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Monster Maelstrom

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Monster Maelstrom

A Flash Fiction Halloween Anthology

George Donnelly, Editor

Cheverer

Contents

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Humor

1. All That Glitters Isn’t Gold

2. Oh, My Darling

3. Skin Deep

4. Teddy Bear Defenders

5. The Real Monster

6. What I did at Halloween

7. Teddy Bears and a Good Cop

8. Monster in the Room

9. The Reanimated Reunion Tour

Horror

10. Shades of Hell

11. Monsters Like Us

12. Hero

13. Monsters are Everywhere

14. Hounds

15. Echoes in the Ether

16. Last One at the Door

17. The Not Wanting

18. The Keeper’s Daughter

19. The Huldra

Fantasy

20. The Angel

21. In the Eye of the Beholder

22. Jealous (A Wolf’s Heart)

23. Never a Night Off

24. Hunting Party

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Acknowledgments

About the Editor

Also by the Authors

Monster Maelstrom

George Donnelly, Editor

***

Copyright 2016 George Donnelly

Shakespir Edition

***

Shakespir Edition, License Notes:

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. But, seriously, please share this book with your friends.

ISBN: 978-1-941939-11-6

Monster Maelstrom

Book 2 in the Flash Flood Series

24 Extremely Short Halloween Stories

for your Briefest Moments

From a Hillary Clinton stripper to mythical beast-women in the harsh Scandinavian tundra and from an unusual band of steadfast teddy bears to the last man in zombie-occupied Chicago, fill your briefest moments with pulse-pounding frights and off-beat chuckles with this collection of 24 flash fiction stories.

Commuting to work? Grabbing a quick coffee? Each story tells a complete tale in but a few short minutes with the added promise of a lifelong introduction to new indie writers.

You never know, you might just find your next favorite author.

Monster Maelstrom, the second anthology in the Flash Flood series, is a hand-picked selection of master works in humor, horror and fantasy themed for Halloween and guaranteed to keep you engaged.

Sign up now to get free copies of book 1, Bite-Sized Stories, and future flash fiction anthologies themed for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, May the 4th and Independence Day.

Never a Night Off © 2016 Lincoln Cole

Shades of Hell © 2016 Eli Nixon

Hounds © 2016 Heather Biedermann

All That Glitters Isn’t Gold © 2016 N. D. Iverson

Last One at the Door © 2016 Griffin Carmichael

Oh, My Darling © 2016 Jaleta Clegg

Monster in the Room © 2016 Alexa Grave

Monsters are Everywhere © 2016 John D. Ottini

Monsters Like Us © 2016 Jeanette Raleigh

The Reanimated Reunion Tour © 2016 Cora Buhlert

The Angel © 2016 Richard Crawford

Echoes in the Ether © 2016 George Donnelly (CC-BY-SA)

The Keeper’s Daughter © 2016 J. Naomi Ay

Hunting Party © 2016 A. E. Wasp

Skin Deep © 2016 J. Naomi Ay

Teddy Bear Defenders © 2016 Tom Germann

What I did at Halloween © 2016 Edward M. Grant

Teddy Bears and a Good Cop © 2016 Tom Germann

The Not Wanting © 2013 J. David Core

The Real Monster © 2016 J. David Core

In the Eye of the Beholder © 2016 Bill Hiatt

Jealous (A Wolf’s Heart) © 2015 Carmilla Cross

Hero © 2016 George Donnelly (CC-BY-SA)

[_The Huldra © 2016 _]J.T. Williams

These are works of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All Rights Reserved, but please share this with a friend.

Copyright 2016 George Donnelly, Editor

ISBN: 978-1-941939-11-6

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If you liked Monster Maelstrom, you’ll LOVE Christmas in Family, the third book in the Flash Flood anthology series, due out December 1, 2016.

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Thank you for reading!

To indie authors: the agile, ingenious and brilliant writers of the 21st century

Part I

Humor

1

All That Glitters Isn’t Gold

N. D. Iverson – Humor

“No touching the girls,” the beefy security guard said after placing a stern hand on Gerald’s shoulder.

Gerald threw his offending hands in the air. “We’re all good here, man. Right, Crissy?” He winked at the stripper in his lap. She gave Gerald a skeptical glance before turning to Big Bob and nodding.

Big Bob stabbed a finger right into Gerald’s face. “If I have to come back here, man. You ain’t gonna like what happens next.”

The music was so loud that a man couldn’t hear his cell phone go off (which, of course, was the point) but somehow a scream reached their little pow-wow.

Big Bob’s back went straight.

“You should probably attend to that, yeah?” Gerald said hoping the bouncer would let him get back to his lap dance.

Big Bob took off to the VIP area to investigate and Crissy resumed her wriggling in his lap. He was enjoying the friction until Big Bob came dashing back through the VIP velvet curtain with a stripper on his back. [Oh sure, _]they[ can touch the girls,] Gerald thought. Crissy bolted from his lap almost taking out _his VIP (very important penis).

As Crissy fled, Gerald yelled after her, “Hey, that wasn’t twenty minutes!” He would’ve complained, but the DJ was also the manager, and if his playlist was any indication, he would be an ear-bleedingly terrible manager.

Gerald focused his attention on the spectacle that was causing a bunch of laps to go un-danced. Big Bob was not giving the glitter coated stripper a piggy-back, as Gerald once thought. No, Big Bob was trying to dislodge the stripper like his clothes were on fire and her an oil stained rag. In his attempt to get the feral stripper off of him, Big Bob stumbled into a set of table and chairs before he fell to the ground, forcing the occupants to flee and leave behind their plate of buffet chicken wings.

[_Probably a smart choice, _]Gerald thought. Last time he ate the food here, he ended up with DEFCON-Chipotle level of diarrhea.

Big Bob rolled over so that he was on top of the stripper, then violently ripped away from her by rolling to the left. She was still moving, but didn’t bother to get up as she was busy noshing on something. Big Bob shot to his feet despite his larger stature. His hand flew to the back of his neck and now he screamed. Sensing something gross, Gerald moved in closer for a peek. There was a chunk of Big Bob’s neck fat missing and Gerald had a sick hunch that the stripper was gnawing on a piece of fresh Big Bob Jerky.

“The bitch bit me!” Big Bob bellowed, confirming Gerald’s suspicion.

As if offended by his language, the stripper rolled herself over and hobbled to a standing position. Everyone stood still waiting to see what she would do next. Her eyes darted around like a kid at Disneyland, unsure of where to start first. Her mouth was a gash of red from Big Bob’s blood and her skin had taken on a waxy hue under the top layer of glitter. She looked like she was sick—really sick—not just the “herpes acting up again” type of sick.

Another stripper dressed like a sexy Hillary Clinton slowly walked up to the wild-eyed, bloody stripper. “Angel, you okay?” she asked timidly.

Angel whirled around and launched herself at the sexy Hillary Clinton stripper who screamed like a banshee. That was when everyone decided it was time to leave, as this party foul was too much even for the sad, lonely men willing to throw their paychecks at naked girls for a moment of their time. [_Hey, I’m one of those guys, _]Gerald thought before he too started towards the exit. Now that people were leaving, the front door was wide open letting the light in like a beacon.

Gerald and the others spilled out into the parking lot, momentarily disoriented by the blinding sunlight. Gerald was forced to dive onto the pavement as some asshole tried to take him out with their Corolla in attempt to get out of the parking lot. All was calm when Gerald had entered the Tasty Biscuit (the name was rather misleading, giving pet owners a startle when they would wander in looking for dog food). But now it was chaos. Car horns were blaring, sirens were going off, helicopters were zooming overhead, and most alarmingly, there were a pair of girl scouts trying to sell their cookies in the strip club parking lot.

“Get out of here!” Gerald yelled at the two kids.

They screamed in unison when they saw Angel go after one of the regulars after following the crowd out into the parking lot. Gerald let out a scream too. Angel was not near as hot as she had seemed inside the dark club. Even if she wasn’t currently covered in blood and gristle—and glitter. Gerald couldn’t believe the difference sunlight made. He wouldn’t be buying anymore dances from her.

The two girl scouts had abandoned their table of cookies and were already running down the sidewalk. Gerald ran to his F-150 and jumped into the front seat. The truck started and as he was about to back up, something slammed into the passenger side door. He may have peed himself a little, but he would never admit it. The door opened and Crissy threw herself into the cab, slamming the door behind her.

“Holy shit!” she yelled far too loud for such a tiny space.

Gerald looked at her. At least she was still hot out in the daylight. “You okay?”

She sucked in her lips and nodded. “We need to get out of here!”

On a normal day, leaving the club with a stripper would’ve been legendary, but not when they were fleeing from the horror scene inside. Gerald reversed just as Angel threw herself on the hood of the truck, coating the windshield in spit and blood. Crissy screamed and in a state of panic, Gerald floored the gas pedal sending Angel rolling to the pavement as they reversed going twenty miles an hour.

Gerald turned on the wipers, smearing the bodily fluids into thin streaks. Neither he nor Crissy commented on it. Angel had gotten herself up, paying no mind to the bone now jutting out of her forearm.

“Oh God,” Crissy said into the back of her hand.

Gerald put the truck in drive and joined the rest of the survivors trying to make it into the steady flow of traffic. They drove for what seemed like hours, but had only been a few minutes.

“What are we going to do?”

“I have no idea. All I know is—” Gerald did a completely inappropriate air pump with his fist— “I don’t have to go to work tomorrow!”

***

&N. D. Iverson& is a young-ish author trying to find her spot in the world. She’d love to write full-time, but until she starts to write more, she has to work terrible hours at a place where if she died right now, it would take her a full week to realize she was in hell and not at work anymore. Find her books and get on her mailing list at ndiverson.weebly.com.

2

Oh, My Darling

Jaleta Clegg – Humor

I slammed my pick into the wall of the cavern, the one hidden in a crack on a forsaken mountainside deep in the craggy Blues. Old Codger Martin told me about the gold there, man to man over whiskey in the back of an old saloon south of Frisco. I hopped a mule and rode on up to check it out and stake a claim. So far, all I’d found was quartz. I hit the wall again. Rocks tumbled to the ground. A gleam of yellowish metal caught my eye. Maybe Codger wasn’t a two-headed lying snake. I crouched, my fingers reaching.

The cavern shook. Cave-in? It shook again. Dust shifted down onto my head. The shaking came once more, like a giant stomping his way up from the depths to confront me. Rocks creaked. I thought about running for the exit, but that promising rock had my attention. I palmed it to hide the metallic luster as the steps approached.

“What you doing, hu-man?”

A thunderous voice snapped over me, shaking more dust loose. It was deeper than the pits of hell itself. Might have come from there, too. Who knew where the other end of this cavern led? I rose to my feet and faced the denizen of the depths.

The creature was huge, covered in green scaly skin with giant tusks poking from his fat lips and enormous claws on his hands. He sported a twisted crown of dead rats.

Just a cave troll, nothing too spectacular, not like the dragon that ate Jim Balforth and his entire effete exploration expedition. Their fault for tramping into the dragon’s front room and smoking those vile cheroots.

“This my cave.” The troll thumped a massive fist onto the floor. “Posted mine.” He flung his other hand out, pointing deeper into the cave. “You trespassing.”

“Now that’s where you’re wrong, my good troll.” I extended my hand. “Name’s Barnabus Whittle. I’ve filed a legal claim to this section of mountain, but I don’t see why we can’t work this together.” Everything I knew about trolls ran quickly through my head. It didn’t take long. Trolls were a secretive bunch, according to Brim and Bartel, the accepted authorities on cave dwellers. Their entry on trolls included a warning to avoid them and not much else.

The troll shook his head. A dead rat bounced over one eye. “I file claim. My caves. Posted no trespassing, down there.” He pointed into the darkness of the cave.

“I posted up there,” I said, pointing to the entrance I’d blasted just last week. “There must be a way we can work this out. Let’s think about this for a moment, shall we?”

The troll furrowed his brow. I took the chance and risked a peek at my rock sample. Gold! Not fool’s gold, either, though some might call me a fool for stealing a troll’s claim.

“That mine,” the troll said, reaching for my stone.

I took one look at the claws and let him have the rock.

He used one claw to delicately scrape the metal out as if it were putty. He smiled, showing his impressive tusks, as he flicked gold to the ground. “Now it valuable.” He showed me the mass of quartz crystals.

“That?” I wrinkled my brow. “Yes, I see. Most valuable. Well, this is a dilemma. Tell you what, I’ll give you half of all those that I find, plus I’ll clean up all this garbage for you.” I nudged the nuggets of gold littering the ground.

The troll narrowed his eyes. “What I do? Why I not keep all?”

“I need you to smash the rocks open. I’ll extract the crystals. Sure as my name’s Barnabus Whittle, I’ve got a patent pending on the best crystal extractor you’ve ever seen. We’ll be partners. Partners help each other. And share. We can be partners, can’t we? Both of us get rich.”

The troll thought for a long moment, then nodded. “But one condition.”

I smiled my best smile. I was about to become rich and all it cost me was the worthless quartz marring my gold. “Name it.”

“Got daughter. Clementine. You marry.” Troll showed me his tusks again. “Or I smash you face.”

I swallowed. Marry a troll? I eyed the gold on the ground. How bad could it be? I shook the troll’s paw. “You got yourself a deal, partner.”

&Clementine was& as sweet as a daisy, although her face could curdle milk. She was a troll, green skin, giant feet, tusks, and all, but since she didn’t wear rats on her head and preferred a good calico for her dresses, we got along just fine. She took to the miner’s wife role like a natural. She lived in my ramshackle little cabin where she baked cornbread and brewed moonshine to her heart’s content. After the first taste of her cooking, I didn’t mind that she outweighed any prize bull and could probably wrestle it into the dust. Her food was divine.

She planted a garden, tended it lovingly. Most of it was weeds, but I wasn’t about to tell my darling bride that. She was happy and she made me happy. I was the luckiest man alive. Of course, the steady stream of fist-sized gold nugget “trash” her father kept handing me only made her green warts more attractive.

I bought Clementine a dozen ducklings for her birthday. She squealed with excitement. The little birds cowered in terror. She cradled them gently in her massive hands, her claws delicately stroking their downy feathers. By the end of summer, they were a sight to see. Clementine trundled at the front, giant feet in their box shoes stomping down the path to the mill pond below my cabin. The ducks waddled behind, quacking and bossing everything else out of their way. Every morning, Clementine took them to the pond for a swim. I followed, carrying my sack of gold nuggets to hand off to the assayer who set up shop with the miller. Neither of them ever said much about my green-skinned beauty, not after she punched a moose that threatened her ducklings. We all enjoyed the meat from that bounty.

I was late, that August morning. I arrived at the mill just in time to see Clementine trip over a log. She tumbled into the mill pond with a tremendous splash. Ducks and water went flying. I ran to the shore, expecting to see my bride rise from the depths. Her face did rise briefly, lips pursed as she sucked in air.

Trolls are made of stone, it’s embedded in their flesh. Clementine didn’t stand a chance. I threw myself into the pond but I was no swimmer. I splashed mightily, thrashing about as I reached for her. I shouted for help, but no one heard over the creaking of the mill wheel.

I watched her sink beneath the water. Her ruby lips blew a last stream of bubbles.

The ducks circled me, quacking as I struggled for the shore. I’d lost my Clementine. My heart would never mend.

Her father waited for me at the cavern when I returned. With heavy heart I told my green friend what had happened to his daughter. I even cried.

He grunted when I finished my tale of woe.

“She good daughter. She happy with you.” He smacked me on the back hard enough that I bounced off the wall. “She got sister, though.” He lifted one eyebrow suggestively.

Clementine had been a marvelous wife. How could her sister possibly compare? “Does she cook? Human food, I mean.”

He grimaced. “All time. Nasty. Breads, cakes, pies, all that garbage.”

My mouth watered. “My friend, nothing can ever replace your daughter Clementine in my heart, but I think I might have room for her sister in there, too.” I shook his gnarled paw, accepting the bargain. The giant gold nugget he handed me didn’t hurt, either. I’d marry all of his daughters, and their cousins, and their friends, if he kept gifting me his garbage gold.

I’d loved Clementine. She was better than I deserved. I’d think of my troll bride fondly every time I hauled a sack of gold to the mill or lifted a glass of moonshine to her memory.

“Oh, my darling Clementine, thou are lost and gone forever. Dreadful sorry, Clementine. But your sister, Rosemary, makes apple pie that men would gladly die for.”

***

&Jaleta Clegg thinks& monsters are a lot of fun. She’d rather play with them than normal people, but since she can’t find any under her bed or in her closet, she has to imagine them there. She enjoys twisting expectations in her writing, submitting sweet romances for scary anthologies or scary stories for romance anthologies. She writes science fiction adventure, high fantasy, steampunk fairies, silly horror, and pretty much anything else that catches her fancy. Find her books and get on her mailing list at jaletac.com.

3

Skin Deep

J. Naomi Ay – Humor

Lester had no clue what to do with his life until he was well into his twenty-second year.

“Get a job,” his mother snapped every morning, before Lester even climbed out of his basement bed.

“I will,” he mumbled, usually after his mother had slammed the door, her footsteps already stomping up the stairs.

For a few more moments, he’d lay there, listening to the sound of the washing machine across the room, the hiss of the hot water heater as it flamed and boiled. Sometimes, if he was not too sleepy, Lester would accompany these sounds with his voice, singing a tune that he usually made up on the spot.

In the kitchen above, Lester’s mother would give pause to listen to her son’s yet undiscovered and amazingly magnificent tenor. Often, the glasses would tremble upon the shelves, as Lester’s vibrato resonated throughout the house.

