He claws awake in close, utter darkness, the scream tightening in his throat. He has no idea how he’s gotten here, no thought for whatever he was before, only knows that whatever he was is now trapped in a little narrow box of a space. With a shove and a gasp he flies up, the coffin lid breaking apart in his flight.
The man shakes his head, stares about gasping with those panicked breaths that he’s gradually realizing do not draw air. His coffin floats in a pool of oil-black liquid under a dull grey sky; other coffins bump against his, floating alongside, just as dark as the substance that bears them.
In fact, with a yawning indefinably huge fear churning within him, he looks about and sees that there are nothing but coffins, coffins and shadow-black ocean stretching beyond even the concept of a horizon. He is dimly aware of something far off in the distance, set an eternity beyond any number of bobbing coffins, a light that is somehow dark, shining weak through the gloom.
Framed against this ambiguous light he sees her. A woman, clothed in what might be black or what might be white; her aspect shifts before his unblinking eyes. She’s beautiful in a way that he can’t describe, not beautiful in any way that he desires, but beautiful in the way that a storm cloud or a tumultuous ocean is beautiful.
Tousled black hair blows in a breeze he cannot feel, drawn totally horizontal as if some gale blew at her back. Her eyes glitter in his direction and he detects an alien version of what seems to be surprise. Gliding over what could be water, she comes his way, drawing fingers that dangle at the ends of arms that seem far too long for her body along the surface, the ripples gently tousling the coffins about them.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” she says, her voice far more casual than he’d expected.
“Where?” he says, trailing off, instinctively realizing the question’s useless.
She touches his face with a finger, and it does not feel like a finger. It feels like a tendril, like an insectoid proboscis, like some pseudopod made of something that could only fit the basic description of matter.
“Between life and death,” she mutters. “This happens sometimes. I do not know where you were destined for, traveler, but when one comes awake as you have, they have a choice. Your path may be set upon eternal glory or eternal suffering; I know not the deeper nature of either. What do you think? How did you live your life?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t remember.”
“They usually don’t, but I figure it’s worth asking in case one ever does,” she muses. “Would you like to go back? Back to your life, to what you know as reality?”
He wonders, wonders at what that’s even like. But something fundamental in him reaches for it in a desperation he could never put into words.
“Please,” he gasps.
“Fair enough,” she says, and the black waves wash over him, dragging him down. He looks up through the murk, sees her a moment more as one last lingering pinprick of something not unlike light before the darkness washes over him and he awakes.
Clawing awake in close, utter darkness.
This time, when he slams his hands against the coffin lid, it does not budge; dribbles of earth rain in between the cracks in the wood. He feels the bursting pain in lungs denied air, feels the sting in his throat as he tries to scream. He claws until his nails rip from his hands, screams that dry scream until he can feel his throat tear, and still he does not die.
Distant he hears what sounds like the woman’s otherworldly laughter, and his mind breaks beneath the looming weight of eternity.
When he is not writing weird fiction, Dennis Conrad is a high school language arts teacher, giving him the perfect captive audience for his bad amateur stand-up. His works have been published in Third Flatiron's Brain Games: Stories to Astonish anthology and the short story collection Gather Round: The Internet's Scariest Campfire Stories.
You think I’m useless, don’t you? There’s no need to lie; we’re all adults here. You think I’m a piece of junk. I’ll give you that. Look at me. I’m covered in rust and dirt, literally rotting away in your backyard. Oh, woe is me! You should’ve seen me in my prime. I shone so brightly you could’ve used me as a mirror. That’s no hyperbole, mind you. I swear by the memory of my dear master. Yes, he’s dead. Long dead, actually. How did he die, you ask? Well, I’m the one responsible. I… killed him. No, don’t look at me like I’m a monster. I’m far from it. An unfortunate accident. I must admit that his death was my downfall.
One fateful night, we stood on a wooden stage downtown. The crowd cheered and clapped, and we bowed before we even began. His secondhand tuxedo looked newer than it actually was. My master waved a gloved hand, and the crowd went dead silent. “Don’t try this at home,” he said with a smile. He lifted me, holding me up in the air like a triumphant warrior, and for a few wonderful moments, I gleamed under the stage lights. Another round of applause exploded. It was perfect.
He looked heavenward at the rafters, mumbled his prayers, straightened his spine, and slowly inserted me inside him through his mouth. He didn’t even blink. What a brave man my master was! They didn’t call him Deep Throat for nothing! I passed his teeth and down his esophagus until I reached his stomach. It was like falling through a long, dark hole forever. Acidic air tickled my blade, and I would’ve sneezed if that was possible. Then, unbeknownst to me, a stupid fly perched on my master’s face. I couldn’t see a damn thing in the pitch dark, but my haft told me about it later. How the fly crept toward his nose.
