LYDIA PRIME & A.F. STEWART vs JOSHUA E. BORGMANN & DAVID NIALL WILSON
MEET YOUR CHAMPIONS
Lydia Prime is just the monster under your bed waiting for you to stick a limb out from beneath the covers. When she’s not trying to shred scraps of humanity from the unsuspecting, she writes about the creepy little things crawling around her skull. Lydia has had pieces published in several issues of The Sirens Call as well as three anthologies from Kandisha Press. Her story, Sadie, recently won the Critters Annual 23rd Readers Poll for Best Horror Short Story of the Year (2020).
A steadfast and proud sci-fi and fantasy geek, A. F. Stewart was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada and still calls it home. The youngest in a family of seven children, she always had an overly creative mind and an active imagination. She favours the dark and deadly when writing—her genres of choice being fantasy and horror—but she has been known to venture into the light on occasion. As an indie author, she’s published novels and story collections, with a few side trips into poetry.
JOSHUA E. BORGMANN
Joshua E. Borgmann toils away his days as an English instructor at a small community college and dreams of being able to escape into a world of fantasy and terror. He resides in a nameless small town surrounded by terrible cornfields. He is currently being held captive by felines who have taken over his home.
DAVID NIALL WILSON
David Niall Wilson has been writing and publishing since the mid 1980s. A USA Today bestselling author, his novels include This is My Blood, Deep Blue, Gideon’s Curse, and the DeChance Chronicles. He is a multiple winner of the Bram Stoker Award and he has published hundreds of short stories. David is CEO & owner of Crossroad Press. He lives with his wife Trish and daughter Katie, eight cats, a dog and a chinchilla in way-out-yonder, NC.
First of Her Kind—Lydia Prime +25
From the stars, they invaded with one purpose: lay waste to human kind. Cattle to be corralled and butchered for the good of their species. Infinite spools of webbing wrapped around stationary structures—impenetrable by modern weaponry. Skyscrapers glittered like Christmas trees when light filtered through clouds. Although a wondrous sight, the alien twine held hostage those unfortunates within.
Queen Kaira loomed above, watching as the workers completed their silk dome-shaped lid that would further contain the dregs. She smiled, pleased with the progress, it was coming together just as she’d hoped. After living for more millennia than she cared to remember, this was the first time she wanted somewhere to call home.
Each place became more difficult to stay in than the last. Luckily, Kaira’s espresso complexion and perfect bone structure allowed her to draw in prey with ease wherever she went. Once the meat was within reach she’d emerge fully from the shadows revealing her bulbous abdomen and pointy legs decorated with rings that glowed a vibrant green while feeding. The first of her kind, a spiderized-centaur, now the mother of a new species. She pridefully taught each of her family the same hunting technique, but needed time to rest.
She couldn’t stand constantly moving and risking her children’s lives on new planets. Ideally, they would find a place to feed like gluttonous locusts while still satisfying their need to hunt. Fresh food sources were key, she knew most went where the food was, and Kaira wanted them to stay with her.
Spinnerets tingling, she lowered herself to greet her lieutenants. Several awaited her in a semi circle, their nude humanoid torsos splintered out of arachnid anatomy. Their extra large abdomens bore marks of chosen soldiers; these were her top guards, and they’d always served her well.
She stared at the stolen city, taking in each silvery fiber that decorated the foreign land. At her request, they led her all over the web coated roads, keeping watch as she marveled.
“Have you ever seen something so magnificent?” Queen Kaira asked, gesturing to the wriggling human ornaments that dangled from a triangular tower. Her eyes were wide, trying to drink in the scene.
It was better than she dreamed, food on tap, places for her family to nest—better yet, places for them to raise families of their own.
Four of the lieutenants turned abruptly at the end of the street, Kaira followed. As she rounded the corner a thickly netted web rose up, pinning her legs against her body. She tried her best to break free, but was too scrunched up to make any progress.
“Get me down!” Kaira hollered, still struggling.
“Can’t do that ma’am.” The four soldiers stood beneath her, eyes glowing a color she’d never known. They leapt at their queen, feasting on her aged blood like fine wine, reveling in her anguish.
Cordyceps. The fungus had infested those few who began the invasion; it swiftly gained control of them and soon, the rest would follow.
They Died, and She Mourned—David Niall Wilson +10
The man died, and she mourned. Money stolen from the fallen, leeched from the poor, paid for her grief by the hour, bought tears and pain and screams. She learned their faces and their names, took their money, and drew them close. Her mourning was a show for those who remained, but for her it could not have been more real.
She sat by candlelight, recording their lives and loves, their deaths, and those they had caused. Rich men, all. None who would have given her the time of day, their families so numb to the world they brokered the grief of his passing through her, rather than experience it.
Her rooms were paid for by the deaths of men whose passing left fortunes and fame, and nothing else. Portraits on the covers of forgotten magazines. Brass plates removed from doors and recycled. Possibly to bullet casing that would end others just like them. Empty men, drained of life and inflated by greed, forgotten by anyone they ever claimed to love, except in dry-ink signatures on checks.
She sat before her one window and stared out at the skyline with its spires and flickering lights, teeming masses of rats running mazes for masters they did not even understand that they served. She shivered. She felt them dying, slowly. She sang softly to prevent the chattering of her teeth.
She sewed. Tears trickled down her cheeks, dampening spools of brightly colored thread in her lap. She‘d unraveled it carefully from garments worn by the dead. She‘d stolen it, bartered for it, bought it from relatives who thought she was motivated by the same greed that fueled their lives. They were light, she was dark. Life, and death, were rainbows.
