Gentle Readers: Herein, for your enjoyment, are eleven writers of Speculative Fiction. SpecFic is a broad term which embraces science fiction, fantasy, horror, paranormal romance, magical realism, etc. Everything from aliens to angels, vampires to voodoo. It can be wildly farfetched, or just a tad out of plumb, a subtle departure from what we commonly agree to be reality. ~ John B. Rosenman
by Micki Peluso
A scratch, a scratch, upon my door
Old dog snoring, fat cat sleeps
Something out there wants, implores
Incessant racket—no relief
Alone with these ungodly sounds
I tremble as my fears unbound
Not cat, nor dog, can sense or hear
The scratches, scratching that I fear
Some otherworldly beast seeks entry
To the essence of my very soul
I, in turn, must stand as sentry
Lest spasms of fear take their toll
Scratches dig deeper, louder still
Draw me to it against my will
Tentatively, I reach for the lock
No! My mind reaches out to block
The subliminal urge to heed the call
Of the scratching, scratching at my door
Quaking, leaning back against the wall
I smell fetid odors of evil’s spoor
Lured seductively, I lift the latch
Succumbing to the horrific task
To confront a terror that knows no match
It’s two feet tall and wears a mask!
Night sky lit by blood-red moon
Face to face with an irate raccoon!
Its beady eyes reflect a glare
Unafraid, it stands tall and stares
I draw a breath, deep with relief
T’was just a critter gave me grief
Yet nights may come; how soon, how near?
When it returns to refuel my fear
And the hideous scratch upon my door
No longer animal—so much more
The coon dashes off across the lawn
Innocent creature, perhaps. . .
Mayhap, the devil’s spawn
I began writing after a personal tragedy as a catharsis for my grief. This led to a first-time-out publication in Victimology: An International Magazine and a 25-year career in journalism. I’ve freelanced and been a staff writer for one major newspaper and written for two more. I have published short fiction and non-fiction, as well as slice-of-life stories in college and other magazines and in e-zine editions. My first book was published in 2012; it’s a funny family memoir of love, loss and survival, called . . . AND THE WHIPPOORWILL SANG which won the Nesta CBC silver award for writing that makes a change in the world. Two of my short horror stories have been published in an anthology called The Speed of Dark. I am presently working on a collection of short fiction, slice-of-life stories and essays in a book called DON’T PLUCK THE DUCK. Micki Peluso at Mallie1025@aol.com
by Ken Weene
They had a big celebration, a parade to honor him: Alpha Zed Bravo Nine, the big hero.
Sure lots of folks called him a hero, but I saw him as just an android doing his thing, and that means killing Pintarians. That particular android model, the Seeker1, that specific Seeker1 android, the one they call Alpha Zed Bravo Nine, killed more Pintarians without ending up in the Saint Jackal Service Bay than any other android in the history of the wars, which didn’t entitle the guy to a tickertape parade—at least not in my book.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m as happy as the next person to see a dead Pintarian. Slimy trans-planeters. “We come in peace.” What a crock that was.
Sure, trade and friendship sounded good, especially when we needed their gorchenbock to fuel our industries. “Of course you can have an enclave.” That was reasonable. Not like they lived the same way as us. If you’re going to have peace, you have to let the other guy live his way. Live and let live. “You got your god and we got ours. No harm in that. Which one created the universe? Way beyond my paygrade if you get my drift. Maybe we just have different ideas of the same one. Who knows. You pray your way and we’ll just go on with ours.”
Where did they get off telling us we should stop making out in public? That’s like telling us to stop breathing. Sure we knew they didn’t make out. Heck, we couldn’t see what Pintarians did to reproduce, but reproduce they did—more and more and more. But it wasn’t like we could see. Not like us, they were secretive, covered up all the time. How come they didn’t want any sun on their bodies? Now, that should have been a clue.