You can imagine the rest. Yes, there was blood. A lot of it. As its sweet smell filled my nose, I tried in vain to fight off my urge. The MC called for an ambulance, but it was too late. The paramedics threw up their hands. There was nothing they could do.
Come again? Do you mean blood? Once you taste it, you won’t forget it. Trust me, you’ll want to come back for more. Hey, why don’t you take me to your garage? Turn off your iPod, won’t you, sweetheart? Oh, easy there. Be careful. I don’t want you to get distracted. Remember, I’m designed to cut. Watch your step. I don’t want you to slip and fall, okay? Here we go. Even the noise of the garage door opening sounds melodious. Grab that piece of sandpaper. Here we go. Come to Daddy. Yes, that feels so good. You scratch my back, and I scratch yours, right? You won’t regret it. Decades in dirt. Imagine that. Who deserves that? Not me. No wonder I’m so thirsty.
Toshiya Kamei is an Asian writer who takes inspiration from fairy tales, folklore, and mythology. Their short stories have appeared in Cosmic Horror Monthly, Galaxy’s Edge, and elsewhere. Their piece, “Hungry Moon,” won Apex Magazine’s October 2022 Microfiction Contest.
I am the watcher at the end of the world.
At least, that’s what I like to tell myself.
It would be boring otherwise. This whole situation would seem anticlimactic and agonizing without those little reassurances. I need little reassurances as the landscape around me plunges into its season of darkness. March brings with it blistery winds and never-ending midnight, as the wintery rolling hills shift from a blinding white to a crystalline blue. Peppered with glistening specks like the remnants of starlight tossed to the wayside by the hand of a deity who gave up on their creation.
A midnight that brings on shadows, shadows accompanied by the sharp gnashing of teeth in the form of bitter winds. The spirits of the planet seem to cry out in rebellion, in anger against the thunderous boot prints humanity stamped upon its once proud face. The night is long and cold.
Antarctica is cold. This outpost is cold and I am a fool for opting to stay one more season.
One more season turned into two. Then three.
The last I heard from the mainland, from my employers, was that something catastrophic happened. It started in North America and spread outward, bouncing across the landscapes like a doe over fresh fallen snow. I heard the sky tear. Something shifted the course of humanity, of Earth, and radio silence quickly followed. The receiver doesn’t buzz anymore.
So I sit here alone, gazing at the wide open expanse of tundras and tidal waves of snow with bleary eyes and a growl in my stomach. Waiting for a call, a plane, another human face in the blanket of endless white. A confirmation that the end has arrived so I can stop drowning in my anxieties and what-ifs. Pondering the fate of the planet out beyond the winter wastelands. Out beyond the technology-laden halls of this damned building I now call home.
It’s lonely at the end of the world.
I’m bored of soup, of puncturing the cans open with my knife and wishing it was warmer than it is. It can be scalding and still not be warm enough. I’m tired of listening to the walls of machinery scream at me that something is wrong. My heavy coat feels all the heavier over my shoulders as it becomes a necessity. Another layer of skin, toned army green.
My notebooks—meant for research—have filled themselves with mindless nonsense as I jot down my thoughts. The lines of binary have turned to swirling cursive. Zeroes and ones turn to poetry and prose as I try to process the eternal damnation that sits outside of my window. I wait in my tower, like a forlorn Rapunzel, praying for someone to breach my walls. Lost in the metal spire, in my outpost, with a sad beeping radar to keep me company with its uneven and rhythmless melody.
All I can do is wait and watch. Wait and watch. Wait and watch at the end of the world.
And so I watch. Watch the planet melt and the stars burn out in real-time, amplified by the isolation at the end of the world as the horizon line tears asunder. And I think to myself, “Was this worth it?”
I don’t know.
It’s hard to tell, hard to justify, hard to grasp.
Was the research worth it? Was the stint in this cold box worth it? Being away from my family? My friends? My lover? Was sitting in the silence, in the chill, worth all of this?
Wondering if I’m the last human alive, stuck in that split where the snow meets the stars. Where the glisten on the ground is indiscernible from the twinkle in the sky. Where the whole of the world becomes a snow globe of stars, shaken until they come loose and fall in spirals like a meteor shower, and I feel my body twist alongside their trails, tumbling without gravity. I am without gravity here.
Was it worth it?
A thousand times yes!
In this isolation, the quiet and loneliness and wondering and waiting and hoping and watching at the end of the world meant I could gaze upon the colors with my own eyes. The aurora wafts with twisted lines, blown in like a gale on the surface of the ocean, calling lost souls toward where I am stranded. Stranded in my lightless lighthouse that dreams to beckon to someone with no avail.
