We've got another double feature this time! A cracking good horror short story from Christa Carmen and a very topical short-short from Joe Vasicek. Topical because this month is Austin's Armadillocon -- we hope to see you there!
The One Who Answers The Door
by Christa Carmen
Harley reached for Zombie-Elsa’s long blonde braid and tugged, her smile impish.
“Quit it.” Zombie-Elsa adjusted her wig in the mirror. “You’re on Mom’s bad side for your slutty costume, so don’t push your luck.”
“It’s not slutty,” Harley Quinn said, surveying her appearance. “It’s true to the comic. You’re just jealous I picked it first.”
The undead snow queen ignored this. “Hurry up. We’re supposed to meet them in ten minutes. It’ll take longer just to walk there.”
Zombie-Elsa grabbed the icicle purse her sister had helped her splatter with fake blood the night before. They did not stop to say goodbye to their mother. Eleven and thirteen were too old to ask permission to go trick-or-treating.
They opened the door on the biting autumn air. The sun had succumbed to its washed-out cousin, and the timing of its lunar phase meant a moon that hung low and large on the evening of All Hallows’.
The wind blew up tornadoes of leaves around their feet. Zombie-Elsa practiced her lumber, and giggled at her sister’s attempts to execute a sexy slink. The sound was cut short by a scream.
A figure rushed Harley from the bushes. Harley gasped and jerked out of her attacker’s reach, but the cape had already been lowered to reveal the grin beneath the eye mask.
“Gotcha!” Batgirl said. “You should have seen your face.”
“There wasn’t anything to see. You didn’t scare me for shit,” Harley countered.
“Just because you’re wearing a disguise doesn’t mean you can swear.” The voice was Zombie-Elsa’s, but the words were their mother’s.
“Hush up,” Harley said. “Hey, where’s—?”
“Carrie, the pyrotechnic prom queen?” came a voice from the shadows. A thin girl bathed in blood stepped out onto the road. “Right here.”
“Cool costume,” Zombie-Elsa said.
“Thanks,” Carrie replied. She pinched a roll of non-existent fat under her bloody prom dress. “I can’t wait to eat oodles of candy. I’ve been dieting for weeks so I can cheat tonight. The houses in town better be ready to offer up the goods.”
“We’re skipping the houses in town tonight,” Batgirl said.
“Why would we do that?” Harley asked.
“To trick-or-treat in Riverbend.”
“What?” Zombie-Elsa squealed.
Harley held up her hand to silence her sister. She turned to Batgirl. “Why would we go to River’s End?” she asked. Zombie-Elsa couldn’t help but notice that she used the nickname the high school kids did when talking about the ‘bend.
Batgirl shrugged. “The boys did it last year. They couldn’t get Old Man Hitcher to open his door to them. Bobby dared us to try this Halloween. We can’t let those losers show us up. Although, I shouldn’t call Bobby a loser since you totally have a crush on him. Unless...” Batgirl paused for emphasis. “You’re too scared to go yourself.”
“I’m not scared.” Harley twirled a pigtail, defiance written all over her face.
“Then what are we waiting for?” Batgirl began to walk in the direction of Riverbend. Harley quickly followed, and Carrie fell in line without comment. Zombie-Elsa hurried to catch up with her sister, bombarding Harley with frantic questions.
“Shhh,” Harley hissed. “If you don’t want to come, then go home.”
Harley had done a skillful job applying Zombie-Elsa’s makeup, and beneath the white grease paint and black-red lipstick, Zombie-Elsa’s frown was a grimace. She trotted behind her sister, wishing she’d worn sneakers under the long dress rather than the uncomfortable shoes that’d come with the costume.
A dense mist thickened the air, clinging to the foils and fabrics of the girls’ costumes. By the time they’d walked beneath the archway marking the entrance to Riverbend, Zombie-Elsa’s teeth were chattering. Her cape seemed little more than condensation-dampened saran wrap that would no longer stick. Batgirl led them deep into the ‘bend. Zombie-Elsa saw Harley trying not to look at the residents’ dwellings as they passed.
They walked without speaking. The only sound in the mist-muted night came from the leaves rustling in the trees. Batgirl stopped in front of a row of stone abodes, and gestured at the first in the line. “This one. Miss Johnston’s. Carrie, you knock first.”
Carrie looked like someone had interrupted her prom queen acceptance speech with a cruel practical joke. Batgirl’s glare goaded her into action. She rapped three times, her features betraying her apprehension.
Seconds passed. A cloud smothered the moon.
“Looks like nobody’s home,” Batgirl chirped. Her eyes darted between slits of a mask that made her look more cunning raccoon than daring superhero. “Elsa, you’re next. Susannah Pratchett’s place.”
“It’s Zombie-Elsa. And no.”
“I don’t want to.”
