Souls, Angels, Devils, God, and gods. Certain tales are best understood through the lens of religion.
Murderers have a special planet they go to when they die. Kepler 22b. Oh yes. Attorneys who represent them don't know that. Well, no one really knows that.
I know all about it now. I was accused of murdering Harrison Reed, Esquire. The train thundered toward him, its sharp light pinning him like a spear. He stood in the center of the tracks facing it, not moving. Defiant. Impotent. The night seemed to laugh around him.
He opened his arms to greet the onrushing locomotive, waiting for its juggernaut embrace. In its glowing headlight he saw a glimmer of what humans called Heaven. "So it's like this, Beth..." God stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray and leaned across the bar, close enough for me to smell his cheap cologne. "I'm not omnipotent."
"But you're God." I took a swig of my beer. "The all-knowing." The Devil and The Blues
Met the devil one day, drinking coffee at my favorite breakfast cafe. Devil was looking at me while I was reading my paper. The man shuffled in around closing time before I had a chance to bolt the door or turn off the sign. A dark blue suit drooped from his drawn frame, and his black shoes reflected the dim floor lights. Neither suit nor shoe had been in style since the mid-seventies.
I nodded hello and wiped down a spot for him at the bar with my lucky rag. "What'll it be?" It was 2 a.m., a time of day so thin that nothing seemed real, but the tubes cycling in and out of my husband like external blood vessels, his monitors' rhythmic beeps of electronic pulses, the ventilator's hiss and sigh, all kept pulling me back to a reality I didn't want to accept. The doctors had told me Robert was "actively dying." Actively dying? What did that mean? Pale, emaciated, and immobile, Robert's coma seemed the antithesis of any action.
His parents and sister hadn't yet arrived; unable to resign from their jobs as I had mine, they'd given up their constant vigil months ago, so by the bed I sat alone with my husband of twenty years. My continual presence and loving attention hadn't been enough to bring him back to life, to actively living. The man, sitting at the desk, thinks he is alone. His head is bowed and his fingers touch the edge of a grainy photograph. All day he radiates youth and energy, but here he lets himself feel the pain that gnaws at his bones. Weariness shows in the slump of his shoulders, in the sag of his chin. War, pain, grief--all these things have bowed him, but never broken him. He is not the kind of man we can touch.
But now we have our chance. His finger taps what looks like cigars laid upon the ground, if Cuban cigars can be twenty feet long. I taste despair. It rolls across my tongue like a fine brandy; I savor it before I speak. "I can make that go away." Begin with water.
Cup it in your hands. You can feel its utter lack of character. It has no texture; it has no resistance. It is substance, and yet it is emptiness. It possesses nothing of its own. It cannot give; it can only borrow. At the first chill of winter in Delphi, Aristonike's husband was struck with fever and died. Aristonike washed his gnarled body with her calloused hands and placed one of their few coins in his mouth. Her two boys and their wives helped with careful piety, while her grandchildren squawked and squalled.
With the funeral done and quiet restored, Aristonike was confirmed in her decision: she would not live with either of her boys' families. Her sons' wives were pleasant, but that would change if she stuck her nose into it. She'd be bound to tell those proud girls to dirty their hands and milk their own goats, for starters. No, she would go someplace where she wouldn't cause trouble. Amraphel curled his already hunched body atop the chest of the first sleeper Dream had assigned him that night, her location plucked from the parchment he had been given long ago which remained blank until the dreamer was nearly ready. As the woman snored, her torso bucking irregularly, he rode spasmodically up and down in the darkness, cursing his luck.
He already resented the humans upon which he preyed, but he hated even more the members of that species who snored. They distracted him as he worked, and degraded what was meant to be a noble and uplifting process. Each unconscious snort, each jerk of the woman's head as she struggled to breathe, only served to deepen his pain, underlining the unfairness that humans, so roughly hewn, so clumsily conceived, could do what he could not, reminding him that while it was in their nature to easily tap into the divine, he could only--as a function of his centuries-long apprenticeship--borrow it, but never own it. I've never liked this airport. The endless corridors of white on white remind me of a hospital, but this is the only place I can talk to Stewart after the heart attack. He's not always here, but I come every day to look for him.
