The Protector

By Paul Stansbury

Luda stood peering into the deep shadows. The bright flowers and lush field grass in which she stood stopped abruptly at the base of the tall oak trees. Their thick and twisted trunks supported a canopy of leaves blocking all sunlight from the forest floor. Behind her, Maks and Anya played quietly along the creek that meandered across the meadow.

“Make sure Maks and Anya are safe.” mother had said as Luda stepped from the cottage porch. It was a task she took seriously.

She knew the beast was there. Babushka had told her of Zicgaforja lurking deep in the shadows of the forest. Even the village woodcutter with his broad, double bladed axe for protection avoided this forest. Behind the trees in the darkness, long dead leaves rustled on the forest floor. Is that the faint, dark scent of the creature floating on the wood’s cold, damp breath? It chased away the fragile warmth of the Spring sun, sending a chill through her. Regardless, she stood her ground, eyes never turning away.

While the children played blissfully, Luda stood between them and the waiting evil. She held her staff at the ready by her side. The beast was patient, waiting for its prey to come within range – muscles tensed, poised to attack with ripping teeth and tearing claws.

Mother’s call came rolling over the meadow, breaking her concentration. Maks and Anya jumped up from their play, setting off toward home. Luda turned with one last intent stare into the dark recesses of the woods and called out in smug defiance, “Lucky for you Zicgaforja, Mama has called us for supper.” With that, she threw the twig she had been holding into the shadows and turned to join her brother and sister in a race back to the cottage.


Author Bio: Paul Stansbury is a life long native of Kentucky. He is the author of “Down By the Creek – Ripples and Reflections” and “Little Green Men?” His stories have appeared in a number of print anthologies as well as a variety of online publications. Now retired, he lives in Danville, Kentucky.

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Absolution

By Trinity

Miss Tedder’s arm ached. But she bore it with a mixture of stoicism and grim satisfaction; the girl had deserved a slippering, and Miss Tedder had administered a thorough punishment. With a faint nostalgia for the days when children could be struck with impunity before the local education authority poked its nose into the affairs of religious schools, Miss Tedder crossed the path that led from the schoolyard to the church next door.

It was a beautiful building, served faithfully by brothers from the Franciscan order, but Miss Tedder was blind to earthly aesthetics; she sought the comfort and justification of the confessional box, and this morning she had felt that need keenly.

The curtain to the confessional was drawn back; she had timed it right, then! She could unburden herself right away, and be back before the lunch break was over. Settling into place with a grunt, she glanced through the ornate metal grill that separated her from the brother hearing her confession. The church was dimly lit, and her eyes weren’t what they once were, but Miss Tedder had no preferred confessor. Absolution was what she sought.

She murmured the confessional words rapidly, in a perfunctory tone that betrayed no thought for their meaning; “Forgive me father, for I have sinned.” They were a formula, an incantation that was necessary to sanction her actions and bring self-justification.

She shared what she had come to say, confident that the brother would agree with her, and enable the hatred that flowed through Miss Tedder, the absence of compassion that she miscalled discipline.

“She is a difficult child. Quiet, always watching me. Most insolent!”

She continued her tirade against the twelve-year-old girl she had just beaten, for having the temerity to attend school with a button missing from her blouse. The child was slovenly, a reflection of her dissolute family. Her father wasn’t even a Catholic! Miss Tedder had dug out all tough roots remaining from the place where her heart should be and felt no hypocrisy when she lied to herself that her hatred of the child had no sectarian basis.

The child was always watching from her large dark eyes. Plain spinsterish Miss Tedder felt the sting of judgement. She had dragged the girl to the toilets once, ordering her to wash the disgusting eye makeup from her face. The child had obeyed, crying that she didn’t have any makeup. The dark ring around her lashes could not be scrubbed away. Miss Tedder thought of this but said nothing. She waited, impatient for absolution, but her confessor was silent.

From across the courtyard, Miss Tedder heard the school bell herald the end of lunch; she had tarried too long, and her need was met. Perhaps confession hadn’t been necessary; the brother had given her no penance, no act of contrition. He understood and approved her actions!  Miss Tedder rose from the wooden bench, polished by generations of sinful backsides, and hurried back towards the school, where no doubt the children were making the most of her absence.

As she opened the door to leave the church, a sombre-habited figure emerged from a side door. Brother Everard returned to the confessional box, tea in hand. He called to Miss Tedder but she had already left the church. Perhaps it was a sin, but Brother Everard smiled and allowed himself a quiet sigh of relief.


Author Bio: Trinity has no social media presence but is grateful for the opportunity to share stories online.

The Unimagined

By Margaret McGoverne

Meghan was five, and she was cross. Mummy and daddy wouldn’t play with her as much as they used to, and she was in her playroom alone for longer and longer. Mummy and daddy shouted a lot, and mummy often cried.  She had crept downstairs yesterday to see them, but daddy saw the door move and pounced on Meghan, smacking her legs and sending her upstairs. “Only naughty girls spy on their parents!” he said.

Meghan’s playroom was in the attic; it was light and bright, but apart from her dolls and books it wasn’t really a playroom. There was a big brass bed for their occasional visitors but it was Meghan’s retreat now, her haven from her parents’ disputes.