For a brief moment, it shifts the unnerving blue, the unyielding darkness, to something magical. Otherworldly, like a massive hand tearing through the fabric of reality to peer down at the chaos with wonder and a cocked eyebrow filled with question. I see the universe shatter. I see the eyes of something greater than myself peer down with question. The creators did not forsake us.
They still have judgement to pass.
I stand in the snow, starving and frozen, on what may be the last night of my life. I stand still, hood caked in crystals of ice and cheeks so painfully brushed by the wind, and I gaze at those glowing eyes, white-hot like a sun. I see its hand stretch out to crush the crust below me. I feel those damning winds rip the tears from my eyes, clog my pores with ice and freeze my blood as quick as a bolt of lightning.
Unable to do more than drop to my knees and watch the end of the world ripple. Watch this deity collapse the universe with quick and chaotic brushstrokes, lighting the darkness for the briefest of moments and I think to myself, yes, this was worth it.
Watching the world unravel like a worn-down cardigan was worth it.
Watching the universe explode in magnificent shades was worth it.
Watching the end of it all at the end of it all was, most assuredly, worth it.
A.L. Davidson (she/they) is a queer and disabled writer who specializes in massive space operas and tiny disturbances. She writes stories about ghosts, grief, isolation, space exploration, eco-horror, queerness, and the human condition. They live with their cat Jukebox in Kansas City. Their debut novella, When The Rain Begins To Burn, was funded via Kickstarter and they hope to have many more books follow suit in the near future. Her web novels, The Wayward Souls of Avalon and Lonely Planet Hotel are available on Patreon and Tapas.
Disturbances by Alycia
Patreon - Alycia Davidson Author
Twitter - @MayBMockingbird
Insta/TikTok/Threads/Blue Sky - @MaybeMockingbird
The heart I cut from the tallest oak of the forest. It has lived and brought life for over a hundred years, and it will surely bring much more.
Without it, the forest withers and dies.
The lungs I steal from a Siren. Strong and healthy, able to breathe underwater and on land, never will they struggle to catch a breath or gasp for air.
The Siren tries to curse me, but without air she has no words.
The blood needs to be special, magical. I hunt and trap a Unicorn. I bleed it dry, collecting every drop, and ask for forgiveness.
The Unicorn's dead eyes blink, a guttural rasp escapes its throat. "What are you waiting for? Drink my blood, take my horn. Nothing else can save you now."
"It's not for me." My shoulders slump and I turn away from the once magnificent being. I leave the horn.
You told me I would need these three things and a wish to bind them.
We were both supposed to protect her, take care of her.
Now, we must pay the price to make it right again. You turn around so that I may pluck the wings from your back.
What better way to gain a wish than through fairy dust made from a fairy's wings.
My sins are taking their toll. I don’t have much time.
I crumble the wings upon the small body before me. Upon the oak heart, the Siren lungs, and the Unicorn blood.
I'm fading, but my daughter will live again. A long and healthy life.
You failed as her fairy godmother but that is behind us now.
Please, watch over her when I’m gone.
Kai Delmas loves creating worlds and magic systems and is a slush reader for Apex Magazine. He is a winner of the monthly Apex Microfiction Contest, his fiction is forthcoming in Zooscape, and can be found in Martian, Etherea, Tree And Stone, Wyldblood, and several Shacklebound anthologies. If you like his work you can support him at www.patreon.com/kaidelmas and find him on Twitter @KaiDelmas
This story was originally published by Black Hare Press via their Patreon.
Hello, and welcome to another ASMR relaxation video. I'm your host, Kit.
If this is your first time watching an ASMR video, welcome. ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, aka the tingles. Not everyone will experience this while watching this video, but if you do, you may feel a pleasant tingling sensation going down your spine and into your arms and legs. Others experience ASMR as a languorous calm of the deep brain. Some just feel very relaxed. Whatever it is, we’re glad you’re here.
And if you don’t experience any of these, we guarantee that what we have to tell you at the end of this video will blow your mind.
Joining me today is a special guest who you may know. I won’t tell you their name just yet, and they’ve asked me not to reveal their countenance, but needless to say, they’re quite famous. Watch all the way to the end! You'll see!
Our guest today has requested some interesting and tingly items that I haven’t used before on this channel, so I hope they’ll be new and noteworthy for my regular listeners and watchers. For those of you new to ASMR, understand that these aren’t the greatest hits of ASMR—we won’t be doing nail tapping, toaster coaster, face brushing, hair brushing, cranial nerve exams, or your make-up.
No, these are one of a kind. Some I had never even heard of before. In fact, I’m not even sure I have the English words to describe some of what we’ll be doing. Rest assured, I’ll have our guest pronounce everything at the end, and if they’re able, type them into the comments section when the video posts—I know you all have really liked my non-English videos before, so stick around for some new and different words.
