ISSUE 16, November 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.

Pandora
By Helen Mihajlovic

The ethereal song of the blackbird infuses an azure sky as Hephaestus plunges his hand into a tepid lake. He digs his fingers deeply into the wet soil removing handfuls of clay, pondering his undertaking: to create the first woman.
He warms the clay in his hands, making it easy to mould. He shapes her curvaceous breasts, sculpts her hips and lengthy red tousled hair to hang on her slender shoulders. With the carving of her two delicate hands, she is complete.
He looks at her fair skin and her brows arched over almond shaped eyes. “Pandora,” he exclaims, in awe of his creation. Hephaestus rummages through his filthy bag and removes a box. “You are to take this box with you. It is a gift,” he says, handing it to her.
She holds onto the brownish-red box.  
“But you must not open it,” he warns.
Her brows rise. “Why?” she asks.
“You are only to open it when I give you permission,” he says sternly.
“What is inside?” Her voice rises with curiosity.
He hesitates. “Something very precious and with great power.”
Pandora’s grip on the box tightens.
***
The box weighs on Pandora’s hands as she climbs the steep steps of a palace
built on a hill. She looks at its wooden columns and walks under its tympanum adorned with a sculpture of a titan bearing fire. It is as Hephaestus had described it to her; she marvels at the grand pebbled mosaic floors and the fresco of the twelve Olympians that embellishes the walls.
“This will be my new home.” She smiles at the splendor that awaits her.
As a gust of wind batters her bare flesh, a door opens from the far end of the palace. A man with a peculiar round head and bulging eyes strides towards her. His nose is akin to a pig’s snout and the skin on his neck is shriveled like a turkey’s wattle.
“Pandora.” Epimetheus salivates as his sordid stare explores her naked body. “I am to be your husband.”  
Pandora gasps.
***
The vivid light of noon gradually diminishes to the deep red glow of a setting sun as Pandora spends the day gazing at the box. Her fingers quiver as she touches its rim. She slightly lifts the lid and lowers her head to peer into the box.
“Madam Pandora,” a slave boy calls from the hall.
Pandora’s limbs start, the lid slips from her fingertips, and the box shuts with a thud before she can peer inside. She lifts her head as the slave boy enters.  
“Your betrothed would like you to join him at the market,” he says, glancing at
the box.
She places the box in the center of the table. She leaves, blushing at the slave
boy’s lecherous gaze.  
***
Pandora finds herself immersed in pleasure at the sights of colorful tunics, golden necklaces, and sparkling gems and pendants inlaid with pearls in the open-air market. Sweet scents of rich oils, rose, myrtle, and cinnamon perfume the air.
A fair-haired young man with curls framing his long neck approaches Pandora and Epimetheus. He holds a basket filled with fruit.
“Madam, would you like a piece of fruit?” he stares at her elegant frame.  
Pandora looks into the basket full of figs, grapes, and olives. “I will have a fig,” she says.
Smiling warmly, he gives her a fig, then turns to Epimetheus and offers him the fruit. Epimetheus shakes his head, giving him a drachma for the fig. Pandora feasts on the young man’s bright eyes as he gives a slight bow before leaving.  
While the sweetness of the fig fills Pandora’s mouth, a tall man with taut cheeks, a broad chin, and swarthy skin approaches.
“Chitons!” the man yells, carrying various linen clothing over his brawny shoulder.
As Pandora catches sight of his glance, she smiles.   
“Chitons and cloaks!” He weaves his way through the crowd.   
She looks at her betrothed with his strangely protruding forehead and dribbling mouth; an odd inflammation deforms his ears.
Is this to be my husband? He is old enough to be my father!  Pandora thinks to herself in disgust. He will be in the way of my happiness. He will interfere with me finding a man I love.
She falls into a reverie, imagining herself watching her betrothed peacefully sleeping in his bedchamber; his sagging eyelids closed, the rise of his plump cheeks with each horrid puff from his mouth. As she walks closer, her brows knit with a scowl; she would go mad living another day near him! She sees his unusually large fingers laid on the bed sheets. Her stomach churns at the thought of his heavily veined hands caressing her body on their wedding night.  Her blood pulses with an unruly anger as she draws closer to him. Oleander flowers sit in a rich red vase on the bedside table; she impetuously seizes the vase and strikes him on the head. He shrieks. With a tempestuous upward surge of her arm, she strikes him again with full force. His body convulses. She clouts him once more. Pandora breathes in deeply and steps back. She looks at the walls, floor and bed; a crimson liquid stains all in front of her. Madness. A blend of blood and perspiration drips from a lock of her hair. She shuts her eyes, holds her aching head. The air reeks with the sour scent of the Oleander plant and her senses are besieged by this orgy of blood. As Epimetheus gasps for a final breath, his lungs heave. He is still, and his eyes hold a cloudy, empty cataleptic stare.
Pandora rouses from her reverie at the sound of a goat’s bleat. Her breath deepens as the impious thoughts stir in her mind. The reverie of the death of her betrothed awakens a delight within her.
She turns to the noise of people hastily rushing on the dirt road and she stands fixated looking at them; it is odd that no one is like her. She wonders why all the men stare at her.
“Where are the women in this town?” she asks.
“You are the first woman created by the God Hephaestus,” Epimetheus replies. “Other than you, Pandora, he has only created men.”
Pandora’s mouth gapes with disbelief. “Are there any women elsewhere?”
“No.”
Pandora feels light headed. All darkens. She collapses.
***  
Pandora wakes with a start to a loud pounding sound; she discovers herself lying in her bed, on her side, near the window aglow with the sun’s light. One grim thought spawns another as Pandora lowers her thick lashes.  She is floating through a life she does not like. Her limbs hold little desire to move. She yearns to sleep and shut the world out. When she wakes, may she be happy, may she be in a different life, a perfect life.  
Her grim thoughts cease as a finger crawls from behind her to find her naked nipple. She jolts. It must be my vile betrothed, she thinks. Perhaps he does not have the chivalry to restrain his desires until our wedding night.  
She hastily removes his hand from her breast. Feeling soft boyish skin, she quickly looks over her shoulder into the handsome black eyes of the slave boy, naked and lying next to her.
“What are you doing here?” she asks, her eyes widening.
“I was instructed to wait here until you were awake,” he says. “I crept into your bed when your betrothed left the palace.”
She twists her body to his while hearing a rhythmic pounding.  
“Do you hear that noise?”
He shakes his head. “No, I hear nothing.” He strokes her neck.
“It grows louder.” She turns her head towards the door, imagining the pounding sound to be the opening and closing of the box’s lid.  
“Pandora, only silence fills this chamber,” says the slave boy.
Her heart races; thoughts of the box plague her. She envisages herself opening the box; two glaring eyes look onto her from within and a slithering sound pervades the air.
She awakens from her fancy when the slave boy removes the bed sheet that cloaks their naked bodies. A crimson blush flares on Pandora’s cheeks. The slave boy’s hand creeps again to her breast.
All she can think of is the box. She imagines a woman with thick dark hair and  
glaring blue eyes emerging from the box, waxen skin and large naked breasts. She holds the decapitated head of a strange man on her arm, his mouth wide open showing pointy edged teeth, his eyes holding a mad stare.
