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Issue #15: Elves & Spacerockets (Fantasy & Science Fiction)

Die unglaubliche Begegnung im All

Image courtesy of © Gerd Wolf – Fotolia.com

I love science fiction and fantasy. I love tales about Martian princess ninjas who do as they damn well please, you puny humans. I love stories about otherworldly creatures from other worlds and nether-worldly baddies who have no remorse, or who are tragically fated.  The accidental vampire. The genetically created dog-soldier. The dragon who can’t even. The Messiah who just wants to have a nice, cold pint with his mates in peace. The ninja warrior-ess who yearns to prove herself in a male-dominated clan. Fairies who have seen better days but still want to help a guy out. Crafty, sly, gnome spies. Aliens. Mermaids. Old mythologies, origin stories, and Legends of the New.

This issue has all of these and more. I hope you enjoy reading these stories and poems as much as I did.

Remember, the next issue of The Were-Traveler will be a contest issue and will be about shinigami—the embodiment of Death, or soul reaper(s)—it is open to all and unlike many writing contests, writers can submit previously published stories as long as they fit the criteria listed on the Calls for Submissions page. There will be monetary or gift card prizes. But now, without further delay, Elves and Spacerockets—

Issue 15: Elves & Spacerockets (Fantasy & Science Fiction)

Weredog Green Berets and Ninja Gnomes on Venus, by Jeff Forker (flash)

Verging, by Brian O (drabble)

The Further Adventures of Beer Drinkin’ Jesus, by Daniel Ritter (short story)

Jade Moon Rabbit, by Deborah Walker (poem)

Kuiper Court, by S.E. Sever (short story)

The Grandmaster, by D.L. Smith-Lee (flash)

Remedial Fae, by Ed Ahern (flash)

The Green Rock, by Michael A. Kechula (drabble)

A Century Of Better and Worse and Worse and Worse, by Diane Arrelle (flash)

Frost Bite, by Sasha Janel McBrayer (flash)

Four Haiku, by Denny E. Marshall (poem)

Mermaid Weather, by H.L. Ross (flash)

Impact, by Michael C. Keith (short story)

Incident Report, by S. J. Warren (drabble)

Black Dragons, by Mathias Jansson (poem)

Thanksgiving, by Julie Gilbert (flash)

Mars 1, by Arthur M. Doweyko (short story)

The Gravy Train Stops Here, by Diane Arrelle (flash)

The Sixth Pillar, by Matt Hlinak (micro-fiction)

Shadow Whisperer at the Black Hole Hotel, by Kelda Crich (poem)

Sloth the Lazy Dragon, by Regan W. H. Macaulay (flash)

Waterskins, by Denny E. Marshall (drabble)

The Whole Picture, by Ray Dean (short story)

The Good Fairy, by Ed Ahern (flash)

Space Ninjas, by Deborah Walker (poem)

Another Eden, by Cassandra Arnold (flash)

Serial Numbers, Michael A. Kechula (flash)

Weredog Green Berets and Ninja Gnomes on Venus, by Jeff Forker

I was a three-time volunteer (loser, in that I had been volunteered to become a weredog, then been volunteered for the Weredog Corps and then been volunteered for the Green Beret Task Force), winding my way through a third enlistment, when we landed on Venus to find ourselves up against a vast Ninja Noldor Gnome Army much larger than what our Intel people had told us we would be facing.

I had been living as a chocolate lab with a family of potato programmers in Pocatello when the goon-squad came for me. Off-Earth imperialism and colonies, and subsequent wars, had siphoned people from Earth by the hundreds of millions. It did not take long before Earth was short of people to run things, to defend and attack things. Genetic engineers had made therianthropy a reality and weredogs and werecats were the top of those new product lines, mostly destined for soldiering.

Earth soldiers had long ago all been re-designated as SEALs and Rangers. But, the elite of the elite were still called Green Berets, a status reserved for only the best of the best. Somehow I made my way into the Weredog Green Beret Task Force headed for Venus to put down the Ninja Noldor Gnome Insurrection.

Old folks told stories of days when Earth was overpopulated, when there were too many people, too many dogs and cats, too little food and water. It was hard to conceive of such a scenario. Wars and epidemics changed that. Soon Earth was short of people, and a few other species. Scientists made up much of the difference with robots. But, leaps in genetic engineering, and the human appetite for slaves and servants, led to all sorts new cloned, hybrid species. My genesis was part of that panoply. So were gnomes.

Gnomes were released onto the market with much fanfare and promise. Humans would never again have to tend to their own gardens. Gnomes would handle it all, and look cute in the process. But, their promise soon went off the rails. Someone gave the gnomes AI consciousness (most assume it was the French gnome liberationist group, Front pour la Libération des Gnomes), which promptly prompted the gnomes to throw down their garden trowels and revolt. Gardens fell into disarray as the gnomes rioted and burned, then stole some space craft and escaped the Earth. No one knew where they went, until the call for help came from the Space Wolves.

A colony on Venus, called Lycanthropolis, founded by a group of emancipated werewolves, who called themselves The Space Wolves, had for years been successfully terra-forming on Venus, developing new types of vegetables and giant high-protein insects, when the gnomes attacked. It started as simple gnoming, garden pranks and jokes, but soon got serious. In no time gnomes were running amok in the streets and gardens, stealing werewolf garden statuary and releasing it in the wild, rearranging plants and leaving threatening gnome haiku, written in Old German script, on doors and gates all over the planet. All of a sudden the gnomes weren’t so cute anymore and hostilities escalated.

