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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Thick Air

by Terry Alexander

warmth by Kris VargaThe thick sulfur dust hung in the air like a hot mist. The slave master moaned at my feet. A flaming yellow ball struck his leg and reduced it to ash. I slipped the rope from my neck as he screamed in agony.

“James, help me. Save me and win your freedom.” Pain etched deep lines across his face. “Save me.”

My shaking hands closed on his robes and tore a long strip of cloth free. I tied it across my face to filter the thick air. His weak hands pawed at my legs. Blinking away the tears, I stared down at the man who had tormented me for nearly a year.

“Please, James, save me.” His face blistered from the hot powder falling from the sky. “Save me.” His hands fastened on the hem of my slave tunic. He was trying to pull me down.

I kicked him in the face. The blisters popped, draining a thick clear liquid. The sole on my sandal tore through his cheek. Blood gushed from the split flesh as panic gripped my heart. I gazed around, looking for the authorities. Rebellious slaves are dealt with quickly, savagely, by dismemberment and death.

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

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Twenty-Foot High Heels

By Jeff Suwak

super high heelsThe first one was spotted crossing the train tracks across from the Glass Museum–-a redheaded woman wearing twenty-foot high heels. The incident reports said she looked like some kind of enormous humanoid velociraptor lumbering through the mist, her feet grotesquely elongated and her back hunched over by the footwear’s unnatural anatomical demands.

Dozens more stories soon filled the airwaves. By noon, there were thousands of women in twenty-foot high heels clacking through the streets and alleyways, apparently indifferent to everything and anything except for each other.

My first thoughts were for Susan and Elizabeth, and I rushed home to find them after they didn’t answer their phones. Like every other man on the planet, I soon learned that the women in my life had never been in danger of the twenty-foot high-heeled women; no, they were the twenty-foot high-heeled women. All at once, we knew that our lives would never be the same again.

We searched for our ladies and screamed their names, but they all seemed bent to some mysterious purpose that had nothing to do with us. That first day, nearly a hundred of me were impaled by the heels of oblivious women. After that, we all locked ourselves indoors.

Five days after the terror began, the Guerilla Fashionistas made their first broadcasts on the radio. Their one-sentence statement, which they repeated over and over again, was as simple as it was confounding. We demand that our demands are met, they said. We demand that our demands are met.

I sat by my radio day and night like a naïve, expectant child, waiting for explanation on what the women wanted. What a fool I was! Nothing more ever came. It was just that one line, over and over and over again. We demand that our demands are met.

Men started taking the bridge. The rest drank and fought and sobbed in each other’s arms. The world slowed all around us. If it wasn’t for the gay men, all of civilization would have collapsed. For us straight guys, there just didn’t seem to be any point to any of it with no women around.

Before the coming of the twenty-foot high heels, I’d never realized how completely my motivation stemmed from the desire to attract and please women. Without Susan or Elizabeth, there was no reason to shave my face or do sit ups, much less sit in an office cubicle for eight hours. Instead, I spent my time in drunken despair, screaming outside the window for my wife and daughter to come home. No answer came. Still, no answer ever comes.

So it is that I am left in this decaying world, simultaneously cowering from the women in the twenty-foot high heels and yearning desperately for their return. Many times I think that being impaled upon Susan’s heel would be better than this fate, but I lack the fortitude for such a sacrifice.

Would things have been different if I’d told her more often how important she was to me? But I didn’t know! No, I couldn’t see any of it until she was gone.

Through the first weeks of the terror, I consoled myself with the notion that the women in the twenty-foot high heels would someday specify their demands and clarify what they wanted from us. Lately, however, a more terrifying question has come to occupy my mind: what if they don’t even know what their demands are?

Some of Jeff Suwak’s recent short fiction publication credits include Plasma Frequency Magazine, The Colored Lens, Specklit, and Spark: A Creative Anthology. He is the author of “Beyond the Tempest Gate” and “No Punchline” and is a regular contributor to the Prague Revue, Song Places, and Song Facts.

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Warmth

by Kris Varga

warmth by Kris VargaCold. The word shutters over the mind. Cold is the cobbled streets in the brink of winter, resonating with the season appropriately. Cold is the city under a dainty snowfall while fleeting teal sparks reach for the heavens. Cold is the sound of vacancy among Gomorrah, whose electricity has been discontinued via an electromagnetic pulse. Cold is the soul at the brink of survival.

Patrick was cold.

