By Dex Raven

 “Oh, I know she did. She’s a slut, Em. She was sleeping with Aaron’s friend, that–what’s his name? Brad? Brian? Bruce! The one who dated Stacey…has a big nose…mm-hmm, that one…well, she was sleeping with him the entire time she was dating Michael.”
Emily paused. She held several hangers in one hand, the clothes draping to the floor, and covered her mouth with the other hand. “Wait.” She said. Her eyes were wide and her shoulders tense. Margaret looked up from her magazine, visually exploring the room. “What, Em? What the hell–”
“Wait. Quiet!” she insisted.
There was a scratching sound, faint but distinct, from somewhere down the hall. Emily listened as it died out and then held her breath in anticipation of more.
“Em.” Margaret said flatly. “Em, please. This place is not haunted.”
Emily sighed, tossing the clothes onto her bed. Margaret lay prone across the length of the bed, her legs bent at the knee, feet in the air, and a copy of Cosmo in front of her. She worked over a piece of gum like the gum had done something to someone she cared about. Something very wrong.
Emily fell back parallel to her friend. “I know that in my head,” she said, “but the neighbors. Those stories they told creeped me out.”
“About things moving?” Margaret asked.
“Well, yeah. And about the dead squirrels in the backyard. I found two dead squirrels last week.”
Margaret laughed. “Em, Bentley did that! He killed squirrels and birds all the time at your last house.”
“Maybe,” Emily said, “but he wouldn’t go near these and he usually leaves dead things at the door. For me, I think. Like a present.”
“Anyway, my mom says it’s just the neighbors teasing me, and my dad got mad the last time I said something about it.”
Margaret rolled to her side, propping her head up with her hand. “Then don’t say anything about it,” she said cheerfully. Using her forefinger and thumb, she snatched the gum from her mouth, a large piece that glistened with saliva and spit bubbles, and tossed it in the trash can by the nightstand. She swept her tongue around her mouth to clear out any bad juju left by the gum and then smiled. She had a lovely smile.
“Em, it’s just an old house. I mean, you’ve been to my place. There are noises there, too.”
“I thought your dad built your house.”
“He did…ten years ago. But now it creaks and makes noise just like your house. All houses do that.”
“What about the stories about the last owner? Or all that stuff about a hidden room? I measured everything upstairs, myself. The neighbors are right–there should be another small room right in the middle of the house.”
Margaret laid her head on Emily’s shoulder. “Em, you probably measured wrong. Or that’s just the way the house was designed. Seriously, there’s no such thing as ghosts. Just let it go.”
After lying like that for a moment, Margaret crawled off the bed and snatched her towel off the back of Emily’s desk chair. “Besides, aren’t we supposed to be out at the pool right now? My skin isn’t gonna tan itself.”
Emily smiled. She stood and rolled her head from side to side to stretch out her shoulders. Then she retrieved her towel and the two girls left Emily’s room, bound for the backyard. As the sound of their laughter carried through the house, echoing off the hardwood floors, a quiet, almost imperceptible scratching sound could be heard. It emerged from the very center of the house, where there certainly should not have been a small, mysterious hidden room.

