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A Joyous Halloween!
and welcome! welcome! to the inaugural issue of Beorh Quarterly!
In this first issue you will read, if you have a mind to, the American Civil War horror called, aptly, “The Lords of Chickamauga” by Hollywood writer Ron Yungul.
“Adam’s Reach” by Jim Clinch follows.
“The Halloween Thieves” and “The Creepy Old House Up On Waterstone Street” by Scathe meic Beorh come next.
Then comes “The Pagans” by Ben Thomas, a one-time featured author in Weird Tales and EIC of defunct The Willows Magazine
“Halloween, 2032” by Angel Zapata adds yet another wonderful tale to the ever-growing ‘Halloween Story’ collection.
“Asteroid” by John Grey rounds out this first exciting issue.
a story by
They were aliens. What we might call robots or cyborgs. Manufactured at the cellular level and sent to explore. She was called Mary Jones. Research showed that was a common American name. They had Patels and Gomezes and Kims in other parts of Earth, but in Hayesville, Georgia, the name Jones was deemed appropriately average.
The three of them had recently arrived to begin their mission. They were to gather data, observe and interact with the indigenous life. It was simple scientific research: integrate with the locals, compile the knowledge gained and add it to the great galactic library.
Except that now her “son” seemed to be acting in ways that were outside of his performance matrix.
John was built to look sixteen. He was designed as a teenager because even a superior alien robot race was having trouble understanding teenagers. Evidence suggested this might be a universal constant.
John’s problem was his “dad,” Bill Jones. Lots of kids had problems with their father, but this was different. Bill died, or something mechanically equivalent. This was rare. Sure, there were losses from wars, accidents, asteroid strikes, novas and such, but only 0.000000023 percent of these bionic researchers ever failed. The alien machines that made these human replicas had an exceptional quality assurance program.
Nevertheless, Bill Jones died and Mary and John stood his body up in the master bedroom closet and shut the louvered accordion door. Mary told John she would have to ask their superiors for instructions. Perhaps they would be asked to call a funeral home and research North American burial rituals? They were, after all, perfect human reproductions and were designed so any doctor or coroner would find nothing out of the ordinary unless they searched at the atomic level, which wasn’t likely. Still, he did fail. Even though he looked normal from the outside, Mary thought his breakdown could conceivably have done something odd to his insides. If some glitch had caused him to mimic Ebola or bubonic plague, for example, this could prove highly problematic should his body be examined by persons of authority.
It was immediately after standing Bill in the closet and while she was discussing the issue with John that Mary became aware of the anomaly in her “son.” He seemed not to react to her comments. North American verbal social cues, for which they were both programmed, elicited no spoken responses. All Mary got was a shrug, and a sort of grunt that indicated aural reception only. Her systems analyzed this in nanoseconds and produced the appropriate human-like response which was annoyance.
“Don’t you want to discuss this incident?” she asked.
“Whatever,” John replied.
“So, what does your daddy do?” the pretty girl asked. John’s experiential modeling told him the sound of her voice was pleasant. He liked it.
The girl was Natalie. They had several classes together. While the other teens tended to remain aloof from the “new kid,” she was friendly and often initiated interactions with him. She had a habit of placing her small hand on his arm or shoulder as they talked. He liked that, too.
“He’s an electrician. He works for a contractor over at the navy base in Brunswick,” John answered. He felt . . . what did he feel? Nervous? Self conscious?
“Oh,” she nodded. “That’s a long drive. He must be away a lot. My daddy’s away a lot, too.”
They were sitting in the school’s media center looking over algebra homework. She wore pink and John’s sensory receptors noted this. He concluded that, based on the spectrum of colors available to human vision and factoring in her complexion and hair, this color looked good on her. Her scent was of some undetermined tropical flower, perhaps ylang-ylang or frangipani. The human nose was an excellent sensory receptor, he noted. Their research had shown it was vastly under-appreciated by the species.
They had Social Studies last period. Their desks were near each other which, again, pleased John. He did not have a clear explanation as to why this was so. He also found he was thinking about his “dad” again. Perhaps this was because of Natalie’s question and his prearranged response, but perhaps not. Fifteen minutes and twelve seconds had elapsed since she had made the query back in the media center. So what does your daddy do? It was a colloquialism of the southern United States for humans, particularly females, to refer to their fathers as “daddy.” It was childish, in a way, but it suggested a level affection toward the paternal unit that was unusual in the universe. There appeared to be a very strong bond between parents and their offspring in this species. Very strong indeed.
Perhaps that is why I am having random thoughts about “dad,” John reasoned. Perhaps my construction was flawed in some way and I am generating anomalous human-like emotional responses. Was “dad” constructed with the same defect?
Natalie reached across the space between their desks and placed her hand on his arm. John felt a strange sensation when she did so, akin to a static electric discharge at the point of contact. It was not the first time this had happened when Natalie touched him. He realized the teacher was speaking to him. He had been daydreaming. Natalie was trying to help by getting his attention. Other students snickered.
The teacher shushed them and turned back to John. “As I was saying, John,” she smiled. “We are talking about Michael Angelo and the Sistine Chapel. You’ve seen this before, haven’t you?” She gestured at the image on the video screen. It was the iconic fourth panel of the ceiling known as “The Creation of Adam,” in which God is reaching out to touch Adam’s outstretched finger.
“Yes, ma’am,” John said.
“Can you tell us, what does that painting suggest to you, John?”
The machines that built him were very good at it. They had digested every bit of writing, every book, video, temple carving, play, song, personal email and text message from the human species. With that blueprint they made John Jones. They gave him the curiosity, the fears, the aspirations, the stubbornness, and every other trait of an average American sixteen-year-old male.
“Well,” he began. Capillaries in his face flushed with blood creating the appropriate reddening for a reticent teen forced to speak in front of a group. “It’s big. It’s meant to show something big. Big ideas. There’s God and man. Um, Adam?”
“Yes,” the teacher smiled encouragement. “The man is supposed to be Adam. Who was Adam in Western religions?”
“Um, he was the first person. The first human being. And, in the picture, God and him are kind of . . . kind of reaching out to each other.”
“Good!” she said. “Now then,” she addressed another student. “Why are they reaching out to touch each other?”
The class proceeded but John’s thoughts returned to his “dad.” They had thrown a ball back and forth in the yard, gone fishing, gone for hamburgers together. They had emulated the familial interactions typical of a father and son in this culture. Unless “dad” could be somehow repaired or remotely rebooted they would not be able to engage in these activities again. Ever. Something about the finality of that thought made John feel… ill? Not possible, John thought. He was research equipment. Equipment doesn’t feel sick.
He suddenly noticed his tear ducts activating. The bell saved him. Natalie tried to talk to him but he hurried away, out of the school and back home.
