Monthly Archives: February 2017

Showdown by Alanna J. Rubin

For Seth Bodak

He slugged down the rest of his beer, slammed the mug on the bar, and walked outside. The hot sun beat down on him and the dry breeze ruffled his black duster as he stepped out on to the dirt road in front of the saloon. Mad Jack was already there, waiting for him. He was rumored to be the fastest gun this side of Kansas City, and he had a bounty on his head to prove it and it was Derek’s job as the law to bring him in. He pulled the brim down on his black Stetson to shade his eyes from the glare of the sun and flexed his right hand in preparation for the quick draw that was to follow. Mad Jack nodded to Derek in greeting, “Sheriff,” he acknowledged then spat. “I hope you made your peace. I hate to think that I killed a man, and he left unfinished business.”

“Rather polite of you,” Derek responded.

“Well, there ain’t no reason to be uncivilized about the whole thing,” Mad Jack countered.

“S’pose not. So, let’s do this then.”

Mad Jack and Sheriff Derek stood about twenty paces apart and stared at each other. Derek shook his hand as it hovered over the gun in his brown thigh holster. Mad Jack drew fast, but Derek was that much quicker and…Mad Jack suddenly slumped over. “What the?” Derek exclaimed and stared at the gun in his hand that he hadn’t fired.

“Derek,” he heard a woman call out. “It’s time for dinner.”

Derek sighed, “Coming, mom” he called back. “I only needed two more seconds,” he mumbled in disappointment. Derek walked over to Mad Jack and looked at the indicator on the back of his neck. “Parental Override Engaged” flashed LED indicator on the android. Derek hit the reset button on his neck and put Mad Jack into charging mode. “Next time, you won’t get off so easy,” he warned Mad Jack in a southern drawl before leaving the room and turning off the holographic image of his surroundings behind him.

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Baby Shoes by Rhiannon Matlock

From Soldie; thank you for my story starter!

For Sale: baby shoes never worn…..

As I looked at the ad for the third time that afternoon, I couldn’t
help but wonder as to why it was there. My imagination was running
wild and not all of the possibilities were good. In fact the more I
thought about it, the more horrifying the results of my thoughts. The
words were just too simple and oddly stirred something in me. What it
was I couldn’t quite place but there was a bell ringing softly at the
back of my mind. I bit my lip. Should I do it? My fingers hovered over
the keyboard and then all at once they were typing away, responding
even faster than my mind could keep up with. I got to the end of the
sentence and reread.

Hi, my name is Nicole. I’m interested in purchasing your baby shoes.
Is there a good time to come by?

Again I hesitated. This was nuts. What was I doing? I didn’t need the
shoes. I certainly wasn’t a baby and not only was I too old to have
one but so were all of my friends. Of its own accord my finger moved
to the enter key and enabled the send button. A near silent whoosh
stole across the quiet of the room and confirmed that my message had
been sent.

I shook my head and got up. It was Craigslist and I wasn’t expecting
anything anytime soon. As I walked to the kitchen to get a drink, a
message pinged on my phone. After pouring a couple fingers of brandy,
I pulled out my iphone from my back pocket and opened the email app.
To my utter astonishment, a message from the Craiglister scraweled
across the top line of my phone. For some reason, a creeping sensation
of dread rolled across my body and then settled heavily in my belly.
Who answered that fast? Had they been waiting all morning for someone
to post? Surely I couldn’t be the only one who had sent something in.
I had the image of someone sitting impatiently at their computer, just
waiting for some poor sucker to respond. I should just hit delete and
move on with my life but something in me once again motivated me to
engage. With shaky fingers, I tapped the emailed as I downed my drink
and a second later the message appeared. The glass in my hand fell
from my grip shattering even as my eyes racked over and over the worst
two words I’d ever seen in my entire life:
YOU’RE NEXT

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Heather and After by Brandon Scott (contains some graphic language)

For Jim Miner.

She was hot as a pistol and shot a hole in my dreams.

And I wake up from those dreams sweaty and horny. She yells things at me in those dreams, tells me about secrets I want no one to know, much less myself. How I hate myself and love myself too much. She gets me drunk in those dreams, and as the world behind me swims more than even alcohol can do to a person, she speaks about the reality of the world.

