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 Tem – The Family Man

The Family Man

By

Steve Tem

The suspect’s broad, pallid face betrayed no emotion, but the detective noticed a distinct twitch in the left eye. He was a large man, and held himself very still, only his eyes moving, and occasionally his lips, which he alternately stretched and pursed, as if exercising them in preparation for some sort of strenuous oral activity. The detective found this profoundly unsettling to watch. He sensed that this family man, seemingly devoid of emotion, actually possessed emotion in abundance. But it was deeply buried within that pale grave of flesh.

“Where is your family?” the detective asked again.

The suspect looked puzzled. “I already told you. They’re at home. Safe at home. When can I go back there? I’ve never been away from my family this long.”

“I doubt you’ll be going home at all. In fact, I’d bet on it.” The suspect, still calm, stared at him as if he were a curiosity. The detective, painfully uncomfortable with the man’s gaze and troubled by his complete lack of progress, left the station and drove to the suspect’s home. Two vans from forensics were parked out front. Several uniformed officers canvased the neighborhood. A team of investigators wearing white CSI coveralls, blue PVC overshoes, and nitrile gloves were digging up the front lawn. A large number of wooden crates had already been excavated. He let himself inside the house.

The living room was pristine and sparsely furnished. No magazines on the tables, or ash trays or knickknacks. One interior wall was roughly textured, embedded with sea shells, small stones, and other conglomerated materials. It was different, but oddly pleasing, a piece of the outdoors brought inside. The other walls were plaster-pale. The deep-pile carpeting was white and definitely not kid-friendly. The entire house was like that, more like a model home than where a family actually lived. The scene investigator was jotting down notes just inside the kitchen doorway. He looked up. “Hello, Lieutenant. I should get this guy to clean my house. This place is immaculate.”

“What did you find in the crates he buried?”

“Everything I’d expected to find in the house. Kids’ clothing, toys, a woman’s clothing, purse, make-up, personal items. None of it new. Lots of wear and tear, the toys a little on the shabby side. I don’t think they spent much money on the kids.”

“All the crates were full?”

“Most of them stuffed. Except for four larger crates buried in the side yard. Each was empty except for a single item.”

The detective walked around the room, stared at the conglomerate wall. “What were those single items?”

The investigator read from his clipboard. “Three contained a flannel blanket with cartoon characters on them: birds on one, fish on another, and something I couldn’t identify on the third. Looked like a pig, maybe. The fourth crate held a woman’s cotton robe. Pastel green, plain, no frills.”

“Any organic material?”

“I sent them all to the lab. They were pretty filthy. I’m guessing yes, fluids of some kind. No visible blood.”

“I want a catalog of everything you found in every crate. By tomorrow if possible.”

The investigator scratched his head, made a note. “Of course. But about those four big crates. All the others were near-perfect, smooth. But those four had lots of dings and scrapes across the tops and corners. The newer marks are a good match for that shovel he had in the garage. The older ones were made by something else.”

The detective stopped pacing and stared at him. “Older ones?”

“Yeah. Judging by the marks on the wood, and the condition of the soil, I’m pretty sure those four crates were dug up, pried open, and reburied again. Multiple times, over a period of years.”

The investigator returned to the excavation work outside. The detective got down on his knees and examined the carpet. It had been thoroughly combed, and the contents filed in envelopes. There hadn’t been much: a few hairs, foreign fibers, minute slivers of plastic, glass. The suspect was beyond fussy. The detective wondered how much time the large man had actually spent in this living room—it looked more for display than for living. He noticed four deep indentations in the carpet about two feet in front of the conglomerate wall. He brought in one of the kitchen chairs. The legs matched the indentations, but only with the chair facing the wall. He sat down and gazed forward. It was like staring at a cliff, at geographic strata. He imagined himself the suspect, that big pale face pushed forward, expressionless.

