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.

Monday, August 10, 2009

After Ragnarok

Andrew S. Taylor

In the hospital, the doctor, standing behind the dim lamp which he points toward me from the corner of the dark room, speaks.

“I'm not supposed to be here. They could have me censured. They might take away my carte blanche access to the pharmacy.” I see the silhouette of his hand move toward the silhouette of his head. A dark diagonal line with an orange ember at the tip protrudes from where his mouth should be. His face glows infernal orange. I see his lips, cheekbones, like a skull dimly irradiated from within. His eyes are hollow pits save for the reflected ember, twice reiterated. He burns, exhales, dissipates, and then he is all darkness, all shadow, all mouth. I press play on the tape machine near my pillow. The sounds of the ocean emerge. There is likely a tiny bead of metal listening near my bed, fastened behind the bookshelf or the vase, and now it is confused. Old technology, vanished politics.

“Doctor,” I ask, “what happens in this country to someone found to be a double agent? What is the penalty?”

Doctor turns and shrugs and smokes again. He paces behind the lamp, will not cross into the cone of light. He speaks slowly, smokes heavily. His voice drags like a corpse through dry dirt. “In that case, friend, we enter a curious mode of justice.” He hisses, clicks his tongue. “Here you may be found guilty of a crime of false consciousness. You call it lying where you come from. Or, perhaps theft.” Shrugs. Smokes. “We don't make that distinction here.”

I touch the bandage on the side of my face. The gauze is damp and sticky. With one eye still working, I catch a view through the window at night. They keep the curtains drawn at day. There is nothing out there but empty factories, and the occasional glow of a hand-held lantern. Men, I am told, who buy things from the back door of the hospital and sell them elsewhere. They call them Icers.

“What's my best shot?” I put it out there. I have to. The blind side of my face worms with heat and pain. Soon I will be incoherent again. The doctor is sparing with his opiates.

He stands by the window, considers the refuse. “A foreign agent - that's just espionage, the usual. Life in prison with some torture. A double agent, that's false consciousness. You worked both for us and against us. Back in the day, so long as the grainers were flush and bellies full, they'd be willing to take mercy. Invoke a lenience clause if you could show you helped us more than you harmed us, but you'd still face at least life imprisonment, with perennial visits from Uncle Twitchell and his magic car battery. But if the balance tilted against us, you'd be toast. Public toast. City Hall steps, even.” Smoke. Cough. Smoke.

I look at the length of my body, beneath the once-white blanket, spotted with agonies and, possibly, occasional ecstasies long extinguished. I am thin and uneven. “How old are the blankets and the sheets in this hospital, Doctor? I feel the ghosts of your numerous failures tapping at me.”

Doctor laughs. “They want attention. They want to sue me from the afterlife.” The ember falls to the floor in a helical dive. Then his voice deepens, his chest spreads. “You can say that you worked for them, and then for us, and then for them again, and that by the time you reached the third layer of subterfuge there was logically no more chance of loyalty to anyone. Once a layer of deception has been affixed to both sides, you are effectively a lone entity. The penalty for that is not as great as being found out as a foreign entity. You compromised yourself to both sides, and were merely fighting for survival betwixt your appointed contacts on each side of the border.”

I shift my weight. How long since I last moved, walked? I remember the border. Pine trees, wall, factories. Factories, wall, pine trees. And so on, back and forth by night. I remember the wall, loved the wall, loved the cold February stars through the pine trees and the smokestacks. The stars were always turning and returning. I was tired at night during the crossings and I dreamed often that I became fuel to the factory, was burned in an oven, and flew out through the smokestacks and up into the stars. I dreamt often of the dirt, the snow, becoming sap in the strong pine, shooting upwards, bleeding to death at the tip of the mountain.

I tell the doctor my latest fairy tale. “Doctor, there was a patient who used to stay next to me in this room. An old man in pajamas like a candy cane. Every night about an hour or two after the lights went out he would play with himself. He'd call out names, different names almost every night. I could never tell if he did because he thought I couldn't hear, or he did it because he thought I could.”

The doctor laughs again. His laugh is caustic. “They hate you for the dreams you gave them,” he says. The cigarette is nearly finished. “I won't be coming back here for a while.” He opens the window. A cold wind blows in. The wind sounds like the old man, calling out names. He tosses the cigarette. It falls into the night, another pinprick of light to join the Icers. He looks at something I can't see and grins. I see his eyes now, pupils the size of dimes. He leans out the window for a moment, seems to be looking for something else to say, and then turns and switches off the lamp.

“I can see the colors now, doctor,” I say. It's that lamp, followed by the sudden darkness. “The night is in the room with me, and it's swimming with colors.”

I cannot see the Doctor, only the colors, but I hear his footfall near the door on the far side of the room. Soon he will pass beyond into the unlit hall, the tunnel of dripping water.

“I'll leave the window open for you,” he says, and then departs.

I turn to the window. Dawn has not arrived. I touch the side of my face. Remembering that I used to wander, I call with my mind to the faraway creatures, the foxes and the hawks, the wild boar and the bear and the jack rabbit. I call to their husks, to arise from the soap vats, from the factories and the rusting canisters. Through the open window, I call to the remains of the world. I say, arise, and live. Arise, for Odin is amongst you once again.