And then, it’s a bathroom, and she’s wearing only a sweater pulled down over bare legs, the tiny hints of panties glimpsed. She places a single hand on my chest, brown hair hanging over her forehead, freckles around the nose. I can never remember the exact color of those eyes, but they look at me.

And thin cloth dropping around ankles, and discarded, and the water running, and touching. Oh, fuck, so much touching.

Or was that reality?

Anyway.

Mornings were just as surreal with her. Finding someone else in the house, someone who is not a guest or a family member, but a seemingly permanent resident. Never in the bed when I woke up, always there when I tried to fall asleep, and only letting me once exhaustion hit and swept over me and I needed water to even talk.

And she would stare at me with those eyes and sip coffee, often wearing nothing at all, and crossing her legs, and uncrossing them, underneath the table. Leaning pinkish elbows against the wood and sipping the last sips.

“Hello there,” she’d say, and walk past me, and disappear into the bedroom.

Until I was almost fired, I was late all the time for work. But toward the end, I did not follow her inside the room.

Money disappeared occasionally. That was the death keel. Once I noticed ten bucks used for something, I had a little feeling in my stomach. The kind hard to ignore. Next up: one hundred. Two hundred.

A fortnight of fucking, harder and more frequently than we’d done before, came then. So much it gnawed on me, made my bones hurt. Sleep so screwed up it was like she was caffeine poured constantly into my mouth.

But then a thousand dollars, and I confronted her about it. Over dinner. She got me drunk, I talked to her about it, and I woke up and she’d disappeared. Every article of clothing in my house gone. Nothing but the covers, and not even a note about what it all was for, why she had waited this long.

I still don’t know. I still see her in my dreams. Still feel her weight on me, shifting. Still feel her underneath me. Still hear her tell me how much of a terrible, awful person I am. It’s almost easier now, those dreams, because I know at least she’s worse. I’m not a thief. I don’t play with the hearts of others.

Though, I suppose, in a way, I am a purchaser of a prostitute. Because, in the end, she was sex and intimacy, which only cost me money and material things. Currency and my sanity. I wonder how much of that I gave to her. How much she left inside for me to give to others.

All I know is I seem to sleep a lot now. A whole heck of a lot.

 

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Time to Run by Erika Lance

For Santa Sorrentino, thank you for always being amazing.

And then there it was, darkness staring back at me. I then knew exactly what I needed to do…

I needed to run.

As I turned, it struck me as ironic how many times as a child my mother would tell me that I didn’t need to worry. That monsters were not real and it was terribly silly of me to be afraid of the dark.

She was either in denial or she was simply ignorant. I wish I had been better trained from the start and then I would have spotted it sooner. They hide, but not as well as you might think.

If you know what you are looking for.

First, the temperature changes when you are close. You shouldn’t use this rule because if you can’t flee then you are already dead. Second, they wrap the darkness around them, so there are subtle differences in the light. If the darkness seems torn or mixed, you should again flee or stay in the light, natural light. Lastly and the easiest way to spot them from the farthest point before the “encounter” is sound. No other living creatures will be around them. The sounds of nature effectively stop.

This is the part I wish I had more training on growing up. I feel that most of us are trained by life to simply ignore the sounds around you. The chirping of a cricket, the sound of a squirrel wrestling in a tree. Heck, we even go out of our way to remove most nature from around us. This is what they rely on, that we will not notice we are 100% alone.

I started feeling the breath in my chest. It was going to hurt soon, but I couldn’t stop. I had to keep going or I would be taken. That is what happened.

I didn’t know if it hurt. I didn’t want to find out either. I had seen it happen too many times. When I wasn’t fast enough.

They still looked same after it happened. Well, the same physically. They moved and some could even do the actions they had done in their life before. For a time. Then slowly, they will turn. They will become feral. They become the most animalistic versions of themselves. They become something to hunt, trap, and kill. Some just run; their most basic instinct being to flee. Some consider they are the lucky ones.

I heard the sound of claws hitting the ground. It was closer behind me than I thought. I wasn’t going to make it back out before I was forced to stop or it gained on me and could pounce.

I slid my hand in my pocket and pulled out the lighter and the small can. I hoped it would be enough as I slid to a stop, turned, and the flame jutted from the hairspray onto the creature. For a brief moment, I saw terror in its eyes before it ran. Satisfying as it was, I knew it would return.

