Verse & Prose Archive Updated For The Month of November

Our archive has been fully updated for the month of November (featuring new verse and prose).

The archive will be similarly updated towards the end of December or directly thereafter (in early January).

Additionally, we will be accepting verse, prose and music submissions throughout the month of December.

If interested in submitting your work, see to our submissions page for further details.

Pihoqahiak

A loquacious waltz droned phantasmically throughout the spacious foyer of Partridge Manor. Charles Jauther found the music simultaneously entrancing and unnerving. He paused beside the U-shaped double stairway which let up to the second floor landing and loosened his tie, eyes roaming aimlessly over peculiar marble statues and framed monochrome illustrations, and ornate synth-spun tapestries, looking for an exit from the oppressive opalescence.

“What is it, Charlie?”

Charles turned to his elegantly garbed wife and forced a smile.

“Nothing, nothing. Just nervous is all. I’ve never been to a showing this ritzy.”

“Whats there to worry about?”

The couple were met at the base of the left foyer staircase by a pale, middle-aged woman dressed all in black. Charles found her outfit curiously antiquated and her lynxish gaze disturbing.

“Mr. and Mrs. Jauther. So pleased you could both make it. I’m Ariadne Campbell.”

“Oh yes, we spoke briefly on the phone,” Catherine Jauther replied with a warm smile, “You’re Mr. Partridge’s secretary, right?”

“Yes. He speaks highly of your husband’s work. I’m sure he’s keen to meet him. This way.”

The couple followed the woman up the left stairway and then left again down a long corridor, lined with simply framed photographs of various people and places. Always there would be a portrait and a construct, a building, a painting, a line of code, directly across from it.

Charles gestured to the photographs.

“Who are all these people?”

Ariadne replied without turning or pausing.

“Mr. Partridge’s students—and their work.”

“There’s… so many… he must be quiet a busy man.”

“Industriousness is one of the few qualities you and he share.”

He felt that the words were meant as a subtle insult and wondered if it was the quality of his work she took issue with, or the philosophy that motivated it, or both. He decided against addressing the issue for the sake of his wife and continued following the icy hostess.

The hall of portraits let out into a massive ballroom where the bulk of the host of the stately manse had gathered. The buzzing throng huddled around a singular figure, pale and elegant, garbed in long white coat, tipped at the collar with similarly albescent fur, appearing more as one of the marble statues that lined the manor’s halls than a man.

Ariadne stopped before the pristine figure and turned towards the two new arrivals.

“Mr. and Ms. Jauther, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Partridge.”

The albescent man turned to greet the couple, revealing a sharp, bloodless face and keen, azure eyes.

“Salutations. So pleased you could make it.”

Catherine smiled and curtsied as Charles extended his hand and shook Lynder’s black-gloved own.

“We appreciated the invitation.”

Lynder nodded and then beckoned a young servant, who approached bearing a platter filled with drinks.

“Wine?”

“Oh yes, sounds lovely. Thank you.”

“What kind is it,” Catherine inquired.

“Scharzhof riesling,” Lydner replied as he gingerly removed two glasses from the servants silver plate and handed them to his guests.

“That’s quite expensive, isn’t it?” Catherine cooed as she eagerly, but cordially, took a glass.

Lynder nodded, “Indeed, but, as the saying goes, one gets what one pays for.”

“Fraid I don’t know much about wine.” Charles declared flatly as he stared down at his glass indecisively.

Lynder raised his vessel to the light, gently swirling the topaz liquid within.

“The drink of choice of the ancient Mediterraneans.”

“Didn’t know they had Scharzhof riesling back then.”

Lynder turned to Charles with a faint smile gracing his bloodless face and then gestured for the man to follow him.

“I hear you’re planning a trip to Nunavut to record the wildlife.”

“Yes. I’ve recorded damn near every land-animal on the continent, but never a polar bear. Besides my wife has always wanted to see the north. So its a win-win.”

“Taking anyone else along?”

“Wasn’t planning to. Why do you ask?”

“Its dangerous up there.”

“Its dangerous everywhere.”

“Yes, but, on my island, for example, you stand little chance of being vivisected by a polar bear.”

“Equipment is sensitive. Won’t be getting too close; that is, if I’m even able to find any.”

