In celebration of the release of The San Cicaro Experience, we invite you to try a sample of A.R. Aston’s latest story, “Home to Roost.” Editor James Fadeley had this to say about the tale:

“I’ve personally had the privilege of knowing Andrew for years, having made his acquaintance on the Warhammer 40,000 fanfiction boards. Although Andrew, Manuel and myself started this company, we were very careful to leave the story’s acceptance more in the hands of the others. But Andrew absolutely nailed it. Jenn, Jon and I were in unanimous agreement that it was exactly the kind of tale we wanted. It turned out to be the second ‘must have’ story (the first being Ali Habashi’s “Wetsuit”). Defining everything I personally like about it is a tall order. For starters, “Home to Roost” defies any easy genre definition. It hints at crime, horror, family drama and a bit of romance all at once, gently blending them into highly enjoyable yarn. And twist after plot twist kept the story rolling to an excellent payoff, as the ending added something lasting to the mythos of San Cicaro. A foundation of its past and a building block towards a stranger future…”

Before beginning, please be advised that this story contains some harsh language and scenes of a grisly nature. Reader discretion is advised.

Home to Roost

Doug only had one option left open to him. He exited the interstate, onto one of the endless non-descript routes heading west towards the coast. He was drawn inexorably onwards, the road the black asphalt tongue of some yawning, unseen maw. San Cicaro was calling, its hot breath spilling over him.

He was close. He’d seen signs, between endless stretches of absolutely nothing. He felt the sticky, prickly presence of the city, like a rumored promised land. For so long it had been a dream, a fairy story. But every mile brought it closer, made it more real. The Californian expansiveness, with all its thirsting plains and dry, white earth, began to sprout pine trees. A smattering at first, before becoming something of a thin forest. These in turn gave way to more and more small towns, suckling at the suburban teat of the big city, before Doug ever laid eyes on San Cicaro.

His long-suffering station wagon was furnace hot, as the AC had kicked the bucket a hundred miles ago. Only the slowly thawing ice in the trunk kept the temperature this side of bearable. His shirt was glued to his skin by sweat, and his glasses kept fogging with the condensation of his own perspiration. Myriam was always telling him he’d melt if he came down from the Rockies for too long. He winced at the memory of her uneven smile, real wide and distinctly hers.

He couldn’t go home again. Not after what happened. What he had done.The station wagon growled at him when he fucked up a gear change, grinding the stick shift.

“Fuck you, car! I’m doing my fucking best, alright?”
>His head pulsed. The tension headaches again. He pulled off his glasses, and pinched the bridge of his nose.

A scream! A long, excruciating wail. A woman’s scream.

No, it was a car horn. He swerved back into his lane, narrowly avoiding the truck thundering in the opposite direction. They kept punching their horn for a couple of minutes, but didn’t turn to follow.

Doug exhaled sharply, but relief was not automatic. His chest heaved, and he choked down breaths.

“Hold it together, Doug. Come on!” He glared red-eyed at the fool in the rearview.

He couldn’t get over the stink. Even the smell of gas station hot dogs and the sweat slowly dissolving his clothes couldn’t cover it. He could hear flies sometimes. That was what prickled the hairs on the back of his neck the most—it meant he was almost too late.

Time was of the essence, but he couldn’t just floor it. His wagon couldn’t take it, and he didn’t want to raise alarms, get the cops on his tail. They’d pull him over, then see the shotgun in the back seat, and the bloody blankets. Then if they asked him to pop the trunk, what was he going to do? Say no? He had a bowie in the glove box. Was he quick enough to plant six inches of steel into some poor state trooper’s trachea before they radioed for back-up? Was he seriously considering this?

This isn’t you Doug. She was speaking again.

No, she wasn’t. It was all him.

“It’s for the best. It’ll all be okay. Okay? Can everyone just calm down?”

The car decided this was the right time to make its counterargument, flashing a warning. Low fuel.