He thought about how deep the indentations in the carpet were. He thought of that large man sitting here for hours on end, his weight pushing the chair legs deeper and deeper into the carpet. He thought of the man exercising his mouth. A family man, thinking about his family. The detective had a family of his own, a beautiful wife and three rambunctious boys. Oh, the noise they made. The mess. But he adored those kids, how they jumped on him as soon as he walked through the door, consuming him.

He leaned closer. His breathing grew labored. There by one of the stones, a very small detached fingernail floated in the cement. And the stone itself was so white and smooth, and the way it was dimpled, it might have been bone.

 

Steve Rasnic Tem is a past winner of the Bram Stoker, World Fantasy, and British Fantasy Awards. He’s published over 400 short stories. His most recent collections are The Harvest Child And Other Fantasies (Crossroads) and Everything Is Fine Now (Omnium Gatherum). His last novel Ubo (Solaris, February 2017) is a dark science fictional tale about violence and its origins, featuring such historical viewpoint characters as Jack the Ripper, Stalin, and Heinrich Himmler. Yours To Tell: Dialogues on the Art & Practice of Writing, written with his late wife Melanie, appeared from Apex Books in 2017. Last year Valancourt Books published Figures Unseen, a volume of his Selected Stories. The Mask Shop of Doctor Blaack, a middle grade novel about Halloween, also appeared from Hex Publishers.

Ed Ahern – The Spring

The Spring

By

Ed Ahern

The craggy back acre was unusable. But I would often climb the rocky slope and step into its tree-lined grotto. From the central hollow a little spring swelled out and meandered down to my back lawn, seeping into the grass. In the shaded dim, the rough-barked trees seemed to echo my thoughts back toward me, rephrased into gentle suggestions.

And I needed some. A company wanted to lease my rocky parcel and stick up a cell tower. They cheerfully described chopping down trees, blasting apart rock, grading marl, pouring concrete and putting up girders.

I walked up into the grove and sat on a flat rock, next to where the water came up through bright green water cress. And took out my problem.

There were some small unwanted things, like staring out my back window at an ugly derrick. But the war inside me was between badly needed money and the loss of my beautiful little spring.

“Thanks for calling me beautiful.”

My mouth half opened and I almost ran. “Who’s there? Come out!”

The water cress quivered as the water under it rose into a little pillar about four inches high. The column skittered across the surface of the spring and perched atop a poolside stone, forming into a translucent, tiny girl shaded in blues and greens. “We’ve talked together for a long time.”

My mouth dropped all the way open.

“You’re thinking that you brushed against jimson weed and it’s made you a little crazy. You didn’t. I’m much more interesting.”

I blinked and stared. She looked like the fairy image used to sell ginger ale.

“No, silly, I’m a water sprite. You once called us naiads. Talk to me and I won’t bother to read your thoughts. Much.”

My mouth closed, then opened again to speak. “My name is….”

“I’ve known you for years, Theo. My water name you won’t be able to speak. Call me Neaera.”

I saw that she kept one little foot in the pool, and that blue-green flecked water ran into and out of her leg. Her face was sad.

“I am bound to this water, Theo. I am its flow, and if it dries up I die.”

“How long have you been…?”

“I watched your parents fight and part on the back lawn. I saw the first plowing when this was a farm. Buffalo drank my essence. I was born when the ice receded.”

“And you’d be trapped in a pool under concrete if I take their money.”

“No, I am all and only flowing water. If you seal the spring I die. Don’t be sad, death is also natural for us. But I wanted you to know that I’ve enjoyed your visits. Even though your problems sometimes seem absurd.”

“Neaera, I’ll just turn them down.”

“Don’t think like an ant. If you turn down their offer you’ll need to sell your house and the next owner would take their money. My consolation is that you can continue here. I must change back now, this state is quite painful. Please know that your company has been a comfort for me.”

The little sprite gushed apart, her water running back into the pool. Blue and green flecks still glistened on her stone. I sat there for another half hour, begging for her to return, but only song birds answered.

