Saturday, April 3, 2010

Temporarily Closed

We are temporarily closed to submissions. Perhaps will re-open soon. Only time will tell...

Saturday, September 26, 2009


by Elizabeth O’Hara

Every section of his surface was reefseed to a calciferous garden of ill-feeling and papery negative assessments of his person. Exposed and clothed areas alike were festooned with insults flyposted by unseen hands. In the less accessible precipices and crevices of his external anatomy - the crevasse formed between the shoulder blades, for instance - the many layers of character assassinations had fused into papier-mâché scales. He was a bulbous baobab braced with plate fungus hatred, an upright stegosaurus abused by the fortifications of his own exterior.

He had become some form of living pasquino, his flanks bristling with scraps of paper spidered over with satirical verses and erudite mockeries of his foibles, morality, appearance, and general worth as a human being. There were long tracts written in various Englishes high and low, Latin scholarly and schoolboy, and a few in sneering French or snarling Finnish, some barbed with German adverbs so nuggety and gnarled that single words enjambed over several lines of the page. A notable example, written in the very choicest Italian, evaluated his roles as an unnecessary consumer of resources and vital atmospheric gases and postulated on the exact circle of hell to which he would be consigned.

He never let it get him down, however; he was determined to maintain a reasonable opinion of himself and an aspect of congenial bonhomie, despite the paper condemnations and assertions to the contrary flaking from his exterior like old birch bark.

“Your face is merely a hive for your many teeth, the least shocking aspect of which is their incredible number. No man; not you.
A lamprey mocking human form is nearer to the mark. Maybe one at the helm of some manner of man-sized mecha.”

“No, no; not at all.” His replies would echo through the cabbage-scented corridors of his interior, in a voice only slightly louder and more shrill than he intended, “Homo sapiens all the way, this one. Down beyond the bones.” He tapped a nobbly ganglion in his wrist; a redundant demonstration, as it was conducted purely within his mind.

“That which you call a home is, when viewed by an eye wired to a brain unassailed by the malfunctions plaguing your own, nothing more than a shallow concavity barely perceptible in a medium-sized chunk of moor-weathered granite. A party of such reputable citizens bore witness to the activity you designate as “going home” and shakily describe the creepy rubbing action to which you devoted many hours, your cheek achieving friction against the bare rock. Just the boulder and you; naked, windswept, apparently coated head-to-foot in a clear gelatinous substance, and vigorously mashing the right side of your features into the rocky dip. “Nuzzling” was the word many of them used, and that sickened my wife and I more than any of it. We sincerely hope that you find no comfort in its rigid crevice, unappealing character that you are.”

“It’s a mock Tudor semi, I’ll assure you.” As his refutations remained unvoiced, they remained unheeded.

“Snuggling up to outcrops is not an activity for your sort,” came another missive, along with “Die, igneous reprobate!”

“You make tea as an act of passion and make love as a normal person makes tea. Up to and including the half-hearted reading of cereal boxes while waiting until all that’s necessary comes up to the boil.”

“I’ve received no complaints on either count,” he attempted, but even his internal voice lacked the animation for wit.

“Your knuckles are repugnant and you enjoy the general reputation of a stinky winkle. The smell emanating from your manifold creases irritates my mucus membranes over long distances, and I bet your coat is filthy. Your umbrella suffers two broken spokes, a rip in the canvas and a dense profusion of tiny bristling legs across the entirety of its inner surface. This is all the information I need to pass the gravest judgement.”

“I suspect your immune system of being overly sensitive to allergens,” would be the only defence even half offered-up.

“Pitiful man; you are a sourpuss and a receptacle for welts. Your face is provided for our sport, your lips for smacking with wooden planks. You are a nugatory animal, unworthy of genes and animus, and even of the feeble matter at their disposal.”

“No, no, sir; I must protest…”

But he didn‘t. Not for a very long time. Not before the weight of insults built up, slowing his progress and adhering him to the surface. He survived barnacle-like in his cyst of ridicule, using the last reserves of his self-buoying bonhomie and eventually having to take in material via the filter of external judgement. It was this that compelled him in his quest to communicate.

It hit him like static. A letter of his own. His own judgement, the counteract all those from outside. Wild-eyed, he scrawled on the backs of messages pulled from his body. He continued into margins, forming weird palimpsests with the original texts. Where there was no room at all, he resorted to amending what already existed, removing or adding a “not” as necessary.

For many days he worked, neglecting the maintenance of his façade for this new higher priority. By the time his work was one done, only the right hand where it clutched the pen and an oval surrounding his muzzle emerged from the growing ludibrious mass. Here was the record set straight, a true account of his person, whatever any unseen other might judge. It was time for the membrane separating his interior and exterior to bulge outwards, a convexity in his favour.

His mouth formed a faint smile over which he promptly plastered the papery wads of his own self-assessment, shutting out the air and quietly dying within the newly-sealed cyst of his isolation. Soon after that the pasquinades stopped. By which I mean no more came; unfortunately and as they are wont to do, the old ones stuck fast.

