“The Monster in the Mirror” by LiAnnah Jameson

I’m not afraid of the lurkers in the night
I sleep with a .38 special tucked underneath my pillow

The things that go bump in the night
Monsters in the closet
Or under the bed
They are nothing compared
To the demons in my head

What I fear the most
Is the monster I face in the mirror
Every morning staring back at me

She looks like me
But deep down I know there is a darkness in me
One that others don’t see
But I can feel it
Growing inside of me
I can see it
In the flicker of my eye lids
As I try to keep the monster in me down
But it keeps fighting to come out

TheMonsterInTheMirror-JAMESON-ArtABergloff.jpg

Artwork created by Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff).

*

LiAnnah Jameson is an avid writer and reader. She recently published her first book of poetry and prose entitled If I Die Now, Who Will Feed My Cats? which is available for purchase on Amazon. You can find more of her work on Instagram @liannahjameson. 

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“The Misplaced Tower” by Damon Garn

Episode 1 – THE ABSURD ADVENTURES OF STROM AND ASH – A SHORT STORY SERIES CHRONICLING THE ANTICS OF A WACKY MAGE AND A DAFT DRAGON

From the historical writings of Bostonius the Literate, events having taken place one thousand years ago. Or so. Probably.

Strom Coalbeard, the dreaded Archmage of the Black Tower of Athar. A villain that needs no introduction, but is going to get one here anyway. For centuries he extended his life with dark magics and experimental tonics. His fellow wizards either bent to his will or woke up dead. Queens sent him tribute. Princes sent him treasure. Khalifs sent him fine silks. His closest friends sent him sweet rolls.

Until one morning when he woke up fed up with it all. Tired of treasure. Weary of war. Morose about magic. Disenchanted with enchanting. Cheerless about conquest.

You get the idea.

So he picked up his crystal ball and called his oldest companion, his most feared partner in crime, Ash Brightspark, the Red Dragon of Death. They decided to retire from it all.

Old age was finally catching up with our villains and they were having trouble remembering why they wanted to conquer everything or why they should care that they did. It was time to cast off their cares and enjoy life. They no longer bothered with killing enemies or destroying towns. They were both a little crazed in a goofy kind of way.

With nothing but the contents of three bottomless bags over his shoulder, the two set off to explore the world in relative anonymity. They journeyed through elven kingdoms, took year-long luxury cruises on orcish pleasure ships, stayed for decades at extravagant dwarven resorts, and basically pumped enough gold into the liquor economy to shift the wealth of a few small nations.

On a warm summer day many centuries later, with Ash sprawled on the warm beach sands and Strom sipping a cold drink out of a coconut, their centuries-long vacation ended…

“Mr. Coalbeard!” Mrs. Strickta called. Her shrill voice cut through Strom’s reverie and Ash’s mid-morning nap. “Mr. Coalbeard I’d like a word with you.”

“Infernal woman,” muttered Strom Coalbeard, the Archmage of the Black Tower of Athar.

“Your turn to deal with her,” Ash Brightspark, the Red Dragon of Death, said. He was sprawled on his back across the beach, all four legs sticking straight up in the air and his wings spread across the warm sand. “Last time I talked to Mrs. Strickta, I scared her poodle so bad he wet all over her.”

Ash chuckled at the memory, startling several gulls that had perched on his expansive belly. An interested observer would note that not one of those birds left a white stain behind on the dragon. They’d seen the fate of one of their flock. Who says you can’t train gulls?

Sighing, Strom stood up and went to meet the proprietor of the inn they were residing at. Mrs. Strickta strode briskly through the beach sands, kicking up a small trail of dust behind her.

“Mr. Coalbeard, do you know what this is?” she marched up to him, wildly brandishing a parchment under his prominent nose.

“Uh, no. You have it rolled up.”

“Do not mouth off to me, young man!”

Strom didn’t point out that he was somewhere in the neighborhood of twelve hundred years old. He’d learned long ago not to discuss age with women. “Is it a new recipe for pastries?” asked Ash hopefully.

“It is not,” she glared at Ash, not at all fazed by the fact that she was talking to a dragon. Strom secretly wondered if she was part dragon herself. “It is a wanted poster.”

“A wanted poster?” Strom said.

“A wanted poster,” she solemnly confirmed. “And it has your faces on it.”

She snapped the document open at Strom.

“The artist is really very good,” Ash said, looking over Strom’s shoulder. “That looks just like you.”

“It does not!” argued Strom.

“And that’s your name under the sketch, too.”

“You’re not helping here, Ash.”

Mrs. Strickta pulled out a second sheet, depicting the dragon from several angles, including some distinctive markings and scars along his flank.
“You said that dragonsaddle didn’t make my butt look big,” Ash accused. “I look ridiculous.”

“Can’t help genetics,” shrugged the mage.

“I will not have known criminals under my roof, Mr. Coalbeard.”

“We’re not criminals.”

“Well, not known criminals, anyway. At least not in this province.”

“Um, well not in this town.”

“I am terminating our arrangement, Mr. Coalbeard, effective immediately.”

“What?”

“You heard me. Settle your bill at the front desk and be out of my inn by midday.”

“Wait, Mrs. Strickta. Who gave you those posters?”

“A very nice young man named Bertholomen. He stopped by earlier today. He said he was distributing these posters all over town. I didn’t open the poster until some time after he had already left or I would have reported you to the authorities.”

Strom sighed again, missing the days when he would have charred her with a lightning bolt. Now he simply didn’t have the energy for the paperwork that would involve with the local law enforcement.

“Bartholomen? We don’t know anyone named Bartholomen, do we?” asked Ash.

“No I’m sure we’d remember if we did. We’d be making fun of that name, if nothing else.”

“Do not forget to settle your bill, Mr. Coalbeard. Including the damages from last week’s party and subsequent brawl.”