“You will at least take a gun with you?”

“Don’t own any. Wouldn’t take one even if I did. Cat hates guns.”

“So do polar bears. Did you know that a man was eaten by one last year. On Sentry Island, up by Nunavut.”

“I know of the place, but I hadn’t heard. What happened?”

“Man named Ridley Garrick had taken his children – a son and daughter, both very young – up for a fishing trip. The isle is a popular fishing spot. While Garrick was distracted, a bear attacked the children-”

“Oh god…”

“However, Garrick was able to intervene before it could reach them and fought it – unfortunately, for him, he was unarmed, and thus, swiftly killed.”

“Did the kids get away?”

“Yes. RCMP was notified and found the bear eating Mr. Garrick’s remains. They shot it in the face – twice – and that was the end of it.”

“What an unfortunate affair.”

“One which could have been easily avoided through the addition of a lightly armed detachment.”

“Do you write for the gun lobby or something?”

Partridge smiled with amusement and took a sip of wine before replying.

“If I were a lobbyist, you’d have long ago returned to your wife out of boredom.”

“Ha, well, its just… you seem like you don’t like animals.”

“We are animals, Mr. Jauther. I’m speaking specifically about the bears. It is not a question of liking or disliking them, but of understanding their nature.”

“Its only because of our disruption that they attack.”

“I’ll not insult your intelligence by suggesting you truly believe that.”

“Condescend all you like, but we press into their territory. Disturb the natural balance.”

“The ‘natural balance?'”

“Yes. Natural harmony.”

“Mr. Jauther, there is no harmony.”

“Butterflies and pollination – that isn’t harmonious?”

Lynder downed the last of his wine and turned the sanguine dregs in the light.

“Even butterflies drink blood.”

 


 

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Ochre Sepulchre

Hraban Amsler came to the end of the forest path and continued apace. The sparse, charming wood thickening swiftly before him. Ochre and gold. Colors the harbingers of Fall.

He knew the route well and yet felt as if he’d taken a wrong turning. The feeling came unbidden into his mind, though the man knew he had taken the correct path, as he had countless times before.

After several minutes spent vainly attempting to recall his surroundings, he paused in a clearing and looked about, puzzled by the alien peculiarity of the place.

Skeletal branches scrapped the barren welkin as if in the throes of anguished fury and where once there had been stars there was now only ruts of deeper blackness, like scars upon shadow.

There was no wind; nor bird-song; nor cricket cry; nor the croaking of frogs; nor the gallop of deer; nor the skittering of skinks; nor the grunting of boar.

All about were bones and silence and nowhere was the path to Harrohane.

I swore I took the right path. And yet…

Amsler looked down at the watch strapped to his left wrist and muttered a curse. It was later than he expected, though the sun seemed not to have moved at all from when he left the well-worn path. If he didn’t arrive on time he was sure he’d be fired.

Amsler paused and rescanned the forest which seemed to be closing in about him. All about the trunks of the mangled wood were marks of wear, the bark torn and smoothed like deer-sign. He moved closer to the nearest tree, which bore no similarity to any species the man could recall, and bent to the smoothed area about its radius.

They were the marks of hands.

Human hands.

Hands moved by desperate, reptilian fear.

“What place is this?” Amsler wondered aloud, his breath coming cold before him, despite the oppressive heat of the vegetal enclosure. Again when he looked the trees had closed about him, the ground becoming thicker with snaking vines and grasping roots.

“Perhaps I’m dreaming.”

He felt his head as the sky became dark with the leafy canopy, the malevolent foliage drawing shadows upon the ground which danced as if in mockery and obscured the skittering insects which poured forth from flesh-sated soil and spilled like ocean waves against Amsler’s boots.

“Or hallucinating.”

The stalks of the ferns and trunks of the trees were now so thick about the man that the forty-by-forty clearing into which he had stumbled, had nearly disappeared, having now shrunk to the size of a living room.

“What I see, what I hear—this cannot be real, but rather some trickery—of my mind’s construction, or another’s. The marks upon the trees and the bones beneath them attests to the utility of panic. Even if this is some strange, new reality—which I do not believe—to react as my predecessors would prove fruitless. No, this is nothing more than a momentary fit of some kind. I know not its origins, but I know its solution.”

