Entertainingly Evil
30
Jun

Border by Jennifer R. Povey

You pick up all kinds of interesting stories when you guard the border. That’s the basic truth of it. You also learn that they aren’t really bad people.

I know. It’s a heresy to admit that the Lorians might be anything other than utterly evil people. You know… babies on sword blades. That’s the image people have of them.

Well, I’ll tell you what. I was on night patrol. That’s never fun, as you probably know. I was out with Marek Lin, who’s a good man, but not always the most perceptive. He always left me thinking I needed to watch for both of us.

So, he didn’t see somebody coming across the border. I did. I raised my crossbow, then I realized it was a woman.

The Lorians don’t let women fight. Not that we do, much… there are a few women in the guard, but not that many. Most people think… wrongly, in my opinion… that women are less aggressive.

None of them have pissed off a matron in her kitchen. I got chased out of a few when I was a kid, believe me. But few fathers will let their daughters go to war. Even this kind of war, the kind that is fought in skirmishes and intel.

Of course, rumor has it some of our top spies are female. Wouldn’t surprise me. The Lorians tend to think women are less intelligent.

However, when I saw the woman, I lowered my bow. She did not seem to be armed, and even in the darkness I could see the edge of her beauty. Then our eyes met.

She tried to run, but she was not dressed for it. She wore silks and slippers. She should not have been out there at night. She tripped over the hem of her gown and lay there in the mud.

I was at her side in seconds, offering her my hand. She looked startled, as if not expecting such gallantry from a border guard. Once she took it, of course, I pulled her to her feet, then kept a firm grip on her wrist.

“You’re on the wrong side of the border, lady.”

“Good.” She met my eyes evenly. “I request asylum.”

It happened every so often. In both directions. People defected. You’re thinking, I know, that this is leading to that story. You know, the one where the beautiful woman flees a loveless marriage into the arms of the soldier.

I wish. Her hair was, even in that darkness, brilliant, the yellow of spun gold. Her features were shadowed, yet elegant. All that came out was. “Why?”

I did not really have a right to ask.

“To save my people.”

Not an answer I had expected. The Lorian women I had seen, where and when trade was allowed across the border, walked three steps behind their men with their heads down. This woman met my eyes and gaze evenly.

I knew then that she was a princess. “Well. Come.”

Marek was staring. I gave him a look.

“Hush. She’s a woman of rank.” Whatever she planned, it could not be that bad… as long as we did not let her get past the guard post until a mage had read her aura.

The worst case scenario was that she would kill both of us. I doubted she would. “Save your people? From what?”

“Ourselves. The war we plan would damage Ilmoor. It would destroy Lorian.”

Yeah. It’s that story. Not the one where she comes for love, but the one where she defects in the belief that it is the truest loyalty. “I can’t help. I’m a common soldier.”

She laughed. “There is, I have found, no such thing.”

She was a Lorian woman, nothing. A chattel to be given in marriage. “How do you intend to stop the war.”

“I intend to stop the war for good with the only coin I have to offer.”

They gave me leave to travel to the capital with her. I wish they had not. I truly wish they had not. She was the only daughter of the king of Lorian, yet she could not be heir by their laws. Her husband would inherit.

Yeah. It’s not the story where she collapses in the arms of the common soldier. She was for the prince… and by the time Lorian realized what had happened, their royal families were united in matrimony.

That doesn’t mean its not the story in which the common soldier loves her.


Jennifer R. Povey is in her early forties, and lives in Northern Virginia with her husband. She writes a variety of speculative fiction, whilst following current affairs and occasionally indulging in horse riding and role playing games. She has sold fiction to a number of markets including Analog and is the author of the space opera Transpecial and the Silent Years novella series.




25
Jun

GOOD INTENTIONS by Gerri Leen

The night is dark, the wind blowing hard and wet. The guy clutching his gut and staggering down the street needs help. I’m a woman alone, in a new town, and pretty sure that this isn’t the safest neighborhood.

So, stop me if you’ve heard this one. Nice girl moves to the big city, tries to be a Good Samaritan for one of the natives. Gets chopped up for it, maybe shot, probably worse happening in between her trying to help and her dying.

We’ve all heard this one, right?

I help anyway. It’s what I do, who I am. Or it is now. I know: the road to hell and all, paved with good intentions, but there was a day my intentions weren’t so good, and let’s just say things have been weird for me ever since. So now I help.

