The Bell Tower by Alex Hurst

The Bell Tower by Alex Hurst

“I do not consider myself less ignorant than most people. I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question the stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teachings my blood whispers to me.”

-Emil Sinclair, Demian by Hermann Hesse

Autumn was always the most dismal time. As if God himself had cracked the umbral sky with his tears, melancholy drops callously pounded against the windows of the study.  Confined behind the fogged glass, Decebal fidgeted with the collar of his shirt. His brief excursion outside, merely from his car to the foyer, had left his fingers feeling icy. The heated skin of his neck made that feeling even more pronounced, and caused a singular shiver to cascade down his body. A banged up, unsightly grey piece of craftsmanship that functioned as his toolbox was at his side, condensation pooling on the red cherry wood of the floor beneath it.

Decebal fixed clocks for a living. He had been coming to this house in particular for decades, and it was always the same. Between the rain and the mud, he couldn’t cross the driveway without feeling like an old kitchen rag in a mop bucket. In the end though, he couldn’t complain. In a world of digital beepers and electric slats, his profession was a dying one. Yet the owner of this mansion, a Mr. Marius Graenger, delighted, near obsessively, with an artistic collection of grandfather clocks. There was not a single room, hall or stairwell that was not in some way influenced by the presence of their antique faces. Their ticks, tocks and the creaks of gears drowned out the silence in mechanical, maniacal chorus. Decebal imagined that for an average guest, the incessant echo of pendulums might be a little disconcerting. To Decebal, the sound of constancy was a creature comfort, and a decent reminder of who paid the bills.

There were always those days, though, where the timed rhythm in the halls grew weighted and the air thick, making Time’s own metronome struggle to cut through it. Today was like that; the pendulums were rocking in slowly diverging paces, like the race and quiet of a heartbeat. The estate was too large to be so still. The dark cherrywood floors, lacquered from a century of polishing, protested the weight of his feet as they shifted in cracked, aged whines. Every now and then he heard the voices of the staff carry through the wings.

The Graenger mansion had once been a monastery. It had been converted in the late 1900s by Mr. Marius’s great grandfather. An architectural marvel, it was listed in the provincial books as a heritage site, and thus, the contractors hadn’t altered too much of its original blueprint. On the western slope of the estate was a belfry, which was in turn connected to an extended network of basement rooms. The belfry’s bricks were stained with lichen and various other molds and mosses. Decebal often got the impression of a painting when he stared at them long enough. The bells were long gone, of course, and all of the entries above ground had been sealed off, but the basement was still quite accessible. It was here he usually had to go to adjust the clocks in Mr. Graenger’s son’s room. Under usual conditions, he had a tight reign on his imagination, yet he could not ignore the feelings of trepidation that filled his breast when going down those stairs. At times, it felt like he was falling into a strange abyss from whence there could be no return. The stains of rust on the iron and wood steps loomed like ghosts from the darkness when they caught a certain shade of light.

Naturally, to be in the service of Mr. Graenger for so many years, Decebal had heard quite a bit about his employer’s life. Live-in help, he knew not what to call these modern maids, often gossiped as they treated him to a cup of tea to warm his hands before work. They often spoke of the retired statesman and his trophy wife, though as far as the staff was concerned, the two had been divorced for many years. Between them, they had only one child, a boy named Remus, who hardly ever left the house. The child was about eleven now, and not the most pleasant company. Young Remus’s disposition reminded Decebal of the foul stenches of bogs in the summertime; the boy’s only redeeming quality was that he was severely emaciated from anemia, and thus not able to throw tantrums for an extended length of time. The boy’s sour attitude, coupled with the dank quality of the room, made the few times that Decebal had gone to maintenance the clocks there an exercise in haste. He did not know whether Remus’s aura was what made the room so gloomy, or if it was the other way around. All that mattered to the time-smith when he was there was to finish and be on his way as quickly as possible. He honestly couldn’t fathom why Marius would wish to keep his son in the dank cellars a story beneath sodden earth. It was a living coffin.

