Aphelion Issue 279, Volume 26
December 2022/January 2023
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Flash Writing Challenge
Dan's Promo Page

The Artistry of Punishment

by Gary William Crawford

The judge of the shadow city
listens to the young man’s plea for freedom.
If freedom ever existed,
he hopes for it,
but feels he is lost in a maze
while the judge laughs at him.
The judge is known across the shadow land
as being harsh and unyielding.
The young man’s body quivers,
but he knows his crime is not all that great.
But the judge’s sentence is creative
in its cruelty: the young man is told
he must suffer ten waking nightmares.


He is a child again
in a world of love and hope.
But he finds himself
lost in the thick wood
outside the shadow city.
He can’t be sure, but what
seems a brown bear appears
in the brush, and he is terrified
because its face resembles
that of his dead father.


At the funeral of a young girl
whom he loves in the way
children love, her eyes flutter
open, and he cries because
he can’t understand
why she lives again.


A boyhood friend dies
of what seems anemia.
The doctors were baffled,
but when his friend taps
on the young boy’s window, asking,
”May I have some of your blood?
I’m so cold. I need your warm blood,”
they conclude he is a vampire.


He wakes one morning, feverish and cold,
And hungry for blood now.
His mother takes him to a priest
in the shadow city
who orders that a hot branding iron
be placed on the bites on his neck
and holy water be doused on the wounds.


He is once again five years old,
and his pet cocker spaniel, Buff,
nuzzles him. The boy laughs
and pets his dog, but then
suddenly, Buff growls deeply,
and bites him on his hand.


He is once again in second grade,
and the teacher he has a crush on,
Mrs. McBride, announces
that she has married a demon.
She pulls out a hatchet,
calls the young boy’s name, and steps
up to him about to swing it.


He is in his teens,
and he is dating a young girl,
but, to his horror,
he learns that she is a witch.
He takes her to a drive-in
movie, and she speaks
a number of strange incantations,
and the characters in the movie step down
from the screen to speak to him.


He takes a job in a coffin factory;
and when he delivers coffins
to a funeral home,
he notices how deathly
pallid are the undertakers.
They smile, showing their
sharp fangs, and one says,
”We’ve come to take you with us.”


He marries a beautiful girl,
and on their wedding night,
he realizes that her father
is Wilbur Whately.
When she takes off her clothes
he sees her skin is leathery
with numerous pulsating suckers,
like the tentacles of an octopus.


The child he fathers with his wife
is not of this world.
So ashamed and horrified,
he takes the child to a secluded wood,
kills the baby,
then kills himself.


The judge reads in the newspaper
of the young man’s homicide and suicide,
but feels no remorse.
He was only doing his job.
He considers himself
a talented artist.

© 2004 Gary William Crawford

Gary Crawford is the author of two books of poetry, Poems of the Divided Self and In Shadow Lands, and the short story collection Gothic Fevers. I have published works of literary scholarship and criticism, such as Ramsey Campbell, J. Sheridan Le Fanu: A Bio-Bibliography, and Robert Aickman: An Introduction. He is also the founder and editor of Gothic Press (http://www.gothicpress.com/.)

Find more by Gary William Crawford in the Author Index.

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.