The He-Goat

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The first sighting occurred on my way home from the British Library.  Having first seen the He-Goat, attempting to graze in the rush hour swill outside Russell Square station, I glimpsed his horns above the crowd a further four times in the duration of the 30 minute walk I take south to Waterloo.  Unhurried as he went about his business, upright on his hind legs, he moved unseen or ignored by the crowds; stopping to peruse the newspapers outside the corner shop, trying unsuccessfully to hail a taxi at Holborn, and sitting outside The Wellington perched on the edge of a busy table, tapping a hoof up and down agitatedly.  I bulleted over Waterloo Bridge, eyes to the pavement hoping I’d lost him, and threw myself onto a seat on the top deck of the bus, peering out the window and breathing heavily.

I spied him in the crowd at Elephant & Castle, queuing patiently to get on the bus.  He lay stretched across the length of the back seat like a large dog.  He didn’t acknowledge me, just got on with cleaning himself, swaying along with the movement of the bus as we were carried down the Old Kent Road. I took out my paper and assumed reading in the same way I would if a loud drunk came aboard, keeping my eyes absolutely fixed on the page while the words swam in front of me.  I took a last glance at him before getting off at my stop, and alighted unaccompanied while the bus swung him away towards Catford.  I experienced nothing further that night.

The He-Goat seems to be living a parallel existence, very similar to my own.  I have seen him inspecting fruit in bowls outside the corner shop deftly with his hoofed feet, coming out of the off-licence (empty-handed ), crossing roads and on stairs and escalators, mostly travelling the opposite way to myself. He has never acknowledged me and I try to be inconspicuous. We are people who simply live in the same area, (though the sightings stretch right across the capital and once in the Lake District) and though we may see each other regularly enough to acknowledge one another, we do not wish to have to start engaging in pleasantries.

An interesting addition to the ‘off-pagers’ was Goya’s Saturn sidling up to me one day in Burgess Park. I acknowledged a weight next to me on the bench and I turned to see a bearded chap, completely naked holding what appeared to be a dead chicken.  Poor Saturn looked utterly wretched and I gave a small smile, hoping to show some humanity while praying he didn’t try and engage in conversation.  He emitted low rumbling moans, like a small growling animal, and sat there next to me with pleading eyes, while I continued to stare out determinedly towards the lake.  It was only after he stood up and started slowly making his way round the perimeter of the water, did I realise it wasn’t a chicken, headless and bloody, it was the carcass of his dead baby son, being dragged behind him like a rag doll.

My research lies in the point where the conceptual meets the figurative. That exact moment where the recognisable becomes unrecognisable, I believe, causes certain incidents to happen and certain sightings, neither real nor unreal but something entirely new altogether, to be born.

The Black Paintings were not part of my original research.  Goya was not one of the artists in my proposal.  But the books came.  Handed to me at the British Library desk, ordered under my name but not by me.  Half asleep and distracted by some bold knitwear choices in the queue in front of me,  I took the huge stack of books to my usual desk and only realised the error once I’d sat down.  Sighing I noted the large queue that I would have to join to return the books.  It would be quieter in half an hour once the morning rush died down.  I started absent-mindedly flicking through the pile in front of me.

Painted directly onto the walls of a farmhouse outside Madrid, where Goya was holed up following an acute bout of illness and still processing the trauma of the Napoleonic Wars.   The murals were later ripped from their foundations on the orders of a French banker looking to make a quick buck, and tacked onto canvas to be sold, undergoing heavy handed restoration in the process.

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The Hall Of Geological Personifications

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In the Hall of Geological Personifications the assembled periods were arguing, as always. Atomic fire sparkled in the fireplace while lightning buzzed and crackled in the air, which smelt strongly of ozone. Pale light filtered through the arched, narrow windows, though not from any star we know.

The Triassic period, a feisty young female wearing a glossy dress made from green nothosaur hides stitched together with seaweed, rose to her feet. ‘Am I not inimitably wondrous and fine?’ she asked the gathering, one hand on her shapely hip. ‘I created the first dinosaurs, the most spectacular land animals which ever existed. Not to mention lizards, turtles and crocodilians.’

‘What nonsense,’ lisped a watery female voice. The Devonian period stamped her slipper, the same pale blue as her crinoline dress. The Carboniferous chuckled to himself, his white teeth gleaming against his coal-black skin. Both ladies were rivals for his affections.

