by Joel M. Traylor

“There won’t be any training.”

Nobody moves, and we just stare at the commander. He’s young, promoted too quickly, clearly out of his depth. And he’s scared.

“They’re already here.” His voice quivers. “I’m sorry, but you’re on your own now.”

As his words sink in, the world lurches in a thunderous roar. People scream as debris fills the air.

I pull myself off the ground and barely keep my feet as another explosion rocks the gymnasium turned emergency shelter. Through the smoke, civilians and military swarm over each other, some rushing the exits, most not sure what to do. Tables crash to the ground, and I’m nearly knocked over by a big man pushing past me.

My backpack is on the ground, open, its contents spilled around it. I grab the military-issue rations, water packets, and flashlight. There’s also a map, some matches and a hand-crank radio I’ve managed to scavenge. All of it goes into my bag.

A pistol rests in a pile of busted drywall a couple steps away, and no one seems to see it. I snatch it up and jam it into my belt.

I haven’t encountered one up close yet, but we’ve all seen the pictures. They’re over ten feet tall with massive claws and faces full of teeth, walking nightmares come to Earth to kill us all. Their six eyes miss nothing, and they don’t hesitate. The commander told us to always run, never engage. You get close and you’re dead; it’s that simple. A pistol probably won’t do much, but it helps a little to feel it pinching against my skin.

The commander is gone, and the military personnel stand in groups busy with their own agendas. I need to find my wife, and it’s two miles to our apartment. Time to move.

I push my way past a coughing old lady and almost fall tripping over a chair. As I near the exit door, I pull my phone out and dial my wife. Fast busy, no surprise. No one has been able to get a call out since it started.

I open the emergency exit, and the light and heat almost knock me down. The Southern California sun is a spotlight, and it has to be 100 degrees. I put a hand up and step through.

“Where are you going?”

I turn. It’s the commander.

“I need to find my wife,” I respond.

“You need to stay here,” he says.

“This isn’t optional.”

“They’ll kill you.”

I shrug. “You’ve never been in love, have you?” And then I let the door close behind me.


The Pit

by Joel M. Traylor

Sir Valerus brushed his blond hair aside as he squinted down into the pit. A nasty collection of sharpened spikes stared back at him, their tips coated with a dark liquid – poison, no doubt. It was maybe thirty feet to the bottom, give or take. If one somehow survived the fall and miraculously avoided the spikes, there would be no climbing back out; the smooth walls offered no purchase. The pit extended from wall to wall, and he judged the distance across to be nearly twenty feet. A narrow beam of a bridge had been raised up on the other side, and the release lever waited nearby. It would take an incredible leap, but incredible had always been the knight’s specialty. He began peeling off his gauntlets.The Pit

“Are you mad?” Kestral the useless young mage asked over his shoulder. “It’s too far.”

“Why don’t you cast a spell to fly me across?” Valerus fired back, setting his iron helmet down on the stone floor. He unstrapped his sheathed sword next.

“I have no spell for that,” Kestral said. Valerus could hear his embarrassment.

“We’ll find another way in.” This was Horrock the thief. He had tried over a dozen times to catch the release lever with a noosed rope, and he had missed every time.

“There is no other way,” Valerus said. He stood up and handed Horrock his chest plate. “Hang onto this for me. I’ll be right back.”

“You cocky shit,” Horrock said. “You’re going to kill yourself.”


Valerus turned and walked back down the hallway. Twenty paces ought to do it. He turned and took a very deep breath.

“The kingdom needs me,” he stated. “And I shall not disappoint her.”

“Don’t be an idiot,” Horrock said.

“Thank you for your kind words of support,” Valerus said and smiled. He had never backed down from a challenge, and he wasn’t going to start this day.

He ran, his boots pounding stone, lungs sucking air. And then he leapt, his muscles flexing, feet pushing off. The walls slid by, and he knew he would make it. And he did. His boot hit stone, and his momentum threw him forward.

He heard the crack, and the stone gave way. He grabbed at the eroding edge, but his hands found nothing to grip. And then he was falling back into the open air. Into the pit.



by Joel M. Traylor

The creep broke in on Tuesday close to midnight. I heard the doorknob jiggle and made my way to the living room, silent steps across the hardwoods in the dark of the apartment. Scratching and fumbling, and then the lock yielded with a hard click. I fell back into the shadows as the door opened without a creak, and the man stepped inside.

CreeperHe had been watching her for days. Many men watched her because of her beauty, but this man was persistent. I had seen him meandering up and down the block, and sometimes he loitered at the bus stop across the street. He never looked directly at our building, just quick and careful glances. But he stared at her when she walked, when she stepped into the café for a to-go tea, when she hailed a cab, when she breathed.

The man tucked his tools into his pocket, stepped inside and gently closed the door. He was impressive in his plainness, his charcoal gray button-down shirt tucked into blue jeans. He kept his brown hair trimmed and parted on the side. Glasses with round frames rested on his completely average nose. He might have been in his late thirties, not that anyone would remember him.

He inhaled slowly, no doubt tasting the scent of her that permeated the cozy space. He looked to the hallway and paused, listening. There was no sound besides passing traffic and a distant car alarm. One foot after another, he slipped down the hall without a sound until he stood in the doorway.