The slave boy rouses Pandora from her daydream. He stands naked near the bed and he parts her legs, pulling them towards him. He lifts her and her legs entwine around his torso.
Depraved thoughts of the box flood Pandora’s mind and heighten her arousal: she imagines a fair skinned woman with a large blue serpent wrapped around her body rising from the box. The serpent’s yellow eyes stare at her, revealing its sharp fangs with an angry hiss.
Filled with perverse desire, Pandora’s kiss roughens, her grip on the slave boy’s back grows forceful. Pandora imagines two men with grey complexions creeping out of the box, they bow their heads in shame for all the immorality the box holds.
Pandora’s blood quickens as the slave boy’s loins move inside her. She thinks of a destructive fire blazing from the box. She is certain there is some dark, unholy power locked away in that clay box that will fill the world with evil. Her body violently thrusts against the slave boy’s loins. He satiates her desires and she heaves a sigh of pleasure.
***
An odd sense of fear comes over Pandora as she watches the angelic sleeping face of the slave boy. She sits upright, turning her head in the direction of the constant pounding sound. Heart racing, she stands and follows the noise.
The soles of Pandora’s bare feet grow cold as she walks across the burnished marble floor. Her eyes narrow as she sees the box is no longer on the table where she had placed it; instead it waits for her in the center of the hall, its pounding causing her head to throb, her forehead to crease. She draws closer as she becomes aware of the box’s changed appearance; on one side the clay has disintegrated. The box begins to violently shake. Her breath quickens as she steps back. She grasps the torch from the wall and her hand trembles as she approaches the box. Her brow becomes drenched with perspiration as the warmth of the torch’s flame embraces her naked skin. Her entire body shakes as she holds the flame near the box’s rim, pondering its destruction. She becomes light headed, she screams, howls, confused, frenzied. Staring imploringly at the box, she falls to her knees and sobs.
***
Pandora’s gaze numb, she slumps in the chair, her chin clasped in her hand. I am trapped in my own life; I do not know how to escape, she thinks to herself. A betrothed whom I do not love and nothing of value to keep me to this world. She thinks of Epimetheus, his expressionless face and vacant stare, as if there were not a thought that stirs in his head.
Pandora’s eyes turn to the bookshelf. At the edge sits a garnet book. Thinking it unusual in size, she grabs it from the bookshelf. Her eyes explore its cover, searching for its title; there is none, only an embossed plant with fringed petals in the centre of the cover. Leafing through the pages, she glimpses several highlighted entries: Hemlock, Rosary, Pea, and Oleander. She reads out loud: “Each part of the Oleander plant is poisonous.” She purses her lips.
***
Pandora frowns at Epimetheus as he slurps his soup. She looks at the slave boy standing at the corner behind him; the slave boy reciprocates with a covetous stare.
“Where is your exquisite box?” her betrothed asks, looking at the table where she had previously placed it.
“I have placed it somewhere safe,” she says. “It is far too precious to leave here where anyone could take it.”
Epimetheus nods. “Hephaestus gave all of us a box similar to yours.” He fills his spoon and returns to his slurping.
Pandora looks puzzled. “I am not sure what you mean.”
“When Hephaestus creates a person, he gives them a box.”
“Did you get a box?” She leans her head forward.  
“Yes.”
“What is in the box?” her heart quickens.  
He coughs. “This soup has upset my stomach,” he says wiping his brow.
“Did you open the box?” Her voice grows louder.
He screws up his nose at the soup. “I do not feel well.”
Pandora examines his sickly green complexion.
“Yes, I opened the box,” he sighs. His eyelids half closed, his neck bends forward and he vomits on the table.
Pandora turns her head in disgust; her hand covers her nose. The slave boy rushes to him.
“I need to rest. Take me to my bedchamber.” Epimetheus’ voice falters as he rests his arm on the slave boy’s shoulders.
“Pandora, the garden has many medicinal plants. Please find one to help with this sickness.”  
Pandora nods. The slave boy leads Epimetheus to the chamber.
***
The sweet aroma of lilac enchants Pandora as she wanders through the blooming garden. The chirrup of the birds weaves through the air between a medley of crimson, violet, and gold flowers. She catches sight of the notorious plant and halts to stare at its roseate petals.
How pretty and innocent the flower looks and no different to the others, she thinks. Her slight hand reaches to pick it. Placing her aquiline nose near the petals, she breathes deep into her lungs the heavy scent of the Oleander. She twirls the flower by its stem between her fingers and thoughts of the Oleander’s poison crawl back to her mind.
***
Pandora carries a tray into the chamber where her betrothed lies on a mahogany bed. The cup clinks as she places the tray at his bedside table and darts him a look of disdain.  
“Pandora, my dearest, you have brought me a warm drink to soothe my stomach.”
A wicked smile crosses her lips. She watches as he shuts his weary eyes. “Do not forget to drink it before you sleep, I picked the medicinal flower myself.”
His eyes strain to open. “Of course.”
“Pandora,” a voice calls from the hallway.
She raises her head to the direction of the voice, then quickly looks back to Epimetheus, already snoring loudly. She rushes out of the chamber.
Pandora follows the voice down a long hallway. Her breath deepens as she reaches the room from which the voice calls.
“Pandora,” the voice now whispers from within the box.
She looks down with a wild glint in her eye. Her heart pounds as she nears the box; it sits in a corner. She reaches out to touch it; her fingertips feel its cold exterior. Her forehead sweats as she lifts the box; it feels heavy in her slender hands. What could there be inside? She thinks, looking at the box. If Hephaestus told me I could eventually open the box, then surely there would be no harm in opening it now.
A chill runs down her spine as she holds the edge of the box. She opens the lid. All is still. Where is the chaos she had expected? Pandora looks up as Hephaestus rushes into the room with a winded rage.
Her eyes scan the entire box. “There is nothing here.” Her mouth hangs wide open.
“I cautioned you not to open the box,” he yells.
“You made me believe there was more!” Pandora’s tone grows angry. “There was meant to be something precious and powerful inside.”
“There was something precious and powerful,” he says.
“You are lying,” she stares at the box. “It is empty.”
“You were not to look into the box until you developed your character,” he says.
“Then the box would be opened and you would have the one thing that was missing when I created you.”
Her heart quickens. “What is it?”
He hesitates. “I have watched you from afar. Your behaviour has been a harmful influence to it,” he says. “Your actions have shown little thought for others.”
“The box called my name. It whispered, telling me what I should do.”
“You do not take the blame for your doing, you blame the box or any other thing for what you willingly do.”
“No!” she shakes her head. “I loathe my life. I did it in the pursuit of happiness.”
He interrupts. “Your putrid nature grew so much in force that it could distort the very box in which it lay.”
“What was the precious thing inside the box?” her lips tremble.  
He huffs. “Your soul was in the box.”
She gasps. She shakes her head.
“What shall happen to me now?” she asks, helpless.  
Her heart violently pounds; descending into a dark void, she frantically bangs on a clay wall.
She has become imprisoned inside the box.

