Black Eyed Angels Swam With Me

By Jay D. Hellis

It had been days since I last slept on account of the bleeding walls and the headless crows. It wasn’t necessarily the sight that disturbed my nights – more the congealed drips smacking the floorboards of my room over and over again. The crows would knock my old toys to the floor if I didn’t pay attention to them, their fluttering more an annoyance than anything else. I wanted to go to my lake, the one where the Others Ones can’t get me, but at this time of the night it would likely be frozen over. There’s no point going there if I can’t submerge myself to escape their stares.

“But how do I get rid of them,” I asked.

“Oh Andie, you don’t get rid of them. You need them. They’re as much a part of you as the hearts and minds are for those of us without the lord’s gifts,” Sister Summers said.

My parents were there. Mum was crying silent tears, her smile crooked in that lazy way when people fight back hysteria. She wanted to laugh, I could tell. Dad was picking at the side of his mouth, his eyebrows crossed a little, like he was confused about how the world worked when really it’s just a glorified wheel, but when Mum squeezed his hand he looked at her and smiled broadly. Mum barked out a laugh – short, sharp and full of spit.

“They don’t do good,” I said back to Sister Summers. What I didn’t say was how murderous I believed them to be. I didn’t have the strength for the argument again, even if I didn’t believe angels could have black eyes. Instead I just settled for saying, “How can you say they do good?”

“Andie, look at me because what I’m going to tell you is important,” Sister Summers said. As far as I was concerned, the dragonfly out the window was more interesting. When she sighed I thought she wasn’t going to continue but she did and I barely listened; “While some in this town don’t believe in Old Man Jesus’ work, or what the great and kind Magdalena did when she cleansed his soul, we believe for a fact that it was her cleansing which released the magic into the world.”

The dragonfly kept my mind from the hulking, cancerous mass in the corner of the room that reached out to Sister Summers. I don’t know how a mass of tumours could grow an arm, nor give me the thought that she was going to die soon, but there it was, a stinking, writhing mass of loose skin and bone. A prone eyeball searching the sky for answers and finding nothing but its elongated fingers stroking the back of Sister Summers’ neck like they were lovers. It’s better than seeing the thing’s prick.

She shivered, and when she saw I was looking at her she brightened, ignorant to what I saw. I pulled my eyes away and back out the window, looking for my dragonfly. I found nothing but the setting sun against the rain beyond the stained glass panels which seemed just as confused as myself. The cancerous lump was sliming its way over the walls, leaving pools of blackness where small, charred hands reached up. I couldn’t tell whether they were trying to claw their way out or trying to drag the cancerous lump down with them.

“That magic though is something I feel we all can agree on – it’s here for the better. What you see – your visions – they provide us with an insight to what lies between the worlds. Don’t you see? We are to you what the blind are to us.”

“Do what the Sister says, Andie,” Dad said. I wasn’t sure what she had said, or what instructions she had given. I was more concerned about the growling that came from beneath the floorboards, though I yawned outwardly trying to mask any reaction. This was something I had learned long ago – it’s always better to ignore them whenever possible. People tend to treat me a little more normal when I don’t scream or flinch away.

We got up and left. I watched as Sister Summers sat on her chair, looking out the window while the gelatinous monster crept up behind her and started licking her with a purple tongue again. I could have told her but I hated her for making me live with this, so I hoped that deep down the cancer would spread slowly. Either way I knew she would die and that brought me a sense of closure, even if I couldn’t bring it on for myself.

I don’t remember a time when the Other Ones weren’t around. They’re not angels. They’re not monsters, either. Monsters usually imply some kind of disturbed being that has one thought in mind, one terrible focus. The Other Ones always seem to have a hidden agenda, like they’re only doing the actions they’re thinking about as they pass on by. Like the cancerous thing – its pale yet sickly skin said death, but its one lolling eye said lust.

Dad said he was going to go out and work the crops. He’d been doing that a lot lately. He was usually between me and my lake and I’d have to be careful he wouldn’t see me if I ventured out that way after my chores. Often he would just sit and stare at the Glass Sea that sat on the horizon like a frozen storm, smoking some kind of hash he had found deep in the forest. No one really knew about my lake and part of me wonders whether it’s real. All those eyes that stare at me while I submerge my body into the lake’s water certainly feel real.

When I passed him, my Dad was surrounded by a black wind that made me suspicious of his motives, his deepest desires. I sometimes believe I can hear what he is thinking but not even I know whether my so called abilities extend that far. Plus I can’t accept that my father has such dark thoughts, even if he is so set on this being a blessing and not a curse.

I had asked Mum if she could take me a few towns over where they have a witch and not the sisters. Mum was brushing my hair, long brown strands falling over my face with each stroke. When I asked, her brushing became more vigorous, but she was still silent. I pressed the question a little more, and only stopped when it felt like my scalp would tear itself from the top of my head. Soon enough she slammed the brush down on the table.

“You were my terminal illness,” she said. “The doctors there told me I would die but they got it wrong, it was my dog who died and instead I got you. They said, ‘Amber – you’re going to die,’ and I didn’t believe them. Yet here you are, complaining about the gifts you’re given when everything I loved at that time was taken away form me.”

She stormed off, leaving piss-coloured puddles of ooze that boiled like soup when she walked away. I didn’t know what that meant but took it as a sign of something better than Dad’s aura or whatever the fuck it is that follows him when he’s off on his own. I had looked to the knives in the kitchen. I’ve tried attacking the Other Ones before but nothing I use ever leaves a mark.

