ISSUE 17, December 2017



Cover Art by Vonnie Winslow Crist



*Please enjoy our monthly issue for free. Be aware however, that this free version contains some formatting issues such as the abscence of italics. To experience the stories in their properly formatted versions, you can purchase a copy on Kindle or a print edition through Amazon.

Glory
By DJ Tyrer

   ​Juno went out the window headfirst. She would’ve preferred it had been open at the time. Rolling into a crouch, she paused for the briefest of moments to swipe glass from her face and hair, before lunging behind a water butt in search of cover. Bullets followed her as she dashed through the darkness. Just her luck to stumble into a nest of diehard Confederates. The town was swarming with them. Of course, had it not been, she wouldn’t have been in this mess.
One of the men leaned out of the shattered window, searching for her with eyes that glinted red, relics of his war service. She could only hope they weren’t night-vision lenses; the Bushwhackers had been keen on such devices, all the better for the raids on sleeping civilians they preferred. She kept her position behind the butt, just in case. He was definitely searching for her.
Still, he might have the night-vision lenses, but silhouetted against the lamplight, the man presented a perfect target. Juno took careful aim and shot him. He slumped over the frame, his gun falling to the ground from limp fingers.
Not pausing to confirm a kill, she dashed away through the shadows. She’d long ago learnt the virtue of discretion. But, as much as killing him had raised her spirits, it had left her no nearer to getting back inside the building, which was the one place she needed to be right now.
“Don’t worry, Di, I’m coming,” she muttered as she lost herself in the filthy streets of New Hope. No Hope, in her opinion. Ousted from their old haunts, the ol’ Gentry were making folk’s lives a misery out west; desperately trying to pretend that life hadn’t changed. Still, they weren’t the only folk in town and Juno knew there was a Hoodoo shop in the berg. If she was going to get inside again, she was going to need some help.
“Can I help you?” hissed the old woman behind the shop’s counter. It was an archetype the shopkeepers were always happy to play to, satisfying their naive customers. It was like having the desiccated alligator hanging from the ceiling, a piece of showmanship.
“I need a Hand of Glory,” Juno told her.
“A Hand of Glory?” The old woman sucked on her teeth. “Costly. Very costly.”
That was true, she knew. There were laws against them, and you needed the hand of a hanged man for the genuine article. At least out here in the territories there were plenty of lynchings to serve as a source.
“Whatever it costs,” Juno replied. “I need one right now.”
The old woman chuckled as if Juno had asked for the moon, but, again, that was all part of the act. She had one, Juno was certain.
She was right.
A few minutes later, she was clutching the lifeless hand to her chest as she made her way back to the saloon. It was impossible to tell if the hand had come from a black man or a white man, or even an Indian, for, as part of the ritual, it had been anointed with all sorts of chemicals, which had shrivelled and blackened it until the claw that was adorned with a candle stub was barely recognisable as human. She almost laughed as she thought back to a time when she never would have dared touch such a vile object, let alone clutch it to her. But, that was a time when everything had been very different: before Diana.
Once she was back outside the saloon, Juno paused to light the candle that sat in the palm of the hand, then stepped up to the doorway, silently praying that it was working. If it was, the occupants would be in a deep sleep from which they couldn’t be roused until the candle burnt down to nothing. She estimated the stub would give her about five minutes. That was probably long enough, if things went well.
Juno stepped inside. A hulk that had once been a man, but who’d been heavily rebuilt with piston limbs and steel plating, was slumped against the wall beside the door. He hadn’t been there on her earlier visit. Obviously, they didn’t want her to return. Well, he was in no state to stop her. She didn’t mind disappointing them.
There were a half-dozen other patrons in the bar, each of them a veteran with obvious signs of having been rebuilt. Having lost so much in their doomed cause, it seemed all they had left to cling to was their cause. All of them were asleep. Most of them were snoring. A few produced the sound of whirring gears. She imagined they were dreaming of the past.
Juno strolled past them, untroubled. It was eerie. She had only used a Hand of Glory once before and still found its effects startling, half expecting it to fail.
On her last, fleeting, visit, Juno had only had the opportunity to view the bar and a single backroom, largely having been preoccupied with getting out alive. When she’d heard Diana had been sold on here, she hadn’t expected this set of patrons. Of course, Diana was as pale as she was dark, so it was no surprise her face was welcome here. Nor was it any surprise they thought they could buy and sell human flesh.
Despite the time she’d spent out West, Juno had no experience of such institutions. She’d too much pride to ever work in one willingly and was too wild to be made to. Unfortunately, that lack of familiarity meant she wasn’t certain where she should start.
Still, thinking about it, one of the upstairs rooms seemed most likely. If there was anyone in with Diana, Juno swore, she’d kill him before she left.
