The Girl Named Spit

by Wm. Bernan

“You’ll be hard pressed to find a suitor,” the Stepmother claims.

“No matter,” the little one swats away her commentary, like a fly. “There’s naught one could do that I could not do meself.”

Lenore huffs away as always, annoyed she never can get through to the girl.

The teen, slim between knees and elbows, scuffed and scraped as always, is everything Lenore never wanted. More of a stepson than a princess, despite the beauty hiding under the grime.

The title of stepmother was thrust upon her, truly she’s the girl’s godmother. It was supposed to be an honorary title. Care of the waif was given over upon the untimely death of her best friend since schooldays and her husband. A fate virtually predicted by the girl’s father.

All she ever wanted was to feminize the girl, dress her as she would a doll, parade her to oohs and ahhs, and eventually marry her off…out of her care. Alas, mending breeches and tending cuts…the girl will never learn.

For the girl’s part, she unknowingly, very fortunately, takes after her father. A rough and tumble man, raised to defend his own by his absent father, a man with an absurd solution to a real problem…a family tradition of sorts. Sue Cash took nothing from no one, neither asked nor gave anything more than was warranted, and unfortunately died before he could teach his young daughter the cruel ways of the world.

The girl named Spit Cash was already stronger and bolder than a dozen stepmothers, it’s a family tradition.

#

With reverence for Johnny and Shel.

Wm. Bernan is an author of historical and paranormal fiction and lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

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A Night Among the Utes

by Matthew J. Barbour

cabin in the valley of the utesIt was supposed to have been a shortcut across the mountains. If I took the old road through the Valley of the Utes, I would meet up with the interstate around Raton. I had planned to stay the night there before continuing on to Denver, but now it was dark and I was still in the valley.

There were no lights along the road, which was littered with potholes. It wasn’t safe to keep going–not at night at least. I looked for a place to pull off, as if I expected someone else to come down the road. I hadn’t seen anyone for hours.

People must have lived in the valley at one time. Once in a while I could make out a cabin just off the road. All of them looked like set pieces out of an old western film. It didn’t look like anyone had lived in them for years.

The idea of sleeping in the car really didn’t appeal to me. I was going to have to shut the engine off. I couldn’t afford to run out of gas. This high in the mountains, it was already cold. So, I decided I would get some shut eye in one of the cabins. They all had chimneys, and I figured I could build a fire.

So the next cabin I saw, I pulled off the road, jumped out of the car and went inside. It wasn’t like I broke in. There was no lock on the door and no one was sure as heck living there still.

The cabin was a simple structure consisting of a single room. I stumbled a bit in the dark. There was a full moon outside, but between the ponderosas and the cabin walls I couldn’t see anything. I fumbled over to the hearth and lit a fire.

As the light of the fire filled the small cabin, I was surprised to find that it was still furnished. All of it looked like it had been sitting there for at least a hundred years, but back then they must have built furniture to last. I settled myself into a comfy rocker. Maybe this was an old film set, I told myself.

Sleep overtook me almost immediately, but before I faded off into the realm of dreams. I remember seeing what looked like a red stain on the floor in front of the fire place. Blood? More likely paint made to look like blood, but shell casings were scattered about too. It really was like something out of a movie. Definitely an old film set, I said to myself as I drifted off to sleep.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

I awoke to the sound of distant drums. It was like the beat you would hear Indians play at a powwow.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

The room was dark. I must have been asleep for some time. The fire was nothing but embers.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

The drum beat appeared to be getting louder. I got up from the rocker and stuck another log in the fire. It just smoldered and filled the room with black smoke. I coughed.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

I thought about it for a moment. The sound wasn’t getting louder. Rather, it was getting closer. It was probably coming from the stand of trees just outside the cabin door.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

I walked outside. It was still dark. I couldn’t see anything. The moon had sunk behind the ponderosas surrounding the cabin.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

The noise was so close now. I must have been within a few hundred feet of the drummer. I called out. As soon as I did, the drumming stopped. It was silent for a moment. I wasn’t sure what to say or do.

Then, I thought I heard the door of the cabin swing open behind me. Gunshots filled the night air and I could have sworn I heard a woman scream. I didn’t look back. I jumped in my car and sped away.

Matthew J. Barbour is a speculative fiction writer living with his wife and three children in Bernalillo, New Mexico. When he is not writing fiction, Mr. Barbour manages Jemez Historic Site in Jemez Springs and writes for a number of regional newspapers.

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Garden Gnome Submissions Process

From time to time, the garden gnomes like to shake things up a bit as we are wont to do. We have noticed lately that there seems to be a bit of confusion about our submissions process and we were hoping to clarify things a bit. We’d like your help.

Will you take some time to give us some feedback on our submissions process? Feel free to check as many boxes as apply.

