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.

The Woods at Night

by Heather Adams

Oh – how terrible the woods at night!
How uneven the quality of the light
Where shapes are formed, and shadows grow –
The strange hearts of which soon beat, and glow.
How deep and rough the texture of that wood
To throw up forms where none, before, had stood.

Such creeping madness, a dark blue terror,
Near or far, what does it matter?
All who linger will know the dread
Of a wasted trail in sunlight tread.

For though these woods, you think, are tame,
You hear a hunter’s footsteps just the same.
And in those dusky moments when the day has gone –
And yet in ghostly echoes lingers on –
Each footstep’s fall is death’s hello:
Oh yes, you know that this is so.

The crickets’ call, the rodents’ scurry:
All tell you – yes – oh please – to hurry.
The owl’s harsh cry: a warning blow
That some strange beast no one should know
Is quickly closing in – it’s true –
Is even now, perhaps, behind you.

For when true night walks in, and deepens,
The gloam woods’ sounds may be mistaken
For whispers, calls, both shy and sudden
And danger lurks, at once, unbidden.

No soft blue from the full moon’s ray
Can hope to keep the wild at bay.
Now a world of shadow thrives,
And only the luckiest survives
That array of light, perceived with dread,
That reveals a night both black and red.


Heather Adams is a storyteller living in the admittedly sometimes creepy woods of central Pennsylvania.

Catch and Release

by Steve Carr

Although Carton Laxwell had lived in the hills of Kentucky his entire life, he never liked killing another living thing, but he loved to fish.

He parked his pickup truck on the gravel road about fifty yards from Piney Creek. It wasn’t a creek at all, but a narrow, murky river that flowed gently through the woods just a few miles out of town.

He got out of the cab and went around to the back and lowered the tailgate. He took out a small basket containing his lunch of potted meat sandwiches and two cans of beer, his fishing pole, tackle box, and a folding canvas stool to sit on. He shut the trunk, then with everything either awkwardly held in his arms, or precariously balanced on both shoulders, he stepped into the knee high grass and walked through a grove of maple trees to the bank of the creek.

First making certain there were no birds nests or other woodland creature created habitats in the grass, he then stomped a flat area in the grass, making his own kind of nest, then laid everything down. As he unfolded the chair he saw a piece of red flannel in the grass on the perimeter of his newly created fishing spot. He bent down to pick it up, but pulled his hand back when he saw the cloth was wound around the wrist of a severed arm. The hand portion still attached to it was missing all of its fingers, although the thumb was still there, pointing upward as if giving the okay sign. The skin on the arm was gray and decayed, but teeth marks were clearly visible. There was a tattoo of an eagle on the forearm.

“That’s Neb Duly’s arm,” he said aloud. “I’d recognize that tattoo anywhere.”

With no one else around and uncertain what to do, he covered it with grass and returned to setting up his fishing spot.

Sitting on his chair he took a rubber worm from the tackle box and put it on the hook. He cast the line out into the water and watched the worm sink beneath the surface. He sat back and listened to the birdsong coming from the trees and opened the basket and took out a sandwich and opened a beer. While biting into the sandwich, there was a tug on the fishing line. He sat bolt upright, dropped the sandwich and quickly jerked the fishing pole and began to reel in his catch.

When he raised the line out of the water, a large catfish was dangling on the hook. He stood up and stared into the fish’s eyes as it struggled to breathe. “Well, aren’t you fine lookin’,” he said to the fish. He then removed the hook from the inside of the fish’s mouth and threw the fish back into the river. A few minutes later he threw the line back into the water and returned to his lunch.

“What a great day for fishin’,” a voice said from behind him. Carton turned.

It was Miles Pelroy, the owner of the local hay and feed store.

Miles was wearing rubber waders and carrying a fishing pole and a net. He stepped out of the grove and trampled across his nest and stopped at the bank. “What kind of bait are you usin’, Carton?” Miles said.

“Just a rubber worm,” Carton said.

“You’ll never catch a fish that way,” Miles said. “You got to get right in the water and go after the fish with somethin’ alive on the hook.” He held up his pole and showed a squirming worm that was skewered on the hook. “I always catch a big one on my first try. Pan fried catfish is some darn good eatin’.”

“I don’t eat the fish I catch,” Carton said. “I catch them and release them back into the water.”

“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” the man said.
“Ain’t no sense catchin’ somethin’ if you don’t plan to eat it.”

Miles waded out into the water and cast his line with one hand while holding the net in readiness with the other. A few minutes later he let out a scream and began frantically smacking the water with the net.

Carton stood up and helplessly watched as Miles thrashed about, letting loose of his pole and net and was then pulled under the water. Large blood red bubbles quickly rose to the surface. A few minutes later a bloody leg covered by a shredded wader pants leg was tossed out of the water and onto the river bank.

“If only I knew how to swim,” Carton said aloud, “maybe I could have saved him.” He shrugged. “I never much liked him anyways.”

With his pole still in the water, Carton was surprised when there was a tug on the line. Grasping tightly onto the pole he started to reel it in but lost his footing and was pulled into the water. Quickly submerged, he stared, terrified, at a man-sized creature the color of mud, with long sharp fangs, and an exposed human-like brain on the top of a fish-like head. The creature wrapped its sharp claws around Carton’s forearms.

Certain he was going to die, Carton closed his eyes.

A moment later he was flung up onto the river bank a few feet from his nest.

He didn’t take the time to question why he was still alive. He sprung to his feet, gathered his things and ran to his truck and sped off.


Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 150 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. Sand, a collection of his short stories, was published recently by Clarendon House Books. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter @carrsteven960