“You have to,” Batgirl said. “Otherwise, your sister has to knock on two.”
Zombie-Elsa saw Harley’s pale face grow paler. Perhaps thirteen wasn’t so grownup after all.
“Fine,” she said, approaching the intricately-patterned door. She knocked a timid rat-a-tat-tat on the looming edifice.
When no one answered, she breathed out a sigh she hadn’t realized she’d been holding prisoner. I wonder if these edifices hold other things prisoner. She shook the thought from her head and gave Batgirl a triumphant look.
“My turn,” Batgirl said, unimpressed. She strode up to the fortress at the top of a steep stone staircase and banged on the door loud enough to wake the dead.
For one dread-filled moment, Zombie-Elsa thought she heard the grating sound of scraping stone. She tensed, fearing the worst.
The door remained closed.
Batgirl tried to hide her relief, but the fingers that clutched the straps of her bag were white-knuckled and shook ever-so-slightly.
Batgirl turned on Harley, hands on hips, regaining her earlier arrogance. “Last one,” she said, moving down the dirt path. She pointed to the largest structure and grinned, a wide-mouthed, Jack-o-lantern grin. “There. Old Man Hitcher.”
Everyone knew the story of how Old Man Hitcher had come by such a foreboding residence. According to the legend, the farmer had grown tired of providing for his family, and banished them from his property at the start of a bitter, snowy winter. Only one of the relatives survived, Hitcher’s niece, and when the day finally came on which she could exact her revenge, she had her uncle removed from the farm and exiled to the stone house in Riverbend.
The dwelling was designed to keep in what shouldn’t be allowed out. Granite vines crawled up the walls, and weatherworn pillars encircled the property like road signs for a neighborhood in the land of the dead. Fiendish angels held vigil at either side of the ivy-choked doorway, and granite vases of desiccated flowers bookended the leaf-littered stoop.
Zombie-Elsa watched as Harley pursed her lips and stepped forward. She wanted to stop her, wanted to take her sister’s hand and run all the way home, locking the door behind them. There would be other dares, she wanted to tell her. Other boys to impress. But Zombie-Elsa could tell that Bobby was the furthest thing from Harley’s mind as she approached that terrible, waiting door. It stretched up, yawning before her. Zombie-Elsa imagined vampiric teeth springing from its hinges to bite her sister’s fingers.
Harley Quinn reached a trembling hand toward the door. She knocked once, twice, three times, on the stone panel. The echoes continued on, like the beating of the Tell-Tale Heart.
The crypt door swung open.
Welcome to CONdescension
by Joe Vasicek
SALUT, SALAAM, and SALUTATIONS to CONdescension 373, proud denizens of fandom! We welcome you to our convention this year, held in the beautiful underwater city of New Galveston. For a list of local attractions, including underwater hikes, snorkeling gardens, and the best seafood places in the Gulf of Mexico, please turn to page 98 of your convention booklet.
Our SCIENCE FICTION Guest of Honor this year is Andy Weir, author of the popular 21st century novel The Martian and one of the first sf authors to undergo the longevity treatments that are commonplace today. Mr. Weir will be on a panel with Laura Ares and Michael Redman, renowned MASA scientists and longtime administrators of the first Mars colony, where they will discuss The Martian and its role in the development of the colonization effort. Don’t miss it!
Our FANTASY Guest of Honor is Erin Kearsley, the breakout author set to finish the hotly anticipated final book in Brandon Sanderson’s STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE. Sanderson’s recent passing in a freak spacediving accident was a major blow to us all, but Ms. Kearsley is a lifelong fan who has vowed to carry on the spirit and tradition of his work. She will feature on a panel discussing Sanderson’s contributions to the genre, including the development of the hundred-volume epic series known as the “centology.”
Our FAN FICTION Guest of Honor is Xander “Ozymandias” Jones, who has written a combined total of one hundred million words in nearly a thousand fictional universes. Ozymandias will feature on a panel discussing the role of copyright in the post-mortal age and navigating the universes of living authors that have passed into the public domain. He will also kick off each night’s filking sessions in the con suite.
For the three hundred and sixty-ninth year, CONdescension is titillated to bring you the GANDALF BEARD CONTEST, celebrating the graying of fandom ever since that ceased to be a pejorative phrase! Our two-year reining champion is Mikhail Wasziczek with his luscious eight-footer, but the field is thick and the competition will be close. Will Wasziczek be the first contestant in the history of the contest to pull off a hat trick? Or will the coveted Gandalf Award go to a dark horse?
We welcome longtime friends of the convention and members who have stayed with us through the years. We also welcome any newcomers who are attending for the first year. Come on in! Make yourself at home! Rub some shoulders, and kindly ignore the robot penguins plotting in the con suite.
