I thought so - Editor
by Marlene Leach
It lay there, fat and sluglike. It’s skin was flushed red and overheated. The arms and legs were nothing but cylindrical rolls of fat with no defining muscle or shape. Its face was twisted now, screaming with mindless fury, the mouth open in a wet gaping red maw.
Louise’s father nudged her with an elbow. She glanced up at his cheerful face.
“What do you think of your little sister?”
He stared at the baby proudly. Louise looked at him, then back at the baby, and frowned, considering her answer. She had a thin serious face, brown hair cut in a page boy, and horn rimmed glasses.
“I think we ought to take it to the river and drown it,” she said finally.
She ignored his shock, staring at the baby. She scratched her nose and held out a hand to her father.
“I’m hungry. Give me a dollar for the vending machine.”
He gave her the dollar and she walked away.
“It’s not normal.”
“Of course it’s normal. Good grief, it would be abnormal if she didn’t feel some jealously.”
Marie sighed and went and lay down on the bed. Home at last. If she didn’t move for the next hundred years, that would be just fine.
John had begun unpacking her clothes, still pacing around with nervous energy.
“It doesn’t seem like jealousy,” he insisted. “Anyway, she’s too cold about it.”
Marie closed her eyes, placing her hands on her belly. It was going to take at least six months to get rid of this excess weight. Maybe more. She debated the pros and cons of being fat and decided it wouldn’t be so bad. It wasn’t as if she had made a living out of being a fashion model or anything. Besides, once you had a child you weren’t considered fat; you were matronly.
“It’s just her way,” she said finally. “You know that. Louise is a real child not a Disney character. Good for her. Personally, clingy kids annoy me to no end. They remind me of Rhesus monkeys.”
“I’m not worried because she’s not affectionate,” John said, though privately he had worried about that. “I’m worried because she’s not just jealous of the baby: she hates the baby. With no reservations.”
My Brother’s Keeper
Not covered by Medicare - Editor
My Brother’s Keeper
by Tomas Furby
The sun was the barest crimson sliver of twilight, the embers of my old life burning low. Ashes to ashes... I stood, one hand resting on the warm metal of the car roof, the other on the sharp corner of the door. The mountains stood tall, hazy heat obscuring details, behemoths guarding the setting sun. A breeze scattered the dust devils that marked the long, winding path my jeep had taken through the bone-dry hills. And everything so silent. I smiled, and stroked the long scar that ran from jaw to hairline.
The drifting memory of children’s chatter reached my ears. I turned in time to see the kids barreling down the hill towards me, like dogs released from the pits. Pablo holds the head start from a quick jump down the patio steps, but he’s losing ground to the longer legs of his sister. Maria’s gaining, and yes, she’s overtaken him at the bend of the garden path. Jane's lagging behind at the back, just behind her brother, but now Pablo’s putting on speed again and oh… They’ve crashed. There’s a pile up on the garden path.
Slamming the car door, I jogged up the hill towards them. Pablo and Maria seemed relatively unhurt, and were engaged in the melee of siblings; rolling and pushing and slapping and pulling at each other. Jane, however, was rubbing at her shin, tears in her eyes.
“Kids, enough.” I crouched down and brushed at Jane’s hair. Her lower lip trembled. “You OK Janie?”
“Hurt my knee.” She dropped her head, hiding behind her hair. Something tripped up inside me.
“Come on then.” I turned around and dropped down into a squat. “Piggyback?”
One heavy seven-year-old on my back, and two squabbling five-year-olds following, I trekked up the steep garden path. An island of unruly greenery in the dusty white ocean of Andalucian mountains, our garden stretched for a good hundred meters up the mountainside. I had to duck under hanging plants and olive tree branches to keep Jane's head leaf-free, and I almost tripped three times on roots and rocks hidden in the shadow of a darkening sky.
The Red Knight
I offer myself as his champion - Editor
The Red Knight
by David Pilling
I, Sir Kay, son of Sir Ector and foster-brother to King Arthur, am a dying man. I stopped an arrow during yesterday’s battle and the surgeons made a mess of cutting it out of my shoulder. Gangrene has set in, filling my tent with an awful sweet stench, and I can feel the chill of death creeping through my body.
I have a few hours left, long enough for me to dictate the truth about the fall of Camelot, and my failure to understand what was happening until it was too late.
The monk who sits at the end of my bed scribbling down my words will stay until I am done. If he does not, if he attempts to tear the rings from my nerveless fingers and steal away into the night, then I have instructed my squire to cut his useless balls off. My squire is a good lad and eager to do his duty.
Did that get your attention, worm? Good. Keep writing.
My vision blurs, and I drift in and out of awareness. The pain of my dying is eased by opium, but the medicine induces waking dreams and hallucinations. Among the meaningless jumble of dragons and leaping fires and leering demonic faces, I glimpse the Red Knight and the Iron Tower.
