From the Desk of the Editor;
Hello and welcome to Larks Fiction Magazine! In today's issue we are traveling into the world of dreams to discover what thrives in the darkness of the human mind.
In news the bank is moving toward closing on our deal! This means soon we will be in our own space.
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Daniel J. Pool
Trapped in a dream
By Charles Bernard
September 1999 was a dream come true month
A journey to freedom has been perfected
Excitement brewed on my chubby face as
The dusty wind of sahara blew against my plumpy cheeks
Behind me stood my father ‘the pride of my very being’
The heights of academic excellence i climbed
Far from home in the land of the unknown
A peaceful world i build around me ‘friends and foes’
11 years on each step i quietly climbed with ease
Through all i dreamt at the very peak of my dawn
A snore away from the cock crow
Faces of smiles turned to faces of worry
The sounds of playing kids suddenly extinct
Suspended breakfasts as anxiety cripped into homes
Hope hang in balance and faith lay in ruin
The rain washed the blood of loved ones down drainages
Around me scary scenes played , beautiful dream turned sour
I am trapped between living and believing
My dreams and my reality
by D. Robert Grixti
He hadn't meant to, but Jack Livings had found himself browsing the dimly lit shop, poring over dusty junk that he didn't think he'd consider buying in a million years.
He really hadn't counted on stopping by the little store but he'd been driving all day and, confident that he would get to the interstate in time for the big conference, he'd pulled over beside it anyway, suddenly taken by the strange desire to see what was sold within.
The Sanguine Exchange, the faded sign above the shopfront had read. It was an odd name for a store of any kind, thought Jack, but somehow it seemed apt for the run down, almost deserted looking little shop that had seemingly sprung up out of nowhere on the side of the highway.
It had struck Jack as weird that such a place existed out in the middle of nowhere, and it didn't surprise him that his was the only car parked in the sunbaked car park. He had only intended to stop for a few minutes, to check out the merchandise on display, but he found the large, dusty window display completely empty, except for a termite-eaten mannequin, beckoning him with an outreaching hand. In spite of himself, he approached, and then he noticed a yellowing sheet of paper taped to its wooden chest:
Welcome, friend. Please feel free to enter.
And so, Jack had suddenly felt the bizarre, urgent desire to enter, and here he was now, browsing the meagre selection of ancient, dusty objects and antique furniture that was scattered about inside. The proprietor, a pale skinned man who looked like the walking dead, watched him eagerly as he went.
“I know just what you're after,” the proprietor said, motioning towards a small wooden box stuffed haphazardly on a shelf in the back.
“Uh, I'm not really looking to buy anything today,” Jack said, shaking his head. “I just wanted to browse.”
“Please, Mr Livings, I'm sure you'll want to take a look at this,” the proprietor said, gripping Jack's arm in a bony hand that felt more like a talon and leading him across the room. “Nobody has ever left my store without finding something they absolutely have to own, and I won't take no for an answer.”
It occurred to Jack that the proprietor somehow knew his name even though he hadn't mentioned it up to this point, but there was something about the old man's face that was so entrancing that it didn't seem to matter. Jack couldn't help staring at his eyes, faded blue ones that had lost their vibrancy decades ago and before he knew it, the tiny box was sitting in the palm of his hand, and the proprietor was staring back at him, giving him a wide, welcoming smile.
“Well, go ahead and open it, Mr Livings,” he prompted, tapping the lid with a skeletal finger. “I guarantee you'll like it.”
Well, the man certainly knows how to drive a sale, Jack thought, flicking the brass catch on the front of the box and opening the lid.
Inside the box was a shard of glass. It was jagged and cracked and it seemed to Jack to be a piece of a mirror, even though it was blanketed in a layer of dust so thick that it only reflected hazy outlines and shadows.
“Do you like it, Mr Livings?” the proprietor asked kindly. “It's yours for forty dollars.”
Forty bucks, Jack thought, shaking his head. The man was obviously senile - the thing didn't even reflect anything anymore.
“Uh, I don't really think I-“ Jack stammered, fumbling for the lid, still unable to look away from the old man's face. “I mean, the dust…”
“The dust?” the proprietor said, taking the small box and raising it to his eye. “What dust? I don't see any dust. Maybe you should take another look.”
He handed the box back to Jack and smiled. Jack opened his mouth, to begin telling the man that the thing was in fact covered with dust, but then he caught sight of those old, ghostly eyes again, and he somehow felt like he had to check to make sure first.
He flipped the brass catch again and opened the lid once more. This time the shard was clean. The surface of the glass, that (he thought) had been cracked and covered in dust only seconds ago was now smooth and polished, and when he picked it up in his fingers and carefully brought it to eye level for closer inspection, he saw his face reflected in it perfectly.
