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Urban Horror Special Issue Edited By Tommy B. Smith Under the City Lights: An Introduction By Tommy B. Smith

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Harm’s Way By Spencer Wendleton

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The Threefold Man By David Turnbull

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Hole In The Ground By Laurence Klavan

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Shoot Out By Stanley Riiks

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Preacher Man By Iain Paton

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These Fears By Richard Farren Barber

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The Twain By Jeffrey B. Burton

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Noisy Neighbours By Trost

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The Coming By Toni Nicolino

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X x By Tom Johnstone

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Unseen By Charles D. Romans

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Cold Rain By Mike Chinn

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The Mysteries Of Long Division By Tim Emswiler

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Cover By Gareth Partington - Artwork By Lubi (Page 7), Wojciech Dziadosz (Page 14), Ewa Zydowicz (Page 51), Steve Upham (Page 17), Shaysapir (Page 22), Justin Coons (Page 25), C.E.Zacherl (Page 30), M. Sabas (Page 38), Lacy Jae Slaunwhite (45), Dave Migman (Page 47), Matthew Freyer (Page 56). Proofread By Samuel Diamond and 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

Under the city lights, the crowds push along each side of the busy street. Some of the faces, unremarkable amid the bustle of any other day, have a story, and today isn’t just any other day: it’s the day their stories are told. These people and the city streets they walk, and the smog of fuel exhaust, cigarette smoke, and various industrial pollutants conceal a jagged patchwork of urban nightmares. Think of this as a glimpse into the deepest shadowy secrets of that city, a city that, on the darker fringes between reality, dream, and imagination, you’ll soon find fin yourself passing through. It might be a place that seems distant and alien, or perhaps you’ll find it strangely similar to your own city, if only for a moment. Perhaps it is your city. The writers and artists herein have pushed through the illusion of civilization into a place that lies hidden beneath its shroud. Among the city streets and the building facades, the subways and the back alleyways, city lights and urban nights, you’ll find a stark cityscape battleground, and you’ll witness its terrors. You’ll see those predators of the city night, as well as those who will discover their city isn’t the place they thought they knew, and you’ll even see those who would try to change it. Theree remains only one direction from here, forward through the pages to follow, straight into the urban horror. Read on - and enjoy the ride! Tommy B. Smith The Morpheus Tales Special Issues Collection Limited availability! Visit our website to order your your copies now!


“Whatever you do, don’t jump from that window!” It’s the best I could throw at her, the woman being a complete stranger to me. Poised at the edge of her apartment window, half her body eclipsed by the shadows of late evening, the other half in the apartment under the veil of nicotine-coloured nicotine red curtains, she was inches from letting herself plummet five stories onto the sidewalk below. Her face was crawling with emotional confusion; fusion; it took all that was left of her to commit suicide, and here was this stranger barking things at her to botch her plan. “Let’s talk, okay?” I attempt to talk her down again. “I’m sure whatever it is, it’ll be fine. Give me a chance. We can fix whatever’s whatever’s wrong. It’s not worth taking your own life.” She pivots another inch out the window, choosing not to talk, and once I see the foot hanging inside the room jerk upwards, her body tipping toward the outside of the building, I rush her, plunging myselff through the window, shattering the glass and breaking my collar bone against the wooden frame that’s half-rotted rotted by poor upkeep. Falling after her, I catch her in my grip, turn my body, and it’s me who breaks her fall, me who breaks every vertebrae of my spinal column and splits my skull. ### It’s minutes after touchdown, and I come to. The woman is crab-walking crab walking from my bleeding and bashed up body. That could’ve been me. Thank God it wasn’t me, she thinks, her hands and nightgown stained in my blood which which quickly begins to evaporate, though she doesn’t notice, so shocked is she at how close she came to dying. She sobers up after watching me suffer long enough and then races to a payphone to call the police. And by then, my wounds have healed, my vertebrae vertebrae connecting together with rough clinks and re-hinges. hinges. Rising up from the street intact, I’m fleeing to the nearest garbage-and-piss-reeking garbage alley to collect myself and my sore, aching body, to find out how much more time I have left to live... Up from thee flesh of my forearm, the skin tightens like a snare, the muscles pressed so hard against the tissue they threaten to break through. After thirty seconds of sharp constricting, up come those tight purple veins that form into numbers, the numbers written in in a strange circulatory scrawl. Saving that woman’s life gave me another twenty-four twenty hours to live. Enough time to sleep for awhile, and that’s what I do in the nearest garbage bin I can find. ### “Terrill, wake up. You wanna coffee? I can smell it coming coming from the Mission. Fresh brewed.” I know it’s Donald who’s lifted up the lid of the garbage bin to peer in at me with his buggy eyes and acne-pocked pocked skin and shaggy beard and shocks of long hair, all of it giving him the appearance of a coot prophet. I was was a thirty year old version of Donald, except I didn’t wear a gangly trench coat or the stained “Cardinals” ball cap. “I’ve got a few hours before work, how about you? We should talk. I have important things to tell you. About our work, I mean.” I check the he faded impression on my forearm, and I’ve got fifteen hours to live. “Yeah, coffee sound good. And a cigarette. But I’m not so sure about the talking about work part.” The Mission was a brick building where the homeless, drunks, burnouts, winos, and off-duty off hookers came for their meals. But it was also for people like me, who had a job to do in the city. Save the weak. Sacrifice yourself to extend another’s life. Throw oneself into harm’s way for the sake of humanity. It was what Donald and hundreds of others throughout the country were committed to, though not voluntarily. 4

