Friday, March 30, 2007

Jesse Garon

Jesse Garon.

By Darran Anderson

They buried him in a shoebox a stone's throw from the shotgun shack. But some things don't leave so easily. Floating above the Tupelo bed, it coiled its umbilical cord tight round its infant brother, anchored itself to life. And it floated there, listening. And at night when the child slept, it feed and grew, planted seeds, suggestions. And sometimes, without knowing it, he, Elvis Aaron, listened.

The rest is well known. He called himself the Hillbilly Cat, laid down a record as a present for his mama, before long it was white jumpsuits and karate, emptying his rifle into swimming pools filled with light bulbs. All along he was plagued by strange compulsions, incompleteness, a hunger he couldn't satisfy. It was still there in the last days, bedridden and corseted, strung out on uppers and downers, slumped on the tiles of the ensuite bathroom. The face of Jesus on the floor

"That's alright mama, that's alright with me," harks from a busted up old turntable, still singing decades after they checked out, locked together spinning in some black orbit. But he forgives his brother. They're kin after all.



Terry Doss

"we came in," thinks Manuel as a he ducks a wild

"Careful with that axe, Eugene"

Eugene looks up from the skittering corpse and
points at Manuel, "One of these days, I'm going to cut
you into little pieces."

Manuel smiles, but it's not a funny joke. Rule 3
is all too real. Chance is all that separates him
from the body on the floor.

Eugene is a big old boy, and he is busy
emphatically bludgeoning the brain mass of the Charlie
on the floor. It helps if he imagines circuitry
breaking, like you'd expect from a bad science fiction
story. Eugene fills in the sound effects.

"Flicker, flicker, flicker blam. Pow, pow."

The body is no longer moving and Mrs. Clegg no
longer wants to tell the two of them about her

Manuel gives Mrs. Clegg a brief eulogy, "Life is a
short, warm moment, and death is a long cold rest,"
then spits on the Charlie she had become.

Eugene wipes his axe blade on the denim skirt the
corpse wears. Manuel pulls out a bottle and takes a
long slow pull. Mrs. Clegg no longer wants to tell
the two of them about her husband. All three have the
scent of gingerbread on their breath.

She couldn't afford to be disconnected so she had
been going to the charlie support group for the last
two years. That's where she had met Manuel and
Eugene. The support group focuses on the positive
aspects of being a charlie, but if any of them could
afford it, they would have their terminals capped.

Rule 2 in the support group is to remember; to
remember why they had become charlies and to encourage
them to use their skills while they can. Mrs. Clegg
had become a charlie for the recipes, so it wasn't odd
for her to come into the meeting with a new treat
every night. Manuel had become a charlie for the

Tonight Mrs. Clegg had come in with, "Lots of
gingerbread men. Take a couple if you wish." She had
never before used this particular gingerbread recipe.

Rule 1: Every moment is unique. The first sign of
a charlie going capital is repetition. It could start
with a jingle, a slogan, or a repetitive motion.
Because of this, the majority of coping techniques
deal with avoiding repetitions by constantly thinking
about what makes each instant in time unique from all
others. Tonight, for Mrs. Clegg, the gingerbread
recipe had been unique.

After the meeting Manuel and Eugene escorted her
home. As they walked, she told them about her

"Corporal Clegg had a medal too"

Manuel said, "Mrs. Clegg, you must be proud of him.

Mrs. Clegg noddded and changed the subject:
"Summer evenin' birds are calling."

The two men agreed that the summer birds were
indeed calling.

"Corporal Clegg had a medal too"

Eugene and Manuel both gave a quick look to each
other. Mrs. Clegg didn't seem to notice.

Dropping back a step, Eugene said, "Mrs. Clegg, you
must be proud of him.

"His boots were very clean," she said, and her face
fractured in a way that reminded Manuel of Geurnica.
A shocked face, displayed at unnatural angles. Eugene
smashed her face away for three minutes. Mrs. Clegg
no longer wants to tell the two of them about her

Manuel takes another tug from the bottle. "If I
were alone, I would cry."

"Pass the tequila, Manuel."

Manuel says, "I've had enough for one day," as he
hands Eugene the bottle, but in his mind he clearly
hears, "If you can hear this whispering you are

Manuel thinks, "The lunatic is in my head," but he
hears himself say, "I've had enough for one day."
Manuel tries to scream, "There's someone in my head
but it's not me. "

Eugene hears Manuel say, "I've had enough for one

Manuel hears the bottle of tequila crack as it hits
the floor.

Eugene hears the scrape of his axe as he lifts it
from the pavement.

Eugene hears himself saying, "Flicker, flicker,
flicker blam. Pow, pow," but his mind is whispering,
"Isn't this where..."

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Lek

The Lek
by Peter Wild

There is a sound and - before she even considers it, before she even brings herself to wonder what it could be or represent - she hears Carl, Carl who is not here, Carl who has gone. Before she so much as wakes to the situation, there is a question, in her mind, voiced by her (What's that?) and Carl's response (It's Superman, reading a book). It isn't until the riffling sound, as of pages being turned at speed, recurs that she shakes herself out of it or at least shakes her head and sits forward in her seat.

Elaine is sitting, with her legs folded beneath her, in the corner of the living room, hunched, clinging, into one side of the sofa as if pushed there by a crowd, as if forced to accommodate many others, despite the fact that the room is empty of anyone, save her. A quarter-filled glass of red wine (to be drank on the recommendation of her doctor to offset a painful trigeminal neuralgia), balanced on the chair arm, supported by the fingers of her left hand laced around the base and the stem, lurches violently to the left as she gets to her feet. And there is the sound again - a purring shudder, a feathery hiss in the baby monitor. She stands there, looking at the baby monitor on the mantlepiece, specifically the parabola of lights, the Nike swoosh that travels through green to red, with her glass of wine in one hand (now held around the belly of the glass) and her book in the other, glass high, book low, waiting and wondering. Is it a sound, she wonders, or a fault? Elaine knows that these machines, the baby monitoring paraphernalia, are given to faults, random sounds, aural scree that could be anything but are more often than not nothing. Four months of starting at the slightest sound have fostered a resistance in her to charge upstairs at the least prompting.

She stands there, tensing, her shoulders and her neck tight in anticipation of the sound and its repetition. But it doesn't come. There is nothing, not even breathing, to disturb the supposed calm. Elaine sighs or huffs or makes a sound that suggests to anyone listening that, although, yes, she is going to go upstairs to check on the baby, she doesn't really want to and feels mildly put out at the obligations of motherhood. It isn't a true sound - Elaine could happily stand and watch her baby sleep for a lifetime or longer - but its utterance reassures her in some way, makes her feel like a modern, independent woman who can raise a child whilst at the same time cossetting her alone-time, the life of her mind. And so, resting her wine glass on the mantle over the hearth besides the baby monitor and casually flinging her now-closed book on to the sofa in the bottomy warmth of the space she had left, Elaine crosses the room to the stairs and starts up, thinking, briefly, as she passes the photograph of their wedding, nailed, alongside half a dozen others, along the wall that leads from hallway to bathroom, of Carl.

