Life and Death by Odessa Silver

Metal clanged against metal as hundreds of soldiers clashed. Yells of anger and pain, but something was... different. I watched each strike. Blows caught short or landed with no fatalities. A battleground usually was my feast, one I loved to harvest, but there was no death here. 
“What did you do?” I said anger starting to burn through me. “Why is nobody dying?”
“This isn’t for you.” She grinned. “I’m having fun; can you not feel the desperation? I don’t need death getting in my way today. And seeing you squirm, makes it even better.”
“All war is for me,” I scoffed, “just like each life is mine. Let them die already.”
War grinned and gestured to all the soldiers in battle, “these lives are mine. I am the voice in their heads which urges them to fight. I give them the cause to maim and be maimed. You may pick up the pieces after, the husks of broken bodies ready to give up.”
“And after all that, both of you are wrong,” Life interrupted, appearing next to us. “I gave them the essence to begin with. If I hadn’t brought them to life you would have no-one to make fight, or lives to take. All those people out there? They’re mine.”
I watched him carefully, his green hair rustling in the wind and golden skin shimmering in the dying light. 
“You cannot save them forever. Everyone dies. Just you wait, these mortals will be dead before their morning.”
With a smirk I lifted my hand ready to poison the airs around us all, I could kill them in one fell swoop. I’d be the victor from this ridiculous war.
“No you don’t,” Life said taking my cold hand in his. “Have your fun tomorrow. Let these people fight for what they believe in.”
“Believe in? They follow the whispers and the goading of a war-crazed battle hungry being who want to just—”
“At least I don’t want to cease their existence in an instant.” War took a deep breath and added with fervour, “how can you not love the fury and desperation of a man fighting for the last ounce of his life?”
I huffed and glanced at Life, who still held my hand and smiled. “You two are insufferable. And I have mortals to kill.”

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Unusual Dining Experience by Torché Johnson

A homeless young man, Micah finds himself at an unusual restaurant. The guests and employees all appear to be slightly off, the drinks have long and obscure names, and everything is just plain bizarre. After dining in and leaving Micah experiences an indescribable encounter that may change his life forever.

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DO NOT MESS WITH GODDESSES by Moya Green

They crept up the dark drive, the spook, the witch and the vampire. The old house was set back from the road, and only the gleam of a street lamp, shining fitfully through the storm-tossed branches, illuminated their way.

"Do we have to?" muttered Clyde. "I wanna go home." He tripped over the duvet cover which enveloped him from head to foot. He'd cut eyeholes in the front and slits so he could get his hands out, and the effect was quite spooky, if you overlooked the 'Bart Simpson ' pattern.

"Shurrup!" snarled Jordan. "We'll finish when I say. This one has it coming. He wouldn't let me have my ball back once, miserable old git."

Replacing his fangs and pulling the Dracula mask over his face, he strode to the door, lifted the knocker and brought it down with a noise like thunder. Nothing happened. The house stayed dark.

"Perhaps he's not in?" whispered Kayleigh.

"He never goes out." Jordan banged on the door again, and this time was rewarded by a faint light through the frosted glass panel, and the sound of bolts being pulled back. The door opened.

"Who is it?" a voice creaked.

"Trick or treat!" yelled Jordan, pushing forward, so that the old man was forced to take a step back.

"But - but it's not Hallowe'en yet," he quavered, "not till tomorrow night."

"Yeah, well, we're starting early. Like, we got a proposition for you." Jordan took another step, the other two crowding in behind.

"Wait," the old man protested. "You can't come in here."

But they were in. The old bloke was a pushover, looked like he'd fall over if you stared at him hard. Jordan's eyes flicked over the thick carpets and antique furniture and strange carved figurines, of men with the heads of animals. Not short of a bob or two either.

"Please, mister, can we use your toilet?" Kayleigh gazed up at him. "I really really need to go."

"Well, er - "

"Thanks ever so." She darted past, followed by Clyde.

"No, come back, you can't - " The old man turned to follow.

Jordan seized his arm. "What you do, see, is you pay us, then we put the word around. None of the other kids will bother you. You'll have a nice quiet Hallowe'en, no trouble at all."

"I never have any trouble.” He looked round frantically. “Where have they gone?"

Jordan tightened his grip, although touching the old man gave him the creeps. Old! He looked more like he'd been dead ten years, and he smelled like something dug up.

"Always a first time. Now for you, I'll do a special rate. How about a fiver? Each."

