“The Last Cities of Earth” Anthology with Editor Jennifer Brozek


Source: “The Last Cities of Earth” Anthology with Editor Jennifer Brozek

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WINNERS – JUNE AND JULY FLASH FICTION CONTESTS


Sorry for the long radio-silence, we moved last month and still haven’t gotten our feet back under us. Long overdue, below are the winners for June and July. I’m afraid we never got the August contest posted, so we will resume the madness in September.

Our congratulations to Christopher J. Burke and Michael Stricklandwho tied for winner of eSpec Books’ June Flash Fiction Contest. Their prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook each from among the eSpec publication list. 

Honorable Mention – Carol Gyzander – The Crossroads

Our congratulations to Jonathon Mastwinner of eSpec Books’ July Flash Fiction Contest. His prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook from among the eSpec publication list.

Honorable Mention – Ef Deal – Ice Cream Man


JUNE – CHANGE

Neverending
Christopher J. Burke

When the klaxon sounded, Valaron’s heart lifted even as the hair on his skin stood.  Only one traveler had come down the bridge in the past century. Friend or foe, he flew with wings spread to their fullest to meet the returning soldier or invading enemy. Taking a position near the bridge’s base, he drew his sword in salute.

Moments later, a reddish-black demon with three horns, tattered wings folding behind its back, and a bottle in its hand cantered down the ramp. His bare feet left a trail of dark, brimstone prints behind him that evaporated into rising smoke clouds.

Valaron lowered his sword and his face. “Oh, it’s you, Rupsgath. Why have you returned?”

“I have come for you!” He raised the bottle in his hand. “To get you drunk!”

“Why will you not leave me be? Be gone from Clarita, and return no more.”

The demon sat heavily on a large stone. He sank his teeth into the bottle’s cork and pulled it free with a satisfying pop. “Leave you be? It’s been eighty years since I last came! Have you seen any other than me in all that time?”

Rupsgath tilted his head back, held the bottle high above his maw and poured himself a drink. Then he offered the bottle to his host. Valaron declined.

The demon shrugged and took a second swig. “You must have realized by now, that no one else is returning. The war is done. The combatants have all fallen, to their deaths or to some lower dimensions. Only you and I are left, guarding domains from non-existent invaders.”

Valaron scoffed. “There are others out there. They didn’t all go to war. Some traveled the planes. Scholars, emissaries! They’ll return. And until they do, I will remain here. Some must guard Clarita always, or else it become defiled!”

“The lone sentry, I know the job.” He belched, emitting a wisp of smoke. “I handle that the way I deal with most things. Poorly. That’s why I’m here.”

“To torment me further?”

“No. To say ‘Good bye.’ I’ve had enough of the solidarity life, sitting on rocks in the middle of lava pools, just alone with my thoughts. And some booze.”

He looked the angel squarely. “I’m leaving. I’m going to walk the planes. Maybe I’ll return in another hundred years, or maybe a thousand. Maybe not at all. But I’m finished watching over an empty domain, protecting it from outsiders. Like any creature in the heavens or hells would want to call it home!”

Putting the near-empty bottle down on the ground, Rupsgath stood and turned away. “You could come with me. Or we could go separate ways. But there’s no one left to fight off.” He left out a laugh. “If you stay, I believe the saying is that you can beat that sword into a plowshare.”

Valaron raised his sword high again and shook his fist. “If you’re determined to leave, then do so, and never darken the bridge again! I’ll erect a fence around that defiled spot in your ‘honor’.”

“As you desire.” The demon walked the pavement to the bridge, his claws setting sparks on the stone. “If you ever do get tired of this place, visit Guumpthus. Take some holy water and sanctify a path. There’ll be no infernal magic to counter it. Farewell.”

The decrepit creature faded in the distance as the bridge crossed the planes.

Valaron thrust his sword into the dirt. Crops needed tending, and the steeple needed to be shined. He glanced back at the empty bridge once more. Maybe those would wait until tomorrow. Perhaps, he thought, I may take one day off.


JUNE – CHANGE

Last
Michael Strickland

She shudders, drawing one of her last breaths. Though she never contemplated death, her thoughts often turned — as they do again now — to those loved ones who had gone before. She feels their presence close by.

Her mate, proud and strong, prone to violence. Cut down by an armed gang, his massive body riddled with bullets. As he lay dying, he had strength enough only to open his eyes and gaze at her with a look that might have been remorse.

