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The Wasp and the Fig: Fiction by Lauren Scharhag
It's Out There: Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
After the Fire: Fiction by Mark Jabaut
"NOYB": Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
La Vengeance De Leo: Fiction by Saira Viola
Bragging Rights: Fiction by James Kompany
Laundry Day: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
The Black Rider's Gold: Fiction by Brian Barnett
Mother's Day: Fiction by Kurt Hohmann
Sins of the Father: Fiction by Paul Lubaczewski
Rebound: Fiction by Phil Temples
Dead Man's Land: Fiction by Scott Cumming
The Girl from the Sweater Factory: Fiction by Robb T. White
Nightspeak: Fiction by Michael Steven
The Final Chapter: Flash Fiction by James Blakey
And the Teapot-Cat Wept: Flash Fiction by Deidre J Owen
What I Love About You: Flash Fiction by Elizabeth Zelvin
Everything Is the Same: Flash Fiction by Bernice Holtzman
William: Flash Fiction by Ron Capshaw
Forgiveness: Flash Fiction by Karen Schauber
Doctors Make Good Killers: Poem by John C. Mannone
The Monster in the Mirror: Poem by Bernice Holtzman
The Folly of the Filly: Poem by Becky Parker
My Most Favorite Things: Poem by Di Schmitt
Take a Look: Poem by Gregory E. Lucas
skin and bones: Poem by Meg Baird
The Past Is Over: Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
Fly Collector: Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Pickles Butte: Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Birdly: Poem by Juan Mobili
El Rio de la Plata: Poem by Juan Mobili
blind heredity: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
moonlit wind through the forest: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
By Reason of Insanity: Poem by R. A. Allen
Cabin Fever: Poem by R. A. Allen
The Death and the Paint: Poem by John Tustin
The Sky Is FIlled with Wine: Poem by John Tustin
The Tide: Poem by John Grey
Followed: Poem by John Grey
He Knows: Poem by John Grey
Scaling the Wall: Poem by John Grey
On the Commuter Train: 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

Kenneth James Crist: It's Out There

Art by Hillary Lyon 2022

It’s Out There…


Kenneth James Crist


It all started with bird feeders. And guilt. Squirrels came later, but not much later. They’re opportunistic fuckers, squirrels. Later, I even had some turkeys. Yeah, really. Wild turkeys, flyin’ right into my back yard to clean up what was left on the ground. Five hens, two jakes and a big old tom. A jake? That’s what they call a younger tom. They look just like a hen, but they have that beard thing hangin’ down…

The guilt? Well, sometimes when ya get older, things you did thoughtlessly in your youth will come back and start to bother ya. That’s the way it was with me. When I was just a brat, growin’ up on the farm, kids all had BB guns. Then later on, we all had rifles. Shotguns. And we hunted. Always ate what we killed, so that was alright. Except for when we were little and got that first Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. Then we shot at anything and everything. And there were a lot of birds around.

Sparrows, starlings, crows, pigeons, I didn’t care. I shot ‘em all. Shot ‘em by the goddamn truckload. Shot a lotta rats, too, but there’s no guilt there. Gotta keep the rats down when you live on a farm. Otherwise, they’ll just about take over. But the birds? Hell, they weren’t hurtin’ a damn thing. They were just targets. Never thought shit about it at the time. They were just something to shoot. Never thought about how they might have had nests, with babies they wouldn’t be coming back to feed.

So, yeah, guilt. I decided maybe I could adjust things a little, maybe swing the compass needle of Karma a little more in my favor. So, I put out bird feeders and birdbaths in the back yard. I’d get through a hundred and fifty pounds of seed a month. The squirrels showed up right away. I didn’t try to run ‘em off, I just put the food out and let nature take its course. Never thought much about what else I might have been attractin’, either. That would come later.

I guess I fed nature’s critters for a couple years before things started gettin’ a little strange. And, at first, that’s all I could say. A little strange. Like in the spring of this year, I had as many as eight or nine squirrels out there at a time, quarreling over the sunflower seed. Then, within a week, there were none. Didn’t see any for almost a month. At the time, I figured there was just too much natural food out there and they’d be back when fall came and crops started dying back and harvest was in. Now, I know better. Couple weeks ago, I started seeing squirrels again, but they were not full-grown. They were the offspring of the adults I’d fed before, most likely.

Then I started seeing a lot less activity around the regular feeders, too. Instead of going through two feeders full every day, suddenly it was down to one every three days. The birds were a lot spookier, too. Time was I could sit out on the sunporch and watch them for hours. Then, within a very short time period, they got weird. Now, if I so much as crack open the screen door, they’re gone. I began to wonder what was going on. I made some assumptions, based on ordinary logic.

