Monday, September 24, 2012

Issue Fifteen, Volume Four

From the Desk of the Editor;
Hello and welcome to another issue of Larks Fiction Magazine. In this issue we are expanding what it means to be human in life, death, and dating. Join us on a quest to learn what it means to exist through these talented wordsmiths!

As an update on the big move--our offices will move this weekend.The bank hasn't cleared our money yet for the new place so we will be homeless for just a little bit. If you do not hear from us do not fear--we will return everyone's email (we will just be a little tardy).

Thank you for your patience--now on with the good stuff!

Daniel J. Pool
LFM Editor

This Morning I Died
By Charles Bernard

Alone I fought pain
Till I gave up
At last free from reason
Time and season

I turned for a last look
At the world I left behind
Family and friends   
Never would we meet again

There was no regret
In my thoughts
Of things I won’t do again
Pleasures I won’t enjoy

In the earth my flesh rotten
My bones like though
They had never been strong
My memories blown away

I am powerless against time
It has written my fate
Life is just a passing phase
This morning I crossed over.
Learn more about the poet on Twitter @chalzz619

Dina, a Warrior
By Lynne C. Handy

            My brother Finn has a tumor with tentacles that is choking his brain.  Death waits in a dark corner of his room.  People speak in low voices; they walk softly, their bodies sagging with grief.  I am Dina, Finn’s eight-year-old sister.  I sit in an alcove trying to read, but can’t concentrate because my mind is frantic.  Throwing down my book, I stomp from the house making loud growling noises, wanting Death to hear and to fear me.  I run past the garden filled with dazzling poppies: purple, orange, crimson, peach, and white.  It’s the white ones whose egg-shaped pods contain the milk that helps Finn sleep.  Sometimes he hurts so much that he breaks  spindles on the headboard.
When the poppy leaves wither, Mommy slits the pods, collects the sap and boils it in water and lime.  It smells musky, like dirty socks.  Scum settles on the top and she lifts it with a spoon to dry.  Then she puts the powder in Finn’s apple juice and gives it to him. Only Daddy and I know what Mommy does with the white poppies.   
The tractor is parked in the barn lot, still hitched to the harrow.  Daddy was in the east field when Mommy sent Uncle Herb to fetch him. 
I run past the machinery and when I reach the meadow, I fling out my arms and shout, “Death, I won’t let you have my brother!”

To defeat Death, I need a sword.  Near the creek, I find a stick suitable for jousting. I also need armor to cover my chest and head.  Pouncing on waves of frazzle-headed dandelions, I yank the stems from their taproots and weave a breastplate, lift it over my head and pat it into place.  Then I rip part of the purple-blossomed clematis from the weathered fence and drape it over my head.  I feel invincible. 
Where’s my army?  A phalanx of cattails grows alongside the creek.  They’ll do.   “Forward, men!” I cry. 
Marching to the house, I stand outside Finn’s window and yell, “Death, you’re a coward to hide beside a sick boy’s bed!  Come out!”
Grandma comes to the window.  “Shh, Dina,” she says, “You must be quiet when you play outside Finny’s window.”
“I am a great warrior!”
“That’s nice, dear,” says Grandma.  “Just play quietly.”
I fling myself on the ground behind the tiger lilies and part the sleek leaves to spy on the window.  Death must’ve heard me.  Will it show its ghastly face?  My troops are restless; they’ve grown bored lying in the grass and I tell them to hush.  Then as I wait, a slithering sound comes from the tall grass beneath the window.   Something is tunneling toward the lane surrounding the house. 
A blossom falls in front of my eye and I swat it away.  Leaping to my feet, I shout to the army, “Follow me!”   We run past the swing set, the forsythia bushes and are about to dash into the lane when Death detours through the poppies.  The blooms sway wildly and I leap into the poppy patch and beat the Orientals until they’re all down; then I beat the Shirleys, the Reds, the Celadines and the Plumes.  Finally the poppies are all destroyed, even the white ones; and their once gorgeous heads bleed all over the ground.    
“Dina!” yells Grandma, from the back porch.  “Look what you did to your mother’s flowers!”
Leaving my army, I run along the fencerow that parallels the asphalt road.  I become aware that a pickup truck is following me.  Grandpa and Uncle Herb are inside.
 “Dina,” calls out Grandpa, “get in.  It’s time to say goodbye to Finny.”
I run. Grandpa stops the truck and Uncle Herb gets out and runs after me.  In the middle of the meadow, he grabs me around the waist.  I kick, I punch; I yell as loud as I can.  He tries to be gentle, even when I knock off his glasses.  He picks them up and carries me to the truck. 
Grandpa says, “Dina, why do you want to hit Uncle Herb?  He’s only trying to get you so you can say goodbye to Finny.”
“I won’t!” I say.
“Now is that being a nice girl?” he asks. “Poor Finny.  He’ll want to carry your words to heaven.”
Uncle Herb holds me firmly on his lap. 
I burst into tears.  “I won’t tell Finn goodbye.”
“Tell him whatever is in your heart,” says Uncle Herb.
“That’s right,” says Grandpa.  “Just say what you feel, honey.”

