The Albino Man on Mystic Drive

by Russ Bickerstaff

albino kidIt was the dawn of the last century, a cold night in the middle of the woods. No idea why a kid would be wandering around beyond the cornfield. This kid was lost out there.

An albino kid. Didn’t know any better. He just ran off, exploring the woods. No telling why. Some kids get it in their heads to go. They hear the call of the wild or some goddamned thing.

The boy’s parents didn’t help matters. The father of some weak albino boy in the early 20th century might’ve been particularly hard on him. Maybe he preferred the wilderness to home. Truth be told, the old man that little boy turned into doesn’t know why he left. He only remembers being cold. It was late fall in Southern Wisconsin.

The boy followed sounds he’d been hearing for some time and was getting hungry. He didn’t know how to hunt or fish, or anything like that. He wandered around in the woods in Muskego, hearing whispers that melted into his thoughts. Kid must’ve been half-dead when he felt little hands drawing him in. Half sick and on the edge of death from the cold when all those little hands and arms and backs took him into a cozy, civilized warmth deep within the woods.

They later told the albino kid they’d served him bowl after bowl of gruel for days straight before he finally started to move around in a hazy daze. The people who had taken him in were different from the adults who looked down at his frail albino form. They could all look him straight in the eye. They all seemed to have a cautious respect for him. Sure, they had argued about whether or not they were going to take the kid in to begin with, and their reluctance nearly cost him his life, but they were under no obligation to help him.

The group were all as tall as the little albino kid. Every single last one of them. And they were all adults, too. Hard to believe now, but back then there wasn’t any TV or Internet and you didn’t ever go to the movies unless you had the kind of money the little albino boy’s family didn’t have. So he’d never seen full-grown adults that were as tall as him. They didn’t look down on him. They didn’t pity him because of his frailty. They didn’t hate him because of his weakness either. The little albino boy had met a group of adults who looked him in the eye and respected him as some kind of equal. The little albino boy had found this magical place where everyone was more or less equal. He knew he had parents. He knew he could find them. But he didn’t want to.

The people of the village deep in the woods in Muskego were very reclusive. The nearest major road is a tiny, little forgotten thing called Mystic Drive which ends in a gravel path. Back then Mystic Drive went from nowhere to nowhere. The people of the little village loved it that way. They were reluctant to bring the little boy back and they were sure as hell reluctant to let him stay once he’d been brought back to health. There was a pretty large minority of the village who wanted to simply escort the little albino boy back to Mystic Drive and let him find his way back home. A minority is a minority, however. The decision was to let the kid stay for as long as he liked as long as he pulled his weight and as long as he kept respectful of the villager’s decision to keep away from the outside world.

The little albino boy would come to know the villagers as dwarves. They taught him about them. He kept thinking of himself as a dwarf. His teacher kept telling him that he was an albino, but he was no albino dwarf. One day he had come back from chopping firewood and he asked his teacher what it meant to be an albino and not be a dwarf. The teacher got a far away look in his eye and he told him that it meant that he would grow to be taller than the rest of them but that his skin would always be the color of fresh snow in the dead of winter. By this time the boy was old enough to see that he was getting taller than everyone else in the village.

His teacher was a wise, old dwarf who told him that the time would come when the albino boy would have to decide if he truly fit in with a group of people who were every bit as different from him as those in the world outside. The teacher told him about a group of circus dwarves who had come to inhabit this section of the woods on account of mistreatment by a wicked ring leader. They’d killed him and hung him in the same clearing that the albino boy had always gone to for firewood. It was a dark time in their past. Like so many communities, their village had been built on blood. They didn’t want to face more of it, but they would if they had to. The world was getting smaller out beyond the village. There would come a time he would have to choose if he was a villager or someone from outside.

The boy had come to see a dozen summers in the village. He had come to be full height. He was at least twice as tall as any of the dwarves in the community. Some of them had started to mistrust him. He felt uneasy. He knew that he couldn’t go back to the world outside. He’d found his home and it was where he wanted to stay for the rest of his life. Why did some of them have to mar it by mistrusting him because of his height?

Fate had given the albino boy a rite of passage one deer hunting season. A couple of drunken hunters of the lowest caliber happened into the village and started shooting up the place. Lucky they were blind drunk and couldn’t hit worth a damned. Didn’t make it any easier rushing them and clobbering the hell out of them, but the albino did it. In so doing, somewhere in the process of that confrontation, he had become an albino man. There was no mistrust of him in the village anymore. The albino had proven his loyalty. More than that, he had proven his worth. The villagers unanimously decided to make the albino their protector.

