The Visitors

by Dustin Pellegrini

The visitors came dressed for darkness.

Alfred watched from his bedroom window as they shuffled up the drive. If the moon hadn’t been so clouded over, he’d have sworn they were shadows.

Alfred and his mother lived alone out in the country, their nearest neighbors only swamps and trees. Their last visitor, the Dr., left only a few days before and they weren’t expecting anyone else. Yet here they came all the same.

They were getting closer.

Alfred saw now that each of them carried something, swung it as they walked. He picked out the head of a hammer, bigger than his own. The point of a pick, ragged from dirt and rocks. And there, in the faintest shard of moonlight, the glint of a shovel’s face.

He got up onto his step stool to follow them through the window. They were only a few steps from the front door now, he had to warn his mother.

DOCK

DOCK

Alfred pictured the shovel banging against the door. Could they pry it open?

DOCK

DOCK

He ran to his bedroom door, ready to shout for his mother, don’t let them in.

DOCK

DO-

Too late.

His mother let out a cry, wailing like he had never heard. He braced himself against his door, slowed his breath.

What could he do? There was no one to help, no one to call. Alfred slipped to the floor, tried to come up with a plan.

With his ear to the wood, he heard the tools crash downstairs. He heard the hammer drive nails that must have been longer than his fingers. Outside, he heard the pick and the shovel bite into fresh earth. And between every swing, his mother cried out with fresh howls of pain.

Seconds.

Minutes.

Alfred chewed through his lip and tried to shut out the sounds as his mother’s sobs grew weak.

When he could take no more, he ripped the door open and flung himself down the stairs, his eyes shut at the terror of finding his mother in pain.

The house was empty, but the front door stood open.

Alfred hurried outside and there his mother stood. There they all stood, forming a circle in the yard. The tools lay quiet on the grass and his mother shook as one of the visitors spoke under his breath.

Alfred approached, took his place next to his mother, and saw her pain.

There, in the fresh wooden box, in a freshly dug hole, he saw himself. His arms crossed, his eyes closed. Alfred watched his mother pass one last kiss from her lips to his, then took her hand as the men shut up the box and reached for their tools.


Dustin Pellegrini is a writer living in Chicago. He studied Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago, has had his work read at Chicago’s Story Week Festival and currently works at a nonprofit. You can find more of his writing at dustinpellegrini.com

A Dog’s Best Friend

by Derek Hamilton

Edgar came home from work – the same as every day. When he got out of his truck and shambled to his front door, he noticed something out of the ordinary. His dog Chuck had a hold of a small, shiny, brass button and was happily chewing away at it. Edgar didn’t recognize it from his wardrobe, and he wasn’t sure where ‘ol Chuck had managed to find it. Then again, he didn’t care to think too much of it.

The next day, Edgar came home to another surprise on his porch. Chuck had a hold of an old, dirty, leather shoe and was joyously chomping on the laces. Edgar tugged the shoe out of Chuck’s mouth only to discover he had never seen this shoe before, and didn’t own a pair even closely resembling it. Edgar didn’t know what to make of it. He thought it was strange, but he also figured it didn’t require any more of his time or energy to investigate.

The next day, Edgar came home to yet another surprise on his porch. Chuck had a hold of a tattered, shabby, stained scrap of cloth and was blissfully gnawing on the corner. When Edgar was able to wrestle the cloth out of Chuck’s grip, he thought the stains looked a lot like dried blood. He didn’t know where Chuck was acquiring his newfound treasures, but now Edgar was determined to find out.

The next morning, he let Chuck out for his usual trek around the yard. Edgar decided to trail his dog, but wanted to keep his distance to avoid distracting Chuck on his new mysterious routine. After circling the house, sniffing around the barn, and tracing the fence line, Edgar was starting to think this was all a big waste of time. That’s when good ‘ol Chuck sat down at the gap in the fence and stared out into the woods.

Waiting.

He sat there intently for nearly five minutes while Edgar thought about how he could have spent the day doing anything else and it would have been more productive than what was taking place right now.

Just then, Edgar heard a faint whistle from the tree line. Chuck’s ears perked up as he popped up in a flash and trotted over to the woods, slipping out of view under the greenery. Edgar hustled over to the tree line to catch up with the mutt.

Edgar peeked through the foliage to find Chuck on the other side of a tree stump, triumphantly munching on a bone. His first reaction was to get him to drop it – who knows what animal that came from, or where that thing has been?

