Turn the Lights Off on Your Way Out

Uncategorized

by Mark Allan Gunnells

February 29th. A rare day, one that only existed once every four years. Kirk didn’t know if that was significant or not, but he thought it was at least noteworthy.

David walked up behind the chair and placed a hand on Kirk’s shoulder. “Hey, wanna go outside?”

“What for?” Kirk asked, eyes glued to the iPad balanced on his thighs.

“To look at the stars. You know, while we still can.”

Kirk finally tore his gaze from the screen and looked up at his husband. “I don’t know if I want to.”

“You’re watching it online. What’s the difference?”

“The difference is huge. Watching it on the tablet doesn’t seem quite real. Like I’m watching a movie or something, and eventually the credits will roll and I can get up and return to normal life. If I go outside and see it for myself then there’s no filter, no pretending. It will be really real, and I don’t know if I can handle that.”

Walking around the chair, David squatted down next to him and gently turned the iPad over on his lap. “I know you’re scared. I’m scared too, but I would feel a lot better if we were scared together. I don’t want to go through this alone.”

Tucking the tablet aside, Kirk leaned forward and kissed David then two of them remained still with their foreheads pressed together for a moment, clasping hands like two children lost in a fairytale forest.

“What do you think is happening?” Kirk asked, his voice trembling.

David pushed up and pulled Kirk to his feet as well. “Come on, let’s go do a little star-gazing. It’ll be romantic.”

They put on coats though the night was mild and left by the backdoor, stepping out onto the small open patio. Kirk remembered when they’d first bought the house two years ago, they had talked about how nice it would be to sit out on the patio at night and look at the stars. They’d never done it, however. It was one of those things you said because it sounded good but never quite found the time for. Like volunteering at a soup kitchen or watching Downton Abbey.

But if they were ever going to do it, now was the best time. Now was the only time.

David took a seat on one of the white deck chairs, head tilted back. “There’s something kind of beautiful about it.”

Kirk sat in the chair next to him, but he kept his head down, looking at his own hands. He couldn’t quite bring himself to lift his eyes to the expansive night sky. “I don’t know how you can say anything about this is beautiful.”

Reaching across and taking Kirk’s hand, David smiled at him. “The mysterious is always a bit beautiful. It’s like love. No one can really explain it, no one knows exactly how it starts or ends, and that’s why they write so many songs about it. The mystery of it adds to its beauty.”

Kirk found himself returning his husband’s smile, despite what was going on around them. Or more to the point, above them. “Suddenly you’re a poet.”

“I’ve always been a poet. Remember when I used to recite that ‘beans are good for the heart’ ditty?”

Kirk laughed, kissed David again, and finally felt strong enough to turn his gaze heavenward.

Something was definitely wrong, that was noticeable almost instantly, but he mused that if you didn’t know what you were looking for, it may take a few minutes to pinpoint the problem. Kirk had never been into astronomy so his knowledge of constellations was a layman’s minimum. He did recognize the Big Dipper, or maybe it was the Little Dipper. It was a Dipper nonetheless. However, some of the other constellations were obviously missing. A lot of them actually. Even as he watched, two of the stars on the Dipper’s handle flared and then sputtered out, like dead bulbs.

The phenomenon had first been noticed three hours ago, stars simply winking out of existence in the sky. Scientists were baffled, and actual astronomers using their most high-powered telescopes could not figure out what had happened to these stars. Almost as if they had simply ceased to exist.

Talking heads filled the TV and internet, all offering theories and speculations, but the raw truth was that no one knew what this meant. The stars had started to disappear in more rapid succession, like a bomb’s timer where the countdown sped up the closer it got to detonation. Many, even some of the talking heads, proposed that this was a precursor of the end of the world. It had been pointed out time and again that each disappearing star was the end of some world, and the earth itself was one such light in the darkness of space, and it was likely only a matter of time before we were extinguished as well. Of course, the loony fringe floated ideas of extraterrestrials and intergalactic space ships, dredging up stories of Area 51 and the foo fighter phenomenon from World War II.

David pointed up. “Look, I think that’s Sirius blazing right there.” Even before he finished the sentence, the star in question blinked out. “Or it was.”

From the other side of the seven-foot high privacy fence, Kirk heard the sound of children’s laughter and he could smell the earthy smoke of the Peterson’s fire pit. Mike and Sheila must be out there, letting their kids stay up late. From the sound of the children’s high-pitched giggling, it seemed they didn’t know anything was wrong, lost in the simple joy of getting to be up past their bedtime.

Kirk envied them.

“This isn’t like the movies led me to believe it would be,” he said.

David titled his head. “How do you mean?”

“In the movies, when people know the world is about to end there are riots and panic and chaos. But it’s like everybody’s just hunkering down and waiting.”

“Well,” David said, “do you feel like rioting or do you just want to be with the one you love for as long as you can?”

Kirk squeezed his hand, the only answer required.

As he stared up at the rapidly emptying sky, David said. “To answer your earlier question, I think God is closing up shop.”

“What?”

“Inside you asked what I thought was happening, and that’s what I think. God’s had the universe open for business for a few billion years, and now he’s tired, getting ready to flip the sign from OPEN to CLOSED. And what do you do on your way out? You turn off all the lights as you go.”

“More of your poetry?”

“That was more of an allegory, I think.”

Above them, the remaining stars began to wink out one after the other. A chain reaction, a domino effect, leaving the black sky as void as a bottomless pit.

Kirk squeezed his husband’s hand again. “You were right, there’s no one I would rather be here with than you.”

David leaned toward him, placing a hand against Kirk’s cheek. “Listen, there’s something I want to tell you while there’s still time. You have been – ”

THE END

Mark Allan Gunnells loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He loves reader feedback, and above all he loves telling stories. He lives in Greer, SC, with his husband Craig A. Metcalf.

The Farthest Corner

Uncategorized

by Michael J. Moore

You realize you’ve made a mistake as soon as you spot the girl in the back of the van. She’s sitting in the farthest corner from the driver’s seat, hugging her legs with her head between her knees so she doesn’t look like much more than a set of shins with blonde hair. Then your eyes dart back outside, past the fat man in dirty coveralls, past the yellow house where the meanest dog on the block lives, and they take in the gray afternoon sky one last time before the door slides loudly on its track, and slams shut. There are no seats in the back of the van, and it’s just grown silent aside from the sound of the rumbling engine which is causing the carpeted floor to vibrate beneath your feet. The only windows on the vehicle are located up front and on the backdoors, but the ones in the back are so dark they make the outside look like night.