It wasn't surprising that Carl's reaction was the first thing she thought of. She knew Carl - or rather felt she knew Carl - better than she knew herself. A year or so earlier, when their marriage was losing its footing, she had learned the meaning of a word - a word she had managed to travel twenty eight years without having heard before: propinquity. She told Carl. Propinquity. The marriage of minds. She told Carl she'd learned a word, thought it was beautiful, liked the way it felt upon her tongue. In the midst of overseeing a leveraged management buy-out, Carl could not have been said to have paid her his full attention. That was what the baby was about. Leastways from Carl's point of view. She needed distraction, he felt. Was becoming slightly dotty. This dottiness was only compounded in his view when Elaine took to saying the word propinquity at all hours of the day and night as if to illustrate the joy she took in their own marriage of minds. Whenever they talked or appeared to enjoy each other's company, Elaine would - Carl felt - spoil the moment by saying, Propinquity, as if it proved everything that needed proving. But all it served to do was push him away. Even Elaine, prone as she was to deceiving herself in matters of the heart, could see that she had, at least in part, made her bed. They had been so happy - she paused on the stairs to level the frame despite the fact that it was not at all skewed - that day at the South College Street Registry Office. So happy.

Elaine allowed herself a smile and felt strengthened somewhat inside to learn that already she could look back on times when they had been happy. She turned inwardly, intent on climbing the stairs, mapping out the familiar path taken twenty three dozen times a night, and stopped upon hearing the sound again. It wasn't like the pages of a book turned at speed, it was more like - the tabs young boys attached to the back wheels of their bikes in summertime in order to - what? She didn't know. The sound that those boys made as they cycled up and down the street, though. That was what it sounded like from the stairs. But there was more to it. A warmth, an urgency, a life. The sound had life, as if it was generated by something alive. She swallowed and moved more quickly, albeit still quietly, up the stairs to the mezzanine where she turned sharply to the left and followed the upper hallway to the end of the landing where she paused and ever so softly eased the door open. A crack. A crack was all. She eased the door open and cautiously edged her head into the gap to be greeted at once by everything that was dark and familiar: the fitted wardrobes (a gift from her brother-in-law, as was, Steven, the joiner, the spare-time joiner, with a flair for interior design), the rug Carl rescued from a Turkish bazaar on their honeymoon, the super kingsize bed Carl had insisted on (he couldn't sleep, he'd told her, if he couldn't spread out like a starfish baking in the sun) and there, the cot, on the left hand side, her side. She liked to sleep with her hand awkwardly caught between the bars, near without quite touching her son, Edmund. All was as it should be, she thought. She could hear the baby's gentle breath, the in, the gulf of silence, the out, the in, the gulf of silence, the out. The time she had spent in this doorway listening out, sometimes anxiously listening out, for the rise and fall, the hook and catch of his breath. What could -?

And then she saw it and, even as she fussily rebuked herself for missing that which was in plain sight, her stomach shrank and her eyes grew wide and the taste of already-drunk wine rose in her throat. She thought she was going to be sick. There was a bird in the cot alongside her sleeping son. She thought it was a bird. It had two feet. Or not feet. A bird didn't have feet. What did a bird have? She couldn't think. There was a bird. She could hardly get further than that. There was a bird and the bird was moving, calmly, royally, at its own speed, from one end of the cot, from her son's sleeping head, to the other, to his feet, to passed his feet, where there was only the space he would grow into - at which point the bird turned, heading back, repeating the process or gesture or whatever it was, like a guard, like a trooping guard. She was terrified. Nauseous. Her first instinct - to get her son away from the bird - was followed by a more rational restraint (because the bird could do a lot of harm in the time it took her to travel across the bedroom, from the door to the cot). She had to be careful. She was terrified and she wanted to vomit right where she was, on the carpet - but she didn't because she couldn't because she knew that she had to get closer and see if she was mistaken (could it be a toy of some kind thrown into deranged relief by the play of light and dark from the streetlight outside?). She had to be mistaken. Even as she watched the bird plod from one end of the cot to the other, even as she knew, indefatigably, that there was a bird, a strangely elongated bird, right there in the cot beside her son - even as she knew this for the fact that it was - she denied it. It couldn't be a bird. Not really. It couldn't be a bird. Even though she knew it was.

She took a step into the room and in doing so allowed a degree more light inside as the door drew wide. The bird jerked its head in her direction and then rose up, somehow, hopping rather than flapping its wings (if it had wings) - and Elaine stopped in her tracks. The bird faced her (and she knew, as she looked, that it couldn't see her, that as she looked at the bird, the bird was looking at either wall) - but somehow it knew enough to face her, in a way that she would understand. The two of them stood, obliquely facing one another (Elaine had time to wonder what kind of a bird it was, it had the manner of a quail but it was much, much bigger, an armspan, she imagined, from beak to tail feather) each taking a measure of the other. The bird lowered its head and Elaine started - she started to wonder whether the bird was harmless, irrespective of however it had made its way into her bedroom and into the cot - as the bird transformed, so it appeared, before her very eyes.

A cone of feathers rose up, cobra-like, about the bird's head, forming a tube that reached a foot or more into the space that separated them. Elaine's breath caught. She raised a hand as if to protect herself. The bird seemed to lean toward her, ever more closely, and the cone of feathers rippled or shuddered alarmingly, at her. She took a step backwards and then another step backwards and then she closed the door to the bedroom shut, its feeble click serving to soundtrack her dash along the length of the landing and into the bathroom, that other sound - the awful shivering made by the bird and its cone of feathers - trailing her like a phantasm, raising the skin on her arms and her neck and once more turning her stomach, over and about, like a hapless dinghy caught out in a storm at sea.

The bathroom offered scant comfort. Her mind and her heart were racing. She knew (she did) that she couldn't leave her son alone in there with a bird. It was insane. How did a bird -? But there wasn't time. She was frightened. She was frightened but she had to act. This was about more than herself. This was a test of her motherhood. Even here, though, in the astringent calm of her bathroom, the bird could be heard. Rippling. The awfulness of her situation gripped her, the fear. That awful rippling. It was like the imagined movement of insects crawling beneath her skin, hard and oily cockroaches competing for space in her stomach cavity. She placed her hands upon the sink and looked at the woman whose face stared out from the mirrored cabinets. What were her options? She could call Carl? He'd instructed her not to call. Not for a little while. Surely this was an emergency? It wasn't like a spider in the bath. This was an emergency. But what if he arrived, sweating and uncomfortable from (wherever it was he was and whatever it was he was doing) only to find that the bird was a product of her imagination? What if he arrived and saw the red wine and her pale, stretched features and imagined her - what? drunk? irresponsible? What if he threatened to take Edmund away from her? Edmund was all she had. She couldn't risk calling Carl. Not yet, at any rate. Not until she was sure. (Again, though, her mind swung, how sure did she have to be? She had seen the bird with her own eyes. She had seen it and so belief, whether the bird was real or not, didn't come into it. She'd either seen a bird or she was insane and was seeing birds, threatening birds, where birds were not...)

She couldn't call Carl. She was alone. She had no-one to turn to and nobody could help her. It was up to her. Whatever it was she was going to do (and, even as she made her way out of the bathroom and along the hall to the bedroom with fear, lodged, coiled, in her belly and her heart, stuttering, tap dancing in her chest, she didn't know what it was she would do, had no clue, was blank, terrified thoughtless), she knew only that it was down to her and her alone.


