1. Artus was surprised to find a charity bag on his doorstep, the white plastic printed with the logo of the Guben Home for Men of Social Destitution. Emptying the contents onto the hall carpet he was overwhelmed by the stench of lavender water, with just a hint of moth balls. The water damaged donations inside included three lengths of hazel, a handful of black mould stained straw and a bark mask with the eyes scored out by repeated blows from a blunt scalpel. At the bottom of the bag he found what appeared to be a folded piece of tarpaulin, its surface plastic to the touch. It wasn't until he held the material up to the light he saw the clumps of fatty hair and ink spread of homemade tattoos.

2. The smell reminded him immediately of this repressed false memory therapy; fire and darkness and the impressive fangs of his grandmother. He recognized the skin as that of an immensely corpulent priest he had known in his childhood who had neglected to sodomize him as vigorously as one had been led to expect. He chewed at a hair reflectively; the contents of the bag were otherwise perfectly normal, but where were the usual toadstools?

3. He checked and the pictures were still there, the paper yellowed and worn from the environment, smudged from the nicotine and oils of his fingers. Each Sunday the priest would stand before the holiest of holies and he could tell, even as a boy, that the priest's heart was not in it. The blade was fresh as baby skin. He stood and watched the fog of his breath and listened to the late birds and watched as the snow continued to fall, a constant static in the air. Where were the toadstools?

4. Indeed, the toadstools... He remembered eating the non-poisonous variety in many dishes as a boy: their chewy texture, their unique flavor (they were, by far, his favorite fungus). He could almost taste them now as, again, he contemplated the weathered pictures, the blade, the snow falling in angular rushes. The static in the air seemed to increase its frequency as he lifted the blade to his own neck, pressed just enough to draw a single droplet of blood. Ah, such pleasure in pain!

5. Yet even as the tip of his tongue pierced the skin of his body's precious dew, and he savoured the iron taste, he caught the reflection of his eye in the blade. Drawing the blade back he looked closer. What he saw was sorry. The glee he had anticipated had fled and the prophecy that his first wife had made on their wedding night was coming true at last. The blade dropped from his hand.

6. How long can sorry spin in a raked body as indecision? Would that spin help with or exacerbate the problem? At what point would resonant impulse arise? Artemis had long been assisting Artus in what Artus called out to her as his alcoholic amnesia.

7. Artemis, expert at artifice, used sorry to secure favor in all her dealings.  She knew it would work with her as it did with everyone.  It could not fail because Artus, like all petty human beings, lacked insight to see into others' hearts of darkness.  He will fail to break through the wall she had thrown up, his amnesia driven by desire.

8. Artemis: hunter of Man and Beast.  Artus: prey caught in her sights.  Although Artus was snared already by her warm words and cold beauty, she needed the thrill of the chase.  She released him into the night, with his armour and sword, saddled her horse and released the dogs.

9. Her crescent moon crown lit the way through thunder brush, her excitement gathered the stars into a milky serpent huge in the night sky. Its giant mouth led her forward. Artus trembled, caught within the god snake's fangs. Artus rattled the prison bar teeth whose smoke enveloped him in a cocoon haze.

10. He gazed unbelieving as the haze became tangible, floating as a second skin above his own,  a translucent and shimmering caul surrounding him in a morass of freezing, glistening crystals. He gazed at his hands, covered in sparkling jewels of frost, raised them to his face and feeling the same, realized he would soon be covered in ice. He threw himself with all his strength against the barring teeth of the serpent, saw the jaws part and then burst through the shimmering veil into the sky, a living gem.

11. Into the new landscape, he ran stiffly.  Cold still crippled him.  His toes in particular, felt numb and functionless.  Behind him, the serpent thrashed, disgorging a slurry of ice and rodents' corpses. Scraps from the animal's own esophagus followed, speckled in a pretty frost.

12. There were lessons involving incisors, involving how to hide your scent, involving the forest.  He reached up to the back of his head, fingered the line between the nape of his neck and his hairline and began peeling - first his hair, then his face, until the top half of the skin from his body was draped around him, a great shawl, and he spun in circles and watched his blood lace the snow.

13. Where the blood droplets had spattered something stirred. Snow congealed, segmented, fractured into crystalline creatures that jerked and staggered like so many tiny automata. Random at first, but with growing coordination, the circle of ice-spiders staggered and lurched towards him, wave upon wave of glistening chittering creatures with one intent. They climbed his legs, spiralling up, fusing and mending his tattered flesh, weaving a shroud, an ice-web.

14. Trapped in the ice-web, he had soon no control on his limbs; he was a puppet attached to the ice-web by invisible strings and he kept dancing to the rhythm of a fast, macabre music until his legs and arms ached and bled. You will dance until you die, echoed a dark voice into his mind. Closing his eyes and biting his lips to overcome the excruciating pain, he threw the cards of the sword suite in the air; they turned into giant butterflies that tore the ice-web with their sharp sword-darts freeing him from the frozen trap. Dressed in a clean white suit, he walked away from the remnants of the ice-spiders shaped into ice statues and headed towards les sentiers obscurs - the layout of the necromancer snakes.

