MonsterHearts Days Two and Three

Monsterhearts is a 14 day event (named after a pervy RPG) wherein my writing group votes on a monster each day to include in a story concept.  As we march toward Valentine’s Day, the theme is supernatural romance…



CONTENT WARNINGS:  Horror Content, it’s a Spoopy Event Yo.


CHARACTERS:  Young Marthe and demonic Dorothea.

PREMISE:  Marthe is invited to an artist’s commune in the Black Forest, and joins for the prospect of relative freedom from a repressive sexist culture.  But freedom was a trap!  The patriarchs were right, libertines are really demons that wanna drown you in devil sauce.  Dorothea seduces her with lust, of course, but also the power of flight.  There’s something about flying naked through the summer night that gets her ronks off.

THE HOOK:  Like Leánnan last year, there’s the romance of the succubus.  Is this sinister creature capable of genuine affection?  Marthe doesn’t know, but it feels like it.  It’s so passionate.  But then, it has to be a ruse, to drag her soul into hell.  When she lets herself be taken into the night sky by Dorothea, who knows if she will disappear into the darkness forever?

Cover art by me, ballpoint pen and Photopea.

book cover for concept "Der Hexenflug"



CONTENT WARNINGS:  Colonizers Depicted Romantically, at Least Not Actively Colonizing as of Moment in Story.  Also War, and the Usual Horror Content.  Body Horror?  Sure, why not?


CHARACTERS:  João and António, young Portuguese sailors who are star-crossed lovers.

PREMISE:  The characters are separated for most of the story, which won’t do for a romance.  Probably this could be accommodated with past / present intercutting.  In the past, the poor boys join a Portuguese merchant ship out of economic desperation.  They fall in love.  Classic sailor goof.  Then a Spanish ship attacks, killing everybody onboard.

João survives drifting on a hunk of wood until rescued.  Heralded for surviving those bastardy Spaniards, he goes to work in an admiral’s office.  He finds out Spanish ships are mysteriously having their crews wiped out by an unknown malefactor.  The admiral is cool with Spaniards dying, but wants to know why, for strategic reasons.  João volunteers to investigate by going undercover in the Spanish navy.

Meanwhile António survived by being mysteriously resurrected by an aquatic hive mind, a massively overdeveloped physaliid cnidarian.  He is incorporated into the hive mind, but empowered with lethal stinging tentacles, he crawls aboard Spanish ships in the night to kill everybody.

THE HOOK:  João’s Spanish ship is attacked by António and the lovers are reunited.  It’s cool, but it seems António is suffering more than just his monstrous condition.  They discover his vengeance is harming the hive mind, and he must return to sea.  Can João convince him to give up his vengeance?  If he does, will they be forever parted?

Cover art by me, ballpoint pen and Photopea.

book cover for concept "Men of War"


MonsterHearts Day One

Monsterhearts is a 14 day event (named after a pervy RPG) wherein my writing group votes on a monster each day to include in a story concept.  As we march toward Valentine’s Day, the theme is supernatural romance…


CONTENT WARNINGS:  Disability as a Plot Device, Theosophy


CHARACTERS: Zach, a cool guy who can barely move and cannot speak.  Tulip, a being with her own spiritual reality, born from his mind.

PREMISE:  Zach was living the cool guy life until the motorcycle accident and the traumatic brain injury.  Living at home and barely alive, his mom the medical woo-meistress talks to him about the things one can do with their mind.  Things like creating a real separate person from yourself, with whom you can keep company while too crippled to speak aloud.

He does the deed, creating a tulpa in his mind named Tulip.  She’s great, in a way, everything he wishes he could be.  But Tulip does have a mind of her own, one bent to love and nurture Zach.  They realize at some point the esoteric spiritual exercise has granted Zach the possibility of recovery from his locked-in state.  But there is a cost.

THE HOOK:  Zach’s mind-body connection is toast, but if he replaces his own mind with that of Tulip, he’ll be able to speak and move more normally again.  But to do that, he’d have to let his own mind dissolve completely.  Tulip loves him too much to let him do that, but also loves him too much to let him stay locked-in forever.  What’s a girl to do?

Cover art by me, ballpoint pen and Photopea.

book cover for concept "Tulip My Tulpa"

The Sext in the Collection

Not many comments on the latest edition of The Midnight Collection, or the excellent literature I excerpted from it for your delectation, well, OK.  Now I’m posting my sleazy BDSM soap opera story from the book.  Written under my pencil-moustache-having nom de plume Caesar Train Magenta, it was a fun time.  Check it out, or continue to whiff on these beauteous pearls I cast about your swiney hooves.  (I kid, I kid.)  My post here is going to have the start of the story, with a link to where you can finish reading it on The Midnight Collection’s website.  If you love or hate the story, or love expressing your opinion even when that is “meh,” leave a comment either here or there…

them thornbloods

“Thornbloods” – Joseph Kelly, 2022


Caesar Train Magenta

Content Warnings (Spoilery?):  Ableist Language, Abusive Relationships, Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Body Fluids, Capitalism, Child death/endangerment, Classism, Confinement/Bondage, Death of Loved One, Domestic Abuse, Dysfunctional Family, Emotional Abuse, Fire, Infidelity in Relationships, Insects, Misogynistic Language, Nudity, Paranoia, Poisoning, Sexism, Sexual Content, Sexual Harassment, Slut-shaming, and Swearing.

December 8th, 1928.  The three came into the cavernous foyer of the Thornblood lake house, once known as “The Lily on the Lake,” to some romantic soul.  But on that day, there was no romance left in the hearts of the two surviving Thornbloods.  And who could say what was in the heart of their brilliant third?  The cold silver light threatened to turn the world to ice outside the massive bay windows.

The last of the Thornbloods, Kent and Mabel, were powerfully built for their respective sexes, a natural strength that required little exercise to maintain.  Their companion, Patricia Coltheart, was comparatively lithe and narrow.  They all had black hair and fair skin, paled considerably by the season, still red at the nose and ears from the icy wind of the road.  Kent’s hair was turning to slate at the temples, Mabel’s was cropped like a flapper’s, but thick waves laid it less fashionably flat.  Patricia’s long, spiraling locks flowed like water with her every move.

Nobody removed their coat, though Mabel flapped the furry lapels to let some heat in.  It was scarcely warmer than it had been on the drive there, and no servants would be present to stoke the furnace.  “Kent,” she said to her brother, “bring that firewood along with us.  The Twelve Point Parlour will be quickest to heat.”

“Naturally.  Perhaps you and Patricia can bring food and drink for all?”  He hoisted a bundle of firewood from a series of low racks.  It was conveniently tied with a thin cord of hemp, and noticing this, he grabbed another.

Patricia twirled in place and stamped her feet.  “Let’s heat this icebox.  Let’s burn it to the ground.”

“Let’s not,” said Mabel.

Kent said nothing.  Indeed, he nearly let his burden fall to the floor, so appalled was he that Patricia could forget the circumstance that had led them all to this bitter occasion.  Or had she forgotten?  She was the love of his life, and yet as cruel as the Devil.

As if cued by that thought, she let slip from her cuff the riding crop that she carried every day of her life, and waved it at him like casting a spell.

July 1st, 1927.  The roll-up curtains in MacCaulay Tower were still hooked down against the dusk’s orange light, though the fierce winds of lofty elevation were quickly stripping away the summer heat that had choked the office workers all day.  The great white ceiling lamps remained dark and grey; less fiery sources of light gleamed from the few desks where work continued.

Mabel lounged in an office chair, legs crossed and bouncing a shoe at the end of one foot, ginger ale in hand.  Kent leaned on the edge of a desk, nursing a small glass of coffee liqueur between exchanges, in no special hurry.

“We keep doing these rounds,” he said.  “I can’t quite fathom why you’re still at it.”

“My businesses are as much a part of the Thornblood portfolio as are your own.  Father would not have appointed one of his children to manage them if he wanted to let them die.”  She was serious, though smiling gently.

For his part, Kent was still amused with the game, like driving her mad at croquet when they were children.  “If Clayton’s will go out of business without the use of a press, why not find another?  MHP is a crucial advertising connection for at least three of the entities under my umbrella.”

“Then you understand the value of it, and why another would not do.”  She spun in the chair and rested her legs on a desk, so she could lose her sight in the orange haze of the curtains.  “Father must see some value in having us compete like this, but the very object of our competition today is something to save cost on competition.  Isn’t that—”

“Shh, just a moment, Mabe.”  Kent called to one of the clerks.  “Steven, turn up that radio.”

“Oh?”  The old man raised the volume dial, though he wasn’t sure why the broadcast was of interest.  Something about a fancy art museum party for the riche less nouveau than his own family.

