ISSUE 24, July 2018



Cover Art by 


*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.

The Wall
By Eliza Master

M A Smith

M A Smith writes from Gloucestershire, UK. Her fiction has appeared in publications including Dark Moon Digest, Swords and Sorcery Magazine and Gathering Storm, and her novella ‘Severance’ will appear in May 2018, courtesy of Fantasia Divinity Publishing. Find out more at masmithwriting.com.


Jerusalem
By Matthew Smit


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: https://eddiedmoore.wordpress.com/.





The Ride
By Mehi Loveski

                


Gabie Yang






The Overlord's Trials
By Dan  Rice

Tim Dadswell




The Suitor Sorter
By Sara Codair

“Can I really only pick two?” Julia frowned at the line up.
“You’re not choosing two now. You are showing me two types you like so I am able to create a better list of real suitors for you,” replied the automaton that was guiding Julia through the selection process. Its lips didn’t move as it spoke. No air filled its chest even though it made noises that sounded like breathing. Its owners had clothed it in the long dress and hat of a proper lady, but they hadn’t bothered to hide its mechanical face.
“Numbers 65 and 89 are my favorites in this lineup.” Julia straightened her corset, wishing she were as lungless as the automaton. Every time she inhaled, her ribs strained against the unyielding material. Julia’s maid, Colleen, had laced up the corset with painful efficiency before placing a kiss on her cheek and wishing Julia good luck with the Suitor Sorter.
The automaton reached out with one robotic hand, removed two images from the pulley, and placed them on a corkboard. It pulled a series of copper levers so swiftly that Julia couldn’t see its hand move. It hit a red button. Gears grinded and steam bellowed from the processors’ engine. Another lineup of likeness appeared.
“Choose two from the list,” said the automaton. Its voice was soft enough to be recognized as female, but the grating metallic hiss that was not fully muffled by its clothing reminded Julia it was anything but human.
“105,” she said without hesitation. He had a feminine chin and a mischievous glint in his green eyes.
“And your second choice?” asked the automaton.
Julia bit her lip. 108 and 115 were both handsome with delicate jaws and perfect teeth, but their eyes were dull and dead. 116 had fiery red hair that made Julia blush, and 124 had the cutest nose.  She closed her eyes, trying to imagine walking through the park with any of them. She suspected 108 and 115 would be boring, and walking with 124 might make her feel like a nanny.
“116,” she said, hoping she made the right choice.
“Make two more selections,” said the automaton as it wrapped up its rapid-fire mechanical dance with the levers.
A new group of photographs appeared on the cord. This was going to be the hardest choice yet. All the boys had hair that if a tenth of an inch longer, would not be considered respectable, and none of them were blonds. They were all smiling, looking alive and bright even though it was fashionable to appear gloomy in photographs.
Julia had to work harder to make her selection, looking for subtleties around their eyes and mouths that reminded her of a man she needed to appear on her list. Number 137 came across as lively at first, but after closer inspection, she could tell from the lack of creases around his mouth that the smile was not an expression he wore often. On the contrary, Number 140 had soft lines around his mouth that indicated in spite of the youthfulness of his rosy cheeks, he spent so much time smiling that it was leaving a dent in his face.
She stared at the pictures longer, chewing her lip and furrowing her brows even though Mother claimed it would make her skin wrinkle prematurely. She wished the photos were not all taken on the same blank background. Seeing the place where the young men elected to be photographed would tell her so much more about them.
“Have you made your choices? You have one minute before you must vacate the room or be charged extra.”
Julia harrumphed. Father had plenty of money to pay the fees, but he was a stingy miser unwilling to spare any dime that wasn’t wrenched from his grip by the cold hand of necessity. She considered drawing out the time just to force him to part with his precious coins, but thought better of it. Her father did have to approve any suitors before they could court her, and if she vexed him, he might just deny her the one she wanted.
“Thirty seconds,” said the automaton.
Julia narrowed her eyes. Her heart raced. She reminded herself these weren’t the actual suitors, just likenesses that the automaton would use to calculate a list of matches, men who she would be “happy” with and likely to produce children with. This list would be passed onto her father.
“140 and 143,” she said with ten seconds to spare.
“Proceed to the printing room,” said the automaton as the steel doors slid open.
