"Full Disclosure" by Nora Weston
The old crabapple tree spoke first, loud
and clear, except listening takes expertise.
Its crooked trunk and skeletal limbs
do their best to support apples
rotten to the core, hanging on
until they drop to death.
A bed of tangled weeds hides nests
of ground hornets that engulf
the fallen fruit, an arbitrary cemetery,
ignored. Burning bushes way past
glory days of crimson, look charred and sore
as though seeded on a volcanic planet.
Windows. Cleaned yesterday,
but within four days the glass will fade
into shades of gray, tainted with scents
of decay. Worse, the entryway mirror
is coveted by sheer madness since
it returns after being discarded.
Nothing hides under our beds, yet never
would arms or legs dangle, or dare
set foot upon aged floors after 3:17am.
Just pretend you exist on a tropical island,
drift into a warm place, sway on a hammock
while waiting for sunlight to break.
Basement. Do not consider looking back
at those etched glass doors once shut,
eyes ahead. Trust me on this.
And if the old man wearing a black hat asks
for a cup of tea, he prefers the pale yellow
mug displaying a pristine crabapple tree.
Nora Weston is a Michigan based writer/artist. Her work has appeared in Bete Noire and James Gunn’s Ad Astra. Currently, work has been published by Green Ink Poetry, Crow Toes Quarterly, Illumen, and Strange Horizons. Work has been accepted by Penumbric Speculative Fiction Magazine and Utopia Science Fiction Magazine.
Author P.L. McMillan reads an excerpt from her upcoming horror novella, Sisters of the Crimson Vine.
Sisters of the Crimson Vine Cover by Donnie Goodman
"Spring Thaw" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
"Shadowlands 1 - Horizon" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
Author Caryn Larrinaga gives us a reading from her upcoming novella, Mouse Trap.
Cover art by Donnie Goodman at Atonic Visions Design.
Author C.M. Forest reads us a sample of his book, We All Fall Before the Harvest. If you like what you hear, you can grab a copy and read the rest!
The hinges of the music box creak, the first sound from the oaken object. As the lid rises, a dancing horse appears. Dressed as a ballerina, its front legs take opposing angles: one hoof-hand is near its head, the other at its waist, each leg-arm bowed out, forming two semi-circles. A faded pink tutu surrounds the animal’s waist, a doughnut of frill atop cotton-candy clad legs that belong more to a French prima ballerina than a common equine. The mechanism allowing the horse to dance makes no sound, but a song at once familiar and foreign emanates from an unseen portion of the box.
A crown of clover frames a mirror reflecting the spinning horse and the face of Mariah, the newest owner of the box.
“Are you certain, Gramma?” Mariah speaks, not needing assurance from her grandmother, but asking for it anyway. “Are you certain the box can be mine?”
“I am quite certain. My grandmother made it mine and said someday it would belong to my own granddaughter.”
Mariah’s eyes widen in her reflection, picturing a person old enough to be Gramma’s grandmother. She has seen pictures of Great-Gramma, Gramma’s mother, but cannot fathom time before then. “Is she… dead?”
“Oh, yes, dear. Long ago, soon after coming here from across the ocean, when your mother had not yet met your father.”
At the mention of Mama and Dad, Mariah closes her eyes. She refuses to cry. She refuses to remember. Gramma’s hand touches, then caresses, her back. She opens her eyes again; only Gramma’s arm is visible in the small music box mirror, the horse still spinning, dancing to the tune Mariah feels she should recognize.
“My grandmother and your mother barely knew each other, but look….” Gramma reaches out and closes the lid of the box, hiding the dancing horse and the mirror, silencing the melody Mariah almost had hold of. Gramma taps the carved center of the lid in the middle of a filigreed meadow. She whispers, “Mystical music box mirror, show Mariah her mother.”
As Gramma begins to open the box again, Mariah freezes. She knows Gramma is magic—Gramma had her favorite special macaroni and cheese ready before the men with guns told them her parents had suffered a tragedy—and some magic is scary.
The lid rises, and the dancing horse begins to spin again. In the clover-framed mirror, Mariah sees the face of her mother. “Mama,” she screams and turns away from the box, anticipating comfort from Gramma.
