Closed to submissions for 2021!

Whew! That went by quickly! Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction is now closed to submissions for the year. Thank you to all of the authors for this opportunity to read their work – I am looking forward to seeing what everyone has sent along!

If you haven’t yet received a reply from me stating that I have received your story, you will be getting that at some point today, so please keep an eye on your inbox.

Watch for another email from me on or around December 31, when I will be notifying everyone as to the status of their story.

Thank you again!

(Please note the timeline for review – I will try to get through the reading by mid-month but as per the submission guidelines, December 31 is the latest date that you will be notified about the status of your story.)

Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction is now open to submissions!

Here we go! I’m excited to announce that Paper Butterfly is finally open to submissions of your finest flash fiction! You’ll have until Tuesday, November 30 to send me your work. If you’ve submitted to Paper Butterfly in the past, please note a couple of very important changes for this year:

***You will be submitting your work to a different email address. If you send anything to the old address, I won’t look at it, so please ensure you are using the right one.

***In the past, there were no limits on the number of stories you could submit during a submissions call. Effective immediately, you will be able to submit up to two (2) stories per submissions call.

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SUBMISSIONS:  OPEN NOVEMBER 20 TO NOVEMBER 30, 2021

YES, PLEASE:

Flash fiction stories only.  Word count: 1,000 or less.

English language only.

Original work only.

Genre: science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, humour, western, mystery, literary…and any variation or combination thereof.  If in doubt, send it along – you never know.

Multiple submissions:  feel free to send up to TWO (2) submissions during the reading period.  Please send each submission in separate emails.

Simultaneous submissions: all good. If your story is selected for publication elsewhere, please contact me right away to withdraw it from my consideration.

NO, THANK YOU:

Word count over the limit.

Poetry, non-fiction, essays, children’s stories, anything other than flash fiction.

Erotica, excessive gore, abuse, or ‘isms such as racism, sexism, etc..

Overly saucy language.  I don’t mind swear words, I just would prefer to keep the content on the site closer to the PG side of things.

Reprints.

Stories sent outside of the reading period.

Artwork.

Queries. They’re not necessary.  Send me your work if you think there’s a chance I might like it.  Please don’t ask me about your submission after you’ve sent it. I will get back to you by December 31, 2021.

FORMATTING:

I’m not picky about fonts or font sizes or margins or paragraph indentations or anything of the sort.  I will format your work to fit the site if it is accepted for publication.  If your story has an experimental form and I accept it, we’ll work together to ensure it is posted properly.

Cover letters are not required.

Your contact information (name, email address) MUST be included somewhere in your submission.

Please watch your spelling and grammar – if your story is littered with errors, I am likely to give it less of a chance.  Don’t worry about American/Canadian/British spelling; I’ll sort it all out.

Submissions may be an attachment (.rtf, .docx., .doc) or pasted into the body of your email – it’s up to you.

If your work is accepted and edits are required, I will make them and send you the proof for confirmation before publication on the website.

If your work is accepted, I will ask for a short bio.  This will be an opportunity to add a link to your author’s website or blog.

REMUNERATION:

If your story is accepted for publication, you will be paid $15.00 (Canadian funds).  Please note that if you live in countries outside of Canada, the exchange rate may mean you don’t quite make fifteen bucks from your story.  I’m sorry about that, but if it’s a problem, please don’t send me your work.  Payment will be issued via PayPal.  In order to receive payment, your PayPal email address must be provided to me.

  • If your story is selected during the November reading period for publication in 2022, payment will be issued on or before January 15, 2022.

PUBLICATION:

Authors retain all rights to their work.

Bear in mind that if your story is posted on Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction (or anywhere else on the Internet, for that matter), you may not be able to submit it to another publisher as it will be considered a “reprint.”

If, for some reason, you wish to withdraw your story from Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction’s website, please send me a message and I’ll remove it as quickly as I can.  Again, it will still count as a “reprint” in the view of a future publisher, even if it has only been posted for a short time.

If your story is accepted, I will let you know when I plan to post it on the website.  It will be posted on the first day of that month.

OTHER THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO KNOW:

I will send you a confirmation of receipt of your story within 72 hours of your submission.

I must apologize, but I cannot offer more than a form rejection letter at this time.

