The Horror Zine

Alex Živko-Clark

The September Featured Story is by Alex Živko-Clark

Please feel free to email Alex at

Alex Zivko Clark

by Alex Živko-Clark

A colleague of mine says the height of civilization is a good bedside lamp. For me it’s a bouquet of flowers.

I buy them as gifts for all occasions and when there’s nothing to celebrate, I’ll buy them for myself. Some men have cars, or clothing, or a 3D TV; I like flowers. A house without the color and perfume of fresh flowers is not a home in my book. Flowers are magic; perhaps the appeal lies in the fact they’re forever changing and ephemeral.

But hey, who cares? Some things can be overanalyzed. I just love flowers.

Although…I often wondered if it was the flowers that drew me to the shop, or if it was Lana. I suppose it follows that there’s something romantic about being at the florist’s the day my life fell apart.


After I left school I moved to the former Yugoslavia—Croatia, in fact, to the northern city of Sestragrad. My mother was from there and taught me the language when I was young. I stayed with relatives at first and moved into my own apartment when I found office work at the shipyard.

Girlfriends, seasons and years came and went. The one constant was flowers; I bought them every Friday on the way from work.

The shop was small; not much larger than your kitchen, but it was an explosion of color and fragrance.  “Ciao, Niko; back again?”

I smiled. “Lana, this is an annex of heaven. When are you going to ask me to move in?”

“You’re very silly.”

“I’m very serious; I promise I won’t be any trouble.”

“There’s nowhere for you to sleep,” the proprietor said, laughing, enjoying the moment. She was somebody who loved flowers nearly as much as me. An old-fashioned manual till stood on the counter by the way into the back. A ceramic dish of complimentary sweets was nearby. “Anyway,” she told me, “leaves would tickle your toes when you lie down.”

The telephone rang. Lana trapped the receiver between ear and shoulder as she worked carnations into a spill. “Koje…bijel ruža, dobro…za Srijeda…ok, vidimo, ciao.

Autumn leaves blew along the pavement outside. Church bells pealed in the near distance. The telephone rang again. “Ma joj,” Lana said, feigning exhaustion. She took another order. Across the road, a man, followed by another, entered a massage parlor.

“Are you much busier than usual, Lana?”

“Is very busy today,” she said, trimming the stems of my flowers. They really would look excellent in my apartment. “I’ve more orders than I can fulfill. My mum is helping me. We are—moli vas, Niko.” She broke off to answer another call.

I stepped outside and heard the incessant and discordant blare of car horns. Sign of a wedding. In Croatia, it’s customary for wedding entourages to make as much din as possible. All part of the festivities. I stepped back into the shop. Lana finished on the phone. I glanced at her fingers; she didn’t wear a ring. I couldn’t imagine her being anything but a terrific wife. “It’s early in the day for people to be getting married,” I said.

“There are many, many weddings today; there’ll be weddings in every church throughout the city. Is end of summer; everybody is rushing before winter. Nobody wants to be photographed with snow on their heads.”

A squall of wind blew over a tub of chrysanthemums. “Boze moj! I won’t get home before midnight.”

“Let me help.”

“Thank you, Niko. Bura is coming, I think.”

Lana was displaying the finished article on the counter. The carnations were beautiful, but Lana was more beautiful. One day, I thought, I’ll be reckless and…

She answered the phone again and her smile—that wonderful, benevolent smile—suddenly inverted.

I couldn’t hear the message, but her radiant smile was gone. Lana placed one hand over her mouth and her face blanched the color of marble. She placed the receiver on the counter, pushed past me (her strength shocked me; she wanted me out of her path) and ran out of her shop and to the restaurant next door.

I watched her through the window. She mouthed words to a man I’d not seen before and he looked like a man who was shortcutting across railway lines, caught in the headlights of a runaway freighter. She all but dragged him out of his chair and into the shop.

I stepped out of the way as the man grabbed the phone. He seemed to mimic Lana; he held his hand over his mouth as if holding back something—Christ knew what—a whimper? Vomit? And he blanched the same white color. It looked for the world as though his life depended on hearing the message.

Then there seemed to be recognition, understanding; purpose was mainlined. “Dobro,” he said and slammed the receiver down, “Idemo; we need fighters, let’s go!”

He pushed me to the door and then outside to the sidewalk. He was too powerful and determined to notice my resistance. For a nano-second I’d locked eyes with Lana. I hope she read my intention to return as soon as possible.

Out in the street there was confusion. I could hear the wedding-procession horns, but they sounded ugly now; even more discordant and urgent. There were raised voices, but not the happy-go-lucky variety of Saturday market vendors and the wannabe Davor Šukers of tomorrow. Something sinister was rising and it was about to break the surface.

