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Halloween

In our build-up to Halloween 2021 – a time of the year that we at Edgeverse traditionally don’t give a shit about – we decided to publish a series of short stories that take traditional horror elements and give them a wobbly new spin.
We enjoyed writing these stories so much that we created a whole new collected work centred around them, titled, ‘The Bad Place.’
If slightly off-kilter horror is your cup of tea then why not take a dive into the absolutely free world of the weird and macabre world of our darkest writing?

Reality isn’t laid out by the numbers, and sometimes strays beyond what we can see, and hear, and think, or what we think we hear and see. Where reality stops, stories begin, our pathways beyond the realms of the straight and the narrow, the black and the white of things.

Among the vast and varied tomes of substandard fiction, none have quite captured audiences’ enthusiasm like the two act setup. In the first act, the scene is set: our characters and situations are introduced. We learn about their motivations, their dreams, their fears…

Today we might step off the path most-trodden as we visit a man whose reality is sandwiched between the realm of the real and the realm of the maybe, between the black and the white. What will we find as we unpick the pieces of the lives he touches along the way?

And with all the pieces in their proper places, what then?

That’s for us to find out in…

The Second Act

By - Mostly Seth with a zesty little dash of Jack

Meet Tony Fibglotis, a street peddler of fresh deli sandwiches enjoying a typical Thursday lunchtime’s trade.

“Hey Tony, gimme a turkey and cranberry on rye, hold the pickles!”

“Hold the pickles? When do I ever put pickles on turkey and cranberry?”

“Today you do! I want you in the mindset that today of all days, you’re going to break routine and put pickles on your turkey and cranberry, and then don’t.”

“Sounds like a lot of trouble to me.”

“You want to lose a valued customer?”

“Thought you’d never ask!”

“Just breakin’ your balls, Tony! You know me!”

“Hey Tony, you got any werewolf meat in?”

“Fresh out, Brad!”

“That’s good, can’t stand werewolf meat. Gives me gas! Chronic gas! Tell you what, gimme some of that chicken roll in sesame with lettuce and colby jack.”

“Hey, Tony! I got one for you. What’s black and white and red all over?

“A penguin in a wood chipper?”

“It’s a newspaper! Get it? ‘Read’ all over?”

“Newspapers have been colour for decades!”

“Whatever, I’ll have a Cubanos.”

“Hey Tony, gimme a plain sub filled to the brim with sausage meat.”

“You got it!”

“Now, I mean •really• filled to the brim. I want you to stuff that thing full of sausage meat until it can’t hold any more, then I want about 50 to 60% more on top of that.”

“You kidding? Half of it’ll end up on the floor and I’ll have health and safety all over my ass about the rats and racoons again. You want me to lose my license?”

“Guess not. Tell you what, just gimme a veggie. Extra tomato!”

“Hey Tony, what would you recommend for a girl that appreciates the finer things in life?”

“I dunno, a night at the opera?”

“Opera? Hello?! I’m talking sandwiches here Tony! Come on, I got a girl to impress”

“How about sauteed foie gras with mango ketchup in a licorice bread roll, served on a silver tray by a guy in a tuxedo? Sound good?”

“Perfect. Could you gimme one of them?”

“No. What you see is what we got!”

“Excuse me good sir,” came a high pitched voice. It was a short man in a black suit, glasses and a bowler hat, a white handkerchief protruding from his breast pocket. This customer was new, and as he spoke, it was as if the hustle and bustle around him suddenly lowered in volume, as if time itself had stopped. “Did I hear you say you were fresh out of werewolf meat?”

Tony eyed him suspiciously. “You did hear me say that, yes.”

The man looked distracted. For a moment, he sniffed the air, his eyes darting hither and tither. “Yes,” he said finally. “There is no werewolf meat here. Thank you for your time.”

Before Tony could make sense of the conversation, the man had vanished into the crowd, only to be replaced by the usual hullabaloo of customer requests for his humble wares.

Something about the man felt out of place, though he knew all too well that things were rarely black and white. For there was also more to this street trader than met the eye. But we shall touch upon this once more at a later stage.

By two o’clock, he had finished work and was enjoying a coffee with a neighbouring trader.

“How was business today, Tony?”

“Same old, same old. You?”

“I dunno, I’m thinking I might be in the wrong line. There just isn’t the demand anymore for inflatable rubber horses. I’m thinking I should branch out into other equines.”

