Mania by Katie Schmidt

This unnamed narrator finds no solace in the teachings of God, his father, or science and seeks to make every single one of them pay.

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The Unanswerable Mystery by Katie Clarke

They often resided in The Branded Lynx, a drinking location that was decided by him, of course. They moved symbiotically, and when he was not at work he preferred to enjoy her company in public rather than in private.The establishment itself oozed opulence and class, with hanging lights suspended on gallows and a large black clock nailed on the wall left of the entrance, which seemed to lack any particular function. This fascinated her. The clock existed only to be admired for its ironic timelessness, nothing more. The timepiece took up almost the entire wall, which wasn’t difficult as it was a small establishment. Yet the place, even on its busiest days, seemed to always be sparse and the few who remained inside were always so miserable and alone, even in their herds of two or three. The only smile in the establishment belonged to the bartender and even then that felt like the smile of a ventriloquist. Fake and forced; there only for the benefit of the matinée. The punters ran like clockwork, with porcelain skin and glass eyes, grasping their drinks in their shaky fingers and rolling their heads to face the door to watch as people entered and, every now and again, left.

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Memories by Kelly Josephs

They both continued to reminisce for the better part of an hour, going back and forth brining up some of their most cherished memories. Both women spoke to each other so freely, as if no time at all had passed since they last saw each other.

“And don’t forget back in high school when that scumbag Roy Arnold tried to sleep with me behind your back! As if! He learned his lesson the next day when his pastor was informed about him breaking his celibacy promise. His parents were absolutely mortified,” Carla recounted, remembering the exact shade of red Roy Arnold’s father had been at church the next Sunday when everyone was whispering behind his family's back. 

Many of their memories were quite similar, involving getting into trouble with boys as well as their parents. Always being reprimanded for not acting like proper young ladies. Carla's parents had sent her to too many different finishing schools to try and get her to straighten out. 

“Hmm, we had some real good times causing trouble back in the day, didn’t we?” Jade asked, tightly squeezing her friend's hand.

“But remember what happened here? Wasn’t it… thrilling? All those years ago at this exact spot. It was so exhilarating, I wish we had done it more often when we were still young and able,” Carla spoke, looking pointedly at the colourful flowers beneath their feet. 

“You mean what we did with Brenda Gilligan? She screamed so much that night. Music to my ears.” 

Both women laughed at the memory, loud bellowing laughs that nearly mirrored the laughs that they shared that night with young Brenda Gilligan beneath them.

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Adventure by Christina Martin

When he came into the kitchen his mom was carrying a platter of food to the table. Freddy got very excited, dinner time was his favorite time of day. He ran over to his little chair, which was a thimble, and got ready to dive in to all the food his mother had prepared. But when she finally sat the platter on the table, all he saw was one small piece of cheese and a few cracker crumbs.
Freddy said, “Mom, this is all we are having for dinner?” His mom sadly said, “Yes, my son, the man saw me last night and locked away the food.” “Oh no, Mom, what are we going to do!?,” Freddy said, with a shocked look in his eyes. She walked over to him and said, “We are just going to have to cut back for a little while, until the family thinks we aren’t here anymore.”
Freddy didn’t know if he could do that. He was used to having plenty to eat all the time. The thought of cutting back made his stomach growl. He started thinking maybe he needed to come up with a way to get some more food for his mother and for himself. After a while the perfect idea came to him. He would make a run to a place he knew of where there would still be delicious sweets to eat. The rest of the day and that night he made plans for how he would get to it. The place he knew of was upstairs and it was where the cat stayed most often at night. So getting to this place would not be easy.
Freddy remembered this place where his mother used to take him, before the family brought in the cat. There was always lots of cupcakes and candy at this place. Beside the man’s bed upstairs there was a table with a drawer and in that drawer was all the sweets that Freddy could ever dream of having. There was just one problem, he had to get up the stairs, down the hall and get passed the sly black cat named Shadow first. 
The next day went by very slow for Freddy. He couldn’t stop thinking about his plans. He decided to start playing some soccer to help pass the time. Then before he knew it, his mom was saying it was dinner time. He put his ball away and went to dinner. Again, there wasn’t much to eat. His mother brought out a little piece of bread and a few seeds the bird had dropped from its cage. This made Freddy more determined than ever to get to that drawer.