Also, if you can guess what these sounds are, please post in the comments with time stamps from the video when you recognized what they were. I’m interested to see what the guesses are, though I’d be really amazed if anyone gets them. I’d be surprised if anyone familiar with these sounds has regular internet access.
Let’s get started.
***3 minutes 12 seconds of wing flapping***
***4 minutes 32 seconds of bone-crunching (probable)***
***2 minutes 1 second of claws raking over dried human bones***
***5 minutes of blood dripping***
***7 minutes 6 seconds of the squelching sounds of mud (or coagulating blood) walking (probable)***
And now, my darlings, to reveal my guest. It's literally going to blow your mind.
Cthulhu, would you like to tell the audience what they've won?
***Garbled grumblings, madness-inducing thunder***
***Human screams, assumed to be human, identified as video uploader KitThooLooverASMR***
Jason P. Burnham loves to spend time with his wife, children, and dog. Find him on Twitter if it still exists at @AndGalen.
Until the reek of scorched flesh filled the air, as if it had been boiled up from the dusty road below, the trek to the old woman's house reminded Davis of the time when he was an inky-haired nine-year-old, and his father had left him 22 miles from home. After the sand had torn up his cheap boots and blistered his feet, his stepmother made him clean up his vomit inside the front door with his shirt before he could have some water.
His hair was now the color of an unwashed chalkboard. He had a horse, a mule, and cargo: the Bavarian and his sister. The pair were elderly, easily mistaken for a couple, and bound with rope.
Davis didn’t have a plan.
“Don’t be fooled by their sweet air of innocence,” the old woman had said to him in Glenrio two weeks past. She had come to him in the tavern, like they all did, promising bounty. “They’re killers,” she had said. “Or, at least, they think they are.” She was unlike his usual clientele—bank managers, scorned lovers, crooked sheriffs—an elderly woman with perfectly white hair, perfectly round teeth, a twinkle in her eye, and a sweetness he couldn’t resist.
“It is impossibility,” the Bavarian had said after Davis pinned his arms behind his back. He found the two in an apartment above the bank in San Albino.
“But what other is to explain?” his sister said. “Please,” she begged Davis, her wrinkled hands working in the folds of her dress. Sweat matted her gray hair to her forehead. “You must to believe. She is evil old, old woman.” Davis cinched their knots and positioned them on the mule. They were frail and frightened. And insistent that the sweet old woman had tried to kill them once upon a time.
He spat into the sand now and adjusted the wide brim of his hat against the sun. He wagered they were just three miles out from her house. The stench was like the crust of coffee at the bottom of a kettle, cast upon a sunbaked carcass. It filled his nostrils like rain in a thirsty creek bed.
When the house shimmered into view, he dabbed his eyes with his bandana. The Bavarian and his sister huddled together on the mule.
At the final knoll before a gray yard opened like a dead flower, his horse spilled him to the ground and took off in the direction they had come. The mule walked a small, confused circle. Davis looked long at its cargo, whose grim faces seemed to carry more than the present discomfort. He recalled when he was eleven, and his dad showed him how to break a horse after a mustang wandered near their house one morning. That was the first time Davis had fired a gun, too, after his stepmother had come outside with a pot and a lid and banged while the horse jerked in every direction, eventually taking him down a sharp decline to the gulley below, breaking her rear left leg.
Davis let the Bavarian and his sister stay with the mule while he walked to the front door, his bandana tied tight over his nose. He had cut their ties. Tendrils of a plan were taking shape, and he thought he could still get his payment. He stood for a long time with the thumb of his right hand hooked in a belt loop and its three remaining fingers teasing the handle of his revolver, and then the door swung into darkness.
“Where are they?” a voice called. It was the same voice that had said to him in the tavern, “They’ll try to tell you I wanted to eat them. That I lured them into a house made of candy. If you believe a story for little kiddies like that, then maybe you’re not the one for this job.”
Davis felt a pair of hands press on his lower back; his boots clucked on the hard wood of the living room as he staggered inside. He heard a suck of air just before the heavy thunk of the front door closing. The old woman stood in the doorway to the kitchen, from where intense heat flowed that could make the desert summer feel refreshing. She was not the sweet old woman with perfectly round teeth and perfectly white hair who had cornered him in the tavern. She had few teeth. Her hair was blackened and patchy. Her skin, too. Her dress hung on what remained of her body in scorched tatters. Davis could see her left cheekbone, her right clavicle, half of her ribcage, and all the bones in her right hand, which she held stiffly near her mouth as if stifling laughter.
He spun to find that the front door did not have a knob on the inside. That must have been the joke she had been keeping to herself. He emptied his revolver’s chambers into the door, and sunlight rayed into the room.
“Please forgive,” the Bavarian said through the holes.
