Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Maze vs Zombies" by John Dax (Flash Fiction)

Genre:  Horror

Type of Short Story:  Flash Fiction

Summary:  An accident at a top-secret research facility sets Mark in a race against time. He knows he's infected and doomed. All he wants is to kiss his wife and child goodbye. Is that too much to ask?

This story is illustrated with 5 hand drawn mazes.


Mark winced in pain, looking quickly to his hand. "Damn, that hurt," he thought seconds before the full implication of what he'd just done reached his brain.

Contact with Specimen #568, the deceptively inert lump of mutagenic virus-infected necrotic tissue, had just cut short Mark’s work day. And his employment with the top-secret work facility. And his life.

“I've got to say goodbye to Andrea and baby Sally,” Mark thought as he started to count down the hours he had left to live.

Buy this story on Amazon.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"Supervillain: The Concise Guide" by Ras Ashcroft (Novella)

Genre:  Humor/Parody

Type of Short Story:  Written like a guide, novella length

Summary:  Are you tired of living a humdrum life? Is there little to look forward to except a dead-end job and more news headlines that remind you of your insignificance in the world? Do you think the future of humanity depends on your potent leadership skills? Well forget about the nonsense of running for political office and become a supervillain instead.

Fancy degrees and qualifications are not required. With this concise guide, you will learn all the basic tricks of the trade. Ease into your first seedy business, create a large organisation with interests in finance, media and politics, and build a powerful military force. Eventually you will launch your crusade to rule the entire planet.

Take your shot at world domination – and hit the bull’s-eye.

A popular brand of dictionary defines the term ‘Supervillain’ as follows:

su•per•vil•lain [soo-per-vil-uh n]: A malicious person usually involved in complex schemes to achieve an ambitious evil end goal such as world domination.

This is a white lie since dictionaries do not even bother to define the term. Perhaps it is because they think that ‘Supervillain’ is a title which bears no real significance outside fiction. Another more probable theory hints at a massive conspiracy involving the heads of the powerful dictionary-industrial complex. Whatever the reason, many average people still aspire to achieve this title. They wish to experience the simple (and clichéd) pleasures of relaxing in a diamond palace on a throne crafted from the skulls of their enemies.

By reading this book, you have taken the first step towards achieving these nefarious goals! Along the way, your loved ones will tell you that this is a ridiculous path to follow. They will tout the merits of following a more traditional career path, such as a Marketing Executive for a major brand or a Cat Groomer for upper class spinsters. Pay little attention to these naysayers. The only Marketing Executives you should worry about are the ones you will eventually hire to manage your propaganda. Similarly, the only cats worth grooming will be the genetically modified lions under your command.

Others may try to reason with you, by claiming that some normal career paths these days can easily satisfy your thirst for evil. At this point, they will direct you to the careers section of your friendly neighbourhood investment bank’s website and say “Look, why not become an investment banker? You’ll be rich, respected at posh dinner parties and you can fulfil your need to commit evil by becoming an integral part of a corrupt finance machine!”

While this is true to a minor extent, it is a long way from the recognition you will gain as a supervillain. You will simply exist as a disposable cog in a faceless organisation. Your real aim is to become the face of your OWN organisation, dedicated to more than just the chore of amassing wealth. After all, the novelty of currency will wear thin once you have an entire micro-nation converted to a secure vault, holding trillions in crisp banknotes with your grinning face on them. Money must simply be viewed as a crude but necessary tool.

Popular publications often attribute the origins of a supervillain to a tragic set of events in that person’s past. Traumatic childhoods, lab explosions and a slow descent into insanity usually figure in the pages of their biographies. They also tend to believe that their actions genuinely benefit society. Such factors can help shape their personality, but they are not necessary preconditions.

By harnessing the power of positive villainous thinking, you too can cultivate wealth, image, respect and connections. You will master these areas and find yourself in a dominant position, where you can hold entire nations hostage on demand. At this point, you can forgive your former critics and invite them for a dip in one of your private champagne lakes. Alternatively, you could opt for a more traditional lake of fire party by throwing them in the super-volcano you activated when those pesky North Americans refused to bow down to your will.

Buy this story on Amazon.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"Highway 90" by Heather Ross (Novelette)

Genre:  Young Adult Drama

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  For Brooke and Paige, life in a small border town is getting boring. The same faces cruising the boulevard and getting drunk in the desert just feel so high school until a trip to a Mexican nightclub changes the way they view life, love and freedom.


"Paige, did you see that?" I don't have to ask. Her face looks as shocked as my voice sounds.

"What should we do?" She lets her foot off the gas glancing at me. The thought of seeing a dead body makes my stomach sink. I've only seen two in my lifetime, my uncle, which I would have preferred not to see dead, but no one told me the funeral was open casket until I walked in the door of the mortuary. The other was on the side of the road, thrown from a van rolling across the center divider. My mom kept saying, "Don't look," from her seat in front of me, but the more she said it the more I felt like I had to see. I was only six, but I still remember the person, bloody limbs scraped raw and bleeding laying lifeless on the highway, eyes open just staring. I don't know if it was a man or woman, but I do know I didn't understand death as much as I understood pain. That looked painful and I didn't want to die if it meant pain.

"We should go back." I stare straight ahead unsure if the words really came from my mouth. I wait for Paige's response, but she's quiet. At this point, I won't protest if she keeps driving. She slows pulling to the side of the road then makes a u-turn. We drive in silence. My heart is beating hard and fast. I hope it's a figment, a joke or that someone else stopped, like the paramedics. All of my ideas disappear as our headlights spread over the lifeless figure. Paige makes another u-turn pulling up within twenty feet of the body, half the car still on the highway.

