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Flash Fiction Friday: The Leader

by: John Wayne Comunale
Jonathan Switz was loved and renowned by his people as much if not more than he was loathed and reviled by them. Such is the plight of every leader, but Switz remained unaffected. He couldn’t feel the love, hate, or indifference of his people because he lacked the capability. Something had turned that part of him off.

He thought he remembered what love and hate felt like, but couldn’t be sure if he was only convincing himself the memory existed. Switz had no idea how long he’d been in The Isolation, but he knew he was a leader and not much past that.

The who and the where escaped him, and while he felt constantly on the cusp of remembering, he never did. Most days he received a message he was to make a speech or declaration of some kind. The message wasn’t written or dictated but came in the form of a buzzing tingle at the base of his brain. A spotlight would appear. Jonathan would stand in it and begin to recite words as they scrolled through his mind like a psychic teleprompter.

Two holographic symbols appeared in front of him at least four or five times a day. The symbols, a red triangle and a yellow circle, represented a different difficult decision for Jonathan. To make this decision he simply had to reach out and touch one of the holograms. That was that. The shapes would disappear and return later with another decision for the great leader to make.

Switz never knew what the decisions were or how they affected his people. All he knew was the shapes would hover before him until he reached out and touched one.

Jonathan tried to glean some context as to what may be going on from the speeches he made, but they were mostly non-committal political rhetoric or vague, sweeping answers easily applicable to a myriad of problems. The words flew through his head so fast he didn’t have time to comprehend what he rattled off.

He made the shapes wait once. He wanted to see if after a certain amount of time the options changed or more information was given, but no such luck. The red triangle and yellow circle simply hung in the air and followed Switz around glowing dully, silently pressuring him to make a choice until he did.

He wondered if the amount of time he waited before choosing had any bearing on the outcome or if everything stopped frozen in time until Jonathan Switz touched a glowing shape.

When the shapes appeared again, Switz decided he just wasn’t going to touch them forever. Maybe if he waited long enough the outside world would be thrown off balance and free him from The Isolation, allow him to feel something again.

Jonathan vowed to himself if and when he ever got out he would step down as leader immediately. Even if through some twist of fate the blind choices he’d made created the perfect utopian existence and he was haled far and wide, he would still walk away.

Days and days went by, or what Switz was able to perceive as days, but the shapes remained present with no change.

Jonathan stared vacantly at the shapes floating silently in front of him and was struck with an idea. It seemed so simple, and he felt foolish for not thinking of it until just then. He would touch both of the shapes at the same time. It sounded easier than he knew it would be, but it was something he’d never tried before.

He stepped as close as he could to the shapes without touching and put his hands up in front of them. He did his best to put the same amount of space between each hand and its corresponding shape, but had to step back and try again several times before he could stop shaking.

Switz took several deep breaths, shook the trembling from his hands, and stepped back up to the shapes. He put his hands as close as he could to each shape without touching, and then quickly thrust them forward at the same time.

The triangle and the circle disappeared leaving the space noticeably dimmer with the absence of their dismal glow. Jonathan stood still; his hands out in front of him, and waited for something, for anything to happen. When it didn’t he lowered his hands and clenched them into fists.

He didn’t feel the tingle in his palms at first until the sensation intensified rapidly forcing him to recognize the burn. He unclenched, looked down at his palms, and saw his hands had turned the color of the shape they had touched. It was more than just color though, his hands had taken on the low-level luminescence of the shapes as well.

Jonathan turned his hands over a to see the strange phenomenon completely covered them, and a prickling sensation shot across his wrists as the glowing colors started to work their way down both arms. It moved slowly at first, like thickly applied paint dripping down the wall, but quickly gained momentum and was to his shoulder in a second.

Colored light exploded across his vision as if he’d looked directly into two suns. Light was all he could see for several seconds until it faded into an unsavory, inky, thick darkness. Jonathan shook with spasms as the foreign substance enveloped his body and plunged down his throat.

