Stitched Saturday! 3.25.17

carnival


By David Court

They say that if you listen hard enough on a dark windless night, you can hear the screams of laughter over the distant echoes of a discordant carnival calliope.
But not tonight. The only sound tonight is that of relentless rain, the occasional crack of thunder slamming through the firmament to break the monotony. It thumps against torn and decayed tarpaulin and clatters against rusted corrugated iron roofing.
Marlowe’s Fair has been closed for the best part of two decades, a graveyard of abandoned skeletal structures hurriedly left behind. Abandoned booths and faded novelty bins – anthropomorphic jungle creatures with ragged toothed mouths agape – dot the landscape like funeral cairns.
Larry pressed his back against the boarded-up door of the haunted house, hugging himself tightly as defence against the torrential downpour as he sheltered in the doorway. He wasn’t alone – an assortment of crudely airbrushed life-size wooden figures – each portraying a classic horror character – stood there in the mock graveyard that lay in front of the rotting façade of a building. A barely recognisable rendition of Lon Chaney’s wolfman stood there, staring at him.
A loud voice pierced the white noise of the rainfall, inches away from him. It was all Larry could do not to shriek out in surprise.
“They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”
Larry emerged from behind the wooden figure. He had a wild-eyed and savage expression, bared teeth and fingers curled into claws.
“That was zombies, not werewolves.” sighed Larry, fear replaced by burgeoning annoyance as his heart-rate slowly returned to normal.
“Oh well,” shrugged Mark, gesturing to Larry. “Come on, walk with me.”
Larry straightened his jacket and walked to join Mark, who had already started slowly heading towards the centre of the fairground. Larry felt uneasy, although he was unsure why.
“Where are we going?” he asked, finally caught up with his colleague. Mark strode purposefully and that, combined with the man’s preternaturally long legs, meant Larry had to move at a half-jog just to keep up.
“The old coaster.”
Larry froze, an almost overwhelming sense of dread locking him to the spot. Mark stopped as well but didn’t turn around. Mark’s shoulders slumped with resignation, as thought he’d expected it.
“I… I don’t want to. Do we have to?”
“You know we do. Come on.”
Without turning, Mark continued onwards. Despite his better judgement, Larry followed.
The old wooden coaster loomed up ahead. It looked more like a massive scale art installation now than a ride, huge metal supports bearing broken and dangling track. Almost on cue, thunder cracked across the heavens and illuminated the massive decayed structure for the briefest of moments. Stalagmites of wood and steel, piercing the heavens.
The two of them walked past the sun-faded “You must be this tall” sign, zig-zagging through the tangled and toppled rusted barriers. Every time Larry hesitated, Mark tenderly took his hand and urged him on. It was only now that Larry realised that, despite the rain, he was bone dry.
With every step they took, the scenery was replaced. A pitch-black night of rainfall became a grey late autumn afternoon, empty lines became crowded with laughing and excited children.
None of them cared as Larry and Mark pushed their way to the front of the queue. A bright red train pneumatically hissed to a stop in front of them, and they clambered in. No sooner had the metal harnesses locked them in place when their train – already packed with crowds of children – began to clatter its way up the first slope, the rhythmic click click click of thick metal chains strained to their maximum.
“I know what’s coming,” sobbed Larry, “You need to stop this.”
“Can’t stop now, Larry. We’ve already started.”
The slope in front of them seemed to stretch upwards forever, extending even as Larry watched.
Larry turned to look at his colleague, tears filling his eyes.
“I remember, Mark. There’s not a day I don’t remember.”
“But you didn’t remember to check the roller-coaster track that day, did you, Larry? You didn’t send the test cart around like you were supposed to, did you? Your hangover took precedence. If you’d sent that empty train around, you would have seen what happened to it and… well, I guess you know the rest.”
“Twenty years I’ve had to live with that, Mark. Twenty years.”
“That’s twenty more years than any of the children got, Larry. Ironic that in the end though that you went the same way as your rollercoaster – death through neglect.”
The top of the slope was nearing now, the train slowly righting itself as they reached the summit. Anticipatory children’s screams filled the air but all Larry could see was the track ahead – that one metal support that had rusted and cracked, the wooden tracks just twisted enough that the cart would be sent hurtling towards the ground.
“Same time tomorrow, Larry.”
That sense of weightlessness, the pressure contorting Larry’s face, the knot in his stomach.
They say that if you listen hard enough on a dark windless night, you can hear the screams.


Fifty Shades of Carousel
Mike L Lane

Broken down and abandoned, the carousel’s shoulders slumped and she stared at the cracked pavement in shame. Her life had been picked clean by vultures and her gears glistened with rust stained tears. The storm had washed away the love she had known and most of the secrets she kept dear. Gone were the days of happy passengers, spinning around gleefully with no destination in mind and no reason to want one. Gone were the intoxicating smells of the midway permeating the air, seductively luring in marks to her charms. Gone was the intoxicated barker that pushed her buttons like an abusive lover and sent her whirling into the night with a head full of emotions, both fearful and aroused. She loathed the ride jockey, but she missed him, too.
He had always been the one to keep her engine running. Whenever she felt out of sorts and longed for rest, he was the one with the magic touch who could get her to do things no one else could. When one of the passengers dropped their half-eaten caramel apple in her lap, the barker cleansed her and made her feel new and alive. When plush animals found a way beneath her tracks, it was the barker that slid his hands beneath her and removed the foreign object with care. She missed the whiskey on his breath as he leaned over her burst safety valve and tinkered her into submission. She longed for his rough hands beneath her chassis. They had a bond like no other and though he often cursed her, she knew the barker loved her.
He had not always been faithful, though. There were times when he would bring one of the other carnies onboard for a late night romp, forcing her to watch. She knew it got him off, having sex with someone else while she suffered in tearful silence. He acted as if she weren’t even there, but she knew better. He wanted her to see. He wanted her to hurt. She didn’t understand why he could be so callous, but she never protested. These were just flings, of course. A man being a man she supposed. Someday he would stop all of this foolishness and love only her.
On the night of the storm, he had forced himself on one of the marks and ravaged the slut inside of the carousel’s housing. The woman had screamed and fought in vain to escape the clutches of her beloved barker, but he had only flipped the music switch to drown her out. He continued his debauchery without a second thought, bending the woman over her engine and having his way. The maddening polka waltz blared into the night air and the girl’s screams mingled in like violin strings plucked by a child. She remained a silent witness to this atrocity for as long as she could in hopes that he would stop and send the unworthy woman on her way. But whiskey controlled her man and he bobbed on like the horses on her platform. Anger bubbled up inside her and she made a decision. She would show him that this was wrong and that he loved her more than this ungrateful woman ever could. Careful not to harm him, she set herself in motion and slammed one of her pistons down on the girl’s head, silencing her screams forever in one blunt, bone-crunching stomp. The barker jerked back in horrified astonishment, splattered with blood and chunks. The body twitched and shuddered before collapsing into a heap, caught in her mechanics and gumming up her works. Her motor cursed in protest and she patiently waited for her love’s caressing hands to set her right again. Instead, he fled into the pouring rain, never to be seen again.
It had taken a long time for her motors to stop running, but the heartbreak of her abandonment by the only man she had ever loved was enough to seize her engine. Sorrow weighed heavy on her heart, but she knew she would have her revenge. Someday someone would come along and discover the rotting corpse within her housing. Someday they would drag that stinking mess out of her and find the barker’s nametag clutched in its cold, dead hand. He would be sorry for abandoning her. She would see to it.