On the surface we formed up fast, but did not have to wait. They hit us in waves, scything with their battle trowels and combat hoes, ululating that strange song of theirs. We held as long as we could and my pack-company was down to half combat-strength before we got split off and separated from the rest of our pack-battalion and were almost over run. We fought our way clear and found some werewolf survivors holed up on an abandoned mantis ranch. That is where I first saw and smelled her.

Her name was Bernice and she was a Bichon from Baltimore. She was also AWOL from the Weredog Corps, had joined the Space Wolves in hopes of freedom and open spaces. Her scent intoxicated me. We were drawn together like fuel and fire and immediately inseparable.

HQ radioed us and told us the plan and gave us coordinates to where we were to make haste and ready. We took Bernice and the other wolves with us. Couldn’t leave them there. Besides, all were trained and blooded warriors.

We moved fast, fought our way through several skirmishes, and Bernice stayed by my side every step of the way. She was a fighter, slashing and tearing with elegance. I brought her up to speed on our new weapons. She, just being near, tested my resolve and restraint.

We rendezvoused with other units, awaited orders, then lured the gnomes into choke points, simultaneously all over the planet, with promises of shiny gold and fresh potting soil. They fell for it every time. We churned them like gnome butter then drove the survivors into deserts and arid plains, where they were cut off and creatively stifled until they’d had enough and surrendered.

We mediated talks between the werewolves and the gnomes. Jamon Mercarder, the Werewolf leader, was holding out, so I had him killed. Didn’t trust him anyway. Gimlis, the gnome leader, laughed for an hour, demanded that we all drink several gallons of garden grog, which had a none too subtle bouquet of compost, and then signed the agreement.

So, a deal was brokered. The gnomes would stay on Venus and help the werewolves to grow their veggies and trees, herd their gargantuan beetles and hoppers. I am told that in a few short years Venus became a garden paradise. (Snakes are strictly forbidden.) But I cannot attest to that, because Bernice and I are long gone.

We headed out with a few adventurous weredogs and werewolves to find our fate, with possibly a little pirating on the side, to make ends meet. We are searching for a constellation called Canis Major, and a sun called The Dog Star, where we hope to find a civilization of canines where leashes, collars, water dishes and steel traps do not exist. And Bernice and I are making use of the time to get well acquainted, doggy style, you might say.

~~~
I am a veteran of U.S. Army Special Operations and of numerous writers programs and herds. I have an M.A. in English, from UMKC, the University of Missouri in Kansas City. I have done a lot of corporate and military writing, but  not had any fiction published lately, am just getting back into this. I live with a she-demon, two human adolescents, two dogs, one of which is a weredog, and a cat, who seems to be in charge of the household.

The Grandmaster, by D.L. Smith-Lee

Mitsuko turned from the busy sidewalk into the dark alleyway, glancing over her shoulder to ensure she was not being followed. Her hand clasped the wet spot on her abdomen where the wound bled into her hand. She couldn’t believe that, even after centuries of being dead and buried, the steel blades of the long deceased Zoku Clan could still cut so deeply. Mitsuko knew she wasn’t supposed to go out alone but she had to prove her worth to her clan. The Jade Clan had been a traditionally male clan for centuries. Before Mitsuko there had only been two female Jade ninjas and they were clansmen before Mitsuko’s grandparents had been born.

She pressed onward, plunging deeper into the darkness of the alleyway until she located the steel gray door at the end. Mitsuko banged the door urgently, praying that her fellow clansmen would not scold her and that they would listen. She’d, once again, gone against their wishes and hunted for the witch, Sadako, on her own.

The door swung open and Kenichi, her partner, stood in front of her, glaring.

“Ken,” Mitsuko said, reaching for him as he caught her arm.

“What the hell happened to you?” He demanded. Mitsuko hesitated, knowing that her answer would anger Kenichi. She’d put her life at risk again without him there to back her up.

“Sadako,” she said quietly, feeling Kenichi’s furious eyes on the back of her neck. He said nothing as he shut the door and swept her up into his arms, carrying her to the living area. Kenichi laid her on the couch where the other clansmen quickly gathered around, begging to know what happened. After Kenichi quieted them all, Mitsuko told them.

“Sadako has arisen them,” she said tiredly. “They’re back.”

“Who? What has she arisen?” Kenichi asked eagerly. Once again she stalled, this time she knew the answer would cause a panic but she had to tell them.

“The Zoku Clan.”

A dead silence swept the room, each clansman looking perplexedly at one another.

“Impossible,” Kenichi protested, breaking the silence. Mitsuko knew he’d be first to object.

“It’s true, they’ve arisen from the dead and are headed for the city now,” she explained. “They did this to me.” Mitsuko lifted her shirt, revealing the slice along the side of her abdomen from the ancient steel blade. While the other clansmen immediately retrieved herbs to heal her wound, Kenichi stood over Mitsuko, glowering into her eyes.

“You have to stop doing this Mitsuko,” he said gravely. “I could have lost you tonight.”

Mitsuko turned her face away, too ashamed to look him in the eye. She knew how much he cared about her because she felt the same. They were more than partners, they were friends. Kenichi gently turned Mitsuko’s face to his.

“Swear you’ll never leave without me again,” he demanded. Mitsuko looked deeply into his eyes, taking note of the severity within them. She had to prove her worth to the Jade Clan. She wanted to prove that she was as good a warrior as any of the males there but she knew she needed Kenichi by her side.

“I swear,” she agreed.

Long ago, the Zoku Clan was an enemy of the Jade Clan. Nearly five hundred years had passed since the great Jade Grandmaster had slaughtered the last of the Zoku Clan. Their resting place was not far from Osaka. Legends told that there were only about sixty of them all together but regardless of their small numbers they were a force to be reckoned with.

Few ninja clans were capable of harnessing Ether or learning the divine Ethereal Arts, but the Zoku Clan could. But they didn’t always use their powers for good. When Zoku ninjas attacked Osaka in the late sixteenth century, little did they know that the Jade Clan was blessed by a power equivalent to the power of Ether: the infernal Nethereal Arts.

Mitsuko laid on her bed that night, gazing at the ceiling when streaks of golden light floated across it, breaking through the darkness. Mitsuko recognized these lights as Nether waves but she’d never seen them in this arrangement. She sat up and looked to the corner of her room, locating the entity responsible.

At the edge of the city, the Jade ninjas could see the ranks of the of the Zoku revenants in the distance. Regardless of the darkness of the night, there was no mistaking the limping, slouched bodies from the distance. Their tattered flesh and armor fluttered in the chilly Osaka air. An upright figure stood to the center, walking with the poise of a runway model. Long black hair fell to her waist and a red kimono hugged her figure. Sadako and her zombified army now stood across from the Jade ninjas.

“I expected a bit more of a challenge than this,” Sadako sneered. “Too bad about the little bitch my minions disposed of.”
Kenichi narrowed his eyes, focusing in on Sadako. He drew his katana and screamed the Nether incantation, setting the blade on fire. The other ninjas followed.

“Death comes to those who wish it,” Sadako said and signaled her zombie slaves to spring their attack. Out of nowhere, a great explosion of light blasted the undead warriors backwards before they reached the Jade ninjas, Sadako stood her ground.
As the dust cleared, the light revealed the cause of the destruction.

“It can’t be,” Sadako said grimly.

“It is,” Mitsuko said with an immortal echo. Her body glowed with Nethereal energy and she held a blade her clansmen had never seen.

“You shouldn’t go waking the dead, witch,” Mitsuko said. “You might wake that which you don’t desire.” Sadako grimaced and sent her troops forward. Mitsuko only swung the ancient blade once, sending a final explosion across the fray. The other ninjas came to realize what this was, how Mitsuko had become so powerful.

“The Jade Grandmaster has returned,” Kenichi murmured.

~~~

D.L. Smith-Lee was born in a suburb of Chicago called Harvey, Illinois. He has published two stories, one in the 100 Worlds drabble anthology and one in the 100 Doors to Madness anthology.  Hoping to flood the Earth in the dreamworlds of fantasy, he writes for escape from reality and the love of writing. He currently resides in Florida, where he serves in the US Navy.

Remedial Fae, by Ed Ahern

This story first appeared in Infernal Ink.

~~~

“I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t be in my office, I have a 10:30 appointment.”

“Not with Harald Bremer you don’t. I canceled and rescheduled him. It’s okay, anxiety about his domineering mother isn’t life threatening.”

The man in the client’s chair was a stranger, obese and balding. George was sure he’d never seen him before. “How did you get in here? How could you know about Harald? I’m calling security.”

“Don’t get your panties puckered. George. You called me in.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Oh yes you did, lover boy. Whining to yourself about Adele. Did you know she’s still occasionally mercy humping her ex-boyfriend? You keep inwardly begging for help to get her back. Okay, I’m a problem solver, here I am.”

“Here you are what? Who are you to try and meddle in my personal affairs?

“Not who, what. I’m your good fairy, and better than you deserve. Call me Josea.”

“You’re crazy. If fairies existed they’d be cute little elfin women.”

Josea sighed. George noticed sweat rings under Josea’s arms and a goaty odor crept across the desk.

“I’m a guy fairy, George. I help lost hunters, wounded warriors, bowlers looking for a 300 game, that kind of stuff. ”

Josea might turn violent and George knew to humor him until help showed up. “So what are you doing here, I’m none of those things.”

“No, for sure you’re not. What I do is nothing like the glutinous pap you offer up to clients. Maybe too different. But I’m here because I was rated as excessively macho and ordered into sensitivity training. You’re my first test case, and you’ll be getting a phone call after we’re done and asked to grade my performance.

“So let’s get to it. This Adele broad dumped you. I’ve got a solution…”

“Adele and I had communication issues that are none of your business!” George shifted into his most caring voice. “You clearly have issues, Josea, I’ll just make a phone call and arrange for you to get help…”

“You half-melted marshmallow. Communication issues my ass. Okay, you don’t believe me. Here’s a couple signs and wonders. Hold out your hand, palm up.”

“What?”

“Just do it.”

George held out his hand, empty palm up and a gold coin appeared in it.

“It’s a twenty dollar gold piece, worth about three grand to a collector. Stick it in your pocket. Okay, encore. Your performance issues with Adele. You will now become tumescent, and this tumescence will be maintained until I leave. You can recover this firmness any time by just saying my name, and lose it by saying yours. If you get Adele to jump back into bed with you, most of your problem will be solved.”

George felt a trouser tightening. “What? How? I’m an atheist, I don’t believe in God.”

“You’re confused. I’m no guardian angel, I don’t do spiritual. I’m a fairy, I handle earthly desires and fears.”

George’s shoulders slumped. “She said she never wants to see me again, that we were incompatible…”

“Duh. Don’t over analyze. Get the basics right and you can fake the rest, you’re trained for it. You know when she works out. Go to the health club at the same time and wear a nice tight pair of spandex shorts. When she sees the proof of your affection, I’m pretty sure she’ll go out for a drink with you.”

“I’m not going to make an obscene spectacle of myself in public.”

“Just face her and not the rest of the gym.  She liked you before despite your obvious deficiencies, think how she’ll feel about you if she’s content. Okay, think that handles your problem.  Now about mine. You’re a counselor, you can appreciate the trauma I’d undergo if I get canned from my good fairy gig. Mano a mano, when they call you need to tell them how sensitively I handled your sex problem.