"What if this is some kind of joke?" Paige looks around like an army of guerrillas is waiting in the brush to jump us.
"Paige, do you see the blood? Who's gonna joke about that?" She looks over the steering wheel squinting her eyes as if looking for a ketchup packet nearby.

"Just stay in the car if you're so damn freaked out." I open my door. It's pitch black except for the headlights and a full moon. The desert's finally beginning to cool. I hesitate for a second hearing my dad, "Don't stop for strangers." Technically, this isn't a stranger. It's a dead person. Besides, what will he say when I tell him, "I drove past a person on the highway last night just layin' there all bloody and lifeless, but you said don't stop for strangers." I imagine he'd be more disappointed than if I'd stopped, but more than that, I'd be too disappointed in myself to tell.

I start toward the body. I'm not good with blood, even get queasy at the sight of my own, and the body is covered in it. Dark patches that look like dry paint surround the figure while bright red streaks ooze from wounds I can't see. The person is on their side facing away from me, probably the only reason I'm still standing. I look back at the car. I can't see Paige through the glare of the headlights, but I'm sure she's chewing her nails watching me. As I get closer I hear breathing. It reminds me of Darth Vader, raspy, strained, filled with fluid. A low groan follows. It scares me so much I almost pee myself. I can't just stand here watching someone die.

Buy this story on Amazon.  Check out Ross's other work on her website.

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Vortex" by Steven Mace (Short Story)

Genre:  Science Fiction and Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  A tale set in a parallel universe policed by an organisation of supernatural and reality manipulators known as the Arcadian Vortex, who are controlled by a triad known as 'The Matriarchy'. In this story you will be introduced to Peregrine and Victor, two extraordinary and talented men; and Charlie, a very brave little boy.


Peregrine Lascombe adjusted his monocle, and then proceeded to stroke the elegantly twisted curl of his moustache before chuckling to himself. He watched the woman stride down the pavement, dragging her reluctant son along with her. The little boy was still glancing back at him with wide, curious eyes. Lascombe could see through their outer flesh, and into their internal organs and even beyond that external physical layer, and thus into their skeletal frames. The woman was pregnant again. He could see the outline of a budding foetus within her womb. The boy who was walking with her, a hyper-sensitive child, had actually seen him, while most of the humans present here on this world, going about their mundane daily business, would not be able to distinguish him while he was cloaked in this current fashion. Occasionally such things occurred, and always with children, or the mentally irrational amongst human populations. If a sane adult could see him, then that was a more worrying development, although it was unheard of as far as Lascombe was aware. Even as he stood on the pavement, passers-by walked close to him where he stood, and also through him, stepping through his immaterial presence. Of course, he was not quite present right now in that place, at least not in his essential material form. This was a manifestation of Lascombe, rather than his real body which was currently in limbo within a casket kept in the Vortex.

Lascombe had suddenly detected a disturbance in the metaphysical atmosphere, a mind-wave aftershock. He had already guessed the cause of such supernatural noise in the ether, and after a Mind-sweep he meta-ported himself to the vicinity. He found Victor Phalange in a dingy alleyway, interfering with the brain processes of one of the humans. This was a particularly degenerate example of an Earthbound human, a homeless male with dirty clothes and ill-functioning inner organs, particularly the liver and bladder. The homeless person was presently sitting vacantly upon the ground: a man with a flushed face, and long grey hair and beard.

Phalange was crouched unseen behind the man, his hands discharging electrical energy and hovering half-clenched around the man’s skull as he secretly activated neurons and transmitters within the poor human’s brain. There was a half-smile on Phalange’s face as he concentrated on disturbing the human’s neural pathways and nervous system, and his golden eyes were closed fast shut as he worked patiently at his task.

“Oh, Victor”, Peregrine sighed. “Do behave and do try to desist from disturbing the wildlife.”

Victor was one of the more challenging members of his reality management team. Peregrine was expert at orchestrating the wild and differing talents of his squad of Dimensional Manipulators, hence the reason that the Matriarchy had chosen him for his role, but Victor always required special handling. He had the tattooed physique of a body-builder combined with kinetic and metaphysical skills and the playful mind of an artist or comedian- an unusual and dangerous combination. He could not resist providing that extra unnecessary flourish for a Meld or a Fabrication, either for aesthetic purpose or his own personal amusement. There had been the incident in Chicago, Illinois during the 1940s era on this planet when Victor Phalange had endowed a deformed boy with white feathered wings, and then another notorious moment on Hadea in the Jeth province when Victor had given a Varnic Cult priestess access to the future-scrolls of the Magi. Victor had also left an open portal to the Second Level in the Midian deserts, which the Matriarchy had ordered to be closed once they had learned of its whereabouts. Lascombe had suggested that Phalange be disciplined, but he doubted that his colleague had faced any serious sanctions afterward. Phalange was one of the Matriachy’s favourites, despite his occasionally destructive idiosyncratic nature.

“I’m doing something kind for this poor man”, Phalange said defensively. “I’m making his life more bearable. I’m opening his eyes to inner process and delight, without his usual aid of illicit chemical substances.”

“Unnecessary, Victor”, Peregrine said, rebuking him. “They are nothing but motes in the eye of the storm. Ignore them. We have more important things to do.”

At that moment Lascombe was interrupted by a voice in his head. It was a telepathic message from Nero Basso, who was monitoring their presence in that particular First Level zone: Peregrine, there’s a Third Level disturbance in that sector. I haven’t managed to pin-point it yet, but its something dark and dangerous…causing ripples of chaotic flux that might start to manifest themselves in your reality very soon.