Gramma isn’t there.
The arms of her mother, one dangling precariously from her shoulder with white bone and dark black blood exposed, are open for an embrace. The face from the mirror is only half there, the other half burnt and bubbling, a smell like when Dad used too much fluid on the charcoal grill wafting off her.
“Let me sing you a lullaby,” Mariah’s mother says. She steps closer to her screaming girl, who can now not help but cry, too. “Let me hold you, my pretty little horse.”
T.J. Tranchell was born on Halloween and grew up in Utah. He has published the novella Cry Down Dark and the collections Asleep in the Nightmare Room and The Private Lives of Nightmares with Blysster Press and Tell No Man, a novella with Last Days Books. He has been a grocery store janitor, a college English and journalism instructor, an essential oils warehouse worker, a reporter, and a fast food grunt. He holds a Master's degree in Literature from Central Washington University and attended the Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp in 2017. He currently lives in Washington State with his wife and son. Follow him at www.tjtranchell.net.
A Reading of 21 Grams by M. Regan
Author M. Regan reads us a sample from her novella, 21 Grams. If you like what you hear, you can purchase the book by following the link below!
I wasn’t about to let myself suffer.
Nature hadn’t been kind to Ellsworth that year, especially not to me. A wicked blizzard ripped through the beginning of winter, laying waste to an already devastated community. Summer storms that always swept across central Kansas never came, leaving tilled soil to dehydrate in the harsh sun. Seedling crops spoiled, leaving us no food to survive on. No choice but to hunker down, to prepare for a rough end to the year.
“We’ll have to start rationing,” Dale told me. “What little from the crops can go around for a few days, but until the church sends assistance, we need to come together and share resources.” He took my hands. “The Lord will see us through this, Rose. I promise.”
I had to bite my tongue. My husband always cared for the town more than me. He was always doing more for them, giving them the shirt off his back—and mine too, without ever asking. And he got all the praise. “Oh, Pastor Gresham, thank you,” the sheep bleated, laying at his feet. Always begging for more. And when everything went to waste, he bore the brunt of everyone else’s suffering first.
I was left to suffer on my own.
So naturally, when the first signs of a miracle came to pass, I took things into my own hands. Literally.
I found the vine growing in my withered garden, poking up from the ice-crusted earth. Thick and green, standing out against the snow. It wove through the plot, bearing juicy red berries. Hundreds of berries, more than enough to see the town through until help arrived.
But if it was an act of God, he must have finally heard my prayers. I bent to pluck the vine before Dale could find it. Could share it among the undeserving. The vine shuddered with each tug, shaking snow from speckled leaves. Rustling from death like a snake in the grass. It was nearly free when something jabbed my finger.
“Shit!” The vine came free, and I turned it over to look.
The sharp end of a thorn had stabbed my finger, skin reddened around the puncture hole. Numbing the nerves. Perhaps the berries weren’t the answer to my prayers after all—but God no longer had a say in that. I took the vine inside, cut the berries loose, washing them. Storing them in jars that I hid beneath the floorboards. Should my husband decide our hunger wasn’t above the piss-poor of this filthy town, he’d be on his own.
The numbness from the thorn prick still hadn’t subsided by the time Dale came home. I did my best to hide it, ignoring the pins and needles as I served him what was left in the pantry.
“The situation is getting worse. I still haven’t heard if help is coming.” He pushed the plate of food away. “I don’t feel right eating while so many are starving.”
No thanks. No consideration for my efforts. As usual.
That night, I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t. The numbness had abated, but a new problem had risen: guilt. I kept thinking of those damn berries sitting beneath our floorboards. Safely tucked away where no one would find them. I was up all night pacing while my husband peacefully slept through his growling hunger. It caused my own stomach to turn, ablaze with indigestion. I went to the bathroom, and splashed cold water onto my face. Gazed at my puffy, irritated reflection.
“Get over it,” I whispered, shutting off the light and forcing myself back to bed.
