Newly imagined and terrifying vistas populated with horrific monstrosities. No one is safe anywhere. We can go to the Old Ones or the New Ones. Or they come to us. Invading our atmosphere, and our work space. Prehistory Old Ones whose smaller kin still flit among us. Shoggoth and Cthulhu born, and reborn… The terrifying sound of an ear-piercing chant in deepest space, destroying even the silence of the vacuum:
“Ia, Ia, Dagon…”
Issue #20: The Mythos Planet
Asterisks represent the editor’s favorite pieces.
All images are royalty free via Pixabay, unless otherwise noted.
First published in Abyss & Apex magazine, in June 2015.
After Lovecraft’s Dunwich Horror
The skin was thickly covered with coarse black fur,
and from the abdomen a score of long
greenish-grey tentacles with red
sucking mouths protruded limply
And from the abdomen a score of long
cries reverberated in the air, shivering with
sucking mouths protruding limply
kissing empty air with flinching passion
Cries reverberated in the air, shivering with
love, yearning for touch
kissing empty air with passion flinching
Reaching like me, unanswered
Love, yearning for touch
My hand lifted
Reaching, unanswered, like me
until we touched, stroking gently
My hand lifted
Tentacle coiling, uncoiling
and we answered, stroking gently
each skin thickly covered with coarse black fur
Karen Bovenmyer earned an MFA in Creative Writing: Popular Fiction from the University of Southern Maine. She teaches and mentors students at Iowa State University and serves as the Nonfiction Assistant Editor of Escape Artists’ Mothership Zeta Magazine. She is the 2016 recipient of the Horror Writers Association Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship. Her poems, short stories and novellas appear in more than 40 publications and her first novel, SWIFT FOR THE SUN, an LGBT romantic adventure in 1820s Caribbean, will be available from Dreamspinner Press on March 27, 2017. http://karenbovenmyer. com/
We fought the Xanee for more than a generation. It seems our peoples don’t mix well, though we do each die with some degree of regularity. At the boundary, where our two cultures collide, where our war rages most intensely, our conflict birthed a ripple.
Not a normal ripple, like from a rock thrown into a pool. This ripple grows from the drama of divergent culture clash. Underneath time and space, it festers, tearing holes in the fabric of our lives. Our dreams, the Xanee and ours, cross the barrier of this nether world and now we fight our wars privately in the quietness of our bedrooms and dream pods while we sleep. We fight, not with each other, but with Them.
I first came across the aching darkness and foulness of the Old Ones in this dream setting after a panic-filled first space battle. I did not know terror like that and I barely made it back from that first fight, dropping in and out of consciousness. Whispers around half-empty mugs hinted at dire things hidden in the corners and darkened places of our minds. Things long forgotten. Things long dismissed to the realm of the mad and possessed.
People said that the Old Ones had fled Earth, chased by humans and abandoned by their Elders, that we banished them from our shores in an age long past. We did not know, we could not know, that in so doing we cast them upon our future enemy, the Xanee. Our fears and our sorrows traveled with the forlorn Old Ones when we rid ourselves of their vitriol.
The Xanee subjugated the Old Ones, chaining them and making them into smallish things. Such is the nature of the Xanee. To rule. To enslave. They forced the Old Ones into servitude like the Elders before had done. The Xanee didn’t understand the power of the Old Ones. The Xanee didn’t understand the will to survive, dominate, and desecrate that drove the Old Ones.
And so, foulness curdled in the hearts of the Old Ones, souring them to their current imprisonment of body and mind. They reached into the depths of the Abyss and created something more.
Something greater and abler.
Something to collide with the Xanee.
And then the Old Ones set this Shoggoth of the New Line free along the rift.
Along our rift and loose in our dreams. It seems they found a way to strike back.
The New One grew strong in its fetid way. It conquered not peoples or lands, but planets and vast swaths of space. It stretched forth its hands, tentacles, and maws taking from its parents the means and will to subjugate other life.
I found it there, too, as my starship faltered in my next battle with the Xanee. As I fled the conflict to make repairs and so rejoin my brethren, it called to me. On the edge of a ripple of darkness and malice, of worlds clashing in ways unseen, I saw it. I must have passed out from the strain of the fight and as the loss of oxygen, perhaps, infringed upon my conscious state. My dream-self awoke in the very lair of the new Shoggoth and sought a place to land.
The world I found, the world shown to me in that nether-like dreamscape, appeared night-shrouded and cold in the deep black. It beckoned me.