“The Day of Shock,” Patrick creatively coined it, left him immobile and incapable of returning to an energy pod to restore his battery. He computed a light chuckle in his thoughts, one that was innocent enough to maintain the positive attitude he was designed to omit. His bio-constructed flesh tingled as his eyes transfixed on snowy open vastness. Patrick had traveled this path many times, but this time he gained a new perspective, catching a glimpse of himself as if a stranger. He computed a silent sigh.

“Soon enough,” he speculated, “Evelyn will return.”

Evelyn always returned.

#

Four days, two hours, thirty-six minutes and fifty-seven seconds ago, Patrick and Evelyn had passed through the quieter outlets of the city’s boundaries: the grasslands, as they were referred to by the people of Gomorrah. Their weekly destination, however routine, pleased Patrick.

Beyond the bubble-shaped buildings and transcendent automobiles, emitting violent screeches to convey each individual’s animosity towards another, lay the incandescent fields, preserved for the rare produce proprietors who lived a “simpler life.” Twenty-four degrees above the Earth’s meeting with the sky rested the sun, whose lackadaisical clock reminded Patrick of the bells that would ring ever so briefly from Divine Intelligence’s control tower. The grocery bags in Patrick’s hands would only slow down their travels.

“Patrick, slow down! I wanna enjoy the sunset.”

“My dear, we must hurry—for time, you see, is dwindling. It is almost of the eve.”

“Sing me the Clair de Lune.” Her eyes smiled their childish embellishment. “Pretty please?”

Patrick halted and glanced cheerfully at the heart of the city, then at the enticing sun, then at Evelyn’s purity. Against all odds, Evelyn’s smile won out, and she placed her knapsack on the ground and rested cross-legged in the open field as Patrick hummed the tune to his best ability. Even though this was not a part of his programming, Evelyn seemed to enjoy the flawed sound he produced. “Human-like”, she would call it.

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

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The Legend of the Rattlesnake Doctor

by Michael Gosack

The Legend of the Rattlesnake DoctorIt is cool and quiet under the gnarled pines around the cabin. The silence is watchful, as if hateful eyes lie in wait in every shadow and behind every tree. Something like a dead fish stench hangs in the air here. Heads of rusted nails protrude from the trees, and the posts and frame of the porch. According to the reports that I have managed to uncover, this is a result of the Rattlesnake Doctor’s foul prayers.

His was the Black Work. No one knew where he’d been raised. No one knew of any sure kin, though a few lost souls came forward after his death claiming to be his bastards. Trick babies to a one, they shared his legendary hatchet face, fiery dark eyes, and straight black Indian hair.

Twenty miles east inland from the Lake Michigan coastline and the county seat, well into timber country, just outside a whistle-stop town populated largely by rough men and their loose women, there arose the not-infrequent need for incorporeal revenge. To get him to do a job, all you had to bring him was a bottle of whiskey. All ten of my sources agreed on this detail.

The single mother in the tar-paper basement shack had the most information to offer. Her mother had brought him a bottle in exchange for the death of her own stepfather, for crimes which remain shrouded in the oblivion of history. They walked together through the trees, as was apparently his custom, him sniffing the air like an animal until he found a snake nest. He broke a rod from the lower trunk of a lone old red pine and tormented the serpent until, rattling with fury, it struck out at his riding boots. A flick of his buck knife severed the reptile’s spine, and he plucked up a thing alive, in agony, and harmless.

On his table, in the single room cabin reeking of drink, the Rattlesnake Doctor slit open the snake’s belly and shoved inside of it was the name of the stepfather written nine times on a page torn from the Book of Revelation, along with some hair stolen from the cursed one’s genitals. With muttered prayers in some unknown tongue, the Rattlesnake Doctor stitched up the serpent with black thread and nailed the snake to a tree through the neck. As it rotted, the single mother’s stepfather sickened, going into a terrible fever in which he vomited and shat a black purge fluid that stank like a dead reptile. He screamed throughout the night, hideous cries about poison and ghosts, and things that dwelt in the trees, until, after seven days and seven nights, he lay wasted and dead.

An interview at the local nursing home with one Mister Seppanen, formerly a sheriff’s deputy, revealed more of the Rattlesnake Doctor’s character. Of Finnish blood, the deputy had been raised on witch stories going all the way back to the land of the midnight sun, though the community had been tamed by the doctrines of Lutheranism and had abandoned the reputation of readiness to resort to either knives or sorcery to settle dispute. Still, there remained a healthy respect for the black arts in his generation. He’d removed the Rattlesnake Doctor from the back room of an Ottawa roadhouse, the girl the Doctor had assaulted all stained with tears and blood. She refused to press charges and would only mutter medicine prayers in response to questioning.