John stood in front of the open bedroom closet. He stared into the shadows at the broken equipment inside; the machine called “dad.” He stood there for most of an hour trying to process the situation. He did a self-diagnostic, trying to locate his malfunction. All he could determine was that there was a dull sensation in the region of his diaphragm.
“What’s wrong with me?” he said aloud to the empty house.
Mary came home from work and dropped her keys in the dish on the counter. She walked down the narrow hall to her bedroom. When she got there she saw the closet was open. John sat on the foot of the bed.
“What’s wrong?” she said.
“Everything,” John responded. She looked at him, perplexed.
“Are you malfunctioning?” she asked.
“I’m sick. I think I have what dad had.”
Mary took a step backward. She was designed with a human’s desire for self preservation.
“Any instructions yet?” John asked.
John looked from his “mom” to the darkened closet and back.
“Then we have to watch TV.”
Mary protested, but her “son” was adamant. They reviewed every second of “dad’s” time on Earth. A quantum recorder built on the molecular level need not look like an alien device. It can look like anything: a tree limb, a lamp post, a songbird. Each of them was being continuously recorded. It was part of the mission. Now, together and at high speed, they reviewed Bill Jones’ activities up until his death.
John froze the data stream. The image on their living room television, which had been nothing but a blur as they reviewed Bill’s every act at super high speed, was now frozen on a scene of Bill Jones driving his car to work on the day he died. John played it at human speed. The car was leaving town. It was raining. Bill slowed the car, then stopped. There was an accident in the road.
John switched to internal view. The TV showed what Bill had seen. They watched through Bill’s eyes as he left the car and ran forward. A pickup truck had just hit a bicycle. It was a small bicycle, mangled under the truck’s bumper. An image of the bike, then a quick pan back and forth, then a lock on the image of a small child in the wet grass. Bill ran to the child, turned him over, and the boy of about six started crying. Bill checked him all over and he appeared fine, but terrified and sobbing.
John switched back to remote view. The visual zoomed in from a distance. Other cars were stopping. The driver of the pickup, an older woman, stood by the driver’s door with her hand to her mouth. A man, Bill Jones, knelt over a crying child in the rain. The little boy sat up. He put his arms around Bill’s neck and hugged him.
The alien research unit called Bill Jones stood up with the little boy. He hugged him back. He stroked his head. The child cried and buried his face in the crook of Bill’s neck.
John froze the image. If any neighbor would have looked in the window they would have seen nothing more than a mother and her son watching TV in the early evening darkness.
John’s tear ducts activated again.
“It’s a virus,” Mary explained. “Or that’s the closest explanation, anyway. It infected the Bill unit when the human child touched him. He came home afterward and the incident created an internal loop. He could not erase it, could not stop internally processing it and it shut him down.”
“Paralyzed with fear,” the Project Manager said.
“A human expression,” the Manager explained.
“What about John?” asked the Assistant Project Manager.
“He would not leave,” Mary said. “He malfunctioned. Like Bill.”
“No,” the Project Manager corrected. “John did not shut down. I suspect his design, his ‘youth,’ made him more resilient and better able to survive the transition.”
“Transition?” the Assistant Manager inquired.
“Assimilation, actually. The virus, whatever it is, had a transformative effect.”
The Assistant Manager lamented. “More lost equipment.”
“He disengaged his link and his quantum recorder,” Mary explained. “He sent a final image.”
Together the three virtual entities viewed an image from a Social Studies textbook. It was the fourth panel of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
On a shady street in southern Georgia a boy and a girl walked someplace, holding hands. It was a remarkably unremarkable sight.
Jim Clinch is the author of the novel Canterbury’s Tale, a humorous mystery involving whiskey, cigars, and murder (available on Amazon and Kindle). He holds a BA in English, a MA in Management, and a poor opinion of both. Jim has worked as a musician, cop, newspaper reporter, corporate VP, and insurance agent with questionable success. He lives in Southwest Florida, and more can be found about him here.
The Halloween Thieves
a story by
Scathe meic Beorh
In anticipation of the ‘Holiday of Victory,’ finishing the three-part narrative begun at Christmas, I bought from J. Anselm, the local sutler, the finest pipe tobacco and Turkish coffee money can buy. Then from Mr. Collárd, the greengrocer, I selected a medium-sized pumpkin into which I carved (with the carving knife given me by my Uncle Ruskin, for which I gave him the obligatory penny so that our friendship would not be severed) the most horrific visage my imagination could produce. It was then that I went to the attic for a trunk full of old clothing, that I might be dressed not as a ‘Trick-or-Treat’ urchin, which I leave for the children, but rather as the lonesome vagabond on the earth known as ‘Jack-of-the-Lantern.’ From an archaic ironclad coffer, I drew a well-worn pair of greenish knee britches, a dun-colored waistcoat, and a red gingham shirt (quite faded by sweat and sun). There, I also found a leather knife belt that I again made supple with neatsfoot oil. I also took from the chest a threadbare pair of stockings wrapped in two leather thongs once used as garters (and I reused the leather accordingly). A bedraggled pair of straight-last shoes were then located, and to finish my design, I discovered, on a disused hat rack, a tattered but wearable black tricorn, or french-cocked hat.
Once downstairs again, I outfitted my pumpkin lantern with a stout candle and strong hempen cord so that I could carry the macabre thing as a light in the darkness of that most holy night. I then donned the musty clothes I had salvaged from many decades of abandonment, ate a light supper of apple cake and soft cheese, and set out, excited with anticipation, to do Halloween to my utmost, hopefully setting hearts afire with that particular fear that draws the eyes upward in awe.
It was dusk when I set foot outdoors. A chill in the air, usual for that time of year, coupled with the scuttling of dead leaves across the redbrick pavement like so many wee creatures of twilight, filled me with delight and a deep and joyful curiosity—for what do I really know of this strange and beautiful world where I awoke, so long ago now, lying comforted in my mother’s arms?
“It will be any moment now,” I said as I struck a match and lit my lantern dangling from the handle I gripped with firmness (lest a stumble or a clocking of the wind should take us both sidewise to disaster). “Any minute the night shall be filled with ghosts and goblins, seers and soothsayers, druids and dark hosts of the netherworld.” I meant children, of course, out to get a scare and give one if they could, out to show the minions of evil that there has come a Light into the world for all who would long for completion and not, after all, be sadly satisfied with the vampiric revenant existence as the popular Irish writer Bram Stoker speaks of so eloquently.
I walked the length of the avenue upon which I lived. I saw no one. I heard no laughter, no squeals of fright, only the scraping of leaves along the path and the wind as it made great tree limbs creak and screech like doors in an olden house. I checked my timepiece. Half past the seventh hour. “Surely Halloween has begun,” I said to myself. Yet, there were no children in celebration. Not one. There was only me, dressed as a stranger and wanderer in the land—an anachronism and village fool armed only with my candlelit pumpkin and great joy in my heart.
