Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Mannerisms of Runners

by Barry Napier

It started off as an exercise thing, but now he has no idea why he runs. His leg muscles are toned and immune to shin splints; his ankles work like the hinges of a medieval drawbridge.

There is a rhythm to the wind against his face, to the pounding of his feet on asphalt like the heartbeat of a ghost. He runs and he runs and he has no idea where he is going. Three days ago he tasted salt in the air, the perspiration of the Pacific at his back. Today he smells manure and diesel. A large tractor trailer with a milk company logo barrels by like a big silver bullet looking for a werewolf that isn't there.

He has no idea why he is still running.

There are blisters on his feet and he is certain that both socks are filled with blood. He can feel the broken flaps of skin that were once the balls of his feet rubbing against the blood soaked fabric. His eyes, lips and the insides of his nostrils are dry. His lungs are burning and there is the sensation of a weight that has sat upon his chest for so long that it has started to absorb into his skin, through his breastbone and into his heart.

Sometimes when the milk trucks go racing past, he thinks about jumping in front of one. Then maybe the running would stop and his muscles would get a rest in the ensuing explosion of calcium and Penzoil and New Balance.

He has been running for thirty weeks. He does not sleep. He only watches the world as it slumbers around him, clouds rising and falling and sprinkling stars like salt along the way. The night sky should represent rest, but it only urges him on. Run faster, it says. There is a maniac behind you.

Maybe that is why he runs; the maniac is surely still on his heels--the maniac he encountered on the corner three blocks from his home. The maniac had worn a sheet of black that covered his entire body, standing outside a bakery at 5 a.m. among the smells of baking bread and dawn. He had looked like a shadow. The man had reached out and touched him.

Tripped him.

Joined him.

Is that why he runs?

Four days ago, he coughed out his tongue.

His calves are burning. The sun exchanges skies with the moon and another day begins. He keeps running. He tastes blood in the back of his mouth. His breath sounds like sandpaper dragging across shattered glass. A car passes and beeps its horn.

He raises his hand to wave and sees the decay on the underside of his forearm. There is no blood, only mottled gray splotches. It looks like mold on bread. This brings to mind the bakery and he peeks behind him to see if he is being followed.

The maniac is back there, gliding like a rogue shadow running from the sun. It runs without feet and points him onward. It then sinks into the road and leaves only the deserted Missouri highway (or was it Kansas or Connecticut or Calvary?) to show him where to go.

The laces of his shoes bounce up and down like the ears of a mauled rabbit. This scene looks familiar. He has been here before.

God, his feet hurt.

He coughs out his tongue; two days pass. A milk truck passes him, like a silver bullet looking for…

A car passes, beeps its horn.

He has run through this place before--always running, breathing electric pain, listening to the squishing sounds from his blistered feet in his soggy red socks.

He tastes the salt of the Pacific for several days. This is soon replaced by the wafting scent of manure and pastures.

He looks back and sees his companion, always pointing forward, always robed in black--a shadow cast not by light but by the absence of it.

He hears the approaching grumble of a milk truck as he brings his left foot up, right foot down, left foot up, right foot down…

He runs on and on.

Soon he will cough and his tongue will fall out. Then a car will pass, beeping its weak little horn.

He has been here before.

And no matter how hard he runs, he will never be faster than the shadow behind him or the truth it carries.


Barry has had more than 25 stories and poems included in online and print publications. His collection Debris is currently available through Library of Horror Press. He enjoys coffee, minimalist music and irony.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Neighbor

by Dawn Allison

Emma Cannon was a stout woman with thick arms and a stern face, one of those sorts who like things best when they are precisely just so. She was dusting the windowsill when a rustling in the magnolia tree out front caught her eye. Damn squirrel probably into the birdfeeder again.

“Henry, get your twenty-two.”

Henry glanced over his shoulder from his seat on the sofa. “What for?”

“Squirrel. Quick about it, now. Don’t want him getting away.” She scowled him into motion and while he was fetching the gun, she leaned on the sill, squinting out the window to find the vulgar little beast hiding behind the waxy leaves.

“Where?” Henry said, gun slung over his shoulder.


Henry waited. Generally, he was good at doing what he was told. That was why Emma loved him.

“Shit, Henry, I think you might need a bigger gun.”


“Ain’t no coon up there, no sir.”

“Well, what the hell, Emma, just spit it out already.”

She shot an irritated glance over her shoulder, then turned her glare to the window. “It’s that Jim Garby again, and damned if he ain’t been pawing through our trash. Look at him, wearing that tablecloth I threw out three days ago.”

Henry sighed. “I’ll get the deer rifle,” he said.

Henry was good at doing what he was told. That was why Emma loved him.


