Trembling With Fear – Valentine’s 2023 Edition!
It’s that time of year again! When February rolls around, its the season for love, for passion, and for all the creepy twists and turns where love can take you.
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Sure, it’s not a holiday that most people would associate with “spine-chilling”, but that didn’t stop our writers from crafting bewitching tales that will have you thinking twice about a “bad” date. From long lost loves to wishes gone bad, other worldly experiences to characters blinded by love (or lust), this collection of short stories and drabbles will leave you never seeing Cupid’s Day the same again.
Come with me as we dive into these illustrious works of fiction that explore all the ways love can take a turn for the worst.
Love is in the air!
Of course, what some might consider love isn’t shared by the rest of us.
Today, we have a fantastic mix of stories from wanting to bring love to us no matter what the cost to what happens when we let love fade away.
As always, we hope you enjoy!
To Summon A New Love
by Maya Lowy
Hans, 30, 2 miles away. The kind of facial hair I don’t like. Nope.
Emily, 26, 3 miles away. Weird filters on her pictures. Nope.
Nathaniel, 33, 3 miles away. Who goes by Nathaniel on a dating profile? Nope.
Gemma, 29, 3.5 miles away. Looks 22. Shotgunning a beer. Nope.
I’m on the bus home from work, entertaining myself in the grim way I usually do when it’s too dark to stare out the window. One of my coworkers said today that she was looking for a Valentine’s Day date, a first date, and it got me thinking. Granted, Ramona’s 18 and rarely goes on more than a first date… but, even at my age, neither do I, to be honest. I’ve been single since halfway through the pandemic and getting back into “the scene” has been, well, disappointing at best. My friends all say the right things, safe inside their live-in relationships. The truth is, it’s not a good year to be on the market. Everyone’s found love or, frankly, sucks.
I quit out of the dating app and look around the bus. Everybody’s in big puffy coats, with AirPods in their ears. One cute couple are actually talking to each other, too quiet to eavesdrop on. One scruffy-looking guy with those trendy wire-framed glasses is reading a book. That reminds me I have a book in my bag, too. It was a find from one of those “little library” boxes in my neighborhood. “Be Your Witchiest Self!” the cover encourages in a bubbly font. I thought it looked funny. Flipping through it now, it’s still just as hard to take seriously.
It’s not far into the book I come across a page to summon new love. Not to make a crush fall in love with you, the book clarifies, but to summon new love. No stealing locks of hair or bits of fingernail, like a creep. Just some candles, chanting, and an altar in the right corner of your room.
It’s my stop. I pass the cute couple, the reading guy. They all ignore me. At the bus stop someone homeless-looking asks me for a cigarette. “Sorry,” I mumble. The rest of the walk home is cold. I can’t help thinking about how nice it would be if someone was home to turn the heating on, to have dinner waiting.
In my studio apartment, after dinner and a TV show on my own, I set up the altar the way the book says. I light a couple of candles, which flicker pleasingly. Feeling self-conscious, I do the chants, too. I leave the candles burning for a while as I shower, but I blow them out before I go to bed. The sudden smell of smoke is always nice to breathe in.
* * *
In the morning, on my way out of the house, the little altar looks pathetic. Feeling sorry for myself, I light a cigarette at the bus stop. The other morning commuters look at me judgmentally. The abstract sweetness of vaping, the way it just implies a smoke, has never done it for me. The whole point of smoking is to take pleasure in just a little self-destruction.
I’m put on the register the minute I get in. The store is already busy, for some reason. It’s a random Wednesday in February. No reason for everybody to be getting their specialty groceries. Unless there’s something going on I don’t know about again. I could write a book about the way customers come in waves, in tune with some kind of mysterious zeitgeist, if I was the type of person who wrote books.
The woman who hands me her card is peaches-and-cream, soft cheeks, easy smile, blond waves. She is buying looseleaf teas, rye bread, foreign soda. “I love your piercing,” she says, forgetting to bag her stuff as she stares at me. I blush. Her voice is comforting— she sounds sane. “I don’t normally do this,” she says, “but— if you ever want to hang out, give me a text.” The card says Hannah Angleton and an email at her own website and two phone numbers. I’m too dumbfounded to say anything. On my ten, I look up her site. She’s a small-time actress. The headshots look good. Next to me in the break room, Ramona’s laughing quietly as she texts somebody. I remember yesterday’s ritual.
All day I think about sending Hannah a message. I’m always quiet, but I’m quieter than usual. On the bus home, I take a break from the dating cesspool. I type Hannah’s number into my phone instead. I agonize the whole bus ride, but finally I send:
Hey, you gave me your card this morning when I was at work. If you want to get together, I can do Friday. Corinne.
I make myself not check my phone until I unlock the door. I wrap myself in blankets on the couch and finally look at it. I’m sure I won’t have any messages.
I have a message.
So awesome! So glad you texted! Can I take you out to the new wine bar downtown? 6th and Main, 8:00 on Friday? 🙂
I cannot believe this is happening to me. My pulse has skyrocketed. I’m hyperventilating. Before I go to sleep, I have to get myself off three times, thinking about her friendly, dimply hands with the bubblegum-colored nails. I’m sweaty and exhausted after, but I stlil have trouble falling asleep. New love, I can’t help but think. Someone who’s excited to get to know me. Someone cool. An actress.
* * *
I practically sleepwalk through life until my date with Hannah. I don’t know how the two days pass. But, finally, they do, and I’m at the bar at 8:08, feeling like I’m going to puke.
She waves at me enthusiastically, so I have to go over right away instead of grabbing a drink first. The bar is dark and classy, and Hannah’s grabbed a two-top poseur table. I really check her out this time, the way I couldn’t do, wouldn’t have done, at work. She is perfectly curvy. She has an infectious smile. She’s in a maroon dress and heels. She is all light and warmth. She takes my breath away, and I don’t think it’s just because she’s the only person who’s shown me attention in months.
“Corinne,” she says and my name sounds special coming out of her mouth.
She orders us a bottle that tastes like nectar and blood.
She wants to know all about me. She laughs when I say something dry. I’m never sure with women, but with this one, I’m very, very sure it’s a date— and, somehow, I’m saying the right things.
It’s not far into the bottle I can tell I’ll end up at her place tonight. Again, I feel like I’m going to throw up. But I’m also so radiantly happy. She has her hand on my thigh. I can’t help myself— the wine has loosened my inhibitions, and I find myself asking her what she’s doing on Valentine’s.
“I don’t think that far ahead,” she smiles. She doesn’t seem drunk at all. She leaves a generous tip and calls us an Uber.
In the back seat she starts to kiss me. This has never happened to me before. By the time we get to her place I am ready to be anyone she wants me to be, do anything she wants me to do. Her apartment is neat. I see the teas and the rye bread out on the countertop that she bought the other day. I point them out, unable to stop laughing until she stops me with her full mouth.