The albino man picked up the shotguns and rifles of the fallen hunters and built himself a shack on the edge of Mystic Drive to scare off any unwanted visitors. They all come around here looking for what all the outsiders call “Hanunchyville”. Most ridiculous name I’ve ever heard. Around here we all just call it “the village”.

Russ Bickerstaff is a professional theatre critic and author living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his wife and two daughters. His short fictions have appeared in Hypertext Magazine, Pulp Metal Magazine, Sein und Werden, and Beyond Imagination, among other places. He is the commander of The Internarrational Where Port.

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Guardians of the Chimera

by Ruben Stemple

pet chimeraI was walking my Chimera when I ran into doofus extraordinaire Dylan Corbitt. His stupid hair stuck straight up, as if he was trying to hide a flight of pixies. I wished I could get Cindy to attack him for calling me New Kid at school, but Dad says we have to keep her a secret.

“Hey, Maxie, whatcha doing?” I hate Maxie more than New Kid, and the little shit knows it.

I imagined what he would look like smoldering from Cindy’s fire breath, and how much fun it would be to watch her stomp all over him before biting his head off. I didn’t really want him to be eaten, but the little bastard deserves it for pulling my hair at school.

“Go away shit-for-brains! I’m playing with Cindy.” I wanted to say, “If you don’t leave, I’ll let her eat you, and then I’ll deal with being grounded for a couple days.”

“Cindy.” He laughed. “That’s a dumb name for a dog!”

It’s an even dumber name for a Chimera. Dad named her after a sprite he knew when he was little. We’re guardians, protecting the secrecy and survival of animals and near humans. Where we used to live, there were three families with pet cryptids, but in Baltimore there are brown-shoe gnomes everywhere.

“You can play with her if you want. Here, throw the ball.”

Dad says I should be nice to kids at school, but I couldn’t get past the thought of Cindy munching on Dylan’s stupid freckles. I figured bouncing a sticky Chimera-spit tennis ball off his dirty sweatshirt was close enough.

“Don’t just hold it, jackass. You have to throw it. Or she’ll eat your face off to get it back.”

I forgot to bring extra fruitcake with me, so I checked the timer while Dylan and Cindy played fetch.

It’s not real fruitcake. That’s just what we call it because it’s brown and has a bunch of crap in it like the ones Grandma tries to make at Christmas. Its cloaking powers only work for about two hours, which gave me twenty minutes to get back home before Cindy turns into a fire breathing monster and make a meal out of my stupid classmate.

Cindy dropped the slobber ball with a friendly tail wag. Chimeras are good judges of character, so maybe the kid wasn’t all bad.

“We gotta run. Let’s go Cindy.”

“Come on Maxie! We were just starting to have fun!”

“No. My dad will get worried and I’ll get in trouble. And my dog will turn back into a Chimera and burn your pants off for calling me Maxie, you little ass hat.” I had to be firm.

There wasn’t quite enough time to get home, but I knew there were guardians on Fifth Street. I’d be in trouble for bothering a stranger when I should have had my fruitcake, but I had to protect the cryptid. “Goodbye,” I called, and walked away.

“Hey, Maxie, your house is that way!”

It’s just like this idiot to pay attention at the wrong time.

“I’m going to see my uncle. Go away. I’ll see you at school.”

I wished on all the fairy magic in the world, but the dumbass followed anyway. Cindy padded along beside us down a row of townhouses until I saw a brown-shoe gnome with an orange coat–a guardian house.

I knocked on the door. Nothing. I rang the bell.

“Nobody’s home. Come on, I’ll walk you back.”

“Go home, jerk face!” My timer was starting to glow red.

“Do you even know who lives here? This is dangerous!”

“You have no idea, asshole! Now go away!”

Cindy sensed my anger and growled. The growl was more chimera than chocolate lab, which made me extremely nervous. I gave Dylan a shove and yelled again. Before I got all the words out, Cindy changed. Dylan screamed and Cindy swiped a big Chimera paw just as everything went dark.

I woke up in the bathtub with someone screaming and shaking my shoulders. Standing over us was the biggest, hairiest thing I’ve ever seen. Sasquatch.

“Please don’t kill us! Please don’t eat us!”

Dumbass. Sasquatch are vegan.

“Shut up, jackass. I know this guy. He’s a big friend of my Aunt Friedas.” I hoped the squatch recognized the local code for guardians. “I don’t know why he has us in the bathtub, but I’m sure there’s a good reason.” I wanted to add I’m sorry mister for showing up on your doorstep with an out-of-fruitcake Chimera and a dumb-shit seventh grader, but I was out of options.

“You’re Maxine, right?” I nodded. “Your friend was hit pretty good.” I nodded, remembering the last few seconds before my blackout.