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Creature in the woods

“And ever since the incident,” said Kyle, holding his flashlight beneath his chin. “The Ruby Forester is said to roam these woods at night, searching for the jewels he never found, and hunting all who enter by inhaling them like a vacuum . . .”

“WhOoOo!” said James in the most chilling tone he could manage. He cast his flashlight onto Megan and Joe.

Their shadows withered in the firelight.

“The Ruby Forester?” asked Megan. She strengthened her grip on the log she used as a seat. She cocked an eyebrow. “You can’t seriously expect us to believe in a man with rubies for eyes who inhales people?”

Joe nodded, agreeing with his sister, “You have to admit, Kyle, it sounds pretty far-fetched.”

“Alright,” Kyle yielded. “The two of you can believe what you want. Just don’t come crawling into our tent when you hear his wooden leg drag across the soil, or his claws trace along the tree trunks.”

The fire sputtered. A sprinkle of ash ascended into the sky, blending with the stars. A sinister breeze whipped the tops of the trees.

Joe stood. “Well, I think that’s enough babbling for tonight. We better hit the hay, it’s an early morning tomorrow, remember? The many species of birds around here aren’t going to document themselves.” He beckoned Megan towards their tent. She shivered and followed. “We need to do our best on this project. If we’re graded anything less than a B, I’m blaming the two of you!”

Kyle and James grinned. They shook their flashlights, humming an ominous tune. Kyle scratched his nails against the tree. “Sleep tight, you two . . . I hope you don’t have a run in with the Ruby Forester . . .”

“Shut up, Kyle!” snapped Megan. She zipped the tent shut. “Can you believe those two idiots? Out of everyone in our class, why did we have to pair up with them?”

“Because they’re really smart, Megs,” said Joe. “Just ignore them. They want you to react like this. Now, let’s go to sleep.”

* * *

Megan woke with a start. She sat motionless, listening: something heavy dragged across the ground. “I’m just being silly.” She turned, opting to lie down, when the dragging transformed into scratching: crrr . . . crrr . . . crrr . . . A set of sharp nails traced the side of the tent.

Megan whimpered. “Joe, wake up . . . Joe!”

The scratching stopped.

Joe murmured, “Megs, what is it?” He wiped his eyes.

“There’s – there’s something out there,” she said. “I thought it was nothing, but . . . it was right outside our tent, scratching.”

Joe listened. “I don’t hear anything.”

“It’s gone now, of course, but I think it might have been a bear. We have to go and check on the car.”

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IN THE HEART OF A TECHNOLOGICAL NIGHTMARE by Samuel Marshall

Jackson Rutherford stood at the front of the boardroom and savored the taste of sweat on his top lip.

The idea he was about to propose would launch DigiSayfe into a realm of politics that corporations only dreamed about. His face would adorn the front cover of every magazine and the world would know that this man, this hair lipped university graduate from Wolverhampton, had changed their lives.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the board, I present to you, KonKwest"

From behind his back, Jackson revealed a silver ball the size of a pumpkin. It had a single menacing green eye and a zipper mouth.

"KonKwest, would you like to introduce yourself to the room?" Jackson asked with a smile.

At first, nothing happened, then the ball started spinning rapidly. It lifted itself off the table and began inspecting the sea of grey haired men and women which made up DigiSayfes executive board.

"I am KonKwest, the moderator and eliminator of your digital lives. Pleased to meet you all"

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THRILLER by Stephen Davis

Introduction.

Setting: Redesmere wood in Cheshire.