“Fuck! Again? A-fucking-gain? We’re literally fifty miles away! Don’t do this now! Myriam said I should trade you in for a Honda. ‘But it was my dad’s!’ I said. God-fucking-dammit!”

He thumped the dashboard. Over and over again. The red mist descended, and he struck it again, harder. So hard it jarred his hand, making him scream.

Screaming felt good, even if just for a while.

He screamed again. He screamed until he felt bile burn the back of his throat, until he coughed and spluttered. He still managed to weep, despite how dehydrated he felt.

Easing off the accelerator, he managed to limp to a gas station. There, he fished out an old gift card from his pocket for the waiting machine, reminding himself twice that it was unregistered, safe to use. He felt eyes on him as he plugged the nozzle into the tank, latching the trigger to pump automatically. The people here were like aliens. Back home, he knew the same hundred or so people by sight. These creatures were a profusion of new eyes, wild hair and garish clothes. By contrast Doug, catching a glimpse of himself in the store front, looked like a harried businessman who had been doused with a garden hose.

It was in his head. They weren’t looking at him. These folks lived near San Cicaro for heck’s sake. Weird was their breakfast and dinner, wasn’t it?

Doug jumped when the nozzle thumped, the pump halting. The card’s value was exhausted, the display reading little more than four gallons. Not full, but enough. Just.

He pulled into a parking spot in front of the station’s convenience store and walked the aisles in a daze. Whenever he stopped, he began to think. Thinking was dangerous. Doug couldn’t get distracted. Not now, not when so close to freedom. He barely comprehended the chatter of the other shoppers. He bought some water and more ice with a crumpled twenty from his pocket. The clerk, a surly asshole wearing a t-shirt touting some metal band on it called “Barrio Fantasma, had to ask him twice to take his change when he finished paying. Doug blindly snatched the money from the man’s hand before stumbling back towards his car.

There were vehicles close by, other drivers. He hurried over to the station wagon before they could draw closer. Carefully, discreetly, he popped the trunk and piled the ice inside. It was like a band-aid on a sucking chest wound, but it was the only solution left.

He closed the trunk with a heavy thud. Only then did he notice the cop car, and the officer leaving the store. Before he could do anything, the man was walking his way. Doug could see the squinting smile in the face despite the sunglasses shielding him from the beating midday sun.

“How’s it going?”

“Just… fine. Fine, yeah.”

Too many words. The voice from the trunk. The one which wasn’t a voice and wasn’t real.

Nobody asked you, he replied.

“I noticed your plates there, pal. Colorado huh? I saw them and was just thinking ‘Jesus H, he’s been trucking.’”

The officer’s voice was friendly. All smiles and small-town hokey, which Doug didn’t buy for a minute. Sheriff Huntley back home, he was small-town as they come. This guy was playing a role. For all his charm, his hand was still close by his radio. His other, resting beside his gun.

“Umm, yeah. Road trip. San Cicaro.”

“Definitely an out-of-towner. You don’t pronounce it like that. It’s Spanish.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“Don’t sweat it. But still, Colorado to San Cicaro. Hell of a trip. You look like you’ve been through the wringer today.”

Doug was conscious of his eyes. Was he staring too much?

“AC died on me.”

He was definitely blinking too much now.

“That’s a damn shame.”

The cop sighed and turned away, looking over the battered old car. Doug had a vision of planting his keys in the man’s throat. The cop was solidly built, but he was old, and Doug was a big guy. Gorilla in a suit, folks called him.

“You’re not a gorilla. More like a sasquatch at a business conference,” Myriam had laughed.

“Gee, thanks honey…” he’d grumbled.

“No, but in like… a sexy way,” she’d beamed, hugging him around the legs.

“You’re weird.”

“You knew that when you married me.”

The memory was a lance of cold water behind the eyes. It took every effort not to stumble at the recollection.

The cop wasn’t looking his way, thankfully. If he was quick, he could grab the man by the back of the head and dash his face against the hood of his car. Smash him again and again, till he stopped twitching.

Myriam would hate him for it. But Myriam wasn’t there.

