Tag Archives: flash fiction

Bugs in the System

by Anita Cooper

“Robot love. What a beautiful thing”, Bitsy said, turning to look at Bob.

Bob shrugged. It wasn’t the first robot trade show he’d been to, and it probably wouldn’t be the last.

The robots’ designer stood next to his creations – male and female robots – droning on and on about their upgraded and lifelike exterior shells with more responsive emotion simulators.

Bob looked at his watch.

Honestly, he didn’t know what everyone got so worked up about. It’s not like love was that big of a deal.

It hadn’t been for him, anyway.

The product leaflet that came with his ZR-372 – marketed as Vivian – was supposed to be the real deal.

It wasn’t.

Sure, it performed all of the mechanical functions that came with sex, but he’d been led to believe it would have emotions and logic – that it would be better than a human female.

He read through the instruction booklet…even called the help desk, but they were no help. So he sold Vivian until something better came along.

Bitsy nudged him.

“Bob, he’s going to start the programming for his “love machines”. Isn’t that such a cute name?” Bitsy said. “OMG, I’ve got to get one…look at the muscles on the male – I wonder if I could special order the size of…”

Bob rolled his eyes.

The robots began to move, the male reaching for the female as if to kiss her. He embraced her, but once their lips met, something seemed to go wrong.

Horribly wrong.

Bob couldn’t stop watching. The female’s skin began to melt. The male continued with his programming, planting blubbery steel kisses on her face, impervious to the female’s skin dripping down her torso and pooling in a large mass of steaming plastic and wires.

Hmm, maybe he’d better try again to find a human girl.

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by Cat Jenkins

Li’l sister saw it same time as me.

But her eyes kenned it differ’nt.

What I saw were green and noisome, like one of Granny’s potions. Like bile milked from a sea slug. But Sara got all gaspy and whispery; her face goin’ beatific. “Lookee, Rena,” she says to me. “Lookee.”

“Don’ touch it.” I pulled at her arm to make her leave. “Come away. Don’ touch it.”

“Why, it’s like a ghost or angel leaned down from Heaven, breathin’ pearly-green all over the mucky holes, all pretty and shimmery like dragonfly wings.”

I minded me to tell Granny to stop fillin’ Sara’s head with them fairytales. Don’ do no good to have nonsense flittin’ through yer head in the bayou. They’s enough cautions to be had ‘round ev’ry corner ‘thout bringin’ fancies into it.

The green stuff was oozin’ on closer like it were drawn by heat or heartbeat, and li’l Sara couldn’ take her eyes off’n it. So’s I pulled her back and herded her all the way home, tellin’ her never to go back there.

“But it’s booootiful, Rena! Like…like the moon and the sea got t’gether an’ conjured up elf-fire…”

I pushed li’l Sara up onto the porch, and acrost it, and into our room, and that shoulda been the end to it.

But li’l girls is a han’ful. That night Sara sneaked out.
We tracked ‘er next day, but lost ‘er back where that bile-green glow bubbled up from the mucky holes. We called and called and Mama wept somethin’ fierce…Granny, too.

But no Sara.

Couple nights later I thought I heard li’l sis callin’. Her voice had gone all chimey and tinkly, but it were callin’ my name, and who else’d do that? I went lookin’, but no Sara. Jes’ her callin’ from all differ’nt sides at once, seemed like. Next mornin’ afore the sun come up, I saw bitty footprints glowin’ green in the glimmer-light. They come out from the bayou to my window and then gone back.

Bile-green they was.

When I told, Granny and Mama shook me hard and said to pay them no nevermind. And they stopped lookin’ for my li’l sister. Stopped talkin’ ‘bout her, too. Stopped usin’ her name.

But I think I’ll see Sara again. Prob’ly soon. ‘Cause I keep hearin’ her chimey voice at night. And this mornin’, afore the sun washed it away, I saw the greeny glow’d come up again.

Only this time, I didn’ think it were bile-y, but pearly-soft and glowy.

And it were pretty like Sara said.

And it come all the way ‘cross the yard again.

Only this time, it come up the siding.

Only this time, there were some on my windowsill.


Cat Jenkins lives in the Pacific Northwest where the weather is often conducive to long hours before a keyboard. Her stories in humor, fantasy, speculative fiction, and horror have been published both online and in print. She is working on her first novel, a psychological thriller with touches of magical realism. Read Cat’s blog. Follow her on Twitter: @CatJenkins11

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Doing it Wrong

by Schevus Osborne

Danny surveyed the convention room, looking for anyone that caught her eye. A cat. Pass. A wolf. Pass. All these people were so unoriginal, she thought, and so fake. The neon plush hair and oversized eyes made her sick. No one was as committed to the lifestyle as she was.

Finally, she saw a flash in the crowd. Pointed face and small round ears. A very long, bushy tail. Now this was something that interested her. She sauntered across the room, stopping to push a giggling pink bunny out of her way.

“Hey little weasel,” she said, tapping her target on the shoulder “want to spend some time with a real woman?”

The weasel turned around and jumped three feet in the air, crashing into the pair of cows he had been talking to. He cowered on the ground with his stubby forelimbs raised.

“D-d-don’t hurt me!” he squealed.

Danny noticed a dampening between the weasel’s hind legs. “Gah,” she snorted, disgusted. “I finally find something new — a freaking weasel! — and it can’t even be a toilet-trained weasel.”

She stormed off, sharp teeth scowling and claws click-clacking on the hard floor. There was no love for a hyper-realistic looking honey badger at a furry convention.

Schevus Osborne is a featured author in the Garden of Eden anthology from Garden Gnome Publications.

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The Albino Man on Mystic Drive

by Russ Bickerstaff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Submit your own Local Legend.

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Guardians of the Chimera

by Ruben Stemple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We gotta run. Let’s go Cindy.”

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

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

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

“Hey, Maxie, your house is that way!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dumbass. Sasquatch are vegan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is he … dead?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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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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