Sunday, March 29, 2009


by Rob Brooks

Mitch slammed the door behind him, sick of Laurie and sick of himself. Once again, he’d walked into a trap.

Following an unmarked trail he hadn’t been on in years, Mitch stepped around the tree trunk that he couldn’t see in the night, but still knew exactly where it was. He lifted his left foot, stepped onto the big rock, then hopped down past it, keeping towards the water.

It was good to feel the familiar ground beneath his feet. He’d loved coming up here when as a child to spend time each summer with his grandpa. He’d learned how to swim, fish, and sail. Mitch had loved fishing—he couldn’t imagine how many times he’d baited hooks, cast lines, gutted fish.

Now, after weeks of trying to ask Laurie out, she’d hinted that she’d like to see Mitch’s family’s place up on Reynolds Lake some time.

She baited her trap with sex.

It was all in the way she spoke. In the seductive looks she threw at him. The promises that never quite left her lips. He knew they were there.

A little innuendo goes a long way.

Just one more trap. She’d invited her boyfriend to meet her here.

Mitch stopped walking. Down by the water was a tree he didn’t remember. He sidled over to it. The tree was huge—probably forty feet tall. It shouldn’t be possible—he knew the tree wasn’t there when he was young.

He couldn’t tell what species it was. Definitely not maple. Maybe oak, but the leaves were wrong, as was the way the branches hung.

The clouds passed over the moon, and he was left in darkness. He heard music coming from the house, Laurie and Ronnie singing along with the radio. The song had a strong beat: ba-Doom, ba-Doom, ba-Doom.

He put his hands out and touched the tree, immediately pulled them back. The bark was hot, like the tree was going to burst into flames.

He reached out and grabbed a leaf on a low-hanging branch. Felt fine, like a normal leaf.

Then it started thrashing.

Like a vicious wind was throwing it around, the leaf and its branch shook. Mitch let go, but as he looked up into the tree, he realized no other branches were moving. There was no wind.

The music stopped, but the beat carried on. Just a low thumping—ba-Doom, ba-Doom, ba-Doom. For the first time, Mitch paid attention to it. He wasn’t sure, but he thought it might be coming from the tree. Some kind of heartbeat.

The moonlight broke through the clouds, and Mitch jumped away from the tree, trying to scream but not finding any breath.

Hanging from a limb was a pea pod.

It was some kind of seed, like the whirly-gigs from elms or acorns from oaks. But this pod was enormous—must have been three feet long, almost touching the ground. It looked more like an abnormal growth—some kind of cancer—than a seed.

Mitch’s breath came back, and he relaxed. It was just a seed. He stepped closer to look at it.

When he touched the pod, it quivered.

Then it screamed.

The screams were loud, piercing. Mitch plugged his ears but couldn’t take his eyes away. As he looked, he could see something moving inside. The waxy peel of the pod bulged, and he saw a little hand pushing out from the inside.

“There’s someone stuck in there,” Mitch whispered. He couldn’t move.

The awful screaming continued, high-pitched, broken and uneven. At times, it sounded like insane laughter, which was worse than the screams. It was as if whoever was inside had gone mad.

The little hand was gone, and then it was a fist pounding on the pod.

Mitch stared. A pod that size, it could only be a kid in there. Some little kid.

He finally jumped to action.

“I’ll get you out of there,” he said. He looked around and found a tough stick on the ground. He picked it up and poked a hole in the pod.

“I’ll have you out of there in no time.”

Definitely laughter coming from inside, he realized. The poor kid must be hysterical.

He started prying the pod open…


Rob Brooks enjoys writing speculative fiction of all kinds, and has had poetry published in Scifaikuest, Daikaijuzine, and Chimaera Serials, as well as fiction in A Thousand Faces, upcoming issues of Arkham Tales, Sonar 4, and NVF Magazine, and Malpractice: An Anthology of Bedside Terror.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


by Jamie Eyberg

Kiki shuffled through a horde of felines to the front door and knocked, twice, before someone answered.

A couple of cats and an old man answered, not so old that he was decrepit, but old enough to be her father. “Can I help you,” he offered.

“My car broke down. Can I use your phone please?” Several cats rubbed against her legs and mewed softly.

“I’m sorry, honey,” the old man offered. “I don’t have a phone. No one calls and I don’t call anyone. Seemed a waste to pay for it every month.”

