Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sitting Up with Grandpa

by Blu Gilliand

It was twelve-year-old Jimmy they asked to sit up with Grandpa. The men had spent the evening building the coffin, and needed to rest before getting up early to dig the grave. It was easy for Jimmy to agree, sitting on Grandpa’s front porch in the unflinching August sun. When he said yes, Pa clapped him on the shoulder and said, “Good man.”

But that night, sitting alone with Grandpa in Grandpa’s room, Jimmy hated his daytime self. Daytime Jimmy was nowhere around, and Nighttime Jimmy was a little spooked.

Grandpa lay on the bed, dressed in his Sunday best. His snow-white hair was neatly combed. His hands were folded atop his chest, gnarled fingers knotted together in an attitude of prayer. A shiny new nickel lay on each of his eyes. They caught glints of moonlight streaming through the window; when they sparked just right, it looked like the old man was winking.

Jimmy tried not to look at Grandpa, but part of his job was to shoo away flies that gathered around the body. He could have shut the window, but the moist Alabama heat made that unthinkable.

A fat black fly circled Grandpa’s face. Jimmy moved forward to fan it away, and noticed something about the nickels. One showed heads, and the other showed tails.

Pa had told him that the nickels were there to pay the ferryman for taking Grandpa’s soul to Heaven. He said they should always show the same side, heads or tails, otherwise Grandpa’s soul might get confused about where it was going and be lost for eternity.

Whoever put the coins on Grandpa’s eyes must not have known that. The thought of Grandpa wandering in confusion for all eternity bothered Jimmy. He thought he should set the coins right so his Grandpa would be okay.

But to do so meant maybe touching cold, dead flesh. Jimmy really, really didn’t want to do that.

Go ahead, Jimmy, his Pa’s voice urged him. Pa had a way of popping in his head when Jimmy was worrying over a big decision. Go ahead and be a good man.

Jimmy reached out to his Grandpa’s face. His hand trembled. His fingers brushed the nickel showing heads. The metal was cold. Carefully, he lifted it clear.

Grandpa’s eye opened.

Jimmy gasped and dropped the nickel. It lodged underneath his Grandpa’s chin, caught in the tight, starched collar of his shirt. Grandpa’s eye stared at the ceiling.

Jimmy’s heart galloped. He wanted no more of this. But he was a “good man,” according to his Pa, and he meant to see it through.

He gave himself a moment to calm down, then leaned forward to retrieve the coin. He managed to tweeze it between two fingernails without touching Grandpa. He turned it tails-side up and used it to close his grandfather’s eye, leaving the coin on top.

He heard something; a soft whisper, like a sigh. A hint of breath drifted across his face. It smelled of rot and decay.

Jimmy, not a man at all, not yet, right now nothing but a scared little boy, got up and ran across the room and grabbed the doorknob with sweat-soaked palms. As he tried in vain to turn the knob, the metal refusing to obey his slick hands, he began to scream. And yet, over his own cries, and over the sound of his own heart pounding, he heard a noise: the solemn ring of metal as two nickels struck the wooden floor.


Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer whose nonfiction work has appeared in publications such as Dark Scribe Magazine, Dark Discoveries,,, and Shroud Magazine. His fiction has appeared in anthologies such as Horror Library Vol. 3 and Northern Haunts. You can visit him online at

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nobody Smiling

by Cate Gardner

Vern Gobel won by a margin.

That is by the margin in my notebook where he scrawled threats in pencil. Or rather where he had one of his minions scrawl them for him. The words have faded now. My thumb has run over them so often they are just a blur.

The silence in the auditorium, peppered with nervous coughs and the scraping of chairs, makes my ears hurt. No one in the crowd is looking at me, but they should. I fuss with my signet ring, running a finger over the R and trying to ignore the tightening in my stomach. Lulu Adams was a good, fair candidate. Her policies were sound and, despite the blood gushing from her neck wound, bloodless.

She is looking at me. Holding onto her throat and peering up to the back of the auditorium.

She knows.

The headmaster’s left eye is twitching, his fingers drumming against grey flannel. He wants to say something but Vern’s henchmen have sewn his lips together with garden twine.

Vern clears his throat, then clears it some more. His voice is a not-quite-broken squeak that doesn’t reach this far back. All I see are his lips moving. Not that I care what he has to say. Not that anyone here cares. We all just want out.

