Woe, Babylon Besieged

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Stitched Silence

by Lindsey ONeill


“What do you want? You have to tell me what you want!”

“Why does your mouth look like that?”

“What happened to you?”

Scars line her lips. Punishment for saying things that she shouldn’t. 

“This is what happens when you speak out of turn.”

Fire eases the thin steel through her skin. She doesn’t scream. Doesn’t give them the satisfaction. Shrieking would be too easy. Mother offered her something to numb the pain, begged her not to be a martyr.

As the blood begins to flow, she wishes she’d accepted the balm. She curses the tears pouring down her temples, but a quiet voice reminds her that it only proves her humanity.

The pain is a vice around her entire body that tightens with each thread of the needle. Her blood now seeps from her lips and she expects to choke on it––if the pain doesn’t take her first. The leather straps are digging into her skin as she involuntarily tries to move away from the source of the pain, but her body remains in place. Right before the world goes dark, she feels the needle stop. She sobs in relief but every minute movement of her lips brings a piercing jolt of fresh nausea into her core.

“We’re stopping there? The work is halfway done.”

“No need to let her starve to death. Yet. Let her do that on her own. She needs to walk among the rest to show them what happens when you don’t listen.”

It’s liquid meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner through a straw that she must struggle to get through the small opening of her mouth. There are days when she wants to throw her cup at the wall and starve, but she cannot let them win. The threads fall out as the scars begin to grow in. No going back now. Can’t reverse it, can’t take it back.

The stares are enough to make her go mad, but she holds her head high in public defiance. Little by little she begins to see signs of rebellion from her fellow citizens. As she grows thinner she becomes less of an outcast. She cannot speak, but she can write. Anonymous letters begin to appear in random areas of the town. These letters are copied and sent across borders and into other towns, cities, states; word is moving fast.

Within a few months, more anonymous letters from different parts of the country start popping up. The government can’t track their origins; there’s more letters now than there are soldiers. But words are not enough; action must be taken soon.

It’s a slow start, and it might not happen in her lifetime, but maybe the regime will come to an end if enough people are inspired to fight it. That’s all she can ask for; that’s the only thing that will make her forced silence worth it. 

Lindsey ONeill is an actress and freelance writer in South Florida. She hopes to attend graduate school within the next few years and receive her Master of Fine Arts. In her free time, she enjoys reading both fiction and nonfiction, especially history.

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Silly Henry

by Andrew Openshaw

Momentary blackness, followed by a bright flash, then Henry became aware of himself again.

His damaged eyes meant he couldn’t focus, but he could make out a faint outline of his surroundings. That was enough; Henry knew exactly where he was. “Oh, God. Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck.”

In his right hand, he was holding on to the stick. With his left hand shaking uncontrollably, Henry reached up to touch his face. He felt scabs. So, they had drawn blood, this is really happening. “Oh God.”

Then he was moving, not of his own accord, but because his body seemed compelled to move. Henry was weak and again the stick became a necessary aid for walking.

There was only one way he could go and that was along the street. As much as he tried, Henry couldn’t turn and go the other way. Nor could he cross the road on his left to the pavement on the other side.

To his right, with his impaired vision, he could make out walls and hedges with houses behind them. And in the distance, traffic was moving along the adjacent main road. Henry was sick to the stomach.

After a few difficult paces, the sun beating down hard on his frail and shuddering frame, Henry heard the first squawk, then a flutter of wings. “No!” he cried, as he started waving the stick around in the air, trying to bat away his two winged tormentors.

Soon the birds were circling him, squawking in unison now, one after the other.

Henry continued stumbling forward, dragged by an unknown force. “…and buy some fucking milk on your way home”, one of the birds screeched. That was the last thing Gillian had shouted to him before he left the house.

“Oh, Gillian”, Henry whispered, and he began to sob.

The birds’ wings were beating faster now; they were rushing at him and trying to get him to fall over. A searing pain entered Henry’s head. He dropped the walking stick and bent over, instinctively covering his face with his hands. In his mind’s eye was an image, crystal clear. It was Toby’s toy giraffe, smiling back up at him.

A bird squawked, “Aw, what’s Mr. Giraffe’s name, Toby?” But Henry knew that it was the girls speaking to him now.

Without the stick, there to give him balance, Henry soon found himself down on the pavement. The birds began swooping and pecking at his legs, arms and face. The pain was relentless and Henry couldn’t do anything to stop them. He wailed in agony.

When the birds finally eased off, Henry fumbled around and found the walking stick again. He leveraged himself back to his feet. He could hear the birds flapping up ahead, and knew that his journey had nearly come to an end.

Henry could hear the traffic on the main road now and could make out the blurred outlines of people over the other side, near the shop.

When he reached the corner of the street, his eyes finally cleared and he could see again. Henry couldn’t close his eyes, though, not even to blink. All he could do was watch.

Above him, the birds began twirling around each other in an upward spiral, like a hurricane. Faster and faster until the swirling shape they had created split apart and two forms unwound their way to the ground.

Two girls stepped forward and walked around the corner of the street.

Henry looked to the road in front of him and there he was, guiding Toby’s pushchair to the edge of the path and waiting for a gap in the traffic so he could cross.

The scene pulsed like a heartbeat and Henry was back in that moment.


He and Gillian had been arguing again, so Henry had decided to get out of the house on this hot day and take Toby, who had another dreadful cold, out for a walk. He had crossed the road and was heading towards the Dene when two girls approached.

The girls, from the local university, were wearing skimpy shorts and low cut vests. They were like the girls from his fantasies.

Life had been difficult at home since Toby’s birth. Henry and Gillian hadn’t planned to get pregnant and neither of them was emotionally prepared to be parents. Or ready for the impact a new baby would have on their lives.

As their relationship gradually deteriorated during Toby’s first six months, Henry had begun to imagine himself with other women. He’d also found that the older he got; the younger the girls that he found attractive had become.

When these nubile freshers started coming towards him, Henry couldn’t believe his luck. Something within him snapped.

The girls were gushing over cute little Toby in his pushchair of course, but Henry was sure he could avert their attention to him instead. He was still quite attractive at forty-two; he could easily use Toby as a way into their affections.

Henry was nervous and excited, desperate not to let this opportunity slip away.  He was absolutely going to go through with this, the wheels were set in motion, nothing could stop him.

As the girls played with Toby and his toy giraffe, Henry began telling them how pretty they looked. He asked if they had boyfriends and then acted shocked when they both giggled and said no. He enquired about where they were going; they said, “Home, to sunbathe in the garden.”

Henry couldn’t stop himself; he said: “I’d very much like to see that.”

The girls giggled again and then one of them eventually replied, “Well you’re welcome to come over if you like. There’s only us in.” They both said, “Come on”, at the same time and began walking down one of the side streets.

Henry noticed they were holding hands.

His heart now racing, Henry instinctively followed, intently watching the shape of their tiny hips and the bulge in their shorts as they walked in front of him. He was thinking of bikinis, and ice cubes melting onto soft skin.

The sounds of the road behind him grew dimmer.