The man, whom I swear to God I didn’t know from a bar of soap, was still gripping my arm below the elbow. He was hurting me; I could see his knuckles turning white. Had I believed that he might have heard me, I would’ve spoken, but he was operating on another level. He was watching the southbound traffic, trying to pick something out. “Evo, here we are; let’s go!”

A decommissioned military jeep pulled up. Behind us, a manhole cover was blown fifty feet into the air; a pillar of fire rasped and settled.

The man finally let go of my arm as he threw me into the back. “I’ll drive!” he yelled. Seats were switched and as we sped away, I tried to keep from falling onto the floor of the car. I pulled myself up, and in the rearview window, I watched an overweight man run out of the massage parlor wearing nothing but his socks. It was the dawn of a new age for us all.


Down on the korzo, Željko picked blue notes out of his Telecaster. Normally he played for coins in the arches of the clock tower, but he had a feeling this would be his final performance. He meant to go out on a high.

He dragged his battery-powered transistor into the midmorning sun and played. Željko had survived Mostar, two divorces and a cancer that he’d lost his testicles to. For twenty years, he’d been spitting in the eye of God, but if now was the time to go, he’d go.

He found his chords and his notes and he sang an old Clapton number. Better people remember him for dying doing something he loved than bayoneting old men and stilling boys with his feet and hands.

A shop window exploded and spat mannequins wearing the seasons’ finest into the road. Željko sang and played; he didn’t know if anyone heard him. The businessman by his feet with the bullet between his eyes certainly didn’t. And if the old lady gathering her intestines and roping them into her handbag could, he doubted she’d be forthcoming with cries for an encore. Željko sang and played and a bullet smashed the guitars’ headstock to splinters. Finished! Per chance to catch the assassin, Željko looked up and his head went, too.


“What are you doing?” I screamed from the back seat.

“There’s a flack jacket and helmet beside you. Put them on.”

“But what are—”

“Do you know how to use a gun?”


“Don’t worry, it’s easy.”

The man who’d arrived with the jeep was firing short bursts from a semi-automatic at an unseen target. He wasn’t in protective clothing; I bet he’d been waiting years for a moment like this. He’d take a pound of flesh, even if he had to pay for it with his own.

“Serbians?” I asked, sinking lower and lower into the seat.

The driver spat through the window. “Pah! Belgrade doesn’t have firepower like this. Not even God does,” he said, spitting again.

The jeep bounced and lurched into the outskirts of town. The jeeps’ owner palmed home a new magazine. I’m not sure he knew who the enemy was; he was waiting for flashes of gunfire from shuttered windows with slats punched out and just shot back at them. I understood that he’d never know whether he found his target.

The driver said, “We’re losing the city’s phone lines. We need to get to the mountain; there’s a transmitter station on the summit.” 

Our objective was clear, but what in the hell was my part? I was drawing breath to ask when the gunner riding shotgun bought it. A chunk of his forehead went and shards of skull and brain meat sprayed onto my face.

“Oh Christ!”

We swung into an alley and stopped. “Don’t be sorry for him; he lost brothers in ’92; he hated not dying with them.”

I expected the driver to open the passenger door and kick the fresh corpse out onto the pavement. Instead, he picked the body up and said, “His work isn’t over yet.”

He lashed the body to the bonnet, running rope through the inside of the car and tying hands to feet. “Dead men make great sandbags. Get into the front.” We backed out onto the road and the gunfire intensified. Thwock! Thwock! Thwock! The body on the car hood was ripped to pulp and ribbons.

We hit the korzo. A fountain had been breached. It was washing blood and debris everywhere. Bodies slumped in doorways and lay semi-dressed in the street. Smoke and ash was obscuring the sun; we drove through a false twilight.

Ahead of us, the mutilated remains of a man lay with a smashed guitar across his chest. Even though he was red with blood, I recognized him as the street performer Željko. Many times I had put change in his guitar case.

My driver saw the dead musician, but ran straight through him. There was no lift in the vehicle; we were heavy enough to speed through fifteen stone of dead man as though he were blancmange and bird bones.

We were in the business of saving our necks, not to take the time to mourn the passing of friends.

“Drink,” the driver said, handing me a crumpled plastic bottle.

I did. Grappa. Course stuff.

And then I was able to think. Sestragrad was down. That was obvious. The city was burning. Half an hour ago, I was with Lana. We were laughing. Now a premature night was falling.

I thought of Lana. I was probably going to die and I never got together with her. I should have been fucking my florist every which way in my apartment. We’d scream together and claw one another’s flesh until the blood ran. We’d catch our breath and we’d fuck some more. Maybe someday later I’d get that chance, if there was a later.

I regretted my eye signal to her that I would come back. I wonder if she were waiting for me, or if she was dead and not waiting for anyone.

