by Robert Luke Wilkins
Walter awoke to the sound of his wife Jessica throwing up in the adjacent bathroom. It happened every morning, a gift of her relentless morning sickness.
He stood, walked to the balcony door, and looked out. The view was spectacular. Their home was nestled against the side of a mountain, and the balcony faced southwest, perfect for sunsets, and the sun wouldn’t blind you awake in the morning. You could leave the curtains and doors open on hot summer nights, and Crescent Cross had plenty of those.
Walter loathed the view.
He heard something smash downstairs, followed by the keening wail of a child. That was Michael. Walter had heard about The Terrible Twos, of course, but had never considered just how terrible they’d be once Michael escaped his crib.
“I’ll deal with him,” he called to his wife. He heard her retch and throw up again. He sighed.
If only they’d known.
Continue reading Crescent Cross
Waiting for Dawn
by M. James Bizzell
He woke violently, gasping for air, emerging from the velvet dark in confusion. Static spots, the technicolored pixels so familiar from four-a.m. wakings, peeled away in animated clusters. Something tugged at his half-woken reality: a dream. He couldn’t remember the details. Something easy, something bad. The nightmares were becoming more present, or at least more lasting. It left him feeling off, settling in an odd position within him, taking up residence in the remote hours.
The effects of sleep apnea were jarring, especially on such quiet nights, from silence to panting terror, the greedy intake of air both confusing and euphoric. He heard nothing in the space beyond the walls of his huddled bedroom, not even the distant hum of overnight trucking. The episodes happened almost every night, every couple of hours. Wake up. Breathe. Wait for your heart to slow and your nerves to calm. Stop shaking. Go back to sleep. It was a constant and gripping fear, a suffocation in empty air—the demon on his chest while he slept.
He felt his wife lying next to him, her rhythmic breathing deep and full, completely undisturbed by his struggle. She had perhaps gotten used to it, but was a deep sleeper in any case. They had made love tonight after she had returned home from a lengthy business trip. It was something they had needed or wanted, probably both. A reward for taking care of the girls while she was away. Parenting had perks.
Continue reading Waiting for Dawn
by Jeremy Essex
Michaels saw the dark shape down on the railway line while he was making the morning drinks.
He put down the tray of empty cups, whistling to himself as he dished out tea bags and measured spoonfuls of sugar. The common room was deserted, as it normally was at half past ten, his usual time for making the drinks. He yawned as he poured milk into the mugs then wandered over to the first floor window, hands in pockets, looking down at the dingy scene below him.
The car park was full to bursting, as usual. The twin railway lines emerged from the dark tunnel underneath the main road, snaking behind the car park and cutting like lines of black rot through the miles of green undergrowth along the outskirts of Ipswich. Watching the trains go by and identifying the different containers on the cargo carriers was one of the chief forms of entertainment within the office.
Michaels sighed heavily. He badly wanted a cigarette, but since Penny had left him, he had stopped smoking and he was determined not to let his will crumble now. At the edge of his vision, the large, dark shape of a train rushed swiftly towards him. As steam rose from the kettle’s spout, Michaels turned his head and saw both railway lines were deserted.
“Are you alright, Brian love?”
Theresa peered at him from behind her glasses as he walked back into the hum of the office, easily balancing the tray on his muscular arm. Michaels was 6ʹ2ʺ and very well built, and he liked for people, especially some of the girls in the office, to see how strong he was.
Continue reading Aberration
by Leon Saul
Whirling out of a gauze-gray sky, snow sank into Ronny’s tousled hair. He ran ahead of his older brother John, leaping over a banked, glinting mound on the side of the road. He clutched a dense snowball and launched it at his brother. The frosty fist punched John in the left eye, dusting his eyelashes.
Laughing, Ronny bent over to pick up another snowball, which glanced off John’s right arm, exploding in a shower of white. John muttered a curse, brushed the snow away, and sighed. He watched his brother run farther up the street and followed at his own casual pace, hands stuffed dejectedly into the pockets of his fleece jacket.
Four more days, he thought. Great.
He knew it had been dumb to assume Phil and Marshall would be around during winter break. He could have called from Arizona before flying out to Illinois, or emailed, or hell, checked Facebook, but he’d naively assumed they’d be there and that for one week, they could hang out together again like old times.
But Phil was in France, and Marshall, according to his neighbor Mrs. Piffkin, was in Chicago for his uncle’s funeral. Which left John back in Urbana alone, for five whole days of winter vacation, with no one but his annoying-ass brother Ronny to keep him company.
Continue reading Ms. Vickershelley
The Wee Man
by D. A. Watson
“Keep going, Daddy,” the wee man says, looking up at me from his bed, all soft hair, pale skin and big shining eyes. I squirm in the chair by his bedside, a chill prickling the skin of my back, an icy lump in my throat. I want to tell him “No, that’s enough for tonight,” but it’s impossible to deny him anything.