I should have remembered the tale of the Shoggoths. I should have noticed that the night didn’t fold over the land in a natural way, but rather writhed in oily thick blackness, that the world had no light side, only dark.
Alas, I did not.
As I descended through that thickened ooze, my starship suffered first. The oily blackness tore at it, peeling it like a tuber for the pot. I saw lightning flashing, quick as thought, and eyes, thousands and thousands of eyes, all around my canopy as the glass and ceramics surrendered next to the malevolent love of the New One’s caress.
The whole of the planet stormed at me and my silver-like dagger. My single, far-flung dagger. Too small, I hoped, to bare awareness of me in the minds of the Old One’s spawn. Too soft to cause pain in something so vast. The New One on the surface stood larger than any mountain and greater than any villain of old.
I think I screamed when the oozing, slick mass breached the canopy and touched my skin.
Yes, yes I did scream.
And when I did, the new-birthed Shoggoth took it from me to wear as a bauble in a chain of other baubles around its many necks.
Now I lie in the convalescent’s ward, unable to speak, unable to move, and with sightless eyes staring at a world that has moved on without me. Around me are the others, the others that have encountered the New One of the rift. Loved ones visit us, but we, the Army of the Damned, have nothing to say.
I am a 20 year veteran Algebra teacher trying to reconnect with his inner writer. I post with fair regularity in the short story and poem links over at Writers Digest under the pen name Bushkill. When I’m not penning prose of some type I try to enjoy a plethora of other interests, though a penchant for beer and food does seem to get the better of me most of the time.
<<Beginning of starlog – James Orne, Mate Second Class, Investigator, ILWC>>
Seventy One Terran Standard days ago I left New St. John’s in the United Canadian Emirates aboard the Intergalactic Life and Welfare Commission ship, the Star Adventurer, to verify reports of ore harvesting in the Davros Strait and Baffin Quad as reported by a resident of Kangerlussuag. The mineral and ore rich asteroid fields of the straight are the only known home of the Khuthusian Pods; a rare species affectionately called “Star Whales” We had a good crew of people that had worked on more than a few Interstellar Geographic expeditions into the Inner and Outer regions of the known universe but this was my first assignment from the ILWC since I joined back in 2206. More than twenty years prior to my accepting the job, the ILWC had issued a moratorium on commercial mining in all of space near where the creatures lived. So far only a few stellar nations still have “whaling rights” on the books but a majority of them stay out of this area because of the heavy presence of commercial shipping lines, conservation activists, and people like me in the ILWC commission teams. I had only recently left the Blessed Caliph’s Navy before joining the ILWC, first as an observer, and now as an official investigator of crimes against the commission’s charter. 8 years of serving in the UCE’s MARLANT division as a Search and Rescue (CEFCOM) had prepared me for many things, so I expected to be terribly bored on this trip and in the end I wish I was right. I will keep this starlog to help with my reports of the mission.
<Update 1.01 of starlog – James Orne, Mate Second Class, Investigator, ILWC>
Five Terran Standard days ago we came across a commercial shipping vessel: the Sperry Krypton out of Innsmouth Star Docks, coming in from the opposite direction and the first we had seen since leaving home. She is a huge frigate and makes the clipper we are traveling in look like a spec on the view screens compared to her massive girth. The Captain of the Star Adventurer: an old space dog named Jace Marsh, had sent hail and greetings to the ship on all frequencies but there was no response and she appeared to be foundering. We called in the issue through the Interstellar Distress Channel to see if there was a reported issue that we can assist with but there was nothing on file with USAC and they were going to dispatch a few rescue cutters as we have no way of taking on survivors long-term. In giving the ship a quick once over, it appears she may have hit an obstruction or even another ship as there are some deep single and double hull gashes but again there have been no reports on the United Systems Aerospace Commission side and we see no signs of life on the scanners, so we moved along leaving a marker buoy behind. We were on the verge of the Davros strait and did not wish to waste any more time chasing ghosts.
<Update 2.01 of starlog – James Orne, Mate Second Class, Investigator, ILWC>
Four Terran Standard days ago we came across something we normally do not see at this end of the Davis Strait: a pod of Khuthusian’s moving through the area with great haste. Normally the great tusked creatures are further into the inner sphere and it is not totally out of their feeding lanes but it is odd to see so many of them at once. We take lots of readings, check transponder frequencies on the sub dermal implants conservationists to see if there are any issues and make logs of everything, which is the most excitement we have seen on this trip yet. I am happy to see them frolicking and interacting with the crew of the Star Adventurer as the majestic creatures are known for their aloof (for “intelligent” life) attitudes and avoidance of stellar travelers. Not saying I blame them as I would do the same if I was hunted into near extinction for reasons of greed and conquest. Even to the settlers of this region this area, who consider the horned behemoths to be a sacred part of both their mythology and cultural heritage, rarely see them, so this is indeed a treat for myself and the crew.