Right then; at that very moment, we were going for the transmitter. What next? Advertise our situation to the listening world and summon help? Yes, probably, but we had to get there first. The korzo with its fallen cenotaph was behind us. We began our ascent and drove through horror after horror.

A driver of livestock had lost control of his truck and slammed into a wall of the city cemetery. Coffins had been punched from their tombs and smashed open. Leathery bodies of men, women and children representing the last seventy years of Sestragrad were strewn among dead and dying cattle. The driver of the truck had gone halfway through his windscreen. I hoped he was dead; his face had been snatched off like a cheap mask.  

I swallowed more of the crude drink. Fire raged. The driver—an abject stranger, but an ally nonetheless—drove onwards, onwards and upwards into the rises of the mountain. I felt an intensification of trust; knowing his name or story wasn’t important. We would work in tandem to initiate the beginning of the end of this episode, by whatever means. Whatever means.

A wedding procession had been abandoned by those fit enough to flee. A Rottweiler stood on its hind-legs against one car. It was reaching its jaws through a smashed window and going to work on something soft and fleshy on the backseat. I turned away.

I fantasized Lana lying in my bed, panting and laughing and crying; moaning at an impending orgasm, knowing she would be subject to my raw power all over. Perhaps it would happen in one minute—maybe five. It would happen. Pain and the ecstasy all over; it would hers and mine and it would be magnificent.

The city thinned. Became less. More homes. More trees and falling leaves. Drums of bubbling oil stood on rocks and burning logs by the roadside. I knew what they’d be used for. In fact a few were in service. Shiny torsos of men (I think) sat stilled in a rolling soup of sloughed skin. Atrocities must be recorded.

I continued to drink the white grappa. It dulled sentimentality and blinkered me to all but our goal. I could only see ahead.


Tank No.7 at the refinery went up, vaporizing three workers nearby. The report would be heard as far away as Zagreb and Venice. The facing windows of every building inside of two miles would have imploded. Residents with heavy wooden shutters would be safe enough, but anyone enjoying the show, perhaps with a glass of wine in their hand…

Fire ripped through the estate. Tanks two and four were burning. Men, foolishly loyal, fought the blaze. Slaven Tomisič was isolating the flow of petroleum in the master control suite. He knew he’d lost the facility, but by shutting down the outflow valves, he could contain the firestorm. He had a framed certificate on his kitchen wall, signed by the CEO himself, testifying to his loyalty. He was old and strong and reliable. And he was crying. He’d let himself and the company down. He’d secure the last of the valves, give the order for his men to stand down, and take a long walk into the fire. A good captain goes down with his ship.


Tones of autumn flashed by. The jeep eased down a gear. We were climbing into the slopes of the mountain. We drove by the scorched shells of houses. Families were hanged on tree branches; the atrocity of war. The enemy—extremist militia, new-wave partisans, whomever—
had executed their duties and moved on.

“I need to rest,” the driver said. “I think we’ll be okay here.”

He pulled onto a dirt track, invisible from the road, rounded by a bend. We got out and stretched. A boy, his father and two others, possibly strangers sharing a branch, hanged from a tree. Their rigid bodies swayed in a post-mortem slow dance. The boy, a delinquent in death, stuck out his tongue and blew a silent raspberry.

I sat on a fallen log, overlooking the city. The driver released the body from the hood of the jeep. Bullets had caused such damage that it came away in two pieces. The lower windscreen was messed with various gunges. The driver wiped tentatively at it with his jacket sleeve, but it had dried hard and wouldn’t shift. I laughed; the man was human after all. He joined me on the log and offered me his bottle. This time I declined.

“When I was a boy, I used to work the land with my grandfather,” he said. I nodded, but didn’t look away from the city. As far as I could tell, the refinery had been destroyed. Eight columns of fire, looking like Hell’s ventilation shafts, marked where the petrol tanks had been.

“I used to eat lunch with Nona and then she’d send me out into the field with Nono’s lunch wrapped in cloth, but I’d eat it while he worked and told me stories,” he said, rubbing his sweat and oil-stained forehead. He made an odd sound and I couldn’t tell whether he was laughing or crying. Perhaps it was something else altogether.

“And we had a donkey,” he said, pausing to wipe his eyes. Now he was crying. “It wouldn’t do anything we told it to and it had the habit of stopping in the middle of the road and refusing to go on, so we named it Volkswagon.”

I could see what was left of the shipyard. The crane had collapsed onto a tanker and broken it in two. Another ship had been scuttled and gone under bow-first. It looked like it was sticking its bottom in the air; there was something provocative, almost indecent, about seeing the props out of water.

“Me and my sister had to—” he paused when he heard the whistling in the trees.

