Twenty-Third Issue! Nightmare Shifters

Welcome to the Twenty-Third 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 August'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 Disturbing Nightmares and Shapeshifters!

This month's newsletter features:

  • Original Sci-Fi Flash Fiction: A Tool Shaped to Any Task by Deborah L. Davitt
  • Original Horror Flash Fiction: Unto Thee the Kingdom's Keys by H.L. Fullerton
  • FLAME TREE PRESS: August Releases


Original Sci-Fi Story

A Tool Shaped to Any Task

Deborah L. Davitt

The first thing you have to know is this: shapeshifting hurts.

When the nanites break you down from the inside out, dissolving and rebuilding your ligaments and muscle insertion points, it’s not fun. My limbs and vertebrae have been broken so many times, that looking at an X-ray, all I see is a mass of Lichtenberg fractals like those left by lightning in stone.

A biography in bone.

We don’t control it. We’re just tools, shaped for our current task. The Controllers need someone skinny enough to fit into a sewer pipe and find an obstruction—someone who can breathe what might laughably be termed water, too, once the plug is found and removed? Send a Shifter. Watch our ribs crack and contract, watch us gasp for air as our lungs squeeze miserably tight, watch us howl in agony as the gills sprout from our throats as the nanites force a localized regression to an early embryonic state.

The first Shifters were, I’m told, volunteers. People who thought they’d be serving their community, doing the things that robots weren’t smart enough to do, but were too dangerous for a normal human to attempt.

Then it replaced prison sentences. Then an alternative to exile on the surface, when humans moved into arcologies. Hives, built to house the buzzing human throng. It’s easier to control humans when they’re all in one, maybe two places per continent. It’s more secure, the Controller say through their media broadcasts, hinting at the dangers of attack by other humans.

Fear’s another fine method of control.

In practice, the nanites were only offered to the worst offenders—rapists, murderers, serial offenders. Who had to be controlled, see? Monitored every minute of the day. Their offenses added social stigma to the whole deal, and people who thought that this level of pain might not be a good thing to inflict on fellow humans got drowned out by the Schadenfreude chorus.

These days, it’s another story.

What’s the one thing this planet has a near-limitless surplus of?

Yeah. People.

And for those of us who were young and without job skills (how do you get a job without skills; how do you get skills without a job?) and an endless line at the Job Office followed by an equally endless line at the Universal Income Office, waiting for people older than us to just die so that we could get something entry-level . . . well. The recruitment ads sounded like the pay would outweigh the social stigma.

Which is what brings me to today. Twenty years into a thirty-year contract.
My body contracts (hear the ribs crack, feel spleen cleave to liver); lengthens (the vertebrae sing agony along the stretching spinal cord).

I’m used to the pain, but the people watching aren’t—they pull back, repulsed, as my limbs flop uselessly to my sides as the nanites repurpose muscle fibers from them to wrap my torso in rings of flesh. “Doesn’t it hurt?” a man quavers.

I don’t bother to respond. Instead, wormlike, I inch my way down through the arcology’s information cable shaft.

Yes, there are cables here. Everything could be wireless, but the Controllers know that the Stream can be hacked so much more easily that way—a hard connection is inherently more secure. While their connection to me and my nanites is wireless, the Stream in each home in this arcology is just one node along giant fiber cables.

My right hand, the only part of me left under my own control, curls into a fist as I edge almost bonelessly down the shaft, twining around the cables.

A message from the Controllers flares across my retinas: Four more floors, and then you’ll be at the server core.

“Are you machines, or are you humans?” I ask out loud, still edging down. I know they can hear me through the resonance of my voice conducting through my bones. The nanites will pick that up.

Which is why those of us in the Resistance make it a habit not to speak out loud, and trade our messages written on old-fashioned paper.

That, too, is more secure.

But they don’t answer.

I’ve asked that question before—first, when I was young, and I’d just gotten the nanites. In the hope that this was a two-way partnership. That there was someone to talk to on the other end of all the orders, someone to keep me company as, gills opening and closing along my throat, I descended without oxygen into the frigid depths of an oceanic abyss to repair ancient cables that lay buried below.

I’d asked again when I was older, and I’d grown weary of the way normal humans pulled back from me and stared, weary of my eternal pariah state. Hoping that I’d served long enough, faithfully enough, to be rewarded with a moment of human connection.

Every time, the reply had been silence. Does a hand talk to the hammer it holds? Or does it simply wield it?

I was a tool, shaped to whatever task the Controllers desired. It had taken decades for them to trust me with a task this important—repairs to the Stream cores themselves. The datalinks that keep the human hive buzzing along, every system from the oxygen filtration to the power clusters, and, of course, the all-important commands for the nanite swarms in every Shifter’s blood.

My right hand, under my control, palms the memory card hidden in one of my pockets, dropped there by another Resistance member. No words exchanged at the time; I knew what to do.

And so, deep in the bowels of the building, I uploaded the virus to the cores. Within a day or two, the nanites will no longer control us.

We’ll control them.

And then we’ll have a chat with our former Controllers. No matter how far through the building or the earth’s own crust we have to burrow. We’ll find them.

And hold them to account.

Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Nevada, but currently lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and son. Her poetry has received Rhysling, Dwarf Star, and Pushcart nominations and has appeared in over fifty journals, including F&SF and Asimov’s Science Fiction. Her short fiction has appeared in Galaxy’s Edge and Flame Tree anthologies. For more about her work, including her Edda-Earth novels and her poetry collection, The Gates of Never, please see


Original Horror Story

Unto Thee the Kingdom's Keys

H.L. Fullerton

You know that dream you have? The one everyone has. With the long dark hallway stretching in front of you. Where you run and run because something, you're not sure what, is chasing you. And your breath bellows and your heart thumps in time to the crashing of your sneakered feet. Then suddenly in front of you appears a door. What number do you see as you pound and gasp and pray? In that split second before you lunge awake, safe in your bed and think, Thank God, just a dream. Tell me the number on that door.

