“We are not lovers. We are not romantics. We are here to serve you.”
Feast for Small Pieces
by Hailey Piper
Never underestimate the seductive power of a woman who’s minding her own business.
“There’s just something about her,” they say. I see myself splashed across a pulp magazine cover, a distraught man in the background. The tagline reads, “He met a woman he Could. Not. Resist.” As if that’s my problem.
These writers don’t realize it’s me they’ve placed in their stories. I’d hoped to escape them when I left England, but their tide is unending. They scarce remember passing me on the street, only the fire I’ve lit in their minds, hearts, and other places. Later they sit with their notebooks or keyboards, tapping out the story of how a man’s peaceful life was shattered when he met me in some chance romance.
Sometimes I’m cast as a vampire. Other times I’m the half-human spawn of an elder god. I might be Eve. Never the same, but always me.
Half of these fictional sisters show no interest in men, while others drown in men’s wishes. She dressed that way that night knowing she’d rock his world. Her genetics must’ve known she’d meet him someday and grew her bones and flesh to suit him. We’re all so subtly loud in men’s eyes.
Feast on a true story.
I visit a grocer to buy tomatoes, plump ones. A man approaches. Were he to write about me, it would be my fault, but the pen is in my hand today. Whether I wear a hoodie two sizes too big with baggy jeans that hide my figure or a skirt that barely passes my waist, it does not matter. I am buying tomatoes.
“Hey, pretty lady. Doing anything tonight?” He shuffles behind me, impatient. “What, you have a boyfriend?”
It’s never the same. A compliment, an insult, requests for my name, marital status, smiles, evening plans, swept to sea on tides of apathy.
“If you’re single, why not go out with me?”
“Because I don’t want to.”
Here comes the outrage. Some don’t need to be spurned first. Even seeing a woman they like reminds them of their frailty, how their blood is dragged as the moon drags the tide. I don’t know them inside, but I’ve seen what comes out. I’m more fortunate than most. For the woman across the street, this is the moment he beats her or runs her down with his car, anything to destroy her.
His angry words breathe down my neck, all names I’ve heard before.
I turn, the first time I set eyes on him. “You will leave.”
A writer would have slunk away to jot me down as beldam or succubus. A painter might color me an untouchable mother. To a musician, a ballad would pretend we were lovers. They dream of joining me as I dream of leaving them. We live in a world where my fantasy is to buy groceries unmolested.
But this man is no creator. There is no art to him, only crude craving by the responsibility in his pants that I never knew was mine. He would destroy me.
I abandon my shopping today, tomatoes in their basket. “Follow,” I say. A stupid part of his brain might believe he’s going to get his way.
Killing him would be kind. He would die believing himself like those pulp heroes, a tragic figure who lays his fate at my feet. When they persist, I give them purpose. These men wish I was a vampire, a cosmic demon, a witch. They wish for a clean death.
My workshop is a wooden shed behind my cozy house. By the rustic shingles, sweet green grass, pleasant canary yellow paint, you could never tell what I do there. I keep it insulated, the walls soundproofed. It stinks with heavenly residue. No matter how many airings out I try through its open wooden double doors, the smell remains.
The persistent men never notice. I lead this one inside, where on a wooden workbench I keep my tools shaped from fallen stars, across from the four poster bed. It’s soft, comfortable; its guests will spend a great deal of time on it. I order him to strip and then lie down. He’s too eager to tear his clothing away and stretch across the crimson sheets.
That isn’t the only stripping I need.
Doors closed, I dig my fingers into the workshop wall and tear aside a curtain that blocks this world from the shining heaven few ever notice. In that place, flesh is scarce and sanctified. Even his. Its cosmic perfection pours into his body, makes him ready to be given purpose. My fingers begin the work.
“Lie still,” I tell him. His fearful eyes dart this way and that, but he won’t get up. It is enough to work with.
There are worthy causes everywhere you look. Here, a woman’s vertebrae rub together, causing her daily pain. There, another’s skin is missing after a house fire. Blood, hair, eyes, intestines, bones. When I’ve placed a persistent man in my workshop, I strip what he has, cleanse it in unearthly light, and use it to mend the hurt I see around me. His pieces live on in these healed women, aware. They are pieces put to better purpose than serving him.
