Morpheus Tales Apocalypse Special Issue Preview
Morpheus Tales is proud to present: The Apocalypse Special Issue Preview! Featuring Beginning of Days By William R.D. Wood, Songs of Goodbye By Dev Jarrett, The Last Page By Diane Arrelle, Long Cold Night By Richard Farren Barber, Thunder Bay By Robin Wyatt Dunn, Sun-Catcher By D.M. Slate, Generation Sorrow By J.B. Ronan, My Pretty Pony By Alan Loewen, Unleashed By Stephanie Smith, The 15th of December By Brian M. Milton, Til Death do us Part By C.M. Saunders, and Yellow By Matt Brolly. Edited by Sheri White. One reviewer said: "The end of the world has never been so much fun!"
1 Apocalypse Special Issue Edited By Sheri White Editorial Beginning of Days By William R.D. Wood Songs of Goodbye By Dev Jarrett The Last Page By Diane Arrelle Long Cold Night By Richard Farren Barber Thunder Bay By Robin Wyatt Dunn Sun-Catcher By D.M. Slate Generation Sorrow By J.B. Ronan My Pretty Pony By Alan Loewen Unleashed By Stephanie Smith The 15th of December By Brian M. Milton Til Death do us Part By C.M. Saunders Yellow By Matt Brolly Cover By Gary McCluskey - http://garymccluskey.carbonmade.com Proof-read By Sheri White All material contained within the pages of this magazine and associated websites is copyright of Morpheus Tales. All Rights Reserved. No material contained herein can be copied or otherwise used without the express permission of the copyright holders. 2 Beginning of Days By William R.D. Wood Joel stood on the front walk of his parents’ house and stared at the comet. Smaller than the moon tonight. The millhouse road was empty and still. An old neighborhood to begin with, but with the trees now gone, it looked like a slum. He took a lungful of chilly evening air and walked across the lawn to the house, stirring plumes of brown dust with every step. A buzz of voices and music from speakers in the house drifted from the open front door. As he stepped inside and flipped on the living room light, something small and hard pressed against his temple. He froze. The object wasn’t cold like a gun barrel should be, but the feel was right nonetheless. “You’ve been standing out there staring at the sky for a freaking hour,” snapped a familiar voice. “You spazzing out or something?” Of all people. “Reggie. You’re alive.” He snuffled back a laugh or maybe tears. “Saw you down at Food City this morning.” Joel had gone back to fill all the gasoline containers he could fit into his mom’s minivan. He planned to make another run for batteries and more food later. Maybe even take the sweet new Toyota Roentgen parked at the Baker’s house. Their daughter must have come home after Channel One’s news-babe announced the world had fallen short of the glory of God—that our only hope was to gather with our families and pray. Right there on international We-Scoff-at-Religion TV. Was that really only yesterday? Joel glanced at the little man beside him. Reggie held a gun, one of the cheap Ruger P90s the man’s boss, Patricia, had acquired last year. Joel had bought two himself. “Mind lowering that?” “Promise not to try anything?” Reggie’s voice cracked. “‘Cause I’ll waste you, man.” “Promise.” The pressure on his temple wavered, then vanished, as Reggie shuffled back a couple of steps, gun still leveled. Reggie looked like crap. Hair matted to his forehead, unshaven, clothes wrinkled and caked in dust. He looked like an old bum, not the thirty-something loser Joel had seen a week ago at Patricia’s flat. She was a cold bitch but at least she’d made him stay clean. “Been shooting today, huh?” “I just lost it for a while, okay? How’d you know?” “Warm barrel.” Reggie scowled. “Well, aren’t you just smart?” Joel combed the room for inspiration. The furnishings were sparse. Mahogany and etched leather mostly, a set his mom bought to celebrate her only son finally moving out two years back. Absolutely nothing he could use to turn this moment around. “How’s Patricia?” Reggie shook his head. “Sorry to hear that.” Joel stepped farther into the room, hoping for casual and nonthreatening. Reggie tracked him, arm rigid, gun held sideways. Reggie glanced down at the brown stains on his jeans. Superfine moleculars the news-babe had called The Dust. The only broadcasts still going now were automated. The grid was bound to crash, too, automated or not. In the meantime, Joel had every radio, television, and computer in the house switched on. “So, what’s up?” Reggie stood for a moment, his mind operating with its usual delay. “You owed her big time, Joel, and with her…gone, I’m here to collect.” Joel laughed before he could stop himself and, once he’d started, he couldn’t stop. In seconds, he’d dropped to his hands and knees, gasping as he laughed. 3 Songs of Goodbye By Dev Jarrett Izzy sat in the sand, listening to the eerie silence that used to be the Pacific Ocean. Where only a week ago the tide crashed with potent, monotonous thunder, now the only sounds were the strident cries of the feasting gulls echoing in the air like shards of screams. The sky was solidly gray and overcast, and the air around her was fouled by the scent of rotting fish and kelp. Last week the area, just north of Newport, Oregon, had been called Agate Beach. Today the term beach could be defined as “the edge of the world’s largest landfill.” She felt the tremble of a distant earthquake, and the weird, vertiginous dizziness that came with it. In the far distance, the earth sloped away, as if it simply gave up. To the north, the point that had once been Yaquina Head was now a narrow ridge shouldering out into the desolate ocean