“Wow,” he said, astonished. “What did you do? It's- Ouch!”
He felt a piercing pain shoot through the bridge of his nose, and he dropped the shard back into the box. He rubbed the tip of his nose with his finger and felt something wet.
“Are you okay, Mr Livings?” the proprietor asked, frowning in what appeared to be concern.
“It's fine,” Jack said, pinching his nostrils together with his fingers. “It's just a nosebleed, but I don't know how it's-”
“Ah, don't worry. Here, I have a handkerchief you can use,” the old man interrupted, pressing a handkerchief that looked as if it had not been unfolded in centuries into his hand, exchanging it for the box with the shard, which he promptly shut and returned to the shelf.
“All better now?” he asked when he was facing Jack again.
“Yes, it's stopped now. Thanks,” Jack replied, folding up the bloody handkerchief and handing it to the proprietor.
The old man smiled kindly and shook his head.
“You keep it, Mr Livings. You might need it.”
Jack nodded in thanks and made to put the handkerchief into his pocket. As he turned, he caught a glimpse of the old man's strange eyes once again: this time, they were a deep, piercing blue, vibrant and youthful once more.
“Obviously the shard isn't for you,” the old man said, taking Jack's arm in his talon-like hand once more and escorting him to the front of the store. “Never mind, though. That wasn't the only trinket I have tucked away in this old store of mine.”
“What did you do back there?” Jack asked, scratching his nose again, where he felt the slight tingling sensation of another nosebleed coming on. “One minute it was all old and dusty, and the next-”
“It was shiny and new again, wasn't it?” the old man said, chuckling as if at some sinister inside joke. “Yes, that's what it does. Everyone who stops in always finds it most fascinating, you know?”
“But what is it?” Jack asked, his bleeding nose wrapped in the handkerchief again.
“It's exactly what it seems to be,” the proprietor said. “It is a mirror. And as for what it does… It does just what mirrors are meant to do. It reflects. In fact, I think it reflects just a bit too well, which, alas, is why its creator took to smashing it.”
He paused dramatically to let the meaning of his words sink in, and, as he pondered over what he had just heard, Jack felt for the tiniest second the slightest hint of foreboding.
Jack saw the proprietor's eyes drift to the small doorway that led to the dusty storage room. He followed the old man's gaze and, in the shadows, he could make out the silhouette of a large floor mirror. The sun chose this convenient moment to emerge for from behind a cloud and a ray of light illuminated the glass frame just long enough for Jack to get the vaguest glimpse of what it reflected: Jack's own face, with dead eyes and the gray, leathery skin of a week old corpse.
“What is it that seems to be the matter, Mr Livings?” the old man asked kindly, noticing Jack's stunned expression out of the corner of his eye.
“It was- I- the mirror,” Jack spluttered, trying to regain control of his own mind. An intelligible voice seemed to chatter somewhere inside his head, urging him to leave the weird little store, reminding him forcefully that he had places he needed to be, but no sooner had he tuned into it before he found himself entranced by those commanding eyes again.
“Of course, I told you nobody leaves my store empty handed, did I not?” the proprietor said, smiling mischievously. “In fact, I think I have the very thing for you. I'm assuming by the fact that fate has brought you past my little den today on the edge of an otherwise deserted highway, you're away from home on a road trip of some kind, aren't you Jack?”
He leaned in over the dirty counter as he said his words, inching his weathered face closer to Jack's, and suddenly, his tone went cold and sinister.
“You're all alone and a very long way from home, my friend.”
His eyes gleamed hungrily, like sparkling blue flames. Their terrible gaze lingered on Jack's stony face, and Jack didn't seem to care that the old man was edging ever closer to him. He didn't notice that the proprietor's cracked lips were beginning to part to reveal bloody, bestial teeth behind, and then-
“Ouch!” he said, another bout of pain tearing through his nose and forcing him to look away. When it passed and he looked back again, the proprietor had pulled away, and was smiling happily from behind the counter once more.
And now, Jack remembered suddenly, it really was time to leave. The incomprehensible voice inside his head was back, yelling at him as loud as it could.
This place isn't right!
“Look, I probably should get back on the road,” Jack said to the proprietor. He meant it too; the nosebleeds were starting to make him feel queasy. “I have to be in the city by tomorrow morning, and I told my daughter I'd be back home in time for her birthday, as well.”
“Of course,” said the proprietor kindly. “I was merely going to suggest you take home a souvenir for your little girl. A birthday present from the interstate.”
He fumbled under the counter, still not letting Jack out of his sight, and then he reached out and pressed something cold and sharp into Jack's left hand. He wasn't going to let his customer leave without making a sale.