And whose fault is that?

“I’m trying my best,” Doug muttered.

“Sorry, sir?”


The cop was looking his way again. Missed his chance. The cop’s hand was definitely on his pistol now. Try and jump him then, he’d get a bullet for his troubles.

“You said something.”

Doug saw his desperate, sweaty visage reflected in the cop’s silvered shades. If it was possible for a man to look more suspicious, Doug couldn’t think of it.

“I don’t think you told me just what brought you down here mister…?”

“Mountebank. Douglas Mountebank.”

“Well, Mr. Mountebank. What’s the plan here?”

“I told you. I’m going to San Cicaro.”

The cop paused. “Business or pleasure?”


The older man frowned, turning slightly to mutter something into his radio. Finally, he looked Doug up and down.

“You headed straight there?”

“Yes. I didn’t even want to stop here.”

“Is there something in that car?”

The question was a slap in the face.

Doug should have answered with, “No, nothing except supplies.”

Instead, he didn’t say a damn thing.

The cop backed up a few paces, peering at the station wagon as if mulling something over. Whether it was worth his time looking inside that trunk, learning something he probably didn’t want to know about. Undoubtedly, this was a man who’d lived on the fringes of San Cicaro for a long time. He must know the score, even if Doug didn’t. Eventually, the old trooper clicked his tongue, and let out a long sigh.

“You can go. But you go straight there. I’ve got your plates. You go anywhere else, I’ll know.”

Doug nodded hesitantly. He did not expect this.

The cop’s smile had vanished now, replaced by a hawkish scowl. “You leave this place be, understand?”

“I… yes sir…”

Doug got in his car and left as swiftly as he could. It was only a mile or two down the road before he began to realize how fucking weird and unsettling the interaction had been. Even for him, with a head full of chattering whispers.

But that was nothing compared to San Cicaro itself.


The motel receptionist was young, Latino, with a face cratered with old acne scars. He was behind thick glass, but Doug could still smell the guy’s weed through the speaker grille. Tattoos ran down his neck and the back of his hands, and his greasy hair was in a ponytail. His name badge said “Hi! Call me Kyle,” but when Doug had tried to call him that, the man actually took the time to look up from his phone to scowl at him.

“It came with the job.”


“What brings you to San Cicaro today? The kite festival? That’s cool, thanks for sharing,” Not-Kyle said flatly.

Unable to make eye contact with the man, Doug looked around. A TV was mounted on the wall behind the receptionist, though it was muted. A news story aired, showing some earnest-looking reporter with immaculately arranged hair standing beside a massive house that was completely aflame. Behind her, cops were half-escorting, half-dragging a man away. The captions read, “Alleged Arsonist Apprehended near Royal Ochre Road.”

“No pets in the rooms, no guns in the rooms, no drugs in the rooms. Aside from that, don’t give a shit what you do, s’long as you do it quietly. Ice machine on the second floor. We do beds, we don’t do breakfasts, the TV’s coin-operated. No, I will not be providing quarters. No smoking by the pool—I am not fishing out your cigarette butts with a pond skimmer. There is a phone in your room. Do not call me on it, I beg of you. And I’m telling you now… no fires in your room.”

“Fires?” Doug panted, trying to keep the desperation to get to his room out of his voice.

“Fires,” the young man nodded. Seemingly unconcerned with Doug’s sweating, wretched appearance, he went right back to rattling off his spiel, idly swiping on his phone as he did so. His speech eventually concluded with explaining when check-out was. Doug pushed a fistful of notes into the hatch below the screen. Not-Kyle shunted the slot backwards, took the money, and replaced it with a grubby-looking key.

Sycorax Plaza was probably the cheapest motel in San Cicaro, right down to the ugly, rarely vacuumed carpets. It was also a place where nobody asked questions. Doug took the key eagerly and left the office as soon as possible.