Dedicated to beloved brother Bill.

   ​

Helen Mihajlovic

Helen Mihajlovic is a published short story writer and filmmaker. Her story 'A Dark Love story' is in the book '100 Doors to Madness', available at Amazon. Many of her stories may be found in Horror Novel review online, including 'A Sinister Nature' and 'A Temptation to Eve'. Helen also makes films, her latest film 'Dominica- A Tale of Horror' may be found online. She is grateful for a good editor Alison Strumberger and text advisor Roger Smith. All stories are dedicated to her brother Bill and mother.


The Dark Prince
By Michael Anthony Lee

    The newspapers called him The Prince.
    Not because he was dashing.
    Not because he was handsome.
    Not because he was of royal blood.
    His title was acquired from the pattern of his crimes.     
    The first had been in the early eighties; Janie Gray, a beautiful youth with porcelain skin and raven black hair. When two blond teenagers disappeared in nearby cities, the local police realized they had a serial killer on the loose. Years went by, and with no suspects or motive, the case soon became cold. It was filed away in a drawer labelled UNSOLVED and life quietly moved on.   
    Then, in the nineties, a body was discovered in a nearby river. Nobody would have connected her to the unsolved murders of over a decade before.
    Not until the picture.
***
    The reporter stood in stunned silence, his mouth hanging open. His camera dangled limply at his side.
    The naked body of a beautiful teen leaned out of the waist deep water before him. Her voluptuous breasts were covered by long crimson hair.
    Police and detectives crisscrossed around the scene in chaotic movements, but the reporter’s unblinking eyes never left the girl. In that pose, she resembled a mermaid from the movie he had watched the night before. A father of two little girls, he had watched it hundreds of times.
    She looked just like Ariel.
    In his mind, it all began to piece together in horrid flashes of understanding.
    Snow White.
    Cinderella.
    Sleeping Beauty.
    Ariel.
    Somebody was killing The Princesses.
    He snapped the picture and hurried home, making sure to kiss both his girls before tucking them safely into bed. He also made sure to lock all the doors before sitting down to write the article that would bring him acclaim amongst his peers.  
    The picture ran on the front page of every newspaper the next evening. Below it, WHO IS THE DARK PRINCE? appeared in big black letters.
    The killer now had a name.
***
    The Prince stood on the front porch of the little house and waited, a bouquet of roses held upright in his left hand.
    The nights came fast this time of year and the stars were already out, twinkling against the dark blue of twilight. He loved this time of year.
    It was magical.
    He was handsome in his own way. Charming when needed. And still young enough to entice his prey. He was a fantasy novelist who had been stalking the bookstores and libraries since high school. The girls he discovered in those places had attributes he could never find in the girls who roamed the nightclubs or local bars. They possessed a kind of innocence and beauty that could only exist in someone who loved to read fairy tales.
    They enjoyed a good scare, and even welcomed it. And secretly, they all dreamed of finding their own Prince Charming.
    The Prince was more then happy to oblige them on both accounts.  
    But first he watched them.
    He watched them for a long time.
    He watched them to see what they were reading. Their choice in literature told him more about them than any spoken words ever could.
    He watched them to see what kind of lifestyle they lived.
    He chose the young ones.
    The shy ones.
    The outcasts with no friends.  
    He understood their loneliness.
    As a young boy, he was a loner himself. Shunned by all those around him. But he always had his books, and in their pages, he found an escape from the cruel realities of his life.
    But during puberty, his passion for fairy tales morphed into a violent lust filled obsession.
    A dark secret that could never be told.
    For him, the girls he sought possessed a purity only possible in the stories they both loved. Their innocence was intoxicating. In his mind, they became the Princesses he craved them to be. And his dark desires overwhelmed him.
    He was pondering these thoughts, rocking back and forth on the heels of his feet, anxious for the night’s activities, when the door opened.    
    The girl standing there was both young and beautiful. A tight dress clung to her slender body. Her skin seemed to glow in the moonlight. Long, blond hair streamed behind her in waves past her waist. She looked exactly like Rapunzel.
    Perfect.     
***
    The girl squealed and clapped her small hands together.
    “Oh, roses,” She exclaimed.  She smelled them, wriggling her cute, button nose. “Come in. Come in,” she said, and took his hand. She led him down a hallway. “We're making my grandmother’s favourite tonight. I hope you’re ready.”
    But he wasn’t listening to her. He was thinking about the straight razor in his back pocket. About the look in those green eyes when he showed it to her. The sounds she would make. He was going to take his time with this one.
He was really going to enjoy himself.
***
    He followed her into the kitchen. The smile he’d been wearing while contemplating the things he would do to the girl, quickly faded.
    The table was laid out with candles and plates, but the plates were empty. His eyes moved to a fat woman at the back of the room. She had to be at least three hundred pounds. She was sitting in a chair, or at least he thought there must be a chair underneath her, at the end of a long wooden table.  
    “This is my mum,” the girl said.
    “Hello, Prince,” the large woman said. “So happy you could come for supper.”
    The hair on the back of his neck stood up.
    “Supper!” a voice croaked. And out from the shadow of the larger woman stepped a small, frail looking figure hunched over an ancient wooden cane.
    Something was very wrong here. How did they know him?
    The large woman’s eyes never left his. She seemed to hold him in her stare, tight as a serpent holds a bird. “This is my mother, Prince. I'm sorry but she’s not quite herself these days.”
    “That's okay,” he heard himself say, but the voice sounded far away. “I think I should be going.” He took a step backwards, towards the hall.
    “Stay!” The old woman barked, and waved a gnarled hand in the air.
    The candles fluttered in the room and a cold air rushed past him.    He tried to move but was held by an unseen force.  
    The old woman crept closer, stooped over her walking stick as she moved towards him. He glanced over her shoulder for a possible escape and was startled by what he saw.
    A large stone structure completely occupied the back wall of the kitchen. It was capped by a large iron door that looked to be hundreds of years old.
    Jesus Christ, look at the size of that oven, he thought. His skin began to tingle.
    “Not an oven,” the large woman answered, reading his thoughts. “Not anymore. It's a Smoker.”
    “Low and slow,” the old woman croaked.
    Again, he tried to move and could not.
    “What did you do to me,” he demanded.
    The girl’s hand slid into his back pocket and came out with the straight razor. The blade glittered in the candlelight. She leaned seductively close, her long hair brushing against his skin. “Let me take this before you hurt yourself.”
    “Oh no, don't hurt him, dear,” the large woman said. “That comes later.” She smiled at him and he wanted to scream. “You've been a naughty boy, Prince, and we’ve been watching you for a long time.”
    “The naughty ones always taste the best,” the old woman crooned.
    “You bitches,” he whispered. “Let me go.”  
    “Not bitches, my prince,” the girl murmured. “Witches.”
    She kissed him passionately on the neck and he almost forgot where he was, lost in her kiss. Then, in one quick motion, she bit off his earlobe.  
    He roared, but all that came out was a strangled cry.
    “Yummy,” she purred into his bloody ear and wriggled her tiny nose against his skin.
    Smelling him.
    The large woman picked up a mallet from the table and stomped towards him. The kitchen floor shook under her weight. “We will need to tenderize you first. Mother can't chew like she used to. But we've learned that the pain brings out the flavour.”
    “Chew. Chew. Chew,“ cackled the old woman.
    His vision blurred and he tried to faint.
    The girl sliced him up the back with the straight razor. He yelped and jumped onto his tiptoes.
    Her sweet laughter filled the room.
    It was magical.
    His vision cleared and he focused on the monstrosity approaching him with the mallet.
    She was drooling.

