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Twisted Tongue Magazine Issue 12 Welcome to Twisted Tongue Magazine issue twelve. Packed with thousands of words—larger than a standard novel—over 95,000 words for your enjoyment. There should be something in this issue for everyone … if not, then let us know. Twisted Tongue is a magazine unlike any other … here you will find works that are twisted and we don’t mean ones with a simple twist. This magazine is for those 18 and over. In this issue, you’ll read about twisted, evil Santa’s, queer reindeer’s, a justice system with a twist, a coma victim, a tale about knights and much more. This issue I’ve chose C M Clifton’s poem Killer Artist for Ed’s Choice. Meet Matt Browne and Dr Kim Paffenroth in our interviews. In the articles you’ll make the acquaintance of Harry Hughes. Read the final part of Caroline Barnard-Smith’s novella The Undead Alliance. And dive into C J Carter Stephenson’s novella The Threat From Within. And don’t forget about Twisted Tongue’s free book giveaway—turn to the back page now! Our thanks to all of our wonderful contributors … and of course, to you, our readers. Enjoy your twisted read… Editor – Claire Nixon Reading Team Claire Nixon Steve Fitzsimmons Darren McCormick Michael Acton John Thomson Deborah Rey Paul Zealand

Interviews – James Hazlehurst & Claire Nixon Articles – Alexander James Cover Image – Steve Upham

Book Excerpts The Bait Shack by Harry Hughes 18 The Future Happens Twice – The Perennial Project by Matt Browne 45

Published by Claire Nixon in the UK. All rights revert to contributors upon publication. The contents of this publication may not be reproduced without consent of the author/artist and editor. Any similarities to persons or places mentioned in the stories or illustrations to persons living or dead or actual places are entirely coincidental. Opinions expressed within these works are not necessarily those of Twisted Tongue.

Artwork: © stock.xchng & respective artists 2008 Website: www.twistedtongue.co.uk Email: twistedtongue@blueyonder.co.uk

A Most Genre Offer – Karen Cole Peralta 2 The Red Man – Aliya Whiteley 7 A River Too Distant – Harry Hughes 13 Thank You For Your Service – Bill Schweizer 26 Bred in the Bone – Jeff Gardiner 31 And Thank You for Driving Carefully – John Morgan 34 Descent to Ascension – Gary Hewitt 37 Dark Solitude – Paul Johnson 48 You’d Better Watch Out – Janey Brewer 50 Ice and Fire – Brian Wright 53 The Most Wonderfully Selfish Time of the Year – Jessica Lynne Gardner 56 On the Beach – Robert Knox 59 Seeing Things – Aaron A Polson 61 Burning Bush: A Christmas Miracle – Theodore Carter 67 The Never Leaves – S H Hughes 69 Quietus – K S Nixon 72 The Regulars – Tina Koenig 75 Blood Brothers – Jade Eckert 78 Bedtime Story – Ginny Swart 82

Flash & Micro Fiction

A Promise Kept – C M Clifton The Applicant – S H Hughes On Top of the World – Oonah V Joslin Something to Remember Me By – C M Clifton Restorative Justice – Jonathan Pinnock When Squirrels Stay Awake in Winter – David Towsey Internet Dating – Tonya L Lambert Cold Comfort – John Morgan A Morbid Christmas Tale – Alexander Salas The View from the Top – Jim Steel Dear Cleaner – Glen Batchelor Decorations – Ben Eubanks Like Father, Like Daughter – Mel Fawcett Haunting Herod – Jeff Carter What Goes Around – Lynette Mejia Raw Recruit – Rebecca Nazar

Poetry

Proofers Deborah Rey Tim Reed Darren McCormick Paul Zealand

Fiction/Poetry: © respective authors 2008

Short Stories

The Fat Guy’s Birthday – Colin Campbell Between the Lines – Jonathan Pinnock Worst Still Waiting – Brian Rosenberger Something Worse – Brian Rosenberger Apologia – Dr Charles Frederickson Inshallah – Dr Charles Frederickson Christmas Haiku – Greg Schwartz Rudolph the Nazi Reindeer – Ramona Thompson Rudolph the Queer Reindeer – Ramona Thompson Nipped Buds – Dr Charles Frederickson Alone Together – Dr Charles Frederickson Memory Noir – Jonathan Hayes The Pond – Jonathan Hayes Chinatown – Jonathan Hayes Mad – Jonathan Hayes Santa’s Jolly Ol’ Laugh – Peter Egypt No U-Turns – Dr Charles Frederickson You’ve Been Canvassed – Sherie Davis Wicked – Lynette Mejia A Grim Affair – P S Gifford Killer Artist – C M Clifton Baby’s Breath – C M Clifton The Widow – C M Clifton Xmas in July – Lynn Tait Ballad of Sandra Claus – Len Hecht Spirit of Xmas – Luigi Monteferrante The Orphan – Luigi Monteferrante Please Sing Me a Reindeer Song – R Jay Slais

25 30 30 33 36 40 52 58 60 70 71 73 74 74 81 83 6 8 16 16 19 19 29 35 35 39 39 47 47 47 47 49 52 55 55 62 68 68 68 68 77 80 80 83

Novella

The Undead Alliance – Part 4 – The Undead Revolution – Caroline Barnard-Smith 20 The Threat From Within – C J Carter Stephenson 84

Articles

Nine Weeks to Write it, Nine Years to Right it Valentine Chronicles

Interviews

An Interview with Matt Browne An Interview with Dr Kim Paffenroth TWISTED TONGUE 1

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A Most Genre Offer Karen Cole Peralta

Previously Published by The Deep Blackberry Pit fanzine (Slow pan right to the usual eerie shot of Rod Sterling, in colour this time, standing there with that maddening know-it-all smirk on his face.) …what happens when someone crosses the line into the reality of her wildest dreams, only to find that the end of them is closer than she thinks? Picture if you will, a woman who wants only to live life to the fullest, who finally finds herself stepping smartly into … the Eventide Zone.

A

s though it knew of my presence, the white park bench embraced both me and the snow. I stretched slowly, yawning, taking a content appraisal of my surroundings. Covered in newspapers that crinkled and floated off me as though all was suddenly well, I simply stood up as the snow caressed my face. Why was the park bench white? It seemed odd. I remembered being so hungry, and lying down in Central Park to sleep. I was very cold. I knew it was somewhere near Yuletide. But I had no home, no place to go to celebrate the holidays. My husband had been cruel to me. I had ended up outside, asleep on a bench. The newspapers had been my last refuge of warmth, and they now blew around my chilly feet. I was standing, and had a touch of my former disability, which involved turning left. Patting my head with the flat of my hand, I discovered my handicap had rather abated, which was a nice feeling, and I heard a female scream to my immediate right. It echoed around in my head like a narcissistic wail of mistaken ecstasy. It was regal, absurdist, and I knew better. She was in trouble. I suddenly bent over in a humble bow, like I was reintroducing my Marsha Larts self to me. I could trash me. Had I done so? Was I dead at last? Running would be best. I must not be thinking straight, I mused. Therefore, I had best get over there, and see what I would be interfering with. Toddling off in that general direction, I found a tragic panoply of a winter’s scene. There were four young guys. Three of them lined up to one side on my right, and the dude to my left was clearly the leader. He had a rather menacing looking long knife in one hand, and was threatening “the girl” with it. She was simply standing there, laughing, held in another’s arms. The leader started tossing his knife from one hand to the other ever so lightly. I was watching, and clearly looked intrigued, like I rather enjoyed the sight—to fool them. She was laughing merrily, lines of drug tracks on her arms, and was “grabbing the strawberry” like crazy. That means she was enjoying her last moments. Guy was going to slice and dice her. I thought, hey, it’s my turn. I am, after all, Marsha Larts! Don’t I hate all such rippings? Maybe I shouldn’t … what is … caring? Isn’t it what Christmas is all about? I thought squeamishly. It’s true that my husband knew more martial arts than I ever would, I mused to myself. But he only used them for self defence, and when he got defensive he was impossible to appreciate. He had given me a permanent disability while I was under his tutelage, and the general shape I’d been in lately was lousy. Sometimes I felt like I’d lost all ability to feel—about myself or anyone else. Still, that girl needed help, or I would be stuck observing her murder. So I grabbed her left arm, swiftly jerking her away from there, and danced The Unexpected. I moved right into place as “the girl”, as Laughing Boy behind me took me right into his big ol’ arms. But he was shaking with laughter, certain about what would happen next.

Everybody seemed to be having a great old time, and most of their seasick emotion eluded me completely. I was sober, and they were under water, filled with alcohol and crystal meth. I stood there smiling, and said, “You look like a great leader, guy. Say, what’s that?” “Huh?” he said, his Male Self suddenly alerted to the presence of a wise gal. He stood perfectly motionless, getting his drug-tired self to reappraise the situation. Which made a perfect moment to Japanese-karate-style sidekick him. You see, I really didn’t know what knives are. That was indeed unexpected. The knife went flying, I pulled the right arm of the guy holding me simultaneous to that moment of lurching time, just as I twisted sharp too, and I was out of there. I took off, running like the wind, but knew I was going to run out of it. Like a character in a movie, I tried to relish the moment of my demise, while fleeing. I was grabbing that final strawberry, as they had told me to do in Karate Class. I wondered why they had prepared me to die. I would only be unconscious forever … was that what my husband, the one who had hurt me, had wanted? No, he was too altogether into dying for me. Unfortunately, I was now headed down a weirdly angled city street. Curious and a little off in my timing, I started to lose “running abilities” as I right-angled into an obvious dead-end ally. I was slipping on the snow, and surely was heading toward my downfall. I slid into the alley, and saw the end of the road— and death. Tears began streaming down my freezing cheeks, and froze instantly. Wheeling around, I grabbed two frost-covered trash can lids that were handy. I thought maybe I could distract the thugs, as I could at least lift those things. They weighed about as much as sea foam. I lifted Flotsam and Jetsam, waving them around at the oncoming pack of guys. They definitely had all their Larger Knives out now. I didn’t matter. Somehow that girl did. I would at least die fighting. Then, something swooped straight out of the cold and isolated darkness itself, and clobbered their leader. I could tell it was an evil thing, not a good thing, that was so swooping and darting and ploughing through their faces like several sledgehammers leading at once into nowhere. “Languages, once written, can never be taken back or destroyed,” came a voice into my head, clear as a bell, like the insanity around us. The trash can lids, as though disappointed, drooped down to my Marsha Larts sides. For indeed, my name was not that, and something most intriguing had shown up. I kept up a brief time of holding trash can lids before me as I felt their coldness sink into my grasping fingers. It, whatever it was, seemed to be a ninja made of no substance, and it took out the other three one at a time as they looked up, robbed of their easy victory. Then the moving shadow of a sudden took the shape of a very large man. “Jesse Jackson? Not the dead Bruce Lee? … No, Vlad Tepes,” I muttered under my disgruntled gasping breath, referring to Compte Dracula, the Moslem ruler who had killed the 700 Christians of The 700 Club. “Jim Crow?” Was this a racist figure, with which to spook superstitious blacks? Nah, I thought, honest to gosh, from an even older Italy … Pierrot …?” A sombre doll this, one with lengthy black horns on his head, and yet somehow it was so. And finally, I thought to myself, the thing somehow smacked of a medieval Jewish knight. But that was not what Pierrot had been, though, quite. Out of nowhere, I was smack dab in the middle of the Commedia del’Arte, the centuries old farce of farces, of the clown and the serious man. It was ancient, Mediterranean, and mystical. What could I make of the serious man? Pierrot had been white, handsome, and held up a head of straight black hair. He had contested with the curly haired Harlequin the Madcap Clown for Columbine the Beautiful, lost, and then hung himself due to losing his “wife.” It was the woman he was going to marry. That was the Italian “del’Arte” thing, I recalled so vaguely from my dreams. It dawned on me;

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this black, masked and still hard to see figure must indeed be … Pierrot. “No,” said this deeply masculine but vaguely boyishsounding voice, “I’m Me.” I thought: I can’t believe how much I feel at this moment of time. I’m disappointed. I had lost the fight. It would have taken less time if I’d been killed. What did this now mean? I had risked my life to save another’s—for what? For this? You see, it simply wasn’t Vlad Tepes, or any such vampire, knight, Kung Fu artist, medieval Moslem leader or Italian farce comedy star who was standing there before me. I immediately phased into an abject terror mixed with my lack of disability, changing into a childish sense of wonder. No it couldn’t possibly be … Bateman. How understated. The snow blew about in the alley, swirling around his draped costume, the grey and blue-black suit of The Bateman, a mere comic strip, book and movie character. “Who are you? What do you think you’re doing?” was said to me in this deep, bell-like carefully measured tone of an actual someone trying to reach an actual someone else. I choked, reaching for my own knowing throat. I had something very strange to tell him, as though it now gripped my brain, and I knew what it was well in advance. He only thought I was “one of them,” a street punk, and was trying to “reach me.” Was it possible that I was like Columbine, and that Old Italian Farce, so faded in the echoes of time, had caught up with me? Was it my turn to dance away, off the cliff and into infinity? Surely—not with him. Not with such a laughable premise! Why, this was evidence of the downfall of Western civilization! Because he really was “The Bateman.” And he was angry at me, for so much as existing, for being what he wasn’t; what was he? A comic book superhero, or Pierrot? I knew what I had seen back there, and my mind was screaming that as much as this looked like Bateman or The Bateman, it was indeed the old Italian serious man. He was standing there, thinking. I dropped both trash can lids with a loud clatter as “one of them” took off running and made it to elsewhere. Must have been an onlooker. The other three boys had been flattened. I achieved a wise gal look on my face, and shrugged. My husband was a tall Semitic Jew, nonpracticing, who to me had always looked a lot like the Jester. I’d always thought it to be a mere coincidence. Now I had to stop and wonder … could it be? He had told me that though Jewish, he hated all Hebrew people. He was somehow anti himself. The Jester … that would absolutely have to be Harlequin, from The Harlequinade. Nothing, nowhere, and no one else. The Madcap Clown himself. But now Bateman was going to arrest me, or something. And the Jester had reeked summarily all along of being Harlequin. The many bright colours of his costume clearly showed it. That comical character of yore, which was surely now going to take vengeance against me through such a ridiculous proxy as this—The Bateman.

V

engeance—again? Harlequin had won so many times at the Harlequinade. He had made fun of the police, and he had practically pulled the rope that had hung Pierrot when the serious man had finally suicided … from losing Columbine to him. If anything ever began to happen, or if “Bateman” there ever even moved. Snow swirled coldly about us both as he stood patiently watching me. A final clatter of noise seemed to hum in the background, as if some cars were nearby. I squeamishly thought to myself about this. The Jester had started out as a “grubby” Jew in Detective, in the very first panel of the very first comic book strip he had appeared in, December of 1940. Harlequin had lost his battle in the eventual death throes of the Harlequinade, so long ago. He was not “pure.” Racism had pulled its own ancient strings, one way or another. Harlequin was either too boring or too evil, and therefore Detective had found their victim, someone to lampoon as a villain, apparently. Casting him as a Jewish miser was fairly

typical of their occasionally dismal style. A clown to contest with a vampire, for the kids buying “all in colour for a dime” funny books. Bateman had merely been a Suprememan ripoff, a detective as a superhero. I remembered it. My husband, on either the same or the other hand, had not been any too heroic. He was a curly black-haired clown. He had been up until now my loving and laughter-ridden companion of many years, and we had practiced the martial arts together. But I have already told you about him. He wasn’t … nice. And this weird guy in front of me didn’t look any better than him. If anything, he was meaner, tougher and more domineering than my mate. And younger. He now recalled to me nothing more than a black suited boxer, or perhaps a pro wrestler. The Bateman, or whoever he was, remained motionless, with that cape surrounding him like an enormous black wrapper. Then he shrugged it off with one arm. He stood there silently, as if appraising me. I briefly wondered if I was good-looking at all to “The Bateman.” For some strange reason, I was wearing a short sleeved shirt and shorts, which didn’t help much in the cold. Who was this guy really, and why was he dressed up as … the dark knight? “You are going to tell me what your role in this is,” Brice Wayne breathed into my errant ear from too far away. Something told me this man was somehow named that, memories and fleeting impulses did. I had used to read scads of those silly comic books while growing up. And indeed, I had shown that “cop” there fighting capabilities, and had to deal with him— while at the same time trying to figure out what to tell this … human being. “Yes, you’re right, Brice,” I muttered, “Good old martial arts are to save only me. Self defence.” I had to droop down to Columbine’s status in my innocence. She was, I think, the innocent ingénue of that old Italian farce. “After all, it’s always self defence, isn’t it? “What are you doing here?” was said in this quizzical Italianesque voice, one that enveloped my soul with deeply baritone overtones of stolid hurt-you Cop. He would kill me, his voice implied, if I so much as moved. Wondering briefly if this subhuman monster ever molested people, I shrugged again. “Thought so,” I breathed, it is indeed Bateman, and Suprememan is nowhere in the vicinity of … “Is this Gothic City?” I wincingly asked him. I realized that whoever he was, he could kill very quickly. “You know where you are, do you?” he asked me back. It sounded like he was pumping me for information. Maybe he didn’t know me at all. It sounded like a command taken strictly for an early grave. I thought, does this man read minds? He used to clobber my ferocious husband on a regular basis, somewhat. My husband? But that had been my one true love, not The Jester. It was surely a coincidence that they looked so … alike. My husband often liked to dress colourfully. A strange coincidence, that’s all. If this was Bateman, wherever I was, what did that make me? Who was I? Surely, no, I was not Columbine! That was only Columbine High School, where something awful had happened, too. The black suited Bateman-like kids had shot some of the other kids at a high school. I was not seeing Bateman. I was dreaming, but everything was real. And I had a feeling my hair had gone right back to being a bright and cherry coloured red, as when I was a teenager. And what was worse, at an earlier point in time, I had been named Karen Louise Cole … Schwarz. “Climb on my back, and up we go. On board now.” What? I thought, as weird fantasies go, this one should disappear rapidly. Maybe if I shut my eyes, it would all go away. But I had to open them and go over there, and be next to him. It was like a command from a very serious man, and I was utterly forced to obey it. I moved behind him, and got on his back. We were heading up the building at a rapid pace, and I barely had time to clutch those broad shoulders as that Damned Jock went straight up the alley wall. I saw the technical equipment, trembled, and grew dismal. I finally had to say it.

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“Is Harlequin really my husband?” I screamed aloud as we made it over and plumped like bricks, my knees bouncing without too much pain, onto the rubbery roof of the building. That Giant Sucking “Moslem” or Musselman who had once been my childhood God and Hero stood there, looking at me as though I were something that was only vaguely amusing. I don’t weigh that much, I thought, as he led me over to some metal pipes. I felt very embarrassed and ashamed of myself. “No, but he’s probably only your basic hilarious Jewish ‘sidekick.’ I’ve met several of those. Remember Jerry Lewis? Actually, he was the main guy and Dean Martin was the sidekick. Did you ever watch their movies? I never had the time to enjoy ….” Before he could finish, I cut him off curtly. “Take care of my girl, Woman Hater,” I muttered as he chained me to the old, grey pipes sticking out of a slab of concrete, probably something worth studying as I was going to be standing there for awhile. I meant the girl I had earlier saved by this curt comment. She was surely wandering around out there somewhere. “So that’s what you are, a woman hater?” was chuckled as he simply clicked the handcuffs into place. They were loose, and I was suddenly on a long leash. How long I would be standing there, I didn’t know, time enough to find what to tell this overdressed wombat or whatever it was who was calmly leaving me. “Oh and Satan, there, would you go look out for my … girl?”—He was gone. Quite disappeared, having hopped off the roof like a demented humungous chocolate bunny the size of a football linesman. I didn’t even know what those were actually called. How had I placed that sidekick back there, I wondered. First time in my life I’d ever really done that. I’d karate sparred with my husband, but he’d always won. That was my husband, the one who … had done what? Something, I knew. I watched the snow fill the space where Bateman had been. I knew why he’d done that. He went looking for her. Maybe she needed more help. Surely that was it. She was wandering around in the cold. I thought, maybe he’s right to have chained me. I wouldn’t have stood there forever. Maybe I would have jumped off, merely to see if I could fly. Perhaps Bateman knew what I was! Cold, tired, and a little too well off. Where was my old and familiar disability, though? I was “on Earth Primus,” having landed from plain old Earth, the planet that wrote about the adventures of Bateman, etc. Somehow I needed to tell him so when he got back. Meanwhile, to wait the time out, I thought of The Girl. Why was there another planet full of us … victims? Why was my disability vanished, why was there air, what is Gothic City? Dear God, it was everywhere I could see. Is Gotham City in New Jersey? I looked around, and the place seemed to materialize before me, as if it was an area of New York City that lay untrammeled by its acres of skyscrapers. Coated whitely all about me, as far as my blinking eyes could grasp, roofs peaked and sloped so that I could only gauge everything for a short distance. I sighted along the minaretted rooftops of a gleaming silver-grey neighbourhood. But several monumental buildings stretched in a greyly sprawling, spreading group, overpowering in their rugged austerity and achingly far away, forcing themselves into my newly heightened sense of awestruck wonder. This city contained— held insanely—many dozens and even more of them. There were the usual NYC-style shining tower shapes of rectangles, but inhabiting a much bigger metropolitan area. The whole gigantic sprawl of a city could only be described as unspeakably huge, gargantuan, spread out further than my eyes could see. And I suddenly realized none of it was blurry. I could see without my glasses. I thought, possibly all I could ever see was Gothic, from this low and relatively flat crowded rooftop anyway, and what part of “town” was I in? It looked like one district, almost carefully laid out, but with the usual sudden erratic problems of individual, grainy structures that inhabited their huge vista of space. It was a city, yet like none other I’d seen before in my thirty-five years of life. It hit

me that a younger me would die to explore a city like that. I would haunt its snug little shops, read its newspapers, and drink its exquisite coffees. The VIEW! As it slowly appeared, it was a gargantuan of monolithic colour. Sounds of beeping cars and grinding busses pulling up to curbs festooned my ears. This WAS Gothic City. Greens, blues, silvers, reds, purples, sparkling golden were the twinkling lights of the distance between us. Astonished, I strongly yearned to head for the Heaven that was obviously out there. What was that like at night for the Bateman? The place needed Gabriel’s Trumpet to announce it. In the broad daylight, it made Frisco’s sunset mall of loveliness look like a distant memory. It made NYC’s looks become a pale comparison study. It dwarfed Dallas, Texas in its own beautifully symmetrical way. There was no weight on those floating lights, as though the swirling colourful palette of an actual artistic hand had drawn it all for a comic book spectacular issue. I could finally see All in Colour for a Dime. Gothic City lived and breathed all around me, although I had a clutching thought about drug abuse, ladies of the evening, and cheap hotel rooms. And I knew I was too old for it. I took one deep in breath, and all of the pollution was mysteriously missing. And yet I smelled a cheerful breezy air all about me. Were there bloods out there researching? Did anything of the black race have a chance against the supposedly chosen people? The group I’d fought were as white of trash as I had ever seen. Surely there were black heroes about, brown wonders with strange …. I’m imagining this dream I’m having here, I thought. What in the world did such a juxtaposition mean? How could there be drug abuse in such a situation as this? Surely there weren’t enough jobs available. The city bustled too harshly, beauty that she was. There was crime in this trap of a Queen. Maybe Metropolis, being King, did not have enough resources to spread them around. Maybe NYC, the Jack somewhere nearby … I got randomly lost in speculation. What the Jester had to do with such a very odd deck of cards. Such a Heaven on Earth deserved to be only entered by young lovers, and the young at heart who could jam their millions of souls into a steady stream of hotel rooms. They were appearing, the antlike people, bustling on the streets, zooming at a brisk walking pace into and out of the glassy, glistening hotels … the word “hotels” didn’t do those buildings justice. I would die gladly to keep such a city clean. I was young again, able again, and the immense broad gargantuan that was The Big City was finally there, after having been hinted around at poorly before. There were superior, colourful babies being born at those hospitals over there. Or were they being torn to ribbons to seek out the chosen people, and experimented upon? Where they were being torn to blind rags in order to make others valiantly see? I could get the right job in that thing. I would become an office ant for it. The girl I had saved deserved it, she was so young and so pretty and so utterly heartless. She could do such office work. She was young enough to be trained for it. But I knew I wasn’t that age … I was supposed to be billowing with weight and over-the-hill anymore, feeling too goddamned good to remember how terrible of a physical condition I’d been in lately. I checked my nubile body out, finding it altogether female and there, and smiled lazily to myself. I must be drunk on some new wine. I was wearing a green cotton top and my old baggy army shorts, which showed off my legs extremely well, and for some reason I felt better than I ever had in my life. My legs felt eerily like they had no colour, and all of them. I’d definitely been “fixed” by someone. Yes, I was real, but most of my disability was gone, and I turned to the right, feeling so much better about myself and hoping that Suprememan or Supremegirl was watching. Frowning, I knew it had to be one of those two who’d done it, and made me be this way. Can’t trust anyone else, I spurted out in a laugh. I had not been sliced and diced, at least. I’d had a Mexican friend who’d thought the Justice Legion of America in the comic books, of which Bateman had been the vice president, was actually the Ku

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Klux Klan. He hated them completely. But I thought they’d make an excellent Greek chorus for this tragic play. That, that, I laughed, I’ll wake up from this soon enough, suddenly thinking of The Girl and her nonexistent life; he’s out there trying to chase her down, and she’s a “druggie” who thinks she’s fine. Perhaps she’s Columbine, I gasped! What was her name? He’s talking to her, I figured, and I “got jealous,” after having had a decent go at trying to help her. But maybe she always had a rotten life. He probably wasn’t beating her up. Most cops don’t really do that. They try to help. But he might have her down on her back in a cheap motel, somewhere. I hated him. Anyway, maybe he took her home. Perhaps I was only Pierrette. She was the least important character in the ancient Italian mystery play. She was supposed to marry Pierrot … that’s right, and she didn’t. She merely slipped offstage. Did she end up hanging herself, too? I was all hung up on the handcuffs. I looked at the edge of the building roof, longing to jump off it and die. Columbine had danced off a cliff, and I totally had forgotten what had happened to Pierette. It was so cold. I began shifting my legs back and forth to keep myself warm. Would “Bateman” ever return? The very thought of it made me sick. Surely, that was a new form of cop who knew martial arts, all dressed up as Bateman. I was in New York City still, and this was only a dream. Furthermore, they were really doing it, and I had read about it in the newspapers, near the stories about the gangs of teens who were raping, knifing and killing people in Central Park. Some dream. I breathed, sighed, looked out into Gothic City. Might be worth exploring. Might be like NYC of my wildest dreams. I cackled suddenly and clamped my own hand over my mouth. Then “the sight” happened. He looked mildly tired as he climbed back over the roof. He strolled over to me, as though something was on his mind. Or Mind? Let’s see, these guys are more highly evolved life forms than me, sort of like the X-Men from Marvel, but slower or something, and human enough to relate to. Or, he’s just some bastard of a ludicrous cop. I showed him what I thought of this with deep tiredness on my face. Let’s see what he does with that, I reflected. “Yeah. So, who do you think I am?” The very idea startled me out of my reverie. I hadn’t expected him to say anything like that, so fiercely and protectively, so deeply. The voice there was quite austere, was letting me know what I was, and was angry at me. I paused, gathering myself, and said, “Who, me? Uh unh. I’m an ex-journalist, sorta like—Clark Kane, your buddy Suprememan there—but my name’s … Marsha. Do you know what’s up with that?” “What’s up with what?” Said harshly, slowly, almost movingly. I nearly wretched my lunch out with the aching and utter disappointment I felt, even though I was hungry. It was true! This was a weird new police tactic, not Bateman!

W

hat had I been thinking, I grabbed myself and inwardly shouted, no, this is not Bateman! I have to collect my soul, and tell him off. Now. “Brice, I know who you are. This is Earth Primus,” I choked into my palm. “Remember C. Bates? The guy who rewrote all your stories, changed your suit, put a yellow circle around the bat on your chest, and re-established everything about your planet? The hippie writer for Detective? That didn’t exactly hit your newspapers, did it?” All that spilled out of my mouth, spewing out beyond my capacity to understand. I had to say it; there was nothing else to say. Maybe if I played along with the farce, “Bateman” would confess his falseness. “Okay,” said the same voice, sounding totally tired. “What are you doing here? No, come home with me, and … I’ll show you where I’m living … right now.” I remembered that The Bateman didn’t necessarily get a lot of sleep at night. “So you do read minds? But I’m married ….” I stumbled out, feeling extremely embarrassed. What I’d said. No, that was not right. I breathed to myself, thought it wasn’t, and collected myself. “Please remove the handcuffs.”

“Of course. Calm down. You’re riding piggyback all the way home.” Okay, I thought. And I told him what I remembered of my entire life story as we swooped through the enormity that was Gothic City down to the car. It was tumultuous and too lengthy to herein describe, but scared me a little less. “James Band of NYC, you homebody you, oh Haunter of Gothic City, don’t … something me,” I breathed into his comicbook ear. I was sure his real ones were somewhere under those Mr. Spock-like protrusions. Maybe he wouldn’t do that. No, he wouldn’t cut off those ears. “No, I’m technically deaf today,” he intoned like a distant church bell. We made it to the car. Good old … Batemobile. We landed with a pronounced thump, and I staggered over to it, my head reeling from all that. The car looked so weird, and yet so normally familiar. My parents had owned a lengthy Cadillac with tailfins. “You must be used to soaring. Swoop and snatch. I mean, you like Suprememan, you! You will not take anything unacceptable out on me, who am, is, surely imagining this. Not!” He’s dressed up as the enemy, I reasoned out, slowly, over a long period of time. “No, it’s not. I’m not. Get into the car, vagabond. And do exactly what I say.” Who knows what he was making of my knowledge of his identity. Probably wants me to stay at home all day. What will we do while I’m trying to stay faithful to my husband? But he had done something terribly wrong, my usually sweet man had, something undeniably hideous—which I could not remember. It seemed in a dismal blur to have to do with my husband’s breaking open my breastbone, ripping my screaming chest open, and tearing out my … soul. It had hurt. There’d been great pain and blood, everywhere. Then I’d passed out. “‘Nkay,” I blurredly intoned as he opened the car door. I was wobbling on my feet after the wild and windy ride. It had taken some time, and it was growing dark outside. I was staring at the car, which looked pristinely black, but menacing. He nodded, while looking carefully at my head, and blithely he ducked my entire body down into the vehicle. I sat there waiting as he climbed artistically, the same old familiar moving shadow, down into his own side. “Whatever you do, don’t turn me over to, uh, them,” I suddenly said. “The JLA.” “What, the Justice Legion of America?” Who were those, I mused, that group of superheroes with their own Earth-centred satellite, of which The Bateman was supposedly a member—or something like the B’nai Brith or the Italian Anti-Defamation Legion? Strangers in suits, who fought for civil rights? Or was the Justice Legion of America only the Ku Klux Klan, like my Mexican friend had told me before? He had really hated the JLA and would never read their comic books. That “Bateman” the concept was mas o menos a racist ode to a version lower-than-Suprememan—of the Black Man—had probably hit him too. It seemed an accident, yet Bateman was clearly not as powerful as Suprememan. Meanwhile, I was with that same racist cartoon character. Where to now? “No sweat. We’re going to my apartment, and we’re leaving for there starting right now. You’ll be safest at home, o careless female. You know too much. You’ll have to stay put while I figure out what we should do with you.” The car swiftly fired up, and we were out of that shadowy back alley after all of the vehicle’s systems had shut on—too rapidly for me to follow. I sat back, lurching not at all. “So tell me why we’re moving so fast and easily.” “Might be Suprememan,” intoned The Voice of The Bateman, “But this incredible journey is mostly being brought to you by me, a lot of technical equipment including ozone positors that you can’t possibly understand, and my need to fill you in is … nonexistent.” Long pause. “As yet.” “Understood,” I whispered ramblingly, glancing around. We were on the freeway pretty fast, honking at exactly one fannish driver. I guessed the guy was just saying hello. The Batemobile

TWISTED TONGUE 5


strutted neatly to her own purring repose, nonchalantly manoeuvring into place as though circumscribed lines and angles were all around, guiding and lighting her way. The snow was glistening, streaked by the side windows without affecting them, and in an instant was melting. The same gorgeous sight, Gothic City, was still out there. Now it was starting to “jewel up,” or become lustrous with the many bright lights of late evening, reminding me of one time I’d entered San Francisco at night. It was so beautiful. “I finally broke down and thought about ‘her’,” I said, to measure his mental telepathy. I nonchalantly waited. Nothing. “I mean the car. No, ‘the girl.’ What happened? What did she turn into? A beastly parking garage?” That’s when the Batemobile suddenly dove downward into a midnight blue underground garage, after doing a swift swoop straight off the freeway. We were in an enclosed space, deep underground. The Bateman turned to me, and whipped his demonic mask off. I was gape mouthed again, because I couldn’t believe what I saw. What I shouldn’t have been able to see, three mere inches away from my face. Love. And so I waited for The Bateman’s considerate reply, as the cold beneath and around us slowly melted. A cocoon of warmth emanating straight from the sun surrounded us, and I heard Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s old poem about Xanadu, something about “… weave a circle round him thrice, and close your eyes with holy dread, for he on honey-dew hath fed, and drunk the milk of ….” “The Girl, Brice. What did she turn into?” I interjected. “I turned her into rehab, and you don’t care about her at all. You are now with me, with me you will stay forever, and there will be no more running around rescuing people. Got that? Leave that to us. Good. Oh, and by the way ….” “What?” I breathlessly asked Brice Wayne, who with his mask off looked very dark, male and awesomely handsome. In a way beyond telling, one that wasn’t strictly … human. Looking down shyly, I noticed the black bat symbol on his massive chest. It wasn’t really a picture of a bat. It seemed to emblemize something else, like a massive gaping wound. I remembered that Bateman was sometimes called “The Dark Knight.” And I recalled he’d been nicknamed “The Caped Crusader.” Didn’t those titles have to do with the Crusades? There had been Jewish, Christian, and Moslem knights, I realized. Had Pierrot been one of their number? I had heard Jesus Christ invented vampire bats.

It was as if something had happened to him, because of something having happened to me. I blinked, looking again, and the symbol was back to being a filled-in outline of a black, “campy” bat, surrounded by the yellow glowing moon that Cary Bates had long ago supplied. I had a feeling the Commedia del’Arte was over. Finally. “Happy Holidays, my dear Marital Arts,” the Bateman sighed, taking off one glove and cradling my small chin smoothly in his large, tawny hand. “Ever hear of a legal matter called getting a divorce? Works much better than running away. If you’re hungry, there’s plenty of food upstairs. By the way, I’m cooking our dinner. What do you like? Chinese, Thai … Italian?” “I love spaghetti. What happened to Alfred?” “He’s still around. He has tonight off.” (Cut a long, slow pan to Rod Sterling, who isn’t smiling as usual, as he never did at the end of each episode. Instead, he’s wincing mildly—as if in great pain about the unknown.) …and such is the tale of a simple woman who came to a startling realization about a potentially Christian, or presumably otherwise, winter’s holiday. One that could be portrayed by almost anything, such as: a batlike symbol; a tawdry joke by a fat, unsmiling black man as a TV show’s earnest host; or a somewhat realistic hero who could save a nice, brave lady from something far, far worse than a storytelling white man like me … the Eventide Zone. © Karen Cole Peralta

Executive Director and President of Rainbow Writing, Inc., Karen Cole Peralta writes. RWI at http://www.bookauthorswriters.com/ and http://www.rainbowriting.com is a world renowned inexpensive professional freelance book authors, ghost writers, copy editors, proof readers, coauthors, manuscript rewriters, graphics and CAD, publishing helpers, and website developers international service corporation.

The Fat Guy’s Birthday

Colin Campbell

Guess it must be Father Christmas bringing us our Christmas gifts. Let’s thank God he’s not religious, jingling bells above the snowdrifts. Bringing us our Christmas gifts, fat and jolly, prince of men, jingling bells above the snowdrifts. So whose birthday is it then?

Colin is an ancient Scot who has written professional and academic articles, a weekly column, and more besides in the sensible world of nonfiction. Today, he has much more fun with short stories, flash fiction and poetry. Now resident in the Far East, he is a lucky old dog to have homes in two very special places: the east Malaysian state of Sarawak on the beautiful, tropical island of Borneo and Yunnan, an exotic frontier province in southwest China. He now spends far too much time on his website www.colincampbell.org

Fat and jolly, prince of men. Let’s thank God he’s not religious. So whose birthday is it then? Guess it must be Father Christmas. © Colin Campbell

TWISTED TONGUE 6


The Red Man Aliya Whiteley

L

et me tell you a secret. For every good thing in the world there is a bad one. For every delicious sweet there is a toothache, and for every Christmas Carol sung in joy there is the sound of tears falling from an unloved face. And although Santa Claus does exist—yes, he does—so, too, does the Red Man. The Red Man looks a lot like Santa Claus at first glance. You’ve probably seen him in a shop somewhere and dismissed him as a poor copy of the real thing, hired by the manager to impress children who are not as clever as you. But his beard is grey and grizzled, and his coat is stained with dark spots and strange creases. He hides in the open, in the malls and on the street corners, for they are the best hiding places of all. The night of Christmas Eve belongs to Santa Claus, and it is, for many children, the happiest night of the year. But the night of Christmas Day, after all the presents have been opened, all the games played, all the crackers pulled: that night belongs to the Red Man. He does not give out new toys to be loved. He comes into your house, creeping in the dark, and finds old toys, favourite toys, toys that lie forgotten under the sofa cushions or behind the bookcase for the first time because they have been replaced with shinier or fluffier toys, toys with brighter buttons or bigger smiles. The Red Man comes for those toys. He picks them apart, a little at a time, and he listens to their cries. And then he eats them. His fat belly is not padded. He grows bigger every year on the misery of the abandoned toys, and on the sorrow of the children who, upon waking on Boxing Day, remember their favourite toy and search for it, only to find that it’s not where they dropped it. It’s not anywhere to be found, ever again, and that new, shiny toy with the cold, twinkling eyes will never quite take its place.

T

ommy Flynn was a normal boy. He was not always good. He was not always bad. On his good days he kissed his mother good morning and put on his shoes without having to be asked five times. On the bad days he banged his toy hammer on the dining room table and drew on the fireplace in crayon. Christmas Day was always a bad day. Perhaps it was too much to ask a small and excitable sandyhaired boy like Tommy to be well-behaved in the face of quite so many temptations. He would unwrap his mountain of presents, tearing the paper to shreds, and then guzzle down his sweets so that he found it impossible to sit still during his turkey dinner. “Children aren’t saints,” said his mother down the telephone to Tommy’s grandmother, and Tommy’s grandmother agreed, having her own memories of a small sandy-haired girl who used to eat all her chocolate coins from her stocking in seconds flat and then smear her dirty hands on the window panes. “Besides,” said his mother,”we all know that the real culprit is Parkin.” Parkin always got the blame. When Tommy was naughty, he informed his mother that Parkin was the one who made him do it. This was quite an achievement for a small stuffed shark with black felt eyes and white felt teeth. In fact, Parkin had never told Tommy to do anything, but Tommy felt that Parkin could take the blame occasionally, considering he was good enough to take the little shark everywhere with him. That is, until the Christmas Day when Mechatron came along. Mechatron had ears that turned into cannons. He had a head that turned right round in a circle. He had eight legs and black plastic buttons, but he was not very comfortable to sleep next to, and that was why Tommy awoke in the middle of the night and lay there, wondering where Parkin was and whether he was brave enough to go and fetch the shark, even though it was very dark and he was sure he could hear shuffling and muttering coming from downstairs.

Tommy was, generally speaking, a brave boy. Boys with a streak of naughtiness often are. He got out of bed and crept down the stairs. Pausing at the living room door, he was surprised to see a faint light creeping under the gap. He pushed the door open and stepped inside. “Santa!” he said to the figure that stood by the Christmas tree with Parkin in his hands. But even as Tommy said the word, he knew it wasn’t right. The beard was too thin and grey, patchy in places, and the lips were too severe in their scowl. The red coat was threadbare in places and it had strange spots upon it. The eyes that looked into his were bright red, and they were as hard as rubies, and just as cold. The light Tommy had seen came from the man. All around him was a pulsing red light to match his eyes—not a bright light, and not pleasant to look on. In fact, Tommy’s eyes began to hurt, but he couldn’t look away. Not while the man had Parkin. “You want him back?” said the Red Man, in a growly voice that gave Tommy shivers. The Red Man lifted Parkin up to his face. He opened his mouth, a black gash of a mouth with a pink worm of a tongue protruding from it, and slipped Parkin’s tail inside. Tommy heard the man bite down, heard the cotton seam of Parkin’s tail separate from his body, and saw the stuffing bulge out from his plump body. He thought he heard a noise, a high thin sound, like a faraway scream. Tommy thought fast. He was clever, like you. He could see that the Red Man was enjoying hurting Parkin and wanted to see the little shark suffer. Begging and pleading and saying please nicely would not keep Parkin safe from that chomping black mouth. “Oh no,” Tommy heard himself say. ‘Not that old stuffed shark. You can have that.” The Red Man paused. He looked at Parkin. “No, I was after this, thanks,” said Tommy. And he pointed to the fairy on top of the Christmas tree. “That?” said the Red Man. “It’s my favourite toy in the whole world. Mum must have put it up there for safe keeping. Please don’t hurt it or anything.” The Red Man dropped Parkin on to the floor. “You’re sure that’s your favourite toy?” he said, pointing to the fairy. “Oh yes. No doubt about it. You’re not going to eat it, are you?” A moment later, the fairy was in the Red Man’s mouth. It wasn’t the largest fairy, so he didn’t chew. He swallowed it up in one gulp. A trail of wire poked out from the corner of his mouth. The wire was dotted with small bulbs, and the rest of the wire was wrapped around the branches of the Christmas tree. This was an electric fairy, made to glow on top of the tree with a beautiful white light. And the wire that came from under its skirt led to a plug that lay on the floor next to the tree. The Red Man coughed and chewed at the wire. He tugged at it, but it wouldn’t come free. “Is it stuck in your throat?” asked Tommy. “Do you need a glass of water?” The Red Man nodded. Tommy dashed to the kitchen, filled a glass with water from the tap, and brought it back to the living room. He stood next to the Red Man, between the Christmas tree and the wall. “Here you are,” he said. He watched the man swallow it down in big, thirsty gulps. “Did that help?” said Tommy. “No,” said the Red Man. He tugged at the fairy lights again, a little miserably, Tommy thought. But when his eyes fell back to Parkin, lying on the floor with no tail and sad felt eyes, he knew he had to go through with his plan. Quick as a wink, he reached down to the ground and found the plug on the end of the wire. He slid it into the electric socket at the base of wall and flicked the switch. A sizzling came from inside the Red Man, and after that Tommy smelled something hot and meaty, like sausages in a frying pan. The man dropped the empty glass and the red light went out from his eyes. He started to tremble, and the trembling became a shaking, and the shaking became a vibration as strong as a digger on a pavement. Tommy could feel it through his toes.

TWISTED TONGUE 7


And then the Red Man gave out one long, low moan that was like an angry wind on a winter’s night, and started to pulse with the brightest white light Tommy had ever seen. He clapped his hands over his eyes, and when he dared to look up again, the Red Man had gone. Parkin was on the carpet in front of him, looking very lonely and fearful. Tommy picked him up and gave him a cuddle. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, and he took him back to bed. In the morning, Tommy’s mother phoned his grandmother to complain. “I can’t make the fairy lights work,” she said, “and the fairy is mangled, all chewed up and black and horrible. I asked Tommy, and he says he doesn’t know anything about it.” Tommy’s grandmother smiled a smile that luckily her daughter couldn’t see. She remembered one Christmas when a small girl with pigtails had pulled so hard at the tinsel that the entire tree had fallen over on top of her and covered her in a shower of needles. She suggested that maybe Parkin was to blame. Tommy’s mother cupped her hand over the receiver. “Granny says, was it Parkin?” “No,” said Tommy. “It wasn’t. Parkin’s a good shark. The best shark in the world.” Every time he closed his eyes, he saw the Red Man biting down on his tail, and he felt a pain inside. He knew in his heart that the Red Man was not gone forever, and he

was determined to keep Parkin close to him from now on. He wouldn’t let anyone hurt the little shark again. “Well, if Parkin wasn’t misbehaving, how did he lose his tail?” Tommy shrugged. His mother went back to her conversation with his grandmother, talking about how she’d have to sew up the hole and maybe cover the stitches with a bow. Tommy learned two lessons that Christmas. The first one was that it was better to say nothing than to lie. And the second one was that friends, good friends, were not to be forgotten or treated badly. For if you don’t treat those you love with kindness, who will? © Aliya Whiteley

Aliya Whiteley was born in North Devon in 1974. She lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband and daughter. Her latest crime novel, Light Reading, will be released in paperback by Pan Macmillan in April 2009. She has a website at www.aliyawhiteley.com.

Between the Lines Jonathan Pinnock

Gosh, is Christmas here so soon? Haven’t the days flown by? I’ve spent most of them out of my head on whisky and Canada Dry. It’s been another eventful year, with so many things to tell! I think we may have just discovered a brand new circle of hell. Gerald is doing awfully well, his upward path’s non-stop. And he’s stopped shagging his secretary since he had his prostate op. He’s running the Midlands, half of Dubai and most of Angkor Wat, Although the insider dealing trial has taken the shine off that. Charlie sailed through his AS levels, getting four straight A’s. We did the scumbag’s coursework for him—took us bloody days. He’s captain of fives, athletics and squash, as well as cricket and rugger, And apparently the school’s supplier of skunk, the little bugger. Tara’s postponed her GCSE’s—she’s suffering from exhaustion. She’s known to all as the village bike—I hope she takes precautions. With any luck this time next year we’ll have some better news, But probably no pictures of her piercings and tattoos. I’m a lady of leisure now, with time to do as I please. Neighbours, Countdown and Tricia, washed down with G&Ts. I feel that it’s my time at last—so many projects on the go. I rather fancy the postman—I’m sure he wouldn’t say no. The house is looking lovely, in the nicest part of town. The mortgage is quite ruinous—no wonder it’s falling down. There’s loads of space for visitors—why don’t you come and stay? On second thoughts, don’t bother. Just leave us alone, OK? © Jonathan Pinnock

Jonathan Pinnock was born in Bedfordshire, England, and - despite having so far visited over forty other countries has failed to relocate any further away than the next-door county of Hertfordshire. He is married with two children and a 1961 Ami Continental jukebox. His work has won several prizes, shortlistings and longlistings, and he has been published in such diverse publications as Smokebox, Every Day Fiction and Necrotic Tissue.

TWISTED TONGUE 8


NINE WEEKS TO WRITE IT, NINE YEARS TO RIGHT IT Author Harry Hughes on Blood, sweat, tears and Perseverance Alexander James Harry Hughes is one veteran of Viet Nam and Woodstock who really does remember the sixties. That’s when he was nabbed and put on probation for joyriding a pilfered ‘57 Chevy, saw the world, was wounded in one of the bloodiest battles of the war, hit the Hippy Trail with his battered pawn-shop guitar … and struggled to write the sequel to Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 classic, The Lost World. And the decades since then have been a big-dipper ride with troughs like bitter divorce and drug addiction and peaks like earning a reputation as a songwriter, gaining his PhD in Biopsychology, becoming, himself, a main character in an award-winning book, sharing a place in a short story anthology with Joseph Heller and Albert Albee, and his first full length novel, hot of the presses, nearly half a century after his first adventures with pen and paper. Harry’s The Bait Shack is also a rollercoaster ride, peopled by oddball characters based on folks he’s met along the way, sparkling with the wit born of a whirlwind life, and touched with the sometimes cynical wisdom of rich experience. The first draft of the book was a mere nine intensive weeks in creation, snowed into his home, and at a desk littered with 175 failed job applications to egg him on. But after typing ‘the end’, polishing, work with a manuscript doctor, revisions in multiple drafts, editing, dealing with a literary agency and blitzing publishers took as many years before paying off in publication. Even the title of the work changed along the way. He said: “My wife was at work all day and I was snowbound and darned depressed looking at that mountain of job rejections from colleges and universities all over the USA. So I parked myself in front of my Apple Mac and hit the keyboard. “I started a short story about a man and woman who, through a series of bizarre events, ended up unintentionally assuming each other’s professions. Something within me caught fire. The words to the story Hughes playing at Woodstock anniversary reunion. poured onto the pages effortlessly, as if the tale was writing itself. The plot became increasingly convoluted and the original story line vanished. “I didn’t know it at the time, but I was writing a novel. I hit those keys like a man obsessed, all day and sometimes into the night. In what seemed like no time—just nine weeks—I had completed the first draft of a manuscript I called At the Watchman’s Hand. “Still, it was a raw manuscript and I knew there would be more drafts to come. I decided to have the work book-doctored by a literary services agency in California. They returned the manuscript with some very helpful suggestions that I got busy with to incorporate into the text. Then it was revise, revise, revise. Nine weeks for the first draft, nine years to see it in print! “As a first-time, unknown author, the most difficult aspect of the whole writing process was to find an agent even willing to consider the manuscript. My spirits were lifted temporarily when a literary agency in Dallas, Texas liked the manuscript enough to take me on as a client. But, they couldn’t find a publisher for me. “Truthfully, I wasn’t surprised. I knew that the book still needed even more serious reworking. After making endless revisions, and knowing that I now had something of value to submit, I considered an e-publisher so as not to have to undergo the whole, discouraging agent excavation project again. In the nick of time, a deal old friend of mine told me about a publishing house that was rare in that it didn’t insist on an author having agency representation before reading submissions. They liked what they saw and we got to work on what eventually emerged with a brand new title; The Bait Shack. “The new title makes as much sense as all the hard work and polishing that went into the novel. In essence, it’s a crime story, with people as bait and lures as well as hapless little fishes in a dangerous pond. And an actual bait shack is a major scene of some of the horrors.” During the frustrating search for agents and publishers, Harry put some time and distance between him and his still-unpublished first novel and began a new novel, Horseshoes. Harry said: “The first draft is finished now. It’s a comedy about a middle-aged man whose mid-life crisis takes him on a wild romp from NYC to Dallas and back, with all sorts of ironic events chewing the seat of his pants. “I felt that the story and writing were engaging and very funny. I remember laughing out loud as I wrote it. But I couldn’t stretch the tale into a full-length novel without diluting the humor, so Horseshoes became an 81-page novella instead. Each story deserves a certain number of words … not a word more, not a word less. “If it were to become a book, the novella would need some short stories to go along with it, much as Thomas McGuane had done with To Skin a Cat. TWISTED TONGUE 9


“As with At the Watchman’s Hand (The Bait Shack) and Horseshoes, five longish short stories spilled from my brain, trickling down to my typing fingers as if on autopilot. “Around this time, Barbara Stone, editor of a monthly volume of stories written by east end authors titled Hampton Shorts was looking for new material. I submitted one of the five stories I had just completed, A River too Distant, and it was accepted for publication along with works by Joseph Heller and Albert Albee in Hampton Shorts, Volume 3, 1998. I was in good company. “When one spends so much time alone in the woods, the mind is free to get unconventional. With two nearly completed books yet to be published, I took a breather from the word processor and returned to my childhood hero, Edgar Allan Poe. “Although I have trouble sometimes remembering why I had just walked into a room, I possess this strange ability to remember lines, probably my only asset as a former amateur actor. The Hampton libraries were always looking for unique little performances to present to their patrons. I don’t know what possessed me to do it, but I memorized abridged versions of seven short stories and two unabridged poems by Poe, and began presenting them dramatically, first at libraries and later in public schools for $90 dollars a show, under the pseudonym of Neal Grapeload, the only coherent anagram for Edgar Allan Poe I could come up with. “It was a pleasant vacation from writing. And I became a minor—very minor—sensation in local libraries without a published novel to my name. Thanks to Mr Poe.” Harry was born in Miami Beach, Florida in the baby boom year of 1947 but his family left the Sunshine State for Long Island, New York when he was hardly out of diapers after his father had been arrested for deliberately spraying a garden hose through their grumpy landlord’s apartment window. In spite of a childhood love of science, Harry started to do poorly in every school subject – other than English – when, at the age of twelve, he discovered a love of fiction and was bitten by the writing bug. He said: “The book that started it all for me was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. I read it over and over again. “But the writer who really grabbed me and refused to let go was Edgar Allan Poe. By this time, my father had bought me an LP record on the Vanguard label of Nelson Olmstead reading six highly abridged stories by Poe. I was ecstatic. I played it so many times that my parents were on the verge of breaking it over my head. “I then staring reading Poe’s works at full-throttle. In 8th grade English class, our teacher required that everybody memorize and read in class one poem of our choosing and that a prize would be offered to the best reading. My classmates choose poems based primarily on brevity. When my turn arrived, I stood up and recited from memory Poe’s entire story, The Tell Tale Heart. My teacher was stunned but I didn’t win the prize because officially the story did not qualify as a poem. “I started writing short stories in dreadful penmanship on school notebook paper at around the same time. Of course, they were terrible. They were speciously derivative of Poe, filled with the blood and guts but totally lacking in cohesion. I persisted, though. Unfortunately at the expense of my other studies.” The age of twelve was a formative time for young Harry. In addition to literature, he developed a strong appreciation for popular music, especially of the cheesy, commercial folk bands of the time. “My absolute favourites were The Kingston Trio, “he said. “I waited like a dog at a dinner table for every new record by them to be released. My father once required temporary use of a cane following surgery for an ingrown toenail. I remember standing in my living room, alone, listening to the Kingston Trio while pretending to play the banjo with Dad’s walking stick. “My parents allowed me to take guitars lessons, but I had not yet developed the patience to practice boring essentials. So after learning a few chords, the guitar became an instrument with which to gather dust.” When Harry entered high school, he continued writing but stopped going to school and was cited for truancy in his very first year. But during that freshman year his English teacher assigned a written paper … and Harry went to the top of the class. “The project was to run to three pages. Instead, I turned in a twelve-page ‘novel’; the sequel to Doyle’s The Lost World, with the original characters returning to the dinosaur and ape men-inhabited plateau in South America. “For the first time, as ridiculous as it was, my writing took a turn for the better. My English teacher loved me but considered me to be especially deserving of mental health care. My high school opus was written during my senior year, at age seventeen, and was an even longer and better written Christmas ghost story for which she dumped kudos upon me. Still, I had yet to get my hands on a typewriter.” High school years were also characterized by delinquency. Harry had begun to hang out with a bunch of teenage toughs who looked for fights and things to steal or destroy. At age fifteen, he was caught by the police while taking a joy ride with the young gangsters in a stolen ‘57 Chevy. “I received a year’s probation,” Harry said. “But I didn’t learn my lesson and continued to get into trouble, including the loss of my virginity in the back room of a candy store with a gal much more experienced in these matters than I was. “With four years of skullduggery behind me, I graduated high school with a C-average. If it weren’t for English class, I would have flunked out. “In 1965, male high school graduates in my town were faced with one of three options: 1) go to college (the thought made me nauseous), 2) marry your high school sweetheart and settle down into a low paying blue collar job (the thought made me gag), 3) join the military. I opted for the latter. The Viet Nam War had gotten under way and I wanted in, especially with the legendary, tough Marine Corps. “I was only seventeen so my parents’ permission was required for me to join. And they didn’t even try to talk me out of it! Only two days after high school graduation, I was a raw recruit in boot camp. It wasn’t long before realizing the mistake I had made. I was just not Marine Corps material. Tough enough, maybe. But I couldn’t cope well with all the bullshit discipline. “In my first year as a private, I turned to writing poetry. You can imagine the heckling I got from my grunt comrades. But I managed to assemble a small book of poems, typed for the first time, that weren’t bad, though certainly not publishable.” At nineteen, Harry’s foreign postings began with a stay in Okinawa, which for American military personal provided no entertainment other than bars and brothels. “But it was at Camp Hanson, Okinawa that my guitar skills started to hone,” Harry said. “I formed a duo with a buddy and played ‘garage folk’ music to other Marines, who tolerated us for lack of any live musical alternative. “During this time, original songs began to develop but came out all skewed while trying to structure them into something listenable. I gave up on the Kingston Trio and was now drawn to the poetic images of the early avant-folkies, yet I was also lured by the energy of a new wave of rock bands with strange names like Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead. I cheered, not booed, when Dylan went electric. Something interesting was going on back in the States. I wasn’t sure what, but knew I wanted in on it. “Then it was on to the Philippines for a brief stay and, finally, my overseas vacation ended in Southeast Asia in 1967, just as American involvement in the Viet Nam conflict began to escalate. I was assigned to the 11th Marine Regiment, an artillery unit outside of Da Nang, and participated in eight combat operations. “Just days after arriving on a commercial jet with cute flight attendants throwing pillows at us while explosions from below rocked the aircraft, I was thrust into one of the bloodiest battles of the war, Operation Union. I find war stories boring so I’m reluctant to impart them TWISTED TONGUE 10


to others. Suffice it to say that I was wounded, an event that eventually resulted in a VA disability compensation that I still collect today. I was discharged unceremoniously but honorably on April 10, 1969, the happiest day of my life.” Disenchanted with military life and the politics of war, Harry had a whole summer to let his hair grow long, improve his guitar technique and drive to Arizona with a good friend in a car that someone paid them to deliver to Phoenix. Then he thumbed lifts to California and a round of wild rock festivals, ending with the famous threeday Woodstock fling at Bethel, New York. Harry said: “I got to see all of the bands that had mesmerized me over the radio in Viet Nam, including Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Jethro Tull and many more.” In 1989, Harry returned to Woodstock—this time to perform solo at the festival’s 20th Lunar Woodstock Reunion in Bethel and later contributed a song to the October, 1993 pressing of the Fast Folk Musical Magazine music CD. With a reluctant sense of maturity, fostered by a sharp learning curve in the ways of life, compliments of war and peace, Harry went to Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York for two years, graduating in glory on the Dean’s list two years later. Then it was on to Hunter College in New York City where he earned a BA degree in psychology in 1972, Summa Cum Laude. In 1973, he married Loraine Gordon-Shapiro, whose delightfully precocious seven year old daughter became his step daughter … Magdalena Ball, now living in Australia where she is author of three books, including her debut novel, Sleep Before Evening, and runs the internationally popular CompulsiveReader.com book reviews site. Magdalena’s own story was featured in Issue #7 of Twisted Tongue. “Maggie and I hit it off immediately. Wherever we went and whatever we did together seemed like a kid’s birthday party. I grew to love her as much as I did Lorraine,” he said. “We still keep in touch, even though she’s on the other side of the world now. In fact, it was Maggie who introduced me to her publishers, BeWrite Books, who eventually signed The Bait Shack and—after I’d worked with their editorial side for several months to get everything to a high polish—released it in October. Working closely with the team there has been quite an experience. Recommended. “Lorraine, Maggie and I moved back out to a depressing little Long Island town called Seldon so that Lorraine might finish her schooling at Stony Brook University near by. The three of us lived in a dreary railroad flat. It was here that my 8-foot pet boa constrictor broke out of its cage and pushed itself out a window, terrorizing the neighborhood. The snake was returned by the police who ordered me to get rid of it. A picture of my face and an empty snake cage made its way into the Long Island edition of Newsday. “During our Long Beach years, Lorraine and I, much to Maggie’s chagrin, had been lured into spirituality. Not of the Christian kind but of the Eastern variety. The two of us became yogis under the tutelage of the late charismatic Swami Satchidananda, the guru whose opening statements inaugurated the Woodstock Festival. We blissfully accepted all the trappings, becoming vegetarians in the process. “I went so far as to become certified as one of the institute’s yoga instructors. In addition, Lorraine and I (now known as Leela and Hara) became pupils of the famous eighty-year-old, Indian musician, Swami Nadabrahmananda, whose single LP was produced by The Monkees’ Michael Nesmith. The good swami taught me to sing and play Indian ragas on the harmonium and Leela to play tablas. We brought him peace, love, mangos and money. “Our own son, Gabriel, was born into this yoga fantasy camp on June 18, 1976. As with Maggie, I took to my little tow-headed boy instantly. In addition, Leela’s sister, Susan from California, was undergoing some personal problems that required Leela and I to care for Susan’s daughter, Shuna. Now we were a family of five. “As time went on, I started to lose interest in our nirvana-styled way of life and became “Harry” again. Unfortunately, Leela became increasingly drawn to the chanting and yucky food. She wanted us to move to Satchidananda’s huge commune down in Virginia, called Yogaville, while I wanted to escape my government job and find work back in Manhattan. The inevitable divorce followed shortly afterwards. We just ended up wanting and needing different things. Oddly, I remained a vegetarian.” Harry began writing songs in earnest during the eighties and taking them out for a spin on open-mike nights at Greenwich Village clubs like Gerde’s Folk City and The Speakeasy. He started guesting on the maverick independent radio station WBAI and ended up sharing club billings with Suzanne Vega and legendary Texas songwriter the late Townes Van Zandt. “At one Speakeasy gig, Maggie showed up unannounced,” said Harry. “It had been way too many years since I’d seen her. I sat at her table before my first set and we talked. I was so happy to see her that it took all I had to dam up the tears I felt gathering in my eyes. I was sitting across the table, not with my favorite little girl in the world, but with a young woman in her twenties; so beautiful, so smart. “When it came time to perform, I summoned my fullest concentration to keep focused on the songs. Just knowing that she was sitting out there filled me with so many conflicting emotions that I felt I must be turning in either one of my best or worst performances. I couldn’t know that I would never see her again, at least to this day. She received a full scholarship to Oxford, graduated with honors and a new British husband, and then moved to Australia where she lives now with him and their three lovely children. She is an exquisite author to boot.” In 1987, Harry was awarded the Abe Olman Scholarship for songwriting and signed a contract that resulted in some full band recordings. “At the start of the 1980s, I not only enjoyed the many science books required for doctoral training,” said Harry, “but I also began to tear into novels and plays by a relatively new wave of authors that included Thomas McGuane, Don DeLillo, Thomas Wolfe, Sam Shepard, Joan Didion, Larry McMurtry, Harry Crews, Peter Mathiessen, Jeanette Winterson, Richard Ford, Robert Stone, Breece D’J Pancake, John Nichols, Tim O’ Brien, and other writers who seemed eager to shed the overly introspective style of the past’s great authors and instead

Harry Hughes

TWISTED TONGUE 11


pursue crisp narratives whose most salient feature was a sense of irony lacking in even the eccentric beat writers like Jack Kerouac. I was hooked. These authors seemed to be saying more with fewer words. And they seemed to be speaking directly to me. “During my ten-year tenure as a songwriter, my smidgen of success derived not from proficiency at composing melodies, guitar playing, or singing. By any standards I would be regarded as merely mediocre in these attributes. What got me through it all was the lyrical construction of the songs. Few in the newly emerged folk-rock scene wrote songs with the irreverent and ironic power of my lyrics. I spat in the face of political correctness and wrote about things that snatched the attention of audience members and often left them feeling unsettled, or in some cases, aghast. In retrospect, I understand that the works of authors I just named had infused their way into my lyrical vocabulary as a songwriter. “There is an important lesson to take home from this. To be a good writer, whether it’s novels, plays, poetry, non-fiction or songs, one must first be a good reader.” Meanwhile, back at the lab, Harry had completed his doctoral thesis, with its catchy title, The Pharmaco-ontogeny of Spinal Noradrenergic Receptor Mediated Systems Modulating Behavioral Analgesia in the Rat, and received his PhD in Biopsychology in 1988, and later accepted a position as a post-doctoral Research Associate in the field of behavioral neuropharmacology at SUNY Health Science Center in Brooklyn and as an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Hunter College. And soon, he was to become a star character … in someone else’s book. A young, intelligent and highly personable young author named Donald Katz decided to write a something outside his normal corral of expertise. He had other books under his belt and was a regular contributor to Esquire magazine, but he wanted to tell the story of postwar, Jewish American family against the backdrop of what by then was simply called ‘the times’. Donald decided upon the Gordons, Harry’s former wife’s and Maggie’s family, and individually interviewed all the major players. In 1992, Harper Collins released Homefires: An Intimate Portrait of One Middle-Class Family in Postwar America. At 615 pages, it went on to be nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award. The book covered in 150 pages Harry’s life with Lorraine (Leela) and Maggie. Then Harry dipped into another of life’s troughs when he developed an addiction to Fiorinal with codeine, a medication prescribed for ruthless migraines and plaguing lower back pain. Before long, he started to swallow the blue and yellow capsules for every little ache, real or imagined and eventually ended up at New York University Hospital after being haunted by visual hallucinations spinning across his bedroom walls. After two weeks of extreme withdrawal anxiety, he was back on track. Harry married again in 1994, a marriage that ended in tears … but during which he wrote the first draft of The Bait Shack on those long, snowbound days alone at home. And soon there were rejection slips from agents and publishers to add to the 175 job rejections. Until, out of the blue, came the offer of a dream offer from Utah’s Salt Lake Community College as a professor of psychology. After ten years there, life’s at a high point again … and his debut novel is published at last. There are other lessons to be learned from Harry’s colourful, rollercoaster past: “Almost everything I write derives from some personal experience, even if not directly. I believe firmly in the old adage, ‘Write what you know about’. When I violate that principle, I sense a palpable fakery in my work. Fortunately, I’ve learned a little about a lot of things and a lot about a few. “No doubt, the biggest challenge now is recruiting a loyal following in an age when cut and paste, word processing devices allow anybody, talented or not, to cobble a farrago of paragraphs that might qualify as a ‘novel’ in the loosest interpretation of that word. “There is only one way of dealing with that challenge that I can think of; just keep plugging away. Try to make each book or story better than the last one. Even if one spends a year writing something that turns out to be less than what one’s standards dictate, don’t try to get it published. Dump it or rewrite the thing. “My ability to write fiction arrives in spurts. When I’m on a roll, I’m tapping away on the keyboard every day. But I can’t force inspiration. It needs to develop naturally, usually from an interesting event or idea that sort of pours through me instantly. Then I become a man possessed. “But the most enjoyable part of the writing process is creating a circuit that begins with ideas, then choosing the right words to express them, then watching the words appear on the screen as I type, then having these words feed back into my mind, which lastly creates a visual ‘movie’ of the book in my head as it goes along. If you know you are on to something good, then this circuit results in a feeling like no other. “And never forget … the most significant achievement as a writer is getting published. How to get there? Simple: Perseverance.” The Bait Shack by Harry Hughes is published in paperback and ebook by BeWrite Books. Available from www.bewrite.net, all major online stores, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and AbeBooks, and on order from your local high street bookshop. Sleep Before Evening by Magdalena Ball is also a recent BeWrite Books release, available in treebook and ebook from the same sources.