But, Diana wasn’t there. There were some girls, and Juno felt a terrible guilt at leaving them behind to their fates, but carrying more than one outside in the time that remained was impossible, and she had yet to locate Diana.
The only other possibility, after she’d glanced into the other backroom to discover a card game frozen in mid-hand, was that Diana was down in the basement.
Juno checked the candle stub before she opened the trapdoor behind the bar. She probably had a minute left. That was cutting it fine. She wished she could snuff it and relight it later, but once it ceased to burn, its magic couldn’t be rekindled without a fresh candle and blessing.
Quickly, she climbed down the steep flight of stairs into the cellar. There was a youth dangling off a chair, a shotgun across his lap, jaw slackly open and drooling. Pausing a moment to take his shotgun, Juno jogged past him and checked the cellar rooms: there were casks of beer and barrels of spirit. Then, she found a room with four cages in it, three of which were occupied. In one was Diana, slumped unconscious on the floor, clad only in her undergarments.
The candle was almost gone.
Juno drew her revolver and lined it up with the lock of the cage and fired. The shot boomed loud like a cannon blast, but nobody stirred, not even Diana, as fragments of the lock rained down on her. Juno paused to blow out the other two locks, too.
Juno swung the cage door open and knelt beside Diana. She seemed in a pretty good state despite her situation, for which she was thankful. Had they hurt her, Juno would have taken as slow a revenge as she could upon them.
The candle flickered and died. Juno swore softly. No sneaking out, then. The prisoners were beginning to stir. There was no guarantee how long it would take anyone to awaken from the effects of the Hand of Glory.
Gently, Juno reached out and shook Diana awake. She started in surprise at the touch.
“Wh-?”
“Shh. Don’t panic. It’s me.” Juno leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. “I’m getting you out of here. Come on.”
She helped her to her feet and handed her the shotgun she’d confiscated. The other two women woke and stood, confused. Juno told them to follow her and Diana.
“I’m gonna get us all outta here,” she said.
“Thank you,” Diana said, hugging her.
“Follow me,” Juno said, heading for the door.
She carefully eased the door open and peeked out. The youth was still asleep. She held a hand up to indicate the others ought to wait, and drew a knife before creeping towards the still-sleeping boy. She was trying to think of what to do with him without killing him, despite a distinct lack of ideas presenting themselves.
The boy’s eyes opened dozily as she drew near and he looked up in surprise at her. He groped stupidly for the shotgun she’d taken and, before he could shout for help, she plunged the knife into his heart and placed her hand over his mouth. She turned the blade and held him firm as he shuddered and died. She hated to kill him in cold blood, but he was with the vile thugs running this place, so doubtless deserved to die.
She gestured for the others to join her at the bottom of the stairs.
“I have a plan,” Juno said. She told Diana to fetch a bottle of Kentucky Bourbon for her and stuck a rag into its neck, which she lit. “I’m gonna stage a diversion. When I say go, run for it. We’ll only have a moment.” Although she said nothing of them, Juno was also thinking of the girls upstairs, hoping that she might be able to offer them a chance of escape in the chaos.
Opening the trapdoor, she saw the barman was down at the far end of the bar. She could hear the patrons mumbling groggily of their confusion at having fallen asleep. Juno took the bottle and tossed it into a stack of liquor bottles behind the barman, which shattered and burst into flames with an almighty whoosh! The barman threw himself over the bar with a cry and the room filled with shouts of panic and confusion.
“Go – go – go!” shouted Juno, crouching low so that she was concealed by the bar. She sprinted past the spreading blaze, Diana and the others running after her.
Exiting the cover of the bar, she dropped the barman with a single shot and winged another of the veterans. The hulk by the door loomed before her, an enormous pistol that looked like a small cannon in his piston-powered hand.
Juno fired her remaining shot, which pinged off a steel plate in his skull. He levelled his gun at her. Juno swore at her luck and prepared to leap aside, but then a boom sounded out, and he staggered back, peppered with shot. Diana lunged forward and fired straight into his leg. Oil splattered as the metal limb blew apart and he toppled.
They ran past him and out into the night. The men poured out of the saloon after them, but were too confused to halt them. Juno hoped the girls upstairs would take advantage of that confusion to make their own escape. If the saloon burnt to the ground, so much the better.
“I’ve got a couple of horses on the west side of town,” she told Diana as they ran through deserted streets that would soon fill with spectators to the fire building behind them. She glanced at the two girls running after them, and added, “Don’t worry, we’ll get you to the next town.” After that, they’d be on their own. She wasn’t their keeper.
Finally, they reached the horses and Juno could pause to properly embrace Diana.
“Thank you for saving me,” Diana whispered.
“You know I’d never abandon you,” Juno replied. “Right, let’s get the hell outta here...” Behind them, the blaze lit the night sky and the sounds of chaos filled the air. Juno felt a distinct sense of satisfaction. The more of the scum who went to glory, the better.

