Seventeenth Issue! Earth Suckers
Welcome to the seventeenth issue of the Flame Tree Fiction NEWSLETTER! This month there were so many great stories submitted for the Sci-Fi and Horror flash fiction and we hope you enjoy reading our two favourites here! We're sorry that we couldn't pick all of them but thank you so much to all of you who took part. The themes for last month were Hollow Earth and Blood Suckers!
This month's newsletter features:
- Original Sci-Fi Flash Fiction: Population Control by Tricia Lowther
- Original Horror Flash Fiction: Dorment DNA by John H. Dromey
- FLAME TREE PRESS - February Releases
Original Sci-Fi Story
Vikki Stevenson had joined the army for a steady wage. It was one of the few good jobs left in England. She hadn’t expected it to end like this.
She was halfway down the gangway on the hot, overcrowded carriage, hurtling into darkness, when she broke all her own rules.
A girl seated next to the aisle was dipping her fingers into a small, bright yellow packet. It had been ages since Vikki had seen a bag of sweets and she spoke without thinking. “What’ve you got there?”
The girl’s shoulders hunched and her head sunk forward. She was skinny, all long, mousey hair around a pale face, looked about twelve. Vikki had trained herself not to make eye contact on the job. She usually spoke to the space just in front of someone’s nose, but the fact that this girl didn’t want to look at her made Vikki curious.
She spoke again. “What are you eating, kid?”
Keeping her head down, the girl slowly raised the packet.
Jesus Christ, how old must they be? A whole range of products had disappeared years ago under the Minimal Consumption Act. No more plastic packaging. No more frivolities. Only essentials. For most people anyway.
Vikki took the packet and looked for a sell-by-date. Yep, the kid was eating five year old MewMews. Ugh. Vikki nodded toward the woman with her eyes closed in the neighbouring seat. She was dark-skinned, wore headphones. “That your Mum?”
The girl shook her head. Feeling an irrational need to hear her voice, Vikki asked, “What’s your name?”
The girl glanced at Vikki then back at her knees. She answered quietly. “Iris.”
Vikki’s mouth twitched. “Nice name. My daughter was called Lily. She was about your age when– Where’s your family?”
Iris folded her arms around her body, mumbled. “Tobovirus.”
Something in Vikki’s chest unfurled, but she was here to work. She made her way front-centre.
The red jacket and pillbox hat that gave her the look of an air hostess made Vikki want to inform passengers, The emergency exits do not exist. Instead, she plastered on her red-lipped smile.
“Welcome to the first leg of your journey to Agartha. I’m your guide, Victoria.” She regurgitated immaterial health and safety guidelines, recommended chewing and swallowing to relieve ear pressure, and lied about what to expect.
“This shuttle travels two point seven miles underground.” She checked her watch. “In just over five minutes time we will arrive at one of the largest known subterranean bodies of water: Lake Telos. There, we will be greeted by an Agarthan craft, named Anglo-Aragathi. The craft will surface from underwater – an unforgettable sight – from there you will be transported to the New World.”
Excited chatter filled the carriage. Finally, as it was becoming increasingly uninhabitable, the Earth was being evacuated. ‘Topsiders’ were being given refuge in a new land that existed inside the planet.
The recent announcement by world leaders and scientists had been supported by reams of photographic and video evidence. It was indisputable. The Earth was hollow. It was now believed that numerous planets were hollow. Furthermore, incredibly, Inner Earth supported an advanced yet ancient civilisation. Agartha was unbelievable, but, people were assured, real. It’s inhabitants lived in permanent daylight under a central sun at the Earth’s core. Agarthians had long kept their existence a secret from most humans, but in light of the surface climate crisis they had agreed to take in large numbers of refugees.
Passengers showered Vikki with questions that they could have googled earlier.
“If Agarthan technology is so superior to ours why don’t our mobiles work?” This from a young guy in row three.
Vikki directed her answers to the air above people’s heads, but still she caught the flash of Iris’s moss green eyes.
“Mobile phones are topside technology and don’t work this far underground. Inner Earth technology is different to ours.” She injected fake enthusiasm into her voice. “Once you’re onboard the Anglo-Aragathi, you’ll see exactly what I mean.”
A snort from behind her quickly turned into a cough. Vikki flicked a glance at Dan, the new recruit, now stock still in front of the doors, gun across his chest, every inch the guard. She’d have a word with him later.