Carousel of dreams
Jason Morton

It was a child. It always started with a child. The end of life was wanted by the time the child reached adult hood. The playground faded into memory as death played the role of mother, maiden, and crone. Visions never sought began to invade like vampires to blood we remember everything. The old carousel faded into second hand photographs of empty yesterdays. while it started with a child it ended with an old shell of a body that never knew, never cared, and sadly never tried.


The Undead Fair
James Matthew Byers

The carnival had lain in waste,
An empty husk of trash.
Departed long ago, the taste
A rank decaying rash
Within the lining of each booth
As ghosts and ghouls alike
Enlivened up the sunken roof-
A carousel and pike
Around and round with no one seen
As horse and pig at play
In motion routed king and queen
And spirits on flambé
Engaged in eating popcorn hulls
Remaining in the mind.
The sounds of laughter never dulls,
Residual and blind.
For all the long departed come
And join the festive flare,
Remembering where they are from-
Alive, the undead fair …


By Briana Robertson

A sinister silence looms over the abandoned park, keen and unyielding as the blade of an executioner’s axe. No critters creep. No crickets chirp. The wind itself won’t risk the barest whisper.

Nothing stirs. The equine figures that once danced merrily ‘round and around lie in collapsed ruin, their joints buckled and broken, their eyes wide in eternal tortured agony. Wooden tracks, once the blazing trail of thrill-seeking shrieks, are now nothing more than splintered shards that threaten to skewer any foolish creature who dares come too close. Dull remains of once-bright awnings hang in lifeless tatters, the unwilling victims of unrelenting time.

Heavy clouds crawl across the sky, blocking out the stars, and drenching the place in a pervasive dampness. The cloying scent of rotting things permeates, seeping into every hidden nook and cranny; it assaults the nostrils and causes the stomach to roil.

Just beyond a warped and errant Ferris wheel, a solitary figure stands in shadow. A malignant aura enshrouds him, poisoning the air he breathes: an admonition that warns life has no place here. But life isn’t what he seeks.

A single tear slips down his cheek, a lonely tribute to this place; to what it once was, and what it will never be again.

A shot shatters the silence, the echoing sound waves ricocheting off the forgotten rides and attractions. The figure crumples, an accursed corpse left to decay in this barren graveyard of forsaken dreams.

Moments pass. Heavy silence returns. On the far north end of the park, a sliver of moonlight breaks through the clouds and glints off the face of the funhouse. The windows gleam, and the doorway gapes; the building seems to grin. And whatever grim presence lurks there, gloats.



Unhorsed

by Daniel L. Naden

The carnival grounds were empty.

They’d been abandoned for as long as Martin could recall, a decrepit collection of rusting rides and rotting buildings that extended beyond the end of the boardwalk, and they were still abandoned as he stepped off the sea-blanched planking onto the dirt paths. He didn’t know anyone who had ever seen the carnival in operation, but neither did he know anyone who came here. Which, in a way, was kind of odd.

He’d come to the grounds to settle a score. His gang, the Bars, was on the way. They’d been trailing behind as he went ahead to meet up with the head of the Walkers, the gang who controlled the boardwalk and beach. the Walkers ran drugs, and pimped out a few girls, but mainly, they were there to serve as the eyes and ears and on-the-ground muscle for the mob guys who ran the restaurants and casinos on the boardwalk. It was primo turf, to be sure, but the Walkers weren’t going to have it after tonight.

A week ago, a group of Walkers took a stroll, bold as hell, through Martin’s turf. They walked into the little convenience store that served as a front for the Bars’ own drug trade and robbed it. Kicked the shit out of the guys who were there and swiped a good chuck of their supply.

Ordinarily, Martin would’ve loaded up a couple cars, gone over to where the Walkers hung out, and shot it, and as many Walkers as the could find, full of bullet holes. Martin didn’t mind playing hard when he needed to. And he didn’t mind killing a bunch of those Walker pussies, either. But the Walkers were connected to the mob, so Martin had to be careful. Turf wars are one thing. Mob wars, something else.

So Martin went to talk to the mob boss, first.

Jako Czernik was known for being a brutal bastard, but he was also reputed to like ambition. When Martin explained, both his need for payback against the Walkers, Czernik looked bored … dangerously so. But when Martin hinted that he’d been looking for a way to take over the boardwalk and beach from the Walkers, Czernik had become interested in a hurry. Martin had left with Czernik’s blessing to face, and fight, with the Walkers … but with the warning that it had to stay out of sight.

Czernik suggested the carnival grounds, which was weird because, until that moment, Martin had forgotten the grounds existed. He’d been on the boardwalk plenty of times over the years; played on the beach as a little kid. Often enough, one would think, to have noticed an abandoned carnival at the west end of the beach and boardwalk. And yet, the place defied description. It was a hard place to think about … at least it was until he got here and started looking around.