But the guilt kept growing. I was unable to get out of bed the next day from how heavy it had gotten. Or perhaps because of how heavy I’d gotten. Overnight, my entire body had swelled, tender and tingling. Radiating from the thorn prick on my finger. Dale didn’t notice, of course; he’d gotten up before me, preparing for his sermon. Only coming to check if I was getting up for church.
“I don’t feel good. I’m sleeping in today.”
“That’s okay. I’ll be out for a while; I’m coordinating the division of rations after service today.” He kissed my forehead, placing something on my nightstand. “Here’s a copy of the sermon, in case you feel well enough to read it.”
When he’d left, I managed to roll over and grab the notecard. Promptly ripping it up.
The Good Lord will always provide. Greed hath no place among the righteous.
I finally forced myself up before noon, but it was difficult. I felt made of cement, stiff and heavy. Barely able to move. To carry the weight of my body on legs that refused to bend. To turn on the lights and head downstairs, refusing to face myself in the mirror. Terrified of what I would see.
By the time I made it down, I had swelled even more. Something inside my bulging stomach sloshed with every step, rolling back and forth. Feeling like marbles. The recliner creaked beneath my body, which grew ever heavier. Ever bigger. My finger ever redder. Had I just left the vine alone, this wouldn’t have happened.
I was just so tired of sharing. Of giving and giving, never once receiving.
I’m glad Dale didn’t come home right away. It would have been hard for him to see. To realize how truly selfish his wife had been. I managed to open the floorboards before I could no longer move, confined to the recliner as my body ballooned out of control. Sloshing, growing full of marbles. They came up my throat, spilling out of my mouth—berries from the vine. Suffocating me just as much as my guilt. Thankfully, Dale had left the pen he wrote the sermon with close enough on the side table. A quick jab was all it took, just like the thorn on the vine.
I wasn’t about to let myself suffer anymore.
T.L. Beeding is a single mother from Kansas City. She is co-editor of Crow's Feet Journal and Paramour Ink, and is a featured author for Black Ink Fiction. She has also written for The Black Fork Review, Tales from the Moonlit Path, and Ghost Orchid Press among other publications. When she is not writing, T.L. works at a busy orthopedic hospital, mending broken bones. She can be found on Twitter at @tlbeeding.
“Angelina, something is different.”
These were the first words Gregory had spoken aloud in what felt like lifetimes. It had been so long since Angelina had heard words spoken in a mortal tongue that it took a long moment to understand that it was speech and, further, that it had been directed at her. Gregory pronounced her name like he was chewing on gravel; the syllables broke apart in his mouth. Had the sound always made her teeth grind? It was an ugly thing compared to the open-mouth exhalations her mother called her by. Scraps of memory were all Angelina was able to snatch from the fog: her mother singing her name, the softness of Abuela’s bolillo under the tongue. The unfairness spread like the bitter taste of bile in the back of her throat.
Hearing her name cross Gregory’s blackened lips was an anomaly itself. But he was right; something was different. Something else.
It was enough to wrest her from inertia. She shifted on bare hardened feet, breaking up the moss that clung furry and green to her shins, her ankles. A flock of skeletal herons with razor-sharp bills and flame blue eyes took to the bruised-black sky. It was eternal twilight here, on this side.
A slight breeze interrupted the stillness of purgatory. The air around them shimmered. Oh yes, something was changing.
“The veil is thinning.” Angelina’s voice was the whisper of two smooth stones passing against each other, so long had it been since she spoke herself.
Gregory swayed beside her, his fingertips grazing the frost-grey grass as he did so.
“The veil is thinning,” Gregory echoed. “We can cross.”
The anticipation in the air was thick on her tongue. She salivated, not bothering to wipe the viscous drool that poured over her hanging maw. She looked to the river, where the mist appeared as a moving wall occasionally broken by views into the mortal world.
The slivers she saw were much as she remembered: towering pines, cerulean skies. Even the scent of pine needles crushed underfoot drifted between that world and this. And, of course, there were people. Five hearts beat blood rich and thick throughout their warm, warm bodies. Eagerness thrummed in Angelina’s bones; she ran her fingertips across her distended rib cage. She was oh so hungry.