Lascombe’s throat had gone dry. He swallowed and sent a telepathic message back to the source of that ominous warning. Is it…another Deathshadow, do you think?

There was a momentary hiatus, before Basso spoke within Lascombe’s mind again. Peregrine, I didn’t want to alarm you but that assumption is looking extremely likely at this point.

“Victor”, Lascombe said sharply. Phalange still had his hands clasped around the skull of the disorientated and hallucinating human while each of his hands discharged blue-white energies from his palms. “Stop that. We have little time. We still have to seal the rupture. And…there may well be a Deathshadow on its way.”

Abruptly, Victor Phalange ceased his activity within the human’s brain. The vagrant slumped unconscious to the concrete floor of the alley. Previously crouching behind the human, Phalange now rose to his feet and his full height of six feet five inches. He was a tall, powerful person even when he was just a projection as he was now. “A Deathshadow?” Phalange repeated, in an astonished tone. “But…”

Lascombe glanced up at the sky. He had sensed something before he looked: a sudden shift in the atmosphere, or a subtle change in the quality of light. Now he saw the reason why. Something was beginning to blot out the sun; an irregular, and uneven dark shape. Currently, it was covering perhaps a tenth of that yellow-white circle, but it was growing. “Ah”, Lascombe said softly. “It has begun. Now we shall start to see anomalies.”

And, indeed, the anomalies came. The hordes of bewildered shoppers in the middle of the high street had paused and gazed up at the sky, shielding their eyes from the glare of the sun. Even as unwelcome darkness encroached upon the previously bright and sunlit day, the faces of the humans began to change. An elderly man with glasses abruptly sprouted ivory tusks from his hollow cheeks, sharp protuberant curved horns of fresh bone that ripped through the tender flesh even as he cried out in shock and horror at his own sudden and terrifying transformation. A pin-like mass of narrow spines appeared upon the forehead and shaven skull of an adolescent boy. A small girl grew a third eye in the centre of her forehead, an eye that blinked repeatedly in confirmation of its obscene birth from her unblemished skin. There were countless other mutations and disfigurements that swiftly took place amongst the bustling crowds of human beings, who began to scream with horror and bewilderment at the frightening changes that had happened in their own appearances and the faces of others. Even animals were affected. A Yorkshire terrier on the lead of its owner had developed an extra head and two more wagging tails in addition to the original. They flicked about together in a nightmarish triad of unconscious animal delight.

“Victor, we need to shut this down”, the manifestation of Peregrine Lascombe told his companion. “Quickly, man.” Seconds later, Lascombe materialised once again in the midst of the high street. He nervously adjusted his monocle as he instinctively but unnecessarily swerved to avoid the streams of terrified disfigured humans that were running past him, oblivious to his presence. His movements were merely a natural reaction to people running straight toward him, as he had no substantial form. Although he felt a quiver as the people ran through him, disturbing his materialised figure, there was no physical collision. Moments afterward, Victor Phalange also appeared beside him. Phalange’s piercing golden eyes scanned their surroundings quickly, taking in the physical changes of the frightened people scuttling to and fro about them.

“Nero, take us up to Level Three”, Lascombe ordered, sending his message to the Auteur.

Done, Basso sent back.

Abruptly Lascombe and Phalange’s surroundings changed. The scared people running through them and about their location became as immaterial and insubstantial as the two Dimensional Manipulators were. The human beings, the residents of this physical world, were now simply mere ghosts, cloudy and fragile phantasms that Lascombe and Phalange were only dimly aware of. The heat and light from the sun had also vanished. There was no warmth and no breeze here, just a neutral cold that chilled the bones. The physical landmarks of the world they had recently vacated- the towering buildings of the office blocks and the shopping centre; the parked cars; the concrete walls; the lamp posts- were now just pale outlines, white traces upon a shadowy blue-black background. This was not the true physical world, but a rudimentary sketch of it, a vague blue print.

However, the creature that had appeared upon the horizon like a hideous black storm cloud and was now heading straight toward them at rapid speed was no apparition. It was a vast being, a monster of epic proportions. Its torso resembled that of a whale, even though it flew through the elements of air and blank space like that particular earthbound mammal swam through water. Grouped around its neck, flanks and wings were the wailing mouths and faces of lost, screaming souls: poor unfortunates that had been devoured and assimilated by this awful demonic abortion, this monstrous and frightening hell-beast. At the front of the creature there was one small cranium which possessed features reminiscent of a fly: two bulbous goggle-like eyes and a small mouth with vicious pointed glistening teeth like sharp needles. Beneath this a greater second head bulged out, and within it was just a great maw: divided triangles of flesh that opened inwards and outwards like a pulsing Venus Fly-trap. Beyond them, it was possible to see into the belly, the heart of the creature and only see a deep, black empty void- an abyss of nothingness. To be swallowed by the monstrosity was to become one with its darkness.

This was a terrible being known and feared by all operatives of the Arcadian Vortex, a monstrosity that had already accounted for three of their number. It was a Deathshadow, a fabled creature from the Beyond. Now, of course, it had been confirmed as something far more than fable or myth, it was a very real entity within the known Cosmos. This, however, was the first time that Lascombe and Phalange had seen one with their own eyes, whether in their true physical form or any of their materialised appearances in different realms they had visited.

Buy this story on Amazon or on Lulu.

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Johnny Mustang The Adventure Begins" by Ruth Thompson (Short Story)

Genre:  Children

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  He lives in the desert of southwest Arizona where the wild Mustangs run free. Join him on his first wild horse roundup when he learns what it takes to catch a free spirited horse.

Johnny Mustang is an illustrated children's book aimed at readers ages 8-12, but suitable for all ages. It is 6,000 words long and includes 10 full color illustrations.


