Fourth Issue! Fear of the Land
Welcome to the fourth issue of the Flame Tree Fiction Newsletter! As always we have two great new stories that are available for one month exclusively to subscribers of the newsletter, now available here. We re-did two themes: Fear of the Dark and Strange Lands.
- Original Sci-Fi Flash Fiction: Only Another Artist by John B. Rosenman
- Original Horror Flash Fiction: Darker than Blindness by Adrian Chamberlain
- Gothic Fantasy and Myth Highlights
- FLAME TREE PRESS January releases
Original Science Fiction Story
Only Another Artist
John B. Rosenman
Planet X10 in the Burian system seemed habitable in every way. Pre-landing sensors had detected no pathogens, and the atmosphere was remarkably similar to Earth’s. Only a few injections were needed to adjust, and Captain Martin and his two-man crew soon stood on the surface, inhaling the planet’s rich, fragrant air.
“It’s delightful!” Karinne said. “Smells much sweeter than Earth.”
“Less gravity too,” Turner observed. He laughed and jumped three feet high. “It’s only half of Earth’s.”
“Fifty-six point two percent, to be exact,” Martin said. He turned, seeing green grass and rolling hills. “According to our scan, there’s no intelligent life.”
“All the better for colonization,” Karinne said. “Legal won’t have to fight for this paradise with local inhabitants.”
“Hmm, it seems too easy.”
“You worry too much, Captain,” Turner said.
“Perhaps.” He nodded at the landscape. “Let’s explore a little.”
Martin headed toward some distant hills. They climbed them and continued on, past a field of lovely flowers. Turner picked one and tossed it away.
“What’s that?” Karinne pointed at a rock wall ahead.
“Looks like a cave,” Turner said. He bounced in the air. “Let’s investigate.”
Martin glanced back toward their ship, which was out of sight. “Okay,” he finally agreed. “Let’s go.”
They approached the cave. The entrance was about five yards wide, and it was dark inside.
They shared glances then drew their beamers, dispelling the darkness. Martin led the way, directing his light straight ahead.
Soon, they came to a dead end. “Hmm,” Turner said, “doesn’t seem to be—”
“Hold it,” Karinne said. “Thought I saw something over here.”
They followed her to one of the walls and stared at what was on it. “Is that what I think it is?” Martin asked.
“Sure is,” Karinne said. She pointed at the three figures and traced their outline with a finger. “They’re crudely drawn, but there’s little doubt.”
“Damn,” Turner said, finally getting it.
“There could be sentients here our scan missed,” Martin said. “Karinne, you’re an artist. Is there any chance these are just random markings?”
“No, sir.” She pointed at the drawing. “See this, and over here? This is intelligent design. And that’s not all.”
“What?” Martin said.
She hesitated. “I think these figures are us.”
Martin absorbed her words, weighed their implications. Impossible! Yet he ordered them to search the cave for the artist. They looked around, using their beamers to probe the cave’s recesses, but found nothing. Still, Martin knew it was a big world.
“What are we going to do, sir?” Turner asked.
He knew it was wise to follow protocol at once and take no chances. “Let’s return to the ship and contact Central.”
They left the cave. In the bright glare of an alien sun, fear seemed foolish. Karinne might be an artist, but she was mistaken. The wall markings were random. Still, they were cautious and stayed alert.
A minute later they came to a second drawing.
It was on the flat side of a boulder. Again, Martin saw three figures, only this time…
“Is there any doubt?” Karinne said. “Now the figures are more filled in, and here”—she pointed—“you can clearly see your face, Captain.”
Turner swore. “And there’s my fat belly!” He whirled around, shaking his laser. “How can it do this? We haven’t seen anyone. It’s like it’s playing with us!”
“Let’s go,” Martin said. They continued on, alert for danger.
Soon, they discovered more markings that were even more detailed. Martin could see his beard now, and Karinne’s long, soft hair.
Karinne said, “It’s like the artist is learning as he practices, progressing with each stroke.”
Martin raised his eyes. The ship was only eighty yards away now, and it suddenly represented a precious haven.
“C’mon,” he said.
They advanced and stopped just before the ship. “My God!” Turner said.
This time it was a sculpture that looked like pure marble. The three figures stood as if they’d just left the ship and were preparing to explore.
“The artist is still experimenting,” Karinne said. “This time he’s transferred to a three-dimensional medium rather than a flat surface. And his mastery of his craft is evident.”
“How is it possible?” Martin asked. “There wasn’t even a rock here before!”
Karinne sighed. “Picasso once said that God is ‘only another artist.’”
“Captain,” she replied, “I think this planet is an artist.”
“W-What?” Turner sputtered. “The planet’s only a thing, Karinne. It can’t think or design anything.”
“Maybe not consciously,” she said. “But we carelessly stomped in here and contributed off-world DNA to this biosphere. And with each breath and step we continue to contaminate it. It’s like adding a new chemical to a formula or an infection to a healthy body. The planet has to react in some way.”
Martin gasped. “But like this? And so fast?” He pointed at the sculpture, seeing the eyes in his own face glare at him. “My God, they look almost alive.” “Captain, in the few moments we’ve stood here, they’ve acquired color and become even more complete.” She stepped back. “When this happens in nature, the alien invader is often attacked and killed.”
The sculpture trembled then rocked. To Martin’s horror, it divided into three separate figures. He saw them move and flex their muscles.
Turner screamed, a cry of pure terror. Martin brushed past him and started to run. The ship was near and yet so far. Even as his own likeness started after him, he knew he’d never make it.