By the time we reach the house, I’ve settled down.  The preacher’s gray Chevy is parked in the driveway.  I’m sorry I punched and kicked Uncle Herb.  I look guiltily at his glasses which set crookedly on his nose.  There’s a ten dollar bill in my piggy bank and I’ll give it to him.
Grandma shakes her head.  “Look at you.  Dead flowers hanging from your hair.”
She starts to remove them, but Uncle Herb says, “She’s fine, Ma.  Leave the flowers alone.”
Mommy and Daddy are in Finn’s room.  The preacher sits beside the bed.  He gets up and offers the chair to me.  I sit down and look at my brother’s face.  Mommy must have given him some of her medicine because he lies with closed eyes, unmoving.  I find his icy hand and rub it to give him warmth.  I am swollen with feelings of love, anger, loneliness, sorrow, and don’t know what to say.  Then his chest inflates; he exhales and I arch over him to catch his breath in my mouth.   Closing my lips, I hold it there, feel it seep into my lungs and spread through my body. 
“He’s gone,” says the preacher.
He begins saying the Twenty-Third Psalm.  Mommy cries.  My grandparents and uncle run into the room.  I go to the alcove and sit for several minutes feeling Finn’s breath settle in my bones.  Finny’s not gone.
 The End
About the Author;
 For the past two years, Lynne C. Handy has read her short stories and poems in coffeehouses.  This is her first attempt at publishing.