“Don’t hurt her, you freak! My dad’s a cop and he’ll be searching for us.” That was a lie. While he was yelling, Dylan slid himself between me and the Sasquatch. I was more than a little impressed.

“Relax, kid. I’m trying to help. You have no idea what happened, do you?”

The sasquatch looked at me. I wanted to say I was sorry for bringing a stupid kid here and sorry that Cindy had nearly ripped off his leg, but it seemed fine now and if Mr. Squatch could just let us out of the bathtub, that would be grand. Instead, I cried.

Dylan took my hand. He was starting to surprise me.

“I’m not going to hurt you, but you need to stay put. The Chimera broke at least two of your bones and you were bleeding pretty badly. The mixture in the tub is healing you.”

What?! Bullshit! I’m not bleeding, but you’re about to be.” My defender balled up his fists, but before he got another word out, he slumped down into the water.

“Help me! He’s drowning!” Tears streamed as I struggled and pulled, trying to drag his stupid fat head out of the water. The squatch pulled me, kicking and screaming, out of the large porcelain tub. Everything went dark again.

I woke up soaking wet and lying next to Dylan. My Dad and the Sasquatch were looking down at us.

“Is he … dead?”

“No, but he’s going to have a headache. I had to put him out four times.” Said the Squatch. “You’re both lucky.”

“We’ll see about that,” Dad said. “He’s seen things. We’ll need to have a serious talk with him, and maybe his family.”

“He’s a good kid, Dad. Worthy of the guardians.”

He could be a little shit, but he defended me. Besides, his being here was at least partially my fault. I’m only 13, but I know what happens to people who see things they shouldn’t.

Dad nodded to the Sasquatch, who waved a fur-covered hand toward the bed and quickly left the room.

“Dylan.” I spoke first. I needed my Dad to know that I was willing to help. “Dylan. It’s Maxine.”

“Hey, goofball.” His groggy green eyes looked into mine. “Why am I all wet?”

“You’re okay, but we need to talk. Do you trust me? I mean, really trust me?”

“Sure, Maxie. You know, you’ve never called me Dylan before.”

Ruben Stemple is a lifelong lover of all things written. He reads everything from Shakespeare to cereal boxes (yes, they still print stuff on them), and from Homer to the great Douglas Adams. He has written a few things for publication but would love to develop and hone the skills necessary to become part of the brotherhood of authors. He also teaches middle-school mathematics, which, though most would not consider it literary, has a beauty and an artistic sense of its own.

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Happy Holiday: E-book Specials For The Uninitiated

Garden of Eden AnthologyFrom time to time, the garden gnomes like to be nice to people. This holiday season we’ve chosen to be nice to you. See how cool we are?

In honor of our grand patriarch Fenrir, God bless his soul, we’ve asked the e-book stores to discount the prices on all our e-books (well, most of them anyway). He he!

From now until Christmas, you can get the following titles at the following prices:

  • Garden of Eden Anthology – FREE!
  • Sulfurings: Tales From Sodom & Gomorrah – 99 cents
  • A Twitterific Year – 99 cents
  • Rumsfeld’s Sandbox – $2.99 (Kindle store only)

All of our other titles are marked at 99 cents or free. These books are available in the following e-book stores:

There are no affiliate links in this post. We’d be happy if you just bought our books or spread the word. Tell your friends about these great deals!

UPDATE: As of this writing, Amazon still has not reduced the price of Garden of Eden to Free. I’d appreciate you going to the sales page for that book and clicking the “tell us about a lower price” link. Let them know the book is offered for free at each of the other book distributors mentioned. Meanwhile, if you own a Kindle and want a Kindle version of the book to read on your device, you can download a Kindle-friendly version of the book at Smashwords.

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Time Ends On The First Date

by Nathan Witkin

eggs on first date“I want to tell you,” I shout over the panorama of agony shrieking from the collapsing universe, “that I’m glad I found you before it all ended.”

“But it’s ending because we found each other,” she shouts back then averts her iridescently light-brown eyes, the color of coffee mixed with just the right amount of creamer. She feels a deep twinge of lameness for (a) squandering our near-psychic connection by telling me something I already know and (b) ending history on a downer.

With the infinite emptiness closing in like a violent stampede, she stops beating herself up over all of it and we simply hold hands as if unwilling to trade this moment for all of the moments that preceded it.

As the last two seconds look to each other before merging into a final moment that can only look back in silent reflection, I can’t help but compare the endless nothingness to the void I felt prior to meeting her.

In hindsight, I had always known that my fear of meeting new people wasn’t entirely irrational, but I didn’t expect these introverted tendencies to be protecting me (and everything else) from the apocalypse.

If there were an athletic competition in social-ineptitude called “The Anti-Socialympics,” then I would be Michael Phelps in all but the swimmer’s body. Despite this, I always felt like my soul mate was out there and that I’d find her if I could just get out of the shallow end of the dating pool.