I thought about it then, since Mum usually kept the sharps away in a locked drawer. The scars that run up and down my arms are a reminder to us all, though I remember little of that day. Only that I blacked out as the Other Ones crept over me, holding me upright and over their heads, drinking the blood that pooled on the ground and ran down my pale arms. I woke up, dizzy and cold but otherwise alive. There was blood everywhere but it was as though a dog had drunk it up – we hadn’t seen a dog in these parts for a long time. Just woolaroos and the occasional jumbuck.

That’s when I discovered my lake, days later and still recovering. The cold water was good on my skin, and hid everything below my waist when I walked in. The reflection that looked back at me was something very strange. I slapped it away, heard sniggering I looked around. The lake was lined with the Other Ones but they were all back at the tree line. Their laughter was the kind that children give off when they’re making fun of you but don’t know if they’re pushing you too far.

“Fuck off,” I shouted at them. They slunk away as I splashed the water at them, even if it landed metres and metres away from the nearest one who tried to claw its way to me. I had snagged my arm on a branch when I took off my sweater, the blood already congealing. I picked at it because the pain was as nice as the water was cold. The clawing beast with wicked wings and black eyes tried to come forward, its long tongue dragging on the ground, pulling leaves and sticks and mud with it as its movements became frantic.

It was as if the others were pulling on its massive scaled tail. Its face was full of anguish – a face that looked human, except for the horns protruding from its skill curled around like a ram. I would say it was a she, but she had no breasts much like myself, its crutch concealed beneath matted fur that rolled down to goat-like legs. Its slender hands grabbed at the ground below it, and as it inched closer the skin burst like cooking eggs. The skin of its face flaking away until finally it screeched and flew backwards, crashing into the woods. Eventually they all went away – though that could have just been the cold. My fingers were blue and my lungs felt heavy.

School had been over for a while now. My parents were always worried that the Jarl’s men would come and take us away since they usually come every two generations but for some reason they didn’t come this time. Every other kid in my class had been assigned a job – either weaver or cutter or a jack. All except me. I was told I should work with the Sisters of the Sun given my gift. My teacher had set me down she had a same look on her face that my Dad had when we saw Sister Summers.

“Andie, are you happy with this?” Abigail asked me.

“No,” I replied. It was short and sharp like my Mum’s barking laugh.

“I see,” she said. Abigail nodded her head and seemed to wrestle with her thoughts as tar-painted fairies danced around her head like flies to rotting meat.

“I know you believe you’ve done bad things – “

“I predict death. I predict decay. How can I be considered one to do good if that’s what I have become?” I asked. The fairies swam in the tears that threatened to roll down my cheeks and giggled to themselves. I flicked at them but Abigail likely thought I was just frustrated at crying in front of her. She produced a tissue and wiped at my face.

“Exactly – you predict. It’s not you that does this, Andie. You have to believe that.”

“And I’m not to have a lover, a husband or a wife? Someone I can share this world with? Living with hairy-bush nuns that think sex is as disgusting as three-day old shit?”

Abigail sat back as though I’d slapped her. The fairies snapped at each other, tearing the tar-soaked clothes with needle like teeth. Their tiny breasts were impossibly small, as were the bite marks once they latched on to each other with their mouths. It looked as sexual as it did murderous. I had never really thought of marriage. Some of the kids in my class had already set themselves up with their potential life-spouse. One girl, Delilah, had fallen pregnant, but she lost the baby, then lost her man who ran off with another boy a few towns over – the town with the witch. I’m glad I wasn’t close to Delilah – I can only imagine the horrors that would be surrounding her and her dead foetus.

Two days later there was a knock on the door. Mum answered it, and sure enough it was the sisters who wanted to speak with me alone. I refused, so they all came in and sat around the table where we normally eat and I make my silent prayers that the Other Ones will leave me. Dad was out probably drowning in hash and dark thoughts.

“We know that Andie has made a decision, but we feel this is the best opportunity to turn the situation around into the blessing it truly is,” Sister York said.

“Where’s Sister Summers?” I asked.

“She’s fallen ill, I’m afraid. She’s due to return to the earth shortly and from there she will rest happily.”

I smiled my forgotten smile. The feeling was strange and quickly replaced by my blank stare when I heard what the Sisters of the Sun had planned for me next.

“You’re to come with us. We’re going to anoint you.”

“If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for the community, Andie.”

“Your gift will be for the good of everyone.”

“Oh the joys you’ll feel, Andie. The joys of giving to everyone your visions.”

“Praise be to Old Man Jesus and the blessed Magdalena for giving you to us.”

“Think of what you will bring to your family for taking on such a responsibility.”

I ran, my feet knowing where they would take me before my mind caught up to them. I made such quick time that it wasn’t until I stopped that the visions rolled into the back of my head and reminded me of what just happened. The back door slamming. My mother’s shouts pulling at the ferns as I ran. My father’s blank stare. The Glass Sea and her ghosts. The claws. The teeth. The blood. The rain as it fell around me. The mud that turned slick under foot. My boots peeling away the layers of the world. A brief glance over my shoulder to see the horrors bounding after me. The hoofs. The beat of feathered wings.

I made it to the lake out of breath. I figured this was good since a last resort had become my first instinct. I didn’t bother taking my clothes off, the weight of the fabric and shoes pulling me into the water with every step. My reflection was gone as the rain disturbed the surface tension in a myriad of drops. A dragonfly made its way around my body as I submerged myself. My breathing had become erratic, both out of exhaustion and from the cold.

I tripped and fell, my boot snagging on some mysterious root. My face went under water and I came up sputtering. I wasn’t deep enough yet, but gave me time to look over my shoulder. I expected my mother. Maybe the dark tendrils of my father’s bad aura. I expected the winged beasts and the blood and the discord that my so called gift gave off. Instead there was nothing. Even silence was missing, replaced with the gentle tapping of the rain waiting impatiently for my next move.

