Scott Hughes – A Goblin’s Lament

A Goblin’s Lament

By

Scott Hughes

Every day I watch for the red-haired girl who visits the brook near my cave to wash her family’s linens. I never let her see me.

One day she does. She doesn’t scream. Her eyes brim with pity at my wretched countenance. She smiles to tell me to come over, so she can touch my grotesque face, perhaps. To show me she’s not afraid, not repulsed—that even a vile creature can be loved.

But I snarl my fiercest goblin snarl, and off she flees. It’s easier for us both to live in a world disgusted by its own monsters.

 

Scott Hughes’s fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Crazyhorse, One Sentence Poems, Entropy, Deep Magic, Carbon Culture Review, Redivider, PopMatters, Strange Horizons, and Compaso: Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology. For more information, visit writescott.com.

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Gregg Chamberlain – Bargain Offer

Bargain Offer

by

Gregg Chamberlain

FOR SALE: Doomsday device. Mint condition. Never used. Independent virtual simulation test results report available. Best offer takes it. No cheques. Cash or equivalent in bullion or secure government-certified bonds. Serious inquiries only. truevil@Evil.com.

 

Gregg Chamberlain lives in rural Eastern Ontario with his missus, Anne, and a clowder of cats who allow their humans the run of the house. His story, “Courtesy”, appeared on Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction in 2017.

Susan Murrie Macdonald – The Kissing Bridge

The Kissing Bridge

By

Susan Murrie Macdonald

Megan Buckman glanced around, delighted by the sights, sounds, and smells that surrounded her. She had never been to a Renaissance Faire before. She’d wanted to go for years, but her ex-husband had always insisted that RenFaires were too expensive.

“Mama, look!” Seven-year-old Jessica ran off to the harper.

“Wait up, Jessie.” Megan followed her daughter. They listened to the harper for a few minutes. There was so much to see and do here; it almost overwhelmed the senses. All the beautiful costumes, the smell of turkey legs and sandalwood fans and flowers. And the music! Harpers, fiddlers, singers. An hour ago, she hadn’t known what a hurdy-gurdy was. Now she had a hurdy-gurdy CD tucked into her purse. “If I can’t get a story out of this,” she started to tell Jessie, but the girl ran off before Megan could finish her sentence.

“Look, Mama, the plumber!”

Megan looked where Jessie was pointing. Standing in front of a booth was a Little Person in Faire garb. Normally, she was bad with names and faces, but she recognized him because of his height. He was their plumber.

He doffed his feathered hat with a bow. “Good morrow, my ladies.”

Megan glanced at the booth, and found it was full of artwork. “Oh, this is lovely.”

“Gramercy, my lady.”

“You did these?”

He nodded.

She looked at the paintings. “Talent like this, and you spend your time fixing stopped up pipes and clogged toilets?”

“Alas, my lady, I earn greater recompense from the mending of other people’s privies than from my art.” His blue eyes twinkled. “Starving in a garret is highly overrated.”

“But this is gorgeous.”

“Everyone admires, few buy.”

“Mama, these ones are just like the beginning of Beauty and the Beast.” Jessie showed her a series of paintings, all painted to look like stained glass windows. They were scenes from various fairy tales.

“That’s where I swiped the idea from,” he confessed.

“This would be perfect for St. Margaret.” At his upraised eyebrow, she explained, “I write children’s books. I’m working on a biography of Margaret of Scotland. This would be perfect for it. And frankly,” she sighed, “I wasn’t happy with the illustrator the publisher assigned to my last book. Is there any chance you’d be interested in collaborating?”

“What was your last book?” he asked.

Unicorn Beach.”

He nodded. “I bought a copy for my niece. The unicorns looked like draft horses.” He thought a moment. “Have you eaten yet?”

“No, not yet.”

“Shall we discuss this over lunch?” When she nodded, he called to the man at the neighboring tent, “Hey, Tom, watch the booth for a bit. I’m going to lunch.”

“Aye, Darryl.”

“Darryl Phillips, at your service.”

“Megan Buckman.” A line from Tolkien popped into her head, and she added, “’At yours and your family’s.’”

He smiled up at her, recognizing the allusion. He led the way to the food stands. “I hope you’ll let me buy. I get a discount.”

They had to cross a wooden bridge to get there. Flowers adorned the bridge, and several teenagers in Faire garb sat on the railings.

“Kissing bridge, kissing bridge,” they called.