-- For Krystle Stewart who got me going again.

Michael Anthony Lee

Michael Anthony Lee lives in small town Ontario, Canada. At fifteen he spent the long walks home from school dreaming of someday becoming a writer. Now, thirty years later, that journey has begun . This is his first published work of fiction.

Note to my fellow writers:

Never stop writing.
Never stop dreaming.
It is never too late.​
The Soul Man
By Mike Murphy

The gun tasted horrible. What did you expect it to taste like? John Clifton asked himself. Chocolate? Heather and Joey were at the park. There would never be a better time. As soon as the Feds found out about his insider trading, it was prison for sure. He couldn’t face that! His family. . . hell, the entire world would be better off without a screw-up like him around.
John put the awful-tasting gun back into his mouth with a heavy sigh. Shaking, he pulled the trigger.
***
“You’re next,” he heard.
“Huh? Where. . . Where am I?” He took a quick look around. Everything was white. Gleaming white. While Clifton was still in the clothes he was wearing when he’d killed himself, the tall, blond man before him was dressed in a sparkling white robe.
The man sighed sadly. “Why do they always send them straight to me?” he asked. “You’d think there’d be an orientation first.”
“Who are you?”
“The Attendant.”
“What. . . What is this place?”
The Attendant looked amused. “My, but you’re full of questions, aren’t you?”
“Where am I?” John repeated adamantly.
“The recycling center.”
“Recycling? For what?”
“Souls,” the Attendant said matter-of-factly. “It’s my job to turn your soul around and send it back to Earth.”
“But I don’t want to go back,” John informed him.
“Too bad,” the other man said. “There are only so many souls to go around. We need to re-use what we can.” He paused, looking down at something in his left hand that resembled an iPad. “You’re one of the lucky ones.”
“How so?”
“When you were born, you got a brand new soul. Lots of people get used ones.”
“Why don’t I have a say in this?” wondered Clifton.
“Because it’s His plan,” the Attendant said.
“Whose?”
“The big Him,” the blond-haired man explained. “A long time ago, He worked out a grand plan for everything in the universe.”
“And my reincarnation is a part of that?”
“It is now.”
“What about free will?”
“That again?” the Attendant asked. “I can’t tell you how many new arrivals bring that up.”
“Well?” John prompted him. “Do I have free will or don’t I?”
“You do.”
“Aha!”
“But the Boss has bigger free will,” the Attendant explained. “It’s kind of like the federal government’s rules trumping any state’s.”
“That’s not fair!” complained Clifton.
“You can’t go changing the grand plan any time you like! Do you know how much time He spent putting all that together?”
“A long time?”
“Eons!” the Attendant exclaimed. “Every time somebody exercises his – ugh! – free will, the whole plan has to be tweaked to work again.” He sighed and added, “It’s kind of like a GPS.”
“What?”
“The Big Guy has mapped everything out, just like a GPS maps out your route. If you fail to take a turn it tells you to take, it has to recalculate your directions. . . because you exercised your free will.” He touched Clifton on the shoulder. “C’mon,” he said. “Time’s wasting.”
“Do you know how I died?” John asked the Attendant.
The robed man pressed a few buttons on his tablet. “Suicide,” he said. “If it wasn’t for your relatively new soul, you might have gone somewhere. . . else.”
“You don’t see the problem?”
“Enlighten me. . . but quickly.”
“I killed myself!” John explained. “What makes you think I want to come back to life as something else?”
“You have no choice,” the Attendant informed him, pressing a few more tablet buttons.
“I’ll just kill myself again,” Clifton said.
“Please don’t! That will cause all kinds of trouble.” He lowered the tablet to his side and called out, “One soul going down!”
***
The rumble of distant thunder could be heard in the barnyard. The cows mooed. A chicken clucked. Sensing the time was here, she jumped from her nest. Her eggs were cracking!
Clifton poked his way out with his egg tooth. The air was cold on his soaked body. A chicken, John thought. He sent me back to Earth as a chicken!
He looked around and spotted a puddle. As a man, he would have stepped over it, but as a chick, it was just right. He snuck away from his family, waddled into the puddle, and drowned himself.
***
“You again?” the Attendant asked, shocked.
“I warned you,” Clifton said. “I don’t want to be alive anymore – as anything.”
“Oh, this is gonna mess up the plan! He won’t be happy!”
“Then let me stay here. If you send me back down –”
The Attendant suddenly realized what went wrong. “I made it too easy for you,” he said. “I need to. . . I’ve got it!” Again, he called out, “One soul going down!”
