ISSUE 19, February 2018

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.

Crow Barn
By DC Diamondopolous

 The rope pulled at Calypso’s waist. She staggered then stumbled as she clawed her way up the hill with Phoebe tied below. They had been searching for Alawisha, their younger sister, since her disappearance the day before. Hunger, thirst, and fatigue were ignored as panic pushed them to the edge of collapse. When sleep grabbed her, Calypso dreamt of Crow Barn.
Sweat burned her eyes. She carried a knife swathed in rags and kept it tucked into her belt. A cloth bag was strapped across her shoulder. Her feet wrapped in bark and tied with hemp made the ascent slippery. She plodded on looking at burnt hills and toppled chimney stacks, tombstone markers for homes, homes her grandmother had told her once nestled in green hills covered with orange poppies and goldenrod. Calypso had been enchanted by tales of California’s central coast. Once there were streams of fresh water, an ocean to swim and surf in, vineyards, cows that grazed along miles of farmlands and Monterey Pines silhouetted against a blue horizon. There had been a highway that connected villages with towns, and towns with cities.
It was dangerous to let her thoughts drift when they were being hunted. Since Alawisha’s disappearance, Calypso had leashed herself to Phoebe.
Phoebe stopped and turned to brush away their footprints. She had a satchel of blankets and rags fastened to her hip. The strain from pulling her and the mountain’s incline caused Calypso to reel backwards and fall.
She tumbled down the hill and landed a few feet from her sister. Looking up, she saw Phoebe’s blotchy sunburnt face. She had dirt in the crease of her arms and broken fingernails. Grime and twigs intertwined in her reddish-brown hair, making her look much older than her nineteen years.
“It’s almost noon.” Calypso checked her body to make sure no bones had broken. “We have to get out of the sun.”
“I’m not going in Crow Barn.”
“Neither am I. There might be plants. Shade. Something to hide under.” The farmhouse was out of sight to drifters and gangs. Anyone who roamed the central coast had heard the stories and would dare not go up there. “Whoever took Alawisha is looking for us,” Calypso said, licking her blistered lips. She stood and picked up the extra rope.
“But the dream told you nothing,” Phoebe said.
“It was a feeling. More than that, something I must do.” There was little to lose, between starvation, thirst, and hope as barren as the hill they climbed.
The sun’s scorching temperatures required that they sleep in the day and gather plants by moonlight. With the atmosphere stripped, the satellite was stunningly clear. It hung like a ticking clock. She looked around. Their voices could wake stalkers.
She trudged on, and scratched her matted hair.
“You’ve no black at all,” Phoebe said in a low voice.
“We’re going to find her.” After Alawisha’s kidnapping, Calypso’s hair turned white with guilt.
“Granny talked about ice cream. How it cooled you off.”
“No more talking.” Hunger and heat could make them careless. She remembered how her father scolded her after her nose was broken in a fight with three girls over a handful of pine nuts.
“An animal doesn’t take chances when it knows it can’t win. Neither should you,” he had said.
She was glad he wasn’t around to know about Alawisha. Her shame stung. And what would he have thought about them going up to Crow Barn?
She paced herself so as not to sprain an ankle, or worse, as she labored up the slope.
Calypso had heard the stories how Jackson Hammond hanged himself from the rafters inside the barn, his eyes pecked by crows. A year after, his wife hanged herself. The corpse, found weeks later, twitched from the rafter as vultures, crows, and rats gnawed at the feast. Neighbors ransacked the Hammonds’ ranch house then set it afire. Embers glowed in the shadow of Crow Barn. They advanced to the barn, raided the inside, then torched the planks. But the building refused to burn. People ran screaming. Talk of ghosts and hauntings bristled even the cynics. The news about the suicides and tangle of sensational rumors about murders and sex slaves built one on top of another until Crow Barn was crowned evil, the devil’s crypt.
Calypso gazed at the trail that once was a highway. The rising of the seas transformed the coastline. Ponderous salt rivers strangled whatever terrain crossed its path.
She saw no one and heard nothing but the wind. Gusts could mutate into spontaneous torphoons that swirled, separate dwarf-twisters, zigzagging, churning life into ash.
Last evening, high in the hills, the three of them had searched for food. After scavenging for herbs, Alawisha sat meditating in a hollow overlooking Morro Bay. Calypso crouched to collect cactus leaves, and when she turned, Alawisha had been snatched. She heard no struggle or cries, and saw no crushed weeds or footprints. What happened to their little sister?
When their father died, Alawisha consoled them. She told them their love for him would always live in his heart just as his love for them lived in theirs. In the most harrowing times, her sweetness prevailed. “We should never doubt the goodness of man,” she often said. Her passionate belief in a future full of wonder reminded Calypso of the tales their grandmother told them. Alawisha’s kidnapping was a swinging heartache in the rafters of her mind.
Calypso neared the crest of the hill and saw the toppled chimneystack. She crawled on her stomach. Her leather breast guards scooped dirt. Her legs cramped. She peered over the ridge. Her spine prickled.
Crow Barn watched.
The planks were bleached rat gray. Their gapped tooth fangs sucked the wind and metal sheets the color of dried blood patched portions of the building. Crow Barn stood protected by the yawning hills that surrounded it.
The rise and fall from the slopes cast a veil across the cavernous pit. Calypso looked north and saw the chimneystack with a border of fallen bricks. To the south was a scorched pick-up truck.
