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The Tell Tale Cadillac

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As the cabbie stopped in front of the only house on the street, something didn’t feel right to her. A faded, almost falling over “For Sale” sign and foot-tall grass indicated it had probably been vacant since Hurricane Floyd basically wiped out that side of Greenville. She remembered that the caller’s voice had seemed vaguely familiar, but had been too soft to identify. Maybe she’d misunderstood the address, or, more likely, a robber was waiting behind that big untrimmed bush on the corner. She wished she’d listened to her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s advice about picking up fares in remote places.

Shivering, she reached to put the gear shift back into “D.”

Just as her hand touched the lever, her work cell phone rang, making her flinch. A chill ran through her before she looked at the number. She smiled and threw her hands up at her vivid imagination. It was the guy who’d called earlier, probably wondering why it was taking so long for her to arrive. Now she was glad she hadn’t paid attention to her husband’s words.

As she put the phone to her ear, the same voice very clearly this time said, “Bye-bye, sweetheart!” Before she could say a word, a high-velocity bullet pierced her cell phone and slammed into her skull.

Jackie Braun fell over dead, with the horror of knowing who had brought her to that place at that time frozen into what was left of her face.

A thousand yards away, beside the low brick wall he’d rested his rifle on for the shot, Joe Braun’s steeled jaw relaxed in the darkness, a slight smile at the corner of his mouth. His very meticulous plan to lure his wife to that isolated spot had paid off. There would be no splitting of their estate after all. With a pair of binoculars he confirmed that the scene revealed no outward sign that anything untoward had occurred. It seemed to be just a cab idling, as planned.

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A Duel To The Undeath

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Gilroy limped backwards, uncertain of what had just happened. Cullen’s blade had found the exposed flesh just above the chausses of his right leg, but his enemy did not press his advantage. Instead, Cullen of Clan Ultan cautiously backed away. The wound to Gilroy’s inner thigh was not deep, but it bled badly. He knew that it would not be long before he became too weak to stand. Perhaps that is what he waits for, Gilroy grimly mused.

The duel had begun on horseback with lance and shield, but neither man had claimed victory, so they had dismounted while their horses had been led from the field. The two had then begun a dance of swords, one that had lasted for far longer than Gilroy would have liked. He was twice the age of his opponent, but had been thrice as fatigued when his defenses had lowered enough to allow Cullen’s blade inside. Gilroy was not a wealthy man, so the armor he wore was modest. It contained several weak points, and Cullen had deftly found one.

Panting and near to exhaustion, Gilroy spared a brief glance to his left. Brenna, as the accuser, sat in an isolated wooden chair just above the hedge that encircled the field. There was a large crowd gathered in the stands beyond the hedges, but none dared to venture close to Gilroy’s wife. Her stomach was round with child, and no one knew who the father truly was. Young and fair, Brenna was of an age with Cullen, though her emerald eyes, filled with concern, were not for the younger combatant, but for Gilroy. Her face was ashen while her lip trembled with fear, for she saw the stream of blood that continued to spill from her husband’s leg.

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Call Me Murph

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“I want my name back.”

“Well, you have certainly come to the right place, Mr..?”

“What’ll it cost?”

“Hmm. There will be a cost. Your request is unusual. To reunite you with your real name? You must understand that...”

“Name a price.”

The office was airy and minimalist – blonde woodwork, steel and glass, kind of Scandinavian on steroids. The man behind the desk smiled; the sort of smile that might have been accompanied by a spangled glint and the sound of cash registers.

“Please take a seat.”

Murph looked at the name tag on the desk. Hitachi Siemens-McDonalds. Identity broker.

“Yes, I see you eyeballing my name,” said McDonalds. “Three Fortune 500 companies. I clear half a million per annum in presumed nomenclature royalties alone. I’m not even going to hint at what I earn from specifics, but I carry a three-figure CPM rate. A secondary income is important. Affords one a certain presence amongst the ladies, you follow? Sharp suit, fine car, sculpted looks. Money can get you all of these things, my friend. You like the surname? MacDonalds? Minimum sacrifice. Born McDonald - all I did was add the ‘S’. Mythic. All processed here at IdentMart. Our CEO, Mr General Electric BP Royal Dutch Shell, put the package together personally. I can do the same for you, my friend. We are the country’s leading brokers in identity vending. We guarantee increased bandwidth. We’ll triple your exposure profile within two weeks.”