Steeled of mind, Amsler moved loquaciously forth, to a small stone mound in the middle of the clearing and there sat down upon it as branches reached out to him and insects flooded about his boots, exhuming the bones of the wood’s victims with their consumptive fervour.

He closed his eyes and inhaled as the stars, like arrows, fell from the welkin.

“I am unafraid of illusions, truthful though they be.”

When he opened his eyes the wood, and all within it, had gone. In place of the forest, a great sea of ash stretched out before him. The detritus began to shift, revealing a human form, skin cracked and glassy and breathless, and in its hand, a small bronze key, pristine amongst the flat, sandy expanse. Some fifty feet away from the ashen exhumation, a great manse stood out against the starless sky. Amsler observed the door of the house, which, like the key, was also of aged bronze. He bent to the curled corpse and trepidatiously reached towards the artifact.

An Inhabitant Of Carcosa (1886)

For there be divers sorts of death — some wherein the body remaineth; and in some it vanisheth quite away with the spirit. This commonly occurreth only in solitude (such is God’s will) and, none seeing the end, we say the man is lost, or gone on a long journey — which indeed he hath; but sometimes it hath happened in sight of many, as abundant testimony showeth. In one kind of death the spirit also dieth, and this it hath been known to do while yet the body was in vigour for many years. Sometimes, as is veritably attested, it dieth with the body, but after a season is raised up again in that place where the body did decay.

Pondering these words of Hali (whom God rest) and questioning their full meaning, as one who, having an intimation, yet doubts if there be not something behind, other than that which he has discerned, I noted not whither I had strayed until a sudden chill wind striking my face revived in me a sense of my surroundings. I observed with astonishment that everything seemed unfamiliar. On every side of me stretched a bleak and desolate expanse of plain, covered with a tall overgrowth of sere grass, which rustled and whistled in the autumn wind with Heaven knows what mysterious and disquieting suggestion. Protruded at long intervals above it, stood strangely shaped and sombrecoloured rocks, which seemed to have an understanding with one another and to exchange looks of uncomfortable significance, as if they had reared their heads to watch the issue of some foreseen event. A few blasted trees here and there appeared as leaders in this malevolent conspiracy of silent expectation.

The day, I thought, must be far advanced, though the sun was invisible; and although sensible that the air was raw and chill my consciousness of that fact was rather mental than physical — I had no feeling of discomfort. Over all the dismal landscape a canopy of low, lead-coloured clouds hung like a visible curse. In all this there was a menace and a portent — a hint of evil, an intimation of doom. Bird, beast, or insect there was none. The wind sighed in the bare branches of the dead trees and the grey grass bent to whisper its dread secret to the earth; but no other sound nor motion broke the awful repose of that dismal place.

I observed in the herbage a number of weatherworn stones, evidently shaped with tools. They were broken, covered with moss and half sunken in the earth. Some lay prostrate, some leaned at various angles, none was vertical. They were obviously headstones of graves, though the graves themselves no longer existed as either mounds or depressions; the years had levelled all. Scattered here and there, more massive blocks showed where some pompous tomb or ambitious monument had once flung its feeble defiance at oblivion. So old seemed these relics, these vestiges of vanity and memorials of affection and piety, so battered and worn and stained — so neglected, deserted, forgotten the place, that I could not help thinking myself the discoverer of the burial-ground of a prehistoric race of men whose very name was long extinct.

Filled with these reflections, I was for some time heedless of the sequence of my own experiences, but soon I thought, ‘How came I hither?’ A moment’s reflection seemed to make this all clear and explain at the same time, though in a disquieting way, the singular character with which my fancy had invested all that I saw or heard. I was ill. I remembered now that I had been prostrated by a sudden fever, and that my family had told me that in my periods of delirium I had constantly cried out for liberty and air, and had been held in bed to prevent my escape out-of-doors. Now I had eluded the vigilance of my attendants and had wandered hither to — to where? I could not conjecture. Clearly I was at a considerable distance from the city where I dwelt — the ancient and famous city of Carcosa.