A grating screech prickled the hairs on her neck. She looked at the peak of the barn. A plank fell. She shrieked.
The rope dragged her backwards. Calypso turned and yanked on the line, her thin arms lifting Phoebe. The effort made her dizzy, but she hauled her sister up until they clasped hands.
“What was it?”
“A loose board that fell.”
Phoebe clung to her as she gaped at the barn.
Calypso carried the extra rope.
“Let’s make sure no one’s up here,” she said, releasing the cord.
They took a wide path around the barn, passing the pick-up truck and a tractor without wheels, and came to a halt. Phoebe screamed. Calypso muffled a cry. A heavy oxidized shackle poked like a tongue out of an incinerator. Next to the oven was the blanched torso of a cow and what looked like the bones of a human foot.
They continued walking and saw a wood chipper on its side. A cluster of dandelions grew nearby.
They ran to the plants.
“Do you think it’s safe to eat?”
“We’ve eaten them before.”
“But here?” Phoebe asked. “What if the soil is poisoned?”
Calypso yanked a stem from the ground. “It looks okay.”
“It might kill us.”
“Or we die of starvation.” She bit off a leaf of the flower and chewed. “They’re no different from any other.”
“It's too soon to tell.”
Calypso pulled twine from her bag, dug out the rest of the flowers and tied them. “Let’s keep our minds open. It might not be all bad up here.”
“I’m not so sure.”
They completed circling the barn and headed east where the house once stood. The chimneystack was half its original size.
Calypso picked up bricks and poked into crevices. She tossed aside blocks, looking for bottles, containers—anything useful. A plot of color beyond the stack drew her attention. She went over to inspect. Growing on the low incline of the hill was a patch of green with tiny strawberries poking through the leaves.
“Come here.”
“Come here.”
“Uh-uh. I don’t want to be scared.”
“It’s strawberries.”
“Don’t tease.”
“I’m not.”
Calypso stared at the fruit. Mystified. Nature’s red was enough to give thanks. But to eat?
Phoebe ran over. Gaped. “It can’t be.” She crouched. “We’re being tempted by something evil.”
Calypso ran her fingers over the green leaves and gently picked a strawberry.
“Look!” Phoebe cried.
A strawberry appeared in its place.
“How can that be? How can any of this be?” Calypso felt around for moisture. “How do they grow without water? Then spring to life after another’s picked? Even if they’re poisonous,” she lowered her voice, “what we’ve seen is a miracle.”
“Or wicked,” Phoebe whispered.
“We’ll only know if I taste it.”
“And you die?”
“Just a nibble,” Calypso said.
“No!” Phoebe snatched the fruit from her sister’s hand and tossed it away.
“How will we ever know if we don’t taste it?”
“I’ll eat it,” Phoebe said, running her hand across her forehead.
“We can come back and test them later. There must be groundwater, maybe a spring or well.” Calypso burrowed her fingers into the earth. She shoveled until she was certain that no water flowed. “It’s miraculous. How do they grow without water?”
“I tell you everything up here is cursed.”
Calypso brushed off her hands and wondered what Alawisha would think.
She looked at the barn. It waited, enticed, challenged her to come close. She stared at the thing that had become a legend, stood and walked to the barn in a clash of curiosity and dread.
“You’re not going in?”
“Just looking.”
Through the slats, she saw blue sky, and as she moved, light skipped, darkness sprinted.
Phoebe ran up beside her and glanced around.
“Do you hear that?” Calypso whispered.
“I don’t like being this close.”
“Hear it?” She heard a low buzz, the current broken with hissing then a hum. She stepped closer to the barn.
Their father had told them about electricity, and one night, she and her sisters watched as dark clouds filled the sky. Ancient hooked fingers streaked light to the ground.
“That’s it!” their father shouted. “Electricity!”
A rumbling thunder followed. The sisters squealed as they ran into the arms of their father.
He taught them about nature, that everything on the planet had the seed of life within it.
Calypso wondered if Crow Barn was more than an evil dungeon that wouldn’t burn.
Phoebe gripped her. “I hear it. We should get out of here.”
“I want to look in through the slats.”
“You’re crazy.” Phoebe tightened her grasp on the rope. “Please,” she said. “I don’t wanna lose you too.”
“You’re not going to lose me.”
“This place is evil.”
“The strawberries?”
“A trap.”
“But who’s trapping us?”
“Crow Barn,” Phoebe said.
“Bad things happened here. But it doesn’t mean the land is evil.”
“You don’t know.”
“Neither do you.” Calypso jerked the rope to give her more slack.
She walked toward the bleached uneven planks. The crackling and buzzing grew louder. She was within a few feet when a low drone stabilized. A pulse throbbed.
Calypso approached the barn. She felt a lurch, a sudden heartbeat through the soles of her feet. The drone became a purr inviting her in.
She peered inside, glimpsed patches of grass and plots of solid darkness. A bat flew out an opening.
She shrieked.
Phoebe screamed. She ran to her sister and wrenched Calypso back. “Let’s go.”
“Not yet.”
“You promised.”
“Look. On the ground.” She pushed Phoebe to the planks. “In the middle, toward the back. It’s glassy like water.”
“We’re not going in.”
“If it’s water, I am.”
“All the stories. The things that have happened.”
“If a tub of water sat right here, would you drink?”
“I don’t know.”
“Imagine if the trap were the other way around. That every food and drink you could imagine was here, but no one would eat because of the past. The trap is your mind.”
Phoebe untied the rope and threw it at her sister. “If you go in there and something happens to you, what about me? Then I’ve lost two sisters. I’ll have no one I can trust. You promised.”
Calypso picked up the rope. “Instant strawberries? Electricity? Maybe water? Bats we can eat. Maybe rats and mice.” She held out the rope. “I have to find out if it’s water.” She extended her arm and saw tears in her sister’s eyes. “Oh Phoebe, c’mon, we mustn’t be afraid. Don’t let fear separate us.”
