Entertainingly Evil
30
Jul

Elizabeth’s Pirate Army by Caroline M. Yoachim

A kraken came to Edgewood Street on the first day of summer vacation. It was a land kraken, with tentacles of fur and spiny branches of coral growing on its head. Elizabeth hadn’t seen it, but she’d heard about it from Sandy, who had heard about it from Laura, who had spotted the beast while playing at O’Malley Park.

“Come on, Puff,” Elizabeth called. Jimmy was training a pirate army to fight the kraken, and Elizabeth wanted to join. She brought her dog Hufflepuff with her, in case she ran into the kraken on her way to Jimmy’s back yard.

The army wasn’t very impressive — half a dozen neighborhood boys all running around aimlessly and swiping at each other with sticks. Elizabeth knew all kinds of magic that would help them be a better army.

She swaggered up to Jimmy, who was shouting orders. “I hear there’s a kraken in the neighborhood.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Jimmy reassured her. “My pirates will keep you safe.”

Elizabeth almost explained that she was here to join the army. Then she looked at the boys, running around with their sticks, and decided she wasn’t interested after all. She would start her own army.

#

Pirates needed swords, and Elizabeth knew just the right magic for that. She collected all the butter knives from the kitchen and stabbed them into the dirt around the maple tree in her yard. Her mother made her bring the knives back in at lunchtime, but the magic had worked by then and the tree had grown some lovely sword-branches. Butter knives weren’t very sharp, so the swords were blunt practice swords, but her mother wouldn’t let her have the steak knives, so Elizabeth decided that practice swords would have to do.

She grabbed a bunch of swords and wandered around the neighborhood, looking for pirates for her army. Her first recruit was Laura, the only kid who’d actually seen the kraken. She took Laura’s little brother too. Jimmy had turned him away for being too small, but he could hold a sword, and he followed most any order Laura gave him.

They got Kira, and Sandy, and even Jared, who had deserted from Jimmy’s army because they made fun of his glasses. Elizabeth brought them back to her yard and they spent the afternoon practicing with their swords and hunting for bottle caps and buttons and other pirate booty.

They needed something to guard their treasure, and Elizabeth knew just the spell for that. She made Hufflepuff sit with his front paws touching the treasure, and flicked a cigarette lighter that Kira had taken from the junk drawer in her dad’s kitchen. On her third try, Elizabeth got the spark to make a flame, and Hufflepuff was transformed.

“He’s kind of a small dragon,” Sandy said.

“And he keeps barking,” Jared added.

“Conjuring dragons is harder than making swords,” Elizabeth replied, scratching Puff behind the ears, “and I’m sure he will be very fierce in battle, even if he’s small.”

They trained until it got dark, and they were a good army. In the morning, they would battle the kraken.

#

Elizabeth met her army at O’Malley Park. They found kraken tracks in the gravel behind the swings, and followed them to the jogging path that wound around in the woods. Elizabeth heard yelling, and a couple boys from Jimmy’s army ran past, fleeing from the kraken.

“Hold together,” Elizabeth told her army. Her pirates held their swords high and stayed behind her. Puff ran circles around the group, yipping in a decidedly undragonlike fashion.

The kraken had Jimmy cornered, his retreat blocked by the fence that surrounded the park. Up close, the monster looked less like a kraken and more like an elk — with sharp antlers and loose tendrils of partially-shed fur — but it was still a formidable foe for her army.

Yelling her best battle cry, Elizabeth charged, followed by Puff and five screaming pirates, all waving swords. The beast turned toward them, startled, then leapt over the fence and out of sight.

Jimmy, clearly embarrassed to have needed help, swaggered up to Elizabeth and said, “You trained some pretty good pirates. You could join my army, if you want.”

Elizabeth snorted. “Now that we’ve driven off the kraken, there’s no need for pirate armies.”  A shadow engulfed them as a huge monster flew overhead. Elizabeth knew just the kind of army to fight this new beast.

“Tomorrow, I’ll be training ninjas,” she told Jimmy, “and you can help us fight Mothra, if you want.”


Caroline M. Yoachim lives in Seattle and loves cold cloudy weather.  She is the author of dozens of short stories, appearing in Lightspeed, Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, and Fantasy & Science Fiction, among other places.  For more about Caroline, check out her website at http://carolineyoachim.com

This story originally appeared in Fireside Magazine.




28
Jul

“Boundless Restraint” By Jeremiah Murphy

I’ve been doing this job since 1939, so you’d think that, after four years, I’d be better at picking locks. But for some reason, my delicate little fingers just can’t handle that kind of precision, even with the set of first-rate tools my old boss bought me for my twenty-fifth birthday.

However, unlike him, I came equipped with feminine wiles, which I’d used tonight to scam the maid’s key from the sap at the front desk of this seedy hotel. In no time at all, I was tossing this room, quickly and quietly, but to no avail. “Where is that blasted thing?” I whispered.

