Grim Corps Flash Fiction Series
Each month we publish a flash fiction story right here on our website. Easy to devour in a single gulp, these short but powerful pieces will curb your appetite between volumes of the magazine.
Raven Visits the Suburbs
by Kimberly C. Lundstrom
We gathered on Mike Fontaigne's lawn because he was the HOA president. Everybody turned to him in times of crisis. Mike stepped out onto his porch and looked from the crowd of neighbors to the tree branches above our heads. "Not again," he said.
We all followed his gaze up into the trees lining our neat sidewalks. A flock of crows--dozens, no hundreds of them--blackened the branches, bobbing and cawing in the breeze. Some had spilled over onto the rooftops and others circled overhead.
"So much for the fake owls, Mike," John Frank called out, hands shoved deep in his pockets.
"Even with an 'owl' perched on every chimney, the dirty birds keep coming." Paige Constance scowled and waved her arms at the nearest tree. One of its occupants took wing and made a wet, white deposit on Paige's shoulder.
"I can see that." Mike nodded, as Paige hastened with a tissue to salvage her t-shirt.
"And those 'crows in distress' noises," Mary Murphy lamented. "They're doing nothing but scaring away my chickadees."
"They've come because of the flood," said Agnes Gray, lugging a suitcase toward her dusty-green 1987 Cutlass Ciera.
"What flood? Agnes, it's not going to flood. They fixed the levy six months ago. And anyway," Mike extended one of his long arms toward the dark but dry sky, "it's not even raining."
The closest crows squawked louder and made a show of spreading their wings.
"Not yet," Agnes said. She hoisted the suitcase into her back seat and shoved it against a pile of photo albums, where a 16-inch TV teetered. She turned to face us, her black eyes glittering. "Raven survived the flood before. He's giving a warning this time." Agnes was one-sixteenth Tlingit, and she knew the old stories.
Mary Murphy pulled her cardigan closed and crossed her arms over her chest. "They're not ravens; they're crows," she said.
Mary and her husband, Cliff, were our resident birders. "If you see a solitary crow," Cliff said, "it's a raven. If you see a flock of ravens, they're crows."
Agnes tilted her head and studied Cliff for a moment. Then she shrugged and trudged back up her driveway, leaving the door of the Cutlass hanging open.
The birds peered down at us, dancing from foot to foot and ruffling their feathers. By now, it was difficult to hear anything over the cawing and clicking. But I'm quite sure I heard Mike say, "There's only one thing to do: shoot 'em."
He gathered all of the neighbors who had ever killed anything substantial. ("Do bugs count, Mike?" "Nope." "How about slugs?" "No, gotta be at least the size of a rat.") Not surprisingly, few qualified. Mike disappeared into his house for a few moments and returned with the guns: pistols, hunting rifles, an antique German Luger.
These he distributed, and gave the order: "Ready? Aim! Fire!" All the guns went off and all the birds rose into the air. Not one dropped to the ground. Each floated down to its previous perch. The crows bobbed and chortled in an undulating wave of shiny feathers and flashing beaks.
Mike frowned. "All right. Steady, now. Ready? Aim! Fire!" The report echoed amidst a cacophony of corvid voices and a beating of wings. Still, not a bird fell.
"Raven's too quick for you, huh?" Agnes peered over the flap of a cardboard box, its bulk obscuring most of her body. Her long nails, each filed to a point and painted black, dug into the corners of the box.
"They're not ravens. They're crows," Mary said, and pursed her lips.
"If you see a flock of ravens..." said her husband.
Agnes cocked her head and smiled. She lifted a knee to readjust the box. Its contents tinkled, and we saw a flash of silver and a glint of crystal that might have been her dining room chandelier. She struggled a few more feet to her car and heaved the box into the back seat with a sound like a thousand tiny bells.
The crows took flight, swooping from their branches and rooftops in a ragged arc low over our heads. Mike dove for the lawn as a shriek pierced the air, and looked up to see the feathered cloud spiral into a menacing sky.
"Well, good luck," said Agnes to no one in particular. She reached into the chandelier box and pulled out what looked like a pile of black feathers. Throwing the cloak over her shoulders, she waved, jumped into her car and pulled away. Her raucous laughter floated over us as she passed, and the first drops splattered on the pavement.