“You have to create demand, Richie! My sandwiches don’t exactly sell themselves.”

“From where I’m sitting, that’s exactly what they do!”

“Well the customers don’t exactly make it easy. You know, I had a guy in earlier asking about werewolf meat! I don’t even think he was joking.”

“Strange times my friend. Did you hear the sirens earlier?”

“This morning? Yeah, strangest sound ever. Where do you think they were coming from?”

“Sounded like North Street, where the kindergarten is. Never heard anything like it.”

“Perhaps one of the toddlers escaped.”

The two of them laughed at the absurdity of the suggestion.

“Well, it’s not like they’d get very far since they painted over all the crossings on that block to match the red brickwork. It’s practically an island now. Say, Tony. You want something to liven up your coffee?”

“I’m good, Richie. The caffeine is lively enough for me. You know I can’t hold my liquor, and people say I’m a mean drunk!”

“I hear ya! You don’t mind if I do though?”

Later that afternoon, Tony arrived home where, free of prying eyes, he was safe to resume his secret second identity. Unbeknown to even his closest friends, Tony was an amateur mad scientist, and today would be the night he finally got to try out his invention.

“At last,” he cackled. “At long, long last! My elixir is ready for trial stage Alpha Zero Charlie.

“Long have I sought out its secret, and long has it eluded me, but today all that will change. Today, its secrets will be revealed!

“Throughout the long history of mankind, the goodness of man has always been mired by the filthy taint of evil. The white corrupted by the black. No more, I say! This elixir—if successfully clinically tested at a range of dosage levels, with proper accounting for age and medical history, and a suitably sized control group—will purge the evil from the very souls of men!”

His cat rarely spoke, and when it did it was normally unintelligible, but it did make for a good listener. Tony liked to monologue, but without an audience, that would just be a bit weird.

“Before all that though, I must first evaluate the potion’s potency. I hereby nominate myself the very first test subject.”

He raised the small vial to the light and watched a spectrum of colour project onto his hand.

“To the future!” he proclaimed, and brought the bottle to his lips.

I awoke with a ferocious headache, a dryness in my throat, a waxy veil of translucent mucus partially impairing my vision.

What had I done?

I surveyed my room. All was as it should be, with some minor differences. The curtains, which I would normally find in their rightful place hanging over the windows, were now torn and dirty and spread across the floor, a floor which, while normally clean and tidy, was now strewn with broken glass, cigarette ends, topsoil, the remains of a table, and pieces of cuckoo clock, which would normally be assembled in a working fashion and hanging over a television set, which now had a giant hole where an unbroken screen had once been. Also the walls which were usually white and clean were now covered with faeces, and adorned the message, “You did this!!” in what appeared to be human blood, perhaps my own judging by the bruising on my hands. There was also a rotting bloodstained zebra over in the corner with a box of Chinese takeaway perched on top.

What had I unwittingly unleashed?

Hurriedly, I switched on the radio, in the hopes I might familiarise myself with a grander understanding of events.

“If you’re just switching the radio on now,” came the voice, “then we have breaking news!

“The price of bananas is set to rise for the second time this month due to the mechanics of a democratically organised society working in accordance with its stated intent. If you like cheap bananas, you only have yourselves to blame for voting incorrectly all those years ago.

“A black and white fluffy cat was found stuck up a tree with no way of getting down. But thanks to our brave boys and girls—and those that identify as neither—in yellow hats and trousers, the cat was reunited with its owner, a 5 or 6 year old boy named Andreagal. I bet we’re all glad that turned out OK!”

Things outside at least appeared to be normal… for the time being. With relief and some minor hesitancy, I reached over to turn the radio off. But at that very moment…

“And on a lighter note, this just in! A string of grizzly murders took place up and down the city last night. Police are baffled as to how anybody could be so insanely violent, and are currently crying like little girls having lost all faith in humanity. Though it hasn’t yet been confirmed, it’s suspected by this journalistic body that a certain former US president was involved. I think we all know which one.”

Curses. It appears my elixir which was intended to eliminate evil from a man’s soul instead merely focussed it. While I may have no memory of the events of last night, the memories nonetheless exist in a more tangible form. I have committed a grave offence against humanity, and while a lesser man may hope to cover his tracks, hide his transgressions, and escape the consequences of his poorly conceived ambition, I knew I had to take responsibility.

Hastily, I gathered some personal effects and headed for the nearest police station to offer my confession.