My new novella "Swamp Angels" appears in the anthology Needles & Bones, recently published by Drollerie Press. My fiction has also appeared in Pindeldyboz, Thieves Jargon, Mud Luscious, Word Riot, Menda City Review, Monkeybicycle, Underground Voices, Mad Hatter's Review, The Cafe Irreal, Ellery Queen, decomP, and The Dream People. I live in Brooklyn, NYC. My blog can be found at

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cell 34

By Michael James Gibbs

In the middle of the night, Frank Killmen woke up puking M.U.S.C.L.E. Men on the floor of his Tijuana jail cell. He had forgotten all about those Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere in the mid-to-late eighties. Him and his buddies used to swap the two-inch tall intergalactic pink wrestlers on the school bus. Charlie used to swear they were made from Pepto-Bismol. Frank had a McDonald’s Sand Bucket full of them. He even had the M.U.S.C.L.E Wrestling Ring.

Frank stared at the little wrestlers in disbelief as he wiped his wet mouth with his blue shirtsleeve. A significant portion of his cubical hell was lit by moonlight that shined through the iron bars of the only small window in Cell 34.
He had spurted them out three at a time. Each of them was whole with all limbs attached. Matter of fact, they looked to be in mint condition. They hurt his throat like hell when they came up, especially Ashuraman. Frank was sure the six-armed sonofabitch had lodged himself in his throat. DEATH had flashed before his eyes in big red letters.

One of them suddenly moved. His name was Apollo the Giant. He looked like a miniature pink Michelin Man with a Kenny Roger’s haircut and a face full of boils. The little wrestler twitched, sat up, and then used his tiny hands to push up off the floor. Then Frank noticed all of them were moving. Some stretched and flexed their muscles while others shook their heads as if to wake up their brains.

Frank began to recognize more of them. There was Iron Commando, who looked like a robot wearing a football helmet from the early nineteen hundreds. Scaly Erimaki Togaki had the face of an Australian frilled-neck lizard. Black Tomahawk, an ogre-looking creature, held an ax in each hand. The four-armed figure with wings, known as Satan Cross, wore a medieval battle helmet and carried a small sword and shield.

Seeing the M.U.S.C.L.E Men conjured up memories that Frank had long ago buried deep inside. Frank never met his father, probably just another john who banged his mom with a cheap gas station rubber that broke. He had spent most of his childhood locked up in his bedroom listening to his mother in the next room fuck guy after guy for cash. When his mom wasn’t doing tricks for cash, she was shooting black tar into any vein she could find. Some days she forgot to feed Frank.

Trapped in his bedroom, Frank made use of his imagination. He was King and ruled over his toy kingdom. GI Joe. Darth Vader. Batman. His favorite little pink M.U.S.C.L.E. Men. Their fate was in his hands. Every time Erimaki Togaki won a fight, Frank had chosen the outcome. Each time the Night Rider wrecked the General Lee, Frank had caused the collision. When Skeletor convinced Battle Cat to savagely slaughter He-Man, guess who was plotting the destruction of the Master of the Universe? Each day, he created his own little world and got to play God. Fuck He-Man, Frank had the power.

In an instant, it became Crystal Pepsi clear why Frank had chosen the life of a hit man. The adult world, however, was much more different than the world he knew as a child.

Frank reflected upon his first hit. Big Al, owner of the Gold Rush Casino, paid Frank ten grand to kill a man who owed him money. Tom Pacific was the unlucky man’s name. Frank followed Tom home after a night of Texas Hold’em at the Argosy. He shot him in the head before the poor bastard even got his key in the lock. As if it happened yesterday, he could still see the blood and brain matter splatter across the white siding of the house near the black mailbox labeled “Pacific Residencd.” At that moment, Frank had felt powerful and once again in control.

Rage rushed through his veins as he starred back down at the miniature action figures of his youth. Frank grabbed for his gun, but it was not there. He felt so naked without his gun. He wanted to put a bullet through all six M.U.S.C.L.E Men. He raised his foot to stomp them. But as his foot came down, the little pink fuckers scurried underneath his cot and into the darkness.

Frank’s stomach suddenly rumbled. Then a sharp pain filled his chest as his diaphragm tightened. He projectile vomited eight Wacky Wall Walkers that stuck to the concrete wall. They looked like fruit-colored gummy spiders. Each Wacky Wall Walker had a soft, round head and five sticky legs that stuck to any vertical surface, then, after a few seconds, would slowly roll-walk down to the floor. But instead of moving down, the ones that Frank purged quickly ran up the wall and gathered in a dark shadowy corner.

Again, his stomach rumbled. This time the thunder came from his lower abdomen. Before he could even take one step toward the commode, a load of something filled the back of his pants. Whatever came out of him was cold like the metal of his cot and hurt something fierce when it shot out. Frank reached behind, dug into the back of his britches, and pulled out a hand full of Hot Wheels covered in a mix of blood and shit.

“Jesus, what’s happening to me?”