“Quarter past the eighth hour,” I said as I walked along a street adjacent to my own, and then down the next street over.
The night grew crisper as I tramped along in my outdated attire, surely a frightening image to the unseen persons peering into the night.
“A quarter to nine,’” I said. “And no children. Not one. What is amiss?”
I thought then to visit my dear friend Torrance Meeks the next street over from where I stood. He was home, but at first, he didn’t recognize me for my unusual disguise. He would not open the door to me until he heard my voice.
“Evan, my dear man!” he said at last. “You gave me a bit of a fright there. Come in. Come in!”
“Torrance,” I said, hardly giving my friend time to shut his door, “there is something very wrong with tonight.”
“Of course there’s something wrong. Deliciously wrong! It’s Halloween!”
“Have you been out-of-doors this evening?”
“No. And I’ve no plans to. I have a bowl of sweets and fruit for the children when they come.”
“Have you…” I said with an air of bewilderment. “Have you looked at your clock of recent?”
Torrance looked at the grandfather clock in the corner of his parlor. “My goodness. It’s getting late. I’ve had not one child threaten to trick me unless I treat him. What’s… happened? I wonder what’s happened, Evan?”
I sat in a leather wingback chair situated near his warm hearth. “It’s a mystery,” I replied. “And one deeply disturbing to me. It’s as if, all of a sudden, Halloween were… were dead.”
“How could that be, Evan? This night is as important as any I know of. Christmastide rings in the Good News of the coming of the Light into our dark world. The tintinnabulations of Easter bells let us know that He has risen from the dead. And Halloween commemorates the decisive battle when the principalities and powers and rulers of the darkness were trounced and routed, once and for all. How could Halloween be dead?”
“This I know,” I said, standing. “This I know! Yet, where are the children; the very heroes of this night?”
“They don’t seem to have come out this year, good friend. I… am as perplexed as are you…”
“Then there is only one thing we can do.”
“What would that be?”
“We have to go and find them. Halloween is utterly lost without children. Show me to your attic.”
Torrance looked ridiculous dressed as a flamboyant circus ringmaster. His grandfather had mastered a three-ring extravaganza which had traveled our tri-state area and even beyond, doing very well and providing my friend with a continuing income through various brands and sales yet connected with the brilliant and undying enterprise.
“In honor of Grandfather Meeks,” my companion said, smiling. “A circus ringmaster and a vagabond strike out as a team to find lost children on Halloween.”
“Let’s not declare them lost just yet,” I replied. “Something is ‘off beam,’ as it were, but I’m not sure what.”
“Do you think the whole thing has been usurped by ‘unclean spirits,’ as you call them?”
“Not a chance. This is not a classic battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of the Light. That battle, contrary to popular belief, has already been won, never to be fought again, exorcisms and such only being after-the-fact ‘clean-up operations,’ if you will. No, I am feeling that something much more mundane is at work tonight. The mood outside is one of disheartenment, disappointment. I discern no sinister forces. In fact, the winds are quite peaceable, if a bit rowdy. No, there is something else causing the downfall of this holy day. And with your much-needed assistance, Torrance, I’ll get to the bottom of it before noon-o’-night.”
We stepped into the evening chill. I buttoned my waistcoat. Torrance drew his velvet-lined cape about him and pressed his stovepipe hat down upon his head. He then twirled his silver-handled blackthorn cane in a most delightful manner and nodded that we should be on our way.
Our traipse was not long before we saw ahead a large band of laughing ghouls and ghosts. “Ah!” said my friend with an air of relaxation. “They’ve only waited a bit later to come out this year is all. I’m quite sure…”
“Shhhhh…” I replied in whisper as I touched his arm. “They’re too tall.”
“Too… tall? Ah, so they are…”
Nine adults dressed variously as ghouls and witches, buccaneers and ghosts passed us with ‘Happy Halloween’ on their lips. They carried bags of sweets and other treats (I could smell apples).
“Adults,” said Torrance. “And no children to be seen…”
“Adults with no reason to be out-of-doors,” replied I, “other than to pretend to be nine years old again.”
“Evan?” said my friend as he turned to face me.
“Yes, my good man?”
“We happen to be dressed for Halloween… and we are adults.”
“Ach! I’ll have you know, sirrah, that I am not an adult! I am a grown-up! And furthermore, are we a band of marauders like the one that passed us only seconds ago? Are we commandeering a holy night meant for children—meant to give children the knowledge that the unclean legions of the world have been defeated forever?”
“We are not!”
“Therefore, we have a duty at hand, my dear friend. Look! Here come more adults dressed out and dominating the night. Hide!”
I pulled Torrance behind a gargantuan oak tree we happened to be standing near. This second group of ‘Halloween Thieves’ had no idea we were there… until we stepped in front of them, I brandishing my flintlock and Torrance, following suit, swinging his injurious blackthorn like Moses wielding his magical staff. “Stand and deliver!” cried I, now fully filled with the joyful mirth associated with this night, and, in that moment, understanding that we had been transformed into Halloween Highwaymen!
“Thy sweets or thy life!” Torrance said with a deep growl in his voice, and this miscreant group—there were seven adults in all—screamed and ran, leaving their bags of begged-for treats sprayed all over the walk whereupon we had waylaid them.
Half an hour later…
“We’ve put quite a number of the scoundrels to flight already, haven’t we good fellow?” asked Torrance. “I especially loved how the lady lost her ‘Marie Antoinette’ wig as she ran, and when she returned to retrieve it, her counterfeit bosom fell out!”
“Indeed. That was rich,” said I with an enthusiasm I had not felt in ages. “We have really given them all a good trouncing, but there must to be a different course of action we should take. A more decisive approach. We still have not found one child.”
“I believe I’d be ready for anything now,” replied Torrance with a grotesque grin rivaling that of my lantern. “What do you have in mind?”
“I have a sickening suspicion,” I said, “that something wicked this way has come, and there is none but us to stop it from destroying a most sacred celebration.”
“Ho! Up ahead!” cried Torrance as he pointed. “Is that a house on fire?”
“It… appears to be…” I replied, my heart racing. “It is something on fire, that is to be sure!”
We ran down the street.
“It’s… a bonfire, Evan…” Torrance said.
“A what?” I asked, knowing full well he was right, for I saw old chairs and boxes and other combustible things piled high near the gutter of the street.
“Come join us!” cried one of the adult participants in the revelry. “Join in the fun!”
Torrance and I stood aghast. These were not children doing what children have always done on Halloween Night. More dastardly adults!
“Where are the little ones?” the ringmaster asked me, his voice low with sadness as his cape billowed in the breeze. “Why are they not out with this bonfire, dancing and singing and challenging one another to venture abandoned houses alone?”
