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Edition 31: Old Growth by J. Ashley Smith

Winner of the 2016 Story Quest Contest, Old Growth is a story of societal disconnection, desperation. I am sure you will see why this twisted piece grew on the judges. – SY

“Look, Dad,” says Mika from the back. “Look at the faces!”

Scott adjusts the rear-view mirror. The last he checked, Mika was slumped in a chaos of Lego, two minifigures squabbling inches from his face. Now the boy is fully upright, forehead pressed to the window.

“What do you mean? What faces?”

“In the trees,” says the boy. “Bubbly heads poking out of the bark. Look, Dad, can you see?”

“What’re you talking about, retard?” Ashley is scooched way down in the passenger seat, semi-foetal with her toes on the glovebox. Scott would think she was asleep if it weren’t for the dance of thumbs over the screen of her phone.

“They’re probably galls,” says Scott. “Some trees grow them in response to bacteria, insects, that sort of thing. It’s a kind of symbiosis: the trees grow galls to protect themselves, but the galls also protect the wasps, or the greenfly or whatever, by drawing them in, growing around them.”

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Edition 31: Of Dreaming and Destiny by Jamie Lackey

Altantsetseg is having her dream, pointing her toward her destiny. However, it won’t be quite as simple as that. Jamie Lackey’s submission to the Story Quest Contest came in second place with her charming coming of age fantasy. – SY

Altantsetseg offered Batbayar a winter-shriveled carrot, and the gelding’s velvety lips tickled her palm. He butted his forehead into her chest as he crunched his snack, and she scratched behind his ears.

Her own stomach rumbled. “My dreaming starts at sundown,” she explained. “I’m fasting.”

Batbayar whickered and flicked his ears.

“Of course I’m nervous,” Altansetseg said. “What if I see myself with a dozen wailing children instead of leading our warriors? Or what if I don’t see anything at all?” Snow crunched beneath her fur-lined boots as she shifted her weight, and the exposed tips of the tall grass hissed as a cold wind gusted. “I should go. Wish me luck.”

She slipped into her yurt just as her family finished their evening meal. The scent of roasted mutton lingered in the air.

Her father and brother left to build her snow-bed, and Altantsetseg stripped. Goosebumps raced along her bare skin.

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Edition 31: My Son the Afterbirth by Craig Stewart

Travis is deeply unsatisfied with what his life with Doug has become, and yet Doug is increasingly insistent on becoming a family. This deeply disturbing piece is a finalist from the 2016 Story Quest Contest. – SY

He walked in the door that day with a handful of tulips and a grin to match. They were my favourite flowers and he knew it. He wanted something. That schoolboy mischief living behind his smile was no coincidence.

I put my trashy romance novel to rest and rose from the squishy comfort of the love seat to greet him and receive his offering. I took them, smelled them and planted them into a vase, all the while keeping my trepidation safely tucked away where he couldn’t see.

“Thanks, they’re great,” I assured him. “Is there a reason for your sweetness today?”

He was still a little out of breath and smelled hot from his bike ride home. I liked that. I liked that a lot.

Before he answered me, he brought his lips to mine for a quick meet and greet. They met and then parted, but not before a few of his laboured breaths titillated my lips and neck. I liked that too.

“You’re reason enough.” Doug was certainly a romantic man, the kind of man who would earnestly tilt his head and swoon over a mass-produced card from the dollar store about the healing power of kindness.

I, on the other hand, was not that kind of man. Not that I didn’t have my own weaknesses, sentimentality just wasn’t one of them.

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Edition 31: Reef by Kat Clay

You find obnoxious young men everywhere, but Brayson gets more than he bargained for with his callous disregard for the environment. Doesn’t he know Australia’s out to kill you? Kat Clay’s literal interpretation of the theme made Story Quest’s shortlist of excellent submissions. – SY

I’m an absolute dickhead, I know. I’m that guy you hate on your Ibiza tour. I got a six pack you can crack open and a backpack stuffed with duty free grog and condoms. No excuses. YOLO.

Aussie’s been on my bucket list since forever. Best beaches, hot birds, perfect place to make peeps at home jelly with #travelporn. Better than English beaches anyway, all pebbles and bad weather. Got a great deal on this cruise off an Airlie Beach whiteboard. Fifty quid for three nights on the Great Barrier Reef all food included.

The plan: get drunk. Get tanned. Get laid. All on a yacht parked dead-set in the Whitsundays, surrounded by water so clear you could see someone piss in it. I dive bomb off the side of the boat, huge splash into the sea. Afternoon sun hot on my head. I scoop my arms through the water.

“Ya can’t go swimming when you’re drunk mate,” shouts the guide with a beer in his hand. “Why don’t’ya come back on board. Help him in boys.”

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Edition 31: Death Clothes by Natalie Satakovski

Soulless and Mixie run a little business selling dead people’s clothes. A little more scary than scavenged… – SY

Hello and welcome to the personal blog of Soulless, the founder of Here, I’ll keep you posted with new releases, behind the scenes update and more! Hope you’ve had a great time on the official website so far. Stay tuned, kids…

The Beginnings

Posted on March 15 by Soulless

Back when I was a dowdy teenager I used to cop a lot of flak for the way I dressed. Nobody understood my attempts at self-expression. Somehow I managed to befriend two other outcasts, Mixie and Katie, and the three of us became great friends. That was until disaster struck.

The bullying was hard for all of us to deal with, but in particular, for Katie. She was a sensitive little soul, and she was the one with the most outrageous and creative flair. Eventually, it all just got too much for poor Katie, and she took her own life.

After she died, Mixie and I inherited her wardrobe of weird and wonderful clothing. We found that her clothes not only looked great on us, but imbued us with an all-new sense of confidence. We both went on to art school and after graduating, realised we could put our creativity to good use. We also learned that fashion doesn’t have to be about being snobby and putting others down. It should be about expressing your individuality and having fun!

We started the Death Clothes fashion line in memory of Katie. We love you, Katie. I bet you’re looking delectably dark in the afterlife!

Have you ever been bullied or laughed at? Have you ever felt like you didn’t quite fit in? The Death Clothes e-store is dedicated to you. Become a member and you’ll get exclusive sales offers and discount codes, sneak-peeks at upcoming items and more. Click Become a Member below to get the goods.

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Edition 28: La Voshnikaya by Beth Deitchman

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.

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Edition 27: Splinter by Patrick Freivald

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

Edition 26: Selfie by Lee Murray

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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.

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Edition 26: Against the Grain by S.L. Dixon

Marvin knows that the world around him is a dangerous farce. This is not his real life. His worlds exist side-by-side, but can he rectify them before his mask becomes his reality? 

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.

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Edition 25: by Mike Resnick

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.

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