No signs of human life were anywhere visible nor audible; no rising smoke, no watch-dog’s bark, no lowing of cattle, no shouts of children at play-nothing but that dismal burial-place, with its air of mystery and dread, due to my own disordered brain. Was I not becoming again delirious, there beyond human aid? Was it not indeed all an illusion of my madness? I called aloud the names of my wives and sons, reached out my hands in search of theirs, even as I walked among the crumbling stones and in the withered grass.

A noise behind me caused me to turn about. A wild animal — a lynx — was approaching. The thought came to me: if I break down here in the desert — if the fever return and I fail, this beast will be at my throat. I sprang toward it, shouting. It trotted tranquilly by within a hand’s-breadth of me and disappeared behind a rock.

A moment later a man’s head appeared to rise out of the ground a short distance away. He was ascending the farther slope of a low hill whose crest was hardly to be distinguished from the general level. His whole figure soon came into view against the background of grey cloud. He was half naked, half clad in skins. His hair was unkempt, his beard long and ragged. In one hand he carried a bow and arrow; the other held a blazing torch with a long trail of black smoke. He walked slowly and with caution, as if he feared falling into some open grave concealed by the tall grass. This strange apparition surprised but did not alarm, and taking such a course as to intercept him I met him almost face to face, accosting him with the familiar salutation, ‘God keep you.’

He gave no heed, nor did he arrest his pace.

‘Good stranger,’ I continued, ‘I am ill and lost. Direct me, I beseech you, to Carcosa.’

The man broke into a barbarous chant in an unknown tongue, passing on and away.

An owl on the branch of a decayed tree hooted dismally and was answered by another in the distance. Looking upward, I saw through a sudden rift in the clouds Aldebaran and the Hyades! In all this there was a hint of night — the lynx, the man with the torch, the owl. Yet I saw — I saw even the stars in absence of the darkness. I saw, but was apparently not seen nor heard. Under what awful spell did I exist?

I seated myself at the root of a great tree, seriously to consider what it were best to do. That I was mad I could no longer doubt, yet recognized a ground of doubt in the conviction. Of fever I had no trace. I had, withal, a sense of exhilaration and vigour altogether unknown to me — a feeling of mental and physical exaltation. My senses seemed all alert; I could feel the air as a ponderous substance; I could hear the silence.

A great root of the giant tree against whose trunk I leaned as I sat held enclosed in its grasp a slab of stone, a part of which protruded into a recess formed by another root. The stone was thus partly protected from the weather, though greatly decomposed. Its edges were worn round, its corners eaten away, its surface deeply furrowed and scaled. Glittering particles of mica were visible in the earth about it-vestiges of its decomposition. This stone had apparently marked the grave out of which the tree had sprung ages ago. The tree’s exacting roots had robbed the grave and made the stone a prisoner.

A sudden wind pushed some dry leaves and twigs from the uppermost face of the stone; I saw the lowrelief letters of an inscription and bent to read it. God in heaven! my name in full! — the date of my birth! — the date of my death!

A level shaft of light illuminated the whole side of the tree as I sprang to my feet in terror. The sun was rising in the rosy east. I stood between the tree and his broad red disk — no shadow darkened the trunk!

A chorus of howling wolves saluted the dawn. I saw them sitting on their haunches, singly and in groups, on the summits of irregular mounds and tumuli filling a half of my desert prospect and extending to the horizon. And then I knew that these were ruins of the ancient and famous city of Carcosa.

Such are the facts imparted to the medium Bayrolles by the spirit Hoseib Alar Robardin.

###


—by Ambrose Bierce, first published in the San Francisco Newsletter, December 25, 1886

The Machine of Wester Moorley (§.01)

§.01

The barton of Nilreb sat upon a dry, razored plain, encircled by high and jagged mountains of reddish-beige stone that looked from afar like the fangs of some ancient and gargantuan beast. Only one road let in from the outer world to that wasted space and upon it, a lone man strode, a thin and handsome sort, with sharp, inquisitive features and clothing, neatly tailored but faded by the travails of lengthy passage. At his side was a large leather satchel and about his head, a misshapen hat which shaded bright blue eyes that scoured the cracked and inhospitable plane for any sign of life. He carried a plain white parasol in his leather-gloved left-hand and a smoldering Turkish cigarette in his right. Momentarily, he paused, cigarette dangling from his lips, ashes dancing on the wind, and removed a small, leather journal and mechanical pen from his right waistcoat pocket and made a few deft strokes upon the page, noting the humidity and temperature and sketching the plain before closing the book, pocketing it and taking a long drag as the wind threw sand across the truant’s boots, uncovering the skeleton of a steer, sun-bleached and wind-polished, glistening porcelain-white upon the ground, acrid as the bright and searing sky. He stopped and stared at the remnants, half-entombed by windblown earth and then returned his attention to the road and the distance beyond it.

