Issue #1 Autumn 2020: the online issue is now moved to two archival/blog posts, as it is the next issue’s turn to take over the spotlight. Part A includes all poetry and five stories. See part B for the remaining 6 stories.
Georgics for Cthulhu
(A Sonnet in Hexameters)
by Frank Coffman
Deep! far beneath the Pacific, lies the dark region of R’lyeh.
Strange is the glow of that city! Green, it makes sinister shadows
There ‘mongst the inky obsidian structures, indistinct in that twilight.
Stranger the farmers and husbanders, forms pseudo-manlike—and morphing!
Theirs the great duty to tend to spawn of the City’s detritus:
Some are ophidian—sinuous, slithering horrors, others cephalopod—
Mimicking poorly their Master who sleeps in the City’s dark center.
And there are strange underwater Bat-things with weird scaly wings
Flitting about there—gloom shrouded terrible flyers, fleet in the blackness.
Meanwhile the tenders must nurture carnivorous plants in R’lyeh’s gardens,
Watch ‘oer those waving weeds, poisoning all of those currents of Choas.
Blooms that ooze blood are abundant; all must be carefully tended.
Ranchers who herd nothing of Reason; farmers who grow naught but Fear,
Tending where Cthulhu lies sleeping—dreaming although he is Dead!
Frank Coffman is a retired professor of college English, Creative Writing, and Journalism. He has published speculative poetry and fiction in a variety of magazines, and anthologies. His poetic magnum opus, The Coven’s Hornbook & Other Poems has been followed by his rendition into English Verse of 327 quatrains of Khayyám’s Rubáiyát. His second large collection of poetry, Black Flames & Gleaming Shadows was published in March of 2020. Available from Bold Venture Press and Amazon. He selected and edited Robert E. Howard: Selected Poems.
A member of the Horror Writers Association and the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association. He established and moderates the Weird Poets Society Facebook group.
by Jennifer Crow
Moonlight creeps, stealthy silver rogue slipping through slats in blinds, slitting the throats of clouds, winking for a moment before vanishing, soft-footed below the horizon.
I would have followed you to the end: of the earth, of the dream, of the hope for humanity in triumph or survival or endless exile. Instead, I stand alone on a headland overlooking a gray sea that tastes more of death than of salt, and curse your name as I look for the bright star of your passing overhead. Only so many you can save, you said, and emptied your pockets of earth’s dust as you drained my soul of its last illusion.
Jennifer Crow’s work has appeared in a number of print and electronic venues over the past quarter of a century, including Asimov’s Science Fiction, Uncanny Magazine, and Strange Horizons. She lives near a waterfall in western New York.
by Kate Garrett
alphabet of flowers
unearth a story in this garden – a sundown walk along the overgrown path, where centipedes hide scribbling twenty times the lines we could manage with two sad hands. here is foxglove to stop hearts and twist guts; a letter addressed to lords-and-ladies who took your breath straight from your lungs, sealed your throat. what tale have you wandered into, while bats sleep and dream of midnight moments to come? hogweed leers far above your head, preparing blisters for your skin, amazed you’ve come exploring willingly beside it. you want the very worst but still your ribcage holds a shivering sparrow, watched by eyeless petalled faces, gripped by words they drip into your skull by some chlorophyll telepathy: ours. you. hunger. decay. teeth. love. soul. soil. the path narrows, the garden widens. you walk on feet. on knees. you crawl.
happy, happy they in hell
each one of you surfaces with a job to do – find a spot where the airwaves become a doorway, dance out into side streets and beer gardens like you belong here. you slide through as cigarette smoke, fumes from broken bourbon bottles. you stand up into a new body wearing denim, flannel, leather. earth is hell put on backwards; you turn to the sea, search for fires and lightning. there are no gasps or squeaks at a glimpse of beaks and rippling arms beneath holographic glamours. not one human sees the beast sent to test them. they’re eager to follow you home.
Kate Garrett is a writer and mum of five with a significant folklore, history, and horror obsession. She is the Magical Editor of Mookychick magazine, and her own writing is widely published. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. Born and raised in rural southern Ohio, Kate moved to the UK in 1999, where she still lives, currently in an off-duty Welsh-border vicarage.
by Robert Beveridge
Stroke the fur of a lemming, drowned soon it will be your turn That night we watched thousands of lemmings fling themselves from rainy cliffs it was that time and later you cried out as a bloody tear was shed from between your lips stroke the fur of a lemming drowned in blood its lips stretched back to reveal perfect pointed teeth: your rush to the cliffs began that night
Tonight's rain has yet to arrive though the skulls of the sensitive have foretold it the entire day. Clouds have gathered, dispersed. Seers predict drought in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Prayers for rain are uttered, dances and festivals undertaken. Still the clouds hang dark, pregnant, out of reach. The ground cracks.
Robert Beveridge (he/him) makes noise (xterminal.bandcamp.com) and writes poetry in Akron, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances in Blood and Thunder, Feral, and Grand Little Things, among others
by John Grey
The Wolf on the Hill
The wolf knows how to compose a scene, a lope across the summit of the far hill, the full moon behind hosting his canine shadow. And he’s an expert in sounds, the long howl of hunger, short bursts of desire, and that low growl that gets under the wind’s skin, and blows incessantly my way. The wolf is not a threat and yet I fear him. For he’s not just a creature doing what it takes to survive, but a refugee from the storybooks I read as a child, with sharp teeth, fierce eyes, and the aura of sudden death. He’s from a time when I was terrified I would not make it through the night. And it’s night now. I crawl up in my bed. What others call sleep, I think of as survival.