Four bad dates
Rachel L. Greene
Sitting one winter afternoon on my couch, my best friend on the phone broached the subject of my lack of a romantic relationship.  For the umpteenth time I explained that it wasn’t like the old days, I don’t go out, I don’t party.  I don’t drink therefore I don’t go to clubs and certainly not bars.  So where did he expect me to meet someone.  Sighing and taking the tone of this is just common knowledge he told me to go online to one of the million dating websites and create a profile.  I laughed and said I was going to hang up now and go back to my movie. 
An hour later my movie over, I was overcome with boredom.  I decided to do what he had suggested.  For one thing, he would ask me every time we talked if I had done it, and at least if I did I could throw it in his face how much of a bad idea this whole online dating thing was.  I was not overly astonished at all the sites that did offer this, I decided to filter out the ones that seemed strictly for “hooking up”  and the ones that required a payment. 
I chuckled and thought about how this could be construed as a form of prostitution.    The questions posed to new applicants were simple enough, they asked some intuitive questions about what kind of viewpoints you have, what your personality is like and what you are looking for and not looking for in a relationship.  Finally I chose a picture that wasn’t horrific of myself and linked it to my profile.
I had been brutally honest with my answers to the questions mainly to see what kind of a response I would get.  I browsed around the website checking out the type of guys that were on but didn’t initiate any contact.  Bored I logged of and found another movie.
About a half hour later I received an email someone had sent me a message on the site.  I logged on and saw there were actually ten messages.  I read each one and chose to respond to the ones that didn’t seem like potential serial killers.  Over the next couple of weeks I was in contact with the initial people on an almost continuous basis. 
Nick.  Nick and I had decided to meet at Starbucks; I figured this was a safe zone, enough people around in case I needed to scream for help but not enough people around to be a distraction.  Also I wouldn’t be obligated or trapped into spending several hours with this person if he was creepy.
Nick’s profile, and in our correspondence he had described himself as outgoing and ambitious.  Ok I can respect and relate to ambition.  I arrived on time to Starbucks and grabbed myself a seat near a window.  I pulled out a book so that no one would randomly come up and try to strike up a conversation with me.  Thankfully for Nick I became engrossed in my book and didn’t realize that twenty minutes had gone by and there was no Nick. 
Annoyed I put my book back in my bag and prepared to get up from my seat when in walks Nick.  Tall and way more tanned than he was in any of his photos.  It was that awkward kind of tan that is so deep that you are not sure if it is real or sprayed on.  He still turned a couple of heads as he spotted me and walked over.  He introduced himself and said he’d grab us some coffee.  As he retreated back to the counter to order I noted two things.  One he hadn’t apologized or even acknowledged his tardiness.  And two he didn’t ask me what I wanted.  I decided to check my annoyance and see if he said anything about his lateness when he got back and let the ordering for me go for now.
He came back and sat down all smiles, a big bright even white smile that made me wonder if his teeth were capped.  Or was it the tan that made his teeth seem to almost glow.  I smiled and thanked him for the coffee which once I took a sip instantly wished I hadn’t thanked him.  Geesh he ordered the sweetest drink on their menu and then had them dump sugar in it.  I put the cup down and looked at him.  Only then did I realize that he had been having a full fledge conversation the whole time I was thinking about that god awful coffee.  He seemed oblivious to the fact that I hadn’t noticed he had been talking which made me kind of look around and see if he was talking to someone else.  Nope he was talking to me.  I smiled and tried to figure out what he was talking about.  Oh his watch, I looked down and nodded yes it was a very nice watch but why was he telling me how much it cost. 
Abruptly he changed topic and started talking about his car and what kind of car do I drive.  I opened my mouth to tell him but before the first syllable of my car’s name could reach my lips he was off and running at the mouth about his car.  Oh it was 2010 the 2011 model wasn’t released yet but he…. My eyes glazed over.  All of a sudden in mid verbal vomit he leaned back in his chair and smiled at me.  With his mouth closed he looked very attractive.  He just smiled though so I figured that this was my opening to say something about myself.  I mean this was a date right?  So I said “so you’re in finance?  Do you like it?”  His eyes shone with glee as he proceeded to tell me about the prestigious firm that he worked for out of New York and how he was the senior honcho and… I felt my eyes glaze over again.
After about ten minutes of him singing his own praises he asked me another question about myself.  My mouth flung open at the question though.  “So you’re a tiny one huh” wait did he just call me tiny?  I mean yeah I am but… he was of and talking again. “That’s good I like a tiny women” I didn’t hear the rest because I was still staring at him with astonishment.  Finally I said “excuse me I need to use the restroom”  naturally he didn’t hear me over his own voice so  I stood up, he actually acknowledged that, so I repeated myself and tried not trot in the direction of the bathroom. 
I stared at myself in the mirror and contemplated how long it would be before I could politely extract myself from this situation.  Slowly I walked back to the table; he stared at me as I sat down and said “Damn you are attractive; that’s good I was slightly worried that you wouldn’t actually look like your picture, I’ve gone out with some girls that have said that they were petite or had a muscular build and turned out to be some real heifers.”  I stared at him there was no way I was going to act like this fool had just complimented me when in reality I felt insulted; and did he really just say heifer in reference to other women?
  The way he was oggiling me made my skin itch.  Again he was oblivious to my reaction and started a whole new conversation on how he takes good care of himself, and how why should he settle for a girl that can’t even keep her weight down or actually put some makeup on.  That’s it I’m out of here screw politeness this guys is an arrogant pompous… I ground my teeth thinking of how much of a tool bag this guy was.  I grabbed my coat of the back of my chair and my bag and just walked away.  He stood up sputtering, I turned and said “thanks for that god awful coffee and conversation but I need to go home and take a very long shower and try to wash the memory of you away.”  Then I made a fast retreat to the door, my car, and ultimately the sanctuary of my home.
Okay so that was horrible, but I decided that if I went back and used one bad date as an excuse against my best friend’s suggestion, I would get an ear full.  Date number two was with Todd.