Driven by my hapless search for a singularly kindred spirit, I had ventured out like a pre-Columbian explorer, ready to sail off the edge of the world. My ship was an online-dating website, each continent of potential treasure and treacherousness was an awkward first date, and the edge of the world turned out to be the actual edge of the world.

I first spot a hint of this precipice of reality, paradoxically, while trying to keep my sanity on a particularly bad first date.
“So, then the psychologist told me to stop emotionally unloading on my dog,” she scoffs, “that my so-called ‘negativity’ was causing her to have incontinence issues.”

While my mind wanders hurriedly away from her manic blather, she is responding to my waning attention by trying to talk even faster.

“But then I was like, ‘I don’t take orders from pet psychologists. Just prescribe Bella more doggie-Xanax or I’ll chew your face off.’”

Perhaps it’s my brain’s attempt to float above the situation, but I come to the sudden realization that this woman has the personality of my least favorite step-cousin. It’s as if one actress, with an uncanny ability to alter her appearance, was playing both my step-cousin and this one-date-wonder without changing a single quirk or mannerism in shifting between the two roles.

Desperate to distract me from my date’s verbal onslaught, the defensive firings of my under-siege neurons set off a chain of logic that would ensnare me like a noose:

How could anything as complex and nuanced as a human personality be repeated?

Which triggers the neural pathways forming the question:

What if personalities repeated across the population specifically because they are so complex?

Which then sparks the critical realization:

Maybe the universe is a simulation with a limited amount of memory, thereby requiring complicated aspects–such as human personality–to be constrained to a set number of possibilities that repeat within the simulation.

This thought becomes a life-consuming preoccupation, bringing me to seek out people in curiosity rather than loneliness. And what better way to analyze people in great breadth and depth than online profiles and first dates?

After having coffee with Xerox copies of my fifth grade teacher, Trish from Accounting, and the opinionated guy from my Thursday yoga class whose rants are very informative into just how annoying he is, I start tracking these souls in a field journal. It is also at this time that I get the feeling that I myself am being tracked.

Clinging to the delusion that my life isn’t under siege, I ignore my online dating profile being hacked and rationalize my apartment burning down. But when the shattering glass of the coffee shop’s storefront interrupts a date with a Follower Class-3 archetype and reveals a poorly-aimed bullet, I take off without the obligatory argument over the bill.

Navigating past personality types who would step aside and avoiding ones who would thoughtlessly run into me, I rush into a crowd. Spattering blood highlights more missing bullets and the expendablilty of the clones around me.

I turn a corner into a dead-end populated only by a shadowy figure in a trench coat that whips in the wind like smoke. When it shoots out at me, I expect the hand to deliver a blow permanently removing me from the simulation, but instead it wraps perfectly inside mine and guides me through the safety of an obscure door.

When the panic-inducing neurotransmitters subside and my eyes adjust, I am looking into milky brown eyes that are an intense mix of piercing beauty and guarded hope that teeters over life-shattering disappointment.

“I’ve been following you,” she mumbles, unnecessarily because we both instantly understand everything passing around and between us. Her shoulders sag under all of the other opening remarks she wishes she had tried, but lift with the swelling in my chest–hearing her voice is like a confirmation of my entire existence.

“Are there any others like us?” I ask in equal futility.

She shakes her head, keeping her bewildered eyes locked on mine, and I can see that she is just as scared as I am.

As we simultaneously lean in for a kiss that could only be transcendental, the dilapidated brick wall next to us explodes outward and, immediately, we are hand-in-hand fleeing in the other direction. Neither of us is guiding the other, but somehow we are making the same turns through the murky depths of a building that is lonely with neglect. It releases a groan from all around us that, we realize, could not be caused by our pursuers.

Sprinting out into the growing light around us just before the building lifts off from a cloud of debris like a space shuttle, we become suddenly paralyzed by the landscape visible through the settling dust. All matter is dismembering itself, from nearby vehicles tumbling in a trail of parts suspended in the air, to distant high-rises aimlessly drifting off as if confused by their newfound freedom, to the people everywhere in various stages of rupture and rapture. Sound and light stretch and ripple away from us as if we were splashing across reality’s otherwise calm surface.

We both look down at our entwined hands and up at each other. I feel the smile coming before it finds her lips.

“At least my sense that the universe was conspiring to keep me lonely is vindicated,” she says.

I consider that the connection between two people could be defined by the disconnection they feel with everyone and everything else. But then, observing the splintering reality we are happily strolling through, I dismiss this idea. Our rejection of this world, and its quite visible rejection of us, does not do justice to our love.