In her bedroom, with the unique pillowcases and the incense burning, as she unbuttons my black blouse— I didn’t wear the kind of lingerie someone expecting to be undressed would wear, but she doesn’t seem to mind— I say, half-drunk, half-dreaming, “I summoned you. A new love. I didn’t think it would work. But now I think it worked.”
“I summoned you, to nourish me,” she agrees without missing a beat as she unbuttons my high-waisted jeans.
I don’t remember anything after that.
* * *
When I come to, I’m alone in her bed. At least, I think I am for a minute, until I take stock of myself. My breasts are bigger. My body is softer, pinker. My nails are the color of bubblegum. My clothes, Corinne’s clothes, are still on the floor, but I’m wearing a nightie like some kind of fifites pin-up girl.
I try to speak, but I can’t. I find myself getting up, going into the walk-in closet, looking into the mirror. I have Hannah’s face.
Hannah’s voice comes out of Hannah’s mouth, which is my mouth. It sounds just as plummy and sane as it did when I met her.
“Morning, Corinne.” My name, from her, still sounds special. I try to speak, try to ask— but I’m silenced. It’s like trying to speak into cotton.
“I needed you so badly. There’s a casting call today, a commercial that needs a goth-type girl. You know I’d never pull it off without you.” She selects a black wig out of the closet. Then, going into my pile of clothes, she sticks my septum piercing into her own nose.
“It’s funny, isn’t it, how we magicked each other like this?” She winks into the mirror. “My magick is pretty strong, though. And you aren’t a real believer, are you? Don’t worry. If I get the part, you’ll get your life back in a couple months, max. If I don’t, you can go back tomorrow. You’ll forget any of this ever happened, forget we ever even met. And in the meantime, a tulpa will cover your shifts for you, or pick up if your mom calls. Don’t worry— this isn’t my first rodeo. If I get this callback,” she says, looking through her phone, “we’ll spend Valentine’s Day together, Corinne.”
Inside her, I can’t even smile.
Born and raised in Santa Cruz, California, Maya Lowy received her MFA in poetry at the University of New Orleans in 2016 and currently lives in Gloucestershire, UK, with her husband and dog. Her work can be found in Bacopa Literary Review, Triggerfish Critical Review, Sweet: A Literary Confection, Infection House, and other publications.
My Dearest Laurel
By: Sophie Kearing
My Dearest Laurel,
I just woke, begrudgingly, from dreaming of my favorite person: you. Although we’ve never voiced our affections aloud, I take comfort in your tacit knowing and gentle support. It’s always such a relief that we remain in agreement that talk of emotions, commitment, and the future would be nothing but drivel in the face of a love far too profound for such trivialities. But enough of this writing. I must to work, of course with the hope that we can squeeze in some private time today.
Yours Always, C.
I close my journal. Although I will never share these letters with her, I’m sure Laurel can feel the warm truth of my words in the very fiber of her being.
On my way to work, I pick up two coffees: mine black, El’s with the copious amounts of cream and sugar women find so pleasing. I don’t fault her for taking her coffee this way. Feminine indulgences can be quite charming.
Ten minutes later, I enter the hospital and take the elevator down. When the doors whoosh open, El is the first person I see. She sits at her desk, the guardian of all I hold dear. I place her coffee on the side of her computer that isn’t stacked with file folders. She’s on the phone but picks up the coffee and beams at me. I tip my head at her. El rarely leaves this area; she sits in her ergonomic office chair wearing a crisp lab coat and taking care of the dreaded P’s: paperwork and people. I, however, am off to the changing room for a surgical gown and plastic apron.
Once properly dressed, I push through a set of double doors and inhale deeply. It’s funny; even in the throes of the most crippling grief, people usually find it in them to complain about the smell down here. It’s really quite curious. This is a place that has cold chambers designed for adult bodies and small refrigerators with clear bins for tiny ones, mind you, and the only thing people ever comment on is the smell.
Morgues are woefully unappreciated places. But for me, this is heaven—an insular sub-level where my painstaking education and reverence for the dead has been put to good use. The scent permeating this space reminds me of the first time I dissected a fetal pig. Of course, I was given the highest of praises for both my scalpel work and my fastidious notes. So, to me, it doesn’t stink down here. It smells like my own meticulous competence.
In what I like to call my office, my assistant sets out my instruments while I introduce myself to our new patient, Robert Greaves, age 54. “Hi there, Mr. Greaves. I’m Dr. Clay. I’m a pathologist and I’ll be taking care of you today. Jeremy is here to assist. Let’s make sure you died the way your wife said you did, shall we?”
I’m distracted by movement in the corridor. El is leading a somber old man and woman well past the normal viewing room and toward the one connected to the subzero chambers. Panic courses through me.
“Mr. Greaves, if you’ll just excuse me for a moment,” I say to the patient. Then I ask my assistant, “What’s going on out there?”
“Ellen didn’t tell you? Jane Doe might finally be identified today. That couple—they came all the way from Denver—they’re most likely her parents. Can you believe it? That body’s been here over a year.”
I feel sick. This can’t be. “Please don’t refer to her as a body, Jeremy. You can call her Jane until we know her real name.”
But I don’t care what Jane Doe’s “real” name is. To me, her name is Laurel. I named her that the moment I laid eyes on her; she’s the woman I’ve been waiting for my entire life. In the name of love, I’ve done much to obscure the facts of Laurel’s case. That way, she can remain here with me, safely in her chamber. There’s no one out in the world who can cherish and protect her the way I can. If there was, she never would have ended up here in the first place…Jane Doe, age 42, a victim of foul play, the details of which will remain sealed in my heart for eternity.
I allow Jeremy to place some markings on Robert’s body while I pretend to take notes. But what I’ve actually scrawled on my pad is:
My Dearest Laurel,
I won’t let them take you from me. I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to keep you here, whether it be erecting so much red tape that you can’t be transported, or bribing your parents with my life savings. I even have a gold bar I can
There’s activity in the corridor again. The old woman is holding a tissue over her nose and mouth, tears seeping into the wrinkled white billow. “I knew I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up,” she sighs shakily. “Please, can we just get out of this hallway? The smell.”
I rip my letter to Laurel from the pad, crumple it, and shove it into my apron pocket. My assistant frowns at me.
“You’re doing an impeccable job, Jeremy. You stay here and carry on. I better get Jane Doe back into her chamber immediately.” A questioning look ripples through his features, but the allure of performing an autopsy unsupervised wins out, and he returns his focus to Mr. Greaves.
I wheel Laurel back into the subzero chamber room.
“My dearest!” I whisper. “That was a close one!”
I shut the door behind us and set to the task of putting a different body in Laurel’s old compartment. It’s nearly impossible, as this is a job usually done by two people. But it’s a necessary thing to do if I want to keep Laurel hidden from people who don’t deserve to lay eyes on her. Only once I’ve managed to get her situated in her new compartment do I allow myself to take pleasure in the sliding of my hands over her cold, beautiful skin.
“There. Now you’re safe,” I coo. “I told you, my dearest. I’ll never let them separate us.”