With that, Mrs. Strickta stalked away.

***

With the sound of crying liquor vendors filling their ears, Strom climbed into the dragonsaddle on Ash’s back. The two took flight, gliding out over the clear bay and quickly gaining altitude. It had been some time since they’d taken a long journey, so both were excited by the prospect.

“All right, buddy, which way?” Ash asked.

“Uh.”

“What was that? I didn’t hear you.”

“Err.”

“East or west?”

“Let’s see here…”

“North? South?”

“Circle around one more time, Ash. Let me get my bearings.”

The dragon groaned and cruised the perimeter of the bay while the mage sat on his back looking thoughtful.

“You have no idea, do you?” the dragon finally said.

“Nope. Not a clue,” Strom admitted.

“Are we going to stop and ask for directions?”

“Of course not!” the mage turned red. “We’ll figure it out. It’s got to be around here somewhere.”

“The last time you refused to ask for directions we ended up in that dwarven mine.”

“And we found gold, remember? That wasn’t so bad.”

“We both got a case of darkworm rash, too.”

They groaned and briefly clutched their nether regions at the memory.

“Well, cruise inland for a while. We’ll recognize something soon and be home before dark.”

“We’ve been gone nearly seven hundred years,” the dragon said. “And neither of us remembers how to get there any more.”

“There’s nothing to worry about. What could possibly go wrong?”

That statement, of course, made Ash more nervous than anything else the mage could have said.

***

Three days later they were still trying to find a familiar landmark. When they saw a lone traveler on the road far below them, Ash decided enough was enough and began to descend. The man gleamed in shining armor and a cloak white enough to hurt the eyes. An ornate helm covered his face and he sat astride a huge warhorse. The horse stopped short at the sight of the immense red dragon landing on the road in front of them.

“Excuse me,” Strom hollered, scrambling down Ash’s side to the ground. “Are you from around here?”

“Uh, no,” came the reply. “Where are you trying to go?”

“The Black Tower of Athar,” Strom replied. “It’s got to be nearby.”

“I have no idea where it is.”

The horse turned his head to peer up at the human on his back. “How about you, Sir Bert? Have you got any idea where Athar is?”

The mage and the dragon stared at the horse with their jaws hanging open.

“Um, do you know your horse talks?” Ash asked the knight.

“Do you know your mage talks, dragon?” retorted the horse, glaring at Ash.

“All too well,” responded the dragon, shaking his head and wincing.

“Got a map? We’re lost. Well, the dragon’s lost. I’m just along for the ride.”

“Hey!” Ash protested. “You’re the one who forgot where we live.”

“Transportation is your responsibility,” Strom said reasonably. “We’ve discussed this before.”

“We haven’t cared where we were going for more than two hundred years. Why should transportation be my problem?”

“You’re the one with wings,” Strom pointed out.

The knight and his horse had been looking back and forth between Strom and Ash through this entire conversation.

“Let’s start with introductions,” suggested the horse. “I am Nehemiah-Argonistal-Misker.”

Strom spent the next several moments trying to get his lips working well enough to deliver that mouthful.

“Seriously?” Ash asked. “Isn’t that a bit much for a horse?”

“I’m a very special horse, if you haven’t noticed! And you can call me Misker if that’s easier for you.”

“And who are you?” Strom asked the armored man.

The knight removed his helm and spoke with a high voice better suited to a young girl. “I am Sir Bert.”

“Sherbert? Like the ice cream?” giggled Strom.

“No,” the knight sighed. Clearly that wasn’t the first time he’d heard that joke. “Sir. Bert. Short for Bertholomen. I am a paladin.”

“I see.” Strom’s voice grew a bit colder. They’d had a lot of run ins with do-gooder paladins over the centuries. “You’re the paladin that spread the wanted posters all over town and got us kicked out.”

“Yes, and I have heard of the Black Tower of Athar,” Sir Bert said. “What did you boys say your names were?”

“Strom Coalbeard, The Archmage of the Black Tower of Athar,” Ash rumbled dramatically, pointing at the mage.

“Ash Brightspark, The Red Dragon of Death,” returned Strom, gesturing with a flourish toward the dragon.

Clearly, this was a well-rehearsed introductory act.

Neither Strom nor Ash was prepared for the reaction they got. The horse reared, punching the air in front of him while the armored figure drew a shining longsword.

“We found them, Sir Bert!” Misker neighed.

“Charge them! I shall smite them with this holy blade!”

Startled, Ash responded the way any reasonable dragon would. He blew a ball of fire out of his mouth. Being near-sighted, he really only had a general idea where the paladin and horse were located, so he ended up cooking the road directly in front of them. Misker stopped short of the flames, nearly pitching Sir Bert into the fire.

“What’s wrong with you, Misker? Get them!” he ordered.

“Um, I didn’t know the dragon breathed fire.”

The supposedly terrifying dragon in question was busy blinking the smoke out of his eyes from his own fireball.

“This is what we do, Misker. You knew that when you signed up.”

“Well, I didn’t think we’d actually find them.”

The flames on the road, being dragon ignited, showed no signs of declining. Bert lifted his sword and pointed it at the conflagration.

“Begone, evil fire!”

To the surprise of everyone, particularly Bert, the flames were immediately extinguished.

“That sword has never followed your commands before,” Misker commented.

“It recognizes evil.”

Misker took a careful step forward, but the baked surface of the road wasn’t even warm.

“Misker! Prepare another cha—!” began the paladin.

“Wait wait wait!” called Strom. “Let’s talk about this a moment.”

“Charge!” Sir Bert finished. Misker leaped forward, quickly closing the distance to Strom. Bert raised his glowing sword high over his head.

“Stop!” Strom commanded, his eyes flashing angrily.

The charging horse froze in mid-stride, body held in place by the force of Strom’s magic. Bert, too, was locked in place, his eyes wide in surprise.