Just then the Anthropocene shambled into the hall. A cigarette smouldered in his trembling fingers, his grey eyes peered out of dark hollows and his thinning black hair hung lank on the shoulders of his greasy raincoat.

‘Ah, it’s the Anthropocene,’ boomed the Silurian, in his scaled cloak of coral. ‘The youngest of us all. How goes the world in your care?’

The Anthropocene shuddered and coughed, as if he had been tramping hard streets on a frosty winter’s night. ‘Not well,’ he muttered. ‘Not well at all. Why was it my fate to be ruled by a species determined to destroy both me and themselves?’

‘You are a strange era,’ said the Cretaceous, shaking his head. ‘Most of us end through some external agency or accident – continental drift, climatic changes – ’

‘And asteroid strikes,’ said the Eocene, grinning.

‘Yes,’ said the Anthropocene, stamping out his cigarette. ‘I will be the first period to be terminated by its own inhabitants. Ungrateful wretches! At this rate I’ve got five good decades left in me. Then it’s the end of all organic life – as nearly happened to you, Permian.’

The Permian, a thin woman with pale eyes and mousey hair, nodded bleakly before popping two pills into her mouth and swallowing hard.

‘If it’s all too much for you, let me take over,’ said the Technocene strongly. ‘Once the world is under a single machine intelligence, all your problems of pollution and overconsumption will simply fade away.’

‘It’s already too late for that,’ replied the Anthropocene, with a heavy sigh. ‘Unless you want to be a lifeless wasteland, I need a good few decades yet.’

‘You’ll turn it around, Anthropocene,’ said the Holocene, a hearty old fellow with a great sandy beard, jocular face and gleaming bald head. ‘Most of us ended through some external agency, not through things within us.  There are ways and means of managing your own creations – ’

‘You don’t understand,’ said the Anthropocene, shaking his head. ‘Humans aren’t giant sloths or flying reptiles but the smartest animals that ever existed. I am unique in being named after my inhabitants and there’s good reason for that. They have transformed me in their image as no other animal could.’

‘Have you ever considered re-educating them?’ asked the pre-Cambrian, a wild-eyed eccentric who painted abstract pictures in his spare time.

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An Evening Spaceage Travesty

( 5 stars · 1 review )

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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Dark Matter – 2020 Vol 2

Dark Matter – 2020 Vol 2, May 2020 publication, a new collection of Horror and Fantasy short stories, is full of magic, ritual and sacrifice, evil creatures, spaceage and diseases.

The collection includes:

“The Horror Within” by Jacob Belanger, a writer from Canada

“Eden” by Felix Nicholls, a writer from Australia

“Kieran’s Jellyfish” by Ian Douglas, a writer from UK

“Solstice” by Marcus Konma, a writer from the US

“From The Earth” by Silva Chege, a writer from UK

“The Storyteller” by Madeleine White, a writer from the UK, whose full-length speculative, “Mother of Floods”, is published by Crowsnest

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Water Horse

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2th March 1898
To my darling wife Maggie,

Well, I’m arriving safely and settling into the new job down in Connacht. If all goes well, we’ll be having more than enough money to pay our debt. The local Lord seems a tight-fisted old miser, probably charges his own children for candlelight at dinner, but the two blokes working with me both seem right enough.

After being settled in at the steam pumping station, we get to having a good look at this watery bog. Don’t know if it has an official name on any map, I’m getting an idea it drains out of the River Moy. It’s about as big as our town square back home, so that ain’t saying much, but it is deep. Got a spongy peat up top; I’ve half a mind to cut it up for fuel but it’s so waterlogged it’s hardly worth the effort. Dark green, brown and black it is, edged with reeds and fallen tree stumps. It’s got the fog rolling off it all day and night, so it’s a good thing we’re inside where it’s warm. I’m smelling it now as I write, and I tell you it’s like something crawled into the water and died. As for the men with me, Lachlan doesn’t smell much better, so I doubt he notices the stink much. Young bloke, from the farms down south. Seems a strange contradiction of a fellow; he’s constantly talking, singing and muttering like a man possessed, but he’s never having much to say for himself. As for old Daniel, he’s one of them northsiders from Dublin. Keeps to himself but I reckon he’s gotten in the wrong end of the law more than once.