Through the darkness Switz saw bright spirals of light that reached out with an invisible force to pull him into them.

As he got closer, Switz began to feel something. It was hard for him to make sense of it at first because the ability to feel was a faculty he no longer possessed. His synapses latched onto the odd sensation and flung it back into his system, reactivating the long-atrophied sensors.

Something changed inside of Jonathan, and he was flooded with feelings to the point of being overwhelmed. He felt the pain of his people from all the decisions he’d made that hurt them, but he also felt the joy from when he’d done them right. Love overtook him so intensely, he was confused and unable to derive its origin, but he was comforted nonetheless.

The choking darkness of hate and envy fell upon Jonathan the heaviest and sank its fangs deep into his neck. Switz flailed against the foul emotion but found it impossible to break from the invisible force holding him in place.

Jonathan Switz had figured out a way to make himself feel again, but there was a side affect of his successful experiment. He felt everything at once. The intense love, hate, and all that comes in-between hit Switz in one single gigantic wave.

The intensity broke him and Jonathan’s his frazzled brain shut down, but not before he remembered why he’d come into The Isolation. Not before he remembered none of this mattered.

The swirling orange and yellow light pulled Jonathan into it, and he was gone. A crack ran down the black, wet sky of The Isolation like long, lazy lightning. When it struck the ground, the sky crumbled and fell to reveal the same sky right behind it.

________

John Wayne Comunale lives in the land of purple drank known as Houston, Texas. He is a writer for the comedic collective MicroSatan; the author of The Porn Star Retirement Plan, Charge Land, Aunt Poster, and Scummer; and the writer/illustrator of the comic-zine: The Afterlife Adventures of johnwayneisdead. If that’s not enough, he also tours with the punk rock disaster: johnwayneisdead. If you’re in Williamsburg, Virginia tonight, you can see him reading live at Scares That Care. If you miss that, you can still listen to his podcasts here and here.

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Send your weird little stories to flashfictionfridaysubmissions@gmail.com.


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Austin James debuts with a wonderfully twisted novelette that is both bizarre and endearing, a melding of mutant creatures with tones of true romance, served with enough grotesqueries to satisfy to the most gluttonous of minds. Also included: a handful of short stories that take the reader even further into the mind of James’ obscure view within the word-world.

“The Drip Drop Prophet is a weird, funny, and original story. Fresh prose and palpable action make Austin James a name to watch.” – Danger Slater, author of “I Will Rot Without You”

“This is a sad, weird, mystic Pixar cartoon for pretty disturbed adults. The kind of heartfelt crazy people read (Bizarro) for.” – Garrett Cook, author of “A God of Hungry Walls”

“Nice little collection of shorts here. Though it blends a serious, personal tone with light-hearted absurdity, the combination forms a tone of its own through the tightness and cohesion of the writing. At times you want to hug the author, and at other times you want to peak into his brain to try and figure out what the hell is going on in there. If you like bizarro you’ll most likely ingest this book in one sitting. If you’re unfamiliar with bizzaro or surreal fiction, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy something fresh, new, and original.” -Jeff O’Brien, author of “The Night Manager”

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New Release: God’s Mean Older Brother

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It’s The Hangover meets The Book of Revelation in one of the funniest bizarro fiction novels of the year.

God, a single father, is forced to move back home with his parents. He really just wants to focus on writing his indie rock zine and escape the responsibility of being the Supreme Being, which can be a real drag. He’s also got a mean older brother who never left home and never stopped tormenting God or humanity by interfering in events throughout history. Now, God finds out the bastard’s built himself a time machine. As visions of an apocalyptic future come to God’s attention, he devises a foolproof plan to stop his mean older brother from destroying the world… then gets so drunk he forgets what the plan is.

