Steps from the Edge

“There’s a world in my toilet bowl. Right there, can’t you see?” Clive’s hazel eyes are large and pleading, as if his sanity, the pride of his life he’s been losing slowly the past three years, will be confirmed if only I can agree.

I humour him. “Yes. Stormy skies, right?”

Clive wiggles his eyebrows at me, a rare lucid moment, as he tugs off his red wool socks. “Don’t be silly. Sunny skies. I’ll be on the six o’clock news tonight; you’ll watch, won’t you?” And there’s the drop again.

I nod obligingly and help him into the shower, settling him gently on the bath bench. His wrinkled skin reminds me of an apple left too long in the sun: brown, haggard, and soft.

He emits a shriek on the drying cycle, high-pitched, like a rabbit caught in a coyote’s locked jaws.

“Clive?” He’s motionless, except for his eyes. They’re rolling, dancing, fighting a battle no one else can see.

Then I see the water.

All around his feet, splashing down, rotating from the toilet like a torrent, the water is black and putrid.

“It’s backed up!” I shriek.

His vision clears, as does the water. I gape at the floor, at my dry socks.

“Amazing,” he says. “You were right about the storm clouds.”

The next day I enter his home. Water everywhere, with the deepest levels near the bathroom. “Clive!” I yell, as I race from room to room. “Where are you?”

Phone in hand, I remember the previous day’s events. I inch to the bathroom, to the toilet, gazing down into the bowl.

I see a world, zoomed in to a tiny town. A thick red sock, matted from rain, lies discarded on the road.

I know the police will never find him.


Copyright © 2016 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Microcosms:
Honourable Mention and Community Pick!


Once Upon a Murder

“Mon Dieu!” I whispered upon opening the door to the ornate Parisian townhome with rose emblem windows and a portico strewn with de-potted lavender.

Staff were sprawled upon the age-darkened, chevron-style oak flooring, throats slit and glistening.

A slick glove wrapped around my throat. “I’m just…a…translator!” I gasped.

“Parfait,” a deep voice rumbled before giving me the obsidian kiss.

I sit here now and translate on paper, staring into the muzzle of a Darne V22 shotgun.

He sits across from me, spouting French boasts. Exploits. Massacres.

I sneeze; my hand jerks. The shotgun kabooms.

“Merde! Work now, death later, madame translator. You’ll ruin my fun.”


Copyright © 2016 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Microcosms:

Francine’s Wrath

The documentary was a bad idea, but Betsy didn’t think her dairy farm would be raided by authorities on the second day of taping. “Top dog alert” swept through the camera crew, until it reached Betsy as she clamped the last milking cup onto Francine, her favourite Holstein.

Camera crew three alleged they heard a kerfuffle, and a scream.

Betsy was led away in handcuffs on suspicion of second-degree murder. She claimed it was Francine, in response to Agent Nabi’s inappropriately placed hand—Hey, top dog! Mind your hot dog!—but the authorities wouldn’t budge.

She still cited Francine’s influence as the cruiser slammed into the nearest tree.


Copyright © 2016 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Microcosms:

Y 2 Eyes

“Hey, numbnuts, you know what tomorrow is, right?” His braying laugh reverberated through my sensitive ears.

“Stop it!”

“Fine. Freakazoid! You blue-eyed and green-eyed freakazoid!”

I stood there hyperventilating, my tiny chest rising in faster sequences, my face flushing deeper than the deepest aubergine. I felt a tiny pop, then a scurrying through my skin. Odd.

“You’re a freak with the Y2K virus. You’ll be dead tomorrow, your skin flayed and stinking!”

Good guess.

The next morning all that remained of my bully was a bloody, pulpy mess, his pajamas coated with traces of extraterrestrial gunk.

Who’s laughing now?


Copyright © 2016 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Microcosms:

Dragons: A Documentary

“What rubbish!” Winnifred Firebreather said as she plopped down upon the beige settee. “They aren’t moving.” She gazed in annoyance at the troops on the field. “Terrible programming. Do change channels.”

“I tried, dearest.” Wilfred’s nails tapped on the armrest, quartz-like threads raining in all directions. One large shard ricocheted, slicing across the chest of the nearest soldier.