Suddenly the girls both turned to face Henry. Their pretty freckled faces had melted away into frightening demonic scowls. Their eyes were now swollen and red, their teeth elongated and discoloured and their once beautiful and tanned skin had become sallow.

They were both laughing and pointing over Henry’s shoulder. As Henry turned around to follow their gaze, everything seemed to start moving in slow motion.

Henry felt his mood drop; his excitement had turned to dread and his perverted smile reversed into an expression of fear and helplessness.

Across the road coming out of the shop, he noticed a woman had thrown her bags into the air, grocery items slowly spilling down around her. Her mouth was wide open, her eyes wild.


When the number 38 bus struck Toby’s pushchair, which had rolled into the road, Toby, ejected from his seat, began sailing up into the air. His toy giraffe following the same trajectory.

Henry remembered thinking how strange it was that Toby’s blanket had stayed wrapped around him, even though he was in flight. It made him look like a large grey bullet.

Things began speeding up again as Toby’s tiny body descended; he landed with a thud around ten meters away from the bus, which had come to an abrupt halt.

Sound flooded back into the scene. Henry could now hear the woman over the road screaming; horns were blaring, the frames and windows of cars caught in the resulting pileup were crunching and smashing.

There was, however, no sound of a wailing baby.


Henry tried to run towards Toby but found he couldn’t. An imperceptible force pulled him back into the street. He could hear the squawking of birds’ and then momentary blackness came followed by a bright flash.

And Henry, walking stick in his right hand, became fully aware of himself again.

Andrew Openshaw is a copywriter from Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK. An avid reader of fantasy and horror, he is now taking tentative steps into the world of speculative fiction. Married to Josephine, he is also proud parent to the world’s noisiest cats: Maxwell, Molko & Bodhi.

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Unseelie Songs

Unseelie Songs by Liúsaidh

For the past year we have published the dark, the horror, and the macabre. The stories that most other mags don’t want to touch or publish because they don’t fit with today’s politically correct themes.

Today we are taking a step further and present the first book published through Trigger Warnings, written by one of our awesome authors.

We’re proud to present these collected mythic works of dark storytelling in classical poetry forms and poetic prose. Passion, loss, and longing fill these pages in this startling, disturbing and darkly beautiful anthology perfect for Samhain, All Hallow’s Eve, and the cusp of Winter.



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Regina’s Reactions

By Andy Tu


Click again. Dig a little deeper.

You’re scared shitless, you’ll admit that much, but no one ever got anywhere listening to that voice inside their head, telling them to stop when things become difficult. And this is difficult, searching for the sickest things out there, but it becomes less so with each suicide, each murder, each picture that you view. They are studies of the human mind, who we truly are below the surface.

You are 32 years old, and you are an addict. But this is not an AA meeting, and you do not abuse a physical substance, although perhaps the acceleration of the heartbeat and the numbness of the face could be labeled as physical dependencies. But you know you could live without them. What you can’t live without is wondering what else is out there in the deep web, waiting for you to uncover.

This website is called Regina’s Reactions. Regina is 10 years old. There is a grainy picture of her with her arms clutching the metal bars of a cage.

According to the FAQs, they do not hurt Regina. Not physically, at least. Or even on purpose. They do not explain what they mean, or what they actually do. They know that whoever finds this site has already become a slave to their curiosity, an adventurer who will only be satisfied when they see something more disturbing than before.

You pay the .314 bitcoins for access. A new window pops up, a grid of videos. The titles are single-worded: Clown, Fire, Gore, Porn, Suicide, Torture, Snake, Spider… on and on… 54 videos total. At the top of the page flash neon words: Click to see how Regina Reacts!

You click on Clown, and the video begins.

High definition. Regina is sitting in the middle of the cage with her arms around her knees. The camera zooms in on her face. It surprises you how skinny she is. Her hair is a tangle of black curls that has not been combed. Her eyes are wide, blank spaces.

Everything becomes black, but you hear her; a microphone amplifies her nervous breathing, the whimpers that stifle in her throat. A bright red light turns on, illuminating the room in its glow. A loud siren startles both you and Regina; she looks like she’s in a horror movie.

Regina jumps from the floor, her arms clung around herself, her breathing heavy. You see the clown by the gate. The axe in his hand. The frown on his face. He opens the gate. Regina screams as she is chased around the cage, running from his swinging arm and deep, uncontrolled panting.

Regina screams.

Regina cries.

But nothing happens to Regina. She just runs around the cage until the camera cuts away. You don’t know if you are disappointed or intrigued. They are such conflicted feelings, the desire to watch someone suffer until they want to die, and the desire to watch someone die, which ends their suffering.

You click on the other videos.



They release them into the cage. Tarantulas and long vipers, crawling toward her as they blast music and set them on fire so that they spaz in coils toward her.

They always start by turning off the light, then flipping on that red glow that reminds you of bloodshot eyes. Regina has become conditioned to these cues: she screams when the siren begins. Her reaction does not seem to diminish over time. This is the power of novelty.

Some of the videos start with her tied to a chair, her eyes pried open by a helmet made of kitchen utensils and clothes hangers. They project a video onto the wall in front of her.

Hardcore porn.


Animal torture.

People torture.


Your computer screen is split in half. The right shows the video she’s being forced to watch; the left displays the way her pupils expand and cringe at each finger that is broken, each man who gets a thick needle shoved through his flesh.

On the 54th video, Regina is forced to watch a puppy being boiled in a large, glass bowl of water.

She is in the chair, her eyes forced wide in high definition. But they do not wince or waver; they are still and calm.

Like a corpse’s stare.

The video is cut off early. Because Regina is no longer reacting.

You wonder why it took so long.​

Andy is currently pursuing his first novels.


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My Baby isn’t Ready Yet

By Olivia J. Young

She had been lying like a bloated question mark for some time, how long I couldn’t say anymore. I counted days in the pooling sludge that had begun to halo around my wife, and our partially birthed child. Flies pecked at the windows, looking for the cracks that bled sunlight. Winged scavengers looking to make those cracks bleed flies.

My skin was slipping from my body like grease with the proper technique, but other parts clung to my meat like a layer of Elmer’s Glue left to dry on my hands and be peeled later. I spread sheets of flesh on the cherry oak dining room table, muculent side up. I had been flaying myself for days. At first my knuckles would curl and jerk my fingers like raptor claws every time I slid the scalpel under my tissue. By Wednesday my knuckles stopped fighting. I wrapped my thighs in sanitary dressings and shot a few tabs of expired penicillin into my mouth. They were from a post-honeymoon infection that I had kept to myself.

Her body was bubblesome and blackened first by our baby, then by arson, and last by putrefaction. I scraped her skin off like spilled milk that had and was left to curdle and harden. It made a tisk tisk tisk noise, like a sloth scraping dead-flakes from the back of my sun-bitten neck at Keuka lake. With ginger care I plucked the sheets of my shucked landscape and placed them on the cool slime of her fresh flayed body like a quilt.  I spritzed her down with Febreeze to curb the sweet smell of her rotting organs. I smiled through the handywork, scrubbing the decay from her bloated form. Easing her for the birth of our child, a little late, but born nonetheless.