A half a second later there was a thud and his head kicked forwards. He looked at me with fogged, unseeing eyes and he slumped forwards to show off a gaping, steaming hole in the back of his skull.

That I could see bone fragments and the grey of his brain was all I needed to know. I leapt over him and dashed back to the jeep. I put it in reverse and backed out onto the road and into a man in combat fatigues. I ran the jeep into him and dragged him twelve feet along the road.

I was all alone now. I never even knew the driver’s name. Somehow that didn’t seem right. Why hadn’t I at least asked him his name?

I stopped the jeep and got out, taking the gun as precaution. I wanted to make sure the man I hit was dead. The thing in the road had just one eye; a tiger’s eye, his mouth an underdeveloped rent the size of a coin slot and his nose was looked to be in the process of evolving from a trunk into a more human-like feature; or was it the other way around? The thing in the road wasn’t much more than a kid; seventeen or eighteen; something like that. Oh Christ, he was just a kid.

I knelt beside him. He was done for; bleeding from the mouth and going into shock, but he wasn’t dead…yet.

I’d broken his back. He was drowning in blood. I moved to raise his head and saw him fingering at a grenade on his belt. I wanted Lana; what I did next was instinctual. I put the barrel of the gun beneath his chin and squeezed the trigger. His scalp and a good deal else was blown into a bush across the road.

My late companion was right; using a gun was easy. Murder, I thought, was easier than knocking off a convenience store, not that I would personally know about that. I assumed the kid was an assassin and acted alone; my exposed position would’ve been too tempting for an accomplice gunman. I climbed into the vehicle and made for the summit.

The going was easy along the mountain road. It must have been no later than 2:30 PM, and my favorite football team should have been warming up in their changing room, but I doubted that the stadium or much of the squad existed anymore. Even at this altitude, the air was cottoned with smoke.

Near the top, the road thins to a red soil track and fizzles out fifty yards from the summit. I abandoned the car and took my weapon. The radio equipment was housed in a bunker besides a forty-foot antenna. A heavy steel door stood between me and…what?

The gravity of the moment was tremendous—a heavy steel door stood between me and a tomorrow, and a day after that, and Lana. And Lana…the door was a barrier between me and Lana; life-affirming fucking, walks on the beach, wine beneath a star-studded night and a proposal to be married; she’d give her ascent with tears and a kiss to the back of my hand.

A inch of Sheffield steel was the difference between perishing with my back against the brick and a future with Lana; a home together and children and anticipation of their children; petty bickering, good times and bad; cuddles in the kitchen, dancing to no music, long, comfortable silences that would speak volumes for our compatibility, lover’s hostility, appreciate the lows to get the most from the highs, gaining age, crying behind closed doors at each other’s decline from health, planning our funerals and watching the sunset, hoping but not staking our shirts on seeing another, parting and rejoining and together turning to dust.

I was considering my next action when I heard voices behind me. I turned with my gun trained on the path leading to where I stood. I’d rip faces for Lana and me. A man in torn clothing stepped through with a child in his arms. A woman followed. Then another and three more. I shouldered the gun and received the refugees. A steady stream of war-ravaged humans rounded the bend and found their places on the plateau. I stood and watched for an hour as the hundreds became thousands, all in various states of exhaustion and injury.

The man who arrived first smoothed out his daughter’s fringe, placed her on the ground and covered her body with his jacket. He sat beside her and wept. Others did likewise. Each would have their own story to tell and roads of recovery to tread. Some would profiteer by doing American talk shows, some would dedicate their lives to serving the memories of the victims in more modest and temperate ways.

Some would drink; for years they’d anaesthetize themselves in backstreet boozers. They would be doomed to die of a folded liver, or a fall down the stairs, or in losing a bar fight. Some would wish they’d died on the mountain and saved themselves years of purgatory.

Some would go on to do great things in the world; and others would live quietly and make no impact upon the world, positive or negative.

But in the meantime, they were all bonded by a desire to survive the afternoon and they were appealing to me to deliver them. I accepted the leadership position thrust upon me; in a moment I’d turn back to the steel door and do everything in my power to save their lives.

I was about to become a hero to these people; they would tell their grandchildren about this moment.

And to think, that very morning, all I had wanted were flowers.

Alex Živko-Clark lives with his wife, Ines, in northern Croatia. Their portion of the world, with its shipyards and refineries and mountains and city lights and island-studded seas is a fertile ground for imagining, lending itself first to Alex’s writing in his story, Utopia Dystopia, and many times since.

Academically, he was trained in photography, but he blew that craft an almighty raspberry long ago and means to spend the next 45 years or so up to his neck in horror.

Writing aside, Alex enjoys cycling and playing his electric guitars. He’s highly envious of Niko Ellis’s time and passion for flowers.