Image by Juan Moreno Diaz to accompany his story 'The Night That A Bug Flew Into My Room' [see below]
Boyeng turns to face the electric fan. Relief. ‘Ahhhh!’
Suddenly it stops. He checks the outlet. Everything seems okay.
‘Nay, is the power out?’
‘Yes, nothing new! There was an announcement from the village authorities yesterday. Power levels are critical. It’s summer. Current use soars up and so do the bills!’
His mother is feeding a bowl of lugaw to his two younger sisters.
‘Where is the fan, Nay? I seem to have a fever. Damn hot weather!’
Mother hands the fan over to him, cut-out from a carton box of Lucky Me noodles.
Boyeng takes off his t-shirt and lays down on the Coco lumber floor. Sweat rolls down him.
Through their open door, he sees the neighbors’ blazing barong-barong roofs. It’s noontime. Heat is like hell, so they say. Children, shirtless, are all outside. Some play marbles while others dip themselves in huge plastic pails.
It’s the second time he showers after work. However, his sweat still drips uncontrollably, like their problematic faucet.
‘Still the same, Nay. We can only grab some plastics and bottles.’ He gives over fifty pesos to her. Sullen.
Boyeng, twelve years old, fatherless, no longer at school, the lone bread-winner, works by salvaging recyclables from the Smokey Mountain of Tondo, one of the most well-known trash and garbage dumpsites in Metro Manila. Closed because of the pandemic, it’s finally been re-opened, thanks to the urban-poor association. Thank God, they won’t starve now!
He gulps the glass of water his mother offers him.
His mother asks, ‘Did you hear, yesterday? Mang Inggo passed out and was hurried to the hospital! Too much heat! High BP!’
‘We need to secure more boxes of carton for insulation though.’ His eyes lift to their barong-barong roof. The roof’s height is just high enough for them to stand erect in their tiny abode. ‘Just to minimize the heat,’ he says to his younger sisters. The other one keeps on scrubbing her prickly heat rashes.
His nose becomes itchy. He unconsciously scratches it. Blood suddenly spurts out.
‘My God, Boyeng! You know I hate seeing blood! Go now! Get another shower!’ His mother, panicking, gives him the tabo and bath soap.
Night comes. Still no electric current.
A sister keeps crying. Itchy rashes are too much for her. His mother patiently sponges her with cold water for relief.
The youngest sister hates having no light. So, the candle remains lit while they are in bed. He keeps on fanning them.
His mother falls asleep in no time at all.
‘Hey, little Sis, please sleep now.’ He prods her and yawns tremendously.
He gradually unclasps the carton fan beside the burning candle, casting its light against the peculiarly dark night. His eyes surrender to nothingness, then to his dreams as they close. In his dream, everything is refreshing. He is diving and swimming in the serenest water, where colorful fishes are whirling in front of him. Aquatic plants and seaweeds are dancing and swaying, ushering him to the grandest and freshest seabed corners.
The Night That A Bug Flew Into My Room
‘Blood. I need, Blood.'
The time came and the mosquito thought it, if we could say they think at all.
She was flying throughout the streets in a warm, humid night of summer.
It had been flying all night looking for an opening to fly in, where
humans sleep, so she could feed herself. She needed it.
And there she felt it, the warm light coming from an enormous
opening, it was her chance to get her meal that a dumb, slow human
would provide, she thought. She buzzed in and felt it, a big warm body, full of what she needed.
Time had arrived, she flew towards the gigantic body.
'Bitch,' she muttered to herself. One could have thought that she
heard the mosquito buzzing around and she got annoyed. But we
would be wrong. Lucy was lying down on her bed, thinking,
or better to say, regurgitating memories about a co-worker of hers.
“Fucking lazy bitch.” She spoke out loudly this time while penetrating
the ceiling with her glaze. She still remembered the time she mocked
her haircut, with that hideous laugh. But she would get her
revenge, out lasting revenge on that whore, she thought.
'There is my blood, stupid human no see me.'
The mosquito thought if we could say that they think. She flew to that
warm, huge vein, ready to land and sting, ready to get
herself satisfied. But she perceived something, a couple of glazing eyeballs, and the
motion of a huge surface with five towers moving towards her tiny but
'Danger,' the mosquito thought, dodging her faith as mosquitoes
'Shit, a bug,’ Lucy thought, and she did what usually humans do while
terminating the life of a mosquito. But she failed, still boiling about her
co-worker. She felt too lazy to kill the mosquito. Still, it was too annoying to let it
be. Suddenly, something crossed her mind. She imagined that the
mosquito was her hatred co-worker, that hideous bitch, and fantasied
about terminating her, she found her motivation to finish it and
grabbed a book to smash the heck out of the defenceless being.
'Human may sleep, I try again,' she thought, humans gave up easily,
lazy creatures they were, so she would try again. But something
strange was happening, now the human was picking something, the
human had those glazing eyes.
'Danger!' And she dodged an enormous object, it almost hunted her
down, she needed to fly away, feed herself somewhere else.
'I will kill you, bitch.' One could have thought she referred to the
mosquito, but once again, we would be far from right. She was diving
into her fantasy, but instead of a book, she visualized a hammer. Every
miss was a hit-miss on her co-worker's skull, the more she missed her
target, the harder she smashed the book, trying to annihilate the
‘Fuck, fuck, fuck!” she thought, dodging as many certain deaths as she
could. The human was far from normal, compared to hazards she
dodged in the past. She dodged tricky spiderwebs, speedy sparrows,
and treacherous Drakos, Yet, she knew she was going to be her meal.
But this, this was far from normal in her reality. The human did not
want to hunt her for his meal, the human wanted her destruction,
there was something monstrous on this human.
'Don’t move whore!' she shouted this time, smashing as hard as she
could, but imagining it was her hammer on the face of her co-worker,
but in reality, it turned out to be her book on the window. Blood ran,
but it was hers, and the mosquito also-ran, but away from her.
'This bitch made me bleed,' she thought, her face was the description
of a dog with canine rabies, she was determined to bury a hammer
into the skull of her co-worker, and with such a thought, a smile grew
on her. The door of her room opened, and she heard her mum
shouting with concern.