“Behind you,” answered a growl that did, indeed, come from behind me.

“You must be Mr. Benallie,” I sighed as I turned to face him.

The shadowy figure cocked his head. “You have me at a disadvantage. I don’t believe we’ve met.”

“The name’s Edith Beran, private investigator,” I told him. “Edie to my friends. You can call me Miss Beran. Tell me where it is.”

“You have no idea what kind of trouble you got yourself into, little girl.”

“First off,” I replied, “I’m not so little.”

“Look at you!” he laughed. “You can’t be over five feet tall!”

“Five-foot-one,” I said, “in heels. And second, I know all about trouble. That’s why I took precautions.” In the blink of an eye, I drew a .38 revolver out of my purse and aimed it at the center mass of the figure. “Six precautions, in fact. Now hand it over.”

I couldn’t see him very well, but it was clear he was tightening his legs and shoulders to pounce. “You can’t hurt me with that,” he warned.

My thumb pulled the hammer back. “I don’t want to go home with only five bullets, Benallie. Silver ain’t cheap.”

He grunted, relaxed, and put his hands where I could see them without having to be asked. “Vazquez told you about me, then?” He stepped into the light, revealing a face full of hair and fangs. He was pretty intimidating, but he was no Lon Chaney.

“Vazquez just gave me a photo of the necklace. I filled in the rest.”

“Clever,” he replied.

“I’m getting tired of asking this question, Benallie: Where. Is. The. Necklace?”

Very slowly, and very cautiously, he reached into his jacket pocket and produced a black, velvet bag that he held away from his body like a ripe, old sock. “It’s not a necklace,” he told me.

“Is it made of iron and silver and turquoise and wraps around your throat?”

He nodded.

“Then it’s a necklace.”

From the doorway, a stout man in an expensive suit cleared his throat. “He’s right, you know. It’s not a necklace. It’s a collar.”

“Vazquez!” Benallie snarled. He charged, only to come to a halt two steps later.

“I may only be able to tell you what to do when it’s in my possession,” Vazquez said with a smirk, “but, as long as it exists, there’s nothing you can do to hurt me, dog.”

I lowered my gun. “Hey, nobody said nothing about controlling people.”

“That’s not people,” Vazquez sneered.

“What did you think this was all about, Miss Beran?” asked Benallie.

“Petty theft,” I replied honestly, feeling pretty stupid as I did. From the first moment he walked into my office, Vazquez smelled, like two-day-old fish in a municipal dump, but I had bills due, and he offered me a bonus. It was just a stolen magical artifact, I thought. How much trouble could it be? I thought. “Rats,” I muttered.

“Edie,” Vazquez began.

“Miss Beran to you,” I reminded him.

“Look at him. Do you think that should be running around, a slave to its appetites? You have no idea what its kind are like in the wild. You didn’t see what my ancestors saw when they arrived on this continent four hundred years ago. They saw animals that needed to be tamed.”

“He doesn’t look like an animal to me,” I said. “I mean, there’s the snout and all the teeth, but when the moon goes down, I’m betting he cleans up pretty good.”

“We cleaned them up. We cut their hair. We made it so they could be seen in public. All they ever cared about was their loincloths and their chanting and their dancing…” He groaned, “All that dancing. To appease gods of mud and feathers.” He shook his head. “We showed them a real god.”

“I don’t think that’s your job,” I said.

“I don’t care what you think,” he replied, sliding a thick newspaper out from under his arm and rolling it up. “I hired you to find my collar, and that’s what you did.”

“Has anyone ever told you that you sound exactly like a villain in a dime-store novel?”

“You’re dismissed, Edie,” he said.

“Miss Beran.”

“I don’t care.” He turned to Benallie and yelled, “Bad dog!”

I frowned at the door, and then at Vazquez, who was starting to beat Benallie with the Sunday late edition. I cleared my throat. “One last question.”

“What is it?” Vazquez snapped.

“Did I hear you right earlier?” I asked. “Mr. Benallie can’t attack you so long as that necklace is intact?”

“So?” he replied.

I raised the revolver and fired at the velvet bag. It exploded into satisfying sparks. I told Benallie, “Sic ’im.”

Benallie grinned.

I never had much of a stomach for blood, so I left the two alone and headed for the lobby. It’s a good thing I ask my clients for three days of my fee in advance. Too bad about the bonus, though.

On second thought, the look on Vazquez’s face when I closed the door was all the bonus I needed.


From New Mexico to Nebraska to New York to Indiana to Qatar to Washington D.C., Jeremiah Murphy has lived everywhere. And he writes a lot. His work can be found in Fae Fatales, The Dark Lane Anthology, From the Corner of Your Eye: A Cryptids Anthology, and at www.jrmhmurphy.com.