The heat from the kitchen pressed on Davis’s back like a freshly hewn hide. He watched the two walk across the gray yard and mount the mule. He breathed deeply from streams of desert air, then turned to the voice saying, “You were warned, weren’t you?”
He felt the useless weight of his gun in his hand and let it clank on the floor. He wondered what was in the kitchen behind the charred and rotting old woman and thought of how his father forbade him to ever go into his stepmother’s kitchen. Naturally, the kitchen became to his curiosity a mirage to a parched throat, and one day when he was six, after being caught trying to quench that particular thirst, his stepmother helped separate his pinky finger from his right hand.
He used that hand to wipe sweat from his brow.
“I sure was,” he said.
Jeremy Wenisch is a software tester living in Princeton, West Virginia, with his wife and their books. He writes fiction darkly inspired by folklore, including stories appearing in Whistling Shade, Ink Stains Vol. 14, and Bending Genres.
Magellan paused for breath at the edge of the ridge and looked down into the canyon. Hellswatch Cabin stood roughly fifty yards from the river, dwarfed by a nearby boulder that had crashed to the valley floor thousands of years before. The high canyon walls obscured direct sunlight outside of the peak midday hours, blanketing the cabin in half-lit shadow for the majority of the day.
The first shiver brushed up Magellan’s spine at the sight of the darkened cabin and lingered beneath his sweat-drenched shirt.
“There’s been poaching in the Sombre Canyon,” Cooper had said on Monday morning. “We need to send a ranger out to Hellswatch. Think you can handle it?”
Magellan swiveled in his chair, turning his back on the permit applications that swelled his inbox. “Hell yes,” he grinned.
Cooper sipped his coffee and leaned against the doorframe. “You might want to think about it,” he said, “it’s a risky assignment. Men return… well… changed.”
“C’mon, Coop,” Magellan rolled his eyes. “You think I’m scared of grizzlies? I’ve been around bears my entire life.”
Cooper shook his head. “It’s not just the bears. Not at Hellswatch. The legends say the Sombre Canyon’s cursed, you know. You wouldn’t remember the last guy—we haven’t had a ranger out there in over a decade.”
“What happened to the last guy?”
Cooper frowned. “Not sure,” he paused. “Something just wasn’t right.” The words hung between them, thick with uncertainty and… fear? Magellan waited for more information, but Cooper just shrugged. “He got promoted to a desk job in D.C. not too long after.”
Magellan’s expression soured, “Are you trying to send me to D.C.?”
Cooper laughed, “No, no. I need you here. Real outdoorsmen are hard to find these days. That’s why I’m hoping you can handle the poachers and… whatever else is out there.”
Magellan tilted his head to one side, “I never thought you were superstitious, Coop.”
Cooper gave a wry smile and stepped back into the hall, “Just take care of yourself,” he said. “You leave in the morning.”
Magellan scrambled down the canyon and followed a game trail riddled with bear scat along the river. He stopped short, eyes widening at the sight of Hellswatch. Claw marks scraped across the length of the ancient logs. Magellan could almost hear the grating nails as they tore through the weathered bark, shrieking above the bass growl of an 800-pound predator. He took an inadvertent step back as fear gripped his chest, then shook his head and continued towards the cabin.
Once inside, Magellan deposited his pack on the low cot and surveyed the room. An old rifle rested against the east wall. A narrow table and chairs hugged the wall opposite, and an old rocking chair kept company with the wood stove. Magellan started a fire and busied himself with unpacking. After devouring a dehydrated dinner, he settled himself in the rocking chair, cleaning his pistol and studying a map of the canyon.
The first knock sounded faint, almost inaudible. Magellan paused, alert, but no sound followed. He crept to the nearest window and peered beneath the curtain at the empty front stoop. Twilight had fallen, and the first stars twinkled in the purple sliver of sky above the canyon. The shadows deepened beneath the boulder. Looking out across the river, Magellan searched for movement along the grassy bank. Nothing stirred. He dropped the curtain and bolted the lock.
Magellan had just taken a sip of whiskey from his flask and returned his attention to the map when the shriek of claws racked across the west wall. He froze, then tiptoed across the cabin to inspect the rifle—it was loaded.
The second shiver needled the hairs on the back of his neck like tiny claws seeking a footing to tear across his skin.
The clawing stopped. Rifle in hand, Magellan caught sight of his pale reflection in a dark window. He peered into the murky sockets of his bloodless face, then yanked the curtain closed. The rocking chair creaked beneath him as he took another sip of whiskey and settled the rifle across the arm rails.