Dex Raven


By Vanessa Essler Carlson

The limbs beneath me tangled. There is the texture of grass and earth on knees and hands. Small hands, free of calluses or definition. Young hands. The smell of dirt, and then the fog of color that quickly solidified into shapes. Blades of grass, tree bark, it was all coming into view. Finally, back to the physical. The form was difficult to maneuver upright. The muscles seemed wobbly.
“Bianca! Bianca, are you ok Bon Bon?” A female voice called out.
Bianca? I pulled my consciousness through the vessel, but found little. The former occupant had been too young to imprint much knowledge onto the body. Somewhere in the depths the name Bianca floated up. Bianca is me. I am scooped up by large manly arms. He was neither attractive nor repulsive. A plain man; facial stubble, slightly protruding belly and thick scratchy brown shirt. This is Daddy. He put me on his hip, dusting off the soiled limbs with obvious concern. A chubby woman with pleasant face and unnaturally red hair rushed up next to us. Mommy.
“Are you alright? Any boo boos?” I shook my head.
The scene before me came into focus. A field stretched out before me with several metallic objects cluttered at the center. A ladder that transitioned into a solid waterfall. A group of human offspring climbed to the top and rode the waterfall down on their bottoms. A great rotating wheel carried more children around. The squealed, “whee”. An odd place for the merger to occur; a place of happiness by the look of the people about. But as always, it was beautiful random chance. I was never able to choose where, or when, or who. Floating along in abstract, waiting for some ignorant human to bump into me; or more precisely, for me to merge into them.
“What year is it?” My voice was so high, unexpected.
“Did you hear that Marty? Such big words from our tiny girl!” Mommy glowed.
“I told you we have one smart cookie on our hands. And such a question! How did you learn about years?” Daddy tapped my nose.
Such impertinence! I have ridden upon the centuries. I have instigated epic wars, turned brother against brother, brought emperors into subservience. My first instinct was to break him. To whisper to him that his daughter was no more. To gently stroke his cheek, and tell him that her soul was lost to the abstract now, wandering in an eternity of the everything void. To announce he now holds Discord in his hands. But this form is underdeveloped. Such an action would be faulty; it was unfortunate, but I required their care until this body has matured. It was best to fain innocence and observe how the world has changed.
“The year?” I tried to look up at him with big doe eyes.
His frame soften, and a muffled sigh escaped him.
“That ABC Mouse program is amazing. She really is learning.” Daddy hugged me.  “The year is 2013 Bon Bon.”
“2013.” I mulled the number over; I had been intangible for quite some time.
“I have a great idea, how about some ice cream?” Mommy said as she tied my shoe.
Ice cream- I scanned through the vessel. Cold. Sweet. I nodded. It would be nice to eat once more. We left the frolicking children behind as we came to stone river. Road. Hold hands.  Ah, so the cobblestones have been replaced by endless slabs. Clever. The illumination from the thin column changed from yellow to red and a slew of shiny self-pulled carriages came to a halt. Cars go varoom. 
Damn this immature vessel. The information didn’t aid in my purpose. I couldn’t find anything on the scope of current global conflict. I looked for the empire’s leaders, the bloody issues, the weak ideologies easily manipulated into violence, but none of that was stored within the body. Just erratic thoughts, such as sippy cup is pink like Dora, crayons make color, and Lisa has two puppies. There was no rage. No hate. No gore.
Still, not all was lost. The humans hobbled along, mesmerized by small rectangles they held in their hands. Some talked to them; other stared down into them, poking at the flat surface. Utterly distracted; they barely glanced up to observe the path they walked. Ring Ring. Hello? The surroundings were not their concern. I hadn’t seen such a culture this ripe for chaos since the middle ages. Such delectable potential.
Mommy and Daddy ordered the ice cream, and we settled at a table made of some sort of false marble. Mommy placed the bowl in front of me.
“Here you go, my angel.”
Angel. Such oblivious creatures, these humans. They assume so much.

Vanessa Essler Carlson is an eccentric writer of dark fiction. Supported by her husband and two young daughters, she is pursuing her Bachelors in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University to aid in sharping her craft skills. Other interests include exploring new recipes for her ever expanding culinary repertoire, travel, yoga and belly dance.



by Mathew Antonio

            He decided he no longer wished for the distractions with which he surrounded himself. First to go was his wardrobe with its multiple colors and patterns, the pants of all different cuts, their terrible variance a demand to be considered each morning as he clothed himself. In their place, he purchased three plain, white, button-up shirts, two pairs of black pants, identical in cut and tone, one black jacket, and one pair of sturdy black shoes.
His mornings grew focused, but he noticed that later in the day his mind wandered as he considered the evening’s entertainment. He abandoned the television with its flickering miasma of variety, and then he cleared his shelves of all but three books, each of about the same length and theme. The avenues of entertainment joined his former wardrobe in the dumpster.
The level of simplicity satisfied him for a time. His mornings and evenings were now acts of rapid decision unencumbered by the crippling act of persistent choice. This circumstance lasted for a time until one morning in the shower he noticed that he had to wash each toe, then, later, he noticed he had to pick which fingers to use when holding his toothbrush. The teeth themselves seemed excessive in their multitudes when he ate.
After he was finished, he felt unfettered and quite satisfied with the quality of his work, though he wondered how he was to now divest himself of other distraction.

Mathew Antonio lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, operates Word Machine atwww.wordmachine.weebly.com, is associate editor at em: A Review of Text and Image, and can be found at www.littlemachines.net. His fiction and poetry has appeared in publications such as L’Allure des MotsThe IdiomStanley the WhaleThird Wednesdayand/orProspectiveSmashed CatGone Lawn, and Dogzplot with pieces forthcoming in Columbia: A Journal of Literature and ArtFur-Lined Ghettos,Petrichor Machine, and Star 82.



