Saturday, October 31, 2009

Seven-Year Itch

by Joshua M. Reynolds

The itch started on a Thursday. It was a tiny thing at first. A tremble in the meat, just below the skin. Greene barely noticed it, as he scratched. And scratched. And scratched. But the itch didn’t go away. Instead, it became a bone-deep squirm that no amount of clawing satisfied.

By Saturday, the itch had spread and grown, a virus of sensation spreading under his skin. Like rot through the frame of a house. It was warm. His skin flushed red where he laid fingernail to flesh and he scratched harder, faster.

Greene tried to ignore it at first. But it only got worse, digging at his mind, always there, wriggling just out of reach, a nagging sensation that made it impossible to sit down. Or stand up. Or do anything but scratch.

He wasn’t allergic to anything. Not a blessed thing. Poison oak maybe. Or poison ivy. Those were his first and second thoughts, respectively. The source of the itch.

His doctor said no. The doctor prescribed a lotion. Another doctor, a second opinion, prescribed a pill. Nothing worked. Greene could only scratch and scratch and scratch.

It wasn’t an irritation of the skin, the doctors swore. There was nothing on the skin. No cause. His third opinion recommended him to a psychologist, a specialist in the ’it’s all in your head’ school. Greene ignored the recommendation. Just another dead-end he knew. By then, the itch was unbearable. He couldn’t eat. Couldn’t sleep. He could only scratch.

By the following Tuesday, he had discovered the cause of the itch. Something under his skin. Something rubbing against the underside of him. Spreading. Growing. Carrying the itch with it. He knew it. Knew it was there. He couldn’t sleep for the tiny explosions of irritation that blossomed between his pores.

On Wednesday, his fingers clawed strips off his arms and legs and head. Tiny, curled rolls of white, dead skin that flaked to the floor of his apartment. Blood streaked him like some garish decoration, painting him in red zebra stripes. And still the itch echoed along his bones, fleeing deeper and deeper from his questing fingers.

His fingernails cracked and split and he turned to mechanical aids. Backscratchers, forks, hair brushes. None of them scratched deep enough. Hard enough. The itch remained where it was, tantalizingly, agonizingly out of reach.

The steel wool, however, worked beautifully.

Blood burped and welled as he scraped it across his bare skin. He had stopped wearing clothes on Tuesday. He gritted his teeth against the pain, the excruciating, scraping pain that sent fire rippling along his nerves and up into his brain, but it was still better than the itch. Anything was better than the itch.

So he grasped his handfuls of steel wool and flayed himself, rubbing himself crimson, digging for the itch that hid under his skin. His flesh came away in ragged sheets, sticky with blood.

The first hairs, wiry black things like bristles, popped up through the blood on the third pass with the wool. Bobbing like buoys on a red sea. More and more hairs sprang out of his wounds, hidden beneath his skin. Dozens, hundreds, until the rough surface of a pelt was visible. Black patches of stiff hair that grew thick and wild beneath the surface of him.

And the itch began to subside. The more hair that was visible, the less he itched and Greene knew he’d been right, that it wasn’t in his head at all but under his skin. And so he scratched and scratched and the itch grew less and less as he sloughed away.

By Thursday morning, only a bit of him was left. He had stopped using the steel wool when his fingers fell away and resorted to using his tongue. Long and wide and beppled like sandpaper, he licked the last of his skin, the last of the itch, away. Until there was nothing left of him at all.

Then the wolf that had been Greene trotted out the door.


Joshua M. Reynolds is a freelance writer of moderate skill and exceptional confidence. He has written quite a bit, and some of it was even published. For money. By real people.
Feel free to stop by his blog, Hunting Monsters, and cast aspersions on his character.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Beginning is Nigh

by Michelle Ristuccia

“The Beginning is Nigh.”

Janice tsked. “Just ignore him.”

I paused, trying to remember what I had been about to say before the interruption, but the man's high-pitched thought-speak had scattered me like so many falling leaves. It had been a long time since we had heard the thought-speak of any others. A lot of our kind speak only with those that they knew in the before-life.

“The Beginning is Nigh,” he echoed.

“I want to hear what he says,” I tittered to her privately. Then, “Hello?”

“Hello?” he echoed, sounding equally unsure. He paused before continuing on a stronger note. “Are you a believer?”

“A believer?” I asked, hearing Janice groan.

“A believer in the Beginning. It is coming! There will be flesh on our bones once again. We will rise up and the earth will be our keepsake, as it was always meant to be, as it can only be for us, who have lain in its womb!”

Janice cackled. “Don't encourage him.”

“Be warned. Only those who Believe will Rise.” Everything about the prophet, from the serious timbre of his thought-speech to his freshly-dead impatience, reminded me of my before-life.

I held my proverbial tongue, listening to the thump and rumble of the live ones passing overhead. I checked over my bones, but didn't feel any stray nerve impulses. All of the sinews and ligaments had deteriorated long ago, the rotting corpses of plants and small creatures collapsing over me, filling in where my flesh had been. Though my bones remained, their calcium had long leached out, and I would never wiggle my toes again.