“Oh.” She gently kicked at the brood at her feet. She felt her allergies coming on already and she had left her medicine in the car’s glove box. “Could I get a drink of water then, and I’ll get out of your hair.”

The old man patted the bald spot on top of his head. “Don’t worry about that honey.” He smiled and Kiki couldn’t help but feign a smile back. “Come on in. We’d love the company.” He took her gently by the arm and took a step back in the door.

Kiki held back but walked into the small house. The cats followed her in and the old man closed the door behind them. Her nose started to itch but she put her finger under and stifled the sneeze that she knew would probably come anyway.

“Would you like a cookie,” the old man said. He shuffled through the cats, which moved like a living carpet around his feet, on his way to the tiny galley kitchen.

“Oh, no thank you.”

“They are store-bought but very tasty,” he said. He took a plate of crème filled cookies from the counter and held them in front of her. Wisps of fur lay scattered on the tops of the chocolate wafers as he picked one up and took a bite from it. He chewed noisily as he offered the plate to her.

“No, thank you,” Kiki said and held her hand in front of her.

“I just love these things,” he said and took another one before he put the plate back on the counter. “Let me get you your water.”

He took a glass from the sink and blew on it. Black fur went airborne and moist chocolate wafer bits landed on the surface. He wiped it clean on the tail of his shirt.

Kiki took a step back. “That’s okay,” she said. “I’m not really that thirsty.” She started to back out of the kitchen. The cats crowded around her feet. They rubbed their bodies across her legs and jumped on chairs in front of her to get a touch of her hands as she passed by them. “How far is it to the nearest town?”

“Funny question.”

Kiki didn’t think that it was that odd a question at all and certainly not entertaining. “I just want to get my car fixed.”

“What for?”

“So I can get home.”

“You are.”

She grasped for the screen door. “No. This is not home.”

“It should be,” the old man offered. He drew closer as Kiki fumbled with the handle on the screen door.

“Come on,” she cried out, rattling the door on the hinges. The cats seemed to pull at her feet and drag her further from the door. She grasped the handle but all she could hold on to was the air between her fingers.

“Why would you want to leave. I have more cookies if you would like some.”

“I don’t want your cookies. I don’t like cats. I just want to go home.”

The old man put a withered hand on her shoulder. He looked at her with pale unblinking eyes. “I would really hate for anything to happen to you on your way out. It would be a shame. I mean, you only have one life. You could have nine.”


Jamie Eyberg is a full-time father and a part-time writer, although in the past he has been a preschool teacher, a pool hall manager and a carpenter. You can keep up with him at his blog, He'd love to have you stop by for a visit and maybe have a cookie.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Marionette Manipulator & The Headless Bride

by Cate Gardner

Reginald ignored the tap, tap, tap of the branch against his bedroom window. He pulled the pillow over his head as the glass screamed and he hid beneath the duvet as the window smashed on his bedroom floor.

Someone coughed, and Reginald was certain he wasn’t that someone, which was strange as he was the only one in the room. Or rather he should be.

“Excuse me,” a woman said.

This startled Reginald most of all because although he believed he could have coughed and not realised there was no way he sounded like a girl; his voice had broken thirty years ago. He dared to raise his head above the pillow.

The scream definitely broke through his lips.

“‘I would marry you, if you lost your head’, my neighbour assured me. Turns out he’s not only big and fat, he’s a liar.”

The woman placed her head on his pillow, and sat her body down in his chair. Dried blood caked the collar of her blue dress and stained her chest.

“W-Well,” he stammered. “Y-you’ve not exact-exactly lost your head. It’s s-s-sitting on my pil-pillow.”

“Moot point.”

Reginald edged so far back he fell out of the bed. His head thudded against the bedside table and his elbow jarred against the floorboards. Space distorted, making the door seem miles not inches away. Feet shuffled as she circled the bed. Sad eyes looked down at him.

“He did the same thing,” she said. “Fell with a plop. Well his head did anyway.”

“W-What do you want with me?”

Though he hated shaving, he preferred his head attached to his neck. He liked to think of it as something other than a quirk. She offered him her hand, and being a gentleman, he accepted it.

“Sorry about the blood.”

“N-not a problem,” he said, wiping his hand down his pyjama top. “M-may I ask if it is your or his blood.”

“His, of course. Nobody chops off their head wearing their best. Will you help me?”

“I don’t know what you w-want me to do.”