The maids, of course, had rumors to explain it. The truth of the matter is, as Natalie would say, is that long before Remus was even born, Marius and his trophy wife started living separately. The statesman was known to be something of a boor, and despite the staffers’ best efforts to hire elder women or simply men, there was an occasion here and there when a pretty young woman made her way into their midst. One of these ladies was an Irish girl named Evette. By Decebal’s own count, she had only worked for Mr. Graenger for two years, but then, he was not at the house often enough to know. One day, he had actually had the misfortune of passing the study he stood in now, only to find the statesman jeering the hapless maid.

Decebal was certainly not a confrontational man, but since he had seen the two of them, and they he, he could not simply abscond to another area of the house and pretend it hadn’t happened. Marius had quickly excused himself, leaving Evette alone with Decebal in moments that would come to be remembered as practically separated from time. He didn’t want to get involved. There was a moment, however, when their eyes met as they passed each other. The green of her eyes was startling; the very act of looking upon them made Decebal’s blood run cold. For a single moment, he ceased to know anything but that haunting stare, and the distress that stirred like worms under its surface. The next year, when Decebal returned to calibrate the clocks, Evette was gone and young master Remus was two months old. The reasons for her absence had been unresolved. Decebal had heard things from she’d run off with a stable-boy to the far more likely that she’d gone into hiding after giving birth to Marius’ illegitimate child. Apparently, no one had ever come looking for her.

He did not know why, almost a decade later, he found himself thinking about the soft-skinned redhead. It was as if he were back in that moment, caught in her serpentinite gaze all over again. Where was she now? Did she miss her son, if Remus was indeed her child? He cradled the cup of tea the maids had given him in his hands, carefully turning the lightly chipped china. Perhaps even her name slipped passed his lips as he thought of that day and the way Marius’s hands had claimed Evette’s own with such terrible authority- how her own slender body had trembled in what Decebal would like to assume was fear. He sighed, imagining how the swell of her young breasts must have looked under the navy blue costume she had been wearing.

His mind was lulled back into that precarious memory, frayed at the edges due to the great leagues of time that had passed. As he looked out the window steamed by his breath, he thought he could see Evette in her gay little dress, perhaps a little moth-bitten, in this very room- pushed to the bookcase by Marius’ predatory leer. His hands fell to his heart, checking for the quick pace Evette’s would have adopted while Marius took from her youthful body, and how the illness that followed would linger on for months, until it was clear what she carried inside her. He could almost sense the swell of life in the mother diminishing, damaging her and her unborn, until what she birthed was monstrous, hardly human. His stomach felt cold.

Taking a hand to wipe the sweat from his brow, Decebal paused, looking into his half-empty cup, the tea now cold. The child would have been born out of sight and sound, in the cellars. Yes, perhaps in the very room Remus now occupied. Evette wouldn’t have been able to stand the silence she had been forced to keep. It would gnaw at her and she would seek escape. It wouldn’t do for Marius, who was still married and not yet retired from office. This mansion was miles from the nearest town; for even a few hours of work, Decebal often had to stay the night. Marius would force her into silence. He would make her stay.

Looking at his cup now, he watched, mesmerized, as his fingers gripped the porcelain in a stranglehold, squeezing that fragile china like a neck. Yes, Evette, in her unfortunate luck, was far too dangerous to be kept alive. Marius would wait for the rains, like today, when there were few visitors, and dispose of her. But where could he hide the body?

Unbidden, uncalled, Decebal found his memory latching on to the red iron stains of the belfry stairs. He saw, too, places he had never been. Thick, rat-bitten ropes and gears. His mind filled in the blanks as if he had been there himself, as if he had every reason to belief their truth.

Startled, Decebal pulled himself out of such dark, terrible thoughts. His hands were sweaty, his heart was pounding, and adrenaline was making the very tips of his fingers tingle in frantic energy. What had he been thinking? He was too bewildered to even consider that he had gone into something totally of his own creation, in which he played the bastardly part of Marius, imagining the very death of a girl that had merely gone missing. He put his teacup to the side and rung the stiffness out of his hands. His body trembled from the chill of the room and, perhaps, the thoughts so unlike him. It took every ounce of his willpower to banish the image of Evette’s stare from his thoughts. Those dual greens remained defiantly branded on even the darkest recesses of his mind. Gradually, he began to hear the mechanical music from the halls again.