***
The newborn puppies yipped in their basket, their eyes still closed, trying to sniff out a route to their mother’s milk. What the. . . I can’t see! John thought. That son of a. . . He heard the puppies yipping and realized he was one of them. My eyes won’t open until. . . Well played, sir. Well played. Once I can see, just you wait!
***
Weeks passed. His eyes opened, and he was given a name: Roscoe. He could hear a woman – his “owner” – whistling and calling for him as he bounded along the grass, but he wasn’t stopping. The road was nearby and busy at this time of day. He made it just as a truck was rounding the corner. The driver never saw him. The last thing John heard was the woman’s weeping.
***
“This is getting annoying!” the Attendant said.
“I’m not crazy about it either,” Clifton assured him.
“You’re making a lot of extra work for me. . . and for Him.”
“So let me stay.”
“Not on my watch!” the man with the blond hair said adamantly. “One soul going down!”
***
The overhead lights were blinding. John felt someone spank him.
“Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey,” the doctor said. “It’s a boy!”
***
It had been a tough day for the Ramseys. The doctor thought the little guy had colic. “Honey,” Mrs. Ramsey asked, exhausted, “where’s the baby?”
“He’s right. . .” Mr. Ramsey started before realizing their son wasn’t there.
His wife jumped from their bed. Before long, she was at the top of the stairs, screaming hysterically.
She had found the baby.
***
“You broke their hearts!”
“I told you I’d –”
“I’ve had it with you, Mr. Clifton,” the robed man said. “He’s had it with you, too.”
“So, I can stay?” John asked eagerly.
“I suppose that’s the easiest way to keep you out of my hair for eternity.”
“Great!”
“Your soul’s getting worn out, anyway.” He started typing on his tablet. “I still have to find. . .” He stopped talking, his eyes lighting up. “Perfect.” He turned the tablet around so John could see the picture on the screen.
“That’s my wife.”
“Widow, actually,” the Attendant clarified.
“If you take her. . .”
“Yes?”
“My son. . . He’ll be an orphan.”
“Since you killed yourself,” the Attendant told him, “I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“Didn’t think I’d. . .” Clifton began, shocked and angry. “What kind of a dad do you take me for?”
“A dead one.”
“Heather and Joey were the only bright spots in my life,” John told the Attendant. “I didn’t commit suicide because of them.” He reached out and grabbed the robed man’s shoulder. “Please don’t,” he begged.
“But we need a soul.”
“How about me?” Clifton asked.
“Again?”
“No tricks this time,” John told him.
“Promise?”
“Cross my heart and hope to. . . well, you get the idea. You let Heather live, and I’ll go back down to Earth.”
“Your soul can only stand one more trip,” the Attendant warned him.
“One more is all I need,” Clifton said.
“If you kill yourself again –”
“I won’t,” John responded quickly.
“Your soul won’t have the strength to make it back up here,” the robed man finished. “You’ll be plain d-e-a-d.”
“I understand.”
The Attendant did some more typing on his tablet. “There’s a lemur in Madagascar who’s about to give birth,” he said.
“Madagascar?”
“You have something against Madagascar?”
“No, but I was thinking. . .”
“What?” the Attendant asked, frustrated to his last nerve.
“That I could be somewhere. . . near my family,” Clifton continued.
“With all the trouble you’ve caused me,” the blond-haired man said, “you. . . you want a favor?”
“Please?”
He turned to his tablet again. “Anything to be rid of you!” After a bit of typing, he said, “There’s a mouse living in your garage. She’s about to have babies.”
“We have mice in the garage?” a surprised Clifton asked.
“Remember: No tricks.”
“None.”
“One soul going down. . . again!” the exasperated Attendant called out.
***
Joey looked down at the welcome mat. “Ick!” he said. “Mom!” he called.
“What is it, dear?” Heather asked from behind the screen door.
“Look what Kitty did!” Joey answered, disgusted.
“Oh, that’s too bad.”
“Is it. . . dead?” the boy asked.
“Yes.”
“Kitty killed him?”
“It looks that way.”
“But. . . why?”
“Cats do that sometimes,” she explained to her son. “They’re hunters. Kitty thought she was protecting us.”
“From that?” he asked, pointing.
“I know it doesn’t make sense now, Joey, but one day, it will,” she assured him. “Do me a favor?”
“What?”
“Get me the dustpan and brush from the kitchen.”
“OK,” Joey said after a sniff.
Once he was inside the house, Heather mumbled to herself, “How sweet. He’s so empathetic.” She opened the screen door, stepped out onto the stoop, and looked down at the mat. “It’s just a little mouse,” she said.


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.