The inside smells of grease, just like Dad’s workbench in the garage, but there’s no toolbox in here. As far as you can see, it’s completely empty aside from you and the girl, who doesn’t look up, but appears to be around the same size as you. The walls are lined with black paneling, though, so it’s too dark to make out much detail.           

Your jaw trembles before you becomes aware of your heartbeat, which seems to be drumming inside your ears, Whump-Whump-Whump-Whump, the way it does when you play tag during recess, or sprint across the gym in P.E. The way it does when you lay back on the dentist’s chair while he shoves screaming power-tools into your mouth without a bit of reserve. The way it did last summer, when the dirty worker at the carnival locked you in the steel cage just before the ride began. Only then, it was a good kind of fear you were experiencing because adults had never spoken to you about rides the way they have about getting into cars with strangers.

You feel a growing warmth beneath the surface of your eyes because you need to get out of here, and you need to get out now. You scan the door and spot a latch, which is the same color as the rest of the interior. Taking a breath and clenching your jaw, you tell yourself not to cry, but before you can stop them, tears explode out of you. They pour down either side of your nose, wedging between your lips, and salting your tongue as you pull, pull, pull on the door only to discover what you already know.

“It’s child-locked,” the girl’s voice causes you to jump. It’s low and so deplete of joy or even hope that as it drifts into your ears, it causes your stomach to flip. “It won’t open from the inside. Neither will the backdoors.” She doesn’t look up as she speaks, just continues to stare down at the space between her white shoes.

You hiccup and sniff as you ask her why they’re child-locked, but before she can answer, one of the doors in the front opens, letting in light and the sound of a passing car with loud rap music coming from its speakers. You glance over to see the fat man climbing into the driver’s seat, causing the van to rock.

“Why is it child-locked?” you repeat, this time it’s directed at him.

He doesn’t answer, though, or even acknowledge that you’re here. Just shuts the door, shifts the stick on the steering-wheel, and pulls out onto the road. As soon as the van’s in motion, you lose your balance and topple right onto your ass, where you sit and cry even though you know it won’t do you any good.

The problem is, what else is there to do? The man isn’t just fat, he’s tall and though you can’t see much beneath his giant beard, even his face seems massive. You’re barely even nine, and small for your age. You couldn’t fight this guy in your dreams.

Your birthday was last month, and you had been hinting for weeks that you wanted a cellphone, pointing out that because your older sister has one, you two could text each other if you did too. But Dad knew what you were up to, and one night at the dinner-table, he told you, “A phone’s a lot of responsibility. Give it another year, why don’t you?”

You consider standing to stare out the back window. To watch your neighborhood disappear. You could try to wave down cars behind you, but you know they probably won’t see through the darkened glass. So instead, you sit here in the middle of the van, your palms flat on the carpet to keep you from tipping over, and you think of posters of missing children taped to walls in local stores. Your lips harden, and you’re about to break into another fit of crying when the girl in the corner speaks again in her terrible, low, solemn tone.

“How’d he get you get into the van?” She still doesn’t look up.

You blink and you blink, and then you reply, “He said he was—he said he was making a—”

“A calendar,” she interrupts. “The son of a bitch. I hate him.”

He must have used the same line on her, but it’s comforting to talk, so you carry on anyway. “He said he gets pictures of a different kid every month, and you get to be the star that month. He was gonna take me home and get my parents to sign a contract, and I’d be February’s star when the calendar came out. He said—”

The van comes to a stop at a streetlight, and the fat man turns in his seat and says, “Are you calling me a liar?”

Sniffing, you tell him, “No.”

“Good. You are gonna be February’s star, but only if you start behaving back there. No more crying.”

“He’s lying,” the girl says. “He’s not making a calendar. He’s driving to the woods.”

The fat man turns and puts the van back into motion as you ask the girl what he’s going to do in the woods. In response, she asks if you’ve ever shot a gun.

“A gun?” you repeat. “Why would I—”

“Ssshhh. Don’t say it again, just listen to me. There’s a revolver where I’m sitting. If you peel the carpet up, there’s a compartment with a jack and lug-wrench, and that’s where he keeps his gun. You gotta be quiet when you get it out, or he’ll stop the van and then it’s over.”

At first you don’t respond, just let her words replay in your head, until finally you ask with a trembling voice, “How do you—how could you even—”

But before you can finish, she looks up and you nearly jump out of your skin. You cover your mouth to keep from screaming, because where her eyes and nose should be, there’s only a giant hole. It’s the size of a baseball, with sharp pieces of skull reaching for each other from its edges. A tangled mesh of brain-matter is draped over the bottom, and more blood than you’ve ever seen in one place is pouring over her mouth and chin, down her neck.

“I was October’s star. He shot me in the back of my head, and the bullet destroyed most of my face on its way out. There’ve been three more since me, and none have been brave enough to go for the gun.”

You’ve never even dreamt of anything as terrible as her, so you close your eyes as tight as they’ll shut. So tight that the friction might start a fire on the bridge of your nose.

The girl says, “Maybe you’ll be the one to finally stop him, but if not, there’s a place for you in the woods with the rest of us.”

Finally, you open your eyes, and the girl is gone, replaced by the emptiest space you’ve ever beheld. The fat man looks back briefly as you scoot to the farthest corner from the driver’s seat. When he returns his attention to the road, you wedge your fingers under the carpet and slowly peel it up, praying that he won’t notice.

End

Michael J Moore is a Latinx author from Washington state. His books include Highway Twenty, which appeared on the Preliminary Ballot for the 2019 Bram Stoker Award, the bestselling post-apocalyptic novel, After the Change, which is used as curriculum at the University of Washington, the psychological thriller, Secret Harbor and the middle grade horror story, Nightmares in Aston – Wicker Village. His work has received awards, has appeared in various anthologies, journals, newspapers (i.e. the Huffington Post) and magazines (i.e. the Nation), on television (with acclaimed newsman, Carlos Watson) and has been adapted for theater and radio.  Follow him at twitter.com/MichaelJMoore20 or https://instagram.com/michaeljmoorewriting.