I respond, “Any universe that can’t handle our feelings for each other isn’t worth simulating.”

Nathan Witkin is a criminal defense and divorce attorney in Marion, Ohio, an innovator and guerrilla leader in the field of alternative dispute resolution, and an MMA cage-fighter. His short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Horror Zine, Schlock!, Infernal Ink, the Three Minute Futures competition, 365 Tomorrows, Fiction on the Web, Black Petals, Anotherealm, Euonia Review, The Rampallian, and Congruent Spaces.

practicing the presence of peaceThe November 2014 Flim-Flam Games are sponsored by Bear Jack Gebhardt, author of Practicing the Presence of Peace.

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Night of the Stalking Dread

by Sharon Diane King

It’s a hostess’ worst nightmare: What wine to serve at your last supper?

We were a sad assembly of refugees for New Year’s Eve. My home: triple-padlocked and alarm-secured. The neighborhood: razor-wired and electro-gated. But we knew we couldn’t stay inside these safe confines forever. Our microgreens were running low.

Still, a nod to holiday traditions tended to lift the spirits. Especially for those lifting spirits.

My gilt-edged china and crisp white linens were festive, but the folks seated around the dining room table were the real eye-catchers. We’d found that creature costumes temporarily confused our relentless pursuers. After all, they had no vested interest in T-Rexes or giant bumblebees. Only humans could give them what they wanted. Craved. Sought after with every fiber of their fixated beings.

So hiding out via cosplay worked, for a while. After that, the outfits sort of became second nature.

“She caught me just as I was leaving work,” the Easter Bunny explained to his neighbor, a bright green-and-orange day gecko, as he set down the blood-stained basket of eggs he’d been clutching. Bun gingerly patted his leg with its makeshift bandage and forked up a bite of glazed ham. “I made it to the car, but she slammed the door on my foot. Guess it serves me right,” he choked, wiping his eye with a dirty furry paw.

“You don’t mean that,” Merribel the Hello Meerkitty said, unsheathing her napkin from its crystal-studded ring and settling it over her fishnet stockings. Her claw-pads grappled with the silver server for the chicken chaud-froid. “You deserve better.”

“Course you do,” grumped my boss Hank from the head of the table. He was impressively attired as the Thanksgiving gobbler, though he was missing a few tailfeathers. After he cut off all contact with his ex-fiancée, she spotted him exiting his office building—she came by there every day—and figured out there just might be something a-lurky in that turkey. “You don’t owe her your life, after all. Pass the cranberry sauce.”

“Cran-kumquat relish, actually,” I blushed.

“It’ll do.”

I’d ended up as Donner the Reindeer. Somebody had already rented Rudolph. My nose kept getting in the way of my glass of viognier, and my rubber antlers occasionally scraped up against the gaslight chandelier, setting it swinging.

From outside it must have looked like we were having a lot more fun than we really were.

It was like a lady-drunk AA meeting. As the wine flowed, we swapped stories of the head-over-heels first days. The sudden change, usually overnight. Then the horrified realization, the fits of screaming, the hairbreadth escapes. The constant moving from place to place as they tracked us down. We’d all been there.

That was why we were here.

Over chia-seed rolls and white-truffled sweet potatoes, I got acquainted with the gecko guy next to me. Merribel had met him hiding out in a downtown basement the week before. A quiet accountant, he was still pretty traumatized by his partner Joe’s horrifying transformation.

“I never saw it coming,” he muttered bitterly, staring into his frisee-and-goat-cheese salad.

“It’s okay,” I told him, tipping a smidge more wine into his glass. “Nobody ever does.”

Have to say, though, I liked his style. Seemed Joe had always been creeped out by reptiles. Say hi to Gorton Gecko, Joe!

It grew late. I’d just brought the Baked Alaska to the table—to great acclaim—when we heard the door buzzer. We froze.

My ex. Had to be. He’d found my new country abode, had somehow found a way through the double gates. He knew all my passwords, the jerk.

And he was here to get his supply. From me.

We blew out the candles and crouched beneath the table. Silence wasn’t just golden at that moment; it was pure platinum. We even heard the meringue fall. The ringing went on, alternating with a furious pounding at the door.

We were trapped.

I glanced around at the downcast masks. Oh, the suits might confuse my ex initially but wouldn’t hold him off for long; he’d know I was in there somewhere. We could try ganging up and subduing him, of course. Hell of a way to end the year. And if he managed to get away….

But I’d thought ahead. Reaching inside my suit, I grabbed my cell and clumsily pressed a key. We heard his ringtone–the chorus of “Re:Your Brains”–loud and clear. He’d always loved that song.