Winnifred flicked a shard from her iridescent décolletage. “What’s for supper tonight?”

Mr. Firebreather suppressed a sigh. “Skewered game with roasted vegetables … minus the game. Don’t suppose—”

Winnifred had already launched herself away, swooping at top speed for the freshest, juiciest foot soldier.

The episode had just become interesting.


Copyright © 2016 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Microcosms:

Tattooist En Plein Air

Flesh is Leah’s canvas, although she practises designs on the recently deceased. Those already gelatinizing are just billowing cushions destined to spill their contents.

It is true plein air work, but she makes deals with the undertaker to avoid much of the later decay.

She glances up from within her outdoor work shed, watching hunters traipse down the snow-packed road. The leader carries a gingered crimson bundle. She must hurry, for she’s inking his departed son.

He spots the clothing bundle, his son’s tattered jacket.

With a roar he’s upon her, inking her neck beyond the dermis, down deeper where vessels bleed scarlet into the pulsating black walnut ink.


Copyright © 2016 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Microcosms:

Burnt Alizarin

It all started with a splash of blood. Sofia stared in surprise as the crimson juice welled up from an aching temple, dripping down, splashing most messily onto the porcelain sink. Each fresh drop scattered into many, until her bathroom sink was covered in little ruby dots bleeding their way down into the abyss.

“Shit,” she whispered. “Just what I need.”

Cutting paint out of hair was bloody work.

She grabbed a nearby cloth — pristine white no more — and dabbed at her face. She’d been rushing, trying to remove the evidence, the proof she’d been at his home that afternoon. Sloppy behaviour for an otherwise flawless presentation.

Of course he’d figure it out, but not before it was the right time.

Sofia had worked hard the past week, sneaking into his house through the garage. Sometimes she used the back gate. She caught a glimpse of the neighbours during one of her nighttime visits, grunting and moaning away, the window wide open and blinds pulled up for all the world to see. Well, all she saw was the fleshy backside of Mr. Hausmann. That was something she didn’t care to repeat.

Costa was out of town: some dreary business trip. He’d asked her to go, but she knew it was just perfunctory because he never liked when she got too involved in his meetings; he said her outfits were too revealing. Too much skin? Gah! That guy was a prude. She couldn’t remember the last time he’d made a move on her. She was the one who had to turn on the charm, warm him up while wearing something akin to a granny nightgown. It was enough to turn her off at the same time.

His boss had spent more time focusing on her chest than on Costa’s latest mind-numbing proposal, and could she blame him? She’d nearly fallen asleep herself.

At any rate, Mr. Prude was in for a surprise. Two weeks ago she decided she’d had enough of his moralistic behaviour, and it was time to teach him a lesson about flat love. It was time to make him squirm.

Last weekend she’d set up her easel, her paint palette, her brushes. She’d propped up a photo. She’d spread out the drop cloth.

Now, the painting was nearly complete.

Sofia frowned at herself in the bathroom mirror, at the bandage now plastered to her temple. She had community service in the morning, garbage picking along the highway. All that for a lousy minor accident. It was hardly her fault; the guy was distracted, but she’d been on her phone. And now they’d assume she was hitting the sauce before driving and had scratched up someone else’s car.

She reached into her back pocket for her phone. Gone.

“Crapola! I bet I left it at Costa’s.”

Before long she was driving back towards his house, passing by familiar oak trees swaying gently in the midnight breeze. Sofia parked in the driveway, bypassing the garage for the gate, and ducked low to avoid sight of Mr. Hausmann and his nude nighttime adventures. She slipped through the side door.

Her phone was right beside the painting. Several missed calls and a text. She didn’t check them, though. Her mind was elsewhere. The scent of the drying paint drew her in to a familiar place, a familiar joy. It had always been like this, ever since she’d first wandered into Grandpappy’s studio when she was a child. She’d sat in awe, gazing up at the canvases, the row of brushes glistening with wash water, the paint smock smeared in alizarin crimson and sap green. Grandpappy had glanced her way, a smirk skirting his lips. He turned the painting around, giving Sofia her first glimpse of a naughty nude. He laughed until the tears blurred his vision, thinking he’d scared her good. He was wrong.

