Gregg Chamberlain – Teeny Tiny Terror Tales


Hope


C’thulhu sleeps.


* * *

Worry


C’thulhu wakes.


* * *


Anxiety



C’thulhu rises.


* * *


Dread


C’thulhu frowns.


* * *

Fear


C’thulhu smiles.


* * *

Alarm


C’thulhu laughs.


* * *


Panic



C’thulhu calls


* * *


Hysteria



C’thulhu karaokes


* * *


Horror


C’thulhu twerks

***

Gregg Chamberlain lives in rural Ontario, Canada, where the Elder Gods
dare not tread. He and his missus, Anne, share their home with two
cats, who may or may not be from Ulthar, but do treat their humans
with benign indifference. Gregg’s social media presence remains
limited to Facebook and Twitter at
https://www.facebook.com/gregg.chamberlain and @greggchamberlai, plus
a Myspace page that he never visits anymore because he forgot the
password.


Diane Callahan – Paradise Slipping Off Her Tongue

A few years before the divorce, they’re in a busy restaurant outside Acadia National Park, and he’s reading the menu while she’s thinking about pushing a rock up a hill. Her head climbs with Sisyphus, whom she pictures as a French philosopher with a cigarette pinched between his lips, even though Camus is not a Greek hero and is perhaps not heroic at all. She loves him all the same.

Because their diet has not evolved beyond the stubbornness of childhood, they order mac and cheese and a plain burger. The blackberry bourbon lemonade sings to her, drink me, drink me, drink me, as if it could make her ten feet tall. She’s twenty-five but has never had a full glass of anything alcoholic. She asks the waitress for a blueberry soda, because when in Maine, and when married to a teetotaler . . .

They talk about plans, because that is what they do—a time-lapse of the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, a walk across the land bridge that only appears at low tide, popovers and strawberry jam in their sweat-soaked shirts, and no thoughts of Sisyphus. But those things haven’t happened yet. The day is still darkening beyond the restaurant windows.

The park is called “Acadia,” but she finds paradise slipping off her tongue—“Arcadia,” the fabled utopia, a Thomas Cole pastoral populated by the tiniest of beings in fingernail robes, markings in the dirt as small as a sneeze. How absurd it was to be one of those specks of paint but to focus instead on the choice between flavored liquids and to try so hard not to change anything about yourself, when that, too, could be scraped off by a giant thumb.

They’re sitting across from each other. From their first date, they sat with elbows touching, moving napkins and menus to the same side, arm over arm as their forks poached bites from their shared plates. Here, though, the tables are too square, and a pole blocks the middle, so they don’t touch beneath the table at all, although she holds his warm hand in her cold one, feeling the dimples in his ring beneath her thumbnail, as if she could peel the silver away.  

Then comes the blueberry soda: fizzy, sweet, different. New. A question bubbles up from the bottle. She’s the one to ask it—the meaning of life. They’ve talked about it before, of course.

It’s a first-date question, but they’re two thousand one hundred and ninety-five dates in, so maybe it’s time they rewound back to the beginning.

He says what he’s always said: “It means nothing, but you make your own meaning.”

The question must’ve been wrong. She frowns at it, willing it to sharpen at the edges against a mental whetstone, wanting to hear thoughts that could draw blood.

“I just like thinking about these things,” she says, shrinking. “I want to doubt myself. I want to doubt everything.”

“Does that you mean you want to doubt us, too?” His expression is that of a wounded baby bunny, and she can’t help but rush to protect him.

“No,” she lies. “I’d never doubt you, silly.” Well, maybe that is true after all. It’s the other half of the equation that gives her an existential itch: the “me” independent of “you” in that “us.” She wants to separate solute and solvent so that they’re no longer homogenous and marvel at herself under a microscope, knowing full well that “me” is not an equation nor a solution but rather a Cheshire cat that shifts every time she tries to pin it down with her gaze.

He kisses her hand, and she blurts out, “What do you think of when you stare off into space?”

Her husband blinks at her. “Nothing.”

“Nothing at all?”

“I guess I just notice what’s in front of me. Like right now, I’m thinking about how beautiful you are.”

His answer is not a wrong answer because there’s no such thing. Though she smiles demurely, a barb of disappointment finds her anyway.

He looks down at his phone to check the weather. “What’s got you thinking about all this?”

Her heart perks up at the question. She fumbles an explanation of her readings about the idea of suicide in the face of a meaningless, contradictory existence. Too many inelegant “somethings” and “likes” get thrown in with Camus’s precise phrasings. As she falters along, her declarations suddenly feel obscene under the romantic restaurant lighting, beneath the stare of the bright-colored abstract paintings on the walls. So she trails off in the middle, and instead of continuing her sentence, her husband says:

“Should we get dessert?”

For the rest of the meal, they smile at each other and make pleasant observations about the size of their entrees, the crunchiness of the garlic bread. They discuss their plans, ready their leg muscles for quiet hours of hiking. She lets the myth of Sisyphus melt away as her husband takes pictures of the restaurant, their food, her—capturing only what can be seen.

She loves him all the same. He doesn’t need to doubt, has no doubts, no doubts have found him. The glass bottle of blueberry soda sweats in her hand, and the fizzy sweetness lingers on her tongue. It’s not so different, really, from what she knows: the sting of carbonation, the taste of blueberries, the familiar packaged as novelty.

Diane Callahan strives to capture her sliver of the universe through writing fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. As a developmental editor and ghostplotter, she spends her days shaping stories. Her YouTube channel Quotidian Writer provides practical tips for aspiring authors. You can read her work in ConsequenceTales to TerrifyShort ÉditionTranslunar Travelers LoungeRiddled with ArrowsRust+Moth, and The Sunlight Press, among others. Follow her writing, reading, baking, and traveling exploits on Twitter: @quotidianwriter.

More places to submit your flash fiction.

Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction is one very small publisher of flash fiction – there are many other publishers looking for your stories! I am sharing a few that have come to my attention, and I’ll do this periodically on the site from now on. If you wish to recommend others, please email me for consideration (see the Contact page).

Writers, please remember to do your research before you submit your work to any publication: read and understand all of the details of their guidelines and contract (if issued). I am posting this list for informational purposes only. I don’t know anything about the publications listed and I am not supporting them in any way.

Alphabet Box – United States

The Arcanist – United States

The Birdseed – United States

Freefall Magazine – Canada

Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction is now open to submissions!

Here we go! I’m excited to announce that Paper Butterfly is finally open to submissions of your finest flash fiction! You’ll have until Tuesday, November 30 to send me your work. If you’ve submitted to Paper Butterfly in the past, please note a couple of very important changes for this year:

***You will be submitting your work to a different email address. If you send anything to the old address, I won’t look at it, so please ensure you are using the right one.

***In the past, there were no limits on the number of stories you could submit during a submissions call. Effective immediately, you will be able to submit up to two (2) stories per submissions call.

#

SUBMISSIONS:  OPEN NOVEMBER 20 TO NOVEMBER 30, 2021

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 TWO (2) submissions during the reading period.  Please send each submission in separate emails.

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, 2021.

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.

Cover letters are not required.

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.

Submissions may be an attachment (.rtf, .docx., .doc) or pasted into the body of your email – it’s up to you.

If your work is accepted and 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.

REMUNERATION:

If your story is accepted for publication, you will be paid $15.00 (Canadian funds).  Please note that if you live in countries outside of Canada, the exchange rate may mean you don’t quite make fifteen 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 selected during the November reading period for publication in 2022, payment will be issued on or before January 15, 2022.

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:

I will send you a confirmation of receipt of your story within 72 hours of your submission.

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

SEND SUBMISSIONS to paperbutterflyflash1@outlook.com. (That’s a numeral after the word paperbutterflyflash, not a letter.) I will not consider submissions sent outside of the reading period, so double check that it is open before sending me your work.

