In fact, he is a house guest. Yes, he cavorts, and he tumbles. Yes, he magics, and pranks, and dances. But, it turns out, it is all for the heart of his Colombina. A heart which he carries everywhere, and which he will proudly show to anyone who asks.

The room, you now establish, is far bigger than it first seemed. Toward the far end, you focus on what you believed was an aquarium, and determine that it is more of a glass-contained ocean. And the fish within it is whiskered. And human-like. And carries a trident. And its malevolent gaze follows you hungrily.

You sense an oasis, and there, alone and undisturbed in the corner, is a bearded old man. He holds an hour glass, his head rests upon the handle of a scythe, and he sleeps. Very much like he has seen all of this – and more – many times before.

Disorientated, you draw your focus back to the dining table.

Timid? A coward? You find it too hard to engage with the seeming burns victim, who is swathed in bandages and sporting sunglasses. So, you just act like you can’t see him.

Initially, you cannot make sense of the seating plan diagonally across from you. One moment you’re exchanging words with an urbane, well-attired gentleman, who is both eloquent and informed about all issues scientific. Then he leaves the room, to be replaced by some rough-looking fellow; brutish and almost incoherent, who does nothing but stare at you with a lascivious look in his eyes. Only after several substitutions, do you realize they’re the same person. And all you can think is, what the hell is he snorting out there?

Earlier, the – admittedly hirsute – gent to your left had engaged you in articulate exchange. He was assured and confident (apart from a seeming aversion to the candlesticks; which he shied away from, as if their metal touch might brand him). He told you he was a student of zoology, and that he had travelled extensively across Europe and North America. Now, as the night has lengthened – if your imagination is not playing tricks – so too have his hair and fingernails. Upon his cravat, he sports spots that you took first for bolognaise. In truth, the source was a Milanese sauce – a temptress to tempt the beast in men, and headstrong enough to walk home alone. For a little way, at least.

You sip another champagne. And it is now (I think it is now, isn’t it?) that you have your gestalt; your lucidity; your Damascene moment. Amidst the madness and monstrosity; the feast of potential; the smorgasbord of saturnalia, sadism, and seduction; you ask yourself – what price ordinariness? And you name yourself near-fool, when you recall how you almost sent a rather impolite RSVP: “Thank you, but I find costume parties boring.”

As the evening draws to a close, your aristocratic host asks you to dance. And, like all the other women here, when you gaze into those eyes, you find it impossible to say nay.

 

 

Steve Pease lives in Northern England, with a long-suffering, but awesome wife, two beautiful Labradors, some graying hair, and a Tanglewood guitar that wishes he could play it better.

He once had a ‘real’ job drafting stuff for British politicians, and argues – rather convincingly – that this was the perfect apprenticeship for crafting fiction. 

George Salis – Figment

Figment

by

George Salis

In the Beginning, she was a vespine Eve squeezing into the inverted flower of a fig on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, guided by a snake made of smoke. Ssslide through the ssslime, oh if only you could ssslither like me. The cramped cave of the fig’s ostiole amputated her wings and antennae. Leaking hemolymph, she crawled more frantically. Even outssside, I can sssmell your ssson, sssightlesss and flightlesss and sssniveling for tendernesss. As she continued toward the center of the fig, her head and body were flagellated by multiple achenes, hard-shelled fruits the size of mace heads. Perhapsss he isss there, perhapsss he isss not, how can you ssssincerely trussst me? She was looking for the moist bassinet in which, according to the snake, her son was held. There were many maroon and amber blurs and when she thought she saw something promising it was just the striking of an achene, but she absorbed the pain-rattles for her son, even though she began to wonder if the snake was being deceptive. Ssswerve left, now sssubmerge. She obeyed its commands, and then she saw the bio-cradle in which her son was sleeping. Yesss. When she crawled up to its petal rim and peered inside, she knew she was too late, for the fig had already begun ingesting her son, turning him into protein, and what lay before her was only a translucent carapace. She wept as strings of smoke overhead knitted themselves across the damp chamber. The snake hissed with laughter, Sss-sss-sss-sss-sss-sss. Sss-sss-sss-sss-sss-sss. Sss-sss-sss-sss-sss-sss. The whole fig began to quake and she scuttled atop her son to protect his remains. The abundance of the snake’s breath obstructed her tracheae and when she heard a fibrous rip she turned around and saw two white stalactites puncture the fig’s skin, fangs of the vaporous charlatan.