'Lucy! You’re bleeding! God! What is going on?'
Lucy, crying aloud, answered.”Ohhhh, Mummyyy, I was sooo scared,
a bug flew in!!”
The mosquito flew away, dodging the last impact, she saw her meal in
the air, enormous blood spheres flying by her side, along with shiny
crystals, but she was determined to run away from that creature,
regardless of the need for blood, just to fly away into the night.
'What a horrible creature,' she thought, if we can really affirm what mosquitoes think.
Juan Moreno Diaz
Last Of The Great Axeman
Nothing stirs, nobody abroad in the eerie early light when he clicks his vehicle door softly shut, drives from his photo-filled flat to the protected wetlands where a fallen river red gum bough, partly harvested by him, lies in wait where no firewood may be gathered except in permitted periods.
He parks as close as he can, nose, old eyes, streaming in the scouring cold air, remembering when he was thirteen, always courting trouble, when he axed enough logs to fill the area under the water tanks, his bastard father arriving home from work, refusing to acknowledge the proudly stacked piles, the effort.
He totes tools across his wasted shoulders, axe, heavy log-splitter, sledgehammer, for this hard timber that takes years to rot, cocks an ear for movement, perhaps a long-distance runner trying to postpone the inevitable, but there is only stillness, hands burning with the cold, another memory.
The heavy slabs he breaks must be manageable to carry to his vehicle with frequent rest stops, several trips along the path skirting this lagoon, past silent swans, pelicans, watching, an ethereal mist starting to lift from their water, daylight ascending.
He swings lustily, splits the great log, a glistening red streak from its early days, its heart, exposed, but in those moments he ruptures his bicep tendon, knows with no regrets he could have had sawn stove wood delivered for the harsh winter ahead, knows those unknowing shall think he had no lack.
Ian C Smith
Sale, Victoria, Australia
When they trap her she pushes off one, wrong footing them as they grope to strip her, then dodges, eluding oafish attempts to tackle her, executing a neat step over when another, fallen, tries to trip her before she sprints from beer and curses, her flight towards the penumbra of light. Looking back when she reaches where twos and threes become an optimistic crowd, she sees them beyond moths bewitched by the floodlights’ effulgence, hunter-morons still fixed on their quarry. Mingling with the throng, breath spent from rushing headlong, sweat aglow, she notes animal symbolism, red against white like blood on snow. Sheltering amidst witless taunts to the opposition, she slips through the crowd’s maul towards black gates, towering walls. Nearing turnstiles she bisects queues, to circumambulate below grandstand eaves, hopeful ranks, thinning, still coming as she leaves.
A nimble wraith of vulpine U-turns, she now jogtrots away from the light, stealth her sword, sedate side streets her shield, swallowed by the night. She slows, arms akimbo, musing about contradictions, the pack’s mentality being virtuoso’s disregard. Laughing, she lines up a can, kicks straight and hard, sending it clattering into the gutter, her follow through, arched foot level with bright eyes, manual-perfect for skill; far behind, a great roaring like savage beasts in the Colosseum closing on their kill.
Ian C Smith
Sale, Victoria, Australia
A man’s brain had recently lost weight. Un-sedated, he lay on a pristine hospital bed. When the doctor entered the pristine room with a power-drill in his hand, the man thought of all the different ways he could be pristinely tortured…
“What’s the drill for?” asked the man.
“We have to make a hole in your head,” said the doctor. “There’s too much build-up in there.”
The man heard a mechanical whirring behind his ear. “Wait,” he said. “Can I die from this—?”
But the doctor had already commenced the drilling. Right on the crown of his skull. The man tried to hold still and shivered as a rivulet of blood slid down his spine. Bone ruptured and split. Then the drill broke through and poked his brain—and he felt a release.
“Isn’t that better?” asked the doctor.
“Yes, yes,” stammered the man. “Much better.”
“Now,” said the doctor. “You’re going to have to keep that weight off.”
“I’ve tried,” said the man.
“Just keep your nose out of those damn books,” said the doctor. “Smoke a lung-threatening cigar. Drink booze, not beer.”
The man scribbled down notes on loose paper.
“And most importantly, make love to your wife when you get home.”
The man sighed. Stared into the linoleum floor. “I can’t,” he said.
“You must!” exclaimed the doctor.
“We haven’t…you know…in months.”
The doctor was silent and glaring.
“I don’t think she loves me,” said the man.
“Oh well,” said the doctor. “There’s nothing wrong with that. You’ll have to tell her it’s the doctor’s orders.”
Back at home, he told his wife about the doctor’s orders. She replied that she would rather lick a dead fish than sleep with him again. In fact, she told him he’d have to make love to his pillow instead.
And so, the man is now making love to his pillow, enamored by its opulent curves and pristineness, and it’s much better than his wife…
Smithville, Ohio, USA
She took his hand as if for the first and the last time too. The cherry blossom had opened that day, its colour that of her thoughts, of the morning sky in which a pale moon lingered. Dew still wet on the grass under her bare feet, goosebumps, fleetingly on her arms. When she woke, the startling blue of his eyes. A bee, as if it were the first, attracted by the newly blossomed forsythia, still flowering snowdrops, daffodils, budding tulips. It was newness, it was change, it was waking from the slumber of winter, the casting off of things grown stale and the waking to new. Now it will be different, he told her. They woke to a room empty but for a bed and chest of drawers, bare walls and carpet, windows without curtains. Because there was no one else, empty fields for as far as she could see and as far as she knew. The bathroom with the dripping tap. The smell of things old, grown musty with disuse, lacking in ways she could not express. The love between them defined by an absence. It was in the dreams that came to her, things that must once have seemed ordinary. Another’s touch. It was all that he said would be theirs one day when winter had passed. Look, he said, and his words were the colour of a dawn newly broken, the shade too of night when it was at its darkest. All she thought she knew, the potential for change, possibilities hitherto undreamed of, apple blossom ephemeral as the moon, his touch when he passed. He put his hand to her stomach and felt for movement, his ear to listen, breath warm on her skin. Now it was time, he said, and when they kissed she felt his breath as if it were her own. Folded him in her arms till only the thin linen of her dress separated their bodies, pregnant with the possibility of what now could be. An owl cried though the sky was bright for all that had passed, all it had thought certain, all that it thought it knew. The world become new, all that he had been, and her too.