“It’s such a pity,” she would mutter, stacking the dishwasher full of coffee cups, an unbidden tear threatening at her eye. “He’s so talented, and yet, so useless. This life is so unfair.”

&Sometime during the mid-morning&, Lester would rouse himself, and with a wave of his hand, he’d tell his mother he was off to find that elusive job.

Ten minutes later, Lester was seated at his usual table down the street in the coffee shop with the mermaid logo on the front door. There, he’d spend the rest of the morning, and sometimes well into the mid-afternoon, sipping a double mocha venti brew, and observing people.

Silently, he noted their mannerisms, the inflection of their voices, and the way their eyes regarded each other. All this, he locked in his brain, closeting it away for a future time, and for a purpose that as of yet, was unknown.

Midday, Lester returned home, laden with false promises of soon to be acquired jobs, before skipping down to the basement where he studied his bug collection, his pride and joy. Since his earliest memory, Lester had loved insects, especially exoskeleton types. Mosquitos, spiders, and even common house flies were his pets. They all had names. They all had histories, albeit made up.

Lester’s favorite, by far, was Robert, a mosquito who would settle in his ear at night, singing the young man to sleep with the whine of his tiny wings.

&The defining moment& in Lester’s life came on the occasion of his mother’s birthday, when she requested the young man’s presence at a performance of Othello.

“What’s that?” Lester asked, barely moving his eyes from his insect collection.

“Shakespeare,” his mother said, as if Lester should know of such a thing. “Put that away and come with me.”

Begrudgingly, Lester complied, and to his great surprise, the show was transforming, enlightening, and altogether life-altering for the young man. Even after returning home, in fact, well into the next day, Lester was still weeping with Othello’s pain as if it were his own.

It was then that he realized his true life calling was to perform, to evoke these same passions, these same joys in someone else.

“I am an actor,” he announced the next morning in a deep theatrical voice, as his mother boiled his breakfast egg and burnt his toast.

“That you are,” the poor put-upon woman agreed, sniffing loudly and sighing at the same time. “Every day you pretend to look for a job, but it’s just a show.”

“Today, I will find work. Today, I know exactly what to do.”

Fortified and fueled, Lester headed out the door in search of a theatre company and parts to play. Unfortunately, in his town, his country, and in fact, upon his entire planet, acting was considered a ‘profession non grata.’

Lester was not deterred. He was determined to realize his dream. While sitting at a bus stop, he spied an advert that could not be anything less than a sign from above.

Join the Galactic Service Organization,” it read, above the picture of a chorus of costumed dancers. “Entertain the troops and serve. We need you.”

“That’s it!” Lester declared, bolting to his feet, much to the consternation of the old man sharing his bench. “I’m going to join the GSO. I’ll travel across the galaxy spreading joy through my song.”

“More likely you’ll spread fear and disgust,” his elderly neighbor snorted. “Have you looked in the mirror lately, kid? You’re a Praepostero. Your outsides are in and your insides are out. You look like a monster.”

&Six months later&, Lester was so excited, his outsides were positively quivering as he stood before the stage door of the GSO theatre company on Spacebase 37-B. During the intervening months, he had prepared, memorizing every musical in the book, reciting Shakespeare, learning tap dance, and honing his voice enough so he was cast in the chorus of the outer space version of Oklahoma.

Destiny was calling him. The future portended something bright. In fact, Lester was certain to become a star unlike any the galaxy had ever seen. The only issue that remained was how to overcome his hideous looks, how to ensure that the audience became blind to his grossness.

“Okay, I’m ready,” he told himself. “I’ve made it this far. I can go in.” Reaching for the knob, he pulled the stage door open.

Unfortunately for Lester, and for Cordelia, the leading lady of the show, who coincidentally, was about to exit from other side, the door swung outward with far greater speed and force than the Praepostero expected. Lester was knocked off his feet, falling upon his bag and the buckle which held it shut. The pointed latch struck and pierced his virtually unprotected kidney.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Cordelia gasped, hearing the thump and seeing the blood spill all over the stage floor.

Although Cordelia wasn’t a particularly large woman, Lester’s exposed organs simply couldn’t bear the addition of her weight, when she collapsed upon him in a faint.

&While Lester recuperated& in the base’s hospital, an amazingly quick process, equivalent to putting a Bandaid on one’s skin, Robert, his pet mosquito devised a plan. Being a rare type of alien insect, he reproduced faster than the speed of light. Within twenty-four hours, the entire cast of Oklahoma was covered in red, oozing welts, and itchy boils.

However, and as with any theatre company, the show must go on, especially with an entire spacebase waiting to be entertained.

“Stop complaining!” Mr. Gorf, the director shouted, his twenty fingernails dragging bloody tracks across his skin. “We’re going to put on a show tonight, if it’s the last thing we do.”

“But, we can’t!” the cast wept and moaned dramatically, because, after all, they were actors.

Fortunately, at just that moment the door opened again to admit a completely recuperated Lester.

“I can still do the show,” he offered. “How about it, Mr. Gorf?”

Having no other choice, the director agreed, assigning Lester every single part.

The Praepostero had it all memorized, including every song, and so with a modicum of blocking, rehearsal and costuming, he was ready to perform.

&After the show&, Lester was alone in the cast dressing room when Cordelia walked in, her face blistered and crusty, covered in mosquito bites. When she spied herself in the mirror, a scream erupted from her throat.

“Oh god. I look hideous. I’m a monster!”

“No, you’re beautiful!” Lester replied, leaping to his feet, thinking she looked better than before.

“Lester!” Cordelia snapped, backing away, her hands raised. “Please, I came for my sweater.” She pointed at a chair with a pink flowered cardigan draped over the back.

Lester had seen it and known it was hers. While alone, he had touched it, stroking the nylon fibers as if they were her hair. He had been hoping she’d come to get it. He had been hoping they’d get this chance to talk, and to fall in love, even though it seemed preposterous.

“Please, my sweater,” Cordy begged, hugging her arms tightly to her chest.

The Praepostero held out the cardigan, disappointed and yet, unsurprised, a heavy sigh escaping from his inside-out lips.

“The show was good,” Cordelia muttered, feeling a tiny note of sadness in her soul, offering Lester the only thing she had to give.

Lester nodded. It seemed so irrelevant now. Without love, what was the point of anything?

“Cordelia!” he cried. “Do you think there might be a chance?”

“What?” Cordelia raised her eyes, seeing Lester as he truly was, a skeleton, muscles, tissues, veins, an inside-out body, albeit with amazing talent. “Um. No. Not at all.”

The door slammed shut behind her. Lester’s head dropped as his heart fell, while Robert settled back in his ear.

“I guess this is how it is,” the young man whispered, to which the mosquito seemed to respond.

“Don’t worry, Lester. You’ve still got me.”

***

[&Naomi resides& in the north Olympic Peninsula and loves to dream of space adventures while her dog sleeps under her desk. She is the author of two epic scifi/fantasy series, the sixteen volume _]Two Moons of Rehnor[ series and the six volume ]Firesetter[ series. Find her books and get on her mailing list at JNaomiAy.com._]

4

Teddy Bear Defenders

Tom Germann – Humor

More of them were coming. Hideous misshapen black blobs that looked like horrible caricatures of clowns. Big noses over huge mouths full of gigantic razor-sharp teeth. Their arms were grotesquely bulging with huge muscles and too many joints. There were no real hands at the end of those arms, just collections of spikes. There must have been thirty or more in this wave.

They came rushing forward, silently spreading out just a bit, but they couldn’t help but start bunching up as they saw the lone figure standing ahead of them blocking their way.

Grr brought his two-handed sword around into a basic guard position and took a deep breath. He pulled the sword back and started rushing forward, roaring as he went. Just before he hit the main group, he flicked his one wrist and the small buckler attached to his arm shifted into a more comfortable position.

He threw his entire body into the swing of the sword, turning almost completely around in the process. Everything that the sword touched was smashed in two. Clown after clown was torn apart.

As the clowns were mutilated, the bodies fell and they started dissolving back into the strange stinking darkness that they all seemed to be made from.

His berserker charge ended; Grr had cut his way through the heart of the clowns. Almost half of them were down and dissolving, their charge broken. The rest turned toward the warrior that had stopped. His breathing sounded like the bellows of an ancient forge. Grr adjusted his helmet and buckler again.

The enemy was not smart enough to run through and head for their final target. All they saw was one lone defender, winded and looking like an easy target. Even though many of their number were down, they focused on the defender. All they saw was something to lash out at.

As one, they turned away from the exit and faced the defender. They didn’t even regroup. They simply charged.

Then they were destroyed.

As they started running toward the lone warrior who had brought his sword up, a flash came from the side.

It moved faster than the eye could see behind the evil creatures.

A leg came off here, a head went flying there, and then several were just cut in half by a fast-moving shadow of death.

By the time the clowns had reached Grr, as many had been cut down by the blur of motion as Grr himself had destroyed.

Time seemed to pause for a second and then a sultry voice called out. “Ohhhh, poor little baby clowns, having such a hard time with one warrior and a cat? Maybe you should have brought more friends.”

The remaining clowns stopped and looked to the side, noticing for the first time the cat standing there. Her fur was a fine grey and her eyes were green. The katana in her paws was long and razor-sharp, and with a few deft moves she had it sweeping through the air with a fine whistling.

Her smile exposed pointed teeth and there was no real warmth expressed toward the creatures that were preparing to attack her now.

“You see, Grr? I told you that if you just charged into the middle of them, they would follow you back in and then we could finish them off. Little Susie never needs to even have a hint that these weaklings were here.”

Grr took another deep breath. The bear warrior with his Viking helm and massive sword did not look impressed. “Of course they’re stupid. They are darkness and fear. Yet attacking as I did, I stopped a third of them like a true warrior. Your skulking ways have no honour.”

Kitty laughed, which seemed to enrage the clowns. “I am not here for honour. Neither are you. We are here to defend the cuddler and stop this vileness. Like so!”

Kitty thrust her one arm out and silver darts seemed to fly. The thrown blades hit four of the clowns and then both she and Grr charged.

Seconds later, the last of the clowns was down and dissolving away to nothingness.

Grr looked around, gripping his sword tight. “This should have been the last wave of attackers. By the stuffer. Do the parents of Susan not understand that clowns are the stuff of nightmares? Eeesh.” He shuddered as he turned and started walking toward the distant opening.

Kitty followed.

After they exited the underbed, Kitty frowned and then touched Grr’s arm. When he stopped, she stepped around his side and carefully flicked a bit of smelly dark matter off of his back, then she carefully adjusted his harness. She stepped back to admire her handiwork and then shook a single long, curving nail at Grr in admonishment.

“Do not think for a moment that you are going to climb back into that crib with Susan looking anything other than your best. The child loves you, and a warrior must look their best for those that they protect. You are the shining symbol of nobility for her.”

Grr sheepishly kicked the floor with his toe. “Thank you, Kitty.”

Then he looked at her more carefully. “But what about you? She loves you too, but you do not seem jealous of the attention she gives me.”

Kitty turned, moving with the speed of lightning, her outflung arm throwing another small silver dart. The small clown creature pulling itself up the side of the crib was sliced almost in half. It slipped and fell to the floor below, where it dissolved.

Kitty turned back to Grr, sheathed her katana, pulled out her small elaborate fan, and flicked it open, fanning herself delicately.

“Grr, she hugs me and purrs so loudly it drowns out any jealousy that I could have of any other stuffed animal. She loves me. That is enough. I am, after all, Ninja. I operate in the shadows. We will keep our cuddler safe. Her parents, as silly as they are, will be bringing more guardians soon enough.”

Both guardians carefully climbed up the side of the crib, careful to stay out of the view of the video camera that Daddy had set up, climbed onto the mattress, and, moving like ghosts, they crept up next to Susan, who was sleeping peacefully.

Grr frowned at the child sleeping on her stomach and, gesturing at Kitty, they both carefully levered her over onto her side.

Grr snuggled down behind her and sighed contentedly. Kitty went prone in front of Susan and made sure that she was facing her.

A small hand came up and clutched Kitty to her and the delicate stuffed animal smiled at the feeling of love while the clock chimed twelve and Halloween ended for another year.

***

&Tom is a Dad&, Husband, Reservist, Realtor and Author. Life does NOT get much busier with all of that! Make sure to follow and find out more of what is coming down the pipe! Find his books and get on his mailing list at TomGermannAuthor.com.

5

The Real Monster

J. David Core – Humor

Lucifer opened his eyes for the first time that day. Well, his name wasn’t Lucifer. In fact, he had yet to be named. He was just one of the heavenly-host who was created on that day by a lonely God who had become self-aware an unknowable length-of-time ago. This God had grown weary of building his heaven and his hell, and He was ready for companions to share it all with.

The first thing God did after creating the angels was share his plans with them. Their primary duty, he told them, was to worship and adore him. Beyond that, they’d each be given a specific task for which they would be responsible. Lucifer learned that his task was to be the bringer of light, and it was in honor of this task that he was then named.

God also let them know that he would be performing experiments with some of them, giving them unproven qualities such as free will and desire to see how things might play out before moving on to His bigger project: creating Earth and populating it with humankind.

Lucifer, and the other seraphim, cherubim, etc., took this information in stride. After all, they’d been created as non-autonomous companions with no agency or self-awareness. They had no instincts or desires. Theirs was not to reason why. Theirs was but to do and do and do — forever.

Finally came the day that God had promised. He assembled the archangels, and the Nephilim, and the Elohim, and he told them he was about to create the earth. Unfortunately, the assembled celestials just stared at him blankly, having yet to receive any of the experimental gifts. So God, who was disappointed in their reaction — to put it mildly — waved his hand and graced them all with the characteristic of anticipation.

Suddenly Lucifer was overcome with rapturous joy at the thought that he was present for such a momentous occasion. When — oh when — would this miracle occur? The wait was mercifully brief. God tilted his deific head, grunted for effect, and suddenly the formless earth lay before them. But this got no reaction other than more anticipation from the gathered host — which for all appearances may as well have been disappointment — for what is anticipation without celebration? “Is that it?” was what the creator saw on their angelic faces.

Instantly God (being God) realized his error and gave the collective the gamut of emotional capacity. This was — as one might imagine — quite a shock to their neophyte systems. Immediately they began jostling. Michael pulled his sword and began waving it about. Gabriel became disoriented and began parroting everything God was shouting in an effort to calm the heavens. But Lucifer just took it all in. He was fascinated by this response to the confusion wrought by emotion.

Then he heard God call for light. This was Lucifer’s job, and he was determined to accomplish it. He splashed the sky with blazing luminescence… and then he saw her. She was a vision of absolute beauty and he wanted her. For the first time, Lucifer realized he was capable of desire, and lust, and even love.

God went on with His work, making trees and giraffes as the other angels and what-not oohed and awed. But Lucifer had another distraction. He made his way through the crowd and introduced himself to this wondrous creature. “Hi,” he said in words that don’t really translate. “I’m Lucifer.”

She dropped her head and glanced side-eyed and demure. “I’m Lilith,” she said. “God made me to be the mate of man.”

“What’s man?” Lucifer asked.

“I guess we’re about to find out,” Lilith said pointing as God gathered a handful of mud and shaped it into a bizarre homunculus which he breathed on and placed in a garden as it stirred to life.

From there, things went to crap. Lilith rejected Adam (though he claimed it was the other way round) and Lucifer led an insurrection on her behalf. God recognized that giving the creatures He made free will had been a mistake; so He took it away from the angels, but let mankind keep theirs until they’d had to reboot everything three times. Then He tweaked the system so that free will was kept in check by something called pre-determinism.

Lucifer spent a little time in a new gig as something called Satan where he did God’s dirty work, but eventually he grew tired of that and he and Lilith and the kids moved out of heaven and took the place next door. They say good fences make good neighbors, but the firmament was leaky and kind of transparent, so Lucifer and Lilith could actually see what was going on in heaven from their front porch; and all they could see was God being judgey with the leftover sycophants sitting at His feet. It was disgusting to see, so they tried to spend as much time as possible on vacation in a place called Washington DC.

But all-things-being-unequal, Lucifer had little to complain about. He had his distractions: planning Armageddon and helping blues musicians get record deals, and stuff. But then he watched as history began to repeat itself. These people God had made had actually advanced to the point where they had created automatons of their own, and some were trying to imbue these machines with personalities. and emotional response, and even self-awareness. But unlike in his day, now there were automatic weapons and nukes.

It was all over, and there was nothing for him left to do but to sit back and await the inevitable. Sure eternity was going to suck; but when people finally realized that all of it: the global warming, the race wars, poverty, cancer, sitcoms … it had all been God’s plan the whole time, he’d be vindicated, and everyone would know who the real monster had been all along.

***

[&With a profound interest in religion&, liberal politics and humor, Dave began writing in High School and has not given up on it since. His first professional writing jobs came while attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh when he was hired to create political cartoons for the _]Pitt News[ & to write humor pieces for ]Smile Magazine[. Dave has worked in the newspaper industry as a photographer, in the online publishing industry as a weekly contributor to ]Streetmail.com[, and was a contributing writer to the ]Buzz On[ series of informational books and to the Western online anthology, ]Elbow Creek[. Dave’s science fiction novel, ]Synthetic Blood and Mixed Emotions[, is available from WriteWordsInc. Dave currently resides in his childhood home in Toronto, OH with his beautiful girlfriend and his teenage daughter. He enjoys participating in local community events & visiting with his two adult children and his grandkids. Find his books and get on his mailing list at lupamysteries.blogspot.com._]

6

What I did at Halloween

Edward M. Grant – Humor

The man stood on the doorstep in the cool evening air. As the orange sun sank behind the houses across the street, the glowing plastic pumpkin lights that Daddy had hung from the patio for Halloween reflected from the drizzling rain that tapped on the man’s wide, black umbrella, then dripped down onto his arms from the tips of the metal frame, soaking the cuffs of his cheap grey suit.

