Hungry

Written by Samuel Gaitskell

 Photograph by   Bastien Jaillot

Photograph by Bastien Jaillot

Runner-up of the F&F Halloween Competition


Dustin woke from a nightmare, in the middle of one fine summer evening, with a craving for something. For what, he didn’t know. All he knew was that he was hungry. Hungry beyond words. Ravenously hungry. It almost felt as if he hadn’t been fed in weeks, and something deep down, something primal, needed to be fed.

With his stomach in unbelievable pain, he stumbled from his bedroom, shirtless as he had grown accustomed to sleeping as such, and fumbled into the kitchen. With a tug of pure desperation, he threw the door to the kitchen’s fridge open, the glow of the light bulb inside stinging his eyes for a moment, before his eyes adjusted, and his mouth began to water. his mother had stocked the fridge the night before.

Cheese, roast beef, cake, chocolates, pasta left over from a day or two ago, bacon, fish, fruits and vegetables galore, all just begging to be eaten. And oh, was he hungry. With drool dripping from my mouth, he began to dig in, using his bare hands to shovel item after item between his ravenously chewing teeth, the mere feeling of having food in his mouth sending waves of unspeakable, though fleeting, pleasure through his body. He didn’t care what he was eating. Thick slices of cold beef paired with hearty portions of cheesecake, generous servings of pasta served with handfuls of strawberries, large blocks of chocolate topped with blue cheese dip, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was he was eating.

… But it wasn’t enough.

No matter how much food from the fridge he shovelled down his eager throat, the hunger just kept building. Everything just tasted of… nothing, like he was eating thickened air. He needed more. Ignoring the carnage of food morsels left scattered across the floor, and ignoring the numerous juices dripping from his mouth and down his chest, Dustin pressed forward, now aiming for the pantry. He swung it open, a grunt of joy flowing from his gaping mouth when he found yet another place stocked with food.

 Chips, bread, insta-noodles, cereals, spreads, canned tuna, assorted nuts, canned corn, pasta sauce, everything just looked so good. His stomach growled loudly, begging him to feast again. And feast he did.

 He began to open can after can of tuna, mixing all the varying flavours and sauces together before letting the fishy mess slide down his throat, chased with cheesy bread. When that wasn’t enough, he moved onto the noodles, ripping open their packages with his bare teeth and eating his way through the contents, raw. Then, the cereals, which he grabbed by the handful and forced into his mouth. He ate more and more and more, but it was never enough. The more he ate, the hungrier he became. No longer did he bother to taste, no longer did it matter. There was a void in his stomach, one that needed to be filled.

 A sound splintered through the air, putting a pause to Dustin’s gluttonous feast. A sound that he was all too accustomed to, at this point, though never had he gained more joy from it than at that very point. A sound that caused his eyes to glaze over, his mouth to drip, his pulse to quicken.

 The sound of his little baby brother crying.

 Dustin rushed forward, tracing his grease slathered hands along the walls, using them to guide himself towards his baby brother’s room. He didn’t know what he was doing, nor what he was going to do, but his baby brother’s wailing was attracting him like a siren’s deadly call.

 Dustin’s baby brother’s room was decorated with different shades of blue, an art piece depicting the ocean painted onto one of the walls. Dustin took no notice to that, however, as the crying filling the room was far too tantalising.

 Dustin’s younger brother lied there, dressed in a little onesie, his face red, tears cascading from his eyes like a raging waterfall. Every tear he made, every squeal he forced out, every twitch and tremor that his body gave off involuntarily did nothing but draw Dustin closer.

 Dustin, eyes ablaze with primitive hunger, picked his younger brother up, and with one, swift, disgusting movement, he twisted his brother’s head, the sickening snap silencing him forever. Dustin held his limp brother in his hands, for a moment or two, his mouth held agape, saliva flowing freely from it, his hunger growing even stronger than before, before he finally indulged.

Flesh ripped away from the bones, torn by the teeth of the starving Dustin, in a rage of cannibalistic hunger. Blood squirted more and more with each bite taken, his bare chest coated in crimson gore. Each minuscule portion of meat felt like pure ambrosia as it guzzled down his throat. He was in ecstasy.

His feasting came to a close in a matter of minutes, nothing left behind but bones, picked clean, and a skull, cracked open. The cot that the baby once slept in was now soaked in a dark red mess. Dustin licked his fingers clean, lapping up every last drop of blood that he could manage with a greedy, gluttonous smile. Finally, the hunger had been sated.

As fast as it had left, it returned again, stronger than ever. He was just sated, finally free of the disgustingly strong hunger, and now it returned, even worse than before. His brother was small, undeveloped, thin. It wasn’t enough.

 He needed something bigger.


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Marty's Last Job - Part II

Written by James McCann

 Photograph by   Daniel McCullough

Photograph by Daniel McCullough



3

‘I didn’t want to do this,’ Marty said, his words spilling out so quickly they almost tumbled into one. ‘It wasn’t my idea-‘

‘Ssh,’ the voice said from the darkness. Marty couldn’t see anyone, but he had the sense that the fingers in that leather glove had been brought up the owner’s lips. ‘You speak too much.’

Marty felt goosebumps break out over his body, and now he was sure that the kitchen window behind him had been left open after all; he could feel a cold wind blowing in like icy fingers scratching the back of his neck. He also felt a warm dampness creep across his groin and hoped it was only sweat, all the while knowing better.

From the darkened door, the-

thing creature monster death

owner stepped forth into the pale blue moonbeams. He was tall, had long dark hair that had been pushed up at the front like a wall, and had an eerily pale face. Marty told himself that it looked worse than it was because of the funny lighting, but he knew that wasn’t it. Across the man’s mouth something dark-yet-glistening had been smeared. As the man walked towards Marty, he dragged his leather glove-clad hand across the tabletop. To Marty, from his angle and in his bashed-brains state, it looked as though the hand was carving a groove in the tabletop.

The man walked, glided, around Marty, and dragged his fingers across Marty’s collar-bone, before pressing the sharp tips slightly into the sides of his neck. Marty had never known any fingers to be so cold and yet at the same time have a deep warmth pulsating within them.

‘Whe…Alfie?’ Marty managed to get his words to stumble out.

‘Alfie. Alfie. Alfie’s in the other room.’

Marty felt himself sink ever-so-slightly with relief that his friend, who, you know, really wasn’t so bad, was in the other room. If they played this right, both Marty and Alfie might just get out of this in one piece.

‘Would you like to know what happened to him?’ the pale stranger asked, and then before any answer could be given, continued, ‘Of course you would. So I’ll tell you. I slapped Alfie around a little bit; he had to learn the lesson that it’s wrong to take what’s not yours. Then I broke his neck. Then I bit into his flesh and drank of his blood. If the lighting was a little better you’d see that my lips are quite ruby.’

Those icy fingers that had been scratching at the back of Marty’s neck now seemed to penetrate his skin and reach deeply into his very bones. The muscles in his legs spasmed, causing him to jerk slightly, the tight ropes that were already biting into his flesh felt like a hammer to his balls. That pain raged up into his stomach and settled there like a lead weight. Was this pale man who was holding Marty hostage a vampire? Really? Marty had led an interesting life, had experienced all manner of creepy things, but he didn’t believe vampires were real. Which left something scarier; the man with the pale face and Alfie Harris’s blood on his mouth was as crazy as they come.

‘I’m not, you know,’ the pale man said.

‘Not what?’ Marty asked, not really wanting to get an answer.

‘You know,’ the man said, his strong, cold fingers now gliding through Marty’s blood and sweat soaked hair. ‘You know very well.’

Mart felt one of those fingers - no, it was a thumb, he didn’t know how he knew but it was definitely a thumb - press into the sticky wound at the back of his head. Fresh agony shot through his head like a lightning bolt, the pain making him rock in his seat, which in turn pressed the rope into his groin even harder. The new pain crashed into Marty making him throw up all over himself. The liquid came out of his mouth like a tsunami, and landed with a warm, watery splat across his thighs, Marty no-longer concerned with whether or not he’d pissed himself.

 ‘Oh,’ the stranger said behind Marty. ‘Oh dear. Well, that’s not very nice, is it?’

‘Are you going to kill me?’ Marty asked. His voice calm and flat, he may very well have been asking if he was getting a hair cut today. His eyes were tear-filled (well, the right one was, the left was still swollen-plum shut), and there was a deep burning sensation in his nose and throat, but still his voice was calm.

‘I’m not going to kill you like Alfie,’ the man said, still standing behind Marty.

The pressure and pain increased in Marty’s head would once more, then settled. Marty felt like being sick again when he heard sucking noises coming from behind him, and he knew that the pale man was sucking the sticky blood from his thumb.

‘You know what your problem is?’ The pale man asked walking back around to stand before Marty. The way the moonlight hit his face made his cheekbones look razor sharp and his face look gaunt, like that of a very ill man.

Marty took stock of himself and the situation he was in. One eye that resembled a plum. Bound to a chair. A testicle that was probably ruptured and would require his scrotum to be drained. A concussion or three. A giant head-wound. Blood loss, and he was covered in his own piss and vomit, and he was at the mercy of a, at best, psychopath with blood-lust; at worst, a mythical paranormal creature from the great beyond. Oh, and his only friend was probably lying dead, or dying, several feet away in the next room.

‘You know what your problem is?’

‘Are you taking the piss?’ Marty asked, with just and edge of attitude in his voice.

‘I assure you, I am not.’

Tall, pale and ugly stood, looking down at Marty with an expression that was part disgust and part bewilderment. He seemed to consider the man he had tied to the chair for some time, like a baby first seeing its own reflection. The smell of urine and vomit was growing in his nostrils, and he was quite certain it must be making his uninvited guest uncomfortable, too.

‘Your problem, dear child,’ he said and noticed the smirk on the bound burglar’s face. He gathered it must have been some time since he was referred to as either dear or indeed child. ‘Is that you need to gain some perspective on your life, and you simply can’t gain perspective until you can see clearly.’

The pale man stepped towards Marty with one long and sharp nail caught in moonlight. It was gleaming – it was too dark and dirty to gleam, but it was. Marty knew that it was a tool for evil. It was going to be used to cause only damage. He tried to move, but even as little as a wriggle was unobtainable.

 ‘Hold still,’ the pale stranger said, and then dragged the nail down Marty’s left temple, leaving a deep valley there that instantly spewed out blood. ‘We wouldn’t you to have an accident now, would we?’

Marty felt the pressure in his eye ease off, and he knew that the peculiar weirdo who’d tied him to the chair had lacerated his swollen eye. The man squeezed ever-so-slightly and Mart saw a jet of thick black fluid shoot from the left side of his own face and out into the pale void of the kitchen.

‘There. Isn’t that better?’ the lunatic with the sharp-

talons claws razors

nails said, in the soothing voice a parent might use with a small child who’d been jolted from a nightmare.

‘Yuh,’ Mart mumbled. He could just about open the left eye, allowing a very blurry sense of depth-perception to come back to him.  His groin and lap were beginning to itch with the warm liquids recently spilled there, and there was a stinging in his left eye that was burrowing back into his brain like a fat, greedy maggot with the munchies. But he had to admit, it was a little better.

‘Good, good.’ That same soothing tone which was far scarier than any yelling ever could be. And then, much sterner and much snappier, ‘But the thing is, you tried to steal. I can’t have that. Are you a religious man, at all?’

Marty considered this. In all his years he’d never really cared enough to think about it, so no, not really. He wasn’t.

‘Somewhat,’ he lied anyway, hoping for the best and expecting the worst.

‘If you were, then you’d know lying is a sin, also. Either way, I’m sure you’ve heard of an eye-for-an-eye.’

As Marty’s panic rose, every inch of his face displaying the pure terror that had taken him, the pale man approached and then stood over him. Marty’s hair was grabbed, forcing his head back (and what a tidal wave of fresh pain that coursed through his skull that was) as the pale man’s right hand came to the once-swollen left eye. The index finger was crooked, almost like  a hook.

The sharp nail eased its way between the thin eyelid and the boiled-egg that was the eyeball, followed by the thickness of the finger. Peculiarly, Marty felt no pain at this, only the pressure and the panic that came with the unfamiliarity. It felt bizarre to have someone’s finger inside his skull, but it wasn’t the agony he’d been expecting. Then the hook-finger curved around the back of the eye, tickling the stalk that held it in place and causing the pupil and iris to roll towards the nose. The pressure behind the eye increased until it slipped wetly from the socket with a squelchy pop, and hung limply against the cheek. (amazing. Almost through up)

Marty’s breathing had grown to a rapid pant, he couldn’t quite believe that it was his eye, his actual fucking eyeball, dangling in front of his face like a cheap decoration. He thought, prayed, wished that any minute he’d wake up in his bed. Oh Christ, if he did he’d turn his back on the life of crappy crime and do his best to go straight and he’d really-

‘No!’

The pale stranger bent down and leant in very close to Marty. So close that Marty could smell decaying meat and copper on the thing’s breath, could smell damp-rot on its skin. It held the eyeball in its right hand, investigated it as though looking for something in particular, and then, with jagged teeth that looked like sharpened tombstones, bit into the white sphere, cleaving it half.

The pain shot through Marty, and at that moment he wished for death. No matter what it was Alfie had endured, it couldn’t have been as bad as this.

‘Don’t fret,’ the pale thing said. ‘it will be over soon.’

And with that, the pale thing yanked Marty’s head back and bit down, hard, onto and into the side of the neck. He got a secure grip with his teeth, pressed down as much as he could, and pulled away, tearing out the side of Marty’s neck. The gaping hole poured a crimson Niagara, the side of Mart quickly covered in claret, the blood puddling on the kitchen floor.

Marty’s body jerked, doing a little dance as though being electrocuted, as he died.

‘Well,’ the pale man said, ‘must be off. Who knows when the owners might be back.’

With that, the pale thing (vampire or crazy man?) left through the kitchen window and escaped off into the night.


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Marty's Last Job - Part I

Written by James McCann

 Photograph by   Daniel McCullough

Photograph by Daniel McCullough

1

It wasn’t supposed to go like this.

That thought echoed through Marty Dunlop’s head, occasionally giving way to the painful pounding that flared-up and settled-down, just to flare-up again at the back of his head. Although his arms were tied to the chair (his entire body was bound, he couldn’t move his legs so much as quarter of an inch either), he could feel that the back of his head had swollen up in the area where the hair had been matted down my something sticky-

blood blood it’s your blood

and damp and warm back there. The room swam in and out of focus, partly because of the hit to the head, partly because his left eye had already swelled shut, and although he had no way of seeing it, he knew it would look like he had a large purple plum growing out of his face.