Killed With Kindness
Aaron was vulnerable. So very vulnerable. Even to the last.
‘I don’t want to die,’ he sobbed to Nicole, as she forced another pill on him.
‘But it’s for your own good. It’s the best way to end your pain and suffering.’
‘Don’t break your promise, Aaron. Make me proud of you, for once.’
‘Shush. You don’t want the silent treatment again, do you?’
An unlikely tony-town romance. Shy, ice-cream scooper meets self-confident Ivy-Leaguer. A fifth-generation trailer-trash no-hoper falls for the spoilt spawn of successful real-estate professionals. A relationship built on cruelty and dependency.
Ever had a boyfriend so lame and limp you named him Lettuce Boy? Well, ask Nicole about that.
Ever had a girlfriend so mean, she tongued a college boy right in front of you? Ask Aaron all about it.
Ever had another human stick to your skin like a leech? Again, ask Nicole.
Ever had a girlfriend you pledged to die for and had the promise accepted? You could ask Aaron, if only he still was around.
‘One more pill, Aaron. Just one more.’
From the beginning, Aaron sensed danger, but his desperate loneliness led him willingly to his doom. What choice did he have? [‘I’ll choose you a flavor, Aaron.’ ’Gee, thanks Nicole.’] Crippled inside, any crutch would do, even when it was repeatedly kicked from under him.
[Sunday at the lake]
‘Ever creamed a girl before, Aaron?’
‘You know, rubbed sun-cream all over a girl’s hot flesh?’
‘Didn’t think so. Would you like to?’
‘Sure. I mean, I’d love to.’
‘Okay. But you need to earn it.’
‘See those pretty flowers on the island. I’d love a bunch of those to take home. Think you could get me some?’
‘Aren’t they the same flowers as these ones?’
‘I don’t think so. They’re more colourful and brighter.’
‘It’s only the light, Nicole.’
‘Let me be the judge of that, Aaron. Am I going to get my flowers or not?’
‘Seems quite a swim.’
‘Is it beyond your strength? I’ve had other boys make it.’
‘When I came with Todd, or maybe it was Harry. My skin’s getting awfully red, Aaron. You don’t want me to burn, do you?’
‘No, ‘course not.’
‘That’s the manly spirit! Pants and shirt off, mister…that’s it! And your boxers. I won’t want you near me with wet boxers.’
[Ten minutes later Aaron waves from the island whilst Nicole texts him the message he reads on his return]
‘Apologies - fed up of waiting - gone home - starting to burn - feeling bad about it so taken your laundry to clean - I know - I’m such a love bunny! See you tomorrow - N’
‘I’m scared, Nicole.’
‘Take the fuckin’ pill, Aaron.’
[Aaron reads his poem to Nicole]
‘You smote me with your scent and smile.
I crept on my knees after you – mile upon mile.
I was a creature without a dream
Until you came and made me…’
‘Aaron, no more of this romantic junk, okay?’
‘Whatever you say, Nicole.’
[For the record]
Parents locked into their screens. Neglected hours spent in a pretty, pink bedroom. Rows of Barbies strung up by their necks in the closet. A bleach-poisoned goldfish floating belly side-up in a bowl. The puppy being ridden like a horse until it’s back becomes broken.
Rusted trailer on the edge of town. A father to both the mother and her son. Most treasured possession: a bike without brakes. 50% school attendance. Saturday nights dodging flying empty liquor bottles. Sunday mornings mending broken windows with Saron-wrap.
‘Aaron, can you hear me? Aaron.
Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!’
[Money, power, influence]
Daddy called the family attorney who, in turn, called the cops and a top defense attorney. Mummy visited the trailer with a brief-case full of greenbacks and the father [‘I’m telling you straight, Lou, he was such an odd, old looking bastard!’] was more than happy to testify in court that Aaron was a bat-shit crazy, suicidal depressive since the day he was brought into the world by his sweet, caring mother. Psychologists, psychiatrists, euthanasia experts, forensic toxicologists and addiction specialists so confused the jury that they failed to reach a conclusive decision.
A family vacation to Montserrat to celebrate. First class travel and a personal masseur-mindfulness coach for Mommy and her babykin.
[Postscript – college library]
‘Hey, it’s Norman right? What ya reading, huh? The Iliad. My, my! And in the original Greek, too. Are you some kind of genius, sweety-pie?’
[He’s wearing sandals and socks - how cute!]
‘wait a moment…’
[He’s so thin and weedy. He needs fattening up.]
‘aren’t you the…’
[Cheap deodorant. How quaint!]
‘girl who was on…’
[I better he’s never kissed a girl.]
[Maybe he’s gay?]
‘On trial for involuntary manslaughter…’
[Aw, see how he avoids eye contact. A sure sign of his feebleness.]
‘or something like that?’
[So shy and vulnerable!]
When I was about eight years old, my father forced me to go with him to the funeral of a friend of his that I didn't know. I had unwillingly relented. We were living at Nainital at that time. At that tender age, I was a shy kid. I was more intent to play games than to go and visit a funeral. I loathed it but had to listen to my father.
It was a clear morning, when we got there. We had parked our car outside the cemetery. The cemetery had a narrow, gravelled pathway. It was dotted with Cedar, Spruce, Cypress and Miranda trees which acted as a canopy for the underlying graves. We had walked along the path towards the congregation where the ceremony was to take place. I stayed in a corner beside a Cypress tree waiting for the time to pass and again was peeping at the proceedings of the ceremony to check if it was over.
Then suddenly, a man approached me from behind and said, ‘Enjoy life boy, be happy because time flies. Look at me now, I didn't enjoy life!’