A month passes. He is only bone and fragments of skin and muscle. Still aware, still staring from the bed. I need not tell him to lie still anymore; he has no choice. In my neighborhood, a girl falls from a tree and snaps her leg. It could heal with a fracture line, but I make it good as new. Another woman cannot move on after her mother’s untimely death. She doesn’t know, as I offer her coffee, that it’s laced with the strength to find purpose again. She thanks me for the coffee, not the gift from the persistent man.
Everything he was becomes forfeit, even his time, even his will. I waste nothing.
The work finished, I eat what little is left of him. It is only fair after he’s put me off supper for weeks. He lives briefly in my digestive track before those remnants, too, are stripped away, become me.
Eventually the women and girls he’s helped will grow new cells in their livers and skin, replacing his pieces. He’ll fade from the world little by little while the good he’s done persists.
Hand that fate to the pulp hero, to the writers, painters, musicians, let them blame me for finding that some men are greater as the division of their parts. I do not shatter lives. They shatter themselves against me, panes of glass thrown at an immovable rock, long weatherworn by rain, eroded slick by frothing waves.
And the tide is unending.
By Can Wiggins
The day MeeMee came to live with us wasn’t even day. She showed up after sundown. The caretaker had forgotten the evening bedcheck so my grandmother simply slipped out, as only she could – a sweet, acquiescent smile the last thing security saw before she slithered out the exit.
It was Halloween, the single most important and powerful day on MeeMee’s calendar, forget every kid’s calendar in every neighborhood ever.
We opened the door when we heard knuckles hitting the wood. We expected a child in a costume. We got a monster in a meat suit.
“Hey there! How are ya?” She laughed and laughed, her lower jaw almost touching her bony ribcage. She had the biggest teeth I’d seen outside of a stable.
She slithered in, dragging a bag that didn’t belong to her. “Taking my chances that something good’s inside.” She hollered like we were deaf.
Maybe we were. Maybe we had been deaf and blind to her and her horror show for so long we couldn’t hear or see it. But growing up, we didn’t think she was monstrous. We didn’t see a horror show.
MeeMee was wonderful. Beautiful. She could work magic. We loved that, even though Pop warned us repeatedly to not — absolutely not — under any circumstances — tell anyone she could do things. And by things, I mean magic.
When I say magic, I don’t mean abracadabra, here’s a flower in your hair. Here’s a quarter behind your ear. Here’s a rabbit under your chair. I mean, drop a piece of silver in stump water under the full moon if you want someone – or some thing – to do your bidding. Put a photo of your enemy in your shoe and walk on that face until you’ve ground that bastard to nothing.
We found out the hard way that when MeeMee didn’t like a friend, a sweetheart, an acquaintance – they went belly up. We didn’t notice because there was always something else waved in front of us that took our minds off the loss. When I say loss, I mean gone. And not even dead – just gone.
“If you get along with your family, you don’t need friends,” she insisted.
“The only family I don’t get along with is MeeMee,” Pop said. It was a joke but MeeMee didn’t have a sense of humour. The next day, he woke up with a migraine that turned into a stroke. No lasting damage, but he was careful with his jokes after that.
So, years stacked up and when she seemed old enough, frail enough, helpless enough – we stashed MeeMee in an assisted living facility.
Mistake. It caught fire that first night. Nobody died, the fire was contained and, because she helped others out, she was lauded by the powers that be. She told everyone she refused having her photo taken because she didn’t want the publicity.
“It’s because she doesn’t cast a reflection,” Mom said. That turned out to be the last coherent thing out of her for a month. I stewed in my room for those 30 days, scales dropping from my eyes along with tears of loss and rage, and started making my own plans.
So, when she showed up that night, it was a surprise but I was as ready as I ever would be. She didn’t suspect I had turned my hand to the family business. Yes. I’m the sorcerer’s apprentice she should’ve befriended.
But, being the baby of the brood and therefore of no consequence, nobody paid attention to me. This gave me worlds to walk between and I took that advantage.
Magic should be spread out so things can grow. Otherwise, you’re like a dragon in a fairy tale, keeping all the gold to yourself – which described MeeMee from her iron gray hair to the soles of her feet, which now sported fading faces from the past, a past that never came up in talks around the dinner table.
She grew malignant, bit by bloody bit, like a cancer. Or maybe she always flew wicked, and we hadn’t realized it because we were taught to love what was ours.
