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