SEND SUBMISSIONS to paperbutterflyflash1@outlook.com. (That’s a numeral after the word paperbutterflyflash, not a letter.) I will not consider submissions sent outside of the reading period, so double check that it is open before sending me your work.

I’m looking forward to seeing your work!

Sheryl

Rob Francis – The Squatter

The Squatter

by Rob Francis

Nick stubbed his cigarette out on the paving slabs and placed the still-warm dog-end in his jacket pocket before he crossed the threshold of No. 60. It wouldn’t do to show any disrespect. The front door was long gone, but he hesitated a moment anyway, considering how best to announce himself. He glanced back at the office Merc, its shining blue magnificence incongruous in the derelict street. Don gave him a thumbs-up from behind the wheel. Nick nodded.

“Prick,” he muttered through clenched teeth. He shifted the model house he held against the crook of his elbow and cleared his throat. Keep it simple, he decided.

“So. I’m coming in now.”

The front entrance opened onto the living room, No. 60 being a late Victorian two-up, two-down terrace. Everything was the same as the last time he’d visited. Wooden floor sturdy but covered in dust. Old wallpaper hanging down in reams, like peeling skin. Gaping holes in the plaster where thieves had ripped wiring or pipes from the dilapidated house. Rotten-brick chimney, the fireplace clogged with detritus: old clothes, pamphlets, food containers. A stink of damp and mould that tickled his nose.

They’d found the Simmons boy in the front of that fireplace. Nick hadn’t been there in person, but he’d seen the photos.

“Afternoon,” said Nick, to the aching silence. “I’m Nick Pearson, of Moggridge, Pearson and Tench. We’re housing developers.” He looked back through the open door, though from his position all he could see was the waist-high weeds that choked the tiny front yard. “My partner Don Tench is outside.”

If he could be called a partner. Nick had seen the emails Don had sent his wife. And her encouraging replies. He didn’t know what either of them was thinking. They both had kids, after all.  

“I know you’ve been here for a long time. Maybe as long as the house. I’m not sure how these things work. City records show these went up about 1890, so that’s a good hundred and thirty years. I’m guessing you were here by 1900 at least. That’s the earliest record I could find. When the mother burned her baby alive in its crib. I’m assuming that was you. That, and all the others up to the Simmons boy.”

And what a list it was. Almost a dozen incidents over the years, the last couple after the house had been abandoned. Murders, fatal accidents, suicides. Nick had sensed something amiss that first time he visited No. 60, back when they were starting to plan the new estate. High Hallows: Quality Homes for Quality People. Whatever that meant. It was Don’s stupid tagline.

The Simmons boy had confirmed it. The vagrant who did it — if he did it — had no memory of the act, and no history of violence. Said he’d only come in to shelter from the rain.

Nick sighed. “Here’s how it is. We’re knocking the place down. Razing the entire street. All new houses. We — I — don’t want any trouble. Accidents, workers killed and so forth. So. I have a proposition.”

Because that’s how the world worked. Nick believed in God, and when he prayed, he didn’t ask Him for anything. Because why would God give anything for free? No. He offered deals. Look after little May and Ellie, he’d say. Keep them safe. Keep Clara happy and loving. (And faithful.) And I’ll be the best husband and father I can. And if there’s suffering to be done, send it my way. Not theirs. Or better yet, send it to someone else entirely.

Whatever was in this house wasn’t anything like God. But he thought the same principles would work.

He crossed to where the boy’s ragged body had lain and placed the model house carefully on the boards. He’d made it himself from plans he’d found in the city archives, a scaled replica of No. 60 in balsa wood and foam.

“If we tear it down and you’re still here, things’ll go bad. I can tell. No knowing where you might end up. So.” He patted the model. “Move in here, on a temporary basis. Just for a little while. Then we’ll get you rehoused somewhere better, I promise. I never go back on a deal.”

He walked to the door to give the house — or whatever occupied it — some time to consider the offer. In the Merc, Don held up his hand and tapped his watch. Time was wasting. Nick took a few deep breaths, scenting the yard’s wildflowers with their undertone of decay, then nodded. Did he hear something from the room? A faint scraping on the boards? He went back inside.

When he lifted the house, it felt just a little heavier. He smiled.

