Stitched Saturday! 3.25.17


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.


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 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.


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Stitched … Sunday?

I forgot to schedule this for Saturday! Ugh Migraines be the Devil. The Stitchers got together and put out some fine fiction! Below is the picture we used for the challenge, and each Stitched VIP Author’s (unedited) work. Remember and be kind. This was on the fly! If you want to participate, respond in comments!



The Fairy Bowling Game by James Mathew Byers

The last attendant headed out,
The bowling alley closed.
And went the lights at last were off,
A statue firmly posed
Began to move beneath the glow
And shimmer of the moon.
A window cracked admitted in
The beams upon a goon.
A goblin and a gremlin grabbed
A ball from off the rack.
The statue golem did as well,
As there upon the track
Inlaid the path unto the pins
As ten awaited doom-
No longer made of maple wood,
The blocks there in the room
Endangered now, the fairy forms
And gnomes all jeered and booed.
A troll and ogre joined the gang
And looked on those there glued
Into the shape, the curvy round,
As ball by ball hit home
Impacting every little one-
From fairy down to gnome.
A hambone and hedge hog bowled,
A high flush down the line,
And on and on the game played out
Until the creeping shine
Of sunlight offered teasing booms
Into the blinds as strands.
The fairies and the gnomes, relieved,
As final greedy hands
Unleashed the last of bowling balls
Before the duckpins’ flight.
And when the humans came again,
The monsters hid till night.
The statue once again stood still,
The goons and gremlins fled.
The trolls and ogres turned to stone
Outside the alley bed.
The goblins and the creaking ooze
Within the fountain drink
Evaporated into grime
Around the kitchen sink.
The cafe kept the creatures all
Within its subtle sway.
A magic spell in golem tongue
Suppressed the scene by day.
The fairies and the gnomes again
Became the solid wood
Of pins repeating, blow by blow,
To shake up fairy blood.
And people bowling spares and strikes
Engaged in routine bliss
Remained without the knowledge that
The alley was amiss.
For many years, the ghoulish freaks
Enjoyed their captives’ shame.
And would for centuries to come-
The fairy bowling game …


Entropy by Dan Naden

I felt the motion before I saw it.

I’d taken part of my afternoon to stretch my legs and unstress after a long day and an even longer week. My wanderings took me from my office, to just a few blocks away to where the latest round of downtown redevelopment had yet to take hold. I enjoyed looking at all the old buildings, most of which were erected in times long past and which had lived, decayed, and were reborn multiple times in the intervening years.

Working downtown, like I had for so many years, I had a tendency of looking at a building, not with an eye for what it was, but also with a sense for its bones: for what it might be. An office here, a set of high-dollar lofts there — even retail, after a fashion: an upscale grocery combined with a coffee shop. It’s not that I’m a developer or know anything about real estate. It’s more about the feel of being downtown, a place that is, at once, old and new; dirty and clean, all with a humming undercurrent of almost-danger. Being downtown could be kind of weird, like wandering between the teeth of some huge and ancient monster, a behemoth that had been there so long it was mostly ambivalent to all the people crawling around like ants in its mouth. Ambivalent. Mostly. I’ve worked here forever and I still sometimes get the feeling I could be swallowed up and disappear … while the buildings remained as timelessly eternal as ever.

So I walked and stretched my legs and found myself gravitating away from the safe, (relatively) clean streets near my office to an area that was less developed. The buildings weren’t as tall — nothing over four or five floors — and most of the glass was missing from their windows. I couldn’t see any chain link perimeters that might signify renovations were coming, which only helped the overall mental image to me that the block was full of rotting teeth. Did the behemoth rest uneasy here?

I moved closer, picking my way carefully around and over broken bottles, trash, and the occasional body effluent — homeless people obviously squatted here. I had just passed a deep, dark doorway, peering out of the corner of my eye to judge if perhaps one or more homeless people might be resting in the shadows and edging wide to avoid any potential conflict that might arise, when I got the strange sense of pressure in my eardrums. Not a noise, nothing so direct. It was…a sense of motion. That feeling you get when you think something is sneaking up on you, even though you don’t see or hear it.

I peered out of the corner of my other eye, hoping to see what I felt was there and, to my surprise, I saw something. It was like a shadow — a group of shadows, really — moving to the door of the next building over. They were carrying something, dangling from extended arms. Lunch bags, maybe, but the size was off. From my vantage point, I couldn’t really tell.

I felt compelled to follow. I didn’t get a sense of unease or danger, which was odd, given how I usually felt being downtown. So I followed right up to the door. I couldn’t see the shadowy figures anymore and I half-expected the door would be locked against me. To my surprise, it wasn’t. I shouldered my way through and walked in.

In its previous life, the building had been a bowling alley. It had only a handful of lanes, none of which had seen use for years, and the only light came in through the huge arched windows on one wall. The inside was dirty. Muddy patterns of dust and grime covered everything, a speckled look that spoke of a porous roof and a lot of water damage. In fact, one of the lanes had a puddle, saved in the warped wood.

My initial reaction was disappointment. Here was a fascinating space: a bowling alley tucked into an old building with an impressive architecture, yet almost all of it was ruined by water and rot. The dank, fetid smell would certainly chase me out before long — not to mention the risk of my falling through the floor into whatever decaying pit lay below me. But I couldn’t help but feel that this building might be too far gone to save. That it would disintegrate, bit by bit, with no new renovation, no new cycle of rebirth like the other buildings downtown. And I though that was a shame.

Until I felt the motion again.

