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A Lovelorn Tale
By Jay Barnes

She was down the front steps and out of my life while the sound of the door slamming was still echoing in the room. I’ll admit, I took the breakup hard, hit the skids for a few weeks, wallowing in self-pity and cheap bourbon. Here I was; a manager at the new Millipede plant, my own place, decent hair, prospects for the future—but no luck in the romance category whatsoever.

Feeling hurt and desperate for answers, I wrote to the new advice columnist at SigilPost, our local tri-weekly (published every 10 days, don’cha know). Tangerina eviscerated my problems and tore my ego to shreds before ordering me to “Get out there and try again.” So, I did—sort of. I headed to Epps Bridge ShopPlex, our city’s commercial and cultural hub, to check out its latest offering: Beez and Bub’s House of Clones.

I know what you’re thinking—“House of Clones?” Yeah, what a dumb name…but they were just a franchise, so no local control. A few years ago the corporate office had run into some trouble due to “DNA sampling” mishaps, but a few strategically placed campaign donations eliminated that problem. Their coupons were everywhere, even in the radical right wingSigilPost; so I figured I’d try clone romance.

The front of the store wasn’t interesting—landscapers, maids —jobs you could probably get a real human to do just as well for half the price, with none of the moral quandary angle. I made for the rear, towards a black curtain. I could tell the muscle bound bouncer was a worker clone, because of the neon hair highlights—the Feds made all the manufacturers mark their hair (usually subtly, sometimes obviously, like this one), to indicate that the ‘person’ you were seeing wasn’t real. Didn’t talk, this one—only grunted and stood aside after glancing at my ID. Probably rented by a bar on weekends, tossing around underage kids.

A clerk slid up beside me and oozed a sleazy sales pitch, showing me the various models. A real person, (his greasy hair was all the same color) he nodded earnestly and drooled at my loneliness. We walked past Aphrodite-like models, actresses, but I had already made my selection. After taxes, surcharges and a delivery-fee waiver to make the sale, I was back at my place with her and ready for some action.

Well, I shouldn’t have thought of the clone as ‘her.’ This was a duplicate of Monroe Quick, the flashy pop singer everyone adores, while our just as talented local scene (we’re renowned for barbershop quartets and Benedictine chant) goes unnoticed. The eyes, the body—whew, the body—the dress was even the one Monroe had worn at that last award show. I pressed ‘Wakeup!’ on the CloneControl app and stood back. Her eyes opened.

I wasn’t sure what would break first, my eardrums or the wine glasses in my hutch. Leave it to a singer’s clone to be able to hit all the high octaves while screaming, eh?

“WHO ARE YOU? Oh God, what happened? I was backstage; the greaseball said it would only take a minute…residuals for years…” She began to bawl. “SECURITY!!! I hope you have a good lawyer, because when mine gets ahold of you…”

We were both confused. She was supposed to activate; we’d exchange a few lines of customization dialogue, and then she’d be eating out of my hand—if that was all I’d wanted her to do. In between shrieks, I checked my phone, and noticed an error dialogue box: RUNFAIL 687—CLONE NOT FOUND.

She was still threatening to “sue me into oblivion” and ban me from concerts when, despite my locked door, the sleazy salesman was suddenly beside me. A whiff of something pungent hung in the air, and it wasn’t the knockout gas he was spraying in her face, immediately ceasing her confused cries.

“Apologies, apologies,” he said through his fake grin. “This happens, sometimes. One memory module out of place, and phht, the whole thing goes. We’ll have a replacement out to you as soon as possible.” He snapped at two sparkle-headed delivery clones waiting near the door. “Over here, now.” After they had her by the arms and legs, he gave me some coupons for free burgers at The Freshman, bowed, and led them out.

It was only after they left that I realized how perfectly brown her hair had been—not a touch of neon.

Home Alone
By Dominic Bielli

Anne was a completely normal teenager living in Athens, GA. She attended Hilsman Middle School. She had friends, she liked clothes and the newest smartphone out there. On Fridays, Anne and her friends went out to shop after school for new clothes and things teenage girls like to get. This Friday, was different than any other.

After a few hours of shopping, Anne walked home. Anne arrived home, and there was a note on the counter that read: “Anne, your father and I went out for dinner and will be home later. Help yourself to the food in the fridge.” Anne searched through the fridge and found herself some leftover pizza from a couple nights before.

After eating, she then went back to her room to do things on her phone. Anne loved talking on the phone and going on social media. She was in the middle of browsing on YouTube, and she received a FaceTime call from an unknown number. Anne declined and went on with her doings on her phone.

Five minutes later, she received the same call. She declined it that time too. This whole process went on many times until Anne finally answered.

“Hello?” said Anne. There was no response. The screen was totally blank. Anne was confused. Then the screen showed a view of Anne’s house from a distance. On the other end, Anne heard a cackle and then the call ended. Anne was very scared and nervous. It was 9 p.m. “Who would be pranking me at this hour?” Anne thought.

A good bit of time passed by, and Anne hadn’t thought about it too much because she was on her phone focused on different things. She then received another FaceTime call from the same number. She was curious, so she answered the call. This time the screen wasn’t blank at first. It showed Anne looking at her phone at a point of view from outside her window on the right side of her room. Anne screamed in terror and looked out the window. There was nothing there. Anne looked back at her phone and the call had already ended. Anne was now very scared, feeling that she was being stalked.

Anne turned off all of the lights and she lay on her bed, aware of her outside surroundings. She locked all doors and windows. Even the basement door.

She received another call an hour later. Anne picked up. The camera on the other end showed a POV of someone or something crawling into her hallway closet, which was right outside of Anne’s room. She knew this wasn’t a prank. She knew this was criminal activity. She ran to the hallway closet and flung the door open, holding her father’s BB Gun. It was a coat closet, so she had to search. She found nothing and was so confused on how the darn thing escaped. Anne called the police, and they said they would arrive in about 10 minutes and for her to hide. Anne locked herself in her room and went into her closet, hiding herself from the outside.