And it was love that strengthened my resolve. Love for people that were mine, people I bound myself to protect before she devoured them all like gingerbread.
When she slinked upstairs to visit my attic bedroom, there were witch jars – beautiful spun-glass prisons – and plenty of salt to keep her busy, grain by grain by grain. Not even MeeMee could fight that. And, like MeeMee taught us, sometimes you have to hug people you don’t like so you’ll know how big to dig the hole in your back yard.
When I bent down and embraced her, MeeMee screamed but nobody heard a thing.
The Shimmer of Trees
by Eric J. Guignard
There’s something to be said about immersing yourself into deep wilderness, to allow your soul to transcend its mortal confines and meld with ancient surrounds, to commune with the shadowed pockets of our nativity. There’s a relationship between spirituality and human health, an instinctive process that runs through nature, through the lichen and sequoias, the luminous violet, the tranquil toad, the soil, the stone, the seed.
It’s what I believed. What I still do, I suppose, though now tempered with fear, with despair, for there are things out there that cannot be explained. I say this not to frighten you (as I know I won’t be believed), but as fair warning. Confession, as well, why my Columbia gear has long gone to Goodwill, and my trusted alpine boots to the dump. Why I kick my feet up now in flip-flops or slippers in the central midst of choked suburban sprawl, far, far away from that wilderness I long ago considered bliss.
Looking at me now, it’s hard to imagine I was once hale and adventuresome, but so too does time twist us all to unrecognizable shapes. In my youth I was an Eagle Scout, later a Ranger in the army. When I was twenty-eight, I set out to hike Pacific Crest Trail alone one summer, a 2,600 mile route tracing some of the highest crests of the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, stretching all the way from the American border at Mexico northward to Canada’s brim.
I didn’t make it. I was lucky, in fact, to make it home at all. Two months into it, I was somewhere between Nebelhorn and Echo Lake. At 7,600 feet elevation, California’s granite ridgelines there are spectacular, blanketed in lavish folds of Douglas fir and black oak, groves so old, they’re said to be prehistoric. I’d just forded a craggy gulch, surrounded by the music of blackbirds in aspen. Suddenly, ahead, a red fox raced past, a curious phenomenon since the animals are nocturnal, and it was nearing noon. Next came sounds of crashing through underbrush as mule deer chased after it, then a wolverine, chipmunks, snakes, all escaping something off to my right.
I froze. Stared hard into the dark thickets of unmoving trees that had caused those animals to flee, trying to see: What was in there? Something incredible? Something dangerous? The blackbirds went silent. A tension filled the air, as if a current of galvanized wind plumed its breath upon the slope. The moment passed, yet still I stared… there was some-thing, I knew, something had happened, had appeared or changed around me… I felt such depth suddenly, unnaturally, and a substance…
And it may be in the mind, you’ll say, staring at any pattern long enough will cause the eyes to think it moves. There’s science behind that, especially for striped patterns; and what other pattern can the branches and trunks of so many trees form, but of stripes? It’s called “gamma oscillations”—a word I’ve heard a hundred times since—the repetition of intensely-striped shapes that triggers distortions in the brain. For I was staring into those trees, through them, searching for the source of such disruption that would panic wildlife, and I stared so long that those trees began to move.
In the blink of God’s eye, I saw them waver, saw them reform, overlapping each other in vision, like looking through shifting waves. They shimmered.
I was startled, but not terribly so, thinking it a mirage, like heat cascading off desert sands, or the glare from frozen snowbanks. The shimmers grew brighter, the trees around me coming into focus, then fading away, so that trees behind them became the focus, before the process reversed itself to bring back into clarity the nearest ones.
I slowly extended my arm to touch one—what hideous disaster would have befallen me, I dare not consider—but thankfully, I stopped short. The shimmer was spreading, encroaching nearer, flanking me at the sides, and then, only then, I saw in that blinking sheen, there were small creatures, no larger than beetles, but humanoid, tiny, scurrying about in incredibly fast motion up and down the trees, building them.
I cried out, “Hell!” and had the strangest impression that was exactly what I was witnessing… I leapt back, trying to understand. The new trees were materializing, gaps of space filled in with some oozy, tar-like residue the creatures vomited out, that replicated physical properties, while the real trees that had stood in their stead were dismantled, vanished, as if consumed by hideous appetite. The creatures, they were building a mirrored reflection of what I observed.
