HEL 266, fiction by Sara Rich

*

Susan held the straw for the core. “You know, in the Semitic languages – Arabic, Hebrew, and Akkadian specifically – the word for tree sap is dem. It’s also the word for blood.”

(This story first appeared in Temporary Skeletons, 2014).

THE MUSIC WAS like a one-handed cyclopic Chopin. It was simple music, or seemed that way, but it stirred something infinite and unpredictable and tracked time more honestly than any calendar. No gridded day-in-day-out blocked in black ink, but hundreds of concentric rings spiraling in and out of each other, each year interacting with the ones before and after it, each year connected through scars from fire and lightning, drought and wind, early and late frosts that sent the delicate lignin fibers into hibernation behind the cellulose walls of their microscopic caves. It was those miniscule frost rings that made the almost inaudible tinkling sounds, snowflake fairies with frostbitten toes, and then suddenly, without warning, that faintest echo of a chime would be destroyed, waylaid, massacred when the needle fell upon the gaping demoniac wounds left by some apocalyptic storm. Fantaisie impromptu. Tempo rubato: stolen time.

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The Broken Line, 48: The Other John

(Missed the last chapter? Go to 47: Sex Dreams and Secrets)

HANDS WITH LONG nails pinch me and then grab me roughly—lifting and shaking. Wanda’s face looms. I smell sickly sweet coffee on her breath. I gasp for air and then vomit a stream of bile onto her uniform.

“Filthy,” Wanda hisses. “Get into the bath.”

“No,” I moan, as she shoves me down the hall. “It can’t be true, can’t be.”

Even as I resist, the pieces click into place. The man’s clothes in the closet. John’s reportedly blasé attitude toward Dorothy’s affair with my father. Dr. Rolfe’s reaction every time I said Uncle John. Wanda’s shock when I mentioned the dark haired musician. My lover. The one who’d dumped me on the porch for my … husband to deal with? Read more »

A Review of You’ll Know When You Get There, by Lynda E. Rucker

Review by Paul StJohn Mackintosh


Arriving at the Unknowable

Lynda E. Rucker has built a reputation as one of the more significant talents of the new generation of weird and strange fiction writers through a superb first collection, appropriately entitled The Moon Will Look Strange, and some distinctive anthology contributions. You’ll Know When You Get There, from Irish independent The Swan River Press, is a departure in some ways, in that the collection has a very strong common thread. As Lisa Tuttle writes in her introduction, “Lynda E. Rucker writes haunted house stories the way they should be written – hers are original, weird, and compelling, and as much about the people as the place.” Read more »

The Broken Line, 47: Sex Dreams and Secrets

(missed the last chapter? Go to 46: Splitting in Two)

IN THE DREAM I remember the musician’s name—Branson.

We’re in the painting. Branson, John, and me. Both men stand naked and erect, staring down at me with flat expressions. They look impossibly tall, until I realize that I’m flat on my back, unable to move anything except my head.

I look down at my naked body and see vines like manacles holding me spread eagle on the ground. One vine runs like an IV into my arm, dripping a milky white sap into my veins.

Neither of men touch me. Instead they begin half-chanting, half-singing a haunting, erotic song. Their voices weave and twine together. I shut my eyes. I want it to stop but, instead, I moan and writhe, straining against the vines, climaxing against my will again and again. I open my eyes to see a thick vine thrusting in and out of me. I scream and wake myself. My body still pulsates from the orgasms. Read more »

Cabinet of Wonders: Bad Juju & Good Intentions

Reviews of weird fiction on the web, by Lauren Colie

Die Sunde, by Franz von Stuck, 1893

Bad Juju & Good Intentions

Be careful what you wish for…but we all know that. Yet, we continue to test the waters. Dip a toe in this week for the black magic of a woman scorned, the gleeful wrath of a dark goddess and the triumphant revolt of a girl who shakes off the shackles of normal.

 

A Review of Nine by Kima Jones at Lightspeed Magazine

Flora held the man’s head and snapping jaw in the crook of her arm as Jessie threw every salty thing she could find. The man’s arms and legs flailed about. He snapped his jaw at Jessie’s torso until he melted into the creases of Flora’s black dress, blue and red clumps of him exploding down her front, into her patent heels. The women were so busy they didn’t hear the shot. Didn’t see Glenn’s body slumped at Tanner’s feet or see the blood trickling from his nose and into the wood floor.

“Flora, how’d you know that wasn’t no real man?”

“When I went into the kitchen to get the gun, he was eating Rinny.” Read more »

The Broken Line, 46: Splitting in Two

(missed the last chapter? Go to 45: Meet the Family)

“I DON’T UNDERSTAND why my mother tried to kill my father.”

Dr. Rolfe paces the room, lithe as a cat. “A constructed reality can be very elaborate, with its own internal logic. In your mother’s case, she became convinced that your father was a demon.”

I process this information in light of my own hallucinations: the flower faces of my ancestors, the monster controlling the vines in the walls. The river of blood.

“Can a delusion be genetically inherited?”

Dr. Rolfe appears delighted by the question, pointing at the ceiling theatrically while he considers. “No. However, current theories hold that a genetic predisposition to mental illness can be triggered by environment. In your case, the delusions of a mentally ill mother could be a triggering factor, compounded by stress, trauma, drug use.”

Check, check, checkcheckcheck. I gaze morosely out the window at the oak tree. Its strong branches, laced with new, green leaves, give me a faint sense of hope, though for what, I can’t say. Read more »

Rockport Boys, fiction by Megan Arkenberg

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Their family trees are full of beautiful men who were hanged as witches or lost at sea, and all their houses are haunted.

(The Rockport Boys originally appeared in Aghast #1)

IT’S HARD TO stay haunted in California, she says, taking a slow drag on her cigarette. That hungry something is in her eyes again, the animal glint you saw in her smile under the gas station’s fluorescents, only out here in the fading sunlight it looks a little softer. A little more like longing. You nod, shaking the last of the six-dollar syrah into your glass, and lick the rim of the bottle. It tastes like aluminum foil. And she closes her eyes.

She’s moved again, she says, put the mountains between her and the Pacific. The sunlight here feels hot, unfiltered and clean, almost chemical. Now the bad nights, when they come, ride in on rain and too much coffee. It was time to shift anyway, she figures—you can understand that. Four days a week, she loads the second-hand pickup truck with tomato plants, spring garlic or crates of persimmons and heads to the markets, down the straight country roads with numbers for names, the radio blaring in static-broken Spanish and seaglass rosary beads jangling from the rearview mirror. The rosary and the radio station came with the truck. You don’t hear about Rockport, Gloucester or Dogtown out here, and nobody would recognize the names if you asked. Mostly, she keeps quiet. Read more »

A Review of Bone Swans, by C. S. E. Cooney

Review by Paul StJohn Mackintosh

No Swan Song

 

Is it good? Bone Swans won the 2016 World Fantasy Award for Best Collection. Its title story, “The Bone Swans of Amandale,” was a 2015 Nebula Award finalist for Best Novella. The book boasts a personal introduction to the author from Gene Wolfe, no less. ‘Nuff said.

C.S.E. Cooney respins familiar fairytale yarns with a masterly hand, and has built up an impressive record during her writing career. As Gene Wolfe’s introduction remarks, she has been writing since her teens, partly under his tutelage, and the practiced assurance shows. “In Gene I found a mentor and correspondent, a kindred spirit,” she says. “He’s the one who told me to write short stories in the first place. He said that’s how writers begin … He taught me everything I know.” Yet she comes across as by no means derivative or imitative, simply supremely accomplished. Read more »