They say that all humans are threefold beings; mind, body and soul. When the mind ceases to be sentient and the husk of the cadaver commences its descent into decay, the soul passes beyond the veil to whatever the afterlife holds. This is a notion common through generations of mankind’s religions and philosophies. I for one believed that this was the way of things. And in holding this to be true, I fully understood and accepted that my soul was damned. I realise now that I had no real concept of damnation. I was never what you might call a good person. I wasn’t minded to be kind to children or animals. It would not have occurred to me to help an old lady across the street or bestow bes a good deed upon a neighbour. I gave nothing to charity and was entirely unmoved by television footage depicting scenes of starvation in Africa or the aftermath of earthquakes in Asia. You could say that I possessed the polar opposite of the mores which which go to make up good person. In fact I myself would go so far as to say that I had no moral compass whatsoever. I gained my pleasure from inflicting intolerable suffering upon my fellow beings, delighting at the delicious crack of a bone, the crimson ejaculation ejaculation of fresh warm blood from a newly sliced lesion, or the strangulated cry for mercy, which was music to my ears. But it was the actual moment of death that brought me the greatest joy. The instant of ending. The inevitable division and separation of the three equal parts that make the sum of the whole. I would watch in rapture as evidence of the soul’s departure reflected in the deadening eyes of my victims. I would marvel at the instantaneous blinking out of their sentience. I would sigh in wonder at the metamorphosis from the tense struggle put up by the animate body to the limp sack of lifelessness slumped in my arms. I had conducted a meticulous survey of this city. I knew how to navigate its darkest places; the heaths and canals, the subways and derelict derelict buildings. My territorial hunting grounds were the shadowy spots beneath the bridges and the mazelike labyrinth of alleyways which snake through the theatre district. Here I would prowl, awaiting the latest foolhardy citizen who misguidedly allowed themselves to believe there would be no harm whatsoever in straying from the main thoroughfares in order to achieve a quicker route from A to B. I disposed of the earthly remains of my victims in hacked off hunks and chunks, secreting them away in the veiled led nooks and crannies I had charted and logged over the years. I knew that I could rely on the efficiency of the feral creatures, the stray dogs, the urban foxes and the river rats, to finish the job I had begun and leave no incriminating trace. I was not a serial killer. I refuse to be labelled or pigeonholed in such a trite manner. My career of slaughter followed no particular pattern. I had no modus operandi. No targeted population type. No deep-rooted rooted psychological imbalance egging me on. I could not be b profiled or secondguessed. I was a craftsman; each magnificent atrocity a separate and entirely individual work of art. Besides, the city can be a cold and anonymous place. Each year hundreds of people simply go missing. The police and the authorities simply simply do not have the manpower or resources to give each case the attention it deserves. Logging and filing of details is about as far as any investigation goes. And so, while discovery was always a distinct possibility, I felt, with considerable justification, ation, that I had carte blanche to simply carry on torturing and murdering for the sheer joy that it brought me. Always, always, always I experienced an intense euphoria in the highly charged aftermath of my sadistic deeds. Almost trancelike in its quality, quality, tantalisingly close to a higher plane of perception. This I considered to be my magnificence, my glory, my majesty. This was ultimately my downfall. 5

“Closed for Renovations.” He had always thought it one of the great and unappreciated lies, up there with putting things in the mail and not in your mouth. Was he alone in thinking it? Barry Bumgardner felt alone, standing before the shuttered Steen’s, which had been his local greengrocer for the past - how many, twenty? - years. Sometimes it was “Under New Management” but always recognizably Steen’s, the aisles never altered enough to look like any other store, the new owners always too lazy to change the name, the identity of the original owner of no interest to the new Asian, Latino, and now Albanian owners, owners, as unimportant as the meanings of expressions one used every day - “Break a leg!” “Down the hatch!” - and didn’t question. This time, however, was different - brown wrapping paper was taped on all of Steen’s windows, though not well enough to prevent prevent his peeking through. Today he saw a dark, abandoned interior, with paper boxes strewn about unassembled, and a few steel racks fallen over like robbery victims, the Terra Chips and Pirate Booty and low-fat low fat pretzels gone from their shelves. Unopened mail lay in a small pile near the front door - bills, Barry figured, and the real reason for the owner’s rush away. “Closed for Renovations.” The sign would probably stay there until a new store showed up; at some other places it had taken years, time definitively definitively exposing the lie of the sign, which nobody believed in the first place, the way time caught people in lies nobody ever bought - “My wife is visiting relatives” (for ten years) - but were too polite to challenge. Still, pondering the future didn’t change change his present quandary: where to buy milk now that Steen’s was gone, and the organic kind, without the cow hormones or whatever it was that was bad for you.. He turned, his feet feeling heavy, and walked at the pace of a man twice his age (forty-five (forty - his is age, not twice his age) to, well, he guessed Green Harbor was the nearest place now, though the milk was hormonal, the bananas were always brown, and he saw a mouse in there once. Barry’s head throbbed. The four blocks seemed to take forever, because, of course, he didn’t want to go. Steen’s had been just fine with him, and so his resistance increased time, and not in a good way. (Other people might not mind as much, Barry thought, because because they didn’t work at home. They hey only passed Steen’s on the way to and from their jobs, whereas he actually entered the place three or four times a day, since he never shopped in bulk - where here did he live, the suburbs? What did he have, kids? - and went in for one item at a time: salt, a sponge, this morning milk. Truth bee told, he liked to leave his apartment, which sometimes seemed suffocating and where he spent all day writing freelance brochures for U.S. stamps, and, besides, going up and down the stairs was the only exercise he got, being somewhat plump and pasty, so why not spread it out?) Then something cheered him on the way to Green Harbor and distracted him from the endless length of the trip. He realized he would be passing Elegamento’s, his usual newspaper store, and that today was the second week of the month and so the time for new magazines to come in. He rarely if ever bought magazines, preferred to just stand and read them right there in the store, but he always bought something - usually a single small pack of tissues - to pay Elegamento’s for its time. (With (W irony, he thought that tissue packets represented free-market free market capitalism at its best, since their price from one end of town to the other ranged from twenty-five twenty five cents to a dollar; and Elegamento’s, at sixty cents, was right in the comfortable middle - another reason he liked the store.) If the owners seemed to witness his behaviour with something less than pleasure, they always recognized him, and that was all that mattered. But when he reached it, he read the sign, dumbfounded: “Coming Soon: A New Drugall’s.” Dru