The River had long since dried up under the summer sun leaving large cracks in its surface. Every year the cracks got deeper and wider. Only the bravest dared to ride across. Unless you were a Mustang.

They lived and breathed these mountains, understood the intricacies that others called hazards and knew better than anyone how to survive. If there were an owner of these lands, other than God, it was them. That's one reason they made great horses for ranching and hunting. Their hardy nature and ability to learn quickly was the other. They also had one downfall, they would do whatever they could to avoid being captured.

Él va acted as though he were one of them paying no attention to any of Johnny's signals. Pulling back on the reins, leaning back in the saddle and yelling 'WHOA!' did nothing to get Él va to slow down. In fact, it seemed to make him run faster.

Ahead, Johnny could see a long black hole in the riverbed and the Mustangs were headed straight toward it. He had heard stories about riders who crossed the riverbed and never returned. He didn't want to be one of them.

Again and again he yelled for Él va to stop, but his throat became muffled as he choked on the dust. Johnny knew he was in trouble.

Two and three at a time the Mustangs began jumping, their manes suspended in the air like colorful string. Johnny knew it was a chance he didn't want to take on a horse he didn't know, but what choice did he have? If the Mustangs could do it he hoped and prayed Él va could too.

Grabbing the saddle horn and tightening the reins, Johnny squeezed his legs into Él va's sides. The horse adjusted his stride for the take off, then sprung into the air. For a moment, everything was silent. The dust cleared. Johnny couldn't help but look down into the endless black ravine. He froze with fear, his heart beating wildly. He hoped Él va wasn't looking down too.

They hung in the air for what seemed like hours. Then he heard the cracking of Él va's hooves on the rocks. The horse stumbled and caught himself, but the jolt lurched Johnny over the horse's head. Up in the air he flew, this time without Él va.

Buy this story on Amazon.  Check out Thompson's website.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"Young Hearts" by Gabriella Mahoney (Short Story)

Genre:  Western Romance

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  Orphaned at an early age, Katherine Parker has been forced to be practical her entire life. She has been a been a nanny, a cook and now a school teacher. 

At twenty-six she has just about given up hope of ever finding a man that might see her as more than just the hired help. That is until Alex Dermott, her best friend growing up, comes back into down and seems interested in being far more than just friends...


Katherine wasn’t entirely certain why she had made such a rebellious statement. It was totally uncharacteristic of her. Normally she was very careful about presenting a respectable public image. Nor was she entirely certain why a hint of tenderness crept into her heart as she draped the quilt over Alex and watched him sleep for a moment.

Her normal, practical self said that she was being ridiculous. That she was simply enamored with his looks. And what woman wouldn’t be? He was entirely too good-looking for anyone’s well being. And certainly far too attractive to be interested in the likes of her. He probably had scores of women wanting to be with him.

Refusing to be one of the many who had fallen prey to his charms, Katherine fixed herself some supper and then lit a fire in the living room fireplace so Alex wouldn’t get cold. Then deciding that she didn’t want to leave him alone in case he became feverish, she sat down in the armchair by the sofa to work on some mending.

“Why aren’t you married?” she heard Alex ask again softly about an hour later, causing her to look up from her sewing.

She considered how to answer this for a moment. “Well… I’m poor for one. For another, I’ve been a nanny at some point to virtually every man my age in this town. That’s not exactly the groundwork for romance.”

Alex moved closer to one side of the sofa and motioned for Katherine to come sit in the empty space he had made.

Katherine later rationalized this as being caught up by the intimate setting the fireplace made. At the moment, she walked over and sat on the sofa without so much as a second thought. The feeling of being so close to his warm, male body felt inexplicably right and made her shiver with pleasure.

Buy this short story on Amazon or B&N.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Zombie Kong" by James Roy Daley (Novella)

Genre:  Horror

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  Zombies are bad, but ZOMBIE KONG is worse. Way worse.

Big. Bad. Heavy. Hungry. While a 50-foot tall zombie gorilla smashes the hell out of a small town, Candice Wanglund drags her son Jake through the hazardous streets in an attempt to get away from the man that is determined to kill them. She wishes her husband Dale was by her side; he would know what to do. The good news––Dale’s alive. Problem is, he was eaten by Kong.


When the giant zombie gorilla tossed me into his mouth he did not chew, nor did he swallow. Instead, he turned his head and roared. The sound, quite simply, was the loudest thing I had ever heard.

Hugging the monster’s dehydrated tongue while balancing on one knee, I found myself desperate and highly troubled. The massive teeth stacked around me were frightful. The canines interposing the calcified walls resembled the grand ivory tusks found on an African elephant, only thicker, more dangerous, and somehow… sinister.

The animal’s mouth sprang open and snapped shut. Then it opened again, slowly this time, allowing sunlight to creep in like the promise of a morning that would never come.

Trapped inside, clutching where I was able, in my state of absolute fear, I recognized those teeth as being something I had been extremely lucky to avoid. But how much longer could my good fortune continue? Another minute… maybe two? Clinging to that terrible wad of dead meat, which was cold and slimy and reeking so bad my eyes watered, my thoughts, when fully formed, were at best unsystematically erratic. But I did manage to keep my wits. Oh yes. Somehow I managed that much. Just.

While smudging the dirty tears across my face, I looked past the monster’s tongue, lips, and teeth, eying the world I thought I knew. But what kind of world was this? A flaming bus held no spectators. A squashed taxicab was overlooked. People running, a dog barking, fires consuming buildings that had been knocked over like mounds of blocks in a child’s playroom.