“Let me get this straight, sir. You are claiming responsibility for the most heinous series of crimes ever to be witnessed on a single night, despite having no recollection whatsoever of having committing them?”

“It is how you say it is, officer,” I confirmed. “The whys and the wheres I cannot attest to, but the hows are self-evident. For you see, in my hubris, I invented a secret elixir capable of purging the evil from the souls of men. But as implied by my reference to ‘hubris’ just now, it all went a bit wrong.”

“So you took a potion, blacked out, and went running around the city vigorously murdering everybody? Is that what you’re saying?”

I nodded my head. It seemed a fair summation. “These things happen.”

“Let me ask you a pertinent follow up question then, sir. Are you a horse?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You know, a stallion, a colt, a mare, a filly, a bronco, a gelding, a pony even. Shadowfax! Would you describe yourself in any of those terms.”

“I fail to follow your line of questioning, officer.”

“It’s just that all of the victims had their throats ripped out by equine teeth. I must say that yours look remarkably human, though I don’t claim to be an expert in such matters.”

Something was amiss. I found myself momentarily at a loss for words.

“Gentlemen,” squeaked a sudden voice from the doorway. “Perhaps I can help clear up this confusion!”

I turned to see a familiar face. It was the bespeckled man in black I’d met the day before. I had suspected his part in my sordid tale had not yet concluded.

“I…” he began as he took off his glasses and began wiping them with his handkerchief, “am a freelance hunter!”

“A hunter?!” scoffed the officer. “What of? Rats? Racoons? Penguins?”

“The details of my specialty are way above your pay grade, good officer, but I shall make an exception on this one occasion, as it would be most unfitting should an innocent man sit rotting in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

“Yesterday morning, a creature escaped from a top secret government facility up in North Street, just next to the kindergarten. It is a creature so atrocious, so barbarous, so cruel, so dangerous, so depraved, so diabolical, so ferocious, so heinous, that it exclusively preys on that most feared terror of the night, the werewolf!

“On hearing of its escape, I made many attempts to procure werewolf flesh as a means of baiting it into one of my many clumsy Ruth-Goldberg style traps I had set up around the city. Alas it was to no avail. Instead, the creature spent the night rampaging through town, ripping the necks out of every werewolf it could find.

“In hindsight, perhaps it did us all a favour…

“Tracking it was a simple matter of following the screams and the trail of blood. But the trail went dry along a high street over on West Side, right outside a Chinese takeaway.”

Something about this was starting to sound familiar. Cautiously, I ventured a query. “By any chance, this creature you seek, is it a zebra?”

“A zebra it is. More specifically, a zebra-wolf hybrid, a were-zebra if you like, though more accurately a ‘perisswolf.’ Know something of it do you?”

“I think you’d better come with me…”

“Unbelievable!” said the bespeckled man. “This majestic beast, this apex predator of apex predators has been knocked out stone cold dead with a single punch! I think you have some explaining to do, sir.”

I was committed to confessing my sins, and though the nature of the sin had evolved somewhat over the course of the day, my resolve remained steadfast.

“Though by day I am a simple purveyor of fresh deli sandwiches, by night I am an amateur mad scientist. The potion in that bottle over there is my life’s work, a mystical elixir that can purge the evils of man. Or at least that was its intent. Instead, it appears to have merely focussed the evil, turning me—albeit temporarily—into who knows what manner of creature.”

The officer examined the bottle and had a quick smell. Cautiously, he poured a little onto his hand and touched his tongue to it. “This is rocket fuel!”

“Rocket fuel?” repeated the bespeckled man in some confusion.

“You know, moonshine, hooch, firewater, bootleg. It’s basically homemade vodka. It’s pretty good too!”

“Vodka eh?” said the man, adjusting his glasses. “It seems to me that somebody can’t hold his liquor.

“Judging by the evidence in this room, an approximate timeline of events would be that you drank a mouthful of vodka, lost consciousness, wrecked your room, got the munchies, popped out for Chinese and this were-zebra made the terrible mistake of getting in your way. In your anger, you punched it out, and then continued on to buy chicken chow mein in oyster sauce.

“You then carried the poor creature back to your room to use as a table, because your existing one was already trashed. Does any of that ring true?”

“It’s a fair cop,” I conceded. “People do say I’m a mean drunk.”

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What could be better than a whole book filled with this kind of stuff? A colonoscopy performed by a nervous crustacean? Reading the entire ‘50 Shades of Gray’ series? Nothing even comes close!

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