Nathan Wunner

Nathan Wunner's work has been featured by Insomnia Press, Surreal Grotesque, Chupa Cabra House Press, Sub-Verse zine, and in the Whispers From The Abyss anthology from 01 publishing. You can follow @NathanWunner on Twitter for updates concerning future short stories and his upcoming novels or contact him by email at

Nathan Wunner's work has been featured by Insomnia Press, Surreal Grotesque, Chupa Cabra House Press, Sub-Verse zine, and in the Whispers From The Abyss anthology from 01 publishing. You can follow @NathanWunner on Twitter for updates concerning future short stories and his upcoming novels or contact him by email at

To Dust

Five days ago they’d stood in their bedchamber and argued, and Baleel had tried to convince Isfet to flee with him before the armies from the north broke down the city gates.

And she had asked him, “Where will we go? What else is there?”

“Other lands,” he’d said. “Other cities. A life together.”

“Other lands where they force people with skin like ours into slavery. Or prostitution. This is my home, Baleel.”

And then he’d wiped a tear from her eye, and drew his sword.

They marched together to the city gates, and there they spilled blood, gallons of it, enough to drown in. But it wasn’t enough.

And when Isfet fell, Baleel fell down beside her, and he never stopped falling.

Baleel spread his tools out onto the table next to Isfet’s body. A sandstorm raged outside, one that had lasted for days and showed no signs of stopping. Baleel made the space as clean as he could in the short time he had to prepare, but the storm sent the curtains into a frenzy and sharp blasts of sand tore at his skin. The torch fixed into the wall over his head flickered unsteadily, threatening total darkness. The sky was black, the sun just a pale shadow hidden behind a veil of storm clouds.

And though he couldn’t see the fires in the distance, Baleel could smell the scent of smoke on the wind, and with it the scent of death.

Baleel washed Isfet’s hair with sacred oils, and rubbed them into her skin. There’d been no time to let her body dry; nor would there be.

He reached for his ceremonial knife, a slender silver blade with a carved ivory handle, and he sliced into Isfet’s left side, letting her organs spill into a basin at the foot of the table. Some organs he retrieved, placed into jars and sealed. Others were cast into the fire. Once empty, he washed the body cavity and then rubbed a mixture of sand and natron inside, taking care to be as thorough as time would allow.

Baleel worked from memory, recalling similar tasks from his time as an apprentice in the temples, before war had called him to faraway lands. Though he’d never preserved a body himself, he’d been witness to the procedure countless times.

He would’ve gone to a priest now, were they all not lying eviscerated in the streets. He would’ve consulted the holy scriptures, if the libraries and churches had not been reduced smoldering ash.

Baleel sewed up the gash in Isfet’s side, and carefully parted her eyelids. And then, as he gazed into his beloved’s eyes, he paused for a moment. He leaned back into the wall and used it to brace himself against a wave of dizziness. He sat for several minutes in this way, running his fingers across his blistered scalp and shaking his head. He screamed prayers and curses at every god he had a name for.
The sand, indifferent to his plight, continued to beat against the outer walls, determined to wear the stone down to nothing. Even if it took forever.

Baleel looked away as he removed Isfet’s eyes, and he didn’t dare glance back at her corpse until the eyes were sealed away, covered with cloth so that he would never have to look upon them again. He used bits of the same linen cloth to stuff the empty sockets.

The sinuses were penetrated with a bamboo stick, and Baleel emptied the head cavity, tossing the bits of gray flesh that came loose into the fire. Then, finally, he rubbed Isfet’s skin with sand, and wrapped her body with linen strips.

Finished, he carried her outside to the hole he’d prepared, one deep enough to keep the dogs from digging her up, but not so deep he couldn’t get her back out.

There was only one thing left to find, and his work would be complete, a vessel for her soul.

Lighting Fire To Ashes


Alan Shepard’s teeth were falling out for the third time this week.

To Jess’s left, her trainee, Steven, tried not to retch as they watched Shepard tear loose another piece of dangling gristle from his mouth and drop it into the bathroom sink.