“What’s a kissing bridge?” asked Jessie.

“‘Tis a toll bridge, fair maid. One pays to cross the bridge like so.” Darryl took Megan’s hand and gently kissed it.

“That’s not a kiss,” called out a young man dressed like an Elizabethan lord. He grabbed the wench next to him. She joined him in a passionate lip-lock. In a bad Australian accent, he said, “That’s a kiss.”

#

Two years later, Megan and Darryl had produced four books together, and were working on a fifth. He had introduced her to musicians she had never heard of: Glenn Morgan and Livy Delafield, Golden Bough and Wild Oats. She introduced him to ‘30s and ‘40s black and white Hollywood movies. He introduced her to Chinese food. She’d never had it before, because her ex-husband didn’t like it. She rescued him from meals that went from the freezer to the microwave to the table (all without ever leaving the box). At first, he came to dinner once a month, then once every few weeks, and now he came over for dinner two or three times a week. He’d become the closest friend she’d ever had. And on summer weekends when her ex had Jessie, she helped him at his RenFaire booth.

“Look, a dwarf!” A girl about three or four ran into the booth, and her parents ran after her.

While her parents admired the artwork, she turned to Megan and asked, “Are you Mrs. Dwarf?”

“Alas, sweet damsel, I am not.” Megan sighed melodramatically. “He waits for his own true princess, and will not so much as glance at a sundial to give me the time of day.”

Puzzled, the girl stared up at her while her parents laughed. Darryl merely looked at her.

After they had bought a painting and left, Darryl said. “Time for a break.”

“I’ll watch the booth.”

“You need a break, too.” He led her toward the food vendors, but stopped at the kissing bridge. He pulled himself up onto the railing, so their heads were level. “Was that just Faire flirtation back there? Or were you telling the truth with that alas?”

Megan hesitated. “I didn’t want to risk ruining a good partnership – and more importantly, a good friendship – by getting what Jessie would call ‘all mushy’ on you.”

He reached over and kissed her. “Who says you’d be ruining anything?”

 

Susan Murrie Macdonald is a freelance proofreader and copy editor.  She has also written a children’s book, R is for Renaissance Faire, and several short stories which have appeared in Alternative Truths, Heroic Fantasy Short Stories, Bumples, and Sword and Sorceress.  She has written over 100 articles for Krypton Radio. You can check out her blog, Assorted Scribblings of a Minor Author, follow her on Twitter @WriterMacdonald, or visit her website, Susan Murrie Macdonald: Wordsmith for Hire.  

Norm Roberts – Hard Times

 Hard Times 

By Norm Roberts

I knew the economy was bad, but I never thought it was as terrible as it is turning out to be.  Everyone has heard of someone who has been laid off or has had to take a cut in the hours they work or the pay they get. Yes, the hard times are here for a lot of people. It seems that even Santa Clause has been affected by the economic downturn.  Really, when you think about it, Santa has had to change with the times like everybody else.  First it was outsourcing gift-giving: Parents, then e-bay, and on to Amazon. Santa and the reindeer are doing a lot less of the deliveries these days also, what with the UPS and FedEx and the other couriers helping out.

Surely, all that outsourcing must cost extra for the jolly old elf.  Just last week I went to do some Christmas shopping and what should I see:  Kris Kringle employed at a store.  But not to sit and listen to the little ones’ wishlists. Nope, he was pushing the floor cleaning machine.  Up and down the aisles he went, stopping every time he spotted a child, to wish them a Merry Christmas and hand them a candy cane.  Oh, how times have changed when Santa has to get a part-time job to make ends meet.

Hard times, indeed.

Tabitha Baumander – Dragon

Dragon

By Tabitha Baumander

Unemployment when your life is supposed to be hitting its stride is less than fun. The more frustrated he got, the more Ben felt a connection to the young men and women who came of age during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. In both instances, the economy had been trashed by a lot of idiots who played games with paper that represented money and goods which either didn’t actually exist or were worth so much less than their assigned value it was scary. The truth came out, and the house of cards fell. The damage it did to the financial security of the world would be felt for a generation: his generation. 

At the same time, Ben knew he was better off than most. He had a good education and at least a little practical experience in his field. If he could find the money, he even had a good practical business idea. He didn’t have money, of course, and that meant getting a job with someone else. Problem being, he’d been let go when the crash came and getting a toe in the door with a new company was proving a challenge. On the encouragement of his employment councilor, however, he kept moving and that included going out as much as his budget would allow. 