~~~

Resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. Original wife, but after forty five years we are both out of warranty. Have had forty seven stories published so far, most also reprinted. Web site: swampgasworks.com

A Century Of Better and Worse and Worse and Worse, by Diane Arrelle

Jeanine woke.

Took a deep breath, then sighed.

Another morning and no death to greet her yet again. She turned to stare at Harvey, snoring and snuffling. Occasionally he’d grunt too and kick his legs

She sighed again, a sigh tinged with sadness, mixed with regret. No sign of death there either.

“Window clear,” she commanded and watched the darkened glass grow light and then transparent. The smog swirled against the large pane and she wondered if she’d ever get to see the sun as more than just a pale circle working its way through the pollutants.

Squinting, Jeanine tried to make out the shadow of the building next door, then closed her eyes and thought back to when she’d been a kid.  She’d moved around back then, played outside. She went to school, shopped at the mall, even snuck off to the beach with her friends to sit in the sun and get tan. They never worried about skin cancer or cataracts.  Worry was for the aged.

She nodded in silence. Life had been good once.

“Unit on,” she called and added, “News.”

An image filled the entire wall and the commentator droned.

“Global Warming, reality or hoax, to be reviewed by congress this week.”

She glanced at the small box she still insisted on calling a PC, but now it was so much more. All her precious memories were stored there along with everything else that made up her life, their life. Ninety-eight years of marriage, almost a century of being with one man, of being two instead of one.

“Inflation runs amok for the 125th year in a row, ”

She tried to stretch but her joints hurt too much. She was 118 years old and felt every one of those years.

“Hamster Flu threatens millions in underdeveloped countries.”

“It is predicted that there will be landmark 175,000 happy couples celebrating their 100th anniversary this year.” 

Jeanine grimaced and looked at Harvey. “I don’t know,” she mumbled and fingered the pillow she’d absently been hugging to her chest. “It doesn’t seem natural that just because we live longer we have to stay married for more than ninety percent of our lives.”

Harvey snorted in his sleep and rolled over to lie face up.

“Not natural at all,” she said and jammed the pillow tightly over his face.