Bubbly music floated along the hallway from the living room. Kaitlyn had left the Happy Unicorn DVD playing on the TV when she rushed to the door with her pink, fluffy princess dress flapping around her legs, after he interrupted her with his constant banging. Now his dark eyes stared down at her as she held the door open.

“Hello, little girl. What’s your name?”

Don’t talk to strangers, Mummy had said. But the way he smiled at her, he didn’t feel like a stranger. He looked like a nice man. A friendly man. A man she could trust.

“Kaitlyn.”

“Can I speak to mummy or daddy?”

“They went shopping. To get more chocolate and crisps for tonight.”

“And left you alone?”

Kaitlyn sneezed, and rubbed her nose on the arm of her dress. “I got sniffles, and Daddy said I’m old enough to stay home and sneeze by myself.”

“Then perhaps you can help me instead. I buy gold and jewels. Do your mummy and daddy have any?”

Kaitlyn bit her lip. Should she tell him?

No, of course not. Mummy and Daddy would tell her off.

But, the more he smiled that big, wide smile at her, and the more his gaze bore into her eyes, the more she wanted to.

He pushed against the door, and Kaitlyn stepped back as it opened wider. “I could tell you how much it’s worth, so they’ll have a nice surprise when they get home.” He looked through the living room door, at the cartoon playing on the TV. “Maybe they’d buy you a pony.”

“A white one?”

“Whatever colour you want.”

That did it. She glanced toward the stairs. “Mummy has some shiny stuff in her bedroom.”

She closed the door after he passed her, and followed him upstairs. He peered through the door into her bedroom, and at her crayoned unicorn drawings on the wall above the bed. Then stepped into her parents’ room at the end of the landing.

The plastic sheet covering the carpet crunched beneath his feet. “What’s that for?”

“To stop it getting messy.”

He glanced toward the jewellery box on the shelf. “Is that where your mummy keeps her gold?”

Kaitlyn nodded. He grabbed the box and opened it, then lifted out a chain that sparkled in his hand. “Nice. Very nice.”

“Is it worth a pony?”

He picked up a ring, gold with inlaid diamonds. “I think they could be. Why don’t you make me a nice cup of tea while I value these?”

Kaitlyn smiled, quietly closed the door, and slid her fingers around the key. The lock clunked as she turned it, and he looked up as she pulled the key out and clasped it in her hand.

“What are you doing?”

“Bob says you robbed Mrs Doolittle’s house while she made you tea.”

“Who’s Bob?”

“Bob’s my very best friend.”

“You shouldn’t be friends with liars.”

“Bob says you’re here to rob us.”

He held out his hand. “Come on, give me the key.”

“Bob says you’re an asshole.”

And Bob was right, too. That big, friendly smile became a scowl, the man’s forehead grew red, and his eyes bulged.

He motioned with his fingers. “Give it to me, before I have to smack you, for being a naughty little girl.”

She tossed the key toward him. He lunged for it, but it passed an inch from his fingertips, and clinked as it banged off the window frame before it flew through the open window.

“Oops.”

“What the fuck did you do that for?”

He barged past her, and twisted the door handle, then banged on the door. It rattled against the lock, but stayed shut.

“Bob will get the key when you’re done.”

“Done what?”

“Done…” What was that word? “Repenting.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“He said you have to give back what you stole.”

“If I had stolen anything, why would I do that?”

She squinted at him, and scowled her nastiest scowl. Much nastier than his. She’d been practising it all day.

“If you don’t, Bob will eat your brain.”

“You’re not a nice little girl, are you?”

She pouted. “I’m very nice.” Then she shook her head and frowned. “But Bob’s not so nice.” She leaned closer. “Bob’s not nice at all.”

He crossed to the window and leaned out, looking down. Bob said it was too high to jump without breaking something. He turned away, returned to the door, and smacked his shoulder into it. The door shook, and the lock creaked.

“Mummy will tell me off if you break the door.”

He grabbed Kaitlyn, and wrapped his fingers around her neck. His face glowed red. “You’re lucky I don’t kill you.”

“Bob wouldn’t like that.”

“And where’s Bob?”

She looked toward the bed, and smiled. The man’s brow furrowed, then he released her. He tossed back the quilt and found nothing beneath, then crouched by the bed, and peered into the darkness below it.

Something long and thin flicked out, and wrapped around his neck. Big teeth flashed in the darkness. He screamed and jumped to his feet as Bob’s tentacles wrapped around his head, and Bob’s long, curved teeth bit into his nose.

&“Then Bob’s& t-tentacles popped out the man’s eyes, and he screamed and screamed and screamed as Bob shoved a tenacal into each ear, then pulled and pulled and pulled until his head went pop!”

“Kaitlyn, that’s enough,” Miss Morgan said.

Kaitlyn looked up from the scrawl in her exercise book. Most of the other girls in the classroom were grimacing, while the boys laughed and nudged each other, or scribbled pictures of heads wrapped in tentacles on the covers of their exercise books. Or their desks.

Miss Morgan just scowled as she grabbed Kaitlyn’s arm, and pulled her to the corner of the classroom.

“Did you really write that?” Miss Morgan whispered.

Should she admit it? Kaitlyn stared into Mrs Morgan’s eyes. They bulged from her head the way they always did when she was sure someone had cheated on their homework.

Kaitlyn looked down. She’d only get in more trouble if she lied. “Bob did the long words.”

Miss Morgan pushed her toward the door. “Headmaster’s office. Now. And I’ll be speaking to your parents.”

***

&Edward M. Grant& is a physicist and software developer turned SF and horror writer. He lives in the frozen wastes of Canada, but was born in England, where he wrote for a science and technology magazine and worked on numerous indie movies in and around London. He has travelled the world, been a VIP at several space shuttle launches, survived earthquakes and a tsunami, climbed Mt Fuji, assisted the search for the MH370 airliner, and visits nuclear explosion sites as a hobby. Find his books and get on his mailing list at EdwardMGrant.com.

7

Teddy Bears and a Good Cop

Tom Germann – Humor

“Pour me another one, Jim.”

The bartender at the far end of the bar came over and poured another out of my bottle. Jim knew that I came in every night and what I drank. Everyone in the bar knew me. I was that cop. No one ever hassled me; they knew what I had done, and what I still did. They could also see what it was doing to me. Then again, everyone also knew my temper. It had been on television, after all.

And none of them blamed me for what I did.

Jim gave me the eyeball as he poured my drink. He was clearly considering something. Then he poured out a triple instead of my normal shot. He tried having the conversation with me.

“Hey Billy, you look like you could use this.” He paused. “You got that look. It was that bad case, wasn’t it?”

There was a bubble of empty space around me. No one would pop that. They were scared to.

I’m not supposed to talk about this, but it was almost eleven and it would be all over the news. And Jim is a way better therapist than the department shrink.

I just looked back at him with my blank face. Crying would make it worse for everyone. “Yeah, it’s that case. The kid made it and should be okay. The three guys that took him, though… they didn’t make it. I was the one who found the house and went in. They tried it on me. At least, two of them did. They didn’t walk away from that one.”

Jim cocked his head and his eyes had a gleam in them. He has three grand kids and is kinda like me. You don’t hurt kids. “You said two of them tried it on you. Glad to hear they got what was coming to them. What happened to the third guy?” Then he almost did a double take and he smiled, nodding at my chest. “New mascot for you?”

I patted my chest pocket. Standing there still was a small stuffed bear that just fit inside. I tried to smile back, but it came out more as a grimace. “Yeah, Jim, you could say a mascot. Friends sort of gave him to me. He’s called Comfy.” Before Jim could say anything, I kept going. I needed to distract him from the bad stuff. “That last guy was found all cut up in the basement. The official line is that the three of them had a falling out and took the last guy out. Not the way it happened. They thought he was in the basement having fun with the kid when I got there. Something else sliced him up.”

Jim just nodded and overlooked my ‘something’ comment. “Well, I don’t know what it is about the world today. It seems like every scumbag out there is coming to our city to live now. They all seem to think that they can come here and do what they want. Each and every one of them is a monster, Bill. You gotta remember that. You are not guilty. They are.”

I looked down at the drink in front of me and then picked it up, slamming it back in one shot. I put the empty down upside down on the napkin.

“Thanks, Jim. I think that’ll be it tonight. I’ve been told to get off the sauce. I’ve got to get back into a car so I can do more.”

I dropped some bills on the counter and then waved at Jim and the rest of the patrons as I left. Most waved back. They recognized me. In a sick way, some looked up to me.

I was supposed to be a hero. But I felt more like a monster.

When I returned home, I entered the front door of the small post-war bungalow and turned the light on. The light was pale and didn’t do much to eliminate the darkness in the living room.

I kicked my shoes off—my mother had taught me well—and walked through to the kitchen where I drank a glass of water. There was a forty-pounder of cheap Scotch on the counter. I considered it, then passed on it. I needed to cut back. I would be no good to the kids if I was completely hammered.

My contacts had told me about what was happening in the city. I shuddered, I had to try to be strong. I knew it was going to fail, though.

I passed through the tiny dining room with its small table. The teddy bear sitting at the head of the table made me shrug.

In my bedroom I laid out my clothes for the next day. There were two more stuffed animals sitting on his bed, watching me with their gleaming eyes.

I moved back through the kitchen, grabbing my water bottle from the fridge, and then sat down in my favorite recliner in the living room. I had to move the teddy bear from the chair to a couch; it had a scar on its face and seemed to be grinning.

I sat down, set the chair back, and tried to relax. I didn’t think it would take long for sleep to claim me. But I just dreaded the dreams. I patted Comfy in his chest pocket.

My eyes closed slowly and I drifted.

My eyes opened. The sun was bright overhead and the park smelled nice. There was a voice behind me.

“Hi Bill, glad you finally joined us.”

I turned and saw them standing there. The secret monsters that no one would believe existed.

The stuffed animals were bigger here than they were in my house. There were six of them. No, seven. Comfy came around from behind the others and ran up to me, grabbing onto my leg and hugging for dear life.

The lead animal had a scar on its face and grinned. Its—his—mouth opened and he kept talking.

I no longer felt like I was losing my mind.

“Hey, Bill. I don’t know how you can see us. Only the cuddlers—small, loving children—can really see us. But you can see us too. Maybe ‘cause you’re innocent, or more likely, because you relate to children so well and act as a guardian. I told you the first time I met you. You ain’t insane.”

He gestured to either side, where the other animals stood quietly, unthreatening.

“We’ve stood in defence of the children for an eternity. We protect them from the terrors under their beds. But sometimes we fail or are overrun. Those children grow up and become human night terrors. That is what you are dealing with now. Something about the city, somewhere inside the limits, something is calling them. That’s why they are coming this way and you see more of them. The rules are simple. Humans cannot see us and we are not supposed to affect the adult world.”

Scar gestured sharply. “Screw that! My little one was taken away from a loving family and me. I could have made a difference! But the rules.”

He looked down and rubbed his paws together. Then he looked up at me. For a stuffed animal, he had an expressive face.

“So Bill, I am here breaking the rules with a few others. All the other guardians will talk to us, quietly, where they can’t be seen doing it. You have a huge snitch network now that will provide you all the intel on what is going on in the city. And sometimes, when you need us, ‘cause you’ll fail otherwise… Sometimes I can act. Like that guy in the basement.”

I exploded. “You hacked that guy to pieces!” Then I sort of deflated; that little boy had been about to have bad things happen and I wouldn’t have been there in time.

Scar shrugged. “Get me an AK and lotsa ammo and I’ll make it work. We just agreed we wanted to meet with you. We got your back. Now save those kids.”

I woke up with a snap. I felt stiff and irritable in the chair. There was a lump in my side. I pulled Scar out from where he had been pushed into my side. In the early light I could see his grin.

I could smell fresh coffee and toast.

I hadn’t put the coffee pot on.

I shivered as I got up and prepared to face the day.

***

&Tom is a Dad&, Husband, Reservist, Realtor and Author. Life does NOT get much busier with all of that! Make sure to follow and find out more of what is coming down the pipe! Find his books and get on his mailing list at TomGermannAuthor.com.

8

Monster in the Room

Alexa Grave – Humor

A nice, long, luxurious bath. That’s all I can think of as I insert my key into my apartment door lock. And when I say long, I mean three hours at least. Hey, what do you expect? I am a sea nymph.

But I realize that’s not meant to be when I step into the living room to find it filled, up to the cathedral ceiling, with a monster. I drop my keys.

All I want is to relax after working the strip club’s early shift. Fine by me — it’s less crowded in the afternoon, which means fewer men ogling my fake goodies. Fake as in illusions, not plastic surgery. My normal seashell-covered breasts don’t appeal to most humans, so I have to whip up a little Immortal World magic.

The two nitwit fairies are trick-or-treating with my best not-so-giant giant friend, Syndago. Having those drunken, naked mood killers out of my hair is a rarity.

At least I think they’re gone. “Tamor? Tamara? Are you here? Is this your monster?” Probably their idea of a joke. “Trying to make your pal Grinka explode a few light bulbs for your entertainment?” My little power of destruction is raring to go, as always. Though the monster’s already shattered the ceiling lamp.

The fairies don’t know the definition of quiet, so if they’re hiding, I’d hear giggling. Nothing. Not even a peep from the monster. But it stares at me with large red eyes. Bloodshot whites match well with the shade of its irises.

“So, Mr. Monster. Why exactly are you in my living room?” Guess I should have greeted him when I first walked in. I’ve been hanging around the fairies too long — they have no manners. And I think it’s a he. Always hard to tell with monsters. Too much fur. This one’s shaggy coat is a lovely shade of olive. Reminds me of barf.

The monster shifts his feet. All ten claws scratch the hardwood and his ample ass knocks the TV off its stand. Great. I just replaced that last week — the fairies destroy at least one a month. He doesn’t reply, though.

Rude.

“Hey, buddy, watch the horns. I don’t need matching gouges in the ceiling.” I wave my hands frantically. “Those maze-like twists you got look wicked.” At least they aren’t anywhere near me. Even if I can’t die, being skewered by a horn hurts like hell. Well, I assume it does. Never had actual experience with that. Came close with a unicorn once, though.

His gaze follows my gestures, but he keeps his silence.

What’s up with this idiot? I mean, I don’t know a lot of monsters. They’re a part of the Immortal World, a world I fled — New York is so much better — but usually they keep to themselves. They’re immortal recluses. So why is one in my apartment?

The urge to blow stuff up wanes. It’s hard to stay angry when you’re facing a monster with claws the size of your head. For once in my pathetic sea nymph existence, I don’t feel the need to explode a light bulb. Nope.

Time to admit I’m scared shitless.

I laugh, and even I hear my nerves. “Okay, it was nice meeting you. I have plans, so it’s about time you head out.” Not like I have any hope the monster will leave just because I ask.

He wiggles his pointy nose, throws his head back, then sneezes, a droplet smacking into my aqua hair. Ew. Now I really need a bath.

“Gesundheit.” At least I found my manners.

The monster blinks and wipes his nose with a furry, claw-tipped finger.

Not even a thank you. Hmph.

But my annoyance is drowned out by a panic pounding in my head. Is his goal to stare me to death? Immortals supposedly can’t die, and Syndago’s tried almost every way imaginable without success, but I’m getting the creeping feeling this monster holds the secret and will enact it on me at any moment.

Now he’s got me thinking crazy. Really? The secret to immortal death? What, is he the Grim Reaper barf-colored monster? I squeak. That sounds too believable right now.

Well, if I’m going to die without being able to share the secret with poor Syndago, I’m not going to go quietly. Not my style. “You’re freaking me out, Mr. Monster! Look, if you’re going to eat me or whatever you’ve got going on in that fluffy, horned head of yours, just get it over with. I can’t handle any more!”

The monster grins, rows of sharp teeth gleaming. And yes, I mean rows. Like a shark.

Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut.

“Happy Halloween!” he bellows.

I jump, then pat myself to make sure I’m still in my skin.

“This Monster Gram was from Raina. She wishes you a joyful and scary holiday.”

He’s got the scary right.

The monster leans down and lowers his voice. “Sorry about the snot. I got allergies.” Then he rights himself and smiles that sharp-toothed grin again. “If you liked this Monster Gram and would like to hire us, please contact Gravel in the Monster Caves realm. Thank you and have a good day!”

Guess the monsters are coming out of their caves and becoming entrepreneurs. First time for everything.

“Off I go to the next job.” He blinks out of existence, the sofa cushions rustling as he disappears. Don’t ask me why, but furniture is the preferred way of travel between the Immortal World and this one.

I plop on the floor, trying to get ahold of myself. Hell, I don’t even have the energy to explode a light bulb as a reminder of my angry sea nymph status. At least the fairies and Syndago aren’t here to see my humiliation. Small favors.

Raina. My teen sister has an awful sense of humor. I’ll make sure to send her a bill for the TV and lamp, but not until after that much needed bath. I have monster snot to wash out of my hair.

***

&Alexa Grave loves& to tell stories — it just so happens her characters occasionally take her on an unexpected ride. Most of what she writes is dark fantasy, but she enjoys her attempts at the humorous side of things. It’s not odd to find romance within her fantasy as well. Discover her books and get on her mailing list at AlexaGrave.com.

9

The Reanimated Reunion Tour

Cora Buhlert – Humor

Good evening and welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight only, for a special Halloween performance, we at Necromancy Entertainment Unlimited are pleased to present you a true sensation unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. For today, we present you… the Undead Tenors.

In life, they were the greatest opera singers of their respective times, some of the most amazing voices ever heard by human ears. And now, for the very first time, they appear together on stage in a reunion tour unlike any other.