It was right then that the measured tune of those hundreds of clocks ceased, and there began a fantastic ringing of their chimes for the noon hour. Long calls, short calls, soft melodies and cuckoo birds of every flavor, Decebal’s eyes closed so he could listen. It was faint, but in their choir, he heard, rather distinctly, the grand tones of monastery bells. They reverberated through the halls, rising from depths of the earth and on through the rafters, gradually drowning out all else. Dong, Dong, Dong

A note from the author: This piece was originally published in Fiction Writers Group’s Writers’ Anarchy I anthology.

The Grasshopper and the Merchant

There once was a grasshopper who lived in the reeds of a merchant’s garden. The garden was beautiful, so beautiful in fact, that it was held in greater esteem than the emperor’s own.

The grasshopper had many friends in this garden. The butterfly and the firefly, in particular, greatly enjoyed his company. Life was pleasant and good for them, even though the merchant who owned the land was foul-tempered and unkind. The townspeople avoided the merchant, and he ignored them, seeking nothing more than silence, for music was a blight to his ears.

Every night, the grasshopper would climb upon a simple blade of grass and begin his soliloquy. Nothing brought him greater joy. But no sooner would he start his concert each night, that the merchant, in a rage, would come outside and threaten him with an old broom. Our poor grasshopper was merely a grasshopper, however, and saw no harm in his chirps. The next night he would return, and carry on as usual.

This distressed the merchant, who found the grasshopper’s chirp lowly and unbefitting. After many nights of restless sleep, the merchant decided to take action. The next morning, while the grasshopper slept, the merchant commanded his servants to cut down all of the grass upon which the grasshopper liked to perch. The firefly was so heart-broken that he had to move away.

Quieter, and sadder, became our grasshopper’s nightly songs, but even this was too much for the merchant, who then ordered his servants to pull every flower in his garden up by the root. The townspeople cried to see the godly garden maimed, and the butterfly, no longer having any nectar to drink, was forced to leave as well.

How disheartened, our grasshopper friend.

The grasshopper was clever, however, and devised a plan. He knew that the merchant was a single man, for no married man would care about the chirping of grasshoppers—he would be doing plenty of chirping on his own.

He went to the river and gathered a great many reeds, which he bundled into a fine skirt around his waist. Then, he went to the lilies by the bank and painted his face to be in the custom of human women. Peering onto the water’s surface, the grasshopper found himself rather handsome, and the fish agreed.

He crept back to the merchant’s house and hid behind a window’s reed shutter. Chirping, in the sweetest voice he could muster, the grasshopper called to the merchant inside. “My, what a handsome fellow! I wonder if there is a home here for me?” For you see, that is the chirp grasshoppers make.

The merchant was quite charmed, and instantly ran to the window to pull back the reed. But the grasshopper stopped him, because if the merchant were to look carefully past the window reed shutter, he would know his true identity immediately.

“Oh no! Please don’t look. Only my husband can have the privilege.”

And so the merchant stopped, and rather than be suspicious of the secretive woman, he only found himself endeared. “Pray tell, Gentle Lady, what one must do to be your husband.”

The grasshopper could hardly contain his chirp of amusement. “Plant me a pretty lawn, to match my robe, and I will wed you.” And he flourished the lush reed skirt for the merchant’s desiring eyes.

The next day, the merchant hastened to install a fine green lawn in his yard. The gardeners toiled all the day. By evening, the firefly returned, drawn by the aroma of the fresh verdant grasses. This pleased the grasshopper, but butterfly had not yet returned, and he felt he owed the merchant a little more mischief. That night, he went back to the pond, where he gathered yellow ginkgo leaves to make an even finer robe. He returned to the window once again, and hiding behind the shutter, chirped sweetly, “My, what a handsome fellow! I wonder if there is a home here for me?”

merchantandgrasshapperThe merchant, confused, dashed to the window once more. But he remembered the lady’s shyness, so did not attempt to pull back the shutter. “I do not understand. Do you not see the fine green lawn I have planted? Am I still not fit to be your husband?”