Over his shoulder, I could see her sleeping. She still hugged the left edge of the queen bed, the other side now empty. Her brown hair played across her cheek, her lips parted slightly. She seemed entirely at peace.

The man produced a pair of long zip-ties and stepped slowly into the room. I could not bear to watch. I would have to reveal myself soon, before it was too late. I had to protect her. She still needed me. I had to take care of this. I had to take care of her.

She moved in a blur, and something hard connected with the man’s head. He dropped to the floor. She stood over him, a wooden baseball bat in her hand.

I sighed relief, and she stared at me for the first time for months, directly at me.

“John?” she asked, her eyes wide, pleading, tears forming at the edges. “Is that you?”

The room darkened as I began to lessen. My work here was done. She would be okay. I could finally see that she could take care of herself now.



by Joel M. Traylor

Gunter roared like thunder as he charged down the hill, slipping and stumbling, the broadsword pulled back over his head. His blond hair flew wild, his eyes crazed. They had killed her and now he would kill them. This he knew, and this was all that mattered. They would pay. He was the mad angel of death. And so his vengeance descended upon them.

The bandits scrambled to their feet, their greasy clothes barely more than beggars’ rags. The bald one had been fumbling to start a fire as the sun set blood red behind him. He abandoned his sticks and his flint and scrambled for a weapon. The two others had already stood up to face Gunter’s lunatic charge. One man carried a small sword, barely bigger than a knife, and he wore more scars than skin on his cheeks. The other one with greasy dark hair held only a simple axe, like a farmer would use to chop wood. He smiled. Gunter decided he would kill this man first.

Gunter let his rage carry him between the trees and over the rocks, sliding down the dirt ridge on an avalanche of stones into their campsite. But he didn’t bring his sword down in time, and instead his shoulder crashed into the axe-wielding man. Something bit his back as they both tumbled to the ground.

The pain tore into him, and he swallowed the scream and forced himself up. Another bite, this time in the shoulder, and he knew he had dropped his blade. He stumbled around.

“Idiot boy,” the scarred man said. “What d’you want?”

Gunter tried to speak, but he only spit blood. They didn’t know him. They didn’t know her. They didn’t remember what they had done, or they didn’t care.

The metal licked his throat, and he lifted his hands to the wound. The strength went out of his arms, and he fell forward into the pile of sticks. The wood turned red, and the ground darkened. He tasted dirt. He couldn’t move.

“He’s bleedin’ on our firewood,” one of them said.

“So get some more wood.” Some other voice now.

They didn’t know what they had done, and he could never tell them. Gunter’s rage had betrayed him.


Leroy Clyde vs. the T-Rex

by Joel M. Traylor

Let me tell you another story about Leroy Clyde.  As you know, Leroy Clyde did not fuck around, and he especially did not fuck around back in the day.  Now you also know about how the Space Time Vortex deposited all sorts of shit from all throughout space and time all over our lovely planet of Zaxon 7, and a lot of that shit was still alive.  Well, this story is about our friend Leroy running into one of the scariest pieces of shit that Zaxon 7 has ever seen.

So one day Leroy Clyde is walking from his house to the Dust Town train station, as he has a poker game over in Clintonville that he wasn’t about to miss, when he hears a roar.  Old Leroy looks up to see one of the largest and scariest predators the universe has ever known walking down the street toward him: a goddamn Tyrannosaurus Rex.  And it looks pissed.

The T-Rex sees him and studies him with its beady little eyes, almost like it’s trying to decide just what Leroy Clyde might taste like.  But just then, some dumb woman walks out of a nearby store and screams.  And gulp!  Just like that the T-Rex chomps down and eats her.

Leroy watches this poor woman’s legs kicking around, scraps of her polka dot dress flying everywhere, and he knows that – just like him – the T-Rex is not fucking around.  It throws its head back, and the woman’s legs disappear down its throat.  One of her red pumps hits the dusty road, and Leroy realizes that he spent the night with her just a week prior.  Damn if he can’t remember her name.

The T-Rex stares at Leroy Clyde, and Leroy Clyde stares right back.  And then, quick as a whip, the bastard dinosaur lunges at our hero, mouth open wide, its gigantic teeth going every which way.

But Leroy Clyde isn’t ready to get eaten just yet.  He steps to the side, and he punches that goddamn T-Rex right in its goddamn face!

“Suck on that,” Leroy says.

The creature rears its head back and roars, and Leroy grabs his laser rifle off his back.  He pushes back the brim of his hat, lines up the shot and blasts the ugly monster right in the eye.  While the laser doesn’t kill it, it pisses it off even more, probably beyond all measure and reason.  The T-Rex charges Leroy Clyde, and Leroy Clyde dances to its blind side.  Confused and still running, the T-Rex tears down the street past Leroy’s house.  As most of you probably know, Leroy lived right at the end of the deadliest dead end street of them all: on the edge a three-mile-high cliff.  Needless to say, that was the end of that goddamn Tyrannosaurus Rex.

In case you’re wondering, Leroy Clyde did make it to his poker game on time.  He even managed to bluff ten large off of a five-eyed Xindar with a two-seven-off-suit.  While the universe didn’t always deal Leroy Clyde the best of hands, he always made the most of them.