“Shoot the fuckers,” yelled one of the gang members. Before the yell had finished echoing around round the interior of the old abandoned factory in Hackney, the two gangs drew their weapons and started firing. It all seemed to happen in slow motion. One of the four floodlights was knocked over. The darkness encroaching, sliced by the bright lights. An explosion smashed through them, a shotgun blast pounded round the large metallic room. The scatter shots of an AK-47 AK 47 sounded. Screams followed. The boom bo of a .44 magnum nearly knocked a sixteen-year-old old off his feet as others ducked behind rusting machinery. A wellwell muscled gang leader grabbed hold of a youngster, holding the youth in front of him like a shield. The ticker-ticker ticker of an Uzi blasted to their their left; they turned, but too late. The youth’s arm was ripped off, and his leg flew up into the air to splat down on the floor several feet away, setting off a puff of dust. The leader pulled his sawn-off sawn off shotgun up and fired into the darkness, dropping a dead body in front of him. His head exploded, splattering brains and face over a glass window behind him. A hail of bullets. His chest ripped open, organs flying out in all directions before he hit the floor. One of the other floodlights exploded in a hiss hiss and sizzle. Darkness swept deeper into the room. Someone else screamed. An arm flew into the air heading towards the ceiling, the hand fixed in a claw, the forefinger twitching as though still pulling a trigger. Where the arm was detached by force from the rest of the body, meat and blood dripped down from the air, tracing its path. The half-limb half limb looked like a flying dismembered Superman arm. It punched into the wall and dropped to the ground, still leaking blood. There was more shouting, more screaming, a shriek and the faint sound of sobbing. The firing and sound of shooting was non-stop, non stop, almost deafening. Ratatat. Bang. Ticker-ticker. Ticker Bang. “Fuck-ers,” ers,” one shouted, poking his head over the top of a rusting injection-mould injection machine barrel. A bite tore a hole in his right trapezium between his shoulder and his neck. His head tilted, drooping forward. He didn’t scream. He attempted to lift his pistol but couldn’t move his right arm. He toppled over, blood pumping out of his neck onto the ground beneath beneath him, like a victim in a cheap vampire film. He lay staring at the pool of blood, watching his life draining out of him. A girl appeared from behind one of the other machines, her leather jacket flapping behind her like wings, screeching at the top of her her lungs as she ran. Five guns pointed at her before she’d moved twenty feet. Suddenly she was between the two gangs in a no-man’s no man’s land. She stopped dead still, looked round and realised there was nowhere to go. She was torn apart before she took another step, step, flesh splattering in every direction. direction Her legs collapsed beneath her and still her entire body shook, ripped into pieces, her torso pocking, blood ejecting from the random holes rapidly appearing in her.