By the next morning, such fears seemed quaint, antique. Upon waking, the image of her, treading, daunted, along the hallway to the bedroom door, like a Victorian aunt holding the trembling wick of a candle in a saucer more formally reserved for tea, seemed utterly ridiculous. Last night was a world away. Waking, she was a different woman. If only Carl - Carl, who had left her in the midst of post-natal depression as a result of the fact that he had needs, needs she was not able, in her current state to address - if only Carl could see her now. With a bird nestled like a lover beneath her naked arm and many others shuffling about the bedroom and, indeed, the rest of the house (if the information she'd been given was correct), suddenly, anything and everything seemed possible.

The loss of her son, all that the birds demanded, seemed a small price to pay.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


by Aurelio Rico Lopez III

Miserable, I am
Wandering among tombstones,
Surrounded by countless names
Of people I have
Never met.

Miserable, I am
Missing the Old Days
When men fled in my wake
And women trembled in prayer
Holding fast to their
Dear children.

Miserable, I am
Gazing at the horizon,
Night sky aglow
With towering buildings and neon billboards,

My kind replaced by new monsters
Corporate moguls,
Corrupt politicians,
Child-abusing holymen.
I do not belong here.
I should have died with
My brethren who met
Their demise at the tip
Of a hunter's wooden stake.

Gone are the hunters,
And I am destined to meet an end
Unworthy of my kind,
Watching helplessly as
My body crumbles into ash
To rejoin Mother Earth.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Doomed Delivery

The Doomed Delivery
By Christopher Allan Death

The glossy brown UPS delivery truck chugged through the falling snow, undeterred by the biting wind and frigid ice. Roland Mansfield had a reputation among his peers as being perhaps the most reliable postal service driver around, and he wasn’t about to let some little insignificant snowstorm tarnish his record.

Peering through the foggy ice-covered windshield, Roland surveyed the bleak country surroundings. Although the tumultuous blizzard restricted eyesight beyond a hundred yards, he could still make out several farmhouses spread across the secluded Colorado countryside. Huge snowdrifts leapt upon the skeletal structures, burying them beneath forty-two inches of fine sterling white powder. Everywhere he looked was covered with snow. The rural town of Bennett had been reduced into a frozen white winter wasteland.

Secretly Roland wondered how anything could survive amid such harsh conditions. He had a hard enough time making ends meet in his downtown Denver neighborhood without having to worry about killer snowstorms and subzero cold temperatures.

Just last week the landlady had evicted Roland from his comfortable Denver flat, and his precious Denver Broncos football team had been stomped by their archrival Oakland Raiders. Now he was lost among the deserted Colorado countryside with a truckload of expensive Christmas packages. How could life get any worse?

Roland sighed and unfolded a large yellow roadmap. He had gotten lost several times before during his eclectic delivery route, but never this far from Denver … and never in the midst of some implacable snowstorm.

“Damn winter weather.”

Roland pinched the map between two greasy fingers, trying to identify his exact position among the deserted Icelandic terrain. Every time he thought that the snow flurry would dissipate, a new blast of winter fury would pelt his little delivery truck and send him careening across the road.

The only thing Roland hated more than snow was driving on an empty stomach. And right now he was combating both.

Stretching his hand over his generous flannel-covered gut, Roland could feel his stomach grumble. He had been driving ever since 6:00 AM , stopping only once for coffee and his favorite McGriddles sandwich, and now he could feel the consequence of his absent-minded eating habits.

Some people said that eating too much fast food would make him fat, but Roland didn’t care. During his teenage years he played offensive lineman for Overland High School , and excessive ingestion never hindered his academic career. Now a ripe 35 years old, he was paying for his careless youthful lifestyle.

During college, his old fraternity buddies used to demoralize Roland endlessly because of his unquenchable appetite and particular carnivorous tastes. They would joke that anything walking on four legs was prey for the overweight, under-exercised scholar. But he couldn’t argue. Beef was his favorite meal.

You are what you eat, Roland.

You are what you eat.

Roland shook his head, trying to ignore his pleading stomach. Right now he had more important matters at hand, besides trying to locate his next meal. Right now he needed to find 2301 Penrith Road , before the blizzard got any worse. But thoughts of food continued plaguing his mind until a small structure emerged from the mist ahead.

Roland eased his truck onto the shoulder. He could see a dark shanty-like structure through the pelting snowstorm. The building braced itself against the howling wind – a magnificent feat considering that Roland himself could have flattened the dismal wooden structure – and provided a welcome sight among the limitless frozen desert.

Stepping out into the biting storm, he trudged through knee-deep drifts of snow. A neon sign in the window announced that he had arrived at Carl’s Pub. He could see several figures within. They had probably become trapped inside when the blizzard hit, seeking warm shelter and a hot meal. Frankly, Roland couldn’t blame them.

“Nice to know I’m not the only person out here in this god-forsaken countryside,” he scowled, dusting off his heavy winter parka. Four glum-looking patrons watched the hefty deliveryman enter through the heavy glass door. Nobody smiled or made any movement toward him.

“Is there any chance I could find directions around here?”

“Maybe … it depends who’s asking.”

Roland glanced across the mahogany bar. A thin man suddenly appeared behind the counter, as if the wind had picked him up and thrown him across the room. He observed Roland mischievously through foggy blue eyes, and finished sponging out the inside of a dingy shot glass.

“What brings you to Bennett, stranger?”

“My name is Roland Mansfield, and I work for UPS.”

“You need directions?”

“I got lost when the blizzard started.”

“It happens every year about this time. The snow lasts for days on end, and traps everyone inside their homes. Some folks go hungry because they can’t even get into town.”

“Cold as shit out there.”

Roland smiled at the ridiculousness of his words. Even shit was warmer than the atmosphere that permeated Carl’s Pub. Cold resentment dwelt among the patrons and cut beneath his skin like razorblades. He could feel their eyes slice across his pasty complexion like butchers appraising a prize calf.

“Could you help me find 2301 Penrith Road ?”

“What did you just say?”

“ 2301 Penrith Road . Do you know where I can find it?”

The skeletal bartender grinned thinly. His bulbous eyes blinked multiple times in quick succession, and a red serpent-like tongue swept across his porcelain-white canines. The man reminded Roland of some emaciated dog.

“You’re looking for the Larson family farm.”

“Excellent. I was starting to think that I would never make any progress. So how far is the farm from here?”

“About five miles east I reckon.”

“Finally some good news … thanks for all your help.”

“Usually the Larson’s prefer a little less fat on their steaks, but I suppose one can’t be too picky in this weather.”
Roland stopped in mid-stride and turned toward the bartender. Something about the man’s tone made his blood run cold. The bartender cast a distinct languishing glance over his portly stomach.

“Excuse me?”

“You better hurry on with your delivery or else the Larson family will go hungry.”

With one final goodbye, Roland hurried out into the snow. He was glad to leave the stuffy little bar and its outlandish inhabitants behind. Even the blistering storm felt warmer than the icy stares he accumulated inside.

Hopping back into the corpulent delivery truck, he warmed his hands over the outdated economy heating system. For some reason he could not forget the canine resembling bartender or his haunting words. Something within the leering eyes and hoarse speech made his blood run cold.