“Ah, okay,” Steven said, “I’m supposed to figure out what this means, right?” He rubbed his chin with his fingers and stared up at the stained ceiling of the hotel room. In the meantime, another of Shepard’s teeth bounced off the ceramic and circled the drain.

“I have no idea what this means.” Steven concluded. “It’s just gross.”

“Mr. Shepard recently lost a loved one,” Jess said. “He’s starting to realize that he’s getting older, and his own death is drawing closer. Being forced to confront his own mortality, and trying to ignore it during the day, is making these concerns manifest in his subconscious mind.”

“You can tell all that just from watching someone’s teeth falling out in a dream?”

“I can tell all that because I read it in his file. Just like you were supposed to.” Jess frowned. “We’re not here to figure out what the dream means. We have analysts for that. Our job is to just observe and record.”

Jess had been observing the dreams of company employees for years. Part of their worker efficiency program–finding psychological issues in workers at an early stage increased productivity overall, and was also an indicator of which workers could be sent off to “early retirement” when it came time for budget cuts.

The dreams were observed via an interface that translated brainwave patterns into 3D holographic images. Jess didn’t know how the machine worked. It was built back before the world went to shit, by people now long since dead. She did know that the machine was intended to aid in the treatment of mental patients, but that all changed when the private sector bought out the technology and decided to monetize it to make a better return on their investment.

Jess liked her job, by and large. The gruesome sights, the nightmares–none of it really bothered her. Sometimes the sex dreams were awkward. But sifting through people’s subconscious thoughts was easier than talking to them while they were awake. Her anti-social tendencies made her uniquely qualified to deal with the often disturbing imagery dwelling within the human mind. No matter what she saw, Jess never got too immersed. She always knew that it wasn’t real. And she recognized the most important fact–that people had very little control over all the thoughts and fears bouncing around inside their heads.

If anything, the truth was the exact opposite. All the fears, the neuroses, they controlled us.

Minutes passed, or they seemed to, and Mr. Shepard’s sink was now overflowing with blood and saliva-slick teeth. No matter how many came loose and fell out of his jaw, more sprouted from his gums, shiny and wet, to take their place.

Jess put a finger to her earpiece. “Have you got what you need yet?”

After several moments, an analyst’s voice answered back. “We’ve got what we need. You’re free to extract.”

“We can leave?” Steven asked, looking pale. “Thank God.”

Mr. Shepard, the grimy hotel room, they all faded away in a flash, leaving Jess and Steven standing in an empty white room.

Jess dismissed Steven and made her way to the control room. Or, as the analysts mockingly referred to it, “the place where dreams are made”.

The control room was a maze of monitors and cabinet sized computers made up of spinning reels and blinking lights. Jess was greeted by Dale, a thin, mousy looking man in a sweat stained white shirt. Dale was many things, but he wasn’t annoying, and for that, Jess tolerated his company.

“How’s the trainee working out?” Dale asked.

“Steven?” Jess asked. “He doesn’t have the stomach for the work, and I don’t have the time to babysit.”

“Shame.” Dale shook his head. “I know you could use the help. Have you seen how packed the schedule is for next week?”

Jess wasn’t listening. Her attention was on the setting sun, falling below the horizon line, being swallowed up by the ocean waves. Another day gone. In the past, cities were all lit up at night. Corporate towers glowed more fiercely than the brightest stars, neon signs cast waves of light out onto the streets. Now when night came the candle flames were snuffed, the lamps dimmed, and the whole world was gently swallowed up by the encroaching dark.

“Long day, huh?” Dale placed a hand on Jess’s shoulder. She tried her hardest not to recoil from his touch. “What’s on your mind?”

Jess sighed. “Just thinking about how a place can change you. There was a time when I wouldn’t go near a corporate city-state. I can’t tell you how many business towers I’ve set fire to. And now…”

Jess didn’t finish her sentence.

“If that’s true, how did you ever end up in a city like Eidum? And working for the Aeus family, no less?” Dale said.

