Professor Sidney Travison of Miskatonic University sat down to breakfast. His wife Edna pored over the newspaper, which lay stretched across the walnut table like Thanksgiving linen.
“What’s that?” asked the professor as he buttered a piece of toast.
Mrs. Travison scratched a pencil over the gray-white paper.
“Sudoku,” she answered.
“I thought that used numbers,” her husband remarked.
“It’s even harder using letters. You want to plug in more than nine.”
The professor sipped coffee absently.
“Looks like the magic squares of Abraham von Wurtzburg.”
Edna glanced up. “What?”
“Nothing. I see anything these days, I think of something obscure and bizarre. Occupational hazard for the keeper of the closed section of the library.” Continue Reading
“Then, of course,” said our hostess of the evening, “there is the matter of ghosts.”
“What is the matter of ghosts?” said the young man in the green brocade, and proceeded to pull a ghoulish face and moan softly into the ear of the young lady beside him.
The young lady put two glove-covered fingers to his face and turned it away. “What is the matter with ghosts, would be more accurate, I suspect,” she said disdainfully. “They are insubstantial, uncommunicative, and frequently disappear when sought directly.” She turned a pale blue stare to the young man and paused a moment. “Two out of three,” she murmured pointedly. “Hm. Pity.”
The room chuckled appreciation while the young man ducked his head. “You would be a difficult woman to haunt, I think,” he said. “But back to the question: what matter of ghosts?”
Gerard Mouras very deliberately did not finger the zigzag scar on his left cheek. He had started out in Oklahoma, but the Land-Sea War had been fought on the coasts. So he had come to decadent California and now resided, in the peacetime that must follow all wars no matter how outré, in debauched San Francisco. After all: how ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm…
The heat absorbed by the tarmac of the DMV parking lot was being scoured away by an early afternoon wind moist with gathering fog. You smelled the sea in this city; or Gerard did, anyway. It was a common enough post-traumatic symptom for wet-warfare soldiers who’d returned to Colorado, to Tennessee, to the most landlocked places they could find.
Gerard Mouras, however, didn’t mind the briny scent, or at least didn’t object to it, in much the same way he didn’t now touch his cheek’s scar. San Francisco was a lively city, and he had even sampled a little of its debauchery. Maybe more than a little.
Still, one had to make a living. He had only been a soldier for the duration. This was the work he’d done in Oklahoma, so now he did it here, sensibly.
His next appointed applicant showed up on time. Skwids weren’t usually good with clocks, with sun-measured hours. Gerard, determinedly fair and even generous, made a note of the punctuality on his clipboard. He was holding his pen very tightly. Continue Reading
Submissions have closed for the Christmas ghost-story. We have selected Laura DeHaan’s “Of, And With” and will be running it Christmas Day. Congrats, Ms. DeHaan.
In honor of Robert E. Howard’s birthday in January, Eschatology is now seeking submissions inspired by Howard’s horror tales. The best one will run in a special edition on January 22nd, Howard’s birthday. Those authors not selected for the special edition but found suitable for publication will be offered to have their stories run at a later date.
Submissions for the Howard tribute close January 16th, 2011. Full submissions guidelines can be found here.
“Did the Geographic run this shot, Ryan?”
Ryan turns, laser pointer in hand. He smiles, chuckles, spots the woman in the first row who’d asked the question.
“No, they didn’t.” He looks at her again, tilts his head. “I remember seeing your work,” he says. “Flowers, right?” The woman’s eyes light up; but after a moment, she realizes this wasn’t the compliment she thought she was getting. Ryan turns back toward the screen, draws an irregular red circle with his pointer. “This woman in the photo — this was in a village outside Harare. A marketplace. She’s spread her blanket, selling spices, very nice colors.” The red dot moves jerkily through bowls filled with pixels of red, yellow, black.
“Strong face, as many of these people have, very deep-set eyes. I was about to shoot when she noticed me, pulled one of those bowls up to cover her face.” Ryan chuckles again. “But I got the shot, focused on those dark eyes. Some local superstition about not being photographed, losing their souls to the camera. My editor said it was a great photo, but he didn’t want to run it in the magazine. Not like it was in private or anything, for Chrissake, a marketplace! Anyway, I’ve never shown this one to a camera club before, so here it is. Hope you like it!” Continue Reading
The saloon itself wasn’t very clean. Flies buzzed around the cob-webbed ceiling, and the floor was grimy with mud and spilled liquor. But Cyril was very particular about his counter.
He had to be, in case the right patron came in.
Shortly before sunset, that patron arrived.
Through the dusty afternoon air, Cyril saw the outline of a man, tightly hugged by the day’s last rays of light. Even though he couldn’t make out the man’s face, he could sense the misery all the way from his side of the bar.
The stranger shuffled across the creaking floor, his spurs clinking.
“Get me a whiskey,” he said, tossing few coins on the counter as he sat down.
Cyril took the coins and glanced at the man. He wasn’t old, but his face was ancient. His leathery forehead was scored with lines too deep to have been cut by anything but grief, and a scar scudded across the bridge of the nose. In his gray eyes, immeasurable sorrow lingered.
That was all Cyril needed to see. This man was a possibility. Continue Reading
It wasn’t until near three that Nik the bartender pushed Earl to the street, telling him to get the hell out, casting the drunkard off into the night with the door’s glass shaking in the panes. He had spent the night imbibing, trading vulgar jokes back and forth across the bar with the bored bartender. The night was slow, weather and rumors keeping it quiet. Talk of bodies found hollowed out and frozen in the snow, deep red icicles flowing to the gutter. The inebriated love nothing more than a good story. They traded a few with exaggerated details and Earl’s glass was never empty. The more drinks he had in him, the more Nik laughed at the jokes or held onto his every word, the higher the tip would be and the both of them knew it. Once the call came, Nik let Earl nurse a couple more while he cleaned up, but once the bartender was ready to leave, to find his way to a warm bed, he showed Earl the door, all but kicking him on the way out.
Nothing like a Baltimore winter. The only warmth came from the cherry on the tip of his smoke and even that was dying in the cold. He shoved his hands deep into the pocket of the tattered pea coat and ping-ponged from one edge of the empty sidewalk to the other, everything in the world quiet except for his muttering. Continue Reading