Olivia was born and raised in Rochester, New York. She writes poetry and fiction and studies psychology, sociology, and English at SUNY Brockport. Her work has appeared in Jigsaw.

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Night Heat

by Steve Carr

It was one of those nights. You know the kind of night I mean. The kind of night where you’re tortured by the heat. The kind of night when you’re alone in a cheap hotel and there’s no air conditioning. The fan above the bed just swirls the heat around and fills the air with the smell of ozone and kicks up the dust, stirring up odors from past desperate lodgers; rancid sweat, South American tobacco and poodle urine.

It’s amazing what can happen in a couple of hours, the time it takes for a guy who didn’t have much to begin with to lose the one thing that really mattered.

Yes, it was because of a dame. Isn’t it always? You’re in a crumby bar and there on a stool you see a nice pair of legs and you look up and see a pair of eyes that can rip your heart apart with a single blink, and the next thing you know you’re buying the legs and eyes a drink.

She says, “I had me a diamond ring once, bigger than an olive and clear as a shot of vodka. But you don’t want to hear about that, do you honey? You don’t want to hear about my troubles. I saw you looking at my legs. You must be looking for a good time.”

Looking for a good time in San Francisco. There’s a good time to be had every night of the week, the kind of good times that end with lousy tattoos and a shot of penicillin, or worse.

Good times. They always end badly, with overdoses and trips to the emergency room, irate boyfriends and pimps gunning for you because you stole their girl and didn’t bother to pay. One barkeep job after another, an endless succession of foul-mouthed bar managers that fire you the moment you find they’re stealing from the customers or taking money from the till.

There she was, her smile cocked like a loaded pistol, her foot wiggling seductively down at the end of a gorgeous gam, and she’s wondering.

“Is that it, honey, are you just looking for a good time?”

I knew the dangers, the pitfalls, but she could read it in my eyes like I had newsprint and headlines on my eyeballs: “Harry Mannilow is looking for a good time.” When wasn’t I looking for a good time? And if I got into trouble there was always my best pal, a palooka who wasn’t too smart, but loyal as a sheepdog, who’d do anything I’d ask just so I’d be his friend.

“Hey, Harry, you want to go bowling? We ain’t been bowling for a long time? You used to be really good at it, Harry, always bowling over one-fifty. That’s pretty good. And they got those good coney dogs over at the bowling alley. We could get some coney dogs and have a couple of beers and bowl a few games. How’s that sound, Harry?”

“What’s wrong with you, Bunny? Can’t you see I’m talking to this lady?”

“Oh, geeze. Sorry Harry. I didn’t see you talking to her. I come into the bar and see you sitting here and I’m thinking I hadn’t seen you for a while, and maybe . . .”

“Tell the nice lady hello, Bunny.”

“Hi there. My name is Bunny. They call me that on account of my ears. Like Bugs Bunny. What’s your name?”

“What a coincidence, my name is Bunny also. My real name is Bernita, but an old boyfriend called me Bunny because he said I had a fluffy tail, and the name stuck. Isn’t it funny? Here we are, two Bunnys.”

There they were, the two of them, rabbits from the same warren, not a carrot of intelligence between them, laughing it up as if they were having a good time, and Bunny, my pal, hadn’t even looked at her legs or stared into those front page eyes of hers or taken in her scent of whiskey and mary jane that clung to her like a stormy cloud.

So the two of them are laughing about their names, as if it’s the funniest joke in the cosmos and she says to me, “I know a thousand guys named Harry. I only know one guy named Bunny.”

Right then it hit me. She was right. There was a Harry on every street corner, in every bar, in every jail, and in every place where a guy like me, a guy named Harry, would go looking for a good time. And suddenly I felt like the dummy, sitting there with a Bunny on each side of me and it wasn’t even Easter. It was a cosmic joke.

Then she put her hand on my knee, and I noticed the color of her nail polish. Gray. There was something about it, the absurdity of having gray nail polish, the most in-between color in the universe, the one color that says nothing much is going on, and I fell for her like a jet’s mid-air release of toilet waste.

“I don’t want to go bowling, Bunny,” I said to my pal. “Me and the lady are going dancing.”

“Oh, sure, sure, Harry. I didn’t mean to intrude. I just thought, well maybe another time. Maybe Bunny can go bowling with us sometime.”

When fate steps in you better have your eyes open.

A little man was pulling on my pants cuff. “Hey, buddy, can you spare a pair of socks for a down and outer?”

You can’t call them midgets anymore. It’s not politically correct. It got me to thinking.

“Hey buddy, are you going to give me your socks, or not?”

He was looking up at me, like a little kid wearing an adult’s mask, and trick or treating for clothes. But he was like all the other little people I had run into in the streets, scrambling for handouts, because no matter how politically correct everyone was, few people would give a little person a decent break. You can change the name from midget to little person, but the truth is they’re still small, and smallness makes people nervous.

I laughed, nervously. “You want my socks?”

“You got other socks at home, don’t you? I bet you have a whole drawer full of ’em. I bet you put on fresh socks every time you go out.

The lady Bunny reached down and patted his head. “Isn’t he cute?”

“Look toots, you lay a greasy palm on me again and I’ll yank you from that perch like a pigeon knocked from a hot electric wire. I ain’t cute, got it? Cute is what babies and kittens are, and you can pat them on the head all you want, but I don’t need your condescending head-patting bullshit, and telling me I’m cute like I was a Munchkin from the land of Oz. I just came in here to get a pair of socks, and sister, if your boyfriend here can’t give me his socks nicely I’ll just have to take them from him.”

I was never the kind of guy to give the shirt off my back or the socks off my feet, no matter how little the person was.

“So what do you say, buddy, do I get the socks or not?”

The dame looked at me expectantly like I was Santa Claus and fresh off the boat from the North Pole.

“Go ahead, Harry, give him your socks. You got other socks, don’t you?” she said.

I had plenty of socks, drawers and boxes full of them, some I’d never even wore, but as I said, I’ve never been the giving kind.

“Oh, Harry, do this for me, will ya?” she said.

She was a broad I had met ten minutes before and now she was wanting me to give the socks off my feet and she was pouting like a kewpie doll, and in a flash my mean streak started and I wanted to punch her in the kisser, just like a dame like that deserves, but instead I untied my shoes and gave the little person my socks. That’s when she kissed me, not a little peck on the cheek, but a full tongue-in-the-mouth kiss, that French style some guys are crazy about, but her tongue tasted like pickled herring and I never liked the French, and if you’ve been to France like I have, you’d know why. I knew I’d made a mistake.

He hadn’t even gotten his little shoes off when I gagged out Bunny’s fishy tongue, grabbed the socks from the little person’s hands and looked at my pal, Bunny and said, “I can’t go bowling without socks.”

Then she scratched me, her gray fingernails trailing across my stubbled face, drawing blood quicker than a phlebotomist on amphetamines.

“You’re a big ol’ meanie,” she hissed.

In less time than it takes to bake a cake, I’d fallen in love, fallen out of love, and lost the only girl that had meant anything to me in the past twenty-four hours.