Sofia gazed at her painting, at the smooth legs and the strategically perched fingers. The naughty nude was back to scare Costa.

Just then she heard a faint thump. A slight scuff. She grabbed a paint knife and slunk for the shadows. She never got there. A man in a black hood hit her from behind, smashing a door weight against her skull.

Costa arrived home early, ten minutes later. He found her lying on the carpet, her head leaking cadmium red, and her hair sticky with alizarin.

The naughty nude was gone.

Copyright © 2016 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Ink After Dark:

The Green Dragon Room

“Eww, is that a dead body?” Anita recoiled from her dive across the limo’s cushions. She glanced at the other passengers, the “would-be murderers” who gazed with innocence pasted on haggard faces.

The party had been a blast, but now it was time to crash. Home? Boyfriend’s? She couldn’t stomach waitressing, serving any more of the thick, syrupy concoctions bubbling up from behind the make-shift bar.

And now, there was a dead body.

Little did she know her fellow passengers had committed their own crime. They were innocent of the limo murder, but not that of her boyfriend, who was no longer sleeping off drinks at a downtown bar.


Copyright © 2016 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Microcosms:

Magic in the Garden

“What happens next, dear?”

I shifted focus, from the fragrant mint congregating by the Shakespeare Garden fence, to my grandmother’s eager face. Her hands were pressed in anticipation against deeply furrowed cheeks.

“Cheeky Chipmunk scurried home, waved The Chipmunk Times, and shouted, “First prize! No one can beat me at woodworking!” His family gathered ’round as he pressed five chippy dollars into Mrs. Chipmunk’s hand…”

A tiny snore. Grandma was asleep.

Her frail chest rose softly, and her lips curled into a smile. As she dreamt, I turned my attention to the tulips and waved to the little chipmunk who had inspired my tale. He winked, and scurried away.


Copyright © 2016 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Microcosms:
Runner Up!

Meadows of Deception

See their eyes? They’re watching me. Waiting for me to stumble. Waiting for the moment they can rise from blood-drenched forms, grab rusted daggers, and drive each point deep into my belly.

They’re coming! Dragging twisted flesh and jagged bone, the rot, the sludge, the stink.

You reach out to soothe fears. You see the battlefield as it is; I see it how it was. How it still is beneath sweet meadow grass and swooping meadowlarks dotting the sky.

Gopher hole opens; your ankle sinks deep.

I shriek and flee, knowing by your screams each time the dagger strikes home.


Copyright © 2016 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Microcosms:
Honourable Mention!

Maison Triste

Santa is drunk. Not a useless, cherub-cheeked man in a silly stupor stumbling on your doorstep, but rather an aggressive maniac wielding a reindeer sinew whip and threatening to slice off your nose.

Ever heard of the angry drunk? If there was a course on how to ruin the Christmas mood, Santa would get top marks.

Sarah doesn’t believe me.

I point towards the double-pane windows overlooking the backyard commons. “He’s outside right now. On the walkway. Can you see him?”

Sarah peers into the darkness. “I see a shadow. Is he—is he peeing on the roses?”

A sudden flare roars into existence, and the roses turn to ashes.

She turns to me. “His pee is flammable?” Suddenly my earlier fears aren’t so silly.

We watch in horror, nay, fascination, as he cackles his way through the deaths of every rose bush in sight. “Oh, no,” Sarah whispers. “Not the Duchess of Portland! I planted that one last year. That bastard!”

Little fire balls dance in Sarah’s own eyes. She grasps the door handle, feels the click. She’s out on the landing before I can stop her.

“Go home, you dirty man!” She screeches into the smokey air. “Leave my roses alone!”

Santa doesn’t hesitate. Doesn’t even tuck himself in. He unties his reindeer sinew whip from his reindeer hide belt and flicks his wrist. Sarah screams, covers her face. I scream and cover my face. Bloody speckles now scatter the path and the stone steps of this house.

“Ho ‘o ‘o!” Santa says. “Tha-a-t’ll teach ‘er to mess wit me.” He glances at his pocket watch. “Oh, I gotta git to dee… dee…” He blinks twice. “Damn, where’d my sled-thingy go?”