Waking Lloegr By Glen Batchelor Now available at www.lulu.com for a miserly £4.33 paperback or £1.25 download. ‘Waking Lloegr’ had this Reader in stitches. What a hilariously funny, brilliant idea! A brand new story woven around Arthur, Merlin, Mordred, Gwynhifyr, and what a story! This Reader would love to see ‘Waking Lloegr’ find its place in book stores all over the world.”

King Arthur meets the Sex Pistols! TWISTED TONGUE 12


A River Too Distant Harry Hughes

First published in Hampton Shorts

C

hanging the oil and plugs on the Civic. Duck had done it so many times now that as he pulled wrenches from his back pocket, the Little Pee Dee River flowed through his mind pretty much undisturbed. That river weren’t so big as the Lynches or the Great Pee Dee, but it ran quickly, something most people didn’t realize. That’s cuzz it lays more like a creek, with its still surface the color of coffee, drawn tightly to the banks by sharp bends and hickory roots. But just three feet down, the river, and make no mistake about it, the Little Pee Dee is a river, gouged the submerged earth with a distinct kind of indignation. Fish caught up in this duress almost begged to be caught, sucking your lure like a pup on a teat. Duck would lean into the engine compartment and hear, maybe even feel, the dead plug fall to the ground. He’d twirl the ratchet with a loose middle finger and the second one would drop. His hands were on their own. They would get the thing done. It was when he focused on something, direct, like snapping a picture with the Instamatic or shaking hands with a stranger that they wandered from his control. Duck knew this. He knew it perhaps better than anything else. That, and the river. The river that don’t flow anywhere near this place or time. They call where we live now a sub-suburban area, but I wonder just how many subs you’d have to slap on the front end of that thing before it’s just plain country again. The house we’re renting sits high off a section of 215 so loopy, it got itself named Snake Hill. Ma showed me an aerial photograph of the area in a surveying pamphlet she brought home from the library, and damned if didn’t look like a hog-nose snake in hiding. In early spring, we still see black bear foraging the shagbark stands behind the cistern. The place ain’t nothing but thirty minutes from downtown Spartanburg, but it seems enough like country to me. We moved here soon after Duck got his pink slip from the Creek Saw Lumber Yard back in Mullins. With almost all of South Carolina covered in trees and with thousands of cedar houses springing up between the Pine Hill and Lakeshore developments, it seemed queer that a man adept with wood saws of all nature should lose his job. Ma said it might have been that fight with Lee Benjamine, the foreman, but I didn’t think so. Hell, Lee’s new boss is the same fellow what whooped Lee’s behind when the man first signed on to operate the cable skidder. Everybody one time or another got into it with Lee. If you ask me, he’s the one should of been given the heave-ho. No, when Duck dropped his thermos in the driveway and told us the old good news-bad news joke about getting fired, I knew it must of been a deep corporate kind of decision, something that leaves a body gazing off at sky, feeling dislocated, because there ain’t nothing can be done about it. It most definitely weren’t cuzz of no dumb fight with donkey-headed Lee Benjamine. I should know, my name is Blake. I’m Duck’s younger brother. Ma and me seemed to get the hang of Spartanburg straightaway but the pace of things here left Duck a little off balance. His new job at the beer distributor didn’t pay as much as Creek Saw did and with the suburbs getting all uppity by changing the names of things like toothpaste, parks and movies to dental cream, recreational facilities and film, Duck’s weekly paycheck started to convert into what he liked to call slim dollars. More than once, he left the supermarket with several bags of groceries sitting at the end of the conveyer belt because he thought his ears were lying to him when the checkout girl read the total. I love my brother, but sometimes he can get downright prickly. One day Cody started barking out back like he’d unearthed a crate of Gaines-burgers. Ma went to investigate and found Cody snarling a muzzle-length away from a baby squirrel what had fallen out its nest. She brought it inside, cut out a tiny section of cardboard from a stereo component box and neatly arranged a hand towel inside. Chester, that’s what Ma called the young

squirrel, immediately made himself at home in that box, as if he’d spent his own life savings to secure a mortgage on it. With me standing guard, Ma drove off to the discount health goods store and brought home a one-milliliter syringe with rubber bulb and a variety of Gerber’s baby food. She cooked up a mess of Pablum and let it cool off. I then received instructions on how to care for Chester by means of a demonstration. With one hand, Ma cradled him belly-up in a washcloth, sort of like you’d hold a wiener, and sucked a pinch of strained beets up into the syringe. She placed the nub of the plastic tube just inside the critter’s mouth and said: “This here’s the hard part. You’ve got to squeeze the bulb real gently, like you’re trying to hold a soap bubble ‘tween your fingertips. Just let a tiny bit of mush flow into Chester’s mouth, like this, watch.” Ma did this and Chester’s little jaws went to jacking like a set of joke shop teeth. “You see?” she said. “That’s him eating. If he doesn’t do that, you got to try again later, because if you force the fluid down his throat, it’ll fill his tiny lungs and he’s a goner, just the same as drowning. Got that?” “Yes, Ma.” “You can give him baby food, Pablum or just plain milk, whatever he’ll eat most of. And when you’re finished feeding him, rub his little pee-pee with your finger tip, softly, like this.” Ma stroked his bottom and there was me, giggling like I’m five years old. “You’ve got to do this so’s he’ll go one and two. It’s important. The mama squirrel does this by licking him down there. Then, clean up when you’re done. Okay, son?” “Yes, Ma.” I’d gotten the knack of it right off and in three days it seemed his tail shrunk, but I knew that meant his body had just growed bigger. Duck didn’t seem to care too much about the squirrel one way or the other. He didn’t kid me about it, but I believe he thought a sixteen-year-old boy could find better things to do with his time than wet nurse a rodent. One night he came home from the beer distributor and I could see he’d been sampling product. He sat down by the TV and said he’d like a go at it. I wrapped Chester in the washcloth and handed him over. The squirrel was hungry and Duck seemed to be doing fine. Then milk began streaming through Chester’s whiskers. “Easy, Duck,” I said. “You got to go gentle.” When milk started dripping into Duck’s lap, I looked up and saw that over-focused look in his eyes. His hands began shaking. “Think about the river, Duck, the Little Pee-Dee.” But it was too late. Chester sprung from Duck’s hand to the floor and started flip-flopping like a bass out of water. In no time at all, the animal lay there deader than stone. That night, Ma returned from her part-time at the Library and Duck went out. Ma and I knew it wasn’t no church meeting he was heading to. We asked each other if Duck might have been mad or depressed or feeling sorry enough for himself to have killed Chester on purpose. But we quickly concluded that that simply wasn’t in Duck. It had to be his hands feeling too closely watched. We’d seen it before. I grabbed a flashlight and garden shovel and we buried Chester in the very spot Cody had found him. “Maybe you shouldn’t have named him Duckworth,” I said later, in the living room, trying to rub some edge off a painful silence. In the days to come, Duck was eating less but gaining weight. His mind seemed to wander a lot, which meant that at least things were getting done around the house. My suspicion that he wasn’t just thinking about the river turned out to be right cuzz he came home one night, his shamrock keychain twirled around a stiff middle finger, and told me: “Ollie Grutzmacher had his car repo’ed last night by Trident Repossession. Seems them sum-bitches have a thing for Japanese cars. Ollie said a big nigger walked right up his drive, jimmied the door open and drove his Tercel away. Did it so fast, that Ollie heard it burnin rubber before he could get his other leg through his pants.” I know Ma don’t like us using that word to describe black folk, even when she’s not around to hear it. “How’d he get up to Arkwright to steal Ollie’s car?”

TWISTED TONGUE 13


Duck reached into the Frigidaire and lifted out a beer. “It’s simple. Someone from Trident drops him off in the immediate area. He walks around a few minutes or hides in the bushes or jerks hisself off or some such shit, and when the moment looks right to him, your wheels are history, little buddy. Where’s Ma?” “Library.” He carried the tall boy to his spot by the TV. “I want you to listen to me, real close like, for a minute or two. You got that in you?” “Sure, Duck.” “Ollie weren’t nothin but two payments late on that Tercel. Seems corporate America’s getting itchy with clean folk over late payments on the vehicles what gets them to work in the mornin. Here’s the deal, I’m three months overdue on my Civic. Dan Slaughter, over at the Nissan dealership? ... I’d fished with him a few times ... He told me that this nigger ain’t juss a hirelin, no sir, he’s got his eye on Trident more like a whatcha-callit ...” “A takeover?” “Now you’re talkin. Dan tells me a heap of support runs his way from, and I ain’t shittin you here, the N double-A CP.” Duck tipped the bottle back and fired a whole lot of eyeball my way. He plucked the beer from his mouth like he’s playing a trombone and went on. “But he wants to do it his way. From the bottom up, a big song and dance about not tellin other people to do what he wouldn’t do hisself. Am I makin myself clear?” “But Duck,” I said, not really looking at him. “stealing cars ain’t no government job.” He grabbed my knee and yanked it back and forth like he’d just oiled a creaky gate, “That’s exactly what I’m sayin, little brother. Things don’t necessarily start from the bottom up.” He pulled another swallow and stared straight into my eyes. “Shit’s been known to roll down hill.” I believed he’d gotten his ups and bottoms a hair confused, but I wasn’t about to clarify anything right then. I just started fiddling with threads from the couch arm. “But Duck, ain’t Dan Slaughter Klan?” “Naw,” he said, dragging that a for about a mile. “He’s juss a good businessman, not like most ‘rount here. Look, I don’t give a good Jimmy Dean ‘bout politics. That nigger can ‘come Pres’dent of the United States and I wouldn’t give a hoot nor holler. But if he come up my driveway with tools in his hand, I’m goin be waitin for him.” “You ain’t going to shoot him, are you?” “I ain’t dumb enough to shoot no nigger this close to Washington, DC, even if he is runnin off with my car. He’s prob’ly bonded or some such shit. No, I juss aim to set him straight a bit.” “You going to tell Ma?” “Hell no. Don’t you start gettin all inbred on me now.” With that said, Duck thumped the empty bottle down on the TV and walked out the front door. I sidled over to the window and watched him start the Civic. But he didn’t drive it anywhere. He just inched it up a little closer to the house, got out and disconnected the wires from a headlight and one taillight. Then he went and grabbed his chain saw from out the shed. Before I knew, he’d disappeared on foot through the woods toward Glenn Springs. Ma came home with three books and a bag of groceries in her arms and started making dinner. “Where’s Duck?” she asked. “I see his car out front.” “Went walkin,” I said. It was true, but it felt like a lie. I washed and peeled turnips while she whomped a slab of meat with a wooden mallet. I asked if she was mad or something and she stopped mashing that thing just long enough to flash me a smile. “No son,” she said. “I’m crushing the veins. I found this here cookbook at the library with a recipe for a dish called Steak Diane. I liked the name and decided to give it a go. Fetch me some Guldens, sugar.” I handed her the mustard and said: “Ma, if they stopped paying you over at that library, you’d keep on going to work there. Betcha I’m right.” She just laughed and whacked that slice of beef like it was more than veins she was after.

F

or the next three nights, Duck parked so near the house that the car seemed in the way of things. He’d found a new fondness for the TV and hung around it without ever going out. During commercials, he’d flick off the volume and crank his head from side to side like he’s scooping air into his ears. When Ma and I had gone to bed, I could hear floorboards creaking in the living room, especially near the front door. I knew it was Duck and I knew he was waiting for that repo man to snatch up his Civic. After a while, I began to think Duck might have gone a little crazy, that maybe there weren’t no such repo man after all. But Duck’s the kind of brother who, more often than not, gets to say I told you so. Sometimes he’ll alter the course of everyday life just so things happen in a way to make that told you so possible, even if it costs him, like back in Mullins, when Milton Dowd insisted to Duck that there weren’t going to be any stockcar races next day up in Zion cuzz the grounds were too dry and the fire chief had put his foot down. Duck didn’t appreciate the cock-sure tone in Milton’s voice and bet him five dollars that the race was a done deal and spent half the night spraying the sections of field where the hose could reach and toting buckets to the parts where it didn’t. Duck got his five dollars which in my calculations amounted to a little less than sixty-five cents per hour for his trouble. He spent the next day catching up on lost sleep from the night before and missed the races entirely. So, when at three in the morning, four days after Duck had told me about Ollie Grutzmacher’s repossessed Tercel, I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised when the repo man showed up at our house, or more precisely stated, at Duck’s Honda. What surprised me more was that Duck seemed to be taking his sweet ol’ time getting to the door. It was almost like Duck let him ride away on purpose. “Get dressed, grab a flashlight and don’t drag ass,” he said to me. While buckling my dungarees, I could hear Ma ask Duck just what the darn heck was going on. “Nothin Ma, go back to bed. I’m ‘bout to make a man out of sonny boy here, nothin more ‘n that.” I sprang from my room, nearly breathless already. “Ma?” I said. “You’re on your own, boy.” You see, Blake or son or sugar, sugar mostly, is what Ma usually calls me by. Boy is something I hear when things around the house are simply not correct. “You comin?” Duck asked, and before I knew it, I’m trailing him through the woods, downhill toward Glenn Springs. “Keep that beam knee-high and five feet in front of me. That’s me, peckerwood, not you.” In no time, we reached the first loop in 215 and could see Duck’s one taillight getting dimmer down the road. “That’s him,” he said, checking his bearings. “He’ll be turning that bend in a heartbeat. Let’s go.” Duck raced to the other side of the road and plunged into the next neck of woods. I figured out that we were crosscutting the winding sections of highway, like the vertical stripe through a dollar sign, but I still had no idea why. The flashlight’s a Big Boy and started to feel like a heavy roll of tarpaper. I held it with both hands but the beam kept drifting to the ground. Duck didn’t seem to care, though. By now, he knew exactly where he was heading and there was just enough moon to light the way. With hardly no air left in my lungs, we stopped at a tall white pine with a tee shirt tied around the trunk only feet away from the road. The tree swayed and creaked a bunch, which seemed peculiar cuzz there weren’t much of a breeze. The sweat on my body could testify to that. I shined the beam below the shirt and saw that the shaft had been cleanly sawed through, almost, that is. Just two inches of wood was keeping that tree pointed at the stars. Up the road, a lone headlight headed our way. At first, I thought it was a motorcycle but then realized who it had to be. “Put your shoulder to it, like this,” Duck said, hugging the trunk. “But don’t push till I say so. It’s got to fall ‘bout ten feet in front of that sumbitch.” Now, I’m thinking, I could sort of ‘possum push, just enough to throw off Duck’s timing so the tree falls behind his

TWISTED TONGUE 14


car. Cuzz truthfully, there weren’t nothing would have made me happier than to see that one taillight disappear down Snake Hill. That repo man could be holding a pistol in his belt, for all we knew. “Push! Now!” Duck hollered. I leaned into the tree but took something off it. In no man’s book could what I was doing be called pushing, not remotely. “You ain’t pushin, dipshit! Use your legs!” Duck lunged mightily and the tree keeled over, aimed right at the windshield of his Honda Civic. The horn blew once and there was this ugly thump and crunch noise. Then I heard the twirling sound of small metal parts settling down on the asphalt. The worst thing was the silence that come after. It just hung there with me and Duck sucking air out of it. After a while, the door latch started opening, slowly and with what seemed like great effort. A big man spilled out onto the road and struggled to get his knees up under himself. I could see moonlight skipping off a trail of blood running down his face. “Let’s go home, Duck,” I whispered. “Before the police come.” But it wasn’t the police I wanted to run from. I felt a warm appreciation for the thicket that kept us from his sight. The man had already risen to his feet and was dabbing at the blood with his shirttail. He leaned back against the rear fender and stared at that tree as if staring alone might afford him some understanding. Suddenly he called out: “Hillbilly overkill. I’m getting used to it.” I didn’t know what that meant but I had a feeling he wasn’t just talking to himself. I looked over at Duck and saw his hands shaking awful. “Come on, Duck. What if Ma finds out?” The man hobbled about in a small circle, as if testing his leg for a mashed bone. “How do you get a country boy to go out on a date? I don’t know,” the man answered himself, in a voice what sounded too much like Duck’s. “You wash the pig in 3.2 beer.” Duck stepped out the woods and up into the man’s face. Duck said what he said next loud enough for me to hear, on purpose, I’m sure of that. “What I want to know Mister Repo Man, is how you plan on gettin back to the nigger reservation?” With that done, Duck turned around and started walking back to the thicket. I can’t say for sure by what means my brother’s legs got cut out from under him, but Duck hit that asphalt with such a loud whump, I thought he might be staying down there for the night, and maybe I was hoping he would, but he didn’t. He spun to his feet and dove his shoulder deep into the man’s belly like the high school linebacker he once was. The impact dropped them both to the road. I couldn’t see exactly what took place next, but there was enough groaning and grunting to suggest that whatever it was, it wasn’t none too life-threatening. I’d come out the woods believing that the presence of a calm, though I wasn’t that neither, sixteen-year-old might somehow siphon wind out the situation. I shined the Big-Boy down and wasn’t at all certain about what my eyes were seeing. A black arm twisted around a head of blond hair not too far from four white fingers jammed inside a drooling black mouth. Past that, things just got confusing. My beam of light started to grow, sprinkling rows of needles from the fallen tree and spreading down the highway. I shook the cylinder to bring it back to usual, but the beam kept expanding. The police cruiser stopped short of Duck’s Civic and the transom lit up. I can’t say the swirling red lights did anything special to clear things up, not in my mind anyway. “What have we got here?” The sergeant was speaking to me, not sarcastic-like, not Well, well, well, what dooo we have here?, like Buck Burrows used to say when he’d bust up a necking party behind the Mullins movie house, but sincerely, as if he wanted an update from a fellow officer. The policeman stood blacker than the man on the ground. “Something none too serious gone a pinch out of control, sir.” I said this waiting for my mind to catch up with the words. Though they was just two men, it looked like a pile down there and it started to loosen up. “Will you two do me the service of standing?” the officer asked.

On their feet, Duck and the repo man seemed about a ton bigger than they did on the ground. The officer shone his light up into their faces and they squinted off to the side, in opposite directions. “You want an ambulance?” he asked the repo man and the repo man said no. “Been drinking?” Duck said this had nothing to do with alcohol. The officer collected driver’s licenses and wrote down some names. He then stepped back to survey the scene and stepped forward again. “This is what I’m seeing at three-thirty in the AM,” he said, returning the licenses. “One fallen tree blocking the east bound lane of my highway, a Honda Civic heading for parts-burg, two galoots sharing a personal problem and a minor. Am I in the ballpark?” Duck started to say something akin to yes but the officer cut him short. “I’m talking to the boy,” he said. “Yes, sir,” I answered. “When I swing back this way at four-thirty, here’s what I want to see; nothing. You got that?” “Yes, sir.” “If the car is not operational, push it to the shoulder, tag it and get it towed by noon. But that tree, my friends, had better be gone.” He opened the door to the police car and turned to look at Duck. “Your mother was concerned enough to call the station. You might think about that.” Me and Duck and the repo man stood and watched the cruiser disappear into the next bend of road. “You heard the man,” I said, feeling strangely empowered. “Let’s get to it.” Well, the white pine still lay hitched to the trunk by a few shards of wood, but our combined weight brought it to the ground straightaway. Hauling it off to the woods presented a bit of a problem cuzz the thicket grew dense near the edge of the highway, but we managed. I collected loose parts off the asphalt; a hubcap, side mirror and broken glass, broken glass mostly, and tossed it into the back of the car. To our surprise, the Honda still ran but didn’t have no windshield. One front tire was blowed, but Duck changed to the spare in no time. I drove the car to the side of the road while the repo man tied Duck’s old tee shirt around his head, though I was sure the bleeding had pretty much stopped. Duck asked the repo man what time it was and he told Duck four ‘o clock. “We got time for a few,” Duck said and opened the trunk. He lifted out a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon, closed the trunk and laid it down on top. Of course, the cans being warm and all shook up, we got ourselves sprayed plenty as Duck popped them open. Duck said something about me being a regular little man and passed me a can, but the truth is, I just don’t like beer. I pretended to take sips while Duck and the repo man, who’s name turned out to be Gregory Faulk, got to talking. Seems they’d both swum the Little Pee Dee as kids and currently had one acquaintance in common, Roy Tilberg who ran a funeral home over in Awkwright. Turns out that our family and Gregory’s family both had kin laid to rest under Roy’s supervision. Gregory also knew Dan Slaughter from the Nissan dealership and by the time he and Duck got done swapping stories about Dan, there was no doubt in both men’s minds that Dan and his little corporation was the sort of carnival side-show that’d give hell a bad name. At one point, our three cans got mixed up on the roof of the car. “Which one’s mine,” Gregory asked. “No matter,” said Duck. When it came time to go home, the issue of the Honda and its legal entitlement got bristly and I thought Duck and Gregory might be going at it again. Each man was insisting to the other that the other man take the car. All Gregory wanted was a ride back to Spartanburg. But truthfully, I suspect this bickering had less to do with politeness than with the pure fact that neither wanted anything more to do with the heap of junk, least ways Duck was thinking that, I can tell you for sure. Duck won out on this argument and even gave Gregory the registration from his wallet. As me and Duck began the hike

TWISTED TONGUE 15


back up Snake Hill, the sky was taking on the first glow of daylight and though our trek was all uphill, the Big-Boy didn’t seem near so heavy in my hands as it did going down. Cody met us at the top of the rise, swishing his tail around like we’d brought home game. Ma was waiting up for us with coffee on the stove and I have to admit, I felt a pea sheepish walking to my room. I climbed into bed but listened to what Ma and Duck were saying in the living room. I couldn’t hear it all,

but Duck was crying and said some things about feeling sorry for himself and never using the word nigger again. Then he spoke something that made me stay awake so long, I watched a band of sunlight crawl down the wall from ceiling to floor. He said it was time to clear his mind of Chester the squirrel and the Little Pee Dee.

Worst Still Waiting

Something Worse

Originally published in Poems That Go SPLAT 2005

Originally published in Niteblade 3/2008

Brian Rosenberger

Seven years of nightmare forever carved into memory deep sleep shattered by screams we were driving home tired from Christmas at the in-laws back roads blanketed in Winter’s first fall lights danced before us swirls of red on white on red like candy canes in motion an accident the police were on scene but the aftermath lingered a truck had skidded its haul lost in the snow a pig farmer from all appearances carcasses everywhere but as we drove closer not swine nor any other livestock infants the truck’s driver was never apprehended but the worst was still waiting Our own daughter still in diapers disappeared five months later no clues no reason just gone like an idea missed in the grasping My loving wife my anchor sought salvation through pills a slow motion suicide I could only watch still haunted by that distant Christmas and the echoing questions still echoing louder and louder now everyone is a stranger and I can no longer bear the sight of pork

© Harry Hughes

Brian Rosenberger

Like a macabre Christmas morning the gifts offered some already unwrapped skin and fur replacing bow and ribbon an occasional snake feathers a possible clue to the bird still missing and of course, mice or just a leg or tail part and parts of the puzzle anatomy lessons all No scream from my wife when she found the rodent much too large for a mouse She had experience playing priest and gravedigger to the victims too slow to escape our cats’ claws Our neighbours recently complained of a rat problem Our four feline mouseketeers Lux, Pez (the ablest hunter), Bosch, and Quatro, the newest member of the hunting party all lovable cats with distinct personalities all born killers We were used to it comedy and tragedy on nature’s stage played out in the basement, the kitchen, the living room, sometime right outside the window now a dead baby rat in the bedroom When we found the nursery empty the crib impossibly big and vacant a landscape of toys and madness I imagined animal holidays tormented then and now by thoughts of gifts, taken and received © Brian Rosenberger

Brian Rosenberger lives in the suburban wilds of Marietta, GA and is active in the Adopt-A-Bigfoot program, a volunteer organization concerned with the care and rescue of this unrecognized endangered species. Additional information about Brian and his other inhumanatarian efforts can be found at http://home.earthlink.net/~brosenberger.

© Brian Rosenberger TWISTED TONGUE 16


TWISTED TONGUE 17


EXCERPT: The Bait Shack by Harry Hughes As Meredith cradled the phone, it rang. It was Boyle with reluctant news. They were behind schedule due to the collapse of a critically located I-beam. The overall cost of the project was getting frisky and his son, Carmine Mondello, lost two fingers on Wednesday while cutting pipe and ogling a female jogger simultaneously. June was out of the question, even with a renegotiated contract. Henry went wild. “Oh, Christ, there goes my phone again. I keep getting signals from Uranus.” He hammered his desktop with the handset before getting back on. “You fucking shanty micks better think about who you’re putting the squeeze on. Take a nap, sober up and hoist that beam, you worthless piece of smegma. Get a hand surgeon for the dago and put his indolent ass back on the job. We chiseled that contract in rock. It’s June or I’ll sue you back into the Bronze Age. Now, I’m going to hang up and pretend I didn’t hear this uncommonly defiling line of pig shit. It’s a long way to Tipperary, pal-boy.” From her desk, Lacy heard this tirade and it quickly dampened the glow engendered by the image of Jablonski waving his tits at fellow convicts again. Henry sprang from his office, yelling at her to do this and that. Then he shouted: “Lunch is a privilege! Where do you get off using your desk as a dial-a-date agency? Do you think this is Coney Island? You could end up as Miss May in Playboy! I just might forget to sign your paycheck this week.” Dial-a-date, Coney Island, Playboy? These kinds of outbursts had become sufficiently routine to spare him another broken telephone, but not the little Oh Gee, Uncle Hank expression she made in response. Henry ranted while Lacy mockingly pursed her lips and spread her eyes. She knew that she would be lying to herself if she denied that Meredith’s harangues were gathering a measure of sordid amusement. Finally, he reached for his coat, snarling. “I notice you’ve been putting on the pounds, just like Karen Kern.” He stepped through the door before the words stopped resonating in her head. That last remark did not qualify as entertainment, sordid or otherwise. Meredith had never mentioned Karen’s name in Lacy’s presence before. Something was piling up inside her like rocks on an ancient cairn. She rooted through her bag for Revel’s card but stopped upon realizing the knee-jerk quality of her reaction. Meredith’s statement was not the kind of evidence that Calvin needed to get involved. The police already knew that Karen had worked for Meredith. So what if he brought her up in the middle of a shit fit? If Lacy became a chronic alarmist, she could forget about petitioning Calvin if things should really turn ugly. She switched on the answering machine and went to lunch, her newly declared privilege. At Tiny’s she thought about the putting on the pounds part of Meredith’s invective and ordered from the lite menu. Halfway through a flaccid pita bread concoction, she looked down at her thighs. They looked the same to her and Dale had not mentioned anything. “Hey Tiny,” she called, from over a limp, dog-eared wedge of dough. “I know, it sucks doesn’t it? You want the fried chicken?” “With the mashed. Next time, warn me,” she said, dumping iceberg lettuce through the laughing metal mouth of the garbage clown. Meredith and Lacy returned to the office at the same time, each quietly sizing up the other for signs of forgiveness or repentance. They settled on a stewing resentment. He held the door for her and, as she passed beneath his arm, she smelled Chinese food. Not too disgruntled to stuff your face, she thought. Waiting for Henry was a message from Nancy Littlecrow to return her call ASAP. He hiked up one pant leg and sat on the corner of his desk. While dialing, he stared through the door at Lacy as she arranged a stapler, roll of tape, Rolodex and computer mouse into a fanciful, miniature theme park. Paper clip people were enjoying the rides. “What is it, Nan?” Calling her Nan represented his trademark form of genuflection. “I once did a two-weeker in Cozumel; just fun in the sun, no business. I kept getting the old good-news, bad-news routine. Yes Senorita, we have clean towels, but at the moment, they’re soaking wet. It was hilarious.” “Nan …” “Yes, Madam, the cocina is open but the chef is on siesta. It wouldn’t stop. It got to the point where I could finish their sentences for them. He’d say, our camarones are the best in all of Mexico, and I’d say, but the shrimp boat hasn’t come in yet. And we’d both bust a gasket. You had to be there.” “Nancy …” “If your offer still stands, send me the check and consider your moron defended. I can cut a deal. He’ll walk. But I wouldn’t recommend future auto repair at Cusky’s, even with the check that’ll have to go their way.” Small bubbles appeared at the corners of Meredith’s mouth. He slid off the desk and commenced a Saint Vitus dance in his wing tips. “Are we still talking Mexico here?” “Yes. The bad news is Bram is dead. I figured that fucker for a dead beat. One shot through the palate, Colt 45, military issue. His psychiatrist became suspicious when Bram didn’t show. The suicide note read something about a dybbuk? Stop gagging, I had some checks coming too.” Meredith dropped back into his chair, shaking. A web of throbbing, blue capillaries erupted across his nose like a field of mole tunnels. Nancy went on. “There’s more. Remember that business about Bram’s invested pay? Well, that money was put into trust by a sister who acquired power of attorney during Bram’s third stay at the fun house. Our checks were good, but unauthorized. She’s going to fight for the money but we can beat her on that. By we, I mean of course, you and your attorney and me and mine. You might also sue the chilies off that private dick in New Haven. Are you there?” Henry jammed a pair of scissor tips repeatedly into his desktop. His eyes turned the color of blood and his voice rose to a pitch far higher than usual. “Maybe you could be Bram for one more check.” “I don’t understand.” “You know, forge his signature on something before the bank catches wind.” He started to cry. “Henry, maybe it’s time to find a hobby, something soft like clamming or mah-jongg.” “Please, Nancy …” “Or try the Cayman Islands for a week. It’s just like in the brochures, British subjects in stiff, white uniforms and the ocean is warm as piss.” “But …” “There’s a Shinnecock axiom about souls wandering in the warmth of sleep. I’d offer it as solace but the exact words escape me. Look, I promise to spring your goon when the retainer arrives. Good-bye, Henry.” Meredith wound the telephone cord around his neck several hitches and let the plastic handset dangle over his shoulder. He rocked menacingly in the swivel seat, running fingers through his silver hair. From her desk, Lacy had witnessed this frightening plunge into enraged despair. She prepared her escape by means of an old telephone stunt whereby her own line rings with the correct combination of pressed buttons. “Meredith Holdings,” she said loudly to nobody. “You’d like to see the beach bungalows? Mr and Mrs who? Pope? Yes, Mr Pope, they’re still available. You’re in town on a lark? It has to be right now?” TWISTED TONGUE 18


She had one arm through her coat sleeve. The soliloquy continued. “Yes, yes, of course. Absolutely. Where are you? I’ll fly right over.” Meredith never heard the report of Lacy’s mission on her way out the door. He did not even know she had left. From his office window, he watched a bank of blue clouds glide over a disabled gasoline truck on Montauk Highway. The driver knelt on one knee and examined the drive shaft. Henry blinked and, from behind some unimaginable inner curtain, saw the man climb the rear ladder of the truck and drop a lighted cloth into the open tank. What followed was not the pyrotechnic display depicted in film, but a silent veil of fire that rose slowly through the clouds, turning them dead white. Ignited rubble settled upon the passing cars, upon the shops along the road. A low moaning of human voices permeated all of space in sickening choral unison. Yet, nowhere was there smoke. Mares from Chelsea Stables buckled to the ground in flames, eyes bursting in their heads from a ghostly heat. Beyond the burning meadows, an eerie berth separated the tidal marshes from the conflagration that hovered just above the water. Within that zone, all of life struggled to escape the end of time. And while the rest of Earth succumbed, wind blew clamorously but without transgression through the walls of the Rottkamp house. With fingers lighter than air, Meredith made out a check to Nancy Littlecrow and drove to deliver it.

Apologia

Dr. Charles Frederickson Under weeping willow composure regained Full moon overshadowing tired limbs Droopy eyelids drinking from river Of no return nocturnal sarcophagus Shaking every branch within reach Silk-lined pockets turned outside-in Wingless flutter showered with stunned Inconsequence impervious to lilting quietude Bullyrag shoves cloudbank treetops pierced Windswept leaves vibrating moist joy Nestling’s feather bed soaked through Cracked egg streaked with blood Horizon’s dark edges stain switchblade Knife plunged too deep into Heart climax yet another cliffhanger Unwritten tome happy ending dele Wet droll clay barefoot impressions Bipedal fossilized dinosaur skeletal remains Loaves of day-old crusty heels Gloves without fingers armless sleeves No trespassing floodgates swung open Overflow strafing soiled unmade riverbed Brow wiped on overstuffed pillowcase Creepy mist slipcovers ruffled spread © Dr. Charles Frederickson

No Holds Bard Dr. Charles Frederickson is a Swedish-American-Thai feisty e- gadfly, mousetifying webiot savant and ARTiculate uniVERSEalist semi-renowned for his untamable foxy moxie and dauntless derringdo. As Yoda advised Luke Skywalker “There’s no try, only do!” His website is @ poetryartcombo.com and his poeartry cosmozine is @ avantgardetimes.com.

Inshallah

Dr. Charles Frederickson Illusions work better than Truthitudes Straight horizontals bent rainbow curves Unable to justify deep-set lies Convincing shadows casting phantasmal doubts INSHALLAH Oasis of serenity midst chaos Shifting quicksand burial mound dunes Uprooted nightmares soiled anima transplants Sleepwalking through contemplative X-static trance INSHALLAH Mirage reinventing reflections distorted rays Invisible white absorbing all colours Unity seeking traces of perfection Overblown minute flaws unbelievabubbles burst INSHALLAH Pipedreams up in hubbly-bubbly smoke Will-o’-the-wisp curlicues playing fanciful havoc Carpetbag cushions easing narghile pressure Hookah recoiling vainglorious hope notions INSHALLAH Fantasies merely unanchored floating islands Bird’s-nest maintaining hollow reed balance Fata kismet saucy just dessert Poached meringue Custard Sea rafts © Dr. Charles Frederickson

TWISTED TONGUE 19


The Undead Alliance Caroline Barnard-Smith

Part Four: The Undead Revolution

W

hen Gabriel entered his office the next morning, he wasn’t entirely surprised to see James sitting behind his desk. He sat down across from him, grimacing slightly when he noticed how strange and uncharacteristically drawn James’s face was. “We’ve known each other for five years” James began. “That’s quite a long time, isn’t it? I gave you control of your own sector, you could have had any woman in it.” Gabriel tried to talk but James stopped him with a searing glare. “You don’t get to speak yet.” He stood up and removed his hat, placing it carefully on the desk. “I just can’t get my head around this, Gabriel. You are my right-hand man, one of the few I thought I could trust.” James paused and Gabriel looked up from the piece of linoleum he had been studying intently. He almost recoiled when he saw how James’s face had changed. His eyes were literally pulsing in their sockets, filling up with the stale blood of numerous broken capillaries. His mouth was screwed into a thin, hateful line, creasing the paper thin skin and tearing it until his lips cracked painfully open. “There’s no need to be so angry, James,” Gabriel said, forcing himself not to be afraid. This was his oldest friend, surely he could make him understand his wish to keep Daisy. “I just want someone to talk to.” “Talk?” James’s voice rose to a screech. “I think you tried to do a lot more than bloody talk.” He lunged forward, scrambling over the desk and slamming his hands down on the arms of Gabriel’s chair so hard that Gabriel jumped in shock. “She told me everything,” he shouted. James’s bloated face was inches away from Gabriel’s. His rancid, hot breath hit him directly in the nostrils, making Gabriel rankle and shake. “How dare you lay a hand on my Princess. I should kill you. I should tear you apart myself and force feed you to your precious human.” When Gabriel began to see the situation clearly, his eyes widened in disbelief. He pushed James away from him and sprung out of the chair, letting it clatter to the floor behind him. “What, exactly, did Princess tell you?” he asked. “The truth. She told me that you lured her to your quarters. She went because she felt sorry for you, she thought you were lonely.” James moved closer again, his eyes still blazing. “She told me that you … That you …” “That I what?” Gabriel pressed, horribly aware that he had already guessed the answer. “That you tried to make her do things. Hideous, sick things with you and a prisoner.” James threw his arms into the air. “What made you think you had any right to touch her? She’s my wife, Gabriel. She’s pure class, she would never see anything in a servile bottom feeder like you.” Something in Gabriel snapped and he felt his own weak eyes begin to bulge. “What the hell makes you think she’s telling the truth? You only met her seven months ago, you’ve known me for five years. Would you really trust her over me? She turned up in my quarters without an invitation. She propositioned me, James. She’s not class, she’s just a top class whore.” Gabriel had barely gotten the words out before James ran at him and punched him squarely in the jaw. Gabriel fell backwards and had to grab onto his upturned chair to prevent himself from sprawling on the floor. He felt skin splitting behind his lips. The wretched taste of decaying flesh and blood filled his mouth like pus seeping from a fetid canker. He turned his head and vomited, trying not to look at the stream of stinking gore that rushed from his mouth. James paid no heed to this. He grabbed hold of Gabriel’s shirt and yanked him to his feet. “She showed me where you ripped her dress trying to get it off,” he shouted into his face. “She was up crying all night. She’s devastated that this happened to her. Those are not the actions of a whore, Gabriel.”

Gabriel’s head was swimming and the world around him began to look fuzzy and uneven, but he forced himself to look James in the eye. “If you want to believe this, then let it be your downfall. She thinks you’re stupid, and I think she’s right.” James released Gabriel and watched him crumple to the floor, his face a stony mask of disgust. He spat on him where he lay, almost as an afterthought. The last thing Gabriel saw before unconsciousness claimed him was James’s boot coming down into his stomach.

G

abriel woke up face down on the concrete in one of his own holding pens. He attempted to lift his head and winced as a dragging pain sprung up in the left side of his face. When he was thrown in the pen his teeth must have smashed on the floor, because Gabriel could taste their dry powder and; after experimenting with his tongue, could feel several jagged spikes where perfectly good molars used to be. He struggled to sit up and managed to back himself against a wall, his breathing painfully shallow. His body felt stiff and foreign, every inch of it ablaze with aching fire. “Boss? How you feeling?” Ribbons was standing outside the bars, his forehead creased with concern. Gabriel tried to swallow and found that his swollen throat would not co-operate. “How long have I been here?” he croaked. “Almost a day. I thought you might not wake up.” Ribbons wrapped his hands around the bars, making him look as if he was staring at a zoo exhibit. “Well I can’t die, can I?” Gabriel sighed heavily and tried to stretch. Every joint in his body pushed red rods of burning agony deep into his brain and he collapsed back into his sitting position with a grunt. “What’s going on out there?” he asked. “Nothing good.” Ribbons seemed close to tears, his gaping chin trembled. “James handed the sector and the plant over to McMurray. He told everyone you were a traitor to your own kind and that you weren’t to be trusted. Is it true that you’ve been keeping prisoners in your quarters?” Gabriel gingerly shook his head. “It was just one prisoner. Apparently it’s okay for Pen to treat them like her private playthings, but if I take pity on one I’m a traitor.” A sudden thought made Gabriel’s sluggish heart speed up and his brain pulse with trepidation. “What’s happened to the prisoner? Where’s Daisy?” Ribbons lowered his eyes. “She’s being sent for processing tomorrow morning. They’ve got her locked up in isolation.” Gabriel fell silent for several moments, the full horror of the situation only just setting in. The isolation cell was little more than a windowless basement with a lock, used for particularly difficult prisoners. “Poor Daisy” he whispered. “This is all my fault. I wanted to change her fate and I’ve made it worse.” “Boss, I don’t think you’re a traitor” Ribbons said. “I know that don’t make no difference now, but its how I feel.” Gabriel tried to smile at him but his facial muscles spasmed and locked up. “Thanks Ribbons. I might need you later, okay?” Ribbons nodded and crept away from the pen, checking to make sure no one had seen him. Gabriel had no idea how he was going to do it, but he desperately wanted to get Daisy and himself out of there. Fuck the Alliance, fuck James. Look where taking orders and being a good soldier had gotten him. He wanted to be his own man again. He heard a key turn in the lock and looked up to see James enter, his face solemn but calm. “I’ve stripped you of your rank,” James said. “I hated to do it, I hate all of this. But you’ve deeply disappointed me, Gabriel.” Gabriel snorted. His nostrils felt heavy with dried blood. “I don’t believe you hated doing this. You always were a sick bastard, I shouldn’t have ignored it at the beginning. I should have turned and run.” James tutted and crouched down before him. “Without me you would have been fodder for a smoking pyre in the country, and you know it. I kept you safe, I sheltered you from the death squads. You must forgive me if it’s too much to ask that you not repay me by molesting my wife.”

TWISTED TONGUE 20


Gabriel rolled his eyes and groaned loudly. “I don’t suppose further protestations of my innocence would sway you now. I’m disappointed in you too, James. I’m disappointed that after fighting by your side for five years, you would take the word of a cheap tramp over mine.” James’s eyes briefly clouded with new anger, but he shook it away and smiled instead. “I never realised what a dick you are” he said. “Well, better late than never to show your true colours. Although I must admit, I’d never had you pegged as the sort of man to enjoy sordid sex with the prisoners. You’re quite a pervert.” “Whatever.” Gabriel didn’t see the use of arguing, James was never going to change his mind. Princess had him wrapped so far around her little finger, he was surprised that James could still walk. “What’s going to happen to me?” he asked instead. “I haven’t decided yet,” James replied. “If it was anyone else, I’d build a bonfire and use them as the guy. But we do have history together, however much it pains me now to say it. I think I might have you sent up to Scotland. Let you wander around in the Highlands out of harm’s way.” James stood up and left the pen, locking the door securely behind him. “I’ll miss you,” he said as he moved away. “Even if you are a complete git.” Gabriel didn’t answer him. He had already begun to formulate a plan, he just had to wait for Ribbons to return.

W

hen the door at the top of the stairs opened, Daisy squinted against the harsh light that poured in. It was pitch black in the isolation cell and now the light hurt her eyes. “Miss? You’ve got to be quiet, I’m coming down.” “Who’s there?” Daisy whispered. The stranger didn’t reply but she could hear the sound of boots on the stairs. Daisy sat glued to the floor, wishing she had some kind of weapon, anything to defend herself with. Her initial search of the room had yielded nothing. Nothing but echoing blackness and her own growing hysteria. After groping her way around the bare walls for an hour, Daisy had finally collapsed, exhausted, to the floor. Daisy watched the stranger’s shadow grow closer. It wasn’t until he loomed over her that she could make out his face in the gloom. “You’re one of the Lieutenants,” she said. “That’s right Miss, I’m Ribbons. You have to come with me.” Daisy began to shake and silently chastised herself, willing stubborn strength into her limbs. “It’s my turn, is it? I’m going to the hospital?” Ribbons bent to grip one of Daisy’s arms and helped her to her feet. “Not if Gabriel can help it” he said. At the mention of Gabriel’s name, an overwhelming relief swamped Daisy’s senses. “He’s letting me go?” Ribbons didn’t answer but Daisy was content to let herself be pushed up the stairs and into the light.

S

trength had slowly returned to Gabriel’s battered body and by nightfall he was able to stand and move around his pen. It was both a curse and a blessing for the living dead. Gabriel’s bruises and broken bones would soon give him no trouble at all, but this was because the injured cells and tissue were entering a level of extreme decay that his undamaged body would eventually reject. If he wasn’t able to patch himself up quickly, to sterilise his wounds and gouge out the live maggots he could feel nesting all over his body, he would become little more than writhing worm food. Gabriel had seen the same thing happen to men under his command during the Revolt. They had lain screaming for hours while medics scrambled to douse them in searing alcohol. In some cases, whole limbs had to be amputated. In worst case scenarios, the entire body had to be given up to flame. Gabriel picked at the few maggots he could see on his arms and stomach, tossing them angrily to the floor and grinding them to white paste beneath his boots. He could already smell himself, and it sickened him. It was the sweet smell of incomprehensible foulness. The smell of things hidden beneath teetering rubbish tips. The smell of rotted faeces, the smell of mouldering vomit. He saw Ribbons approaching and rushed to the door of the pen, hope staining his sunken face.

“Please tell me the plan is working,” he said. Ribbons nodded enthusiastically. “McMurray’s in his quarters and Pen’s on guard. I asked about James and Princess, apparently they’re out in the city somewhere.” “What about the Patrol Zoms?” Ribbons produced a key from his pocket and unlocked the cell door. His flaking hands were trembling. “They won’t come this way again for at least an hour. I’ve hidden Daisy in your office, just like you asked.” Ribbons took a deep breath. “It’s now or never.” Gabriel nodded and stepped out of the pen, snatching a quick look around him. He could barely make out Pen in the distance. She was facing the opposite way, towards the front doors. “Fantastic,” he said. “I suppose I’d better go. You going to be okay on your own, Ribbons?” “Just promise you’ll come back for me,” Ribbons replied. “You know, when you can. McMurray doesn’t like me and I don’t fancy taking orders from him for too long.” Gabriel reached for Ribbons’s hand and shook it. “You’ve got a deal. Now go to your room and stay there, if anything goes wrong I don’t want you involved.” Gabriel made sure Ribbons was out of sight before moving across the plant to an iron stairway standing against the far wall. He hurried up the steps as silently as possible, pausing at the top to take one last look around. Everything was quiet, the prisoners were asleep and Pen still had her back turned. He had to steel himself before entering his former office, knowing that his rapidly disintegrating appearance would shock Daisy. When he opened the door though, he found that he was the one who was shocked. Daisy was hunched behind the desk, small and wild eyed. Her hair stood out in tufts, bloodied and sticky from a weeping head wound. Her hands were twisted into painful claws. They were caked in dirt, the fingers blistered and raw from scraping at the walls of the isolation cell. When she saw Gabriel she seemed to shrivel, as if he had scorched her from a distance. “What’s going on, Gabriel?” she asked. “I’m going to get us out of here,” he said. “What about the Undead Alliance? I doubt they’ll let you back in if you do this.” “I’m no longer part of the Alliance. Apparently I’m a traitor.” Daisy stood up and walked around the desk. “So your departure isn’t voluntary?” Gabriel shrugged. “I think it might have been, eventually. When you think about it, what we do to people isn’t that different to what the death squads did to us. We round up the living and sentence them to death. It’s not exactly progress, is it?” Daisy didn’t answer. Instead, she gestured towards the window overlooking the plant. “So what’s the plan?” “There’s a window further along the corridor. If we can climb out of that there’s a fire escape ladder outside. It’ll get us down to the ground.” Daisy nodded resolutely and began to move towards the door, but Gabriel stopped her. “I’m sorry about all of this” he said. He reached for her and felt his heart spasm dully when she recoiled. “I’m in a bit of a state” he admitted. “Did they do that to you for being a traitor?” Daisy asked. She couldn’t help staring at the jagged, broken line tracing Gabriel’s jaw, his parting gift from James. Pungent yellow pus had boiled up from beneath the skin and dried to a hard shell of frozen gore. It was both transfixing and horrific. Gabriel looked away, embarrassed. “We have to get moving” he said. “We don’t have long before we’re missed.” He opened the door and sprang backwards when he saw who was there to greet him. McMurray stood in the corridor, drawn up to his full six feet, his chest puffed out and his hands on his hips. His rotten lips were drawn back in a wide grin. “Good evening, Gabriel,” he said. “Taking a last look around your old office?” “Just let us go,” Gabriel pleaded, hating the whine in his voice. “You’ll never see us again. I should know how demanding this job is, if we disappear we’ll be one less problem for you.” Gabriel tried to smile hopefully but his face fell when he registered the maniacal glow in McMurray’s eyes.

TWISTED TONGUE 21


McMurray stepped forward, the grin not leaving his face for a second; and grasped Gabriel’s shoulders with two enormous, meaty hands. “You’ve got issues, Gabriel,” he said. “I don’t collaborate with traitors. I knew you’d try something like this, that’s why I made a point of checking your pen. You think you’re better than the rest of us, you and your little meatbag girlfriend.” McMurray snorted like an angry bull and Gabriel had to muster all his working faculties in order not to swoon from the hot stink of his breath. He attempted to struggle against the larger man’s grip but he was still weak. McMurray ground his fingers further into Gabriel’s shoulder blades, causing the muscles beneath the skin to pop and hiss. Gabriel began to shake with fresh pain. “Leave him alone,” Daisy cried. McMurray looked up at her as if noting her presence for the first time. His grin warped into a feral snarl. “You’re next, girly,” he said. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten you.” McMurray threw his great head back and; with a roar, headbutted Gabriel with such force that he felt part of his skull wrench open. Bright lights pulsated deep inside his eyeballs and when McMurray released him, he silently fell away and crashed to the floor, slack jawed and quivering. McMurray proudly admired his handiwork for a few moments before looking up to survey Daisy’s reaction. She had vanished. He turned around, peering into the room’s dark corners. “Where you gone, girly?” he called. “You and me got business to attend to.” “Hey, over here.” The voice came from behind him and McMurray turned with ferocious speed, but Daisy was faster. She hit him full in the face with a heavy glass paperweight swiped from the desk. McMurray tumbled backwards with a cry, sent off balance by surprise as well as the impact. He grasped for something to hold on to but a hard kick in the groin sent him all the way to the floor. He fell across Gabriel, who was still shaking and moaning, landing hard on one leg which twisted inexplicably beneath him. McMurray roared with pain as he flapped around like a freshly clubbed seal. “You broke my fucking leg” he cried. Daisy looked down, not quite believing what she had done. McMurray’s leg was locked at an agonising angle. His knee had literally broken apart. Fetid tissue and stinking gore sprang out of it like a jack-in-the-box from Hell. Trying to breathe through her mouth and block out the wretched stench, Daisy darted across the room and searched the desk for a new weapon. She briefly thought about simply bludgeoning him with the paperweight, but put it in her pocket instead. Finally, she seized upon a lethal looking letter opener and launched herself at McMurray, brandishing the tool high above her head. McMurray watched her rushing towards him and doubled his efforts to remove himself from the floor. “Get away from me you crazy whore,” he shouted. Daisy stood over him, her eyes glinting and dangerous, and plunged the blunt knife deep into McMurray’s forehead. The dead skin and bone split like tissue paper and McMurray screamed, bucking convulsively. Daisy kicked at his flailing arms and legs as she reached in to snatch the knife out of his head. “I think our business is concluded,” she said. She drew her arm back, took a deep breath, and speared his left eyeball. McMurray stopped screaming instantly but his body continued to writhe and contort. Daisy retained her grip on the knife as she wiggled and pushed at it, driving it deeper into McMurray’s brain. When the body lay still, she pulled it back out. With a sickening pop, the eyeball broke free from the confines of the socket, leaving a long sinewy strand across McMurray’s cheek. It sat, skewered on the knife, staring dully at Daisy. She threw the letter opener down in disgust and backed away, her chest heaving and the first waves of hysteria threatening to overwhelm her. “Daisy, help me up.” Gabriel’s voice snapped her out of her trance and she hurried to his side. He was pinioned between McMurray and the floor. “Hurry” Gabriel urged. “He could come round at any moment.” “He’s not dead?” “Only fire kills our kind, but unconsciousness will do for now. Great job, Daisy.”