“Whether he’s scribbling on napkins, writing online, or penning fiction, G. Arthur Brown is interested in taking the world we think we know, cracking it open, slathering it with weirdness, and twisting it into odd shapes–which, surprisingly, resemble the world more accurately than the world we wish we had. Brown’s a prime example of how the weird and the bizarre can provide an active and irreverent critique of the real. This is fiction that’s fun to read and yet deeply resonant.” – Brian Evenson, author of A Collapse of Horses

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Flash Fiction Friday: Enter the Salamander

by: Neil Sanzari

When the girl of malnourished complexion crossed paths with the ribbit in the ruins of Saint X’s Parochial Middle School, she refrained from drawing a single arrow. It was her first encounter with the dread creature. In fact, she had only heard the faintest of frightened whispers concerning its legend. But no one had ever admitted to seeing one before in the glandular flesh beneath the slimy fur of the thing. So she drank in the ribbit’s dreamy protruding eyes before deciding whether or not to dispatch this wondrous-to-behold beastie.

When the girl returned to camp hand-in-hand with the ribbit, her father flew into a rage because he had given her strict orders not to come back unless she had made a fresh kill for her family to eat.

So the father played a little trick on the girl by cooking off the ribbit without telling her. And then the father fed the specially prepared meal to the girl without making her aware of what it was in particular that she ate.

Soon afterwards, the girl of malnourished complexion began to exhibit the glandular flesh beneath the slimy fur of the thing, as if she were becoming something altogether new and different. In short, she was transforming into a much larger version of the ribbit. Yet she remained a kind of hybrid of herself and the thing at the same time. Maintaining her personality both whole and separate alongside the creature, where their aspects took turns sharing the spotlight.

This was all quite normal for the ribbit because the creature was a shapeshifter by nature. And it had absorbed more than a few souls in its day. They often interjected as a kind of peanut gallery in the background like so much white noise. Their incessant chatter caused the girl great anxiety, no matter how much the ribbit reassured her otherwise.

The peanut gallery claimed that the ribbit was the Bonnie Prince of Hares and Toads. That the creature might even be a long-lost cousin of the legendary Sovereign of Salamanders, who in turn was revered by many as the Deity of Arson.

Now the ribbit thought it best to do away with the girl’s father because the creature was not one to forgive such transgressions. This meant devouring the father whole, but the ribbit promised the girl that her father’s personality would not be incorporated into the spectrum of their shared-reality. Namely, what the ribbit condescended to as the afore-mentioned peanut gallery. The consumption of the father was only meant to be for fuel and nothing more.

Hence, the girl of the glandular flesh beneath the slimy fur of the thing observed the world and saw it all from an entirely different perspective through her fetching bulbous eyes. Taking in all the sounds with her great big ears. And that was when she heard the screams.

Her mind’s eye quickly turned inward to reveal the unmistakable countenance of her father holding court amidst the once-benign peanut gallery. Having stirred them up into a lather, a mutinous horde no less bent upon stringing her up.

Meanwhile, the ribbit had already been hoisted aloft and lit aflame as if the creature were a burning effigy of itself, save for its fruitless efforts to escape. Kicking and screaming all the way.

And so the girl began to pick off the lynch mob lickety-split with an arrow through an alderman’s eye here and another through a harlot’s heart there, with plenty more left in the quiver for that wall-to-wall turnout of lost souls closing in fast.

________

Neil Sanzari is an artist and writer from the New York City area, where he worked in advertising. Displaced by the events of 9/11, he now lives down at the Jersey shore with his wife, Celia. He has a novella and several short stories in the works. His preferred genres are Bizarro, New Weird, and Cyberpunk. He plans to adapt Enter the Salamander into a comic book series.

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Send your weird little stories to flashfictionfridaysubmissions@gmail.com.


Review: All Hail The House Gods

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If dystopian fiction holds a magnifying glass to trends and aspects of the present day, increasing their prominence horrifically, then what about a bizarro dystopia? It presses a distorted glass against our fears, holding it so close that the details twist and mutate, making us not entirely sure what to think any more. Touches of weird humor leak through, and it becomes a question of debate where the divisions are between parody, satire and warning.

