The sleek straight walls of our arcology
Penetrated by organic rot.
A flower brought in, unseen,
On the sole of a shoe or in a guilty heart.
Our antiseptic citadel protected us
From burning seas and mistakes long made.
We sustained ourselves with sterile survival
While the world outside decayed.
An expedition to the wild outside
And some failure of our defences
Brought in our first fresh flower
And long buried consequences.
Stems and springs sprouted
From burnished glass walkways.
Escalators and elevators grew silent,
their gears all clogged with grass.
Attempts to decontaminate and control
Only spread unsettled seeds.
Vines clung about our structures
and ruptured slowly from our skin.
The first few people tried
To rip or tear these new appendages.
The fungal tongues growing from their chests and
The poison ivy tangled in their hair.
But they only grew back stronger
Until all resistance stopped.
The sinews coiled around our community
Tendrils spreading one-by-one.
Soil dripping from vacant eyes
As they forgot their dull humanity.
They shuffle around the corridors,
Overtaken by new life.
Bursts of red and green and yellow
pulsating from walls and floors and mouths.
Their minds are gone, but some life remains.
Rebirthed in the barren womb of our last redoubt.
I watch and wait for the dirt to take me.
The last, but not alone.
Butterflies and insects
Spring from living, moving bone.
Tangled metal flowers
Grow around me in this room.
I feel the fear of death abandon me.
I know the world will be here soon.
Danny Shaw is a conflict researcher based in Scotland, but in his fiction he prefers horror to war. He loves horror with existential and political themes, like Thomas Ligotti, Brian Evanson and Hailey Piper. You can find his short stories and poems @WeirdAndFearty and his political work @DanielOdinShaw on Twitter.
Don’t try to monetize a poltergeist.
Greed’s bad ghost karma can’t be rectified.
Disgraced, divorced, and homeless, one man saw
Redemption’s outstretched hand where others paused.
Abandoned, curiously cheap to rent,
This mansion’s past inspired its second chance.
Accomplices were needed. Two arrived
When Gerald Laughlin hatched his hapless plot
To profit from aged, angry entities.
In 1967, he lured folks
Who paid to tour dark rooms suffused with gloom
Inhabited by visible deceased
Who followed paying guests—but would not speak.
Published accounts have chronicled his woes.
Too many harrowing encounters there
Encouraged Gerald and his cohorts—men
Who never were right-minded after that--
To flee, unseen foes hanging on their coats.
Since bad ghost karma can’t be overcome,
Investigate who’s haunting your house first.
Respect the dead, whose turmoil can’t be priced.
Don’t try to monetize sly poltergeists.
Background: After a professional crisis cratered his chiropractic career and his marriage, Dr. Gerald Alexander Laughlin [c. 1926—24 Jun 2001] needed inexpensive lodgings and a new purpose. A dilapidated 33-room mansion [1161 N. Liberty at Atlantic Ave.], rumored to house inhospitable spirits, was vacant and well below market value. In 1967, Laughlin transformed the 19th century residence into New Castle, Pennsylvania’s first “commercial” haunted house with the help of two young bachelors from Lawrence County whose work was compensated by free room and board. Tours ($5) were popular.
Increasingly, however, witnesses told of unsettling things. Spectres attached themselves to attendees.
The longer Laughlin let folks explore the premises, the more mayhem ensued.
Were numerous car accidents and heart attacks really caused by vengeful apparitions?
In June 1970, the three-story structure was closed for fire safety violations; condemnation proceedings were considered. When the haunted mansion was totally gutted by fire on October 9, 1970, arson was not suspected.
For more information, please read, "The House of Lost Souls" by Patrick Glendon McCullough
Native New Yorker LindaAnn LoSchiavo, a Pushcart Prize, Rhysling Award, Best of the Net, and Dwarf Stars nominee, is a member of SFPA, The British Fantasy Society, and The Dramatists Guild. Elgin Award winner "A Route Obscure and Lonely," "Concupiscent Consumption," "Women Who Were Warned," Firecracker and IPPY Award nominee "Messengers of the Macabre" [co-written with David Davies], and "Apprenticed to the Night" [Beacon Books, 2023] are her latest poetry titles.
The train. The train. Can ya hear it a-whistlin’?
Georgie sure did that fateful night.
He was a gandy dancer, a railroad worker, and a fine one at that. He worked from sun up to sun down, strong arms layin’ down track as far as the foreman would ask. Always to the tune of that whistlin’ train somewhere off in the distance. To the tune of industry risin’ up over the hills. As the cities grew taller and taller, as automobiles moved faster and faster, as electricity lit up the horizon more and more with each new moon.