The grasshopper shook his pretty, painted face. The gingko dress rustled like tin bells. “Oh, this lawn is very fine, but it is not nearly right enough. For you see, my robe is yellow. You must have gotten it wrong.”

The merchant, dismayed, apologized and promised to set it right.

The very next day, he had the gardeners remove the green lawn and instead plant a wondrous variety of yellow flowers. Daffodils, rape weed, roses, and gladiolus peppered the whole of the garden. The smell was intoxicating, and butterfly, drunk before noon, thanked the grasshopper heartily. The merchant, for his part, was certain that his night caller would be most impressed.

But that night, the grasshopper arrived in red. Petals from the crimson gum trees by the pond fashioned a royal skirt and corset, and it was all the merchant could do not to throw open the shutter and steal her for his wife.

Nonetheless, the grasshopper denied him, and chirping in his most lovely voice, begged the merchant to try again.

Now this continued for many days, and the merchant’s neighbors wondered at the drastic changes in his yard. Soon, everyone came every day to see the merchant’s most wondrous lawn changing color. On the day the changes started, it was a Monday, and now, by Sunday, they had seen blue, orange, purple, and white besides.

They did not know it was the grasshopper, and the merchant, a fool in love, never suspected a thing. But high time was coming, the grasshopper knew, that the game end, for he was tired of outwitting a simpleton.

On this final evening of our story, the grasshopper returned to the pond, and begging some scales from his goldfish friends, and the lights of a dozen or so fireflies, he fashioned the most wondrous celestial robe, and painting his face finer than any other night before, he returned to the merchant’s window.
This night, the exchange between the grasshopper and the merchant was quite melancholy, and the grasshopper cautioned the merchant. “I grow tired of your teases, my lord. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, will be your last chance to prove yourself to me.”

The merchant swore to appease his night caller, near mad with desire for the woman beyond his screen. The next day, he had the gardeners lay solid gold bricks upon his lawn, and before the night fell, every single one of them had been stolen by the people who had come to see his garden.

The merchant had become too poor to have his garden weeded, and the grasshopper was free to chirp to his heart’s content.

Also, everyone in town was a little bit richer.

A Quartet of Twitter Fiction by Alex Hurst

Eventually, it was discovered that the man who sold Jack those beans was actually Rumpelstiltskin, purveyor of oddities and parlor tricks.

A week after top minds in science revealed a world he’d only ever imagined, he wanted to be blind again. The dream was better.

The horrors of her Dust Bowl days never left her; frozen meals and watermelon rot in her fridge while she starves, afraid to waste the food.

Three thousand years, and Atlas, weary, shifts the globe on his shoulders. A new north star, a new direction; a new world.

Jack o’Lantern by Anthony Hulse

Halloween was here and I should have been overjoyed, but I was not. My parents looked at me proudly as I shivered in the passageway. I was dressed in my vampire costume and held my prized pumpkin.

Bobby Shaw, my next-door neighbour, trundled along the icy path, his Frankenstein costume as immaculate as ever, his pumpkin twice the size of mine. “Hello, Mr and Mrs Francis. Hello, Peter,” he said, his icy breath visible.

My mother fidgeted with my scarf, mumbling how cold it was, and embarrassing me by saying, “I don’t want my little angel to catch his death of cold, now do I?” She seemed to forget I was now ten years old and not a child anymore. She kissed me on the cheek and I reluctantly followed in the footsteps of Bobby, joining up with the other trick or treaters, who waited beneath the lamppost, stamping their cold feet.

“Did you have to bring the little twerp?” moaned Vernon Greer, the oldest and tallest in the party, who wore the mask of a ghoul. “He ought to be with kids his own age.”

Bobby Shaw slapped me around the head before he answered. “I didn’t have any choice, did I? My folks made me take him; besides, he has no friends his own age.”

“Well, he’s not coming with us,” insisted Vernon.

I acknowledged by now my role for the night. I was to walk well behind the group, and to receive only the candies that the others did not like. I followed the annual routine, waiting out of sight while the others collected their rewards. Woe betides anyone who never coughed up. Their windows would be pelted with eggs, or dog poo would be pushed through their letterbox.