I’m looking forward to seeing your work!

Sheryl

Rob Francis – The Squatter

The Squatter

by Rob Francis

Nick stubbed his cigarette out on the paving slabs and placed the still-warm dog-end in his jacket pocket before he crossed the threshold of No. 60. It wouldn’t do to show any disrespect. The front door was long gone, but he hesitated a moment anyway, considering how best to announce himself. He glanced back at the office Merc, its shining blue magnificence incongruous in the derelict street. Don gave him a thumbs-up from behind the wheel. Nick nodded.

“Prick,” he muttered through clenched teeth. He shifted the model house he held against the crook of his elbow and cleared his throat. Keep it simple, he decided.

“So. I’m coming in now.”

The front entrance opened onto the living room, No. 60 being a late Victorian two-up, two-down terrace. Everything was the same as the last time he’d visited. Wooden floor sturdy but covered in dust. Old wallpaper hanging down in reams, like peeling skin. Gaping holes in the plaster where thieves had ripped wiring or pipes from the dilapidated house. Rotten-brick chimney, the fireplace clogged with detritus: old clothes, pamphlets, food containers. A stink of damp and mould that tickled his nose.

They’d found the Simmons boy in the front of that fireplace. Nick hadn’t been there in person, but he’d seen the photos.

“Afternoon,” said Nick, to the aching silence. “I’m Nick Pearson, of Moggridge, Pearson and Tench. We’re housing developers.” He looked back through the open door, though from his position all he could see was the waist-high weeds that choked the tiny front yard. “My partner Don Tench is outside.”

If he could be called a partner. Nick had seen the emails Don had sent his wife. And her encouraging replies. He didn’t know what either of them was thinking. They both had kids, after all.  

“I know you’ve been here for a long time. Maybe as long as the house. I’m not sure how these things work. City records show these went up about 1890, so that’s a good hundred and thirty years. I’m guessing you were here by 1900 at least. That’s the earliest record I could find. When the mother burned her baby alive in its crib. I’m assuming that was you. That, and all the others up to the Simmons boy.”

And what a list it was. Almost a dozen incidents over the years, the last couple after the house had been abandoned. Murders, fatal accidents, suicides. Nick had sensed something amiss that first time he visited No. 60, back when they were starting to plan the new estate. High Hallows: Quality Homes for Quality People. Whatever that meant. It was Don’s stupid tagline.

The Simmons boy had confirmed it. The vagrant who did it — if he did it — had no memory of the act, and no history of violence. Said he’d only come in to shelter from the rain.

Nick sighed. “Here’s how it is. We’re knocking the place down. Razing the entire street. All new houses. We — I — don’t want any trouble. Accidents, workers killed and so forth. So. I have a proposition.”

Because that’s how the world worked. Nick believed in God, and when he prayed, he didn’t ask Him for anything. Because why would God give anything for free? No. He offered deals. Look after little May and Ellie, he’d say. Keep them safe. Keep Clara happy and loving. (And faithful.) And I’ll be the best husband and father I can. And if there’s suffering to be done, send it my way. Not theirs. Or better yet, send it to someone else entirely.

Whatever was in this house wasn’t anything like God. But he thought the same principles would work.

He crossed to where the boy’s ragged body had lain and placed the model house carefully on the boards. He’d made it himself from plans he’d found in the city archives, a scaled replica of No. 60 in balsa wood and foam.

“If we tear it down and you’re still here, things’ll go bad. I can tell. No knowing where you might end up. So.” He patted the model. “Move in here, on a temporary basis. Just for a little while. Then we’ll get you rehoused somewhere better, I promise. I never go back on a deal.”

He walked to the door to give the house — or whatever occupied it — some time to consider the offer. In the Merc, Don held up his hand and tapped his watch. Time was wasting. Nick took a few deep breaths, scenting the yard’s wildflowers with their undertone of decay, then nodded. Did he hear something from the room? A faint scraping on the boards? He went back inside.

