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!

This year’s call for submissions is over!

I have some reading to do, I tell ya! Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction received well over two hundred stories during the 2020 call for submissions and I will be a very busy lady for the next month. A huge thank you to all the authors who submitted their work! I am excited to see the diversity of work by writers from all over the world.

My aim is to respond to each author regarding their stories by December 15. Please don’t ask about them before then (unless they are being published elsewhere and you need to withdraw them from my consideration).

In the meantime, I encourage everyone to browse the fantastic stories already up on the site. I’ll be publishing a new story from Avra Margariti on December 1, so bookmark or follow Paper Butterfly here on WordPress or on social media to be one of the first to read it! Thanks again, everyone!

Sheryl

John Adams – Butter-drenched Fingers, Clasped Tightly in Prayer

Butter-drenched Fingers, Clasped Tightly in Prayer

By John Adams

Dear God, I am very much sorry about three things.

First, I am very much sorry for not praying recently. That is Petunia’s fault. She sleeps in the next cot and teases me for praying. I am glad you did not put me on Earth to judge others. I would very much judge Petunia.

Second, I am very much sorry about the thing I did that made one person die and another person go to jail and another person say a naughty word meaning “bottom.” That is also Petunia’s fault.

Third, I am very much sorry I stuck my fingers in the butter at Fancy Lunch. That is my fault.

Let me tell you more about the second thing, which is Petunia’s fault.

We had just served Fancy Lunch to Matron Malloy’s lady friends from the Gentlewomen of Johnson County. (They are much friendlier than her grumpy man friends from Kansas City.)

We were in the parlor of our orphanage—Malloy’s Girls Home—in the godly community of Mission, Kansas.

“Bewildered Belinda, the yellow-belly!” Petunia sang. The other girls cackled.

“I am no yellow-belly!” I hollered. “I am brave, like the Christians who enforce Prohibition across our nation. And stop calling me ‘Bewildered Belinda’!”

“I shall call you whatever I please, Bewildered Belinda.” Petunia pushed tiny, hobbled Emma aside and loomed over me. “Now, go wash your hands. They’re still buttery.”

Matron Malloy stepped into the parlor, thwapping her cane against the wooden floor. “Girls! Time for your performance!” We scurried outside. (I went last so I could lick my delicious fingers in private.)

Now, let me tell you about our performance.

Last month, Matron Malloy took us via locomotive into Kansas City to see Daisy Daydream’s Farm—my first-ever moving picture. I laughed when Daisy stomped on the bottom of the rake. The handle shot up and knocked her noggin! (You should see it, God!)

The only part I did not like was whenever Daisy talked, because the screen showed words I could not read. Petunia called them “title cards.” She teased me that Daisy was telling the whole theater what a yellow-belly I am. (Petunia fibs!)

Matron Malloy goes to Kansas City often, but never before with us. This was a special night. When we returned, she announced we were to perform a play based on the very picture show we just watched—for none other than the Gentlewomen of Johnson County! If we delighted them, they would “take us up as their cause,” which Matron Malloy said was a good thing.

We rehearsed our play in the garden every afternoon for weeks. Each day, I cried to Matron Malloy, begging her to let me play Daisy Daydream. She chose Petunia instead and cast me as Pig #2. (That made me cross, which is why I took your name in vain that one day, so I guess that is a fourth thing I apologize for, God.)

The day of the play, the Gentlewomen of Johnson County arrived in sleek motorcars. We served them what Matron Malloy called “Fancy Lunch.” (The butter was very fancy, indeed!) The ladies wore crepe dresses and felt hats—even Matron Malloy brought her nicest cane!

During Fancy Lunch, one of Matron Malloy’s grumpy Kansas City friends visited. I very much did not like him. (Nor would you, God.) He had a crooked nose and crossed arms. Matron Malloy glared at him, the way she once glared when tiny, hobbled Emma slurped applesauce.

After Fancy Lunch, we performed Daisy Daydream’s Farm. It was horrible. The crooked-nose man just scowled, arms crossed. The society ladies called me “piglet.” Worse still, when Petunia stepped on the rake, she dodged! It didn’t knock her noggin—not even a little! (I now agree with other Christians that acting is sinful.)

Afterwards, the Gentlewomen of Johnson County left, cooing of “temperance” and “temperament.”

But that crooked-nose man? He didn’t leave. When Matron Malloy ordered us girls to bed, he stayed.

In the parlor.

With her.

Arms crossed.

I lay in my cot, thinking about that spooky fellow. And about something else, too: Petunia’s teasing. “I’m no yellow-belly, Petunia,” I muttered to myself, throwing off my blanket.

“Belinda?” croaked tiny, hobbled Emma.