“A nice sales pitch Mr McDonalds, but I don’t want to increase my profile. I just want my old name back.”

He gave McDonalds a defiant stare. “Please?” He added, as an afterthought.
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Goldar the Unwieldy

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Oh, kids! - Editor

Goldar the Unwieldy

by Samuel Mae

Goldar the Unwieldy was waiting for the crossing light on the intersection of Bone and Marrow, on his way to Villicent’s Bruiry, when he found himself wedged in the midst of a gaggle of young people. They were all rugged up and breathing out steam, but happy nonetheless.

Goldar smiled. It was nice to see kids out and about around town. Gave the place some vim.

A girl who couldn’t have been older than fifteen, clipboard in hand, smiled back and said, “Hello sir. Do you think you’d be interested in signing our petition?”

His good cheer of a moment before vanished, Goldar dropped one hand closer to his sword. These political types could be unpredictable. “And what petition’s that?”

“It’s a very important petition,” the girl said. “It’s an appeal to the government to put a complete ban on the slaying and pillaging of the helpless monsters, perverts and niche lifestyle groupies who populate the wilds of our fair region. We’ve got nearly five thousand signatures so far.”

“You want to what?”

“Did you know that in the last decade the monster, pervert and niche lifestyle groupie populations in this area have dropped so low that without intervention they’ll all be completely extinct in another ten years?”

“Really?” Goldar couldn’t spot any easy escape routes. The kids hemmed him in like a herd of amphibious killer-sheep lining up for lunch.

A boy with flowing locks of golden hair that almost hid the terrible acne on his neck stepped forward. “Say, you wouldn’t happen to be one of those adventurer types, would you? That jacket you’re wearing looks awfully like it’s been sown together out of degenerate hides.”

A few of the other kids murmured similar things, their grins replaced by scowls. Goldar raised his hands, hoping the bloodstains on his gloves blended into the dimness. “Just a man on his way to the bruiry for a few quiet drinks. That’s all.”

“So,” the girl said, “will you be signing our petition then?”

Goldar snatched the clipboard, scribbled down a fake name and took off. Maybe the time had arrived to consider retirement. It was getting too dangerous around here at night.
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Hooch, Whores and Hustling

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Pool hall drama - Editor

Hooch, Whores and Hustling

by Larry Crain

The smooth green felt of the six pool tables and two snooker tables drew the crew like nourishing, green oases in the desolate desert that was the old part of town. Joe’s Emporium sat on a gradual hill where the bricks of the original Main street caused a staccato hum in the tires of the few cars that bothered to chug up, slide by and turn down toward the abandoned factories and the train depot that you would swear was empty, except for the sound of metal on rails as trains twice a day made the slow curve that paralleled Main.

To some, Joe’s was a dump, with worn, uneven wooden flooring, faded maroon brick walls with chunks of mortar missing and ever-present small piles of cigarette butts and peanut shells. But where it counted, the Emporium was perfection. Oh, those tables. Yes, every antique, solid wood rail was covered with scorch marks from years of burning cigarettes placed hanging over the edge by shooters that then forgot about the fags until they burned down and charred the finish. And interspersed with the burns were four inch rings from melted ice on Joe’s signature chilled beer mugs. Inside the boundaries of those table rails, though, was sacred territory. The traditional hunter green felt was always as if it had just been stretched and installed new each morning. The slate was an inch thick, perfectly flat and perfectly smooth. With no channels or roll-offs, you could shoot a ball as soft as a kiss and it would roll forever until it touched precisely where it was expected at the far end of the table.

