Image by allanswart from Canva to accompany 'Cemetery Sex Games' by Donal Greigh [see below]
Alison pulls into Walmart, parks her car, and reaches under her shirt to scratch her bellybutton. It itches. Like fire. This morning, while she was running the five-mile track at the college, the one she runs every morning, her stomach started to itch. So she scratched it. And that’s when she pulled the mangled remains of a tiny bug from her bellybutton. Great. Bitten by a mystery bug. She had hoped the bite would fade quickly. It didn’t. It grew larger, angrier, itchier. And there wasn’t just one. There were seven of them on her stomach, including the bite in her bellybutton. Each bite large, inflamed, itchy. Grabbing her wallet, Alison opens the car door and hurries across the parking lot to Walmart. Today, her professor in Comparative Religion assigned the class another paper to write. The topic of this one? Joy and the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism. “I should write about these bug bites,” Alison says, laughing as she scratches her stomach. “The title of my paper could be Joy, Buddhism, and Bug Bites.” According to the Buddha, life is suffering. Buddhists believe suffering is important, because it can lead to joy. But Alison has a problem with that. She’d rather skip the suffering and grab the joy. Can’t she do that? Can’t she have joy without suffering? This. This is what she’d like to know. This is what she wants her paper to be about. Ten minutes later she emerges from Walmart with a big tube of hydrocortisone cream. Pulling her keys from her pocket, Alison passes a woman whose hair is dyed the color of bluebells and tied in a long ponytail. Her shirt is blue and so is her sweater. “Love your hair,” Alison says. The woman turns and smiles. “Thanks,” she says, happily swinging her bright blue ponytail from side to side as she walks into Walmart. “This,” Alison says, heading toward her car. “Now this is what I’m talking about.”
Excerpt from the novel 'Silly Rabbit & Honey Bunny Seventies Adventure'
I chuckle at her last-boyfriend memory.
“...when did you leave the conversation?” asks Hope as we stroll along Fremont into periphery of glitz and lights from surrounding casinos.
“I’m a good listener. ”
“Sure you are. I see you can’t say the same thing about being without. Can you?”
“Stop the interrogation--geeeez! Give me a break here.”
“Can you?” she persists
“It’s been a while for me,” I admit
“What is a while to you,” she is undeterred.
“Months,” I laugh.
“Good answer,” she laughs, “you’re such a guy. I could strangle you without conscience.”
“I’m not out there. Since that first day you saw me and didn’t see me in the store. It’s been what…months? For me, a while is since I moved to Las Vegas.”
“You didn’t leave a girlfriend in Phoenix?”
“I didn’t say that. Everywhere I leave--I leave a girlfriend. So there!--ambushed at the pass, Lone Ranger surrenders.”
“You won’t be leaving me--so get use to us.”
“Just so you know. This whole platonic pals thing is not my gig. You turn me on. I don’t hide girly mags under the bed.”
Comment conjures blushing with laughter from Hope.
“You are just--wwwell!--bashful you are not.”
“So what’s on your mind looking at me?” I conjure curiosity.
“Just wondering...will he handle me with care when he has his way with me.”
“Let’s just say…you won’t regret letting me have my way with you.”
“Just remember. Your nine months without are my nine months plus 2 years.”
“Are you kidding me--you can’t just say anything to make a point, Silly Rabbit.”
“It’s not like I planned it, Honey Bunny,” she admits with sheepish eyes and grin.
“I am soooo scared of you, Babe. Seriously. I could hurt myself knocking you off.”
“Considering I blush much easier than I break. You’ll just have to do what you have to do--won’t you, Big Guy?”
“That is so sweet and sacrificial. Of course you do realize I can sweep you off your feet--hold you up like my trophy and just claim you?”
“That would make me blush. But to do anything with your trophy you’ll have to lay me down. Breaking the precious pumpkin won’t be easy as you think.”
“Listen to you--you little cute rosy cheek brat. We’ll see--who rolls-over first.”
Hope gloating triggers mutual laughter.
“So when does it happen?” I ask restoring seriousness to conversation.
“Couple of months. Maybe sooner. I’m sure the store is already talking about The Boyfriend screwing The Daughter. Now they’ll have you to deal with as Manager,” she says looking up at me at cashier counter of souvenir shop flaunting emerald eyes with kiss-me mouth.
