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Grilled Rabbit

by Benjamin Locke

A man without a name stood still in the chill of the evening air, stooped behind a tree, listening to conversation a little ways down the road.

The tree was seemingly the last on this final frontier of civilized vegetation before the unforgiving heat and lifelessness of the desert began proper.

Two men where squabbling over something, gesturing angrily with their hands and leaning in towards each other as they spoke. The man without a name knew all of these tells. He was a great study of people and animals which made him a formidable hunter and a hard man to tail.

The man had been traveling on horseback, but sensing his pursuers two days past, he’d stabled the horse in the nearest town and payed the stable master generously not to mention anything of his passing through, should anyone go asking.

The two men seemed to have stopped, the man without a name presuming they had finally admitted to themselves that they had A; lost their prey and B; lost themselves. They stood now facing away from each other, looking off in to the distance and along the road, looking for any sign of life.

The man without a name knew these men where no trackers. They couldn’t find their own pricks with both hands, he thought. Seizing the opportunity for surprise, he pushed his way through a thicket lining the edge of the thoroughfare, stumbling on to the sandy track.

The two men ahead of him panicked at the sound of rustling foliage and spun around, frantically reaching for their guns.

‘Ho, Ho, fellas I mean you no harm’, the man without a name said, one hand held up in the air before him. ‘I’m just passing through here. Took a detour off the road to catch me some supper.’

The other hand, which had been held up to his shoulder swung down now to reveal two scrawny rabbits which he held out before him also.

The two men, both with a hand on the butt of their guns looked at each other in confusion. The man without a name could almost hear the cogs turning in their brains as they communicated in silence.

After a moment, they both withdrew their hands and let their jackets fall back over the holsters on their belts, concealing the guns once more.

One of them said, ‘Say, you don’t know of anywhere round here to spend the night do ya?’

The other one said, after a violent cough, ‘our horses went lame yesterday and we’ve been walking ever since. Need to make it to salt lake city for our sisters wedding ya see.’

The man without a name swung the rabbits back over his should and relaxed his stance.

‘Nothing round here except desert, Son. You’ve a three day ride in the direction of Salt Lake before you hit anywhere with a soft mattress,’ he paused and one side of his mouth rose a little, ‘or a soft woman, if it please ya.’

The two men looked at each other again. The man without a name continued. ‘Look, dark’s closing in. The nights out here are colder than a Nuns cunny and I don’t plan to be without a fire for much longer. You boys are welcome to join me for some rabbit supper. Don’t exactly look like you have much food on ya, so I’d say you don’t have many choices. Nothing like some good food in your belly to keep the night away.’

More silent communication between the men. One of them eventually nodded and they walked with the the man off the road a ways to a secluded spot sheltered by a few huge sandstone boulders.

Within an hour the man had gotten a fire going with some dried brush and fashioned a spit out of sticks he’d had slung over his back. The smell of grilled rabbit filled their little camp and before long, they all seemed relaxed and ready for a hot meal. Just as the man without a name had said, the air quickly turned to ice. A long way from the raging heat of midday.

As the rabbit began to cook through, the man without a name stood up and asked the others to keep the spit turning while he went for a piss. On his return, the man produced three small tin cups from his satchel and filled them from a water skin hanging from his belt.

‘Tea, fellas?’ He asked.

They both nodded and the man without a name tipped some loose tea in to each of the cups which were resting now in the embers. The three men sat and enjoyed grilled rabbit and hot tea by the light of the fire and each was pleased. Soon after, they were asleep.

* * * *

One man awoke shaking, a warm dribble in the corner of his mouth. Looking up he was startled to see the man without a name hunkered down before him.

‘Rise and shine sweetheart.’

‘Hersh?,’ the man sputtered and coughed. Blood sprayed from his mouth.

‘Hersh is gone. Coughing sickness right? I could tell from the minute we met, the way he coughed and held a rag to his face to catch the blood. It took him quicker I’m afraid.’

‘What do you mean?’ The man tried to get up, but the strain made him hack and spew more blood. He could even feel a warm dampness forming between his ass cheeks.

‘Vorbane. Powerful little thing.’ The man without a name was holding a small dried mushroom in one hand. ‘Very rare, I’ve brought these a long way to feed to you Pinkerton fuckers. Completely undetectable by taste or smell,’ he smiled.

‘Why,’ the man could barely speak now. Blood pouring from every hole like a fountain. ‘Why the rabbits?’

The man without a name stood up. ‘No man should die on an empty stomach, I’m not a savage.’

Then he turned and disappeared in to the black desert night.


Benjamin is a fiction writer living in Yorkshire, England. He writes anything from Epic Fantasy to Thrillers and Adventures and is a huge Stephen King fan!

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.

Nothing Left To Count

by Maddie White

1…2…3…4…5… I count the bills in my drawer until there’s nothing left to count.

It’s been a long Friday. One after another, customers lined up in front of me to deposit money and cash their checks. They scheduled me to leave early, but I volunteered to stay.

It was 10 minutes before we closed and a tall man with dark hair and piercing blue eyes walked in hurriedly.

“You got here just in time.” I called to the man in the lobby.