Today he's sitting in his favorite spot in the departure gate, a corner seat connected to a low table. I tried sitting on the table once, but we can't talk unless I sit on his right, where I was for the trip to Hawaii. I didn't recognize the guy, but I let him in. He felt familiar; the name would come to me in a bit. Probably a historical reenactor. The height and beard made him a perfect fit for the Viking encampment.
The eye patch was overdoing it. But who am I to judge? There are a million of them, flicking between worlds faster than grasshoppers, the whine of their wings cicada summers, white scythes sighing.
I caught one, once. Or it caught me. Death's dead lover sits opposite him, his chest still, his flesh a mirage.
Jerome is naked, as spirits are, and he seems so real Death imagines if he reached out he could stroke the dark satin skin, the rough-hewn muscle underneath. But were he to reach out, his hand would simply melt through air longing to be human, so he doesn't. You pieced it together decades ago; so far back that you don't remember not knowing. The way it works is this: you see the pain in people's hearts, the way somebody else might notice a rend in fabric or a run in a pair of stockings. And just like one might repair and reweave damaged cloth, you repair the pain, by removing it and connecting the threads of life that surround the damage.
But there are rules. They have to be willing. Some people are so attached to their pain that they cling to it and can't let go. The pain is all they have, and if you were to remove it there would be nothing left. You can't help those. I first picked up soul weaving at summer camp, when I was 13. At most camps, kids made friendship bracelets and lanyards. At Camp Anima, we made sprites, small ephemeral creatures that flitted overhead for a few minutes before sparkling away into the nether. My last year at camp, I won an award for the longest-lasting sprite of the week, a purple dragonfly that followed me to lunch. It lasted ten minutes, almost a camp record.
I remember that I asked Ms. Linda, the soul-weaving counselor, where they got the souls piled in the baskets on her craft cabin's shelves. She smiled, twinkled her eyes, and said they were collected from the rosebushes in headmistress' garden. They gathered around the blooming flowers, and the headmistress vacuumed them up for camp projects. I think I giggled. Jake called from Heaven again. When the phone started ringing, I glanced at the call display. As usual I didn't recognize the number. It's always different, and not always an actual number as such. This time it had a lower-case lambda in it. 212-3-λ-something or other.
So I didn't answer the phone. I just let it go to voicemail. If it's important, I told myself, they'll leave a message. The suicide witch crushes glass in her leather gloves. Shards crumble like crackers over soup, filling her metal bucket. The witch's fingers squeak together in the damp cellar air. Glitter escapes over the worktable's edge, like white stars vanishing in the low torchlight. A peasant girl lies dead on a funeral board, her dress nailed to the wood in thirteen places.
The witch's name is Yim, but none call her that. She lives under the noble house of Jiang in the province of Kung-lao, in a cellar with puddles like rice paddies. In the summer, fat flies buzz around her face until she swats them down. In the winter, her knees ache, and she coughs in the dampness as if she were an old hag. But Yim's ragged hair is black without silver, and her face shows no lines. She can still see in the dark. Daniel Corder--Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland--regarded the senior Civil Servant standing before him with something like astonishment.
"Are you suggesting what I think you're suggesting?" The heavy church door swung open and a bald-headed Monk peered out. "Jesus won't see anyone until after dark. You'll have to come back later."
"Wait," Nick grabbed the door. "I'm a reporter. I called earlier--" The monk scowled and looked Nick up and down. Nick let go of the door. "Four hundred and five in the Year of Our Tyrant. Fabulous year, yours. Very rare."
Gunmetal stare warms to blue. "Very exquisite." When they came for her father, he hugged her tight and whispered into her ear, "Never forget your daddy loves you." Even as they tore her from his arms, she promised with all the earnestness a child of seven can muster that she would never, ever forget.