Starbucks seemed to work for a reliable place to be able to make a quick exit from so I decided that as the destination of our date.  Todd was on time so that was a small point in his favor.  He politely asked what I would like to drink which again was a point for him.  I relaxed a bit in my chair thinking okay we are off to a much better start than the last one.  I studied him as he stood at the counter.  He was dressed nice in the preppy style, as he walked over I noticed that a small tag, one of those little size stickers they randomly stick on clothing at the stores.  Those stickers always annoy me.  You know they stuck one on the clothing, but you have to actually hunt for it, since they never place it on the same spot as other clothing they sell.  It becomes a very agitating game of find the sticker.  Which you inevitably find when you least expect it.  Like when you have worn it twice already, put it through the wash yet you look down one day and see it sticking randomly on your sleeve.
He sat down and crossed his legs, which to be honest, I always found this to be a tad bit effeminate in males; as I looked down at his loafers I noticed that they were really shiny.  Which considering it is winter, there is salt and that dirt that they fling all over the sidewalks in front of stores to stave off potential lawsuits, seemed quite inconceivable, that they could remain that clean.  He seemed jittery; jiggling his shiny loafer.  He asked me if my coffee was okay, and I replied that it was fine, and thank you.  He nodded and rubbed his thumb over part of his shiny loafer.  Well if this is a habit then that may explain how his shoes are so shiny. 
He asked me if I liked his shirt.  I nodded and told him yes it was a good color on him, something told me not to mention the tag.  The conversation was spotty, and I felt awkward with the long gaps of silence.  His smile, which seemed plastered on his face, made me think he was slightly constipated.  When he asked me again if my coffee was okay I realized this guy was nervous as hell. I tried to ask him questions about himself, he told me that he went to Brown and said it’s a really good school.  But the tone that he said it seemed like he wasn’t so sure.  The more we talked, the more his tone sounded more like he was posing questions rather than statements.  This guy reeked of self doubt and insecurity. 
As his eyes darted from here to there, and he tugged nervously at his pant leg, I decided that I may not be able to abruptly leave.  This guy seemed fragile, and if I just cut the date short, he would definitely be the type to call me repeatedly to find out what went wrong.  No I would have to suffer through the awkward-ness, and possibly change my number tomorrow.
 Two painful hours later one of the barista’s made the announcement that they would be closing in ten minutes.  I put my nicest smile on and told Todd that this has been memorable but it seemed like we had to leave. 
Rick, back to Starbucks, the baristas were starting to give me funny looks.  Shrugging it of I gave them my coffee order, and then took up my usual post and pulled out my book.  The door opened and in walked Rick.  He had seemed a bit hesitant about meeting at Starbucks.  He walked right over and sat down.  His hair was jet black and spiked up in a kind of sotto Mohawk.  He looked me up and down and smiled. 
I had to admit that conversation with him came easy as we talked; that is until we started talking about music.  As he started firing questions of about who was the original drummer of this band? And what year was Rancid’s out comes the wolves cd released I realized that I knew this guy.  Well not him for say, but his type.  He is the ultimate elitist punk.   He is the guy that has built his entire personality around music and knowing every miniscule detail of bands, and only respects those that have done the same.  This is guy that all the other punks and rude boy’s want to beat to a pulp in the circle pit.  He bombarded me with question after question and I felt my temper rising. 
As I fiddled with my cup, I watched as his eyes fell on my left hand.  He reached out and took hold of my hand.  He flipped it over and looked at the tattoo on my middle finger.  “Anarchy huh?”  I nodded and said “yea transgressions from a wasted youth.”  I knew that I shouldn’t have said that, for it would just spur another tirade on some movement or other.  His eyes lit up and he started in on what I am sure was a practiced speech in front of a mirror.  The hate crimes committed by the fascist politicians, blah blah blah. 
Now I am more than fully aware of the things done by our government, some justifiable, and others not as justifiable, but for a purpose.  I don’t have to agree with their actions, but I also don’t have to jump up on my soap box and draw attention to myself.  The more he talked the more I started to remember why in all my years in the punk and ska scenes I had chosen to date outside of them.  I leaned back in my chair and started to massage the base of my neck, I was developing a tension headache.  I needed to get out of here before it turned into a migraine.
 His voice was rising, and though I didn’t care who noticed, it was starting to grate on my already extremely frazzled nerves.  Finally I smiled at him and said look, this has been great but I really have to get going.  I didn’t wait for his reply and beat a hasty retreat.
Sunday night I found myself back at Starbucks sitting across from Alex.  Alex had tried to insist at meeting at a bar.  I had explained to him that I don’t drink, so that really isn’t my kind of environment.  
Alex brought to the table a whole new meaning of the word slob.  His pants were ripped and tattered, his boots splattered with mud.  His hair hung in greasy unkempt locks around his ears.  My nose twitched as I tried to not breathe in deeply.  There was a definite funk surrounding this guy. 
His flannel shirt didn’t cover the slightly tattered Metallica t-shirt he wore underneath, nor did his t-shirt fully cover the beer belly, that he seemed oblivious was hanging slightly out.  I tried not to look mortified as he scratched his belly. I couldn’t help but to be offended that he had very obviously used a picture from about ten years and a million beers ago.   He talked extensively on his truck, the one parked outside with the KC lights, and splattered with mud, obviously he had been “mudding” recently. The mud was a badge of honor.   
His cell phone rang, and he had a quick conversation with whoever called.  He hung up and said “hey let’s get out of here there’s a kegger at my boy’s house.”  I looked at him and said “I don’t drink remember.”  He gave me the look I had become accustomed to, the one that said he just realized I had two heads.  “Ah come on what’s a beer or two?”  Trying to hide my irritation with a smile, I told him that a beer or two constituted of drinking, which as I said I don’t do.  He opened his mouth to speak, but before he was able to, I picked up my bag and said why don’t you go, it sounds like fun.  I have a paper to write for one of my classes anyway.  And with that I walked out.
The second I got home, I kicked of my shoes and shed my coat, tossing it on the recliner. I pulled out my cell phone and called my best friend.  I plunked down on the couch just as I heard him say “what’s up Ray?”  I laughed “what’s up? What’s up is that I am never taking your dating advice again.”  He roared with laughter as I proceeded to tell him all about my four extremely bad dates. 
 The End