But the prophet was shouting, “Believe, believe!” and because it was his thoughts that I was hearing, I knew with absolute certainty that he did believe.

A part of me believed, too.

He was gasping now, his thoughts whipped into a frenzy. “The Beginning, it is here!”
“It's here!” I echoed without thinking. Other voices joined in the chant.

I could hear Janice tsk-tsking in the background, but her words were drowned out by our shouting. I believed, and I could feel the ground shaking. My bones creaked--the earth split away to reveal the blinding brightness of a full moon. My skull seemed to rise up of its own accord, and the vertebrae followed. I was standing up!

As I crawled out of the ground, I could see the bones of my hands gleaming in the moonlight. My spine creaked as I straightened and turned to the skeleton rising next to me, its gaunt eye sockets black in shadow. “You lied to me!” I shouted, and my shout was a real shout. “Where is my flesh?”

The other skeleton's hand rose to point over the top of the cemetery wall. Beyond were rolling hills topped with rows of multi-story houses. “Flesh,” he hissed, his jaw moving down and up once.

My bones tingled with hunger as we lept over gravestones, leaving chicken-foot patterns in the dirt behind us.


Learn more about Michelle Ristuccia at:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Not Easy

by Michelle Howarth

For Jackie, life never comes easy. Nothing is natural to him. Like water for instance. Forget it. He sinks like a dirty great rock, and usually ends up getting fished out by some small, weedy kid nobody likes, or worse, the next door neighbour’s toy poodle.

Riding a bike. He’d tell you the story of his one and only attempt, but he’ll be damned if he can remember it. The paramedics say it’s best he avoids anything with wheels from now on.

To most, Jackie is just an everyday kid, a bit of a disaster zone, and not someone cool to have at parties, but there’s nothing exceptional about him. His eyes are an ordinary shade of brown, and Douglas will tell you he’s a bit on the fat side, and Brody will say he’s too short for his age— but how many kids are there with brown eyes, a bit on the fat side, and too short for their age?



Nothing extraordinary there.

That’s what Jackie likes them to think. He’s read the Guidebook twice, and it says it’s best no one suspects. People start suspecting and he’ll have to deal with them, and as already explained such things have a giant tendency not to come easy.

Especially for Jackie.

It’s difficult at the best of times. Everything that’s supposed to happen, doesn’t. Perhaps if he keeps his teeth sharply filed they’ll learn to grow like that? Maybe it’s like pruning a bonsai tree? His whiskers could still use some work, and his ears, and his tail–work, work, work. There has to be a better solution to stuffing his belt into the back of his pants.

And the moon, well, that’s supposed to work wonders, but not for Jackie. He’s howled and bayed at it until his throat is sore, but it seems to glow on without even noticing.

It’s not easy, not easy at all, and worse, people are starting to suspect. They give him weird looks in the street. They cross over to the other side. If you ask them about Jackie, they’ll raise an eyebrow, look left and then right, and whisper, “That kid is weird. Something strange about him.”

It’s a real problem, and the Guidebook says they can’t know. They have to be dealt with. His life will be at risk if he doesn’t.

Still, the moon refuses to take effect, and it doesn’t surprise him one bit. Nothing comes naturally for him, nothing at all—so he’s sat on the lawn with his pencilled on whiskers, newspaper ears, and belt of a tail, sorting out the final part of his transformation.


He’s filed his teeth to make his fangs, and now it seems logical to do likewise for claws. Blood flicks from each finger as he uses the knife to mould it, slicing nail and skin to get the perfect design.

He’s biting his lip and drawing the nub of his thumb into a fine point, almost ready to deal with the people. Those who suspect.

It’s hard, painful work, but then, like everything else, this werewolf business doesn’t come easy.


Learn more about Michelle at

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dead Weight

by Robert Swartwood

Just after sundown they emerge from out of the ground. There are eight of them, just as Merle said.

I stand with my gun drawn, waiting for them.

Who has the money? I ask.

One of them, a man, steps forward hesitantly. He tells me it’s in his pocket.

Then get it, I say. Slowly.

He reaches into his pocket, slowly, then pulls out the wad of bills. It doesn’t even look like a hundred bucks.

I take it and stuff it in my own pocket and motion with the gun for them to start walking.

A mile later we come to the van. I load them in, one at a time, and then shut the back. I pull a heavy-duty lock from my pocket and place it on the door. I can hear them inside, whispering to each other.

I drive ten miles before a sheriff’s cruiser pulls me over. I stop the van and then just sit there before Jacob walks up to my window.

How many? he asks.


How much?

I pull the wad of cash out of my pocket, hold it up for him to see.

That’s not much at all, he says.

No, it’s not.

That hardly even pays for your gas and time.

Tell me about it.

He looks off over the desert, toward the horizon that marks the border between our world and theirs. He nods once, touches the brim of his hat, then strolls back to his cruiser.

A half hour later I arrive at the cabin. Merle is waiting for me.