15. Necromancer snakes, or an équipe of homunculi? In the octagonal terminus coyly dubbed "St. Replace Aller," the acolytes gather to declare allegiance to a primordial nothing named ENTROPOID. They gyrate and twitch to the droning dissonant beats of Repeat Murdock, an oldschool DJ ensemble of hybrid bots with built-in tear ducts: piles of clothing are burnt in effigy. A 1976 Chevrolet Caprice Classic Landau Coupe is dragged with dental floss by a bald man without a jaw. Laughing tracks intermittently drown out Repeat Murdock. Behind the casement window, below chipped beige paint, the next in line shakes his own hand.

16. The Asylum in the Stars floats, suspended in space. Inside, the line moves, unendingly, on a mobius strip conveyer belt. The bionic, reconstituted Hieronymous Bosch and an army of fornicating, nude circus clown dwarfs fill the Chevy and their evil laughter intermittently drowns out the laughing tracks. Outside the casement window, all is blackness, yet there is movement, like eels swarming in murky water.

17. On the street below, Mr. Moto gazed upward and saw them - the deconsecrated angels of the Vermin Kingdom, whispering amongst themselves. He had hallucinated them once before at Broken Spectre, where he was studying Paleography under the tutelage of the renowned Spreck Frische. In mid-thought, a hellish spider landed on top of Mr. Moto's head, piercing a tiny hole in his left hemisphere, inducing the medieval bells on the big clock tower to clamor in his mother accented Yiddish voice. She was telling him it was time to come home for some boiled leg of mutton basted in eel juice.

18. The spider dug deep into the soft skull. Its legs pierced the bone like artificial flowers pierce Styrofoam. The sharp squeaks repeated until it could get its bearing. Better prey was always just around the corner. One just needed to wait.

19. But from around the corner came something she hadn't anticipated. Larger, less sneaky, even a little ungainly… but hungrier and, most significantly, winged. The giant pterodactyl gulped up the spider and the remains of the skull in one wicked mouthful. Crucially, however, it didn't swallow. Sometimes it wasn't about filling your belly; sometimes it was about filling your beak with weaponry.

20. Sarabeth lunged at the dactyl and missed it by inches.  Shit! The dactyl let out a loud squawk. The skull fell out of its beak. It spread it wings, flapped behind her, and beaked the back of her skull, hard. 
21. Falling, falling, falling . . . or maybe it just seemed like it.  Two injured skulls, a fair amount of blood and stars, a cuckoo clock off in the distance.   And now, on the periphery, the agitations of the leather wings insinuated themselves back into Sarabeth's bruising consciousness.  The layers of dimness threshed away and the light squawked, and she squawked, and it squawked . . . or maybe it just seemed like it.

22. The cacophony resounded in the cathedral of Sarabeth's skull, a black mass for birdbrains.  She staggered onwards.  Feathery buds sprouted from her bare arms and legs, quills erupted from her shoulders.  Her body felt lighter, hollowed out.  As pterodactyl shadows slid over her, she unfurled her wings.
23. "Aaaaa-AAAAAAARGH!" What sound is this? she thought. The sound of her own voice filled the air and she wondered where the noise, the screech, the awful squawk came from. What part of her brought her to this?

24. The part from inside her, below her. Infanticide! she thought. Tight-panticide! Oozing ichor, spasmodic in the grass: Praying Manticide. She searched her surroundings for something sharp.

25. The only blades were lush, verdant. She plunged her fingers down, through them, down like roots into the loam and brought up great handfuls of pungent-smelling darkness. Spread it over her breasts, like oil, while she undulated above, around. Particles spilled from between her fingers and pattered down around her.

26. "Grow, grow," she exhorted, sending loam-soiled hands down and around her body, probing her skin, reaching areas of softness and hairy growth she had all but forgotten about; the middle and index fingers of her right hand plunging into the moistness that throbbed expectantly between her legs. The soil heard her, obeyed the invitation, and shoots oozed forth, crawling up her limbs, roving across her body. She laughed, but suddenly cut short into panicked sobs as she felt a hard solidity push upwards past her two fingers and into her core. Her cries ended mid-shriek as she collapsed back onto the ground, caught in a spasm of terrified revelation. Come the spring, her flower-pricked body would make a very exquisite corpse.


The authors:
1. Steve Toase
2. David McLean
3. Chris Deal
4. Marc Lowe
5. Gary Budgen
6. j/j hastain
7. Sy Roth
8. Mark Lewis
9. Amy LaBonte
10. Adele Geraghty
11. Rachel Rodman
12. Kelly Boyker
13. Bill West
14. Sissy Pantelis
15. Daniel Y Harris
16. Jonette Stabbert
17. Michael Brandonisio
18. Nicholas Hayes
19. Allen Ashley
20. Kenton Yee
21. Gordon White
22. Joel Kuntonen
23. Allen Taylor
24. Caleb True
25. Rhonda Parish
26. Kate Onyett