But you know politicians. Long as their buddies could make good money trading our bean curd for Pintarian gorchenbock and as long as those buddies kept the money flowing into their pockets, too, the pols were happy to turn the other way. That was until…
It was a bloody war. We lost a lot of our people, more than we could afford, and we never did drive the Pintarians out. We ended up with a planet divided—us and them. I guess that would have been okay. I mean if they had accepted the peace, we could have lived with it. After all, gorchenbock makes the wheels go round. And, if they want to eat tofu, that’s fine with me; I never touch the stuff.
But nope. Give a Pintarian a foot and he’ll take a leg. The thing is no matter how they do it, those foreigners keep reproducing—more and more and more. What was our choice? We had to find a weapon or die.
The first robotic defender systems were a simple affair. A few chips, good programming, and basic weapons. The thing is, once you create a weapons system, you want to keep improving it. In a way you have to because the enemy will find its weaknesses. And the Pintarians are no dummies. Fierce warriors and smart, too. Willing to die; each one willing to blow himself to kingdom come if it will take one of us or disable one of our robots.
So you see we had to improve the systems, move up to androids. We had to or the Pintarians would take over—make us slaves. First it would be no more making out. Then maybe no more praying to our god. Maybe even no more of us. Maybe just make Earth another Pintar, their new world.
The androids had to be improved and improved again. Had to be faster, braver, and smarter. Had to be able to fight on their own.
Engineering is a wonderful thing. The Seeker1 is the best yet. Dr. Sieger is downright amazing. What he’s created!
The only thing is that parade.
They marched through the city with Alpha Zed Bravo Nine in the lead. Everyone was yelling and whooping and waving, and the Seeker1s didn’t look left or right, up or down, they just marched through the city—not to the government house, not to the president’s palace, but to Sieger’s lab. That’s where they stood and waited until he came out.
They shouted, “Huzzah! Huzzah!”
That’s when I knew we were in real trouble.
Ken Weene is one of the editors of The Write Room Blog, co-host of It Matters Radio, and of course a writer. Find more at http://www.kennethweene.com
TUESDAY NIGHT SPECIALS
by Sal Buttaci
Yosef’s favorite day was Tuesday: Family Night. He could feast and feast, fill his belly without a care or concern for what he would eat in the next three or four days. After the gorging, somewhere in the barn he could stretch his body atop a hay bale and dream Technicolor scenes of his rite of passage, that feverish night on his deathbed and that subsequent first bite from Uncle Aleksei.
Long absent in time and space from the homestead in Kiev and from his hospitable but eccentric uncle, Josef dreamed of the before-and-after days which at first he treasured but now too often despised. Had he died centuries ago, he would have found peace, but Uncle Aleksei, pitying his dying nephew, had bitten his shoulder. Since then, as in Kiev, Yosef hid in the woods of everywhere, currently Central Park, from where he ventured forth at nightfall looking for some fast food. A hapless sheep, a snarling dog, a malodorous swine––whatever was expedient to satisfy ravishing nighttime hunger.
And sometimes life was bearable, especially on Tuesday, the night of Big Deals at McDonald’s, Popeyes, Burger King, Chuckie Cheese––Josef loved Tuesdays. It was Family Night out.
Under cover beyond the fast food lights, he let his eyes first stalk them, then distending razor-sharp claws and restraining his victory howl, he loped quick hooves towards them in the dark parking lot. Confronting his happy meal, he released the howl from his throat. A family: two adults and a rather chubby boy. Or one adult, two teens. An obese mother and plump daughter. Recurring experiences of digestive uneasiness had led him to adamantly decline old seniors. It served as his only culinary departure, a habit worth keeping.
Family Night Tuesdays kept Yosef’s regrets at bay. He wore his wolfdom like an amulet to ward off the enemy’s silver as he feasted away. No leisure time for nostalgic meditation. With his mouth full, he stifled the voice of his thoughts. He would not for the millionth time dredge those memories of his younger self lying good as dead there in a blazing fever, his dodomu, his home in Ukraine, a picture postcard of happy family ties. Josef would dwell in the here-and-now of this long good life Uncle Aleksei had so richly gifted him.
Now, set back on his haunches, Josef licked the long human bones so clean he could clearly see his hairy snout in their mirrored whiteness. His dark eyes twinkled in the light of the Tuesday-night moon.