A year later I looked out my back window at the ugly cell tower top, warty dishes poking out in all directions. But beneath the warts, old trees swayed. The company had argued but once I offered to take half the money they agreed. The trees are mostly uncut, the crag unexploded. The ugly tower sits on four concrete footings in between which bubbles my spring. I often climb up, sit on my rock, lean back against an ugly girder, and wait for the echoes.

 

Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He’s had over two hundred stories and poems published so far, and three books. Ed works the other side of writing at Bewildering Stories, where he sits on the review board and manages a posse of five review editors.

Norm Roberts – Morning Hunt

Morning Hunt

by

Norm Roberts

It is a quarter to too damn early in the morning and I am getting out of bed. As my feet feel the chill of the wooden floor, I look over my shoulder to my wonderful wife. She lays there still sleeping, not stirring, still lost in her dreams. I reach over and nudge her awake. She grumbles and then acknowledges that she is awake. I shower and dress, and she makes us breakfast and piles our gear at the door. As we eat, the excitement of the hunt starts to build, and we smile at each other and reminisce about past hunts while looking forward to placing another trophy in the main room.  I grab the gear and load the truck while she gets cleaned up.

It is cold. Frost hangs from the branches of the trees. The streetlights are barely winning the battle verses the dark and cloudy sky. It is a quiet morning, and we feel like the only people alive or at least crazy enough to be up this early. We start the drive out of town and soon realize that we are not the only people out. As we go along the gravel roads, we see vehicles parked along the shoulders or in pullouts. At first it is just one or two. Then, there are groups of vehicles, some with ATVs at the ready. A few people are returning to town with their catch in the back of their trucks. We start to worry about bagging anything with all this activity.

I drive onward, going farther then I intended to go, down some side roads that I hope will not be as busy. My wife tells me to stop the truck, that it is time to start the hunt on foot. She has a feeling that our target is close now. I never argue against her feelings; she has a knack for these things.

We start walking into the trees. The sunlight is trying hard to chase the dark away and melt the ice crystals in the air. We don’t have to trudge through the snow for too long before she grabs my arm to stop me. She points to show me where to look. I don’t see it at first but then there it is. Not the largest, not the smallest, but just the right size for us. We bag it and bring it home. We will set it up in the main room where we will dress it in lights and bulbs and enjoy it for a few weeks, with the belief that it is the most beautiful Christmas tree we have ever had.

 

Norm Roberts is a lover of lacrosse, and works much too hard for a mere pittance.  His story “Hard Times” was featured in Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction in December 2017.  

Kitty Sarkozy – Another Knight

Another Knight

by

Kitty Sarkozy

The dragon roared in challenge. A knight approached.

There was a time Princess Arianna would have rushed to the window to watch the knight defeat the beast, sure they would succeed. That was a dozen knights ago. Watching someone roasted attempting to rescue her was horrible. She knew what she’d see if she threw open the heavy velvet curtains: a shining knight upon valiant steed amongst a field of charred horses and dead heroes, facing the beast.

No reason for excitement. Hoping for rescue now would lead to depression in a few minutes. Best to focus on needlework. However, her heart, beating faster, never agreed with her mind.

The battle continued. This knight was a mighty soldier. ‘Twas a shame the realm would lose him. She’d write a ballad if she had a name and someone to listen to her sing it.

It’s hard to tell with dragons, but was that a roar of pain?

Unable to restrain herself, Arianna went to the window. With the curtains open, the acrid odour of dragon fire and stench of rotting meat intensified. There was a time when she would have gagged.

The knight was weaving among the rocks and bodies. She saw no horse, hoping it had fled to safety. This knight didn’t gleam. The armor was dull and mismatched — the breastplate black, the bracers rusted steel, and the helmet green with no plumes. Arianna couldn’t be sure from this distance, but the sword seemed red with blood. Was the dragon limping?

This was the longest fight yet. All the other knights faced the dragon head on, sword high.

This little knight hid from the dragon, throwing rocks to distract it, stinging when it turned.

Soon the dragon was chasing its tail like a puppy. Arianna laughed.

Could this knight defeat the dragon?