“I don’t know where they are,” I replied with equal sorrow. “But this inversion of proper Halloween etiquette has to be stopped. We cannot allow this sacred night, the very symbol of Childhood come to destroy the dark forces of evil, to be waylaid by a bunch of self-centered, thrill-seeking jackanapes arrested in their development.”
“But how… I’ve got it!”
“Tell me, old friend,” said I.
The first house we came to had a lone candle burning on its dark porch. “Trick or Treat!” we together said, yelling at the tops of our voices. The door inched opened. A Faery Princess of about seven years stood there, tears staining her rosy cheeks. “Trick or Treat…” I said again. “What’s wrong, sweet one? Why are you crying?”
“My mommy and my daddy left me to give out candy. While they went tricker-treatin’.”
“Isn’t there a law about leaving small children at home alone?” asked Torrance.
“Laws?” I replied. “What are laws when such a sacred night of year is ambushed so that adults who still imagine they are children can steal the night for their own egocentric pleasures?”
“I agree, Evan. This is truly an egregious turn of events. My Lady?”
“Yes, sir?” replied the little girl.
“Princess, keep your candy,” said Torrance. “Eat all of it that you want.”
“But my mommy and my daddy said…” she replied, fresh tears erupting.
“Shhhhh…” said my friend. “Don’t cry. You are right. Do as your parents say. But this ragged gentleman and I, we are your friends. We will mend Halloween tonight if it is the last thing that we do.”
“Indeed,” I replied. “Be safe, little one. We will send your parents home directly.”
She smiled, and the door closed.
For the next group of rowdy adults we came across, we set aside the ‘Highwaymen Attack’ and instead suggested that while we were trick-or-treating we found a little girl at home alone who was weeping and holding a straight-razor to her wrist. Seven of the ten adults in the party ran screeching into the night, saying things like “That sounds like Alice!” and “No! Not my little Melissa!” and “Oh, God! What have we done to Gertrude!”
Our mission was partially accomplished, but there was more to be done. At our next house, we were greeted by triplets—all boys, all dressed as pirates, all with tear-stained faces.
“My, my,” said I. “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of pirates crying.”
“Then you’ve never seen pirates telled they couldn’t go Trick-or-Treatin’, mister,” said the middle triplet.
“And telled they can’t eat any candy on Halloween,” said another of the brothers.
“And… and telled there’ll never be another Halloween for kids anymore ever,” said the third sibling as he began to weep again. “Here. Take some cookies and leave us alone, Mister Halloween Stealer.”
“Just a minute, lads,” said Torrance as he caught the door with his foot.
“What?” asked the first brother. “You gonna kill us now?”
“You might as well kill us,” said the second brother.
“Yeah,” said the third as tears streamed down his face. “Halloween’s dead, so we might as well be dead too.”
I held back my own tears. Torrance wiped his wet eyes. “We’re sorry,” my friend and I said together. “We’ve done nothing to hurt you,” I added.
“What are you out Trick-or-Treatin’ for then?” asked the first boy.
“We’re saving Halloween,” I replied.
“How?” asked the second brother as he looked me up and down as if trying to discover what magic I might be using against the adults. Suddenly, a set of parents went running by, yelling the name of their little girl. “Beatrice! Oh Lord!”
“Oh. Now I know how these men are savin’ Halloween,” said the third boy to his puzzled brothers. “Thank you, mister. You can tell our parents that I chopped my brothers up with a cutlass, and then I hanged myself from the rafter in the parlor. That should send ‘em home pretty quick.”
It was a great idea, and it worked.
At the next house there were two sisters, one about two years older than the other. Our story about them on the street was that one had strangled the other with a scarf and had then punctured her own heart with a knitting needle, all while we watched. “Agnes! Oh God! Margaret!” the girl’s parents wailed as they raced down the street, dropping their bags of candy as they went.
“Unbelievable how that house with all the children in it caught on fire and burned so quickly,” I said to Torrance in a casual tone as we walked by another gang of adults.
“What house?” asked Dracula. “Where?”
“Oh, two streets over, I believe,” Torrance replied with a yawn. “Maybe three streets.”
The ‘Halloween Thieves’ ran hither and thither like spooked mice. Our secret mirth was delicious.
“What next?” I asked Torrance. “More Trick-or-Treating?”
He agreed, and we strode away to the next avenue over.
“Trick or Treat!” we cried as we stood on the porch of a beautiful ‘Queen Anne’ Victorian.
“Trick or Treat!”
The door cracked open. A grisly little face could barely be seen. “What do you want?” it asked.
“Treats, or we’ll trick ye, Miss Creepy,” said Torrance.
“Trick me then,” said the child as she opened the door wide. Me and my brudder! ‘Cause we don’t care anymore….” She began to cry, and as she did, a ghost floated up behind her and wrapped its wispy arm about her shoulders. “This is my brudder Hanson. I’m Gilda. We’re sad.”
“Yeah,” said Ghost Hanson. “So take these ol’ walnuts and go away. And please don’t throw eggs. Our daddy’ll make us clean it all up.”
I felt outraged. What kinds of parents did children have these days? Ogres and maniacs?
“We’ll not trick you at all,” replied Torrance as he took the offering from the Ghost. “And, inside a quarter hour, your parents will be home. And Halloween will be restored forever. We promise you.”
“The children on Sycamore Avenue!” I said in the most alarming voice I could rally as I walked down the street. “Please! Somebody! They’re badly hurt! Head injuries, I believe! Blood everywhere! Ropes! Children hanging…. oh God in Heaven!”
The street cleared of wanton adults who, seconds before, had been joking and horseplaying like a bunch of silly thirteen-year-olds.
“I believe that may do it, Torrance,” I said.
“I do believe so, Evan. We’ve positively routed the enemy tonight. Do you think we’ve saved Halloween?”
“Sadly, we may have just begun. We’ll have to see next year what happens. Wait. Do you hear something?”
Torrance cocked his head sidewise to take a better listen. “Why… why yes! It’s the sound of children… and they’re laughing.”
We strained our eyes in the darkness. At first, I saw in the distance a lone light. As it moved closer, I could make out the frightful features of a pumpkin lantern. Then there were two lights, then four, then eight, then ten lights bobbing this way and that, all leading a motley crew of thirty or more Trick-or-Treaters giggling and singing and laughing like children are wont to do on windy, sinister nights.
“Well,” said I, and that one word was a prayer of thanks on my lips.
“Yes,” replied Torrance. “Yes.”
The following Halloween, and the many coming after for as long as I lived, the ‘Children’s Crusade’ was not ever again destroyed by ‘Adulthood,’ that perfidious enemy of the Light, but rather grew fiercer and more gargoyle in appearance as each season came and went. No, to my mind, and to that of my good and loyal friend Torrance Meeks, the tables would never again be turned on the indomitable Spirit of Childhood.