I sort of have a quota.

Weird, like I said.

“Hey, mister.”

He turns around and throws up. I’m glad it’s night; the vomit smells less like vomit and more like whiskey and blood, and I’m not in the mood to see that particular spin art. I’m also glad I didn’t get too close. These are new shoes, a light gray python and I really love them.

“What the hell you want, lady?”

“I want to help you.” It’s not even a lie. I don’t give a rat’s ass about this guy, but I do want to help him. Whether I like it or not.

And in his case, it’s really, really not.

I grab his arm, muttering, “Dude, hygiene. Lost art, I know, but man.” I sort of hustle him down the street toward the emergency clinic, which I’m sure was not where he was going.

“What’re you doing?” He swings at me and grunts in pain, spitting more blood as he wheezes. I’m pretty sure he’s got something wrong on the inside because I’m not smelling blood draining from any external holes.

Yes, smell. Did I mention I’m not human? Oh, don’t worry, I’m not some damn vampire. Trust me. That life would be a walk in the park.

Yes, I’m actually jealous of bloodsuckers.

The man stops and grabs my hand. “Give me all your money or I’ll cut your face up.” He slurs it together, but the blade in his hand is a pretty good indication he’s serious.

See, I don’t get any points if they aren’t actually dangerous. Points, can you believe that?

I don’t reach for my purse fast enough apparently, and he slices down my arm. If he could see in the dark, he’d notice the blood coming out is sort of a purplish-green. It’d make a great nail polish color. But even he can tell the smell is off.

“What the—?”

“Okay, here we go.” The cut is stinging like hell, but I ignore it and push him down the street and through the door of the clinic. I take his knife away for good measure. I lose massive points if he hurts someone else on my watch.

“Think he has something nasty going on inside him. He’s vomiting blood,” I tell the attendant at reception. “Also, he’s violent and likes to play with sharp objects.”

“Good to know. Leon, get your butt out here.”

Leon is massive. He takes the drunk from me, then glances at my arm. “What’s that?”

I look down at my arm. The blood is shining iridescent, like fish scales winking jade and violet. “I was at a party.”

He nods. It’s amazing how many things that excuse can explain away.

“You took a risk bringing him here.” He’s got the drunk face-up against the wall as he leans against him, which can’t be that great for my project’s insides, but it’s definitely limiting the trouble he can make.

“Seemed the right thing to do.” I smile and head for the door.

“Hey,” Leon calls out. “What’s your name?”

“Luz.”

“Pretty name.”

“Thanks.” I walk out, take three steps, and immediately sense I’m not alone. “Gabe?”

“Hey, sis.” He leans out a darkened doorway. He’s wearing a black trench coat and fedora.

I look down at my winter white coat—ruined now thanks to the drunk and his knife—and gray pants, and laugh. We’re so anti-stereotype, my big bro and me.

“Whatcha doing, Luz?”

“Good works. What do you think I’m doing?”

“You’re never going to make it.”

His confidence in me is disappointingly low, as usual. Then again I don’t see him out mingling with the dregs of humanity. He leaves that for the lesser angels. So how would he know if I’m getting close or not?

Close being a relative term when you’re immortal.

Because for me, you see, the road out of hell is paved with good intentions. With a smile, I walk away from him.

“Lucifer?” he says, his voice soft.

I turn.

“We miss you.”

“I miss you, too. And home.”

“I hope you make it.” He smiles, then turns and walks down the street, a sad whistle accompanying the slip slap of his shoes.

I watch him till he’s out of sight. “I hope so, too, Gabriel.”


Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. She has stories published or accepted in: Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, Grimdark, She Nailed a Stake Through His Head: Tales of Biblical Terror and others. She is editing an anthology, A Quiet Shelter There, for Hadley Rille Books, which will benefit homeless animals. See more at http://www.gerrileen.com.

This story was previously published in 10Flash webzine.




23
Jun

The Ghosts of Second Children by G.G. Silverman

The police have long stormed out of my clinic, and a mother has just finished giving birth in chains on a cot in this small gray cell of a room. She lies crying, unable to look at her stillborn fetus, its body darkened by the abortive agent given three days ago. I pick up the fetus and cradle its fragile form to my chest, soiling the pristine white of my doctor’s gown with newborn blood as I walk out into the dim hall, making my way toward the door with my precious cargo. The nurses at the desk give a quick knowing glance before resuming their paperwork; they have seen me do this before, and they do not stop me. They know I cannot bear children of my own; it is my great personal tragedy. Each abortion mandated by the Party hurts me deeply, yet I must comply for the sake of my own life, and end the lives of all Second Children. But what I do after each abortion is for me, and me alone.

