Twenty-First Issue! Dangerous Mars

Welcome to the Twenty-First issue of the Flame Tree Fiction NEWSLETTER! We hope you're all looking forward to the stories coming to you this month! There were a huge amount of incredible tales submitted for June's Sci-Fi and Horror flash fiction and we hope you enjoy reading our two final selections here! Once again, we wish we could choose more than two but thank you so much to all of you who took part and submitted stories! The theme's for last month were Dangerous Games and Water on Mars!

This month's newsletter features:

  • Original Sci-Fi Flash Fiction: Changes by R.G. Halstead
  • Original Horror Flash Fiction: The Monster in the Dungeon by L.N. Hunter
  • Flame Tree Live: New author event video
  • FLAME TREE PRESS - After Sundown announcement


Original Sci-Fi Story


R.G. Halstead

They say a man changes while up in space. After a very long period of time. The longer he is up there, the more he...

The massive space ship was just about to land back on Earth. And the thousands of anxious people who were lucky enough to be chosen to view the momentous event in person were highly curious. They had thousands of questions all ready for the eight returning astronauts. Physically and mentally tough men hand-chosen to deal with the rigours of space travel. The best of the best.

There would be none of the usual standard procedure this time.

All of the other missions to the moon and back had required that reporters and other lucky humans in attendance give the exhausted astronauts a few days to unwind. Get their feet on the ground again. Sleep for at least twenty-four hours straight. In their own beds.

Then they would be subjected to the gruelling question period.

Not this time, though. This mission had been to Mars for the very first time. A big deal! All of the earlier long distance research and analysis showed that the Red Planet probably contained large volumes of water. Filling up the many craters on the Martian landscape. Large lakes and oceans were in existence. And was their water like our water? But was this all actually true? The eight astronauts who had been to the mysterious planet would soon inform them.

This was huge!

Oh, the people wanted to know all about the water on Mars. An obsession. And thanks to all communications... both audio and video... breaking down for some reason, this would be the astronauts’ first contact with Earth in twenty days. A lot of things happened in those two plus weeks.

They say a man changes while up in space. After a long period of time. Too long.

These anxious people wanted to know right away what Mars was like. Right now! Was it as cold as expected so that the Martian water froze? Did it ever thaw when and if the weather there warmed up? More water related questions were shouted out to the lone man returning from space. Up there for five long months.

Six-foot-five and handsome, Cody Lancer stood at the podium. Still in his astronaut suit. He was bombarded with questions as soon as he had stumbled out of the ship. There was an obvious change to him. He looked and sounded different. Like hell, really. The questioners would get to that eventually. But water or whatever sorts of liquids Mars had was on their minds.

Nobody even asked where the other seven astronauts were. They just assumed the space travellers were hiding in the ship. This best-of-the-best sacrificial lamb had been sent out all alone to field their many questions.

Well, Cody did just that. But after only a short time, these curious onlookers could see that the man was not well. Both physically and mentally.

“Lots... and lots of... water,” he mumbled into the microphone. The man had a hard time standing up. His breathing seemed different. Laboured. It might be due to his still wearing his complete space suit. Including the helmet.

“Hey. What is wrong with you, Cody?” asked one bold reporter.

“Just a little... fish out of water, y’know. Back here on Earth. Lots of water. But not like the water... water on Mars. Not... even... close.”

When asked to elaborate on his comment, Cody did his best to find the right words. Struggle as he did, these people were informed that the water found on Mars was absolutely invigorating to be in. Life changing. It had made him almost want to stay there floating and swimming in the incredible water forever. There was just something unbelievably special about it. He could not put it into words. The man did well to speak at all.

But the space ship had been pre-programed to blast off back here to Earth at a certain time. He had almost wanted to stay. But Cody Lancer, experienced astronaut, did not want to stay in Mars’ amazing water forever. Forever was a long time. So he and the others travelled back to their home planet.

And here was at least one of them standing for everybody to see. To question.

Someone found a chair for the wasted Cody to sit on. Everybody could see that the man who had visited Mars was struggling to keep it together.