DJ Tyrer

DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Chilling Horror Short Stories (Flame Tree), State of Horror: Illinois (Charon Coin Press), Steampunk Cthulhu (Chaosium), Tales of the Black Arts (Hazardous Press), Ill-considered Expeditions (April Moon Books), and Sorcery & Sanctity: A Homage to Arthur Machen (Hieroglyphics Press), and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).



Love Potion
By S. P. Lowe

​Lycia alternated between popping homegrown grapes into her mouth and stirring the bubbling contents of her mini cauldron, hidden in the space below a cash register. A radio filled her tiny wine shop with old country music, and a haze of smoke lingered through the opened windows from the summer wildfires that annually plagued eastern Montana. The sweltering heat dried the grass and shrubs of the surrounding prairie dead. However, her ten-acre vineyard flourished. A series of spells kept her land fertile and always at ideal temperatures.
The sound of a car pulling up in her driveway startled her. She was quick to place a lid on her cauldron and shove it further under the counter. She wiped the back of her hand across her mouth and cringed at the sticky grape residue that clung to her skin. I look a mess, she thought and blew a thick clump of gray hair, still damp from a late-morning shower, from her face. When a jingle of bells from the door pierced the air, Lycia swiftly greeted and observed her guest.
She was a petite thing, at least seventeen years old. Frizzy, blonde hair woven into two French braids trailed down to her chest. She wore dusty flip-flops, tight jeans, and a plaid, button-up blouse. A pair of wiry glasses rested on her freckled, concave nose. The teen pretended to study the shelves of wine, but her mint green eyes kept darting to Lycia. She was obviously there for other reasons.
“You are awfully young to be buying alcohol,” Lycia drawled.
The teen tensed and inched toward the door. But she stopped herself, shook her head, and approached the amused witch with determination. Her hands trembled, but her voice was strong.
“There are rumors that you sell things other than wine,” she said.
“And what do these ‘rumors’ claim I sell?” Lycia asked.
“Unusual things,” the teen said, slowly. “Things from fairy tales.”
“And you believe such nonsense?”
She nodded. “You helped a woman with infertility. She tried everything to have a baby, but nothing worked. You gave her some sort of drink, and not long after, she became pregnant. Then there was a man who was severely burned in a house fire. You gave him something to heal the scars. There are other stories, too,” she said.
The witch remained silent. She did recall these clients.
“You grant wishes,” the teen said.
“Wishes? Ha!” Lycia snorted. “I am a businesswoman, not a miracle worker. If you are looking for something along the lines of what I did for them, it comes with a hefty price.”
“I brought money,” said the teen.
Lycia refrained from rolling her eyes. “What is it you are seeking?” she asked.
The teen wrung her hands and bit her glossy lips. She opened her mouth, but no words came out. Lycia grew impatient.
“Spit it out already!” she said.
“A love potion!” The teen flushed a deep red, the color creeping down her neck and into her shirt. “I want to know if you have some sort of potion that could make a boy like, no, love me!”
Ah, a love potion. How predictable. Lycia smirked. Over the four hundred years that she had roamed the earth, love potions were her most sought after good. Most of her customers were young girls like the teen who stood before her. Sure, there was the occasional man and elderly woman, but it was mainly used for young love. Or what girls believed was love. She was half-tempted to turn the teen away--call her crazy for believing in magical drinks--but the witch was bored. The potion brewing under the register was almost complete, and there was nothing on the television. So, she threw the teen a bone.
“Tell me about this boy,” Lycia said.
The teen launched into a detailed description of his appearance and personality, eyes glistening with obvious infatuation. He was smart, friendly, and easy to talk to. All traits Lycia had heard before from young girls requesting the potion. The teen’s mood darkened, though, when she told the witch about her best friend asking him out on a date. Her friend had known about her desire to be with the boy, which made her betrayal even more heart-wrenching, and now the offender and her “true love” were boyfriend and girlfriend. It was a story that Lycia had also heard too many times before. She raised her hand and cut the teen off.
“What would you give to have this boy’s love?” she asked, straight to the point.
“Everything,” the teen said with conviction.
“Really?” Lycia raised an eyebrow. “That is a lot to give for a man who chose your best friend over you.”