The claws screamed again, echoing through the canyon. Inside, the fire roared in the wood stove and the rocking chair creaked. The claws wrapped around to the front door, then stopped. Something heavy thumped against the door, throwing its weight against the hinges. Magellan positioned the rifle against his shoulder. Again and again something pounded the door, but the iron bolts held firm. Magellan breathed, observing that no claw marks marred the inside of the cabin, then gasped as the bolts slowly turned.
The door swung open. Magellan raised the rifle, bracing his lungs for the deathly stench of the grizzly bear, but a different odor pierced his nostrils. A familiar scent, like the rotten-egg bubbles that rose from the depths of the nearby thermal features, causing the tourists to giggle and pinch their noses. Sulfur.
Instead of the shadow of a bear, Magellan’s own moonlit figure stepped into the doorway. The same hair, only shinier. The same face, but more symmetrical. No bump blighted the bridge of his nose, no freckles dotted his forehead, and no eyes filled his sockets.
Magellan’s breath grew ragged as the figure stepped into the room. He moved to pull the trigger, but his fingers froze. The third shiver traveled from his fingertips to his shoulders, turning so cold it burned like fire, paralyzing every muscle. His other self brushed the barrel of the rifle aside and leaned over the rocking chair, resting his hands on the carved arms. Magellan stared up into the cavernous eyes and felt the final shiver tighten and squeeze every last inch of warmth from his bones. Unable to look away, he watched as a pearlescent swirl filled the vacant sockets. A spark of hellfire lit the white eyes and cooled to lava-rock irises. A half-smile, a wink, and Magellan’s vision went dark.
Cate Vance writes from the mountains of Montana where she is inspired by misty mornings, brilliant days, and starry nights. Her short fiction has appeared in Sky Island Journal and Scribes*MICRO*Fiction, among other outlets. Follow her on Twitter @WriterCSVance.
You can find more about Cate Vance on her website: https://catevance.com
It’s quiet in space. Captain Kolchek was quite aware of this, more so in the last three weeks than she had ever realized was possible. She walked barefoot down the corridor of The Odin toward the mess hall. The darkness inside the ship was almost more powerful than what lay outside the beveled windows in the cockpit.
She extended her hand, feeling for the table in the center of the rounded room to help guide her, and gently let her fingers drag across the metal surface. She hit something soft, lifted her hand, and turned forty-five degrees to her right. She had done this enough times to pinpoint where she was.
The cabinet door was open, like always. She stretched her fingers and softly stroked the objects inside until she found the only rounded surface. She silently pulled the container out of its space and set it atop a towel placed on the metal counter below.
She held her breath, listening to the noises that signaled around her. The slow beep of the oxygen monitor down the hall. The chirp of the frog in the aquarium in the med bay. The soft chatter of her teeth. She didn’t hear anything else. Good.
Slowly, she unscrewed the lid of the jar and set it to the side, placing it on the hand towel with precision to muffle the sound. Her tremble-filled fingers compressed together, slid inside the small opening and fished for the remnants of the chocolate chip cookies within. She never knew a human could move so slowly, but fear causes strange things to occur. She was starving; she hadn’t left her room in so long. She was unsure of how many days had gone by. A lack of sun and a working calendar would do that to a person.
Kolchek savored the stale chocolate chips and the rubbery consistency of the dessert. The stock had started to run low. She carefully set her fingers against the lid and lifted it up, mindful of her long nails so as to not tap against the glass and make unwanted sounds. She rotated her body as if she were a cyborg, stiff and mechanical.
As she went to replace it, the greasy smudge of leftover chocolate on her pinky finger caused her grip to falter. The lid toppled and hit the metal floor with a clang.
She shuddered a breath, her hands instinctually went to her mouth. Something moved behind her in the darkness. A familiar, horrid noise. She palmed the countertop for a weapon, for something sharp or heavy. Her fingers hit chilled flesh. It was her second-in-command’s hand, stiff and motionless as it had been for weeks, fingers bent unnaturally against the lip of the sink. She wasn’t sure where the rest of his body had ended up. She apologized quietly and continued down the rounded countertop with haste.
The sound of movement grew louder. She found a metal cup, nearly knocked it over from how frantically she had navigated the space, and grabbed hold of it. In a fluid motion, she tossed it to the far end of the kitchen, hoping she got it close to the hallway through the blinding darkness around her. An unnatural wailing echoed through the once-muted spaceship. Perhaps, if she was lucky enough, the corpse of her wife at the kitchen table who helped her find her bearings on these treacherous trips would distract it long enough.
Captain Kolchek moved to the opposite hall and quietly headed to the cockpit in the darkness. She heard the chittering, pained cries of the anomaly that had mutilated her crew and left her in utter isolation on this Godforsaken ship. She was on the verge of a breakdown; she couldn’t take it any longer. She prayed she could find the comm button. Her eyes had been gouged out days ago by the beast, The Odin no longer flew, the radio had been silent, and the smell of decay lingered in every room. Her entire crew had been slaughtered in a single night. This thing could not make it back home.