Daisy laughed, an insane giggle borne from incredulousness and utter horror. She grabbed hold of Gabriel’s arms and heaved him out from under the sleeping corpse crushing his legs. He struggled to stand, but a surge of nausea made him slump back down. Daisy put an arm around his waist and helped him to his feet, trying not to think about the maggots she could feel pulsing beneath his skin. “So, do you want to get out of here?” Gabriel asked. Daisy nodded vehemently. “Yes please. Very much so.” Slowly and carefully, they made their way out of the room and into the corridor. “Where’s this window?” Daisy asked. Gabriel turned and indicated with his head. “This way. It’s right at the end.” They began to walk but a shuffling sound in the darkness made them freeze. “Oh God, what now?” Daisy whispered. Five Patrol Zoms moved into the light, perfectly aligned in a textbook pincer movement. “We’ve been looking for you,” one of them said. “You can either come quietly, or you can come in small pieces. Makes no difference to us.” Daisy glanced at Gabriel. His eyes were dark and complacent, his entire face wore the look of tired defeat. Frantically, she tried to think of a way out of the situation. Just as she was about to give up and collapse into a welcome screaming fit, her hand brushed against something hard in her pocket and she had to stop herself from smiling triumphantly. Almost casually, Daisy reached for the paperweight she was still carrying. The feel of its hard coldness in her hand made her feel stronger. She slipped it out of her pocket and, without warning, thrust it towards the nearest window. The glass shattered loudly and just as Daisy had hoped, the Patrol Zoms turned as one towards the sound. She knew they would only be distracted for a split second so she grabbed hold of Gabriel’s damp hand and began running back down the corridor. The shouts of the Patrol Zoms behind them spurred Gabriel and Daisy on and when they reached the stairs they almost fell down them, coming close to knocking each other to the floor. “Come on,” Daisy said. “The front doors.” She was off and sprinting across the plant as Gabriel struggled to keep up. His breathing was shallow and difficult and the pain in his head burned brighter with every step he took. “Wait” he said. “Pen’s on guard.” His voice was lost in the clatter of their feet on the concrete. The prisoners were beginning to wake up amid the commotion. When they saw Gabriel and Daisy running past their cells they climbed to their feet and started to bang on the bars, hollering and shouting. A second group of Patrol Zoms sprung from the shadows. They leapt towards the pair at lightening speed, riling the prisoners further. Daisy began to slow down when she sensed that Gabriel was stopping. “What are you doing?” she hissed. “Let’s go.” Gabriel looked back at the Patrol Zoms. They were rapidly gaining on them, their ravaged faces hard with anger. “It’s useless,” he said. He was bent double with the effort of breathing, certain that he was going to pass out. Daisy began to speak but a sudden hideous screaming made her pause. It was the Pie Man. His mouth was grotesquely elongated in a guttural shriek and rancid black drool dripped from his withered gums to pool on the floor. “I suppose they forgot to feed him,” Gabriel said. The screams disorientated the Patrol Zoms and slowed them down, but only for a few seconds. Gabriel and Daisy stood and watched helplessly as they began to pick up speed again. Suddenly, Dollface screamed out of the darkness and bowled into the stampeding group, knocking two Patrol Zoms to the floor. She stood over one of them and beat her chest like a tortured gorilla while the other zombies slowed once more and stared at her. She had taken them completely by surprise. “I don’t know who the Hell let her out of her pen,” Gabriel said, “But I owe them a debt of gratitude.” Daisy began backing away towards the front doors and tugged on Gabriel’s sleeve, urging him to follow. Dollface continued to

TWISTED TONGUE 22


run amok amid the slew of Patrol Zoms. Some had broken away and continued to pursue Daisy and Gabriel, but the rest of them were trying to catch Dollface. She ran around them in a crazy circle, screaming and cackling. Daisy pushed Gabriel into a fresh run and as they neared the front doors, a new commotion started up behind them. Gabriel turned his head and saw prisoners scrambling from at least two open pens. They rushed at the Patrol Zoms en masse, exhilaration and delight evident in their shouts and cheers. This was their chance to exact some revenge, and they had a lot of anger built up between them. They launched themselves at the zombies like a force of nature, no longer caring about personal safety. He saw Lizzie jump onto a Patrol Zom’s back, spinning him around and sending him spiralling to the floor where he was set upon by the rest of Daisy’s cell mates. The prisoners bit and clawed and kicked, sloughing away Patrol Zoms’ delicate facial features and dismembering whole arms and legs. Gabriel twisted his head around further as he ran, trying to find the source of their sudden release. He laughed out loud when he saw Ribbons standing to one side, a look of triumph on his face and a set of keys dangling from one hand. Gabriel turned back and saw that they were fast approaching the front doors. They were almost free. The sound of Daisy yelling ground Gabriel’s run to a halt. He turned, black horror twisting his stomach. Pen had knocked Daisy to the floor and was sitting astride her, biting hard into the flesh of her arm. Daisy screamed and kicked but was unable to dislodge her. Gabriel sprung forward and kicked Pen hard in the face, sending her tumbling from Daisy and tearing open a large portion of her cheek and mouth. “You callous bitch,” Gabriel screamed at her. “What have you done?” “You won’t want her now,” Pen screamed back. “Now that she’s one of us. You only want to fuck them if they’re warm and alive.” Gabriel kicked Pen again, putting his entire weight behind his boot. Her face literally caved in on itself under the harsh impact. Her nose disappeared, swallowed by a rising tide of blood. Her right eye disintegrated, making the socket shine like a glistening bloody cave. Her one good eye rolled uselessly as she swayed and crumpled motionless to the ground. Gabriel reached for Daisy’s hand and dragged her to her feet. Her face had completely drained of colour and she was trembling violently, shock and pain reverberating through her entire body. “We’re getting out of here,” Gabriel said, forcing her to look at him. “You just have to keep it together for this last little bit. I’ll get us somewhere safe. It’s going to be okay.” Daisy nodded uncertainly and waited while Gabriel fumbled in Pen’s pockets, searching for her set of keys. He found them and snatched at Daisy’s hand, leading her to the front doors. “Almost there,” he whispered. He unlocked the doors and they stepped outside, the cold night air momentarily stunning both of them.

G

abriel had been surprised at how easy it was to slip through the city unnoticed. He knew he had his friends to thank for that too. He had watched an entire unit of Patrol Zoms vacate the city and head towards the North Sector Harvesting Plant, obviously called in to help control the chaos he’d left behind. The first refuge Gabriel could think of was his old office building. He remembered the security codes so they could lock themselves in and be safe for a short time at least. He tried not to look at Daisy as they made their way through the darkened streets. He knew what was going to happen to her and he could barely reconcile it with himself.

By the time they reached the office, Daisy was already beginning to die. Gabriel tried to make her comfortable on a sofa in the staff room. Her body was wracked with tremors and blood was seeping from her eyes and ears, the first signs of life leaving her body. “What will happen to me?” Daisy gasped. Gabriel sat beside her and put his head in his hands, still not daring to make eye contact. “Waste will start to leave your body. You’ll die, and then you’ll be like me.” “Will it hurt?” Gabriel didn’t answer so Daisy reached out and touched his hand. “Look at me” she said. Gabriel slowly raised his eyes. “I can’t stop this,” she continued. “Neither can you. But what you can do is be honest with me. I’m really scared, Gabriel. I need to know what’s going to happen next.” Gabriel cleared his throat. “People say it does hurt, but not for long. When it’s over you’ll feel very strange, disorientated.” He tried to smile but it looked more like a grimace. “You get used to it.” “Don’t you remember how you felt, when it happened to you?” Gabriel shook his head. “I had it easy. I was bitten while I was drunk. I passed out at home and when I woke up, it was all over.” Daisy arched her back and choked back a cry as a stronger tremor tore through her body. The smell of reeking waste fouled the air and a spreading stain grew beneath her on the sofa. “I think this might be it,” she managed. She began to buck violently. Her head slammed repeatedly against the sofa cushions and a steady stream of crimson streaked from her eyes. She could no longer control her screams and cried aloud as burning pain split her rib cage and ripped through her vulnerable flesh. All Gabriel could do was hold on to her hand, as if she was drowning and he could pull her free from the black water by sheer force of will alone.

W

hen the new day dawned, Gabriel and Daisy sat at a window together and watched the sun rise in silence. There were no words left, no phrase strong enough to erase the horrors of the previous night. After what felt like hours, Daisy felt for Gabriel’s hand and squeezed his fingers tightly. “What should we do now?” she asked. “I’ve been thinking about bringing an end to the Undead Alliance,” Gabriel said. He spoke very quietly, as if he expected a Patrol Zom to be listening in, ready to pounce. “But there’s only two of us, there’s thousands of them. You told me that James controls splinter groups all over the country.” “That’s true,” Gabriel agreed. “But I’m not the only one who hates what they do. We couldn’t have gotten away if I hadn’t had people on my side.” “It’s still a major undertaking. Where do we go in the mean time? We can’t stay in the city.” “How do you feel about the Scottish Highlands?” Gabriel turned to Daisy and saw that she was smiling at him. It wasn’t a happy smile, but it was a smile nevertheless. They returned their focus to the window and Gabriel sighed. He could feel the maggots inside him eating deeper into his tissue, hollowing him out like a Halloween pumpkin. He would need to find some alcohol soon, and bandages. Daisy squeezed his hand again and he looked down in wonder at their interlocking fingers. The maggots could wait for a little while. THE END © Caroline Barnard-Smith

Caroline Barnard-Smith graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and is currently working on her second novel. She lives in Devon, England with her husband where she writes about ruthless vampires, lovelorn zombies, heinous blood cults and anything else that goes “grrr” in the night. You can visit her on the web at www.carolinebarnard-smith.com

TWISTED TONGUE 23


Harry Hughes The Bait Shack Published by BeWrite Books

Page Count-264 ISBN-978-1-905202-92-8 (paperback) ISBN-978-1-905202-93-5 (eBook) Prices: £7.99 (UK). $16.99 (US). $10.99 (Can) Unemployed whiz kid Dale Cooles struggles to save his marriage and his sanity when his previously charmed life’s turned topsy turvy by a cadre of killers and clowns. Dale and wife Lacy—daughter of an eccentric but filthy rich Tennessee lumber magnate—unwittingly adopt into their domestic wrangle Twist, the brain-damaged orphan, and Lieutenant Revels, the beat-weary yet determined conservation officer seeking revenge for Lacy’s unscrupulous boss’s part in the mysterious extinction of rare birds on a prime piece of real estate. And then there are the other extinctions ... the human ones. In the parade of offbeat characters in Hughes’ ingenious and ‘90s-set street smart black comedy of crime, we meet cutthroat businessman Henry Meredith, out for what he can get, psycho hitman Connie Jablonski, out for what he can hurt, mobster Johnny Avalino, greedy to enhance the value of his beach-front property by any means, Nancy Littlecrow, the shameless and cagey Native American attorney who gives new meaning to the term ‘Indian Affairs’, Seymour L. Bram, the retired and retiring Air Force Major suffering from chronic depression and delusions of easy money, Duncan Slochbauer, the slovenly and obsessed amateur producer of grisly news videos ... And we don’t quite meet poor Karen Kern and the faceless others who might have crossed the path of a crazed and kinky serial killer nobody seems to have noticed lurking somewhere in Hughes’ uniquely colourful dramatis personae. A stunning first novel. An up-to-date take on the classic American murder mystery. Harry Hughes tells his suspenseful story in quick-paced and colorful prose and creates dozens of sharply drawn characters, including Dale Cooles, an unforgettable anti-hero in the Philip Marlowe tradition. Michael Lydon. Author and co-founder of Rolling Stone Magazine

Available from WWW.BEWRITE.NET, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Angus & Robertson all other major online stores and, on order, from your local high street bookstore. Distributors: Bertram Books, Gardners, Baker & Taylor, Ingrams For further information and review copies, please contact: Cait Myers at BeWrite Books

All BeWrite Books are available in e-book format from www.bewrite.net

TWISTED TONGUE 24


A Promise Kept C. M. Clifton

Previously published by: Micro Horror

T

Born where vampires are rumoured to exist, C. M. lives among the bayous where mosquitoes can be saddled and Spanish moss droops from oak trees. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina and levee breaches destroyed her home and her hometown, but not her hope or her sense of humour. C. M. enjoys reading and writing dark tales and poems. Her latest stories appear in Strange Stories of Sand and Sea and Bits of the Dead. She invites you to visit her site at www.geocities.com/black_ink_tales.

he telephone rang, cutting into Ilene’s nightmare. She flipped opened her eyelids. Her breasts heaved. Her pulse throbbed in her ears. She lay face up, staring. Shadows from her dream slinked into the corners of the ceiling as she let the answering machine catch the call. “Hey, babe, looks like I’ll be late. There’s been some kinda chemical spill. I’m swamped with patients in the ER, but will be home ASAP. And yeah, I promise to finish cleaning the attic no matter how tired I’ll be. Love you.” Calmed by her husband’s voice, Ilene eased onto her side. She fell asleep soon again. Quaking thunder woke her hours later. Ilene flipped opened her eyes. Pitch darkness greeted her, and her heartbeat leapt. She reached for the handle on the nightstand drawer, her fingertips fumbling until tapping against the drawer’s handle. She pulled. Dipped her fingers into the drawer, grabbed the flashlight, and then got out of bed. When she reached the bottom of the stairs, sudden knocking startled her. She inched toward a window, peeped out. Two of sheriff’s deputies waited. She yanked opened the front door. “Ma’am, I’m Deputy Richards, this is Deputy Sykes. Are you Mrs. Palmer?” Ilene nodded. The deputy continued. “We’re sorry to say, but your husband suffered fatal injuries in an accident. We suspect he was on his way home when he grew ill and lost control of his vehicle…” Richards paused as Ilene began sinking to the floor. He and Sykes caught her by her elbows and led her to the couch. Sykes sat Ilene’s flashlight upright on the coffee table to illuminate the living room. “Is there anyone you’d like us to call?” Ilene shook her head, tears dripping off her chin. Floorboards creaked overhead. “You’re alone, aren’t you?” Richards asked. More than ever now that Marvin’s gone. Ilene managed a nod. “I’ll go check things out, anyway.” Richards flicked on his flashlight, and headed upstairs. Minutes later, pop pop pop banished the silence. Ilene’s shoulders jumped along with her heartbeat. “Stay here,” Sykes yelled, clicking on his flashlight and running upstairs. Seconds later: pop pop pop pop. Dense silence followed. Ilene grabbed her flashlight. She rushed to the kitchen. Slid a butcher’s knife from the wooden block on the counter. She turned to leave and halted when her eyes found the backdoor ajar. “Marvin …” she whispered, her lips quivering. You’re supposed to be here protecting me! Not dead on a cold slab of steel waiting for me to come claim your body! She aimed the flashlight upwards to light the walls, and then crept out of the kitchen. She stood breathless outside the attic room. The door sat ajar, floorboards screeched. Ilene trained the flashlight onto the floor ahead, and pushed past the door. She gasped at the sight of Richards and Sykes sprawled near each other, their blood pooling. She swung the flashlight up toward the movement on the other side of the attic. The beam spotlighted Marvin’s reanimated corpse. Ilene staggered backwards. She stared as Marvin fought to stack cardboard boxes with mangled arms. As he forced his rigor mortis legs to stumble forward. There’s been some kinda chemical spill … “What happened to you, my love?” Ilene’s voice was hoarse with pain. Her flashlight’s beam glinted in Marvin’s eyes. He shot toward her in preternatural speed. Ilene raised the knife. But Marvin was too swift. He snatched the weapon. Then, thrust the thirteen-inch blade into Ilene’s stomach, once, twice, and again. Ilene sank to the floor, still gripping the flashlight. Marvin dropped the knife. Turned away, and retreated to the other side of the attic, his steps awkward and off-kilter. Ilene soon lost her grip on the flashlight. No, not like this, she cried in her thoughts. Marvin began mumbling, his words thick and slurred, spoken with an undead tongue. Ilene struggled to understand him. “I promised … I promised …” she heard, as the darkness of unconsciousness oozed down onto her. © C. M. Clifton

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www.everydaypoets.com TWISTED TONGUE 25


Thank You for Your Service Bill Schweizer

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os Angeles National Cemetery is one of the largest veteran’s cemeteries in the United States. With approximately 85,000 interments, once second only after Arlington National Cemetery, it is sometimes called the Arlington of the West. Bounded on the west by the San Diego Freeway and on the east by the bustling campus of the University of California at Los Angeles, it is nevertheless eminently accessible and visible. Government officials cannot reveal exact yearly attendance, however their best estimate is 30,000 visitors per year, approximately 85 people per day. On an average day 331,000 cars pass by the cemetery on the San Diego Freeway. The 405 was jammed as usual. I hit the radio buttons for traffic advice, but what was the point? I was stopped dead with no exit. I thought of getting off at Moraga Drive, but it would only prolong the inevitable. I’d just sit it out. I adjusted the volume on the radio, and an adenoidal voice of a radio caller came on whining about too many Mexicans crossing the border. “You know Larry I don’t know what’s happening to this country. I’m from a military family. I’m a Viet Vet and my father was a Viet Vet.” I started wondering how two generations ended up in Viet Nam at the same time and, pondering this mystery, I missed the rest of the call. I did catch the host’s heartfelt send-off: “Wayne, thank you for your service.” Thanks for your service. The irony was not lost on me. A little late, but better late than never. With the traffic still as frozen as the forest of cemetery gravestones off to the right, a long buried memory was unexpectedly exhumed.

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e were coming back to my house, three on bicycles, two carrying passengers on the handlebars and three walking. Parked in front of my house at the curb was a car, which was green, “olive drab” I later heard it called, but obviously an army car. We held back wondering. A driver sat in the car smoking. We could see his dark glasses and overseas cap. We just watched maybe for ten minutes until another army man wearing a round officer’s service cap emerged. He banged a fist against the front door then scurried down the stoop and walked over to the car where he waited until the driver got out and opened his door. They were gone a minute later. The other kids were wild with conjecture, but my pal, Mahoney, even then a realist, preferred information to supposition. He dragged me into my own house to investigate. “Dad, who were the army guys?” My father looked at me impatiently, but finally decided to answer. “Straggler detail.” “What’s that?” “Okay, you’ll be in the army soon enough, you might as well understand. Every army in the world going back to Roman times, has what is called ‘the straggler detail’. These are soldiers assigned to shoot anyone not facing the enemy. They are there to discourage anyone from deciding to go home when the bullets start flying.” “Shoot their own men?” “Almost never necessary but that’s it. It’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it.” He paused. “And when the war’s over those guys come home, guaranteed. Where did you think we got our dogcatchers?” Without waiting for an answer to this cynical riddle he added, “Like most everything else in war, whatever happens is between them and the guy upstairs.” With that perfunctory theological coda spoken, my father retreated to his room. We looked at my mother. “The man who was in here was Captain Stevens. He’s in charge of a group assigned to recover money lost in the war.” “Does he think Dad found some money?”

What a crazy question. My father had fractured his spine when a bag of crushed rock fell four stories onto his shoulders knocking him to the ground and the family into a half-decade of want. If there had ever been any money around, it was long gone. My mother continued. “No. He says your father got overpaid in the war.” Then she went back to cleaning. Mahoney asked, “How do you get overpaid for fighting in the war?” But my mother had no answer because there wasn’t one. In the days and weeks that followed we all came to understand the errand of Captain Stevens. My father had been through the Battle of the Bulge. His infantry regiment had been isolated, starved, and shot to pieces by the Germans. Mysteriously, every member of the regiment collected pay including the dead, who were the majority. Stevens, or somebody equally as logical, had decided my dad and a few other survivors were the jackpot winners. Stevens and the bean counters were determined that the republic would be repaid. Stevens came another time and left madder than the first occasion which was par for the course. Nobody except my grandma had ever faced down my old man, and this Stevens guy was clearly not her equal. A couple of weeks later a new team arrived. We saw the car as before, but this time the driver was standing outside and smoking a cigarette. His flame coloured hair was uncapped. We circled him with our bikes. Mahoney’s older brother, Charley, started taunting him by singing a parody of a familiar bugle call, and we all joined in. There’s a soldier in the grass With a picket in his ass. Take it out, take it out. Like a good girl scout. I wasn’t sure what a picket was, and, as I was contemplating the possibilities, the soldier’s hand snaked out and grabbed me by the neck and closed my windpipe. The momentary gleam of murder in his eye was horrible, but it quickly disappeared, and he relaxed his grip. “Anywhere to buy some smokes around here?” “Yeah, The Red Store.” I was choking. “Okay, here get me three packs, get some pop for your pals, pretzels, ice cream, and keep the change.” He had handed me a ten. “What brand?” “Luckies, Camels, anything but Kools. Bring back Kools and your ass is grass.” He added, “Without a picket.” We buzzed to the store and filled the order. John B ordered the cigs. Three packs of Luckies and one Kools. I knew what he was thinking. He handed me the Kools to bring back. Do I get beat by John B or the soldier? Nice choice. We got back and everyone hung back as I stepped forward and gave Carrot Top the Kools. There was a split second when I thought I was going to be shot or strangled as a straggler, but Red burst out laughing and gave me a bear hug. “Goddamn, disobeyed your first order. You’re a natural soldier. Goddamn.” He lit up one of the Kools and choked in the same pitch that I had. Red’s name was Francis Xavier Bailey, Sergeant Bailey, and, despite a penchant for strangulation, he was probably the most gentle and generous guy we kids would ever know. He was driving for Lieutenant Michael Davenport who had apparently replaced Captain Stevens on the straggler detail sent against my old man. We called him “Beetle” like the comic strip. He adopted every kid in the neighbourhood including the bad guys who weren’t quite as bad when he was around. Like my father, he both loved the army and at the same time had a deep and abiding disrespect for authority. In his mind he questioned every order but never disobeyed. Even so we couldn’t imagine Beetle shooting his own men no matter what direction they were facing. The same could have been said of Lieutenant Davenport. My father described him as guts and glory with a baby face. He said after the first visit that Davenport had looked him straight in

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the eye, which is how he judged every man he met. Davenport had passed with flying colours where Stevens had flunked. So the visits started. Davenport’s mission was to get information, a confession, I suppose, as to the movement and destination of the overpayment. It was a mission doomed to fail. My old man said, “Ask the paymaster.” But that was too logical for the army. Somebody somewhere was convinced that the ever crafty foot soldier had developed this perfect scam, to masquerade as the dead and collect their pay. Davenport clearly saw the absurdity of this idea and he had no taste for the errand. Even so he would arrive dutifully, ask my father certain questions, note the answers in a small scratch pad, and then spend the rest of two hours talking with my pop about religion, army life, politics, England, France, Germany, everything but combat, which was a taboo subject carefully avoided by anyone who knew the old man. Davenport had been to West Point and my father’s colonel had too, so my father knew a lot of Point history and stories, which Davenport had never heard himself. The visits were to go on for years, and they quickly became a ritual. My mother would serve the lieutenant her premade mixture of instant coffee, sugar, powdered milk, and boiled water, and, no matter how short our rations were—there were six hungry kids—she always managed to find a piece of cake for the guest. Davenport figured out the obvious and never asked for a second and always politely refused my mother’s phoney and unfillable offer of more cake. Beetle never went in the house. Once Davenport was safely inside, Beetle would open the trunk of the car and distribute treasures rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Baseballs, firecrackers, army patches, fishing lures, soda pop in every colour of the rainbow, and every kind of nut or pretzel or chips sold in bars. He organized baseball games, nailed up a basketball hoop on the utility pole, and rented rowboats from the bait shack three at a time. Beetle caught more fish in one summer than the whole crowd of neighbourhood kids together. But when Davenport emerged from the house Beetle was dressed, spit and polish and ready, with no signs of two hours of fooling with a bunch of kids. At first the visits were three a month in summer and four times the rest of the year, then later only twice in the winter. But they went on and on. Davenport had a notebook and a typewritten list of the names of the “deadbeats”. He also had a list of perfunctory questions to ask which he would read from the notebook and write down whatever my dad answered. The one notebook lasted almost two and a half years. Questions having been asked, they would shoot the breeze for the remainder of two hours like they were long lost buddies. Occasionally, an argument would break out and escalate, and the old man would storm out of the room only to return a few minutes later as though nothing had happened. Davenport took these fits of anger in stride. The lieutenant and the old man would not have called themselves friends but they were, and as for my mother, she treated the lieutenant like a third son. And of course, Bailey passed the time outside teaching discipline and honour to a gang of greatly undisciplined and slightly dishonourable miscreants. It was a frigid Saturday after Thanksgiving. I had finished a job stacking boards for a neighbour and came in to find my father and brother staring at the television, something the old man seldom did unless it was baseball and my brother never did unless it was cartoons. This day of the year it could only be the Army-Navy game. “How’s the army doing Pop?” “Outgunned this year, but they’re not giving up. Come look at this.” The screen was focused on the cadets cheering their losing side. “Look at those kids. Standing the whole time. West Point. That’s where they make heroes.” Then he added. “Davenport is down there. I’m sure of that.” “Pop, you think Davenport’s a hero? I thought he was a straggler catcher.”

“Don’t talk crazy. The lieutenant is as good as they come. It’s peacetime and they’ve got to put him on every crap detail they can think of till they find him a war. But there’s a hill somewhere they want him to charge. Our lieutenant is waiting for that day, and just like those cadets he’s not sitting down. He’s on his feet the whole time. He’s ready.” I wondered how the straggler catcher became “our lieutenant” as I settled in to watch the navy fire its superior guns. Only once did Davenport not start by reading from the notebook. “Major Stevens is dissatisfied with the progress of the investigation.” A major now, Stevens was relentlessly moving up in the slow promoting peacetime world. “He has suggested that things could be accelerated, that is, that better intelligence on the project can be obtained, by reacquiring command status over the subject.” My father came alert like the leader of a wolf pack. “What do you mean by subject?” Davenport did not want to answer but he did. “You. You’re the subject.” The old man now had the scent of blood, and his wolf eyes were gleaming. “And reacquiring command status would mean what exactly?” Davenport coughed nervously and cleared his throat before answering. “Reactivation. Vacating your discharge. Reinduction.” The old man had just what he wanted. “Let me get this straight. That dog-robber Stevens has decided to take me back into the army understanding that I’m over fifty with a spine that’s turning to chalk and maybe slightly out of shape? Does LBJ know you’re taking 4-Fs? Can I bring the wife and kids? Better yet, can I leave them here?” “I don’t think he’s thought through the details, but I guess that’s his basic idea.” “Well, when do I ship out?” Davenport sat still, kind of embarrassed, and by this time he had gotten to know my father enough to suspect an explosion of temper was imminent. But it didn’t come. Instead my father broke out in a smile as wide as the canal outside. And then, in his trademark mock Irish tenor my father started to sing. You’re in the army now. You’re in the army now. You’ll never get rich, You son of a bitch. You’re in the army now. He sang two choruses, and when he started the third, Davenport joined in. And then my little brother Bobby, who loved to swear, started singing too. Word spread in the neighbourhood like wildfire among the kids, who were mostly all outside under the leadership of Bailey, that a licence had been issued to sing the words “son of a bitch”. So everybody was singing. All the kids, and then all the adults, on our block and the next. Bailey, a genuine Irish tenor, was outside the kitchen window his head thrown back singing at the top of his lungs with a choir of maybe twenty. “You’ll never get rich, you son of a bitch.” Twenty choruses, thirty, forty, who knows how many, and, then, as if under the direction of a concert conductor, everybody stopped. Davenport, exhausted, laughed gently and then turned to my mother who had been giggling to the wall before regaining a straight face. “Do you think it would be alright if Sergeant Bailey came inside and had some coffee and cake with us?” Then he explained. “In honour of your husband joining up.” My mother broke into another rare laugh and told Bobby to “go tell that red headed delinquent his coffee’s getting cold”. The sing-along was one of the great events of our neighbourhood, but it had the sad effect of misleading Davenport into thinking he was closer to the old man then he was, and the next meeting turned ugly. We saw Davenport about a month after the concert, and when he arrived he was smiling and clapping Bailey on the back as Bailey resumed his outdoor activities. He sat down as usual

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and gulped the cheap instant coffee with delight as though it had been brewed in Brazil. The old man asked what idea Stevens had come up with this time and Davenport just said, “Forget him.” Davenport wanted to talk man-to-man like two soldiers and about soldierly things. But when he started talking he ventured immediately in forbidden territory. “Tell me, how did you do it? I’ve seen your discharge, the Combat Infantry Badge, and obviously I know the movements of your outfit from December ‘44 to April. How were you able to do it and avoid being wounded? You must have had a guardian angel sitting on your shoulder.” My father said nothing but started to scowl. “Who said he wasn’t wounded?” my mother said. “Don’t start,” my father warned her too late. Davenport answered her. “Well if he had been, he’d have been decorated for it. Purple Heart.” My mother had circled over to where my father was sitting and motioned Davenport to stand up. She reached out quickly and lifted up my father’s shirt. Davenport could see three puckered puncture scars on the front of his stomach and a single round flat scar on his back with radiating spikes like the crab nebula. My father yanked his shirt back down. Davenport gasped. “My God. Gut shot. Three times.” My father was silent. My mother clarified. “Once. Two of those are from drains.” To Davenport the implication was clear. “They should have given you the Purple Heart for that.” The old man growled out the cleanest of three utility French phrases he knew. “C’est la guerre.” Davenport was still standing and excited. “I’ll get it for you. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll get it for you.” “Get what?’ “Your medal. Your decoration. I know just who to see. I’ll apply for you. Wounded in combat. Probably will require an interview, but it’ll sail through.” Now my father was standing and enraged. He had not liked the word “interview”. “You want to give me a medal? Lieutenant, with all respect, you are a sorry fool. They didn’t send you here to decorate me. They sent you to bring back a scalp, to shoot me. So go ahead. Do your duty. Shoot me. Then, if you want to decorate the carcass, be my guest.” Davenport was stunned. “I didn’t come here to shoot you.” My father. “Read your orders again, lieutenant.” Davenport looked at the table hurt and angry. He stood silent a long time before speaking, and before he did he took out the notebook, tore it in half and stacked the halves like a deck of cards, which he slid slowly across the table. “I’m going to get your medal and then come back and pin it on your bare chest, and then you’ll have another hole to explain.” On the way out he stopped to kiss my mother on the cheek. “You deserve your own medal for putting up with that crank.” Then he was gone. My father never saw Davenport again. He was right. The army had a war for Davenport in Southeast Asia, Viet Nam to be exact. Bailey went and Davenport went, and whether or not Stevens went, they seemed to have lost interest in the project that was the purpose of the years of visits. It was during one of my father’s periodic and elongated hospital stays that the straggler mission was aborted once and for all. The Army Records Depot had burned down and none of the tormenting and badgering of the survivors had borne any fruit. So the army declared victory and hastened to close its files. A thin but official letter advised that pursuant to General Order such and such the personnel equalization project number such and such was being discontinued pending application for, and acceptance of, amnesty by a short list of approximately twelve names of which my father’s was the last. Upon notarised application to the Secretary of Defence, full release and amnesty would be granted.

To say my father wanted to ignore the letter was an understatement. He wanted to burn it, tear it, mutilate it, but my mother wanted to close the matter once and for all so my father relented and signed in front of the hospital’s notary. On a December morning punctuated by teasing snow flurries, we drove into Brooklyn to the army offices to turn in the application and receive the thanks of a grateful nation for my father’s service, not the Purple Heart exactly, but an official release, an amnesty duly signed and sealed and suitable for framing. The room, which was our destination, was large with a long counter of at least ten clerk windows like a row of bank tellers. Nine of the windows had one person waiting. Our assigned window had twenty, and we waited an hour for the privilege of speaking at last to a surly clerk with greasy grey yellow hair. He took my mother’s paper as I stood beside her shaking his head and clucking his tongue. “Whatcha got Wayne? We’re waiting to go to lunch,” another idle clerk called to our window “Looks like the last of those pay deadbeats,” he shouted back looking my mother straight in the eye and sneering. The pen chained to the counter was in my hand for a split second before being heaved like a miniature javelin at the idiot’s face. The point of the pen came within an inch of the man’s left eye before the chain snapped tight and the pen fell back to the counter. Even so the man recoiled and fell back against his stool which, being on casters, offered no support. He fell back hard on the asphalt tile floor, and as quickly as I had reacted to throw the pen, three men, two in uniform and one in mufti, had me down on the floor as well. Once down on the floor, and without any discussion, they dragged me partly by my hair across the waxed floor and down a hallway to a room where they slammed and locked the door, which did not open again for an hour. When it did there were six men facing me, four in uniform, two plain clothes. The uniformed officer in charge ordered me to sit in the chair. I focused on the nameplate on his green jacket. Then I recognized him: Stevens. He didn’t waste words. “You’re in serious trouble kid. Assault on a federal officer.” “You call that worm an officer?” He ignored me. “These men want to talk to you, but first you answer to me. How old are you?” “Nineteen.” I wondered if I had waived the 5th amendment by answering. “Ever think of getting your hair cut?” “Yeah, every day. I’m saving up for it.” “So, a wise guy. The army knows how to deal with wise guys. What’s your draft status?” “My draft status?” A scary question. “You heard me.” “1-A.” A truthful answer. “Good answer. So you’re on borrowed time. Maybe I can help you get to the front of the line.” He had a lot more questions, but the most important one had been answered. I finally asked for a lawyer, which everyone in the small room found amusing. Stevens talked for a long time with the plain clothes. “Listen boy, considering you’re probably going to receive an invitation to join our organization very soon we don’t want to create a record that might disqualify you from accepting. You’re leaving here on two feet with all that girl hair, so you owe me one.” “Excuse me if I don’t say thank you.” He ignored what was said and smiled. “I’ll try to make sure that when you come back to us that you get a warm welcome.” Stevens left with the civilians, and the remaining soldiers hustled me roughly down to Tillary Street where my mother was standing shivering and crying on the snowy sidewalk. “It’s all over,” I said, and neither of us spoke again until we were home. Not too long after, while the old man was still away, who should show up on the doorstep in living colour, most of it red, but “Beetle” Bailey. He looked much older than I remembered

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and a bit haggard, but it was great to see him again. I didn’t know how to greet him so I just held out my hand and took his. “Pop’s not here. You know how it is.” He nodded. “You want my mother?” another nod. She was already behind me. “Sergeant Bailey. It’s been so long. Can I get you some coffee?” “Thanks Ma’am. No time. I stopped by to leave something for your husband.” He took a tiny bulging brown envelope from his pocket. “Mike, I mean Captain Davenport, asked me to give this to your husband. He said to say he was sorry for the delay. Twentyfour years late, but better late than never.” My mother knew what it was without looking. We all remembered the last visit. She took the envelope, which was inscribed in blue ink: “With affection, Mike Davenport”, and put it in the tin box where she kept important papers. My mother said, “He should have waited to come himself like he said he would. What difference would a few more months make?” She was smiling. Bailey was silent, even when she smiled directly at him, and then my mother understood and I did too. She choked back a sob and wobbled on unsteady legs. Bailey took her in a hug that substituted for talk, and then, after a few minutes, let her go, saluted and, without another word, was gone. Before my father came home to stay I got a postcard from one of the old neighbourhood kids in the service himself, saying he had heard Beetle Bailey had been killed near the DMZ. “They don’t make better,” the card said. After that, nobody ever mentioned Beetle or the lieutenant or Stevens ever again. When my father died I took the overnight flight and when straight to the funeral home from the airport. The room was dim. My mother sat alone facing the casket. Two old men stood vigil and two others sat apart from my mother. The men standing had medals and nameplates, and I gave a half assed Boy Scout salute to the nearest as I passed him. His nameplate had an unusual name and it occurred to me where I had seen it before, on the amnesty list. I hugged my mother and sat down, and she

talked nervous small talk and then sat still for a long time. Finally she reached in her purse and took out a small brown envelope. The heart shaped imprint of the contents was obvious. She handed it to me and I walked forward. After speaking a few words to the body my father no longer needed, I slipped it in his breast pocket. “Be my guest,” he had said.

I

left off all this daydreaming in time to see that traffic had begun to move, and I wasted no time. I glanced for the last time at the hypnotic rows of marble tablets in the Veterans Cemetery and then looked ahead, accelerating sharply with the rest of the morning traffic. I had turned attention back to the radio too late to hear the topic of a listener call, but I assumed he must have been an old soldier when I heard the broadcaster’s valediction. “Thank you for your service.” © Bill Shweizer

Bill has resided in Southern California almost long enough to pass for a native despite the occasional pang of nostalgia for snow falling on steam grates, pizza by the slice, and Jones Beach. Enjoyments are movies (Manhattan locales - caper flicks - film noir), California history, Linda’s biscotti, Linda, Saturday football, the ocean (either one), and, once in a while, serene travel. His fiction has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Thieves Jargon, River Walk Journal, Bewildering Stories, Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, Green Silk, Lunarosity, The Cynic Online Magazine, Skive, Static Movement Online (frequent contributor),Crime and Suspense, and Mysterical E. “The Cold Reader”, a tale of psychics and skeptics, was recently anthologized in “Ten For Ten” from Wolfmont Press.

Christmas Haiku Greg Schwartz

silent night— a polar bear picks gristle from a fat man’s bones

Christmas Eve— the toy soldiers check their weapons

December night— a bearded fat man and his bag of heads

snow-gray sky. . . zombie reindeer wait by an empty sleigh

slumbering family— the snowman in the front yard shuffles closer © Greg Schwartz

Greg Schwartz fixes copiers for a living and writes horror for fun. His poems have appeared in a variety of magazines, including Illumen, Talebones, Horror Carousel, and Scifaikuest. His chapbook of horror poems, Bits & Pieces, is available from Spec House of Poetry and The Genre Mall. Visit his website at http://greg-schwartz.blogspot.com.

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Sarah Hughes lives with her partner in Yorkshire, England. Her work has appeared in Best Magazine (UK), Twisted Tongue, Fiction Magazine, Aphelion webzine, Gold Dust Magazine and Dark Reveries e-zine. She was also a winner in the Secret Attic October and April Short Story Competitions. She’s recently completed a novella entitled the “Son of Warlock” and put the finishing touches to the first in a set of time travel novels for which she is currently seeking representation. For further information, visit her website: www.shhughes.com

The Applicant S H Hughes

S

o, Sam, tell me a little about yourself … Oh, I’m very sorry. We have you down on the application under the name Sam. You prefer Nick? Middle name? No? Okay, Nick it is then. Now, Nick, I understand you are currently employed. Can you tell me a little about your current position? And so, how long have you worked in the mines? Sorry, I misunderstood. So you don’t actually work in a coalmine, just underground? So is it excavating or building work of some kind? Clearance and retrieval, well that sounds interesting. It can get a little monotonous. Yes, many jobs do get like that. You don’t suffer with claustrophobia then? It’s a spacious workspace, roomy, that’s nice. And the position here won’t interfere with your current job? You choose your own hours of work. Lovely. You’ve applied for the job of department store Santa here at The Cross Shopping Centre, Nick, so could you tell me what elements you think you could bring to the job? Elementals? Sorry, no, I said elements—skills. You’re used to tempting people with gifts. Everyone has something they want, indeed, even the little angels. Anything else? You have a wonderful laugh. Can I hear it then? My! I think if you add a ho, ho, ho! that should pass as perfect. You get to laugh a lot in your current job? Well, that’s nice to hear. I agree, yes, it does make the time go faster. Do you have any experience of working with children, Nick? Mostly adults, well, that’s not exactly a problem. In fact, it might turn out to be a blessing in disguise. You’ve never come across one yet. Well, each to there own. Oh, so you have worked with children before? Was that a counselling position or voluntary work? Similar. How so? You were a sounding board … helped them to see what path their life had taken. So you were a confidant then? And where did these meetings take place? Purgatory? Oh, I’m sorry, I misheard you, in a dormitory, right. Now, obviously, the Santa suit is rather cumbersome and it can get very warm inside it. You’ll be doing two hours at a time … you’re fine with that. Do you have any health issues that you think may interfere with your ability to do the job you are applying for, Nick? No, right, that’s lovely. And how many sick days have you had off work in the last twelve months? No days off sick in the last twelve months, wonderful. Sorry? You’ve never had a sick day off work? Interesting. Just before we finish up, I’d like to ask you a few more questions. It’s not a requirement, but would you be against confirming your age for me? You don’t know how old you are. Well, when were you born? The beginning of time. Right … well, I’ll leave that one blank for now. Any hobbies, writing, painting? War and chaos. Okay, not the answer I was expecting … I think I’ll just put down physical exercise there for now. Lastly, can you confirm your initials and surname for me please? Very good, that’s what we have down here—sorry? We’ve missed out your middle initial. I do apologise I thought you said you didn’t have one. What would that be? A? So its Mr S A … Tan. © S H Hughes

On Top of the World Oonah V Joslin

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ick sat back in his chair and sipped at a Campari and Soda. Retirement felt strange. Still it was good to relax with one’s feet up and take stock of a long and illustrious career. “Another drink, dear?” asked his wife. “Just freshen this one up, then. No soda—plenty of ice.” He liked plenty of ice. He opened the huge box by his chair and looked in. No time like the present. All those years of scraping a living delivering dolls, toys, games, then robots with batteries, transistor radios, portable TVs, mobile phones. More recently everything had to light up, buzz, hover or take off. The changes had happened slowly at first, but with a seemingly unstoppable momentum, the situation began to slide into meltdown. Nobody believed in anything anymore. And did they give a shit that his world was collapsing around him? He swirled the melting ice around in his glass. Not a bit of it. Well okay! He could be self-centered too. After all, from his point of view Global Warming had a positive side. The ice may be melting but he was sitting pretty on oil reserves that everybody else wanted. Nick wanted to remain impartial, so he sold the rights to the Russians—first, then to the US, China, Petrol GB, Icelandic Reserves Ltd., AustralasianSyndication.com and a guy on e-bay in exchange for a Swiss Alpine Peak. He reckoned that a Swiss Peak could come in handy. Then he had the idea to buy this nuclear submarine. He’d fitted her out with every degree of luxury and sunk into a comfortable retirement from the world. The ice could melt, the seas could rise. He had years of supplies and an Alpine peak. One thing … he missed the letters. Nick dipped a hand into the box. This one was handwritten. It’d been years since he’d had one of those. ‘Dear Santa, I’ve been a very good boy and...’ Nice touch. He had millions of them to read and re-read any time he pleased. He looked at the crisped envelope: Santa North Pole On Top of the World Oonah is the Managing Editor of Every Day Poets, and was the winner of a Micro Horror Trophy in 2007, most read author on Every Day Fiction in January 2008, has had five pieces in three consecutive Quarterly Reviews at He certainly was.

© Oonah V Joslin

Bewildering Stories and a 50 word definition of flash in The Smokelong Quarterly. Her flash Trap will appear in Short Humour’s anthology ‘A Man of a Few More Words’. Links to Oonah’s work can be found at www.writewords.org.uk/oonah/ and at www.oonahs.blogsite.com - oonahverse. TWISTED TONGUE 30


Bred in the Bone Jeff Gardiner

I

can’t complain about my childhood. I had everything a kid could require: toys, my own room, food, a regular routine and I could watch the TV as much as I wanted. The only thing I felt some regret about was my parents being too strict about me seeing friends, but they had their reasons and I understood them. To be honest, I didn’t have many friends anyway, only Robbo at school and we got into some trouble together, although I was scared of doing anything too bad as it only upset my parents and you don’t want to know my Dad when he’s angry. Me and Robbo were never bullies or anything like that, just a bit naughty—you know; lazy, not bothering to do the work properly, losing books, giggling and chatting—the sort of things that really irritate teachers, but never get you into serious trouble. We bunked as well, but were clever about it and could expertly forge absence notes. Our form tutor never seemed unduly bothered. I never told my teachers anything, I just kept quiet and everyone left me to get on with my own things. After each day at school, I’d walk home, as it’s only a couple of miles, and go to the chip shop for our regular family order. I usually got home about five and I’d have to tidy up the place—usually the mess left by my Dad—feed the dog, a bull terrier called Trooper, and then when Mum came home at six she’d stick the dinner in the microwave and I’d go and wake up Dad. Dad could be a bit unpredictable at times, but Mum was expert at soothing him and they’ve always been affectionate, so I’ve got used to them kissing and cuddling in front of me. Mum always asked about school and I’d tell her lies about what I’d learnt which kept her happy. Dad would always show me his models: he called himself an artist, although he’d never displayed his work and refused to lower himself by joining the commercialised artworld, as it’s so full of ‘rich bastards who wouldn’t understand art if it was crammed up their arseholes’. Dad always made me laugh and we did a lot together. We liked movies and he’d let me stay up into the small hours, even on school nights, watching his favourite films. I’ve got lots of happy memories of times with Dad. Dad made my favourite toy: a doll—a strange-looking creature that had no name, but that I had always loved and kept in my bed. It might seem a bit strange for a boy to have a doll, but it was just a toy creature—anyway I loved him the best. Dad was really generous in his art and he’d always be making me things and working out what I’d like next. He was considerate and thoughtful like that. Sometimes I’d get a bit bored and wish I had a brother or sister, or that I could go out more with Robbo, but Mum and Dad were good company and I understood that I was needed to help them out with things around the house. Honestly I didn’t mind. It sounds weird, but I did all the cleaning, cooking and washing, not because they made me, but I knew that they were busy and I had the time to do these things. I was proud to be able to help my parents in this way. I never complained.

T

hen, one day, Dad told me he and Mum were going away for a few days, which they had already done a number of times. I’m not scared of being alone; in fact, I’m pretty used to it now and enjoy my own company because I’m used to fending for myself and I’m the most domesticated individual in the house anyway. Looking after Trooper was a bit annoying as he could be quite aggressive and I hated taking him for walks as he would always attack any other dog we met, and even once bit a man who kicked him. Dad was furious and even though the man’s leg was bleeding, he said he sue the man for kicking his dog. Nothing ever came of it. With my parents out of the way, I decided to do something I’d never done before. I went home with Robbo after school. I’d never actually been to a friend’s house before. Mum and Dad don’t really have any friends as they say each other is enough for

them, which is quite sweet when you think about it. They don’t go out much either, except for work purposes or when they disappear, as they do, for a few nights. So I went home with Robbo and was amazed to see how clean and tidy his house was. There were carpets that looked brand new and he had comfortable chairs and a sofa. It was the first time I had sat on a sofa and I marvelled at the way it curved to your back and felt so soft, softer than my lumpy mattress that was so damp and full of bed bugs. The walls had coloured paper over its smooth, flat surface and held shelves full of books or had paintings framed and tacked to the wall. It was all so new and exciting to my eyes, that people could live like this. The whole house was so strange and fantastic, but I think I managed to keep my amazement hidden as I had practised so often before. I could conceal the deepest emotions and was proud of my great skill of deception. Perhaps one day I shall be an actor. What struck me most about the house was its overly hygienic cleanliness. His father was polite and shook my hand and his mother, after kissing him, asked me if I wanted to stay for tea. I nodded my head and smiled politely. Just as I was about to suggest to Robbo that we go out to the park for a bit, his father came in and told him to settle down to his homework to which Robbo dutifully agreed and told me to do the same. This wasn’t my idea of fun—I never did my homework, certainly not at home. When it was tea-time I followed Robbo into the bathroom, wandering what he was doing and copied him when he washed his hands, wondering at this odd ritual. What was even weirder was that we all sat down together at a table and had to say a prayer before eating, even though Robbo had never shown any previous signs of being religious. And then there was the food. It looked colourful, it seemed to be meat, vegetables and gravy—even though I desperately wanted fish and chips. The meat was okay, but a bit chewy and I managed to swallow a few of the vegetables without gagging. Bloody vegetables—I can’t stand them and we never eat them anyway—I understand why now. Then we had an apple pie that scorched the inside of my mouth it was so hot and by the end of the meal I thanked Robbo’s parents in my politest voice, willing my friend to release me from this god-awful situation. Their idea of fun was to sit round a table together and discuss topics that are frankly very dull and pointless. How glad I was that Mum and Dad didn’t torture me this way. Robbo also had a younger brother who made rude remarks and I kept thinking that if he was my brother, then my Dad would have given him a good hiding by now and taught him to keep his mouth shut. I probably would punch him in the face if he talked to me like that. The rest of the evening didn’t go too well either, as I was amazed to find out that my friend wasn’t even allowed to watch films with a 15 certificate, let alone the sort my Dad let me watch. When Robbo was ordered to bed at nine and told to say goodbye to me, I left with a feeling of relief that my own home life wasn’t like this. In fact, it surprised me Robbo was as normal as he was with such tyrannical parents—although I was shocked when he told me his father had never so much as hit him. The colours of the house stayed in my head for a while: the curtains, wallpaper, flowers in vases, the food and Robbo’s games and toys, as I strolled home via the off-licence.