bed. For two days she’d heard the hoarse belches of the sea lions all the way from the Coast Guard Pier, until they all either died or flopped out onto the desert ocean bed in search of the water. Izzy and her dad had once visited the Grand Canyon, and at the time she’d been amazed that such a gigantic hole in the world might exist. She’d been nine at the time. Seven years later, the gyre erupted and all the magnificence of the Arizona landmark had paled. Where she sat on the sand was like a dimensional gateway to some bizarre alien planetscape, light years away. Closer to Izzy’s perch in the sand, the humpback whale still lay like an abandoned laundry sack, covered with noisy, pecking scavenger gulls. It had been there since the gyre. The massive marine mammal’s skin had long since dried from brown-black to a crusty, smeared white, except where the whale’s oily blood leaked from holes made by predatory burrowings of seagulls and rats. Its wide mouth hung open and slack, showing thin bristles of baleen. Izzy wondered how long it might be until someone or something sat in the same sand and watched her die. After a moment, she reconsidered. Her death, and her father’s, would probably be as meaningless and unremarked as the other billions of deaths that were imminent. According to the news, it would happen any day now. The late December wind blew cold around Izzy. Far down the former shore, just below what used to be the high tide line, she saw a figure walking toward her. Even though it was too far away to make out, she knew it was her father. Most everyone else had already left. Tommy Blanton, the boy to whom she’d finally decided to surrender her virginity last month, had not even called before he and his family fled the coast. The idea of living in such a deserted town made her a little sad, and made her wonder where her mom might be. When the news broke last week, Izzy had been at school. Like everyone else, she’d been counting the days until Christmas break. Classes were tense, and the teachers knew that no one’s mind was really on his work. The intercom had clicked, then the voice of the principal advised the teachers to turn on the classroom televisions. Every channel seemed to be running the same story. A massive earthquake had struck the Pacific Ocean, apparently opening a huge hole in the southern end of the Marianas Trench. No tsunamis were predicted. In fact, just the opposite. The film taken above the epicenter of the quake showed a humungous, churning white whirlpool in the dark blue Pacific. The Gyre. The ocean was draining down into the hole created at the hypocenter of the earthquake. Television supposedly hadn’t been as single-minded in its coverage of the story since the terrorist attacks on 9/11, but Izzy had no memory of that event. It was strange. All the end-of-the-world crazies that think any natural disaster is their cue to start screeching and waving signs were completely silent. It was as if their Revelations-powered radar had finally found the right frequency, and they were scared out of their minds. 4 The Last Page By Diane Arrelle Loretta watched Mike pack his suitcase as anger and loneliness battled for dominance. Anger won again. God, she always felt angry lately, she mused. Is this what life had become, disappointment mixed with agonizing regret? She struggled to shrug off the depression that hugged her spirit like a killer bear. “How long will you be gone this time?” she asked and winced as the words “this time” came out coated with disgust. Mike looked up from folding a shirt. “You know I have to go, it’s my job. You think I enjoy traveling all the time? You think I’m doing this for fun?” Loretta knew he hated traveling as much as she hated him going, but she couldn’t control the words that poured out. “Hell, it’s got to be better than being home with your family, better than helping with the kids and the house.” He slammed the suitcase closed. “Tell you what, go find a decent job and I’ll stay home with the kids. In the meantime I’ve got a meeting Upstate and as great as this conversation is, if I stay any longer I’ll be late.” He grabbed the bag, sighed and put it down. He turned and kissed Loretta lightly on the lips. “I’ll try to get home day after tomorrow.” She stood motionless in the bedroom as she heard the door slam and then the car rev up and pull out of the driveway. Why? she wondered. Why had she thought marriage and raising children was going to be her happily-ever-after? She’d had a job, friends, time to actually read a book. She’d been happy back then, but didn’t realize all she had. No, she always wanted more. Now that she got what she thought was her heart’s desire, she realized her heart’s desire had changed once again. She picked up the phone, put it down, then picked it up again. Holding it in her hand she stared at it, and finally punched in Mike’s cell number. He picked up right away. “Loretta?” he answered, his tone cool. She grimaced. If feelings could transmit over the phone, her hand would be in danger of getting frostbite. “Hi,” she said, trying to sound upbeat. “I just… I…” she stammered and then finished in a rush. “I just wanted to say have a good trip and… and I’m sorry. I may not act it, but I love you.” Silence for a double beat and then, “Uh, yeah, I’m sorry, too. Not about marrying you, but about all this traveling. I’m going to look for another job when I get back. You’ll see, things will be different. Like the old days.” She started to reply, but he interrupted. “Cops ahead, gotta hang up. I love you, too, I really do.” She looked at the