Got a Bite

Uncategorized

by Laura Keating

They never caught anything.

For years, Verna’s grandfather had been bundling her up and trucking her out onto the frozen lake. He always took her to the same spot – although he’d make like he was scouting out a new location, capping a crusty thermal mitten to his wrinkly brow and raising his lumpy, red nose to the freezing wind.

“This is it,” grandpa would pronounce, then he’d drill a hole with an old hand-crank into the thick ice. His auger would drop suddenly as he cut through, water gulping over the ice as he swept the mouth of it clear with his boot. The familiar black pines on the distant shore, frozen to the flat white sky, seemed to grow ever more distant as dusk fell.

It wasn’t exactly legal to fish at night, not in these parts, and it was cold on the ice. Stupefyingly cold. Verna shivered the whole time, nervous and frozen, listening for the sound of the conservation officer’s truck. If they did hear a distant engine growl, which was almost every time, it was Verna’s job to leave the relative warmth of their pop-up fishing hut and look for the headlights on the shore. She wasn’t allowed back in, no matter how she begged, until she confirmed they were gone. Sometimes it took a while for grandpa to believe her.

“You think I like sitting in here all alone in front of this icy hole in the dark?” he said one night as she cried. He fished with a green light on a line, dropping it down into the black water to attract the crappies. When an engine sounded, all lights went out. “Scary in here. What if an arm comes up and grabs me? Skin black and slipping off the bones, patting around the ice for my boot. Just like that. Pat. Pat. Pat. Leaving little patches of flesh on the ice. Pat. Pat. Pat …”

It was a mean trick, one concocted so she wouldn’t want to stay alone inside the hut while he stood out looking for the lights, instead. Like he was doing her a favour. It was a kiddy prank, but it also worked. A reminder not to try and leave, to walk back over the ice to the road and to the gas station just three kilometers off.

Grandpa used to take her dad fishing. Dad fell through the ice heading home early one night. Now grandpa took her.

They never caught a thing. But she wouldn’t have eaten a bite, even if they did. The lake’s inhabitants were too well-fed.

To keep her mind off the cold and what lay unfound and unknown beneath the ice, Verna watched the stars. She could find many of the winter constellations without any trouble anymore. Some nights, if she was lucky, she saw the northern lights.

“Please, let me back in,” she whimpered. Her lips were numb. “They’re gone.”

“They’re wily. Just killed the headlights to wait us out.”

She heard the thermos squeal open. She didn’t expect him to save any of the nice, warm coffee for her.

Verna tucked her chin into her scarf. A satellite blinked across the sky. A shooting star lived and died before her eyes.

Then something other appeared over the trees.

She thought it was a flare at first, maybe grandpa had been right. But the ball of light fell gently only to rise again. Fall and rise, fall and rise dreamily over the treetops like a yo-yo.

Or a fishing bobber.

The light split into three. Which split into six …

Grandpa’s green light wasn’t prohibited everywhere, but it was in this region of Ontario. It wasn’t that it attracted the fish, but it attracted the food that the hunting fish wanted. So, the hunters went after the light. Conservationists warned that it could throw ecosystems out of balance. Grandpa thought that conversationists were full of shit, all pushing the Radical Green Agenda.

“Yeah, imagine,” Verna had said one night when she was tired of hearing it all again, “investing all that money and all you get is a cleaner planet.”

She’d spent the whole night outside the hut for that one.

A set of headlights blazed to life on the shore, then tore ass along the icy shore road, faster than was wise at this time of year. The sky lights shifted, drifting towards the truck for a hundred meters – and then stopped. Not worth the effort, apparently. The truck escaped over the hill, the sound of squealing tires carrying clear as a loon’s wail over the lake.

“What was that?” said grandpa.

“You were right. They were waiting.”

He hooted. “See! I told you!”

The door flap of the hut snapped open as grandpa came out to gloat. His grinning stopped as he saw the big lights in the sky.

“What the hell is that?”

He stepped out from the hut to get a better look.

All their lights were hooked up to a small jenny on the back of the snowmobile: the green lights, but a couple of flood lights, too, in case the ice should crack and they needed to see which way was safe out. Verna got behind the snowmobile and kicked them all on with her boot.

Grandpa stood like a vaudeville actor in his big spotlight. The lights over the trees shifted, somehow both languorous and terribly fast, and were at once over head. Their lines came down like darts. Grandpa didn’t have to bite; the hook got him through the cheek and tongue, and out the chin between the mandibles. The line tugged twice, dancing him up onto his toes, testing the catch. Then he was reeled up, too fast to scream.

Verna killed the lights, went back into the hut, and unscrewed the thermos top. She’d wait until morning, rather than risk the ice in the dark … or the lights in the sky. But she doubted they’d be back again tonight.

Tonight, they caught themselves a big one.

THE END

Laura Keating is a writer of thrillers, horror, and speculative fiction. Her work has been published in several anthologies, including Worst Laid Plans from Grindhouse Press. Originally from Saint Andrews by-the-Sea, New Brunswick, she now lives in Montréal, Quebec. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoreKeating, and find more of her work on her website, www.lorekeating.com

The Five Things That Matter

Uncategorized

by Gabino Iglesias

Hey, welcome back! Last time we were here, we talked about self-publishing, its pros and cons, and reasons why you should/shouldn’t do it. Now we’re going to assume you decided this is the path for you because 70% royalties, less waiting, and no need for an agent are just too appealing and you want to walk down this road. That’s awesome. Now let’s talk openly about some of the most crucial elements you’ll have to invest your time, money, and energy on in order to make sure you publish the best book possible (you know, other than writing a great narrative).