And we thank you for your assistance with this grave matter.

What's Wrong With the Garden Gnome Submissions Process?

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Fram

by Ruben Stemple

A few words from the end

Curses, blood, and dust filled the air as the two men fought like badgers clawing at the same piece of trash. Tumbling through the dry, dusty landscape, they narrowly avoided bombed-out craters, deadly snakes, and cacti while rolling toward the edge of a cliff. The weaker, mustachioed man fought dirty, his very survival at stake. Time stood still, waiting for the result before deciding whether or not to continue.

The gist from page 2

I have to kill him. I hate to resort to murder, but he’s ruining everything. The only real decision is how. It has to be something epic, a death worthy of the havoc that he has already created. He doesn’t deserve that, but I think it’s the only way.

The good part from page 1

“I’m not going anywhere! You brought me here and now you have to deal with me!”

“But I don’t like you.”

“That’s not my fault! You’re the asshole who made me part of this.”

“Not part of this. You were brought in for a specific reason and I decided not to use you. Now go away!”

“That’s bullshit! You can’t just send me away! You know you like my moustache.”

Some of the beginning

I know this guy named Fram. He’s a character of mine, but I don’t think I like him. He has dirty brown hair, a bushy moustache, and the kind of face that makes you want to throw things at him. He’s not even smart enough to be a good villain.

The problem is that he keeps inserting himself into other stories. He showed up on a Vultarian space ship from a sci-fi piece I’m writing. He put on an ill-fitting business suit and tried to give a presentation that I wrote for work. Not to mention what he did to Ms. Sophietta from Home with the Horses.

Prologue

Open this E-mail Promptly

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The Fall of Thesaurus

by Bruce Costello

Thesaurus EncyclopediaThere was something about Encyclopedia’s darting green eyes that made Thesaurus wonder if his lipstick was on crooked or his fly buttons undone and his assets revealed.

He opened his mouth, but for once he was wordless.

So this was his mother-in-law to be, a fabled creature both loved and hated by his fiancée, feared and loathed by people throughout the land – an hermaphroditic beauty with the sultry eyes of an Art Deco flapper and a bosom resembling the humps on a steam engine.

Desire welled up inside him and overflowed into guilt, acrid as reflux in his mouth. Her gaze was on him as his eyes devoured her body.

She moved towards him, her lips pursed like a camel summoning a glob of spit. Thesaurus gazed at her as a mouse does on glimpsing a snake’s tonsils. He felt a beetroot flush appear on his man curve and spread to his butt cheeks.

“Come to Mama,” Encyclopedia whispered, her basilisk eyes watering, her forked tongue flicking around the corners of her lips. “Come to Mama, my darling, come.”

Thesaurus shook himself like a three-headed dog that had fallen into a long-drop dunny in urgent need of emptying, sidestepped his way to the door, and stumbled onto the street.

Encyclopedia stood in the doorway. The theme song from ‘Hair’ burst from her lips and pursued Thesaurus along the footpath. Strands of ponytails, rat tails, bobs and buns snared his senses and he felt himself falling, falling, falling…

“Encyclopedia!” Thesaurus cried out, his vocal cords thick with lust.

“Thesaurus!” Encyclopedia called in a voice like dark molasses.

He wafted into the air on a cloud of flatulence and jetted towards her outstretched arms across dark paddocks, starred with radioactive sword-wielding ninja cockroaches and Liberace’s undies.

Bruce Costello is a New Zealander. After studying foreign languages and literature, he spent a few years selling used cars. Then he worked as a radio creative writer for fourteen years before training in psychoanalytically-oriented psychotherapy and spending twenty-four years in private practice. In 2010, semi-retired, he took up writing for fun and to avoid housework. Since then, he’s had sixty-five stories accepted by mainstream magazines and literary journals in six countries. He still does housework.

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Who’s Runnin for Me, Now?

by J.B. Pravda

In the annals of captive animals, it was unheard of–much less run in any respected publication to date.

Labeled the ‘anti-cheetah’ by the zoological community, Furilongo’s excuse for the refusal of the species in question to run, preferring to ‘play’ possum’–the zookeeper’s own words–was deemed illogical (they hastening to add that this did not necessarily imply that the creature was ‘ill’).

Famed zoologist Quentin Furilongo was unable to bring the fleet-footed West African gazelle out of its lethargic funk–it seemed, as he wrote in the scholarly journal ‘Gazelle Gazette’, that the prized beast knew it was THE speed limit for all other creatures–‘fast as a gazelle’– thereby suffering from the fastest run syndrome.

Desperate–his colleagues piling-on characterization of his tactics–Furilongo chanced upon a solution: he would summon Cezar Lyon to coax the animal from its seemingly feigned lethargy.