silent receiver and smiled. He still loves me! She thought about it. Maybe life can be better. Maybe she can learn to be happy again. “I love my family! Mike and the kids,” she announced to the empty room. “I can be, no, I will be happy and satisfied!” High from Mike’s simple I love you, she dressed for the day, not in the usual ratty sweat pants and tee shirt, but in a nice pair of jeans and one of those shirts that always hangs in the closet waiting for the special event that never came. She vacuumed and dusted the house, put up a load of wash, and put on the radio instead of the TV. She even made real coffee instead of instant, and used the flavored creamer she saved for after dinner. “I will live life to the fullest!” she vowed to the family portrait on the wall. “Family life’s like a merry-go-round--a long wait to get going, lots of ups and downs, and sometimes a chance at that brass ring.” She stopped cleaning and rushed to her computer. “Hey, that was really deep.” She typed her new philosophy onto her wall. “This should drum up a lot of comments,” she said, satisfied with her day already. 5 Long Cold Night By Richard Farren Barber From his position behind the cash register Pete turned his chair and looked out across the rooftops. He could see beyond the edge of the town to the green fields in the distance. The grey towers of the power station pressed against the cobalt sky. “What are you thinking about?” Pale sunlight washed Helen’s features, but couldn’t compete with the gloom inside the supermarket. The aisles behind them were dark and empty; the shelves holding nothing more than dust and crumbs. “The others.” Helen stood up from her chair and for a moment the seat twisting on its castors was the only sound. Not long ago the noise would have been buried beneath the permanent hum of the air conditioning units overhead and the erratic beep-beep-beep of the tills as they rang up purchases. Now the silence allowed the small sounds to seep through – the squeal of Helen’s chair, the cry of gulls wheeling outside the plate glass windows, the slow thud of the delivery doors at the back. Pete waited for Helen to respond; when she didn’t he stood up to join her at the window. It reminded him of times when the shop had been quiet and they had stood, looking out through the glass, the raised shop looming over the town. Now they stood within touching distance, close enough that he could feel the heat from her skin. Close enough that he could smell the soap she had used to wash her hands. Pete pressed his hand up against the glass window. It was warm. Below them the road was empty. From this distance the town looked at peace. Pete knew that close up he would be able to see that everything was dead. Not just dying, but already dead. The petrol station stood empty, black oil stains marking the concrete. “Do you remember when it closed?” Helen asked. He didn’t question her ability to guess his thoughts. It had happened some time over the last few weeks. Too much time spent together, and too little to talk about that was safe. “I thought that was the end,” Helen said. “It was.” She shook her head. “No. It was just the start of the end. And even then I thought something would happen. I thought someone...” She fell silent, but Pete knew what she was trying to say because he had felt the same himself. They had all felt the same. Someone would come forward with a solution. Someone would fix this and everything would be okay again. The petrol station would be restocked and the forecourts would be overrun for a few days, but then everything would return to normal – crisis averted. “Except no one did,” he murmured. The sound of his own voice disturbed him. It was louder than it should be. “I wonder what happened to the Battery Man.” Helen laughed. Just as he had hoped she would. “Why do I always get the nutters?” Pete looked around for effect, surveying the empty supermarket. “There’s not much danger of that now.” “No,” Helen said. “No, there isn’t.” The silence stretched out. There were times when they could sit or stand there for hours without speaking, each wrapped within their own thoughts, unable to find anything to say aloud. The delivery doors at the back of the shop slammed, loud enough to make both of them jump. Just the wind, Pete knew, but that didn’t change the impact it had each time the sound echoed through the empty shop. “Up until that point I didn’t know how bad things were. That was when it first occurred to me that it could be serious.” “He bought the recharger units,” Pete said. “Even after you pointed out to him that if the power stations failed they weren’t going to be of any use.” 6 Thunder Bay By Robin Wyatt Dunn We’re dead here and you will be, too. Listen: the storm is coming. When alive I would have hated the rank and the rot that comes after rain; now it affects me only by slowing my footsteps through the mud. We are Thunder Bay, the bay of the Lake, in the province named Lake, we are Bay of Lake of your needful blood. I run a gas station; we burned Walmart after it happened. My wife Sylvia, she of the Grey Wood, looked beautiful next to the burn. She charred her hand a little so I could smell it, as she held one hand around my neck and fisted my cock with the heated one. Now I work for myself again and it is good. Not many of us enjoy driving though; the seat belts tend to create hernias, and not wearing them is just as bad. Jim lost both legs only last week and we lack a good surgeon. But he gets around on the skateboard okay. I love the library here; we decorate it with certain parts of our