Julia walked towards them allowing another automaton, one dressed in the traditional garb of a butler, to take her arm and escort her across a steel walkway towards another big door.
Despite the thickness of its coat, Julia still felt the chill of metal and vibrations from the gears churning inside it. She wanted to close her eyes and pretend it was human, but she feared she would misstep, pulling them both off the catwalk into the clicking maw of cams and gears below them.
The inner workings of the Suitor Sorter were like the offspring of a giant clock and a printing press. Some parts wound and ticked while others pumped steam like hearts and lungs. Papers flew above them on a wire pulley, rattling in the moist breeze like pigeons being forced through a sauna. It made the suitors in the photos look like they were sweating laborers stumbling out of a jungle, not respectable gentlemen.
The most handsome face was not one on any of the pages. Amidst all the steam, machinery and paper, there was one young man, frantically running about in dark pants and a rumpled shirt. Fiery ringlets framed a delicate face as they tumbled down to his shoulders with feminine grace. Sweat made him glisten like an angel. Julia supposed if she had to bed a man, one who looked like that might be tolerable.
The doors opened with a heinous screech, and Julia was greeted by a refreshing wave of cool, dry air. As the doors slammed shut behind her, the machine’s noise vanished.
Her father waited for her, sitting perfectly postured in a high-backed armchair covered in an avalanche of pink flowers. Her mother sat across from him in an identical chair, as rigid as the automaton. Julia sat in the third chair. She wished it was the soft kind that she could sink into as she curled up with a book, but this one felt more like sitting on stone.
“What did you think of the Suitor Sorter?” asked her father.
“It’s truly a marvel,” said Julia, praying that was an appropriate response.
“Indeed,” said Father. “Whoever made is was a genius.”
“He certainly was.” Julia let out a slow sigh, relieved she was allowed to appreciate the machine’s ingenuity. Her and father had not been getting on well lately, but right now, it was more important than ever to appear as his complacent, obedient daughter.
“The results should be in shortly.” Father stared at a slot in the middle of the room. Once the machine finished processing both her selections and his, it would vomit a packet of possible suitors.
They waited in silence. It wasn’t proper for ladies to strike up conversation in a room with a man, and father was not inclined to start one himself. Julia wondered if he remained silent just to torment her and Mother.
The tiny clock on the wall ticked. Mother breathed once for every two times father did. Julia had yet to perfect her Mother’s slow, deep corset breathing, so her breaths were quick and shallow, leaving her dizzy with want for the days before puberty when no one cared how thin her waistline was.
Finally, a whooshing hum filled the room and a neat stack of papers shot out of the slot. Julia wanted to reach for them and sort through them to make sure a certain eligible gentleman was included, but Father would think that unseemly.
She waited with her hands folded so tightly she thought her knuckles might just pop out of her skin. She bit down on her tongue and curled her toes so as not to tap her feet, refusing to look at Father and give him the satisfaction of seeing the impatience in her eyes. After what felt like another eternity, he leaned forward and began leafing through the papers.
“Make three piles on the coffee table,” he said as he handed her the first dossier. “’Yes’ on the green dot, ‘maybe’ on the yellow and ‘no’ on the red.”
“Yes, Father,” she said meekly, trying not to cringe as she looked at the sheaf of paper. Donald Burton was a rich, blond blockhead who was as rigid and miserly as her father. She pretended to scan his list of titles and accomplishments while Father took his precious time perusing the next dossier. He appeared to have read it three times before passing it on to Julia, who promptly put Donald on the red dot.
Father looked at the dossier, and then made eye contact. “Donald is a fine young man; you are lucky to have the sorter select him as a potential suitor.”
“He did not seem kind when we met him at the Gallandhill’s Christmas Ball,” said Julia as meekly as she could.
“Kind doesn’t count much in the real world.” Father slid the folder onto the maybe pile and gave Julia a stern look that told her it would be a mistake to deem any profile her father allowed her to view as a definite no. She offered a slight nod to acknowledge she understood and took the next folder he handed her.
Richard Dunstable was no better than the previous match.  Julia had met him once at a garden party. His arrogance had vexed her to the point of pretending to faint, so she could knock him into a fountain. She longed to place on the red ‘no’, but she did not dare. He joined Donald as soon as the proper amount of time had passed.
