What is that sudden movement in the mirror? Is this house haunted? Why do the neighbors look away suddenly when I ask them that question?
Monsters under the bed exist everywhere, not just in Manhattan high-rises.
Sometimes myths become rural legends, and sometimes rural legends become myths. Sometimes a dog isn’t “just a dog.” Sometimes a father is a myth. Sometimes the whisper on the air, is not just the wind, and it is trying to tell you something. When we think we are alone, well, we don’t really want to go there, do we?
What is that neighbor of mine doing, digging such a BIG hole in his backyard? Maybe I ought to mind my own business…before I find out!
Issue 22: Outskirts—Suburban and Rural Legends
It’s your first time in your father’s country. You want it to feel different, but airports are a local government’s first chance at showing off and this one is as full of glass and screens as any other. There are loading and unloading zones, yellow lines and disinterested officials. The language that lisps over loudspeakers doesn’t strike that sharp, painful note you’d hoped for from a half-forgotten mother-tongue.
You Lyft into the city with a driver whose English is better than yours. He wants to hear what New York is like. You tell him you’re from California; he asks if you know movie stars.
You laugh politely. A layer of skin shucks free in your mouth — a wad of cellophane-tissue that sloughs from the walls of your cheeks, forcing you to swallow or choke. When he stops at your hotel you flee, ignoring the app’s ding in your pocket.
The stink of your father’s kills is strong in the city. You begin to hallucinate; see snatches of him in the opened bellies of feral dogs, the countable ribs of beggar children. You feel each ounce of your flesh as a sin and gag breakfasts into public toilets, doing your best to ignore the thick, inky ropes that come up with them.
You expect to find him in a tower, a castle. Instead, you spend your last sunset breaking into Cold War era public housing. The carpet inside reeks of black mold and rot. He’s chosen one of the smaller apartments. For the first time, stepping inside, you feel a twist in your heart. Against anything he deserves, your eyes prick at the squalor.
Grave dirt and rat corpses litter his bedsheets.
You didn’t realize how much you’d remembered until you see the changes. In your mind he’s still a tall man, harsh and lean, skin sickly beneath the fluorescent lights which were the only way you’d ever seen him. Now, even twilight cannot soften his horror.
“You came.” His face is unrecognizable, a skull robbed of warmth or cruelty, slave to the biological urge riding you both. Rage, old as the knowledge of what you are, rises in you. You’ve been angry for such a very long time.
“I’m dying,” you accuse. There’s a mirror just visible in his bathroom and you see the truth of it. Flesh, wet and hot, drips down your pant-leg.
He lifts his hand, offering life; in it, you see eternities of guilt and repeated mistakes. Almost, when his fingers brush your lips, you summon the courage to run.
Instead, you eat without thinking, ignoring the screams. Arms, legs, clavicle crunching. Your body strengthens. Your jaw aches. His voice, and the voices of those before him, whisper a parasite’s immortality into your bones. His curse descends and you’re whole and sick with it. You’ll never be just yourself again. Through shuttered windows, day’s last light burns your skin red. In your belly, the baby kicks.
Ibba Armancas is a writer/director raised by Italian sword fighters. The daughter of a civil rights lawyer and a terrorist, she jokes that her childhood was a Young Adult novel and does her best to live up to the aesthetic. She lives in Los Angeles and is represented by Conrad Sun of Meridian Artists
Ethan told stories. Not lies really, but strange stories about things that could only be seen just as your eye blinked.
He was only ten, too young to know about such things. But when he said, “Guess what I saw,” everybody listened. Even sometimes teachers in his classes.
“Guess what I saw,” he said one morning at recess. “What?” we all chimed. He waited a few seconds as we gathered in a tight circle around him. His voice always changed as he began to tell us, getting deeper and slower, and older and bigger.
“In the woods next to the playground,” Frank began, “I saw a big dog.”
“Aw, so what,” said a new boy, “it’s probably just a stray.” But we told him to be quiet and listen, because we knew there was more to come.
“The dog’s shoulder,” Ethan said, “was as high as mine, and his head was even bigger than mine. His fur was thick and black, and when the sun shined it shimmered dark blue. His breath sounded like a file scraping down his throat.”
“Weren’t you scared?” somebody asked.
“At first, sure,” Ethan said, “but he only looked at me with his head tilted sideways, as if wondering about me.
“Then he padded over to me and leaned in, pushing me into a patch of alders. He kept pushing me through brush and brambles until we came to a trail, all overgrown and mossy. I could barely see the prints of paws and deer hooves.