Nothing remains of that roadhouse now. It was built on wooden foundations, and the Ottawa’s land has all been piece-mealed away by trickery and squattage. And no one ever agreed to testify against the Rattlesnake Doctor. He silenced all witnesses with a glare from his black eyes. Former Deputy Seppanen shuddered to imagine it, sixty years hence, from the safety of his wheelchair.

What crimes gave the Rattlesnake Doctor authority over death? A country and western song, which had enjoyed brief notoriety a few decades ago, mentions the Rattlesnake Doctor and his crimes. Though there was only one pressing of the album, I was able to listen to this rare piece of vinyl due to the generosity of the county seat’s own AM radio station. Entitled “the Rattlesnake Doctor’s Hand” for its main hit, it added relatively little to the information I have gathered here, save for the claim that his mother was a full-blooded Cherokee and his father was a dark Spaniard.

We pass now from direct sources to folklore, and thus the veracity of this claim can be neither confirmed nor denied. But the song explicitly discusses his powers of malice, identifying his as a “killing hand,” its potency lost if his heart ever flushed with kindness, or love, or mercy. Regrettably, the artist in question was crushed shortly thereafter while working at his regular employment on the county seat’s train yards, when a freight car became uncoupled during a switching move, causing the train to derail and roll forward, striking him dead. As yet, I have not been able to locate any members of the family to interview and must assume that they, like so many others, left the area looking for work.

One source asserts that the Rattlesnake Doctor drained his captive reptiles of blood, which he kept in small bottles hung by rope deep enough down his well so as to preserve them from decay in the cool of the earth. A drop of this cursed blood, secreted in a man’s drink, could infect their bodies with a plague of serpents. Some lay the death of the unfaithful young wife of the owner of a local sawmill, which culminated in her vomiting a clutch of freshly-hatched serpents in a black mess of blood and rot, squarely at his feet. Other alleged murders occurred by even more surreptitious means. When one of his maledictions dried into a mummiform length of bones and hide, he allegedly crumbled the remains, mixed them with shavings of bullet lead, belladonna, and dirt bought from the graves of murderers.

Such a potent killing powder, blown through the bars of the county jail, cast down an unnamed traveling gambler, held imprisoned to save him from the wrath of those half-starved men who’d caught him gaming with lead-loaded dice. He never awoke from the fever, save to scream obscenities at the chimeras he described assaulting him from every corner of his cell.

I can picture it as clearly as if I stood before it in his time, my own bottle of whiskey in my hands, a hateful name written nine times on my lips. In my sleep, I have walked the long path through the miles of cullwood from the whistle-stop town, a cluster of buildings along the railroad tracks, mud and water puddling its filthy streets. In my mind’s eye, the whole cabin hangs with nailed serpents, each one with maledictions stitched inside its rotting hide. Each jack pine slithers with the poisoned shade of a cursed soul, watching you with slitted eyes, dripping death from spectral fangs.

How did he sleep at night, with the pine needles rustling against the dry scales of hungry ghosts? The answer is clear–he drank himself into nightly torpor, to drown out the endless rattles of his victims. When he woke up and drug himself into the sunlight to wash his face in the well, did he listen for the sound of reptiles in the leaves?

Originally hailing from rural Northern Michigan, Michael Gosack lives and writes in New Orleans.

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Morphic Resonance

by Bear Jack Gebhardt

morphic resonance and reality“I’ll be out of the office tomorrow, Gladys, so here’s my monthly report. I’ve footnoted the expenditures with a copy of my receipts so you can itemize how each was necessary and what line item it references for each of our projects.”

Gladys, sitting at the front desk, was looking up at Dr. Weingarten, not aware that her mouth was hanging open. Dr. Weingarten’s wide grin made his normally thin sunken cheeks puff out. He knew he’d surprised her, again.

“Thank you, Bruce,” Gladys said, meekly.

“My pleasure,” he said. “Just doing my job.” He almost clicked his heels as he turned smoothly, went through the doors, and disappeared.

“Something’s really changed with that guy,” Gladys turned and whispered to Belinda, her co-conspirator. “You think he’s on drugs?”

“Definitely,” Belinda responded. “And whatever he’s on, I want some.”