“Yeah. Get back with me about that boyfriend-girlfriend gossip--will’ ya!”
“I gotcha!” she confirms, “Until then. You don’t have to be so guarded with me in the store. Manly attention keeps the bitch away, Honey Bunny.”
“They’ll notice me noticing you, Silly Rabbit.”
“Now ask me if I give-a-damn.”
Las Vegas, USA
I see through your lies, that gilded façade you show to the world. You wish to conceal the emptiness you feel by your cheerful smile and plans for joyful times when your lover returns. Being the object of pity would be more than you could bear, so you convince yourself of his undying love; that he did not wed the heiress he met in Saint-Tropez.
What will it take to mend your broken heart and shattered dreams? Gaze through the splintered wound and there will be me, waiting here for you to see.
Folk claimed these woods were enchanted; magical creatures played in their midst. Faye smiled at that. She’d frolicked amongst these trees since she was a child, had playmates aplenty. But she’d never thought of them as magical.
Occasionally, she’d emerge to wave at passing trains but the passengers never seemed to notice her. Perhaps the billowing smoke from the steam engines hid her from view. So she’d drift back amongst the trees until the next tooting whistle.
A stray dog had become her newest friend. He’d follow her for hours, provided she didn’t flap her wings too hard.
A Really Good Listener
‘You know, Stanley, it’s no fun living with a man who takes me for granted and never listens to a word I say. He’s really selfish when I think about it.’
Melanie leaned against the gate beside her friend, glum-faced as she considered how miserable she’d been since Jack moved into her flat. ‘He never wants to go anywhere, even at weekends, says he’s too tired after working all week. Cobblers to that! I work all week, too, and have all the housework to do. Jack doesn’t even help with that. He just sits in front of the telly, waiting for his meals. And don’t get me started on the washing up.’
Feeling more positive than she’d done for months, Melanie made to leave. ‘Thanks for being a good listener, Stanley. This little chat’s helped me make up my mind. Jack can pack his bags tonight.’
Stanley the Scarecrow watched Melanie stomp off down the lane. Yes, he was a good listener. He’d be a good talker, too, if someone had thought to give him a mouth.
Cemetery Sex Games: Coitus In The Coffin
“Let’s do it,” said Jane.
“You’re crazy,” I responded.
We’d had sex in a lot of bizarre places before. But a coffin? I thought this was a bit extreme, to say the least.
Jane stripped down naked. It was a pitch-black night. Jumping into the empty casket, which looked to be brand new,
Jane laid down, stomach first.
She put her head in toward where feet usually are, purposely, so that her plump, juicy ass stuck out of the place a deceased face would normally be displayed.
She knew I couldn’t resist this.
I guess this would make for a nice story.
Stripping down to nothing, I jump in behind her, slipping my already hard cock in between the slit of her huge ass and pushing into her moist vagina.
My upper torso was outside the casket, while my bent legs were inside.
“Get inside with me!” Jane beckoned, in between moans.
My girlfriend is insane.
I looked left and right, and obliged.
Luckily, I was rather thin. I squeezed my upper body into the coffin, placing the top of my chest on top of her back and proceeded to hump her until climax.
We didn’t notice the cover of the casket had closed during coitus, as it was already dark in the lower end of the coffin.
We were stuck. I tried pushing and kicking the cover out with my feet.
“Let’s get this one in the ground tonight, so that we have less to do in the morning!” said a voice from outside. I assumed it was a cemetery worker.
“OK, boss. I’ll lower it down,” another voice replied.
It had begun to rain.
Our screams were muffled by heavy raindrops.
The Social Dilemma
Saturday, I wake at 5 a.m., prepare my coffee, sip a cup, open all the window blinds in the house, then prepare breakfast for Teresa and me. I eat, but Teresa does not wake until 11 a.m. She is depressed and sleeps sometimes 11 or 12 hours a night. Well, that gave me time to write, read a bit, think about my book project and how to develop it to an end. I turn on the news and Tyrant Reginald said, “I am the least racist person I know!” Reminds me of a friend who once told me, “I am the humblest person I know.”
After noon, we drive into town and lunch at La Chaise, at a table in the open garden, the flowers intoxicating our olfactories, the birds choralling Brahms, Wagner, Mozart, some tunes written by others but sung by the Tabernacle Choir, and an occasional background riff from Mick Taylor.