23
Jul

A MEASURE OF SORROW by Charity Tahmaseb

A wolf seduced her sister and a witch wrapped her bony fingers around her brother’s heart, so when a giant came for her, she told him she wouldn’t go.

He plucked a rose petal from the bushes that grew around his castle, and that was her bed. When the day grew hot, he offered dewy raspberries to quench her thirst. When she refused, a single tear fell from his eye and splashed at her feet. The salt on her lips tasted like sorrow. She was drenched, but unmoved.

Only when he left his almanac out—quite by accident—did she creep from the threshold of her cottage. It took all her strength to turn the pages, but turn them she did. The letters were as tall as she was, but read them, she did.

He caught her reading. If he wanted, he could have slammed the book shut, trapped her—or squashed her. He didn’t.

He looked to the book and then to her. “Will you come with me now?” he asked.

“I am not a pet.”

“Of course not.”

“Or a meal.”

He blew air through his lips, the force ruffling her hair. “You are much too small for that.”

“Then what am I?”

“I need someone to tend to the mice. They are ailing. And the butterflies. My fingers are too clumsy and I cannot mend the rips in their wings.”

“So you have work for me?”

“Good work, with good pay. You can keep your family well.”

“They would feed me to the wolves.”

“Then how am I any worse?”

How indeed? Did she trust this giant and his promises of mice and butterflies?

“Will you?” He extended a hand.

She stepped onto his palm and he her lifted higher and higher—even with his mouth, his nose, his eyes. Then he placed her gently on his shoulder.

“What made you change your mind?” he asked.

“The almanac. Will you read to me sometimes?”

“Would you like that?”

“Very much.”

“I shall read to you every night.”

Mice and butterflies filled her days. On the back of the Mouse King she rode, clutching the soft fur about his neck, racing through the castle to tend to mothers with large broods, crumbs and bits of cheese tucked in a canvas sack. With thread from a silkworm, she repaired butterfly wings, her stitches tiny and neat.

The giant peered at her handiwork through a glass that made his giant’s eye all that much larger. When he laughed his approval, the sound rolled through the countryside. And every night, when he reached for his almanac, she settled on his shoulder and marveled at how someone so colossal could speak words with so much tenderness.

Even when his bones grew old and all he could do was move from bed to chair, he read to her. When his eyesight grew dim, he recited the words from memory, so strong was his desire to keep his promise. Until, at last, the day came when the stories stopped.

A thousand butterflies fluttered into his room, and mice came from fields and forest alike, led by the Mouse King. They bore the giant outside, where they laid him to rest beneath the rose bushes.

It was there she learned that all her tears combined could not rival the sorrow contained in a single giant teardrop.


Charity Tahmaseb has slung corn on the cob for Green Giant and jumped out of airplanes (but not at the same time). She’s worn both Girl Scout and Army green. These days, she writes fiction (short and long) and works as a technical writer.

The story first appeared in Luna Station Quarterly Issue #16.




21
Jul

The Dirty Nest By Sarah Hendrix

I’ve seen that grate more than once. None of those experiences have been pleasant. My brother, Alex, showed me the first time.

“Where’d you get the coin for the bread?” he growled at me. His shadow loomed as he jerked the crust of stale bread out of my hand.

Even at eight I was smart enough not to say I’d stolen a copper from the rag lady who set up her stall near the market. She was careless and left her purse on the counter. I could have taken it all, but instead I filched enough for a stale crust of bread to fill my hungry belly.

Alex glared at me with anger and just a hint of fear in his eyes. He jerked me to my feet and hauled me into the maze of alleys that led deeper into the slum. We ended up behind the remains of an old church. Its skeletal remains still showed fire scars. He shoved me forward and we scrambled through the rubble to the back, where the shadows loomed darker and even the sunlight seemed weak. Alex spun me around before I got more than a look and then shoved me to my knees. In front of me was the grate.

It’s old and rusted, put here sometime when my grandmother was a child. It was a part of the city-wide effort to clean up the city and avoid the inevitable decline into decay. But that had been a long time ago. The city had since turned its head away from stopping the darkness that slowly crawled into the area.

“You don’t dirty your nest, boy,” he snarled as he shook the bread crust under my nose.  “You don’t steal from those around you.”

I expected a beating. It’s what he usually did when I’d done something wrong. I cringed as I waited for his fists to connect with my flesh. Instead he tossed the crust down and pulled at a corner of the grate. It shifted, and he nudged the crust over the edge into the dark hole.

“Watch,” Alex demanded as he grabbed a hand full of greasy hair at the back of my head.

The bread sat down at the bottom of the hole for only a few moments before shapes began to disengage from the shadows. In seconds a swirling mass swarmed as rats devoured the bread down to the last scrap.

“You know what happens to thieves that are caught around here right?” Alex whispered.