She expected Father to pass another page to her, but instead, he tossed the one he had just finished reading into a dustbin without even letting her see it. She bit her tongue so she wouldn’t roll her eyes and passed the time by looking at her empty shell of a mother.
The esteemed Mrs. Highfield had less life in her than the automatons. Breathing slow, she sat perfectly still, staring straight ahead, blinking just once for every ten blinks of Julia’s. She didn’t speak unless Father addressed her, and then, she used as few words as possible. Her face had two expressions: blank and fake smile.
“Julia, spacing out is not ladylike,” said Father with his hand outstretched. Julia took the paper finding another horrid bachelor staring back at her.
“Elise Blanche would be horribly jealous if she knew the Sorter matched Thompson but not her,” said Julia, praying it was the kind of comment her father wanted to her.
The slight grin cracking across his stone confirmed it was. The next thirty minutes made Julia want to storm out of the room and throw herself off the catwalk into the garden of gears to be ground up into tiny bits. All the dossiers that Father passed onto her were suitors that had to have been based on his preferences, and a majority of the folders went into the dustbin before she was allowed to even glance at them. She didn’t care if 99% off the suitors were his choices. Julia had been trying to manipulate her selections so one specific man would wind up in the pile, and she was praying with all her heart and soul that he was waiting for her in the thinning pile of dossiers her father had yet to look at, not the ones that were filling the dustbin by his chair.
If milk maids, stable boys, their passed notes and secret signs could be trusted, then last month, when the young men visited the Suitor Sorter, Alastair Somersworth had carefully engineered his preferences so that he could come up in the searches of a girl like her. Julia had little more contact with Alastair than the other men on the list, but he had something the others all lacked. The machine had to have seen them as a potential pair. However, that would not guarantee a union between the two. Father had the final say in who Julia would marry. Alastair’s flamboyant, libertine lifestyle tarnished his reputation, but if Father valued financial stability above all else, then Alastair’s seemingly endless wealth could sway him.
“I knew these machines were too good to be true,” said Father, shaking his head at one of the last dossiers.
“Why do you say that?” asked Julia, hoping her question wasn’t too bold.
“I should burn this file before you get any ideas.” Father stared at the folder for a long time. “The rumors about him are horrendous, but he is the richest eligible bachelor in the country.”
Shaking his head, Father passed the page to Julia and picked up the next profile. Julia turned her back to him and grinned at Alastair’s likeness. With a large nose and sharp chin, he wasn’t the most handsome man, but he was rich, owned sprawling estates, and if Colleen’s sources could be trusted, he was willing to permit her something no other man would allow, as long as she would do the same for him.
She placed his photo into the ‘yes’ pile and made a show of seriously reading the last three dossiers, placing them all in the maybe pile. Father stood, stretched, and looked at Julia’s disproportionate selections. His lip curled. His mustache twitched. “Your ‘yes’ pile is rather slim.”
    Julia knew she should apologize. Silence would be the next best thing if she couldn’t muster an apology. She looked at her mother’s hollow eyes and frail hands, at her father’s towering posture and blind arrogance. Standing, Julia made eye contact with a man that would see her smothered until she was nothing more than a pile of well-oiled parts. She wanted to smack him with the folders until his face turned red and he submitted to her, but she could barely walk in her corset, let alone fight.
She raised her chin high and squared her shoulders like Father did when he bullied people. “I want to marry Alastair and am confident that he will make me an offer.”
Father snorted before he could stop himself. “What you want does not matter.”
“Then why are we even here?” Julia inhaled as deep as her corset would allow and puffed out her chest.
The mustache hairs twitched above Father’s lips. “To find a list of men who may be interested in you, and to make sure they are capable of getting you with respectable children.”
Fury burned Julia’s cheeks, but she bit down and swallowed the words she longed to say. “Shall we be going home?”
Father’s face turned as red as hers. “Our time here is nearly up. Come, Lidia.”
Mother rose and mechanically joined arms with Father. He stepped on a foot pedal. Slots opened and sucked the papers away at the same time the metal doors opened, revealing the mechanical butler waiting to lead them to the exit. Father grabbed Julia by the arm and pawned her off to the arm of the automaton as they passed it.