I

made the stupid mistake of telling Mum I’d been round to Robbo’s house, hoping to make her laugh with my description of his weird house. I didn’t know she’d tell Dad and he went mental. It was no use trying to explain to him. He clipped me round the ear a few times and that was painful and even when I tried to defend myself like he’d shown me to he still thumped his fist viciously right into my solar plexus, winding me and making me keel over into a foetus shape. Still not sure if he was angry or if this was just one of our play-fights, he grabbed my wrists and lifted me bodily by one hand so that I hung helplessly in front of him and he punched me again in the stomach. I’ll admit that I blacked out and came round in the kitchen, to the sight of my Mum ticking me off and telling me that I should do what’s good for me. It was a fair point and I eventually got up off the floor,

TWISTED TONGUE 31


which I realised now was very dirty, and made Dad a cup of tea. I told you, didn’t I? Don’t mess with my Dad. In any fight situation my Dad’s the champ—you’ve got to hand it to him. He’s in his forties now and I’m not exactly small. I’m really proud of him. I didn’t expect it then, but Dad grabbed my hair and I have to admit I flinched—call me a coward, yeah, yeah—but he didn’t continue the fight, instead he told me to bring Robbo round. At first I argued but he had a very determined look in his eyes, so I kept quiet, like I’ve learnt to. I’d never brought anyone round before in my life, but it was a reasonable request and Mum even got out the hoover, wanting to make a good impression. So after an extremely dull day at school I walked up our street with a friend by my side to our semi-detached house, number 27, and even before I opened the door I could hear Trooper barking gruffly and growling. You need three keys to get into our house as Dad’s really tight on security, and I let Robbo go in first and he stood there astounded so I had to give him a push to get him in and close the door. I heard him muttering something about the dirt and the stains on the walls, where there were walls as most of them had either caved in or had holes where things were kept in storage. I could see his eyes become horrified but fascinated by the dead rats in the corner of the hall and the cockroaches that freely scuttled about on the damaged floorboards. I wrestled with Trooper, eventually shutting him in the cupboard under the stairs, where he whined pathetically. We had no furniture of any note but the floors were littered with newspaper, burger cartons and general detritus now stuck and moulded over the years. It was my home and I was proud of it. I took him to the back room, which had boarded up windows and a naked bulb that made the room glow with a sickly orange mood. My Dad was in there watching a porn film. Robbo was shaking and too timid to speak as I roughly shoved him into the room. My Dad told him to sit on an upturned bucket, which he did with his eyes wide—exactly like Trooper always looks just before my Dad smacks him. Dad’s an imposing figure if you haven’t met him. He’s not that tall, but he’s very wide and stocky, with iron-grey hair and little John Lennon glasses. Wearing only a crumpled T-shirt and boxers, he smiled at me, winked and told me to make a cup of tea. I’m still not sure what happened as I was out making the tea but when I returned with the drinks made, the two were laughing together. I let out Trooper who continued growling and scratching at me, only shutting up when I gave him some of his smelly biscuits, which he wolfed down as he probably hadn’t been fed that day. I beckoned to Robbo, who had to tear himself away from the film that graphically portrayed whatever fetish Dad was into then, and we went upstairs. By now, Robbo was staring wideeyed and sweating nervously; making comments about wanting to go home, but I called him a chicken and he went sulkily quiet, but at least he stopped whingeing. He looked slightly relieved when we got to my room because it was neater than the rest of the house and I had a television and stereo. He wasn’t sure about the mattress in the corner and couldn’t believe it was my bed. When he asked me where my duvet was I sniggered scornfully

and felt a little sorry for him. The sound of voices outside my room disturbed us and I looked up to see my Mum come out of her own room with a customer. She just wore a thin negligee and popped her head round the corner to say hi. Robbo’s eyes narrowed with confusion, but I felt no need to explain. He was looking at her nipples, I could tell. Instead I showed him my pride and joy: my toy made for me by Dad. Robbo took it in his hands and turned it over, his face becoming more perplexed like he could almost recognise something. The doll was an obscure figure; its limbs were misshapen and vaguely familiar. My friend took a strand of the doll’s hair between his fingers and looked up at me. “Human hair,” I told him casually. His face contorted into a look of disapproval, so I told him the rest. “The body’s made up of bones, fingers mainly. It’s very clever isn’t it? The way it almost looks normal. Dad made it.” “Fucking weird,” he whispered. “You’re family is fucking weird.” He got up very decisively and said with a whimper, “I’m going home now.” That was when I started to feel a bit sad and regretful, because he had always been such a good friend to me, but, after all, as Dad always says, “People never stay friends forever”. Good things must always come to an end. The punch I took at him cracked his jaw bone. Clutching it pathetically, Robbo got up and scampered downstairs. Of course he couldn’t open our specially adapted front door and once Dad had bound his mouth with gaffer tape he had become a limp victim and plaything for my parents. Dad didn’t make me watch this time, for which I was grateful, so I turned on The Weakest Link instead and dialled for a pizza. The rest was so much easier than you can imagine. I just had to tell the police that the two of us were walking alone when a gang attacked us and Dad even went to the trouble of beating me up a little to provide extra evidence with my new bruises to show me as a fellow victim. Nobody saw Robbo come into our house either—who would? Who the hell knows what their neighbours are up to? The body parts were discovered ten miles away in a ditch and it made me laugh when I heard that the police are still searching for a violent gang of youths—I told you Dad’s bloody clever at this sort of thing. No-one’s going to catch my old man. He’s the best. © Jeff Gardiner

Jeff Gardiner has had a number of stories published in small press magazines and anthologies (including one in the British Fantasy award-winning ‘Elastic Book of Numbers’ and in the recent slipstream collection, ‘Subtle Edens’). He has written non-fiction for BFS and Wormwood and is the author of ‘The Age of Chaos: the Multiverse of Michael Moorcock’. He would be more prolific, but finds himself easily distracted by the opportunities to play and have fun with his two lovely daughters.

http://www.duotrope.com

TWISTED TONGUE 32


Something to Remember Me By C. M. Clifton

I

Born where vampires are rumoured to exist, C. M. lives among the bayous where mosquitoes can be saddled and Spanish moss droops from oak trees. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina and levee breaches destroyed her home and her hometown, but not her hope or her sense of humour. C. M. enjoys reading and writing dark tales and poems. Her latest stories appear in Strange Stories of Sand and Sea and Bits of the Dead. She invites you to visit her site at www.geocities.com/black_ink_tales.

had been out for three days when Joe called my mother’s. “Get your crap, tomorrow, or I’ll torch it,” he threatened. “The garbage bags on my porch will be yours.” “Don’t go,” my mother pleaded as I hung up. “Him refusing to give me your stuff all those years you were locked up …” She paused and shook her head. “And now that high and mighty new wife of his thinks she can butt in, too.” Another brief pause. “It just don’t sit right with me. They’re up to no good, I’m tellin’ you.” “I’m going to get my things, Ma,” I said in a nonchalant tone of voice. “I’ve got nothing and I could use some of those clothes he salvaged. Even if he only kept them to torment me all these years later.” I knew my ten years in prison would never be enough for Joe. Nor for his latest wife, Rita, apparently. Joe never believed in post partum depression and won’t ever forgive me for almost drowning our son, Michael, who was six months old at that time. Truthfully, I can barely blame Joe for hating me so much. The next morning, Ma insisted on driving me to Joe’s place, so I let her. She seemed bent on the belief that her presence would ward off whatever evil deeds my ex and his third bride had planned for me. We made the drive only after figuring Joe might be gone to work and Michael gone to school. We found we’d guessed right after arriving and discovering Rita home alone. She stood watching from a living room window as me and Ma hauled the three large black bags from the porch to Ma’s old Cadillac, only turning away after I kneeled and begged her to let me come see Michael without Joe knowing. “Never,” Rita yelled from behind the window. “And besides, Mikey’s gonna be at a friend’s after school, today,” she added, then yanked the curtains shut. Nothing was able to stop my tears afterwards. Not Ma’s words of comfort. Not the beer or the vodka shots. Discovering that ketchup and chocolate syrup had long ago been poured onto what remained of my clothes drove the proverbial knife Joe and Rita had already shoved into my gut even farther into me. A note fell from one of the bags as I emptied it out. ‘Something to remember me by,’ the note read. In Joe’s handwriting. I took the car after Ma dozed off and managed to drive back to Joe’s. I found Rita out back in Joe’s tool shed. We argued. Until I grabbed a hammer. The hammer cracking Rita’s skull and the wet sloshing sound that crept through the air as I pulled the hammer’s head from her brain echoed in my mind now and then as I wielded the chainsaw and dragged my fingertips through blood. Afterwards, I staggered from the shed and into the house. I made it just in time to puke into the kitchen sink. It was after five p.m. by the time I was done washing up and changing into one of Rita’s shirts and a pair of her jeans. I rushed back to the end of the other block where I’d parked the Cadillac, and I waited. Twenty minutes later, I spied Joe pulling into his driveway. He parked his truck. Started walking to the house’s front door. Then he halted, apparently spotting the tool shed’s door ajar. I turned the key in the Cadillac’s ignition. As I drove away, I swore Joe screamed. Guttural, from the soul “… no … no … no …” broke the quiet neighbourhood’s solitude. I urged the car toward the highway, planning to ditch the Cadillac as soon as possible. Hopefully, Ma would get her car back after the cops were done pouring over it. But if I’m ever captured, I would do much more than ten years upstate for dismembering Rita and writing ‘something to remember me by’ in her blood. © C. M. Clifton

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TWISTED TONGUE 33


And Thank You for Driving Carefully John Morgan Previously published by Spinetinglers

“S

o let me get this right—we’re not exactly lost but you don’t know where we are.” “In a nutshell.” Brian huffed laughter. “You are such a twat,” he said. Gavin glanced across from the passenger seat. “It’s not my fault. Have you even looked at these directions? It’s like navigating an anthill.” Brian sighed, but it was only for effect. He had already cast an eye over the hastily written instructions and had to admit it was like trying to decipher spaghetti. “Well,” he conceded, “we can’t be too far away … can we?” “No,” said Gavin, like he had a clue. “But half the places mentioned here aren’t even on the map; it’s no wonder the satnav is up the creek.” They sat in silence for a while, the trees sweeping by like a moss-toned magic eye puzzle. The country roads were as rickety fucked up as the tracks of a ghost train ride but that didn’t stop Brian from driving with one hand barely touching the wheel. “Whoa,” said Gavin, peering ahead, “what’s that?” Brian squinted through the flare and razzmatazz of a midafternoon sun. “Dunno,” he said, staring at the growing mess in the middle of the road. “It’s just a bag of crap, isn’t it?” Gavin pursed his lips, eyebrows bunching. “Er, I don’t think so.” The car thundered on, kicking up cyclones of dead leaves and foliage. “It’s road kill,” said Brian; and then he noticed the crabby knot of broken limbs surrounded by a mulch of meaty tyre tracks; the pancaked head that sprouted crops of something reddish grey. He stiffened at the wheel even as the car crunched over the body. Gavin blinked; in the rear-view mirror he saw muddied jeans and a shirt that was every freak shade of carnage. A frowning Brian mumbled, “Was that what I think it was?” Gavin might have responded but the air was punched from his system as the car came to a screaming halt. “For Christ’s sake, man,” he choked, “are you trying to get us killed?” Brian didn’t answer. He was concentrating on the rear-view mirror, staring at the ribs that lay scattered like runes across the road. Gavin twisted to glance nervously over his shoulder. For a second he had a vivid mental image of the body thrashing about on the hard-packed road, flexing its splintered limbs and shaking itself like a shaggy dog fresh out of water before skittering after them in a faltering, lopsided manner. He shivered despite the greenhouse heat. “Jesus, Bri, get us out of here …” Brian didn’t move and Gavin had to nudge him out of his reverie. “I-said-let’s-go … “ Brian frowned—possibly because of the terseness of his friend’s words. He turned and found an awkward, almost pained expression on Gavin’s face. Gavin hardly moved his lips as he said: “We’re being watched….” It happened fast. There were two, maybe three of them— they leaped from the shadowy cover of trees and hit the road at a full sprint, their naked, gore-painted bodies drizzling a red mist in their wake. Brian swore, his face draining colour as he assaulted the gear stick and twitch-pedalled the vehicle into grinding life. “Get a move on, for God’s sake!” Gavin strained forward against the seatbelt, drumming the dashboard with enough force to break the skin on his knuckles. Brian chanced a glance in the rear-view as he bullied the car into motion. He saw a leering, grinning face—so close he could almost believe that the guy was

sitting on the back seat. He glimpsed the hair, matted back in thick greasy coils with congealing blood trickling down the forehead like candle wax. “HURRY UP, FOR FUCK’S SAKE!” Gavin was rocking in his seat as if he could make the vehicle go faster by sheer will alone. He kept twisting this way and that, like he was trying to see in all directions at once. Brian got the impression that his friend was less than happy with what he saw. “Watch out!” Brian hardly had time to react before the side window imploded with a fractious pistol shot. He yelled, instinctively protecting himself from the shrapnel that needled his exposed skin. A greasy hand, piebald with blood, reached in and immediately struck at his face like a fanged python, the finger nails scratching around in search of an eye to winkle out. Brian tried to lean away, attempted to squirm loose of the oily clasping fingertips whilst forcing his limbs to carry on with the task of driving the car. Gavin seemed to be all over him, blocking his already pisspoor view as another hand or three slithered through the smashed window, each one brandishing a bastardised, Kill-ItYourself hand-tool that looked like something out of a nightmare; all razorblades and rusty hooks. “Faster,” screamed Gavin, a little needlessly as he tried to finger-pick a hand from Brian’s face. “Put your bloody foot down!” Brian stamped on the brake as the weaving car darted for the trees. They both jerked in the seats, Gavin yelling as several blades skated across the back of his wrist. There was a pained grunt and all but one of the arms withered away like dying weeds. He heard Gavin yelling down his ear but it was just noise, Brian couldn’t tell what the hell his friend was saying. Spinning the wheel, he put the car back in gear and tried again. He had to force himself to stay calm. The owner of the remaining arm appeared at the absent window, his face descending into view amidst a veil of ropey, intestinal hair. It had only just occurred to Brian that the bastard must be on the roof. “Move it!” screamed Gavin. “The other one’s getting back to his feet!” “What about this freak?!” Gavin reached across and shoved something into the eyes of the roof-rider. There was a scream and a wet pop; a smell like burning offal. Gavin leaned in further, pushing and shoving and driving the object deeper into the screaming man’s face. Brian heard, rather than witnessed, the roof-rider tumble onto the road with a pained whimpering cry. Gavin grinned and held aloft the object that he had buried into the stowaway’s eye: it was the cigarette lighter from the vehicle’s dashboard. The business end was steaming with a lazy, satisfied hiss, the glowing coil half caked with a sizzling mess. Nervy laughter bubbled up from Brian’s lips, his body pulsing with the ebb and flow of adrenaline. He muttered to himself, palming sweat from his brow. “Are you okay, man?” “Yeah … Yeah, I’m fine. It was just a bit of a shock, that’s all.” “I said are-you-okay?” Brian took a deep, gut-busting breath. “Yes,” he said on the exhale. “Honestly, I’m ok now.” Gavin nodded, apparently convinced, and pointed without comment to a banner that spanned the country road. They peered at the advertisement, noting the typeface with its ‘dripping blood’ effect. Welcome to the annual festival of Pandemonium, it read. Time to kill? Then come along and explore your desires. Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th Feb - FOR 2 DAYS ONLY … DO AS YOU WISH. Ten yards further on and there was a battered sign that leaned out into the road like a hitcher’s thumb. It announced that they were now in Pandemonium and thanked them in advance for driving carefully. The car nosed over the brow of a hill and sped towards the grey, festering wound that was Pandemonium. The streets were bristling with anarchy; a shivering—strangely silent—riot spreading out into the roads amidst a fuzz of flying blood. Axes and machetes, knives and hammers, all rose and fell, all rose and

TWISTED TONGUE 34


fell with a frightening, mechanical persistence. From the lampposts, corpses hung with their fat purple faces resembling fruit about to burst. Brian flinched at the sharp report of a pistol shot and, half ducking, turned to a sloped clearing where a crowd of naked people proceeded to run, tumble and roll down a tall steep hill with a loud rambunctious cheer. The source of their merriment; the coveted prize: a severed head that Catherine-wheeled down the slope in clumsy, hopscotch leaps and bounds. He felt a prod in the ribs and turned to see Gavin nodding towards the centre of town. “God Almighty, will you look at that …” Brian did. Amidst the madness, a picnic area complete with musical band and ice cream van, and a merry-go-round that attracted a healthy business with parents standing idly by and watching their smiling little cherubs in an oasis of calm. He raised an eyebrow; turned back to Gavin. “This is weird,” he said. “This is totally nuts.” His friend nodded like a novelty toy. “Yeah, I told you, didn’t I!” “Well it took us long enough to find the place.” “We got here, didn’t we?” Brian shrugged. “Did you put the knives and stuff in the back?” “Man, you watched me do it.”

“Yeah, yeah …” Brian looked for the closest knot of brawlers and, with a little shiver of resolve, squeezed down on the accelerator. “What time will the rest of the guys get here?” he asked. “Probably here already. I know that Mark and Alan intended to start early—jeez, you should have heard what they intend to do, the sick bastards. Whoa-ho, bull’s-eye!” He punched the roof as the car ploughed into the group of pedestrians and sent them scattering like bowling pins. “I’m telling you,” he said, “this is going to be the best weekend ever! Brian slowly shook his head in mock despair and regarded his friend with a sigh. Cops, he mused, they’re all the same.

Rudolph the Nazi Reindeer

Rudolph the Queer Reindeer

Rudolph the Nazi reindeer sees the world today in a very different way And if you ever disagree with him, you will find yourself lost inside of the pain that is his unholy 2007 Holocaust

Rudolph the queer reindeer had a very naughty secret Hidden deep inside of his closet And if you ever ask him to confirm or deny it he would always hang his head in shame and whisper this simple answer

All of the other true believers bow and praise his name They never let anyone talk smack about their master and commander They never play any time wasting games When instead they can be out conquering the world

Don’t ask Don’t tell About my time in jail With my cellmate Mr. Big Jello who greeted me with a very different kind of hello One that never shall I forget So sorry but that’s my story and like grape jelly on toast I’m sticking to it

Ramona Thompson

© John Morgan John Morgan has always been interested in horror and sci-fi literature. In the past he has been a member of The Ghost Story Society, as well as a regular face at meetings of The Birmingham Sci-Fi Group where he would listen to authors such as Iain M Banks, Harry Harrison, Graham Joyce and Terry Pratchett talk about their work. He has had stories published with Dark Tales, Demonminds and Spinetinglers—‘And Thank You For Driving Carefully’ is the second story that I have had accepted by your good selves.

Ramona Thompson

Then one hellish wartime Christmas Eve America came to say ‘Rudolph with your ego and power so out of control don’t you know?’ ‘You’ve left us with no choice.’ ‘We have to slay you in your sleep tonight!’ Then how all the soldiers beat him as they shouted out in a bloody glee Rudolph the Nazi reindeer you’re so history! © Ramona Thompson

Ramona Thompson has been writing for over 20 years. Her past publishing credits include appearances in such high profile ezine as Justus Roux Erotic Tales and The Sensual Venus website for women among many others. Her most recent and upcoming published appearances include poetry in Erotic Tales 2, Chaotic Dreams, Bareback Magazine, Night To Dawn and Twisted Tongue Magazine. Ramona has also interviewed many up and coming talents including erotic author Justus Roux, metal band Boiler, ex Power Ranger actor Matt Austin and many more. In her spare time Ramona enjoys singing and watching horror films. Readers and fans are always welcome to write to her with their comments at ktmcphrsn@aol.com Fellow writers and human beings you can also find me on myspace at the link below. Feel free to add me. I am friendly and I don't bite … very often. *wink*http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewp rofile&friendID=58856560 My most recent project-An online arts gallery for gays and lesbians can be viewed at the following link http://groups.msn.com/FineArtsGalleryFAG

All of the other reindeer laugh and help to spread the rumours They never leave poor Rudolph alone Always accusing and finger pointing Rudolph the queer reindeer come on, come on Come on and out and admit How much you love to play certain strange reindeer games Then one horny Christmas Eve Rudolph could take no more So he went to Santa to say ‘Mr. Claus with your … so big won’t you guide my sleigh tonight? ‘ Then how everything changed all around the world as the wedding plans were made All of the village people around the world shouted with an unrestrained glee ‘How proud you have made us today!’ ‘Rudolph the queer reindeer you’ll go down in history!’ © Ramona Thompson

TWISTED TONGUE 35


Restorative Justice Jonathan Pinnock

R

icky didn’t bother looking up when his lawyer entered the cell. He didn’t really understand why he wanted to see him now, they had already decided what he was going to say during next week’s preliminary hearing. Not that it was likely to make any difference to the sentence. From what he’d been told, it wasn’t looking good. “Ricky! Good to see you again,” said the lawyer. “Yeah, whatever,” said Ricky. “Hey, don’t look so fed up, kiddo. I’ve got some splendid news for you.” “Like what?” “Well, this doesn’t happen very often, but it looks as if they’re going to let you have a second chance. They’re giving you the opportunity to take part in the restorative justice programme.” The lawyer smiled at Ricky. “Well?” he said, “What do you think?” “What’s … restorative justice?” said Ricky, pronouncing the words carefully. “Well, I’m not too sure of the details, but it usually involves the perpetrator meeting the victim and making some kind of amends for what happened. To be honest, I’m a little surprised that they picked you, because between you and me, I think the world would probably be a much better place with toe-rags like you behind bars …” “Cheers, mate.” “… but there you go. The workings of the judicial system are oft-times a wondrous mystery to behold. Anyway, it seems that if you agree to participate, you can be released tonight.” “Huh?” “Ricky, what I’m saying is that if you sign this form and go through with the programme, they will let you go. Tonight.” The lawyer passed him a pen. Ricky hesitated. “Don’t worry,” said the lawyer, “I’ve checked it through. You don’t need to read the small print.” Ricky signed his name. “Excellent!” said the lawyer, “Well, that concludes our working relationship. It’s been a pleasure. And I will now leave you in the capable hands of these lovely people, who will escort you to the next stage of the process.” Half an hour later, Ricky was sitting in a waiting room in the local hospital. He wasn’t sure why he was here, but apparently it was all part of the programme. Just so long as they got it over quickly. He was looking forward to celebrating tonight. His mates wouldn’t believe his luck. “Ah, Ricky!” said the man in the white coat, “Welcome to the RJ unit. I’ve heard so much about you. Dr Wilkins.” He extended his right hand, then withdrew it with an embarrassed look as he realised that Ricky’s hand was handcuffed to the burly warder sitting next to him. “Well, step this way then,” said the doctor, motioning for Ricky to follow. He led him into a side ward, which contained four beds, only one of which was currently occupied. The patient in it was barely visible beneath a clutter of tubes and electronic equipment that gave out a cacophony of frightening noises. A nurse was busy with a thermometer in one hand and a clipboard in the other. She looked at Ricky with a certain amount of disdain when he entered. “Do sit down,” said Dr Wilkins, indicating a chair and signalling to the warder to use the handcuffs to attach Ricky to it. “Now, Ricky,” he said, “See that man in the bed over there? That’s Mr Khan. You do remember Mr Khan, don’t you?” Ricky said nothing. “I take it that you do then,” said the doctor. “As you can probably see, Mr Khan is not in a good way. He was very severely injured in the attack, and he only just escaped with his life. It’s only because of all this fiendishly expensive equipment that he’s still with us. But we can’t keep him going like this forever.” Ricky still didn’t say anything. “However, there are ways of helping him. I must say I was extremely pleased when we got your results through, Ricky. It isn’t often that we get a perfect tissue match.” “Huh?” said Ricky. “A perfect tissue match, Ricky. You do understand what the restorative justice programme involves?” “Well …” said Ricky. “What it involves is this,” said Dr Wilkins. “Provided that we have a good tissue match, we can repair Mr Khan by using the organs of a suitable donor. We take whatever he needs from a less worthy person—say, his attacker---and use them to make him whole again.” “But …” Ricky was getting a bad feeling about all this. “I know what you’re going to say,” said the doctor. “You know which organ poor Mr Khan needs, and you don’t really feel that you can spare it. But perhaps you should have thought of that before you chose to stab him through the heart. Anyway, if you’d just like to stop wriggling around like that, the nurse can give you your pre-med …” © Jonathan Pinnock

Jonathan Pinnock was born in Bedfordshire, and—despite having so far visited over forty other countries—has failed to relocate any further away than the next-door county of Hertfordshire. He is married with two children and a 1961 Ami Continental jukebox. His work has won several prizes, shortlistings and longlistings, and he has been published in such diverse publications as Smokebox, Every Day Fiction and Necrotic Tissue.

TWISTED TONGUE 36


Descent to Ascension Gary Hewitt

S

o cold. I should turn back. Damn, it’s freezing. I can’t do this. My arms turn me round. I see the shoreline gurgling a cheerful farewell. Kick my legs. No use. Out, out to the

deep. A flashlight finds me. I discern fitful yells. I can’t understand what they say. My thoughts are of water, the stuff of death. I breathe. Lungs fill with liquid. My vision swims in a pool of watery asthma. I can’t cough. God, it’s a horrible way to die. Is this death? My nostrils can smell the stench of stale water. How can that be? A rheumy eye flickers open. I’m lying on a tablecloth carpet of red and white. A mouldy quilt offers protection. My bones have strength and I stand. My legs ache, especially the calves. I flounder to my feet and take refuge in an unfitting executive chair of faded green— funny, for some reason I’m reminded of sitting with my mouth open and waiting for a dentist to see how many teeth he can wreck with a drill. A dripping hand rests on a desk. An incongruous pad and pen lie waiting. There are no words, just a smudged red margin. An ancient lantern sighs a lazy lament with its fading flame and makes the room glow with a phosphorous exhalation of algae and cream. My head swivels left. A small plate waits on a ledge. Four perfectly cut sandwiches smile back. I’m fucking ravenous.. My body lurches to the meal. The butter is off, the prawns fresh. Don’t care. I crave food, I must have it. The first two slices disappear in a gulp. It is fine tasting garbage. Starvation dulls but a tad. The rest of my feast soon merges with teeth, tongue and saliva. Better. Much better. A glass of coke next to the plate and a brown river washes the broken bread away. Where the hell am I? My twisted face smacked by the thought, curiosity restored. “You’ve eaten; good. Come on, quick or you’ll miss them.” The voice guttural, alien. I spin to witness a drab, bald, wizened creature watching me from an open doorframe. A gappy smile snarls. He is naked but for a scrap of towelling. I try to speak. A bizarre squeak of my creation pollutes the air. I scowl in confusion at the stranger. “Haha, don’t worry, it always takes a while for newcomers to find their voice. Look, I’ll explain later but Atlas is about to preach. Come on, we must go.” A flimsy hand of surprising power takes possession my wrist. Compelled, I’m ushered towards the front door. Soon, we find ourselves in a passage of dirty beige panels and are joined by a host of feral strangers. They are all in the same strange garb as my odd benefactor, all owned by the same febrile urgency. We come to a set of stairs filled with a swarming mass of thrashing limbs, clamouring to be away from this building. My guide leads me into the hominid vortex. I’m dragged along in this human current washing away to the moonglow outside. The air is rancid, filled with the stench of mould. There is a great clamouring ahead. I cannot say what it is except it seems to pulse to and fro. The human effluence swims ever on towards the noise. Now I can hear it better. Two words, shouted over and over. “Pick me, pick me.” Everyone in this place is screaming those words. My battalion stops and add their voice to this strange battle. All except me. I cannot speak. My companion is with me still. I thought him at first to be an old man yet his bright eyes tell me different. I want to ask where we are, why everyone is here, how do we get away. He senses my anxiety and offers a smile before adding his own voice to the ‘pick me’ chorus. He jabs a finger ahead and I can make out a dais hoisted on poles of timber. “Silence. All of you fall silent in the realm of redemption,” roars a voice of tremendous potency. I struggle to make out the speaker. His order is obeyed. There is no sound but the hush of great anticipation.

“How great is our number? How worthy our cause? I offer blessings from the adjudicators to you all. May the joyous of us find release. May the great ship come, may they bear you away.” The crowd murmur approval before genuflecting in reverence. I stand, oblivious in ignorance of this alien protocol . I see the preacher. He doesn’t stand on the rostrum, by some quirk of fate his clawed feet hover inches from the platform. He is clothed in the attire of a cruel eagle, in his left hand he wields a club of bone spiked at its helm with darkened spectral thorns. His right holds a dagger dripping with black liquid. His face disturbs me. It is covered with an avian skeletal helm of black and grey. Atlas’s eyes bore into me from behind a sharpened beak. I drop to my knees. He raises his arms and points to the lunar sky, satisfied all is still. “I sense their coming. Praise their name, may you find salvation or damnation. Two of you will leave my flock this night.” All eyes stare above. The stars shimmer then dim, shaken by the passing of something momentous. “Behold, they come. May the worthy claim their prize!” The crowd rise with no warning. I struggle to my feet. Two men on my right exchange punches. The stronger sends his opponent to the mud. A foot tramples on the prostrate man’s skull sending the unfortunate victim to suckle on wet earth. Bedlam. Everyone is fighting, screaming or climbing. Two great masses of writhing bodies smash together and they form unholy people pyramids rising to the moon. There are figures on the top of these rickety structures and they renew a familiar chorus. “Pick me, Pick me!” Their voices desperate. I back away, afraid. A hand grabs my wrist, my strange benefactor is back at my side laughing despite the swathe of blood cascading from a gouged eyes. “Wer appned?” I manage to babble. “Oh, don’t worry about this, stranger. All our wounds will heal by the next rising. Then we try again. Look at the top of the pyramids, look.” A man pounds his chest. He has great strength and will not fall. Atop another, a woman, pregnant, kneeling in supplication. I cannot understand how she stays on top or how she got there, but no-one can remove her. A great burst of sunfire blasts away the greyness without warning. All of us below cower, shielding our eyes. The pyramids remain and a craft of great size rows down from the stars. The peculiar ship’s hull opens and an escalator of bone and blood prevails upon the top of the pyramid. The strong man continues to pound his chest. “Yes. Pick me. Pick me.” Three impressive figures descent towards the muscled disciple. From where I stand I can sense they don’t seem to be men despite their resemblance to the human form. The first is bare-chested with the emblem of the sun blazing across his breast. The face is covered with a stone mask etched with a slight outline of crimson trailing towards the chin. The intruder’s arms do not end in hands but in hooked talons, eager to inspect. His legs are garbed with unknown runes whose meaning I can only but guess. He pauses, turns to his left beckoning the second one forward. I discern little from this creature. Its form is shrouded in a grey robe, its skull covered in an obsidian helm revealing nothing but two bright orange orbs staring at the one who would be worthy. The creature does not speak but turns to the final member of the trio. This one, too, sports a robe. When the distance closes, the garb is discarded and a female is revealed. Her hair flaxen and shimmers to the radiance of our forgotten Sun. Her face is painted in a pastiche of orange and blood. She illuminates our darkness with an ever-present smile. Her body is bare but for a chain skirt which does little to hide propriety. Still laughing , she holds out her arms commanding us to fall silent. All obey, except the man atop the pyramid, screaming to be worthy. The woman beckons the man forward. He takes great effort

TWISTED TONGUE 37


and ascends the first step. The stone-faced guardian reaches out, takes possession of the supplicant’s arms and hoists him aloft. Only now do I realise their size. The man I took for a giant, is suspended ten foot from the ground without effort in front of his judge and yet barely makes it to the level of his chest. The helmed one peers uninterested, the female diverts her attention towards the top of the pyramid upon her left where the pregnant woman sways to and fro in a maternal trance. “Take me with you, please, take me from this darkness.” The guardian’s tattooed chest rips into life allowing its ethereal warmth to scour the man’s soul. “Not worthy.” Two words, so simple, so destructive. The guardian stretches his arms wide. His captive’s limbs are torn apart and his husk falls. The arms drop towards us and in fever the pyramid disintegrates. I stare at the three figures and see stone face has hold of the man’s neck. A claw rips the head from the torso. The creature opens its cruel mouth and bites into the back of the skull, gnawing hair and skin. Despite the man’s fate, somehow, he manages to scream an unending farewell. “I’m free. At last I’m free.” The beast bites again and licks into thoughts and brain. The sacrifice’s eyes glaze and the head is impaled upon a stick of ebony. The rest of the man’s body is picked up by an ankle and for the briefest of moments the three inspect the new kill before tossing his bloodied body towards us vermin. “Hah, a good show, yes? Wonder what they’ll make of her?” I’m appalled at my colleague’s manner. I wonder how he could be so callous until a more disturbing thought takes hold of me. How many has he seen? I cannot but help glance to witness a brawl take place over the newfound cadaver. I glance at a fellow soul with something stuffed into his mouth. I realise it is a chunk of human thigh. The escalator begins to spin. The second pyramid is joined and the pregnant one steps onto the dais. “I can’t believe it, they’ve picked me. They’ve picked me,” she screams with too much cheer for my liking. I don’t want to watch yet my eyes refuse to look away. I know the only way away from here is on that craft. The almost naked woman steps down and grasps her captive by the scruff of the neck before hoisting her aloft. The prisoner’s stomach is inspected by a sharp fingernail before descending to the slender skin covering the unborn foetus. The pregnant woman is stripped and continues her inane babble of disbelief at being selected. I shudder when the female judge pulls her arms back and thrusts her hand with tremendous force into the woman’s womb. Elated, she drops the bleeding baby carrier and reveals a bloody prize. An unborn orphan wails. The judge strokes the back of its head before hoisting her hands aloft. “Worthy.” The unfortunate woman forgotten and those around me cheer. Lightning erupts and streaks into the judges hand over and over. The sky loses its lustre of interminable grey and for a time we find ourselves coated in the brilliance of white. I stare up, see the child floating away, floating to the ship with its new protector applauding loudly close behind. A womb-less woman wails in joy and dread in equal measure. The obsidian helmed one takes hold of her shoulders and shows her to the cannibalistic crowd. “Please, let me be with my baby. Take me with you.” I watch whilst her blood oozes in small droplets of rain onto the unchosen ones. The judge is unimpressed by her pleas, plunges a hand through her back and out through the chest before proclaiming her not worthy. He claims a heart, still beating. With no effort, it rips the rest of her body in two, almost as though she were no more than a sheet of fly paper. Again, the hungry ones below are smothered with skin, offal and placenta. The last thing I see is the creature devouring fresh red flesh. A site I would see again and again.

I

tried to climb the mountain too often. I’ve been alone for an endless time and my skull has long lost its covering of hair. My old companion tried to ascend ages past. I thought he was

going to make it; they seem pleased. Alas for him it was a poor jest. I felt the harsh trail of tears scour my cheeks when they pronounced judgement. All three of them took place in his evisceration on his journey to destruction. Despite my sadness, I got his finger, the taste was surprisingly flavoursome. Nevertheless, many of us were envious of his plight. Believe me, this endurance of non life is far worse than any hellish journey. At least he is free. Atlas begins his song to the Gods once more and the pyramids renew. Like the others, I am emaciated and naked but for a piece of rag atop my thighs. My back is struck yet I stand and find a foothold on a shoulder. I ignore a slash across my thigh from a feral harpy. My new wound spouts grey blood and those below go wild at the taste when the liquid drops into their open mouths. I don’t feel the pain; instead, I am aware of purpose and one aim. Climb, climb, climb. I’ve never been this high before. I feel the peak of the pyramid’s eye gazing up, securing the path to the ship. I stand alone, hear screams of envy. It matters not. This is my time, moment. Worthy or not at least my journey will have run its course. The mould infested air is ripped apart by a sonorous roar. The sound is high, high in the loftiest of places where one can but hope to ascend. They are here. The three. Not yet though. They visit the second of the human pyramids first and a corpulent youth is led to his doom. He is worthy. I care not there have never been two ascensions in one visit. I’m incapable of feeling anything lucid. The hull of the ship approaches. It’s design is of a crushed dagger eager to delve into a new wound. In moments I find myself staring up towards the stone faced one. I hold my arms out in supplication. A hand grabs me by the base of my neck and raises me to the level of the creature’s eyes. I have never known such pain but I smile. Smile at the beast’s curiosity when its malevolent eyes of orange stare into my own and read my story of birth, love and suicide. My brain threatens to boil under such intensity and I sense rather than see his lips move. “Not worthy.” My ears are invaded by the tinkle of gentle laughter. My neck is crushed. I cannot breathe but manage a vermilion scream. Harder becomes his grip until the neck is quite broken. He lacerates my throat and with no effort removes head from body. He tosses the rest of my carcass to his colleagues who set to the task of ripping my cadaver apart. The adjudicators take out the little goodness in my soul and set it into their ravenous mouths, devouring my spirit. My dismembered self is hurled to the crowd. With great joy they set upon a grisly treat. My arms find their way to a man of middle life who gnaws chunks of biceps with several small bites before finding the sweet spaghetti of tendons. Legs are taken by a group of youths, eager to savour the decadence of thigh and calf. My last sight is of a wizened witch ready to indulge in one final act of fellatio.

M

y neck is turned back to my slayer, existence almost spent. He doesn’t speak, instead I am thrown into endless dark where I am lost in a sea of undying waves. The call of hell is mine at last. About me water splashes. I cough, alive but dead. I cannot comprehend what is happening. “He’s still alive. Quick, get him aboard.” My memory retains a vague recollection of that voice. “Can you hear me, bud? What’s your name? You must try and talk to me.” I am hurled over the side of a boat. A boat whose hull reminds me of a well worn knife. “Anyone got a blanket? Get me some coffee. Come on, get to it.” I shiver. I feel so cold, so alone. I’m covered by a blanket stinking of fish. It does nothing to abate the chill. Shoulders are rubbed by rough hands and steaming liquid is poured into my mouth. I vomit Hudson River and coffee up in one belch.

TWISTED TONGUE 38


“Take it easy, Ray. Jesus, you can’t just stick that into a man who almost drowned.” Eyes begin to focus, the brain begins to accept the reality of salvation. A cynical smile plays across my face. So this is what it’s like to be in hell. © Gary Hewitt

Gary Hewitt, forty years old and has been writing for a few years now treating it mainly as a hobby. He gets a thrill out of creating a story and more importantly feels his work is steadily improving. He has ambitions of writing a book and is well advanced into the first draft of a debut novel. He’s had several stories included in anthologies from the Write Idea, Slingink and also in an anthology from the Grail's writeathon last year. His aim for his stories is to try to be original and his writing does tend to be very much on the dark side! He lives in a small village near Kent and works in London. His ultimate aim is to be a full time writer. He is also a regular contributor to the write idea, the grail and also take part in competitions on Slingink when they occur.

Nipped Buds

Alone Together

Tempestuous nature challenging seasoned predictions Engulfing tidal seawaves without salt Forced open floodgates overwhelming promise Betrayed kismet forecasting uncertain doom

I heard The perfect Melody today Clear and Unforgettable like My devotion To you Nibbling then Piercing tone Deaf ears Sound wave Ribbons reminiscent Abstruse tryst Our first There were No words And yet Lyrical Muse’s Sublime rhythms Kept echoing Your name Humdrum sparkle With dash Of lively Gospel soul Harpsichord fugue Counterpoint reprise Our song I wish We could Once again Be alone Together sharing Consummate harmony Peaceful coexistence

Dr. Charles Frederickson

Dr. Charles Frederickson

Hard lines crease winter’s brow Deep ruts tinged with frostbite Sweaty trickles on the rocks Unblinking cornered eyelids frozen shut Coldness powder puff snowdrift meltdown Heavy fields bounding barbed furrows Flowers’ tongues lapping up showers Leafs’ dry skin veins overturned Awaiting thaw sneaky free-floating spring Hail yields to endless summer Rusty soil unearthing stiff roots Pierced earlobes whispering sweet nothings Upfall licks tarnished spun gold Fickle present tense dusky fate Raw crow cries crackling dawn Leftover stubble gone to seed Bruised past barely surviving routine Dark perfume seducing nightwatch stalkers Waste recycled legacy remains unwritten Empty hours transforming secondhand future © Dr. Charles Frederickson

No Holds Bard Dr. Charles Frederickson is a Swedish-American-Thai feisty e- gadfly, mousetifying webiot savant and ARTiculate uniVERSEalist semirenowned for his untamable foxy moxie and dauntless derring-do. As Yoda advised Luke Skywalker “There’s no try, only do!” His website is @ poetryartcombo.com and his poeartry cosmozine is @ avantgardetimes.com.

TWISTED TONGUE 39

© Dr. Charles Frederickson


When Squirrels Stay Awake in Winter

David Towsey is currently a student on the Bath Spa Masters in Creative Writing. He has had short fiction published in Jupiter SF, The Future Fires, and The Cadaverine. He has also been nominated for a British Fantasy Society award for Best Short Fiction 2008.

David Towsey

T

hey had been driving for over two hours now and the car was cold. Where they were going, she had no idea, but Tom just kept promising it was close. He was always promising things. “What are you thinking?” he asked without looking at her. “That it’s damn cold.” “Sorry about that, heater’s been broke for a few days now.” Of course. This trip was supposed to help them sort through this ‘rough patch’, and already Angela was in a sour mood. She looked over to him, he was carefully watching the road. “Why do you want this baby, Tom?” He blinked. “Because you do.” “That’s not a real reason.” “Well, when you’re a man it just seems that way, you take a back seat in this. I think it’s more about responsibility than want.” “I don’t want to guilt you into this,” she said, and instantly regretted it. “You know that’s not what I meant.”

T

he spot he had chosen was beautiful; a small patch between snow-covered woodland and a frozen lake. “It’s going to be fine, we have four season sleepers, and the tent will hold the warmth,” Tom called from inside. “It’s stunning,” Angela replied. He moved behind her, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. “Yeah, there’s something about a bleak and barren landscape, makes it all the more beautiful.” Angela winced.

“I

‘m just saying it would be nice to have a positive response. To feel that you’re excited about this.” “I am, I promise. You know me though, always thinking about the practicalities. Money, space, the future. Are we ready?” He threw a pebble out onto the lake. It skidded across the ice. “Boys are always throwing stones,” she smiled. “I remember you throwing stones down all the girls’ bikinis on the beach, after school.” “That was awhile back, and it was only one girl,” he said, smiling. “Liar.”

P

ulling on her gloves and hat, Angela stepped outside the tent. Tom was fast asleep. She felt a fool, but headed towards the woods anyway, crunching across the snow. Trees always had a calming effect. As she knelt to re-tie a shoelace, a squirrel pounced on an acorn, only inches from her foot. “Rare find, eh?” The squirrel nodded. “Shouldn’t you be asleep? It’s getting pretty late.” The winter saver shrugged, and raced up a nearby tree to sit on a low branch. “I should probably move on, right? That’s what you’re going to tell me. It’s the wrong season.” The squirrel nodded slowly, placing the acorn under its arm. “None of them have come close. They’re only boys.”

S

he’d left the tent naked, untouched by the winter she should have slept through. Tom was cold now, his lips blue and eyes wide open. He made no sound. Angela was finished for another year. Next year it might be warmer; she’d lost track of them all. © David Towsey

An Anthology of slipstream Fiction What is Slipstream? Slipstream may use the tropes and ideas of science fiction, fantasy and horror but is not bound by their rules. Slipstream may appear to be conventional literary fiction but falls outside the staid boundaries of the mainstream. In short, Slipstream is the most important, innovative and relevant fictional response to the challenges of the twenty-first century. Genre is dead; long live the genre that is not a genre! In this anthology, award-winning editor Allen Ashley has collected 21 brand new Slipstream stories from across the globe from both established and up and coming writers. This is the fiction to thrill, puzzle, excite and disturb. You have nothing to lose but your preconceptions. Featuring stories by: Nina Allan, Neil Ayres, Daniel Bennett, Scott Brendel, Toiya Kristen Finley, Gary Fry, Jeff Gardiner, Ari Goelman, D. W. Green, S. J. Hirons, Joel Lane, Josh McDonald, Mike O’Driscoll, Marion Pitman, Kate Robinson, Ian Shoebridge, David Sutton, Steve Rasnic Tem, Richard Thieme, Douglas Thompson, Andrew Tisbert, and Aliya Whiteley.

http://www.elasticpress.com/subtle-edens.htm

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An Interview with Matt Browne Hi Matt and welcome to Twisted Tongue magazine. As I always say, before we start, can you tell us a brief bit about yourself and your life in general? I’m a computer scientist and part-time writer. I work in the information technology division of Deutsche Bank as a senior team leader in Frankfurt, Germany. I’m married and a father of twin children. My areas of expertise include enterprise content management, knowledge management, and collaboration software. I earned my M.S. degree in Computer Science and Computational Linguistics from the University of Kansas and started my information technology career at Siemens in Munich as a software engineer and project manager developing natural language processing tools with a strong focus on machine translation systems. What first inspired you to write, have you always had creative leanings? I’ve loved science fiction all my life. More than ten years ago I contemplated creating my own sci-fi story, but at first I wasn’t really planning on publishing a book. I’m a commuter and each day I spend about two hours in heavy traffic. Over the years this gets pretty boring. At first the story was developing in my head. Later I bought a little recording device and started working out more of the story’s details: characters, locations, suspense, gripping dialogs, critical milestones etc. Eventually over a period of several months I wrote everything down. After my first rounds of self-editing, I showed this to several friends who would later become my peer reviewers. They encouraged me to keep going and become a real writer. They told me my story had potential for publishing. That was a crucial moment. Could I really do this? Go for it, they said! So starting out as crazy experiment and killing time in my car, this turned into a real project. And I was hooked. Writing became almost addictive. A second motivation was using science fiction as a vehicle to get more people interested in science and to raise the awareness about Nature’s awesome powers. Because of my demanding day job, I needed several more years to get it to a state where publishers would consider it. What are your favourite three books and who are your three favourite authors? They are “Children of the Star” by Sylvia Engdahl, “Time Ships” by Stephen Baxter, and “The Star Kings” by Edmond Hamilton. My favorite authors also include Ken Follett (fiction), Ray Kurzweil and Bill McGuire (both non-fiction). Do your favourite writers inspire you to write? Absolutely, especially Sylvia Engdahl. I was particularly influenced by her book “The Children of the Star”. It’s also a trilogy in which human psychology and biotechnology play a crucial role. I’ve always been fascinated by discussions about human cloning and genetic engineering. Everyday I have the fortune of experiencing the immense complexity of humankind, ranging from the love and support that my family gives me to the sheer ugliness of the many natural, political and economic tragedies in the world. These contrasting human and natural activities drove me to question what it really means to be a “human being” in this universe of ours, how we plan to spend our future and what the future holds for us. There are great opportunities as well as dangers that everyone should be aware of. We need a discussion of the ethical issues related to new technologies, especially in genetics and bioengineering, but also in artificial intelligence and nanotechnology. The plot itself grew out of my strong interest in space and my desire to make spacerelated topics known to a broader audience.

What other things inspire you to write? In the year 2000 the Sunday Times newspaper carried an article by their medical correspondent Lois Rogers with the title “Couple seek to have twins born years apart”. This was the first time I learned about the newly developed technology of embryo-splitting and decided to use it in my novel. I was particularly interested in the psychological aspects and the ethical implications. Besides that, I was also inspired by Bill McGuire’s books Apocalypse and Surviving Armageddon—Solutions for a Threatened Planet. His main message is: “As a race, we survive on planet Earth purely by geological consent.” Causes of mass extinctions include meteorite impacts (asteroids or comets hitting the Earth), massive sustained volcanism and flood basalt events, nearby supernovae or gamma ray bursts, sustained global cooling or global warming. Sadly, our species has added a number of man-made threats to the list: global nuclear war, a pandemic caused by biological weapons such as genetically engineered viruses, uncontrolled proliferation of malicious nanotechnology or the advent of a technological singularity i.e. a smarter-than-human entity who rapidly accelerates technological progress. We have to distinguish between “high impact—low frequency” events on one side and “low impact—high frequency” events on the other. The latter would include minor earthquakes (less than 4 on the Richter scale) or car accidents. It’s our good fortune that high impact events are very rare. Yet they are still possible. Unfortunately, many people do not realize this possibility. We should also pay more attention to the events in between, which are of the type “medium impact - medium frequency”. Larger tsunamis would fall into this category. Scientists knew and predicted that deadly tsunamis would affect the coastal areas of the Indian Ocean. Yet no warning system had been installed in that region before the terrible tsunami hit on December 26, 2004. Your book, “The Future Happens Twice,” is a mix of science fiction, science fact, bio-engineering and IT. What sparked the idea for a story that incorporates such heavy subjects as these and are they areas that you personally or professionally have been involved with? My key message is: we should take Nature’s powers very seriously. This includes extinction level events as well. Again, they are not probable, but they do happen. We should be prepared for that. Supervolcanoes are a reality. Meteorite

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impacts are a reality. Global warming with the potential of a very dramatic greenhouse effect is a reality. I strongly recommend watching Nobel Prize winner Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth”. Even if a combination of manmade carbon dioxide emissions and our entering a warmer period in a natural cycle is responsible, it’s still a very serious issue. We need to do something about it. In the long run we have to look at space as well. Space exploration matters. Our species should not be confined to one planet or one solar system forever. The famous physicist Stephen Hawking once said: “It’s space flight or extinction.” Increasingly powerful technologies make man-threats even more perilous. The Lifeboat Foundation for example develops strategies helping humanity to survive the aforementioned existential risks. Yet how can we achieve space colonization? In my opinion, ultimately we’ll have to leave the solar system. Is slow interstellar travel a feasible option? I think so, but for that we need generation starships or highly sophisticated androids. To me the latter offers a more realistic scenario. An android is a robot designed to resemble a human, usually both in appearance and behavior. This means that at least on the outside an android looks like a normal human being. An android can understand and speak human languages and the robotic features allow him or her to climb stairs or catch balls. Why are androids so significant in my story? Until we can send deep-frozen, hibernating people on interstellar missions, we have to rely on cryopreserved human embryos. This technology is available today and applied in numerous in vitro fertilization clinics. Artificial wombs will very likely become available over the next ten to twenty years. Babies are helpless creatures. On a starship that will have traveled for thousands of years, the use of androids to take care of the babies and raise the children is the most logical approach. This can be complemented by virtual reality environments that will provide additional stimulation during the children’s upbringing and education. So, my novel ‘The Future Happens Twice’ is about embryo space colonization. You clearly are a man with an interest in space and science. Do you have any plans to write more books about these subjects or are you going to take a whole new direction with any future books? Yes, I’m planning two sequels for the ‘The Future Happens Twice’, called ‘Human Destiny’ and ‘The Andromeda Encounter’. The first sequel is about the extrasolar human settlers returing to Earth 84,000 years in the future. All technology has been lost and the cultures are living on a Stone Age level: the Forest People and the Cave People. A long ice age which has lasted for thousands of years has prevented speedy human development. Now at a time of climate change, farming has just been reinvented, but tools are still made of stone. The starship crew is confronted with the question of intervening in the people’s nature-oriented lives. Should they introduce education and technology? The Andromeda Encounter, which completes the trilogy, is about the first intergalactic flight and the encounter with an intelligent alien species. Are you an author who has embraced the internet? Do you have a website or blog that promotes your writing? Do you use the internet for researching your story facts and characters? Absolutely. I have done a lot of my research mainly through books and the Internet. When writing hard science fiction it’s all the more important. I do have a website and a blog. The addresses are www.meet-matt-browne.com and blog.myspace.com/meet_matt_browne Based on your own experiences, what is the best piece of advice that you could give to someone who is thinking of having a go at writing a book? Resist the urge to think writing your own book is a crazy idea. It’s not! Don’t get discouraged during the process when you get the feeling that you’ll never be able to finish. Accept

that writing a book takes a lot of time, especially when it’s a new experience for you. Think of it as a project with milestones and unexpected challenges down the road. Your personal project will take even longer if you’re fully employed and have a very demanding day job. Like I have. So be patient. It can take five years or more, but you won’t regret it. The experience will broaden your horizon, regardless of whether your book becomes a bestseller or you manage to sell a few hundred copies. It’s also important to take breaks. When you’ve rewritten a chapter several times, let it rest for a few weeks, or even better, for a few months. Wait and take a fresh look then. You’ll be amazed about new viewpoints and new ideas. It’ll allow you to make more meaningful changes and the quality of writing will improve further. Conduct all the proper research, especially when you’re writing hard science fiction. Build a network of subject matter experts and likeminded people. Access material on the web from a variety of sources. And don’t forget: You should read at least 30 to 40 books a year (both fiction and non-fiction). That’s crucial. Writers who don’t read much will have trouble creating a great book. Work with peer reviewers. Ask your friends if they’re interested in getting involved. A lot of people greatly enjoy offering critical assessment and valuable feedback. Even small observations and contribution count. The reviewers all become part of your project and part of your story. Working with them can also deepen your friendships. For everything around language, vocabulary, grammar, style and so forth: there are great online resources on the web. Use them! Try out different ones and find out which ones work best for you. Try to master the art of self-editing. The professional editor will come into play later. Delete, delete, delete! This is probably the single most important tip. Delete words, delete sentences, delete paragraphs, even delete entire chapters. Every word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter has to add value. If that’s not the case, get rid of it. Readers are annoyed by redundant or unimportant parts. Readers don’t like to be slowed down, especially when your book should excite them and maintain its suspense. There’s more advice on my website at www.meet-mattbrowne.com - Click left on the “Writing” link. What do you think of the critics? Does it matter what they think about your writing? Have you had any excellent or savage reviews that you felt were flattering or terribly unfair? They are very important indeed. And yes, it does matter to me. I’m glad that the majority of the reviews are favorable and I posted a few of the on my website, see www.meetmatt-browne.com/reviews-fht.html As of October 2008 I’ve also received 15 reviews on the US Amazon site and the average rating is 4 1/2 out of 5, see www.amazon.com/Future-Happens-Twice-PerennialProject/dp/184401830X - the British Amazon site lists 6 reviews. To be honest, I felt really flattered about Detra Fitch’s review. In one paragraph she wrote: “The plot has been done before; however, author Matt Browne has given it much more thought. (In fact, there were times I believed Browne’s version bordered on genius!) It seems as though the author did a lot of research before putting pen to paper, so to speak. I could not, and still cannot, stop wondering if something like this is actually going on in a secret remote location. The very thought is disturbing to me.” I was very touched by this. Writing, especially fiction, is about creating strong emotions. In this case I clearly succeeded. It’s unfair when reviewers get personal. Of course, they have the right to be critical about the plot or the style of writing. In one case, however, a Canadian reader posted a review on the Internet which contained the sentence “This male author seems to indulge in adolescent sex fantasies of girls and women initiating sex in lurid ways, while the men

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merely follow.” Maybe the reviewer lives in the Canadian bible belt. First, the statement is not about my characters that are a product of fantasy. The reviewer made an insinuating comment about me. And secondly, it’s not even true. He should have read the story more carefully. What are your views on self-publishing and e-publishing? I’m in favor of self-publishing as one of several options a writer should consider. Blogging is a special form of selfpublishing and has enjoyed phenomenal success. Over the recent years self-publishing has also become a quite successful alternative for novels. It means that you start your own little company and manage the whole process yourself. This of course requires financial investments on your part. For a high-quality book you need to hire a professional editor and a cover art designer. You need consulting about formatting, typesetting, and deal with the printer. There’s more about these topics on my website. What books are you currently reading? “The Infinite Cosmos: Questions from the Frontiers of Cosmology” by Joseph Silk and “The Songs of Distant Earth” by Arthur C. Clarke (some of the books I like are worth reading a second time). Do you have any plans to turn your book into a screenplay? If not, would you allow another writer to adapt it for the screen if it was ever chosen for such treatment? Yes, I’m in touch with an American screenwriter and his agency in California. We’re about to sign a contract. Do you have any book reviews that you want to share with us? Here’s my favorite book review of ‘The Future Happens Twice’ by T. Fleming from Midwest Book Review: “Never judge a book by its cover! The first installment of Matt Browne’s sci-fi trilogy about colonization of an extra solar planet 42,000 years in the distant future is a surprisingly good read for a first time author, and potential readers should not be put off by the romance-inspired cover art. The Perennial Project (the first in The Future Happens Twice trilogy), is a character-driven 700+ page novel that follows the exploits of scientists and their subjects in a super-secret government project that will send cryopreserved embryos into space to colonize an earth-like planet in order to perpetuate the human race after earth suffers a devastating catastrophe eliminating all biological life on the planet. Browne does not fall into the traps many first time authors do. There is no info dump to give the reader backstory. Instead, the scenes show, rather than tell, the plot. Browne’s scientific background and extensive research on the subjects in the book does not prohibit the layperson from understanding the complex subject matter. Browne explains complicated ideas without talking down to or pandering to the reader. This isn’t a beach novel, but the reader does not need a master’s in science to follow the ideas. Browne does an excellent job of creating interesting, round characters. One of the absent-minded professors, Bruce, is described as wearing two different colored shoelaces. Equally telling is the description of the somewhat nefarious Rick Kanchana, “Kanchana pounded a fist on his heavy desk, barely missing a plate. He pushed away the plate on which lay an unfinished sandwich. There was bit off cheese protruding between two slices of dark bread. The indentations in the cheese looked almost like the cast of a cogwheel—the work of Kanchana’s uneven teeth” (pg 449). Kanchana’s teeth, of course, are a reflection of his twisted morals and ugly personality. Readers may be worried that it will be difficult to follow the different storylines of the twins since three of the four sets have the same names. However, Browne integrates the various storylines and moves easily between them. It is neither difficult to follow nor is it confusing. Though the

theories presented about how our universe will end are pessimistic, the scenario presented is plausible; Browne balances the pessimism with the hope our scientific developments can save the human race. While much of the 720 pages is new information, the basic plot of the story is repeated a few too many times. Mid-novel, when three sets of the twins are brought together, a recap of the previous 400 pages is given. Another 150 pages later, there is a similar recap for the fourth generation twins. It was prudent for Shakespeare to recap the plot for his audience because the crowd was rowdy and often didn’t pay attention, but there is no need for Browne to do the same in the first novel. The third and fourth generation twins are both born and live on a spaceship (unbeknownst to the third generation, it was a hoax), but Browne seems to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to convince his reader that personality is both genetic and environmentally determined, while real-life identical twins, even raised in the same environment and conditions can have very different personalities and reactions to stimuli. Each third and fourth generation twin also refers to their mate as “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” which makes it seem like Browne is reminding the reader the set of quadruplets are not related to each other so no incest is taking place. Ironically, though the book is framed around Debrya Handsen, a linguist, most of the characters speak in the same voice. Diction isn’t varied, and all of the characters, while all being brilliant, speak with similar patterns. This is a common problem with first time authors, and will hopefully be rectified in Browne’s future novels. There is very little of the book devoted to the colonists when they arrive on the planet, and it would be exciting to learn more about the interesting feather trees, the ranaphibo (the six-legged, blue, misshapen hamster-like creature), the light-shy flying insects, and other phenomenon of planet Acantarius. Browne whets the reader’s appetite with a wonderful scene of the Festivals of the Moons in the epilogue of the book, showing the human need for pomp and ceremony and creates an expectation of what will happen in the second volume (Human Destiny). This leaves the reader wanting more and eagerly anticipating the second volume. Overall, the novel was a wonderful read for anyone high school age and above who is interested in planet exploration and plausible future scientific advances. Any reader of this novel will look forward to Browne’s next installment.” Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it? Yes, once. I put my writing aside for a while and pursued other interests. Do you have a particular favourite scene yourself, or one that you are especially proud of? Yes, the beginning of chapter 23. Here it is: “The room was in semi-darkness. It was very quiet. Each of the four patients was lying on a comfortable bed. A plastic tube was intravenously feeding a watery fluid into each patient’s arm. Julara, the first one to wake, was feeling very limp, not aware of her surroundings. She didn’t feel any pain or any other discomfort; instead she was very tired and all her thoughts seemed to be rather slow. It seemed as if her entire head was flooded by a dense fog. When she opened her eyes, the sphere above her looked white. Very white. And something was rocking her gingerly. Despite her fatigue she felt surprisingly light-almost like floating off the ground. No gravity present. Drowsy, Julara kept staring into a big blur. A blur of intangible whiteness. Stars, she thought. Many stars. There was an abundance of them, and their blazing lights melted into each other forming a large sea of stars above her. Her body parts continued to float as though they were weightless feathers gently drifting inside a stellar nebula. Was she back in space?

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And finally … Where would you like writing to take you? Is it a something that you do for fun or do you dream that one day it’ll be your career? At the moment I’m doing this for fun. I like my job as a computer scientist. The progress in information technology is exhilarating and revolutionary in nature. It’s great to be a part of that. The decision to switch to a full-time writing career will depend the sales of my first book.