This evening, that meant going to watch the Chinese New Year’s celebrations featuring fireworks, free samples from local restaurants and a twenty-foot-long dragon puppet worked by fifteen men. The pamphlet organizers gave out said, in contrast to European tradition, seeing a dragon in China was good luck. He could use some luck but this wasn’t China. All the same, the celebration was fun and free and that was a good enough excuse to attend in spite of the less than perfect weather. 

Going home on the warm subway, Ben watched as a small elderly Asian man boarded and walked the length of the train. His age was hard to stick a number to, but he couldn’t have been less than mid-sixties. He was bundled against the cold with a big puffy down coat and a Russian-style hat. His eyes stared out at the world from under the furry brim of the hat like polished pebbles that had a difficult-to-describe gleam. Adding to the old man’s fairy-tale appearance were a white beard and mustache groomed to stiff points. To Ben, he looked like nothing more or less than an actor in a Kung Fu movie: the sort of character that was sometimes wise, sometimes comical, and sometimes dangerous – often all three. 

The odd little man took out a small bottle. It reminded Ben of a perfume bottle, only it looked genuinely old and was closed with a cork. The man studied the level of whatever was in the bottle by holding it up to the light. Ben wondered how the old boy could see anything because the glass looked opaque. He put the curious artifact away, then unexpectedly looked in Ben’s direction and smiled. 

Ben’s heart hiccuped. For the moment – just a heartbeat – their eyes met, the strange old man’s eyes changed. They became gold, totally completely gleaming gold. Then they were normal: slightly beady, human eyes once more.  

The old man got off the subway. Like an echo of the vision of the golden eyes, something new was sticking out of the man’s bulky coat. That something was the tip of a golden reptilian tail. Mouth hanging open, Ben stood and leaned against the subway car’s window, staring out at the old man as he moved to the center of the deserted platform. The farther away from the train he got, the more tail slipped out from under the coat.  

Ben was transfixed. The subway began to move before he realized the doors were closed. The old man was glowing now. The tail was long and swooshed through the air like the victory of dreams against reality. Ben’s last view of this impossible figure showed the old man tossing the bottle high in the air. Then there was a flash and Ben found himself sitting in a seat facing forward. 

Oh no, you don’t, you’re not going to try and tell me it didn’t happen. It happened! he thought to himself. 

At the next station, Ben got out, then crossed the platform and backtracked on the first south-bound train. The only sign of the man was a small intricately-decorated leather shoulder bag. Ben picked up the bag and, without thinking, slung it across his body. It fit perfectly, although if it had belonged to the little man it should have been far too small. Getting on the next subway going his way, he carefully looked into the bag without anyone noticing. The bag held twelve bundles of bills and a gold medallion on a leather thong.

Estimating the amount, Ben’s mind buzzed, It’s hundreds, all of them. There’s at least a hundred thousand here. 

Getting off at his stop and leaving the subway, mind still spinning, Ben passed a homeless person. He stopped and looked back. They were almost the same age, only this guy had slid farther down the ladder of life than Ben even wanted to picture. The guy sat on the ground next to his backpack, strumming a guitar in a way that showed he knew what he was doing.

It was a vision that reminded Ben of one other thing he’d read while killing time at the library after reading the want ads. Blessings, be they from gods or fairies or even dragons, should be shared. The swiftest way to a poisoned blessing was greed. He took a bundle of bills out of the leather bag, walked back, and dropped it into the guy’s guitar case. While the guy stared at the money, Ben said, “Don’t give up,” and left.  

Ben took the fortune the rest of the bag contained and started a small business. A year later, he met the woman who would become his wife. Three years later, in the living room of his new home, he held his first born child as he and his wife watched a new singing star being interviewed on television. The young man was describing the moment a small fortune came from a total stranger. It was a gift that let him turn his life around. 

“I can’t describe him, don’t make me try. I’m also not going to get all weird and say it was an angel, but the guy dropped the money in my case and said don’t give up. I didn’t, and from that day onward, everything changed. It’s one of the reasons I always give ten percent of my concert fee to homeless charities. As long as I’m selling, I always will.” 

Feeling the gold coin hanging around his neck, Ben smiled, thinking, Pal, you think getting that from me was spooky – you should have seen the guy that blessing really came from. 