The teen flinched. “She doesn’t deserve him. I’ve known him longer, helped him through depression, and tutored him in all of his classes. I’ve spent all my time this past year making sure he’s happy.”
“And yet, you are not the one he is interested in. Even after all your hard work,” Lycia said.
Tears sprung to the teen’s eyes. She nodded.
“Why give ‘everything’ for a man who does not repay you for your efforts?”
“Because he’s worth it. I know what he wants, and right now, he’s just confused. That traitor,” her face scrunched with rage, “knew I wanted him and went behind my back--stole him from me!”
“Why not something to make her pay?” Lycia suggested. “I have plenty of items for that.”
“That did cross my mind,” admitted the teen. “I wanted revenge for what she did to me--our friendship. However, removing her from the equation doesn’t solve the relationships he may have with other girls after her.”
“True,” the witch said.
“That’s why I need a love potion. So there’ll be no other girl. I’d give anything--everything--if it meant he loved no one else but me.”
“Very well,” the witch tutted.
Lycia moved behind the store’s counter. She pulled out a wicker basket of small vials, none bigger than her thumb, and sifted through them. Eventually, she retrieved two tubes that contained black liquid inside. One had a red ribbon tied around its neck, while the other sported a white one. The witch carefully wrapped them in old newspapers and stuffed them into a paper bag.
“Give him the one with the red ribbon--slip it into a drink if you have to,” the witch instructed. “The other is for you.”
“Why do I have to drink one?” the teen asked.
“That is the way of the deal. The love potion will only work if he drinks his first, and you drink yours immediately afterward. Do you understand?”
The teen nodded. A wide grin split her face. “How much do I owe you?” she asked. “I have two-hundred dollars from my birthday.”
The witch waved her off. “I will collect my payment after we see the results of the potion,” she said.
“Should I return here, then?”
“No. I will find you.”
“How?”
“I am a creature of magic,” Lycia winked. “Now hurry off. Your Prince Charming awaits!”
The teen thanked her profusely and thundered out of the shop. Dust clouds exploded into the air as she tore off down the road in her car. Soon, only a speck in the distance.
Lycia watched from the doorway. She closed her eyes and basked in the sun’s warm rays. It was only a matter of time until she would reap the reward of her sale. Until then, she would tend to her grapes and produce wine--perhaps brew more love potions for those naïve teens who believed obsession was true love.
Two days later, the picture of a familiar face appeared on the local news. The broadcaster announced the death of a teenage girl. Somehow, she had consumed a poison that caused her throat to swell shut and rendered her dead within minutes. It had happened in her school’s cafeteria. The news segment flashed to Elkhorn High School’s front entrance before cutting to a close up of a weeping teenage boy.
Despite the tears and snot dripping down his face, he was rather handsome. Brunette with a faux hawk haircut. Broad shoulders that descended into thick, toned biceps. A narrow, sculpted face with eyes bluer than any Montana lake. He was, undoubtedly, a heartthrob among many teenage girls at the small school of only two-hundred students. Lycia could understand why the teen girl who visited her shop days earlier was so captivated by him.
“She was so kind and thoughtful and absolutely beautiful--I can’t believe she’s gone,” the boy choked on his words. “She’s my whole life--I love her more than anything in the world.” He paused and stared heartbrokenly into the camera. “I only wish I had told her sooner.”
Lycia cackled and turned off the television. The boy’s despair was absolutely delicious, and she sprung from her armchair and sauntered into her kitchen--her living quarters above the shop. She spent the next few minutes rummaging through her cabinets until she found an iron birdcage the size of a large grapefruit. Runes engraved its black metal and glowed turquoise as the witch muttered a spell in a language unheard of by mortal ears.
“Shall we collect our payment?” she asked the cage, stroking it lovingly.
She would visit the teen’s body in the town’s morgue, spells making her invisible and silencing her steps. The cage would then capture the teen’s soul which waited for Lycia’s presence thanks to the potion she had consumed. The witch grinned at the thought. It was not every day she got to collect a soul, not with how slow business had been. Less and less people believed in magic these days. Such a rare ingredient led to so many opportunities. Not an ounce of remorse penetrated her ancient heart. Lycia had given the teen what she had wanted--her “true love's” forever obsession--for what she had deemed an equivalent exchange--everything.

S. P. Lowe

When S. P. Lowe, a Washington-based writer, is not working on short stories or YA fiction and fantasy novels, she is teaching preschoolers their ABCs and road tripping to state and national parks throughout the USA. Her fiction has appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine and Teen Ink, and her poetry has won an award from Scholastic’s Alliance of Young Artists & Writers.​
Treasure Moon
By Mary E. Lowd

Alarm bells rang out and lights flashed red from the corners of the buildings on either side of the street.  A mechanical turret rising out of the middle of the mountaintop base swung around and cast invisible laser beams, searching for the intruder. Rikkita threw herself to the ground and spread her wide, bushy tail over her back.  The fur on her tail was ultra-dark black; it would confuse the algorithms processing the data from the lasers.  As long as she held still, she was safe.
The alarms were only an automated safety system.  There were no sentient guards here, neither biological nor robotic.  At least, that's what Rikkita's intel suggested.  Of course, her intel also gave her an access code that blew this whole place wide with blaring, screaming alarms.
Rikkita's small pointed ears flattened against her head, trying to shut out the screech of the alarms.  It would all be over soon, and she'd crack that door code the old-fashioned way.
A few deep breaths later, the mountaintop base fell eerily silent.  Rikkita peeked out from under her wide tail.  Everything was dark again.  Perfect.  She skittered back over to the door into her cousin Alvo's hidden headquarters.  She reached a paw into her pocket, pulled out an antiquated computer pad, and hot-wired it into the door's access panel.  The antique software on the computer pad set up a protected shell where Rikkita could test different passcodes without fully entering them into the system.
First, she tried the name of the planet where her cousin and all the rest of their family used to meet up on vacations -- a world called Lottie III, whose aquatic otter-like inhabitants had built the best waterparks in the Western Spiral Arm of the galaxy.  Alvo had been happier on those vacations than anytime else.  But it was not the password.
She tried the names of each of Cousin Alvo's pets from their kithood -- Qui'Laia the dragonfish; On'no'ni the tapestry-spider; and George, the creature he'd bought from a human merchant.  The human had called it a squirrel, and it was damn creepy.  It had looked like a miniature sub-sentient version of Alvo, and everyone in the family was relieved when it had died.
None of the pet names worked, but thinking about George reminded Rikkita of Alvo's favorite game from back then.  The human merchant had told him that squirrels collected and hoarded acorns.  So, Alvo had created a game where all the cousins collected and hoarded treasures -- little plastic baubles, trading cards, costume jewelry -- and called it "Acorn."
That password worked.  Rikkita unhooked the computer pad and input the code directly into the door.  It swung open on its mechanical hinges.  Lights on the inside turned on automatically, welcoming Rikkita into her cousin's abandoned lair.
Rikkita entered the room, taking slow cautious steps.
"Welcome to the treasure trove!"  A flickering blue hologram of Alvo spread his arms wide, as if he were surrounded by piles of gold.  But it was just a small room with plain walls and a tacky paisley-patterned carpet.
"This is a recording, isn't it?" Rikkita asked.
The hologram of Alvo twitched his wide bushy tail.  "If you've located this dwarf moon in an uninhabited solar system, made it past the drone ships in the moon's orbit, located my mountaintop base, and infiltrated the base's defenses all the way to my headquarters, then you're either very clever or one of my cousins."  The hologram flashed a bucktoothed grin.  "Or both!  Hi, Rikkita."
Rikkita laughed in spite of herself.  "This was all just a big game of Acorn to you, wasn't it?"  She shook her head.  "And you're still just a recording."
"Actually," the hologram said, surprising her.  "I'm an interactive AI set up by your cousin, Alvo, to mimic his own behavior."
Rikkita was furious -- her cousin had disappeared on the family, leaving a trail of clues through half a dozen star-systems.  She'd been chasing him down for years, ever since Aunt Ido took sick.  Alvo's connections would buy her better care; with attention from the scientists at Wespirtech, Ido could be cured instead of merely treated, managing symptoms and slowly wasting away.
Still, the idea that Alvo had been playing a kit's game with her all along tickled Rikkita, and her tail flipped happily.  Now that she was here, her cousin would finally listen to reason and come back to the family.
"Your mother's sick," Rikkita said.
The blue hologram skewed with a burst of static, and then Alvo said, "I don't have a programmed response for that."
"Dammit, Alvo!" Rikkita swore.
"In the hangar on the far side of the base," the AI of Alvo continued, ignoring her outburst, "you will find a spaceship programmed with the initial clues for the next leg of your journey!"
    Rikkita muttered under her breath, "I can't keep chasing you forever."
    "It's stocked with all the supplies that you'll need.  Of course, if you'd rather, you'll find that this mountaintop base is stocked with enough treasure to make you very comfortable and fund whichever adventures you'd prefer to pursue."
    Rikkita skewed one ear, giving the hologram a sidelong look.  "You always were a weird one, Alvo."  She pulled a blaster out of her belt and shot the holo-generator in the ceiling of the room.  "I will take that ship, and whatever treasure fits on it."
    Now that she was inside the base's headquarters, it was easy to shut down the alarm systems.  Rikkita spent several days hauling the easiest to liquidate treasures -- rare mineral composites, precious energy crystals, and ultra-fast computer processors -- into the cargo hold of the ship Alvo had left for her.  She left the buildings full of ancient cultural artifacts from across the spiral arm, stolen art, and stacks upon stacks of hardcopies of secrets gathered from high level officials at all the biggest starbases alone.  She wasn't interested in dealing in blackmail.
    When the ship was all loaded, Rikkita reengaged the base's security systems.  Who knew, maybe she'd come back some day.
    As she flew away from Alvo's treasure moon, Rikkita found herself studying her new ship's computer banks, looking for Alvo's clues.  Sure, she had obligations right now.  But once Aunt Ido was set up with the Wespirtech doctors, and the rest of the family was properly cared for with the remaining load of treasure...  Well, someone would need to find Alvo and tell him how his mother was doing.
    Besides, Rikkita wanted to know what other surprises Alvo had waiting for her in this epic game of Acorn.

Mary E. Lowd

Mary E. Lowd writes stories and collects creatures. She’s had more than one hundred short stories published, and her novels include the Otters in Space trilogy and In a Dog’s World. Her fiction has won an Ursa Major Award and two Cóyotl Awards. Meanwhile, she’s collected a husband, daughter, son, bevy of cats and dogs, and the occasional fish. The stories, creatures, and Mary live together in a crashed spaceship disguised as a house, hidden behind a fairy's rose garden in Oregon. Learn more at www.marylowd.com.