Mabel asked, “The Gala?”

“It is.  How novel that we can know what our family is doing without the use of a telephone.”

The sound was tinny with painful spikes in volume.  The technology had some way to go.  —And with that, the red carpet has been rolled up, folks.  Anybody outside, well, they’re outside.  But through the magic of radio broadcast, you are inside the Gala with us tonight.

“Doesn’t feel the same to me, pal.”

“Mabel, shh.  Just give me a moment.”

Those great families of industry and finance, the Gettys, the Fords, the Thornbloods, and more.  Ho ho, and what’s this? Seems little Marcia Thornblood has turned this photo shoot into a game of hide and seek.  The cameras won’t be catching her tonight.

Kent chuckled warmly.  “It is like we’re there.”

“No, Father saw to it that we’d be busy little beavers, wasting our youth in office towers on nights like this.”

“You’d rather be keeping an eye on the scamps?  You know if you were there tha—” he stopped himself.

Smoke is indeed from an incident with the flash photography.  Wow!  That sure is spreading fast.  Fire has just shot up the drapes at a fantastic rate.  We’re— A clanging alarm sounded, making the broadcast impossible to hear.  Each clang violently pierced the air, and Steven quickly reached to turn the radio off.

“Don’t!” Kent shouted.

Steven was horrified, but he had no choice.  He understood the need for it, and kept the radio on, pressing hands over his ears to blunt the agony.

Without noticing they had risen, Mabel and Kent were both on their feet, staring at the radio, hoping for some relief from the mounting terror.  The clang sounded twenty more long seconds before it cut to a single even tone, then a different announcer’s voice, clearer than the first.

We apologize for the technical difficulty we just experienced, but there seems to be an emergency taking place at the Miller-Brooks Gala tonight.  We will bring you a proper report as soon as possible.  For those of you just tuning in, there seems to have been a fire at the Miller-Brooks Gala tonight, cutting off our broadcast from the event.  We will bring you a full firsthand account of these events shortly.  In other news—

“What other news?” Mabel seethed.

“Get your jacket.  We’re going.”

December 8th, 1928.  The lakehouse’s electricity was well protected, the Thornbloods personally paying to have every risky junction cleared of trees en route to the power station.  They had lights, but with the central heating already installed, nobody had seen fit to put in modern radiators.  Unless somebody was willing to shovel coal in the basement, or call a servant to do the same, most of the great house would remain winter cold.

They did not want to call a servant.  This was to be a tête-à-tête between the siblings, to settle their business conflicts once and for all.  Patricia was only there to keep Kent’s bed warm, the old-fashioned way.

The light buzzed to life in the kitchen, a false vision of warmth that could not be felt in that room.  Patricia skipped past Mabel, who moved more cautiously.

“Why so lively?”

“Just glad to be free from the damned automobile.”  She twirled, and seeing nothing of interest, her eyes came to rest on Mabel.  “How long do you suppose it will take Kent to stoke the fire?  He’s a real city boy.”  She shrugged her coat off bare shoulders.

“Please.  You won’t get me in the mood with a line that mentions his name.  Find a wine that we won’t despise, okay?”

Patricia pouted, turned to the wine rack, and hooked a bottle at random with the looped head of her crop, tugging it out of the cubby.  It nearly fell to the floor, but she snatched it out of the air deftly.

“Perfect vintage for you two,” she said.  “Sour grapes.”

“Expect a sour weekend,” Mabel said.  She went about gathering food with lifeless motion, all practicality and no art.

Patricia slid behind her like a phantom, craned her long neck to whisper in her ear.  “There’s more than one way to heat up the place, Mabel.”

“I’m here for business.  Blow.”

“Auggh!” Patricia snarled.

Mabel could hear the crop slap on the counters, over and over again, but she did not turn.

July 7th, 1927.  The Lily on the Lake basked in a mild summer heat, the light of the morning sun made a mirror of the water, and the natural beauty of the scene doubled.  Mabel and Kent stood at the end of a patio overlooking the lush tableau, drinks in hand.  The sounds of servants laboring were not loud, but it was enough to make the frogs and birds more shy than they might otherwise be.  The buzz and trill of insects accompanied the conversation.

“I keep saying it, and I can’t stop myself,” Mabel said.

“You can’t believe it’s real, I know.  It’s the Greek chorus in my mind as well.  How could they all be gone?  And here we are.”  He sipped his drink.

“If the Thornbloods were to be culled, we should all have died.  Does it mean something that we didn’t?”

“Nothing means anything.”


They watched the lake.  Dragonflies vied for their attention and received none.

Mabel spoke.  “We could give it all away.  So many far-flung cousins would love that.”

“I’ve thought of it, though not earnestly,” Kent said.  “It’s a shame the little ones will never see the fruit of our labors.  I suppose one or both of us should look into making heirs?”

“All children look like kindling to me now.  I can’t imagine one living to adulthood.  Strange how one’s expectations can be so inverted.”  She hung her head.

He reached a comforting hand closer along the railing.  “That’s grim, even for you, Mabe.”  He leaned down to catch her eyes.

She looked up wearily, then raised herself again.

They were close.  An embrace hung in the air, a possibility of connection, of family.  They looked into each other’s eyes, small and viperine, and they realized that whatever kinship existed between them had truly died in that fire.

They understood each other, and understood they were brother and sister no more.

December 8th, 1928.  The Twelve Point Parlour was named for the tremendous mounted head of a stag, high above the fireplace.  The points of the great beast’s head touched the ceiling, which was lower than most of the rooms on lower floors—hence easiest to heat with the fireplace.

Even so, Kent’s work had barely begun when the women arrived.  The electric chandelier’s glow was feeble, lost in the innumerable shadows of the archaic Victorian-rustic decor.  It seemed to brighten when Mabel shut the heavy velvet curtains against the white world outside.

Patricia plunked the wine down on a coffee table and lounged into the chair nearest Kent.  The crop fell across her lap.  “Dearest, must we provide all the warmth in this room?”

“I appreciate that, darling, but I’ll have this going soon enough.”  He jabbed at the smoldering logs with the poker.

Mabel set the food down, then took a seat, using her coat as a blanket.  “I think we’re all regretting the decision to leave the servants home.  I would kill for warm meat tonight, and that is surely not going to happen.”

Kent shrugged, still focused on the pitiful flames.  “Solitude has its own kind of luxury; people like you and I are rarely able to partake.”

“And yet you brought your frail filly.”

Patricia slapped the crop on her thigh for attention.  “You know I’m no frail.”

Mabel scowled but pretended no injudicious innuendo had just slipped the girl’s mouth.  “I’m sure she’ll keep you entertained, but we’re not here for pleasure.”

“We all need a little restorative now and again,” Kent said.

Patricia asked, “Who will restore you, Mabel?”

March 14th, 1928.  “Her name’s Patricia Coltheart,” Steven said, adjusting his white gloves.  “Perhaps the crop is a reference to the horse in her name.  She’s certifiable, pal.”

“But she does look remarkable.  You’d remark that, right?”

“Certainly.  I’m old, but not dead, as they say.”

“I didn’t mean to imply anything crass,” Kent said, smirking.  “But I would like to see her face more often.  Any chance she’s looking for an office job, at the executive level?”

“I doubt it, but no harm in introducing yourself.  And I say, shouldn’t you be married by now?  Courting a society girl may quell rumors, and you might get something out of it as well.”

“You’re so blunt tonight, Steven.  But convincing.  I’m convinced.”

The blue silk drapes around the ballroom sparkled with sequins, but otherwise the room was white from floor to ceiling.  The band played lively jazz and young people danced.  Kent was irked to see his sister at one of the tables across the floor, to know she’d be watching his every move.  He downed his drink and subtly sniffed a little cocaine from a trick cuff.

On the floor, he stopped a few paces from his prize with a click of the heel and a smile to express interest.  She was just dancing with a girl—a friendly thing, not too heavy to break it up.

Still, Patricia didn’t pay him much attention, until the other girl cried, “That’s Kent Thornblood!” and practically flung her at him, before dancing away.  Patricia tucked the riding crop under her arm and took short, halting steps toward him.

Kent chuckled, barely audible above the music.  “I can cut a rug too, you know.”  He took her hand and began to move.  He was a tall, powerful man, with a thick jaw and stern brow to match.  His may have been the manliest Charleston of the decade and well executed.

Aside from the mystery of her equestrian accessory, it was a conventional and coquettish courtship that evening.  In the end, she accepted an invitation to visit MacCaulay Tower.

Mabel watched it all.

