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From The Earth

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Each corner Leanne turned, her stomach lurched at the sight of another friend screaming in agony as hordes of the undead pulled and chewed at flesh and bathed in blood. For Leanne, it had stopped being about winning a long time ago. Now, all she wanted to do was survive long enough to see the light of day again. To see her family again. But as each second passed, salvation receded further and further out of reach. Soon enough, hope was a distant memory and the only thing left to keep her going was adrenaline, and it was running out, fast. As if sensing the end, Leann’s body started giving out, legs twanged and snapped with each step and every breath became more laboured than the last.

Finally, too bloody and bruised to carry on, Leanne slowed from a panicked sprint to a defeated stumbling. With almost all options exhausted, she gave into darkening dread and dropped to her knees at the mercy of one of the surrounding cameras and begged until she could cry no more. But all the camera did was look down at Leanne in pity, and the omniscient voice that once droned in the ear like a bee, was as quiet as a tomb. Leanne’s fate had been sealed. It was over. It was all over. Almost on que, waves of the undead began pouring in from both sides of the hallway, trapping Leanne in the middle like a sitting duck. Against the crescendo of Leanne’s beating heart, the undead inched closer and closer until all she could see was bared teeth and soulless eyes.

Her scream was like a gunshot.

*

As Leanne was torn limb from limb, Marcus and Ali clapped and cheered triumphally – the bitch was dead. As Marcus switched from camera to camera to ensure not a single spurt of blood went unseen in glorious high definition, Ali scrolled through and read each and every comment beneath the live stream on the website. Laughs and giggles laced his every word.

BiggWolf69: The bitch had it coming…

BritishBullDog11: Gutted. I had money on Leanne to make it out.

Long’n’Juicy:  Best show on the internet!

BuggzBunne: That’s it, I’m applying for the next season. I could out survive these spoilt rich kids, easy…

DonaldTopTrumps: @BuggzBunne, No, you couldn’t. Leanne kicked ass!

I really think she could have made it out, she just gave up too early.  

BuggzBunne: @DonaldTopTrumps, You don’t know what I’m capable of.

I’m ex-marine, bitch.

DonaldTopTrumps: @BuggzBunne, Ex-marine? Right… and I am the real Donald Trump.

JohnDoe88: I wish we still had dead heads in Britain! We killed the last of ours too quickly.

We could have had fun shit like this if we hadn’t. #BringBackTheDead   

Biscuit00001: @JohnDoe88, Fun shit? Watching the undead get exploited and butchered for mere entertainment is ‘fun shit’? You are fucked up.   

BiggWolf69: @Biscuit00001, Looks like we have a DeadLib p*ssy in our ranks, boys.

RealNi88er: @Bisucit0001, Get the F*ck out of here. They are dead, we can do

what we want to them. And the ‘human beings’ signed up for this…

As Ali continued to read through the comments section, Xanadu found himself increasingly feeling feint and lightheaded. He even had to close his eyes to help stop his head from spinning, which did not go unnoticed around the room.

Usually, it was Xanadu reading the comments aloud with macabre glee. However, in the last couple of weeks, he had been struggling to rustle up anything approaching enthusiasm for the bloodbaths. Some days, when it really got bad, Xanadu had to flee the room to avoid vomiting right there and then. Once in the hall, he would stay there until the survivors escaped or the last body had been devoured.

Because of his sudden, and stark, aversion to the violence of the game show, Xanadu had become a pariah in the control room and office. So much so that, unless it was absolutely necessary, no one spoke to him or even looked in his direction. And, when he wasn’t in the room, his colleagues often joked about knocking him out cold and locking him in the House of Horrors to fend for himself. But, as much as everyone had grown to hate him, there was nothing that could be done – Xanadu was the boss.

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An Evening Spaceage Travesty

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Nice.

Was the only thought on my mind after the few seconds my pod went silent in the diamond-covered cosmos. Aligned between dozens of other personal transports that floated above, below, and beside me. All of our capsules’ windows faced towards the projected show stage. Earlier was better than later, and I had wrangled a position far better than the strangers around me. With lights brought down to a dim glow within and outside the pod, I was able to step away from the control board and set on the edge of my bed.

Nice could describe the dazzling arrangement of drones with their holographic, preshow, presentations floating­ advertisements before the impatient audience. The colorful, evil words to have you buy anything from oil to chewing gum blended together into a space designer’s canvas when your focus pulled back. It could describe the wood, smoking pipe in my wrinkled hand. So that every time I went to relight the delicious leaves, the sparkling metal around my finger reminds me of all of life before reaching this very moment. For most of us waiting for the travesty, nicely described the opportunity we had to buy a set of coordinates to stale our ships, allowing the ones with families to not even have to get dressed to witness such an expensive, overground showing.