So get ready to meet the Undead Tenors.

First, we have Anselmo Colosi, one greatest lyric basso profundos ever. His Osmin and Sarastro were the toast of Salzburg and his Baron Ochs rocked the Vienna opera house. His voice is no longer quite what it was, considering that half his ribcage has rotted away, but his vocal cords are still intact. So give a big hand to… Anselmo Colosi, as he shuffles on stage.

Watch out, Anselmo, you’re losing bits of rotting flesh again. And those were brand new shoes.

And here comes Vittorio Davoli, the baritone with the devil’s smile and an angel’s voice, who played all the great villains and tragic heroes of the Italian opera. His Scarpia stunned the Scala, his Count Luna shocked the Met, his Rigoletto made La Fenice cry. Due to an unfortunate accident involving a guillotine during a production of Andre Chenier, he has to carry his head under his arm, but his voice is still as wonderful as ever. So let’s hear some applause for… Vittorio Davoli.

Careful, Vittorio, you’re drooling again. Honestly, how the hell can a severed head drool?

Our next Undead Tenor — and an actual tenor for once — is Sebastian Unterhöllerer, one of the greatest buffo tenors ever to grace the opera and operetta stages of the world. He played Gabriel von Eisenstein in Johann Strauss’ classic operetta The Bat for ten New Year’s Eves straight. He was the handsomest Sigismund of them all at the White Horse Inn, his Papageno was a revelation and his Pedrillo stole the show in every production of The Abduction from the Seraglio he was in. So let’s hear it for… Sebastian Unterhöllerer.

Yes, that’s fine, Sebastian. Just stand right next to Anselmo. And no, I don’t care if he threatened to garrotte you once. You’re both dead — it isn’t as if he could kill you again.

And this tall blond — well, at least he used to be blond, but seems he’s gone bald in death — gentleman here is Wieland Wohlrabe, once the foremost heroic tenor in the world. He was a regular at Bayreuth and played all the great heroic Wagner roles. He was Siegfried and Siegmund, Tannhäuser and Lohengrin, Tristan and Parzifal. He requested to be buried in his Lohengrin armour and would probably have worn it for tonight’s performance, if it hadn’t gone rusty while Wieland here was pushing up daisies…

Wait a minute, what? A swan. No, we don’t have a swan for you to ride, Wieland. And no, I don’t care if you floated onto the scene on a swan at the Bregenz festival once, riding a swan on stage is absurd. Yes, even more absurd than an undead zombie tenor. And if you don’t like it, you’re free to cancel your contract and go back to being wormfodder.

Where was I? Oh yes, let’s have some applause for… Wieland Wohlrabe.

Finally, I’m proud to present you Lionel da Silva, probably the finest lyrical tenor — shut up, Wieland, I said lyrical, not heroic — of all time. He was Belmonte and Tamino, Alfredo and Rodolfo and the loveliest sopranos swooned in his arms, both on stage and off, before expiring of consumption — on stage only, of course. And then later, he expanded his career — yes, I said expanded, Vittorio, cause Lionel’s career wasn’t fading, and anyway, he’s not the one who’s carrying his head under his arm — and did a rock meets opera tour that sold out in twenty-seven cities worldwide. He rocked stadiums, performed at the Superbowl and the Olympics. So let’s hear it for superstar tenor Lionel da Silva.

Yes, I said superstar, cause Lionel is the only name those lowbrow idiots down there in the audience actually know. Or do you think anybody actually listens to Wagner voluntarily, Wieland? And operetta is completely passé, Sebastian. And no, I don’t care how often you killed him on stage, Vittorio. You played the villain, so it was your job.

What, you threatened to garrotte Lionel, too? What is it about you and threatening to garrotte people, Anselmo? Oh, that was in your great aria in The Abduction from the Seraglio? They write arias about garrotting people now?

That’s Mozart, you say? Seems to me Mozart was something of a psychopath then. And anyway, I thought opera was supposed to be highbrow entertainment, not a low-grade horror movie. Yes, I’m aware how ridiculous that sounds coming from someone who’s putting a bunch of rotting zombies on stage.

By the way, Anselmo, about that garrotting aria… would you mind singing it on stage later? Cause I’m sure the audience will lap it right up. Just try not to… you know… actually kill someone. Or at least kill them again.

Okay, Wieland, you got me there. I confess I don’t actually know anything about opera except what I looked up on Wikipedia. I’m just a necromancer trying to make an honest buck here. And anyway, no one really cares about opera these days. What the audience wants is a spectacle, so let’s give ‘em a spectacle.    

Ahem… anyway, ladies and gentlemen, here they are, for the first time ever together on stage. They may look a bit rotten and they may smell a bit ripe, but they’ve still got it. The greatest voices — if not of our century, then the last — reanimated for your pleasure.

So let’s welcome Anselmo Colosi, Vittorio Davoli, Sebastian Unterhöllerer, Wieland Wohlrabe and Lionel de Silva. Together they are… the Undead Tenors.

Yes, I know that only three of you are actually tenors. It’s just a name, okay. And besides, it’s not as if any of those proles would know the difference.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you enjoyed tonight’s show, I guarantee that you’ll love our next program, when we at Necromancy Entertainment Unlimited present you the Undead Divas, the greatest opera divas that ever lived, reanimated for one special posthumous reunion tour.

But for now, here are the Undead Tenors with “Va, pensiero” by the one and only Giuseppe Verdi.

What do you mean, you forgot the lyrics? Dead or not, how the hell can you forget the lyrics? Well, just sing something. I don’t care what. After all, it’s not as if the audience will know the difference.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the Undead Tenors with… well, whatever.  

***

[&Cora Buhlert was born& and bred in North Germany, where she still lives today — after time spent in London, Singapore, Rotterdam and Mississippi. Cora holds an MA degree in English from the University of Bremen and is currently working towards her PhD. Cora has been writing, since she was a teenager, and has published stories, articles and poetry in various international magazines. She is the author of the _]Silencer[ series of pulp style thrillers, the ]Shattered Empire[ space opera series, the ]In Love and War[ science fiction romance series, the ]Helen Shepherd Mysteries[ and plenty of standalone stories in multiple genres. When Cora is not writing, she works as a translator and teacher. Find her books and get on her mailing list at CoraBuhlert.com._]

Part II

Horror

10

Shades of Hell

Eli Nixon – Horror

Wanda and McClintock retreated to the wheelhouse, Wanda to monitor the video feeds and McClintock to sneak a plug of whiskey from the paper bag beneath the captain’s chair. I was the last person to drop into the water. The newly discovered monument waited beneath the waves. We were the first people to explore it.

I thought of Marianne as I drifted into the tepid, top-lit blues and greens that encroached on the shores of Yonaguni Island. Here, in the first meters of the sea, light and darkness mingled as old friends, parted lovers. Here, in the weightless climes, arcane forces fiddled with perception. The sky was a ceiling of rippled glass at my feet, inverted and disorienting, a barrier between sea and air. The forms of Sven and Meadows, of Amanda, my colleagues, swam in the darkness above me. I was not falling, but rising. Paddling smoothly into a dark sky.

Hell above, heaven below.

And falling from hell, shapes began to appear in the water.

&Thump&.

The noise startled me from sleep, yanked against the comforting lull of the ship’s motions. I listened for it to repeat itself so that I could discern its source, and again came the muffled knock on wood from above me, on deck.

Thump.

The sound was familiar, yet the memory of its origin evaded me, slipped away with the tattered remnants of my slumber. Perhaps the others would investigate, I thought, although I heard no searching footsteps, no questioning calls.

I would do it then. As I swung my feet to the rough planking, my dream came back to me, Marianne, young, in university. I remember her in hues; blues and oceanic greens, white skin and dark hair, the dynamic orange of sunsets.

The bunk above me was occupied, I saw, by Sven, so deep in sleep as to appear dead. His arm dangled, rocking with the gentle waves. No, not so as to appear dead. Dead. A chill raked my spine. Blood caked the swinging arm. The creature had come in the night to finish the job. It spared me. Why?

Thump.

The bunk room was brightly lit by a swinging electric lamp bolted to the ceiling. Blood covered my sheets, my own arms. Was it still alive? Unfamiliar with the rocking waves, I stumbled into the stairway beyond, clambered onto deck where the moon shone silver. The air smelled of salt. It dried my throat, clung painfully to my skin.

Captain McClintock lolled on the deck beside the retaining wall, brown paper bag in one hand, fire ax in the other. His detached head rested on the deck astride the ax, single eye gleaming in the moonshine. At the sight, fear overcame me. What had we awoken in the deep? It had followed us to the ship. Damned fools we’d been!

Thump.

I armed myself with McClintock’s ax and ventured deeper amidships, one unwilling footstep at a time, shivering at the thought of the horrors ahead. The raised wheelhouse loomed, casting blankets of darkness which yawned to swallow me with black teeth. It was becoming hard to breathe.

Thump.

Was it wounded? Had we managed that much? Was the grotesque beast itself the source of the frantic, muffled pounding? Closer I came, stepping into the shadows beneath the wheelhouse… and stumbled over a soft form slick with oil. The ax tumbled from my grip, my hands slipped in the viscous puddle. I crashed down on the hateful form and stared into the wide, terrified eyes, frozen in death, of Reverend Meadows. His hands clutched a wooden crucifix to his chest, his mouth carved into a horrifying grimace.

…and all the shades of Hell are awake before you…

Thump.

My fingers reached desperately for the ax, now bathed in Reverend Meadows’s blood. As I was. In our blood, in our guilt. Dear God, what had we done?

Past the shadow of the wheelhouse, the bow deck was a shimmer of silvery light. The creature was not in sight. It was hunting me.

Thump.

I could see now the source of the sound. A long wooden locker on the bow, used for storing gear on the little fishing vessel, shook with each iteration.

“Marianne,” I whispered, hissed.

Wanda Everett, who’d organized our scientific expedition, was nailed to the front of the locker with arms outstretched. Crucified. Her torso bent against the deck, legs splayed away from the box. Alive. Her throat rasped a single word, lost to the ocean breeze.

A demon of dark intelligence. It was a trap, designed to lure me into the open. Even now the beast would be slipping around the wheelhouse to catch me from behind. My skin felt dry, scaly in the salty air.

Thump.

Marianne.

At risk of my own death, I had to save her. My footsteps were light across the decking, moving easily now with the rocking of the ship. At my approach, Wanda’s eyes widened in fear. The creature! Behind me! I swung, ax raised, to an empty ship.

A thump, and a muffled scream.

Ignoring the old woman’s fearful whimpers, I reached for the latch of the wooden locker. Marianne…

No, no this wasn’t right. I didn’t recognize the young woman in the box. That was not my Marianne.

“Please, Ben… please…” the creature in the box whispered.

Putrid beast.

I closed the lid, reengaged the lock. Her whispers turned to screams behind me, fists pounded the wooden lid. This air… it suffocated me. The deep beckoned. Whatever had taken up residence inside me yearned for its home.

For the first time, I took notice of my hand. The skin had become mottled, green. Black claws curved from shrinking fingertips.

With one talon, I slit the throat of the creature nailed to the box, finishing it. My secret was safe. I could sleep again.

I slipped over the railing and swam into the comforting blackness, my own memories already fading as the demon fully became me. A single sound followed my descent, though soon even that faded.

Thump.

***

[&Eli Nixon is& the author of the sci-fi series _]Son of Tesla[ and the zombie horror series ]Heartland Junk[. He has a dark place in his heart for that rare and beautiful mix of horror and sci-fi. Find his books and get on his mailing list at andrewhandley5.wixsite.com._]

11

Monsters Like Us

Jeanette Raleigh – Horror

The chasm between who I am and who I long to be seems insurmountable.

I am a monster.

Those words don’t have the same power to me that they might say, to a human. It’s the same as saying, “I’m a meat-eater,” to a vegetarian. Even a meat-eater watches the cow-killing videos in horror before their trip to the local burger joint, but the cow must feel a special kind of horror, personal and intense.

It was a Saturday night, dark and full of possibility. I strolled along huge sidewalks made small by the tall steel buildings overshadowing them. At this time of night humans (at least the smart ones) sought shelter while those with a taste for blood hunted.

A young woman, a child to my centuries, with a fresh face and jaunty walk held hands with a fellow whose brains were severely outmatched by his need to show off. She caught my eye and fearfully leaned in to whisper, “We need to get off the street.”

He laughed, the poor fool, and said, “All of those videos are fake. It’s just a way to scare people into staying home. Come on, we’re having an adventure.”

“I want to go home.” She wasn’t petulant or childish when she spoke. If anything, it was an honest request brought on by an intelligence that scanned her surroundings and saw…danger.

Me.

I’m the shadow that threatens their cozy existence. She was right to fear me.

She leaned in and I saw her finger pointing my way.

He ignored her and said, “Come on. We just got here. We have to see the bridge. You can’t chicken out now.”

With reluctance, she walked with her boyfriend. They were holding hands. It was sweet, like watching a pair of lambs gambol in a field. That didn’t make the lamb chops any less tasty when put on the dinner table, but they were cute, nonetheless.

I stalked them to the bridge. My hunting grounds crossed those of a half dozen other night terrors who lived in the cities feeding off of humanity. Urban legend said that anyone who saw the bridge at night would die. Urban legend wasn’t far off the mark.

“Terry, pay attention,” He tugged on her hand a bit.

She was sensitive, that one. Her eyes roamed the nooks and crannies, the shadowy corners of the buildings looking for me. My gift left me ten feet in the air, watching from the balcony of an Italian bistro that closed promptly at nine.

“There’s something out there,” she said. She pulled her hand out of his and turned, searching for the danger she knew existed. “I want to go back.”

He smirked at her, the pompous, arrogant smile of a guy who knows too much at eighteen. I wanted to slurp that grin off his face. When he mocked Terry’s fear, I felt sorry for her.

“I’m going back to the car.” Terry walked away from her boyfriend, thinking he would follow.

With a shrug, he called her back and handed her the keys and continued on his path toward the bridge. I briefly wondered if the vampires had awakened yet. I am not a vampire. My species aren’t well-known and don’t have a name. Yes, we drink blood, but we aren’t the fiction favorite known for showmanship or false declarations of love.

We hardly registered in the shock videos people post, most of which are discounted with the same vehemence as a UFO video. It amuses me that people assume monsters are incapable of using technology. It has been my observation that the predator has a higher intelligence than the prey, but that may be personal bias.

The young woman watched her boyfriend walk away. Terry. My meal had a name. She straightened her shoulders and turned, her eyes frantically scanning every shadow for a monster. I let her pass my hiding place. Her shoulders tightened, just a fraction, but I could see her fear, and then as if she felt me watching, she ran.

Again, I followed across deserted streets until she turned into the parking garage. Glancing over her shoulder, Terry searched for me. I know she could feel me and suffered that cold, clammy fear knowing with base instinct that some shadowy creature watched her.

I almost let her go. I nearly turned back to hunt her boyfriend. It was the right thing to do, to reward Terry and punish the boyfriend for leaving her alone, but I am neither parent nor teacher, and I seldom do the right thing.

I let my form shift into the dark mist of my kind. You’ve heard of the hag that sits on a person’s chest and drinks their essence while they sleep? That hag is a distant cousin, an offshoot monster who lets her prey live.

Sinking into the parking garage, I found Terry unlocking the door with shaking hands. She smelled like adrenaline. She smelled like pure fear.

With a sigh, I drew closer. She smelled so good. She tasted better.

Climbing into the car, she closed the door with a sigh of relief and locked it up tight. I let the mist of my being sink through the roof of the car, surrounding her and drowning her in her own terror.

I killed her with the same cold satisfaction of a thirty-year old woman biting into a cheeseburger and groaning with pleasure. With her last drop of blood drained, I lifted away, a shadowy darkness with no remorse.

I let the wind blow me away from the city into the suburbs where I would sleep.

I am a meat-eater. I am a monster.

As I said, the chasm seems nearly insurmountable.

***

[&Jeanette Raleigh is not a vegetarian&, but can empathize with the cows she loves to eat. For a gripping tale about four Elemental sisters, try _]Elemental Rage: A Time to Kill.[ Find her books and get on her mailing list at jeanetteraleigh.wordpress.com._]

12

Hero

George Donnelly – Zombie Horror

I am their hero. I feed them when they’re hungry. I clothe them when they’re cold. I kill the beasts when they threaten them.

Maria and Josh, that is. My wife and baby boy. The loves of my life.

A beast’s fingers clawed at the blacktop where I dropped him before. I drew and turned those digits into zeros.

Bastard monsters. We had a life. Not this one. Before.

Green lawns, children squealing, fruit salad on the deck and a quickie before work. I did things then, meaningful work. I employed thousands and healed millions.

I had to move them. I kicked a rotten liver out of my way and took up watch with my back to them. I’ll die in this last stand. I’ll die before letting—

No.

Now I was an animal not unlike these monsters, products of the corporation I founded. The fountainhead of all my good fortune turned to a cistern of decomposing shit with razor claws and chomping teeth, hungry for me and mine. All because I trusted the wrong man.

The beasts rustled and scratched both from the north and the south. Ahead of me, rusting cars piled up between us and Lake Michigan to the east, the buildings of downtown Chicago I once admired from my seventy-sixth floor now a funnel that concentrated the stinking hungry hordes.

Behind me—

No.

A beast stumbled around the corner between a blown out bus and a fire-blackened hatchback.

“When will you stop! What must you take from me? What do you want?”

More poured over the Jeep and Tesla I’d arranged as a makeshift wall on the other side. Leering, lidless eyes, flapping rags smeared with liquefied organs. The stench assulted my nose, a choking miasma. My heart thumped in my throat and my mouth went dry.