Time to run again.

 

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Look Twice by Désirée Matlock

For Nicole Dragonbeck, the caster of many spells.

Look twice, save a life; look thrice, bring back to life.

Her words hung in the air between us as I considered whether this branch of magic was one I was ready for. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I danced, too, trying to figure out the dance as I went. Carlie continued dancing through the high wheat stalks, the waving wheat around us a starkly cheerful dichotomy against the corpse that dented the landscape between us. She cheerfully smiled at me and continued whirling. What was wrong with her? Why was she so cheerful? I know she loved every chance to use magic, but this was no joke, here. Kyle was dead. Dammit, focus. Kyle needs me.

This was going to look like some kind of demented miniature crop circle to anyone who came out this way. Focus! I tried to narrow my thoughts to just the spell’s words as instructed, but my shocked mind kept bringing me other thoughts, seditious as it was.

You can’t bring someone back to life. Look twice.

What if he’s a zombie instead of actual Kyle? Would Zombie Kyle like me? Save a life.

If he comes back as zombie Kyle, I’m going to call him Zyle. Look thrice.

Not funny. Focus. Bring back to life.

Please, please bring back to life. I whirled, nothing but the rolling hills of wheat in every direction. Please God, bring back to life.

Foolish of us to have stopped here. We’d all gotten sick of being on the highway, and had pulled over, sneaking onto the fields near a creek to have a picnic of sorts when the wasp got him. I had searched for his Epipen in the pockets of his pants, where he always kept it, and couldn’t find it. Then Kyle had crumpled and I could feel him panicking as the blackness folded over him. Carlie had leapt up right then, and while I was realizing that Kyle was dead, actually dead, she was already mobilizing. She ran to the car and back while I was pounding on his chest, and had waved the grimoire in front of my face. I tried to see what she was showing me through the tears.

And that’s why, despite how rational I tried to be in life, we were dancing in circles around the corpse of the man I loved, despite that I still didn’t know if I trusted Carlie.

Focus. Look twice, save a life. Focus. Look thrice, bring back to life. Better. Look twice, save a life; look thrice, bring back to life.

I felt the words sink in, deeper meaning in them. Look twice, save a life; look thrice, bring back to life. Boom. It was time. I looked down at his corpse, once, twice, thrice, and saw that Carlie was looking in perfect unison with me, we were totally in sync. The red raw wasp sting receded, and Kyle’s chest began to flutter. I crashed to the ground beside him. Something was wrong with me. I felt so weak. As Kyle’s eyes fluttered open and he sat up, my vision faded to grey and I felt my heart slowing, weakness in every limb. Carlie’s smile faded. The consequence of Carlie’s spell of threes became clear to both of us.

I couldn’t move, could barely raise my chest for air. I came to terms with what was happening. Anything for my Kyle. I thanked the gods of the rolling wheat. What a beautiful place to die, I thought, as my eyes closed.

Kyle spoke, and I couldn’t quite understand the words. He sounded strong and better. Good. I felt his arms wrap around me and felt him shake me lightly, as if it were someone else’s body. I felt so detached, noting what was happening but unable to respond. The sound of fluttering pages, as Carlie probably looked for a spell. There wouldn’t be one. Fair’s fair. I heard him call my name from somewhere beyond myself. Why are you worried, lover? I gave you my life…

I came back to myself only long enough to “I love you, Zyle,” before the blackness folded around me.

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The Asteroid Belt Around My Waist By Brandon Scott

For Veronica, I know you have a story in you.

“Whoa misty, watch out for the asteroid.”

The old mechanical creature bucked up underneath The Sergeant, and he grabbed onto the silver handles as it rocked him around from the sudden stop. The old beast could use a tune up, and maybe a shot of plasma to the energy core. A massive lump of stone floated past them, the amount of momentum behind it deceptive to the average eye.

The bulk was big enough that The Sergeant had to wait and look around in boredom. He watched with a lazy eye as the stars around morphed and gave off heat. Below the string of celestial matter his mount was standing on, various elements lazily rotated around in their own orbits.

The asteroid moved past, and he kicked his boots against the horse’s side. The creature of metal galloped forward without hesitation, and ran along the twisting lane. Gravity had nothing to do with the quickest path, and he went up and down along the length of an energy ribbon.