Somewhere deep in the forest was a shout which kicked my legs into action. I tried to swim, my hands becoming stubborn as the cold made its way through to my bones. I couldn’t think straight, believing that the lake was naked space, the rain was the stars as they fell around me. After a while I couldn’t swim anymore, and my breathing hurt my chest, so I just lay there, gasping. Breathing. Drinking the water which was impossibly cold and hot at the same time.

When my head first went under, I coughed and pulled it back up, but the weight of the stars as they fell and the cold in my mind told me it was the wrong way around so I put my head back under water. Next I remember the lights going down. The sun setting at a quarter-past one in the afternoon. Silence wasn’t under the water, either. Just this rushing, pounding sound as if I was back running through the woods.

I coughed, inhaled a lung full of water and coughed again. My eyes found the silence in a still picture of blackness. I coughed again and heard nothing. The pounding was gone. The rushing subsided – replaced with a hissing, strained sound that could have been coming from within, as if all thoughts were clambering for innocence.

The hissing grew louder. A feeling beyond burning met with my shoulders like a lover’s massage gone wrong. The darkness was replaced with a howl. The water in my mouth replaced with space once again. The rain had stopped. The reflection below me, as I dripped the water from everywhere, showed the black-eyed angel smiling down at me.

Ghostly Haunts

by Jan King
I was the figure watching to see if you would let go or not. Luckily you didn’t.
Death by your own hand is considered selfish in some ways, although I believe it is also
right for some.
It was right for me. Let me start at the beginning. My name is Amber Green. I had always
been fit. My dog and I used to go on long walks, no they were more like treks. I would pack up
sandwiches, a bottle of water and some treats for Sliver and off we would go into the wilds of
Devon.
I wasn’t young but I looked after myself. Then came the devastating news. I certainly wasn’t
expecting this turn of events. I had been feeling very tired of late and quite listless, not my
normal happy self. So I booked an appointment with my doctor. She suggested a blood test
to eliminate certain diseases.
I had the blood test. The upshot of this was that I had a terminal illness. I sat there in the
doctor consulting room dumbfounded. I didn’t know how to react. What should I ask? All sorts of
questions were whirling in my head. Instead I got up, said thank-you to the doctor and went home.
Sliver greeted me at the door. I started to cry. What will I do with Sliver?
Once I had sat down with a cup of tea and digested this information, I thought where do I go from
here. The internet and google. After many hours of research, I knew that I would have to draw up a
schedule.
This would entail finding a home for Sliver, but not until I couldn’t walk a mile unaided that I would
put my plan into action.
I did let go…. hence my ghostly appearance at this place.Black Eyed Angels Swam With Me

Ashes

By Paul R Green

Orland Clay hawked and spat out a blackened gob of saliva. Bent double with hands on knees he watched wearily as the spitball hit the street, and slowly oozed down the soot-stained cobblestone leaving a slick silvery trail like a deformed slug.
The crack of splintering timber brought the young guard’s head up in time to see the final death throes of the burning building. The main roof beam rent in two, each part crashing through what was left of the first floor and stirring a cloud of glowing embers to dance and swirl like fireflies in the night sky. The searing wave of heat and debris roiling out from the conflagration forced the young guard to turn away and cough up another soot-blackened gob.
“You alright there, lad?” A meaty hand slapped him on the back, startling Clay for a second. The deep, mellifluous voice belonged to Clay’s sergeant and mentor, Churt DePard. Clay pulled in a deep breath, the hot air tasting of burnt wood and, rather disturbingly, roast pork as he inhaled and straightened to answer his superior.
“Just getting my breath, Sarge.”
“We’ve stopped it spreading at least. Get some water in you then come find me, lad. I want your knowledge on this one.” The big man put a fatherly hand on Clay’s shoulder before striding away to bellow orders at the townsfolk who had stopped passing buckets to gawk at the building’s final collapse.
Clay watched for a moment, wondering what knowledge he could possibly possess that the veteran sergeant didn’t.