I carry the fetus outside into the chilled November air. Tall, yellowed weeds dance in the wind behind the clinic, hiding the graves where the Second Children lie. I’m supposed to dispose of their bodies in other ways, but I cannot. No human deserves this cold-hearted cruelty.

A shovel leans against the crumbling brick wall of the clinic. I rest the fetus on the earth, pick up my shovel with red-stained hands, and begin to dig. The ghosts of the Second Children come forward, stepping through the weeds as I work. They have grown since I last saw them; their hunger makes them strong. Their black hair is longer now; it glints in the sun. Their eyes are deep brown, like the mud that swaddles them in the grave. They watch, pressing in closer, wishing I could feed them, but my breasts have no milk. I am not your mother, I tell them, yet in some ways I am: it is I who brought them into the spirit world, naked and bruised.

You have another brother, I say to appease them, pointing to the fetus. They nod with sad longing as I finish the grave and lay him inside, cradling his head gently as though he were alive, as though he were my own son. I kneel beside him, rocks prickling my knees as I say a quiet prayer. The ghosts crowd in and kneel too, holding hands in a ring around us. This touches me deeply, and I’m unable to control my emotions. A tear drips down past my chin and into the earth, anointing the fetus with a barren woman’s agony.

I cover the grave with soil and stand up as a nurse from the clinic appears at my back. She asks a question, but I do not respond. Instead, I begin to walk away, down the alley, into the street, and down the road, followed by the ghosts. The nurse calls after me, her voice shrill as she asks where I’m going, but I do not stop.

I reach the center of town, where people begin to whisper. They can see the blood on my gown and hands, though not the hungry ghost children that walk beside me, curious. Where are we going? the children ask.

You will see, I tell them. You will see.

They accept this and we walk until we are beyond the town, and reach the river at the edge of abandoned fields. The river is deep and wide, and rushes past with a fury. The children pull back, letting go of my hands. We are afraid of the river. We have been told it leads to the underworld, the City of Souls. If we go there, we can never come back.

Stay here, I tell them.

They shiver on the bank as the sun lowers in the sky, watching as I wade in from the edge. Icy water curls around my ankles, beginning its seduction. I tread further, the current tugging at my limbs, threatening to take me. I press onward until the water hits my thighs, and I can no longer fight the flow. I give in to the river, letting it drag me forward, my body tumbling below the surface, rolling in the cold and the murk. My lungs swell to bursting as I’m swept away. I am certain I am dying.

Soon, my consciousness peels away from my body, and I no longer need to breathe.

I can swim against the tide, and do so with ease until I’m close to where I first entered the river. As my head crests the surface, the ghost children howl, their faces streaked with mud and anguish. My feet grasp the river bottom and I walk toward the bank, water dripping from my hair and gown as I emerge. I, too, am a spirit, and no longer marred by blood.

I can be your mother now, I say, stepping onto the bank.

The children rush forward, greeting me with trembling bodies, wrapping their arms around my legs and waist. I stroke their hair, feeling its silk beneath my fingers, and we stand like this until they no longer quiver. The sun has dipped below the horizon, and a new moon has risen, a sliver of light in the dark. I motion for us to walk, and we grasp each other’s hands, taking our first steps as a family through the abandoned fields, back toward the town to collect the souls of more children.


G.G. Silverman lives just north of Seattle with her husband and dog. When she’s not writing, she spends her free time tramping through the woods of the Pacific Northwest, and training with her compound bow because #TheZombieApocalypse. To learn more about G.G., please visit her website at www.ggsilverman.com




18
Jun

In Flight Service By Edward Ahern

“So where are you headed?”

The round man had flopped into his seat, pressing Cassie against the bulkhead.

“West,” she replied, hoping one word wouldn’t provide enough momentum to start a conversation.

“Going to Little Rock myself, for a preacher’s convention. We’ll be working on how to better spread the Good Word.”

“That’s nice.” The jet engines shrilled as they taxied, making conversation impossible.  Once airborne the man again turned his fat-tautened neck toward Cassie.  “Are you a Christian? A real one, born again?”