Best he could, Marty saw that he was in a kitchen, that much he could sort of remember, though it was still dark, the only light coming from the full moon in the night sky. It bathed the room and everything in it in a pale blue. Turning his head brought on a fresh wave of pain washing across his brain, and a feeling of nausea was growing in the pit of his stomach. It was then that he noticed the tight ropes that secured him to the chair were also wrapped around his groin, and pressing hard on his right testicle.

Christ, things weren’t supposed to have gone so badly. How, how for Christ’s sake, could things have gone so badly?

Last Marty remembered, he and Alfie Harris (and it had been Alfie’s idea to hit this apartment, Alfie was always making the decisions) had come in through the kitchen window that was level with the fire escape. Alfie had led the way up, and then when it had come time to go in through the window, Alfie had let Marty go first, hell, he’d insisted on it, and wasn’t Alfie always doing that? Leading the charge right up until contact, and then handing things over to Marty.

Once inside the kitchen, Alfie held Marty’s shoulder for a few moments, listening. Upon deciding that it was safe (read: the apartment was empty), he gave the order for Marty to check all the rooms on the left of the apartment while Alfie himself took all the ones on the right.

That much Marty could remember.

Where it all got hazy was when Marty was in the apartment’s small bathroom. It wasn’t even a bathroom, really. It had a dank shower cubicle, a washbasin and a toilet. The seat and lid of the toilet, like the base of the cubicle, were of a thin, flimsy plastic. All were the colour of gone-off mustard, a shade that Marty thought of as a darker shade of pus. Alfie had been in what Marty thought must have been the bedroom when he made a peculiar couplet of noises. First, he made a high-pitched startled shriek, which got choked off, followed quickly by a strangled noise and a loud thump, which Marty thought was either something falling over or something being pushed against a wall.

Marty had forgotten all about sweeping the bathroom cabinet for drugs, and stood, motionless, in the doorway.

‘Alfie?’ he whispered in that odd whisper that isn’t truly a whisper. He leaned his head slightly further out of the bathroom, and listened. His face had taken on a sheen of sweat and his shirt had clung to his lower back. The only noise he could hear was the sound of his own scared, anxious breathing. ‘Alfie?’

Then another noise came from somewhere in the darkness, and any and all thoughts of waiting for Alfie or of finishing the burglary went out of the window, and Marty bolted for the kitchen window. He was, somehow, aware that Alfie’s days of breaking and entering and looting and plundering were long gone. As Marty approached the kitchen door, he was vaguely aware of a leather glove swinging out of the darkness at him. Which was fine, that led him to believe that he and Alfie had had the misfortune, or stupidity, to break into an apartment already being robbed.

Except the glove looked to have thick, sharp black talons at the ends of the fingers.

2

Marty didn’t know exactly how much time had passed since he and Alfie had entered the apartment, but as it was still dark out and the moon looked like a giant cue-ball on black velvet, he guessed it wasn’t too much time. His head hurt worse than any epic bender’s hang-over, his stomach felt like nothing but water that was preparing to come up at any moment, and the rope on his balls was sending burning flares through his body periodically. He found it close to impossible to move an inch, so getting a look around him was not going to happen, although he did believe the kitchen window that he and Alfie had jimmied up had now been closed again behind him.

Alfie…

‘Alfie?’ Marty called, no-longer feeling the need to keep his voice at a whisper. And Christ how his head did hurt. ‘Alfie, are you there?’

No reply but the sound of footsteps, slow and deliberate, in the darkened hallway that led to the kitchen. Even in his very confused-

concussed

state, Marty knew that those footsteps were supposed to be intimidating. They were designed to scare him, and kudos to whomever they belonged to, because they were working, and very well.

‘Who are you?’ Marty asked. There was a tremble in his voice which he wished hadn’t been there, but he supposed playing brave wasn’t going to help him much anyway. ‘Where’s Alfie?’

What Marty wanted to ask was, “What have you done with Alfie? What have you done to Alfie?” but he couldn’t bring himself to say it, couldn’t bring himself to really accept the truth that Alfie, his closest friend (if he could be called that) and partner in petty theft and ‘house calls’ for the last three years, was dead. Marty wasn’t too heart-broken about Alfie being dead, it was just that the admittance of that would lead to the next logical conclusion; Marty would soon join him in the clearing at the end of the path, say thankya sai King!

The footsteps came closer, reaching the doorway to the kitchen. The moonlight showed only to the end of the linoleum floor, so whomever-

whatever whatever it’s a great big ugly fucking whatever

was in the apartment with Marty was still in shadow.

‘Ah-Alfie..?’ Marty asked, his voice cracking in the middle to a dry screech.

‘No,’ a calm, powerful voice replied from the darkness. ‘But then, I think you knew that already.’


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A Few Months Before the Pink House Falls in to the Ocean - Part I

Written by Claire Hilton

Pink House

Every other Sunday at 9:30 in the morning it’s my job to get the groceries. Usually I don’t “get ready” in the mornings because usually I don’t see anyone worth “getting ready” for, but every other Saturday night I know that, the next morning, I have to go someplace other than here for a few hours, which means I have to “get ready”. I hate getting ready. So last night I slept in a pair of jean shorts and a t-shirt so I could just roll out of bed and go. When I wake up my body is all sticky and the clothes cling to me because the air here is always salty and humid like a steam room. Even after a nice hot shower, the minute you step out you’re sweaty and sticky all over again. I don’t even remember what it’s like to feel “clean” so I don’t really feel “dirty” either, which is good I guess.

I walk out in to the kitchen and Mrs. Benitez is at the sink cleaning the dishes, even though she’s not supposed to stand very much because she’s got blood clots in her legs and really bad varicose veins. Last time I checked she was in her 70’s, but I’m not a hundred percent sure. She smiles at me sweetly and I smile back but I don’t say anything. I walk over to the front door and take the keys to the boat and the keys to the golf-cart off of the lighthouse-shaped key hook, trying not to jangle them too much because Mr. Benitez is asleep on the couch in his bathrobe. He’s always sleeping or playing cards and he’s usually sick. He’s got a catheter with a little plastic bag tied around his thigh full of piss. Usually I have to help him change it before I leave, but Mrs. Benitez turns to me and says not to worry about it today, Dear. That she’ll take care of it. They’re nice, the Benitez’s. They take care of me. I moved in with them when I was 12 and people said I was very lucky, because the older you get, the less people will want you cuz most people want babies or really little kids so they can actually raise them, so it’s really nice that they took me in anyway.

Last year, for my 17th birthday, they gave me their old boat. Mostly because they’re too old to drive a boat and they can just take the boat-taxi if they ever want to go to the mainland, which they never do, but still, it was a nice gesture. Mr. Benitez bought the boat second hand in the late 90’s when he and his wife first moved to the island, and Mrs. Benitez named the boat Hope Floats, after that bad romance movie with Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick Jr. She loves that movie. I’ll bet it was a beautiful boat when they first got it, but it’s pretty old now. Whenever I take it to the marina to fill up the gas tank, Rick, the attendant always says,

‘Mary! Good to see ya. And good to see you haven’t sunk yet!’

I swear it’s the same every time and he always laughs when he says it too, I guess because he’s trying to make a joke because honestly it is kind of a miracle I haven’t capsized yet. When the Benitez’s gave me the boat, I did my best to make it look nice by giving it a new paint-job but it didn’t do much good, so I changed the name from Hope Floats to Hope it Floats. I guess it’s pretty funny, but honestly it’s more of a prayer.

I close the door behind me, careful not to jangle the keys too much and walk out the front door, on to the front deck, and down 36 steps, which are cluttered with seashells and things Mrs. Benitez has collected from years and years of walking on the beach, when that was actually something she could do. Now even just watching her stand to do the dishes this morning made me kind of nervous.

When I get to the bottom of the stairs I take out one set of keys and start the golf cart that we keep under the house. All the houses here are built really high up on stilts to keep them from getting flooded and destroyed by the storms. Everyone drives golf carts too because there aren’t any real roads, just narrow little sand paths that cut through thick forests of palm trees, which I imagine a normal sized car would have a real hard time with.

I drive the golf cart to the docks at the end of the island. A bunch of guys who had stayed in the pink house this weekend are loading up their rental boat to go home. The pink house is the cheapest house to rent on the island, even though it’s one of the biggest, because it’s falling apart. Some guy built it in the late 50’s before the island had any real zoning laws so he built it right on the beach, but now a lot of the beach has eroded away, so at high tide, the stilts that hold up the pink house are more then halfway underwater, and the whole structure kind of slopes forward on a diagonal. If you put a marble on the floor right when you walked in the front door, it would roll all the way to the other side of the house. There used to be stairs leading up to its front porch, just like our house, but the bottom half of them got washed away, so now there’s just half a staircase dangling mid-air. The few times Mr. Benitez does talk to me, we like to place bets on how long it will take before the whole thing crashes down in to the ocean. A lot of people my age rent the pink house though because it’s so cheap, and I always think it’s so funny when a group of guys rent it because the house literally is pink. Bright, baby, Florida pink, with aqua blue trimming around the windows.

I get out of the golf cart and I see one of the guys smile at me out of the corner of my eye, but I pretend like I don’t see. Mrs. Benitez told me yesterday they’re here on spring break from some College. Gulf Coast maybe? Or USF? I don’t remember. As I get closer one of them whistles at me. I feel so funny when guys do stuff like that. My stomach will really start to hurt and sometimes my hands even shake. I grip them really hard in to fists as I climb in to my boat so they can’t tell that I’m nervous or bothered. You can never let a guy know he scares you. I don’t really know why, but when I was packing up my stuff to move here I found my mom’s old journal from high school and she had written that and it really stuck with me for some reason. I guess because guys do scare me, but the only guys that have ever really been in my life are Mr. Benitez and I guess my dad. I really don’t remember him at all. I used to try to remember him, but when I did I would throw up and cry and Mrs. Benitez would make me stay in my bed for the rest of the day, so I don’t try to do that anymore. And also, I feel like guys usually whistle at girls who are way different from me. Girls who “get ready”, so I just ignore them as Hope it Floats putters away towards the marina.

I leave Hope it Floats at the marina for Rick to fill up and start walking towards Publix, which is where we get our groceries. I walk past Rick and he starts to say his usual joke but I walk past him too quickly to hear him finish. By about 11:30 I’ve purchased everything on Mrs. Benitez’s grocery list, which mostly consists of frozen dinners and cereal. Before I go to check out I throw a box of those chocolate-covered Entenmann’s doughnuts in to the cart for Mr. Benitez because they’re his favourite snack and he’s got a catheter so he needs some happiness in his life. I think they taste like medicine though. Once I buy everything I push the shopping cart full of bags all the way back to the marina because there’s way too many to carry. I load them on to Hope it Floats and then I hide the shopping cart behind one of those industrial sized trashcans before anyone can see me because you’re not really supposed to take shopping carts from Publix. 

By the time I get home the boys that had been staying in the pink house are no longer by the docks. They’ve probably been gone a while now. I tie Hope it Floats to the dock, load all the groceries on to the golf cart, and head back home. As I drive across the island I count four houses with the lights on. Not many people live here year-round because there’s nothing but beach houses, a church, and a golf cart repair shop. We don’t even have a police station or a fire department. If something bad happens, they have to come over from the mainland, and that freaks a lot of people out I guess, but it’s never really bothered me because boats are pretty fast and any boat is faster than Hope it Floats. It’s also Sunday so all the people who only come here for the weekends are probably gone by now. It’s pretty dead here most of the time.

It takes me fifteen trips up and down the steps to bring in all the groceries from the golf cart. By the time I’m done, I realize that Mr. and Mrs. Benitez have already gone to bed. It’s 6pm. I sit down on the couch and open the bag of Cheetos I bought for myself and watch some cartoons for a little while. There’s a big window behind our TV with a perfect view of the pink house. All the lights are off, but the porch is still littered with a bunch of plastic cups. There’s a giant hole in one of the windows and a couple pieces of the porch railing have fallen off. It’s high tide now, so you can only see the top half of the stilts under the house. It kind of looks like it just rose right out of the ocean. I get through about a half-hour of Teen Titans before I start to drift off. I don’t have the energy to walk back to my room, so I just fall asleep on the couch.


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Under the Hill

Written by Madison Marie

 Photograph by   Patrick Hendry

Photograph by Patrick Hendry

A hill rises at the edge of a small village; its vigil unending. Upon its crest sits a cottage, its wooden walls cracking and curling and its thatched roof crumbling with age. A young boy, just grown into his hand-me-down trousers, stands before the door. His hand was raised in front of him, preparing to knock, but he found himself hesitating. 

He heard the stories of The Healer. She was known to be a woman of beauty and kindness who could heal any wound in a matter of seconds. The village at the bottom of the hill, from which the boy belonged, revered the Healer. He recalled listening to the elders telling the story of the Healer’s arrival to their small valley. When they reached the end, their eyes always glazed over as if they were truly reliving the event. That had been decades ago.

Yet it was not the Healer’s apparent warm-heartedness that made the boy pause, but the voices of the night. After the sun retired and the village lights were extinguished, the voices crept through the boy’s window. They sounded mournful and hopeless, as if the collective voices pleaded for him to save them. From what, he did not know. He mentioned it to his mother one early morning. She furrowed her brows, her eyes widening as she asked, “Where do you come up with such tales?”

The boy disregarded the memory, assuming it was a dream. However, the voices returned the following night. He believed himself to be going mad, until he woke to the moon shining through his window. The voices had awoken him, trailing its fingers up his neck. He moved to sit on his window pane, one leg dangling out into the night with only the moaning and murmuring to keep him company. It was closer to sunrise than sunset when the house neighbouring his own woke up. The door burst open with a bang and a girl his age flew into the darkness. She had lived next to him for his entire life, though they had never interacted much. The boy had always assumed her to be average, but as he watched her trip over her night clothes, he assumed otherwise. 

She struggled through the high grass. The boy followed her with his eyes, his body glued to the window frame. He watched her fall to her knees, almost disappearing into the sea of black. He narrowed his eyes to make out her figure. She faced the ground, her body moving as if-- “She’s digging,” he whispered to himself. He pushed himself off the window pane and dropped to the ground, his bare feet sinking into the dirt. He cautiously made his way to the girl, feet spread and hands out as if he were approaching a wounded animal. 

‘Are you okay?’ he asked. His voice sounded like thunder in the silent night. That’s when he realized the voices had died. Something brushed against his foot and he jumped in surprise. He looked down to find a pale object lying on the ground, a hand. His eyes follow up the arm to find the girl curled up inside a shallow burrow. He crouched next to the entrance and peeked inside; he could only make out the girl’s wide, fearful eyes.

‘What’s wrong?’ he asked. Despite himself, his voice quivered. Her eyes snapped to him, unblinking as she said, ‘The voices. They need to be let out. They beg and they don’t stop. They don’t stop. Always whispering.’