His palm came into my line of sight. It was missing a finger. He had told me it was an accident.

“At first it’s a finger,” he told me dispassionately. “Then it’s a hand. Then, it’s something else.”

From his tone, I knew I didn’t want to know what that something else was. “I won’t do it again,” I managed to stammer.

“You’re too smart for this,” Alex said as he let go of my hair. I heard him turn away and climb over the rubble.

I spent the next few days looking over my shoulder wondering when one of the slum bosses would send a goon to take me back to that shadowy corner and drop a finger down the grate. I shook at night with the memories of the rats swarming in that dark hole. It was months before one of them showed up, but he had a very different proposition.

It wasn’t long before I got apprenticed to an apothecary. I spent most of my days grinding, mixing and sorting components for medicines and magics. A few nights a week running errands for the bosses.  It was hard work but I did well. I had a small room all to myself above the shop, hot food, and a few coins in my pocket. For me, it was heaven.

Alex didn’t fare as well. He spent his days working for the bosses in the slums. He was the muscle on the streets, and everyone feared him. On occasion he showed up on my doorstep, broken, bloody, and exhausted. I spent my coin on medicines and bandages to patch him up. He’d disappear for weeks only to show up again. But then, one night he arrived missing his left hand. I didn’t ask. Even though I didn’t live in the slums anymore, I heard the rumors of his temper and drinking. I bandaged him up, let him rest and shared my meals until he was able to take care of himself again.

Alex declined quickly after that. The bosses didn’t trust him anymore. He ended up begging on the streets. It wasn’t long before he started pressuring me about stealing things from the apothecary. It was easy to tell him no at first, I didn’t handle any of the expensive components. But, as the months passed, I was given more responsibilities. My employer wasn’t fond of guests in my little room above the shop. Nor were my other employers happy with my brother’s actions. I was given a choice.

“You don’t steal from where you live,” I reminded my brother as he slumped next to the stone wall. The flask of wine I had given him rolled away from his limp fingers. His snort echoed in the tiny space.

I reached down and pulled at the grate. It was heavier than I thought and I barely managed to slide it a hand width. Pulling as hard as I could, I managed to slide it further, nearly enough for my needs.

The limp weight of his body was awkward, but I managed to slide Alex next to the gaping hole in the ground. Then I nudged him over the edge. I had no fear of him waking; the powders I mixed into his drink would keep him oblivious for several hours. As I began to shove the heavy grate back into place, I heard the eager squeals of the rats below.


Sarah is a queen of Chaos. During the day she holds down a day job where it feels like she is herding cats most of the time, works as a personal assistant for Jennifer Brozek and handles promotions for Apocalypse Ink Productions and Evil Girlfriend Media. Spare time finds her writing, beading, editing and knitting.  To complete her love of all things unorganized, she has 2 cats, 2 teenage boys and a fiancé. You can find her work in  Dagan Books, Lakeside Circus and  Abyss and Apex. You can follow her blog, Twitter or Facebook.




16
Jul

Disconnect By L.R. Bonehill

Emily looked up from the glowing screen of her phone just in time to register the dark shape coming towards her.  She had one foot stretching out into the grime-spattered street as the van grumbled past, its rusted wheels edging dangerously close to the kerb.  Another inch or so and the tyres would have grazed her black plimsoll.  Another two inches and she would have heard the crunch and crack of bones.

She stepped back, heart thrumming wildly in her chest.  The smells of the street market intensified in the rush of slipstream air as the van skimmed by.  The sickly-sweet tang of mouldering waste mingled with the citrus-smack of ripe fruit and the stench of fish laid out on melting ice.  Emily wrinkled her nose behind the face mask strung across her features.

The word ‘mouth’ was scrawled across the muslin in the same black kohl that underscored her eyes.  Yukio had told her it accentuated their allure and made her look dark and mysterious.  Smoky, he’d said in another text before posting a snapshot of her to his social wall.  Emily said he was full of shit, but wore it anyway, applying it with a smile each morning.

Exhaust fumes rose from the back of the van as it bumped down the street, its squat bulk swaying on the cobbles.  The rear doors were ajar, the handles laced together with rope.  A long tube of scaffolding poked out the gap like a dislodged antenna.  It edged further out as the van rumbled on, clanking and jarring against the doors.  Further still as the van turned sharply into an alley just ahead.  Far enough for it to smack down against the cobblestones and bounce and clatter behind the van, scoring a trail in its wake.

Emily walked on, head down, before pulling up short at the sound of a muffled yelp, followed by a dull thud from the alley.  She turned her head to see the rear wheels of the van rise slightly as they bumped over an obstacle in the street.  The length of scaffolding jittered out still more and eventually clattered to the ground and rolled to the gutter.

Rolled away from the little girl lying on the cobbles.  The little girl, bent and twisted.  The little girl, broken.

