They Are All Vicious

by Ashley Bird

Footsteps follow me along the dark street. Their steady clicking matches my stilettos. I look around; barely moving my head. Shadows cover everything, making everywhere a nook to crouch in. My mind struggles against a tide of thoughts and fears. Drowns in them.

are they speeding up how long have they been there what do I do

Moments of held breath crawl by as I strain to hear without distraction. This only brings my heartbeat to the fore. The two beat rhythm drumming in my ears is deafening. From way back in the past I hear my mother’s voice.

She has been dead a long time, my mother. She died when I was seventeen but was gone long before that. I am only left with memories. One afternoon, when I was eight or so, I went into our kitchen. She was sitting at the old wooden table, dented and scratched, under a cloud of medicinal smelling liquor. As I passed, her scrawny arm reached out and bony fingers gripped my wrist. Her face scared me. The hair that framed it was wild and unwilling. Her cheeks were sharp but it was her eyes that scared me the most. Circled in darkness, when I gazed into them I saw nothing.

“They are all vicious” she said.

My mother said more but it is those words that stuck with me.

They are all vicious. They are all vicious. A mantra that affected my entire life. I heard it inside as a young teen in the park, coyly practicing my flirting with boys. When I grew a little and went to my leaving prom, as my date walked me home, it streamed through my head. After I left for university and started going out until early morning, it was in the backseat of the taxi with me. Always and still those words follow me. They are my mother’s spirit, both protecting and haunting. How could I blame her?

I catch his scent on the breeze; a musky aftershave that lingers in the nose. He must be closer now. I want to cough but hold it in and feel the scratch at my throat. Up ahead a street light stands out like a beacon. A dome of orange light fighting against the shadows. I see it with those words running riot in my head.

they are all vicious they are all vicious they are all – enough

When I reach the light I stop and pretend to check the watch my mother left me. The footsteps draw closer. I look up and see his face come together out of the shadow. I look him in the eye, defiant, brave. He offers a near imperceptible nod and smiles. It is a warm smile full of friendly teeth. The smile of someone without a worry in the world. Of someone that has never had to hear the words they are all vicious.


Ashley Bird is a short story writer living in Newport, South Wales. He is in the last weeks of a degree in English and Creative Writing at the University of South Wales. After that, who knows. Anyone want to hire a guy that loves writing stories?

I’m Awake

by S. P. Carter

Where am I? Can’t see anything. Dark, but not completely. Eyes are closed. Why won’t they open? I try to reach for my face. Arms won’t move. Can’t feel them. Completely numb, paralyzed.

Something covering my mouth and nose, forcing air into my lungs, sucking it back out. That smell. Sterile, like plastic and rubber. How long have I been like this?

Hello? Is anyone there?

I scream in silence. Lips and tongue remain slack. Completely immobile, blind, helpless. Even as panic sets in, my heart rate remains fixed in a slow rhythm. Abdomen steadily rises and falls with each forced breath.

I hear air pushing and pulling. Electronic beeps and chirps. Mechanical humming. Fans, ventilation? What else? Focus. Muffled sounds, barely audible voices. The distinct click of a door opening.

Light brightens around me, shadows drift past. A door closes. Soft footsteps grow closer, then a brief silence. I feel eyes watching me.

“Can he hear me?”

Kate! I hear you! Help me!

“His brain scans show no response to sound, but there’s no way to know for sure.” A male voice speaks from direction of the door.

“I’d like a moment.” She’s close.

“Of course. Take all the time you need.” I hear the door gently open and close again.

“Hi Frank, it’s me,” she says in little more than a whisper. “How are you doing today? I got a call from a hotel this morning, confirming a reservation. You’ll be so mad they spoiled the surprise. I had no idea you planned our anniversary. ” She runs her hand through my hair. Her touch is soothing. Her voice is soothing.

“I didn’t cancel. It’s all still waiting for us. Palm trees, hammocks, sand. It’s all waiting for you to wake up.” Her lips gently kiss my forehead. A tear lands on my cheek and slowly rolls down to my ear.

I can picture her but I want to see her. I need to see her. I frantically strain to move my eyes. For a brief moment, my eyelids tighten then relax. It’s not enough.

“Colin’s home for winter break. He came back as soon as we heard about your second stroke. He was here earlier but they were running tests. He said he’ll be back tomorrow.”

Stroke. The word hangs in the air as she takes several slow, deliberate breaths. “He’s thinking of taking a semester off. He did his best through finals but, you know, it’s just been hard on him. He wants to be close.”