He gave me a friendly half smile and tried to sign.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know sign language.”

I handed the man a piece of paper and a pen to write the transaction he needed. The other teller took her drawer to the vault, leaving me alone with the man. I saw him slide the paper and pen back.

My heart filled with a cold rush of fear.

Don’t make a sound. Give me all the money in your drawer. I have a gun. Make it fast.

My hands trembled as I fumbled for my keys. He watched every move and I tried to remember what the protocol was for this situation. We were being robbed.

Just breathe. He will not hurt you as long as you do what he wants. I told myself.

My drawer flew open and I debated whether to give him bait money. I took a chance and pulled the trap. He laid a black plastic bag on the counter and I filled it with the money. The phone rang causing me to jump.

“Is everything okay, ma’am? We received an alert of a hold up.” The woman from the security company asked.

“I’m sorry, we close at 5. I’ve got a customer now, but we’ll be closing after his transaction is complete.”

“We’ll dispatch the police. Is anyone hurt?”

“Okay, thank you. Have a great evening.”

My coworker emerged from the vault, unaware of the imminent danger in front of her.

Wide eyed, I looked up at the robber as I stuffed the cash in his bag. He pulled his white tucked shirt out of his pants revealing a gun.

“What the hell?” my co-worker whispered from behind me.

The man pulled his gun and shoved it in my face.

“You call the cops, she dies.”

I spit the gun from my mouth.

“Let her go. I’ll stay here until you leave. Just let her go.”

Sirens blared in the distance, causing him to look away.

“I told you, no cops.” His voice was monotone and he raised the gun.

I ran to the exit. I heard the shot and felt a burning sensation in my side. I laid on the ground and felt warm blood running down my leg.

No. This can’t be it. Keep breathing. It will be okay. I told myself.

1…2…3…4…5 I counted again, but this time it’s not money. It’s seconds between each breath until there’s nothing left to count.


Maddie White is passionate about mental health. She has work featured in Flash Fiction Magazine, Pixel Heart Magazine, and Rhythm and Bones. You can find her on Twitter @MaddieMWhite17

Mercy

by Frank Linn

We did it because we wanted to help her. That’s all there is to it, but it wasn’t that simple to the police.

As if it was yesterday, not two years ago, I remember it, and more recently, the very public trial that has followed. I was on the couch when it started, my stomach churned after each of the cop’s questions. My sister was next to me then, just as she is now, but now we’re not on my mom’s couch. In this courtroom, the defendant’s chair is hardwood, it feels the same as the cotton stuffed corduroy cushion felt.

Two days ago, the officer who questioned us about our mother’s death told the jury what we told him then. He wasn’t lying, we were, well at that time we were.

Four years ago our mother was diagnosed with cancer, stage one, nothing we were too concerned about, so we were told. Our mom’s oncologist said it was treatable. My sister, the nurse, told us it was treatable. Treatable cancer that just continued to come back, grow, and spread. Each time it crept back and hit our mom a little harder. She was a strong woman, but that was maybe our biggest weakness in this battle. Each time she bounced back only to get knocked down harder. Eventually, the bounce backs were slower, and the knocks down were harder until she couldn’t get back up.

We admitted to killing our mother, not for the reasons the tabloids, pundits, and b-list attorneys made it seem, and not for the charges against us. We weren’t guilty of murder because we wanted money. But when the State Attorney got wind of how much money my sister and I would get from our mother’s estate they ordered an autopsy.

The state traced the painkillers our mom overdose on to my sister’s job. The cruel word – overdose. That word was thrown around in the trial that it seemed coined for us, that we were killers or drug dealers profiting from the addiction of victims. “Forcing their mother to overdose,” the prosecutor said.

No, all we did was end our mother’s suffering. She begged us, for months she did, and finally, when I started suggesting it to my sister, just starting to, she finished my sentence. We were in sync but still too ashamed to say it to the other.

We admitted our story, we announced to everyone we didn’t want to see her suffer. That wasn’t enough for the prosecutor. He only had a few days left before he could put his name in to run for governor. I’m sure the campaign posters started coming off the presses as soon as the jury went into deliberation. We were his ticket to higher office. The only price was our agony of reliving the worst days of our lives. A win against us, any sort of victory, even a day’s sentence would validate him.

We stood for the judge, he had just received a sheet of paper from the jury. It was the moment two years had been building to. He placed the paperback on his desk and leaned forward to the microphone and spoke.

Our attorney tried to sympathize us so the jury could see us as merciful daughters ending the suffering of our mother. That we took care of her just as she took care of us.

All I heard, “Guilty.” The strategy didn’t work.

The next day we returned for sentencing. The jury that seemed to view us as monsters was dismissed. Only the judge would decide our fate. The prosecution had pushed for the maximum; more for my sister since she “trafficked the drugs to commit a homicide.”

We only got time served.

The printers of the campaign posters must have halted. The prosecutor’s face became red.

It took us a while to figure out what had happened. Later that day our attorney called me, I was back on the corduroy couch. It was comfortable again, not as comfortable as it was before killer, and much too far from how it felt when my mom was on it beside me.