 

George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below (River Boat Books). His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, The Sunlight Press, Unreal Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on FacebookGoodreads, and at www.GeorgeSalis.com. He is the editor of The Collidescope.

Nancy Brewka-Clark – Familiar

Familiar

by

Nancy Brewka-Clark

“Mistress Lorna Fey?” At the crone’s nod, Kate whispered, “I need a hex.”

“Ah. Come in, and take a seat.”

A swirl around her ankles almost tripped Kate up. “What a lovely kitty.”

“He’s a Scottish Fold. Tips of his ears bend right over like a lightning-riven birch. He likes you, don’t you, Greymalkin? Mustn’t let him be overly familiar.”

“Just like Roger Laniger,” Kate sighed.

“Ro-o-o-o-ger,” the cat yowled, quite clearly, and then spat.

“Greymalkin has no use for weasels,” Lorna said. “Nor do I.”

Kate frowned. “But I didn’t say anything about weasels.”

Lorna cackled. “Laniger is the Latin word for weasel. May I ask what yours has done?”

“Ever since he moved into my building he’s been stalking me.” Kate shivered. “Yesterday he told me he slept with my picture beneath his pillow.”

“Weasels make terrible lovers. All slither.” Lorna was scribbling on a yellow legal pad. “Six curses on his head I shall bestow, and put a sterile curse on all that hangs below.” She tore off the sheet and handed it to Kate. “Remember, spells are made of wishes transformed into words. There is no room for error.”

“Thank you, Mistress Fey.” Opening her purse, Kate thrust in the paper. “What do I owe you?”

“Just one little thing,” Lorna said as she ushered Kate to the door. “I suppose you think I took no notice of your dire shock upon seeing the crone I’ve become.”

“You do look a bit different from your ads,” Kate said. “I apologize.”

“All flesh perishes. But, the spirit? Never. My thousand years in this realm is rapidly drawing to an end. I’ll soon be on a distant plane, and you will take my place. ”

Kate stared at her.

“One seeks, the other finds. One gives, the other takes. One must go, the other must stay. Not that it’s a hardship to wield power. Just the opposite.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will.” With a sly grin, Lorna shut the door.

***

Licking his lips, Roger Laniger undid the security chain. “Yo, hot mama, come on in.”

Rapidly Kate spat out each line of the curse until she got to the grand climax. “With currant eyes and pelt as rough as teasel, he’ll run—”

“S-s-s-s-s,” something hissed at her feet.

“—right up my leg! No!”

The weasel scrambled across her right breast to sling itself around her neck. Digging in its claws, it hissed, “Turn me back into a man, you witch, or I’ll bite your ear off.”

“You bite my ear off and I’ll throw you to the dogs.” Kate didn’t actually know any dogs, not savage ones, anyway. The dogs she did know were meek little things on dainty leashes with sparkling collars or bright bandannas. “And I’m not a witch.”

“Could’ve fooled me,” the weasel snarled.

Kate rushed for the staircase with Roger Laniger, now a ferret playing the role of albatross, slung about her neck. Out to the car she dashed, and peeled out of the parking lot to drive off in high gear. And all the while her unwelcome passenger was growling such dire imprecations Kate snapped, “Woof, woof, weasel,” which silenced him for the rest of the ride.

“Lorna?” Kate turned the old brass doorknob. Much to her horror, the purple door swung open onto a realm of cavernous darkness. “Are you in there?”

“About time,” a voice called from the back of the bungalow as a row of candles lit themselves on the mantel. Kate almost wept with relief as Lorna came into the room towing a huge black suitcase. “My plane leaves at eight.” Lorna peered at her. “Brought your own familiar, did you? Greymalkin will have something to say about that.”

“No, no. This is the pest I was telling you about.”

Lorna rubbed her chin, where some white hairs had just sprouted out of a black mole in apparent evidence of her rapidly accelerating decrepitude. “Got careless with the precise words, did you?”

Kate blushed. “I was in the middle of my final curse when he turned into a weasel and scurried up my leg.”

Lorna limped over to scowl at the trembling weasel. “Go home, Roger Laniger, under your own steam. What happened here was all a dream.” She snapped her fingers. “Now flee!”

Lorna and Kate burst into laughter at the sight of Roger, restored to human form, running down the street like a marathoner. When Kate finally turned away from the window, Lorna was cradling a thick volume bound in black leather in her arms.

