Man is the last species to die,
for he can eat all the others.
Plankton, plant, pork or porgy
All go down his maw.
Forget about cockroaches and rats,
Man dines on them both.
Consider seafood as example.
sea urchins and periwinkles,
sharks and slugs and squid,
unless rotted, all eaten.
And after man consumes
all the plants and animals
he’s apt to eat
other men as well.
Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He’s had over three hundred stories and poems published so far, and six books. Ed works the other side of writing at Bewildering Stories, where he sits on the review board and manages a posse of six review editors. Follow Ed on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Frank’s end began with a black spot where no black spot should have been. And Frank knew, though he pretended not to, that it meant Big Trouble.
Frank had always been different, the bad sort of different. He was awkward and angry with things nobody was ever angry with.
After the death of his wife, he drifted further, life’s tether stretching thin and strained. At the office, everyone supposed he was grieving, and gave him consideration. But over time, Frank became the odd character. First pitied, then scorned. He was an uncaring victim of sidelong looks and water-cooler jokes.
Today had been stressful for Frank, as all of them were anymore. But now he was almost home. The city bus had only one more stop, and Frank’s turmoil was receding. Sighing, he turned and looked out the window, allowing himself the luxury of letting his mind go blank, taking in the view without really seeing the children playing in the park.
The bus lurched to a start, and he tiredly turned to face the front. Suddenly he jerked back towards the park, confused and searching.
There! Far back in the trees behind the bandstand was an alien, inky shadow. A dark black circle where no shadow should have been in the gentle twilight. He blinked, and it was gone.
“What was that?” he whispered, mouth dry like a piece of black velvet. Or, a sly voice suggested, a portal.
It happened again two days later. Idle at his desk, staring out at highway traffic, his heart suddenly skittered with fear. This time the vivid black spot was a tire on a delivery truck. When Frank blinked, it was gone and the tires were normal. Even as he told himself he was seeing things, he had noticed the black spot was bigger than before.
After the fourth time (something is opening), Frank told himself it must be a problem with his vision. Surely not important enough for a doctor. At the pharmacy, he bought eye drops. He told himself, “It’s nothing serious.”
But then the thing changed, and he knew it was worse than an eye problem.
The Big Change happened when the spot began shifting into an emerging man-shape. After this, Frank became nervous and twitchy. He avoided looking out windows and would conform his body awkwardly to do so. When he walked, he stared at the ground. When he spoke, his darting eyes never lingering. He whispered to himself.
His co-workers noticed. The old rumors of his wife’s death began again.
“Frank has never been the same since his wife died.”
“Never did get all the facts, did we?”
The boldest went further, “They called it a suicide, but it sure was strange, wasn’t it?”
And the thing kept coming. Growing. What was it, was it a man? No, it was too thick, too broad.
Frank got a closer look one afternoon at home when he let his willpower lapse. Standing at the sink, washing dishes, he lifted his head and looked out the kitchen window. Immediately, as if it had been waiting for him, the shape strode out behind a nearby house.
Frank froze, soapy dishrag in hand, unable to move or think. Before it disappeared behind the next house, Frank saw a large, beasty creature, reddish-brown, hairy and menacing. The worst thing? At the last moment, it turned its shaggy buffalo head and looked straight into Frank’s window.
Frank squeezed his eyes shut and stood trembling, heart pounding with tremendous runaway force. He tried to unsee the thing and remember it at the same time.
He now knew the thing was coming for him. It knew who he was. He thought of the old poem by Yeats. The slouching rough beast.
After that, Frank’s world shrunk into a tightly wound sphere of fear and denial.
Am I going insane, or is it real? It can’t be real. If it’s real, then everything is real—all the impossible things are true: vampires and monsters and all the fairy tales and God and Hell. And if that’s true, all the things we call normal are phony and flimsy.
Or is this what it means to go mad? To wrestle inside a shadow world while pretending not to, and people just live their lives around you as if nothing is happening?
On his last day, Frank loaded the old revolver and carried it in his pocket everywhere he went. At bedtime, he placed it on the night table.
