In the Dark Woods

In The Dark Woods

Illustration by Taylor N. Bielecki

by Laura Davy

 

The girl vomited on the bloodstained floor as she idly wondered how hard it would be to clean up the mess. Maybe after they got the wolf’s corpse out of the house they’d be able to start tidying up. But despite how clean the house got she knew she wouldn’t be able to look at her grandmother’s floor without seeing blood. She felt like giggling and then she felt sick, but this time she didn’t vomit. She silently savored her victory and went back to trying not to think about anything.

The girl wiped her mouth clean with the corner of her soft red cape and her grandmother came over and rubbed her back. It was a comforting and familiar gesture, but the girl tried not to flinch at her grandmother’s touch. The girl reminded herself to forget that Grandmother had been swallowed whole by the wolf.

The hunter shifted his grip on his axe as he walked over to a window and looked out into the dark woods.

The girl wanted to ask what he saw, but now knew that when she asked a question she might not like the answer.

The girl’s grandmother spoke softly to the girl, “It’s alright.”

But it wasn’t alright. She was the one who talked to the wolf and told it where she was going. Because of her the wolf came to the house and swallowed her grandmother and attacked her. If it wasn’t for the hunter they would both be dead. She wasn’t sure if she was going to be sick or cry. Instead she did nothing.

Her grandmother stood up and said (more to herself than to her two guests), “How about a cup of tea? Would anyone like tea? I think we need some nice hot tea.”

The girl wanted to say that her grandmother should wash herself of the wolf’s saliva before she started worrying about tea. But she didn’t say anything.

The hunter walked across the room and looked out a different window. He frowned.

The girl had always been talkative and curious, and despite what had happened today she couldn’t change who she was in just an afternoon. The girl gave in to her curiosity and asked the hunter, “What is it?”

He didn’t answer for a moment and continued to look out the window. At first the girl wasn’t sure if he heard her, but before she asked again he spoke.

“Wolves travel in packs.”

Her grandmother dropped an empty tea cup and clutched her chest. She started mumbling a prayer under her breath, forgetting lines but continuing on despite the gaps. The girl didn’t react. She didn’t feel anything. In a clinical way she knew she should be afraid, but that didn’t matter to her. What mattered is that she should stay quiet. That she shouldn’t ask any more questions or say anything else. No more comments. No more questions. No more answers. She gripped the hem of her red cape tightly. No more.

The hunter spoke despite the silence.

“The better to hunt you with.”

 

More More More!

by Karen Albright Lin

 

Steamy walked in through the alley door of Billy Bob’s Big Jugs. Backstage she joined four other women who were preparing for their strip tease.

Cigar smoke filtered back to them as they pushed on layer after layer of shiny stick-ons, black zip-downs, and sequin Velcro tear-offs. Lacking the dignity of a dressing room, they could hear the catcalls beginning even before the stage was lit up and hurried introductions were made.

Billy Bob egged on the customers, “…a progressively erotic show featuring five dolls who will surpass your favorite wet dream.” Steamy sprinkled on the last powdered specks of glitter and checked her hair in a cracked mirror.

“Carnal Lace!” Billy Bob backed off the stage as Carnal glided on, hiding her black leotard body suit with two giant black feathers. The dull music began and the customary two bouncers moved next to the stage to bat men’s arms away from Carnal’s feathers. Billy Bob had paid too much, too many times to replace them.

Carnal floated to all corners of the tiny stage, undulating in and out of her feather cage until the music quickened and one feather was thrown behind the side curtain for Steamy to place in a prop trunk.

Steamy drew a pocketknife out of the trunk, afterward, and eased it into a slit in the back of her costume. She stopped watching Carnal’s act at this point. She didn’t like it. It only teased the howlers in the audience so they’d be hungrier for her act.

“Take it off!” a drunk man yelled through his cigar. But Carnal never removed her g-string. It wasn’t in her contract. Steamy was next.