 

Tabitha Baumander is a divorced mother of adult twins who lives in Toronto, Canada. Her writing style tends to put unreality in as real a background as possible. The logic there being: a dragon in Narnia is hardly worth mentioning, a dragon on the subway, now that’s something. Tabitha has work published in several horror anthologies and two novels on Amazon. You can find them here: http://www.amazon.com/Tabitha-Baumander/e/B00F6GJCZ2.

Mark Mattison – Creep

Creep
by Mark Mattison

I hate cockroaches. Honest to God, I just hate ‘em.

They seem to like me, or at least, my house. Maybe they’re just biding their time ‘til I get evicted so they can take over the place. Seems like they thrive in this damn Louisiana heat. I think they’re, like, the state mascot or something.

They come from every damn crack in the house. They skitter ‘cross the floor every time I turn on a light; doesn’t matter which room I’m in. I put out the traps an’ all but they seem to like my bed better. I swear to God, last week I woke up to find one of them buggers jumpin’ out of my shorts. Still creeps me out just thinkin’ about it.

But that wasn’t nothin’ compared to what happened last night.

I was flippin’ the channels, lookin’ for that new reality show, when I come across this documentary on PBS about – yeah, you guessed it – cockroaches. Of course. Close-up camera shots, dopey narrative about reproductive cycles, that sort of thing. I finished off the last of my Jack Daniels and set it down by the foot of my recliner when I heard the most annoying high-pitched laughter you ever heard.

That’s right – laughter. I sat up and must’ve been gawking at that piece of crap ‘cause he was laughin’ his creepy little head off at me.

He was standin’ straight up on hind legs, of all things. I’d never, ever seen a roach do that, and believe you me, I’ve seen a lot of roaches. I rubbed my eyes and he just laughed all the harder.

“What the hell you laughin’ at, boy?” I asked him. I couldn’t believe I was talkin’ to one of ‘em. I looked down at the Jack Daniels again and wondered if maybe I’d overdone it.

“Cockroaches have long been depicted in art and literature,” the documentary droned in the background.

“I’m laughing at you, Steve,” the roach squeaked.

I squinted and stared. He nearly fell over laughin’ again.

“Um – why?” I asked. Kinda dumb, maybe, but what d’you say in a case like that? I was just glad nobody else was around. I wondered if it was some kind of prank.

“Because this time tomorrow, ‘Boom!’ – Your pitiful little life is going to come to a mercifully abrupt end. You won’t be able to push us around anymore. No more poison gasses or roach traps, no more squashing us and all that. Your time is up, monkey man.”

“Hardy and resourceful, the cockroach can live for weeks without any food at all,” the documentary continued in the background. Another close-up, like the bug was gettin’ interviewed or somethin’.

“What are you talkin’ about?” I asked. I scratched my head.

“Oh, five thousand years of civilization and you think you’re hot stuff,” the roach went on. “Well, we’ve been here two hundred and fifty million years. We got here long before you ever started rubbing sticks together to make fire, you big fat twerp!”

Normally I’d slug somebody for callin’ me that, but I couldn’t’ve been more offended just by the fact that he was a talkin’ bug to start off with. I ignored the cheap dig. “What d’you mean, you ‘got here’?”

The little roach planted his front legs on what I guess would’ve been his hips, if he had had ‘em. “You think we evolved here like you did, monkey man? Think again. We migrated to this rock from outside your galaxy. Our sun was going nova so we had to go somewhere. We started out on that rock you call Mars – wasn’t too bad at first – but ended up here. And we plan to stay.”

He chirped. The TV showed pictures of hundreds of roaches swarming on some kind of dirt hill while goofy music played in the background.

Gross.

“Oh, believe you me, we tried to live in peace at first.” He began to pace. “But you wouldn’t have any of that. No, it’s always ‘Ew, get that dirty bug’ and all that. And now you’re overpopulating this whole place and killing it with all your pollution. Well, no longer. We’ve been working on a plan to get you monkeys to nuke each other so we can have the place to ourselves again. We can survive a bit of radiation, you know.” He stopped pacing and I think he smiled at me.

“And you’re confessin’ all of that now?” What a bonehead.

“Why not? You don’t have that much longer to live. And rubbing it in makes it all the more fun. You’ve had your fun with us, mister, but now the table’s turned. I’ve memorized the codes I’ll need to start your global thermonuclear war.”

“Get outta here,” I told the little snot. “Like you’ve been plotting the destruction of the whole human race from my crappy house?” I did look out the window, though. Barksdale Air Force Base wasn’t that far away.