Roland shook his head. He would feel much better after this miserable delivery was over and done with. Then he could mosey home and relax before a roaring fire, watching his favorite television series on HBO. Nothing could cure business-day blues like good old-fashioned television … except maybe a nice rare corn-fed sirloin steak. The very thought made his mouth water.

Unfortunately food was not his top priority at the moment, so that meant his steak-inaugurated daydreams would have to wait until later. Right now he had to locate the Larson family farm. That meant twenty more minutes of driving blindly through the blustery winter snowstorm.

Roland threw his vehicle into gear and waded through twenty inch drifts of heavy white snow. He could feel the tires spinning beneath him, but somehow the delivery truck managed to crawl back onto the main road.

After he traveled approximately two miles down the snow-swept highway, the familiar feeling of solitude began to creep back into his mind. Everything from the utter silence to the consummate boredom made the occupation of UPS deliveryman a very difficult career. And right now, Roland Mansfield was beginning to experience the consequences of his chosen profession.

Snow swept across the battered windshield. Wind whistled through the barren trees. Outside Mother Nature unleashed her full fury, throwing the entire countryside into complete chaos, but inside the cab of Roland’s little UPS truck, everything was perfectly silent. Even the steady hum of his six cylinder engine could not completely erase the utter calm.

Just as Roland was about to stop searching for the elusive Larson home, he noticed a muddy structure in the distance. Although torrents of snow interrupted his view, and thick white fog blurred his vision, he knew immediately that he had finally found 2301 Penrith Road . The mere thought sent an excited chill down his spine … confronted with the promise of a warm meal not too distant in his future.

Roland pressed down on the gas pedal with reinvigorated enthusiasm. He could almost taste the juicy steak in his mouth already, tickling his palate and filling his nostrils with the intoxicating aroma of cooked meat. Even the most ruthless winter storm could not dissuade him now.

Turning into a long snow-covered driveway, he noted the hand-made wooden mailbox and rigorously resurrected barbed-wire fence. Obviously the Larson’s were a family well equated with the hardships of country life. They were probably a proud fourth generation farming family, like Roland had read about in the Denver Post. He wouldn’t be surprised if they churned their own butter and slaughtered their own meat.

The latter thought made Roland wriggle uncomfortably. Something about the carnivorous bartender’s words made him extremely uneasy. What had he mentioned about the Larson’s; something about preferring a little less fat on their beef? For some reason Roland couldn’t think straight anymore. Maybe the absolute isolation was beginning to play with his imagination.

He shook off any unpleasant thoughts and tucked the Larson’s package under his arm. The faster he delivered this package, the faster he could get home and eat.

Romping through the snow once more, Roland paused briefly before house 2301. Through the large sectioned windows he could see a strange dim-lit interior. The dining room was sparsely populated, furnished with only a tall wooden table and several hand-crafted chairs surrounding. In the corner hung some variety of dismembered elk, expertly skinned and all its innards exposed.

Roland shivered momentarily and stepped back.

That was strange.

For some reason several delivery trucks surrounded the house, half covered with snow. Although some shown obvious signs of age (complete with rust and broken windshields), others appeared quite new. He even noticed one particular pizza
delivery car buried beneath an exceptionally large snowdrift.

Roland shrugged to himself with a slight chuckle. Perhaps he wasn’t the only deliveryman trapped amid this killer snowstorm. Still, the thought was not altogether comforting. The sight of rusted metal jutting through the snowy ocean at odd angles created an ill-omen for the delivery man.

Maybe if Roland hadn’t been so desperate to escape the pelting ice and torrential wind, he wouldn’t have knocked on the old wooden door. Maybe if he wouldn’t have spotted Carl’s Pub beside the road, he would have turned back toward town. But he did knock on the door … and within the swirling snowstorm he could hear his heart skip a beat.

Before Roland could bat an eyebrow the door swung wide open, revealing a huge bear-like man clad in threadbare overalls. His huge barrel chest rippled beneath the flimsy denim straps, and almost immediately Roland knew that he shouldn’t have come.

The man smiled, brushing long strands of straw-blond hair from his eyes. Every facet of his figure spoke about his difficult lifestyle – everything from his pronounced jaw down to his hairy lumberjack forearms. But within his cold blue eyes, Roland saw a dormant red flame.

“Why hello Mr. Delivery man. For a while we thought you wasn’t comin’. The family will be mighty pleased.”

Roland shrank back from the huge man. His voice was rough and cruel, bubbling up from his abdomen and exploding from his lips. It reverberated throughout the house with frightening weight.

“This is one wicked storm,” Roland croaked feebly.

“Oh yeah … the storms hit this time every year. Lucky you managed to get here though, else me an’ the family might starve.”

“Well then I guess this is your lucky day.”

“Why don’t ya come on in an’ meet the family.”

“I really can’t. I need to get back to Denver .”

“Well isn’t that a shame. Dinner’s almost ready.”

The big man grinned even wider, and his hands curled into tight fists. Something about his tone of voice told Roland that he better accept the man’s invitation.

“I suppose I can come in for a second.”

“Why that’s real kind of you.”

Roland edged past the big man and peered into the humble cottage. Suddenly the scent of decaying meat and human feces entered his nostrils. The aroma nearly made him choke.

“Hey family, our guest is here for dinner!” the big man shouted, flexing his grossly overdeveloped biceps. Despite his inch-tall work boots, he still stood a foot taller than Roland. And he probably weighed 250 pounds of pure muscle.

Suddenly a haggard-looking lady appeared around the corner. She eyed Roland through glazed brown eyes, and adjusted the ragged mop of gray hair that hung freely about her emaciated shoulders. Roland noticed the same feral flame that he had seen several times before.

“Well then, bring him inside Rodney! The children are hungry, and I don’t want to keep our guest waiting.”

Roland tried to duck outside the door, but the big man named Rodney was too fast. He seized Roland’s arm and marched him toward the kitchen.

Despite all his strength, Roland could not break free. The man’s grip was like iron, and every time he struggled it became even tighter. Now his adrenalin pumped at two hundred miles an hour. Every bone in his body was tensed and ready for action. Roland’s primitive survival instincts had just kicked into fifth gear.

Inside the kitchen, Mrs. Larson toiled over a large boiling pot. The water bubbled furiously, muddy and hinted with the scent of several spices. At the table three strapping teenage farm boys eyed the delivery man hungrily. Each one looked exactly like his father: dirty blond hair and heavily pronounced features. Not to mention muscles the size of Roland’s head.

“What’s for dinner?” Roland asked hopefully.

“Stew,” Mrs. Larson answered simply.

“It smells awfully good.”

“Why thank you. The main ingredient hasn’t even been added yet.”

“And what would that be?”

“Why, human meat of course.”

Roland’s expectant smile turned into a dismal frown.
“Ex … excuse me?”

“I would invite you to have a meal, but our last specimen ran out about a week ago,” she said, waving her dirty spatula toward the corner.

That was when Roland noticed that the carcass of beef was not beef at all. It was a human being, and now Roland could see the facial features clearly. Two sunken blue eyes stared emptily from the sallow face, complimented nicely by his gaping mouth – frozen in a scream of terror.

“The pizza boy didn’t have much meat on him anyway.”

The three teenage boys laughed heartily.

Roland felt his knees begin to quiver. He was vaguely aware of some vile liquid in his mouth, but he didn’t notice until several minutes later that he had actually vomited on himself.