APOCALYPSE RIGHT NOW
Fire turns seas into desert, deserts to smoke, plates crumble, mountains flop, all creation undone in the heat of one hell of a moment, cracking open the planet, so the flame within joins the rioting on the outside, no time, merely entries in a burning diary carved by the river to reveal all that’s warped, inverted, what might have been, now without shape or purpose, just one huge melt, no song to the earth that isn’t someone screaming.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Soundings East, Dalhousie Review, and Qwerty with work upcoming in West Trade Review, Willard and Maple, and Connecticut River Review.
by Craig McGregor
It was always Gramma that hummed the tune to me, and when she found it and brought it home in a box, I thought she was just about the most magical person that there ever was.
She bought it from a small shop in town. Second-hand, third-hand, I didn’t know. It was worn but in the same way a favoured book feathers at the edges with fondness. It looked cared for; it was certainly more expensive than she could afford. I didn’t like thinking of her spending that much on something for a grandchild.
It was my birthday, my tenth, when she gave it to me. A special birthday, she said, deserves a special present. It was a little box, not much bigger than a jewellery one, but when you lifted that lid there was such music, such song. And though her lips didn’t move and her eyes didn’t shut, a beautiful little girl spun around on one leg to a tune so glorious that a ten-year-old child could barely comprehend it. It made my heart swell. Porcelain, Gramma said it was. Pure white porcelain. I tried the word out loud, loving the way it made my tongue dance in my mouth. Porcelain.
And when the porcelain girl twirled, she twirled in a circle, slow, but like she’d never get dizzy a drop. Like she’d turn forever if I let her. I tried to copy her for the whole song once, leg lifted as high as I could, but I only got halfway around before I fell down dizzy and laughing. It took pride of place in my room, right on my dresser. I opened it every morning and night when I brushed my hair, and it reminded me of Gramma and birthdays and good things.
One night, after I had gone to bed but stayed awake, I heard the song from across the room. Across the room and on the dresser, the box was open and playing its music. I pulled my head out from under my cover and looked right over at it and saw her turning there like it was the most natural thing in the world to be doing so. She sang without moving her lips, and as I watched her twirling, the big, bright moon draped over her in ways that made her white skin silver and her ruby lips black. It was the moon that caught her eyes as she turned and made them flash right as they met mine again. The music sounded off-key somehow. I tiptoed across the room and shut the box.
In the morning I got Daddy to look at the latch and the hinges. I said that it woke me up because he’d be cross if he knew I was awake late. He said that there wasn’t a thing wrong with my box and that I’d probably forgotten to close it before I went to sleep and it had woken me up. I knew it wasn’t so, but I couldn’t say that without making Daddy mad, so I kept my tongue in my head.
I rarely opened the box after that night. I didn’t like the way her eyes flashed at me like that, or the way the song was different. It didn’t do much for the next few months except to gather up dust that I never dusted despite what Mum said. I just told her and Daddy that I was growing up and out of it. They said that was fine, but that I should act like it was still precious when Gramma came over for the holidays. Back then that was okay by me because holidays aren’t as often as real days. So, save for those special days, the box stayed shut.
Later, in summer, at night, and under the covers, I was reading and ruining my eyes by straining them in the dark when the box opened again and started to sing.
This time I didn’t tiptoe. This time I got right up out of bed and slammed the lid shut and put my book on top of it. It was a big book, too. The music had been odd again, different in some way I can’t describe. Imagine hearing carousel music, but the music is playing backwards, or just too fast or slow. What left me standing there in the dark though, wasn’t the music. I swore that the girl used to move the other way round. I stood there and thought about it, and the terror grew around me like dandelions in the garden. Not terror just because it had moved the wrong way round, but terror because I thought it had forgotten which way it used to move, and that led onto a thought that almost kept me dandelion-rooted for hours: how can a porcelain anything forget anything?
Late that night I dreamed porcelain dreams; all red and white and turning the wrong way round.
Gramma visited that year around harvest time, same as always. She brought with her a book, a present for me, and she joked that she was sorry it didn’t sing like the last gift and I smiled and hugged her because I didn’t know what to say. I had put it under the wardrobe, gathering dust at the back where the spiders were. When she asked me to get it I almost said no, but saw the look on Daddy’s face.
The room was getting autumn-dark and the moon was shy. I had to let my eyes adjust to the gloom under the wardrobe. I had pushed back the dark in the room with the light switch, but I didn’t think any light would scare off the dark under that wardrobe. After a few seconds of staring, the grubby grey skirting board began to bleed through the black and I could see the box in front of it like the negative of a photo.
All around it were spiders. They lay upturned on their backs and their legs had curled up and in like little hooks aimed at their bellies. There were so many of them. I could see more as my eyes grew wider and let in more light. As I yelled, the dust and bugs blew back and the box seemed to shine a little even though it was under the wardrobe and at the back and the moon wasn’t going to come out that night. I didn’t think I was going to be able to grab it but I saw my arm stretch forward, reaching for it, and scooted my fingers behind the lacquered wood to shuffle it towards me. It looked no better on the desk. Dust caked it the way it does to all things under all wardrobes. I dusted it off with the hem of my dress, making sure I didn’t flick the latch up and let it open.
