Edna and Alan take on the challenge of a new home in their twilight years, buying a charming cottage in the country. But their dream turns nightmare when they can’t escape the insidious tree that covers the facade. A study in making the everyday truly creepy, Daniel I Russell makes sure we won’t be hurrying back to the garden any time soon… SY
Edna snapped from the dream, her bony fingers gripping the bed sheets. She sat upright, fragile chest pumping beneath her nightshirt.
Beside her, the bed lay empty; the sheets folded and straight.
She blinked and peered around the room. The gentle light of dawn slipped under the curtains, scattering the shadow of a chair across the wall at an odd angle. In the corner stood cardboard boxes stacked three high in a pyramid. On each, Alan’s precise handwriting had labelled the contents in thick black pen.
Stephanie Barr’s Mask was deservedly a finalist in the Story Quest Short Story Contest for 2011. The judges were impressed with the evocative imagery she used in her narrative, as well the tightly written plot and theme. We are sure you will also enjoy this fantasy piece. GH
Two enticed him, two among thirty displayed before him.
One was exquisitely beautiful. The cheekbones high but not too sharp, the lips full, but perfectly so. There was a flash of ivory teeth between the full lips and a gleam of amethyst in the glistening eyes. The face seemed formed of the finest dark wood and polished to a velvety perfection, unblemished and rare in its uniformity. Around the slanting eyes was the unmistakable glow of gold, which rimmed the face as well to where the edges disappeared under the cascade of thick black hair. He had never seen a more beautiful mask. Or one more costly. A chieftain’s daughter was among the prospective brides, and there could be little doubt which one she was.
Oddly, though, it was not that mask that had first caught his attention but another. It was not as costly a mask or as finely crafted. It was, in fact, different from every other mask he saw. It was not of the finest wood; the wood used was riddled with knots and blemishes, with uneven color ranging from honeyed lightness to mahogany red. The eyes were round as if with wonder and dark with the smokey dullness of black topaz. Some surfaces were polished to ravishing softness, but others were rudely hewn and left raw, sharp. There was a lack of symmetry: a different shape to each eye, a twist to the lips, that robbed otherwise attractive features of much of their beauty. No gilt, no craftsmanship, and yet…
Abu Melek enjoys all the priviledges of being a merchant of the Middle East, and why should he not? But he should beware his indolent attitudes, because the desert is all about survival of the fittest and compromising the caravan is not an option. SY
Abu Melek had much desert still to cross before reaching Baghdad with his caravan-load of silks, spices, gems and women from the East. Was there anything better than the life of a merchant? Every night he took pleasure in his goods—occasionally damaging a roll of silk or breaking an excessively delicate spine in his ardor (affordable losses all). He could eat his kaleb halwa and have it too!
Abu traveled longer in the heat of day than custom prescribed. Time being money, the days thus gained more than offset the losses incurred: inferior camels and women of weak constitution, tidbits tossed to the ever-present jackals. Pushing his troupe to the limits raised not a hackle among his sword-wielding guards, for they too had their nightly pick of the seventy black-haired beauties that had lasted thus far.
Lieutenant Kellington is on tour in a far away galaxy, trapped in between the two indigenous races and their bitter blood feud. But Kellington has a secret. Will his past compromise his mission or will he lose it all? SY
2284 AD—Occupied Territories, Planet Adrella, Andromeda Galaxy
The red sky glimmered against the rolling hills of the Adrellan landscape. Planet Adrella was under the protection of the United Nations of Earth, or UNE. The planet’s population consisted of a humanoid race with a small skeletal structure, wrinkled foreheads, and narrow, sunken-in faces. Their physical bodies possessed less musculature than “Earthens,” making them physically weaker. Yet one area where Adrellans equaled human beings was the propensity to commit violence, and the headless torso that lay smoldering in the dirt was a definite example of that.
“Middle aged, Adrellan male,” Lieutenant Ryan Kellington confirmed, kneeling over the body. “The deceased appears to belong to the Tredder race. We can’t confirm that right now because there’s no way to piece together what’s left of the head.”
“That’s the sixth attack this year where the head has been disintegrated,” Arung, the Tredder official, cursed in broken but understandable English. He was an Adrellan belonging to the Tredder caste, a people who lived in the urban areas of the planet. He thrust his finger at the Sekena diplomat, who looked over Kellington’s shoulder. “The Sekena continue to act like barbarians, setting back any hope of peace between our people and yours!”