Kimberly C. Lundstrom lives in the Seattle area, where she enjoys reading, writing, and disappearing into the mist. Her fiction has appeared online in Shark Reef, Every Day Fiction, and Residential Aliens and in print in the anthology Becoming Fire: Spiritual Writing from Rising Generations. It is forthcoming in Soundings Review and The Best of Every Day Fiction Four. She is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, Whidbey Writers Workshop.
The Lives (and Eventual Death) of Drumm
by Lela Marie De La Garza
My turn to play with it!"
"No! I just barely got it!"
Mrs. Carleton used her broom to whack first Simon and then Cassius in opposite directions. Something dreadful fell on the floor between them. "What's this mess?" she demanded.
"We were going to keep it as a pet," Simon said dolefully. "Only it's dead."
"That's all to the good." Mrs. Carleton swept the creature out of the kitchen and into the yard.
Actually, Drumm was still alive. When the two small humans found him, he was morphing from bird to snake. Being a bird was interesting-flying and perching on branches. But now he wanted the experience of slithering on the ground. He thought he had hidden himself well, but apparently not. As soon as the small, eager hand seized him, Drumm had used the only defense he knew, which was to shut off his breathing and circulation, becoming, to all appearances, dead. He was just emerging into life when those pesky humans came charging out of the house intending to grab him again.. Drumm froze immediately.
"Even if we can't play with it, we can bury it." Drumm immediately decided to become an earthworm. He could easily burrow his way out of a grave.
"Yeah! That'll be fun. We can use the box Grandma's medicine came in."
Uh-oh. New plan. Drumm would change into a mouse, gnaw his way out of the box, go on as an earthworm, hump his way out of sight, and continue his metamorphosis as a snake. Drumm had come here from a distant galaxy as part of a team to explore Earth's creatures. He had only a short time on this planet, and wanted to know it in as many ways as possible.
Now he stayed limp, unmoving, as his body was wrapped in a piece of scrap wool. Then Simon got another idea. "I know something better. Let's take it to McGinty's, where they're pouring concrete, and drop it in. It'll be like a tomb, and he'll stay there forever and ever."
Drumm had no idea what to do about this new turn of events. The sharpest teeth could not chew a way out of concrete. The tiniest beetle could not tunnel through it. Drumm couldn't think of any way to save himself from this disaster, and his control snapped. He began morphing quickly from bird to mouse to snake to worm, all at the same time. Terrified, Cassius dropped him on the ground.
The strain was too much. Drumm's system couldn't take it anymore. Suddenly he exploded, in a spray of blood and fur and entrails. A wing, a tail, a beak all went sailing in different directions. Feathers and scales filled the air. A necklace of tiny teeth hung suspended for a second, then scattered like seed beads, as a thread of intestines shot up and hit Simon's cheek. Horrified, he screamed and wiped it away. "This is dangerous. Run!" Both boys headed back toward the house.
The different parts of Drumm slowly inched toward each other, trying to become a whole unit, but it was no use. The damage was too extensive. One by one they died, and Drumm never saw his home planet again.
Mrs. Carleton came out and looked at the bloody pieces in disgust. What have those boys been up to now? their mother wondered. Then she seized the rake, piled Drumm into a heap, and threw him away.
Lela Marie De La Garza has had work published in "Behind Closed Doors", "Pound of Flash", "ChickLit", "Daily Romance", "Creepy Gnome," and "Mad March Hare". She was born in Denver, CO. in 1943 while her father was serving in WWII. She currently resides in San Antonio, TX. with two cats, a kitten, and a visiting raccoon.
The Opposite of Trains
by K.L. Owens
In the silence that gathers before sleep, Gibreel looks for the opposite of a train. This will be a stationary thing. Or, if it moves, it will not do so in a straight line. Arcs and spirals, loop-de-loops and curlicues; the opposite of a train flies or swims or teeters on rigid stilt legs. Its motion would not be described as rolling. No, it is a stationary thing, and it is not solid. Small, with an amorphous body, a gelatin or pudding thing that maybe sometimes flies and is sometimes immobile, not to be moved by a hundred strong men. The opposite of a train is not made by men; it lives in the sea. Does it live? It lives. If nothing else, Gibreel has decided that the opposite of a train lives.
If it lives, what does it eat? Not coal, and if not coal, then nothing that could be reduced to carbon, if it is to be the opposite of a train. This poses a problem. A precise reductionist, Gibreel knows that all organic matter can, if one is so inclined, be reduced to carbon. Sleep and dreams--if Gibreel ever remembered his dreams--will wait for another night, another. This problem of the opposite of a train, it must be solved. He has to know what to look for.