“Rebel organizations, so-called ‘Eco-Terrorists.’ For all their admirable qualities, they don’t offer healthcare plans. I had to grow up sometime.” Jess turned to walk away.

“Wait!” Dale shouted after her. “What about Alan Shepard? The guy you just observed?”

Jess stopped walking but didn’t turn back around to face Dale. “Don’t bother waking him,” she said. “Upper management made up their mind before today’s observation session even started. We were just there to gather data to reinforce their decision. Existential crises aren’t good for workplace morale. Someone will be along to flush him in the morning.”

The White Lady

For most, it was impossible to walk the Paths of the Dead without first dying oneself. But for those who still practiced the old ways there were occasions when one of the living might walk amongst the spirits. It happened rarely; on long nights, when the moon was just a pale sliver behind dark clouds, and the air was icy as the breath of the dead.

Mati had spent days preparing herself for her journey to the Paths; fasting to the point of starvation, denying herself anything more than a few minutes’ worth of sleep at a time. She even refused water, and her mouth was so dry that her tongue felt like sand scraping the inside of her cheek.

Now she looked like a wild, starving beast, with ravenous red eyes and ropey muscle stretched around taut skin. The bones of her rib cage and shoulders protruded through her skin, and she looked lanky and gaunt, like the shriveled husk shed off by a molting insect.

She sat before a blazing campfire and slicked her hair back with mud she’d gathered from the riverbed. She did this until her hair was plastered flat across the back of her skull and down her neck. After this, she spread white ash across her skin until she was covered completely, and stood out against the backdrop of the night sky like a small knot of dense fog. She crushed bones with a mortar and pestle until they were a powder, mixed them with dried blood until they congealed into a paste, and then traced the mixture across every jutting bone of her ribcage, across her sharp cheekbones and the ridges above her eyes. After she was done Mati looked down into a basin filled with water; and when she looked into the murk and realized she could no longer recognize herself, and could only see the bones, she knew she was ready.

The intention of the ritual, handed down through generations by the elders of her village, was to take her to the brink of death. To ruin the body, but leave the mind intact. It would give her the strength of the dead, the strength to walk the Paths. But unlike the dead, she would retain her will, her purpose. Her mother had undertaken the same ritual, her grandmother; even Mati herself, years and years ago, though as a child she hadn’t grasped the symbolic nature of it. It had just been one more trial in a life full of hardships.

As the moon rose, casting its pale light down, as the wind swelled and shook the leaves from the trees, Mati could feel a chill spread through her body. Starting in her toes, and then crawling up her spine. She felt rejuvenated and sick all at the same time. The ritual had worked.

To the west the sun had sunk below the treeline, and long, web-like shadows stretched across the plains. Mati ran towards the sun with no clothing to protect her from the cold, no shoes to guard her feet from the rocks and brambles. The only possessions she brought with her from the living world were a small red pendant which she clutched in her right hand, and a sharp, ivory handled knife she gripped tightly in her left. The knife, she knew, would afford her little protection where she was going. But it made her feel at ease just to hold it.

The red pendant, though, that was of the utmost importance. The pendant, and what it carried. Without it all that she’d done, and all that she was about to do, would be for nothing.

Mati had only been to the Paths once before, as a child. It had been a rite of passage in her village, back when they still practiced the old ways. She’d only been escorted as far as the outskirts of town, then told she had to go the rest of the way on her own. “It’s our most important lesson.” Her mother, Tante, had told her. “Loss of a loved one should always hurt. It should never be easy to forget. The good memories always come with pain.”

And pain there had been.

Mati lept over the decayed remnants of fallen trees as she ran, snapping brittle branches and slicing through thick vines if they threatened to slow her pace. It began to rain fiercely, but the jungle was so thick with vegetation that scarce few raindrops were able to pierce the canopy. Lightning flashed high above, imperceptible as the echo of a whisper. Most of the rain simply slid down branches and dripped off of thick, flat leaves; glistening like thousands of spider-webs in the faint light of the moon.