Elizabeth O’Hara weaves churrigueresque nonsense and hebephrenic vitriol into a form of literature. Intercept her brainspurts at

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


by Rachel Theofanis

Adults have thirty-two teeth, give or take. When she smiled I could see eight of them. She lived in the apartment above mine. I liked to go to sleep early, so I could turn off the lights and listen to her steps sifting back and forth across the hardwood floors. I liked it when she was alone. It was much easier to see her that way. Stretched out on the couch in mismatched clothes. Her long white fingers raking through her dark unkempt hair. Reading a book, too. I know she had to have been a reader because I never heard a TV. I should have gone up there. I should have talked to her.

When she died I had nothing to listen to anymore. The sound of her footsteps was the music that filled my head and when she left that was all I could hear. I rarely slept, and when I did I dreamt about the teeth I couldn’t see and the girl I never met.

I didn’t know right away, of course. After a few days of smothering silence my intestines gained a life of their own and I could feel them writhing within me. No, I didn’t know for sure until Officer Argo called on me. I had been lying on the floor for three days, feeling the cool planks of wood against my cheek. I was on another planet but Argo’s heavy hand against the door brought me back to Earth.

His stocky frame filled the doorway and with the combination of that and his ashen skin I had the feeling I was dealing more with a wall and less with a man. He seemed friendly enough, but his wan smile never reached his tired eyes and I wasn’t sure what to make of him.

“Hi, my name is Detective Argo,” he said as he coolly flashed a badge. “Can I ask you a few questions?”

“Uh… Sure.” I hadn’t been doing anything terribly important.

Argo started to flip through a small, tattered notebook. “Mitchell Gedman, am I right? Lived here three years?”

My face involuntarily broke into a grin, and I replied. “So far so good.”

Argo returned the same slow smile and muttered, “Good, good…” as he slowly flipped through the worn pages of his notebook. “So what you been up to for the last couple of nights, Mitch? You don’t mind if I call you Mitch, do you?’

“I don’t mind, but I doubt you’d be very interested. I like my nights to myself.”

“Yeah, a few of your neighbors mentioned that they didn’t see you around much.” He ran one of his thick hands through his thinning, graying hair. The bitter stench of cigarette smoke clinging to his coat caused my face to contort in muted disgust as I stood waiting for some kind of explanation. I had not been doing anything very pressing but the interruption was unwelcome.

Argo’s smile fell as he slowly, deliberately looked up, the red notebook bending in his sweaty grip. “Were you familiar with a Olivia Hollis? Apartment right above yours?”

In ways he couldn’t imagine. “We were never introduced, but I’ve seen her around.”

For a brief moment a flash of fierce suspicion shone brightly through his dull features, then subsided. “Well… Well Mitch, I’m sorry to say Miss Hollis died the other night. Neighbor called when she noticed the door forced open and the place a mess.” He glanced down. “It wasn’t a pretty sight, let me tell ya.”

I couldn’t breathe. Olivia. Olivia, who only smiled with twenty-five percent of her teeth; who I could feel in every single pore of my body even though I didn’t know her, even though she was dead. My blood, electrically charged with this information, began to move as fast as it could in all directions at once. “Fuck.”

“Fuck’s right, Mitch. Now we need to know, did you notice anything strange the last couple of days? She lived right above you, I take it there’s a pretty good chance you might’ve heard something.”

I explained to Argo that I didn’t know anything, that I barely knew her. He didn’t put up much of a fuss but I could tell that he wasn’t that kind of a guy. I slowly shut the door and felt isolation put her smooth arms around me once more, but her embrace was colder after the lingering presence of Argo began to slowly dissipate. I went to the bathroom to take a look at myself in the mirror. I had recently lost my job over an unfortunate misunderstanding, and I felt no inclination to find something else to occupy my time. I picked up a hairbrush and pulled out one long, dark hair. I looked at it for a second before flicking it into the trash.

I lay face down on my couch, breathing in the musty fabric. I pressed myself in, deeper and deeper, and let the darkness surround me in miserable finality. I lay there for hours, days, maybe weeks; I’m not sure. I felt as if I was a bottom feeder in the deepest part of the sea, feeling the steady pressure pushing me further into myself. I thought about her long legs. I wondered if she chewed her nails. I didn’t know if she was messy or tidy. I wondered if she had a job, a boyfriend. I breathed into the cushion and let my hot breath warm my face.

I woke up to a phone ringing. I started feeling around under the cushions to see if it was there. Nobody ever called. I didn’t think I had to keep tabs on a cordless phone. I couldn’t find it but it just kept ringing. I had no answering machine, and the high-pitched trill never stopped. I stumbled into the bedroom and found the phone tucked neatly beneath the pillows of the bed I never found time to use.

“Hey Mitch.” Argo. “I spoke with you the other day regarding Olivia Hollis, the woman upstairs?”

I started to nod as I picked up a small charm that had been lying right next to the phone. “I remember,” I said, suddenly realizing I was on a phone and Argo might not be able to see me, wherever he was. The charm was tiny. It was a tiny silver dolphin, and it glittered as I turned it in the sliver of light available. I wasn’t sure where it had come from, but I guess if you have a bed as cold as this one all sorts of garbage might find its way in.

“Mitch, I was just wondering. Are you sure you didn’t know Olivia? I need to know. Was there anything going on between the two of you?” His voice was steady, soothing. “Your younger neighbors seem to suggest that the two of you had some sort of excessively private relationship. Or are they mistaken?”

I let the charm tumble through my fingers and didn’t look to see where it might have landed. I had no clue what this man was talking about. “There must be some sort of mistake. I didn’t know her. I never met her.”