Matt, thanks for taking part and we wish you all the best for the future.

http://www.meet-matt-browne.com

The Future Happens Twice—The Perennial Project by Matt Browne Price £9.89 Paperback: 732 pages Publisher: Athena Press Ltd (14 Jun 2007) ISBN-10: 184401830X ISBN-13: 978-1844018307 Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.2 x 3.8 cm Blurb: Debrya Handsen, a 33-year-old professor in computational linguistics at the University of Minnesota, is ready for a career change. She decides to leave her academic post and move to Nevada, where she joins a top-secret project that is being sponsored by the American government. Using powerful telescopes installed on the far side of the Moon, the project’s astronomers have discovered an Earth-like planet that is eighty-two light years away; simultaneously a major breakthrough in bioengineering presents the project with the unique opportunity of long-distance space travel. At first Debrya has no idea why the study of language is to play such a central role, and why twin studies are also so important. During her orientation week she discovers a disturbing secret that makes her wish she had never joined the project. Soon she is faced with the dilemma of revealing the dark secrets of the project or being part of the most ambitious undertaking in the history of humankind. Matt Browne’s beautifully worked space epic explores the bounds of human hope and invention and plumbs the depths of human duplicity. Tender relationships between the budding astronauts are pitched against the disillusion they feel when an embattled President confronts them with their true origins and purpose, only to reveal the real culprit in the entire project - something closer to all of us today. The author’s fascination with the fields of bioengineering and information technology sustains the reader’s interest all the way in this futuristic roller-coaster ride. And he asks a terrifying question. Setting aside man’s inhumanity to man, what if Nature herself turns against us? This gripping novel of epic proportions skillfully mixes elements of drama, medical thriller and science fiction. As the story unfolds, Matt Browne takes his readers on a breathtaking journey through vast stretches of time and space. The book can be purchased at any retail book store or online, for example at Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/Future-Happens-Twice-Perennial-Project/dp/184401830X/

40 SHORT STORIES OF HORROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL by Brian Wright A collection of horror and supernatural short stories. How Ron made a pact with the devil and ended up marrying into the family. The camcorder with a mind of its own and evil in mind. Why drinking blood isn’t always good for you. “It was a mixed blessing, Mervyn decided, when he tripped over a step and banged his head against the garage wall. The benefits had been four blissful days spent off work, his wound treated with smiling care by a beautiful young nurse. On the other hand, he had begun to see dead people everywhere ...” - from “Haunted House” (228 pages ) Paperback: £7.85 Download: £2.60

http://www.lulu.com/brianw-stories

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EXCERPT: The Future Happens Twice—The Perennial Project by Matt Browne Chapter 1 TODAY THEY WOULD learn the Truth. The Truth, like everything else, was well documented and would be told according to the book. The Truth even had its own section and heading number at the top of page 6,484 and simply read Phase III: The Truth. Everything was done according to the book, and Phase III would be no exception. Of course there had been some minor deviations over the years, a small hiccup here and there, but the book with its precisely formulated milestones had always managed to keep the project neatly in line. Revealing the Truth was always seen as one of the most crucial phases of the project, and a few worried that it might jeopardize years of hard work. But today meant the start of Phase III, and at last the Truth would be revealed…. Julara, as usual, was the last to open her present. It had always been like that, at least for the past thirteen years. It was clear from an early age that Julara was the most emotional of the four children, and that she would have most difficulty accepting the Truth. Conditioning, therefore, had begun at an early age. Julara would have to learn how to wait, but more importantly she would have to learn acceptance. No one knew exactly how Julara would react to the Truth, but the best had been done to prepare her. The progress over the years had been quite good, but now, even on the brink of adulthood, there were still signs of the anxious child. Julara knew that paper was precious. Although excited, she carefully peeled away the bright ribbons, taking care not to tear the wrapping paper beneath. Andrew and Ellora smiled at each other; they appeared proud of their four children. For them, revealing the Truth would be no easy task, either; but they too had been well prepared. The date on starship Perennial was August 25, 44120, and today the four children were celebrating their sixteenth birthdays. Much had changed over the centuries, but the giving and receiving of birthday presents remained a cherished act. Each year there had been a birthday cake with candles—nothing fancy, but there again the children didn’t know any different. For them it seemed enough to have one day together where they could celebrate the passing of yet another year on the starship. In fact, the scene had been much the same for the last thirteen years, only with the four children gradually changing with each birthday. At first they were just four innocent three year olds, unaware of their surroundings and the complex life that lay ahead of them; but now at the age of sixteen, and bordering on adulthood, they were considered ready for the Truth. In stark contrast, the children’s parents never celebrated their birthdays. It had once been a topic of hot discussion, but Andrew—being Andrew—just awkwardly joked that they were too old, and anyway birthday cakes were a luxury that should be reserved for the children! Each year after Ellora had cut the cake, Andrew would give a short speech. He would normally praise the children for the progress they had made over the last twelve months, and for the way they had worked together as a team. During their teenage years he had started to give more background information about their voyage, and although the children were constantly learning about their mission, their birthdays were commonly reserved for that extra snippet of information—in fact, the Truth had been in preparation for the last thirteen years already, yet the children were never aware of it. As with previous birthdays, the crew was gathered in the Lounge, the largest room on Perennial. It had three large oval-shaped windows, where the crew could view the vast expanse of the universe. A large metal table dominated the center of the Lounge. It was often used for status meetings, but today it was the focal point of the birthday celebration. Andrew rose slowly. When he walked to the end of the table, the children knew that this was his cue to speak. They gradually lowered their voices. “My dear children,” he began. “Once again it is time to celebrate your birthdays, and of all the places in the universe that we could have chosen to celebrate this special day, we have chosen our very own Lounge.” Andrew’s voice sounded rather monotone. He was of medium height and weight, and wore a one-piece dark blue tunic that was fastened at the middle. Julara’s eyes sparkled as she smiled at her father. Every year, for as long as she could remember, he’d started with those very same lines. The children loved their father for his sometimes bizarre sense of humor, but now during their adolescence found it rather annoying at times. Today, however, was special and Julara felt only a deep admiration for her father. “And this year,” Andrew continued, “we have a very special birthday to celebrate. This year you have all turned sixteen. Each and every one of you has become an adult, and as with all previous birthday parties we are ready to share some new information with you. Only this year what we have to share with you is of an adult nature.” The children smiled at each other. Julara covered her mouth as she felt herself starting to giggle. They had sometimes wondered why their parents had been shy about nudity and explaining explicit sexual details. Perhaps now was the moment? Andrew’s face, however, remained serious, almost solemn. “As you all know, we’re on a quest to find a new planet—a new home. Our own planet, Earth, remained under serious threat when we embarked on this mission, and as I speak right now might have even ceased to exist. For the last sixteen years you’ve lived a very isolated life, confined within the walls of this starship, but let me remind you that as founders of the new colony you are in a very privileged position.” Four pairs of eyes remained focused on their father. The teenagers felt proud to be treated as young adults; but at the same time Julara experienced a sense of nervousness. Andrew continued slowly, hesitating with each word. “However, what I am about to tell you will spoil your party. There’s something that we have to share with you. You are now sixteen, and we are confident that as young adults you are old enough to understand what we are about to tell you.” Julara glanced at Gilvan, one of her brothers, whose mood had changed as well. Their father sounded heavy and serious. This was not about something trivial, such as their sexual awareness, she realized, but something much more fundamental to their life on the starship. “First of all,” Andrew said, “there are a couple of things that I’d like to explain in detail. The first is the speed of this ship, and the second is the distance to our target planet. There’s no easy way to say this, but actually, the information we originally told you is incorrect.” Julara’s dark blue eyes met with her father. “The information is incorrect?” she muttered. “Yes, that’s right. The information is incorrect.” Andrew lowered his head momentarily, looking almost ashamed. Gilvan spoke next. “You mean you made some type of miscalculation?” “No,” Andrew said, “there were a number of things that we couldn’t tell you in all detail before today, because you were just too young.” “Too young?” Julara repeated, looking hurt. “You mean that you lied to us?” Like the other teenagers, Julara was tall and strong, and although emotional at times, she was an ambitious, self-confident young woman. Rarely did she show anger toward her parents, but the way her father was speaking now made her feel insecure—never in her life had she been lied to. There had always been trust among them, something of vital importance on the starship. Andrew moved toward Julara. He placed his arm around her shoulder, but it was her mother, Ellora, who spoke next. TWISTED TONGUE 45


She chose her words carefully. “We didn’t want to lie to you, but as your father pointed out, you were just too young to understand all of the consequences.” Julara’s mind was racing. Why would she have been too young? Today she had turned sixteen, but even as a young teenager she would have been able to understand such complex issues. She traded a look with her sister, Sabelle, and then shifted her eyes back to her mother. “What exactly do you mean by all of the consequences?” Ellora fell silent again and let her husband continue. “I’ll come to that in a minute,” Andrew said calmly, returning to his place at the end of the table. “But first I want to tell you more about the speed of our starship. It’s much slower than we told you in the past.” “It’s not half the speed of light?” Sabelle asked in disbelief. “No, it is not. As a matter of fact, it’s only 600 kilometers per second. It’s the maximum velocity that the engineers could achieve at the time of our departure.” For a few seconds everyone remained silent. Only the distant humming of the ships engines could be heard from behind the ship’s main bulkhead. 600 kps: that seemed really slow for their ship to travel among the stars. How could a starship be so slow? Sabelle smiled faintly, not sure whether to believe her father or not. Maybe this was one of his weird jokes, but surely not on their sixteenth birthday, and surely not of such a serious nature. “But Dad,” she probed, “you told us we’re going to reach the planet in two years?” “Indeed we will.” Andrew nodded at her. “Indeed we will,” he repeated. This sounded reassuring. For a brief moment Julara relaxed. They would see the planet as promised—and within the next two years. Of the four children, Gilvan was by far the smartest when it came to figures. His favorite classes included calculus, geometry, and physics. Andrew had expected him to speak next. “This means,” Gilvan said with a frown, “that the ship cannot have left Earth eighteen years ago, as you’ve always told us.” “That’s right.” Gilvan didn’t need much time to do the rough arithmetic, but announcing the result seemed much more difficult, because he simply couldn’t believe it. Julara noticed the worried look on his face. For a time no one spoke. Julara’s mind drifted as she glanced around the Lounge. The candles on their cake were still burning. They hadn’t made their wishes yet, but nobody felt in the mood anymore. Their starship was traveling much slower than they had ever believed. Their birthday had taken a strange turn. Julara was still waiting to hear about the consequences her father had mentioned a few minutes ago. Ellora stepped next to Andrew. “We will now illustrate how this journey became possible, how our starship is in fact able to cross great distances,” she said, her feminine voice bringing a certain calm to the situation. Andrew observed the four children before he continued. “We’ve told you how babies develop inside a woman’s body.” Julara nodded in acknowledgement. She wanted to become a doctor and already knew a lot about pregnancy. In theory she already knew how to deliver a child, something she’d practiced on a number of occasions in the Virtual Environment Compartment. She could also use the ship’s enormous Knowledge Pool stored in the main computer system. It comprised more or less everything that human civilization had learned during its existence. The plan was to start the colony based on this level of wisdom. The database contained plenty of material on pregnancies and babies—something Julara always found fascinating. “You’ve also been told about the process of in vitro fertilization,” Andrew went on. “An embryo can be conceived in a test tube outside of a woman’s body. The embryo can then be frozen using a technique called cryopreservation. Some time later the human embryo can be thawed and allowed to develop in a normal way.” Andrew paused for a moment waiting for a reaction as he glanced around the room. “You see, due to the speed of our ship and the nature of our journey, there was no choice but to freeze—” Julara interrupted him harshly. “We were frozen?” This time Andrew managed to stare the children directly in the face as he disclosed another part of the Truth. “Yes, Julara, you were frozen.” “All of us?” “Yes, all of you.” By now the party mood had completely vanished. Julara was simply appalled by what she’d just heard. So many questions were flashing through her mind. Why was their starship flying much slower? Why had their embryos been frozen? And above all, how could her parents allow something like that to happen? Never before during her short life on the starship had she experienced anything like this. “But how long, just how long has our journey been so far?” Julara asked, stumbling over her words. “Get to the point!” “Please bear with me one moment,” Andrew said, ignoring Julara’s impatience. “As I said, we also need to talk about how far this ship must travel.” He put one hand in his pockets and strode toward one of the large oval windows. When he again had the full attention of the crew, he continued with his explanation. “As you all know the distance between stars is enormous. The closest star to Earth’s sun is Alpha Proxima. It’s already more than four light years away. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have any orbiting planets. It’s part of a triple star system, unfavorable for sustaining life. Some other stars, however, do have planets. They were first discovered in the late twentieth century, but most of them have huge giant planets like Jupiter—not inhabitable at all—far too close to their suns.” Andrew was still standing close to the window filled with myriads of stars. With his left arm he was pointing outside. Julara looked fretful. Why was her father avoiding the answer about the duration of the journey? Andrew met her angry stare. He was getting closer to the Truth. Take it step by step, the Project Manual stated. “It took science some decades to discover the first smaller Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. One of the closest and most promising is Acantarius. We already told you it’s orbiting our destination star Omega Altaris.” Acantarius—the promised planet, Julara thought. They would reach it in two years, her father had said earlier; they would be able to leave the ship. Andrew raised his voice, saying, “The Omega Altaris star is eighty-two light years away from the Sun.” The four teenagers stared at their father, completely speechless. Everybody tried to analyze what this meant. Not only did the ship fly more slowly, it also had to cross a far greater distance. “Eighty-two light years…” Sabelle faltered. This sounded like an incredible number. Like the others she felt totally stunned. Here was another lie! Julara clenched both her hands. “Dad, you told us that we have to travel eight light years.” Her father looked into her blue eyes. “It wasn’t true, Julara. I am deeply sorry, but again, we will reach Acantarius in two years. Still, you have to realize that this ship set out from Earth a long time ago. A very long time ago.” Julara became very alarmed by her father’s apology. Gilvan, in his mind, was already calculating. He looked paralyzed, unable to speak. So Andrew told them. “Our journey started 42,000 years ago.” There was a period of forced silence. The young crew looked at each other in shock. Nobody was able to move or speak for some time. TWISTED TONGUE 46


The manual predicted that the Truth would be difficult to accept. Julara tried to recover herself. “42,000 years…” She let out a loud gasp. “I just don’t believe it!” She sprang to her feet, blood rushing into her irate face. “Dad, no ship can travel that long.” Her mind was churning as she slowly trudged toward the windows. Ellora approached her and put an arm on her shoulder, her daughter already taller than her. “But it is true,” Ellora said softly, “and we expected that you’d be furious. You have every right to be.” Julara spun around, staring down at her mother. “I’m…extremely furious. Furious at this nonsense!” She withdrew from her mother’s touch.” It can’t be right,” she said desperately. “Tell me this is just one of Dad’s bad jokes.” “Julara, if you look at the speed and distance, it must be true,” Gilvan said, his eyes showing resignation. The arithmetic was on his side. His brother, Ronyo, supported him with a short nod. “I don’t want it to be true,” she retorted, directing her anger at both her brothers. When she took her seat again, she felt like taking a plate from the table and throwing it against the wall. But everything on this ship was so precious, and her education had taught her to control her feelings. So Julara did not throw the plate; instead she blew out the candles and finally made her secret wish. Don’t let this be true, please! Gilvan turned his head toward her. “If you divide the distance by the velocity, you—” “No!” Julara snapped. She drew breath, glaring at him. “I don’t care about your formulas, Gilvan. We’ve been told this ship left Earth eighteen years ago. We were born on Perennial two years after departure. No ship with a crew on board can travel for thousands of years.” Sabelle said, “42,000 years seems such a long time—an eternity, really.” Thinking about the implications, Gilvan addressed his father. “This means that you were born on the ship as well. You’ve always told us that you have actually seen Earth.” “Is this another one of your damn lies?” Julara asked, her lips quivering. “I’m very disappointed in you.” “There’s something else…” Andrew’s voice sounded oddly calm, as if nothing had happened. “We expect you to be even more upset and hurt; but we also have great faith in you. All of you are very strong and can face up to this.” He studied the teenagers with an impassive face. Moving toward the Truth. Step by step. “Given the real duration of our voyage,” Andrew said, “you might assume that we are traveling on a generation starship, yet this wasn’t the choice of this ship’s builders. Your grandparents indeed lived on Earth.” Again Julara was puzzled. Grandparents? She understood the concept of a generation starship. They had talked about it in one of their engineering classes. It meant dozens of generations of humans living and dying on the same ship. Was Perennial that kind of ship? But her father had just ruled it out altogether. Their vessel wasn’t a generation starship. Suddenly a terrible thought hit her: the embryos! She gave her father a blank stare. “The technique of cryopreservation?” Andrew nodded. “As I already said, you were all stored as frozen embryos before this journey began. That way you could travel for thousands of years.” After being quiet for the last ten minutes, Ronyo spoke next. “But Dad, this means that the both of you were frozen too. Who raised you, if this isn’t a generation starship?” Ellora selected a soft and gentle voice. The book had given her the duty of disclosing the last and most disturbing element of the Truth; somehow the expectation was that it would be less traumatic when told by a woman.

Memory Noir

The Pond

Jones Street midnight; how did he get there?

A door stands by itself

Jonathan Hayes

Jonathan Hayes

The dreams turned into reality whether he liked it or not. This is not pissing on yourself in the middle of the night or morning, yet awesome sleepwalking adventures with pages of uptown mistakes. The dead mother, the estranged father, the vehement ladyboy. The plum plump sweet naked girlfriend cherry blossom ripe on the futon behind him as he keyboards this post-bath-together—“Who gave you those scratches on your back, do you have another girlfriend?”

and within is everything else © Jonathan Hayes

Chinatown

Jonathan Hayes A frenzy, like a tide pool where everything is eating and fucking. © Jonathan Hayes

“Bangkok!” © Jonathan Hayes

Mad

Jonathan Hayes Jonathan Hayes is the author of Echoes from the Sarcophagus (3300 Press, 1997), St. Paul Hotel (Ex Nihilo Press, 2000), self invented (split chapbook with Mark Sonnenfeld, Marymark Press, 2003), and Hallucinating California (split chapbook with Richard Lopez, Windowpane Press, 2008). Recently published by Big Bridge, Realpoetik, and Shampoo; he edits the literary / art magazine Over the Transom.

TWISTED TONGUE 47

When the chirping birds sound like, laughter. © Jonathan Hayes


Dark Solitude Paul Johnson

Black Valley Prison: 24th August 2047

D

arkness surrounds me, envelopes me, pervades my world. For ten years now it is all that I’ve known. My prison is an unconventional one: a sheet-black void. I’ve been condemned to a visually one-dimensional existence, yet I’m surrounded by a world of three-dimensional beauty that I shall never be able to behold again. Solitude personified. Come, enter the world of the unseeing; enter my world. Pitch black. It’s a surreal reality of sound, touch, taste, and smell, these four senses attuned to superhuman perfection to compensate for my lack of sight, my lack of visual stimulation. My world is now nothing more than an eight by eight foot cell. The dirty toilet in the corner has flies buzzing around. Other than that, the only other thing in my cell is a wooden bed with no covers on. Such is my meagre existence. Sat in a corner, I have nothing but rats to keep me company. At first, I used to freak out when they would crawl all over me, their long whiskers tickling me, their high-pitched squeals like a sick serenade. But now I don’t. Now I just let them do it. I get three square meals a day. The guard always brings them on time, sliding them through the small hatch in the metal door. I eat most of the food, but I always save some for the rats. I have a feeling that if I didn’t feed them some scraps they might take to eating me instead, nibbling away at my flesh, slowly consuming me alive. But maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Because, at least, then I’d be dead and my miserable life would be over. And I’d let them, too, if I weren’t such a fucking coward. The world of sun and light is so close yet so far away. Standing up, I slowly make my way around the edge of the room. The craggy wall feels damp, cobwebs sticking to my hands. Reaching the only window and putting my face to the bars, I can feel the radiant warmth of the sun on my face. In my mind’s eye I imagine what I could see if I still had eyes, instead of empty sockets: rolling green hills stretching into the distance; a rainbow cutting across the blue sky, its iridescent colours fading into the river that flows a never-ending westerly course across the valley; birch trees silhouetted against the horizon, their branches swaying in the wind; daisies scattered here and there, amongst all manner of flora. If someone else were to look out through the bars, I’m sure that’s not what they would see, but it’s what I see. In my mind’s eye, in order to stay sane, it’s what I have to see. At night, I hear the screams of the other inmates; the low guttural moans of the condemned, echoing up and down the corridors, reverberating inside my psyche. Their crimes vary. Their punishments vary. But they have all ended up here. And none of them will ever leave. Ever. Moving away from the barred window, I feel my way across the room, one hand on the mouldy wall again to help guide me. Taking my place in the corner, I curl my legs up and wrap my arms around my knees. Water dripping into a nearby stagnant puddle marks the seemingly never-ending passage of time. When I think of all the things I’ve lost, all the everyday things that you take for granted, it makes me feel sad, so sad. I will never be able to read a book, never be able to gaze at the moon and glistening stars, never be able to look at my own face again … But the thing I miss the most is the loving touch of my wife. I miss dappling my fingers across her silky-smooth skin, her tender kisses, the warmth of her naked body next to mine. She doesn’t even get to visit me. I will never see her again, never be there for her in times of need, unable to protect her from danger. We will never be able to have children, never be able to walk hand-in-hand through the park, never be able to spend Christmas together. My life is pointless. It’s only the faint hope that someday, somehow, maybe I’ll find a way out of here and I

can once again hold her in my arms. She is always in my thoughts. After all this time, I wonder if I’m still in her thoughts. Maybe she’s moved on and forgotten me. I wouldn’t blame her if she had. I will never see my parents or sister again. I will never be able to tell them how much I love them. They told me that they would stand by me no matter what, as did my wife. They told me that I couldn’t possibly be guilty of the crimes I had been accused of. Little do they know that I could be such a monster, that one of their own could be the personification of everything they have ever feared. Sometimes I struggle to remember what people look like: the people that I was close to. The more time that passes, the more their faces become unclear, undefined, fuzzy. The mere shadow of memory is all that I clutch to, all that keeps me going. How did I ever become such a beast? Maybe I should just starve myself to death. Yes, maybe I should do that, stop eating. What an excruciatingly painful demise that would be, I’m sure. But, would the guards let me starve? Would they allow me this slow, painful death? I think not. I think they would force-feed me. Hold me down and take great pleasure in ramming food down my throat. The bastards. One of them is coming now. I can hear his footsteps echoing up and down the corridor. Getting closer. He pauses outside my cell door, then flips the hatch open. Even though I can’t see him, I can feel his eyes boring into me. You can build a mental picture of someone from his voice: deep tones, high tones, low tones, like a prophetic telegraph to me, the unseeing. “Are you comfortable, Dawkins?” he asks sarcastically, his gravely voice cutting the cold, putrid air. “Not really,” I reply. “Like you give a shit anyway.” He sniggers. “So what’s it like to slowly rot away, eh?” I don’t dignify that with a response. Staring out into the darkness, I’ll sit and wait for him to go away. He’ll get bored of talking to himself eventually. He always does. “You deserve to rot, Dawkins.” I have a mental picture of him: a big, fat, barrel-chested guy with a beard; bloodshot green eyes sheltering under big bushy eyebrows; yellow nicotine-stained teeth like a row of miniature gravestones. He probably looks nothing like that, but it’s what I see. “What would you like for dinner?” he asks. I just sit, staring straight ahead into the blackness. When he doesn’t get a reply, he adds, “I said, what would you like for dinner?” I can hear his breathing: He must be a heavy smoker because he’s wheezing, struggling for breath. “Well,” he says, “whatever it is that I bring for you, I’ll be sure to add in something a little extra. Just to give a bit more … taste…” He pauses, waits for a reaction. I’m not bothered if he does add something ‘extra’ to my meal to give it a bit more ‘taste’. It wouldn’t be the first time. And I’ve always known when my meals have been tampered with, too. My sense of taste is far more acute than it used to be. Realizing that I’m not going to respond to his taunting, the guard grunts then shuts the hatch. I can hear footsteps, whistling, and the sound of another hatch opening. He’s saying something to another inmate. I can’t hear what it is, but he’s not giving one of the other prisoners a pep talk, that’s for sure. Now the guard is laughing. Roaring laughter. I can hear him saying something else, the hatch slamming shut. Then silence. Blissful silence … Which reminds me of when I was arrested by the police. They burst into our house in the early hours of the morning. One minute I was fast asleep, all was quiet. Then there was screaming and shouting. I came running out of my bedroom and was immediately pounced on by a group of policemen. They pinned me to the floor and forced my arms behind my back, handcuffing me. I could feel somebody’s knee digging into my lower back. Someone’s warm breath on my cheek, whispering in my ear: “Gotcha, yer lowlife.” My wife was shouting, “GET OFF HIM! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU’VE GOT THE WRONG MAN!” I wonder if she still thinks that. I wonder if deep in her heart—even with all

TWISTED TONGUE 48


the damning evidence they produced at the trial—she still really believes that I’m innocent. I’m beginning to feel tired now, my eyelids heavy, my breathing slow and laboured, chest rising and falling rhythmically, but I don’t want to fall asleep. If I fall asleep, then they will come. In my dreams, they will come. Different faces appearing out of the blackness. Hazy and blurred sometimes; other times, their features are gin clear with a clarity of hairraising definition, hatred furrowing a multitude of brows into a deep gorge of contempt. They whisper to me: incoherent ramblings that resonate inside my mind. I feel their accusations in the tone of their voices. They want revenge. They want justice to be administered—their justice, not the justice that the government has deemed fit for me. Other than their hatred, they have one thing in common: none of them has any eyes, just deep black voids where their eyes used to be, blood streaming from those empty sockets. At first I hoped that this was just a hideous, recurring nightmare, something that would pass. But these aren’t nightmares. The faces aren’t going to go away. I recognize every one of them. They are real. And they want me to suffer before… I don’t want to think of what they might do to me. Coughing and spluttering, I’m nearly sick from having to breathe in the dank, fusty air. I know I can’t stay awake indefinitely, so maybe I should just let myself drift off. Whatever horror the faces have in store for me, I just wish they would get on with it, end my existence. Maybe, they don’t intend to physically harm me. Maybe, they just want to torment me for the rest of my life, haunt my dreams and send me slowly insane. They haunt my dreams because of what I did to them. I’ve always a fixation for the eyes, you see. Those perfect white spheres filled with gelatinous fluid. Irises of different colours and shades: blue, brown, and green. The dilation of the pupils in response to varying light levels: expanding … contracting … expanding … contracting. The way the eyelids close over the glossy surface to remoisten them. The seamless movement of those miniature globes around their sockets. They convey every emotion imaginable: love, hate, affection, apprehension, and fear. Feelings communicated not by words but by the windows to the soul. Those words unspoken yet telegraphed to me with perfect clarity. It is the look of fear I miss most, though. I can remember the first time. There was a full moon that night. It looked like someone had blown a huge silver hole in the night sky with the mother of all shotguns; the buckshot stars glittered from high above. I can remember seeing her scurrying through the park, hunched over because of the cold, breathing out plumes of warm

vapour into the frosty night. I remember the look of terror on her face, half bathed in the orange phosphorescent glow of a nearby street lamp, and half bathed in shadow. I grabbed her from behind and pulled her into some bushes, my left hand cupped over her mouth to stifle her screams. She struggled hard, determined to get away. But the look in her eyes was one of inevitability. She knew that she was going to die. Silver light reflected off the serrated edge as I pushed the blade carefully under her left eyelid. All the time I was focusing on her pleading midnight-blue eyes, careful not to damage them as I worked the eyeball out of its socket and cut the muscles and the optic nerve. When I’d finished cutting the other eye out, I slit her throat from ear to ear. So at least give me credit for putting her out of her misery quickly. I had the first two eyeballs for my collection, which I hid in my cellar, pickled in a jar. I used to take them out—when my wife wasn’t around—and admire them. Holding them in my hand, I would marvel at the their perfectly round contours. It wasn’t long before my collection started to grow. When the police raided the house, they found thirty-two sets of eyeballs, all pickled in jars. My wife never ventured down into the cellar, and it’s a good job, too. If she had discovered what I was doing, I probably would have added her deep browns to my collection. Even though I loved her with all my heart, I really don’t think I would have been able to resist. I was sentenced to life in prison and, under the new Eye for an Eye legislation—as it was unofficially known—I was also condemned to have my eyeballs cut out of my head. Never will I be able to look into my own eyes and admire the colour of my green irises, the smooth, slightly blood-shot whites, the expansion and contraction of my own pupils. All I get to see now is the Faces. Shifting in and out of the darkness in my dreams, my nightmares. Restless souls that live in the blackness between Heaven and Hell. I’m starting to feel tired again, head lolling forward. I guess all I can do is sit and wait, see what happens. And so I sit and wait. I wait…. © Paul Johnson Paul Johnson has eleven short stories published in various magazines and ezines. Mostly at Spinetinglers, which is an on-line competition for aspiring dark fiction writers. He’s also had a novella recently accepted for publication as an e-book and is currently working on his first novel. One day he hopes to be able to give up the day job, as an account clerk, and write full time.

Santa’s Jolly Ol’ Laugh Peter Egypt

As the little ones romp and play, Santa sits back and makes a jolly old laugh. The children run about the room, And Santa smiles waiting for them to hear what he really has to say. “Oh, Santa!” a young boy proclaims. “Yes, Billy?” Jolly Ol’ Saint Nicolas replies. Then with fire and brimstone, Santa jumps from his seat, and said, “You’ll be slaves in my workshop! Now put on these chains.”

Peter Egypt has sold over 60 different works to magazines. He has written about submarine radio communications to science fiction. His works have appeared in: Enigma, Poetry Motel, The Storyteller, Short Stories Bimonthly, Write On, The SubCommittee Report, Vignettes, Mausoleum and other publications. His poetry and photos have been published there as well.

“Why, Santa?” the young boy cried. Then with a demonic roar, Santa finally said, “Who ever told you that you’re at all any good, Surely did lie.” © Peter Egypt

TWISTED TONGUE 49


You’d Better Watch Out Janey Brewer

T

hump! Michael awoke with a jolt. It was the night before Christmas Eve and, like any other six-year-old, he was anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus; unlike most children, though, Michael’s anticipation was not joyous. He dreaded and feared the old man they call Saint Nick. He feared Santa; he feared the person that crawled down his chimney at night like a fat red spider. That man was an intruder, an enemy. And he was here. “The first thump was Dasher,” he whispered to himself. Thumpthump! “Dancer and Prancer.” Thump. “Vixen.” Thumpthump! “Comet and Cupid.” Thump! “Donner.” Then a pause, and the final, echoing THUMP! “Blitzen; and the sleigh.” Filled with fear, he squeezed shut his eyes and covered his head. Silence. Not a sound for what seemed an eternity. Reluctantly, he peeked out from under the covers. He was in the doorway, blocking the hall light with his bulk. An old man, fat and menacing, grinning fiendishly at the young boy in the bed. His beard was matted and tangled, and his red suit was smeared with dark streaks. Coal, Michael thought. Or blood? Swiftly, too swiftly, Santa rushed at him, laughing with a rumbling, deep voice. Michael’s last thought was: Satan spells Santa.

“A

ah!” Bolting upright in bed, Michael looked around frantically. Sunlight shined through the blinds, many times brighter from reflecting off the snow outside. His bedside clock read 10:00, Christmas Eve morning. His room was in order; his door was open, and no one stood there. “Nightmare again,” he muttered, rolling out of bed and running a hand through his hair. “36 and still dreaming about Santa … I better get to work.” Ironically, though he feared the man they call Saint Nick, he was the Christmas coordinator for the largest mall in the state. He was responsible for all the outright, flagrant commercialism of the largest of holidays. The lights up before Thanksgiving, the commercials on before Halloween was over. Purely out of scorn and spite for the season, he brought Christmas (albeit early) to the city. He knew he was a complete Scrooge, but his hatred of the man in red overrode his qualms. Besides, the work he needed to do that day was purely personal. Donning warm clothes and a heavy pair of boots, he headed for the garage where his tools were all laid out. A ladder, a hammer, nails and thick, strong boards were fanned out on the cement floor. Gathering these up, he leaned the ladder against the roof and climbed up. The shingles were frosty and slick, but he didn’t slip as he headed for the chimney. The wood blocks he’d cemented around the edge were still holding up well. He couldn’t afford a house without the chimney in this community, but he could still take precautions. Besides, he still decorated every year and the neighbors would not find it too suspicious that he was on his roof with a hammer on Christmas Eve. He laid down a board and banged a nail into it, remembering. When he was very small, his mother would read Christmas stories to him and his brother. Michael had enjoyed some of them, but Santa … he couldn’t help but fear a fat old man that snuck into his house late at night on Christmas Eve. A stranger, really, leaving him presents there with those from his family! Why would someone do that, if he didn’t even know him? The reindeer were strange too. They flying like witches through the sky and landing on the rooftops, pawing at the

shingles as they waited for their master’s return. He could imagine them, their eyes without pupils, their sharp little hooves digging at the roof, tearing holes in it, their breath clouding as they snorted and huffed in the cold night air … “Ow!” The hammer came down on his thumb with too much force, and sent a screaming flash of pain up his arm. Angrily, and cursing himself for zoning out, he turned and climbed down the ladder. A grinning Santa sculpture stood cheerfully in the yard of his neighbor, waving an arm in a parody of welcome. Thumb aching, he hurled the hammer at it and was maliciously glad when it shattered the statue’s head with a satisfying crunch. Too quickly time passed, soon the sun was sinking and Christmas lights blinking on. Michael flipped the switch for his own lights, but instead of feeling happy and excited he was filled with fear and dread. He knew he was being crazy. He tried to convince himself that it was all a mental hangup, that Santa didn’t even exist. But no matter what he did, the fear was there and he had to deal with it. He was sitting in his armchair, reading, when they came. Carolers. He heard them approach, their boots crunching in the frozen-over snow. They began with “Angels We Have Heard On High” and segued into “Jingle Bells”. Michael stood by the door, listening, as the strains of music floated in, enjoying the sound. Then they began “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”. Uncomfortable and annoyed, he switched off the Christmas and house lights and stood in the dark. The song faded out and the carolers moved on; confused but still merry. Michael went to bed thinking of the song. You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry… Thump! At first he thought he was dreaming. But still he counted and whispered the names. “Dasher.” Thumpthump! “Dancer and Prancer.” Thump! “Vixen.” Thumpthump! “Comet and Cupid.” Thump. “Donner.” The pause, just as in the other dreams. Then THUMP!

TWISTED TONGUE 50


“Blitzen and the sleigh.” He tried to will himself into wakefulness, but he could not. He was scared, and angry, and his thumb was aching … Aching? he thought. I can’t feel pain in dreams! He was awake. Terrified and dreading what he might see, he grabbed a heavy paperweight and quietly stepped into the living room. All was dark and silent. After a few moments, he relaxed. Just too much worrying, and maybe eggnog. Somewhat less scared, he headed back for his room. But as he passed the fireplace, he noticed that small chunks of soot were falling down from above. He leaned in close. THUMP! It echoed down the chimney and was magnified a hundredfold. Michael fell back and crab-walked away from the grate. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. The chop of an axe on wood. At first, that was all he could hear. The chopping continued, but beneath it he could make out a voice, rumbling and deep, singing somewhat maliciously, “Here comes Santy Claus, here comes Santy Claus.” With every here a loud chop echoed. Someone was on the roof, trying to get in, and despite all he should think, he knew. It was the old man coming for him. Sure enough the man who was Santa thudded to the floor and stood before him. His red suit was smeared as it always was in Michael’s dreams, but there was no doubt as to the streaks: they were most definitely blood. Santa’s eyes were black and beady, like a crow’s eyes, and they flashed angrily in the glitter of the Christmas tree’s lights. “Well, boy, you nearly stopped me, but I’ve got you this year! You’re going to learn the truth behind Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.” With a lunge, he gripped Michael and soon had him immobilized with a strand of rough silver garland. The bonds held with each of his struggles and he stopped trying, exhausted. “Not so tough now, are you, boy?” Santa asked. With a vicious chuckle, he picked Michael up easily and threw him up the chimney. His skin scraped on the brick, and he cried out as he landed in the snow on the roof. His blood mingled with the white, making a raw shade of pink on the shingles. Santa was soon standing beside him, looking down on him like a tyrant. “You’ve been mighty naughty these past years, and this year, you are going to find out what I do with the naughty little children.” He chuckled and hauled Michael up to his feet, then tugged him over to the sleigh. That was when Michael saw the reindeer. He recoiled in horror when he noticed them, panting and heaving in the moonlight. They were massive, muscular, and more like wolves than deer. They had sharp, gleaming teeth and their hooves were razor sharp, digging and tearing at the surface of the roof. Their eyes were black and as evil as he had imagined, but their antlers were the worst. Each prong was sharpened to a needle point and hanging from the antlers were shreds of what looked like velvet; but when Michael looked closer, he saw that the shreds were of human skin, still dripping. He recoiled in disgust, and ran into Blitzen. Then he understood why the last thump was so loud. Blitzen was a juggernaut, nearly three times the size of the other reindeer. He was built like a bulldog, with stubby legs and a jutting, vicious jaw. His mouth dripped with froth, and one of his eyes was clouded, blind. He bellowed angrily as Michael bumped against his shoulder. The beast glared with the look of madness, of rabies, of bloodlust. Moaning in terror, Michael jumped into the sleigh, where Santa was sitting, watching his reaction. “Watch out for that one, Mikey!” Santa exclaimed. “You won’t have a second chance. Heah!” He flicked the reins and the beasts were off, lunging into the sky like demons. The sleigh careened as if out of control, skidding in the sky as if on ice. Santa guffawed as they flew over silent houses that twinkled innocently in the night. Quickly, too quickly, they were there: the North Pole. Icy and dark, the tundra lay empty below them; but near Santa’s castle there was light, too much light, illuminating a vast scar on the land. The castle was on a hill overlooking a valley. As they flew over, Michael looked down to see elves: spindly, long-armed

creatures rushing back and forth, crafting toys with unnatural speed, looking over their shoulders for the man in red. Terrified, wretched slaves. The reindeer-monsters plummeted earthward and crashed to the ground with a rough thump. The sleigh nearly tipped over with the force of the touchdown. A horde of emaciated elves came scampering out, unhooking the beasts from their traces and leading them to a dark, foul-smelling stable but not before Blitzen devoured several of them with one horrible gulp. Michael’s feet slipped on the ice as Santa dragged him toward the jagged valley. Fires burned smokily in vast pits as the elf-slaves constructed toys for the good children. Their eyes were huge and black, and their joints stuck out sharply from their bodies. They said nothing, just scurried all the faster under their master’s cruel eye. Despite his terror, Michael felt pity for the poor wretched creatures, never sleeping, working on and on only to fall dead to the floor, which several did as he watched. “You want to see where we get the coal for the stockings, Mikey?” Santa asked menacingly. “Look yonder!” The largest of the fires, a massive conflagration, was about to be fed. A struggling child, freckled and purple with rage, was struggling against the elves that were tugging him to the blaze. “Who is he?” Michael whispered, hoarsely. “The last child on my list,” Santa replied with sadistic glee. “The worst on the Naughty List always gets to become something good: the lumps of coal for the bad children of next year!” The angry, fearful child’s shrieks were drowned out by Santa’s signature laugh: an echoing, deep HO HO HO… With a jolt, Michael hit the ground. But the ground wasn’t cold- it was fuzzy, and warm … Shrieking, he opened his eyes to bright Christmas sunlight. No elves, no fire, no Santa … everything was as it should be. Gasping he dragged himself up from the floor, where he had fallen on his dog, Ralph. The hound looked at him reproachfully and wandered off to find a safer napping place. “Where … how …” Michael stuttered as he stumbled to the front door. He looked out, and everything was perfect: the snow lay in a crisp white expanse in the yard, and children were frolicking about with their new toys. “Only a dream!” Michael exclaimed, laughing harshly. “Just a crazy nightmare. I shouldn’t have watched “A Christmas Carol’ last night.” Chuckling, he was about to turn and close the door when something caught his eye. Three thin, gangly, giant-eyed people were walking, slowly and silently, past his house. Elves; their skin stretched tight over emaciated bodies, their black eyes squinted against the snow-glare. As they passed they looked right into his eyes, but said nothing and soon they were out of sight. But they dropped something. Uneasy, Michael ran out to the curb to pick it up. It was a note, on Christmas stationery. It smelled of candy canes and fire, and was addressed to “Little Mikey.” With shaking hands, he unfolded the crisp paper and read the words written there in brilliant red ink. “Dear Michael, Hope your Christmas was a good one! Better be on the Nice List next year, or you know what will happen! I hope I don’t have to come back to your house … You-Know-Who p.s. Merry Christmas!” © Janey Brewer

Janey Brewer is an author with a taste for the strange and fantastic. Her first book, a children's story called Mist and Moonlight, was published last summer and a collection of short stories is in the works. She enjoys finding the surreal in boring situations and expanding them into bizarre tales. She lives in the backwoods of Oklahoma with her cats, hamster, dogs, chickens, deer and possibly Sasquatch.

TWISTED TONGUE 51


No U-Turns

Dr. Charles Frederickson Carving out own worldly place No planned itinerary white-line blueprint To go from experientially discovering New horizons adventurer staking claim Never one to follow maps Destiny unfolding stealth star course Blazing trails where none exist Trusting gut never looking back Breaking away from hardly routine Vision quest seeking lofty perspectives Uphill journey nobody else can Take for or spare us Insatiable appetite for distinctly original Intrepid derring-do conquering worrisome fears Aspiring to make enabling difference Fanatical intuitive others-oriented sixth sense Winged feet firmly off ground Free floating above see level Pretending to take life seriously Aware it’s off-color dirty joke Deviant errors cannot be changed Flipped page corners turned back Seemingly lost oversights actually were Past mistakes reinforce future success © Dr. Charles Frederickson

No Holds Bard Dr. Charles Frederickson is a Swedish-American-Thai feisty e- gadfly, mousetifying webiot savant and ARTiculate uniVERSEalist semi-renowned for his untamable foxy moxie and dauntless derring-do. As Yoda advised Luke Skywalker “There’s no try, only do!” His website is @ poetryartcombo.com and his poeartry cosmozine is @ avantgardetimes.com.

Internet Dating Tonya L Lambert

K

im couldn’t believe her luck meeting someone as fabulous as David over the internet. After talking online for weeks, sending each other emails and IMs, they had finally met in person and really hit it off. He was good looking and worldly, full of stories of adventures he’d been all around the world. It was exciting for a small-town girl like Kim to hear such tales. “It’s so nice to finally get to talk to you face to face.” Kim beamed as she took David’s hand. She melted at the sight of his chiselled face in the candlelight. She was too nervous to eat the dinner she had prepared for them and obviously so was David. He hadn’t touched his plate. “You know, men are usually scared off by the fact that I have a baby.” She looked over at her son in his high chair. He looked back at her, cooing happily. “Why would someone be scared off by that adorable baby?” David asked. Kim sighed as she watched David smile at her little boy, who grinned back at him to reveal his two little teeth. “I think he may be the ONE,” she thought to herself. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now …” “That baby really is adorable,” David thought. “His little legs are so plump and juicy. You know, I really don’t understand why this country frowns down upon cannibalism so much …” © Tonya L Lambert

Tonya L Lambert has a passion to write. TWISTED TONGUE 52


Ice and Fire Brian Wright

A

s he trudged among the sweating crowds in Baker Street, Roger Holding decided that London was a sort of hell. Especially in the tourist season, especially in a heatwave. His misery was compounded by the battle to get on a tube train. Following a humid hour of strap-hanging, and three unscheduled stops, he staggered to his hotel. This, too, had no air-conditioning. Stretched out on the narrow bed in the tiny room, he thought about Kathy. The things he did for the woman he loved. Slumming in this dump when he could be staying four class somewhere. All to save on the generous lodging allowance provided by the company. Still, they would have a good holiday in the autumn. Nowhere too hot, though, he thought wryly. He wondered what the weather was like at home. Anyway, he’d soon find out, already in the last week of his attachment to the London office. God, it was steamy! He’d seen two smartly-dressed city gents almost come to blows on the overcrowded, overheated train. Shocked by the spectacle, Holding had nevertheless felt some empathy. His own temper was being driven to unaccustomed levels. He had almost shouted at someone the other day. Now he was forced back onto the streets by the tropical ambience of his room. A bite to eat, he thought, and then a pub with a breeze. A couple or more chilled pints, enough to send him to sleep. After a nice curry, he wandered around until he found somewhere new. Not his usual sort of place—a vista of pale wood and chrome—but deliciously temperate when he poked his nose in the door. After handing over what would have got him a good night out in many parts of the world, he retired to a table with his beer. He was vowing to move on somewhere cheaper when he noticed the couple at the bar. The man was blandly handsome, but it was the girl who caught his eye. She would have made her mark in any company: shining blonde hair and exquisite features; an eye-catching shape; out-of-this-world legs. He realised he wasn’t the only male customer gaping at her. He could also tell that she was well aware of all the attention. It didn’t seem to bother her. She was easily the coolest person in the room. A lot cooler than her companion, certainly. He seemed on the point of tears, and his words carried around the bar. “You can’t do that!” The girl shook her sleek head at him. When he started to shout, one of the bar staff ushered him to the door. He gave a last despairing look over his shoulder. The girl swung away, still the coolest person in the room. Holding changed his mind about moving on, but made a conscious effort not to stare as he forked out enough for a week’s lodging in Lagos. Then he half-turned to find the girl looking at him. To his astonishment, she smiled. Her sultry voice contrasted with the ice maiden looks. “Sorry about the scene just now.” Holding blushed for the first time in years. “Um, that’s OK,” he mumbled. The girl continued to fix him with her blue eyes. Noticing that her slender hand was playing with an empty glass, he faltered out the words, “Um, would you like another drink?” “What a good idea!” As her smile washed over him, he had the sensation of feeling both hot and cold. She told him her name was Layla. Aged twenty-three. Worked for a recruitment agency. Lived in Chelsea. All the time chatting as if she’d known him for ages. She explained about the man, her ex, who couldn’t accept that their relationship had ended. Holding hardly spoke, felt privileged just to be sitting next to her, aware of jealous stares from around the room. The girl laughed. “Listen to me going on! Now you must tell me all about yourself. But could we make that tomorrow? I know a nice little Italian close by.” She gave him a farewell peck in the street. It was still broiling outside, but her lips were as cool as everything else about her.

Not a trace of perspiration on the glorious face, he noticed. On the way back to his hotel, he thought about the girl and shivered in the heat. He didn’t tell her the truth, of course. Invented an impending divorce. Her smile gave away that Layla wasn’t fooled for a moment. But it didn’t seem to bother her. While his own stomach was gyrating like a berserk cement mixer, he told himself it was just a spot of mild flirtation, nothing more. But the game was a dangerous one, he soon realised, with Layla apparently able to make him flush hot and cold at will. Then her eyes signalled an end to the sport. The dark voice sounded casual. “Would you like to sleep with me?” Suddenly nothing but cold, the sense of having been plunged into freezing water. Visions of his wife in his head. Greater betrayals in the offing. The girl gave a rueful smile and started to rise from her chair. “I’d love that,” he said. Layla chose the boutique hotel, Holding paid. The room was as chilled out as his companion, who retained her ice maiden demeanour throughout their lovemaking. And yet her skin felt almost too hot to touch at times, as if a firestorm was raging inside her. While she calmly drove him into a frenzy, Holding wondered if his brain, his whole being, was in meltdown. Layla still had a glow in the morning, and he joked about burn marks on his body. She looked at him. “The wages of sin,” she said. Sitting exhausted at his desk the next day, he was unable to stop thinking about the end of the week. “I can’t do it,” he lamented. On impulse, he phoned Layla. She sounded cool in more ways than one. There was irritation in the smoky voice. “I’m busy.” “Can I see you tonight?” “Not tonight. Thursday.” His last evening in London before returning home. It seemed like an omen. They arranged to meet in the same bar. He went by taxi to avoid getting hot and bothered, but was feverish even before Layla made her entrance. When he saw her, the thought erupted in his head: I’d leave my wife for you. As a male diner openly ogled her, another alien emotion surged through him. He wanted to pummel the man. But he sensed something was wrong even before Layla sat down. When her eyes stopped roaming around the room, they looked like frosted-over windows. The glossy lips were unsmiling. “I’m not stopping, Roger. I just thought it would be kinder to tell you in person. I won’t be seeing you again.” His stomach went into another wild spin, this time a vortex of disbelief and fear. “But why? I assumed …” Her manner was that of a grand customer returning goods to a shop, confronted by an obtuse assistant. “I really don’t have to explain myself.” A trick of the light, perhaps, but the ice in her eyes had turned to fire. Suddenly he wanted to slap the beautiful face, started to raise an arm before dropping it to his side. Shocked by his own temper. She smiled. “Very wise, Roger. And now I leave you to what remains of your life.” The red glint was gone, replaced by amusement, some secret joke. As he sat, too stunned to say or do anything, Layla sashayed to the door. She said something to one of her admirers, who immediately got up and followed her. You bloody fool, Holding wanted to shout at the man. He knew that she hadn’t acted out of kindness at all. When he finally fell asleep that night, he dreamed of hitting someone very hard in the face. He didn’t return home the next day, told Kathy that he had to stay on a bit longer in London. When she calmly accepted his excuse, he wondered if she was thinking about the extra cash. She was the only woman he had ever wanted, but it crossed his mind that he might not even like his wife. Which was an added incentive to book himself into the same expensive hotel. Serves the money-grabbing bitch right, he told himself. But even super efficient air conditioning couldn’t

TWISTED TONGUE 53


ventilate the misery out of his system. After emptying much of the minibar, he went in search of Layla. She wasn’t in the place where they’d first met; gone somewhere else to do her dumping, he thought bitterly. As he gravitated from restaurant to bar to restaurant, it occurred to him that he might be going mad. The sensation that he was ticking inside, about to explode. He found her in the third or fourth gastro-pub he visited. It was no surprise to see her with a man. This one was different, though, he could tell at a glance. Different from himself and every other wishful thinker in the place. He was obviously much older than Layla, but it had nothing to do with his age. Something unsettling about him, and yet oddly familiar. The assured way he held himself, perhaps, totally at ease, perfectly in control. Then it came to him. Cool in the extreme, an iceman. It was Layla made male. Several women were staring in the same direction, but much more of a shock was that their number included Layla, who seemed to be hanging on her companion’s every word. When she bowed her golden head submissively, she looked like someone being ticked off by her boss. As he watched, the man seemed to give her some last-minute instructions. Then he stood up and strode to the door with a look of amusement on his almost insultingly distinguished features. There was an audible gasp from a group of young females, at least two of whom trailed him into the street. Along with several other men, Holding tensed when Layla made her own preparations to leave. She seemed to notice him for the first time while walking past. The torch-singer’s drawl sounded both scornful and amused. “You are a persistent soul, Roger.” The tempest in Holding’s head was matched by the cloudburst of lust that swirled around her as she click-clacked from the pub. The ticking had come to an end with two words: Hurt her. He made to follow, but had to stop when the contents of the minibar hit his throat. He was sick again that night, after coming to from images of crushing heads with his bare hands. The next day he emptied their bank account. He wondered when Kathy would notice. It didn’t matter, he wasn’t going back. The week that followed was a succession of sleeping and waking horrors. He began to see them everywhere, the ice people. Always with someone staring stupidly into their eyes, thinking they had won the jackpot. At one point, he drunkenly tried to intervene when he saw a man about to leave a wine bar with someone who could have been Layla’s sister. The bouncers bundled him into the street, but backed off when they saw his face. He scared himself, sometimes, gazing in the mirror. A dozen times a day he felt on the point of hitting someone, smashing them, but a small voice in his head always stopped him. His dreams had turned blood-red. He kept returning to the same bars and restaurants. Seeing others like Layla, but never her. Too addled, too sick at heart to think about what he would do when he finally found her. Kill her perhaps. More likely, kill himself. The latter was emerging as the most feasible solution to his problems. He stepped in front of a bus after more than thirty-six hours without sleep. No, the voice hissed at the last moment. As the monster roared away in a haze, and several shocked bystanders gawked, Holding went into the nearest pub. A drink before trying again. One for the road. He was about to order another triple vodka, still clammy from his near escape, when a shiver ran through him. He knew at once. Turned. She was sitting a few feet away, watching him, holding up her glass in salutation. Cold inside heat. Ice within fire. The curious sensation of having become a chunk of frozen matter in a place that was scalding. The momentary suspicion that he might already be dead. After a quick word to her man friend, Layla came over. She looked perplexed but not surprised. “I have to give it to you,” she said. “You are very stubborn.” Now’s my chance, Holding thought. Smash this glass into her face. But he knew it would never happen. Not a snowball’s chance, he told himself, with a cheerless inward smile.

The blue eyes remained speculative, as if she was inspecting some sort of unfamiliar species. “You know you’re not supposed to be here, don’t you?” All the repressed violence exploded onto his tongue. “You fucking bitch!” he screamed. Then he wanted to cry. He wondered if, once they started, his tears would ever stop. Layla’s steady gaze was slicing into him, draining his anger. “I can go anywhere I like,” he said tamely. To his surprise, she gave one of her darkly melodic giggles. “You are an idiot, Roger.” Her new boyfriend came over at that moment. “Is anything the matter?” he asked. There was a fawning, churning note in his voice. “Go away, Greg.” As the man retreated, any amusement had vanished from her face. “What am I going to do with you?” She continued to examine him. ‘More important, what are you going to do with you?” It was his turn to stare, puzzled, but Layla had apparently made up her mind. “Wait here. I need to talk to someone.” The image, the notion, sprang out of nowhere. “Your lord and master, you mean?” Another giggle, harder edged this time. “Give the boy a lollipop.” She walked off and began to talk into her mobile phone. He studied the luscious lips. Odd, he mused. She’s speaking even with the plastic held away from her mouth. Suddenly another idea from the void. She’s using it for show. He also wondered if he had finally gone mad. Layla came back looking as if she’d received a bracing pep talk. Her opening remark jolted him out of his murky introspection. “When are you going to kill someone?” It was the question he’d been asking himself for several days. If it wasn’t exactly sympathy on her face, Layla gave the impression that she wanted him to understand. “You see, most people would have done it by now. To family, strangers, possibly themselves.” “Done what?” “Pay attention, Roger,” she chided. Holding noticed that Greg was still rooted to his seat. He summoned up defiance from deep in his battered psyche. “Never.” Her eyes were radiant and glacial at the same time. “Oh, I promise you will.” She looked more coolly exquisite than ever. He couldn’t help thinking about the unnatural warmth of her skin. The inner fires. Not an ice maiden, he decided, but a snow queen with hidden, dangerous depths. They both looked through the big window to the sun-blasted street, where an ice person smiled at Layla as she walked past with a tense-looking man. She seemed able to read his thoughts. “Too hot for you?” He just nodded, his tongue feeling too dry and thick to move. Layla laughed contemptuously, and the sudden blaze in her eyes scared him. A number of men flinched as her gaze swept around the room. When she turned back, he was glad to see the flames had damped down. Her tone, too, was softer. Even a hint of nostalgia. “Not for me. Not by a long way.” For some reason, he shivered. Her manner grew businesslike. “Anyway, we’d better get on. I have things to do, people to see.” Giggling at her own words. Holding forced himself to talk. “Who are you?” “I told you, I recruit people. You’re one of them.” The clatter in Holding’s skull was louder than ever. “W-what do you mean by that? What’s going on?” “So many questions.” She laughed. “Don’t worry, I have been told to explain to you exactly what is going on. You are one of the privileged few. Or maybe one of the doubly unlucky. Make up your own mind.” She closed her eyes for a moment. Her voice barely carried. “Yes, I know about the exceptions. Safeguarded ones. Special ones.” The same idea came screaming out of the dark. She’s talking

TWISTED TONGUE 54


to someone. In her head. He shivered again. When Layla gave him her full intention, he could read curiosity on her face. “Are you being protected, Roger?” “Protected?” “Well, the other side have agents here, too. A lot fewer, of course.” She still looked a little wary. “Are you a saint?” He was again struck dumb. She looked relieved. “I thought not.” Her confidence was back at full blast. “I am one of many up here. Recruiting.” A pause in which his heart and head pounded in unison. “I recruit souls. Now do you understand?” As if to ram home her message, the glorious features reassembled themselves for a fraction of a second, great beauty instantly replaced by its polar opposite. The red points in her eyes warned him not to scream. After the ugliness rushed back inside, she went on, “The one before you, remember? Well, he went home and raped his fiancée that same night. And then he hanged himself. The guy after you is stealing money to spend on whores. He has already killed one of them. And so on.” A tinge of respect in the ice-blue orbs. “You have held out well, Roger. But it will happen sooner or later. It is your destiny. Now, go home to Kathy.” A motion of her sleek head summoned Greg to follow her from the pub. Holding decided he was doubly unlucky. The small voice inside him had to work overtime on the way to Paddington, urging him not to throw himself, or anyone else, under a bus or tube train. He rang Kathy from the station, and was touched when she wept into the phone. “Roger! Where on earth are you? I’ve been so worried.” “I am so sorry, love.” He resisted the temptation to burst into tears himself, afraid that he would never stop. “How have you managed? Without any money?” “Never mind that. Just come home.” It felt as if he was leaving Hell behind as they passed through

the steaming London suburbs. He began to think more calmly, growing almost proud of himself as he recalled Layla’s words. He would do more than hold out. He would be an exception. With the help of his wife. An incident on the train brought some much needed reassurance. Down the carriage, a couple of young louts were throwing an empty beer can at each other. When it overshot its target and crashed onto his table, Holding walked across and dropped the can into the lap of one of the yobs. The boy half rose, then sank back when he met Holding’s eyes. “Bravo,” someone murmured. The youths spoke in whispers for the remainder of the journey. Holding felt disappointed that Kathy wasn’t at the station to meet him, but grew heady in the taxi home. I can control it, he thought, perhaps even use it to do good. He tried not to think what it was. They were drawing up in front of the house when he noticed the luxury car parked opposite. The premonition struck him, searing his brain, turning his guts molten, even before the driver looked across. Groomed salt and pepper hair above a ridiculously handsome face. The creature winked, before driving off. Holding could hear Kathy upstairs as he quietly opened the front door. She let out a voluptuous sigh as he began to climb. She was singing in her nakedness in the bedroom. She screamed when she saw his face.

You’ve Been Canvassed

Wicked

True friends are like a rotting corpse, a lasting impression within the mind, that never fades as time goes by— colours form one...

When the dark night broke out against the land They called us wicked. When the fire came, and tore on through the day They called it justice. When we died, and our skin popped and roasted on the spit We cursed them all.

Sherie Davis

Like the cloying sickly stench, from decaying pieces of a soul. The memories only strengthen; the pain forever grows— intensify the shading... Like a shard of glass slicing the flesh, I feel the sorrow and remorse tear through, engulf and consume, all that was me— shadows fade... You have become, another skeletal remain, of a life left far behind, out of reach. The dust and ashes of a past; so long gone— fade to black... Now all that remains, in your place. A rose in barbed wire twine, feeding from the blood of my soul, as you reach for the stars— empty canvass... © Sherie Davis

© Brian Wright Brian Wright lives in the UK. he writes for pleasure and not money (which is just as well!) He is a fan of the writings of George Orwell, the music of Bob Dylan and the films of of Martin Scorsese. He has had various bits and pieces, mostly about dark deeds in dark places, published around the Net and elsewhere.

Lynette Mejía

And still we remain We crawl We doom And yes we are Still Wicked. © Lynette Mejía

Lynette Mejía lives in Lafayette, LA, with her husband and two children. She is currently working part time in marketing and advertising, while trying to launch a fulltime writing career in speculative fiction.

Sherie Davis is a dark poetry writer from a small country town in Western Australia. She has been writing poetry since the age of nine years old. Her first poem was questioning the origins of death, and she has always been fascinated in the darker side of every story and portrays that through her poetry. TWISTED TONGUE 55


The Most Wonderfully Selfish Time of Year Jessica Lynne Gardner

J

acob stared through the window. He didn’t care that he was in the way of the masses of disgruntled shoppers and very well might get a lecture, or worse, he was much more interested in the multi-coloured lights and shiny wrapped packages reflecting green, red, yellow and blue. There was fake snow on the inner sill. He hadn’t seen a white Christmas in years. December brought with it so many childhood memories… “Jacob give that back to your brother—it’s Christmas!” “But mom it was my present!” “Well, honey, you’re just going to have to learn how to share.” He clenched his fists. “Sir? Can I help you?” A girl in her early twenties stepped out, a concerned look on her mousy face. “Yes. I’d like an application.” “Oh sure. I just didn’t want you getting trampled by the Holiday shoppers, they can be crazy. One moment…” She disappeared inside and walked out with a form. Extending his hand to receive it, she hesitated before giving it to him. “Thank you, ma’am. You have a wonderful afternoon.” Her features lightened and she returned his smile. “You too. Happy Holidays.” Happy indeed. Clasping the form in his hand, he whistled “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and wrapped his coat tighter against the frigid wind.

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e could see the lights on his house from half a block down the street. Several of his neighbours had complained that it kept them up at night. “Oh come now, it’s Christmas, have a little holiday cheer,” he’d told them. They had remained silent, a look of hatred on their faces. That was Christmas spirit for you, only legitimate when things went as planned—a fickle thing it was. Inside he saw his bare tree sitting in the corner. Turning on the record player, he listened to Christmas Classics and opened the plastic bag of Christmas lights he’d purchased earlier. Carefully, he strung them around the fir branches bulb by bulb, adjusting their placement on each needle and filling in the negative space just enough so it didn’t look jumbled. “Here, how’s this, dad? Does it look pretty?” “Jacob what did I tell you about decorating? It’s for women. What the hell’s the matter with you? You want to be a girl or something? Get out my sight.”

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hanks for coming Mr uh … I’m sorry I don’t know how to—” “Keshnik.” “Yes, thank you. Mr. Keshnik, we’ve reviewed your application and would like to hire you for seasonal help-” “Meaning until after Christmas?” “Until after New Year.” “Ah, wonderful. I wouldn’t have expected it to be for so long.” “Well you see many shoppers return their gifts from after Christmas until just after the New Year, so this is our busiest term.” “Perfect. Can I begin today?” “Ha, I like your enthusiasm. Tell you what; we can begin training you tomorrow.” “Oh I won’t need much training. Wrapping is my specialty.” Jacob smiled as he walked out of his interview. He turned back and looked up at the sign of his new job. It read: TALLMAN’S TOYS, with two painted elves hanging from the L’s. As a family of four approached, he held the door for them. “Oh why thank you. Josh, Sam, say thank you to the nice young man.” “Thank you,” they said in unison. Jacob opened his first present under the tree, throwing the torn strips of foil on the floor. His heart beat with anticipation. Inside the box he could see

something red. Tossing off the lid, he pulled out a sweater that was two sizes too big for him. It smelt of sweaty underarms and cheap perfume. “Oh isn’t that nice! Tell grandma thank you.” He sat staring at the used women’s sweater in bewilderment. Mike beamed as he pulled out a card with forty bucks in it and danced beside his brother. “I’m going to buy a fire truck! Yeah!” “Your mother told you to say thank you,” his father clenched his fists. “Thank you, grandma.” Several people in the street were staring at him. He shook himself a little as he realised he was still holding the door to the toy store. Stealing a glance inside, he was relieved to find that they hadn’t seen him. He took the long way to his car and watched the couples arm in arm, the children drinking hot chocolate and the shoppers with their impossibly large plastic bags full of newly bought presents. He wondered if they gave them to kids that deserved it or to the spoiled brats that didn’t. Christmas was special because it brought the true nature of greed out of people who normally hid it. It was the most wonderfully selfish time of year. Maybe now that he was working at Tallman’s, he could do his part to change that.