March 16th, 1928.  Raindrops snaked down Kent’s office window in a mad dash.  The golden office lamp vied with the badly occluded sun for dominance and the light washed out to a dark neutral mood.  He had been leaning against his desk in a casual pose, Patricia standing before him, but he had suddenly become quite still and tense.

“This shirt.”  His shirt’s top buttons had been ripped free by a careless swipe of Patricia’s riding crop.  “This shirt cost more than everything you’ve ever worn.”

She held the offending implement behind her back with one hand and made a girlish gesture with the other.  Her dress was a common enough design for young women, but unusually funeral black.

“This shirt?”  She looped an arm around his neck, pulling so close he could feel every hot breath on his ear.  Then she gripped his collar and pulled, ripping it completely away.

Kent trembled with confused rage.

She wrapped the collar around her neck and pinched it shut, affecting a man voice.  “I’m Kent.  I do big business all day.  It’s very important.”

He pawed at his chest foolishly until he composed himself and pointed at her angrily.  “This game is all very amusing, yes, but how can I leave the building in this state?  And what they think of me, they’ll think twice as poorly of you.  You do understand how the talk works, don’t you?”

“And you worry too much about the future.”  She bounced the riding crop once more in both hands.  “Do you want to come, or don’t you?”

Kent was floored again, hands gripping the edge of his desk.  “I beg your pardon?”

Patricia cocked a hip.  “Do you desire sexual release, you starched collar?”  She underscored the insult by pointing the crop where his collar had fallen to the floor.  It still struggled to maintain the shape of a thick neck.

Kent couldn’t speak, his body trembling again, but he mouthed the words, “I do.”  His eyes were soft and fearful.

She laid the head of the crop against his exposed skin.  “Then you will do everything that I tell you to do, and you will thank me for it…”


Or purchase the whole Midnight Collection e-book through Ko-fi.  A physical copy in paperback will be coming soon.  And lastly, you can just read the collection for free at the Collection’s website.

The Best in the Collection

No comments on my entries to the latest edition of The Midnight Collection, OK.  Now I’m posting what I consider to be the best story from the book.  Written by Joseph Kelly, it well embodies the theme of Bitter Cold, and is just unusually well-written fiction.  How am I dating this guy?  Check it out.  My post here is going to have the start of the story with a link to where you can finish reading it on The Midnight Collection’s website.  If you love or hate the story, or love expressing your opinion even when that is “meh,” leave a comment either here or there…

man in snow

“A man walking in the snow” – Engelhart, 1904


Joseph Kelly

Content Warnings:  Ableist language, Child death/endangerment, Death of loved one, Depression, Disease, Horror Content in General.

In this country, the seasons were so wonderfully distinct.  You’d never mistake the autumn woods for those in late summer or early winter, with the leaves a vibrant patchwork and the grasses a uniform gold.  The blooming swamp irises would not let you imagine it was still March, and the dense blanket of snow would stay until the first crackling, melting days of spring.  Because of this, Granddad could never forget his daughter died in early autumn.

No walks together through the crunching leaves that season, only bitter mourning indoors, the curtains closed.  She had died so quickly, along with her husband.  Their bedroom remained untouched since then, their bed still unmade from where they were lifted by nurses.  Granddad installed a lock on that door so his granddaughter wouldn’t go wandering in.  There was nothing in there but a few humble possessions, and blood-stiffened handkerchiefs.  But their memory remained.  The scent of their illness dissipated, replaced by the scent of the little imported soaps she used, shaped like flowers and seashells.  Granddad threw them in the bin with glassy eyes, then took the bin away from the house.

They had fallen ill so quickly, then died far from home, never to return.  In Granddad’s youth, his mother had died in her own bed, surrounded by family.  Now people were just cut from your life.  One final glimpse in the coffin, then gone.  It left a terrible anticipation, like they might walk through the door any moment.  That he would wake from this troubled dream, back to how things were before.

And the little one, of course, had to feel it even more.  She had never known life without her parents.  Those first few days, she would sit by the door, staring at the solid wood.  She would mumble ‘I know’ to his reminders that they were not returning.  But she kept up her ritual, even after the second trip to leave flowers on the graves.  He allowed her; what else could he do?  She gave up once the snow began to fall, closing the season and that part of their lives, killing the timid hope that curled up in their hearts.

Granddad returned to his workshop and all the usual chores when the neighbors’ kindness dried up.  No more sweet lebkuchen and warm spätzle delivered by rheumy-eyed matrons.  No offers to watch the little girl to give him a break.  She was darling, an angel, but she was still too small to be left alone while he worked all day.  Nor would he want to leave her alone.  He stayed up an entire night to move her playroom into his workshop.  She could be beside him as he worked, her squeaks and shouts no longer an annoyance, but a comfort.

Long ago, he had climbed on roofs and repaired broken pipes, but now his work had to be seated.  And once, he had considered himself retired, doing his tinkering as a mere hobby to keep himself occupied.  Now it was a livelihood with his children gone.  He built and repaired tools for the neighbors.  Maybe they just paid him out of pity, though his work truly was well-crafted.  Too well-crafted, perhaps.  Once he built a hammer, it would last a lifetime—why buy a second one?  The men would mumble about giving it to a relative, goaded on by their soft-hearted wives.

He asked around the village whether someone might like a dollhouse for a little girl.  A rocking horse?  Some sturdy wooden blocks?  But children preferred toys from the fancy shop in town, not the outdated creations of an old man.  So he took his tools and his granddaughter out to neighbor’s houses to repair their attic steps, and nail down new baseboards to keep the mice out.

One afternoon, the two of them arrived to the Bürgermeister’s daughter’s house.  Her expensive ice box had broken, and it seemed a waste to purchase a new one, though they could surely afford it.  These days, a man came around to sell blocks of ice, a convenience compared to venturing out into the ice caverns to chip some off yourself.  All the middle-class families wanted their own ice box now.

A putrid smell hung in the air, and the windows of the fine estate gaped open.  The lady of the house rushed out to meet them.

“Forgive the smell.  The goose rotted.  That’s how we knew…”

Inside, the icebox lay on its side in a pile of wet rags.  The delicately carved trim looked so extravagant, but he could see the cracks in the joints, the sloppily joined seams.  The lady fetched him a stool, and he sat with a quiet grunt of pain.  Looking closer, he found the drainage hole—so roughly cut it was half clogged with splinters.  He puzzled over it, tapping with the hammer, seeing what had gone so wrong.  There was no point fixing it, the wood inside being so cheap and splintered.

“It’s such a shame,” the lady said, bouncing his granddaughter on her knee.  “So much money.”

“It’s a simple design,” Granddad said.  “One could make something like this out of an old cabinet.  They put too much effort on the exterior.”

The woman’s eyes brightened.  “You can make anything, can’t you?  I bet you could make one for half the cost?”

He thought to scoff, but there really couldn’t be much to it.

That evening, he rocked in his chair, a notebook on his lap.  He twirled his pen, pondering the design.  He didn’t have a factory or specialty tools, but if he could build a cupboard, why couldn’t he build this?  His granddaughter sneezed as she stacked her blocks, and he rushed over to fuss with her.  Her little hands were pink and cold.  It had grown a bit chilly, hadn’t it?

He spent long hours, and had to purchase ice from that smarmy city-man to test it, but he developed a prototype.  He could store soup for days, keep the leftover bits of dinner he usually fed to the garden.  But an old man and a tiny girl didn’t eat much, and leftovers wouldn’t keep their stove burning all winter.

As much as he hated to, he invited the grannies and aunties to the house, let them chatter away and poke and squeeze his granddaughter.  They marveled at his design as he showed them how clean it was, how easy to change out the old water, how much longer their ice would last.  There were two orders by the end of the night.

It was hard work, and he wished he’d come up with the idea years earlier, before arthritis stiffened his hands, back when he had the energy to saw and hammer and move bulky furniture.  He had no means to cart the things around, so he would have to assemble them in the neighbors’ houses.

His granddaughter had been whining for him to play with her, wanting him to sit his creaky body on the floor and watch her move her dollies around.  He would have loved to, but he only had so many wakeful hours in the day, and they needed to eat, to stay warm.  One evening he found her twirling a dolly with a strangely patterned dress—white, splotched with dark brown flowers: a bloody kerchief.

He took it from her as she cried.  The forbidden bedroom door gaped open, his step stool dragged close for little hands to reach the knob.  She had learned to open the lock.

There was no putting it off now.  He gathered up the old possessions, took the dirty linens to the trash, sold the costume jewelry for a pittance.  The room was empty, save for the bare bed, and the chair he’d sat on as he cared for them.  All traces of them were gone, besides a few trinkets he kept in a drawer with a sturdier lock.  It was like another death.