And she didn't, even when they handed her over to a stony-faced woman who told her to forget her father, then smacked her face until her mouth bled when she balked at this new name she couldn't even pronounce. In the orphanage to which that woman delivered her, she comforted herself with memories of his love when the staff took glee in pointing her out as a criminal's get so all the children would taunt her and nobody would ever dare break ranks and be her friend, lest they too be contaminated. Mary Shelton steps into the kitchen of her efficiency apartment on Christmas morning and quietly fixes a small pot of coffee. Long ago divorced, with no children and no family living close by, Mary is prepared for a solitary Christmas day. While the coffee pot burbles and drips, she turns on the television for some company.
A reporter speaks excitedly. "...a phenomenon that cannot be accounted for. I repeat, this is not a hoax. Police stations across America began receiving calls in the early hours today, when individuals across the country phoned to report the break-ins. Police Chief Richard Burley is here with me at the station." "We'd bring the Christmas tree in the night before," Gramma said as the children and adults alike gathered for dinner. She loved filling every nook and corner of her farmhouse with tales from the years past and traditions forgotten by most. "But the preparations would have started already the spring before."
My cousins and I giggled as we passed the wooden bowls around. The sweet steam of the rice porridge made us all salivate. I treasured each milk-swollen, butter-coated grain on my tongue as if it were a pearl. Things you were supposed to believe in, but you didn't really until He told you for certain:
Heaven. "Here's a good one," Kali said. The left corner of her mouth was curved up like a dog-eared page: her trickster smile. In her hand was a crumpled parchment with ancient letters scrawled messily across it. "'Please strike down this impious philosopher with your mighty lightning.' Unsigned."
Horatio moved beside her and tried to stare over her shoulder. "Addressed to whom?" It begins the same as always, with the sound of the shovel scraping over the country road. I sit upon the dashboard of the idling car--being a turtle, it's the only way I can see--watching as the old woman lifts her shovel, carrying the mangled carcass of a squirrel.
She opens the rear door and places the squirrel into a shoebox on the back seat. The smell is not pleasant, but I say nothing. She seals the lid. The piece of amber that held the inclusion--the fragment of shed snakeskin--had arrived in a load from Iraq, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. There were also twelve pieces that had leaves and tiny bits of bark--a fruit tree, it would turn out. When the material was isolated, removed, and its DNA analyzed, the company--one of the "species resurrection" companies providing collectors, museums and wealthy consumers with product--knew it had both a non-venomous snake of a new genus and a fruit-bearing tree in the ficus genus. When the techs had made their report, a young man in Marketing suggested that they package the two as the "Eden Pair." The amber, after all, was from one of the three locations that might, scholars believed, have been the location of the mythic Garden of Eden. "A snake and a tree," his boss responded. "Why not?"
The tech responsible for DNA scanning noticed anomalies, but had seen such things before. Like leglessness in some lizards, it wasn't a red flag. What mattered to the company was that it wasn't venomous and that it couldn't breed with living species. If the buyer wanted more, the company would clone them. Zaphira spoke to God. It wasn't that she had been taught to, or that she was at a loss for conversation partners. It was mainly that no one else was interested in talking metaphysics with a four year old. The other children at daycare would stare blankly, and if she became too insistent Miss Carnegie sent her to Quiet Corner. Which was where she was now.
She rocked forward on the Quiet Corner carpet until her forehead bumped against the dust-colored wall. She closed her eyes and pressed her fingers against the lids creating bursts of color that matched the rhythm of the bumping. I notice the scars on her back. I wasn't born yesterday. She's a made-over angel. Wasn't meant to be, maybe, or maybe she fucked up somehow. She slumps over the gleaming bar like she doesn't want to be disturbed, but I can't stop my feet from trudging over, leaving traces of soot.
She doesn't look up. Don't think she sees me, though the fluorescence casts my shadow over her clutched hands on the alabaster countertop. Alexandre found Samson exactly where the card said. The card hadn't mentioned the gun or the explosives or the twenty-
seven ashen-faced hostages, but he could work with that. Right after my PhD, I took a job at Omni-book. You remember? That search-engine. Had this algorithm that could take you where you wanted with just one search term.