“Time for a little witchspeak before I vanish into the ether. Verily,” Lorna cackled, “thou shalt never be short of customers. This I swear by the hairs on my chinny-chin-chin.”

“So that’s what they’re doing there,” Kate said.

“To everything there is a purpose,” Lorna wheezed.

“Without you, how will I know what it is?”

“You’ll have plenty of time to read the manual,” Lorna said.

“Verily,” Kate giggled.

And from beneath the sofa, Greymalkin yowled in anticipatory glee.

 

 

A longtime author of flash drama, nonfiction, poetry and fiction, Nancy Brewka-Clark is delighted that “Familiar” is the third story of hers to appear in  Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction. Her debut poetry collection Beautiful Corpus will be published by Kelsay Books in June 2020.

From one of Paper Butterfly’s authors: Jill Hand

If you’ve had a chance to read Jill Hand’s fun and clever flash story “A Visit from Spring-heeled Jack” (find it on Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction here), you’ll more than likely have a hankering to check out more of her work….

Jill Hand’s novel, White Oaks, won first place in the 2019 PenCraft fiction awards in the thriller category. Reviewers have called it a wild ride as well as funny, fast-paced gonzo noir. Here’s a link to where to buy a copy on Amazon.

Jill is currently writing a sequel entitled Black Willows. It will be released in the spring of 2020.

Jill Hand – A Visit from Spring-heeled Jack

A Visit from Spring-heeled Jack

by

Jill Hand

It was me what answered the door the night the devil came. I’m Violet Twombey, ‘tween maid, sixteen years old come Saint Swithin’s Day. The butler, Mister Burdle, was usually the one who answers the front door, but he was visiting his brother in hospital, him what got knocked down in the street by an omnibus.

With Mister Burdle away, the hall boy, Jerry, should have went and seen who was a-banging away on the big brass door knocker like a smith at a forge but Jerry was asleep in the coal cellar, wrapped up in a bit of old carpet he keeps down there. Jerry is fond of beer and Mister Burdle not being there to stop him, he made liberal use of the keg. At first he grew merry and sang a number of songs, including one about a woman from the Sandwich Islands who wore nothing but a grass skirt that Cook said was not fit for Christian ears. Then he got quiet and said he was going to go down to the cellar and fill the coal scuttles.

When the knock came at the door, the housemaids, Alice and Susan, was playing beggar-my-neighbour in the servants’ hall. Susan pinched my arm and told me to go see who it was.

As I was rubbing my arm Alice gave me a sweet smile and said, “Won’t you please go, Violet?” Alice is not only nicer than Susan, she is prettier. She will have a husband and a home of her own one day while Susan will not, the mean old thing.

So it was me what went, me what worked in the house eight months, giving no trouble to a mortal soul, fetching and carrying and scrubbing and sweeping, polishing everything that needed polishing, including the brass door knocker that somebody was a-banging away on like to raise the dead. I opened the door and there stood the Devil.

He had a red face and horns like a goat’s and a pointed beard like a Spaniard’s. He wore tall black boots and a black cape. He leered at me most alarmingly with eyes as red as fire and did a capering dance.

“O help! It is the Devil!” I screamed.

Cook came running with Susan and Alice at her heels. The Devil breathed a jet of blue flame and stepped inside, causing them to run back downstairs to the kitchen, screeching like scalded cats.

The mistress came out onto the landing to see what the commotion was about. That’s when the Devil started flinging coloured balls of fire, causing the mistress to shriek and faint dead away.

And wouldn’t you know it, the Devil being so fiendishly cunning, that there was no men in the house to protect us? The master was at his club, as he is most every night. It being a Friday, Mister Ellis, the footman, was in Seven Dials, reading to the people in gin palaces from uplifting books and telling them not to be idle but instead to find honest employment.

At least that’s the story he told Mister Burdle when he asked to be given Friday evenings off. I suspect Mister Ellis was frequenting gin palaces for another reason, that reason being gin.

The Devil gave one last ear-splitting shriek before disappearing in a cloud of smoke. Then when the mistress woke up from her swoon she discovered her jools was missing! Diamond bracelets, emerald ear-bobs, the ruby brooch what the master brought back from India, all vanished. Cook said either the Devil must of took them, or else he had one of his imps do it.