– Cover

Oh, someone told you not to judge a book by its cover, right? Well, that person probably wasn’t talking about books…and they probably don’t buy books with shitty covers. There are a handful of things we can state about publishing with authority, and one of them is this: great covers get attention. If things go well, that attention sells books. I’m not here to argue with you. If you asked your friend who has a cousin who once took a graphic design course by mail to design you a cover on MS Paint because it was free, that shit’s on you, not me. Anyway, unless you’re a writer who also happens to have the ability to create a superb cover (you know, like Matthew Revert, Don Noble, Kealan Patrick Burke, and Alan Baxter, to name a few), you should pay someone to do so for you. I know this is rough on your wallet, but it’s worth it. You want to have something you’re proud of showing off. Also, you can look up some of the folks I mentioned and you’ll see that some of them are incredibly affordable, especially when you take into account that you’re paying for a unique piece.

– Design and typography

I review many self-published books and few things scream “Amateur hour!” like random blank pages, weird spacing, different fonts for no reason (sometimes starting in the middle of a sentence), and other design and typography atrocities. Just like the cover, this is something you can certainly do yourself. There are plenty of people who teach themselves and do a great job even if they’ve never done it before. However, if you are not inclined to do that or simply know you don’t have the time to do a great job, reach out and have someone who knows what they’re doing do it for you. A book with a pretty interior is easy on the eye and never makes readers stop and think “Did a toddler put this together?”

– Editing

As I mentioned in the previous column, self-publishing is not an excuse to skip the editing process. Listen, I teach creative writing and I’ve been an editor for a decade, and when I’m done editing my novels and think they’re perfect, I send them to an editor…and they find a bunch of stuff that needs fixing. You have to understand that you’re too close to your manuscript. You have memorized that story, which means what’s in your head is often different that what’s on the page. Think about those times where you write an email, read it, edit it, send it…and then spot a typo. Well, the same thing happens with clarity, pacing, economy of language, plot holes, and every other important element. I’ve read books where a character named Sara or Michelle for ten chapters suddenly becomes Rebecca or Sandra. I’ve read novels were the word “all” or “just” appear almost on every page. I’ve read info dumps that take up half a dozen pages. The point is this: even your editor needs an editor. Editing is like dental surgery; you should leave it to the pros.

– Marketing copy

Weird one, I know, but it matters. When you’re pitching your book to reviewers, you want it to sound awesome. Sure, you can send them the whole synopsis, but something shorter and punchier often works better. This brings us back to something I’m always telling people: writing is art, but publishing is a business. You want to sell your book, so think of ways to make it appealing to readers and reviewers. If the stuff you put on your Amazon page makes me yawn, you can say goodbye to that potential sale.

– Blurbs and early reviews

You know that rule about how you shouldn’t get blurbs because your book is self-published? Yeah, you haven’t because that’s not a thing. You’re publishing that thing, so give it the love it deserves and look for blurbs from writers you admire. If you think “I won’t ask for blurbs because I’m self-publishing and I’m ashamed of that” then go back to square one and rethink the whole thing. Same goes for reviews. I know you don’t have enough money to print a thousand galleys and mail them out to reviewers, but you can at least reach out to a few with a PDF or mobi. Build that buzz.

Okay, that’s it! Thanks for hanging out with me again. Next month, we’ll jump into the wonderful world of small/indie presses. Stay cool. Go write.

New Voices in Horror with Donyae Coles

Uncategorized

Joe Sullivan: What is it about dark, speculative fiction that interests you as a writer? What compelled you to submit your first stories?

Donyae Coles: I’ve always been drawn to these sorts of stories. I think it’s because with this sort of work you can talk about things as they are. There’s no pressure to romanticize things. They can just be. The story doesn’t have to be about overcoming anything, it can just show things for what they are, in all their own horrible beauty.

I always knew I wanted to do this writing thing, in fact I WAS writing for a part of my living by then so I knew if I wanted people to read me, I had to submit. I saw a call for stories and I had a spark of an idea, I wrote it in an afternoon and submitted it. They did end up accepting it but then the publisher went under before it was released. My next stories were these weird, violent little monsters and I didn’t know where to send them but I wanted people to read my work so I just kept trying. They were both picked up after a handful of rejections. One was “Breaking the Waters”.

A common theme in your stories, such as “Breaking the Waters” (PseudoPod/Nightlight) and “Dawn Colored Night” (Speculative City), seems to be that of a woman facing imminent spiritual invasion. What is it about this theme that keeps you coming back as a storyteller?

I love “Dawn Colored Night”. I think it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever written so I’m stoked to hear you mention it! I think what I’m really talking about with these stories (and many of my stories) is the concept of “inheritance” which is through blood but also, sometimes, through circumstance. When we think about inheritance it’s usually wealth but we come into a lot of things. The way we look, the way we talk, the broken step in the house you just rented.

A lot of my work deals with how much we are able to do with the things we inherit. How much they harm us or help us. What we can leave behind and what we can’t. Or shouldn’t even if we can.

“Best House” from Campfire Macabre is an excellent example of how well quiet horror can work in a limited space such as flash. Most writers responded to the call by building toward one shocking moment, while you chose to accumulate unsettling moments that when taken together are absolutely dreadful. Are there any techniques you can share for those of us looking to work in horror’s more subtle spaces?

I try to write with that misquoted Poe idea in mind, that a story must have a single mood. The way I think of it is kind of like I think of painting. I paint in layers. No single layer makes the painting and by themselves they’re unimpressive. But if you take one out, the work doesn’t look right in the end. The trick is to build things bit by bit. Glaze by glaze. Everything in the piece should build upon the last to create a fuller picture.

Also I think there’s an urge to make all the creepy things obviously creepy. If you want to write something that is subtle you’ve got to draw out the horror that just lives in all things. Everyday horror. Hold that story right at the edge of supernatural so that reader is in doubt. There’s nothing scarier than doubt. Doubt is the little sister of the unknown and she is viscous. Make your readers doubt, make them second guess what they think they know about the world. And then, when you show them that other side of things they won’t be able to tell what’s real or not. So, if we’re still going with my painting metaphor, don’t over paint, you’ll lose the magic.

Are you currently working toward a collection, novella, or novel? If so, what themes do you hope to explore with it?

I am working on a Gothic novel about a Black woman that marries into an old family in 1840s England. On the surface it seems like I’m dealing with race but really it’s about family trauma. I mean, it is a Gothic novel after all.

My other project is a novella that tackles the diet industry through murder.

What are some of your writing goals for the 2020s?     