Sophie’s a writer of long tweets and short fiction. Her work has been featured by Horror Tree, Lumiere Review, Ellipsis Zine, Jolly Horror Press, Popshot Quarterly, Litro UK, Isele Magazine, New Pop Lit, Lunate Literary Journal, Pigeon Review, Roi Faineant Literary Press, and other publications. In November 2023 her work will be featured in Black Spot Books’ UNDER HER EYE: A WOMEN IN HORROR POETRY COLLECTION. She’d love to connect with you on Twitter @Sophiekearing.
By Steven Holding
I will never leave you.
Not the first words she said to him. Not the last. But of the millions traded, the ones he would always return to. A sentence, whispered upon a beautiful day. One of those rare occasions that rub against the edges of perfection. The sprawling green of an empty field, a summer’s picnic, a bottle of wine. Opening it, she slipped and sliced her thumb. When he took her hand in his, lips placing a tender kiss upon her wound, she pressed her mouth to his ear.
I will never leave you.
Until then the pace had been slow: tiptoeing through delicate early days. She’d been hurt before. It was there, in her, all the time. A look in the eyes. She would stare into the distance at the end of a conversation, searching the horizon for something he could never see. He thought he understood; felt that he was no stranger to suffering. He had learned the hard way that people sometimes play with people, and that nothing can prepare you when the love you once felt turns into something hard and bitter.
But, despite these insecurities, they still found each other. Found the strength to take a chance on each other. And so, the sentence was given. The words, once heard, felt as if they might have been in existence forever. As if they had been floating around the ether, waiting for her to pluck them, bring them down to Earth and give them form and shape. To cement their meaning, purely through the act of saying them.
Things began to move quickly then, and they were both pleased about that. The usual developments, small and simple, but important when they happen in your own life. A drawer for his things at her place. A toothbrush in the bathroom cabinet at his. Meeting his friends. Meeting her family. Before they knew it, they were living together. A brand-new home. A fresh start in a neutral space, free from the drag of old memories. If either of them had been asked, neither would have felt any shame in using the word happy.
Life was good to them. There were ups and downs, but for every problem, the outcome always seemed sweet. Their careers were on the ascendancy. They had money. They both worked hard, but, most importantly, always made time for each other. So, it made perfect sense to get married.
They loved each other.
When she said she was pregnant, he didn’t react how he thought he would. There was no sense of fear, no worry about the pressures and responsibilities such a monumental change might bring. He was surprised at how simple it was. They were both blessed. Sharing that with someone else felt like a natural thing to do.
A baby girl was born. She was immaculate; pure and wonderful, like every new-born, and when she arrived everything finally fell into place. With his family came an understanding, a sense of perspective, that his younger self would never have comprehended. The doubts and worries that had plagued him melted away, until the person that he now was stood unrecognisable next to the person he had once been. The two of them had altered his life forever. It felt as if his real story had begun, and now that it had started, there was no way of stopping it. The words of their life flowed continuously, and he could do nothing to halt their movement. Why on Earth would he ever want to?
Existence, of course, is a balancing act. A case of maintaining equilibrium in all aspects of your life. Place too much emphasis on one area and it is inevitable that something else will begin to suffer. Some of us are better equipped than others when it comes to this. Some have the skill and technique of a seasoned circus performer. They can walk the high wire with deceptive ease, rarely putting a foot out of place.
This was never one of his strengths.
He was blinded, as so many are, by the false promises that he told himself. Manipulating the truth to justify his own actions. When he found himself pulling another late night at the office, sweating away over a laptop crunching a never-ending list of numbers, he pushed away the disappointment that he heard in her voice. The soft sigh made as he called home again to tell her he was going to miss dinner. Because he knew that he was making sacrifices for their benefit. Working hard to provide a better future for all of them. And every time it happened it became just that little bit easier to do. Working away overnight, more overtime at the weekend, feeding first himself and then her the usual lines.
Just once more.
I’ll make up for it next week.
He missed so much. First tooth. First words. First steps.
He failed to see this as a problem.
Time belongs to no man. It just accelerates. It is relentless in its progression. It was a Thursday afternoon when circumstance conspired to make him acutely aware of this. He would never know for certain whether the car crash that took them was a quick and painless affair. Not that it mattered. In the image that constantly looped in his head after their accident, it most certainly was not.
The first few weeks passed in a haze. Her parents said that they would arrange everything, but he politely declined their offer. As unreal as it felt to be conversing with an undertaker, he was glad just to have something, anything, to keep him busy and prevent him from thinking. And when the last of the corned beef sandwiches had been consumed, and the last of the guests had shaken him firmly by the hand, he was finally left alone in a house that was no longer a home.
Maintaining appearances became a full-time occupation. At work and in the street, he quickly mastered the art of presenting the facade of someone who was coping. Behind locked doors it was a different matter. Even then, the casual observer would have been hard pushed to recognise a man at his breaking point. There was no sobbing. No alcohol fuelled rages. Just endless, silent contemplation. Every night the blank beige walls of his living room became a screen. The kaleidoscopic pictures projected did nothing except torment him; her five whispered words a constant mantra sound tracking his hurt.
Days became weeks and then months. As he spiralled further downwards autumn came and went unnoticed. He remained quietly oblivious to nature, focused as he was upon his own personal season in hell, happily embracing his demons. Question after question. Each, of course, unanswerable. And out of all of them, one that burnt the brightest, cut the deepest, bit the hardest.
If you were never going to leave, then where are you now?
He was aware that the countless pills his doctor had prescribed would do nothing to lessen the pain of this conundrum. He knew that solutions were not to be discovered at the bottom of a bottle. But, as his sorrow became sadness, then madness and finally just tiredness, he decided that a combination of the two might provide everything that he needed.
He drank and swallowed until he could do neither anymore.
The white light that engulfed him was more painful than he could have ever imagined. For the briefest of moments, he was blissfully unsure. The acrid stench of bile was a clear indication that he was still firmly anchored to this world. He could no longer hold back his tears. A flood unlike any other; heart wrenching sob after heart wrenching sob, primal howls that made every inch of muscle, every piece of ligament, shudder. Until finally, thankfully, he was spent. Lying inanimate; a used and empty husk.
And still, he had to go on.
He struggled to pull himself up. To wipe the muck from his face as he surveyed the mess that surrounded him. As he collapsed upon the sofa, wincing at the assault upon his senses, he realised that his blurred vision was not solely to be blamed upon the liquor. His glasses, undamaged and neatly folded, sitting upon the mantlepiece above the fireplace. He had no recollection of placing them there. With the heaviest of sighs, he retrieved them; then, a momentary pause as something caught his eye.
In the middle of the left-hand lens. An oval smudge that looked strangely familiar. Perplexed, he held the spectacles up to the window, allowing fractured daylight to pass through the glass and illuminate the marking, revealing its true nature.
Each line, each whorl, every trough and marking perfectly presented. Exact in its precision, captured, like an imprint in amber or a fossil found upon an empty beach. As held the glasses in his trembling hands, he couldn’t help but notice the thin line that ran down the centre of the imprint like a lightning bolt. And in that moment, knew that it was not his own.