“Now, I’m not one to judge Mitch, but if you had anything goin’ on with this woman you need to let me know.” His voice became louder, commanding the situation.

“I didn’t know her, trust me,” I said, right before I hung up and threw the phone across the room, watching it smash into little pieces. I wasn’t angry, far from it. There was just something in his voice that I didn’t like. I didn’t need a phone anyway.

I had fallen asleep again, and was woken by the sound of Argo’s voice. This time he was outside the door. It was nighttime, but I wasn’t sure how many days might have passed since I threw the phone against the wall. I slowly got up, my brain rattling along with Argo’s incessant pounding against the door. It would be better just to pretend I wasn’t there. Walking to the kitchen, I reached deep into the freezer to see if I could find something to eat. My head began to ache worse as I listened to Argo’s heavy fist crash into the groaning wood of the door. I continued to ignore him as my hands brushed against something cold, hard and unfamiliar. It definitely was not food, so I took a firm grip and yanked at it, pulling it out of the freezer.

I stared at what I held in my hands. The pounding grew louder and louder until I lost myself in it almost entirely. It was just me now. Just me and this grotesque thing I held with unfamiliar hands. I had to wonder, what on earth would I be doing with a pair of pliers caked in a thick layer of blood?

I sit up in this cold room, my eyes squinting against the harsh light coming in from the window. I think about her white teeth, her dark hair, and the pale softness of her white skin. Argo’s the only one who ever visits me here. But I guess nobody ever visited me before, anyway. He only asks me one question:

“We need to know Mitch, what did you do with her teeth?”

Monday, September 14, 2009

Vantage Point

By Louise Norlie

She observed their strange rituals in silence, taking careful notes. To escape she needed knowledge. The workers sported waxed mustaches. They trotted ladders through the halls and wove them through the doors. From a vantage point on the tenth stair she saw each and every door on the second floor and the door on the first floor she called the final door. This she guessed to be an exit door but she could not reach it. A huge baby guarded it with fierce brandishes of a syrupy fist. She called the baby Cerberus though it had just one head.

The workers hosed down the rugs and sprayed the potted plants with glaze. They boxed vases and unpacked crates of fine china. Minor collisions prompted an excuse me muttered with averted eyes. Whenever the clock struck a new hour the baby cried. In the evening, the workers reposed and she sat among them. They gazed out the one and only window with gasps of admiration. Apparently, the light show was for their benefit, the handiwork of some distant god. She traced the arcs of distant flames and fires for signs and symbols. The result was that she saw herself from a vantage point high above. The window was a shrinking yellow square and she was distinctly alien, the odd one out. She felt the eyes of the workers upon her and hid behind the curtains. They insisted with mute gestures that she rejoin them. It was not generosity, she felt, but joy in seeing her so conspicuous. Their eyes became huge terracotta orbs. From their vantage point she was a puny and helpless thing, destined to drown, bailing water from a sinking ship.

The night pressed close with hammering. The house grew larger beneath the auspices of hidden violence. The workers argued in the secret whisperings of an unknown tongue. Their mustaches moved stiffly due to liplong scars. Sounds of shattering plates and crashing metal were the backdrop of their stoic faces. Her feet crunched on tiny shards in dark corners. Red fluid oozed from slits beneath the doors. This she pretended to ignore while ladders slid past longer than freight trains.

She recorded her hypothesis faithfully. With the longest telescope the stars were words of it. She now believed the workers were not moving, only building. From time to time the walls bleached translucent. The light shows came more often, the windows grew in size. The yellow-brown eyes of the workers pressed against them like butterfly wings. People in glass houses, she repeated, not remembering the rest.

Giving up on the exit door, she took a nail to a wall and began to hammer. Fizzures spread as the edifice let out a protracted groan. She heard footsteps behind her, many moving as one. The workers had ganged up at last. Unprecedented, the baby rose to its heels, stomping heavy as a marauder.

It was too late for a furtive escape; the cracked wall was impenetrable. She sought refuge between the potted plants as the baby drew near. She swung wildly and found its flesh to be soft, pillowy. She punched it to deflation. It shrank letting lose a piercing howl from its wrinkled face. The workers encircled them both. The baby wriggled with rage. She was to blame for it being forever stunted. Its chubby fingers pointed toward her in condemnation, first the right hand then the left. Traitor! Spy! the workers chanted.

The new walls flapped and shredded. They became arms that grabbed her, imprisoned her. The workers were the building blocks of this strange place, she realized, their motions a charade. Her lips were the only part left free. Held aloft she screamed, Cerberus soaring by her side, while the light show flared its spectacle above.

Bio:Louise Norlie’s publications have appeared in Mad Hatter’s Review, Unlikely Stories, Behind the Wainscot, and elsewhere. She has contributed to Sein und Werden in both its print and online manifestations. Her writing has been anthologized by Dead Letter Press and Bettany Press. Visit her apathetically maintained blog at

Monday, August 31, 2009

First Time

by Mark Allan Gunnells

“How old were you your first time?” Rick asked.

Debbie, sitting in the passenger’s seat of Rick’s beat up El Dorado, fidgeted and blushed. “Well, you know, I guess you could say…”

“You’ve never done it before, have you?”

“No,” Debbie said softly.