He visits the yards and stalks between empty, waiting boxcars and long, low platforms. Rails run, slick and oil gray, joined by the weathered-roughened ties, beneath his feet. Here and there, a bit of iron ore, black and pocked photo negatives of the oddball moon of Saturn. The trains come and go, and, pensive, Gibreel watches. Attend to them, and they'll reveal their opposite. Some nights there are ghost trains, the same ghost face in profile behind every window. The ghost face stares straight ahead, refuses to glance out the window, won't acknowledge the man on the platform or what it's leaving behind.
Gibreel believes in the inherent logic of laws of science he's never understood. Equations and formulations have a ring to them; translated, they make a poetic kind of sense. F=G[(m1m2)/r2] means that the pull between two objects can be known. Their gravity, the effect they have on one another, can be calculated. Snow summed up some major laws in a way that still troubles Gibreel. You can't win, you can't break even, and you can't quit the game, Snow said. Which means, of course, that there's no sense in abandoning the quest for the opposite of a train, even if it means Gibreel will only lose.
E=mc2. Another important one, but he's always had trouble figuring out its true application. Something about the dissipation of energy. Gibreel's constant must be close to the speed of light. Force equals mass times acceleration; an object in motion: handy in describing daily interpersonal interactions, a simple guide by which he can understand the motivations of others. The magic of fortuitous interactions is described by A2+B2=C2 (where Gibreel is A and his interlocutor is B).
Syllogisms and theorems, laws and theories: These are systems designed to help us understand the world. Humans are of the world. Therefore, these laws help us understand humans. Gibreel himself is an undistributed middle.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
A train took her away. Only the opposite of a train will bring her back.
K.L. Owens is an MFA candidate at the University of New Orleans' Creative Writing Workshop. The 2004 recipient of the Quarante Club Prize for Women in Literature, her nonfiction has appeared in Ellipsis Magazine.
A Strange Occurrence at All Freak Brig
by Gregory Jeffers
Seconds after the guards pushed Brewster into the cell the thin man started talking. "What you in for?"
Brewster gazed around the plasticide lockup. Two hover bunks and a chromium toilet. Minimalist. He looked at the gaunt man. "Spying," he said. "You?"
"Same thing most humans is in for. Treason." He had a hollow high voice that pinged off the walls. "Freaks they call us. That's how this place got its name." He looked around with a nervous twitch. "How did we become the Freaks? It was our solar system. They're the aliens, not us. Tentacles, antenna, six legs. Gruesome looking creepy-crawlies." He fidgeted, wringing his bony hands. "Spying, eh?"
"I was with the Tigers until they got..."
The man's bug eyes widened. "The Tigers? You don't mean the resistance?"
"Yeah, course I do. Last of the rebellion. Only a few thousand of us left. Renegade bands spread across the solar system. Can barely keep in contact anymore what with the bloody Unioneers diluting all the spherical compression waves."
"Yeah. I infiltrated the Union military. Enlisted in the Timejumpers, third battalion. Our company was all guys like you and me. Earthlings and offspring of off planet colonists."
"How'd they catch you then? You must have blended right in."
"Memory dust," Brewster said, rubbing his wrists where the smartcuffs had rubbed them to a reddish brown.
"Stuff really works?"
"Turns out it does. They blasted us all with it and they can track it. Hundred percent accurate."
"Tell me about it," Brewster said.
The man narrowed his eyebrows. "How long you in for?"
"Execution in forty-eight hours," Brewster said, looking around the cell.
"Man. That stinks."
"Tell me about it."
Both men drifted into silence.
"Look I got an idea for you," the thin man said suddenly. "You ever heard of Ampium?"
"Don't think so."
"It's a brain stimulation drug. Takes you back three days in time."
Brewster stared at the man. "You mean it takes my brain back three days in time."
"No, man. Listen. It creates a pattern so strong in the medulla you actually skip over the time conceptual band of perception. You actually travel back three days in time. Where were you three days ago?"
"With my girlfriend. She's in my unit. We were on standard disciplinary patrol on Rhea and Titan. You know, the usual. Beat sense into some of the local youth. Abuse the women. Intimidate the men."
"Man. Sounds nasty."
