ISSUE 14, September 2017



Cover Art by Glass Valkyrie Studios



*Please enjoy our monthly issue for free. Be aware however, that this free version contains some formatting issues such as the abscence of italics. To experience the stories in their properly formatted versions, you can purchase a copy on Kindle or a print edition through Amazon.

True Colors
By Mike Murphy

It was a beautiful, sun-drenched Saturday morning. Forty-two-year-old Charlie Duncan opened the front door of his single-family home and strolled down the walkway to retrieve his newspaper, between the flanking rosebushes. His back ached a bit as he stooped for it. He attributed this to getting older – not old, but older.
As he glanced at the front-page headlines, Charlie noticed his neighbor, Phil, looking at him strangely from the other side of the picket fence that separated their properties. “Good morning, Phil,” Charlie called.
“Good. . . Good morning,” Phil replied uneasily.
“Lovely day!” Charlie continued.
“It sure is,” Phil responded hesitantly, before stealing a couple of parting looks and walking off in the direction of his shed.
Charlie flipped to the sports page. “The Sox lost again?” he read with surprise. “They really have to find some pitching or they’re gonna. . .” He glanced up from the paper, shocked. He rubbed his eyes. Nope, still the same. “What in the name of. . .” Confused, he called into the house for his wife. “Claire?”
“What is it, dear?” she called back.
“Can you come out here, please?”
“I’m busy in the kitchen,” she answered him.
“It’s important,” he added.
Not a minute later, Claire, her hair in curlers, exited the house and walked to her husband’s side. “Did the Wilson boy throw the newspaper in the rosebushes again?” she said. “I’ve asked him to be more careful.”
    “N-No,” Charlie stammered, holding up the paper. “I’ve got it right. . . right here.”
His wife took the newspaper from his hands. “The Sox lost again?” Claire said, reading the headline.
“That’s not important,” Charlie responded.
     “The heck it isn’t!” she protested. “If they don’t find some pitching fast, they can kiss any pennant hopes goodbye.”
“That’s not what I called you out here for.”
    “Then what’s the problem? Our bacon and eggs aren’t going to cook themselves.”        
“You mean,” Charlie continued incredulously after a confused pause, “you don’t see it?”
“See what?”
“The house.”
Claire was insulted. “Of course I can see the house, Charlie,” she answered him, “even without my contacts in.”
“Well?” he added, prompting her.
“It looks fine to me,” she said. “It’s a lovely shade of. . .”
It was then that she really noticed the house. The purple house. “What the. . .” she said, befuddled.
“That’s the point,” her husband answered her.
“Our house is white. It has been for years.”
“I know.”
“Then how. . .”
“I don’t have the slightest idea.”
Woof, woof, woof! their dog, Dublin, barked from the backyard. Charlie whistled for him. “C’mere, Dublin!” he called out. “Here, boy!” When Dublin rounded the corner of the house, Charlie got his second surprise of the day.
“Oh, my God!” Claire exclaimed. “He’s green!”
Charlie knelt to pat his energetic emerald pup. “I know he’s an Irish setter,” Charlie said, “but this is ridiculous.”    
***
“Well, Henry?” Charlie asked his friend, who was peering at the house’s purple aluminum siding.
“You got me,” Henry shrugged.
    “What do you mean?” Charlie replied, not happy. “You sold me this aluminum siding five years ago. What happened to it?”
    “I sold you white siding, pal,” Henry answered.
    “It’s the same siding. Look.” Charlie pulled back a corner. “You can see the original wood underneath. This is the stuff you sold me. Something’s happened to it.”
Henry paused before summing up the situation in two words: “It’s purple.”
“I can see that! Why else would I have called you over here on a Saturday morning?”
“What turned it purple?”
    “That’s what I want you to tell me.”
“Me?” a confused Henry replied.
    “Yeah,” Charlie reiterated. “Did you sell me cheap stuff?”
    “Never,” his friend replied, insulted. “Nothing but the best for my customers.”
“Then how. . .”
Henry scraped his thumbnail on the siding for a few seconds. “Hmmm?”
“What?” Charlie asked eagerly.
“There’s no trace of white underneath. It’s like it was always purple.” He rubbed his eyes and continued, “I don’t know of a company that even makes purple siding.”
“What can you do for me?”
“Huh?”
    “I can’t have a purple house!” Charlie protested. “You have to fix it.”
    “It’s not my fault,” Henry explained. “My team and I put up good-quality, white aluminum siding. I have no idea why it’s changed color, but it’s nothing we did wrong.”
Charlie was exasperated. “There must be a clause in my contract that covers something like this.”    
Henry’s answer was final. “Uh, uh,” he said. “I’ve been in the siding business for twenty-two years. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
***
    The salt-and-pepper-haired man who parked his car in Charlie’s driveway was wearing a military uniform adorned with many colorful ribbons. Never having served, Charlie did not know which branch of the service his visitor was from. The man strode towards Charlie with a purpose. “Excuse me,” he said, glancing down briefly at a small notepad, “are you Mr. Charles Duncan?”
    “I am,” Charlie answered.
“I’m General David Peterson,” the uniformed man continued. “My friends call me ‘Pete.’”    
“Pleased to meet you, Pete,” Charlie replied amiably.
    “I said my friends call me that,” Peterson reiterated. “You can call me ‘General.’”
    “Of course,” Charlie quickly responded, taken aback.
“I’m with the Department of Homeland Security,” the General went on. “I’m here about your. . . problem.”
    “The house?”
“Yes, and the dog.”
    Charlie was incredulous. “You heard about my dog?” he asked.
    “We hear about many things,” Peterson answered.
    “Why would the DHS be concerned about this?”
“Can you explain why these things have happened?”
     “Well, no,” Charlie began, “but I hardly think – ”  
“We can’t explain it either,” the man in the uniform continued. “At the Department, when we can’t explain something, our thoughts turn to terrorism. It’s part of the job. We need to be naturally suspicious.”
     “Why would a terrorist want to change the colors of my house and my dog? What would it benefit him?”
“We have no way of knowing that at present, but those terrorists can be unpredictable little buggers. They bear watching. My gut reaction is that what’s happened here strikes at the very heart of America.”
“How?” Charlie asked, confused.
Peterson looked annoyed. “What’s more American than our homes and our pets?” he queried.
“Apple pie?” Charlie suggested.
    “No thanks,” the General replied. “I had a big breakfast.”
    “I wasn’t off– ”
“The Department has checked with the local meteorological authorities. We can find no weather-related reason for your problem.”
“I see.”
“We’ll want to bring in some specialists as soon as possible to learn what happened here,” General Peterson continued. “We’ll expect your complete cooperation.”
“Of course,” Charlie replied.
    “How is the pup?”
“He’s fine. Thanks for asking.”
    “His name is Dublin?”
    “Yes, sir,” Charlie answered, amazed by the speed at which the General changed topics. “He’s an Irish setter – a bright green one, but still a setter.”