All around him were silent shopfronts with vacant windows like dark eyes, weak shadows cast gray by overcast skies. Rides everywhere were falling apart. A fiberglass climbing attraction was treacherous with rotting ropes and sun-splintered holes — especially in the three-story slides. The legs and framing of the wooden roller coaster leaned drunkenly, causing the track to warp crazily in some places, fracture in other. In the center of it all stood the carousel. Pieces and panels hung askew and at some point, a tarpaulin had blown to be tangled over the roof. The horses, however, were gone. Martin thought they’d probably been sold off when the carnival closed down.

So certainly, the whole place was falling apart. And yet, at a glance, nothing had been vandalized. As far as Martin could see, there was little trash, no broken bottles or used rubbers or any of the usual leavings of the druggies who would ordinarily have loved a place like this.

There were no tags or other graffiti painted on the barren clapboard walls … as if even the gangs didn’t come here or want to claim the grounds as their territory. Weird.

Martin took a glance over his shoulder. His guys should’ve been there by now.

Martin took a step toward one of the booths, reacting to a noise he heard, or thought he heard, when a voice came from behind him.

“Hey, puto…”

Martin turned slowly to see Fazio, standing with his Walkers right at the edge of the boardwalk. Fazio’s face was split with a shit-eating grin.

“You here all alone?” he said.

“What’s it to you?” Martin replied. He gestured at the Walkers. “You must be scared of me to bring so many. It ain’t enough.”

Behind Fazio, his guys bristled at the comment, but Fazio waved them back.

“We’re not here to fight you, Martin,’ he said. “We’re here to watch.”

“Watch what?”

“Jako called me today and told me an interesting story,” Fazio’s smile grew even larger, but looked far less genial. “He said that some jerk wanted to horn in on our turf.”

“So?”

“So he sent you here and asked us to come here and watch you.”

“Watch me what?” Martin asked.

“Watch you here,” Fazio said. “At sunset.”

“What happens at sunset?”

Fazio darkened, as if a cloud passed over his face. He pointed at the sky behind Martin.

“Watch and see.”

Through the overcast, last of the setting sun cast rays over the edge of the horizon. Then, it was gone.

As if in response, Martin felt the ground shudder and heard distant sounds like something was screaming. He turned, trying to locate the source, then spun the other way, but couldn’t find where it was coming from.

The thudding sounds grew closer.

Rather than wait for whatever it was that Fazio … and Czernik, apparently … had set him up for, Martin decided to run. To find high ground.

He sprinted between the shopfront and the carousel, aiming for the climbing structure, but stopped, frozen in place, at what he saw.

Horses. Carousel horses, along with a variety of other creatures: panthers, an elephant and a rhino, several unicorns, among others, lost in the rising cloud of dust.

They thundered up the dirt path on the other side of the shopfront — still painted with gaudy colors and carved, seemingly, with the same dramatic features. Their eyes, though. Those were alive, glowing as if lit afire by the setting sun’s rays. Their eyes were focused on Martin. On the intruder in their realm.

Martin changed his tack right away. Amid the shock of seeing carven animals come to life, one part of his brain was screaming at him to find high ground — like the climbing structure. Another part, a cold, rational part, whispered through the panic, telling him that to climb was to die. That height couldn’t be trusted to keep him safe from whatever fucked up magic animated those animals.

Instead, he turned back the way he came. Back to the entrance to the grounds. To the boardwalk where Fazio and the Walkers waited. He didn’t figure they’d let him escape — not since this seemed to be an execution — but he liked his chances better with them than any of the crazy shit chasing him now.

His path back, however, took him closer to the horses. He could feel the heat from their eyes; could hear faint hints of panted breath; could smell the sweat and froth from their mouths, a smell that reminded him of roadkill gone bloated under the sun.

A unicorn was closest to him and it swung its horn as it lunged, carving a ribbon of fire across his back. Martin stumbled and almost lost his footing, but somehow was able to spin away and find extra space to start running again.

Back throbbing, he sprinted toward the entrance. Behind him, a cat yowled, like a lover’s whisper in his ear, but he didn’t dare glance back. In front of him, Fazio and the Walkers locked arms, getting ready to bounce him back, like the world’s most fucked up game of Red Rover.

Right before he was caught behind, right before he would’ve crashed into the Walkers’ line, Martin played his last gambit:

He dove to the ground.

He was almost certain he was committing his last act, a fatal one. That the carnival monsters would close on him and rip him to shreds. Or that they’d bounce off the entrance and back into the grounds … and then rip him to shreds.

What he didn’t count on was the dust.

He face-planted into the ground and, in his slide, scooped up a lot of dust. His momentum carried him painfully up over the planked edge of the boardwalk, to land at the feet of Fazio. He saw Fazio raise a foot to kick him back in…

But at that moment, the thudding thunder passed over Martin — to fall on Fazio and the Walkers. Their screams started right away, as did a sound of carnage that Martin was never able to later describe.

Martin dragged himself painfully up to his feet, still half-expecting the animals to turn on him. But when they finished with the Walkers, leaving behind a smoldering, bloody arc of viscera, the sprinted down the boardwalk — past the restaurants and the night ocean glittering with the nearby lights. He saw the carousel animals turn into the final casino on the row; the ritziest one; the one owned by a certain Old World mobster.

He hoped Czernik was ready for visitors. Martin didn’t think the animals would be returning to the grounds for most of the rest of the evening.

 


DON’T FORGET!  You can join in by commenting!

Coming Soon From Stitched Smile Publications MARCH!

AOM-front-5x8

 

Monsters, creatures, and demons once plagued the world. Some still do. Many stories of their origin have been lost. Until now when the most decadent minds discovered new origins to creatures that have haunted us through the ages. Their words face off with horror itself …
 
Gather around as Ramsey Campbell, Gary McMahon, Josh Malerman, and Brian Hodge, along with 15 more of some of horrors best authors present their takes on the anatomy of monsters.

Artwork and Cover by Greg Chapman

 

WiHM8 – Veronica Smith pt 2

Excerpt from Abdominal Bride – soon to be published in Guts and Gore anthology

by Veronica Smith

**Comment below and ask Veronica where she got the name for this short story!**

When she woke, it was dark inside the suite. She smiled and put her hand out to touch Jeff but his side of the bed was empty. She reached to the nightstand, surprised how uncomfortable and awkward it was and turned on the bedside lamp.