While sitting in her closet, she could hear heavy breathing from inside her room. She received a call. She could hear the number dialing from her room. Anne was very nervous now. She was lightheaded and could hardly breathe. Anne answered. Her screen showed the other end walking towards her closet. Anne screamed for her life and threw her phone into the wall. The closet door flew open and a tall man wearing dark clothes and a scream mask grabbed Anne and pinned her down onto the floor while she screamed bloody murder. Just as the man grabbed a knife from his back pocket, the police busted the door open and shot the man dead.

Anne’s parents came home a few minutes later and they and Anne thanked the officers for her life. Her parents had just then been told the horrific story. She and her parents never wanted to stay home alone again. That was a fact.

Revenge
By Genevieve Bielli

Once there were two best friends. They went to Gaines School Elementary. They were in second grade. Rose was all about looks and Lily, on the other hand, loved to play soccer and stuff like that. But that did not mean that they could not be friends. Rose sometimes got very angry and could be mean. And one time it got really bad.

Lily wanted some revenge. Lily wanted to do something but she didn’t want it to be mean. Rose’s parents were rich, so she had a phone. So that night Rose was on her phone playing games and talking to her friends. Lilly decided that night that she could do something for revenge while Rose was on her phone. So Lilly had an idea.

The idea was to sneak up on Rose and make noises to make her scared; then she would work it up to something very, very scary. So she went to Rose’s house and peeked out her second story window, and then she made her little noises. Then she went back to her house so she get could get some dark clothes, so she could sneak up on Rose in Rose’s house.

Rose was frightened by the noise that happened earlier. Lilly went in the house, because the door was unlocked. She went up the stairs and went to Rose’s door. Rose’s parents were asleep, so Lilly went up the stairs and was making scratching noises on Rose’s door. Rose was not scared that time because she just thought it was her cat. Rose wanted to go and get her cat. When she got out of her room she could not find her cat. She looked all around. Lily was waiting in her closet for Rose to go back to her room. Rose went back to her room and Lily was thinking what to do next. Rose sat on her bed and her friend called her and she told her friend what was happening. And then bad stuff start happening. So she went and hid in her closet. And Lily had an idea to go downstairs, and she smashed a window to scare Rose. Then Rose got very scared, and she went downstairs to see what happened. Lily wasn’t there, so Rose called the Police. And the police said to stay there and stay calm. Fifteen minutes later the police arrived. The police searhed the house, and there was nothing there, and the police told the parents it was a prank. Then Rose found out it was Lily the whole time. Rose went to her room and calmed down. More noises happened, and it got scary, but Rose wasn’t scared, because she knew it was Lily. That time it wasn’t Lily.

The Perfect Child of Pure Love
By John Gaither

The candidates on television were like so many monkeys, chattering and gesticulating. Probably start slinging their feces at each other soon, he thought. Another night in Athens. He looked down onto Barber Street. Something was silhouetted on the window sill, behind the reflection of the big guy with the funny hair. A gigantic spider, as big as his hand, was waving its front legs. Headlights made its eyes glitter.

“Whoa.” Spiders were cool. Probably an escaped pet, or a refugee from Entomology. He opened the window. It turned and slowly crawled up the wall and into a hole near the roof.

His upstairs apartment had a door that opened to the attic. Inside was a strong smell, like cloves or nutmeg. With a flashlight he saw an orb web a yard wide, hung with odd scraps of grasshopper and bundles wrapped in spider-silk—the pantry. A few feathers stuck out of the largest snack-package. There was also an egg sac, her babies. Very cool.

The next night he watched as three babies crawled out of the egg sac. They looked like grasshoppers, if you didn’t count the legs. They were spiders, though, quick and predatory. An unlucky cockroach was jumped on, wrapped up and sucked dry in seconds. Whoa. This was, like, real science stuff. Call somebody at the University? They’d keep her in a cage, cut her open. That wasn’t right. He felt protective. 

Back in his room the candidates were holding forth again. He had to admit, immigration was out of hand. Maybe a wall was a good idea, just as a symbol.

The next week, the door to the attic was always open, and the hole in the outside wall was twice as big—she only went out at night. It was amazing how much she had grown in such a short time. He had brought her some kitties from the animal shelter. They were cute. The next day the kitties were dried-up bundles on the wall, and there was a new egg sac. What hatched out looked like a cat, mostly. The spots on its head were the extra eyes. It was gone the same night, like the others.

The web was in his room now, bigger and stronger, the supporting strands with an open weave like a cantilever bridge. The whole web began to bounce back and forth. She was coming. Her smell was exciting, like something about to happen. She climbed up onto the arm of the chair, next to him. He rested his hand on her abdomen, surprisingly soft and warm, her bristles rough against his palm as he stroked her.

They watched television together, seeing which candidate was the toughest. We don’t need a wall, we need automatic machine guns along the border, like East Germany in the 1950s. This country has to be strong to survive, even if somebody else has to suffer. It’s a natural law.

The next month, the hole outside was as big as a basketball. Chunks of armadillo hung from the wall. Back at home for the night, he set up security: triple deadbolts, pistol on the table, shotgun by the door. The wimpy dude on television wanted to put ten thousand US troops in Syria. Ten million would be more like it. Do the job right. Clear out some living room, Lebensraum.

He stripped and started his exercises, sit-ups and one-arm push-ups. We need to start Armageddon now. It’s like before World War One—the waiting is intolerable. People need a leader who’s not afraid to do what’s necessary. Violence is the only virtue.