“Then I’m going with you.” Phoebe grabbed the cord and knotted it around her waist.
“No. Stay out here. Watch.” Calypso turned sideways and squirmed between two boards. “Keep the rope tight. And our voices low.” She slipped into the barn.
“What’s it like?” Phoebe whispered.
“Dark.” It was as if darkness consumed the light that streamed in from outside. When her eyes adjusted to the dim, she scanned the roof and saw four crows lined on a beam. They stared down at her. “There’s food.” One of them squawked. Above the crows high in the rafters, she saw the small upside-down shadows of bats. Calypso was swift and deadly with the knife. “Plenty of food. If I can kill them before they fly away.”
“What else?”
“Ssh. Be quiet.”
She smelled mold. The damp made her clammy. The ground felt mushy, and her sandals sank into the soil. When she lifted her feet, the clay sucked. Popped. Water. She squinted and saw patches of grass. Mushrooms. Nails jabbed from the walls.
Her toes touched something solid. She knelt to examine. Bones. They were small, and she wondered what rodents lived among the crows and bats. As she rose, something hairy scampered across her feet. She flinched. A rat scurried. She took out her knife, listened, aimed, and hurled the dagger.
Calypso walked over, gave thanks for the food, and pulled the knife from the rat’s neck. Wiping the blood with her rag, she picked up the rat and looped its tail through her belt. It dangled upside down. Blood dripped on her thigh.
In the center of the barn, the glassy surface appeared as a pond. Moss skirted the border. She moved in slow thoughtful steps. Combined spiderwebs shimmed from the center of the barn all the way to the east corner, with feathers, spiders and bugs mangled in the silk threads. The rat’s furry body bumped against her leg. Crows preened. Bats rustled.
Calypso was almost there when she saw something floating.
She walked slowly, as if treading over the dead, the barn a graveyard of fear as the planet withered and rolled on its side, the seas making their way inland. That was it. How could she be so stupid? Saltwater that no one could drink.
She stepped to the bank and fainted.
“Sister, sister!”
She heard a faraway plea.
Something crawled around her waist. It dragged her across the ground, yet she was powerless to stop it.
She woke in a fog too dense to see through, then a furious wail—not hers. It was Phoebe.  
Calypso roused.
Phoebe howled.
They held each other as they stared into the pond at the beautiful face of their sister, Alawisha. She was alive. Her golden eyes gleamed, and her hair was like a desert in flames.
“What is this?” Calypso asked. Her heartache ended and the wave of tears that never broke now streamed down her face. Back and forth she rocked, from the sheer joy of finding her sister to the utter horror of where she found her.
Alawisha spread her lovely arms. The water rippled, her smile beguiled, her spirit seemed filled with luminous wonder. “Come with me. You’ll be safe.” Her arms disappeared, and her face receded. The water touched her cheeks. “This is the real world.”
“You're not Alawisha,” Phoebe screamed. “How could this be? Someone is tricking us!”
“It’s not a trick,” Alawisha said.
“You’re in a pool of water. In Crow Barn,” Calypso said. “What are we to think?”
“Don’t you trust me?”
“No,” Phoebe shouted.
Calypso leaned forward. “Who kidnapped you?”
“I wasn’t kidnapped.”
“Then what happened?” Phoebe asked.
“I was sitting in the hollow, my eyes closed, and asked Mother Earth to provide for us.” She smiled. “She did. I saw an opening and went through. I’ll show you.”
It was just as Calypso remembered, on the hill, but the rest was too fantastic. “Why don’t you come out?”
“What for, when real happiness is inside?”
“What are you talking about? Inside, outside. Come with us,” Phoebe said. “We’re your sisters.”
Calypso put her hand on Phoebe’s and leaned forward.
“Where you go—what’s it like?”
“Like Granny used to tell us. Only a million times happier.” Her body swayed under the water, causing waves in the pond. “We can all be together. There’s ice-cream, Phoebe.”
The older sisters glanced at each another.
“Why did you leave without telling us?” Phoebe asked.
“It just happened. I’m here, sisters. To get you.”
Calypso glanced at Phoebe. “The dream led us here.”
Phoebe nodded.
“What do you think, Sister?” Calypso asked.
“She’ll never come out. I’ve never had her kind of faith. Or yours.”
“I won’t go in without you,” Calypso said.
“I want to, but I’m scared.”
“Then let’s stay tied.” Calypso tossed the rat and her bag aside. She unknotted the rope and retied the cord, leaving enough for Alawisha.
“Tie it around you. So we’ll all be together.”
“We don’t need to do that to be together.”
“Go ahead. Do it,” Calypso said.
The pond swished and swirled as Alawisha wrapped it around herself.
Calypso eased herself into the pond. The cool water cleansed the filth off her body. It soothed her sores. She looked at her sister.
“It feels good. We’ll be together. Come in.”
Phoebe untied the strap of her bag, laid it on the ground, and slid into the pond.
Alawisha plunged beneath the surface. Calypso and Phoebe followed into the depth where they soared over a grove of trees. The rope unraveled. Calypso swooped, dove, rocketed. Guilt vanished, and she saw her long hair turn jet black. She looked over at Phoebe. Her mouth opened in awe. Alawisha was laughing. Calypso sailed on a divine seamless joy and rode the spearhead of love. The sisters floated and glided until momentum spiraled, and they hovered over a blue sea. They skimmed above green pastures of purple wildflowers and rows of vineyards. Calypso breathed in the sweet fragrance of rosemary. She landed on a hill with orange poppies and goldenrod, listened to thunderous waves and saw the windswept branches of Monterey Pines. A cool breeze touched her skin, with Phoebe and Alawisha beside her.​