My main goal in the coming decade is to get that book money. I really want to get longer works out. I also want to lean more into the weird in my writing so you all have that look forward to. I want to do some more anthologies. I also want to combine my writing and art more through comics and other projects.

Donyae Coles is a writer of weird fiction. She’s been published on Pseudopod and Vastarien. You can find more of her work on her website, www.donyaecoles.com or follow her on Twitter @okokno.

Where the Devil Waits

Uncategorized

What would you do for all the money in the world? Or to get with the girl of your dreams? What if you could make other people do anything you told them? What if all this and more could be yours just for winning a race…against the devil?

A long-abandoned church on top of a mountain in the Pennsylvania backwoods is where the devil waits for anyone brave enough to challenge him. The course runs from the gate, through the cemetery, to the church doors.

If you win, the prize is yours.

If you lose…you die at sunrise.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

To four college students looking for a good time, nothing could be further from the truth.

A novella from Wesley Southard & Mark Steensland, to be released this May!

Cemetery Gates Club

Uncategorized

The Cemetery Gates Club simply honors writers who’ve published 3+ stories with us.

January 2021 inductees:

Corey Farrenkopf

“A Sleepwalker’s Hands” and “Sound Never Lasts” – Campfire Macabre

“Trivia Night at the Dr. Neil Trivett Global Atmosphere Watch Observatory”

Bev Vincent

“The Hound of Brackettville” Places We Fear to Tread

“An Invisible Christmas Spectacular” Halldark Holidays

“Tupilaq”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

February 2021 inductees:

Mark Allan Gunnells

“O Little Town…” Halldark Holidays

“In the Hands of an Angry God”

“Turn the Lights Off on Your Way Out”

Michael J. Moore

“Cellophane” Places We Fear to Tread

“The Intern” Campfire Macabre

“The Farthest Corner”

“Tupilaq”

Uncategorized

by Bev Vincent

The wind howling outside his room at the North Star Inn reminds Earl of the desert, but it’s an Arctic blast over a hundred degrees colder than what he experienced in Iraq. He’s heard of the land of the midnight sun, of course, but to be in a place where the sun won’t set for months seems as unlikely as driving a tanker across the desert in the cradle of civilization.

Their stopover at Thule Air Base, Greenland, far above the Arctic Circle, was unscheduled, just like the stop at Ramstein. The next destination on this clandestine tour is probably Gitmo. Earl heard the beaches are nice there, not that he’ll be allowed to get off.

They’re only supposed to be refueling, but the military transport developed engine trouble. The men shackled in the back of their plane were offloaded to a shed near the runway under guard, but there isn’t anywhere for them to go. The nearest settlement of any significance is a hundred miles away.

The cold is a shock to Earl’s system. The Inn’s bed is comfortable enough, though, nicer than any he’s had for the past year. However, sleep eludes him. It’s too quiet. Four days ago, he was in the desert and he still feels like a potential target. Plus, there’s Mariel’s “Dear John” letter, which he received six months ago. He knows every word by heart but hasn’t found a way to respond.

He’s nearly asleep when a mysterious glow fills the room, expanding into a blinding white orb. From the center steps a short, stocky man wearing a caribou parka. His hood is pushed back to reveal long, scraggly hair and a drooping mustache. His complexion is dark, his features flat.

“What? Who?” Earl stammers.

The man reaches into his parka and brings out a long object. Earl is instantly back in Fallujah, where strangers are dangerous and surprises often lethal. He scrambles away from the intruder, pressing his back against the wall.

The man holds the object toward Earl. It’s about eight inches long, covered in ornate carvings. The man seems to want Earl to accept his gift, but Earl has no desire to approach an entity who materialized from a halo of light in the middle of the night.

Eventually, the man places the object at the foot of the bed and disappears into the glowing orb, which closes like a collapsing star. Earl blinks as he gropes for the light switch beside the bed. He cautiously approaches the foot of the bed. After convincing himself the object won’t explode, he picks it up and examines it under the light.

It’s a grotesque totem pole carved from a solid piece of wood. A leering bug-eyed creature is perched on top, sitting lotus style, its mouth agape to reveal enormous fangs. The figure in the middle is positively demonic. At the bottom, an exaggerated porcine mask nestles between a pair of skeletal legs. The object seems like something that should be in a museum.

The way it appeared makes Earl question his sanity. He tries to convince himself it was a dream, but the object defeats his argument. Who bequeathed it to him and why? Rather than confront the questions, he tucks it into his duffel bag. Then he collapses on his bed and stares into the darkness, trying to ignore what just happened. Eventually, he sleeps.

Instead of going down to breakfast the next morning, he uses the Inn’s WiFi to search for information. When he limits his search to Greenland relics, he discovers the object is something called a tupilaq. Inuit shamans once created them out of animal parts and supposedly chanted them to life. Because they were made from perishable materials, no original tupilaqs survive. For tourists, the Inuit now carve representations of them out of wood, bone or antlers. This one looks like the real deal to Earl, though.

If someone casts a tupilaq into the water, it will seek out and destroy their enemy. However, if the other person has stronger magic, he can turn the tupilaq back on the person who sent it. The only defence against a returned tupilaq is a public confession, and even that could be neutralized in some cases. It seems like the shaman was trying to do Earl a favor by giving him a weapon to use against an enemy.

He only has one—the author of the tattered letter in his wallet. This talisman supposedly gives him the power to defeat her. However, there isn’t any open water into which he can cast the tupliaq. He’ll have to wait until he’s Stateside.

* * *

The hurricane seems like an omen. Earl can feel it in his bones. He was in New Orleans during the lead-up to Katrina and knows it’s time to get out of Dodge.

Making sure no one is watching, he walks to the river’s edge, withdraws the tupilaq from his pocket and looks at it one last time. The evil, leering faces have haunted his dreams ever since that night in Greenland. It’s time to put it to work.

He draws it back over his shoulder and launches it into the air. It sails across the dark, turbulent waters before plunging into the river far from shore, disappearing with barely a splash. The current will carry it into the gulf and, he hopes, back in again when the tidal surge arrives. Will the tupilaq penetrate Mariel’s cold heart? Or will the demonic imps come to life and drag her down to hell with them? He didn’t much care.

He zips up his jacket and heads for the Greyhound terminal, where a bus will carry him west to Galveston.