And as for me, my love? Your husband is looking forward to a nice, easy job for the next month or so, chopping wood for the fire and tending to the steam pump. Beautiful machine, so it is. Takes up most of the building that we’re stationed in. Big brick firebox at the bottom with the kettle above, feeding the steam into a tall metal cylinder that houses the piston. The piston is attached to a great wooden arm; sticks out of the building’s roof and waves at us while we work. Goes up and down like a fiddler’s elbow it does, steam leaking out of the roof of the little brick and timber building – the other end of it is attached to a chains and an enormous bucket sunk into the swamp. Down it goes, squelch into the watery mud. Then a whoosh of steam and up it rises, tipping the bucket out so the water gushes away. It’ll take weeks to drain the bog completely, but until then all me and the boys are doing is watching the engine, chopping firewood and staying out of trouble. We’re having a devil of a time when the machinery clogs up though; if we leave it for more than a few hours, the bog will probably fill right back up. The little Lord says our role is to empty out the bog so that some work crews can build a proper headcut, which’ll be draining the whole area for new farmland.

Dan is fine, he’s got a few books and a little diary he’s writing in. Lachlan seems a bit put out, seeing as he’s the only one of us who can’t read or write, so when he’s free he’s either carving little figures with that belt knife of his or he’s off to the pub in town. He was after coming back the other night, muttering like he always does, tells us the old nans in the pub were warning him against the bog. Reckoned the local Lord is making a mistake, and the bog is left alone for a reason. He’s telling us stories of pixies and spectres. Typical superstitious southerners, right? He’s giving us a laugh though.

I’ll be leaving this letter here, my darling. The mist is rolling in again so I’m off to bed. Give my love to our girls, tell them that Da will be home as soon as he can.

I’m missing you every minute,
Eamon

19 March 1898
To my dear Maggie.

We’re suffering a tragedy.

It’s been getting colder and colder as me and boys are draining the bog. It’s an eerie feeling; outside it’s almost completely silent. The fog is a dark thick soup, clinging as a tax collector and cold as the nuns who taught me to read. Inside the pumping station you got good solid brick, a fire, shining metal pistons working with mechanical precision. The thump of the pump arm rising and falling has gotten right into my head. Gotten in all our heads, really.

Dan has been getting quieter and quieter. Barely said a word to us after we’re having our dinner. Been avoiding going into town and all that, instead just been giving it out to us whenever we make a mistake with the machine. Acting a right little Lord himself, that one. As for Lachlan, he’s turned fey. We’re getting the bog down by about three feet, got a black muddy ring round the edges now, but Lachlan is getting more and more twitchy, not eating his meals, kneeling by the bed praying, and through it all, this constant muttering and whispering in that high-pitched southern voice of his.

It all started when he’s out chopping wood for the boiler and sees hoofprints on the pathway by the door. He’s screaming, hopping about mad as a hare, he’s saying that we’ve disturbed the each-uisce, the water horse of the bog, and it’s coming for us. And all the while Dan and I are telling him, Lachlan, we’re saying, ain’t no such thing as these goblins and pixies the old folk in town are filling your head with.

But that night, Maggie, that very same night, he’s waking up screaming that a black horse is coming to take him away, to drag him into the bottom of the swamp unless we all stop pumping. Dan is there, he’s got a face like a thundercloud and he’s saying that Lachlan’s in for a beating unless he pulls himself together, and that he has no time for fanciful southern nonsense. God help me, I’m tired and overworked and I join in with Dan giving Lachlan a bit of stick. Hoofprints were just some stray stock, we says. Or perhaps the little Lord of the Manor checking that we’re all still at work and not out drinking – like that farmer I used to work for up past Shannon, remember him, love?

We shouldn’t be pushing Lachlan so hard.

That night, it’s like he’s having a fit. He’s weeping, he’s crying, saying the beast is getting closer, how he sees it dragging itself up out of the bog and slowly coming for him. Dan is roaring at him something fierce, giving him a right smack across the face, saying to me that we should tie Lachlan up.

Then it happens.

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The Chronicles Of El Dorado

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After finalizing his divorce following the death of their 2-year-old daughter, nothing in life seems to make sense. He had shutout the world blaming everyone and everything. The only place he now found solace was in spending long hours driving around and exploring new places whenever he wasn’t working. He was angry with life, destiny, fate and anything that had an influence over his existence that he couldn’t control.