I jumped up and down on the spot, attempting to ward of the cold as the swirling snow numbed my face. My eyes followed the large party across the road. They were led by a short, stocky man with huge sideburns, a top hat and cloak. In his gloved hand he carried a huge lantern, even larger than Bobby Shaw’s. Towards the rear of the group was a small boy with red hair, his face as white as snow. His eyes and lips were black like coal. The boy, who looked about my age, wore a skeleton costume.

I decided to introduce myself and jogged across the road. “Hello, I’m Peter.”

The boy ignored me and walked on, following behind the rest of the group. One by one, they looked over their shoulders, their faces seemingly hid behind masks. There was a mixture of ghouls, vampires, skeletons, witches, and ghastly-looking dwarfs. I scrambled after them, curious as to whom these people were.

I kept pace with the small boy, who continued to ignore me. “What school do you go to?” I asked.

Again, he chose to disregard me. The only sound that could be heard was the crisp footsteps, as they plodded through the laying snow. The man with the lantern led us into the grounds of a large house. He approached the door and pounded on it loudly.

A grey-haired man in a red, silk dressing gown answered, and regarded the group like something on the bottom of his shoe. His large Alsatian dog manoeuvred its head around the door and growled.


“Trick or treat?” The voice from the man with the lantern was deep and rasping.
“Beggars! Bleeding beggars, that’s all you are. Now, go away or I’ll set my dog onto you.”

The door was slammed shut in our faces. The man in the top hat turned and placed his hand upon the shoulder of a woman, who wore a witch’s costume and held a broom. The witch stepped forward, her wrinkled hand reaching out for the door handle. She stepped inside the house and a deep groan spread throughout the party, as they turned and walked away.

I was mesmerised and walked backwards, wondering what I had just witnessed. A loud scream, followed by a high-pitched yelping, caused me to jump. The strange group appeared unperturbed and continued on their way into the dark, bitter night.

Several houses later, a similar development occurred, with the householder most uncharitable. This time, one of the deformed dwarfs entered the house, and the screams followed. This happened on five occasions during the evening, and the group was whittled down gradually.

They walked on silently, heading away from my neighbourhood. I stopped and contemplated what to do. True, I was curious, but my parents I knew would be livid at me for leaving Bobby Shaw and the others.

The small, redheaded boy looked back at me as he followed behind the others, his eyes sad and forlorn. I ran after him when they crossed the main road and headed towards the woods.

“Where do you live?” I asked.

He opened his mouth as if to speak, but a scowl from the man with the lantern made him change his mind. The woods were enshrouded by a cold, swirling mist, and a hooting owl serenaded us as we advanced. Again, the party looked back at me one by one, their pale faces seeming to have lost substance. Rotten flesh clung to their bones, their gnarled teeth clearly visible.

I halted and watched when the strange people gradually vanished into the mist, apparently unconcerned about my presence. The small boy reappeared and walked slowly towards me, his face devoid of flesh. He reached out with his bony hand and I turned to run.

“Wait! Please, don’t be afraid.”

I cowered behind a tree and watched as he advanced slowly.

“Come, and I’ll show you where we live.”

I shook my head, my body trembling with fear, as well as the cold.

“Please, we’ll not hurt you… It’s been so long since I’ve seen someone my own age,” he stated.

“W-w-who are you?” I stuttered.

“My name is Jacob.”

“Your face… Is that a mask?”

“Come with me and I’ll explain everything.”

I cautiously followed Jacob deeper into the woods, until he stopped at an enormous tree.

“So, where do you live?” I quizzed.

“This is my home.” Jacob turned and walked towards the tree, before he vanished. “Come on, don’t be afraid.”

I walked carefully towards the tree with my hands held out in front of me, marvelling when I saw them pass through the growth. Another stride and I was inside a huge structure of whiteness, with many doors leading from the mist-filled room. Through the vapour, I made out the shape of Jacob waiting for me.

“Welcome to my home,” he smiled.

“But, I don’t understand. What is this place?”

“Peter, after midnight, you’ll not see me for another year… I long for the day I’ll not return here, but my time has not come yet.”

