The Russian ballet is in town performing Swan Lake. An understudy watches the Prima Ballerina from the audience with awe, and she is not alone. The performance floors the audience, in ways it is not supposed to. Beth Deitchman brings the house crashing down in this paranormal tale. SY
The opera house hummed with opening night excitement. Voices rose in animated conversation, punctuated by bursts of laughter. Beautifully dressed people stood near their seats, scanning the auditorium for their friends, their eagerness to see the great ballerina palpable. The men cut gallant figures in their tuxedos and crisp bowties; the women dripped with jewels, hair coifed to perfection.
Although my seat awaited me above, I lingered near the dress circle railing. From my vantage point, I observed with amusement the dance of interactions—a nod here, a smile there, the flourish of a fan, the flash of opera glasses. Below us the orchestra warmed up, its well-ordered cacophony of trills and glides cutting through the symphony of voices.
I turned my gaze to the heavy gold curtain where a spotlight played against the plush fabric. Backstage, pre-performance preparations would be underway—a last-minute costume check, a final stretch, a quick review of choreography. I almost regretted having the night off to watch the ballet from the theatre.
Brutally stripped from her place in the forest, the oak remembers. As she feels the call of new life, she takes steps to return her life. Patrick Freivald strips back our love of wood and shows us the horror of our consumption, and the consequences. SY
She remembered the men, the saws and the smoke and screaming agony and bleeding sap. She remembered the darkness, when they took her and stripped her and killed her and shaved her down to cruel planks. She remembered the darkness, the tepid warehouse harsher than any winter, and the brief kiss of sunlight before her imprisonment.
But she didn’t remember before. The dappled sunlight through the forest, squirrels scrambling through her boughs, the deer resting in her shade, the rabbit warren under her roots. She knew these things, but she couldn’t recall them.
Brutal geometry stole her form, a giant kiln her essence, mankind her purpose. Jagged steel screws bound her to dead sisters, gave her a form both alien and hostile. Wrapped in cold vinyl and fiberglass and sheetrock, she hardened, stiffened, became as bone to this new thing, this monstrosity, this structure. Eyes of glass saw nothing but her sisters’ torture, and concrete roots drew no water to slake her thirst. Read the rest of this entry
Eve has come on this trip at the behest of her sister. No one could have predicted what would happen, or how it would change Eve’s very real plan to end it all.
Lee put together a story that was a literal example of two beings working together toward a common goal: life. Be warned though, Lee is an expert in the horror that leaves your stomach churning. SY
Was I dead?
I peered through the fog.
I was dead: I had to be, because I could see an angel. But if I was dead, why was my head throbbing like the inside of a nightclub? People were shouting and moaning. Somewhere nearby a car alarm was blasting. I smelled petrol.
I blinked. Blinked again. Slowly, my eyes cleared.
Not an angel, then. Just a man with a pigeon flapping on his shoulder, the soft grey insides of its wings like an angel’s at his back.
This horror piece, delving into the existence of an individual’s psychologically-perceived worlds existing side-by-side, perfectly captured the (sometimes) precarious balance of this edition’s theme. SY
Misery doesn’t love company. Complaints, bitchiness and boredom love company. Misery is a solitary place. A place where one exists alone with only thought and pain as company.
Marvin Jackson considered this whim in front of a mirror as he gazed into the red of his eyes, the tiny veins like hot red fingers reaching for his irises. It had been another long and uncomfortable night.
Physically, the pillow-top mattress with gentle heat and subtle cooling options was akin to resting on a genius cloud, one ready to accommodate with the push of a button. The remote sat where they always had next to the bed, untouched. Marvin’s eyes stared at the ceiling, casting aside the dark around him in search of more dark, a dark that could take him to a worthwhile life.
“This bed, this room, this is not who I am,” he mumbled.
Next to him, his wife rolled and smacked her lips while she slept. She always slept so easily.
Mortimer loves horror, but he’s never been any good with work of his own. He lucks out with an interview with a hero of the genre, who sets him on the path of his dreams, if only he knows what he will need to give up to achieve it. SY
Ever since I was a kid I’ve been addicted to horror stories. I was desolate that I missed the end of Weird Tales. Hell, I was even bitter about being born too late for Terror Tales and Shock Mystery Tales, which were not exactly horror’s gold standard.
I worshipped H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith (and of course Bram Stoker), and would take bus rides more than one hundred miles from home just to attend an autographing by Stephen King or Peter Straub. Even if they were known for other work, I collected—and read, and re-read—the few horror stories by Ray Bradbury and Fritz Leiber and Joe Lansdale.
I even tried my hand at it when I got out of college, but while I could push nouns up against verbs with some minimal grace, I simply couldn’t come up with notions that were original, or saleable, or preferably both. I began to think that every good horror story had already been told. Then I’d pick up a new novel or anthology and suddenly realize that no, they hadn’t all been told. They just weren’t going to be told by me.