Snow filled in the yard, and now he had to bundle up the little girl if she wanted to follow him as he worked.  She kept losing her mittens, and he’d hunt around to find them abandoned on a snow drift.  He scolded her, said her fingers would turn black and fall off if she wasn’t careful.  His own fingers were a bit precarious too, with clumsy mistakes of his hammer and weary work with the saw.

The neighbors sent their young sons to help deliver the bulky wood and heavy tools.  The young men would scoff and snort at his attempts at conversation, rushing ahead with their long legs to leave him shuffling behind.  His granddaughter had become just as sullen as those young men, too fussy to come with him to his work.  No matter how he explained, she could not accept his long hours away as important for their survival.  But she was big enough now to stay alone, wasn’t she?  She was a big girl who could play with her toys while he was gone for just a couple hours.

One evening he returned late, the moon gleaming on the thick snow.  He was longing for nothing more than a soak in the bathtub.  The gate was parted.  He approached, dumbly fussing with the latch, mystified.  Had he left it open in his rush?  The terrible realization dawned on him, and he didn’t even stop to look inside the house.

He dashed around as quickly as he could with his stiff knees, crying out her name.  The snow was falling fast, but he could still catch traces of footprints leading out of the yard.  The way he’d come, his heavy boots stomping over them without even noticing.

He prayed it was just her coat lying in that snow bank, but he knew.  Her shoe had gotten stuck on a tree root, and it hadn’t occurred to the poor thing to just pull it off.  He shook at her, pawed at her frozen white face.  Her eyes were closed, frost matting the lashes.  No pink in her lips, her cheeks.  She’d kept her mittens on for once.

He rushed back home with her in his arms, mind spinning.  How?  How?  He had locked the gate, he was sure of it.  And how had she gotten outside at all?

The front door was unlatched too, a little chair pushed against it to reach the knob.  He laid her in front of the fire, shuddering.  He fell to his old knees, grimacing with the pain as he lay his ear against her chest.  Listen, listen… listen for anything over the creak of the old wood, of the crackling of the ice outside, of the drip-drip of the coming spring thaw.  Anything, a mouse’s peep, the tiniest flutter… No breath came from her blue lips.  He lifted one of her eyelids and revealed the pale, lifeless eye.

They would come take her.  Not even to the hospital—straight to the little box they’d bury her in.  He might not survive to see that moment; his old heart threatened to pound itself to death.  The fire burned beside them, melting the flakes in her lashes.  He gazed at her, imagining the chill blue fading from her face.  What would be left then?  A goose, left to spoil?

He bundled her in his arms.  He couldn’t let them take her from him.  She was all he had, and all he could ever hope to have again.  He stumbled out into the snow and laid her in a soft drift.  Spring was coming, and everything would melt.

There was still wood in the shop, enough for another cabinet, at least a small one.  He hauled the boards out into the yard and got to work.  His body screamed for rest but he couldn’t leave her out in the open that way, out with pecking birds and scuttling insects.

It was enough.  He could refine the seams later, make sure not even the tiniest insect could crawl inside.  His heart kept hoping that she would waken, that she would cover her ears and wail about Opa making such a racket with his hammer.  But she was still as a doll, even as he laid her in the little box, and tucked her in with handfuls of snow.  A puffy white comforter for her rest.

He kept the box close to the house and stayed in his freezing workshop, scribbling out plans.  A stupid old man could figure out an icebox, but what was he hoping to invent now?  An icebox where the ice never melted?  And what then, if he could even manage it?  Keep her sad little body forever, locked away like a trinket in a drawer?  He wept into his hands between his fits of labor.

The next morning, a knock to his door woke him in a startled fit.  That damned ice-man was back, bragging about his wares.  You could preserve a goose for a month with this…  Selling ice in the dead of winter!  Granddad rebuffed him and stalked back to his workshop.  But a thought began to turn in his mind.  The ice cavern was cold the whole year, especially the deeper you went…


Or purchase the whole Midnight Collection e-book through Ko-fi.  A physical copy in paperback will be coming soon.  And lastly, you can just read the collection for free at the Collection’s website.

All the Dollars, Genre Edition

Capitalism is about every business needing to maximize profits at all times, at the expense of quality, of careers, of productive businesses themselves, of individual lives, of communities, of art and intellect, of the continued existence of the human species, etc.  I don’t much cotton to it.

Something wiser people than I have remarked on, or expounded at length, is that this has the effect of reducing consumer choice.  That might be small potatoes compared to it reducing the life expectancy of the human race, but it’s not nothing, and it’s what I’m talking about at the moment.  Briefly.  This will be a total driveby.

I’ve been reading Paperbacks From Hell by Grady Hendrix, mostly for the pictures.  It’s an art book of schlocky horror book covers, but also a history of the industry, artists, and writers.  Some combination of tax law and corporate greed led to the destruction of the mid-tier book market in the ’90s, and more relevant to my point here, led to trend-chasing and the death of entire genres.

It was never about public desire to actually read this or that.  It was about the money men’s perceived need to put all your money on the winning horse, to hedge no bets.  When Silence of the Lambs blew up, supernatural or scifi horror was chucked in the dustbin of history.  It couldn’t get published without a select few author’s names on it.  It was serial killers or thrillers, for the spooky end of the book rack, or nothing.

I haven’t finished the book yet so I don’t know if it mentions the way book stores don’t even have a horror section now, but they do have a supernatural romance section, boy howdy.  Anyway, all these genres are ridden into the dirt like so many Dr. Strangelove bombs, leaving the public tired and wired.  We still have needs for artistic and intellectual stimulation that are not being met, interests The Man has deemed unprofitable.

And thanks to cultural balkanization driven by social media, it’ll be pretty hard for The Man to keep these gravy trains on track.  Disney’s historically recent media monopolies seemed like they could rule forever, but those profits are sure to get limp over time.  What then?  For us, the consumers of media, we have our rabbit holes, our communities, our own trends that flicker this way and that like cat’s tails.

I don’t know if I have anything to say with all this.  It’s just what was on my mind.  I’m going to self-publish a supernatural horror action-adventure sometime soon-esque, and that would’ve been among the casualties of this mess, once upon a time.  Who’s to say what will happen with it now?

The Midnight Collection, Volume Two!

Already?  Yeah, we meant for these to be kinda quarterly and it’s been less than three months.  But if you’re doing dark fiction, you gotta have a Halloween issue.  And xmas is in the works as we speak, haha.  So.  What the hell am I talking about?  My man Joseph Kelly has published the second volume of The Midnight Collection, a compilation of dark fiction I’ve previously mentioned.  You have a few options on how to read it – and one is completely gratis. I’ll explain that later.

This second installment is themed “Dark Harvest.”  This is basically done without profit at this point.  I’m just pimping it because I’m a contributor, and I’d love to hear what you think of my writing.  Although I am really curious what reviewers, casual or serious, will think of all the stories.

This is a truly unusual collection. Despite the uniting theme, it’s as diverse as the members of our secret cabal of writers. There’s poetry, comedy, gay representation, and dark fiction ranging from traditional ’80s style horror to fantasy to sci-fi.  Overall this volume leans toward standard horror, as befits the season.  Some of the writers are more conventional, some rather unusual.  A little tour of the table of contents:

THE LITTLE LAMB – Kate Bledsoe
A new author for this collection, with big heart.  Also, a grisly monster.  So grisly.  The editor chose the order for the stories and there’s a reason this one leads off.  A good energy for getting into the horror zone.

As I said, this volume leans more to standard style horror fiction, and this is a stalwart entry.  Film is a very powerful medium for horror, but there are at least a few advantages to the written word.  The subject is much like a horror TV show, but you can feel the experience here in a different way.  Another new author for us.

The treacherous vegetable from Belgium has its day.  The author is a personal friend of mine.

A fellow they/them goes off with three poems in the Dark Harvest.  A bumper crop, if you will.

So far every author in the book is new to the Collection, and mostly new to publishing.  The brisk pace of the stories slows to illustrate a deep and bitter feeling.  Emotional, dark, and amusingly blasé about its core horror conceit.

My lovin’ man has a more low key story here than previously.  This world has a lived-in feeling.  No detail is unrealized.  But what story does this prose serve?  Might not be what you expect going in.  That’s all in Rootbound; Harvest Time shows up much later in the book with a jovial contemporary tone.  Or is it retro?  Depends on how old you are.  It’s a good time.

NOST’S SONG – Damian Golfinopoulos
Mr. Golfinopoulos is back with another troubled heroine facing rugged elements and rugged humanity.  But this story has a different sort of depth from his last one.  And a different element.  Ezekiel Drift was cold as hell, this one has intense wet heat.