In thrall to the heat, the horizon writhed like the nuchal organs of a feasting polychaete. The itinerant squinted against the hazebright, finding a shifting series of shapes in artificial sprawl beyond the toothy, ancient rocks surrounding. An acrid hamlet lay some half-hour off, tucked away in a depressed and craggy reach to the north.

When the man arrived at the outskirts moved cautiously between creaking, wooden structures whose stripped and unvarnished composition suggested recent abandonment. So dusty and worn were they that the itinerant feared they might collapse at the slightest gust.

The wayfarer peered through window after window and was, time after time, greeted by empty rooms.

After some ten minutes of fruitless wandering, a voice sounded from the rambler’s immediate left. Hoarse and matter-of-fact.

“Place isn’t worth looting—if that’s what’s on your mind.”

The itinerant went stiff with fright and spun to behold a stern, middle-aged man with a long, ugly scar upon his face.

“You’re mistaken, sir. I’m a engineer. Albrecht Brandt. Pleased to meet you.”

“Funny name.”

“So I’ve been told, sir.”

“You that fella the mayor brung in?”

“That’s correct, sir.”

“Names Otto.” The man extended a hand, “I work with the mayor. Had I known you’d be here so soon, I’d have sent someone to the train station to pick ya up.”

“That’s quite alright. Wasn’t quite as long of a trek as I’d thought it would be,” He paused a moment and looked around in perplexity, “Where is everyone?”

“Folk been leaving on account of the drought. That’s why you’re here. Least one of the reasons. Suppose’n ya wanna see the mayor?”

“I’d be much obliged. But first I should like something to eat, if that were possible.”

Otto nodded, turned, left out and gestured for Albrecht to follow as the wind thrummed in the distance like an airy sepulchre, full-up with the howling of the dead.

*

Hauptsturmführer Fillenius (1944)

By Dan Klefstad


The Russians knew they had no chance; we surrounded them. They also knew we’d have no mercy, but they surrendered anyway. They gave up their weapons and helmets, hoping for cigarettes which we no longer had. Were they buying time? Somewhere across the drifting snow, their swine-kin prepared another attack, but we didn’t know when, or how many. So we tried beating the details out, smashing their fingers and noses with rifles. After burning precious calories, we huddled in our so-called “winter outfits” and stamped our feet to get the blood moving. Then we tried to strip their coats which covered neck-to-ankle with thick, coarse wool. I knew very little Russian but it was clear we’d have to shoot them first. That sealed their fate. I ordered my last surviving officer to line them up and empty our German guns into them; the captured ones work better when frozen, and we’d need those for the next assault.

A corporal limps toward me and salutes. “Herr Hauptsturmführer, shall we aim for the head? The coats would be intact then.”

“If you want pig brains on your collar, that’s your business.” I yank the magazine from my pistol and count the remaining ice-covered rounds. “I’ll take the three on the right.”

Up to now, I thought Der Führer might introduce a Super Weapon that would stop the Red Army from entering Germany, but when half our guns failed to perform a simple mass execution, I knew it was over. The war would go on for another fifteen months but this moment in Estonia is where the end began – for Germany and these mongrel fucks who surrendered everything but their coats. At least their weapons worked; my men were thrilled. I, however, counted every one of the eleven bullets they spent.

“Hauptsturmführer Fillenius!” Major Haas motions from a staff-car that must’ve arrived while we were firing. I walk quickly and salute, expecting a reprimand for wasting ammunition.

Haas ignores the bodies. “I’m going to Tallinn to prepare defenses there. Need I remind you of Der Führer’s directive?”

“Stand and fight. No retreat, no surrender.”

His driver, a lieutenant, salutes. “We know you’ll give your all for the Fatherland.”