While the beastly woman edged forward, meat cleaver in hand, Roland was only aware of one thought running through his head. It ran over and over and over and over without end.

You are what you eat, Roland.

You are what you eat.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

House For Sale

Harold Wilson

Dearest Erica,
There must've been a storm last night, because I heard a window cover banging against the house all night. I'll fix it when I get back from town. Other than that, the house is in great shape. Much better than the picture, and it smells different out here. You can’t tell that from a picture. I'm at the post office as I write this, and looking over Main Street and all the shops they have here. Truly, the twentieth century didn't make it here, and if it did, they probably shot it. The biggest store here is the Taxidermist. I checked out the school for Kenny and it looks quaint. It looks better constructed than the bank, so that should make you feel better, and the postal clerk I spoke to, Dave, said their school is tops in the county. The people here aren’t stereotypical rednecks. They’re extremely laid back, and I think we could use some laid back feelings for a while, how about you? We might want to consider buying another house to rent out. I saw for sale signs on almost every house on our street. One last thing, I bought a swing for the porch, so we can sit outside and watch the stars on those cool, starry nights. I can't wait until you get here. Love Henry

Dearest Erica,
The house is ready to move in. I spent all last night cleaning, because I couldn't sleep anyway. I forgot to fix that window cover, and it banged away again last night. I would've gone out and fixed it, but it was raining. Not to mention the house is surrounded by woods. The locals fill me with warnings about bears, so I thought I'd play it safe and wait until morning. Go ahead and call me a coward. We'll see how courageous you are when the night falls in this part of town. Turning in now, but I will be dreaming of you. Love Henry.
P.S. Tell Kenny I miss him too!
Dearest Erica,
I got good news and bad news. The good news is that I worked out a sweet deal for another house for sale on our block. I talked the guy down to twelve thousand. Apparently the owner was so desperate to sell, that he called back in less than an hour to accept my offer. I’m having dinner tonight with our new real estate agent, Terry, and he’ll give me the details on how much profit we might make. Terry is getting on in years (time for a life insurance policy, right babe?). The bad news deals with the mysterious banging I keep hearing. I checked around the house and discovered --- we don’t have window covers. So what’s causing the banging? My guess is that a rodent of some sort made a home in our attic. It’s probably a raccoon or a squirrel, yet when I checked the attic I couldn’t find a single dropping, claw mark, or anything. I tried calling you this morning, but I guess you were at your mother’s. Our phone gets installed next Monday, and the cable guy just showed up. I have been here almost a week with no cable. It’s a miracle I haven’t gone bonkers. I’m still bonkers for you my love, and I’m counting the days until we’re together again. Love Henry.

Dearest Erica,
I’ve tried calling you for the past two days, but I received a busy signal every time I tried. So, without being able to consult you, I bought a dog. Now I know you don’t like dogs, especially since Kenny got bit by that Dalmatian last year, but the former owner assures me it’s really good with kids. I named her Blondie, and she is a mixed breed, but mainly Golden Retriever. The first night she woke me up at 3 A.M. barking at something on the front porch. While trying to calm Blondie down, I heard a strange sliding noise out on the porch. It sounded like something dragging its feet, right outside the front door. By the time I ran outside with a broom and a kitchen knife (the only weapons at my disposal) there was nothing out there. Blondie stood by the door whimpering, and refused to step outside. I sure can pick the heroic pets, huh? The next night Blondie woke me again with a bark so shrill, that it made the hairs on my arms and neck stand up. When I got downstairs, Blondie was barking fiercely at the door, while backing away, like she expected something to bust through at any moment. I could see shadows moving through the curtains, but by the time I built up the courage to investigate, whatever it was left, leaving no trace. I think I’ll buy a gun tomorrow or maybe a more courageous dog. Maybe I’m just getting cabin fever being out here alone. I’m gonna call all day tomorrow until I get a hold of you. I miss you and love you. Love Henry.

Dear Erica,
This letter should reach you a little later than the others. I'm waiting for the postman to drive by, because I can't drive to the post office. I awoke this morning to four flat tires. That's right! Four flat tires! I didn't check, but I bet they got the spare in the trunk too. I know what you're thinking already, but honestly my love; I haven't made any enemies in town. I haven't pushed insurance on anyone who didn't ask me about it first. When I sold a few policies, I gave good deals. I had dinner with Terry, but I covered the tip, and I left more than 20 percent. Honestly babe, I've made nice with everybody I've met. Maybe it was some punk kids out on a vandalizing kick. Let's hope they got it out of their system. Either way, I'm definitely buying a gun when or if I get back to town. I'll try to call you as soon as I get to a phone, or whenever our phone gets hooked up, whichever comes first. Love and miss you both, Henry.

Dear Erica,
If it wasn't for bad luck--- you know the rest. Nobody showed up from the garage yesterday, but the postman, Dave, came back to tell me that they would be out here first thing in the morning. I don't like being trapped here. Wait! The guy from the auto garage just pulled up. Hold on!
I've got wheels again! I'm at the post office now as I finish this letter. Hopefully it will make it to you before the other one, or maybe you'll get them both on the same day. I'm buying a shotgun. Things got pretty hairy last night, and I'm not too confident in the defense capabilities of our new canine friend. The porch visitor came back last night, and Blondie barked her head off. When I got downstairs and opened the door, she cowered in a corner and peed on the floor. When the mysterious banging starts up (it has been banging much more lately), Blondie hides under my bed and whimpers. I still have no idea what’s causing the banging from the attic. I crawled up there with a flashlight, but it stopped as I got close. The minute my head hit the pillow, the banging started again. I've taken to sleeping with the radio on, so I can drown out the beautiful peace and quiet of the country that we hear so much about. I tried calling the house, but an operator told me our number had been disconnected. I guess I told the Phone Company the wrong cutoff day. My bad! Less than a week until you can share my misery, but once you get here I feel the misery will melt away. I miss you and Kenny. Love Henry.

Dear Erica,
Don't come here! This whole hillside is cursed! You know I don't believe in ghosts or any of that crap, but something very strange keeps happening here. I don't believe in the supernatural, but I believe my own eyes. And ears! That banging reached an all time high last night and this time when I went to investigate, I saw... something. It's hard to describe... It looked fluorescent, or neon, like white and blue and the only word that came to my head---ghost! You know I don't believe in ghosts, but it appears our new home is infested with them. And they appear to be overcoming their initial shyness. As I write this (it’s just past noon) the banging in the attic has started up again. It never banged in the day until now, and the banging sounds louder and more violent than ever. I can see my breath. That’s how cold it is in this house right now. The temperature outside is near 90, but it feels like an ice -box inside. I turned the air conditioner off two days ago. I turned it off, because the last two nights I woke up shivering, and my blankets were off the bed. Last night, I found them downstairs stuffed into the trashcan. Blondie ran away! When I returned home yesterday, she blasted out the front door as I opened it. She never looked back. And that’s what we're gonna do. Run away and never look back. I don't care if we have to stay at your mother's for a year until we can sell this place, but we can't stay here. I'm going into town to finalize some things, and then I'm heading back here, packing up my things, and heading to you my love.
Love Henry.