John B. Rosenman is a retired English professor from Norfolk State University in Norfolk VA. He has published 300 stories in Weird Tales, Whitley Strieber's Aliens, Galaxy and elsewhere. Some of his SF novels are Alien Dreams and A Senseless Act of Beauty (Crossroad Press) and The Merry-Go-Round Man, YA (also with Crossroad Press). Other SF novels include Speaker of the Shakk and Beyond Those Distant Stars (Mundania Press), and the Inspector of the Cross series with MuseItUp Publishing. John’s time-travel story Killers received Musa Publishing’s 2013 Editor’s Top Pick award, and The Blue of Her Hair, the Gold of Her Eyes won Preditor’s and Editor’s Readers 2010 Poll Award for SF/F short fiction. For more about his work you can find John on his blog, Facebook, Twitter @Writerman1 or for more information visit his website www.johnrosenman.com.
Original Horror Story
Darker than Blindness
The noose tightening around your neck almost comes as a relief, does it not? It’s the hood that came over your head moments before that had you gasping, panicking, striking out at the guards. They expected the struggle, believing it to be the last futile fight for life a condemned man makes. They tightened their grip on your shoulders, anticipating more frenzied struggles when the noose lowered; your gasp of relief, the sudden relaxation of your tensed muscles, your nervous, almost hysterical laughter strangulated by the tightened rope and muffled by the coarse hessian takes them by surprise.
We know why, don’t we? Even the priest suspects. He hesitates in his reading, and I smell the Bible’s leather covers, perfumed by sweat from his fingers. I can imagine him looking around the dimly lit execution cell, his eyes widening as he gazes into the shadows the single bare low-wattage lightbulb fails to disperse.
He sees something. Perhaps he sees me.
No. He may sense my presence, but he cannot see me. Only those who walk in darkness can truly see.
I can hear your pounding heartbeat, feel it slamming against your ribcage. I can feel your hot, hyperventilating breath trapped in the hood, a sirocco blasting your senses from all directions. You’re desperate, pleading almost, for the trapdoor to open, for the rope to tighten when your body plummets, to snap your vertebrae…
No. This moment must last a little longer. As long as it did for your victims, for those you denied sight before taking their lives. You owe us that much.
What are you most fearful of? The dark, the encompassing blackness that will be your last memory before travelling to the true void that awaits all? Or my voice, whispering into your ear?
It’s the former, of course. My voice you dismiss as a phantom, a hallucination brought on by the stress and anxiety of the last few years in gaol when appeal after appeal fell by the wayside, the faces of the family who disowned you fading into nothingness. Guilt should’ve been your companion, your comfort – knowing you would soon atone for your evil deeds with your life.
But no. Even now, on the edge of the abyss, a few inches of wood temporarily separating you from oblivion, you still have no doubt in the righteousness of your actions. You cling to the religious zealot’s belief that the killings were necessary sacrifices rather than the insane murders they truly are.
They say the moment before one’s death feels an eternity, and this I know from experience. This limbo is Hell. The same limbo, the same Hell, you consigned us to. It is time for you to taste some of that.
A cry of recognition. Yes, you accept the truth now, do you not? You know my voice. Is it not ironic that you last heard it accompanied by the sight of my screaming face, my eyes beseeching yours for mercy before your scalpel took them from me – when now you see nothing and you scream for mercy?
Yes. Ironic. I begged for life. You beg for death. You fear the darkness for what it presages. You are right to do so.
I feared that darkness until, just before I died, I saw the things that lurk in the shadows of our perception.
Creatures darker than blindness itself. They were waiting for me. They welcomed me. Granted me their powers, one of which is to see in ways I never could as a living, fully-sighted human being.
Oh, the wonders and horrors I have beheld. You will witness them too, but they will not be as welcome to your vision.
The trapdoor opens, and I hear you plunge into a new darkness. Yet your vertebrae haven’t snapped, and your thrashing body draws disbelieving cries from the priest and the hangman; the latter is a seasoned professional, and knows he has not miscalculated the rope length or your body weight.
As I said: the creatures in the shadows welcomed me, granted me their powers – one of which is over physical objects. Now you face a hanging death the old way, via slow strangulation. Your terror has a physical presence. I can see it.
The blackness of your vision is punctured by starbursts of scarlet and gold as asphyxiation takes its hold, but it does not last. The darkness remains as the stars die. The darkness always remains; it is the light that is ephemeral. I have embraced the darkness, become one with it; for me there is nothing to fear. But for you…
I welcome you to the void, as do my brothers and sisters of the shadow land, who are pleased to reacquaint themselves with their murderer and show him the true meaning of darkness, and what it means to fear.
Adrian Chamberlin was born in Wales and lives in south Oxfordshire He is the author of the critically acclaimed supernatural thriller novel The Caretakers as well as numerous short stories in a variety of anthologies, mostly historical or futuristic based supernatural horror. He co-edited Read the End First, an apocalyptic anthology with Suzanne Robb (author of the acclaimed thriller Z-Boat) and the 2016 supernatural warfare novella collection Darker Battlefields, from the Exaggerated Press, and his novella The Silent Towers was a finalist in Independent Legions Press’s 2018 Inferno Award. You can find Adrian on Twitter @MisterGolien or on his website archivesofpain.com
Gothic Fantasy and Myth | Highlights
This month saw the international release of Irish Fairy Tales which is filled with illustrations from Arthur Rackham, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland which also includes many illustration from Arthur Rackham and Sir John Tenniel, and The Divine Comedy which features the peerless art of Gustave Doré. All three are available on our website!
FLAME TREE PRESS | January Releases
January saw THREE new FLAME TREE PRESS titles arriving! We had some seriously good Sci-Fi with Junction from Daniel M. Bensen, some brand new horror from Catherine Cavendish and her book The Haunting of Henderson Close and a new to Flame Tree Jonathan Janz novel, Savage Species.