“You can’t give me socks and then take them back. They’re mine,” the little guy said.

That’s when I shoved him with my foot.

“Oh, you’re a super-duper big fat meanie,” the dame said to me as she went to the little person’s side as he scrambled up from the floor like a broken wind-up toy.”

“Harry, I can’t believe you kicked a midget,” my pal said.

“Bunny, he’s a little person, not a midget,” I said.

“But Harry, it’s just not right.”

The little person charged me, and if I hadn’t been trying to figure out why my pal was being critical, I probably would have stayed on the bar stool instead of falling backward into a guy named Bruno.

“Bruno don’t like to be jostled,” he told me as he grabbed me and held me in a double nelson and whispered in my ear, “Bruno’s been watchin’ you and you ain’t a very nice guy. Now give the little guy his socks and get outta here before Bruno gets really mad, and Bruno can tell you, Bruno isn’t pretty when he’s mad.”

Earlier I had seen Bruno, just like one of the endless faces that pass in and pass out of the drunken and smokey haze of a bar. I noticed he was tall, like he was two guys, one standing on the shoulders of the other, and I had to admit, and don’t get me wrong, he was the prettiest giant I’d ever seen. Bruno had a gorgeous face like the picture of Angel Gabriel that my mother kept hung over my bed until I found out at age fifteen, Gabriel wasn’t a dame. I realized I’d been having sexual fantasies about a guy with blonde curls and wings and blowing a big horn with the look of euphoric lust in his eyes.

Then the dame spoke up. “Give him the big socks you meanie.”

“Yeah, Harry, give the little guy the socks, “ my pal said.

I only had a ninth grade education, and I’m not very good at math, but I could always tell when I was outnumbered. But if I knew then, what I know now, I don’t think I would have held on to those socks as if they were made of gold and had diamonds sewn on. No, in thinking back on the resulting consequences I should have given the little person the socks.

I didn’t see Bruno’s big meaty knuckles coming at my head until it was too late.


It was a hot, dirty little room above the bar, and everyone and everything in it dripping with malice. It was no place to spend a Saturday night tied spread eagle and bare-ass naked to a oily, ripped and blood stained mattress on a rickety bed.

“You understand why this has got to happen to you, don’t you Harry?” my pal said.

“Don’t talk to me Bunny. Don’t ever talk to me. We ain’t pals no more. You got it Bunny? You and me. Strangers,” I said.

“Aw, Harry don’t be sore with me.”

Bunny was the only person I ever heard of that nearly drowned as a kid while playing in the water shooting out of a fire hydrant down on thirty-third avenue. He stood in front of the fire hydrant with his mouth opened and didn’t know enough to keep his trap shut.

“Hey Harry, remember that time we snuck into the precinct office and opened the cops’ lockers then snuck out again? Remember that, Harry? We sure would have liked to see their faces. It was a good time, huh, Harry? A real good time.”

That was my life, one good time after another, stung together like cheap pearls. My life was a used car lot full of junk-heaps. What did I have to show for it? A broken television set, a three-legged cat, and a set of corning ware worth twenty-three bucks. Good times.

Then my pal unscrewed the lid on a jar of peanut butter and smeared it on my face.

“Don’t hold this against me, but you ain’t a nice guy, Harry,” he said, as he took the lid off a shoebox and turned the box over on my face. The rat inside the box was hungry, and it didn’t care where the peanut butter ended and my skin began. I could feel pieces of my flesh being torn away by the rat’s sharp teeth, one bite at a time. No amount of me thrashing my head back and forth threw the rat from my face as it gripped into me with its needle sharp claws. When my pal lifted the rat from my face its mouth was full of my lower lip.

Then, there he was, the little person, next in line, my socks dangling from his hands. And next to him, Bruno, taller and prettier than Lana Turner, and staring at me like I was next week’s roadkill.

“I never saw a guy kick a midget before,” Bruno said.

“I ain’t a midget. At least this jerk is is politically correct, you jerk,” he said to Bruno.

“Watch who you’re calling names. Bruno don’t like to be called names,” Bruno said.

“Go kiss the front end of a moving locomotive,” the little person said.

Bruno pushed the little person backwards sending him falling on his ass.

You ever been in a place, a stinky, noisy place, and like magic you don’t hear, smell or see any of it? This was one of those moments. I was back in my mother’s kitchen when I was a kid and there she was at the stove stirring a pot of red hot chili, and humming some song from an early Fred and Ginger movie and weeping big fat tears.

The little person bit Bruno on his buttocks.

My pal said, “Man, Harry are you watching this? You got to watch this, Harry. It’s like David and Gomorrah.”

I wanted to correct him but part of my tongue had been chewed away by the rat.

I could barely see what the little person was doing at my outstretched foot, but I could see the razor blade in his hand.

“Now you’ll really need to hold onto your socks,” he said, then slid the razor blade under my toenail and slowly sliced down, severing the nail from the toe. Crying out did little good. By the time he reached my middle toe, I had passed out.

When I opened my eyes, Bruno was standing beside the bed. “Bruno don’t like you,” he said.

“Do it,” the little person said to Bruno.

“You don’t listen so good,” Bruno said to me. “Bruno clear your ears out.” He struck a match and inserted it one ear, and as soon as the flame went out, he inserted another. I’m not sure in what hell he learned this form of torture but I would have given him my mother for his sexual gratification to make him stop.

You ever cried so much from pain that it’s like you have your head ducked in water?

The throbbing pain in my ears muffled her voice but I heard Bunny’s every word. “Harry, I know you think I’m just another cluck, a bar stool bimbo with a dime-a-dance love life and working for whistles and pinches every Saturday night. It’s what you think of all dames, all us broads, all us babes and cutie-pies, dumb clucks. It ain’t nothing new, Harry. Nothing new at all.”

She held up a pair of scissors and opened them, then snapped them closed in front of my eyes.

“You’re the dumb cluck. You ain’t so smart, because if you were you’d stop looking so damn hard for that one special dame for a good time. But us broads, Harry, us dumb clucks, all we have to do is sit on a bar stool and good times come to us, while you Harry, have to look pretty damned hard to find a good time.”

Then she snipped off the head of my dick with the scissors.

Steve Carr began his writing career as a military journalist and has had short stories published in Midnight Circus Magazine, Double Feature, Tigershark Magazine, The Wagon Magazine, CultureCult Magazine, Fictive Dream, Bento Box, Ricky’s Back Yard, Visitant Literary Journal, The Drunken Llama, Sick Lit Magazine, Literally Stories, Noise Medium, Door is a Jar, Viewfinder, The Spotty Mirror, Communicators League, Jakob’s Horror Box, and in the Dystopia/Utopia Anthology by Flame Tree Publishing, the 100 Voices Volume II anthology by Centum Press, the Winter’s Grasp and Waiting For a Kiss anthologies by Fantasia Divinity Magazine and the Neighbors anthology by Zimbell House Publishing, among others.
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The Man That Wasn’t There

By Armarna Forbes

Three sharp knocks banged on Lionel’s bedroom door.  His mother’s muffled voice sounded agitated on the other side.  “Lionel!  You promised you were going to take care of that mess outside yesterday!”