LA ISLA DE LAS MUÑECAS, MAIZE – Saoirse Aimhirghin
Another new author for us, with two entries that couldn’t be more different – much like how I did in the first volume.  La Isla is nonfiction about an interesting place in Ciudad de México, and Maize has a hazy dream devolve into splatterpunk doom.  With cornpone corn puns.

Didn’t like Diana’s job interview in Supply Chain Banditos?  Neither did the employer, so she’s back for another interview.  I think I did a better job this time, but we’ll see.

SHEEPDOG – B.M. Kerchner
This starts in a similar territory to The Little Lamb, but quickly lets you know this is an even crueler universe.  Remember what death smells like.

POTATOES O’BRIEN – Brett Elijah Shelton
My brother is back to fuck shit up.  Remember to chew your food, bitches.

BE STILL, MY HEART – Lydia Moody
Lydia Moody returns with splatterpunk, this one much less cozy than the last.  But if you ever wanted to read a story with the spirit of Peter Jackson’s Braindead (Dead Alive to us yanks), this is your dog.

SAMHAIN WALTZ – Dominique Palma
We had an Alaskan with an Irish handle writing about Mexico City, now an author from the place itself.  Palma’s subject matter is, I think, inspired by the horror writing of Southern Europe, and the story is set in Spain.  I’m really glad we had her in the mix, bringing a different perspective.  The story is fun, too.

The last proper entry of the book brings back the big heart.  Set in a fictionalized and magical Japan, this one struck me more than once with its spirit.  Hard to say what I mean without spoiling it, so I won’t.

EASY GO – Caesar Train Magenta
You might recognize this author’s name from here.  This volume, like the first, is brought to a close in Rod Serling style monologue.

“Garden of Youth” (detail) – Charles Dana Gibson, 1897


The way that results in the most direct support for future volumes is through Ko-fi.  For a minimum three dollar donation, you can download the e-book in formats that work with most e-readers.  The best way to view the interior illustrations, and have a nice artifact for your bookshelf, is by purchasing the paperback through Lulu.  You might be able to purchase it through other sites soon, but I’m a little unclear on how or if that’s going to happen.  And lastly, as promised, you can just read it for free at the Collection’s website.

There are a few original works of art by the authors (nice!) but most of the illustrations are lovingly curated from public domain resources, like the picture to the right here.  Some version of some of the illustrations are available on the website, more in the e-book, but yes, the best way to appreciate them is a hard copy.

I’d love to see reviews, either of the whole package or individual stories.  For lowest effort you can drop some general thoughts in the comments below this article.  You can also leave comments on the individual stories at the Midnight Collection’s site.  And of course, you can review it wherever it is available for purchase.  Thanks!

Note:  I’m given to understand some non-USA people can’t use a card to purchase it through ko-fi, but if somebody specifically requests to make it available through Amazon, we’ll look into it.

PS:  I mentioned before I’m going to release my first novel soon.  Plans fell through, as they will, but if you follow this blog, you’ll be the first to know when my own long form stuff goes live.

Don’t Like Me? How About This Guy?

No comments on my entries to the first edition of The Midnight Collection, OK.  I wasn’t going to do this originally, but I’m posting what I consider to be the best story from the book.  Written by Joseph Kelly (not me or my ‘nyms), it compares favorably to Clive Barker.  Check it out.  My post here is just going to have the start of the story with a link to where you can finish reading it on The Midnight Collection’s website.  If you love or hate this story, or love expressing your opinion even when that is “meh,” leave a comment either here or there…


Joseph Kelly

Content Warnings:  Loss of Autonomy, Quasi-erotic Horror, Messiness, Mutilation, Murder, Mild Ableist Language.

He dreamt of cutting a body to pieces.  Like a butcher breaking up a pig carcass: this part for chops, that part for bacon.  An awful dream, repulsive.  Not just gross, but he was more disturbed by how he’d behaved in the nightmare: passive, apathetic, annoyed at the chore.  His stomach churned when he woke, sitting up in the rental cabin’s bed.  Sick.  What the hell was wrong with his brain?  He didn’t even enjoy watching horror movies, let alone that gore shit.  And he wasn’t prepping a Thanksgiving turkey recently or anything; he’d been vegetarian since junior high, save the occasional accident.

He fumbled around the cabin, knocking his hip into the cluttered furniture.  Cute place though.  Cozy.  Six days remaining, pre-paid, but he still felt the money draining minute-to-minute.  At least he’d gotten up early, after leaving the bedroom curtains open so the sun could wake him.  The kind host had made good use of the cleaning fees: the carpets shampooed, the upholstery Febreze’d.  Even left a stack of board games and puzzles by the sofa.  But who’d drive two hours into the countryside to assemble a thousand-piece patchwork of kitten parts?  That wasn’t what he was here for.  His eyes wandered to the easel set up in the living room.  It waited with a blank canvas pre-toned in rusty burnt sienna, ready to receive his vision.  Not yet, not yet.  The mantra of his life.  Morning light streamed through the sliding glass door: a white overcast sky, warmth already hanging in the air.  Gonna be a real scorcher, he thought in his dad’s voice.

He broke out the loaf of bread he’d packed, made a PBJ with the complimentary jelly packets the host had left on the kitchenette counter.  A salad bowl-full, so deep he could bury his hand like he was fishing around in a trick or treat basket.  How much did they think he needed?  The Jelly-du-Jour was classic grape, squirted over his sandwich with a humorous squelch.  It’d be good to get outside early before locking himself indoors with the A/C blasting.  He took his breakfast out to the patio table to admire the view.  That’s what you paid for, the pics that enticed you to impulse-book a week.  A pond with croaking frogs, a patch of dense forest.  No neighbors to rev lawnmowers or kids tearing around on dirt bikes.  The sandwich gummed up his mouth, and he choked it down with a glass of tap water.  The modern monk, fueling himself for a day of illuminating manuscripts.  More like daubing around paint for twenty minutes then wiping it all off.  But you could hope.

He stood, stuffing the bread crust into his pocket.  Almost tossed it in the pond, but that’d give the ducks a stomach ache as bad as his own.  A nature walk sounded nice.  Clear his mind, be a chance to think.  He’d follow that rasping bird call, see what little weirdo was making it.  He set out, passing the pond, the frogs sleeping off last night’s concert.  The woods were cooler, made him glad he bothered with the flannel shirt.  He hiked over lumpy ground, still achy and groggy from poor sleep.  Chopping up a body, for fuck’s sake.  Sawing at an ankle, dead foot clammy under his palm.  Passive, emotionless.  He shuddered, shaking his head to knock the thought free.

Leaves rustled, branches creaked, and that distant bird-call rang out.  Squeaky, manic laughter: more birds chattering over each other, having a little shindig.  A streak of scarlet flitted through the boughs, a latecomer to the party.  Weep-weep, one of them bleated like a depressed dog toy.  He followed, taking a deep breath of fresh air.  A woody scent, that Christmas smell.  Expensive turpentine, not the cheap turps he bulked out his brush washer with.  He leaned against a trunk, closing his eyes to feel the peace.  Turning into a real Bob Ross out there, just needed a squirrel in his pocket.  Bob probably never got much into abstract expressionism though.

A tapping sound emerged—tonk-tonk-tonk, like tiny wooden mallets.  Woodpeckers?  Pockmarks studded nearby trunks, holes seeping gooey sap.  Looked like they’d been mowed down by gnomes with tommy guns.  There—more red, a riot of woodpeckers swarming an old stump.  Ten of them maybe, all crowding in.  He watched them and laughed.  Too bad he left his phone on the nightstand; Dad would love this.  But you couldn’t pack that shit around if you really wanted to unplug.  The birds went to town on that stump, hammering away, cramming their beaks into the gnarled wood and gulping tree blood.  A new scent—something sweet, maybe whatever got those little guys so amped up.  Apples… baked apples, fresh out of the oven.  And an animal musk, like a fox marked its territory.  Wasn’t the birds.  Birds didn’t smell, did they?  They were so absorbed in their meal, you could reach out and grab one.  He crept forward.  How close would they let him get?  Closer, though he couldn’t move like a ninja.  Leaves crunched under his boot, but the birds didn’t flinch.  Another woodpecker arrived, fighting for space at the buffet.  The bird it displaced squawked and waggled its long, creepy tongue.

He was right on them, ready to live that childhood dream of sneaking up and petting a seagull.  Did he dare?  He reached for one, its back turned.  Close enough to see the stark mosaic of its wings, the crimson head, total Woody Woodpecker style.  Inches away, his hand poised, wavering.  He went for it, biting back a smile.  The bird’s feathers were silky smooth, its skin warm beneath.  Man, what Snow White shit was this?  He stifled a childish giggle.  Another one, feathery soft.  It vibrated, boring a hole into the wood.  The scent—stronger now—apple cinnamon Pop-Tart, like when he was a kid.  They didn’t even make those anymore.