DC Diamondopolous

DC Diamondopolous is an award-winning short story and flash fiction writer published worldwide. DC’s stories have appeared in over seventy-five anthology and online literary publications, including: Lunch Ticket, Silver Pen’s Fabula Argentea, Fiction on the Web, and many more. “Billy Luck” is nominated for Best of the Net 2017 Anthology and won first place for short story at Defenestrationism’s summer contest of 2016. DC has been awarded an Honorable Mention from the Charles Carter ‘Letters from Post Apocalypse’ Contest for 2017. The international literary site The Missing Slate, in Aug. 2016, honored DC as author of the month for the short story “Boots.”

?Green or Red
By JM Williams

​​“So with the simple shift of color, green or red, you can summon the magic of healing or destruction.”
Faline watched the master pace across the front of the lecture room, his white robes trailing behind him almost like a cape.
“It is best that you stick with the standard symbology,” the middle-aged man continued. “In the end, the only thing that really matters is what it means to you. The magic will coalesce around your thoughts, your intentions. But the symbology is a simple means of focusing that intention.”
Most wizards got into the craft because of their strong imaginations, a benefit when it came time to cast spells. Spells—magic made manifest—were created through the meaning in a wizard’s thoughts. The magic knew what you were thinking, and its effect was drawn from the meaning in your mind. But Faline always had trouble making images appear in her mind.
She had grown up on a farm, a life centered on practicality and realism. Most of her peers at the academy were Highborn who had never worked a day in their lives. They passed their time in daydreams, whereas Faline had needed to live in the moment. 
When the lecture finished, Faline gathered her books, brushed off her simple blue novice robes, and left the hall. She headed towards the large campus gates and the cluster of restaurants and inns just beyond. She wanted a cup of tea. That was something real, something practical. She knew what to expect with tea.
The golden campus doors were opened wide, a sweet breeze passing through them. Faline nodded to the armored guard who stood watch outside the gate. The rise of his nose, the sharp lines in his chin—that was practical. She gripped her books tight to her chest as she passed, hoping he wouldn’t see the uncontrolled smile on her face.
She had managed so far to cast the few basic spells that were part of the exams, but she found the healing spells particularly difficult. They were too abstract. Fire was hot and red, and that was easy to grasp. But healing was not something you could relate to your everyday experience. It left her wondering if she was fit to be a wizard.
She entered one of the cafes and took her regular seat against the wall. There was a window there which rested at just the right angle where you could see out into the street but the sun didn’t encroach on your comfort. There were only a couple other students in the room. A cup of steaming black tea was brought to her table without her asking.
Faline opened her textbook and started reading over the standard symbology again. Green for healing spells—a shard shape for anti-venoms, a square for mending flesh. Red for fire—a line for a spout of flame, circle for a fireball. It was all about simplifying the images in your head and assigning them a specific meaning, a desired effect. But why a square for mending? she wondered.
Faline’s head shot up as a scream of pain erupted from the kitchen. She heard the deep voice of the cafe’s owner shouting in panic. She stood and ran to the bar.
“Is everything alright, Nerian?” she shouted to the owner.
“Orva cut herself!” the man yelled. “She’s bleeding badly. Can you run for help?”
Faline’s heart ran wild with panic. She didn’t know where to go for help, and the cafe was now empty except for her. What could she do? She shook her hands, fussing, searching around for an answer. I am a wizard. A novice at least…
She lifted herself over the bar and dashed into the kitchen. She saw Orva, the man’s thirty-something daughter, on the floor in a pool of blood. It flowed from her wrist like wine from a barrel tap. The woman’s breathing was labored and uneven.
Faline had seen blood before—quite a lot in fact—back on the farm. With such an extreme wound, you had to do something to control the bleeding or the animal would go into shock, or even die. Though, the method you used depended on the situation.
She thought back to her magical training. She knew some healing spells, but wasn’t sure they would be strong enough for such a deep laceration. And she often failed in casting them. Is there any other option? Sometimes, if time was short, her father used a hot iron to cauterize an animal’s wound. It was crude and painful, but effective.
Those were her choices, green or red. Healing or fire. She grabbed Orva’s hand and pulled it close, eyeing the oozing wound. She raised her other hand with two fingers extended. In her mind, she pictured a thin line with a sharp point, giving it a bright red tint. Then she released the spell.
A tiny spout of flame erupted from her fingers, singeing the woman’s skin. The air sizzled and cracked, filled with the scent of burning flesh and the echo of the woman’s screams. Orva pulled her hand away in pain. When she dropped it down again in exhaustion, Faline saw the bleeding had stopped. The distraught father stared at her.
“What made you think to do that?” Nerian asked.
“I don’t know,” Faline lied. It was probably better she not mention her experience with farm animals.
“Thank you,” Orva said, the words coming slow and hard, as if huge boulders needing to be heaved.
“Let’s get you to a bed,” Nerian said to the weakened woman. He turned back to Faline, a half-smile on his old face.
“This is a debt I can never repay. I think you will make a fine wizard someday. And you will always be welcome under this roof.”
The old man’s praise filled Faline with warm pride. She followed Nerian as he carried his daughter to the sleeping chamber above the cafe. As she did, Faline thought, maybe there’s more to being a wizard than just symbology.

JM Williams

Author, teacher, historian, veteran. JM Williams is a SF/F author who is unabashedly into anything pulp. He has had more than thirty short fiction pieces accepted for publication in a wide range of venues including Bards and Sages, Left Hand Publishers, Corner Bar Magazine, and the Uprising Review. He also earned an Honorable Mention in the third quarter of the 2017 Writers of the Future contest. Williams lives in Korea with his wife and 10 cats—and can be found online at .

A Piece of You
By Eddie D. Moore

            Liz stretched across the piano and dropped a twenty in the tip jar. She grinned when she saw the pianist’s eyes flash from the tip jar to the flesh exposed by her low-cut top. He leaned over to hear her request. She blew warm air into his ear as she breathily said, “I just want a piece of you.”
            The pianist smoothly transitioned to a new song with an improvised bridge, and he gave Liz a wink as he worked his fingers up and down the keyboard.  
Liz gripped the padded rail in front of her while she waited for the pianist to finish his song. She absent-mindedly rubbed the top of an upholstery tack with her thumb and wondered if the small bumps she felt formed an intentional pattern or were caused by oxidation. She didn’t remember the tacks having a texture. As the last notes faded, she caught the attention of the pianist, and she motioned for him to join her with a slow curl of her finger.
            A few people in the bar applauded until the pianist spoke softly into the microphone mounted on the piano. “Thank you. I’ll be back after a short break.”
            He casually eased into the chair beside Liz. “Well, hello, my name’s Rick. Tell me. What brings such a beautiful woman to New Orleans’s darkest little hole in the wall?”
“Call me Liz.” She rested a hand lightly on top of his. “I’m here for the music, of course, and a reminiscent stroll down memory lane. I used to come here quite often.”
Rick lightly stroked the top of Liz’s finger with his thumb. “I find that hard to believe.”
Liz leaned forward, and asked with mock offence. “Oh, are you calling me a liar?”
“I’ve spent many nights here the last few years, and I would’ve remembered a face as pretty as yours.”
“What if I told you that this place used to be a soda shop and that I often drank root beer made with real sassafras right here while sitting beside my father. I come back every decade or so just to see how much has changed.”
Rick laughed. “Ha. Your grandmother might have drunk root beer here, but you’re way too young for that.”
“Some would say that I’m still young; I’m only a little over a hundred.”
Rick’s eyebrows drew closer together, and he gasped when Liz gave him a glimpse of her fangs with a wink. “I really do just want a piece of you.”
An awkward moment passed before Rick realized what the vampire had meant by saying that she wanted a piece of him. He jerked back his hand and said with a nervous stammer, “I… I really must be going.” Three quick steps later, Rick reached the stairs that lead to his dressing room, but as he began to climb the stairs, the room seemed to twirl, and he tumbled to the floor.
Liz stood over Rick and offered him a hand. “There’s no reason to be rude or juvenile about this. We’re both adults here.”
Refusing the helping hand, Rick tried to stand on his own, but he quickly sat down as the pain overwhelmed him. “Damn, I sprained my ankle.”
“If I wanted to harm you, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Would you at least agree to hear me out?”
Rick gritted his teeth against the pain, looked up, and avoided her eyes by focusing on her apple red lips. “I’ve been married twice, and this is New Orleans; I’m not unacquainted with blood suckers.”
Liz pushed out her bottom lip as if pouting. “Well, now you’ve hurt my feelings. What dealings have you had with vampires?”
Eyes closed tight, Rick shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. Look, I know you’re messing with my mind and hiding behind a mask of illusion. I hate not being able to trust my own eyes. If I wanted to see a distorted reality, I’d go to the carnival and visit the fun house.”
Liz nodded slowly and let her influence fade. “I need you to trust me. Can we talk in your dressing room?”
The lighting in the room changed, and Rick risked a tentative glance up. He did a double take and smiled. Her skin was completely white, and her breasts were significantly smaller. “You gave yourself quite a boob job with the illusion, didn’t you?”
Liz frowned and deadpanned. “Would you like to live through this night?”
Rick’s expression hardened, and he glanced up the stairs to his dressing room. He knew that the vampire could’ve easily seduced him and walked him willingly to his doom. He let out a resigned sigh and nodded up the stairs. “Come on.”
Liz slowly closed the door behind her as Rick dropped into his chair, propped up his foot, and rubbed his ankle. He studied her face for a moment and asked, “Okay, what do you want from me?”
The corners of Liz’s lips turned up slightly. “Exactly what I said; I want a piece of you.”
She sat down on a small couch and placed an empty glass on the coffee table between them. Rick looked closer at the glass and saw a needle attached to a short tube inside. When he looked up, Liz placed three one hundred-dollar bills beside the glass.
“There is one major controversy among my kind, Rick. Most are bottom feeders that live off the life of others. However, some of us have learned another way. If you give your blood of your own free will, it will sustain me longer, and the music you play tonight will fill the empty space inside of me that used to hold my soul. For a short time, I’d feel whole again.”
Rick glanced at the glass and the cash. “Well, this is a jazz bar. I think you’ve come to the right place to receive a little soul, even if only temporarily.”