On a dreary Glasgow morning, she hears him long before she sees him. A deep voice, with a hard edge, each word spat out into the air. A small crowd has gathered on Buchanan Street. Some youths mock him, gangling apes clad in football shirts. He towers above above their heads, dark eyes in a narrow, bearded face framed by lank hair. He wears a round collared shirt underneath a waistcoat and a long black coat. Like a gospel rocker or a wild west w preacher,, she thinks with a smirk. Spittle flies from his lips as he shouts, and the spectacle suddenly seems more sinister than surreal. “WHO WILL JESUS DAMN? “The Book of Romans says Jesus will DAMN the HOMOSEXUALS, and the FORNICATORS, and the WICKED, and the MALICIOUS. He will damn the DECEITFUL and the PROUD and the COVENANT VENANT BREAKERS and the HATERS of GOD.” He waves a worn Bible in one outstretched hand. “The Book of Mark says THIS,” he shouts. “‘And “‘And if thy hand offend thee, CUT IT OFF, for it is better than having two hands to go into HELL, where the WORM dieth not, and an the FIRE is not quenched.’” His voice builds towards a climax. “‘And And if thy foot offend thee, CUT IT OFF, for it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into HELL, where the WORM dieth not, and the FIRE is not quenched. d.’” His scream reaches its crescendo. “‘And “‘And if thine EYE offend thee, PLUCK IT OUT, for it is better for thee to enter into the KINGDOM of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into HELL, WHERE THE WORM DIETH NOT and the FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED!’” QUENCHED! He slumps forward, sweat pouring down his pallid face. She walks away, hardly hearing his murmur. “And these names shall be writ in the Book of the Damned…” She pauses. The first names slip by, but the third one sounds familiar. “David Smith, Hater of God…” G She shudders, but grins nervously and walks on towards work. Grand buildings overshadow her as she heads toward the Council Chambers. Her pass gets her through the security door and to her desk in the planning department. She walks across to David Smith’s Smith’s paper-strewn paper desk. He leans back in his chair, sipping coffee from a football mug. “David,” she smiles, “you’ll never guess what I saw this morning…” “And what would that be then, Sarah?” He is too well-groomed well groomed to be straight, but she doesn’t think he is gay. The telephone interrupts her. “Hello, planning department, Sarah Baxter speaking.” The day passes quickly with a dozen applications to write up for decision by the councillors. She’ll be blamed if it goes wrong and get little praise if it goes right, right, but she is pleased with the final result, and finally hits the “send” button, dispatching the report to her manager. She forgets about the preacher until the end of the day. She turns towards Buchanan Street, to get her bus westwards, but pauses near the corner. “No thanks,” she murmurs to herself, “I’ve had enough preaching for one day.” So she walks past the railway station instead.


As I stepped down from the bus, bus I heard the clock chiming in Slab Square. Late again! I started to run, weaving between the straggled lines of passengers waiting at the bus stands. Andrea’s warning had been stark: stark “If you’re late, you’re dumped. Anything nything more than a minute - 60 seconds - and it’s over”. I ran through the exit, a blast of cold November air splashed my face and then I was out in the street. The pavement was busy with people, people so I ran the kerbstone tightrope beside the road. I overover balanced and stepped into the street, street and the truck that barely missed me blatted the night air with its horn. I didn’t have enough breath to curse myself. Andrea deserved better than this. She’d been serious when she warned me; there were too many previous convictions to be taken into account. I didn’t want to lose her. It wasn’t my fault: the bus was late, late, the traffic was awful, thethe I nearly passed the alley; the entrance was no larger than a doorway. I must have walked by it hundreds of times before without noticing. noticing I looked in, it was very dark, the street light beside me barely penetrating ten metres. There was a stink of old drains, rotting cabbage, stale urine. I plunged in. The ground switched from concrete slabs to cobblestones. I took the opportunity to catch my breath and slowed down to a walk. In a few seconds I’d be through the passage and into Andrea’s arms. A row of dark shop fronts crowded in on both sides of the passage. Flecks of yellow yel light from a cast iron lamppost post reflected in the glass. Shadows piled up in the corners like unattended u rubbish. It was hard to see anything clearly. A lace balcony hung over the street, bearing down on the snakeskin cobblestones. I couldn’t make out the names of any of the shops, shops and display windows betrayed nothing of the interior. I paused and from rom behind came the scuffling noise of feet on the rough stones. I looked back but saw no one in the shadows. Even the narrow entrance was now hidden from view. The alley simply disappeared, sucked up by the darkness. I started walking again and then I stopped. stopped. The same scuffle and then that syrup-thick syrup silence. I turned around, dreading what I might see. “Hello?” My voice fell flat to the cobblestones. Beside me, the windows of a shop, their the panes melted and warped with age, threw back disturbing reflections ons of me, sightless eyes staring out at me from under balcony eyelids. Time to get out of here. Just J a couple of seconds until I was back amongst the city streets, the McDonalds and HMV and Nottinghamshire Building Society. I turned my back against the dark da (and did I expect to feel a blade cleave through my shoulder blade?). blade?) I ran the next couple of steps, sure that I could hear the steady echo of the person following me, ran ran and grabbed hold of the lamppost, post, clung to it and looked back to see who was behind beh me. Thee footsteps shuffled to a halt just beyond my view. The light above me flickered. Yellow light turned brown and then died completely. Darkness rushed in to surround me. In my blindness I heard the quick tap of footsteps hurrying towards me, and voices, whispered whisper words I couldn’t understand, too low, too quiet, like a different language. e. A waft of stale air passed, passed, loaded with the stink of rot and disease. Something was coming. I gripped the lamppost, post, something tangible and real amongst the choir of voices chanting words in strange tongues. For a second, just a second but no less real because of its brevity, something crossed the back of my hand. A hand upon mine. Soft. Wet. Cold. The lamplight flickered back into life, but too late - I was already screaming, my voice echoing against the narrow walls of the passage. I whirled whirle around, pole-dancing dancing the lamppost, lamp but there was nothing. No movement in the thin alleyway.