“Have you tried giving him a bath? Maybe that’s all it would take.”
     “My wife gave him one. No dice.”
     “Still green?”
“Very,” Charlie answered with a sigh.
     “Then power washing the house probably won’t do any good.” Peterson’s cell phone rang. He excused himself and answered it before Charlie could tell if the ringtone really was “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“Peterson here. Yes, Sergeant? You don’t say? Yes, contact Larabie immediately. I’ll be back at the office in about twenty minutes.”
    With the beep of a button, he turned his phone off and then dropped it into his pocket. “Is there another problem, General?” Charlie inquired.
“Indeed, there is,” he replied, somehow looking even more serious.
“Anything I can help with?”
The General paused to consider Charlie’s offer. “Are you a good American, Mr. Duncan?” he asked.
“Of course,” Charlie responded.    
“You pay your taxes?”
“Every year.”
“Do you stand and put your hand over your heart every time the National Anthem is played?”
    “At every Sox game.” Charlie leaned in. “What’s wrong?”
“Can you. . . keep this under your hat?”
    “Of course.”
“That was Sgt. Hunnicutt from my office,” Peterson continued, his voice going sotto voce. “We just received a report from Washington: The entire state of New Hampshire has turned. . . blue.”
***
The President was already running fifteen minutes late, and the throng of reporters in the White House press room was not happy about that fact – especially on a news day like today. Finally, the Press Secretary stepped forward. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “the President of the United States.”
The President stepped out from behind a curtain and onto the stage. The click of the cameras was momentarily deafening, the flashbulbs going off, blinding. She stepped to the lectern and adjusted the microphone, which briefly squealed as she began speaking. “Good Saturday afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,” she started. “I’d like to make a statement before I take any questions.
“Reports are coming into the White House from all over the nation of sudden, unexplained color changes happening to animals, plants, homes, and a variety of other things. Wyoming is now entirely orange, Rhode Island is pink, and Kansas has turned a lovely shade of magenta – really quite beautiful.”
Concerned hubbub emanated from the press corps. The President did her best to ignore it and continued. “I want to stress at this time that these changes,” she went on, “while most odd, have not proven the least bit harmful to any living thing that has undergone such a transformation.
“Also, these occurrences are not limited to our country: Great Britain is now largely brown, Paris has turned a glimmering white, and Canada is almost entirely paisley. The Department of Homeland Security is investigating all cases in this country, and I expect to have a report from Secretary Morgan in short order.”
***
The phone in Louie’s “office” had been ringing off the hook all day. He had covered more bets in just a few hours than he ever had for any sporting event.
“OK,” he said into his telephone’s sweaty mouthpiece. “Let me make sure I have your bets straight: twenty bucks that Washington, D.C., will turn blue by Tuesday morning, another twenty that L.A. will go pink by lunch tomorrow, and fifty that absolutely nothing will happen to New York because they won’t put up with it. . . OK, you’re covered.”
He hung up the telephone and finished writing down his customer’s bets. “I don’t know why all this is happening, but I’m gonna make a mint!” he happily said. “This is bigger than the Super Bowl.” He chuckled as the telephone rang again. “What people won’t bet on!”
***
The News 4 cameraman lined up the shot of Zebadiah Brown’s dairy farm. It certainly looked different from the last time he had been here. Back then, the grass was green and the cows were brown, not red and silver, respectively, like now.
    “This is Bart Lawson for News 4 reporting from Shady Brooks, the dairy farm of Mr. Zebadiah Brown,” the reporter began on cue. “I have Mr. Brown here with me. Good afternoon, sir.”
     “Afternoon,” Brown replied.
    “I’m curious, Mr. Brown,” Lawson continued, “if the recent changes here have affected your business.”
     “What changes would those be?” the farmer asked.
“The color changes,” Lawson explained, incredulous. “All your cows have turned. . . silver.”
“That’s true,” Brown replied matter-of-factly.
“Has this affected your sales?” the reporter pressed.
“No, not really. The cows still give the best white milk in the county.”
“Even with eating red grass?”
“Yes, even so.” He turned and looked directly into the camera. “If any of you are at all concerned, you just come on down to Shady Brooks, and I’ll personally give you a free glass of the best milk your money can buy – whole, skim, or two percent.”
***
Astronaut Gavin Mitchell looked out the window of the International Space Station upon the once blue-green world of Earth. Onboard instruments reported that eighty-two percent of the planet had now changed color. The surface reminded him of the crazy quilts his grandma used to make in her sewing circle. He glanced down at his own brown skin. When, he wondered, will I change color?
***
The boy looked out his bedroom window at the three orbiting moons. Behind him, the magnometer held his latest project in check while he decided how to proceed. The door slid upward, and his father oozed into the room. “Hello, Father,” he said. “How was work?”
“Same as always,” his father replied, the door sliding shut behind him. He looked down at the whirring magnometer. “You’re playing with that world again?”
“Yes,” his son replied shyly.
“I haven’t seen that one in thousands of years.”
           “Me, neither. Mother found it when she was cleaning up the other day.”
           “Why are you bothering with that old planet again?” the boy’s father asked. “You have so many new ones you can design.”
           “I know,” his boy answered him, “but, now that I see it again, I feel bad.”
“What do you mean?”
    “Remember the way it was: blue sky, green grass, white clouds? Boring! It was one of my first efforts back when I was little, and I used some pretty drab colors,” the boy explained. “Now that I’m older, I’m sure I can make it look much nicer.”
           “It looks better already,” his father complimented him. “I like the orange seas.”
           “Thanks. Just wait until it’s done!”
           “Be careful,” the elder warned. “The beings on that world have been a problem since day one – so much bickering.”
    “That was my fault, but I think I know how to fix it now.”
“How?”
           “The problem is,” the boy went on, “that I made all the people different colors: white, black, brown, yellow, red. That gave some of them the idea that they were better than the others.”
“So, what are you going to do to fix that?” his father asked, eager to know.    
“Make them all the same color! That should do it.”
“Good idea,” the elder said. “What color?”
His son looked down at the world he had created long ago, the world that now so desperately needed his help. “I’m leaning towards gray,” he said. “What do you think?”    ​

Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy has had over 150 audio plays produced in the U.S. and overseas. In 2016, he won two Moondance International Film Festival awards.

His prose work has appeared in, among others, DIME SHOW REVIEW, GATHERING STORM MAGAZINE, ZETETIC, LYONESSE, THEME OF ABSENCE, FABULA ARGENTEA, and BUCKSHOT MAGAZINE.

In 2015, Mike's script “The Candy Man” was produced as a short film under the title DARK CHOCOLATE. In 2013, he won the inaugural Marion Thauer Brown Audio Drama Scriptwriting Competition.

He keeps a blog at audioauthor.blogspot.com.


Good Intentions
By Gerri Leen

The night is dark, the wind blowing hard and wet.  The guy clutching his gut and staggering down the street needs help.  I'm a woman alone, in a new town, and pretty sure this isn't the safest neighborhood. 
So, stop me if you've heard this one.  Nice girl moves to the big city, tries to be a Good Samaritan for one of the natives.  Gets chopped up for it, maybe shot. Probably even worse things happening in between her trying to help and her dying. 
We've all heard this one, right? 
I help, anyway.  It's what I do, who I am.  Or it is now.  I know: the road to hell and all, paved with good intentions. But there was a day when my intentions weren't so good, and let's just say things have been weird for me ever since.  So now, I help. 
I sort of have a quota. 
Weird, like I said. 
"Hey, mister." 
He turns around and throws up.  I'm glad it's night; the vomit smells less like vomit and more like whiskey and blood, and I'm not in the mood to see that particular spin art.  I'm also glad I didn't get too close.  These are new shoes, a light gray python, and I really love them. 
"What the hell you want, lady?" 
"I want to help you."  It's not even a lie.  I don't give a rat's ass about this guy, but I do want to help him.  Whether I like it or not. 
And in his case, it's really, really not. 
I grab his arm, muttering, "Dude, hygiene.  Lost art, I know, but man."  I sort of hustle him down the street toward the emergency clinic, which I'm sure was not where he was going. 
"What're you doing?"  He swings at me and grunts in pain, spitting more blood as he wheezes.  I'm pretty sure he's got something wrong on the inside because I don’t smell blood draining from any external holes. 
Yes, smell.  Did I mention I'm not human?  Oh, don't worry, I'm not some damn vampire.  Trust me.  That life would be a walk in the park. 
Yes, I'm actually jealous of bloodsuckers. 
The man stops and grabs my hand.  "Give me all your money or I'll cut your face up."  He slurs it together, but the blade in his hand is a pretty good indication he's serious. 
See, I don't get any points if they aren't dangerous.  Points, can you believe that? 
I don't reach for my purse fast enough, apparently, and he slices down my arm.  If he could see in the dark, he'd notice the blood coming out is sort of a purplish-green.  It'd make a great nail polish color.  But even he can tell the smell is off. 
"What the—?" 
"Okay, here we go."  The cut stings like hell, but I ignore it and push him down the street and through the door of the clinic.  I take his knife away for good measure.  I lose massive points if he hurts someone else on my watch. 
"Think he has something nasty going on inside him.  He's vomiting blood," I tell the attendant at reception.  "Also, he's violent and likes to play with sharp objects." 
"Good to know.  Leon, get out here." 
Leon is massive.  He takes the drunk from me, then glances at my arm.  "What's that?" 
I look down at my arm.  The blood is shining iridescent, like fish scales winking jade and violet.  "I was at a party." 
He just nods.  It's amazing how many things that simple excuse can explain away. 
"You took a risk bringing him here."  He's got the drunk face-up against the wall as he leans against him, which can't be that great for my project's insides, though it's definitely limiting the trouble he can make. 
"Seemed the right thing to do."  I smile and head for the door. 
"Hey," Leon calls out.  "What's your name?" 
"Luz." 
"Pretty name." 
"Thanks."  I walk out, take three steps, and immediately sense I'm not alone.  "Gabe?" 
"Hey, sis."  He leans out a darkened doorway.  He's wearing a black trench coat and fedora. 
I look down at my own winter white coat – ruined now thanks to the drunk and his knife – and my gray pants.  I laugh.  We're so anti-stereotype, my big bro and me. 
"Whatcha doing, Luz?" 
"Good works.  What do you think I'm doing?" 
"You're never going to make it." 
His confidence in me is disappointingly low, as usual.  Then again, I don't see him out mingling with the dregs of humanity.  He leaves that for the lesser angels.  So how would he know if I'm getting close or not? 
Close being a relative term when you're immortal.   
Because for me, you see, the road out of hell is paved with good intentions.  With a smile, I walk away from him. 
"Lucifer?" he says, his voice soft. 
I turn.  
"We miss you." 
"I miss you, too.  And home." 
"I hope you make it."  He smiles, then turns and walks down the street, a sad whistle accompanying the slip slap of his shoes. 
I watch him till he's out of sight.  "I hope so, too, Gabriel."

