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We the Jury; Fiction by Barbara Stanley
Emptying the Trash: Fiction by Rick McQuiston
Milepost 44: Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Planetary Perpetrator: Fiction by James Flynn
A Thin Thread: Fiction by M. E. Proctor
What Is the Song the Children Sing?: Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
A Bottle of Sherry: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Junipers: Fiction by Liberty Price
Institution Inspector No. 23: Fiction by Michael Fowler
Nightmares of Nightmares: Fiction by John J. Dillon
When You're Dead, You're Done!: Fiction by Pamela Ebel
Family Business: Fiction by Donald Glass
Colors: Flash Fiction by Bernice Holtzman
Gladiators: Flash Fiction by John C. Mannone
Pigeons in the Park: Flash Fiction by Roy Dorman
Kitsy: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
the look of legs: Poem by Meg Baird
Mike's 80th Birthday: Poem by Elizabeth Zelvin
The Art of Flying: Poem by John C. Mannone
Magazine Sestina: Poem by Peter Mladinic
Been Down So Low, It Now Sounds Great: Poem by Bradford Middleton
the burnt globe and the pregnancy: Poem by Partha Sarkar
Evening Alone: Poem by Craig Kirchner
Larry, Moe, and Me: Poem by Craig Kirchner
I Live the Life I Chose: Poem by Richelle Slota
Death House: Poem by Richelle Slota
he died of cancer: Poem by Wayne F. Burke
Night: Poem by Wayne F. Burke
and they are prancing: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
full of thoughts and hopes: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
threading a needle: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
Atlas Yearns for Retirement: Poem by Richard Allen Taylor
Frown: Poem by Richard Allen Taylor
Why is the Sky Cerulean?: Poem by Richard Allen Taylor
Awakening: Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Swirling in the Chaos: Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
The Moira: Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Midnight Molt: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Moments Before Awakening: Poem by Michael Keshigian
The Messenger: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Strange Gardens
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Rick McQuiston: Emptying the Trash

Art by Steve Cartwright 2024

Emptying the Trash


Rick McQuiston


          Susan did her best to get her mind off it. She had made a nice stir-fry meal with grilled salmon and watched the first half of a cheesy romantic comedy, and even tried to finally finish the wool scarf she'd been working on, but nothing worked. The nagging fear she had was incessant and unrelenting.

          She took a sip of wine and flopped down onto her worn but comfortable couch.

          “Susan, you need to get a hold of yourself.”

          Her words did little to soothe her nerves though, for there, squatting like an enormous toad, was a dark reality that couldn't be denied.

          The trashcan. That simple receptacle that was found in every home, collecting refuse without complaint, regardless of how nasty.

          Susan closed her eyes. It was a brief respite from the impossible but was better than nothing. After all, what else could she do? She could empty the can, but past experience taught her that it wouldn't make a difference. There would simply be more garbage spilling out of it by the next day, trash that wasn't from her. There were soiled food containers, crumpled papers, used tissues, empty bottles, and a host of unmentionables that defied description.

          Susan opened her eyes and stared at the trashcan. It was a cheap plastic model, thirty gallons she guessed, and was missing its lid. In fact, she had no idea what happened to the lid. One day it was there, snapped into place by the twin plastic knobs on either side, and the next day it was gone.

          Actually, that was what first alerted Susan that something was wrong: the missing lid.


          After that, she noticed that the trash was spilling over onto the floor. Empty cartons of food she didn't eat, plastic bottles of juice she didn't drink, discarded papers she didn't discard. She had emptied it just a few hours earlier, and a few hours before that (it was her way of trying to make things normal again) but the trash always filled back up in no time at all.

          Susan wanted to empty it yet again but knew it wouldn't help. It would happen all over again. However, if she didn't clean it up the mess would get out of hand quickly.

          “What are you?” she mumbled under her breath. “And why are you doing this?”

          The trashcan didn't reply.

          Deciding on a new strategy, Susan pulled up a kitchen chair and slumped into it. She was going to sit and watch until something happened. Eventually, she'd see where the trash was coming from. Eventually she'd discover what was really happening.

          Seconds slipped into minutes, which in turn slid towards an hour.

          Susan hardly realized how long she'd been sitting, watching, waiting for something to happen, but when she did (courtesy of her puppy-dog clock on the wall) she couldn't take it anymore. She jumped to her feet and stomped over to the trashcan.

          She watched it with bated breath.

          The trash displayed its contents as if taunting her. Garbage overflowed from the container, occasionally spiraling to the floor when gravity had its say. It was a mess that refused to explain itself.

          And then just as Susan was about to give in to her primal urge to keep her home clean something happened that stalled any intentions she harbored.