He didn’t sleep; he didn’t toss or turn. He just laid there, lamp on, holding his breath—listening . Just make it to sunrise. Make it to another day.
When he heard the first footstep—it could have been anything—there hung a split second where it wasn’t real yet. But then another step, and another.
Frank grabbed the revolver and lay with wide eyes, staring at the closed bedroom door.
The steps came on, louder, overly forceful, taunting. Then, Frank heard heavy breathing, and it was at his door and was close enough he could smell it. Rank, fetid, inhuman.
Impossibly, the doorknob began to turn, and though Frank wanted to close his eyes, he was paralyzed with terror. The door swung open, and a great, shaggy head peered around the doorway. It opened its mouth in a grotesque smile, huge yellow teeth slimed and dripping.
Frank’s last thought was this: It isn’t real! If I speak to it, it will disappear. He shuddered, opened his dry mouth, and with a forced croak said, “I’m sorry.”
The next day, little was done at the office. Each new piece of the story caused groups to gather in cubicles, the lunch room, or the water cooler.
“Went the same way as his wife.”
“Everyone could see Frank was having problems.”
“Police said it was suicide. Doesn’t surprise me.”
“And with the same gun his wife used.”
Mr. Thomas once studied journalism at Eastern Illinois University and now after more than 20 years in the manufacturing industry, is chasing his American dream of becoming a full-time novelist. His published works are listed on his website rf-thomas.com. With lifelong roots in the Midwest, he currently calls Central Illinois home.
one late autumn
the bitter water spread
through the entire building
filling mouths with a caustic taint
but the tenants did not care enough
until the dreams came:
a thousand agonies of loneliness
the sum total grief of mere being
the cats howling, the dogs whimpering
a hundred people—men, women, children--
feeling that they were falling, falling, falling...
forever and forever and forever,
after two nights of mass distress
the grim hysteria bubbled over
and—making a connection--
they finally sent the super up to the water tank
he lifted the lid and there she greeted him:
floating face down, fully clothed
her backpack still about her thin shoulders
her stygian hair clumped like rotting seaweed
some of them had been wondering
where she had got to
she had been such a nice girl
a little quiet perhaps.
Harris Coverley has verse published or forthcoming in Polu Texni, California Quarterly, Star*Line, Spectral Realms, Corvus Review, Spank the Carp, Better Than Starbucks, View From Atlantis, Poets' Espresso Review, Once Upon A Crocodile, The Rye Whiskey Review, 5-7-5 Haiku Journal, and many others. He lives in Manchester, England. Follow Harris on Twitter @ha_coverley.
You know how TVs have advanced so far they show details better than real life? A giraffe at the zoo seems unrealistic and vague, like you expect it to have more pixels or something. Well, that’s how the Nebraska sky operates.
It blares an eldritch blue, too bright, too bold. It shouts like a bathroom LED bulb, revealing your red splotches where none showed in the forgiving yellow light of the bedroom vanity.
Unnatural. Too real. Too high a frame rate.
At first, it will fascinate you. Hypnotic. But don’t stare too long. Sometimes, at high noon on December days, when the cold freezes the moisture in your nose into tiny stalactites, the sun ricochets off the blanket of snow back up into the cloudless, windless sky, and the air tastes like peppermint because of nostalgia, a shadow appears in the East.
In other states, the human eye can’t catch it, but the blaring blue presides over the prairie and uncovers the outline of something with wings. Angelic? No, not angelic. Those who do spot the silhouette shudder and gibber at reporters in semi-coherent sentences.
“Heavy,” they say. “Like it wants to fall.”
The reporters snigger and smile at each other, and the cameramen try to capture the ‘weather phenomenon’ with their high-tech cameras. They never do. The lens cannot grasp the loudness of the Nebraska sky, cannot capture the vastness of the open horizon that somehow adds to the crescendo of it all. The reporters don’t see it, either, because they stare at the wrong times and never for long enough.
But the weight of that silhouette presses like the drop on a rollercoaster. A sinking. An inevitability. A judgment for decisions you cannot withdraw, no matter how much you scream and throw your hands into the air to surrender.