Scathe meic Beorh abides with his exceedingly creative wife Ember in an idyllic Edwardian neighborhood on the Atlantic Coast of Florida. He is the Founder & Editor of Beorh Quarterly.
The Lords of Chickamauga
a story by
Private Israel Halstead stepped gingerly over the ashen forms lying around him. He had to watch his feet lest they fall with slippery uncertainty onto what were pieces of limbs or heads or the red, ropey strands of human innards scattered with grotesque abandon about the rugged terrain near Pigeon Mountain. These riven remains were all that was left of his platoon, already reduced to about twenty men and had Private Halstead not chosen to bivouac some distance away from them last night after a fit of the “skeedaddles,” he would have been amongst them. He would have been even further away had not the weather, bitterly cold and wet that night, compelled him to seek shelter under an outcropping of rock along a bend in the creek which lent its name to the great battle set to resume that day.
It was the morning of September 19th, 1863. Detached from Major General James Negley’s division, in the middle of what would become known as the Battle of Chickamauga, Private Halstead’s company had the unpleasant task of determining Confederate strength in a small area known as Dug Gap. The private had joined the cause of Union seven months earlier with thoughts of grand deeds, and to help restore the 11 stars that had been so rashly and unlawfully torn away from the colors. But this—this was madness. He was sick and horrified and angry that things could have come to such a ghastly conclusion. There had been no warning as he lay in his little granite lean-to, no sign of the carnage that had taken place so close to where he fitfully slept. But then the thunder and constant prattle of rain had provided likely cover for the hard sounds of death and dismemberment. The morning had dawned with a preternatural stillness as if the myriad bird and insect life, which normally provided an unceasing hum in the forest, were themselves shocked into submission by the extent of what had happened. He would have continued his clandestine exodus had not the bitter metallic smell of blood stirred a last remaining particle of duty to his comrades and forced him to return to camp.
His eyes searched for a horse, but either they were run off or the noises of battle, or the smell of powder, smoke, or death itself must have spooked them and God only knew where they were now. Just as he was about to retreat back into the woods a strange, guttural sound came to his ears—as of a heavy rasp being run across the bark of one of the many spruce pines which surrounded him. Almost as a reflex, he crouched behind a tree. Low on his haunches, he looked across the broken forms before him, their contorted torsos standing out Union blue and blood-red against the grass. In the middle, one heaved upward as he heard the gurgling rasp again. He wanted to run… to blot the whole damn scene from his mind, but his legs, so eager to disobey his head and save themselves last night, now disobeyed a second time and began to lurch forward toward the source of the noise. He stepped back into the field of death and approached a corporal, lying face up, eyes glazed, a horrible wound in his neck. A bolt, as from a crossbow, lay broken near him, stained with blood. The corporal sensed the private’s presence. A hand reached up, a hand missing two fingers with a third dangling from the second joint, leaving the forefinger pointing in damning accusation. The private recoiled instinctively.
“What in God’s name happened?” Halstead asked.
The corporal’s words came out in a soft hiss. “They came out of the mist…they chopped us to pieces as we slept.”
It must have been a Rebel raiding party. But why hadn’t the pickets stopped them or at least given a warning? Halstead asked the corporal just that.
“Nothing can stop ghosts.”
But Halstead could clearly see that the life force was quickly ebbing from the corporal. A cloudy film had formed over his eyes and they began to sink into their orbits, becoming expressionless. His mouth went slack.
“Ghosts you say?”
Only a few words passed through blackening lips. To Halstead they sounded like, “Knights. In shining armor. Shining in the moon…” The corporal’s head lolled to one side, his eyes unseeing. A heave went through him and his last breath passed out in a great exhalation. A few tremors and he was gone.
Halstead looked upon the still form for a few more seconds then rose to his feet. Grasping his Enfield rifle until his knuckles blanched, he made his way once more to the copse of spruce, poplar, and sycamores bordering the southern end of the field. He pushed through the undergrowth and came to a small dirt lane that seemed to materialize only then between the trees. The morning fog was cold and flitted through the forest, leaving small pockets of mist where it collected in the swales and depressions of the forest floor. A sense of dread overcame him, smothering him like the fog itself. He began to quicken his pace down the lane, the sound of his footfalls muffled by the swirling mist. A turn, down a gentle slope, splashing through a stagnant creek, up a rise and down again. The woods grew thicker. Another turn. He found himself in a grove of yellow poplars, unmixed with any other kind of foliage, otherworldly in its pureness and in the yellow-green light that filtered through the canopy, bathing everything in a ghastly pallor. Halstead kept his eyes riveted on the ground before him. The fog was drifting in thick clouds here, by turns obscuring then revealing the road ahead. Something made him look up.
There, ahead in the road about a hundred paces, six human forms on horseback, their silhouettes crenulated, with pointed heads and pointed feet; a few grasped crossbows slackly at their sides. The others held what looked like lances and broadswords. Beneath them, horses but not horses, their shanks and necks articulated in outline like wooden toys. Halstead lurched one more step and froze, afraid to move. The forms faded to white, and back into view as the fog shimmered around them. The dying words of the corporal came to him. Knights in shining armor, Halstead thought. They materialized once more into the black silhouettes of armored horses and riders. One gave a start and turned his mount towards Halstead. Then another did likewise. His legs were finally cooperating with his brain, and did its bidding. He dashed from the road, knocked against a poplar, and dropped his rifle. He knew it was useless against apparitions anyway. He lurched through the grove, his eyes wild, his body senseless, his mind a runaway train of animal reason, pushing aside all thoughts but one: how to get from here to anywhere at the highest velocity possible.
Halstead’s fear began commingling with a new feeling: guilt. He thought of his mother’s rationale behind spirits. She was uneducated and had that strange mixture of common sense and superstition so common to women of her station. To her, everything had its purpose. Apparitions, ghosts, spirits, whatever one wanted to call them, they manifested themselves for a reason. They were the remnants of our spiritual and temporal transgressions and they served to set us once more upon the path of moral salvation and redemption. They were the tools of God, and to ignore them and run from them was to wallow through the stagnant stream of spiritual effluence that ran alongside the road of life.
A deafening flutter–a flock of wild pheasants exploded from the foliage in front of Halstead–sent him reeling on a new tangent, out of the poplar grove and into a denser part of the forest. Chivalry is not dead, he thought, it’s alive and well and pursuing me to ground. He became aware of a sound—the wheezing of his own breath, which he was rapidly running out of. There, up ahead—a clearing. Something whizzed by his ears and struck the ground ten or so yards ahead of him, furrowing into it with a little burst of earth. He ran out into the clearing, into the unblemished sun which had suddenly appeared through the broken sky, and became aware of men–men in blue who were emerging from the shadows of the forest at the far end of the clearing. They were raising their rifles and taking aim. At him. He was running into an ambush. They had discovered his transgression, his treasonous fear, and were going to shoot him dead. He dropped to the ground as the first volley exploded before him, sending its echoes careering through the valley.