Martin Vickers slowly opened his eyes. He stared at the ceiling, lethargically wondering won where on earth he was, and then remembered his night’s stay at the HealthPlus Sleep Health Centre. Martin tilted his head toward the natural light pouring in through the side window of his sleep-study sleep room. The sun had already risen. He’d done it. Although lthough it had taken weeks of ineffectual treatment, all culminating in an overnight stay attached to a variety of sensors in the Sleep Health Centre, he’d finally gotten a full night’s sleep without the convulsions, the fever-like fever like chills, the nightmares and a nausea he suffered within minutes of dropping off. Martin then did something he’d not done in months. He closed his eyes and went back to sleep. ### “The sleep hygiene’s not doing anything, doctor.” Martin was pale, his eyes bloodshot. “Ditto the sleep diary.” Dr. Kanner looked up from the chart before him. “No caffeine after lunch, right?” “I haven’t touched caffeine since this living hell began.” “No alcohol within six hours of bedtime?” “We’ve already covered this. When it started in mid-July, mid I tried drinking some Guinness before bed, hoping that would send me quietly off to la-la la la land. No such luck. Then I did twenty miles on the stationary nightly, hoping exhaustion would do the trick. Didn’t help. Practically OD’ed on Tylenol PM. Did nothing.” nothing. “We want to avoid sleep aids if at all possible,” the doctor replied, shaking his head. “I still think your body is psychosomatically working through the stress of those lay-offs lay offs you mentioned.” It was now Martin’s turn to shake his head. He managed a team team of mechanical engineers who worked on tunnel monitors for trains. “My area got off easy. We only took one hit and he was able to choose early retirement. That was at the end of last year, way before these night terrors began.” “Night terrors?” hat Cindy, my wife, has begun calling them. Night terrors. This is driving her “That’s what apeshit, too. I’d switch rooms with the baby, but I need Cindy to be there. She wakes me when the writhing starts, when I tangle up the sheets and sweat like a pig... when the screaming creaming begins.” “What does your wife think is causing all this?” Martin shrugged. “Like me, she has no idea. It came out of the blue. Lately, Latel she finds me all foetal in a corner of the bed. She says I’ve taken to breathing as though I’m in Lamaze or something. thing. I’m at the end of my rope, doc.” “Do you remember anything?” “Free-falling. falling. A carnival ride in a swirl of darkness. But I get the sense that something is in there with me - something not terribly pleasant - watching from the shadows, biding its time... time and I’m scared shitless. Cindy wakes me up by this point and I live in fear of dropping off again.” ### Martin opened his eyes again. The digital on the bedside table flipped to 7:20 A.M. Martin couldn’t believe he’d slept in that long. He wanted to stand and cheer. The door to the sleep clinic’s hallway was wide open. Dr. Kanner, an early riser himself, had promised to stop by at six o’clock to review Martin’s sleep patterns with the sleep centre’s technologist. The physician must have glanced inside, inside, seen Martin sleeping like the proverbial baby, and decided to let the poor guy get some more rest. God bless the good doctor. Martin pressed the clicker to alert the technologist that he had woken and to come remove the sensors. 10

Mark Mansfield did not know his neighbours very well. He did not even know their names. Every evening when he checked his letterbox, squeezed between so many others at the foot of the creaking old staircase that led to his first floor flat, he could not help but see his neighbours’ neighbou names. Some were scribbled illegibly, others were neatly printed, and all were inserted into the small plastic window of the tenants’ respective respe letterboxes. Reading the names displayed in front of him was simple enough, but matching them to his neighbours’ neighbours’ faces was another matter altogether. One of them was Nguyen Van Quan, so Mark thought it a safe bet that this name belonged to the aging Asian man he sometimes met on the staircase. The other names, like John Grant, Darren and Sally Ingham or Vincent Franks and Felicity O’Callaghan didn’t so easily reveal the identities of their owners. Although Mark did not know his neighbours, there was one thing he knew about the couple that lived upstairs from him on the second floor. They loved to dance; they were we absolutely crazy about it. At least three times a week they would dance around for hours. Sometimes they danced the tango, other times they danced to African music. The old building was so poorly insulated that Mark could hear everything. It seemed as though though one of them, presumably the man, played the bongo drums while the other, his partner, spun around and shook her body. As far as he could tell it was all some kind of kinky foreplay, and it was more than a little disruptive. Mark wanted to complain to to them, but whenever it came to going up there and interrupting their ritual he changed his mind. He could not do it. He did not want to make enemies with them, and he was afraid that they would think thi that he was jealous because - since Karen had left him - he had nobody to keep him company. It was silly of Mark to think like this, however. His neighbours almost certainly did not know that he was single because he had not yet scratched his ex-girlfriend’s ex name off his letterbox label. Living alone did not bother Mark as much as he had feared it would the day he came home and found Karen doing exactly what she had said she would eventually do; packing her bags. There was no need for blame or anger. Their life together just wasn’t working out the way it should shoul have, and she had been the one mature enough to take the first and final step. At first it had been difficult for Mark to suddenly find himself a bachelor again, but the sadness was not deep and did not last long. He quickly realised that he had not been bee in love with Karen and that they had been together for so long already simply because that was what a man and a woman who fancied each other did. He had gone out to dinner and to the pictures with her for a while, then they had started sleeping over at each each other’s places and then, one day, Mark suggested that it would be cheaper for them to pay one rent instead of two. So Karen moved in with him. It just happened. It was a natural progression that eventually came to an equally natural end. They were not meant for each other, they had never really been in love, at least not the way Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers upstairs seemed to be. Mark did not feel bored or lonely living by himself. He found plenty of ways to occupy his time. He often went to the family home to have dinner with his parents and little sister, and at least twice a week he would meet up with his friends for a few too many pints. Although he refused to admit so to himself, Mark quite liked single life.