Retired teacher and professor, Sal Buttaci, writes everyday. His poems, stories, letters, and articles have appeared in The New York Times, Cats Magazine, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, The National Enquirer, and many other publications. His books Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts are both published by All Things That Matter Press, and are available at Amazon.com. Buttaci lives happily ever after with his wife Sharon in West Virginia.
Hooks in Behind the Red Door by Clayton C. Bye
The following three excerpts are from my recent release of short stories in Behind the Red Door. The purpose here is to show the importance of “hooks” in writing fiction, especially short stories. A hook is defined as an interesting beginning to a story, something that hooks the reader and pulls him in. Note: should you find yourself hooked by any of these story excerpts, you can purchase Behind the Red Door at Amazon.com
The Speed of Dark
Richard Bartholomew’s little brother sat on the bottom stair and studied the line bisecting the rock walled basement.
“What’s the speed of dark?” he asked.
Trying to ignore the sudden knot of pain in his stomach, Richard answered. “Doesn’t have a speed, Tim,” he said. “Darkness is just the absence of light.”
Shadows, almost lifelike in their furtive movement, crawled a few more inches away from the walls. Richard pretended not to see them.
“Light moves fast?” Tim asked.
“Nothing’s faster,” Richard said.
Small windows atop the western wall glowed with that special golden light which always seems to be reserved for crisp, autumn evenings. These tiny glass squares of life cast beams of airy gold into the spreading gloom. Billowing ribbons of dust danced along the slender rays, entertaining the watching boys, distracting them until the darkness closed in, until the colour of the light changed and took on the hue of blood.
Suddenly, Richard heard his mother’s voice within his head. “Somebody’s got to go.” She’d stood as a rock in the middle of the hall, blocking the way out to the world. Had taken her purse up before speaking and dug out the keys to the old Motor Cart. Then, casually, as if instructing him to do something as mundane as washing the breakfast dishes, she’d made her wishes clear. “You decide,” she’d said. “But I want somebody gone by dark.”
Mother had locked them down—as she always did when going out. The rumble of the engine as she eased along their gravelled drive reminded Richard of distant thunder. A cold shiver walked up and down his spine. Bile rose in his throat.
Richard wiped the memory from his mind and joined his brother on the steps. He could feel the younger boy tremble. The cool, dry basement air was sour with the scent of Tim’s fear. A centipede scurried across the floor, its serpentine movements and glossy red skin the perfect harbingers of this night.
This multiple award-winning story opens with the question “What’s the speed of dark?” Questions make great hooks. Did you not want to know the answer to young Tim’s question? But it doesn’t stop there. The entire excerpt forms another hook that poses the question “What’s going on here?” You, as reader, are pulled forward, suspecting something terrible is about to happen, but you aren’t sure as to “Why does one of them have to go?” or “Where will he be going?” or “How will he get out of the locked basement?” These kinds of questions are purposefully created by the author as a way to engage readers.
Retroviruses make up 8% of human DNA. This includes the Ebola type strain.
The wind screeched over the desolate land, and the men huddled close against it. One of them, a stranger, marked the time with a quick glance at the moon. And because it was what he did, what he lived for and how he lived, the man said, “There’s just time for a story.” Then he waited for someone to speak up. They always did.
“You know the one about the end times?” an older man eventually asked. His hands were curled with arthritis, and he didn’t turn his gaze from the flames of their small fire as he spoke to the stranger. “About he who was the first,” he said. Not a question this time …
In this introduction a question is also used. The bard intimates he has stories to tell, and as the reader wonders about what those might be, one of the group asks “You know the one about the end times?” What end times? Is this a post-apocalyptic story? Who is the “first” that the man asks about? And there you go—you’re into the story.
The Last Unicorn
I DON’T SUPPOSE I’ll ever know where she came from or what she really was, but the summer day I found the unicorn on my grandfather’s farm my life was changed forever. She was black, about 16 hands tall and had one conical horn sprouting from her forehead. That was when she wanted to be her version of a horse.