Cassie wanted to turn away, but her social distance had shrunk to inches.. “Ah, really, my views are a private matter, not something I’d discuss with a stranger.”

“So you’re not. Otherwise, you’d be glad to tell me. I’m Hector Bravo, and I’m really happy to have this chance to talk with you. What’s your name?”

Cassie winced, then sorted through her options, casting off “None of your  business,” and “Helen,” settling for one word truth. “Cassie”

“That’s pretty, Cassie, is it short for something?”

“Cassandra.”

“Well Cassie, I was saved twelve years ago, and my salvation involves bringing the Word to those who live unknowingly in sin. Do you have any religious beliefs?”

Cassie looked around with desperation, but the flight was completely full, with no seat open to escape to. Her only option was to ring the call button and complain to the stewardess that the man next to her was being aggressively religious. With her luck the stewardess would also be born again.

“Look Mr. Bravo…”

“Reverend.”

“Reverend. I turned my back on Catholicism a long time ago…”

“Papism! But I can help you to accept Jesus as your personal savior.”

Cassie smirked despite herself. “That would create quite a conflict of interest, Reverend. I really don’t want to talk religion and was hoping to take a nap.”

“Nonsense. God brought us together so I could help you heal from those perverted Papist teachings and bring you to a better understanding, to your salvation. We’ll have a little service, just you and I. Let’s pray together.”

Cassie squirmed, her left arm pinned against the bulkhead, and her right arm enfolded by the linen wrapped balloon of Hector’s arm. “Really, Reverend, please. Just leave me alone. I’m not into salvation.”

“You need my help Cassie, you just don’t know it yet. Let’s start with a reading from scripture.”

Her pained expression altered just slightly. “Before we start, Reverend, would you mind getting my bag down from the overhead? It’s not heavy and I need to get something. It’s brown crocodile skin.”

Hector Bravo heaved himself up, leaning heavily on the seat back in front of him. He grabbed the small bag and dropped it into Cassie’s lap before wedging himself back into his seat.

“Thanks Hector. May I call you Hector? This will only take a few seconds.”

Cassie opened the clasp on the bag and took out and a small, gold canister.

She carefully unscrewed the lid and held it up to her lips. “Hector?’ she whispered. When he turned his head toward her she blew onto the open canister and into his face. A fine, purple powder covered Hector’s nose and mouth. He inhaled in shock, and Cassie quickly blew twice more, filming Hectors face with a faint, grape-colored tint. She waited for a slow ten count, then whispered again.

“Hector you will do exactly as I say.”

“Of course Cassie.”

“Not so loud, Hector, just whisper back to me. We don’t want other people listening in. Now lean your head forward, please.”

When Hector had rested his head on the seat back in front of him, Cassie took out a pair of cuticle scissors. “I’m going to take just a bit of your hair, Hector, but I wouldn’t want to ruin that beautiful styling of yours, so I’ll clip from behind your ear.”

Cassie snipped, then whispered, “sit back now Hector.”

She rang the call button, and when the stewardess came asked for a glass of water. When the water arrived she held it until the stewardess had left, then slowly poured the water out onto the carpet in front of her.

Cassie reached back into her valise and took out a vial of smoked glass with a gargoyle head on the stopper. She poured a half ounce of snot green liquid into the clear plastic cup, then dropped in Hector’s hair. The hairs writhed and curled as if being poisoned.

“Hector, give me your left hand please. Thank you. My, what a masculine pinky ring. That must be a ruby. I’m going to prick your finger now, Hector, and squeeze out a bit of blood.”

“That’ll be fine, Cassie.”

The blood dropped into the cup and dispersed in wriggling threads.

“Now, what should we do with you, Hector,” Cassie whispered. “What’s appropriate? You haven’t really committed a sin, just been intrusively obnoxious and rude. What to do, what to do.”

She laughed out loud, then leaned over the cup and whispered softly, “Hector, we’re going to have that little service you were so excited about. Drink this please.”

He winced and puckered as he drank, but didn’t complain. Cassie waited a full minute in silence.

“Okay, Hector, you realize now that you don’t really hate Papism. In fact, you’re feeling like it is your true calling. You will renounce your ministry and deed your money, house and cars to the Catholic church. You will join a Trappist monastery as a brother, taking vows of poverty and silence. You will forget that we have had this little service. But after two years your memory will return and you’ll realize that you’ve violated your faith. Is all this clear to you?”

“Yes, Cassie.”