Emily ran, instinct urging her forward.  She knocked her hip on the corner of a stall where noodles boiled in pans slick with a patina of grease and frying meat sizzled and charred.

The alley walls seemed to narrow, hemming in around her, forming a focal point of the girl as everything else faded to a blur at the edges of her vision.  As she reached the slumped figure she stopped and took a hesitant step back.  The gut instinct that had propelled her forward left in an instant like something wrenched violently from her stomach.  A numbing chill that rendered her cold and empty.

She was distantly aware of the van door opening and footsteps edging towards her.

Ice prickled her skin as she looked down on the girl.  She couldn’t have been more than six or seven, dark hair pulled away from her face and tied with ribbon, small hands reaching out, fingers flexing.

There was a smear of oil on her face mask and the unmistakable pattern of a radiator grille, neat lines etched across the muslin like too many rows of teeth.

Emily leaned down, hand outstretched, stopping shy of those small, trembling fingers.

She didn’t want to touch the girl, she realised, not at all.  The thought chilled her further.

The only warmth was in her hands.  The phone: warm and safe and comforting.  She held it out and framed the girl in a neat composition.  There was a white flash in the alley as she took a photograph.

She looked up to see the van driver approaching, lifting his phone in acknowledgment.  It fitted the contours of his hand seamlessly.  He gave a nod of his head before her phone chimed with the jaunty sound of a friend request.

She looked him up and down.  Loose-limbed and lithe, thick veins and taut muscles, close-cropped hair that she could imagine bristling beneath her palm.  Fingers sculpted for the piano, but with the grime of manual labour beneath the nails.

“Like,” she thumbed.

She held the photograph out to him.  He appraised it indifferently, looked down at the girl and did the same.  A rush of wind scattered litter from the gutter as they stared in mutual silence.

He retrieved the length of scaffolding and held it like a spear, grinding it into the cobblestones as he bent down to the girl.  He dipped a finger in the ring of blood that crowned her head.  Poked her twisted leg with the end of the scaffolding and revealed the white glisten of fractured bone.

Smiled a perfect smile for his new friend Emily as she took another photograph.

The girl whimpered, breath hitching in her fragile chest.  Emily could see the shape of her lips moving beneath the face mask, but the words were too faint to hear.  She leaned closer, head tilted.

She heard it then: a low, forlorn whisper.  “Help,” the girl said, “friend?”

Emily looked back at silhouettes passing by the mouth of the alley.  Someone would claim the child, she reasoned, its mother would come sooner or later.  She stepped away, shutting out the animal-like whimper that came from the girl.  Snapped another photograph and studied the image of the broken child.

It felt easier that way; detached, filtered, unreal.  She imagined herself on a screen somewhere in blurred and shaky motion, someone filming her, filming the child.  Unreal, both of them.  Shadows of ghosts and nothing more.

She pinched, panned, flicked as the van driver sauntered away, the scaffolding slung across his shoulder.

“Friend?” she heard the girl say again from another world.

Emily shuddered.  She jabbed ‘dislike’ and moved on, head down, fingers tapping at the screen.


L.R. Bonehill is a writer from the dark heart of England. His short fiction has been published by Dark Fuse, W.W. Norton, Strange Publications, Tales to Terrify, and Pseudopod.  Vent, from Horror without Victims, received an honorable mention in Ellen Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year Volume 6.

This story was originally published by This is Horror.




14
Jul

Draft Letter on Research Potential Suggested by Recent Findings in Gnome Genomics, by Simsoran the Frequently Cited, Reviewed by Artamixiana the Cantankerous by Marissa Lingen

After the discovery of helical silicate genetic structure by Zarfnab the Agar-Stained, Tirinia the Crystallographine, and Chian-Bai the Magnificently Funded [citation needed —A the C], it seemed that the field of gnome genomics would be wide open.  Alas, unfamiliarity with these intriguing test subjects may have slowed work with them, when they are clearly ideal populations if a few small issues [insensitive re: gnome size? —A the C] are handled.  Here follows an outline of suggestions for some of the more tractable of these issues.

The short gnome generation was the first aspect of gnome biology that seemed ripe for a thorough study of the gnome genome.  Other humanoid species have generations nearly twice as long, leading to more difficulty sorting out correlation in phenotype.  However, this promising trait is accompanied by many others that take a more careful hand and population control.  While gnomes have a usefully open attitude toward their own familial relationship, revealing readily to researchers and any other questioners the parentage of a child regardless of the formality of its conception, this openness is of comparatively little use when one begins to consider the disproportionate role of mutation and epigenetic expression in gnome genetic behavior.  For substantially sylvanian humanoids such as elves, these factors can be minimized, but for gnomes they appear to be central.