Startled, he yelled out a quick, “Just a minute!” before minimizing the photographs on his computer while sucking in his gut to force his zipper shut.  He shoved himself away from his desk and crossed his legs as Rose pushed the door open.

“Mom!  You can’t just… barge in like that!”

“Oh, I most certainly can!  Since you’ve not bothered to pay the rent you promised me when you got your job, I am well within my rights to enter any part of myhouse I damned well please.”

Lionel’s features darkened at the petite woman with the big voice.  Her breath stank of booze and cigarettes.  “I’m not a kid anymore, Ma.”

“Never a truer word spoken!  I’m not sure if you realize that children should not be living with their parents at your age.  You’re almost forty, for Christ’s sake.  How much longer are you gonna stay here and not do the chores you promised me you’d do…”  The woman’s frail hands drew quotes in the air.  “To ‘earn your keep’?”

He lowered his face.  “I do stuff for you.”

“Not much,” she snorted.  “Hell, your job isn’t even full time.  The rest of the time you’re in here.  On that.”  A gnarled, tobacco-stained finger pointed at Lionel’s computer.

Lionel’s hands rested on his lap, his shoulders slumped while his eyes glazed.  Rose continued her verbal assault much like she always had.  She brought up how he’d never amount to anything, just like his deadbeat father, Harold.  How he was a slob.  How he was too fat to ever attract anyone, female or male.  Her maddening murmuring hummed in his mind as he nodded, keeping his eyes glued to the floor.  He knew the routine.  Eventually she’d tire herself out and retire downstairs to drink her scotch, watch her soaps, and pass out on the grimy velour couch, snoring.

“Are you even listening to me?”

Lionel snapped his head up.  “Yeah, Ma.  I’m listening.”

For a brief moment, Lionel thought he detected something in Rose’s cloudy eyes.  Sadness, perhaps?  Pity?  Whatever it was disappeared as quickly as it revealed itself.  She threw her hands up in the air, defeated, and let out a nicotine tainted sigh.  “Christ.  A part-time security guard is the very best you could ever hope for.  I guess in your tiny little mind, you have reached the peak of your life.  The very tippy-top of a shit stained mountain.”

She turned her back on him, only to pause at the threshold of his bedroom.  A  hint of resentment coated her voice.  “I’m just… I’m just glad your father isn’t around to see that you’ll never amount to a damned thing.”  As she walked out, she added, “Don’t forget about that mess in the yard before you go to work tonight.  It best not be there tomorrow morning.”

He listened to her creak cautiously down the stairs.  The cold stab of her words hit Lionel in the chest.  A person would never guess the woman was named after a beautiful, innocent flower after hearing her blather on with her goddamned, self-important, loud fucking mouth.

His limp hands balled up slowly into tight, meaty fists.


Ten minutes later, Lionel tromped downstairs with his gym bag, haphazardly dressed in his security uniform.  He plodded down the hallway toward the back door, his inner thighs chafing on the cheap polyester slacks.  As he passed the living room archway, he closed his eyes, hoping that the woman had passed out.  A second thought quickly crowded that one out.  Maybe she finally died?  A smirk crept onto his face.  He opened his eyes to peer into the dim living room.

An ember glowed at the end of the cigarette hanging from the old woman’s sallow lips.  The television bounced light through the smoke, highlighting the crevices and valleys etched into her features.  The cataract opacity of her eyes met his.  She squinted, her lips pulling away from her dentures into a snarl.  “What the hell are you grinning about?  Get your ass in gear and get that yard cleaned up!”

Lionel’s smirk melted into dismay.  He stomped through the kitchen and out the back door, slamming it shut behind him.  Leaning his bulk up against the door, he stood on the stoop, letting the rancid breath confined in his lungs escape.  She wouldn’t be bothering him while he was out here.  Not when he was completing manual labor for her, and with the amount of alcohol flowing through her, he knew that her body had nearly given out for the night.

The inside of the house was quiet.  Lionel stared up at the dimming sky.  He could make out storm clouds forming; dark gray against the twilight.  He took a deep breath, dropped his bag on the stoop, and focused his energy–his anger–on the debris littering the back yard.  After just a few minutes, sweat began to bead and roll off of his forehead, soaking his shirt.  He powered through the work, pacing back and forth like a machine, chucking armfuls of loose shingles and rotting wood into the alley.

After forming a messy pile for the garbage truck, he looked down at his security uniform.  It was damper than usual.  He stood on the back stoop, debating if going back into the house to change was worth the risk of waking the wretched woman.  Aggravated, he bent down awkwardly and snatched up his gym bag.  He’d planned on taking his uniform off later, anyway, and had packed a spare.  Better to avoid her altogether.

Lionel needed release tonight.

He headed to the garage, admiring his lax clean-up efforts as he went, when he heard a whine.  He stopped and looked toward the dilapidated fence at the edge of the yard.  A small dog, white fur matted and filthy, peered between the broken pickets.  When the dog noticed Lionel looking in his direction, his short tail wagged timidly.

“Ah, what a cute little guy you are!”

The speed of the wag increased and thumped against the fence.

Lionel walked gingerly over to the dog, one arm outstretched while the other began to unzip the gym bag slung on his shoulder.  His voice took on a sickly sweet tone.  “What a good boy!”

The dog’s tail accelerated, his excitement saturating his body as he wiggled on the other side.  The dog began to talk in little whimpers and barks as Lionel reached over and patted him on the head.

“Good boy… what a good boy…”

The dog panted happily as Lionel cooed and scratched behind his ear.  His other hand fished around in his open bag until he felt the canvas of the sheath and used his thumb to unsnap it.  With one quick motion, he pulled the knife out, catching hold of the dog’s ear, and cut it off.

The dog yelped, blood streaming into his fur, and took off running down the alley.  Lionel sneered and tossed the severed ear over the fence.  Unbuttoning the front of his uniform, he wiped his hunting knife off on his sweat-soaked undershirt.

“Fucking strays.”

He continued to the garage and shoved his bag into the open passenger window of the beat-up SUV.  It missed the seat, spilling its contents onto the floor of the cab.  He cussed, threw the vehicle door open, and gathered up the odds and ends.  Some industrial strength trash bags.  The spare dingy undershirt.  A portable camp shower that had a lingering moldy smell.  His hunting knife and sheath.  Once the items were back in the bag, he hastily zipped it shut and slammed the SUV door.


A dull, wet thud sounded in the factory basement as Lionel’s knuckles connected with the target’s jaw, quieting his sniveling.  Speaker wire cut into the naked flesh of the target’s arms and legs, binding him tightly to the chair he slouched in.  Now dazed, his eyes rolled up into his skull as the tears ceased.  His head flopped from side to side like a bloodied bobblehead ornament.

Lionel paused, narrowed his eyes, and slapped the target hard across the face.  It was important he stay awake.  It was much more enjoyable when they were conscious.

The sting of the slap shocked the target.  He blinked through new tears and croaked, “Why?”