“And you will do as I’ve ordered?”

“Of course, Cassie.”

“Wonderful. You’ll begin practicing silence immediately. You know, Hector, I think you were right. A deity did bring us together.


Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He has his original wife, but after forty seven years they are both out of warranty. Ed has had sixty short stories published thus far, and a novella, The Witches’ Bane will be published in May 2015 by World Castle Press.

This story previously appeared in Robbed of Sleep II.




16
Jun

Roses are Forever By Rebecca Fung

“May I help you?” asked the saleslady.

“I’m looking for something for a girl … well, you know. She’s kinda special. Something different. Not your usual roses and chocolate bullshit. Though she does like roses,” said Milton.

“That’s something to work with,” said the saleslady. “All our items are very special. Just ask.”

“What about that rose in the window?”

It was a tall glass vase with a long-stemmed rose standing straight, deep red petals. “Isn’t it beautiful? A specially biologically-enhanced rose. Look at the velvety texture of those petals. She’s been engineered to be extra sturdy and need no maintenance. You don’t need to change its water because it doesn’t need watering. It takes in its surroundings and adapts to them.”

Jeannie would love it. She was always so busy; she didn’t have time to look after plants. It was perfect.

#

“Oh Milton, how thoughtful!” Jeannie cried. She kissed him, gently, lingering. As she pulled away her eyes promised him more to come that night. “I’ll just water it and set it on the mantelpiece. I want to really show it off.”

“No water needed,” said Milton. “That’s what the lady in the shop told me. It’s a special rose. It looks after itself. That’s why I bought it.”

“Because you know I’m crummy with flowers?” teased Jeannie.

“Because it’s like you. You’re a woman who knows how to look after herself, I like that.”

She smiled. “Very smooth. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a rose so perfect-looking.”

“Again, why it reminded me of you.”

“Oh, Milton! Well, I guess it’s our first anniversary, keep them coming!”

Jeannie turned around and blew two kisses to the rose as they left the house for dinner.

The rose was very good, much better than Milton had expected. He had thought a long-lasting rose might last a few weeks or months, even, at the most. After all, an ordinary rose barely lasted a couple of days, especially in the hands of Jeannie. But five months later and the rose was just as perfect-looking as it was the day he had bought it. Perhaps even more perfect.

“I think the petals have grown a little larger,” mused Jeannie, fondling them. “They still smell so sweet! What do you think?”

“I’m not sure,” said Milton. “But at least we’re getting our money’s worth. Do you dust this flower? In between all the petals?”

“Of course not,” said Jeannie. “That would take all day.”

Milton ran his finger over the mantelpiece. There was a thick layer of dust which had collected from weeks of neglect. But the rose had not a speck on it.

“The rose nods to me when I come home from work,” said Jeannie. Milton laughed at the idea. But two years later, when he moved in with her, he felt its little petals waving goodbye in the morning and greeting him in the evening. The rose became part of his routine. It signalled to him if he’d forgotten his keys and a sniff of its fragrance reminded him of meetings. It was the perfect symbol of household happiness and happily served them both.

“It’s remarkable,” said Jeannie. “After all these years, good as new. I’ve never had to do a thing with it.”

“I’m glad you like it,” said Milton. He couldn’t help noticing Jeannie’s hair looked brittle and dull and she was gaining a bit of weight around the midriff. He might get her a gym membership this year. The rose, though, still looked slim and gorgeous.

Maybe Jeannie saw that look in Milton’s eyes. Or maybe it had nothing to do with it at all.

Several years later Jeannie said she was sick and tired of Milton, the relationship, everything.

“I don’t want to work out anything. Don’t you get it, Milton?” she exploded. “Stop looking at me, stupid rose. Stop waving your petals! So bloody judgmental! I hate you. I don’t have any problems.”

“Everyone has—” began Milton.

“I don’t,” said Jeannie. “I know what I want. I want to get out of here.”

“You’re giving up to easily—” he tried again.

She shook her head. “You’re idealistic, Milton. We stayed together while it was good. But it’s not any more. You shouldn’t cling to something forever for the hell of it. I’m not going to ruin my life that way, anyway, that’s for sure.”

“It’s another guy, isn’t it?”

“How dare you!” But she didn’t deny it. Milton felt something dark curl and tighten in his stomach, watching Jeannie pack.

She took her other bits and pieces, but she left the rose behind.