Dearest Mother,
Kenny and I have just arrived to our new dream home. Kenny loves the porch swing. I think Henry put it up, because I don't remember seeing it in the picture. Henry's car is here, but he isn't. All his tires are flat, so I assume he caught a ride into town with someone. I hope he isn't angry with me for taking Kenny to see my sister in Ohio for a week, but I don't think he remembers me telling him about it. You know how scatterbrained Henry can be sometimes. He must have the thermostat down to zero, because it's freezing in this house. I'm gonna cut this short, so I can fix supper for my little one and my husband when he gets back. I hear something banging, maybe that’s him now.
Love your daughter, Erica.

The end

Saturday, March 10, 2007

An Announcement

Magazine of the Dead has produced its first print issue. This anthology is called Magazine of the Dead Presents: Stories for Diseased Children. It features new stories by: Patricia Correll, Jonathan Daniel, Winston Smith, David Probert, Joseph Curwen, Hatherley Roseanne, Amanda Lawrence Auverigne, Rick McQuiston, Esteban Silvani, Nathan Tyree, Joshua Weston, and Jon Catron And others. If you have any interest in dark things you might give it a look.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

The hall of Mirrors

The Hall of Mirrors
Patricia Correll

Jack watched the girl walk up to the booth. She was perfect. Slim, heart-shaped face, blonde hair almost down to her waist. She was with a guy but that didn’t always matter. As she got closer, though, the watery lights strung up over the ticket booth revealed brown roots at her scalp. Jack recoiled a little in disgust. He muttered some half-hearted joke as they paid for their tickets to the Tunnel of Love. The girl’s sleeve brushed his arm as they went into the gaping maw of the ride. Jack jerked away as if he’d been burned.

As he was settling back into his seat he glanced up and saw the Crone. She was standing across the midway, in front of the Siamese twins’ tent. Jack stared at the ground. Even with the crowd streaming between them he could feel her eyes on him, an ugly old woman with lank black hair tied up in a gypsy scarf. He knew all that fortune-telling stuff was a gaff, but the Crone still gave him the creeps. Sometimes when she stared like that it was like she knew what he was thinking. It was stupid, no one knew what was in the deep hidden part of his mind. He smiled a little, thinking about that. Suddenly he remembered the Crone, but when he squinted through the throng she was gone.

It was after 1 a.m. when the last of the crowd trickled out the main gate. They were working a small town with nothing much to do, but Red found a seedy bar down by the river that was still open. The bartender didn’t look too happy to have a bunch of carnies barge in after midnight but there wasn’t much he could do about it either.

They sat at a couple tables drinking and Jack was looking around the bar but there wasn’t much to see, just a trashy blonde with blue makeup caked around her eyes half-asleep on the bar. If she’d been a little younger Jack might have considered it but the makeup couldn’t conceal the deep cracks around her mouth or the way her jowls swung down over her throat. Red saw him looking and grinned over his beer. “Jack gets hisself around, got a girl in every town.”

“Little blondies,” One-Eye Dave leered. “Don’t know what they see in you, Jackie boy.”

“Yep.” Jack drained his bottle and pushed his chair back. “And every one of ‘em waiting right where I left her.”

The tables erupted in derisive laughter. “Arrogant son-of-a-“ Red said, but Jack was already up and out the door.

He wandered down around the River Road for a little while. These little towns usually had a street or two down by the river or across the tracks where he could find the runaways, the hookers, the bad girls. Once or twice he’d had a cute blonde high-schooler out for a thrill, but those left him a wreck for weeks afterward, worrying someone would find out. Mostly he stuck to the lost and the worthless.

The pickings tonight were disappointing. After an hour of roaming aimlessly Jack headed back to the cow pasture where they’d set up. He wasn't upset. He didn’t always find a suitable girl. .

The carnival grounds were dead silent when he got back. The strings of yellow lights had been turned off. Jack didn’t need the light, he knew the setup. He wound his way through rides that hulked huge and still as dinosaur skeletons, past sideshow tents with flaps pulled back, gaping like toothless mouths. Like the Crone’s mouth, he thought, and shuddered. He stuck his hands in his pockets and whistled tunelessly to drive his sudden uneasiness away.

He sauntered past the Ferris wheel, a darker silhouette against the starless sky. The midway still smelled faintly of fried things, funnel cakes and corn dogs mixed with the sickly-sweet ghosts of cotton candy. The freaks had set up a poker game in the burlesque tent. A streak of light spilled out between the flaps, and he heard the growling voice of the Dog-Faced Man as he folded. Jack stepped around the puddle of light and turned toward the caravans, huddled beyond the midway like a herd of sheep afraid of the dark.

“Hey there.”

Jack broke off in mid-whistle. Every muscle tensed to run, he swiveled on the balls of his feet, searching for the voice.

A girl stood behind him, half-hidden in the shadows of a trailer. He could only see part of her, but what he saw looked good- long legs, honey-colored hair falling over her shoulder, one ocean-blue eye. Nineteen, maybe twenty. She was perfect, not a single flaw.

She kicked at the ground with the toe of a high-heeled shoe. “Hey, your name is Jack, right?”

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

“I saw you tonight, at the carnival. Me and my friends ran into some guys in a bar and they said they knew you. They said you liked blonde girls.” Her voice was high and tinkled like a cheap music box.

Was she serious? Red and the guys actually did him a favor? Maybe this was some kind of joke. Jack looked the girl up and down. Even in the dark he could see what a knockout she was.

“You don’t like me?” She stuck out her lower lip in a pout. Jack’s wariness wavered, then collapsed.

“Sure I like you. I like you a lot.” He reached for her.

The girl squealed and giggled. Swift as an animal she turned and vanished into the shadows.

Jack stared at the spot where she’d been. A burning, flickering feeling filled his lungs and closed his throat. His feet moved without him telling them to. His fists clenched convulsively, fingers flexing open, closed, open, closed. He thought this was how wolves felt when they were on the hunt.

The blonde girl was fast. Jack followed the sound of her laughter around wagons, past the Scrambler, between cages where mangy tigers snored. She was taking him back down the midway, past the tent where the Bearded Lady dealt cards. Jack began to sweat a little.

“Hey,” He called softly. There was no answer. Maybe it was a joke, a stupid joke, and when the guys finally got back he’d have to pound Red good for getting him all worked up. “Hey, girl.”

“Hey cutie, you get lost?”

Jack spun in a circle, trying to pinpoint the direction of the voice.

“Over here!”

He saw her, a flip of long hair, a swish of pink skirt. She disappeared behind a sagging ticket booth. The sign above the entrance stood out faintly in lightless neon tubes. HALL OF MIRRORS. Jack knew the rest by heart. Can YOU escape the AMAZING LABYRINTH? Or will YOU be LOST FOREVER in the HALL OF MIRRORS?

“What the hell?” He growled. He couldn’t do it in there. It had to be somewhere away from the carnival grounds. Somewhere private.

Her voice echoed faintly from the entrance. “It’ll be fun! Come get me!”

He knew his way around the Hall of Mirrors. All the carnies did, so they could go in and drag out any customer who got freaked out. He would just step in for a minute and tell her they had to go somewhere else. He could hear giggles bouncing off the cold, hard surfaces of the mirrors somewhere in the bowels of the Hall.