“Hush,” I whispered, racing down the hall.

I quietly opened the parlor door, peeking inside. The crooked-nose man clenched Matron Malloy’s bony shoulders. “Boss Pendergast says you’re skimmin’ off his booze money out here in the boonies,” he hissed. “Time for retirement.”

My very frightened throat squeaked.

“Huh?” The crooked-nose man twisted around, releasing Matron Malloy.

She sighed, yanked her cane forward, and thwapped his crooked nose.

14 times.

It only took six.

He lay before her, bleeding. He twitched… sputtered… stopped. Matron Malloy casually shrugged dirt from her nice dress, smiling at me. But not a nice smile. “Good girls stay in bed, Belinda. Naughty girls… get punished.”

She lunged across the parlor. I scampered back, ducking as her bloody cane whooshed by my head. I dashed out the front door, Matron Malloy close behind. Shrieking, I ran across the garden, hopping over set pieces from the afternoon’s performance.

Something wooden thwapped behind me. I was certain it was the cane, sending me to heaven.

But instead of angels… I heard tiny, hobbled Emma’s victory cheer: “Her [naughty word] is clobbered!” (I won’t repeat Emma’s actual word, God, because it is naughty and means “bottom,” but it also means “donkey,” so if you want to pretend she meant “donkey,” I will share that the word was “ass.”)

Thank you, God. Thank you for leaving that rake where Matron Malloy would stomp, knocking her noggin into deep sleep. Thank you for sending us Mrs. Salisbury, our new matron who is not (as the Gentlewomen of Johnson County whisper) “enmeshed in moonshine, murder, and that ghastly Kansas City mafia.” And thank you for finally stopping Petunia from calling me “Bewildered Belinda.” I very much prefer my new name: “Brave Belinda.”

Please forgive my four trespasses. In Jesus’s name, amen.

John Adams (he/him/his) is a writer, improviser, and producer from Kansas City. He primarily writes the genre he’s coined “inclusive absurdist speculative melodrama” – which means “monsters, aliens, and ridiculously huge emotions.” His fiction has been selected for publication by Dream of Shadows, Siren’s Call, 101words.org, and The Drabble and shortlisted in The Molotov Cocktail’s 2019 Flash Monster Contest. His plays have been produced by Alphabet Soup (Whim Productions, 2018, 2020) and the 6×10 Play Festival (The Barn Players, 2016) and selected for readings for the Midwest Dramatists Conference (Midwest Dramatists Center, 2017, 2018, 2019). He performs at comicons and comedy festivals across the United States with That’s No Movie, a multi-genre improv team. Web: http://JohnAmusesNoOne.com. Twitter: @JohnAmusesNoOne.

Gregg Chamberlain – Little Known Facts About Young Erwin Schrödinger

Little Known Facts About Young Erwin Schrödinger

by

Gregg Chamberlain

“Dear,” said Frau Schrödinger to her husband, “I really wish you would stop letting our young Erwin read those weird books in your library.”

“Mmm? Oh, ja.” Herr Schrödinger, his face buried within his newspaper, replied without looking up.

“I am very worried about their influence on him. He’s at a very impressionable age.”

A non-committal grunt was the sole response.

“All those stories of ghouls, vampyres, and zombies, they can’t be good for him.”

Another grunt.

“Now he spends all day staring at the cat and muttering ‘dead, not dead, dead, not dead, dead, not dead’ over and over.”

 

Gregg Chamberlain, and his dear Anne, live in rural Ontario, with their two cats, who are very much alive and quite enjoy sharing their home with their human companions.

Cassandra Schoeber – Judgement Peak

Judgement Peak 

By 

Cassandra Schoeber

Through the thick canvas of white cloud, my fingers grip the smooth rocky ledge forming the peak of Mount Harvey. I glance down at Roland, still a dozen feet below me, gasping for air as he hikes up the thirty degree incline.

“Almost there!” I shout, pulling myself up through the dense cloud layer. “I’ll make sure everyone knows who won!”

“Whatever, Mike!” Roland’s voice sounds muted in between his gasps. I chuckle, imagining telling the other guards at North Fraser Pre-Trial how Roland’s spare tire lost him the bet of a hundred bucks.

A stone platform appears above the clouds. A white sea stretches from horizon to horizon. The bright sun shimmers through the blue sky. My bare scalp feels the deep chill carried on the breeze of this Saturday in late September. Snow will soon cover this peak, pausing my hiking until next spring.