* * *

Earl perches on one of the jetties jutting into the Gulf of Mexico. The constant roar of the tide drowns out the cars on the other side of the seawall but can’t quiet the storm raging inside his head. His thoughts form a canvas of red so loud it blinds him whenever he turns his mind’s eye inward.

Not long ago, he was in another Gulf, on the other side of the world. The oil platforms dotting the horizon remind him of what the fighting over there was really about. He drove truckloads of the stuff across hostile territory to fuel the machines of war.

Earl sees something bobbing in the water near the base of the jetty. At first, he thinks it’s a piece of driftwood. Then it rolls over, revealing a trio of grinning demonic faces. He scrambles to his feet and takes a step back. “It can’t be,” he mutters.

But here it is, hundreds of miles from where he cast it into the Mississippi. The tupilaq sought him out. Mariel’s power had overcome his.

He eases his way down the jagged rocks. Salty water spray drenches him. The tupilaq approaches and recedes, approaches and recedes. He grips the edge of a stone and reaches out, waiting for the next wave to bring the object closer. It caresses his hand then slips away. When he finally grabs it, a powerful wave tries to steal it from his grasp, but he pulls his hand back and the tupilaq comes with it.

He sits on the jetty to catch his breath, cradling the evil charm in his lap. His hand is bleeding and there’s a daub of red on one of the creatures’ fangs. Was a gash from its teeth sufficient to do him in, or are there worse torments in his future? He thinks about all the times he eluded death while shepherding his precious cargo across the desert. He remembers the letter in his wallet and can’t think of anything worse that could happen to him.

He stands on the sloping surface of the wet rocks and stares into the dark waters. He extends both arms. The wind billows around him. Leaning into the gale, he throws back his head and shouts, “I confess.”

The gale stops as quickly as it arose. Caught off balance, Earl windmills his arms and tries to solidify his footing on the slippery rocks. He regains momentary equilibrium and then slips once more. The tupilaq flies from his hand onto the jetty, where it disappears into a crevice between two rocks. Earl falls, cracking his head against a boulder.

His last sensations are of pain. He tumbles into the water, where the tide draws him away from the jetty and pulls him beneath the surface and he knows no more.

THE END

Bev Vincent is the author of The Road to the Dark Tower and the co-editor (with Stephen King) of the anthology Flight or Fright. He has published a hundred short stories and is a contributing editor with Cemetery Dance magazine. For more, see bevvincent.com.

“A Different Kind of Fish”

Uncategorized

by Rowan Hill

“Jason, I’m cold… and hungry,” my sister Katie whispered through pale lips. I shuffled across the couch and hugged her into my side, giving her arms a vigorous rub for warmth. 

“Hey, it’s an adventure, remember?”

She grinned at our parents’ spiel consistently given while on this research trip, but she couldn’t hide the loud growl of her tiny stomach. I was about to tell her a joke to take our minds off our predicament when the thick door of the Antarctica Environmental Research Station opened to the howling ice storm. My parents quickly entered and I hugged delicate Katie closer in the cold, noticing both parents’ somber mood.

Mom sat while Dad remained standing. She took a deep breath, pulling her hood off. Her eyes were worn and her lips pressed into a thin line, as if she was trying to suppress a groan or keep something in. When was the last time she’d had her meds? Did she even have any left? Before I could ask, she took another deep breath,

“It’s gonna be fine, guys,” she exhaled, while reaching for and pulling Katie onto her lap.

“What did they say?”

“They said the storm is going to be over us for another ten days.”

“Ten days!” I exclaimed, shooting to my feet in a panic, my heart racing. “But… the University only gave us provisions for the two weeks! And that finished days ago!” My father shifted his weight between his feet, looking uncomfortable.

“Jason!” Mom chided. In her arms, Katie was wide-eyed and becoming distressed, nearly hyperventilating. I turned away, mumbling ‘sorry’ and walked to the small window. The blizzard blew viscously, and I heard Mom comforting Katie.

“Hey, we’re gonna be fine. We’ve plenty of gas so we aren’t gonna freeze. You think I would let anything happen to you? Come on, you know me. I’ve got backup plans and backups for the backups.” I turned and saw Katie smiling, a tear belying her anxiety.

“We’re just gonna have to tighten our belts a little for food, huh? Your dad has been practicing his fishing and I’ve got a good feeling about that second ice hole. I’m sure I saw more fish swimming underneath the ice, I didn’t recognize them but…” 

I snorted. “Dad caught a total of one fish from the first hole. And it looked weird. Like, mutant weird. Those red spots on its belly weren’t natural. None of us could even keep it in our stomachs!” I shook my head with certainty. “The station’s over a pocket or something, there’s no water flow. There are no normal fish.”

“Jason, enough!” Mom commanded. I looked to Dad, who’d remained quiet. Classic Dad, always letting her take the lead in times of hardship. At least he looked worried this time.

***

The door opened and Dad entered with three small bowls in the crook of his arm. Katie and I were reading on the couch. Trying to take our minds off our grumbling stomachs and the incessant storm. Steam wafted from the bowls and Katie immediately perked up.

“You caught a fish!”

Dad’s lips twitched but he kept silent, handing us each one. There was a riot of color inside, the scent of sweet & sour wafting from the bowl. I used the accompanying fork and wiped away the sticky condiment, scraping it off the meat. A greyish texture vaguely like beef, but maybe a kind of tuna. I studied it warily,

“A normal fish?”

Dad nodded, “A variation of a codfish, I think.”

“No red spots?” I murmured, still inspecting the insides of the bowl.

Dad, a normally placid man, suddenly spoke with frustration and grumbled, “Its a fish is what it is, and I was very lucky to catch it, Jason. It’s hot and will save us until our ride comes in a week.”

I was surprised by his tone. Dad, a harmless environmental scientist, kept an irritated expression and took his bowl to the window to watch the raging storm.

“Where’s Mommy?” Katie muttered through her full mouth when the door opened and Mom answered.

“Here I am, sweetheart. How’s dinner? Make sure you eat while it’s hot.”