She barreled into the cockpit. She heard the momentum of the beast close in—its heavy, quick footfalls sounded like cannon fire, its wails like the cries of the damned. The ship was filled with a sound unlike anything ever put on record or heard by human ears. Amplified by the close quarters and overbearing size it carried. It was miserable.
Falling into the navigation pane, she began blindly pressing every large button she could feel beneath her cold, shaking hands.
“Someone! Anyone! Please!” she cried out in agony.
Someone had to be listening.
If only she could have seen. Her fingers were so close. Two centimeters to the right, the big, red blinking switch beckoned her to freedom.
She felt its hot breath on her neck.
“PLEASE! Can anyone hear-”
It is indeed quiet in space.
A.L. Davidson (she/they) is a writer who specializes in massive space operas and tiny disturbances. She writes stories about ghosts, grief, isolation, space exploration, eco-horror, queerness, and the human condition. They live with their cat Jukebox in Kansas City.
The wind cut at exposed flesh like knives despite the sunny day. James stayed as still as he could, huddled under a few blankets and pelts. He held his rifle steady, waiting for the doe to turn and show him her broadside. His fingers shuddered, hands bare around the stock of the weapon. She turned, and he forced his frost-bitten fingers closed. The rifle spoke.
The doe fell. He smiled and sighed a breath of relief, pulling on his mittens, glad for the warmth. He shrugged off the blankets and pelts and dragged them to his horse at the bottom of the hill, sheltered from the snow in a copse of trees. He packed quickly, throwing everything haphazardly on the sled, and rode to where the doe had fallen, excited at the prospect of meat for dinner.
When he got there, the doe was still breathing. She lay a few dozen yards from the edge of the meadow where she fell. Quaking aspen trees stood gaunt behind her, a few yellow leaves still doggedly clinging to the white branches. The other trees surrounding them were pine, a blanket of green sprinkled with white snow on the walls of the large valley.
He walked to her side, careful to avoid her sharp, kicking hooves, and she looked up at him with panic in her big, soft eyes. He went to get his rifle from the saddle when he noticed movement in the quakies. He pulled the gun and put his horse between him and the trees. He held still, watching for a few minutes. Another movement on the right. His mind raced through potential threats; a bear? Wolves? Bandits?
He threw his mittens down into the snow, drawing his weapon up, steadying it on his horse, Ash. His eyes scanned the trees, white bark with black striations making them look nearly skeletal in the overcast light of early afternoon. Another shadow of movement off on the left, and his eyes were drawn to the color of naked, pale flesh.
Still too far off to see clearly, it looked like someone stumbling toward him slowly, wearing absolutely nothing. James quickly began leading Ash and the sled attached to her toward the figure. As they drew closer, he stopped the horse and waved.
“Hey fella, you lost out here? What happened to you?” he called out. There was no response, but it stopped moving, shoulders hunched, and looked like it was freezing. James moved to the sled and grabbed a few blankets, then turned and began walking towards the now-still man.
“Jesus, it’s colder’n a witch’s tit out here, come on over here. I got blankets and a camp nearby.” He was holding the blankets up, gesturing for the man to come nearer, when he noticed something strange. It was vaguely man-shaped, but had no hair. Nor any ears. Nor, for that matter, any eyes. The rounded portion of the head sloped down sharply to a flat nose over a thin-lipped and impossibly wide mouth. The chin was nearly not present, the jaw seeming to melt into the bare and featureless chest.
James stared at it, agape. He stuttered, “I-I don’t know what happened to you, but here, here’s a warm blanket. Maybe we can get you into town for a doctor or something.”
The far edges of the mouth turned up, and the head turned to him like a dog sniffing something in the air. It made a sound that reminded James of pouring boiling water into a mug.
It spoke, revealing thousands of needles where its teeth should be. “Your generosity will spare you and one generation of your spawn. I ask only for your prey.” Its voice was stones cracking together. It was an avalanche. It was the summer floods on the plains.
James took a moment to understand that it meant his doe. He simply nodded, still dumbly holding up the blanket, though now more as a shield than an offering.
The thing moved, each step a twitch, to the doe. It bent, opened its mouth, and began to methodically swallow the thing whole, like a snake.
James stared at the whole spectacle until the creature stood, much larger than moments prior, and returned to the woods, leaving him to worry for the rest of his days that he had lost his mind.
Mike J Watson is originally from southeastern Idaho, now living in Baltimore with his wife, daughter and two dogs. He has been published in Runebear Weekly and Dark Elements.
