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!

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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.

Stephen Sottong – Refugee

Refugee

By Stephen Sottong

There was a rat in the soup. It was going to be a good day. Liss moved slowly, stiffly, from her privileged position on the top of the shelves in the drafty shed where the orphan girls slept. From this warmer height, she observed her tiny domain.

Liss walked the few paces in the morning chill to near the front of the soup line. She was never first. If a big girl like her was always first, the matrons would call her a bully and make her go without. She pushed two of her friends ahead of her. They’d give her some of their soup. It was worth it – all of the good parts were ladled out to the first few girls.

The gaunt, sad-eyed Head Matron broke the routine of the morning. She walked in pushing a dirty, reluctant, red-headed girl ahead of her.

The big woman who ladled the soup wiped greasy hands on her stained apron and pushed red hair from the new girl’s eyes and sighed. “So fragile.”

“So tragic,” the Matron said, prying small hands from her worn dress.

“How many more can we take?” the woman with the ladle asked.

The Matron shrugged, handed the girl a tin bowl and injected her into the line ahead of Liss.

Liss saw that the red hair was dirty but curled. The dress the girl wore was useless in the cold. Her muddy shoes were patent leather. The red-haired girl sobbed and trembled.

Shaking her head, Liss poked the red-haired girl in the small of the back when she did not move as the line progressed. She would have to learn the ropes.

On her turn at the vat of soup, the red-haired girl held out her bowl and started to scream when she saw the rat. Liss grabbed a handful of the red curls with her left hand and whispered, “Spill a drop of that and I’ll yank your hair out by the roots.”

The big woman mechanically ladled soup into the red-haired girl’s bowl. Liss held out her bowl with her right hand and guided the red-haired girl with the left. She moved the girl to a corner of the filthy shed. The red-haired girl looked at the soup with the rat leg floating in it and started to retch. Liss grabbed the bowl, and downed the soup, crunching on the bones, then sat to eat her own. The red-haired girl stared at Liss, sobbing. Liss tossed the empty tin bowl at her head. The red-haired girl retreated to a corner, crouching in fetal position, crying. Looking at the girl, Liss fleetingly thought of getting her something to eat, but dismissed it – she wouldn’t last long. Most didn’t.

Liss sat back, licked the last of the broth from her bowl and let the soup take the chill from her bones. There had been a rat in the soup. It was going to be a good day.

 

Stephen Sottong has been writing full-time for the last 14 years from behind the Redwood curtain in beautiful northern California. He was a 2013 winner of the Writers of the Future contest. More information about him and a list of publications can be found at https://www.stephensottong.com.

Rhys Hughes – When a Wink is the Same as a Blink

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/.

Gregg Chamberlain – Courtesy

Courtesy

By Gregg Chamberlain

Me and the guys were out on the back nine. I was ready to chip my way out of a sand trap when a ball landed just off to the side. I looked behind me into the burning red eyes of War. Behind him, each seated in his own golf cart, were the other Riders of the Apocalypse.

War pointed his golf club ― a nine iron ― at the ball on the fairway. “Mind if we play through?”

I shrugged. “Go ahead.”

War slammed his ball down the fairway and they all puttered off.

Hey, sometimes good manners count in golf.

 

Gregg Chamberlain, a community newspaper reporter four decades in the trade, lives in rural Eastern Ontario with his missus, Anne, and a clowder of four cats who allow their humans the run of the house. Past fiction credits for sf, fantasy, weird fiction, and zombie filk include Daily Science Fiction, Apex, Weirdbook, NonBinary Review, Prose ‘n’ Cons Mystery, and various anthologies.

Adrian Ludens – Aches and Pangs

Aches and Pangs

by Adrian Ludens

The man living inside Pete’s mouth had a terrible toothache. It wasn’t something Pete could feel, but he knew all the same. Call it preternatural knowledge. Or, just call it a hunch.

Pete didn’t think it fair that the man should suffer, so he’d made an appointment with Dr. Wendy Morris, DDS. Perhaps she could help.

He sat in her waiting room, turning the pages of a battered magazine, but paying no attention to the contents. Pete felt self-conscious. He hadn’t always had a tiny squatter inhabiting his mouth.

He’d first noticed the man just days after he and Melody had broken up, or after Melody had broken up with him, if truth be told. The ache in his heart seemed unbearable until the interloper first made his presence known. Then the hurt seemed to recede; Pete had a more pressing situation to occupy his mind.

Somehow, the man disappeared or found shelter whenever Pete ate or brushed his teeth. But if he had to give a presentation at work, his lodger had a terrible habit of sitting way back in Pete’s mouth, his feet dangling close to his tonsils. He’d drum his legs and it gave Pete the worst feeling, like he might gag or throw up in front of his colleagues.

Whenever Pete encountered a woman who spoke to him, sometimes flirting, oftentimes just being polite, the man always chose that moment to sprawl out on the tip of his tongue. Pete didn’t know how he could explain the tiny man’s presence so he always just smiled at the women and walked away.

There were others. This was something else Pete knew. The man inside his mouth had another, even smaller man living inside his mouth. That man, Pete knew, harbored an even tinier man encamped within his mouth. Russian nesting dolls, Pete thought. And each had their own aches and pangs. Pete felt them all.

“Pete?”

The hygienist, a young woman with her blond hair pulled into a severe bun, stood in the doorway leading to the treatment rooms. Pete set the magazine aside and rose, smoothing his dress shirt before he followed the hygienist.

“So you have a tooth bothering you today?”

“Yes and no.” Pete frowned. Now that the moment had arrived, he wanted to turn back.