It happened just like this the day I flew her on my Gulfstream to Paris with that question on my mind. My throat closed and my tongue stopped working at the critical moment.

But she said “Yes” before I could get the words out. That’s Maria. Knows what I want before I can put it into words. The perfect team. That’s what we were.

A mass of the sick bastards turned the corner off of Michigan Avenue from the south and stumble-sprinted toward me. A small group from the north merged into them.

I had to move them. I turned. But…

No.

I snatched the detonator off of my belt, twisted it and prepared to plunge carbon fiber steel into the ignition switch.

Maria and Josh moved behind me, their plastic parkas scraping and crackling.

“Just be still. Just wait!”

The hordes converged and became one all-biting, all-screaming mass, their bulging eyes universally on me, hungry, aching, consuming me in their twisted minds’ eyes.

The first ones passed the lines. My hand twitched, dirty, nails uncut, not unlike those of the beasts. Hold, man. Hold, if ever there was a time to exercise patience it was now.

Maria groaned behind me. I felt their fear, despite the—

I slammed my hands together like a single clap, the last applauding I might ever do for this world, in appreciation not just for Maria’s soul-love but also in grudging admiration for the ingenious depths of hopelessness that stalked me at ever step.

The line of grenades exploded as one, the shockwave throwing body parts and blood into the air like the spray of an ocean wave, wrecking everything ahead of it, cleaning, clearing and preparing the way for new life.

The shrapnel came next, razoring through the rotten flesh, clinking into the skyscraper steel and catching in the oozing August blacktop.

I reached into my back pocket for my handkerchief and wiped their filth from me.

Far away, more of the beasts rumbled, like a distant thunderstorm. They’d be here soon and I had nothing now but my Glock 23 and a half-dozen Hornady rounds we’d scavenged from a rotting cop.

The world grew clearer. The air turned crisper and each rise of my lungs lasted an eternity.

It was time to decide.

“You have to choose. We can save the mother or the baby. Not both.”

The doctor’s words burned in my mind like the funeral pyres that were the cities after the outbreak. But even that decision hardly compared to this one. Then, at least, I was guaranteed one of them. Now… I turned.

No.

The hordes assembled again, hungrier this time, arms outstretched, sprinting, teeth mashing.

Maria and Josh are my everything. But this was different now. This was about me. I can’t do— not like— But not alone. Not without—

I wanted the world to end. Again. This time for me, too.

But what if there was something else? What if I was needed? What if there was still some respite to be had?

I turned.

Josh crawled in slow-motion, his baby-blue cotton hoodie blood-soaked, his eyes white.

Maria lay next to him, her womb cooking on the hot cement, the smell… I mustn’t forget that smell. It’s all I had left.

I burned the image into my mind. I wanted to remember the cost of failure. The cost of my screwup, the only one that mattered. I wanted it to hurt. The pain must never end.

Because I was their hero. And then I failed them.

My Glock shook. I exposed Josh’s brain to the cruel summer air. I did the same for Maria.

I stepped over them, and moved on.

***

&George Donnelly is& the author of space opera, robot apocalypse and dystopian science fiction series. A rebel and unreformed idealist, he believes equally in human rights and abundant hugs before bedtime. Get a new free short story every month at GeorgeDonnelly.com.

13

Monsters are Everywhere

John D. Ottini – Horror

I finish applying makeup and I stare out of my bedroom window at the street below. It’s Halloween night and the neighborhood ghosts and ghouls are just beginning to hit the streets.

I hear a soft knock on my bedroom door as it opens.

“Hey Dad. What’s up?”

My Father stares at me and says, “Aren’t you getting a bit too old to be trick or treating?”

“Actually, I’m dressing up for Johnny Finn’s Halloween party. I told Mom about it last week.”

The look on my Father’s face tells me this is news to him.

“Anyway, your Mother and I are going to New York City for a mini-vacation and the Kennedys have offered to look in on you while we’re away.”

“I’m fifteen Dad! I don’t need anyone looking in on me.” Especially Mr. Kennedy.

“We’d feel a lot better if the Kennedys kept an eye on you and besides, you’re not as old as you think.”

“Seriously, Dad. You joined the military when you were sixteen.”

“That was different.”

“How was that different?”

“Those where different times, son.”

“Different times?”

“Back when I was your age, we didn’t have the crime we have today. There weren’t murderers, rapists and pedophiles on the news every night. We didn’t have monsters lurking around every street corner.”

“You’re exaggerating, Dad.”

“I don’t think so, Pete.”

“Well, what about Sara? Why can’t she look in on me?”

“Your sister’s away at college. You can’t expect her to drive back just to watch you? What’s up between you and Mr. Kennedy? Ever since you walked out on Boy Scouts two years ago—”

I raise my hand in defeat and say, “Never mind, Dad.” You wouldn’t believe me anyway.

He gives me a confused look. “I don’t understand you, Peter. Mr. Kennedy and I go back many years, we were in the military together, he’s your godfather, he’s my best friend—”

I cut him off abruptly. “I know Dad. I’ve heard the story a hundred times… I get it!”

“Don’t get smart with me, young man.”

“Oh, so now I’m a man!”

My Father gives me a stern look and shakes his finger in my face. “That petulant attitude won’t get you anywhere! I came here to tell you that the Kennedys are going to keep an eye on you while we’re gone. Subject closed. Discussion over!” He slams the door and leaves.

The subject was never up for discussion and it’s definitely not closed. Not yet, anyway.

I take one last glance at my zombie costume in the mirror and reach under my shirt to feel the cold metal against my skin. “Dad was wrong. I do have one last Trick left in me.”

Before leaving the house, Mom intercepts me at the front door.

“Why must you always upset your father?” She says with a defiant look on her face.

“Why do you always take his side?”

“He’s my husband—”

“I’m your son, damn it!”

My burst of anger catches her by surprise and she almost spills her drink. “Watch your mouth, young man. I see what’s going on here.”

“I swear, you’re as bad as Dad. You only see what you want to see.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

I shake my head and say, “Nothing. I’m late for the party. I gotta go.”

I waste no time walking across the street to the Kennedys’ house. I ring the doorbell and my nightmare appears, dressed in his scout uniform.

He smiles at me and says, “Hello Pete. It looks like you and I are going to be spending some quality time together.” Then he laughs and reaches down the front of his pants. “Your old friend misses you.”

“Treat or Trick?” You sick bastard.

“Ooh, you know how much he loves your treats. What do you have for him tonight?” He says wiggling the front of his pants..

“Treat it is, Mr. K.”

I hesitate for just a moment. Then in one clumsy motion, I pull my Dad’s gun from under my shirt and point it in the direction of Mr. Kennedy’s face. My hands are shaking like crazy, but I manage to pull the trigger and the shot strikes him in the forehead.

I hear Mrs. Kennedy’s terrified scream just before I drop the gun and I run back towards my house.

Dad meets me in the driveway and asks. “What the hell was that?”

“Mr. Kennedy seems to have lost his head.” I reply with a weird and wicked laugh.

“What? I thought you were going to the Finns’ house?”

“You changed my mind.”

He grabs my shoulders and begins shaking me. “You’re not making any sense.”

“I shot Mr. Kennedy.”

An incredulous look crosses his face. “Why in the world would you do something like that?”

Tears stream down my cheeks. “One less monster on the streets, Dad.”

***

&John D. Ottini& currently resides in Central Florida with his wife and a mischievous kitty named Bella. Find his books and get on his mailing list at jdonovels.wordpress.com.

14

Hounds

Heather Biedermann – Horror

“Right on time.” The woman with the silver hair and shining blue eyes opened the heavy wooden door.

Jake Kincaide smiled easily as he stepped inside. The large stone house was nestled in a dark forgotten woods. The nearest neighbor had to be over ten miles away, and the whole property was surrounded by a large stone fence. He was lucky the directions were so good, or he never would have found the gate, an ivy-draped entry that seemed intentionally easy to miss. “Glad to meet you, Mrs. Rochester,” he said and shook her tiny delicate hand.

“Oh, please call me Mina,” the woman said warmly.

The house was brightly lit with soft furnishings and happy pictures of children playing on the walls. There were Halloween jack-o’-lanterns decorating tables. A pie was baking somewhere and Jake felt instantly at home. An unusual painting of a woman whose face was half skeletal blue and half beautiful pink skin was on the wall. Mina saw Jake looking at the painting and she started to explain it’s meaning.

“That is the goddess Hel,” Mina said.

“Like Hell and the Devil?!” Jake asked.

She sighed and shook her head. “No, like Hel, from the Norse stories. H-E-L. She rules the underworld.”

Jake shrugged and tried to fake appreciation. He honestly didn’t care at all about history and trite ancient religions.

“May I take your coat? Would you like a beverage?” she asked.

“Oh, nothing to drink for me.” He slipped his coat off his tall frame. “I’m just excited to see the dogs. How about we get to it?”

Mina nodded. “Hounds. Before we see them, I need to ask you a few questions. These animals are very special to me, and I don’t let just anyone come see them. Much less, to find a home for their pups.”

Jake, an agent for the USDA in the Center for Animal Welfare, found the ad on an exotic animals website that was sometimes used by the criminal element looking to sell illegal animals to private buyers. He couldn’t believe this grandma in front of him was a criminal though.

“So, from your post to me, you said that you were looking for special animals to care for?” A faint howl sounded from not too far away.

Jake nodded.

“Good, good,” she continued, “Now tell me, Jake, have you ever cared for big animals? I’m talking maybe the size of a tiger or small bear?”

“I used to work for an educational animal park up in North Dakota, and regularly took care of bears when I was there” That was a lie.

“Perfect! Do you have a lot of space for a pair of large animals to run around?”

“I live on a farm about thirty miles from here. Lots of space for animals to run, and a sturdy fence to keep them in,” he said.

She nodded. “That is so important, to keep them safe from outsiders. You also need lots of fresh meat to feed them. This is critical. You are serving a noble cause. These beauties grow quickly and are quite dangerous to outsiders.”

Jake pushed a little more. “How much are you asking for the dogs? I mean, I don’t want to waste your time if I’m in the wrong ballpark.”

“We don’t talk price until after you meet them. You will see what I mean once you do. Are you still interested?”

He nodded, but was starting to feel confused. “But these are dogs? I mean, sure they eat meat, but how much special care do they really need?”

Her face turned serious. “If you get the calling to the hounds, it becomes your purpose in life. The hounds are everything.”

He remembered his ex Tammy had been obsessed with her cats. She made up funny voices for the cats and had them say ridiculous things to him. Those little monsters always clawed the hell out of him and dropped decapitated mice in his shoes. No amount of crazy cat lady sex was worth that. He remembered that Tammy always said the cats were everything to her, too. It made his skin crawl.

“Of course, they are everything to me.” He lied and put his hand on top of hers. “We are servants to our pets after all.”

She obviously heard what she wanted from him and stood up. “The hounds will meet you now, Jake. But I warn you, that they are dazzling to everyone who encounters them. Astounding really. Please try to stay calm. Let them come up to you. If they like you, you will know it immediately. We always say, let the hounds choose their human companions. It works out best for everyone. Do not feel badly if you are not chosen. It doesn’t happen for everyone.”

They walked down the hall to a large metal door with a complex latch. It was out of place for an old house like this. Mina swung it open and he saw deep scratch marks on the side of the door to the basement. They walked down stone steps, and down another long, brightly lit hallway. At the end was a second metal door, this one dented on the inside as if something had hit it repeatedly. This room had Norse runes all over the walls, although he had no idea what they could mean.

Mina fiddled with the latches and the door opened with a metallic groan. The lights were dim in this room. The illumination from behind them flooded in and suddenly two sets of eyes blinked in the darkest corner of the room.

“Skoll! Hati!” Mina called out. She let out a whistle and the two hounds approached, their claws clicking on the stone floor. What came out of the darkness was more than astonishing. These were no dogs, but instead giant monstrosities. Thick, black, mottled fur covered their bodies. They were each five feet tall and rippling with muscles. Their feet had sharp claws like those of a tiger. Most disconcerting however were their giant yellow fangs and glowing ruby eyes that froze him in place.

Skoll and Hati walked up to Jake and sniffed him. His heart quickened and sweat dripped down his brow. He smiled at them, and raised his hand up to their noses. “Good boys. Nice boys.”

The giant hounds sniffed at his hand and his hair and clothes. They panted and relaxed a bit. They sat on the floor and looked up to him.

“I bet they are adorable as puppies.”

“Those are the puppies, Jake. Their parents are out for a run on the grounds,” she said with a smile.

Jake’s head spun thinking about how big the full grown hounds would be.

“They are Vargs. Some call them Wargs or Helhounds,” said Mina.

Helhounds are born here on Earth, also called Midgard. They choose their human protectors and we care for them until they change to their spectral forms and go over the Rainbow Bridge. They then join the the pack, where they live at a place called the Hall of Hounds, which is ruled by the God Loki and his daughter Hel. As a reward for service, all protectors have a home in the afterlife at the Hall with the pack until the end of the world at the time of Ragnarok. It is the ultimate honor for one who loves animals as I do.”

[_What a nutcase! _]His eyes darted around the room and stopped at the food trough, where there was a pile of bloody bones. A glint of silver on a pair of shoes in the pile stood out. Out of one of the shoes a bloody leg stump protruded.  He gasped and backed away. “What the… Do they eat people?”

Mina nodded. “It’s usually cows, sheep, and chickens. But helhounds happen.”

“No way,” Jake started laughing in disbelief. “These can’t be real. Where are the cameras? This is obviously a joke.”

Jake walked up to one of the Helhounds and started to poke at it, looking for some sort of prosthetics or movie animatronics that would give away the con.

With that, a growling Helhound pounced up and bit off Jake’s probing hand. The other Helhound leaned in and took a chomp out of his leg. Jake fell to the ground sputtering in shock, trying to crawl away.

“Oh, Jake,” said MIna, “I was hopeful that when you saw my babies that you would fall in love too. I guess instead you will just have to be their dinner. This world is really going to the dogs, don’t you think?”

Mina laughed as she turned to walk out of the room. The door creaked shut and was bolted on the other side. The last thing Jake saw before passing out were two pairs of red glowing eyes leaning in as the yellow fangs began to rip at his flesh.

***

&Heather Biedermann is& a Viking librarian and an author of short stories. She is passionate about all things nerdy, travel, reading a good book, and glamping. She lives in Minnesota and is currently completing her first novel. Find her books and get on her mailing list at HeatherBiedermann.com.

15

Echoes in the Ether

George Donnelly – Horror

“Stop, please!” Leather cracked against bare flesh once more and I cringed.

“Enough of that.” The metal belt buckle clanked to the floor. The father grunted and air burst in a gaping gulp from the boy’s mouth.

“Dad, I can’t breathe.” I tried to guess his age. Not more than twelve, I thought.

“You’re shit. You’re not qualified to wipe your own ass. You’ll never amount to anything. I should just end—”

A sharp knock sounded at the door and Dr. Herzweil sauntered into my office.

I paused the audio stream.

“Jerry? On break again? We’re all waiting on you in the staff meeting right now.”

“I found it again, boss,” I said.

Dr. Herzweil paused in the doorway, his fingerprints fogging the glass window next to it. “I thought I was clear. The voice recordings from our apps are only appropriate for machine learning and analysis. You’re breaking our terms right now.”

“They agreed to the terms. The app is always listening. That’s how the voice search works.”

Dr. Herzweil threw up his hands. “Billions of terabytes of recordings and you found just one that… what? What’s—”

“It’s child abuse, Ted!” I jumped up from my chair and strode over to him, my chest and gut still aching from last week. “This is a kid, suffering. They are beating on him, with their fists, telling him— They might kill him! This is corporate eavesdropping and what are we doing it for if not to—”

“Delete it. Bury it. Forget about it. And get into the group meeting. Now!”

Somebody screamed. I looked down at my hands. Blood. I pulled chunks of glass from my knuckles and more tinkled to the floor. Dr. Herzweil disappeared.

&“Lincoln Park& and straight down the Kennedy. I’m from Chicago so I know where I’m going.”

“Lincoln Park, yes, sir. I take you there, no problem.” The cabdriver hit the ignition button and we floated as if on a cloud out of O’Hare and into the midnight traffic. The skyscrapers loomed there above the highway like so many metal monsters — I knew it, but the gloom and the rain kept me from seeing the truth for myself.

My ear buzzed. I answered, and immediately regretted it.

“You’re in Chicago and you’d better be coming to see me,” Mom screeched.

I searched for the off button. How the hell did she find out?

“I’m waiting up, you know. I’m keeping supper warm in the oven and your father is expecting you tomorrow for Thanksgiving dinner!”

“I’m busy, Mother. And my flight back to SFO is early, so, no.”

“Why don’t you talk to your father anymore?” she whispered.

“I just don’t want—”

“You’re breaking our hearts, Gerald.” Her voice cracked.

The driver turned up his steel drum music and flew right by the Diversey exit.

“I wanted to get off there!”

“Don’t yell! Why do you hate us? We fed you, educated you. We raised you with proper discipline and morals for eighteen years!”

“Sixteen. I left early. Remember, Mom?”

“You owe us, you nasty little brat. You never would have amounted to a damned thing without us wiping your snotty nose and keeping you on the straight—”

“Take Fullerton!” The cab swerved just ahead of the divider and we jetted down the off-ramp towards a yellow light.

“Mom, this is not a good time—”

“You won’t get anywhere without us. You’re nothing, you’re shit. You think you’re so good, don’t you? Your little job with your pathetic doctor? We can take that from you anytime we please. So get your rear-end over here, young man, otherwise we’ll have another little chat with Teddy Herzweil.”