Sweaty and clearly disgusted, Carnal ran past the footlights, brushed past the blood-red curtain, and threw the other feather away. “Tissue. Where’s the tissue?” she said past her frown.

Steamy’s cue, a rhythmic, groaning saxophone piece, crackled from the amplifiers. Automatically, just like every Friday and Saturday night, she placed one leg out onto the stage, a hint of things to come.

The roar from the smoky, dark room increased. Expectant men urged her onto center stage. She rhythmically slinked on, fully dressed in a shiny outfit that was about to become more provocative, more revealing.

Steamy slowly unzipped from her chest and stomach, down the contours of her crotch and around to her butt, the spandex, glittery costume. The stench of liquor blew at her from the howling audience. Steamy had on baby doll pajamas under the spandex. A g-string and pasties pinched under those. She took a deep breath as the music signaled her next move. She peeled off the PJs as the audience screamed, “Take it off!” Still attempting to swing elegantly in her spiked heels and uncomfortable pasties, she tried to stave off the nausea that always gripped her at that point. The men were getting restless and the bouncers could barely keep the beasts away.

“More more more!” In exchange for an extra twenty dollars, Steamy’s dance was a nude-follow up to Carnal’s tease; the caps would have to come off her nipples. Steamy pulled first one, then the other painfully off and threw them out to the audience. She rode the air as if on waves and tried to forget where she was, pretend she was rehearsing her moves in front of her mirror at home. Since the lights were in her eyes, she couldn’t see which morons caught the tiny nipple cups.

“More more more!” She pulled the pocketknife out from behind her back and made a few enticing circles with it around the fabric of the revealing g-string. “More more more!”

Grasping the warm knife, she snapped one thin string, leaving half of the symbolic cover dangling and half of her shaved flesh exposed. A wilder dance overtook her now. As she turned, it became obvious that the next step would be to cut the other side and move naked about the stage until the screams came for Wanton’s S&M act.

But “More more more!” rattled the stage. They wanted to see more. She had nothing on now. She was fully naked. What more could she expose?

“More more more!”

Dizzy, she peeked backstage where her boss waved a hand, motioning her to give them more. He wanted satisfied customers. Steamy’s stomach seized. She picked up the knife with which she’d cut the g-string and opened it.

“More more more!” Louder now.

Steamy did the only thing that came to mind. She clenched her teeth, shoved the knife into her abdomen, and cut a slit in her stomach.

Initially there was a hush as she smeared blood on herself.

Beginning with slow murmurs, the crowd’s noise began again.

Steamy’s foggy instinct, as she felt hands tugging her off the stage, was to pull out a strand of intestine for them to see. Instead, she passed out.

The next act in a cop suit, Wanton S&M, looked stunned, “Now how the hell am I going to follow that?”

 

General Order No. 1

by Joseph DeRepentigny

 

The commander looked over the new recruit with some amazement. He was a squat little guy with orange hair and three eyes. He’d seen this type before in the vids and knew they were a large part of southern society. Mostly farmers and basic laborers, they’d recently won the right to better themselves. The commander didn’t care. He wasn’t a fan of the caste system himself. He was born to the military life and often dreamed of being just a simple merchant; he looked at the recruit with wonder, this was the first southerner he’d ever seen up close.

“New to the Martian Defense Fleet?” he asked.

“Yes, sir!” the recruit replied with the typical southern Martian treble.

The commander nodded with approval. Most new recruits, northern or otherwise, gave a less than enthusiastic reply. For them it was mandatory to spend two standard years in the service.

“So, are you ready to become a space hero?”

“I am ready to serve the Martian Empire!”

“Then tell me General Order Number One!”

The recruit opened his mouth and then closed it.

The commander smiled and nodded. “They don’t teach that.”

“They don’t, sir?”

“No, it is something you only learn out here in space.”

The recruit nodded and looked at the commander for the answer.