Lionel said nothing.  As the target watched from the chair, Lionel turned his hands over and inspected his raw knuckles under the basement’s single light bulb that hung from the metal support beam by a cord.  The target’s face morphed from sorrow and despair to unbridled anger.  He gritted his teeth in response to the silence.  “Tell me why you’re doing this!”

The outburst was greeted with a grim smile.  Still grinning, Lionel turned from the target to the table behind him.  Weapons and tools were organized on the steel surface with care; some clean and surgical, others barbaric.  The new hunting knife had found a home in the space near a claw hammer.  Lionel ran a thick finger over each one, hesitating at a rusty hand scythe.  He caressed it briefly before picking it up.  Feeling the weight of it in his hand, he turned his attention back to his victim.

The target’s gaze fixed upon the scythe.  A slobbery whimper bubbled from his lips, his eyes growing larger as muffled words gurgled through the blood that filled his mouth.  “What do you want?  I’ll give you whatever you want… please.  Please, just let me go.”

“I gain nothing by letting you go.”

“But… what did I do?”

Lionel took a few steps closer to the man, savoring the look of terror reflected in his victim’s eyes. “Nothing.”

The target choked on a sob as Lionel drew closer.  “I have kids… a newborn baby girl… please!  Please tell me why you’re doing this to me!”

The scythe still held in his grasp, Lionel braced his hands on his knees and squatted his large frame in front of his victim.  His dark brown eyes lined up with the terror-filled hazel ones.

“Because I can.”


Lionel tortured the man for another hour, taking numerous photographs of his victim’s slow demise.  He had done the same with the previous eight, creating a morbid photo history of each death.  Every severed finger.  Every flayed bit of skin.  Everything was documented.  When the defeated victim took their last breath, Lionel was there.  Those final moments of life, captured by his camera, always made him achieve the best climax.

A closet at the bottom of the basement stairs held his camera and precious digital images.  He carefully put his camera away and grabbed the industrial strength trash bags from the same shelf before beginning the task of disposing of the body.  He worked hard, much harder than when he had cleaned up Rose’s yard, his breathing becoming more and more labored as he pulled and stuffed the pieces of flesh into four bags before tying them off into manageable portions.

Once he had finished, he sat on the concrete floor to catch his breath.  He tore his undershirt off and used it to mop the sweat from his brow, ignoring the fresh human stains that mingled abstractly with the dog’s dried blood.  He leaned back to rest against the wall and draped the damp cotton over his eyes.  After a few minutes, his deep breaths became more shallow.  He relaxed.

That’s when he thought he heard a growl.

Lionel tugged his shirt from his face.  He looked around the small room, squinting in the faint light.  The weak bulb hanging overhead barely encroached on the darkness surrounding him.  Nothing stirred, but he knew that the abandoned factory had often served as shelter for whatever mutt, rodent, or wildlife managed to find its way passed the padlocked doors.

“Fucking strays,” he said again, tossing his torn shirt on top of one of the closed bags.

He struggled to maneuver his legs beneath his girth, finally resorting to propping himself up by an arm to kneel.  As he took a moment, readying himself to lunge into a standing position, he heard another growl.

This time, Lionel could tell that the sound had originated from within the room.  He peered into the blackness that shrouded the far corner, his eyes scanning for movement.  A shape emerged, camouflaged within the shadows.  A dark outline with two glimmering golden orbs returned his gaze.

The outline growled.  It was a very large wolf, and it was watching him.

Lionel heaved himself up and onto his feet, hitting his head on the overhead bulb in the process.  He hastily seized the base of the bulb and pulled the cord taut, aiming it at the corner.  The darkness illuminated, revealing cold concrete and empty space.  Whatever he thought he had seen was erased by the light.

Eyebrows furrowed, he stood and stared at the walls of cinder blocks, dumbfounded.  He sighed and released the bulb from his grasp.  It swung back and forth by its cord like a pendulum, lighting and relighting the corner.  On every swing away, the wolf he had observed returned, its eyes shining brightly in the dark.  On every swing forward, it vanished.

He bent down, his hands frantically searching through his security uniform crumpled on the floor.  He grabbed the maglite strapped to his belt, turned it on, and pointed.  The flashlight created a halo, brightening the fissures and cloaked corners of the basement.

No outline.  No shadow.  No wolf.

But he heard it.  A deep, low growl full of rage.  It sounded closer.

He turned the maglite off.  The black wolf, now only a few feet from Lionel, was just beyond the reach of the overhead light bulb.  It snarled and revealed large white fangs.  Startled, Lionel jumped back and slipped on his victim’s blood that still coated the concrete floor.  He fell heavily onto his back, his ankle screaming.

As he scrambled to sit upright, he saw the wolf move toward him.  Lionel froze.  The animal crossed the boundary of light, disappearing as it went.  First its front paws and head, then the hackles along its spine, until only its tail, floating in the dimness, remained.  Another growl echoed in Lionel’s ears as the tail dissolved in the light.

But he knew the wolf was there.  Lionel could hear it, edging ever closer, until he could feel its hot phantom breath on his cheek.

Panic caused him to regain his senses.  He attempted to get his legs beneath him again, but his ankle cried out in protest, forcing him back to the floor.  His rotund form rolled about helplessly until a sudden pain shot through the right side of his head.  Instinctively, he grabbed at his ear.

His ear was gone.  He pulled his hand away, looking at it.  In disbelief, he reached back, feeling around where his ear had been.  Only a hole remained.  He held his hand in front of him, examining his outstretched fingers.  There was no blood, only the same calloused hands he’d always known.

Jaws clamped down on his index finger.  Lionel screamed as his finger was torn from his hand, and between his blubbering, he could hear it being chewed up and swallowed.  He shrieked and yanked his hand away from the unseen assailant.  The digit was gone, but there wasn’t the typical gore that Lionel was used to when a limb was severed.  There was nothing at all.

Then another jarring pain from his ankle.  Lionel looked down at his leg being invisibly devoured.  As each bite was taken, he could see that the remaining skin was perfectly healed; a clean stump growing shorter and shorter.

It was as if he had never had his finger or leg in the first place.

It was as if they had been a figment of his imagination.


Harold and Rose sat downstairs on the old velour couch, watching one of Rose’s beloved soaps.

Harold studied his wife’s forlorn face. “What’s on your mind, my dear.”

She glanced upstairs toward the guest bedroom.  “Oh, nothing.”

“Rose,” he said, her shriveled hands on his own sunspotted ones.  “We’ve been together for a long, long time.  I know when something’s bothering you.  Now, tell me, what’s is it?”

“Well, I was just thinking… do you think we made the right decision?  Us not having children?”

“A little late for that now, isn’t it?  Unless you’re feeling a bit frisky.”

Rose laughed and playfully slapped the back of one of Harold’s hands.  “Oh, you old rascal!  I wasn’t saying two old fuddy-duddies like us should be having children at our age.  I was just wondering if maybe…” her voice trailed off in thought.

“We missed out?”

“Yes.  That we missed out.”