Step over the state line with trepidation, and don’t look up during cloudless days. The locals know. It’s a horizon transplanted from another place, where giant shadows show up in the florescent heavens. Shadows heavy enough to fall.
Emmie Christie’s work tends to hover around the topics of feminism, mental health, cats, and the speculative such as unicorns and affordable healthcare. She has been published in Intrinsick and Allegory Magazine, and she graduated from the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2013. She also enjoys narrating audiobooks for Audible. You can find her at www.emmiechristie.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @EmmieChristie33 and on Facebook @EmmieChristieFiction.
At first, they kept Her on the chair in Veronica’s room. Little Veronica who collected rocks and kept them in the pockets of her coat when the family would go for walks in the wood. Little Veronica, who would proudly tell you she was five even though she’d been six going on seven months now.
After little Veronica woke up the entire house screaming about Her, they’d moved Her into the attic. It was the only way to stop little Veronica from screaming and thrashing in her bed.
Her words were slurred with a child’s mercurial terror, but the message was clear anyway, “She’s watching us sleep! She’s watching us sleep!”
It was dear Dad that saw it next. Dear Dad, with his ugly ties and bags under his dim eyes. Dear Dad, with a house he couldn’t afford and a job that was eating away his life 50 hours a bite. He’d awoken to a creak. Dear Dad had walked into the hallway, only to find the stairs into the attic extended down. He’d closed it, understandably dismayed. When he’d come back to bed, Her was sitting on the bedside table.
Dear Dad dropped Her into the dumpster outside, cursing her under his breath as he went along. He didn’t want it in his house, even if he didn’t believe that Her was anything more than what she appeared to be.
It was lovely Mother—while dear Dad was at work—who found Her at the kitchen table. Lovely Mother smiled because she knew her little one was playing, growing, imagining. It warmed lovely Mother’s heart and made her wistful all at once.
Her watched, Her watched.
It was vile Her who found her way into the bed of Mother and Father, vile Her with her porcelain skin, blue dress, and black eyes. No one had purchased Her, no one had carried Her home from any vendor or store. She appeared one day in the house of this family, an invader from another place and another time. Vile Her, with her hungry eyes and voracious appetites.
It was Vile Her who looked over lovely Mother and found Her way into the fleshy part of lovely Mother’s brain, the invader breaching those soft walls.
When the morning came, Vile Mother sat with Little Veronica and Dear Dad. Her family continued on their lives, blissfully unaware of what had transpired.
It was Vile Mother who watched. It was Vile Mother who would act next.
Logan Noble is a horror and science fiction writer who lives in England with his wife and two dogs. His short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines, including Pickman's Gallery, Miskatonic Dreams, Deracine Magazine, and Sanitarium Magazine. His fiction and blog can be found on logannobleauthor.com and you can follow him on Twitter @logan_noble.
On my broken back I carry the world: hungry children
drinking the minerals from my exposed bone; battered
women prickling me with needles, yet even they,
adept at the art of patching things up, defeated
by my tectonic fissures and split vertebrae;
men who—for lack of softness to scar—destroy
themselves, fashioning bandages out of my peeling skin.
And those who are neither man nor woman,
dangling from my ragged clumps of fur,
clinging tooth and nail to the forces trying
to forsake them.
Rotten roots attempt to trip me, birds made
of pure keratin and spite, swooping down.
Carnivorous bracken find no flesh left to nibble.
The tears of my passengers, acid rain over ravaged earth.
I run quadrupedal, leaping over fermented fords of ichor,
bounding through woods of my fellow skeletons
growing into trees, limbs into boughs. But I have
many more journeys left inside me before I fall apart
and my passengers do too, before we are all dust
and ghosts, feeding this broken-backed world.
Avra Margariti is a queer author, Greek sea monster, and Pushcart-nominated poet with a fondness for the dark and the darling. Avra’s work haunts publications such as Vastarien, Asimov’s, Liminality, Arsenika, The Future Fire, Space and Time, Eye to the Telescope, and Glittership. “The Saint of Witches”, Avra’s debut collection of horror poetry, is forthcoming from Weasel Press. You can find Avra on Twitter (@avramargariti).