***

The fire had burnt out, reducing the warehouse to a smouldering ruin of smoking ash and charred, stunted beams that to Clay’s mind looked like a giant, twisted hand clawing at the grey winter sky. Scattered amidst the wreckage, though the bulk of them were near what should have been the exits, lay a number of burnt bodies; most seared to the bone, and none of them promising any means of identification. A disturbing number of the them were too small to be adults. Clay looked at his ash-caked boots and tried not to think too hard as to just what that ash consisted of. He’d been stood for a while now, waiting for his mentor to speak; knowing better than to interrupt him while thinking. At least his feet were warm, he thought, thanking the gods the cobbles had retained some heat from the blaze.
“I’ve seen enough. Let’s go.” Clay was startled from his thoughts and forced to jog after his
sergeant as he strode away from the smoking remains.
“Where are we going? What did you see?”
“You’ve seen what I have. Tell me.”
Clay had half expected this, the gruff sergeant had for some reason taken the young guard under his wing; occasionally drawing him into investigations where other watch members would either not see the bigger picture or took the easy option and ignored it. Along the way DePard would challenge Clay, forcing him to think about his reasoning as well as his actions; teaching him how to be more than just a fight-breaker and a turn-key. For his part, Clay, quite liked the special attention and insight that his mentor was providing, though he could do without the occasional jokes made at his expense by his other more traditional colleagues.
“The fire was obviously deliberate.”
“Obviously?”
Clay smiled. This was all part of the game; he had to explain his reasoning.
“Yes; the warehouse was clearly being used as a doss house; with all the refugees arriving since Kerrigan started his crusade, they’re springing up all over town. And although it’s possible someone could have knocked over a lantern or candle or some such, that wouldn’t explain how the fire spread so quickly, nor why so many people were unable to escape. I spotted what looked like chains where the doors would have been, so it’s a reasonable assumption that the doors were fastened on the outside. You could argue that it was an accident and that the doors were regularly sealed this way to prevent either discovery of the unsanctioned dosshouse or theft of the warehouse contents proper,” he paused.
“But” DePard hadn’t slowed, another one of his quirks; he was of the opinion that it was always better to be going somewhere, even if he then had to change direction should new evidence present itself.
“I’m inclined to think that the killer either knew they’d be trapped inside or brought the chains himself and made sure of it. Either way, it’s murder.” He looked to DePard.
“Not bad, Clay, but without an explanation for the rapid spread of the fire you’re still relying upon conjecture as to it being a premeditated act of murder.”
“I’m no expert but looking at what’s left of the place, most of the damage is to the external walls. Agreed?”
DePard nodded.
“And, yes, the inside is badly burned, but the fire was fought from the outside in, which begs the question if the fire had started inside the property then why isn’t that where the worst of the damage is.”
DePard grunted.”Well then, lad, where do we go to act upon this deduction?”
“Seeing as the fire was on the edge of the Warrens; King B.”
The sergeant actually stopped. King B was a notorious criminal, running a city wide gang of
prostitutes, thieves, and assassins. He was also the de facto mayor of the Warrens. The watch, those of them not on his payroll at least, had been after him for years, but King B was a cautious man with a keen mind and had so far kept out of gaol. He was also very difficult to get close to, relying upon a chain of henchmen and go-betweens to act as buffers.
“You know where to find him?”
“He’s not hard to find. Hard to get to yes, but not hard to find.”
Clay turned back the way they had come, allowing himself the hint of a smug grin as his sergeant was forced to follow.

***

Churt DePard had seen a lot of things in his lifetime; been in some tough places, but there was something about the Warrens that he always found disconcerting. He tried to put it down to his watchman’s instinct reminding him that he was in an area of the city with a much higher than average crime rate, and a virtually nonexistent watch presence, but he knew deep down that it was something else; something much older and primal. It was in the way everyone moved; slow and deliberate, never turning their backs. It was the way everyone watched you, whether that be the bold stares of the bravos and street toughs, or the surreptitious glances of those lurking in the shadows. Even those that could be described as regular citizens, the merchants, smiths, butchers and beggars all seemed to stop what they were doing and stare balefully as the watchmen passed by.
For his part, DePard projected an air of calm authority, back straight, hand on sword hilt, though his eyes constantly swept his surroundings for any sign of trouble.
“In here.” Clay indicated a bakers and stepped inside. DePard followed.
The smell of fresh bread, a favourite of DePard’s at the best of times, was like an exotic perfume after the pungent smells of the city streets, and the heat from the ovens provided a welcome respite from the winter chill.
The bakery was busy as loaves were loaded into baskets to be delivered in time for breakfast to those as could afford it, the work overseen by a short fat man with arms that could shame a blacksmith. Seeing the two men enter he turned to face them as he continued wrapping bread. The broad, yet handsome face was marred by a scar running up from his chin through his lips and along one side of his nose; the light scar tissue vivid against his dark skin.
“Orland. How good to see you. If you’re here about my guild fees, though, you should know that I have strong views when it comes to extortion.” The deep baritone only slightly effected by the scar.
“Don’t worry, uncle, I’m not after your money.”
The baker mimed a relieved sigh. Then moved round to smother Clay with a powerful embrace; the young guard thinking it a good job his cloak was white as his uncle’s flour covered arms wrapped around him. The baker stepped back, affectionately patting Clay’s cheek.
“Well I know it’s not a social call. You rarely visit, and when you do you’re always considerate enough to come out of uniform.” He smiled and turned to DePard. “It’s not that we have anything against you Doves but the neighbours are apt to get nervous when a couple of white cloaks come visiting. Especially when one of them’s Churt DePard.” He held out a flour covered hand.
DePard was surprised at being identified but managed to keep his expression neutral as he
accepted the strong handshake.
The baker gave the sergeant an apologetic look.
“There’s a lot of folk round here still bitter about Goven Chandler.”
DePard sniffed. “Goven Chandler was a rapist with a taste for young flesh. I’d kill the bastard again in a heartbeat.”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong, sergeant. Don’t get me wrong. Folks round here wanted him dead. They just wanted to do it their way; make sure he suffered.”
“He suffered.” DePard’s eyes were ice.
The baker still gripped DePard’s hand.
“Of that I do not doubt. However, his victims’ families don’t think it was enough. I think they were hoping for a more protracted experience for mister Chandler. That, and for him to go to his death with fewer testicles of course.”
“You don’t get fewer than none.” DePard’s expression hadn’t changed.
The baker grinned, slapped a floury hand on the sergeant’s shoulder and released his grip on the other hand.
“Are you sure you’re not from the Warrens, Sergeant?” He rocked back on his heels before moving back behind his counter. “Now what can I do for you?”
Clay stepped forward.
“I’ll get straight to the point and not insult you by asking if you heard about the fire on Wagonway Road.” Clay said as the baker returned to wrapping loaves.
“Terrible news. I hear there were folk caught inside?”
“At least twenty; some of them children. And not caught, trapped. The doors were chained so they couldn’t escape.”
The baker’s chestnut eyes, the irises rimmed with a speckle of lighter brown, flicked up to meet Clay’s. For a split second fire seemed to flash from the hazel specks.
“We need to know who did it, Uncle, they need to be stopped.”
The fire was gone, tamped down to a less noticeable, but much hotter slow burn.
“There’s plenty talk on the streets and in the inns, especially those around the docks about how the refugees are becoming a problem. How the city should be housing them elsewhere. Not our problem, sort of thing. That’s just human nature, though; no one likes to share too much and some people have a different concept of what constitutes too much. This though, if it’s true,”
“It is.” Said DePard.
“Then this is something else.” He stared at DePard, judging him. “My business is fortunate enough to get a lot of customers, Sergeant; it gives me an understanding of this community. I’ll keep my ears open.” He shifted his attention back to his nephew. “Now, do you want a couple of stotties to take away?” He was already wrapping a couple of the flat breads.
“Thank you, Uncle. You don’t get them up our way.”
The baker handed Clay the warm parcel as he saw the guards to the door.
“All the more reason to visit us more often, Lando; out of uniform though, eh?” He said giving Clay a hearty slap on the back as he ushered them onto them outside and closed the door.