They didn’t return to the room where Julia first reviewed images; they went under it, walking down a winding set of stairs until they finally reached another set of steel doors. When these opened, Julia was all but blinded by a flash of sunlight. She stumbled forward, free from the robotic arm, into a brilliant spring afternoon. Birds were singing loud enough to be heard over the steam car’s grumbling engine.
Sucking in the fleeting aroma of mud and blooming flowers, Julia allowed a human butler to help her climb into the rear passenger seat while Father helped Mother into the front. The butler gestured for Father to sit beside Julia, but he shook his head, slammed the door, and stomped to the front. He pulled the cord to start the steam engine and sped off, leaving the butler to find his own way home.
Julia made a mental note to have Colleen send one of the stable boys out to get him then took advantage of being out of her parent’s sight. She slouched. Tension poured out of her shoulders and spine. She kept her eyes closed but remained vigilant that the rhythmic chugging and puffing of the engine didn’t lull her to sleep.
“May I please retire to my room?” she asked as she stepped out of the car and started walking towards the family home.
“Yes,” said Father. “I imagine the Suitor Sorter would be tiring for one such as yourself. A nap will do wonders for your temperament.”
“Thank you, Father,” said Julia.
Each step towards the pink, shingled house made her feel lighter. She could see Colleen watching from the round bedroom window. The sight of her dark skin and flaming hair made Julia’s heart race and her cheeks heat up.
She took the stairs two at a time, even though the effort nearly made her faint. She brushed passed the butler as he opened the door, and climbed the mahogany stairs even faster than she had climbed the porch stairs. She didn’t slow until she was in her own room with the doors safely shut behind her.
“How’d it go,” asked Colleen.
Julia fell into Colleen’s arms, breathing in the scent of powder and chicken soup. “Terribly. I hope I never have to endure it again.”
“Was Alastair among the suitors?” Colleen’s nimble fingers were already working the knots in Julia’s dress.
“Yes, but I’m not sure what Father thinks of him,” said Julia between greedy lungfuls of blessed air.
“That’s wonderful news,” said Colleen as she pulled Julia’s dress off with ease.
Julia gulped more air, barely stopping herself from falling to her knees and worshiping it. “Perhaps. Do you really think he will propose at the debutante ball?”
“Of course. I don’t know of any other society ladies that would share her dresses with her husband and permit him to have male lovers in private,” said Colleen, helping Julia step out of the dress’ hoop.
Julia rubbed her aching ribs. “I hope you’re right. Because I don’t know of any other men who’d allow an Irish-African house maid to move in as his wife’s lover.”
Colleen massaged Julia’s bare shoulders and placed a small kiss on her neck. “I only wish I could marry you and not have to pretend to be your servant forever. Jimmy doesn’t want to remain a stable master anymore than I want to be house maid.”
Julia turned around and held Colleen at arm’s length. “It’s not ideal, but once Alastair and I are wed, we won’t have to fear our parents. We can join those who speak out for change.”
Colleen frowned. “Do you think society could ever accept a woman loving a woman or a man loving a man?”
“I don’t know, but I hope they will.” Julia leaned in and kissed Colleen on the head. Society was a stubborn machine, but even the most well-oiled gears rusted in time.

Sara Codair

Sara Codair lives in a world of words. Writing is like breathing; they can’t live without it. Sara teaches and tutors writing at a Northern Essex Community College. They live with a cat named Goose who likes to “edit” their work by deleting entire pages and a dog who limits their screen time. Their short stories were published in places like Unnerving Magazine, Alternative Truths, and Once Upon a Rainbow II. Their debut novel, Power Surge, will be published by NineStar Press on Oct. 1, 2018. Find Sara online at https://saracodair.com/.



About the Editor:
Amber M. Simpson

Amber M. Simpson is a nighttime fiction writer with a penchant for horror, fantasy, and sci-fi. When she's not editing for Fantasia Divinity Magazine, she divides her creative time between writing short stories and working on the creations of two very different novels; a mystery/horror called Wolves Hollow, and a medieval fantasy she hopes to make into a series, called The First Blood. She has a Bachelor’s degree and lives in Northern Kentucky with her husband and two little boys, who keep her feet on the ground even while her head is in the clouds. To learn more, visit https://ambermsimpson.wordpress.com.