by Denise Marois-Wolf

The hunger is a claw raking his gut.
His mother brings in a tray of raw steak, some of it flecked with icy crystals from where it hasn’t completely thawed. She’s been down in the cellar emptying out the rest of the supplies his father collected when he started hoarding raw meat in the months after the lawsuit that took his medical practice. Mitch’s father ran out of the house when Mitch showed up in the early stages of decay, ran off leaving screams and curses that still reverberate, toxic, in his ears.
Somewhere in time, Mitch remembers the neighbors, the taste of little Paulette for whom he once baby sat. He taught her to play hangman. But she wasn’t enough. Her mother, Margery Flannigan, cried when he bit into her foot, and Paul Flannigan begged for mercy, but the other zombies finished them. He ate and ate but still he starved. Then he was here, at home, and now his mother is feeding him raw meat to keep him from going after what’s left of the living neighborhood.
“I can’t keep losing my friends this way,” his mother says, laying the tray on the coffee table in front of him.
He fights an instinct to grab her arm and gnaw it to the bone. This is a battle he faces over and over, the need warring with his capacity to love, and he’s not even sure he can love since he no longer has a heartbeat. He doesn’t breath, either, which is creepy, though not as creepy as constantly pulling slimy maggots off his face, out of his hair, pulling them wriggling from between the hairs on his arms, from between his toes.
“Try not to get blood all over your shirt,” she warns, like that’s his biggest problem.
“Uh,” he nods. Somewhere along the way, his tongue fell off. When he woke up under the dirt and leaves where his father left him, his jaw was locked open like he was screaming and his tongue would not move. His jaw is still numb, but it opens and closes enough to chew. This indiscriminate loss of parts is, however, worrying, and always there is that hunger for flesh that rips at his insides, incessant, demanding. He checks his hands again for maggots that are clinging in odd places. He counts his fingers. They’re all there, but rot is creeping along the middle joint of his little finger on the right hand. He’ll have to watch that carefully find the superglue somewhere in the house.
He eats, but there is no respite. Fuck steak tartar, he wants the whole cow.
Outside, zombies are scraping along the streets leaving soggy footprints and bits of rotted flesh in the gutters to mark their passing. Some have gone into hiding, others have been caught and done in permanently by the zombie patrols that sprang up when zombies appeared and started eating their way through city blocks. They burn them, surround them with torches and set them alight. Zombies burn like bone dry kindling.
Mitch cannot remember how long ago the whole zombie epidemic started, but he thinks it must be days. His world is black and white and without time. He watches the trees outside, notes the way the wind bends the branches, how leaves scatter and flutter over the dry ground, so he guesses it’s fall. He cannot tell whether it’s a warm day despite the sunshine blaring in through the window, searing the back of his eyeballs. Mitch is cold, even in the sun.
“Ma,” he tries calling but it comes out a loud “uhf.”
Eventually, his mother hears. “What is it, Mitchell?” She looks nervous, almost afraid, like she knows he’s weighing her like a slab of raw ham at the supermarket.
He knows, though, it wouldn’t stop there, and soon he’d be out with the rest of them, devouring each other’s’ loved ones, turning pets into snacks, and still the hunger would be there, the cold, the hunger, until they turned on each other and ultimately, themselves.
He points to the empty dish. She sighs, says, “All right, I’ll see what else is down there, but honestly, Mitch, you’ve practically eaten your way through the entire freezer and there’s not a market in town left open.”
This worries him. How much longer can he hold out?
“I wish your father would come home,” she says as she heads down to the cellar. “He’d know where to find more.”
At the mention of his father, Mitch jumps up and down on the sofa, his arms flopping like dead fish, shaking his head, frantic, shouts, “umpf, numpf, ho.” But his mother has gone into the single bulb glow of the basement and his shouts fall on the shadow of the doorway.
The end. It’s one of the few things that’s stuck in his head, like a barnacle. His father would sit day after day, nursing his anger and glass after glass of whiskey, or in the basement inspecting the meat supply. Sometimes Mitch would come down in the morning to find his father in front of the television watching televangelists rant about the sins of mankind bringing a scourge upon the earth. Then, one day Mitch went with his father down by the railroad tracks. His father was hunting rabbits, drunk, carrying his shotgun. There was an argument, accusations, his father waved the gun, shouted while Mitch tried to explain about Jerome, his father pointed at Mitch’s chest shouting words like “faggot, disgrace.” There was a bang and Mitch was somewhere else.
It was nice in a way, being in that other place. Sort of peaceful, a sensation he hadn’t experienced since the day as a teenager when he woke to his difference. He saw from somewhere far off, his father, shaking, heard him wailing, begging for mercy, asking for forgiveness, as he held Mitch’s body and sobbed into the hole he’d made with his shotgun. Then he rolled the body over to a gulley and covered it with dirt and leaves.
He only barely remembers Jerome, a pale blonde, bony guy with freckled ears that Mitch met in graduate school. Mitch only remembers that he liked to paint nuts and bolts in oil and claimed to be the next Warhol. 
Now, there is a hole where his heart once was.