Tim of year: November.

There was something eerily beautiful about the moon in winter. The fascinating way it would sneak between the trees in the late afternoon and evening, shining majestically as it did so, making its welcome presence felt in this most picturesque of settings.

Few visitors frequented this area at night, save for the occasional passing car or people walking their dogs, making the remoteness of the forest the perfect cover for…………..MURDER.

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PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAGEDY by Rebecca Connor

A young woman with 2 young children gets a phone call to check on her children from a sinister voice. Next thing she realises is she wakes up in a police cell.

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OBSESSION by Claudia Spiridon

My mornings since then became a little game of hide and seek. Marco seemed to be dictated by the same schedule as me, at times. Other times, however, I would walk around the cul–de–sac as if to inspect the state of my neighbours' lawn.

This habit started on a Monday when I went to get the mail and I heard a call from across the street. The mysterious man that fed me pie and seemed to paralyse any sense of decency in me was staring straight at me. A sleepy smile accompanied a short wave and he jogged towards me, taking out his earbuds. I felt I should run as if I was about to become the prey of a vicious predator. His clear, blue eyes pinned me with a gaze to the spot I was standing in and my body became numb.

The interaction left me wanting to know more about him. All he did was greet me and invite me on a run with him, but I felt as if his words held an inflexion that assumed much more. What ‘more’ it assumed, I was not sure.

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THE IMPORTANCE OF HANDS by Owen Townend

"How are your boys?"

"Behaving. At the moment."

"Well, if they don't, its £650 this time." For a guy with monster arms, Mo pours out water like the daintiest tea maid. "The pinky ring of that last punk cut deep. I don't like to see blood."

"Aww," I say, "Haemophobia ruining your work life?"

Mo shrugs. "Blood's fine except when it's my blood."

The punk kid was an upstart in the gang. I didn't care for his cockiness and soon had him pegged as an informant. Too many of the deliveries he oversaw were delayed or intercepted so I called in outside help.

I had heard of the Hand Crusher by reputation: a short man named Mo with the thickest mitts you ever saw. I pointed Mo in the right direction and he soon got to work. Afterwards the kid couldn't make a fist with either hand.

But apparently the damage wasn't only one way: I can now see the tiniest scar on the heel of Mo's palm as he sips his chilled water.

"Any fun jobs today?"

Mo smirks.

"I did a shake break."

I laugh. Shake breaks are Mo's calling card. If you're fool enough to accept his hand on meeting, you'll soon know you've made a mistake.

"Immediate or slow release?"

"The Salieri wanted slow."

"Now why do you always call them Salieri? I don't have you down as a classical music buff."

Mo sniffs. "I like Amadeus."

"The composer?"

"The film. I know Salieri probably didn't actually hate the kid but it's a cracker of a story."

"And that makes for a good nickname?"

He nods. My niece lays down the samosas. Mo thanks her and leans forward as she disappears.

"The Salieri in this job wanted to introduce me to his rival. They were both business types: slicked-back hair and pearly whites. I pretended to be coming out of a meeting with the Salieri as we bumped into the target." Mo's theatrical wink is marred by the squint of his other eye.

"I took this target by the hand, this well-manicured thing. It smelled faintly of aloe. I squeezed either side of his palm. A nice even pressure."

It's always an even pressure. Mo never explains how he knows.

"When will the guy feel the damage?" I ask him.

"When he flattens his hand."

Mo holds up a vegetable samosa but I shake my head. "So that explains the suit. You do know your tie's crooked?"

He doesn't look put out by this at all. "I look better than the Salieri did."

"And the target?"

"He wasn't wearing a tie."

I laugh. Considering the state his hand will be in now, I suppose that that's a good thing.

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MOURNERS RETIRE TO A SNOW BOUND PUB SUSPECT A MURDERER IN THEIR MIDST by Norman Coburn

Garth McKenna’s coffin sits suspended on boards. As we stand waiting, small rivers of muddy water seep past our feet, pouring their contents into the open grave.