I ignore him. “Can you send some food, cigarettes, bandages – anything?”

“I’ll assess the situation and let you know.” Haas motions to his driver who shifts into First. “Don’t let us down, Søren.”

His use of my Christian name is another sign that the “thousand-year Reich” will last little more than a decade. I salute once more as he drives toward the final sunset I expect to see. I try to savor it, but someone yells “Deckung!” and I jump into the nearest trench.

§

I’ve seen men hallucinate before they die, so I’m not surprised by the woman wearing a low-cut peasant-style dress. This moonlit vision is a lovely distraction from the gurgling in my throat and lungs. A sucking chest wound gets priority in any triage, but there’s no one left to plug the holes. Suffocating, I try to relax and enjoy this little film about an underdressed beauty walking toward me through white and crimson snow.

“You don’t look Russian,” I wheeze. “Estonian?”

She gathers the long fabric as she kneels, and I see blue veins in her large white breasts. Long fingernails like shell splinters descend toward me, and I wonder if she’ll gouge my eyes out. I close them as she brushes aside a stray forelock.

“Please.” My eyes reopen. “Just stay with me.”

“What a pity.” She says in English. “You look like an angel.” She fingers a pin on my uniform. “SS Nordland.” Then she frowns and grabs a handful of hair, lifting my face toward hers. “I could have used those prisoners you killed.”

I focus on her accent which is different from that of my language tutor in Copenhagen. “American?”

Her grip tightens. “You wasted them!”

Wasted. What did that mean? This was more than a war. It was a crusade against Slavs and other sub-humans, and Jewish bolshevism – a crusade I joined four years ago to help the Nazis take over my native Denmark. The fact that the Aryans failed means nothing matters anymore – nichts. Nearly defeated, I spend one of my remaining breaths on a question. “What do you want?”

“What do you want, Søren?”

Definitely a dream; even my dog-tags use an initial for my first name. But I consider her words. “Leave the war. Leave this fucking continent.”

Her eyes narrow as if preparing to divulge a secret. “I’m going to America.”

“Take me with you.”

Her fist tightens against my skull, eyes glow red, and lips part revealing two long canines. “You’re a monster,” she hisses. “Only a fellow hunter can go with me.”

“I… Who… What are you?”

Her mouth closes but her glowing eyes remain fixed on mine. Of all the things I expected to see while dying, I never imagined a seductive hellish creature calling me a monster. What does that make her? My frozen lips barely move: “Vampyr?”

She scowls. For a moment, she appears uncertain about what to do. Finally: “You’re useless now, nearly bloodless, but I can change you.” Her face is so close, our noses almost touch. “First, I’m going to give you something I never had: a choice.”

“Make me one of you.”

“You haven’t heard the terms.”

“I don’t want to die.”

“If I save you, the sun will be your mortal enemy. And your thirst will never end.”

“Please… ” I cough a final time as my lungs collapse.

Both her hands support my neck as she moves behind me. Then she rests my head in her lap and holds her right hand above my face. A nail slices her wrist and my head instinctively turns as blood rains down.

“Open.” Her fingers squeeze my jaw. The drops cover my face as I struggle for my last breath.

“Be still.”

§

When I awake, I hear a heart beating and know immediately who it belongs to. I sit up and hear his panicked breathing, but pause to take in the surroundings of a command bunker I visited once, now abandoned. Fiona relaxes in the Field Marshal’s former wing-chair, sipping from a glass of red liquid that I already know – I can smell it. And I want it.

“You can relax.” Fiona swallows. “It’s safe here.”

“Safe for whom?” He yells from across the room. “Hauptsturmführer Fillenius! Untie me and arrest this woman!”

“Sturmbannführer Haas,” I rise, noting the major’s civilian clothes. “Where did you go after you left our position?”

“To Tallinn – like I told you!”

“He’s lying.” Fiona examines her nails. “I found him at the Loksa Shipyard, arranging passage to neutral territory. He and his lieutenant – who’s delicious, by the way – had Swedish passports.”

I glare at him, sitting in a wooden chair, arms and legs bound. “Stand and fight, you said.” Then I see the passports on a nearby table, plus a dozen gold coins. “My men were killed – all of them – covering your rear.”