The headlights of each car popped on simultaneously. Frank flinched and dropped the matchbox cars to the floor. They raced off leaving small rubber marks on the concrete. He could feel the cars still inside his pants begin to move around. Tire burns on his ass felt like bug bites. Frank dropped his pants and hopped up on the cot. Different models of Hot Wheels raced out from each pant leg and disappeared into the various dark shadows of Cell 34.

Next were the army men. He up-chucked twelve of the little green fighters. They shot at him while running for cover. The tiny bullets penetrated Frank’s skin like multiple bee stings. Marbles and Jacks fell between his legs. Various toys from the 80’s kept shooting out of Frank’s mouth and anus. He could not take it any longer. Grabbing the thin sheet from his cot. He tied one end to the metal lamp on the ceiling. Twenty-five Lego pieces suddenly poured out of Frank’s mouth while a Barbie Doll dropped from his ass.

In spite of the unbearable pain, Frank continued his work. He quickly tied a slipknot. A john had once taught him how to tie a slipknot right before plowing his mom. He cherished the instruction, it being the closest thing he had had to a fatherly experience. He tied them regularly.

Eyes now bulging with fright, Frank’s felt his throat stretching out from something large and round. He gurgled and fought for air. A baseball popped out and flew across the cell. Tears poured from his eyes as he placed the noose around his neck.

“Coming to see you mom…FUCKIN’ WHORE!”

Frank stepped off the cot.


Prison guard Alfonzo Cruz walked the cellblock making his usual morning rounds. He wore a light, brown uniform. His belt held a large black stick, a can of pepper spray, and a ring of keys for each cell. He stopped just after passing Cell 34. He took a step back and looked inside.

Alfonzo called down to the guard standing post near the cellblock entrance. “We have another piñata.”

Alfonzo searched through his keys until he found the one with the number 34 on it. He put the key into the lock, turned it, and pushed the steel door open. Frank hung limp from the lamp wearing only his blue shirt. Four other guards stepped into the cell.

“Ready, amigos!” Alfonzo pulled out his stick.
The other guards did the same.

They all took turns giving Frank whacks. The watchers cheered on the hitter.

“Hit’em harder, puto.”

“Crack him open, essay”

“Amo a las piñatas humanas.”

Frank was now rocking back and forth, slowly twirling. The shortest guard kept hopping up and hitting him in the crotch.

On Alfonzo’s second turn, Frank cracked open. The guards all shouted in triumph as hundreds of toys fell to the floor. They all grabbed large handfuls of toys and shoved them into their pockets. Alfonzo picked up a baseball. Each guard thought about how happy his children would be when their padre came home bearing gifts.

Michael James Gibbs lives somewhere between reality and his imagination in SW Ohio. He is a student at Indiana University East majoring in English with a minor in Creative Writing. His work has been published in the e-anthology Bradley Sands is a Dick and The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Martian Monocles

by Rhys Hughes

It's true we know more about the surface of Mars than the bottom of the ocean, but not for want of trying. The problem with diving so deep is that the pressure is enormous and only the strongest bathyspheres can survive a journey right down to the abyssal plain. Many vessels and explorers have been crushed over the years attempting to plumb the ultimate limits of the deepest marine trenches.

Every time a bathysphere implodes somewhere far under the seas of Earth, the most advanced beings on Mars shed big oily tears in sympathy, but not because they assign a high value to human life. No. They aren't even aware that those bathyspheres are crewed. Such misunderstandings are normal between the life forms of different worlds and only rarely can an authentic connection be made.

The Martians in question resemble giant eyeballs that have fallen out of colossal heads and a legend says that when they all weep together the ancient dry riverbeds of the red planet fill to the brim with doleful water, but in fact there aren't enough of them to produce sufficient liquid for that. What is true is that the eyelids that slam like shutters to protect them are the same colour as the desert.

These eyeball beings are clairvoyant and that's how they know about the bathyspheres on Earth. They see images in their minds that are almost as clear as the pictures they focus on for real. They dislike being stared at and are instantly aware when anyone or anything tries to study them from afar, and that's why it took so long to detect them. They aren't exactly shy but they do value their privacy.

The moment a telescope is trained on them or a probe passes overhead the eyelids close and they remain very still, so nothing can be seen but the endless desert with its scattering of spherical rocks. When the intruder has gone, the rocks turn back into eyeballs. They move by rolling like globes and they derive nourishment purely from photons. In other words they eat whatever they see, just like fat men.

It was only by accident that humans first made contact with them and the circumstances of that encounter are so unlikely they are worth telling again. A habitual sleepwalker on one of the first exploratory missions got out of his hammock in the middle of the night, suited up inside his rocket, opened the airlock and walked off alone. He was still fast asleep when he blundered into a group of eyeballs.

Because his eyes were closed all the time, and his conscious mind was switched off, the Martians didn't telepathically pick up his vibrations or take evasive action until it was too late. The astronaut woke up as soon as he hit the ground and then it was pointless for the eyeballs to pretend they still didn't exist. So Mars and Earth were introduced to each other. Formal trade links were rapidly established.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the Martians had nothing the humans wanted, and the humans only had one resource the eyeballs valued at all. Books. To be precise, the books of one author, Ray Bradbury. Try as they might, the humans couldn't interest the Martians in any other writer, not even Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert or Kim Stanley Robinson. So crates of Bradbury titles were rocketed to Mars.