"Tell me about it. Disgusting." Brewster curled then uncurled his upper lip. "So what's with the drug, you got some?"
"The Ampium? Yeah, I got one pill. Was saving it for my own execution date. But it's too late for me. I been in too long. If I go back three days I'm still here in jail."
"What are you saying? You giving it to me?"
The man stood up. God, he was lanky. Brewster's biceps were bigger than the guy's neck. "Well it's worth quite a bit, after all."
"Not to you its not."
"No. To you. It's worth quite a lot to you. A chance to avoid getting caught. You could go back in time and go AWOL."
"Guess so. But I don't have anything to trade for it. They took everything."
"Course they did. And look, I don't really want anything from you anyway. But you could help me out a little."
"I'm only in for treason, third degree. I posted comments on the byte banner. Chances of me getting executed are slim. But when I get out, well, I've a real drive to join the resistance."
Brewster looked at the man with suspicion.
"Look, they killed my pleasure unit. Fried her right in front of my eyes because she wouldn't service the district manager." He paused. "All I'm asking is just a slim lead. How do I get on touch with someone? Look, man, you don't need to give me a number. Just give me a way I can get them my number."
Another long silence.
"Post to Cloud 537. Attention Wolf Jaws. Leave your number. Someone will contact you."
"Great. Here's the pill. Have a good trip."
"Gretchen, I know you won't believe this." Brewster sat up in their bivoglide, the three moons outside the porthole lighting up his bare chest. "But tomorrow I'll be arrested and hauled off to All Freak Brig."
"What are you talking about? Why?" She grabbed his hair and pulled him back down to her. "What have you done?"
"It's a long story. You know I'm with the resistance. They're on to me. I need to get out of here."
She kissed him. "I want to go with you."
She was the loveliest creature he'd ever known. "You sure?"
They crawled through the cave opening and dropped ten feet to the granite shelf. He groped for the cable in the dark and pulled it free. They repelled down eighty feet to the rock floor. Two-dozen men and women carrying hand held phase rotors surrounded them, assessing Gretchen.
"She's okay, you guys. She's good." A sharp pain pierced his temples. The room spun. His head began to swell. Screams all around. Then only darkness.
The thin man was lead from the cell to a room upstairs.
"Well done Cranston. Brewster took the bait."
"Able to make anything of the Cloud 537 info?" The thin man stared at the floor. He couldn't muster the courage to meet the eyes of the mantis on the perch. The whiskery sound of its forelegs rubbing made him dizzy.
"We're working on it."
"Did he lead you to his comrades?"
"An hour ago. We blew him up as soon as he made contact. We got fifteen or so of the Tigers."
"That Ampium is really something isn't it?" The thin man fidgeted.
"Transports them, then exports them. The best."
"Tell me about it," the thin man said.
Gregory Jeffers's flash fiction appeared in Every Day Fiction this past July. His full-length short stories will appear in The Chronicles of Alistair McGruff in early 2014 and in the anthology Hardboiled in late December. He lives in the Adirondack Mountains and on the island of Vieques.
by David Galef
After I lost my wife, I couldn't sleep for weeks. Night after night, I'd lie on my side of the bed, staring hopelessly at the walls and ceiling that enclosed me like a gray vault. Even the strongest tranquilizers didn't work, reducing me to a stupor without actually knocking me out. I couldn't seem to relax my brain, which had turned into a clenched fist. In desperation, I called an escort service. "Send me someone with a soothing touch," I told them.
She came at nine, wearing a trench coat the color of dusk. Tall and full breasted, she had eyes ringed in shadow, or maybe it was just the poor lighting in my bedroom. When I told her what I wanted, she nodded as if it were perfectly obvious. "Just lie back," she said, "and leave it to me." With my head on the pillow, the scene of so many nocturnal defeats, she reached out with long white fingers and began to rub my temples. Her touch was gentle yet firm, erasing whatever resistance I'd built up. As she moved on to smoothing my brow, my eyes began to shut involuntarily. Perversely, I wanted to prolong this drowsy pleasure, but my limbs had turned to lead. My last memory was of a kiss, the merest brushing of her lips against my forehead, before I fell into a dreamless sleep.
When I awoke some ten hours later, she had gone. I felt tremendously refreshed, and for the next few days managed to get to sleep simply by replaying her touch in my mind. But soon enough, the memory faded, and I lay tense in bed. I waited half a week longer, then made the call. This time, I asked specifically for the same woman.