“Ovet, where’s the bug spray?” she heard one of the humans call. It traveled between the worlds like words underwater.
Angelina tried the words on her own tongue. “Ovet, where’s the bug spray?” she mimicked. And giggled as her forgery bounced across the deadened hardwoods. They felt familiar enough. She turned, “Gregory, where’s the bug spray?” And then he, too, joined her in wheezy rasping laughter.
Angelina moved closer to the River White that separated them, but she did not dare break its banks. She was bound to this place—the Kalkaska sand along the shores of the White soaked the last of her lifeblood, and here she remained. Changed in a place that was unchanging. She had grown monstrous, and she had also grown used to her fetters. Though it seemed her time had finally come.
The mist hung in columns now. Across the river, Angelina could see the brightly colored patches jutting from the ground, a searing contrast to the pines that towered around them. Tents. She rolled the word around her mouth. Yes, that was right. She pressed her forked tongue up against her teeth. “Tents.”
Three small ones chased each other as the two larger humans worked around the space. A jealous rage wrapped itself around her jutting bones. Her jaw unhinged, “That should have been me!” Her screech ricocheted throughout this unhallowed place. Gregory gave a chorus of grunts in response. He shifted faster, digging the curls of his boney feet into the soft dirt.
What had she done to deserve an eternity inert and rotting? Why should she wait alone in this boundless night with only her cavernous hunger to keep her company? No, no. She would be sated. Angelina imagined slurping entrails through pursed lips. The gristle of throat between her teeth. But before all that? She planned to enjoy the thrill of the hunt.
“I want the small ones.” Gregory rumbled from beside her.
That was fine by her.
The last of the mist burned away. Angelina skated across the River White. The skin that hung off her bones skimmed the surface of the water. She was a blur, a strong wind that lifted hair from the shoulders of the human below. Angelina nestled high up in one of the surrounding pines.
She giggled, and it sounded like two trees creaking in the wind.
“Ovet, where’s the bug spray?”
K.S.Walker is a speculative fiction writer from the Midwest with a fondness for stories with monsters, magic, and/or love gone awry. When they’re not obsessing over a current WIP or their TBR pile you can find them outside with their family.
They're online at www.kswalker.net and on Instagram @kswalker_writes
because I would not dance for Death—he kindly danced for me
and showed me a lesson in graceful—humility
he slowly moved—a deathly pace
serenaded by—the deathly shapes
that hovered over and twirled along
and I stood there... I stood there...
mouth agape, admiring, with composure and grace
that is until—he reached for me, for me alone,
in this phantom ball, in this phantom hall,
beyond the veil of—tranquility
and then—as if by spell, I moved in... I moved in...
and grabbed his hand and took the lead and in the lead—we danced!
oh, how we danced!
swaying and spinning through the air—in perfect harmony
and though our time was brief—all too brief
I found a comfort here
here, in his embrace, his deathly embrace,
relieved by his exalted—civility
because our little dance
it taught me death, it taught me life
within the limits of—possibility
for no matter the gown, no matter the ball,
this little dance unites all
and so I dance here…. yes, I dance here... with bated breath...
for we are all equal unto Death
requiescat in pace
J.D. Harlock is a Lebanese writer based in Beirut.
His short stories have been featured in The Deadlands, Sciencefictionary, Defenestration, Wyldblood Press, and the Decoded Pride Anthology, his poetry has been featured in Penumbric, Future Fire, Mobius and Black Cat Magazine, and his articles/reviews have been featured NewMyths.com, Mermaids Monthly, Interstellar Flight Press, and on the SFWA Blog.
You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @JD_Harlock.
The Black Forest was a dark wood with an even darker history, but winter was approaching, and the larder was bare. The boy packed his crossbow and quiver and as much water as he could carry, then set out just after dawn. Frost festooned the leafless trees, and the ground crunched noisily beneath the well-worn leather of his boots as he traipsed across the countryside, leaving behind the only home he’d ever known.
Plague had swept across the land just the season before, killing his parents and all but the healthiest citizens of the village atop the hill. Marching Flagellants murdered the rest.