The funeral parlor smells of potpourri and faux beauty. There's itchy chairs with floral upholstery that almost match the wallpaper and green carpet. The body of Our Father lays in a cherry wood casket at the front of the main room.
We're all wearing our ceremonial cloaks to honor Him who left before His time. Brother Coleford stands by the casket with a lit candelabra, whispering and begging Him to give us words of wisdom from beyond the grave.
Brother James asks the funeral manager if he could step outside and give us a few minutes alone with the one we lost. The manager is hesitant at first. I can tell by the way he studies Brother James’ face, but he agrees to give us a little time. A little time is all we need. Brother James and I walk him out. I prop one of the chairs under the handle of the door and turn the deadbolt while Brother James shades the windows with the blinds and chintzy curtains.
Some of the other Brothers pull jars of sacramental oil from their cloaks, and we all circle around the casket to hear the final words Brother Coleford has to say about the Great Man Himself. Without Him, we Brothers are lost. Without His leadership, the meaning of life, our existence, and who we are is dismantled. He was great for His ideals. Great for everything He did for us, for mankind. He left before His time, so not many in this terrible world heard the pure words or message He tried to spread.
Not many followed Him. But those of us who did, we know the truth. We believe His message. We know what it will take to cleanse the world of its disease. We’re ready to begin.
The funeral manager must’ve changed his mind about letting us be here alone. He tries the door, and when he finds it won’t open, he starts beating on it, his shouting muffled by the thick oak doors.
We ignore the distraction. Brother Coleford reads a passage from Our Father’s own diary. A message about the Great Cleansing of the world. About peace. We bow our heads while we listen and repeat The Cantos as a group.
The wicks in Brother Coleford’s candles are diminishing. We’re almost out of time.
The Brothers with sacramental oil pass the jars around the circle. We each take turns spreading some of the oil on our cloaks. It’s putrid but potent. It won’t take much for the flames to lick and take. We douse the ugly carpet around us, the casket, and Our Father Himself.
We loved this man. We loved His wisdom, His teachings. And we know that death will have no hold on us. We know we will rise again, stronger. Equipped to cleanse the world of its souls. To be the hand of damnation to unite the living with the dead.
We are Brothers of the Sacred Order. And so we have no fear when Brother Coleford starts the flames to our cloaks.
We will return.
Eric Fomley’s work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Galaxy’s Edge, and Inferno! Volume 6: Tales from the Worlds of Warhammer. You can read more of his stories on his website ericfomley.com, follow him on Twitter @PrinceGrimdark, or support him on patreon.com/Fomley.
Jo had been suffering from a dull ache behind her left eye most of the day, but driving home from work had made it considerably worse. Every sound seemed to be magnified to an excruciating level, whether it be road works or car horns or police sirens. Everything caused pain. Twice she pulled over because of the gnawing she felt in her brain, and the journey wasn't more than fifteen minutes. By the time she parked the car outside of her home, the dull ache had become a full-on pounding, as though war drums were being played inside her skull.
She sat in the car, eyes closed with her head on the steering wheel, and breathed trying to black out the outside world.
That night brought no rest, no solace. Jo had taken a handful of painkillers and placed a damp cloth over her eyes, and laid down in a totally dark room. If anything, the lack of distraction just made the pain worse as it was all she could focus on.
Sitting up, she told herself that she was going to the doctor first thing in the morning and get this sorted out, whatever it was. Naturally, Jo thought of the absolute worst, that it might be a tumour of some sort. But she pushed those thoughts away as soon as they came, or at least tried to.
Jo was up and moving about, albeit very slowly, as soon as the sun was, due largely to having been awake all night. She showered, got dressed, finished off the painkillers that she had despite them not making any difference, and headed out. Deciding driving probably wasn't the best idea, she took a taxi, only hoping that the driver didn't want to have a conversation with her because talking was certainly not an option.
Luckily Jo was able to walk right in to see the doctor as the 9 am appointment hadn't shown up. The doctor was a slender man with a complete lack of people skills, but he knew his profession well. He asked perfunctory questions:
Have you taken any medication?
All of them.