Fresh snow dances down from the star-filled sky as Santa takes another swig of his magic sauce. He tosses the bottle; for a drunk, his aim is surprisingly good. It lands near my feet, rolling slightly on the incline. I catch sight of the label. ‘Maison Triste. North Pole Whiskey for the Broken Heart.’

Broken heart? Is there trouble at home?

Santa isn’t on a rampage. He’s lashing out in despair!

I put in a quick call to the sleepy security guard at the post office on Hollyhock Way. “You guys are often in contact with the North Pole this time of year. Find a way to reach Mrs. Claus!”

I run after Santa, my heart racing at the thought of all the damage he might have already caused. Sure enough, a few noses litter the path. Judging from the congealed blood on the road, this was an earlier attack.

My pocket buzzes. Incoming call! “Hello?”

A sweet yet strained voice reaches through the line. “This is Mrs. Claus. Betty. Is something the matter?”

“Thank you for calling me! Your husband is drunk. He’s hurting people.”

“Oh, Nick,” she mutters. “What a fool. How bad is it?”

“It’s bad. My friend. Neighbours. Noses. Roses.”

“Oh, no. Not the roses. Were they the Duchess of Portland variety?”

“Yes… How’d you know?”

“Those are my favourite. Nick can be a spiteful man.”

“I saw the bottle he tossed. I’m sorry about home troubles, but we need you. Please! Come talk to him.”

I hear nothing but silence. “Betty?”

Deep sighs. “All right. Let me use the portal. What are your coordinates?”

Two minutes later I see a puff of smoke in the shop nearby. A plump yet attractive woman tumbles from the door in her night attire, ignoring the fancy lights and festive music. She wraps the housecoat tighter, pulls the kerchief down, and marches towards me.

“Right then,” she says in a huff. “Take me to that man.”


Copyright © 2015 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Ink After Dark:


You lost ’cause I lied. I stole, and you died. I watched the life trickle, watched your breath slow and your glow fade. You looked at me once with understanding, like you knew this was how it had to end.

It was the promise that drew me to the flame. The beast I discovered too late.

I was selfish. I admit it. A true swindler. Just a few faked signatures, a few false rumours, and the land was mine.

I never thought you’d get in the way of the bullet, the one aimed for my heart that wound up in yours.


Copyright © 2015 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Flash!Friday:
Honourable Mention!

The Bloodless

She bleeds life, like a dying flame, like a city starved, and as the drops fall on the dusty cool ground beneath the diseased oak, her naïvety veined and fleshed, she knows the time has come. To end it all.

But the end requires the beginning, for the Worms of Darkness feed only on memories of completion.

A fresh slice across her wrists scents the tainted air. Two more ruby drops fall, soaking the sand with a savoury metallic splash. The red bubbles and churns. The red deepens and hisses. The red morphs black, as black as her eyes and as jaded as her soul. She never should have come back. Maybe he’d still be hers.

The sands ripple. They like that.

The Worms of Darkness goad her on. More. Send us more.

They’re in control. They feed off suffering, off memories of pain. They’ve been known to keep the suicidal in suspended states until their appetites were sated. No quick deaths allowed. Long. Drawn-out. Sinister. Those were the nightmares of worth. Those were the nightmares demanding release.

She pulls memories one by one, once fresh, now rancid with spite.

We were happy. He loved me. We laughed. We danced. We dined on love. On that last night, he said he’d wait for me. Said there was no one else for him. That bastard. He lied to me. Fed me what I wanted to hear. Told me he was holding out for me. How long had he strayed? Pleased another? Laughed and smiled and danced with someone other than me?

She draws another crimson line across her skin.

The Worms of Darkness are writhing now. They rise from the soil, hot sand trembling in their wake. Long, fat black bodies glimmer on the moonlit surface, leaving sticky secretions and an odour of loss.

We will take you now, they hiss. We are satisfied. They latch onto her wrist, sucking the life, the memories, the pain.

She feels cold as the poisonous secretions swim through her veins. Sleep comes, her eyelids grow heavy. Shadows engulf the oak as her body becomes just another corpse for the soil.