New sounds smote his ears—shrieking horses and a strange clatter of metal on metal and metal on earth. The blades of grass pressed into his face. Another volley as a second line of men fired, and the sounds behind him began dissipating with whimpers and sighs. Now a third volley—not of bullets but of prattling voices as his compatriots advanced toward him. There was the sound of surprise in their murmuring. Slowly Halstead raised his head. He pushed himself up onto his elbows. He craned his neck around and looked behind him. There in a heap were the knights in armor, forming a single body of tangled extremities wrapped in metal, lying under the writhing bodies of their mounts.
Halstead turned his head back to see a captain slinking toward him, a new Spencer rifle in his hands.
“You all right, private?”
“How did you do it? How did you stop them?”
The captain went over to survey the mass of human and animal wreckage. “There ain’t much can stand up to a blizzard of .58 caliber minie balls.”
Then Halstead became aware of another sound…the bleating, despairing voice of an old man. “My young men. My young men…” he wailed. Dressed incongruously in 18th century breeches and buckled shoes, he tottered out of the woods towards the private and the scene of destruction, waving his arms in little despairing circles. The captain turned and ran toward the old man, catching him as he fell forward.
“I’m sorry, old feller. We had no choice. Another ten feet and they would have cut down that boy there, and maybe made mincemeat of some of mine.”
Halstead got up onto his feet at last. Again, that familiar sound of rasping on bark–with a metallic echo this time. He slowly made his way to one of the suits of armor, spilled from a dead horse, one foot in a stirrup. He raised the visor and saw the eyes of a boy, perhaps thirteen years old. A strand of straw-colored hair, matted with blood, stuck to his forehead. The glassy stare, the sunken eyes, the breath loud and sonorous, coming at longer and longer intervals until they finally stopped. He raised another visor. This one, perhaps eleven, already gone. Another… and another. All boys. All probably under fifteen years of age. The knights of old must have been small men, Halstead thought, his mind taking desperate, inappropriate diversions.
“My boys,” cried the old man again as the captain led him back to the company.
He turned suddenly to Halstead and scrutinized his face. “I’ll want to talk to you. Want to know what you’re doing so far from your unit. You have all the looks of a runner.”
Private Halstead, his legs shaking and tired from their independent thinking, followed the captain. They made their way through the skirmish line that was just now standing down and breaking ranks to the rear. Halstead found a tree stump and sat on it. Another private sat cross-legged next to him and pulled out a satchel of tobacco and a pipe, which he started to fill. “Poor old buzzard.” He handed the sack of tobacco to Halstead, who shook his head.
“Who is he?” A pause, and with a tired, sweeping gesture towards the dead, “and who are they?”
“Old feller is the superintendent of Troy Military School for boys. Just over the ridge there. Come looking for a bunch of cadets who raided the Armory museum of the school. Thought they’d help out the cause wearin’ their purloined armor. He been lookin’ for ‘em and I reckon he’s found ‘em. Poor old buzzard.”
Halstead heard something else before his thoughts turned to his fate. It was the sound of shovels meeting earth and the gentle muffle of that earth falling into growing mounds….
Ron Yungul’s inspirations as a writer range from the works of Ambrose Bierce to Robert Bloch. When speaking with Mr. Bloch one cold Hollywood night several decades back, and revealing that he, too, was a writer of horror, the master replied “Well, misery loves company…” Ron is also a screenwriter and has projects in development with Indiana Girl Productions in Hollywood. He lives with his wife and son in Burbank, California, and can be reached via rsyungul (at) yahoo (dot) com
The Creepy Old House Up On Waterstone Street
a poem by
Scathe meic Beorh
The creepy old house up on Waterstone Street
bodes a long journey for very small feet
when very small sneakers have skipped across town
to see the dire place and to call its ghost down.
This old haunted mansion, the one painted red,
is said to be lived in by somebody dead.
Tommy believes it, and Ginger does too.
Mimsi is frightened and Jackie turns blue.
Sidney is braver, but Willy won’t go…
not even with candles and flashlights that glow!
The creepy old house up on Waterstone Street
proves not the best dwelling to go Trick-or-Treat.
It’s happened on Halloween all through the years,
another kid stumbles and then disappears!
last Christmas is when all the children set out!
Such a strange picture to hear them all shout
‘Happy Holidays, Holy Days, Spooky Days, Spook!
We’re off to the big house to have us a look!
We’re off to roast ghosties and get us a fright
to tell around campfires next Halloween Night!’
Not one child returned from that fateful foray.
Not one child returned, and have not to this day.
The creepy old house up on Waterstone Street…
so patient and waiting for children to eat!
a story by
It came to pass under the reforms of king Zimri-Lim that the ports of Mari, so long fallen into decay after the campaigns of Shulgi and his sons, were again plied with trade from distant cities. Longboats bearing cedars from Lebanon, or precious metals from Dilmun, or stone from the hills, gathered along the Euphrates to dock at her bustling quays.
Her streets spread out along the western banks of the Euphrates, and her walls overlooked a patchwork of barley-fields dotted with juniper and elm. Built of sandstone wrestled from the bosom of the land, adorned with mosaics of copper and lapis lazuli, those walls reminded passing travelers that within those barriers lay the wealth and culture of the privileged.
But today, clouds like bruises swarmed above the Euphrates, battering her banks with rain: waves of clay-red water spilled out from the web of canals beyond the city. Already the first wave of farmers were making their way up to the walls, skins full of barley on their shoulders. In less than an hour, Mari would be full of peasants and their wailing children—but my current concerns were more immediate.
“Yes, I displeased my gods,” I told the mob that had gathered to stone me. “But this storm–”
“He admits it with his own blasphemous lips!” cried the priest with the enormous gray beard, who seemed to be the ringleader. For the past few minutes, he had been holding me by the hair, as if I were a wild cur.
“This deluge has nearly ruined the harvest!” he shrieked. “The people of Mari will starve, and still you hide from your gods. Well, let us keep them waiting no longer!”
The crowd—mostly farmers; perhaps fifty of them—looked more drenched and frightened then murderous. Their wet kilts made them scratch incessantly around their waists and knees, but they brandished rocks and pottery in agreement with the priest. If they were going to starve, someone was going to die for it.
Under the direction of the priest, they had backed me into a blind alley near the center of the city. We were undisturbed here; a fire devoured a stack of straw under an awning nearby; no one brought water.
“Who has rope?” called the priest. He shoved me back against the wall.
After centuries in the dry heat, these baked mud-bricks had dried to the color of bone. Judging by the red and brown splatter that had dried on the walls and ground, they made a habit of herding their scapegoats here.
“I fled the burning ruin of my city; Ber-Ashippa, to the east,” I shouted to the crowd. “Everyting I own is ash. My gods destroy without reason!”