I’d rigged a call–from a spoofed number, duh–promising I’d meet him in a little gazebo in the public park on New Year’s Day. I have to see you, don’t care what happens…. I knew he’d jump at the bait, even though I’d played this hand before: Got trapped at work. Give me another chance. You are SO important… irreplaceable…can’t live without you….

And he’d waited there for hours. Yup. That predictable.

Pathetic, really.

We heard a gurgle from the front porch, then a pause, then footsteps fading away. We started breathing again. We’d have time to clear out in the morning, find another hideout for a few days, maybe a week. Before the hordes tracked us down again.

We never resumed our places at table that night. We just relit a candle and lounged underneath, leaning against the table legs. Gobbles poured us a round of champagne. Somebody started humming “Auld Lang Syne”, and we all broke into whispered song, misty-eyed, as the clock ticked its way into the new year.

All at once I found myself weeping. I stood up unsteadily, nearly upsetting the hazelnut petit fours on the sideboard.

“Damn him,” I sniffled, grabbing a napkin and dabbing at my eyes through the costume’s eyeholes. “It never ends. He just won’t let go.”

“They can’t help it,” murmured the Easter Bun, patting my shoulder. “It’s their nature.”

“Narcissists,” Merribel nodded sadly. “They don’t take partners—”

“—they take prisoners,” I rejoined in a small voice. “I know.”

“You’ll get through it,” the gecko said. “We all will. We have to believe.”

And in the grey light of the year’s first dawn, we bravely stood up, cleared the table, put away the leftovers, and started up the dishwasher.

Sharon Diane King (Ph.D., Comparative Literature, UCLA) works as an actor for film and television. Publications include an essay in the critical anthology Of Bread, Blood and The Hunger Games (McFarland, 2012), a science fiction tale, “Follow The Music,” in the anthology Desolation: 21 Tales for Tails (Dragon’s Roost Press, 2014), and a fantasy story “Read Shift” in the autumn 2014 issue of the e-zine Kaleidotrope. Her theatrical troupe Les Enfans Sans Abri has for decades been performing short medieval and Renaissance comedies, including an original play, “A Knight To Remember,” for the Getty Family Festival (September 2014).

practicing the presence of peaceThe November 2014 Flim-Flam Games are sponsored by Bear Jack Gebhardt, author of Practicing the Presence of Peace.

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In The Shallows

by John Vicary

"in the shallows" by John VicaryThere is a sea in faraway Israel where nothing grows. It is called the Dead Sea, although it was not always known as such. In ancient times, it was invoked in many tongues, but most often it was named Yām ha-Mizrahî: the Eastern Sea.

A man may lie in the less famous shallows of the sister of the Sea of Galilee and rise to the top without effort, buoyed to the surface by science or faith. He need only to gaze upon its barren shores to delineate the foothills of history, when other men may have tried to float in the same sea and failed the test. How much does man trust in his knowledge and how much does he heed the pull of those stories from his youth? The joy drains from that swim like water from a cracked vessel, and he wonders if he had lived at that time in this land of Canaan if he would have escaped the brimstone fate that awaited so many others. His gaze traces the horizon and a twinge gnaws his gut. The sheltering arms of the waves remind him of a different embrace in years already spent.

Two angels had descended from heaven to give warning to the righteous, his mother had told him long ago. He could still hear her voice as she told him her favorite biblical tale.

“Disguised as two men, the angels tried to pass Lot’s house on their way to Sodom, but he insisted they break bread with him,” Mama said. “In those times, it was a solemn duty to give hospitality to those in need.”

“I’d recognize them, Mama,” he said. He imagined the men with a certain golden glow or perhaps an errant feather peeking from under their cloaks. “I’m special.”

“Of course you are, sweetie,” she answered, pulling the blanket up to his chest as she readied him for bed. “But there’s no way to know by looking. That’s why it’s always important to be kind, especially to strangers. Maybe you’ll be talking to an angel all along.”

Finish reading the rest of this poem in Sulfurings: Tales from Sodom & Gomorrah, or download the book at:

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An Expert Dance

by Kenny Jackson

What's my plumber doing here?Once upon a Wednesday there was a plumber in a basement. The plumber, who was possibly you, plumbed and said, “Three quarters shutoff L joint pressure gauge. But,” the plumber said, “I have an appointment with my mechanic first.”

Once upon a Wednesday afternoon there was a plumber in a garage with a mechanic. The mechanic, who was also possibly you, mechanicked and said, “Distributor valve fluid starter computer. But,” the mechanic said, “I have an appointment with my lawyer first.”

Once upon a Wednesday evening there was a mechanic in a law office with a lawyer and a plumber. The lawyer, who was also also possibly you, lawyered and said, ”Tort liability non grata corpus. But,” the lawyer said, “I just sprained myself lawyering. I need to go to the hospital.”