The Worms of Darkness sink below the ground, belching pain into their lair, nearly full with the nightmares of life and the pulsing release of death.


Copyright © 2015 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Flash Mob:×36/comment-page-1/#comment-1685
3rd Place Winner!×36-winners/

Softly They Scream

He slumped in the bowels of the ship. The air was dank and stagnant, and it smelled of soured apples mixed with the swill of the Arctic sea. The lump in the corner stank of urine.

He was Professor Ballard, expert in botanical poisons, brilliant man of the world plucked from prestigious research. Why was he chained?

The lump stirred. Lucas Carlotti, his devoted assistant, let out a sigh not unlike the groan of the oaken hull.

“Wake up, Carlotti!”

Carlotti opened a crusty eye. The other was swollen shut. “We’re doomed, sir,” he mumbled.

“Get up!” Ballard yelled. “We don’t belunn…” The slur in his voice bled into his vision. He tugged the chains, feeling them shred layers from his aching wrists.

It was then he noticed his collecting trunk contents strewn across the stinking boards. The Zigadenus from Alaska. His famous find. Where was the bulb?

His blurry eyes fell to the metal bowl someone had tossed his way.

The water with the tang. His heart fluttered as it failed. The water laced with death camas, his parting gift to the world.


Copyright © 2015 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Flash!Friday:

Honey Highlights in C Minor

I can stop this. Today. I won’t end up like my old man.

Brave words, kiddo, but we both know you’ll never burn off your daddy’s genes. Give in. Let us take control. We’re bursting with song, a rich arpeggio guaranteed to ignite.

I shake my head, fending off the rumbling tones sinking heady chords into my eardrum. My trembling fingers curl up towards my scalp, seeking threads of chestnut. Honey highlights.

Steady pulses heighten, shifting into glissando. The notes turn staccato, and they…won’t…back…down.

Thumb and index latch on, gripping, ripping free.

Mirror reflects bare patches. Flaking skin.

Another piece of hair flutters groundward. Worthless, like my daddy before me. I kick the gravestone. Just look where his obsession took him.


Copyright © 2015 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Flash!Friday:

Lavender Blossoms but Once

“Is she…dead?” I bent over Auntie Zarah. Her pudgy eyes remained shut, as is she couldn’t bear to be stuck in this hovel.

Not hovel. Home. Complete with herb garden and 15 egg-laying marvels.

“Good. The old bag’s had it.” Rupert’s sweet-as-honey voice drizzled its charm into my naive ear.

I giggled nervously at the sight of Auntie Zarah flopped like swollen spaghetti noodles amongst the lavender blooms.

It was nice though. The silence. And yet I could hear her still. “If he winks, reel him in. You might never get another chance.”

Was I uncomely? Well. I had Rupert. Although, he was rather dashing.

Suspicions snaked up my back.

I scanned the house, the garden shed, the pink enclosure.

That snake wanted our chickens!

I thrashed from his milk-softened hands, kicking Auntie’s head in my haste. She grunted, struggled upright.

“He wants our hens!”

Auntie Zarah turned a furious eye. “You’re taking Sophia, not my prized hens.”


The sting of a verbal strike as love slipped from trembling fingers.

It was a nightmare I’d been too naive to notice. Afternoon sun peeked through the cloud layer, and for once, I saw this place for what it was. A hovel.

I ran from the garden to the dusty road ahead. I had a cousin by the seashore.


I’ve always dreamt of the sea.


Copyright © 2015 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Flash!Friday:

The Day of the Kaleidoscope Dish

He sat before me, munching away on his second plate of Frosted Kolu Delight, lips curved at the corners as he struggled to swallow the red sauce. I knew he was thinking about something stupid.

“What is it this time?”

“At times like these I’m glad I got that pet rhinoceros. Now I don’t have to fear the radiation surges from Saturn.”

See what I told you? Stupid. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

He just howled in return, cackling away like a drunken hyena about to explode into tiny fragrant fragments. “That’s what makes it so delicious! Oh, that was great. I need to come up with more sayings.”

“Please don’t.”

“Oh, waiter!” He waved at the burly server with the two heads and thick purple-scaled arms. “More Frosted Kolu, please.”