Rubbing his beard, Harold pondered on this for a moment.  “No… I don’t believe we did.”  He cupped her face, etched with wisdom and experience, in his hands.  “We’ve had a very full and wonderful life.  Are you sad we didn’t choose that path?”


Harold chuckled and leaned forward to kiss his wife’s forehead.  “All water under the bridge now.  No real use wondering what might’ve been.  Besides, who knows what kind of child we would’ve had?  Could have been a Nobel Prize winner, sure.  Also could’ve been a serial killer, for all we know.”

“Oh, Harold, you’re terrible!”

Harold reclined back into the comfortable couch and Rose rested her head on his shoulder, her hands intertwined with his.  They closed their eyes, the soap opera’s laugh track murmuring in the background.

“You never know, Rose.  There’s just some people that should never exist.”

Armarna Forbes is an American writer living in Scotland.  Her genre of choice is typically horror.  You can often find her procrastinating on social media, posting musings or photos of fluffy animals rather than writing the next chapter of her upcoming Young Adult Urban Fantasy Americana series.




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The Last Rebirth

By Sandor Kovacs

The molecules of its brain get assembled first. The primitive piece of flesh floats inside a skull filled with boiling liquid. Bones lay in perfect order. It cannot feel the heat, though, as the receptors are not yet active. But then, the cells began to form an infinite network, a net that is more complicated than anything living in this world, and the first thought gets created.

Am I alive?

It doesn’t know what eyes, nose, ears are. How could one comprehend the surroundings without senses? Like branches, the empty tubes called veins spread, but not upwards like on a tree. They fill out space, criss-crossing everywhere, shaping organs inside a cover of bloody tissue. When it tries to inhale driven by the first instinct, the boiling liquid burns through its not yet ready intestines.

Who am I?

It must be someone. It must have a brain if it can think. But how can one determine who one is without memories? How can one know love or hate without the puzzles fitting together? A strange name echoes in him. Enerymus. Yes, once he was

Enerymus the Great, Enerymus the Cruel.

Where am I?

The liquid is getting sucked up through his pores, composing his muscles beneath the sheet of skin and filling him up like water fills a balloon. He can’t spread his legs or arms because the shape that surrounds him blocks the way. Enerymus imagines it as a sphere, but it’s not perfect. Its sides are wide, and the bottom of it is flat. A cauldron.

What is my purpose?

Enerymus finds the open top of the cauldron and grabs the edge. The joints in his fingers crunch like snapping twigs. His body fluids are getting constructed out of water: saliva, snot and semen.

His head emerges, steaming. Enerymus waits patiently for the eyeballs to form in his empty eye sockets. The boiling mixture reaches up to his waist now that he stands. The damp, cold air in the hut makes him shiver, but he grins as the pain slowly evaporates. No heat or cold can harm him anymore.

Through his first deep inhalation, he tries to identify the ingredients used for his reviving potion. He can smell perfume, ginger, plum, fox urine, newspapers, dragon grass, vulture claws and a human’s heart. All of them are correct, and his nose works as it should.

‘Enerymus,’ says a sobbing woman. The shadows of the fire dance on her face.

Enerymus notices the hole above his head, where the smoke and steam leaves the small hut, and enjoys the raindrops landing on his new skin. ‘Mother,’ he says, still looking up. ‘Fetch my robe, Mother.’

‘Yes, my Lord Son.’ She turns and grabs a long, black robe hanging on a vintage coat stand.

Enerymus steps out of the cauldron and gets dressed. ‘How long have I been gone, Mother?’

‘Almost a year.’

Enerymus closes his eyes. ‘One year. One year wasted. Rotting, eaten by worms.’

‘It was very difficult to get your remains back this time. The humans know that I can resurrect you. They heavily guarded your corpse in a place where magic couldn’t be used.’

‘My sweet Mother, you are one of the greatest witches of all time. If even you fail to accomplish a task easy as this one, say, who should I trust then? If it does take a year to you, who should be worthy of my service?’

‘I didn’t mean to anger you.’

‘What has been done, been done. We will begin to prepare. Now.’

‘Dear Son, I wish to speak to you about something first.’

‘Very well. But keep it short. There is much to do.’

She hesitates. ‘Enerymus, I participated in the council. We’ve made a decision, and we don’t want to continue fighting.’

Enerymus stands still. The wood around them begins to creak, resonating with his rising anger. A flash of lightning brightens up their faces for a moment, followed by the rumbling thunder.

‘We are tired of the hatred and bloodshed. Please, consider­­–‘

‘What, my Mother? After all the cruelty humans did to our kind? Consider what? To live in the cold, the damp, hiding like cockroaches and worms? To forgive? To forget? Speak no more.’

‘If we don’t stop this war, there will be none of us left. We have chosen life. We possess magic, my Son. With magic, it is easy to hide. Easy to live.’

Enerymus grabs his mother’s throat and raises her into the air.

‘You are mocking me, you foolish witch. I’d rather die than lick the disgusting feet of humans. I’d rather die and remain dead than be a slaving dog. I’d rather die than hide with the cravens of my kind.’

‘Enerymus… Let me go,’ she says, choking. Her legs kick in the air.

‘This is how it would be, Mother. Choking. Life would choke us slowly, and yet you ask me to yield.’

She grabs his hands and tries to break free, but her son is strong, his grip is firm. Blue, circling light gathers at his fingertips.

‘Please, Enerymus. I love you. I’m your mother, and I’ve seen you dead a hundred times. I cannot watch you die again. Please, listen to me. Think it over.’

‘You won’t see me die again, my Mother.’ And with that, he closes his fingers around her neck, crushing skin, flesh and bone. Life tingles in her eyes for a few desperate heartbeats, making Enerymus feel disgusted. He lets his mother’s corpse fall, and he watches her for a minute, as her blood flows into the cracks of the floor, painting the wood red.

He walks out of the small hut and sniffs the cold air in the darkness. The smell of rain, pines and wet soil enters his nostrils. ‘What a beautiful night for war,’ he says and flies away.

Sandor Kovacs is a Hungarian writer, creating stories in the genres of horror, science fiction and fantasy. His work has been published on The Writer’s Notebook blog, on the short-story.me website and in Devolution Z. Sandor lives in London and enjoys reading, writing, listening, watching, and being. Learn more on sandor-kovacs.com.

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A Dark Tale by Aaron Hull

He was at his desk with his headphones on, watching something loud and hard, so he didn’t hear her come up the stairs. Didn’t hear the click of the safety disengage. Didn’t hear the wrap of knuckles on wood, or turn to see the shadow under the door. So when the blast filled the room and the door behind him shattered, he believed—for an instant—that there’d been an explosion outside, out on the street, and he looked up from the screen, down through the window, expecting to see smoke.

Instead he smelled it. Gunpowder.

He looked left, and he saw the hole high in the wall, the plaster crumbling down to the floor. Turned right, saw the splintered maw chest-height through the door, the hallway light bleeding through. A haze of smoke riding ceiling-ward, as though a dragon sat the other side.

She had one shot left, he knew, and he knew she would use it. The first had just been a warning. She would make herself heard, she’d said. If he chose not to listen she would find a way to make him listen. She was reasonable, the things she had to say were reasonable things to say to a person, but if he refused reason then she would find a language he understood.