Thank you for joining us on this whirlwind of emotion. Make sure to join us next week for more great indie literature!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Issue Fourteen, Volume Four

From the Desk of the Editor;
Hello and welcome to another exciting edition of Larks Fiction Magazine. In this issue we are bringing out the big guns with lawmen, aliens, and death--oh my!
To celebrate the upcoming Ghoul season make sure to look for our upcoming publications coming to Amazon and Smashwords.
The new headquarters are coming along. Luck decided to let me escape the under-croft unscathed except for a few bruises and ten pounds of dust. Check out all the newest updates at
Daniel J. Pool
LFM Editor

No Sign Before
By Deng Xiang
Abstruse harbingers seep along your bed sheets
A cordial welcome seems
to be in disguise for tears;
Your diaries, and anything in between
That you encounter. Nothing seems to point
To you
wanting to terminate your soul.
Try as I might, I could not infer
any premonitions
Of your startling death. You were your usual self,
Ebullient and optimistic in everything you do,
But there are feelings cloaked
Beneath your facade.
You wore a ghostly mask, unidentified.
Such a bewildering loss makes this truer-
That not every cloud has a silver lining,
And bereavement impales me
deep within.

About the Poet:
Deng Xiang speaks, writes articles, poems and stories while sharing his passion for all things erudite and salient. Mainly, his subsistence comprises of highbrow literature from chemistry to pure mathematics. His appetite for knowledge never ceases, even if he got an accomplishment worth showing off.

Fox House Jungle
Photo by Katelin Pool

The Stoning of Tityos
By Simon Jones

Only when my palms were stained with his blood did I realize what had happened.

The knife, made for whittling and skinning small game, was plunged deep into his chest. The body swelled once – a deep, horrible inhale of oxygen before the slow release. Then it was over.

I didn’t look into his eyes. I didn’t have to see them to know what I’d done. One short motion – my right arm wrenching the weapon into his heart – and it was finished.

It had been years since I’d killed a man, but even then never like this. It had always been for the Community. For peace. Good crushing evil. This was something else. I didn’t even know his name.

I had been attacked, certainly. But I immediately questioned whether such a deadly reaction had been warranted.  Coward, he had spat, the word conjuring a vile rage in the pit of my stomach before he darted towards me, a sharpened rock gripped tightly in his right hand.

The sticky crimson was warm on my hands now and I began to feel the ache in my bones again. The winter chill. How long had I been here? I looked around, concerned that the sun was just four fingers from the horizon. I didn’t have much time. The Tree Folk would likely come searching for their kinsperson. And Tom would be on his way.

The body was heavier than I expected. The fact that he was such a fat bastard didn’t help matters, but once I reached the water his weight seemed to evaporate. I was worried that the corpse wouldn’t float, but the stream did most of the work for me. I kept one hand on his chest, just below the wound, my eyes scanning the banks for any sign of my deputy.

The crashing roar of Pillaging Falls greeted my ears first and I let the stream take my attacker’s body over its edge and into the abyss. It wouldn’t be long before I joined him there.

Despite the inevitable, I still felt a pang of guilt for his death. Had I not snuffed out his life, he would have doubtless ended mine. But that did not ease my burden. I had sworn to protect him – it was my duty. I sighed and reminded myself that soon it wouldn’t matter.

The Falls were growing stronger by the time I reached its edge. The current was powerful, but my heavy boots sank deep into the loose earth below and kept me firmly planted. The sun would kiss the horizon in less than an hour. I took it to be a sign, of sorts, counting down my last moments in this place. I began to think about Emma and Flynn. Then Tom called out for me.