“Oh, I think Lieutenant Baumann covered his rear just fine, wouldn’t you say Major?” Fiona smiles as she takes another sip.

“Søren, listen.” Haas fixes his eyes on me. “She kidnapped us in Tallinn, planted that stuff on us, and killed Fritzi.”

“Don’t call me ‘Søren’ – I do not consort with cowards!”

Haas’s face wrinkles with disgust as he looks at Fiona. “Then, like an animal, she bit his neck and drank his blood.”

I inhale deeply, suddenly aware that my teeth are longer. Haas’s skin reveals a spider web of throbbing vessels, but I know which one to attack first. I glance at Fiona. “Can I take him now?”

Fiona looks amused as she leans back in the Field Marshal’s chair. “Permission granted, Hauptsturmführer.”

§

The Stockholm Palace looks stunning at night, yellow lights reflecting off the sandstone exterior. But the fact that a King lives there – plus the surrounding architecture, music, and fashions – reminds me that we’re still in Europe. I look at Fiona’s hands which rest on the wrought iron balcony, and place my right on her left. “I hear the war will be over soon.”

“Yes.”

“It should be safe to travel, no?”

“It’s never safe.” She looks at me. “The first leg, to England, is a small risk. We could take two or three passengers, but we’d have to share them. The second leg, though…”  She looks at the night sky. “That would be seven or eight – again, shared – so we’d still be starving. If we’re alive when we get to New York, the police will know something’s wrong and board the ship. All they need is a little luck and they’ll find our trunk.”

“Why not have separate trunks?”

“That doubles the chances they’ll find one. If they discover you or me, they’ll keep looking.”

“Remind me. Why are we doing this?”

She points west. “Because that’s where we’ll get dinner every night.” She waves toward the city. “They just had two devastating wars, and God knows if the Russians are finished marching. There aren’t enough people to hide behind while we make the others disappear.”

I gaze at the rising moon and imagine how it looks from New York, Boston, or Chicago. Then I lift my glass. “To America. May we thrive among her teeming multitudes.”

“To whoever controls the universe,” Fiona raises hers. “May she still need us enough to grant safe passage.”

###

Riven Cage

The body had no face.

Guiles Dörre recoiled from the bars of the tiger cage, inhaling deeply to steady himself. A horrified moan, stifled in his throat, choked by his slowly eroding constitution. The zoo’s emergency sirens blaring in the din. Scent of blood, heavy in the air, mingling odiously with the pungent alloy of the bars and the urine and gore of the caged and disemboweled.

The Bengal tiger crouched over what had once been a woman, canines and carnassials sanguine from the killing bite and its play thereafter. The body’s faceless head was strangely angled, one ear skyward as if to better hear the ringing alarm; the neck, clearly broken.

Fear further enveloped the night watchman as he realized the entryway into the animal’s cage had been rent by heavy bolt-cutters which swung wide with the night wind—bolt-cutters which lay within the cage beside the body of the dead woman.

He locked eyes with the moonlit beast, but thirty five feet away, as it dropped the ruddy, mangled corpse, arched its back and bared its fangs. Amber eyes glinting full with the pale bone of the moon.

Dörre raised his shotgun and fired.

Once. Twice.

The great feline collapsed in a bloody, matted heap.

Dörre swiftly reloaded, then cautiously moved through the wind-blown door and inspected the carcass of the beast where it lay upon the rutted ground beside its prey.

The body had no face.

Fiction Recap 2019 [#1]

Selected fiction works we have published as of this year.


June


May


March


February


July


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We extend our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all of our gracious patreon supporters and avid readers.

The Fissure

“The gear is missing.”

Sanford Witter cursed under his breath and then again, louder. He turned from the half-disassembled tractor, scoured the matted dirt of the barn and found nothing. Dropping to a knee, the man looked underneath the dull, grist-laden machinery and spied a enormous rat, clutching something between its hideous, oily paws.

Something circular. Something shiny.

The gear.

“Give it back, you sneakin’ sonofabitch.”

The creature let out a loathsome chittering and pranced south into a wide crevice at the base of the foundation. Whitter furrowed his brows, doubly vexed.