A flow of sap trickled down the knotted bark.  The stump stood hip-height, roughly torn, the wood crackled and grey.  A dead tree, rotted apart.  Why was it dripping sap then?  Had to be something alive in there.  He reached for a rivulet, and a bird shrieked and flapped at him.  He jerked back, not wanting a hole in his painting hand.  The animal smell grew stronger, like sweat?  Fresh sweat, not rank B.O.  Apples and sweat, a little vanilla.

A ray of sunlight peeked through the canopy, lighting the sap a brilliant crimson, candy-red.  His stomach ache vanished, and now he only wanted a taste of that stuff.  The woodpeckers wouldn’t clear space, crowding every inch.  An impulse struck him, tingling down his arms.  He lunged forward, kicked the stump, waved his hands and shouted.  But why?  What an asshole move, scaring off some creatures enjoying their breakfast.  They stayed rooted longer than he expected, but flapped off in time, trilling and screeching.

All for him now.  He knelt, eyes tracing over the twisted wood.  This was what got them so hot and bothered?  A pool of the sap glistened translucent scarlet, and he dipped his finger in.  He thought it’d feel like stand oil—sticky as honey.  But it was slick, and he dove to lick it off before it dripped down his shirt cuff.  You’d imagine maple syrup, the expensive stuff, but it wasn’t sweet really, almost savory.  Apples cooked in salted butter?  The taste changed in his mouth, even with one drop.  Apples, to a salty, musky taste on the afterburn.  He dipped into the pool again.  Wouldn’t drown your pancakes with it, but there was something compelling there.  He sucked on his fingers, rolling his eyes around like an amateur sommelier, considering the flavor.  No, it was sweet now, more cinnamon sugar.  He took another sample, laughing: pretty Winnie the Pooh of him.  He had to pull himself away, wipe his hand off on his pant leg.  Maybe he’d find a jar and get a souvenir to take home.

Back to the cabin, and the color of that sap stuck in his mind.  It’d look good on the sienna.  Just add some black and white streaks like those crazy birds.  He slid onto the stool, picturing the composition already.  Yeah, a dark rectangular frame, then red in concentric circles.  The colors were barely on the palette before he was laying them on the canvas.  He worked steadily, only stopping to switch brushes, dab more medium.  Didn’t even need music to get in the zone.  He stretched back, and sweat trickled down his spine.  Christ— he was still in his flannel, and the sun was blasting through the window.  The thermostat read 89F.

He tore off his shirt, set the A/C to full bore.  No way it was that hot already at…  The wall clock read ten till noon.  Hours had passed like nothing.  He stuck his head under the kitchen faucet and let cold water run down his neck.  Felt great with the A/C rushing on his wet skin, but how’d he let it get this bad?  Was the work really so absorbing?  He turned back to the easel, staring in amazement.  Halfway done, maybe more.  Remarkable headway for a canvas that size.  Looking sharp too, that black, white, and red so striking with the sienna peeking through.

He slumped onto the leather sofa, eyes drawn to the painting, itching to return to it.  How long had it been since he was this focused?  The next move was obvious: get the palette knife in there and make some vertical streaks like the birds’ feathers.  He forced himself to choke down another PBJ before returning to work.  Nobody back home would’ve dreamed he’d make good on his talk of getting away and finally finishing something.  Probably thought he’d be jacking off 24/7 and crying about the Wi-Fi.  But it didn’t matter what they thought.  This was what he paid for, what he took time off for.

The day drained by, and he was still focused enough to swap that finished canvas for another.  Cobalt and Hansa yellow now, in overlapping triangles like the gleams in the starlit sky outside the window.  Night already!  The frogs had been singing for hours, and his back screamed at him for spending all day on that awful stool.  He hobbled to the living room couch and refueled himself with a bag of gummy worms.  Gelatin wasn’t vegetarian, but they were sitting on the counter and he couldn’t be fucked to make another PBJ.  Sorry horses, or whoever’s bones got boiled.  He looked back at his work, shaking his head.  Now this canvas was almost done too.  Crazy, absolutely crazy.  The creative bug got him again, like the old days of studio all-nighters, only stopping when campus security came around to kick him out.  Maybe it was as simple as getting out of the house.

The painting still called to him, but he’d be crippled tomorrow if he didn’t rest his spine.  He scraped layers of paint from his forearms and flopped on the stiff bed, mind buzzing.  Corny decorations clustered the room: wooden unicorn, a framed bible quote.  That lame print of a pink sailboat on a purple ocean—you could do something with those pastel colors.  Break out the silver paint and palette knife, scrape it on thick for texture.  Let some black streak through: the shadows beneath those mellow waves.  Exhaustion overtook him, and his plans interspersed with dreams.

Carving pumpkins at the kitchen table, scooping out their slimy guts, seeds raining on the newspaper Dad had laid out.  Smelled like sour tomatoes, but he’d imagined pumpkin pie or Mom’s nice autumn candles.  Back in the old house, but he wasn’t a kid.  Orange goo clung to his hands, strings of slime hanging down.  The dream changed and Dad became someone else, watching him with an unkind presence.  Maybe Kyle; he didn’t get it.  Ab-ex is for boomers, he’d say as a joke.  That’s art, huh?  Splashing paint around like a 1950s alcoholic?  Rothko wanted to do realism.  Kind of sad, yeah?  And then he couldn’t change.  Everyone wants color fields forever.  What if you got stuck that way?  Couldn’t make anything real, just blobs until you die.

Wasn’t Kyle though, with his lip-ring accenting that permanent smirk.  It was a stranger.  How’d they get in the cabin?  The doors were locked.  No one should be there.  Yet, there they sat in the old IKEA chair, just out of sight, just on his periphery.  Their presence was overwhelming, vibrating, like fingers working into the whorls of his brain.

A song—he didn’t recognize it, but it fluttered in and out on a fuzzy connection, playing on a decrepit, tinny speaker—Got to get to you, baby—the pumpkin vanished, the table vanished—Honey, come set me free—nothing in the dining room but a face it hurt to look at, like peering at the sun…


Or purchase the whole Midnight Collection e-book through Ko-fi or Amazon.  A physical copy in paperback is available through Lulu.  You may be able to purchase it through other sites soon, but it’s nice to not give Bezuggs a cut, and purchase on Lulu gives more money to the cause.  And lastly, you can just read the collection for free at the Collection’s website.

Fiction by Me: Supply Chain Banditos

Alright you busters, time for my last post about the first issue of The Midnight Collection.  Nobody has seemed much interested, but this story is my personal best.  Didn’t like the last two?  Give this a spin.  My post here is just going to have the start of the story with a link to where you can finish reading it on The Midnight Collection’s website.  If you love or hate my story, or love expressing your opinion even when that is “meh,” leave a comment either here or there…


Bébé Mélange

Content Warnings:  Capitalism, COVID-19, Poverty, Gun Violence, Murder, Robbery.

My name’s Diana and the first time I thought about this kind of thing, I was, like, twelve years old?  This had to be about 2020.  Covid was new, and it was weird vibes.  The “boomer remover” joke was funny, but it didn’t matter, you would catch serious nerves off the grown-ups.  They were bouncing from one freak-out to the next one, like whatchacallem, bumper cars?

My family had an apartment and you know, it had a lot of mildew.  Is it mold or mildew?  It was probably bad for us, but you don’t smell it unless you leave the house and come back to it.  I didn’t have a bed.  I was sleeping in the living room, on the couch.  Well, I don’t really remember sleeping because the lights, and sometimes people would come in and play TV or video games, and I’d be in and out of sleep so much.  But when you’re a child, that’s OK.  You’re good at it.

I remember the room was pretty small; even small as I was, it looked small.  But when you’re all sunk in the couch cushions and close to the ground, you can imagine it’s bigger.  The carpet was light brown like desert sand—dirty too—so I dreamed it was a big desert.  The biggest thing in front of me was one of those wall TVs nobody put on the wall, sitting on cinder blocks with all the wires and video games around the bottom.  In my dreams, that was a big old rock like the ones they have in the Southwest.

The gamer chair and bean bag would be smaller rocks, and the junk like shoes and grocery bags would be little boulders.  Littler stuff like socks and tiny bits of paper and crumbs of dry food that get in the carpet.  Well, you know…

The sky was blue where the TV touched, mixed rainbow from the LED string stuck on the back of it.  That was like the day and the night sky all together, over my little desert.  Tiny people, sometimes tiny me, we’d be out in that desert—going here or there.  It didn’t mean anything.