I assumed, first of all, that some predator was taking the squirrels and birds. I had seen nothing to indicate this, other than the rapid decline in the population. I had seen no hawks or any other predators hanging around in the daytime, so I had to conclude something was happening at night. Being both curious and retired, I decided to find out what was going on. After all, I had time on my hands. I went to a local sporting goods store and bought myself a trail camera.

This thing cost seventy-nine bucks and, for that price it was a bargain. It was battery powered and fully automatic and it used an infrared flash. It would take decent pictures in total darkness and record them on a computer chip, which could be downloaded into my laptop. It came with various nylon straps and fittings, so it could be fastened to a tree and left to do its thing.

There was a period of about a month, when I got pictures of opossums and raccoons and the occasional field rat, coming around to clean up what the birds and squirrels had missed. And then, they too began to disappear. And, last Wednesday night, I got the first hint of what I was dealing with.

There were three shots in rapid sequence, I would assume as fast as the camera could cycle. In the first, a raccoon is under the center of my three feeders, caught by the camera with a handful of seed. It is also turning its head, and its mouth is open in the beginning of a snarl. The second shot shows a blur of something moving with such speed and agility that the lens and shutter speed cannot match it. There is the impression of a rounded something, maybe an abdomen, maybe not, and what could be legs…but if they are legs, there are way too many of them…and in the last shot, both the raccoon and whatever got it are gone. Nothing to see here, folks, just move along…

Thursday night, nothing. Not a single frame of anything, weird or common. Friday night, ditto. Last night, there was one shot, again, blurry and indistinct to be sure, but still there and very close to the camera. So close, in fact, that only the shape of something across the lens can be seen. It’s black and spindly and a bit shiny and it looks like it has spiky hairs all over it. I know it can’t be what it appears to be…but then the camera itself was smashed and chewed by something, its tough plastic case split and ruined, the nylon straps torn like so much tissue paper. I managed to save the memory chip.

So, this morning I decided to just say the hell with this and leave. I live here alone, and it’s twenty-two miles to town. I packed some stuff for hotel/motel survival and climbed into my pickup, and of course it wouldn’t start. I picked up the hood and found that something had stripped all the wiring out of the engine compartment. Having it rewired would cost more than the old truck is worth.

I went back to the house and picked up the phone, intending to call a friend, and it was dead, too. Outside, the phone lines were ripped off the wall and mangled, just like the trail camera. So, I can hike or I can stay and fight.

Like I said, I live alone, and for that I am glad. I will face whatever it is, whenever it comes, by myself. And it will come. Because it now knows that I am aware of it. And it is hungry. Ever so hungry. I have weapons to defend myself and I am a good shot. But I have seen its incredible speed and its power…and what if there’s more than one?

It’s about forty minutes past sunset and I have barricaded everything I can. The lights are all on throughout the house but a few minutes ago, they flickered. I know it likes the darkness and I’m really worried about the service entry cable from the pole to the house…

Kenneth James Crist is Editor of Black Petals Magazine and is on staff at Yellow Mama ezine. He has been a published writer since 1998, having had almost two hundred short stories and poems in venues ranging from Dark Dossier and The Edge-Tales of Suspense to Kudzu Monthly. He has several books in print, Jariah and the Big Green Booger, and What Really Lives in Loch Ness, both children’s books, and Groaning for Burial, a book of zombie stories, plus A Motorcycle Cop’s Motorcycle Manual, all available through Amazon.

He reads everything he can get his hands on, not just in horror or sci-fi, but in mystery, hardboiled, biographies, westerns and adventure tales. He retired from the Wichita, Kansas police department in 1992 and from the security department at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita in 2016. Now 77, he is an avid motorcyclist and handgun shooter. He is active in the American Legion Riders and the Patriot Guard, helping to honor and look after our military. He is the owner of Fossil Publications, a desktop publishing venture that seems incapable of making any money at all. On June the ninth, 2018, he did his first (and last) parachute jump and crossed that shit off his bucket list.

Hillary Lyon is an illustrator for horror/sci-fi and pulp fiction websites and magazines. She is also founder and senior editor for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. An SFPA Rhysling Award nominated poet, her poems have appeared in journals such as Eternal Haunted Summer, Jellyfish Whispers, Scfifaikuest, Illya’s Honey, and Red River Review, as well as numerous anthologies. Her short stories have appeared recently in Night to Dawn, Yellow Mama, Black Petals, Sirens Call, and Tales from the Moonlit Path, among others, as well as in numerous horror anthologies such as Night in New Orleans: Bizarre Beats from the Big EasyThuggish Itch: Viva Las Vegas, and White Noise & Ouija Boards. She appeared, briefly, as the uncredited "all-American Mom with baby" in Purple Cactus Media’s 2007 Arizona indie-film, "Vote for Zombie." Having lived in France, Brazil, Canada, and several states in the US, she now resides in southern Arizona.  https://hillarylyon.wordpress.com/                                    

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2022