The Hood Rat

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

The cliff face rises shear above the old skeleton. A tidal wave hewn in ancient granite, it crests high above the smoke that bleeds a bitter mist from the ruined city. A thin wisp that sweeps out upon the great lake that fans out as splotchy just cleaned glass at its edge.

For as long as anyone could remember, the armies of the Pabulum had amassed on the eve of this most sacred of months. Listen as now they crank their contraptions and ready their fire as hearty songs of conquest spill over the lip. Lyrical hate that flutters down to we, the People of the Stipe, and we brace en-mass at its foot.

This festival of death and cruelty, such a needless and hellish taunt. An intractable spectacle drawn in blood and fortified with ancient vintages of faith. An unwavering addiction to the notion that this city, this once beautiful thriving haven, had been promised in verse to those at the top and not to we, the heathen pretenders who toil as pigs down below.

In the old city, the resistance yawns as we, now too, lock our weapons in for the kill. The sniper sits in the warehouse, inclined with her back nestled into the over-stuffed bale of wool at her back. She lines her eye along the barrel of her jezail and up through the skylight and up still further until it falls on a fraction of movement up in the holes in the rock.

Children with dirty faces huddle in the cobbled plaza and they calculate the currents in the wind. Razor bullets will soon pepper the ground at their feet and they’ll let loose the balloon with the sting in its tail, and they’ll pray that it’ll kill at least one.

The Pabulum know this is a farce. They know that up in their lofty nests there is no chance for we creatures that pretend ourselves human. It is ritual contempt, prodding us down in this cage. The killing, the maiming so perfectly honed so that next year there will still be sport to be had.

The children will be shattered. Those not ripped apart or scorched from the barrage tremor will wail both in and out of their dreams. But they need not worry, I’ll whisper. Tiny ears, they must be patient and wait. Wait for the Hood Rat to come.

That whiskered thing that has lived for eternity down and beneath us in filth. This saviour, he will climb up and into our streets and, with his hood pulled tight to his head, he will stride to the foot of the folly.

He will lay waste to our enemies.

He will save us.

He will conduct the air and the bullets will drop dead to the ground.

He will scale the great cliff and he will crawl into their minds, and he will eat from the inside to the out.

Wait. Huddle down, for he will come. Listen beneath the drone of the guns and beneath your own screams and the whistle of the bombs as they fall.

“Do you hear the scratch of his clawed feet on the cobbles? It is the Hood Rat. He has risen and no more will we breathe in the smoke of this hate”, I’ll say.

He who would tell lies to children.

No Need to Conceal

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Tuesday night, post-shift beer in hand, prodding my phone with the other thumb to see what Alanna’s up to. Looking up, I see I’ve emerged from phone fog in time to take the shortcut I usually miss.
The cut-through runs behind some empty shops. Guess it used to be for delivery trucks. Whatever. Back to chasing my woman before one of her girlfriends gives her something else to do.
Who turned the lights on?
I look up to see a rectangle of yellow light hanging in the air. I can see a fox gone still, it’s shadow stretching back to graffiti-covered wall. A new smell comes by, like my dad’s compost pile on a hot afternoon.
There’s a noise, like something rushing toward-
A dark lump shoots from the light and slams down. The light goes out. The smell gets stronger. My night returns to normal, except I’m standing in a road with no lights and a stinking something just ahead of me.
I call the police on the non-emergency number. There’s an automated response.
“Good evening, Bruce Coppax. How can we help?”
“Not sure. Something just landed in front of me. Whatever did it lit up the place.”
“The fly tipping report line is currently closed. Would you like me to note your location and report it for you when they open?”
“Don’t think it was that. There was a big, bright rectangle in the air and something dropped out of it.”
“Could have been an airvan, Mister Coppax. Have you been drinking?”
“Just a half-litre can after shift. Haven’t finished it.”
“I see you work with solvents. Possibly you’re suffering side effects from accidental inhalation?”
“I’ve been in the store room all day counting spares.”
There’s a pause, then a click.
A different voice: “This has been prioritised. A patrol will be sent to your location. You may go about your business. Thank you for your notification.”
The call ends.
Seems a bit odd. Whatever. Now, as I have to pass it to ‘go about my business’, I may as well take a look. I prod at the torch function on the phone until white light floods out and makes me blink. Getting closer, I see there’s a pool of liquid around the pile that reflects the light. Moving slowly, I start to pass.
That’s a big, milky-white eye, like on a dead fish!
“Sir, please step away.”
The voice comes from behind me. I swing round and a tall bloke in a dark suit raises a hand to shield his eyes. His companion already has sunglasses on. Behind them, an aircar hovers a little way off the ground, soft blue lights showing up the rubbish in the road.
“That’s a bit bright, sir.”
I drop the phone into my pocket. Quicker than working out how to turn the torch off.
“Thank you. If you step to your right, we’ll deal with this.”
With me out of the way, the long aircar slides silently by and settles over the big dead whatever. There are sliding noises, then the aircar rises to hover again. The road under it is empty and clean.
“Thank you for your notification, sir.”
The two of them walk by me and get into the aircar. I watch and wonder which police centre it’ll head for. It doesn’t. The blue light rises into the sky, then vanishes with a little flash of white light.
What was that? I take a swig of beer. Whatever. Alanna won’t be interested. Shall I get fish or a pie with my chips tonight?