All Hail the House Gods is, partly, dystopian horror, and it’s particularly inventive in where it aims its magnifying glass: you could consider most of the horror to stem from a millennial anxiety about the changing nature of adulthood. Things that previous generations took for granted, that you’d grow up, that you’d raise a family, that you’d own a house, are distorted and made grotesque. Your family only exists to satiate monsters. Your house isn’t yours; you belong to it. You won’t grow up, because the state of childhood no longer exists. (Even the “typical” adult pastime of poker is made part of the mechanism of terror, and the old realtors’ trick of baking cookies to make a house smell tempting is a trick perpetrated by the houses themselves.)

But it’s also absurd comedy! I hope I’m not too horrible for finding the endless, child-like euphemisms funny (if kind of gross at the same time). Same too with the never-ending diet of aphrodisiacs — is there a funnier food to see mentioned repeatedly than “watermelon arugula salad”? I don’t think so. Throughout, the writing has a lightness and wit that made me smile, unless something awful was happening at just that moment… There’s also the surrealism, which, if not exactly funny, here seems more aligned with humor than horror. A House can crabwalk. A house can be a Gothic, a pueblo, or a log cabin shaped like a dachshund. It can be brown, white, or teal. Houses can blow their sides in and out, like they’re laughing, and can stack themselves into a tall, dancing column that stretches to the sky, an image more strange than frightening.

And, maybe most affectingly, it also includes a heartfelt debate about how to fight systemically entrenched oppressors. There are two opinions presented, both of which are convincing. Should you work from within the oppressive system, or attack it from the outside? There are no real villains, apart from the faceless and characterless minions of the system and the Houses themselves, which are the system. Stone is great at presenting characters simply and sympathetically, and I wanted nothing more than to see these people succeed, though the difficulty of their struggle is best portrayed by a single, darkly funny image: that of a brave or foolish hero, who has decided to fight a house, and who is armed with only a bow and arrow.

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The reviewer, Caleb Wilson, is the author of Polymer, published as part of the 2018 New Bizarro Authors Series.


Flash Fiction Friday: Vampire Swans Ate My Office Building

by: Cornell R. Nichols

When I got to work on Monday, 8 a.m. sharp, vampire swans were eating their way through my office building. Zipping around the corporate high-rise in a flock, a ballet, a whiteness, they have managed to strip away the concrete from all twenty regular and five executive floors with hundreds of razor-sharp teeth. Vampire swans can live on concrete from just about anything, even pavements and skate park ramps, but for some reason they prefer to collapse skyscrapers. Today they chose the one I work in.

Or used to work in, I suppose.

There was scarcely anything left except for naked plumbing and twisted steel rebar. Loosened glass panes kept falling onto the plaza, threatening to cut passersby in half, but through some amazing hive-mind instinct, vampire swans avoided them with ease, circling in search of another scrumptious bite of hardened cement.

I put up both hands awning-like to shade my eyes from the sun and located the all too familiar desk on the thirteenth floor. As I was watching, the entire structure groaned and bent to the side. The desk slipped through the absent window and crashed in front of the fountain. My worn out squishy stress toy wheezed its last, pierced through the chest by a pencil, and fell silent forever.

I sat on the bench across the road and took out my packed lunch. Biting along to the chomping of vampire teeth, I watched the urban tower collapse into a heap of debris. A pod of mummy seals flippered by, and each of them gave me an awkward hug, wet bandages brushing against my neck. When I finally stopped shaking with disgust, the swans were flying away towards the park—a dark wedge against the chemically bleached blue sky.
I went to the nearest antigravity bar. Half-flipping onto the ceiling, I noticed several people from work—silent, pale-faced, slumped over snifters of lighter-than-air whiskey and inverted beer bottles—but the place was mostly empty. My boss was committing hara-kiri in the corner booth using only a cocktail umbrella. Nobody tried to stop him, even as blood started raining down onto the hardwood floor.

I ordered a Bloody Mary and strapped myself to the seat next to some balding stockbroker type. I told him my office building had been eaten by vampire swans. He told me his lunch had been raped by ghoulverines.