The lunch of fish soup and brazed chicken covered in broccoli was exquisite, but the bald headed, sun blotched waiter kept standing six feet away with his mask on and rattling on the whole time we ate, gossiping about this person and that person. My wife gossiped with him, like she always does. Why do people want to talk so much? Don’t they want to look up at the pines swaying under the blue sky and contemplate existence? Or, at least, don’t they want to leave me and my wife alone to talk with ourselves? I mean, that is why we came here alone, not just because of the virus, but because we are together? Right? I mean, a couple together should be able to talk a bite or two of food, sip a little wine, hold hands, look into each other’s eyes, and speak silently if not out loud about our lives and how lucky we are to be together here in this paradise. Jeez!
The sun was stronger than usual, and the asinine waiter’s droning was making me ill, so Teresa drove me home, dropped me off, then went errand shopping alone. I napped an hour or so, then when I heard her return, I rose to help her unload the car of groceries. I turned on the T.V. for our regular virus-time recreation, TV, I found a documentary titled, “The Social Dilemma.” Teresa did not care for it. She mumbled something ´bout, “We live in a social dilemma.” And went to bed.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Excerpt from the novel ‘The Buried’
A New Life:
I got a new job! Though it's not much by means of payment. But at least it was enough to put a roof over my head and allow me to have a hot shower now and then.
Though the small community I live in could do with some kind of excitement. Times have been a little slow since they closed the mini golf down the street off from the main drag. But the economy has hit us all pretty hard, I figure. I used to have a cushy job once that felt likes ages ago.
But, nothing’s going to keep me down at this point. So, with thirty minutes until my first shift started, I quickly threw together a lunch consisting of a bygone sandwich, a fruit cup, and a stale blueberry muffin. Not bad for someone who scrapped together a meal on the fly.
I couldn't believe it when I got the call, a gravedigger for the community cemetery just a few miles away.
Now, this used to be a mining town of sorts. A place where you could make a decent living. The kinda place where you could buy a house then settle down and not have to worry about what tomorrow would bring. Then the unthinkable happened. The mine shut down, and just like that, the once lively town of Coalspur went silent. It happened so quickly that people were just leaving in droves.
A community that was so tight-knit promptly fell silent, and all that remains are the few hundred that want to keep this place going. Because tomorrow might bring something great, something new, and perhaps this town might get the revival it greatly needs.
The very idea of me being a gravedigger is not what I'd call a job that one seeks out. It's kind of like working in a bar or perhaps a used book store. It's usually the type of job one gets asked about because nobody wants it. But this is something I'll do because just like insurance and taxes, everyone's going to need it. I honestly do believe, for the most part, that there's no such thing as a bad job. It's just how you look at it, and sometimes it takes a shot in the arm to realize that.
So, just as I made my way out the front door of my century-old one-bedroom home built around the end of World War One. That is in dire need of a coat of paint and some new windows, but for the time being, I was thankful that it hadn't collapsed yet.
My stomach was in knots, but I figured what could really happen with just digging holes in the ground?
So, with the warm summer sun beaming down with not a single cloud in the sky, I made my way towards the old and often overlooked piece of history in our town.
Image provided by Keith Hoerner to accompany his story 'The Lake House' [see below]
The Lake House
Deep below the lake’s murky surface, there sits—in tact—a house. A two-story structure of Carpenter Gothic details like elaborate wooden trim bloated to bursting. Its front yard: purple loosestrife. Its inhabitants: alligator gar, bull trout, and pupfish. All glide past languidly—out of window sashes and back inside door frames. It is serene, and it is foreboding. Curtains of algae float gossamer to and fro. Pictures rest clustered atop credenzas. A chandelier is lit, intermittently, by freshwater electric eels. And near a Victrola, white to the bone, a man and a woman dance in a floating embrace.
Southern Illinois, USA
Mother stands frozen in my bedroom doorway… a block of stone: arms splayed, legs spread, a barrier to my exit. I cannot move her, never could; she’s as heavy as her gaze—when she looked in on me. So, I am left to chip away at her, like I did before she was transformed, but literally now. I yell, “Stop imprisoning me!” She doesn’t answer; she has been silenced. Her face looks shocked, accusatory, wide-eyed. My tresses flare in a fighting response—as though slithering about my head. Then, for the first time, I hear the sound of hisses.