He stepped inside. The first room was narrow and pitch-black. At the end was a full-length mirror. It was curved just a little, so that the image reflected back was warped and stunted. Startled, Jack blinked at this twisted version of himself, with its too-short torso and grotesquely long arms. He laughed sharply, denying the pinched face that was somehow his own.

The path skewed left. Jack followed it and was in the main room. There were no corners here, just a rough circle of plain narrow mirrors that reflected him back a hundred thousand times, endless rows of Jacks growing smaller and smaller but still reaching into infinity. Up above were more mirrors, angling in to a high apex so that the room had a chilly, cathedral-like feel. Somewhere there was an exit, lost in the endless repetitions of himself. Jack turned in a circle, looking for it, but between the darkness and the endless reflections he couldn’t make out where it was. It had been a while since he’d been in the Hall of Mirrors.

With an irritated sigh he began walking around the walls, trailing his fingers along the chill metal. The burning feeling was starting to fade, and that made him furious. “Do you hear me? We need to get out of here!”

He was thinking that it was a joke and he was going to kill Red when she appeared before him in a swirl of pink. She stepped out from between two mirrors so suddenly that he almost ran into her. She peered at him with one blue eye, the other hidden behind the edge of the mirror frame. “Took you long enough.”

“What the hell is wrong with you? We can’t do it here- we have to go someplace-“

“Okay already.” She rolled her eyes. “Calm down, tiger. I just thought this would be kinky, but we can go wherever you want.” She smiled, flashing even, white teeth. “Can I kiss you at least? I never saw myself kissing anybody. It’ll be sexy, all these mirrors.”

He opened his mouth to say no, but she gazed up at him, her lower lip caught in her teeth, and he could smell her perfume, faintly floral but not overwhelming, like the roses his mom kept when he was a kid. God, she was perfect.

“Yeah.” He whispered. The burning feeling was back, hotter than ever, searing his chest and lungs and raking his throat.

“Okay! Close your eyes!”

He obeyed. A moment later he felt her slender body pressed to his, a hand creeping up his face.

Something was wrong.

The blonde girl’s nails were smooth, flawless ovals, not too long but not bitten short. The nails that scraped over his skin were long and very sharp. He jerked away from the touch, his eyes flying open. For a second everything was blurred. Then he was seeing double. There was the girl, soft and beautiful. But there was also the Crone.

What the hell? Jack raised his fist to pound the old bitch, jumping back with a snarl of disgust. But distance gave him focus, and his arm fell limply to his side.

It wasn’t the girl and the Crone. It was one person. Half her face was the girl’s- flawless, hair like honey in the sunlight. But the other half was the Crone, weathered skin, stringy black hair, oily black eyes. The part in the middle, where she changed, shifted and wavered, so he couldn’t quite see it somehow. The pink skirt blended into gypsy rags layered one over the other, a riot of colors so faded they all sank together into brown. Jack stared, mouth slightly open. The burning was gone, replaced by horror so strong he wanted to vomit, as if he’d put his hand down a drain and touched a dead rat.

The thing grinned, and Jack couldn’t repress a strangled whine. The even white teeth of the blonde girl merged into withered red gums.

“What’s the matter, cutie?” The voice was the Crone’s now, scratchy and whiskey-rough. “Don’t you want to do it?”

Jack flung out an arm to throw her aside. The Crone snatched at him, her long nails sinking into his wrist, drawing blood. The old monster was stronger then he would have thought. Desperately he struck at her, and she lost her grip. Jack pushed her hard. He heard her grunt as she crashed into a mirror. He was already past her, reaching for the door tucked between two mirrors just a few feet away, the exit where she’d stood a moment before. His fingers smashed into the cold surface of a mirror. Jack swore loudly, clutching his jammed fingers to his chest. His heart was pounding so hard he wondered briefly if he was having a heart attack, if he would drop dead right here. The exit was gone.

Fear hit him then, and he swung around to scream at the Crone-girl. “What the hell?”

She was fast. Before he could move she was right there in front of him. The weird, misshapen face was inches from his own. Jack gagged as the Crone-girl blew sickly-sweet breath into his face.

“Erica. Her name was Erica. But you never asked her name before you put your hands around her neck and choked her to death. You didn’t ask any of them!”

“What?” He gasped.

“She was confused, like all teenagers, and she ran away. And you found her and seduced her and murdered her!” Tears rose in the black eye of the Crone-girl. “As soon as I found out I started casting for her soul. She told me all about you!”

“Casting? What the hell are you, you old-“

She brought her knee up between them, between his legs. Jack moaned as pain shot through every nerve in his body, and when she let him go he fell limply to the floor, breathless with agony.

The Crone-girl grabbed a handful of his hair and yanked his head up. “Would you believe I looked like this once? Before life made me old and grief turned my eyes dark. Before I dyed my hair black so you’d never suspect. And you never did. I thought your kind were supposed to be smart.”

“I am smart,” He gasped. “You old bitch. I never got caught. We went back to the same towns again and-“

She slapped him, her long nails raking bloody scratches across his face. “Maybe you’re right.” She laughed. Jack shuddered at the sound. “It took a witch to catch you, after all. After I joined this disgusting carnival I started looking for the others. It was easy, once I knew you were the one. They came like fish to a worm. And I snatched them up. I trapped them. It hurt me every time. It hurts them, hurts them to be trapped. I hear them screaming all the time, I hear Erica...” She let go of his hair. His head thumped to the filthy floor.

She went to the wall, placing a hand against the glittering edge of a mirror. Jack stared, mesmerized.

“There is only one thing that can contain a loose soul.” The Crone-girl cackled. “And only one place with enough mirrors to hold them all.”

She struck the mirror with her fist. A fine web of cracks radiated out from the center. At a second blow the mirror exploded in a fountain of glittering shards. They fell to the floor in a waterfall of glass. There was nothing but blackness behind the mirror. The Crone-girl moved on, hitting another mirror. One by one the mirrors broke and shed their silvered glass. Jack felt tiny slivers dig into the back of his neck, bury themselves in his clothes and skin.

Finally all the mirrors were in pieces. She stopped in the center of the room and began to mutter under her breath. She waved her hands wildly, oblivious to the blood dripping down her arms.

“I always knew there was something weird about you.” Jack said through gritted teeth.

She muttered faster and faster, in a strange, ugly language he’d never heard before. While her back was turned Jack struggled to his knees, ignoring the crippling pain in his groin, then to his feet. He took a step toward her. Then another.

The Crone-girl stopped her muttering. Jack froze as she turned to him. The girl part of her had melted away, leaving only the dark, ugly Crone. Her skin was paler than ever. She seemed to have trouble standing. Her eyes were fixed on some point above his left shoulder, unfocused. Wore herself out, Jack thought. This would be a piece of cake.

She smiled. Jack followed the direction of her gaze, and his curse caught in his throat.

A silhouette stood in the mirror frame directly behind him. A female shape, vaguely outlined in shifting gray mist. Within the mist there was nothing, only dull black. Flat like a paper doll, not just black but empty, like what you saw when you looked down at the bottom of a well. It stepped out of the frame, coming toward him. Jack backed away, fighting the urge to puke. Beside him the Crone-girl cackled.

He caught a movement in the corner of his eye. There were more of the flimsy black things, one in each frame, surrounded by jagged pieces of broken mirror like sharks’ teeth. They swayed and wavered, and Jack began to hear their voices, faint as a grass rustling in a light breeze. The voices grew louder, until the sounds were beetles skittering over his skin.