“Sheriff!” The young man, hardly out of his teens, came bounding out of the forest and alongside the western bank. His voice held no fear. Why should it? He had met me here every sunset for the last fortnight.

I sighed, as if I had not expected him to reach me in time.

“Tom,” I replied, repeating the same words I had spoken to my deputy every night for the past two weeks. “You can’t stop this. Not tonight.”

When he didn’t reply, I turned my head to see a lopsided grin on his face. “I think I can, Sheriff.”

I didn’t know why he was smirking like a fool, but whatever the reason I wouldn’t be here to find out.

“This time it’s different, Tom,” I said. “Something happened. Something I can’t—”

“I know. Something did happen. Something you never believed we could do.”

The sheer excitement in his voice made me freeze. It couldn’t be. Not now. Not when the end was but a footstep away.

“Don’t lie to me.” There was viciousness in my words. “I swear, if you’re lying to me—”

“If I’m lying,” he said calmly. “I won’t stop you from jumping next time.”

Something in the way he said it made me believe him. “Tityos?”

Tom nodded. “We got him, Sheriff. He put up a fight, worked some of your boys over. But we got him.” The chill night air made my body quiver. I hadn’t brought a change of clothes.


“You were really going to do it, weren’t you?” Tom asked once I was out of the stream. “You were going to jump?”

I didn’t reply. My hands were shivering as I rubbed them up and down both sides of my chest, trying desperately to ignite some warmth back into my bones.

Despite the pain, there was a burning desire deep inside me – something I had been waiting months to feel. With each passing step I was getting closer to the man who had murdered my sister and nephew. Flynn, the youngling, was forced to watch his own mother torn limb from limb before being put out of his own misery. Tityos wouldn’t be so fortunate tonight.

He came in the darkness. At first we thought it was just a group of hoodlums, kidnapping villagers in the hope of gleaning some ransom from their wealthy families. We didn’t have any reason to believe it could be something more sinister.

The first body was discovered near the back of Frank’s Tavern. Half of it, at least. The other half was never found. Tom thought it might have been an animal, but I’d never heard of a beast that could saw a man so perfectly in two.

When children started to go missing, and then entire families, the villagers lost faith in the law. I was their Sheriff, but I couldn’t even give them a name, let alone a prisoner. The mumblings from the Tree Folk began to grow louder in the village. People were starting to believe those mad tales.

Eventually, after almost a month of terror, he came in the daylight. Tom and I had enforced a strict curfew on the Community, and since then no one else had gone missing. But he wasn’t satisfied with what he had already done. He came during the day and took Emma and Flynn. He knew who I was and he took them to lure me out. He knew who I was, I was certain of it.

Two weeks ago I found their bodies – what was left of them. Limbs, organs, entrails. They’d been strewn about the house deliberately. Little Flynn and my sister. That night I went to the Falls, and every night since.

“Sheriff! Don’t you turn away from me!” I looked up and winced at the setting sun. Soon my eyes settled on a dusty old man with a mop of white hair and thick beard flowing past his shoulders. Old Reg. One of the Tree Folk. Trouble.

Tom saw him coming but could do nothing to stop the tirade of abuse he began to spout.

“You have a black soul, Sheriff,” Old Reg shouted. “The others may turn away from it but I can see through you.” I continued walking but he followed beside, close enough that I could smell his rancid breath. “You’re as much to blame for the murders he commits.”

“Easy there, old timer,” Tom started to say, but I motioned for him that it was okay. Reg had lost his daughter and three grandchildren to Tityos. My job meant that I was sworn to protect them, and I had failed. The least I could do was listen to him.

“We warned you about him,” he continued. “You heard the stories from your own mother’s mouth. You knew he was still out there. Squatting in the desert, sucking all the life out of that god-forsaken place. You knew he’d be thirsty for more before long. But you wouldn’t listen, you stubborn bastard!”

As the forest began to thin out, I could see the faint outline of torchlight in the distance. We were coming up on the village and I knew most of the Community would be heading for the Old Killing Fields – that arid field of dust and death, where executions played out like the times of long ago.

“My daughter.” Old Reg stopped following and began to sob. “My little girl and her babies too.” I thought about turning around but didn’t even have the courage to do that. My conscience berated me but my feet continued to whisk me away from the scene.

As we came upon the last line of oak trees leading into the village, I heard the old hermit speak one final time. “You knew he was out there. You knew and you didn’t listen. Now it’s on you, Sheriff. The blood of my family is on your hands!”

Tom put a firm hand on my shoulder, squeezed twice. “Don’t let that crazy old fool get to you. He’s as mad as the rest of the folk living in the forest.”

“He lost his child,” I said quietly. “He has a right to grieve.”

Tom just shook his head as the blue lights of Reston Village fell upon our faces. “If he wants to grieve, he can do it tonight with the Community. Put that withered old arm of his to good use.”

I simply nodded. The excited hoots and howls of my townsfolk were now ringing loudly in my ears.


By the time we reached the Old Killing Fields, the sun was only half a finger from the horizon. Muted streaks of burnt orange and blood red stained the sky as if resigning itself to what was about to occur. By the size of the crowd, I imagined all of the Community and most of the Tree Folk had come to see Tityos’s end – and partake in it.

One of the villagers on the outskirts of the congregation saw me and Tom and quickly called out for the crowd to disperse so that we could reach its centre. Some smiled as I walked past, perhaps holding onto the hope that I was the one responsible for the murderer’s capture – that their Sheriff did indeed still have a fleck of courage left. Most, however, either lowered their eyes or mumbled curses of “coward” and “shameful” under their breath. I didn’t give them any response, but I could sense Tom bristling.