#

The rose stood on the mantelpiece, reminding him of Jeannie. That was her posture. Mocking him. But he wanted to purge his entire memory of her. As long as memories of her were around, he would feel sick.

I’m still here, you can’t get rid of me, my dear.

Bloody rose! He took a swipe at it. The stem bent, but sprung back, straight and perfect as ever.

Did you think you could get rid of me?

Milton spluttered. The rose looked back at him, challenging him. Milton grabbed a pair of scissors and snipped the flower off. Thank God it’s gone, he thought. He poured himself a drink.

What was that?

Redness was forming at the top of what was left of the stem. The scarlet grew and he could see petals pushing their way through the top of the greenness.

“No! Go away!” As long as there was a rose, the sickness wouldn’t leave his stomach. But the rose was already full, each perfect soft, deep red petal daring him to try again.

He tore each petal off, tossing it into the air like confetti, then he grabbed the stem and pulled it out of the vase and tried to snap it in half. Damn! Out came the shears again, snip, snip, snip, into tiny little pieces, and ground each under his heels, cursing.

Little bits of green and red were worming across the floor, bits of stem joined other bits of stem, petals joined other petals and the dirty, crushed pieces shook themselves and were plump, clean and strong again.

Milton looked on helplessly.

You’ll never be rid of me, Milton. Something should last forever, shouldn’t it?


Rebecca Fung is a legal editor from Sydney, Australia. Her writing interests include fantasy, horror and children’s fiction. Her fiction has been published in Midnight Echo and Trysts of Fate magazines and she is a regular contributor to the “Demonic Visions” anthology series. She has also been published in various anthologies including “Witches, Stitches and Bitches” (Evil Girlfriend Media).




11
Jun

Sweet Nothings by Wendy Hammer

Love shines. I can see it the moment it kindles. It’s the most beautiful thing, that light. But it never touches me.

When the front door clicks shut I roll over to the empty side of the bed to capture the last of his warmth. I push my face into his pillow and inhale: Michael with Notes of Sandalwood and Cinnamon. I try to keep his scent deep inside my lungs, inside my memory. The moment I lose concentration he blends into other lost echoes. Oceans. Musk. Strawberry shampoo.

I want to get his taste out of my mouth. I leave the cold sheets and pad into the living room. There’s leftover wine in one of the glasses and I down it. I fire up a cigarette and watch curls of smoke drift in the sole patch of moonlight. The coal glows orange.

Michael’s light was autumn red with specks of gold. It shimmered like sunshine peeking out through a canopy of leaves. It hadn’t lasted long.

The shadow had grown more impatient over the years and gobbled the light up in one greedy gulp.

It used to let love mature a bit before it feasted.

#

Though it’s too dark to see the one picture I’ve kept of myself, I remember every detail. It’s in a heavy silver frame and sits on the shelf over the fake fireplace. You can see a small peach moon in the corner of the photo. My dad never could keep his thumbs out of pictures. I’m there—nestled under my mother’s heart, tucked inside the mound of her belly. Her plaid nightgown clashes with the windmill pattern of the couch. Her feet are pinned by a plump chocolate pup: Bravo.

We were best friends from the start. My first memory is of a snuffling cold wet nose and the relentless attack of his pink tongue. I remember rushing home to see him after my first full day of school. We’d never been apart for so long.

The second I cracked the door he was on me. A blue light like a clear sky at noon ignited around his body. I’d never seen anything like it. I laughed as it reached out to touch me.

I yelped when I spied the shadow on the ceiling. It oozed down the wall before pouncing on the blue aura.

Bravo’s light dimmed.

I tried to pull the darkness away. He shuddered, shook, and nipped at his attacker. Nothing worked. The shadow bloated like a blood-gorged leech as it absorbed every last bit of my dog’s light. Then it disappeared.

When I tried to hug him he stiffened and looked away. When Mom walked by, he got up and ran after her—like nothing had happened.

Bravo never came near me again.

I lost Mom when I was nine. Her light had always been a steady glow—dandelion yellow, just like the flowers she used to rub under my chin to see if I liked butter. I’d made her a cake all by myself. It was crooked and I’d misspelled birthday, but her light had flared up at the sight. I guess it was too much for the shadow to resist because it took it all.

Dad lasted until I graduated from high school.

I think they live in Florida now. Or maybe it’s Arizona.

#

I sit alone in the dark and think.