She gasped when the knight tripped, cheered when the dragon was pierced, felt faint with excitement as the battle raged on forever. Suddenly the dragon fell, its many-times wounded leg no longer able to support it. The knight was there, pushing the sword into its eye; blood gushed.

Dragon dead, the knight limped towards her tower.

Arianna was about to run to her saviour when she thought about what being saved meant. She belonged to the knight. None would question a knight’s right to marry a rescued princess. The knight would become King when her father died. Was the knight cruel? What if she became a prisoner in the palace as much as she’d been here?

Footsteps clanged on the stairs, then outside her door. The door opened, revealing the knight, motley armor dripping dragon’s blood. The knight removed the battered helmet, long damp black hair tumbling around her shoulders.

“Emma?” said Princess Arianna.

“Yes, my love,” whispered the knight.

Arianna ran across the room, throwing her arms around Emma, blood be damned.

“You? How? I can’t believe it! You came, you saved me!”

“Always, my love,” said Emma, baker’s daughter, kitchen maid, dragon-slayer.

 

Kitty Sarkozy is a speculative fiction writer, homesteader and tech support phone monkey living in Atlanta, GA. She has a rather unspecific set of not very useful skills, a plethora of hobbies, and too many pets. When not writing or answering calls, she stays entertained as a background actor and rogue. You can follow her adventures at kittysarkozy.com.

Katy Lohman – Forbidden Means Nothing

Forbidden Means Nothing

By

Katy Lohman

Hallowe’en’s my favourite holiday. Months before October, I get my Hallowe’en Feeling, a chill, a readiness. Probably because the dead leave the Afterlife to visit, or haunt. I hadn’t seen any, yet. Boo. I loved to draw spooky things: graveyards, haunted manors and stormy landscapes. My favourite crayon was midnight blue, perfect for twilight skies.

My brother also loved all things Hallowe’en, especially monster masks. He asked for one starting at age five. Dad refused until Frankie was ten and was found reading H.P. Lovecraft. Defeated, he took us to Hawthorne’s Horror Haberdashery. Reading was always rewarded. It was perfect: a haunted house with goodies we could study or buy. Frankie got a green spiky fish monster with pop-eyes. I, more subtle, got a blue-faced phantom wearing a cowl.

Something felt different this year. My Hallowe’en Feeling was tingling my nerves overtime, and I had dreams of little men with red hats, leathery small humanoid beings with stubs of wings on their backs, and a vast kingdom of tiny doll people with swords. Frankie and I hid in the wine cellar to trade dreams and premonitions, and found we’d both dreamed of the smallfolk.

“This is the year, Rook,” I said, using his secret club name.

“The Neighbourhood?” he asked, voice aquiver.

“Oh yeah. We’re even stronger, now. We can easily evade.”

We did a high five, and broke for lunch.

Evening. The full orange moon loomed close in the night sky. Frankie and I let out howls of delight. Mom was giving out candy this year, so we nagged Dad to stop reading and take us trick-or-treating. He was embarrassing; instead of a costume, he wore a sweatshirt saying Hallowe’en Costume, saggy blue jeans, sneakers. We got our baskets, looked at each other, and sprinted.

“Hey!” Dad called out. “You’re too young…”.

We were too far away to hear the rest.

Downhill to the forbidden neighbourhood, a densely forested area that scared almost everyone. As an owl hooted, we snuck through the open gates.

It was Hallowe’en perfection. Every house, painted in rich dark colours, was surrounded by iron fences, had gargoyles and stained glass windows. One chimney breathed purple smoke. Another was exactly like the Addams Family house. Even the inside, we noted as we passed some windows. A stone house with three fireplaces was partly underhill, the yard a tangle of pretty weeds.

We went trick-or-treating down the whole road, screaming, “Trick or treat! Candy or mischief!” Laughing, adults in cool costumes gave us chocolate, pixy stix, candy fangs, gummy worms and more. Children raced around us, all fully hidden in their costumes. One snorted as s/he passed by, and Rook leaned against me to whisper, “He had tusks, Crow!”