“I said we would talk about this,” Strom reminded them sternly. “And that’s what I meant.”

The magicked horse and paladin remained still.

“That’s better,” muttered Strom. “Now, let’s try this again. What’s with the wanted posters? No one around here knows what we’ve done wrong.”

The frozen pair made no response.

“Um, how about you unmagic their mouths?” Ash suggested.

Strom sighed. “Details.” He waved his staff in the paladin and horse’s general direction, completely unfreezing them. Both of them gasped desperately for air and made no more threatening moves.

“So? How about it?” prompted Strom. “What’s the problem here?”

“I’m on a life-quest to kill you both,” said Bert. “It’s been a family quest for many generations.”

“Paladins.” Strom shook his head. “It’s always the pallys on silly quests.”

“It is NOT a silly quest,” Bert protested. “It is my life’s work. It was the life’s work of my father and his father before him. To find you two and bring you to justice. It is the prophesy.”

“Prophesy?” laughed Ash. “There are no prophesies about us. Some noise complaints, probably.” Strom nodded vigorously at that comment. “Maybe something about that panty raid on the Shah’s harem…” Strom giggled.

Sir Bert dug through a pouch on his belt.

“Here!” he thrust a yellowed paper at Strom. Strom levitated the document into his hand.

“What’s it say?” Ash asked.

“It’s a bill.”
“A bill?”

“It’s a prophesy,” insisted the paladin.

“It’s an unpaid bill,” sighed Strom. “From the Lewd Orcette Lounge.”

“What? That was nearly two hundred years ago!” sputtered Ash.

“Your family has been pursuing us for two hundred years over an unpaid bar tab?”

“We take our job very seriously in my family,” huffed Bert.

“You realize this bill is for three gold pieces?” Strom asked.

“And a bit of silver.” Ash pointed out.

“That’s not the point,” said the paladin. “You failed to pay and that’s not okay. Plus there’s interest.”

“The total bill,” interjected Misker helpfully. “With penalties and interest, plus court fees, paperwork, and living expenses for the paladins that have been on this quest over the centuries, comes to just over 200,000 gold pieces. And a bit of silver.”

Strom had been looking thoughtful.

“Ash, do you know what this means?”

“That you were hanging out with orcish strippers again?”

“No. Well, yes, but that’s not what’s important. It means that two hundred years ago we were at that place. It could be our clue to finding home.”

“Good point!” Ash turned toward Sir Bert. “You, pally. Where is this lounge? The address on the receipt is faded.”

“It’s not a receipt, it’s a prophesy,” corrected Bert. “And the lounge is long gone. In fact the city was destroyed in an invasion over one hundred years ago.”

“So, hypothetically speaking, of course, if we paid you, what are you going to do with the 200,000 gold pieces?”

“And a bit of silver,” Strom interjected.
“Um,” Bert looked uncomfortable.

“We were going to invest it on behalf of the original owners in case they ever returned to claim it,” answered Misker.

“Uh-huh, sure you were,” Ash said.

“Honestly, I just wanted this life quest to be over. I never wanted to do this in the first place. It’s been expected that the eldest male of each generation take up the family quest.”

“So you don’t even want to be pursuing us? How about you just leave off?”

“I can’t do that it! It would dishonor my ancestors and all they stood for.”

“Believe me, they no longer care about that,” Strom replied.

“You should be your own man,” Ash encouraged. “Tell me, if you weren’t pursuing a career in the paladin arts, what would you be doing instead?”

“I want to be a writer.”

Ash and Strom stared dumbfounded at the paladin for a long moment.

“A writer? Is that a real thing?”

“He wants to write fiction,” Misker put in helpfully.

“What the hell is fiction?” Strom asked.

“It’s made up stories,” Bert began excitedly. “You can think up whatever worlds you want, then write about them. And about the people in those worlds.”

“So people pay you to make up lies?”

“That’s the lamest thing I’ve ever heard,” Ash grumbled.

“He’s quite good,” Misker said. “He’s got this one he’s been working on with these little devices that connect everyone in the world to each other, as well as to all the accumulated knowledge of humanity.”

“Sounds like a great opportunity for unwelcome marketing, know-it-alls and people to hide behind a fake identity to criticize others.”

“Like trolls do,” Ash agreed. “Can’t stand those bastards.”

“Leaving all that aside for a moment,” Strom said, returning to the real topic at hand. “Where were you searching for us?”

“What does it matter?” returned Bert. “We found you! Are you prepared to die now, evil ones? It’s you or us!” The paladin was clearly working up his righteous anger for another charge.

“Actually, they found us,” Misker corrected. “And I’m not particularly prepared to die. There’s a couple of cute little mares back at home I’ve had my eye on.”

“Back to the question,” Ash prompted. “Where were you going?”

“It’s a secret,” Misker said.

“To the Icecrystal Mountains,” Bert said at the same time.

The horse rolled his eyes in exasperation.

“There is rumored to be a excellent map maker up there with a great collection of ancient maps. We were hoping she would be able to figure out where Athar used to be so we could search your homeland,” Sir Bert continued. He waved his sword threateningly. “But now there’s no need. Let’s charge them, Misker!”

“Oh not this again,” muttered Strom.

“Paladins,” Ash shook his head sadly. “All the same. One track minds.”

Bert pointed his sword at Strom, and a beam of white light flashed out. Centuries of reflexes allowed the mage to block the holy spell, but just barely. Strom stumbled back.

“Hey! That would have hurt!”

Ash rumbled deep in this throat, black smoke pouring from his nostrils. “We’ve tried to be nice about this, fellas.”

Misker leaped forward, crossing the distance to the dragon quickly. Bert’s sword flashed, the flat of the blade slapping the side of the dragon’s snout. “Come peacefully, evil-doers!”