Further, Gnomes appear to believe that Lamarckism is not nearly far enough, and anyone who does not go so far as to steal the actual traits they find appealing for their descendants is simply not trying.  One will frequently encounter a gnome who will proudly claim that his hands come from Master Gerfan the next workshop over, not through inheritance, but because his mother chopped them off and ran away with them, severing the child’s own hands in favor of the cleverer appendages.  The silicate helical structures appear to adjust to these amendments with equanimity one could hardly expect of mute molecules; the kin and affines are not nearly so sanguine, often chasing after Master Gerfan’s skilled hands with the assiduous attention one would expect to such an heirloom.  Who will be able to pass on the dexterous hands, the strong back, the astute nose, is a source of much dispute in gnome communities, and while this would seem to be a topic for gnome anthropologists, it has an immediate bearing on gnome genomics that cannot be underestimated.  This adjustment means that in a carefully controlled laboratory population, desired traits for study may be propagated almost immediately.

In fact, while we in the harder [not to say geologically proximate! ahem — A the C] sciences are not accustomed to allowing anthropologists and sociologists the first place, some sense of when and how it is not permitted to remove traits from a family member is called for if we are to have any hope of sorting out who has inherited what from whom, under which circumstances and at what age.  That being the case, a wise course of action might be first to fund intensive sociological/anthropological study of gnome communities and their mores, while the silico-biological sciences focus on a more tractable set of problems—say, for example, the kobold populations.  When a thorough mapping of kin-group taboos is available, further study might be more feasible to untangle.  When these problems are solved, the newly founded Gnomish Subjects Board should be entirely sufficient to ensure the fair treatment of these intriguing laboratory specimens.  [Have you ever met the kind of person who is willing to serve on one of those boards? —A the C]

In addition, this kind of attentiveness would prevent unfortunate incidents such as that of Min-Dihar the Incompatible, formerly known as Min-Dihar the Intense [only to himself, but let it pass—A the C], whose gnome study subjects felt that his ears would make a useful contribution to their genetic pool and who were most disconcerted to learn that they could do no such thing.  They did eventually take back the ears they had left him and were even more miffed to discover that he would not (in their view; could not, in his) take back his own.  Independent research in gnome communities is not, for reasons such as this, recommended.  To put it more plainly, among the gnomes, bring research partners and sleep in shifts.  Their lack of malice should not be taken as goodwill.  [This is also true of funding boards.—A the C]

For early research, perhaps a small and fairly isolated community of one or two kin-groups would be the most practicable.  While travel to Farthest Bathmaratar presents its own funding difficulties and is of course difficult to arrange, the gnome community there is extremely small and might just limit the types of problem described herein.  However, exposure to radiation may if anything be more intense, so researchers undertaking such a project should learn well from the example of Togar the Lead-Lined.

[I do not recommend this letter for publication.  It is wrong-headed from start to finish.  Some bright-eyed journeyman will see it as a promising project and go off to make their name.  Journeymen are always trying to organize and unionize these days, and if the gnomes get organized or unionized beyond their clans, their ability to collectively propagate the best of their traits will take over the rest of us in three of their short generations or less.  Keep the journeymen from the gnomes at all costs!!! —Artamixiana the Cantankerous]

—-
Marissa Lingen is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She lives in the Minneapolis area with two large men and one small dog.




9
Jul

MAINTENANCE by Elaine Cunningham

Thunder rumbled as Eva pulled into the nursing home parking lot. A few fat drops splattered her windshield before the skies opened in earnest. She circled the lot in the pouring rain, but no one obligingly vacated a spot close to the entrance.  She sighed and yielded to the inevitable—all the work she’d put into maintaining her appearance, undone by a summer cloudburst.

And it was work—the stylists, the makeup, the surgeries. Eva didn’t begrudge any of it. “Look at her,” Brian used to tell anyone who’d listen. “Forty years a bride, my Eva, and she’s still the prettiest girl in the world. The prettiest girl in the world,” he would repeat proudly, this time just for her ears, “and she’s all mine.”

She stepped out into a puddle and ran for the entrance, shoulders hunched against the rain. The lobby door swung inward. She froze in the threshold, her senses momentarily overwhelmed by the scent of brewing coffee and expensive floral arrangement, the soundtrack of “easy classical” music playing in the background and the soft, conspiratorial laughter of the nurses who’d gathered by the coffee bar. One of them caught sight of her. The others noticed their colleague’s frozen stare and followed the line of her gaze. Silence fell over them.

Eva brushed past them and scrawled her current name in the guest register. She couldn’t bring herself to care about the sidelong glances and muttered speculation that had followed her since she’d stopped maintaining her façade of polished, late-midlife beauty. What did it matter? Brian no longer noticed how she looked. Some days he didn’t know her at all.

Still, she paused outside the door to his room to dash on a coat of lipstick, a bright coral shade that was years out of fashion. Brian had always liked the color.