When he lifted the house, it felt just a little heavier. He smiled.

Back at the car, Don was checking his phone when Nick slipped into the passenger seat, resting the house on his knee. Don put the phone away.

“All good? We’ll be late for the meeting.”

“Sure.” Nick nodded to the model. “Just needed to check a few things before we schedule the demo.”

Don smiled. “That’s a nice miniature. Man, our Simon would love that. He’s well into all kinds of models and things. Bedroom full of ‘em.”

“Yeah? Well, he can have it.”

“What? Oh no, I didn’t mean—”

“Really. I don’t need it anymore. It’s served its purpose.”

“Thanks, Nick!” Don looked genuinely pleased.

“No problem, Don. Happy for it to go to a good home.”

Don pulled the car away from the curb and turned towards the bypass. “You’re a good man, Nick.”

“You said it.”

They drove in companionable silence through the ruined streets.

Rob Francis is an academic and writer based in London. He mainly writes short fantasy and horror, and his stories have appeared in magazines such as The Arcanist, Apparition Lit, Metaphorosis, Tales to Terrify and Novel Noctule. Rob has also contributed stories to several anthologies, including DeadSteam by Grimmer & Grimmer, Under the Full Moon’s Light by Owl Hollow Press, and Scare Me by Esskaye Books. He is an affiliate member of the HWA. Rob lurks on Twitter @RAFurbaneco

John Adams – The Sequel’s Sometimes Better Than the Original

The Sequel’s Sometimes Better Than the Original

by John Adams

J.T. and Coleman were in a rut. 

Not individual ruts. Individually, they’d never been better. J.T.’s restaurant was actually turning a profit. And Coleman’s ridiculous hours had paid off with a snazzy office and a promise he’d make partner soon.

But collectively, as a unit, neither of them were excited by their marriage anymore. At least, J.T. wasn’t, so he assumed Coleman wasn’t either—though J.T. hadn’t thought to ask. Given his growing boredom, J.T. could hardly blame himself for sometimes messing around with their neighbor, Jeremy. Or that guy from the record store whose name he kept forgetting. Or Coleman’s brother. 

Sure, J.T. was no better than an unneutered dog when it came to marital fidelity. But a dog had to wag its tail. 

Like so many other things in their relationship, their Friday-night trips to the drive-in were always the same, with Coleman falling asleep while J.T. grouchily made junk-food runs. On one such outing, as J.T. paid for the evening’s haul—popcorn, Skittles, Cherry Coke—the pimply clerk asked, “Do you have our new customer-rewards app?”

“Right.” J.T. fumbled for his iPhone. He scrolled through several screens, landing on an icon of the drive-in’s logo. The words ‘REDEEM UPGRADE?’ flashed. “Whatever,” he mumbled, tapping a ‘YES’ button.

“Upgrade in progress,” a female voice droned from the app.

“That’s annoying,” J.T. said, waving the phone.

The clerk grinned. “You have no idea.” She turned to the next customer in line.

J.T. started to interrupt and ask about his ‘upgrade’ but decided it wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t like he or Coleman were going to die of thirst if their medium Cherry Cokes weren’t supersized. Besides, he could hear the film starting.

The movie was one of the myriad Agent Jackson spy flicks Coleman claimed to love yet still managed to sleep through. To J.T., the entire series was just a bunch of overdone car chases, noisy gunfights, and not-quite-risqué-enough sex scenes. Still, though, Bryson Devereaux, the latest actor to take on the Agent Jackson role, was pretty hot; at least J.T. could enjoy the movie for that.

He was halfway back to Coleman’s CRV when the entire lot was thrown into darkness. Every car-side speaker stopped, and the screen went black. J.T. stumbled, temporarily blinded. “What the hell?” he asked his armload of cholesterol. He braced himself for the customary boos that came whenever movies stopped mid-reel. 

No such noise came.