I’ve been able to survive on the love I feel for others, but once their light shines in return and is consumed, it hurts too much. I’m tired of subsistence. I’ve tried to fight, but everything ends in tepid indifference. I’d rather have hate.

I give up.

The room grows darker than before and I see the shadow has returned. It slides over and around me. For the first time I can feel its touch—it’s surprisingly soft, like a cool stream of air blown onto dampened skin. There’s a question in it. An invitation.

I’m left with one last answer. Yes.

The shadow slips in and I’m transformed.

#

I spare one last glance at my old body, slumped and still on the couch. I don’t regret leaving it. This is better. I feel strong and I can move fast. The world stretches out under my darkness and it’s gorgeous. There are so many lights: a cornucopia of colors. All around me I see pulses, strobes, streams, and motes.

Sparks dance into the evening air from a girl’s first kiss. It’s so lovely—I can’t resist.

I swoop down and fasten on. The light is delicious. It’s apple green and fills me like nothing else ever has. It’s sweet and just a bit tart, perhaps not quite ripe yet. I can taste its potential and I want more.

Soon I’ve taken it all. I know I shouldn’t have. I can tell it hasn’t really hurt her, though. There was just the barest hint of awareness at first—easy enough to smooth over.

The boy looks confused as the girl walks away as if nothing had happened between them. I know what he’s going through and I sympathize. I’m no monster.

He calls after her. When she doesn’t turn, he hangs his head. I know what he’s probably thinking, how he’s replaying every move and word to detect the first hint of failure.

I feel a pang of regret and float over to the boy. I ruffle his hair and pat his cheek.

He squints. I don’t think he can see me. Most likely he believes it’s just the wind. The boy sits down on the curb and puts his face in his hands. I reach for a platitude—something soothing.

I nuzzle up to his ear and whisper, “Don’t worry. It’s not you. It’s me.” It’s the wrong line, yet there’s truth in it.

I hold the boy, close as a lover. There’s light in him and I ache.

One more taste should be enough. I promise.


Wendy Hammer teaches English at a community college. Her stories can be found in the Suspended in Dusk anthology and elsewhere online. Her trilogy of dark urban fantasy novellas will be published by Apocalypse Ink Productions. She lives in Indiana with her husband. She’s also on twitter @Wendyhammer13.




9
Jun

Target Audience by H.L. Fullerton

Yesterday Madave Black celebrated her forty-ninth birthday. Today as she exited the subway, instead of being bombarded by Between Us Girls ads, she heard her first hype for AARP. She froze in the patch of directed sound, the hype recycling itself and whispering its insult in her head. On the third repetition, she stepped out of the hype’s path and into the noise of the city. She clenched her jaw. Client or not, she didn’t appreciate the intrusion.

Only reason she took public transportation was market research and now she’d been victimized by her own brainchild. Well, hers and Warren Waits. But War had bowed out of the HyperSonic Sound picture a long time ago—something about growing a social conscience and wanting to leave a positive mark on the world, men, go figure—which left her the sole proprietor of Black & Waits, the premier HySS advertising agency.

If the three keys to real estate were location, location, location, then the secret trio to successful advertising was demographics, demographics, demographics—and Madave Black had just been confronted with her declining desirability. Soon she wouldn’t even be able to hear hypes—aging, it sucked. She thought she’d grown immune once she bypassed 35—the consumer sweet spot was 18-35—but the stomach clenching dread she experienced at hearing the AARP hype made her realize vanity was brain-deep. She was also pissed because this flummox meant Black & Waits’ software had a glitch. AARP hypes shouldn’t target anyone under 50 and she had twelve more months before she tipped that scale, dammit.

Madave marched into her office and called a staff meeting to correct the problem. Then she phoned her ENT to see what he could do to youthanize her aural frequencies. He wouldn’t even take her call. Forty-nine and redundant. She slumped in her executive chair. She’d joked to colleagues about those pathetic suicidal souls who couldn’t handle losing the whispers. ‘Plastic to Plathic.’ Now she was one of those souls on the train to Plath Town. A sad sack Sylvia.

To perk herself up, she took an early lunch and went shopping at Between Us Girls, a trendy juniors’ store. A new pair of B.U.G. jeans should do the trick. She might be losing her hearing and getting targeted by the senior citizen brigade, but her Pilates regimen meant she could still wear clothing meant for girls three-fourths her age.