The bed shifts as Kate climbs in beside me. She rests her head on my chest. Her body presses against mine. I feel her leg cross over mine. I want to hold her. I want to wrap my arms around her, make her feel safe, protected.

For a long time we lay together in silence, our chests rise and fall in unison. She takes my hand, tenderly laces her fingers between mine. The tip of my index finger rests on her knuckle. I command it to move. I shout at my hand, move. Move! And then I feel movement. Just the faintest hint of a twitch, my finger taps her hand.

Kate freezes up, tightens against me. Did she notice?

“Frank.” She releases my hand, places her hand on my shoulder. “They’re asking about an advance directive. I can’t even think about that. We’ve worked so hard to get here. We’ve been through so much. This can’t be it. This can’t be it…” She begins sobbing into my chest.

Kate, stop. I’ll to be okay. Just take my hand, you’ll see. We’ll get through this. We’ll be back in the Caribbean getting drunk on the beach.

She gets up and places a kiss on my temple. “I’ll be back tomorrow. Please don’t leave me,” she breathes in my ear.

Kate, please don’t go. I am right here. To hell with their brain scans! I can hear you, every word.

My eyes flutter. My right eye opens slightly. Eyelashes stuck together. Through a haze I see her turn. I see her take steps toward the door. Exhausted, frustrated, my eye closes.

The door opens and closes. The room darkens. She’s gone.

I lay for what seems like hours, listening to the oscillating gasp and sigh of the breathing machine. I try not to think about what she’s going through. I debate cancelling the Caribbean trip. Maybe we’ll go skiing or white water rafting instead. The last place I want to be right now is a hammock.

I hear the door once more, followed by brisk footsteps and swift motions. Clicks and snaps. I feel a rush of cold within my arm.

“She’s a strong woman,” the doctor says. “She’s been here every day since your stroke. You’re a lucky man. Were a lucky man.”

What?

“For months now as your condition worsened. She’s holding onto hope, but you haven’t responded to any of my treatments. It’s time to let go.”

You’re giving up on me? Run another test! I’m right here!

“I know you can hear me, Frank. Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of her when you’re gone.”


S. P. Carter is a software engineer by day, writer by night. He has authored several short stories and is currently working on his first novel, ‘Unraveling’. His writing spans the horror, thriller, sci-fi and fantasy genres, with morally ambiguous characters and stories that challenge the standards of traditional fiction. When he’s not crafting psychological nightmares on paper, he’s reading, reviewing other writers, playing with his children, or on rare occasion, sleeping.

Side Effects May Occur

by KS Avard

Jensen had barely gotten his pants back on when she returned, a thick sheaf of papers in her hands. “Well, I have good news for you, Mr. Howard! I think we can resolve a few of your symptoms.”

Jensen felt his breath leave in an explosive gasp of relief. For weeks he had been suffering from the severest paranoia, barely able to sleep, eat, or breathe knowing that someone was out to get him.

He had noticed the cars following him, the parade of new faces that watched his every move while they pretended to go about their own faked routines. “So you can give me something for my insomnia? And my indigestion? And my involuntary asphyxia?” He waited for her nod. “What the hell are you waiting for then?” he cried.

“Well, it’s an experimental procedure and cannot be reversed if you don’t like the result.” said his doctor. “There is evidence that it’s occasionally toxic,” she replied, chewing her lip. “In fact, there are a whole list of possible side effects.”

“I don’t care!” he bellowed. “I just want to sleep!”

His doctor smiled angelically. “Well, I think we can manage that. I will need you to sign this form here and then turn around so I can administer the shot.”

Jensen scribbled his name furiously on the sheet filled with legalese, not reading the fine print but knowing that, at last, he would finally be able to sleep. “That it?” he asked, smiling in relief as she, too, smiled nodded again. “Now the injection?” he asked.

“Yes, sir! Just turn around and I’ll handle the rest.” He began to unbuckle his pants again, his hands fumbling with the zipper when she cooed, “That won’t be necessary.”

“No?” he asked. Turning to face the wall, he heard a drawer slide open, a click or two as the doctor prepared the needle for his injection. Finally able to begin to relax, he examined the wall, for the first time seeing the most peculiar flecks of red among the whiteness of the wallpaper. A lump formed in his throat as he felt a most un-needle-like sensation. “Exactly what’s in this shot?” he asked, wincing as deathly-cold metal was pressed to the nape of his neck. “Acepromazine? Droperidol?”