Anyway, my mom’s boyfriend Peter woke me up that night, cussing softly in the kitchen.  He made a little noise, then came out to sit in the gamer chair—one of those rocking things with no legs that sit right on the ground.

He remembered I was there and turned the chair halfway to see me.  “I’m sorry, girl.  You wanna watch me play GTA?  Have something to eat?”

“No,” I said.  “I mean, I’ll be OK.  I can see from here if I want to.  Go ahead.”

He sighed and grumbled again.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“I don’t have my burritos.”

He was talking about those cheap microwave burritos.  I should have known he was mad that he didn’t have those, because I didn’t smell them.  They smell like cat poop, so much that my mom would think the cat farted, before Peter came out with two burritos on a paper plate.

“Did Mom forget to buy them?” I asked.

“Naw, baby.  It was the supply chain.”  He emphasized it, like it was real significant—a revelation.

I was interested, but still kinda dreaming about my desert.  “What’s the supply chain?”

“I shouldn’t tell you about it.  It’s grown-up stuff.  Scary stuff.  Covid stuff.”

“You have to tell me now.”

He told me about how the pandemic was making it so we run out of random things, because truck drivers got sick, and there weren’t enough cops to stop thieves.  Last time him and my mom went for groceries, they didn’t have his cat poop burritos, or sour cream, or trash bags.  If it kept up, he said, there’d be nothing left.

“What happens when there’s nothing left?” I asked.

“Total anarchy, like some Mad Max-type shit.”

“Oh.  Like GTA.”

“Oh yeah.”  He didn’t think about the game he was playing, how it was like he said.  You steal stuff and the cops can’t stop you.

He finished his baloney sandwich on the loading screen for San Andreas, with all the cool tattooed cartoon people, and I went back to dreaming under the TV-colored sky.

The bean bag would be the place where the bandits would strike.  I think in my dream it was like, a little bit Wild West, a little bit Grand Theft Auto.  The target was a big rig with wagon wheels, sticking to the trail behind Gamer Chair Rock—for the moment.  The bandits waited by Bean Bag Rock, loading their pistols one bullet at a time.

So that’s why I was thinking about it when I was only twelve.  Peter was a Samoan guy, very Christian, but maybe he didn’t always say the right thing to children?  It was probably fine.  I was fine.

There was a ridge on Bean Bag Rock where the banditos sat in a little row.  They had the high ground, and they were going to shoot up the truck from there.  Bean Bag Rock was in the shadow between blue day and the night of rainbow constellations, so the men could not be seen.  They were something drab and gray, between all the colors.

Why did I say men?  Of course, any kind of people can be bandits.  But when you’re a kid, you don’t know everything, so in my mind they were all men.  They were in sombreros, vests, and chaps.  One of them was real pretty, like Lil Nas X.  They were tiny so he would be lil Lil…  I’m sorry.

Anyway, the big rig wagon was chugging along, headed their way.  I figured there would be a guy on the passenger side with a shotgun.  Peter told me that’s why it’s called shotgun.

I didn’t want Lil Nas to get hit with a shotgun, because it can blow your whole head up.  That’s just gross.  So the bandits had to be smart.  The top of the truck was not bulletproof, and shooting downward with pistols has more range than shooting upward with a shotgun.  They just had to shoot when the truck was close, but not gone by yet, because you couldn’t get bullets through the back part of the cab as easy.  It’s heavy there, full of truck parts?  And the trailer is right there too.

Lil Nas held up a hand.  His arm was bare, but he had a cool pink glove with embroidered black patterns and two tassels.  He waved for the guys to get ready, and they all pointed their guns at the truck.  Some had pistols, like those big long ones you see in old western movies.  A few of them had rifles, with that part you cock to put out the shell and load another one?  Very cool.

It’s sad that the wagon driver and the shotgun man had to die.  But you can’t think about stuff like that, or you’ll never get your cat poop burritos and trash bags.  Or anything.  That’s what it all comes back to, in the end.  We all need to eat, but there isn’t enough stuff for everybody, so somebody has to lose…


Or purchase the whole Midnight Collection e-book through Ko-fi or Amazon.  A physical copy in paperback is available through Lulu.  You may be able to purchase it through other sites soon, but it’s nice to not give Bezuggs a cut, and purchase on Lulu gives more money to the cause.  And lastly, you can just read the collection for free at the Collection’s website.

Fiction by Me: Locusts

Curious to see people’s opinions about my own contributions to The Midnight Collection, I’m going to post them here, one at a time.  My posts are just going to have the start of the story with a link to where you can finish reading it on The Midnight Collection’s website.  If you love or hate my story, or love expressing your opinion even when that is “meh,” leave a comment either here or there.  My stories are quite different from each other, so if you hate this one, maybe the previous or the next will be more to your liking.  This one is a horror scifi poem…



Bébé Mélange

Content Warnings:  Classism, Capitalism, Loss of Body Autonomy,
Disordered Eating, Feces, Harm to People and Animals, Crowds

At the mouth of the bay,
A whole shipyard bent all of its powers
To accommodate one job—the last of its kind.
A megayacht of ungodly proportions—a floating city to raze,
Or rather, dismantle with environmental consciousness.
Gone were the times of conspicuous consumption
And of monuments to individual avarice,
And so the megayacht would die.

The grandfather brought his whole family—
Son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren as well.
He brought them to bear witness to the end of an era
But they laughed in his face, laughed at his emotion.
Bitter tears flowed until his eyes ran dry,
And a time later, they flowed again.

The yacht had a flexible hull in three parts.
It was to flex with the waves of an ocean in full fury.
Those hull sections would be the last part dismantled,
Until that time, holding up the savages that crawled inside
So many termites taking apart a thing of true beauty.
This was the end of opulence, of nobility,
But the noble family could not see.

The grandfather sought their hearts one by one.
“Father,” said his son, “You still have your mansions on land.”
“Why do you need one at sea?” asked his daughter-in-law.
“You just don’t get it,” he cried and tried again.
At last, he came to be understood.
His grandson felt his sorrow.

They watched and wept.
The termites did their work, taking it all apart—
Furnishings first, then electronics and hardware.
Walls and decks came out at the same time as pipes and wires.
The fuel was drained with the greatest care of all.
As the hulls were at last carved apart,
They held hands and moaned.

That grandson understood the beauty lost.
As he grew into a man, he came to understand why.
Society had nearly been destroyed by endless consumption.
The world still burned from the aftermath of those fires.
Months of the year were spent indoors and cooled,
And the people blamed his class.
They blamed billionaires.

But it needn’t have been so!
The technology existed that such opulence
Would not need to run on fossil fuels and waste.
If they’d just stayed their revolution a few more years,
Solar and wind and nuclear castles could have
Been raised to honor the aristocracy,
And the world would still live.
What was needed was need.

The grandson knew that the engine of capital was need—
Not the natural needs of humanity, though hunger did help.
It was the needs that capitalists created by advertising.
That’s why advertising was strictly regulated
In the wake of their filthy revolution.
But the grandson did not need it.

He plied scientists with his wealth,
Schemed to stimulate need through other means.
All that was required was a subtle push—so slight a thing.
Make people feel reckless greed, reawaken their true nature.
Insects provided the model—socially communicating hunger.
They would find what made the locusts swarm,
They would instill just a drop in humanity,
And opulence could be reborn.

Amador was a repairist in the city.
People like him kept the electronics running.
When they did their job well, they didn’t have much work to do
And as the indoor season approached, Amador was done.
He was ready to fold up shop and relax in the cool.
Gold screens coated every window around him,
Protecting from the spring sun, gleaming.

But it was spring, and love called.
Amador’s affections fell on a barista—
A young man named David—but could the love be returned?
Did David prefer women? Or simply avoid customers?
Either would leave Amador cold, even as
The heat of the world began to boil.

One day, he saw David’s keychain—
A rainbow flag in resin and cheap metal.
Amador had put in the work to get familiar,
At least as much as was appropriate for a customer.
All that held him back at that point was the pain of rejection.
It was not an inconsiderable thing—but it would be brief.
Get it over with, like taking a shot in the arm.
But still… maybe tomorrow.

High above the coffee shop
The scientists had labored for years.
Their works were astonishing, unnatural:
A monkey that could eat its weight in minutes,
Mice that could leap over a desk if unrestrained.

The mammals subjected to these treatments had
Some qualities of the insects that infused them—
Yellow flesh and red eyes—for so long
As the effects did linger.

That was key—the effects should be subtle.
The final delivery to the people below must go unnoticed—
Something invisible in the air and the people go a little mad,
To want more than they need—and to need what they want.
They could make the effects fierce and short lived
Or subtle and longer lasting, but not perfectly,
And not predictably.