“Neither have I.”

She gaped at Rick, her mouth hanging wide as if her jaw had come unhinged. “Are you kidding me? I thought you’d been around the block more than a few times.”

Now it was Rick’s turn to fidget and blush. “You know how it is with guys, we talk a good game. All that macho bluff and bluster.”

“So you’re really just as inexperienced as me,” Debbie said with a teasing smile.

“But I’ve thought about it a lot. At times it seems like it’s all I think about. And, you know, I’ve seen…movies.”

“Fantasies don’t count.”

“Yeah, well, I’m tired of fantasizing about it anyway. I’m ready to actually do it.”

“Me too.”

Rick drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, his eyes locked out the windshield. “I’m glad my first time is going to be with you.”

Debbie reached over and put a hand on Rick’s thigh, causing him to turn and look at her. “I’m glad too. I can’t think of anyone else I’d want to share this with.”

Rick started to giggle, his excitement bubbling up from his gut. “Are you ready?”

“I think so,” Debbie said, squeezing his thigh. “So how do you want it? Nice and neat, or nasty and wild?”

“I don’t care, although…”


“I’m afraid I might finish too quickly. I mean, after all this built-up anticipation, I might not be able to control myself. I apologize in advance if that happens.”

Debbie shrugged and smiled encouragingly. “It’s okay. I mean, it’s not like this will be the last time we ever do it.”

“God, I hope not.”

“So it’ll last longer the next time. It’s the first time for the both of us; I’d imagine we each have a lot to learn about how it’s done.”

“I’m certainly ready to start learning.”

“So am I,” Debbie said and popped open the glove compartment. She reached inside and pulled out two long, thin boning knives. Handing one to Rick, she said, “Do you want to go first?”

“No, let’s do it together. I mean, isn’t that the whole point?”

Debbie nodded and they both turned around, staring at the young girl tied up and gagged in the backseat.

Bio:Mark Allan Gunnells is the author of the chapbookA Laymon Kind of Night.He has sold over fifty of short stories to various markets, including Withersin. Dark Recesses, the anthologies Tangle and Damned in Dixie, and has two essays in the nonfiction title Horror 101: The A List of Horror Films and Monster Movies available from Midnight Marquee Press.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Lip Service

By A.J Kirby

The cubicles in Mason and Bell are so modern as to make the stashing of anything inside them a virtual impossibility. Movie-style set-pieces are a no-no. The future Godfather wouldn’t have been able to pull off his most audacious move. Here, there is no tank in which he could have secretly deposited the gun which would kill his first wise guy. The guts of the flushing system are contained within the tiled grey walls. All there is in the cubicle is the throne and the transparent toilet paper dispenser. Anyone would think that the powers that be didn’t trust us drones.

Everyone knows that the people who work in firms like this like – need – to engage in recreational drugs to get through the stresses of the day. But in here they’ve removed any trace of a properly flat surface onto which you could chop up your lines. Unless you wanted to use the toilet seat… But even the seats seem rather too ridged, and are comprised of this gritty material which would hoover up all of your powder far quicker than it would get snorted up your nose or rubbed in your gums.

It would be awkward to engage in sexual relations in the cubicles too; there’s not enough room to swing a cat, let alone a tasteful bra and knicker set from Marks and Sparks or La Senza, depending on which rank of female you are cracking away at. But the temptation’s there; many a time I’ve heard the muffled sounds of strained gasping from the cubicle next door and found myself getting hard, imagining sex faces and sweaty marks on the sleek plastic doors, only to discover that the girl next door is actually voiding her bowels.

Unisex toilets leave very little to the imagination. I know for a fact that most of the women don’t go for a shit in the fourth or fifth floor toilets for example, preferring the old-fashioned anonymity of the concourse cafeteria’s bogs than here, where the boss or the hot bod in accounts might somehow stumble across them.

But circumstance, or dreaded physical necessity dictate that I must make these toilets which seem like those of a swanky wine bar, my hidey-hole. Everywhere else is camera’d-up. Anywhere else requires entry via an access pass; bods in the security hovel are tracking our every move like we’re walking time-bombs.

So, here I am, standing on the lip of the throne, thrusting my hands up to loosen the ceiling tile above the cubicle three doors to the left. Every time the automated air freshener pumps out its scent of summer flowers, I feel my legs begin to shake, confusing its muffled sound for that of somebody else in here, who’ll see me hanging from the ceiling like some frustrated pervert.

When I discover the item – all wrapped up in a zip-lock bag like a piece of evidence from a crime scene – I can breathe again. Here are the tools which will enable me to keep that sheen of arrogance, that gloss of wonder-stuff, which mean that I’m called into the board room for these interminable meetings with Mason and Bell and whichever client they are trying to woo. I’m the bright, young face of the company, they say. I’m the kinda go-getting feller that will be managing their potential account with us, they say. I’m the man that will put them on that great big 3d lunar map which takes up most of the table in the board room.

Only, right now, I can feel my bottom lip starting to bubble up like its one of the ridges on that very map, or a milkshake. I can feel the staccato rhythm of my heart drumming inside the bubbles, like the skin isn’t able to contain the pus that lies within. The cold-sore already feels as though it has taken over the entire bottom half of my face. The face of Mason and Bell. It was all I could do to talk with my hand over my lips, before dashing off to the sixth floor loos, all apologies.