He stood up and saw the sticky ropes of wet silk on his couch. It was his time now. He was ready. He sprawled on his back and was stuck fast. Instantly, she was on his face, her legs gripping his head like fingers, tighter than he thought possible. Her fangs pierced his skin, pumping venom. A numbing, paralyzing calm spread over his body, peaceful and euphoric. He could taste the smell in his mouth. He couldn’t feel anything, but he could hear her mouth-parts chewing into his neck. Her warm and naked abdomen pressed against his belly, pulsing as she fed.

The empty egg sac above his head was bigger than the others. He knew what would go there. As his lifeblood flowed into her, he thought about the world to come, a home for their perfect child of pure love.

Slithering
By Anna Gay

The crisp, distinct scent of Fall has awoken from its slumber I excluded that night as I sat on a rock by the edge of a river. My eyes a dark shade of green lay upon the river observing every movement, SPLOSH! A branch that had been delicately suspended to the base of a tree fell into the current of the river, and it was carried downstream through the dark void of water. My black hair draped around my face, providing me with warmth. The light of the full moon eerily shined down on the scene, it’s reflection in the river illuminating the trees surrounding it.

I allowed myself to stop thinking, and I drifted to sleep. I dreamt grotesque dreams that made me cringe in pain. A lady appeared from the river. She stalked towards me, transforming into a hideous creature. Her eyes were black slits; her grin was twisted, and her skin was a charcoal gray. She was coated in mud, tires, branches and briar. The most inhumane characteristic upon her body was the unkempt hair that slithered on her head hissing and baring it’s fangs. I concluded the writhing objects on her head were water moccasins. The creature slowly waded through the water, closer and closer towards me.

The dream dissipated into darkness, and I awoke on the same rock I fell asleep on. My train of thought broke through its seal of drowsiness and I realized the two bloody fang marks up on my forearm that sent pain searing through my arm. “Shit!” I exclaimed. The external part of my body began to swell, and a menacing headache overtook my head. Despite my condition I managed to stagger into my house, where my prostrate form tumbled to the couch.

I lay on the couch shaking, paralyzed, in shock, and soon the pain perished and darkness crept into my vision, bringing sleep. For days I inhabited the couch, not eating nor drinking, but only listening to the tap tap tappity tap of my heart against my chest. Ring, ring, ring, “Hello Calay this is your mom, I’ve been thinking of visiting your place.” The following morning my mother barged in the door of my miniature domain. When she saw my bloated body lying upon the couch she screamed.

She attempted to revitalize by feeding me and cleaning my area. “Tomorrow I’m taking you to the doctor.” she said in a grave voice. When I awoke the next morning I felt restored with the exception of a scratch mark forged down my neck. I hopped off the couch relieved of the pain from the previous days. I foraged through my house in search of my mom, but she was nowhere in sight. This puzzled me; she must have gone on an errand I thought. I went about my average day of writing my book that I have been working on for a few years now.The following morning the newspaper had an article about the dead body of an old lady found in the Oconee River.

Every few days the newspaper had an article of a dead body found floating in the river, describing that each person was killed the same way. This phenomenon frightened me. Is there a psychopath murdering innocent people, I thought? Every night I became more and more restless. One night my patience snapped, and I stalked to my backyard, where the river is. Every night I used to go to the river to seek peace, but after what I endured a few weeks ago, I have not been there since.

Now I was returning to reflect upon all that had occurred, and to enter a peaceful state. I sat on a rock and stared at the river out of the corner of my eye, the demonic figure from the nightmares that have been haunting me since my experience at the river a few weeks ago arose from the water. This time I was not dreaming. No, in fact I was wide awake. Then appalling visions flooded into my head. Wait, they were memories! Ones of me altering into a hideous snake like brute and slithering towards the bed of my mom where I choked the life outof her, and dragged her dead body to the river. Tears rolled down the sockets of my eye. “ Why!” I bellowed,” I’M A MURDERER, I DESERVE A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH!”

“That is precisely why I am here.” replied the creature, in a silky voice.

Voodoo Child
By Jennifer Greeson

The night was humid. I turned the corner onto Clayton as the rain began to fall and stepped into Mellow Mushroom for a slice. The restaurant was busier than I expected for a midsummer night. I sat in a quiet corner with hopes of getting some work done but found myself checking scores instead. I closed my laptop and stood up to smoke when I noticed her staring at me. Her eyes sparkled in the soft light. She had long black hair and smooth caramel skin. Her gaze followed me as I walked outside. I smiled while I smoked my cigarette.

When I returned inside, a cold Terrapin was waiting at my table with it a note scribbled onto a napkin: Maybe I’ll catch you next week at trivia, until then enjoy this beer on me. XO Maria.

“Damn! No number,” I muttered. I drank the beer, then headed home. The rain had finally stopped, and a dense fog covered most of downtown. I felt strange walking the empty streets. That night I had lucid dreams of Maria.

For weeks I returned to trivia desperate to see Maria. My friends teased me relentlessly, even questioning her very existence. During those weeks, I had grown restless. I couldn’t focus at work. I barely ate and rarely slept. A new semester began, but Maria was all I cared about. She had gotten under my skin. My friends told me to let her go, but I was convinced I would see her again.

The nights had grown cold, and a full moon hung low in the sky. Smoking outside of the restaurant, I peered through the windows scanning tables and booths to no avail.

“Can I bum one of those?”

A chill ran down my spine. I spun around, “Maria! I…Sure!” I held out a cigarette, trying to steady my hand from my own excitement. “I’ve been waiting for you. I found your note. I’m Jeff.” I wanted to tell her everything; how I thought of her constantly, how my friends teased that I’d made her up, but I didn’t want to seem too eager or crazy. She took a long drag from the cigarette while offering me a flask she had taken from her bag. It was a unique flavor I couldn’t place, “Mmmm! Smooth.”