Southern Illinois, USA
Apples And Oranges
Priya was perched lazily on the parapet wall of her terrace, her legs dangling on either side, her gaze deep and far into the horizon. She was grateful for the luxury of living in an independent home with a terrace and a garden during these times of forced captivity, thanks to the coronavirus. As she sat limply, Priya let her thoughts wander free and watched them as they nudged her emotions playfully. With socializing almost down to a nil, this exercise was her daily source of amusement. It made her feel like a mother indulging in playful banter with her kids, watching them scramble all over the place. And just like kids do, her thoughts never failed to show her a path of hope when she felt low, or pull in the reins on those days she was flying high.
Shankar ...it was more than a decade since she met him. It was her first job, fresh from college, and his second. With the zeal to prove themselves running high in both of them, they spent many hours huddled together, coding their projects. What started as a mutual attraction triggered by a common passion for excellence, finally led to them becoming partners in life.
Priya dwelt on how their relationship had unfolded over the years - the initial years of nervous excitement, the exhilaration of anticipating their first child, shared grief over loss, moments of mature companionship, and finally, the lethargy and intolerance that comes with familiarity and expectations. It saddened her that off late, the squabbles between her and Shankar were more intense and frequent. Was it because she had changed? Or had he? Why was it that their differences seemed starker now than ever before?
As her thoughts flitted over her life with Shankar, Priya realized that she and Shankar had always been as different as they are now. Yes, they did have their allied interests. These were what got them together in the first place, but they were different too. In fact, aren't any two individuals like apples and oranges, whatever be the relation between them? The differences are always there, it is the perception that changes - sometimes the apples are redder and the oranges, sourer. When the glasses are tinted with love, patience and acceptance, these differences are sometimes even likeable!
Priya jumped down from the parapet, a hopeful smile on her lips. As always, her thoughts had shown her the way forward. Humming a tune, she skipped lightly down the stairs. She knew what she needed to do!
Extract from 'In To The River Of Madness'
The darkness of the night grew over the cold water carved into the Earth was named by ancient travellers in these parts as Freeman River. It was primarily used by fur traders attempting to make a living in this unforgiven land. But while they moved on and died within the company of strangers, the years and fate soon brought me here.
In some form of torture, I wanted to leave the confines of society from which I felt enslaved too. The boredom of working day in and day out, the realization of wasting my life, soon brought me a sense of wanting to break free. So, here I am after a year of much thought and without telling a single soul for fear of having someone attempt to stop me or report me missing without venturing out into the wilderness.
A few days of sleeping under the stars during the warm nights of August had brought me a sense of inner peace. A thing I hadn't felt in quite some time. I wasn't even worried about the fate of my car after all, which was a mystery to me since I worked so hard to pay for it. Maybe, those who repo it will take it somewhere where a loving family will buy it or perhaps a divorced doctor. The hike to the river felt like an eternity. The spot I had decided to call the foundation of my new existence was within a grove of brush and a few trees. Crafted from tree branches with mud as the mortar and moss to keep the wind out and insects that might see me as a quick meal.
While the day turned to night and the sky was clear and void of any natural light. It was the kind of night where the entire world could end, and no one would notice. This existence of mine was honestly the end of the old and in with the new. And there I was, sitting on the bank just looking out into the watery abyss of my own doing.
A world forever lost in the idea of greed and lust. This is the world we live in, a world where people will make a choice to be followed by the absence of one's own foolishness. I wanted to move away from the herd. Away from the clouded minds of the fools of our society and so I took myself out of the problem. And now here I am. Living my life within the confines of nature by a river that gives life and maintains it.
The river had been worshipped by a small tribe located in these parts. They originated from a forgotten piece of land somewhere in the north where they reigned over all who had encountered them. They were known by not a name but by the cold winds that traversed the landscape bringing a slow and painful death. They never trusted anyone from the outside circle of their existence.
The Last Walk
For a Younger, More Fiscally Responsible Future!
The colorful banner adorning the edifice of the City Hall screams at the passersby.
Shinichi walked past the banner into the building for the very last time.
For him, the promise of a more youthful government is not mere political sloganeering. He was clenching a letter from the government, reminding him to drop by for his Procedure:
Mr. Suzuki, as representatives of the city, we congratulate you on your upcoming 70th birthday. We remind you of your patriotic duty to undertake the Procedure as soon as possible, to free up resources for your younger compatriots. Your sacrifice is much appreciated as our country strives toward financial probity.
