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The Red Knight

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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.


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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.


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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.

River Road

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Wanda Wilbur watched the paddle holster holding the grip-worn .38 Special slide onto the sturdy, sweat-stained leather belt. “You goin’ out? You been patrolin’ near every afternoon.” Wanda took off her Buddy Holly glasses. “Who my s’posed to talk to?”

“Well, Miz Wilbur, lack of an audience has never bothered you before.” He smiled to himself. That was a good one. “Missoura’s now the meth capital a the United States accordin’ to the Feds.” He grimace-smiled this time.  “Gotta keep the hopheads outa our backyard.”

Wanda nodded and clicked her tongue as she rearranged a large bobby pin in her hair. “Well, lucky for us, we got six-term Sheriff R.T. Barnes on the trail.”

The Sheriff ambled toward the fly-friendly screen door. “I’m gonna go cruise the river a bit. The wife calls, tell her I’ll be home for supper at six.”

Butler County had no towns over 200 people, so Black River, which crossed the county, had been the de facto activity center for as many generations as anyone could remember. It still was.

As the lone department cruiser crossed the rat-a-tat-tat bouncing boards of the canopied wooden bridge, it slowed so he could scan up and down the river for signs of miscreants. Nothing marred the tranquil shimmering of the flowing water and the forest of trees jutting out over the water, hanging onto the banks despite the earth being slowly eroded away by the winding and swirling currents below them.

He eased off the bridge, turning north onto the gravel road that roughly paralleled the riverbed. The artery had no name, but most called it River Road.


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A Western saloon... - Editor


by Coy Hall

Roth Cadman rode through the drizzling midnight rain towards the livery stable of Trinity Hill. Mud jumped from the street, up his leg and around his face. Rain fell in stinging drops. With the exception of a few dim lights shining from the saloon, the town looked deserted along Main Street. Cadman moved into the dry stable and dismounted. The livery, like the town around it, seemed deserted.

Maybe it’s the late hour, he thought to himself, pulling his things together and unsaddling the horse. But the explanation wasn’t convincing. Boom towns like Trinity weren’t in the habit of going to bed just after sundown. Cadman put the horse away and fed it. Beating the rain from his hat, he prepared to make a dash through the downpour towards the saloon. He needed a drink.

The sky rumbled with thunder. Wind moved the rain in sideway sheets across the dark, muddy vista.

Cadman stooped his shoulders and ran for it. The mud was three inches deep in places, and puddles, like small ponds, dotted the street. A plank sidewalk led up to the porch of the saloon. Cadman stood breathlessly beneath the awning, glancing inward over the batwing doors. People were inside, a lot of them, sitting quietly around the dim glow of candles.

Cadman did what he could before entering, smacking his hat against the rail and wiping the water and mud from his unshaven face. He was used to being alone, and used to being stuck out in the weather, but that didn’t mean it didn’t make him miserable. Nights like this made him feel like a stray dog.

As Cadman entered, the folks barely stirred. They turned and looked for the most part, then fell back to their solemn thoughts. Every table was full; people lined the bar shoulder to shoulder; the walls and steps were covered by those standing. There were more than a hundred people in the large room. For light, homemade candles, bitches as folks call them, constructed from tin cups and bacon grease lined the main bar and decorated the tables. Shadows danced in the few open spaces. A haunting aura hung about the room.

Pack-Brothers: The Ambush

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I would join - Editor

Pack-Brothers: The Ambush

by Will Frankenhoff

Dusk settled into the remote mountain pass. A chill breeze arrived, whispering among the stunted birch trees and silver-barked alders clinging to life amid the hard brown soil. An arctic fox, her coat already white in preparation for winter, paused to sniff the air. High above, a pair of red-tailed wyverns spiraled across the sky in an elaborate mating dance. The sole sign of civilization was an old road, its cracked paving stones overgrown with chokeberry bushes and knee-high spikegrass. Climbing out of a small wooded hollow to the west, it ran along the northern edge of the pass before turning southeast to head deeper into the mountains.

Blade-Lieutenant Eldan Swayne crouched behind a lichen-covered boulder thirty feet back from the road, a small hand-held crossbow resting in one gloved hand. Clad in the grey-green buckskin leathers of the Republic of Almaren’s Border Watch, including a hood that left only a slit for the eyes, Eldan’s motionless form blended into the rock; one shadow among many in the deepening twilight.

He was not alone. Eight other members of his small company lay concealed nearby. Most were armed with powerful recurve short bows; some cradled heavy crossbows. All carried regulation-issue longswords in blackened scabbards across their backs and broad-bladed daggers sheathed at their waists.

A voice whispered in Eldan’s mind, “Chief?”