“They started appearing last week,” he said, punctuating the sentence with a painfully long, bottoms-down sip of his Bud Light. “Long as you have a home-cooked meal in a Tupperware or some veggie shit, you’re all fine and dandy. The undead fucks won’t even sneeze at a thing. But who has time to cook at home, amirite?”

“Sure thing,” I said just to keep him talking.

“So there I am, my company’s food court, about to bite into one of those foot-long monster sandwiches, extra cheese, when the pack arrives. Salivating acid, stinking like an open grave somebody took a piss in. Everybody stops eating because, well, you can’t swallow a bite when you see—and smell—something like that. And then . . . and then raping starts. Male ghoulverines grinding against the table to ejaculate in bowls of ramen. Females masturbating with hot dogs and pickles. Some S&M freak putting his rotting nads in chili con carne and stabbing people with plastic utensils. Complete mayhem. Last thing I remember, two of them jumped onto my table. One put his foot-long dick in my foot-long sandwich and the other one started dripping snatch juices all over the special sauce. Then I went to my happy place. When I came to, that damn lunch was still in front of me. Like the vicious fucks expected me to eat it after what they did to it! Still feel like barfing just thinking about it.” He finished his God-awful beer and unstrapped himself to get another one.

When he returned, he launched into a spiel about secret government labs. “It’s all part of their plan, you know? I mean, where else could these aberrations have come from? Huh?”

I nodded, even though I knew he was wrong.

Vampire swans were never meant to eat buildings. Somebody created them to stop the bigwigs from filling the world with concrete, bulldozing nature. Ghoulverines? Probably a way to force people to eat healthier. Just like mummy seals and their hugs used to be there to reassure you, convince you that you are not alone.

But somewhere along the way, intentions got twisted. Skyscrapers started falling, more and more lunches got sexually assaulted, fleeting comfort became a reminder of your crushing loneliness. And we were left with this. A world forever unwinding, desperate for a miracle.
I left the antigravity bar around 8 p.m., just when my boss’s body started to decompose, dripping black juices from the ceiling.

Taking a shortcut through the mall parking lot, I heard a faint moaning coming from the alley behind the silent movie multiplex. Hardly believing my luck, I searched around the dumpsters, and sure enough, I found a grimy Bride of Frankenstein there, wavy white hair strands and stitches included. I managed to wrap my coat around it and half-carried, half-dragged it home.

Back in my basement, I introduced the Bride to the huge black ram I found in my backyard last week. Sitting on rickety steps, I watched the two of them go at it behind a stack of year-old newspapers.

Soon my new pet will give birth to a flock of Frankensheep. Maybe they will teleport into offices and stress people out by pissing on electrical outlets. Maybe they will roam the malls, eat people’s credit cards and shit them out onto a huge pile.

Or maybe—just maybe—they will pay off student loans, vomit lollipops onto sick children’s beds and wage nuclear war against vampire swans. I can only wait and pray, and hope, just like so many people before me.

Maybe this time the world can change for the better.

________

Cornell R. Nichols is a writer and translator who wishes he had a Frankensheep. Or at least a phantom okapi. He usually writes in his native tongue, but words like “chrząszcz” and “gżegżółka” are slightly too extreme even for the bizarro crowd. Polish speakers can visit his alter ego’s site at kornelmikolajczyk.blogspot.com.

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Send your weird little stories to flashfictionfridaysubmissions@gmail.com.


New Release: Eviscerator

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Vex Valis—doctor. Vex Valis—rocker. Vex Valis—iconoclast. You would think Vex Valis has it all but what Vex has is a secret that rots away at her from her very core. Vex is infected with Gut Ghouls and will do anything to be rid of them, even if it means consorting with subterranean worms or blending science and the occult in dangerous and unsavory ways. You may envy Vex’s jet-setting Dark Wave scientist lifestyle but you won’t when you see the trials incurred when she catches the attention of a being that rends people and worlds alike, the scrutiny of…The Eviscerator

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