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Ding-Fiction by JD Baker
The Boy With the Straw Hat-Fiction by Steve Carr
Vickie's Revenge-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
The Confession-Fiction by Joan Leotta
My Affair-Fiction by Elena Smith
Sulfur-Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
The Treehouse-Fiction by Andrew Davie
The Biggest Fans-Fiction by John J. Dillon
Guarding the Koi Pond-Fiction by Cecilia Kennedy
The Only Way to Fly-Fiction by Tom Andes
Written by Slade Stevens-Fiction by Chris Alleyne
Slaying the Siren-Fiction by Dionisio Traverso, Jr.
An Education-Flash Fiction by Jon Park
Don't Move-Flash Fiction by Pam Ebel
Fashion Statement-Flash Fiction by Bill Baber
No Pepsi, Coke-Flash Fiction by Paul Beckman
Sasha Takes Another Shot-Flash Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Bloody Daydream-Poem by Wayne Jermin
9173, 1803, 0094-Poem by John Doyle
Postfontaine-Poem by John Doyle
The Bullet of the Assassin-Poem by John Tustin
The Monster-Poem by John Tustin
Rely on the Moon-Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
Trembling Shadows-Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
Caught, hooked-Poem by Gregory E. Lucas
I'm Swimming and It's Late Autumn-Poem by Gregory E. Lucas
Don't...!-Poem by Harris Coverly
Helios Grimm-Poem by Harris Coverly
Hunter-Poem by Harris Coverly
immobile death mask-poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
moonless night-poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
moonlit breeze through a forest-poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
shadowu-poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
A New Life-Poem by John Grey
Matilda-Poem by John Grey
Moira Walks Home Late at Night-Poem by John Grey
The Head-Poem by John Grey
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Art by Michael D. Davis 2021

The Biggest Fans


John J. Dillon


God, he loved speed metal, the overdrive, high gain, fuzzed up guitar solos and chugging power chords.  Even after years of crappo gigs and dismal paydays, he couldn’t imagine anything better, from corporate soft rock to unfathomable jazz, robotic classical to—worst of all—pop piano.  Nothing else mattered.  It had to be speed, speed, the faster, the louder, the crunchier the better.  Forever.


Viktor shouted a lyric and hit another screeching high E up at fret twelve, blasting the distorted hundred-watt note from his amplifier at the headbangers.  He held onto the soaring sustain, then slid into a chunky progression as Fry and Matz, bass and drums, thundered like a jackhammer duet.  A chickenfeed roadhouse, Blaine's Wreck Room at least offered a pumped audience craving rampage-grade thrash.  They'd paid their cash to see the Steel Rulers and wanted their faces blown off.  Viktor unleashed his lightning.     


Two more squalling songs into the set, he looked out over the bobbing heads and flying arms, spotted Trask at the far rear wall.  Bathed in eerie gray light, he was sweeping his arms sideways left and right, as if playing an invisible keyboard.  With a gnarlacious rush Viktor felt his fingers thicken, threatening his command of the fretboard.  He shot a freaked glance over at Fry and Matz strutting around hurling their own barrage of sound.  They were oblivious that Trask was out there stalking the Rulers from concert to concert, emanating brain havoc like an evil radio beacon.    


How many times had Trask appeared?  A defensive compulsion welled up demanding Viktor end this assault before his talent and career were dead.  Demolished by Trask, back from the dirt.


          He had to attack now, or Trask would escape again and return another night.  Viktor unstrapped his guitar and stepped off the stage, tanking the song and leaving Fry and Matz to fend for themselves.  He'd deal with them later.  The hall was suddenly full of shouts and boos.  Viktor shoved his way through the moshers to the wall where he managed to catch Trask, bring him down, and beat until his knuckles ached.        


          Viktor shifted in the hard chair as he regained awareness.  He didn’t know how he'd gotten here, the tiny baloney-pink room behind the stage.  His shoulders, neck, and arms throbbed and the floor seemed slightly tilted.  He remembered shrieking people pulling him off Trask, who'd broken free and scrambled away in the chaos.  Then he'd gone blank.  


          Fry and Matz sat across the table, eyes glaring in hi-def.  In a corner stood Mr. Blaine, stress disfiguring his face. 