<Update 3.01 of starlog – James Orne, Mate Second Class, Investigator, ILWC>
Three Terran Standard days ago I was awoken by what sounded like a woman crying outside of my room but I know that to be impossible as there are no women aboard the Star Adventurer and the only thing that is outside is the cold depths of deep space. I settle back into my bunk and decide that it was just my imagination or perhaps a fragment of a waking dream. I decide not to say anything of it to the crew, who already had been complaining of nightmares and hallucinations and do not wish to cause any more panic. Captain Marsh attributes this to the constant darkness of the void affecting the men’s sleep patterns but I have been stationed at the Tannhauser Gates before without issue of this kind and will keep an eye on everyone for signs of stress related psychosis.
<Update 4.01 of starlog – James Orne, Mate Second Class, Investigator, ILWC>
Two Terran Standard days ago I witnessed a fight break out among 4 or 5 members of the crew over the sight we had beheld this morning. Many of the men were concerned about the large number of Khuthusian and Zadok (the “smaller” creatures that follow in their wake) carcasses we found floating in the periphery of the strait and wanted to turn back from our task. The first mate Mr. Olga did his best to break up the fight and many of the men were forced into solitary berths to keep them apart and to keep the morale from degrading further. I have taken several scans of the floating corpses, which we first thought were just the creatures logging as they like to do in this area, but the damage to their grey forms and the large chunks of floating “blubber” say otherwise. It troubled me so to see these sights which I would have attributed to rogue miners if not for the carnage, and the condition of the bodies leaves many other questions in my mind. I have seen P’their’an Stalkers take out a young Khuthusian before but this many in one area is not natural. The Captain and I discussed turning back now that we have seen proof of the killings reported but he believes that we are close to finding out what happened and the culprits could be close at hand, so we pressed on.
<Update 5.01 of starlog – James Orne, Mate Second Class, Investigator, ILWC>
Last evening we were all drawn to the decks by a sound of terrible chanting and screaming that seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere all at once. Mr. DeCamp, the communications officer, reported that there were no transmissions incoming and no matter what type of protections we tried to apply to block the sounds, they pushed through without much pause. The Captain reported seeing that three of his crew spaced themselves, blood streaming from their eyes and ears from the maddening sounds, hoping to drown them out in the frigid vacuum of space. After many moments of sonic assault, the sounds of the chanting (it sounded something along the lines of “Ia Ia Dagon” or some nonsensical language) died off as quick as they came and we were left adrift in the middle of the Baffin Quad commonly called “The Hollow Deep”. We had reached our destination as per the reports and seeing that we had compelling evidence of whaling (but with a devious twist), we decided to hold drift here and wait for the USAC to come and give us support and rescue. I am having trouble sleeping (as is most of the crew save the Captain, who can apparently sleep through anything or so he claims) and have taken a few tabs of Rozerem and washed it down with Capt. Marsh’s gift of Scotch to try and get some rest.
<Update 5.02 of starlog – James Orne, Mate Second Class, Investigator, ILWC>
Today I have seen things that I cannot even hope to neither explain nor allow people to try to comprehend. Despite my poorly thought out and ill advised decisions to self medicate and get some restful slumber, I was jarred awake, having been thrown from my bunk and onto the floor of my berth below decks. The ship appears to have hit some obstruction and was tossed about a bit before coming to a rest slightly askew to the port side of our normal rotation. I quickly came to my senses, dressed and headed carefully up to the main deck to see what was happening. When I arrived on the deck, I saw that it was awash with blood and viscera. No sign of the crew could be found, and after an extensive search I was able to locate the Captain in his room behind locked and barred door. He refused to come out of his isolation and kept shouting and raving to me through the bulkhead about fish men and dagons (I believe he meant fishermen & dragons) but again he also seems quite mad at this point and I have no way of getting into help him or find out more of what has happened. The ship itself is foundering and may go down soon due to extensive hull damage to the port fo’c’sle and I have signaled to the USAC on all known distress channels and am expecting one of the cutters to come and gather me shortly. I hope that it comes to pass soon as there is a dark shadow showing on the view screens and something is coming our way, so being away from this tomb that Captain Marsh has resigned himself to is desired. My only guess and what will be my report to the ILWC and the UCE investigators is that the captain had lost his mind and killed or incapacitated the crew in some fashion and he will have to stand trial for such crimes. I am hoping that with my testimony and the images I was able to capture, not only of the bodies of the creatures we came to observe and protect but of the scenes of massacre aboard the Star Adventurer will help for closure to be found.