“It’s an old family recipe. Good on cold nights,” she spoke, pushing the flask back to my lips for another taste. The moonlight drew my eyes to an extraordinary yet beautiful talisman hanging around her neck.

I reached out with clumsy fingers, “That’s so pretty.” My words slurred, I felt dizzy.

“It belonged to my Great-Great-Grandmother, a Voodoo priestess.”

The dank smell of decaying earth filled my nostrils. I tried to move but was restrained. “Sshhh,” Maria cooed. “Don’t struggle.” My eyes slowly adjusted, and I could see her standing next to a makeshift altar. She was nude, and painted completely white with a black cross on her forehead.

“Where…where am I?”

“We are under Saint Mary’s steeple. With all the restorations it has taken me longer to prepare this holy chamber.” As she spoke, she attached her talisman to the hilt of a silver dagger, “I have called out to Sky Father, and tonight Damballah returns.

Still confused I asked, “The R.E.M. tower?!”

Ignoring me Maria placed her hands on my stomach, “He is strong!” She had taken an orgoing to drink anyåmore of her hellish cocktails. “DRINK!” She yelled, squeezing my cheeks until my lips nate bowl from the altar and held it to my mouth, “Now drink.” I turned away. I wasn’t popped apart. She poured the thick, cold liquid into my mouth. Immediately my intestines felt like they were crawling. I thrashed atop the table. My insides were contorting and twisting into knots. Something was inside of me, and it was alive. “It’s time,” Maria raised the dagger high above her head. Holding it firmly in both hands, she drove the blade deep into my flesh. My mouth hung open in a silent scream. Paralyzed, I watched in horror as a tangled nest of snakes spilled out of my body. The snakes covered Maria, slithering down her throat one by one. Her skin crawled from within, Maria’s face had become serpentine. I uttered a pitiful moan. She leaned in, her tongue flickering, “What’ssss the matter, Jeff? I thought you’d be more excccited to meet the girl of your dreamssss!” Her horrible laughter echoed in my ears as the room faded black. 

From Beneath You It Devours
By Deborah Heisman

“Come on Freckles, hurry up and pee so we can get out of the cold!” Budgie Moore pulled her raincoat tighter against the drizzle. “Jeez Louise!” This, as Freckles, the tiny hound, stopped abruptly to sniff at a spot in the middle of the road.

“Trip me up, why doncha?” She smacked him with the end of the leash, causing him to look up at her with wounded puppy eyes.

As the dog did his thing, Budgie looked down at her feet. For the first time in all the years she had lived in High Ridge, she noticed several long cracks in the asphalt that seemed to intersect in a strange grid pattern. Some were alarmingly wide.

Back inside the warm house, she pulled off her wet coat and shoes, and padded into the family room, where her husband was watching Alabama wipe up the floor with UGA.

“Have you noticed those huge cracks in the street?” she asked.

“All streets have cracks. It must be at least 20 years sincethey paved the streets in this subdivision.”

“All this rain, running down the hill, the cracks’ll cause a sinkhole, because it’s gonna wash out underneath. I’m calling Athens Clarke County Public Works on Monday.” 

Her husband, focusing on the screen, took a swig of his Terrapin.

The next morning, the cracks were considerably bigger, and Freckles refused to go near them. Rearing on his hind legs, he howled as though in pain and bucked against his leash. His black hound nose vibrated at some imperceptible stink.

First thing on Monday, she pulled up the number for the Public Works department, and after being passed from one minion to another, finally spoke with Dan Scherer. She quickly reminded him that her taxes were in excess of $3900, and, what-pray-tell-did-her-taxes-get-her? She told him about the cracks.

Weary, repeating a worn-out standard line, Dan told her that High Ridge wasn’t due for a paving for two years.

“Two years! You have got to be kidding me! What if the dirt beneath washes out and we get a sinkhole? Is Nancy going to pay to get my car repaired? What if my house just disappears like those in Florida? Will my insurance cover it? Hell, no, it…”

He finally hung up on her as she sputtered in fury.

“Facebook!” she muttered to herself. Snatching up her IPhone 6, she went outside to take a picture of the cracks. She took a quarter with her to place beside the lines so people could have a reference.

“I’m going to post this right on Denson’s page, let’s see what she says to that.”

Inside the house, Freckles was going insane, howling like a mad dog, jumping against the blinds.

Bending down, she chose the widest, carefully placing the quarter alongside.

She aimed her camera and was ready to snap the shot when she looked at the quarter as it moved a good half inch.

The crack was growing even as she watched.

“The heck with a picture, I’m going to video!” She hit the video icon on the phone and started filming. A thick curl of fetid black fog oozed its way up towards her face.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” she screeched, filming all the time. 

It seemed the crack was not only widening, but lengthening as she filmed. Another one formed right under her feet, making her jump back so fast, she fell on her rump.

The ground opened with a soft sound, not unlike a watermelon hitting the floor. The asphalt peeled away, exposing the red clay beneath. Fully expecting to see a void beneath, Budgie was still filming when, out of the maw of dank earth, several very large creatures, with gray-white skin that looked like that of subterranean grubs, crawled up towards her.

Skittering crab-like back from the hole, she dropped the camera, as, too stunned to speak, she saw that they all had two arms—long, tentacle-like arms—and spindly legs. The last horrible thing she saw was their horrid, glowing eyes and the sucking mouth rimmed with fine, needle-like teeth.

She didn’t even scream as they fell on her, ripping and tearing at skin and hair. Moving with incredible swiftness, they carried her into the gaping hole, which quietly closed back together.

THE WILD RUMPUS OF THE FALLEN
By Kathryn Kyker

Carl, dressed as a Hobbit and Betsy as an Elf, peer into the windows of The Grit. It’s jam-packed.

“Nothing like a Wild Rumpus to work up an appetite. Better go to the Grill.”