Gerri Leen

Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. In addition to being an avid reader and an at-times sporadic writer, she's passionate about horse racing (the racing part, not betting), tea, whiskey, handbags, and art.  She has work appearing in: Nature, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, Grievous Angel, Grimdark, and others, and has edited several anthologies for independent presses.  See more at http://www.gerrileen.com. 
Trapped in Ceramic
By Maureen Bowden

I saw the statuette in the Donkey Shelter charity shop’s window. My head spun and my legs buckled with shock. Only five minutes earlier, I’d been sitting at the reception desk in the opticians, ‘Lenz & Spex,’ where I arrange eye tests for the great British public and help them choose spectacle frames that enhance their sexual allure. I was praying for lunch hour. When the clock struck twelve, I grabbed my coat. The new trainee, a blue-haired Goth called Janine, flung herself into my chair, opening her copy of ‘Celebs Darkest Secrets’, and I was out the door. Now, I was staring at a porcelain image of my daughter and her husband, who both disappeared ten years ago today.
    It’s not possible, I thought. It’s a trick of the light. Steadying myself, I walked into the shop and confronted a Donkey Shelter version of Janine but with Satsuma coloured hair, engrossed in the pages of ‘Hot Hunks’.
    I coughed to attract her attention. She ignored me. “Excuse me,” I said. “I’d like a closer look at the statuette that’s in the window, if it’s not too much trouble.”
She sighed, and raised her eyes from the biceps and buttocks. “Right, but if you want it, you’ll have to pay. We don’t do swaps.”
She reached into the window, sending a tower of Barry Manilow and Mariah Carey CDs clattering into a collection of Art Deco kitchenware. She knelt among the wreckage, grabbed the statuette, and held it above her head. I snatched it out of her hands.
It was Kate and Liam, as I last saw them, sheltering under an umbrella, with their arms around each other. I fought back tears. “How much is it?” I said.    
The Hot Hunk fan shrugged. “Dunno.  I don’t really work here. I’m doing Community Service for beating up the bitch what went with my boyfriend. Does five pounds sound okay?”
I gave her the money. “Do you have a box for it?”
“No, but you can have a ‘Bag For Life’ for twenty pence.” I paid up, and she handed me a plastic bag emblazoned with a melancholy donkey.
I left the shop and rang the opticians. Janine answered. “Good morning, er sorry, good afternoon, ‘Lens & Spex’. How may I help you, today?”
“Hello, Janine. It’s Wendy. Let me speak to Celia or Martin, please.”
I heard her call, “Mrs. Driscoll. Wendy wants to speak to you or Mr. Daley.”
Celia said, “Is anything wrong, Wendy?”
“Just a migraine,” I said. “I need to go home, take a pill, and lie down in a darkened room.”
“Is it because it’s ten years since-?”
“Maybe. I don’t know, but I’ll be fine tomorrow. See you then.”
“Don’t worry. It’s a difficult day for you. Martin and I understand.” I knew they did. The sister and brother who were my employers were also my closest friends.
I drove home, carried the statuette into my kitchen and placed it on the breakfast bar. I fetched my family photograph album and turned to a picture I’d taken ten years ago. Every detail was identical to the porcelain figures. Photography is my hobby. I have a real camera, one recommended by Lord Snowdon, and I develop the photographs in my own darkroom. Phone cameras make me cringe.
I remembered the day I took the picture. It was early afternoon. I was washing my lunch dishes, and through the kitchen window I saw my newly married daughter and son-in-law standing at my garden gate. He held an umbrella, sheltering them from a summer shower. She leaned against him, her long dark hair flowing around her shoulders, the folds of her blue cotton dress swaying in the breeze. How happy they look, I thought. I wish they could hold onto this moment forever. My camera was sitting on the window ledge. I picked it up, ran outside, and captured it for them on film.
Liam laughed. “I never see you without that camera, Wendy.”
“Come inside, out of the rain,” I said. “I’ll make coffee.”
“Not just yet. We enjoy walking in the rain,” Kate said. “We only stopped to admire your rose bushes, but we’ll call on the way home, in about an hour.”
I glanced at my watch. It was five minutes past two. “Okay. See you shortly after three o’clock.” I waved, and walked back into the house. When I glanced out of the kitchen window, they’d gone.
I never saw them again, and neither did anyone else, except whoever made the statuette. I turned it upside down to look for a maker’s name. ‘Clockmaker’ was scrawled in black paint across the underside. Turning it the right way up, I noticed for the first time that a tiny clock face was embedded in the base on which the figures were standing. The time shown was five minutes past two; the exact time I took the photograph. The base was solid. If it contained a clock mechanism, it was inaccessible. I stared at the clock face for a few minutes. The hands didn’t move. None of this seemed possible but I was determined to make sense of it.
I booted up my laptop and googled ‘Clockmaker ceramics’. A list of addresses came up. One of them was a unit in an industrial park on the outskirts of town. I placed the statuette back in the donkey bag, carried it to my car, put the postcode in my GPS, and drove to the location.
The industrial park could more accurately be described as an abandoned railway yard. The units were constructed in prefabricated concrete blocks with corrugated iron roofs. They appeared to be deserted. Carrying the donkey bag, I searched until I found the ‘Clockmaker Ceramics’ unit. The name was scrawled on the door in black paint, just as it was on the statuette. I turned the handle, the door creaked open, and I stepped inside. The only source of light was a small, dirt-caked window, veiled with cobwebs.
“Hello,” I called. “Is anyone here?”
“The clockmaker is here, Wendy. I sense you’re angry with me for granting your wish.”
A female figure was sitting cross-legged on a faded rug. The wall behind her was lined with shelves containing rows of porcelain statuettes: human figures of all ages. Many were children.          