<<End of starlog – James Orne, Mate Second Class, Investigator, ILWC>>
<<Begin Rescue / Salvage Report – Cmdr. Eliza Williamson, USAC Cutter “Cascade”>>
We set into the greater Baffin Range to respond to a distress call received from the ILWC Clipper Star Adventurer, but found no signs of life aboard the ship. Transmissions in and out of this area are sparse and we are picking up an odd sign on the scanners that appears to be a great mass moving from the Davros Strait on a course with our trajectory. Hopefully they can give us some information as to what happened here.
Hailing from the small college town of Newark, Delaware, Edward Taylor splits his time between writing and raising his two shoggoths with his thankfully understanding and patient wife Kelley. At times he can be seen in the back of a roller rink announcing for some of the hardest folks on the hardwood with Diamond State Roller Derby. Follow him on FB – https://www.facebook.com/EATaylorAuthor/
It was Tuesday, and Kenneth Cooke, newly promoted from training status to the actual troubleshooting floor, was looking for an empty cubicle. His shift started at 10 am, and while that was cool for many reasons. The one drawback to it was, by the time he arrived at work every day, people who had gotten there earlier took all the cubicles.
Finally he spotted an empty cubicle and headed over to it. Whoever normally sat here had heavily personalized the work space, with pictures of various family members, a couple of plants, and several cute little plaques containing humorous mottos, like “I’m a 5:01 person in a 9 to 5 world” and “Remind me again how lucky I am to work here, I keep forgetting”.
Kenneth hesitated before pulling the chair out. Technically, there were no assigned seats at the call center, but this particular person had so obviously and utterly colonized this space that it just seemed…wrong, somehow….to sit there.
Amanda Resoyce, who was a supervisor in Kenneth’s department, saw his hesitation. “Yeah, it’s fine,” she told him. “Bill, the guy who sits there, is off on Tuesdays. Go ahead and sit down and get logged in.”
“Great,” Kenneth said. He still felt a little hesitant, but, reassured by Amanda’s instruction, he grabbed the back of the chair to pull it out—
Reality fractured into thick ice-like chunks above Kenneth’s head, and fell in jagged shards like daggers all about his feet. A shrieking void filled with unimaginable colors that writhed like eight dimensional slugs through configurations no human mind could sanely comprehend gaped open before, above, behind, and around him. Amanda Resoyce frantically grabbed at a support post, as she felt what seemed like a vast wind, smelling of blood and shit and cinnamon, grab her in a thousand invisible hands and try to tug her into the indescribable rip in the quantum fabric of time and space.
Kenneth screamed once and was sucked in to the howling void.
Sprawled on a pulsating field of somehow living (and hungry) grit, Kenneth looked up into the ululating awfulness of non-sky above him and, feeling his eyeballs starting to slide like melted wax out of their sockets, screamed his mind away in endless horror, even as the Undulaters began tendril-skating towards him, maws askew in interested hunger.
Back in the call center, Amanda combed her fingers through her hair. Another supervisor, Jameela Price, said, “Oh, you didn’t see the email? We’re not letting anyone sit at Bill’s workstation today. Some kind of thing… I’m not sure what.”
Amanda stared. “Well,” she said, “I know Bill doesn’t like it when other people sit at his station, but…um…say, was that symbol always drawn in the carpeting under his chair?”
“No,” Jameela said, “he put that there yesterday towards the end of his shift. He was chanting, too. I don’t know… I guess I should have said something. I didn’t notice the symbol until after he’d gone home, though. I guess we can talk to him tomorrow about it.”
Amanda remembered the large black books Bill habitually carried around with him and read from between calls. She also remembered the bizarre sight of Kenneth, tumbling into a hole in the air that had done its best to suck her in, as well. She remembered Kenneth’s silhouette, tumbling over and over, growing smaller and smaller, as if falling into a deep, chaotically hued shaft leading eternally downward into nothingness.
