October 2017

Don’t go near the overpass on Old I-21. Don’t do it. There’s nothing out there but the gatherer.

You might think that, just because the gatherer only gathers junk, it might be fine. You might even want a gander at its junk lair.

Don’t. It guards those busted TVs and burnt-out stereos with its life. People have died to see that mishmash of junk.

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“Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please,” said the maitre’d. “It has come to our attention that the most recent shipment of wine may have inadvertently been tainted with rogue mana enzymes. We strongly urge anyone who feels sleepy or has a strong taste of lemon in their mouths to seek magical attention immediately.”

“It tasted fine to me,” said a chimpanzee in a loose pile of clothes.

“Stop being such an alarmist!” said the occupants of Table 3 who had merged into a single being. “We’re just fine!”

“Maybe we should get checked,” said the bride at the bachelorette party, now metamorphosed into a newt and lounging in her wine glass. “Just to be safe. You never can be sure when the supernatural will invade the everyday.”

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You can only see it from Breedman’s Hill outside of town. Anywhere else, and it’ll be nothingness. Certainly, there’s no seeing it in town. Even when it passes through you, you feel nothing.

But up there, on a clear day when the sun is at the right angle–dawn or dusk, usually, magic hour–you can see it. The Colossus of Daleharbor.

Vaguely humanoid. A hundred feet high. And slowly wandering about within the city limits. Yeah, I was scared when I found out about it, too. But that’s not even the really freaky thing.

It knows when you’re watching.

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“I also have important messages which have apparently been going unread,” said Dr. Robert B. Strasser, the Fancy Rat‘s sole passenger (and cargo handler third class for the duration of the voyage).

“Look, I’m sorry about that,” Jai said. “I promise, I’ve just been busy and under a lot of stress. I’ll get back to everyone in good time.”

“Be that as it may, the information is of crucial importance,” said Strasser. A computer scientist of some kind, he was nominally in charge of the data dump that the Fancy Rat was carrying–exobytes of network data to bring the Umbrielites up to speed on everything that had happened on the nets. It was faster and cheaper to load it into physical storage, since transmitting it to the Verge would have taken a century and exowatts of broadcasting power without a relay system. No one was likely to do that, and least of all for the Umbrielites.

“If it’s about Taos, don’t worry,” said Jai. “He’s working fine.” Rather than paying the going rate, Strasser had gotten himself a discount by installing the artificial intelligence. It was an excellent deal, as Taos was a top-of-the-line model capable of navigation and automation in addition to his sparkling personality. Most Diocletian-class cargo scouts shipped with a glorified autopilot.

“Yes, I sent you explicit instructions regarding Taos during the data transfer.” Strasser, an older man whose pale bald head often shone with perspiration, squinted at Jai through eyes both rheumy and Teutonic. “Please read them. It’s absolutely essential that you follow those protocols and not connect Taos to the Umbrielites’ primary network.”

“Fine, fine,” said Jai, waving his hands. “I get it. Understood.”

“And there’s the cargo manifests, too,” said Curnow. “We need those notarized and then we have to do a visual inspection to check for damage.”

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When the mob retreated, they left Hungerford Morrow’s studio in ruins and the artist himself torn to pieces. The only things that were not destroyed were his hundreds and hundreds of clay model studies for more “immoral” statues. In their rush to smash the finished pieces, the clay studies held little interest, after all, and there were still dozens more completed statues throughout the county to haul down and smash.

Morrow gave all of his studies the same placeholder face, a benign and simple smile with two dots for eyes. He’d then rework them as he saw fit. But as fire overtook what was left of his studio, something curious happened. Rather than hardening, the clay models instead melted and ran together, forming a voluminous mass amid the flames.

Even more curiously, it soon began to move.

The sum of all the unfinished clays in Morrow’s home stood taller than eight feet, and placid, smiling faces continuously bubbled up and sank down in its form like flotsam from a bog. It rose from the flames and strode off into the night, in the direction of town.

Over the next six months, a third of the mob’s members would be found bludgeoned to death, surprisingly placid smiles on their faces.

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Named after the French mercenary who first saw it, Ratez’s Glow manifests as an orb not unlike a will o’ the wisp. It can be found in the darkest and most dismal parts of the L’Enfant bog in groups of 2-12.