“The bushes and trees blocked the sun, and all I saw clearly was his eyes, black spots with white fringes. He took a few steps back and looked at me. I had a weird feeling he wanted me to follow him, and an even weirder feeling that I should.
“We walked a long way. and crossed two streams that aren’t in our woods. and then scrambled down into a deep hollow. But not a hollow like tree roots make when they rip out of the soil. Deeper, and when I jumped into it my head was below the ground.
“The dog began scraping a corner of the pit with its paws until I could just see the top of a small chest. The lid was tarnished silver or maybe lead. He looked at me, then at the chest, then back at me.
“I knelt down and tried to pull the chest out of its hole, but it was too heavy. Then I pulled on the lid to see if it was locked. The lid creaked and flopped open.”
“What was inside?” somebody asked.
“It was hard to see in the darkness,” Ethan said. “I felt around inside and started pulling things out. There was a little, leather-bound book, and a lot of coins, and a tiny oval picture frame—“
“Whose picture was it?”
“I couldn’t tell, and I didn’t know what to do. The chest was too heavy to take, but I didn’t want to leave it either. Just then the dog growled and I got scared. So I grabbed something out of the chest and slammed down the lid.”
“What else did the dog do?”
“Nothing. But I jumped out of the pit and ran off. The dog didn’t follow me, and I haven’t seen it again.
“I stumbled back down the trial, and guessed where I’d broken through the underbrush. It took me two hours to wander out of the woods, all scratched up.”
Frank held up his arms to show us the scratch trails. There were scratches on his face as well.
“Go back and get the chest.”
“I tried. Twice. That’s when I got more of these scratches. But I couldn’t find where I left the path, and when I went back into the woods I just got lost.”
“The new boy laughed. “I can’t believe this story.”
“Ethan smiled sadly. “I almost can’t believe it myself. All I have is this.”
He reached in his pocket, took out a small oval and showed us all. The frame was tarnished black silver, the picture a faded gray image of a young woman, her hair in a severe bun, holding a black dog as large as herself.
“I still don’t believe it,” the new boy said.
Just then a teacher came up to us. “We’re going inside, children. A neighbor reported a large black dog is prowling around, and we want to be safe.”
Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He has his original wife, but advises that after forty-nine years they’re both out of warranty. He labors at Bewildering Stories, where he sits on the review board and manages a posse of five review editors. Ed’s had a hundred forty stories and poems published so far, and a series of articles on fly fishing. His collected fairy and folk tales, The Witch Made Me Do It was published by Gypsy Shadow Press. His novella The Witches Bane was published by World Castle Publishing, and his collected fantasy and horror stories, Capricious Visions was published by Gnome on Pig Press. Ed’s currently working on a paranormal/thriller novel tentatively titled The Rule of Chaos.
Let me get something straight: I am a skeptic. While it can’t be denied that stories of the supernatural and the anomalous do appeal to my sense of whimsy, my logic filters are ironclad, and it has long been an overriding reflex to dismiss—perhaps too readily—all such accounts as pure fiction. Recently, however, I encountered something that has, as yet, eluded all attempts at rational explanation.
Here’s how it began…
Since I live less than a mile away, walking to the Camp Meeker Potluck at the community center was perfectly feasible; unfortunately this meant I would also be walking home, and in the dark no less, so I packed a rather bulky flashlight, picked up the heavy dish of vegetable pot pie I’d prepared for the occasion, and set out. I was on my way back—slowly, mind you, for I was
burdened with leftovers—and I was about to cross the post office parking lot, when I glanced in the direction of Bohemian Highway to ascertain whether any cars might be headed in my direction.
And it was then that I saw it; the beam of my flashlight fell upon a figure crossing the road—a bizarre creature, the likes of which I had neither seen nor imagined! Though there were some 50 feet between me and it, I could tell that it was very tall—at least the height of a large black bear—and it was thin, emaciated almost, with pale gray flesh and a long, gradually curving tail, like that of a greyhound. In fact, I would almost have believed it to be a large, hairless dog were it not for the great disparity between the height of its shoulders and that of its hindquarters; the former were drastically higher, and though its head was in shadow and therefore defies description, it was held in a downward position, giving the animal the impression of a hunched back. The feet were also noticeably longer than a dog’s, and its quick, fluid gait was such that my stunned psyche did not, for one moment, register it as canine.