I can hear old fat Mason’s words as though he’s in the room with me now.

‘Never trust a man with a cold-sore, Paul,’ he told me, his great fat arm clamped around my neck, his clammy hand massaging my shoulder. ‘Because a cold-sore implies that the man has some degraded past that no matter how hard he tries to hide, keeps popping up and giving him away.’

In six years at the company, I’ve managed to keep my own affliction a closely guarded secret from the powers that be. But only through my own pig-headed stubbornness and often downright illegal methods; many’s the time that I’ve had to fix the monthly medical checks by acquiring the hair and urine of a small perfect-child from the school opposite my new flat.

And over the past few months, the testing has got worse. There was an awful incident when Rachel in the call centre was discovered as a herpes-sufferer and the complaints of the others in her pool had shaken the top brass into action.

‘There’s an epidemic in this building,’ Bell yelled at us in his company Winterval dinner speech. ‘And until we’re populated by the perfect-children, and we’ll know that nobody’s hiding anything, we’re going to be monitoring all sexual activity undertaken by employees. We’ll also be asking for regular medical reports. We know that somebody here was playing around with Rachel in the call centre. She told us as much herself, before she took the cowardly route out.’

I remember the guilt I felt right then. It throbs out at me from my own sore now. Poor old Rachel. It had only been a bit of fun. But I left my mark of Cain upon her forever. Or, at least until she chose to defenestrate herself through the thick-glass of the board-room’s panoramic window.

The first item that I pull out of my crime scene bag is a mirror. Mirror, signal, manoeuvre; I always perform this heavy ritual as though I’m the most law-abiding driving student in the history of plant-powered cars. I stare at my face. Hate the man that looks back at me. Hate the maternal weakness that made my mother lean over and kiss me one day when I was in the crib despite the fact she was one of the damned.

She cursed me. She cursed me to this eternal life of worry. A cold-sore can come on at any time, but generally at times of stress, or tiredness, or after a heavy night. All of which are staple parts of a life at Mason and Bell. I have to sleep all weekend, just so I can be bright-eyed and bright-lipped throughout the week and hence pay for my nice new flat and the nice new plant-run car and the company pension scheme which will be tied in to property on the new lunar base.

Lunar bases, lunar faces. I’m always surprised by how small a cold-sore actually is. It’s not taken over the whole bottom half of my face at all. Doesn’t look as angry as I’d envisioned it. Looks nothing more than a pimple in the harsh light of the bathroom. But appearances can be deceiving. Given the right circumstances, or untreated, the bubble will eventually pop of its own accord, leaving in its place the terrible sore of destiny. Which will last for a week, before finally lapsing into its third stage, when it looks like you’ve been drinking too much red wine and your lips are stained red.

I pull out the lance. Depending on whether you’re a glass-half-full person or a glass-half-empty kinda chap, lance can be a good or bad word. Glass-half-full person will think of the knight in shining armour connotations; glass-half-empty miseryguts will think of other, more down and dirty medieval things like ‘lancing a boil’.

I carefully position the mirror on the edge of the toilet bowl and hunker down onto the cold floor of the cubicle, taking care not to lance any other part of my body as I position myself. I try to jut out my jaw and work my hands around the bubble like a surgeon massaging a heart. And it is a tiny heart; still beating like it has a life of its own. But a stray finger always seems to get in the way of the mirror’s full view of the cold-sore. How do surgeons attain such a level of dexterity?

Concentration and practice, that’s right. Concentration and… I move the lance into place, willing the tell-tale trembles in my hands to cease. It reminds me of how Rachel was so nervous when she first grabbed onto my cock out by the smoking shelter and the bin store. How at first, she touched it like it was some electronic instrument which she feared she would break, but soon was joy-sticking it around like she was playing in an old-school arcade. In the end, I’d shoved her off me and continued of my own volition, only letting her back in on the act when I reached the vinegar strokes so I could shoot off into her gaping, senseless cavern of a cake-hole. And in that very act of forcing her head down on me, I’d spunked the story of her death all over her lips.

And she’d been grateful, the sappy bitch. Grateful that I’d deigned to look at her amongst all the other identical moon-faces in the call centre. Now she had a story which would elevate her up the ranks… Was there anyone in that monstrous department that I now had to bribe?

My anger lances the bubble. I swear I hear it sigh as it pops. I hold my breath and watch. And there’s no confusing clouding of the mirror to blame when another bubble suddenly pops up, right next to the first one that I’ve lanced.

I jab the lance into the new bubble. Watch it pop. Watch as my lips start to return to normal. And then it happens again. Another bubble…

Now, bubbles are popping up on my bottom lip quicker than I can pierce and drain them. They are positively flinging themselves up from the flesh of my lips and onto my face like lemmings. In fact, it reminds me of that terrible game that they used to have in bowling alleys – back before the perfect children always got perfect scores – where some rodent or other pops up from one of the holes on the board and you have to smack it with a hammer in order to win points. What was it called? Cleaver Beaver? Mole Mash?

My cold-sore is becoming uncontrollable. It’s becoming an arcade game. But this is no laughing matter. What the hell is happening to me? Surely I’m dreaming.