She was often a man about my age who was interested in learning English and all else she could study. I named her/him Bobbie because that was as close as I could come to pronouncing her name in Unicornese.
Since she was a shape shifter, Bobbie could become just about anything she wanted to be …
The Last Unicorn doesn’t seem to use questions in the early paragraphs, either overt or suggested. But it does use them. First, the author uses the novelty of the story subject (a unicorn shapeshifter) to draw you in and, second, he counts on you to ask yourself questions suggested by the comment, “my life was changed forever.” Why did the Unicorn’s visit change his life? How did she change his life? Is it for the better or does she make his life worse? Why is she here? Why him?
Questions are one of the most powerful tools a writer has. Why? Because once a question is posed, our minds are programmed to find the answers—it’s an automatic response. Where best do you find questions posed by a story? In the story. And so you read on.
Clayton Bye is a writer, copywriter, editor and publisher. He has authored 11 books, as many ghostwrites, hundreds of reviews and is the publisher of three award-winning anthologies of short stories by other talented authors. You can find his collected works at http://shop.claytonbye.com/
by Stuart Carruther
Many years ago, I made a promise that I would never lie to my grandchildren. I wanted to be the straight talking grandmother. No bullshit for my youngsters! I’d let their parents do the fibbing as they saw fit. So one day, when the youngest asked me if I believed in faeries and pixies and other mythological small people, I had to explain that it wasn’t a matter of belief: I knew small people existed and lived amongst us.
Of course, they’re not called Borrowers, Lilliputians, Hobbits or any other fictional name you’ll have heard. To me they were the Eten. But more specifically they were Kali and Lilith and I miss them as much today as I did 60 years ago when they died. There are other Eten of course, but they hide in the shadows, in plain sight in towns and cities around the world under your feet enjoying the same lives we lead but at a different scale. But Kali and Lilith were the protoplasts.
There is amongst the Eten, a mythology which explains how they came to be, but, as with all mythologies, that tale has become warped and distorted to such an extent that it no longer even resembles the true facts.
“On the first day a bright light shone, and out of the darkness came Kali and Lilith. Trapped in cages, giants pricked and probed them for 40 days and 40 nights. One night after their torturers left them unguarded, Kali and Lilith escaped to a place called Bricks Town where they found refuge amongst the waste and detritus of the giants. In this new and frightening world they fought and tamed giant rodents, riding on their backs to fight off the cats that sought to devour them. Having purged their new home of felines, Kali and Lilith settled down and gave birth to the Eten.”
The truth, as they say, is a little more prosaic. Let me explain.
BioPrint was the first desktop 3D cellular printer, and in my lab we used it to produce new organs for patients that needed parts of them replaced. You can imagine the sort of thing: heart valves, intestinal tracts, retinas, basically anything that could replace worn out pieces of a person’s anatomy. One night, after a particularly lively Christmas party, someone decided to print an entire human body.
I didn’t know about this until I walked into work on Monday morning and I saw blood on the inside of the BioPrint’s clear Perspex door. As I got closer and peered in beyond the plastic, I saw what looked like a naked plastic doll sitting there with his head in his hands gently sobbing.
I’m not sure what my first emotions were as I stood there stunned, staring through the blood-stained screen for what felt like an age. In time, I slowly opened the door of the printer, reaching in with my palms open so as not to scare whatever it was that was crying. Removing his head from his hands, this naked miniature human slowly stood and warily looked up at me whilst all the time trying to back farther into the corner. Ever so slowly, he began edging towards my open palms, and with my heart beating ever faster, I waited for this creature to come towards me.
“Ouch! The fucker bit me!” I exclaimed to the empty room as I withdrew my sore hand and slammed down the printer’s door.
In time, and with the aid of my lunchtime sandwich, I coaxed him into a small cat carrier which, with its plaid rug, was slightly more comfortable than the plastic floor of the printer. I took the day off work and carried him home. Later in the day, I went to the nearest toy shop and bought some doll’s furniture and clothes, and transferred him into a bigger cage where he would be more at home. Don’t look like that. I didn’t know what to do with him. I didn’t know what he was at the time. Making a stand from some bulldog clips, I sat him down in front of a cellphone playing nonstop YouTube channels. He was a quick learner and within just a few weeks, had a full vocabulary and was able to communicate his wishes and have a conversation.