The thing was there and gone in less than five seconds, but the mere sight of it had disturbed me profoundly, and, although it had been headed in the opposite direction, my desire to be at home in a safe, well-lit room became one of the utmost urgency. I briefly considered abandoning my cumbersome load and making a mad, adrenaline-fueled dash across the parking lot, but I had promised my roommate a piece of pot pie, and besides, I couldn’t bear to part with my best new baking dish. So I walked, heart pounding, at as rapid a pace as I could muster, past the post office and the fire station—both quite deserted as usual—until I’d reached the forest path at the end of the lot. Well, my condition was already one of advanced agitation and I simply couldn’t
face the trees, so I scrambled up the muddy bank that separated the lot from the highway, nearly taking a slippery tumble in the process. From there, I high-tailed it up the hill to where home and my own room awaited me, and I did not stop trembling for at least an hour after the frightful incident had occurred.
The species and origin of the gangly grey creature remain a mystery—an anomaly at which my discerning intellect still rebels—and its memory, I fear, will be transformed by the corrosive nature of time and distance into naught but an unpleasant daydream, and eventually relegated to the realm of mere fancy.\
Ellery D. Margay is a freelance fiction and food writer from the California wine country. His work has previously appeared in The Paragon Journal, Wicked Works, the poetry collection Untimely Frost, and in multiple FunDead anthologies. When not dreaming up tales and the occasional poem, he can be found sampling and reviewing the newest restaurants and wandering the world in search of weirdness, wonder, and misadventure.
The man digging
in his back-yard
inspires your story.
To your creative tongue,
starting a garden
becomes burying his wife.
As your tale goes,
months after the last load
of dirt covers her face,
melons grow to the size
and shape of her head,
ripe red tomatoes bloom
the color of her blood,
potatoes stare up
out of the soil
with her unforgiving eyes.
killing and burying someone,
in these parts,
You never know
what you’ll harvest.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Front Range Review, Studio One and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Louisiana Review, Poem and Midwest Quarterly.
There are many, many things they say of what you did before they locked you away. They say you killed more than thirteen girls. All pretty little things with long, soft curls. Blue eyed women were the best. You lost only one of your captured guests. She ran three miles on busted feet. She flew through the underbrush, the devil to beat. Half-way to the Sheriff’s place before you noticed Marie had fled your place. Her bloodied shackle lay on the basement floor where other ladies had been slain before. Scarlet footprints led out to the yard. You searched for her. You searched real hard. So involved with your own mess, you never realized she’d passed the test. She’d reported you, your house and location. The Sheriff and six deputies brought you in to shouts of jubilation. I hear tell folks listen to whispers and weeping. In your old house, as they lie sleeping.
I don’t think the ghosts of the girls are there. I’ve searched for them with no fruit to bear. My feet, you see, have never healed. And through the judge, your fate is sealed. The problem is, I can’t let go of the terror and pain I harbor. Always scared of each tomorrow. You may be the one they locked away. But I’m the one still trapped in that day. Day and night and night and day I feel your presence and I’m unnerved. Tomorrow we’ll see if that ebbs away. Today, I run as if I’ll die. Endorphins flow, they make me fly. I run and run, this blue eyed girl. My hair’s now short and no more curls.
They say you’ll die and never be free. I pray the opposite is in store for me. I’ll keep searching for the other girls, the ones I know you took. You took their innocence and their lives. I saw the trophies you didn’t bother to hide. The pictures you took, the police found those. It’S just the bodies that can never be laid to rest, and until they do I can’t either. It burns me up, like a fever. I’ll find them, I know I will. And give their families closure still. I don’t need your confession or direction. I know you’ve left clues in that house on the mountain. Thirteen graves, I need only find one. You’re a creature of habit, but lazy too. That’s how I’ll find them. It’s how I’ll beat you.
So when you shut your eye tonight to sleep, remember me – what’s that? You weep? Don’t play a fool. Not now. Man up! You wanted this so suck it up. What’s that you say, I sat upon them? The concrete basement is where you sealed them!
Your maniacal cackle may scare some, but that’s not what has stopped my heart. It’s knowing now the best is truly yet to come. I get to tear that offending building down, foundation and stone and recover those girls and end this all. With no one to blame but your pride for your fall.
Every six-year-old knows that monsters live under the bed.
Mom has to turn the night light, open the closet door all the way and turns off the closet light. It is just to make sure that the little glow in the dark nightlight in there is charged enough to keep them out. The brick goes between the bedroom door and the door jamb, so it can’t close all the way. Good night kiss, bedroom light goes out, three steps into the room and jump to the bed.
I wait. One day he will take four steps, then he is mine!