“Uh,” Amanda said. “Well…maybe we just shouldn’t mention it to him. And, you know, make sure nobody else tries to sit there.”
Jameela shrugged. “Yeah, maybe,” she agreed.
My name is D.A. Madigan. I’ve had stories bought by various professional markets, including April Moon’s FLESH LIKE SMOKE and the upcoming THE STARS AT MY DOOR, PS Publication’s THROUGH A MYTHOS DARKLY, the upcoming TRANSMISSIONS FROM PUNKTOWN, and several others I can’t talk about yet because the final TOCs haven’t been announced as yet, but I’ll be on them when they are.
Jeffrey Thomas called my story for TRANSMISSIONS FROM PUNKTOWN ‘bizarre and brilliant’, so I take that as high praise, given that Jeffrey Thomas is pretty much the ruling god-emperor of ‘bizarre and brilliant’.
In 2011 the Louisville Eccentric Observer voted me Louisville’s Best Local Author and just last summer I won an Imadjinn Award for my novella RED LETTER DAY.
By this point the sails are so much confetti trailing micro-fiber lines. We look like a poorly tricked-out Bakian punk’s jumper. We figured that we might as well call this deploy “solar sails” since they managed to slow us down enough to find out that Sol is what the local call this little star before it turned us into a Rut Festival float. As always, my favorite ear jockey has maneuvered us perfectly. We are going to slip between Sol 2 and 3 to drop us into a nice, clean S-curve around Sol, then a single jerk of negative acceleration to the starboard engine and slingshot around this orifice evacuatied excuse for a system, saving fuel at 20% over optimum projections. I am going to have to fuck all three of his holes to say “Ghneezax” for this one. That means ten extra flips at full acceleration, and into the port 4.734 turns ahead of scheduled delivery. Narcotics are profitable and that means upgrades for my sweet baby…and some for the ship to.
“Tank, baby, grab your chin and cuddle them balls. You’re going to need them. We are now at Sol 3 planar orbit and nearing 180 degrees. 5 ren burn that’ll make your brain take a week sliding back down to your asses, and we are looping out of this…”
The whole ship jerked alright, but not because of the engine. We hit something…big. You absolutely, never hear dings against the hull, but I sure as fuck heard something.
I yelled, “Sweet Baby Roofus! What the fuck did you just do to my ship?”
“I didn’t see it. Honeybuns never detected it. Who could have expected it? It ain’t my fault!”
“What ain’t your fault, super pilot who ain’t getting laid tonight, after all?”
Fre giggled back, “Tank, I don’t know how to say this…but, at 180 degrees we…I had to have Baby rip data from Sol 3 to identify it…we hit a toaster. A big, fucking toaster. Tactile is on your pad now, if you wanna take a feel.”
Shit. Roofus was pretty stressed if Fre was venting NO2. Sometimes I hate Thrillians. “What kind of damage are we talking about, Slick-tail?”
Fre managed to sound ashamed while continuing to giggle, “Boss, we’re limping home. Thirty-seven turns late on delivery at best. Repairs are going to cost twice what we will get paid on delivery. I’m going to sling us back between Sol 4 and 5 then shoot it again at twelve degrees vertical of any planetary orbit.”
“Can you get decently close to Sol 3 on the way?”
“I can. It’ll cost a bit of fuel, but why?”
“We gonna drop some dead weight on the way home and make ourselves feel real good doing it. When you are close enough to the primitives who don’t understand “Don’t make us shoot. Don’t pollute.” drop three of Baby Bird’s eggs and glass that fucker.”
“I like the way you think. Looks like you’re the one getting lubed tonight…all eight of them.”
“Boss…got a weak transmission coming in. Their philosophers or priests or scientists or whatever are claiming that we just pulled a “hit and run” on God.”
“Fuck ’em. Count to three and say “Goorshik VorrroaW!”
I could hear Roofus’ smiles, “I never get over how much prettier those glassed planets look after we’re done with them.”
My ear began to erect and get cold, “You’re just a hopeless romantic. That’s number four of the three reasons I love you, so peel them open. Put the big girl on auto and let’s fuck.”
“Whatever you say, you’re the boss. You want me to bring some Tribbles?”
BanWynn Oakshadow has been a poet, writer, artist and photographer since 1978 He grew up in rural Ohio, lived much of his adult life in the desserts of Colorado and Arizona and lives on a 400 yo farm in Sweden.. He writes about Native American & Viking history, lots of speculative fiction, Child Abuse, Mental Illness and Spirituality. He loves donating works to animal charity anthologies and publications that don’t pay, but give people who live to write and write to live a place to share it. You can find him at uncleoakie.wordpress.com
Well, I ain’t no chopper, baby.