The Red Knight is just as I remember; a giant figure in crimson armour perched upon a monstrous black steed. He turns his face towards me, but it is hidden behind a featureless steel mask. His helm is shaped like a cone and has no visor or eye-slits. Behind him looms his Iron Tower, a massive column of corroded red iron thrusting into the dark northern sky.
News of this ghoul first reached Camelot a year ago on Christmas Eve. I was half-dead from my labours to make the holiday a cheerful one, for Camelot had become a castle of shadows and ghosts, haunted by the memory of those knights who had died on the futile quest for the Holy Grail.
As Arthur’s steward, it was my task to hide the rot and restore some light and joy to the place. In practice this meant weeks of chivvying and screaming at servants, stocking the cellars with enough victuals to feed an army and decking the halls and corridors with acres of fresh tapestries and hangings.
The effort had left me even more pinched and irritable than usual. On the evening of the feast I sat in my usual place on Arthur’s right, scowling at every drop of wine spilled by the servants and every fudged note by the musicians playing in the galley above. My mood wasn’t helped by my worry for the king.
Some evil is real - Editor
by Jack Straw
The man had been shadowing the six year old little girl for almost eight days. He felt like a patient wolf that follows an unaware fawn. The mere ebb and flow of her small chest as she breathed caused his pulse to quicken. He had gotten close enough to touch her, but he hadn’t; he thought he had smelled her though, or at least he hoped he had. There was nothing imaginable more beautiful, pure and innocent.
Today she wore a sunshine yellow dress with white lace edging and a ribbon by her throat and soft powder blue tap dancing shoes. She had large, soft green eyes and light, almost blond hair that flowed around her face. It was so naturally wavy she looked like the pictures on those posters in the windows of hair places he passed. She got it from her mother. Her mother had given her looks and love, but that was about the limit of what she could give now. She would not be able to protect her from his kind any more than the deer can protect its fawn from the wolf.
Mothers at the Madge Jeffries Shelter for Women tried their best, but most of them had been beaten down by lives they never thought would happen to them. Even with the free help offered by shelters like the Madge and the heightened senses of those who have been victims, they were not yet ready to take control of their environment with the strength and intensity of the state of motherhood. They were sometimes occupied with treatment or counseling sessions and trying to deal with their own mental or physical abuse, or both. That could provide opportunity for their children to become vulnerable. The man had even seen young children at the center who were supposed to be watched over by the overworked and understaffed counselors wander away from the half-fenced, half-dirt tiny back yard into the adjacent alleys and seedy storage sheds. Many ignored the clichéd, but very wise, admonition to never talk to strangers.
Throw Him Away and Get a New One
Make do, I guess - Editor
Throw Him Away and Get a New One
by Patrick Whittaker
“Mr Highsmith! Open up, please. I assure you I only have your best interests at heart.”
“What’s wrong with you? I told you to go away!” Angus Highsmith gave up his struggle with the childproof top and threw the bottle of drain cleaner at the wall. Unbroken, it rolled along the faded lino and snuggled up to a nest of empty whisky bottles.
The banging on the door continued. It played havoc with Angus’s hangover.
“I know what you’re doing, Mr Highsmith. Or rather what you’re trying to do.”
Angus sat heavily on the bed and placed his head in his hands. “Go away, go away, go away!”
“Very well. You leave me no choice.” There was a sound of metal on metal and then the click of shifting lock tumblers.
The door opened. A man in a business suit and round glasses put away the hair grip he’d used to spring the lock. “Good afternoon,” he said. “My name is Winthrop. May I come in?”
Winthrop came in. Closing the door, he gave the hotel room a cursory scan. “Well, I’ve seen worse. Do you mind if I open a window? Damp plays havoc with my lungs.”
“Do what you like.” Angus flopped back onto the bed with its uneven mattress, nearly-white bed sheets and strange aroma. Not for the first time, he noticed that one of the stains on the ceiling looked like a map of Africa.
After opening the window, Winthrop picked up the bottle of drain cleaner and read the label. He shook his head and tutted. “I can’t believe you chose this,” he chided, placing the bottle on the window sill. “You’ve no idea how unpleasant an overdose can be. You’d have died in screaming agony.”
Modern angst - Editor
by E.J. Tett
I’m bored now. Now that they’ve gone. I’m bored just sitting on my own in a darkened room, drumming my fingers on the arms of my chair.
Although I’m not entirely on my own. It’s there, staring at me but not seeing anything. It will see, if I want it to. But I can’t... I can’t let it see me. I’ve seen what it did, what I made it do, and now that they’ve gone... I’m afraid I’ll be next.
The smack came so hard to the back of my head that my nose hit the desk. I didn’t make a sound but they all laughed. I looked down at my notebook. There was blood on it now.