Within weeks, he made it clear that he was lonely and needed a companion his own size and asked that I provide one, because as much as I looked after him and treated him with kindness, I never treated him as an equal but more like a pet. His brain was that of an adult human, though, and he matured far faster than a child.
With no more drunken parties coming up, creating Lilith took much more time and many surreptitious late nights. It worked well: a perfect miniature woman with her own personality was born. But she and Kali hated each other and despite my protestations they put me under pressure to create another person. I couldn’t keep using the work machine, so I borrowed a lot of money and bought my own and created Eve. It was a much better match, but still they wanted more people.
So there you have it. I had my own little Eten factory, churning out new models every couple of days, getting DNA samples from any unsuspecting person in the street as I stole hair samples, coffee cups, or recently disposed food. I was a god! Although they were wise enough to know I was just a bigger, less intelligent version of themselves.
But like all gods, I didn’t create angels, I created monsters, and they forced me to pack my things, take my cat, and leave our home in Brixton forever.
I never saw them again. Except the once. I was in Brixton visiting a friend near my old apartment and I stood on the street corner, wistfully looking up at my previous home, and I swear I caught a glimpse of one of them through a gap in the curtains.
Stuart Carruthers is an anti-theist, pseudo geek and frog herder. Having escaped British winters he now lives in Taiwan where he shares his house with his wife and two kids.
A Sketch in Time
by Monica Brinkman
The clickety-click of wheels turned from irritation to peaceful serenity, rather a chant of sorts. It brought Franklin a tranquility no other sound could replicate.
He’d tried to achieve the same sense of freedom via aircraft and car but found their movements jerky and unpredictable. Nothing could substitute for train travel. It was the perfect background for creativity.
He scanned the compartment, his eyes focusing on the pot-bellied, middle-aged man to his left who was shifting his weight in an attempt to find a comfortable position in tight quarters. The man settled in, unfolded a newspaper and set it against the back of the seat in front of him. The rustle of paper sounded with each page turn.
Franklin heard the distant cry of an infant and the faint shush of a mother’s quieting voice. His eyes caught sight of a young woman sitting beside a guitar case. Her hair flowed free with the exception of a thin braid running down one side. Specks of sunlight glistened against her face and auburn hair. The girl sat staring, at what he had no idea, simply a blank stare, perhaps of boredom or loneliness.
His creative juices stirred to capture the look in her eyes and exquisite beauty. He drew the sketchpad out of his briefcase, took a pencil from his pocket and began the process of drawing. Surely, this woman knew he was catching her essence, yet she did not stir. Those blue eyes piercing and blank contained a stare of emptiness. Franklin was lost in each moment. The shading and variety of grays produced subtle darkness and light until the sketch became the person and not a mere caricature. Yes, he had brought her to life with his mastery.
Franklin rose and approached the girl. He bent over to speak with her and show her the drawing.
“Miss, if I may be so bold. I took the liberty of capturing your beauty.”
Her trance-like state now broken, the young woman looked at the sketch. She raised her head, gazed into Franklin’s eyes, and smiled.
“Why, it is beautifully done. Sir, you have quite a gift.”
Franklin grinned with pride.
“Thank you Miss. If you don’t mind, I must give it a name.”
She paused a moment. “I suppose it won’t do any harm. As they say, strangers on a train. My name is Audrey.”
Franklin felt a grasp on his shoulder then hands grabbed his arms and pulled him toward the exit door. He caught sight of the conductor’s badge. It read, STRATTON. The man seized the sketch from his hand and tore it into shreds.
“Look, I didn’t think anyone would mind. It’s only a drawing.”
The trains’ wheels shrieked to a stop. He resisted but could not fight the force. A final push and he found himself in the dust and dirt. He heard his valise’s thud against the platform.