Shadowy shapes; this time I could see them more clearly. They were bowling. When I squinted, I could see the entire space was full of them, looking very much like a regular bowling alley on a busy league night. I saw the group I followed in, a group of men dressed, it seemed, like construction workers at the end of their day. I saw others that looked like bankers in quaint Depression-era suits and attire. The shapes covered a wide variety of times and dress, but they all seemed to occupy the same space, interacting with each other like there was nothing odd in their obvious differences. Or that they were shades of people and not real in the same way I was.

As I watched them bowl and talk and interact, I noticed something peculiar. The shades seemed to be wearing down the parts of the building they were standing on or interacting with. The bowling ball cut, not a line, but a deeper pattern of mold and rot across the lane boards as it passed. The floor underneath the others also darkened. At a table full of shades and their drinks, I saw the floor and table completely collapse and fall, crashing into the space below. The shadow people remained where they were, but where the real table had been, a shadowy one appeared over a shadowy floor covering the hole. They didn’t seem to notice. Near one of the outer walls, a guy leaning against the masonry surface caused an avalanche of collapsing brick. He didn’t move, but the fallen brick was more like dust than stone, there on the floor.

It occurred to me then that perhaps the shades couldn’t use the real building at all. That maybe they needed the building to decay to make it suit their needs. I’m not sure where that insight came from, but it made sense, in a way. We spent much effort restoring downtown buildings, renovating them to make them new and clean because that’s what we need. What if the shadows needed to bring the buildings down — for them to decay and fester and dissolve — so they can have the spaces they need, opposite us, like the backswing of entropy’s pendulum?

I turned to leave — I decided I didn’t want to be around much longer — when it seems the shades…noticed me. I wasn’t sure if my motion did the trick or if they’d all been ignoring me until I was ready too leave. Or maybe they simply felt my motion instead of hearing or seeing it.

Regardless, the entire group of people in the alley closed around me. I started to run, but the group of construction worker shades had slipped between me and the door.

Spinning, looking desperately for an escape, I felt a shadowy hand’s motion in the moment before it touched me. It passed through my shoulder, like the guy was clapping me on the back, but where it touched, my skin aged. My bones there went brittle and the muscles atrophied, just in that brief second. I screamed, the pain was that intense, then more hands were reaching for me, passing through me.

Decaying me.

Skin sloughed off, and I screamed and shrieked. Somehow, I remained standing. I don’t know how. The circle pulled closer. Shadows engulfed me.

Through it all, what little was left to me, I had the time to wonder if the shadow people actually needed me, or if I was just part of their renovation.



David Court

If she squeezed her eyes closed real tight, Fawn could still imagine it. Pretend that it was still the days before the Ruination, when there were still adults. Breathing in deeply that distinctive scent of floor wax, disinfectant and bowling shoe leather. Hearing the perpetual rumble and clatter of the alleys, a clockwork cacophony pierced by whooping and laughter.

Days long gone. The ceiling mounted screens were hollow and burned out husks, the once garish neon signs now melted down the walls, pooled like hardened candlewax.

The creak of floorboards – that tell-tale squeak of stretched linoleum – roused her from her reverie, dragging her thoughts away from the scattering of ten pins and back to her predicament. Holding her breath, she peered into the room from behind the cover of a cracked concrete pillar plastered with dozens of faded posters – for events either long gone or that would never happen.

No sign of the intruder, but a gap in the motes of dust that hung suspended in the beams of mottled sunlight that crept in through the thin cracks in the derelict walls.

The bowling alley was her home, and had been since the early days. She’d instinctively sought out somewhere familiar, somewhere with nothing but happy memories. In the subsequent months she’d come to know every shadow in this place, could recognise the precise sound and location of every loose floorboard. It was as though the building were an extension of herself.

Intruders were rare – to the casual scavenger, richer pickings were more likely to be found elsewhere in the Mall complex housing the Buscemi Bowlerama. She’d made a passable job of securing the building to make it look like it would take any scroungers too much effort for a meagre reward.

The more persistent ones that made it into these hallowed chambers? They came in two categories – either newcomers, who blundered in and announced their position with every noisy step. Or, less commonly, they were skilled foragers who’d learned the most important trick – that remaining silent would keep you alive.

This current interloper fell into the latter category.

Fawn had noticed – from her look-out point at the top of the Bowlerama that gave her a view of most of the mall – that a lot of the recent visitors to the Mall had been armed. One or more of the roving gangs must have discovered a cache of weapons – there were few things as equally bizarre and chilling as the sight of a group of nine-year-olds carrying automatic weapons almost as big as themselves. This new threat had meant that she’d had forego her typical complacency.

The too-close-for-comfort sound of metal scraping against concrete. The sound that could only be a blade – or more than likely the barrel of a gun – of somebody getting dangerously near. Judging the approximate location of threat, she crouched low and ran for the shadows in the opposite direction – she’d long since mastered the art of moving in silence, landing on the ball of her foot with every measured step.

A brief game of cat and mouse followed. Fawn knew, only too well, that any mistake could be your very last. And a mistake was made – and with one misplaced step came the realisation. That moment when you suddenly find yourself staring into the last face you’ll ever see.

The kid had barely even begun to turn around by the time Fawn had swung the bowling ball into the side of his skull. He’d lain there – shaking and writhing violently and blood frothing from his ruined mouth – for the longest time. It had made her task somewhat trickier.

The disappearances clearly hadn’t made enough of an impact. More drastic measures would have to be taken.

The racks that held the bowling balls were the first thing you saw when you entered the building. The severed heads of the five bodies she’d collected so far were placed – eyes and mouths stretched wide open – in the custom grooves on the rack to stare accusingly at any would-be intruders.

If that didn’t stop the fuckers from the Mega-Muncharama Food Court Gang trying to muscle in on her turf, nothing would.