BanWynn Oakshadow is a hermit, hippie, experimental beat poet, speculative fiction writer, nature photographer, cultural historian, social activist, husband, adult survivor of child abuse, stroke survivor, mentally ill, agraphic, dyslexic, diabetic, gay, pagan, disabled veteran, and a Cancer with a criminal record. He tries to use every bit of that in his writing. A self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades, BanWynn has no degrees in eight interesting majors. He lives in Sweden with his husband and the Border collie he is training to become his agent.
Dow lived in an alleyway of crooked bricks and poisonous ivy. It was not much of a home but it was the only place she could call her own. An occasional cat or fox kept her company and every now and again a couple would stumble in to have quick and alcohol soaked love.
They never noticed Dow. She was nothing more than a lingering presence, an uneasy feeling of somebody watching. Dow looked at the girls intensely, creeping so close to them that her nose would be just inches from their kissed mouth and she could even see the teardrop trembling on the eyelashes of some of them.
After a few minutes she always sighed with frustration and retreated to the dimness. None of them was Her. Dow stopped hoping a long time ago but since she had nothing else to do, she continued her search. Day by day, week by week she grew a little thinner and paler, becoming nothing more than an echo of a rain washed afternoon, when the girl she belonged to decided it was time to become a woman. Dow remembered the boy who smelled of overchewed bubblegum and had a pimple next to his left ear. She remembered turning her eyes, trying to melt into the darkness of the alley, she didn’t want to see. She huddled behind the shadow of a fat garbage bag and closed her eyes shut. By the time she gathered the strength to come out from her hiding place, her girl and the boy were already gone.
Dow tried to run after them but the shadows of the alleyway were clinging to her and the fingers of poison ivy clutched her ankles. The graffitis overhead were laughing at her in their violent red voice.
In her moment of cowardice, Dow became a disembodied shadow and had to live with the guilt for the rest of her existence. As for the girl, she left the boy on the next corner and ran home; never truly realising that she left a part of herself in that abandoned alleyway.
Fanni Sütő is a writer in her mid-twenties. She writes in Hungarian and English; poems, flash fiction and countless unfinished novels. She tries to find the magical in the everyday and likes to spy on the secret life of cities and their inhabitants. Website: www.inkmapsandmacarons.com
“Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary…Bloody Mary.”
Nothing happened. Shocker.
Bonnie snickered, but after flicking on the light, her smile vanished. The soap was on the left side of the sink. She swore it had been on the right. And her frozen reflection, it stared at her with bulging eyes.
Mom’s muffled voice. It came from inside the mirror.
Her reflection grinned; its mouth ripped at the corners. Blood dribbled down onto identical pink pyjamas as its blonde hair blackened.
“Come on, food’s getting cold.”
Other Bonnie opened the other door and left.
The original trembled behind the mirror. “M…M-Mom?”
Joshua Robinson is a writer living in London, England. He enjoys reading and writing a variety of dark short stories which are his focus. He has been published in Friday Flash Fiction.
Very like a Pterodactyl or Pteranodon
with shorter wingspan, leathery wings,
sharp reptilian teeth and tail.
Spotted on the islands of Rambutyo
and Umboi, occasionally inland
Papua New Guinea. Perth, Australia.
Can smell a human corpse in a coffin
in a funeral procession or fish
in the hold of a fishing boat; will have
a Mac attack for fast food
and swoop down upon the sloop
or procession with equal aplomb.
Some report a six- or eight-foot wingspan,
some twenty- or thirty-foot. Wider than
a Piper Cub’s wingspan in one report.
Fast flyer too. Don’t wanna have one
drop down on yer deck for a barbecue;
he don’t mind his meat rare or slightly pink
and isn’t fussy about the buns or condiments.
Face it, the Ropen finds burgers, tube steaks,
humans, small cats and dogs equally delectable.
Best have an AK-47 or small cannon
at hand if you’re gonna eat outdoors.
The Ropen don’t wait for dinner invitations.
He won’t settle for a few burger frisbees
on the fly. Even a pizza discus won’t
appease him. In truth, he prefers dinner on the hoof.
But who knows? Maybe Ropens are better than
turkey or tofurkey. Will fill a freezer or three
with enough protein for Christmas, Easter,
and any number of hallowed/hollow days:
Ropen burgers, Ropen steaks, Ropen
and Rutabaga stew! Ropen soup: so good for you!
Richard Stevenson recently retired from a thirty-year teaching gig at Lethbridge College . His most recent books are Rock, Scissors, Paper: The Clifford Olson Murders, a long poem sequence (Dreaming Big Publications, USA, 2017), and A Gaggle of Geese, haikai poems and sequences (Alba Publications, UK,2017).