No? I Suppose that makes sense. It's somebody's birthday. Streamers tangled in the chain-link fence--a spotted pit bull with a party hat strapped to his flap-grinned face. So I know it's somebody's birthday, and soon I'll remember whose. Soon I'll remember arriving here or who is going to take me home.
I close my eyes and there are countless unknowable faces behind my eyelids and they want to touch me, want to know, like there's something they could steal from just underneath my skin-- When Satan comes out of Whole Foods, dressed as an old lady, He finds his car surrounded by other shoppers. Inside His bichon is yapping like mad and pawing the windows.
"You should be ashamed," a woman in yoga pants says, "leaving your dog in there with the windows closed." "You seem to have brought one heck of a sword here. Four and a half feet long, black steel blade. Can you tell me what you know about it?"
"Well, my grandfather was the treasurer for one of the dark lords, over in the Southlands. And, you know how it is. Sometimes he'd bring home little things that wouldn't be missed--caught up with him in the end. Liver eaten out by demons on a rock in hell, or something like that. We send him a card at the holidays, but I don't know if he reads it. Anyhow, this was one of the things that he brought back. We used to love it as kids--used it to cut pumpkins in half, and we'd chase each other around with it." Stalker feels the leers of wall-leaning pool-players slide along her spandex dress--she's worth gazes, even though she gilds her hair to hide sneaking gray.
You understand that the aforementioned Body is designed for no more than seventy (70) years of operation, and that attempts to employ said Body for any period beyond the aforementioned duration carries no guarantee that it will function in any capacity. You understand further that We have no control over the actions of other vendors, and that consequently the Body selected for your use may be subject to the actions of other models not within Our control, including infection, infestation, deformation, and decomposition before the expiration of the design period. The man in the black fedora closes his eyes briefly, then turns to face the demon behind him. He holds his arms out from his sides and tilts his head back, offering himself, his face peaceful, or perhaps resigned.
The man waits patiently for what seems an eternity, arms outstretched, until the demon finally rushes forth with a roar and rakes its claw across the man's throat. The smell of blood enrages the beast further and it slashes again, this time slicing through the man's clothing and across his chest. The man falls to his knees, gurgling as he tries to breathe, but still he keeps his face turned up towards the demon. It started with a thumb. Tiny and pale, it came in a slim, padded envelope that fit through the mail slot in my front door. A week later, I received a toe--the big one, possibly for a right foot. A week after that, the pinkie finger of a left hand, no bigger than a kidney bean. Each item was made to my precise specifications and guaranteed one-of-a-kind. I laid out my growing collection on the table in my workroom and spent countless hours trying to surmise the eventual results from those small clues.
During the fourth week I received an ear; pink with curving cartilage like a strange seashell, a souvenir gathered from an exotic beach. Next came an eye with a blue topaz iris, the color reminding me of the waters at the ocean where I spent the summers of my own childhood. With steady hands, the watchmaker inserted the tiny cog into the back of the timepiece. Clocks of various shapes and sizes occupied the workshop around him. Outside, the winter storm blew.
Amidst the cacophony of ticks and tocks, the occasional chime and bell, came a knock at the cottage door. The watchmaker paid it no mind, but continued to work with unyielding concentration on his most intricate design. Meanwhile, a cold draft gusted in as the door opened and a tall, heavy stranger, wrapped in burlap and furs, hunched down to enter. Snow dusted his clothes. Ice clung to his lashes and beard. The water's glassy surface reflects the boardwalk and the mist that drifts above it. Pine scent lingers in the chill air. The only sounds are the clomp-clomp-clomp of your feet, the slow rumble of the bicycle's tires across the uneven planks, the tick-tick-tick of the chain winding over the gears. Soon even these come to a halt.
