Twenty-Fourth Issue! Demonic Precognition
Welcome to the Twenty-Fourth 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 September's Sci-Fi and Horror
This month's newsletter features:
- Original Sci-Fi Flash Fiction: What Past May Come by Rhonda Eikamp
- Original Horror Flash Fiction: Cragen by Catherine McCarthy
- FLAME TREE PRESS: September Releases
Original Sci-Fi Story
What Past May Come
She knew she didn't know. She didn't know she knew.
Trevor paused, watching the elderly woman from the doorway. He'd come to ask his question, the all-important question, but now the thought terrified him. The nursing home's shabbiness was a shock, having gone from livable to filth since his last visit, a reflection of the last-gasp chaos of the world outside. The dirt confused her. Trevor contemplated finding a nurse to yell at, but he'd seen only a few hurrying shapes at the ends of halls, their wages probably cut off weeks ago, those who hadn't fled when the world started to burn remaining only out of the goodness of their hearts.
"Morning, Claire," he said. Please tell me what you don't know you know.
The woman didn't answer. She picked up a holovibe figurine, its smartplasticine reshaping at her touch, cycling through her family members, but she only frowned. Her memories were other memories.
She obeyed, studying Trevor's face. "Are you my brother Devin?" Embarrassed. She knew she didn't know.
"No, Claire. But I need you to listen. I have a question."
The only question left. The one thing Trevor had to know, now, before the end.
In the heyday of Claire Murtaugh, the only known precog in the world, questions had not been necessary. Vicinity was enough, her altered mind – soaring god-knew-where through vast futures – honing in on the person in front of her, on their personal tragedy, or – if none awaited – on some greater calamity. Always tragedies. The Deqen earthquakes. The G6 bombing. Trevor remembered her screams. Broken from the day she ingested the synthetic superpsilocin the two of them had developed in their research as neurobiologists, never suspecting its synapse-rescrambling potential. A year of hell as she was bombarded with devastating visions, hounded by the media once it got out, eighth wonder of the world, while he broke too, destroyed their samples and data, dying a little every time her prophecies came true.
A year, and then her brain – by some self-protective mechanism Trevor and his colleagues hadn't understood – flooded itself with the plaques typical of Alzheimer's and Claire Murtaugh became...this.
She leaned across to touch his knee. "I remember you. We played on the beach and it caught fire."
"Yes. We played on the beach and now it's going up in flames."
"Are you that boy from down the lane?"
The precognition tangled with her own memories now. Absurd images hiding kernels of truth. Delphic, was the word he'd used to reporters back then. The confused and confusing oracle, whose auguries needed interpreting and usually couldn't be. Usually. The wonder of the world became forgotten, her existence half-disbelieved. Over the years someone would occasionally report a Claire Murtaugh prophecy that came true, and the precog would be in the news again for awhile. The caretaker she'd rambled to about her Louisiana childhood, how she'd watched alligators crawl up the riverbanks. One came up and ate that tin can and all the people in it. The next day had been the Moonshot shuttle crash, thousands of colonists dead. The president a decade ago, mindful of history, who arranged to meet Claire. Trevor had been present for that one – in the one chair the elderly woman, brilliant leader of the free world, and across from her the much older woman, senile with the knowledge of the world's future. We grew up together, didn't we? Claire had asked the president. Remember when we saw that colt kick that boy in the head? Killed him, but it broke its own leg. They had to shoot it. The president had shaken her head at Trevor and shrugged. Two days later the bodies had been found. The president's son, in a double suicide, having shot his husband and then himself.
From far back in the nursing home came a scream then sobs, people running. New bad news, or looters breaking in.
Ask now. His limbs felt leaden with dread. "We're taking off from the beach, Claire." From the world burning. War, disease, the detritus of mistakes. The four horsemen, worse than any precog apostle could have envisioned. "We've built generational ships –" She frowned. "Very, very big tin cans." Twelve ships from twelve nations, lifting from the moon in staggered launches. Ten thousand people each. "The last one leaves tomorrow." Courtney would be on it, one of the astrophysicists. He'd never see her again, too old to go himself. The thought tore him to shreds inside. Trevor still thought of Courtney as a little girl, flying down the sidewalk on her bike. He wouldn't cry. "I need to know, Claire." Please, for once, not a tragedy. "Tell me if they'll be all right, those ships." Humanity's seed. "Whether they'll find a home."