Another reporter asked what the other astronauts thought of the water. Why weren’t they coming out of the ship?

“Those guys... they didn’t like... like the water like I did. The fools. They didn’t like to... swim in it. Float in it. They... those guys actually... wanted to leave Mars early. Early! Ruin my fun in the ... stupendous... life-changing water. Damn those humans.”

“Why didn’t they like the water?” somebody shouted out.

“Well, let us just... just ask them, huh? Oh wait... you can’t.”

There was complete silence for what seemed like a decade.

“Why can’t we ask them?” one reporter wanted to know.

‘They didn’t like... Martian water. The fools. So... I drowned them all. How ironic, huh? And I...”

The hundreds of gasps made it impossible to hear the rest of what he said about murdering his fellow astronauts.

One of the more curious reporters worked his way through the stunned crowd and entered the space ship. Nothing was going to stop him.

What he found in there was beyond shocking. Seven dead astronauts. And it looked to him like they had been drowned. What the hell had happened up there on Mars to make this one survivor do such a thing? the reporter asked himself.

And when he and the others watched the babbling Cody Lancer struggle to take off his space suit to finally reveal his gills and fins...

Poor Cody had lost his mind up there on Mars... but had gained something else, all thanks to its amazing water.

R.G. Halstead (aka Robert Halstead) is a 64-year-old Canadian in search of a new challenge and has taken to writing short stories late in his life. A welcome change from painting wildlife and creating cartoons for so many years. Having always been heavily influenced by the old EC horror comics plus the 1950s and ‘60s Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine twisty endings, you can see those influences in his work. He often dabbles in soft sci-fi stories. But his true love is crime and horror.


Original Horror Story

The Monster in the Dungeon

L.N. Hunter

It started with a harmless game. A Ouija board—it was Halloween, after all. We were having a giggle, passing around monster make-up and my silver hand mirror, the one with the handle in the shape of a gothic cross. Becky had used up pretty much all the white make-up, going for the ghostly look, and Kevin had painted his arms a decaying gray with the occasional suppurating sore.

We weren’t getting much from the board. So far, the planchette had spelled out D-G-N-V-M-P-Yes-B-E-G-H-S-T-K-L-Yes-Z-M-K. Kevin said it seemed to be using text-speak, and we must have contacted a very modern spirit.

We’d swiped a bottle of vodka from my parents’ drinks cabinet, and I spilled half a glass on the Ouija board, totally an accident, somehow making a smiley face pattern. Before I could wipe it off, the booze reacted with the varnish, emitting a foul smell and a bubbling hiss. As I stared, the smile seemed to get wider, and then…


I came to with my cheek pressed to cold, damp stone. In the light of sputtering, greasy torches, I took in slimy walls and rusty chains. A heavy wooden door indicated the only exit.

It was locked, of course.

All of a sudden, the first part of the Ouija board message made total sense: D-G-N was dungeon and V-M-P must be vampire. Somehow, a vampire had discovered that we were on the verge of uncovering his secret, so he’d kidnapped us.

Becky, Kevin and I beat on the door until our hands were scratched and bruised. The dungeon contained only a rough wooden chair and table with the hand mirror from my bedroom sitting on top; how did that get here? No time to think about that. I poked at the keyhole with the handle of the mirror to no avail. Lock picking really isn’t as simple as it looks in the movies, and all I managed to do was break the mirror.

We lay back against the wall, the only sound apart from exhausted panting. I was thinking about the Ouija board and, with a snap, the next bit of the message became clear.

“Hey guys, B-E-G-S-T-K-L means Becky, ghost, kill! B-E for Becky, G-S-T ghost, and K-L is kill. It’s obvious! When Becky’s a ghost, she can pass through the door and open it from the other side.”

“What? Whoa, Amanda! That’s a bit drastic, don’t you think? The letters could spell anything: begin, strike, lock—we ought to start hitting the lock with, erm…” Becky petered out. “With something.”