The grandson was convinced, though.
It was time, whatever over-cautious scientists felt.
The delivery mechanism was built into the HVAC system.
His engineers had been deceived about the purpose.
The substance would be dispersed from one room—
An untraceable concentration, so very low.
His ambition would be achieved.

“Release the chemical, Dr. Mercado.”
“I cannot. This could be a disaster beyond imagining.”
“Release the fucking chemical.” He tried threat and reward.
Dr. Mercado gave in, and the grandson’s excitement grew.
They sealed the room and activated the release remotely.
The concentration within the room would be deadly,
But if all worked as designed, no one would die.
The people of the city would be the first
Of a new world of consumers.

The grandson and Dr. Mercado felt it.
A vibration began in their limbs, their hearts raced.
They looked down at twitching fingers turning yellow.
A few stray molecules of the substance must have escaped,
But the chemical was triggered by proximity to others.
They scrambled away from each other and
The grandson locked his office door.

A high power venting system roared to life.
The release room evacuated its atmosphere through vents.
The substance blew across the city unseen.



Or purchase the whole Midnight Collection e-book through Ko-fi or Amazon.  A physical copy in paperback is available through Lulu.  You may be able to purchase it through other sites soon, but it’s nice to not give Bezuggs a cut, and purchase on Lulu gives more money to the cause.  And lastly, you can just read the collection for free at the Collection’s website.

Fiction by Me: Four

When posting about The Midnight Collection, I’ve been hoping to see people’s opinions about the collection as a whole.  But I can understand, slow times on FtB, not a lot of people ready to read a rando dark fiction collection at the drop of a hat.  Well then, at the very least, curious to see people’s opinions about my own contributions.  I’m going to post them here, one at a time.  My posts are just going to have the start of the story with a link to where you can finish reading it on The Midnight Collection’s website.  If you love or hate my story, or love expressing your opinion even when that is “meh,” leave a comment either here or there.  My stories are quite different from each other, so if you hate this one, maybe the next will be more to your liking…


Christopher Scott Shelton

Content Warnings:  War, Mutilation, Death, Vomit, Disease, Gun Violence, etc.

The valley was cold, but the soldiers had fire.

They had battled all spring and summer.  The spring rain, then the summer melt of mountain ice, had by turns rendered the plain into stinking mire, and the contribution of blood and rotting men was not insignificant.

Late summer dried the earth, late fall firmed it, and the fighting had at last thinned to nothing.

The valley was cold, but the men welcomed the firmness of the earth, the way it did not invade every inch of their clothing, bearing leeches, fleas, and maggots.

The valley was cold because the hot blood of men was no longer spilled upon it.  So great had been the summer slaughter that the barricades and trenches were fortified with bone and dried flesh as much as earth.

And yet soldiers still lived there, with fire to warm them, hiding in a pit, feeding on rats and wild birds.  The war had forgotten them, and they loved it.  They missed bread but would not dare to give voice to complaint, lest they be heard by heralds and scouts and generals, sent to where flesh was still split for territory and ideology, for monarchy and for its enemies.

They quietly ate their rats and birds and contented themselves, until the day when a hussar appeared on a shining white horse with filthy black and grey hooves, his lance low and swinging as if to spear any dogs or beggars that he should chance upon.

The hussar wore a hat like the iron-plated prow of a warship, tall and narrow.  His livery was drab green with faded silver buttons and braids layered thick as chain armor, his high boots a strange ivory suede besotted with the same grime as his steed’s hooves.  They had both walked earth more pliant than the frozen pack of the soldiers’ shelter, of their wasted battlefield.  He sneered through an orange moustache and rode by the men.  They cringed away from that lance.

“Cowards, traitors, hiding in holes.”  Was he Prussian?  Belgian?  None recognized his accent or uniform, but all sensed his authority.

“Nonesuch,” said the sergeant.   “We were ordered to hold this field, and that is what we are doing.”

The hussar pivoted his mount expertly, and it pranced past the men again.  “I suppose the war here is won, and the prize of that struggle is the peace you now enjoy?  Yet elsewhere, men still try their valor.  Elsewhere, men still suffer and die for what is right.”

“We answer to an officer of greater station within our army.  Send one to us, if it pleases you.”

At the end, the horse stamped, turning in place but not walking their line again.  Her master was stone in his saddle, unmoving despite her agitation, demonically resolute.

“Far be it from me to question their command.  If you are to hold this field, then hold it.”

The hussar spurred his steed into a jump, traversing the trench in one motion.  As he passed over the men, he split a saddle bag and something terrible splashed loose.  They quailed away, and the foul substance splattered at their feet.

He rode away, and they beheld his strange offering.  The bag had been filled with bilious vomit.  What bizarre sort of man would have such a thing?  The soldiers quickly buried it in whatever soil they could dislodge from the frozen firmament.

They had quickly buried it, yet the miasma somehow escaped that soil, tendrils creeping into men’s bodies in the night and day that followed.  None were spared.  Each in turn became vomitously ill, a few nigh unto death.

Throughout the ordeal, thoughts that had been carefully secreted away in their survivor reverie were at last given voice.  Should they try to go home?  Find another place to hide?  To truly desert, where heretofore they had merely allowed themselves to be deserted?

The sergeant saw that the first men to fall ill were soon to recover, and with bitter scorn for the mad hussar, dismissed the idea he’d pose any further risk to them.  He ordered the infantrymen to stay with him in the trench.

In truth, none were so hale as to seek an unnecessary march at that time, and they were relieved to have the decision of apathy made for them.

Anon, the hussar returned with a yet wealthier cavalier—a dragoon in deeply black wool with white silk appointments, riding a brilliantly red stallion.  The high iron pot of his helmet was lacquered black, gleaming like a river under a crescent moon, topped with an outlandish silver crest.  He was so heavily laden with swords that it would no doubt be more hindrance than help in combat—blades of every size and description—but his chief weapon was a long, heavy, and intricately carved cannon.

This dragoon spoke with a yet different foreign accent—was he Aragonese?  Alsatian?  “My brother spoke true.  There are worms here, where once warriors drew arms.  Sickening.”  He was olive skinned with oiled black moustache and blood-red lips.

The hussar replied, “I would have said no such thing.  The appearance of knavery is merely an appearance.  Their sergeant spoke of a purpose in their repose.”

“Ah yes,” said the dragoon.  “To hold the field.  Can you hold this field, sergeant?”

In his anger, the sergeant gained some courage, but not so much as to stand up, expose his body to attack.  His furious head peered from the trench like a badger backed into its burrow.

“I’ll not waste time in parlay with vagabonds in shiny suits.  To precisely which army do you belong?”

A ball tore his head apart, having passed through the shoulder of another soldier on the way to its mark.  Scraps of his face flapped in the air momentarily like a discarded orange peel, then his body slipped away.  The dragoon had fired with perfect accuracy, despite taking no effort whatsoever in aiming.  It had been truly fired from the hip.

The officer’s men all scrambled to load their fallow rifles, and end this terror before it could take them.  But the dragoon stopped them with a single hand clapped on his own great cannon.  They understood his meaning.  The weapon had two barrels, and at least one of the soldiers would die in the effort.

Fear and fatigue broke their courage, and they let their arms rest.  Nobody dared to speak—to take the place of their leader.  The soldier with the wounded shoulder frantically tried to dress it, with no aid.

The dragoon calmly reloaded his spent barrel and still the soldiers did not try the same.  “Good, good.  That is discipline.  It takes more courage to follow orders than it does to resist.  For in resistance you risk some pain, a quick death, and in following your leaders, that pain need be endured a thousandfold.”

As he spoke, the hussar removed a saber from one of the many scabbards on the dragoon’s horse, and ran the blade through the stale vomit in his slashed saddlebag.  He tossed the sword down where the soldiers could reach it, then drew another and did the same.

“I’d like each of you to take up one of my swords.  They are all quite strong and sharp, I assure you.”  They still hesitated.  “Take them up.”

He slapped his gun and the soldiers complied, each taking up a poisoned blade as soon as the hussar laid it down.

They were all so armed, emptying the dragoon’s supply.  The trench was wide enough for two men to stand abreast, and as they looked at each other, they had a good idea of what was coming next.

“Without that mouthy sergeant, you count off a nice, even number.  Face your nearest fellow and raise your guard…”


Or purchase the whole Midnight Collection e-book through Ko-fi or Amazon.  A physical copy in paperback is available through Lulu.  You may be able to purchase it through other sites soon, but it’s nice to not give Bezuggs a cut, and purchase on Lulu gives more money to the cause.  And lastly, you can just read the collection for free at the Collection’s website.