It was a weird, stray comment from a stranger. Then he passed his hand over my head and his hands kissed my hair and then he left as mysteriously as he had arrived.
My father, before leaving, forced me to say goodbye to the dead person. I looked in the coffin and was startled that the man who was talking to me when I was standing beneath the Cypress tree was the same man in the coffin. I was petrified and yet when my father asked, ‘You ok?’ I had answered, ‘Yes!’
Although, I had sweaty palms, I didn’t have the courage to tell him about the incident. After all, it was broad day light and I didn’t want to make myself a laughing stock. Silently I was unable to tell anyone of this incident.
Years later, when my father passed away, I went to the same cemetery. After his burial, as we were walking towards my car, with my mother beside me. Once again, I saw the man. The man who was my father's friend, whom they had buried at the cemetery when I had visited this place years ago, was walking out of the crowd towards me. The stress and everything got to me. I fainted.
When I came around, I didn’t find the dead. The first words that I had uttered was, ‘The man in the coffin!’
‘Yes, that was your father, Johnny!” replied my mom.
‘No, not him, I saw one of my father’s dead friends!’
‘The shock is tremendous, I guess!’ replied my mom and stared at my girlfriend Joanna.
I had not elaborated after that. Neither did they ask me anything regarding this anymore. I was not able to sleep properly and had repeated nightmares. I was terrified of being alone. I didn't turn off the light at night and had several other turmoils which almost wrecked me psychologically. I always wanted to know, ‘Why me?’
Later on, I was forced to visit many psychologists at the behest and insistence of my mother and girlfriend. Though they said, ‘There is no issues with you!’ This process went on for two decades. Then I discovered something incredible that changed my life, completely. That dead idiot had an identical twin!
Another call from believers prompts Jesus’ return to ‘the scene of the crime’. The room is small, with only a few people around. Too little for another Last Supper. Some have masks on their faces, the Pope and some other fellow, Bill something. Jesus nods to his colleague who’s looking at his clothing - very ordinary for such an important figure, he thinks. Previous ones were glittering in gold, brighter than the Sun itself. Last time he was here, in Potsdam, there were hundreds of humans around, dressed sharply, many in uniforms and with medals, especially those who didn’t look kindly to his figure. He thought it was the last time, definitely Last supper, when he’d sent them to San Francisco, as it looked like the peace was here to stay. However, every time, at Waterloo, during Saint Laurent trouser experiment or suffragette movement, he believed it was the last time but, of course, it wasn’t.
‘Who are these three guys?’ Jesus is wondering.
‘They are three presidents - Trump, Putin and Kim of North Korea,' Bill whispers to Jesus, as if he is able to hear his thoughts, standing two feet apart. Jesus is looking towards the distance, contemplating what is going on, as everybody was keen to touch him until now.
‘But where are the rest? And why do you have a mask?’
‘Social distancing,’ Bill shrugs the shoulders. ‘That is why we summoned you. This is a crisis beyond any recollection.’
Jesus smiles, wanting to tell him a few words about crisis, calamities and disasters, but across the table, one of the presidents, the red one, makes a speech. Jesus doesn’t believe what is he hearing, looking left and right, to the Pope and Bill for a reaction on their masked faces. What kind of world is this? Talking of some virus that kills thousands of people isn’t the problem, but violent protestors and the economy are.
Nobody can interrupt the speaker, as he rages on and on, about democrats, journalists of CNN and other anti-American media, people who attack police guns and knees with their bodies and throats, China, China, China and so on.
Finally, he stops talking, looking at the crowd around the table, only half of the required number, due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Jesus also looks around the table, but mostly upward, to the heavens. He breaks the silence trying to change the subject:
‘One of you will betray me!’
A second later, the red president replies. ‘I will, I will!’ I am good at betraying, lying, in general - all the vicious and brutal things us humans are doing to fellow humans and nature.’
The wingmen, both shouting, approve. All three leave the table and the chamber is happy and jubilant.
The Pope and Bill are excited and, without saying goodbye, two feet apart, leave Jesus alone and wondering to himself.
‘Oh, God!’ With nothing better to say, Jesus shouts in despair, as any believer or agnostic around the globe would when in a similar position.
from the Balkans
“Have you seen Ravi?” Mr. Singh asked me.
‘No, Mr. Singh. He told me he was going to visit his native place for some days. Probably he’s gone there,’ I lied.
Okay, let me tell you about Ravi and Mr. Singh. You must be wondering who the hell they are! Ravi and I were neighbours. Mr. Singh was the owner of the flat. I don’t know why Mr. Singh was so concerned about Ravi. Every now and then he asked me about his whereabouts, as if I was his guardian. It was so irritating sometimes. I locked the door and was about leave and, again all of a sudden, that same dog started barking at me. It was Ravi’s pet, a street dog whom Ravi used to always feed with his leftover food. I always carry a packet of biscuits with me and I gave him a small piece, so that he wouldn’t follow me again, like he did on other days when I was going to my office. Mission accomplished!
After work, I was coming home and again that nasty dog followed me. I didn’t know how to get rid of him. Just like his owner, Ravi. Irritating, stalker, abuser and blah blah blah! He’s a nasty piece of work. I think all the bad characteristics that a person can have was in him and that’s why I....ooh ok ... nothing. it’s a secret😏.
Even after all these days that dog can still smell his owner’s blood on my hands.
Can you suggest me a way to get rid of it? I will be grateful to you then.
Oh, now you came to know about my secret. It’s ok to share with you readers. I hope you won’t tell this to anyone else 😉
The Get Together
‘Mom are you ready?’ I ask.
‘Yes dear, let’s go,’ she replies.
Today my mom and I are very excited. After a long time without seeing him, we are going to meet with father. I can’t really explain how happy and excited I am. After a lot of struggle and patience we are getting to meet him. But the sad part is the meeting period is very short, just 10 minutes.
On our way, I was thinking what questions I will be asking him. There are so many but I can’t ask all of them. We reach the place after some time. Mr. Morgan is waiting for us. He’s the medium through which we are going to talk with father.
