Big Pulp - the magazine of fantasy | mystery | adventure | horror | science fiction | romance


Back to Fall 2011 Issue
Back to Home

Philip Roberts lives in Nashua, New Hampshire and holds a degree in Creative Writing with a minor in Film from the University of Kansas. A beginner in the publishing world, he’s a member of the Horror Writer’s Association, and has had numerous short stories published in a variety of publications, such as the Beneath the Surface anthology, Midnight Echo, and The Absent Willow Review. More information on his works can be found at

E-books available from:

iPhone & iPad formats:
Available wholesale from:

Big Pulp can be purchased from local and independent retailers through IndieBound:

T-shirts, hats, mugs, boxers and other items available from :



A boy of eighteen once proclaimed to his friends and family that he would one day be a famous artist. A man of thirty-seven opened his eyes to the clouds floating peacefully through a dark blue sky.

He still had in his clenched right hand the neck of an empty bottle marked Bourbon. Ted Moore knew well the pain of bad hangovers. Before he could pull himself up from the ground he heard the humming, along with a person moving about just a few feet away.

A grunt shook from him as he pulled himself up, and put an immediate end to the joyful humming. It took only a few seconds for Ted’s vision to clear enough to see the forest filled with colorful green, and the man no more than ten feet away at the edge of the grassy patch, standing near the base of a tree.

But what Ted stared at were the two, five foot tall stakes that had been hammered into the ground, and the barbed wire strung densely up in-between them. In the middle of that barbed wire a body had been hung, the wiring wrapped around it over and over again, holding the arms up, the legs out, the head tilted back. Even the eyes had been pulled open, tiny needles piercing through the skin to ensure they didn’t close. A smile was pulled back on the dead man’s face. He wore a necklace of silvery wire, his body nude and muscular and long since dead.

Beside this masterpiece the man watched Ted with a look of shock, his features much different than the beauty of the dead youth. He was certainly nearing forty, dressed in a gray, pin stripe suit unbecoming of the surroundings he stood in, the glasses atop his nose thin wires holding equally thin glass.

Ted couldn’t honestly say what he saw in the man’s expression, and Ted found himself staring more at the strung-up boy than the man who had done the work. He was only vaguely aware of the man’s arm rising up to bring the hammer above his head, or the step the man took towards Ted.

“It’s beautiful,” Ted finally whispered.

The arm dropped down. Ted’s eyes shifted back to the artist, and the smile spread across his face.

“You can imagine my surprise,” Russell laughed as he held out the cup of coffee to Ted, “seeing a man actually rise up from the grass. Who would’ve thought someone would actually be sleeping out there?”

“I end up all sorts of odd places after the long ones,” Ted said, took his coffee. They sat in Russell’s meticulously kept office. On the walls he saw replicas of most well-known paintings. All of them were upbeat in nature, nothing malevolent or violent in any of the images.

“And you say you’re an artist,” Russell asked, leaning forward with interest.

“I…I try to be, but I’ve never really had any success. I can do things, paint things really well, but not my things. I don’t think I have anything in my mind too paint, it seems like.”

“And you truly enjoyed my work?” Russell leaned in even more; his eyes were alit behind his glasses.

“It was amazing.” Ted couldn’t honestly say why he felt no revulsion for the violence that had created the work, and didn’t find a single part of him recoiling in disgust. He meant every word of it. Perhaps the alcohol had dulled his senses too much for him to care anymore, or maybe his string of rejections had removed any sense of empathy from him, not that he’d ever had much to begin with.

“I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to have someone validate my work. I mean, I’ve seen various articles over my work after people discover them, but they so rarely focus on the artistic side of it, too preoccupied with the death.”

“How long have you been doing this?”

“Oh, a few years, but it isn’t easy deciding what the next piece will be, and I rarely create more than two larger works a year. These are delicate matters to plan out, after all.”

“I’d imagine it would be. Not exactly like buying another canvas at the store.”

“Yes, exactly. Buying another canvas. I’ll remember that one,” Russell said, smiled with a short laugh. “I’ve taken a liking to you, and would like to help you if I can. A private lesson, perhaps.” He tore out a piece of paper and handed it to Ted. “My address.”

“I’ll be there,” Ted answered, and he intended to follow through. For the first time in far too many years Ted felt a sense of purpose flowing through him, and prayed he would finally be able to transfer it into art.

Ted brought his aging, near dead pick-up truck to a halt in Russell’s driveway. The truck didn’t look right sitting in the driveway of such a lovely home, the lawn well kept, lush bushes and flowers surrounding the front yard.

Only after Ted got out of his car did he notice that the bushes surrounding Russell’s front door were tall enough, and thick enough to obscure any view of the path leading up to the front door, and no one would see if the man dragged something into his home.

Russell opened on the first ring, smiling, motioning for Ted to enter. They proceeded through a nicely decorated home, the carpets white, the furniture deep brown mahogany. Through another door and the lavish surroundings changed into bare, gray bricks and a wooden staircase leading down.

Only briefly, with Russell behind him, and Ted descending down those steps, did Ted question whether or not he was to be the next work of Russell’s art, but even then he felt no fear. To be honored by having the privilege of being worked on by someone he had already developed such respect for seemed almost welcoming.

Their journey took them across a cement floor to another room, and then down a much narrower stone hallway ending in the final door, and the small, square room.

In the middle of it, a boy of no more than twenty years old sat tied in a chair, his head slumped, the bloody gash that had rendered him unconscious visible on the back of his head full of blond hair.

Ted stopped before him, while Russell moved around to the back of the chair and placed a hand on the unconscious boy’s shoulder.

“Why did you like my work?” Russell asked. “Or better put, why were you not revolted by the brutality of a life strung up in such a horrific fashion?”

“I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is that appealed to me so much, but seeing what you had created, the violence that had led to it didn’t seem to be particularly relevant. All I could see was the effort and emotions you had placed into the finished product.”

A quick jerk brought the boy’s head back to reveal his throat, and as Ted watched Russell ran the blade swiftly across it, spraying a fountain of blood down the boy’s exposed chest. And within those last few seconds the boy’s eyes fluttered open, his mouth grimacing, a low, painful moan echoing through him. But almost as soon as the eyes had managed to open they were closing again.

Ted found his gaze shifting away from the grisly scene, found his stomach turning in on itself, his mouth suddenly frowning.

Russell let the head fall back down until the boy’s chin was against his bloody chest. The breathing had stopped. When Ted looked back up he could see Russell staring at him, and understood the man had been staring at him the whole time.

“The death itself disturbs you?” he asked.

“I guess. It…it isn’t art yet. I’m not detached enough from the act itself.”

“But what about now? Seeing this boy sitting before you, are you seeing a corpse, or a blank canvas waiting for your touch?”

Having those words spoken to him, Ted did see the blank canvas opening up, the possibilities, so endless it seemed, just waiting to be realized. Russell stepped away from the boy’s corpse towards a cabinet in the back corner. He opened the metal doors to reveal the blades of all shapes and sizes hanging there, waiting to be used, and Ted’s gaze shifted back to the boy.

It was time for his first lesson to begin.

(continued on page 2)


By Association by Philip Roberts - 1 2
and more great fiction and poetry available in
Big Pulp Fall 2011!

Big Pulp is available for the Kindle, Nook and other
e-reader platforms from Smashwords and in print from
, Barnes & Noble and many independent booksellers.

Available wholesale from Ingram Distribution.