There were cars––

Cars had been recklessly hurled across the landscape and could be found leaning against trampled trees which had been snapped into sections, lying alongside busted telephone poles while live wires danced beside them. Dead bodies were scattered about, sometimes in pieces, sometimes not. And for a moment––one final moment, I could only assume––I saw my wife, Candice, and my son, Jake. Running. Screaming. Hand in hand, they were fleeing the monster with a group of ten, one of whom was a man I knew quite well: Roy Berkley.

Roy had dark hair, a slim nose, and a big smile that was waiting for me every time I saw him working at my local coffee shop. He always seemed to have everything in order. Everything in its place, he would sometimes say, smiling like a guy that had the whole world figured out. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life it’s that while some men wear their hearts on their sleeves, others hide themselves behind a false exterior of counterfeit cheerfulness. I’d always assumed Roy to be a false exterior man, because his sleeves seemed to be whistle-clean at all times… until that moment. Missing a limb and bleeding profusely, Roy fell to his knees with his mutilated arm flapping insanely while the other arm pinwheeled for balance. With death but a wink from claiming the man, I saw the look of terror fastened to his colorless face. A face haunted with fright. There was no false exterior at that moment. No sir. Everything was real. His feelings were genuine. Roy, I realized then, wore his heart on his sleeve. I almost felt bad for not knowing.

After Roy tumbled to the ground, my wife looked over her shoulder, glancing at my friend before staring up at the animal… and then straight at me. For a single moment, a precious moment, I like to think that our eyes locked together, uniting our souls one last time before the oversized mouth closed tightly, imprisoning me. Did it happen? Did we share a glance, or was my mind so lost within the depths of despair that I imagined the event? The answer remains unknown, for the moment the jaws closed, my existence changed. The beast had me. And it swallowed me down. Whole.

I slipped past the pharynx, past the epiglottis and the larynx, and into the tight confines of the esophagus. Before it happened I was wondering if I could free myself; escaping my frightful predicament was the only option I was willing to entertain. But as the swallowing occurred and my world turned dark, the prospect of escape looked bleak and unrealistic, unless, of course, I could crawl my way back into that miserable mouth once again. It would be no easy task, and even if I managed to claw my way into that cursed place a second time, what then? What would I do? It was a practical question without a reasonable answer, but it didn’t matter. If I couldn’t re-enter the mouth I still had to escape. Somehow. Even if the esophagus muscles had already begun squeezing me, gripping me, pulling me down. Pulling me in.

I felt movement all around. I could tell by the way my world was shaking that the beast was walking, or perhaps running, for I was being pushed this way and that––shuffled about as if living through an earthquake.

Inside that moment, if I could feel grateful about one thing, it would be the fact that the beast had swallowed me feet-first. This isn’t much to smile about, I know. But with my head pointing north and my feet pointing south, I felt as if I had maintained some measure of control, as negligible as that control may seem.

Being inside an esophagus––a strange miracle of evolution––is like being devoured by a toothless python. It grips and pulls, squeezes and clutches, constricts and suffocates.

Suffocation. That was my newest fear, the latest thought picking at my brain and making my heart race, encouraging the sweat to bead up on my forehead and run squiggly trails down the back of my neck. But there was air inside the beast. Enough to breathe, anyhow. There wasn’t as much as I wanted, but there was more than I could have hoped for considering the situation.

Grunting and cursing, I dug my fingers into a wall of flesh. A handful of slippery, fungus-covered meat was my reward.

Something shifted and moved beneath me. I heard a grunt and I lost my footing. The muscles in my body instinctively flexed as I tried to maintain my ground. I was leaving the esophagus. About to be dropped into that stretchy sac known as the stomach.


Looking back, that’s the first word that comes to mind. Not ‘scary’. Not ‘terrifying’. Not even ‘murky’ or ‘stinky’… and it was stinky,exceptionally stinky. But as rancid, and curdling, and god-awful barf-doggish as it smelled, gross is the appropriate word.

Gross, man.

When I dropped out of the esophagus and into the stomach, it was gross. It was also dark; I could hardly catch a glimpse of anything. There was air… sort of, which is why I didn’t die. But the air was so wrong. The taste on my lips was akin to bile.

I should point out that there were holes in the stomach, the skin, and the muscles of the abdominal area. Every few seconds the beast would twist one way or another and a little bit of light would seep into the sac, and with the light came nitrogen and oxygen and all the other molecules of gobbledygook that we call ‘air’.

By the way, do you know what a stomach is?

I know you’re well aware that you have a stomach, but do you know what a stomach is? I mean, really know?

Let me tell you:

A stomach is a mixer, wrought like a J-shaped bag. It churns, mashes, and pulverizes all the food that travels down the esophagus, slamming it together and breaking it into small pieces of fodder. This is done with the help of stomach muscles and the gastric juices that the walls of the stomach create.

And there I was––hanging out in a stomach, waiting to get broken down into digestible fragments. But there was a snag. The beast no longer had gastric juices. After the beast had died, the juices went missing.

My guess––and this is a guess––is that the enzymes and acids that aid with food digestion had leaked out, or dried up, or eaten their way through the tissue. No stomach acid meant no digesting. Fantastic news, for sure… however, I found myself sitting in something terrible, something snaking around in a slow-moving circle.

A question came; it was simple and obvious.

What am I going to do?

The answer…

Phone my wife.

A stupid solution, I know. But it was all I had.

I suppose now, looking back at the situation, that I could have called 911. The thought never occurred to me. So I rammed my hand into my front pocket and pulled out my cell phone, thinking about Candice. My keys––house keys, car keys, garage keys, a couple of mystery keys––they also came out of my pocket and slipped from my fingers. The keys were gone, but I still had my phone, and that was the important thing.

I looked to my left. No keys in sight.

I looked to my right, just as the monster released another roar, and this time the noise was louder than I can possibly explain. The sound was coming from everywhere, from all directions. The sound was penetrating, getting right inside me, into my heart. When the noise ended, I found that I was screaming in terror with my hand gripping my chin and my bottom lip trembling uncontrollably. Frightened beyond words, I clicked on my phone and coughed a number of times, in desperate need of a germ-free environment.

The air, of course, was toxic. How long would it be before the air itself killed me? It was impossible to say, although I couldn’t image I’d survive much longer.

I guess this is a good time to tell you that I have asthma, for it was at that moment I felt the first signs of an asthma attack, which, in so many ways, was the very last thing I wanted to add to the situation.

Half the phone number was dialed with jittery hands; then I saw something, and needed a moment to see it again. I hung up.

My phone, like most, came with a backlight. And because I had a light, I could see…

Dead bodies.

I was sitting in a pile of dead bodies: faces pale, mouths opened, noses smashed, eyes locked in fear, arms chewed into mulch, scalps yanked from heads, skin torn, spines protruding from shattered backs, legs broken, fingers missing, feet twisted, kneecaps obliterated, a child…

A child with little yellow ribbons braided into her blonde hair… she had her face pounded into her shoulder. I saw a man that had been bitten in half at the waist; he looked about forty. A pair of chubby arms sat alone, stacked together almost neatly on a mangled corpse. The owner of the arms was nowhere to be found.

I saw a baseball glove, an unopened bottle of wine, a laptop, a pack of cigarettes, a pair of sunglasses, and what I later realized was a horse’s head, covered in blood, guts, and bone. And this––all this––was turning in a circle, blending, mixing, churning.

Fighting for balance, I stood up and dialed my wife’s number. My legs sank into the mulch.

And then it had me: the small intestine. I was going in.

The phone began ringing.

Candice answered, sounding completely stressed out. “Hello?”


“Dale, is that you?”

“Oh my God, yes! It’s me! It’s me!”

“Where are you? I thought––”

“I’m inside the monkey!”

A slight pause came before Candice said, “What?!”

“I’m inside! He tossed me into his mouth and swallowed me down!”

“You’re kidd––”

Panic consumed me in a way I can’t possibly explain, and I started screaming: “I’M IN THE MONKEY’S STOMACH! YOU’VE GOT TO TELL SOMEBODY! HELP ME! GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE! I’VE GOT TO GET––”

The monster unleashed another thought-crushing yell and pounded on his chest. Instead of finishing the sentence, I screamed more loudly than before. Then something happened. Not inside. Outside. Maybe the monster fell; maybe he jumped off a car or did something as simple as sit down. I don’t know, but my center of gravity changed and the corpses around me shifted position. The dead were piling my way, causing the phone to pop from my hand and tumble from my fingers. The world became a fraction darker than the far side of the moon and before I had a chance to catch my breath––before I realized what was about to happen––Kong’s intestine sucked me in.
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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Dreamwater" by Chrystalla Thoma (Short Stories)

Genre:  Epic/Urban Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Short Story Collection

Summary:  "Indra's Return": Indra returns from exile with one purpose: to take revenge on the Elven King for sending him away. But in a game where nobody is who and what they seem, Indra will find that discovering the truth might be crueler than living a lie.


Excerpt from "Indra's Return":

Beyond the sea of Bara lay the land of exiles – human and troll cities, merchant harbors, thieves and whores. I was supposed to be there, leading a life of nostalgia and pain, languishing in Queen Syrana’s memory.

Dying inside.

But here I stood, well within the forbidden borders – forbidden only to me – of the human-elf coalition, polishing the tables of this accursed inn with a wet rag, and glaring at the hooded human about to grab my hip – again.

I slapped his hand away, and struggled not to punch him. That would be a man’s reaction, not a woman’s, and I had to keep my disguise. “Did you want something?”

“What’s a pretty wench like you,” his voice slurred, “doing in this godsforgotten place?”

What indeed. I finished redistributing the dirt on the table surface – filthy human race – while I thought about the question, keeping one eye on his wandering hands. Only a fool would come back against the elven King’s wishes, as I had. But I had sworn on Melekarth’s name to revenge Syrana’s death, and I had a plan.

If you could call it that. It was more of a purpose, a desire, an urge. A burning need that sustained me, kept me alive.

“My name’s Jonder. What’s yours?” He sounded like an old man, his voice rusty and shaking. He made another pass, at my waist this time, and missed. “Hey. I’m talking to you. I asked you yer name, wench.”

I sighed. “Indra. My name is Indra.” I’d found out the hard way that not answering only made them more persistent. Then again, using my true name helped me remember who I was. “Now let me work.”

The inn stank of sweat, sour ale and stale breath, but it was no worse than others I had frequented. I had worked my way from the harbor to this very spot, inn after stinking inn, insult upon insult.

My rage was contained like lightning in a glass, my magic buried so deep it gnawed at my guts. I disguised my gender with my clothes, half-hid my ears under my long hair, and hoped nobody became too curious or too suspicious. Maybe I would get lucky for once.

“So slender for a wench.” Jonder grasped a handful of my skirt and to my dread it began ripping at the seams. I grabbed his hand. “And what is that silver tattoo on your arm?” He cocked his head to the side.

I twisted out of his reach and checked my skirt. It would hold a while longer. I picked up the jug and poured him some more warm ale. That usually distracted them. “Just the brand of my previous master. Here, drink. Anything else I can get you?”