What Little We Know
​by Morgan Crooks

    Elise couldn’t see the statue from the lip of Stone Hollow Run. A ribbon of water spilled into the oval pool, roiling its surface and obscuring what lay beneath. She wondered how William had found it, wondered if he told the truth when he said he had stumbled on it during a hike. The possibility he had followed her brother here on his last visit struck her as at least plausible.
    He approached, a joke readied. “We could jump,” he said. “It’s only about thirty feet down.”
    “You first,” she said.
    He gave her a brief nod, his demeanor suddenly grave and somber. These abrupt changes in mood had puzzled her back in high school when they had dated, when he had posed something of a mystery to her. Each of his peculiarities answered themselves in due time, and she had grown less enchanted. Mysteries were like that, attractive in their prospect, but tedious in their slow unraveling.
    For his part, Elise’s brother had held no such uncertainty. “He’s not cut out for this kind of life,” he told her.
    “I think he’s curious,” she said.
    “Maybe,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you have to satisfy that curiosity.”
    They both knew the cold truth. Their world contained dangers for questioners like Will, and potent lures to their destruction.
    “Dump him,” her brother said. “Dump him before he winds up dead.”
    Five years later, when she heard his voice on the answering machine, she faltered. With the funeral done, and her brother in the ground, she wondered how much of her life she’d devote to the House of the Searching Eye. The rithmomancers who’d dissolved her brother’s bones and burned the House were still out there. As the next eldest child, it fell to her to deal with them. The ranks of the House of the Searching Eye had grown thin and those allies not killed or driven off by the crypto-Platonists avoided her. Everyone expected her to do something but no one in the Western Door appeared ready to help.
    Except for Will. Will had sought her out. She returned his call, agreed to a date. She didn’t view it a date but knew that’s how he’d think of it. She thought of it as a hesitation, an opportunity to consider other possibilities.
    He told her about the Stone Hollow Run and what he’d found there. Everyone knew the stories about the wandering statue, but she’d never told him what it actually was. She listened, struggling to contain her impatience for details. The Giant of the Waters had not moved since her grandfather’s time. With the decimation of her house, it might have grown bold. And hungry.
    So, she agreed to a second date that wasn’t a date, this one an expedition to the bottom of Stone Hollow Falls.
    Standing at the precipice, their way down wasn’t so clear to her. Will pointed out how each slippery ridge lead to the next. She listened, suddenly glad she had brought good boots. The first leg would be hardest, there being only a damp, mossy chute down the escarpment to the first in a series of ledges. Far below, fallen bits of shale collected together in a talus heaped against the side of the ravine. This sat upon a wide table of rock framing the punchbowl, the layers cracked and scattered by wind and water. These exposed strata formed pages of a vast petrified book.
    She listened, scratching at an insect bite in the crook of her elbow. Heights didn’t bother her, only delay. What lay below needed the full light of day for consideration. Night worked to its advantage.
    She hoisted her backpack over her shoulder, adjusting the strap of her swimming suit beneath her flannel shirt. William pressed ahead, khakis and short-sleeved shirt picked to pieces by burdocks and blackberry bushes.
    He lowered himself down the path, hands clutching saplings and branches.
    “How do you think it got here?” she asked once he had reached the next landing.
    Shale shook loose beneath his sneakers, bits of stone skittering away.
    He thought for a moment, either about her question or his next step down the ravine. After pacing back and forth, an answer to one question appeared, and he grabbed a thick vine, tested its strength and slid down another level. His sneakers tore up grey strata, sending ancient sea beds crashing below.
    Once sure of his balance, he looked up again, face seized in sudden conviction. “I don’t really think anyone made it,” he said.
    “No?”
    “People say it moves.”
    “Which people?”
    “People you know.”
    She did without the vine, skating down William’s path to land gracefully beside him. “I know a lot of people.”
    “They told me about a story from the Apocrypha,” he continued, almost as though she hadn’t spoken. “The Book of Enoch. Watchers who came down to earth, took human wives, produced a race of evil giants.”
    “They were called Nephilim,” she said, just to move him along.
    “Nephilim,” he said, savoring the word, as though he had been waiting his entire life to hear another person say it. “Apparently, God didn’t like what they got up to and punished them. The angels. The giants. Everyone with a trace of that blood line.”
    And he turned his head slightly, to catch whatever expression flew across her face at that moment. As if she’d break that easily.
    “What makes you think our statue here is actually an angel?” she asked finally. At some point in every game you had to see what the other person’s cards were.
    “You,” he said. A rumble passed overhead, and Elise saw the glint of an airplane unspooling a long silken contrail behind it. Looking back down, William had vanished.
    She rushed to the edge, and saw him at the bottom of the ravine, looking up at her with a wide grin. She had a curious release, as though suddenly figuring out a feat of legerdemain. She had to hand it to him; he had drawn her out. Some of her grudging admiration, she suspected, even reached her face.
    She followed him down. The shale here had eroded in great step-like slabs, the surface pitted and weathered by the action of water and wind. The ravine towered above them, sweeping up, massive grey hands cupping a pool of deep emerald. The grin wouldn’t leave Will’s face.
    “What did you mean by that?” her heart began to accelerate.
    “Nothing really,” he said. “Maybe a sense I have about your interests. I’ve had time to think about high school – what you used to tell me. A lot of it turned out to be true.”
    “I don’t remember anything I said back then.”
    “But I do. I really do. I remember the ghost you said walks around the Reynolds mansion and that hill north of Pandemonium where parked cars roll uphill. You told me who put all of those rocks in the woods and why you should steer clear of them.”
    “I was into weird things back then,” she put a note of sarcasm in her voice. She knew she had been foolish. She felt exposed here, revealed in some intrinsic way. Maybe she could dissuade him from this particular path. Maybe there was still hope.