“Again?” Betsy groans.

Car brakes squeal on Prince Avenue right beside them. They whirl around to see a young girl in the crosswalk. She screams. The car stops just before hitting her.

“You okay?” Carl yells from the sidewalk. The girl, frozen in place, wears a ‘50s poodle skirt with a tight cardigan, her hair up in a ponytail. Carl dashes out to her.

She fixes Carl with a stunned gaze but cautiously takes his hand. The young driver sticks his head out the window: “She came out of nowhere, I didn’t see her.”

“Maybe try slowing down,” Carl shoots back over his shoulder.

“Maybe tell her to use the flags, Hobbit, that’s what they’re for!” The driver speeds off.

Carl, reaching the sidewalk near Betsy, lets go of her hand and indicates the bucket of flags: “The flags are lame, but it might have helped. He almost hit you.”

The girl responds cooly: “People get hit on Prince Avenue all the time, nothing changes.”

“Give the drivers a chance, maybe a flag—wait—were you trying to get hit?!”

“That would be a sin. It’s not the drivers who need a chance.

Carl and Betsy exchange a what-do-we-do-now look. Betsy leans in, “I’m Betsy, this is Carl; can we walk you home?”

She shakes her head. “I can’t go home; I have to make the circle. Back downtown.”

Carl jumps in: “We’re headed downtown, and I’m starving, c’mon.”

“You should come with me to the Halloween feast at The Cave.”

She walks with them.

“Where’s The Cave?” Betsy asks as they cross Pulaski. “College Avenue. It’s nifty. Only the cool kids know about it.”

“No wonder,” Betsy says tartly. “By the way, what’s your name ?”

“I’m Suzie, with a z.”

Carl grins. “Nice to meet you, Suzie with a z.”

Suzie points down at the basement café. The railing disappears into the dark. The noise of a busy night at The Grill is behind them.

“Whatever store is here now isn’t open. But the Grill is, let’s go,” Carl turns.

“They open for the feast—we wait all year for it.” Suzie heads down the stairs.

“Wait,” Carl follows. Betsy looks down; it’s pitch black.

“Carl?”

He shines his phone light. “I’m here, but she disappeared.

There’s a door, but it’s lock—wait, now it’s open. I’m going in.”

“Wait for me.” As Betsy steps down, Carl holds up his phone to light her way.

“Back when my Uncle lived here, this was a cookie store,” Carl holds out a hand to help Betsy descend the last steps. “Best smell ever—wonder what’s here now?”

They walk into the dark café. Betsy grabs his arm: “Nothing’s here; she’s either crazy and lured us here, or just crazy. Either way, we have to leave.”

Then a door in the café opens to a lit room full of voices and laughter.

They enter a room crammed with young men and women, all wearing clothes from different eras. A long table full of food is on one side. Carl has a eureka moment: “I’ve got it, I know what this is!”

Betsy looks at him curiously. “It’s like the Four Horsemen!” “Four Courseman—like an underground restaurant?”

Carl turns to a young man in a “Nuclear Freeze” shirt: “Is this a pop-up?” The man frowns. “You know, here tonight, but gone tomorrow?” He nods, “Halloween only.” He adds ominously, “Nuclear Winter is coming.”

Betsy looks around, “Where’s Suzie?”

Carl walks up to the buffet table.

Carl and Betsy walk back down Prince Avenue.

“I hope she made it home okay,” Betsy peers around. “We don’t even know where home is. I think you were right, she’s a little off, even for Athens.”

Suddenly Betsy stops. Car lights shine on a figure in the crosswalk—it’s Suzie. Betsy screams, Suzie screams, Carl screams.

The car hits her then stops. The driver jumps out and runs back. Carl reaches the crosswalk first. He scans the street—no body.

The driver looks at Carl, panicked: “She came out of nowhere; I didn’t even see her.”

Carl picks up the only thing in the street—an orange flag.

Athens’ Own: The Faithful Machinax
By Oliver Holt

Such a friendly town, and a friendly populace. I just wish that it had been enough for me, that I could have been satisfied bar hopping with friends, with the live music, parties, football games and assorted fun. But I never was one of a satisfied nature. I was always one of want, desire for excitement. Such is the reason for on a Friday night rather than attending the downtown scene, I was exploring the nooks and crannies of Athens: alleys and old warehouses.

Before I relocated to Athens I had been fed what I believed to have been a fib. That old rotten drunkard of Macon, Johnny Mustard. He always liked his kicks, and he was always as full of stories as he was of liquor. He told me of a secret Athens cult, the Faithful Machinax. They were based in many of Athens abandoned warehouses.

“Go to the corner of Washington and Jackson, pray to their virtuous mother, Maxina, at a potential source of light.” You may think that Mr. Mustard was out of his mind, and that’s what I thought too. Please dear reader, do not attempt this for your own sake.

One October midnight, amidst the stumblers of inebriation, I decided to test that old coot’s word. I stepped away and searched around the corners of Washington and Jackson, looking for a source of light. At first, I assumed he was talking about a street light. So I prayed to one, to no avail. “That crazy old man,” I sighed to myself. In an alley were some abandoned lights of sorts. I prayed to them, to no avail. I started to feel as though I was the crazy one even attempting this. Stumped, I stood arms crossed. I had just about given up hope until out of the corner of my eye, a reflection bounced off of a tank of some liquid gas.

I felt foolish for even believing in the possibility of this legend. I felt foolish doing any of this while everyone else was having fun at bars. Luckily, they were too drunk to notice me, let alone judge me. I went to the shiny tank and kneeled. “Mother Maxina, hear my prayers, I summon your witness.”