I was confused. “I don’t understand, Jacob… Who are you?”

The bizarre boy kept his distance, purposely I believe; not wishing to portray his hideous features to me.

“Peter, we live in different worlds. I am one of the undead, as is everyone who inhabits this world. When the time is right, Jack will offer me my liberty.”


“Why, you’ve surely heard of Jack-o’-Lantern, have you not?”

I looked down at my pathetic pumpkin and nodded.

Jacob continued. “Many many years ago, Jack was a drunkard and a trickster. One day, he tricked Satan into climbing a tree. He carved the image of a cross in the tree and trapped the Devil. Jack made a deal with Satan that he would never tempt him again, on condition he would let him down the tree.”

“He agreed?” I asked.

“Yes… Years later, Jack died and because of his sins was denied entrance to the gates of Heaven. Because he annoyed the Devil, he was also denied access to Hell. Instead, Satan gave Jack a single ember to help light his way through the darkness. Jack placed the ember inside of a pumpkin to keep it glowing, hence the legend of the Jack-o’-Lantern.”

“You said Jack would offer you your liberty? I don’t understand.”

“Every Halloween, we trick or treat; our reward being that any mortal denying us will be replaced by one of us. The remainder wait for another year, hoping they too will one day be free.”

“But, why you?” I asked.

“As I’ve already told you, Peter, I’m one of the undead. The people who live here were evil in your world…including me.”


“I too was denied the entrance to Heaven, because I killed my parents. I accidentally upset a candle and my parents perished, over one hundred and twenty years ago. Hell was never an alternative for me… You see, I live in hope that one year, Jack will choose me.”

“But, you said you killed your parents accidentally?”

“It matters not… Listen, you must leave.”

I was more curious than ever. “But, why did you invite me here, Jacob?”

“Because, I want you to be my friend. We can meet every Halloween.”

“I’d like that.”

I held out my hand and strained my eyes, trying to see his hideous features that were concealed by the mist. I felt nothing but pity for the small boy who had been trapped in his own hell for so long. Jacob refused my handshake, no doubt ashamed of his skeletal hands.


“Please, go before it’s too late,” he insisted. “Goodbye, Peter, my friend.”

“Goodbye, Jacob.”

Jacob pointed towards the exit and I followed the line of his finger. I trusted him and stepped through the wall and into the woods. The mist was now even denser and I had trouble getting my bearings. I advanced slowly, unsure if I was going the correct way. A rustling sound behind me caused me to increase my pace. I glanced over my shoulder to see someone approaching. “Jacob, is that you?”

A shrilling laugh came from the mouth of the white-haired witch. On closer inspection, I could see she carried a large knife. Hunched behind her was a dwarf, his decaying face contorted in anger.

I turned and ran for my life, blindly crashing into tree limbs and thorny shrubs. I dropped my lantern, my legs tired and my breath coming in short spasms. The twisted maze of roots took me by surprise and I plummeted to the ground. I turned on my back and saw the hideous witch and the dwarf stood over me.

“A tasty morsel for my cauldron,” laughed the witch.

“Yum, yum,” followed the dwarf.

She placed her spindly, bony fingers around my throat and brought the knife upwards. The dwarf held my arms down, his vile breath reeking of rotten fish.

“No!” came the scream from behind.

“Jacob!” I yelled.

“Go away, puny boy,” ordered the witch.

“Leave him be! He’s my friend.”

“Leave him be, he’s my friend,” mocked the dwarf.

The witch raised the knife menacingly. “He’s a mortal and it’s not yet midnight.”

“Put down that knife!”

The witch’s expression changed from ecstasy to disappointment when she turned to face the protester.

The bright glow coming from the lantern was evidence of his identity. “Your time has not yet come, Matilda, and you know the rules. Leave the boy be!”

The witch reluctantly released me and scampered off, the groaning dwarf following closely behind her.
Jack approached and held his lantern in front of my face, the gruesome face of the turnip even more terrifying than the owner’s disfigured features.

“Go, and do not ever speak of this night to anyone. The consequences for you will be dire; do you hear me, boy?”

I clambered to my feet, nodded rapidly, and looked past Jack, towards Jacob, who pointed towards the exit of the woods.