Yet, my mind only followed what my eyes saw while I sat in the dome-like window. Engaging in filling my cabin with smoke faster than the ventilation could be rid of it. I did not dally on the preshow drones, because what would an elderly man need that he didn’t already have? An acceptance that the travesty has a final act is only satisfying to me when I know there are more operatic performances somewhere else in the current era cosmos. New life is what my eyes sought and found in the ship beside me. An illustration of youthfulness that no longer possesses and that the travesty performed by drone slightly conjure.

Ricky was the man I saw leaning against his ship’s dome, looking glass. Holding himself up with an arm on the window, either half-asleep or half-drunk from the looks of his drowsy composure. The young man was reckless and stupid, but not evil unlock the dogs that we’re presenting this showing. I saw the kid at the ports years ago when he bought that space pod, for I was purchasing the same model with what was left of my late wife’s savings. To take myself to the place I had yet to see. My excitement for the purchase was stalled by Ricky’s forged bills he attempted to slide by the porter. Bills he could have only acquired through dangerous means, despite having the actual money to buy the pod. The risk was something that never crossed the boy’s mind, and his child across the cosmos kept that observation accurate with every passing year.

Why Ricky was at the travesty production of a script I know he had had never heard before, I have no idea. Perhaps he was here to make a deal with a nefarious associate of his. It would make sense that such a rough, quickly planned showing that was created by vagrants attracted the likes of themselves to the audience. It piqued my interest enough to push my old bones off the straw-filled mattress to better see the man. When I did, through the smoky window, I could see a woman standing on his left. However, I could not see the metal, beading that would reveal her to have an artificial body. If the attractive girl didn’t then how she stood in only her undergarments did, and she was fake in mind.

Unlike the illuminating adverts and the familiar ship of his, I could not conjure similar memories when looking at the couple. How rushed their courtship must’ve been made me ache when compared to me and my deceased own. I’ve learned to hold my judgmental tongue. Even in metal, oxygen precious cells waiting for heavenly lights to distract us for a few hours, the end for them would be the same as it was for my wife and for me in just a couple years. Yet, despite never speaking to the boy, I wished I had and I wished I could beg his parents, wherever they are, to keep him in school so that he could charter a legitimate course through the cosmos. Instead, he dodges authority as much as responsibility and I can only foresee how such a life will be imploded by its surroundings.

I interrupted my own prodding thoughts by dumping the ashes onto the riveted floor before grabbing the hemp lined pouch. My eyes never left the two in his cabin. How they passed a clove cigarette to each other while they stared at the preshow lights. It was usual for a while and peaceful enough for me to strike a match for the pipe.

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The Cabin

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1

“Don’t blink, don’t breathe, don’t move,” Milo told himself over and over standing at the window. For fifty-one nights he stood this post, whispering his chant and staring out into the dark void of the woods surrounding the cabin. “Don’t blink, don’t breathe, don’t move.” Fifty-one nights of pounding heartbeats and moist, nervous hands gripping the slick steel of the shotgun he held close to his chest. He didn’t dare sit, fearing even the slightest bit of comfort would make him vulnerable. Milo needed to be alert for the fight of his life. “Don’t blink, don’t breathe, don’t move.”

The descent into madness can be slight. So, much that one could begin that slow decline into mental turmoil and fail to realize the shift until it is too late to seek help. For days, Milo worked in the cabin, with a firm hold on his sanity, stippling leaves on his canvas of seaweed green acrylic landscapes. That was before the crazed anxiety and paranoia stalked him, begging him to come and join them in the dark corners of his mind. He was sure he wasn’t going mad, for fifty days he convinced himself of it. But on the fifty-first night of the fifty-first day, his certainty wavered, and he wondered if the fear that kept him at his post every night was coming from madness corroding his mind or a true threat from beyond the cold glass that separated him from the night air.

Milo wondered if his constant solitude created a fertile bed for insanity to grow. If hour after hour with only the sound of his breathing to comfort him had lulled him into this state. He had come to the cabin to be alone, truly alone far from civilization and distractions. When he left the busy city encouraged by his agent to reacquaint himself with his artistic talent, this had been the goal. He wanted to find a space to create uninhibited. The cabin was to be the birthplace of his renewed dedication to his painting. And, it had worked. The cabin gave him room to let his imagination stretch and crack its joints in satisfaction. In the 427 days he lived in the cabin, he had managed to create some of the most astounding pieces he ever saw. For 427 days he lived and worked in the forest surrounded by beauty and the sweet silence of nature punctured only by the sounds of the living earth.