That warm summer mornin’ in the wee AM hours, Georgie was a-walkin’ down the tracks, as he did e’ry mornin’ on his way to work. It weren’t safe, they’d all tell him, a-walkin’ down the tracks like he did. He ain’t never seen the train, though. No, not once. How dangerous could it be?
So Georgie kept a-walkin’.
“Now,” a cool voice called out. “What’s a fine, strappin’ lad such as yerself doing out at this time o’night?’
Georgie paid the dapper man no real mind. “On my way t’work, good sir.”
“T’work! At this late o’an hour?” the dandy inquired as he preened and primped his pricy suit with each step he took.
“I ain’t go no other way t’get there unless I’m a-walkin’, gotta be there before that sun comes up.”
Georgie fixed the strap o’his bag o’er his body, railroad spikes clanged against his tools like thunder rumblin’ o’er the fields. He cut his eyes toward the stranger who appeared outta nowhere. He looked sly like the devil and as handsome, too. His eyes glistened like starlight and boy, his smile was wicked and cruel.
“Boy, you best slow down. Yer too young t’be wastin’ away like this. Not with those looks and them strong arms,” the man chided.
“Food’s gotta get on that table somehow, good sir. I got a big family, my momma needs the money and my sisters ain’t old enough to find themselves good men to care for them. No sir, not yet,” Georgie replied as he picked up his pace.
“And what if I said I could make all yer problems go away like the coolest o’spring breezes? Ain’t never gotta walk these tracks again, ain’t never gotta see the sunrise again,” the dandy inquired.
“I don’t know ya, sir, and I ain’t gonna risk bein’ late for my shift over temptations and lies,” Georgie replied as he pulled a silver chain with a matching cross out from beneath his shirt. The cross shone in the moonlight.
Though he denied it, the dandy could see the cogs turn behind Georgie's eyes like the fast movin' wheels of a train.
The dandy smiled, “Ah, good boy, aren’t ya? A real good boy,” he sneered as he stepped up onto the rail opposite o’Georgie.
No matter how fast Georgie walked, the dandy was beside him without strain. Georgie was growin’ irritated; his bag o’tools was heavy.
“Sure I can’t… twist yer arm, boy-o? This project’ll just keep on goin’, them cities will keep on gettin’ bigger. Trains ain’t gonna matter no more in a few years, and men like you ain’t never gonna be nothing more than this. I can make ya a king; I need a strong boy to help me. Got a big project comin’ up,” the dandy teased.
Georgie finally stopped. He balanced on the railroad against the weariness he felt swellin’ like a summer heat within his legs. He cocked an eyebrow up when he heard the sound of the train whirrin’ down the tracks way off in the distance like a warnin’ siren callin’ out to him. Run, boy. You better run.
“My momma said never be tempted by fancy men in the late night hours, sir,” Georgie noted.
“She tell ya we the devil?!” the dandy inquired loudly.
“Good lookin’ men like yerself usually are.”
“Smart boy. I was tryin’ to do ya a favor, but I ain’t gonna waste breath-”
“How much we talkin’?”
That train whistle kept on howlin’. Georgie tried to step off the tracks, but his feet refused to move; they were cemented against the metal and wood he himself did lay down so many months ago.
The dandy smiled and twisted his mustache round and round, “How ever much your greedy li’l heart desires, Georgie. Industry keeps on rollin’. Why shouldn’t we?”
Georgie felt his heart race, “An’ how you know my name?”
“I know all of it, Georgie. Ya were already mine before that sun e’r did set yesterday,” the dandy pointed down the way.
Blood, deep and sticky, sat against the tracks and the Kentucky bluegrass swayin’ in the breeze. A torn-up satchel with busted tools inside laid by a boot, all crimson stained and reekin’ o’death. The mangled remains of a body lay crooked in a heap. Wrapped around a loose, half-finished spike was a silvery chain with the sign o’the Lord blowin’ in the soft breeze attached to it. All o’it was shining against the phantom lights of that damn train barreling’ down the tracks.
The dandy extended an outstretched hand, nails sharp like daggers and smile twisted like a magnolia tree’s roots. Georgie looked down, looked at the red that soaked through the white and grime o’his shirt and realized he weren’t e’er gonna see his momma again. Realized he ain’t never made it home last night. Realized he had been walkin’ the tracks for a while too long this mornin’. Realized the tears weren’t comin’; there weren’t no more tears in him.
That train kept on barrelin’ down the tracks. They say the ground shook when George McConnell died, as if the whole of hell sang out in a joyous noise.