Back at the car, Don was checking his phone when Nick slipped into the passenger seat, resting the house on his knee. Don put the phone away.

“All good? We’ll be late for the meeting.”

“Sure.” Nick nodded to the model. “Just needed to check a few things before we schedule the demo.”

Don smiled. “That’s a nice miniature. Man, our Simon would love that. He’s well into all kinds of models and things. Bedroom full of ‘em.”

“Yeah? Well, he can have it.”

“What? Oh no, I didn’t mean—”

“Really. I don’t need it anymore. It’s served its purpose.”

“Thanks, Nick!” Don looked genuinely pleased.

“No problem, Don. Happy for it to go to a good home.”

Don pulled the car away from the curb and turned towards the bypass. “You’re a good man, Nick.”

“You said it.”

They drove in companionable silence through the ruined streets.

Rob Francis is an academic and writer based in London. He mainly writes short fantasy and horror, and his stories have appeared in magazines such as The Arcanist, Apparition Lit, Metaphorosis, Tales to Terrify and Novel Noctule. Rob has also contributed stories to several anthologies, including DeadSteam by Grimmer & Grimmer, Under the Full Moon’s Light by Owl Hollow Press, and Scare Me by Esskaye Books. He is an affiliate member of the HWA. Rob lurks on Twitter @RAFurbaneco

John Adams – The Sequel’s Sometimes Better Than the Original

The Sequel’s Sometimes Better Than the Original

by John Adams

J.T. and Coleman were in a rut. 

Not individual ruts. Individually, they’d never been better. J.T.’s restaurant was actually turning a profit. And Coleman’s ridiculous hours had paid off with a snazzy office and a promise he’d make partner soon.

But collectively, as a unit, neither of them were excited by their marriage anymore. At least, J.T. wasn’t, so he assumed Coleman wasn’t either—though J.T. hadn’t thought to ask. Given his growing boredom, J.T. could hardly blame himself for sometimes messing around with their neighbor, Jeremy. Or that guy from the record store whose name he kept forgetting. Or Coleman’s brother. 

Sure, J.T. was no better than an unneutered dog when it came to marital fidelity. But a dog had to wag its tail. 

Like so many other things in their relationship, their Friday-night trips to the drive-in were always the same, with Coleman falling asleep while J.T. grouchily made junk-food runs. On one such outing, as J.T. paid for the evening’s haul—popcorn, Skittles, Cherry Coke—the pimply clerk asked, “Do you have our new customer-rewards app?”

“Right.” J.T. fumbled for his iPhone. He scrolled through several screens, landing on an icon of the drive-in’s logo. The words ‘REDEEM UPGRADE?’ flashed. “Whatever,” he mumbled, tapping a ‘YES’ button.

“Upgrade in progress,” a female voice droned from the app.

“That’s annoying,” J.T. said, waving the phone.

The clerk grinned. “You have no idea.” She turned to the next customer in line.

J.T. started to interrupt and ask about his ‘upgrade’ but decided it wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t like he or Coleman were going to die of thirst if their medium Cherry Cokes weren’t supersized. Besides, he could hear the film starting.

The movie was one of the myriad Agent Jackson spy flicks Coleman claimed to love yet still managed to sleep through. To J.T., the entire series was just a bunch of overdone car chases, noisy gunfights, and not-quite-risqué-enough sex scenes. Still, though, Bryson Devereaux, the latest actor to take on the Agent Jackson role, was pretty hot; at least J.T. could enjoy the movie for that.

He was halfway back to Coleman’s CRV when the entire lot was thrown into darkness. Every car-side speaker stopped, and the screen went black. J.T. stumbled, temporarily blinded. “What the hell?” he asked his armload of cholesterol. He braced himself for the customary boos that came whenever movies stopped mid-reel. 

No such noise came.

Just as abruptly, the screen lit up again, showing a ruggedly handsome tech-mogul CEO plot world domination with his slobbering Doberman Pinschers. J.T. scowled at the corny dialogue. How long until they got to a shirtless Agent Jackson scene? 