The wind whipping down the narrow street stripped away all warmth and the comforting aroma of fresh bread, replacing them with the rotten smells of decaying street waste and the biting cold of winter. Clay tucked the parcel into his tunic, enjoying the warmth it provided, before pulling his cloak tight and looking to his sergeant.
“So your uncle knows King B. Should I be concerned?”
“No. I’ve chosen my side.”
DePard nodded his approval.

***

Bokeem Clay watched his nephew and DePard as they walked away. He was angry, and the anger was building. He was angry that the boy had come here in uniform. He was angry that he’d brought the sergeant. He was also angry that someone had committed such an atrocity on his patch. But that was nothing compared to how furious he was that someone had committed such an atrocity on his patch without his say so.

***

The glow of the lantern threw light into the open warehouse space as Hero pulled the door open and stepped inside. He winced at the overpowering smell of fish, wishing his boss had chosen any of the many other buildings he owned as he pulled his kerchief up over his nose in a futile attempt to suppress the stench. His boss followed him inside, his face only flickering slight acknowledgement of the offensive odour. The five other men, King B’s employees all, were also employed as dock hands and therefore seemed immune to the smell.
One of the men, a tall, heavy set bruiser, pulled the door shut against the winter night and took his place by The King. He somehow seemed even larger when stood by his boss. The others split up to light more lanterns.
Suspended upside down from an overhead beam at the rooms centre, three naked men – none of them over eighteen – their hands bound behind their backs, slowly twisted at the end of the ropes lashed around their feet.
Bokeem Clay approached his prisoners until he stood just in front of them. Three of his men moved behind the captives and held them so they faced their boss.
“It has come to my attention that one, two, or maybe even all three of you, can assist me in my enquiries.” The King’s voice echoed around the large room.
The captives said nothing.
“Let me make this simple for you. I know that your group was responsible for the fire and
subsequent deaths at the warehouse on Wagonway Road. I know that you three boys were in the Tack spouting your vitriol just before the aforementioned conflagration. What I would like you to tell me is who started the fire, and who gave the orders. That’s all. Two names and this all ends for two of you.”
The King studied the three men as his words sunk in. Their faces a curious purple, a combination of the cold and the blood settling in their heads. None of them had the look of real killers about them, though he knew they were responsible for the fire. They were cowards; hiding behind the mask of their cause, bravado swelled by the group they belonged to, committing their despicable acts through fear of losing face in front of their so called mates. Never realising those very same mates were as like to be feeling the same peer pressure and fear of rejection. Bokeem Clay despised men like this, but he knew just how to use them.
“Hero.”
His man stepped forward.
“That one.” He pointed to the largest of the three prisoners, and walked off to the manager’s office in the corner of the building where one of his men was brewing a pot of coffee. There was no need for him to watch as Hero lowered the selected captive to the ground and manhandled him through a side door.

***

As Bokeem was pouring his third coffee Hero entered and nodded. King B joined his man and they returned to stand before the two remaining captives. He took a sip of his coffee before speaking.
“I know you’re curious as to the fate of your friend. Right now your limited imaginations
are conjuring up all sorts of unpleasant scenarios involving red hot tongs, bread knives and
toasting forks. All you need to know, however, is that your friend told us what we wanted.”
He took another sip of coffee, savouring the warmth as much as the taste as the hanging men’s eyes darted from him to each other and back. King B smiled; they were his.
“Now what many people fail to recognise about using torture to extract information is that the subject, in this case your absent colleague mister Reeves, is just as likely to tell his questioner what he thinks he wants to hear as he is to tell him the truth.”
Again, he gave the men time to digest what he’d said as he took another mouthful.
“So, what that means is, and I’m sure you bright young lads have already figured this out, is that we require some form of corroboration; a verification of your colleague’s claims so that we don’t act upon inconclusive information. I’m sure you understand.”
“It was Solomon Pitt made us do it.” Both men spluttering out the name almost instantaneously. “He said it would send a message.”
The King nodded.
“Pitt planned the deed no doubt. And he did send a message; just not to the people you boys
think.”
A look of understanding appeared on the face of one of the prisoners.
“It wasn’t about the Northerners. It was about the warehouse. The message was for you.”
“Clever lad. And he chose you boys to deliver it. Obedient young pups, blinded by hatred and fear.”
He said waving his mug in their direction.
“And you two,” he said, “went through with it. You two, and your friend back there, carried out his plan and burnt those women and children to death over geography. And that, that’s on you. Pitt might have sent you but no one made you do it. That’s just how lickspittles like you justify your cowardly actions to yourselves.”
He handed his coffee to Hero, trading the tin mug for a bread knife.
“A man is responsible for his own actions. Always.”