“It must have been an imp, wouldn’t you say, Bert?” That was Alf, my young man. Him and me was strolling in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens the next night, along with Alf’s brother Bert and Bert’s sweetheart Nancy.

“Either an imp or a monkey that escaped from a zoo,” Bert replied, reaching into his pocket for coins to buy ice-creams. Bert’s pockets were heavy with coins for a change, as were Alf’s.

Alf and Bert work in a shop what sells theatrical costumes and magic tricks. Bert is small like an imp, and nimble-fingered like a monkey. He’s bold like a monkey, too, He’s just the fellow to scamper up the back stairs, nip into a lady’s boudoir and nick her jewels when she’s a-lying on the landing in a faint. I pointed to a spot below Alf’s ear, where he’d missed a bit of red greasepaint. “Ta, love,” he said, and wiped it away.

 

Jill Hand is a member of the Horror Writers Association and International Thriller Writers. Her work has appeared in many anthologies, including, Mrs. Rochester’s Attic, Caravans Awry, and Postcards from the Void, among others.
Her Southern Gothic Thriller, White Oaks, was released May 30, 2019 by Black Rose Writing.

From one of Paper Butterfly’s authors: Scott Hughes.

I’m delighted to give a huge shout out to author Scott Hughes and his most recent work!  His story “The Goblin’s Lament” was featured in Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction in April 2018 (check it out here!).

The Last Book You’ll Ever Read
A mysterious book on your doorstep, a man trying to outrun an otherworldly horror, an elderly woman who creates strange concrete creatures, a computer that isn’t what it seems, an enigmatic nothingness closing in on someone’s house… The Last Book You’ll Ever Read is a collection of five macabre tales that you won’t soon forget. Available now from Weasel Press: https://www.amazon.com/dp/194871227X
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The Universe You Swallowed Whole
The poems in The Universe You Swallowed Whole fly from the microcosm of ripples in a lake to the macrocosm of light bending in a black hole, from math to jazz, from informal to formal, from the here-and-now to the hereafter. This short book contains an infinite universe—one that you will long to return to again and again. Available for pre-order now from Finishing Line Press: https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/the-universe-you-swallowed-whole-by-scott-hughes/
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ScottHughes1

Renee Carter Hall – Penultimate

Penultimate

By

Renee Carter Hall

The room had crashed again. Instead of the rose-patterned wallpaper and the burlap-textured accent wall, the living room glowed fluorescent blue slashed with jagged red lines. She sighed and started the reset, waiting through the parade of logos and offers for upgrades, until the news feed finally came up, tastefully bordered in a gilt frame.

The headlines swept past, each lingering only as long as the room’s interface gauged her level of interest. Updates on the wars, a celebrity’s wedding, the latest public pleas for medical assistance, the new hors d’oeuvre everyone was making, the week’s political scandals ranked in a top-five format. She frowned at one item, and at her concentration it expanded into immersion, trading the walls around her for video and audio.

The last tiger had died, it said, in captivity at one of the western sanctuaries. It was a female, twenty-two years old, named Grace. The video of her caretaker finding the body was both distressing and compelling in its grief, and it played through twice until she closed her eyes. When she opened them, a wave of comments washed by, video and text, crying avatar faces and platitudes, each blending into the next. RIP Grace. Beautiful creature. So sad!!! Then a smattering of cat pictures shared for no apparent reason.

She wondered how many of the people mourning had ever seen a tiger other than in an immersion. The last zoos had become sanctuaries, closed to the public, when she was still a teenager. She had a vague childhood memory of a striped back pressed up against the glass, the tiger asleep on a summer afternoon, mixed in with the scent of popcorn and hot dogs.

The feed moved on, but sluggishly. She still scanned the headlines, but the interface could tell her attention was elsewhere. Finally a soft chime noted that it was her preferred bedtime, so she turned the feed back to the wallpaper and went to bed.

All night, her mind cycled back through photos, videos, a gallery of tigers, an endless parade, as if her own mental feed had gotten stuck on a single subject. Had it known, she wondered, that it was the last? How did anyone know, for certain, that it was the last? Had people so filled in every space, that there was no camouflage left?

She thought of old maps. Here there be dragons, or monsters. Or tigers. That time when there were still gaps big enough to hold entire creatures. That time where a person could not know something and have to live with not knowing it, unable to answer every question in an instant.