Dawn Allison lives in the backwaters of North Carolina where her closest neighbors are two abandoned pig farms that creak in the night. You can check out her work in Necrotic Tissue, Burst literary e-zine, Bards and Sages Quarterly, and others. The complete list is here:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Something Different

by Chris Reed

As Darren watched the obese woman get undressed, he wondered if he could really go through with this. Her breasts were enormous, which he didn’t really mind, but the rest of her—the flabby arms, the double chin, the pouch of blubber that hung down over her crotch—had him second-guessing his decision to meet her here at the motel. After eight years of marriage, he’d grown accustom to his wife’s slim, athletic figure. She was the complete opposite of the woman who lay on the motel bed, sprawled out before him like a white, pasty whale. (He couldn’t even remember her name. Was it Margaret? Margie?) Before he was married, Darren wouldn’t be caught dead with a chick like this. She was a disgusting pig, so fat he couldn’t see her genitalia. But he could smell it. Despite her obvious attempt to mask the stench with perfume, it still smelled like something had died down there.

But it was something different. So he took off his pants.


As Margo watched the man step out of his jeans and climb onto the bed, she felt her stomach growl. It had been a long time since she’d eaten, and this man was much thinner than she was used to—nearly anorexic—but she’d sought him out for precisely that reason.

As the man pushed her pouch up in search of her vagina, she delighted in the shock on his face when he saw her writhing nest of pubic hair. His eyes grew wide, jaw dropped, body trembled. He was so stunned he made no attempt to move as the wiry hairs reached out like insect feelers and coiled around his arms, wrists, legs and neck. He kicked and thrashed as they pulled him inside the gaping maw of her vagina. And when the teeth inside bit down on him, crushing those bony shoulders and knobby knees, ripping that long, lean torso in two, she felt oddly satisfied.

It wasn’t the best meal she’d ever had, but at least it was something different.


Chris Reed is the author of more than 50 short stories. His fiction has appeared in a variety of small press publications including Black Ink Horror, Chimeraworld 5, and the Cutting Block Press anthology, Tattered Souls: The Provocative Boundary of Fear. Aside from writing, he enjoys frozen pizza, Seinfeld reruns, and hockey fights. He lives in Davison, MI, with his photographer wife and their two enigmatic children. Visit his official Web site:

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Body Language

by Jim Valenti

The warm sand and tropical breeze of Playa Tiburon was coaxing me to sleep when I heard the voice. It was calling to me in bulleted Spanish.

"El gran blanco devadora de hombres!"

Huh? I squinted my sun-seared eyes upwards to find a black tussle-haired boy standing over me, pointing frantically down the beach.

"Rapidamente, por favor! Rapidamente!" he was sobbing.

I had been back in Cabo San Lucas barely an hour. After much too long of taking part in the ritualistic debauchery that is L.A. I had just up and left to kick back and take stock of my life. I felt the need to reacquaint myself with the ripping curls and virgin sands of my pre-corrupted surfer days and let time just take me where it may. The shimmering seas, lazy heat and cheap tequila of the Baja peninsula were the only tools I needed to start rebuilding. My possessions consisted of a pair of cut-offs, a long board and a frosty pitcher of margaritas. My brain and my Spanish were rusty, and I certainly wasn’t interested in any interaction with the locals beyond a request for a "cerveza fria". But there he stood pointing excitedly down the strand and working himself into a panic.

"Gran blanco!" he repeated breathlessly, "Date prisa!" The beach was just about empty except for the two of us, and as my eyes started to regain focus I looked past his extended finger and saw the girl. She was maybe fourteen or fifteen, foundering in the deeper water just outside the surf break and a few yards down the beach. She was in obvious trouble, flailing wildly and beating on the surface in a frenzy to stay afloat. By the way she was panicking I knew she wouldn’t last much longer. My indifference to the commotion going on around me washed away as my inner lifeguard rushed in, then instantly I was sprinting down the beach with the boy close behind. I charged headlong into the surf and came up in full swim.

I closed the gap swiftly and was on her in seconds. She was just slipping below the surface when I reached her and made a desperate lunge for her arms. They were flimsy in my grasp and I felt her strength slipping quickly away. I watched panic flash in her full, dark eyes--her mouth hung open in a silent scream as though she realized that death was upon her. Then she suddenly lunged forward and struck me above my eye with her forehead.

Hey, I’m trying to save you here! I tried to stay afloat, although her body suddenly took on renewed life and began spasming violently all around me in the churning water. I went under briefly as she thrashed at my legs from beneath the surface. I pinned her arms back to get her under control, but they soon fell limp. She bobbed up and slipped beneath the water again. As she sank in a wake of colored foam her face finally relaxed and she uttered something that chilled my soul.


She wasn’t drowning at all.

It’s funny how quickly it all comes back. Playa Tiburon. I gasped for breath as I was pulled from below with renewed strength, this time not by the girl. Shark Beach. It was suddenly so familiar. Devedora de hombres--the man eater--the Cabo nickname for the great white. I felt my torso contort in grotesque rhythm, my new life of leisure all but assured as my legs were ripped one at a time from their sockets. I looked towards the shore where the boy stood crying and pointing. My margarita pitcher was tipped over and soaking slowly into the sand.

When I leave the institution I will return to Playa Tiburon, what’s left of me, and console the boy. Instead of my long board I will pack a Spanish-English dictionary to go along with my new pair of cut-offs and my margaritas.


Jim is a professional engineer fixing the many large suspension bridges in New York City by day, and a married father of three dealing with the numbing reality of middle-age by night. Jim views life as he thinks it should be--rife with weird opportunities around every corner. He never passes up the challenge of a good wiffleball game.