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Sibling Rivalry in a Zombie Apocalypse: Fiction by Jon Park
Dead is Dead: Fiction by Roy Dorman
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Testing the Waters: Fiction by Rick McQuiston
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Fear: Flash Fiction by Cheryl Snell
Homecoming: Flash Fiction by Kurt Hohmann
Castle: Flash Fiction by Ron Capshaw
Head: Flash Fiction by Ron Capshaw
Something Wicked This Way Thumbs: Flash Fiction by K. A. Williams
The Charcoal Man: Flash Fiction by Fred Zackel
Tarot Tara: Flash Fiction by Steve Cartwright
Mr. Bunny and $88.01: Flash Fiction by William Kitcher
Don't Think Twice: Flash Fiction by Elizabeth Zelvin
Teasing in the Light: Flash Fiction by Bradford Middleton
Spider: Flash Fiction by Mark Jabaut
Infirmities: Poem by David Galef
Dreaming a Little: Poem by Juan Mobili
The Dead Mingle with the Living: Poem by John Tustin
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Procession: Poem by Partha Sarkar
At the Funeral Lunch: Poem by Joan Leotta
Dreaming My Way Home: Poem by Joan Leotta
The Silence: Poem by John Grey
Pacing: Poem by John Grey
Elementary Classes: Poem by John C. Mannone
Rage: Poem by John C. Mannone
Comfort Zone: Poem by John C. Mannone
Serpentine Line: Poem by Charles Weld
William Calley's Apology: Poem by Charles Weld
Steve J: Poem by Charles Weld
Thief: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Sweet Pleasure: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Courtship: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Again, A Bike Left: Poem by Rp Verlaine
Short Cuts to Madness: Poem by Rp Verlaine
Ingrid Leaves Vegas: Poem by Rp Verlaine
A Necessary Poem: Poem by Rob Plath
Last Gesture: Poem by Rob Plath
Carpe Sanguinem: Poem by Rob Plath
The Antitesis: Poem by Rob Plath
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Hail, Tiger!
Strange Gardens
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Fred Zackel: The Charcoal Man

100_ym_charcoalman_jsowder.jpg
Art by John Sowder 2023

The Charcoal Man

 

  by Fred Zackel

 

 

     She was trembling, wide-eyed, and she needed him to hold her close.

        He came to her in a dream.

     “The rough man,” she called him. “The rumpled man. The raggedy man. No, none of those are right.”

     “But it’s an r sound.”

      “And he’s gray and charcoal and smudged and blurry, like a charcoal drawing. Like seen through a telescope at night. Blurry figure of a man. All wrapped in heavy winter clothes. A muffler around his neck covers the bottom part of his mouth. But I know he’s grinning. He’s got his eyes on me and there’s no one else in this world he is looking at. I am the only thing he sees and the only thing he wants. His mouth is all teeth, and he is grinning, and it’s covered by this woolly muffler and sweeps up behind his head and covers like, like a hood or a shawl. And it’s all one piece, his coat and his baggy pants and his muffler and the dirty charcoal and gray shadowy. . . .”

    “What does he want?”

     “He wants to touch my skin. My creamy skin. That’s what he is thinking. The very words he is thinking. He wants to touch my sides, not even an embrace, or a hug, and just rub his dark charcoal hand along my waist on either side of me. He wants to touch my skin. I can hear his thoughts. He wants to touch my skin, and I want to let him.”

     “He doesn’t repulse you?”

     “No, no. He should. But I am mesmerized. I would let him.”

      “What happens then? When he touches you?”

     “I go away with him. I go willingly because he touched my skin.”

     “And where does he take you?”

     “Into the shadows. Into his shadows. Into the dark and I never come back.”

     “Is he death?”

     She puzzled over that.

     “What is he wearing?”

     “Like two thick overcoats, one atop the other. A pair of heavy overcoats. They make him look squat, bulkier than he might be. They make him look wider than he really is. I think. I hope. I can’t see them distinctly, clearly, but he has them buttoned almost to the top button. He might be wearing an old-fashioned hat, or it might be the peak of a hood flattened out, I can’t tell.”

     “Where does he come from?”

     “Nowhere good. Nowhere people should be. Nowhere people can live and breathe. . . .”

     “How does he get through from there to here?”

     “He comes when we’re dreaming. Or almost awake. When we sit sidesaddle between waking and dreaming.”

     “But he is a nightmare?”

     “Oh, yes!”

     “How old is he?”

     “He is old. In his fifties, his sixties. Or maybe that’s just how he wants me to see him. Maybe he is so much older than that. Maybe he is camouflaged, and he is younger, in his thirties.”

     “But you can’t see him clearly, distinctly.”

     “He’s like in a dark gray mist, a grungy charcoal gray mist. He is part of the mist, and the mist is part of him. It oozes all around him.”

     “Emanates from him?”

     “He is the source of it, yes.”

     “Is he a phantom?”

     “He has . . . texture. Like cloth. Fabric. Ashes piled together, smashed together, like a book you find afterwards in a fire. Sometimes parts of him are white as old cigar smoke. But mostly? The color of the grave . . . that’s what he is!”

     “Where does he come from?”

     “The charcoal man?” She shrugged, confused, still disturbed. “The charcoal man. And he is swirling, or the world around him, behind him is swirling. Not fast, but very slowly, gently even, corkscrewing behind him, and he is at the center, and he is stirring the cloud, the mist himself, so I don’t get spooked.”

     “And he wants you.”

     “If he gets me, he kills us both.”

     “Us . . . both?”

     She grinned. A very wicked grin. All teeth. Glittering and gleaming like the carving knife she rammed up under his ribs.


Fred Zackel has published more than a hundred stories, poems & essays and a dozen or so novels. Most all of his writings are on Kindle or the web.

From the hollows of Kentucky, John Sowder divides his spare time between creating art for Sugar Skull Press and working on various cryptid-themed projects.  He illustrated GEORGE THE HOLIDAY SPIDER by Rick Powell, which is due November of this year.  You can see more of his art at www.deviantart.com/latitudezero 

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2023