He looks at us in a very strange manner, as if he hasn’t seen people like us before. Yes, I admit we are different because we are new to this place, but yet we look like human beings.
‘Good morning Mrs. Evans, I was just waiting for you and your son,’ he says to us.
‘Is everything ready? We can’t wait to meet him; hope you can understand,’ my mom says to him.
‘Yes. The whole process will be 20 minutes and you can talk to him for about 10 minutes, not more than that, otherwise it can be risky for me,” he says.
We are disappointed upon hearing about the time limit but still we nod.
Then he takes us inside a room. It is a dark room, in fact very dark.
Okay, let me be clear with the facts. We are going to do planchette. This is the only method and medium of our contact with him.
My mom and I haven’t talked with father since the day we two died in a road accident a year ago but which he survived!
It’s really a special day for both of us.
She appeared to be waving at me as I ambled down the street. Though being so short sighted, I could not tell, nor determine, who it was from the distance. Her face was obscured by waves of billowing brown hair. Fearing I may be rude, I raised my hand and waved back at her. This gesture being reciprocated by a ‘Hey.’
‘Hey,’ I replied as she walked straight passed. Then I realised that she had not been waving at me at all. ‘Phew,’ I thought to myself, ‘she was far too beautiful to talk to. I would have been beside myself.’
As I turned the corner, I spotted her heading in my direction, which I thought was odd as she had just literally passed me a moment ago. Again, she appeared to be waving at me. I was in two minds whether I should wave back. Fearing that it couldn’t be a coincidence, I retuned the wave just in case. Though she walked right on by and I watched her walk on down the street without turning round.
Then I turned another corner and spotted her walking towards me. This time I didn’t wave at all and I pushed on walking until I passed her.
I turned another corner and spotted her walking towards me. It looked like she was jumping up and down, trying to get my attention. I just ignored her and walked on passed.
But no sooner had I passed her, I decided to turn round and follow her.
I was just about to catch up with her when she turned the corner. But when I turned the corner, I recognised her beige brown pea jacket halfway down the street. I chased after her, and once I turned the corner, she was halfway down the street again.
This went on several more times before I decided to give up and turn back. But no sooner had I given up on her, I turned around and found her right in front of me.
‘Hey.’ she said with a sunrising smile. ‘How’s it going?’
‘Er, fine,’ I replied tripping over my words. ‘Great.’
‘Great!’ She beamed brushing her hair behind her ear, as I fell into her deep hazel eyes. ‘Why are you following me?’
‘Following you! I’m not following you.’
‘Yes, you are. You’ve writing about me as I speak.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about!’ I retaliate. ‘I have no idea who you are. I didn’t even know you existed until I started…’
Tell me, he said, how it was, and so I did. Kissed him with lips as red as... Blood, he said. As night, I said, skin as pale as the moon. He wanted to know what it meant, but it did not mean anything. Because there is no meaning, I told him. Except this, except love. Though this was not love. I felt his arms around me, his lips on mine. Asked if he was sure this was what he wanted, and he said, of course. Then it would be, I said, but not yet. Tell me a story, he said, this time one that is about love, and so I did. Afterwards he told me that this was love, that he did this for me. He had not eaten in a long time. I told him that he did not love me, not truly, but only the idea of me. How then, he asked. I told him that he knew already. Passed the razor, the bottle of pills. Kissed his lips tenderly, as if it were a beautiful thing. But first, I said, tell me that of which you are most afraid. In the very depths of the night, what you most fear that you might see. He whispered the words in my ear. The wardrobe door opened a little, barely a crack. Touch me, I said. Felt his hand on my leg, the bare, pale skin of my thigh. Kiss me, I said. He did, as if for the first time. Make love to me, I said, and when he did I looked deep into his eyes, and saw nothing there except my own reflection. Now, I said, now you are ready. After he had cut blood began to flow, and when I made to leave he asked why. I told him that it was because he had not learned to love enough, though there was no reason. Opened the door a little, said there, now it is ready. Pale eyes in the darkness. Felt my belly swell, pregnant with the first fruits of his death. At the last he asked if there would be anything left for him, but the blood that flowed was like waves on a distant shore. Unloved. One he would remain forever unable to reach.
Dec. 09. 2042.
It is with the hollowness in my soul that I remember this day – Mr. Barish’s death anniversary. At the end of my life that is bygone with the memories that are lost in time, I remember not much about Mr. Barish, but the last conversation, or session, I had with him is still fresh in my memory…
‘You know something, Doc? If the people are the dressing table, and the memories the cosmetics… then it is your life that is the mirror.’
‘Is that right, Mr. Barish? Where did that come from?’
‘When I was brushing my teeth this morning.’
I grinned upon hearing this. He stood by the window, looking at the white sky blending with mountains dressed in snow, and then he turned – the life in his eyes was gone, and then it was there again.
I said, ‘I’m sorry to remind you Mr. Barish, but... your last three albums have been flops.’
‘They don’t get me, you know. They can’t feel what I feel,’ he paused, ‘at least, not yet.’
‘What is it exactly that they need to feel?’
‘I know you don’t feel it too, Doc, but do you know why I still pay to talk to you?’
I said nothing. My job was on the line. I was too selfish. As I thought of that, he asked me to show my palm, and handed over a key.
‘What is this, Mr. Barish?’ I asked with instant regret.
‘I pay you because you are the key into that,’ he pointed at the drawer of the dressing table behind him. ‘What is the meaning of life, Doc? It is something,’ he said as a smile turned up on his face, ‘it is that something we keep chasing and chasing and chasing, and just when we think we’ve made it, that we’ll know now what is that something – we die.’
‘But what exactly is your point, Mr. Barish?’
‘I think I’ll never make it.’
‘Perhaps you don’t need to, if death is what awaits right after it,’ I said as I looked at the clock on the dressing table. Mr. Barish followed my eyes but didn’t say anything. That was the last time I met him.