victims that we do not reanimate; next to J.D. Salinger’s shelf I have affixed a heavy pale-colored breast. I eat the flies while I read. My vision has improved in this state of being, though I am slower. I see so much. ### American tourists still come in their shiny automobiles. Luckily our community theater has plenty of makeup ― my wife and I and a few of our neighbors greet all new arrivals with painted faces and they usually don’t notice until it’s too late. Last week was an especially juicy minivan with California plates. I look north at the plain, the screaming girl writhing in my arms. Canada, a word that means village; we have been and we remain small here, small like the Rhesus monkey. Small like a lung carcinoma. Small like the pox. And we have grown closer in undeath; I love my home so much. I eat the child with relish; I suppose I am leader here now, at least nominally, and my neighbors allow me the youngest flesh. I look up at our sky, blood running down my chin and think of nothing at all. I only feel the breeze on my dead skin, taste the fresh gray matter slick in my mouth, hear the screams of the dying American. ### When it rains we dance. An Iroquois neighbor of mine has an old tomahawk and he throws it up in the air and catches it, screaming, and I roar in joy at him, stamping my bare black feet into the mud. I have hauled a generator out here into the field and my wife has turned on the Christmas lights under the tarpaulin. We drink wine laced with blood and fry the brains with garlic and paprika. All my senses are so rich now. The only drawback of my state is the sexual dysfunction, if you could call it that. It sometimes takes me hours to get hard. But the orgasm, it too is sweeter, and I cum in black. “We should raise this child,” my wife said, her teeth sharpened by steel. She always had a rich sense of humor. “She’s pretty, isn’t she,” I said, looking down at the thin blonde corpse. “Skinny, though.” “We’ll fatten her up!” “You always wanted a little girl,” I said. My wife started to cry, and I comforted her in a tight embrace, licking maggots from her shoulder. ### The whole town comes out for it, by the misty water. We stick tiki torches in the ground and James the Iroquois does a rich-sounding chant in the tongue of his ancestors which fills me will feelings I cannot describe. I have put my spit into the cranium of the American girl, and sealed up the hole I ate in her skull with good Lake clay. She is starting to twitch. We are the province of Lake, the City of Thunder. We are a sound you may yet hear: a sigh mixed with a laugh mixed with a scream. 7 Sun-Catcher By D.M. Slate Pale refractions of light shimmer through the tiny sun-catcher as I hold the pendant up toward the bright sunshine. The thin ornamental glass spins slowly in the breeze, and for an instant, my haggard soul feels at peace. A tiny smile even creeps to the corner of my lips, as I bask in the rare light of the flickering sun. For a millisecond, I’m nearly happy. Without warning, the serenity of the moment is shattered. Goosebumps race down my spine and the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. I catch a movement out the corner of my eye from across the abandoned city-street. Holding absolutely still, I listen. The only motion is the darting of my eyes in one direction, and then the other as I scan the desecrated landscape. I’m unable to locate the cause of my unease. A booming crackle of thunder breaks loose from the thick layer of clouds overhead, sending a wave of vibrations through the charged atmosphere. Another gusty breeze whips by, and my nostrils flare in response. Inhaling, I breathe in the essence of dusty despair, smelling for potential signs of danger. My senses are on high alert. Something’s wrong… I can feel it. Breaking my frozen stance, I swivel slowly, looking behind me, down the endless barren sidewalk. Stupid! I know not to leave my back exposed…what was I thinking? But nothing moves. My eyes are drawn to a curtain fluttering in the wind through a broken window. The front door of the empty house stands ajar, eerily inviting guests inside. My stomach jitters. Get out of here! I dart away from the street, running in between the two nearest houses, placing the suncatcher in the side pocket of my pants when I come to a stop. Pressing my back flat against the side of the house, I listen again. Not a single noise echoes in the infinite abyss, other than the wind whispering haunting melodies into my ear. I look up. The familiar blanket of clouds closes in on the gaping hole, cutting off the light of the dying sun, once again. Heart pounding within my chest, I creep back toward the street. Peeking around the corner of the house, I scan the horizon. No movements. Stay calm… don’t panic. Keep your head on straight. Adrenaline courses through my veins, heightening my paranoia. Something doesn’t feel right--and by now, I’ve learned to trust my instincts. Get home! I hesitate for just another second... and then my ears pick up the noise. My heart seizes in fear at the low distant grumble. My stomach drops, and a cold sweat breaks out upon my forehead. The sound is clearly evident, now. It’s a vehicle. The scouts are out…I have to hide! Whipping my head from side to side, I search for a hiding spot. The sound of the engine grows louder, prompting my feet into erratic motion. Sprinting up the steps of the nearest house, I steal a glance back over my shoulder. The vehicle is coming. Bursting through the threshold, I let the broken door swing wildly in my wake. Running blindly through the