The word home made her smile. "So full of energy. She'd hear that ice-cream truck before anyone else, like a sixth sense, and she'd run out the door ahead of us. I was always afraid she'd get hit by a car." Now he did start to cry. No, no that, not a crash. "One day he was selling balloons and we bought her one. When it slipped from her hand and went up and up I thought she'd cry, but she looked so happy. She said, Now it's free." Claire leaned suddenly forward, intent on Trevor. "Are you my husband?"
"Yes, Claire, I am."
With a wrinkled finger she wiped a tear from Trevor's face. He stroked her hand, the papery skin. Free. Behind them the shouts grew louder. He should pack her bag, get her out, but it was too late for them both. "What happened to the balloon, Claire?"
"It went on and on, past the moon and sun." She gazed out the flyspecked window. "Past lots of suns. It landed in heaven and heaven was green."
Peace flooded him. It was enough, knowing. The shouts had become gunshots. He'd wait for the end here with her.
She turned back, frowning. "Are you my doctor?"
Rhonda Eikamp was born and raised in Texas and now lives in Germany, land of fast cars and fairy tales, where she explores the labyrinths of German syntax as a translator for a law firm. Her short stories have appeared in Lackington's, Apparition Lit, Gorgon: Stories of Emergence, and she collaborated in the annihilation of SF in Lightspeed's Women Destroy Science Fiction. Links to stories available online can be found at her sadly abandoned blog here.
Original Horror Story
The death of the bird was an omen.
Elun’s labour had been long and hard. Home at last, and exhausted beyond belief, I flicked the light switch and stepped into the hall.
Blood. Everywhere. Pale-cream carpet spattered rust, and red rain down the walls. The house was a murder scene. Scattered feathers, and in the crib, the headless corpse of a nuthatch. As I whipped off the sheet, something scratched my thumb. On the bare mattress lay an auger shell, pointed tip sharp as a needle. I shovelled up the rigid corpse and wrapped it in a bin-liner. Where was its head? Elun would freak if it wasn’t found. Beneath our bed, a blank eye stared, pitifully.
My mobile rang.
‘You home, hun?’
I swallowed hard. ‘Just got in,’ I said.
‘Hey, Mark. Aren’t we the luckiest people on earth?’
‘We are, babe,’ I said, cursing Casper under my breath. ‘Listen, El, must dash. I’m desperate to pee.’
It had gone midnight by the time I finished scrubbing the blood-stains. Fully-clothed, I drifted to sleep, only to be awoken in the early hours by the sound of the cat-flap.
Lily was eight months old when she first encountered the sea. Tiny pink toes flexed and extended in anticipation of the rolling waves. My beautiful daughter; our miracle. She was inquisitive, fearless, and we fretted over her like a pair of adult goshawks.
A photograph taken that day sits in a frame decorated with sea-shells. I love that photo, but hate the frame. I want to smash the shells to dust.
But Elun won’t let me. Deep down she blames me for what happened.
By the age of two, Lily wore a halo of golden curls. She loved the beach and her magic jar filled with cockles and clams, winkles and whelks. She learned to count with those shells. Sorted them, drew pictures. Wherever Lily went, a trail of shells followed.
She’d loved Casper, too, but he was killed on her first birthday. A trickle of blood and a broken oyster shell embedded in his front paw.
He died because she was jealous.
One lunch time, when she had just turned five, Lily said, ‘Cragen would like a sandwich, too, Daddy.’ She sat there, a strand of ham dangling from her mouth.
‘Who’s Cragen?’ I asked.
‘My friend,’ she said, pointing towards the vacant chair.
‘Imaginary friend,’ Elun mouthed.
Wherever Lily went, Cragen went, too.
They’d skip down the street hand in hand, share an ice-cream. Lily even made space for Cragen in bed. The longer it went on, the more concerned I became. ‘When will she grow out of this, El?’ I asked.
‘Stop fretting. Lots of girls her age have an imaginary friend,’ Elun said.
Her words put my mind at rest.
Until the doll incident.
For Lily’s seventh birthday, we commissioned a special doll, a replica of Elun as a child.
And Lily was besotted.