I believed him. This neighbourhood felt different, dangerous with a thousand secrets and people who were not…human. The idea didn’t scare me; in fact, I felt a little high on this new energy. It made me feel wild, like I could do anything I wanted.

Last house was the one partly underhill. Rook looked creeped out, and my spine shivered. Slowly we walked down the driveway, towards a little man sitting halfway down the drive, beer resting on his pot-belly and an actual coffin full of candy by his side. He had a rough face with a long pointed-up nose, wore a dirty undershirt, suspenders, baggy green slacks, muddy sneakers, and a rusty-looking knit cap that seemed to be leaking. Weird.

He gestured for us to come closer.

“No fear,” Rook and I agreed. Holding hands, we went to stand before this…man?

As we came closer, he stood and put down the beer that smelled too coppery to be beer. “And who are you two supposed to be?” he asked.

“I am the Phantom of the Blue Isles!” I said in a hoarse voice.

“I am a Deep One,” Frankie gurgled, crooking his head so his neck looked broken.

“Well, now! Aren’t you two far from home?” We giggled. “Do you know what I am?”

“An English bloke who watches too much telly?” Rook guessed. The man roared laughter.

“Someone respected in this whole neighbourhood,” I guessed.

He studied me, brows lowered, before he said, “I’m a Redcap! Do you know what a Redcap is?” He bared three rows of jagged teeth, and laughed so loud, the owls and whippoorwills silenced.

“Fir Bolg,” I said, grinning. “The shock troops who scare all the Fey. You wield long scythes and dip your caps in the blood of your enemies.”

“Most every human knows to avoid this area. How dare you invade our privacy? You are now game to be hunted.”

A small troupe of children came slinking up, casting aside their costumes to reveal themselves as utterly smooth beings who looked like cherubs. They were drooling. And not kids. The leader had crow’s feet and fine silver hair. I knew we were supposed to run, get caught.

Instead, Rook bowed deeply. “Kind sir, forgive our intrusion. We’ll leave…”. In a crazed voice, he finished, “If you give us all your caaaandy!” He made the mask’s eyes bug out even more.

Well, when in Rome. I made my nails turn to claws, growling with mask fangs turned real. Let’s see if Redcaps could handle being hunted.

The Redcap jammed his big beaky nose in my armpit and sniffed. Then he sniffed Frankie. “Interesting,” he said. “I never thought magi would break taboo.” He yelled, “Pax, everyone.” To us, “You’re welcome back. Your neighbours ain’t.” He raised a finger. “Now, shoo.”

We ran, but we both vowed to go back on another night. We had to Know.

 

Katy Lohman is a quirky, rather queer fantasy/horror writer and artist whose favorite questions are “What if?” and “Why?” She writes about the fae, dangerous angels, gods, demons and Things That Must Not Be Named. When not writing or drawing, she can be found researching various topics, reading, taking online classes, rolling dice, building decks and exploring Chicagoland. She has short stories published in Ugly Babies 3 and 47-16: Short Fiction and Poetry Inspired by David Bowie, Volume II. Her favorite angel is Raphael, her favorite god is Enki and her favorite DC character is Wonder Woman.

JP Behrens – Sciophobia

Sciophobia

by

JP Behrens

“Don’t turn off the lights!”
The floor and ceiling illuminate the room to the point of blindness.
“Dorian, we’ve spoken about this. Shadows are not dangerous.”
“Mine are. Please, just leave me alone.”
“Now you know I can’t do that. Nothing is lurking in your shadow.”
The doctor stands up and moves to the door.
“I’ll prove it.”
He knocks twice.
The lights on the floor wink out. “See–”
Two glowing red eyes peer out of the shadow from behind the doctor. Blood splashes across the dimmed walls. Dorian sobs, wishing for the light to return before someone else comes in.

A storyteller most of his life, JP Behrens weaves intricate webs of bold-faced lies, some of them in the form of stories. Everything in one’s life is a learning experience, and he’s tried to learn from both wondrous successes and miserable failures. Though JP has managed to fib less often, he still tells the occasional exaggerated tale here and there. Some can be found in anthologies like Fairly Wicked Tales, O Little Town of Deathlehem, and Return to Deathlehem. He is currently working on two or three books.