There was a scene in Gremlins I think – I’m a sucker for those daft golden age movies – where the furry creatures came into contact with water, and suddenly started to chemically react and turn into the scary lizard-things that threatened to run rampage through the town. Now that’s happening on my face. It’s some kind of chemical reaction. Somehow, despite the scientific integrity of the crime scene zip-lock bag, something’s got in and infected my lance. Or else it’s something that’s about as far from science as you can possibly get. Good old-fashioned what comes around goes around. I’m getting what I deserve. This is Rachel’s goddamn revenge or something.

I’m starting to panic now. And with panic comes fresh bubbles. My bottom lip now looks like a bunch of grapes. I’m diseased. Nobody who looks like I do now would ever be let anywhere near the Ravenscar Apartments, let alone the new lunar base.

‘Shit!’ someone says.

‘Shit!’ I discover that I’m saying, over and over again.

I can hear Mason’s blubbery voice in my head, too. He’s telling me all about how much I’ve fucked up and how there’s no place in the company for someone like me.

Suddenly, I realise that there is a third voice, and it is accompanying the gentle knocking on the cubicle door which has been going on for some time now.

‘Sir,’ buzzes a steady, robotic voice. ‘Are you in need of medical assistance?’

The way he takes time to say the words ‘medical assistance’ instead of simply ‘a doctor’ tells me all I need to know. It’s one of the janitor-folk, here for his hourly check where he’ll lick the bowls clean and polish the taps.

‘Sir?’ he continues, in that annoying, unable-to-take-a-hint way of theirs.

‘Leave me alone,’ I growl, through a mouthful of bubbles and sores and pus. It hurts to talk, as though the gift of the gab has been lanced along with that very first bubble I popped.

I lever myself up onto the toilet seat and start depositing the remnants from the zip-lock bag about my body. Think about flushing the toilet to drown out the noise of the no-mark on the other side of the door.

‘Would you like me to alert your department head of your predicament?’ asks the janitor. I hear his steely nails scurrying across the smooth plastic of the door; he’s searching for a way in here.

‘I do not have any predicament,’ I moan. Even I struggle to understand the meaning of the words that are spewing from me, so I have no idea how this pre-programmed shit-brick will be able to decipher them. Usually, they need to be able to look into your faces and read the signs…

‘Department head,’ repeats the janitor, nonsensically.

‘I am the department head!’ I scream, as cold-sore grapes burst, as my face starts to fall apart. ‘I am the head of sales!’

Something in my garbled scream must make sense to the janitor. He stops scratching at the door like a cat looking for scraps. He must be thinking. Or whatever those things do which is a replication of thinking.

‘Mr. Paul Ferry. Sales Manager. Thirty-Four years of age. Blood type O,’ spouts the machine in such a machine-like way that it makes my blood boil. When does a machine ever have to worry about physical imperfection or about ill-advised sexual conquests? When does a machine ever have to go through anything as soul-destroying as the lancing of a cold-sore?

I click back the lock on the cubicle door; face-down the robot. He’s a great, hulking mass of numb metal and sterile subservience. More like a small vehicle than a man. I dare him to say something about my face. About the sores. But he doesn’t seem to have noticed the sheer scale of the horror which is right in front of him.
I try to push past him, to the sinks.

‘Sir?’ he asks, once again. He’s creaking back and forth on those little trolley-wheels of his in a manner which seems to suggest nervousness.

‘Would you like a fresh hand towel?’ he continues, voice purring away.

And suddenly, I can bare it no longer. I reach out; feel the electric charge as my fingers brush against the janitor. I start to push.

‘Sir?’ cries the robot, as he starts to tip back on his wheels. There’s a twist of panic to his voice which makes me push harder.

When he finally does topple over, he makes an almighty crash as he hits the tiles. I see the dim light starting to disappear from his eyes.

And now the janitor’s panic alarm is starting to reverberate throughout the room. So loud that security must be on their way here. So loud that Mason and Bell will hear, back in the board room.

What the hell have I done?

I crouch down next to the fallen janitor, tracing my fingers across his carapace, searching for some kind of off-button. Can’t detect anything. They’ll find me in here and realise the truth about me. I’ll be out on my ear; won’t be able to go back to the apartments.

Before I know what I’m doing, I lean over the janitor and clamp my lips over his. Start trying to share my breath with his. Madly, I think that a kiss of life will bring a robot back from the dead…

And amazingly, the kiss does do something. I see the dim light starting to return to his eyes. I feel the metal creak and shift below me.

He speaks:

‘Mr. Paul Ferry. Sales Manager. Thirty-Four years of age. Carrier of herpes.’

I feel the colour drain from my face. The knowledge itches at me. I’ve been discovered. Crying with rage, I smash my face down into his over and over again. We’re now both of us a mess of blood and pus and gore. Mindlessly, I stagger to my feel. Plant a well-aimed kick square into the janitor’s bottom lip. And then I’m outta there, crashing against the windowed-walls of the corridors on the way back to the board room. Workers pause from their relentless typing to stare open-mouthed at me.

I pay them no mind.

Mason lets me back into the board room with a quizzical look on his round face. The clients nudge each other and one of them stifles a laugh.

‘What in hell happened to you, Ferry?’ roars Bell.

‘Got into a fight in the toilets,’ I mumble, noting that half of my lip has just slopped onto the white shag-pile. So this is how it will all end? Me literally falling apart in here, like so many before me…

Evidently not, it seems, because now Mason and Bell are all smiles.