    “The original Greek refers to them as egregoroi – watchers. After they produced a race of carnivorous giants, God condemned most to Tarturus. But not all of them.”
    She dipped a hand into the water, felt the chill settle into her fingers. “And where did the others go?”
    “Scholars think they’re still here. I mean on earth. Doing what their name suggests.”
    “Watching.”
    He nodded.
    “And you think I’m involved with that somehow.”
    “Your family is, for sure. There are books I’ve read. Historical accounts. Your great grandfather was a spiritualist in Georgetown. Your uncle was mentioned as an investigator at Point Pleasant and Lake Champlain. There’s the Hector branch of your family some call the House of the Searching Eye...”  
    The chill reached her heart. “You’ve been checking up on me?”
    “What are you so worried about? Why won’t you tell me what’s going on?”
    He wanted to be brought over to the other side, to at last be brought over the threshold of the Western Door. He was giving her permission to take him. He had the choice she never did.
    Impatient for an answer he began, “Your brother-”
    “Leave Kyle out of this,” she added with more severity than intended. This had been a mistake, but it was already too late. Her brother had been right. The bloodline fascinated those on the cusp of discovery. Her mother taught her to watch for the signs, strategies for avoiding these ugly scenarios. Will had asked Kyle questions like these. Maybe that was why he took the risks he did. There was no way of knowing. “Where is the statue?”
     His expression lit up in elation so honest and pure she couldn’t help but share in it. Giving him this small victory didn’t sting as much. She could even admit to a kind of delight in seeing how far Will had come. When she had met him, he was a small naïve boy, crushed between two miserable and self-involved parents, the sort of people convinced the slender scope of their lives encompassed everything worth knowing. Her and Will’s relationship stole something from that unshakeable confidence, hammered in a wedge between their son and what they assumed he would do with his life. Each book she shared, each hike they began, pushed open the Western Door a smidgen, brought more of his natural curiosity to the surface.
    Did that make him her responsibility? Oh yes, of course it did.
    Crouching low at the edge, he pointed at the opposite side of the punchbowl.
    “There it is,” he said and through the churn of foam, she saw the pale outline of a form.
    “How far down do you think that is?”
    “Ten feet,” he said. “No more than fifteen.”
    The air was still, free of insect and bird noises. Pine trees gripping the side of the glen appeared to be scaling the grey cliffs, attempting in slow motion to flee whatever lay below.
    She disrobed, quickly, stuffing clothes into a water-proof bag, which she set down on light-dappled shale. She handed him a water-proof flashlight before clipping another one to her waist.
    He, too, stripped to his swim-suit and positioned himself near the pool, dousing his wide shoulders. Questions danced in his eyes, the hunger to know. She remembered him over her, that same intensity staring down at her. What that moment signified she couldn’t say. She leapt from it, the water coming up, the shock forcing air out of her lungs as she fell through dark water.
    “Come in,” she told him when she surfaced. “Water’s fine.”
    “I’m still psyching myself up.”
    She splashed water up onto the ledge. “This is your party, Will, are you coming in or not?”
    He took a step back and threw himself into the pool, the waves slapping against her chest and neck. He reappeared close to her, using wide sweeps of his arms to keep close. Once the echoes died, they were alone for a time with the cold and sudden intimacy. She wanted to break the silence but couldn’t. Anything she said would sound cruel.
    “It’s over there,” he said and dipped below the surface.
    Following him, she saw his white feet kicking in the green murk. She pulled herself downward, dodging jagged corners of rock. Another few strokes, hugging the wall, brought her beneath an arch of stone. Despite the cold, her lungs felt full of air, and she pulled herself level with him. Silvery bubbles escaped his lips, dark auburn hair waving in the water. He stabbed a finger at the alcove. She nodded.
    A few feet beyond, their flashlight picked out the statue. Books Will still hadn’t found, and would probably never read, named it Meerog, son of the Watcher Ameros, and more recently the Giant of the Waters. They described its flight from the doom of Atlantis, and the hard time it gave the Haudenosaunee side of her family. Meerog was never far from his war-club, nor the cave where he displayed his trophies.
    Its immense head was a boulder balanced upon the plinth of its hand. Its left arm draped over its lap, each ropy muscle distinct. Its expression was calm but rapacious, the cruel curve of its lips suggesting the bitterness of long exile.
    Her lungs ached but Will couldn’t be around for what she had to do. So she waited, smiling every so often at him, as though in awe of the sight before them. She snuck her hand up to the edge of the alcove, bracing herself. In the dim light, she saw the suggestions of Meerog’s victims in the bas relief of the alcove, the giant pushing them into the pliable stone until only their clutching hands and desperate faces showed.
    “I’m sorry,” she told the statue silently. “You’re going to need a new home.”
    Finally, Will’s lungs gave out and he kicked past, heading back for shore. When she was certain he wouldn’t see, she pulled out a grease pencil. She searched the underside of the alcove for a certain face. It would be the one furthest back, the one Meerog had found first. Already, fuzzy strings of moss clung to her petrified cheeks, tiny fish hiding in her gaping mouth. It took a moment to scrawl the glyph of expulsion on her forehead.
    She put her hand on the giant’s head, her slender fingers spread wide like a starfish pressed to its immense brow. If it was upright, it would tower a dozen feet high. Part of her, despite the danger, wanted to stay and see that. So little of the old world remained.
    Her need for air grew more urgent. The glyph would do its work, make the Giant of the Waters seek out a new refuge. She needed to head back to Will and get him moving. Light rippled from the surface, casting luminous nets on her outstretched hands.
    She felt something catch against her right foot and her body jolted backwards. She jerked her head around, the water full of the loose tangles of her black hair.