There to witness certain failure, the skeptical Gazette reporter, Upton Cooper, was on hand at precisely high noon.

Whispering into the lethargic gazelle’s keen twitching ear Cezar seemed to be crooning, albeit faintly heard by human ears.

Suddenly, what had been a supine four-legged mass of motionless favorite red meat for the competitive cheetah so sprang into flight as to conjure the blurry rotary leg action of cartoon animations.

As Furilongo’s smile foretold, Cezar had done what seemed impossible without cheating; when questioned later by a truly surprised Cooper, Furilongo would only hum a tune, mumbling what sounded like these lyrics: “Do not forsake me, oh my yearling, on this your running day–”, and something about being frank concerning millet and a fresh downy bed.

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Schmerdloff’s Proposal

by Adam Mac

In the current Journal of Statistical Probability in Law Enforcement, Viktor Schmerdloff proposes the original theory that there are two types of people: those who fold their toilet paper and those who scrunch it up.

Anticipating skeptics, Schmerdloff explains why the FBI should be interested in profiling folders and scrunchers. Folders, he maintains, are inherently dangerous since they are fastidious in their planning and methodical in execution. When combined with other threat indicators, folding can provide reliable predictive data, which more often than not results in successful intervention and apprehension of suspects.

On the other hand, scrunchers, though percentage-wise less of a threat, can be worrisome insofar as their recklessness and aversion to normative behavior makes them unpredictable and virtually impossible to combat. The very absence of orderliness frustrates traditional law enforcement professionals and warrants new and controversial techniques like chaos profiling.

A unified approach targeting both folders and scrunchers is recommended, since they are, in effect, two heads of the same monster.

Regarding the operational issue of collecting data, the agency can work closely with manufacturers to install and retrofit millions of door locks in public restrooms with tiny hidden cameras. These cameras will generate continuous and multi-synchronous CCTV feeds for the agency’s super computer in northern Nevada to analyze and prioritize.

We think Schmerdloff’s proposal is a good first step but would add that profiling should further segregate those who don’t flush from those who do and among those who do flush it should separate out those who flush with their hands from those who flush with their feet. Since both folders and scrunchers are suspect, additional data are required to distinguish between actual, probable, and possible threats.

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Land of Bandits

by Mattia Ravasi

murder in monzaThe city of Monza lies in the north of Italy, not too far away from fashionable Milan and its dreadful Duomo. It is the main center in a small but lively province called Brianza, a name that comes from the Latin word for “bandit”. My own surname, a rather common one in the area, is derived from the Latin word for “thief”. This is to say more about how the Romans saw the region and its inhabitants than about the inhabitants themselves.

Monza is an amazingly picturesque city, and those looking for horror might find plenty of it—if only they are willing to drive a few miles out of town to the industrial suburbs where you breathe in misery with exhaust fumes.

Dedicated searchers—especially those with some knowledge of the region’s history—might choose to linger for a while and perhaps visit the colossus that is Monza’s Park, this part of Italy’s green lung. It also features a small benign tumor in the form of a Formula 1 race track.

A wall was built around the park in the 18th century by the Austrian invaders who were to be kicked out, come back, kicked out again, and return at least four more times such that it is difficult nowadays to say whether they’re gone or they’re still here. In a much similar way, it is not so clear whether that first tall wall around the park was built to shield it from the expanding communities around it or to prevent anything inside from roaming where it shouldn’t.

The main function of the park was in fact that of being the private hunting ground for the Habsburg rulers of northern Italy. A Royal Villa was built in the park to serve as the summer dwelling of the Archduke of Austria, yet the much-despised rulers had introduced foreign animals to the park long before the Villa was conceived. The beasts that were left free to roam in the park came from the dark forests of Germany, from the even darker vastness of northern Europe, and from the rocky hills of the Balkan Peninsula. There is a cave not far from the Villa local parents like to show their children, giggling at amazed expressions when the small ones are told it once was the den of a bear.

It wouldn’t be absurd to wonder whether many of the strange folk stories from the city’s past could be based on reality: tales of slender predators stalking the streets of Monza at night, leaving their victims ripped to pieces and disfigured. Said predators were nothing but wolves, or lynxes. Of course, the region is full of tales of weirder beasts (the symbol of Milan itself is a basilisk devouring a child). Whatever the creature was—cryptid or plain animal—it did murder quite a number of locals. The stories agree on this point. To this day, the night life of the city has not recovered, and if you are alone in Monza late at night, you’ll wish you weren’t.