Strange but gentle hands touch her. Probing, pressing, even caressing. She feels a brief but sharp sting in her leg, like the bite of a horsefly. Relaxation spreads through her, and she breathes easier.

Her mother, that larger-than-life matriarch, without whom she wouldn’t have survived. She went peacefully, but she went nonetheless. Watching the life slip away from the one who’d given her life had been the hardest thing she’d ever endured, until….

A machine begins beeping. Her eyes flutter open, and she looks at the figures standing around her. White coats, shiny instruments, busy hands. One of them holds a black box that clicks and flashes every time he raises it to his face.

Her baby, her dear sweet girl, ripped away from her and brutally butchered. She hadn’t left the site where it happened till the rains had long since washed away the last of the blood.

They had all left her… but they have come back. They all stand around her, a soft green halo enveloping them. They lean in close, touch her. Something inside her gives out, and she melts away with them, all pain gone forever.

*    *

The man leans in close, stethoscope pressed to her torso. The grim look on his face gives away his words before he speaks them. “She’s gone,” he whispers.

The others just stand dumbstruck in shock or reverence, busy hands now slack at their sides.

Finally, one of them breaks the silence and gently strokes the rhino’s head. “She’s the last. We’ll never see the likes of her again on Earth.”


JULY – FREEDOM

Tempus Fugit
Jonathon Mast

“The year’s 2017.”

The guy stares at me a second, his mouth half-open. The lights from the neon signs reflect off his bald head. I’ll give him credit, though, he recovers quickly. “Well, obviously.”

“Don’t do that.” I pour another two beers and hand them off to Mel for delivery to the back room. She winks at me. I remind myself, You’ve done this hundreds of times. This is just one more. “You were going to act all smooth and try to figure out when you are. It’s – let’s see here – just shy of ten in the evening, Tuesday, August first, 2017. So now you don’t have to pretend you know what you’re doing. Trust me, you don’t. Besides, it just pisses me off.”

Aric the Red, munching some fried pickle chips, glances up. “Do not anger her. She will destroy you. Trust me.” Even though he wears jeans, he still looks every inch the viking he is.

“Well, I wasn’t threatening him that far. Not everyone tries conquering the bar.”

Aric shrugs.

The new guy looks at me, looks down at Aric, and sits at the bar next to the ancient Norseman. “You know about Chronometrics agents?”

“Nah. I just can tell a time traveler. We get a lot of them here.” I pour three more and pass them down the bar, collecting tabs as I go. Don’t let your hands shake. He can’t see how nervous you are. Get this right. “So, what kind of beer do you drink where you’re from?” He looks so young.

“Beer?”

I put on my sorry face. “Ah. You must be from one of the prohibition epochs. Sorry, man. Here, this one’s on me.” I pour an IPA and set it front of him. “All right. What are you here for? Info? Stopping something terrible from happening? You don’t look like one of the lost ones.” Don’t act like you already know the answer.

“I’m, uh, making sure that Daedalus doesn’t destroy the timeline.” He stares at the glass, tapping its side. “Is this safe?”

Yeah, well, I don’t want to destroy it either. I pause. There’s a reason I don’t travel myself. I just run the bar. Way easier. Except this time, I can’t mess up. Way too much on the line. Think. What did I say? Oh, crap. Just. Just be you. That can’t mess it up, right? “It’s not what I’d drink, but it’s safe. Daedalus, huh? Hey, Mel!” I call. “You remember when those Daedalus clowns passed through here?”

Mel comes from the back room counting one’s. I can see her trying not to look at the new guy. She’d probably bust up laughing and ruin everything. “Daedalus? Those were the guys with the rocketpacks powered by moonlight?”

Oh, thank you, Mel, for letting me just respond to you. “No, those were the Lunattacks. These guys, they wore the red body suits, eyepatches –”

“Oh, yeah!” Mel nods. “What? Four years ago?”

The new guy jumps to his feet. “I need to go there!”

“Sure. Hey, tell me I said hi when you get there.” I wink at him. “Make sure you mention you turned your nose up at the free drink.”

He knits his eyebrows together in that way he still has and runs out the front door. I sag against the bar. Mission accomplished? Did I do what I was supposed to do?

And then the new guy comes out from the kitchen, a little older, still just as bald, drying his hands on his apron. “Wow. You put up with me like that?” He kisses me on the cheek.