“Pain…no pain…”

Jack clapped his hands over his ears, but he could still hear them. The empty forms moved closer, rippling like hung laundry. A soft breeze might blow them away. But there were no breezes in the Hall of Mirrors.

They moved closer, whispering. Jack looked frantically around, but they circled him completely, a wall of shifting, flat woman-shapes. Panic came fast, grasping his heart in a cold fist, tearing his breath to ragged shreds.


One of the things reached for the Crone. The old woman held out her arms. Tears rolled down her cheeks. “Erica!”

“Grandma…” The voice was distinct but strained, as if the shade were forcing the words out of a mouth that wasn’t there. “It hurt…”

“I know it hurt, baby. I know! I’m sorry, Erica! I found him for you, I waited until I had enough of you and now I let you out- here he is, Erica!” The Crone blubbered, tears and spit and snot mingling on her face. Even in his panic Jack felt a wave of disgust for her.

The shade wrapped her arms around the old woman. The Crone sighed deeply, as if she’d been waiting for this. But then her expression changed. She gasped and coughed, twisting away, and Jack saw that the woman-thing’s arm was embedded in the Crone’s chest. The flat black limb disappeared into the layers of velvet and rotten lace, but the old woman’s expression said it went deeper, much deeper.

There was no blood. The Crone’s face contorted, wrinkles writhing, chasing each other across her grayish-yellow skin. She sighed, then groaned, then screamed shrilly. Her eyes bulged. Her screams became moans. She went limp.

The Erica-creature dropped her arm, and the Crone slid to the floor with a thump, her eyes glassy, her mouth slack.


The sick fascination of watching the Crone's death vanished, replaced by a choking sense of panic. For an eternity they were very still, all of them. Jack stared at them, into them, frozen in terror. Finally they moved.

A dozen hands plunged into him, his chest, his arms, his back. It didn’t hurt, but there was pressure so intense he thought his flesh might collapse. Jack gasped for air, but his lungs wouldn’t work.

And then he felt the cold.

It was the worst cold he’d ever felt, worse than Minnesota in the winter. At first it was just in the places where their hands penetrated his skin, but then it began to spread. It spidered through his body, freezing whatever it hit, nerves to veins, veins to arteries, arteries to organs. Jack twisted half-heartedly. His panic faded, pushed out by the cold. Very soon his muscles froze. Then the horrible whispers stopped, and he realized with a start that the bones and skin in his ears had frozen.


The Crone and Jack were hastily buried in the field where the tents had been set up. The shattered glass and metal frames were packed up and hauled to the local dump. If anyone wondered what had happened in the Hall of Mirrors they didn’t discuss it in the daylight.

The Crone had kept to herself, so no one paused to linger over her grave as the carnival prepared to move out. But Jack had been with them for a long time. Red and a couple of other guys stopped to set a bottle of beer and a pack of cigarettes on the unmarked mound of dirt before shuffling off to climb in the caravan.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Take the Orange from the Sunset

Take the Orange from the Sunset
by Esteban Silvani
As the sunset cast its intricate collages across the farm, Bill tended his tomato patch.

Could hardly believe those seeds sold to him by that smelly gypsy at the town fair could produce tomatoes of such ripeness in such a short spell. Crazy gypsy talked them up like they were some kind of super tomatoes. Promised Bill's wife Henrietta, they'd "increase her life." Crazy gypsy.
But even still, the tomatoes looked rather swell.

Bill looked down on his gnome and uttered, "Well ol' friend, looks like you got some mighty fine tamatuhs here. Should make some fine company, I reckon."
Just then, Henrietta's whining came blasting down from the upstairs.

Them hemorrhoids had flared up yet again.

"Bill, get your ass up here and look at mine!" she shouted while dropping her drawers.

Bill, who wasn't one for talking back ascended the staircase, holding his brown leather cowboy hat against his flannel shirt. He stared down compassionately at his woman who was on her knees, leaning over the tub.

"It them hemorrhoids again?"
"Wadda ya think, you fuckin' country trash hick! Now get 'em off me!"
Henrietta wasn't like his last wife. Not one bit. Suzy grew up a Baptist, not unlike himself. But this one who made her way on down from New York City sure talked different. Was starting to bother him. After all, that kind of language ain't much befitting a lady anyhow.
He reached for the cream, and squirted some onto his finger tips.
"Now, hold still, dear."
"Don't you fuckin' tell me to stay still, bastard! I'm the one with the fuckin flames in my asshole, Bill!"
While the sides of his hands parted her flabby cheeks, he tilted his head a bit in puzzlement. A white, filmy discharge protruded from the anus down the canal toward her pubic patch.
"Funny." He absentmindedly muttered.
"Oh, you just wait. You ain't seen funny till I say you've seen funny. Funny is me ripping your fucking head off, asshole! Now put on the fucking cream!"
Bill looked at his watch. It'd only been eleven hours. Amazing. Impossibly amazing.
"Tell ya what, hon. I know just what'll do the trick."
Immediately, Henrietta began to convulse and cry in anger as she screamed at the top of her lungs, "JUST PUT ON THE FUCKING CREAM ALREADY!!"
Her head dropped over the rim of the tub as her body tried to rest. But the festering pain kept eating away at her rectum. She continued to moan and clench her teeth as images of her violently strangling Bill flashed through her mind.
Moments later she heard Bill return. He crouched down behind her.
Suddenly, a cruel hand parted her cheeks violently. A sharp object cut through the anus, sawing through cheek blubber, mixing the discharge with anal blood. The small veins burst open as she wiggled in psychotic raves. The tiled walls soon faded, the curtain rod entered her sight, and then fled as did consciousness.
Bill eagerly inserted two fingers from each of his hands and beamed as he carefully pulled out his most eagerly anticipated prized possession.
"By God's grace, as golden corn grows from the quiet fields, so disgust arrives from the noisy swamp."
Bill thought about how the gypsy had exaggerated his promise as he lifted himself up carefully so as not to slip in the stool infested bloodbath.
Human this thing wasn't, but'll make a fine replacement to that gnome in the tomato patch.
The thing's slimy eyes raced from side to side. It's pointy ears erected as its master held it lovingly.
The sun continued to set over Leesville, North Carolina. Seemed to be more orange than usual.
Bill rocked back and forth on that rocker of his. Gritty hands would slowly reach over to grab that hot mug of coffee. Not many folks really notice the beauty in things. Too preoccupied with making a livin', wheelin and dealin, and soothing hemorrhoids.
The tomato patch looked sensuous with darkness beginning to settle in on it. The gnome stayed. Bill realized that the ol' gnome didn't need a replacement, but rather a companion. He deserved company his own size. Gnomes don't do nothing like talking back.
This thing'll make a good mate.
The Stevensons' Buick drove on by the farm road. Harry waved at Bill who tipped his hat in return.
Bill rose, stepped off the porch and looked down at the tomato patch to check on the newlyweds.
The slimy thing's pecker had become encrusted and was about to break off. Bill poured the rest of his coffee on him.
"How you gonna be a daddy to my gnome if you ain't got nothin' to slide in her?"
The pointy ears drooped down as it buried its head in the soil.