‘Ladies. Gentlemen. Please step forward when I call your name and collect one of the cords”.

Bullets of rain lash the huddled group. There exists among us a collective sense of unwillingness as one by one the undertaker beckons us out from beneath dark umbrellas and we step out into the full force of the storm.

“Margaret McKenna”. Garth’s aspiring young widow. Half his age and twice as fashionable. She’ll hardly be shocked to find herself in this situation.

“Patrick Darwin”. Met him once in Belfast while he still taught there. Fellow academic and close colleague of Garth’s.

“Lucy McKenna”. The only one of Garth’s offspring attending. She looks pissed not to be standing next to Margaret. Probably like to bury her as well.

“Mungo McKie”. Who’s this old boy? Fishing buddy? Neighbour perhaps. Likes his pies.

“Reef Morris”. I know Reef. Solid gent, but I’m not surprised to see he doesn’t own a suit.

“Barclay Jones”. And that’s me. Another academic. A friend of ‘high society’ and one-time business partner of the deceased.

Rain drips from the undertaker’s nose as he stands at the head end of the grave and watches us grip the thin brown ropes. There’s just the seven of us here. Nine if you count the two gents from the council who dug the grave this morning and now stand ready to extract the boards that are the last things shielding Garth’s body from eternity. There’s no minister. Garth didn’t believe in that kind of thing. Didn’t keep faith with very much as it turns out. Well, it’s not only the weather keeping other folks away. Garth didn’t put much store in friendship. So here we are. Six people. Summoned to hold the cords for a man as callous as today’s damned weather.

“Mr McKenna left instructions there were to be no speeches at his graveside”, said the undertaker before we left the comfort of the warm black car. Thank goodness is all I can say, wondering if Garth had the foresight to know he’d be buried on the last day of a foul November.

“Ladies. Gentlemen. Prepare to take a little strain on the cords.” His eyes dart around us all. "And lift."

Mungo is a little bullish and consequently, the coffin swings a few inches towards Margaret who gives a little yelp. Between them they regain their balance as the boards are withdrawn, water immediately seeping into the depressions they leave.

“And gently down.”

We watch the coffin descend. We’re getting the hang of this. But it’s over as soon as it began, the coffin resting on a bed of damp red clay.

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MYSTERY; A DEPRESSED MAN SAVES ANOTHER MAN FROM SUICIDE, TO BE STALKED BY HIM IN A CRYPTIC MANNER. by John D Theo

And, finally, night-time. I drive to my personal sacred location: Camus’ Bridge - a place of great spiritual importance to me. This bridge connects two large towns like an artery and overlooks a steady river that lies in wait a good fifty feet below. Parking nearby, I slam my car door shut and walk for about a minute to the edge. I hoist myself onto a concrete platform perched on an embankment there, which is tucked on a hill just next to the bridge. The river surges below. I close my eyes and imagine myself unifying with it; a powerful energy that reaches up and absorbs me into it. Slowly, I begin to summon the courage to take the plunge. My stomach churns; here’s hoping that my gut can override my brain. The night wind gently travels through my hair. I look down. A steep drop and then a comforting, welcoming, brutal expanse of deep, dark blue. For the first time, the colour blue tries to hint something to me. What is it? I nudge a little closer to the edge, the ridge of my arse the only thing keeping me from probable death. I look up at the stars. Ancient people could’ve seen vast galaxies from where I’m sitting now, but these days our dazzling lights and compacted cities cover over them. Still, the stars can’t help but produce a strong feeling of contentedness in my heart and stomach and… Shall I do it? I savour my options…if you close your eyes, they say it’s easier…