She almost screamed when she looked down at herself. Her distended belly was much like a hugely pregnant woman. Pregnant? She threw the sheet and blanket off her naked body in shock.

 

“Jeff!” she yelled, “I need you! Something is wrong! Jeff? Where are you?”

She heard no response and wondered if he was outside. She tried to get off the bed and found the only way to do it was to scoot close to the edge.

Is this how pregnant women do it? Why am I thinking that? I’m not pregnant, I can’t be. But what the hell is wrong with me?

Just as she got to the edge, and was about to swing her legs around, she was stopped by a sharp pain in her abdomen.

“Jeff! Oh my god it hurts!” she screamed, “Jeff!”

She turned on her side and curled up around her belly. She swore felt movement inside her and it felt like her arm was being kicked through the skin of her stomach. The pain did not lessen in this position and she knew she needed to get to a hospital. She picked up the phone next to the lamp but could not get a dial tone.

“Come on!” she muttered, jabbing the buttons in a vain attempt to make it work.

She slammed the receiver down in time with another sharp pain and looked up for her purse, which had her cell phone inside. It was gone. When they came in she had tossed it on the table next to the door but that table was bare now. In fact, the small suitcase that had been sitting on the chair was gone too. All her clothes were still packed inside.

She had just decided to get to the elevator outside and go down to the lobby, wearing just the sheet if she had to, when the pain hit her on a new level. She screamed and clutched her abdomen, doubling over in pain.

This sounds like labor. But how the hell can it be labor? Jeff and I only made love last night.

 

SSP’s WIHM8 – Veronica Smith

The last day of February, I’d like to bring the spotlight to a friend and fellow author, Veronica Smith.

I met Veronica as a reader. I found out that she lived close to me, so we decided to meet at the local Starbucks to exchange the copy of The Unsaintly she won in a contest. Since that day, we’ve been great friends. I love watching her grow, not only as a person, but as an author. She has a fascinating imagination and there’s no telling what you’ll get with each story!

Let’s get to know Veronica!

 

veronica

Veronica Smith lives in Katy, Texas, a suburb west of Houston. Her first full length novel, Salvation, was just published in December 2016. She self-published a short story, Last One in the Chamber for You, My Love to Amazon. Her first novella, Chalk Outline, was originally self-published but is the process of being re-released. She also has several short stories published in anthologies and e-Zines. In addition to writing, she’s a co-editor for two anthologies. Follow her to get the latest on her works.

 

www.facebook.com/Veronica.Smith.Author

https://www.amazon.com/author/veronicasmith

https://twitter.com/Vee_L_Smith

https://kvzsmithwordpresscom.wordpress.com/

https://www.wattpad.com/user/kvzsmith

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Veronica-Smith/e/B014JCZQT4

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33407538-salvation?ac=1&from_search=true

Veronica Smith – Bibliography

 

Novel: Salvation

Novella: Chalk Outline

Short story (self-published): Last One in the Chamber for You, My Love

Short stories (in anthologies):

Kelly’s Labyrinth in 47–16 : Short Fiction and Poetry Inspired by David Bowie – Volume II

A Zombie Christmas in A Very Zombie Christmas

The Treehouse in Bite Sized Offerings

Naughty or Nice in Collected Christmas Horror Shorts

Fate and Destiny in Crossroads in the Dark

Commuting in Eight Deadly Kisses

The Cat Lady and Sunday Morning in Fifty Shades of Slay

Revenge is a Dish Best Served by Grynn in Grynn Anthology

A Vacation Fit for a King in ODDisms

Preston’s Nightmare in Sweet Dreams

One Last Conversation in Unleashing the Voices Within

Zombies at My Gate in Zombie Chunks.

 

Coming soon in anthologies/e-Zines:

N is for Nightmares in ABC’s of Murder

Anesthesia in Siren’s Call eZine Issue 31

Countdown in Apocalypse Rising

Abdominal Bride in Guts & Gore

The Lottery Ticket in Dark Chapter Press: Edge of Darkness

Some Children are Just Born that Way in Dark Chapter Press: Kids Volume Two

 

Co-Edited:

Man Behind the Mask anthology

Unleashing the Voices Within anthology

The Unsaintly Chronicles: The Anti-God

WIHM8 – Writer Vs Editor – Briana/Kate

reaper“Katelyn Murphy is everything one could ask for in an editor; not only does she catch all of the grammatical and/or punctuation errors that inevitably accompany any first (and subsequent) draft(s), she is also an extremely insightful and in-depth reader, with the ability to offer helpful suggestions that will take any story to the next level and beyond. 
With clean highlighting and detailed notes, Kate manages to point out inaccuracies, inconsistencies, areas of repetition, etc., while always maintaining a positive tone and encouraging attitude. From the beginning of our working relationship, Kate has been open, friendly, and available. She is always ready and willing to engage in discussion regarding my work, and she never insists that changes be made based strictly on her own thoughts and opinions; rather, she makes inquiries about the intention behind the work, and how that intention might be maintained while still elevating the work itself. 
How does she keep the tears … uh, I mean the doubt away? Well, she’s honest. She lets me know what works and what doesn’t. She points out things that make my stories both weaker and stronger, and helps me find the best way to tell the strongest story possible while remaining true to myself as an author. It’s as simple–and as complicated–as that. 
Long story short? Katelyn Murphy is a kickass editor, and I wouldn’t trade her for the world.”
Briana Robertson

WIHM8 SSP STYLE! Larissa Bennett

 

Larissa is probably one of the coolest cats you’ll ever meet. Like my previous WIHM featured editor Kate Murphy, Larissa makes the SSP authors look good. She is also delightfully nerdy and fun. We acquired her from SNHU as well (seriously, don’t know what’s in the water there but they need to patent it).

Let’s get to know Larissa Bennett!


 

No automatic alt text available.I graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Master’s Degree in English and Creative Writing. I also hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Literature and Creative Writing with an emphasis on British Literature and Mythology.

I am an amateur Tolkien Scholar, having been a fan and studied his works for the past 15 years. In February of 2015, I presented a paper at Ohio State University focusing on an analysis of the linguistics Tolkien used in his writings. This paper was presented during a weekend event titled “Popular Culture and the Deep Past: Tolkien Days.”

I have a great love of poetry and write in all styles and genres.