unfamiliar house, I search the long hallway for a bedroom or closet to hide in. I pass a staircase, glancing at it for a second. No, don’t get caught upstairs… you can’t jump from one of those windows! The thought is almost second nature by now. I race onward, dashing into a laundry room, where I slam the door closed behind me. For the first time since entering the house, I listen again. Creeping over to the shattered window, I strain my ears, hoping to pick up any sounds. The thundering echo of my heartbeat resonates loudly in my ears, making it difficult to hear. Maybe they turned and went down a different street… The optimistic thought is dashed as I hear a car door slam, followed by a man’s voice. “I know I saw something moving over here. Check all of the houses… we need to eat.” Oh no! What do I do? Every possible alternative bombards my brain, but in the end, I know that I must stay and hide. Running isn’t an option. Multiple sets of footsteps indicate there are at least four scouts, all men. There’s no way that I can fight them off. Frantically, my eyes scan the laundry room. I fling the dryer open, fully intending to cram myself in and hide--but I stop short at the sight. 8 Generation Sorrow By J.B. Ronan The bedroom smelled like prisoner neglect—sweat, urine, and fear mingled until the air became thick and difficult to breathe. Dr. Marissa Strong stood at the threshold of the mess, the back of her hand in front of her nose until she grew adjusted to the onslaught of stench and could steel herself against what was coming, clutching her clip board against her chest. It was a scene she had become witness to over a thousand times in her career: a lifeshattering event over and over again, disaster after disaster, without any way to stop it. All she could do was watch, sympathize, and take the children she found twisted beyond recognition to homes where they would be cared for until they perished from illness, neglect, or suicide— whichever came first. Time was of the essence. The government extermination squads were surely close behind. “Jenefee Factis?” Dr. Strong called out, finally taking her hand away from her face to brave the wall of filth. There was no answer. There usually never was. It was hard not to feel emotion during such intense moments of contact. Parents of those children afflicted usually ran away screaming. Sometimes they were thoughtful enough to call the authorities to have their children picked up and removed before continuing their lives alone, but most of the time, as in the case before her, they just abandoned the home and their parental responsibilities all together. “Jenefee, my name is Dr. Marissa Strong. I specialize in cases like yours.” She paused for a response, but received none. “I can help you, but you have to let me in.” There was a grunt, faint but there, in the far corner across the room. Dr. Strong took a step and hesitated, glancing around one last time before making her way across the perilous ankle-deep sea of clothes, soiled blankets, rotting food and packaging, feces, and broken dolls. It was ironic to note that the room was in transition from the fairy princess pink and white to the rock star magazine pictures and clippings of pre-teen-hood. The toys came from the depths of the white slat closets, put away at one point to make room for change and now dragged out again from desperation to return. Torturous emotion radiated from the small, crumpled figure in the far corner, wrapped in dark-blue bed sheets that seemed oddly out of place. It was hard to make out how far along the change was. Judging by the state of the room and the depth of the withdrawal, Jenefee had been alone for at least a week, maybe longer. Dr. Strong shuffled around the bed trying to keep her balance and not think about where she was stepping. The window was covered with a comforter nailed to the wall, but delicate, lacy curtains peeked through the left side of it. The only light in the room came from the hallway and Dr. Strong wished she had brought a flashlight. “Jenefee, honey, talk to me. Are you okay?” A halo of garbage-free carpet surrounded Jenefee. At least there was some minute shred of near-humanity left in her. Dr. Strong shoved some empty pasta bags and slimy apple cores over with a foot and sat down next to her, pretending she didn’t see the moldy, half-empty bag of pinto beans swarming with white maggots and tiny, narrow brown moths. Jenefee’s breathing was rough and labored, which was to be expected. The changes in the facial structure are difficult to get used to right away. A flicker of rage passed hot through the doctor’s blood, igniting hatred for the world and the fate of those like her new patient beside her, but she had to quell it before it got out of hand. It was difficult to manage under such circumstances, but she had a talent that kept her employed during these hard economic times—the only doctor in the state that could reach kids like Jenefee, to give them some hope that with a lot of effort, things might not be so bad after all. “Jenefee, honey, I’m here to talk to you about what happened, what these changes are. You’re going through a transformation. Lots of children your age go through it. It’s no one’s fault.” The lump of wrapped blankets sat upright and fell away a bit, revealing the girl beneath them, her thin white hand trembling over her face. “I-I’m a monster.” 