“I understand, sir.”

“Now, go. Run, you young scamp!”

I ran faster than I had ever run in my life, only stopping when I reached my home. I kept my word and never ever spoke of that Halloween to anyone. As the years progress and my hair turns grey, I still venture out at Halloween, accompanying young Jacob on his trick and treats, hoping that one day he will fulfil his wish and be chosen. I was not entirely truthful when I said I kept my word; after all, I’ve told you, haven’t I? Can you keep a secret?

IN THE HOME OF THE GODS by Peter M. Emmerson

An excerpt from Book 3 of The Tirnano “The Purple Queen”


What’s the celebration for? Lord Bes said it was going to be a right ding dong, piss up.”

The fifteen foot tall giant chuckled, “You have an amusing turn of phrase sweet one,” she purred. Her face turned serious for a moment and she looked down at the pretty Scot, “‘Tis not a appealing tale, are you in no doubt you wish to hear it?”

“Bring it on babe, if it gets too much I can always cry off.”

“So be it Jeanne, before I begin; I ask for your forgiveness.” she sat on a low stool beside the standing human, her eyes level with Jeanne’s, a tear rolled down her muzzle.

“Whatever it is you have to tell me, I’m sure you had good reason at the time.” Jeanne threw her arms about the massive head and kissed the tear away. “I love you Sekhi.”


The lioness began to sing, her voice a rich and beautiful contralto;

“Mine is a heart of carnelian, crimson as murder on a holy day.

Mine is a heart of corneal, the gnarled roots of a dogwood and the bursting of flowers.

I am the broken wax seal on my lover’s letters.

I am the phoenix, the fiery sun, consuming and resuming myself.

I will what I will.

Mine is a heart of carnelian, blood red as the crest of a phoenix.” Continue reading

Merry-go-Round by Alex Hurst

Westerfield Playground is a sad place.

A girl died here. Spun off the merry-go-round, hit a tree, neck buckled like a sippy-straw. She died before the ambulance arrived. Her father cried and screamed, and refused to let the paramedics move her. The whole neighborhood saw it happen.

For months, bouquets and colorful candles surrounded the tree like a skirt. For a while there was a picture, too. The rain kept wearing her face off, though, so they brought a new one that was laminated. They say plastic is forever, but even that shell meant to protect the memory of her smile corroded, and the rain seeped in, bleeding away all of the pigment until the photo was nothing more than a ghost.

Someone eventually tore the laminate off the tree, and then the bouquets and candles disappeared, too.

Continue reading

Babette by Carol Bond

Every now and then, I remember
Loose images of what used to be
Or could be,
Or should have been.

He was a beautiful creature, sublime in faith and godly intentions with downy wings that when unfurled stretched in unworldly glory. Aarin watched her sleeping and was amazed as always how the dead could look so alive in this place of mirrors.

Babette slept as she did every night, but although a smile ghosted her pale face, a frown also sat firmly over the bridge of her nose. She would wake in the morning, like she did every day wondering why it was her sleep came away empty. No one dreamed here.

Another, also watched Babette, but not while she slept, no his interest lay in her waking hours. Shadows and trickery was his game. This creature was as ugly as sin and by far the most evil of creatures. Jabin was his name and although he was as squat as he was high on the nose, he was loyal to the cause and this meant Babette could never be allowed to remember. Continue reading

Memories by Evelyn Steward

How fast time flies? I never knew it could, not when I was a whole lot younger. I like to think of the early 1960s as the best time of my life.

It was exciting. New-ish job which gave me the chance to fly to Canada and other places. Spain, France, Germany, The Netherlands and odd spots inbetween.

1960 was my first trip to Canada. I will not go into detail, other than to say that the journey outbound was on a BOAC jet prop. Stopping at several places going north from London (Heathrow) Airport. Not sure of all the stops but I think Manchester was one and the West Coast of Scotland. This was at night, so seeing the darkness of England inbetween airports where lights twinkled like fairy grottos, was amazing for a first ever flying traveller. Continue reading

The Clockmaker by Anthony Hulse

It was Christmas Eve, and as usual Maurice Whitaker ignored the carol singers. The uncharitable, middle-aged man tuned in to the local evening news. Whitaker was a clockmaker; a dying occupation, or so he had boasted. He was a loner and had been all of his life. Some commented that stingy Maurice had never married or indeed been involved in a relationship, because that would mean him sharing. Sharing wealth, happiness or love did not appeal to the recluse. Others claimed his refusal to smile contributed to his solitary lifestyle.