For the seven years he had been with the department, Dr. Bruce Weinstein was notorious for missing his monthly deadlines and quarterly summaries, so necessary for grant administration and renewal. It had been Gladys’ unhappy challenge to regularly coax and pry the reports from him.

“Some of us are actually too busy doing the real work,” was always his irritated excuse.

Not only was this the second month in a row that he had turned in his reports ahead of deadline, he had also found time to repair a long faulty drawer in one of the front desk filing cabinets, fix the leaky faucet in the sink in the break room, and transplant two African violets wilting and overcrowded that had been sitting forlorn in the administrator’s waiting room.

Gladys and Belinda were not the only ones who had noticed a change in his behavior.

“Bruce, my God, what have you done to your laboratory?” asked Dr. Murphy, the department chairman, one day in passing.

“Morphic resonance,” Bruce replied with a smile. “Every form evolves towards its ideal.”

“Don’t give me that crap,” Dr. Murphy said, obviously irritated. Bruce just shrugged and grinned. “Well, whatever it is, it looks good, even slightly professional, for a change.” Dr. Murphy continued on to his office.

Bruce Weinstein’s small genetics lab had been notorious for its disarray. Old coffee cups on top of the mass spectrometer, buried under journals and loose papers in no apparent order. Last year’s test tubes and beakers shoved aside to make room for this year’s new projects.

“Morphic resonance,” Bruce repeated after Dr. Murphy had disappeared down the hallway.

“Explain it to me again,” his wife Denise had begged. They were sitting on the newly cleaned patio with a glass of wine and salmon on the grill. This was a different man than the one she had known the previous twelve years. This new man was clean, tidy, and very adept.

“The magical germ crawled out of the test tube and into my brain,” he said, raising his glass to her.

“Bruce, quit talking in riddles. You’ve used that silly phrase before and I don’t know what it means or what the hell you’re talking about. Explain it to me again. What’s happened to you?”

“Morphic resonance,” Bruce said. “That’s the germ of the magical idea that I saw in the test tube. I saw that the higher level field modifies the probability structure of the lower level field.”

“I don’t get it,” Denise said. “Talk plain English.”

“Sorry, love, I really don’t mean to be flippant. It has to do with hierarchal structures. Every form in the universe is part of a field, with an ideal form towards which it is moving, or evolving.”

“English, Bruce, English,” Denise said, taking another sip of her wine, studying him, truly wanting to understand.

“Okay, take our patio,” Bruce said. “There’s a living field here. We could call it a patio field. Our patio wants to express its own unique version of every patio that has ever existed.”

“You’ve lost me.”

Bruce drank from his own wine. “Okay, let’s simplify. Take a stuck drawer in a filing cabinet. Because of morphic resonance…”

“What’s morphic resonance?“

“It means higher form, or field, rules the lower form, or field, or at least influences it. Big fish eats the little fish.”

“Okay, go ahead, but I don’t know how this relates to a stuck filing cabinet drawer.”

“The stuck drawer is a lower field. It actually wants to become unstuck and act like the other drawers in the bigger field. Drawers are designed to function. There’s an underlying harmony in the universe.“

“The drawer wants to become unstuck?”

“Well, in a manner of speaking, yes. But we are human beings. The human being field is inherently a very high field—an incredibly higher order field. Just being present, we influence our surroundings. So all outer forms and functions want to conform to the human field, or at least are willing to conform. The higher field influences the lower field.”

“Are you taking some kind of drug?” Denise interrupted. “The germ out of the test tube thing? Gives you energy? Makes you want to fix things? Did you cook something up there in your lab?”

Bruce laughed. “No, no, love. Not at all. I just finally understood, at least a little, how things come into existence. They do it through morphic resonance.”

“Sorry, but I just don’t get it,” Denise said. She took another sip of her wine, then held her glass back, studying it. “Where’d you get this stuff? This isn’t what we generally drink, out of the box. This is really, really good.”

Bruce looked at her, somewhat frightened, but understanding perfectly how it happened.

Bear Gebhardt is a freelance writer. His seventh book, The Potless Pot High: How to Get High, Clear and Spunky without Weed, was published last year by Seven Traditions Press. His fourth and favorite book—-Practicing the Presence of Peace— was published in 2009 by Pathbinder Press. He has fiction, non-fiction and poetry credits in a wide variety of national and international publications, including The Columbia Journalism Review, The Christian Science Monitor, Jive, Fitness, Modern Maturity, and Hallmark.

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