“Homicide rate for senior citizens on the rise,” the voice continued to recite the headlines as Harvey struggled in vain.

~~~

Diane Arrelle, the pen name of South Jersey writer Dina Leacock, has been writing for more than 20 years and has sold almost 200 short stories and has two published books, Just A Drop In The Cup, a collection of short-short stories and Elements Of The Short Story, How to Write a Selling Story. She is proud to be one of the founding members as well as the second president of the Garden State Horror Writers and is also a past president of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. When not writing, she is a director of a municipal senior citizen center. She lives with her husband, sometimes her sons and of course her cat on the edge of the Pine Barrens in Southern New Jersey (home of the Jersey Devil). You can visit her at dinaleacock.com

Frost Bite, by Sasha Janel McBrayer

I remember the cold on my eyeballs. The smell of it. So clean.

It didn’t take us long to file into the nearby cave for warmth. The wreckage was barely smoking in the snow. The rumpled plane was as wintry as the landscape.

No implements with which to start a fire inside. Just shivering survivors warmed only by proximity and the friction from our quaking shoulders. We numbered five.

At three days lost in the tundra, Carmike fashioned a cave door from a section of airplane. It stopped the wind.

At four days we had eaten everything we found, including bits of leather and chewing gum. Sierra began eating her hair.

At three weeks, surviving only on melted snow, sour bush berries, and a skinny rabbit we quartered and shared and ate raw, Carmike and I began making eyes at each other; scheming without words. Baumer dropped dead that evening. He had been the eldest. The ground too frozen to even hope to bury him, we crunched him into a corner; face covered, and prayed he wouldn’t spoil.

What could spoil in this ice? We might have eaten him if he weren’t so stiff and green. His age-wrinkled skin appeared unappetizing even to we wretched hungry.

I was relieving myself on day twenty-three, steadying my weak corpus by holding fast to a tree, when Carmike startled me with his hand abruptly on my shoulder. I finished and turned to him.

“We’re the strongest, Reeves. And Sierra has the most fat. Richards will protest, but I can take him out,” he said.

“What are you suggesting?” I asked. I hated myself for wasting the breath to pretend. “…It’ll be messy,” I added.

“The quicker we eat her, the warmer her blood will be.”

My conscience was as numb as my swollen, frost-nipped toes.

“I’ll yawn as a cue,” Carmike said. “With my arms wide. Like so,” he added, spreading his limbs like Christ.

I made a single nod.

Later Carmike performed his pantomime, like the world’s worst actor. I hesitated, but grabbed Sierra by her shoulders before the sluggish minds surrounding us could catch wise. Richards’s objection came when he stood swiftly onto unsure feet, but just as summarily, Carmike clocked him with the butt of our flashlight.

We were upon Sierra then, men no more. And her blood was warm in a way the skinny rabbit had only very sadly mocked. And it was messy and when it was over our stomachs did strange things.

We collapsed onto our backs, the macabre pair of us. When Richards had fallen, he’d pulled back the blanket hiding Baumer’s dead face so that the departed was staring at me, his features contorted in accusatory disgust.

This may have bothered me had the sharp pain in my belly not assaulted all my faculties. Carmike likewise writhed, bumping the cave door opened with his knee. It was sunset and I had a view from the ground, past my protruding ribs and the toes of my shoes to witness his combustion.

That’s right, the fading shard of sunlight shot through the snowy trees and in through the crack in the door to make Carmike catch fire. He was screaming so. And to stop the sound I inched along the floor and reached to pull the door to. The back of my hand was burned in the process.

The cave fell silent, but was saturated with a smell like brimstone. When the pain in my stomach waned I questioned what I’d just witnessed. Was this madness? Hell perhaps? A place where sunlight kills.

Time passed before I finally lifted myself and scooted over to Carmike’s char-black body. Whereas I now felt strong and nourished, Carmike, who had grown long fangs, which hung down from his opened mouth, was rigid and blank. When I traced my own finger across my teeth I discovered the same sharp canines.

In fact, what remained of his coal ears were pointed –bat-like. Mine were the same.

A truth invaded my brain. The cold, the live human blood mingling with my stomach acid; somehow these parts forged me into a monster.

It was night and I left the cave to enjoy my new found liveliness and invulnerability. I noted that the cold on my eyeballs was perceived, but was so much less affecting than before.

I found a moonlit pool and dipped my head to view my reflection. I marveled that it was mine. My skin was chalky and my hair the color of star shine. I reached to disturb the pool and use its contents to wash free Sierra’s blood from my mouth. Since making a meal of the woman, I no longer thirsted for water.

I tried to eat animals. I tried to eat sour berries. Neither would do.

I felt badly toying with Richards for several consecutive nights after he came to, unnecessarily elongating the hunt, but I was so bored and help was never going to come. As for my own escape, I could only walk so far in any given direction before daybreak.

I tried to end it. Leapt clean off the face of a very high cliff. I never lost consciousness. I just waited where I landed for the dull menace of my broken bones, a sensation as neutered as the cold on my eyes, to ease and mend, then sat up in the snow. I used both hands instinctively to realign my neck.

I’d always heard that hell was other people, but without any to feed from I found myself in purgatory.

Richards was my last victim. I emptied the cave after, and thanks to my incredible strength, buried in the frozen earth those who had survived the crash with me. Why leave the evidence?

I hibernated in the cave, finding a kind of unnatural suspended animation. I daydreamed, contemplating the things I missed the most, like coffee and suspense films, a woman reapplying her lipstick. I did this until the spring thaw. And a hiker came.

~~~

Sasha Janel McBrayer is an author of short speculative fiction from Savannah, Georgia. Her fantasy, science fiction and horror stories can be found at SilverthoughtTitle Goes HereInfective Ink and in Future Imperfect: Best of Wily Writers, Vol.2. Visit her blog at http://storybysasha.blogspot.com/.

Mermaid Weather, by H.L. Ross

Gray water sloshed against the hull of the small fishing boat, rocking it gently from side to side as Sam sent his line zipping through the fog. Pearly drops glistened on his wool coat, clinging to his thick gray beard and fat caterpillar eyebrows. He sat in the bow of the small skiff, fishing pole gripped loosely in his callused hands. Heavy fog surrounded the boat and he could barely see the stern where his friend Michael sat smoking a cigarette. The tiny flame brightened every time the other man took a puff and faded as he released the smoke to mingle with the thick mist.

Sam and Michael became brothers in the Navy, though they talked very little to each other. Once discharged, they went to each others’ weddings and their wives became friends. Now, 40 years later, they fished together every weekend. Even when Sam got a divorce they fished together, but they still didn’t talk much.  A thin reed of a man, Michael’s  narrow mouth barely ever parted from his precious Marlboro reds. Sam, a man of action rather than speech, didn’t care much for conversation anyway.

Michael dropped the charred butt of his cigarette, the third since they arrived at dawn, into the water and reached into his jacket pocket for the worn Marlboro package, pulling out another before bringing it to his lips and lighting up. Smoke and fog swirled together around his hollow cheeks as his flinty, gray eyes sought some glimpse of the water beneath the fog.

“This is mermaid weather,” Michael said, pulling the cigarette from between his lips only long enough for the words to escape before he took another puff.

“Don’t start with that bullshit. There’s no such thing as mermaids,” Sam spoke gruffly. Michael didn’t answer. He blew out a smoky breath and gazed at the water with wary eyes. The silence between them stretched, broken only by the sound of waves smashing against the hull.

Sam smiled as something tugged at his line. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Another tug. Patiently, he reeled in the line. The fish pulled away hard. Sam pulled back, all of his attention on the battle between him and the fish. Michael ignored him, tossed yet another cigarette butt into the water, and then fished another one from the pack.