One evening, I discovered Lily curled in a ball, crying the rain. There on her bed was the doll. Ruined. Felted face slashed, woollen stuffing poking through in tufts. ‘Cragen did it,’ she sobbed.
By the age of eleven, Lily had changed from a happy-go-lucky child into a withdrawn and sullen monster. She’d stopped mentioning Cragen, yet I often caught her whispering, and she still kept to one half of the bed. She was constantly on edge. All skinny hips and chiselled cheekbones. Elun planned a shopping trip, but Lily refused to go.
‘I hate shopping,’ she said. ‘I’d rather stick pins in my eyes.’ Then she pushed back her chair and left the table.
An hour later Lily reappeared fresh from the shower, damp hair clinging to her shoulders and pale complexion glowing—ethereal, fragile. She sat on the sofa, and huddled close to the arm. I watched Lily pretending to watch T.V. Expressionless. Hardly blinking.
‘Hey, kiddo. How about a scavenge on the beach tomorrow?’
‘Okay,’ she said, hesitantly.
Before she went to bed she planted a kiss, light as a feather, on my forehead. If I concentrate hard, I can still sense her lips. A distant scent of salty brine as she walked away. And on the seat of the sofa, a damp stain and a strand of seaweed.
I’ll never forget the expression on Lily’s face as Elun said goodbye the following morning.
‘I love you, Mum,’ she said, ‘and I’m sorry.’
‘I’ll bring you back a present,’ Elun said.
‘I won’t be needing anything,’ Lily answered.
In retrospect, her words should have sounded a warning.
After an hour or so scavenging in rock pools we were exhausted, so sprawled on beach towels, faces to the sun. ‘Hey, kiddo,’ I said. ‘Want to tell me what’s been bothering you?’
She stiffened. ‘I’m scared, Dad,’ she said.
‘Scared of what, Lil?’
A moment’s silence, then a whisper, ‘Of her.’
And the scent of seaweed filled my head.
‘I’ll get ice-cream, then we can talk,’ I said.
And that was the last time I saw her—almost. The vacant towel, and on the shoreline, two silhouettes wading out to sea.
They held hands. Waist deep, the tips of Lily’s long curls skimmed the surface of the water, stealing its shimmer. Bright red bathing suit soaked to a bloody stain.
‘Lily!’ But the wind and waves swallowed my voice. I waded deeper, screaming her name.
Cragen turned and grinned. Strands of seaweed for hair. An exoskeleton of shell where should have been skin, glinting black pebbles for eyes. Cragen opened her mouth, and out scuttled a devil crab. It sidled down her scrawny neck, red eyes feasting on my distress.
Lily continued to face the sea. As her head disappeared beneath the surface I screamed her name.
Two days later, her body washed ashore. A tangle of seaweed and an oyster shell clutched in her fist.
The waves had brought her home. And stolen my heart.
Catherine McCarthy is a spinner of dark tales, often set in her native Wales. She has published two novels and a collection of stories, and is soon to publish her new novel, The Wolf and the Favour. Her stories have been published in anthologies such as Graveyard Smash, Infected 2, and Diabolica Britannica, and earlier this year she won the Aberystwyth University Imagining Utopias prize.
FLAME TREE PRESS | September Releases
First up we have an exciting new sci-fi by Allen Stroud called Fearless:
Next we have a horror novel from author Hunter Shea called Misfits: A group of friends decides to take matters into their own hands when one of them is brutally raped by a drunk townie. Deep in the woods of the town live the Melon Heads, a race of creatures that shun human interaction and prey on those who dare to wander down Dracula Drive. Could two bands of misfits help each other?
We also have a new sci-fi by debut author Nadia Afifi called The Sentient: Amira Valdez is a brilliant neuroscientist trying to put her past on a religious compound behind her. But when she’s assigned to a controversial cloning project, her dreams of working in space are placed in jeopardy. Using her talents as a reader of memories, Amira uncovers a conspiracy to stop the creation of the first human clone – at all costs.
Last but not least we have the latest horror from Jonathan Janz, The Raven: Fearing that mankind is heading toward nuclear extinction, a group of geneticists unleash a plot to save the world. They’ve discovered that mythological creatures were once real and that these monstrous genetic strands are still present in human DNA, but how long can a man survive in a world full of monsters?
These are out now. You can get your copy from select online retailers or on our website here!