“Once again you blame Sekena for disrupting the peace,” Kestin B’urac, the Sekena diplomat, shot back. The Sekena people were concentrated in the rural areas of Adrella, and practiced a pastoral lifestyle. “How quickly you forget that it is the Tredder oppression of Sekena civilians that escalates our conflict. It is you who drive our people to these measures!”
“That’s enough! Neither of you are helping this situation.” Colonel Grey Norgale stepped in as he glanced over the body. The UNE commanding officer wiped his brow and let out a slow, defeated sigh. “What the hell is this planet coming to?”
Reviewed by Mysti Parker
You know those times when you could swear you saw something out of the corner of your eye? Winner of the 2011 JournalStone Horror Writing Contest, this intriguing novel takes that phenomenon and spins it into a creepy web of a tale.
Kenneth Schneyer’s Confinement was a shortlisting in the Story Quest Short Story Contest, and deservedly so. The judges were impressed with the supernatural undercurrents of his piece, and yet the stark realism of the contemporary setting and characters is a firm foundation. I find it hard to accurately classify, and recommended to the editor that it be considered a dark fantasy. Read it and test my assessment. GH
She first saw him while she was taking the long way to work to avoid the deformed children. For anybody else, the walk between South Station and the looming tower that enclosed the law firm would be a nearly-straight line, due north, fifteen minutes at most. But Tamara stopped treading that narrow path after the first time she attempted it, because she discovered that it required her to come face-to-face with Saint Drogo’s Infirmary for Waifs.
It wasn’t the building that hurt; it was the children. She had encountered Saint Drogo’s at the same moment as a mother with a cleft-palate toddler emerged, and through the open front door she had also caught a glimpse of the twisted back on a five-year-old. In her imagination, the dark building was bursting with lame, drooling, incontinent, gaping idiots, all children, all demanding attention and understanding, all needing her. Nausea had almost overcome her, and she hurried north to the protection of her own sterile cell at Rheingold, Granada & Pearce.
When she found herself unable to get its name out of her head, Tamara looked up St. Drogo’s. The resolute brownstone clinic had had its genesis a hundred years ago, to care for children no one wanted, who were so awful to look at that adults condemned them. Nowadays it also treated crack babies and infants born with AIDS, and even had a licensed adoption agency to place the many children who were abandoned on the doorstep. That was all Tamara needed to know; she promised herself she’d never see the place again.
Nu Yang’s Duet was very well received by the judges of the Story Quest Short Story Contest, hence its shortlisting. They were particularly impressed with the dark, psychological overtones of the story, and the hard edged narrative style. GH
My brother came home with a shotgun in one hand and a bag of salt and vinegar chips in the other.
Jason didn’t say anything as he leaned against the wall outside our motel room. That was our home. Room 11. It had been for almost a week now.
I glanced at the gun and waited for him to speak.
“Didn’t I tell you to stay in the room until I got back?” He kept his attention on the parking lot. Only a handful of cars looked back at him including the black SUV we had picked up from a grocery store parking lot two states back last month.
“I hate being cooped up all day.” I scratched my sticky nose. “It’s so damn hot.”
“Watch your mouth.” Jason turned his hardened gaze to my face. “Girls shouldn’t talk like that.”
Happy May, fellow writers and readers.
Here we are already. Edition 2 of SQ Mag. We’ve got a great issue for you, full of stories of loss and deception, secrets and lies. Some are the finalists for 2011’s Story Quest competition and I am sure you will see why our judges saw their outstanding qualities.
Previously, in Part 1, we find that the narrator, Johnathan Frasier, is a boy in his late teens who lives on a colonized mining planet that has been militarily occupied by ‘Earthers’. The planet has many mines and he is holed up in one of them with a small community of refugees. There are many such groups scattered over the planet, forming a loose resistance organization. The ‘HQ’ have been, much to the frustration of the communities, reluctant to order the execution of any offensive action. Johnathan volunteers for a dangerous scouting operation with one of his childhood friends, Tonie, a young girl who lost her love to the ‘Searchers’, droids designed specifically to kill the colonists. Johnathan prepares himself for the mission, his shoulders lumbered with the responsibilities thrust upon him, as well as his growing attraction to some of the local girls, Tonie included. GH.
Next I knew I was awake. The clock said 1900. Exactly ten hours, like he said.