He laughed again. “Of course! Who would’ve thought to look here for the instrument of your race’s demise? It’s the perfect hiding place!” He chirped again.

I stood up and placed my hands on my hips to match his stance. “And you’re the only one who knows these codes?”

His smile vanished quicker’n a Yankee politician’s campaign promises. “Um –” was all he said.

“Thought so,” I said as he made a most satisfying crunch beneath my heel.

I wiped off my boot with a nearby Kleenex and threw it in the trash, ‘long with my bottle of Jack D. Maybe I’d had enough of that stuff for awhile.

“The cockroach is remarkably resilient,” blared the TV. I plopped back down into my recliner, reached for my remote, and kept lookin’ for that new reality show.

I hate cockroaches.

 

Mark Mattison is an independent scholar, writer, and author of fantasy and science fiction. He lives in West Michigan with his wife, son, and laptop computer. Mattison is the author of “Commander Chris and the Mystical Orb,” published in 2010, and “The Goblin Gambit,” published in 2015.

Steve Pease – White Lies, Black Lies

White Lies, Black Lies

By Steve Pease

Way before it ever came to this, Margaret and I would curl on the couch. We’d touch glasses (Sancerre for her, Shiraz for me), and we’d touch each other. Then we’d talk about what touched us both in the music we listened to.

Back then, disagreement was rare. So when she enthused about a Tracy Chapman line (something about lies being best when storytelling), I went along with it.

“Great song.” I said. (Truth).

“Profound insight.” I added. (Lie).

Honestly? I don’t think Ms. Chapman thought it through. There may be a place for the little white relationship balm I spread that evening, but most lies are like the aggressive cultures I’ve studied under a thousand microscopes; they rebound and multiply indiscriminately, with no regard for anything in their path.

And they bite. And they wound. Sometimes it’s a scratch that continues to itch long after it should have healed. (People call that guilt). Other times it’s a major trauma. (Name me a war that started from truth).

I guess that most of my early lies would share some common ground with yours.

At five: “It wasn’t me, Mom.”
At ten: “No, Mr. Francis, I didn’t cheat on the math test.”
At fifteen: “Of course I love you, Leah.”
(That may be just a boy one; I never did understand women well enough to know whether they practice the same hormone-driven duplicity).
At twenty: “55 m.p.h., officer.”

Sadly, too, I know that many of you will hear these like the echo of familiar footsteps down your own hallway:

“I still love you.”
“Nothing’s wrong, I’m just tired.”
“I have to work late to finish the project.”
“There’s this conference in San Diego.”

The end result of those was coming home one night to find that both Margaret and the house were cleared out. The end result of those was coming apart a little. As I said, they rebound and they multiply.

And, in turn, having bred, they led to the last five lies I recall. All told to my research supervisor at Endove.

“Yeah, yeah, Ron, everything’s okay at home.”
“Just a couple to unwind after a hard day. I don’t have a problem with it.”
“Yes, I know the environment is controlled and that there’s no danger.”
“No! Why on earth would I work off-program, and make and take a vaccine?”
“Absolutely, I always observe the safety protocols.”

Of course, after the accident, Ron’s not around to reprimand me. Not many people are. Hell of a big bite. Hell of a big wound.

And, I suppose, hell of a big guilt. But if I can find anyone left to lie to, I probably still will.

 

Steve Pease once had a ‘proper job’, drafting press-releases and briefings for British politicians. He argues, rather convincingly, that this was an ideal apprenticeship in the realms of fantasy. These days, he enjoys an idyllic lifestyle – walking his dogs by the River Derwent in Northern England, as he dreams up ideas for his twin passions of story and song writing.

Steve’s work has appeared in U.K. sci-fi/fantasy magazine ‘The Singularity’, Volumes 1 & 2 of Canadian anthology ’47-16: Short Fiction & Poetry Inspired by David Bowie’, and – in the USA – in Fantasia Divinity’s ‘Distressing Damsels’ anthology. Examples of his musical collaborations can be seen & heard at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zOS8K6tZQk&feature=youtu.be and https://www.reverbnation.com/thejamesdeangarageband

Submit your flash fiction! These are the guidelines.

READING PERIOD:  NOW CLOSED~  

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 three (3) submissions during the reading period.  Please send each submission separately.

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, 2017.

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.

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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.

If 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.

