I’m delighted to give a huge shout out to author Scott Hughes and his most recent work! His story “The Goblin’s Lament” was featured in Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction in April 2018 (check it out here!).
A Goblin’s Lament
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.
The Kissing Bridge
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?”
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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!
When a Wink is the Same as a Blink
By Rhys Hughes
I admit it. I gave a pair of binoculars as a birthday gift to a cyclops. It was a bad idea, a joke in poor taste, but I just couldn’t help myself. Giving an optical device to a cyclops is suitable if that device is a monocle or even a telescope or kaleidoscope. But binoculars are cruel. I suppose I still can’t forgive and forget the eating of my crew.
It was a long time ago and bygones should be bygones. You can argue that and I will nod at your wise words. But deep inside I feel that men and monsters can never be real friends. They eat us and we slay them and that leaves deep psychological scars. It seems to me that there is always a risk that old conflicts will flare up once again.
It wasn’t the first time half my crew had been devoured. Long before I even knew what a cyclops was, I lost many good sailors to a tyrannosaur. That was in the days when ships were a lot more primitive and crude than they are now. They didn’t have sails or oars, but just went where currents took them. All voyages were random ones.
The tyrannosaur incident gave me an idea for a subtle form of revenge and the next time I encountered the beast I gave it a pair of binoculars as a present. I experienced a deep satisfaction as I watched the vicious brute attempt to peer through both lenses at the same time, even though its eyes were on either side of its head. Very funny!
“That’s to pay you back for my digested crewmen,” I said to myself, as I watched the villain become dizzy and fall over. I departed and knew that an inappropriate gift can be a more decisive retribution than a sword thrust. Later an asteroid splashed into the sea with such force that a giant tidal wave washed all the tyrannosaurs away.
But my troubles were far from over. I went on many voyages and my sailors were always eaten by something or other. When we were captured by the cyclops I saw at once that if I ever escaped his clutches, one day I would return and give him a pair of binoculars. I was already scheming to do this with a polite bow and a shrewd smile.
That future time came and I was passing his cave and dropped in for a visit. He brewed coffee for me and we chatted about former glories. Then he looked sheepish and said, “No hard feelings?” and I replied, “None at all, dear chap,” and I presented him with the binoculars wrapped in shiny paper. He blinked at the parcel and opened it.
I thought he was winking at me and I winked back, but he really was only blinking, because a blink is the same a wink to a cyclops. Then big tears dripped down his face and used his nose as a ski jump to leap clear of his chin. It was as if a tap had been turned on inside his head, the same head that had munched my men years before.
These were the loneliest tears imaginable because they came down in single file without the moral support of other tears on the other side of his face. In fact they were so lonely that each teardrop wept smaller tears of its own, and so on to infinity, which explains why one should never go to watch a sad movie in a cinema with a cyclops.
Rhys Hughes has been writing and publishing fiction for the past 25 years. His first book was published in 1995 and since then he has had almost forty books and more than five hundred short stories published in ten different languages around the world. He has a particular fondness for flash fiction and his collection FLASH IN THE PANTHEON gathers together some of his best work in this form. He is currently working on a long novel about a ghostly highwayman. His blog can be found at https://rhysaurus.blogspot.co.uk/.
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