I reluctantly lower my eyes to the page of his latest storybook. Oversized text. Vividly drawn. Lurid colors. Terrifying illustrations. The cover like cold dead skin on my fingertips. The books began arriving in the mail last week, every day, addressed to the wee man. No return address. No publisher details. All with the same title: Children’s Stories.
Dread squeezing the marrow in my bones, I keep reading.
“The boy-prince shivered, listening to the sounds coming from under his bed: the slithering, the thick, gurgling chuckle, the tap-tap-tapping of claws on the floor. He wanted to cry, but knew he had to be brave. No one believed him about the monster, not his father the King, not Gidaneon the wizard, not gallant Sir Radstrong, the captain of the guard.
Continue reading The Wee Man
Low Prowls The Goblin King
by David Barclay
The room is quiet and still, quiet and still save for The Goblin King, who stands high in the corner on the shelf, the one above the old chest which once upon a time held all of William’s worldly things, including The Goblin King himself. Now he stands high in the corner, high in the corner where the wood meets the wall and the shelf brace hangs crooked, the place where the carpenter’s nail is bent imperceptibly where it joins the wall and bends the shelf down at the end, ever so slightly.
In the doorway, Tucker Bill Atley stares across the musty threshold at The Goblin King, stares and stares and musters his courage to cross the room.
In two quick strides, he stumbles forward and throws open the drapes, letting the gray Pennsylvania sun into the tiny bedroom. Beside him, the covers lay undisturbed on the bed, the vanity sits closed and locked. All is as he and Alice left it when they closed the room and tucked the key into the nightstand next to their bed, when it had been their bed, in the time before.
Tucker knows all of William’s toys. He knows the He-Man dolls, the Power Rangers, the hobbits and the dwarves and the orcs. He knows they are sleeping now, piled in the chest in a mishmash of arms and legs and swords, just as he left them. William is gone now, but he left The Goblin King, his favorite, who now stands high in the corner.
Continue reading Low Prowls The Goblin King
Yearning for Life
by Michael Shimek
The solar-powered plastic dancing flower was born on the grounds of a dirty and insufficiently vented factory in China, a cheap imitation of the more popular and better-known brand manufactured in a nearby country. Its mother, a young girl no older than 16, assembled the pieces with care, like she did with every product she worked on. She treated all of them as her precious babies.
For 4 renminbi an hour—a higher wage than most places around her village—Li Jing Ma was the mother to thousands.
Each flower took 23 minutes to produce. At the end of the assembly line, Li Jing’s job was to connect all the individual pieces to form the finalized toy. Her delicate hands, worn and withered enough to look four times their age, worked meticulously to complete the task.
The coil was glued to the bottom. She slipped the magnetic leaves and flower into their swinging slots on the top. A circuit chip no larger than her fingernail slid into a slot on the bottom, which was then attached to the solar panel above with some yellow wires. A blue pot that mimicked the sky (she wished she could have clothes as colorful) snapped the whole trinket into place.
Continue reading Yearning for Life
by Tom Jolly
Everybody thinks their own baby is special.
We noticed that Jimmy could shape things before he was one year old. Baby bottles would show his fingerprints, and I thought he was going to be a superman. Jennifer just thought he had a good grip.
A month later, some of the wooden bars on the side of the crib had been twisted into S shapes. Yeah, he’s gonna be a superhero, I thought. He’s powerful, he can change things.
“The humid weather just made the boards warp,” Jennifer said. She couldn’t believe it. But I knew Jimmy was the next step in evolution, the New Man.
Continue reading Gifted
by Eugenie Mora
“Today is the perfect day to go out. It says so right here.” Geneva waved the newspaper. “Success is in the air! Acknowledgment from those who matter—”
“You think Mercury gives a damn about my date?”
“Well, no.” Geneva scowled. “Not with that attitude. Come on, my brother’s been asking you out for an eternity.” Or more precisely, for the seven months since he had returned from New York, tail between his legs, his credentials as a hotshot Wall Street broker largely useless in sleepy Florine, Colorado.
A date would at least get him off the couch and out of the house. If Geneva had to come home to his moping, bloodshot eyes one more day, she was liable to do something she’d regret.
Continue reading Libra
by Sean Ealy
Paul hated the night shift. Other jurisdictions might see an elevation in crime after dark, but not in this backwood part of the county. Most of the stores locked up at five o’clock sharp, and even the two gas stations hung up their pumps and shut out the lights by eight. You might find the occasional weekend party up McGowan Creek, with teenagers getting drunk and making out in the backseat of Daddy’s car. But even that was rare anymore. These days they just did that at home.
He turned his cruiser onto County Road 13, headlights barely illuminating the crumbling pavement. Nothing but wheat fields on both sides of the blacktop, and darkness so thick it was like staring at the end of the world.
He used to get the creeps out here sometimes. When the sun went down, those fields seemed to change. All that wide open space stretching out for miles and miles, space you couldn’t see but could feel bearing down on you. You’d stand on the edge of the road and swear you could hear the wheat growing. Sometimes the rustling of grain heads in the wind sounded like voices whispering, conspiring like thieves, and you just knew they were talking about you.
Continue reading Eater