Timothy Manley – My Baby is Home

My Baby is Home

by

Timothy Manley

Step, swing; the pick impacted the rock, sending shivers up the handle to their numb arms. The stench of tallow and black grimy sweat filled the air. Their heavy breaths came in gasps as the men worked with indifferent exhaustion. Forceful blows from hefty sledges drove spikes into solid stone, shattering fragments from their bed. Other miners scooped the broken shards up into carts while even more men dragged the carts out, pulled by thick, substantial ropes.

His name was Lethias and he was the largest man in the group, as strong as a horse, many said. He swung a pick too heavy for most to heft much less use, and could sheer stone with a single blow. He was the one to find it first. One of his blows broke through the rock too easily, and carved a hole through something, into an open darkness.

The men moved close, held their candles into the hole to see what was found. Flickering light danced across the broken shapes, summoning shadows of eerie form and figment. The light caught metal and the shine began to grow. The men’s eyes grew wide as they saw the room that began to be illumined before them. The walls were ceramic, covered with designs, and the glistening was given off by figures and statues made from solid gold and silver. Chests were everywhere. Glee began to fill the men, joy at the find, the possibility. Eager hands and tools dug with maniacal quickness and the men broke in.

Lethias was the first to rush and with a swift blow, crashed open the first chest. He stood dumb at what glittered inside: treasure the likes he had only heard about in fables. Frenzy engulfed the men. They fell upon the chests, tearing at them and ripping them open to find treasure, more amazing than the last; each laden with wealth beyond their dreams.

Then they came to the largest chest of them all: a massive box bound with iron chains across all sides. The men surrounded it, grinning at each other. Their lives had been made and they knew it. They were all rich.

“Equal shares,” Lethias said and held his hand out.

Each man nodded and clasped hands in the center above the giant chest. Then, with a nod, they fell to it, ripping at the chains with their tools. Certainly, the greatest treasure of all was inside. Grinning and giggling they lifted the lid.

#

Fog clung to everything. The road up to the mine vanished into a wall of fog, thicker than anyone could imagine. One man was chosen. He was in the lock-box for drunkenness but chosen for his gift of riding. It was known that he could ride like a man possessed and could get speed from a horse it didn’t even know it had.

The scraggly man was led to a fine horse, the best in town. He looked nervous. All the town’s leaders were there, except for Markil the Blacksmith. He had gone to the mine with his war-axe when the screams first were heard and the fog starting spewing from the gaping mine entrance. He never came back.

“You must travel as quickly as you can,” the mayor told the young man. He handed a scroll to him, placed it into his hands as if it were the most important thing in the entire village. “You must ride to the Seat of Tartaris and find help.” He looked away as his voice caught in his throat. “Please, before more be taken.”

The man nodded and climbed onto the horse. An elder woman handed him a wrapped parcel, kissed the fingers of her hand, then touched his stirrup.

The scraggly man’s face grew stern and filled with pride. “I will not fail you,” he said. He spun the horse, kicked its belly and galloped off.

“No time,” a grizzled old man said, watching the rider vanish into the forest as he sped out of town.

“We have time,” the mayor said sternly. “Tartarin watches over us, protecting us from evil.”

The old man turned and laughed, a low gravelly laugh filled with phlegm and knowing resignation, as he headed into the long-house.

The others followed; the old woman stayed alone whispering a prayer to Tartarin to speed the rider’s will and the horse’s hooves.

When she opened her eyes, she saw a figure in the fog. It had been standing there she knew not how long. Fear filled her only to be quickly replaced by joy. She recognized the figure. It was her son, Lethias, her baby boy. He hadn’t been lost in the mine afterall.

“My baby,” she said, and raised her arms to embrace him, her eyes filling with tears of joy and relief. The figure grinned, wicked jagged teeth glistening in the dim light, and rushed to her, its arms outstretched.