She arrived at nine again and led me over to the bed without saying a word. Once more, her fingers worked their magic, untying the knots in my life, the scene ending in her goodnight kiss. And again and again, as I began to call her weekly, her ministrations now a necessity rather than a caprice. We rarely talked, and she seemed to desire nothing other than putting me to sleep.
Yet eventually her mere touch began to lose its potency, relaxing but not enough to push me over the edge. Sensing this, she took my head into her lap, bending over with her long dark hair haloed around me. Cushioned against her thighs, I felt aroused but also semi-submerged, as if pressed into another world. I looked up--her breasts blocked out the overhead light--and sank into sleep as she brushed her lips against my cheek.
The head-in-lap routine was effective for weeks, but it, too, began to lose its power. The next time, she simply took my head in those strong hands and pushed it down to her chest. The swell of her breast was like an endless curve as she guided my mouth to her dark areola. The first sucking filled me with heavy warmth, and I slid into unconsciousness soon after she shifted me to her other breast. I barely registered the final kiss and slept like a baby.
Hiring a woman even on a weekly basis was expensive, but I had long ago given up computing its cost. The escort service had my credit card information, and the visits continued every Friday. When nursing lost its pull, she forced me down on the bed and French-kissed me, somehow entangling our tongues, and slowly sucked me into her. I felt myself swallowed into her dark core. I awoke the next morning, alone and afraid. Another time, her arm snaked around my neck and cut off my air. By the time I realized what was happening, it was too late. I called the escort agency to complain, but was told that the woman no longer worked there.
Still she came. When I protested, she shushed me with one tapered finger. I struggled, so she straddled me. When I locked the door against her, she somehow managed to get inside. Friday at nine, I wait helplessly in my bedroom. Whatever she did last week was deep and lasting. Here she is, having whispered through the door. She pauses a moment, smiling faintly. Then she holds out her arms and draws me into her embrace.
David Galef is the author of over a dozen books, the latest of which is the short story collection My Date with Neanderthal Woman. He is a professor of English and the creative writing program director at Montclair State University. In what seems like another life, he was once the assistant editor at Galaxy Magazine and published work in Fantasy & Science Fiction and Amazing.
by Jude Conlee
We thought the house was perfectly normal when we first moved into it. This was before we found out that there were voices that whispered in the bathroom, before we found out that the speck on the kitchen ceiling sometimes grew and shrank for no apparent reason, before we noticed that the doorknob to the basement always looked exactly like an oak leaf unless you were looking directly at it. We tried contacting the people who had sold the house to us, saying that it was haunted, but they wouldn't do anything about it. You can't prove that a house is haunted, they said, and even if it was, the only proof we had were odd little things that weren't even indicative of ghosts. ("This is not what an actually haunted house looks like," said the man my father spoke to. "Believe me. I know these things.")
It took a bit of getting used to. When my father discovered that, after unplugging something, little colored lights sometimes came out of the electrical outlet, he had to make sure none of his technology was damaged. (It wasn't; the lights were perfectly harmless.) My little brother found it odd that, whenever he got into his bed for the night, the covers would settle around him perfectly as though someone were tucking him in. And, much to her chagrin, my dear mother would never live down the time she was cooking and heard the oven play the first few notes of "The Sound of Music" when her casserole was done. She screamed when it happened, drawing all of us to the kitchen. I think it's safe to say we were disappointed when it turned out to be relatively mundane, as we'd been getting used to this kind of thing by then.
You see, we did get used to it. While we found the oddity shocking at first, we came to realize that none of it would hurt us, and that some of it was quite pleasant. Weren't the lights that came out of the electrical outlets pretty? Wasn't there something comforting in having the house (or whatever dwelt there) tucking us in at night? Wasn't it nice of the oven to tell us with a song that our food was ready? We were fearful at first, but we grew calmer because we trusted it. Not only does trust banish fear, it lends strength to those who have it and provides a light and a firm hand in darkness and uncertainty.
Sometimes, we decided, knowing that things are just because they are can make them less frightening and turn the ghosts into wisps that never existed save for when we were uncertain.
Jude Conlee writes poems and fiction, some of which has appeared in publications such as Otoliths, Nazar Look, and Words & Images. Other than this, Jude plays ukulele, drinks copious amounts of tea, and thinks perhaps too much.
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