He found his way back to the CRV. Carefully balancing the food in one hand, he opened the passenger-side door and crouched inside. He shut the door—loudly, since Coleman had probably fallen asleep by now—and turned to his husband. “They didn’t have any—” 

J.T. gasped, almost spilling the Cherry Cokes. Coleman wasn’t asleep beside him. Coleman wasn’t beside him at all. The man beside him looked exactly like Bryson Devereaux—the debonair Agent Jackson himself. 

“I… have the wrong car,” J.T. stuttered, face burning.

The man in the driver’s seat gave what People Magazine once dubbed ‘That Million Dollar Wink.’ “Oh, J.T.,” the man said, in a familiar and incredibly sexy Southern drawl. “Stop kiddin’, sweetie.” The man leaned over, grabbed Coleman’s food… and planted a kiss on J.T.’s shocked lips. “Thanks for gettin’ the grub. You’ve been such a patient hubby lately, what with me workin’ such long hours keepin’ the world safe.”

J.T. slowly turned from this man—his ‘hubby’?—and stared ahead. On the movie screen, a spy was briefed about the handsome villain’s threats to overtake the world’s governments. But the spy wasn’t Agent Jackson. No, Agent Jackson was in Coleman’s beat-up CRV. The spy on the screen was Coleman. A very befuddled-looking Coleman.

J.T’s pocket vibrated. “Another upgrade?” a muffled, female voice asked.

Hell, yes, J.T. was taking another Bryson Devereaux-sized upgrade! He yanked out his phone and slammed his finger on the app.

The drive-in lights flashed again—unnoticed, it seemed, by anyone but J.T. 

When the lights came back, his legs were in a different position. He felt lower to the ground, slightly cramped… but oddly comfortable. J.T. was no car expert, but he was pretty sure the old CRV had just turned into a fresh-off-the-lot Lamborghini Veneno. 

He looked at his husband—Agent freakin’ Jackson!—and saw him laughing at the movie, oblivious to the changes. On-screen, the Doberman Pinschers chased a comically inept Coleman away from the CEO’s high-tech lair. 

“Upgrade again?” the app asked.

J.T. rapidly pressed the phone screen—again and again and again. 

Flash! The concession-stand Cherry Cokes were now gin and tonics in crystal glasses. 

Flash! J.T. wore a sleek Brioni Vanquish suit. 

Flash! Flash! Flash! His shoes… his watch… hell, it even felt like his underwear… improved. 

J.T. stared at his phone. “Final upgrade?” the voice asked.

J.T. grinned. “Why quit when you’re ahead?”

He pressed his thumb down.

Flash.

J.T. was crouched on all fours, surrounded by growling dogs. A smirking Coleman stood before him, arm seductively draped around the handsome CEO. Beyond them, in the drive-in lot, Bryson Devereaux laughed from inside a Lamborghini, sipping a cocktail. Beside Bryson, a Doberman Pinscher wagged its tail. 

The credits rolled.

John Adams (he/him/his) writes about teenage detectives, robo-butlers, and cursed cowboys. His publication history includes Australian Writers’ Centre, Bowery Gothic, Dream of Shadows, Fat Cat Magazine, Intrinsick, Metaphorosis, Paper Butterfly, SERIAL Magazine, The Shortest Story/The Story Engine, and Weird Christmas. Forthcoming publications include Gallery of Curiosities, peculiar, and The Weird and Whatnot. His plays have been produced by Alphabet Soup (Whim Productions) and 6×10 Play Festival (Barn Players) and selected for readings at the William Inge Theater Festival and the Midwest Dramatists Conference. He performs across the U.S. with That’s No Movie, a multi-genre improv team. Web: https://johnamusesnoone.com/. Twitter: @JohnAmusesNoOne.

Katrinka Mannelly – Unmentionable.

Unmentionable

by Katrinka mannelly

Dear Clarisse,

Although we customarily strive for discretion in all things, we find ourselves in a situation that simply must be addressed forthwith—the deplorable state of your underpants.

You may think the status of your intimate apparel is a private issue affecting you alone, but you could not be more mistaken. I’m sure we do not need to remind you that we live in an increasingly interconnected world in which all of our choices and actions have meaning and consequence to those around us. And frankly the current state of your underwear is of grave concern to us.