 

 

Timothy Manley is a writer of fiction, with four books and some short stories currently in print. Tim is what some call an ‘OG’, that’s ‘Old Geek’. He goes back in geekdom before the internet existed, which is what fed his early fascination in science fiction, fantasy, horror and the macabre. Tim currently lives at home with his wife and the youngest two (sometimes three) of his five kids as well as their dog and cat. If you want to see what Tim has in print feel free to check out his Amazon Author page (https://www.amazon.com/Timothy-Manley/e/B00MP5KEPY). If you’d like to keep tabs on Tim and find out when his next book is due to come out, feel free to like his Facebook Author’s page (https://www.facebook.com/SciFiWriterMan/). Here’s a hint, he often recruits BETA readers amongst those following him on his Facebook Author’s page.

Steve Pease – A Growing Imagination

A Growing Imagination
by

Steve Pease

Simms is a closer; been around the block. I’m the rookie, and the home crowd has lost hope. But … hey … this is the home of the Blue Jays; the place my Dad brought me up.
I smash Simms’s fast ball out of the park.

Dylan steps away from the microphone and smiles. I launch into a blistering solo. In the audience, Beck and Satriani shake their heads in awe and disbelief.

“Enough,” sighs a still-glowing Helen. “You are, without any doubt, one in a thousand.”
As I watch the sun set over the Aegean, I admit that I’m a little proud of myself.

Outside room 306 of The Lorraine, it’s 6.01 pm, April 4.
“Look out!” I shout.
And, as a startled Martin straightens, the bullet thuds harmlessly into the balcony wall.
That night, I have a dream.

Back in England, it’s State against worker. The battle-lines of Orgreave will dictate the next forty years. As the networks capture the conviction and passion of my rhetoric, I outline my vision for a very different future. They relay it to millions.
I believe in the power of television.

The press conference is the biggest the world has ever seen. And the three of us are bone-weary from the days and weeks of negotiation. But, as Palestinian and Israeli lean together to sign the two-state accord, we are also elated. This time, we think, this time.

This morning she seems a little tired, maybe a little sharp. But I don’t consider any response beyond coffee and a kiss. I’ve never uttered a thoughtless or hurtful word. Never doubted us. Never looked at another woman. I’m never irascible, never tired, never drunk.
I love, unconditionally and selflessly. My wife doesn’t pay it any mind; it is all that she has ever known.

You look me in the eye, and say, “You are mad with grief, and more than a little crazy.”
“No, no,” I reply, returning your gaze. “I’ve been researching quantum mechanics, the universal wave function. All possible alternate histories and futures are real. It makes perfect sense.”

My daughter survives beyond two weeks. I never shed those tears. Not one.

 

 

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 writing fantasy. These days, he and his wife enjoy an idyllic lifestyle – walking their dogs by the River Derwent in Northern England.

Steve’s story “White Lies, Black Lies” featured on Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction in October 2017. His work has also appeared on Canada’s Digital Fiction Publishing; in the U.K. sci-fi/fantasy magazine “The Singularity”; in 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.

Josh Brown – The Zen Dragon

The Zen Dragon

By

Josh Brown

Inside a dark cave, a dragon slept soundly upon his hoard of treasure. A powerful wizard came and awakened him.

“I can offer you eternal bliss,” the wizard told him.

“Is that so?” replied the dragon.

“All you need to do is give up all your possessions,” the wizard said.

The dragon looked at his cache of riches. Realizing he didn’t actually need any of it, he dumped the entire heap into the lake.

“Now,” said the wizard. “What is the sound of one wing flapping?”

The dragon felt a calm wash over him.

“That’s easy,” the dragon said. “Dragonlightenment.”

 

Josh Brown is a writer of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. His work can be found in numerous anthologies as well as in Mithila Review, Fantasy Scroll Magazine, Strange Horizons, and more. He served as award chair for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association’s 2017 Elgin Awards. A native of Minnesota, he tweets at @jedeyepatch.