I enjoy reading Fantasy, Horror, Thrillers, and Mysteries. A few of my favorite authors are Patrick Rothfuss, J. R. R. Tolkien, Stephen King, Terry Brooks, Justin Cronin, Neil Gaiman, J. K. Rowling, and many others.

I edit under my name and publish my own writing under the name Daron Shea Casey (dscasey).

Women In Horror:Stitched Style

This month is be going to be fun. I have some Women in Horror who you are really going to want to stalk.

Coming 2/6/17:
M.F. Wahl
Briana Robertson
Veronica Smith
Donelle Pardee Whiting

More to come, keep your eyes peeled.

Not Like It Used To Be

Families line the streets. Kids are bundled in coats, hats, gloves and blankets. Adults stand or sit in folding chairs, hands in pockets or laps, their excitement matching the children’s. A chill hugs each person tight. Teeth clatter, legs shake and dance; people trying to stay warm. Hot chocolate and coffee work for a while, but fade, leaving shivers along spines.

“How much longer, Momma?” they asks, young eyes and hearts waiting, hoping to catch a glimpse of an elf or reindeer or even Santa Clause. Maybe some candy will get tossed their way.

“Not much longer,” mothers and fathers announce, some happily, others with a chagrin that sits in their stomachs like heavy rocks. Christmas isn’t like it was when they were kids, back when December meant presents and eggnog and feasts, parties and family get-togethers, Christmas lights and holiday specials on television. Snow-filled streets meant sledding and snowmen, snow angels and snow ball fights.

There’s no snow this year; streets are covered in dust and dirt, debris from crumbling buildings, worn by time, weather and the passing wars. Few trees have stood the test of bombs and bullets. Fewer windows remain intact.

A breeze blows along Main Street, lifting grit and trash into the air. Many cover their faces, kids cry out from the sting of sand in eyes; some adults shake their heads and wonder why others choose not to wear protective goggles.

“Here they come,” a kid shouts. Others echo his words, sending a buzz along the road. Eyes open wide in anticipation and little ones squirm in their seats; blankets come off as they stomp their feet, kicking up clouds of dust.

Down the street a truck appears, adorned in reds and greens, its lights shining. The driver honks and waves a meaty hand as he passes through the crowd of onlookers.  Three fingers are missing. A pinky and thumb form an odd shaped L. “Merry Christmas,” he bellows. It comes out “Mare-wee Cwis-moss.”

The next vehicle inches along, yellow and orange lights cling to its exterior. The top of the car is missing, shorn off pieces of metal still jut out where the top use to be. A real beauty sits on the trunk, her feet inside the car. Her blond hair is singed at the ends, her once youthful face scarred on one side, an eye drooping, the eyebrow gone. A rusty crown sits atop her head. An unraveling sash across her faded blue dress reads Miss WW III 2038. She smiles. Her teeth are missing.

A marching band follows, horribly out of sync, no rhythm, none of them marching in unison with the ones in front, behind or beside them. Damaged horns squawk and squeal, bells clatter, hollow drums are rapped on with broken sticks from fallen trees, all forming a cacophony of noise that no amount of rehearsing could fix. Some of them are missing limbs, a foot here, an arm there, both legs over there, being pulled along in a wheel chair by a man with no arms and a limp, a rope tied around his waist. Distorted faces and twisted torsos make the rag tag orchestra a crowd favorite. Several other bands would follow, strategically placed along the length of the parade, but none quite as spectacularly grotesque.

A semi pulling a trailer creeps up the street. Women dressed in red and white striped bathing suits dance along poles to ancient Christmas Carols that few of the children have ever heard. Adults sing along to Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Holly Jolly Christmas. Few even notice the women. The new wave of freaks—the beauties of a long forgotten yesterday who have no blemishes on their faces and who aren’t walking with limps—stare out at nothing as they dance, cringing with fear at those gawking at them. Tears fill their crystal blue, green and brown eyes.

Cars proclaiming the holiday season inch along, large men behind the wheels; motorcycle riders doing wheelies and criss-crossing figure eights, careen about, almost going into the crowds, but pulling back at the last moment, much to the dismay of the thousands of onlookers. It is rumored that once a year a bike goes off course, taking out several spectators to the delight of those who are fortunate enough to take in the carnage. Smoke billows from rusty mufflers, engines growl, spit and sputter during turns, but none of the bikes slide out of control, maiming or killing folks along the streets. Children poke out their lips. The pain would be worth not being like the freaks dancing on poles for men and women alike to ogle and insult, to abuse as they see fit when the parade is over.

The first hour pushes well into the second one. As the end draws near a burnt orange fire truck looms in the distance, its tires dirty, ladder crusted in grime and rust. A wooden chair sits at the back, elevated. A large man with blush red cheeks and flowing white and gray hair, a beard down to his stomach and a red jump suit sits on the throne. A hole is in one knee, no black belt at the waist. His black boots are scuffed and his red cap is missing the dangly white ball that should be attached to its tip. At his feet sit several packages and bags, wrapped in newsprint and tied with twine.

The children scream, “It’s Santa Clause.” They laugh and cheer and clap; some of the adults cry. Santa didn’t look like this when they were kids. He wasn’t a scraggly old man whose rosy cheeks came from drinking a pint of illegal liquor before the Christmas parade. He wasn’t a man with a sack not full of goodies, but something much worse. He wasn’t this vision of insanity that the younger people know and somehow love.

The fire truck stops. Santa stands, reaches behind his throne, hefting a gray bag onto his shoulders. He waves a black glove at the crowd as he turns in a circle, a toothless smile noticeable even with the thick tufts of gray and white that cover most of his face from ears down. His eyes fall on a group of people huddling around a metal barrel, flames licking up from it. They warm their hands and roast marshmallows; the perfect picture of happiness.

Santa points. “Onward, Rudolph.”

The fire truck veers to the left as the driver mashes the gas. The engine revs, the truck lurches forward, black smoke spills from the exhaust. Bodies scatter as the grill and bumper strikes the crowd. A brilliant flash of orange, yellow and red emits from Santa Clause’s bag of gifts. The explosion follows, ripping the back of the fire truck apart. Santa evaporates in a spray of metal, flesh and shredded wrapping paper. The front of the truck smashes into a dilapidated building that collapses. Brick, metal and glass tumble to the ground, taking with it several more people and kicking up a large dust cloud. Fire engulfs the truck, the building and many onlookers. Others scramble about, searching for body parts, tossing pieces aside, frantically looking for…

“I found it,” a woman yells and lifts Santa’s head from a pile of rubble. His jaw is missing, along with one ear. An eye dangles from an empty socket. Her family and friends pat her on the back, congratulating her, some grudgingly, others with the genuine sincerity only offered by loved ones.