          "You've blown your seals this time," Matz was saying, shaking an oversized head populated with pins and studs.  "You can't melt down onstage and attack members of the paying public.  Do I even have to say this?"


          Fry ran fingers tipped with obsidian black nail polish through his obsidian black hair.  "What sort of road dope are you into, anyway?  You seem… spaced.  More than usual."


          Viktor almost laughed.  Spaced.  Yes, that was it.  How he wanted to reveal what he'd been going through, seeing Trask these past weeks.  Trask, the ex-fourth member of the Rulers.  Trask, the buried one. 


          "I had too much to drink.  Some wimp gave me the finger and I lost it.  Sorry."

          Matz leaned forward.  "We had to beg Mr. Blaine to pay off the kid you clobbered.  That means we get nothing for tonight.  And this might not even be the last of it.  There were a lot of witnesses."


          Viktor marveled at how Trask had managed to break away and flee the Wreck, leaving some brainless doper in his place.  "So shoot me.  I said I was sorry."


          "I can see that."  Mr. Blaine shook his head, peeled himself from the wall, and left the room. 


          Matz flinched when the door slammed.  "Wonderful.  How to make friends."


Viktor resented how they were treating him like some third-string member of the Rulers instead of the exalted lead guitarist.  In their arrogance, they couldn't even conceive that his priceless talent was in jeopardy and he was fighting for his life.  "It was just a simple bar fight in an east Texas redneck club.  Not exactly Albert Hall.  No one's going to complain.  You ask me, it'll probably add to our badass reputation."


          Fry looked at Matz, stood up.  "Viktor, you either get a grip on yourself, end the ultra-fists, or we'll find another shredder.  There are plenty around.  We survived after Trask split, we can survive without you, too.  You know the music biz:  here today, gone later this afternoon."  He smiled with a weird, asymmetrical contraction of the muscles around his mouth.  "One more chance."




          Viktor gunned his sputtering old ATV into the bayou's thick forest as far as the scaly brown yaupon trees and soft soil allowed.  He parked and left the vehicle behind, began his hike into the marshy interior of the remote forgotten property two hours outside Beaumont, near the Louisiana border.  As he climbed over a sagging barbed wire fence and trudged into the woods, he continued to analyze the threat as he saw it.


Trask, alive?  Viktor had done a lot of research and didn't necessarily believe in ghosts, as his rational mind told him that a living Trask, no matter how far-fetched, was the best explanation.  Or was it?  Hadn't Trask once mentioned a long-lost brother?  Maybe this brother was a twin.  Theoretically, that could explain "Trask's" appearances.  He had to consider it.

But why would this theoretical brother torture Viktor—and with an air piano?  It was past Pluto impossible that he, or anyone, could know that Viktor had killed Trask a year ago.  Or that a piano had anything to do with it. 


He needed to pull this mystery apart and solve it.  The most logical answer was that Trask had actually survived their fight, dragged himself free from the grave, then spent months recuperating and planning his revenge.  He'd seen things like that happen in beaucoup awesome movies, so he knew it was possible.  What he needed was to start at the beginning, at the gravesite.  To see with his own eyes, first and foremost, if Trask had managed to unbury himself. 


An hour along the faint path through the woods, he came to the unnamed hidden creek he'd often visited over the years.  He turned north along the mushy narrow bank, watching his steps, pushing branches, heading for his secret fishing spot.  The foliage had thickened since the last time he'd been here, alone with Trask, on a break from touring for a private relaxing day of catfish, tequila, and chemicals.  The path was a little different now, compliments of the flooding common in this region.  But a half-mile on, the yellowish rock still jutted inches above the ground cover.    


He knelt to the stone, brushed away moss and dirt, found the X he'd scratched with his knife a year ago.  Viktor crossed himself.  Seeing it brought back what had once existed between Trask and him, their plans and hopes, and he felt a minor jab of sadness.  Despite their fight, Trask had been a fellow musician, deserved more than a raw pit in the ground.  So, Viktor had marked his passing, one artist to another, the decent thing to do.


"We need to add a piano to the band," Trask had declared, once fortified.  "Face it.  Speed metal's over.  The Rulers need to adapt, get out of this dead-end swamp circuit.  A guitar, bass, drums, with me on piano instead of rhythm guitar."