She dreamt of forests, of jungles, unmapped spaces where leaf and stone had never felt the sound of a human voice. She followed trails through a dense tangle of lush growth, and when the trail ended, she pulled vines and pushed brush aside with bare hands that ended in curving claws. She dropped to all fours and felt her spine flex. Colour became scent, and sound sharpened.

The next morning, she woke surprised to see her own hands. Her body felt clumsy and foreign. The news feed had long since moved on, and there was nothing else to say about the last tiger. The human community had noted the loss appropriately and grieved it appropriately, but now there was something new that required its due performance of sadness or anger or amusement. To linger too long was to risk being left behind.

She could not think of words to match what she still felt. Something had changed in the shape of the world, but she couldn’t define it, not even to mark it as a loss or a gain. It was something about being the last, though, and something about being alone, of having no one else’s opinions inside your head. It was something about having a pattern all your own, right down to the skin.

She knew, then, that the feed was wrong. If this wild solitude could linger in her, then wildness could always find a place to hide. The last tiger was not lying dead in a security video, caged in pixels of a news feed. It was out there, somewhere in the patches of forest that remained, always at the edges of vision, always a glimpse of pelt, a flash of eye. There would be rumours, but no one would ever find it. It would move through the city streets when everyone was asleep. It would slip through the feed, lurking in the spaces between words. It would live in the eternity between instants, and it would never have a name.

 

Renee Carter Hall’s short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including Strange Horizons, Podcastle, and Daily Science Fiction. She lives in West Virginia with her husband, their cat, and more books than she will ever have time to read, and readers can find her online at www.reneecarterhall.com and on Twitter as @RCarterHall.

From one of Paper Butterfly’s authors: George Salis – Sea Above, Sun Below

In 2020, I am pleased to be publishing a story from George Salis in Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction. George’s first novel Sea Above, Sun Below is now available from River Boat Books – read on for more details!

George Salis’ debut novel, Sea Above, Sun Below, is available to order from River Boat Books here (the first 100 copies are signed limited editions): https://store11170962.ecwid.com/Sea-Above-Sun-Below-p156052…

For international orders, there is a special price that includes shipping here: https://store11170962.ecwid.com/Sea-Above-Sun-Below-Special…

Sea Above, Sun Below is a real treat, a feast for the mind and a dizzying rollercoaster of a read. It’s an example of magic realism at its best.”
– Erik Martiny, author of The Pleasures of Queuing

Upside-down lightning, a group of uncouth skydivers, resurrections, a mother’s body overtaken by a garden, aquatic telepathy, a peeling snake-priest, and more.

Sea Above, Sun Below is influenced by Western myths, some Greek, some with biblical overtones, resulting in a fusion of fantastic dreams, bizarre yet beautiful nightmares, and multiple narrative threads that form a tapestry which depicts the fragility of characters teetering on the brink of madness.

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New feature! Author promotion on Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction

I’m going to set up something new on Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction for authors whose stories have been published on the site: I am happy to help out with a bit of promotion of your current work.  If you have had a book, script, poem, or story published in the past year (or something upcoming in the next few months) and you’d like to share the news with PBFF’s readers, send me a message via the Contact form and I’ll arrange a post on this website.  You can definitely send me notifications of multiple works, it doesn’t have to be about just one.  You can request that I put up this promotional material on PBFF’s Facebook page as well as the website.

A couple of important notes: this will only be for authors who have been published in PBFF. If you are not an author with PBFF, I will delete your message without responding.  I also will not promote any work that does not fit the (for the most part) G-rated vibe we have going on here at PBFF. You know what that means.  

I wish you all much success with your writing!

Paper Butterfly update!

I have read a LOT of amazing stories these past few weeks! And – as an early holiday gift – I’m going to publish EIGHT stories for 2020 instead of the six I had originally planned on.  Believe me, it wasn’t easy narrowing the list to just eight, as I received over well over 200 submissions during both calls this year.

I’m just wrapping up all the notifications to authors regarding their October submissions to Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction; unfortunately, the email addresses of two of them appear to be invalid. If M. Tuggle and C. Anderson happen to see this message, please use the Contact form here on the website to send me your current email address. Many thanks!

A note to authors who received acceptances during the April call: I am a little late in sending out proofs and information about next year’s publishing schedule. You will receive an email from me very soon.

Watch for a brand new story here on the website on December 1!  And please spread the word about Paper Butterfly! Everyone could use a little more flash fiction in their lives, right?