Eddie D. Moore

Eddie D. Moore’s job requires extensive traveling, and he spends much of that time listening to audio books. His stories have been published by Jouth Webzine, The Flash Fiction Press, Every Day Fiction, Theme of Absence, Flash Fiction Magazine, and the Centum Press. Find out more on his blog at:

An Unscheduled Stop
By R.A. Goli

I peered at the station’s sign, unable to make out the faded letters as an announcement came over the loudspeaker. I had to evacuate the train due to a mechanical problem. I exited and watched the carriages rumble back towards the city. Shit. I sat on a wooden bench where chips of peeling paint stabbed the back of my thighs through my thin pants. I pulled my phone from my pocket, annoyed there was no signal.
I shivered, feeling a chill the wind wasn’t responsible for, as I peered into the distance, begging to see the pinprick of light that would grow into the glaring headlight of my train. I stepped inside the building to get out of the wind. It was an unmanned room, which reminded me of a barn as it had no doors, just large gaping openings on either side which faced the tracks.
Being inside offered little shelter from the biting wind, so I started walking laps around the building. I studied the outside brick in an effort to keep my mind off what might be lurking in the darkness beyond the tracks. On one side, lay an open field as far as I could see in the moonlight, the other side, beyond the car park, lay a heavily wooded area.  
A woman’s sobs drifted out from inside the station. My heart thumped loudly as a tingling fear spread throughout my body. There was no way anyone could have walked across the tracks and up to the platform without me seeing them, and no one else had gotten off the train with me. My leaden feet dragged as I crept around the building to the door.  
She stood with her face in her hands in the middle of the room, splattered with blood, her white blouse peppered with crimson blooms. A warbled scream clawed at my throat. She looked up, then ran at me. I brought my hands up to protect my face, thinking she was going to hit me, but instead felt the breeze of her as she only rushed by. I turned and watched as she sped across the platform and leapt onto the tracks. I screamed as a train I hadn’t heard coming, barreled down the tracks and hit her mid-jump. She clipped the windscreen, her body buckled and twisted, as it was flung aside like a rag doll. Blood splattered the platform at my feet and my screams were drowned out by the screech of the train’s brakes.
In shock, I watched the lighted windows of the carriages pass by through blurred vision. I wiped my tears away and scanned the tracks. The sickening twist of her body formed an unnatural, crumpled heap, a few meters away. I stared in horror at the contorted shape, my heart stuck in my throat.
She moved, rising awkwardly to her hands and knees. She crawled across the sleepers, then stood and lurched towards me, her body jerking, her right arm flopping uselessly at her side. I stumbled backwards.
Her unblinking, milky-white eyes bore into mine as she ambled closer, then raised her good arm and pointed behind me. Reluctantly, I looked but saw nothing. When I turned back, both she and the train were gone. I faced the empty field again, wondering what she’d been pointing at. The longer I watched, the more I thought I could see shapes forming in the dark. It felt as if unseen eyes were staring at me. A shiver ran down my spine and I broke out in a cold sweat.
A movement caught my eye. I stared at the spot, unwilling to blink. Was that a man ducking down? I stared for a long time, waiting for another movement, which would give my pursuer away. The field was overgrown; the grass incredibly long, and my heart leapt to my throat when I saw a section of it shift.
I ran, as fast as I could. Down the platform and across the tracks, certain I could hear the crunch of footsteps behind me. I sprinted away from the station. Eventually, the headlights of a car illuminated the road and I waved it down.
“Take me to the police station,” I said to the driver.
“No worries, Miss. Where’d you come from?”
“The train station.”
“That station’s been closed for near on ten years. There was a suicide. Was all over the news.”
“There was a problem with the train,” I said, then frowned, looking back towards the station, vaguely remembering the story. “I think I read about it. The papers said she was trying to get away from someone. That was here?”
“Could be,” he said.
I faced forward again and gasped when I saw the same woman in the middle of the road, waving frantically. “Look out!” I shouted and covered my head with my arms, but there was no crash. Not even a swerve. I turned to look behind us. There she was, standing in the road and pointing at us.
           “You okay, Miss?”
I didn’t answer, too busy trying to understand what was happening as I knelt on the chair, facing the back window. I glanced back at the man and saw something odd; a thick blade of grass protruding from his hair. My heartbeat quickened as I scanned the car’s interior and saw a crumpled towel on the floor behind the driver’s seat. I snatched it up. Underneath was a handful of cable ties and a knife. The streetlights glinted off the steel as we passed underneath, and I stared, hypnotized for what seemed like minutes.  
Then I felt a hard smack to the side of my head and my vision went black.
            I wander the lonely roads near the station, my wrists and ankles carrying deep welts where the ties once were, though they no longer hurt. My clothes are torn and dirty, the dark line across my neck has crusted over, and the blood that gushed from the wound is now a dark stain on my shirt. My feet make no noise as I walk the black asphalt, but I hope I am seen when the time comes. I failed to understand the specter from the train station and now I am another cautionary tale. I promise I’ll do better. I’ll succeed where she had failed.
I’ll make sure others heed my warning.

R.A. Goli

R.A. Goli is an Australian writer of horror, fantasy, speculative and erotic horror short stories. In addition to writing, her interests include reading, gaming, the occasional walk, and annoying her dog, two cats, and husband.