As he began his examination. He stuck a light in Jo's ears. He pulled her lids down and shone a light in her eyes.
”I can't find anything wrong with you,” the doctor said, scribbling notes.
”Well there is,” Jo protested, the anguish clear on her face.
”I believe you,” the doctor replied, putting his pen down. “I'm going to send you for a-”
Jo screamed out in terrible pain; it was a howl of agony. Her hands clawed at her skull, the nails causing rivulets of blood to trickle down her face. Her eyes were clenched tightly closed, feeling as though they were going to explode from their sockets.
The left eye was slowly pried open from the inside, revealing a small yellow worm crawling, wiggling, thrashing about in the open air. Jo's eyelids sprang apart, revealing the worm had drilled its way dead-centre through the pupil.
The front of her head exploded then, revealing several longer, bigger yellow worms crawling over each other in a lazy orgy. Blood poured from the open wound, as it did, revealing tiny white-yellow buds. The doctor immediately knew these were unborn babies.
Jo stood there, her mouth hung open like a stupid, wide cavern. Her eyes were wide open, the one still in-tact glassy like a marble and slicked in blood. She twitched once, then fell to the floor, dead. The worms continued to spill out from the head wound.
The doctor stood back, watching on in horror-induced numbness. He carefully stepped around the twitching, fresh corpse with the worms slithering over each other, now bathed in blood, and exited the office.
The waiting room was filled with people holding their heads in pain.
James has been writing for the past 20 years. His professional writing career includes feature-length and short screenplays, novels, short stories, and lyrics. Away from writing, he owns and runs a successful self-defence club, Reality Based Urban Defence (rbud.co.uk), is a director of the production company Happy Buzz Entertainment Ltd, and is currently studying for his degree in Marketing.
He considers Stephen King a personal idol.
When Timber Ghost Press first opened for business, we also opened for novel and novella submissions. We waded through the first few waves of submissions. Some of the stories didn't quite fit the tone we wanted to portray here at Timber Ghost. Some didn't quite make the mark. However, there was one submission that stood out in that first wave. That submission was 21 Grams by M. Regan.
Their writing, voice, tone, and atmosphere was spot on. The story itself is beautiful, harrowing, and horrifying in so many different ways. Of course we had to say yes and publish it. Fast forward to today, and 21 Grams continues to garner praise and love from its readers.
It got us thinking though, what influenced M. Regan? That led us to the question, what top five authors or books influenced you the most. Read on to find out.
“Embarrassed” isn’t the right word. It’s not that I’m embarrassed.
But there is a consensus of generally agreed-upon Influential Horror Writers (trademark pending) with whom credible authors are meant to align themselves. When such an author is asked, “whose work do you admire” or “whose work inspired you,” there ought to be at least one literary great thrown in there, if but to showcase the respect that is felt for this genre’s longstanding roots.
Which brings us to a definitely-not-embarrassing confession from me, a person who is trying very hard to be a credible author:
I don’t really care for any of the Influential Horror Writers (trademark pending).
That isn’t to say I haven’t been informed by them or their work. There is, for example, a great deal of Mary Shelley’s influence in my debut novella, 21 Grams. That was entirely by design. And anyone who has a passing familiarity with my short stories will suspect I sold my soul to publish so many pieces that pay homage to Faust. I can— and do— acknowledge horror’s erudite sires.
(I also pay my dues to the HWA, and make the appropriate ritual sacrifices when the stars are in alignment. I really am trying, here.)
The issue, as it were, is that these foundational texts were not the foundation that I, as a young and impressionable reader, constructed my inner worlds upon. Instead, my teeth were cut on media that had been derived from them: that had taken and twisted those ideas and themes into tales more grandiose, more controversial, more depraved, more relevant, more innovative. By the time I was old enough to appreciate the source material, those original works felt very basic by comparison.
They did not surprise me. They did not delight me. They did not do that which I most desire from the media I consume:
They did not make me think.
“Speaking of thinking,” you might now be muttering to your screen, “why do you think I care about your opinions on stories?” That is a very good question. And the answer is: you shouldn’t care! What do my feelings on this topic matter? You do you, as a great philosopher once said. If I don’t like something, more of that something for you to enjoy! Have at it and have fun.