The boy jerked away from the girl, terror coursing through him. She heard the voices too; he hadn’t dreamed it, hadn’t imagined it. He scrambled away from her, his clean clothes now covered in dirt. He glanced away from her for a moment, towards his open window, not noticing the girl crawling from her burrow. She threw herself on top of him, grabbing for him, yet not hurting. He struggled beneath, but was unable to get loose. She gripped the sides of his face so tightly her fingers turned white. 

‘Do not trust the one who tricks. No one hears but us, those who haven’t been deceived by her charm. Do not trust the Healer. Do not trust her.  

The boy pushed her away and bolted back towards his home. In his frantic state, he didn’t notice the dip in the ground. His foot plunged down, his ankle twisting and sending shots of pain up his leg. He barely had time to put his hands out before he hit the ground with a thud, the air knocked from his lungs. He wasted no time in pushing himself up once again and sprinting the rest to the way to his house. 

The boy blinked, his mind snapping back to reality. His hand was still raised to the door, motionless, when it swung open to reveal a woman. Her beauty nearly made him stagger backwards. Her skin was as smooth as satin and dark as ebony, her lips as red as a rose, and her eyes matched the herbs that decorated the room. Her hair cropped close to her head, yet the designs shaved into the sides entranced him.

Her eyes flickered down to the boy’s hand, which was still raised in the air. A smile spread across her face, revealing flawless teeth. ‘Yes? Are you in need of my assistance?’ A shiver traveled down the boy’s spine at the sound of her voice. It reminded the young boy of when his mother used to sing him to sleep. 

The boy blinked and lowered his hand. The healer’s smile only grew as she stepped away from the threshold to allow him inside. Her question was immediately answered as he limped through the door, his ankle purple and swelling. She motioned to a stool that sat in the middle of the room, its wood looked to be older than the house in which they stood. 

The boy tried his best not to collapse onto the stool, the pain in his ankle almost overbearing. The young woman stood at a counter covered in herbs and medicines, her hands brushing over everything until reaching thick bandages. 

She didn’t look up at him as she spoke, ‘And what exactly did you do to cause such an injury?’ The boy chewed his cheek and replied, ‘I was running.’

‘From something you shouldn’t have been tampering with, I assume?’

The boy remained silent, confirming the healers suspicions. She walked over to him and knelt, their facing becoming equal level. She held out a hand towards his ankle, waiting for him to raise it. He did so, the fear that nearly paralysed him ebbing away at the rhythm of her work. She wrapped the bandage around his ankle, making movement difficult. After securing it, she leaned back on her heels and looked to the herbs hanging above their heads. She pulled a leaf from one of the various plants and held it out to him.

‘Chew this and it will help with infection. Besides that, you just need time and rest.’ 

The boy accepted the leaf but didn’t dare put it on his tongue. The healer studied him, her eyes showing an emotion the boy couldn’t place. 

‘Is there something wrong?’ She asked. Poison laced her voice, the type of poison one does not notice until it is too late. The boy shook his head, his words jumbled as they came out.

‘No Ma’am. I only heard stories of what you can do,’ he lowered his voice, ‘the magic.’

The woman breathed deeply, tilting back her head. ‘And you wish to see if the rumours are true?’ The boy shook his head. The woman narrowed her eyes, ‘Then what is it you want, boy?’

He paused before speaking, his body locking up just as it did when he had tried to knock on the healer’s cottage door. ‘I wish to know why the voices beneath the hill haunt me at night,’ his voice was barely more than a whisper, ‘I wish to know why only the children can hear them and why they seem to come from your home, Miss.’

The healer’s eyes seem to freeze, the green hue turning darker as they focused on him. The boy blinked, expecting to see the healer still smiling down at him. Instead, her face held a deathly glare, her smile all but vanished. 

‘I’ll show you.’ Was all she said.

The boy had the sudden feeling that he had made a grave mistake. He expected her to shed her skin for the monster he imagined her to be, but she remained beautiful. A siren atop the hill. She placed her hands around the boy’s ankle, squeezing hard enough for him to flinch. She closed her eyes and her body stilled. The boy suddenly felt very alone in the old cottage. Her hands began to warm, as if a fire had sparked between her fingertips. The heat grew so intense, that he tried to pull his ankle away from the healer, but her grip was steel. 

Just when the boy felt she was burning his foot to ash, she let go. She gasped, struggling for breath. The boy refrained from running, if only because his curiosity forced him to stay and discover the answers he so desperately sought. 

The healer regained her composer and wiped the sweat from her brow. ‘Behold, the magic I wield,’ she said as she spread her hands to him. The boy looked down at his ankle and a gasp escaped his lips. The skin was no longer purple and the pain nonexistent. It was as if he had ever ventured into that field. 

He gaped at the healed ankle, marveling at her work. She laughed quietly and spoke, ‘Does this answer at least one of your questions?’

The boy nodded, yet eager to learn more. He stared at her skeptically, still wary of this healer and the newfound power she wielded. She waved for him to follow her as she stood and turned away. He pushed off the stool and followed her to a large basin. 

Its sides had been carved to show thousands of shapes, most looked like animals, shimmering and sparking in their medium. The boy studied the basin, his eyes widening as he realized what it was. ‘Is this gold?’

The healer nodded, her eyes not leaving the water that filled the bowl. She waved a hand over the liquid and to the boy’s astonishment, it began to ripple and pulsate. She dipped one finger into the water and out from her skin came a black ichor that spread out like veins until all the boy could see was black. 

‘Look,’ the healer ordered. They boy saw nothing but darkness. He turned his head towards the healer, confused. 

‘I see nothing but oil, Ma’am.’

She motioned for him to lean closer and ordered him to look once again. So, the boy turned to the basin and squinted his eyes. He just saw a glimmer of something human when he felt the healer’s hand on the back of his neck, forcing him down into the water. He struggled only for a moment, as the oil filled his lungs and he choked. Within a moment, the feeling was gone and he opened his eyes to find himself in darkness. 

‘Ma’am?’ he called, fear gripping him like the claws of a bear. The healer’s gentle touch was on his shoulder, a lantern in hand. She waved for him to follow and began to walk. The boy could see nothing but stone and dirt covering the floor around the healer. He followed her only because she held the lantern, his only protection from the eternal night.

‘You wish to know why only children can hear the voices? Because not even I can hold a mind that moves so quickly. A grown man, however, does not think much past the food in his belly and the ale in his hand.’

Why would she need to hold their minds? What was she controlling them for? 

‘You also wish to know who the voices belong to? Why they plead for your help? Here is your answer.’ The boy looked around, still not able to see. He was just about to ask what she meant when an elderly man crawled into the lantern’s light. His skin was cracked and bleeding, his body hunched and deformed. He looked up at the boy to reveal sightless eyes and bruises on his pale face.

The boy jumped backwards, trying to get away from the man, right into the clutches of another person, this one was a woman. Her body was skin and bones, her hair dull and torn out in many places. The boy had nowhere to go but back into the healer’s arms.

‘Who are they?’ He asked, the terror in his voice unmistakable. 

‘They are mine and nothing else. I am their mother, their goddess of night, their prophet of salvation.’ 

The boy shook his head, ‘What has happened to them?’

The boy felt the healer’s lips curl against his ear as she whispered, ‘My gift is not to heal, but to deliver.’ 

Just then, a new figure came into view. A young girl, her skin pale and bloodied. Her clothes covered in dirt. She limped forward, agony filling her eyes as she reached for him. 

He glanced down a her ankle to find it purple and twisted, just as his had been. Yet her wound was also covered in fresh blisters, as if she had been burned. Horror rose in his throat as he realized what the healer had done. A sudden realization of where they were struck him. They were beneath the healer’s hill.

‘I want to go home. Take me home,’ he demanded. He missed his mother and the sunshine of his face. He felt as if he had been deprived for months, yet it had only been minutes.

‘My dear,’ the healer cooed, ‘you are home.’ 

Then she shoved the boy into the girl’s outreaching arms. They felt familiar as they closed around him, preventing his escape. He screamed and begged for the healer’s help, yet no aid came. He turned just in time to watch the Siren flash her beautiful smile before she vanished, along with the light. 

The boy was plunged into the darkness and the hands wrapped around him, pulling at him from every direction. Those familiar arms didn’t not let go.

It was then he recognized the wide eyes and the dirty clothes. The silence of the room was nearing deafening before the girl pressed her cracked lips to his ear and whispered, ‘I told you not to trust the healer.’

Then the moaning began. A pointless plead that the victims of the Siren made, calling for help. Realizing he was never to escape, the boy joined in their symphony.

Rabbit

Written by Joy Yarrington

 Photograph by   Sean McGee

Photograph by Sean McGee

A screech. A screech and a thump. There wasn’t a crash. There wasn’t a slo-mo moment. My life didn’t flash before my eyes.

It wasn’t me.

I had already, by some grace of a higher being, gotten to the concrete square on the other side of the road. The car didn’t hit me and drive off. I’m lucky.

The poor rabbit laying in two mangled pieces on the road, he wasn’t so lucky.

I’m not a huge animal enthusiast but it’s never nice to see death. Especially when at the very moment of death, the accursed creature makes direct eye contact. You always hear about the “life draining out of” someone’s eyes. Doesn’t happen. The thing looked at me and died. Didn’t even twitch. Didn’t close its eyes.

I chose to believe it moved its eyes before it died.

Tuesday

I don’t personally own any rabbits. No pets at all, in fact. And I don’t think I’ll ever want to now. People at the pet stores ignore me anyway. They’ll glance at me, make eye contact, and look away. I don’t look like a “pet” person, I’ve been told. My mom and Peter never liked pets much either.

So why the rabbits?

I walk to school. Every morning I walk to school.

There’s a pattern.

Every morning I walk to school, and every 3-2-1 days, there’s a rabbit.

Monday Thursday Saturday.

Sunday Wednesday Friday.

Saturday Tuesday Thursday.

Friday Monday Wednesday.

Thursday Sunday Tuesday

Wednesday Saturday Monday

Tuesday Friday Sunday

Monday Thursday Saturday.

Two years.

School, church, work. All the same route. Maybe it’s cursed. But I’m not superstitious.

Everyone I talk to is.

Thursday

It started scattered, every couple weeks or days or in between. I didn’t believe it. Didn’t think I had to. Didn’t notice sometimes. I’ve never particularly liked rabbits. Seemed like lesser animals. Never really liked furry animals. Their beady eyes.

The beady eyes that stare up at me after every Toyota drives away. It’s always a Toyota. Not the same one, never the same colour. Maybe someone really doesn’t like rabbits.

They look up at me in a post-mortem contempt.

No, I shouldn’t say that.

Some are scared. Some sad looking. Some almost look humanly mournful.

Some - inexplicably - relieved.

But it’s them instead of me, they say.

Them instead of me.

Not me.

Not me.

Not me again.

Not again.

Friday

It’s not just the rabbits. I found out it’s not just the rabbits.

It’s sad, for such a big town with such experienced drivers, this girl got hit really bad. We don’t have a reputation as bad drivers. Not many people even drink. But every week, every Monday on the six o’clock news, wherever I am, I’ll catch a glimpse of the report on her. People are devastated or something. Every week. She died one time. A couple months ago. Right when I started seeing more and more rabbits. I have a joke that she was a rabbit enthusiast and all her pets got set free and

 

Well, you can fill in the rest.

It’s a sick joke, I know.

I wonder if she liked rabbits.

Monday

I see that report every Monday on the six o’clock news. It’s a tragic story. A girl gets hit by a drunk driver. Its her dad in an unnamed vehicle. That family already had enough trouble. The mother and eldest son died a couple years ago in a kitchen fire. I remember the funeral. No candles. I was so sad. We all were.

You’d think that’s what drove the man to drink. No. He’d always been a drunk, long as he could remember. Which could be not that long, situationally, but longer than he’d been married. He was the town drunk. In a big town, that’s a feat. Fits the situation.

Wednesday

I kind of float through life, to be honest.

These damn rabbits are getting to my head.

It’s not even disturbing any more, just annoying.

Sad, too.

Two whole years.

Truth be told it hasn’t felt like two years. Not nearly that long. But I guess when everyday's the same as the last: school eat sleep school eat sleep schooleatsleepschooleatsleep, the days blend together. I’m not depressed. I don’t really feel anything. Just kind of float through.

Maybe I am depressed.

I’m in the final stretch of school. Senior year. It feels like it’s lasted an eternity. Every day is the same, we drag it out waiting for that last bell.

I transferred to this school halfway through the year. It’s right along the way to my old one. I’ve taken the same route forever. All new people. They seem to like me, though. Or, tolerate me.

The one thing no one likes is the snow. This is Michigan, we have eternal snow. But it’s felt like three eternities. Two whole years of snow.

One more year.

Thursday

I remembered today.

I remembered my dad.

I don’t remember when he died, but I know he must have. I’m eighteen and I live alone. He was the gentlest soul, most of the time. It’s true. He just had some bad parts.

He liked rabbits. He owned three. I forget what happened to them.

Sunday

I walk to school every morning, and walk home at three.

I used to have a job, don’t remember what happened to it.

I must be depressed.

I don’t have a lot of friends.

None that I can even name.

People tolerate me at school, like me even.

I have friends at school.

Two, at least.

I don’t remember turning 18. I just know because it’s been two years since I was sixteen. And I live alone. But I still go to school. Senior year, they say, is the best and worst. I haven’t hit “senioritis” yet, but I have seen the future. Not literally. I think about it all the time. All the hundreds of thousands of millions of things I could be. It excites me.

It also gives me a strange, deep sense of mourning.

Mourning my childhood? School years?

I don’t feel much outside of school.

Tuesday

One thing I don’t understand still. Where do all the rabbits come from? Every 3-2-1 days, I skirt a car and another poor one suffers my fate. It feels like there are hundreds of thousands of millions of them. All lives cut short by Toyota.

No one else has died since the girl. I’ve had a few close-to run-ins with cars. But they don’t hit me. Not much else has happened. That I know of. The people in the town are in a state of suspended animation, mourning. It was a couple months ago. It’s a big town.

I don’t feel like myself anymore. I’m not grieving. I’m the only one not grieving. I don’t feel like myself anymore. My life doesn’t feel like my life. It feels like a dream. A dream cursed with car accidents and rabbits and drunk drivers.

I must be depressed.

The only thing I like anymore is school. Because I can’t wait to graduate. I can move away from this town. From the rabbits. From that route to school.

I should have moved the moment I saw the third rabbit hit.

Three times and staying, that is pure delinquency.

Two times, that was a mistake.

The first one was the worst.

Wednesday

I walk to school every morning. The only thing I like anymore is school. School and the snow. I don’t know, I just like the snow.