She sat on the rug in front of the cold fireplace; her dolls were asleep, their long-lashed plastic eyes closed. The afternoon sun streamed through the windows, bathing Meghan in warmth. Her parents’ voices were a dull muffle that made her sleepy; she lay down on the rug and slept, thumb in mouth, although mummy said she shouldn’t.

Her nap was short, for the sun still warmed her when she awoke. She rubbed her eyes and pulled her thumb from her mouth – sitting on the bed were two figures Meghan had never seen before.

“Who are you?” she asked, and they smiled at her, although not at each other.

Their names were Tulpa and Enty, and they were here to make friends with Meghan. They were all three about the same size. They looked funny, but Meghan didn’t feel alone anymore. They chatted about her dolls and books, and they played games.

“Did mummy bring you here?” Meghan asked.

Enty smiled slyly, but Tulpa looked sad.

“No, you wanted us to come.”

“I did?” Meghan was mystified, but she was having fun. She had forgotten to be lonely.

Tulpa and Enty came to the playroom every day, and at first, they all played nicely. But one day they couldn’t agree which game to play, and they wouldn’t stop arguing, even when Meghan asked them politely.

“I’ll tell mummy!” she warned. But Enty just slapped at Tulpa and they rolled together, a mass of grabbing hands and pulled hair.

Meghan ran downstairs. Mummy was in the kitchen, Daddy smoked a cigarette at the table.

“Mummy, my friends won’t stop fighting!”

“What friends?” her mother asked, with a guilty start. Maybe she’d forgotten about Meghan.

“Tulpa and Enty, the friends that appeared in my room.”

Her mother’s frown changed into a slow smile.

“I’m sure they’ll stop soon Meghan.”

“But mummy, won’t you come and tell them off?”

An impatient tutting from her father made her mother stiffen. The warm smile died in her eyes.

“Not now Meghan. I’ll bring you some toast soon.”

“Mummy…”

“Please, Meghan!”

She paced dejected back to the playroom. There was an ominous scuffling sound behind the closed door; Meghan was scared, but her mother had told her to go to her room. She peered gingerly round the door: Tulpa lay in the fireplace, her eyes closed just like Meghan’s dolls. Her legs were pointing up the chimney, and as Meghan watched she saw a tiny pair of hands reach down and grab Tulpa’s ankles. Slowly, slowly, Tulpa disappeared up the chimney. She never opened her eyes.

When Tulpa had completely disappeared, Enty’s voice came down the chimney, with a small fall of soot.

“I’ll be back soon Meghan. You had better play nicely…”

Meghan sucked on her thumb and waited on the rug.


Author Bio: Margaret McGoverne is currently writing her first full-length novel while being distracted by short stories, flash fiction and her blog about all things writing.

 

Encounter

By Elizabeth Bradley

Gravel skittered down the desolate road as Jenn kicked her feet, hypnotized by the crunch and scatter in the otherwise silent air. Fog had descended on the forest suddenly and caught her more than a mile out from camp. She hitched the leather strap on her shoulder, repositioning her rifle and tried to ignore the churning of her stomach. She wasn’t expected back for hours, but the fog had obliterated her chances of tracking anything in the woods. Her t-shirt clung to her slick skin underneath the thick canvas jacket. She shivered.

Trees towered over her, stark and menacing in the semi-darkness. They appeared from nothing and then receded behind her, back into the thickening fog.

Her breath rose in a mist. She gripped the leather rifle strap, her knuckles white. Quickening her pace she glanced around, trying to find something familiar. Had she passed the turnoff?

Two lights appeared, cutting through the fog. Jenn jumped to the side of the road and waved her arms, hoping that the passing motorist would see her. But the lights did not come any closer. She dropped her arms. Slipping its strap from her shoulder, she swung her gun to the ready.

“Hello?” Her words were swallowed by the dense mist. The ground was silent beneath her as she edged forward, years of stalking deer gave her a light foot. A tall figure emerged from the fog. Its back was to her and wrapped in a long coat.

“Hello?” she called again, lowering the rifle. The figure twitched. She pulled the gun up, trained on the stranger. “Can you hear me?”

She gripped the gun tighter trying to resist trembling, adrenaline coursing through her veins. The figure turned. Her stomach tightened and though she tried to speak, no words could escape. The creature standing in the middle of the road was shaped like a man, but there was something wrong. Its features were distorted and stretched. Dark black eyes bore holes into her.

It darted towards her and she pulled the trigger.

The bullet exploded from the end of her rifle in slow motion. A flash of fire. The acrid stench of gunpowder hit her nostrils. The figure raised its arms, pointing in her direction. The bullet swerved and headed straight for her. It slammed into her shoulder and pain blinded her as she fell.

Gasping for air, Jenn gaped at the figure who stood only a foot away. A loud whirring rang in her ears, and the lights ahead grew stronger, enveloping them both in light and sound. With a crack, the figure vanished, and as the light dissipated around her broken body, she disappeared in the darkness.


Author Bio: Elizabeth Bradley is a writer and mother living in the rural Alaskan bush. Her flash fiction has been published in StrippedLit500, and longlisted in AdHoc Fiction’s weekly competition. You can find her on Twitter at @LizjSmith7 She is working on her first novel, which will most certainly feature more aliens.