Her short stories have been published by Broadswords and Blasters, Fantasia Divinity Magazine, Deadman’s Tome and Horrified Press among others. Her fantasy novella, The Eighth Dwarf is due for release Spring 2018. Check out her website or stalk her on Facebook

Izzy Tells No Lies
​by James Norris
    I step out of the air-conditioned quiet of the Basilica and into the cacophony of Colfax's incessant traffic and its attendant smell of auto exhaust.  I do what I can to shut out this assault and cross myself.  "Lord, grant me the strength to bring Your comfort to those who most need it."
    Only then do I allow myself to look south across Colfax.  To do otherwise is to invite a nearly paralyzing despair over the quiet desperation of the far, far too many lost souls who wander up and down the street looking for sex, drugs, and often times, oblivion.
    But she is there, as though she has been waiting for me, knowing exactly when I would emerge from the nave and out into the hot, muggy August twilight.  As she seems to every night, she comes to tell me of her latest vision.
    For a moment, her eyes focus on mine, and I see her.  Not what her brain's natural chemical imbalances have made of her.  Not what the drugs, prescribed and not, have made of her.  Not what her guilt has made of her.  Not what her parents have made of her by throwing her out of their home like a Jezebel on her eighteenth birthday.
    I see her--I see Isabelle.
    Such sadness.  Such compassion.  Such thwarted strength.
    As always, it is her cornflower blue eyes that first draw my gaze.  But then I notice her dish-water blonde hair is even dirtier than normal--when was the last time she showered?  Would it be a brighter, more lustrous blonde if she had the opportunity to wash it regularly?  The slight Adam's apple.  And good Lord, is that stubble or just dirt from living on the street, or wherever it is she sleeps at night?
    But then the confusion takes grip, and Izzy starts lashing the air before her face, as though swatting at a cloud of gnats.  She turns east and starts walking, almost stumbling, toward Pennsylvania Street.
    When she reaches it, she will turn around and pace down to Logan Street and back to Pennsylvania.
    Over and over.
    Until I approach her and she tells me of whatever vision it is that has brought her all but to the steps of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.  Steps I know she will never climb because she is convinced God can no longer love her--would no longer welcome her in His house.  But God is infinitely forgiving, and He would welcome her in His house as readily as He once welcomed. . .  Isaac.
    I grit my teeth to push thoughts of that poor, tormented boy from my mind--they still have the power to push me to a despair worse than the contemplation of all those who choose, for whatever reason, to desecrate their bodies and souls on Colfax.
    That her parents, "good Catholics," could not accept their son's inability to see himself as a boy.
    That they would throw her out of their home on her eighteenth birthday for. . .
    With the determination of a man who knows he's lost his way in the desert and yet must soldier on, I walk down the steps to let Isabelle tell me of her latest vision.  But, of course, I'm forced to stop before I reach the sidewalk.
    "Hey paaadre."
    Benny manages to slur even just those two words.  He's an elderly. . .gentleman.  Every night he scoots up and down five blocks of Colfax on a wheeled walker with fluorescent orange tennis balls on the rear legs.  He's not fat, but is portly.  His legs are bowed, and the same quarter inch of grey stubble covers his liver-spotted head as his throat and jowly cheeks.
    He wears a Marine baseball cap--claims to have served in Saigon during the war--claims to have saved more than twenty people during the evacuation.  A cigarette dangles from his lips even as a portable oxygen tank pumps what he claims is "pure oxie" directly into his nose.  If it were, indeed, pure oxygen, I suspect he would have blown his head off long ago while trying to light one of his ever-present cigarettes--I've seen him thumb his zippo a dozen times before managing to light a cigarette to his satisfaction.
    Even from five feet away, I can't tell which odor is stronger, the stink of his nicotine saturated clothes or the whiskey on his breath.
    Ignoring the man would be rude.
    He comes to a stop just a foot from me.
    I breathe through my mouth to avoid some of the stench.  "Good evening, Benny.  How are you tonight?"
    "Same'ld, same'ld.  Ya know-oww it is, paadre."
    The words are a little less slurred--practice makes perfect, I guess.  "Well. . ."
    "Say, padre"--he's making a real effort to speak distinctly--"Ya wouldn't happen to have some spare change, wouldja?"
    I fight down a sigh.  "Benny, I do have some change, but. . ."
    "Honest, padre.  I'm headed down to Mickey D's for some coffee and a burger."
    Isabelle's on her third round.  Though I know she'll keep going for as long it takes for me to get to her, I hate to make her wait.
    Experience has taught me that if I give Benny money, it will go for either more smokes or more whiskey.  Luckily, I have an out, and I should be able play it quickly.  "Benny, I remember giving you two dollars last Thursday night when you told me the same thing.  And you told me you'd bring me the receipt to prove you bought food and not cigarettes or whiskey.  But you didn't.  So, tonight, you're on your own."
    "Tat's fair, paaadre."
    The slur is back in full force even as he pulls a piece of cardboard off the side of his walker.  He hangs the sign from wire clothes hangers on the walker's front cross-bar.  It reads, Viet Nam War Vet -- Every quarter helps -- GOD BLESS.
    That done, he starts wheeling down toward the McDonalds.  "Ya hafa gude evenin', paaadre."
    "You as well, Benny."
    Who knows?  Perhaps he was telling the truth.  And perhaps I have committed the sin of unjustified condemnation.
    But now I'm free to go to Isabelle.
    As I step into the inner eastbound lane, she stops her pacing and swatting at the air.  She doesn't look at me, keeping her attention on the ground a foot or two in front of her.  By coincidence or not, she has stopped just where the traffic leads me to walk up onto the south sidewalk.
    It would be arrogant to think that the Lord had arranged the traffic so I could cross all four lanes of Colfax at little more than a brisk walk.  Nonetheless, I give Him my thanks.
    I know that using her full name will cause the swatting to start anew, and several minutes will pass before it stops again.  So, "Good evening, Izzy."
    Only then does Izzy look up to meet my gaze.  "Father Grigori."  It is not Isabelle who says this, it is Izzy's scattered, diffident gaze.
    Everyone else to whom I minister addresses me, as is Catholic tradition, by my ordained name, "William."  But not Isabelle.  In fact, I don't know how she could know my given name.  Just another one of the mysteries that is Isabelle.
    From the basilica's portico, I had not noticed the light, open-hand shaped bruise on her left cheek nor the bruise around her right wrist.  "Izzy, what happened to your face and wrist?"
    "Michael is coming."  
    Still Izzy--is this her prophecy?  But I don't care--what I do care about are the bruises.
    "Izzy, what happened to your face and wrist?"
    "Isabelle needed money, so she tried to turn a trick.  But the Jane was a lesbian who didn't appreciate Isabelle's little Isaac."
    This isn't the first time Isabelle has tried to prostitute herself to a woman who subsequently abused her when the Jane discovered that biologically, Isabelle is a man.
    "I see."  I want to take her right hand in mine to examine the bruise, to wipe the dirt from her face so I can better see the bruise there.  But in the six months I've known her, we've touched only once.  In the church's hospice.  And she had fled immediately afterward.  But come to think of it, it was after this that she started calling me by my given name.
    Though it costs me terribly, I respect her self-denial of human compassion.  "Who is Michael?"
    "Michael is coming for Benny."
    For no longer than it takes her to answer, Isabelle, not Izzy, looks up at me.  Direct and self-assured, not afraid and confused.
    By both her tone and the way her eyes hold--almost grip--mine, Isabelle implies that I know this Michael.
    It is always Isabelle who tells me what will come to pass.
And as always, the intensity of her gaze starts to fade.
    She is Izzy once again.
    And even though I know to expect it, I flinch at her first swat at the things she sees before her eyes but aren't really there.  And as she turns and stumbles away, so she won't hear, I quietly pray, "May the Lord watch over you, Isabelle."
    For the next hour, I stand in front of the Cathedral, inviting all who pass to the midnight Mass.
    But my heart's not in it--another sin for which I will have to atone.
    Michael.  Archangel Michael?  The Lord's warrior, His bringer of death?  If it is the Archangel coming for Benny. . .
    There are so many ways to die on Colfax, and so many do.
    Worried for his physical safety, I keep an eye out for Benny.  But I do not see him before it is time to go in to celebrate the Mass.
    Attendance is sparse, and giving the sacrament to the handful in attendance does not take long.  Another sin to account for:  my prayers are only half-heartedly for those to whom I offer the sacrament--mostly I pray that the Lord will show Benny mercy this night.
    As I remove my vestments in the sacristy, I can't help but think about when I first met Isabelle.
    It was just days after I had arrived at the basilica; I had not even led my first Mass, when the Monsignor approached me about a girl in the hospice.  She had been badly beaten.
    As he led me to her bedside, he told me Izzy and Isabelle's story.
    Told me how Julia, one of the cleaning staff, had found Isabelle lying, nearly unconscious and bleeding, by the rectory door.  He hoped that I would be able convince her to go to the police to report the beating--she had told him only that Jane had done it.
    When I first saw her, I could not believe that anyone would do anything so brutal to such an obviously already tortured soul.  But my own experience with the Bratva back home in Moscow forced me to acknowledge that such things happen.  Far more often than a loving God would allow.  So often to the least able to. . .
    The Monsignor introduced us:  "Father William, this is Izzy.  Izzy, this is Father William.  I've asked him to look after you."
    Isabelle did not reply.
    At first, I tried to console her, but she did not need consolation.
    In a very matter of fact manner, Izzy--it would take me some time to recognize the difference between Izzy and Isabelle--told me that what had happened happens.
    This was the beginning of my trek into the moral and spiritual desert that is East Colfax.
    I spent hours by her bedside.
    It took me that long to convince her to tell me the story.
    It was the same story as Izzy had told me earlier today, only with more dire outcomes.
    Then I tried to show her sympathy, but she did not want it.
    Sympathy implies a connection, but the desert is a desolate place.
    Eventually, she announced her need to relieve herself.
    I offered to bring her a bed-pan and give her privacy, but in an act of will, the likes I had not seen before and have not seen since, she forced herself up out of the cot in which Julia had laid her.
    With her first step, she stumbled and when I took her by the arm to steady her, she froze like a statue.
    I said her name, apologized, worried that I had wrenched her arm.
    But she did not respond.  Did not move.
    Eventually, not knowing what else to do, I let go.
    Only then did Izzy look at me and say, "Isabelle needs to do this for herself, Father Grigori."
    I was startled by her use of my given name, convinced that the Monsignor had given my name as "Father William."
    Odd how only tonight it should come back to me that this was the first time Izzy had called me Grigori.
    But her poise forbade questions.
    I escorted her to the restroom and then found the Sister Nurse to ask if Izzy had suffered physical harm not visible to the eye.
    When I returned scant minutes later to the restroom, Izzy was gone.
    The desert is also a lonely place, as I truly began to learn that night.
    I am on my knees, praying for guidance regarding both Isabelle and Benny, when there is a shockingly loud knock at my door.
    "Father William!  Are you awake?  There's been a. . ."
    Julia's voice trails off as I open the door.  Her eyes are wide with fear, her mouth gaping with dismay, her aged, dark Colombian skin pale.  Her right hand is still raised in a fist, as though she doesn't know what to do with it now.  The other trembles at her breast.
    "Julia, what is it?  What's wrong?"
    She starts to answer in Spanish, too rapid for me to follow, but stops herself after just a few words.  She swallows hard, and her eyes plead for comfort.
    When I reach out to touch her still raised fist, she starts and snatches it to her breast as well.  I gently take both her hands and hold them between mine.  "Julia, está bien."  My Spanish is not yet as good as I want it to be, so I continue in English.  "Whatever it is, it is the Lord's will."  Doggerel theology, but Julia's faith is a simple one.
    This seems to steady her, but I can see the effort it costs her to suppress her normally charming accent.  "Father, there is man in the courtyard."  She swallows again, before adding, "I think he is dead."
    It takes me a moment to process this, but then, letting go of Julia's hands, I spin and stride to the small window that looks out over Logan and the rectory courtyard.  I thrust aside the heavy drapes and. . .
    Red-and-blue lights flash balefully.
    Uniformed officers stand around a body.
    Paramedics rock back on their heels, remove an oxygen mask from. . .
    The body lies in a smudge of something black against the courtyard's limestone and marble tiles.
    In this light I can't make out his face, but there, a few feet from the body, is Benny's unmistakable walker with its bright orange tennis balls.
    I bow my head, close my eyes, and quietly utter, "I commend you, my dear brother, to almighty God and entrust you to your Creator."  I suspect Benny is already dead, so the Prayer of Commendation may not be appropriate, but when I look back at the sad scene, the Monsignor stands in the background, and I trust that he has given Benny his Last Rites.
    Then my eye is drawn across Logan to a person standing in a shadow.  She seems to be standing witness, with her head bowed.
    And as I realize who it is, Isabelle looks up at me.
    I run down two flights of stairs like Satan himself is at my heels.  Bursting through the rectory's front doors, I startle the two police officers still standing near Benny's body.
    But even before I get to the sidewalk, Isabelle is gone.