Madave scanned the store; saw the twittering girls, the beleaguered mothers, the approaching thirty-somethings clinging to their favorite brand, desperate for a hype-fix to prove they still had ‘it.’ A gaggle of teens clustered around the summer tops display. The brunette wearing the green tank dress wasn’t hearing the sales hype Madave had approved—Two for one means twice the fun—and her friends teased her. Madave smiled. The girl in green would spend double that of her friends to bump her market segment.

From the wall of jeans, Madave selected two pairs. She knitted her eyebrows when she didn’t hear the jean’s hype and discretely checked her hype-locator to make sure the HySS was active. It was. She pushed at the panic fluttering between her ears and hurried into the dressing room. She tried on the jeans—they fit—but she missed the reassuring hypes designed to spur purchases.

You look soooo hot in those…Between Us Girls, those jeans were made for you…OMG you rock that outfit.

One day shouldn’t make such a difference. Age was just a number. Unless you’re in advertising, Madave thought. She knew the seduction of hypes. Hadn’t she designed them to turn wants into must-haves?

Wait. She didn’t need hypes to inspire her. She was Madave Black. She created those voices. Personalized them. Made the whispers sound like one’s own thoughts—but better, nicer thoughts. War used to say: imagine having a cheerleader in your head 24/7. Madave always hated that analogy, but it’d closed deals. So what if she couldn’t hear a hype? Least she was old enough to remember life before HySS. This new generation would be lost without their whispers. Bolstered, Madave bee-lined for the check-out.

“I can’t sell you these jeans,” the Gen-Hyper working the register said, uptalking in that blonde singsong way. “You’re way too mature for them? Can I interest you in our Flatter cut?”

Madave’s first impulse was to have her fired. This girl had probably never made a single purchase without one of Black & Waits’ hypes whispering in her head and she stood between Madave and the perfect jeans? Madave needed these jeans. These jeans were proof that AARP hypes weren’t meant for her.

Had it been just last week she’d proclaimed, “Exclusionary is the new exclusive”? During the meeting, it’d seemed the perfect pitch. Being on the receiving end of her brilliance felt like another knife in her heart.

Then adrenaline surged through her veins and buoyed her. Forget termination. What stock did an eighteen year old have invested in a crummy sales job? Madave had a better idea. “I have my daughter’s B.U.G. card in my purse,” she lied. She rummaged for her hype-locator and corrupted the salesclerk’s plastic. Let her try to hear a hype without that, Madave thought. Who’s plathic now? “Tut. I must’ve left it home. I’ll get these later,” she told the girl and walked away, smiling. It was only a minor inconvenience, but it counted as revenge and, petty or not, it felt good.

But the smug sensation didn’t last. Back at the agency, she reminisced about Warren Waits and their heydays. “Mad,” he’d said when Modern Advertising invented the nickname Generation Hype. “We’ve created something far worse than any military application of HySS. Hypes aren’t the new Amazon; they’re the next crystal meth.”

Madave straightened. Maybe War was right: she had a weapon at her disposal. Maybe it was time to turn off the hype machine and see what happened. See how long it took for Generation Hype to detonate. See who went plathic first.

—-
H.L. Fullerton lives in New York and writes fiction—mostly speculative, occasionally about voices in one’s head—which is sometimes published in places like Buzzy, Penumbra, and Daily Science Fiction.

This story previously appeared in Penumbra eMag, Vol. 2, Issue 9.




4
Jun

From the Editor’s Lair by Jennifer Brozek

There have been some good things in the slush pile recently. Thank you, keep it up. Also, if I’ve talked to you at a convention, make sure you note that in the email submission.

Thoughts about the slush pile:
1. Please do not send me stories about “gypsies.” If you mean the Romani, or Travelers, please use that term.

2. Try to stay away from stereotypical caricatures. In particular, the Bwahahaha EVIL GUY. No villain is evil for evil’s sake.

3. I’m getting a lot of fantasy. I’d like to see more sci-fi. I’d also like to see more reprints from 2014 or before. I will not accept reprints from 2015.

Here’s what we have for June. Suffice it to say that I really like these stories.

“Target Audience” by H.L. Fullerton
“Sweet Nothings” by Wendy Hammer
“Roses are Forever” by Rebecca Fung
“In Flight Service” by Edward Ahern
“The Ghosts of Second Children” by G.G. Silverman
“Good Intentions” by Gerri Leen
“Border” by Jennifer R. Povey





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