***

DePard pulled the last of the potatoes from the patch he kept behind the barracks, checked it for rot, and satisfied there was none, added it to the sack by his side. The crop was small, he’d been busy and hadn’t been able to tend his garden as well as he’d have liked; he was also late in harvesting. Still, he’d have some good compost next season, he thought, looking at the pile of rotting waste he’d fenced off in one corner. He stood, brushed dirt from his knees and turned to see Clay waiting by the door.
“We’ve been left a gift.”
“Oh?” Said DePard.
“A man named Reeves was bound and left outside the Tack. Roper and DeMarc found him this morning when they went back to help with seeing to the remains.”
“He hurt?”
“Broken nose, a few bruises. More scared than anything. Claims some upright citizens overheard him bragging about his deeds and took the law into their own hands.”
DePard chuckled. “In the Warrens?”
“Don’t be so dismissive of the Warrens, Sarge. The watch might not be welcome but the folk there do have a code.”
“Don’t fuck with King B?” De Pard chuckled again. “Don’t pout lad, I get it. Places like that, they breed closeness. A sense of community you don’t find in the likes of Park Square and Temple Grove. But whether they think so or not, they still come under our watch, and as much as I’d like to believe that some good citizens handed over this Reeves out of a sense of community and public duty, I think we both know that your uncle wouldn’t have delivered him to us unless there was something to be gained. I think we need to have a word with this Reeves.”

***

The forge was an old guard tower at the rear of the western barracks. It had been heavily damaged in the big siege over twenty years ago and was now mostly a hollow shell. About ten years ago the then head of the watch, a man named Thorn, had had the rubble cleared from the one ground floor room that still had four solid walls, if not a ceiling, and began using it for the questioning of prisoners. The room was an old store and therefore windowless; light, what little there was, came from torches in the wall sconces of the room above – or at least those that could be safely reached.
Reeves was strapped to a single chair in the centre of the room. The chair itself bolted to the floor, but the main feature of the forge wasn’t the walls, or the light, or even the chair; it was the smell. The room reeked of fear, as if every man who had sat in that chair had sweated a part of himself into the porous stone floor and over the years that essence, that physical manifestation of hopelessness and defeat had spread drop by oozing drop until it permeated the whole room and the very walls were now covered in a nervous sheen.
Reeves watched fearfully as DePard and Clay entered and took their positions. The younger guard moved behind him leading Reeves to naturally try and follow his movement. The thick leather restraints prevented him turning his head far enough leaving him to speculate on, or more likely worry about, where Clay was and what he was doing.
A noise brought his attention back to the big sergeant who set down a small table in front of the prisoner. Resting on the table was a cloth bag. DePard pulled a scroll from his belt, opened it up and read from it.
“Crispin Reeves. Of an above average height and stocky build with hair of a clean straw colour and eyes of blue. Tattoo depicting the sigil of Crispin the Defender on right forearm.”
“Nowt wrong with that. Crispin is a hero to this city. Me Mam named me for him.”
DePard ignored the interruption.
“Lives with parents and three brothers above the kilns off Artisan Square. A few overnight
detentions for drunken affray and common assault. All of them off the back of trips to the Warrens. Seems to me you’re the type of boy who likes trouble. There’s no other reason I can see for you to be straying so far from home.
“I’m a citizen of Stonelake; can walk where I please.”
“True enough, lad, and as a citizen you’ll know the punishment for murder.”
“I’m not of age as to be hanged without witnesses to the crime. I know that much.”
The boy tried to hold DePard’s gaze but couldn’t and squirmed in the chair as his eyes broke away.
“A lawyer now are you, boy? Well, just so you’re clear, how you’re tried is at the discretion of the magistrate, and the opinion of the watch weighs heavily upon her decision. Which, as far as you’re concerned, means I get to decide whether you’re tried as man or boy, and whether your future’s in chains or on rope. What say you, Clay? Is Crispin here merely a confused young boy lead astray by a wicked bigot, or is he a true grown man who knows his mind?”
Reeves jumped as two hands clamped onto his shoulders. He tried unsuccessfully to jerk his head away from the hot breath that suddenly spread across his neck.
“These are the shoulders of a man, sergeant. Broad and strong. I say he hangs.” The breath
disappeared along with the hands, as Clay slipped back into the shadows.
Before Reeves could gather himself DePard suddenly leant forward, bringing his face within inches of the boy’s.
“The way I see it you’ve spent your time playing at being a big man. Well congratulations, Crispin, you’re being treated like one now. And will be right up to the point of your execution. No doubt you’ve been to a hanging, lad; stood laughing with your mates as the
prisoner danced his last jig. Will they laugh at you I wonder? Point to your soiled britches and makecrude jokes as you gasp your last, and your mother pulls at her hair and wails.”
“It was Pitt. Solomon Pitt.” The words came through ragged, tearful breaths.
DePard smiled as he leaned back.
“And where would I find this Solomon Pitt?”

***

For the second time in as many days DePard and Clay found themselves standing in front of a burnt out building. This time it was the remains of an inn called The Phoenix. DeMarc joined them from where he’d been talking with an old man.
“Let me guess,” said DePard, “a tragic accident. No witnesses.”
“Actually plenty. The old man says there were about a dozen of them. They nailed the doors shut, doused the walls in oil and put torches to the place. Anyone who tried to leave caught a crossbow bolt for their efforts.” He indicated the charred remains of a figure draped through what was left of a window. “They were all masked though, of course.”
“Of course. Any survivors?”
“Not sure. The old geezer reckons he saw someone jump from an upstairs window into the canal, but he also says he caught at least a couple of quarrels. Roper’s leading a search along the banks to see if a body or trail turns up.”
“Good work. Let me know if he finds anything. And see if you can’t get a better description from the old man.
“Will do, Sarge.” DeMarc headed back toward the witness who was starting to slope away. “Oi, Grandad! I’m not finished with you yet.”
DePard turned back to Clay, “I’m hungry. Fancy a stottie?”