Once upon a Wednesday night there was a lawyer in a hospital with a doctor and a mechanic and a plumber. The doctor, who was also also also possibly you, doctored and said, “Ocular impact aneurism contusion. But,” the doctor said, “I have an appointment with my-–hey! What’s my plumber doing here?”

Kenny Jackson was born, raised and now lives in Des Moines, Iowa. He enjoys writing stories, making short films, reading weird fiction and wearing St. Louis Cardinals jerseys every day.

practicing the presence of peaceThe November 2014 Flim-Flam Games are sponsored by Bear Jack Gebhardt, author of Practicing the Presence of Peace.

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by Meg Eden

warmth by Kris VargaWhen the sky grew dark
and yellow, someone laughed:
It’s the end of the world!

Well, fuck! I said
and let in
my next customer.

Men and women
knock down my doors
to have sex with me,

I charge them now
to avoid
an affront to my body.

Finish reading the rest of this poem in Sulfurings: Tales from Sodom & Gomorrah, or download the book at:

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The Scent of Sin and Punishment

by J.P. Cianci

warmth by Kris VargaI drink deeply from my half-filled chalice, admiring the way the indelibly perfect, golden idol of Molech reflects the sunlight. I raise my goblet to Molech, my jewel-encrusted cup catching the brilliant rays of the sun, then I take another insatiable drink. I turn around to refill my cup when gentle fingertips run up and down my back.

“Adaron, how would you like to receive Molech’s blessing?” Sahar whispers seductively.

I smile, reveling in her touch, and close my eyes. I imagine all the delicious ways in which her body could satisfy the pressing fleshly urges her contact has aroused. “I would love to receive Molech’s blessing, but I cannot afford such a sanction,” I say, opening my eyes. I cup the temple prostitute’s breast and forcefully bring her in for a kiss.

She smacks me, but I laugh and grab her wrist.

“Come now, Sahar. I worship in here every day. I’m entirely devoted. Are you sure Molech wouldn’t want to bless a follower such as myself?”

“If you need money to afford his blessing, I know someone who would pay handsomely for the company of your daughter,” Sahar suggests.

I smack her quick and hard across the face, holding a finger to her—warning her—but I say nothing.

She slinks off to find another, no doubt richer, follower to seduce.

Incense wafts from silver plates beneath the idol and I try to forget Sahar and her remarks. I don’t need to pay to satisfy my desires. Many women, and even men, are happily drawn in by my sexual prowess.

I walk drunkenly back to the idol that is gloriously exposed to the sun by the open rooftop of the temple and fall to my knees in prayer. I slur my pleas and wishes for a few moments before my head bobs heavily from the wine. After an hour, I close my eyes to rest at the foot of Molech, basking in the afternoon sun.

“It’s too early to be this dark,” someone remarks a few minutes later.

“Quiet!” I bark. My eyes are still closed, but I do notice the almost imperceptible shift in light behind my eyelids. “It’s merely clouds passing in the sky.”

“What is that? A sandstorm?” someone else asks. The presence of a crowd gathering around me causes me to finally open my eyes.

“Gawk outside! Do not waste Molech’s temple for slack-jawed gaping!” I yell, but no one listens. I raise my head to the sky, which is shrouded in darkness. Plumes of smoke billow downward in waves, obscuring the sun.

“Sandstorms don’t move like that,” I say, shifting uneasily. People murmur excitedly all around me.

“It’s all right! I see light!”

“Yes! I see it too! It looks like the sun is coming toward us!”

“That’s not light, that’s fire! Run!”

“No! This is a sacred temple. We are safe here,” I assure them, but people take off to the streets. I kneel a few feet back from Molech and begin fervently praying. As the smoke surges closer, I cover my mouth and nose in disgust, but only for a moment. A ball of fire collides directly with my sacred idol. A stream of melted gold sprays in my direction, blinding me in one eye and cooling rapidly to my skin so that it’s encased in a painful, golden mask.

I moan in agony, turning to flee. “Oh Molech, Oh Molech. Why? Why?” I’m almost to the entrance of the temple when it collapses on top of me.

Finish reading the rest of this story in Sulfurings: Tales from Sodom & Gomorrah, or download the book at:

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It’s Raining Again, Let The Deluge Begin

Deluge: Stories of Survival & Tragedy in the Great FloodWhat would happen if a sudden torrential downpour destroyed all of America in the space of 40 days and 40 nights? What if a volcanic eruption on the moon Io resulted in a massive raining down of sodium chloride in which a future exploratory party from Earth was caught up and their space-to-surface vehicle destroyed? What if ….