It could be that 427 days of solitude is the limit for a healthy mind to survive on its own. That this is the threshold one shouldn’t cross to avoid the threat of losing the leverage of rational thought. Maybe this is the number of days a mind can exist without any companionship before the imagination takes over and the line between reality and fantasy blurs. Maybe 427 days was Milo’s personal breaking point, and his psyche could take no more of the seclusion. But on the 427th night of the 427th day, he saw something that held him at the window for 51 nights to follow.

He had developed a routine in his time in the cabin, slowly breaking the time restrictions of the rapidly moving city and the constant fear of being late for everything. That routine placed him in a rocking chair with lemon tea, reading as the skies darkened in the evening. He liked the way the smell of turpentine mixed with the scent of the pine walls as the air grew humid at night. He spent his days trying to capture the soul of the verdant grass and thick patches of moss in the woodlands but at night when he rested his relationship with the forest was purely platonic. Milo only wished to admire from a distance. Taking a moment to rest his eyes he stared out at the treetops just below the stars. He sat there with his book resting on his chest, doused in his comfort and mused about the success of his decision to come to the woods when his world changed. Very slowly, like someone standing with a stiff back after sitting too long, a few of the tree tops began to bend from side to side. His sane mind told him it was a strong wind causing the trees to move that way. But in the fringe, those dark corners where madness and doubt go to play, his inner voice spoke and reminded him that the wind would disturb all the trees, not a sporadically selected few.

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In The Shadow Of The City

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Like any good-natured and truthfully contributing member of society, Francis Draft had always suffered from semi-frequent bouts of hallucinations.  These were not of the in-your-face, cartoon pink elephant montage, snapping demons on the subway variety.  They were much more subtle, and sometimes even appreciable, if Francis was in a good mood.  Passers-by giving strange, often frightening glances that were in truth imagined.  Perhaps a third eye appearing on their forehead or one of their cheeks, a live-action breathing Picasso.  Maybe he’d see pointed, glistening teeth in the beak of a cawing raven, or fiery demonic intelligence glittering behind the eyes of a rat.  The shadow of a UFO in the corner of his eye, or even just a flicker of odd-colored light.

In short, he was used to it.  The fantastic and confusing had become mundane and ordinary, and he thought he didn’t let it affect him beyond a certain colorful touch in his columns which would raise the occasional eyebrow.

With this acceptance of the grotesque, it seemed that it would take quite a bit to shock Francis Draft into his current state, that of a raving, bug-eyed lunatic, head wrapped in tinfoil, crouched behind an IKEA furniture barricade in a dusty apartment, double-barreled shotgun clutched in shaking hands.

When he was lucid enough to reflect on his degradation, usually squatting in the darkness, facefirst in a cup of half-cooked ramen, Francis could dimly decide that it had begun when he was shifted from his small-town newspaper – with such headlines as “Officer Martin Recommends that Citizens Cut Down Branches Obscuring Stop Signs” – to the big city, ostensibly a promotion.

“Good luck, Draft,” his old boss told him when he heard the news.  He chuckled, adding; “that city will eat you alive.”

Francis shuddered remembering that line, curling up in his haphazard, dark, whiskey-stained womb, the shotgun still clutched against his chest like a funeral bouquet.  He watched nervously as cockroaches scuttled about the tightly-closed shutters at the edge of his vision.

Yes, it had all begun when he’d been summoned to that litter-lined maze, the smoky and dense jungle of steel and concrete and transportation, buzzing lights and screaming horns.

He remembered the day he took the exit from the countryside highway, experiencing the initial shock at the abrupt shift of surroundings.  It seemed that there was a thin line crudely drawn between cornfields and this sudden, great looming grey thing, the twisted centipede of roads and highways.  Smoke billowed forth from smokestacks, ruinous poison breath from a cyclopean metal monster.  The highrises poked through this cacophony of smog and concrete, thick spiderlegs in the misty air.

Francis’ musings were not quite so fanciful at first sight, but there was a strange, unnerved sense that filled him as he approached the place.  His life had been a stream of suburban and rural living, with the city being where he went for the occasional concert, slinking away after the show like a trespassing spy on foreign shores.

Now the beast stood before him, and he was expected to live in its belly.  Taking one white hand off the wheel, he shoved a cigarette in his mouth.