As those rockets took off from the launch pads of Earth, the heat of the departing exhausts turned winter days into summer, melting snowdrifts and baking nostalgic cakes in ovens not yet lit. But that doesn't concern us now. Every Bradbury volume was reprinted and small-press magazines from the 1940s were trawled in an effort to retrieve those numerous short stories that the author had disowned.

The Martians devoured these works, but because the eyeballs were so big and the typeface in the books so small in comparison, severe eyestrain was the inevitable result. Soon every Martian was myopic. They bumped into each other constantly as they trundled over the desiccated continents and irritation turned to anger, then anger became a desire for revenge. An interplanetary incident was inevitable.

Disaster was averted by the resourceful owner of a spectacle shop who recalled an old fable about a Spanish lens grinder who made an enormous monocle for a cyclops. This was lucky, as nobody else seemed to know that story. He saw no reason why the spectacle factories of Earth couldn't make monocles for the Martian market. His idea was taken up by various governments and rapidly implemented.

Soon the eyeballs could see clearly again and the wearing of monocles even imparted to them an aristocratic air they hadn't possessed before and the reissuing of the entire Ray Bradbury back-catalogue was resumed and everything should have been fine, but a new problem arose in the wake of the solution. That's often the way. While wearing their massive monocles, the Martians were no longer able to roll.

An eyeball is a spheroid and spheroids move like balls, but a monocle is a disc and its flat surface impedes that kind of motion. Anger became a desire for revenge again. A second interplanetary incident loomed and it seemed that two worlds would be forced to engage in mutual destruction with futuristic rays because of a retrogeneric Ray, which sounds neat but isn't. All because of short sightedness!

Fortunately, the owner of the spectacle shop was also a transportation expert. Neat coincidence, that. He quickly grasped that the dry riverbeds of Mars could be utilised as roads, as twisting freeways that would enable joined eyeballs facing away from each other to employ their monocles as wheels, eating up the Martian kilometres on the transparent rims of those vision rectifiers. An ingenious solution.

Although the Martians were loose eyeballs and hadn't lived in sockets for aeons they still possessed residual optic nerves that dangled like short tails from behind, just as the coccyx of humans is a residual tail. A pair of friendly Martians could splice these nerves into a flexible but strong axle, and that's what they did, rapidly acquiring a taste for high speed cruising and irresponsible driving while blinking.

The owner of the spectacle shop had become an unofficial ambassador to the red planet and he warned the drivers to take more care, to cut their speed, to keep their eyes on the road, but the third part of that advice was a joke, because no matter how inept they were they couldn't do otherwise, and soon enough there was carnage everywhere and a third interplanetary incident was on the verge of erupting…

At this point the owner of the spectacle shop gave up. He couldn't be bothered to avert another apocalyptic war. It was somebody else's turn. He concentrated on relocating his entire stock into a subterranean bunker and living in close confinement with many wives. History doesn't record his name, partly because history no longer exists, but rumour maintains it was Yrubdarb Yar. Sounds foreign to me.

It just remains to explain the significance of the Martian empathy for bathyspheres. They think that bathyspheres are the true dominant form of life on Earth because of their shape, so when they implode under the sea and a perfectly round bubble of gas escapes and breaks the surface, the Martians believe they are observing a soul leaving its physical body and ascending to the realm of eyeball ghosts.

Bio:Rhys Hughes is the author of 495 short stories and many
books, including

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I saw what I was

by Willie Smith

Start with left leg. Well, no. Start with restarting Homelite. Amputate right right after left. Swing back – seated on stove top, arms elevating torso – to cauterize hip stumps on burners.
None of this feels good. Payoff is watching twitch bloody hunks no longer me. Sprouts an understanding of why.
Take off southpaw at shoulder. Topple over cauterize that. There glints the ring once linked to the wife sawed up earlier tonight. Callouses from where I carved out a living sawing down trees. Now saw off saw arm.
Prop device in lap. Lean into whizzing chain. Right flops to floor.
Next roll over on the Homelite to behead the daylights out of what remains. But think first a bit, peering over edge of stove at four limbs pickup-sticked between the Frigidaire, the sideboard, the kitchen sink:
Every step I took, every card I dealt, dumped on the floor, while next to my ear the Homelite – set to do so – roars and roars. Something no lion can. Either roar that loud that long or contemplate self-removed parts.
Stare at the limbs begin to assemble a dream. Swivel back onto the saw, sawing into tonight the claws of the hammer in the sentence I was.

Bio:Willie Smith is deeply ashamed of being human. His work celebrates this horror. His novel OEDIPUS CADET is available at or from Black Heron Press. His story collections SOLID GAS, GO AHEAD SPIT ON ME, EXECUTION STYLE and STORIES FROM THE MICROWAVE are collector's items. More of his work can be viewed by googling "deeply ashamed of being human."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009



It is dark inside, a failed abortion, a demonic coal mine fetus trying to rip its way out of the womb, still moments from a frightening dawn, within a single cube of liquid living onyx, in there. Deeper still, look through the eyes into the depth, further, through the maddening mud of primordial ooze, past the wall of rem, into the veil of secrets. There, into the center cut, this place that is a hypnotic tunnel of twisted shapes, into a coal matrix of uninmaginable terror, joy, pathos and final, as the black chemeleon of odd mazes and forms and faces. It is..."The Mind."