Today I’m walking in the evening, walking to school for a ceremony.

And I feel.

I feel.

I can’t contain my excitement over being, well excited! And happy, and impatient. For school. That’s what I like the most.

Today’s a special day, I can’t contain my excitement.

I’m so excited I didn’t see the Toyota careening towards me at the crosswalk. Didn’t even catch a glimpse of what colour it was. I had a nanosecond to brace myself and count down 321and. I heard it. Screeeech.

No thump.

I haven’t been hit!

It came right toward me but I wasn’t hit!

I could’ve sworn, it almost went right through me!

It kept driving, kept going. I didn’t see where it went.

I just felt happy. The most pleasant I’ve been in a while. The walk didn’t feel unbearable and dull and repetitive anymore. It felt so peaceful.

Snow fell to the ground. Started halfway to school. I love the snow. Even in Michigan. It’s not even cold, I don’t feel it.

And the best part

No rabbits.

I knew where I was going.

And I was so happy to go there.

I’m going exactly where I should be.

I yank open the door at the front of the school.

They’re in here.

I rush into the auditorium.

There they are.

I fall into the arms of my mom and my older brother Peter. Dad isn’t here. Good. We know where he is.

Where the abusive drunks go.

Where the lazy drunks who start a kitchen fire with spilled whiskey go.

Mom and Peter. I missed them. I’ve missed them for the past three years. Three real years. Not two. Not the two that existed within three nanoseconds. Or eternity.

My grandparents are here, they said no matter what they wouldn’t miss my achievements. My neighbours are here. The sweet elderly couple who were like great-grandparents in my youth.

I am so happy.

I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Strange and Selfish Things - Part II

Written by Bodhi Jet Atkinson 

pexels-photo-674665.jpeg

To Read Part I, Click Here


The sharp sting of the cool breeze as I open the sliding door gives me a punch of life.

'Oh,' Her voice, suspiciously raising an octave as she speaks. 'It’s… beautiful'.

Perched on the balcony of my flat, we are looking out at what I promised was a beautiful view, but was, in fact, a bad block of flats and a polluted puddle that somehow weaselled its way into being called a canal.

Stepping to the edge of the balcony, she leans against the railing, her back strategically arched. It’s no doubt she has a very romantic image in her head. The two of us wrapped around each other in a tender embrace, exhaling the cold air and breathing in one another – she’s seen this image before, she’s seen it in movies and pictures, she probably half expects me to ask if she wants the moon, throw a lasso around it and pull it down for her. But this image in her head, it doesn’t exist. It’s a fantasy.

Watching The Unnamed Girl leaning over my balcony, I again hear the jaunty, playful riff of “Red Lights Indicate Doors are Secure” play over in my mind. The cocktail of chemicals is still burrowing through my conscience. That feeling from the cab is back, that discomfort, that surge of guilt. She is a good person, she deserves better than some absolute bell-end who will only lie and try to sleep with her.

But unfortunately for her, tonight, I cannot be left to stew in my imagination. The things my mind will come up with when left to its own devices; the different scenarios, the various men that Rach will find herself with. Fuck that.

So I step behind The Unnamed Girl, doing my best to give her what I know she’s looking for. My arms drape over hers, protecting her delicate body from the testing wind.

When I kiss her neck, I can taste the chalky makeup doused with perfume, the salt on her skin that was once sweat. I smell the conditioner she used just this morning waging war against the cigarette smoke that snuck behind enemy lines and is now trapped in her hair. She’s getting more and more into it, exposing as much of her neck as she possibly can. “Should we go inside?” She whispers.

Wasting no time, we are on the bed, and I’m lifting her dress over her head. I’m not used to the pale skin; it feels more real somehow. The few freckles she does have are tactically placed down her leg and on her lower stomach. My eyes play ‘join the dots’ instinctively. Her naked body instantly draws from me another corny, bullshit line, “I really like you,” I managed to mumble out while our lips are pressed together.

Of course, I don’t really mean it; I don’t even know her name.

'I like you too, I wouldn’t have come home with you otherwise.'

She’s so sweet, an innocent victim in all of this.

I close my eyes to kiss her and hear the only song I’ve heard all evening. That fucking song, that dreadful riff playing like a carnival tune that belongs in a horror film. Just catchy enough to draw you into the house of mirrors before you’re slaughtered by the reflections of yourself. I open my eyes before the massacre has time to unfold but the song doesn't stop, it hasn’t stopped all night. My hands are shaking as my arms start to fill with hot, heavy blood. The rest of my body struggling from collapsing with all the new found weight.

'What’s wrong?' She says, breathing heavily, pulling on my flaccid penis. I stay silent, hoping that by pretending nothing’s the matter, the little guy will just jump into action… he does not.

'I’m sorry, it must be the drugs.'

'What did you have?' she inquires. I stare straight up at the ceiling and say nothing. The onslaught of guilt and shame sits so, so heavy on my shoulders. Discomfort strikes again, and I shuffle around, trying my best to fend it off. But of course I’ve known it all along; comfort is a luxury that’ll never be afforded to me. Comfort is a fortune reserved for those with integrity. With constraint and discipline. For the manipulative, for the selfish, for the heavy souls and me, we are doomed to fidget and squirm. 

Was I ever a decent human being? Or have I been this little fucking loser my whole life? Wishing and wishing I were a big dog, but knowing full fucking well I’m a far cry from it. I’m just a fucked up kid, wanting people to, who knows, think I’m cool? Is that even still a thing? Wanting people to think your cool? When all is said and done, I’m just a little boy that has never been comfortable with what he is. There was a time when I was, at the very least a decent guy, but I’ve not seen that man in a long time.

I feel small hands run over the ridges of my ribcage then up to my chest and around where the pectoral muscles should be, were I not so skinny.

I want her to press down until a bone in my chest breaks and punctures my lung. I want to suffer; I want it to hurt when I draw a breath. I don’t want to calm myself or slow my heart rate. I don’t want to ease my soul. I want to stay in this mind state forever and never make another mistake again.

'I don’t care about you,' I say softly. 'At all… I am only here because I want to fuck you and I only want to fuck you to get my mind off my ex. I don’t even know your name.'

She doesn’t move or say anything for a bit, then, rather calmly, she pulls my arm over her body, so we are cuddled up. Her hands feel far less delicate than I first thought. She sort of laughs, and says, 'That’s okay, I’m the same. I’m coming off a break up as well. And as for my name, I never told it to you.'

'Oh.' I said, slack-jawed. I don’t really know what to say. She caught me off guard. I think she can see me struggling.

'Just don’t worry about it, you’re not taking advantage of me any more than I am you.' She said. 'People do strange things when they feel truly alone. Your not a bad guy.'

People do strange things when they feel truly alone. Ain’t that the fucking truth - strange and selfish things. But it's only ever a way to manage all the love you have left over that has nowhere to go. Love with nowhere to go is grief. Loss leads to grief, grief leads to fear and fear leads to all sorts of nonsense… and for some reason leads to me talking like Yoda.

'Well, if we're not going to have sex, wanna finish off your drugs?' She asks.

If I'm honest with myself, I really don’t. I’ve had far too much already. But I will. I will because I’m still hurting, I will because I wouldn't want to disappoint the girl whose name I’ve still not managed to get. I will because I’m completely and utterly terrified of life at the moment and people who are as scared as I am, they’re going to fuck up. So, I guess, just do your best to fuck up with integrity.

Chicken

Written by Joy Yarrington 

We met on a dating app, he and I. It wasn’t love at first sight, but there was an instant connection. One neither of us could explain. But we felt it.

I’ll spare you the lewd details, but I’ll set the scene. Two lonely twenty-somethings with an instant connection and a pharmacy within walking distance. Let your mind run wild.

The sex isn’t what brought us together, though. It was the undeniable dissatisfaction with our current situations; he, a no-name bartender with an Associates in English, and I, a homebody who took calls in my basement office to make money. I’d always wanted to be a performer, an actress, or a stripper, or something. He’d wanted to be a politician, or a drag queen, or a daredevil. Something attention-grabbing.

We both had fucked up childhoods; but then again, didn’t everyone? And a slew of mental problems to top it off. But we’d managed.

We both had ambitions. We both knew we wanted to make art; to be art. To cause a rift in the world; a tremor in the seismos.

So one morning, when he turned to me in bed, breath smelling like the spaghetti and red wine he’d had last night, and like the pesto chicken I had, morning breath, and proposed the ordeal to me, I took no more than a minute to wholeheartedly, excitedly, agree.

He whispered, still under the sheets, clearing his throat from his sleep-voice, about how intimate it would be.

We’ll do it right in front of everyone, he purred.

Make people stop and stare.

Disrupt their morning.

Or their evening, whatever you like.

We’ll be closer than anyone has been before.

Right in front of them.

They’ll have to cover their eyes, he creaked.

We’ll make it loud.

Stop the traffic.

Then we’ll see each other to the end.

In the middle of the street.

It might be in the paper, but who wants to hear about it.

No, they’ll think it too vile for the general public.

Only those present will tell the story, won’t they?

And oh, will they tell the story.

And so we planned it, in between our days, in between the sheets. Down to the exact intersection. The risk of it all made it all the more enticing.

We decided not to tell our families ahead of time. Or any one at all. Best to make them wait. Aftershock is better than prevention, isn’t it?

The grandest guerrilla art installation the corner of Howard and Eaton had ever seen.

The day came, the one we chose. I was at my home, and he at his. We decided to meet right in the middle; hence Howard and Eaton.

I got in my car, turned the key, locked the doors, and for the first time, doubted myself. Pushing the doubt down, I ran through my checklist in my head. Front door, locked, oven, off, mail, on the counter, wallet, in my pocket, gas, low. Oh well.

I pulled out of the drive and started off. It wasn’t long to the intersection, eight minutes maybe.

The stoplight in my sights, a glimpse of his car, the doubt came back.

As we hurtled towards each other, a funny thought came to my head. Chicken. Isn’t that what they call that game, where you run head-on until someone swerves out of the way.

Yeah, it’s chicken.

Chicken, I said aloud to myself. Suddenly everything in my life came rushing through my head: my past, my future, and all the possibilities for the latter. I could have a husband. A husband! But not if I do this.

I thought of me, and me only. I didn’t know this man. What was his name? Jacob? He’s just a guy I’ve fucked a few times, why am I doing this?

So close I could see the hunger in his eyes, I yelled to myself, CHICKEN.

And I swerved.

Chelsea's Flower Show

Written by James McCann

 Photograph by   Meg Amey

Photograph by Meg Amey

1

Chelsea took the man back to her place. A lot of girls didn't like to do that, they preferred using a hotel, somewhere private but with other people close by, just in case something went wrong. Not that she thought anything ever would, and what was a client going to do that she wasn't going to be able to handle? Really, being close to other people only would have put her at risk.

It would be awful should someone interrupt her halfway through her work.

The clients came in all shapes and sizes, pardon the double entendre, and deep down she knew revenge was never going to be attainable, but on some very basic level what she was doing made her feel a lot better about herself, about her life. Anyway, after all this time, Chelsea had pretty much forgotten what she was trying to avenge, and who she was trying to make pay for it.

2

He followed her in, a weasel of a man with a balding head (the bright pink scalp, barely hidden by the wisps of hair, looked sore to the touch) and a paunch that was straining the buttons on the lower half of his shirt to near-breaking point. He had said this was the very first time he had done such a thing (Chelsea had known that was a lie), and that he had a wife (also a lie) that he loved very much. Some guys just liked to live the fantasy of being married and having an affair. It was no problem to her, not compared to some of the more eclectic fantasies she'd dealt with.

Chelsea kept the living room quite dark, the lights barely enough to just make out the silhouettes of bigger pieces of furniture in the room. From one’s peripheral vision, they looked like black construction paper on a midnight blue background.

It was the smell that caught his attention first. It was an overwhelming aroma of flowers, almost cloying. It was strong, perhaps too strong, the way a person might use up half a can of air freshener upon discovering the dog's had diarrhea all over the carpet. That's was the warning that every nerve in the little man was screaming at him. Something bad had happened here; too bad simply to wipe away. The type of bad that clings; lingers. The type that can never be ignored nor forgotten. If the man had been in any other situation, he would have made his excuses and fled...

'Please,' Chelsea said leading him by the hand. 'Take a seat and I'll get you something to drink.'

'Oh,' the man said, lowering himself cautiously onto the leather sofa, which creaked beneath his weight. 'Thank you.'

Chelsea was through the door into the kitchen before he had the chance to say “nothing alcoholic, please.”

3

From the corners of his eyes he began to see yellows and pinks and oranges bloom into focus. The room was filled with bouquets of flowers. It seemed as though every available flat surface had an arrangement on it, fragrant and beautiful (he guessed at the beautiful part, it was still too dark to see properly).

Being the curious little bee that he was and always had been (how often his mother had told him, “no”, and warned him that he was going to get himself into sooo much trouble one day?), he got up and, feeling his way and shuffling his feet, went over to the first bunch he found. Sat on a low table, the arrangement appeared to be in a domed vase. It was unique, he couldn't remember when he'd ever seen anything quite like it... although in the dimness the shape had some familiarity, he just couldn't place it.

Feet still shuffling, he moved about the room, going vase-to-vase, each one was shaped in that familiar dome. Unable to get his eyes to focus, he reached out his chubby little fingers and tried to get a better image like a blind man might. With a large domed top, the flower stems were placed in two, sharp-edged holes of the vase. The vase itself seemed to be propped up on something tilting  back, so that the holes were pointing up. Had the wedge not been under the front, then the holes would have been facing straight out, making the flowers look like cartoon eyes at the end of their stalks when a pretty girl walks by...

'Oh my.... the man whimpered into the darkness.

He knew then what the vases were. Why he had thought them familiar, but never would have considered them as a vase for flowers, and why would they, who else could be so sick?

'Did you say something?' Chelsea asked from the kitchen.

'No,' he replied, softly.

 

4

The kitchen was almost painful to see at first. Chelsea had the lights on, and every surface was white and pristine, clean and sterile. She was bent at the waist, looking into the fridge. He walked slowly behind her, hoping maybe she was just one of those - what were they called - Goth girls?, the ones who liked things shaped like tombstones and crosses and...

'Skulls,' he whispered.

 Over Chelsea's shoulder, he could see into the fridge. He knew that it was filled with the usual fair: milk and half a  tin of beans, all that stuff. But on three of the shelves, at varying stages of decomposition, were three human heads. Green and grey, an ear missing from one, the eyes having been plucked from another.

Chelsea stood up straight, and turned around. She had a large knife in her hand. She gave a little jump, but regained her composure quickly enough.

'Now you,' she began, pointing with the knife. 'I thought you were staying in there.'

'You...all those people...'

'Tell me, what's your favourite flower? I'll use it.'