I repeated my prayers over and over until the whispers of my own voice rang in my ear. “Mother Maxina” The air felt intense, and the autumn color of the street light bathed my form to the ground. “Hear my prayers” For a moment, I felt alone, the air felt alone, and my surroundings had an aura of authentic peculiarity. “I summon your witness.” I stopped, and a miasmic silence tainted the wind.

The breeze chilled and ceased. I heard slow approaching footsteps. The streets and all of downtown were dead, aside from the strange clunks of the leisurely nearing of a lone representative. I turned to look at my accoster.

The figure was more than seven feet tall, cloaked and veiled. My eyes raced up its black figure to find a trace of humanity. Its face wore a mask made of deep bronze. Its appearance was poisonous. My legs trembled, and my heart pounded rapidly. I felt like I could faint.

“Are…Are you…” I could not even finish my sentence. The thing pulled its mask off and screeched, and I must have fainted, because that was my last memory in the presence of any civilization. 

I awoke hours later, my back exposed and my legs chained to a floor. Around me lay burning candles in roughly a circle. Through the haze of my waking eye, I could see dark shades of refuse. Lunar fluorescence peeked through cracks of wooden walls. Garbage littered the floor, and to my worst nightmare so did blood. There were heathen symbols, made of former industrial machines bastardized into lunatic designs, designs that were crudely circular with birds, moons, and all things animalistic. I fear that this is when my initiation should begin, where either I am killed and transported to the after life, or join their ranks. My only hope is that this document is found and salvaged as a warning to you Athenians.

I heard a chain drag across the floor and heavy boots trample beside it. The metal scraped the concrete and made the harshest shrill of horrifying regards, piercing the pervasive stillness. The figure roared, “Welcome to the Machinax” I heard the chain whiz through the air and felt it cut into my skin.

The Oak Tree
By Adriana Sanchez Loyer

You cannot imagine what I found the other day. I was running around my neighborhood; then, I got tired and stopped beside a tree to take a break. I sat on the ground taking deep breaths.

Then I lay down, and something happened. 

My arms were extended, and I felt the corner of a sheet of paper under my hands. It was a letter, and it said:

“Lately I’ve been wondering why my husband is wasting so much time over that oak tree. Since we moved to Athens Clarke County, at the corner of Finley and Dearing, he has been acting very weird. He never talks to me anymore. So I confronted him, asking him what is going on. 

“What are you doing with that tree, Jackson? You are not taking care of your classes anymore. What’s happening?”

He answered: “That tree needs a lot of care. If it dies, all of life is going to die too.”

Having said that, he left the room to go fertilize the tree. I watched him through the window, doing his garden work with lots of patience and love.

I couldn’t be more worried about our conversation, so I decided to keep a close eye on him. For a week, I stalked him constantly. Wherever he was all the time, I was watching. During the day he did his normal activities, in addition to the obsession with the tree. Then at night he slept with me as usual.

One night I heard a baby crying. I awoke suddenly and tried to reach Jackson with my hand, but I didn’t find him. The crying of the baby was still there, coming from outside. I jumped from the bed, and went to see why there was a baby crying in my yard. Then, I found my husband burying a live baby under the tree. I ran to stop him, but it was too late. The door was locked. When I got there, he had already buried the baby, moreover it had died.

I fell on my knees. I was freaked out. I could not believe what just happened.

When I came back to my senses, I started yelling at my husband, without thinking, screaming everything that came to mind, even though he was not listening. He was standing upright, looking ahead without moving. I was desperate; I did not know what to do. Then he sat down on the tree’s roots, and started praying. Suddenly he stopped and he raised his head, and he asked me:

“What are we doing here? “

At that moment I saw my neighbor walking in our direction. I quickly reacted, despite what just occurred. I had to make a decision: Either tell what was happening or hide it. I decided.

“Is everything OK?” I heard them shouting. “Are you OK?”

“Yes, thank you very much for your concern. There is no problem. My husband and I were just rehearsing, you know, a couple things. We are rehearsing a scene from a play we are in. Hahaha.”

“Oh! OK. I’m sorry; I will let you back to work. Enjoy. Good night. “

When I turned around my husband was gone. I took the chance to dig up the baby, and found more babies. I could not handle it, and I buried them again. I walked into the house, and Jackson was inside muttering to himself about the tree threatening him. At that moment I realized he was crazy.

Over the next several weeks, I got my husband to the psychiatrist. She told us that it might be a good idea to move out of that house, but I could not stop thinking that someone might find the babies under the tree. However, Jackson was getting worse, and we needed to move. So I had an idea: after we moved I willed to the tree the land eight feet around it, because I did not want anybody to touch that land. It was the only way to protect us.

Now here I’m writing this story. This is our last day here in this house. While I’m moving the boxes something is telling me that I need to get this off my chest.

Nobody is going to read this, because I will bury it with the babies.

I’m standing in front of the tree, ready to say good-bye.

Then the tree speaks to me.

When I finished reading it, I heard the tree crying.

Breaking and Entering
By Rhys Lindquist

While stories about subterranean tunnels may bring to mind the catacombs under Paris and the rubble of the Seattle Underground, occasionally tunnels are dug under cities for much more mundane reasons, like making it so that maintenance on pipelines that run underground can be done more easily, or simply for faster access to sewers. The tunnels under Athens may not be paved with human skulls, nor are they a result of any devastating fire, but access to them is nonetheless unavailable to everyday citizens. The exact location isn’t known, but the most widespread rumor is that there’s an entrance to them in the basement of The Grill.