The crew felt like men at Joe’s. You couldn’t buy beer, but if someone bought one and set it on the tiny tables that jutted up from each tall stool-chair like a miniature version of those wraparound grade school desks, you could drink the frigid amber ego enhancer and nobody cared. Across the street and up some uneven stairs were rooms where nothing but women lived. Once in awhile, they would call over and order about twenty of the Emporium’s small, greasy, delicious hamburgers, no cheese. Of the two dozen or so regulars at Joe’s, there was a core group of shooters who spent most of their free time there, the crew. Gerry, who ran the place, would pick one of the crew to deliver the bag of burgers to the upstairs rooms. No one ever turned it down, because you not only got a free hour on a table, but you got to see the Ladies in their frilly, fancy underwear and lingerie. Everybody believed there was a red light on the back of the Ladies’ building, facing the train track, but no one ever bothered to go see. Hooch, whores and hustling - what more could a 17 or 18 year old man want.
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Calendar Girl

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Oooh, twisty - Editor

Calendar Girl

by John F.D. Taff

It was at the reception that Josh spoke the first words that truly scared her.

The wedding, like the rest of Melinda’s courtship, moved with a dreamlike cadence. People drifted in and out of perception, events passed like objects whirling around the heart of a hurricane. Time, rather than connecting these happenings, separated them, split them into odd, unconnected vignettes.

Here she was, as if just awakened, getting married to a man she hardly knew.

It was only five months ago that they’d exchanged their first words across a conference room table.

Josh, the bright, new supervisor brought in from the company’s Chicago office.

She, the eager, dynamic account executive just out of college.

Josh had handled his first meeting as if he knew every intimate detail, spoken and unspoken, about the clients and their business.

“I love an organized man,” Melinda had said to break the ice after the clients left, and the others applauded her effort with nervous, restrained laughter.

Except Josh.

He’d looked at her with that baby face, those light brown eyes, looked seriously at her.

“Of course,” he finally said. And that was the beginning.

Melinda had been surprised when, only a month later, Josh produced his ubiquitous black date book, bulging fat around the tiny clasp that held it shut, opened it and said:

“March 4. That’s the day you’ll marry me.”

His handwriting was firm and clear even in the dim light of her bedroom.

“Oh, Josh,” she sighed, burying her face in his neck. “I do.”
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Love Killer

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My dear, sweet Malice,

I hope this note finds you well. I’d like to reassure you that, yes, I got your last note. Yes, I appreciated the imaginative death threat included in the postscript. And yes, I did particularly enjoy the brownies you sent with the hidden razor blades in them. <3 You should know, however, that I’ve seen every possible trick by now and am quite impervious to them.

Dear, dear Malice…do you remember that couple whose affection you tried to sabotage last week? They’ve just announced their engagement! Old age is slowing you down, my friend. I think a good measure of gloating is in order. You can’t see the dance I’m doing right now. But it is a victory dance, rest assured.

I do hope to hear more from you soon. Reading your notes is a great source of entertainment and sadistic pleasure on my days off. I wish you would reveal yourself, though. Don’t be such a stranger! Not knowing your address, assumed name, or human identity makes it hard to send notes such as these. I end up having to leave them wherever I’ve been, so that you’ll find them when you try to undo my work. And those astral carrier pigeons have proved unreliable. Write more later…keep in touch! <3

Sincerest wishes for continued health and happiness

Love,
Cupid

After reading the newest correspondence from her nemesis, Malice pushed up her glasses with a wrinkled hand and glowered. At least she still had one advantage over that puerile cherub: she knew who he was and how to find him. Her stealthy machinations had guaranteed that. She was tempted to scowl in celebration, but the gesture just seemed…indulgent. There was still the problem of her falling behind lately.

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The Favored Son

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Gross sibling rivalry - Editor

The Favored Son

by Philip Roberts

Two of them watched the elder Paulk writhe on the bed. With the blinds drawn and the sun all but swallowed up by the night, the two sons could barely make out the withered face twisted in pain, thick veins like vines wrapped around the nude upper body. Tufts of thin white puffed out of the boney, wrinkled chest, the hair disturbed as the old man clawed at his skin, drew blood here and there.

Brian, the youngest at the age of twenty-two, reached forward to offer aide, but Jacob stopped the act with a brief shake of his head, face all but consumed by the darkness. He kept his head down, the oldest and the keeper of his father’s life. Though the elder Paulk had offered Brian five years of love and support, Jacob had always made it known that Brian wasn’t blood related, done his best to stress it. Now he turned from the violent coughs and glistening blood dribbling down the old man’s parched lips and left the room. Though Brian could’ve stayed, could’ve protested, he followed in silence.