A collective groan emits from those seeking the Christmas prize. People gather their blankets and meager belongings. Kids shuffle with parents back to their cold homes, devoid of windows and heat, misery greeting them at their doorways.

A green car pulls alongside the woman, the back door opens but no one gets out. A white gloved hand extends from the darkness, and beckons her to get in. The woman hugs her family, tears streaming from her eyes.

“I’ll miss you all,” she says and steps toward the car.

“We love you, Mommy,” one little girl says and hugs her leg tight. She lets go, steps back. “You’ll be the best Santa ever.”

“You bet I will,” she says and lifts Santa’s head high in the air. Blood spatters her and her family, but she doesn’t seem to notice. She gets inside the car, to little fanfar. It speeds off, leaving the family waving. The little girl bends down, picks up Santa’s stocking cap, turns it over in her hands, and places it on her head.

“Daddy, do you think I’ll ever be Santa Clause?”

Her dad kneels, puts both hands on her shoulders. “Anything’s possible, sweetheart. Anything’s possible.”

The family leaves, father and daughter holding hands. They chatter about the parade, the fireworks and wonder about the body count. Still, some adults stand, shocked, dismayed by the events. Christmas wasn’t like this when they were kids…

 

The Ghastly Glittergrieve – A Christmas Cautionary Tale

At the same precise time every year,
come dark on Christmas Eve,
A blighted spirit springs to life,
the ghastly GLITTERGRIEVE.

As children try to fall asleep,
it’s scurrying ‘cross your ceiling,
A shadowy nook it’ll find itself,
(one prime for self-concealing).

No bigger than a walnut yet,
this nasty little shade.
Observing from his darkened perch,
to watch festive tables laid.

Invisible at first, he is,
for his acts of misfeasance.
But before the day’s events are done,
you’ll feel his Christmas presence.

He’s there for every opened gift,
for all wrapping ripped away,
for every garish Cracker pulled
each fateful Christmas day.

He’s watching, in the shadows hid,
for each present you reveal.
(This is a task he undertakes
with fervor and with zeal).

In small black claws, he holds his book
with your name etched within.
A black mark will be noted down
for every spotted sin.

For every time you grimace
at your gift of aftershave,
the demons sat there thinking,
“That is no way to behave.”

With each half-hearted “Thank you”
that trickles from your lips,
Against your name, he’s sad to see,
Another black mark slips.

Each cardigan you toss aside,
each pair of socks rejected –
To the scrutiny of the Glittergrieve,
you’re silently subjected.

The demon’s purpose is laid bare,
once revelries have ceased.
For every black mark in the book,
The beasts size has increased.

It’s midnight now, on Christmas day.
And everybody’s resting.
But you’re awake from too much wine,
stomach noisily protesting.

The tap’s turned on, to wash your hands –
your bladder now relieved.
But in the mirror, there it stands,
the ghastly GLITTERGRIEVE.

Dark eyes poke out through masks of skin,
all evil, black and hateful.
The faces from which it peers behind
peeled away from the ungrateful.

Atop his face of ruined flesh,
a faded paper crown.
A tinsel wreath hangs round his neck,
cracked baubles draped around.

It rises up, towering o’er you now,
a weird and twisted shape.
Red, Green and Gold and shimmering,
its crude wrapping-paper cape.

With practiced claws it steals your soul,
Your watcher’s now your killer.
In one fell swoop, you’re doomed to be
A demons stocking filler.

The lesson here? Be thankful for
your gifts, which are meant well.
And if you’re good, you will receive
Good tidings and no Hell.


meDavid Court was born and resides in Coventry, UK with his patient wife and his three less patient cats. A few years back David achieved minor internet notoriety under the pseudonym FoldsFive for his animated GIFs telling the entirety of the Star Wars Trilogy, a fact that he’s still jolly well proud of and insists on telling anyone at any opportunity. When not reading, blogging angrily on http://www.foldsfive.co.uk or http://www.davidjcourt.co.uk, drinking real ale, being immune to explosions, writing software for a living or practicing his poorly developed telekinetic skills, he can be found writing fiction.

A CHRISTMAS GUEST BY M.F. WAHL

The tree stood in the corner, it’s dark green boughs weighed down with long soft needles. They remained unadorned despite the wealth of glitter and sparkle in a storage tub nearby. The tub’s lid sat slightly askew, balancing on the rim, where it had been placed down the evening before. Nothing in that corner had moved since then, as though the Christmas decorations had been preserved in ice, much like the yard outside.

In a way they had. The coldness of a marriage on the rocks had taken it’s toll. Marty and Nadine had been at each other’s throats all night. Many of the barbed comments and dirty looks passed right over the children’s heads, but they felt the darkness, even if they couldn’t truly understand it.

Tempers flared, no one was immune. Like a swirling tempest, the sour mood sucked the joy from every little moment. At fourteen, Clara was the oldest of the four children, and the first to rail against her parents. “I hate this family!” she yelled, shoving her younger brother to the side as she stormed from the room.

Marty called for her to come back, insisting she participate in the festivities, but short of physically dragging her from her room there was little he could do. It wasn’t long before he and Nadine were openly screaming at each other, and the younger children took refuge in their own rooms. So much for the Norman Rockwell Christmas decorating scene they had been trying to cobble together.

The next evening Clara sat in front of the TV, her arms wrapped around her knees, watching a show she only marginally enjoyed. That was fine, because her parents were fighting in the kitchen once again, and her three little brothers raced in circles powered by batteries that never seemed to run out. The house was loud and she tried to focus on smiling faces and the laugh track coming from the TV.

Before the end of the show she heard the front door bang closed, followed by the deep rumble of her father’s car as he fired up the engine and pulled out of the driveway. A few minutes later her red-eyed mother stepped into the living room and turned off the TV.

“Hey! I was watching that!” Clara snapped at her mother.