A high pitched giggle startled him into dropping the thing before he could light it. It landed with a plop in the water. His eyes flickered through the thinning fog; there was a faint splash off the port side and he glimpsed a large red-gold tail as it disappeared beneath a ripple. Michael’s eyes brightened and he looked over his shoulder at Sam, but the other man reveled in his triumph over the largemouth bass. Looking back, Michael saw her appear. Black hair falling over her pale shoulders, she smiled at him coyly and waved before sinking slowly back beneath the waves with another giggle.

Crowing his success, Sam lifted the fish above his head and presented it blindly to the fog choked world around them. Michael kept his eyes on the water, silently watching as the mermaid broke the surface again. This time she saluted him with the cigarette he’d dropped. Her eyes, black like he imagined the sea bottom would be, filled with laughter and she tossed it at him before sinking back down. The soggy tobacco landed at his feet. He swallowed.

“This is one big son of a bitch.” Sam said as he turned around, dropped the large fish into the ice chest, and clapped Michael on the shoulder. Michael looked from his friend to the water and back again, pictured what he might say if the mermaid appeared again.

But she never did.

~~~

This is H L Ross’s first publication in what will hopefully be a long career. Currently, she is a student of Anthropology in FL, USA.

Thanksgiving, by Julie Gilbert

“Runyon cider?”

“Nope.”

“Sveltish wool?”

“Nope.”

“By the gods, Hazael, there must be something you’re thankful for,” Starfish said, stretching out her legs behind the dumpster in back of the tavern.

“Nope.  Safer that way,” the old sailor replied, hunkering over his mug of crayfish broth.

“What about eel pastries from Solly’s cart?” she persisted, waving her lunch in front of his nose.  “Look, Hazael, if you’re not thankful for eel pie, I don’t even want to know you.”

“Eel pie gives me the runs,” Hazael said right as Starfish took a bite.  Her mouth full of flaky pastry, Starfish flicked her fingers in a rude gesture.  Hazael cackled, a rusty sound that revealed his few remaining teeth.

“If they ever drag me in front of the stone, I’ll be fine,” Starfish boasted.  “I’ve got a whole list of things I’m thankful for.  It’s you I’m worried about.”

“That stone has piss to do with giving thanks.  Those Eireans bewitched it to sniff out their enemies.  That’s all.”

“It’s rooted out sixty-five rebels this year already, plus the riots have stopped. You can’t deny it works.”

“So do my bowels but you don’t see me using them to test my friends.”

“You haven’t had to follow you into the outhouse,” Starfish muttered.

“Safer not to be thankful for anything,” Hazael grunted.

“That attitude won’t get you any friends,” Starfish said.  “Now me, on the other hand –”

“That’s her!” a voice interrupted.  Hazael, quick for his age, vanished over the fence as city guards swarmed the alley.  Starfish started to follow but her boot caught on a nail.

“Too bad, girl,” a guard taunted, hauling her down.

“I didn’t do anything!” she protested.

“You’ve been named.”

“By who?”

“Your associates were quick to talk when we caught them at the docks.”

“I had nothing to do with that!”  Another lie.

The guard dragged her to the square, his hand tight around her arm.  Starfish scanned the crowd for a glimpse of Hazael but all she saw were cloaked figures, heads bowed and eyes darting over the cobblestones.

“Make way,” the guard called, hauling Starfish to the center of the square.  She shook off his hand and scowled at the figures standing in the royal balcony.  A little girl, her hair the color of wheat, tilted her head to the side.  The crown on her forehead threatened to slide off.

“Bow before your queen,” the guard rasped, shoving Starfish’s knees.

“I know, you ass,” she muttered, dipping her head before turning to face the stone, a block of milky quartz, almost as tall as she.  The surface was chipped and the color was flat gray.  She’d never been this close to the stone before.  Starfish’s gaze flickered to the young girl on the balcony.  Her head was still tilted to the side, although someone had secured her crown.

“What are you waiting for?” her guard said.  “Scared?”

“Shut your face,” Starfish muttered.  She drew a deep breath and laid her hand against the stone.  It felt cool and gritty, like the window in her attic room.

“I am…I am grateful for all the Royal House of Eiriea has bestowed upon me,” she said in a loud voice, the ritual words surfacing from somewhere deep in her mind.  “I open my heart and mind to be examined.

For a moment nothing happened.  The stone remained cool beneath her palm.  Starfish frowned.  Was she free?

Then a clear voice floated down from the balcony.

“What in particular?” the young queen asked.  “You have been accused of thievery, a crime punishable by death.  Share your thanks for what the throne has given you and perhaps your life will be spared, should the stone deem you worthy.”

Starfish was certain the stone would find her anything but worthy.  She opened her mouth to start her litany when sudden images flashed through her mind:  affectionate parents killed in the western campaign, a cousin who took her in before succumbing to plague, Hazael’s gruff charity, which saved her life when she first arrived in the city.

“I’m thankful that I know where I stand with my friends without having to test them.”

A muffled gasp moved through the crowd.  The queen’s head snapped straight.

Starfish closed her eyes.  She had spoken treason.  There was nothing to do but wait for the stone to flash its lightening and kill her.  As she waited, the stone shuddered and grew warm.  Starfish cracked her eyes to see the boulder glowing like starlight.

“The stone agrees!” someone cried.  “The girl is right.  The throne is wrong!”  In the square around her, the crowd was coming to the same realization.

There were shouts, the rasp of knives being drawn, the thud of rocks slamming into the balcony.

“The stone sides with us!”

Her guard fell to the ground, a dagger in his back.  Starfish saw the girl queen collapse, blood gushing as a knife flashed near her throat.  Her crown rolled off the edge of the balcony, trailing a few strands of wheat-colored hair.

“What is this?” Starfish gasped, the crowd thundering around her.

“The end of the Eiriean throne,” a woman said, her face sticky with gore, her eyes glittering.  “Join us.  You made this possible.”  She held out a knife to Starfish.

Starfish’s boots slipped in pools of blood as she raced across the square to a familiar squat figure peeking out from behind a wall.  Bodies thudded to the ground around her as the crowd overtook the guards.

Later, on the ship to Laecoso, Hazael found her at the rail.

“You more thankful for eel pies or for the fact that you started a revolution?”

“You were right,” Starfish said, her hands trembling, unable to shake the image of the falling crown.  “You’re only safe if you’re not thankful for anything.”

Hazael laid a hand on her shoulder.  Starfish shrugged off his touch and sought her empty cabin.