    As the Monsignor and I walk together back into the rectory, he volunteers that Benny died of a single small-caliber gunshot.
    Suspects?  None.
    Motive?  No money on the body.  But for a homeless person like Benny, that means nothing.
    His walker was his most valuable possession.
    On the other hand, maybe he had just bought a pack of cigarettes or a bottle of whiskey.
    Though I lay on my bed until the sun rises, I never really make it to sleep.  For no reason I can express, even to myself, I know Isabelle was there when Benny was killed.
    On Colfax, people have been killed for less.
    Lord, it is I who needs comfort.
    I don't know what to do.  If Isabelle witnessed Benny's murder, then she could be a target now.
    But it's entirely possible that the person who killed Benny was so drunk or high or both that they don't even really know what they did or that they were seen doing it.
    During the day, when my duties allow, I go out onto Colfax and ask after Izzy.  Many of the people I speak to know of her, but no one seems to know where she spends her days.
    The Monsignor, a very intuitive man, doesn't ask why I'd like him to take the evening Mass.  Today is August 15th, the Night of The Assumption, so the evening Mass is starting later than normal--at sundown, at 7:56 p.m.
    By the time the Monsignor has begun his entrance procession, I am on Colfax asking its nighttime denizens if they've seen Izzy or know where she might be found.  I walk a few blocks to the east and then back a few blocks to west of the Cathedral several times.
    Having learned nothing of use, on my next eastbound trek, I walk an additional block before turning back to the west, and then walk an extra block in that direction.
    It's a Friday night, and so the traffic is insane.  More than once, I nearly become a statistic myself when crossing Colfax to speak with someone I've seen in Izzy's company.
    Perhaps the Lord is looking out for me, but I take no comfort in this thought.
    I am convinced it is Isabelle who needs His protection.
    By nine o'clock, my search pattern has expanded to the east end of the 16th Street Mall.  I've never seen Isabelle on the mall, and it's earlier than I've seen her anywhere, but many of the Colfax homeless panhandle on the mall until around eleven. I hope someone there might know how I can find her.
    An hour and a half later, I'm back in my rectory cell.  My feet and legs ache.  I haven't walked so much in such a short period of time in. . .  Most likely, ever.  And the hot, humid August weather has left me a sweaty and smelly mess.
    Not wanting to waste time, I spend more time on a hand-towel bath than a shower would have taken.
    As I put on my shirt, I immodestly look out my window.
    As I do, Isabelle looks up at me from the very spot where she'd stood last night.
    Buttoning my shirt fully isn't possible as I run down the stairs, but modesty be damned.
    This time, she's still there as I blow through the front doors.  In seconds, I'm standing before her--it's Isabelle, not Izzy.  Without thinking, I blurt out, "Isabelle, I've been looking for you all night."
    Her eyes widen at the sound of her full name, and her hands start to twitch.
    I fear even Izzy will retreat into swatting the air, and squash an urge to take her hands in mine in an attempt to keep her mind from fluttering away. Instead, I quickly correct myself, hoping to minimize the damage. "Izzy, I was worried about you."
    Her jaw clenches ever so slightly, and her hands become still.  It may not be Isabelle looking at me now, but at least Izzy is.
    I want desperately to ask if she witnessed Benny's murder, but I fear this may not be a good tack to take either.  Perhaps the tried and true.  "How are you tonight?"
    I'm probably kidding myself, but it looked like, for just a moment, Izzy, or possibly Isabelle, was thanking me with her eyes.
    "Michael is coming."
    My stomach plummets to my feet.  I know she's just answered the question I wanted to ask.  "Izzy. . ."
    "Michael is coming for Isabelle."
    The Earth seems to spin a day's turning around me in but a moment.
    The next few seconds pass in a fraction of one, but take an eternity to play out.
    A glint of light behind Isabelle catches my eye.
    A shape emerges from behind a trash dumpster in the Archdiocese parking lot.
    A flash of light.
    A sound of a .38 snub-nose.
    Isabelle gasping.
    Stumbling a step toward me.
    Her hands coming to rest, unbelievably lightly, on my chest.
    The sound of the gun hitting the ground.
    A guttural, angry voice saying, "You won't rat me out to the pigs, you bitch."
    The sound of feet running away into the night.
    Without being aware I'd taken a hold of her, I gently lower Isabelle to the ground.
    "He's here," she says in an absurdly matter of fact way.
    And suddenly, night becomes day.
    Or rather morning, as the light illuminating Isabelle's face feels like the sun rising in the east behind me.
    She is only nineteen years old, but her face has always looked many years older.  Those extra, unwarranted years fade away in the golden light illuminating her face.
    Isabelle is the beautiful young woman she was meant to be.  Her dingy, stringy hair takes on brilliant flaxen sheen.  The dirt on her face evaporates.  The only thing about her that doesn't change is the cornflower blue of her eyes.
    And then she smiles--Isabelle smiles. "Grigori, I brought Michael for you."
    I am stunned--Isabelle has never in my experience referred to herself in the first person.
    Perhaps what she's said should scare me, but the look in her eyes tells me there is nothing to fear.
    Following her gaze, I look over my shoulder.
    "Child, forgive yourself and know the forgiveness the Lord God granted you the day you were born.  Come with Me, and never know pain again."
    In my ears, the Archangel's words are English.  In my mind, I hear him in my native Russian.  In my heart, the Latin of the Holy Church.  And in my soul, every language ever spoken by any of God's creations.
    He is beautiful.  Divinely beautiful.
    But not so beautiful as Isabelle, when I turn back to her.
    Her eyes close, and as they do, she says, "I brought him to lead you out of the desert."
    And as they do, the light of the Archangel fades away.
    I am still standing there looking down at Isabelle when the police arrive.  They try to question me, but the look of peace on her face arrests their natural suspicion.  Their natural cynicism.
    It is a look I am certain that Isabelle never knew.
    But that is of no concern now.
    All that matters is that Isabelle tells no lies.
    And in this, and the light of the Archangel, I find a comfort that will last me all of my days.

James Norris

James has been a member of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers since 2010 and is working on three novels, the first of which, The Order of the Brotherhood, is a work of dystopian speculative fiction set in a prison which investigates the value of democracy in an America that has largely forgotten it.  He’s also written several short stories—”Izzie Tells No Lies” his is second published short story—his first, is ”Angel of Death”, was published by Moon Magazine ( in Jan 2018.  He’s also written several spec teleplays, the latest of which, Project Ωmega is currently under review at Amazon.  He lives in Idaho with his wife and three creatures of the canine and feline persuasions, where he is pursuing his PhD in Physics.  He can be reached at or


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.