The very thought was a painful loud-hailer blaring inside Viktor's head.  A piano?  The instrument forced down his throat as a kid, day after day, by his wannabe concert pianist parents.  The unmasterable instrument that had sent him fleeing to the spectacular alternate universe of simple three-chord thrash, distortion, volume.  The instrument that could never in this eon mix with metal.  A piano. 


And Trask had even crazier Dutch uncle ideas:  "I'm the musical genius in this band," he'd boasted.  "I should be the leader, not you.  I'll get Fry and Matz to vote with me.  We'll rename ourselves and head to LA with a more commercial sound.  I have contacts.  You don't like it, leave."


 Viktor felt his nerves catch fire with rage.  Abandon the band for which he'd suffered years of bloody fingertips, sleepless nights, screaming dreams of suffocating crowds? 


The resulting explosive brawl hadn't gone well for Trask.  He'd been no match for Viktor's fists—and his camp shovel. 


At first, Viktor had been panicked by the inert body at his feet and the trouble he'd faced.  But later that afternoon, as he'd sobered up while putting Trask into the ground, he'd worked out a plan to handle Fry and Matz:  "I don't know where Trask's gone.  Maybe to La La Land.  Forget him.  We've got a gig to do and we'll do it as a power trio." 


No one had known they'd been fishing together, and no one ever wondered too hard about the sudden disappearance of yet another whacky loner itinerant metal-rocker for greener pastures. 


Three paces from the rock, Viktor plunged his shovel into the dirt.    


It was difficult labor.  He chopped his way down, ripping vines, scooping heavy, soggy clots only to have the sludge run back into the hole, refilling it halfway.  Viktor bore down, digging deeper.  He lost himself in the effort, unaware of dripping sweat or muggy air.


Soon, the shovel tapped a solid object. 


Viktor probed with the point of the blade, worked it around carefully, alarmed that there was something down there.  He straightened, drank from his canteen, grappling.  A rock?  A tree root?  He hadn't expected this.  He'd been sure. 


He gripped the shovel and leaned in, leveraged up until a human skull emerged with a sucking sound from the soupy brown water.  Staring, could feel the air clawing in and out of his lungs, tried to grasp what this—


There was something else down there too, sloshing.  Bright red flashed in wavelets, churning creatures breaking the surface.


Viktor forced himself to retreat.  Crawfish.  Hundreds, splashing, swarming on and about the remains, picking, tearing, nesting in their muck—


"What the hell are you doing on my property?" a voice behind him bellowed.


Viktor spun to confront a tall, bearded man dressed in hip waders and overalls.  He held a big white plastic bucket in one hand and a long pole net in the other.  Muscles bulged from his arms and his furious eyes demanded answers.




"Did you hear me?  You poaching my crawfish?  Are you a poacher?"  The cloddish man stomped closer, craned his neck, gaped into the hole.


"I'm not stealing," Viktor said, knowing it was too late, words weren't going to help.  The muscular bearded man's eyes were as big as beanbags, fixed on the skull. 


The man dropped the bucket and crawfish gushed out onto the ground, escaping frantically in all directions, around Viktor's ankles and into the hole.  "That's… human," he said.  “You killed someone!"


"I swear, I had nothing—"


But the man had already pulled a cell phone from his pocket and was tapping. 


Viktor had only a second to decide, act, prevent.  There was no time to weigh the right course of action, the smart thing to do.  Instead, he lunged, shovel swinging.  The sharp blade opened a serious neck gash, sending the man to the ground.  Viktor swung again and landed with a ringing blow that left him very still.


He stood over the body for a long time, listening to the stream, feeling the heat of the day, watching the crawfish scuttle, twitch, and probe, until he was sure the bearded guy would never move again. 



Eventually Viktor saw no choice but to dig.  Heaving into the job, he enlarged the grave, making room. 


By sundown Viktor had smashed and scattered the man's phone and was racing in his bucking ATV back to his pickup truck parked miles away.   


Someone might one day find the double grave, but it would be a long way down the road with nothing to link him to it. 


The hicks would scratch their heads forever.