I don’t exactly have a clean, happy background. I do my best to be a moral person, but in the past I’ve gotten myself into some things that I now regret. I’ve made efforts to change in recent years, but unfortunately I’ll always carry the skill set of the person I used to be, things like lock-picking are a part of my muscle memory now. Mischievousness was already a quality that I manifested as a child, but when I got older and my life began to go in a different direction than it should have, I had a proper nose for trouble. Shortly after I moved to Athens, looking to start fresh in a friendly, laid-back city, I heard tell of the tunnels under the town on Internet forums and through word-of-mouth. When I get an idea in my head, it’s difficult for me to get it out, even if it’s a bad one. I try to channel it into honest work, volunteering where I can to give my hands something to do so that they don’t go picking through other people’s business. But the allure of hidden tunnels underneath the city wasn’t something I could translate into hours of community service. No amount of distraction could steer me away once I had it in my head that there might be more to the city than met the eye.

I learned as a child to always come prepared. So, over the course of a few days, I put together a plan to get myself into the tunnels. I told myself it was just human curiosity, and curiosity isn’t a sin—breaking and entering, that might be one, but there’s nothing wrong with a little curiosity.

I prepared well. The Grill is open 24 hours, but they still closed on Christmas day, like many other establishments. Having no family obligations, I figured that Christmas would probably be the best time to execute my plan, if I was going to do it at all. I dressed in dark clothing, went out around sundown, watched inconspicuously for a while to ensure privacy. Downtown was deserted, the string lights in the trees suggesting a party that no one showed up to. On my back I wore a small bag filled with tools of the trade I had “neglected” to dispose of from my days of less savory activities. The most important tools were the gloves on my hands, though. I had moved here to start anew, after all, and adding to my record in the town I moved to for a respite was not my end goal.

My methods weren’t too sophisticated. The front door I was careful with, but—as dirty as it felt—I used a brick to break into the basement. Once I was in, I descended the stairs and shined my flashlight along the concrete floor, illuminating a manhole in the center of the room. With some effort, I got the cover off and slipped down the ladder inside it. I didn’t spend much time down there, to be honest, because there wasn’t much to see. It wasn’t even tunnels, really, just one very large, dark room with a high ceiling and graffiti sprayed across the walls. I was in and out in roughly an hour. After all, I did come prepared.

 What I wasn’t prepared for was the next morning, when I awoke to an acrid smell filling my entire house. I wasn’t prepared for muddy footprints making their way in through my back door, up the stairs, down the hall, and to my bedroom. I was prepared to go where I shouldn’t have gone, but what I could never have prepared for was the true purpose of that massive room.

I was prepared to let myself in.

I wasn’t prepared to not let something else out.

Mossback: The Legend of Sandy Creek
By Bain Mattox

On the morning of Nov. 1, I got dressed and starting walking downtown to work my catering gig at the Classic Center. As I cross Pulaski, I notice that someone has torn the head off of the “Team Reign” billboard; now it’s just a body and a “thumbs up.” I walk farther towards College Avenue and notice that the bulldog statue’s head has been ripped off, and I can see straight down its neck into the inside. I finally arrive at the Classic Center and notice the Athena statue is missing her head, too. “How strange,” I say to myself. I pull out my phone and look at Online Athens before heading in. There’s an article saying that a large number of statues and billboards had been vandalized and the heads are all missing. The ACC police had written it off as a Halloween hoax, and our local government is working to get the funds to repair the beheaded.

I get off work and meet up with my buddy Jimmy at the Manhattan. I ask, “Dude, did you hear about all the heads missing around town?” “Yeah, people are saying it’s Mossback,” he responds.

“Mossback? What are you talking about?” I say.

“You’ve never heard of Mossback? I’ll tell you all about it,” Jimmy says.

“Back when Sandy Creek was first getting built, they hired a logging company to come in and clear a bunch of trees to make way for trails and the beach area. There was this guy, Logan Wilcox who worked for this company. He was a beast of a man, six-feet-seven and easily 350 pounds. They said he could move whole trees by himself. One thing, though, is that he was deaf; he couldn’t hear a thing.” Jimmy continued,” One day, they were clearing an area by the water, and one of the trees starting falling towards Logan. His fellow lumberjacks were shouting and waving their hands, but Logan didn’t see or hear them. The tree smacked him right in the head and knocked it clear off. His body rolled into the water, but his head lay there on the bank. They searched for his body and to no avail just ended up burying his head in a coffin at the Athens Memory Gardens.”

“Here’s the weird part,” Jimmy said.”A couple years passed, and they started finding decapitated animals and couldn’t find the heads. When you used to be able to camp there, there was this family that went out there for the night. The dad noticed a dark figure out in the woods looking like it was carrying a deer’s head. He hid but saw this figure walk right by him. He said there was no head on this huge figure, it looked like just moss covering his back and neck area. A few Sandy Creek employees had some of the same eye-witness accounts and dubbed this gruesome creature, “Mossback.”

So Sandy Creek started closing at dark and not allowing people to camp there anymore. My friend told me that there’s literally a guy that gets there at dawn and searches the grounds for decapitated animals and disposes of them, still to this day,” said Jimmy.

A couple of days later, over a cup of coffee, I look at my news feed on my phone. The Scuba Club of Athens did their annual “Wetsuit Dive” at Sandy Creek. This club goes out to the beach and looks for jewelery and other lost items from swimmers and tries to return them to their rightful owners. But they uncovered much more…A couple hundred yards up the bank from the beach, they found a crevasse. In this strange crack in the earth, they found hundreds of animal skulls, three bulldog heads, Athena’s head, Reign’s crumpled paper head, and a large, headless body, covered in moss.

They pull everything out and the body got sent to the morgue for testing. It turns out, DNA testing matches the body to Logan Wilcox’s medical records. They exhumed his grave and reunited the body with the head. Since then, there’s been no report of decapitated animals or sightings of Mossback at Sandy Creek.

Foreclosure
By Molly Munson

Children’s shoes ringed the yard. Smith, James, Aiken. Each one inscribed with a different name in broad, Sharpie strokes. Some half buried in the dirt and others tossed near the front step.