A Fall of Leaves
​by DJ Tyrer

It was the strangest thing and I just had to mention it to Connie.
Slowing the car, I gestured out the window and asked, “Have you noticed how all the leaves here have turned a golden yellow or a brownish yellow?”
“So?”
“There’s not a one that appears to be russet.”
“So? They’re probably all the same type. These are orchards – look, you can see the apples on the trees.”
“Also yellow,” I pointed out. Maybe I was being silly and Connie was right, but it seemed odd to me. Sure, you would see yellow leaves on the autumn trees, but, for me, the colours of the season were red, orange and brown; the glorious blaze of treetops that looked almost aflame in the sunlight and the crisp brown heaps for children to leap into. To see only different shades of yellow on the trees was unusual. Even those plants and trees that appeared to be evergreen seemed to be some shade of yellow-green, adding to the peculiarity of the scene.
“You don’t find it odd?”
“Unusual, sure. I think it’s kind of pretty.”
I suppose it was, in a way. Yet, I couldn’t quite shake the nagging feeling that the otherwise perfect country scene was a little off, not quite right. I felt almost as if by driving out of London, we had driven into a whole other world. Maybe I had well and truly become a townie!
“Why don’t we see if we can find a pub so we can stop and have some lunch?” I suggested, deciding to change the subject onto something straightforward. “We could get a ploughman’s.”
Connie affected a sigh. “Oh, please! The ploughman’s lunch isn’t traditional. It’s just something the admen back in the ’seventies dreamed up to sell cheese. An apple pie would be more traditional than that, round here. Hey, that gives me an idea – we should stop at a farm shop and get some baking apples for supper. That’d be a treat with a load of sugar, eh?”
“Sure.” I would much rather have the apple pie.
We drove for a while longer. Time seemed to lose meaning in those winding, yellow-fringed lanes. For all I knew, we could have been driving in circles. The world seemed to be transforming into a blur of yellow about us.
The leaves were falling fast and thick, enough that I had to switch on the wipers to maintain a view of the leaf-obscured road ahead. I said a silent prayer, asking that we wouldn’t end up in a ditch hidden by leaves. If it wasn’t for the hedgerows, I wouldn’t have been certain where the road ended at all. It reminded me of a Steven Scott painting I once saw, all yellow with hints of detail in it.
“Be careful,” Connie told me, “these leaves are just awful.”
“You don’t say? Thank you for pointing out the problem.”
“Hey, I’m only saying!”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap. But, I do have eyes, I can see – and I am trying to be careful.”
I slowed the car again to emphasise the point.
“Village,” said Connie, suddenly.
Startled, I almost spun us off the road. There was a village welcome sign half-buried by a pile of yellow leaves. All that was visible was ‘come to’ on the top row and the end of the village name, the letters o-s-a below that.
“Switch on the satnav,” I told Connie, “see where we are.”
Going for a Sunday drive to enjoy the delights of autumn, we had just been cruising about at random with no particular destination in mind. Now, I really wanted to know where we were.
“It’s on the blink,” she told me, hitting it as if that would sort the problem. “I said you shouldn’t have bought a cheap one.”
“Fine. Well, we’ve reached a village – hopefully we’ll see a pub in a mo’.”
I had spotted the outline of a house amongst the trees and there was a street sign ahead.
“Typical!” I laughed as I read what was written on it.
“What is?”
“Apple Lane! Around here that could be every lane!”
Pointing in the direction we were headed, an arrow attached to the same pole directed us to St. Barnaby’s.
“If there’s a church, there might be a pub,” I said, hopefully. “St. Barnaby? Not your run-of-the-mill St. John or St. Peter. I wonder what he did to rate a church?”
We were passing houses, spread out on large plots amongst the trees.
“Even the buildings are yellow,” I told Connie. “Well, yellowish, anyway.”
The houses were of that half-timber Tudor sort with the black timber framework, but instead of bright-white whitewashed walls or the pink colour you got when they added pigs’ blood to the mix, the plaster was coloured a pale yellow like a washed-out lemon hue. Assuming the colour was traditional and not some modern fad, I wondered just what they added to the whitewash to get the colour.
“Anyone would think you had a phobia of the colour!” Connie laughed.
Maybe I had and had just failed to realise it till now? No, that was silly. It wasn’t the colour, just the preponderance of it: it was overwhelming.
Turning the corner, we arrived at the village green. Even that was yellow, the grass having been submerged beneath a deep layer of leaves. On one side was the tower of a church, grey flint, a deviation from the monotony. On the other side was a solid, half-timbered country pub: The Chestnut, according to its inn sign. A sign that, aptly enough, showed a stylised tree painted in bright yellow.
“I guess that’s its namesake,” I said, nodding at the large tree that appeared to be responsible for shedding its leaves all over the green.
“There must be a legend attached to it,” Connie said. “You don’t just name a pub for a tree. There has to be some story connected with the tree. We must remember to ask them.”
I drove over to the pub and pulled up in an open space beside it that I presumed was the car park.
Stepping out of the car, leaves crunched beneath our feet as we made our way over to the pub’s door. Pushing it open, we went inside. It was good to find a village that still had a pub. Even better, it seemed decent and had several patrons already at the bar or seated at tables. A grey cat slunk between table legs and disappeared behind the bar.
Connie and I went over to the bar.
“Yeah?” asked the barman in a rather surly manner. Not a great surprise as these country publicans weren’t always keen on outsiders – no wonder so many such pubs were failing. He looked rather like a stereotype with a ruddy face and big muttonchop whiskers; if he had spoken in a Mummerset accent, I would have laughed.
“Hi. Could we have two pints of cider, a ploughman’s and – ?”
“Um... a toasted ham sandwich, if you have one?”
The barman grunted in a vaguely affirmative way.
“Thanks,” I said, guiding Connie over to a dark-wood snug in one corner.
“Not bad,” I commented to her after a few moments of silence, nodding at the panelling.
“Bit dark,” she replied, a little distractedly.
“Would you rather have sat by the window?”
She just shrugged. Probably worrying about cleanliness in the kitchens, I suspected.
Looking over, I saw the barman had put our drinks on the bar, so I went over and collected them, trying not to slosh any more out of the glasses than he’d already managed. Looking about the place, I was fascinated by all the agricultural history loaded onto the walls – real old, rusty tools, not the ersatz stuff stuck on the walls of horrendous pub chain outposts in an attempt to look rural. There were sickles and scythes, large, heavy hammers and other tools I didn’t know the names of, as well as horse shoes and tarnished horse brasses, and even some large frame of metal and wood that looked too complicated to be a plough and made me wonder if it was some sort of early combine harvester. It was better than some museums I’d seen.
Rejoining Connie, I pointed the tools out, but she gave a sniff and a sort of half-shiver, and said, “I don’t like them. I’m glad we live nowadays and not back then. They all look so horrible – like weapons, not tools.”
“Oh, aye, you could use a fair few of them as weapons and they often did during uprisings,” said the barman approaching with my ploughman’s lunch of richly-yellow cheese, chunky granary bread, pickle and a little limp salad that was on its way to being as yellow as the leaves outside.
“Yours’ll be ready shortly,” the man added, glancing at Connie before she could ask.
She pouted slightly at the delay and muttered something about London, doubtless an uncomplimentary comparison, as he walked away.
“After lunch, we’ll head home,” I said, feeling the day was ruined by now. “We can look for a farm shop on the way.”
Connie nodded, taking a sip of cider.
The barman returned with her toasted ham sandwich.
“Excuse me,” she said as he started to walk away.