He spied the acrid smoke from the funeral pyres as he stood outside the rundown manor and watched the band of maniacal zealots march past on the road to Ravensburg. He remembered their banners hanging limp in the autumn morn, 100 men whipping bloody stripes across the pale flesh of their backs as they chanted prayers for salvation.
His family had been one of means, but coin mattered little in a realm populated by nothing but traveling monks and wandering ghosts. Now that he was alone, the four walls which held him were nothing but shelter from the wind. His needs were few. He only hoped to find and kill a boar for enough meat to last until spring. He’d set several traps in the fields, but they remained as empty as his belly. He knew if he didn’t leave for the forest soon, he wouldn’t have the energy to do so. His father had told tales around the fireplace of hunters who had entered the Black Forest never to return—victims of the wolf packs who called the forest home. This, the year of our Lord 1350, was meant to be the year they finally braved the deep woods to face the wolves and kill a boar together, father and son. Now he would have to face the challenge alone.
He was tall for 15, lanky but strong. Even clad in thick leathers and furs to protect him from the bitter cold, he looked more like a wraith than a man. The moment he set foot in the wood, he became just one more shadow amongst the skeletal trees in an indistinct world of gray.
It was late afternoon, his crossbow still untested when he first heard the monsters howl. They were distant but unmistakable. Long, lonely cries pierced the forest, silencing all other creatures as each held its breath, waiting for what might come next. Seconds ticked away, then one by one, the birds began to chirp, and the squirrels began to scamper once more. The boy was too deep into the wood to turn back empty-handed. He readied his crossbow and again took up his trek for winter sustenance.
The sun began to set, its rays gold and red as they touched the top of the barren trees. His gray surroundings became an orange haze, like a warning fire gone unheeded. When he first saw her, she was in the form of a naked woman: wild eyed, wild maned, and draped atop a tree branch. Too stunned to speak, he stood and stared, his crossbow forgotten at his side until she smiled.
“You must be freezing,” he managed to say. He pulled off the topmost of his furs. “Here, put this on.”
Her smile grew wider, revealing a set of gleaming white teeth. She shook her head and then leapt to the ground gracefully, her bare feet hardly making a sound when she landed. She glanced down at the boy’s weapon, then took off at full speed, racing into the trees as if to escape him. He gave chase without a thought, desperate to know more about this strange woman, determined to save her from the predators he knew must be near.
She was fast, and he quickly grew winded, but he managed to keep her in sight as she dashed ahead. As the last of the day’s light glittered on the frost-laden trees, she finally stopped in a small clearing and waited for him to catch up. He approached warily, careful not to frighten her away. When he stood before her, she stepped close and, without a word, lightly planted a kiss upon his numb lips.
He shivered as he stood in place, unsure what to do next. She took a step backward and directed her deep brown gaze toward the sky. She howled as the last of the day’s light disappeared, and the full moon revealed itself in the darkness above.
It was the howl of the wolves, and goosebumps arose on the boy’s skin as other beasts hidden in the wood joined her cry. They stepped into the clearing, one after another, a dozen winter wolves with white-gray coats and hungry eyes. As he stood frozen in place, the boy watched the woman transform, her beautiful face and body morph from woman to wolf in a matter of seconds. He tried to raise his crossbow, but his muscles failed him. Instead, he dropped to his knees, and like the Flagellants who had heralded the end of the world, he begged for salvation.
She delivered it quickly. She sank her teeth into his throat, and he felt the cold seep into his bones. She drank his blood as her pack watched in silence. Everything went dark. The night swallowed him whole. He was sure he would be reunited with his parents in the afterlife. But it was not to be. He awoke the next morning curled next to his new mother in a snow-dusted den, comfortable and warm despite his lack of clothes. She stroked his hair and smiled, gifting him with a look of utter devotion. She had tasted his heart, and it was pure. He was one of them. He had entered the forest a child of man. He was one of the moon’s children now.
Matt Handle lives in Atlanta, Georgia where he juggles the reality of being a husband, father, and software developer with the imaginary characters and worlds that constantly vie for his attention. His short stories can be found around the web including at Dark Recesses Press, Daily Science Fiction, Verbicide, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Fabula Argentea.