The next day the call came in, they'd found him on the floor – covered in blood, with the mirror smashed.
excuse me – my shift key and tab key no longer work but i want to tell you about my books. they’re wonderful inventions, i don't know what i'd do without them, they're so useful. in the books, i talk about toxic rain and how to stop it, plastic and why we should stop using it, destruction of the ozone layer and what to do about it, nuclear war and how to avoid it. but i suppose i should say that those aren't the reasons my books are useful. after all, none of those things matter anymore, it's pointless to even discuss them. the reason they're useful is because we nuked our world back to the stone age, we had non-stop winter, the snow has barricaded me in my house, and the burning books keep me warm.
Nothing Bad Happens In This Story
Nothing bad happens in this story. Right from where it starts to the last sentence, people go out and explore the mountainous terrains of the Spiti Valley. There are beaches, first kisses, friendly neighbours, ‘not-so-friendly’ uncles; even fathers return home in this one.
Isha sits down at her laptop, typing away an article about vacuum cleaners: 5 ways how Kavel's vacuum cleaners will change your life. ‘Change your life huh?’ Isha wonders aloud to a stuffed room, its walls painted in doodles. ‘People are just desperate to change their life, so much so that they will buy a new vacuum cleaner to make that happen.’ She scoffs at air, ‘You hear than Johnston? Isn't that funny?’
There is a lamppost that flickers. Her sister's lamppost. The one she brought from Spiti Valley. It’s a stupid old lamppost that does nothing but flicker. But it's important because it comes from the Spiti Valley. It comes from experience. ‘I absolutely hate this lamppost. But I cannot get rid of it because, if I do, she will come back and notice it gone. But I want it to be known that I hate this lamppost. You write that down Joshua.'
Vacuum cleaners do not clean vacuums. That's a funny little thought for you. But can you imagine if they did? Bars would be empty, then you could bet that on your life. ‘I have a life.’ Isha types away: 1. Kavel's vacuum cleaner can help YOU be more time-efficient.
How many articles does one have to write before they can afford a trip to Port Blair? Depends on how much they are paid per word. Isha's friends went down to the local beach when they were in school. Both her best friends did. ‘You know Johnston, I am only twenty-five. Plenty of time for first kisses. Besides, I HATE school trips. Really bad things can happen on school trips.’
Speaking of feeling uncomfortable, Isha cannot remember what happened at her aunt's place that night. Sure, her uncle insisted that she drank when she was only twelve. He was being a funny-funny man. Nothing bad happened in the storeroom that night. Her funny uncle is a decent father to her cousins. Five years later he still comes back home with pastries and fruit juice. 'It's all good Johnny, it's all good.'
As stated before, nothing bad happens in this story. Even though the room Isha sits in is filled with only a feverish, yellow light of the flickering lamp. The small seven-year-old fridge, which once belonged to her mother, does not contain much to eat, but there are cheese slices and cold water. She won’t sleep hungry.
Isha is breathing and the air is somewhat clean. There are stars outside, although it's a little cloudy. There’s not going be any rain tonight, and Isha has never been drenched in the rain, ever. But there might be rain one day. Something bad may happen one day too.
The Time Machine
'Do you want me to help with the washing up?'
'No, you silly old fool, its going straight in the dishwasher like every other morning; you just go to your shed and carry on playing with your tatt!'
'Here we go again'! he mutters.
'It’s a workshop woman and I am immersed in a scientific project of enormous importance for the future of mankind!'
Changing out of his slippers into steel toe capped boots, he gently closes the backdoor.
Elizabeth Carmichael gave up moaning years ago. If she were honest with herself, she did worry that Samuel had just a little bit of dementia or possibly OCD. Either way, she wasn't going to worry about it today - she had too much on! Pilates, painting class, lunch with two of the golden girls from the golf club, then the afternoon at the art gallery with an old school chum - perfect.
Samuel stepped awkwardly into his overalls - things took longer these days.
'Morning Sam' A young woman with shiny black shoulder length hair, nose and eyebrow piercings, dressed in torn black t-shirt and ripped jeans breezes in through the wooden door with two steaming coffees.
'How's it going my Main Man?' she asks, pulling herself gracefully up onto his work bench and sitting cross-legged amongst the metal filings.
'Skylar, would you mind?' he pleads. 'There is a perfectly good chair right there!'
Skylar laughs, points to the bumps on her backbone and does not move.
'Can we estimate any kind of completion/finalization yet my friend?' she enquires, head resting to one side like a little sparrow.
'I would say - give or take - earliest could be this Friday,' Sam replies.
'Ace!' Skylar, unfolding her long legs, glides to the floor. 'Today is Tuesday, right Sam?' He nods in agreement
'What do you think I should bring?' Skylar asks, her large green eyes piercing into his faded grey ones.
'Well, in all honesty, just yourself; not much room onboard for mementos.'
'Fine by me, I'll drop by on Thursday just to check in, tatty bye,' and she is gone.
Days pass as they do when you are retired and unconfined by timetables. Skylar peeps through the workshop window late Thursday, mouths, ’See you tomorrow,' and is gone in a cloud of stardust.
Friday dawns bright and clear. Sam disappears into his workshop and Elizabeth decides to spend the day shopping and lunching with ladies from 'The Club'.
Sam puts the finishing touches to his creation, which somewhat resembles a portable toilet; and as he stands back to admire his handiwork, Skylar appears. Holding hands they enter and quietly close the door.
It wasn't as if Elizabeth missed him; in fact, she preferred life without the silly old fool; it was just the not being able to explain.
Well, you can hardly say your husband had just gone off in his Time Machine with a faerie - can you?
On the border between Hertfordshire and London, England
Original image provided by Shamik Dhar to accompany his story 'Fear'
The Winter And Summer Of A Helium Balloon
There are different types of rivers. Some are small, others- big. Some are beautiful, others - nothing special. But all of them have something in common – they bring back memories.
Here is Vltava. Do you remember how we walked along it one winter night? Of course you do. You were in your black coat, I in my big blue jacket. I dreamed of summer, when the extra clothes would be useless, when everything would be lighter and nicer. Then, maybe just then, I would be actually happy.
I took you by the arm so that I didn’t lose you. You were so far away. When I was a child, they used to buy me helium balloons. Who would have guessed that this would teach me how to deal with you? But you don't know something more. I took you by the arm so that you don’t end up losing me.