“Yeah?” From his expression, it was clear he expected a complaint.
“I wanted to ask about the name of this pub,” Connie told him. “The Chestnut. It’s unusual. I mean, I know how The Grapes was adopted as it signified wine for sale, but why a Chestnut? Did they sell roast chestnuts here or is there a legend connected with the tree out there?”
The barman suppressed a chuckle as if he thought her foolish, but was trying not to be rude.
“The chestnut tree is the symbol of the lords of this manor, the Castain family. There is a story that the first lord hid in the branches of the tree in order to assassinate Athelred the Atheling, for which act he was made a lord by the King.”
“Atheling? That was the Saxon term for a Prince.”
The barman shrugged. “That’s the legend.”
He started to walk away again, then I called after him with the other question we wanted an answer to: “By the way, what’s the name of this village?”
The barman glanced at me with an odd expression on his face and just said, “You know.”
“No, I don’t. The satnav wasn’t working and the welcome sign was buried beneath a load of leaves.”
He laughed. “Oh, you know, right enough! You might not know you know, but you know, all right. Only those who know this place, who are part of it, ever come here.”
“Um, right, thanks...”
Once he was back at the bar, Connie whispered, “Nut job!”
“Well, you know how it is,” I whispered back, “nothing else to do in these sorts of places but inbreed.”
That raised a brief flicker of a smile.
We turned our attention to our meals: the barman hadn’t supplied cutlery, so we had to eat with our fingers. That was fine by me – there’s nothing better than breaking off a chunk of cheese and dipping it into the tart pickle – but Connie was wrinkling her nose at what she perceived as the indignity of it all.
“This isn’t bad,” I told her, enjoying mine. It was the best meal I’d ever tasted.
Connie didn’t respond, which I took to mean she wasn’t enjoying her meal that much, but found it too good to actually complain about.
As we sat there eating our food and taking the occasional sip of cider, I had the distinct impression that the locals were eying us in a not-entirely-friendly manner. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. Glancing out into the saloon bar, I couldn’t catch any of them actually staring, but the impression didn’t change. It was as if they managed to avert their gaze every time I looked round at them. Only the cat, now sitting at the end of the bar, seemed to be looking towards us. I began to wonder if I was being a bit paranoid; I had been out of sorts all day, it seemed.
I was just pushing aside my plate with a limp leaf of yellowed lettuce I had no desire to eat still on it, when one of the local patrons of the bar wandered over to our snug. He actually had on one of those smocks farmers used to be depicted wearing, as if this village were one of those ‘living museums’ where actors recreate the past.
“’Ullo,” he said, and I very nearly did laugh at his ridiculous accent. If he wasn’t an actor, he had to be a bit simple or something. “’Ast doo seen it?”
“Seen it?” asked Connie. “Seen what?”
“The sign,” he replied.
“Yes, we’ve seen the sign.” She was clearly thinking of the inn sign, but I wasn’t certain he meant that – assuming he meant anything sensible at all.
“Aye, me, too,” he said, nodding and smiling widely, before wandering out the door, muttering “Me, too. Me, too.”
“Another nut job,” Connie murmured and I had to agree.
“Must be something in the water,” I replied.
“As long as it’s not in the cider,” she said with a laugh, draining the last of hers.
She finished the last crumbs of her sandwich, then sighed. “Speaking of cider, I need the loo. I shan’t be long.”
Connie got up and went to the bar to ask directions. The barman pointed her to a flight of stairs going up and she disappeared up them.
I got up and asked for another pint. The barman was scratching the cat behind its ear.
“Local cider?” I asked him as he pulled the pint.
“Aye. Apple orchards as far as the eye can see.”
“And, yellow leaves as far as the eye can see, too,” I told him as he handed over the pint of yellow-brown liquid.
He chuckled.
“In fact, this entire area seems yellow,” I elaborated. “Not that I have anything against the colour, but... I suppose I find it overwhelming in such fulsome abundance.”
“Oh, aye, yellow is very much our colour.” He paused, then added, “It’s a colour for the whole year, if you think about it. An autumnal colour, yes, but also a vibrant one for summer, and one that might be seen in spring.”
“And, yellow snow in winter,” I joked.
He didn’t crack a smile. The cat yawned, stretched, then jumped down to the floor.
“The colour of the sun, no matter what time of the year,” he finished.
“But, still, it gets a bit much, doesn’t it?”
“You can never have too much yellow,” he replied with a solemnity as if he were pronouncing some sage piece of advice.
“Yeah, well... Cheers for the drink.” I picked up my cider and retreated to the snug to nurse it and wait for Connie.
Who showed no sign of returning.
After a while, I began to worry. It wasn’t like Connie to disappear like this. I didn’t think the place could be so large or complicated that she had gotten lost. I worried that maybe she was ill or had had some sort of accident. Eventually, I decided to look for her.
Swallowing the last of my pint, I went over to the bar again.
“Excuse me; my wife seems to have gotten a bit lost. Where are the toilets?”
He gave me an exasperated look. “Up the stairs, along the corridor to the right, third door on the left. Gents to the left, ladies to the right.”
I followed his directions, and feeling a little nervous doing so, as if breaking a taboo, pushed the door to the ladies open and called Connie’s name. There was no reply.
Stepping reluctantly inside, I pushed each stall’s door open in turn, but she wasn’t there. Each stall seemed to have been tagged by a vandal using the same swirl of yellow paint. I checked the gents to see if she had gone in there by mistake, but it was also empty.
I went back downstairs to check she hadn’t somehow managed to slip past me, but the snug was empty. Even our glasses and plates had been tidied away.
“Okay, she has to be upstairs,” I told myself as I went back up the stairs and began to check each room. There was a large room that I supposed was rented out for stag-dos and the like, and several guest rooms, but there was no sign of her. There was a fire escape door with a set of stairs down to an empty, leaf-scattered beer garden, but it was tightly closed and there was no sign of her down below.
Exasperated and confused, I headed back down to the bar and demanded that the barman tell me where Connie was. Somehow, I just knew he was responsible in some way for her disappearance. I had no idea how or why – I just knew.
“Calm yerself, sir,” he said in a placating tone which utterly failed.
“I won’t be calm! I want my wife! Constance! What have you done with her? Where is she?” I lunged over the bar and grabbed his shirt, not quite certain what I intended to do.
The barman swung his fist, smashing me in my jaw. It sent me sprawling back into a chair, which went flying, then down onto the floor.
Blinking, I sat up and saw with a shock that one of the locals had seized a heavy hammer off the wall and was coming at me. From beside the bar, the cat hissed at me and showed its claws.
Scrambling to my feet, I backed away until I hit the wall and could retreat no more.
“Calm yourself, sir,” the barman was repeating, holding a kitchen knife in his hand. Beside him was the man with the hammer. The other locals clustered menacingly behind him.
Looking up, I saw a sickle mounted on the wall above me. I reached up and pulled it off the wall, gripped it almost as if it were a talisman.
“Come any closer and I’ll use it – I swear I will!”
I wasn’t quite certain how to swing a sickle, but my threat seemed to do the trick and they paused. I didn’t want to abandon Connie to whatever fate they intended, but I didn’t want to hang around and see how I would do in a fight with them. So, I turned and ran out the door into the green, the cat hissing at my heels.
Yellow leaves crunched beneath my feet. I ran over to the car, but as I fished the keys from my pocket, my agitated fingers fumbled them, and they fell amongst the leaves. Glancing back, I saw the barman coming out of the pub and, behind him, a man wielding an enormous-looking scythe.