RENUMERATION:

If your story is accepted for publication, you will be paid $5.00 (Canadian funds).  Please note that if you live in certain countries outside of Canada, the exchange rate may mean you don’t quite make five 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 published in the months of January, February, March, or April, you will be issued payment on the first of January.
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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:

In this second year of Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction’s existence, I will only be accepting twelve (12) stories for publication.

I will send you a confirmation of receipt of your story within 48 hours of your submission.

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

SEND SUBMISSIONS via the Contact Form.

J.L. Fullerton – The Harvest

The Harvest

By J.L. Fullerton

The motor of the old tractor hummed and purred steadily, sounding somehow melodic amongst the relative silence of the flat, open space. Bathed in early spring sunshine, beneath the expansive ocean of a bright blue, cloudless sky, the diesel-slurping machine guided the disc harrow around the field in a majestic dance. A thin stream of serpentine dust trailed behind, twisting and twirling upward, slowly fanning out like a giant dragon with massive wings outstretched, before drifting apart and dissipating slowly into nothingness.

The lumpy soil, black as coal, was quickly reduced to a fine powder as the sharp points jutting from each of the rapidly rotating circular steel plates shredded and pulverized all within their path.

Ahead, a shape jutted from the earth defiantly; it practically taunted him, stubbornly standing in stark contract to the flat land all around.

It looked like narrow sliver of jagged rock at first, but as he steered toward it for a closer look, recognition struck him like a bullet.

What the hell? That’s impossible….

His brow furrowed as he contemplated a tangible explanation for what his eyes were telling him.

He shook his head—it didn’t matter.

The problem was easily rectified.

Whistling a tune softly to himself, restoring the wide grin on his face, he jammed the shift lever forward. A soft grinding sound filled the cab as the transmission initially resisted his efforts, before finally conceding the higher gear.

The machine lurched forward, picking up speed as the exhaust pipe belched out a thick jet of inky, black smoke.

The front tire bounced over the troublesome thing, followed by the much larger rear tire.

Bounced from his seat, he giggled like a child on an amusement park ride, his face split by a wide smirk, eyes bulging with a crazed intensity.

Twisting around, he shouted in triumph as the disc blades pulverized the thing; it burst open like an cherry tomato squished between the fingers.

He recoiled slightly as a strip of bloody flesh splattered against the rear window of the cab, mere inches from his face.

He shouted gleefully as the deathly pallid skin, soggy and wrinkled, slowly slid down the glass, leaving a narrow smear of ruby-red liquid in its wake. The once vibrant smudge grew dark and discoloured almost instantly, swarmed by the microscopic particles of dirt magnetically drawn toward the wet stickiness like crows to a carrion feast.

Reaching the bottom of the window, the paper-white swatch plummeted to the ground below, where it was immediately devoured by the hungry blades of the disc.

Through the cloud of dust, he saw that only a few small tufts of yellowish hair remained visible behind him, very much resembling the delicate stalks of wheat that would soon enough burst forth from the ground.

An insanely gleeful, triumphant shout filled the cab as he shifted gears once more and stomped the accelerator to the floor, sending the tractor racing off into the dusty beyond.

 

J.L. Fullerton is a writer & blogger from Sylvan Lake, Alberta, Canada, who specializes in horror and speculative fiction. When not locked in his basement office writing, he works as a teacher, teaching everything from Kindergarten to high school English, in addition to enjoying time spent with his wife and son. J.L. Fullerton can be contacted via his Twitter handle @horrorscribe85, and maintains a blog at https://jlf85.wordpress.com/, which consists of reflective posts pertaining to a variety of different topics including current events and the nature of this crazy thing we call life!

S P Mount – Giveth and Taketh

 

Giveth and Taketh

By S P Mount

Mary cupped the silver thistle with both hands as if she captured a mouse. Breathless, she realized the professor she cleaned for had spoken the truth, and not through a hole in his demented head. Loosening her grasp, she cast her eye down the length of the stalk.

Its thorns were steely, sharp as Lilliputian swords. She scowled. Folklore dictated they stab into her palms. Draw blood. The opportunity of a century would be lost if she did not. The ‘Steely Scot’ would revert to any other purple weed dominating the postcard scenery of the glen.

She winced at the prospect. Inhaling deeply through her nostrils, she exhaled through tightened lips. Despite resolve, she tentatively wrapped her fingers around the precarious stalk but its pinheads merely scratched the surface. She wished she’d downed some Dutch courage, but, if the legend proved true, she could not afford to mess up the wording of her wish or she could end up as a real-life troll like the Lithuanian man/woman she used to share a prison cell with.