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Ananke, the Goddess of Time.”
“I’ve never heard of you.”
She sighed. “Same old story. I suspect you’ve heard of my old man, Khronos. You may know him as Old Father Time.”
The conversation was getting weirder by the minute, but I couldn’t disbelieve her. I had evidence inside my donkey bag. “Of course I’ve heard of him,” I said. “Is he your father or your mate?”
“Both.”
“What?”
“Don’t look so shocked, Wendy. It’s a common enough arrangement between anthropomorphic manifestations, but humans persist in imposing their own conventions upon us.”
My eyes were adjusting to the dim light, and as I looked at her face, I saw that it was identical to mine “Why do you look like me?” I said.
“Mortals create deities in their own image.” She pointed to the contents of her shelves. “If the women who wished to capture those moments ever see me again, they’ll say the same thing.”
“Right. I suppose the men will see Khronos, and he’ll look like them.”
“Of course. We’re the male and female aspects of the illusion that mortals call Time.”
“What have you done with my daughter and her husband, and with all those other people?”
She patted the rug. “Sit down and I’ll explain.” I sat opposite her, still clutching the donkey bag. She said, “When you wished to capture a particular moment, you called me into existence, because only I could grant that wish.”
“No!” I howled in frustration. “I didn’t wish Kate and Liam to be deprived of every other moment they should have had.”
She frowned. “I thought you’d be grateful. I spared them all the misery that human life brings.”
“You had no right. We do suffer disappointments, tragedies, and nearly unbearable pain.” I fought back my tears and struggled to hold my voice steady. “We also make mistakes, and we learn from them, or we should. The bad times lead us to appreciate the good times, and all our experiences make us who we are. They’re what being human is about. Surely, you know that.”  
She shrugged. “We only know what humans tell us. It isn’t our fault if you don’t explain yourselves very well.”
“Have I explained well enough now?”
“Yes, and I’m sorry.”
“You can’t turn back time, though, can you?”
“Watch me.” She held out her arms towards the shelves of ceramics, and made a crushing motion with her hands. The figures exploded into flying fragments that crashed into the walls and clanged against the corrugated roof. I covered my ears against the din. The fragments settled and crumbled into dust.
“What just happened?”  I said.
“I turned back time.”
“You mean those missing people never went missing?”
“No, because I never made the statuettes.”
“Are there any more?”
“Thousands. When my shelves fill up, I take boxes of them to the charity shops.”
“Can you destroy them, too?”
She nodded. “Leave them to me.” She pointed to the donkey bag. “I’ll leave that one to you.”
“If I break the statuette, Kate and Liam will have had the life they were meant to have?”
“They will, and you’ll remember it all.”
“But will I remember finding it and bringing it here?”
“Yes, briefly, because you participated in the reversal. That memory will fade in a while, like a dream.”
“Because it will no longer have happened? It’s an alternative time line, right?”
“Oh, don’t bother me with science, Wendy. It makes me uneasy. Restore your family and get on with your life.”
I took the statuette out of the bag and hurled it at the concrete floor. It shattered. A whirlwind of shards surrounded me and sucked me in. I caught sight of the clock fingers spinning counter-clockwise before the face crumbled. Ten years of memories, some happy, others painful, flooded my mind. I remembered Kate and I comforting each other at my husband’s funeral. Remembered Liam’s father retiring and leaving him the Garden Centre that had been his life’s work, he and Kate working together to keep the business thriving. I remembered grieving with them at the loss of their premature baby; laughing and crying with them when their daughter, Grace, was born the following year; and sharing their joy again when their son, James, was born two years after that. On the periphery of my awareness, I recalled Kate and Liam’s disappearance; the fruitless police investigation; intrusive paparazzi; ten years without my family; and loneliness so dark and deep it drowned me. The two sets of memories shuffled, shook hands, and settled down together in my consciousness.
***
I stood outside the Donkey Sanctuary charity shop. In the cluttered window display, I spotted a Wayne Rooney mug. Little Jim, my grandson, would love that. I fumbled in my bag for my phone, and called Kate.
Liam answered. “Hi, Wendy. Kate’s busy force-feeding the attributes of cotoneaster to an indecisive customer.”
I laughed. “I’m sure she’ll sell him a ton of the stuff. Tell her I’d like you and the children to join me for Sunday lunch this weekend. You invite me often enough. It’s time I played hostess.”
“We’d love to come. Will Martin be there?”
“Well, I haven’t asked him yet, but I might.”
“You should,” he said. “He’s besotted with you, and Kate was saying last night you’ve been a merry widow for long enough. We want to see you settle down.”
“The pair of you can stop matchmaking. Martin and I will sort ourselves out in our own good time.”
In our own good time. Did you hear that, Ananke? That’s what humans do. It’s what we need to do.  Leave us to get on with it.​

Maureen Bowden

Maureen Bowden is a Liverpudlian, living with her musician husband in North Wales. She has had ninety-two stories and poems accepted for publication by paying markets, and Silver Pen publishers nominated one of her stories for the 2015 international Pushcart Prize. She also writes song lyrics, mostly comic political satire, set to traditional melodies. Her husband has performed these in Folk clubs throughout England and Wales. She recently retired from a long career with HMRC, and in 2013 she obtained a First Class Honours Degree from the Open University. As well as Literature and History, the Degree included modules in Creative Writing and Advanced Creative Writing. She achieved a distinction in both. She loves her family and friends, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Shakespeare, and cats.