The sirens shouldn’t have frightened frightened Asil. The sound was no different tonight than the daily alarms that drifted to the fourteenth floor apartment from the city streets below, yet something about the reckless, urgent shrieks caused the hair on the back of her neck to dance. She made her way to the open window in the living room and slammed it shut. The sirens continued despite her action. Four minutes, eight minutes, seventeen minutes, twenty-two twenty two minutes passed before the sound was abruptly silenced. The sudden quiet proved far more unsettling unsettling than the brash horns of the fire trucks and police cars. Now, Asil was left with nothing to analyze but her own thoughts, and she pictured her mother standing by the doorway, coat on, purse in hand. When Carla Shaw left, she said she’d be back in an an hour. Asil recalled marvelling at her mother’s ability to appear as if she was gazing at her daughter, when in actuality, she had been staring just over Asil’s head. She can’t even look at me, me, Asil remembered thinking. The idea had caused a hateful ache in her chest, and she couldn’t suppress her aggression. “Don’t pretend to care about leaving me alone. Just go already.” Carla recoiled, as if her daughter’s words possessed the brute force of a thrown punch. Surprise and disgust curled her face into an ugly mask; sweat peppered her brow and one cheek twitched, pulling the right side of her mouth into a pseudo-smile. pseudo smile. Carla had one foot in the hallway when she stopped, turned back, and called out mockingly, “Don’t go anywhere.” Asil had fantasized briefly of retrieving the glass paperweight from the foyer table and throwing it at her mother’s head, but she hadn’t the strength or mobility to enact such a cruel but satisfying punishment, so she’d simply watched her mother walk away. That had happened two days day ago. Asil shook the memory away and turned her attention back to the window. The silence outside was short-lived, lived, replaced by a cacophony of typical city sounds: people shouting, radios blaring, horns sounding. A native New Yorker, Asil considered the raucous r symphony commonplace, but today was different. Like the sirens, the seemingly innocuous sounds of the city mildly repulsed her. She opened the window and the restlessness of the sidewalk invaded the room. Asil shoved her face toward the windowpane, hoping for a clear view of the street, but was stopped by the metal window guards that clung like prison bars to the frame. Manhattan landlords required tenants living with a child younger than seven to keep the metal contraptions over each window. Asil had h outgrown that stage of her life nine years ago, but her mother hadn’t noticed the progression. A woman’s terrified scream caused Asil to jump. The mournful howl reminded her of the stray cats in heat that gathered in the alleyway behind the apartment building. building. It was primitive, bestial, and caused a sick, hard cramp in Asil’s gut. Something was happening out there, and her inability to understand the commotion taunted her. She studied the window guard. It could easily be taken down with a Phillips-head head screwdriver, and once she removed it, Asil could witness the disquieting racket firsthand. Below, glass shattered and the murmur of voices increased to a panicked roar. Asil backed away and manoeuvred through the living room headed for the kitchen, where a box of tools resided in a drawer next to the stove. Carla Shaw rarely touched such items. She left that duty to her daughter, who, at an early age, learned how to hang curtain rods and shelving, how to assemble small pieces of IKEA furniture, and most importantly, importantly, how to disassemble the bathroom doorknob when her mother barricaded herself inside with a bottle of OxyContin. Recalling the countless uses for the Phillips-head head in the past, Asil wondered why she hadn’t taken the bars down sooner; they’d always made her feel like a prisoner. 12

There he is again, the man with the muslin veil that hangs limply over his wide-brimmed wide hat. Passersby ignore the table, with its Xeroxed leaflets weighted down with pebbles from the beach, but still flapping in the wind like like demented butterflies, pinned but still alive. “Please sign the petition, Councillor Mergrave,” calls the reedy, muffled voice, “against the new mobile phone mast.” Hilton Mergrave sighs. “I shall take on board your concerns, and make representations in today’s meeting.” The veiled man offers his own dry, crackling laugh, making the gauzy material over his face ripple. The material must have been white once, but Hilton notices a nasty yellowish tinge, darker where the mouth must be. “But you must remember ember that people need good mobile phone reception,” Hilton points out, hiding his growing feeling of repulsion. “That’s why the mast is being built!” “People also need food.” “Yes, of course they do,” Hilton agrees, trying to keep his breakfast down. “But I don’t see what that’s got to do with mobile phones.” “Bees,” the man continues in his grating monotone, “pollinate fruit trees and most other fruit crops. Now their numbers are dwindling. Scientists are wondering why. One theory is that mobile phone microwaves rowaves are interfering with the bees’ guidance systems.” There are no gestures to illustrate the speech. The hands remain tucked under the paste table. The feet however are visible, open-toed open toed flip flop sandals displaying their filthiness. “So that’s why you’re wearing a bee-keeper’s bee keeper’s hat, is it? As a gesture of solidarity?” “No, I wear this veil to protect me from the microwaves,” the man replies quite seriously. “You see, they’ve been interfering with my guidance systems.” Hilton nearly bursts ursts out laughing. “Oh, come on,” he says, “I accept that there has been an alarming decline in the bee population. But I think the cause is more likely to be intensive agriculture than mobile phone masts, don’t you? And,” glancing round pointedly at the various people hurrying indifferently by, “I don’t see many other people stopping to rally to your cause, do you?” The man in the veil says nothing, just tilts his head. The pale muslin shrivels inward at the mouth as the man sucks in a rasping breath. The The material there seems even darker now. Hilton edges away from the table, feeling a purring vibration in his trouser pocket. “Everyone uses them nowadays!” he says. “I don’t,” the man says. “Well, anyway, I must be off - council meeting. I’ll try and plead ead your cause!” When Hilton has put several metres between himself and the stall, he retrieves his phone and checks the message: Hi, Hil. When can we meet to discuss your donation? Edie x x He stops in his tracks. Edie? Then he remembers: the chugger - charity mugger. All eager smiles, golden limbs and hand softly touching his elbow, as she coaxed him to let her take his particulars. He joked that he would be happy to offer her a donation, if she gave him her number. She laughed along, laughed it off, he h wasn’t sure which; you never can tell with these chuggers.