Well, the answer came quicker than Edgar had expected. When he was a few steps away from Chuck, he heard the whistle again. It was the same whistle that called them into the woods, only this time it was right behind Edgar. He slowly turned and saw something leaning against the tree stump.

It looked like a woman in most regards, but she was more skeleton than person. Her leathery skin draped over her bones, poking up in rigid forms. What little flesh she had left was hanging black and rotten. Her skin peeled away in chunks to reveal the viscous meat below. She was hunched over on one knee because her missing leg rested in the paws of good ‘ol Chuck, gnashing the hell out of that bone.

He’s a good boy,” the stranger hissed in a scratchy voice.
“But you shouldn’t let him wander off alone – it’s dangerous in these woods…

Edgar wanted to run, but he couldn’t. The stranger lunged at him, knocked him to the ground, and bit him in the throat – latching her decrepit teeth into his soft flesh. Her jaw locked on so tight that it made tiny popping noises as her molars dislodged from her mandible.

Edgar didn’t even have time to scream. The blood was erupting from his neck, spritzing the surrounding vegetation with vibrant red splotches. He quietly choked and gasped; slowly drowning in his own blood.

Chuck eagerly nibbled on the bone without a care in the world – treasuring every bit of sinew he could retrieve from its core.

Such a good boy…


Derek Hamilton is a writer, musician, voiceover talent, and self-proclaimed nerd from Northeast Ohio. He’s a Columbia College Chicago alumni, a published poet, and currently works as a streaming media producer. You can find more of his work at derekhamiltonedits.com

Blood

by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Her mother raised her Catholic, but somewhere along the way, between inspecting U.S. Navy aircraft (her softness inside their hardness) and teaching Montessori students (her hardness inside their softness), Latilda joined a cult, lived in a fallout shelter forty feet underground, scrubbed black mold from the walls at the leader’s command, with no protective gear. She began believing in archangels who shared their karma with those who worshiped them.

When her father died, age 90, her mother intended to plant him in St. Anthony’s graveyard, but Latilda’s religion specified that he be cremated, that the smoke should rise up to heaven where the archangels could fan it to the four quadrants.

Conflict between mother and daughter, conflict unbroken by death, their lifelong pattern, but now more at stake, her husband’s/ her father’s soul. Finally the funeral director forced their hand. He owned an ulcer and didn’t have the stomach for their argumentative impasse.

They compromised: his body would be buried, but only after his blood was cremated. The funeral director placed the blood in an urn, as if it were a sacrifice to the goddess Isis or the Minotaur. He wondered: “When this blood boils, will the dead man’s spirit boil with anger? Will he lash out in an inarticulate, occult manner that might harm me?”

The blood quickly came to a rolling boil, like a pot on the stove waiting for eggs, then burst into flame. Latilda, watching through the crematorium’s small window, saw the smoke get inhaled by an archangel who had suddenly appeared. To her sharp and penetrating chagrin, the archangel had the appearance of her high school boyfriend. He’d been stoned all the time, always ready to inhale something, cigarettes, gasoline, glue, pot if he could afford it.

But then the archangel blew the smoke through the walls, to the four corners of the Earth. Latilda ran outside to see the smoke (her father’s iron poor blood transformed) get swept away by the wild wind, which blew in all directions at once. She knew that now it didn’t matter, what happened to her father’s earthly body.


Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over fourteen-hundred of his works of poetry and fiction appear in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He has been nominated for numerous prizes, and was awarded the 2017 Booranga Writers’ Centre (Australia) Prize for Fiction. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition. To read more of his work, Google Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois. He lives in Denver, Colorado, USA.

Here and There

by Helen Chambers

Here, rain splatters on the windows and seeps cold around my ankles. The dark is spreading and the light is departing. People slump in front of screens and turn their backs away from the weather.

There, we walked with a spring in our step and our hearts on our sleeves, and opened our faces and minds to the sun, watching each other in its golden glow. Channeling its energy, we lived summer outdoors like the elements.

Here, life trudges alone with a chill and a shiver, winds whip me round corners, desiccated leaves scrape my face. I cannot bear to stay indoors, but the cold drives me in.

There, we slept out under a light show of stars and meteors, watched sunsets, smelt honeysuckle and tasted salt spray.

Here, damp leaf-mould muffles my steps, and your words turn to dust.
I want to turn the clock back.