Flightless Rats
By James Dorr

"They used to be bats, you know.  That was before they lost their wings."
"I beg your pardon?"
    It was going to be one of those kinds of conversations.
    "The story goes," the man persisted, "that when Noah built the ark, he sent invitations to the bats, but they refused. 'Why should we ride on your smelly old boat?' they said.  'Even if there is a flood, we can just fly over it.'"
    Aimée had already decided she didn't care for this story.  She gritted her teeth, discreetly, keeping her lips closed.  That was the problem with chance assignations, even as late as the Nineteenth Century. Just meeting up with someone in Jackson Square, listening to the music on a hot summer's night, then crossing Decatur Street to the levee to walk by the river; other than him having told you his name, you never really knew who you were with.
    She tried to smile at him, again discreetly.  To get him to gaze at her face, her eyes, in the flickering white light that spilled onto the river.
    "After the rains stopped – it stormed for forty whole days and nights – the bats, thoroughly exhausted from fighting the wind, landed on the ark anyway.  But Noah confronted them.  'You'll have to get off,' he said.  'I gave your space to a different couple, one that was more grateful.  There's no room left for you.  After all, you had your chance, but you didn't want it.'"
    Aimée's first thought when she had picked him out from the crowd had been that he was formally dressed, as well as good looking.  As was she, in a low-backed, deep blue gown that, with her black hair, blended into the darkness and contrasted with the whiteness of her shoulders and face.  Such a man, she had thought, must surely lead an interesting life, one she could find herself interested in, too.  But instead, he insisted on telling this story.
    "The bats begged Noah.  'We've changed our minds,' they said, dropping to their knees and kissing the man's feet.  'Please, Noah,' they cried, 'we'll do anything you ask of us in return.'
    "So Noah took pity.  'There's still no place for you, but here's what you must do.  First, remove your wings and cast them overboard into the water.  The ark is overloaded already and can't take on even that much extra weight.  Then, when you've done that, you must go in the hold and find some out of the way place to sleep in the bilge, some crack or cranny beneath the floor where the baggage is stored.  As for food, you must forage that for yourselves from whatever the other animals discard.'
    "The bats agreed, removing their wings as Noah had said, and slinking below decks."
    By now, Aimée had risen from the bench she had selected, taking the man with her.  Patience was not one of her best virtues.  They wandered slowly, together, downriver.
    "And that," the man said, "is why the rats are as they are today.  Wingless, of course, but skulking in shadows.  Seeking dark places.  Sly thieves of whatever opportunity they find.  Feared, hated by honest men.  Killed when they can be caught."
    Aimée shuddered at that.  Perhaps due to a sudden breeze from the Mississippi?  She recalled a time when she was on a boat, as big as an ark, pressed in its hold with dozens of young women just like her, or at least so eventually.  She had, in fact, had to kill another in France to steal her passport, to come to New Orleans.  But that had been a long time ago.
    While as for this man – who now seemed so shallow. . .
    "But aren't there still bats?" she asked.  "I mean, you see them sometimes in the night, flying against the moon – just as we spotted that rat before.  Or did Noah relent and give some their wings back?"
    "No," the man replied.  By now, they had progressed past the French Market, away from the newly installed gas streetlights, following the river's bend.  "These aren't real bats, just bat-like creatures.  To help keep what really happened a secret.  And then, of course, there are such other things as flying foxes."
    Aimée persisted, though.  "But I have heard there are all kinds of bats.  Some from places like South America where, perhaps, the Flood didn't reach.  Even some bats, they say, that feed on people's blood.  What of these kinds of bats?"
    The man laughed at that.  They had entered a place of darkness, past the main docks; a place of quiet lit only by the moon.  "Legends," he told her.  "These are just stories to frighten schoolchildren.  These aren't about real happenings, like in the Bible."
    "I see," Aimée said, turning slowly from him. "But aren't there some things that aren't told in the Bible, or even hinted of?  Some things not even in Bible stories?"  Momentarily, she let her wings unfurl, giving him a single glance, before folding them back into her bare shoulders. 
Whirling around, she sank her teeth in his throat.
            She took his purse too, when she had finished, rolling his drained corpse into the river.  He had been wealthy, as she had surmised. And what a shame, as she – not so long ago having been widowed, her husband having succumbed to age like all her others before – had really been looking for a new companion.
            But not one who bored her.

James Dorr

Indiana (USA) writer James Dorr’s THE TEARS OF ISIS was a 2014 Bram Stoker Award® nominee for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection.  Other books include STRANGE MISTRESSES: TALES OF WONDER AND ROMANCE, DARKER LOVES: TALES OF MYSTERY AND REGRET, and his all-poetry VAMPS (A RETROSPECTIVE).  Also just out in June 2017 from Elder Signs Press, a novel-in-stories, TOMBS:  A CHRONICLE OF LATTER-DAY TIMES OF EARTH.

An Active Member of HWA and SFWA with more than 500 individual appearances from ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE to XENOPHILIA, Dorr invites readers to visit his blog at http://jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com.