Today wasn’t suppose to be any different from the other days that he had spent driving for long hours at the outskirt of town and sometimes hiking except that for the first time in two years, he was lost without a map because the best part of his routine drive and hiking was the thrill of discovering new places with the element of surprise still intact. The presence of a map or a GPS only took away the thrilling part of his trips. Sometimes he spent the nights in a motel before heading back home. He had been so absorbed in his trance of daydreaming that he had not paid attention to the routes he had been travelling in the last few hours after grabbing his backpack and deciding to go for a hike in the forest. Currently his situation was further complicated because he had no juice on his mobile phone whose battery was already dead. He checked his wristwatch and to his disgust it wasn’t working. He was sure he had been walking for some few hours in the forest and his quartz wristwatch had stopped at 5:13pm but he knew it was not yet dusk because a chainsaw was still audible from a distance. He kept his eyes fixed on the two-lane road that snaked up into some trees as he deliberated on what to do next. It wasn’t long before he made his decision after hearing the howling of a wolf from a distance. He took the right lane and hurried through the forest circumventing trees as his heartbeat accelerated with the thought of having a run-in with a pack of wolves on his mind even though he had no idea where he was going. The irony was that today he had no one to blame but himself.

He lost track of time as he jogged without a destination but with hope of finding a route that could lead him out of the forest. The forest was slowly becoming dark as night gradually approached. He could no longer hear the sound of the chainsaw and the only sound audible to his ears was that of his heartbeats and the constant howling of the wolves.

The collision was sudden and unexpected and he fell to the ground. Without wasting a minute he picked himself up but froze when he saw the double barrel of a shotgun pointed at him. Earlier he thought he had run into a tree. Slowly he put his hands up in surrender. She asked him who he was in an authoritative tone. He told her he was a hiker who had lost his way in the forest and he meant her no harm. At first she seems reluctant to put down the weapon but she slowly lowered the shotgun. He asked her what she was doing alone in the forest but she ignored him as she dusted herself.

The good looking woman before him was dark in complexion and tall with an athletic body, oval face, hooded eyes, turn-up nose and full lips. She was wearing a blue insulated down coat on a black jeans and a black knee high boots. She was also putting on blue gloves and head warmer which revealed strands of brunette hair. He guessed she was in her early to mid thirties. She had an air of confidence and authority and, she held the weapon in her hand with great ease and expertise. She was also carrying a backpack and she looked like a hiker.

She asked him his name and he told her his name was David Finch and, he was a writer who had gotten lost after driving for hours before deciding to take a hike in the forest. She didn’t trust him because she still had her finger wrapped around the trigger of the shotgun as she kept her eyes trained on him. She asked him why he didn’t have a map with him like most hikers. David told her he didn’t know he was hiking without a map until he got lost and couldn’t find his map in his backpack and the absence of network coverage on his mobile device further complicated matters for him. She told him her name was Sarah Jones and she lived some miles away from the forest at the outskirt of town. David told Sarah he was happy to meet her and he would appreciate it if she could help him find a way out of the forest or to the nearest motel to spend the night. Sarah sighed and looked at him exhaustedly before she told him she was also lost. David was left baffled as he asked her how could she had ended up getting lost since it appears it wasn’t her first time in the forest. Sarah told him she never went hiking with a map because she was familiar with the forest and she never brought a mobile device along with her because she knew there was no network coverage in the forest except you had a satellite phone which she didn’t. David couldn’t believe his luck was that bad as he sighed frustratingly and looked up at the approaching dusk. Sarah sensing he was worried told him to relax and that this was the first time she was getting lost in this forest but if she wasn’t home by midnight her dog Iraq who was familiar with the forest was likely to come looking for her though the only reason he hadn’t accompanied her was because he wasn’t feeling too well.

Sarah could feel David’s tense at the thought of spending the night in the forest but it was nothing new to her because she had once spent nine months in a forest feeding on anything edible the forest could provide. David Finch was a tall Caucasian man with a skinny body, oblong face, protruding eyes and long nose. He was putting on a brown fleece jacket on a grey insulated vest and, a blue jean, brown gloves and chukka boots. The strands of grey on his hair told Sarah she was staring at a man probably in his mid or late forties.

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Darkout – 2020 Vol 1

Darkout – 2020 Vol 1 is a collection of 10 Horror and Fantasy Stories from the January 2020 Publication.