As the world continued to turn, he remained motionless for a very long time, waiting to summon the courage to consider the significance of his discovery.
Steven Holding lives in the United Kingdom. Most recently, his stories have appeared in the collections ANNIHILATION from Black Ink Fiction and DARK MOMENTS YEAR FOUR from Black Hare Press. You can follow his work at www.stevenholding.co.uk.
Baby, I’m Yours
By Jason Fischer
“I can make all your fear go away.” The sounds of the bar and its patrons geared up for Valentine’s Day bounced off the walls, filling the room with kinetic energy. Carrie slowly leaned in closer, staring directly at Martin, selling the point with her piercing stare. “It will come at a price, though.”
The look she gave took Martin aback. It was as if she was peeking into a part of him that nobody else knew existed. It had been like this since they met a month ago. Everything else in life had become secondary. He could think of nothing other than her. Coupled with the longing was a warning bell that something was off about her. His brain urged him not to dig into the darkness he sometimes glimpsed with her. Timidly, he asked, “What… kind of price?”
“The type everyone thinks they are willing to pay.” An Italian crooner was blasting through the cheap speakers, singing about love and the moon. “Until the debt comes due.”
She crossed her legs, the nylon brushing against him. Electricity shot up his spine, making him feel slightly dizzy, like the buzz from the first sip of hard liquor. As he responded, a door opened in the distance, shooting cold air into the room. The group raised the decibel level with their enthusiasm.
Martin chose the bar because it was the place he had his first date with Carrie. He couldn’t believe that she was still interested. Women like her never ended up with men like him. Trying to process what the very attractive woman was saying, he wished he would have chosen a more private setting.
She leaned in, her warm lips brushed his earlobe. “Let’s get out of here.
Not waiting for an answer, she grabbed his hand and started to walk away. Martin reached into his pocket and threw a twenty on the bar. Thinking of carnal pleasures, he followed her.
Less than a half hour later, they were in his bed. She pulled back from his kiss.
She smelled like flowers and something less desirable he didn’t recognize. Licking away her lipstick, he leaned in for more.
Placing her fingers on his lips, she whispered, “If we make love, you need to understand what you are getting yourself into.”
Oh, I know. Martin thought of her earlier promise and how she had been nearly stalking him. Even if the whole thing was a horrible idea, he wanted her so badly it hurt. He leaned in again. She pulled back far enough they were barely touching. Her warmth gone, he felt desperate.
“If you sleep with me, your anxiety will leave you.”
“I’m sure it will.” Feeling self-conscious, he turned slightly to his right, hiding the birthmark on his chest from the dim light from the corner of the room.
“I need you to be free so we can be together as we are destined.”
The intensity of her attachment scared him, but he couldn’t back away. Fighting his instinct, he asked, “Free me from what?”
“Once you are in me, all will change.”
His body ached as he thought of making love to her. “Good.” He couldn’t control himself anymore. Leaning in, he nuzzled his head into her neck and began kissing. “Please, I need you.” His voice made him sound like a whining child.
“If you consent, then I’m yours.”
Twenty minutes later, they lay covered in sweat.
Martin, after his breathing was under control, looked over at her. The only lights in the room were from the tiny plastic Christmas tree that was in the corner of his studio apartment. He had been too busy with work, managing his mental health, and trying to finish his degree to put them away. Only one ornament hung on it. It was the one his grandmother had given him as a child. The Sesame Street logo had his name hand painted to the bottom. When she gave it to him, he honestly believed it was painted by Grover. It was the only sentimental item he owned, not from his meager earnings but from his limited emotional capacity.
Noticing her look of concern, he said, “Look, you’ve nothing to worry about. I would never tell the clinic about any of this.”
She rubbed her belly slowly up and down, grimacing. “I don’t care about the clinic. I told you I only took the job to meet you.”
“Then what was all that you said earlier about taking away my anxiety?”
“Martin. Your life is going to change.”
If only. “I hope so.” His eye twitched. The words made him feel weak.
“Yes, as soon as the baby comes.”
The statement was so out of place that he quickly felt nauseous. He sat up swiftly, pulling away. “What?”
“When the baby comes, you will finally have release from all the pain.”
That’s why she is interested in me, she’s crazy. “What baby?!” Martin felt tension seize his heart, making it feel like it was going to stop. As he fought to find his next words in the frantic mess that were his thoughts, he stared at Carrie. In the darkness, she looked like a stranger lying next to him. She was caressing her belly with both hands. It looked like it had doubled in size. “Hey, are you alright?”
He reached to touch her, and she made a snarling noise like an animal. Her lips peeled back, showing glistening teeth. “Don’t!”
His hand recoiled into his chest as it would from a hot flame. Martin wanted to leave, to get far away from the growing anxiety. Timidly, he whispered, “Really, are you… sick or something?”
She turned away from him, making a moaning noise. Finally, after the echo died down, she said in a voice that seemed deeper than hers, “I just need to rest.”
He responded, “Okay.” Feeling like he just did something very wrong, he turned and stared at the opposite wall. Laying in the silence, he had a dozen questions, but couldn’t summon the courage to get a single one out. After a half hour of listening to her labored breathing, he drifted off to sleep, the adrenaline finally slightly ebbing.
There was a shrill cry somewhere in the distance. Martin woke panicked, his brain trying to catch up with his auditory memory. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he remembered Carrie, the anxiety ramping immediately back up. Turning, the bed was empty. Another cry came from the direction of the bathroom. Gulping back the bile that was burning his throat, he swung out of bed in only his boxer shorts and walked to the door with his head pounding.
A tiny thought quickly flickered somewhere in the panic, echoing it’s the baby over and over again. Taking a deep breath, he entered the bathroom and flicked the light switch on. In the bathtub was a baby covered in blood. The moment its head turned toward Martin, its crying stopped. With dark reflective eyes, it stared through Martin.
“What the f -?” Panicked, he stepped backwards. There was nowhere to hide in the tiny apartment, but his eyes swept every inch. Fear propelled him toward the door, but he couldn’t leave. Behind him was the wailing of a child.
He walked slowly back into the bathroom, and the child raised its arms when it saw Martin. It no longer looked like a newborn. Somehow, it looked as if a year had passed.
He knew he should pick up the child and comfort it, but he couldn’t. Staring at its chest, he noticed a birthmark in the shape of a star. Without thinking, Martin brought his hand to his own chest, touching his matching birthmark.
The child blinked and opened its eyes wide. Chubby fingers stretched and grabbed the edge of the tub and began awkwardly pulling itself out.
“Don’t, do that!”
The child paused, staring. It opened its mouth, and its teeth were sharp points.
Behind him, Martin’s phone rang, making him jump.
He closed the door to the bathroom just as the child was climbing over the lip of the tub.
A call came from an unknown number. He answered, and a familiar voice came over the line. “I told you I would help you.”
“What is going on?!” There was a scratching at the bathroom door.
“It’s our only chance at living a normal life, Martin.”