Dirty Dancing

Author: Jeremy Port-Tuckett

They danced until midnight. She kissed him full of hunger. Her chaperone watched from afar.

“I have to go,” she said.

He walked her to the car.

“Who are you?” Dave whispered into the neon. “Where did you come from?”

He watched the lights until they were swallowed by the darkness of the city limits. She had lost her shoe. He picked it up.

“Come inside,” his mother said. He stood in the rain staring into the dark. He didn’t sleep. Too many butterflies.

“Please,” his mother said, “eat.”

He could not.

In the morning he packed a bag. He packed her shoe. His mother cried.

“Don’t go,” she said. He walked out of the city. It was cold but he was warmed by the thought of her.

“I’m coming,” Dave whispered. Moonlight kissed his face. He slept. He dreamed of her. The smoothness of her skin. The manner of her speech. Her clipped tone. Her laugh. It sounded like crystal clockwork. Innocent. In the morning he walked again.

The sea sang a lullaby. He stared at the island. It looked like paradise. He held up the shoe.

“Please,” Dave said.

He waited on the beach, on the night smothered sand. Stars danced in the sea. A voice sang. He followed it into the jungle.

“You have it?” the voice said. Dave nodded.

“This way.”

Dave followed the voice. Lights twinkled among the leaves; red and green. Blue.

“What is this place?” he asked.

“A place of dreams.”

A manicured lawn sprawled under phosphorous plants. Music.

She came to him in the clearing. Limping. She listed to the right. Behind her he saw the chaperone waiting.

“You have it?” the chaperone said.

He passed the chaperone the shoe. She held him. There were tears in his eyes. The chaperone retreated into the jungle. Drenched in moonlight he held her. Drowning in her. They lay down on the grass.

“Come with me,” Dave whispered to her. She slept. Dave listened to her sleeping. It sounded like purring. Her heart was ticking. Dave had never heard a ticking heart before.

A man came. He wore paramedic overalls. He carried the shoe. The man lifted her dress to reveal the socket, the plug of her ankle. Broken. Snapped while dancing. The man shook his head. She woke.

He pushed the shoe on. She smiled.

“Thank you,” she said. Slurring. The man rolled his eyes. He rolled her over so she looked into Dave’s eyes, pressing his finger to her neck.

“Who are you?” Dave asked her.

The man inserted something in the back of her head.

“Ella,” she said. “Version 3.1” The slurring more prominent. The man frowned.

“I’m sorry,” the man said. “Moisture in the circuits. From the grass.”

“I love you Ella,” Dave said pulling his wallet from his pocket.

“I know,” Ella slurred.