A SPECIAL NOTE: since this is the first year that the permanent ban list has been lifted, we ask that you abide by the following rules to maintain a positive and welcoming atmosphere:
Faction insignia may only be worn on an armband no more than four fingers wide, worn on the upper right arm. Any banners, buttons, signs, stickers, shirts, hats, or other articles of clothing deemed by the con committee to declare affiliation with one or more previously banned fannish factions will be confiscated. For the record, the following armband colors correspond to the following fannish factions:
- RED: Crying Corgis
- BLACK: Plastered Pomeranians
- BLUE: Desperate Dachshunds
- WHITE: Screaming Schnauzers
- BROWN: Gallivanting Greyhounds
- YELLOW: Timid Terriers
Infighting of any kind will not be tolerated in the common areas, and violators will be expelled from the convention on the third offense. For your convenience, we have provided four debate rooms where controversies may be discussed. The Daffodil Room is reserved for the discussion of all fannish controversies before 2100, the Honeysuckle Room is reserved for all fannish controversies between 2100 and 2200, the Geranium Room is reserved for all fannish controversies between 2200 and 2300, and the Hibiscus Room is reserved for all fannish controversies since.
We hope that you will help us all work together to keep the convention friendly and welcoming for everyone, and not repeat the unspeakable disaster of Contamination 146. Unfortunately, time does not heal all wounds in fandom, especially when we are all functionally immortal. By providing an outlet for your passionate crusades outside of the public sphere, we hope that this will finally be the year when the ban lists can be abolished.
Once again, welcome to CONdescension 373! Make some new friends! Catch up with old enemies! Just remember that there’s a place in fandom for everyone, even the people you wish would just die.
About the Creator: Christa Carmen
Christa Carmen's work has been featured in myriad anthologies, ezines, and podcasts, including Fireside Fiction Company, DarkFuse Magazine, Comet Press’ Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 2, Third Flatiron’s Strange Beasties, and Tales to Terrify. Her debut collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked, will be available August 2018 from Unnerving. Christa lives in Rhode Island with her husband and a beagle that rivals her in stubbornness.
World's Shortest Creator Interview: Christa Carmen
If, due to some very poor logistics, you had to survive several days in some random tropical wilderness, what would you do to find food, and what species would your imaginary companion be?
I’ve spent exorbitant amounts of time imagining myself as the protagonist from Life of Pi (which is one of my favorite novels of all time), and Pi gets a reprieve from his tiger-inhabited lifeboat to run amok on an island composed of floating algae and populated by hundreds of thousands of meerkats. I would say that I’d like to recreate this for my own stranded-in-some-random-
If your brain were an extinct animal or mineral, what would it be and why?
I’m going to stick with my tiger theme here and say the Tasmanian tiger. My brain is a little all over the place in that I’m constantly thinking, planning, hypothesizing, etc., and I often switch gears several times in a single day, from designing packaging configurations for clinical trial research to writing horror stories to counseling mental health and substance abuse patients.
The American Museum of Natural History website states that a quick look at the Tasmanian tiger, also known as the Tasmanian wolf, zebra dog, pouched wolf, and marsupial dog, can explain the almost mythic proportions this now-sadly-extinct animal achieved over the course of its existence: “Shaped like a dog, striped like a tiger or zebra, pouched like an opossum, and reputed to behave like a wolf, it became many different creatures in the popular imagination.”
Who wouldn’t want their very own brain to be on par with a species considered many different creatures in the popular imagination???
Fun fact: despite its official classification as extinct, sightings of Tasmanian tigers are still reported, though none have been proven conclusively. OooOOOhhhHHHH…..
About the Creator: Joe Vasicek
Joe Vasicek fell in love with science fiction and fantasy as a child when he read The Neverending Story, and hasn't looked back since. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Genesis Earth, Gunslinger to the Stars, The Sword Keeper, and the Star Wanderers series. As a young man, he studied Arabic at Brigham Young University and traveled across the Middle East and the Caucasus. He claims Utah as his home.
World's Shortest Creator Interview: Joe Vasicek
Few people realize this, but Times New Roman is, in fact, the third Rome. This is why everybody despises it, because the sequels are rarely better than the original. This is also why vandals never write graffiti in Times New Roman.
Font abuse is corporeal punshment. The founding fathers wrote the 8th amendment specifically to ban the use of Comic Sans. This is why Shibu Inus live in Japan.
Here's a quote: "Language is just a dialect with an army." What modern language do you think should be immediately disarmed, and why?
About the Artists
werner22brigitte is a creator on Pixabay.
Our very own D Chang is a designer and game writer from Austin, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Avast, Ye Airships! and the Cryptopolis science fiction anthology, and he has a janky retro JRPG on Steam. He does the Space Squid illustrations, editing, and other squid stuff.