~~~

I am a librarian living in rural Minnesota. In my spare time, I chase my small children and escape for walks in cemeteries. My work has appeared in Foliate Oak. My blog, Cemeteries & Pajamas, can be found at juliekgilbert.com.

The Gravy Train Stops Here, by Diane Arrelle

Publsihed in Deep Space Terror in 2010.

~~~

Paz walked down the ramp leading to the purple planet.  Inhaling, she took a deep breath of air and gagged.

“Use the damned breathing tube, stupid!” The group leader barked. “Are you crazy, trying to breathe fresh air?” He looked at the crewman still at the top of the gangway and snarled,  “Civilians!”

Chagrinned, Paz quickly used the tube and hoped the other 200 colonists thought she was red from choking.

After they all settled into the quarters left behind by the scouting crew. Paz gazed around at the planet someone had named Lavender. It was breathtaking, both literally as she had just discovered, and figuratively. Everything was a shade of purple.

She couldn’t wait to spy the inhabitants of this world. She’d read about them in the reports: friendly, pet-like, primitive creatures resembling large dogs, but more intelligent. They had a language of sorts and lived wild without shelter, or weapons, or even tools even though they were physically capable of making them. The original hundred men and women who had lived here for four months had fondly named them Lavis.

She studied the purple landscape and remembered the horror when  she learned how the entire scouting crew died as their ship veered off course into an asteroid field. Those brave people stayed here, established the rights to colonize and harvest the planet, and died on the way home. She didn’t approve what they did for a living, choosing planets to rape and pollute, but she felt sad that they perished.

Paz was on a mission herself, a mission to end the gravy train of human domination throughout the cosmos. She, and many others like her, felt mankind had destroyed civilization after civilization in the name of colonization as they sweep through the cosmos polluting and depleting every planet they found. She was proud to be a spy for an underground organization. She was going to make sure the inhabitants of Lavender kept their culture.

The second day after the colonists landed, the Lavis came out of the deep purple forest. Paz couldn’t believe how beautiful they were; long pale lilac fur, huge soulful eyes, a doglike snout, and big bushy tails that wagged when they saw the people. The lead Lavi walked up to Paz on six legs and spoke an unintelligible language. She smiled and fumbled for her translator, then realized she didn’t need it because the creature smiled back and licked her cheek.

“Are you crazy!” the human group leader snarled and pushed Paz away. “Hello,” he said solemnly to the Lavi leader. “I am Morgan, Group Commander of Colonization Party Lav001.” Then he held out his hand.

The alien smiled and licked the commander’s hand.

That night the group leader called Paz into his office. “Look, Scientist 2876, we are here to settle and harvest any valuable minerals for the Republic. I don’t need you constantly taking foolish chances. Just do your job and stay close to the camp. I saw you trying to breathe pure air and now you interfered with our contact with the locals. Woman, if you don’t watch out, you are going to end up a casualty.”

Paz wanted to scream, I am doing my job, my real job, to stop you.  But she kept her mouth shut and left.

Everyone quickly settled into routine.  The Lavis seemed overjoyed to have people back on their planet and said so repeatedly, “Love humans, miss humans, happy humans are back.”

They even moved into the camp. It seemed like each person had been adopted by a Lavi. The group leader hadn’t been happy at first, but even he was won over by an adoring creature that lay by his side at night, and licked his hands.

Paz sought out what seemed to be the leader and through her communicator tried to talk to him, but he just wanted to be with her and lick her hands until the rough tongue rubbed her skin raw.

Finally, one night Paz whispered, “Take me to your home.”

The Lavi studied her with his big, liquid eyes and nodded. He led her deep into the woods and down into a network of underground caverns until they came to a huge room with a conveyer belt and a huge machine.

Paz gasped. “So you aren’t so primitive after all. I came to warn you. People are bad. They will destroy your way of life. They will make you slaves to their ways.”

The leader smiled, and chanted, “Love humans, love humans, love humans.” Other Lavis appeared from the shadows and joined in.

Paz thought she’d explode with frustration. “Don’t you understand!”

The leader smiled and nipped Paz’s hand with his tiny, sharp teeth. “Love humans.”

“Ouch,” Paz yelped as she grasped at the tiny pinpricks of blood. Before she could say another word, her legs gave out and she sank to the floor. “Why…” she started to say, but her tongue didn’t work right and her throat felt like it was closing.

The creatures lifted her onto the conveyer belt. She struggled to take in air. Face down on the conveyer she rolled along. Fighting to keep her vision in focus she stared at the marks on the belt and recognized the insignia of the marine space corps right next to her face. Cold flooded through her as she realized she was staring at a tattoo.

She was riding on the skins of people! The first party, she wondered with fading consciousness. But they had taken off, hadn’t they?  She forced words out…”p-p-p-people skin?”

The chanting continued, “Love Humans, love humans, love humans.”

And she understood.  These simple creatures weren’t going to be enslaved by humans. No, they were farming humans.  No wonder that ship went off course, she thought with her fading strength, it had been empty!

She couldn’t breath anymore. Blackness closed in on her world and just before it all went dark, she heard the chant change. “Love humans, love humans, love humans with gravy.”