We hardly talked anymore. You lit cigarette after cigarette. And we said ~ bye ~ and you kissed me on the lips, and I didn't feel anything towards you.
When two people are helium balloons, the question is which one will take off first. That was me. But you know I didn’t do it on purpose. You just forgot to hold me.
Here is Vltava again, but in the summer. Everything is lighter and nicer. Now I know that there are things that weigh more than a winter jacket. They are not to be seen. And then -not now- just then, I might have been actually happy.
Not all the people are helium balloons. Some are ordinary balloons. I can't stand that some people forget how to fly. That's why I'm afraid for you. You, for me - not anymore. We sit by the river and the sun shines in our eyes. You close yours, so that you don't go blind, and I close mine for something else. You won't see this anyway. But if my eyes were canvases and the sun was an artist, it would immerse its brush in a lake, completely lonely and it would reflect itself half-way. That’s when I know my soul is painted with watercolors.
We talk a lot. And we say ~ bye ~. And you don't kiss me on the lips.
If you want to make a helium balloon fall, you have to pierce it with a needle. But who would have guessed that some balloons fall due to the lack of piercing? Now, if you wish, you can keep me forever. But you let the wind blow me away.
Since then I’ve crossed many rivers. Much bigger, but all empty.
An Incarnation of Chiaroscuro
Almost September, winter’s end, broke but free, hooked on a movie, I mutter, hands like moths fluttering in my familiar docks’ rusty halls. A foraging dog prowls the remains of a fire on stained concrete. I breathe the sharp smell of tar, break bylaws of trespass but blend in, here in the ‘fifties of my strange lonely boyhood, after escaping from school and home to the Port of Melbourne’s brick and iron bowels. A barge hoots near Constitution Docks’ dark sheds. Place intertwines with wan happiness, this entrepot my mise-en-scene.
Near a goods embankment I reprise ‘Waterfront, Maribyrnong/Yarra the Hudson River’s stand-in. Pigeons like boxer Terry Molloy’s rise from a broken sawtooth roof, clattering through mist over oily water as I flip his collar, air chill, damp, my quick fists burrowing into jacket pockets. I long for an angel with Edie’s face, convent-innocent, unlike mine, who might understand, even share, my boyish dream of making the big time.
Eva Marie Saint’s first movie, the only woman cast by fellow Oscar winner Elia Kazan, with Steiger, Malden, Lee J. Cobb, and Brando, hotshock of Streetcar. American cinema-verite, another first, a triumph in monochrome, the neo-realism of Hoboken-on-Hudson’s corruption. Brando hung out with Rocky Marciano long after Nebraska, and military school, absorbing inarticulate authenticity, hoping to become a contender.
Did Eva Marie study the religiously dutiful to become chaste Edie trying to resist the kid brother of a mobster?
Her fair hair, alabaster complexion, lit up that bleak waterfront landscape like saints’ haloes in medieval art.
Brando, often shot in shadowy semi-darkness, echoing my teenaged days, contrasted with her angelic glow, the camera’ work with light and shadow at the moral heart of this moody movie that captivated me incognito in those sour docklands now archived by memory’s lens.
Ian C Smith
Sale, Victoria, Australia
( blue (Austral. sl. ) argument, row)
We rented behind a block of corner shops, rooms like gloomy cells one side of a narrow hallway abutting the next shop, parking space, entry, from a back lane. Beyond our kitchen’s locked door our landlord the butcher weighed chops, sausages, sexual innuendo, for women eking out housekeeping days. We heard cleaver thuds, saucy laughter.
That summer we argued again, as the poor who toil for the dishonest do, heat, need, itching under our skin, voices muted by butchery until temper betrayed hot secrets. I stamped off, drove, half-crazed. This was when Donald Campbell attempted to hurtle Bluebird across central Australia’s aridity for the land speed record. I hurtled my blue Volkswagen through Melbourne’s southern suburbs to the cool pub.
Returning, contrite, I clipped the gate left ajar, and a plastic toy. Inside, darkened rooms echoed, as haunting as distant Lake Eyre. After phone calls they came back, each of us subdued. We tried in our cyclic way but damage dug deeper each time. I hammered out my Beetle’s dent, resprayed the panel Summer Blue, its paint shop colour, but patch-ups bear scars.
Campbell, born wealthy where I lived as a boy, died chasing the water speed record three years after Lake Eyre, his body located in Coniston Water’s deep decades later. He could not foresee death so soon despite risks taken, and perhaps I am still alive because, born poor, I drove a Beetle instead of the Bluebird.
Under summer’s brilliant night sky, alone except for ghosts from the unshakeable past, mind a weft of loss, wonder, my age now unimaginable then, I am driving that hot day of misery again, not quite making the tight turn from our back lane where love’s guttering light found the fraught future hard to penetrate. I scan iron galaxies for shooting stars, blazing blurs hurtling across stellar space so briefly glimpsed.
Ian C Smith
Sale, Victoria, Australia
Today, one of the goats encounters his love interest. The goat is mad!
The effect is like hell to me. I so disappoint my father. He cannot believe one of the goats is missing. He lectures me for my irresponsibility. Well, he did warn me that goats are foolish when in mating age. I agree somehow. Why did I miss out to check thoroughly if the goats are complete? I have no idea that I am engaged in a much bigger task. Tending the goats and expanding their numbers require my time and discipline. Though
I spend every moment with the goats I enjoy it. They are lovable creatures.
I usher the goats every day to a grassy area on a façade backdrop of two-story, ebony colored, wooden bungalow houses of the affluent families in our village. The grasses do not seem to mind. It keeps on growing and growing while the goats eat them daily. The vibrant and lush Cogon Grasses are their favorites, spreading on both sides of a limestone road where one spur is routing to our home.
My retribution, father asks me to locate the mad goat. Pronto! He supposes I must use my deductive ability. Can I account all the neighbors who are tending goats? I count like three to five. And so, our retrieval ordeal commences. It is already dark. It’s past six in the evening.