She had wrapped a full-length blanket around herself and sat next to Katie, rubbing her back and watching her petite daughter eat. Mom looked even more worn and gaunt. But not just a side effect from the cold and meager emergency rations. She was becoming sick. If I was right with the math, she maybe ran out of her medicine yesterday, today at best. I would have expected someone as prepared as she to have brought extra for the trip. But even she couldn’t have expected an extra 2-3 weeks, trapped. Eventually she looked at me, the fork still in my hand. “What’s wrong?”

I glanced at Katie, not wanting to bring up my mother’s chronic illness and make her upset again. I lied, “It’s too much sweet & sour.”

Mom looked hurt. “I know, the fish looked… stringy… when your father pulled it out of the ice, and we need to eat, so I drowned it in condiments. Tomorrow I’ll make it honey mustard, okay? But… I need you to get past the taste, okay?”

My stomach, not fed since yesterday’s last emergency SPAM, agreed and I began to eat the tough, grey meat. It had little taste beyond the tangy sauce. She watched us and I noticed she hadn’t eaten.

“Did you get any?”

She looked up from Katie with a weary smile. “I already ate, darling. And we will keep some of the scraps for bait. We’ll catch another soon.” She began to lovingly stroke Katie’s hair. “See, I told you two, everything’s going to be fine. Plenty of fish in the ocean. Only another seven days. They’re on standby in case the storm suddenly breaks, so who knows!?” She tried to exclaim energetically but failed. I wondered if she had really eaten or had just given her share to Katie, the miracle IVF daughter she would do anything for. Katie finished her bowl and leaned across her lap, while Mom winced through her smile.

***

“Is this the same kind of fish? The codfish?” I questioned, taking the bowl from Dad. He nodded as he sat. Today, the stringy fish was swathed in honey mustard. It wasn’t much but enough to keep starvation away and I did love honey mustard.

“Guys, Mom isn’t feeling well. I’ve rugged her up in bed. We’re just going to let her sleep, okay?”

“What’s wrong?” I mumbled with a mouth full of the sweet, drenched food.

“Well… she had a migraine for a while and she’s just drained.”

My brow furrowed as I started to ask, “She has run out of…”

“Jason!” Dad cut me off with a knowing look, confirming my suspicions.  

Katie didn’t notice our exchange, “Did Mommy get dinner?”

He didn’t reply, merely nodded and stood to return to the window and the storm holding us hostage.

After dinner, I knocked on the bedroom door. There was no response, so I opened it, finding Mom in bed. Her eyes were closed with a pained expression on her creased forehead. I shut the door to the freezing hallway quietly behind me.

She shifted at the noise and in the weak fluorescent light, I could make out a sheen of sweat glistening on her brow. On the table were several neon-orange pill bottles, still half-full. I sat on the side of her cot and felt her forehead. She had a fever. I came out of my lean, accidentally putting weight on her legs and she flinched, groaning in her sleep.

I frowned, remembering the wince through her smile, and I stared at the blanket covering her legs. With a gentle hand, I lifted it to peek underneath, only to be met with a layer of white gauze. Confused, I tossed the blanket away, not caring about the cold or her comfort.

My mother’s bare thighs and calves were swathed in white wrappings and individual adhesive pads. Deep, saturated, red spots bleeding through in multiple places. My mouth gaped at the unexpected gore and moist wounds on my mother’s limbs and I gently reached out to touch them.

The wounds weren’t deep, but wide and long. Like she had road rash, or had been cut with something even…

Like she had been filleted.

The random thought shifted my stomach, gurgling its contents of the mysterious ‘fish’ I’d just devoured.

“I’m gonna throw up,” I whispered.

“Don’t you dare,” a harsh and angry voice retorted. I looked up to find her staring at me sternly. She pushed herself up on her elbows, “We’re still nearly a week away from rescue. That’s enough to do serious damage to Katie at her age without food. Understand?” I stayed silent, feeling my mouth salivate at the word ‘food’ but then gagging at the thought.

She slapped my face, “Stop it and grow up.” Nausea subsided with the pain and I stood, backing away from my sacrificial mother. I headed toward the door in a daze.

***

Katie’s stomach loudly rumbled as she hugged it, “How many more days?”

“Four maybe,” I muttered.

The door opened and Dad came in with the steaming bowls. I now understood his permanent grim expression. As he handed us our meal, I saw his dirty, brown fingernails. Blood.

The grey meat was swathed again in a thick sauce, all texture and density hidden. But my mother’s flesh was all I saw and had to push the bowl away, murmuring that I wasn’t hungry.

My father had a dripping fork-full raised to his mouth when we locked eyes. I was disgusted watching him chew. Always letting Mom lead. Whatever she thought was best. He suddenly looked down in shame, soon pushing his own bowl away.

The door suddenly opened and Mom entered, visibly limping, a fake smile plastered on her face. She sat next to Katie and rubbed her back lovingly. Together we three watched young Katie, halfway through her bowl of grey meat. She had sauce around her lips, and they smacked together loudly as she still hadn’t learned to chew with her mouth closed.

I spotted a grey thread of flesh stuck between her small teeth and had to look away, still listening to the sounds of her devouring her dinner. When she finished, she asked me, “Can I have yours?”

THE END

Rowan Hill is a dual national writer currently living in Southern Italy. She enjoys writing over a range of genres, but Horror by far is her favorite. Lately, she has found herself writing female villains and hopes to create a truly chilling one in the near future. She tries to use her many experiences living in many places in her writing and is set to have her first publications with Kandisha Press and Curious Blue Press in the upcoming months. She can be found on Twitter @writerrowanhill.

“The Lights”

Uncategorized

by Greg Sisco

Whatever woke Henry didn’t do it violently. He roused instantly from a deep sleep and became fully alert, but somehow it happened comfortably, like his subconscious bringing him breakfast in bed.

He’d never slept as well as he did on the cruise. Something about the subtle rocking, like a baby in its cradle, even though the mattress seemed too firm when he first lay on it, he’d never been so engulfed by sleep as he was here.

But it was the middle of the night, and for some reason he was awake.

He rolled over to put an arm around Mia and found she wasn’t there. The mattress was still warm, like she’d gotten up only a moment ago. Maybe she’d shut the bathroom door? Maybe the sound of it was what woke him? But then there would have been light spilling through the crack under the door, and there wasn’t. The stateroom was dark. Dark except for an ominous green that spilled in through the window.