“O

h, good morning, Mr. Keshnik … we weren’t expecting you for another hour …” She unlocked the front door with difficulty, her hands numb from the cold. “Ah well I like to be early for the first day, helps me get acquainted with the store and coworkers.” “Alright, but I can’t put you on the clock until the store opens or Ted will kill me. Oh my name’s Kristy by the way.” He stared as he walked in. The shelves overflowed with teddy bears, toy cars, games, pop-up books and things that he’d never even seen before. He walked by a slinky on display and had to stop himself from rolling it in his palm. “So this is the register. We may need you to ring for a few days if it gets too busy, but for the most part I’ll be doing it. You can wrap the purchases over here. I know it’s not much room but that’s all we have, sorry.” “This is perfect. I’ll have just the right amount of room here.” She smiled. “Alright, well the paper goes on this holder here and if they request a different type or colour you can show them these swatches. This is the tape roll, obviously, but there is more in the drawer on the right. At night you’ll be helping me straighten the store.” The bell hanging above the door chimed and they both glanced up. A man with a wool coat walked in. She checked her watch with a quick flick of her wrist. “Go ahead and clock in, it’s through that door.” He pushed open the door she’d pointed to and inserted a blank yellow card into the slot to be punched. When he withdrew it, he signed his name and placed it behind the others. When he walked back into the store front he was surprised to see it was filled with people. He quickly went to his spot and began wrapping the toys that were being bought. The first was a remote controlled airplane. The man who’d bought it looked impatient. “So who’s the lucky kid?” “None of your damn business, pal. I just want it wrapped, got it?” “No problem, my friend.” The finished product was neatly wrapped without a visible crease or fold. It was a masterpiece of seamless coloured paper. The customer snatched it and left. He could hear Kristy’s nasally voice beside him, “I’ll just need your address and telephone number, it’s for our free mailing list that sends out coupons and rewards.” “Excuse me,” an older lady said meekly. He started. “Ah yes. A lovely doll, I’ll bet she’ll be thrilled.” “I’m sorry, do you know her?” “Not at all. I just wish my parents could afford these types of presents for me growing up.” It was a lie but it placated her. His parents gave all they had to their real son. “Mom I want a puzzle for Christmas this year.” “Why on earth would you want that? You know Brad just got laid off; you shouldn’t be making requests. You’ll get what you get.” Mike stuck out his tongue. “I’m getting a remote control airplane.”

TWISTED TONGUE 56


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ight came faster than he’d expected. His shoulders and back ached from hunching over the folding desk all day. “Well, Mr. Keshnik, you did pretty well for your first day. You seem to be very social with the customers.” “Yes, I love people.” “What made you want to work in a toy store?” “Just seemed you were hiring at the right moment, and as you can see, I know how to wrap.” She laughed. “Yeah you’re better than me and I’ve been doing it for five years now!” “But I’m afraid it’s one of the only skills I’ve got, so I’m glad I can put it to use here.” “One other question,” here she slowed as she thought of a delicate way to put it, “I noticed that you tend to…black out a few times during the day. Is that a normal thing or is there a medical condition we should know of?” “Oh I just have a lot of bad memories that slow me down. It only happens for a few minutes at a time. Don’t worry, it’s nothing dangerous.” He let out a small charming laugh. He could already see the fond way she looked at him. He took her out to a diner afterward.

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risty was out the next day from food poisoning. Those things could be nasty. People should really watch what they eat. The boss had come in to open up and given him a key. He instructed him on the opening and closing procedures and then walked out, claiming he had an appointment and wished him luck. That was alright, he didn’t mind being alone, not at all. It would give him more focus for his work. He looked at his calendar; it was the fourth day before Christmas. “What is the fourth day of Christmas?” he mumbled to himself. “I believe its four calling birds. Now can you wrap this? I’ve been standing here for ten minutes.” He looked up to find a large woman toting a little girl behind her. “Ah, well is this little teddy bear one of your presents, sweetie?” She hid behind her mother’s legs. “Jesus child, I’ve told you so many times not to do that. Now come out here and answer the man so we can go home!” She shuffled out, looking as if about to cry. “Yes.” “And what a wonderful present it is. Do you want to know a secret?” The little girl drew closer, a hint of a smile on her thin lips. “Stuffed animals can talk on Christmas Eve. Maybe if you whisper it a little wish while it’s wrapped under the tree it’ll come true.” The little girl giggled and watched as he placed the little bear in a box and wrapped it perfectly, adding a pink bow on top. “Oh and would you like to sign up for our mailing list, Ma’am?” The woman wiped her glistening forehead with a tissue. “No, I think you’ve wasted enough of my time already.” “Are you sure? We send out gift cards and coupons for our shoppers after the holiday.” She thought for a moment. “Well, alright. My last name is Getes …” He drew an asterisk beside her name.

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t was the third day of Christmas. Kristy was back but her face was still pale and she moved a little slower than normal. “How are you feeling?” “Oh, I’ve been better. Not fun hurling all day and night.” “Well if you start getting sick again don’t worry about a thing. I think I did very well here by myself. I know I’d hate it if I were sick, especially with these customers. You were right, Holiday shoppers are dangerous.” She smiled. “No I’ll be alright. But thanks for offering.” At three o’clock she took his offer. She’d been throwing up in the unisex employee bathroom, leaving an unsightly rotten smell. The customers were growing steadily by the hour but he was fast, eliminating the lines quickly. He even got all of them to sign up for the mail program. “Kevin! Get your ass over here and stop crying. We aren’t here for you; your present is at home. It’s your brother’s turn now.” After he wrote his name down on the mailing list, he drew

an asterisk beside it. “Very, very naughty you’ve been, Mr. Patterson,” he mumbled under his breath.

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y the second day of Christmas he’d gotten every customer to sign up. The boss was beside himself with pride. “Mr. Keshnik, well done. We’d had so much trouble getting people to sign up for those but you did it so easily. I want you to take today and tomorrow off as paid holidays.” He grinned. It was all going exactly how he’d wanted. He went home and directly to the shed. He glanced at the list he’d made earlier. He retrieved a small metal box, now rusted a little at the hinge and opened it using a screwdriver. There were bobby pins and small pieces of straight metal inside. “What the hell did you do that for, you little freak! You’re crazy, we’re going to lock you away forever you hear me?” His brother was crying hysterically, the blood running from his eye where he’d jabbed the stiff antenna of the airplane. Brad dragged him into his room by his hair and slammed the door, locking it from the outside. “You stay there while we take your brother to the hospital. I’ll deal with you when we get back.” Crawling under his bed, he took out the metal box and two bobby pins. He stuck them in the lock like he saw McGuiver do on TV and after a half-hour of blind picking, he got out. He ran to the police department and after one look at his bruised, skinny body they put him in a foster home. But that had only been the first of many. The first name read 2316 Red Grove Street. It looked like a quiet neighbourhood. There were streetlights casting a faint glow on the empty street and there were shrubs and trees around each house. He jiggled the bobby pins in the lock and opened it with ease. He’d had years of practice. He went straight upstairs and into the master bedroom. Mrs. Getes and her husband didn’t have a chance to stir as he slit their throats. Beside the single box under the tree, the teddy bear he’d wrapped the other day, he placed another box. A new toy for a new life. It contained the Barbie the company had just received the prior morning. He must have forgotten to mark in the shipment. He walked quietly past the hall where he could see the child sleeping through the open door. Closing the door behind him, he moved on.

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ix houses were broken into in the Manhatten area last night. In each one, the adults had been murdered, leaving only the children unharmed. The perpetraitor also left behind curious clues, toys from Tallman’s Toy Store left under the Christmas tree. It could be that he believes himself some sort of twisted St. Nicholas.” Jacob turned it off. It was time to go. He packed up his single suitcase and got into his car. He knew it was only a matter of time before they found him and he wanted to get the most of it. At least he’d given those kids the chance he’d gotten too late. Mrs. Getes and Mr. Patterson were just two of the abusive parents who truly got the holiday gift they deserved—a better life for their children. Christmas spirit, now sated with the blood sacrifice and fulfilled with justice, finally granted his wish. Flakes of fresh snow tumbled down on the pavement. © Jessica Lynne Gardner A Journalist, Horror/ Fantasy writer, business writer and poet, Jessica Lynne Gardner has pursued the art of writing in many forms. She has published two short stories in Darkened Horizons, an anthology managed by author Jordan Bobe, and another in Word Weaver’s Requiem for the Damned horror anthology. “The Second Genesis” appeared in Tome of Distant Realms, a fantasy collection published through Word Weavers. "Seeing Double”, will be available October 31st through Twisted Dreams Magazine. Her latest publication,“The Widow’s Curse” is included in Sinister Landscapes, a gothic anthology compiled by Alan Draven with a forward by Andrea Dean Van Scoyoc. Her work will also appear in two upcoming collaborative projects: The Edward Ballister Project (www.myspace.com/edwardballister) and The Ladies of Horror 2008. She is a member of the International Order of Horror Professionals and Southern Horror Writer's Association (SHWA) and studies at a local college to obtain a degree in literature while writing a fantasy novel and horror stories on the side.

www.JessicaLynneGardner.webs.com

TWISTED TONGUE 57


Cold Comfort John Morgan

Previously published by DemonMinds

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In the past John has been a member of The Ghost Story Society, as well as a regular face at meetings of The Birmingham Sci-Fi Group where they would listen to authors such as Iain M Banks, Harry Harrison and Terry Pratchett talk about their work. He has had stories published with Dark Tales, Demonminds, Twisted Tongue and Spinetinglers. Although he’s always been a fan of horror and sci-fi, he has usually reached for a copy of The Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl when looking for inspiration.

he garden was safe from prying eyes, secluded from the outside world by walls of tall, dense leylandii that reduced the grounds to a nest of shadows on even the brightest of days. A midnight breeze brushed along the conifers, making a forlorn, heartbreaking sound that served as an unnecessary reminder to Mr and Mrs Smith that they were sitting mere inches from what had once been the grave of their only child. Friends had tried to discourage them from buying the property; they thought it unhealthy to want to move into a house where little Edward had been murdered and buried out back by some sick monster. But what did they know about it? They couldn’t possibly comprehend what would help the Smith’s get through the day. Mrs Smith looked at her husband, her face a Halloween mask in the light thrown by the torch beside her. “Try again, Arthur,” she said. He nodded and focused on the Ouija board that rested on top of the soil that had once embraced their child’s broken body. “Edward, son, can you hear me? Are you there?” The planchette twitched beneath their fingers as a creeping numbness gnawed at their hands and wrists. Husband and wife watched as the marker crawled around the board. l-o-n-e-l-y Mrs Smith sobbed. “Always the same.” “Sshhh,” hissed Arthur. “Edward,” he said, “can you hear me? Are you with us?” l-o-n-e-l-y “We’re here, son, your mother and I. You’re not alone.” The Ouija board shifted as the ground beneath it heaved and strained, and a muted wailing that might have been the wind sent the colour draining from Arthur’s face. Despite knowing that his son was now buried in decent, proper—consecrated—ground he still had to fight the urge to tear at the soil with his hands. He knew from experience that he would only find this old grave empty. l-o-n-e-l-y “I can’t stand it any longer,” cried Mrs Smith. “Please, Arthur, let’s just get it over with!” Arthur looked into her eyes. “Are you sure?” “Yes.” He turned to a boy who lay bound and gagged on the other side of the garden—snuffling back snot and tears and squirming like a giant, pale maggot in the gloom. “I don’t know …” said Arthur. “Be strong, darling. Think of Edward, think of how frightened and alone he is. He needs company. He needs friends.” Her husband squeezed his eyes shut. “We should stop, Margaret. Stop this now….” “Please,” she said, “do it for me. If not for Edward, then do it for me.” Arthur sighed and struggled to his feet, avoiding his wife’s gaze as she placed the hammer in his hand. He moved with deadened legs towards the grizzling youth, his slippered feet shuffling over the grassless mounds and muddy humps. After tonight he would try to make Margaret see sense. He would have to. There was no room left to bury the bodies. © John Morgan

TWISTED TONGUE 58


On The Beach Robert Knox

Previously published on line at Glasgow Review

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avid woke up in a strange place. The room was unfamiliar. He didn’t want to get out of bed. He had no idea what was out there. He was scared of the unknown. He hesitated on the landing. And listened. He could hear the big house breathe. He made his way downstairs slowly. Reluctant. The living room was cold, dark and silent. The dining room was the same. An empty table and four empty chairs. He turned on the TV and it took him to a safe place. Arlene brushed up against Shaun. He turned over in his sleep. Arlene spooned into him. They both slept. Until the alarm went off. Arlene nudged Shaun. It was his turn. He pretended he was still asleep. It became her turn.

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he stopped with her ear cocked outside David’s room. All quiet. She found him in the living room in front of the TV. The volume was so low he had to sit with his nose almost touching the screen in order to hear it. She asked him if he was okay. He said he was fine. He looked as if he was about to cry. Arlene and Shaun had a busy day ahead of them. They had moved to the new house two weeks ago and still hadn’t unpacked everything. The third bedroom—the spare room—was full of sealed boxes. They had put this day aside in order to sort it all out. After breakfast they made a start. Leaving David with the Teletubbies. The house backed down on to the beach. You could go out the back gate, downhill for a hundred yards and you were at the North Sea. It wasn’t much of a beach. Mostly rocks. But it was still a beach. David loved it down there. Almost every day since their arrival Shaun had taken David for a walk along the waterfront. David asked if he could have a dog. Shaun wasn’t so sure, he didn’t like dogs. He said he would think about it. With his parents absorbed in packing David was bored. He wanted to go out. He asked his dad if he would take him to the beach. His dad said he was too busy. David asked if he could go alone. Shaun looked at Arlene. Arlene looked back at Shaun and shrugged her shoulders as if to say “your call”. He could go. But there were rules. Wrap up warm. Don’t go too far. Stay back from the water. No strangers. Return in an hour.

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here was a strong wind blowing. Coming in cold off the sea. David had on a pair of dark blue boots, brown cords and his favourite coat. A blue parka. The fur around the hood was balding and patchy. It had four buttons, it should have six. Two were missing. Stolen at school. His mother had tried on several occasions to throw it out but he wouldn’t let her. He walked along with his head bowed against the weather. His eyes scanned the ground for treasures gifted from the sea. He found nothing. He picked up a branch that was wedged between two large rocks and was using it as a walking stick. His boots were no good in among the damp rocks. He kept slipping and sliding over the sodden stones. The branch helped. His cheeks were glowing red and his eyes were full of water. As he walked on he came across a gull. It was injured and lay in a shallow pool of sea water. It kept lifting its head and throwing it back, its beak chopping at the air. It made several attempts to get up yet was unable. David moved closer. Fascinated. The gull made eye contact. It began to scream and flap its one good wing. He did not know what to do. He wanted to help. He looked around for the biggest rock he could lift. Lifted it. And dropped it on the head of the distressed bird.

Arlene and Shaun had made good progress. By tea time they had whittled it down to half a dozen boxes. They took a break and went downstairs to find David in the kitchen with a tree branch and a small saw. He was cutting into the wood with determination. His parents glanced at each other. Arlene asked him what he was doing. He said he was making a catapult. A slingshot. She asked why and he told her it was for cans and stuff. She raised her eyebrows at Shaun and left the kitchen. Shaun offered to help. David refused. Shaun returned upstairs and rummaged through one on the remaining boxes. He returned to the kitchen some time later with a roll of heavy duty tape, a bag of elastic bands and a square of leather cut from an old wallet. He placed them down beside his son without a word. David smiled at him. David was very quiet during the evening meal. When he was asked how it had gone down on the beach he just shrugged. He was lost in deep thought. He finished his meal and returned to his slingshot. David went to bed with his handmade catapult under his pillow. He couldn’t wait for morning.

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t was raining. Raining heavy. Raining like it never could in the city. The house was under attack from the weather. David sat with his face pressed against the kitchen window. Trying to see on to the beach and looking at the sky. His mother was busy in the dining room. Slumped over a pile of paperwork, pen in hand, biting on her lower lip with a creased brow. His father was at work. Earlier that morning his mother had brought up the subject of school. David didn’t want to listen. She said he would have to go back to school within the next couple of weeks. She assured him this time it would be different. He did not want to go. Not in the next few weeks. Not ever. She told him she’d had a meeting with the headmaster and she’d registered him. He felt betrayed. Later that afternoon, the rain relented. As soon as the downpour stopped, David got ready for the outdoors. He entered the dining room and asked his mother if he could go out back. The beach. His mother looked at him; she still had a bit of work to do and therefore said yes. She made him promise to be careful and be back soon. David glanced at his watch and hurried out of the house. He closed the gate behind him and made his way to the beach. He had his catapult wedged into his pocket and a freezer bag full of food scraps taken from the bin. He had a plan. Once on the beach he searched for suitable sized stones, small rocks, for his sling. He collected half a dozen and put them in an empty pocket. He moved along the beach. He found the perfect spot. A clear part of the beach with few rocks and a bit of sand and one large rock, big enough for him to hide behind. He scattered the contents of the freezer bag on the ground before him. He then went behind the rock and waited. And waited. The sky cleared and the wind died down. Then the gulls began to appear. High overhead at first. Then slowly getting lower and lower. They spotted his bait and came in to land. He watched them in silence. Letting them pick away at the scraps of food. He took the sling out of his pocket in slow motion, put a stone in it and took aim. Then let go. And missed. The stone flew past unnoticed by the greedy gulls. David quickly reloaded. Took aim. And caught one of the birds with a granite uppercut. The gull stiffened in disbelief then keeled over and lay twitching. The other birds took flight, screeching in fright. He moved from his vantage point and walked towards the wounded bird. He stood over it. It thrashed about in the sand snapping at him with its cracked beak. He took a step back. Then moved in. He lifted his knee up to his chest and brought his boot crashing down on the gulls head.

TWISTED TONGUE 59


Mother had cleared the dining table and readied it for tea. Father was home from work. They dined in silence.

Robert Knox is an author living and working in Glasgow. Previously published in Nomad, Osprey Journal and Glasgow Review. He is currently working on a collection of short stories.

© Robert Knox

A Morbid Christmas Tale Alexander Salas

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hristmas Eve. Mike and Sammy shivered. Darkness surrounded them. Old Man Winter iced them. Greed motivated them. They hid in Ragan’s Woods with their eyes glued to the Jefferson home. Mike checked his watch. “Okay … it’s been an hour since the bedroom light went off … ready?” “Let’s do this,” Sammy said. Mike and Sammy crept out of the trees and into the Jefferson’s backyard. A light snow sprinkled their black skullcaps like dandruff. Breaking and entering took a second. “You believe these people? Huh … they don’t even lock their back door … I told you this would be easy,” Mike whispered. Inside the living room, Sammy turned on his flashlight. “Wow … look at that … a Plasma … how big you think that is?” he quietly asked. “I don’t know … but if they can afford that, imagine what kind of gifts they have.” Sammy panned the light to the left of the fireplace. A mammoth Christmas tree grew out of a pile of presents. “Let’s get as many of the presents out of here … we’ll take them to our snowmobiles … and we’ll come back and see what else we can get … let’s hurry,” Mike murmured. Sssswwwwwooooooooshhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. “What … shit … something is coming down the chimney,” Sammy blurted. “Sh … damn it … quiet.” A pair of black boots with white cuffs and red legs attached landed softly in the ashes. “The light … the light.” Mike pointed at Sammy’s flashlight. “Shut it off … shut it off.” They became mannequins in the dark. Santa brushed the soot off his famous red suit. Despite the darkened room, Old Saint Nick shimmied his way through the furniture obstacle course arriving safely next to the milk and cookies. A snap of Santa’s fingers and a silver flask appeared. Unseen fingers unscrewed the cap of the floating decanter. And an unseen hand poured a clear liquid into the glass of cow juice. Snap. The flask disappeared. Santa swallowed the milky concoction. He grabbed the biscuits and stuffed them inside his coat pocket. In cowboy fashion, Santa placed both hands down his sides challenging the fireplace to a duel. Santa drew. Both hands a blazing … snap … snap … snap … snap … snap … snap … Christmas presents raced out of the chimney and crashed softly under the tree, joining the Jefferson’s gifts. Santa put away his six-shooters and headed upstairs. “Did you see that?” Sammy asked. “I’m right here, ain’t I?” “Why do you think he’s going upstairs?” Mike shrugged. “Come on. Let’s find out.” Sammy followed Mike to the second floor. A light glowed through a small opening of the bedroom door. “In there,” Mike said pointing. Mike crouched down and Sammy nearly placed his chin on Mike’s head forming a strange totem pole. “What the …” Mike’s lower jaw dropped. A little boy stood looking at Mike and Sammy, but not really seeing. Robot-like he untied his pyjama bottoms and let them fall around his ankles. Behind the little boy, Santa unbuckled his red pants and dropped them. “Well, I guess Santa really is cumming to town,” Sammy laughed. Santa heard. Mike shoved the door open. Sammy froze. Mike charged Santa. Snap. Santa had a 9mm. Two shots equalled two deaths. “Anthony … Anthony … Anthony …” Voices echoed from the hallway. Snap. Anthony’s pyjama bottoms and Santa’s pants zoomed up to their waist. Snap. Anthony snapped out of his trance. “What the hell?” Anthony’s father spewed. “Oh my God …oh my God … Oh …” Anthony’s mother cried. “Dad … Mom …” Anthony called out confused. “… Santa?” “It’s alright Mr. and Mrs. Jefferson. Anthony is safe now.” Santa snapped his fingers one last time.

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hristmas Day. Local, national and international news trucks converged on the Jefferson household. Mike and Sammy were juvenile delinquents. The FBI found a ransom note and surveillance photos of Anthony scattered throughout Mike’s bedroom. Santa’s last snap worked to perfection. A week later, Oprah smiled into the camera. “Well, what can I say. How do I introduce a hero? A hero who is world renowned. Some call him Kris Kringle. Others Saint Nick. But me. Well, I like Santa Claus …” © Alexander Salas Alexander Salas is an avid reader. His favourites are Dean Koontz & Joe Lansdale. http://salasbackwardssalas.blogspot.com/

TWISTED TONGUE 60


Seeing Things Aaron A Polson

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he man who ate eyeballs rattled into Black Mountain, Tennessee on a dusty Tuesday in the summer of 1897. He rode in relative comfort, shaded from the hot sun in his black lacquered carriage, and his train of believers followed, utilising whatever means of travel they could find—on foot, horseback, bouncing in an old cart, even one wobbling old penny-farthing bicycle. The local crowd—a jostling mass of all ages—had gathered and swelled even before the entourage settled in front of town hall. Hezekiah Jameson, an old skeleton of a man with eyes like the winter sky, couldn’t scrap with the younger onlookers, so he took his place in the back of the throng. He had seen the man who ate eyeballs before and hoped, despite his memory of that previous engagement, that the man could grant his wish. Hezekiah shifted his weight back and forth on his bony legs, straining to catch a glimpse of the man who could work miracles and commune with the dead. Just as he pushed up to his tip-toes, a sliding black snake of mourners shoved through, nearly toppling old Hezekiah. His brain was still swift and sure; he tagged onto the end of the group and found himself standing at the front edge of the crowd. A thin man flicked from the open door of the black buggy, doffed his hat to the mob, and bowed slightly. “Welcome, one and all. I see Mister Magikal’s reputation precedes him as usual.” A bloated cheer rose above their heads. “I’m sure he shall not disappoint,” he finished, and made a sweeping gesture toward the carriage. Hezekiah peeled his wire-frame glasses from behind his ears and mashed the lenses against his shirt tail, replacing them once smudged clean. The man named Magikal descended without flourish from the shadowed depths of his carriage, just an ordinary man—older and a little on the plump side by the bulge around his middle. His pale skin shimmered in the summer heat under a head of snowy hair, but he was oddly dry, with no beads of sweat dancing on his forehead. “Who here believes? Who here wishes to communicate with the recent dead?” His wrist snapped from one short sleeve, producing a silver sparkle—a knife blade. With his hand poked into the air, one could see a little black pouch resting on his hip. The clutch of mourners shuffled forward, and one woman in black mourning gown extended a hand toward Magikal. “Sir, my name’s Agatha Matthews. With your permission … my son, Thomas, he died on Sunday. Gored by our bull.” On cue, those bearing his brown casket melted out of the throng. “I’d like to know … I have to know that he’s with the Almighty.” Magikal dropped his empty hand on Agatha’s shoulder. “Dear woman, do you understand what I must do?” Agatha nodded. “Bring him forward then; let me see what Thomas sees.” The pallbearers followed Magikal’s cue and laid the wooden box in the dust at his feet. A few in the crowd coughed, but most waited in pregnant silence. Two of Magikal’s assistants, young girls wearing black frocks, flipped open the casket. Thomas lay inside, as white as bleached stone. Magikal bent to the boy’s face, laid one hand on his head, and muttered a quiet prayer. Then, without hesitation, the small silver knife danced around each of the boy’s eyes, and Magikal held the orbs aloft. “This, my friends and fellow believers, is not a moment for the faint of heart.” With those words, the plump man slipped both eyeballs in his mouth, dropped his hands to his sides, and swallowed, patting the small pouch at his waist. He remained still, but momentarily began to quake, jiggling as though struck through by a bolt of lightning. Sweat poured from his forehead. Magikal’s mouth flapped open. “Mama?” His eyes danced through the crowd, landing on Agatha. “Mama, it’s me, Thomas. I miss you, mama.” The woman clutched a handkerchief to her eyes and whimpered. “My, boy …”

“Mama, tell my brothers … everything is okay. It’s real beautiful here, mama.” Two of the pallbearers flinched at the mention of brothers. “I’ll be here, waiting for you, Mama.” “Oh …” Agatha Matthews stumbled backwards, caught by her two surviving sons. Magikal, for his part, shook again, nearly dropping to the ground. “Water,” he whispered, motioning to one of his assistants. The thin man danced in again, shielding the mystic from onlookers. “Well folks, you’ve witnessed it—a miraculous conversation from beyond.” With reverence, he slipped off his hat and lowered his eyes to the casket. “Rest in peace, good sir.” After a quick moment, he snapped his fingers and two more assistants probed the crowd with empty hats, seeking donations. The town square was filled with the sound of clinking coins. “Goddamn charlatan,” a bearded man grumbled. Hezekiah’s left eye twitched a little, and the hint of a smile sprouted on his face. “I don’t know anything about a charlatan, but he has a gift,” the old man muttered.

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agikal’s boisterous followers filled the local pub that evening, looking for entertainment, food, and lodging for the night. The dark wooden walls swelled with laughter and smoke, while the legend of the man who ate eyeballs grew. Magikal sat at a relatively quiet table in the corner, feasting on roast beef and fine golden ale. He was not a young man anymore, and maintaining the illusion wore on him—the heavy meal would help him sleep. Hezekiah ticked into the bar like a quiet mouse, clutching his hat in front of him like a shield. He thought of his wife, the fever and her death, and pushed into the room. His memories still stung; they had raised a family together for more than thirty years. He twisted and shuffled past leering eyes, frothing, dirty men, and girls who could be bought for whispered promises, finally spotting the plump prophet and hurrying through the noise to the far corner table. “Mister Magikal,” Hezekiah began, his fingers nervously folding and twisting the brim of his ancient, soiled hat. Two burly men stepped from the shadows, but Magikal waved them off, gesturing for the old man to sit. Hezekiah slipped into an old, squeaking chair. “Yes, believer.” “My name’s Jameson. Hezekiah Jameson. We’ve met before, once.” A few more fidgets with his hat. “Sir, you have the gift.” Magikal smiled—a forced smile that belied his weariness with this charade. “The gift was given … I am merely a vessel. You say we’ve met?” “Well, sort of. I was younger, a new father then. You weren’t much more than a boy, riding with the carnival.” Magikal nodded. “Sir, my wife. She’s passed.” Hezekiah’s eyes folded closed like wrinkled paper. Magikal leaned back, resting his fat paws on his gut. “I would be happy to commune with, her name?” The old man’s eyes opened. “Esther, sir.” “Yes, Esther. I have a slight fee, for the trouble. Could you bring the body to the square tomorrow?” Hezekiah shifted, and his eyes danced from side-to-side. A knot grew in his stomach. “I’m poor folk, Mr. Magikal … I have nothing for the fee. Besides, she’s been gone for about six months. I don’t want to disturb her rest.” He leaned forward. “I’ll do just about anything else to know she’s okay—when I heard you were coming back to town …” Magikal stretched one hand into the air and flicked a finger toward the old man. The shadowed men moved forward. “I can only commune with those freshly dead, through the power of their visions.” He glanced toward the black pouch next to his plate. “You need to see a preacher—I can’t help you.” Steel-band arms wrapped around Hezekiah’s bones, and the bodyguards pulled him from the bench. His eyes grew wide with the white look of desperation. “You can talk with the dead—or speak for them. Surely one of those eyes you’ve put in your belly has seen my Esther …” The burly men dragged Hezekiah toward the door as he spoke.

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ight crept around the Smokey Mountains and dropped a heavy cloak on Black Mountain. Magikal’s room sat above the pub’s kitchen, and he slumbered soundly. His bodyguards waited in the hallway, while the rest of the gang slept in rooms at either end of the hall. Midnight came, and the moon began its slow sweep toward dawn. Hezekiah still held some nimbleness in his old limbs. He climbed a drain spout to the second floor, worked the blade of an old corn knife into the window latch, and popped it free with minimal effort. The old man slid his skeletal frame through the opening, and squatted for a moment inside Magikal’s room. The plump man continued snoring in his bed. Hezekiah’s old fingers worked quickly. He jammed a wooden chair against the door handle, laid five long bands of leather on the floor, and turned to the bed. With a sailor’s skill, he gently knotted Magikal’s wrists to the bedposts, pushed back the blanket, and slipped knots around the man’s ankles. He stood for a moment, admiring his work—slightly amazed that the fat man slept through it all. He shuffled to the head of the bed and whispered in Magikal’s ear. “Mister. Psst. Wake up.” Magikal’s eyes opened, quickly zooming from side-to-side. “What?” He yanked at his wrists and ankles. “I’m tied …” Hezekiah leaned out of the shadows. “Don’t cry for help.” A cold blade plucked at Magikal’s throat. “I just want to talk to my Esther. You can make that happen. I’ve seen you.” Sweat sprouted on Magikal’s forehead. “No … no … no …” he whispered. He strained his fat neck to nod toward the table across the room. “The bag … in the bag …” “I don’t want your money. Can’t you help me talk to my Esther?” Hezekiah snatched the last strip of leather from the floor. “I’ve seen you work this magic nearly thirty years ago and now, just today. I also remember how you turned away a poor old sot all those years ago. A fella who had no money for your fee, just like me.”

“The eyes are in the …” Magikal mumbled as the old man jammed the leather in his mouth. His eyes seemed to swell, bleaching his whole face with their whiteness, and he continued to poke toward the table with his head. “Yes the eyes. The magic’s in them eyes, ain’t it?” Hezekiah started to unbutton Magikal’s bed shirt. “If you can’t help me, I’ll have to take the magic myself.” Muffled voices sounded in the hallway. “Boss, boss? You okay?” Hezekiah’s hand shook as he brought the knife to Magikal’s swollen belly. He brushed his damp cheek with the other hand. Looking up, he said, “God forgive me. Esther…forgive me. I have to know that you’re okay.” With that, he pushed the shaking blade into white flesh. Magikal’s teeth dug into the leather, and he wrenched against the tethers, squeezing his eyes shut as warm, sticky blood washed his skin and soaked the sheets. The door began to rattle. “Boss? Boss!” Hezekiah’s hands dripped with crimson as he plunged them repeatedly into the bowels of the false prophet. “Those eyes are in here, I’m sure. The magic …” He dug frantically, baptising himself with the red flow. “Esther … © Aaron Polson

Aaron Polson is a high school English teacher who dreams in black and white while Rod Serling narrates. When he isn’t arguing about the definition of irony with his students, he can be found chipping away at some twisted tale. He currently resides in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife, two sons, and a tattooed rabbit. His short fiction has appeared in Reflection’s Edge, Necrotic Tissue, Permuted Press’s Monstrous anthology, and other publications. You can visit him on the web at www.aaronpolson.com.

A Grim Affair P.S. Gifford

Are you fearful of the Grim Reaper, and terrified as to when you will meet? Perchance it will be as you trip in a shower, or get pummelled whilst crossing a street. Possibly Mr. Reaper shall drop in on you, as you suck sweet marrow from a bone… Maybe you’ll be lost in an endless crowd Or far more unsettling—I think—all alone. Perhaps you’ll be sitting quiet by the fire and he’ll sneak up on you from behind. For remember that you are a mere mortal and every last one he’s able to find... Conceivably you’ll be at your computer catching up on your daily posts and email. When you get a feeling to glance behind you, But if you attempt it—it will be to no avail. Because before you even turn your head to boldly dare stare death in the face. Your soul would have been transported to a much hotter and more devilish place. I seem to comprehend an awful lot about him, I am sure that you would keenly agree. Understand, I know all that there is to known for that Grim fellow is none other than me… © P S Gifford TWISTED TONGUE 62

www.psgifford


An Interview with Dr Kim Paffenroth Hi Kim and welcome to Twisted Tongue magazine. Before we kick off, can you tell us a bit about your life (where you’re from, family, occupation etc). I’ve been a professor since 1995— first at Notre Dame, then Villanova, and since 2001, at Iona College. I live about an hour and fifteen minutes north of NYC with my wife and two kids. I was born on Long Island, but we moved twice when I was little— to Virginia and then to New Mexico. Do your favourite writers inspire you to write? Of course. Sometimes for their ideas, sometimes for their imagery, and sometimes (which I think is what you’re getting at) for their own life journeys that made them into great artists. I’m always inspired when an author lives with great personal hardships or demons and uses that to fuel creativity. I fear if I had some of their problems, I’d just sit and do nothing.

Dr Kim Paffenroth

Does your professorship in Religious Studies actively influence the style of your writing and do your own personal religious views come into play when writing? Yes, though I’m learning to weave it in more artfully and less overtly: as you say, the influence is “active,” but it shouldn’t be overbearing, obvious, or crude. Flannery O’Connor is one of my main inspirations, and she’s known as one of the greatest Catholic writers of the 20th century, but she frequently talked in speeches and letters and essays about how an artist’s responsibility and success are first and foremost to his/her art. An artist should be working on his/her craft, not on the “message.” If the “message” or worldview that informs the art takes precedence, then it’s bad art. Writing and reading are intensely moral, spiritual, philosophical experiences, but they are aesthetic experiences first, and an author’s focus should always be on that dimension. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? I’ll be morbid a moment, forgive me. I dabbled in writing when I was very young—the usual amateurish scribblings of a preteen. But when my mother died when I was 14, my writing turned dark, angry, and violent. It became an outlet for my grief, fears, sadness, and hurt. Some of that stuff, I’m sure, maybe had some glimmers of talent, since it was so personal and passionate. But after a certain point, that kind of personally cathartic writing is just self-indulgent and you should put it aside. I didn’t write any fiction from the time I was 18 till I was 40. But that hiatus gave me the maturity and distance to go back to issues of loss and pain in a more effective way that could be shared with others, and not just as personal therapy. What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers? Tools? I don’t think you mean real, physical items like pens and computers. But if you mean personal attitudes and outlooks and habits, then there are probably many that different people use in different ways to different effects, but I would think a few stand out as common to any writer. You have to be unusually observant—of everything, of your physical environment, of how machines and vehicles and weapons and other things work, but most especially of how people act and what motivates them. One reader complimented me on a scene that I thought was kind of

straightforward, where I described how two male characters posture and bluster and jockey for position in front of other people. It seemed to me a pretty common occurrence, but many people don’t observe human interactions closely, so the reader thought it quite perceptive of me, that I could describe that element of the male psyche and behaviour. I think you need to be very patient and not give up easily: that’s not a necessity for the writing itself, but certainly for success in publishing. And I think you have to read constantly, and not just within the genre, but everything. You need the inspiration and ideas and there’s no better place than to draw from those who’ve been successful. Have you ever written under a pseudonym or are you always Kim Paffenroth on the page? I’m far too vain to write under a pseudonym. Not that all people who write with one are humble, but I can’t imagine not being public about this thing that I’ve created and tried to make as beautiful as possible. In 2006 your non-fiction book Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero’s Visions of Hell on Earth won the Bram Stoker award for best non fiction book. Can you describe how you felt when you learned that you had won? You need to know the setup to understand how it unfolded. They do it up like the Oscars—with a presenter opening the envelope in a packed hall. And they allow a category to end in a tie. So I’m there, heart pounding, not sure if I’ve won, but certainly hoping, maybe even thinking that I have the votes. And they open the envelope and read the name of one of the other nominees. Applause from the hall. I’m crushed, of course. But then the presenters kind of ham it up, like, “Oh, wait, what do we have here? Another slip of paper in the envelope? It looks like a tie!” And of course I straighten up and pay attention, but at the same time, I don’t want to get too excited all over, because it still could be one of the other people. Then they finally read my name. So it was a bit of a roller coaster of an evening. I must’ve been a sight afterwards, as I went with a friend to celebrate at a bar (I hadn’t had anything to drink up to that point in the evening) and the barmaid turned me away, saying, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t serve you. It’s against the law for me to serve alcohol to someone who’s obviously drunk already!” So I guess the feeling was pretty intoxicating.

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Your novels Dying To Live—A Novel Of Life Among The Undead and Dying To Live—Life Sentence are currently in print and available on Amazon.com. After writing your first novel was it harder to get the sequel written or did you find both books tough work, or easy, and did you always plan a sequel? I’d planned a sequel all along, and having finished one novel, there was a greater level of confidence for the second. But I still always hit a certain point, maybe around 1/3 to halfway through a new project, when it feels like I’m going to finish it. I guess it’s momentum. Up until that point, I always feel like “No, I don’t know what comes next, I don’t know if I can finish this.” But then the vision of the whole becomes clear and I can just keep going. What was the original inspiration for you to write such books as your Dying To Live novels? Romero’s films, of course, but also Dante and the Bible and Shakespeare. Images from the Bible and Shakespeare are woven into the narrative, and they fill my thoughts when I think about how to present my characters and how to shape their actions and dialogue. Behind every good writer there is a great editor and publisher—here’s a chance for you to big them up and tell us how you all ended meeting up and how you guys get on. Jacob Kier and D. L. Snell at Permuted, along with Louis Bohmer at Magus Press have all been incredible to work with—very thorough, detailed, prompt, and with a great passion for the genre. I think that’s the right balance that you need with genre work. You obviously don’t want someone with perfect grammar, but who says, “Zombies? What are you— weird?” But you also don’t want someone who loves zombies and misses the essential points of continuity and style that make a piece of prose work. Like with your question about religious inspirations—you want someone who’s devoted to the genre, but who’s a meticulous craftsman. They’ve been great for that. One thing that we all fear as writers is rejection. How did you deal with rejection letters, and do they get fewer the more experienced you become? I am embarrassed to admit that once I didn’t handle one well— I sent a snarky message to the editor. Not as rude or weird as some of the letters I’ve gotten as an editor since then, but unforgivable nonetheless. I’ve since met her at a con and apologized, and I hope we’re cool now, because it was just a stupid thing to do and I encourage everyone not to make the same mistake, because you can’t unsay it and the editor has no responsibility later to forgive or overlook your foolishness. But other than that one lapse, I’ve always taken a deep breath, looked back at the story, made some changes if those were suggested, and immediately sent it off to another venue. Unless you’re going to scrap it completely, that’s all you can do. And they get fewer as you go, but they’re nowhere near zero at this point, and I don’t think they’ll get there any time soon, so dealing with rejections is a good skill to have. How helpful do you think that reviews of your books have been and do you take criticism and incorporate what the critics have to say or do you ignore them and take your own decisions? I think reviews or even just comments fall into three categories. One is a rant of “I HATE THIS IT SUCKS!” You can only ignore that. You don’t need to respond to or think about it, because it gives you nothing to go on. A more helpful review to a reader is something that points out the reviewer’s expectations and how the book met or failed to meet those expectations: something like, “I hate fast zombies. This book had fast zombies so I hated it.” That’s a little more helpful, especially to a reader, since the reader knows whether s/he likes fast or slow zombies, and now has something on which to base his/her decision to buy the book. But for the author, it’s still boiling it down to a matter of taste and can’t really be

incorporated into rethinking or improving the next book. A more substantive review that points out more specific shortcomings that are not just matters of taste—that’s a review I always try to listen to. Again, I used to get into some heated exchanges with reviewers, but now I just read them and incorporate their criticisms as much as I can, without totally reconfiguring what I do. For example, several reviewers said they didn’t like all that “Christian stuff” in Dying to Live. If they mean they don’t want any Christian subtext or influence in my books, then I can’t accommodate them, anymore than I’d expect an atheist author to put in Christian elements just to satisfy a Christian reviewer or audience. But I can and should try to incorporate those elements more subtly, and in a way that’s clear such spirituality is inclusive of other religions and worldviews as well—in a way that is welcoming but challenging to readers, rather than excluding or alienating them. A reviewer can help me see a mistake like that and I should welcome the correction. Can you tell us a bit about the publicity side of your work? To what extent do you have to take the initiative and how hands on do you feel you like to be when it comes to marketing your writing? I think all writers complain about how much marketing they have to do, but I think one just has to be careful and pick the right kinds. Do the marketing that’s effective for you, and that you actually enjoy. Some people feel like they have to have a big Internet presence, and they often get in trouble by picking or continuing flame wars, and it’s counter-productive to their attempts to sell books. Or they go out and spend way too much on ads and swag and feel disappointed (and broke). I have gotten to where I feel comfortable at cons, I like meeting fans and other writers, and I’ve had some modest swag (bookmarks and pens) made at my expense and I hand those out at cons; sometimes I’ll send swag to cons I’m not attending, to go on the freebie table or in the goodie bag at those, to get some more exposure. I do interviews like this one, and that’s a good way for me to think about and articulate why I write what I do, so it’s kind of fun, too. So I don’t complain about the marketing side, because I’ve found the outlets with which I’m comfortable, and I’ve learned. In the modern age, technology is taking over many aspects of our lives. What are your thoughts on the downloadable PDF file? Will it take over “proper books” or do you think that there is room for both formats for many years or decades to come? I’m not a tech person—I have a cell phone I never use, and I upgraded my LPs to CDs, but still don’t know how to use MP3 or how to program my VCR. But I would guess that, given how cheap dead trees are for the foreseeable future, that “regular” books will be around for a while yet, until electronic formats can overcome the hurdles of convenience and cost. Have you ever self-published and if not, would you ever consider that way of getting readers and exposure? I dodged that bullet. I would counsel any new author to disregard the siren call of self-publishing. It’s worth working on your craft till it’s good enough that someone other than yourself wants to publish it—and pay you for it. How many of your characters are similar to people you know or even based wholly on people you know, if so, what made that person so special that you had to create a character on him/her? That’s one of the most popular questions I get. Every character I create is a pastiche of several people I’ve known. I doubt anyone would recognize themselves taken over whole cloth into one of my characters, but I’m sure lots of people would think a mannerism or line of dialogue sounds familiar. Again, it’s about being observant, and then being creative in how you combine elements to make a compelling, believable, complex character. A corollary question is how many characters are based on me, and I’d say every character has some connection

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and similarity to me—that’s how I identify with them and get inside their heads to make them sound “real.” Other than your already long list of achievements, do you have any fresh long-term writing goals or things that you aspire to achieve? I am shopping a historical novel based on Dante right now, and I’m just thrilled about it. I think it could be a really literate, intellectual, but at the same time visceral experience—the kind of reading experience, in short, that I’ve been trying to create with my writing. And I think it could be a big commercial success. The idea of making one of my favourite authors fresh and relevant to a new generation who might not read his works on their own really excites me. If you had control over your future, where would you like your writing career to be in ten years time? I think people crave respect more than money, so I’d like to be respected by my peers and fans. I don’t need to write a bestseller every year, or even make enough money to quit my day job, but I’d like a base of fans and friends who really look forward to my next book, who enjoy reading each new one and think that it’s enhanced and ennobled their lives. That would make me feel good about what I do. Do you have a particular favourite scene yourself, or one that you are especially proud of? Oh my, it’s hard to separate one’s favourites from the admiration expressed by fans. So let me acknowledge my fans’ favourites, and then mine. I have a scene in Dying to Live, and another in Dying to Live—Life Sentence, both of which involve women giving birth in a zombified world, and all that can go horribly and violently wrong in that scenario. Fans have been duly impressed with the horror and gore of those. There are some torture scenes in my earlier and current work that I think are very effective for their horror, pain, and rage. But for myself, if I think of a favourite, I think of several scenes where two people – usually two women, to be honest – embrace. Not

Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero’s Visions of Hell on Earth Publisher: Baylor University Press (15 Oct 2006) ISBN-10: 1932792651 ISBN-13: 978-1932792652 Average Price: $24.95 Synopsis: This volume connects American social and religious views with the classic American movie genre of the zombie horror film. For nearly forty years, the films of George A. Romero have presented viewers with hellish visions of our world overrun by flesheating ghouls. This study proves that Romero’s films, like apocalyptic literature or “Dante’s Commedia”, go beyond the surface experience of repulsion to probe deeper questions of human nature and purpose, often giving a chilling and darkly humorous critique of modern, secular America.

sexually, necessarily, though there’s often that undertone, but they just hold each other when one or both are hurt or scared or dying. That to me is a more powerful, abiding gesture than violence or sex. I can think of the first time I tried a version of that scene, in my novelette Orpheus and the Pearl, and it still gives me shivers. The whole scene is charged with violence and sexuality, but at the climax, the main character takes the other woman by the shoulders, turns her around, and just holds her from behind. And the woman she’s holding can finally weep, can finally release all the pain and shame she’s been holding inside her all her life. That exchange makes me proud. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? Wow, that’s kind of big. I’d say that I want readers to experience the world as a very painful, violent place—to acknowledge that’s a reality and not something you should turn away from or discount, as though being faithful or welladjusted means thinking that everything’s just fine the way it is. I don’t believe things are fine. But at the same time, I very much believe that beauty is all around this ugly world if one loves and sacrifices oneself for others, and I try to offer reminders of that throughout my fiction. I guess that’s what I mean by an inclusively Christian message, because you can state it in Christian terms of the fallenness of the world and atonement through love, but you don’t have to put it in those terms, or acknowledge the truth claims of Christianity, in order to understand or value that message. It’s a humanistic and universal message of our painful human condition and our glimpses of something transcendent. Kim, on behalf of Twisted Tongue Magazine—thanks very much for your time, it’s been a pleasure! The pleasure was all mine.

Website: http://gotld.blogspot.com Dying to Live: A Novel of Life among the Undead Paperback: 216 pages Publisher: Permuted Press (1 April 2007) ISBN-10: 097897073X ISBN-13: 9780978970734 Average Price: $12.95 Synopsis: Jonah Caine, a lone survivor in a zombieinfested world, struggles to understand the apocalypse in which he lives. Unable to find a moral or sane reason for the horror that surrounds him, he is overwhelmed by violence and insignificance. After wandering for months, Jonah’s lonely existence dramatically changes when he discovers a group of survivors. Living in a museum-turned-compound, they are led jointly by Jack, an ever-practical and efficient military man, and Milton, a mysterious, quizzical prophet who holds a strange power over the dead. Both leaders share Jonah’s anguish over the brutality of their world, as well as his hope for its beauty. Together with others, they build a community that re-establishes an island of order and humanity surrounded by relentless ghouls. But this newfound peace is short-lived, as Jonah and his band of refugees clash with another group of survivors who remind them that the undead are not the only-nor the most grotesque-horrors they must face.

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History Is Dead: A Zombie Anthology

Dying to Live - Life Sentence (Permuted, 2008)

Paperback: 300 pages Publisher: Permuted Press (1 Dec 2007) ISBN-10: 0978970799 ISBN-13: 978-0978970796 Average Price: $14.95

Paperback: 232 pages Publisher: Permuted Press (15 Oct 2008) ISBN-10: 1934861111 ISBN-13: 978-1934861110 Average Price: $14.95 Synopsis: At the end of the world a handful of survivors banded together in a museum-turned-compound surrounded by the living dead. The community established rituals and rites of passage, customs to keep themselves sane, to help them integrate into their new existence. In a battle against a kingdom of savage prisoners, the survivors lost loved ones, they lost innocence, but still they coped and grew. They even found a strange peace with the undead. Twelve years later the community has reclaimed more of the city and has settled into a fairly secure life in their compound. Zoey is a girl coming of age in this undead world, learning new rolesnew sacrifices. But even bigger surprises lie in wait, for some of the walking dead are beginning to remember who they are, whom they’ve lost, and, even worse, what they’ve done. As the dead struggle to reclaim their lives, as the survivors combat an intruding force, the two groups accelerate toward a collision that could drastically alter both of their worlds.

Orpheus and the Pearl (Magus, 2008) Synopsis: Our team of crack historians has uncovered the truth you never learned in school: the living dead have walked among us since the dawn of time. In this collection of gruesome tales from throughout the ages, the ravenous undead shamble through bloody battlefields, plague-ridden cities, genteel country estates, and dusty frontier towns. They emerge from foggy cemeteries, frozen barrows, loamy bogs, cursed mines, and gore-spattered operating rooms to prey on the living. But these zombies don’t just eat people. They help painters and writers save their faltering careers. They unwittingly push humankind on the quest for fire. They topple evil capitalists and their corporate empires. They fight crime. They fall in love. Join us on a journey into our zombie-filled past...Neither history nor the living dead have ever been this exciting!

Paperback: 78 pages Publisher: Magus Press; 1st Edition edition (21 Feb 2008) ISBN-10: 0979700019 ISBN-13: 978-0979700019 Average Price: $10.00

TWISTED TONGUE 66


Burning Miracle

Bush:

A

Christmas

Theodore Carter

S

he heard his car door slam outside in the driveway and braced herself for his brutish presence. She’d rehearsed this conversation all afternoon. “Christmas traffic by the mall,” he grumbled as he walked through the door. He dropped his briefcase on the floor and walked past her toward the kitchen, toward the whiskey. She watched him pour a glass, his bushy eyebrows curled into a severe scowl. Lately, she couldn’t stop looking at his unkempt eyebrows. “Honey, I need to ask you something,” said Mary. “What?” Dan asked. She should have waited until he’d hit that nice spot between his third and fourth drink. “I want to invite my brother for Christmas.” He exhaled deeply, then returned to the living room and plopped into his recliner, drink in one hand, newspaper in the other. The recliner had been her gift to him twelve years before on their first anniversary. Now the fabric of the chair, and the marriage, had worn thin. “Jesus, Mary,” Dan said. “That’s right. And the wise men, and all that.” Dan shoved his paper into his lap, turned toward her, and glared. He did this a lot. He’d garner all of his nastiness and direct it into his eyebrows until they pulsed like small, heaving, woodland creatures. He’d tilt them at just the right angle to portray his utter disdain for her. Over the years, his eyebrows had grown inversely in relation to the strength of their marriage. With both, the marriage and the eyebrows, she hadn’t noticed changes until reaching a crisis point. “He wants to come Thursday,” she said. “I talked to him this morning.” “Fine. For Christ’s sake.” He turned back to his paper. “Right. Thank you,” she said. Mary smelled the pot roast burning and ran to the kitchen. Too late. Its ends had shrivelled. It looked like a deflated football. Thankfully, Dan had no sense of smell. She wouldn’t feel his wrath until dinner time. Maybe she should inject the beef with antifreeze before then. When Mary returned to the living room, she added, “And he wants to cook Christmas dinner.” Dan exhaled and threw his head back against the top of his recliner. Over the top of his neatly-combed brown hair, she saw the upper ridges of those shaggy eyebrows. They made her feel old and lonely. “Roast beef.” “You know he won’t, Dan.” Mary’s brother Charles worked as a vegetarian chef. Dan thought this akin to him being a lifeguard who refused to go into the water. “I guess we won’t be having anyone over then.” “Who did you want to invite?” “That’s not the point.” Mary wasn’t sure what the point was, and she didn’t care. She took Dan’s empty glass and went to refill it so she’d be sure he’d had three drinks before seeing the pot roast. When bringing the fresh drink to him, she pretended to stroke him affectionately on his brow. Really, she was trying to flatten his eyebrow with the condensation from the whiskey glass. The renegade hairs bounced back as wild as ever.

C

harles returned from the grocery store with loads of plastic bags in each hand. “Hi, Hi,” he said, and walked into the kitchen to unload. Mary helped. Charles began humming Jingle Bell Rock. Dan came into the kitchen. He hated humming. He conveyed this to Charles with a careful movement of his left eyebrow. Charles stopped humming. “What’s on the menu, Charles?” Dan asked. Charles brought his hands together with a clap. “Missile tofu for the main course.”

Dan looked at him quizzically, powerfully. “Marinated in soy sauce, lime, and hot pepper flakes.” “Ah,” said Dan. He got out a tumbler and opened the liquor cabinet. Charles had given him a bottle of small-batch whiskey that morning, but Dan got out the Jack Daniels. Charles had several pans and pots going. Onions sizzled. Water boiled. The exotic aromas filling the house smelled nothing like what Mary produced with her pot roasts and Chicken á la king. Mary played sous-chef, chopping and dicing. Charles cooked and hummed. Dan lurked and drank. Mary didn’t look at him, but still knew that his eyebrows moved, pumped up and down like pistons, as he gave her and Charles disapproving looks from the doorway. “When are we eating?” he asked. “Almost,” said Charles. She looked at Dan. He rolled his eyes then retreated into the living room. A bald spot had replaced the cowlick on the back of his head. His bottom had widened, his shoulders were more round than she remembered. And yes, even from behind, she could see the very tips of his oversized eyebrows peeking out from the sides of his head. “Mary, watch this pan for me? I’ve got to make the dressing,” said Charles. They switched spots. She swirled the oil and the onions, smelled their delicious aroma, thankful that this was something Dan couldn’t enjoy. Holding the pan, Mary thought about using the hot underside of it to flatten her husband’s eyebrows: Smack! While cooking the onions, Mary decided Dan’s sensory defect should be exploited somehow. It was only fair. He’d dominated her for years with his hulking male body, his role as provider, and now with his menacing eyebrows. Then, while she stirred, a plan sprang to her mind, a clever, sinister plan. Mary hadn’t felt clever in years and because of this, she decided it necessary to utilize her plan. She turned off the stovetop flames then turned the gas back on without igniting it. Charles had his nose in a vinaigrette and didn’t notice the scent of gas. “Dan, can you come here a minute?” Mary asked. “What?” he said. He entered with heavy steps. “The pilot light is out,” she said. Charles looked up from his dressing, his nostrils flared. Then his eyes grew wide in horror. Mary shook her head and put her finger to her lips begging him to stay silent. Charles edged toward the doorway. “God damn it,” said Dan. Whiskey in hand, he removed the pots and pans from the stovetop one by one, clanking them down hard on the counter. He got a match from the junk drawer. Mary backed up until she was almost in the living room. She pulled Charles over next to her and held his arm tight. She wanted him with her, she wanted his consent. Dan approached the stove top with a lit match. Mary had loved Dan at one point and for that reason, it was only partly enjoyable to watch his whiskey glass explode like a Molotov cocktail. Watching him catch fire brought up a conflagration of emotions. Part of her revelled in the pleasure of having brought such pain upon him, but she also felt sick to her stomach. He hadn’t danced since their wedding day, but he danced around the kitchen now. He screamed. He bled. His hair caught fire. He bumped into the walls leaving burnt skin and blood on the white paint. Had she really meant this to happen? Was this the outcome she wanted? Dan turned toward her screaming, his eyes filled with horror, betrayal. His knowing look registered with her, but as she stood face-to-face with him, she focused on his eyebrows which were completely ablaze. Those, hairy, middle-age-man eyebrows, those furry bushels of contempt, burned on Dan’s face. The scene played slowly in Mary’s mind. It seemed his eyebrows would burn forever, that she might sit Dan in his recliner and leisurely roast marshmallows over him. And the thought of this, the hideousness of debasing her husband so that he was simply a heat source for campfire treats, made Mary realize that yes, she had meant this to happen. She didn’t need to feel sick. She could even let forth a sinister giggle if she liked. Charles ran for a towel and threw it over Dan’s head. He sank onto the linoleum floor. Smoke billowed from underneath

TWISTED TONGUE 67


the towel. Dan whimpered. Mary smiled at Charles, and Charles, whose look of horror had faded, looked almost ready to smile back. It took fifteen minutes for the ambulance to come, but once Dan had been carted away, Charles finished cooking the missile tofu. Dinner tasted wonderful, largely because Dan wasn’t there to criticize it. Of course, she knew she wasn’t altogether done with him. There’d be legal rigmarole, divorce proceedings. Whatever happened, she’d be ready. She imagined him across the courtroom from her, trying his best to look menacing without the use of his powerful eyebrows.

Theodore Carter's fiction has appeared in several magazines and anthologies including The North American Review, From the Asylum, Yankee Pot Roast, The Potomac Review, Kiss the Sky: Fiction and Poetry starring Jimi Hendrix, and Stress City: A Big Fat Book of Fiction by 51 DC Guys. Currently, he's at work on his first novel. Carter is on the web at www.theodorecarter.com

© Theodore Carter

Killer Artist

Baby’s Breath

Previously published by: Far Side of Midnight

Previously published by: Contemporary Rhyme

C. M. Clifton

C. M. Clifton

His latest masterpiece is unforgettable, her dress painted with blood spilled by his hands. Her pallid complexion glows, purple-black bruises stained with her tears, dampened with sweat from his days-long creative torture sessions.