The dandy smiled that wicked smile at him, “I got a train that needs some tracks laid, needin’ a way to get poor boy-os like you rounded up. You’re outta time. Whatcha say, Georgie? Wanna make a deal with the devil?”
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.
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
Hey there, TJ. Thank you for taking the time to talk about your latest book, The Lamentations of Blackhawk. Before we get into that, though, I want to ask some questions so readers can get to know you better.
How many books have you written so far? I have five published books so far (three novellas and two collections). There is another novel and a book of essays that are basically finished, but just sitting around. They may never see the light of day. There are a handful of anthologies I'm in and in 2022, I had an essay in FANGORIA, which was a bucketlist accomplishment for me.
A lot of them take place in Utah. Why is that?
I grew up in Utah and for a long time I avoided writing about it or setting anything there. Then, while living in Las Vegas, I had a story in my head I couldn't escape and it would have been an injustice to the story to set it anywhere else. After that, I embraced Utah as a setting for my stories. Utah people are the people I know best and those places inhabit a sort of twilight zone for readers. They are either just as familiar or so foreign to readers that I can get away with a lot that I might not be able to do honestly with a different setting.
Utah is a place people think they know but is wide open for the horror field. I love the burgeoning Utah horror scene. The state has been dominated by fantasy fiction (religiously influenced and not) for far too long. It's time for the things that go bump in the night to take over.
What got you into the horror genre?
This is one of my favorite questions. I was born on Halloween. I loved trick-or-treating as a kid, but for a long time, I would get scared and bail. One year, I was taking birthday party invitations to friends and that included one friend who I hadn't seen in a while because we moved to another part of town. He was having his birthday party and that included a trip to a haunted house. There was supposed to be a kid-friendly side. I came out of there white as a ghost and will never forget it. I was heading into my sixth birthday. Fast forward. I had a friend when I was 11 whose parents let him--and me--watch whatever we wanted. So one day we watched MISERY. I fell in love. I went to the library and the librarians didn't blink that I was checking out MISERY the novel. I'd read Poe and Sherlock Holmes before, but King was new territory. I've never let go of my love of horror since then.
What sparked your interest in writing? Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be a writer, or did it kind of occur over time?
When I was in sixth grade, the Scholastic Book order forms did a contest to finish an R.L. Stine story. (King had done the same thing in the 1970s in a men's magazine.) I wrote mine and entered the contest. I did not win. What I did get, though, was a recommendation by the English teacher to a young writers conference at Utah State University. There was a keynote speaker who was probably important, but I don't remember who it was. All of the young writers were put in groups and we read our stuff for some judges. It might have been an actual competition but if it was, I didn't win that, either. I read my story and really put everything I had into the reading. I had this combined moment of writing an effective story and performing it. I did a lot of theater, but writing was always the place I came back to. As a writer, I am every character, I'm the director and set designer, and the music supervisor. As an actor or even a director, one gets limited in the roles. As a writer, one gets to do everything.
Tell us about The Lamentations of Blackhawk. What is it about?
The Lamentations of Blackhawk is about a small Utah town that has more secrets than it is willing to give up. The story brings together characters from other books to fight demons and ghosts and other people. It's about dealing with the past at a moment when the present is trying to kill you. That's super vague, but it's just not as easy to pinpoint exactly what it is about in easy terms.
I've read your other books, Cry Down Dark and Tell No Man. Without spoiling anything, there is a lot of crossover in Blackhawk with those other two books. Did you know when you started Cry Down Dark that it would end up like this?
No, I didn't. I never intended to write a sequel or a trilogy as it stands now. Cry Down Dark touches on the town of Blackhawk but most of the action is somewhere else. With Tell No Man, I purposefully decided to dive into the Blackhawk I had created. The ending of that book leads naturally to The Lamentations of Blackhawk, so that was more planned. At the beginning, though, no. It seems like the right thing to do. It's King coming back on me. One can read the Castle Rock/Derry books and see the references to other stories but that doesn't mean we're stuck reading them in that certain order. Readers can take Cry Down Dark or Tell No Man in either order before reading The Lamentations of Blackhawk. I like the crossover, even if that wasn't the original goal. But unlike some long-running fantasy and horror series', the books are still short.
Is there anything that surprised you while you writing The Lamentations of Blackhawk?
I'm always surprised, because I am telling myself the story first. The big surprise for me was a character who popped up when Peter Toombs (first in Cry Down Dark) goes back to the town in which that book is set. The character is based on a campfire tale I'd heard when I was a Boy Scout. Classic urban legend style story and there he was, like he was waiting for me to use him.
What are you working on now?
