THE RED PLAGUE: By Matthew Wilson

In the hottest August in living memory, the ladybugs came out. No, we didn’t go to Rhyl because it was new or exciting, it was just the cheapest bit of coast that mom could afford. So soon after the divorce, she figured her two boys needed something to take her mind off the change of atmosphere.

Honestly, Philip and I were just pleased that there would be no more shouting matches. The chance to play arcade machines and walk the beach were just bonuses of a bad situation.

Until the ladybugs came. Locals told us there was an annual explosion of the little devils. The warm air and an abundance of food made them multiply worse than rabbits. They lay as thick as red snow upon the ground and I felt so bad of how a single footsteps would crush dozens, I started staying in the little hut more and more.

I didn’t like their raisin sized red shells, bulging painted white eyes and twitching mini -jaws.

Mom kicked me out. She hadn’t paid £42.50 for the weekend for me to stay in and play video games. I’d better get some sun on me before we headed home! I don’t remember exactly when the screaming started. On the beach, children grabbed handfuls of scuttling ladybugs and threw them at one another for devilment, drains overfilled with the things and in an already losing war; pest controllers walked the streets with leaf blower like things blasting the things back to the sea.

I daren’t buy an ice cream for fear 100 of them would stick to it, attracted by the sweet smell of sugar. We had to cover our mouths with scarves to stop breathing them in when they fell like blood rain. A great breeze collected them as easy as rust coloured leaves and threw them at us for spite.

It began at 5 o’clock. That’s when I noticed the stabbing pain in my leg. They were not my favourite thing in the world, but I’d never been scared of bugs — that was strictly a girlie thing. Phil and I had stuff to do and no army of aphid eaters was going to get in our way. They were harmless. In all of history as many people had died from ladybugs as meteorites. As long as we covered our mouths while we walked, things were fine.

Until one of the devils bit me. It felt like a small dog had sank its fangs into my shin. I yanked my trouser legs up and saw an angry red bump appear like a contained outbreak of chickenpox.

Philip laughed at my pettiness, thinking it a ploy to attract some passing pleasant looking girls. Then he screamed too when two of the things nipped his ear lobe, dangling there like strange jewellery and we ran for the nearest building like fire was falling from the sky.

Old men were as effective as crushing the things with their walking sticks as a fool draining the ocean with a bucket. Some had heart attacks and others dived for the water. The bugs waited on the water like red oil freed from a canister and entered their ears and mouths when their small heads broke the surface like a flesh coloured island.

“How can small teeth hurt so bad?” Phil moaned, throwing off his shirt as we staggered drunk on ladybug poison into the arcade. His back was as bright red as his favourite football shirt. He looked like he’d fallen asleep on the beach and been badly burned by the sun.

The things had lost their laziness now and didn’t just let the wind flutter them down to the ground. They flapped their wings and followed the scent of flesh. They covered men and omen from head to toe, going for the softest part of the body. The eyes.

“We gotta lock the doors,” the arcade manager said. He didn’t have to ask twice for volunteers.

“There’s people still out there,” I said but he didn’t care. To make doubly sure, he snapped the key off in the lock when the doors sealed shut.

“Not for long,” the manager mourned and thankfully he was right. The screams did not last long.

“Hell of a holiday,” Phil said beside me as for the first time since we were very little we held hands.

And watched the ladybugs fall like raisins from the sky.

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©2014 Matthew Wilson

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ROD’S LITTLE BLUE WAGON: By Andrea Allison

The stale air clung to their lungs like a hot sticky summer day in Texas. Fog swept across Dark Elms, concealing it in mounds of mystery. Citizens scrambled out their doors, not for school or work. Their urgency lay with a little blue wagon. The sound of that wagon bumping along the town’s only main road emanated within every home like a dinner bell.

They all knew that little blue wagon, sapphire blue with white walled wheels and a black handle. Stenciled on the sides in silver paint was the name “Rod”. Rod Bloodworth called Dark Elms his home for as brief of a time he was allowed. He peaked at eight years with chestnut curls prancing about his ivory skin when he sprinted here and there. For one summer, he pulled his wagon filled with his mother’s homemade strawberry jam up and down the road.

The town anticipated jam season, buying up every jar. It was the only time of the year Rod felt the admiration of many. Smiles, complements and well wishes to his mother made him feel the true meaning of his life. One summer, all the smiles and complements would purge in a single act of cruelty.

He left is home early that morning. Fog blanketed Dark Elms, satisfied with its foreboding genius. He strolled down his usual route with his little blue wagon creaking behind him. Hours later, Doug Therdgood found him floating face down in Elms Creek. His little blue wagon full of jam laid next to the creek, charred. Questions of his death never found answers until the harbinger first made its appearance.

The little blue wagon creaked down the main road. The town fell silent as it continued to roll without its owner pulling it along. No one dared to touch it, but all eyes were on the little blue wagon until it stopped in front of the Marshall white brick house. Three members of the Marshall family stood with hearts beating in their throats as it stood within feet of them. The black handle turned toward their direction, labeling its victim as it slowly phased out of sight.

They feared what it meant. Why had they been singled out? Three days time and all was revealed. The youngest Marshall, Richie, contracted a fatal case of pneumonia and passed on. He would not be the first child. The little blue wagon appears once every year to take another in to the afterlife, no pattern or reason and no escaping their fate. It will find their child no matter where they hide them.

On this day, the little blue wagon is on its way to find the next child to leave Dark Elms. With hearts in throats, the town waited to see who would be its choice. Tears trickled down cheeks as it passed each house.

On this day, the little blue wagon stopped before a crimson farmhouse as a scream pierced the silence.

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©2012 Andrea Ellison

Andrea Allison bounced from one small town after another until finally landing in Oklahoma. Her publishing credits include Runesmag.com, Medley of Fiction Anthology and No Rest For the Wicked Anthology.

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