Ash breathed a huge gust of fire at the paladin, engulfing the pair in an inferno so hot ignited the trees around the area.

Strom stood tapping his foot, clearly believing the encounter was over. Very little in the world could withstand Ash’s fire when he was angry.

Apparently, however, this paladin could.

When the flames disappeared, the figures of the horse and rider still stood. Both had their eyes squeezed tightly shut. They were completely covered in black soot, except for Bert’s sword. It still glowed brightly.

Bert and Misker opened their eyes, then both turned to stare at the sword that had preserved them.

“Wow,” was all Misker had to say.

“We’ll be going now,” noted Strom. “Leave us alone from now on.”

“I will follow you to the end the world, evil mage.”

Strom casually waved his staff at Sir Bert before climbing on Ash’s back.

The paladin froze, a horrified look coming over his face. He scrambled down from Misker’s back and frantically began tearing off the armor around his crotch. The horse looked at him in astonishment (and a bit of relief for not having to charge the mage and dragon).

“I’ll get you for this!” the paladin cried, still tearing off pieces of armor.

“Whatever, paladin,” Strom laughed darkly. “I suggest you not pursue us any further. Reconsider your life choices.”

Ash winked at the horse and took off, quickly soaring into the air. He circled once above the paladin and his talking horse before moving off in the direction of the Icecrystal Mountains.

“What did you do to him?” Ash asked curiously as they flew away.

“I chilled his armor.”

“That’s all?”

“Well… I might have teleported his underwear away at the same time,” giggled the mage. “I hope he doesn’t mind shrinkage.”

They laughed for a few minutes before Strom said, “Okay, let’s go find this map maker in the Icecrystal Mountains.”

“Hey,” Ash said. “It’s been a great day. We have our first quest in nearly one hundred years!”

“Kind of exciting, isn’t it?”

“And we even have a nemesis again!” exclaimed Ash.

“Do I need to see a doctor about that?” asked Strom confusedly.

“No no. I mean an enemy. Someone to match wits with.”

“Ah. To be honest I’m more concerned about the horse than the paladin.”

“So true.”

And so their adventures began anew. Questing to find their forgotten home and avoid their paladin nemesis gave them a renewed purpose in life. It also gave them the opportunity to see how their reputations had held up since the good old days of blasting their enemies. And to find out how the micro-brew industry had evolved in the last century.

TheMisplacedTower-GARN-ArtABergloff

Artwork created by Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff)

Damon Garn lives in Colorado Springs, CO with his wife and two children. He enjoys hiking, writing and annoying his neighbors with mediocre guitar playing. He writes in the fantasy/sci-fi realm experimenting in flash fiction, short stories and a novel. Follow on Twitter: dmgwrites or at dmgwrites.wordpress.com
 

“Tzima N’arki (First Time)” by Kyle Bolan

Jake stares out at the mirror crouched down on the floor… Marie is right there by his side… Kathy is on the other side of the mirror… she’s in the closet… they’re all waiting for something to happen.

This goes on for a while… sweat running and eyes watering… Kathy sits in the dark so she can’t see what’s happening… Jake rocks backward and forward, and backward and forward, until he falls backward and is laying on the ground so he is facing the ceiling.

The ceiling drips… they all feel it… and they are still waiting.

Greg walks in the room and joins the festivities… rough patches of carpet to feet… the ratio of people in the room rises and then drops… they are waiting.

The ground cracks and the room settles… steam rises… eyes stare… Kathy puts her feet up to the inside of the door in the closet… she struggles to hold it closed from the air outside… all else is still… Jake flips himself so that he is now on the ground on his belly… he feels his heart flutter… he feels his heart skip a beat… beat… beat… beat… … and then it stops entirely.

Marie looks to Jake’s body… so does Greg… Kathy’s feet remained planted on the door.

They all watch… except Kathy… as Jake’s shell breaks… it is the others’ hearts that flutter… the air is still… the air remains still… the skin is still… the skin is split… blood that is produced is immediately sucked in by the opening from which the blood is produced… all is recycled… nothing is wasted… the others watch… except Kathy… she plants her feet further into the door… this causes the mirror on the other side to warp… it protrudes… it distends into the still air… the air may be still, but it is not silent… squishy sounds fill the room… sucking sounds that make a person hold their ears… push into their own heads until they bleed… until the skull cracks… until the brain collapses inward… until they make the sucking sounds themselves… until there is a symphony in the air… the ambient music of the future… a sound that fills the space… a sound that can be touched.

The spine of the body that was Jake shoots upward like a hand raised to answer a question in school… it hovers in the air, erect… Marie and Greg stare.

Jake’s skin now looks completely dried out… all the essential nutrients have been drained… everything recycled… nothing wasted.

The bones have all been sucked dry as well… the dessert… the body begins to shake… then it begins to shake violently… a thick foam bubbles up to the top of the opening in Jake’s body… a sizzling sound… Greg stands up… the sweat getting really heavy now… he collapses under the weight… all while an ectoplasmic mist is added to the already overcrowded air… Mary follows Greg… Kathy is about to pass out… she pushes so hard the door breaks from the inside out like Jake’s body… breaks into five pieces… five shard… the shards of mirror get skipped across the room like a rock on water… the water is skipped on the rock.

The shards provide Kathy with an all-angle view of the events in the room… the air is now electric… electric with change… electric with sweat… sweat mingling with tears… Kathy’s tears… Kathy is reduced to a whimpering pile in the back of the closet… as far back as she can go in the closet… she has broken down emotionally… logically… broken down like the bodies of Greg, Marie, and Jake.

Now… Jake’s dry, brittle flesh strips away from the inner skeleton… peels away like a rotten dried banana peel… the fruit on the inside is revealed.