“Can I get money off?” Dave asked the man. “This one’s broken.”

My Monsters

Author: R. J. Erbacher

What is it that grips onto the edge of a shadow in the too-close distance and peers around its corner with yellow pinprick orbs and a spiky grin?

Who is the ethereal figure in the night that I scan for outside my window as the rain sheets down but who I can only see for an instant when the flashbulb sky pops with jagged white shards?

What is that ticking sound, possibly of hooked claws, that taps along the hallway outside my room and halts by the door making me question the validity of the meager metal bolt that secures me?

How is the night sky so enduring and majestic, yet the dozens of pulsing lights that maneuver easily in predetermined formations seem to be watching my every breath and are coming to steal it?

What about the bladed creature that I know is squatting in the corner of my dark room, anticipatory drool dripping onto my hardwood floor, who will only be there if I open my eyes?

When will the atrocities that gather at the outskirts of projected time, discharge into the world, predestined to eliminate the mass of humanity and leaving me alone to cower against the enormity?

What waits afore me, lingers behind me, slithers astride me, hovers above me…all cunningly concealed and just beyond my tentative touch?

Can I persevere until tomorrow?

How is it that the monsters that live inside me, gnawing at my mind and terrifying me beyond any sense of reason, still allow my hand to transcribe all my fears onto the page in bloody black ribbons?

Stella, Stella, Fortune Teller

Author: Hillary Lyon

The beaded curtains sounded like the patter of soft rain as they closed behind Georgina. She navigated the dimly lit room, taking the only seat at the small round table situated in the middle. In the LED candlelight, a crystal ball gleamed in the center of the shawl-covered table. Georgina sighed. Why did she let her roommate talk her into this? A visit to a mystic-bot was likely a complete waste of time and money.

A soft light ignited within the crystal ball; dark blocky letters grew and took shape: “Welcome to Stella’s Parlor, a division of Mystico Entertainment. Please place right palm here for chip scan.” Georgina did as advised, annoyed with herself the whole time. A tiny, tinkling tone signaled her payment had been approved. There go twenty-five credits.

Soft ambient music began to emanate from the corners of the room, almost masking the mechanical swoosh sound of the fortune-teller’s entrance. Stella, the mystic-bot, docked at the table across from Georgina. The bot appeared to be right out of Hollywood Central Casting for horror-movie gypsy fortune tellers, circa 1940. Paisley silk headscarf, jangly bangle bracelets, multiple gold-coin necklaces, a face creased like a road map. Her dark glass eyes met Georgina’s.

“I am Stella. Tell me what you wish to learn. I know all.” The mystic-bot’s mouth moved convincingly.

Georgina cleared her throat. “My boyfriend, will he—”

“Five to ten,” Stella interrupted. The mystic-bot put her hands together, as if in supplication, and continued. “With time off for good behavior.”

“What? No, will he ask me to—”

“His cohorts will testify against him.” Stella droned on.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about! My boyfriend has a great job as a loan officer. He’s honest, he’d never—all I want to know is if we’ll get married! Or am I wasting my time with him?” Georgina was exasperated; Stella obviously had her confused with some other client. Maybe her prediction program was corrupted?

“Your Simon has a gambling addiction, well hidden from those he loves.” The mystic-bot closed her eyes. Georgina could see the glass orbs rolling spasmodically beneath Stella’s silicone lids. She watched in fascination as Stella’s factory-tinted lips moved in silence, as if the bot was whispering prayers; Georgina wondered what deity a mystic-bot would invoke. The God of AI? The Goddess of Entropy?
Georgina refocused on the session. “No,” she objected, “he doesn’t have a problem, he’s a dream come true, and how did you—ah, you learned Simon’s name when you processed my payment,” Georgina realized. “You did an instant search on my name, that’s all. Nothing ‘mystic’ about that. This is a joke.” Georgina began to rise from the table, but Stella clamped onto the woman’s wrist with a machine’s unshakable grip. “Later this very afternoon,” Stella hissed, “he’s arrested for embezzlement. Big time bookies, human hookers involved. You must distance yourself.”