His fingers gripped his neck, as if afraid she was about to pull an axe from beneath her skirt. She giggled at his reaction. She bent forward and pressed her hands to her lips to stifle her hiccups.

“How do you speak without the proper bits connected?”

“Magic, I guess. Shouldn’t you be more concerned that I’m dead and doing anything?”

“It does unnerve me, I cannot deny that. Though, you seem amiable enough and if you wanted to chop off my head you’d have done it already.”

“Maybe,” she said. “I spent a few hours trying to convince Bert we should be together, but he wouldn’t stop screaming. Well, not until I chopped off his head. I didn’t expect it to kill him.”

“So now you want to be my wife.”

“Goodness no, you’re so ugly I wouldn’t even if you buried your head up your butt. I like to be clear about these things, unlike Bert. I require your services as a marionette manipulator.”

“A what?”

“I’ve seen you playing with puppets in your back garden. I have binoculars. You are excellent at making the dead things move.”

“They’re not dead, they’re dolls.”

“Are they alive?”


“I rest my case.”


Bert Brocklebank lived in an ordinary terrace, on an ordinary street, with a view of the graveyard he very much wanted to be buried in. When mad Liza dislodged his head from his neck, he knew instinctively to play dead. He was in the midst of sewing his head back on—his hobby was taxidermy—when the back door opened.

“You naughty, naughty beautiful man,” she said. She leapt up, clapped her hands and dropped her head in the process. Her skull smashed like a dropped pumpkin. Her body collapsed to the floor as dead as it should have been four days earlier.

The thin man who accompanied her picked up her body and slung it over his shoulder, closing the door as he left. Bert watched from his bedroom window as the man attached strings to Liza’s arms and legs and sat her down for a lover’s picnic.


Catherine J. Gardner is a writer of all things odd. You can find her stories online at Arkham Tales, Three Crow Press and Every Day Fiction. She also has stories forthcoming in Postscripts, Fantasy Magazine, Dead Souls, Sand, Necrotic Tissue and Space & Time. You can find her on the web at and at

Sunday, March 8, 2009

An Eight Becomes Two Zeroes

by Barry Napier

Six years ago, they stared into the mesh wiring of a dog pen. Four hunting dogs ran back and forth along the other side of the wire; some of them seemed elated at their company while others growled.

“You have to do this,” Mike said to his friend. He was eleven years old but his eyes looked much older. There was anger there, and malice.

Todd didn’t understand the emptiness in his friend’s eyes. Nor could he comprehend the intentions that lurked there.

“Why do I have to?” Todd asked.

“These dogs belong to Mr. MacCaffery, right?”


“And hasn’t his son Kevin been beating you up at school?”

Todd nodded. He hefted the baseball bat that rested in his hands. It felt huge; it made him feel like Thor gripping his hammer, ready to birth thunder.

“People are mean,” Mike said. The intensity was still in his eyes but, again, Todd didn’t see it. “People will walk all over you if you let them. Especially people like Kevin MacCaffery. And if you can’t beat him up, you need to look for other things to do in order to get even.”

Todd stared into the pen, his face flushing.

“Just do it,” Mike said, thumbing the latch to the pen. “It won’t be so bad.”


Mike grinned. “Trust me.”

Mike opened the door and Todd stepped inside. He gripped the bat and started swinging. The snapping of bones and the stifled yelps of dogs was like some sweet undiscovered music.


Todd found himself thinking about that day as he stood by his friend again. He could still hear those sounds from time to time, like teeth being smashed against the floor. The two of them stood in a small darkened apartment. The room smelled of dust, sweat and fear.

An old cot sat in the middle of the room, illuminated by a single overhanging bulb. In the sickly white light, the frail man that was strapped to the cot looked as if he were made of wax.

Everything in the room seemed cold: the floor, the air, Todd’s fingers, the hatchet he held in his hands. He had seen his mother use this hatchet from time to time, cutting up chicken and steaks. Holding it in this place and knowing what it would be used for seemed rather surreal.

“You have to do this,” Mike said. It was a comment he had made to his friend countless times, particularly since Todd’s dad had died. His voice was soft and seemed to cause the overhanging light to flicker.

“I know,” Todd said.

“Just think of it,” Mike went on. “The girl you love…she was in bed with this guy. She was touching him. Her mouth was on him. Their bodies were—”

His voice was interrupted by the wet pounding sounds of the hatchet sinking into flesh. The second attack clinked against bone. The man on the cot tried to scream but the barbed wire fastened to his face was so tight that it would not allow him to open his mouth. The scream made it no further than the back of his throat where it collected in what sounded like the revving of a weak engine.