Slime covers the floor… evaporates in a mist… ectoplasmic mist… steam rises from the crack in the floor… the floor of the room… the atmosphere of the room is evaporating… the bodies are evaporating.

Jake’s bones look jellified… they all lie scattered… they join the skin and the rest of Jake’s body… the body now reduced to slime and stench.

Jake is now red… redder than the sunset… redder than a rose… redder than his own blood… more reflective than his own blood… the light glinting off of every wet surface… every slimy surface… every curve… every angle… every crevice… being reflected by every surface of the mirror… both torn apart… both reflective.

Now… Greg’s spine shoots upward… Marie is making the squishy, sucking sounds… Jake flumps forward… tendrils extending slowly toward Kathy… slowly sliding to her feet… pulling the rest of Jake’s new form… deformed.

Kathy kicks… Kathy shrieks… Kathy bawls… Kathy sweats.

The red reaches Kathy’s bare feet… always bare… always open… the red inserts into Kathy… enters her… penetrates her through the space between her toes… each tendril finding two different toes to nestle between… to be nursed… to be mothered.

Kathy scratches at the walls… furiously… grabbing at the ceiling… at some handhold to pull away from the red… scratching at the walls in a blur… in a frenetic panic… drawing blood… drawing more blood… more to be recycled… sweat… blood… milk.

Kathy feels the red… she feels it inside of her… probing her veins… probing her body… reaching further… deeper… it excites her… it repulses her… hate… anger… red… passion… love… red.

Marie and Greg are now red… flump… flump… they inch forward… one with pseudopods… one with cilia… thousands of legs… creating a moving, fuzzy surface… like a teddy bear.

Kathy is an amalgam of four lifeforms now… a wholly new experience… a holy experience… exciting… a new sensation… beyond physical restraints… four lifeforms are one… three morphing into the fourth… the fourth becoming the three.

The room quakes… the crack widens… stench is added to the air… more electricity… more stench… beyond supersaturation… the air… the sweat… the blood… the three… the one… the four… the mirror… about to become the five…

END

TzimaN'arki-BOLAN-ArtABergloff

Artwork created by Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff).

Kyle Bolan is a fiction author who enjoys writing strange stories. He spends his free time reading and listening to records. You can follow him on Twitter @KyleBolan.

 

“The Keycard Is Always in the Morgue” by S.S. Sanderson

John Konrad launched his body into the heavy, metallic door for the third time. On the other side of this locked barrier was the cold steel of the helipad stairwell.

The helipad offered his last chance to escape. The borough was completely overrun with the undead. No one could criticize his valor or effort to reach this point. He had failed to save his companions but not for a lack of determination. The quiet mountain town had simply become a cesspool of six thousand zombies in the space of a few days.

When word arrived over a transistor radio that a helicopter was coming to rescue survivors, there were very few souls left. Konrad rallied a dozen others and guided the party from the temporary safety of the fortified county courthouse to the salvation promised on the rooftop of the hospital.

Each block offered unfathomable perils. The animated, decaying remains of friends and family staggered toward Konrad and the lives he hoped to save. The voices of these former loved ones were muddled but regrettably recognizable. At least one member of the party, a young woman, succumbed to the temptation of scooping up her young son one last time. The putrefying toddler didn’t waste a second before sinking his few teeth into the shoulder of his mother.

The virus spread from child to parent. Konrad had no choice but to gun the pair down.

Other members of the band were surprised by undead assailants leaping from storefronts or wrecked vehicles along the street. Zombified dogs and cats rushed at the group from heaps of carnage. Despite the weaponry boasted by those left living, the undead pursuers simply knew no fear or apprehension.

An inferno had consumed the intersection of Center Avenue and Patriot Street, introducing new hazards and dangers to the group. One of Konrad’s close friends, who had single-handedly cut down dozens of zombies over the previous days, was pinned between a burning horde of charred flesh and the blazing façade of a pizzeria. Konrad was unable to save his friend and could only watch in agony as the man disappeared into the ravenous tongues of both flames and zombies.

The hospital presented a new series of horrors. The lobby and emergency rooms were the breeding ground for this plague, and there were plenty of reanimated nurses and doctors – those poor souls consumed at the very start of this pestilence – searching for living flesh.

Konrad had successfully helped four others reach the hospital but had lost every life sans his own during the fight to access the helipad. 

After pounding on the heavy helipad door in frustration, Konrad tossed his shotgun down onto the floor. He was out of shells and had only a knife left to defend himself. Continuous hand-to-hand combat with the undead would only result in his doom. He was no solider or hardened police officer. He was merely a sanitation worker with the foresight to act when the borough went to hell.

A green flashing light next to the door mocked him. This was the sensor of the keycard reader. A keycard would unbolt the door and grant him passage to the helipad.

“The morgue,” he muttered. The very hive of the undead masses.

 He had fought his way through the morgue to get to this point, and, while dispatching a zombie at point-blank range, noticed this particular incarnation of evil had once been the general manager of the hospital. Tangled in the tattered clothing of this creature was a keychain with a series of metal keys and plastic cards. Konrad had no doubt one of those cards would unlock the helipad door.

“Always has to be the morgue,” he said to himself. He thought about the video games he played as a teenager, especially those involving the living dead. The course of the game always took the player through a morgue.

He imagined himself fighting back through the teeming masses that undoubtedly followed him and the others into the hospital. He thought about having to grapple with each of those beasts while trying to slit their bloated throats with his knife. One single bite would spell his doom and there was no telling how many creatures lurked the corridors between his position and the morgue.

Konrad sat down on the floor. A new thought had come to his mind. Since the outbreak first seized the borough, he had personally destroyed at least one hundred zombies. There were probably more that he had failed to count for one reason for another.

One hundred.

“Not bad for a garbage man,” he mumbled with a smirk.

John Konrad closed his eyes, yawned fiercely, and waited for the keycard to come to him. Of course, he knew this would inevitably occur. 