As Underpants Gnomes we take extreme pride in the garments we steal. It is normally our greatest delight to place your undies on our heads and dance around. It is quite truthfully what we live for. We love all styles equally—briefs, boxers, shapers, thongs, tighty whities, even granny panties. Underpants are serious business, a material reflection of their owner. It is time you face the sad truth that the picture your panties are painting of you is not a pretty one. Faded, stretched out, torn, and yes, even stained—these are warning signs.

Clarisse, we implore you, for your sake and ours, get some decent drawers in your drawers.

We know you have been going through a rough patch, stress at work, a few extra pounds around the middle, and a romantic “dry spell,” as they say, but these are not reasons to let your standards slide. They are, in point of fact, quite the opposite. “As above, so below, as below, so above,” as the saying goes. When the proper underlying foundation is in place it boosts one’s confidence and shrouds one’s extra insulation. Please take it on my authority, when you do have a guest in the boudoir, you will want undergarments you are proud to reveal rather than those you must conceal.

The issue is urgent. Two of our merry band have already left us in despair. They have been spotted lurking about your flowerbeds trying to fit in with the lawn gnomes. Instant purchases with expedient deliveries are available online. If expense is an issue, we encourage you to consider any of the handsome “value packs” offered in a wide variety of fabrics and designs.

Dearest Clarisse, your underpants, the very underpinning of our way of life, are unraveling. We beseech you to take action. Panties simply are the key to everything. Get your undies in order and all else will follow.

Ever your true and humble servant,

Hedrick “Bloomer Bonnet” Gnomious et al.

*

Katrinka Mannelly writes and lives in Fircrest, Washington with her husband Brian, daughter Tigist, dog Queenie and cat Riptide. She is a storyteller and always has been. Her book of short stories, “Section 130” is available at barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com. 

New story up at Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction!
 

Larry Hodges – The Pushovers of Galactic Baseball Fame

The Pushovers of Galactic Baseball Fame

By Larry Hodges

Baseball. It’s my life.

Grandparent Two once said that baseball started out in some world with bipeds, where the best players played in front of huge, screaming crowds. Why would anyone want to watch the best players? It’s like rubbing in your face that you’re inferior. I think Grandparent made that up.

Today we’re up against the Sirius Suckers, and it’s my turn at bat. I clutch the bat in four tentacles and take a few practice swings. I’ve trained my whole life for this. Parent One said if you want to be good at something, you must be single-minded about it, so while the other kids were tossing balls around and growing neuron connections, I spent years trying not to move or do anything that might develop tentacle-eye coordination. Our fans love that I have the skill of a blind snapanzee, and I need to stay that way. I get paid for being a klutz. I play center field for the Polaris Pushovers, and once almost caught a ball.

Now I glare at the purple-eyed pitcher, and she glares back. I take a deep breath and stare at the ball balanced on the tee in front of me. It’s bottom of the ninth, two outs, and as usual, nobody’s scored, though we came close in the fourth when the Suckers committed five errors on one play but our guy tripped six times and was out at the plate by half a snoogal, bless his two hearts.

Our fans cheer, not wanting me to do anything skillful that might show them up. I’m good at that, though I tapped a foul in the third. I’m going to put all my weight into my swing, like in the sixth when I accidentally let go of the bat and sent it over the left field fence. Now I’m using an unfamiliar bat, which should help me mess up.

I swing high and whiff and fall flat on my eyequills. The opposing fans scream about my body odor, but not showering is one of my trademarks. Strike one.

I step out of the batter’s box and call a snack time-out, and out comes the trainer. He stuffs a spoonful of live grubbies into my beak. I’ve never fed myself–learning to navigate a spoon means developing coordination, which could translate into baseball and ruin my career. I swallow the grubbies and step back into the batter’s box. The newfound energy should make my swing a bit more wild, since that last swing was actually kinda close.

I stare at the ball, still perched on the tee like a black hole wrapped in skafelly skin that’s determined not to budge, and it’s probably right, but we gotta play the game. I swing even harder. This time I swing too low and smack the tee, and the ball wobbles. Ow!!! That stings. But I’m a pro so I’m used to that. The opposing fans jeer how stupid I am, and I have the IQ tests to prove it. Strike two.