The faint popping sound was almost swallowed by the soft music coming from the old Buick’s speakers. The car’s single occupant reached over without looking and pulled the cigarette lighter free, e, then covered the glow with his other hand as he lit the non-filtered non filtered cigarette that hung from his lips. The glow probably wouldn’t be enough to attract attention, but he wasn’t about to do without heat and smokes, regardless. Still, he cupped the smoke in his left hand and blew it out into the passenger compartment instead of out the open window. He glanced at the radio and it read eleven p.m. in soft, digital letters. Not many cars in the parking lot of the big shopping mall at this time of night, so he he couldn’t risk leaving the engine running. He had not been given enough warning, so he had not been able to collect his client before the paranoia kicked in. The client had run,, and he’d had to pick up the trail on the fly, which seldom worked out cleanly.. That was just one of many things about this evening’s evening s activities that annoyed the lone man; another was that late December was definitely not the time of year to be sitting in a parking lot with no heat, while he waited for all of the holiday shoppers to clear out so that he could do his job. Well, his other job, anyway. On a good day Matt Daniels was a heavy equipment operator working out of the local union. On a bad day, and sometimes even after a good day, the little black pager he always carried reminded him that it was still there. No vacation days away from that little bugger, or personal days off either. And the fact that he was freezing in the parking lot outside of a stupid shopping mall on Christmas Eve proved that holidays were a myth. And all of this because he had once been in the wrong place at the t wrong time and had somehow lived to tell no one about it. Of course, along with that there was also the fact that his left eye had stubbornly insisting on healing after one particularly nasty beasty had tried to claw through it and into his skull. These days Matt’s vision was just a bit more deliberate than it had been. The conventional wisdom of the “people” that should know was that the poison on the creature’s claws had damaged his left eye in such a way that it perceived light in a manner different from the way normal humans perceived it. Matt Daniels could see the hard shadows when everyone else only noticed a blurring on the edges of their vision,, which was easy to ignore. His part-time part time employers had told him how lucky he wass to have kept the eye. They insisted that he was even fortunate to have gained such a unique quality of vision. Matt believed them. He believed them every time he looked into the mirror and saw the thin scars that started above the bridge of his nose and disappeared below his left le ear, missing his eyelid, but cratering a small spot at the top of his cheek. As quietly as possible, he left the vehicle and made his way across the abandoned lot. People were so arrogant, he thought as he slipped up to the doorway. They were so confident confid in what they knew, and in their positionn in the grand scheme of things, but if most of them could see the things t that Matt could see, they wouldn’t sleep so well at night. Or even in the day for that matter. But he shrugged those thoughts aside and fished fished a small device out of one pocket of o his heavy leather jacket, and slowly passed it over the lock a few times until he was rewarded with a soft buzz and a faint click. He spent several moments looking through the glass to assure himself that the security securit guard hadn’t doubled back, then slipped the device back into his jacket and replaced it with a large revolver. Yeah, this one was bound to get messy, he thought as he slipped inside. The paranoia was the real problem. Not N his own, but the clients’.