Vikki had known their mission wouldn’t be easy, but it was hard beyond anything she’d expected. Strangely, the image that tormented her daily – Lily’s lips, turning a purplish-blue as she struggled for breath, helped. Why should anyone else’s child survive?
“If it’s so great, why don’t you live there?” A woman near the centre.
Vikki suppressed a sigh. She should be horrified at herself, but she was bored, bored of the routine, bored of answering the same questions over and over. What happened at the bottom though, that didn’t bore her.
The shuttle pulled to a halt and Vikki stood aside as people disembarked. When Iris reached her she put a hand on the kid’s shoulder. “Could you stay back, please? I need to check something.”
Iris’s eyes widened but she moved to let others pass.
There were gasps as people exited. The tracks ended in a huge cavern where floodlights shone across a vast black lake, a small hut the only other sign of human activity.
It was impressive. Vikki could easily imagine an Agarthan craft rising from the depths.
It was hot too. People tugged at collars and shrugged off outer garments. They lined up around the lake and faced it, as instructed.
A squad of shadows emerged from the hut and Vikki stepped back into the brightly-lit shuttle shaking her head at Dan’s look. “Not this one.”
Motioning to Iris to sit down, Vikki took a pair of ear defenders from the overhead rack and handed them to her. Then she sat next to the kid and held her trembling hand. They’d work something out.
The carriage shook with the roar of gunfire as for the fifth time that day, the surface of Lake Telos shattered.
Tricia Lowther grew up in Liverpool, and now lives in Durham, England. She has had flash fiction, poetry and short stories published across different genres including venues such as The NoSleep Podcast, Speculative City and The Third Corona Book of Horror Stories. She reads widely and has developed a particular fondness for dystopian sci-fi. Her favourite authors include Margaret Atwood, Claire North, and N. K. Jemisin. Tricia was a winner in the Creative Future literary awards, 2017. She tweets at @TrishLowt
Original Horror Story
John H. Dromey
A few kilometres from the village of Waterloo, the cannons fell silent. The sound of fusillades faded. The smoke cleared. The epic battle was over.
The time had come for Pierre Leroux to commence his illicit, deadly harvest. His tools were simple—a pair of pliers and a large, leather pouch.
As he stooped over his first unwitting donor, a troubling thought crossed Pierre’s mind. What effect would the sudden availability of an almost unimaginably large supply of high-quality human teeth have on the price he’d receive for a product that was generally in short supply for wholesalers and in great demand by denture makers?
He decided there was nothing he could do about that. He’d worry about marketing later. In the meantime, Pierre concentrated on doing his job. He followed his usual routine. It was tiring, repetitive, mind-numbing work. His back ached and his hands threatened to cramp. In a carnival setting, his movements could have been mistaken for those of an automaton.
Then something happened that wrenched the gatherer from his trancelike state.
Pierre manually parted the lips of one of the fallen. He was mesmerized by what he saw. At first glance, the teeth appeared to be perfect—without stain or blemish of any sort. He paused briefly to admire his precious find. The canines were elongated, but those could be filed down if necessary. He resumed his ghoulish task with renewed energy. He pried apart the stubborn jaws and extracted thirty-two pristine specimens. He placed them in a separate pouch so they would not become separated.
It was time to take a breather. As soon as he straightened up, Pierre reflected on his latest discovery. Almost at once, he realized there was a serious anomaly. He had dealt with corpses in almost every conceivable condition. This body, however, seemed to possess qualities not shared with the other casualties of the combat. Those who fell in the recent battle had slack-jawed, gaping mouths. They also had wide-open eyes with enlarged pupils.
Pierre carefully surveyed the body of the man with perfect teeth. The torso was mostly shaded by the shattered remains of a caisson. A large, splintered shard of wood protruded from the chest of the recumbent form. An unseemly amount of blood was pooled nearby. Instead of a uniform, the stranger wore dark, civilian clothing supplemented by a long cloak with a cowl which partially hid the upper part of his face.
The tooth-robber used the tip of his pliers to lift the edge of the hood.
The eyes of the supposed corpse flew open.
Pierre took a hasty step backwards.
The toothless entity said something in Flemish. When his overture was met with a blank stare, he switched to French.
“I am Valentin. Last night, I visited a bivouac to feed on the sleeping soldiers. The feast was so satisfying, I stayed overlong at their encampment. Shortly before dawn, to avoid discovery, I took shelter in the only place I could find. I did not anticipate this rickety ammunition wagon would bring me to my doom.”
“Did you steal from the rations supplied by the quartermaster?”
“No, I fed on the life’s blood of individual fusiliers, lancers, and cannoneers. Sips only. I did not drain a fatal amount from anyone there.”
“Are there others like you?”
“There were once, but no longer. I am the sole surviving member of my clan. I have yet to choose a worthy successor. Now, you have robbed me of that power.”
Pierre was nonplussed. He knew not what to say or do. He stood perfectly still and stared.
“By way of reparation, you may grant me a boon,” Valentin said. “Drag my body into an open space where I can be touched by the morning sun, if you please.”
Pierre saw no harm in fulfilling the blood sucker’s last request. He took hold of Valentin’s ankles. As he tugged, he noticed the wooden stake wobbled erratically and apparently did some further damage. The body went limp.
The tooth collector decided to keep the set of perfect teeth for his personal use if ever he had need of dentures. He did not.
Instead, the treasured teeth—stored inside a compact jewellery box—became part of Pierre’s estate.
Generations later, René Leroux inherited his fifth-great grandfather’s morbid legacy.
The key had long since gone missing, but René managed to pick the lock.
He was intrigued by what he found.
At the same time, he was inspired by what he’d lost—his six front teeth—in a rugby match played without a mouthguard, in a bare-knuckled fight with a bully, or perhaps to the avaricious zeal of a renegade tooth fairy. His excuse varied considerably, depending on who saw him without his temporary bridge in place.
Timing is everything. Invited to a costume party a fortnight hence, René decided to have a selection of the heirloom teeth fashioned into a replacement bridge. He’d go to the gala as Dracula and flash the extra-long canines to good effect.
He got the new bridge at the last minute.
At the party, Dracula approached Little Bo Peep and said, with his mouth open wide, “I want to drink your blood.”
“Sure,” she said, holding out her hand. “Provided you help me look for my lost sheep.”
René closed his mouth. The canines pierced his lower lip. Instantaneously, his body reacted with a prolonged frisson. He licked the blood that bubbled up. It tasted… delicious! He longed for more. He felt a tickling sensation along the gumline in the front of his mouth. He reached up with his free hand to remove the bridge, but it would not budge. The roots of the borrowed teeth had burrowed into the roof of his mouth.
The bright lights bothered him. He led his escort out onto a dark balcony. Even in the semidarkness, he could see the pulsing of her carotid artery.
An inviting target, he opened his mouth and leaned forward.
René was no longer pretending.
John H. Dromey was born in northeast Missouri, USA. He enjoys reading—mysteries in particular—and writing in a variety of genres. He’s had short fiction published in 50-Word Stories (Tim Sevenhuysen’s website), Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly Magazine, Stupefying Stories Showcase, Thriller Magazine, Unfit Magazine, and elsewhere, as well as in numerous anthologies including Chilling Horror Short Stories (Flame Tree Publishing, 2015). He also contributed a short story to Twenty Twenty: Australian Bushfires Charity Edition (Black Hare Press) to be published in late February 2020.
FLAME TREE PRESS | February Releases
We are so excited to be announcing the upcoming release of three brand new FLAME TREE PRESS titles! We have The Garden of Bewitchment, a horror by Catherine Cavendish, set in 1893, two women leave their home in a Yorkshire town for life in a rural retreat on their beloved moors. But when a strange toy garden mysteriously appears, a chain of increasingly terrifying events is unleashed! The second is a fantasy novel called The Goblets Immortal by Beth Overmyer; the perfect magical tale for fans of elves, goblins and mages! The Third and final February release is a sci-fi by Michael R. Johnston called The Blood-Dimmed Tide and it's the sequel to The Widening Gyre; reclaiming Earth from the Zhen was only the first battle. Now Tajen Hunt and his fellow colonists must fight for their fledgling colony’s survival. Tajen’s mission to seek aid from the Kelvaki Assembly is cut short when the Zhen invade Earth. Now he, Liam, and Kiri must return to Earth and liberate the colony from brutal occupation. When Tajen learns the Zhen plan to destroy a human fleet amassing in preparation to help Earth, he and his crew must escape the planet once more and warn them.You can preorder these now!