9 My Pretty Pony By Alan Loewen It was a given that when humanity made breakthroughs in genetic engineering and artificial wombs, our civilization would end in the insidious hell of a bioengineered microbe. I sometimes wonder in the Hour of the Rat, those early morning hours when my thoughts come out and gnaw on me, if we might have been better off? When Hasbro released their first line of genetically-engineered, sentient ponies, how could we have known the Apocalypse was already upon us? Though there were the scientists who muttered about ethics and fundamentalists who blathered on about souls and blasphemy, the children of the industrial nations cried out with one voice for these new novel companions. And what companions they have proved to be! Equipped with all the strengths of the sanguine-melancholic personality without any of the inherent weaknesses, the ponies lavished upon our children unconditional love and joy. Life for young ones became an ongoing innocent adventure with the most perfect of friends. Little did we care when adults began purchasing ponies for the elderly as companions, nor did we see any danger when normal, healthy adults started buying them for themselves. Why not? They were the perfect companions to whom you could confess your deepest fears, your darkest secrets, and all they returned was unconditional acceptance. The counseling and therapy industry took a huge hit almost immediately. And then we learned the terrible truth of what Hasbro had done to us. To protect these equine innocents from the depraved and the monstrous, the ponies had been genetically engineered to produce pheromones that would trigger an intense, overwhelming maternal or paternal response to those who came within a few feet of them. To touch them was to immediately love them with all the sincere and protective fervor the human heart could be capable of mustering. 10 Unleashed By Stephanie Smith Mark Donovan forced his weary legs through the snow-covered lot, side by side with his girlfriend, Alyssa. He had promised to show her the place. He never promised an explanation. “We’re here,” he said, and pointed a shaky finger at a rusty sign that said FANTASY LAND in blood red letters. Beneath that a cartoonish clown -- one who would make even Pennywise shudder -- directed them to the remnants of a wrought-iron gate. In the center of the gate stood two white wooden ticket booths. “So this is where you went when you were a kid, huh?” Alyssa asked. They had been dating for almost two years and she still only knew a fraction of his haunted past. “I didn’t think Pennsylvania got earthquakes of that magnitude.” “We don’t.” “Looks spooky now.” “You don’t know the half of it,” Mark said and paused. Spectral, tortured screams sliced through his brain like a machete cutting through thick brush. He could almost smell the damp stench of blood in the air, splattering the sky that darkened his childhood. It all left him with an eternal case of nightmares--not to mention countless hours of therapy--and the lies about what really happened that day. “So are we going to go in or did you bring me here for nothing?” Alyssa shivered through her black wool coat. Their breath was visible in the bleak February air. Mark put his arm around her and pulled her in close. “Yeah,” he said beneath trembling breaths. A gust of wind howled through Mark’s ears as he guided Alyssa through the snow, questioning what in God’s name he was doing here. He thought he had the past behind him. But here he was, back in his hometown, visiting old ghosts. Very little remained of Fantasy Land. Nothing more than rubble and ride cars coul be seen protruding from the snow. “They bulldozed the wooden roller coaster into the ground,” Mark said as he gave Alyssa the grand tour. “Someone torched it a couple years after…well…” He fell into silence, tasting bile sliding up and down his throat. “Such desolation,” Alyssa observed and drew closer to Mark as his head bobbed slowly up and down like a buoy in the water. He stopped suddenly. Before them stood a large, rusty Ferris wheel creaking in the snow. “This is all that’s left,” Mark said. “And this is where it began…” “Mark, are you all right?” Alyssa’s voice grew faint as bone-chilling screams invaded Mark’s memories. Louder and louder until he was but a boy again, sitting on the Ferris wheel and waving to his mom below. ### It was the summer of 1990 in the sleepy town of Woodsville, Pennsylvania. Mark was nine and the evening itself was young. An infectious wave of shrill laughter and cries swept through Fantasy Land. Children and adults soaked in the smells of cotton candy and fried food. Fantasy Land was a local amusement park tucked away in the mountains past several scenic roads. It was a nice place with plenty of shade from the summer sun, a train that took tourists around the whole park, entertainment, a plethora of food stands, and the usual rides. Something for everyone, as they say. Mark and his family visited at least twice a summer, including the eve before Labor Day. That summer was no different. If only Mark knew his life would be changed forever, that this was the last time he’d ever ride a Ferris wheel or the merry-go-round, or any ride, for that matter. 