However, for those of you who think they might be interested in doing a bit more thinking, I offer humbly unto you:
5 Pieces of Horror/Horror-Adjacent Media That I Found Exceptionally Thought-Provoking
GOTH by Otsuichi / translated by Andrew Cunningham (Novel)
Originally published as a series of novelettes, this translated compilation of Japanese horror follows a pair of high schoolers who forge a permanent bond over their shared interest in darkness, death, and the endless parade of murders that just-so-happen to take place in their town. Think “Scooby Doo,” but the mysteries come to them. Also, Fred is a sociopath.
This might be the time to admit I don’t know a ton about “Scooby Doo.”
GOTH is a book about many things, but definitely not friendship. For people who enjoy stories about “man being the monster”— possibly literally— I cannot recommend this collection highly enough.
The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud (Novels)
“But Regan,” you say, “I’ve just looked it up. This is a young adult series about magicians. It’s listed as a fantasy. It’s not horror at all.”
To which I look you dead in the eyes, unblinking, for a solid 10 seconds before asking, “Have you read it?”
Set in an alternate-universe London where the government is comprised of magicians, The Bartimaeus Sequence follows a young and ambitious boy named Nathaniel as he follows his political dreams with the (often begrudging) help of a snarky 5,000-year-old djinni named Bartimaeus. It is comedic, it is cutting, and there are scenes within its pages that scare me to this day. But more than that, it is important, exploring in explicit detail themes of exploitation, slavery, government corruption, and systemic abuse of the disenfranchised.
I am on my knees begging you to toss your copies of Harry Potter and pick up Bartimaeus instead.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica by Magica Quartet (Anime)
In many ways, I’m being a bit of a hypocrite by including this one. But when Madoka first aired in 2011, it was revolutionary in the way it reinterpreted the “magical girl” genre. And unlike, say, the original books and plays about Faust, I happened to be around for this one.
Hey, here’s a segue for you: For what wish might you sell your soul?
Made of sugar, spice, and crushing existential horror, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a phenomenally written and gorgeously produced animation that is sure to appeal to those who want a few more decapitations in Sailor Moon.
From the New World (Shinsekai Yori) by Yusuke Kishi / A-1 Pictures (Anime)
Set one thousand years after a telekinetic apocalypse has destroyed the world as we know it, a group of friends begin attending their local psychic school. But what about the other children in their town, the ones whose mental powers never manifest? What waits in the forests outside the utopian Kamisu 66? And what, ultimately, does it mean to be human?
I was employed by Crunchyroll as a localization editor for a time, and of all the series I was privileged enough to work on, this was the one that most blew my mind.
The Magnus Archives by Jonathan Sims (Podcast)
A veritable shrine to all knowledge paranormal and esoteric, the Magnus Institute is an academic organization dedicated to the pursuit of supernatural research. They also have an exceptionally messy archive. Determined to derive order from chaos, the Institute’s new archivist, Jonathan Sims, has decided to try and digitize the written statements of people who claim to have experienced strange happenings. And from there— as if from the hub of a great web— the red threads start to spread, and tangle, and knot.
This podcast is what sustained me through the beginning of the covid pandemic. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is one of the most intricately crafted and phenomenally executed stories that I have ever been told, and I cried for four and a half days when it ended. If you are a fan of creepypasta, cosmic horror, and casual queer representation, give it a listen; there is a reason that this show has racked up so many awards.
Well, then— I’ve shown you mine. Any interest in showing me yours? What stories have haunted you the longest? Which series have made homes in your brains? Which media have you found the most thought-provoking? Let me know! Give me something new to think about!
M. Regan has been writing for over a decade, with credits ranging from localization work to short stories to podcast scripts. Fascinated by the fears personified by monsters, they enjoy dark fiction, studying supernatural creatures, and traveling to places rich with folklore. Find them on Twitter and Facebook.
“Houston!” the astronaut said, but he failed to complete the well-worn cliché.