Chelsea descended upon the little man, whose night did not end the way he was expecting it to.

Strange and Selfish Things - Part I

Written by Bodhi Jet Atkinson 

pexels-photo-674665.jpeg

I take a deep breath; my jaw tightens and shakes ferociously as I exhale. The MDMA has kicked in hard. “Red lights indicate doors are secure!” The lyrics to this familiar tune, sung festively by an American woman that’s sat next to me in a black cab, is both jarring and painful. Firstly, it’s just a bit tacky, isn’t it? It’s an Arctic Monkeys song called ‘Red lights indicate doors are secure.’ which references a sign that’s in all UK cabs.

Secondly, the album that song belongs to, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, became the soundtrack to a very tumultuous relationship, one in which I represented the male constituent. Our fights would dance back and forth to the jaunty riffs and echo like the bad backing vocals of youths making sense of the world.

Before I started dating Rachel, I was a horrible little boy. I toyed with her over and over; I slept with her cousin, tried sleeping with her friends (a particular daring feat considering I look like a foot). I strung her along for years and without a hint of remorse.

For Rach, this created some serious scar tissue that I can only hope will one day heal. In her tear-soaked words, “It changed me to my very core.”

I did eventually fall in love with Rachel. You can’t imagine what it was like to live like that; to lay next to your regret every night, and like the blinding glare of the morning sun, waking to it every day. Still, we loved each other very much.

Anyways, so yeah, this girl and I are sat in a black cab. She is, thus far, unnamed, but very beautiful. She looks like she belongs in a film about Brooklyn in the Roaring Twenties. Her mouth is exaggerated by the contrast of pale skin and deep red lipstick. Her hair, done up big and curly. Her green dress seems to constrict where I want it to release and release where I want it to constrict, just to tempt whatever eyes may wander over the petite body underneath.

With a cheeky smile she makes a move for my hand, our fingers interlocking. The soft callouses on her fingertips and the hardened skin just below her palm, blueprints for a life completely separate from the story I’m telling you. Her hands are tiny - she feels so delicate.

My hands grip hers, and she notices them trembling, and my eyes shaking from side to side - the MDMA hasn’t worn off whatsoever.

'You okay?' She murmurs, clenching my hand a little tighter.  She’s very kind, this girl thus far, unnamed.  She probably deserves a lot better than someone like me.

The red light from the aforementioned sign is brighter than ever and washes over us both. This seat is so uncomfortable. It’s my lower back; my spine can’t seem to slip into place. Squirming, trying to get comfy, but comfort is a luxury that’ll never be afforded to me, not in this state. Maybe never again. My arms gain weight with every second that passes, I feel myself start to hunch, shoulders lurching over and around my chest. The muscles that once yearned to stretch, to be set free, are now retreating, constricting, and screaming in a chorus of surrender until they force me to coil up in the foetal position.

The fluorescent light emanating from the sign punctures through my peripheries. The painfully memorable riff that I can’t seem to stop from playing in my head, and the Unnamed Girl’s weak hands all prompt a strong surge of guilt. I said stuff like, “I'm not looking for a one night stand” and, “I was drawn to you the moment I saw you.” What the fuck is that? Who says this stuff?

My heart is thundering up against my bony chest. The cab takes a wrong turn, and of course, I say nothing. Men confront these situations; little boys just let the cabbie ring out the extra fiver onto the fare. 

“Red lights indicate doors are secure” is floating around in the cab. I turn to The Unnamed Girl with the intention of telling her to shut the fuck up, but she’s not singing... I whip my head around towards the window hoping the world outside will bring back my peak. The terrace houses eventually all melt into one big blur as we zip past them then sink away entirely until all that's left is doors. Slamming my eyes shut to stop the nauseating sight - leaving just the imprint of the skirting, like seeing the outline of the sunburnt into your eyelids after looking up at it for too long.

I draw a breath, slowing my heart rate, slowing my mind, trying to ease my soul. Where is Rach? What is she doing? Who is she fucking? Is it doggy-style? Or is it some crazy position she’d never do with me?

Could I run for it? Jump out of the cab? I want to race back home, race back to Rachel.

I almost go for it, but the red light was showing and red lights indicate doors are secured.

The Wedding

Written by Caleb McLemore 

'My fucking head.'

Clark stumbles out of bed and slowly makes his way to the bathroom. He opens the medicine cabinet and grabs the aspirin bottle. He takes a couple, fills a cup by the sink with water, and takes a drink to wash it down. He walks back towards his bed when he notices a very beautiful woman sitting on it.

'I don’t have time for this,' said Clark.

'Oh. That’s a real shame since I’m here and ready to go for you.'

Clark takes a moment to realize she is naked.

'You seem curvier than usual.'

'It’s all for you. Isn’t this how you like me?'

She begins to seductively crawl on his bed towards Clark. She stops at the edge. She lays over the edge of the bed on her back. She lifts he legs up and spreads them as far as she can.

'You always were a fan of how flexible I am.'

'Go away.'

The woman flips over on the bed with puppy dog eyes.

'That’s no way to talk to someone you love.'

She gets on her knees and looks around. She gets off the bed and walks to the trashcan in the corner of the room. She looks inside and has a naughty smile.

'Based on the tissues in here, it looks like you’ve been thinking about me a lot.'

'I told you to leave. There’s enough on my mind without you making things worse!'

The woman looks at Clark, offended.

'What? Is there something going on that I’m unaware of?'

She looks towards his desk and she sees a letter. She walks over and looks at it.

'Oh… that’s right. Today is that day.'

She spins in a circle and suddenly is in a wedding gown. She is a spectacle of beauty. Clark looks away in pain at the sight.

'You can’t even look at me like this can you? Why not? Aren’t you happy for me? I’m finally happy.'

'If I say yes, will you finally leave me alone?'

'If you could let go of me that easily, you would have done it by now.'

Clark turns around to try and collect himself. He feels anger and pain. His eyes begin to tear up, but he quickly composes himself. He can’t allow himself to be seen like this.

'Of course I am happy for you. All I have ever wanted was for you to be happy.'

The woman begins to laugh while wagging her finger at him.

'That’s a half-truth you’ve been trying to pass off for years now. Do you want me to be happy? Sure, but you leave out the convenient detail that you want that happiness to include you as the significant other.'

'Well…yes, that’s exactly what I wanted, but that clearly wasn’t mutual.'

'Then why do you stick around?'

'I don’t know. Maybe I thought things would change.'

'As the dress shows, you clearly wasted your time doing that. By the way, why aren’t you at the wedding?'

Clark takes a deep sigh as he reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone. He fumbles with it until he reaches an email. He reads it out loud.

'Hey Clark. I know that by now, you’ve received the invitation to the wedding. I wanted you to get one as a sort of peace offering, but unfortunately, you can’t come. My fiancée would be rightfully furious over your arrival due to our… intimate past. I’m really sorry, I wish you could be there.'

Clark puts the phone away as a couple of tears roll down his face. He didn’t want to remind himself of this terrible situation.

'Wow,' said the woman in a mocking tone, 'is that how far you’ve fallen with me? I sent you an email? No texting or phone calls? I used to send you topless pictures of myself at random and now… this?'

Clark glares at the woman. 'Stop trying to boil everything between us down to something sexual. You know damn well it was far more than that.'

'Ehh… maybe for you it was.'

This surprises Clark. 'What do you mean?'

The woman laughs. Her wedding dress turns into a skintight shirt with very short shorts. She walks over to the chair at Clark’s desk and takes a seat.

'Let’s see… we started as regular friends in college. I have a nasty breakup with my boyfriend at the time. We realize we have A LOT of sexual tension, so we get it out via foreplay and the occasional fucking. Fast forward past college. Every time we get together, we end up having sex regardless of whether or not I’m single at the time.'

'I was against that part.' said Clark in a weak attempt to defend his honor.

'Right, I remember that. The whole, "we can’t be doing this since it means you’re cheating on your boyfriend." I broke you of that pretty quickly.'

Clark slumps his head down. He knows she’s right. He goes over to his bed and sits.

The woman continues. 'So we have this sort of friends-with-benefits-thing going on and I decided to stop that when I found someone that could benefit me more than just the occasional great night of sex. From my perspective, it seems like I was only in it for the sex that you have always been more than happy to supply.'

Clark begins to sob. 'I’d like to think it was so much more than that though.'

'Why’s that?' says the woman who is getting annoyed with Clark. She gets a sick smile on her face. 'Is it because I was the first woman you truly fucked?'

Clark’s head snaps up, 'Of course not!'

'Holy shit! You are suffering from first fuck syndrome! You’re like a teenage girl that can’t figure out why she can’t leave her prick of a boyfriend!'

The woman begins to laugh. Clark, now boiling mad, stomps over to the woman, and grabs her by the wrist and brings her in as close to his face as possible.

'We both know that isn’t the case with me. Everything was going just fine until that day in the park. You know it. I know it. The fact you were the first woman I had regular sex with wasn’t a factor whatsoever.'

Clark lets her go and she fall back into the chair. She processes what Clark said for a moment.

'I remember that day. That’s the day when you stopped being Clark in my eyes. All you did was remind me of… him.'

'You compared me to a monster!'

The woman looks guilty, 'It wasn’t anything you did though! I was being triggered about events in my past…'

'That doesn’t matter!'

Clark stands up and for the first time in a long time, is taking charge.

'I did nothing but shower you with love, compassion, and empathy for your struggles and how did you reward me? By using me as some sort of booty call for whenever you got bored with your fiancée? Does he not pleasure you enough in bed or did you get some sort of sick thrill out of triggering yourself when we had sex?'

'Clark, I’m a figment of your imagination. I only know what you know, so how could I possibly answer any of those questions?'

Clark looks down in frustration. He knows she’s correct, but those questions have been burning in him for years and now the wedding makes it clear he’ll never get answers to them. The woman isn’t going to let Clark off easy.

'So what’s the plan then Superman? You going to wait it out in hopes I get divorced so you can swoop in and save the day? I could finally be your Lois Lane.'

'…no.' says Clark weakly.

'I’m sorry hun, you’re going to have to speak up when defending your terrible choices in people.'

'I SAID NO!'

The woman leans back in the chair in shock like as though a strong wind blew through.

'You want me to answer you? Sure, let’s give you an answer. I hope you have an amazing marriage, complete with many memories, kids, pets, vacations, and everything else that would create the ultimate Disney ending!'

The woman leans forward in the chair, 'Why on earth would you want that?'

'Because I love you. How many times do I have to say that?'

The woman stands up and walks over to Clark. She alternates talking between each ear as she seductively moves around him.

'Since you created me, I know your thoughts. You feel like you got screwed because you were the sacrifice for my fiancée. You did all the work and he’s reaping all the benefits. How could you possibly want happiness for me after that? Don’t you want me? You know how much fun we have together.'

The woman grinds against Clark and begins rolling up her shirt. Clark pushes her onto the bed.

'Yes Clark! You know this is truly want you want!'

Clark begins to take his shirt off, but stops. He puts his shirt back on and falls to the ground sitting. The woman is furious.

'What is wrong with you?!'

'Sorry. You can only hump a pillow so many times before it gets old. You aren’t real, remember?'

The woman stands, almost turning red in anger, and changes back into the wedding dress to hurt Clark.

'Is this better for you then? The culmination of all the years of work, friendship, sex, and relationship with me all done away by the simply mutter of two phrases? Saying, "Yes" to the ring and then saying, "I do" at the ceremony? You know I’m having sex with him right now, right?'

'I’m sure you are,' says Clark as he gets up. He cracks a smile. 'I think about that a lot actually, so that’s nothing new, but I think I finally understand you.'

'What?'

'Will another woman come into my life someday and make everything between us ancient history? Maybe, but I’m not assuming anything right now. All I know is that I love you and the fact you are happy is good enough for me.'

The woman notices her hands are beginning to fade.

'What’s happening to me?'

'It seems I made a breakthrough. I know that the hurt I feel from you choosing another over me isn’t going to go away for a long time, but that’s okay. Part of being human is dealing with hardships and actually experiencing the emotions attached to them. It helps reach a good place and who knows, maybe even move on.'

The woman looks down and half of her body is completely gone, she’s beginning to panic.

'But what are you going to do? You’ve spent so much time and energy into trying to win me over. You are just giving up on all of that?'

'I don’t know what I’ll do and honestly, I like the thought of not knowing. I never planned to meet you in the first place and look at the adventure that unfolded from that. Perhaps another woman will provide the same thrill, with hopefully better results. But no, I am not giving up on you. I told you, I love you.'

The woman’s arms are gone and only her head and chest are left. 'How can you still love me? You’ve lost. You wasted years on me that you’ll never get back.'

Clark, with a confidant smile, says, 'That’s the funny thing, if you truly love someone, then it was never wasted time. Love doesn’t have to be a two way street. It’s ideal, sure, but not required. I will always have a place in my heart for you and while the hurt from your wedding will take time to heal, I know how I feel about you and that isn’t changing. There’s just one thing I regret with all of this.'

The woman is almost completely gone, but manages to say before disappearing, “…and what’s that?”

A tear rolls down Clark’s cheek, 'I didn’t figure this out sooner so I could tell you in person.'

Clark looks around to an empty and silent bedroom. He has a happy smile for the first time in what seems like ages. He checks the time on his phone.

'Glad that aspirin finally kicked in.'

Clark plops on his bed and quickly falls asleep.

There You Were

Written by Joy Yarrington

 Photograph by   Neven Krcmarek

Photograph by Neven Krcmarek

I texted you for Christmas. "Merry Christmas", it said. I put a smiley face with a nose. I know that’s how you like it. I texted you for your birthday, too. And Easter. And the Fourth of July. And Halloween. And April Fool's day. I got a text back on that one. I got so excited. Who would do that? The little blue bubbles piled up a mile long. Unread. Unread. Unread. Unread. Unread. Unread. Unread. It became a pattern.

On your birthday, I baked you a cake. You didn’t blow out the candles. You still made a wish, right? It moulded over waiting for your slice. It’s still in the back of the fridge, if you want it. Jamie tried to make me throw it out. You know her; she doesn’t get it. I told her no, that you would want some. Then she drank six beers. She’s lost weight, you know. You help her a lot. She’s been eating less and less and sleeping more. Drinking more too.

Jamie made me go to therapy. She says I need it. I don’t know why. The Mrs. Vengal there made me draw my feelings. I didn’t know what feelings to draw. I think she wanted me to be sad. I drew a whirlpool, like I’ve seen in the movies. You like drawing whirlpools, right? You once said it was relaxing just to go round and round and round and round and round. She looked at me weird when I did that. Jamie forgot to make me go back after that.