Helen Chambers gets creative inspiration when out walking (usually with her head in the clouds) and from her involvement in local writing groups and an Open-Air Shakespeare acting company. Since leaving teaching, she has been awarded an MA in Creative Writing by the University of Essex (2016), has won the Fish Short Story Prize (2018), the Felixstowe Short Story Prize (2016) and the Hysteria Flash Fiction Prize (2014). When she can remember her password, she blogs at helenchamberswriter.wordpress.com

Last Sip of Champagne

by John M. Carlson

Julia wondered if it was a good idea having a glass of champagne that night. One of her medicines had been making her feel a bit clumsy as it was, and alcohol might make that problem even worse. She didn’t want to be clumsy tonight.

But champagne was a tradition. Every fall, Julia and Stuart, her husband, visited California. They traveled about, visiting family and friends. They always ended up at a quaint inn located by a scenic lake. On their last evening at the inn, they sat by the lake at dusk, and enjoyed a bottle of champagne. Their champagne tradition hadn’t changed in twenty years, except they now were able to afford real French champagne, instead of André.

She didn’t want to break the champagne tradition. Not this year. Not since it would be her last year staying at this inn. Her oncologist made it very clear that she wouldn’t live much longer.

That night, Julia and Stuart sat in silence. They sipped champagne, and looked at the lake as the sun slowly set.

This was always the best part of these vacations, she thought. Stuart’s sister was always nasty. Then, there was so much rush-rush-rush visiting other people and places. But there was peace here at the lake. The lake was also a small chunk of paradise on earth. Discovering this place was the best thing that had happened during their marriage. There were times when she even thought it was the only good thing that had happened during their marriage.

“It’s sad to think that this will be the last time I’ll ever be here,” she said.

“You don’t know that!” Stuart’s voice had fake cheer in it. “The doctor could be wrong!”

“He hasn’t been wrong about anything up till now.” Julia sighed. “I’d once dreamed of moving here when you retire.”

“That would never happen. It’s nice visiting this place. I like it. But retire here? With taxes like they are in California? No lake is scenic enough for that!”

“Anyway, I want to make something clear. This place is special. Very special. And I don’t want you bringing some other woman here after I’m gone.”

“I won’t. I promise.”

“So you say now. But I know you. I’ll die in a few months. After a suitable period, you’ll go out and find someone new. You’ll haul her down here to meet your crazy sister. And, on the way home, you’ll probably stop by here to show her the lovely inn you learned about during your first marriage.”

“Trust me, that won’t happen,” Stuart said. “I won’t be getting married again. I learn from my mistakes.”

“I’m not only thinking about a new wife. This also includes girlfriends.” She pulled her gun out of her large purse.

“Are you crazy?” Stuart yelped. “Bringing your gun to California? You don’t have a license here!”

“What will they do if they catch me? Put me in prison for life? That wouldn’t be a very long sentence in my case.”

She stood, feeling a bit unsteady on her feet, thanks to the champagne and the doctor’s wonder drug. She snapped the gun’s safety off, and pointed the gun at Stuart.

“I’m going to make sure you never bring another woman here! Ever!”

“Julia! I promised you! Isn’t my word good enough? Haven’t I stayed with you, honoring my marriage vows?”

“Oh, you did an absolutely wonderful job honoring those vows. You think I don’t know about Kimberly? Or Carrie? Or Nancy? Or Stacy? Or Consuela? Why don’t you be honest? The only reason you stayed with me was because I come from a good family, and that helped you professionally. Face it, Stuart, there is no reason to believe you won’t forget any promise you make now. Or you’ll laugh about your promise when you bring some 21-year-old bimbo here. So I’m going to make sure you never, ever bring another woman to my lake. Goodbye, Stuart. I’ll see you on the other side of the grave, if there is an other side.”

“No!”

He said “no” like he was saying “no” to a dog threatening to vomit in the middle of the living room. You’d think he’d beg for mercy, she thought. No matter.

She pulled the trigger.

She was a good shot. And she hit her target perfectly now. Stuart slumped in his seat, dead.

She sat back down. She picked up her glass, and finished her last sip of champagne. Her last sip ever.

She put the gun into her mouth. Then, while staring at the lake she loved, Julia pulled the trigger.


John M. Carlson lives in the Seattle area. His stories have appeared in a variety of online publications. More of his work can be seen on his website.