Jiaming often dreams of the white woman, who predicts the future in her stars. School dominates her teenage life, and she seeks the attachment and happiness she doesn’t find at home with her distant father. Despite all other predictions, her life begins to spiral out of control. This dark, supernatural fantasy from Tang Fei captures the shallow and excruciating existence of the teenager, and their detachment from others. SY
If I really think about it, the stars did not arrange such a fate.
But the stars are broken, and so the definitive proof is gone. This moment is a vertex where time caves in: to the left is the past, to the right—
To the right should have been the future.
But the stars are broken.
Also, I met Zhang Xiaobo.
She didn’t bring an umbrella though the weather forecast said it was going to rain. After dinner, as she passed by the shoe rack, she missed the umbrella that had been specifically set out for her.
A few other students were scattered along the sidewalk, gradually gathering into a trickle of school uniforms that crossed the road and entered the school. Tang Jiaming entered the lecture hall from the back, at the top of the tiered seats, just as the first bell for evening study hall rang.
On the surface, life is crowded, chaotic and dangerous. Dallas is caught unluckily at the end of his shift with a delivery to the undesirable Ghost District. One unfortunate misstep and Dallas lands in real trouble, in the land of mechanical nightmares. Brennan Gilpatrick leads us into the horror of an overpopulated world and how the unethical choose to fix it. SY
Though he couldn’t hear her over the roaring crowd, Dallas knew the old woman was pissed. Her beet-red face and violent hand gestures made that very clear. He could only guess what obscenities passed through her grinding dentures as he ignored her. She was furious. Hell, she had every right to be. She’d probably been standing around for half an hour, waiting on an eggroll that took less than a minute to prepare. Hers were among several fists beating on the cashier counter, demanding their orders from Great City Wok. Dallas gazed across the restaurant; his coworkers scrambled like ants to appease the starving masses. He resigned to fiddling with the broken cash register, as the futile task would easily consume the remaining ten minutes of his shift.
“Can you even hear me?” the old woman screeched, leaning over the counter.
“I’m fixing the register, ma’am,” sighed Dallas. “Please take your order to another—”
“I just want my fortune cookie, asshole!”
He knew the kitchen’s cookie supply dried up an hour ago, but the task of searching gave him a place to hide.
“Of course.” He beamed. “I’ll go grab you one.”
Sometimes the dream feels so real. John is on his first adventure as a budding archeologist. Both he and the Professor dream of Native Americans, long gone. However, there’s a piece of the past that won’t rest until uncovered once more. Ellen Denton placed second in the Unlikely Partnerships Story Quest Competition with the unlikely partners of long-since gone spirits and a university student. SY
John woke up screaming out loud. In his nightmare, he was someone named Kai Longbow, and strips of flesh were being ripped from his body by the claws and teeth of a rampaging bear. Now, as he sat up wide-eyed in the darkness, he could still smell the pungent animal odor of the creature’s fur and its hot breath, and feel its saliva dripping against his face.
When the perceptions from the dream faded, he lay back down, but the bed sheet was damp with sweat; he would sleep no more this night.
Fifteen minutes later, he sat looking out the window with a mug of coffee warming his hands. He had an exam at the university today and needed to be at his best, but felt too distracted to focus on the notes spread out on the table before him.
Marina is the good girl, the prodigal daughter, but finds it hard to fit in. On a late night excursion she makes some older friends by an old war relic who aren’t quite sure why she’s there. A story mixing new world and the unsung heroines of the past. SY
Ghosts are like war, inviting curiosity until either is experienced. Then people realize why both are better avoided. I was twelve when I found one, and then the other.
The gun pointed right at us. Its long, slender barrel gaped open at the end, large enough to swallow my arm past the elbow, if I risked inserting it.
Our little group filed from the bus behind the teacher and toward the museum. Girls chatted. Boys punched or otherwise abused one another while rushing inside.
“Hey Marina,” one of my classmates said while holding open the door with three other girls. “Guess what?”
“Go away.” She closed the door in my face.
Pranks are hard to avoid when denied even time to react.
That big ol’ sun is so round and yellow and flat it looks like Mom’s hat the time she sat on it. Everyone had laughed, ’cept for her, but then after awhile she did too. That was a long time ago, over a year…
That big ol’ sun is right in front of us, filling the highway as if we’re driving right into it, though I know we’re not, unless Dad is tricking us again. Dad’s like that, saying one day we’re driving to China, the next day to Mars, the next day to home. We don’t go any of those places.
“Hanged Men,” Maddy announces.
Maddy’s my older brother and he’s buckled in next to me, smacking gum and blowing bubbles. One bursts every couple of minutes, sounding like a wet towel snapping your butt in gym class.