Didn’t come to mist your crops.
I just got the drop on this lamb.
Gonna drop ‘im on those rocks.
Yeah, I’m gonna drop in for dinner,
get right at his innards. Gonna daub
my masticating mouth bits with his
Soft little fleece suit. Little fleece suit.
Got here through a wormhole, babe.
Ain’t May 2004 where I’m from, hon!
Sorry to cause so much trouble.
Sorry to bust your time/space bubble.
I’m just an eight-foot dragonfly.
Relax. Yer too skinny to scarf.
Don’t do cotton burritos in bikinis,
even itsy bitsy teeny weeny polka-dotted ones.
Fifties caught up with you, babe.
Cold war fantasies of giant radioactive
ants had you freaked. I just decided
to visit, spin a few platters from the past..
Cop some fast food, cruise the valley
with my top down, so to speak.
Grab a sheep. Go on the lam
before heading back to my Cretaceous crib.
G-g-g giant d-d-dragonfly!
Don’t go flub flub flub
When I’m in flyin’mode. Just hover, hon.
Suck back a few sanguine shakes.
Meganuera monyi, Cretacious cutie.
Gonna sock it to you, babe,
in psychedelic moire colours,
all four wings ablaze!
Leda only had a Don Juan
gone-by-dawn swan, sweetheart –
a smooth talker, great lover maybe –
but he knocked you up, didn’t he?
I may be more mechanical,
But I can dance on a dime,
hover, feint left or right
better than your best boxer.
Hey! I’ve got compound eyes.
I see you comin’ and goin’.
Know all three of my right feet
from my left. Am totally tubular!
Fast shuffle, fox tot, waltz –
I got ‘em covered. Flap flap.
Don’t need a gat, pork pie,
Zoot suit, or any flim flam scam.
Zzz Zzzz Zzz. C’mon, honey,
Shake your money maker!
I’m the dude who can take you
to another era. Fly with me!
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 )
Through the fog of Bell Canyon, up the twisting forest roads, the smugglers’ oxen pulled their wagons. They came with barrels of powder under barrels of fish; pikes stacked in lumber; swords wrapped in cloth. Tools of killing hidden within the tools of living.
Every Sunday the peasants of Bell Canyon were awoken by the ringing of silver bells gifted to a string of village churches in the canyon by the benevolent Lord Carro. On Sunday morning, they echoed up the canyon to his loving ears. When the people heard the bells, they trod into church in holey shoes to be told of the dignity of poverty.
“The Lord rewards the honest, the pious, and the hardworking” says the fat priest. The Lord lives above them, in a castle, full of luxury and free from want or fear.
“Do the bells sound different to you?” asks Lord Carro of his valet. “Not as clear of a ring as there used to be.”
“Probably just the weather” says the valet. “The fog muffles the sound.”
On Sunday the peasants go to church and on Monday the wagons come. They come with barrels of powder under barrels of fish; pikes stacked in lumber; swords wrapped in cloth. They come with church bells made of tin and leave with silver by the pound.
Colin Rowe has been published by Cracked.com, The Eunoia Review, The Boston Literary Magazine, Pure Slush, Beyond Imagination Literary Magazine, and The Santa Fe Literary Review. He lives in the desert with a talking cat and tweets under the handle @lowericon.
This story was previously published in Siren’s Call in 2013
Sheila put down the cards and looked out the window. She’d done three readings already and all predicted sadness, regret, terror and the world ending in a flash of brilliant light.
She shuffled the cards again wondering how and when the world would end. She wasn’t ready to die, her children definitely weren’t ready and the human race would never be ready. Why … why … why … echoed through her head and she struggled to understand what she had seen through the tarot cards. It wasn’t that the cards actually told her things, she never learned how to read them. Rather the cards gave her images to decipher and she was rarely wrong when she interpreted them.
A shiver ran down her back, like the dead walking on your grave her mother, another woman in her family plagued with being psychic, was fond of saying.
Sheila rubbed her eyes, wishing her mother were alive. But the burden had been too great for her mom, the gift of second sight viewed as a curse. Sheila shuddered again as she remembered the day her cards told her that life was about to change forever and that she would suffer a hole where once there had been love. When the police came by that day and told her about the accident, Sheila knew that it hadn’t been an accident at all. Poor Mom couldn’t live with the knowledge of things to come.