It is dark inside. Pad in hand she listens, terrified, exuberant and confused. Sure of her own genius, yet lost, no road maps here. No easy journey reaching into the core shadows and tring to grab onto an enigma, clutching the air, so lost of something that can neither be touched, seen, not loved. Unless a mad women, who knows tears of blood, grief, sorrow, her sisters and brothers, which within her turmoil, she sees, feels that she might comprehend. For help, or hell and damination awaits her charges, which twitch through crazed and wild eyes in her direction for a simply glimpse of hope for her to just stop it. Make the black carrousel of thought stop. Please they beg of her, and she does, sometimes, and her heart implodes when she fails.

It is dark inside, there, so very dark, the wraiths at times are in control. The inmates holding the keys to the asylum. Until who, until she, sitting across the table from them in her city penthouse cell, tapping a stiletto heel, and talks. A fearless goddess of unanswerable answers, she peers through the orbs of a seer. Or is she a charlatan peering into the world of pitch, of tar and flames and insanity, where open mind surgery without a cut, a stitch, bloodless, is enacted from her cerebellum and creative mind and bravado, mixed within a whirlwind power and terror trip. Unless she fails, then there is blood everywhere, mostly from the tip of a flaming hand gun barrel and a self inflicted gunshot.

It is dark inside. Why? Why must the artist be held for ransom? Their creativity a spear driven between their frontal lobes? You want this passion, this sin, pay for it with every waking moment of your life. You need to place images on white parchment? Do it with your blood. You actually care and feel in a dehumanized planet? Then let passion tear and rip your nerves and heart from your cadaver within its careless way and then we will see who holds what cards. For the women that fixes me, calms insanity is an illusion and I have to believe she is what she promises. We, them, us. We must trust that we can make it late at night when every demon in hells prison breaks Hades apart and B and E's through our window panes holding razors to our brains, the ones she promised that she could fix.

It is dark inside, as I wield a knife she promised me was not there...Well it is and I believed, and my god, this woman, this black technician actually choose to repair us, both of me. Lies whispered that she could reconstruct the dam and be there, as we create and roam within the unknown waters of our art, talent and dreams, fantasies and our feral driven passions that we do love.

It is dark inside. What gall, what eminence, what ego. Thank god for her bravery to think she can see us, the scrolls on the wall are evident as she delves into and assimilates out madness of the crayola world of the artist she call friends, patients and lovers. Brass Balls Baby Banging. I know she sees, she has to hear, someone must cry for us, weep and take the time to peel away the onion skin of agony that engulf us that make us pretty. I am fragile. I am broken. I am human. And I am alive.

It is dark inside, her words as flames help me see, to be sane that way. For this I empty the chambers of my thirty-eight and laugh at those copper smiles leering back at me. I return to poems, paint and spirits and tender thoughts of love. My mind again. How fickle. How beautiful. How she holds it so tenderly within her swaddled wings, a white swan resting, for we drain her of her power. Do you feel her feathers? Her down? How she protects us. How for a moment, even I, even you, feels safe, and more, as the gold watch second hand moves as a pendelum now, "Sleep the metronome whispers, sleep my child, rest, laze in and within the protection of my power and when you wake in the morning you will be fine."

Friday, July 10, 2009


By Michael R. Colangelo


“…Rappelez-vous l'objet que nous vîmes, mon âme,
Ce beau matin d'été si doux:
Au détour d'un sentier une charogne infâme
Sur un lit semé de cailloux…”

- Une Charogne, Charles Baudelaire, 1861


They call him Rapax.

And it never occurred to him when he was younger, that one day he might make enough of himself, to be called anything.

He has never died. He has never suffered an injury that might keep him from a fight.

He just keeps fighting and fighting and waiting indefinitely for the odds to slant the other way.

At some point when he was still young, they branded him. The words servo spiritus burned across his bronzed back with a heated iron. The words mean keep breathing in the language of the Church.

They explained the brand once. It's a catch phrase to make him more appealing to the crowd. His slogan has become a joke amongst the betting nobles and his adoring public. The temple-worshippers enjoy reviling him as a pagan villain. It is all theatrics.

He thinks he's a dangerous actor, though, and so do the fools who meet him on the sands.

He has fought so long that it now affords him a modest home inside the city walls. He has also been gifted four youths. But unlike many of his peers, his sexual tastes do not swim in these channels. So between his times training and spilling blood inside the arena, he teaches them how to fight too.

In the spring time, he will have enough victories to choose between buying his freedom from the games or purchasing a running water system for the house - the same design owned by the Emperor himself.

Except for the engineering of human slaughter, the mechanics of the arena do not interest him. He is not a stupid man, but he is an uneducated one. The workings of the betting tables make as much sense to him as the Gods - the Church versus the Temple - do.

All he knows is that he has amassed a small fortune in exchange for blood. He decided, long ago, that he likes the killing too much to ever end it.

So when the time comes, he has already decided that he will take the running water mechanism.