I ran after the server. “What’s the flavouring in that dish?”

He just grinned. “Agoti leaves. Highly mind-changing.”

Ah. It all made sense now.


Copyright © 2015 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Flash!Friday:

Tumbleweed Believers

I met him on the steps of the old church, watching the sky for some sign, some hope for a better tomorrow that didn’t reek of stagnant sludge, didn’t shove grit down the lungs of the innocent.

He looked with bleary eyes, wiping the tears with the back of his grimy hand, flexing his weathered arms beneath his tattered grey sleeves. I could see the limp muscles fold in upon themselves. Hear them weeping from hunger, starved, used to the limit, like everything else in this place.

I was a stranger in these lands. I watched the old man’s resolve stiffen as he noticed it too.

“What do you want, young man?”

“I just—”

“Came to laugh at us? Take us away? We don’t need your help. God will provide.”

His strong words didn’t match the fear seeping through his milk chocolate eyes. Loud, hacking coughs knocked him down. Down to the ground as tumbleweeds bounced by, the nearby stones smoothed by erratic winds.

He declined my arm. Shook his head, his clothing, his reality. “My community is waiting.”

I watched him stride through the rotted doors, to the darkened interior where waited the rodents and the bats.


Copyright © 2015 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Flash!Friday:

The Gateway

They say if you love something, you should let it fly free. I grabbed my avian ally, opened the windows, and let it soar. It hovered for one moment, then flapped to freedom on the coattails of those gloomy grey clouds.

Circling back, I grabbed my woollen blanket and my thick winter cloak. I loved their warmth. Time to fly. They fluttered in the chill air, drifting on the mist that snaked its way into my heart. A blast ricocheted, and soaring fabric screamed. Garments of companionship plummeted towards crimson sand marred by the patter of frantic feet.

The cries around me, the city in flames, went unnoticed.

My glassy eyes spotted Carina cowering in the corner. “Sweet friend,” I said with a slur. “We must be free.” I grabbed her slender wrist and let her fly.

She may have screamed, but I was already searching for the next symbol.


Copyright © 2015 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Flash!Friday:

The Whiskers, the Beaks, and the Plants of the Forest

The door was locked, and the lights were out. Odostemon Owl was not at home.

Ruellia Raccoon tossed a fearful glance at Verbena Vole. “It’s getting dark. We’ll never find our way home now.” Although Ruellia was a raccoon, she was ever so fearful of the dark.

Deinandra Duck fanned her tail feathers and quacked. “Is that why you brought us to the woods? To scare us? Fat lot you know. I’m not afraid of the dark.”

Verbena stamped her tiny foot. “No! Yes.”

“Well, which is it?” Deinandra loved the way the air hissed through her beak and echoed in the evening lull.

“He’s away,” Verbena said. “I brought you here to help me.”

“An adventure! Oh, I love those. Will it involve swords and death howls?” Deinandra’s head bobbed with excitement.

“Or handsome heroes at a castle? Indoors, safe from harm?”

Deinandra snorted. “Don’t be daft, Ruellia. Too many fairy stories.”

Verbena pulled a bobby pin from her smock and fiddled with the door. It clicked and swung open. “After you, ladies.”

Pitter patter on the packed earth floor. Verbena shone the light around. Clocks stood packed against the walls, some ticking, some broken.

“We need to find my grandfather’s watch,” Verbena said. “Gold. Short chain. He took it.”

Deinandra grabbed a jewelled dagger. “Ha! Got my sword!”

They searched through the piles, pushing aside anything larger than a thimble.

Gold, on a short chain. Verbena reached out, feeling the cool kiss on her brown velvet paw. “Success!”

Lights flooded the hall. “Whoooo’s there?”

“Quick, girls!” Deinandra said. “Make a run for it!”

In a flurry of feathers, fur, and ringed tails, the three friends bolted for the door. Deinandra swung her dagger, quacking and hissing with all her might.

Odostemon Owl couldn’t guess the identity of his evening visitors, but he kept the bobby pin, making it part of a scary tale to frighten the young owlets pretending to sleep upstairs.


Copyright © 2015 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Flash!Friday: