ISSN 1757-5419 Issue 19 – January 2013 Editorial
Frankenstein’s Shadow By Charles Austin Muir Illustrated By Candra Hope
Deathland By Michael W. Clark
The Lump in the Bed By Anthony Baynton
Doctor Kim By Stephen Hernandez Illustrated by Vladimir Petkovic
Goodbye Jonathan By Andrew Ede
Carrion By Holly Day
Shadows of the Tear Stones By Craig W. Steele
The Ouija Board By A.A. Garrison
Beggars Riding By David Barber
Killing Wallace Crawton By John S. Barker Illustrated By Matthew Freyer
Freefalling By David Buchan
Cover By Mark Bell - http://www.myspace.com/swordfishgraphics Proof-read By – Samuel Diamond, Sheri White, Trevor Wright 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
Viktor Frankenstein had the feeling that something in his ass was afoot. For some weeks the feeling had haunted him. The gut sense that something wasn’t right. The suspicion that a morbid drama was being staged in the very tissues of his body, in a despicably surreptitious manner; that is unless he was willing to bend over in the mirror – as a physician had suggested once, an expert on haemorrhoids – and peer into his anus. Not an option for Viktor Frankenstein. Because he knew it wasn’t haemorrhoids in this case. A chronic sufferer, he was all too familiar with them. Through diet and meditation, he had reduced his daily gastric complaints to an almost peripheral level of discomfort; yet he could not shake the feeling that something dangerous, perhaps even dire, had gotten inside him and clamoured to come out. As a man of science he could scarcely ignore it. He had given this feeling an identity: the Predator. The voice of instinct, it had guided him to discovering some rather fantastic but ultimately undeniable truths about the world. Now that it was trying to tell him something about himself, he could hardly wrinkle his nose at it like a committee of senile academics over a revolutionary thesis paper (as had been the case with Viktor Frankenstein, a humiliation neither he nor his digestion would ever forgive), ironically treating its signals like an esoteric mystery and attaching a ritualistic urgency to his bowel movements. When one evening he emerged from his bedroom adjoining the laboratory, it was with the frown of one unenlightened by the omens of his chamber pot. He returned to his table only to double over, shattering jars of coloured liquid as he fell to his knees with a groan. “Master –?” Iggy, his young assistant, appeared in the doorway. “Go ‘way,” Frankenstein rasped, and found strength to hurl a book at the hunchback with deadly accuracy. Long used to his master’s fondness for improvised missiles, the cripple was wellconditioned to handle himself in a street fight. He reappeared moments later with his customary scowl and a broom. Frankenstein dragged himself to his writing-desk. The noise of broken glass chittering into tidy piles behind him, he took up his pen and reflected on his abdominal difficulties of late. The pain tended to flare up in violent twinges, like a hand yanking at his entrails the way a sceptical child pulls at a man’s moustache. He reviewed what he had eaten that morning. Two poached eggs, three cups of coffee, a buttered biscuit. Followed by yoga and meditation, the usual course. Yet the spasms were growing more intense and more frequent – undoubtedly the effect of something foreign and hostile breaching his stomach’s defences. According to the Predator, whispering its dark prophecies in his ear, a confrontation with this intruder was unavoidable. But what was he dealing with? A mundane malady? Or something wild and exotic? Obtained from the darkest corners of the planet, his more evolved test subjects proved well-fitted (as multiple cuts and contusions could attest) for objecting to Frankenstein’s scientific interest in them. But it was the simpler structures – the entities invisible to the naked eye – he feared the most, for in the very building blocks of life lurked the most insidious forms of death. Through the pores, the nostrils, in as minor a wound as a hangnail could be absorbed a mote of something deleterious, a spore from a deadly plant, perhaps, or the germs from an exhumed specimen. “‘The forms of things unknown,’” Frankenstein recited, regretting the fervour of his delivery, knowing his assistant’s delight in hearing Shakespeare. But the glass went on chittering, the broom went on sweeping. Lowering his pen, he looked up to see the bent, burly figure of Iggy duck out the door in utilitarian gloom.
This was to be the first time she would meet her father. She was hesitant. Despite her college degrees and work experience, meeting him was simply scary. She felt like a little girl again, alone and afraid. The meeting was not an appointment, more a one sided arrangement. He didn’t know who she was or even that they were going to meet. When he walked into the casino, she knew him immediately. He looked like his pictures, still young. He was handsome in a bad boy fashion, dangerous and untrustworthy. It surprised her. She had always imagined him more approachable, warmer, loving, but she had wanted to meet the real person. She had lived with her fantasy dad in her mind all her life. Fantasies can be deceiving. He saw her intently looking at him. He focused all his attention on her. It’s what he did. “You see and you approve,” he said as he stepped up beside her. He smiled his smile. His breath was stale with alcohol. His teeth yellowed from all kinds of things. His hand on her waist was strong and aggressive. She felt more fear. “What is the matter, young miss? Came on too strong?” He backed off just a little but not enough. “You need to watch your signals. You want and I will give.” She quivered as he moved his hand farther down. She was confused as to what to do. She should say something but his immediate aggression had thrown her off. She had thought she would have more time to observe, to get to know him at a distance, but no. “You should have a drink. It’ll relax you a little then I can relax you more.” He snapped his fingers at the bar tender. He couldn’t get his attention. “Just a minute. I’ll get you a drink, a martini, with one for myself.” He pushed his way to the bar, hearing grumbles of resentment from those who happened to be in his way. She backed away in tears. She should have said something. Told him. He didn’t know the truth. ### “Bacon.” Jonathan Templar stated with confidence. “Bacon is the hardest taste to get right in there.” He points to the digital screen. “Bacon?” Stevie frowned. “I can’t think of what bacon tastes like.” “It’s just not as popular now as it was when I was a kid.” Templar sighed. He had just gotten too old. One hundred and fifty four years, long for a man. Women lived even longer. It’s always been that way in biology: women got more of everything. His age caused most of his references to be out of date, especially his food references. “Salted pork, thin and crispy.” Stevie frowned shaking her head. “Pork? Pigs are too intelligent to eat.” She quivered. “You should resurrect animals in there too.” She pointed at the download chamber. “I don’t like using the term resurrection.” Templar’s original business was memory simulations. Basic stuff originally. Standard memory downloads, for recreational and pleasure needs. A two week vacations on your lunch hour: that kind of thing. Time wasn’t an issue with an implanted reality simulation. The progression of time was imbedded in the simulation. It moved at the speed of thought. Physicists and philosophers debated simulation time progression, the subjectivity of reality, and if it was modifying quantum reality or having no effect on anything at all. It gave them something to do, as if they needed something to talk about. They never stopped talking. But his vacation memory business had gotten slow. Too much competition on memory implants even with the academic interest. He needed a value-added item to attract an over-distracted consumer of entertainment services. He had been in the business a long time. One of the original vendors in the tri-state mega-city, he had recorded enough memories over the years to accumulate a database of experiences of people who had gone and died. Some were long dead. 4
Detective Rothfield watched the video again, waiting for the moment when she’d have to blink. No matter how many times she watched it, she couldn’t spot the moment it arrived. Instead, she blinked and it was suddenly there, lying on its side, watching the portly, middle-aged man sleep for the final time. Officers at the crime scene had recovered a diary, which was originally dismissed as the ramblings of a man on the edge of a breakdown. In the entries for the last few weeks the handwriting became more and more difficult to decipher, until almost entire pages were taken up by just one phrase. Rothfield looked once more over the excerpts she’d picked out earlier, which had taken on new relevance since the discovery of a hidden camera at the crime scene. For the benefit of her younger colleague, she read aloud: “23rd February. Since she left me I’ve bought a new bed, one that doesn’t have her shape, her smell. Why did she leave me? “3rd April. Odd, though I sleep, as usual, on the left side of the bed, there’s still a depression on the right. It must be faulty; I’ll return it next week. “18th April. That damn lump is back! This is ridiculous! I wonder if this awful mattress is causing the tingling and numbness when I wake up in the morning? “12th May. Oh god, I woke last night after the worst nightmare of my life. I dreamt that I’d woken and there was this strange, ugly creature lying beside me, touching me with its awful hands. All I could make out was the shining blue of its eyes, and how weird and creepy its hands felt, in that brief moment of lucidity.
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Doctor Kim was insane. The soldiers all knew it and the prisoners had no need to be told. At least they were spared the indignity of having to be confronted with it on a daily basis. Captain Okinara had no such luck. Under the bleaching glare of the surgery lamps the Captain stood rigidly at attention whilst observing the Doctor’s every movement with a distaste bordering on loathing. The Doctor, caught up in his work as usual, seemed oblivious to the officer’s presence let alone his hostile scowl. Prior to every surgery Doctor Kim personally supervised the cleaning of the operating theatre. He was excruciatingly precise and methodical in his preparations. Today he seemed even more punctilious than usual. The Doctor had spent the last forty minutes bent nearly double examining the meticulously polished and sparkling chrome fittings of the operating table. He seemed to be searching for something. His painstaking investigation was finally rewarded. He straightened up triumphantly and ordered one of the kowtowing staff nurses to remove an offending minuscule pinpoint of blood he had discovered embedded deep in the ratchet of one of the levers. The Doctor’s high-pitched, whining admonition was thankfully muffled by his face mask. The speck of blood would probably not even have been visible to the naked eye. Doctor Kim wore specially modified spectacles combined with extended telescopic lenses strapped to his head. It was his own invention; a bulky unwieldy contraption that made him look like he was peering through binoculars from the wrong end and gave his already pinched features a bizarre reptilian look. He then bent over the freshly sterilized instruments that had been placed on a tray next to the ops table. These were not the normal instruments that one would expect to find in a hospital surgery although it would have been difficult for a layman to know the difference except for the sparseness and crudity of the tools. The Doctor, in spite of all the sophisticated equipment at his disposal, was using battlefield triage instruments. There were however some clearly recognizable tools: a circular electric saw known as the “Stryker saw” and a large pair of shears, and even a layman might know these were usually used in post-mortems. The Doctor turned his myopic gaze on one of the guards and ordered him to bring in the patient. Captain Okinara stiffened. The murderous physician had the gall to call them patients! The guard clicked his heels smartly and marched mechanically out of the room to perform the duty. The Captain grunted quietly to himself in approval. He knew how much his men hated the tasks they were ordered to perform, but they never lacked discipline. Okinara remained where he was, as silent and stiff as a statue, staring into space and trying not to let the repugnance he felt for the man in front of him show on his face. The unconscious “patient”, a dark-haired Caucasian male child of some eight years of age, was wheeled in and transferred from the gurney to the operating table by the theatre staff. The anaesthetist checked the body, inserted various cannulas and connected the cardiac monitor and a breathing tube. The Doctor had by now scrubbed-up in the small adjoining room and after being helped into his gloves by one of the nurses he returned to the theatre. He carefully examined the child’s naked unblemished body and then turned to the Captain. “Please have your men escort in the prisoner,” he squeaked in his nasal falsetto. The Captain nodded to two of the guards. They marched out of the room and returned with the struggling prisoner - the boy’s mother. She had been gagged, but it did not prevent moaning and sobbing noises escaping from her throat when she caught sight of her child lying motionless on the table.
The alarm rang. Jonathan reached over and slammed his fingers against the off button. He sat up and stretched his arms. He scratched his eyes and noticed a folded piece of paper on his nightstand. Trembling slightly, he opened it. The note read: “Good bye Jonathan”. His heart sank. His stomach turned to knots. The smell of breakfast cooking made him want to puke. He rubbed his eyes. The note still stared at him, stating its goodbye. To understand Jonathan’s great feelings of angst you must understand that in his world, names are very uncommon. When a human is weaned they are assigned a number. This number is what the human will use on legal documents and in everyday life. When one numbered human passes another numbered human a simple “Hi” or “Hello” is enough of a greeting. Names are reserved for only the most important humans. Being given a name is one of the single greatest honors a human can receive in his or her life. Jonathan looked back at the note. He remembered when he first received his name. March was pounding on his office walls. He was feeling the last of the winter blues while working. Jonathan was an auditor for the government system. His job consisted of looking through paperwork for mistakes. Jonathan hated his life. He made barely any money, he drove a broken down car and he was having severe marital problems. The only light at the end of his tunnel was seeing his son at the end of every day. Jonathan would pick him up as soon as he got home and hug him, and all of his problems would melt away. Day in and day out Jonathan would scan through papers that were on their way to the overpopulated area that lay outside the borders of the society he lived in. Everyone that lived there had a name, and they could barely survive on what else they had. Jonathan’s world flourished around him. Every day they had more than they needed to eat, and the last crime that had been committed took place three years ago. Someone from the overpopulated area had come over and broke into several stores. He was caught and dealt with. Jonathan had been having another typical miserable day. He was going over his work when he noticed a mistake, the first one ever on any type of document his hands touched. The paper had been filled out almost entirely correctly, except for the signature on the last page. He checked and re-checked several times just to make sure he was seeing correctly: “Date: 7/2/2291, Signature: Jonathan, Written Name: 3215A.” The Jonathan that had filled out the form accidentally wrote his given human number as his name. This was a simple mistake of the brain, but the authorities had to be told. He sat up from his chair feeling worried. He had never found a mistake before, especially one of this caliber. What would happen? Would he be in trouble? He couldn’t help but think it was him who had done something wrong. He made his way over to his boss’ office. He had heard before that the people who find the mistakes dealing with names get to keep the name they find, but he had always thought it was an office rumor. His boss looked over the paper. His eyes met his employee’s. “Alright then, A343421, good job.” The boss picked up his phone. After a quick conversation with who knows whom, he looked up at A34321. “Go home, come back tomorrow, and A34321… congratulations.” The next morning when A34321 awoke, there was a folded note on his bedside table. Carefully he unfolded it. The note read: “Hello Jonathan”. Jonathan was filled with so much joy he couldn’t stay in bed any longer. It was time to start his new life. He ran down stairs like a kid on Christmas morning. “Good morning, Jonathan.” His beautiful wife was calling him his name. He leaned in and kissed her, grasping tighter than ever before.
They had drilled holes in her arms and strung them through with hundreds of tiny metal threads. Her veins had been drained, and her skin had been stripped and replaced with an alloy lighter than tin. Claws curled where her hands were, and her legs terminated in flat, toeless stumps. But she could fly. She could fly higher than any bird ever born, and could hit any target on earth with deadlier accuracy than any weapon previously conceived. Far below her, on the ground, was her destination, and rising up from that still-invisible building was the enemy’s weapon of choice. Valerie squared her shoulders - out of habit - and dove headfirst towards her target, arms out to her sides as though she was diving into a backyard swimming pool. ### “You can’t be serious,” protested Martha, eyeing her daughter with great concern. She frowned angrily as another car suddenly cut her off, assuring that their wait to exit the gridlocked freeway would be at least another ten minutes. “You’re so smart and pretty, and you have so many things to do still.” She reached out and touched Valerie’s hand lightly, briefly. “Don’t you want to get married, have a family? You’re too young for children now, of course,” she added hastily, then changed her mind. “No, you’re not too young. Not if you’re contemplating never having children. You have no idea what you’d be missing.” “It’s for a good cause,” Valerie replied calmly. The recruiter at her school had coached her on what to say, easily preparing her for any arguments her mother might present. “I’d be saving lives, right? The lives of all those other families already out there. What’s the point of having my own children if they’re not going to be safe?” “Then I just won’t allow it.” A tear itched at the corner of the older woman’s eye, and she brushed it away angrily. “Dammit, you just can’t do it.” She slammed on the brakes as the car in front of her flashed its own brake lights. “I spent too much time and energy and love on you to have you just give it all up like this. You just can’t do this to me.” Again, Valerie was prepared with an answer. As if she was reading a cue from a card, she calmly recited, “I understand the sacrifices you made to raise me, Mom. This is why I’m doing this, to pay you back for what you’ve done for me. Let me make the sacrifices now.” She smiled at her mother, waiting for the fight she knew would come. She was more prepared for this conversation than anything that had ever come before. “And you know, legally, I can do anything I want. I didn’t even have to tell you I signed up for this.” “You fucking zombie,” muttered Martha, shaking her head and staring straight ahead of her. “Fuck, fuck.” She regained a bit of her composure, then turned to face her daughter. “You’re not even in there anymore, are you?” she said. “You’ve already left me, and I don’t even get a say here. Fucking thirteen years old,” she continued, turning back to the road ahead. “Thirteen years old, and you’re already dead.” ### But Mom, I’ll be able to fly, she thought as she spread her gleaming metal wings and began the swooping descent around the small square building below. And then the flash of memory was gone, and all she could see was the painful patchwork of a boy crawling up the sky to meet her. Belonging to the nation with the far superior scientific community, Valerie’s surgeons had the capability and finances to add a little beauty and finesse to their new weapons program. The government heads behind the scientific community had also realized, early on, that the only way they’d be able to get recruits for the new program was to present as slick a package as possible. 9
Three thousand habitable planets in the known galaxy, and I'm stuck on the only one without a single tattoo parlour. And it’s the only planet where having a tattoo is a first-class felony (a crime worse, even, than stoning babies) because the natives consider tattoos indisputable, irrefutable evidence of a deranged mind and a serpentine soul, as well as a criminal character. No one understands why Betadiners have such a phobia about tattoos. But they made having a tattoo punishable by life imprisonment at extra-hard labour. At least the labour insures that one doesn’t live long, thank the Four Scaled Goddesses. None of this would matter, except that yesterday, I got a tattoo. On a foot. I didn’t get it the way people usually get tattoos, and not the way I’d ever planned to get one — maybe, someday — after I’d retired from business and didn’t have to worry anymore about offending the cultural sensibilities of the natives of such a commercially important world as Betadine. I’d fanaticized about getting a tattoo on each ear flap, with dozens of brightly-coloured inks, and at least semisterile needles, from the local artiste back home, the one with the scabrous, flaking head ridge scales, and rings in both ear flaps, upper and lower lips and all four eyebrows. But yesterday morning I just slipped and stepped into it, like you step into a pile of gaku. And it won’t go away. And it’s not even pretty: it’s a space-black blob with eight black dagger-like spikes radiating from it, easily seen even through my dark brown hide and scales — a vulgar compass rose pointing the way to disaster. And I’m not even sure it’s a real tattoo, not since it began growing, moving around and spreading. I got it from the alley, or whatever lives in the alley, beside the visitors’ entrance to Dobo Landricus’ townhouse, which squats in carnal elegance near the centre of a quiet, secluded, lightlytravelled avenue. The alleys in Betadiner cities are darker than alleys anywhere else, and those of the coastal metropolis of Rhysfan are no exception. The shadows aren’t just shadows: they’re compressed, congealed until the darkness pools, pulsates, and flows through the alleyway air like a supercooled ebony gel. The authorities order all off-worlders to avoid the alleys, in every city; the locals remind you of that proscription every time you interact with them. I was here for a meeting with the Dobo, to discuss an extension of our contract with his company for exporting cerulean tear stones, those ovate, purplish-blue, luminescent marvels. They’re a gem trader’s dream: huge demand; limited supply; limitless short-term profit. There I was, balancing on one bare foot, struggling to remove my other shoes before entering (another irksome requirement on Betadine), when I slipped on the rain-slicked pavement and one foot landed inside the mouth of the alley, with the rest of me splayed facedown on the sidewalk. (In rearview, I made a mistake, but I was in a hurry. I should have heeded the old saying: “Haste makes gaku paste.”) My foot broke through a squishy-squelchy crust into a thick liquid beneath it. It was like stepping through a mat of pond scum into warm syrupy water back home. Then something grabbed my foot and stabbed me, repeatedly. I screamed and kicked and felt it let go. I never saw what it was, but when I pulled my foot out of the alley, I was a marked Gringlo. I felt as if someone had dunked both my hearts into icy water. Gaku! I thought. There goes the contract. I can’t let the Dobo see me with a tattoo. I can’t even let him know why I can’t keep the appointment. Stupid, I know. Even then, I knew I had much bigger worries; it’s amazing how in a crisis, often the most unimportant things consume the mind first. My second thought terrified me: I’m trapped on Betadine forever! Here, spaceport security measures require a thorough strip search upon arrival (to guard against hidden tattoos) and when leaving (to guard against tear stone smuggling). I’d never get through security with a tattoo; I’d go straight to extra-hard labour. There was no way I could ever leave this planet, alive. 10
Marvin lived under a bridge, just outside the Dying City, that scurvid place. It was how he received the Ouija board. A tall, frail blonde man, Marvin was a tailor of human skin, specializing in genital-intact loincloths. He depended on the many bodies that the bridge produced, either jumped or pushed or dumped. Like some ghastly manna, they would rain from Marvin’s sky, collecting just beyond his viaduct. His first order of business would be to check for genitals; many of the males came emasculated, being waste from the nearby dick-sausage factory. Though, even these provided Marvin the material for a steady trade. He spent his days in the artificial cave created by the bridge, which he shared with a rattlesnake that sometimes bit. The squalor was preferable to dying in the Dying City. Occasionally, the corpse’s belongings would accompany them. Slave-leashes. Shrunken heads. Blood-caked weapons. Suitcases yielding treasure. So the Ouija board was a surprise. It arrived on a blistering summer afternoon, moments after a bepenised man. Marvin, distracted by his good fortune, barely noticed the board as it crashed to the ground, just yards away. The planchette fell as an afterthought, landing precisely atop the board as if begging use. Marvin looked between the Ouija board and its owner, and said, “Phew”. Only that night, after flaying the new arrival and hanging out the skins to cure, did Marvin remember the curious object. He took it up with red-stained hands, tracing the alphabet of letters scored in the wood. Its right side was splintered, but it was otherwise okay. “Hmm,” he said, and threw it in the corner, for firewood. It spooked the rattlesnake, making it slither behind some old bones. ### Marvin discovered the Victory machines while in the Dying City. He was there on business, to sell his latest creations - various of his signature loincloths, and some breasts and buttocks, including a novelty set ornamented with spare eyelids. Dressed in a full suit of such skins, as to appear nude, Marvin made his way to the leatherworker who stocked his goods, a snide two-head named Cock Torture. Mr. Torture’s left head was the dominant, his right being brain-damaged from birth, capable of only high womanish shrieks. This visit was extended by the right head’s incessant interruption, and the fact that Marvin had to keep one hand over his crotch. He left with a pocketful of infant’s bones, thinking of ways to spend it. Thus he went in search of a worthy purchase, down the City’s wretched thoroughfares. Wielding a large rusty knife always, he strolled through the west side and its valleys of caged children, their sellers quoting competitive prices. All through Meat Town, pushcarts sold fresh dicksausage, its earthy odour like a fog. Men on doorsteps advertised rates for various crimes “Murder: five bones”. An eastside market was crawling with potential luxuries: castrators, suicide devices, inventive implements of pain, clitoral accessories, taxidermy of Enemy men. Many vendors doubled as prostitutes, offering themselves alongside their wares, even as they copulated. Marvin’s head spun. He had made two indecisive passes through the City, fighting and dodging all the while, before noticing the quiet corner shop. It was new, having been erected since Marvin’s last furlough. The sign read VICTORY MACHINES. Marvin didn’t know of such a machine. He made for the store, rattling intently the tiny bones in his pocket. A bell jangled as the door opened and shut. Air-conditioned air kissed Marvin all over, a world apart from the outside heat. The proprietor was a four-way amputee in a wheelchair operated by breath. An IV of morphine went into his waistband like a catheter. “I sold ‘em,” the stubby gentleman said in greeting. “My arms and legs. Sold ‘em to buy a castrator.” 11
The box monitoring my vital functions makes a forlorn beep every thirty seconds, I have not asked why. From behind the curtains of the surrounding beds, issue similar sounds, though at different intervals. They circulate in and out of step, growing to a quiet crescendo every half hour or so... Yes, Reverend - or do you prefer Chaplain?- you correctly judge I have little to occupy me, but do not think I welcome your company out of boredom. I am not a religious soul, but I would value your opinion on something. For as long as I can remember, I have been able to wish for things and for those wishes to come true. Do not humour me, Reverend. Keep your council till you hear what I have to say. Consider how dangerous such a gift would be in a child, and you will begin to understand why the world is the damaged, lesser, incomprehensible thing that it is. Like that youth who would keep over-revving his motorcycle outside the window. Was that only yesterday? The removal of things is so easy, I wonder if non-existence is the more natural state. I have done this all my life. You don’t remember jirts do you? I was afraid of them as a child, so they are gone; along with the colour chim and the singer Jimmy West, whose annoying summer hit was everywhere when I was twelve. It is hard to remember all the things which no longer exist; they fade like dreams on waking. You cannot imagine my childhood. I have wished away parent after parent in childish rage, only to reincarnate them as strangers later. Still, the worst of my excesses cannot be blamed on a child. I am glad you are entering into the spirit of the thing, even though this must seem the ramblings of a dying man. You think someone with such a gift would tackle the world’s evils? Of course, in my idealistic youth that is exactly what I did.
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Break the bones of the hands and feet of all corpses. Should they come back to life, they can neither grab you nor chase you on foot. Your safety is thereby secured through this one simple precaution. Some might think it unsavory to molest the dead in this fashion. But breaking the bones is a more effective defense than doing nothing, or severing the extremities. I have seen for myself what severed hands can do. Jeb Langford was set upon by not one, but two as he slept. We were camped for the night beside Portis River after disinterring and moving Wallace Crawton, who had been dead and first buried but five days prior. I swear the body was still warm in parts, for Wallace was a large man – some three hundred and fifty pounds and well over six and a half feet tall. Truly, the living Crawton seemed to suck the life out of those around him, and to gaze into those stony green eyes of his would chill you through to your bones. The dead Crawton seemed to pull you further into a pit of black despair, for to look upon his corpse would fill you with vile rage at how much of Mill Town that man had ruined. Gazing at the clammy, marble visage of the man would make you believe that God had abandoned us entirely because of him. The undertaker that year, which was 1901, was old Ned Grinder, who, sallow-faced and shriveled, looked near ready for his own funeral. I assisted Ned after I killed Crawton. Due to Crawton’s overall dimensions, Ned had not been able to build a box adequate to contain Wallace Crawton. And so Ned sawed off both feet to make Crawton fit the length of the box, and both hands just for good measure, before closing it up. Those separated members were put in a sack and thoughtlessly discarded with the trash in the dump, which at that time was situated a ways downstream from the town proper. The rest of Crawton was put in the box and lowered into a plot at the far-end of St. Irenaeus Church Cemetery, where not even weeds wanted to take root, and Jeb and I covered him up with dirt as Ned Grinder watched. Pastor Sharp did not attend. Jeb spit on the coffin’s lid before tossing in the first shovelful. A foot-long off-cut of pine plank was tapped into the ground when we were done, with CRAWTON rough-carved into it. No prayers were said, no holy water sprinkled, no rites or rituals entertained. Jeb was grimfaced, his eyes narrowed, and his thin lips drawn tight as we left that place. He looked tired when he headed home to his wife, Suzanne Langford, as if finally released of a heavy burden. Five days later, Ned Grinder informed me that Crawton was to be moved – yes moved! – because no one in town wanted even the lifeless husk of the man within the town limits, and even Pastor Sharp said Crawton had no right to be buried in church ground because he belonged entirely to the Devil. So within the space of less than a week, by pale moonlight, Jeb and I dug up what we had only recently dug down. Strapping the box onto a sledge pulled by Ethan Joom’s ox, which Mr. Joom had donated for the cause, we drove him up river as far as we could, which was to say, to Crawton’s own sawmill, where we planted him again, but this time without neither box nor signage. We did not complete the work until near dark, so instead of making our way back to town, we camped by the river, amongst the cottonwood and mosquitoes. It was a peaceful September night, and I was lulled near to sleep by the sound of frogs slopping in and out of the water at the river’s edge. Some say the wandering dead smell out their enemies. Jeb was Crawton’s enemy, that is certain, and Crawton sought payment for debts owed from Jeb that night. Reanimated remains do not distinguish between those parts that are joined and those that are not. You can easily be strangled or smothered by a wandering hand. Somehow, that night, Crawton’s hands had found their way to Jeb’s throat. As the breeze blew through the cottonwood, I never saw the hands approach. Instead, the frogs grew quiet. And approach they did, like fat, slowmoving spiders. 13
When Jeff pulled the cord at 3,000 feet, nothing happened. It took him a few seconds to register. He was still expecting the sudden pull from above, as if from a giant hand, as the parachute opened and dramatically slowed his descent. So when his main parachute failed to open, he was caught somewhat off guard. Falling fast to the ground, he took his eyes off the horizon and looked down at the cord on his chest as he pulled it a second time. Again, nothing happened. No problem, he told himself. Just keep your cool. It was important, he knew, to stay calm and not lose your head in such circumstances. His limbs heavy against the rush of air, Jeff pulled a release strap, which jettisoned the pack containing the main parachute. Only the back-up parachute now remained strapped to his back. He grabbed its cord, pulling carefully. This time he uttered a silent prayer. He breathed a sigh of relief as the white canopy exploded out of the pack... and then almost screamed when he realised the parachute was hopelessly tangled. Quickly, Jeff checked the altimeter strapped to his arm. He had already dropped to 2,000 feet. Looking up, he saw the tangled parachute gushing out of his back. He reached for the nylon cloth to try and untangle it, and when that didnâ€™t work he manoeuvred his body into different positions in a futile attempt to shake the parachute loose.
Published on Dec 29, 2012
Published on Dec 29, 2012
The nineteenth issue preview of the UK's most controversial weird fiction magazine! Featuring: Frankenstein’s Shadow By Charles Austin Muir,...