The connection died and I jabbed at the phone controls.

“Hello?” The old man sounded friendly, familiar, too calm.

“Who’s this?”

“Gerry? Dr. Herzweil here. I’m worried about you, young man.”

“I’m—”

“Come on back, you’ll be much safer in our little ivory tower here. Sorry I spoke to your parents but you forced my hand.”

“Dr.—”

“See you soon.”

The line crackled. “To listen to this message again—”

&I rubbed& the two sides of the folded pink post-it against each other in my pocket. I finally had it. Yeah, I lied to the cable company. Told them I was a cop. It’s not important. Now just a quick stop and then back to work in Mountain View.

I replayed the audio in my earbuds and hugged my arms tighter to my chest. So much violence in this world, sometimes I wish I could just be someone else, in another city, on another planet with another name.

The icy Chicago wind tore through my pants and licked at my legs. Stupid of me to not bring a jacket but who needs one in California? This was my last time in Chicago. Too many bad memories here.

I pushed through the police station doors. Heat. The dry air scorched my throat.

“Yes, sir.” The police lady narrowed her eyes at me.

I slapped the post-it note onto her high desk. “There is a little boy being abused at this address. You need to do something about it. The parents have threatened to kill him. I was never here.” I took a step back.

The woman stood up, her grandmotherly voice holding me. “Wait just a minute, sir.”

I tapped my wrist. “I’ve got a flight, sorry! I did my part. Now you do yours. That little boy is waiting.”

“Sir!”

I turned and crashed headfirst into a barrel-chest with a Bears beanie. “Oh, sorry.” I stepped to the right and he moved into my path. I laughed, moved left and he blocked me again. “Excuse me!”

The woman appeared next to me, holding the pink note between two rainbow-colored fingernails. “How did you obtain this information, sir? Did you obtain it legally?”

“Just forget I was here!” I jammed my hands into barrel-chest. The exit doors came into view.

Meaty fingers clapped down on my neck and turned me around.

“I know my rights! You can’t detain me without probable—”

Barrel-chest tapped his ear. “Hospital gown, bloody hand, dark hair, blue eyes? Yeah, we’ve got your schizo here. You coming down for him or what?”

The wind whipped through my legs. Too cold. I looked down. Blood caked on my right hand. A blue and white hospital gown flapped above my knees. What the hell?

The grandmotherly cop shoved the post-it note in front of my nose. “2536 North Diversey. Isn’t that your address? Where you live with your parents?”

I stared at the note. 2536 Diversey. That’s where my parents live.

“Bruises. All over him,” someone said from behind me.

“Yeah, about about all these bruises and cuts? Maybe even a cracked rib?” Barrel-chest raised an eyebrow at me. “Did it to himself? Alright. A minor? Okay. His dad’s coming for him. Got it. He’ll be here.”

A chill ran down my spine and my knees buckled. My dad? No!

***

&George Donnelly is& the author of space opera, robot apocalypse and dystopian science fiction series. A rebel and unreformed idealist, he believes equally in human rights and abundant hugs before bedtime. Get a new free short story every month at GeorgeDonnelly.com.

16

Last One at the Door

Griffin Carmichael – Horror

Trick or treaters are so darn cute. Especially the little ones, the ones who can barely walk or are carried in their mother’s arms, all dressed up as clowns or pumpkins. Mostly they’re in big groups these days, because of the weirdness that some people get up to.

Can’t be too careful, as they say.

I’d pretty much given up on having any more callers at my door. It was getting late, so I turned off the porch light and went to settle down for a B movie horror fest. I was looking forward to eating all the leftover candy—full size bars, no skimping this night, at least—and getting in some classic Elvira camp.

I’d just gotten comfortable in my recliner when the bell rang. It was surprising, because not having a light on was a signal that the candy-grabbing event was over for the year.

Grunting, I set aside my glass of soda and the bowl with the candy. I’d gotten half-way to the door before I remembered it.

“Probably should bring that along,” I muttered. Darn tardy kids, I just knew it was going to cost me at least a handful of Snickers bars before all was said and done.

I grabbed the bowl and started back to the door. Unlike most kids, this group didn’t ring again. It was quiet outside, the only sound the low rumble from the TV. I flicked on the porch light and looked out through the small window set at eye-level in the door.

I couldn’t see anything, and at first I thought it might have been a prank. The dulcet tones of Elvira’s wicked intro was urging me to get ready for some scary shit and I nearly went back to the living room.

But, it didn’t sit right to ignore the bell. Some kid was waiting for their candy. If they were the bad kind of child, they might toilet paper my yard, or egg the car. Better to give up a Snickers or two, than to cope with that. So I opened the door.

I was holding the bowl of candy out as the door swung back, and I nearly dropped it when I saw who—no, what, my brain insisted—was standing just at the top of the steps.

It was just one kid, small and fragile-looking. Not much more than skin and bones, pale as a ghost, though not dressed as a ghost. No old sheet with cutouts for the eyes and mouth. Just a white face with dark sockets where eyes burned with a fiendish fire.

I forced out a laugh, though what I wanted to do was scream. Don’t be ridiculous, I chided myself. It’s just a kid with rad FX skills.

“That’s an awesome costume, little dude. Did you come up with it yourself, or is it from some new fandom?”

The kid just looked at me, those eyes blazing. His mouth—and I say his because I think it was a boy—was a thin, wide slit, which I figured he had to have done with some kind of putty. Sharp pointed teeth peeked out.

I nearly jumped out of my shoes when a shadow behind the kid moved. My eyes widened as a taller figure took shape and moved towards me. As it came into the light, I could see it was female, and made up just like the kid. Both were wearing some sort of loose tunic that covered them from chin to foot. Long, thin toes with sharp nails were just visible below the hems.

“Oh, hey there! I didn’t see you at first. Ha ha. You know, we don’t always get moms who dress up with their kids, at least, not at this level. Do you guys do cos play? I’ve done a few conventions, maybe we’ve been to the same ones?”

The kid’s mother shook her head. “No, I’m afraid not. This is a special night for us.”

Her voice was ghostly, barely louder than the breeze that brought a chill to my skin. For an instant, I lost track of what I was doing.

I shook myself and realized I was clutching the bowl of candy like a life preserver. My hand trembled as I held it out.

“Well, Halloween is special for kids, isn’t it? Better than Easter for the sugary goodies, for sure. Help yourself, kid. I think you guys are probably going to be my last visitors for the night, so get one for your mom, too.”

The kid’s head swiveled around, and at his mother’s nod he reached out and took two Snickers bars. Only two. I usually distributed the candy, because some of the little demons took a handful, but this kid took just the two.

“You can have another if you want,” I said, shaking the bowl. He just looked up at me, as silent as ever.

His mother moved up and put a pale, bony hand on the kid’s shoulder.

“Thank you, but no. Don’t want to spoil his dinner.”

I looked into her blazing eyes, wondering how she’d done that effect. It would be awesome if I could figure out how that was done, maybe good for a win at the next fan con.

It felt like I was falling into those eyes. I don’t know how long we stood there like that, in the yellow glow of the porch light. But after a while she reached out and touched the hand that was still holding that damned bowl out.

“Thank you for your kindness. You’re the only house that would open the door for us.”

“Hey, no problem. Opening doors for all the little monsters is what it’s all about, after all.”

Later, while I was watching Elvira’s cleavage do some amazing things on the flat screen, I realized I’d never found out what their costumes were meant to be.

Guess I’ll have to ask them next year.

***

[&Griffin Carmichael writes& speculative fiction from an undisclosed location somewhere in the Southeastern United States. Various children, animals and species of plant life run rampant everywhere. Upcoming projects span science fiction and horror tales from space colonization to more tales from the apocalypse. Previously published work includes two short story collections, _]Zombie Town[ and ]Daily Life[, a novella, ]Zombie Maneuvers[ and a novel, ]Z eternal[. Find Griffin’s books and get on the mailing list at GriffinCarmichael.com_]

17

The Not Wanting

J. David Core – Horror

His father was dead. The old-man had never been healthy, so it was only a matter of time before his heart gave out. Still, to his mind, it was somehow shocking  that his father, the man who’d always been there, was gone. His mother died due to complications during his and his twin sister’s birth, and then his sister died sixteen years later — murdered by her cowardly boyfriend. So now he was all alone in the world, which — to him — was shocking.

When the last guests had gone, when he’d heard the last platitudes about his father being in a better place (the crypt?) when the last of the covered dishes the neighbors brought by had been picked through — he gathered his wits, selected a carving knife from the butcher block, and made his way to the cellar.

To be fair, he wasn’t completely alone in the world. Danny was still around, and now he would have to consider his next move. Also, as shocked as he’d been by his father’s passing, he also felt suddenly liberated. His father never allowed him to seek the justice his sister deserved. Now there was nothing and nobody standing in his way.

He thought back to that night twenty-five years earlier; his sweet beautiful twin sister so excited and happy to be attending the homecoming dance with Danny, the quarterback and class president. He’d always liked Danny too. After all, as offensive guard it was his responsibility to assure Danny’s safety, so he’d better like him. In fact, it was Danny who suggested the anabolic steroids which had ruined his own homecoming experience.

After the dance, the four of them skipped the regular after-parties. Danny’s family owned a cabin in the country. So Danny invited his date, her brother, and the brother’s date to an intimate after-dance fireside meal of chips, sloe-gin and beer beside the lake.

He thought back to that night now, a haunt of memories. The foursome laughing, having fun for a few hours, then his date began making advances. Danny took him aside, handed him protection, offered to let them use the cabin’s lone bedroom. Whether it was the beer, the steroids, or just the excitement, he’d been unable to perform. His date felt humiliated. She’d left, taking the car they’d arrived in to go home. He was humiliated as well. He stayed in the cabin sulking, drinking more beer for an hour. Then he’d heard the scream.

Running from the cabin he found Danny assaulting his sister. He lunged at Danny knocking him to the ground. He ran to his sister, and found her limp — her skin turning blue. She was dead. Danny had snapped her neck. He turned on Danny in a rage, chasing him into the woods.

The next morning when his father had awoken, he’d found his son weeping on the couch. He’d final begun to calm enough to tell his father the story without sobbing by the time the police arrived.  Danny’s father had reported him missing, so they went to the cabin and found the body. Her neck was snapped, and evidence indicated she’d been violated. They asked him if he knew where Danny had gone. He explained how he’d chased Danny into the woods.

The police launched a manhunt, but never found Danny. They never would, and soon it was decided that Danny somehow escaped and made a new life for himself somewhere else. Danny’s father had probably helped him, but the police could never prove that. Danny got away with rape and murder that night.

It was more than a week before his father — the man who was then his only remaining family, the man he’d just lost to a heart condition — discovered the truth. Danny hadn’t escaped into the woods at all. He was a prisoner in the house of the very girl he’d murdered.

Beneath the basement was an unused secondary root-cellar. His father had caught him sneaking water down late at night, and confronted him about why he was keeping the boy who had murdered his sister a captive in their cellar.

He explained that when he caught Danny he’d wanted to kill him, but was afraid that people would blame him for both deaths. Then when the police assumed that Danny was in hiding, he’d been afraid that he’d be in trouble for kidnapping. So he decided to let Danny slowly starve, but he knew that dehydration was a greater risk, so he was giving him water.

His father paced and considered the options. The boy deserved to die for what he’d done, that was true; but was it their right to kill him? Would that be justice or revenge? In the end, he decided that the fact they wanted to kill him meant they could not. Vengeance isn’t justice, and their daughter and sister deserved justice. He explained this to his son, but he also realized it was too late to turn him over to the authorities now. Why should his son be punished because of what Danny had done?

So they kept him. For a quarter-century Danny was fed and watered. They installed rudimentary plumbing and shackles. Other than that, they went on with their lives and forgot he was even there with the roaches and spiders. However, now things had changed.

So he was coming down the stairs, knife in hand, remembering the lesson his father taught him. “We can’t kill Danny so long as we want to kill him.” However, he had one last secret. One night several years before, he’d let Danny plead for his freedom. Danny swore he hadn’t killed anyone. They were making love. The scream he’d heard wasn’t fear but rapture. They planned to be married. Her neck must have been accidentally broken when a 220-pound guard had suddenly burst upon them wrenching them apart.

He was remembering that night and those words now, realizing it was true. He was remembering his father’s words as well. He no longer wanted to kill Danny; and the not-wanting liberated him into action.

***

[&With a profound interest in religion&, liberal politics and humor, Dave began writing in High School and has not given up on it since. His first professional writing jobs came while attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh when he was hired to create political cartoons for the _]Pitt News[ & to write humor pieces for ]Smile Magazine[. Dave has worked in the newspaper industry as a photographer, in the online publishing industry as a weekly contributor to ]Streetmail.com[, and was a contributing writer to the ]Buzz On[ series of informational books and to the Western online anthology, ]Elbow Creek[. Dave’s science fiction novel, ]Synthetic Blood and Mixed Emotions[, is available from WriteWordsInc. Dave currently resides in his childhood home in Toronto, OH with his beautiful girlfriend and his teenage daughter. He enjoys participating in local community events & visiting with his two adult children and his grandkids. Find his books and get on his mailing list at lupamysteries.blogspot.com._]

18

The Keeper’s Daughter

J. Naomi Ay

The lighthouse didn’t look frightening, at least not from the gate, where Clara stood poised, waiting for the guide. Frankly, there was no reason in the world why a lighthouse ought to be scary. What was it, but a building composed of blocks with a giant light spinning at the top? Granted, it was perched on a bluff and above the sea. But nearly everything in this tiny corner of the world was the same. The wind never stopped blowing here, and the waves never stopped pounding. Only occasionally, was there a day when it didn’t rain.

“A Fresnel lens,” Mrs. Roberts was saying, smiling broadly and waving her hands at the brilliant white light above them. For fifteen seconds it shone in white and then, for five in red. “It was shipped here all the way from France, through Cape Horn in South America. I can’t wait for you girls to see it. Isn’t this fun?”

“Yes Mrs Roberts!” Judith gasped, being the only one in the entire troop who liked to do these things.

“Fun,” Mary muttered, nudging Clara in the ribs. Her usual sardonic smirk was plastered upon her face. “After all, I had nothing better to do today than climb up ninety-seven cement steps, followed by fourteen rungs on a ladder just to see a light bulb.”

“Do we get a badge for this?” Nancy raised a hand, while lovingly rubbing the forty-two patches on her sash, a number that superseded any other girl by at least twice.

“I’d rather be working on the shopping badge.” Mary nudged Clara again, winking this time with her devilish green eyes. “Have you heard what the requirements are for that one?”

Clara nodded silently, noting the guide was approaching from the Keeper’s House. He was an old man, easily her grandpa’s age or more. Although his feet seemed to be moving quickly enough, his back was bent nearly double, giving the appearance of a turtle lumbering beneath a shell.

“Locate the women’s shoe department at Nordstrom’s. Demonstrate the proper way to remove a credit card from your purse. Select three pairs of your favorite shoes, or one pair and one dress. For extra credit, pose in front of a mirror while the alteration lady pins up your hem.”

“Shh,” Judith hissed, as Mary snickered.

“Girls, this is Captain Greyson from the Coast Guard Auxiliary. He’ll be taking us up the tower in groups of two. Now, who would like to go first?”

“Me!” Judith screamed, raising both hands.

“Me too,” Nancy added, lifting one of hers.

“Clara and Mary will go next.” Mrs. Roberts waved the other girls away, releasing them to dutifully follow the plodding, ancient Auxiliary Captain past the Keeper’s House and into the lighthouse building. “In the meantime, we will wait at the base of the stairway.” Adjusting her official Girl Scout Uniform Cap, Mrs. Roberts proceeded to march across the grassy field separating the two structures.

“Clara,” Mary whispered through the side of her mouth, her eyes sparkling with her latest mischievous plan. “Let’s skip out of here. We’ll do something else. We’ll walk into town and get some food.”

“How?”

Mary nudged her a third time, before raising her hand. “Mrs. Roberts,” she called. “I need to use the bathroom.”

The troop leader spun around, executing a nearly perfect 180 degree pivot to the rear. “The ladies’ powder room is in the Keeper’s House. Don’t tarry overlong.”

“Yes ma’am.” The two girls scampered across the field into the neighboring building.

&Although it was painted& white like the lighthouse, the residence was a boring, two-story structure in the shape of a block. There was a single window on the first floor, and two peering out from the bedrooms above, each covered by a thick coating of salt water and endless rain.

Shoving the unlocked door open, the girls were immediately met with a gust of musty, cold air, and the intermittent beeping noise of a smoke detector with a battery gone bad.

“I wonder where the bathroom is.” Mary headed through the mudroom and into the building’s main hall, while Clara hesitated, an odd chill sweeping down her spine.

“Are you coming?” Mary hollered, her footsteps now resounding on the worn wooden stairs, a noise that for some unknown reason set Clara’s heart aflutter. A feeling of regret and profound sadness erupted in her soul, as well as the inexplicable sensation of déjà vu.

“I think it’s up there. I’m going to check the bedrooms.”

“Okay,” Clara whispered, refusing to leave her spot.

In fact, she decided she’d rather wait outside, and was turning to do exactly that when the door swung open. Auxiliary Captain Greyson stood before her, his bent back bringing his gaze nearly level with her own.

“You shouldn’t be in here,” he said, his voice sounding oddly familiar. There was a tone of regret in it, and something else. Fondness? Pity? Strangely, the old man’s eyes were looking upon her as if he knew her. “You need to go on your way. I cannot, until you do.”

“What?”

“Clara, please?” He held out a hand, gnarled and thin.

“Clara!” Mary screamed from the floor above. “Clara, get up here right now! You’ve got to see this.”