The Caveman's Club was halfway between Houston and Lufkin, yet the Steel Rulers played as if it were some metal Mecca on the LA strip.  Viktor bent the notes to roaring highs, Fry's bass boomed in counterpoint, Matz's drums were louder than the king's cannons defending the castle.  The bangers jerked to the sound blowing off the stage.  They'd paid their money to get their brains cauterized.  Viktor was happy to oblige with a ripping torrent of speed metal.


Howling into the set, Viktor saw Trask at the back of the hall in hazy gray clothes, hands palms-down and floating back and forth in the air, as if over a piano.  Viktor struggled to keep his fingers moving across the guitar neck but his notes were already clumsy. 


Trask was still alive, right here in front of him, tracking, torturing, trying to drive him schitzi.  But this time Viktor had a better grip, had figured out the whole picture.  Trask had dragged himself from his grave a year ago, spent months convalescing, then killed someone else and buried him there.  Just in case Viktor came back, searching.  It was all an elaborate setup.  Trask was the murderer, not Viktor.  It was as obvious as the surface of the sun.


From the shadows another figure appeared and joined Trask, a tall, bearded guy in overalls carrying a big white bucket.  While Trask worked his piano, the man flipped the bucket upside down and began to beat the bottom in time to the music. 


So, the goon was alive too, in partnership with Trask.  Viktor cursed himself for not making absolutely sure he was dead.  Now he was unearthed too, and they were ganging up on him.  But Viktor stayed cool, because it didn't matter.  He wasn't afraid.  The truth made him strong.  They didn't know who they were dealing with, his determination to protect what he owned.


He felt his fingers returning to normal.  This time, it'd be different.  He'd end it.  He looked over at Fry and Matz, gave them a leader's nod, then shrugged off his guitar, hopped down to the floor, and with iron in his fists shouldered through the metalheads.




Before long Viktor got used to the home, more or less.  At least that's what the others in the group, and the heavies in white shoes, called it.  The home.  So Viktor decided to just go with the flow.  But secretly he'd come to the conclusion that despite the serene, drowsy days and long, deeply groggy nights, it wasn't really a home in the normal meaning of the word.  It was someplace else, a place where they didn’t want you to leave, where they kept track of your movements, where things were very regimented and well-guarded.


But why let it bother him?  Really, when it came right down to it, he had practically everything he wanted.  He had friends.  He had classic television and movies that never got stale no matter how many times they ran.  He had decent food, though somewhat bland, and peaceful walks around the rolling green grounds twice a day. 


Practically everything. 


Sometimes, though, he craved a thrash metal guitar at a jet engine volume.  Something loud and piercing enough to crack granite.  He could feel his fingers squirming, as if they were little animals with primitive hungers of their own.


He'd asked once, very nicely, if that could be arranged, and the heavy in white shoes had offered up something more tranquil and balanced, something that wasn't so extreme, so aggressive.  Something soothing that the whole group could sing along with. 


Could Viktor play piano?


So each Saturday night Viktor clenched his jaws until he saw red, red sparkles, but played the house piano anyway, living for the brief chance to slip an interesting off-scale note or semblance of a power chord into the oatmeal of old showtunes and schmaltzy lullabies the shoes permitted him.


It wasn't much, but it would have to do, until the crawfish came scratching at his bedroom door. 


They were, after all, his biggest fans.



John J. Dillon has worked for many years in the computer software industry and his most interesting job was at an atom smasher laboratory. Over the years he’s had several publishing credits, one of his earliest being as co-author of a hardcover spy thriller published by Cliffhanger Press, titled The Druze Document. He lives in Dallas, Texas but loves snowboarding in Utah beyond all reason.

If Charles Addams, Edgar Allan Poe, and Willy Wonka sired a bastard child it would be the fat asthmatic by the name of Michael D. Davis. He has been called warped by dear friends and a freak by passing strangers. Michael started drawing cartoons when he was ten, and his skill has improved with his humor, which isn’t saying much. He is for the most part self-taught, only ever crediting the help of one great high school art teacher. His art has been shown at his local library for multiple years only during October due to its macabre nature. If you want to see more of Michael’s strange, odd, weird, cartoons you can follow him on Instagram at mad_hatters_mania.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2021