He points towards the wall and we don’t need a window to visualize the black smoke that hangs over the rival Eberhart High. Science experiments go wrong, everyone knows that, especially when you add dynamite to the formula. A few dazed, misguided students, who believe they voted Vern into office, wonder how they could have missed the combat policy. It was all there in black and vicious white. Of course, without the right light it is impossible to see the white words written on white paper. I believe I invented that code.

Vern Gobel’s photocopied manifesto begins with a confusing paragraph on how one day he doesn’t want to be just the President but the President. I’m guessing he means of the U.S. and not of some nameless global corporation or of the school. A smile twitches at the edge of my lips as I envisage Vern as a fifty-year-old bone thin geek handing out cookies and badges to kids.

Of course, they would be cookies laced with cyanide or fertilizer. Badges fastened to fat cheeks by means of safety pins.

Lulu looks at me now with the blank eyed stare of a dead girl as her blood drips from the stage onto Mrs. Mendelssohn’s birds nest. The math teacher’s shoulders heave up and down.

The dull whine of sirens penetrates the thick walls of the auditorium. In quick succession the doors bolt shut as Vern’s henchmen, a collection of science club geeks, stand guard at the doors. They fold their puny arms and I wonder why we don’t rush at them. They would break with the slightest kick.

Maybe it’s the hacksaws and sharpened kitchen knives putting us off. Maybe it’s the frozen stare of Mr. Adams, the gym teacher. When muscle and brawn lies stupefied by fear then we should all sit very, very still and not attract undue attention.

Did one of the students just look at me? A sly glance. It only takes one person to whisper and the fact of this sham election will swarm through the crowd.

Oh joy, Vern is pointing at me. I think he’s encouraging everyone to clap. Some students are doing so in a regimented sarcastic fashion. Though the kids from the school newspaper are having problems. It’s hard to clap when the class president has chopped off your hands.


Cate Gardner is a writer of all things odd. You can find her stories online at Arkham Tales, Three Crow Press and Every Day Fiction. She also has stories forthcoming in Postscripts, Fantasy Magazine, Dead Souls, Sand, Necrotic Tissue and Space & Time. You can find her on the web at and at

Sunday, August 16, 2009

White Paper

by Rachel Green

He offered me pristine white paper to write on, and I accepted it gladly, filling it with outlines and plots and characters, each connected by arrows and bubble clouds and crossings out. He watched me work; a silent sentinel guarding me from distractions who smiled whenever I looked up, nodding his encouragement.

I wrote longhand and forgot the time. There were no windows and the door was behind me—just a fluorescent light overhead to dispel shadows from the table. Page after page I wrote, picking up a new pencil whenever the current one ran became a stub. He always made sure the next was freshly sharpened.

I ignored the hunger. If I didn’t eat, I needn’t leave the room at all, and if my clothes felt a little looser, so much the better. After two hundred pages my fingers were sore. After five hundred I couldn’t open my hand to release the pencil. After a thousand I could see bone through the calluses.

When I finished the book he stood to shake my hand. My legs were more like sticks and wouldn’t support my weight but he didn’t seem to mind. He patted my shoulder as he passed and I could hear the door open and close, even if I couldn’t turn my head.

I waited for about an hour until the door opened again. A different man sat down and handed me a stack of white paper covered in tiny, crabbed handwriting. I looked at him, and he smiled and nodded and handed me an eraser.


Rachel Green is a forty-something writer from Derbyshire, England. She lives with her two partners and three dogs. She was the regional winner of the Undiscovered Authors 2007 and her novel An Ungodly Child was published in 2008. When not writing, Rachel walks her three dogs, potters in the garden and drinks copious amounts of tea.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Feeding Frenzy

by Rebecca Nazar

Dagget consumed pies, hot dogs, and hot chilies in gluttonous quantities for sport. He was the undisputed champion, but the thrill was gone. An adrenalin junky and attention seeker, he craved risk, a heaping helping of tasty fame.

“Only the old school competitive eaters gorge themselves on digestible fare,” he said, scratching what he believed to be a cast iron gut. “I’m going to ratchet up the stakes.”

Rabid Rush Energy Drink sponsored him; the product needed launching. ESPN-Extreme was eager to broadcast; their ratings were slumping. Oh, and yes, The Guinness Book of World Records dutifully chronicled it all.