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Melody And Harmony

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Any half-decent expert will tell you that there are numerous things you should never say to a gurzzle. They are unusually touchy animals and tend to respond to any form of offense—intended or otherwise—with quick, decisive and invariably violent action. If, for example, you were to criticize the shape and size of their ears, the particular shade of their fur, or the fact that they are the only animal known to science to have three limbs, they would probably feel inclined to shoot out their two, prehensile tongues, wrap them around you until you couldn’t move, and devour you in two or three bites of their very sharp teeth.

And they really wouldn’t care whether or not you were a princess.

Sym found this out the hard way. She and Pryor had been exploring Harold’s Wood, the large semi-enchanted forest on the edge of the kingdom, when they had heard the strange sound from which the animal gets its name:

“Gurrrrzzzzzle,” it said, sounding like a purr, a gargle and a low roar all at once.

“Is that…?” asked Pryor. But before he could finish his thought, Sym was away. She, too, had heard the sound and wanted to see a gurzzle firsthand. She had never seen one before, except for pictures in books.

It was sleeping when they found it. Sym and Pryor crouched behind some convenient rocks and saw it wrapped in its two great arms like it was giving itself a hug.

“It’s beautiful,” Sym breathed.

“Are we both looking at the same thing?” asked Pryor. All he saw was a mass of teeth and fur with a nasty reputation for killing and eating people.

“Hand me your lightbox,” said Sym.

Pryor’s eyes widened. “You want a picture of that thing?”

“Why else would I be asking for your lightbox?”

Knowing it was pointless to argue, Pryor reached into his bag, pulled out the wooden box with its various lenses and other components which he didn’t understand but which very clever men and women had concocted to create lifelike images on small slips of paper and handed it to Sym, who held it to her eye, unable to believe her luck.

“Hurry up,” Pryor insisted. “It could wake up at any second!”

“Wouldn’t that be bril? It’d make a much better picture if it was awake.”

“I’m being serious, Sym.”

“I need to get closer.”

Pryor simply could not believe his ears. “You…you what? Sym, that thing is dangerous!”

“It’s asleep.”

“Yeah, for now.”

“Just hush up! I’ll be right back.”

Deaf to Pryor’s protests, Sym inched closer to the sleeping gurzzle. Fortunately, her years of training had made her exceptionally light on her feet and she could move silently. By rather stark contrast, Pryor was having a great deal of trouble keeping quiet, even while holding perfectly still, as every fiber of his being wanted to yell out to Sym to stop doing the enormously stupid thing she was now doing.

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A Letter From The Grave

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Me

I remember how cold I was, how scared. My eyes opened slowly, heavy from whatever drugs you had poisoned
me with. Damp, dark and freezing; those are the words I used to describe the stone room I awoke in. You were
not there when I woke up, though, it was just me and my thoughts.

Relief poured through my tired body when I heard footsteps; I should have known they would be yours.

Before the first girl arrived, I was lonely and scared, in constant fear of what you would do when you came in next. You never spoke, just watched as I ate, as I drank, as I cried. You watched with a confused expression on your face as if you had never seen a real human before. It scared me.

The First Girl

You always picked the pretty ones. The first girl to arrive after me was Robyn, black hair swinging as she fought you; punching, kicking, scratching and scraping. Until you injected her with something, and she fell to the floor like a rag doll her head cracking painfully on the concrete.

I remember being mesmerised by her clear, pale skin; her black hair and plump lips. It made me feel worthless with my bruises and flat, brown hair.

She arose angry, cursing at you again and again until her voice cracked.

She wouldn’t speak to me though. She just sat and stared, analysing. It wasn’t until she saw the littering of bruises on my skin that she started to warm to me.

It was the next day that she finally conversed with me, her voice dry and cracked – yet she’d refuse to drink any water. “I’m not touching anything that that creep gives us,” She would say, determined, “I’d rather die.”

The next day she guzzled the whole bottle of water in one sitting.

The Second Girl

Abbey was next, her arrival like a kick to the throat. I remember looking at her school uniform and clenching my fists so hard that my nails broke the skin.

She was still drugged as you yanked her through the large metal door, murmuring nonsense into your empty chest. Robyn, who was much braver than me, lunged at you. You dropped the young girl on the floor to backhand Robyn around the face. This was the first time you ever hit one of us.

Abbey cried a lot that day, wet, incurable sobs that racked through her tiny frame. It felt good to comfort someone.

We didn’t eat until Robyn went to her knees to apologise.

The Third Girl

Lily was next. Beautiful of course, and scarred – jagged lines marking from wrist to elbow. Robyn didn’t fight this time; her punishment was still too vivid, the memory of you in her mouth too rich. Witnessing the limp woman, dropped like trash at her feet, made Abbey cry again.

You wrinkled your nose. “Don’t cry,” You said, “It’s ugly.”

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