“I don’t know what you think you are doing, but I need you to get that, that… thing out of here.” He looked back in the direction of the bathroom. The doorknob was slowly twisting.
“I can’t take him. He belongs to you now.”
“Look, you obviously need help. I don’t want to cause you trouble, but if I have to, I will call the police.”
“And tell them what?”
“What?!” The anxiety was making him dizzy. Taking quick breaths, he said, “How could it be mine?!” Or yours?
“You know who’s baby it is. Look at its chest.”
He wanted to strangle her through the phone. The love he felt toward her only moments ago was disintegrating in fractions, leaving him feeling frightened and drained. “Please. This isn’t funny. Why are you doing this?” And how?
“To help you get better, Martin. So we can be together.”
Martin closed his eyes, seeing the image of her face. It was as if she was there in the room.
“You only have a few hours.”
“Until he grows to match your current being. Once he does, you will have to make a choice.”
“Martin, he is all of your future fear. Once he is fully grown, you will have the opportunity to free yourself.”
“How?” He thought of the birthmark and the fear in the child’s expression, making his hands shake.
“I can’t easily explain. All you need to know is that you will have to kill him.”
“Believe what you want. It will not change what the next few hours will bring.”
Martin took a tentative step backward. He needed to be away from this woman and the child. In the corner of his eye, he saw the baby walking out of the bathroom. It looked like a toddler now. As his features filled in, he looked exactly like Martin at that age. “How is that possible?” He brought his hand to his mouth as if he was trying to stop the words. Feeling if they remained inside him, he could be delusional for a while longer.
“Martin, all that you need to know is that after a few hours, that child will catch up to your age. Once that happens, just one of you can move forward. Only one of you can be alive at the end of this cycle.”
“Why would you do this?” His voice cracked on the last word.
“When we first spoke, you told me you would do anything to be free of the anxiety. That it would keep you from being with me. At that moment I knew we were meant to be together. You aren’t like the others all talk and no action. You are my soul mate.”
The sincerity in her voice scared him almost as much as the growing child.
“Since I was young, I’ve had the gift to make my lovers fear tangible. I finally understand why I have been blessed with this ability. It will allow us freedom now and forever.”
The child kept walking toward him on wobbly legs. Martin screamed, “Why are you doing this?!”
“Because we’re meant to be together, Martin. I know now that is why I can heal you. Please do the right thing. Please be mine.”
The call disconnected.
He tried to call back, it went to a dead line. The child was less than a foot from him now, making small, anguished strides.
“Get away from me!” He shooed with his hand the way one would a dog. The child kept coming with a determined look on its face. Martin hopped on the bed and rolled gaining distance.
He grabbed his wallet and keys and ran to the door. He needed a few minutes to think. His heart beat so rapidly it felt as if it was trying to pound itself out of his ears. Looking back, he thought of tying up the child instead of leaving, but the thought of touching it made him tremble.
Staring into its eyes, his own eyes, he knew what she said was true. It wasn’t a logical thought, more like instinct. Feeling much the same as love. Nearly tangible and irrational. Looking at it, he couldn’t leave. Something held him there.
Walking in an arc to avoid the child, he went to the bed and sat down. What if this was the opportunity to free himself of anxiety once and for all? He wanted to laugh, but nothing came, leaving emptiness.
The child advanced. Martin grabbed a belt from his dresser, slowly wrapping it around his hands as he stared at the child’s neck.
He didn’t think he had the strength to do what needed to be done, but when he thought of Carrie and her touch, he took a step closer. Knowing he couldn’t live without her, he gripped the belt tighter, trying to prepare himself to kill a piece of himself to be with his soul mate…
Jason Fischer is a writer, reader, and lifelong anthology fan. His library is overflowing with everything and anything suspense from horror to crime. When not writing, you can find Jason biking the trails around his home, playing with his nephews, adding to his VHS collection, or on the deck feeding the deer and enjoying nature. His mystery short story, “The Suitcase” appears in A Hint of Hitchcock for Black Beacon Books and horror short story “Treats” appears in “Halloween Horrors” for Black Widow Press. His website is http://www.jasonfischerauthor.com.
Valentine’s Nightmare: Surviving Millfield Asylum
By Angela Dee
It was a cold and blustery Valentine’s Day evening in the quaint town of Millfield. As the sun dipped behind the horizon, the sky turned pink and red – painting the abandoned Millfield Asylum in an ominous glow. The streets were bustling with couples holding hands, exchanging gifts, and making plans for the night ahead. But for Jenny and Michael, the night would take a terrifying turn as they embarked on an adventure to the old, abandoned asylum.
The asylum was a grand Victorian building that had been there for over a hundred years. But unfortunately, its Gothic architecture fell apart, and its windows were boarded up. The couple had heard stories about the asylum’s dark past, about people who had been sent there by mistake, and about experiments done on them, but that didn’t stop them. Instead, the scary stories piqued their interest and made them want to try something different.
As they walked through the overgrown lawns and approached the entrance, the hairs on the back of their necks stood on end. The front doors of the asylum were slightly ajar, and they could see the shadows of debris and cobwebs dancing inside. They stepped inside, the musty smell of mold and decay filling their nostrils. The floors creaked beneath their feet, and they could see the peeling wallpaper and rusted metal bars on the windows, which only added to the eerie atmosphere.
They made their way down a dimly lit corridor. Their flashlights’ shadows on the walls were spooky. The old wallpaper had turned yellow, and the paint had chipped off in places, revealing the brickwork underneath. As they walked, they couldn’t help but feel a sense of unease, as if they were being watched. Then they heard strange noises behind closed doors—muffled screams and sobs. Jenny suggested they leave, but Michael was determined to see what was inside.
They came across a locked room, and they could hear strange noises from inside. Michael found a crowbar and, after some effort, pried the door open. The room was dark, but they could make out the silhouette of a figure sitting in the corner. As their eyes adjusted to the darkness, they realized it was a woman with long, tangled hair and a vacant expression. She was holding a teddy bear and muttering to herself. Her eyes were black pools, empty and soulless, and her skin was pale, almost translucent. She was rocking back and forth as if in a trance, and her clothes were tattered and filthy.
Jenny and Michael were horrified, and they quickly backed out of the room, but the woman suddenly lunged at them. They managed to slam the door shut and run down the hallway as fast as they could. Finally, they reached the exit, but the door was locked and wouldn’t budge. They were trapped, and the woman was getting closer. They could hear her maniacal laughter echoing through the halls, the sound growing louder and more frantic with each passing moment. They searched frantically for a way out, but the asylum seemed to have a life of its own, shifting and twisting around them.
A figure could be seen in the distance as they rounded a corner. It was a man. His clothes were tattered, and his hair was wild and unkempt. He was staring at them with a blank expression on his face. They tried to run, but he was too fast. He reached out, grabbed Jenny’s arm, and pulled her towards him. She screamed, but her cries were muffled by the man’s hand. Michael tried to fight the man off, but he was too strong. The man started to speak, but his voice was hoarse and garbled. It took a moment for Jenny and Michael to realize that he was trying to communicate with them. He pointed to a door hidden behind a stack of old crates and gestured for them to follow him.