Vecchia handles all his business for him. Unlike his boys, she is a channel that he swims in with frequent enthusiasm. If he is one day crippled and unable to fight any more, he has discovered another sport that he enjoys almost as much as the fight.


Two of the boys massage his calves and his thighs with vigor. In his old age, he finds that his bones and joints are often sore under the burden of his muscle mass and his old injuries.

The other two spar on the stone floor before him. It's a little like watching himself out there. Only they are younger and faster... and more prone to making critical errors.

Tomasos, for example, loses his footing on a straightforward thrust. If this was the arena, he would be dead in moments. Even martyrs and galley slaves do not make such grievous mistakes.

Remarkably, Eisen does not catch the mistake. He retreats from the sloppy attack rather than press forward. He is too busy trying to outmaneuver an already outmaneuvered enemy. Both of them would be dead already if this was not practice.

Eisen still manages to hit Tomasos in the face with his wooden stick.

Tomasos' blood drips on the well-stained floor while Eisen glances in Rapax's direction. He expects some indication of approval. But there is none, for he was lucky - not skilled.

Rapax turns his thumb down for their poor performance. This is just a game of the... game, but the Emperor knows his entertainment. He would have both youths crucified for their atrocious display.

The pair shuffle away without a word.

Approval-seeking, enthusiasm, and hope - these are things that have no place inside Rapax's home.

That's when Vecchia glides through the open archway of his home.

He does not like her presence in the company of other men, and so he dismisses the pair at his feet with a swipe of his arm. They scatter away to join the others in the wings of the house.

After all of these years, he is still enraptured with the way that she moves. Although the long seasons have stolen some of her grace, there is still elegance to her motions that he has never seen before, inside or outside of the arenas. This small and simple mystery is the one thing that has kept him loyal after so lengthy a time together.

She sits on one of the raised steps near his chair and hands him a square of blanched parchment.

It's a flier for a fight that hasn't happened yet, filled with foreign language characters that he cannot understand.

There are the faces of two men drawn in the center of the flier. One man he recognizes as himself. The second man, a dark and swarthy visage with intensity highlighted in his eyes, he does not recognize.

He knows the faces of all of the fighters inside the city. He has killed most of them, or is planning on it.

She can tell that he is confused, and so she explains.

“They have been organizing games on the new continent for years and it has always been too expensive to transport you there... but the Emperor's engineers have designed a new boat, and you are about to make everyone very, very rich.”

She takes the flier from his hands and smoothes it out on the flat of the stone step.

“They have been doing this for years on the far side of the sea. Your opponent - he is a regional prince. He is your equal - very rich and undefeated in battle.”

Again they wish to use him as a monster. He will play the part of the foreign occupier intent on destroying their popular local leader.

He sneers. His expression is not pointed at her, but the sentiment is strong enough so that she rises to her feet and prepares to leave.

“I'm leaving. If you don't want to listen to me, you won't. But you should prepare, Rapax. You will be leaving soon, too.”

He lets her go, and suddenly everything seems soured. He is property of the city and he is sick of it. He has just finished planning to install a great plumbing system, and now they decide that he must uproot to travel overseas to fight for their amusement.

He realizes that it isn't the killing that he minds. It is them.

Eisen is summoned to the main chamber again. The boy looks expectant, as if Rapax has summoned him back to praise him for his poor display from earlier.

“There are enough monies in the vault to purchase my freedom from the games,” Rapax tells him. “Take it and deliver it to Senator Auxilius.”

The boy hesitates.

“What do I tell him?”

Rapax muses. Tomorrow's sunrise would bring him the first taste of his freedom, and for once, he did not need to prepare for the event.

“Tell him that I have retired.”


The morning does not bring freedom.

He awakes on his chair to find Eisen holding his bag of coins. The boy's battered and blackened expression carries a look of shame and failure upon it.

Auxilius has rejected his bid for retirement, and had his guards beat Eisen to show his full resolve regarding the matter.

Rapax is not surprised. The rich old men have not become rich old men without careful control of their assets. That is what Rapax is: an asset.

“Give me the coins and go.”

He climbs down from his stone chair. His back aches.

How many days has he sat on his mock throne without leaving? He has lost track.

The days blur.

The law states that he is not allowed to house his own weaponry. If their tools are not regulated and confined, the Senate fears their fighters will organize their own versions of the games, or worse, rise up and overtake the city themselves.

Before he leaves, he fetches a meat knife from the cooking room near the back of the house.

There is a sundial outside the old temple and Rapax notes that it is midday. This means that Auxilius is taking his meal between Senate proceedings - likely at the old city aqueduct.

The aqueduct has been uncovered and sealed at both ends by the city engineers. It has been turned into a small pool located within a Public House. It is where important political men go to relax when they did not want to face their public outside.

He finds the Senator quickly. Auxilius is lounging near the still waters of the open duct. He is chatting to a heavyset man who also wears the white robes of public officials. Rapax does not recognize him, but it is of little consequence. Auxilius has no time left for introductions.

The Senator's eyes manage to register Rapax's approach with fear. Moments before the point and edge of the knife go to work and sever all of his important veins and arteries with swift violence.