He leaned over the table. “That master of yours, he the one who taught you to talk all proper? If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were high-born, some lady raised in a palace. A princess.” He cackled.

A chill shook me. The fear of being discovered jolted my magic, burning and seething, up my chest and arms. I fought it back down, to the safe place inside my body. Melekarth’s balls. I thought I blended in. My fault, for talking so much. No more talking from now on, not till I attained my goal.

So I just nodded.

The man raised his head. Under the hood, over the salt-and-pepper beard, his eyes glinted like polished black obsidian, Syrana’s favorite stone. He was not a dwarf, not an elf, but suddenly I doubted he was human.

“Did you know, lass, that the elven King is passing through here?” he asked.

I fought to hide a gasp. I shoved off the table, schooling my face. “Is he?”

“You don’t seem surprised.”

“Of course I am.” I was. How did Jonder know? I wiped my sweaty palms on my skirt.

“Well, they say he’s on his way to the Forest of Ydes. There’s great magic and power there. But why would the elven King need more power? He hasn’t come this way in hundreds of years.”

Why was Jonder watching me like that, as if he could see through me? And why was he telling me all this? I shook my head, letting my hair fall over my face and cover my expression. Maybe it was some old ritual King Esh had revived. Even though I was of the royal line, I had never aspired to the throne, never thought about all it entailed. Perhaps elven Kings had to visit the magical forest, pay their dues.

All I cared about was that King Esh was coming here, into my waiting arms. My blade was thirsty.

Jonder focused his attention on his ale. Turning my back, I resumed work. I did my round of the tables, carried trays with bowls of stew and chunks of bread and ale in clay jugs. I kept busy, kept my mind empty of fear.

The men grabbed at my ass, missed when I twisted and turned, shouted about all the things they wanted to do to me, vile, unheard of practices. I longed to give them pain, make them beg for mercy, shut their mouths at long last, and stop their taunting. I was weary, and sorrow weighed heavy on my heart, ever since the day Syrana died. Syrana the beautiful, who had been betrothed to the King of Fairy, Syrana, my lover.

The drakes killed her on her wedding day, and so killed my heart in one stroke.

I’d destroy the drakes, kill them to the last. But first…

I slipped between the men’s arms like water, avoiding grasping hands and booted feet laid out to make me trip. I sidestepped them without really looking; I served food and poured ale, my mind whirling.

As I turned to wipe another table down, shiny metal flashed. A big knife tumbled across my path.


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Sunday, February 5, 2012

"A Merman's Kiss" by Laura Lond (Novelette)

Genre:  Fantasy Romance

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  The old legend says that a merman’s kiss will make a girl pretty and bring her luck. One poor working girl is desperate enough to try it. She is warned that she must do everything exactly as she is told… but never warned about the effect it might have on the merman.


Ellie did her usual chores, checking the fireplaces (none were lit since she’d last checked, so she didn’t need to clean them out), dusting, sweeping, airing the rooms. After the Lady finished her breakfast, Ellie gave a timid knock on the door.

“Come in,” came the imperious voice.

Ellie entered and curtseyed, noticing how the Lady’s face softened, and her deep brown eyes with long curved lashes showed mild curiosity. Lady Mirabelle was a real beauty, the kind that needed no jewelry. Ellie had seen her right after bed, in a nightgown, with her hair down and no makeup—and she was lovely. With all the mentioned additions, Lady Mirabelle looked spectacular.

“Good morning, my lady. I have come to return the circlet and the necklace, and to thank you again for your most generous offer.”

The Lady acknowledged the gratitude with a slight inclination of her head.

“Put them on the desk. So did the circlet help? Did Arman ask you to dance?”

Ellie lowered her eyes. “No, my lady.”

She was afraid the Lady would be disappointed, but she wouldn’t lie.

“Perhaps someone else did?”

“No…” Ellie’s voice failed her, so she tried again. “No, my lady.”

She thought she had fully accepted her lot in life and learned not to let such failures affect her, but now, under the Lady’s penetrating gaze, she suddenly felt on the verge of tears—and she was terrified of it. Breaking down in front of the Lady would be unthinkable.

Lady Mirabelle must have sensed her distress.

“Come here, child. Close the door.”

Ellie pulled on the door knob and took a couple of steps.

“I know you will never feel at ease in my presence enough to speak freely or fully confide in me,” the Lady said, “but at least don’t be afraid. I will ask you some questions; answer me truthfully, as you always do. And if those tears spill, it’s not the end of the world, trust me. I’ll pretend I don’t see them, and no one will know.”

She paused, studying the second housemaid whom she was not even supposed to notice.

“Do you love Arman?”

The question startled Ellie and frightened her.

“I don’t dare attach my heart to anyone,” she whispered.

“Do you consider yourself ugly?”

“N-not ugly, perhaps, but very plain. Unattractive.”

“Do you think yourself worthless?”

“I… like to think that my hard work and desire to do what’s right make me worth something.”

“Which is true,” Lady Mirabelle nodded. “I am glad you see that. So while I certainly understand how not being asked to dance hurts a girl, I want you to promise me that you will never let those who put you down, whoever they are, rob you of your worth. Can you do that?”

“Of course, my lady. I just…” Ellie caught herself. Whatever else she might want to say was of no consequence.

The Lady seemed to think otherwise.

“Yes? Go on,” she prodded.

Ellie sighed and let it all out.

“I just wish my sister and mother would understand this as well and ease up on me. So Leatra and I weren’t born pretty; mother says even a merman’s kiss won’t help us. Does that mean we must spend our lives crying about it? Be miserable and make everyone around us miserable as well? There are still so many good things to do, to enjoy…”

She caught herself yet again, suddenly horrified of her boldness. What was she thinking, blabbering like that in front of the Lady?