“Excuse me,” the girl mumbled, hastily running from the old man to the stair, swiftly mounting the steps, her hand on the dusty rail.

Once upstairs, Clara walked down the hall to the second bedroom, knowing instinctively that was where she was meant to go. It was even colder than the floor below, the only illumination coming through the salt-covered window, where she found Mary bathed in the sweeping white light of the lighthouse’s Fresnel lens.

“Look at this,” Mary gasped, now turning red. She handed Clara a framed newsprint from nearly sixty years before. Yellow and wrinkled, it had been sitting on bureau collecting dust. Between the slashes exposed by Mary’s fingertips, Clara read the headline.

“Tragedy at the Lighthouse! Keeper’s Young Daughter Killed in a fall.”

Below that, Clara saw her own face.

“It’s time for you to move on,” Mary said, her skin peeling off her body. Beneath that innocent green Girl Scout uniform, Mary exposed herself as a hideous messenger of Satan’s Army. “I ought to get a badge for coming to fetch you, don’t you think?” Reaching out, she grabbed Clara’s arm with a clawed hand.

While the room turned again from Fresnel Red to Fresnel White, Clara was sucked into the hideous world below.

“What did I do?” she cried, as the flames came up to meet her.

“You didn’t read the article?” The demon laughed. “You pushed the Keeper’s daughter, your baby sister, down all ninety-seven of the lighthouse stairs.”

***

[&Naomi resides& in the north Olympic Peninsula and loves to dream of space adventures while her dog sleeps under her desk. She is the author of two epic scifi/fantasy series, the sixteen volume _]Two Moons of Rehnor[ series and the six volume ]Firesetter[ series. Find her books and get on her mailing list at JNaomiAy.com._]

19

The Huldra

J.T. Williams – Horror

The problem with the North Sea is that it’s so damn cold. Well, that’s one problem. You would think to move from the Carolinas in the good old U.S. of A. that it wouldn’t be too bad to do some technical work for 6 months in the dead of a Norwegian winter. You’d also be wrong.

I’m used to working around other men for months on end but when you struggle to speak a single Norse word about the only thing you might can find is a good Norwegian woman. Except, on an oil rig there are no women. Just me and some guys. In case you were wondering, that’s not my thing.

Luckily, due to a severe mechanical malfunction we’d been moved back to Oslo. I took a cab to the outskirts of town near a large woods. Something called Helvetehor.

There’s a nice bar here. Seemed like a good, laid-back place, plus I’d heard it was frequented by what I do want — women. Attractive women. Something I needed… like right then.

I went up to the bar and ordered a beer. It was a bit more sour than I preferred but it would get me started. There were plenty of women — and one old man. I sat down at the bar and scanned for those that might notice me.

I turned to take another sip from my beer and someone sat down beside me.

Good.

I turned and, to my disgust, found the old man.

“You’re an American aren’t you?”

“You assume that pretty quickly.”

“You sound like an American. I didn’t assume shit. You shouldn’t either. I see you looking at these women. Don’t bother. You don’t want them.”

This old man is funny.

“Really? I take it you’ve had personal experience in that?”

He glared at me and snorted.

“No? Then buzz off, grandpa. I don’t need your dating advice.”

“Aye, take care but the hands of the Huldra take the willing.”

The man stumbled out and I was left alone.

What the hell was he spouting off about anyway? What in the hell is a huldra? Damn, I need another beer. And a shot.

At least the bartender seemed attentive.

The hours passed and I was getting drunk. The sun was down, now that it had been up for very long to start with. I heard the door open and an attractive blond came in. I say, I guess another attractive blond, but unfortunately the others weren’t too keen to talk to me. There was one but she only stared — and not in a good way. She was now glaring at me from the corner of the room.

What the hell did I do?

I turned my attention to the girl next to me.

“Can I just have some vodka?” she asked.

The bartender served her up a shot and she slammed it.

Her accent was familiar. She was American too, I’d say from the Northeast. Boston maybe.

“Hey,” I said. I knew it was cheesy but it was something.

She smiled. You’re American”

“Working in the north, ya know, oil.”

She gave me a coy smirk. “Cool, I’m here on a story for a magazine. I’m alone other than my camera guy but I was trying to find something a bit more fun to do.”

I have something fun for you.

That blond pushed her way between myself and my fellow American.

“Sorry,” the blond said in a seductive way. “I’ve been watching and when foreign you should try foreign delights. Not cheap, sad things like her.”

I love this accent, wow. Maybe it’s like Russian, I don’t know.

The American girl turned and stomped off.

Ha! I think she’s crying. What can I say, I guess I am an asshole.

It was love — or maybe it was a mix of the alcohol and her sweet scent that drew me away from the bar as she led me out the door.

“Let’s get away from here.”

I laughed as she laughed and tried to hide her smile. Her eyes moved up and down me. I grinned almost foolishly and with a jaunt through the snow she took me into the woods. I thought at first maybe her car was parked at the nearby recreation area but we went deeper. I stopped.

“Where are we going?”

She stood straight, her legs together. Her tight skirt formed around her body and her cleavage poked through a short coat. I watched her as she scanned the area. There was something on her back that I hadn’t noticed before. It looked strange.

Had she been running backward or was I just that drunk?

She pushed herself against me.

“I know what you want. I know what all men like you want and I give it to you.”

“Oh yeah?” I breathed heavily.

Her fingertips glided down my stomach. Something slippery moved up my leg but she kissed me before I could look down. I threw my arms around her back to feel her body but… her skin was coarse. It felt oddly familiar but even in my drunken state knew I shouldn’t be feeling that. I glanced around at the trees.

That’s what it is. Am I pushing her against a tree?

Her hands gripped my waist and I gasped.

Okay, finally.

A tearing pain shot through my stomach and I coughed as a roughness pushed straight up through my throat. She let out a shrill sound and her eyes turned red.

“Filth of a man,” she said in a ragged voice,  “I give you your release!”

I tasted blood and the world spun as I fell to the ground.

She withdrew something from my body.

Have I been stabbed? Shot?

I’d never felt this kind of pain. She turned. Her back was tree bark and a bloody tail whipped behind her as she disappeared into the approaching storm, my blood melting into the snow.

Footsteps crunched nearby and the old man from the bar came into view, laughing, a shovel in his hands.

“I told you the Huldra take the willing!” He dumped snow on me and the light faded, the coolness oddly comforting.

What the hell is a Huldra?

The old man snorted. “Stupid boy. He wanted something local but didn’t study his lore. Third one in two days. These woods are getting full and my old back is sore. She doesn’t pay me enough for this.”

***

[&J.T&. Williams is the author of the _]Saints of Wura[ trilogy and the ]Half-Elf Chronicles[. When he isn’t writing, he wages war in his backyard with his children having make-believe battles against the orcs invading from next door. He is married and has five little orc slayers. As a longtime lover of fantasy and the surreal, he hopes you enjoy his contributions to the world of fantasy and magic. Find his books and get on his mailing list at AuthorJTWilliams.com._]

Part III

Fantasy

20

The Angel

Richard Crawford – Fantasy

It’s late. The night slides vodka-sodden towards its end. I’m behind the bar, rolling a cigarette, the filter stashed between my lips, but some instinct always warns me to his presence.

He comes in late, when the club is winding down. The dead predawn hours are his time. There are many of the club’s regulars you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, but something about him sets my teeth on edge. My fingers take a pinch of baccy and thoughtlessly continue the routine task as I follow his progress through the crowd.

I see there’s a girl with him tonight. She’s tall, whisper thin, and moves like a supermodel, long easy stride, killer confidence, but even from a distance I feel the pain behind the show. As she comes close, I see it in her eyes. A broken angel. Innocence and pain, the same as all his women. I’ve never seen him with the same one twice.

The filter dangles between my lips, the rollup forgotten. I snap my mouth shut and pick up the baccy tin. My fingers shake a little as I stash the rollup.

He leads her up to the bar. It’s tight packed but a space clears as he approaches. A mane of shaggy dark hair hangs down his back, and the writhing dragon tat on his neck disappears beneath a worn leather jacket. There’s always something familiar in him. Our eyes meet and hackles rise, like to like.

“Tequila shots,” he says, staring me down.

I pour the shots and watch the angel.

Beneath the strobing lights, her hair gleams silver, slicked down close to her skull like a dude from one of those old movies. It makes her look porcelain fragile. Silver studs in her nose and ears. She wears a silver bracelet, more like an intricately engraved glove, on her right hand. I’ve never seen anything like it before, some sort of bondage antique jewelry piece? The lights give it a shimmering life of its own and, for a moment, I can’t tear my eyes away.

She moves when he moves, like she can’t stay close enough to him. The pack of guys leer, and she gives the tiniest of shivers. The guys move towards her, like filings to a magnet. He lets them come; then one look from dead eyes and they ooze backwards. The angel leans into him, grateful. He’s turned away to talk to some bloke, paying no attention to her, and she catches me staring, aquamarine eyes hold mine for a moment and she gives me a little smile. I want to come over the bar and take her away from him.

He turns back, sees me looking and his cold black eyes shrivel my nuts. I look away, coward and worse.

He stays at the bar. She’s on him like skin, and he smiles when he sees me helplessly watching, waves me back over.

“Another round.”

I take his money and walk away. Down the bar, Josie’s serving a crowd of loud-mouthed girls. I slide behind her, put a hand on her ass.

“Get lost,” she growls and I wonder what she’s seen.

When I glance back, he has his fingers curled loosely round the angel’s neck. My breath catches.

Josie shoots me a look.

“I need a smoke,” I say. “You okay?”

She nods casually, never any doubt, she has the bar covered.

I lean close, avoiding her gaze, and whisper thanks in her ear. At the door, I turn for a last look at my angel.

Outside bins crowd the alley. The air hangs thick with the smell of rotting food and rats, beneath it all the stink of the river, running hard and high a few yards away.

I don’t even know her name. I don’t want to know her name. I think about Josie, smart-mouthed, easygoing, no punter can get the better of her. Hard as nails till you know her, then a heart bigger than a London bus. But it doesn’t work; aquamarine eyes and smiling lips tug my attention away.

I stay outside with the rats. Start another cigarette and watch the river. It’s silent, an unfed monster waiting to swallow up the city. I flick the cigarette butt into the dark water and turn back. Josie will be pissed off if I leave her and the bouncers to deal with the end of night drunks.

The door opens before I reach it. It swings softly back, hangs, waiting. I slide into the shadows. Knowing, sensing her like a familiar scent on the air.

He leads her out and his tequila husky voice is soft as a whisper. “I have something for you,” a promise made without looking back. No doubt she will follow, drawn to him and the promise.

It’s not one I would want to redeem. The angel doesn’t hear what I hear. He guides her ahead of him and moves up close behind. His hands are on her as they pass me, a shadow among shadows, and walk down to the river.

He grips her arm and she stops, lets him press her up against the wall. He comes up close, catches her wrists and lifts her arms above her head as he kisses her. Silver and fragile, the fabric of her shirt quivers an invitation. With one hand, he reaches out to undo the buttons. Pale skin glimmers as he draws her away from the wall. The shirt falls. She slides her arms around his neck and melts against him. He presses her against the wall again. They kiss and I feel sick, a mix of lust and disgust and fear.

The kiss is long and greedy. It holds him motionless and only when she draws away do his hands rise to touch her. She’s still, her breath shallow, as his hands slide across her skin. His eyes are locked to hers. I watch as his hand reaches for the blade.

He raises it slowly. If she sees it, there’s no sign. I’m glad she has no fear in these last moments. I hear her gasp as the metal touches her skin.

“Shush.” He smiles and presses the flat of the blade against her neck, blood oozes, red against her white skin.

Her head tilts back in some sort of surrender, and he snarls with pleasure. I feel the same surge of power. He wants the final moment to last forever, but the blade trembles as his control weakens.

He sighs and his fingers tighten on the hilt. He enjoys it for one last lingering moment.

With the grace of a dancer, she lowers her right arm, the one with the bracelet, fingers splayed in some sort of plea. He shakes his head. Her hand drops lower. As I watch, silver shimmers and springs towards his ribs. The spring-mounted blade rips deep, though she stands motionless, emotionless.

He makes a soft noise, no time for more.

The knife twitches and drops from his hand.

The tableau holds for a moment. Then her hand twists, jerks upward towards his heart. A slight smile on her lips as she looks into his eyes, some silent final communion.

Before he falls, she walks him back towards the river. He can’t resist her, his hands clutch and flail at empty air. With a last push, he’s gone.

The night is silent apart from distant sirens and the roar of traffic. The city is never silent. The quiet beats in my heart.

She bends, picks up her shirt, and holds it in one hand. Blood drips from the other, a darkness running from the blade. She watches the river for a moment and then turns and strides towards me.

I wait on her judgment. She comes close, aquamarine eyes search my soul and I forget how to breathe.

“He was rotten bad,” she says. “But you know that.” She’s tall, as tall as I am. Her finger traces the line of my jaw, the bloodied blade glistening close to my eye. “The world’s a better place.” Something like humor in her voice, but cold, so cold. I look into her eyes and can’t look away.

She waits, holding all the power and I nod.

Her other hand comes up fast and she smiles as I flinch. The coldest smile in the world. She touches my face, soft but not a caress.

“Next time…” Her fingers rest cold against my skin. “You’ll tell me.”

I nod. A pact is made.

“Good,” she says and watches me for a moment longer, until she’s certain I understand the gift she’s giving. She turns away, disappears into the night.

Josie’s face flashes before my eyes.

I find an old paper and see the headline a few days later. A photoFit, but his face beneath the headline. Manhunt after two women attacked. The paper’s torn. I spread it on the bar, piece it together. The text blurs, two women attacked in a London park, one dead, one critical.

I remember the look in the angel’s eyes and know she’ll be back.

***

[&Richard Crawford writes& horror (ghost stories) and epic fantasy. He is the author of the novels _]Ghost House[, ]Ghost Town[ and ]Ghost Mate[ (The ]Soul Mate[ series) and the ]Traitor Blade[ books 1-3, (epic/historical fantasy and recent semi-finalist in the ]Self Published Blog-Off[ for fantasy books). His new book, ]Ghost Road[ will be released in early 2017. Find his books and get on his mailing list at RichardCrawfordAuthor.com._]

21

In the Eye of the Beholder

Bill Hiatt – Fantasy

Inger gave him another musical sounding laugh. “You’re not a monster!”

Diablo looked back at her, his expression as serious as a train wreck. “It’s all a question of perspective. Of course, when your parents name you after the devil, it’s hard not to wonder what’s wrong with you.”

Inger chuckled this time and took a sip of her red wine. He noticed she had hardly touched her food. That was annoying, since he’d taken her to the most expensive place in town for their Halloween date. Annoying, but expected.

“Ah, your parents aren’t the only ones with no common sense about baby names. My family was Romanian, but my mother insisted on Inger, which sounds Scandinavian.”

Diablo had to agree the beautiful, olive-skinned brunette across from him did not look particularly Scandinavian.

“She picked the name because înger means angel in Romanian.”

“You’re lovely enough to be an angel,” he told her. That wasn’t just a line; he really meant it despite his unemotional tone.

Inger gave him a Mona Lisa smile. “You’re certainly not ugly enough to be a devil—though for all I know you may be horny.”

That got a flicker of a smile from Diablo. Inger had begun to think he didn’t know how to smile.

“When I was twelve, I killed one of my friends,” he said without a trace of emotion in his voice. Inger’s smile vanished.

“That’s not funny,” she said softly, looking into his dark eyes, darker even than hers. They complemented his dark hair and skin, skin that was almost like ebony to her ivory.

“It wasn’t meant to be.”

“It was an accident, surely,” she protested, still not certain if he was joking or not.

He sighed. “It was an accident. I… gave him too much of what I have.”

Inger raised an eyebrow. “If you don’t want to talk about it…”

“No, I do. I’ve never talked about it with anyone before. I’m… I don’t really know how to explain what I am. I guess you could say I’m an inverse vampire.”

Inger leaned closer. “Is that some kind of dig at my Romanian background? Even in the folklore of the old country, there’s no such thing as an ‘inverse vampire.’ What do you do, make other people drink your blood?”

“Not exactly,” Diablo replied slowly. “Vampires lack life force of their own and have to keep drawing it from others by drinking their blood.”

“Vampires aren’t real,” Inger said reflexively.

Diablo ignored her—not a problem she usually had with men.

“I, on the other hand, produce too much life force. If I don’t… offload is the best word I can think of. If I don’t offload some of it to someone else every so often, I’d explode.”

“You have got to be kidding!” she protested.

“I’ve had that problem ever since puberty,” he continued, again acting as if she had said nothing. “But I didn’t really know what I was doing at first.”

“Diablo!” she snapped, thinking that perhaps saying his name would get his attention. He stopped and looked at her.

“I would think giving people more life force would be a good thing,” she said, beginning to wonder if she was having dinner with a madman. “Wouldn’t it make them stronger, maybe even heal them if they were injured in some way?”

Diablo nodded. “Yeah, it would—in small enough doses. My problem was I didn’t know how to control the flow from me to someone else at first. That’s why my friend died. I gave him too much, and his heart couldn’t take the strain.”

Inger noticed his eyes almost seemed to glow. It must be a trick of the light, the reflection of the flickering candle flames.

“I cried for days after,” Diablo said slowly. “But then I knew I’d have to try again. I could feel the life force building up, burning me inside.

“I practiced on animals. I killed my poor dog and a couple of other neighborhood pets. That made me feel even worse, but I did eventually get the hang of how much I could safely transfer to any person at any time.”

Inger leaned even closer. “But how… how do you transfer part of your life force to another? Blood?”