Grinning, the commander said, “General Order Number One is, ‘When in doubt, kill all humans.’ If you follow that out here you cannot go wrong.”

“Are we at war with them?”

“No, but remember: We may be green but we aren’t Earth friendly.”

 

Strip of Skin

by Leigh Harken

 

It’s not like I killed anyone. And while learning that a loved one had been dug up nine days after burial and had a strip of skin cut off from head to foot was probably upsetting to the family of Roger Theodore Sterling 1938-1999 it didn’t cause any harm. The police never found who did it. It made the front page of the town weekly, big news in our little town, and even had a little article in the Hometown section of the city newspaper. Police said the incident was gang related.

Matt rolls over in his sleep. We’ve been married almost five years. He insisted we get married right out of high school, he was so in love with me. It was the gossip of the high school and the town. The most popular boy falls for the least popular girl. The girl who had been following him like a shadow since middle school. The girl he had pushed out of a bus seat so he could sit with his girlfriend in eighth grade. The girl he’d scorned for twelve and a half years—kindergarten to senior year—and then one day he woke up madly in love with her. It was like a movie.

After we got married we moved to the city. Matt decided he didn’t want to go to college, though he could have had a full baseball scholarship, because he wanted to get a job right away and take care of me. He got a job selling cellular phones. I stay home. He doesn’t like the idea of me working. I sit at home and watch soaps. I volunteer with the historical society. He’s been passed over for manager twice.

In our town he’d always been the Big Shot. The pitcher of the winning baseball team. We won because of him and the whole town knew it. He was even scouted by a bunch of colleges and a couple of minor leagues. He was the most loved son. The one everyone wanted to be around. So full of potential. And for the first few years it was still like that. It was like being married to the crown prince of Westchester, Illinois. But now Leif Harris, who graduated in our class, has already got his MBA and a good job at a Fortune 500 company. My mother talks about him all the time. And Matt, “Well,” she says, “He never went on to do anything. Except have the good sense to marry you,” and she kisses me on my forehead.

I’m leaving him. That is certain. This is not what I had bargained for when I dug up the corpse of Roger Theodore Sterling 1938-1999 and skinned off a strip of skin with my father’s black-handled hunting knife. This is not what I had intended when I picked the lock on Matt’s parents’ house and snuck into his room to tie the strip of skin around his leg.

I waited in his room all that night until the sky had lightened to cornflower blue and I knew the sun would be up soon and people would wake. I waited that whole night, sitting on the hardwood floor next to him as he slept, imagining if the spell worked. I would hear that breathing next to me at night. I looked at his baseball trophies and imagined him. How he would be a baseball star and love me and I would love him and we’d be a perfect couple. At dawn I untied the strip, which was now crusty, and snuck back out. I told my mother I was sick and slept all that day. At 3:30 Matt called. He wanted to know why I wasn’t in school that day, and that he’d just broken up with Amy so did I have a date to the prom?

I’m leaving him. There is only one question. The spell is only broken if he sees the strip of skin. I still have it. It is in a hidden drawer of my jewelry box. It has dried out and collected some dust. It doesn’t uncurl anymore. Sometimes I take it out and look at it while Matt is at work.

So do I show it to him, during the divorce or as I leave, and break the spell? Do I let him go on with his own life? Or do I keep it hidden forever?

 

Cancel My Three O’Clock

by Sam Kenyon

 

Lunch had only taken two hours so Alfred T. Nottingworth was feeling quite efficient and most pleased with himself. It was 1:47 PM when he glanced out his office window to see a nuclear blast heading his way. He pressed the power button on the windowsill, but the image remained.

“Damn, real life…” he muttered, now realizing it was not a nuclear explosion, but a tsunami of epic proportions emanating from some distant four-dimensional mushroom cloud, or so he guessed with his feeble imagination. Time was speeding up, and Alfred’s human senses could only comprehend a very small visible and auditory portion of the rapidly approaching front.