The collection includes stories from:

Francesca Taylor, a writer from UK, Winner of our “2019 Horror, Fantasy, Gothic, Mystery and Adventure Short Story Contest” and author of horror short story, “A Letter From The Grave”:

“I like to leave the end open and questioning, whether that be with a character’s death or something else…”

Katherine Duncombe from Canada, author of horror short story, “Evil Eyes”:

“…short stories as dreams, or, in the case of horror stories, as nightmares. They’re short but leave an impression. When I’m thinking about writing a short story, I think about what keeps me awake in the dead of night—dreams so vivid and frightening that I remember them years later. Those are the stories that I know will scare others as much as they scared me.”

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Dawn Of The Basket Cases

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The third Tuesday in September had such an ordinary beginning. Sylvia’s husband, Omar, left for work before dawn. The Hartford Courant lay in the driveway, delivered as promised. The kitchen countertop was smudged with germy paw prints from the cat’s nocturnal shenanigans. And, according to the jokers on the radio, Hell had not yet frozen over.

As usual, Sylvia got up at five. She poured herself a gigantic mug of coffee, washed her face with a yawn, and brushed her pearly whites until they shone. Ho hum. She combed her long blonde hair into a ponytail and left the house clad in a blue tank top and ridiculously colorful leggings.

The seventeen minute drive to Jazzercise was uneventful. An enormous golden sun rose over the horizon, heralding another beautiful morning in Connecticut. Sylvia opened the car window to drink in the autumn scenery: scarlet cardinals flitting among the maples, honeybees abuzz in fields of fading daylilies, woodpeckers busily destroying historic homes, and gray squirrels darting like playful sea otters.

At the studio, Sylvia removed her sandals and changed into sneakers, chatting with her friends before class. The teacher that day was Clara, one of Sylvia’s favorites. Like a standup comedian, Clara would tell jokes during the hardest sets in order to distract her students from the “burn.” Jazzercise wasn’t easy, but it was a dynamite workout.

Class was about to start when the front door flew open and Rebecca burst in, all upset, tears streaming down her cheeks. She plopped down on the long bench and buried her face in her hands. Her friend, Marge, hurried to her side. “Becca! What’s the matter?”

“Oh, my God―I’m a monster,” Rebecca cried. “I―I―I just hit something with my Jeep on Canton Road. It happened just a couple of blocks away from here.” She let out a huge sob. “I th-th-think it was a red fox!”

Marge swallowed hard. “Is it dead?”

“I’m not sure,” answered Rebecca, closing her eyes as if to blot out the memory. “But it was still moving. I stopped the Jeep but I had no clue what to do, so I just drove off and left it there.” Sobs racked her shoulders.

Another student, Blanche, hollered, “Oh, don’t be a wimp, Rebecca. Get back out there and run it over again! Put the poor thing out of its misery.”

“Thanks for your heartfelt advice,” Marge frowned, turning her back to Blanche in an effort to shut her up. Then she handed Rebecca a box of tissues, saying, “Cheer up, Becca. The fox is probably dead by now. I know you feel guilty about it, but there’s really  nothing you can do. Just take the class with the rest of us. Exercise will make you feel better.”

The music piped up and the dance floor filled. Instructor Clara took the stage and led the class through the opening stretch. Bodies moved in unison: arms ballet-strong, hamstrings elongated, abdominal muscles primed. But by the second song Sylvia noticed that something was wrong. Clara wasn’t herself. Her timing was off. She kept giving the wrong instructions, mixing up left and right. She even slurred her words. What was going on? Was she actually drunk at six o’clock in the morning? Or was she just upset about the red fox? Some women had a thing about wolves or dolphins or pandas. Maybe Clara was a clandestine fox fanatic who secretly wore fox socks, slept in fox-print sheets, and had fox art on every wall. But no, Clara was too cool for that. Besides, she was sweating profusely. Was it a hot flash? Could she be sick?

By the third song the entire class knew that Clara was having a problem, but no one knew how to broach it without embarrassing her. No one except for Blanche, that is. She was not one to mince words. Her shrill voice carried all the way up to the stage. “Clara, what’s with you today? You’d better not have the Simian flu!”

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The Red Coach Driver

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There is a saying at Warlock’s Heath Coach Station. They say that there is no such thing as a free ride. They say that the driver always knows who has to pay. They say that everyone who rides has to pay. Freddie Thompson was a delinquent. He never went to school, it was far too dull. He wanted to be where the action was. Instead of going to school, Freddie would go to Warlock’s Heath Coach Station and play the waiting game.