We’re down to our final strike and we’ve done nothing well, thank goodness. Our fans are on their tentacle tips and the opposing fans chitter they want a hitter not an underwear snipper. I stare at the ball and try to smack it, but swing two feet over it. But I stumble, and just before I fall on my skoofal the bat somehow hits the ball. It’s a screaming grounder that’s slowly making its way to the shocked pitcher, who hasn’t touched a ball all season.

I vaguely remember what to do in this situation and pull all twelve tentacles into a tight ball and roll toward first base. The pitcher trips over the ball—she’s a pro. I roll into first, and I’m on to second in a glaringly stupid baserolling mistake—there’s no chance I make it to second on time, and I’ve never made it to second base before. The pitcher, after fumbling the ball three times, finally kicks the ball really hard with a tentacle and the ball’s rolling faster than me and beats me by five snoogals, but the Sirius Sucker at second watches the ball roll between his suckers, and his fans nod and cheer him and the pitcher, knowing they could have made those plays.

I continue to third, slipping only twice, as the three outfielders collided and fall down with concussions, a real problem for us professional athletes. One groggily swats the ball toward home as I round third. Some are booing displeasure at my heroics, but it was an accident, honest, and the play isn’t over. I could still mess up.

The catcher trips over home plate but the ball rolls into his beak and he clomps down on it like he’s hungry, but at least he doesn’t swallow it, since he’s a pro. They got me beat, but I roll on cuz like I said, I’m a pro too. The catcher flings himself down and his head smacks into mine, and somehow he holds onto the ball but loses three incisors. I’m out.

“Safe!” screams the mistaken umpire, who like all umpires can’t see straight. She’s a pro too, can’t blame her mess-up since it’s the first time she ever called a play at the plate. And we win!!!

Our fans race onto the field, flashing red and feeling inferior, and tear off three of my tentacles before I make it to the safety of the clubhouse. It won’t hurt my game. But I’ll be released for sure. My agent is going bonkers—on the one tentacle, I’m a free agent and I’m so bad, I might get big bucks, but on the other, I just made a whole crowd of fans feel bad about themselves, a really rotten and unprofessional thing to do. It’ll knock my market value down. But the talent scouts, they’ve seen me play, and if they can convince ownership that I’m still a klutz, then big money, here I come!!!

Larry Hodges, from Germantown, MD, is an active member of Science Fiction Writers of America with over 110 short story sales and four novels, including “Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions,” which covers the election for President of Earth in the year 2100, and “When Parallel Lines Meet,” which he co-wrote with Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn. He’s a member of Codexwriters, and a graduate of the Odyssey and the Taos Toolbox Writers Workshops. In the world of non-fiction, he has 17 books and over 2000 published articles in over 170 different publications. He’s also a member of the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame, and claims to be the best table tennis player in Science Fiction Writers of America, and the best science fiction writer in USA Table Tennis! Visit him at larryhodges.com.

The results are in! Watch this space for some incredible stories in 2021.

A huge thank you to all the amazing authors who submitted their work during Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction‘s open call at the end of October and into November. I read well over 250 excellent stories exploring a fascinating variety of themes and genres, and it certainly wasn’t easy to make the final decisions! All of the authors were notified of the results by December 15th, and I look forward to publishing the selected stories in 2021.

A few of you have been asking when I will reopen the submissions window in the new year. I will likely follow the same timeline as I did this year, so watch Paper Butterfly‘s Facebook page and this website for updates (and, of course, to enjoy some really good reads!).

Avra Margariti – The Cats in the Walls

The Cats in the walls

by avra margariti

The dulcet sound of Anna’s chubby fingers on the piano keys drifts inside the mansion’s skeleton. It surrounds me like the gauzy shroud I wore when my body was tucked within a wall cavity after my death. My girl is gifted: piano, violin, cello. Changed three tutors in a year because nobody could keep up with her.

 “The Great Darkness is coming,” a voice squeaks.

With a swift sweep of my paw, I scoop up the mouse who dared to interrupt the best part of my day. As it dangles by its wormy tail, it trembles right down to its bent whiskers.

“Who sent you?” I snarl, baring my teeth. I can’t consume the mouse in terms of taste, nourishment, and digestion. Regardless, one snap of my jaws would be enough to kill it, its small corpse residing in my xylophone ribcage until it, too, dried up. I consider it. The crunch of bone, of gristle, the memory of spicy meat.