11 The 15th of December By Brian M. Milton The 15th of December. Norwich. Not the place you want to be when the apocalypse comes calling. People may be dropping dead in the streets. An unearthly hush may be settling over the town as the traffic halts. The fog may be rolling in off the fens like something from a Stephen King novel. But the Christmas tunes go on. ### I wouldn’t normally drink in a Frankie and Benny’s. But the Wetherspoons had a mini riot when the news came out and is no longer a pleasant drinking establishment. In fact, I wouldn’t normally drink in here at all, even if the news were better. But I am away from home. Working. I often thought there was nothing worse, nothing more soul destroying, than that point in a business trip where you find yourself sat, alone but for a book, in a plastic chain restaurant in a provincial town at the far end of a road you have previously only ever heard about from radio travel reports. You sit there, slowly twiddling your generic pasta dish that you can find identically in any other plastic chain restaurant in any other plastic chain town in Britain, and take peeks over your book at the other tables of single business people, and realise that no matter how sad, pathetic, downtrodden and defeated they look, you look no better. Possibly worse. I have often melodramatically thought there was no way life could get more depressing than this. Unless possibly I started to sing along to the music they play over these displays of wretched hell. Today life got worse. But I still have to listen to that horrible music. ### Everyone has seen the news over the last few weeks. People in paper suits walking menacingly. Scared foreigners in masks pleading at hospital tents. All very Swine Flu or Ebola. We have seen disease scares like it before. I, my friends, professional doubters on the internet. We thought we knew how this sort of thing played out, so no one was ready for the announcement of the incubation period. Or the mortality rate. Then to top it off by saying the Queen had died. Who has time for a coronation? ### Oh, brilliant. “Stop the Cavalry” by Jona Lewie has just come on. One I actually used to like before today. We all wish we were at home for Christmas, Mr. Lewie, now why don’t you just “Dum a dum dum” off and let me get this down. ### I was in my hotel when it came on the news. It was obvious something was up when all my meetings at the County Council had been cancelled. I don’t have the most important of jobs and often the customer would much rather be doing something else. But this was clearly more than the usual snub. There were hushed phone calls, strained looks, and then, just before lunch, I was told to leave. I returned to my hotel, unsure what to do with myself. But the customer had agreed to pay for my accommodation for the next two nights. So I planned on a wee doze, catch up on some emails from work, and then out to enjoy the dubious pleasures of Norwich two weeks before Christmas. Then, just when I had decided to make the best of it, the bottom fell out of the world. 12 Til Death do us Part By C.M. Saunders He was going to have to eat Margaret soon. That much was obvious. There was no food left, the cupboards were bare. Husband and wife meant nothing when your very survival was at stake. Of course, everyone likes to think that they would sacrifice themselves – lay themselves down to give a loved one the gift of life. But would they really? Would you? He would do it quickly. He owed her that much. He would hit her over the head with something hard and heavy, or smother her with a pillow as she slept. She was so frail these days he had an idea that it wouldn’t take much. Death would be a blessed relief from the ongoing agony of what their life had become, and it was only going to get worse now that the food was gone and the darkness was all around them. Ronald remembered how the story had broken. He and Margaret had just returned home from doing the weekly shop. Since retirement they had taken to doing their shopping on a Tuesday morning to avoid the crowds, and if they had known that would be the last time they would ever see the inside of a supermarket, they would surely have stocked up on some more non-perishables. That morning they turned on the television to watch the end of Richard and Judy and instead saw a newsflash. People were rioting in London and Birmingham, the National Guard had been mobilized, and shots had been fired to restore order. It hadn’t worked. Instead of being quashed, soon the rioting had spread to other cities--Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester, Nottingham, Liverpool, Cardiff. By dinner time it seemed the whole country was being consumed by violence. Shaky camera footage taken by news crews or sent in by people who had captured events on their mobile phones showed buildings being set alight, shops looted, and people being shot, stabbed, and beaten to death in the streets. One memorable snippet showed blood running down a drain like dirty rain water. Ronald and Margaret watched the drama unfold on their television set. At first it didn’t seem real to them. It was about as real as a Hollywood movie. The wave of violence was what was happening to other people in other places, not them in their little council flat just outside Romsey. But sometime on Wednesday afternoon they heard the first commotion outside. A man was screaming, pleading with someone to please stop, please leave him alone. Then the screams were abruptly cut short. That brought everything home with sickening clarity, and Ronald and Margaret barricaded the front door shut and drew the heavy brown curtains against the outside world. At that time they were thankful they lived on the top floor of the tower block. It seemed to segregate them from those below, wallowing in twenty-first century filth and decadence. Up here they were safe, protected. Every television channel was now completely devoted to the surge of violence sweeping the country. Chat shows chatted about it, documentaries documented it, analysts analysed it. They could show what was happening, but for