Tainted with the scent of mother’s milk, and softly exhaled from tiny lips, baby’s breath caresses skin like silk, or like a brush from warm fingertips. The gentlest touch to ever feel. Just right for the cat to stalk and steal.

Her left eyeball hangs to her sunken cheek like a grotesque mole looming near her mouth. His needlework is to be admired, black-thread sutures through her eyelids and lips, trademark designs of terror.

© C M Clifton

He is brilliant at bringing out inner beauty. Eviscerating his chosen, he shows them what truly matters in life. He explores their gaping wounds, seeks to touch their souls. He has fingered many hearts in the process.

Previously published by: Contemporary Rhyme

Of those he deems worthy, he carves, dismembers, slices, peels, reconstructing sinew and bone in pursuit of perfection he lusts and desires— the look of a macabre Venus de Milo. Except his sculptures are headless, too. Cloaked in the shadows of gathering ghouls, he stares as authorities shield his creations from morbid, curious audiences. He slithers away as crime scene cameras flash, as white-sheet curtains fall across the corpses. A master at his craft, he dissects women into images inspired by the dark art conceived and nurtured in his mind. He has found a niche in his extreme makeovers, and never plans to have a shortage of victims.

The Widow C. M. Clifton

She never misses Sunday Mass. She is the epitome of one with class. She never smokes and rarely drinks, and never speaks before she thinks. Lady-like and always charming, her mood swings can be quite alarming. And what’s even more of a surprise is what she does after moonrise. She tends to the viable soil, then, of her lush, colorful garden where her three victims lay— husbands rumored to have run away. A Black Widow, she’ll say she’s not, despite the bodies left to rot. © C M Clifton

Xmas in July Lynn Tait

© C M Clifton

C M Clifton, born where vampires are rumoured to exist, C. M. lives among the bayous where mosquitoes can be saddled and Spanish moss droops from oak trees. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina and levee breaches destroyed her home and her hometown, but not her hope or her sense of humor. C. M. enjoys reading and writing dark tales and poems. Her latest stories appear in Strange Stories of Sand and Sea and Bits of the Dead. She invites you to visit her site at www.geocities.com/black_ink_tales.

Ho Ho Ho Santa cracks his whip. The elves always did hate gardening. © Lynn Tait

Lynn Tait is a poet/editor/photographer living in Sarnia Ontario Canada. Her poetry has been published in numerous literary journals including the Windsor Review, Contemporary Verse 2, Ascent Aspirations and in over 50 anthologies in North America.

TWISTED TONGUE 68


The Never Leaves S H Hughes

H

e swirled the remnants of the cold tea around the cup’s interior and revealed the tealeaves that had beaten the metal strainer earlier. Leaves … A shudder caressed Nathan Oakwood, as comforting as driblets of ice cream down his spine. Why had he listened to that old vagrant’s chatter? Old Vic the vagrant was a storyteller, obsessed with the weird. Yet … he had known things about the crash, things he couldn’t have possibly known. He’d mentioned the oak and its unforgiving body, so deep-rooted and connected to the earth that even an out of control car couldn’t fell it. No. The old vagrant’s thoughts were ridiculous. Leaves were waste products, merely the excrement of trees. They did not have souls. “Nat,” Aunt Susan said, easing her buxom frame down onto the chair opposite him, “are you all right?” Her interruption shook off the craziness. “I’m fine, Susan.” No need to call her Aunt now, he was after all, almost twentyfive. Her fringe was damp from perspiration and her face blotchy from filling an endless supply of silver teapots with hot water. Tearooms, at least this one his aunt owned, were big business in quaint Yorkshire villages. Nathan looked down at the teacup. Tea had dribbled down its side and stained the virginal white pot with dark tears. Amy had often left lipstick marks on these cups. She’d had such pretty lips, kissable and soft—smashed and ruined when her head hit the dashboard …. “I’ve some news, Susan.” “News? What news,” she said. Given his history with news he’d expected her concern. “I’m leaving the village, moving away from Lissett Newton.” She put her hands together, interlinked her fingers. “Well, if you think it’s time.” It had been “time” three months back, but he’d hung around because of a morbid loyalty to Amy. After all, he’d been the one driving that day—the day she died. “I can’t stay here any longer, Susan.” “Bad memories. I understand.” Nathan left a beat of silence fall between them. The bad memories far outweighed the good. Twice, he’d survived car crashes on the village roads. Twice, he’d been thrown clear of the mangled vehicles. His parents and girlfriend had not escaped. He’d been lucky. Or had it been, as Vic had told him, the choice of the leaves to keep him alive? “When are you leaving?” Susan asked. “Tomorrow morning. I’ve decided to take up that graphic design job in London.” He held his aunt’s hands. The skin felt rough, like wood in need of sanding. “I’ll be okay.” “I know. And it’s time you spread your wings. Your father left it too late to leave this village. You shouldn’t wait like he did.” His father had waited too long to start a new life away from the village. When he finally decided to make the move, he’d lost control of their Range Rover as they followed the removal van out on Titus Bend, a sleek stretch of road that cut through the heavy woodland to the west of the village. The police had cleared it as an accident, stated that too much rainwater and debris on the road surface had made it slippery. Nathan clearly remembered there’d been nothing on the road that day but leaves. “You’ll come back here, won’t you, Nat?” “Of course I will.” He squeezed her hand. “In the spring.” Early spring that was, when only innocent buds decorated the trees.

N

athan left the tearooms and looked up one last time at the building’s façade. “You’re leaving, aren’t you?”

He turned to the man asking the question. It was Vic. The scent of both his body and breath made Nathan backtrack a few steps from the vagrant. Vic’s hair was long and unwashed, his beard thick and uncared for, dotted with crumbs from scraps plucked out of rubbish bins. He always wore the same battered leather jacket, with nothing underneath it but bare flesh, now immune to the cold. His jeans were rags, trainers held together with varied lengths of sticky tape. “You’re going, aren’t you? Leaving the village?” Nathan turned and moved off down the pavement. A leaf followed him along the concrete highway. Its crispy bronze body tumbled on despite the lack of breeze. Vic caught up with him. His transport, a rusty shopping trolley, squeaked along with his strides. “You can’t go.” Nathan glanced at the trolley, piled high with other people’s cast-offs that the vagrant had rescued from the local tip. It didn’t seem right that a man who had fought in the Gulf War, saved innocents in a foreign country, should become so lost in his own. “I can do what I want, Vic.” “They won’t let you.” Nathan stopped, turned to face him. “Who won’t?” “The leaves.” “You’re crazy.” Nathan started back along the pavement slabs, dry from the winter chill. Vic rushed after him, pushed his trolley’s wheels into action; the solitary leaf danced in and out of their path. “Listen to me.” Vic yanked on his arm. Nathan dragged it back from the grimecovered hand. “If you try to leave, they’ll stop you.” The leaf sneaked out from beneath the trolley’s shadow and came to a stop beside Nathan’s foot. “Don’t you understand, lad, you belong here, all your family does—it’s ingrained in your very name! Don’t try to leave. The leaves won’t let you go. They’ll stop you.” “Stop me? Like this one?” Nathan smashed his shoe down onto the crispy leaf and it shattered beneath his leather sole. He lifted up his foot and allowed them both to view the destruction. “You shouldn’t have done that. You shouldn’t have done it!” “Calm down, it’s only a leaf.” Nathan pulled out a twenty from the pocket of his jeans and handed it over to the homeless man. “Take this, go in and see my aunt at the tearooms, she’ll sort you out with a good meal.” Vic held the money tightly. “If you try to leave they’ll find you, kill you off. No Oakwood leaves this oak wood.” “They’re leaves, Vic. That’s all.’ Nathan pointed down at the fragments of the destroyed leaf. “Soon they’ll be sludge and then they’ll rot away.” He turned, stopped by Vic’s tug on his jacket again. “Watch for the leaves. Your daddy didn’t treat them right and they took him and his missus.” “My parents died in a car accident. The leaves had nothing to do with it.” “They followed him. Like they’ll follow you ….” “They’re just leaves!” Nathan stomped off down the pavement. Vic stared after him and watch as another crispy leaf followed on behind.

H

e slammed the car boot and his luggage disappeared into its darkness. “Well, that’s the last.” “You be careful now,” said Susan. Tears rimmed her eyes. “And call me when you get to town, okay?” “I will.” Nathan kissed his aunt’s cheek softly then climbed inside the car. He pulled the seatbelt over himself and secured it. “David says he’ll bring the car back for you on Wednesday, okay?” “That’s fine. I don’t need it until the weekend. Take care now and drive safely.” A single tear snaked down her rosy cheek. Nathan flicked on the engine, fired the accelerator and set off. He drove slowly over the humpback bridge, picked up speed as he hit the edge of the village. The A-road was up next, a stretch of concrete and tarmac that cut an unforgiving grove through the woodland. When he came to the end of this carriageway he’d be out of Lissett Newton.

TWISTED TONGUE 69


He would finally be free of it … and the leaves. He pushed the car onwards, hit fifty as he came onto the Aroad. Nathan zoomed down it, desperate to rid himself of his home village and all the memories it brought to life. He glanced in the rear-view mirror. Behind him was an autumnal whirlwind of leaves, angry and wild. “The leaves.” Vic had been right. The leaves were coming for him. A vicious thumping hit the car wheels. Nathan’s gaze shot from the rear-view mirror to the windscreen. His car was almost on the opposite side of the road, the cat’s eyes at its centre warning his wheels as they drifted. He yanked the steering wheel to the side and brought himself back on the correct part of the road and quickly glanced back at the mirror. The whirlwind of leaves was on his rear bumper. Burnt reds merged with flashes of warning amber, glorious bronzes brilliant next to hundreds of dead stale brown bodies. The leaves were about to consume him—as they had his parents, as they had Amy. He remembered now, knew it had always been locked away somewhere in his memory. It had been the leaves that day. Their swirling bodies arrived a hundred-fold and beat against the car’s windscreen like manic bees, a wall of decayed autumnal death that had blocked his vision and his thoughts. The car’s tires had screeched as they fought for traction but found only the wet silkiness of leaves beneath them. He’d been helpfully thrown from the vehicle, in time to see the car concertina against that monstrous oak and kill its solitary passenger: Amy. Beautiful, sweet Amy. The leaves had killed her. Killed his parents. Were about to kill him. Terrified he turned to view the back window. A mammoth blur of leaves now filled the pane, the road behind no longer visible. A horn honked three times in crazy succession. Nathan threw his attention back to the windscreen and saw the juggernaut. Its lights flashed, horn screaming at him to get back onto his side of the road. He swerved the car out of the articulated wagon’s path and its giant cab and trailer smashed into the furious whirlwind behind him. The leaves were blasted apart by the impact. Some flapped in the air like dazed birds while others were dragged along in the truck’s slipstream. Eventually they fell beneath its wheels, veins crushed, skin ruptured.

Nathan braked hard and pulled up by the kerbside. He looked back at the empty road and viewed the decimation. An autumnal blanket saturated the tarmac. The leaves lay silent and still. “They didn’t get me.” Nathan laughed, relief lifting his spirits. He had beaten them. The leaves were dead. He slid the gear stick into place and set off down the road to freedom. Exhaust fumes drifted on the air long after his exit. They fell like dirty mist upon the bodies of his slain enemies.

V

ic looked up at the wooden boards covering the tearooms’ windows. The place was shut up and quiet, had been for days, pickings in the rubbish bin out front scarce. He checked in it anyway and found half a cheese sandwich on a newspaper. Mayonnaise had leaked from the bread and darkened the print, but not enough to obscure it from his eyes. He pulled out the paper. It was two days old. Vic read the main story: Lissett Newton Weekly CRASH CLAIMS LOCAL MAN’S LIFE A local man has died and twelve other passengers have been seriously hurt after a train derailed. Nathan Oakwood was travelling on the Leeds to London express when it derailed just outside Newark. Police said that at least thirty other passengers were injured in the crash and taken to hospitals around the area. Investigators have not yet established a cause, but believe leaves on the line played a ‘major role’ in the derailment. © Sarah H Hughes

Sarah H Hughes lives with her partner in Yorkshire, England. Her work has appeared in Best Magazine (UK), Fiction Magazine, Aphelion webzine, Gold Dust Magazine and Dark Reveries e-zine. She was also a winner in the Secret Attic October and April Short Story Competitions. She’s recently completed a 20,000-word novella entitled the “Son of Warlock” and is hoping to see it published some time this century … or next. For further information, visit her website: www.shhughes.com

The View From The Top Jim Steel

T

he little fairy waited patiently on the treetop. Over the years, she had watched as the family grew up. She saw how the babies had become spoiled brats. She saw the indifferent parents throwing money at toyshops. But still she had hope. Maybe this Christmas would be different. Maybe there was such a thing as magic. Then the door opened and the bearded visitor stepped inside. He was carrying a sack.

E

arly the next morning the boys rushed in and shouted, “We’ve been burgled!” Anger blossomed on the faces of the boys. “Look,” cried the younger one, rushing to the base of the tree. “They’ve forgotten one.” The little fairy smiled and she could hardly wait for them to open the box. The stranger had left them a Christmas log. © Jim Steel Jim is the reviews editor for Interzone and he is also a member of the Glasgow Science Fiction Writers Circle. His stories have turned up in The Third Alternative, Whispers of Wickedness, Albedo One, Jupiter, Dark Horizons, Farthing and all sorts of places. Jim Steel’s Cave of Doom can be found at http://jimsteel.wordpress.com/

TWISTED TONGUE 70


Dear Cleaner

Glen Batchelor

W

hen I first met Wendy she was in a coma. Peering first through the window I pushed open the door to her private room and stood over her. Her hair was fanned out on the pillow, her lips slightly parted. I lifted the clipboard from the foot of the bed and sat down on the chair beside her as I read her name. Wendy. I put down the clipboard and leaned closer. “Hi, Wendy, I’m Dave. Dave Woan,” I said and touched her hand. That was our first communication and the magic between us was instant. Yes, I know she couldn’t speak as you would understand it but we did communicate—the slightest movement of a finger, a flicker of an eyelid. Of course the specialists insisted these were just muscle spasms but they’re specialists in medicine, not emotions, and they could never understand what Wendy and I had. You see, usually I have a big problem with women, talking to them, that is. I know they think I’m strange. I always feel as if they’re examining me, like an insect trapped inside a jar and I clam up. I never felt like that with Wendy. They made a joke out of it at work, called me ‘Home Alone Woan’ because at thirty-six I didn’t have a partner and lived by myself. To them it was a laugh and I laughed along with them but it hurt me inside. I wasn’t strictly honest when I said it was the first time I’d met her, I’d bumped into her once before—literally—a few weeks earlier. I was having trouble sleeping, even though I’d downed nearly a whole bottle of whiskey; you know how it is, I just couldn’t get off. So I thought I’d drive around for a while; maybe that would make me drowsy. And it did. That’s when I hit her. One second the road was clear, the next second she was there. The noise sickened me. I love the sound of breaking glass but not when it’s my windscreen. I couldn’t stop, though. I’d get the blame because I had been drinking even though she probably had too—foolish girl, in the middle of the road at three in the morning, with a dark coat on as well. But you do see now why I couldn’t stop, don’t you? Anyway, we’d never have met otherwise; everything happens for the best, that’s what my gran always said. That’s why I had to go to the hospital. I kept seeing that beautiful face, the look of surprise on it in that split second before she hit the car; and, I suppose I did feel a little guilty leaving her there for someone else to find—anything could have happened to her. I went to see her often after that first time. The doctors and nurses believed my story that I was her boyfriend, and why not? It was true. We would communicate for hours—we had so much in common. After a while our love for each other grew unbreakably strong and we’d decided that as soon as she came out of her coma we would marry and start a family. Oh, how we both longed for that day. But that day never did come and as our love for each other grew stronger so did our impatience; we decided we could wait no longer. It wasn’t the most romantic of couplings but at least the passion was there, if only for the few minutes that the circumstances allowed. But time outlives us all, as I explained to Wendy. The doctors began talking about switching off the life support; they didn’t think Wendy would ever come out of her coma and that it would be best for her to let her go. Best for her? Best for them more like! They didn’t know what we knew, that Wendy could live a happy life just as she was. There were a lot of things she couldn’t do but she had me and she had my love. They wouldn’t listen to my pleadings though. They knew better; I didn’t know what I was talking about, I was being emotional. Another month they said and if there were no change they’d switch her off. Switch her off as if she were a fridge or a vacuum cleaner! Take away her life force; murder her, that’s what I had said. But there was a change. Not the one they had hoped for though. She was pregnant and we were to be parents! Our hopes and hearts soared at the news but the doctors thought otherwise. Go on spoil the party why don’t you. They couldn’t see how she could be pregnant— she’d been in a coma for over twelve months. Still they couldn’t understand! They started to give me strange looks and they stopped leaving us alone together. The police came then, asking me personal questions about our sex life; if I had slept with her; if the child was mine. Of course the child is mine, I’d stormed, what sort of a girl did they think she was? I was arrested, charged with rape. Oh Wendy, if only you could have spoken to them, told them that it wasn’t rape but love, an act of love. They’d had to drop the charges, temporarily. No evidence. They would have to wait until the baby was born for DNA but I can’t wait for that. I’ve checked up on my legal position and the boy, they told me that much, that it’s a boy, our boy, will be taken into care and probably be put up for adoption. I’ve no rights as a father because I’ll be a convicted rapist, unless, of course, the mother speaks up for me. And that won’t happen because as soon as the baby’s born they’ll ‘turn Wendy off.’ No wedding, no Wendy, no son. I didn’t want to alarm you; that’s why I’ve written this letter, Dear Cleaner, you’ll find my body in the bath. I’m sorry that I never did ask you your name. Thanks so much for your time. Yours truly, David Woan. © Glen Batchelor

Glen has had seventy plus stories published in the small press magazines, including Dark Tales, Scribble and La Fenetre as well as TT. His Novel, Waking Lloegr, is now available via Lulu.com.

TWISTED TONGUE 71


Quietus

K S Nixon

I

have to leave. I have to move again because Robert Trask is dead. I know he is dead. I saw it in the newspaper, right on the front page where they knew I could not miss it. They know I read the newspapers. So I have to leave, but first I have to tell you about my laptop, my amazing little laptop. The old Toshiba took anything up to a minute to switch on and get to a screen from which I could begin working. It was white once I am sure, but age had given it a yellow hue that tinged the plastic case. It reminded me of my Grandmother’s wallpaper that she coated steadily with nicotine throughout the thirty five years she sat in that house doing nothing but smoking. It had, no doubt, spent a lot of time somewhere warm or sitting on a desk in direct sunlight, so I thought. It turns out I was very likely half right. The battery was attached to the machine itself but was long dead and although could be removed easily enough, was so obsolete that the young expert geeks that worked at the computer shop in the city could not even recognise its code number, let alone furnish me with a replacement item. The battery was also very heavy indeed, weighing in at well over two kilos all by itself. I had considered throwing it away only to discover that the power supply plugged into the laptop but it still needed the battery connected in order to function and was lifeless without the hulking mass attached. The laptop had no use for the rectangular lump that slotted into its side, but to remove the battery was to kill it altogether. It was almost like a tragic story of a Siamese twin and an inoperably entwined but barely human sibling. Except that it was not the laptop that had to do the hauling around, it was me. I used to squeeze the laptop and its power cable into a small bag that was actually designed for more modern machines and groaned under the weight of my dark-ages relic. It was probably well over ten years old and with the speed things move today, I do not need to tell you, that is old. To make matters worse the power cable ran through a box that also weighed around two kilos. Thus my laptop was far from portable due in part to the fact that I had no desire to drag it with me wherever I went and also that I needed to plug into the mains just to get it to work. So the laptop stayed at home. I did not mind though; that was what I bought it for. When I was at the university there were plenty of good computers around that did the same job amicably, so that old Toshiba sat on the bottom of my bed, waiting for me to need it again; waiting for me to get home. I paint a bleak picture of it I know and I do not want to give the wrong impression. I was so pleased with that computer. It was the first one I had ever owned and better yet I had bought it myself. I got it from a guy at the university who bought, repaired and refurbished old laptops for students. This particular one, he said, was ex-prison service. It only cost me fifty pounds, I could not afford more than that, and it was only any good for typing on. It did not really do anything else. But that was fine, that was exactly what I wanted it for. I was studying history and needed something to write my essays on at home; for that job it was perfect. I bought it in the second semester of the first year after having spent the entire first semester hidden in the library from dawn until way after dusk because it housed the only computers I could get near. Even then I relied on there being one free. This little machine and its ancient floppy disc drive, yes they were still just about in use, saved me so many hours of work. I wrote some fantastic essays on it and saw my grades skyrocket. That is why, despite it being rather decrepit, I loved that little thing. It was only at the end of the first year when the essay writing madness passed and the adrenaline of the exams had run dry that I got a chance to get acquainted with it. I fiddled with all the simple settings it had, flicked though its screensavers, of which there were three, and began to look for any of the files that might have been missed when it was cleaned out. There were actually a great many places that files could be hidden

rather than, as now, a desktop or a My Documents folder. These old systems were less well organised and it was easy to lose documents in the labyrinth of menus if you were not too careful. I found a set up screen that allowed an owner to input their details which would then appear on the information for every document saved from that point on. The previous user was registered as Charon. I pictured some grizzled old prison guard who had probably done his fair share of time on both sides of the cage, long enough for him to earn his own nickname alongside Smiley and Jimmy Hand. An interesting one though, I thought. Charon was the Greek ferryman that took the souls across the river Styx into Hades. I’d have bet money that this guy worked on the main gate. I wondered at the time if it was more likely in reference to the feeling its previous owner had that he was working in hell. That sure is one job I could never do. Everything seemed to have been wiped from the memory, but in an obscure folder I did find a document that the laptop dutifully informed me, was created by one Charon, whosoever that nickname represented. It was simply entitled Quietus. I didn’t know what that meant back then but I do now. It refers to the cessation of something. When it is at the head of a list of names, however, it can only be a list of the dead. I scrolled quickly though the list, momentarily excited; thinking that I might find something of interest, but it was, after all, nothing but a list of names. What both surprised me and struck me as odd was that the names went on and on for over a thousand pages. This had taken someone a long, long time to type out. The other thing was that the names were in no particular order. They were not alphabetical, in fact they were not even written surname first. There was no recorded date that might have indicated that they had died in this order. Puzzled I scrolled downwards speeding through the document wondering if all one thousand pages were the same. Did it start to list other things somewhere? Was it names all the way? It certainly looked like it, I thought. I had clicked on a little button at the side of the screen that was meant to speed through the pages quickly. I clicked it a couple of dozen more times and then sat back and watched as the list of names scrolled by in the strange random order as the little computer caught up with what I had asked of it. I realised that getting to the bottom of the document was going to take forever like this and that I had to click and drag the side bar down if I wanted to get to the end any time that night. I put my hand back on the little mouse. It was the kind that plugs directly into the side of the machine and had a roller ball that you manipulate with your palm in order to move the cursor. I am not even sure it would have been called a mouse would it? Is this thing not a tracking ball? Or am I dredging up IT-geek-history for the sake of needless detail? Probably, yes. I tried to click and move the bar, but a system that old does things in the order you tell it and will not be interrupted. I sat and waited for it to finish my dozen or more clicks, tutting at my own impatience, watching the screen as it flashed the pages by. It is strange, the power of a name. Uttered in a room of a hundred conversations, your own name will stand out to you above a thousand other sounds. When my own name flashed up and then disappeared again, I felt my skin crawl and a cold chill crept down my back. I do not know why that happened. I only knew that I had seen my own name, I was sure of it, certain, and I knew that my name on a list of the Quietus was enough to give me an ice cold shiver, as chilling as the pallor of death. But of course I had not seen it. It is true that your name will stand out to you even in a thousand page list of names, but that does not mean that my name was there. I had, of course, seen a similar name, or perhaps the two names close together, but not on the same line. None of this stopped me from frantically spinning that roller ball and clicking, trying to grab the bar and stop its descent so that I could go back and check. Check that I had not seen my name. The bar would not halt. One thing at a time. I was pressing it so hard that the little plug-in mouse came undone with a crack and fell out of its mounting on the side of the computer. I scrambled for it, balancing the laptop on one knee, and jammed it back into its socket.

TWISTED TONGUE 72


It scrolled down maybe ten more pages before finally coming to rest. Carefully I slid the pointer back up to the bar and dragged it up. Any small movement of the side bar, I discovered, resulted in a huge leap though the document and it jumped up maybe fifty pages from where it had stopped. I growled at it. I don’t know what it is about technology but it seems to bring out my feral side. Had I jumped past the name I had seen? I must have done. I used that button to scroll down, only one click at a time, scanning each page desperately for any sign of something I recognised. Those two words. Ten, twenty, thirty, I scanned page after page, not daring to stop but all the time wondering if I had missed it and needed to go back. If it was there I needed to know why. If it was not then I could have a good laugh about all this later. I could not find it, it was not there. It occurred to me that I was looking for a name that only looked like mine. That made this even harder. If it was like mine then it did not matter, I had to remind myself. But if it was my name then I needed to know. I do not know how long I had been searching when it hit me. I pressed the control and ‘F’ key and a little box appeared in the screen asking me to type in the text I wanted to find. I typed in my first name. The document shot up right back to near the beginning and highlighted someone with whom I shared a first name. I find it strange how, when you see another person with your name in print, the word looks somehow different than when you see it as your own name, even if it is identical to the first. I was not sure if it would search for two words but I typed my full name in and rested my finger on the enter button. This thing was only going off first and last names. How many other people out there had the same names as me? What difference did it make even if this search worked and I found my name on the list? It was coincidental and meant nothing. It was someone else’s name. I felt my finger press firmly. The computer scrolled rapidly down and highlighted a name. No, not any name. It highlighted the name I had typed. It highlighted my name. It was my own name too. It was not somebody who shared my name, it was my name. I can only say this because it looked right. It looked like it was my name. Now I work in bars at night. I wait tables in small cafes. I have moved all over the British Isles and am trying to learn French from a small book so that I can eventually go there too. I might have to stow away if that is possible in this day and age. If I could afford the plane tickets I would go to America. Now there is a country you can lose yourself in.

I left the university, in fact I left home altogether. I did it the same night I saw that list, the same night I discovered that I was one of the Quietus. No one knows where I went, I cannot afford anyone to know; the more people who know, the more that they will know. If they know too much then one day they will find me. I knew they were looking for me. I knew because I buy newspapers. They know I do this, because they send me messages in it. Not messages in the personal section, but messages right out in the open for all to see. They are messages that mean something only to me. I do not use my name. My name is all they have. My name, written in the right way. The name that looks right, you could even say it smells of me. I do not use it anymore. I tried to forget it, but that is impossible. Sometimes now I can see my name on that faded screen printed beneath Keith Hardew and above Robert Trask. It was two weeks ago they found Keith Hardew: strangled in the London subway so it said. That was when I knew it was time to move again. This morning I arrived, I shall not say where, and handed over some money to a drug addict who will let me stay on his sofa. Such is the life I have come to know. The paper that lay on his living room floor, which he steals from a neighbour it seems, announced that a young lawyer, Robert Trask, was found stabbed in his car, his wallet taken. That is reason enough for me to want to leave as soon as possible, or at least as soon as I have finished writing this down. But what has me all but running for the door is the letter. It was in a small white envelope addressed to me using only the name I never use and waiting for me inside that paper that had been posted and stolen before I had even knocked at the door. Inside was a single leaf of paper. They did not need to send me the full register of the Quietus. I did not need the title page to recognise what had found me. It was a list of names. All of them crossed through with a perfect, neat horizontal line. All but one. The name between Robert Trask and Keith Hardew was still clean and there was a single word written next to it in perfect copper plate writing. It said simply: Overdue. © K S Nixon K S Nixon is a high school physics teacher and has been writing seriously for about a year. He writes mostly bizarre and creepy short stories, and he is in his seventh year of planning a fantasy epic--he will write it one day. He lives in Stoke-on-Trent with his wife Lu, two cats, a collie and a pug called Quantum.

Decorations

Ben Eubanks

A

lex loved the process of decorating for Christmas. Her mother had instilled in her from the very beginning how important it was. Every year she went out and picked out the perfect specimen. With a little work, she was able to get it manoeuvred in just the right position to display all the ornaments, tinsel, and lights. She hung the red baubles and the green trinkets. She wound the silver tinsel from the bottom to the top, just like her mother taught her. When finished, it no longer looked like a corpse at all. Her mother would be proud. © Ben Eubanks

Ben Eubanks-A twenty two year old married ultramarathoner with a habit of getting amazing ideas right when he has no way to write them down. This is my first submission anywhere ever.

TWISTED TONGUE 73


Like Father, Like Daughter Mel Fawcett

I

t was 3am and fluttering with snow. Miranda’s naked body reflected in the window as she stood at the sink, the image transparent, like a ghost watching her from outside. She didn’t want to think about the evening just past. Her efforts and hopes had come to nothing. It had all gone horribly wrong. Filling the bowl of dirty dishes and boiling water, she thought of when she used to do the washing-up as a child—her father let her stand on the box the one where they kept the shoe-cleaning things and he made sure the water was the right temperature and that there were plenty of suds for her to play with. Everything had been easy and enjoyable back then. How quickly it goes from enjoyment to chore, from hope to despair, from love to hate. Not that she had ever hated her father. He had not meant her any harm, she was sure of that. It was a weakness on his part, no more. He would tell her to remove her clothes to stop them getting wet and he would sit at the table and watch. She hadn’t thought it unusual. Even later, when she understood, she didn’t hate him. When her mother had left, his life had fallen apart. Finally, he hadn’t been able to cope and killed himself. Miranda hoped that he had not done it because of her. Despite his failings, she had loved him. And she had also loved David. And his was presumably a weakness as well. But how could she do anything but despise him after what he had done? Although she knew the water was dangerously hot, she plunged her hands in anyway. She needed the pain. She gasped and held them in for as long as possible and then withdrew them and saw how they had turned red and ugly. Why did everything have to turn ugly? She had tried so hard. David had been away at Christmas, she had willingly postponed the festivities and happily volunteered to make a Christmas dinner a week later. She had prepared everything for his pleasure: the chicken he preferred to turkey, with lashings of cranberry sauce, beer as well as wine, even the apple crumble dessert which he loved so much—all of his favourites. She had always gone out of her way to please him. She even told him she didn’t mind the weekend relationship. She had been sure it would be all right in the end—but her idea of the end had been a new beginning, not the end which he had evidently been planning. She hadn’t expected him to bring Terry. On any other evening she wouldn’t have minded. She liked Terry; she’d known him as long as she had known David—she had met them both at the same party. If Terry hadn’t been with a woman at the time she might even have gone out with him instead. The three of them often joked about what might have been. She could tell something was amiss the moment they arrived—they were a little drunk and almost winking at each other—but she didn’t understand the depth of David’s cowardice until later. He didn’t say anything directly, just let her gather what she could from oblique remarks during the evening. Her hands were throbbing with pain as she piled more dishes into the hot water. It wasn’t until she was serving the dessert, when they began discussing ‘sloppy seconds’, that she realised what was going on. When the truth struck, she rushed to the bathroom and vomited. Is that what he thought of her after two years—someone to pass on to a friend? Even when his intentions were clear, she couldn’t bear to throw him out. She knew that once he left all hope would be gone. Not knowing what else to do, she drank too much. Even so, drunk as she was, she was surprised to hear herself asking them both to stay. She saw the way they looked at each other, as though she was too stupid to notice. Then in bed she could feel them grinning at each other over her shoulder—David in the front, Terry behind. She wanted to scream as they entered her. Even though she was aroused, she was disgusted with herself for being a willing participant. She waited until they had fallen asleep. Neither of them noticed her leaving the bed. Her puffy white face smiled tearfully from the window, the snow melting on the panes of glass to mingle with her tears. She wiped the blade of the carving knife and watched the crimson stream of cranberry juice trickling away. It was only then that she knew what she had to do. © Mel Fawcett

Mel Fawcett a short story writer.

Haunting Herod Jeff Carter

I

sleep but do not rest. I sleep but I fear to dream, for when I dream I see those whom I’ve killed; those I’ve killed with my own hands and by the word of my command. The first of the dead to come to me were Aristobolus and Kostobar my conniving brothers-in-law. Aristobolus, who was drowned, appeared with runny eyes, red with petechiae and his open mouth spilling watery bile down his chin. Then came their beautiful sister; my beloved, my precious Mariamne, who betrayed me. Her long dark hair trailed behind her as she walked calmly to her execution. Behind her, our two sons, treasonous wretches, executed before they could put their plans into effect. But it’s not the moulding corpses of my murdered family that haunts me now. No. Their ghosts I could tolerate; those I loved, despised, and feared. I could see their shades and laugh because they all wanted me dead and I have survived them all. No. The ones who haunt me now are far more disturbing and much more demanding. They defecated as they died. Their swaddling clothes are stained with the excrement and blood that flowed as they were ripped from their mothers’ arms and run through with soldiers’ swords. My soldiers. My swords. My orders. They’ve crawled up the six dusty miles from Bethlehem to torment me, toddling on their fat rotting baby legs. No one sees them. No one smells the stink of their decay. No one but me, King Herod the Great, hears them crying for the comfort of their mothers’ breasts. I sleep but I do not rest for the slaughtered innocents haunt me and, what is more, another slaughtered innocent is yet to come. I fear him most of all. © Jeff Carter

Jeff Carter is the pastor of a medium sized congregation in Minnesota, USA. He is a husband and the father of two. He wrote his first award winning poem in the third grade.

TWISTED TONGUE 74


The Regulars Tina Koenig

I

t was eight o’clock on Friday night, Karaoke Night at the Mondo Mexicana Restaurant and Bar. On most Fridays, the Mondo’s outdoor sign advertising shots of tequila and a Corona beer for $4.75 pulled in a respectable crowd. But it was damp and squally this one particular Friday. There had been a lot of flooding and the driving conditions were poor. It was also Christmas Eve. I’ll never know if it was prayer or slippery pavement that kept the crowds away that night. Whatever the reason, it was probably for the best. I’m Jack Barton, one of The Regulars at the Mondo Mexicana. We show up every Friday night, holidays included, because we’re addicted to sing-a-long. Me, Phil, Flanagan, Ray, Bethie Lynn and Missy—we were all there that Christmas Eve by eight o’clock. The only person missing was Trevor. For the average person, arriving a few minutes late wouldn’t raise suspicion. But Trevor has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He’s never late because he’s a human clock, full of numbers and ticks. All his songs are the sixth track on a disc, or they have six words in the title. He gets agitated unless he can count the performers who sing before him, so we never begin the show until he arrives. As it happened, Phil was supposed to perform first that Christmas Eve. Phil owns 3,012 karaoke discs, which he stores in rolling luggage like he’s about to board an airline flight. He schleps the entire collection with him every week. I don’t know why the hell he bothers because all he ever sings is Neil Diamond songs. Phil’s forty and a dead-ringer for Neil Diamond. Being a dead ringer for someone famous is convenient for a karaoke performer. You get more applause that way, and it compensates if your singing sucks. Except if you’re emulating Elvis. There’s no clemency if you do a bad Elvis. The Mondo puts small dishes of olives on every bar and restaurant table for the guests to throw at anyone who does bad Elvis. It’s a house rule: You don’t mess with El Vess. I had planned to take the stage second that night. Had this nice Frank Sinatra tune picked out, “Strangers in the Night.” I don’t look anything like Sinatra. I do his songs because they tell me I’m a big New Yorker with a big voice. Sinatra can be a huge crowd pleaser given the age of the crowd and its average blood alcohol level. Missy was going third. Her specialty is 1980s punk and new wave. She’s a theatre major at the University of Miami. It’s hard to describe her look because she’s always changing it. The only thing permanent about her is the weekly diary she’s having tattooed on her body. Missy has some real talent. Other than the time she was booed off the stage for performing Michael Jackson, she’s the most popular performer. You know how it is, right? Nobody wants a Michael Jackson reminder. People can’t separate the performance from the paedophilia; the art from the truth. I can’t blame them. You think you know a person. I guess Missy planned to sing a Patti Smith song that night. Maybe you’ve heard of Patti Smith? She’s often called “The Godmother of Punk.” According to Missy, Patti Smith is a poet—the Sylvia Plath of music. Only Patti never killed herself. You can’t buy Patti Smith for karaoke because she’s wasn’t commercially successful so Missy makes her own karaoke discs. Overrated pop artists like, say, Blondie you can get no problem. If you’ve heard a song at a wedding, you can get it on karaoke.

T

he Mondo Mexicana Restaurant and Bar is one very large room split by a wall framed with plaster arches. At one end of the bar is the stage that rises two feet from the floor. In front of the stage is a horseshoe shaped bar surrounded with twenty stools. Pushed up against the walls are tables and booths where customers sit and order food. Red and white checked cloths cover the tables. Most have dusty red plastic hibiscus flowers in inexpensive cut glass vases on them. We had been sitting at one of the tables waiting for Trevor when Missy decided to steal the show.

By the time 8:30 arrived, I guess Missy had figured “To hell with Trevor.” She struts onstage, pops a specially mixed Patti Smith CD into the machine, centres herself, and belts out Patti’s lyrics: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.” It was a ballsy selection considering the holiday. Maybe she didn’t use the best judgment. The lyrics drew an angry look from Ray. He marches on stage, switches off the machine and thrusts his arm and finger toward Missy. He puts all his energy into the gesture, as if lightning is about to shoot from his finger. “Little lady … you are through.” Missy mounts her hands on her hips. “Listen, Ray, Jesus isn’t the only philosopher slash prophet slash messiah. There are counter-claimants.” Then she starts naming names: Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, Darwin, Einstein, and Elvis (Costello and Presley). Missy abhors most religions as group think. Even common sense is too “prearranged” for her. Her statement only makes Ray madder, his position being that her song choice undermines his purpose at the bar. He grabs the wireless microphone, and takes a seat at the bar while he holds the mic hostage. Missy sits too. She asks a server for some paper and a pen, and adds more names to her list of prophets, gods and persons of influence: Jim Morrison, John Lennon, Oprah and Barney the Purple Dinosaur. Ray preaches every Sunday in one of those strip mall churches. I guess he figures his Sunday preaching isn’t reaching enough people, so to supplement he sings soul music on Friday nights. “If the souls won’t come to me, I’ll take it to them.” That’s Ray’s favourite saying. He has bushy white hair and an unkempt beard. He and his wife own a horse boarding facility in Western Dade County so he always shows up in his boots, blue jeans and a work shirt. Every Friday night he opens his show the same way saying: “I’m Ray and I’m here to spread rays of light unto you all.” There’s not a lot of continuity between what you see and what you hear when Ray sings. Take last week, for example, Ray sang Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy, Mercy, Me.” Ray’s wife, Bethie Lynn performs also. She’s ten years younger than Ray and a much better singer. She’s also five months pregnant with her sixth kid. Bethie Lynn’s great with country tunes, but Ray’s always pushing her to do songs out of her range, like she’s Streisand. Flanagan is the last of The Regulars; he usually goes fifth before Trevor. He’s a Scottish baritone and sings opera at the bar. You’d think that karaoke opera is a cultural oxymoron, but Flanagan swears there is an aria for everyone. By the time nine o’clock rolls around, Trevor still hasn’t arrived and Missy has settled down enough to become concerned. She turns to me. “Did Trevor mention anything to you about skipping tonight?” “We’re not that close,” I say. “We don’t talk outside the bar.” I tell her to check with Flanagan because he knows everyone’s business. Naturally, Flanagan has overheard us talking. “Ah, don’t worry, Lassie,” he says, milking the accent. “Trevor said we’re in for a big surprise this week.” “About time,” Phil chimes in. “Maybe he’ll sing ‘Freebird.’” “Not likely,” I say. “Too long.” “Absolutely, too long.” Missy concurs. Then she eyes Phil’s long sideburns and glitz-trimmed sleeves and shakes her head. “While we’re on the subject of change … don’t you ever get bored with that Neil Diamond schtick? He’ll sing ‘Freebird’ the day you sing a Johnny Cash song.” Phil ignores her and knocks back a shot of tequila. “Anyone know Trevor’s number?” she asks and starts some quick calculations. “One, two, zero …” She counts the numbers out on her fingers. “… one, one, zero, one. That adds up to six.” “You’re forgetting the area code,” Phil says. Then Flanagan shouts, “Hey, Ray, you got a number for Trevor?” Ray has a voice like Surround Sound. It goes in your ears and reverberates in your head and chest. He hollers back that he doesn’t even know Trevor’s last name like it’s something

TWISTED TONGUE 75


to be proud about. I’m sitting too close and my head rattles a little. “We’re pathetic,” Missy mutters. She shrugs her shoulders and goes back to her list: Coca-Cola, The Beatles, Madonna (the singer). I feel guilty, as if I should have invited Trevor out for a beer or something, done something with him besides karaoke at the Mondo. But none of us ever spent time together other than being The Regulars at the Mondo. At least that’s what I thought. From the opposite side of the bar, Bethie Lynn volunteers a tip. “His last name is Smitherson. Trevor Smitherson.” “That’s my wife for you,” Ray says, “She doesn’t miss a beat. She’s really gotta sing more often.” Ray walks over to her and gives her one of those way-to-go pats on the back. “She’s a great singer, right? Way better than me.” “Anyone’s better than you, Ray.” Ray puts his hand on Bethie Lynn’s belly and starts circling it around. “Honey, sing that Titanic song for the people tonight. How about it, huh?” “I’m not in the mood.” She slips off the bar stool and takes a step back. Ray shouts to everyone around the bar. “Who wants to hear my Bethie Lynn sing?” “Quit it, Ray.” Bethie Lynn jabs him with her elbow and rolls her eyes. She checks her watch. “Try information,” she says to Missy. She pulls a phone out of her purse and sneaks off to the ladies’ room. “Should we call the cops?” Phil asks. “You can’t call the cops on an adult so soon,” I tell him. Then Flanagan suggests, “Maybe he had some kind of meeting that ran late, or he’s got a bad case of chapped hands from repetitive washing.” Phil always laughs at Flanagan’s sorry-ass jokes. He smacks the bar with the palm of his hand. “That’s a good one.” A large rhinestone falls off the trim on his sleeves. It rolls onto the tile floor and makes a tinkling noise. “Have some respect, Opera Geek,” Missy says. After a few minutes, Bethie Lynn returns from the ladies’ room; she rests her purse on the bar. “Any luck?” “Unlisted number,” Missy says. “Shit.” She sighs. “He needs a new hobby. Sailing is a good hobby for a man, or golf. Anything. I’d rather count blades grass than watch another one of these shows.” “Bethie Lynn, sweetie, don’t knock karaoke,” says Ray. “Not while I’m saving souls. Is that understood?” “You’re boring me, Ray,” Bethie Lynn says. “I’ve had it.” Flanagan tries to change the subject. “Has anyone been to Trevor’s house? We could drive there, make sure everything’s okay.” “I helped him fix his roof after the last hurricane,” Phil says. “Don’t remember the address.” I look at my watch. It’s 9:30 and karaoke ends at ten. The night’s shot. It’s obvious we’re not performing. Phil asks the bartender to get him a beer this time. Flanagan asks for one too. “Screw the show.” Flanagan decides it for us all. Meanwhile, Missy presses Phil about Trevor’s address. “Think Phil, think.” “Oh, the heck with him,” Ray says. “He’ll turn up.” Suddenly Ray’s sporting a huge smile like a baby that’s just passed gas. “Hey, I’ve got a new game for the bar.” He sidles up next to Bethie Lynn. “Honey, give me that little statue we bought.” “I didn’t bring it with me,” she says. “You’ve got it; I slipped it into your purse.” “What’s the Mondo going to do with that disgraceful thing?” “Now … honey, it’s for the cause. They can put it on the bar.” He reaches into her purse and pulls out a 12” fluorescent pink Jesus figurine. “Watch this,” Ray says. “It’s called an Answer Me Jesus. You ask him a question, flip him over, and the answer is revealed in his feet.” Ray turns toward Flanagan. “Go ahead, ask him something.” “Am I ever going to get my beer, Jesus?”

Ray shakes Jesus and flips him over. Jesus’ feet say, No chance in hell. Everyone doubles-over laughing. Ray has a look on his face that says Jesus wouldn’t say that! When we notice activity at the front entrance to the Mondo, we abandon the sarcastic Jesus. Open, close, open, close, open, close, open, close, open, close, open … enter. Trevor comes in wearing a black T-shirt and black jeans. All that black makes him look pasty. His face is vacant. His eyes are bloodshot like he’s high or hasn’t slept in a while. He walks to where Bethie Lynn and Ray are sitting. “Have you told him?” he asks her. Her jaw slackens and she stares blankly at Ray. It’s obvious she hasn’t had the guts to tell Ray whatever it is. “Told me what, Honey?” Ray asks. “About the kid on the way,” Trevor says. “It’s mine.” He doesn’t take his eyes of Bethie Lynn. “You should have told him by now.” That’s when he reaches for the revolver tucked into the small of his back. He aims it at Ray. At first, nobody flinches. I guess we were all stunned by what we’d just heard. Me, I was trying to remember if I ever saw Trevor and Bethie Lynn sing a duet. Then I hear Ray’s voice. It’s not so loud this time, more syrupy. He’s pleading with Trevor. “What are you doing, Kid? This is me, Ray. Harmless rays of sunshine, Ray.” He slowly slips off the barstool. Trevor has a faraway look, anesthetized. He doesn’t register Bethie Lynn and Missy screaming, telling him to stop, shouting for someone to call the cops. Next, he turns toward me. I’m sitting on the bar stool next to Ray. Trevor takes a deep breath; he fixes his eyes on mine. I know what he’s not going to do. He’s not going to shoot just once. He’s gotta shoot six times. He can’t help it; he’s committed to six—one bullet for each of The Regulars. I wonder: What’s he got against me? He hardly knows me. I hardly know him. I don’t know anything about him, like if he’s a good shot or not. While Trevor is looking at me, I see Ray try to run. Trevor fires off the first bullet. It hits Ray in the side of his left thigh; he falls onto the terra cotta tile floor. He’s moaning, turning into the foetal position, pulling his leg to his chest. Trevor walks over and shoots him twice in the ribs, then two times in the head. There’s one bullet left. Trevor looks at me for the last time. I’m scared but I’ve been counting. And he knows it. The Regulars always counted. We joked about it. We added and timed things; we checked Trevor’s calculations in case he screwed it up. Secretly hoping he’d mess up. So we could say, Gotcha! as if we could trip up his disorder. The rest happened fast. Trevor’s arm moved again. I can tell what he’s up to, and I’m not stopping him. I’m too scared. Trevor holds the gun to his right temple and squeezes the trigger. Nothing happens. He tries again. Click. Nothing. The gun is jammed. He throws it at a window and it shatters the glass. I hear sirens, tires screeching. I think: Gotcha! Bravely, Missy has manoeuvred herself behind Trevor. She smashes his head with the Answer Me Jesus. He falls to the floor where Flanagan and I can hold him down. Just then Flanagan breaks into a ball-busting version of the aria, The Ride of the Valkyries from Wagner’s Die Walküre. “Told you,” he says. “Sick,” I reply. The police cars’ flashing lights penetrate the bar’s glass windows, the cops diverted from their chore of canvassing the streets for holiday DWIs. The room throbs with red light making it look like blood is oozing from the walls. Several officers enter, pull Trevor off the floor, and cuff him. A trauma team arrives and works on Ray, but it’s no use. The cops have the usual questions. Nobody calls a lawyer because I’m a lawyer. The cops wonder why Bethie Lynn has Trevor’s number in her phone. She tells them that they hooked up a few times but that she’s too exhausted from taking care of kids to plan a murder. One of the cops is a mother; she takes Bethie Lynn at her word. She says nobody’s looking to arrest a woman five months pregnant with five kids—even if she’s guilty.

TWISTED TONGUE 76


Another cop asks if any of us do Eminem. It occurs to me that all the sharp knifes in the police department drawer have Christmas off. The owner of the Mondo serves free rounds of sangria to everyone in the building and offers to pay for their meals. Many of the guests stay on and finish eating. What can I say? We’re used to shootings around here. After the cops leave and the medics take Ray away, The Regulars just sit. None of us knows how to ditch the atonal kinship we’d formed. The Mondo Mexicana is just down the road from the Seminole Hard Rock Casino, the famous resort where Anna Nicole Smith died. Hundreds of entertainers pass through this corridor because it’s on the way to the airport. As a party of six diners make their way to the exit, one of the women, holding a napkin and pen, breaks free and walks toward our group. She stops in front of Phil.

“Would you mind?” she asks, and hands him the pen. You think you know a person. © Tina Koenig

Tina Koenig hails from South Florida. In 1995 she founded a press release newswire which kept her quite busy until recently at which point she took up fiction writing and creative nonfiction. She covers books and author news for MiamiArtZine.com and writes about politics and language for several blogs. In addition, she's taught creative writing classes at The Florida Center for the Book. You can visit her website (blog) in development at http://www.tinakoenig.com

Ballad of Sandra Claus Len Hecht

Christmas Eve, presents all wrapped Tree trimmed and brightly lit I had sampled too many treats My stomach grumbled a bit.

Next day my lawyer advised me, of course to go to the courthouse and file for divorce.

Just before midnight I rose from my sleep the Tums or the Alka-Seltzer, where did she keep?

The north pole you see is a most modern state. Make it real easy to get rid of a cheating mate.

A thud on the ceiling sent me scurrying outside I glanced up at the roof and spied Santa’s bride.

The judge took from Claus that rotten fat slob most of his money, and I got his job.

Sandra, I called at the top of my voice Why are you driving that Mercedes full of toys

The sleigh and the reindeer I decided were obsolete Spent some of the settlement money on this Mercedes, isn’t it neat!

Santa, that bastard she quickly replied after hundreds of years I found out he lied.

So each Christmas Ms.Sandra will deliver no guns or toys of violence to the sleeping young ones.

Early June he told me he was taking the sleigh just for a grease job he’d be back right away.

The boys will get dolls no knives, swords or sabers. The girls will get toy lawyers complete with alimony papers.

He never returned till the end of the summer he used an excuse they had to replace a runner.

I’ll teach each lass and lad what the real world’s about. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year And she roared off with a shout.

But one of the Elves he told me the truth Santa had been stuping that blonde slut Ruth.

© Len Hecht

Len Hecht is a retired Las Vegas, Nevada businessman now living in Albuquerque New Mexico. He is a member of the Southwest Writers Club and refers to himself as New Mexico’s shallowest poet.

Going on for years I later found out. Made me so angry gave him a shot in the mouth. Knocked out his teeth they fell to the floor. That’ll teach him to fool with that peroxided whore. TWISTED TONGUE 77


Blood Brothers Jade Eckert

“I

want you to kill me.” Rick leaned his forehead against the window. They were on the thirty-third floor, and this high up, the snow flurries seemed a blizzard. He watched the snow blow one way, then in a flash change direction, battering the window before being sucked away. He pulled his head back and rubbed the spot the cold window had left on his forehead. His head ached, and the cold felt good. He turned and looked at the man seated in front of his desk. “What?” the man at the desk asked. “You heard me. I want you to kill me then be there for my resurrection a few days later.” “What the hell are you talking about?” Rick walked around the desk and sat in the soft leather chair. He leaned back and explained. “Remember when we were kids? I had nowhere to go when my mom and dad died. Your parents took me in with no questions asked. We’ve been friends for a long time, Tubs.” “Of course I remember. What’s that have to do with anything?” “I’ve worked my ass off to make this company everything it is today, and now I’m at that point in my life when I need to think about what’s going to happen when I’m gone.” Tubs leaned forward in his chair. “Gone? You’re forty-five for God’s sake. What got you to thinking about all this now? And why would I kill you?” Rick picked up his ornamental cigarette lighter and flicked the wheel on top. A small yellow flame appeared, and he watched it flicker. When the flame died, he looked up at Tubs. “You wouldn’t really kill me. It would be an act. Kind of like a play. I need to know who I can trust. I trust you—you and Hank. That’s it. I want to trust the others, but I’m not sure if I can. I have a plan, though. You go to the others and tell them you overheard me talking to my lawyer about my will and who is going to be in it. Tell them all five of you are getting everything.” Rick flicked the lighter again. The flame danced. “I want you to try to get them to plot against me. If they do decide to do it, I want you to call me as soon as possible. My lawyer will be here in minutes to rewrite the will.” “Are you sure all of this is necessary? We’re brothers, man. No one would hurt you.” He turned to look at his friend. “Tubs, we have been friends forever. I trust you and Hank. It’s the others I worry about. Really worry.” “You know, you’re the only one who still calls me that. I haven’t been Tubs since that winter you moved in.” Rick smiled. “You’ll always be Tubs to me. Now, let’s get the details straight. I want this to be as realistic as possible if they agree. I want a funeral planned and executed. I want them to think it really happened. I worked my whole life to get where I am, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to leave it to someone who pretends to be my friend.” “No one is pretending anything. These guys have been your friends from the company’s get-go. I swear, Rick. Are you going to the counsellor like I asked you to?” He had to laugh. “As a matter of fact, I am. My first appointment is in …” He looked at his watch “… exactly one hour and thirteen minutes.”

T

ubs rose from his chair. “That’s good, my friend. I hope it helps with whatever is going on in you. I’m worried about you.” He walked over to Rick and threw an arm around his shoulder. “If you still want to go through with this plan after seeing the counsellor, I’ll do it. I don’t think it’s a good idea, but I’ll do it for you. When I tell them an amount, how much should I say?” “Fifty-seven million.” He heard the sharp intake of air from behind him. Then footsteps receded, and the door clicked softly shut.

“What brings you here today, Rick?” He stared at the ceiling. The cracks reminded him of a spider’s web, crisscrossing along the ceiling, tangled. “I guess the bad feelings I’ve been having.” He shifted his position on the couch. It wasn’t uncomfortable, he was. It made him uneasy to talk to anyone about what he felt. He imagined this stemmed from the fact he never had anyone to talk to about how he was feeling most of his life. “What feelings have you been having?” “I probably should start from the beginning so you can understand why I feel the way I do.” Silence from behind him. He cleared his throat. “I had a rough childhood. My parents were biological only. They were into drugs, and my dad beat the shit out of my mom most nights when his beer ran out quicker than he thought it should. She didn’t mind. The heroin she used kept her numb most of the time. I was an object in that house. No one asked what I felt or if I ever needed anything. I learned quick how to set an alarm clock and catch the bus, just to be away from them.” He reached over to the coffee table beside him and took a drink of water. “They were gone three days before I realized they were really gone. Oh, they had both been gone for a couple days before. They never told me when they were going or where they were going. When my father got his disability check in the mail, they would go on a binge in the city.” “How old were you when they did this?” “Well, I don’t really know. They did it as far back as I can remember.” “Please continue.” “Okay, well anyway, I remember coming home from school and realizing they were gone. They had never left during the week before, always a weekend. My father always got his check on a Friday. This was during the week, so I knew something was wrong. They had been gone all weekend, and now this was the middle of the week. I didn’t know what to do, so I kept doing as I always did.” A cough behind him. “I got scared when I began to run out of food. I had a jar of peanut butter, and I made it last for the rest of the week. I had a couple teaspoons a day. When it ran out, so did my hope of my parents coming back. It was winter, cold out, and the heat stopped coming on. I guess the tank out back ran dry. I remember spending that last night listening to ice hit the side of the house. I was so cold. I went to Tubs’s house the next morning. He was and still is my best friend. His parents took me in. They found my parents a week later. Their car had overturned into a drainage ditch. The car had broken through a layer of ice, came to a rest on the bottom of the ditch and the ice had refrozen. No one could see them from the road. Both were dead.” “How did that make you feel?” He sighed. “I don’t know. Happy. Sad. Lost.” “Happy?” “Yeah, happy. No more smelling heroin as it cooks. Have you ever smelled that? The thought makes me want to vomit.” “No, I haven’t smelled it. Did you stay with Tubs’s family?” “Yes, his parents became my parents, and I loved them— well, loved them from afar. I never showed them how much they meant to me. I couldn’t. I was too frightened.” “Frightened? Why?” “I didn’t want them to go away, too. And they didn’t. Saw me through high school. I went to my first semester in college on grants and scholarships. It was sitting in my first class of the day that I realized something.” “What did you realize?” He sat up on the couch and faced the woman sitting behind him. “I realized computers were going to be a hell of a lot bigger than most people thought. I started a business that made software for computers. I won’t go into all the details. Hell it still confuses me. But I made money. A lot of money. Most of it came from game software. I would think up a game, make up the software, and sell it like cold lemonade on a hot day.”

TWISTED TONGUE 78


He had turned to study her at the mention of the money, but she showed no emotion. “I gave the idea to Tubs’s dad. He fronted me the money, and the rest is history. I made money hand over fist, and I remember the smile on his face as I handed him the check paying back the money he had so generously gave me plus interest. Lots of interest.” He leaned back on the couch. “I’m forty-five years old and have more money than I can ever spend and no one to leave it to. I have never had a girlfriend. I’m not gay, I just can’t make myself become attached to one person. I have my friends, and I want to leave the money to them. But therein lies the problem. Do I trust them? Tubs and Hank I do, one hundred percent. We’re blood brothers. Forever. It’s the other three I’m not sure about.” “Why?” Lying back on the couch he said, “Do they care about me for me or my money. How do I know?” “I’m not sure how to answer that, Rick. People are people. Sometimes you just have to go with instinct.” “That’s exactly what I’m going to do.” “Let’s talk a bit more about the others,” she said. So he did, spending the rest of the hour laying out his concerns and his doubts. He was about to tell her about his plan, maybe even laugh about how stupid it sounded now that he sat in an honest-to-goodness shrink’s office, but she spoke instead. “Our time is up, Rick. I’d like you to make another appointment if you would.” Rick rose from the couch and stretched. “Yes, I think I’d like that. Thank for your time, and I’ll see you after the holidays. May yours be filled with peace and the nearness of family.” “You too, Rick, you too.” He left the office building and walked through the garage to his car. He could see it snowing in the light thrown from the streetlights. He watched it for a moment, feeling like one of the flakes, lost and wandering through the night.