          An empty box of Hostess Twinkies (something she had never eaten in her life) that was perched on the top of the pile, suddenly shifted noticeably and then shot straight into the air before crashing down to the floor in front of the refrigerator. A hand, a scabrous yellow thing no larger than a golf ball, then inched its way up from the depths of the trashcan, poking around until it reached open air.

          Susan gaped at the impossibility before her. Her world would now have a new dimension added to it, a dimension of terror that shouldn't exist but did.

          As well as all the things that lived in that dimension.

          She watched as the hand wavered in the air for a few seconds before it was joined by two more. Identical in appearance to the first, the hands seemed to sense she was there. The digits clenched and unclenched, tightening into taut fists and then unfurling again to open palms. The skin looked fairly normal, although yellowed and slightly mottled, with only the two-inch long curved razor-sharp nails, each stained with residual food and what appeared to be blood, betraying their ominous origins.

          Susan could only stare. She guessed there were more of the things lurking in the trash (possibly all attached the same creature) but couldn't be sure.

          And she didn't want to find out either.

          Turning to flee, she stumbled over her own two feet and fell in a heap to the linoleum tile floor; her left ankle twisted, sending a lightning bolt of pain straight up her leg and into her lower back.

          Crippled, all she could do was lie there like a fish out of water, spasming to find some type of relief. She then craned her neck toward the trashcan and was terrified to see more hands, nearly a dozen by her pain-clouded count, clamoring just above the refuse. They were attached to thin tentacles writhing about like drunk dancers.

          And then, inevitably, it began to emerge.

          Like the sun rising above the horizon, the head slowly rose from the trash, nudging aside the flailing arms as it did so. Residual food smeared its surface; it looked like a small beachball, smooth and yet imperfect in its shape.

          Susan could only watch as the thing rose from the trashcan. In her desperate hope for anything to cling to she prayed that it had no eyes. Somehow that would make it less horrifying.

          But no sooner had the thought flitted across her mind, then the eyes, all six of them (although the creature sported nearly a dozen various-shaped orbs that had no visible pupils but very well could have been eyes) rose above the obstruction of the garbage. Ranging in color from pale yellow to a deep blue that bordered on black, to shades that she had no idea what they were, the organs rotated in violent unison with their brethren before fixating on the hapless human lying on the floor.

          Susan shrank back into her own skin. Her ankle was constantly reminding her that she couldn't use it, but the thought of sticking around to see what was in the trash simply was not an option. She drew out every ounce of strength she still had and forced herself to her feet. The pain was unbearable, but she trudged on, intent on escaping.

          After she had managed to stand, barely being able to orient herself, she was shocked to see that the head, the eyes, the arms and hands, had apparently sunk back into the trashcan.

          “What? How... I don't understand. I...”

          The words slipped from her mouth. In a way, though she was relieved; the thing was gone. But on the other hand, its image would be imprinted in her dreams for the rest of her life. And to top it off there wouldn't be a person on Earth who would believe her.

          “That does it,” she mumbled to herself. “I'm moving.”

          Susan straightened herself up a bit and limped out of the kitchen, her mind already whirling with her next course of action.

          And the trashcan, now completely empty, still sat in the kitchen where Susan had placed it when she had moved in the house. Having fused into another dimension, the cheap plastic container now served as a portal into another's living space, a thing with numerous eyes and hands tipped with curved claws.

          It shoveled another Twinkie, some dried fruit, and something vaguely resembling crusty cheesecake into its gaping maw, gyrating its jaws in a smooth rhythm to effectively churn the nourishment into mush.

          Temporarily sated, the beast sunk back onto its haunches. Its bulk flowed even as it rested. Several of its eyes scanned its surroundings, spawning mental notes to clean the place up a bit. Piles of trash dotted the cavern, most of which was directly underneath the portal opening.

          The thing oozed out from its seat, scooped up a wad of refuse, and hoisted it up to the opening, hoping that the creature living above would remember to empty the trash.

Rick McQuiston is a horror fan who has over 400 publications to his credit. He has written seven novels (three published) and read at various schools and libraries in Michigan. Currently, he is working on his eighth novel.

It's well known that an artist becomes more popular by dying, so our pal Steve Cartwright is typing his bio with one hand while pummeling his head with a frozen mackerel with the other. Stop, Steve! Death by mackerel is no way to go! He (Steve, not the mackerel) has a collection of spooky toons, Suddenly Halloween!, available at Amazon.com.    He's done art for several magazines, newspapers, websites, commercial and governmental clients, books, and scribbling - but mostly drooling - on tavern napkins. He also creates art pro bono for several animal rescue groups. He was awarded the 2004 James Award for his cover art for Champagne Shivers. He recently illustrated the Cimarron Review, Stories for Children, and Still Crazy magazine covers. Take a gander ( or a goose ) at his online gallery: www.angelfire.com/sc2/cartoonsbycartwright . And please hurry with your response - that mackerel's killin' your pal, Steve Cartwright.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2024