I went into your room today. I hope you don’t mind. I didn’t touch your Star Wars posters. I washed your shirt. It looked dirty. Jamie got mad at me. She said I was wasting water. How is cleaning wasteful? I put up your Christmas tree for you. You can put the ornaments on. Please remember this year. They’re collecting dust. The one at the very top, the only one you let me put up, is my favorite. You know, the one with the two melted candy canes in the shape of a heart that I got for you. I put it near the very top. It will look good under the angel when you put it up.

Why don’t you wake up to your alarm anymore? Every morning, it seems, I have to go in and turn it off for you. I reset it, though. I know you like hearing “The Final Countdown” in the mornings. Jamie doesn’t like that song anymore. She says it’s the stupidest song she’s ever heard. I thought she liked that song. That’s why she bought you that clock, right?

Jamie doesn’t like me, I think. She doesn’t take me to school in the mornings in your place. I have to walk. She just stays in her room. She’s always tired. And mad. She gets mad a lot more. She doesn’t want me to call her Mom, which is fine because I don’t want to either. But she says it all the time, even though I don’t ask. There’s something behind her eyes, something I can’t make out.

I fed Roger this morning. He only likes the orange flakes, now. Oh, and I found your Easter basket under the sink with his food. You aren’t good at finding them. That’s the third one this month. I’ll re-hide it, though. Don’t worry.

Did you get my messages? From when I called? You don’t like to pick up anymore. I know you’re probably too busy. It’s okay. I like leaving you messages and I know when you open them all up, you’ll feel so loved. Do you need love now? I miss you, Dad. I know I need love.

The Treasure Huntsmen: Hall of Riddles - Part II

Written by Samuel Gaitskell 

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To read Part I, click here.


The group passed through riddle door after riddle door, with a surprisingly small amount of failure. After Ryan’s first mistake, they made sure to go nowhere near whatever buttons the door held until they were sure of the answer.

'P-a-w-n-s.' Julia punched in, the second to last door opening happily in result. The group walked through without question, finding themselves in front of a unique door indeed.

The other doors were made of metal, but designed to look like wood. Reinforced doors that couldn’t be just… broken down, but made with a certain aesthetic. Specifically made to appear to be mahogany. This one, on the other hand, held no such style, and instead simply looked like a door that might be placed in a vanilla bank vault. This door even had a small numbered keypad, instead of the massive, flashy, show off one found in the last number related riddle lock. It was almost as if this door was the first to be made, the others being added as they went when they found the first to be too easy to get through.

Above the bank vault door, a metalic frame stood, this frame silver in color rather than gold like the others. In the frame, a set of numbers.

''1, 11, 21, 1211, 111221, 312211, 13112221, 1113213211, 31131211131221, 13211311123113112211'' followed by a blank space.

'Okay, this looks… complicated' Julia admitted, looking over the numbers 'Maybe it’s some sort of… equation, where the number that you have to add grows bigger by-'.

'I doubt that it’s an equation.' Ryan piped up, copping glares from the others 'I mean, these riddles are designed to slow us down, while the guards catch up.'

'Your point being?' David asked, eyeing him curiously.

'Well, if we got this far, it means that someone on our team is incredibly smart,' Ryan said, gesturing over to Julia with a smile. 'But maybe too smart. A smart person might get stuck up on trying to figure out how twenty one adds up to one thousand, two hundred and eleven, in example.'

'... That’s a surprisingly smart observation.' Julia remarked, looking over to Ryan as if examining a complete stranger 'So what you’re saying is that I’m too smart to solve this, then?'

'... maybe? I mean I’m sure you could, given enough time,' Ryan stated 'But I don’t think we have enough time, so-'

'So you want to try it?' Nathan asked, an edge to his voice 'Remember how that went last time?'

'That time, I was trying to be smart. That’s not my job.' Ryan chuckled out, looking up at the numbers curiously 'But… I think I’ve got this.'

'Care to explain?' Julia urged, seeing no relationship between the set of numbers.

'The first number is one. The second, eleven, or in other words, one one. The third, twenty one, or two one. The third, one thousand, two hundred and eleven, or one two one one. The numbers list off the components in order of the previous… number.'

Ryan smiled to himself, the others looking at him strangely. Honestly, there was probably a way that he could have described that using simpler words, though Ryan was nothing if not a natural born show-off.

'So the next number… should be…' Julia said, looking up to the number '11131221133112132113212211..?'

'Punch it in!' Ryan said with a cheerful tone, happy to be the one to solve the final riddle. Julia punched in the lengthy code. All went silent, for what felt to be an eternity, but in reality was little more than a few seconds. After those excruciatingly long seconds, the door’s lock released, and began to creak itself open, the sound of rusted metal being forced open grinding against the group’s collective ears.

The door flung open to reveal treasures far greater than they originally thought. Originally, all they expected to find was a sceptre made of gold that contained a fist-sized diamond upon its head. What they found, along with that, was a reinforced room filled with tapestries, art, precious gems, bars of gold, all equally valuable, all more than likely stolen.

'Jesus, there’s got to be… billions worth of treasure in here.' Julia gasped as she carefully moved from display case to display case, examining the pilfered goods available.

'We came here to steal the sceptre,' David reminded Julia. 'So we should just grab it and… wait, is that the Mona Lisa?'

David gestured over to a wall, where a large amount of paintings hung. Sure enough, the Mona Lisa, or at very least a very expensive recreation of it, hung casually, as if it were just another painting on the wall. In fact, the painting to its right was The Birth of Venus, and to the left was The Starry Night.

'Those have to be just… incredibly convincing recreations, surely.' Julia stated, not too sure about that, as she examined the paintings closely.

'I’m liking that doubt.' Called an unknown voice over the speakers, causing the four to jump. A screen lowered from the ceiling, revealing a crimson lipped woman, with cheekbones sharp enough to cut the diamonds that she had stolen 'Unfortunately, they are just recreations, though you would have no idea how much a convincing fake can fetch, if one knows where to look.'

'We’re not looking for any trouble, we’ve just been hired to-' David began, before being cut off by laughter.

'Not looking for trouble?' The woman chortled out, her laugh as fake as her eyelashes 'You knocked out my guards and broke into my vault. You have an interesting way of not looking for trouble, sweetie.'

'This sceptre was a piece within a museum, as donated by the archaeologists who unearthed it.' David explained, gesturing towards the sceptre, its brilliant diamond shimmering in an almost unnatural way 'You stole it. I have no idea how, considering the security within the particular museum, but you stole it nonetheless. We’re here to steal it back.'

'So, you’re looking for trouble.' The lady confirmed, with quite the smirk, before hatches began to open along the walls, revealing what looked to be machine guns of some sort, all aiming towards the four treasure huntsmen. Instinctively, Ryan raised his hands into the air, Ryan and Julia following his example shortly after.

'Before you fill us with bullet holes and find a way to make it look like an accident regardless,' David began, trying his best to stall for time 'I have to ask… what’s with the riddles?'

'The riddles? That’s quite simple, really. As a child, I only really loved two things. Things of great value, and riddles,' She cooed, a gleeful smile spreading across her face 'I always had a mind for them, you see. So, when I found myself within my line of work, I decided to craft a vault with locks that could only be open through riddles.'

'And how’d you find yourself within that line of work?' David urged, trying to continue to stall the lady, as the other three looked around the room.

'I see what you’re doing, sweetheart, and I’m afraid that it won’t-' The woman mused, before she was cut off this time, by none other than Ryan.

'Wait, wait, you said you had a mind for riddles, right? How about a wager?' Ryan offered, piquing the woman’s interest, and causing Julia, David and Nathan alike to shoot him looks that screamed ‘please shut the hell up.’ Looks which Ryan chose to ignore. 'One of us, the person chosen by you, gives you a riddle. Get it right, feel free to fill us with lead. Get it wrong, you let us go.'

'... my my, what a delicious wager' The lady hummed '... Alright, I accept.'

'Okay, and seeing how you’d probably select the dumbest member of our group to choose a riddle for you,' Ryan continued 'I guess that I should think up a riddle for-'

'You? Oh, no, no.' The woman laughed out 'Please, you’re much smarter than you or your friends give you credit for. That final riddle? You solved it like it was child's play! And let’s not forget how quickly you did that math in the earlier room? Even though your maths was completely unnecessary, I couldn’t help but admire how quickly you managed it all. No, I think I’ll choose…'

The woman paused for a moment, considering her options, before her eyes landed upon one person, a wicked smile splintering her near plastic looking face.

'You' She said, looking to Nathan 'The lady over there is far too smart, nearly on my level, so she’d be too big of a challenge. The challenge maker there thinks differently, perhaps in a way that I wouldn’t be able to follow. So it was between you and your leader. And obviously, he’s your leader for a reason. So naturally, the hired muscle was the last choice.'

'Jesus, do you overthink everything like this?' Ryan asked, surprisingly finding himself somewhat impressed… though he would never admit such.

'So, give me a riddle then.' The lady demanded, ignoring Ryan’s little question. Nathan looked between the three, as if silently asking for help, which the lady wagged her well manicured fingers at 'Ah, no outside help, dear.'

Nathan mentally cursed. He didn’t like to admit it, but honestly, sometimes he did feel like the weaker link. Julia was smart beyond her years, David was beyond amazing at rallying troops, him being the natural born leader that he was, and Ryan… well, he was the string that kept everyone together. What the hell was Nathan good for?

… Survival.

'Alright, I’ve got your riddle.' Nathan said, stepping forward with a faked level of confidence 'Four treasure hunters, three men and one woman. They stand in a room filled with treasures. In front of them… roughly forty guns, lining the walls, all aimed towards the group and ready to fire. And yet they survive. How?'

'Child's play!' The woman laughed out 'They just get behind whatever looks the least expendable. If the rooms filled with treasure, the guns are there to guard it, so the controller of them would never risk shooting!'

'Thanks!' Nathan smiled, before the group quickly grabbed some display cases and rearranged them to act as a shield. Without a single second left to spare, the group dived behind the shield, Julia quickly grabbing the sceptre beforehand. The woman’s eyes widened in realisation.

'You tricked me' she hissed out 'You tricked me, and so very easily, too.'

'And because of such, we’re at an impasse,' David said, smiling and giving Nathan a grateful nod 'You shoot, we die, and your precious things go with us. You don’t shoot, we don’t die, and your precious thing goes with us. Tell me, what would you rather lose? One treasure, or many? If you’re as smart of a woman as you claim to be-'

'-Then the answer is obvious,' The woman confirmed through gritted teeth, before the guns retracted and the panels in front of them closed 'You may go. And take that sceptre with you. It’s far too tacky anyway.'

The group carefully edged towards the door, making sure to drag along the display cases, just in case. Upon reaching the door, they rushed out, happy to escape.

Well, happy until the saw their path blocked by the guards they had left unconscious earlier, all armed and all harboring nasty grudges.

'... Not going to be that easy, huh?' Ryan asked with a sigh.

'When is it ever?'

Grae is the Colour

Written by Grae Westgate 

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As long-running musical comedy drama, Grae is the Colour, shuffles towards what promises to be one of its most moving mid-season finales to date, we take a look back at the highs and lows of season 32 so far.

As any good writer knows, allowing a show to stagnate in one location for too long can, after a while, cause audiences to lose interest and, inevitably, a drop in ratings despite the best efforts of a strong cast. After almost five whole seasons of multicultural educational adventures at ETC International College, the producers of Grae have decided to follow in the footsteps of Fear the Walking Dead and Doctor Who, giving the show a soft reboot by moving our eponymous lead to an entirely new environment.

Towards the end of season 31, we saw our hero finally land a place on a PGCE course, having spent the last few seasons wandering somewhat aimlessly through life. Prior to this, there had been an obvious sense of creative fatigue from the writing staff, and it was nice to see the show heading in a new, positive direction. It gave some much needed hope to what was rapidly becoming the empty shell of a formerly great show. Unfortunately, due to scheduling issues, the first half of this season has felt very much like filler, stretching out rather lacklustre storylines over the course of six months while the creative team have spent their time concentrating their efforts on a stronger second half. Hopefully this tactic will pay off, giving, as the producers promise, one of the most exciting story arcs to date. In a new environment with a plethora of new cast members, perhaps we’ll get some more interesting interactions. After all, there is only so much we can take of the age-old “Grae can’t sleep” and “Grae feels a bit pants” motifs. The college-based episodes have become repetitive, and despite the best efforts of the ever-watchable Oliver and Patsy, along with Tilly (finally promoted to “also starring” this year), it’s definitely time for the show to move on to pastures new.

That’s not to say that season 32 has not had its highlights so far. After a few cast changes towards the end of last season, with Everton and Jack both leaving the show, audiences were slightly concerned. The Troy and Abed relationship between Grae and Everton had become a fan favourite in recent years, and since moving the show to Bournemouth, Jack had provided the much-needed younger brother role previously provided by Luke and Harry during the series’ Croydon and Durham-based seasons. Fortunately, comic relief was provided by newcomer Chad Echakowitz, whose Peter Pan-like antics have charmed younger viewers whilst providing much-needed eye candy for older gay fans of the show. Sadly, it was recently confirmed by Entertainment Weekly that Echakowitz will be departing the show due to creative differences early next half, so we can only hope that amongst the influx of characters currently being cast, a worthy replacement will step into Grae’s much-needed “nerdy buddy” role.

There have also been some great side stories this season; Ben’s bizarre relationships with ladies from the continent have continued to cause much amusement, reaching a hilarious high point when it was revealed that Grae and Dan’s former nemesis, now working alongside Ben, had taken a shining to him. Ben remains one of the most bizarre characters on modern television, and one can only imagine what the writers were smoking when the character was born. The recent “show within a show” entitled The Nether also proved to be a smash hit with critics, showcasing some of our cast at their very finest.

Despite certain amounts of complacency on behalf of the production staff, Grae still manages to pull off a few innovative styles; the show’s use of social media as a way of keeping fans up-to-date with former characters has proved a great hit. It’s amazing to know that the writers still care about their babies and continue to remind audiences of much-loved characters that many other shows would have simply allowed to disappear into the ether. Random events such as Lacey’s engagement, along with updates of Pia’s adventures at medical school create a real legacy feel to the show, and prove that the writers, much like the fans, continue to care deeply about characters that they have created. Few teams could pull this technique off quite so seamlessly, and credit has to be given to the writers for their world-building abilities.

There have also been some big-name guest stars this season. Along with getting previous characters such as Everton and Jack to make occasional cameos, the producers have really pulled out the stops when it comes to star power this year. The Walking Dead crossover episode proved a massive hit, with fans delighting in Grae finally getting an on-screen hug from long-time crush Christian Serratos, as well as the further development in the relationship with recurring guest star Michael Cudlitz, who continued to play his mentor role with graceful charm. Other highlights included the Torchwood cast making their first appearance on the show in ten years, along with a surprise cameo from Batman himself in the shape of young David Mazouz. Sadly, internet rumours of an appearance by voice-acting legend Jim Cummings proved false, but the producers will hopefully manage to get a cameo from him at some point over the next few seasons.

With less that a month now until the midseason finale, audiences should prepare themselves for some big changes. Due to the reboot, we’ll be saying goodbye to a number of fan favourites including the ever-lovable Patsy, along with everyone’s favourite “colleague, NOT friend”, Oliver. It’s gonna be a tear-jerker, ladies and gents, but, hopefully this will be a change in the vein of Woody and Rebecca joining the cast of Cheers, rather than that of Michael J. Fox leaving Spin City.

The Grae is the Colour midseason finale airs on August 17th, with the second half premiering on September 3rd.

Starring: Grae Westgate, Manami Tsumita, Dan Withey, Ben Rogers, Oliver Monckton, Patsy Pett

Also Starring: Paul Nelson, Tilly Dick, Chad Echakowitz, Alex Wadham, Michael Dickinson, Timothy J. Howe

With: Lydia Westgate, Luke Westgate, Harry Westgate and Martin Westgate

Music: Adam Duritz, Bruce Springsteen, Barenaked Ladies

Country: UK

Year: !986-Present

Episode Run Time: 24 hours

No. of Episodes: 11,803

 

The Treasure Huntsmen: Hall of Riddles - Part I

Written by Samuel Gaistkell

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Julia took a long, deep breath, ignoring the stinging dust flooding into her nostrils. Before her stood a door with 26 buttons upon it, each button representing a different letter of the alphabet. Beside her, three men - David, Nathan and Ryan - stood, looking very confused .

‘What are we doing here?’ Ryan asked, looking around the nicely polished wooden walls. ‘It seems a bit more… I don’t know, modern than our usual scores?’

‘We were hired to retrieve a treasure that apparently was stolen from a very valued collection,’ Nathan explained, yet again, an annoyed look washing over his face. ‘We hunt treasures. Not all treasures are ancient-’

‘Shh.’ Julia hissed, trying to concentrate. While David, Nathan and Ryan’s expertise lied in breaking and entering, scaling over or under walls that shouldn’t be scaled over or under, making rash decisions that shouldn’t be made, that sort of thing, Julia’s area of expertise was undeniably riddles and puzzles, making her the perfect person to solve their way into the middle of this modern, mind-bending maze. Or at least she would be, if everyone would just stay quiet.

Above this door sat a seemingly simple riddle. Framed in gold, and written all in capital letters, on paper that hadn’t even been glanced at by time, were a series of letters.

O T T F F S S _ _ _

Naturally, Julia assumed the letters and the three spaces following the final ‘s’ had to be a series of some sort, one she had to complete. But how?

‘... O T T F F S S …’ Ryan thought aloud, wrongly believing to be a help ‘... Maybe… maybe it’s something to do with-’

‘She said shut it.' Nathan glared over to Ryan, who promptly shut his mouth. Nathan did always have a strange way of getting Ryan to listen. No one really knew why, either. Not even Nathan himself.

Julia shot Nathan a grateful, weak smile before doubling her focus.

‘Come on, Julia, you can do this.' Julia thought to herself, frustrated over the fact that the very first riddle was already stumping her focus.

Julia stared at the letters intently, repeating them in her mind over and over. O T T F F S S…O T T F F S S… O T T F F S S… And in a sudden, and near inexplicable moment of brilliance, she had it.

‘Ryan, count up from one.' Julia said as she spun to face him.

‘You told me not to talk though.’ Ryan protested.

‘Just do it.’ She groaned along with a roll of her eyes. She preferred not to waste too much time here, seeing how the guards to this place wouldn’t stay knocked out forever.

‘Alright… uh, one, two, three, four-’ Ryan began, before being cut off.

‘And the first letter of each of those numbers?’ She asked, before the penny dropped, for Ryan, Nathan, and David alike.

‘That’s… so simple. It’s counting to ten,’ David said, looking up to the riddle 'The answer has to be ‘e n t’ then, eight, nine, ten.'

Julia, with a particularly bubbly bounce in her step, moved back over to the door covered in lettered buttons, where she punched in ‘E, N, T’. With a satisfying pop, the door flung open, to reveal yet another room with yet another door, yet another riddle positioned above it.

'This… could take a while' David sighed out before the four carried on

***

The group continued on, expecting, or rather hoping, that the riddles from that point onward would be as easy as the first. They were sadly very wrong, or rather their hopes were sadly dashed.

The next room’s door had far less buttons. Just 10. Each button having a number, one to nine, zero on the bottom. Above it, another riddle.

On my way to St. Ives I saw a man with seven wives. Each wife

had seven sacks.  Each sack had seven cats. Each cat had seven

kittens. Kitten, cats, sacks, wives. How many were going to St. Ives?’

'Oh, okay, so just simple adding?' Ryan scoffed, taking the riddle at face value. 'So, seven wives, seven sacks, each having seven cats, so that’s seven times seven, which is 49, and each cat had seven kittens, so that’s 49 times seven, which is… uh… 343, plus the seven we started with, so that’s 350, plus the seven sacks because… wait no hang on.'

'Okay, maybe leave the thinking for the thinkers, Ryan' Nathan said, gesturing over to Julia, who was looking up at the riddle, carefully reading over it. 

'Wait no, so it’s just seven times seven times seven times seven, right?' Ryan said 'Plus one for the person on their way to Saint Ives. So seven times seven equals 49 and 49 times seven equals 343. 343 times seven equals  … uh… 2401… roughly, plus one is 2402!'

Without warning, Ryan moved over to the number pad and began to punch in the number 2402. The three looked over to Ryan, their eyes widened with a mixture of confusion and anger, before a portion of the floor opened up and dropped away. Specifically, the portion that Ryan had moved on. Acting exclusively in panic, he managed to grapple to the ledge, not wishing to fall onto the spikes that he could see far below.

'That was the wrong answer!' Ryan called out, stating the obvious.

'Shit, Ryan!' Nathan said, a surprisingly genuine sounding mixture of panic and worry in his voice, as he hurried over to Ryan. Just as he found his fingers slipping, finding no decent hand-holds to grapple to, Nathan managed to clamp his hands onto Ryan’s arm, his eyes widened with a mixture of panic and fear alike. Ryan could only watch on helplessly as Nathan grunted, his body straining to pull him up. After a few excruciatingly long seconds, Nathan managed to pull Ryan out of the trap, the pair both panting heavily.

'I… uh…' Ryan stammered, suddenly finding it hard to speak, as he found himself embraced in the arms of the panicked looking Nathan.

'Uh… D-don’t touch anything ever again!' Nathan commanded, his usual scolding tone slowly returning, his face almost looking as if it was blushing.

'...Okay, so it looks like we only have a limited amount of guesses,' Julia eventually stated, deciding to ignore the strange interaction, or at least choosing to ignore it for now. 'Roughly three, I’d say, because the first wrong answer-' Julia paused to send an annoyed glare over to Ryan 'Caused about a third of the floor to drop away.'

'But all the math was right, as far as I can tell.' David began, looking up to the riddle '... oh.'

'Oh?' Julia asked, looking up to the riddle herself. It took her a second, before she got it too. '... oh!'

'Care to fill us in?' Nathan asked, trying to calm his rapidly beating heart.

'The answer is one.' David said. 'The riddle only said that one person was going to Saint Ives, and along the way, he saw others, though they weren’t going.'

'... Well, I feel dumb.' Ryan admitted.

'That’s because you’re the dumb one.' Nathan quipped, hiding a smile as Julia moved to the number pad and punched in the number 1. Once again, the door popped open with a confident pop, and once again, the group moved on.

Garden of Secrets

Written by James McCann

 Photograph by  Alisa Anton

Photograph by Alisa Anton

Melanie was tending her garden, the late spring morning seemed to be made specifically for tending a garden. Despite the cool breeze she still managed to work up a slight sheen on her her forehead and a damp patch on her lower back. Small, but dark, quarter moons had developed beneath her arms. The beauty of tending the garden was that she wasn't actually having any affect on it, she was merely knelt down in old jeans, turning soil over with a trowel.

They, being Melanie and her husband Thomas, had a man who came in once a fortnight to sort the garden out (clipping the bushes, mowing the grass etc) whether it needed it or not. This was just something Melanie enjoyed as a form of relaxation and meditation. The garden looked pretty, if not slightly mismatched in terms of where things were. A garden designer would have put certain flowers together, knowing that come their bloom the colours would compliment each other and everything would look so pretty.

But, not in this garden. Not in Melanie's garden of secrets. They were secrets because, each flower, each bush, each gnome, each piece of furniture, represented something that Thomas wasn't aware of, and he never would be. Each part of the picture represented something that Melanie had attempted, or only ever thought of attempting. The three gnomes, painted brightly in green, yellow, blue and red, had been bought after Melanie had tried her hand at writing a novel. She read a lot, so she thought it couldn't be too hard to make the leap to writing them as well. She only manged to get down one chapter (and that had felt like a lot of work to her) and had quickly sent it out to people, and had quickly heard nothing back.

That was the end of that endeavour.

A rose bush had been bought and planted when she'd considered joining an evening class. Twice a week she was going to spend an hour learning Italian. Melanie had never got the end of the online application. The idea had been to watch the rose bush grow as her knowledge would grow. The garden was supposed to be her world, she was going to watch it bloom and grow, and thrive.

Whenever Thomas wanted, Melanie was happy (for the most part).

to give herself physically to him. The physical side of their love had always been very good and satisfying, but there were parts she could never show him. There were parts secrets she could never let him know about. There would always be a part of her, of who she was, that would be inaccessible for him, for anyone. She supposed the same was true for Thomas himself, that he held secrets, and each time he bought a new book or a coffee mug (how many did they need?) that it was representative of a failed attempt at life, that it was the symbol for one more secret he was keeping from her.

Melanie supposed that was how most, if not all, marriages worked. Everyone kept a secret or two, and perhaps it was our secrets that defined us?

The Treasure Huntsman: The Oblitus Heart - Part III

Written by Samuel Gaitskell

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To read Part II, click here. To go back to where it all began, you're going to want to click here


The ladder lead to a blank, dark, dusty room that looked much older than the building below. It looked as if this particular room was built into the side of the cavern centuries before the building, while the building was just built to give easy access to this room. Or at least that was the assessment that Julia gave.

David traced his torch around the room, to find a rather unsettling sight. In the centre rested a golden, anatomically realistic heart that seemed to be permanently oozing a suspicious red liquid which David sincerely hoped wasn’t what he thought it was. The heart itself was held in the hands of a statue of a skeleton, the skeletons ribcage seeming to have been blown open from the inside.

'So, what are we thinking?' Nathan said, trying to put on his Business As Usual routine to distract from the horrific image burned into his mind. 'Weighted mechanisms, triggered when the heart is removed? Something along those lines?'

'It doesn’t look like it,' Julia commented, observing the arms through what limited light that David’s torch provided. 'As far as I can tell it’s just a regular statue.'

'So… are we just going to grab it?' Ryan suggested. 'I mean, if it’s not booby trapped or whatever, so-'

'We can’t be sure that it isn’t… booby trapped.' Julia stated, really hating that term. 'While I doubt it’s a weighted mechanism or whatever, we can never be too careful.'

David approached the statue carefully, sizing up his options. Honestly, just the classic grab-and-run strategy sounded pretty good right now. It was a strategy that, in his experience, never worked, but quite frankly, it was an ancient statue, how ‘booby trapped’ could it be? Well, very, quite frankly, but as ancient as it was, surely it could be outrun.

With all of his strength, David lifted the surprisingly heavy heart from the hands, trying his best not to spill the thick crimson liquid on himself. He cursed softly under his breath as a clicking noise of some sort splintered through the silence. The entire statue began to sink into the ground, a similar thick liquid beginning to ooze from its eye sockets but instead of red, this liquid’s colour was as black as pitch.

'Time to run?' Ryan asked, looking at the liquid.

'Time to run.' David confirmed.

***

The four treasure huntsmen rushed from the building to find massive spouts of a similar black liquid squirting from various statues along the road like busted fire hydrants. A very peculiar trap, indeed. Surely, if they had such an advanced system of pipes, they could just dump a big rock on top of the potential thief. Why risk the entire city?

'No one touch the liquid.' Julia commanded as they ran back towards the exit of the city.

'Oh, really? Don’t touch the mysterious black goo spouting from the ancient statues?' Ryan sarcastically quipped. 'That’s a real shame, ‘cause I was going to slurp a cup-full up.'

'Can we save the sarcasm for when we aren’t about to die?' Nathan added with a huff, narrowly avoiding yet another fountain that sprung from a nearby statue of what looked to be an angel.

The group ran and ran, dodging spout after spout of the mysterious black liquid, before their exit was finally in sight. The group bolted through the opening in the cave’s wall, pausing only to take a look backwards at the city. The fountains grew larger and larger, flooding the streets with the ooze, with next to no sign of stopping. It looked as if the entire city would be submerged eventually. Such a sight brought a feeling of sadness to Julia. The entire ancient city, drowned. All that history, and all the mysteries which came with it, flushed away in a sea of pitch black sludge. And all by their very own hands, no less. To a degree, Julia knew that disturbing history was a part of the job. But on this scale? Julia couldn’t help but linger, as the other three began to leave through the tunnel they had came through, while she watched the liquid rise. It was almost like she could see all those untold stories, all those memories of another time, being destroyed in the flood. Sure, they got their treasure...

...But was it worth it?

 

Curtain Call at the Chestnut Theatre

Written by James McCann

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1

The Chestnut Theatre was a grand old place that, despite not being the largest or best-funded entertainment venue, had seen some of the all-time greatest performers grace its stage. Singers, comics, poets, ventriloquists, magicians, and everybody else that had an act had been seen and heard on its boards. During the summers, brief comedy shows would be the dish-of-the-day, hour-long sets before people headed into town. During the winter, it would be two hour plays with inexpensive tickets that were the huge draw.

Over the last few years, the advent of technology had taken its toll on the place. Why go out when you could watch any number of films and TV shows or readings on your phone? As it was, Arthur Martsen had seen the writing on the wall. Arthur was 86, but was by no means feeble-minded. His grandfather had been an actor-singer, and after a summer-long run at the theatre the owner at the time had absconded (with both the money and his secretary). In a very quick legal battle, it was determined that Grandfather Martsens owed monies roughly the equal to that of the value of the theatre.

With the slashing scrawl of a signature or two, the Martsen family had acquired a theatre.