The balding man with the hook nose and hollow cheeks had worn the same suit and shoes for over two years. To conserve energy he often sat in the dark. He lived in a small village just outside Whitby and drove to his workplace every morning. His cloistered nature ordained that he worked alone and was unwilling to pay employees. Yes, Whitaker was a modern day Ebenezer Scrooge, a mean man without friends or scruples.

His small cottage was sparsely decorated, and many of his beloved clocks adorned his habitat; the incessant sound of their ticking synchronised. No portraits or photographs hung from the plain walls, for friends or family he discounted. There was no evidence that it was the festive season. Christmas was just a waste of money he would often tell himself.

He would arrive home from work late afternoon and would dine on his beloved homemade broth, which was made from the most inexpensive ingredients. As his eyes focused on his treasured television, the shadows of the dancing flames from his open fire seemed to give life to his austere living room. He perspired heavily, but his condition had nothing to do with the heat from his fire. His grey eyes were unblinking as the newsreader reported on the main story.

“A young eight-year old girl was killed this morning outside the village of Ruswarp. It is believed she was a victim of a hit and run driver. Sally Fitzgerald lived within the travelling community, and according to her parents, she was on her way to feed the ducks at the nearby River Esk, as she did every morning. Anyone with any information, please contact the police on this number… Now we turn to sport. The…”

Whitaker switched off his television and buried his head in his bony hands. The carol singers, obviously strangers to the area had given up and moved on.

“She was only a gypsy girl,” mouthed the callous man. He switched on his television once more and tuned in to the cartoons, which offered him a rare opportunity to laugh. He resumed feasting on his hot vegetable broth, the dead girl forgotten. marisa-lerin-ornaments-19-template-embellishment-shape-commercial-use copy

It was Sunday afternoon, two days before Christmas and Whitaker was sat in his threadbare armchair, reading a copy of Robinson Crusoe, which he had purchased at the local church hall jumble sale. He heard a mysterious, inhuman sound outside and put down his book.

“Piffle,” he groaned, and advanced towards his window.

Outside, it was snowing, and through the flurry he could see an old woman. She held what looked like a large cage. She stood motionless at the end of his path and seemingly stared at his cottage.

Whitaker reluctantly opened his door and shouted. “Whatever you’re selling, I’m not buying. Please go away.”

The old woman approached slowly. The bitter wind and fall of snow obviously did not concern her. She wore a black veil and matching gown, her bejewelled, icy cold fingers attached to a cage. The parrot cawed, before it spoke. “Hello. Hello.”

Whitaker frowned, although he seemed impressed by the colourful bird. Through the veil, he could make out the features of the woman. Her face was wrinkled and her teeth were rotten, but it was her eyes that bothered him. The orbs were black, like nuggets of coal, emotionless and dead.

She held out her trembling hand and spoke. “Can you spare a few coppers for an old lady?” The words were delivered in an Irish accent.

“No, I don’t encourage charity. Now please go away.” Continue reading

Passing Over: The Handbook by Alex Hurst

At 5:37am EST, the sirens went off. The sound, low and baritone, pierced through the quiet of the early morning stillness like alarms from the 1950s, heralding doom by air raid.
The sound came from everywhere: refrigerators, bedposts, dashboard hula girls. Some people woke up screaming as their very pajamas emitted the eerie call.
The alarm lasted for roughly ten minutes, waking those who were sleeping, terrifying those already up, regardless of how remote. Even in the distant sands of the Sahara, saddles and stones emitted the strange warning. There was really no choice but to pay attention to it.
When the sirens finally stopped, people scrambled to make sense of it. But television broadcasts couldn’t be resumed, phone lines were jammed, and browsers could no longer find a connection to the internet.
Then, the music started. Continue reading