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The Cold
By Patrick Winters

The chill of winter works its way into the cabin, setting the man and girl to shivering as each weeps in their own way.
He sits at their family table, hunched over and shaking, as much from the cold as the sorrowful fury he feels possessing his heart and limbs. He clutches the hand of his wife, who lies still upon the table, wrapped in her tattered shawl and dress. Her hand is even colder than his own, the life gone out of it for the past hour. He rubs at the dirt that streaks her fingers with his handkerchief, as he has been doing the last few minutes; the grime simply won’t leave the skin. He rubs harder.
"You did this." He spits the words into the air, his breath a fog before him. He has mustered up the ability to repeat this accusation now and again, whenever his rage crests a new, jagged peak. "This is your fault . . ."
At this, the girl curls further into the corner and her whimpers rise. She bears the warm sting of cold back-hands, her cheek bruised and battered brown, her lip split with a rash of red. The strikes that caused them were dispensed with angry shouts from her step-father each time she tried to approach her mother's body, or when she fought to deny his callous claims against her. She had only wished to kneel beside her mother, to pray in Allna's name for her departed soul, and to share in her grief with that of her step-father's. For, no matter how they had bickered with each other in the past, they had both lost one that they loved this day.
But he would not hear of it. His hatred of her won out, as it always had, cursing the child that had come from another man's loins and who he believed to be the cause of all his woes.
"This is your fault," he repeats through gritted teeth. "You did this to her. Put a curse upon her. Made her sick."
The wind picks up outside, buffeting the home. A dusting of snow sneaks in through the gap of their door as it continues to fall from the dim winter skies. It is the sort of weather that could make a soul's poor health all the poorer, perhaps even take it entirely—though the man refuses to recognize this harsh yet simple reality.
Heaving her labored breaths, the child pulls her teary face from her chest and lets loose a wailing, desperate "No!" at his words. But he will not be dissuaded.
"What did she do to warrant this? Tell you ‘no,’ for once? What was it!"
He spins about and sets his eyes on her, his mouth twisting in a snarl and his own tears still falling. She meets his gaze, her chin back to her chest, her mind working to anticipate his next strike. She flinches as his hand shoots up, pointing a rigid finger at her.
"You think I don't realize what you are? How things around here break or move or fall on nights when you cry out from your nightmares? Or how you talk to the animals when you're out playing? And how they listen to you? Or . . ."
He falls silent, his mouth shutting tight and his eyes darting about manically. He stares at the dirt floor a good while, thinking, mumbling words under his breath as he holds fast to his wife's hand. Another hard gust that sets the roof to creaking snaps him out of his spell. He lets his wife's hand fall limply over the table.
He rushes at the girl with a simmering growl.
She recoils from him, but cannot hope to hide away; his rough hand wraps about her thin wrist and he pulls her from the corner. She stumbles to her feet with a cry as he leads her hurriedly along. He shouts: "No more! No more! I'll not suffer a witch and a bane to live under my roof any longer!"
He leads her to the door, and she wails, realizing his terrible intentions. She smacks at his arm, fighting to be free, but he holds on tight. He thrusts the door open, the near-blinding, all-encompassing white of the brewing snowstorm now forcing its way into the cabin through whipping winds and snowdrifts.
"Out with you!" he hollers over the racket. He wrenches her arm and the rest of her out into the cold. She falls into the snow, her breath catching in her chest as the cold hits her with full force. She tries crawling back around and dashing to the cabin, pulling her robes and her blanket close about her.
"Let the winter and whatever devil made you, have you!" the man shouts into the gale, and he forces the door shut once more.
The girl comes careening into it, screaming and pleading, banging her fists against it. She begs for mercy and asserts her innocence. Her desperate seconds of going ignored feel like minutes in the severity of the snow. Still, she cries and implores on for a short while more, hoping there is some trace of love left in her step-father's heart that will make him see the error of his deed.
The door stays shut, and she hears not a word from him.
The rising chill wafts over her, its sting no less than that of her sorrow, and she turns from what was once her home. She treks through the snow and towards the Corinthian forests beside the cabin, hoping there may yet be some shelter therein. If not—and in truth, even if there is—she will surely perish within the hour, under the pressing thumb of this winter tide.
Her past adventuring and play through these forests serve her well. Her mind harkens back to a cave she once happened across; to her memory, it lies a small distance northwest of the cabin. With strength and luck, she could make it there . . .
She pushes on through drifts that reach up to her little thighs and against gusts that seem intent to drive her back from whence she came. She wraps an end of her blanket about her face, peering through it to find her way through the gray-white curtain all about her. Her eyes ache from the cold and the breeze, but she keeps them open. Her legs burn from exertion, but she keeps them trudging along. Her heart breaks from her pains and her losses, but it keeps beating with the promise of a modest hope.
After a time spent wandering through the trees and scanning the terrain, she finds the cave, its mouth agape within the face of a rising hill. She dashes to it and hurls herself inside, going ten feet in before reaching its furthest wall. She lays herself against it, her back to the cave's mouth and the storm. Rubbing at her arms, chest, and legs, she tries to warm herself and bring feeling to the parts of her that have gone numb.
The cave hides her from the dreadful winds, but the cold can still reach her here. And with no materials to build a fire, nor food of any sort, her chances of survival are small.
Thinking on her poor mother, wishing she were here to cuddle, warm, and love her again, the girl falls into sleep, exhausted in both body and soul.
***
She wakes to the sound of the persistent winds. Hours have passed, and that she has survived them is no meager feat. She stretches her limbs and opens her eyes, the light frost that has covered both her skin and her clothing cracking with the motion. Snot has dried up under her nose and her lips have split from their dryness. When she licks them, there's a slight touch of pain.