The hygienist motioned for him to sit down, a quizzical look on her face. Pete slid onto the examination chair.

“Let’s take a look.”

Pete felt for the little man’s presence but couldn’t sense him. Then he remembered the man’s proclivity for disappearance during mundane matters like eating and brushing. On the heels of this came the realization that the man living in his mouth usually made his presence known in more challenging social situations. Perhaps this visit wouldn’t work out after all; if the tiny man wasn’t visible, how could anyone fix his toothache?

Pete eased open his mouth anyway.

The hygienist let out a yelp and stood up so quick her stool skittered backward and toppled. “What… what….” was all she could manage.

“Maybe you’d better get Dr. Morris,” Pete said, his teeth clenched shut.

The young woman nodded. Her features had drained to the white-verging-on-gray color of skim milk. She hurried from the room. Moments later Dr. Wendy Morris entered the treatment room.

“Open, please,” the dentist said after she’d righted the overturned stool, sat down on it, and rolled to Pete’s side.

He took a deep breath and opened his mouth. Pete watched her eyes widen. Her mouth fell open in surprise. Pete saw twin glints of light reflecting from between her teeth; someone peering out from within.

Pete relaxed. He had found someone wholly equipped to provide care—both his and the tiny man’s. Dr. Morris, Pete felt sure, understood.

He settled back and closed his eyes. Once the tiny man’s toothache was cured, Pete thought he might work up the courage to ask Dr. Morris out for coffee. Maybe they could work together on trying to heal his broken heart. It could be a collaborative effort between all of them.

 

Adrian Ludens is the author of two collections: Bedtime Stories for Carrion Beetles and When Bedbugs Bite. Recent and upcoming publication appearances include: Cranial Leakage 2 (Grinning Skull Press), D.O.A. III (Blood Bound Books), Dark Horizons (Elder Signs Press), and Let Them In 2 (Time Alone Press).  Adrian is a fan of hockey, many genres of music, and exploring abandoned buildings. He is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association. For a cover gallery, links to free stories, news and more, visit www.adrianludens.com.

Nancy Brewka-Clark – The Invitation

The Invitation

by Nancy Brewka-Clark

Francesca swung herself out over the black mirror of the Thames on the slenderest of cables.

Below, London glittered in a coma of sleepless exhaustion at 3 a.m.

She was the poet Byron’s poor jar of atoms, only too willing to be spilled out and smashed if it freed her. Someday she would climb the tallest building built by man, Burj Khalifa. Dubai. One-hundred-and-sixty stories. Eight-hundred-and twenty-eight meters. Two-thousand-seven–hundred-and-sixteen feet, give or take an inch or two.

It would have to be enough.

*

Francesca returned to her flat after yet another tedious day at work. A heavy ochre envelope lay amongst her usual assortment of take-out brochures and bills. “Doctor John Dee’s Magical Arts, Gloriana Theatre, No. 7, Old Billingsgate Walk.”

She recalled a tale: Elizabeth I the Virgin Queen had rejoiced after seeing the future in her astrologer’s black onyx mirror, the invading Armada wrecked by Dr. Dee’s conjured winds.

Francesca slipped her finger beneath the flap and carefully extracted the card tucked inside.

“The Presence of Miss Francesca Gorham, Party of One, is Required This Very Evening at 9 O’clock.”

Mysterious? Definitely.

Arrogant? Absolute power always was.

Would she go? Absolutely.

*

The cab left her blinking away river mist. A curiously crooked little building of white plaster and black timber sat squashed between two modern monoliths of smoked glass and steel.

Atmospheric.

She yanked open the studded oak door to enter a kaleidoscope of color.

*

The magician peeked into the breast pocket of his tuxedo. A stream of colored balls came flying out to bounce like beads at his feet.

Francesca peered at her watch. Really, was this going to be a case of the emperor’s new clothes? It didn’t bear thinking.

“For my next act, I need a beautiful young lady to assist me.” He was looking directly at her.

Cheeks flaming, she mounted the side stairs to the stage.

“Shut your eyes.”

Francesca heard the rumble of wheels on wood.

*

Gold branches and a mother-of-pearl moon adorned the black lacquered cabinet. He swung open the door. The interior was lined with black silk. “Step in, please.”

A partition shot down silently. Her hands traveled over the thick padding with contempt. He had a colossal nerve billing himself as Dr. Dee. Or perhaps he’d assumed that name because he could only perform the oldest tricks in the book.

“My dear Francesca, what is your heart’s deepest desire?”

“Let me go, you charlatan.”

*

The air in the painted box grew sweeter, and cooler. Her body felt light, her head curiously free of thought. The blackness grew even deeper, the air rushing around her until she felt herself lifting on the unseen current. The power was in her to rise with it fearlessly, and so rise she did, upward and upward—

“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you—” Flinging open the door, the magician laughed as the little black bat flapped out— “the true Francesca.”

And the cabinet stood empty.

Nancy Brewka-Clark believes there’s pure magic in sharing words, whether in poetry, fiction or drama. In 2017 her work will appear in an English theatre textbook on writing flash plays, two poetry collections, and a very long romantic fairytale. Please visit her website nancybrewkaclark.com for more coming attractions.

Ready for 2017!

It’s official!  The lineup of stories for the 2017 edition of Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction has been finalized and all the authors have been notified.  I was thrilled to see the calibre of talent from everyone who submitted and want to thank you all for sending in your work.

The first story of the year will be published on January 1, and one story will be posted on the first of each month thereafter.  Be sure to follow Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction to receive the stories in your inbox every month!