“Too bad,” Nadine replied, and crossed the room to the tub full of decorations. “It’s time to decorate the tree.”

“Yay!” cried Clara’s youngest brother, Jeremy. He was only eight and always eager to please. He skipped over to the tree, followed by Nathan and Bradley.

Clara stood and crossed her arms. “I don’t want to.”

Nadine pursed her lips unhappily and walked over to Clara. She wasn’t much taller than the teen anymore, but was still able to throw her weight around. Clara glared defiantly into her mother’s eyes. “This is stupid.”

Nadine was fast, and before Clara could react her mother lashed out, striking her across the mouth with her palm. “You’d better watch your mouth, young lady.”

Tears stung Clara’s eyes, but she blinked them back. Not wanting to be struck again, she slunk over to the Christmas tree and accepted a red metallic garland her mother held out to her.

That’s how the night went, the family nearly smothered by a cloud of anger, decorating the tree, trying desperately to cling to a thread of happiness. Except Clara, she didn’t see the point of decorating, or clinging, and with each bulb she hung her resentment grew, like the scowl on her face.

Soon enough the tree was laden with beads and bulbs and tinsel and twinkle. Nadine went back to the kitchen to cook dinner, and her brothers began playing again. Clara with the last golden decoration in her hand, searched for a place that wasn’t already festooned. The back of the tree had the least on it, so she slid between it and the wall. As she reached up to hang the ornament a black spot on a red bulb caught her eye.

It was a spider. Big, and black, with long hairy legs, clinging to the side of a shiny red bulb. Clara squeaked in surprise and recoiled, bouncing off the wall behind her, and back into the tree—and the spider.

Normally, she wasn’t afraid of spiders, but the thought of having one unexpectedly dancing on her shirt kicked her baser instincts into gear. She dropped the ornament from her hand and, squealing in terror, scrambled out from behind the tree.

“Ew, ew, ew, ew, ew!”

Clara danced around the room batting at her clothes as her brothers giggled. After a few moments she stopped, and panting, looked at them. “Spider…” was all she could manage though breaths.

Dinner proceeded as normal, with Marty arriving back home just before it was served. Clara’s parents were curt to each other, but didn’t return to earlier fighting. Her father even complimented the Christmas tree before the kids had to get ready for bed.

Clara had long since forgotten about the spider by the time she was brushing her teeth. She looked in the bathroom mirror, scrubbing, as she saw it creep up onto her shoulder. She froze, toothpaste foaming from her mouth, arm stiff. She didn’t want to panic this time and lose it, she wanted to knock it off into the toilet and flush it down.

Her heart sped in her chest as she tried to move slowly enough not to spook the arachnid. It was bigger than she remembered it. So big she could make out a few details of its face in the mirror. Two sets of shiny black eyes stared forward, unblinking, with a disconcerting quietness. Just below them Clara knew there were fangs, hidden by whiskered mandibles.

She crept toward the toilet, stepping softly and trying not to jar the thing on her shoulder, all the time keeping her eyes fixed on its reflection. It moved slowly across her shoulder toward her neck, and she suppressed a gag as it reached out a thick black leg that reminded her of a pipe cleaner, and stroked her throat.

“Be calm child,” it said in her ear. Its words were raspy, said in the echo of a voice, neither feminine nor masculine. Clara widened her eyes in surprise, but other than that, didn’t move a muscle.

“Please,” said the spider. “I’m not here to hurt you.”

“Mom! Dad!” Clara screamed, and batted at the spider on her shoulder. As her hand made contact she felt the stiff haired bristles that covered its body. She spun in a frantic circle trying to see where it went. “Mom! Dad!” she screamed again, as they both came running.

On the verge of tears Clara told them about the spider, but at the last second, looking up into their concerned faces, she left out the part about it speaking. They’d just think she was being crazy.

Marty dutifully checked the bathroom for the offending arachnid, and Nadine helped Clara check her hair and clothes. After they came up empty-handed they said goodnight and saw a nervous Clara off to bed, leaving the door open a crack at her request.

“That seemed like an overreaction,” she heard her father say as her parents descended the stairs.

“It’s just her hormones,” her mother replied.

Clara pulled her blanket up to her chin and replayed the moment in the bathroom over and over again, until she managed to convince herself that she imagined a talking spider. I was just scared, she thought, fear can do strange things to people’s minds.

Still, no matter what she told herself, she had trouble falling asleep. She couldn’t help but feel every itch on her body like it was the spider crawling on her skin. Eventually, she heard her parents go to bed, and she lay awake, staring at the ceiling until exhaustion finally closed her eyes.

Clara woke to a pressure on her chest, heavy, but not unbearable by any means. Almost as if a small cat were perched on her. She didn’t know what time it was, but it was still dark.

Half asleep Clara reached up and touched the weight on her chest. It bristled beneath her palm and she yanked her hand back as her eyes popped open.

“Please don’t scream,” rasped the spider.

Clara’s lips trembled and she breathed quickly, feeling the weight of the spider as it rode her chest up and down, up and down, up and down.

The moon shone through the bedroom window, just enough to illuminate the black shadow perched atop her, glinting off its many eyes.

“I’m not here to hurt you, child.” It reached out a long leg and touched Clara’s cheek. “I’m just here to talk. To help you.”

“Help me with what?” Clara whispered, her voice fluttering past her lips.

“Why didn’t you tell your parents about me?”

“I did.”

“No. Not about me. You told them about an ordinary spider. Perhaps a bit on the bigger side, but still a bland and ordinary spider. You didn’t tell them about me.”

Clara shivered beneath her thick down duvet. “They wouldn’t have believed me.”

“They wouldn’t have listened to you.”

Clara nodded, feeling a small ember of resentment from the Christmas tree charade still burning in her gut.

“They never listen to me,” she said quietly.

“I know,” the spider replied. “I witnessed everything from the moment your family selected your tree from the lot. I saw how they treat you, and I hurt for you.”

Clara nodded in the dark, watching the spider’s eyes sparkle as it spoke, her fear slowly being consumed by the tiny flame fanned to life from the ember.

“Am I crazy?” She asked the creature on her chest.

“Does it matter? If you were, its your parents fault, not yours. Look at how selfish they are. If they truly cared about you they would just be happy.”

