David Kopaska-Merkel’s book of humorous noir fiction based on nursery rhymes, Nursery Rhyme Noir 978-09821068-3-9, is sold at the Genre Mall. Other new books include The zSimian Transcript (Cyberwizard Productions) and Brushfires (Sams Dot Publishing).

Edd Vick’s latest story, “The Corsair and the Lady” may be found in Talebones #37.

Alex Dally MacFarlane’s story “The Devonshire Arms” is available online at Clarkesworld.

Ken Brady’s latest story, “Walkers of the Deep Blue Sea and Sky” appears in the Exquisite Corpuscle anthology, edited by Jay Lake and Frank Wu.

In the Bleak Midwinter

by Rudi Dornemann

Following yesterday’s “Masker.”

The drummer drums.

I march. I sing

Behind us is a procession of ghosts, all singing the song that won’t leave my head as long as I wear this mask, the same mask they also wear. All of us marching in time to the drum, up and down a series of hills through unbroken snow.

I force a word out between teeth gritted against chattering. “Where?” It’s the next hill before I manage another: “Going?”

The drummer points with the human thigh bone he’s been using for a beater and the whole parade is still. On the top of the next hill, a human-shaped, tree-tall figure stands against the half-risen moon, which shines waveringly through it–a statue of glass?

Up the final, steepest hill and the statue turns out to be ice, a colossus with a tangle of white cloth in the depths where its heart should be. The ghosts march past me, silent now, and ring the statue. The drummer doffs his hat in an exaggerated bow, as if he wants me to step forward. He taps the drumhead lightly, twice, and my feet move me into the circle.

The ghosts reach out, mouthing the song I can’t hear in my head anymore.

That tangle of the cloth, I realize, is an angel, its wings in tight like a dead bird’s.

I reach out and the ice burns my palm. I’ve forgotten the song.

The ghosts are still silent, but watching their exaggerated enunciation brings the slightest whisper to my mind and I croak a single tentative note, then another, the tune gathering force until I’m shouting the refrain.

The statue shatters to splinters. The moon ignites like a circle of paper, becomes the sun. The angel, freed, falls forward in a slow-motion tumble, cradling a burning clock in its arms. Just before it hits the ground, the angel convulses its wings in a downbeat with a sound like thunder, and it’s gone.

The drummer collapses in a heap of rags, and I tear the mask from my face. I can remember my name.

In the strengthening light, I recognize this hilltop, a couple miles from the family and life I left behind. The ghosts fade–not ghosts, but echoes of this same ritual carried out in previous years, by previous maskers, as a trace of me will return, I’m sure.

I hurry home while, somewhere above, the clock still burns.

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