His eyes lit up with recognition when she entered his room. Eva’s heart lifted. Today would be a good day. She sat on the edge of his bed and took his trembling, age-spotted hand in both of hers.

Brian patted her hands absently, his eyes proud as they took her in. “The prettiest girl in the world, and she’s….”

His old-man’s quaver faded into uncertainty. Slowly, his expression shifted from pleasure to puzzlement to something Eva knew all too well: awe, mingled with longing and touched by fear. It was the look men wore when they faced a reality their intellect had long refused to consider.

Brian’s hand gripped hers with forgotten strength. The monitors beside his bed began to beep and flare.

“What are you?”

“Yours,” she whispered. “I’m the prettiest girl in the world, and I’m all yours.”

A nurse wearing pink scrubs bustled in. Her eyes held things Eva had last seen on the faces of long-dead priests and vengeful peasants.

“I think he’s had enough for one day, Mrs. Hampton.”

Eva fled.

The rain had stopped, but its work was done. The world looked brighter, fresher. Younger. Summer rain had that effect.

She slid into the car and reached for the rear view mirror. When she saw what Brian had seen, she muttered curses in a language mankind had long forgotten.

Her ash-blond hair was longer, thicker, threaded through with bright new strands of gold. Smooth skin surrounded ageless eyes. Taut cheeks bloomed like spring roses. Her earrings were gone–two more diamonds cast aside by ears determined to undo the work of needle and scalpel. Eva smoothed her hair over the persistent, telltale points.

Brian would almost certainly forget what he had seen. Tomorrow he might not know her at all. That knowledge pained her, but she preferred it to the alternative: that Brian might remember he’d seen something impossible. He would regard that memory as yet another betrayal by a once-keen mind, another loss to age and Alzheimer’s.

No, forgetting was better. Perhaps it would be better if she were forgotten entirely–if all her kind were forgotten.

Even as the thought formed, Eva knew it was impossible. Aging and death were inexorable foes, but so was immortality.

She reached for her cell phone and keyed in a number from memory. When the receptionist answered, Eva gave her True Name.

A short silence followed. “We thought you’d moved on. You really should, you know.”

“I know,” Eva said. “And I will, soon. But I need a little more time.”

Pages rustled as the receptionist checked the schedule. Their kind had little fondness for computers. “You’ll need more than the usual maintenance, but I think the doctors can fit you in this afternoon. How much time should we plan to give you?”

Eva glanced at her too young, too beautiful reflection. ”Thirty years should do it.”


Elaine Cunningham is a New York Times bestselling author best known for her work in licensed settings such as Forgotten Realms, Star Wars, Everquest, and Pathfinder Tales. Her publications include 20 novels, over three dozen short stories, and a graphic novel. For more information, please visit www.elainecunningham.com.

This story was previously published on www.elainecunningham.com.




7
Jul

NOCTURNUS by Jess Landry

I am awake, yet barely.

My heavy eyes are open just enough to see blurred figures of monochrome horses galloping in circles around my bedroom, emanating softly from my guardian: my carousel of light. One after another, over and over, the horses follow the same path; every shape is a beacon of white light, washing the room in its amiable glow—a glow that casts away the menace of the shadows and whatever creature may lurk in them. I hear the soft, yet reassuring, sounds of my carousel’s music box, sweet tings and hushed dings, lightly coaxing me into the dream world with their melodies, making my heavy eyes heavier.

But somewhere beneath the harmony, I hear the harsh click of an old door slowly creaking open.

I rub my tired eyes and sit up in bed. Everything looks as it should: my carousel nightlight shines and spins in the far corner; my teddy bear is snug by my side; my closet door is wide open.

But Daddy closed the door before bed.

I strain my eyes to the darkness of the closet. A long, pale hand slowly snakes out of obscurity and grips the trim of the door.

I am not so tired anymore; my eyes are not so heavy. I grab my bear and fling myself down, bringing my blanket over my head to create a cocooned refuge underneath bulky flannel sheets. My breath is hot under the weight of the sheets and my little heart races. I cling to Bear.

Bulky steps drag across the carpet. They don’t seem to be coming my way.

Then, the reassuring sounds of my carousel stops. I hear the plug drop to the floor.

I grip Bear tight as the heavy steps creep my way. I am scared, but my childish curiosity overpowers my emotions. I make a hole small enough for one eye to peek through and make Bear look first.

Nothing happens.

I take my time.

I can only see the floor, but the room is dark; barely illuminated by the faint light of the moon desperately trying to pierce my window’s blinds. The horses have stopped their roundabout.

Feet suddenly step into view.

My little eyes widen.

White, nearly translucent feet, not of a man, but of a monster. White like the bed-sheet ghost I cut holes in for Halloween and Mommy got mad at me.