For the first time in her life Clara felt like she was speaking to someone who understood her. No one, not her friends, not her dumb brothers, no one understood her situation. Everyone thought her parents were so nice. They couldn’t see the cloud that hung over their house, poisoning the very air inside. Choking the life from her so stealthily that no one noticed.

Clara felt her cheeks flush with anger, and balled her fists under the covers. She hated her parents and her whole stupid family.

“What do you want to do?” asked the spider.

“I want to leave and never come back.”

“Now is as good a time as ever.”

“I can’t sneak downstairs without waking up my mom.”

“What about the window?”

The spider rose from Clara’s chest and sidled next to her on the bed. As it moved she felt the lightness of empty space and it almost felt foreign. She scooted to the foot of her bed and peeked out of her window at the white powder covering the rooftop. They were only one floor up. If she hung from the gutter it would only be a small drop into snow.

“I don’t have any shoes.”

“You don’t need them. It’s not really that cold outside.”

“Maybe I should just wait.”

“And endure one more day in this house? I thought you hated your parents, look at what they’ve brought you to.”

Clara nodded. “You’re right.”

She quickly dressed herself and layered on two pairs of socks, then grabbed her coin bank. It was a dolphin jumping from a wave, her favorite animal, but missing its dorsal fin. Last year Nathan had broken it, and although her mother tried to repair it, eventually the piece fell off and was lost.

Quietly Clara slid open the window and a cold blast of air hit her. It was almost enough to make her close it again, but she felt one of the spider’s legs on her arm, reassuring her.

“Are you coming?” she asked.

“Yes,” rasped the spider, and climbed onto her back. It felt even heavier than before. Awkwardly, Clara stepped out onto the roof.

The snow was crisp and cool beneath her feet, and the wind cut through her sweater, but now that she was outside Clara was determined. Just as she had imagined, she hung from the gutter and dropped into the snow bank near the side of the house. Enjoy Christmas without me, she thought spitefully as she headed toward the road, the big black spider clinging to her back like a many-legged backpack.

She walked, head down against the wind, shivering, and telling Spider her new plans. The coin bank she clutched to her chest probably had enough in it to buy a bus ticket. All she had to do was get a pair of shoes.

“Any charity box,” Spider whispered in her ear. “They’re overflowing this time of year. You might even find a pair in your size.”

“And a coat.”

“That’s the spirit.”

The snow was beginning to cake around Clara’s socks and her body heat melted what stayed close. She shivered as she trudged, feeling like Spider was getting even heavier.

“You’re growing.”

“You’re just seeing me more, child.”

Clara nodded, her face feeling frozen. She didn’t understand what that meant, but was running low on energy.

Soon they were out of town, headed toward the small city nearby. There she knew that’s where there’d be charity bins and a bus station. Just as the streetlights disappeared the sun began to rise.

Clara trembled uncontrollably. “You made it through the hard part, Clara,” coaxed Spider. “The sun will bring warmth with it.”

But it didn’t. Clouds obscured the sky and let loose a fury of snow and wind that pelted her chapped face, feeling like needle pricks. Her feet were numb now, as she dragged them in the slush on the side of the road. She tried not to think about them as she walked hunched over, burdened by Spider’s weight.

“It’s getting late, they’ll be looking for you, Clara.”

Clara said nothing but began peaking over her shoulder to see if there were any approaching cars. She spotted the first car’s headlights not long after and ducked into the underbrush along the side of the road. After it passed she tried to stand, but stumbled under the weight of Spider.

“You’re getting too heavy for me.”

“You’re giving up. I thought you were better than that. I got you this far, don’t disappoint me now.”

Clara sighed. She was so tired and so cold. All she really wanted now was to get back into her nice warm bed.

“That ship has sailed, Clara. What do you think will happen when they find out you’re gone?”

Tears slid from Clara’s eyes and froze on her cheeks as she stood, staggering under the weight of the enormous creature embracing her from behind. She tried to take a step forward and fell to her knees.

“Get up,” rasped Spider. Its words floating overtop of the wind. “Get on your feet.”

A sob broke from Clara’s throat as she tried to stand again. Her socks, frozen to the snow around them, pulled away and she stepped barefoot toward the road, trying desperately to carry herself on red swollen feet. Her legs wobbled again and she fell, catching herself with her hands before her face hit the icy ground.

“Get up.”

“I can’t,” Clara managed through sobs. Her eyelashes were beginning to freeze.

“You must. You’ll show them.”

Clara rose to her hands and knees, ice slicing at her bare palms, her coin bank lost somewhere in the snow far behind. She fixed her eyes on the side of the road and crawled, chest heaving as she cried.

“Not too close to the road, Clara. You don’t want to be found.”

The weight of Spider was almost unbearable and Clara felt as though she might break under it.

“Not too close.”

She felt the tips of Spider’s legs, like large pointed branches, digging into her sides.

“I said not too close!” Its rasp was loud in her ear, angry, overtaking the howling wind of the storm.

“Get off!” Clara yelled, her voice cracking. She reached for the side of the road, barely able to see, dragging herself next to it, hoping she was close enough to be found.

Spider dug its legs harder into Clara’s sides, piercing her sweater, and her skin. She screamed in pain.

“Get away from the road,” it rasped.

Clara reached behind her and grabbed one of Spider’s legs with her hands. It was so big she could barely wrap her hands around it. As she tried to pull the creature from her back it dug its legs in further, jabbing points between her ribs.

Every sob, every breath Clara took now came with pain. Pain so sharp it almost shut out the cold. Almost. She was too cold to shiver, and too weak to fight. Clara’s hands slipped from the leg and she collapsed under Spider’s weight by the side of the road.

Ahead a bright pair of headlights cut through the falling snow. A pick-up truck slid to a stop and Clara could see Christmas lights strung around its bed. They twinkled merrily, as she closed her eyes.

So cold.

So cold.

So cold.

 


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Horror, thriller, sci-fi … all are synonymous with author M.F. Wahl. Dark plots and a keen focus on character development will keep you chained to each frightful word. Wahl is a proud member of the Horror Writer’s Association and her first novel “Disease” is will be released by Stitched Smile sometime next year. Visit http://mfwahl.com/ for more information, or to get on the mailing list. You can also find Wahl on Facebook and Twitter.

Beginning picture credits: “Frozen Spider’s Web” by Matthew Harrigan