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Dear Annalise

( 5 stars · 1 review )

The way she spoke into her tape recorder was slow and precise. Her voice echoed off the walls in the cold, musky room. The grey walls surrounding her were ominous; they trapped the eerie, unsettling presence within the space. She had a clear view of the large, dusty windows across from her. Seemingly haven’t been cleaned in years, they displayed an insidious winter scene, equal parts chilling and enchanting to the doctor. She opened her notebook and placed it on her lap, anticipating what her patient would soon tell her.

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The First Dragon Slayer

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King Ogun watched over his kingdom with concern. He commanded lands as far east as the Trident Sea and as far west as the Velcorn Mountains. His lands were known for their splendor and beauty. But he was growing old and worried his son cared more for adventuring than ruling.

“I will host a festival and invite all the neighboring kingdoms to find you a wife who can help you rule when I’m gone,” King Ogun said to his son, Ioan.

The most splendid and valuable part of Ogun’s kingdom were the lakes surrounding his castle, which were warmed by the ground underneath and sought for their rejuvenating powers. Lords and ladies traveled far to sample the unique waters, bringing wealth and prosperity to the kingdom.

But within his borders dwelled the Voador, gigantic beasts with skin that sparkled like the surface of the crystal sea. Their whiskers grew as long as galleons and their beards hung low enough to plow the fields. On their backs were two mast-like wings that spread wide as the moon eclipsing the sun.

The Voador also enjoyed the lakes. They loved the heat, for their bodies lacked feather or fur. Their magic would leave them shivering and pale when they cast even the simplest spell. When the Voador bathed, which was often, the water could be used for nothing else.

###

The festival was to be the grandest event, with feasts and jousts and baths to refresh the body and spirit. Invitations were sent to every kingdom, carried by experienced messengers riding the fastest horses. Yet with the festival days away, Ogun had not heard a single reply.

“Father, maybe it’s for the best,” Ioan said. “I do not wish to marry, as there is still much adventuring to be done.”

“The time for adventuring is past,” Ogun said. “It is time you learned to rule.”

The day of the festival arrived, and while thousands of nobles and their retinues were expected, fewer than a hundred were in attendance, and none brought maidens eligible to marry a prince.

In his council chambers, Ogun complained to the general of his army. “These Voador have ruined our festival. They feed on our livestock, destroy our forests, and scare away traders. My son remains unmarried for no maiden will cross our borders for fear of these terrible beasts.”

Ioan rose from his seat beside his father. “Let me fight them, and I will win glory for our kingdom.”

The general stepped forward and bowed. “I fear there is no army here or beyond the mountains that can defeat creatures such as these. Their might is too strong.”

“That would mean more glory for he who triumphs,” Ioan said, grasping the hilt of his sword.

The general bowed deeper. “My king, you are wise and gracious. Surely you can negotiate a peaceful arrangement with these beasts, such that war can be avoided.”

Ogun stroked his long, white beard. He believed his general spoke the truth.

###

The next day, the king rode to the largest lake, followed by a fleet of bannermen carrying flags, gifts, and other symbols of peace.

There rested the most majestic of the Voador, one with scales as reflective and colorful as the crisp water she bathed in. Her eyes flickered as the king approached.

“Your Grace,” King Ogun called from the bank.

“Your Majesty.” Evethe the Voador bowed her ox-sized head, dipping her whiskers into the water. Her voice sounded like a chorus of flutes. “It has been a long time since last you visited.”

“Are you enjoying the comfort of my waters?” Ogun extended his hand, a speck before the creature.

“No better way to spend an afternoon.” Evethe stretched her body side to side, splashing gallons of valuable liquid onto the grass. The king cringed.

“You honor us with your visits,” he said, “though I worry what the people must think.”

“The people? Do they not love us?” Evethe gazed toward the village, raising her neck high above the trees surrounding them.

“That they do, your grace.” Ogun fumbled his lips, hoping his words didn’t anger her. “You are so grand and deserve so much, but the people spend their time admiring you instead of focusing on their work.”

“Your Majesty, I had no idea our presence caused such vexation.” Evethe scratched her chin with talons of diamond-shaped boulders. “Your waters are so warm and pleasing. Your people have been so welcoming, sharing their livestock with us. Such good people. You will see a change tomorrow, so I swear it.”

King Ogun bowed to the leader of the Voador and returned to his castle, proud at how easily he’d found agreement.

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