Even if she had donned a wig and sunglasses and used a stolen credit card for the rental car, she could not risk driving drunk again. Most roads around Loch Ness could be tightened with a shoelace while others twisted like tinsel around a Christmas tree. She could kill herself this time.

“Just do it, Mary!” she screeched.

Her shrillness surprised her. It bounced around the valley like a wayward ping-pong ball. Her ex always did say her voice could guide ships into the harbour. Hardened by the streets she grew up in, as well prison, she knew no fear, but there, in the serenity of the Highlands, even the chirp of a songbird unsettled her.

She gritted what teeth were left so hard the really rotten ones crumbled a little more. But that would not matter in a few minutes. She’d wish for youth, beauty and riches. Compressing her palms into the thistle’s spikes, her scream pierced the glen so the petals of bluebells closed in fear.

She lay flat on her belly and hung to the stalk, as her mind involuntarily flashed back to the incident in her teens when she nearly died.

A deep-rooted weed protruding from the overhang of an industrial waste ‘bing’ people joked made children impervious to disease for having played upon, together with a six-inch stiletto heel anchored into its chalky, sheer cliff face, helped to save her life until a faceless someone with a strong hand pulled her up. If her existence did not otherwise suck since, she’d be convinced she’d had a guardian angel.

Euphoria rushed through her bloodstream like a high-speed Internet connection. Suddenly, she felt no pain. No warm breeze on her bare limbs. No aroma of the subtle potpourri of floral and heather that vied with thistles to carpet the hillside. Her physical being had, apparently, returned to the ‘womb of the cosmos’–something she’d snorted at when the professor shared his secret about the ancient legend. It was exactly as he foretold.

“The writings cannot possibly do justice to the perception of all existence, though,” he said as Mary struggled to compose her choke-filled laughter. “The human impediment interferes, you see.

“No matter the sense of etherealness, the vision, painted in all its eloquent prose, is true beauty beyond the sentiment of even Plato himself.

“According to a script discovered under a broken floorboard at the University of Edinburgh while practising the ‘Highland Fling’ in his youth, a magical thistle was said to materialise once a year in the Highlands.

“A gift from the Banshee that once ruled the moors, it will grant whomever discovers it a single wish. It has taken my entire lifetime, but, finally, I know when and exactly where it will appear.

“But the venom, for make no mistake, that’s exactly what it might be, when injected into the palm of the hand, reveals the wonders of countless planes.”

Mary quipped because she lived under the Glasgow Airport flight path she was well used to countless planes.

“Alas, though, the fates are against me. They riddled me this.” He said and patted his lung cancer. “I wither before salvation comes. Pity, for I might choose immortality if only my body would endure as sturdily as my mind.”

Alone in the world, the nutcase might, Mary hoped, just leave her money in his will. And, when that day came, she was delighted to be summoned to a law office. But the professor only left the ancient script. An envelope signed, sealed and delivered together with a sarcastic smile.

“The SPCA gets the rest.”

There is no reward without sacrifice, the accompanying letter read. You must word your wish judiciously, Mary.

After looking up ‘judiciously’, and the Internet confirming the Steely Scot was actually a ‘thing’, Mary took it seriously. Could the old nutter have spoken the truth?

Yes.

Her wish contained every possible proviso. She memorized it verbatim. The double-edged sword those who discovered the thistle of centuries past said the magic was, would not take Mary Smith’s carefully considered words and cleverly misinterpret them to turn an opportunity of a lifetime into a curse instead.

No.

“State your desire.” A disembodied voice boomed.

“I wish. . .” Mary said and coughed nervously. “No! No wish. Not for you. The hand of fate was already extended to save your life. A life since wasted. I grant only my other hand; the opportunity to change one thing about how you came to live that life.”

“Well, if I knew that, I would never have bothered coming.” Mary sniffed.

“Granted.”

“What? Wait….”

As her physical being dissipated to where she might have been had indeed she not bothered, she heard the voice of the professor.

“Of course, Mary, the one thing to be changed, was for you to never have slipped over that cliff, you silly moo.”

“Sh…!”

And her scream turned the air blue throughout countless planes.

 

A prolific author of numerous short stories, novellas and novels, a love of travel and people-watching serve to widen the abyss of creativity and strange imagination S P Mount comes home to to put ‘pen to paper’–as well his beloved Mini-Schnauzer, MacGregor.