She chuckled, the sound hideous and ugly. “No, Mr. Howard,” she said, pulling the trigger.

“Just a little bit of lead.”


An aficionado of the anachronistic, a baron of the bizarre, KS Avard first studied
politics at Rutgers University before discovering the tenets of morality and upright living. From there, he pursued higher education before realizing that his way with words was worth way more than a simple wending of his way through life. Though he has yet to find mass media publishing representation, he scribbles and writes day in and out, new tales delivered daily sometimes, weekly on others, a backpack of books and filled notebooks his company at cafes and coffeehouses. Follow him on Twitter @KS_Avard

The Next Breath

by Dustin Pellegrini

Tonight, like too many other nights, there was the feel of his arm, long and heavy, pressed down over her hip and the wide berth of her thigh. His fingers, in their usual spot, chose not to move, which meant they chose not to let her move.

But then there was also the light in the corner. A tiny clown face with a red Rudolph nose. It sat on the floor, nearly swallowed up by his clothes, the rough pile he always left them in so close to the door. Shoes, then belt, then pants shirt underwear. His socks were down past her feet, hogging their own heat, too far for her to reach and get warm. She hated the AC when he came over, cranked up to where it spit out droplets that hit the hardwood and pooled there, turning it an uglier brown until she could finally get up in the morning, mop it up with his old t-shirt. The one he had forgotten and she had, months ago, hoarded.

She remembered holding it close to her the morning after he left it, crumpled between the bed and her head, his smell coming into her, staying inside. She shut her eyes thinking of it now, going red even in the cold of the room. She couldn’t wait to get up and wipe her floor with it. With him.

That would be all she could do, she knew. So it would have to be enough.

But there was the clown light in the corner that she could find, focus on, no matter what time it was when she woke up.

She remembered his voice biting into her, his fist against her kitchen counter, pounding like a train switching tracks. POOM POOM POOM POOM.

The cabinet swung like a shot put. The things smashed. Her shirt torn from her like a weak trash bag losing its handles in his grip.

But there was also her breath. Strong. So strong she could take in the World, fill herself up with it, and push his arm, heavy like an anchor, up and away.

She took big breaths all night just to feel it, feel it go away, feel her body working as one thing apart from him.

But there was only so high she could lift it, hold it, before she would deflate. Everything would come back down, forced by the impossible weight of his arm, and there she’d be, empty, covered by him. Wearing him. His weight. His words. The constant feeling of him in the room. Even when he’s showering, or on his way over there’s the thunderclap sound of the water splashing down him, his footsteps coming up the stairs. Even during the day, when he’s gone at work, there’s his moppy shirt, his crushed cans in her recycling bin, her dented kitchen counter and the cabinet door hanging limp from his grip.

But then there was also the next breath.


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

There Was Time

by Mwangi Ichung’wa

The clock is loud in the small room. It sounds like a stopwatch – tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik – an infernal countdown to who knows what. The people who were to come here are late. The people waiting to meet them are getting anxious. They are a man and a woman, both tall and thin. The woman is lighting her third cigarette in ten minutes as she tells the man, her hands waving about, that this may not have been the best idea. Tendrils of grey cigarette smoke, wispy things, float about.

Tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik

There is a knock on the door. The man and woman who are not a couple exchange a glance. The cigarette hangs loose from the left corner of her mouth. The smoke curls straight up into the ceiling. The people they were to meet are here. The man heads for the door. The woman can hear her heartbeat over the clock. The sounds are not in time with each other. One beats too fast, she cannot tell which. She crushes the cigarette in a wooden ashtray.

Tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik

The silence is heavy as the parties mull over a slight change in plan. There are now six people in the room. Three of them are smoking and no one has thought of opening a window. There has been a problem. One of the things the four new people in the room were to bring wasn’t available. The man and the woman cannot leave this place without it. The four people cannot leave without what the man and the woman have brought themselves. They also have guns.

Tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik

The clock is loud in the small room; counting down the time it takes for breath to escape the crumpled bodies on the dusty carpet. Butts smoulder in the wooden ashtray, the upward spiraling tendrils growing less dense as fire slowly dies. There is a low sound, like a cough, as the last soul exits its host. Outside the light changes as the sun sets, lighting the room a fiery orange. Stark shadows of what was are drawn across the surfaces and in the stillness, disrespectful and insolent, the clock goes tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik.


Mwangi Ichung’wa is a Kenyan writer of “transgressive” fiction. Currently writing for an ad agency to pay the bills.