Steps lead down to the water. The angel floated just below the rafters of Amy's bedroom. It glowed like a Christmas ornament: rainbow colours shimmering across its translucent, slow-sculling wings. Its soft radiance filled the darkened room.
That demi winter night, Thrash stood on the passage stone, a hundred meters from the village walls. During the long hours his eyes had grown accustomed to the dark, and when he glanced at the sky the stars were brighter than he'd ever imagined: dazzling, mocking.
The wind's knife cut at his bare chest, flensing flesh to bone. Thrash longed for the warmth of his wool-lined leather coat. But that was a boy's thought. Men did not wear such things. "Here," says Nina, "hold this," and she puts it in my hand. That's how I come to be holding the stone when the world ends.
It's hard to tell at first what's happening. We've been standing on the beach in the bleak afternoon light, gray shore and gray sea, sand and spray whipped into a fine stinging mist by the December wind. We were beachcombing. Well, Nina was beachcombing. She said we ought to have a walk, for old times' sake, after the meeting with the lawyers but before the whole thing was done.
Souls, Angels, Devils, God, and gods. Certain tales are best understood through the lens of religion.
by Day Al-Mohamed
Ding! The first bell of the New Year. Corporal Michael Bradley's gaze flew to the chronometer that glowed faintly in the heads-up display of his armor. He had waited all year for this. People always thought that All Hallows Eve or All Souls Day was when the living could speak with the dead, but the Romans were the ones who understood that the true day of communication with the afterlife was New Years Eve--Janus of Two Faces, one looking back at the past and one looking forward to the future. It was a truth that every soldier knew and held closest to his heart.
Published on Jan 20, 2014
by Janet Shell Anderson
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by Kevin J. Anderson
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by Megan Arkenberg
O tower not of ivory, but builded by hands that reach Heaven from Hell.
Published on Dec 16, 2016
by Marcy Arlin
***Editor's Note: Adult story, situations, and language***
We never went out. We usually stayed in all weekend and fornicated until we were bleeding and our eyes almost popping out of our heads. Fun, but after a while, every orifice stuffed with a genital or tentacle just gets repetitious.
Published on Jul 23, 2015
by Barbara A. Barnett
Published on Mar 7, 2011
by Barbara A. Barnett
puppyhugs42 2-04-2016 12:03pm Thanks so much for this post, Dr. Bates. Such a fitting tribute to a true pioneer in the field of near-death experience (NDE) research. Controversy over methodology be damned; you and Dr. Nako have done groundbreaking work. I know you're still crunching the data, but I truly believe your research will prove once and for all what those of us who've had NDEs know in our guts to be true: activity continues after the brain dies and the EEG goes flat.
Published on Feb 5, 2016
by James Beamon
17. in media res Let's start in the middle of things, near the end. That would be where I'm climbing up this tree, not too high up, just high enough to find a thick, sturdy branch. Here I tie the rope. The other end has already been tied tightly around my throat. Secure in the belief that this will end me, I leap.
Published on May 3, 2016
by T.J. Berg
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by David G. Blake
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by Brenta Blevins
Published on Jun 2, 2011
by Jacob A. Boyd
Chase entered one end of a narrow white-walled room and crossed it toward a chair positioned before an unfamiliar man at the far end. But for the man and the chair, the room remained featureless. Chase was drawn to them. Seated, Chase asked, “Am I dreaming?”
Published on Nov 29, 2010
by P. Djeli Clark
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by Helen E. Davis
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by Brian Dolton
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by Tom Doyle
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by Scott Edelman
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by Kary English
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by Eugie Foster
I could ignore the boys at school. By and large, they left me alone. Guess I wasn't pretty enough or interesting enough to be worth their attention, which was fine by me. It wasn't like I wanted to cram my feet in suicide heels or dangle door-knockers from my ears like some hoochie bimbo, anyway. But the girls were trouble. Since Mom and I had moved from Chicago to New Orleans into the pink and yellow house Gran had left us, they'd honed in on me like they had something to prove.