When he is done, he kicks Auxilius into the duct.

Then he rams his blade deep into the Senator's friends' gaping and surprised mouth, before sawing across his fat belly and emptying his steaming guts into the pool to join his dead friend Auxilius in eternity.

Nobody moves or speaks. Good. Death can come swiftly when he is in the room. He tucks the knife away and then retrieves his bag.

Without flourish, he dumps the contents. Coins spill from the bag to spin and bounce across the blood-slicked floor. The high, musical sound of the money echoes through the silent chamber and it amuses him.

Rapax laughs.


Vecchia is furious with his actions against the city officials.

There is a fight. Poor Tomasos is shoved with such force that he loses his balance and falls against a burning brazier of oil that sets him, and the house, aflame.

She stares at him with fury in her eyes. This is Vecchia's way of daring him to rise and make good on his words of violence.

But he could never harm her.

It's her expression, her eyes. They unsettle him the most. They remind him what might become of things - of him - if she was to go.

So he leaves first, and he finds himself, by himself, on the road outside of the city.

He is free and alone.

When the rich have problems, they turn to the Oracle. She lives up a mountainside among the old temple ruins.

The journey is a challenging one. By the time he has reached her home, he pulls himself onto the flat shield of granite breathing heavy. His lungs feel scorched by the climb.

She lives inside a dome carved from the mountainside. It is a marvelous construction, built by men far older than the Empire, who would put its engineers to shame. Still, the location of the dome makes it impractical to serve of any use to all but the Oracle herself.

He climbs between the broken remains of old columns and shattered pottery. Then he squeezes between the shattered pieces of the wall's structure. The main entrance to the dome is full of traps. It is rumored that the Oracle eats human flesh. Those journeying to the Oracle who do not know any better become dinner.

Her eunuchs greet him as he enters. The Senate has banned the practice of genital removal for many, many years, but distrusts the Oracle's lusts enough to make an exception with regards to the servants they send her.

She waits for him crouched low beneath her altar. On the stone, a mutilated corpse bleeds. Her victim has had the flesh flayed from its body. On the ground beneath her feet, she sorts through a pile of blue-black entrails and feces - seeking clairvoyance.

“I knew you would be along sooner or later,” she tells him.

“I barely believe in this. I barely believe in you.”

“Do you realize that many in the city do not believe in you?”

He supposes he has always feared this truth. In all of his years of fighting, of all of his victories on the sand, there is an acute possibility that the fighting has been fixed.

Still, he dismisses her prodding. It is a ridiculous assumption. No man agrees to his own painful death. The thought of such things is extraordinary.

“We are not playing shell games out there, hag.”

“You came for a reason, yes? Quickly, please. The season is turning, and it is one filled with chaos and death.” She gestures towards the remains on her altar.

He tells her what he is looking for and as he speaks steadily, she quietly strips off her rags to don the skins of her altar victim. When he is done speaking, she responds to him.

“I've worn a man's skin and witnessed the insides of your mind, Rapax. You are sick and festering. I am bemused that the maggot wishes to escape its carrion meal.”

It is an insult. She is an insult. Even as he approaches her, she continues to talk.

“Like the worm, Rapax, to escape is to transform into the blowfly, or die writhing outside of the rotting carcass.”

Dying, yes. He wraps his hands around her throat. He shrugs off her servants like the bear swats away biting insects.

Transformation. He is less pleased with the prospect, especially given his current company. But he realizes that he can do no better.

Pressing his thumbs into the soft part of her neck, he draws her close.

“I am aware of my shortcomings,” he whispers. “But I am interested in transformation - whatever that entails.”

“Then this is what you must do...”

She chokes out her instructions and he listens intently.

He listens so intently, that he misses the skinning knife she has managed to grab from beneath the pile of guts at their feet.


Darkness. Blackness.

No man agrees to his own painful death.

The thought of such things is extraordinary.

Bio:Michael can be found here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


by Adam Lowe

They named her Singer because she was half woman, half Singer sewing machine. Where her slender waist should have widened to hips, it widened into a black metal frame on an oak desk, with a wheel at her rear and a treadle between her four legs. She wheeled herself around on casters, as though a workhouse invalid.

Gris had never called her Singer, but rather Marlène. He, a mad child with curly tangles of black hair, had been an orphan. Barely fourteen, he had inherited his sponsor’s lighthouse workshop and built Marlène. He was the colour of slates, gun-barrels and stormy skies. Then the Great War came to town, and he left with it.

So Marlène lived with a neutered hyena who had the eyes of a child, and watered Gris’ flowers. Endless nights would be spent playing the oboe, which Marlène felt was the only mechanism, beside a Singer sewing machine, that could illustrate her longing for the lover/creator who had faded into mustard gas and the gauzy veils of history.

Together with her pet, whom she tagged the Marquis, she travelled the countryside and the cities during the summer months, draping a skirt over her mechanical breech and wearing a sequinned Venziana mask to hide her face, which was at once beautiful and terrible in its eerie symmetry and otherworldly perfection. Every year they would make this journey, leaving the petunias to grow wild, and when they tired of the smells and sights or it grew too cold, they would return, following the gaze of the lighthouse on the tide. There she would continue her business as a tailor, stitching Christmas stockings and Easter costumes.