Once he was sure no heavenly bodies would smash him into a little pile of space cowboy pulp, he engaged the autopilot and pulled out the yellowing wanted poster. The bastard’s face stared at him with his massive twirlable mustache and his eyes like the coals used in the steam trains of old.

Eli Vander’s laugh echoed in The Sergeant’s head, and on impulse he kicked out, forcing the engine to race even faster, making the town of Orion come into view in seconds. It was a tiny place, only one bar, only one whorehouse, but per the reports: this was the place.

His horse alighted on the ground and The Sergeant waited for a second for his boots to adjust automatically to the environment. The seat let him go once that was confirmed done, and he jumped down, his shoulders feeling heavy underneath the thicker gravity.

Sitting off to the side of the one bar, in a wicker chair, was a man with a pipe made of copper, and his own boots holding him down to the ground. A Cheln from the look of him: skin the same color as the pipe and long yellow streaks along the jawline.

“You…new…here?” he said, his Pho-English not great.

“Yes,” The Sergeant said, and held up the paper.

The alien studied it for a second. “You got a… um, fire? No: gun!”

The Cheln nodded afterward, pleased with that sentence alone. Pho-English is hard enough for the people who could speak the root language, and going from Chelnish to it was a hell more of a barrier.

The Sergeant unhooked a silver cylinder from his belt and waved it around for the alien to see. A quick button press and the trigger and handle came out the side. He held it like a gun now, and the business end had a satisfying blue glow growing in intensity.

“Yes, I got it.”

The Cheln stood up and pushed the door open, letting the din of the bar explode out, along with the smell of fifteen species’ cultures worth of alcohol.

“He in there?” The Sergeant said.

The Cheln nodded and made a small hand gesture, which in the old world would be an insult. But to a Cheln it was a sign of good luck.

The Sergeant nodded with his hat, an old ten-gallon looking thing, with brown leather and a small force-field generator hidden in the brim, and walked past the bacteria-locked door.

And there Eli sat, at the counter, with his back to the entrance. Many used glasses off to the side of him, stained by various liquids.

The Sergeant raised his gun, aimed, and as someone made a startled noise with realization, he pulled the trigger and splattered Eli’s gray matter on the back of the wall. That would teach him for stealing The Sergeant’s moon dust, along with teaching the rest of the thieving Fortune Soldiers.

The Sergeant turned to leave as the bar’s patrons all began to shoot and riot. Blasts bounced off the field from the generator in The Sergeant’s hat.

The Cheln looked surprised when he came out and walked past him. The Cheln stood up, and cast an eye back to the intensity in the room.

“No showdown?” he said.

The Sergeant gave him a quarter turn and a smile, before saying his parting phrase, without looking, as he walked back to the Misty, Mark Seven.

“Nah, we’ve evolved past that petty honor shit. Justice is swift. No time for bravado or machismo. Leave that to the cowboys of the yester-millennium.”

 

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Reflection by Alanna J. Rubin

For Holley Rogers

Slowly and carefully he turned the key; the door creaked as it opened to…nothing.

The room was completely empty and it only seemed more hollow by the reflection on the stainless-steel walls. Marcus walked in, dumbfounded. The walls only showed his own brown eyes, staring back at him. But how? He had chased the three-legged creature into the abandoned hospital and could have sworn he heard the creature’s wail from within this room. He stood in its center, forehead scrunched in contemplation. Where is it? He asked himself. He made a slow circle seeing nothing, but his own blue shirt, two hands and feet on every surface, when the door slammed shut. He turned abruptly, his heart racing as he pulled on the handle to no avail. He banged on the metal walls, desperate to find a way out, his hands leaving sweaty palm prints on their surface. Marcus sank down against one of the walls, pulling his knees to his chest trying hard to hold himself together.

On the other side of the door, two men in white jackets observed Marcus through the two-way mirror. “Great job, luring him back, Lex,” one of the men commended.

The three-legged creature responded, “It’s my job to wrangle the runaways, Garrin. Especially the delusional ones. Do you think he’ll recover?” Lex inquired, genuinely curious.

“I hope so, but his delusion of being a human seems to run deep. This is the third time he’s escaped. And even surrounded by reflective surfaces, he never seems to see his own image.”

Garrin and Lex both looked on a weeping Marcus with pity as he clutched his three legs to his chest.

 

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