Grandfather Jesse Martsen had used the place to put on his own shows, and was quite the showman. However, it was Jesse's son, Arthur's father, Eric, who had truly realised what the place was worth. Eric had begun promoting other shows in the building, even putting on children's puppet shows and family-friendly farces during the early afternoon, and then having a risque Saucy Susan burlesque show on the same stage later that night. For Eric, an empty stage was a travesty, because an empty stage meant empty seats, and empty seats meant an empty cash register.

Often times Eric would book three, sometimes four acts per day, letting each act know that if they went over their allotted time, or if they didn't pack their belongings and get out of the dressing rooms on time, he would dock them quarter of their pay.

Eric Martsen ran the theatre with clock-work precision.

By the time Arthur took over (he bought it from Eric, no way was the elder Martsen just going to hand it over), some of the bigger acts were actually asking to play the Chestnut, such was its reputation.

2

One such act was Johnny Blues. Nobody ever knew his real name (hell, that might actually have been his real name for all anybody knew) but everyone felt like they were his best buddy. He was slightly on the portly side, but each night he put every last ounce of his being into his performance. He would tell jokes and sing deeply moving, incredibly energetic songs. Depending on his mood and what night, the jokes were interludes between songs, other times the songs were thrown in to break up the jokes.

During the show he was a dynamo, he was a keg filled with nitroglycerine just begging for a spark. He was his own pyrotechnics. He was his own laser show. He was a tornado in a tux, electricity  on the loose looking for trouble. Away from the stage, he was prone to bouts of manic-depression. He could be the calmest, coolest guy in the room, and then-boom! - he'd be crying in a darkened corner lamenting his failed career (as he would see it in those moments) and ask what the point of it all was.

It was this violent shift that made him the most captivating man Arthur had ever seen.

3

Arthur walked, slowly but unaided, through the aisles. He let his stubby and arthritic fingers caress the backs of the plush seats, looking up at the stage, wishing at some point he'd had the guts to get up there in front of a crowd. He could tap-dance, in his much younger days, and had  a few good jokes that he bought off an old touring comic some decades ago. Arthur couldn't remember the fellow's name, but less than twenty months after killing at the Chestnut the stand up went and killed some lady, bashing he head into pulp in the door of his car.

No matter now.

He sat in one of the seats, closed his eyes, and inhaled deeply, relishing that smell, that odd mixture of fresh cleaning products and old-time muskiness that lets you know some real living had been done in the room.

Arthur checked his watch. It was three pm.

They'd bought the place. They being some multi-national conglomerate, going to tear her down, brick-by-brick, put up a huge (and ugly, no-doubt) block of luxury apartments in her footprint. Well, they'd paid Arthur handsomely. Enough certainly for him to not care what they did with the place.

'That's a damn lie and you know it, Artie.'

Arthur opened his eyes. He knew the voice, and even if he hadn't recognised the voice, only one person had ever called him Artie. His mouth hung wide open, looking for all the world like a large, smiling cavern. His eyes full of joy and love and laughter. On the stage, in his best tux, was the ghost of Johnny Blues.

'Johnny..?'

'That's right, Artie.' John patted himself down,  as he always did, looking for that always-escaping pack of smokes. 'Damned things go?'

'But, no Johnny, you're... dead, aren't you?' Arthur asked, not really understanding what was happening. Not really wanting to. He knew it would be heart-breaking to wake up now, not when he'd just been reunited with Johnny.

'Does it matter, Artie? We were never ones for labels.'

'Oh Johnny,' Arthur began, 'are you angry because I sold the place?'

Even from the distance to the stage, Arthur could see Johnny's slight smile, the twinkle of mischief in his eyes. It was a smile that meant he could eat all of your food, take all of your money and stand you up yet you'd still be completely in love with him. With the idea of him.

'No Artie, I ain't mad. The world moves on. I just wanted to be the last guy to ply his trade on these boards.'

'Even if it's just for an audience of one?'

'Especially because it's an audience of one.'

A smile came across Arthur's lips, a blush of roses bloomed in his cheeks, and a tear ran from his eye.

'Close your eyes and remember the old times, Artie. I'll sing your favourites.'

The band began to play-

where are the band you know where they are but how you know how

as Arthur closed his eyes, got comfortable, and listened to Johnny Blues close the show one last time.

4

The coroner's report was nothing special, it held no perverted secrets or sexy break-throughs. It simply stated that a man in his mid-eighties had died peacefully in his sleep. The time of death was placed at three pm.

The Treasure Huntsman: The Oblitus Heart - Part II

Written by Samuel Gaitskell

kaymakli_underground_city.jpg

To read Part I, click here.


The group moved on through the city, looking for any signs of the treasure that they were hunting. They came across countless buildings that appeared to be stores of some sort, and one which looked to be some sort of library, which Julia was fairly hesitant to leave behind. Eventually, however, the group stumbled upon a building which was definitely different to all the others.

The building, rather than being made of stone and wood like all the others, seemed to be made of brass or some sort of similar metal, and apart from the occasional patch of greenish rust, it looked to be in alarmingly good condition. The door into the building looked as if it belonged in some sort of submarine.  The building looked to be centuries, possibly even millennia, more advanced than anything else within this underground city.

'This is… amazing.' Julia gasped, looking at the impossibly advanced building before her. 'I… I don’t even know how to describe this!'

'Well, seeing how it’s the only one of its kind, I’ll wager that it’s where we need to be,' Nathan guessed, looking up and down at the building. 'so, shall we?'

The group all nodded to each other, Julia wearing an amazed smile, before they all walked towards the entrance.

***

The second that the three opened the rather bulky brass door, a hissing noise could be heard. The four prepared for the worst, though their fear was quickly replaced with confusion as the building flooded full of light, which came from some automatic gas lamps that lined the walls. The group gasped, their eyes straining to adjust to the new levels of light. Once their eyes finally recovered, they found themselves in a bizarrely well-furnished room, filled with brass pipes that sprouted from the walls in various places, along with what looked to be an oak table, which was covered in undamaged, though slightly dusty, maps and tomes.

'This is impossible.' Julia claimed, immediately taking to the table to look over the maps. 'The gas lamps alone raise enough questions to put the smartest of scientists out of commission. I mean, the city outside is ancient beyond all belief, but gas lamps weren’t developed until the late 1790’s, give or take.'

'So someone found the city and built this place years ago?' David asked, looking over the papers lining the grand table.

'Well, that is the logical thing to assume, yes.' Julia stated. 'But there were no records of anyone finding this city before us, so whoever did find the city certainly didn’t advertise it.'

'Okay, scary thought,' Ryan piped up, looking through a slightly murky window. 'what if they didn’t tell anyone because they never left? I mean, I could have sworn I saw something moving in the shadows earlier, maybe-'

'That’s a bit of a leap.' Nathan said, though there was a level of concern in his voice.

'Nevertheless, we should probably be careful.' David declared as he handed what looked to be a well weathered journal over to Julia. 'Julia, could you quickly look through this while we all take a look around?'

Julia didn’t have to be asked twice. She happily picked the book up and carefully opened it, before beginning to read through it.

No more than five minutes went by before a horrifically loud siren went off, that almost sounded like an angered crow. Everyone near instinctively turned to Ryan, who had decided to push some sort of button, caring little for the consequences.

'Goddamnit Ryan!' Nathan hissed, covering his ears with his hands.

'Ryan, your ‘they never left’ theory may have been alarmingly accurate!' Julia added, yelling over the alarm as she stared out the window. 'Because we have company!'

The group rushed over to the window, where they saw cloaked figures approaching through the shadows.

'Alright, Ryan, Nathan, work on barricading the door!' David ordered, having to yell over the horrific alarm. 'Julia and I will search for a way out!'

Nathan and Ryan instantly jumped to work, swiping the maps and papers off of the grand table before moving it in the way of the entrance, while David and Julia searched through the room for any type of escape.

“Guys, over here!” Julia yelled out, trying her best to force open a similar door. The others quickly rushed to her side and helped open the door.

***

The alarm was slightly quieter on the other side of the door. Unlike the previous room, this one possessed no gas lamps, though it did have an awful lot more pipes, along with a spiralling staircase leading upwards. Hearing what sounded to be the front door crashing open, the group didn’t hesitate before beginning to head up the stairs.

'This is bad, this is very, very bad.' Julia stated as she ran up the fairly tall brass stairs, only lagging slightly behind the other three, as she hastily read through the journal.

'Just focus on getting up these stairs, Julia.' Nathan said, 'You can resume reading when we aren’t about to die horribly.'

'Right, right…' Julia mumbled as she closed the book and picked up the pace.

The stairway lead up to what looked to be a glass room with a bizarre looking door leading into it, which was locked by some sort of strange, unfamiliar lock in the shape of a simple button. David, Julia, Nathan, and Ryan respectively all attempted to press the button to open it, and unsurprisingly, each failed. The level of desperation began to rise as a noise that sounded like the door opening at the bottom of the stairwell opening could be heard.

'Well, I guess this is how we die.' Ryan joked, though it was obvious that he was panicking just as much as everyone else.

'Maybe not.' Julia chimed in, as she quickly opened the journal, remembering something she read. She hastily flipped through the book, before stopping on a particular page. 'Okay, here we go: according to this journal, from what I can tell at least, this lock is called a "personalised pop lock", made to only open to a specific fingerprint, which is beyond amazing because fingerprints weren’t discovered until-'

'All very interesting, Julia, I’m sure, but not exactly useful' Nathan said, trying to hurry her along.

'Right, right,' Julia nodded, snapping back on topic, 'basically, the journal says that the lock, while being incredibly advanced, were easily broken when exposed to several everyday things, such as certain vinegars, certain alcohols, and…'

Julia paused to quickly open and ruffle through Ryan’s pack, confusing all the others considerably. After a few seconds, she pulled out some sort of candy, which she proceeded to unwrap before slamming it against the lock. A sizzling noise sounded from the button-like lock, before it seemed to short circuit, causing the door to lazily swing open.

'... pretty much anything with high levels of sugar.' Julia finished with a huff, releasing a breath she didn’t even realise that she had been holding.

'Right, everyone in.' David said, as they all rushed into the glass room. Julia, being the last in, paused to look at the door.

'Problem, guys…' She said as she entered. 'The lock on the door, that’s broken. Whoever is following us will have literally no issues with opening the door.'

'I’ll hold it shut, then.' Nathan said, as he closed the door and held it shut. 'You guys look for a way out or something.'

'We mightn’t need to,' Julia said, reading on, 'I think this whole stairwell is a trap room of sort.'

'Elaborate, please.' David said, looking down through the glass floor to see the quickly ascending cloaked figures.

'As far as I can tell,' Julia began, 'there should be a button in this glass room somewhere that, once activated, causes all the air outside of the room to be sucked out, suffocating whoever is in the stairwell. Once again, technology which far exceeds the time period.'

'Over here.' Ryan said, gesturing to a button mounted on the only metal wall of the glass room. 'Should we press it?'

A sudden pounding could be heard against the door into the glass room. The cloaked figures were trying to get in.

'Press the damn thing!' Nathan demanded, straining to keep the door shut. Ryan didn’t need any more convincing before he pressed the button. Immediately, a near deafeningly loud humming noise pierced through the air. The cloaked figures all seemed to drop to their knees, horrifically gagging and coughing as the air was being ripped from their lungs. As they choked, their cloak’s hoods were flung from their heads, to reveal nothing more than ordinary faces. One might assume them to be entirely normal people, in any other circumstance.

'P-please…' one managed to choke out, desperately, if not weakly, pounding against the door, 'let us in.'

The group stood in horrified silence as they watched the cloaked figures thrash about, desperate for air, though it wasn’t long before their choked tears faded into silence. The group stood quiet, unsure of what to think. Those people… they were dead. They were dead, no less, because of them. Those people never hurt any of them. Hell, they never even showed any real signs of wanting to. As far as they knew, they just killed a group of innocent people.

'The the air should cycle back into the room automatically in about ten minutes…” Julia mumbled out, attempting to break the near deafening silence.

'We… we should continue,' added Nathan, 'We’ve come too far to let… to let this stop us.'

Though Nathan’s words were of a determined treasure huntsman, his tone was less than convincing. Nevertheless, the group pressed on because, as unconvincing as his tone was, Nathan was right. They had come too far to stop now. Even if they really wished to. So, with a false level of determination, the group climbed up a ladder, moving on.

 

A Word in Waylon's Ear

Written by James McCann

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1

Waylon Payne turned in that night a little after Nine, he didn't know why but recently he'd been getting tired earlier and earlier each night. He was in his mid-40's and thought of himself as being very pragmatic and very logical, so he had begun a course of nighttime medication in a bid to stop whatever illness it was that was trying to get a grip on him. Waylon hated being ill, not just because of how it made him feel lousy but because he hated not having control.

Trying to always find the best in all things, Waylon liked the side-effect that had come along with the medicine (he wasn't sure if it was the pills, or the syrup, or the hot brew, or a combination of them all) which manifested itself as wonderful dreams. He spent each night in the arms of a beautiful woman, usually a celebrity that was plastered all over the gossip magazines in the racks by the supermarket door, or one of those dirty girlies on the late night channels who kept shaking their phones at the camera. Once in a while he dreamt of a former teacher or a crush he had back in school or college.

He got up to things with those women in the dream world that he would never even admit to thinking about in the waking. There were kinky things, things that Waylon supposed most people took in their stride, but he had never thought about before. It was those dreams that Waylon had grown to look forward to.

Sleep came to him quickly that night, less than five minutes after his head touched the pillow.

2

When camping in the Outback, they advise you to check your sleeping bag before climbing in at night, and to bang your boots in the morning before you put them on. This might not be too bad an idea for people in other places as well, something that Waylon Payne would have done well to remember.

It crawled out from beneath his pillow once it was sure the breathing had become slow and steady. That was when it slinked its way out. It was about four inches long, slightly thicker than an earthworm, its maroon body lined on each side by hundreds of sharp, yellow legs. Its head was conical to a point, flanked on each side by large, lobster-like pincers.

The alien bug made a short circle before climbing up the pillow and over Waylon's chin, pausing momentarily to defecate in his mouth, leaving its scat just beneath Waylon's tongue. It crawled out, tickling Waylon's bottom lip slightly, and then ran across his cheek. It scuttled its way into his ear, the pincers pinching on anything it could get within reach of. It burrowed further and further in, snipping slithers of brain off and devouring the bloody grey matter.

On previous nights it had gone in only so far, the very end of its body still slightly visible, poking out of Waylon's ear. This time, however, the thing was especially hungry. Since it began eating at the Waylon All-Night Diner, it had grown in length and girth. Very soon it would go through a birthing process; up to seven or eight babies would pop out.

3

Waylon had incredibly pleasant dreams that night. They would be the last of his life.

4

The babies were born in Waylon's room, the same as hundreds of thousands were, and still are, every night all over the world.

Sweet dreams.