“Mia?” he called. Then louder, “Mia, you okay?”

She didn’t answer. He got out of bed and flipped on the bathroom light. She wasn’t here. He was alone in the stateroom.

So she was restless and went for a walk around the ship. You’d never seen stars like you saw out here. She probably went out to look at them. Or whatever that green glow is. That ominous…green…

The voice came back to him, the strange old man at the bar, the one who said he’d done the round-the-world cruise every year since he was forty.

“Don’t you two go leaving your room tonight. The Southern Lights play tricks. Every year when we pass through these waters there’s somebody goes to sleep in their bed and the next morning we can’t find ‘em. Every year we search until there’s nowhere left to search and we say maybe they went out alone, leaned a little too far out for a look. Somebody says the sea took ‘em, but we old timers know better. It’s not the sea. It’s the lights take ‘em.”

A shiver shot through him and an instant later he scolded himself. Spook stories. Creepy legends getting into his head in his semi-awake state. Even if he felt a little more than semi-awake. Even if he felt as awake as he ever did. He didn’t believe a word of that stuff.

Not really.

But there was still an urgency to it as he dressed and ran out.

“Mia!” he called, walking through halls, a little louder than maybe he should have. Loud enough he was probably waking passengers in the rooms around him, still trying to convince himself he wasn’t panicking.

He came out of the far end of the hall onto the deck in a half-sprint, but the lights stopped him.

It was a spiral in the sky. A vast, expansive cluster of tendrils shining down like it meant to swallow the Earth. It shook him, scared him, at once made him feel menaced and taken in by its beauty. He wondered if he’d ever felt awe before, or if it was only a feeling he knew about from books. If he hadn’t, he sure knew it instantly when he felt it.

Many nights you could hardly see a thing over the rail, maybe a hint of moonlight reflecting off the water, but tonight you could see each glacier in the distance as clear as day. Every snow and ice covered protrusion standing out of the sea was bathed, along with the sea itself, in the same haunting glow as the sky.

He looked right, to the ship’s bow, to where the glow stretched as far as the eye could see, then he followed it left, all the way to the stern, where…

“Mia?” he called to the silhouette at the stern. “Mia!”

He ran. This time he gave up trying to convince himself he wasn’t frantic. He was. The figure at the stern was standing not just on the first rail but the second, and there were only three. Her shins were pressed against the top rail and her hands were out at her sides, maybe making believe she was flying. But he could see it. He could envision her leaning forward, letting her feet slip off the rail, and disappearing over the side, gone in an instant, slipping beneath the icy waves below.

He got to her before it could happen. Wrapping both arms around her waist, he ripped her from the rails and put her on her feet, nearly throwing her to the deck with the force he used.

“What are you thinking?!” he screamed. “You could have died, Mia! If you slipped, you would have died!”

She didn’t seem to hear him. Still wearing just the silk gown she slept in, having not even bothered to put on shoes for the subzero temperatures, her head was tilted to the sky, mouth open, turned up at the corners in a smile.

“Mia?” he asked, more softly, trying to make his heart slow down. “Mia, did you hear me?”

“It’s beautiful,” she whispered, a tear rolling out of one eye and freezing on her cheek. “Have you seen how beautiful it is?”

“I know,” he said, taking off his coat to drape it around her shoulders. “Come on, you can’t be out here like this.”

She put a hand on his cheek, ice cold, even colder than he would have expected, and she finally looked him in the eye.

“Kiss me, Henry.”

A part of him was still furious and a part concerned for how she was acting, but he obliged her. It was meant to be a quick kiss to placate her, after which he could put an arm around her and take her back to the room, but she wrapped both arms around his neck and pulled him into her, pressing her mouth to his with a passion he hadn’t felt in years, like she was trying to steal every breath from his lungs. She ran one ice cold hand up the back of his neck, fingers slipping through his hair, and with the other she unbuttoned and unzipped his pants.

“Whoa, whoa,” he said, pulling away to button them again. “I don’t think so.”

“Make love to me,” she said, taking a step toward the rail.

“Mia…”

She climbed the rail and sat atop it, her back to the green, glowing ocean, pulling up the hem of her gown with both hands, keeping neither on the rail.

“Make love to me here, under the lights.”

He reached out to grab her and she snatched his wrists in both hands with a strength that wasn’t her own. She pulled him into her and her eyes glowed with the same green as the lights. The same green that bathed the ocean and the sky, coming from above and below at once.

“It’s not the sea. It’s the lights that take ‘em.”

She leaned back, her hands still latched to his wrists, and pulled him with her. Through the freezing air they fell, holding each other, the green from the sky reflecting from the water, getting brighter as they got closer, until the green of both her eyes and the lights engulfed them.

The water crashed over his body and the green went black.

When he surfaced, there were no lights. The sky was full of stars and any glaciers in the distance were invisible in the dark of night. The ship was leaving him behind and the space between it and himself was growing fast. And he was alone.

“Mia?” he tried to call out, but his shocked and freezing body wouldn’t let him speak above a whisper. “Mia, where are you? Mia?”

Mia awoke in her stateroom as well-rested as she’d ever been. She couldn’t remember having slept as well in her life as she did on the cruise ship. Henry had suggested it was the way sea rocked them like a baby in a cradle. She supposed he was right.

She looked at the clock. Almost noon. Wow. Maybe one too many drinks last night.

She rolled over. Henry wasn’t next to her. Her first thought was the bathroom or the shower, but no. He didn’t seem to be here.

She shivered for a second, remembering the old man.

“It’s not the sea. It’s the lights that take ‘em.”

She shook away the thought. He’d gone out and let her sleep. Surely. She’d take a shower, get dressed, go down to the breakfast nook, and she’d find him. There, or at the gym, or playing shuffleboard.

He’d be there though. He’d be somewhere. Lights don’t take people away.

End

Greg Sisco is a novelist, screenwriter, and film director. His short fiction has appeared in anthologies such as Worst Laid Plans, Halldark Holidays, and Nox Pareidolia. Perpetually restless and habitually nomadic, he has lived in four countries and is most at home in the movie theater. A newly expanded edition of his novel “In Nightmares We’re Alone” is coming March 15 from Off Limits Press.