…Is that laughing? I can hear laughing. Or maybe it’s weeping? It’s human at least, definitely. It’s so dark I can’t determine where it’s coming from. Turning my head in every direction, I finally manage to locate the source of this strange sound. Through the night fog I can make out it’s coming from a tall, seemingly well-dressed figure standing on the other side of the bridge. Somehow, he appears different to me – but only in degree, not in kind. Tonight’s coldness produces within me a spontaneous feeling of strange solidarity with him. I have no idea if he feels it too, or if he even sees me. Carefully, I pull myself backwards up onto the concrete edge – the one that separates me from my death - and jump back down onto solid ground. Walking over in his direction, the fog wraps around me and, underneath two jackets, my shirt sticks to my flesh from the cold. Ten metres ahead, I spot the strange man peering down into the murky water beneath. It feels as if he is on the same trajectory as I am, but with a mere one-minute time delay. As I approach, the contours of his face become slowly apparent and produce in me this uncanny pang of discomfort.

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CRIME AND PUNISHMENT by Nour Bassem

Amalie, who is a radio broadcaster, decided to face the injustice in the world. When she knew that a poor girl called Belle was raped by a police chief, she decides to help her save her dignity. She and the people in a side and Hugo, the police chief, with all his power in another side. Amalie refused to do as her Boss ordeed, she decided to continue Belle’s case which will lead to many problems in her own life, yet she choose to continue what she started to matter what, she decided to continue Belle’s Case.

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DARING TO DREAM by Claudia Lord - Lynch

he music had started. Firstly the drummers began, followed by the flute players and then the make shift musicians began using wooden sticks and playing rhythmically on discarded, dented tins. The musicians tried to play as quietly as they could because they knew that it was dangerous for the Master to hear the drumming. The plantation owners perceived drumming as a threat since they knew that the slaves used the drums as a means of communication but Saysay could see no sense in this threat as there really wasn’t anywhere that the slaves could escape to. The last time one of the slaves attempted to escape, his feet were brutally amputated. She remembered the Master laughing as he warned all the slaves that they had all better think long and hard before entertaining such wicked and ungrateful notions in the future. Saysay reflected back to that horrendous day. It was the overseer had been ordered to inflict this heinous torture upon the would be escapee. He was whipped repeatedly before the crude, blunt instrument was used to hack off his feet.

Saysay winced as she remembered Henry’s pitiful and hideous screams. The gushing blood which came flooding out as his feet were aggressively hacked off. One of the slaves passed out. She simply couldn’t bear it and days after the incident, the dogs began licking his wounds once the blood had dried. Poor Henry, he never recovered emotionally or psychologically from that and his will to live eventually died altogether.

“Why you mind so far?” quizzed Saysay’s cousin, Alfreda.

Saysay shrugged her shoulders. She didn’t wish to share her private thoughts with anyone this evening. She’d only be criticised for harbouring such depressing memories.

“Come and dance nah,” invited Alfreda.

With Alfreda’s warm invitation, Saysay couldn’t resist and got up and joined the others who were having a raucous time. The volume level became louder and the dancing became more vigorous with the slaves almost forgetting about their deprivation and hardship. Isabella was ecstatic as she was seen dancing with the new mulatto boy. They danced together over and over again and Mama Mumda commented on how smitten they appeared to be with each other.

“Yes but there’s no future in it,” remarked Alfreda.

“You just jealous because it not you,” retaliated Mama Mumda. “You can see that they like each other.”

“Of course but if Massa sell Isabella or the boy, what go happen?”

“That’s the problem!” answered Juper although no one was talking to her in particular. “Leave them be and let them enjoy they self. Life already hard for we, let them enjoy theyself even if it’s only for tonight.”

As Juper continued to reprimand Alfreda, there in the dark was a solitary figure carrying an oil lamp. His distinctive gait was unmistakeable and his limp convinced Mama Mumda that it was indeed the person she thought it was. She froze but it was too late to alert the merrymakers. Despite his limp, he was upon the slaves before they knew it and his stern expression made it abundantly clear that he did not approve of their activity.

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