They had no other choice but to trust him. The man led them through the door where they found themselves in a long, narrow passageway. The walls were made of rough stone blocks, and the floor was damp and mossy. They could hear the sound of water dripping from somewhere in the distance. The man walked ahead of them, his footsteps echoing in the silence.
As they followed the man deeper into the asylum, they began noticing the eerie details they had missed. The paintings on the walls were twisted and grotesque, depicting twisted, mutilated figures. The light fixtures flickered and buzzed, casting an eerie glow over everything. They could hear something moving in the shadows, but when they turned to look, there was nothing there.
They soon came across a room with a large metal door. The man gestured for them to enter. Inside, they found rows of beds with straps and restraints attached to them. The room was cold and damp, and they could see mold growing on the walls. They could also smell something terrible—a smell of decay and rot. Jenny gagged and covered her mouth and nose, trying to hold back the nausea that was rising in her throat.
As they looked closer, they saw that the beds were occupied. The patients were emaciated, and their skin stretched tightly over their bones. They were moaning and twitching – their eyes rolling back in their heads. They could see the bruises and marks on their skin, evidence of the cruel treatments they had been subjected to. Jenny and Michael were horrified and couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
They turned to leave, but the man was gone. They were trapped in the room, and the patients started to stir. They could hear their raspy breathing and the sound of their chains clanking against the beds. They could see their eyes, cloudy and milky white, staring at them. They knew they had to get out of there, but the door was locked, and they couldn’t find a way to open it. They were trapped, and the patients were getting closer.
Jenny and Michael knew that they were running out of time. They searched frantically for a way out, but the room seemed to be closing in on them. The patients were getting closer, and their moans and groans became louder and more frantic. Suddenly, Jenny remembered the crowbar that Michael had used to open the door earlier. She grabbed it and used it to pry the door open. They stumbled out into the corridor- the sound of the patients’ screams and the clanking of chains echoing behind them.
They ran down the corridor and refused to look back. They could hear something chasing them—something fast and relentless. They could see the exit in the distance, but it seemed so far away. They were running out of breath, their hearts pounding in their chests. They could feel something hot and wet on their faces, and they realized they were both bleeding from cuts and scrapes from running through the asylum.
Ultimately, they reached the exit. They pushed the door open and stumbled into the cold, blustery night. They collapsed on the ground, their breath coming in ragged gasps. They hugged each other, tears streaming down their faces, grateful to be alive.
They got up, walked away from the asylum, and never returned. They knew that what they had experienced was something they could never forget and didn’t want to relive it again. They knew the horrors lurking within that asylum’s walls and were content to leave them behind. But as they walked away, they couldn’t shake off the feeling that they were being watched. They looked back and saw the asylum’s windows glowing with an eerie light. They could hear strange noises from inside, as if the patients and the spirits that haunted the place were still trapped there.
They picked up the pace, their hearts pounding in their chests as they hurried down the street. They could feel a cold sweat breaking out on their foreheads as the fear of being caught by whatever was inside the asylum was gnawing at them. They knew they had to get away as fast as they could. They reached the edge of the town and started to run, not looking back until they were sure they were safe.
Making Ends Meat
By Philip Finkelstein
I slide the knife downwards with force, the clean steel shining in the dim light before slicing through raw flesh. The kitchen has a distinct aroma—a fetor of composting vegetables and stale garbage. There’s a small linoleum counter with two wooden stools where my family eats dinner, and, by family, I mean my father and me. A gourmet meal such as this is hard to fathom in our hungry hovel. To have chicken, let alone beef, is a luxury not typically indulged upon by my kind. I don’t know how my father can afford steak on a janitor’s wage, but I’m not about to question the fact while my mouth salivates like a hyena’s over a carcass preordained to the lion pride. To put it in perspective, I still remember my father’s dismissive glare when I asked for a forty-dollar New York sirloin at the local steakhouse. He didn’t say anything, though the air around him was palpable with a gritty forbiddance; after all, the cost of that one strip would feed us for a week. We ended up only ordering appetizers and haven’t been back since. I wish I could dine out eating that exquisite shit like the rich pricks on television, but I wasn’t born into a privileged life.
My mother died giving birth to her only child. She was seventeen at the time, my father a year older. He tells me they were high school sweethearts to justify the early pregnancy. More likely, I was the result of a broken condom during a bathroom fuck between classes. I was raised by my father, and though I want to believe he loves me, there has always been a looming resentment for having killed his wife, to whom he proposed after learning she was with child. It’s for that reason I never dug too deep into the story of how I came to be. After her death, he dropped out of school his senior year and went to work at a gas station. He never remarried.
I go to the same high school that my parents went to, but unlike their love story there are no special girls in my life to knock up. Not many friends either. I have to admit – I kind of like it that way. Focusing on my school work helps keep my grades up so that in two years I can receive my diploma and make something of my life. If being a poor nobody has taught me anything, it’s how to work hard so one day I won’t be. I know, pretty obvious. It just makes me frustrated when I see the kids from the affluent part of town slacking off without a worry in the world because their parents are doctors and lawyers with cars more expensive than my house.
By the time my father gets home from his work shift at the town mall, supper is waiting on the counter with a can of cold beer. He feigns a smile, his tired face wrinkling with the expression, as he walks through the front door. His beard is dirty and disorganized, as is his hair, expected of a custodian. Planting himself on the empty stool, he sighs. The steak steams to the sound of a cracked ale.
I turn to him with enthusiasm: “This is some kinda meal you got, Pa. Good day?”
He cuts into the bloody meat, seemingly annoyed or maybe just tired. “Thanks for makin’ chow…” He chews. “I’ve got the nightshift at your school in an hour.”
“I thought you were done for the night? You worked all day.”
“They offered me some extra shifts down at the school and I took ’em. Better for us both so we can keep eatin’ this beef, which is goddamn delectable by the way.”
I chuckle uneasily. “Yeah alright, it is pretty good if I do say so myself.”
“I’m lucky to have you ’round, ya know that?”
His softheartedness catches me off guard, straining my ability to respond. “Thanks dad, I… I ‘preciate how hard you’ve been workin’ for us.”
He grunts while swigging his brew. “I won’t be back till close to mornin’. You have any plans tonight?”
“Not really, finished my homework so not much to do,” I say, hoping to earn a morsel of paternal praise.
There’s a long pause as he devours his meal. He utters, “Atta boy,” and disappears into the bathroom. From behind the door, he yells to me, “Keep on and have a cold one if you’d like,” which swells my chest with pride.
Before I even put the dishes in the sink, I hear my father’s pickup roll out of our decrepit driveway and into the rainy night. The plates are cleaned, a beer is humbly withdrawn from an otherwise barren fridge, and I settle onto the crumb-ridden sofa, only to skim through the low-class drivel customary of local programming. As my mind wanders so do my eyes, noticing the answering machine blinking on the cheap wooden desk along the wall.