As it turned out, our attorney told us, the same thing happened to the judge. His mother had cancer in her bones. He watched her suffer. He took it as long as he could before he gave in to her wishes, the same wishes our mother had, for her daughters to bring her peace.


Frank Linn is a short story writer living in Miami, a good place for great inspiration. Follow him on Twitter @AuthorFrankLinn

Dinner Stains

by River Rivers

$7.25 an hour doesn’t pay the bills.

At least it couldn’t when Tully was a school Janitor. Years passed since those days. He had since moved up in the world, finding respectable work in his trade. His current employer, Immaculate Worship Church, hired him $15.00 at full time with all the included benefits. It was dirty, repetitive, thankless work, but it allowed him to support a large family and spend time with them too.

This morning Tully and his trainee Henry weren’t upkeeping the church grounds, they would be taking the company van out to the worship’s privately owned warehouse. Tully was surprised the boy was ever hired. Henry was a self-proclaimed Protestant, who believed Mary wasn’t an eternal virgin and had natural born children before Christ. Tully reminded Henry when he began to keep his beliefs private. The Immaculate Worship didn’t tolerate such hearsay among its affiliates. Tully learned fast to keep his thoughts to himself. He’d be fired if he told the Elders that the idea of virginity is sexist and promotes slut shaming.

“Be respectful when entering this place,” Tully warned Henry upon arrival. “It’s on these site grounds that the Vestal apprentices who failed to keep their hymens intact before they age to thirty are buried alive under stones to preserve the order’s sanctity.” The Vestals, also called the Roman Women, were virgin priestesses honored among the Immaculate Elders. They attended to the many properties and practices of the church.

The boy nodded his head as he listened, reassuring him with an, “I will, I will.”

They gathered their cleaning supplies into a cart. When allowed inside the warehouse the two Janitors were made welcome by several Vestals. Practicing nudists, the vestals saw the naked form as a non-sexual entity. They were permitted no clothing when performing duties. The common vestal was known for their white cotton masks and pearl jewelry. Their nakedness made Henry uncomfortable. Tully, a married man, took no issue with this and was used to their eerie presence. Only a Lead Mary was allowed to speak on the group’s behalf. Any other Vestals were wraiths that waited in silence, otherwise, they moved about their tasks almost unseen.

The Lead Mary, a tall woman who Tully recognized, greeted them with standard prayers and asked them to drink from the cups her apprentices offered. It was ‘Elders Brew’ a blisteringly hot and bitter tasting liquid which was custom for church hosts to offer their guests. Tully always had to pee minutes after drinking it and would need to use the restroom before getting to work. Henry didn’t feel the need and waited. Upon return he noticed the Lead Mary was carrying a strainer with water miraculously held within, not a single drop had fallen through the mesh holes. She said nothing of it and led them where they needed to be.

The main room was locked and it took an elder’s own key for the Lead Mary to open it. She blessed them with a bow and left. “Is it true that come Armageddon the Elders will sell the Vestals to powerful men in order to secure assets? Virgins go for a high bride price.” The Trainee asked him the moment she was out of earshot.

“What did I say about respect, boy? The Elders could be listening.”

They opened the door to a warm blast of stinking air. Enough to make any man vomit. A poor ventilation system and smoke coming from a recently abandoned fire pit worsened the smell. The scene was pure gore. They walked to the table over lily flowers that covered the floor from corner to corner. By the bust of Athena displayed in the center, he determined this warehouse room was set up to mimic the Parthenon Dining Hall of the main church building. He pictured the Elders in here during the twilight hours clinking their dinnerware and casting spells.

We are cleaning after a Conception Feast. Henry is not ready to see this, thought Tully.

The sins of the cult needed to be washed away. The dinner remains were left a bloody mess as if a giant had spilled a cup of deep red wine onto the room’s contents. Blood didn’t simply stain the symbolic marriage-bed-sheets hung up like tapestries. It stuck to the dinner plates, congealed together in pools on the tablecloth, splattered onto silverware, filled bowls to the brim, even the glasses contained foggy fingerprints. There were too many knives to count and a tattered white dress tossed aside to be forgotten. Strange symbols and words spread out and written in a language he could not read. The evidence of virginal sacrifice and spiritual consumption were obvious. Nothing Tully hadn’t seen or cleaned after before.

However, the boy wasn’t expecting this, he was in shock and trying to process the scene before him. Tully informed Henry they would need more than what was brought in the cart if the task was to be completed in time. Sending him to the van for supplies would save him from viewing the nearby body. Henry would have no idea that the girl’s sacrifice would allow a Vestal, most like the Lead Mary, to become pregnant with a future Master and Elder. That a Vestal was prophesied this century to give birth to the next Prophet, the next Saviour.

Tully then remembered that Conception Feasts came in pairs and a male virgin was more valuable than a female in the eyes of the Immaculate. This sin was forgiven, but soon another will be committed. Suddenly he feared for his trainee Henry. That was a stain he didn’t want to scrub out.


River Rivers is a writer lost in the Cascadian mountain lands of Oregon. He spends his time with his two adopted Pitbulls, Gemma and Murphy. Somehow in between their chaos, he finds a time for work and fiction.