I have two works in progress. The first is a nonfiction project currently titled Holding Out for a Hero: Forty Years after Footloose. Blackhawk is based on Payson, Utah, where I did most of my growing up. The 1984 film Footloose was filmed there and the surrounding area, so I am writing about it. The second is another novel, currently titled Do Not Forsake Me. Trying my hand at horror westerns for that one. We might even see Blackhawk in its earliest days. If things stay on track, it will be the bloodiest things I've written.
Where can readers and fans follow you?
The best place to catch up with me is my own website www.tjtranchell.net, but I am still active on social media. @TJ_Tranchell for Twitter and @TJ-Tranchell for Instagram. If I ever try out the new platforms, my site is where I will announce that.
Thanks for having me and we'll catch you on the flipside.
T.J. Tranchell was born on Halloween, has worked as a journalist, horror movie columnist, pizza delivery man, warehouse worker, haunted house monster, customer service clerk, college instructor, and other less glamorous jobs. Tranchell has his master’s degree in literature from Central Washington University with, naturally, a focus on the horror genre. Tranchell published his first novel, “Cry Down Dark,” through Blysster Press in 2016. In 2017, Blysster released a collection of short stories, poetry, and film criticism titled Asleep in the Nightmare Room. 2020 saw the release of a second collection, The Private Lives of Nightmares, followed soon by his second novel Tell No Man, which he published under his imprint LAST DAYS BOOKS. He has also published horror short fiction and was co-editor of GIVE: An Anthology of Anatomical Entries, a dark fiction anthology from When the Dead Books. He is a rising star among horror scholars, having presented work on Stephen King at the Popular Culture Association’s national conference, and in 2021 at the Ann Radcliffe Conference on the “Great American Horror Novel.” He currently teaches English at a community college in Washington state. Email him at email@example.com.
Who came knocking, softly, softly
crouching in the midnight gloom?
Who came stealing, lightly, lightly
from the closet of my room?
Who said nothing, loudly, loudly
at the foot of my cold bed?
Who said curses, darkly, darkly
with a tongue that was long dead?
Who crept formless, shifting, shifting
face of menace in the air?
Who crept closer, searching, searching
for someone who was not there?
Who regretted dying, dying
when his house at last was built?
Who regretted love he squandered
with unfinished ghostly guilt?
Who departed, madly, madly
when I finally bid him go?
Who departed, silent, silent
out into the Vermont snow?
Dayle (she/her) hosts poetry open mics and haunts old graveyards. Her poetry has been published by Haunted Words Press, Coast Weekend, HipFish, The Chinook Observer and Humanities Washington Poetic Routes. She recently presented her highly commended poem at the Angry Ghosts Poetry Competition in Suffolk, England. The ghost of her beloved cat, Dinah, occasionally visits and causes mischief. Twitter @daylejean
Read more of her work here.
They spew from Heaven’s ruptured seams;
inside my waking dreams.
They skulk along the veil
of night and gaze
upon our world so frail.
Beware, the squirming swarms
of limbs and
and obscene forms.
Look up to the skies.
Everywhere you look,
they are watching;
the stars, they are eyes.
Pedro Iniguez is a speculative fiction writer and painter from Los Angeles. His work has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Helios Quarterly, Star*Line, Space and Time Magazine, and Tiny Nightmares, among others.
He can be found online at Pedroiniguezauthor.com
“After I saw the face in the paneled wall,
Eyes closed, mouth set in a horrid, evil grin,
At first, I felt no real dismay or fear,
Although uneasy--since it seemed so clear!
But slowly, very slowly dark thoughts began to win,
The Face began my senses to appall.
“I told my doctor that his office paneling
Showed clearly a demon’s visage, a cursed face.
I said, ‘It’s there man! Don’t you see!?’
He looked, he even stared, then said to me:
‘I want you to keep a journal to replace
Your thoughts that ramble in delusional channeling.’
. . .
I’ve broken in and must look. No escape!
See now! The eyes! Wide open! Fanged mouth agape!”
Frank Coffman is a writer. His special interests are in speculative poetry and fiction across the several genres of Weird, Supernatural, Horror, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Detection, and Adventure. His poetry is, almost exclusively, traditional and formal rhymed and metered verse. He rejects the notion that there is a "New Formalism," since he doesn't believe the "old" kind ever died. As a retired professor of college English, Creative Writing, and Journalism, he has published poetry, fiction, and scholarly research in a number of journals, magazines, and anthologies. He selected, edited, introduced, and did commentary for ROBERT E. HOWARD: SELECTED POEMS. He is interested in Stylometric Analysis and Formalism and in Rhetorical and Symbolic Criticism specifically.
Follow Frank's blog at: frankcoffman-wordsmith.com and mindseye.us.com.
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.