all the talking, nobody had the faintest idea why or how it was happening. After the first eruptions, the so-called experts blamed social unrest and societal discontent, probably compounded by the usual things--racial tension, cultural differences, inflation, unemployment. Then gradually, horrifyingly, it became clear that there was far more to the outbreak than mere social problems. The people on television, the ones doing the damage, looked different somehow. Their eyes were wide, their faces contorted with rage. They drooled saliva and didn’t notice, or if they noticed they didn’t care. It was almost as if something had stripped away all the finer points of humanity, leaving them with just the most basic survival instincts. Even more disconcerting was the fact that when they got injured, they appeared to feel no pain. Ronald saw people shot, saw them hit the floor, and then get back to their feet looking dazed and even more pissed off but otherwise suffering no ill-effects. One guy somehow got one of his arms lopped off, yet it didn’t seem to faze him one little bit. He went charging into a heaving throng of people outside a shopping centre, waving a kitchen knife indiscriminately with his good hand. Another piece of film, definitely not for younger viewers, showed an old lady get pushed into a road where a military vehicle ran over her legs. 13 Yellow By Matt Brolly Through her goggles, Melissa saw a flicker of flame. It appeared metres from the island’s shoreline, as if the sea were on fire. The flame grew and Melissa ran out of the metallic shack. She stumbled in the darkness across the jagged pebbles of the beach. The fire was approaching. She moved towards the heat and made out the shape of a rowing boat. The figure inside was screaming, its body engulfed in maroon and orange flames. “Jump in the water,” she urged, her words muffled by her mask. The figure jumped from the boat onto the shoreline. It ran across the pebbles, its wild arms spiralling in contorted patterns. It crumpled in a heap as the fire consumed its flesh. Melissa turned away, the stench of burning flesh making her nauseous. She ran to the sea and paddled in after the rowing boat. The water soaked her makeshift protective suit, at first soothing then making her shiver. She dragged the vessel up the beach, one of the oars snagging the material on her arm. Boat secured, she made her way back to the shack. She needed to repair the rip in her clothing. Tears dripped down her masked face as she thought about how easily she had left the burning figure, all for the sake of a small rowing boat. She bandaged the tear in her clothing with black duct tape, took off the mask, and gulped at another bottle of water. There was no breeze to alleviate the heat. Sweat dripped off her body, soaking the clothes which covered her from head to toe. Neil opened his eyes as he’d done every thirty minutes for the last two days, his eyeballs the same dull yellow. Melissa checked her laptop again for messages. The internet was still working, though no major website had been updated in over three days. Her only source of news was through the social networks which were running without censure. Everywhere was the same. She packed a rucksack with a spare safety suit and the rest of the sedatives. Neil would have told her to leave him if he could still speak. She sat next to him, the child within her kicking her insides in time to her wild breathing. “We’ve got a chance now, little baby,” she said. When her breathing returned to normal, she bent her knees and hoisted Neil in a fireman’s lift. “You’re going on a diet when this is over,” she warned him. She managed to drag him out of the shack before collapsing. She grunted as she tried to lift him again, her stretched limbs on fire. “Damn it, Neil, you lump.” She tried again, but he was too heavy. She began punching him in the body, her blows absorbed by the soft flesh of her husband. “Right,” she said and ran to the boat. She dumped her bag and returned to her husband. “This is your own fault,” she warned him, grabbing him under the arms. Dragging him down the stony beach, she noticed the puncture in his neck where the insect had bitten him. He’d only taken his hood off for a second. They’d agreed sedation was the only option. “Leave me if you have to,” he’d said. She’d promised. “But I don’t have to yet,” she told him now. She dumped him in the centre of the boat and dragged it towards the sea, doing her best to ignore the burnt corpse which lay yards away. It was a high tide which would save a hundred-yard drag through the mud. She let the gentle waves guide the boat towards the mainland, using the oars to push away the suicide bodies which littered the water. The darkness swallowed the smoke, giving the flames on the other side of the water an unreal beauty. They billowed across the sea-facing buildings, a semi-circle of golden light. It was morning when they reached the shore. She pulled the boat onto the beach and pulled her husband out of the vessel. “Now what?” she asked him. Her husband flashed his yellow eyes. “You know nothing,” she said. It was not the same town she’d left two weeks ago when the first report had come in from India. There had been a mild concern then but routines had stayed the same. Now the town was almost desolate. The crude seaside buildings – the garish amusement arcades, and cheap bed and breakfasts - were either abandoned or gutted by fire. The occasional person walked along the promenade either covered with makeshift protection or, already bitten, carrying the suicide look. 14 15