It seemed so completely logical to me, but I didn’t have time to convince the others. I grabbed a shard of the broken mirror and plunged it into Becky’s chest. Kevin watched with huge eyes as I pushed harder, cutting my own hand too.

Becky’s body went limp, and after a few moments, I detected a faint wispy shape oozing out of her. It was her ghost, just like the Ouija board had said. It looked at its body and seemed to sigh.

I pointed at the door, and Becky drifted out of the dungeon towards the keys hanging on the far wall. I held my breath as she reached for them.

And then her hand passed right through the keys. She turned and shrugged.

I looked at Kevin, and in a flash, the rest of the message came into focus: Z-M-K—Zombie Kevin. Of course! A zombie would be strong enough to defeat the vampire.

I sliced the broken glass across Kevin’s throat—not too deep, I didn’t want his head to fall off. He gurgled, then became very still. After what felt like hours, he twitched and slowly sat up.

“Right, Becky, make some noise to bring the vampire down here. Kevin can grab him when he comes in.”

I threw the chair against the door, breaking it into pieces but barely marking the door. I grabbed one of the legs to use as a weapon. Kevin moaned in the corner, but he was doing his best, bless him.

The plan worked. The door opened, and there he was. Long white fangs, blazing red eyes, black cape—the whole shebang. I held up the mirror handle cross in an attempt to slow him down.

“What’s all the crashing? What are you lot up to?” There was something familiar about his voice. Then he shouted, “What the –? Martha, call an ambulance!”

The vampire morphed and, for a moment, looked like Dad. Was my dad the vampire, or was this some mind trick to fool me into submitting to his will?

I took no chances and shoved Kevin at him. He was a bit slow to grab the vampire, but somehow, they ended up getting entangled. I stabbed the broken chair leg into the vampire’s chest. The bloodsucker struggled for a few moments before expiring with a gasp. I expected him to collapse into a pile of dust, but the body just lay there on top of Kevin.

We’d done it. We’d opened the dungeon and killed the vampire. Before we could make our escape, something else materialized to block the exit.

“What’s that about an ambulance?” A pause. “What have you done to your father?” The voice had started quietly but ended on a choked-off shriek.

A light flashed in my mind. I saw Mom at the door. And Becky, Kevin and Dad slumped on the floor. And blood dripping from my hands and seeping into the carpet. And the Ouija board, and a bubbled pattern in the varnish that looked like a laughing demon. The demon winked at me, then the flash faded. I was back in the dungeon again.

The werewolf that had once been my mother lifted her fur-covered head and howled. Demonic laughter echoing in my ears, I grabbed the broken mirror, hoping the handle really was silver, and launched my attack.

L.N. Hunter is a fledgling author who occasionally masquerades as a software developer, with publications in Rosette Maleficarum, Machine, Obscura, Trickster's Treats 3, and IEEE Transactions on Neural Networks. When not writing code or prose, L.N. unwinds in a disorganised home in rural Cambridgeshire, UK, with two cats and a soulmate. Not forgetting the shelves overflowing with Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Tom Sharpe, Peter F. Hamilton, and many more.


Flame Tree Live Event

Our authors Glenn Rolfe and Brian Moreland went live in May and we are pleased to be sharing this with you now! Go and watch them chat about their latest novels and share advice for aspiring writers HERE.

FLAME TREE PRESS | After Sundown Announcement 

We’re delighted to present the contents list for our upcoming FLAME TREE PRESS Horror anthology, After Sundown, in collaboration with the editor Mark Morris. Available from October 2020 (in time for Halloween!), this new anthology contains 20 original horror stories, 16 of which have been commissioned from some of the top names in the genre, and 4 of which have been selected from the 100s of stories sent to Flame Tree during a 2-week open submissions window. It is the first of what will hopefully become an annual, non-themed horror anthology of entirely original stories, showcasing the very best short fiction that the genre has to offer

The City Among the Stars by Francis Carsac, Until Summer Comes Around by Glenn Rolfe and Tomb of Gods by Brian Moreland