This has got to be my largest foreclosure yet. The house was a tarnished, ivory Greek revival with a pillared front porch and small balcony on the second level, or at least what used to be a balcony. Too bad all of this will be a gas station by the end of the week.

Danielle was used to trash. After 2008, she began cleaning out houses full time to get through college. Now that she was in her graduate assistantship, she thought this grand teardown would be a nice last hoorah.

More toys. How many children lived in this dump? She always wondered where the families went when the bank came knocking. Did they find another home? Not likely.

The front door was jammed. Great. Just great. At least the Sheriff’s deputy was coming to take a look at the half submerged Chevy in the back. The bank officer thought it might be stolen or something. Whatever the case, it was another liability for the bottom line.

“Hi, there!” Well he’s handsome.

“You’re not in police uniform and you’re late.”

“Well, this is my last act of the day. So forgive me for being informal, but I have got to make it for my wife’s special day.”

“Fine. I’m Danielle, the cleaner. This is my first walkthrough of the place.”

“Do you want me to accompany you on the way through the house? After, I’ll head on back and take a look at the Malibu.”

“Fine by me.” Oh well, but I didn’t see a ring or even a tan line for a ring.

He popped open the door with his crowbar and headed into the front room. The smell of baby powder sliced through the musty odor protruding the grey shag carpet. More toddler’s clothes were thrown across the ripped leather couch and the smashed picture frames. Glass glittered in the hall as they headed toward the second door.

“I’m guessing ABBA must have been the latest band when they decorated the house,” Danielle hissed.

“It’s dated for sure, but I like it so far. So how many of these houses have you cleaned?”

“Too many to count.”

“Don’t you wonder about all of the broken families? You’re a part of this process.”

“Who says they’re broken? I like to think that the kids have grown and they moved to Boca Raton.”

The second room reeked of crayons. There must have been hundreds of magenta, apple green, and royal blue stains on the dusty wall. The carpet toward the kitchen was an odd shade of rusty brown. 

“Wow, look at that poster. I’m sure that’s worth a pretty penny,” Danielle cooed.

“It belongs to the owner.”

“Yeah, well the owner is the bank now.” Maybe, I’ll come back for it when he leaves. Jeez, he has no sense of humor.

Heading out the back porch, tricycles littered the back deck and poured over the sides. A tire swing was still swinging back and forth near the submerged sedan.

“Officer, you might want to go check that out.”

“It’s just the wind pushing the swing.”

“No, I meant the car.”

“Alright, are you done? If so, can you do me a favor and head back to my patrol car and grab the clipboard on the hood. You would be returning the favor for my protection.”

Protection? She could look after herself. Thank you very much. Regardless, Danielle trudged along toward the front driveway.

“I didn’t see your car on the way in. Is it out on the side street?”

“Yes, and the clipboard should be labeled Officer Aiken on the front.”

As she turned, she felt cold metal strike the back of her skull.

Guess he was the owner of the shoes.

The Harry Wartsmire, The One-Eyed Bloody Bearzilla, and a Little Boy
By Kaley Robins

One night a little boy was walking through the woods in Athens, GA, the home of the Georgia Bulldogs, on a Saturday night. When he was walking, he started to hear a click…clack…click…clack…clickity-clack. He started to get REALLY scared. All of a sudden, he saw big, yellow, glowing eyes. Then, out of the woods a Giant Troll called Harry Wartsmire jumped right out the woods! After the Harry Wartsmire had jumped out, The One-Eyed Bloody Bearzilla, jumped out, too! The little boy was so frightened he wet his pants!

He started running for his life! He ran, and ran, and ran! He started crying, thinking that this would be the end of his life! He thought he would never see his family again. He wished he had some type of weapon on him so that he could destroy the beast. A sword, a knife, rifle, a plain old gun. Something to kill the beast with! Soon, his knees started click-clacking like when he heard the noise before the beast jumped out at him. Meanwhile, the two beasts were following dead on his tracks! They were running super fast, because The One Eyed Bloody Bearzilla had long scaly legs, and the Harry Wartsmire had big hairy long legs.

They were fighting over who would get the flesh, the bones, the blood. But whatever part any of them got, nothing would be left behind. Not even the tiniest piece of hair. The boy had soon come to a pond and swam across it until he got to the other side. When he got to the other side, he ran into a patch of sunflowers and hid, but not very good or very long. The beasts easily found him, because they were so tall and could see in the dark very well. The little boy started running again, and his knees stared click-clacking again.

Soon he was at his house. He went inside, grabbed his dad’s rifle and shot the two beasts dead. He became the town’s hero after that night. The news spread quickly around town about a little boy who was almost gobbled up by two terrifying beasts. The very next day, a newspaper article was titled in big bold letters “Harry Wartsmire and The One Eyed Bloody Bearzilla Almost Gobbled Up Little Boy”. The little boy was very famous after that night. He ordered that every person in the world was to stay inside at night at all times until every last one of those horrible beasts were captured and killed. Everybody did as they were told until the little boy and the military found every last terrible horrible terrifying beast and they were killed. One day, the very last beast was killed, and everybody was safe to come outside and have a good time on that very special night.

That very special night was Halloween. The most scariest time of the year. Everybody was afraid to come out, because they thought that one of those beasts were still out there somewhere in the woods. But the little boy promised that every last one of those beasts were killed, and everybody could come out and go trick-or-treating. The little boy definitely wanted to go trick-or-treating. When he went, the townspeople followed him to the Classic Center in Downtown Athens to get free candy and have a good time. The story of the little boy and the two beasts went down in history. Every Halloween a lot of kids dressed up as one of the beasts or a mix of both of the beasts to make it look really scary. From the day that the boy and the military killed every last one of the beasts they were honored and worshiped forever.

THE END

P.S. Warning: if you EVER hear a clickity-clack noise, RUN!!!!!!! (Be careful, and watch out!!!!)

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