When Gramma left it went straight back under the wardrobe, despite twirling the right way round and playing its song the same way as I remember on my birthday all those months ago. As I shoved it, it scraped the wood floor and hit the back of the skirting board with a thunk I found most satisfying.
The next time it played I was asleep. I snapped my eyes open to the first notes of music and was properly awake even quicker than that. The room was dark above me, but the floor was filled with a light that was like trapped and angry lightning. The song roared, and I wondered how I could ever have found something so awful and haunting beautiful. I screamed into my blankets and I screamed out of my blankets for my mum and my daddy and they came running in and turned on the light just as the lightning under the wardrobe disappeared and the song stopped dead.
I yelled and I cried for them to get rid of it, to throw it in the bin, to drop it in the river, to smash it to bits, to make it gone. I wasn’t often a petulant child, but that night I refused to sleep, refused to let them leave, or turn the light off, or anything. Finally, they agreed. In the morning, they’d get rid of it and we would all tell Gramma that I dropped it and it broke beyond fixing. With that, they calmed me, tucked me in, and took the box from my room. I tensed under the covers when Daddy lay down and reached under the wardrobe to get it. He held it in both hands, and I saw him then as a jailer escorting a dangerous prisoner.
Sleep escaped me, and I stayed awake looking at the dark spot under the wardrobe across the gulf of the room. That light had been false. It wasn’t real light, like the sun, or even a lightbulb. It was fake, porcelain light, no more real than the girl in the box that scared me so much. But, what was it doing? I crept out of bed, feeling silly for being a stranger here in my own home, and crept across the boards of the floor. I flicked on the light and dropped down to look into that black space that shouldn’t have seen any light at all. My eyes took a long time adjusting. The darkness was cold like the residue of a camera flash. The blacks turned to grey, shade by shade, and shapes were revealed in silhouette. I froze, and for a moment was as still as that porcelain girl should’ve been.
My hand extended beneath the wardrobe, creeping along on spider-leg fingers. I gently curled them around what now lay beneath. My fingers confirmed what my eyes could not. I was mustering up the courage to open my hand and look at the cold things I held when the music started once more.
I cried out. Stumbled upwards. Flinging the door open with my free hand, I sprinted down the hall fuelled by fear more than bravery. The corridor seemed in that moment to be too long for the house, and I saw that awful porcelain light emanating from the gap beneath my parents’ door.
I ran towards the light, never actually wanting to reach it. The music filtered through the stillness in the air. It was stronger now, discordant, and sharp enough to cut. It filled my head and the porcelain light began to pulse in time. I thought of the porcelain girl, her ruby lips, and eyes that flashed at me in the dark. Her smile stayed static as she turned in my mind until she began to face away. Then I saw her face change, saw a sneer form before she completed her turn and was smiling at me once more.
When I reached the door and put my hand to it, everything stopped. The light, the music, the girl; the only thing left to mark the time was my breathing, shallow and quick, but alive, made of flesh and bone and blood. I waited. Whatever lay beyond the door, and I thought I knew, I didn’t think I would find the girl or the box there anymore.
I stood there for a long time, one hand on the door in the silent house, the other tightly shut, clutching the things from under the wardrobe. I uncurled my hand. Several spiders lay there upside-down, just the same way they had lain dead under the wardrobe for so long. From somewhere, moonlight flashed in all of their tiny eyes. I felt them, caressed them with my thumb, and felt their porcelain legs crack and snap and scrape their hollow porcelain bellies, like little porcelain hooks in the delicate porcelain models they had become.
Craig McGregor is a primary school teacher from Plymouth. He has an MA in Creative Writing, and his work has previously been published by Cape Fear Comics and the Sublunary Review. Since writing them their own stories his students have been his staunchest supporters, frequently telling him to “go and write some proper stories already.” His fiction ranges from quiet horror and folktales to splatterpunk, depending on how grumpy he is at the time.
Ways of Love
by John Bukowski
May I freshen your sherry, my dear? No? Well, perhaps I’ll have another brandy. Just this one little drink. You needn’t worry. I know it’s late, but it isn’t far to your boarding house, and I’m with you. I promise I’ll have you on your way by midnight.
Ah, yes, one more drink to warm the heart and fortify the soul, as my dear, departed wife used to say. My dear Julianna. I’ll need this drink if I am to tell you her tale. The tale of that night. The night when my life changed. When I learnt the bitter lesson of loss. The true meaning of love.
It was just this same autumn time of year when she went missing. A rainy night, much like tonight. We’d dined with friends on Delancey Street, not eight blocks from here. It had been a pleasant evening and Julianna looked magnificent. In fact, you remind me very much of her. The same pale colouring. The same soft, golden hair. But I digress.
We headed home about midnight, maybe quarter of. Cabs were devilish hard to come by, as they always are on such nights. It’s as if the fog swallows them along with the moon and stars. Wasn’t it Sandburg who said it comes on “little cat feet?” Interesting turn of phrase, but I’ve always thought rats a more suitable imagery. Especially in a harbour town. Swarms of wharf rats leaving their daytime lairs and roiling out over the cobbles, a brown-grey mass devouring the nighttime.
I’m sorry, my dear, I seem to have given you a chill. Are you sure you won’t have another sherry? Well, let me top off my brandy and prod more life into the fire. That’s better. Now, where was I?