KeycardIsAlwaysInTheMorgue-SANDERSON-ArtABergloff (1)

Artwork created by Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff)

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S.S. Sanderson (@SSSanderson2) us an amateur author from that special place in America where Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia all meet. Otherwise, he lives a life that looks better on paper.

“Exploring a Frozen World” by Joshua Scully

Freed from parachute material, restrictive connections, and the general confines of the lander, a roving probe hummed to life and rolled onto the frigid surface of a new world.

Given the distance involved, there had never existed any hope to remotely pilot the rover. The small six-wheeled vehicle was programmed to forge a path through this frozen world, while using three cameras to photograph the vast white expanses surrounding the lander.

Photographs captured by the rover would first be relayed to the lander. An array on the lander had the capacity to communicate the images back home. The enormity of space required that visions of this extraterrestrial winterscape travel many light-years, not arriving until long after the rover ceased to function. Despite the apparent cold, this particular planet existed within the habitable zone of main sequence star. Data collected by the lander and rover, no matter how scant, may determine this world deserved a closer consideration in the never-ending search for life in the cosmos, or, perhaps more importantly, the discovery of specific qualities may well earmark this far-flung planet for future colonization. 

A shrill wind immediately forced the heating units on the rover to activate. Solar panels mounted to the rover charged these units and powered motors that propelled the wheels. A single hathium cytrate battery enabled the cameras to function. Once that battery was exhausted, the rover would wonder blindly as a handful of far more trivial instruments monitored atmospheric and meteorological conditions for as long as possible.  

Wasting no opportunities, the computer onboard the rover immediately resolved to begin snapping photographs while the alloy wheels rolled ancient snow and ice. The lander directed the rover toward an interesting feature in the distance: an active volcano. Extraterrestrial volcanism was always a worthwhile subject of investigation, and the appearance of the smoking mountain in an otherwise barren, harsh world seemed as reasonable a location to search for life as any other visible point.

As the rover slowly rolled toward the towering slope in the distance, blowing snow periodically threatened the solar panels. If the panels were to be covered, the small craft would cease to move. Fortune proved supportive of discovery, as the very gusts that brought the snow also later cleared the panels.

Whenever the whiteout conditions relented, the host star shined brightly, allowing the rover to frantically snap photographs. 

Such dazzling sunlight piqued sensors on the rover to scan for liquid water. With such consistent heat, the extremities of the enormous glaciers that dominated the surface surely periodically melted.  

As time passed, the instrumentation on the rover failed to detect liquid water. However, there was a starling determination: the rover had reached sea ice. The surface had quickly become a frozen sea. 

Although the wind refused to abate, the diminutive rover approached the lowest levels of the volcano’s mighty form. A great plume of smoke emitting from the caldera was captured from the rover’s cameras and communicated to the lander.

The rover now faced a nearly impossible challenge: scaling the towering flanks to the summit. Great cavern systems or pools of primordial magma could easily be discovered and assessed in route. Of course, this was highly unlikely, but the potential for discovery was too great. 

Rebecca Jameson and Todd Werth, American volcanologists from McMurdo Station, watched as a tiny, vehicle crossed the McMurdo Sound roughly fifty meters from their field camp at the base of Mt. Erebus, the most southerly active volcano on Earth.

“What the hell is that?” Rebecca asked. She pointed a gloved hand directly at the contraption that resembled little more than an expensive remote-controlled car.

“I have no idea,” Todd replied, “and I don’t see anyone else around.” He casually approached the rover and carefully lifted the craft with both hands. The six wheels underneath whizzed and whirled once losing contact with the ice.

“Well?” 

“Not one of ours,” Todd observed. “I’ve never seen us use a rover this small.”

“Maybe we should call over to Scott and ask if they lost one?” Rebecca asked, referring to a nearby research station.

“Yeah,” Todd said, “I guess we should. Odd that one would be just wondering around. I’ve heard of penguins doing that but never a rover.”

Rebecca smiled and reached out to touch one of the hurriedly spinning and turning wheels when Todd approached.

“Noisy little thing,” she laughed. “But I think ours are just as temperamental.”

“Let’s go,” Todd chuckled in reply. “I’m sure whoever this belongs to will want it back.”

ExploringFrozenWorld-SCULLY-ArtABergloff.jpg

Artwork created by Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff)

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Joshua Scully (@jojascully) is an American History teacher from Pennsylvania. His writes fiction and loves a good anachronism. 

 

“The Caring Professional” by Emma Power

The doc takes his time 
His patience with his patients,

Revered as sublime

He will not desert 
He’ll see the sea of faces,

He understands hurt

Kindness is his style,
He knows there is no hope but

Hides it with a smile

He’s a great planner,
Worth the while to use his wile

And bedside manner

As each patient dies,
Their goodbye aided by the

Devil in his eyes

TheCaringProfessional-POWER-ArtABergloff

Artwork created by Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff)

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Emma Power loves reading and writing poetry from her home in Manchester, England and has a little obsession with writing ‘Tweetlits’ on Twitter, which can be found on @epower05. Her poems have appeared previously in The Evening Theatre and she has many poems published online, under E Power, on Footballpoets.orgscriggler.com and poetryspace.co.uk. On poetrypulse.com, her poetry has been prize winning, commended or awarded an honourable mention. She also has work forthcoming on lightenup-online.co.uk.

 

“Comeback”: An Introduction to Our April 2018 Performance

After a year hiatus, The Evening Theatre has reopened with a tremendous lineup. The digital dust is gone. The proverbial cobwebs are no more. The door is again open – watch your step. 

The intention of our “comeback” is to pick up right where we left off last year, bringing you tales of the wild, weird, and wonderful. Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff) generously provided the artwork for this performance. We are incredibly grateful for her time and talent. 