Alfred canceled two incoming calls and stabbed an emergency line to the smartest scientist on his payroll. “Brettfield! The world’s exploding in my backyard, what the hell is going on?”

“You’re talking too fast Al, slow down.”

“Turn on… the news… explosion… heading… for me.”

“What?” Brettfield went away for a few seconds. Distant sounds of swearing. Click, he swapped to someone else on the phone. He came back. “Al are you there? It’s not an explosion. You’re in the outskirts of an information entropy singularity… those fools at Montello Myron Laboratories have stored more data in a rigid volume then is possible in our curvature of space-time. It’s collapsed into an information whirlpool. You’ll be sucked in by about 2:00 PM. You must get out of there!”

“This… isn’t… us?”

“No, we’re not liable at all. It’s all Montello Myron Labs. But we might be able to stop it if we deploy the molecular structure compressors, you know the new landfill-shrinking nanobots? They might be able to reduce the total amount of information at the core if we set the compression ratio to non-lossless.”

“Good… do… it.”

“You must get out of there Al!”

“No… time… you… must… stop… this.”

He quickly messaged his secretary, but “quickly” seemed to last for hours. His brain wasn’t in the right time frame anymore, not even the same as his mouth. The last thing Alfred said before the event horizon reached him was in a lethargic bass tone: “Cancel… my… three… o’… clock—”

 

Minaret of Necromancy

by Hope Evey

 

She stands in the top chamber. It’s too open to call it a room. The decorative swirls that give the minaret shape define the space. From a distance, it’s beautiful. Closer, horror creeps over you. No one element stands out as wrong, but the sense of wrongness builds. Beautiful, yes; and as unnatural as the woman standing in its summit.

“I hear you behind me. You know the cost of my turning.”

“All who see your face, Lady, die. It’s a risk worth taking.”

“I wear no veil. Should I but turn, your life is forfeit.”

“Are you so sure? What if my knife strikes before you turn? There are no guards to stop me. They say you are old. Perhaps you are slow… and necromancy does not touch the quick.”

He froze there, knife raised, unable to draw back or to strike.

“You began dying the day you were born. And I rule all that is dead. But I am surprised at how fully I can control you. I wonder…” her voice trailed off as the would-be assassin’s eyes went wild. Her mouth twitched at the corners as he fell to the floor gasping. “Be glad I only stopped your breath. Fill your lungs, child.” She paused, but drew no breath. “Does the wind carry the scent of flowers tonight?”

“What does it matter!?” he spat at her, gasping for breath as he rose.

The sound had to be a laugh. It couldn’t be anything else. Her dry cackle would curdle milk in the breast.

“That is why I can control you.” She turned then, faster than anything should move. In a blink she stood lover-close to him. “I cannot smell the breeze, nor even feel it. I gave that up for power.”

“You gave it up for vengeance. But neither of us can smell the flowers.”

He ran, then. Even after he shot past the edge of the floor, he still ran, racing to shatter his empty shell.

 

Relish

Relishby Kevin Ginsberg

 

I prayed, “God give me relish, for I have a hotdog, but what good is it with no relish?” I was completely thrown back when I actually received a response. Not in way of a sign or a relish coupon, but an actual response, the voice of God. “Son,” he said to me, “thousands have prayed to me today requesting, begging, even pleading for a hotdog. You, you who are fortunate enough to indulge himself with such a meat has the audacity to bend my ever so demanded upon ear for a condiment?”

I was embarrassed to say the least. I began to think, do I really need the relish? Am I that ungrateful? Is relish really a condiment? I know little things like ketchup and mustard are, but I had no idea that relish was. I mean, I suppose it’s not a fruit or a vegetable, and it does fit in a small plastic packet. Hence, if it comes in a small plastic packet it constitutes a condiment. I begged him for forgiveness and, asked him if I was the most selfish human to wander the earth. God laughed and told me of a time when Telly Savalas prayed for his hair to stop growing so he wouldn’t have to shave it anymore. I laughed, still a bit nervous by the presence of God. He then asked me for a soda telling me, “It’s the least you can do, I created you.” How could I argue with that? God drank his soda and with a flash of light disappeared. By this time my hotdog was cold, and despite what I’ve been told I was really craving some relish. Having nowhere to turn I did what I thought I would never do. I sold my soul to the devil for a packet of relish.