“Hello there, this is the Reichmanns. Sorry for the late notice, but our flight back was delayed and we won’t be able to make it home tonight. If anyone is there, uh, we’d really appreciate it if you could go over and feed our cat. Our house sitter can’t make it tonight, but the food should just be on the kitchen table and there’s a key under the mat by the front door. Thanks so much and don’t worry if you can’t make it. Have a nice night.”
Listening to the voicemail invokes an exciting prospect. I so rarely have the opportunity to visit my neighbor’s house, which is a palace compared to our little shack. I could see what they had to eat and watch some premium entertainment on their big flatscreen. This was the third time I had been invited to my neighbor’s: once before for dinner and once to feed their dumb cat. They gave me twenty bucks last time too, which was nice.
I grab a jacket and head across the unlit street. Clouds cover the moon and pour torrential rain. By the time I get to their front porch, my jacket is soaked like a marinated roast. Inside, the house is clean and spacious. It makes me envious of the over-privileged cat that lives better than my father and me. I fill the feline’s dish with food, as well my own with all sorts of goodies from the fridge and cabinets. I lounge on the leather sofa in sweet delight and begin flicking through channels yet again, this time on a much larger and clearer screen.
After hours of watching high-definition action in surround sound, I’m ready to go home when the night sky flashes white and seconds later booms with thunder. The house rumbles and before I have a chance to ascend from my seat, everything goes black—power is lost. Clueless to my surroundings in the foreign abode, and already exhausted, the comforts of the couch overtake me. I can return to squalor in the early morning, I tell myself. Besides, this sofa is softer than my lousy mattress. The cat purrs from somewhere nearby, succoring me into a deep, cozy slumber.
I see a beautiful woman on the far side of a boulevard with long, straight, auburn hair. Her face resembles a picture of my mother’s, which sits on my father’s nightstand. She turns, beaming at me with lustrous affection. My toes tingle numbly with each step toward her alluring simper, my heart pounding frantically in excitement. The encompassing darkness births light from above, drawing me into the divide, when the silence is suddenly pierced by a girlish scream. My mouth clamps down, unaware if it was my own fearful holler that broke the quiet night. From a distance, car headlights draw nearer. The celestial glow evanesces, diminishing me to the pavement amid the vermin. I attempt to rise up, but the numbness has taken hold, paralyzing my body. My mind, however, races on, as does the car. “Oh my God,” I shout in deathly horror. I try to roll, my torso teetering back-and-forth like a half-empty bottle on the gutter’s edge. The vehicle is almost on me as I toss and turn in utter desperation. BAAANG!
My eyes open to an indistinct chamber, face on a soft rug. Lightning explodes outside, ephemerally displaying the Reichmann’s regal den. The sound of footsteps and an unusually cold breeze fill the room. Lying motionless, jammed into the crevice between the coffee table and sofa, I ponder my plummeted position as I catch my breath. My heart pumps rapidly as if sensing impending doom. In the dimness, legs strut across the horizon of stacked magazines on the coffee table’s lower shelf. I hear pattering on the sofa’s leather, too afraid to turn around. Impact from above immobilizes me with fear – nails digging into my back through my wool sweater. The prickly sensation travels up my spine to my head, soft tail swiping my face on departure. Damn cat nearly scared me to death. From a different room, presumably the kitchen, rattling and clanking symphonize aloud with the storm. I sit up timidly and peak out over the couch. The room flashes bright again, followed by the roar of thunder. Rain blows in through a shattered sliding glass door. Shaking, I move cautiously to an alcove in the corner, taking care to avoid the broken glass strewed about the carpet, and peer down the hallway. Coming from the entrance to the kitchen, I see a flashlight’s beam dancing in the shadows.
It’s not my responsibility to stop a burglar. This isn’t even my house—like there’s anything to steal from mine anyways. Having awaited visual adjustment to the gloom long enough, I tiptoe up the corridor. The kitchen is now quiet, so I enter, crouching low beneath the countertops. Remembering a knife set from earlier in the evening on the island next to the cat food, I sail across the sea of polished wood flooring. My hand reaches for the knife with the biggest handle: a steak knife. I hope not to use it, but I grasp it tight just in case. Staying still for what seems like an eternity, my panting subsides, though the struggle remains in listening for signs of an intruder over the thumping of my own heart.
This is all in my head. A bad dream and stray tree branch in the wind can explain everything. What about the flashlight? No, it was my mind playing tricks—simply moonlight reflections. Regaining a sense of clarity and composure, I step into the lengthy foyer. My newfound courage is fleeting, however, as I begin lightly sprinting for the front door with the same urgency a child has when their imagination runs amuck with pursuant demons in the dark. Passed the bathroom and the office, I’ve almost made my escape. Without even putting on my shoes, I lunge for the doorknob. As my fingers land on the cold metal, a firm grip clasps down on my shoulder. This time I’m certain that it isn’t the cat. Unwilling to submit, I instinctively swing my arm around to break free, my hand still clutching the knife. The blade slices through raw flesh. My opponent grunts in agony and collapses to the ground. I crawl away from the assailant and tremble in disbelief.
My sobbing is interrupted by laughter from the television in the living room. The power has been restored. Slowly standing up with the help of the wall, I search for a light switch, finding one for the chandelier directly overhead. Under illumination, I observe a body in a crimson pool only feet from the front door. I make my way toward the lifeless figure, knife sticking straight out of its chest, to look upon a masked face.
Beside the slain, a sack of stolen goods has scattered the stage, some of the contents and bag soaking up the gore. The display disgusts me such that I gag repetitively and then vomit, falling to my knees aside the departed. I edge closer to the satchel, feeling a familiar numb tingle while scouring within. The mind does everything in its power to suppress the truth, but even the gravest distortion cannot deny my touch: a piece of packaged meat as tender as a mother’s love, alas not my own. A New York sirloin to be precise, similar to the one I’d made for dinner. My heart stops as if pierced by the very knife just wielded. As the veil is raised, a disheveled beard gives way to a wonted view: an empty gaze, aloof and unloving. I stare into the face of my own father.
Blood drips from the corner of his mouth as I ease my hand over his worn eyelids and lower my head to the floor. My cries rival the thunder of the passing storm. I wonder whether he was even a janitor, or if it was all just a lie to cover up stealing to feed his only son – a son that stabbed him in the heart long ago, finally finishing the job. Never a lion, undeserving of love, for I killed my mother and my father.
Philip Finkelstein is a freelance writer across political, technology, travel, culture, and fiction fields. Since graduating from the University of British Columbia in 2017 with a BA in political science, he has lived around the world while writing for online publications, news sites, political organizations, and businesses. Now based in NYC, Phil is in the process of publishing his debut novel—a dystopian thriller about American cultural polarization and geopolitical tensions with Russia and China. Read more of his work at philipfinkelstein.com.
“Don’t think stupid Cupid’s gonna save you,” said Danny, opening a St. Valentine’s card featuring the lovers’ champion. “It’s my dinner I want.”
“I slept when I got back from work,” Hayley pleaded.