Ah, yes. Cabs were devilish hard to come by. They were hansom cabs in those days, horse-drawn affairs. One could hear them clip-clopping through the haze but rarely saw so much as a shaggy tail. Even calling, “Ho, Cabbie!” did no good. It was as if the fog ate the words as well. So, we decided to walk. The rain had slackened to a fine mist, we were well-clad in hats and capes, and we were warm in each other’s company. We walked hand in hand, her small, smooth fingers wrapped inside mine. We were in love; nothing could harm us. And, as I’ve said, it was only eight blocks.
The street lamps helped little with our navigation, hidden as they were behind yellow penumbras that deceived the eye more than aided it. I remember that I began to tell some jest, how our host resembled Father Christmas in his red dinner jacket. But my words died in the night only inches from my lips. Even our footfalls were stolen by the fog ere they left our heels. It was a lonely feeling, like being imprisoned in a bell jar, reality hidden away just beyond the milky glass. As if my sole connection with reality was Julianna’s hand, warm within my own.
We’d travelled several silent blocks and I began to feel uneasy, as if trekking blindly through a foreign land. I’m sure you know the sensation. The strangeness brought on by nighttime and fog–how they play tricks with the senses, and with the mind. Even familiar scenery appears misshapen, alien in their shadowy world. I fought to make out friendly, familiar shapes, but they were gone, transmuted by the fog into strange and unrecognizable images. Images to chill the soul.
A sense of apprehension descended on me like a pall. Julianna noticed it, her grip tightening as she asked if something was the matter. I shook my head smiling, making some jest that sounded wan instead of cheerful, even to my own ears. We travelled on.
I’d hoped the uneasiness would depart, recede with the ebbing tide. Instead, it intensified. It left the realm of amorphous disquiet, distilling into a well-defined worry. A worry that hardened around a single notion. An overarching obsession. One supreme anxiety that encompassed all the rest. I became convinced that we must be travelling in the wrong direction, away from our flat instead of toward it. This thought, above all others, frightened me. That we might be moving farther from our goal, with the fog gobbling up the night behind us, erasing our only means of escape and forcing us ever closer into danger, danger hidden in the mist.
At that time, as today, I was a man of science. As such, I chided myself for these foolish thoughts. Certainly, we were moving toward our rooms, a left then eight blocks—I’d walked it dozens of times. Likewise, I knew intuitively that what surrounded me was the same as in the day, when sunshine cast the light of rationality upon the world. No predatory rats or spectral beasts lay in wait, hidden from view. Still, there was that nagging fear, fear of the fog, fear that we might stray past Delancey into the city’s seedier side where nighttime contains its own mundane perils. After all, a blow from a thief’s truncheon can be as unhealthy as an evil spirit, and more detrimental to the pocketbook.
Thus, I pondered, fear versus rationality. I decided on a compromise. I would reconnoiter our exact location before we’d ventured too far from the familiar. It seemed like the rational choice at the time, as fateful decisions so often do.
Hoping my smile would hide my fears, I instructed Julianna to wait under the glow of a lamp while I took our bearings. She smiled back, but halfheartedly I thought, as if experiencing the same nameless dread. We embraced, raising our spirits in the warmth of each other’s arms, not knowing it would be our last.
Leaving her thus safely in the light, I walked on. The fog swallowed the glow of her face below the lamp.
I hadn’t gone more than two dozen paces, when my foot plunged off a curb, disclosing the presence of an intersection. Groping toward the right, I found the signpost. My spirit lifted when a lighted match revealed “Stanhope Way,” only two blocks from our flat. I began to call out that we were almost home, when a sound froze my words as it froze my soul. It was a scraping, scratching, almost feral skitter. An unearthly noise more suited to the nether regions than to a modern city. It lasted mere moments and then retreated, yet the fear it raised remained, as did the gooseflesh on my skin. There followed another, muffled noise that might have been a woman’s gasp. The latter freed my feet of the lead boots that imprisoned them, and I advanced.
“Julianna?” I called softly. My step quickened at the answering silence. “Julianna!” I was running now, running toward the lamp glow rushing to meet me. It was not more than a score of steps but felt longer, the distance stretching out like some concertina playing a death dirge to my spirit. Finally, I reached the lamp pole, grasping it as a drowning man grasps a life buoy. I looked about me. Only the steam from my own ragged breaths filled the halo cast by the streetlight. Then I saw her hat lying on the damp stones. Snatching it up, I called again. “Julianna!” There was no reply.
I spent most of that night wandering, searching, stumbling like a blind man in the fog. But she was gone. She had disappeared completely, swallowed by the mist. Of course, the police initiated an investigation but to no avail. They found only her handbag, lying by a sewer grate. It still contained the grocery money I’d given her, her mother’s antique brooch, and the wedding photo she always carried. Only her library card was missing.
For a time, I held out hopes that she might return to me. I saw her in crowded streets and framed in the windows of passing trollies. But rushing to her side inevitably revealed another woman with the same set to her shoulders, the same towheaded tresses as my dear Julianna, tresses not unlike your own. Such visions died with time. Part of me died as well.
But as they say, one must go on living. In point of fact, that is the one silver lining of my tale. I learned then how precious is life, a fragile thing that can be snuffed out like a church candle. A simple thing taken for granted, yet the greatest gift imaginable. One to be guarded jealously, at whatever cost. One to be loved. In comparison, romantic love is a mere trifle. An emotional addendum to life. A perquisite that once lost, can be found again. Such words may seem strange to young, idealistic ears as yours, ears attuned to romantic prose and Shakespeare sonnets. But they are true not withstanding.