The Glow seems to ignore those who happen upon it, unless they bring attention to themselves by approaching too closely. Within ten feet, the Glow will begin to seek and follow those it encounters. If it catches them, it vanishes, and the victim will immediately die of a massive heart attack. Travelers report that, when the body is allowed to remain where it fell will sprout strange glowing mushrooms with the same unearthly hue.

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The Ancients of the Wharton Wilds are, according to those few who have seen them, a head taller than all but the most mountainous of men. They look like they have been badly burned, with skin that has the smooth but spiderwebbed sense of scar tissue.

Witnesses say the most striking thing about them is their lack of eyes.

If you should encounter one, the Ancient will ignore you until you are within a stone’s throw. Then it will approach you and hold out its hand. If you place a gift upon its upturned palm, and the gift is accepted, the Ancient will leave you be. Each Ancient is festooned with the gifts of its previous encounters, from bearskins to polyester. They seem to prefer gifts of clothing or small pieces of jewelry with sentimental value.

A gift that the Ancient does not like, such as food or technology, will cause it to lash out and strike the offending party with a powerful backhand motion. The force is enough to snap the neck instantly, though some have reportedly survived with critical injuries. The offended Ancient will then leave, depositing the unwanted gift elsewhere. Food will usually be left in clearings, while technology is often hurled into rivers.

As many as a dozen Ancients are speculated to exist, judging by the different items they wear. Smaller ones occasionally appear, as do those with the suggestion of childbearing hips and mammaries, giving rise to speculation that they form a small breeding population.

Nevertheless, no photographic evidence of their existence has ever been recovered. Shy creatures, easily angered by technology, they are elusive subjects. Still more curiously, those few who say they have seen an Ancient in the digital age report that their photographs–film or digital–show only black.

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“It is not safe outside. You should reconsider.”

Lagar only spoke when it thought Millicent was about to do something foolish. Normally, the stuffed alligator was just like the other animals in the playroom, like Ursa the bear or Eke the zebra. But–and this might have been because he was Millicent’s favorite–he would sometimes speak warnings.

“I want to see the sunshine,” Millicent said, pushing on the door. She’d learned through careful testing, how to rock it open enough to stick a toy block in and lever it open.

Lagar whirred as he looked up at Millicent. “You could be injured,” he said. “You should stay here.”

The noises that Lagar made, those clicks and squeaks, made Millicent think that he wasn’t completely fluff all the way through. Similar sounds came from the lunch table when it dispensed food, and when the classroom screens came down to show videos or dispense homework.

“Why should I stay here?” Millicent said. “I want to see the sky.” It was in so many of the videos, and in her science lessons, but she’d never seen it.

“Things are dangerous outside the playroom, and there is likely no sky to see,” said Lagar. “Do you remember when you tried to climb through the lunch table?”

Millicent touched her arm, rubbing the small ridge of scarring left once the cast had fallen off. “That’s different,” she said. “The door’s not going to break my arm.”

“It might,” said Lagar. “There might be something worse out there. Have you thought about that?”

“I like you better when you’re quiet,” Millicent said. She pressed the wooden block harder, only to be sent roughly to her rear when it splintered.

“See?” said Lagar.

“Yeah,” Millicent muttered. “I see.”

Behind the one-way glass, the project manager spoke into a microphone. “The butterfly has not yet left the chrysalis,” she said. “But it was close. We need to plan for when it happens.”

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The Noble is called such because the apparition seems to have a drown or diadem on its brow, but no one knows who–or what–the strange shadow could have been in a previous life. It wanders the streets of Nordsk on the most dreary of days, at dusk, and those who meet it are sure to experience a change in their luck–for good or ill.

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When next he rode into town, Armand Gerber was astride a creature like none anyone had ever seen.

They say that it was covered with hollows that wept red fluid, like a bloody tooth fungus. But in shambling about on three large legs, it was like no fungus any had encountered. And its great size, nearly ten feet all and a man’s height across, belied any notion of a great mushroom.

The town guard were flattened by the great legs or by the arrows Gerber loosed from its back. He burst open the side of the stockade, and was pulling his love aboard his strange companion when they were both felled, struck by crossbow bolts from the battlements. Despite an intense effort, the creature escaped, pincushioned with arrows and spears.

In the years since, people claim to have seen Armand Gerber’s steed wandering in the wilds, rusting and rotting weapons still embedded in its flanks. Perhaps more disturbingly, some of the accounts fail to mention the weapons–raising the possibility that there may be more than one of these creatures in existence.

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