Oh no. Lady Mirabelle was looking at her differently now, there was something new in those beautiful eyes. She must be displeased, and for a good reason.

“My lady, I’m so—”

“What does your mother know about a merman’s kiss?” the Lady asked, interrupting her hurried apology.

Ellie blinked, trying to gather her thoughts.

“Well, the same legend everyone knows, I guess,” she replied. “That being kissed by a merman would make a girl pretty, and bring her luck, too.”

“And what if I told you that it wasn’t a legend?”

Ellie couldn’t tell whether Lady Mirabelle was serious.

“I don’t know, my lady.”

“You don’t believe it?”

She thought about it. “But… mermen and mermaids drag people underwater and drown them. How could someone get so close to one, get a kiss, and survive?”

The Lady’s calm gaze continued studying her.

“There is a way.”

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Deeds in Dark Places" by A. S. Warwick (Novelettes)

Genre:  Sword & Sorcery Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Novelette Collection

Summary:   In a world ancient with civilisations, where ruins and mysteries and monsters abound, the adventurous thrive.

Sell-swords, mercenaries, corsairs and more, Fianna and Carse of the Red Blade have been all of these. Better known to many as Peregrine and Blade, they are a most unusual pairing. Fianna, a sword-maiden of the wild Aedring hill clans, and Carse, the urbane, educated man of the civilised cities, a dabbler in the Mysteries and sometimes assassin, are a far cry from one another.

Assassins, sorcerers, the undead and other dangers, all are but a few of the obstacles they face in their search for wealth and glory. Success is hard won, and oft times fleeting.


The turquoise waters of the lagoon were a crystal mirror, still and unsullied. Beneath the surface, the rippled sands stood out sharp under the bright burning sun. Small shoals of vividly coloured fish darted amongst long strands of wavering weeds, while small crabs scuttled to and fro through the shoals. Above, gulls lazily drifted in the silent, breathless air. A furnace of humid heat blanketed the region, the air thick with it, suffocating in its intensity.

White sands that dazzled blindingly in the sunlight bounded the lagoon, a narrow band of beach between the water and the dense, emerald growth of a wild and vibrant jungle, thick with tall palms, dangling vines and bushes heavy with the intense colours of flowers. Through the jungle, a stream cut its way, running across the sand of the beach to feed the lagoon.

A sandy breakwater ringed much of the lagoon, sheltering it from the seas beyond. Out there, small islands dotted the horizon; steep sided and crowded with growth, part of a veritable maze of hidden shoals and reefs, jagged rocks and islands. They were but a fraction of an archipelago strung out along the western seaboard, ranging from the windswept, chilled north were floating ice was as much a danger as shoals, all the way to the far, burning south.

Dipping oars marred the mirrored surface of the lagoon, ripples echoing out across it as three small boats rowed in from the open sea, making for the beach. Anchored just off shore sat a twin-masted lateen-sailed ship, its oars stowed away. Of the type the men of Metsheput labelled a xebec, the corsairs and cut-throats that plagued the shipping lines of the southern islands, the Sevinian Isles, much favoured it.

The three small boats were each packed with a score of men, hailing from a dozen lands. There were pale skinned men from the far north, and ebon men from the jungles of the south. There were those that hailed from the great cities of the plains, from ancient Metsheputi and from the feuding western kingdoms.

The first ashore as the boats drew near to the beach, leaping with the grace and caginess of a wolf, came a striking auburn haired woman, a heavy cutlass in hand. With bare feet and breeches of loose crimson silk, she waded through the water up onto the sands. A broad green sash wrapped about her waist, into which a long dirk had been thrust, while over a loose white shirt she wore a leather vest. Her hazel eyes were sharp as she studied the beach and the jungle, and she moved with the caution of a wild beast.

Others spilled out behind her once the boats touched the beach. Quickly the boats were pulled up out of the water. The group were a rough looking, motley crew, men and women both, clad in an assortment of clothing, from the drab to the elaborately flamboyant, no two alike in appearance. Corsairs and cut-throats drawn from the dregs of nations, still none of them could match the air of barely suppressed danger that lurked about the auburn haired woman. A lioness among jackals she was compared to them, a primal, untamed force of nature such as can only come from being born to it.

The crew of cut-throats spread out along the white sands of the beach as the woman stalked closer to the trees, her eyes guardedly intent upon them. Two others followed after her. A tall man was one of them, though in comparison he appeared slender and soft, a creature of the cities rather than a true corsair. A long and languid face beneath dark hair and pale skin gave him a look of culture and refinement. He wore a silk shirt of dark scarlet, well tailored, and embroidered with delicate detail in golden thread, while a slender rapier hung from a baldric slung across his chest.

The other was a big man, not merely in height, but in the girth of his paunch, though despite that he walked with the light, rolling gait of a man born to the seas. His dark hair and beard were thick and coarse, while a patch across his left eye gave his dark complexion a menacing aspect. Silver rings adorned his ears, and his fingers, and a broad hat with a red feathered plume rested jauntily upon his head.

"This is the place?" he asked, his voice gruff and weathered while his one good dark eye narrowed as he stared at the jungle ahead, an entanglement so thick that barely a yard could be seen into it.

"All indications point to it being so, Vaspari," the other man told him.

"I had wished it were otherwise, Carse," Vaspari stated. "This place is Xaotolan, once part of the vast and malevolent empire of the Xoacana, before the oceans swallowed it up in ages past. They may have walked as men, but the Xoacana were devils in human form, necromancers of the darkest type. A black curse still lingers on this place so that few will darerisk even setting foot upon it."

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