‘Nothing wrong with a bit of rough-housing,’ chuckles Mason.

Bell slaps me on the back: ‘I like to see a man enaging in physical activity,’ he says. ‘Proves you have what it takes to be one of the very best!’

Utterly confused, I stare at my reflection in the polished glass of the table. And suddenly understand; no matter how bad my appearance, at least you can’t see the cold-sore any more. Not under all this blood.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Heavy Flow

by Gina Ranalli

They brought her in naked, screaming and thrashing, trying to escape the grip they had on her arms. The tops of her feet dragged across the cement floor; they were literally lifting her off the ground.

I sat on my cot and watched them toss her into the cell next to mine. She flew through the air and bounced off the far wall, but somehow managed to remain standing. Immediately, she whirled and charged them, but she wasn’t fast enough.

“Fucking whore,” the fat one with the gold badge snarled as he slammed the cell door and locked it. “You’re lucky I don’t bash your fucking skull in.”

“I ain’t no whore!” the naked woman shrieked. “Your mama’s a fucking whore!”

The younger one, the deputy, took a step back, his face ashen beneath his hat. He whispered something under his breath that sounded like “shit” and that almost made me smile. He was scared of her, that much was obvious.

Good for her, I thought.

The black woman, clearly insane with rage, thrust her arms through the bars at them, her hands curled into murderous-looking claws. “You fuckers!” The claws flayed, seeking flesh.

This time, both men took a step back and the deputy let out a little squeal of fear.

I snickered, which caused them to glance in at me.

“You see something funny, bitch?” the sheriff asked. “Maybe I should lock you in with her, huh? You think that’d be funny too?”

I screwed my face into a serious expression and said nothing. Fuck him.

“Yeah, I didn’t think so,” he said, self satisfied. Then he turned to his white-faced deputy. “C’mon Billy. Let’s let the ladies get acquainted.”

Billy seemed all too eager to get back to the front office and away from the naked woman. Together, they walked off out of sight, ignoring the woman’s continuing screams of fury.

Once they were gone, I figured she’d settle down some, but she didn’t. Instead she violently flung herself around the cage, bashing herself off the bars and walls, tearing at her hair and screeching curses to wake the dead.

Rising from my cot, I walked over to the bars that separated us and said, “Hey, knock it off. You’re not hurting anyone but yourself.”

Ignoring me, she lunged at the cell door and tried to climb it.

“They’re not gonna give a shit if you end up breaking your neck or something. In fact, it’d probably make them happy.”

Suddenly, the woman stopped battering herself and fell silent, turning her head as if she was noticing me for the first time. Her eyes were palest shade of blue I’d ever seen in my life. A blue-eyed black woman…

Then she spoke, her voice raw and ragged: “I have cramps.”

I wasn’t sure if she was telling me this as an explanation or an aside, but it didn’t matter. I frowned and could think of nothing to say, so I tried my best sympathetic look.

“They’ll be sorry now,” she said matter-of-factly.

Staring at her, I decided she really was crazy. I cleared my throat. “Maybe they’ll give you some aspirin.”

Without taking her eyes off my face, she reached down between her legs and appeared to dig around in there for a few seconds. Then she brought her hand up and showed it to me. The fingers were bloody. “Do you have a tampon?” she asked.

“Uh…no. Sorry.”

Jesus. I decided then that I needed to go back to my cot, and quickly. The last thing I wanted was some crazy chick flinging her blood at me. “You should ask the sheriff to get you one, though,” I said as I sat down, my back against the wall, as far from her as I could get. “They probably have some around, for situations like this.”

To my amazement, her face broke into a huge lunatic grin and at that moment blood began to trickle down her inner thighs.

“Shit.” I stood up and went to the front of my cell. “Hey!” I yelled. “We need a little help in here!”

No response.

“Hey!” Much louder this time. “We have a problem!”

Still nothing.

Finally, I hollered, “Yo! You fucking redneck inbreds! Stop stroking each other and get your fat asses in here.”

It was only after I’d yelled this last that it occurred to me that maybe the woman didn’t want to bring attention to her situation. For myself, I knew I’d be mortified beyond description.

But it was too late.

“What the fuck are you screaming about?” Two pairs of footfalls could be heard approaching us just before the sheriff and his deputy rounded the corner and entered their pitiful, four cell cellblock. The sheriff glared at me. “You trying to get yourself beat, you little cunt?”

I bit back my anger and jerked a thumb at the bleeding woman. “You need to give her something.”

Both men turned their attention to the woman and at first didn’t notice anything. Then, in unison, their eyes dropped and their expressions turned sour. It was almost comical.

Wrinkling his nose in disgust, the sheriff uttered a “Christ almighty,” while the deputy turned a vague shade of green.

To wake them up, I snapped my fingers and said, “Instead of just standing there like the world’s biggest morons, maybe you should go get her something before she bleeds all over herself.”

The sheriff’s eyes darted from the woman, to me and back again. Then he let out a chuckle. “Looks like you got yourself a problem, alright. A little visit from your ol’ Aunt Flo, eh?”

The deputy laughed and finally spoke: “No wonder she was such a wildcat bitch, huh, Henry? She had the P.M.S.!”

They both thought that was knee-slapping hilarious and continued amusing themselves with crude jokes at the woman’s expense.