The empty Chinese takeaway had been firebombed. Some of the boards were ripped down and now a hole yawned black and scorched in what was once a window. window. The recycling bins were upended, ended, dribbling a gray stream of garbage across the street. A slogan was daubed daub on the filthy wood, but fire and the dull rain had smeared the sentiments. Adam couldn’t read whatever justification the fire bombers had left. Hunching against the weather, he limped along brown streets and gray structures. His building was no different nt from any other: just another many-storied,, decaying behemoth looming out of the dank. After a week he was still finding it hard to identify. He groped in damp pockets for his key, just about to unlock the peeling front doors when he heard a muffled sound soun close by. It was a tramp huddled against the narrow steps. His face was was streaked with grime, water dripped offf his nose and long, ratty hair, his ragged clothes glistened with absorbed rain. On impulse, Adam searched his pockets, producing a crushed pack of cigarettes and book of matches, both cold and damp. There were only two cigarettes left; Adam had more up in his flat - dry ones. He tossed pack and matches towards the tramp, opening the front door and blundering into the comparative dryness. He slammed the door shut on any words of thanks. Inside it was dark. The he absentee landlord still hadn’t replaced any of the dead light bulbs along the hallway, corridors or stairwell. Every day it grew dimmer, the uniformity of all six floors augmented by the creeping darkness. The only light filtered in from the wet, gloomy street - it was like trying to see through a dirty mist. He had no idea how many others lived in the converted house; he’d never seen anyone. In the intensifying gloom, it was unlikely he ever would. Adam climbed the ancient stairs to the third floor. He was beginning to shiver - the building was always several degrees colder than outside. He hadn’t been able to dry out his coat properly since he’d moved in. Outside his flat, he had to hold his keys inches from his face to identify the right one. At least inside all of the lights worked; he’d bought plenty of bulbs himself when he’d moved in. He flicked on several lights, revelling in the brightness, careless of the electricity bill. The chaos os it revealed was familiar: a miniature cityscape of crates, boxes and crazily-piled crazily books. He’d get round to sorting it all eventually. Whilst the oven was heating up, up Adam raised the sash window, dug out the fresh pack of cigarettes and lit up. He sat onn an as-yet as unpacked tea chest,, watched the rain falling in the anonymous street, and flicked spent ash through the window, finally tossing the dog end outside to dissolve in the gutter. He heated a tray of frozen lasagne and ate in silence, staring at the blind television screen. It had died last night halfway through a commercial break, and he couldn’t afford a new one. Once he’d finished he grabbed his damp coat and left the flat. The unpacking could wait another night - he fancied a drink down at the pub. b. On the way out he dumped his empty lasagne tray in one of the bins lining the entrance hall. ### The George was a dismal place, as forlorn f outside as it was inside, and all but deserted. Apart from Adam and the barman, there were only three others - all huddled in a dim corner, nursing halfhalf emptied glasses, staring into space. They weren’t talking. Adam bought a pint of bitter and made for a corner of his own. The plastic bench felt sticky and smelled of stale beer. The brown walls were dotted by fadedd prints of boxers and football teams Adam didn’t recognize. He sipped at his drink. drink It tasted watered down. He went back to the bar and bought a whisky - a double. Back in his corner he emptied the scotch into his pint and took another taste. Better. 15

Thee window was open. He had escaped again. Saraya hurried to look out over the sill, but she knew that he was long gone, down the fire escape and into the shadows of the courtyard far below. She called his name, and was answered by the angry voices of neighbours bours telling her to shut up, and by the echo of her voice from the identical building opposite her own. Her son did not answer. A chill breeze came through the open window, not fresh enough to cut the odour of the overflowing dumpsters scattered around the th courtyard. She sat on his bed and cried, and tried to imagine how many tears she had shed for that boy in the course of the fifteen years of his life. The number was beyond estimation. This, she thought as she wiped a sleeve across her eyes, is the life of a mother. No, not all mothers. Some mothers had enough money to make ends meet, had a husband, had children who obeyed and respected. But how could she expect her son to obey and respect her, when he had no respect for anything else? He was well aware of the cards life had dealt him, and he knew that this was a game of stud; no tossing in the bad cards and waiting for the dealer to throw down some new ones, crisp with the hope of better fortune. At least that was the way he saw the world through his adolescent-approaching approaching-ancient ancient eyes, perpetually shaded beneath the hood of his sweatshirt. Saraya, of course, knew better. Life had provided her with two fine teachers: teachers time, and her own mother. And she had tried - Good Lord, how she had tried - to be as wise w and caring and understanding as her mother had been. But things were different then. Rebellion was less lethal then. She opened his closet, took the gym bag down from the shelf, and could tell just from the weight that the gun was still inside. She breathed breathed slight relief between lips that seemed permanently pursed - if he didn’t have the gun with him, he couldn’t shoot anybody. But then the thought burst upon her that her son was also defenceless against someone else who did have a gun. She opened the bag, saw the gun without allowing herself to focus on it, and then realized that the knife was missing. The big, brutal switchblade must be tucked inside her son’s jacket, ensuring that he would not be caught unarmed, and that she would get no rest until he decided to come back home. She had taken so many weapons away from him already, and he always managed to replace them. She had stopped trying. Confining him to his room was worse than ludicrous, but she had not stopped trying that. She went back to herr own room, sat heavily on the sagging mattress, and began to do what she did best. She began to wish. ### They were nothing but faceless shapes in the darkened basement storage room, until one of them thumbed the lighter to life and brought the flame to the bowl of the pipe. The crack hissed as the flame touched it, an unearthly sound, as soft as barely-suppressed barely laughter. Lew liked that sound, and he was not at all happy when a voice from the darkness drowned it out. “Come on, Kareem,” Serious said, a subtle note of derision clinging to his pronunciation of the name. “I didn’t come down here so’s I could watch watch you smoke. Pass the fuckin’ pipe.” Lew’s hand went reflexively to his pocket, his fingertips tracing the outline of the folded knife. “How many times I got to tell you, motherfucker, don’t be callin’ me that.” Lew’s voice made it clear that he was nott just talking tough. Serious remained silent, unwilling to make a verbal retreat, but just as unwilling to advance on an unpredictable enemy.


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Urban Horror Special Issue, edited by Tommy B. Smith. Featuring fiction by Spencer Wendleton, David Turnbull, Laurence Klavan, Stanley Riiks...

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