***

“I hear the good citizens hereabouts found you your arsonist.” Bokeem Clay said from behind his counter where he was pre-slicing a loaf – ‘For the widow Fens, you understand. She has trouble with her hands. Arthritis.’
“Seems we may have a copycat. I’m sure you’ve heard about the Phoenix.” Said DePard.
“A tragedy. One of the oldest inns in Stonelake. Well, the site is. If memory serves this is the third Phoenix to be built there. The original inn was called The Refuge, believe it or not; burnt down during the trout riots. Stood less than a year before taking a direct hit during the siege. The second incarnation lasted a whole decade before mysteriously burning down one night. Funny thing was the landlord’s wife just happened to be visiting her sick aunt that night, so only her notoriously unfaithful husband was killed.”
DePard actually laughed at that, surprising his protege.
“And now this. Maybe they should change the name.”
“Or find a new trade?” said DePard.
“Indeed. Something less prone to incident and accident.” Bokeem mused.
“Like baking?”
“Ah, but baking can be a hazardous profession,Sergeant; too many ways the unwary amateur can be burnt.” The baker juggled a hot loaf as if for emphasis.
“And quite a competitive business I would think.”
“Cut-throat.” He said with a smile as he drew the serrated blade of his bread knife through the loaf. “Was there a purpose to your visit, Sergeant? Or is this just a social call?”
“Oh, let’s call it a bit of both. I just thought that now we’ve become acquainted I’d keep you abreast of what’s going on. Think of it as a public service.”
“Well, as you now know, we’re a tight-knit community in the Warrens, Our Lando’ll tell you; so you needn’t have bothered.”
DePard smiled a grim smile. “It’s no bother. I’m quite happy to call in whenever I’m passing, which will be much more often from now on I think, due to all the recent trouble hereabouts.”
“Oh, I think that’s all blown over now, Sergeant. The arsonist is safely locked up in your very own cells, and his co-conspirators appear to have befallen a tragic, yet poetic fate at the hands of the very community they purported to have represented. I did try and tell you that the people round here prefer our own form of justice.”
“And I’m sure I don’t need tell you that I represent the law here. Me, your nephew here, and any other man wearing the White. Much as we appreciate the community’s assistance in the capture of Crispin Reeves, we’ll take a dim view of any vigilante actions. You break a law in my town, I take you down.”
The two men’s eyes were locked on each other.
“As a respected voice of the community you can spread the word at your next resident’s meeting.” DePard said.
Bokeem Clay held the sergeant’s gaze for a moment more before shifting his eyes to his nephew. The younger guard, didn’t flinch, causing his uncle to give a grudging shrug of respect.
“Until next time then.” He said indicating the door.
The two guards exited the bakery and slowly walked back to their barracks as a light snow began to fall from the grey sky.

Tonight I will do it

by Fatima

The air feels so nice blowing through my short, dirty-blond hair. It’s a little too cold for me to be out here tonight, but this is my usual routine. Tonight I will do it, I will not hold back this time I will jump. Tonight will be my last night to do this routine. As I grip the bar of the rail tighter, ready to let go, let go of all the disappointments, and the ways I can not change. I look up, and there is one star in the night sky. That same star that is there every night. The star that blinds me a little when I look back at the nothingness below me, black is all I see. That star that lets me know everything will be okay. I leap back over the rail, my bare feet touching the prickly grass on the other side. I put my dirty old chucks on and begin to walk home. When I turn back around to look at that one star that gives me faith, I see a dark figure with long hair blowing in the wind. She turns around and we meet eyes. I turn back around trying to avoid the thought of her seeing me. When I turn back around to see if she is still looking in my direction, she is gone. Was that a part of my imagination? Was I being followed by a ghost, or did that really happen? All these thoughts in my head confusing me, so I run. I run away from, my thoughts, my pain, even myself. I reach home, check the time, 2:54a.m. I crawl through my window. The note I wrote was sitting on my bed, I rip it up as soon as I get in. I slip out of my pink sundress I love so much and put on my pjs. Slide into bed and whisper, ‘happy birthday to me.’

It’s My Turn

by Barbara Tsipouras

It’s my turn now. I know it. But where to hide? Where to seek help? There’s nowhere I could possibly go and nobody who could possibly help me. It is too late now. I’m deeply involved. He’s here right beside me in my bed.

Two years I waited for him. Two years I missed him, was faithful, always visited, brought him whatever he wanted and when he finally was released I embraced him with all my love and was glad to see him full of energy, ready to re-start life.

I didn’t see how twisted and screwed he was, took him back into my house and my bed, had big dreams.

He hates to be famous for that damned video. Hates being famous for being pummelled. That video was the reason for his suffering in prison. All the abuse.

I thought he had overcome all that. It was over. Nobody recognizes him anymore. The video is long forgotten.

Until he told me.

At first I didn’t take him seriously, thought he was joking. But he was not.

Today I saw it in his eyes, the desire to be finally caught, to be found, to be famous of his own accord. He wants to go back, respected and feared.

Two months have passed. In the beginning he always came home filled with joy, satisfied that he did it again. Seeking approval he told me in detail, how he bought the knife and stuck it into the next old guy passing the street or went to buy a gun and shot the vendor. Or the poor girl he strangled in the park. He was so proud of all these random kills.

I did nothing to stop him. Nor did I leave. I thought it would stop, but it didn’t.

The police never came. Now there is no joy anymore, merely exhaustion. He’s tired, disillusioned.

Nobody besides me knows what he’s done.

His thirst for fame is unbroken. I saw it in his eyes. And I’ll be the victim to send him back to prison as a celebrity. That’s his aim. I’m the target.