 

Beatles

by Kevin Ginsberg

 

I haven’t been able to find my “thing” in life, although I know for a fact that is doesn’t involve poultry. Not the biggest revelation in the world, but it’s nice to rule things out nonetheless. For a long time I thought I might become a musician. I read Paul McCartney’s autobiography to find out how he did it and tried to follow the same path. I met a fella by the name of John, then met a guy named George, and then a man named Raul. That was the closest I could get to Ringo. None of these men could play an instrument, but George did a very interesting interpretive dance to the song “Lady Madonna.”

John and I would sit around writing songs, some good, some not so good. Our best song was one about John’s sister Martha who only had one ear. The song was called “One-eared Martha,” and it’s chorus consisted of Martha repeating the lines, “Talk to my left side, left side, left side.” We couldn’t have been more pleased with the song, but like all great works of art, it went primarily misunderstood.

Raul suggested that we make a pilgrimage to visit the Maharishi. The entire group agreed that such a trip would truly be following the blueprint laid out by the Beatles. The difference between us and the Beatles was our income. We were only able to come up with enough money to visit The Spectacular Kirk, a self proclaimed prophet and taxidermist. There was a lot of talk about The Spectacular Kirk not actually having a taxidermy license, but to us he was the closest thing we were going to get to the Maharishi. We set up an appointment with him and invited Mia Farrow, who declined. We were able to bring along an agoraphobe named Prusella, giving us much of the same effect. We wrote a song about her too.

When we arrived at The Spectacular Kirk’s apartment he was in the middle of drying out a bald eagle. We asked him if it were not illegal to hunt bald eagles. He slowly turned his head to us and winked. That told us all that we needed to know, we were in the presence of greatness. The Spectacular Kirk asked us to remove our shoes. George commented on how similar that was to the great Maharishi; Kirk let us know that he just happened to notice that Raul had stepped in dog shit.

Kirk excused himself to go to the bathroom and we couldn’t help but to snoop around a bit. We found pictures of Kirk with many celebrities, including the musical groups Winger and Stryper, and Danny Bonaducci. We all agreed that we were on the right path.

The Spectacular Kirk came from the bathroom and invited us to meditate. We sat in a circle and hummed as Prusella sat alone in a bedroom. When the meditation was over Raul and John admitted to feeling very relaxed, while George and I were looking for something more. We couldn’t quite put our finger on what it was until The Spectacular Kirk mentioned something about drugs. Then the light bulb lit. The Beatles did a lot of drugs, and it was said to have expanded their minds. Kirk apologized for not having any drugs himself, but suggested that we put on some coffee and drink “a LOT” of caffeine.

We began drinking the coffee, and we were bouncing off the walls in no time. This prompted us to write our most intriguing song to date, “We Like Coffee a Lot.” We left The Spectacular Kirk and all agreed later that he was a fool. We couldn’t think of a good song to write about him though, I doubt anyone could.

The band eventually broke up after John adopted a Shar-pai. Most people think that they are ugly, but John loved it. It was probably best that we broke up. We had accumulated one hundred and nineteen songs and performed none of them. We were fortunate enough to have one of our songs performed by a local bar band called The Sofas. They did an outstanding job on our song, “Don’t Waste Your Socks.”

To make a long story short, I’ve now ruled out being a rock star. Currently I’m scooping ice-cream at a local dairy shop, but I’m about two thirds into President Nixon’s book, so look out Washington!

abbey road

Illustration by Michael D. Pederson