Fifteenth Issue! Slaughter Pirates
Welcome to the fifteenth issue of the FLAME TREE PRESS NEWSLETTER! We've got some amazing stories for you to get cozy and read in our flash fiction section! Thank you to everybody who took part and submitted their wonderful tales to us, we're sorry that there could only be two final selections. The themes for last month were Slaughter House and Space Pirates!
This month's newsletter features:
- Original Sci-Fi Flash Fiction: Stella Flare in the Crosshairs of Apocalypse by E J Delaney
- Original Horror Flash Fiction: Skin Deep by Linda J. Marshall
- FLAME TREE PRESS - January Releases
Original Science Fiction Story
Stella Flare in the Crosshairs of Apocalypse
E J Delaney
The ship on screen darts away. We give chase. There’s more to this story but for now it’s enough to be out here among the comets and dust clouds, in the ocean of stars.
It’s enough to have scented blood.
We pirates have but one creed: the universe is made of booty.
But there are subsets. Make a name for yourself, is one. Be the Captain Slaughter of tomorrow.
Every buccaneer knows of Captain Slaughter; how he plundered the Spiral Galaxies and sent ill-gotten gains through a wormhole in space-time, addressed to his future self.
How he died before collecting.
To Slaughter, we toast today. To Slaughter’s last bequest!
Because Captain Slaughter left a treasure map in his eyepatch.
Now, making a name for yourself is one thing. Mine is Herring, and I’m not without a certain notoriety. But there’s a second rule: don’t be outwitted by ten-year-old girls.
A sexist remark, you might think, but practical. Because there is a ten-year-old girl and she’s had the better of us more times than I can count.
Her name is Stella Flare.
“It’s a map of the Spiral Galaxies,” the man in the hologram says. This is Stella Flare’s uncle, and he’s frowning at a projection of the galaxies in question. “No sign of any ‘x’, though.”
Like the wily old sea porpoise I am, I sewed video relays into the fabric of Captain Slaughter’s eyepatch. Yes, Stella Flare stole it, but I let it be stolen. Now we’re listening in while she and her uncle solve Captain Slaughter’s riddle for us.
Stella Flare is going to lead us to the treasure!
“That’s okay,” a voice replies. I can’t see her but it’s the voice of a ten-year-old girl with too much sass and a space-black birthmark on her cheek. She says:
“The riddle tells us everything we need.”
“Yes. You see that bit about the crosshairs of apocalypse? That means the Apocalypse Planetary System. You know? Famine; War; Pestilence; Death.”
The map zooms until it shows a white dwarf star orbited by four barren planets. It’s an old part of space, pallid in the dying light. But like her uncle said, there’s no ‘x’ in the hologram; just Captain Slaughter’s instructions scrawled mocking upon the dusty backdrop:
s°laughter’s last bequest
x marks the spot
buried treasure, me hearties
in the crosshairs of apocalypse
hoist and rejoice!
by the stars, jolly roger
such spoils for the asking
where bones mark the cloth
“There’s a glitch,” the man says. “Look, there: in ‘Slaughter’, between the ‘S’ and the ‘l’.”
The whole picture moves as Stella Flare shakes her head. She is, of course, wearing the eyepatch.
“That’s no glitch, Uncle Ray. It’s punctuation! According to my research, the fearsome Captain Slaughter was actually Captain S. Laughter. Sylvester, I believe. Or Sly to his friends.”
I signal Helmsman Ramson and we glide forward, picking up speed. Soon we’ll be within firing range.
“And this Laughter character, he thought it was funny to leave a map with no details?”
“There are details. The four planets. Crosshairs. The bones of the Jolly Roger. Don’t you see?”
“Oh, Uncle Ray. It’s simple. Think of Famine and Pestilence as a brace, and the same with War and Death.” Two yellow lines appear on the map, each connecting a pair of planets. “The dwarf star is the skull and those are the crossbones.”
“But they don’t cross.”
“Oh, but they do. Every ten-point-four years the planetary rotations line up just right. See?”
The map speeds into a time-lapse frenzy. After a while, all four planets dip below the notional horizon and the beams intersect.
“That’s what tethers the wormhole. That’s where—and when—the treasure will show up.”