The lieutenant breathed a sigh of relief. The “voice” belonged to Canus, Eldan’s pack-brother and the final member of the company. Eldan had sent him out to confirm the location of the Ssylarian slavers they’d been tracking the past two days.

“Yes, Canus?”

“I’ve found them. Three wagons. About a mile to the west, just past Laughing Falls. They’ll reach you in twenty minutes or so.”

What Is It For?

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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?

No Alarms and No Surprises

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War... - Editor

No Alarms and No Surprises

by Brian Lyons

The first time Mickey had seen Afghanistan was as he had thundered down into its terrifyingly beautiful landscape in the belly of a great C17 Globemaster. He'd been dazzled by the form and colours of the harsh yet stunning scenery he had swept over. It seemed to him to be a land comprised of huge towering snow-topped mountains, or the swirling dunes of vast breathless desert plains with thin green stains following sparse river valleys.

As they had started to descend, his neighbours on the plane had wedged their helmets firmly under their seats. He quickly did the same; he'd seen Apocalypse Now too.

The gentle tones of No Alarms and No Surprises, one of the more melodious of Radiohead's tracks, rippled across his consciousness through the earphones of his MP3 player. It was a strangely appropriate soundtrack to his very first descent into this country. He took it as an omen.

Mickey loved his music and knew it could be a tool to help him through his time in this place. It could save his sanity. Now, without anything else, he clung to it, finding significance wherever he could in every line. However he was aware that his experiences, and the memories they generated, would, in the end, probably destroy the relationship he had built with those much-loved songs.


All around them was silent, but for the occasional moan of wind and swish of sand. Even the radio was short of its usual frantic traffic on this hot hazy day. Now and again a wayward insect crawled up the inside of a trouser leg and needed an admonishing slap, but that was about it.


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Why did he still live? - Editor


by Melissa Embry

Black Omar looked up as he entered the marketplace of al-Shara, squinting against the late winter sky at the inscription overhead. The town clinging to the banks of the great river was little more than a village, but the pillars surrounding its marketplace supported a roof – only slightly dilapidated – that formed a sheltered arcade, a comfortable place to exchange gossip and merchandise, human or otherwise.

The carved inscription, Omar had heard, honored the caliph who had the arcade built when Syria was a land of importance, before successor caliphs pulled back to Baghdad. But wind and sand, summer sun and winter rain, and the stones flung by generations of small boys had nearly effaced the inscription.

A shimmer obscured Omar’s sight, the aura that presaged true seeing. He shrugged off his uneasiness. And in any case, he could not have read the inscription. He was a slave.

A child’s scream resounded within the marketplace, followed by the thudding footfalls of men running in the warren of alleys. Omar leaned against a pillar, out of the path of any fleeing thief.

A man – not young, but not as old as Omar -- raced past. He held a scarecrow of a small girl against his shoulder. The lightning streak of a scar ran down one cheek and into his beard, the scar that had given the man his nickname – the Frank, al-Mastoub – the slashed one. Two pursuers panted at his back – the guards of the slave dealer al-Darda, their weapons drawn.

Al-Mastoub spun around, laying the child over his left shoulder to free a hand. His old scimitar leaped from its scabbard with a hiss. Almost too fast for Omar’s eyes to follow, the blade slashed across the attacker’s arm, ripping the man’s sleeve. The dirty wool bloomed red. With a groan, the guard dropped his weapon into the dust.


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Always make a backup - Editor


by Terry Light

A flash of tangled crimson wrapped around Julianne’s legs so tightly she couldn’t escape the dark man approaching her bed. She covered her eyes with her right forearm, screwed her eyelids shut more tightly and whispered, “No!”

In her mind, she heard a shout.

An ominous “thump” announced each step as the faceless man drew closer. She heard his high-pitched wheezing and the dull bass of his heartbeat - then heard a click and two soft reports that sounded like a cobra spitting.

Red sheets. A cocking pistol. Suppressor. Gunshots.

A nightmare.

Julianne woke suddenly, screaming, fists clenched, elbows bent, curled tightly in a ball on her side with a thin sheen of perspiration coating her skin. Her bed was hard. No. It was the floor. She opened her eyes and saw a flat surface of black and white tiles stretching endlessly to infinity. White clouds drifted in a gentle breeze across a sunless blue sky.

“Another dream.”

“A lucid dream,” said Jon, her artificial intelligence implant.

“Better than my last nightmare.”



“I don’t remember your last dream.”

Julianne’s implant was beneath her skull, in her head, with her all the time. The only reason it could not know about her previous nightmare was because she turned it off. But she didn’t turn Jon back on. So why was he in this dream?

“You weren’t in my last dream,” she said. “Not as an AI, not as a participant, not as an observer.”

“Why not?”

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