So Dagget hunkered down and ate a large bowl of needles, tacks, and crushed glass. For hours, this modern day gladiator spooned that killer kibble down his gullet like breakfast cereal until it protruded from every pore.

Starved for entertainment, savoring the grim stunt, the large stadium audience cheered then jeered their hero; and as vultures are compelled to do, they picked his corpse clean of flesh-snippets for lockets and sharp souvenirs.

What? You’re surprised we acquired an appetite for this sort of thing?


Rebecca Nazar feels you should turn off your television and go play outside.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Rocked the Hell Out of It

by Rob Brooks

Jesse found a tree away from the crowd where he could exorcise his guitar.

He set the case down on the grass and lifted out his Gretsch hollow body, leaving the case open. He stared at the guitar with a mix of admiration, love and, just recently added, horror.

“I know you’re in there,” he muttered. “And I’m going to destroy you like you’ve tried to do to me.”

He strummed the strings, sliding his fingers between the frets, listening to the changes in the chords. He played no discernible tune, just listened for the music to find him first.

Jesse only played a few minutes before he saw the first signs of the apparition, rising from the guitar strings as if it were just steam. “I see you,” he whispered. “Even if no one else can.”

The shape hovered over the neck of his guitar, holding on to it with six little tendrils, one to each string. A face formed. “So you’ve found me, Jesse. I’ve loved all your music these last twenty-four years.” It mocked him.

“Shut up, monster,” Jesse growled. “Just what are you? A ghost? A demon? I thought musicians made deals with the devil to help their career.”

The shape definitely laughed this time. “Call me a hitchhiker. I’ve just been along for the ride.”

Jesse continued to strum, his fingers playing bits from actual songs now, everything he’d learned since he’d started as a boy. Familiar songs and artists, his oldest friends. Buddy Holly. Neil Young. Tom Waits. Classics and unknowns. The shape in front of him danced to the snippets.

“It was you, wasn’t it?” No answer. “All these years, all the bands I’ve been through, all the failures. You caused it all didn’t you?”

“Always looking to lay the blame somewhere else, aren’t you?” it said, then it hovered closer to him. “But I will destroy you. I will make you a miserable old man, playing on street corners for dollar bills and change, too attached to his guitar to let go and too stupid to realize no one’s listening to him anymore. And that’s really the worst part, isn’t it, Jesse? That no one will hear a word you sing.”

Jesse shook his head. He didn’t want to hear it. “Why?”

The shape’s ghostly mouth smiled. “Because I can, and you’re so easy. You’ve doubted yourself so much, I’ve barely had to do anything.”

Jesse watched the shape, saw how its tendrils were coiled around each string. Holding on. Anchoring it.

“What if I just force you to leave?”

The apparition said nothing.

“Maybe I’ll just smash the guitar. Then you’ll have to find a new ride, as you say.”

“I don’t think you’ll do that, Jesse. You love your Gretsch like it was your own child.”

“I don’t think I have to smash it.”

His fingers still played, longer pieces of songs. He wondered briefly if the monster was right, maybe he really was ruining his own career with bad choices, poor writing, horrible bands.

Didn’t really matter. In either case, this parasite had to go.

“I’ve got a song you haven’t heard, only play it on my electric. From a little band called Nirvana.”

The ghostly face looked worried a moment, and Jesse saw the tendrils tighten.

Jesse started in on the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” strumming away with a viciousness he’d never laid onto his acoustic before. The song didn’t sound right on the guitar—it was too bluesy—but that didn’t matter.

He played each chord harder than the last. He saw the apparition vibrating, and when the D string snapped and that tendril flew loose, he grinned.

One by one, the strings broke until he was down to just his two high strings left. He didn’t even bother with chords, he just hit the strings as hard as he could. They broke together with a twang, and the apparition screamed. The shape spun in the air like a balloon losing air, and then it was gone.

Jesse smiled. He’d done it. He’d freed himself from the monster.

He heard a clink. He looked into his guitar case and saw two quarters. The crowd had moved closer to him, and as he watched, a woman bent over to put a dollar bill on top of the quarters.


Rob Brooks enjoys writing speculative fiction of all kinds, and has had poetry published in Scifaikuest, Daikaijuzine, and Chimaera Serials, as well as fiction in A Thousand Faces, upcoming issues of Arkham Tales, Sonar 4, and NVF Magazine, and Malpractice: An Anthology of Bedside Terror.