Men with curious desires would also visit her, late at night, and pay preposterous prices for her passion. Dressed in lace, wielding a lash, she would penetrate them with her needle, exploring the weft and fabric of their bodies. They would leave, her name stitched into their chests, or perfect French poetry carved along their thighs. And when they returned, they would pay twice as much as they had before, and she would double-stitch their hems and serif their verse.

Fairgrounds and carnivals were always a blessing for Marlène, who could feel safe within their bounds. It was sixteen years after Gris the Cornflower left that Marlène heard of his inevitable return, and it was at a carnival that the news was given. Though she and the hyena creature did not grow old, she knew that time had passed and that by now Gris must be dead. But death could not keep Marlène from her love. She kept countless daguerreotypes pinned like sepia butterflies to the workshop walls. She dreamed violent dreams of his presence. She remembered the taste of his flesh and his knives. How they had rolled amongst bedsheets and sluices of blood!

So the news was not unexpected. Such love would traverse the grave—she knew that.

From behind glass, the mechanical fortune-teller gave her announcement. Even though the machine usually demanded a coin to function, as Marlène rolled past it fed a pink card onto the ground beneath her wheels for free.


At that, Marlène was satisfied. She had already known the truth. The Marquis had known it too; she could tell from the peculiar way he pissed, always on the southern wall of a given building, opposite to where Gris’ northern bedroom would be. Southerly-pissing and mechanical oracles proved their intimations. Though dead, Gris would be reborn to her, or return again to the lighthouse, with its workshop and flowers.

But the news provided problems of its own: if Gris was to return, then when? As time passed without respite, and wars sparked and fizzled out, she began to despair. Was she active enough in seeking him? The medium had claimed his return, not that she would find him. So what if he was back, getting married, growing old, and she had overlooked him?

She had to find him.

Marlène began to keep many companions. Frankensteins, the lot. Built by Gris to aid in his creations, she would stitch bodies together with her drug-tipped needle, cauterising and binding them with ecstasy. Of all the chimera they had built, the Marquis was her favourite. But there were others, and their number increased after Gris disappeared. Since she missed the sadistic plough of her needle over and through his body, stitching him up in elegant contortions, she took new lovers, hoping one might turn out to be her reborn creator.

And so she crafted centaurs, monsters, slaves; sewn together; threaded to machines and animals; their mouths needled shut or their eyes hemmed forever open; her serging, exquisite surgery. These barbaric golems stalked the lighthouse and the fields that skirted it, glutting on raw meat and fucking in brutal rituals of pain. But Marlène grew bored of them and their feasts, leaving them as per her wont and continuing her search for Gris with the Marquis. Carrying an oboe and a rifle, she abandoned the lighthouse to its own ends. She would come back when she was ready.

Only once did she use the rifle, and then only when a pimp refused to step aside and allow her to pass. Without a thought she blew his head open, spraying grey matter against the wall. His pack of retainers dispersed in frantic flight, leaving her path clear in the alleyway. From then on, she was left alone. Murmurs of the siren-woman who wheeled herself through the back streets of Paris soon spread in her wake; tales of a gorgon without legs, saddled on a trestle, passed into urban legend. Singer the machine-girl was a phantom with a hell-dog by her side.

Years passed, with her and the Marquis living out of a small apartment turned Sadeian dungeon, overlooking the Eiffel Tower. But still she had not found her lover.

It was the autumn of 1989 when she returned to find half her flock cannibalised. Those who remained were slow, their brains having grown dull from tireless decades behaving as animals. Thought turned to instinct, leaving them useful only as gardeners. But this didn’t bother Marlène, who felt calmer without responsibility. So they watered the petunias, and planted sunflowers and tulips too.

She still loved her creatures, stroking their blunt craniums and folding into their neanderthal arms. Now she merely felt resigned that they, too, would one day be gone, and that they could never be her Gris.

Come spring, she decided to leave early, heading to the cities disguised as a woman in a wheelchair with a rather exotic-looking dog. Then, whilst vaunting through the capital, she heard a mewling sound. The Marquis headed into the detritus of the alley, sniffing out some unseen truffle, and returned to his mistress with a baby in his mouth.

Despite the elements, the child was still alive. Covered in grime, its skin shimmered grey. Its eyes, too, were grey in that twilight. The whole world was smeared charcoal, and so she knew.

‘You have returned,’ she said, smiling, lifting the child to the light. ‘I knew you would come.’ She lifted him to her breast, it brimming with opiate nectar, and allowed him to sup freely. Her lover had returned. As he had fathered her, she would mother him; she would cover him; and when he was able, she would love him: again and again and again.

Bio:Bio:Adam Lowe, known to his friends as Beyonce Holes, is a libertine, writer, editor, publisher, promoter and piss-artist.

He writes kickass bizarro nightmares, postmodern punk-girl spec fic and surreal, erotic phantasmagoria and has been published in a variety of literary magazines and, more recently, some genre publications too.

His first book 'Troglodyte Rose' (an illustronovella with Kurt Huggins & Zelda Devon) will be released by CROSSING CHAOS enigmatic ink in the summer of 2009.