And, as with any mirror, the observer looks upon themselves.
Those creatures, tiny blurs of pale turquoise, molded a tar-like statue that became me, that turned its head to face me, that opened eyes that were of mine. Meanwhile the shimmer flowed, reaching for me, and I knew, doubtless, that should it touch me, I would be dismantled like the trees, and the duplicate take my place.
I bolted, but the trail was blocked! New trees had spread across the way, the shimmer of their inception already fading. I turned and sprinted away, into the forest opposite, bounding deep through thickets and sedge. At the last, I’d caught view of my replica reaching for me, opening its mouth to mimic my shrieks, while pushing, pushing to get through the shimmer.
I tripped over the tangled roots of manzanita, sprawled, leapt up, dashed again, downslope, through the woods, and I ran and ran, and only then while running, wondering… how much had such a mirrored reality spread already? I could be rushing further into it, rather than away; and the animals I’d seen taking flight… were they of biological form fleeing dis-assembly, or were they already of the tar and spreading out into our world?
And even now, years after I escaped that horror of the wilds, I ponder such things, of the dreams and riddles of life, as to what is “natural,” and what is not, and what has come before us, and what shall yet befall… and in the course of those years since, of time, to wonder if it is my imagination, or have the striped patterns of rising buildings, of modular furniture, of books, of roads, of clouds—or that reflection gazing carefully back from the mirror—ever begun to shimmer?
The Incident In Exeter
By Anthony Oliveira
Sint mihi dei Acherontis propitii! Valeat numen triplex Jehovoe!
Ignei, aerii, aquatani spiritus, salvete! Orientis princeps
Belzebub, inferni ardentis monarcha, et Demogorgon, propitiamus
vos, ut appareat et surgat Mephistophilis, quod tumeraris:
perJehovam, Gehennam, et consecratam aquam quam nunc spargo
signumque crucis quod nunc facio, et per vota nostra, ipse nunc
surgat nobis dicatus Mephistophilis!
At first no one screamed.
It took Ned a moment to notice anything was wrong at all. His mind was instead on his recitation (Ned’s schoolboy Latin had never been good even without Marlowe’s plundered occultisms), and on not letting the dancers emerging through the stage trapdoor accidentally set his long robe ablaze with their squibs. Ned had been preoccupied, in rehearsal and now performance, in thought and now by a strange figure he kept half-glimpsing in the crowd – a face he had seen in every crowd since Dulwich. Ned’s mind was on the letter.
Christopher Marlowe was dead.
They had not parted on the best of terms. Few people had with Marlowe. The man was intemperate and of a cruel heart, but he had been a passionate friend to Ned-and occasionally, in the fumbled dark of the tiring house, almost and rather a little more. Ned had owed him better. A dart of steel through the eye in a dark portside tavern-the world had owed him better. Marlowe had with his genius made Ned a star: The Jew of Malta, Tamburlaine, and once again, in today’s dismal flea-bitten courtyard, Doctor Faustus.
Once Ned had played to dukes and princes; the back of Spain broken by the sunken armada, London had been swollen by empire and enterprise into bustling ports, teeming markets, congested streets, and packed playhouses. But in 1592, these bloated vesicles finally fruited and burst. Now the plague was in bloom.
Amidst a season of contagion, by order of the retreating queen, the theatres and their congregation of unwholesome vapours were shuttered. As their wagon had left through Cripplegate, Ned’s last view had been a hollowed and haunted mausoleum: boats quarantined in the distant quays, boarded halls with only servants left to stir the dust inside, the city’s remainders resigned to choking tenements and febrile debtor’s prisons. Lone fugitive figures, clutching rags to their face, darting through deserted and debris-strewn alleys as fog rolled somnolently off the Thames.
Since then, the company-a patch of the more desperate among the Lord Strange and Admiral’s Men, without comfortable cottages to retire to in Stratford or Oxford, diddling doggerel or working fathers’ farms-had wound their way through York, Chester, Shrewsbury, and Bristol, finally arriving in this muddy innyard, far from the Rose and Curtain. As they assembled their makeshift plank-stage, the company’s five dancers had whined about the damp ruining their firecrackers, but they now popped, hissed and shrieked to the at least sufficient delight of the skeptical crowd below.