Jack sighed and looked down at the object sitting on his palm. It was an uncut ruby, obviously worth a bit, because it glowed a deep, vibrant red even in the shadow of the store's interior.
“The local export,” the proprietor announced. “There used to be a gem mine around here years ago. Not very far from this shop, if you'll believe it. I used to make a roaring trade in those stones, at least until some of the miners died in an unfortunate accident decades ago and the operation was shut down for good.”
“And this is one of the last gems they mined, right?” Jack asked, turning the stone around in his fingers absentmindedly.
“The very last,” the proprietor replied. “In that way, it's a very special stone indeed. It's also very special because it's impure, cheap, which is why I was never able to sell it. But it'd make an excellent gift for a young girl's birthday, don't you think?”
If the ruby was low quality, it didn't look it to Jack. It was one of the biggest, realest looking gemstones he'd seen, and if the unnoticeable fact that it wasn't pure made it cheap…
His daughter certainly wouldn't care, that was for sure.
“A bargain. Twenty dollars, and the deal, as they say, is done,” the old man declared with a flourish.
Jack retrieved his wallet and placed a twenty dollar note down on the counter.
“Thank you, mister Livings,” the proprietor said, opening the ancient cash register beside him to put the money away. “The little girl won't forget this birthday, I guarantee it. She'll be having quite the surprise indeed.”
He stared into Jack's face one last time, and laughed. He didn't look like the walking dead anymore. Now his skin was illuminated in the sunlight that billowed in through the window at the front of the store, and - healthy and filled with colour after all - it wasn't pale and ghostly any longer.
“You're looking a bit pale, Jack,” he said, pointing towards a looking glass behind the counter, where Jack's gaunt face languished, suddenly pasty and dry. “Maybe you should see somebody about those nosebleeds? In either case, I think you should be on your way now. You have to be in the city by tomorrow, remember?”
“That's right,” Jack said in a slur, before clasping the handkerchief to his nose.
“You really do look like you're getting a bit ill,” the old man commented softly. “Get yourself out of the dust and into the fresh air before you faint, my good friend.”
He pointed forcefully to the door and waved goodbye with his right hand. The carved oak door that served as the entrance swung open of its own accord and, seemingly on their own, Jack Livings' legs carried him out of the store and back to his car, which was waiting where he left it outside.
Jack climbed into his car and wiped the last dregs of blood from his nose. He folded up the proprietor's handkerchief again (it was now nearly entirely soaked in crimson) and shoved it into the glove compartment, before reaching for his keys and inserting them into the ignition.
What a strange store, he thought, taking one last glance at The Sanguine Exchange as he pulled out of the car park onto the deserted highway. The store still looked as strange and out of place as it did when he first arrived. Except now, the sight of it stirred something inside him, and filled him with some unexplainable feeling that something was very wrong. The tattered mannequin still stared at him from the window as he drove away, except now its hand was no longer beckoning and the yellowing note, if he had still been close enough to read it, now said:
Thank you. DON'T come again.
Inside the store, deep within the silent storage room, the strange old man pondered the reflection of the dead man in the mirror before him, and smiled a wry smile.
* * *
MAN FOUND DEAD ON FREEWAY
Clement Cove Courier, December 2nd
The body of an elderly man was found this afternoon by a family of holiday makers, on the Western Freeway, 12km from Black River, a close by mining community.
The deceased, identified as Mr Jack Livings, was found slumped at the wheel of his car, which had pulled over at the side of the road. The state coroner reported that Mr Livings had apparently been dead for just over 48 hours. The cause of death appears to have been a brain haemorrhage. The deceased's face was covered in blood. Mr Livings was found clutching a blood soaked pebble. The significance of this remains unknown.
Police say that Mr Livings seems to have died of natural causes and have ruled out foul play. Mr Livings is survived by a wife and two children.
About the Author;
D. Robert Grixti is a writer and indie video game developer hailing from Melboure, Australia. His major influences include John Wyndham, Robert J Sawyer and Lovecraft.
His work has been published in Imagine Literary Journal (the literary journal of Deakin University in Australia), Crossfire Magazine, Danse Macabre, The WiFiles, Linguistic Erosion, Black Petals, Static Movement, Eunoia Review and more.
His first novel, Sun Bleached Winter, is to be released in December of this 2012 from Damnation Books, in digital and paperback formats, and he has a novelette entitled Fragments of Sunrise that is to be released as an e-short by Disposable Fiction.
You can follow Grixti on Twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/DRobertGrixti and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dark-Gaia-Studios/365139189465
Thank you for reading and make sure to come back next week for more great fiction. Also make sure to see our expansive collection of past issues.