“Well, you wised up.” Yep. Be a smartass. Cover up your fear.

“I helped,” Aric puts in.

My hubby drops another plate of fried pickle chips in front of him. “You never let me forget it.”

I grab him and take a deep, deep breath. “Well, paradox resolved. I didn’t mess up. You went back, and you still drink crap IPA’s. Everything happened the way you remember. We made it. We made it! I still have you! Now we know we can live happily ever after.” And we kiss, because really, that’s what you do when you say a line like that.

eSPEC EXCERPTS – THE STEADY DRONE OF SILENCE


proof-iwhk-coverAn excerpt from If We Had Known

The Steady Drone of Silence
Danielle Ackley-McPhail

“Excuse me? Lieutenant Kolby…excuse me!” Christopher James spoke softly into the headset attached to the helmet the lieutenant had jammed onto his head before they’d left the transport. “I need to know what’s gone wrong…”

Just ahead, Kolby snapped around to look over his shoulder, his features hard-set and his gaze unyielding. His posture projected urgency.

Christopher fell silent as he felt his eyes widen and the rest of him go cold. This must be how a rabbit feels caught in a hawk’s sights, he thought as he swallowed hard and fought the urge to duck his head. Kolby looked away and continued his hurried, but methodical progress through the brush, his eyes continually scanning in all directions, even straight up into the sky.

A shiver ran over Christopher. Why would the lieutenant look up?

Clutching the straps of the rucksack holding his tablet computer, he did his best to move as quickly and quietly as the soldiers escorting him. Fat chance of that, though. He was a civilian contractor. An engineer. A tech head specializing in unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Two weeks ago he’d been pulled from his current research project with no explanation. Now he found himself on the butt end of Demeter traipsing through the wilds, destination unknown. He didn’t have to ask to know the soldiers escorting him weren’t any happier about it than he was.

Maybe he should have been paying more attention to where he was walking, instead of worrying over where he was going. Abruptly, his forward motion switched to downward as a root or something snagged his foot, tripping him. Christopher started to cry out only to find himself gripped by what felt like two steel bands, one across his mouth, the other around his upper arm. He had the vague impression the rest of the soldiers around him had dropped low to the ground and gone still. Christopher himself couldn’t help but tremble as he came eye to up-close eye with Lieutenant Kolby.

“Do you want to die?” The words were so low and emphatic Christopher questioned if he’d actually heard them, either way the message was clear in Kolby’s gaze.

Christopher shook his head.

Kolby looked over at the soldier to their left. Samson, if Christopher remembered correctly. Hanging from the man’s neck was an electronic device. Some kind of tracker-slash-monitor. All Christopher knew was the little green light on the top of the housing meant they were good. If the red one went on, they were screwed. The man nodded and Kolby nodded back. Only then did he release his grip on Christopher. One hand dropped to the rifle hanging from the strap slung across Kolby’s chest, the other rose slowly into the air in an obscure gesture Christopher had to guess meant ‘proceed’, because—as if they were guided by one brain—the six soldiers rose from where they crouched and continued through the brush with barely a sound.

Christopher couldn’t move.

The soldier behind him gave him a controlled shove. Not enough to make him fall, but enough to break the grip of the fear anchoring Christopher in place. He was terrified of messing up again. He was terrified of whatever was out there that had Kolby treading so lightly. He was terrified of never making it home.

Christopher had no place being on this mission.

Apparently the military felt otherwise. Or at least someone up the chain of command did.

Christopher just wished he knew what they were thinking because the only thing worse than being out here was having no clue why.

 


 

Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Award-winning author and editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books.

Her published works include six novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, and Transcendence, the non-fiction writers’ guide, The Literary Handyman, and is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Dragon’s Lure, and In an Iron Cage. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.

She is a member of Broad Universe, a writer’s organization focusing on promoting the works of women authors in the speculative genres.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and three extremely spoiled cats. She can be found on Facebook (Danielle Ackley-McPhail) and Twitter (DMcPhail).

eSPEC EXCERPT – LITTLE SISTERS OF THE HOURGLASS (AWAKENED MODERN)


cover-proofAn excerpt from The Awakened Modern

Little Sisters of the Hourglass
James Chambers

They’re coming.

Weaver closed his book and rested it on his lap. He finished the last of the scotch in the crystal tumbler on the side table, ice clinking against glass, then stood and replaced the book on a bookshelf.