You see, my dear, it is self-love, the love of mortal life that gives us meaning. Life allows us to experience, to remember, to try again, to exist. Nothing is more precious. I didn’t know that when I lost Julianna, but I know it now. The lesson came with time, as did the grey in my hair and my insatiable love of brandy.
Alas, both my drink and my tale are completed. Time to send you on your way, just as I promised. That scratching at the door? Why haven’t you guessed, my dear? No, perhaps you haven’t.
As you may recall, I said my beloved wife departed, but she did not die. Oh no, more’s the pity. She still existed, if you can call it existence. I know this because they told me. Yes, quite true. They had her library card, you see, which then as now held our address.
They visited me not a month after she was taken. The skittering things, partly but not quite human. Another, distant race. An eldritch people, existing in the sewers just beyond our sight. Except on foggy nights of course, when they venture forth. It was such a night when I learned that personal survival is precious. More precious than love or friendship. More precious than guilt or self-respect.
You see, my dear, they gave me a choice when they visited that murky night. I could become nourishment for them, a prospect that chilled my marrow then as it does now. Or I could procure for them, shall we say, means of procreation. I apologize for thrusting vulgarity upon your virgin ears, but let me assure you that such virginity is a temporary condition.
Ah, the stroke of twelve. They are punctual as usual. Forgive me, my dear, but my tale is over and yours just beginning. Time for your journey to commence.
John Bukowski is a retired veterinarian, public-health researcher, and medical writer with a ton of technical publications to his credit, including journal articles, Op-eds, consumer handbooks, blue-sky thought pieces, radio scripts, and advertorials. Published short stories include Gentleman Caller (Digitally Disturbed) and Days of our Lives (The Rabbit Hole anthology). His hobbies include old movies, singing, theater, and military history. He currently resides in Eastern Tennessee, along with his wife and a dysfunctional dog named Alfie.
Visit John’s website to see more.
by William Falo
The smell lured her and she circled closer to the ground. The dead deer was on the side of the road near the entrance to a bridge. She wanted to be the first, but another vulture landed next to the roadkill before she got close. It was the ones he circled with more than anyone else. They glided many miles together over all kinds of terrain. She tried to land next to him, but her landing was clumsy. A kid once shot at her and clipped her wing leaving broken, dangling feathers. This made it hard for her to land, causing her to fall over or hit something, much to the amusement of the other vultures.
She fell on her beak when she landed and scratched her neck. He hissed. It was his way of laughing at her. Above them, the sky darkened with black forms circling closer. They ripped into the dead deer’s flank tearing away pieces of meat. She stopped and looked around. The solid ground always contained danger. Like the deer, they could be hit by the fast-moving cars and there were always people who tried to hit them. Her dangling, broken feathers became bloody from the kill.
The other vultures landed, one after another. It became too crowded and skirmishes broke out. She tried to stay next to her roosting partner, but she lost track of him. The ground vibrated and a few wise vultures took flight. Taking off, at the approach of danger, proved slow with wings so large.
She hopped up and down hoping he would notice. It was too crowded and there wasn’t enough time. She took off and just cleared the approaching truck. It smashed into the dead deer. The deer disintegrated as she circled above looking for him.
Black feathers floated down like ashes from the sky. She knew it was him. The smell didn’t lie. The feathers settled on the ground next to the road. She landed next to them and placed her head down on them like they were a pillow.
The other vultures drifted away. There was no food here now. A few called to her, but she stayed by the feathers. She couldn’t leave.
Hours went by and the sky darkened. He always roosted next to her in the tallest tree. How could she go back to their favorite tree and have an empty spot next to her? She remained by the road and when a car went past, she laid on top of the feathers so they wouldn’t scatter in the wind. She drifted to sleep.
The sound of screeching woke her. Danger. A bright light shone in her eyes and she stood up. The car stopped near the entrance to the bridge. The lights went out and the darkness returned, but she wasn’t alone.
A human took off a mask and talked into a small box, then walked under one of the bridge lights.
“I don’t care. Nobody else will ever love me as he did,” the human said, as she climbed onto the bridge railing. “I’m lonely.” Her face glistened. She wiped her eyes. “I miss him.” She made strange sounds like she was in pain.
She stood up and the human looked in her direction.
“Stop.” She dropped her phone into some bushes below the bridge. “Look what you made me do.”
She spread her wings and the human gasped. Her wingspan is six feet and it can be intimidating.
“You’re a vulture.”
She flapped her wings.
“I’m Chloe and I’m not scared of you. I don’t care what happens to me. In fact, I’m going to jump.”
A car came across the bridge and it sent the feathers in every direction. She tried to catch them, but there were too many. She let out a sad sound.
Chloe ran and caught all the feathers, then put them back by the side of the road. She looked at some of them closer and saw the blood on them.
“I think I know what happened here. You lost someone and you can’t leave.” She looked at the damaged wing feathers. “You’re broken like me, but mine is on the inside.”
She hopped back on the feathers. Chloe sat on the railing near her. “I lost my fiancée. He died in a motorcycle accident.”
She made a sad sound.
“I wanted to end it tonight,” Chloe continued, “but maybe you showed me others are grieving too.”
She moved closer.
“Maybe we have to learn to move on.”
She backed up. No human has ever touched her. They cause pain. Her damaged wing was evidence of their cruelty.