More disquieting still, and much more gruesome, are the many reports—probably exaggerated—of what the period’s Austrian rulers liked to do with political opponents and rioters. The stories are legion and they all disagree, but the common element they share is that poor souls were left alone in the park at night where they’d become the meal of the wild beasts, forced to fight to the death against each other, or—and this is the most widely diffused account—they’d become prey in a peculiar and merciless hunt, one for which it was always open season. The final touch to this unlikely but disturbing scenario is that these night hunts apparently did not stop with the end of the Habsburg rule and the establishment of the kingdom of Italy.

Every summer the king came from Turin. While in the Villa, he liked to carry on the memory of his predecessors by enjoying what the park had to offer—everything, if the tales are right.

Diabolic murderer or not, the locals never liked the king; after all, he came from Savoy, which wasn’t even “the real” Italy, and then again, people in Brianza hardly love each other let alone strangers.

Throughout the 20th century, no reports of hideous games, murderous monsters, or exotic creatures can be found. It would seem the old fantastic tales did not survive the clash with modernity. And the Villa lost most of its shine when the king himself was shot dead in Monza in the first months of the century. The murderer was an anarchist extremist, apparently, though at the time there was no lack of voices affirming there were more personal and secret reasons behind the assassination. However it was, the following generations of kings chose never to visit Monza.

The town has built a monument to commemorate the assassination, a tower-shaped chapel called Cappella Espiatoria. It is Monza’s oddest beauty, and any trip through the town should end here in the rather isolated and silent corner where the monument stands. The chapel’s statues and high reliefs show stark images of suffering, yet there is also an element of mockery in the gothic features of the whole structure, and in the bat-like wings that decorate the fence around it. To this day, huge bright graffiti keep appearing on the monument, and on the asphalted road that runs before it, praising an assassination that took place more than a century ago.

Mattia Ravasi was born in Italy in 1991 and has lived in Milan and in Birmingham, UK. He currently is in Venice where he writes short stories and works on novels, though he is supposedly studying for a postgraduate degree in English Literature. His fiction has appeared in the humorous magazine Hobo Pancakes and he will soon be featured in the steampunk anthology The Lost Worlds, edited by Eldritch Press.

Submit your own Local Legend.

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Sugar-Coated Hairpin Curve

by Stephen V. Ramey

He-Man in the driver’s seat, She-Man by his side. The top is down, the wind a hurricane in their ears. In the back, Baby-Man drowses between liquid-sweet life and taffy-sweet dream. The car is a candy red 1969 Camaro, tires underinflated to cope with the crackle-crazed topping of this winding black road down into the valley.

The pedal on the right is pushed. Hard. Asphalt sprays up from the sudden spin, a scent-like burning licorice, lava lust, vodka in their morning mouths.

“Too fast,” She-Man proclaims from the watcher’s seat.

“Not fast enough,” He-Man yells. “We’re going to be late.” For what? For life in the valley, of course.

The car hits a hairpin curve, slews left, slews right. Rubber stretches, bites, skids. A guardrail crunches, and suddenly they are flying, the granular city melting before them like a sugar glaze. Windows wink, flat-roofed buildings stare.

In the back seat, Baby-Man giggles deep down in his chest. His naked head comes wobbling up. And for just that instant all is right in his sugar-coated world.

Stephen V. Ramey doesn’t always write about babies, but when he does he writes strange. He is the author of a previous baby story at Garden Gnome Publications titled “Pacifier“.

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Spoken By the Woman Who Works There

by Russ Bickerstaff

People know what they’re getting, but we don’t know what we’re selling. People see the ads for Blubbery Steel Kisses™. They know that they want them. Maybe it’s the way those ads make them feel. Maybe it’s the fact that the actor who was in that movie everyone liked is associated with them. It’s really none of our business to bother with knowing what we’re selling. We’re only here to give people what they want. People know what they’re getting, but they don’t know exactly what it is that we’re going to give them.

There’s a steady stream of people walking in the door coming in to buy. There’s a steady stream of people going out the back of the store who have bought. It’s part of the image. It’s also really practical.

When we opened on the first day we were offering Blubbery Steel Kisses™, there was a line straight out the front that coiled its way out of the mall. We never run out, so it’s okay. People come in. People pay. People walk through the curtain and around the corner. They walk out with little bags. We have no idea what’s happened to them, and we really don’t care.

People think we’re feigning ignorance. We’re not getting paid enough to do that. Really. I figure the company that launched Blubbery Steel Kisses™ probably has people who come around to re-stock. We’re just there to look attractive and keep people from being uncomfortable in a long line.

People scoff at us as they walk by. I sometimes wonder if they’re former customers. It’ll pass. They’ll move on. This week it’s Blubbery Steel Kisses™, last week it was Sinewy Silk Embraces™. The week before that it was Fluffy Cotton Hugs. There’s always something new.

This is not Russ Bickerstaff‘s first garden gnome rodeo.

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