And with that a hatred spreads through me, warm like rum.
“Mr Sung,” I growl. “Mr Chi, First Mate Turşu, detach and encircle. Gunner Onion, fire at will.”
With a chorus of Aye, Cap’n, my lieutenants break their attack modules clear and surge ahead, cannons blazing. Pink laser fire sears from our turrets.
Stella Flare rips the eyepatch free, but she’s too late. She’s led us here and the wormhole is opening, right where she said it would.
This is victory. This is where I make my name.
Okay, so she’s jinking about. Fair dues: the girl can fly. But we’ll get her in the end. Sung and Turşu cut to either side. Kim Chi circles around, boxing her in. Any moment now, she’ll be forced into the crosshairs.
And there’s the wormhole – a jagged, crackling maw. I’ll scoop the booty and pulverise the wunderkind, all in a day’s work. I’ll–
Suddenly she’s there in front of me, looking into the eyepatch.
Her face is large, her birthmark an ill-omened blot on the feed.
“There you are,” she says. “Ahoy! I just thought you should know: while you’ve been faffing about, you and your pirate friends have positioned yourself just beautifully to unlock Captain Laughter’s secondary wormhole; centred on my ship, I’m afraid.”
I snort. I try to sneer. But in my peripheral vision I catch Helmsman Ramson’s wince.
The brat smiles.
“That means I have the treasure.”
Sure enough, Ramson’s screen now shows not only the wormhole at the centre of the Apocalypse System’s skull and crossbones but also a second, smaller wormhole at the midpoint between our own four ships, conjured by our cat-and-mouse manoeuvres.
“Don’t worry,” Stella Flare winks. “The big prize is still yours.” She drops the eyepatch and I hear: “Uncle Ray, get us clear. Full power this time.”
That’s when the screeching starts.
Her ship darts away. We give chase. But really? We’re running.
Running from the gargantuan star sparrow that’s coming shrieking and tearing through the wormhole, its body stretched on the rack of space-time, beady eyes the size of planetoids, mad with hunger. This, I suppose, is Captain Sylvester’s last laugh. His last, and Stella Flare’s latest.
The sparrow has scented blood.
E J Delaney lives in Brisbane, Australia, and spends many an hour staring out the window. E J’s story ‘The Sixes, the Wisdom, and the Wasp’ was published last year in Escape Pod (#612) and shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards.
Original Horror Story
Linda J. Marshall
After passing the slaughterhouse the bus parked behind another at a large, windowless clinic. A third bus pulled up behind the others. Shandy Hodge leaned forward in her seat and tapped her friend. “I kept hoping this day would never come.”
“Everything will be okay. It hardly hurts anymore.” Her friend went back to studying pictures on a screen, then held up the tablet. “This is the one I want.”
Shandy looked out the window. “I don’t want any of them.”
Each bus held twenty-four eighteen-year-old women. Simultaneously, the doors hissed open and the women descended. Some walked together in groups, chatting and making plans. Some walked stiffly, sweating and swallowing, their eyes roving side to side looking for an escape. Shandy was one of the nervous ones, walking alone until her friend grabbed her elbow and led her in.
“It doesn’t hurt.”
“That’s not the only thing that bothers me,” Shandy said.
The seventy-two women lined up at the reception desk. A to H. I to O. P to Z. Shandy got into the A to H line. As each gave her name and birthdate, they were escorted by volunteers to cubicles.
Shandy whispered to her friend one line over. “All the volunteers look young, but they walk like old ladies.”
“Isn’t it exciting?”
She wasn’t sure about that. Her skin was clammy. She shivered. Each woman ahead of her was escorted away until Shandy stood before the receptionist.
“Have you decided what you want?” the receptionist said.
“I want to go home. I don’t want to do this.”
“Don’t make a scene,” her friend said from the next line, right before she was taken away by a young old person.
“I can’t do this,” Shandy said. She turned to leave.
The receptionist pushed a button. Two men blocked the clinic exit. “Come with us.” Instead of a young old lady escort, uniformed men led her to an office, opened the door and one said, “Flight risk.” After nudging her in, they shut the door.
“You have one,” Shandy said looking across the room. “The only one in the building.”