He dropped to the floor, pressed his belly to it, tried to make himself flatter than he was. Listened for movement past the door as he executed several log rolls across the carpet, like a man on fire. He thought he had told her about the piece he kept stowed in a drawer in the study. If she remembered it she would be expecting him to use it, and she was perhaps waiting to see if he would make for it and return fire.

He was, and he would. Though it was possible she had not remembered, for he had mentioned it only in passing when she’d allowed that the shotgun was a terribly big gun, perhaps more than a woman her size could handle, and he’d said he kept something smaller upstairs but that she should not be frightened by its size but grow to love it. Which is when she’d smiled and pressed the barrel into his belly and cocked an eyebrow and through pouted lips said, Boom. Which had made her irresistible, so that for a moment he forgot about the others, taking the gun from her hands and her into his own and felt himself stiffen to her body.

Why he kept it in the top drawer rather than the bottom he couldn’t say now, and he cursed himself for it as he lay hunkered against the floor beside the dresser. Whatever scenario had played out in his head when he’d done so, it had not been this.

She had made no sound yet and he pictured her on the other side of the door, thinking perhaps she had hit him, but choosing cat-like to wait and listen in case he was still viable.

He had not shown her where he kept the box of shells behind a false panel under the gun and she was being conservative now and cautious. She was reasonable and rational and she was finally making herself heard. Meanwhile he needed to make himself silent as he reached for the drawer and eased it open and thanked himself for buying a new dresser with smooth, well-oiled runners.

The important thing was to not tip your hand. But people wanted to know things, and you wanted to believe it good for them to know, so you allowed yourself to tell them. Just as you shared other things with them—investment tips, thoughts on politics, all the shit you’d done in your past of which you were no longer proud. Stories of the many lovers you had had in the years before you met. When asked, what you really thought of the girl passing on the street. The pass code to your lockbox and the combination to the cabinet where, months ago—because she expressed interest, and because you thought it was good that she know how to defend herself in the event you were not around—you showed her where you kept the twelve-gauge. Which you removed and demonstrated how to load and how the safety worked and to hold it like this, with your feet planted so, not like that—the kickback would bruise your shoulder and knock you to the ground. Things that then seemed like good, sensible, useful things to share with her, but which in retrospect may not have been.

As in cards, so in life. Wise to always keep something under the table in the event that things did not go as planned and turned against you.

Don’t ever turn your back on a man with a gun, his father had told him.

They’d stood around the table in the Number 10 Saloon where Wild Bill Hickok had sat playing poker when someone put a bullet in him. Wild Bill’s chair sat in a recessed cubby hole over the bar, like a shrine, and his hand of cards—the Dead Man’s Hand—lay fanned on the table. He’d stood looking at the cards. His father had said to always keep your back to the wall in the event of things unforeseen, and then they’d grabbed stools at the bar and put their backs to the door and drank sarsaparillas. When he’d asked what about what you just said, his father nodded at their inverse selves in the mirror and said, What do you think that’s for?

So if you couldn’t see straight-ahead, second best was being able to see behind you without turning. Yet hindsight, like mirrors, distorted things, and it was best to be ready to face them head-on.

Some version of which he’d repeated for her as she’d fumbled a shell into each chamber and locked the barrel and clicked the safety off, then on, and repeated this, practicing her stance, seeming to pleasure in the gun’s surprising heft, the cold blue of the barrels, the firm handshake of the stock.

He dipped his hand into the drawer and felt around for his father’s old single-action. He kept it wrapped in a hand towel under a slim stack of worn magazines he kept facedown though he’d torn the covers from them. Some things you could not see coming. The revolver lay just to the right of where his hand anticipated it, and as he lifted it from the drawer and unwrapped it, and his fingers touched cold steel, he thought he could sense her breathing through the wall. Her ear pressed to it, listening. His own breathing he knew must fill the room, though he could not hear it past his heart and the wash of blood past his eardrums.

He tried to still himself the better to hear, lowered himself again onto his gut, felt the floor punch him in the chest. Except it was his heart throwing itself against the floor, trying to break out. A remarkable muscle, like a coiled bicep excised and installed just under of his throat. Soon it would switch course and turn south and search out another route.

A floorboard the other side of the wall groaned and he pressed the gun’s stock to the place between his eyes, felt it there like an icepack. He shaped his mouth into an O, emptied his lungs. He had six rounds to her one—good odds by any measure. But in her state what would take her one might take him three, four—perhaps a full six to bring her down.

Then there was the berth. He looked at the ruined door, the splintered wood like a hand thrust through it pointing out the slug buried in the wall. A person could survive multiple gunshots, they could dig the slugs from your flesh and tie off your frayed arteries and patch you up. You could go on with a normal life. You heard of such things. You never heard of walking off a shotgun blast. A severed spine if you were lucky. You might wheel away from it. Take your food through a straw.

Still, the odds might favor him. Even if he had to squeeze off three, that didn’t bode well for her, and she knew it. That’s why she was waiting. Well, let her wait. She would come down from wherever she was soon enough, and then he might reason with her on his terms.

He looked at the chair. Imagined its back caved in, shards of it embedded in him. Saw the Dead Man’s chair in its little cave in the wall. Here was not a case where a mirror could help you much nor even to face the door. Here was something you couldn’t see coming no matter where you put yourself. That was not a thing his father had ever talked about, possibly hadn’t considered. This was a new thing.

Not that he’d spent much time on it himself, but at least he’d been wise enough not to show her the extra shells. Never tip your hand.

Was there an answer here that didn’t involve him shooting his way out of it? They’d talked plenty and what more was there to say? It would just be her yelling as always, him trying to defend himself with what little he had. All of which she’d anticipate before it was out and which she’d already have disarmed. She was too smart for anyone’s good, least of all her own. She’d done one year at the Academy, had a detective’s mind, a way of rooting things out and knowing your next move. She was a natural gambler and if she were not so disgusted by his own habits she’d make a brilliant card player.

No, a shootout was what she wanted, what she’d been after for some time, hounding and threatening and trying to bait him. It was what she’d come up for, why she’d aimed high, why his head was still on his shoulders while the bullet had almost pierced the ceiling.

Well, fine, a shootout is what she would get.

He drew his thumb down over the hammer. Its sound in that still moment was like a deck of cards poorly shuffled. Something off. You played long enough, you knew what it should sound like. Knew when something was missing.

He heard her now, at last. Heard her feet come quick down the hall. Saw her pale fist slide through the ragged hole in the door. Watched the shells spill from it in quick succession, counted them out—one, two, three, four, five, six. Heard them ring off the floor like an alarm. Watched them bounce and roll and hum in slow revolutions.

He lowered the hammer and drew his thumb back and flipped out the cylinder. Stared down at the floor spinning through the chambers. Like peering through a kaleidoscope.

He looked up. Saw the fist gone. Heard her footsteps—hard and fast over the floor—coming for him. He’d given her all the ammunition she needed.

Aaron Hull writes and lives west of the Mississippi.

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