"Fifteen pounds? But that's outrageous. Let me go. Get out of my house, all of you, before I call the police!"

From one of the doors leading from the hallway there came a terrified scream, a crash, then a wail like a thousand banshee in unison.

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HE WAS ALONE by Layne Ewing

The girl had only rooted herself on the rough wooden floors.

And now?

The woman only rooted herself on the emerald veined floors.

His taking of her weapons was supposed to be his way of showing her he would protect her. Could protect her. Instead, he thrust her back to that morning eight years ago, where he had failed her.

Neither of them was in any mental state to dance. Morgan stepped closer and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. Hera, willingly accepting, tucked her hands up under her chin as her head rested on Morgan's shoulder. He swayed gently, as he hummed quietly with the music looking out on the other dancers. For a moment he wished that could have been them. He wished she didn't have to be afraid. He wished that a carefree childhood would have been a possibility.

She would have been a marvelous dancer.

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MAKING SOMETHING GOOD OUT OF SOMETHING SAD by Ken Frape

Victorian Puddle.

Henry Wiggins became an orphan suddenly and unexpectedly. It was sudden, as the number 42 bus, with the driver slumped at the wheel, neatly plucked Henry’s parents off the pavement at the bus stop. It was unexpected, as it wasn’t their bus. They were waiting for the number 43. A bemused Henry was left standing on the pavement unscathed and parentless, his empty hand no longer holding his mother’s hand.

Since then, Henry had made a surprisingly good start to managing on his own. Routine had always been a very important aspect of Henry’s family life and now he embraced it like a life raft. True, it was the routine imposed upon him by his overprotective parents but no one who knew Henry could blame them for that. Now that they had gone only the routine remained and Henry Arthur Wiggins, aged 39, simply carried on doing the same things at the same times as he always had.

Until now.

Henry was a little puzzled for he was sure that he had never seen the Empire Emporium before even though he walked this way frequently. He felt quite sure that it wasn’t there the last time he had walked by but he couldn’t swear to it. Then again, quite clearly, it was there now, its entrance situated up one of the town’s narrow side streets in Back Lane, its swinging sign creaking in the breeze above the door as it proudly proclaimed:

THE EMPIRE EMPORIUM

Bric –a- brac

Quality GOODS

Victoriana

For the discerning customer

Henry only looked at bric-a-brac on Fridays as Friday was bric-a-brac day. Monday was shopping day, Tuesday was coffee with Uncle Bill day, Wednesday was laundry day and Thursday was Museum and Library volunteering day. Saturdays and Sundays were for fishing with Dad, reading, watching the television and for playing on his X-box. Routine was everything for Henry and he didn’t cope well with change. Fishing was now off the agenda, although he could still read, watch television and play on his X-box, even without parents.

On this occasion, it was a Monday and Henry was walking home with three carrier bags of shopping. Some unseen force caused him to stop, glance into the window, then propel him sharply into the alley. He changed direction so swiftly that his trilby fell off his head. He replaced his hat and turned his eager gaze back to the window and confirmed what he thought he had already seen. It was a puddle, lying there on the shelf in the window, surrounded by its own patch of turf and rough soil and neatly framed like a piece of art. Beside it was a carefully positioned manila cardboard sales tag, upside down, thus making it hard to read without entering the shop. The tag read,

Victorian Puddle, circa 1853. £250

On the back, in pencil, were the words,

The Empire Emporium,

Back Lane,

Middleton.

Henry and his parents had been avid bric-a-brackers for years and Henry was wise enough to know that things put up for sale in some of these shops weren’t always what they were cracked up to be so he was not convinced by the label.

“ You can’t sell a puddle!”

And yet, as if to disprove that, here was a puddle and it was for sale for £250.00.

Henry did not remember entering the shop but nonetheless he found himself inside, gazing down at the puddle and feeling a little unsteady on his feet. His routine had been broken and he felt the most overwhelming urge to buy this strange artefact. Almost without thinking, he found himself fingering the lining of his hat where he kept a plentiful supply of the £20 notes that his parents had stashed away in their bedroom.

Luckily, for Henry, his parents had never trusted banks so they had left their only child somewhat cash rich. He was still amazed at just how much money they had managed to stash away under their mattress. It was £17,585.43, to be precise. Henry knew this as he had counted it twice, just to be sure. In fact, he counted it twice every day since his parents had died. There were 879 twenty pound notes, one fiver, two twenty pence coins and three pennies, the odd £5.43 being the change from their last shopping trip, when they had bought £14.57’s worth of food. Henry reasoned that they had been making provision for their old age and now, as they did not have that to look forward to, being dead, then it must be his to do with as he wished.