A gorgeous woman of indeterminate age stood behind a mahogany desk. Framing her was a huge picture window. In the distance stood the slaughterhouse. ‘Ms. Hodge,” she said and gave an empathetic smile, “don’t be nervous. Think of it as the day you become a woman.”
“Women became women for thousands of years without doing this.”
“That was the past. This is the modern world.” A giant screen lit up. Photos of models flashed on and off, twenty different ones, came to the end, then replayed, over and over.
“Which one do you want?”
Shandy started to speak but her voice squeaked. She cleared her throat and tried again. “My great grandmother told me about a TV show she watched when she was a kid. The Twilight Zone. She’d tell me about different episodes. One called Number 12 Looks Just Like You, where all girls had plastic surgery to look the same. Grandma Hodge said that would never happen because women won freedom and political power.”
The woman snapped off the slide show and said, “That was the past. This is the modern world. We want to be beautiful. We want to stay young until we die. No one wants a woman who doesn’t look like this.” The parade of look-alikes sprang onto the screen. One followed the other. “Your great grandmother lied. The most important thing through history was beauty.”
“No.” Shandy slammed her fist on the desk. “I want more than to pose and be pretty.”
The women turned and gazed out the window. “You owe something to your countrymen. It’s a crowded world.” She turned back. “It’s a hungry world. What do you think we do with all the skin we contour, all the fat we suck out, the extra pieces we take off to make women beautiful?” She waved her hand toward the slaughterhouse. “Your sacrifice to look stunning feeds the world.”
Covering her mouth with her hand, Shandy stifled a gag. “You mean…”
“There’s no room to graze cattle. No place left on earth.”
Shandy wiped her mouth. “Making my nose or butt smaller isn’t going to feed the masses.” She stepped backward toward door. “You can’t make me do this.”
The woman gave another empathetic smile. “Your friend, even as we speak, is not only contributing to the welfare of mankind, she’s transforming her face into…” she stopped the slideshow on a woman with puffy lips and doe eyes, “why, that is number 12. Maybe great grandma wasn’t far off.”
“There’s got to be more like me. Women who don’t want to be knifed to fit a standard created to control us.”
“But, Shandy, beauty is freedom.”
“No thankyou.” She made for the door.
“Do you see grown women on the streets who aren’t beautiful? No?” The woman continued the slideshow. The sloe-eyed women with bee-stung lips proceeded on their parade. “Ever wonder what happens to girls like you, the ones who refuse to conform?” She beckoned Shandy to the window.
Reluctant, Shandy shuffled slowly to the window, finally standing beside her. “What happens?”
The woman pointed down. The younger one looked to the ground where she saw a livestock truck leaving the clinic. Twenty eighteen-year-olds clung to the slats as the truck bumped its way over the potholed road to the slaughterhouse.
“If they can’t please the world by being lovely, they can please the world this way.” The woman pulled out her office chair. “It’s okay if you want to sit.”
Shandy sat, pale and shaky. She traced the outline of her face, feeling it, remembering it.
“Number 12 looks good,” she said.
Linda J. Marshall's work will appear in two upcoming horror anthologies, Arterial Bloom, and Shallow Waters Vol. 4. She lives in Oklahoma but has worked her way across the USA doing everything from being a river guide in Utah to scheduling blues singers at a museum in the Mississippi Delta. Her favorite person is her son, Avery. A pet turtle help her with composition, which explains a lot. She can write seriously scary, but loves to write funny horror, the likes of which Christopher Moore produces. Find her at thehappyhorrorwriter.
FLAME TREE PRESS | January Releases
We are so excited to be announcing the January release of two FLAME TREE PRESS titles! The first is a new to FLAME TREE horror called We are Monsters by Brian Kirk, it's set in a creepy mental asylum and a troubled psychiatrist begins illegally testing on his criminally insane patients which triggers a series of side effects! The second is a perfect winter read entitled Snowball by Gregory Bastianelli; A group of motorists become stranded on a lonely stretch of highway during a Christmas Eve blizzard and have to fight for survival against an unnatural force in the storm, they end up stranded in a house in the woods where a twisted toymaker with a mystical snow globe is hell bent on playing deadly games!
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