He hadn’t had long to find a place to stay, as his station wagon came screaming into the city just in time to catch the afternoon traffic. Drumming a panicked rhythm on the dashboard with his fingers as the fuel gauge ticked down, he felt his world rotting around him. The smell was getting so bad he swore he could see the stench shimmer in the air. His first proper glimpse of San Cicaro was of the palm trees lining the roads, as he crawled along congested streets. It didn’t seem so strange, magical, and impossible to him then. Just maddening.

He had no time. It was almost over. He was almost too late. The voice was clicking her tongue disapprovingly, and the car radio laughed at him. He punched the dash, made the engine snarl.

Fuck you too, car.

Mercifully, when he arrived at the motel, the place was almost deserted. Everyone had already checked-in and headed into town for the festival, or else had their own shit to deal with.

He bolted from Not-Kyle’s office, rushing to his room immediately. He took the tin bucket by his bedside and made a beeline to the ice machine.

It took seventeen trips. Seventeen trips to fill the bathtub with ice, right to the brim. Only then did he return to the car.

There were twelve packages, tightly cocooned in plastic and duct tape, then bound in brown paper bags and twine. He took them up to the room one by one. He cradled them like new-born infants, pressed close to his chest. Wild-eyed, he scanned his dingy surroundings for anyone spying on him. He couldn’t have anyone watching.

This work needed peace and quiet. He’d need a steady hand. He was excited. He was terrified.

He left the shotgun in the car, locking it in the trunk as he removed his duffel bag. He took the knife, and the medical pack beside it in the glove box. Once he was in the room, he dragged the bed across the floor, blocking the door. He piled everything that wasn’t nailed down on top.

Suitably barricaded, duffel bag dumped on the ground, he finally stripped off his sweat-drenched clothes, until he stood naked as the day he was born. He still had the bruises on his ribs where the staff at the coroner’s had fought him. They’d gotten in the way; why hadn’t they just let him take what he needed?

He wasn’t a violent man. Everyone saw how big he was and assumed he was a brawler, but he was a gentle soul. Myriam saw that, if no one else. He wasn’t a brute, but a man pushed to his limits.

With great trepidation, he moved into the bathroom, and the waiting tub of ice. Beneath the acrid tang of strip lighting, he took the bowie knife to the first of his precious packages. Tenderly, he scored through paper and plastic, peeling back the layers like a delicate chrysalis. Eventually, the treasure within was revealed.

A hand. More accurately a hand, wrist, and half a smashed forearm. The ragged end smelled like spoiled meat, but the pallid skin wasn’t ruined yet. Tenderly, he brought up the back of the hand, and kissed it. Cold flesh made him recoil.

He almost dropped the hand, as he doubled over the sink and heaved his guts into the basin.

This wasn’t right. What the fuck was he doing?

Doug shook off the feeling, biting back the tears that threatened to return with a vengeance. They had been lost in the storm of sweat earlier, but they had been there the whole time.

He placed the hand in the ice, and swiftly moved onto the next package. Part of a ribcage. Another, a knee and a supple thigh. A pelvis. A shin and foot.

Slowly but surely, the body was revealed. He placed each portion into the ice bath. Eventually, a woman took shape before him.

The last package he opened with his eyes closed. The head. He couldn’t bear it. He turned the face away as he placed this at the apex of his grotesque sculpture. He dared not look into the eyes of his wife, and not see her looking back. The thought almost stopped his heart.

With the grisly tableau arranged, he turned his attention to each portion. He cleaned them, cut out the rot where he could, and set to work. The needle and thread in the medical kit were surgical, and Doug knew the basics. He was no surgeon, however. Carefully, deliberately, he pierced the yielding skin with his curved needle, and began to sew.

It was slow going. The flesh was soft, and it would tear if he tightened the thread too much. I’m taking it back, he told himself. I’m taking all the horror back.

Deeds could be undone. They had to be. It couldn’t end like this. That’s not how the stories went.

To be continued…

“Home to Roost” by A.R. Aston. Available now in The San Cicaro Experience. Also, a big thanks to Daniel Gregoire for his photo on Unsplash.