This isn't the dream; don't worry. This is the part where I catch you. Save the screams and tell me the number.

You look like a 400. 420ish, maybe 440. Somewhere in that range. I hope you're not a 452; everyone's a 452, so many 452s. I've collected plenty already.

I don't think you are. You have that special look about you--a thrill of kindness in the eyes, a certain warmth of mouth. And the way your veins ladder your forearms is a dead giveaway: the cure to my 501 blues.

Though I've been wrong before.

I'd rather not be wrong about you.

Stop struggling. You're chained up so tight Houdini wishes he were you. Cough up the key and I'll be on my way.

'What key? What key?' Always the same boring bore. Wastes time, mine and yours. That little piece of God spirited inside your bone and sinew. The key to your dream door. That key.

The preachers lie, but Levi Strauss knew: God isn't in everyone. Just a chosen few. And He didn't send His son. He sent Himself. Tore His soul into tiny bits and stuffed it in His chosen followers. Stuffed it into you.

Wake up. Heaven can't be accessed by a stairway. It's series of locked doors. Five hundred and one to be exact. Five hundred unique keys per Chosen and one universal for everyone else. Collect the keys, unlock the doors, and win the kingdom.

It's okay if you're a plebian 452. Just tell me. If I have to find out for myself, you won't like that. If you thought waking up to seeing looming old me was bad... Sorry sleepyhead, it only gets worse once I start searching.

Thing is, there's no telling where a key will hide. Sometimes you have to dig for it. I found 127 secreted in a kidney stone. 236 was tucked inside the eleventh rib of a guy named Adam. Funny, huh? Like maybe God does have a sense of humor--even if He is a slippery son of a bitch. But fifty-one more keys and I'll walk through His doors and own Him. Fifty, if I get lucky with you and I'm hoping I do.

God put the first one in Jesus who gave it to Peter. Matthew 16:19.

Don't know it?

His soul is wasted in you. 'And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.'

That's the important part: the loosening. I plan to be loosed. Slip free of these bonds and tear down those Gates. Open those fuckers up and rule.

Are you ready to stop whimpering and tell me your number? No? I thought we were bonding here. I thought we shared a moment. Don't you get it? I'm setting you free. (Here on Earth. Not in Heaven. Heaven's mine.) The least you could do is thank me.

You've carried this key around so long you don't realize what a burden it is. I was like you once. All compassion and heartache. Sweat and blood and confined flesh. But I searched inside myself. I cut deep. Sliced myself open and found my first key. Sweet, sweet sixteen.

It was a surprise; I won't lie. Sure, you hear about souls, but you never expect to see one, not yours, all shiny and glowing--shaped like a house key. And suddenly all those nightmares about doors and hallways make sense. Just wait. If you hang on long enough, you'll be amazed, too.

I think you'll survive. You have that strength of character people talk about but never really understand. Some of that's the key. I can smell it now. That raunchy metallic odor. It's almost eclipsed by your sweaty fear stench, but the basenote is all key. We're close, very close.

I can almost feel your door. Can you hear it pounding? Knock, knock, knocking against Heaven's doors? Makes my brain buzz.

It'd make my night if I could pull two keys out of you--that's never happened, you know. Quick, describe your door.

Tut. You're as stubborn as the 310s. That's okay. I still need 317.

Shhhh. Almost there. One more snap/crackle/pop...

Come out, come out wherever you are.

Little key, little key...LET. ME. IN.

H.L. Fullerton lives in New York State; writes fiction—mostly speculative, occasionally about murderers; uses words instead of emoticons; likes semi-colons and the occasional interrobang; might be in trouble with prepositions; loves lists and bullet points; believes apostrophes are commas gone wild; saves dangling participles; has published more than 50 short stories in places like Lackington's, Gorgon: Stories of Emergence, and Flame Tree's Crime & Mystery Short Stories as well as authored the aptly named novella, The Boy Who Was Mistaken for a Fairy King. On Twitter as @ByHLFullerton


FLAME TREE PRESS | August Releases

We had four fantastic FLAME TREE PRESS titles publishing in August. First up we have an exciting new sci-fi by Jason Parent called The Apocolypse Strain: A study of an ancient pandoravirus called "Molli" at a remote Siberian research facility, reveals in the organic substance some unique but troublesome characteristics, qualities that, in the wrong hands, could lead to human extinction...the virus has a mind of its own, and it wants out!

Next we have a horror novel from author JG Faherty called Sins of the Father: Henry Gilman has spent years trying to separate himself from his father’s legacy of murder and insanity. Now he has the chance – all he has to do is figure out who’s been killing people in Innsmouth, but soon he’s caught in a web of danger, with the undead stalking the streets at night, a terrible monster lurking below the city, and a prophecy of destruction about to come true!

A CWA anthology with a difference, celebrating members’ work over the years demonstrating the evolution of the crime short story during the CWA’s existence, Vintage Crime gathers stories from the mid-1950s until the twenty-first century.

Last but not least we have the sequel to Stoker's Wilde Steven Hopstaken and Melissa Prusi's, Stoker's Wilde West: Thinking they have put their monster-hunting days behind them, Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker return to their normal lives. But when their old ally Robert Roosevelt and his nephew Teddy find a new nest of vampires, they are once again pulled into the world of the supernatural, this time in the American West!

These are publishing now available and you can get your copy from select online retailers or on our website here!