My website: mikejwatson.com Twitter @themikejwatson
On a bright, sunny summer day in 1788, Christopher put down his hammer, removed his apron, and walked out of the foundry. He ignored Mr. Bristle’s shouted demands that he return to work. After all, the shouting of his former employer was just another loud noise in a city that was full of them.
The city seemed to have become full of sound. The hammering in the foundry was just a small part of it. There was a new mill across the road whose hundreds of identical machines produced the unholy screeching of banshee legions. And the workers who tended the machines would all pour out of the building simultaneously and fill the street with their coarse language, expressing their blasphemy at the very top of their lungs. Even the usual cacophony of schoolboys and livestock and policemen’s whistles was defeated by that infernal barrage.
The air was so full of noise that Christopher was convinced that there could be no room for him, so he left his tools off to one side and walked out to find a place he could fit.
He walked up the street where the mills and their legions gave way to the stately houses of the owners. But here, too, the sound of carriages and horses and—again—the infernal whistles of the law informed him it was time to move on.
The street turned into a dirt road, and the post jangled past him every few hours, keeping him from the silence he craved. Birds tweeted annoyingly in trees. Once, a whole regiment went by, surely with no other purpose than to stomp its boots on the packed earth.
The road went up, and his spirits rose with it. Up into the mountains, above the lakes and treeline. The birds had gone, and there seemed to be a still calm upon the land. Perhaps there was room for him there. But, upon turning a corner of the path, a herd of cattle blocked his way, and upon the lead cow… a bell.
He walked off the path along the rougher, rock-strewn spines of the mounts until he came across a small ridge overlooking a tiny lagoon. It was a secluded place surrounded by mountains that blocked off the wind, and it seemed completely silent.
There, Christopher rested.
As he rested, he listened. Without the constant noise of life and bustle filling the air and the inside of his head, he could hear the words that could only be said in silence.
He listened to the Earth and to the stars. He listened to the distant oceans and to ghosts of fallen soldiers. The voices in the silence taught him the ancient secrets of the Titans and the hidden shame of the gods. They taught him to live forever and to gain nutrition from the very air. They taught him to control the fabric of reality and to see beyond the veil of death.
Christopher sat and listened to the voices and grew fat on the thin mountain air. He listened for days, years, decades. He listened for centuries and was at peace.
One day, however, the shout of a hiker broke through the silence. It was miles distant and only reached the ridge on which Christopher was seated because of a fortuitous gust of wind. Its power was akin to the sound made by the flapping of a butterfly’s wing.
The thunderous noise nearly killed him. He felt a searing pain in the very atoms of his body, and he was sure he would never recover.
But the sound didn’t repeat itself. The wind was still, and no further interruption was carried up to his retreat. Over the next few weeks, the atoms of his body healed, and the pain receded until only the anger caused by the invasion remained.
On a bright, sunny summer day in 2012, Christopher wrapped himself in a shield of silence and walked away from his ridge. He retraced his steps across the tortuous hillsides and came to the small mountain path he’d walked before.
There stood not a herd of cows but a flock of sheep and a shepherd. He saw that one of the lambs had a bell.
Christopher gave a silent command, and the shield around him expanded to give them the gift of silence. As he left them behind, he saw they were cold, immobile, and blessedly quiet.
He walked on. Birds fell from the trees as he passed but hit the ground with no sound. The rustling of the leaves ceased to be forever. A row of army trucks on the paved two-lane that had replaced the dirt track of yore suddenly stopped. No men descended, and no men ever would.
The city had grown, and the mills had spawned countless progeny. But he pushed back the noise, filling the previously cramped air with the power of eternal peace. As he walked across each intersection, the city behind him went cold and lifeless—perfectly peaceful in its lack of noise.
Christopher kept walking. He walked until he’d given his gift to all the living creatures of the land and the seas and had brought absolute peace to the world. But the perfect stillness was incomplete.
He listened to the voice of silence to discover what was amiss. And then Christopher, understanding, smiled.
He banished the winds.
And he was content.
Gustavo Bondoni is novelist and short story writer with over three hundred stories published in fifteen countries, in seven languages. He is a member of Codex and an Active Member of SFWA. His latest novel is Lost Island Rampage (2021). He has also published three other monster books: Ice Station: Death (2019), Jungle Lab Terror (2020) and Test Site Horror (2020), three science fiction novels: Incursion (2017), Outside (2017) and Siege (2016) and an ebook novella entitled Branch. His short fiction is collected in Pale Reflection (2020), Off the Beaten Path (2019) Tenth Orbit and Other Faraway Places (2010) and Virtuoso and Other Stories (2011).
In 2019, Gustavo was awarded second place in the Jim Baen Memorial Contest and in 2018 he received a Judges Commendation (and second place) in The James White Award. He was also a 2019 finalist in the Writers of the Future Contest.
His website is at www.gustavobondoni.com.