Chloe gathered up the feathers then dug a hole in the ground under a tree with something she took out of the bag she carried. She put the feathers in the hole, covered them, and made some marks on top of the grave.
“Now, you can visit here whenever you want. The feathers won’t fly away. If you stay here you will die and if I stay here I will die, too. The feathers are safe now. You can go home.”
But she stayed by the grave and looked at the human.
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to jump. Maybe I can help other people.” She put the mask over her face and walked away. Chloe stopped and pulled down the mask and looked back at her. “Animals, too.”
She took off and flew down under the bridge and picked up the small box that the human had dropped and flew above her. She dropped the phone. Chloe caught it. She circled once and saw Chloe waving, then headed toward the trees where the rest of the vultures waited for daylight to circle the skies again.
In the morning, she noticed empty spots in the tree. Missing vultures. A few others stretched their wings and she saw damaged feathers. Others balanced on broken feet, some scratched at scars, one had a band around a leg, and one was missing an eye. They were all broken. It was a dangerous world for vultures.
When she flew back to the grave of her partner, she rested her head on it for a long time. She couldn’t get the strength to lift off again. She missed him. Why go on? A car drove by and she remembered how the human named Chloe had helped her. That one thing gave her hope. In the distance, she heard the other vultures. They were circling in the sky. She put her head on the grave one more time then spread her wings and took off, flying toward the other vultures as they circled higher into the sky. They might be a broken and a ragtag gang, but they were her family.
eafWilliam Falo lives in New Jersey with his family. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Vamp Cat Magazine, Fictive Dream, Litro Magazine, Fragmented Voices, the Australian charity anthology Burning Love, Train River’s first fiction anthology, and other literary journals. He can be found on Twitter or Instagram
by Eryn Hiscock
Subject: James Byron Dean Bio-Unit, Biodegradable Model, Serial #08021931-30091955 Verbatim transcript from encounter of XXX-XII Time: 13:00-13:13.
Place: Transformative Genetics Laboratories, Room 44-1227
Dr. Franco Alia: “Testing, testing, testing. Re: James Dean Bio-Unit, Biodegradable Model, Serial #08021931-30091955. Sir, please state your name.”
Jimmy’s voice, impatient: “Who wants to know?”
Franco: “Mr. Dean, please cooperate or your cigarettes will once again be confiscated.”
Jimmy: “Those aren’t goddamn Chesterfields. I’m not so stupid I can’t tell the difference.”
Franco: “We’d like to ask you some questions, Mr. Dean.”
Jimmy: “I’m still processing the idea that my little silver Porsche Spyder was something out of H.G. Wells…”
Franco: “Do you go by Jimmy or James?”
Jimmy: “Friends call me Jimmy. You can call me James.”
Franco: “Where are you from, James Dean?”
Jimmy: “Indiana, originally.”
Franco: “Parents’ names?”
Jimmy: “Winton and Mildred Dean.”
Franco: “James, describe to me the last thing you remember before arriving here.”
Jimmy: “I was moving toward the light. I thought I was back on Highway 46 and driving into the sun toward Paso Robles because it was late afternoon and the sun was lowering. Some guy turned into my lane and I felt this incredible pain for a split second and the next thing I know, some Brunhild opens my glass casket with heat fogging everything up. I sat up feeling like a steamed bun with what I thought was the sun shining in my eyes but it was only Brunhild blinding me with her doctor’s flashlight.”
Franco: “Your Persona Unit assistant’s name is Fernice, not Brunhild.”
Jimmy: “Then, Brunhild asks me to touch my nose with my left hand, reach around in my pocket, comb my hair, and show my teeth like a prize collie. Jesus Christ. Let a guy collect his thoughts before you start that shit.”
Franco: “Okay, James. We’ll strive to do better with future assessments, but our purpose here today is to ensure your fitness to attend a party. Do you enjoy parties?”
Franco: “There will be history-loving fans and other vintage celebrity guests in attendance.”
Jimmy: “Like who?”
Franco: “Marilyn Monroe, Amelia Earhart, Elvis Presley, and John F. Kennedy. Then, after the party, we’ll send you all to a holding outpost as you wait in queue and when your number comes up, you’ll be returned to a home-like place, terraformed and similar to Earth to live out the rest of your natural life. You’ll be riding on a spaceship. Didn’t you dream of flying on a spacecraft when you were a boy?”
Jimmy: “Not especially.”
Franco: “Every boy wants to be an astronaut, James.”
Jimmy: “Not me. Not during my lifetime.”
Franco: “Here’s your chance to be one.”
Jimmy: “I’ll pass.”
Fierce stage whispering in the background between Franco and Fernice.
Franco, in his hypnotist’s voice: “James, you’ll be receptive to all suggestions going forward. When you sign an autograph at the party, for example, what will you write?”
Jimmy laughs: “See you in Hell.”
Franco: “No, James. That’s incorrect. If asked for an autograph, try writing ‘Love, James Dean’ or ‘Your friend, James Dean’. All right?”
Jimmy: “I prefer my way.”
Franco: “For the purpose of this party, James, you’ll sign the words I just quoted to you. Repeat them.”
In the background, there’s the sound of Franco muttering to Fernice ‘not enough! More inhibitors!’, repeating: ‘receive, receive, receive’ like a mantra in a hypnotist’s voice before the sound of his snapping fingers.
There’s a brief pause before Jimmy answers.