I turned and ran.
Not really thinking, I headed for the church. Maybe I was thinking of how in the old days you could claim sanctuary. Maybe I just hoped they would respect its sanctity. Whatever, that was where I ran, sickle in hand, leaves crunching with every footfall, more than once nearly slipping over on the treacherous yellow surface.
The churchyard was as leaf-filled as the green, but I kept my footing and ran for the doors to the church.
As I reached them, the doors were flung open and I reacted instinctively, raising the sickle and bringing it slashing down into a bloody impact with the shoulder of the priest.
The man exclaimed a meaningless syllable and fell backwards, the sickle buried deep in his shoulder.
Horrified, I staggered back, staring down at him. Blood dribbled out over his chin and the light faded in his eyes.
Glancing around, I saw the men from the pub drawing near, more enraged than ever.
All I could do was run around the corner of the church, past graves and great sandstone tombs half-concealed beneath the ever-present leaves that crunched under foot. Unable to discern the course of the path, I found myself stumbling over raised grave edgings and into sunken graves so that I only managed to remain upright by grabbing at tombstones as supports.
Reaching the far end of the churchyard, I was confronted by a low sandstone wall over which I threw myself. Clambering to my feet on the other side, I began to run again, this time through an orchard dense with apple trees.
The leaves concealed roots and the odd fallen apple that made the ground as treacherous as in the churchyard.
For all that the ground was deep with leaves, the canopy above was unthinned and I could see nothing of the church tower as I glanced back. Nor could I see or hear my pursuers, if they even continued to chase me. The orchard was enormous, unless I was running about in circles, yet despite the impression of immensity, I felt constrained. The trees seemed to press in on me.
I paused and listened for the sounds of pursuit, but could hear nothing, except the soft sound of the leaves dropping.
I tried to focus my thoughts. I had to get out of there. I had to find Connie and rescue her.
I turned around to face the direction I hoped I had come from. I had to go back, no matter how scared I was, no matter the risk.
I seemed to thread my way through the orchard for hours and hours, certain I was going in circles.
Slowly, I became aware I was not alone amongst the trees. At first, I began to sense a presence ahead of me, then I thought I caught a flash of movement amongst the trees. I assumed it was the men from the pub.
Then, I saw the figure and knew that I was wrong. The person – I hoped it was a person, although I had my doubts – was tall and gangly and moved in an awkward, jerking fashion as if I were watching a film with frames missing. They were dressed all in a yellow; shirt, trousers, and long ragged coat. Their face was a stained white sack mask – the face of a scarecrow, as suited the tatty scarecrow outfit that it wore.
I stood and stared for a moment as it jerked awkwardly towards me, wondering if my unintended act of murder had broken my mind.
Drawing near, the yellow figure reached out with yellow-gloved fingers towards me, its expressionless sackcloth face staring at me with an awful intensity.
I turned and ran. I may have screamed, I can’t recall. My mind seemed to go blank. All I can remember of that time is the unrelenting, all-consuming, horrendous yellow. I felt as if that colour had filled my very soul.
The next thing I remember is falling over the low churchyard wall and tumbling headfirst into yet more of the leaves. My hands and knees scraped on hidden gravel, then I stumbled to my feet. Was I safe here on holy ground from that horror?
I looked back over the low wall and thought I saw movement, but chose not to wait for confirmation.
I considered returning to the pub, but Connie hadn’t been there when I’d searched the place and I had no desire to repeat the search. Instead, I skirted around the edge of the green towards the pub, heading for the beer garden and the orchard that lay beyond.
My assumption, insofar as I could make one, was that Connie had exited down the fire escape, fleeing one of the locals, and had run off into the orchard and got lost, just as I had. If she was running about in circles in there, I might have had a chance to catch up with her. At least, that was my hope.
I called her name, desperately hoping to hear her voice. “Connie! Constance! Connie!”
There was no reply.
As I crossed the beer garden, I realised there was a mound rising above the general levels of the fallen leaves. The grey cat from the pub was sitting beside it and hissed as I neared, but stood and ran off as I kept walking. As I approached it, I felt a sick feeling growing in my gut.
I slowed my pace, unwilling to see what was hidden beneath those leaves, knowing what it must be, terrified, yet certain I must look regardless.
Crouching beside the mound, I brushed a few of the yellow leaves away at one end to reveal a foot. The foot was encased in a woman’s shoe of the sort I was quite certain my wife had been wearing. My stomach churned.
Feeling faint, I reached over to the other end, I brushed a few more leaves away to reveal part of Connie’s face. I think I screamed. I couldn’t quite believe it, yet knew it to be true.
Suddenly, a voice spoke; a horrible leaden voice that stabbed into me like a chill dagger.
“It is a terrible thing,” I heard the voice saying as I looked up to see the impassive sackcloth face of the yellow scarecrow figure gazing down at me.
Unthinking, unhearing, I staggered up from my crouch and ran as fast as I could, desperate to get away from that horrible, taunting figure. I couldn’t think straight and did not want to hear whatever words it had to say.
I found myself beside my car again and fell to my hands and knees, desperately clawing for the keys amongst the leaves. I thought I heard the crunch of approaching footsteps, but paid them no heed as I searched.
With a jubilant, inarticulate cry, I felt my fingers close upon the keys. Fishing them up, I fumbled them into the lock and got the door open. Tumbling inside, I thrust the key into the ignition and turned it. The engine grumbled into life as I slammed the door shut.
Looking up, I saw that expressionless scarecrow creature standing in front of the car. Just standing there. For a moment, I stared back, then I thrust my foot down onto the accelerator and the car shot forward, churning up a cloud of yellow leaves.
I must have shut my eyes and let my foot slip from the accelerator, for the next thing I knew, I was blinking my eyes open as the car coasted to a stop.
Looking around in confusion, for I was certain I must have hit the scarecrow figure yet had felt nothing – even a mannequin filled with straw ought to have made some impact – I was even more shocked to discover that the village and its green had vanished. I was alone in the car in an empty country lane between orchards.
Assuming I must somehow have managed to speed through and out of the village, I slowly reversed to look for it, but found no sign of it. There were still yellow leaves, but now they intermingled with ones of red and orange and were nowhere as deep as they had been. It was as if I had blinked and arrived in some totally different place.
I tried the satnav and it worked instantly, telling me where I was. But, though I searched diligently, I could discover no village ending with the letters -o-s-a. If only Connie had been in the seat beside me, I would’ve assumed I’d dreamed the whole thing, but she wasn’t. She was still missing and that implied that what I had experienced was real. Yet, it seemingly couldn’t be.
I put the car in gear and started to drive, neither knowing nor caring where I was going, nor why. Nothing mattered anymore. Truly, it was a terrible thing.

DJ Tyrer

DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Chilling Horror Short Stories (Flame Tree), State of Horror: Illinois (Charon Coin Press), Steampunk Cthulhu (Chaosium), Tales of the Black Arts (Hazardous Press), Ill-considered Expeditions (April Moon Books), and Sorcery & Sanctity: A Homage to Arthur Machen (Hieroglyphics Press), and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).

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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.