“Misty did,” the mouse pipes. “She said—she said it was urgent.”

“Yes,” I say. “The Great Darkness usually is.”

The smell of the mouse’s fear is overpowering. I don’t enjoy torturing the poor creature. Yet I crave that heady scent—the scent of life, so closely linked to the threat of death.

“You can go now. Pick a crumb from the kitchen for your troubles.” I release the mouse. It scurries away, through the gaps in the brick and mortar, to alert the rest of the neighborhood cats. Everyone will have heard about this alleged Great Darkness by nightfall, and the walls will thrum with their panic.

Us mummified pets don’t like leaving our households behind for too long. We prefer to communicate with each other through the mice. However, I’ll make an exception for Misty, my closest confidante.

I crawl inside her shrine in the walls of the neighboring manor. She lounges on a pile of her favorite toys and pillows, now moldy and damp. Her leathery tail rubs against mine in greeting. When Misty was alive, her charcoal fur was always brushed to a velvety sheen, and a bell hung from a pink ribbon around her neck. Now we’re only bones clad in thin yellow-gray skin.

“What was that about a Great Darkness?” I ask.

Misty lifts her head from her satin pillow. “I heard there was a séance happening in the Edwardson manor last night. Peeking through the cracks in the woodwork seemed like harmless fun.”

“A séance?” I scoff. “Please.”

Misty should know better than most that there’s no escaping death.

“It wasn’t a mere séance. You know how the Edwardsons’ dog died last year in that carriage accident? The Lady of the house was mad with grief. Headed to Bedlam for sure, we thought.”

If my eyes hadn’t melted away, they would widen in realization. “She tried to resurrect Spots?”

“She did. But this thing… It’s definitely not Spots. I think Lady Edwardson invited back something else. Something bad.” A shudder runs down Misty’s vertebrae. “There was something in the wall with me, a presence. I swear I’ve never felt this cold before, not in life and not in death.”

Misty is a glutton for histrionics, who once got spooked by a mourning dove. However, I keep this detail to myself.

I slink back until I reach Anna’s music room. Despite my disbelief, I feel unsettled; off-balance. Anna’s playing was always enough to lull me into a soft purr. If I position my empty eye socket over a tear in the floral wallpaper, I can see her at the piano bench, her whole body alive with her music.

The footfalls are almost soundless at first, indiscernible over the flowing music. Darkness clouds my vision, thicker than fog, more chilling than the recollection of my death. The pitch-black shadow twists and eddies until it resembles a giant dog. And the voice, like the smoothest, deepest musical note. “I’m coming for all of you tonight, and I’m taking everything you hold dear.”

My bones rattle like distorted wind chimes. My dried hide barely holds my body from flying apart. Before I can lunge forward and shield Anna, the shadow dissolves.

Night falls, and the clock’s hands shudder forward. Anna is sound asleep in the nursery upstairs. I think of her precious fingers stroking my fur or sneaking me buttery treats during afternoon tea.

I crawl out of my wall cavity and stand in the middle of the music room. The grand piano is a hulking silhouette in the dark. If my heart hadn’t shriveled up, it would be beating like a metronome in my concave chest.

 My family put my dried body in the walls to ward off evil. Yet I don’t know if I can fight the demon and drag it back into whatever Hell it came from. Will I disappear for good if I fail? Once, I used to believe in our nine lives. Humans, too, all seem to trust in the existence of Heaven to keep the fear of the void at bay. But even an afterlife trapped inside walls is better than nothing: no more music, no girls like my Anna, no companions like Misty.

“There’s still time to hide,” Misty’s messenger tells me as he and the rest of the house mice scamper away.

Pushing my shoulders back, I gnash my teeth. The cuckoo clock chimes twelve.

The frigid shadow swirls and darkens.

Avra Margariti is a queer Social Work undergrad from Greece. She enjoys storytelling in all its forms and writes about diverse identities and experiences. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Flash Fiction Online, The Forge LiteraryThe Arcanist, and other venues. You can find her on twitter @avramargariti.

Update!

I am about halfway through the submissions sent during the October/November call, and I am on track to have all the stories finalized and the notifications sent out to the writers by December 15 (or earlier). Some absolutely amazing work this round – these won’t be easy decisions to make!