About time, she says when I get out of the van. She already has the shotgun out, cradled in the crook of her arm.

We go to the back and take off the lock and then open the doors. The eight of them stare back out at us.

Okay, I say, this is how we’re going to do this. One at a time. The faster you cooperate, the faster this will go.

One of them—a woman this time—says, Food?

I glance at Merle, smile, and then nod at the woman. Yes, food.

The first one to go is a man in his thirties. I keep my gun aimed at his back as I lead him toward the cabin. Before we get to the door I reach into my pocket, grip the switchblade, pull it out. I flick my wrist and there’s a sharp snick and this is what the man hears and turns and sees and before I know it he opens his mouth but I jab him in the throat with the knife and his eyes roll back and his body goes weightless and he falls to the ground.

Fuck, I mutter.

I drop the knife and pick him up but he’s heavier than he looks, now that he’s dead weight, and I get blood on my shirt as I drag him forward. I have to prop him on my knee as I open the door and then I have to drag him across the dilapidated boards toward the center of the cabin, where the locked trapdoor is located.

I undo the lock, grab the metal ring and pull the trapdoor open but the thing inside is already waiting and one of its tentacles reaches out and I have to slam the trapdoor back down, slam it hard, and the creature gives a kind of mewling noise that makes my brain want to explode.

Merle comes running in the cabin, asking what the fuck was that?

I think I hurt it, I say.

No shit.

Here, help me.

She stands behind the trapdoor, her hand on the ring, and I position myself in front of it with the dead man in my arms.

I look at her and nod and she pulls the trapdoor open and one of those tentacles comes out and I push the man forward and the tentacle wraps around his legs and pulls him forward and then the body is gone down into the pit and Merle shuts the door and locks it.

When we get back outside the rest of them can be heard inside the back of the van. They’re crying and screaming and praying to a god that doesn’t exist.

I look at Merle and shake my head.

It’s going to be a long fucking night.


Robert Swartwood has always had a fondness for horror. In the seventh grade he was inspired to become a writer after reading Insomnia by Stephen King. Robert's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Chizine, Postscripts, Space and Time, elimae, Wigleaf, and The Los Angeles Review. His sf action novella The Silver Ring can be read for free at

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mr. Lucky

by Kurt Newton

H. Michael Casper (H to his friends) was always in the right place at the right time. Lottery tickets purchased on a whim…would win. Raffles, radio contests--you name it. Always the thousandth guest or the millionth customer. Even those lucky coins at the supermarket checkout line. One year, he had so many of the brightly colored tokens he decorated his Christmas tree with them (which he won as a door prize at the office Christmas party). Luck was on his side. Luck was his lady every night. Until, a package arrived on his doorstep.

The package had no return address. Inside the package was a doll, a small wishnik doll to be precise. With lucky horseshoes on the soles of each foot. It was a good luck doll.

Someone's idea of a joke, H thought, placing the doll on the fireplace mantle. A little more luck couldn't hurt.

Or could it?

The doll stared at him with wild hair and wide grin, as if to say luck was crazy, luck was insane. It appeared as if the doll wanted to wink, but was prevented from doing so by its rigid construction. H thought nothing of it.

Within a week H had wrecked his car, was laid off from his job of twenty years, and had developed a rash that just wouldn't go away. There was also the flooded basement, the three broken mirrors, and his television was struck by lightning. Not only had his luck dried up, it appeared to have turned black and was oozing bad juju.

Meanwhile, the wishnik sat atop the fireplace mantle, its eyes feral-looking, its grin nearly touching its ears. H did what any right-thinking person would have done. He built a fire and threw the wishnik into the flames.

He watched it burn.

Hair ignited, rubber melted, but the grin, shaped like a lucky horseshoe, seemed to stay put as the flames grew, flaring up in orange tendrils like strands of wild hair, and flaring out like a yellow tongue, extending beyond the hearth, licking a stack of nearby newspapers and setting them on fire.

H ran, but the flames appeared to have a life of their own and beat him to each exit, zigzagging in continuous Ws along the walls and across the ceiling. The flames were accompanied by a hideous insane laughter, as if luck itself were mocking his very existence.

Which seemed to be at an end, thought H, as the smoke overcame him and he collapsed on the living room floor…

…only to wake up in a hospital room five days later, wrapped from head to toe in gauze, with over ninety percent of his body burned. A nurse leaned over him.

“You're a lucky man,” she said.

H nodded, thankful to be alive. There were several bouquets of flowers in the room, along with Get Well Soon balloons hovering near the ceiling.

“Someone left this here for you. Isn't it cute?”

The nurse held up a wishnik doll and waggled it back and forth. Its yellowish hair danced like flames, its eyes appeared to glow red.

The nurse needed to call the doctor because H just wouldn't stop screaming.


Kurt Newton tries to let the story dictate how long it wants to be. Sometimes that means a very short story, sometimes it means a novel. One thing for sure is he's written a lot of them--both large and small. News about his latest can be found at