Why, he wondered, would a rat take a gear? How could it carry something so heavy with such unnatural ease? And where did the crack in the foundation come from? Had it always been there? No, he shook his head fractionally. Its new. It hadn’t been there last Wednesday. I’m sure of it. Sure of it…

He rose and dusted his overalls off, adjusted his hat, spat and lit up a smoke and stood starring at the darkness that had swallowed his gear.

“Who you yelling at, hon?”

He turned slowly to his wife, who stood at the doorway, arms crossed, brow furrowed; concern overshadowed by heavy wooden trusses and a rising wind from the far plain and the high, hills beyond.

“Nothing. No one,” he replied gruffly.

“Made coffee.”

“Alright. Thanks.”

“Something the matter?”

“Somethings always the matter.”

“Anything in particular?”

“Its… you’re not going to believe this… a rat. Biggest rat I ever seen. Up and took one of my gears.”

“Oh. Ok…”

“See, I told you that you weren’t going to believe it.”

“Its cold out here and you’ve been working all day. Why don’t you come inside for a while? You’re so busy all the time… we rarely just… talk anymore.”

“Whaddaya mean? We’re talking now, ain’t we?”

“That’s not it. Oh, nevermind, nevermind.”

She shook her head and left-off as a chill wind snaked between the boughs of distant trees to shake the foundations of the barn. Witter rolled his eyes and rubbed his temples, heeling the dirt.

“Always something…”

*

In the days that followed the gear-theft, more pieces of mechanical equipment vanished from the barn. More pieces from the tractor. A wrench. A screw. A toolkit. A motor. With every theft, the crack in the wall grew wider. Witter could fit his whole arm, up to his shoulder, in it, but could see nothing within.

Witter, against all the protestations of his higher judgment, suspected the rat, but spied neither hide nor hair of it; either in the barn or in the spreading crevice, which he began to examine regularly with a flashlight.

He set traps laden with peanut butter around the tractor and the fissure in the wall and checked them daily, and every day, found the traps undisturbed.

*

A month later Witter awoke and rolled to wake his wife. She was gone. The imprint of her plump body yet-retained by the soft fabric of the covers. Witter frowned and pulled on his slippers and robe and rubbed sleep from his murky eyes and ventured downstairs.

“Hon? Martha?”

Room after room reverberated with the muted patter of plastic soles heeling against carpeted wood. Room after room he found nothing. Whenever she got up she showered and made tea and smoked her hickory pipe and read the paper with the TV on. This she would do, barring periods of illness, without fail.

Where’d she get to? She ain’t supposed to be going anywhere today. Least… she didn’t tell me she’d be leaving. She’d have said something if she were. She always says something. Nagging. Complaining bout my work. No… she’d have said something.

He threw on a pair of pants and a t-shirt and made for the drive. The car was sitting where it always had. He moved to the barn and screamed at what he saw.

Martha—dragged towards the fissure by the rat, which had grown considerably in size—clawed the padded dirt floor, blood spilling from broken fingernails.

“Martha! Hold on.”

The rat stepped on to one of the traps laid before the fissure and howled, momentarily releasing the terrified woman, who, gasping, threw herself blindly toward the door.

Witter seized an adjustable wrench from the weight-bar at the front of the tractor and ran forth with the sleek hunk of metal raised and brought it down upon the rats head. The creature shrieked, a small path of blood forming in bluish pulse beneath skull’s skin.

“Die, you sonovabitch!”

He brought the wrench down, harder this time, and heard a sickening crunch and felt the beast fall still beneath him. The horrid monster’s head gushed with frothing charcoal-colored rheum which hissed upon contact with the floor and ascended to the sky like strips of charred paper.

Witter released the wrench and took a step back, eyes wide, mouth open. Trembling.

“What on earth…”

The creature’s skull cracked open, like a paper mache balloon, wider and wider, as two steely claws emerged and rent the cranial cavity like as the fissure in the wall. From the depths of the chasm, crawled a rat. The mammal grabbed the wrench and swiftly dragged it into the head-hole of the carcass and vanished within the amniotic null.

When Witter’s eyes wandered to the fissure on the wall.

It was gone.

He turned to Martha and found her lying on the floor with a bloody wound to her skull. Her left eye, distended on its stalk, crustacean-like in the kindling light, which glinted off the small, cyclical gear, tightly clutched in her stiff, right hand.