Danny replied with slaps, kicks and punches.
Sobbing, Hayley left for her mother’s.
That night, Danny awoke on the sofa, in darkness, still drunk on whisky. He switched on a table lamp. His shadow projected onto the wall. Beside it was the shadow of a podgy cherub, armed with a bow, aiming an arrow at Danny’s shadow-heart.
“Happy St. Valentine’s Day,” Cupid’s voice hissed from the darkness.
Paul A. Freeman is the author of Rumours of Ophir, a crime novel which was taught at ‘O’ level in Zimbabwean high schools and has been translated into German.
In addition to having two novels, a children’s book and an 18,000-word narrative poem (Robin Hood and Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers!) commercially published, Paul is the author of hundres of published short stories, poems and articles.
He resides in Abu Dhabi.
Leslie’s Wish For Love
Leslie heard Tiffany’s stilettos click as she came down the street. Before she turned the corner, he clutched the monkey’s paw and wished. “Make me someone she’ll love, someone she’ll want in bed every night.”
Dizziness swamped him. He dropped the talisman. When he opened his eyes, he was staring at Tiffany’s pumps. He had shrunk! He reached out his hand…which was now a white paw.
“Oh, you’re adorable!” Tiffany cooed. She picked him up and cuddled him “You can sleep by me every night!”
Wesley tried to protest, but all that came out of his mouth was “Meow!”
One of my favorite stories is “The Monkey’s Paw”, and when you cross it with Valentine’s Day, well…you might end up like poor Leslie. I have been published in “Haunts”, “Ravenelectric”, “The Midnight Gallery” and “Kansas Heritage Magazine”. My father’s name was Merlin; however, his father was not the Devil (no matter what Grandma says.) In my spare time, I keep an eye on the Cthulu Tree and avoid the Stairway of Peril.
“Just a little further…” I tease over my shoulder. Sparse branches shift when he steps into the clearing. “Okay, take it off. Shoes too.”
He leers, grinning like a wolf, and strips. “Damn, you’re really into nature, huh?”
“I wanted the trees to watch.” That obviously pleases him. I place my hand on a gnarled hawthorn. She is pleased, too.
Hungry roots leap from the soil. Branches pin and stab while he screams. My mothers drain his sap, regaining their lush crowns—an early spring. “You’ve done well, daughter.”
The whistling wind sweeps away his husk to join the others.
LL Garland enjoys gaming, writing speculative fiction, and exploring deep, dark woods. She?s been called ?disturbingly competitive? at all three. She lives in a house with three dogs and two libraries – a fancy one for show, and a hidden one for the weird stuff. You can find her lurking on Twitter and Instagram: @ll_garland.
All of Chuck’s friends warned him he’d fall in love with the wrong girl one day. It was an indictment more on his naivety than his personality. When the advertisement for the “Valentine’s Sight Unseen Mixer” popped up in his feed, he should have remembered their admonishment.
Instead, Chuck put on his best suit and headed out to the event. The dark ballroom, the heavy-tone acoustic music, and the inordinate number of people with Transylvania accents seemed odd.
It was love, he decided, after one dance. His friends were correct, he decided later, as the fangs slid into his neck.
Don Money writes stories across a variety of genres. He is a middle school language arts teacher. His short stories have been published in a variety of anthologies including The Vault of Terror, Trembling With Fear, with Shacklebound Books, with Black Hare Press, with Black Ink Fiction, and in Troopers magazine and Martian magazine. Don can be found on Twitter @donmoneywriting.
Heart. Usual shape. Usual shine. A slight misalignment as if hastily wrapped. Not quite display quality, but close enough.
This is about transport, not perfection. Away from the skin-crawling noise and soul-crashing lights, to the surprising soft dark center. Into a completely different flavour.
Ready. Relax. Peel carefully – make sure the covering releases completely. Smell the sea-mist and stirred-in sighs. Eyes closed, slip it on your tongue. Stay still while it melts. Slowly, slowly. Suffusing.
Unrecognizable. Gone from the loud bright world.
Except for a glint of foil, left to tempt another traveler.
Abra Hanen lives and writes on the west coast of Canada, with part of her heart always pointed toward chocolate and adventures of the imagination. Her work has previously appeared in Alimentum:The Literature of Food, The London Writers Salon’s Writing in Community II, and Things We Haven’t Said: Sexual Violence Survivors Speak Out. Find her online @abrahanen (Instagram /Twitter).
Bad Blind Date
Dinner is arranged.
Not too late.
A nice public place.
Clear stipulation of what they’ll both be wearing.
She arrives on time.
Recognises him because of the purple flowers he’s holding.
Drinks (sticking to fizzy water)
Frantic texting in the restroom to tell friends how perfect he is.
Kissing in the car park.
“I feel like I’ve known you forever” he whispers.
It’s enough to make her head spin.
He takes her in his arms.
Inked on his skin.
It’s the last thing she sees as he closes the trunk.
Steven Holding lives in the United Kingdom. Most recently, his stories have appeared in the collections ANNIHILATION from Black Ink Fiction and DARK MOMENTS YEAR FOUR from Black Hare Press. You can follow his work at www.stevenholding.co.uk.
Have Another Little Piece
Is my love less because my hand comes off in yours, my ardor reduced if my heart falls through my ribs from beating too hard in your presence? Those warm meatbags come and go—especially when I jump out of their backseats, yanking the steering wheel to take us off a convenient cliff—but my love is forever. Cartilage and tendons, like infatuation, rot so fast! My heart can be restored, and my hand reattached, but my adoration of you will never falter.
Other suitors say they fall apart over you, but I’m the only one who can go the distance.
Breanne Boland is a writer living in Oakland, California. A prolific writer of technical documentation and the one-time author of several thousand hotel descriptions, she also writes fiction and zines and has made up approximately 500 songs to sing to her cats and any other animal within earshot. She spends her days arguing with and about computers, which makes corralling fictional characters a nice break. You can find her work at: https://mastodon.social/@toxoplasmosis breanneboland.com deviationobligatoire.com
She arrived home early to be able to prepare, ran herself a hot bath, luxuriate in bubbles and scented candles to get her in the mood.
It is, after all, our anniversary.
She’s planned out every detail, to make this special for us.
And when everything is just so, she sets the table. Puts out small, tasteful gifts that she bought in secret, taking great effort to wrap.
And she raises a glass of Champagne to me, and wishes me a happy anniversary.
Maybe this year she’ll forgive me, and release my festering body from behind the dining room wall.
Steven Patchett is an Engineer, Father and Writer in the North East of England. His works have been published in Ellipsis Zine, Dread Stone Press and Retreat West. He can be found on Twitter, being encouraging. @StevenPatchett7
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Originally from New Orleans, Shalini grew up with a love for the hauntingly beautiful stories, ideas and folklore that were enmeshed with the city. She also developed a deep love for words and a well-told story. Anytime those two can marry, she’s there for it. She loves stories that lure, that haunt, that pull at heartstrings or that wrap one up in fear, anxious to know what’s going to happen next.