“We knew they would. Where are they now?”

Next door. My sisters and daughters are watching them.

The prospect of confrontation excited Weaver. He relished the chance to further test his Awakened abilities. He had always planned to move against Cortez one day. The chaos of the two moons had simply brought that day sooner by tipping the balance of power and rendering the conditions ideal. Distraction. Uncertainty. Streets up for grabs. The sex trade, the numbers rackets, drug trafficking, smuggling—all of it in play after years of suffocating under the thumb of that arrogant fucker Cortez, forcing Weaver to pay for the privilege of doing business. The two moons had brought Weaver the devil, and now the devil demanded his due.

He switched off the light in his study and descended to the first floor.

Two armed men stood watch in the foyer by the base of the stairwell.

“Be ready,” he told them.

They nodded, hands on their weapons.

Two more guarded the back door, and another pair joined Weaver in the den. They sat with weapons ready, straight-backed, leaning forward, afraid to make themselves comfortable. None of them liked being in his house, but he paid them enough not to care. If his newfound power served him as he hoped, they wouldn’t need to fire a shot or raise a fist.

They wander in the dark. I don’t understand.

“Wander where?”

In the home beside this one.

“They hope to catch us by surprise.”

We have observed them stalking us for weeks and taken six of their brothers. We have watched them tonight since they came in their rolling shell.

“They don’t know that. They have no idea what they’re walking into. Our goal tonight is to make sure none of them leave to warn anyone else.”

None of them shall.


James Chambers_2017

James Chambers is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the original graphic novel Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe as well as the Lovecraftian novella collection, The Engines of Sacrifice, described in a Publisher’s Weekly starred-review as “…chillingly evocative….” He has also written the story collection Resurrection House and the dark, urban fantasy novella, Three Chords of Chaos. His tales of crime, fantasy, horror, pulp, science fiction, steampunk, and more have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including Allen K’s Inhuman, The Avenger: Roaring Heart of the Crucible, Bare Bone, Chiral Mad 2, Dark Furies, The Dead Walk,  Deep Cuts, Gaslight and Grimm, The Green Hornet Chronicles, Hardboiled Cthulhu, Kolchak the Night Stalker: Passages of the Macabre, Shadows Over Main Street, The Side of Good/The Side of Evil, Qualia Nous, Truth or Dare, Walrus Tales, and the award-winning Bad-Ass Faeries and Defending the Future series. He has edited and written numerous comic books including Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals, Gene Roddenberry’s Lost Universe, Isaac Asimov’s I*Bots, the graphic novel adaptation of From Dusk Till Dawn, and the critically acclaimed “The Revenant” in Shadow House. He is a recipient of the 2012 Richard Laymon Award and the 2016 Silver Hammer Award from the Horror Writers Association.

His website is www.jameschambersonline.com.

eSPEC BOOKS JULY FLASH FICTION CONTEST


Freedom

We are fortunate to have many freedoms in our lives. With that in mind, this month we are giving you the freedom to write about ANYTHING you want in 740 words or less. Deadline: July 31.

Entries should be mailed to especbooks@aol.com as a .doc, .docx, or .rtf attachment. Please include your name, story title, and contact information on your manuscript itself. If we cannot identify your entry from the file you will be disqualified. Multiple submissions are permissible, but reprints are not. Winning entry will be published on the eSpec Books blog and the winner will receive a free ebook copy of the eSpec Books title of their choice. Prize can be reserved for a future book if the winner already has the available titles.

Visit http://www.especbooks.com to learn about the available titles.

eSPEC BOOKS JUNE FLASH FICTION CONTEST


Just 24 hours left to submit to this month’s contest!

eSpec Books

ChangeLife is about to seriously transform for those of us working behind scenes here at eSpec Books. With that in mind, this month we want you to tell us your tales of Change in 628 words or less. Deadline: June 30.

Entries should be mailed to especbooks@aol.com as a .doc, .docx, or .rtf attachment. Please include your name, story title, and contact information on your manuscript itself. If we cannot identify your entry from the file you will be disqualified. Multiple submissions are permissible, but reprints are not. Winning entry will be published on the eSpec Books blog and the winner will receive a free ebook copy of the eSpec Books title of their choice. Prize can be reserved for a future book if the winner already has the available titles.

Visit http://www.especbooks.com to learn about the available titles.

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