But gradually, as Ned intoned the speech of summoning, he felt a shiver of uncertainty shudder and stumble through the five firework demons, their still-sparking squibs slipping off the stage to sputter in the piss-puddles below. Looking out at the groundlings, in the faces of farmers and shopkeeps peering up from the mud, Ned watched terror dawn like a red rolling sun. One, two, three, four, five. Six.
There was one devil too many.
About the Authors
Anthony Oliveira is a National Magazine, Reads Rainbow, and GLAAD award-winning author, film programmer, pop culture critic, and PhD living in Toronto. His first novel, Dayspring, is forthcoming from Strange Light Press in 2023. He can be found on Twitter at @meakoopa, where he tweets about the arts, politics, and LGBT culture, or on his podcast, The Devil’s Party, as he reads through the classics of Christian literature through a queer scholarly lens.
Hailey Piper is the author of The Worm and His Kings, Queen of Teeth, Benny Rose the Cannibal King, and her short story collection Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy. She is an active member of the Horror Writers Association, with over sixty short stories appearing in Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, The Arcanist, Dark Matter Magazine, and elsewhere. She lives with her wife in Maryland, where their paranormal research is classified.
Can Wiggins is found where the woodbine twineth. While her sweet spot is called Southern Gothic, she also likes serving a combo platter of horror/SF with two sides — usually noir and spec. Particular to Grimmer Fairy Tales and mythos, she is a dedicated cinephile and reads a lot. Her stories can be found in Planet X Publications, Oxygen Man Books, and upcoming pubs she can’t talk about at this time. Soon, darling. Soon. And thank you.
Eric J. Guignard is a writer and editor of dark and speculative fiction, operating from the shadowy outskirts of Los Angeles, where he also runs the small press Dark Moon Books. He’s twice won the Bram Stoker Award (the highest literary award of horror fiction), been a finalist for the International Thriller Writers Award, and is a multi-nominee of the Pushcart Prize.
He has over 100 stories and non-fiction author credits appearing in publications around the world; has edited multiple anthologies (including the current series, The Horror Writers Association’s Haunted Library of Horror Classics with co-editor Leslie S. Klinger); and has created an ongoing series of author primers championing modern masters of the dark and macabre, Exploring Dark Short Fiction.
His latest books are Last Case at a Baggage Auction; Doorways to the Deadeye; and short story collection That Which Grows Wild: 16 Tales of Dark Fiction (Cemetery Dance).
Outside the glamorous and jet-setting world of indie fiction, Eric’s a technical writer and college professor, and he stumbles home each day to a wife, children, dogs, and a terrarium filled with mischievous beetles.
About the Narrators
Kitty Sarkozy is a speculative fiction writer, actor and robot girlfriend. Kitty is an alumnus of Superstars Writing Seminar , a member of the Apex Writers Group, and the Horror Writer’s Association. Several large cats allow her to live with them in Marietta GA, She enjoys tending the extensive gardens, where she hides the bodies. For a list of her publications, acting credits or to engage her services on your next project go to kittysarkozy.com.
Dave Robison is an avid Literary and Sonic Alchemist who pursues a wide range of creative explorations. A Brainstormer, Keeper of the Buttery Man-Voice (patent pending), Pattern Seeker, Dream Weaver, and Eternal Optimist, Dave’s efforts to boost the awesomeness of the world can be found at The Roundtable Podcast, the Vex Mosaic e-zine, and through his creative studio, Wonderthing Studios. Dave is the creator of ARCHIVOS, an online story development and presentation app, as well as the curator of the Palaethos Patreon feed where he explores a fantasy mega-city one street at a time.
Brian Lieberman is an associate editor of Pseudopod. By day, he’s a mild-mannered developer at OBO Agency. By night, he fights the forces of evil with his friends across the multiverse. He lives in Columbia, Maryland with his wife and a time lord regenerated as a fluffy corgi.
Victoria Winnick is a writer, editor, and chef, living in Calgary, Alberta. She’s been an Associate Editor with Pseudopod since the aughts, has written educational books for children, and her magazine writing has covered everything from the ins and outs (so to speak) of the adult film industry to jumping fences with punk bands. You can hear her own contributions to the podcast on episodes 467 and 532, and if you’re a fan of roleplaying games or compassionate anarchy, you can follow her blog at lady-luminoth.tumblr.com.