The Evening Theatre is proud to present a lineup for our “comeback” that includes both new and familiar authors. Emma Power (@epower05) opens the performance with a piece of medicinal poetry. Joshua Scully (@jojascully) and Kyle Bolan (@KyleBolan) bring bizarre tales of the strange and unexpected. S.S. Sanderson (@SSSanderson2) revisits a familiar video game motif, and Damon Garn (@dmgwrites) introduces readers to the first entry of a series that intricately blends humor and fantasy elements. LiAnnah Jameson (@annah_li) poetically confronts internal demons to conclude the lineup.

The performance lineup for April 2018:

Opening Act – “The Caring Professional” by Emma Power

First Act“Exploring a Frozen World” by Joshua Scully

The Jester – “The Keycard Is Always in the Morgue” by Shaw S. Sanderson

Second Act“Tzima N’arki (First Time)” by Kyle Bolan

Headliner – “The Misplaced Tower” by Damon Garn

The Encore “The Monster in the Mirror” by LiAnnah Jameson

TheEveningTheatre-2018APRIL-ArtABergloff.jpg

Artwork created by Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff)

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Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff) is a surrealist artist whose work has been published in the e-zines, New Myths, The Horror Zine, 200CCs, Firefly Magazine, Enchanted Conversation, and Shotgun! Strange Stories.

 

“Foolishness” by Emma Power

Blurring the lines
of reality,
The lady in the lake
Called out to me,
With an odd,
Mermaid-like quality.
I waded in
Quickly, purposely,
With no thought
for my own mortality-
Or any fear
For my sanity.
A fatal error
Unfortunately,
For this eagerness, this foolishness
Was the end of me.
The Fool.jpg

Emma Power loves reading and writing poetry from her home in Manchester, England and has a little obsession with writing ‘Tweetlits’ on Twitter, which can be found on @epower05. Her poems have appeared previously in The Evening Theatre and she has many poems published online, under E Power, on Footballpoets.orgscriggler.com and poetryspace.co.uk. On poetrypulse.com, her poetry has been prize winning, commended or awarded an honourable mention. She also has work forthcoming on lightenup-online.co.uk.

“Pop” by S.S. Sanderson

Her children were elated to learn their mother was the new night manager at a candy factory. The operation was a new one in town, having refitted a shuttered brewery along the river to make gasified, sugary treats. This meant Stacy Jones would work while her children slept, but the opportunity to provide for her family was too great to pass.

Although ownership acquired the brewery and secondhand equipment rather cheap, Stacy was keenly aware that her employers desired to immediately return a profit from their meager investment. Her office was a mess of inventory forms and purchase orders. The main floor of the facility was a haphazard jumble of equipment, supplies, and completed confections.

While she expected a quiet night of paperwork inside her office, her first shift took an inauspicious turn. Just before midnight, an explosion of some short ruptured several pressurized tanks near the back of the facility. Stacy rushed from her office to assess the situation. She heard confused shouting as a sudden wave of flames jumped over stored sacks of sugar. 

Stacy mulled the possible sources of the calamity. As far as potential causes of the blaze and explosion were concerned, the gas canisters and human error topped her list. Unfortunately, she had little time to process her suspicions.

Alarms sounded as the antiquated sprinkler system sputtered to life. Stacy ran toward the back of the main floor, hoping to usher the other employees to safety. She stumbled over the form of Dennis Hosmer. Stacy regained her footing and pulled the man off the ground.

Dennis sported an impressive, purple knot on his forehead. He clumsily put one arm around Stacy. 

“Something caught me right in the head,” Dennis groaned. “A pipe or gauge.” 

Stacy struggled forward toward the emergency exit at the rear of the facility. The sprinkler system played out, and the flames appeared to race her toward the door. She punched the door open with all the strength she could muster. She and Dennis collapsed onto the ballast of the railroad track that ran directly between the factory and the Huxascotch River.

Stacy positioned Dennis off the rails and turned back toward the facility. Her eyes focused on the door just as another explosion blew out the three massive windows along the back wall of the factory. She shielded her face from a rain of glass shards as an entire vat of liquefied sugar and pallets of completed product tumbled through the new openings and onto the rails. The entire area outside the back of the factory was now peppered with sticky metallic equipment and entire crates of candy. She was grateful that Dennis was spared the brunt of this new blast. 

“What about the others?” Dennis asked over the roar of the newly ignited inferno inside. He tried to stand but collapsed backward.

Stacy didn’t have time to respond. She charged back into the building. Hissing gas and encroaching flames immediately greeted her. 

There were three other employees in the factory that night, and Stacy Jones rescued each one.

She pulled Bernie Davis, an elderly man well past the age of retirement, from under several sacks of sugar. Bernie had fallen and couldn’t get up. His age, weight, and the multiple sacks contributed to his inability to escape.

She supported Paula Hughes as both women hurried outside where Dennis and Bernie waited. Paula had serious burns and her uniform was coated in blue raspberry flavoring. Otherwise, Stacy could see that the woman was in no worse condition than the others.

Stacy dragged the unconscious Eunice Jacobs from the floor near a ruptured vat of boiling water. Eunice was in bad shape, but Stacy believed that proper medicinal care would afford Eunice a reasonable recovery.

Stacy lowered the unconscious woman onto the gravel next to Bernie and Paula. Stacy sighed as a new explosion rocketed piping from another vat, pallets of product, and entire cases of vinegar into the chilly night. The aroma of blue raspberry mixed with smoke and formed a scented haze over the group.

“Is everyone okay?” Stacy asked.

“Yes,” Paula said. “I’m burned, but I’ll be okay.”
“I’m fine,” Dennis replied. He had returned to his feet, but he rubbed the discolored mass on his forehead as he spoke.

“I think Eunice will be okay,” Stacy said. “She’s in bad shape, but I think she’ll be okay.”