This only provoked further outrage from the crowd.
“Whatever mysteries you speak,” said a voice at my ear, “This is not the place to discuss them.”
Before I could turn to reply, the high priest whipped me across the chest.
Last I had looked, he had been holding my hair, not a whip. But he was holding one now: a cat—and a glass-tipped one, from the look of it. I glanced down at my chest; a cluster of rough little craters—hollow and dark–had been torn from my skin, and dark brown stains were gathering at their edges. My knees began to buckle.
At last I turned to see the man who had spoken in my ear: another priest, much older than my tormentor. He moved behind me now; caught me as I fell before I knew I was falling. I heard the crowd’s raised voices as if through water, and the sun itself seemed to darken.
“I am Ibrainu,” said the voice at my ear. “Do not try to speak; just lie here a moment.”
The younger priest continued to shout to the crowd “This man speaks blasphemies beyond any I have ever heard. He must be given over to his gods!”
Someone in the crowd must have produced rope, because I heard Ibrainu yell, “No–do not bind him!” I raised my head to see him join the younger priest at the head of the crowd.
“I must take him away now,” Ibrainu told them, as if it were as simple as that. “We must make certain his body is prepared for death; this extra purification is necessary for such a unique offering. Come, Attanati.”
A short moment of perplexed silence ensued.
“The gods want him!” shrieked the other priest; Attanati. “It was he who brought this storm here; we have proof of that now. We have only to do the justice of his gods, and it will cease; we may yet be able to salvage our crops!”
This provoked a thundering affirmation from the mob.
“I have not yet declared it!” Ibrainu’s voice thundered more loudly than I would have expected possible. When an old man cries out in such a manner, even an angry crowd falls silent.
Taking me by the arm, Ibrainu walked straight into the crowd. The farmers and peasants were too stunned to do anything but leap back. By the time Attanati was calling after us, we were halfway down another alley. Mari is a labyrinthine city, and one can easily become lost in its side-lanes.
“So, your gods,” said Ibrainu.
“Not mine any longer,” I replied.
We were catching our breath in the courtyard of Mari’s temple to Inanna—a goddess of sacred old Sumer, from the dim days before Lord Naram-Sin first rode out to unify all the lands between the Rivers.
From these wide steps, I could see out across the vast plaza, where rows of great palm-trees kept watch over market-stalls. Even in this torrent, throngs of traders plied their wares. And the sick, who lay on their filthy blankets hoping for a wise word from a fellow sufferer—or a blessing from Inanna—were out in droves today.
“I have known many men from pagan tribes,” he mused, “who later came to Inanna. But never a man who—who abandoned his gods. Very strange.” He shook his bald head. “And who are your gods now?”
“Where are you taking me, Ibrainu?” I had been glancing down alleyways and side-streets, expecting either to hear the thundering of footsteps and the cries of the mob, or the second thing–what I dreaded far more to see.
“Where were you heading?”
“West. But as much as I would like to leave Mari tonight, the floods–”
“In the library,” he said with a nod; and evidently that decided the matter, for we were off at a quick pace again, down a mud-brick alleyway that Ibrainu might have chosen at random, as far as I could tell.
“And what is in the library?”
As he hustled me around the corner of a bakery, I caught the sweet smell of barley loaves, and realized I had not eaten since last night in the forest, when she found my fire, and—
“Its reading rooms are easy to get lost in,” Ibrainu was saying, “but I know them well. We will be safe until the rains are over.”
“But the mob!” I looked around for them, as if they might be sneaking up in silence.
“How long do you think Attanati will be able to keep them that riled up?” He grinned. “Look at the weather!” And he spread his arm to encompass the clouds that still shrouded the sky, and the torrent that still poured on everything from the fields to the temple complex, high above the city.
“And you,” he patted my arm, “will tell me why you have departed from your city and your gods.”
I sighed, but his expression made it clear he would accept only one answer. So I nodded in agreement.
“And what may I call you?” he asked me. “I never did learn your name, or your country.”
“Call me Yishai. I come from the town of Ber-Ashippa—what was the town of Ber-Ashippa. It is no more. But it was once three days’ walk from here; I ran it in two.”
“And straight into a kind reception. Ah—here we are now.”
We emerged out of a narrow street filled with piles of broken pottery, and into a wide courtyard, surrounding one of the largest buildings I had ever seen: the great ziggurat of Mari. It rose as high as a mountain, but in titanic steps built of baked mud-bricks. Around this behemoth sprawled an entire complex of outbuildings, each larger than any house in Ber-Ashippa.
“The library is just on the other side of this augury temple,” Ibrainu called through the rain, as we hurried past a building that reeked of goats. The smell sent a chill up my back and down to my fingertips—I was thinking of her again—
“Here we are,” Ibrainu led me through an archway and into the dark.
We passed through a small side door into the library’s main chamber. Ibrainu and I passed straight through; a few priests were reclining on a pile of pillows and rugs around a low reading-table, studying clay tablets covered in inscriptions. Most of these tablets were probably records of economic transactions, but I still found myself wishing I could red over these men’s shoulders as we hurried through another series of smaller rooms. When we found one that was unoccupied, Ibrainu unrolled a curtain over the doorways, and at last he bid me to sit.
The cushion felt more lovely on my legs than I would have imagined possible. I might have fallen asleep, had Ibrainu not asked his question: “Do you have a wife, Yishai?”
Before I knew what I was doing, I had sat bolt-upright. I must have looked a mess, because Ibrainu reached out a hand as if to steady me.
“Forgive me.” He placed his hands palm-up: a formal apology; perhaps excessively so. “I know you fled a catastrophe–”
“My city burned to the ground.”
We stared at each other for a moment, catching our breath.
“Your gods did this?”
“For what reason?”
“As they told me: to punish the wicked.”
That seemed to have caught his attention. “Your gods spoke to you? You were a priest?”
“Not a priest. A scribe. But they told me I was a righteous man.” Then I could feel the words spilling from my lips before I could stop them: “And I did not have a wife, for the woman I loved was an acolyte in the temple. But our love for our gods was great; we waited so long, but at last–” and here I did stop myself, for I would not speak of what happened; not here, at any rate.
“And your gods declared your city was full of wickedness.”
“So full that they decided to burn it to the ground.” My eyes wandered the cracks between the bricks in the walls as I spoke. “They spoke to both me and Nelenei in dreams, and telling us that we had not sinned as the rest of them had; that our hearts were yet faithful to them. They would allow us to flee; to found a new city; a great city; in their name. But they also gave us a command: we were to take nothing with us from Ber-Ashippa–nothing but the kilts about our waists and food for three days. Not a single memory of our life in that city was to be preserved. For they did not know our secret.”
Ibrainu only nodded.
“We departed three days ago, knowing only that we must travel west—that was the gods’ command. But Nelenei—she took something with her. Something that was ours; it was not for the gods to destroy—but she was the one holding it in her arms.”