“If you don’t let go, I will report you and your ‘entertainment company’ to the authorities. As it is, I’ll be filing a grievance to get my credits back.” Stella relaxed her hold and Georgina jerked her arm away. Without looking back at Stella, Georgina stormed out through the beaded curtains, ignoring the mystic-bot’s plaintive warning: “Leave him now and save yourself from a world of hurt!”

Standing on the dirty pavement outside Stella’s Parlor, Georgina mashed Simon’s number in on her phone. Her fury quickly morphed into rising panic, and her button-punching became more frantic, as over and over again, the call went directly to voice-mail.

I, Sea, Memories

Author: Skye Sweven

Sand slips through my fingers.
The sky is dusty gray, with a mix of amaranthine glow reminding me that it is dawn. This time of the morning is quiet. Stars, too, must feel this way, as they lose their glitter on the clouds and begin to fade away into the break of day. The sea breeze shyly tousles the silky strands of my black hair. When I sniff in a handful of breath, the somewhat sticky smell of salt still lingers in the air. My nose has tinged slightly pink, but the cold is the least of my concerns.
Dreamscape. Oh, would it have been a dreamscape, had not the ocean been taken away from us.
The vintage radio barely held together with duct tape consistently spits out hisses of static noises. It isn’t time yet. I once again run my hand through the sand absentmindedly. Sighing, I let the soft grains fall to the ground. Some blow away as the wind catches them before the fall. Then I lay my blank gaze on the horizon—where the sand meets the sky and the sun prepares its rise to shed its luminance on the godforsaken land. What use is all this sea of sand when there is no sea?
A few melancholic moments later, the first line of orange finds its way through the crusts of the earth. My pupils greet the emergence of the sun’s young rays. They soon taint the purple sky blood red—the lighter it gets as their hands stretch further toward the withdrawing dominion of night.
I nearly don’t notice the static noises morphing into unintelligible debris of voices. It is finally time. I raise the volume on my beloved radio and adjust the frequency so I can get a clearer sound of whatever’s coming through the aged speakers. And then, taking the machine in my palms, I listen to the sounds it delivers as I fix my eyes on the dreamscape unraveling before my eyes.
Waves crash onto the shore, spewing white foam everywhere. Children giggle when the briny drapes of seawater chase them away from the borders of their emerald empire. Dogs shake the moisture off their furs as they run alongside their masters. Families are having the time of their lives, basking in the sunlight and relishing the summer bliss. The clear blue sky blesses every soul underneath its embrace with a feeling of revival and freedom.
A small smile appears on my dry lips. I can see it. I can see the ocean, not through my eyes but through my ears and my heart. The sound of the bygone days oozing from the radio opens the inner eyes within me. It is almost as if I’m back in those times, before I grew up, before I lost everyone, before the ocean was taken from us. I’m once again the clueless, innocent 7-year-old building sand castles with my brothers and sisters. Wading in the shallow parts of the ocean to observe curious sea creatures that resemble the stars. Listening to the radio as my mother rubs sunscreen all over my back for the fourth time that day.
My reminiscence is suddenly interrupted by the familiar static noise. Time’s up. The abrupt quiet is like a slap in the face, but it does what it should to scoop me back to reality. The sky is already a palette of myriad hues. Stronger than before, the wind brushes all the hair off my face and takes away my purple scarf in its grasp. Golden light is approaching.
I scramble to my feet, facing the rising sun with a million different feelings muddled up in my heart. I know this is unhealthy. I know that clutching at the echoes of what had been will never get me anywhere far from these shores of asphyxiating solitude. I know what I see every morning is but an illusion, and that it will never bring back the ocean that had been taken away from us.
But I also know this. I will come back to this same spot every dawn, watch the same sunrise and relive the past through the radio again and again. Again and again, until there is no past for me to remember anymore.
I look at the radio hissing in the sand. A single tear travels down my flushed cheeks as I shift my gaze to my shaking palms.
Memories slip through my fingers.