    The cold penetrated her calf and thigh as she tried to wrench herself free. The grip was iron, and she rotated onto her back, lungs screaming for air. Now she could see what had her foot and she fought back panic. Even in the gloom, she could see its eyes, the malice in its gaze. From a pouch in her belt, she drew out a small scrap of vellum. The sand slid beneath her as it hauled her backwards towards the alcove. She kissed the parchment, pronounced the ancient couplet, and let a small fluttering spark dart towards the captor, a hiss of bubbles following its wake.
    The spark struck the statue between its dead eyes, hung there, scorching through its petrified skin. It released her, bringing up its hands to swat away the sudden pain.
    She kicked off the bottom, producing a vast cloud of silt and sediment. The Giant disappeared within it, unwilling or unable to brave the sun light beyond its shelter. Propelled by fear, Elise dashed towards the shore, nearly throwing herself free of the water.
    Will was waiting, clutching a towel, as the shale beneath him turned dark and wet.
    “Are you okay?” he asked.
    She breathed out, sweeping her hair out of her face. “Fine,” she said. “I thought I had caught my leg on something.”
    “Caught or cut?”
    “It’s nothing,” she replied, already opening her bag for her clothes.
    He brought the other towel to her, handed it over, but remained close. Too close for her liking.
    “You know, Elise,” he said, and there was a resolve to his tone she didn’t like. A sense of decisions made about her, without her. “I’ve been doing some thinking.”
    She pressed her hair between layers of the towel, kept her eyes on him. “What kind?”
    “I’ve had a lot of time to-”
    “Tell me what you want to say.”
    “Okay,” he drew himself up, the gesture of a boy called to answer a challenge. “I wondered what you thought about us.”
    She flicked her hair out of her face, dried her shoulders and upper arms, all the while not taking her eyes off him. She wasn’t angry. She felt considerable sympathy. Whatever complicated feelings she had must have their mirror in him. And really it put her in a slightly fuzzy situation. She admired what he had become. Curious and fearless, romantic but practical. There weren’t a great many people like him in her experience.
    But always there was that weight of responsibility, of obligation, and how it worked both ways. She had the burden of awakening him to things like the Giant, but he also owed something to her. She represented that window, that conduit to the Western Door. Besides herself and the people she knew, what other way did he have to pass through it? That made his affection dependent on her. That suggested things about their future.
    These thoughts didn’t so much race through her head as she stood there shivering in the dying light of the afternoon, as much as striking all at once, a detonation, force and implication arriving in two distinct, simultaneous waves.
    His face was beautiful in the golden light, achingly sincere. “I want us to try things out between us,” he said.
    “Will…”
    “I miss you.”
    She nodded. “I missed you, too.”
    “And I think you’re amazing,” she looked up to find him already leaning in.
    She stiffened, her hand coming between them, resting soft on his warm, thundering chest.
    “I don’t think of us that way,” she said. For a moment, she thought he might still push forward. The thought of what she might do to him, what she would do to him if he persisted, alarmed her. Some of this must have penetrated because he took a step back.
    “I’m sorry.” His eyes were downcast.
    “We should leave,” she said.
    He stood there, awkwardly, before reaching for his belongings. “We’ll want to leave before dark,” he said.
    “You go on ahead,” she folded her towel. “I’ll catch up.”
    He looked at her, some opaque emotion rooting him in place. “Can I ask you one thing?”
    The shadows had lengthened during their conversation. She thought about how close they were to the twilight. Meerog would bide its time, hoping its tormentor would linger a bit longer.
    “Of course.”
    “What was this all about, then? Why did you come here with me?”
    “If you want to go, you can,” Elise said. “Maybe you should. Forget about me.”
    “I wanted to know more about you. I was hoping we could talk. Really talk about what all of those things back then meant.”
    “I know,” she said. “This was a good afternoon, Will, and for all I know, maybe we should have that talk. But I simply don’t think of you that way.”
    “You really want me to leave you here?”
    “Yes,” she said. “I’ll walk home.”
    Not until he disappeared above the lip of the ravine did she finish dressing. By this point, the sun had also disappeared, and the green murk of the pool changed to a polished disk of hematite. The water slapped against the edge of the shore and she took a step closer to the edge, peering down into the darkness.
    She crossed her arms. “You’re probably wondering what I’m still doing here.”
    A shape appeared in the center of the pool, a smooth pale dome swelling like a bubble in a tar pit, producing a brow, high cheekbones, and a long regal nose. Broad shoulders emerged, and the massive sweep of its chest, the surface streaming with thin glistening rivulets. It towered above her, expression cold and haughty.
    “I know of another place near my home,” she told it. “If we start soon we can make it before tomorrow.”
    The waves slopped over the rim of the shore. “Or you could eat me, but I think I’ll make a poor final meal.”
    It stared at her, its expression still hostile.
    “What’s the use of hard feelings?” she asked. “My brother looked out for you before. For all I know, maybe he brought you here. So this is my job now.”
    Its massive head turned, considering the darkening sky to the south. Its weight shifted forwards and she held up her hand. “There’s just one thing. You can’t go around pulling stunts like that with Will. That’s the deal. I’ll keep you fed, there’s no reason to go back to hunting.”
    She stood in front of the statue for what seemed like an eternity. Meerog’s expression did not change, but its bearing somehow softened. Her brother wouldn’t have liked to see the stone giant join their war. Its appetite was difficult to sate.
    She smiled. Good thing she had plenty of people for her new friend to meet.

Morgan Crooks

Morgan Crooks grew up in the Finger Lakes of NY, a beautiful part of the country carved into being by ancient glaciers. He now lives with his wife outside of Boston, and is obsessed with wasps, cosmic horror, and ziggurats. His works have appeared in Electric Spec, Daily Science Fiction, and Theme of Absence. Find him online @raponikoff on Twitter and on ancientlogic.blogspot.com.

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About the Editor:
Amber M. Simpson

Amber M. Simpson has been writing short stories and poetry since the age of ten. Lover of all things horror and fantasy, she writes mainly in these genres, often with a touch of romance thrown in for fun.  Amber lives in Kentucky with her husband and their two crazy but loving little boys.