He knew he really ought to stick to his routine and turn around and come back on a bric-a-brac Friday but his feet wouldn’t let him retrace his steps. He tried. The puddle was contained in a 6 feet by 4 feet wooden frame about eight inches deep. The irregularly shaped watery section, the puddle itself, was about 4 feet by three feet and surrounded by grass and soil. It certainly looked like a puddle. Henry dipped his fingers into the water gingerly and did a little finger wiggle. The greeny-brown water swirled around and then settled again into a caramel-like slab, entombing a tiny fly that really should have known better. Henry rescued the fly with the corner of a piece of paper from his pocket and left it to dry out on the dusty sill. He couldn’t abide suffering with any creature.

Henry’s feet marched him up to a young man leaning on the counter. He wore braces to hold up his grubby denims and sported splendid mutton chop whiskers. His attention was divided between his phone, the newspaper, open at the horseracing pages and a tiny TV screen mounted on the wall.

Henry coughed gently and the young man looked up, as if only just registering his presence.

”Can I help you?” he asked.

“Er, yes,” said Henry. “That puddle in the window...”

“What you mean the Victorian one, circa 1854..?

“It says 1853,” Henry corrected him.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s right 1853. You wanna buy it, or what? There aren’t many like that one about, you know. It’s fully authenticated by the Victorian Artefact Society of Great Britain with a certificate to prove it,” he said. As if anticipating Henry’s next question he rummaged around in the drawer under the counter.

“Aha, here it is,” he said taking out a certificate-like piece of yellowing paper.

“There you are, see,” said the young man, unfolding the certificate and waving it in front of Henry.

As Henry had never actually seen any Victorian puddles previously, or certificates of provenance, he couldn’t argue about the veracity of this particular example. To gain thinking time, he copied his father’s old trick, sucking a sharp intake of breath through his teeth whilst stroking his chin ruminatively. He was concerned about potential routine maintenance issues, he explained.

“What if it dries up, for instance? Puddles do that all the time, don’t they?”

“Nah, simple really,” said the young man, sensing a sale, including his commission. “Just top it up every now and then and it’ll go for another hundred years or more!”

“What, you mean just add water?” Henry asked, his naivety on display like a badge on a jumper. ”Any old water?”

“Nah, don’t be daft, mate. Can’t do that! Old water, certainly but not ANY old water! This is a genuine Victorian puddle, you know! You need to get the top- up water from another puddle and the older the better! Victorian, ideally, of course. None of this modern stuff will do.“

He clicked his tongue in derision.

“Don’t you know nothing about puddles?”

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THE END OF YOUTH by Michael Button

We thought the manticore hunt would an in-out job, a few hours there, a few hours back. But we’re professionals. Thorough. We came equipped for an over-nighter. Still. Three days was pushing it. By the end of the second night in that miserable, mosquito-ridden forest, even the most experienced of us – to wit, myself – were starting to suffer. A weird combination of boredom and tension.

Some poxy village elders had hired us to do the job after the beast had been spotted on the outskirts of their town, and one of their own had gone missing. We’d tracked our quarry to a cave, on a woody hillside. Sleeping in shifts, we watched the cave entrance. Restless sleep that did nothing to relieve our fatigue, knowing the kick in the ribs could come at any time. We argued and argued again whether the money was worth it. But we are men of our word. When we say we’re going to do a job, we do it.

On day three, she emerged.

Chokewater saw her first. The old rascal seemed to survive on air alone, so seldom did he leave his post, wedged between two boulders on an outcrop not twenty yards from the cave. I was whittling away at my nails with an old knife. Just happened to look up to see Chokewater raise his hand. Three fingers held aloft.

Time to work.

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DEATH AND LOSS by Darcia Gonzalez Laucerica

A father broken down by the fact that his daughter is dying turns to dark ways to save her. His pain and frustration sends him to a train station in which he tries to understand things beyond his reasoning and where he boards a train in which is possible to establish a deal with the underworld.

Instead, he's forced to face the reality of how unstoppable death is, no matter what you do, including merging into the supernatural. He is also confronted with his past as a religious man and his mother’s still religious beliefs and outlook on how to support her daughter, who waits for him in a hospital bed and might not reach the end of the month in her condition.

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