We sat in silence for several moments, and when Ibrainu spoke, it was with gentleness. “Whatever you took must have meant a great deal to you.”
“And when we passed the walls of our city, I heard her cry out–” my voice broke at last, and I dropped my face into my hands. “When I looked back,” I muttered to the floor, “they had turned her into–” but my lips would not form it.
“Any gods that would take such a thing from us,” I muttered to the floor, “are not gods at all.”
“I cannot deny that yours are vengeful,” was his reply.
And we fell into silence once more.
“Thank you,” I said, after some time.
“I did not think I would regret it,” I looked up; he was smiling at me. No one had smiled at me for days; it was contagious.
In the silence of a humid midnight, Ibrainu led me beneath gutters dripping with rainwater; through courts still slippery with mud; until we arrived at a small side-gate in the wall of the city.
“I wish I could say, ‘may your gods watch over you’,” he said, as an exhausted-looking night guard slid aside the plank that bolted the gate.
“Perhaps others will someday,” I said.
He patted my arm, and I thanked him again. Without another word, he turned on his heel and vanished down an alleyway.
A mile outside the smoking ruin that was once Ber-Ashippa, I returned to my hiding-place in the forest. I discerned my beloved’s form in the shadows of the undergrowth; her breathing was quiet, which meant she had fallen asleep. Then I heard her voice: that deep, mournful lowing that sent tension up my spine: I had awakened her.
Her gait was quick but clumsy—her crushed limbs pained her with every step, but she was growing used to them, in a manner. But even after three days, I felt a sob rising as I watched her dragged herself to me: a knee-bone for one foot; a shattered wrist for another.
“Don’t get up,” I whispered, kneeling at her side.
She moaned to me through a torn and bloated throat: my beloved, whose voice once echoed through the halls of our temple, now neither woman nor she-goat, but a half-being with deadened eyes and flattened nose and shattered teeth; a wreck that kept crawling, kept wrenching breath from the air, only because of what we carried—
“Is she asleep?” I asked Nelenei, reaching into the bushes. A high-pitched cry answered my question, and I raised the reed basket that held our son into the moonlight.
“Mari was unkind,” I told her. “Except for one man: a priest. But he could only get me out of the city; we must keep moving.”
I was not sure whether she understood me or not; she only nuzzled me with her soft-sagging forehead, and stared at me with eyes as eager as they were dull. The gods had broken my Nelenei, but they had left me intact. Perhaps they had not made a mistake; perhaps my punishment was indeed the worse. And as for our son, why had they left him untouched?
Who can answer such questions? Mens’ lives are as grains of barley on a breeze; and the gods, it seems, are mad.
Ben Thomas is a professional writer and freelance neuroscience journalist who was the Founding Editor of The Willows Magazine, a periodical of atmospheric horror. He was also once published in Weird Tales–no small feat. He lives in Los Angeles.
a story by
The carved pumpkin sitting on the front porch steps of the house was actually a hologram. The image flickered intermittently and quickly disappeared.
“Crap!” Michael Plant stood just outside the doorway and continued to press the red power button on the pumpkin’s remote control. “It must have some kind of short in the digital box.”
“Could be, sweetheart,” his wife, Rachel agreed from inside their home. She stuck her head outside the window. “You need me to help you troubleshoot it?”
“Well, I really think the kids look forward to seeing it every year. I don’t want to disappoint them.” Michael sighed and slapped the remote against his palm. “You think we got enough candy?”
“I don’t think we’ll ever run out of it.” Rachel popped her head back inside, walked through the kitchen and into the hallway. She pressed her face against the screen door. “The kids won’t be home for a few more minutes, so you may have some time.”
“Okay, I’ll do my best.”
Rachel watched her husband struggle with the holographic component that had been installed above the old porch swing. The sky was slowly turning black, and the wind was pushing brown leaves against the trash cans. The paper witch she had hung with masking tape on the glass pane of the window suddenly tore free and took flight over the trees.
“What time did you say Jason and Gwen will be home?” Michael called.
Rachel pulled back her sleeve and stared at the numbers programmed on her remote unit. “Exactly two minutes, hon.”
A decade ago, the doctors had told Rachel she would never be able to bear children. She was devastated, but Michael had been incredibly supportive, assuring her that one day a miracle would provide a way. And he’d been right. She’d found the perfect solution offered by a small experimental lab near Atlanta. Rachel owed her entire existence to the good people out there at Family Spatial Environment for making it all possible. The day her beautiful twins, Jason and Gwen entered this world was the happiest day of her life.
Michael grunted and shook his head. “No luck, darling. I hate to say it, but there won’t be a pumpkin for this year’s Halloween night.”
“Don’t worry, sweetie. It’s going to be okay.” Rachel stepped outside the screen door and it snapped shut behind her. She reached out to touch her husband’s face, but her hand passed right through his simulated presence. “I know you tried your best.”
A soft rain began to fall, filling the yard with shallow puddles.
Rachel pushed the button on her wrist remote that controlled the pumpkin. The triangular eyes materialized two seconds before the orange body appeared.
“Well, how do you like that?” Michael was pleased with himself. “It seems like I was able to fix it after all.” He placed his hands on his hips and smiled.
“Great job, sweetie. I never doubted you for a minute.” Rachel spun around and pointed a thin red beam onto the white picket fence surrounding the house. “Here come the kids,” she whispered quietly, beginning to cry. ”Aren’t they the cutest things?”
The twins flickered to life, powered by an interchanging series of revolutionary, microscopic lasers. They were both dressed as ghosts.
Michael stretched out his arms and waited for the children to make their way across the wet yard.
Rachel couldn’t help but notice there were no footprints to be found in the slowly forming mud.
Angel Zapata grew up in NYC, but now lives in Georgia. He is not a hologram. Some of his published and upcoming fiction and poetry can be found at Nailpolish Stories, The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly, The Flash Fiction Offensive, Devilfish Review, Bewildering Stories, Mused: Bellaonline Literary Journal, and Microw. Visit him at http://arageofangel.blogspot.com/
a story by
In this jungle, I can smell the death of dinosaurs, bones locked up by intense nuclear winter, grey skin freezing blue in the wake of the fireball that blurred weather, geography, even time into a puzzle insoluble by their giant gasping lungs, vast deltas of blood and nerves shrunk to terror by the explosion of their senses, and the clue is not the silver iridium crust beneath my boots, the glistening ejecta that could only come from vast volcanoes of space, thick chunks of quartz and their eye-encyclopedic light show, but the scream of the wind through these forests, the crack of trunks like necks arched back in fear, the fat crash of a branch to the earth like bodies shattering over themselves, the fatal truth: dinosaurs only die in places where imagination dies.
The next issue of Beorh Quarterly
will be Winter 2012, out November 2