The flat shelf spans twenty feet. Someone built a brilliantly balanced inukshuk in the centre, two vertical pylons of blackened grey rock supporting six horizontal slabs and a stone sphere on the top. It resembles a man, welcoming new travelers. Impressive, whoever carried those rocks up the fourteen hundred meter elevation gain. I rest my red hiking pack nearby and sit on the edge, my feet hanging over, hovering just above the clouds.

No one in sight. I sigh and smile.

“How you doing, Roland?” My voice sounds like its sucked into a vacuum. So quiet up here, my pulse claps within like thunder.

Rocks scrape, trickling down and out of hearing zone. But no reply. I lean forward, seeing only clouds. A breeze strikes my head with an icy chill.

“Roland?” I swallow, my chest tightens. “Answer me.”

Twisting, I prepare to descend. I halt. What if he’s right below me, breathing too hard to answer, and then I step down and knock him off?

“Roland. Tell me you’re there.”

Wind gusts upwards, reeking of gasoline. I choke. My eyes water as a memory blazes.

One year ago today. Our transport van overturned. Gas leaking across the road.

My fingers grip the ledge, knuckles white. “Roland! Goddamn it, answer me!”

Rocks cascade down, clinking below me, like metal against metal.

“Shit.” I sprint back and grab my bag, glad my wife nagged me to refill my first aid kit. Roland may have fallen, lying there broken and bleeding.

My gaze catches on a metal circle attached to the Daisy chain at the back of the pack. A pair of blackened handcuffs hang down.

Blistering heat flows through the pack’s straps and floods my hands. I tense, drop the bag.

“Roland.” My teeth clench. “That’s not funny.”

Pain builds in the back of my throat. I yank my jacket zipper down to my chest. Roland probably put the handcuffs there for a good laugh, knowing I still had dreams about the crash.

About the fire. About the man cuffed and locked inside.

It was just an accident, Roland kept saying. But I knew otherwise. We had enough time to open the door. Instead, we stood there. Listening to him scream for help as he burned alive.

The straps now cool, I swing my bag on my back, the handcuffs clinking, and begin my descent. My feet reach beneath the layer of cloud, searching for a foothold.

Nothing but air.

My heart races. My arms weaken as they hold my upper body to the ledge. Feet dangling with only cloud below me, I haul myself back up. Throat thick, I can’t speak. I just sit, legs over the ledge, stunned. The swirling clouds undulate, as if the peak of Mount Harvey is adrift on the open sea.

This can’t be happening.

Another breeze hits like ice water splashing against my face. I gasp for breath, the smell of gasoline laced with burning metal. My eyes water. My neck prickles.

Behind me, there is a flash of heat as if flames have erupted on the rocky peak. I hear crackling, fire ripping through steel.

Don’t turn around. Don’t turn around.

I close my eyes. I’m trained to guard and transport the worst offenders. I’ve stood my ground against men who’ve lost their shit after getting sentenced. But now, my pulse booms in my ears, my heart nearly exploding.

Flashing across my eyelids, I see the green eyes of the dirty con locked in the van. He looks at me through the back window. He blinks just before a raging fire engulfs everything but his screams into flames.

My eyes snap open. The clouds rise up like billowing smoke, enveloping me, surrounding me, until I see nothing but white.

Behind, the heat presses, forcing me closer to the edge.

Clink. Chain sounds scrape against the rock but I refuse to turn around. I shake my head.

This isn’t happening.

Clink. The chains near.

Like puffs of smoke, the clouds surround my face, seeping into my mouth. I inhale the taste of charred ash and iron. My chest tightens sharply, my lungs seize. I gasp for breath. Head heavy, I rock side to side, black spots in my vision. On the back of my neck, a heated breath exhales. Rocks crash behind. Something rolls to the side of my thigh. The stone sphere from atop the inukshuk. It slows, pauses, then tips over the edge.

I turn and gaze into the swirling white clouds. Green eyes stare back.

Backwards, I fall. But a hand grabs my wrist.

“What the hell?” Roland yanks me forward onto the platform. My heart blasts against my ribs, my feet heavy against the stone.

He leans in, brows raised. “You okay, Mike?”

I nod, gulping.

“Good.” He slaps my back and thunders with laughter. “I may have lost a hundred bucks but I’ll still be telling everyone that I had to save your sorry ass.”

I nod again, lick my lips. My skin prickles. All around is white. But from within the clouds, something waits. I feel it. Watching me.

 

 

Cassandra Schoeber is a dark fantasy writer but sometimes weirdness and horror creep into her stories, wreak havoc, and eat innocent bystanders.  

She has published one novella, Ravenous, as well as several short stories, including: “Within This Body of Stone I Scream” (The Arcanist); “Hidden in the Shadow of a God” (Fantasia Divinity Magazine); and “Let It Snow” (Silver Apples Magazine).

 

 

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.