Just as abruptly, the screen lit up again, showing a ruggedly handsome tech-mogul CEO plot world domination with his slobbering Doberman Pinschers. J.T. scowled at the corny dialogue. How long until they got to a shirtless Agent Jackson scene? 

He found his way back to the CRV. Carefully balancing the food in one hand, he opened the passenger-side door and crouched inside. He shut the door—loudly, since Coleman had probably fallen asleep by now—and turned to his husband. “They didn’t have any—” 

J.T. gasped, almost spilling the Cherry Cokes. Coleman wasn’t asleep beside him. Coleman wasn’t beside him at all. The man beside him looked exactly like Bryson Devereaux—the debonair Agent Jackson himself. 

“I… have the wrong car,” J.T. stuttered, face burning.

The man in the driver’s seat gave what People Magazine once dubbed ‘That Million Dollar Wink.’ “Oh, J.T.,” the man said, in a familiar and incredibly sexy Southern drawl. “Stop kiddin’, sweetie.” The man leaned over, grabbed Coleman’s food… and planted a kiss on J.T.’s shocked lips. “Thanks for gettin’ the grub. You’ve been such a patient hubby lately, what with me workin’ such long hours keepin’ the world safe.”

J.T. slowly turned from this man—his ‘hubby’?—and stared ahead. On the movie screen, a spy was briefed about the handsome villain’s threats to overtake the world’s governments. But the spy wasn’t Agent Jackson. No, Agent Jackson was in Coleman’s beat-up CRV. The spy on the screen was Coleman. A very befuddled-looking Coleman.

J.T’s pocket vibrated. “Another upgrade?” a muffled, female voice asked.

Hell, yes, J.T. was taking another Bryson Devereaux-sized upgrade! He yanked out his phone and slammed his finger on the app.

The drive-in lights flashed again—unnoticed, it seemed, by anyone but J.T. 

When the lights came back, his legs were in a different position. He felt lower to the ground, slightly cramped… but oddly comfortable. J.T. was no car expert, but he was pretty sure the old CRV had just turned into a fresh-off-the-lot Lamborghini Veneno. 

He looked at his husband—Agent freakin’ Jackson!—and saw him laughing at the movie, oblivious to the changes. On-screen, the Doberman Pinschers chased a comically inept Coleman away from the CEO’s high-tech lair. 

“Upgrade again?” the app asked.

J.T. rapidly pressed the phone screen—again and again and again. 

Flash! The concession-stand Cherry Cokes were now gin and tonics in crystal glasses. 

Flash! J.T. wore a sleek Brioni Vanquish suit. 

Flash! Flash! Flash! His shoes… his watch… hell, it even felt like his underwear… improved. 

J.T. stared at his phone. “Final upgrade?” the voice asked.

J.T. grinned. “Why quit when you’re ahead?”

He pressed his thumb down.

Flash.

J.T. was crouched on all fours, surrounded by growling dogs. A smirking Coleman stood before him, arm seductively draped around the handsome CEO. Beyond them, in the drive-in lot, Bryson Devereaux laughed from inside a Lamborghini, sipping a cocktail. Beside Bryson, a Doberman Pinscher wagged its tail. 

The credits rolled.

John Adams (he/him/his) writes about teenage detectives, robo-butlers, and cursed cowboys. His publication history includes Australian Writers’ Centre, Bowery Gothic, Dream of Shadows, Fat Cat Magazine, Intrinsick, Metaphorosis, Paper Butterfly, SERIAL Magazine, The Shortest Story/The Story Engine, and Weird Christmas. Forthcoming publications include Gallery of Curiosities, peculiar, and The Weird and Whatnot. His plays have been produced by Alphabet Soup (Whim Productions) and 6×10 Play Festival (Barn Players) and selected for readings at the William Inge Theater Festival and the Midwest Dramatists Conference. He performs across the U.S. with That’s No Movie, a multi-genre improv team. Web: https://johnamusesnoone.com/. Twitter: @JohnAmusesNoOne.

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.