~~~

Diane Arrelle, the pen name of South Jersey writer Dina Leacock, has been writing for more than 20 years and has sold almost 200 short stories and has two published books, Just A Drop In The Cup, a collection of short-short stories and Elements Of The Short Story, How to Write a Selling Story. She is proud to be one of the founding members as well as the second president of the Garden State Horror Writers and is also a past president of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. When not writing, she is a director of a municipal senior citizen center. She lives with her husband, sometimes her sons and of course her cat on the edge of the Pine Barrens in Southern New Jersey (home of the Jersey Devil). You can visit her at dinaleacock.com

The Good Fairy, by Ed Ahern

First published in Stupefying Stories.

~~~

Bartholomew didn’t like to drink, which is why ordering took a while.

He’d found a bar with long lost pretensions and marginal cleanliness, then found a stool in what he hoped was an unpopular section next to the bathrooms. Bartholomew wanted to wallow in depression and loneliness, and understood that bars were good places to foster both qualities.

“Um, maybe a rum and coke? No- too much sugar and caffeine. Scratch that. Gin and tonic? I hate the taste of juniper. Vodka tonic, that’s it, vodka tonic.”

“Whatever.” The bartender sagged pretty much all over, cheeks, jowls, arms, belly. Bartholomew suspected that the man’s ass sagged as well. The shot was poured with sloppy indifference and the glass overfilled from a multi-mixer dispenser. It tasted like rubbing alcohol. Perfect, Bartholomew thought, I can go blind as well.

He lifted the glass and sourly toasted himself. Men lost their wives half the time, lost their jobs a few times over a career, and lost their health a little while before dying. But he’d won the trifecta and would get to die relatively soon, broke and alone.

A woman plopped down on the bar stool next to him. She could have been the bartender’s spouse. Once clearly buxom, she’d gaunted down to an archetype for malnourishment.

“Vodka tonic, Harry.” Drink in hand she swiveled a quarter turn to stare at Bartholomew. Her face, originally attractively delicate, had coarsened into middle-aged rubble. When she opened her mouth again to speak, Bartholomew noticed missing and discolored teeth.

“Tastes like shit, doesn’t it?” She cocked her head toward him. “Feeling sorry for ourselves, are we?”

Just perfect, he thought. I want solitude and get the wicked witch of the east.

“Not a witch, dearie, a fairy.”

“Huh?”

“Call me Laila. Hard to believe now, but I once looked like your favorite aunt, and handed out wishes like a whore offers out sexual favors.”

Bartholomew shrugged.  A demented crone was just the right capper for his day.

“Laila, why aren’t you still cherubic and happy? Giving people their hearts’ desire should make you smug.”

“Not so much. Forcing someone into a relationship in order to satisfy the wisher’s infatuation inflicts pain. Ditto for money. It has to be stolen from someone else to provide the requested riches. Often from people who starve without it. Nothing is free.

“The wishers’ pleasures are usually transient, but the pain and suffering they cause is permanent, and tears me up. I developed some bad habits trying to cope- booze, crack, crystal meth. Still got ‘em.

“I’m here because you unwittingly called for me. But you need to think things through. Your job sucked. You knew it, you were just too timid to leave it. You haven’t felt anything for your wife in over a year, but didn’t want to give up the subsistence sex that passed for affection. You’re for sure going to die, just a little sooner rather than later.”

The ravaged woman seemed to glow, not with the pearly white luminescence Bartholomew had imagined for fairies, but with the distorted tints of a cheap motel sign. “Anyway, I can give you three wishes if you really think you’re worth what it’ll cost other people. You called me, and it’s still your call.”

The woman’s eyes were bleary, but held a soft vulnerability. She’d suffer with his demands.

Bartholomew stared at the drink he didn’t like and put it down. “Harry, I need to settle up. Here’s enough to buy her another couple drinks.” He leaned forward into the ruts and gullies of the woman’s face so he could whisper. “Laila, I think I should say thank you, but I’m not sure why. Keep the wishes. I know my problems, maybe I’m even comfortable with them. I don’t think I want to handle the problems your wishes would bring.”

She smiled, and Bartholomew saw how beautiful she’d been when wishes were innocent and the future didn’t exist. He slid off the bar stool and left before the image could fade.

~~~

Resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. Original wife, but after forty five years we are both out of warranty. Have had forty seven stories published so far, most also reprinted. Web site: swampgasworks.com

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