She wiped at new tears as she remembered Randi stopping by for coffee and a reading just an hour earlier. Randi, her best friend, stopped by every morning for caffeine, gossip and her horrorscope, as she liked to call it, and every day Sheila read the cards and told her what to expect. But the vision that had burned into Sheila’s head this morning was cataclysmic. Nothing specific, just a bombardment of anger, grief and horror. She had shut her eyes but that didn’t stop the onslaught. When it finally subsided, she said, “Be careful today and oh yeah, be sure to avoid the midnight beach killer.
Randi smiled and shrugged, “Not possible, I’m never up past eleven-thirty, he hasn’t killed anyone in over a year and anyway he likes ‘em in their teens. Your powers are slipping.”
Sheila smiled back, forcing her lips into an upturned curve.
After Randi went home, Sheila called her sister, Brenda. She dealt the cards as they talked. Again she read sadness, regret and unbelievable fear.
“Sheila,” Brenda blubbered as soon as she picked up the phone. “I’m scared. Something terrible is going to happen, I can feel it. Can you? I don’t want to die! I don’t want anyone in my world to die!”
“Shhhh,” Sheila soothed. “Maybe it’s not what we think at all.” She wished they didn’t live five states apart, that they still shared a room. “Tell you what, let’s both go out and do twenty things totally fun and totally out of character. Then we’ll touch base tonight and laugh about it.”
Half an hour later, she read her own cards again and her fate was sealed; mankind’s fate was sealed. Visions of darkness and pain, such unbearable pain, and primal fear that felt like it was turning her stomach inside out. Staring out the window at the cloudless blue sky, she listened to the birds chirping in the trees outside her kitchen and thought, so little time, should I take the kids out of school, make Rob come home so we can make love?
She emptied the coffee pot into a cup, no need to worry about too much caffeine now and drank the bitter, hot liquid as she tried to gather her thoughts. Taking the kids out of their classes would only upset them, no they were better off not knowing, and so was Rob. She wondered how many others knew what was coming besides Brenda and herself.
She picked up the phone and dialed.
“Hi Honey, when you come home from work tonight don’t forget to get gas in my car and oh yeah, you know I love you right? Fine, now tell me you love me too. It doesn’t matter why, just humor me.”
She dumped the dregs of the coffee into the sink, started to wash the cup and began laughing. No, she wasn’t planning to waste her last hours on routine housework. Instead, she grabbed a beach chair and walked the twelve blocks to the beach. Trudging up the ramp and crossing the wide boardwalk she walked down the stairs onto the beach. She glanced back at the darkness behind her and shuddered. Funny, she thought, I loved playing under the boardwalk when I was a kid, but then she remembered how her mother had lectured her long and hard about the dangers of dark, scary places and things little girls should never do.
Now she lectured her own children the same way.
Plopping her chair at the water’s edge, Sheila sat and watched the ocean, listening to the sounds that had always been a comfort. She loved the waves crashing, the gulls crying to one another. She reached into the pocket in back of her chair and pulled out a tattered book. She opened it to the bookmarked page about halfway though then decided it just didn’t matter. She pushed the pages forward and read the last chapter.
Finished, she wondered what to do next. She ran into the ocean feeling more alive than she ever had as the cold water made every nerve sing. When she couldn’t bear the chilled surf anymore, she went back to her things and reached for the sunscreen. The sun was shining so brightly but she realized she probably wouldn’t need the protection anymore. After a short time on the warm beach, she walked up to the boardwalk and watched the roller coaster. “Why not?” she muttered and because the pier was just opening, got a front seat. The chains clanked and with each chink of the cars being pulled to the apex her stomach tightened. She gripped the bar in front of her like her life depended on it and then the torturous climb ended. Like the best sex, like the moment she saw her children for the very first time, like the very highlight of her existence, the car hovered momentarily at the peak and then plummeted down turning her world upside down, causing vertigo and euphoria. She laughed breathing in the joy of death defying speed and then it was over.
“Well, if it’s all going to end today, at least I’m on number three already. That leaves only 17 things to do before the end of the world.”
Sheila wandered the boardwalk eating pizza and ice cream and fudge and even bought a pound of salt water taffy. Holding the box, she ate all the chocolate and lemon pieces and threw the rest away.