When it was done, they left the rented room and walked down the hall. The sounds of people living their lives behind closed doors followed them outside. Children were laughing, dishes clinked together and televisions spewed their nonsense.

Outside, the night air was crisp and frigid. The moon was half full and seemed to be hiding part of its face so that it would not bear witness to what had just been done.

“You did good,” Mike said.

Todd only nodded, looking to the sticky crimson stains on his hands.

“You know,” he said, “my dad’s name was Mike, too.” He said this as if the thought had never crossed his mind before. “He died when I was little.”

“You don’t say,” Mike replied. He gave very little thought to this and started walking down the street.

Todd followed him. They headed into the night together, side by side.

The streetlights that escorted them revealed only one shadow.

It stretched into the darkness behind them, as if trying to run away.


Barry Napier has a BS in Professional Writing and works as a freelance writer. His fiction has been included in anthologies such as Bound For Evil, Northern Haunts and It Came From Planet Mars. He also has various short fiction and poems appearing in a number of future publications. He lives in Lynchburg, VA with his wife and daughter. He is still mildly afraid of the dark. Learn more about him at

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Yellow Taffeta Dress

by Dawn Allison

The shells of drowned trees stood crooked and black in the muck, a film on the water’s surface thick and undisturbed. No living things came there, even the gnats and the mosquitoes knew better. This land was for the dead, for the damned who poured their lives into the soil to reap life from it. For those who have washed the land away with their tears, forming the swamp that will not forget.

It began when Harold purchased the two women from upriver, one a beauty with ebony skin, the other a stout woman who knew her way around a kitchen. When he’d seen Ellie on the block, he outbid every other hungry-eyed man. When he won her, she begged him to purchase her mother, as well. He acquiesced, as her mother was far less expensive, and the house was in need of a cook. Harold moved them into the manor instead of into the tin roofed barns that served as the slave quarters. He gave them a room to share on the first floor.

Harold’s wife, Cora, hated Ellie immediately. She knew well that look in her husband’s eyes. The two women soon learned that it was Cora who ran things around the plantation, not her husband. Harold was too soft, Cora claimed, to get much of anything accomplished. Several times she sent Ellie to work the fields when she found some fault in the her housework, but Harold brought her back, time and again.

It was a Sunday when he knocked on Ellie’s door, a package in his hands. She let him in, he shut the door behind them. She opened the package and beneath the tissue paper found the loveliest yellow taffeta dress.

“Try it on,” Harold urged.

Dress folded over her arm, Ellie took a few light steps toward the washroom.

“No, here, where I can see you,” Harold said.

She knew better than to disobey. She knew what happened to women who disobeyed their masters. She slipped out of her patched skirt a few thundering heartbeats before Cora barged in.

“Ellie, I—” Her thins lips pulled tight, a slash across her face. She backed away, Harold followed her. Ellie slumped onto the floor and wept, nearly naked, the dress clutched to her chest. An hour later, Cora herself brought Ellie a cup of tea and some sweets for comfort.

“I’ll never let him in again, ma’am, I swear it.” Ellie said.

Cora patted her shoulder, “I know,” she whispered, and passed the girl a cookie. Ellie took a bite, then another. Cora dropped a lump of sugar into the tea and waited until Ellie drank the last drop. Then she smiled and excused herself, taking the tea service with her.

Ellie’s body was cold by the time her mother found her sprawled out on the floor of their room.

She went to see old white-haired Jonathon out in the fields, and voices joined, they called her back. Ellie whispered accusations before she thinned and became night itself, drawn like a shroud over the plantation.

Her presence incited the slaves to action, giving them both courage and blood lust. They marched on the neat white manor like men possessed, even the loosed dogs could not stop or even stall them.

While Cora and Harold lay dead in a heap, expensive rug soaking in blood, the slaves crept upstairs and took the babes, passed from hand to hand as carelessly as rag dolls to be added to the pile. None left the plantation that night or any other, save the three children who had done no wrong, spirited off to long slumber and a lovely waking. The rest remained to wash the world with their tears, the fate of oppressed and oppressors ever interlocked with no escape from the dismal dead lands, and somewhere beneath it all, a rotted yellow taffeta dress.


Dawn Allison has always been haunted by the past.