Jimmy, in a robotic monotone: “‘Love, James Dean’ or ‘Your Friend, James Dean’ is what I’ll sign.”
Franco: “Excellent. That’s very good, James. And when someone asks for your picture, what will you do?”
Jimmy: “Smile and say ‘cheese!’”
Franco: “Excellent, James. Let’s keep this up.”
Franco whispers aside to Fernice: “Semi-hypnotic, high-functioning trance. Maintain maximal inhibitors on Broca’s and follow Subdue Upkeep Protocol 1227-4 directly to basal ganglia. Limit to twenty common friendly phrases, platitudes, and his three movie titles. Release all inhibitors post-party window with access to full brain function till expiration date.”
Franco: “I think we’re all set, James. Please repeat for me now what you might say to a party guest?”
Jimmy: “Nice to meet you.”
Franco: “Superb. Shake their hand. Demonstrate your handshake for me.”
Pause. Franco reaches out his hand. Jimmy clasps it and tentatively shakes.
Franco: “Very good. What else might you ask the guests?”
Jimmy: “Are you enjoying the gala?”
Franco: “Wonderful. That’s exactly right, James. You’re doing so well.”
Jimmy: “Looking forward to it. So nice to see you. Thank you for coming. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Remember: there’s no ‘I’ in team.”
Franco: “Thank you, James. That’s very good.”
Jimmy: “A stitch in time saves nine. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. I appreciate your kind words.”
Franco: “Okay, James. That’s enough for now.”
Jimmy: “You can call me Jimmy. I always wanted to be an astronaut.”
Eryn Hiscock’s writing has been published in literary journals, zines and anthologies internationally. Her online articles have earned millions of views. Her most recent publications appear in It Calls From The Forest, Volume 2 (Eerie River Publishing, Canada), and Nine Cloud Journal’s inaugural issue. She’s presently hard at work on a speculative fiction novel.
by Christian Macklam
Shaun barely reacted as the hook broke the skin of his thumb. He regarded the red bead that formed with curiosity. Tying flies had become second nature decades ago, so how had he managed to stick himself now? Just the booze, he thought, sucking the small cut until he no longer tasted iron. Of course, that couldn’t be true. After all, he’d only had one pull so far. But he didn’t want to consider the alternative; that he might be slipping. He was here to forget all that.
The canoe swayed beneath him as he reached down and flipped back the tin lid of the tackle box. Its olive paint had chipped here and there over the years, but the family name “Bourcier” still stuck out where his father had written it in bold, black marker a lifetime ago. He pulled out the sleeve of cheap rye whiskey and unscrewed the lid. It washed down his throat like holy wine. Shaun let the warm tendrils spread through his body before slipping the bottle under the seat. He’d be wanting it again soon.
A gentle wind rippled the surface of the lake into a grayscale kaleidoscope. The light of the moon was so intense it might as well have been mid-day. He worked silently, without his flashlight, even able to make out the silver line of the shore a good half-kilometer away. The sound of loons skipped along the water and he spotted their painted outlines bobbing near the small rocky islet nearby. Loons out this late? That was odd. They weren’t nocturnal as far as he knew. What were they doing out? Maybe something about the full moon had them all backwards. He watched as they drifted in the white light.
From the air the lake was a stone-blue oval, roughly twice as long as it was wide, as exquisite as it was insignificant. It was one of the many that pock-marked the forest this far north, all connected by waterways, like synapses spread across a green canvas; a somber Tom Thomson painting aching with a wild beauty. Almost dead center, a crag of broken rocks, about the size of the pickup he’d left back on the main road, protruded above the surface. It was here that Shaun liked to set his line and where the loons now gathered, pealing their midnight song, a mournful, alien chorus. Their eyes blinked red in the naked light. Occasionally one would dip its head or dive underwater. They must be feeding, he thought and hoped they wouldn’t scare away the fish.
He secured the fly—a classic Black Ghost from his father’s collection—this time with the deftness that comes from a lifetime of practice, then cast the line in a series of perfect concentric arcs. As he settled in Shaun flexed his shoulders. They were sore from portaging the canoe. It wasn’t a big boat but the hike had been long—at least five clicks, he figured, although he’d never checked—over rocky terrain. At one point he’d almost lost the damn thing and barked his knee something awful in the process. That hurt now, too. Christ, what didn’t these days?
He grabbed the bottle and took another sip, longer this time, deeper. A loon dove beneath the surface close by. Shaun closed his eyes and tilted his head back. The moon was so close it almost felt hot. When at last he opened his eyes again, he was looking at the shore. A figure—a man by the looks of it—stood in shimmering silhouette. Black water lapped at his feet as he stared back at Shaun. The air felt suddenly solid, unbreathable. There was a clap of wings as one of the loons took flight. Shaun glanced over, only for a second, but when he looked back the man was gone. He swept a calloused hand through his hair. A trick of the shadows, it had to be. He went to take another drink but thought again, returning the bottle to the tackle box.
A loon emerged with a small fish clasped in its beak. The fish writhed, a silver flicker, then the loon threw its head back and it disappeared down the bird’s gullet. Shaun’s thoughts lingered on the scene. He wondered what came first, suffocation or the feeling of being slowly digested, consumed.