“Loser,” I heard.
I ignored the voice and dipped my pen into my own blood, trailing it across the page. I heard more sniggering and then a clatter of chairs as everybody rushed to take their seats when the teacher entered the room.
Somebody tapped me on the arm and when I looked a piece of paper was shoved into my hand. Gay boy it said. I screwed up my nose and the piece of paper.
“Uh... give me that, please,” the teacher said, thrusting her palm towards me. I hadn’t even noticed she’d stopped speaking. I put the note in her hand without looking up.
I heard her sigh. “Look at me,” she said, and when I looked, she sighed again. “Go and wash up, you’re bleeding.”
She said it as if it was my fault. I pushed my chair back and got up. I left the room and didn’t go back that day. My parents were angry.
“What are you building?” he asked, peering over my shoulder as I tinkered with my tools.
I couldn’t be bothered to reply, he wouldn’t understand anyway. So I said nothing.
“I asked what you were building,” he said again. He waited a moment for my response, then when it didn’t come he said, “At least you’re doing something, I suppose. Your mother’s worried you’re depressed or something. You’re not are you? Depressed?”
Extra capital punishment - Editor
by Joseph Rubas
Warden Raymond Haines looked at himself in the mirror and shuddered. His face was flabby and the color of dough, his eyes were bloodshot and worried, and his once black hair was losing its color.
He looked down at his hands, and they trembled slightly.
With a sigh, he moved away from the mirror and toward his desk. He sank down into his chair with a grunt, and tired to focus on the paper before him. The words blurred, and he couldn’t have wrapped his minds around them had they not.
He looked up at the clock above his door; it was 11:00.
His stomach rolled. He shuddered, and opened his desk drawer. Inside he found his bottle of Tums, and plucked them from the midst of papers and loose staples. He wrestled with the top, his clammy hands jittery, and finally removed it in a cascade of multicolored tablets. He popped several into his mouth, and struggled to sweep the rest back into the bottle.
That done, he looked again at the clock; only six minutes had passed. His gaze traveled to the door, his stomach settling into a horrible, hallow quiet. He licked his dirty lips, and yearned for a cigarette. He had quit seven years before because Brooke realized that they weren’t exactly young, and feared losing him. The patch worked well; he only had cravings after a good meal, a good lovemaking, and on nights when Astoteph came to visit.
He stood, and paced around the small, lambently lit room, his unseeing eyes darting from his many plaques and certificates on the walls to the clock and the door.
He moved to the window behind his desk, and peered absently out. The night was brightly afire with the many lights along the razor wire fence. Beyond the outer gate, across a dark, barren gulf, the small red light of a radio station tower blinked rhythmically, like a beacon to wayward alien crafts.
Haines moved back to his desk, and then back to the window in indecision. He finally moved back to his desk, sat down, and rummaged around in his desk until he found the small transistor radio that Paige had gotten him for Christmas years before, when she was still a scrawny, brace-faced kid in school, relying on her daddy’s bedtime stories to lull her to sleep.
What Is It For?
We all hear voices - Editor
What Is It For?
by Rebecca L. Brown
“I don’t want to talk to you! Please; why won’t you just leave me alone?” She shook her head, trying to dislodge the thoughts which sliced through her head, sharp little moments of questioning which punctuated her own thoughts.
What are you doing?
What is it for?
“Leave me alone!” She screamed, their questions withdrawing from her as she scrabbled across the dust and ash on her hands and knees. She didn’t know which way they came from. She didn’t even know which way was home any more. She pressed her hands over her face, squeezing her eyes shut. The dust on her palms mixed with her tears to make a paste, smearing across her face.
When she first arrived, this had been a beautiful place. She remembered the dark green canopy of trees, glowing in dappled patches where the sunlight broke through. Their house had been in a clearing, just enough room for the buildings and a small meadow. The trees had pressed in around them, companionably close. She remembered there had been a stream full of quick little fish; she used to cup her hands under the mud, wait for a while and then lift them up suddenly, feeling their fishy bellies wriggling over her fingers as they hurried away.
Why did you do that?
“I don’t know! I don’t know why!” Her shoulders shook from sobbing. Her throat ached.
She had come here with Maxwell, just the two of them. She could barely remember a time before it was just the two of them; her, the older sister, nurturing the younger brother. Him, the man of the household providing sustenance for them both (she remembered laughing when he called himself that; the man of the household. Half a man maybe, she had teased him, pinching his skinny sides). Things had been tight once in a while, but they had always managed to make ends meet somehow. She had earned a few pennies here and there, just mending clothes and cleaning houses. He had always been good at setting traps so there was always meat on the table and usually a few coins hidden under her mattress. He used to set them a good half day’s walk from the house…
Why did he do that?