Jacob closed the bedroom door and stood for a time, backlit by a lamp, the resemblance between son and father clear in Jacob’s thin chin, sunken cheeks, and curly black hair. Brian had seen pictures of the elder Paulk in his youth, and had always marveled at the resemblance between the two.

Behind the thick oak door the old man screamed into the night, voice deep and strong for just a few seconds before it dissolved into a string of watery coughs.

“We need a doctor,” Brian urged, pushing aside his normal hesitance in the face of Jacob’s stern demeanor. He’d known from almost the first day that Jacob disliked him, though he’d never been able to tell why. Jacob was never outwardly cruel, merely distant and disconnected.

When Jacob looked to him, Brian couldn’t say what he saw in the face peering back, but he knew before Jacob started walking down the hall that they weren’t going to call a doctor. At the onset of Paulk’s degeneration two months prior Jacob had refused any medical help, and had Mr. Paulk not done the same, Brian might’ve gone out on his own to seek help.
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Yellow Roses

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A picture of health - Editor

Yellow Roses

by Janet Baldey

The day after the funeral I knew I would have to leave the village. Its crooked streets, that I had once thought quaint, now seemed sinister as if dark secrets festered around each bend in the road.

George, of course, doesn’t understand. But then, he couldn’t be expected to. He has no idea of the part I played in Harry’s death.

“What do you mean? I thought you liked it here?” With an irritated shake of his newspaper, he had stared at me over the top of his spectacles.

I had lowered my head in a mute and miserable silence. I couldn’t meet his eyes and I couldn’t explain. Things had changed. Every day, the odour grew stronger and now its sickly scent permeates the whole house.

A few days ago I had stood, my nostrils flaring, trying to identify its source.

“Are you getting a cold?” George had said.

“Can’t you smell it?”

“Smell what?” He had looked at me, his eyebrows raised.

I clamped my lips together, fighting the urge to scream. Our daughter’s baby is due soon and she wants to stay with us while her husband is away on business. George was flabbergasted when I refused. But, I am adamant. I cannot allow my daughter into the house when its very air is tainted. That is why I am determined we must leave before the baby is born.

Abruptly, I turn away staring out of the window at the maze of streets that seem to have a single purpose. They all lead to the church on the hill: the place where I had first met Harry.

#

After arriving back in England, after many years spent abroad, George and I had fallen in love with the small village, nestling in a valley surrounded by wave upon wave of forested hills. Too far away from the coast and lacking a river, it was largely ignored by tourists and was, we agreed, a forgotten jewel. Both of us thought it was our lucky day when we eventually managed to find a house that fitted our budget.
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The Last Archives

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Rationality - Editor

The Last Archives

by Shane M. Gavin

Half a galaxy away from Earth it was shaping up to be one of those storms – the kind that had yet to be seen by anyone still living their first or second lifetimes.

Elain glanced back at the barriers she had placed over the entrance – barriers of corrugated metal that had been previously wounded in another great battle with the elements; barriers of shredded tweed bags that were half filled with muddy sludge; barriers of broken tree branches and of clumps of grass-covered sod that she had torn straight from the earth with her bare hands.

DetChiev--the man who both forty years her junior and eighty years her elder--was examining the construction, just as thoroughly as Elain had done only moments before.

Another gust of wind forced the surrounding trees into uncomfortable postures, stances they had never before been forced to take. They groaned in agony as their usually strong and stiff bodies snapped to the will of one whom they usually called friend. The gust lasted for only a moment and they were silent again, save for the gentle, almost soothing rustling of their foliage – a sigh of relief that their ordeal was over. Their ordeal was far from over.

Elain felt sorry for the poor creatures. They were no longer intelligence. At least, they weren't so in such a manner that warranted compassion from its other forms. But this only meant that they weren't complete enough of mind to realise that their salvation, the peacefulness in which they now basked, would be short-lived and that their torturer would return momentarily. They did not realise that their torturer would return with a vengeance. They did not realise that he would return at the end of every moment for at least a day and a night to come.
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