Underneath the noise of the winds is the slight rumbling of her stomach and . . . something else.
From out of the wilderness beyond the cave's mouth, comes a low, guttural call. It steadily rises as she turns to look into the snowy, gray haze of the early evening.
It's the din of howling.
The sound soon ceases, replaced by animalistic growls and huffs that seem to be drawing closer. The girl stills her already slowed breath as a shadowed, hunched figure makes its way through the storm and towards the cave. It breaks through the wintery veneer and leaps inside, revealing itself as a large black wolf.
It stands there a moment, shaking the powder off of its great, shaggy head and sides. When it catches sight of the girl, it stops.
It stalks forward, ears flat against a lowered head, teeth bared in a predator's smile. Its stomach gives a rumble of its own.
Staring into its steely black eyes, the girl hears a voice echo within the walls of her head: Ah . . . what a fine, fortuitous little morsel . . .
The girl swallows down her dread and turns to face the animal. "Please, don't eat me," she begs, as much with her tongue as her mind.
The wolf hesitates, flinching as though a gnat had just buzzed across its muzzle. Its ears lift ever so slightly from the back of its head in curiosity.
What . . . what did you say? The wolf's gravelly voice rings inside her head again. How did I understand you? How . . . ?
"I said, please don't eat me! I . . . I don't know how I can hear you, and you me, but . . . I can."
The wolf tilts its head and begins pacing to and fro, keeping its eyes on her. Its snarl slackens, leaving only the tops of its canines exposed in a sort of teasing grin. Its laughter strikes up in the girl's mind, chilling her all the more.
Interesting, it says with sinister whimsy. Very interesting. I've never before had a conversation with a meal of mine.
"You don't have to eat me," the girl says, a lone tear falling from her eye to freeze upon her cheek.
Oh, but I must, indeed. The wolf steps closer to her, its pacing done and its fancy with the girl flitting away. You see, I've gobbled up only a single, chittering squirrel in the hours since this storm began. Poor taste and a poorer serving. My hunger is hard to sate. But you and your tender flesh . . . just . . . may . . . suffice . . .
Her next words are wrenched out of her by desperation and a dire will to live.
"I can give you a better meal."
The wolf stops inches away, its face before hers, its hot and noxious breath forcing her nose to scrunch at the odor of blood and meat upon it. It regards her with narrowed eyes, trying hard to hide its thoughts from her. It thinks in silence for a few moments more.
Eventually, it asks: What would you propose?
***
The man has sat before the fireplace since he threw the devil-child out into the forsaken white. He has not moved, lost in himself and to the thoughts that plague him. He built a fair fire as she pounded and wailed at the door, and by the time he sat down to appreciate the licking heat, she had fallen silent. Whether she had died right then and there or had ventured out into the woods to do so, he neither knew nor cared; as long as her end had come.
He stares into the fire, his hands having finally relaxed their tense grip upon nothing at all. He hopes the storm will have ceased by the next morn, and that the ground has not frozen enough to prevent him from laying his wife to rest. He wonders what will come next for him and when his pains may finally ease.
A light rapping on the door pulls him from his contemplation, and his anger comes rushing back like a red ocean's wave, sudden and with staggering sway. He knows who is out there, and he is infuriated to think that she is still living, let alone returning to where she is not—and was never—wanted.
He bolts to his feet and grabs hold of the fire iron at his feet. He will use it to poke her and prod her and smack her away once more; the cold will have her yet. He pulls open the door and readies to bring his wrath upon the girl, raising up a curse and giving the iron a shake.
But the wind howls in at him, bringing with it a leaping, gnashing black wolf.
The man's curse slips into a cry of surprise and the iron drops from his hand. His arms shoot up to guard himself as the great beast crashes into him, knocking him backwards and off his feet. He lands with a huff across the room, his senses dazed. He has no hope of fending off the wolf that is already biting into his arm, drawing a wash of blood and bringing excruciating pain, as his skin and clothing are torn away.
The girl comes in from the cold while the man screams and thrashes and the wolf gnaws and rends. She steps slowly into the cabin, bundled up, her head hung low. She forces herself to look anywhere but at the violent scene before her, ashamed of the bargain she has struck so that she may have a chance to live.
She wonders if she is now as bad as her step-father had claimed she was. Her heart grows as cold as the rest of her to think that it may be so.
Grabbing hold of a blanket upon the floor, she wraps it around herself, letting it and the fire warm her chills. Tired, she wishes for sleep, and hungry, she yearns for food to fill her belly—but she has a greater matter to tend to. She moves to the table where her mother still lies, hand hanging limply over the side. The girl sits down—to where she cannot see the grisly feeding on the other side of the table—and takes her mother's hand in her own, bowing her head as tears come once again.
First, she prays in Allna's name that her mother has found peace beyond this world. Second, that her step-father, for all his hate and evil deeds, will find it as well, once his cries have ceased. And finally, she prays for herself, fearing she may need Allna's forgiveness and guidance most of all.
The storm rages on outside. The man's struggling ends. The wolf has his fill of what he was promised and then leaves, quite pleased.
And all the while and into the long cold night, the girl prays.

Patrick Winters

Patrick Winters is a graduate of Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL, where he earned a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. He has been published in the likes of Sanitarium Magazine, The Sirens Call, Trysts of Fate, and other such titles. A full list of his previous publications may be found at his author's site, if you are so inclined to know: http://wintersauthor.azurewebsites.net/Pages/Previous%20Publications.
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About the Editor:
Amber M. Simpson

Amber M. Simpson has been writing short stories and poetry since the age of ten. Lover of all things horror and fantasy, she writes mainly in these genres, often with a touch of romance thrown in for fun.  Amber lives in Kentucky with her husband and their two crazy but loving little boys.