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This Week in SHOWCASE #8
by Bruce Bethke
Editor, Stupefying Stories
Hi, and welcome to issue #8 of SHOWCASE, the free webzine companion to STUPEFYING STORIES magazine and the STUPEFYING STORIES PRESENTS anthology series. Right now we’re up to our empty eyesockets in finishing up TWO: The 2nd Annual Horror Special. If you want a sneak peek at what’s coming you can pop over to facebook.com/stupefying.stories to take a look at the working covers and list of authors; you don’t need to have a facebook account just to look. We’ve settled on the TOC; have all the copy-edited stories approved and back from the authors; hope to finish building and uploading the e-books tonight; and are waffling between these two cover treatments:
Personally I like cover 5 (the subtle one) best, but cover 6 (what Anna Grace Carpenter termed the “Flames o' Doom” cover) definitely makes for a better thumbnail and does a better job of jumping off the screen at you. We’ll probably end up splitting the difference. What do you think? If you’re on facebook, let us know.
Meanwhile, this week we’re thrilled and chilled to be bringing you four new stories—“Soft Magic’ by Paul DesCombaz, “The All-Seeing Ring” by Kelda Crich, “The Calling Card” by Eric J. Guignard, and “The Blue Ridge Wreath” by Georgia Ruth—as well as Badger & Vole’s review of Disney’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. (Disney’s Marvel’s? Is that sort of like Ruth’s Chris?) If you really want to take a deep dive into what’s been going on behind the scenes here, be sure to read the editorial, “Family Matters,” but if you just want to ask me when I’m going to be publishing your story: sorry, I’m ignoring email until after TWO is done and out the door.
One more piece of unfortunate news, while I’m thinking about it: after months of fighting The Invasion of The Spambot Spiders, we’re pulling the plug on the Reader’s Forum. It was a nice idea, but we ended up spending more time deleting spam posts and spambot-created user accounts than doing anything else related to the Forum. C'est le zut. If you want to comment on a story, you’ll have to do so via Facebook or Twitter. Sorry.
And now, on to the stories!
“So that’s it?” Marcy asked. “That’s the only spell you ever pulled off?”
With laser focus, her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend Deg scratched at his ear as though he might discover gold bullion buried behind the lobe.
“Yeah, more or less,” he said, grinning and shaking his tawny mop of hair. “Here.” He tipped the box of candy into Marcy’s palm and a single black brick tumbled out. “One bottomless box of licorice. The perfect spell.”
Squishing the hardish rectangle between her fingers, Marcy frowned. “You only made the black kind?”
Deg swiped the semi-flattened candy back from her and popped it into his mouth. “Hey, those happen to be my favorite,” he said.
Marcy noted that he chewed with his mouth wide open.
The two of them sat on the edge of Marcy's bed, listening to Deg's lips smack, staring at anything but each other, for what seemed like six eternities. The thin rain pattering against the bedroom window tapped like bored fingers on a snare drum.
Thankfully, before the awkward silence could pass into the dimension of the unbearable, Deg coughed into his fist and asked, “So how about you, big shot? What’s your conjuring masterpiece?”
“It is a powerful artefact, Miss. An ancient device that will twist your vision to the unseen,” whispered the shopkeeper.
The ring was heavy in my hand, heavier than might be reasonably expected, as if its power had transformed into a physical manifestation. An old white-metal ring, layered with twists of woven medieval carvings. I stared, transfixed, trying to recognise the skull-faced creatures that peered out of the metal vines. The creatures’ eyes and teeth were picked out in small fragments of crystal. They leered at me with knowing glances.
I held the ring between my thumb and forefinger, ready to push it onto my willing finger.
“Not yet,” whispered the shopkeeper. “We must come to an arrangement.”
“How much?” I asked. The price was irrelevant. I was willing to pay anything to obtain such an object of weird power.
I nodded. It was a ridiculously small sum for an item of such influence.
I hurried home, through the desolate streets and the dirty, ice-cold rain water. I was wrapped in anticipation. I knew that I had acquired something influential and obscure. The ring spoke to me, to the hidden aspect of my mind. I have always believed in the concealed mysteries of the world, and believed in mechanisms that might tear away the obscuring veil. I knew that if I were to place the ring onto my finger I would be changed forever. I wanted that. I wanted to be different. I wanted to be special.
A moment of courage, bolstered by a glass of raw vodka, and the ring was on my finger...
The calling card was black as midnight, and the message written across its face shimmered fire-gold. Letters and runes bowed together presenting a line of script which, when read, caused Old Man Popp to tremble.
Sorry I missed you. Will try back later.
The card measured only a few inches long and half that in height. Popp might have overlooked it entirely as he came home that afternoon, but the faint smell of brimstone caused him to search for its source. At first he thought he’d left the coffee maker on again and the java was burning, but then he found the card on the kitchen table, leaning against a half-empty bottle of gin.
This was the third card Popp had found on his table in the past month. He thought the first card was a joke. The second one caused him concern. And now number three...
“What do you want me to do, make an appointment?” Popp called out to the room. “I’m not going to sit here and wait for you, that’s for sure.”
He crinkled the card up and flicked it in the trash. Some guys just have poor timing, he thought and lit a cigar.
Two days later, Popp came home late at night...
My headlights illuminated a narrow path directly in front of my truck. Through the wispy fog I could barely see the asphalt burrowing through dark outlines of trees that might be impressive in the daylight. Surely I’d been this way before, but nothing looked familiar to my weary brain. I was afraid I’d missed my turn back where an abandoned van could have hidden helpful signs. There was nothing else to indicate my location, and so I pressed onward.
A small green arrow pointed to the right towards Rutland, a town I never heard of. But the Blue Ridge Parkway passed lots of small towns I never heard of, and I had to exit to get to any of them. I thought I would try to find a crafts shop or fruit stand where I could ask directions. The chances of finding an open store in the mountains were getting slim and slimmer as light withdrew from the forest.
Up ahead, a tiny glow through the ethereal wall gave me hope for civilization. A twisted half-mile later, I nosed my Jeep Cherokee towards the unpainted side of a general store with two gas pumps dying in the weeds. The old man peering at me through the dirt-splattered window watched me get out of the truck. I hoped the feeble floodlight at the corner of the gravel parking space made me appear harmless. I turned the knob and scraped open the door, bringing to life a jangle of bells overhead. The musty smell of stained hardwood floors reminded me of my grandparents’ store in Tennessee tobacco country. Years ago, they ran a business like this down the road from their farmhouse, providing the necessities to a close-knit community.
I looked around at the merchandise and felt the past come back to haunt me...