Finally, she felt exhausted and returned to her chair on the now crowded beach. Crying again, tears on her cheeks and the sun in her eyes, she began to mourn. She’d had her denial, but the truth was sinking in, the world was going to end in a flash of light. She squinted through her tears and looked directly at the sun. Had it already happened and we don’t know it yet, she wondered, or will it just explode and that would be that instantaneously. Wiping her eyes, she looked down at the book she’d been reading before and thought, there are three more books in the series.
Sheila got up again, trotted to the bookstore two blocks away and bought all three at full price and a bit more. It didn’t matter. Returning to her chair, she saw the sun directly overhead and decided that if the world didn’t end by 2:00, she’d go home to make the kids their favorite treats, then take them back to the boardwalk for the rest of their lives. Maybe she’d even call Rob and ask him to meet her. The cards hadn’t given her a timeframe and being psychic wasn’t an exact science.
Grimacing, she thought bitterly about the irony of it all, how she’d waited for her last day to finally starting enjoying life again. “I swear that if for some reason the cards are wrong, I swear that I will live like this every day.”
And Please, she added praying silently, please let the cards be wrong, let my family live.
She turned to each book and read the last 30 pages. The story was never meant to end, it was an ongoing cash cow for the publisher and the author, but it was coming to an end anyway. She really was reading the last chapter.
Finally putting the reading down, she looked at the endless waves and the glistening white sand and thought how she’d always figured that the world would go on long after the human race had finished ruining the environment. All the beauty would be lost forever, all the other living beings, the animals, the plants would be gone and all she could do about it was live until it ended.
Sighing, she decided she needed to get home right away. She got up and left the beach taking the shortcut under the boardwalk. She frowned at the dark that smelled of stale urine and hurried to get through to the other side.
Funny, neither the dark, the smells, nor the windblown trash had bothered her when she snuck under the boards at dusk to make-out with her boyfriend, fifteen years ago. But now she looked around with discomfort when she saw movement to the side. Rats! she thought just before the pain ripped through her head.
Waking, awash in nausea, she realized she was still under the boardwalk, beneath the pier. The sunlight, glittering like painful lasers on each side of the darkness, created small stripes of luminescence shining down between the slats above. The slivers of light danced to the rhythm of footfalls as people walked overhead.
She screamed but the rides overhead made it impossible to hear her own voice.
What was going on, she thought with panic, then the man came into view. She struggled to rise, tried to push herself off the cold, clammy sand, but a fist seemed to come out of nowhere and slammed her back in a shower of star-filled agony. Terror filled her, pain enveloped her. Sheila sobbed as a tiny portion of her brain was dumping random thoughts faster than she could recognize them:
I want to go home!
The killer is back!
Doesn’t he know the world is going to end?
Why is he doing this?
She couldn’t see his face; only his form against the distant wash of golden light at the sides of the pier.
Agony. He never spoke a word as he hit her again and again, each blow stealing her strength. Explode, damn it, she prayed, make this agony end. Someone, something help me!
She desperately tried to command her body to move, her muscles to respond. She had to get to her knees and crawl to the light. She had to get away and spend the final moments with her family. Let Rob and the kids fill up all the rest of her 20 things to do list with her.
Nothing happened, her body was paralyzed by the pain and the terror. She wept, the tears running from the corners of her eyes and soaking softly into the sand.
Laughter, throaty, sinister laughter and then he grabbed her by the hair. Surprised that she could react all, she gasped in pain. Oh Mom, if you saw this happening why didn’t you warn me?
He snapped her head back, raised his arm and Sheila saw the blade flash brilliantly in a slit of golden light from above. “Oh my God!” she croaked as she realized in that last fraction of a second that the cards had been right, but she had been wrong. It really was the end of the world, but only her world.
Dina Leacock writing under the name Diane Arrelle has sold more than 200 short stories and two books including Just A Drop In The Cup, a collection of short-short stories. She recently retired from being director of a municipal senior citizen center and resides with her husband, her younger son and her cat on the edge of the Pine Barrens (home of the Jersey Devil).
At the edge of the feral continent, she finds a door. It is bare as a stagecraft prop, just frame and painted planks in coastal wind.
Here, then: what she plunged and journeyed for.
In the other world, her body lies underwater, cooled and still. Machines alone whir her consciousness along.
Whenever the prophet speaks her future, she can choose to accept it or to flee. She does not flee. She did that once, and never will again.
On the other side of the door, she hears a pounding. One hand on the knob, she lets her caught breaths go.
Rachel Ingraham is pretty new to this fiction game. Her poetry has appeared previously in Cicada, Wicked Alice, and The Fifth Street Review.