In a casket across from her a dead man had lain, face on display. Family, colleagues, enemies, all had offered charms to attract his shiny, empty luck to themselves. Then they‘d walked away, and she‘d sat alone with his empty shell.
They’d given her one of his scarves, assuming she would sell it on the street. It had unraveled easily. Now she watched the stars, and the city, and she worked her needle in and out, tight, intricate stitches. Sometimes one color, then another. As she worked, she dreamed. She drew the dead man’s soul in tear-stained thread.
He‘d owned the poor. Entire neighborhoods sucked through middlemen and women, had fed his wealth. They spoke to her and guided her hands. Their lives were colors, some bright, some dim. She was paid to mourn the rich. She mourned these others for free. Their pain burned her veins. She stitched them into patterns and wove their sorrow into a memorial to one man’s ugly life. That theirs would not be wasted, she preserved them. She worked until they grew silent.
She would find a child in need, cold and poor. The pillow she created would cradle their head and feed their dreams. It would drink their tears.
They died, and she mourned.
Kaleidoscope Dance—A.F. Stewart +10
On a starlit night of moonbeams, a cloaked figure moved from the shifting shadows. Strands of iridescent shimmer were clutched in her hand, nestled next to a needle that pressed painfully into her palm. She wondered at her surroundings and huddled against a stark alley wall in this forbidding city.
The path of fate could be strange and lives interwove where they would. She only followed. Wherever the threads led.
Resting her head against the brick, she scanned the street, taking comfort from the solidity and scratch of the surface brushing her cheek and scalp. Her glance caught the flicker of cerulean neon, and she plucked a thread from her hand, matching the colour. She tossed the soft fibre into the breeze and watched the dazzling hue flare, merging with the filament, before spinning back to slide through the eye of her now outstretched needle.
She smiled. So it began.
One step, and she twirled, dancing into the empty street. Her needle flashed as she moved, blue streaks painting the night sky and catching the moonlight shimmers that brightened the shadows. She gathered the radiance to earth and spun starry pearls into the shining fabric of air, pale luminosity glowing against the drab concrete. Cerise sparkled further down the road and she plucked another thread, snaring the pink and weaving it into her magic. Lavender and tangerine followed, siphoned from a tattered music poster, and then lemon yellow and emerald stolen from a flower shop. Nimbly, the strands came together, intertwining into a tapestry stronger than steel, yet scintillatingly ethereal. Her fingers and feet waltzed in a rhythm as she wove a pattern older than time, older than the substance of the universe.
She told a story in colour and gossamer. A picture of love and laughter, of vivacity. Until the final thread.
Then she pulled from the night itself, the ebon black of the sun’s end, the dark gloom of cold and loneliness. The last breath against the stark hiss of machines and the smell of antiseptic. Scissors slid from her pocket and with one snip her composition was done. The universe breathed and swallowed a new soul.
Somewhere a baby took its first breath and Fate swirled away of the wind.
The Sun, the Moon, and the Unicorn—Joshua E. Borgmann +10
The winds howled in from the wastelands sandblasting the spires of the ancient city and polishing the golden walls of the grand pyramid that was the Temple of The Fallen Sun. The Temple was one of the few places in the city where the sand never reached. Nothing could pass through its walls without the permission of the priestesses, and few things living or dead were ever granted such a privilege. However, this wasn’t any other day.
High Priestess Heralina 21 had been summoned to the Night’s Chamber by a novice so young she bore neither rings or tattoos. A Risen Moon assassin had arrived at the door some minutes earlier, and had he been alone, he would have learned not to intrude on an order greater than his own. However, he’d brought something miraculous in from the wastes, something that the high priestess feared lost forever, an injured unicorn.
Now, she stood beside the beast examining its wounds. She let its blood flow over her hands and felt small bolts of electricity pulse through the three nose rings that denoted her rank. The face tattoos that identified her as highest of the high lit up. She basked in the power of the creature.
“Every drop of its blood caused the wastes to grow,” the assassin said.
“What did it grow,” she asked as she petted the beast.
“Many things. Mostly grass, but I saw an apple tree sprout and fruit in seconds,” he responded stoically.
She could sense him masking his amazement and his fear as she reached inside her dark robe and retrieved a needle threaded with charmed rainbow thread.
“Many centuries ago there were orchards outside the city. The blood of a unicorn is pure life energy, strong enough to restore after even a thousand years,” she said feeling his astonishment flow through her.
As she began to sew the creature’s flesh together, the rainbow thread mended the beast’s flesh instantly. The assassin was fixated on watching this miracle, so he didn’t notice as tiny needles ejected from her left hand and sent unicorn blood flowing into her veins. As it filled her, it interacted with and activated traces of the blood from every magical creature she’d conjured over the last year.
She’d heard rumors that the city administrators were conspiring to send the Risen Moon against her, so she began summoning beasts to the temple. The blood of dragons, griffins, and manticores flowed through her, but when the unicorn she’d summoned never came she feared that it was lost. Now, it had arrived and brought her the Risen Moon as well. She smiled and petted the stead that would carry her to her righteous revenge.
The assassin made his move. Lunging toward her with his blade, but she blocked him, and smeared the blood of the unicorn upon his face. She felt his mind give way as her will filled him.
He begged beneath her boots.
Smiling she said, “Bring me the rest of your order.”