T

he call came from Hank about two minutes after Rick had begun to wonder whether there would be any call at all. “Rick? It’s Hank.” Rick could hear the sadness in his voice and knew why he was calling. “They agreed to it, Rick. Jesus, the dirty bastards said yes. I don’t know what to say.” Rick lowered his head and made his way to the bar in his penthouse. He poured a shot of vodka and downed it before answering. “Get Tubs and get over here, would you?” “Tubs is on his way. We’ll be there shortly. I’m sorry, man. Goddamn it, I am so sorry.” Rick hung up the phone without responding. When they had arrived, he let them in, and they followed him to the bar, eyes downcast. Once again it was the three. They sat in the library. It was here he felt most comfortable. They talked of why he wanted to do it. “Because I want the satisfaction of rubbing their faces in it. I want to see them grovel and tell me they’re sorry, and I want to kick their asses for making me think they cared about more than my money.” He was crying now, but he didn’t care. They planned late into the night. The hit was going to come in the form of a carjacking late at night on his way home from the office. Tubs would be the one to hit him. The others would be there yet not touch him. The funeral would be held the following week. Hank was in the business and knew people who knew people who could get them what they needed. Rick announced his appointment with his lawyer would have to wait until after the New Year. The lawyer was out of town until then. They all agreed on Christmas night.

D

ecember 25th: He went to the office around eight. No one asked him why he was going to work on a holiday since there was no one to ask. He felt lost and hopeless, and the only thing he looked forward to was the satisfaction of telling his so-

called friends how wrongly they had judged him. He disliked violence and disliked the thought of its being done to him even more. He wasn’t a fighter. Never had been. It had always been Tubs who had stuck up for him in time of need. The phone rang at eleven. “Parker’s Software.” “Rick? It’s me. They’re on their way, so plan on leaving the office in about thirty minutes.” It was Tubs. “Okay. Remember, I hate being hit. Be easy.” A laugh chuffed in his ear. “No worries, my man. It will be easy as they get.” He sighed and hung up. He left the office five minutes later than he said he would. He had been looking out the window watching the snow blow and thinking of his childhood, how he had lain in the bed that last cold dark night wishing for someone to save him. The parking garage was dim. He saw his car among a few scattered others. He wasn’t the only one working on the holiday. He walked casually to his car, ignoring the sweat twisting its way down his back. He had no reason to be nervous. Tubs was his brother, his blood brother, and he loved him. It happened when he was reaching to unlock the door of his Lexus. A voice whispered in his ear to stay still and no one would get hurt. He never heard them coming. He turned and met a gun in his face. He recognized the eyes hidden in the mask, and he fought a smile. He raised his hands as he imagined a real victim would and placed a look of fear on his face. “Take the car. Just please don’t hurt me” sounded right, so he said it. He never had a chance to say anything else before he was hit on the head and went down. He tried to get words out of his mouth about Tubs taking it easy, but no words would come. He felt like crying then decided that would take too much work, so he closed his eyes. He woke up in his bed. His head no longer ached, but he raised his hand to his head to inspect the damage. The skin was broken, damn Tubs, but there appeared to be no bleeding. There was nothing easy about the previous night, and he began to rethink his reasoning. Too late now. In fact, the more he thought about it, the less he could remember. Tubs had hit him, he remembered, but beyond that, all was blank. He got up and went to the bar. As he drank, he wondered how he would get through the next few days until the funeral, followed by the reading of the will and his grand reappearance. He couldn’t wait to see the look on their faces. He passed the time in the library. The funeral was a big event. He attended, hidden in the back of the church, dressed as an elderly man. At first, he had wondered whether it was a good idea to attend, but curiosity had given way to prudence. As it turned out, he had no need to worry. Nobody seemed to recognize or even notice him. He watched over a hundred people come and mourn him. “Where were all these people when I was alive?” he thought. He smiled at the thought of the publicity when he uncovered the ruse. He watched Tubs and Hank in the front row and was shocked to see the three assholes sitting beside them. The casket was closed, and he wondered if the deal for the body double had fallen through. It was two more days before his resurrection. He stayed in his penthouse organizing his thoughts. He wanted to put on paper all the things he wanted to say to Tubs’s dad and mom and how much they really meant to him, but he didn’t seem to have the energy to put pen to paper. Love for these people filled him, and he was happy for the first time since he could remember. The phone rang a few times, and he even got up to answer it once before remembering that he was supposed to be dead. The day arrived. He made it to his lawyer’s office fifteen minutes before the scheduled reading he’d asked the lawyer to arrange. At first, the lawyer had protested, saying readings of wills happened only in movies and TV shows. But the lawyer’s concerns disappeared when Rick reminded him about the fees he was paying. Rick eased his way down the hall and stood outside the cracked door. He could see all five of them sitting around the table. They looked forlorn as he would expect them to. Hank was sitting with his elbows on the table, head in hands. He looked up at Tubs and said, “I can’t believe you really did it. Jesus, I’m still sick. What were you thinking?”

TWISTED TONGUE 79


Tubs looked at Hank with a smile. “Fifty-seven million things were going through my mind. Only one bullet went through his.” “I still can’t believe it. What if I tell?” “One-fifth of $57 million says you won’t. Besides, you’d be in it as deep as me.” The air left him. What was Tubs talking about? He heard the lawyer come up behind him. He opened his mouth to say something as the lawyer went right through him. As coldness surrounded him, he let out a scream, yet no one heard.

Spirit of Xmas

Luigi Monteferrante

© Jade Eckert Jade Eckert has several publishing credits. Her story Blackness was nominated for a Derringer award. She wrote the story into a book which was picked up by Mystic Moon Press and was be released in November. She has several stories coming out in anthologies. Had Baby will be in the Chimera World 5 rejects issue available nowr as well as Henry's Fence that will appear in Bonded by Blood. She also has several short stories in New Voices in Horror as well as SNM Horror Mag.

Stuff our bellies I can’t move or budge I’m so full Let’s just sit And wait Till it all burns off Heck—no Let’s play cards Don’t I love board games, too But I’m so stuffed I can hardly twiddle my thumbs Much less shuffle cards Never mind think Game strategy Or how to destroy the enemy So I’ll doze And pretend I don’t care For signing off So not to expose My plans for next Xmas

The helicopter pilot Does not want to touch down On Xmas Day What awaits him A stress-related disorderly drive Direction: bumper-to-bumper cars In the dreaded smog of lusty shoppers Bent on donating goods nobody needs And will exchange in next week’s sales Before choosing a tree Hanging plastic balls Of tinsel and gold Trying ribbons red and green And wondering where to place The mistletoe And spraying artificial snow Looks so real © Luigi Monteferrante From where I am sitting On his lap Three rolls of wrapping paper Scissors tape and frills Looks so easy Luigi Monteferrante And they’re so nimble And so quick And he’s all thumbs Adopted child You sit and watch After years of relative ease I will twiddle my thoughts With adopted parents Dozes off But we’re not done She sought those Visitors at the door Who conceived Ho-ha-hum Help make some tea Gave her up Serve our guests For love Don’t forget to smile And to get on with their own lives But not too much And you mustn’t talk She believed Politics economy religious issues Martyred saints Let’s talk about The weather One indeed Oh—a gift—for me Mary Magdalene You shouldn’t have The other: Iscariot Don’t open it Not before Xmas All sit down I can’t wait to see Merry Christmas! What could it possibly be Golly gee © Luigi Monteferrante A brand new tuque We’re snow birds Flying to Florida Next week A Classics student from Montreal, Canada, Luigi Monteferrante moved to Italy to write the Great Canadian Novel. By the way Though less than great, the novel followed by a 3000 km North American book tour on a Vespa scooter. Short How do you like stories published in Chicago Quarterly Review and Happy. Since completing his second novel, Life During Wartime, a labor of ten years, in Fall 2007, he’s been writing poetry. Recent work in Neon, Kudos, Poesia/Indiana Bay, My bikini poetryreading, Yellow Mama, Wordslaw, Poet’s Ink Review. Luigi is Italian co-director of Summer Literary My tattoo Seminars: www.sumlitsem.org. HQ, a seaside B & B for creative spirits: www.villamonteferrante.com Oh-la-la How very chic So we eat

The Orphan

TWISTED TONGUE 80


What Goes Around Lynette Mejía

Lynette Mejía lives in Lafayette, LA, with her husband and two children. She is currently working part time in marketing and advertising, while trying to launch a full-time writing career in speculative fiction.

T

ed was a bad kid. By the time he was eight, even his parents didn’t bother denying it. He was, to put a fine point on it, angry, uncontrollable, and completely unrepentant. Throughout elementary school he spent countless hours waiting for his daily appointment with the school principal, and by the time he’d graduated from sixth grade he held the record for the most days spent in detention. His crimes were legion, ranging from setting small fires and fighting with anyone and everyone who gave him an excuse to abusing the unfortunate dogs and cats he was able to catch. His favourite pastime, however, was his toys—mutilating them, operating on them, or, on days when he felt particularly mean, simply ripping them to pieces. His favourite trick was a game he liked to call “mash up”. Randomly he broke his toys apart, putting them back together in odd and disturbing ways. It was a contest with himself to see how gruesome his creations could be, and over time a large collection of them spread across his desk. From his cruel imagination sprouted dolls that walked on spindly hives of insect legs and stuffed dogs with toy pistols protruding from their heads. In his room with the door closed, Ted could be as cruel as he pleased, breaking and crushing the toys at his whim. It gave him a feeling of power and unaccountability that was a heady fix for a young, emotionally disturbed boy. Sometimes when he’d broken them past any use, he took them into the backyard and burned them. As with any toy, Ted’s playthings had arrived from the factory as inert combinations of metal and plastic. Over time, toys that are loved gain character, wisdom, and a deep affection for their owners. Ted’s toys, of course, were different. Faced with abuse and malice on a daily basis, over time they acquired a malignant spirit as the evil in Ted’s heart pierced through their manufactured limbs. When they spoke it was in vicious whispers, a hushed chorus of voices in the deepest night. And what they spoke about was their hatred for Ted. Over the years they endured his countless assaults, all the while seething and glaring through dull plastic eyes with undiluted loathing. At night while he slept they whispered among themselves, plotting and imagining creative ways to make him suffer as they had. As each day passed and the holocaust continued, their desire for revenge was fed by the cries of the dolls who would never again know comfort in the arms of a child. In time Ted grew older, and his desire to break toys was replaced with a desire to break the law. At sixteen, he was incarcerated at a juvenile detention facility for boys as punishment for a string of car robberies and vandalism incidents. His mother, secretly relieved that her greatest mistake was taken off her hands, packed up his things and turned his room into a sewing centre. The toys were carted away to the attic in a box labelled “Teddy”. In their box the toys plotted. During the summers that followed, the heat in the attic was so intense that plastic arms, legs, and wheels melted and blended together. Faces dripped and yawned, stretching and melding with nylon hair and small metal gears. Eyes moved from their sockets, oozing down onto the flesh of arms before coming to rest. The changes exaggerated their grotesqueness, changing them into vague parodies of what they had once been. One year a family of mice chewed a small hole in one end of the box, giving them a tiny view and thin tendrils of dark, stuffy air. Through it all they maintained their whispers, countless conversations expressing wishes for Ted’s return and the settling of old scores. When he was 21 and could no longer be held, the juvie hall released Ted. He had sneeringly declined the GED courses, and so, having no proper education and no prospects of any kind, he returned home. His mother greeted him with forced cheerfulness, and reluctantly cleaned out her craft nook. He rummaged around in the garage for a camping cot to make a temporary bed, and as soon as he had the chance, he brought down the boxes from the attic. He didn’t plan to stay long with his mother, but he needed to get some clothes and other things before he took off. As night fell Ted also cleaned out his mother’s liquor cabinet, throwing the bottles one by one onto the floor as he finished them off. The vodka bottle shattered as it collided with the gin, leaving shards of glittering glass in a pile beside the bed. Ted smiled drunkenly before passing out in a cloud of alcoholic fumes. From one of the boxes in the corner came the sound of rustling, but Ted never stirred. When the police and coroner filed their respective reports weeks later, suicide was the final consensus. It could have been accidental, of course, considering the amount of alcohol in the young man’s blood, but subtle distinctions at that point were useless. The coroner was mildly disturbed by the fact that none of Ted’s fingerprints could be found on the shard of glass protruding from his carotid artery, but secretly everyone agreed that, even at the tender age of 21, Ted’s chance at a meaningful life was probably over. His mother, with characteristic detachment and efficiency, had the room cleaned and emptied within a week. All of his things, including the nondescript box full of old broken toys, were set out at the curb for the trash. © Lynette Mejía

Blood Brothers

by Darren R. Scothern

http://www.lulu.com/content/3573077 Seth and Wayne are hard-men—top boys in their gang, respected by their mates, and feared by everyone else. But something is going wrong. Seth’s violent outbursts are spiralling out of control as he tries to come to terms with the death of his brother. And Wayne's secret addiction to a new designer drug is dissolving what remains of his sanity. Into this situation comes a challenge from a rival gang—an orchestrated tournament of gang wars, hiding behind the facade of a football competition in memoriam of Seth's brother. But there are hidden agendas, and awful consequences. As the dead bodies start to pile up, Seth is pushed to the limit of physical and emotional endurance as he struggles to do the right thing. Blood Brothers is priced at £2.99 for a 622-page PDF download.

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Bedtime Story Ginny Swart

Ginny Swart is a South African writer with over 300 published short stories which mostly have happy endings, but she likes to unleash her dark every now and then. www.ginnyswart.com

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ong before she told me, I knew my Mommy was going to have that baby. I mean, anyone could tell, she got fat and was tired the whole time. After work she would kick off her shoes and say ahhh that’s better and then lie on the bed and put her feet up. That was nice because then I could lie next to her and put my head on her shoulder. It was almost like when I was little, and she used to cuddle me on her lap and read stories to me. But I’m too big for that now, I’m seven. I can read by myself. What are my favourite stories? Well, I like The Little Match Girl, the one where she freezes to death in the snow while she’s looking at the Christmas tree ... And The Little Mermaid. Those are nice sad ones. And d’you know that one about Hansel and Gretel where the witch locks up Hansel and wants to eat him? That’s lovely. I like the part when Gretel pushes the witch in the fire. I saw Spike burn a rat on the bonfire once and it sort of went pop and all the blood came out of its mouth. I wonder if the witch did too? Did you know Spike? He was Mommy’s boyfriend. He had these funny blue tattoos all down his arm and a red dragon on his back and when he waved his arm the dragon’s head moved up and down. Spike was always nice to me. He bought me some silver shoes once, like a fairy’s. But he didn’t read stories as well as Mommy; he just used to say okay Fatso, which one do you want tonight hey? And then he’d read it very quickly to the end and switch off my light. Then he’d go and have a drink with Mommy in the kitchen and I could hear them laughing. I like it better when Mommy puts me to bed. Mommy used to pretend to me that she was happy about the baby coming but I knew she wasn’t, not really. Once I heard her say to Auntie Jean that Spike was on half- days and she didn’t know how they were going to manage, and Auntie Jean said she should have thought of that before she had too many drinks at Uncle Reggie’s birthday party. And then she said she didn’t know if Spike was going to be all that happy with her news and Auntie Jean said she’d made her bed so she’d have to lie in it and then Mommy said there’s better things to do in a bed than just lie there and I said yes, you can read stories in a bed and they both laughed at me. Sometimes, before that baby was born, she’d tell Spike to put his hand on her tummy and feel it kicking and he’d stand there grinning at her all happy and give her a big hug and say that’s my boy! But I never wanted to feel her horrible big tummy. I could just picture a little fat frog swimming around inside her. Mommy promised me a new schoolbag for this year but then she said she had to buy it at the thrift shop because the baby was going to cost a lot. I even had to get second- hand shoes because the baby was going to be so expensive. I don’t think people should have babies they can’t afford, do you? Was I happy that Mommy brought me a baby sister? Sort of. But whenever I hold her she starts yelling and screaming and then Mommy tells me to rock her gently and sing to her but she never stops. Just keeps on crying with her face all angry and squished up. Then Mommy says don’t worry, Angela will get to know you soon. I’m not worried. When she was born she was all red and ugly and had no hair that you could see. Spike said she was blonde like him but I don’t know how he could tell, she was just bald. And she’s such a smelly nuisance. Mommy has to stay home and feed her and so she never fetches me from school any more. I used to love it when we went to the shop together on the way home. Sometimes we’d buy an ice cream when we’d finished the shopping. I’d get a pink one and Mommy always chose chocolate. After that baby came, I had to walk home with Debbie from next door and I don’t like Debbie, she’s mean. Once she kicked my schoolbag in the gutter and just laughed. And then because he wasn’t working anymore, Spike started doing the shopping for Mommy. He wasn’t very good at it. Sometimes he’d forget to buy things like bread and margarine but every night he’d buy bottles of beer and crisps and he let me eat some of the crisps if I was a good girl. The beer was just for the grown-ups. Spike said I was fat enough so he never bought me any ice cream. Then one day he came home in his friend’s van and he was smiling and happy and said look what I’ve got for you sweetheart. And it was a big old deep-freeze. He got it cheap because it was rusty but it still worked and he put it in the garage at the back. Mommy was cross and yelled what do you think we’ll put in that thing, Packets of smoked salmon or something, are you crazy we can’t even afford a packet of mince meat let alone buy enough to fill a freezer. And Spike said well I’m sick of going to the shops every day like some old woman and besides it was a bargain. The next night he came home with two packets of sausage and put one of them in the deep freeze and said there you are, see how useful it is. But that was all the food we ever put in it, we just went on using the old fridge in the kitchen. There was never anything nice in our fridge anyway, not like in Debbie’s house. Her Mommy buys yoghurt and caramel pudding and stuff for her. After a bit Spike starts getting cross. He used to slam the door and say can’t you keep that bloody child quiet, this place is a madhouse. And Mommy was always crying and saying I can’t take it much longer you’ve got to do your share and Spike was shouting that bloody kid is your department. And she’d say you’d better find a job soon, it’s nearly Christmas, and he’d say there’s nothing out there, I’ve looked. Christmas isn’t going to happen round here this year. Well, last year Angela wasn’t here and we had a proper Christmas. Mommy got the Christmas tree from the top of her cupboard and we hung little silver balls on it and put a plastic angel with feather wings on top and on Christmas Eve we lit the candles. And it looked lovely. Only Spike was drinking beer and he fell and knocked it over and there was a fire on the carpet and Mommy had to throw water on it. The angel got all burned up and it smelled horrible. You can still see the big hole in the carpet, under that little rug. Mommy got quite cross but not very, because she was giggling and drinking beer too. But it was a proper Christmas. I got a Barbie with a shiny red dress and a makeup case with jelly lipstick and we had roast meat and roast potatoes and everything. So this year Mommy and Spike can’t afford that and it’s all because of that rotten baby. Last week they had a really loud, loud fight and he said I’ve had it, I’m out of here and went off on his motorbike and he never came back. He didn’t even tell me goodbye. Mommy was lying on the bed and saying god give me strength how am I going to cope. And that stupid baby was just screaming and screaming all the time. So you see, I had to do something to make things nice and quiet again, like when it was just the two of us, Mommy and me, before Spike came to stay. Before that baby came. It was so peaceful. When I shut the door of the freezer I couldn’t hear her crying any more. And when I showed Mommy that night, there was a real ice tear on her cheek. Just like The Little Match Girl. Can we get an ice cream now? A pink one? You promised. © Ginny Swart TWISTED TONGUE 82


Please Sing Me A Reindeer Song R Jay Slais

Only if you agree, to sing along. Stirring up all our best vigor from the last season’s longing, will the change of winter weather arrive? Put the tree to lights, set the tree aglow!

Ripping paper and shiny bows, All that tape to hold one down. A box is a box, a box is a box, hidden surprises in every corner must investigate, moist invertebrate. Sticky notes in the mailbox, lick the stamp and send it lack the send and stamp it. Is Billy coming home this year? The yellow ribbon is fading.

All to make a mourning of a special day, winter rain upon the roof, icicle spearics from the sky, raining from the sky. They gather in rows along each eve. Yellow ribbons fade, around our lyrics.

The brightest star in Persia on the cloudless of nights, three wise men are awaiting Holy Christ, Holy Christ. Will he ever see his newborn son?

Moon up reflections off the damp spears, of Grandma’s wreaths and ancient bells, hung on a string, nailed to a cross. Ding-a-ding dong, ding-a-ding dong, sweet carols sung, with an anti-war song.

This merry day Christmas, petroleum dolls and red fire trucks, sirens are screaming, sirens screaming. This merry day Christmas, a fat turkey at every table.

The Bush has been drooping, it’s getting late, it’s getting late, two towers heyday prevaricate. There is surely mass destruction, his choice of weapons we abhor.

© R Jay Slais

Can’t you see the candy stripes? Straddle the sugar dripped puddle, oh happy Xmas now at hand. Arise my lovelies, join the band, hey dude, don’t let me down.

Some of R Jay Slais’ most recent and forthcoming publications include poems at Barnwood, Every Day Poets, Flutter Poetry Journal, Literary Tonic, MiPOesias, Neon, and Sub Lit. A single father raising his two children, he makes a living as an engineer/inventor in Metro Detroit Michigan. Visit his blog at http://calderhawke@blogspot.com

A lone female dove in the morning struts mightily across the long yard, pecking at the frigid grasslings, Where has he gone, where has he gone? The difference is true love.

Raw Recruit Rebecca Nazar

P

lease sit. One of our knights, to defend our ideals of truth, beauty, and civility must possess certain qualities: stalwartness, conviction, and loyalty. He’s a god among men, let’s say. Son, you are such an avatar. Our corporation, due to its extensive head-hunting market research, knows you repel all human contact, squat in your mother’s mouldy basement, play violent video games to excess while zealously nosepicking, anthropomorphize your lizard, intend to marry your inflatable muse, befriend mannequins whom you masturbate with and on, and plot to blow up the local preschool, but only after you kill your father with an auger dressed as the self-made superhero, Crack Ballbuster. Would you like to try one of these on for size? This black uniform should fit nice and snug: the truncheon, worn, held and swung like such, see? Oh yes, you’re fit to join our ranks. Welcome. © Rebecca Nazar

Rebecca Nazar’s work has appeared in Champagne Shivers, MircoHorror, Bewildering Stories, and others. Please visit her at http://www.rebeccanazar.com/.

TWISTED TONGUE 83


The Threat From Within

A Sir Degrevaunt Adventure C J Carter Stephenson Part One An Arthurian fantasy Monday 1st September 2008

F

ar out to sea, a cool wind had arisen. It gusted gently into shore, shifting the sand on the beach. Sir Degrevaunt of Camelot, who had been wandering across the rolling dunes lost in thought, turned his head towards it and inhaled deeply. The breeze felt good, like soaking his limbs in a brook after an arduous battle. It really was unbearably hot today and walking on the beach was not something he would normally have chosen to be doing, but this was no ordinary day. It was exactly five years since the death of his father and he had needed some time alone to think. Sir Degrevaunt thought about his father a lot. The man’s untimely death was one of his biggest regrets. The fact he had been poisoned at all was bad enough, but to have actually been the one who handed him the chalice of wine made it almost unbearable. There was no way Sir Degrevaunt could have known the wine had been tampered with, but that didn’t stop him blaming himself. He could see it all as clearly as if it had happened yesterday—finding his father slumped in a chair; holding him close as his breathing faltered; willing him to get better, but knowing deep down that it wasn’t going to happen… Sir Degrevaunt was shaken from these dim reflections by a loud splash. He turned towards it with mild curiosity and noticed a head bobbing up and down a little way out to sea. Sheltering his eyes from the sun, he peered at the swimmer intently, trying to see if it was anyone he recognised. Whoever it was, they definitely didn’t need rescuing; the skilful way they were powering through the waves would have made a mermaid envious. Circling around a jagged rock, the swimmer began to move back towards the shore. Sir Degrevaunt’s mouth fell open as the approaching head and shoulders came close enough for him to scrutinise, for they were unmistakably female. Never before had he seen a woman display such strength and agility. Closer and closer she came, her mass of raven hair trailing behind her in a tightly bound braid. As she reached the shallows, she rose up out of the water and came gliding forwards, her hips swaying seductively. Sir Degrevaunt’s cheeks turned crimson; apart from a string of shells around her neck, the woman was naked. Sea water glistened on her slender form in tiny droplets like beads of purest sunlight, giving her the appearance of some kind of oceanic goddess. Her face was delicate, with an exotic hint of colour, and her eyes resembled polished ebony. Sir Degrevaunt was filled with guilty admiration for the woman’s beauty. He averted his eyes as soon as he overcame his initial surprise, but it was too late; the image of her heaving bosom and flawless olive skin was already indelibly ingrained upon his mind. The woman didn’t seem to have noticed her unintentional observer, but it was surely only a matter of time. Wishing to spare her any unnecessary embarrassment, Sir Degrevaunt pivoted sharply around and scurried away across the dunes. The beach was bordered by a tangled forest, where the knight had left his magnificent stallion Arion. Slashing distractedly at the branches crowding the path, he plunged into the trees, intending to seek the horse out as quickly as possible. He tried to tell himself that the reason for his haste was nothing more than a conscientiousness desire to get back to Camelot, but in reality, he didn’t trust himself to be near the vision of beauty on the beach. The moment he saw her, he had felt the fires of love start to flicker within him, and he could not allow the flames to be

fanned. He had lost his heart to a lady once before and it had been a disaster. Better he leave Cupid to fire his arrows elsewhere. All of a sudden, there was a piercing scream. Sir Degrevaunt bit back a curse; the sound had come from the beach. So much for leaving! Levelling his sword, he sprinted back out onto the sand. The beautiful swimmer was standing on a low dune, being menaced by four armed peasants. She had donned a shift while he had been gone, but the garment was tight-fitting and sheer, leaving little to the imagination. Although the peasants were laughing malevolently, they didn’t appear to have wounded the woman. Probably, their intentions were more lascivious than a simple assault. Sir Degrevaunt’s suspicions about this were confirmed when she was tripped over and pinned to the ground in a spread-eagled position. She struggled wildly to escape, but in vain. Sir Degrevaunt studied the four men, weighing up the threat posed by each. Two of them were little more than boys, grubby and of scrawny build - he should have no problem taking care of them. The others had the look of seasoned fighters and would be more of a challenge. Sir Degrevaunt had a feeling these latter men were brothers, because they had similar jawlines and an almost identical mass of matted brown hair, but that was neither here nor there. Whoever they were and whatever their relationship, they were going to pay for their intended crime. One of the younger men was untying his breeches now, looming over his victim like a creature from nightmare. There was a sadistic smirk on his face, suggesting that in spite of his age, he was no stranger to this kind of violation. The woman was continuing to thrash around violently, but still couldn’t free herself. Sir Degrevaunt let out a bestial roar that startled even himself, and took a swing at the would-be rapist’s thigh. His blade bit deep and the man went down, struggling to stem the flow of blood from his wound. Sir Degrevaunt smiled in grim satisfaction. The peasant would probably lose his leg with a cut like that, and it was nothing more than he deserved. An enraged cry from behind him alerted Sir Degrevaunt to an incoming attack. He swung hastily around and raised his sword, just in time to block the second youth’s incoming axe. Five whirling movements later, he had disarmed the man and sent him tumbling to the ground. There was a gaping wound in the fellow’s chest, but though the blood was bubbling out of it like a crimson fountain, Sir Degrevaunt had been careful not to do any permanent damage. It was not his habit to kill his enemies unless there was no alternative. Sir Degrevaunt hefted his sword and turned around. That was the easy contingent taken care of; now, the real fighting began. When the two older men came at him, they came together, one with a short sword, the other with a spear. Sir Degrevaunt stepped deftly past them and swung his sword at their exposed backs, but the man with the spear had anticipated this move and was ready with a spinning parry. He followed up with a deft thrust to Sir Degrevaunt’s chest, which the knight only just managed to counter. The man with the short sword then attacked again, slashing at Sir Degrevaunt’s neck. Sir Degrevaunt executed a hasty block and muttered a curse. These peasants were more dangerous than he had thought. Wondering how he might split the pair up, Sir Degrevaunt darted up one of the nearby dunes. To his surprise, only the man with the spear followed him; the other peasant remained rooted to the spot. For a moment, the knight couldn’t understand why the second fellow was holding back, then he keeled over and it became apparent that his intended victim had buried an axe in his back. Apparently, the woman wasn’t quite as defenceless as she looked. Sir Degrevaunt raised his eyebrows in amazement. Three down, one to go. Wasting no time, he charged down the dune at the remaining peasant and launched a frenzied attack with his sword. Again and again, he thrust out at the man, his blade flickering back and forth like a serpent’s tongue. The peasant made a valiant attempt to defend himself, but Sir Degrevaunt was simply too fast for him. The man’s movements became increasingly

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sluggish as a series of gashes and shallow stab wounds appeared across his body. Finally, he he’d had enough. Throwing down his spear in submission, he spun weakly around and staggered away across the beach. Sir Degrevaunt watched him intently as he disappeared into the distance. Letting an enemy go after he had surrendered was one thing, but only a fool assumed he wouldn’t attempt some kind of parting attack if he thought he could get away with it. Sir Degrevaunt might be a little impetuous on occasions, but he was no fool. “Aren’t you going to go after him?” came a voice at the knight’s shoulder. He turned his head, already knowing what he was going to see. It was the olive skinned beauty, still dressed in only her shift. Heavens, she was beautiful—a blazing star in humanity’s inky sky. Sir Degrevaunt opened his mouth to say something, but found his throat had gone dry from being in the presence of such a vision of loveliness. He blinked in surprise. This was something that had never happened to him before. Had he been some goose-brained youth who had never been kissed, he could have understood it, but he was a Knight of the Round Table. He shouldn’t be losing his voice in the presence of a lady, no matter how attractive. He coughed self-consciously to clear his throat and tried again, this time successfully. “The man has surrendered; I would not feel justified in continuing my attack,” he told her. “I am not without mercy.” “Do you think he would have shown me any mercy when he was raping and killing me?” the woman demanded, her eyes blazing. “I suppose not,” Sir Degrevaunt conceded, “but if I were to let myself become a ruthless killer, I would be no better than he was. When I stand before the pearly gates, I want my conscience to clear… or as clear as it can be.” The woman glared at Sir Degrevaunt angrily. For some reason, he couldn’t bring himself to meet her gaze and began studying his feet uncomfortably. Saints alive! This wasn’t the reaction he had expected. Anyone would have thought he was the one who’d tried to rape her. On the other hand, considering what she had been through, he could hardly blame her for being upset. “There’s no way God would have condemned you for killing that swine!” the woman exclaimed. “His soul should be plummeting to hell like those of his companions.” “Two of his companions are still alive,” Sir Degrevaunt pointed out hesitantly. The woman shook her head. “No they aren’t,” she said coldly. “I saw you’d left the job unfinished, so I took care of them personally.” Sir Degrevaunt swung quickly around and saw it was true. The two younger peasants, who he had deliberately left alive, were lying dead on the ground. The cause of death in both cases was obvious—a vicious cut to the throat, which Sir Degrevaunt presumed had been inflicted by the same weapon that had slain their comrade. The knight wasn’t sure what to say. Killing two men who could no longer defend themselves was something he personally would have had great qualms about doing, yet it seemed wrong to condemn this woman for it, when many would have felt it was simply righteous revenge. Having no desire to get into a lengthy debate about the intricacies of morality, he decided to let the subject go. “You know, you’re not like other damsels I’ve rescued,” he remarked.

The woman let out a long sigh and her seething wrath seemed to melt away. Perhaps she wasn’t in the mood for a morality debate either. “I don’t doubt it,” she told him. “I’ve always had problems conforming to the feminine mould, but then, you’re not like other men either.” Sir Degrevaunt wasn’t sure how to take this. Was she questioning his masculinity? “How do you mean?” he asked levelly, dropping to one knee to clean his sword on the tunic of the nearest peasant. The woman gave a fleeting smile as if she could sense what he was thinking. “I was simply referring to your noble spirit,” she assured him quickly. “Are you a local lord?” “Not exactly,” replied Sir Degrevaunt. “My own lands are far from here, though at present Camelot is the place I call home.” The woman raised her eyebrows at this. “You’re a Knight of the Round Table?” she asked, sounding impressed. Sir Degrevaunt smoothed back his curling blond hair and nodded. “I should have guessed,” she continued. “Could it be I am in the presence of the great Sir Lancelot?” Sir Degrevaunt shook his head, feeling slightly deflated. Why was it everyone always thought of Lancelot whenever the Round Table was mentioned? You’d think the man’s brothers in arms sat around polishing their spurs all day for all the recognition they got! “Guess again,” he said irritably. The woman pursed her lips in thought, before saying finally, “Percival?” Again, Sir Degrevaunt shook his head. He hadn’t really expected her to get it right, but it would have been nice if she had. “Then who?” the woman asked, gazing into the knight’s eyes as if she expected to find the answer hidden within. “My name is Sir Degrevaunt,” Sir Degrevaunt replied, as if making a proclamation. The woman looked blank, clearly not recognising the name. Sir Degrevaunt exhaled noisily and shook his head. “You haven’t heard of me, have you?” he asked. “No,” the woman admitted. Sir Degrevaunt shrugged his shoulders and tried not to look disappointed. “It’s all right, few people have,” he told her. The woman moved away to gather up the rest of her clothes. “Why’s that?” she asked over her shoulder. “Are you new?” Sir Degrevaunt strode along the beach to join her, sliding his sword back into its scabbard. “Not at all,” he grumbled. “I’ve been in the king’s service for years, but because I’m not a glory seeker, like certain other knights I could mention, my good deeds go largely unnoticed.” “I see,” said the woman, pulling on a pretty dress of turquoise silk. “Well, thank you for rescuing me, Sir Degrevaunt. It’s probably a little late to be saying it, but I wasn’t thinking clearly before; I was too caught up in my own anger.” “Think nothing of it,” said Sir Degrevaunt. “They didn’t hurt you, did they?” “Thankfully no,” the woman replied. “This body of mine is tougher than it looks.” Sir Degrevaunt wished she had phrased that last comment differently. He was having enough trouble keeping his mind off the curvy form in front of him, without her dropping it needlessly into the conversation. He opened his mouth to speak, but the woman forestalled him. “Listen Sir Degrevaunt, I really wish I had time to talk to you properly,” she said, sounding genuinely regretful, “but my father is expecting me home and he is not known for his patience.” Finishing putting on her clothes, she turned to go.

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“Wait,” said Sir Degrevaunt, placing his hand unthinkingly on her arm to detain her. “What is it?” the woman asked. Sir Degrevaunt looked momentarily flustered—there had been no particular reason for him to stop the woman, he had been acting purely on impulse—then, something occurred to him. “I think under the circumstances, I should escort you home,” he said quickly. “There might be more of those blasted peasants lurking in the forest.” He placed his hand on the hilt of his sword to indicate what would happen to anyone who dared to attack her while she was under his protection. “It’s very kind of you to offer,” replied the woman, “but I’m afraid I must decline. If my father were to hear about it, he’d assume you were courting me and want your head. He’s very protective.” “Impatient and protective—he doesn’t sound like the easiest person to live with,” Sir Degrevaunt remarked. He paused and then added with sudden earnestness, “As for courting you, mayhap he would be right. Mayhap I am courting you.” So much for his earlier resolve. Cupid’s arrow had struck him squarely in the heart and he was helpless before its power. Fortunately, the attraction seemed to be mutual. “I can think of a lot worse things than being courted by a noble sir like you,” said the woman, her eyes shining. “What about your father?” asked Sir Degrevaunt. “What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” replied the woman rebelliously. “Why don’t you meet me here tomorrow at sunset and we can talk it over.” “I’ll be here,” said Sir Degrevaunt firmly. The woman nodded and kissed him tentatively on the cheek. “Farewell Sir Degrevaunt,” she said as she turned to go. “Tell me one thing before you leave,” Sir Degrevaunt requested, moving quickly round in front of her. “What?” asked the woman. “Your name,” replied Sir Degrevaunt. “My name is Agnes,” said the woman, and with that she was gone, skipping off into the woods like an excited child.

S

ir Degrevaunt did not return to Camelot that evening. He spent the night underneath the stars, drifting in and out of sleep, and pondering the mystery of Agnes. When he awoke the following morning, he went for a long walk in the forest, still feeling no inclination to seek out the company of his comrades. After that he went for a ride along the coast, then for another walk—anything to pass the time until the coming rendezvous. At last, the sun began to set and he made his way back to the beach. As Sir Degrevaunt strode out onto the sand, Agnes rose to meet him from where she had been sitting on the crest of one of the dunes. Sir Degrevaunt’s gait took on a distinct swagger when he saw her and he was unable to resist the urge to smooth back his hair. Saints alive! The girl looked even more beautiful than she had the previous day—if that was possible. Her luxuriant hair hung loose around her shoulders and she wore a tight fitting dress of blue velvet, lavishly adorned with silver embroidery. “You’re early,” he observed. “I couldn’t wait,” Agnes admitted, smiling uncertainly. “This is going to sound a little strange considering we’ve only just met, but I feel there’s a connection between us—a connection I can’t fully explain, but which I can’t ignore.” Sir Degrevaunt turned away from her and stared out to sea. She was right, it was a strange comment, and yet, it made perfect sense to him. It was as if they were two distinct metals, strong and useful on their own, but ultimately destined to be melted down and merged together to form a sword that was greater than the sum of its parts. “I know exactly what you mean,” he said slowly. Agnes grinned. “What makes it even stranger,” she said, “is that when I’ve heard friends and servants make similar claims, I’ve told them they were addle-brained ninnies. Life has made me a little hard, I’m afraid.” “I’ve noticed that,” said Sir Degrevaunt, remembering the dead peasants. He gazed at her contemplatively, wondering what it was that had hardened her. She looked like a perfectly ordinary noblewomen to him—albeit an exceptionally beautiful one – but

then, looks could be deceiving. Take Balgair, his own squire; who would have thought such a scruffy fellow could possess one of the sharpest minds in Camelot? “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked. “No!” said Agnes emphatically, shaking her head. Sir Degrevaunt was slightly taken aback by the force of this response and decided it would be a mistake to probe further. “Let’s talk about you instead,” Agnes continued, her voice softening. “What’s it like being a Knight of the Round Table?” Sir Degrevaunt thought about this. It was hard to put into words exactly how he felt about his calling, but one thing was certain, the day he joined the Round Table had been one of the proudest of his life. Slowly, he drew his sword and held it out for Agnes to see. “Some people believe a sword is merely an instrument of death,” he said philosophically, “and that being a knight is all about war and combat, but it isn’t. A knight’s first duty is to help people and his sword is a symbol for justice. The Round Table is the ultimate expression of that ideal and an integral part of the king’s grand design to make Britannia a better place. How can I feel anything but pride to be part of it? The few times I’ve had cause to question these things, I had only to look into the eyes of someone I’d rescued and everything became clear.” His voice had gained considerably in intensity by the time he finished speaking and he was gesturing enthusiastically with his sword. “Is that what you feel like when you look into my eyes?” asked Agnes. “You more than anyone else,” replied Sir Degrevaunt fervently. He looked down at his feet, trying to decide how his passionate words about Camelot had come across. Enthusiasm was one thing, but he didn’t want her thinking he was some kind of single-minded zealot. Thankfully, Agnes took his comments in the vein he had intended, and if anything, seemed to be more taken with him than ever. “Look into my eyes now, Sir Degrevaunt,” she invited. Do you see anything else?” She moved in close and looked up at him expectantly. Sir Degrevaunt met her gaze self-consciously. Her eyes were like shining portals to paradise—the kind of eyes a man could drown in. There were many thoughts and emotions written in them, but the thing that came across most was… “Desire.” No sooner had the word left Sir Degrevaunt’s mouth than he was leaning forward to kiss her. Not in the restrained way she had kissed him yesterday, but with a hungriness that surprised even him—a kiss of unbridled passion. Before Sir Degrevaunt knew what he was doing, he was tugging at the fastenings of Agnes’ dress, while she fumbled to remove his armor. They fell back onto the sand, clasping each other close and kissing voraciously. Sir Degrevaunt’s heart pounded within his chest. He had never felt anything like this before. It was as if he had tumbled into a set of raging rapids and was being carried inexorably towards the final tumbling cascade. Closing his eyes in anticipation, he surrendered himself to the moment…

T

heir passion spent, Agnes and Sir Degrevaunt lay on the beach talking long into the night. Finally, Agnes announced that she had to return home before her father missed her. There were a great many things Sir Degrevaunt still wanted to ask her, but she was adamant she had to leave, so he had to content himself with a promise that she would meet him again the following day. Ever the chivalrous one, he made another offer to escort her through the forest, but as before, she refused. Sir Degrevaunt spent as much time as possible with Agnes over the next few days, but it was never enough. He was happier in her company than he had ever been before, so he would have liked to be with her all the time, and even when they were apart, she was always in his thoughts. He wandered aimlessly around the local area, occasionally righting wrongs or settling disputes, but more often than not, simply thinking about his future with the woman of his dreams and willing the hours to pass more quickly, so he could see her again. The one place Sir Degrevaunt didn’t go was Camelot. He knew he would have to go back there eventually, because it was such a

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big part of his life, but for the time being he wanted to avoid it, so he could concentrate his attention on his blossoming love…

B

algair looked up from the dice game as a buxom wench with mischievous eyes and a mass of bouncing brown curls slipped onto his knee. The girl had been giving him the eye most of the evening; or to be more precise, since his luck took a turn for the better and he started winning some money. He smiled at her lasciviously, enjoying the feel of her plump bottom on his legs. “It’s your turn, Balgair,” came the angry voice of the man next to him, a bald-headed nobleman with a pallid face from a remote province he had never heard of. “Can’t you pay attention?” Balgair shot an irritated look at him. Couldn’t a man even take time out for a spot of flirting without some pot-bellied excuse for a gambler getting wound up about it? “All right Callum, keep your hair on,” he replied. “Oh, I forgot, you haven’t got any.” The wench giggled as Balgair tossed the dice. A perfect score— again! This really was his lucky night. “You win again!” Callum complained. “Are you sure you aren’t cheating?” “How can I be cheating?” Balgair countered. “The dice we’re using belong to you.” He reached out greedily for his winnings and pulled them towards him. “An excellent throw, noble sir,” said the wench. “Tell me, are you as talented at other things as you are at dice.” The subtle way she was massaging him with her buttocks left him in no doubt of what she was referring to. “Care to find out?” he said suggestively. The girl leant forward and planted a sloppy kiss on his cheek. “Very much so,” she assured him, “and I won’t charge you the world either.” Balgair picked at the calluses on his hands excitedly. Life just kept getting better and better. Or it did, until Callum decided to poke his nose in and ruin the mood. “You can’t be serious,” the man said with a sneer. “How can you even contemplate bedding this hideous fellow?” The girl scowled reproachfully. “Mind your own business!” she exclaimed. She turned to Balgair and stroked his cheek. “Don’t listen to him, my sweet,” she crooned. “He’s just jealous of your success with the dice.” Balgair nodded his head half-heartedly. She was right, of course, but Callum’s words still stung, particularly as there was an element of truth to them. He really wasn’t the most handsome of men, with his pock-marked face and unmanageable black hair. “This duel of the dice is turning sour,” he remarked. “I think I’ll bow out after the next game.” “Good idea,” said the wench, speaking softly into his ear and stroking his hair, “then you can put some of that money to good use.” She kissed him again on the cheek, and this time, Balgair kissed her back. In the next instant, the door to the inn burst open and Balgair saw a knight in highly polished armor stride into the room out of the corner of his eye. He pulled his lips hastily away from the wench’s cheek and peered surreptitiously around her to see who it was. Not one of King Arthur’s knights he hoped. That could be a little awkward, considering what he was doing. Gambling and fraternizing with whores were generally frowned upon in Camelot. The knight moved forward into the centre of the common room and looked around him disapprovingly. Balgair cursed under his breath. It was Sir Kay, the king’s steward. The squire lowered his head and tried to look inconspicuous. With any luck, Sir Kay’s presence in the inn was a coincidence, and he would be able to slip quietly away without being seen. “So this is to be your last game, Balgair?” said Callum, apparently noticing that the squire’s mind was on other things. “Well do you mind if we make a start? I’m anxious to win back some of my money. How much do you want to bet?” Balgair thought it best not to draw attention to himself by withdrawing from the game immediately, so he tossed some

coins absently into the middle of the table. “That should do for a start,” he said in a low voice. The other players matched Balgair’s stake and he picked up the dice cup for his first throw. “May fortune favor you, my sweet,” said the wench, raising the squire’s hand to her lips and kissing it for luck. Balgair shook the dice, then let the cup fall abruptly from his hand as he realized that Sir Kay was standing directly behind him. He pushed the wench guiltily away from him and twisted around. Sir Kay was glaring down at him with an ominous frown on his face. “Sir Kay…” he stammered, bowing awkwardly in his seat. “I didn’t see you come in…” Don’t stop on my account,” said Sir Kay with a dangerous glint in his eye. “You were about to roll the dice.” Balgair shook his head quickly. “Not me, Sir Kay,” he lied. “I was merely spectating.” Callum opened his mouth to say something, only to close it again as Balgair gave him a sharp kick under the table. “I see,” said Sir Kay, raising his eyebrows incredulously. “And the lady you were with when I came in; who was that?” “My sister,” replied Balgair, thinking afterwards what a foolish thing this was to say. Sir Kay must have seen what was going on between himself and the whore and it was clearly not the behavior of a brother and sister. Not unless they were into incest, which would place them in an even worse light than the truth. “Your sister?” said Sir Kay, his eyebrows climbing further up his forehead. “This may come as something of a shock, Balgair, but I don’t believe you.” Balgair gulped. He was for it now. “Not only are you in an inn doing things you shouldn’t be,” Sir Kay continued, “but you have blatantly lied to me about it to try and get yourself out of trouble, which has exacerbated the misdemeanor. Truth is one of the cardinal virtues of the Round Table and you will need to be disciplined for forgetting that. Still, I don’t have time to discuss your transgressions now. I simply need you to tell me where I can find your master?” Balgair shrugged his shoulders. “I’m sorry, Sir Kay, but I’m afraid I don’t know,” he replied. “I haven’t seen him for days.” The mention of Sir Degrevaunt reminded Balgair of his own concerns about the knight’s whereabouts. It wasn’t unheard of for his master to absent himself from Camelot for long periods of time without saying anything, but it was certainly unusual. Still, if there was one thing Balgair had learnt about Sir Degrevaunt it was that he was more than able to take care of himself. “Well, I want you to find him,” Sir Kay instructed. “The king has an urgent task he wants him to attend to. You are his squire, so you must know his haunts.” Balgair sighed. So much for gambling and whores. “Very well,” he said with a small bow of acquiescence. “I’ll do my best.” © C J Carter Stephenson Christian Carter-Stephenson was born in 1977 in the county of Essex in the United Kingdom. He has a degree in English & Performing Arts and a postgraduate diploma in Acting. He is currently flirting with careers in acting and writing, while engaging in more mundane jobs to stay afloat on the turbulent sea of life. His ultimate ambition is to write a story so chilling the ink in his pen freezes. Recent publication credits include stories in the following magazines: Murky Depths (graphic strip with artwork by Mark Chilcott), The Willows, Dark Horizons (the journal of the British Fantasy Society), La Fenêtre, Sinister Tales, Legend, and Night to Dawn. ‘The Threat from Within’ is the second of his Sir Degrevaunt stories. For more of his work visit his website: http://www.carter-stephenson.co.uk/

TWISTED TONGUE 87


Valentine Chronicles The Valentine Chronicles is a free sci-fi website detailing the fall from grace of the two princesses, Tatiana and Katarina Valentine. Launching on 14th February 2007, the nascent site featured its debut story The Witch, and a plethora of profiles on cast and crew, galleries of artwork, and concept designs. Now, nearly two years later, the Chronicles has just completed its eighth serial—Bad Blood—and is expanding to include a brand new forum, more stunning galleries, and astonishing concept art: all geared toward fleshing out the Chronicles’ peculiar brand of space-opera tinged with a little horror. The origins of the Chronicles can be traced as far back as 1991, when Paul L. Mathews occasionally attended a sixth-form college in Leeds whilst pretending to study English, History, and Art. In actuality he spent most of his time writing scenarios and designing characters for fantasy and super-hero RPGs. Therein lies the beginnings of the Chronicles, when Mathews and friends—including fledgling author Stephen J. Anderson—embarked upon a sci-fi campaign in a setting of Mathews’s creation, and based around the exploits of the starship Boxer, and its captain Hans Mattheus Vosburgh. Of all the characters created in this five year period of fortnightly games, engaging scenarios, rich settings, and memorable characters; one that stood out most was Valentine, a constant thorn in the crew’s side and a sometime ally. Indeed, she would stay lodged in Mathews’s consciousness for the next six years until she would be pressed into service once more… By 2001 Mathews was a concept artist for a leading UK games company. This lead to a working week spent away from both his home and his family, and Mathews needed something to fill the evenings. Although an artist by trade, Mathews had always been both fascinated by and attracted to the idea of being a writer, and the time spent away from home was an ideal opportunity. Drawing on the rich mythos developed over those five fertile years, he identified Valentine as one of the campaigns most evocative characters, and began to develop what would become the Valentine Chronicles website. Another five years—and a fight against the auto-immune condition Myasthenia Gravis—down the line, and the Chronicles finally began. Along the way Mathews recruited a core of trusted friends and emerging talents like Frozen, Daz Watford, Lawrence Mann, David Miles Golding, and old friend Anderson to add their flavour, advice, and inspiration to the Chronicles, and the result is the unique site we see today. February 14th 2009 will mark the site’s two year anniversary with the key story Under the Gun, a plethora of new artwork, and a stunning gallery of concept designs—all brought to the public for free in an environment devoid of pop-ups and advertising. It is an environment seventeen years in the making, and one of which the crew are justifiably very proud. See why at www.thevalentinechronicles.com.

Crew Daz Watford

Paul L Mathews

Daz met Mathews whilst the two studied at the majestic Church View College, Doncaster. Now a professional concept artist employed by a leading UK games developer, he has contributed some great artwork to the site, as well as priceless feedback and encouragement. A former concept artist with credits in TV, editorial illustration, and video games. Paul is the Valentine Chronicles creator/writer. Paul’s other stories have been published by Nowa Fantastyka, The Willows, SciFantastic, The Deepening, and here at Twisted Tongue. TWISTED TONGUE 88

http://www.geocities.com/dazartwork/


David met Mathews whilst the two treaded water working for a comic-book shop in Leeds. Since then Golding has embarked upon what promises to be a stellar career as a comic artist, with his current credits including Dare Comics’ The Hunter, as well as other indy titles Hadrian Hilliard and A Life in Comics. He has also produced work for—and appeared in—the BBC’s Prank Patrol.

Stephen J. Anderson

Lawrence Mann

An IT professional and one of Mathews’s best and oldest friends, Stephen has been involved with the Valentine Chronicles since its first manifestation as an RPG setting. Now the site’s resident tech-geek, he is also a talented author. His debut story— Death in Large Numbers—has been published by Another Sky Press’s Falling From the Sky anthology. He is currently working on a further number of short stories.

David Miles Golding

A freelance artist and workaholic, Lawrence met Mathews whilst studying at Leeds College of Art & Design. Since then he has created some stylish and striking imagery for the Valentine Chronicles whilst making a living as an award winning graphic artist.

http://www.onemannbrand.co.uk/

Fleeing their ancestral home in the face of a bloody uprising, the half-human princesses Tatiana and Katatrina Valentine now struggle to survive in a disparate, war-torn galaxy. Gradually they are stripped of their innocence as one is seduced by the way of the gun, the other by the way of the witch. Brought to you by emerging talents Paul L. Mathews, Daz Watford, Lawrence Mann, Stephen J. Anderson and Frozen, the Valentine Chronicles are a fortnightly series of top quality stories and illustrations focusing on the plight of these two girls. Follow their story in words and pictures, for free, here at The Valentine Chronicles!

The Story so Far When the alien Long Knives attack the planet Oridia, the half-human heirs to the Oridian throne—Tatiana and Kataria Valentine—are forced into a desperate fight for survival in a deadly galaxy. Together they face menaces as alien as bitter witches, vengeful mercenaries, arachnid mutants, and the walkng dead. All the while they wrestle with threats as familiar as grief, fear, dependancy, and temptation. Follow their plight in our first eight stories: The Witch, After the Ordeal, Russians, Safe and Sound, Asteroid, Hearts and Bones, Flesh, and Bad Blood.

Current Serial Frozen: As the crew of the Troika attempt to repair their ship, Ivan prepares to face his deadliest enemy yet: Boyd.

www.thevalentinechronicles.com TWISTED TONGUE 89


Ivan Valentine

Cast Tatiana Valentine Born into the royal court of the planet Oridia, Tatiana is heir to the throne and daughter to the Oridian Queen Alsion, and retired human mercenary Gregor Valentine. When a violent revolution forces Tatiana and her sister to flee Oridia (see The Witch), she is forced into a bitter struggle for survival in a violent and bloody galaxy. Gradually her innocence is being stripped away as she is seduced by the way of the gun. Katarina Valentine Just as Tatiana is inexorably attracted toward a life of gunplay and firearms, Katarina is possessed with a fascination for the occult and its dark magics. Enemies like The Witch of Bleakwinter, and the technomancer Crepitus (see Hearts and Bones, Flesh, and Bad Blood) have shown Kat a world beyond the physics of firearms and the mathematics of space-travel, and it’s a world she wants to be a part of.

A retired mercenary and the twins’ uncle, Ivan now finds he has to keep the girls alive as they fight to survive in the Pagentorns. Old and worn out, Ivan knows the lifetime of violence he has forsaken must catch up with him soon, and his only wish is to see the twins safe and well.

Vast

Stalin Ivan’s cyborg dog, Stalin is a cross between a Rottweiler and a tank. He could be the perfect killing machine were it not for his abject cowardice.

The Valentines’ other bodyguard, Vast is an Amazonian alien gifted with prodigious healing and more guns than an amnesty in Belfast. Only time will tell is these will be enough to keep the Valentines alive.

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Boyd The Valentines main bodyguard. Boyd is a thirty-something reformed alcoholic who now fights both a growing—and mutual—attraction toward the teenage Tatiana, and an increasingly strained relationship with Ivan.

www.thevalentinechronicles.com TWISTED TONGUE 91


Sleep Before Evening Magdalena Ball Published by BeWrite Books

ISBN: 904492-96-2 Print ISBN: 978-1-904492-96-2 eBook ISBN: 978-1-905202-97-9 Paperback. 296 pages UK: £8.99 USA: $17.99 Canada: $20.50 Euro: €13.50 Marianne is teetering at the edge of reason. A death in the family sends her brilliant academic career and promising future spiralling out of control until resentment towards those who shaped her past leads her on a wild and desperate search for the truth about herself. On the seedy side of New York, she meets Miles, a hip musician busking the streets and playing low-rent venues in a muddled bid to make his own dreams come true. In her new life, she finds anarchic squalor, home grown music and poetry, booze, drugs, sex, violence, love, loss … and, above all, exhilarating freedom on her troubled journey from sleep to awakening. This gritty, relentless story unfolds with the same cool detachment that motivates the central character to peel back the layers of her life and expose the painful scalding within. “The characters live and breathe and scratch themselves. The drug scenes and the horrors of dependence are especially well-rendered.” CHAD HAUPTMANN, author of Billie’s Ghost “Sleep Before Evening is music. Magdalena Ball weaves the sounds of poetry with an important story, compassionately ‘sung.’ CAROLYN HOWARD-JOHNSON, author of This is the Place and Tracings. Published by BeWrite Books Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all other online bookstores. Also available on order from your high street book shop.

Available from WWW.BEWRITE.NET, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Angus & Robertson all other major online stores and, on order, from your local high street bookstore. Distributors: Bertram Books, Gardners, Baker & Taylor, Ingrams For further information and review copies, please contact: Cait Myers at BeWrite Books

All BeWrite Books are available in e-book format from www.bewrite.net TWISTED TONGUE 92


TWISTED TONGUE 93


FREE BOOK GIVE-AWAY BeWrite Books is offering TT readers the opportunity to win a copy of ‘Bait Shack’ signed By Harry Hughes. Just answer this simple question and send your answers to twistedtongue@blueyonder.co.uk Please place ‘Free Book Give-Away’ in the subject bar.

Unemployed Dale Coles is struggling to save his marriage and: a) His record Collection? b) His credit rating? c) His sanity? Closing date: 30th February In issue ten’s giveaway we asked: Name those parts of the world that are not featured in ALLAKAZZAM: a) Europe b) Africa c) South America d) China e) Middle East f) Australia The Prize: One copy of ‘ALLAKAZZAM’ by Daniel Ableman The Winner is: Rachel Green, UK Answer: South America, China and Australia

Recommended writers’ sites: Andrea Lowne’s—UKAuthors— http://www.ukauthors.com/ Paul Zealand’s—The Grail— http://z3.invisionfree.com/The_Grail/index.php?act=idx Ed Blunt’s—Café Doom— http://www.cafedoom.com/forum/index.php Sally Quilford’s—Forum— http://sallyq.2.forumer.com If you know of any other good writer’s site simply drop me an email and we’ll add it the listings.

Twisted Tongue pays £10 for Ed’s Choice per issue, all contributors receive a free PDF, and are offered a free advertisement for their published book. Twisted Tongue hopes to pay all contributors in the future, to make this successful Twisted Tongue needs your help to spread the word— encourage friends and family to purchase a printed copy—place a link to Twisted Tongue on your website/blog, and we will place a link for you in our Links section as a thank you.

Twisted Tongue is now on MySpace @ www.myspace.com/twistedtonguemagazine

To be added to Twisted Tongue’s Newsletter for updates etc simply send an email twistedtongue@blueyonder.co.uk

Thank You for purchasing Twisted Tongue Magazine We’d love to know your thoughts about this issue Please feel free to email us: twistedtongue@blueyonder.co.uk Let us know what You, the Reader, would like to see in future issues of

Twisted Tongue Magazine. TWISTED TONGUE 94

Twisted Tongue Magazine Issue 12  

Issue 12 of Twisted Tongue magazine.

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