As we came upon the beast the Tree Folk had named Tityos, darkness had consumed the Old Killing Fields. Only the orange of torchlight now lit the dusty plain, and I began to feel the familiar ache of fear. I took one breath, another, before looking upon his face.

I almost didn’t recognise him.

He looked far different from the night I had found Emma and Flynn. In the darkness he had sped through the streets like a leopard, but I would have staked my life that he was at least nine foot tall that evening, and a shade of blue, not grey. His six limbs were slumped on the ground, several clearly broken, and some with bones that had pierced his pallid skin. His face, contorted by the beatings Tom and his crew had no doubt inflicted upon him, showed one eye fused entirely shut. The other, though, stared straight back, and I knew at once that he remembered me.

I stood, staring into his face – an alien thing I had only heard in unbelievable tales before this summer. Tales my father had scared me with as a child. I now looked upon the truth and was determined to see inside, to see what sort of callous, vile soul – if any – could linger within.

He denied me. After only a second, he lowered his head and released a cry so horrible I felt as if my legs would give out. That deep keening filled with fear and sorrow echoed into the night for far longer than any human cry could. Unconsciously, I took a step forward. He recoiled at the motion, his broken limbs sweeping back into themselves as far as was possible. He let out small gasps of pain as a dull, deep blue liquid began to flow freely from freshly broken scabs. I stopped, raised my palms instinctively and retreated.

This was not what I had expected.

“It’s time,” Tom whispered in my ear before nodding to one of his men, Robb. The teenager was carrying a wide shovel, weathered by decades of use, its formerly sharp edges now curved and harmless.

Robb kicked the creature’s side, forced him to stand and thrust the shovel into his hands. “Dig,” he ordered, then kicked him again and mimicked a digging motion until he was certain Tityos understood.

I had seen this spectacle a hundred times before, even handed that same shovel to convicted murderers, rapists and heretics. I had seen men weep, women scream, young boys cry out in terror as they dug their own graves. Some weren’t even able to hold the shovel without help. Others drew out the procedure for as long as they could, hoping against all sanity that we would show them mercy. I never expected Tityos would be my last.

It took the better part of an hour for the creature to shift enough earth to hold his body. When he was finished, Robb shoved his boot into Tityos’s back, forcing him into the pit before ordering him to stand upright. Tom and his men loaded the dirt back into the hole as quickly as they could, Tityos’s awkward head now the only thing protruding from the ground.

When they were done, Tom turned to me and smiled. ‘Now the fun part,’ he chuckled. I didn’t respond. A sickness, the likes of which I had never felt before, was eating away at me with a rapid pace. I almost couldn’t contain the bile threatening to explode from behind my lips. Nothing made sense. This thing – this beast – had mutilated my own flesh and blood, terrorised our community for weeks, years, decades. He had feasted on the marrow of children and yet I could barely hold his gaze. I saw pure fear in that face. Tears rolled freely from his eye as he stared back, yet he did not curse or spit. In that moment, he was nothing but a frightened child.

Tom placed something heavy in my right hand, smiled at me and nodded. It was my duty as Sheriff to throw the first stone – to be the first to crack the skull. The rest would join in soon after. Usually there was a lottery to determine who would be allowed to throw, but Tityos had affected so many lives that it was decided everyone would have their chance. One by one they would propel their missiles at the beast that had murdered their children, their husbands, their wives. He would know true pain then. And he would die slowly.

At that moment, I knew I couldn’t join them. After all that had happened, after all I had been through, there was nothing I wanted more than leave that place. When I looked into his eyes I could only see a petrified child, asking why I was doing this, begging me to stop. There was no comprehension of why he was here. Why these alien people had captured him and forced him to dig his own grave. He knew that death was close but couldn’t understand why. Every single man and woman that had died here understood they had committed an unforgivable sin. They didn’t want to die, but they understood the reasons why they must. This creature, this thing, was simply an animal. He had to die, I knew that. And he would. But I wouldn’t allow myself to be part of another murder today.

I let the stone fall from my hand and turned to walk away. The chanting stopped and the crowd parted, either too stunned or horrified to block my way. One man shrieked ‘Coward!’ but I was immune to that word now. Soon there would be one less coward in the world. Tom didn’t try to stop me this time.

By the time I reached the village, Tityos was dead. The cheers from the crowd were sickening but I pressed on, determined to finish what I had started before sunset.

I stopped at my home for just a few moments, making sure I would be long gone before any villagers returned from the Old Killing Fields. Despite everything, I couldn’t leave without telling Tom why. He deserved that, at the very least.

I left the brief note under the lamp by my bed. He’d know what it meant.

Emma’s diary and little Flynn’s drawing book were still under the shelf where I had kept them. There wasn’t much that was salvageable from the night they had died, but those two items had somehow remained untainted by their blood. I intended to return them to their owners.

I didn’t see Old Reg on my return through the forest and was thankful for it. Who knew what would have happened had he tried to stop me. I didn’t allow myself to think about anything other than what I was going to do.

The night was deep, but the stars lit my path to Pillaging Falls. I’d seen this sight a thousand times before, but tonight it seemed more magical than ever. I was calm, at last. Not even the chill of the water affected me.

Emma and Flynn sat inside my pocket, close to my heart. The sound of the Falls crashing into itself surrounded me and I shut my eyes tight. Don’t turn back. I took one step forward into nothingness, and fell for eternity. 