Now, after aggressive and passionate sex, appropriate for the last time, he’s lying by my side. Drunk as usual, breathing hard and snoring.

Torn between love, fear and hatred I look at him.

He still has the chance to wake up.

But he won’t.

Famously Infamous

by Mark Barrett

I’m fucking famous.

You might have heard of me: ‘Punk gets Pummelled’? Over eight million hits on YouTube and counting. Pretty good, huh? Popular, yeah? Not really, because I’m the punk.

You’ll have definitely heard of the other guy: Cole Tenner. Cage fighting champion, king of the ring in Vegas and a fucking action hero at the movies. He did great. But you only might have heard of me.

I’m here in High Desert State Prison doing time. Hard time. And, let me tell you, it is really fucking hard time when you’re famous. Yes, I have been in prison before, but back then I was a nobody, a no mark. Now I’m fucking famous. Everybody wants a piece of you when you’re famous, and a fair few guys have had a piece of me since I got myself back in here.

Bitch Tits. Bettini is his real name, but everyone calls him Bitch Tits. Not to his face. He’s a big, fat Italian fuck who is a big thing in organised crime – and not just physically. You work out the rest. Anyway, Bitch Tits thinks it’s funny to re-enact ‘Punk Gets Pummelled’ pretty much every time that I pass him in the yard. My nose barely gets a chance to heal between fractures. Once I tried to fight back, but that time this punk really got pummelled. Broken ribs, the lot. Now I just settle for the nose.

I wouldn’t care, but hardly anybody knew who I was before Bitch Tits did that, and then encouraged everyone to look it up on the Internet. I mean, the Internet in prison! What the fuck is the world coming too? We’re supposed to be being punished and rehabilitated. For Christ’s sake, some of these dumb fucks are in here because of shit they did on the Internet. There’s even guys with Smart Phones in here. I reckon it took about six minutes for every lag in High Desert to see that YouTube clip, and now they all want a piece of me. Why? Because I’m fucking famous.

And it’s not just beatings. I’ve been raped by at least three guys. I say at least three, because it may have been the same guy more than once. They don’t do it because they’re gay, they just do it for the hell of it, or because they’re bored, or just for fun, or whatever other fucked-up reason that unstable, violent, locked-up guys might have for doing anything. There’s a lot of that sort of thing goes on in here – forced and consensual – and it’s hardly ever because they are gay. On the outside they’d be dead against it, homophobic even. Big, tough, heterosexual men who hate fags. Not Samuel ‘Two-Bricks’ Flores, of course, he’s just right out there, queen of all he surveys. Funny, he doesn’t get any hassle about it from the other guys, but if a perfectly straight guy so much as gives a preference for a brand of shower gel then the others rip him apart. Even the ones who have relations in the cells. Weird that. I’ve never really understood it. I mean, if a guy prefers a guy, then what the hell? Live and let love, that’s what I say. And those that say it’s not natural, how? We’re all animals; we’re all natural: so if some of us fancy the same sex as us, then that’s got to be natural, hasn’t it? I’m not into it, and I haven’t enjoyed being on the receiving end, but I’m not against it.

Even the guards are bastards when you’re fucking famous. They treat you like mock royalty, sarcastic bastards. Ask them for anything and it’s, “oh, can’t you sort that out with your friends in Tinsel Town?” Or they’ll take shit out of your cell saying, “it’s a souvenir to prove that I knew the great Punk who got Pummelled.” Right funny fucks those Bugs are.

So, yes. I’m fucking famous. Famous, and four weeks short of my next parole hearing. I’ve been good. Ridiculously good. Even my spat with Bitch Tits didn’t get written up, so I’m bound to get out. Bound to – I’m fucking famous so they wouldn’t dream of keeping me in.

They should keep me in of course, and would do if they knew what I was thinking. But they don’t. You see, I’ve been considering what got me back in here. I know what you’re thinking: “oh, he blames Aiden Cole and he’s going to go after him.” Well, you’re wrong. I don’t blame Cole Tanner. I don’t even blame StrawDolli44 who posted the YouTube clip. I blame myself. Why the fuck did I’d choose the biggest, fittest bastard on that bus to mug? I know why. Pride. I was trying to prove something. And I did prove something. I proved that I’m a nobody and a no mark. But I had already known that, deep down inside. Maybe that’s why I chose the big bastard, because I wanted to be proven right.

Well, I’ve had a taste of fame now, and I like it. So when I get out I’ve thought of a new way to be famous. I’m going to kill nobodies and no marks like me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a big idea to become a serial killer, with intricate plans and subtle leads to frame other people, or some sort of motif to keep the police interested. No. I’m just going to kill people.

The thing is, I know I’m going to get caught. They always do. But when I get caught, I’ll be famous again – on my own terms. Famous as the aggressor, not the victim. So I’m going to plan nothing. Every day I’m just going to wake up and get on with my own shit. And if I feel like killing somebody that day, I’ll just do it. No planning, no messing, no signature or trail. Just go to a shop, buy a knife, walk out onto the street and stick it in some pathetic looking fucker eighteen or twenty times. Nothing fancy. Either that or strangle a valet in a dark car park. Or pretend to be testing a gun for purchase and blow the shopkeeper’s brains all over the wall. Or any number of simple shit like that.

I’ll get away with it for a while, because they are the sort of random, one-off crimes that the cops struggle with. Yes, they’ll get me eventually, but by then I’ll have racked up enough to be famous again. And every single one that I’ve done will be famous with me.

Four weeks. That’s all. Who knows, after four weeks maybe I’ll bump into you just after I’ve bought my KitchenGuru utility knife and, just like Billy the Kid, I’ll make you fucking famous, too.