His mother brings him another steak. It’s warm and she explains “I had to thaw it in the microwave. I only have a couple of them left.” There are tears in her eyes, like she knows what’s coming and Mitch thinks, no, I can’t do that, not ever.
That night he sits in his room fiddling with superglue, trying to repair the rotting that’s eating his finger. He listens to the radio, hears that more zombies have been caught and torched, and he bows his head and wishes them in a peaceful place. Zombies, the movies all teach, are mindless eating machines. He wishes it were true, that he could stop thinking, stop worrying about the hunger that is a wild animal scraping his bones. His eyes see black and white, like an old movie. He smells sweat and fear, and the gasoline of cars heading out of town, but not the old roses in the garden or his mother’s freshly-washed hair, the light powdery scent of her skin. His hearing flicks in and out like it’s searching the airwaves, and sometimes it can’t get the local station and sometimes it gets Rangoon. Sometimes he can’t hear his mother when she’s standing right behind him and other times he swears he can hear an ant fart through a brick wall.
And he’s hungry, always hungry. The zombies go up and down the street wailing their despair. They are empty, he is empty.
On his desk, left over from high school, is a dog-eared encyclopedia. He has a hard time flipping through the thin pages, and he can’t help but worry that his fingers will either stop working or fall off completely, and he’ll just keep starving, trying to catch his prey with his teeth, like a sick, snarling dog. If it reaches that stage, he might turn himself in to the zombie patrol. Maybe they’ll send him back to that peaceful place. He’s afraid it won’t be there when he arrives.
He throws the encyclopedia across the room. His mother comes to the door, asks, “what’s wrong, son?” and he sees before him a giant meal of blood, organs, bone, flesh, brain, eyes. He stands, reaches out. She is shaking. Then the floor beneath her is wet with pee. Her fear smells, good, sweet, homey, the smell of baking bread or a good fattening bubbly cheese casserole.
“Son?” she whispers but to him her voice roars with fear that drives him almost to the brink of insanity.
He stops at the sight of the terror in her face, the eyes that are still red from crying over his death, which was never explained to her, the face that opened the door and welcomed him even though he smelled like death and dirt, even though his clothes and skin were rank with decay. And he throws up at her feet. Every raw steak he has eaten in the last few days since he stepped through the door is there on the floor by her shoes.
“Oh, son,” she reaches out but he backs away, holds up his hands and sees that the little finger on the left hand is missing from the middle joint. He is sickened by the gray sluggish horrors wriggling out of the rotted stump.
He screams “Uuuuhhhhh,” and pushes past her, runs down the hallway and out into the street. He can hear his mother calling, “come back, Mitchell, please, come back.”
But he is already gone in his mind, has left her behind, untouchable.
He slithers from shadow to shadow, lurks in corners and keeps a close watch on movement along the street. Under the lamplight fog wreaths itself in a luminous dance, sending fingers out to brush against the night sky. There are no stars, no moon, only a blanket of wool smothering the light.
He works his way through the town, sometimes creeping, other times jogging, wonders where the zombie patrol is tonight, where the other zombies are hiding, why none are out hunting for food.  The streets are empty of animals; no more of the living brave the open night.
He weaves through the town and its alleyways until morning, makes his way to the back of the town hall where he hunkers down with his face pressed into the brick. Suddenly, a feeling like a giant magnet yanking at his sleeve, pulls him up and out into the light, draws him toward the old train station, and he sees why the streets are empty. Zombies, a whole graveyard full, are clustered around the old wreck of a building. Some zombies are walking up and down the tracks. When they see him, they turn as one and raise their arms to beckon.
Mitch makes his way to the station, with every step the sense of fear, intense hatred and disgust, the overripe scent of self-loathing, grows stronger, but it’s not coming from the zombies. As he nears the zombies they part like he’s Moses and there in the center of the crowd sits his father, bound and gagged, wriggling like one of the gray maggots that protrude from the stump of his little finger.
He reaches out to his father, but his father pulls back, his eyes shooting alarms for help that isn’t coming. One of the other zombies pushes his father forward and Mitch calmly removes the wrapping from his mouth.
“His father roars, something incomprehensible, and Mitch remembers him sobbing over his body, begging for forgiveness. It seems a long, long time ago.
He shakes his head. “Umpf,” he says, and motions for the zombies to untie him. When his father’s bounds are loose, he lunges toward escape. But Mitch pushes him back into the chair where he sits giving off the smell of liquor and fear. It raises Mitch’s hunger until it’s beyond bearing.
His father breaths heavy, and when he speaks, his whiskey soaked breath hits Mitch full in the face, “Shit. First my son’s a faggot, now he’s a zombie. Aren’t I the luckiest fucking bastard in the world?”
Mitch starts with an arm. Within moments the aching hunger is gone. He looks up to see a bird with bright blue feathers and a red breast circle overhead. It whirls over the crowed of zombies, lets out a cry, and flies over the train station into the morning sky.

Denise Marois-Wolf received her MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. Her short stories have appeared in Prick of the Spindle and Sparks. She is currently working on a novel, She's Always There, and a short story collection.