The End 

 About the Author;
Simon Jones is an Australian journalist who has covered everything from science to sport for over seven years. His most recent piece of speculative fiction to be accepted for publishing is "Tourist Regulator" and will be featured in the October edition of Antipodean SF.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my work.
Kind regards,
Simon Jones

By Michael Martin

All I can taste is dust.  I sure could use a shot, but I need to keep a clear head.  I can ill afford to screw up, I have it all planned out, to the last detail but I need to be able to react and handle the unexpected.  No matter how much you go over it, there is always something that does not go according to plan; that is what they say.
So I wait.  Wait for just the right moment.  Precise timing is crucial if I am going to succeed with my plan and make a clean getaway.  Then there’s the girl, the girl I’ve always wanted but could never have.  Would there be time for her?  If I failed, certainly not.  I only have one shot at this.
Still, it sure is dusty.  It is in my clothes, my boots, my saddle.  The street, the walkway, the buildings; it’s even stubbornly clinging to the window panes of the stores and shops which line the street, giving them a frosted look.  It hangs in the air like a ghost, always present and never sought. 
            People are lining the street as if they are expecting a show.  Eager to bear witness to something they would never have the courage to do themselves.  I don't really mind but I wish there were not so many.  I don't need any distractions; one false move and I might never recover.
I hate sneaking in town the back way but this time it is necessary.  You don't announce yourself by riding down Main Street when you come to kill a man in his own town.
I tie my horse to a nearby post and step up on the walkway to get a better look; my spurs jingle as they make contact with hard wood.  Strange how easily you become accustomed to that sound, I hardly ever notice it.
More people have come out of the shops; they are spilling over into the street now.  I hear a soft clicking sound coming from the crowd, like a gun being cocked but not as loud.  I survey the crowd, but no one is even wearing a gun.  I see a brief flash of light, like the sun reflecting off a pair of glasses or a spectacle.  Since I don’t recognize anyone in the crowd, I determine there is little danger.
            A man comes out of the feed store with a bit in his right hand.  He does not stop to look around but quickly mounts his horse and rides away from the crowd.  Not everyone is so eager to see a killing.
His horse kicks up more dust as he heads out of town.  The street is straight and open, just as I remember it.  Good.  No wagons blocking either end, even better.  I may have to leave in a hurry too. 
The sound of footsteps breaks the silence.  I turn to see an older woman walking towards me. Her hair is slightly gray and she is tightly clutching her handbag as she walks.  Traces of her once handsome features still show through the lines on her face but this arid land has drained most of her former beauty. 
I tip my hat and she gives me a nod as she passes by, though I think she is just a little too nervous.  Does she recognize me?  If she does, I might have to speed up my plans.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see a man step into the street from the other side.  He walks slowly, his eyes fixed on me.  I turn to face him but make no other move.  His body shows that he's nervous but I have to give him credit, he manages to keep moving toward me anyway.   
He stops in the middle of the street.  "Rattlesnake Jim," he yells.  "They say you're gonna kill my pa."  His voice, though somewhat shaky has a bite to it and his gun hand stands ready to draw.
So, this is one of the Shelton boys.  I reckon this must be Davey, the next to youngest.  He tries to swallow as I hold his stare, not moving or answering him, but I know his mouth is too dry.  Finally, I turn my head slightly and spit into the street, but I keep my eyes locked on him.
With some difficulty, he manages to swallow the lump in his throat.  "I ain't gonna let ya," he says.  He shifts his weight slightly and his gun hand quivers.
I step into the street and walk toward him.  Along the street, a young boy stands in front of his parents, an eager look on his face.  He can't be more than five or six.  He is obviously here to see someone killed, as are his parents.  And why not?  Life is hard in these parts and the sooner he understands the better.  He smiles as I pass by.
            The crowd is to my right as I approach Davey Shelton, at the edge of my vision.  There's another flash like the ignited powder from a rifle shot followed by that strange clicking sound again.  Since there's no bullet, I can't risk searching the crowd for the cause.  I must keep my attention on Davey.
I stop about twenty‑five feet from Davey Shelton, making sure my right gun is free to draw; I'm not as fast with my left.
Standing there, I realize how young he looks, despite the couple of day’s growth on his chin.  He’s a couple of years younger than Dusty; he can’t really know what he’s up against.  I’ll wait for him to draw first.  I’m a gun fighter, not a murderer.
I hear footsteps coming up behind me on the walkway.  Light, hurried footsteps. 
"Jimmy, don't Jimmy."  Sara's sweet voice sings in my ears.  "This won't help.  It ain't gonna bring Dusty back," Sara says.  I can see her now, standing on the walkway to my left.  Even though it has been more than two years since I've seen her, she's as beautiful as the day we met.  Her blonde hair tied back with a red ribbon and the radiance of her cheeks, illuminating her dress.  Even the dust seems to part for her, like some dull and wispy phantom Red Sea.
Even though it is warm and dry, she still wears the shawl her mama made for her and around her neck is the string with the miniature silver spur I gave her when I asked her to be mine.  The day I promised to take her away from this backwater town and show her the world.  Chicago, New Orleans, Paris.
I tried to make good on that promise but it was no use.  The months of cow pokin’ and bronco bustin’ and even black smithin’ never led anywhere.  All I got was enough to feed and clothe me and a sore back.  There was only one thing I was ever really good at.
And now Dusty was dead because of it.  It was my reputation, Jim Duncan, "Rattlesnake Jim," gunfighter, outlaw; that's what got him killed. 
Well, the only thing I can do for him now is revenge.  "Somebody has to pay," I say.
"Why?  It won't prove nothin'.  More killin'‑"
"Dusty done paid for what he done ta my sister," Davey says, interrupting Sara.  His hand is only a few inches from his gun.  His fingers begin to twitch and his stance stiffens.  There's no turning back.
"I don't think he did nothin’," I say.  "I think your Pa just found them together and couldn't stand it."  I slide my right foot back a few inches and turn ever so slightly, to get a better angle to draw.
"He found 'em all right.  And we knew what he done.  He was your brother weren't he."
"Yep, he was my brother all right, so your Pa killed him."
"He deserved it, for takin' advantage of my sister!"  The hatred shows in his face and I forget his youth.  He’s beginning to look like his father.
"What Dusty done or didn't, ain't gonna matter now," Sara says, moving closer to me.
"Do you think he did it?" I ask her.  She doesn't answer, but the look on her face says it for her.  How could she even consider it?  She'd known Dusty even longer than she'd known me.  It was Dusty who introduced us. 
"My Pa caught him red handed," Davey says.  "And a Duncan's a Duncan."  His hand is almost clenched now and although his anger is evident, his resolve may be wavering.
I look Davey in the eye.  "Maybe your sister was doing somethin' she shouldn't,” I say.  “And if that weren't bad enough, she was doin' it with a Duncan."  I narrow my eyes and get ready to draw.
Davey goes for his gun, but it's barely out of his holster when I squeeze the trigger of my colt.  The bullet carries him backward as his gun fires harmlessly toward the ground. 
I put my gun back in its holster and walk over to Sara.  She has turned her head and is staring down at a hitching post but she hasn’t run away.  As I step up on the walkway she says, “How could you?  Dusty’s still dead.”
“I know,” I say.  “There ain’t no reasonin’ it.  Jus’ the way it is.”  I put my hand on her arm and she slowly looks up to me.  The sadness in her eyes penetrates deeper than any bullet I’ve ever taken and for a moment, I consider sweeping her up in my arms and riding out of town with her.  Our gazes lock for several seconds before we are jarred back to reality by a commotion behind us.
An older woman runs into the street.  "Davey!" she screams, and falls on the motionless body.  The sheriff and several deputies come around the corner of the feed store, Bill Shelton and his two other sons follow closely behind.  Instinctively, I push Sara into a doorway and turn to face them.   There's at least six or seven of them.  I don't like the odds.
"All right Jim, give it up.  Undo your gun belt," says Sheriff Tom Jessup.  “There’s been enough killin’ for one afternoon.”
“Yes Jimmy, give up.  If you really do love me, give it up, please!” 
Before anyone can say much of anything else, one of the Sheltons draws.  I respond and barely get my shot off before his.  I hear his bullet whiz by my head.  Everyone else draws almost
simultaneously, except Sheriff Tom. 
“No, hold your fire!” he yells at his deputies, but it’s too late, their guns are ready and cocked.  I fire a second shot, striking a deputy as his bullet rips into my left leg.
I spin around and fire at another deputy, hitting him in the side.  At the same time, I draw my other gun and fire at Sam Shelton, the Shelton’s oldest boy. 
I don’t have time to aim and my shot sails wide.  He ducks for cover as the bullet hits a post.
The sheriff  has finally drawn his gun but he’s yelling at the Shelton’s, trying to restore order.
The last deputy ducks behind a wagon and we exchange fire.
Bill Shelton yells back at Sheriff Tom, wildly waving his gun.
The deputy I shot in the side, fires back from where he lays in the street.  The bullet grazes my arm.
A second bullet strikes me in the gut and I take a step back.  Pain shoots through my body but I manage to stay standing.
I see one of the Shelton’s, Matt I think, run for a buggy by the edge of the crowd and I fire, shooting him clean through the back.
Sheriff Tom points his gun at me and screams, “For Christ’s sake, stop,” while Bill Shelton comes toward me in a rage.
I level both guns at him.  He's aiming at me as well.  Our stares meet.  Our hatred exchanges in the fury of our guns. 
I am hit twice more, but am too angry to fall, as I empty my guns to riddle his body.
Sheriff Tom fires several shots.
So does the deputy from behind the wagon.
And the one lying in the street.
My body is rocked and I fall back, hitting a post.  A few more bullets fly about and then silence.
I fall off the walkway and land on a hitching post, my stomach wraps neatly around it.  My spurs jingle as they begin to spin.  My hat falls to the ground.  I'm staring down at dirt and dust.  My mouth is dry.  I can see the guns still in my hands but I cannot lift them.  The jingle slowly fades away as a thick salty wetness fills my mouth.
I hear the sheriff and deputies mumbling something and Sara crying in the background, trying to get to me.  Poor Sara.  She’s the one purely innocent in all this.  Innocent of being a Duncan or a Shelton.  Innocent of reckless defiance or exploitation.  Innocent of everything, except loving me.  She tried to warn me.  Tried to save us both.  Who'll save her now?  Save her from this lonesome town?  It sure is dusty.  Dusty.

As the life drains from my body, I hear the applause.  It lasts for several seconds.  A hand on my shoulder tells me I can get up.  It's Sara, or rather, Lisa.
We take a bow as the announcer comes over the loud speaker.  "That concludes this afternoon’s show at Old Tucson movie studios.  We hope you enjoyed it.  There'll be another show this evening at six."
I retrieve my hat, and Lisa and I walk down the street acknowledging the waves from the crowd.  She doesn't say a word, but there's a slight, mischievous sort of smile on her face and she seems to be walking a little closer to me than usual.  As we near the edge of the crowd, she puts her arm in mine and we continue to walk.
The End
About the Author:
Michael Martin has lived in Tucson his entire life, running his own Tax Accounting Service for over twenty years.  With over a dozen short stories to his credit, Mike is also an avid poet and his poem, "Scorpion Dance" won first prize in Fiction Addiction Poetry contest a few years ago.

Thank you for reading and make sure to come back next week for more great fiction, poetry, and art!