The on-board cameras, however, were unambiguous in showing the world what unfolded next. The crew of the resupply vessel appeared to shimmer, became translucent, fragmented into ashen dust, and dissolved into nothingness.
The spacecraft, now minus a human component to direct its course, continued its trajectory into the infinity of deep space. Meantime, on the International Space Station, where the personnel had been expecting the crew of the resupply vessel to replace them so they could return to Earth, every man and woman aboard also vanished.
Alien abduction? Sabotage? Abnormal sunspot radiation? Pundits and laymen alike took their pick of the abundant conjectures and conspiracy theories concerning the astronauts’ disappearance.
Across the globe, the launching of manned spacecraft was indefinitely put on pause until more was known about the unprecedented phenomenon that had occurred. Then, a month later, aircraft started dropping out of the skies.
“There are no corpses or body parts amongst the wreckage,” a rescue team reported from a debris-strewn field in Western Australia, and in doing so, reignited theories of alien abduction.
At international airports across the world, all commercial airliners were grounded, while private jets were consigned by law to their hangars until further notice.
Soon after the cessation of airline transportation, a Filipina mountaineer radioed to base camp from the heights of Mount Everest. “I can’t see any of the other climbers in my party,” she said, her voice quavering. “They were a little ways ahead of me. I can see clearly all the way to the summit, but there’s no one there—no one.”
That was the climber’s final communication.
End-of-the-Worlders and alien abduction conspiracists vied for the attention of an increasingly frightened global audience.
In the Rockies, the Alps, the Himalayas, climbers willingly ascended the tallest mountains, never again to be seen, trekking upwards in hopes of a religious resurrection or of a meeting of minds with extraterrestrials.
As the diurnal revolution of the earth continued, and as life tried to go on as normal in spite of the growing fear, a radio sports commentator broadcast an international football match live from La Paz. “The half-time score is Bolivia two, Argentina nil,” he announced excitedly to soccer-mad South America, from the loftiest football pitch on earth.
No second-half commentary was ever heard, though. The players, spectators and commentator went silent and were neither seen nor heard of again. No one bothered attempting to make their way to La Paz to find out why.
With a mentality approaching denial and a forlorn hope that everything would miraculously return to normal, mankind carried on with its humdrum, day-to-day existence until an event occurred in the USA that was impossible to ignore. During a televised basketball game, the arena erupted with cheering as the Utah Jazz’s point guard made a flying slam dunk. In mid-air, however, his physical form blurred, broke into a million pieces, and was no more. Seconds afterwards, the gawping spectators and the players on the court and on the benches likewise vanished.
On TV a few days later, a world-renowned zoologist announced an until then unobserved anomaly. “Pets and livestock, no longer under the domination of mankind, are wandering down from higher elevations, bleating and mewling with hunger. They are otherwise unaffected by this deadly anomaly that’s sweeping the upper reaches of our planet and depleting it of its people.”
“We’re being exterminated for the sins we’ve perpetrated against Nature,” vegan anarchists asserted.
“We’re being rounded up by aliens as a food source because of our overabundance on Earth,” advocates of population control countered.
In a panic across the globe, folk fled to the planet’s lower-lying regions until, congregating on beaches, the survivors of ever-depleted humanity shimmered, fragmented, and were gone. Those who surged into the sea and dived under the waves lasted only a few seconds longer until the necessity to breathe forced them back to the surface, at which point they too disintegrated.
Beneath the ocean, on board a mutinous British nuclear submarine that had refused to complement its crew with cabinet ministers and members of the royal family, the radio operator attempted to contact Faslane Naval Base in Scotland.
While his captain stood on the platform at the periscope, disconsolately following the erratic course of a crewless cargo ship, the radio operator gave up attempting to contact anyone at their base.
He sat back in his chair and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Captain. There’s just no reply.”
Paul A. Freeman is the author of Rumours of Ophir, a crime novel which was taught at ‘O’ level in Zimbabwean high schools and has been translated into German.
In addition to having two novels, a children’s book and an 18,000-word narrative poem (Robin Hood and Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers!) commercially published, Paul is the author of hundreds of published short stories, poems and articles.
He resides in Abu Dhabi.