Meanwhile, those pale eyes burned with blue fire, watching them above a tiny crooked smile. I was somewhat surprised she wasn’t freaking out, trying to reach through the bars and choke the life out of the bastards. Or at least rake bloody gouges across whatever flesh presented itself. I wanted to kill them myself.

Finally, I could stand it no more. “What’s wrong with you losers? Can’t you just get her something? For Christ’s sake, what if she was your wife? Or your daughter?”

Abruptly, the laughter stopped and the sheriff took a step towards my cell and pointed a chubby finger at my face. “One word about my family and they won’t be able to ID your body, if they ever find it. Is that perfectly clear, young lady?”

I clamped my lips together, pressing so hard it hurt. I held his gaze for several seconds before dropping my eyes and releasing my breath in a huge sigh. Without a word, I went and sat on my cot, arms crossed.

Happy with himself, the sheriff looked at the deputy, and they both cracked up again. “Let’s go, Billy. That poker hand ain’t gonna play itself.”

They started off and I couldn’t stop myself. I yelled, “At least give her some fucking clothes, you sick prick!”

Over his shoulder, the sheriff said, “Fuck both you cunts.”

After that, I suggested to the woman that she simply sit down and bleed all over the cot mattress. I figured it was better than nothing and, as an added benefit, would undoubtedly piss off those guys to no end. But, she shook her head and said, “Then the blood would be absorbed and I couldn’t get it back.”

I stared at her. “Right.” What a loon, I thought, lying down on my own cot—no pillow, no blanket—and closing my eyes. This whole experience was getting on my nerves. If it hadn’t been for that frigging broken taillight and the roaches in the ashtray…

Cursing myself and my crappy luck, I drifted down to sleep.

When I woke up, the first thing I saw was the naked woman standing in the center of her cell, her arms and legs spread wide and her head thrown back. The first thing I heard was the trickling sound of water…

Yawning, I sat up. At first I thought she was peeing right there on the floor and for some reason my first instinct was to laugh. But then I saw the steady stream flowing down from between her legs: thick and scarlet-black, almost ropey.

“Fuck!” I leapt up and rushed over to the bars separating our cells. “Oh my god!” I stood stunned, eyes on the flow. Hemorrhaging. Maybe a miscarriage. “Fuck! Fuck!”

Racing over to the front of my cell, I screamed, “Call an ambulance! Call a fucking ambulance!”


I glanced at the woman and saw that her head was no longer thrown back. She was looking at me with those peculiar eyes, a finger pressed to her lips. Then she dropped the finger and used it to point at the floor. At the little circular drain set into the middle of the concrete. She stood directly over it and the steady stream of blood poured from her body and into the drain.

Vaguely, I heard the sheriff yell, telling me to shut the fuck up, but my attention was on the woman and her red waterfall.

“They arrested me because of my affair with the judge,” she said calmly. “A married white man who said he loved me but really only wanted to fuck me. When he was done, he dismissed me as if I were a servant. I’m no servant. I wanted to tear his throat out. He locked me in a bathroom and phoned the police. He’s a very important man. The community could never know his dirty secrets.” She paused, smiling slightly. “You should have stayed asleep.”

A wet smack hit the floor between her legs. I looked and saw what appeared to be a big bloody glob of ground beef on the drain, soggy and liquefying before my eyes. “What the…”

“You must never speak of this to anyone,” the woman continued in her mesmerizing voice. “Not ever. Danger will find you. Do you understand?”

I couldn’t lift my eyes from the bloody blob at her feet. I nodded just as another one fell—splat—on top of the first one, which was nearly gone already.

Blood clots, I thought. Huge, disgusting blood clots falling from her body and disappearing down the drain.

When I finally looked up at the woman, I saw that she was melting, her body sinking into itself and I had to bite into my forearm to keep from screaming. I felt my knees buckle, give way, and as I sank down, the woman sank with me, collapsing from the inside out.

Tears streaked down my cheeks from unblinking eyes. Far away, a muffled voice was muttering, “No,” over and over again. It was only later that I realized it must have been me.

I watched as the woman’s legs dissolved into a red bubbly mass, her torso sitting in the middle of the blood puddle until it too, began to dissolve. A flash of white—part of her ribcage—was briefly visible and then gone as a deluge of crimson washed over it. Her breasts, previously full and round, deflated, melting down the front of her and then her shoulders and neck were perched only inches above the drain. The eyes were still on me, fixed and very much alive. I heard myself whimper as the head began to spill its contents down the drain, the face finally melting away into nothing. All that remained were a few maroon drops and smears. She was gone and it wasn’t until then that I began to weep.

By the time the sheriff came to check on us and discovered a prisoner missing, I was no longer crying. Instead, I pretended to be asleep and when roused, I played dumb.

I knew—no, I know—that this particular danger will have no reason to find me. Not ever.

But the sheriff and deputy? The judge? Oh, yes. Danger will find them.

Of that I have no doubt.

Bio:Gina Ranalli is an American author of bizarro and horror fiction living in Seattle, Washington. Her writing has been described as "accessible yet eccentric, creepy yet endearing, catchy like bubblegum pop yet twisted and off-kilter." She is interested in environmentalism, feminism, eco-warriors, animal rights, veganism, tattoos, skulls, and horror flicks.