Bernie didn’t say anything. He seemed distracted. His eyes searched the night along the river.

“I hope,” Dennis said. His voice was challenged by a distant sound. 

Stacy wondered if fire trucks were approaching to battle the flames. She heard the sound a second time. A light appeared in the darkness. As the sound emerged from the distance a third time, Stacy realized that the light and sound were connected.

A locomotive was approaching. Pools of light from a nearby glassworks illuminated the approaching freight train. <

“Come on,” Stacy said to Dennis. “We need to get everyone away from the tracks!”

Stacy helped Paula to her feet. Dennis slipped his arms under Eunice’s shoulders and lifted the unconscious woman off the gravel. Stacy was weary of getting too close to the candy factory, and there wasn’t much space between the tracks and the blown out windows of the rear wall. A blue, sugary mixture was seeping over the ruined window frames. 

“We just need to get out of the way,” Stacy said to Paula. The other woman seemed alarmed. Dennis lowered Eunice back to the ground. 

“I think we have bigger problems,” Dennis woefully observed. “Look at the debris on the tracks. The locomotive is going kick all of that up. We need to get farther away.”

Dennis made a good point. A loud burst from the horn of the lead locomotive seemed to affirm his statement. Bricks, crates, sacks, and scraps of equipment littered the rails. A few pieces of the shattered vats were quite large. 

“Carry Eunice,” Stacy directed. “I’ll get Paula and Bern. We need to get down to the river.”

Dennis scooped Eunice back into his arms. Eunice seemed to rouse with this new movement as Dennis crossed the tracks back toward the river. 

“What happened?” She stammered.

“You’re okay,” Dennis replied. “I’ll explain in a minute.”

Stacy followed close behind, guiding Paula over the gravel. 

Bernie hadn’t moved. He sat in the same spot near the rails. Stacy started to speak to him, but the shrill of the brakes from the locomotive canceled out her voice. 

“Pop,” Bernie muttered. He turned and looked back at Stacy. “That train is hauling pop.”

Although that specific term was falling out of use, Stacy understood what Bernie was saying. Stacy looked down the tracks, beyond the cone of light at the front of the freight train. A familiar red and white pattern appeared on several railcars.

“Oh my god!” Stacy gasped. The freight was hauling soft drinks from a nearby bottling plant. Thousands and thousands of gallons of soda were careening toward a ruined carbonated candy factory.

“Run!” Stacy shouted to Paula. The blue raspberry flavored woman stumbled forward, as Stacy turned to help Bernie. The old man moved slowly, even with the locomotive plainly visible.

Dennis had already managed to get Eunice a few yards out into the slowly flowing Huxascotch River. Paula set a foot into the cold water just as the locomotive struck the first piece of debris.

“Jump!” Stacy screamed. She pushed the old man forward and dove into the water. A deep percussion sound followed her. The slowing locomotive had struck one of the ruptured vats. Subsequent railcars skipped the tracks and ripped through the ballast toward the back of the factory. A fantastic, fizzing, popping, boiling explosion ensued.

Stacy poked her head above the water and rubbed her eyes clear of blue foam floating on the surface. Dennis, Paula, Eunice, and Bernie emerged soon after. 
“Unbelievable,” Stacy muttered. The fizzing foam covered everything in sight. She could hear members of the railroad crew shouting to each other in disbelief.

“You know what?” Dennis asked.

“What?” Stacy responded.

“When you were pulling me out of the factory, all I could think was that the explosion and fire were part one massive insurance scam.”

Stacy nodded.

“Someone is going to be in a lot of trouble,” he continued. “Especially the Food and Drug Administration. This isn’t supposed to actually happen.” Dennis whipped some of the blue foam around in the water.

“Definitely not,” Stacy said with a sigh of relief.

“I really hate blue raspberry candy,” Bernie offered. The old man spoke for everyone.
Train.jpg
S.S. Sanderson (@SSSanderson2) us an amateur author from that special place in America where Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia all meet. Otherwise, he lives a life that looks better on paper.

“How to Dress for a Funeral” by Caleb Echterling

A man in a chicken suit staggered into baggage claim at LAX. A thumb and index finger pinched his beak and twisted his head down to sister level. “Couldn’t you dress appropriately for a funeral?” Chicken-man’s sister, in head-to-toe black, glared through narrowed eyelids.

“No can do, sis. I sold everything to follow my dream of being the first person to scale Mount Everest on a unicycle while dressed as a chicken. Which Dad always said he’d derail. Guess he finally kept a promise.” Chicken-man scooped a hard-edged garbage bag from the conga line of suitcases dancing down the conveyor belt.

A guttural growl vibrated from the sister’s larynx. “Too late now. Funeral’s in an hour. We can’t be late. Dad’s last wish was for you to give the eulogy.”

“But Dad hated me and everything I stand for.”

A hand slapped the back of the chicken head. “That’s horrible. Why would you think that?”

“That was the last thing Dad said before I left for Kathmandu.”

An hour later, at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, a unicycle carrying a man in a chicken suit whizzed between pews of mourners. The wheel lurched sideways on slick carpet. A feathered bowling ball crashed into lily ten-pins. Chicken-man popped to his feet and spread his wings like Christ the Redeemer. The obligatory ‘ta-da’ went unsaid.

Chicken-man shook water from his feathers. A creased cocktail napkin topped the lectern. He plucked reading glasses from under a wing and wiggled his tail feathers. “All I can say about a man I haven’t spoken to in twenty years is to pass on the best advice he ever gave me. Don’t eat yellow snow.”

Chikcen.jpg

 

Caleb Echterling is a talent scout for the Intercontinental Dust Bunny Rodeo. He tweets funny fiction using the not at all clever handle @CalebEchterling. You can find more of his work at http://www.calebechterling.com.