Then it hit him. How stupid. The paper’s headlines! Double Homicide. Police Seek Daughter, Audrey Stratton For Questioning.
Of Ladies and Lore
by Monica Brinkman
“Ahhh,” a sharp, hot jolt of pain radiated knee to ankle. Lincoln panted and shifted his weight from left to right. The shackles molded to the metal table held him secure, allowing a mere fraction of an inch movement on either side.
His limbs held in place, his eyes bound, his auditory perception on alert, he heard the nearing scurry of rodents and the rustle of cloth echoing throughout the space.
“You Bastard,” rang out yet the rat stood its place and continued nibbling at his forefinger. Lincoln felt the warm liquid ooze from the tip and heard the faint drip, drip of blood hit the concrete floor. He flipped his fingers to fend off the offending creature, feeling repulsed at the touch of grimy coarse hair against his hand.
“Nooo.” He clenched his teeth when fang met bone, this time careful to make no movement.
The throb turned into agony. Small nibbles at his ankle grew to large bites of flesh. With one last groan, Lincoln gave into the merciful darkness of unconsciousness.
Lady Lynn jumped from the window perch, certain Lincoln could no longer sense her perfume or hear her rapid heartbeat.
Shame, she thought while walking all around his long, lean body. He did have a brilliant smile, pleasing laugh, and heavenly violet-blue eyes. Nevertheless, she’d been watching his dalliances for months, hiding her presence in the blackness of alleys and darkness of shadow, seeking the perfect time to act.
This night she’d walked boldly past him. He’d leaped upon her and pulled her frail body next to his. How shocked his face when this helpless lady punched his groin and grabbed the knife from his hand.
The second kick to his manhood took his breath away. Lady Lynn giggled at how easy it was to manipulate his large body. She’d leaned it on her own as she walked two blocks and brought him through the cellar door.
One last glance before she’d leave him to his destiny. The stench of blood filled the air and rodents covered the table. Lady smiled.
Jack Lincoln, you’ve ripped your last woman.
Monica M. Brinkman believes in ‘giving it forward’; reflected by her writing and radio show. A firm believer that open communication is the most powerful tool to make positive change in the world; she expresses this in her books, The Turn of the Karmic Wheel, The Wheel’s Final Turn and in her weekly broadcast of It Matters Radio.
An avid writer who has been proclaimed a true storyteller, she has been published in several anthologies and wrote a weekly column for over two years at Authorsinfo. Her works can be found at various sites throughout the internet. Visit her blog @ http://itmattersradio.wix.com/on-the-brink
Monica resides in the Midwest with her husband, two dogs and five cats.
by John B. Rosenman
When Lee Harvey Oswald looked through his telescopic sight and pulled the trigger, nothing happened. Just a dull click.
“I thought I saw someone up here!”
He spun to see a policeman pointing a gun at him.
“Freeze right there, Mister!”
Oswald debated only an instant, then threw his weapon, striking the officer’s arm. He rose and the two men grappled, struggling for the gun, which pointed out the window.
There was a shot, then two more before he was subdued. In the street below someone started to scream.
Ninety yards away, President Nixon turned in a convertible, which was part of a motorcade honoring him. Seeing a Secret Service man leap protectively onto the car, he opened his mouth in astonishment.
It was not for some seconds that he discovered his right earlobe was missing.
by John B. Rosenman
This poem is hypnotic.
Watch these words.
Your eyes are getting heavy.
You are getting sleepy.
You are beginning to feel at peace
Now your thoughts are a child’s.
Now you are inanimate,
a leaf on an iron wind.
Now you are the first thought
you ever had
closing like a bud in snow.
Now I am this poem,
each word a reflection
in your eye.
You are my reader
beginning to feel at peace
Ready to join me
in my poem.
A retired English professor from Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va., John has published three hundred stories in The Speed of Dark, Weird Tales, Whitley Strieber’s Aliens, Galaxy, The Age of Wonders, and elsewhere. He is the author of The Turtan Trilogy, the first three novels of his Scifi-Adventure series, available at lrd.to/Turtan-Trilogy /
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