Published on Sep 9, 2011
by Karl K Gallagher
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by Cat Hellisen
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by Getty Hesse
Published on Mar 19, 2014
by S.L. Huang
My father was the most haau person I know. I don't know the English term for it. Haau. It's like love, but it's not. It's like respect, but it's not. American families don't have it. Children love their parents--I know you love me--but being haau, it doesn't exist here.
Published on Aug 22, 2016
by Jess Hyslop
***Editor's Note: Disturbing. For adults.*** Now
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by Jose Pablo Iriarte
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by K.G. Jewell
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by Patrick Johanneson
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by Vylar Kaftan
Published on Jul 13, 2012
by Andrew Kaye
Item 1: Darkness. Item 2: Firmament.
Published on Jun 5, 2014
by Andrew Kaye
As Abigail's soul dripped slowly into my gut, I started thinking about the rest of my family. What they did, how they lived. Everyone always teased Grandpa about how his soul would taste. He was such a good person that his soul would have tasted like pure heaven. I thought about Mom and Dad. I thought about me. What sort of life would I live? What kind of soul would I leave behind for my family?
Published on Aug 29, 2011
by Simon Kewin
Demonic Summoning Publisher: ChthoniczSoftware
Published on Jul 22, 2013
by Simon Kewin
Published on Jul 31, 2015
by Brenda Kezar
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by Cassandra Khaw
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by Leigh Kimmel
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by Mur Lafferty
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by Christine M Layton
Published on Dec 25, 2014
by Leena Likitalo
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by Grá Linnaea
Published on Jun 18, 2013
by Huston Lowell
Singh watched with a skeptical eye as the little boy came woohooing down the cyclone slide. Could this be the snotty nose of the Chosen One? "We've definitely found him." Jhadav took a step forward. This was his first run, and it was no secret that he wanted to prove himself. "Let's go."
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by Matthew Marinett
Published on Dec 10, 2012
by Rich Matrunick
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by Bruce McAllister
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by Laura Lee McArdle
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by Melissa Mead
The old devil blinked. They stood on the blank storage platform, and the lost soul, looking more opaque than before, was shaking a finger at him. “That was too easy. You left a trail of bloody footprints. Now you find me!” It turned and dived off the edge.
Published on Sep 9, 2010
by William Meikle
The man who walked into my office was old-school through and through. A squad of little old ladies on Harris had toiled for years to make his suit, his school tie was knotted just right, and his brogues squeaked as he walked across the room. He looked to be in his seventies, but held his back ramrod straight. He strode into the room as if he owned it and thrust a hand at me that I couldn’t refuse to shake. “Thanks for seeing me doctor,” he said.
Published on Nov 16, 2010
by Viara R Mileva-Seitz
Published on Aug 26, 2016
by D. Thomas Minton
Published on Jul 17, 2013
by Jennifer Moore
“Never mind. You’re here now,” continued the man, as if he hadn’t heard. “And it’s your turn. Go on, my lovely.” There was a black hollow at the front of his mouth where teeth should have been. “Pick a jug. Any jug. You get to keep the soul inside.”
Published on Sep 23, 2010
by Chris Ovenden
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by Shannon Peavey
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by Alex Petri
***Editor's Note: Mature Theme, Disturbing Tale***
"You have to call them today," I said. "We've waited too long. We should have done that the day she disappeared."
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by Stephen S. Power
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by Alter S. Reiss
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by Cheryl Wood Ruggiero
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by K.B. Sluss
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by Henry Szabranski
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by Henry Szabranski
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by Elizabeth Twist
Helene takes two vows on her wedding day, equally rotten. The first is private. Midnight crossroads. Chanted words. The scent of brimstone. Cherry red skin and horns in a gentleman's suit. Negotiation. A cold kiss to seal agreement.
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by Deborah Walker
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by Wren Wallis
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by David Wardrop
"And there." He held his hand out to the far new horizon and with his finger spread a white line against the turquoise sky. From behind him came a figure. It was a shadowy figure in a long black robe and a creeping form of movement.
Published on Jun 30, 2016