I am down. I think my father loves the goat more than myself. More so, my father usually asks me to ensure that the goats get their snacks. He does not even bother to ask me if I’ve had one. Why would he have me find it in the middle of the night? Can’t it wait in the morning? Maybe, he does not see me as a fragile girl. What if I may encounter a huge snake blocking the road? Why can’t my father find the goat by himself?
However, father is unrelenting. Together we will find the goat. We use good flashlights. We check the goats’ resting places from one neighbor to another. Fortunately, in less than an hour we finally find him. True enough, it is just around the neighborhood. To my relief I even hug the goat, overpowering my irritation. But the mad goat will not leave his love one that simple. My father drags him hard around to detach him from his love one. The goat is noisy until we arrive home. It is a terrible ordeal. The mad goat seems to get his dose of reprimand from his parents because they are all so noisy when they see him.
When everything settles, my father is in excellent mood. I overhear him conversing with my mother as they lay in bed, thinking I am already asleep. He admires my sense of responsibility. He says, though I am still young for the task, I managed and the goats are breeding well. My father shows his gratitude in various ways. Cooking peculiar food that is never heard of is one of them. This time it is Cachupoi Alu he calls it. It is his creation delicacy from a Cassava flour and a little salt. He garnishes and tops it with some fresh spinach, eggplant, bell pepper and tomatoes all from his garden. It is like a big round pizza!
I discern maybe I am my father’s favorite after all. He helps me in my early morning study routine. It forges a poignant heartwarming bond between us. Unknowingly the daily tending of the goats hones my sound sense of responsibility, character and some X factor abilities which I have yet to discover.
"Yeah, I will be there by 8 pm. See you soon". I ended the call. Anna called me. Oh! Let me introduce her. Actually, she was my best friend when we were kids. When she was eleven her parents died in a road accident. After that she was sent to her uncle's house in Boston. From that day we lost contact. There was not even a single day I missed her. She has gone through a lot of tragedy. She was coming back to Los Angeles, my city after almost 12 years. I was overjoyed.
I rang the doorbell. It was someone's house that she was staying in, definitely not a hotel or a rented house. And there she opened the door. In a red long gown, hair tightly tied at the top she gave me a tight hug. I really wanted it since a long time.
After a lot of chit chat, I asked her the question which I wanted to since I came to her house. "Hey, is this a kind of hotel? It doesn't look like that"
"Oh no, it is one of my friend's house, she is away for a week so she told me to stay here only". She replied.
We ate snacks, danced, sang and did all the things that we missed for so many years. At last, she went to prepare the dinner. I was sitting idle. I thought of exploring the house, a stranger's house. I was just exploring when I saw a strange thing, a family photograph of an old man and an old woman. There was not even a sign of teenager or anyone in her 20’s or even 30’s living in that house that could be her friend. Next, I went to the bedroom. I was just coming back when my eyes went under the bed. I could see a toe finger out just under the bed. Maybe it could be some kind of a doll or something like that, but wait! Isn’t the finger big enough for a doll? I was just about to check it out when all of a sudden, my mobile phone started ringing. It was my neighbour Frank. I picked up.
“Hi there, have you heard the news?” he sounded quite nervous.
“A serial killer has murdered about six people in the morning itself. A victim somehow managed to survive and described her as a young woman in her twenties wearing a red long gown, blonde hair tightly tied up…” Frank continued the description.
As he was describing her what came to my mind was a clear picture of Anna. Her red long gown, the house and the creepiest part was that toe finger. It must be of the old house owner whom Anna had killed. No combination of 26 alphabets can describe how I felt. Only one thing that came to my mind was to escape from that house. As soon as I turned around, I found Anna standing right behind me with a horrifying cunning smile. Before I could do anything, she placed a knife on my stomach and started stabbing me.
“Noooooo….” I cried out. “Oh, Thank God, it was a dream” I gasped. I was just going to freshen up when my phone started ringing.
“Hello Emily, I’m Anna. I just landed to Los Angeles today. Will you be coming to my house today? I will text you the address after sometime”
A cold shiver ran down my spine.
West Bengal, India
That rocking chair, rocked back and forth, back and forth, whenever there was no body in it. Happy, like when a dog wags its tail, wanting to attract attention. Yet Rebecca never noticed it rocking, even when she was in the room, watching through the vented windows, looking over the hills where the skeletal trees stood distant.
That was the room where her father liked to write. How he used to write before he took it seriously. Every day at some point she would stand there taking in the view her father had taken in many times. Whether she was watching the sun scatter the dust, or determining mythologies from the clouds, or listening to the scudding wind against the cladding or the scuttling rain in the gutters, she liked to absorb the atmosphere of the room. She tried to convey how she felt about every aspect of life, from the reinvigoration of spring, through the vibrancy of summer, the autumnal contemplation or the senescence of winter. It was all beautiful. At times it was too beautiful to take. She could never find the words.
Her father had been her mentor. He’d told her to contemplate the enigmas of existence and to fully appreciate the natural world and not get too caught up in herself. She had been his life.
Her thoughts travelled back to that afternoon when her father lay on his death bed, swaying in the blue bedding, fighting against the ebbing tides of consciousness. All the things that he’d wanted to say were too far adrift for him to capture, too far for him to grasp upon the horizon where the sky and sea merged.
As he lay between oscillating comforts, the words that he had wanted to say washed up beside him. He reached for them, then thought it better if he just let them go. Not saying anything would be better than telling her anything that would end up playing upon her mind he thought. From beneath the waves he managed to lift his head above the surface and spoke to Rebecca,
“Always do what you feel,” he managed in a gargled voice.
But then that temptation that would drive him to drink would have to have the last say, and before he knew it, the words where floating from him. “You have a wonderful imagination, don’t let it go to waste.” Before the final wave washed over him and the heavy burden of the sea evaporated into the weightlessness of the sky.
From that day on the rocking chair started to rocked back and forth. Yet Rebecca never noticed. She sat down in it with the intention of trying to convey the view from the window. But she couldn’t find the words. She could only sit there rocking back and forth, back and forth.