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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Sodom

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 @ gardengnomepubs.com. Send your questions to editor @ gardengnomepubs.com.

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Dirt (A Scraping Tale)

by Rich Young

dirt by rich young“Detectives have no idea what caused a Wichita man to murder his family. Harold McGuire fatally shot his wife and their two children, before turning the gun on himself. Neighbors say the McGuires were a ‘normal’ family with no history of violence. Days before the slaughter occurred, June McGuire told a neighbor that she had been having trouble sleeping and felt like something terrible was about to happen, sources say.”

“Police investigating Jill Thompson’s death have uncovered pieces of a mysterious letter from her husband, Craig, in the fire place in the family’s living room. In the letter, Thompson apologizes for his intentions to murder his wife and then kill himself, stating that she will ‘…understand later, when it cannot hurt us anymore.’”

The Tree was remarkable for two reasons. It was in the center of a field with only a few smaller, scraggly bushes, and it was the only tree of its kind anywhere around. Standing at least 40 feet tall with a canopy of loose, airy leaves spread apart like ferns, the Tree had no lower branches. It would have looked more at home in an advertisement for a desert safari than where it grew on this quiet Midwest farm.

Stephen Ross, determined, walked against the wind towards the Tree with his family reluctantly following. Clouds started gathering in the East, behind the Ross family, forming rolling thunderheads as the storm front moved in.

“This is crazy, Steve!” Amy tried to yell louder than the wind. “What are you doing?”

“I told you, it has to be now. We have to go now!” Stephen yelled back to his disgruntled wife.

“To the Tree? With this storm coming? Steve, that doesn’t make any sense.” Amy’s voice now sounded more concerned than angry. “We should be thinking about opening the storm cellar, not being outside!”

“Trust me!” Stephen yelled.

Amy Ross slowed down and considered her two sons. James, at nine years old, seemed alright with this insanity. Tommy, at six years old, and with some tendencies towards Amy’s anxiety, was visibly shaken and crying.

“Everything is okay, Tommy,” Amy reassured him. She held him close. She knew this was crazy, but she trusted her husband— well, kind of. The truth is that they were drifting farther apart than they ever had been before.

In the last few years, Steve had been distant and secretive. Amy was sure he was having an affair, but it was unlikely since he never went anywhere alone. She thought maybe he had met someone online, but he was hardly ever on his laptop or phone anymore, either. He mostly spent time gazing off into the corner of whatever room he was in, and when Amy asked what he was thinking about, or if something was wrong, his answers were short and vague. She thought he may be sick and encouraged him to see a therapist, thinking that he may be depressed, but he never went.

Stephen yelled for his family to keep up as the storm continued to build around them. A few heavy raindrops started crashing into the family, and the breeze picked up a chill in it that gave Amy goosebumps as it rolled over her skin. The pressure from the storm, and from concern for her husband and kids, had teamed up to create a stiffness in Amy’s neck that she recognized as the start of a migraine. Stephen was standing at the base of the Tree waiting for his family. The rain picked up, and the fierce wind blew it sideways into their faces, as Amy, James, and Tommy walked towards Stephen. The wispy canopy of the Tree was too light and high up to offer any shelter from the storm.

“Stand here, here, and here,” Stephen said to his wife and kids, pointing to the area around the trunk of the Tree.

“What? Why?” Amy asked, frustrated, but moved into the requested position expecting no sensible answer from her husband.

“Okay. I’m sorry—I know this is scary and seems nuts, but trust me, I am saving us from something you never need to know about,” Stephen said to his family, who were all holding hands next to the trunk of the tree.

Stephen Ross reached into the back of his pants and fumbled with his late father’s .44 Magnum. After the funeral several years ago, Stephen had found the gun while going through his dad’s things. Stephen was never interested in guns and had locked it up in the attic until a few days ago. Now, it was loaded. It felt so heavy. Sometimes things do not make sense. It does not make them wrong.

“I love you.”

“A Midwest family was found murdered after bad storms crashed through farmland. It is believe that Stephen Ross shot himself after killing his wife, Amy, and two sons under a tree on the family farm during the worst part of a storm that also created the tornado that leveled the family’s farmhouse. Police say that there may not have been enough time for the family to get to safety, and the family may have perished in the house if they had been inside. The tree where their bodies were found was the only part of the Ross’s farm left untouched by the tornado.”

It was dark, but there must have been a source of light somewhere. She could see strings, no roots, hanging down from the ceiling over her head. Her hands felt dirt under them.

“Where are we?” Amy whispered.

“Under the Tree. Well, kind of,” Stephen answered. He was sitting, legs crossed in front of him, holding their sons close to his chest. They turned to see their mom as she sat up.

“Are we dead? You shot us, yes?” Amy asked. She raised her hands up to her forehead, but there was no trace of blood or a hole.

“We’re safe,” Stephen said.

“Safe from what?”

“The Scraping.”

Rich Young is a writer, guitar-player, business analyst, father, and husband from Michigan. He has completed one novel, Letters From Tomorrow, and several short stories ranging from horror to science fiction. His story “The Scraping” was previously published by Garden Gnome Publications.

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Zachariah

by Melchior Zimmermann

warmth by Kris VargaZachariah ran up the hill, his feet flying over the yellow brimstone. Here and there, billows of smoke escaped from between the smoldering rocks. From time to time, he could glimpse a piece of charred limestone, remnants of a house or palace.

Zachariah’s father had told him that before the great destruction there had been a mighty city in this place. His ancestors had lived here, prospering through their prowess in trade and craftsmanship. But five years ago, when Zachariah had only been two years old, the hill tribes had declared war on them. They had beseeched their powerful god to help them in their battle, and he had rained fire and brimstone upon the mighty city of Gomorrah. Unable to ward off the wrath of the heathen god, his ancestors had fled the city. Few of them had made it alive.

As they were roaming through the plains in search of a new home, the hill tribes had descended upon them, killing man, woman, and child and slicing the throats of their livestock. Only a few dozen managed to escape this second onslaught. Alone, left with nowhere to go, his family decided to head back to Gomorrah to rebuild their home.

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

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Restaurant Gnomes

My wife and I tried a new restaurant over the weekend and bumped into some garden gnomes in the kitchen. Enjoy this little treat from Fenrir and his friends. It’s a little blurry, but you can see they’re still gnomes.

garden gnomes in restaurant

Submit a gnome bomb.

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