Submissions Now Open For Deluge Anthology

The most asked question the garden gnomes have received in the past two months is, When will Deluge: Stories of Survival and Tragedy in the Great Flood come out? Sorry, but we’ve been dragging our feet–for a number of reasons (and not all of them bad).

But here’s the bottom line: We don’t have enough quality submissions yet to answer that question.

We have probably half the number of flash fiction stories I’d like to see and no poems or essays. Curiously, we received more short story submissions for this anthology than we did for either of the previous two–Garden of Eden or Sulfurings: Tales from Sodom & Gomorrah. We’re not sure what that means.

What we didn’t get were any essays, nor did we receive any poems that we’d consider. So I’d like to talk about what we’d like to see and then open the door to possibilities.

Can A Poem Be Speculative?

If you have read Frederick Turner’s epic poem Genesis, then you might answer in the affirmative. But that poem is written in a formal style, and that’s not what we’re looking for. Although, you might say we’re interested in poems that deal with epic themes.

In a nutshell, these are the types of poems the garden gnomes enjoy:

  • Narrative – They may be lyrical, but they must be narrative. If you don’t know what this means, don’t submit.
  • Poetic – Sorry, but we have an aversion to prose poems, which may contain poetic elements, but they are prose. On an electronic reading device, most readers will not be able to tell the difference between a prose poem and a flash fiction or short story. Therefore, we’re more interested in poems that have a distinctive poetic form whether they be free verse or formal.
  • Speculative – The poem must deal with a “what if?” It can fall into a horror genre, fantasy, science fiction, a punk genre, or any of the other speculative fiction genres, but it should approach the subject matter with speculative awe.
  • Weird – Let it be weird. The weirder the better.
  • Literarily awesome - We’re not looking for literary poems. There are journals that will publish these. If it would fit into Poetry magazine or The New Yorker, we don’t want it. If you could submit it to Tin House, Rattle, or any poetry journal with the word “Review” in its title, then we don’t want it. If you’re not sure where you could send it to have it accepted, but you still believe it is high quality poetic limestone, then send it our way.
  • Flood-related – Address the anthology theme.
  • Long – We want at least 50 lines and up to 500. Lines. Not words, not characters.

We realize it is more challenging to pen a poem than a short story or flash fiction story. If you can’t do it, don’t try. This is a challenge for the poets. However, we reserve the right to move away from poetry if we can’t find what we’re looking for.

What’s a Speculative Essay?

We garden gnomes have always been surprised that we don’t get many attempts at essays. It’s not even hard to write one. And we’re not really asking for long ones. We’re just asking for essays that address the theme in a more creative way than an academic essay would answer anything (do they really answer anything?). Types of essays creative nonfiction we’re interested in include:

  • Reported essays – Take the theme, do some research, interview an expert or two, and write a damn good story, creatively. No stodginess.
  • Personal essays – Have you survived a flood? Do you know someone who has? Have a personal take on a flood? Take us there. Think Hunter S. Thompson meets Annie Dillard with an Edgar Allan Poe twist, or a dash of Philip K. Dick.
  • Creative essays – An essay generally starts with a statement or a question then proceeds to answer it. The use of facts, figures, anecdotes, etc. all serve to support the main idea. But we’re looking for something a little more creative. Not a linear logical argument, per se, but more of a journey through a maze that takes us from Point A to Point B and a personal discovery. Give us a denouement.
  • New Journalism – Gonzo, personal narrative where you are a part of a larger story. Combine fact with fictional technique.
  • Hybrid essays – Fact with a little fiction, as opposed to fiction with a little fact. Make a point, but don’t be afraid to stray from the thin lines of reality. If it’s interesting, we’ll consider it.

A speculative essay may start with a “what if” question or end with one. What if Hurricane Katrina had gone further inland? Could it have destroyed Baton Rouge the same way it took down New Orleans? What if it went west and destroyed Houston instead? What if global warming accelerated to the point where all world coastal cities were under water within ten years? What if the Great Flood was local and only affected those in present day Iraq.

There are a ton of directions you could go with a flood-related essay. Use your imagination. Tell us a story that could be reality TV.

Is Speculative Fiction Dead?

We still want flash fiction and short stories. If for some reason we don’t get enough publishable poetry or essays, we’ll fill up the anthology with more fiction. That can’t be bad, right?

You’re welcome to send us a novelette up to 20,000 words. If we like it, we’ll publish it and pay you for it. Otherwise, we are accepting additional short stories and flash fiction stories from 300 to 10,000 words. Read more on our BLAS anthologies guidelines page. For more specific information regarding Deluge: Stories of Survival & Tragedy in the Great Flood, check out the guidelines page for that anthology.

The deadline is midnight EST November 23, 2014.

Send your submissions to submissions @ Send your questions to editor @

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