I can’t move, I can only stare and clutch onto Bear and the blankets. The monster doesn’t move, either. It just stands there with thin, boney feet.

Deep silence sweeps the room, pounding in my ears, squeezing against my skull.

Just as I exhale as softly as I can, the blankets are ripped out of my terrified hands.

#

I wake up. A dream of my childhood; memories of that first night I cannot seem to forget. I sigh and sit up, grabbing the tall glass of water off my nightstand.

The room is dark with only the faint glow of moonlight seeping in through the window blinds.

The room is empty.

A part of me, my lost childhood, still yearns for my carousel of light, for the blurred shapes of horses galloping endlessly around my room; for the warm white light it radiated, keeping the shadows at bay for as long as it could; and for its hushed melodies. Anything to help me sleep better at night.

Then, from the darkest corner, my closet door slowly creaks open.

Frantically, I throw myself down and bring my blanket over my head. I have no teddy bear to grip tonight or any other night. Bear now sleeps with my daughter in the room down the hall.

Bulky steps pound against the carpet.

There is nothing to unplug this time, so they come straight my way.

I make a small hole and peek from under the security of my blanket; my childish curiosity never left me.

Thin, boney feet come into view.

Silence sweeps the room, but the air above me is unsettled.

It’s hovering over me.

It’s breathing in my ear.

I exhale as quietly as I can. The blankets are ripped out of my hands.

Our eyes lock; green eyes on black.

I smile. I can’t tell if he’s smiling, he has no discernible features safe his eyes—jawbreaker black holes flushed against translucent skin. He hovers over me, his branch-like fingers resting on either side of me, all highlighted in the faint glow of the autumn moon.

After all these years of playing his game, this version of hide-and-seek, I have convinced myself it’s his favourite.

I have convinced myself he smiles.

Our steady gaze remains for a moment more, then my monster lumbers back to his closet and closes the door behind him. I pull my sheets back up in an attempt to feel warmth again; those last bitter nights of autumn always send a chill through the house.

I lie awake for a moment more, reminiscing on that first night. I thought my carousel nightlight was my saviour, my knight with a music box.

He doesn’t like the light, but my daughter does. I can hear the sweet and hushed sounds of the carousel carelessly spilling out from her bedroom and faintly into mine.

Then, somewhere beneath the distant harmony, I hear the click of an old door slowly creaking open from inside her room.


Jess Landry is a graphic designer by day and a writer by night. A lover of all things spooky, you can usually find her scribbling down story ideas or watching obscure horror movies. She currently resides in the icy wastelands of Winnipeg, Manitoba with her husband and two cats.




6
Jul

Evil Girlfriend Media Closed to Novel Submissions Until January 2016

If you love dark fantasy, science fiction and horror, you might find something to fall in love with here at Evil Girlfriend Media. Go check out our book page for more information on what we publish.

If you are shopping around a manuscript at this time, unfortunately EGM will be closed to ALL MANUSCRIPT SUBMISSIONS until January of 2016. This means we will not accept any unsolicited novel, novella or novelette works at this time. No exceptions. Any submissions received will be deleted unread.

Although we are closed to manuscript submissions, Evil Girlfriend Media is still accepting flash fiction for the EGM Shorts. Please read the latest “From the Editor’s Lair,” to see what our editor, Jennifer Brozek, would like to see more of.

Good luck and we hope to see your finished manuscript in January.




2
Jul

From the Editor’s Lair by Jennifer Brozek

I love you guys. I’ve gotten such good stuff in the slush pile. I hope you all are enjoying EGM.Shorts as much as I am.

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. I would love to see more reprints. I have almost none in my queue and half of what I buy is reprints. This means you have an excellent shot at making the sale. In particular, I’d like to see reprints from 2014 or before. I won’t accept reprints from 2015.

3. I still would love to see more science fiction and supernatural horror. (Though, remember no stories where women are brutalized, then they turn into a variety of monsters, then they kill their abuser. I don’t like them.)

4. I’m putting the minimum word count at 500. I really want to see stuff closer to 1000 words.

Here is what we have for July. I’m particularly pleased to personally know some of these authors and to have been able to accept their stories. This month also includes the longest title I’ve ever seen in a flash fiction piece.

“Nocturnus” by Jess Landry
“Maintenance” by Elaine Cunningham
“Draft Letter on Research Potential Suggested by Recent Findings in Gnome Genomics, by Simsoran the Frequently Cited, Reviewed by Artamixiana the Cantankerous” by Marissa Lingen
“Disconnect” by L.R. Bonehill
“The Dirty Nest” by Sarah Hendrix
“A Measure of Sorrow” by Charity Tahmaseb
“Boundless Restraint” by Jeremiah Murphy
“Elizabeth’s Pirate Army” by Caroline M. Yoachim

You can read all of our previous flash fiction at the EGM.Shorts Archive page.





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