He shivered against a stiff breeze, a whisper of the autumn chill that would soon descend on the lake, and tried to focus on his fishing-line and the gentle rocking of the canoe. He liked it here with the wilderness as his barricade against the outside. The outside where everyday felt more and more like a march towards some anti-climactic ending. Other people seemed to care so much, and he had tried his best, honestly. Even managed a steady relationship or two, a steady job or two. But nothing ever stuck. On the lake he could disappear, really disappear, not just pretend. Back there, he was the fish. Here, he had wings. He had repeated that mantra until he was convinced that there was never a time when it had been any different, until he was certain that it was them he was escaping from, that they, the others were the problem. He sucked back a deep cold breath. He was here to forget all that.
A ripple spread where the line met the water’s surface and the tip of the rod dipped. The metal of the reel was ice-hot against his palm. He flexed his fingers to try and coax some feeling back into them. Another dip, and suddenly the spool whirred as the line raced out. Shaun gave a firm tug to set the hook and let the fish run. Normally he was pretty good at determining what he had on the line, but tonight he was having trouble. All he knew for sure was that it was big. As the line slowed, Shaun grasped the reel and applied pressure, light but constant. He started to reel in. A couple of times the fish made another run. He let it, knowing it would eventually tire itself out. Each time it rested Shaun drew it closer and closer. He pictured its scales strobing up from the deep.
One of the loons drifted towards the canoe. An electric charge ran up Shaun’s back as he watched the bird eye the line. Shaun reeled hard, yanking the rod and bearing back down in jerky bowing motions. Other loons were drawn now to the promise of a free meal. His catch thrashed violently as it drew closer to the surface. The first loon dove. Shaun could feel the tension on the line and knew it was near its breaking point, but if he let up now he would lose it all to the bird anyway. A sudden jolt and he felt the tension give. Somewhere down there the bird had struck. Shaun’s shoulders sagged, but suddenly the reel sprang back to life, clipping his frozen knuckles as it spun. The line tore out again, scratching angry trails across the surface. The damned bird must have hooked itself.
Holding the rod stable with one hand, Shaun opened the tackle box and dug out the wire cutters. But before he could make the cut, the loon resurfaced. It flicked water off its back and shook its head. In its beak was a ragged white strip of meat. Shaun cursed and silently wished he had hooked the damn bird and drowned it. A shrill buzz cut the air as the line took off again, catching him off-guard. The fish was still hooked, still fighting. Reeling again, he could already see the rest of the loons closing in as the first choked back its bit of flesh. Another dove, and another. He was helpless. Two more pops on the line and the birds resurfaced with their stolen offerings. Somehow the fish was still there, but it didn’t much matter now. They would tear it to shreds before he could get it onboard.
Another bird took its turn. When it came back up, Shaun strained to see what was clutched in the loon’s beak. It was colorless, limp and lifeless… but unmistakably human. The line shook violently and snapped. Shaun fell back, nearly upending the canoe. He felt his spine strike the yoke. The fishing pole bucked off the seat and landed against his chest as the tackle box spilled across the belly of the boat. The loons exploded into flight, their calls receding into the wilderness until they were no more than a haunting wind, barely audible above the percussion of his own heart.
Thud! The canoe lurched. Shaun grasped the sides for support.
Thud! The boards flexed beneath his feet. He twisted
and pain flared in his back, crashing in like an unwelcome guest.
THUD! Water shot up between the joints as the wood groaned and splintered. Desperate, Shaun looked into the water.
And something looked back.
He thought he could just make out the shape of a face that seemed part human and part shadow. An emaciated hand reached out, nails clawing against the paint of the canoe. Shaun stumbled backwards and
was thrown over as the boat heaved to one side. Icy water knifed across his skin. God, oh god, oh god, he was in the water with it. He knew how to swim but couldn’t seem to get his body and mind to obey.
The canoe listed, taking on water, angling for its final plunge into the depths. The rocks! Kicking with leaden feet and swinging his arms like windmills, Shaun swam. The water felt like black tar but the rocks were getting closer. He didn’t feel the hand around his leg until it pulled him under. Fingers dug into his ankle like hooks. He squirmed and kicked with his free leg, the sole of his boot striking something solid. His other ankle twisted unnaturally with a sickening pop as he fought himself loose.
He stretched out, desperately dragging his broken body across the rocks and rolling onto his back. And there, rising from the water beneath an indifferent moon, crawled the decayed remnants of a man. Pearly flesh shone through great tears in clothes that were no more than rotten rags. Its pallid skin stretched back into an unfathomable grin, exhaling breath that reeked of acid and dead things, and Shaun saw what he had failed to see before. Its features were not just familiar… they were his own.
Arms seized him. He felt the water biting down on his legs, then his stomach, then his face. Slowly, steadily, ceaselessly he was pulled into the depths; any sign of struggle disappearing beneath the surface and into the darkness of the lake. Not until the water struck the back of his throat did he realize there was only one thing left to consider: to breathe in and let the water suffocate him or hold on and be consumed by the unknown. By the time he had made his decision, the loons had returned to feed and sing again their mournful song.
Christian Macklam is a Canadian writer and screenwriter. He has a BA in Cinematic Arts from the University of Southern California and has received honours for several independent works, including a national prize from the Canadian Film Council in 2013. In addition, he has worked in the music industry producing films for artists such as Elvis Costello, The Chieftains, Ry Cooder, Melody Gardot, and Sarah McLachlan and is currently working on his first full-length novel. He has been published in the poetry anthology Colors of Life and in a short-story horror anthology from Flame Tree Publishing. He currently lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.