Diablo chuckled himself then—but it was a cold chuckle. “I think Santiago would have balked at drinking my blood… balked and lived. No, I can do it by touch. Skin on skin does the trick.”

“But you’ve touched me, and—”

“Thank God it doesn’t happen automatically, or I’d probably have killed more people when I was young. I have to will it to happen.”

“It’s safe when you do it, now, though?” asked Inger, staring at him intensely. “There’s no danger?”

“I haven’t killed a human since poor Santiago,” replied Diablo.

Inger started looking at him if she were starving and he was an enormous steak—ironic since the filet mignon lay practically untouched on the plate in front of her.

“Prove it to me, Diablo. Let’s make love tonight, and when we lie together, ‘skin on skin,’ as you said, give me some of your life force.”

“There’s no need to wait,” said Diablo, grabbing her hand roughly. Instinctively, she wanted to pull away, but it was already too late by the time her muscles started to react.

She could feel the life force flowing into her, burning her. She went from mild discomfort to agony in seconds. Only self-control honed by long practice prevented her from screaming.

She wrenched her hand away from him, but she knew she was too late.

“No, I haven’t harmed any human since Santiago,” said Diablo calmly, “but I do have an interesting effect on vampires.”

Her abruptly rehumanized body shook as she realized what she’d lost. “You…you are a monster,” she whispered.

“It’s all a matter of perspective,” replied Diablo, voice cold as ice.

***

&As far back as& he can remember, Bill Hiatt had a love for reading so intense that he eventually ended up owning over eight thousand books—not counting ebooks! He has also loved to write for almost that long. As an English teacher, he had little time to write, though he always felt there were stories within him that longed to get out. Now that he is retired from teaching, the stories are even more anxious to get out into the world, and they will not be denied! Find his books and get on his mailing list at BillHiatt.com.

22

Jealous (A Wolf’s Heart)

Carmilla Cross – YA Paranormal Fantasy

He told her he was busy that evening, which was about two weeks before the Halloween dance. His mother also had him already running errands for her, while she went out with her friends for some kind of night out on the town. He sounded disgusted with the very idea, as if it repulsed him to know that his mother had a social life.

“I could come over and cheer you up, you know,” Lindy purred, her gravelly voice even scratchier than usual. Gabe had laughed at that, but it was different this time around.

Something in the tone of his voice was…off. Her acute hearing had picked it up the second he answered the phone, but she ignored it, and decided it was all in her head. He told her his [_errands _]would take all night and that maybe they could go out tomorrow.

His mother would likely sleep until noon, which would allow him to sneak out of the house in the morning.

“Maybe we can go to the lake,” he suggested. “Do you know how to swim?”

He was trying to distract her, and she knew it. But Lindy played along and even planned to fish out last year’s swimsuit. She and Gabe began dating at the start of summer. She hadn’t told him yet about her [_affliction _]but prayed that he wouldn’t be too put off by it. After all, the small population of werewolves in their town was peaceful, so long as they were able to get their hands on enough raw meat during the full moon.

She remembered being a puppy and running around under the light of her first swollen moon, chasing bunnies and deer. Her father had caught her in one big claw and stuffed a small steak into her mouth. She was five when she turned. Her mother was human and hadn’t really wanted the werewolf life for her daughter. As peaceful as they were, there were still people who didn’t quite understand their kind. But Lindy had gotten into a wrestling match with her baby cousin—who was already a full werewolf—and he accidentally bit her. The rest was history.

Now she used all her heightened senses in order to figure out why her new boyfriend was lying to her. He seemed to really like her and she was quickly falling in love with him, which was dangerous. Her mother had warned her about falling in love with humans when you were any part werewolf, let alone fully-changed, but she couldn’t help it.

To her, Gabe was the perfect guy and very handsome. She already dreamed of having his babies; they would get his tanned skin and light-brown curly hair, and maybe her button nose and blue-violet eyes.

But god she was only sixteen! And if he was acting so strangely after barely a few months, what would he be like after a year? Or a decade? She decided she had to fix this now before it all went to shit.

It wasn’t too hard to track him down. She still had the sweater he’d wrapped her in one night during the last week of humid summer evenings, when she pretended to be cold just to snuggle up to him. She could practically feel her tail wag that night, even though there wasn’t a full moon then.

She shook those thoughts off her head—because really, what would they matter if she had to tear his limbs off for cheating on her?—and began to follow his scent. This wasn’t right, using her senses to track down her boyfriend and not trusting him like a girlfriend was supposed to do. He had lied to her and betrayed her trust anyway, so this was really all his fault.

She spotted him walking down the street with a bouquet of flowers in his hand and his hair slicked back, actually combed for once.

Lindy felt her heart drop. The bastard was cheating on her! She growled low in her throat and began stomping after him, keeping her distance so she could out him in front of whatever hussy he—

She paused.

He wasn’t walking toward any restaurant or even the movie theater. He made a sharp left turn into the…cemetery?

Lindy frowned as she crept after Gabe, following his scent so that she could stay far enough away and not be seen. He didn’t even pause for a second; he knew exactly where he was going. She continued to follow him as he wove through the gravestones until he came to a big marble cross. It looked relatively new and un-cracked among the rest. Gabe stopped in front of it, placed his flowers at the base, then got to his knees and pressed his forehead against the cool stone. She could hear him murmuring something—a prayer maybe—before he pulled away and sat cross-legged, right there in the damp grass.

“Hey, Dad,” he said, and Lindy’s paw flew to her mouth reflexively to stifle a gasp. “Long time, no see. Boy have I got a lot to tell you! My girlfriend and I…”

Lindy smiled with tears misting in her eyes and turned around, making her way back quickly through the cemetery. She took a deep breath when she hit the streets and gave a relieved sigh. She started to make a list of all the ways she could make this up to him.

Perhaps a few dozen cookies would do it? Or she could cook him his favorite dinner if she had to. There were thousands of possibilities and each one sounded better than the last.

She had a big to-do list.

***

&Carmilla knew& she would write a lot about love and the paranormal once she discovered young adult paranormal romances. She dreams of the day when she will have any or all of her works striking a massive chord with readers and fans everywhere. Then just maybe, they will also get to have successful movie and TV shows of their own. Find her books and get on her mailing list at moonrise-by-carmilla-cross.tumblr.com.

23

Never a Night Off

Lincoln Cole – Fantasy

“Did you see where he went?” Dominick asked, stepping up alongside his friend and glancing out over the crowd. The Halloween party at The Rusty Nail was in full swing and everyone was wearing a costume. The likelihood of spotting their demonic target in the crowd was getting less likely by the second.

“No,” Curtis replied. “But, I know where he’s heading.”

Dominick could barely hear him over the sound of the music. Curtis dropped down off of the raised dance platform and pushed his way through the club, heading for the alley out back. Dominick followed, glancing behind them to make sure they weren’t being followed.

The music disappeared when they stepped outside and closed the door behind them. It was a cool night, and the wind whipping over his skin refreshed him.

“Just once,” he said. “I would like to come to one of these parties when we’re [_not _]working.”

“We’re always on the job. Frieda needs us to handle this tonight.”

“You would think we would at least get Halloween off, right?”

Curtis ignored him and began walking down the alley. Their target was ahead of them by maybe fifty meters, hands tucked in the pockets of his sweatshirt and the hood pulled over his shoulder. He was heading for the street and didn’t know he was being followed.

Curtis slipped a pistol out of his pocket, picking up the pace.

“I thought we need him alive,” Dominick whispered, falling into step beside his friend.

“That’s the best case. I’m not taking any chances.”

They were maybe ten meters behind when Dominick’s foot scuffed across the pavement. The man glanced back at them and time seemed to stop when he recognized them.

“Crap,” Dominick said.

Everything happened all at once: the man in the hoodie turned and sprinted down the alley and Curtis raised his pistol. He fired off three shots: the first two missed, but the third tagged the demon in the collarbone.

He barely even flinched and kept sprinting toward the mouth of the alley. The two Hunters took off after him, and now Dominick slid his gun free as well.

“We can’t let him get away,” Curtis said.

Dominick didn’t reply. Their target was a ruthless and conniving creature that had already wrecked three bodies in the last two months. If he got away now he would simply find a new person to inhabit and disappear, wasting months of tracking. He didn’t know why Frieda needed him, but it was something big.

The demon ran down the street to the right, weaving through traffic. It was late at night—or early morning, depending on who you asked—but there were still people out and about. It was, after all, Halloween.

They dodged through the crowd after him, only a few steps behind. The demon reached an intersection and ran into the middle of the road, forcing traffic to stop and swerve around him. Horns blared and drivers shouted in anger, but the demon ignored them.

Dominick slid over the hood of one of the cars, closing the distance to his prey. The demon made it to a construction area with a wooden overhand protecting the sidewalk. Instead of running under the overhang, it leapt into the air and landed on top of it, climbing the scaffolding up the front of the building.

“Great,” Dominick mumbled, climbing up a fence to chase after it.

“I’ll go around.”

Curtis ran down the road to try and cut the demon off. That left Dominick in pursuit alone, scaling the side of a building in pursuit of the demon.

His target found an opening inside on the third floor and jumped in, running toward the far side of the building. Dominick rolled in after it, raising his pistol to fire. He didn’t aim for the body, but instead went for a leg.

His second shot pegged the demon in the calf and it stumbled forward as the muscles of the body it was inhabiting gave out. It staggered to the ground, giving Dominick enough time to catch up. He came in hard, kicking and punching at the demon with abandon.

The demon deflected and dodged his attacks, finding its footing and backing away. It countered, deflecting a kick from Dominick and punching him first in the kidney and then the chest. It followed it a roundhouse kick to the side of his head, throwing him into the wall.

Then, it turned to run again, reaching the other side of the building and stepping out one of the open windows. Dominick moved to follow, dazed, and staggered after it.

“That could have gone better.”

Outside, he saw the demon climbing down the scaffolding toward another overhang two floors below. It was moving slow, barely having use of its leg, but it had a decent head start. Down the street Dominick could see Curtis rounding the corner, coming to help.

He slipped out the window and moved quickly down the scaffolding, ending up near the second floor just as the demon stepped onto the wooden overhang.

“Here goes nothing,” he mumbled, taking a steadying breath.

He leapt off the scaffolding and onto the demon, landing heavily on it and slamming them both down onto the overhang. They landed hard and he felt the structure wobbling beneath them.

The demon rolled over, elbowing Dominick in the ear, and then it tried to crawl away.

He grabbed the demon by the leg, shifted, and then threw him sideways off of the overhang. It slammed onto the roadway and lay still. Curtis ran up to it, kneeling over top the demon and checking if it was still alive.

Dominick climbed down off the railing, landing on the road next to them, and together they dragged the demon onto the sidewalk.

“Nice job,” Curtis said, short of breath. “Let’s get him back to Frieda.”

“Just once,” Dominick reiterated, shaking his head. “I would like to pretend we have normal jobs.”

***

&Lincoln Cole is& a Columbus-based author who enjoys traveling and has visited many different parts of the world, including Australia and Cambodia, but always returns home to his pugamonster and wife. His love for writing was kindled at an early age through the works of Isaac Asimov and Stephen King and he enjoys telling stories to anyone who will listen. Find his books and get on his mailing list at LincolnCole.net.

24

Hunting Party

A. E. Wasp – Urban Fantasy

Sunset Cloud loves the way they look, all the different colored tents spread out in the snowy glade. You never know what you’re going to get when you pick up one of the brightly-colored coverings. Generally, the bigger ones have more good stuff inside, but not always. Sometimes they have only one human and a bunch of inedible things, but that one human is often the sweet, melt-in-your-mouth kind. Sunset Cloud stays away from the smallest containers, the cramped, only-come-up-to-your-shin ones. They’re inevitably filled with the stringy, beef-jerky humans. She hates those. Old Treebreaker likes those the most, says they keep his jaw strong, but more likely his constant talking is the reason for his jaw strength. She likes a little fat with her meals, it’s good for her coat. Alpenglow said her hair shined like the river in the moonlight. Maybe she’ll invite him for a swim in the moonlight when the thaw hits.

Treebreaker pushes closer to her. She growls at him, showing fang as she does. “Sorry,” he says.

She grabs his arm, her claws like daggers on his dull, gray fur. She remembers when his fur was as bright as the leaves of the aspens before the snow, but that was a long time ago when she could still walk under her mother’s legs and her feet were smaller than a human’s. Now she’s the tallest in the clan, and her footprints draw spotters from all directions. “Don’t move.”

He stops, head hung, eyes downcast. She pities him, his strength leached away by the last hundred years. She knows it will be her one day. The more cubs she bears, the more she feels the passing of time and the weight of mortality. So she fights it the only way she knows how, by ensuring that the name of the Sunrise Clan Sasquatch of the Middle Mountains will go down in legend. For too many years the Sasquatches of the Western Water Clan have been preeminent among clans. They hold records for both the closest encounter with humans and for the number of encounters. And don’t think they don’t brag about that at every gathering. She’s getting tired of hearing how they’ve found the perfect time of day and lighting to show just enough to keep the humans coming back but never enough for absolute proof. And the Western Water Clan is wasteful, too. They eat almost none of the humans they find, preferring to play with them instead. They get the humans all hopped up and excited and then just let them go. Of course, they can live on loggers and bear alone. Food’s a little more scarce here in the high Rockies.

Sunset Cloud’s expectations for tonight are sky-high. The last path she made, over rocks and through piles of fallen pine needles with the occasional enormous print just clear enough to get hopes up, was a work of art. The humans started entering the glade an hour or so ago, after a two-day walk from the nearest road. Humans walk slowly and ponderously in the snow. Nightfall forces them to stop and settle. Tomorrow, they’ll get up early to look for her. She counts eleven containers, all bright colors. A few of the humans move around, doing whatever it is humans do.

A loud shuffling from behind her announces Alpenglow’s arrival. Snow falls from the trees with a soft pitter-patter as he slides to a stop behind her. Muted as the sound is, it still attracts the attention of at least one of the humans in the clearing below.

She grabs Alpenglow, pressing him deeper into the shadows. “Quiet,” she hisses.

He peers around her shoulder. “So many. Are we going to get one tonight? I hear it’s easy when they are in their dens. The bears do it all the time.”

“That’s why bears get hunted,” Sunset Cloud answers.

His mouth opens in an O of understanding, and he nods. He’s not the brightest ‘Squatch, but he’s strong and good-looking. She probably should have left him behind on this trip, but the nights are long and cold this time of year. A little company makes them warmer and brighter. His red hair feels silky under her hands as she pats him reassuringly. “Don’t worry. We’ll get one tomorrow. After we play with them for a while.”

Alpenglow hugs her, smiling, and she leans into him. He’s almost as tall as she is, his feet almost as large. Maybe he would be a good father for her cubs. If she’s lucky, they’ll have his looks and her brains. “Back to the cave,” she says. “I’ll meet you there after I lay some more tracks.”

Alpenglow leaves with a nose nuzzle, Treebreaker with a grumble. She ignores both of them, caught up in the fantasy of knocking the Western Water clan off their high perch. As the sun slips behind the mountains, a flash of light catches her eye. Two humans watch her from across the snow. The game is on.

From the other side of the glade, the man and woman watch her go. The man drops his high-powered binoculars. The woman looks through her scope a little longer.

“Should we go after them?” he asks.

“There’s three of them, two of us.”

“But we have guns.” He points his rifle upslope.

“One of them is ten feet tall,” she says.

“Good point. I just can’t wait to show up to the BRFO Conference with an actual capture. Screw those Washington guys and their unfocused videos.”

“Tomorrow.” She smiles. What he lacks in planning, he makes up for in enthusiasm and looks. “Don’t count your Sasquatches before they’re caught,” she cautions.

They head back down to the tents. “I hate winter camping,” the guy complains.

“I bet we can find a way to get warm.”

“Now you’re talking,” he grabs her arm, hurrying her.

She looks back up the hill. Tomorrow.

***

&Amy writes& LGBT focused Contemporary and Fantasy Romance because she likes her bad guys caught and her endings happy. She lives in Northern Colorado and can often be found roaming the backroads in a green mini-van. Find her books and get on her mailing list at AEWasp.com.

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Acknowledgments

Thank you to my fellow authors for your trust, support, patience and ingenuity. It’s great working with you!

A big thanks to KBoards, where the 20 indie authors behind Monster Maelstrom planned this work.

Fellow author Alasdair C. Shaw suggested the name of our series: Flash Flood.

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About the Editor

Former starship redshirt turned rag-clad resistance fighter, George Donnelly is the author of space opera, cyberpunk & post-apocalyptic science fiction series. A single unschooling expat dad, George prefers zombies to aliens but is primed for any meatspace apocalypse minus grey goo.

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Monster Maelstrom

24 Extremely Short Halloween Stories for your Briefest Moments From a Hillary Clinton stripper to mythical beast-women in the harsh Scandinavian tundra and from an unusual band of steadfast teddy bears to the last man in zombie-occupied Chicago, fill your briefest moments with pulse-pounding frights and off-beat chuckles with this collection of 24 flash fiction stories. Commuting to work? Grabbing a quick coffee? Each story tells a complete tale in but a few short minutes with the added promise of a lifelong introduction to new indie writers. You never know, you might just find your next favorite author. Monster Maelstrom, the second anthology in the Flash Flood series, is a hand-picked selection of master works in humor, horror and fantasy themed for Halloween and guaranteed to keep you engaged. Sign up now to get free copies of book 1, Bite-Sized Stories, and future flash fiction anthologies themed for Christmas, Valentine's Day, May the 4th and Independence Day.

  • ISBN: 9781941939116
  • Author: George Donnelly
  • Published: 2016-10-18 10:08:15
  • Words: 29859
Monster Maelstrom Monster Maelstrom