The terseness of the letter spells out an inevitable end for millions of new 70-year-olds in Japan. A mere decade ago, the country’s pension system collapsed, as average life expectancy surged beyond 120 years and the number of tax-paying working-age adults hit a record low. Facing an ever-widening gap between a shrinking tax base and ballooning expenditure devoted to the needs of the retirees, the government decided to take the drastic measure of “eliminating” all “non-productive” residents.
Shinichi walked into the crowded waiting room. The men and women queuing up for their turn quietly watched the TV hanging from the ceiling. In a program playing in repeat, anime characters are introducing the Procedure.
“It’s simple and painless!” Beamed a smiling dog in a doctor’s lab coat. Walking over to the mustached old bear, the dog throws a couple of red pills in the bear’s mouth and the bear soon falls asleep. “You will just go to sleep!” The dog whispered as the bear fades out from view.
“Suzuki-san, is that you?” A coarse voice interrupted Shinichi as he watched the dog and the bear. “It’s Tazaki, from the University of Tokyo. Do you still remember me?”
In front of Shinichi was a tall man in a trendy suit. Only his thinning white hair belies his age.
“Ah, it is you,” Tazaki laughed after Shinichi nodded in acknowledgment. “We haven’t seen each other since that last alumni get-together, eh, like 20 years ago?”
Before Shinichi can respond, Tazaki continued. “I’m not gonna bother asking how you’re doing. What’s the point right? I felt that we both did well though. Went to the University of Tokyo, got into big companies, became executive officers, travelled so much…” Tazaki’s voice trailed off as he lowered his head. His laugh disappeared.
A few silent seconds passed before Tazaki raised his head again. Forcing a smile, he blurted, “Suzuki-san, you don’t mind taking the last walk with me, do you? I think It’s fate that we ended up doing this at the same place on the same day…and it’s just so hard to ask people I know to accompany me for this, you know?” Tazaki stared directly into Shinichi’s eyes, almost begging.
Shinichi had to nod. He couldn’t say no.
Tazaki’s expression brightened up. “Great! Let’s finish up the paperwork. I think we still have half an hour until our turn.” He quipped, looking to the queue in front of the Procedure room. “So, tell me, what have you been doing these 20 years?”
And They Will Not Be Harmed
Holding her mother’s hand tightly, Rayanne considered the plain white church with disappointment. It was not what she had expected. Chewing on her braided hair, she kicked her new shoes in the dust. Her mother, a devout woman, scolded her and producing one of her endless supplies of handkerchiefs, rubbed at her shoes until they shone. Gazing around her in displeasure, Rayanne saw the arrival of Pastor Hamblin and her spirits rose. She had heard so much about him, and now, at last, she would witness a miracle for herself. A shiver of anticipation ran through her, and she pulled her mother’s hand towards the church door. She asked herself later why she hadn’t been afraid, why a nine-year-old girl at her first service hadn’t felt at least some apprehension? But she hadn’t, not at all.
Entering the church, she looked for an indication of the marvels which were to take place but found none. The inside of the church reflected the outside in its wooden ordinariness. Benches lined the room, and a large fan rotated in the ceiling producing a soothing hum. But all this was unremarkable. Rayanne looked at her mother, who must have seen the questioning in her eyes as she squeezed her hand and whispered, “Patience, Rayanne, have a little patience.” Rayanne sat back and kept her eyes fixed firmly on the front of the room.
Pastor Hamblin was electrifying. He crackled and spat across the room. Sweat shone under his arms and down his back as he seemed to burn with power of such ferocity that it infected all those he touched. Rayanne flushed, feeling the heat in the room, saw her mother wiping her forehead with a clean handkerchief. Playing louder and faster, the band built to a crescendo, and then…then a wooden box was brought into the room. Rayanne felt all the hairs on her arms stand on end, and her palms were slick with sweat. Pastor Hamblin plunged his bare arm into the box and grasped a long venomous snake. Holding it aloft, he cried out, dancing joyously across the room. The snake’s skin gleamed as it twisted this way and that. It felt smooth and cold under the hot fingers of the pastor. Others now came forward to handle the deadly snakes dancing and moving as if they were untouchable. Eyes rolled, and limbs twitched as the ecstasy in the room flowed. Snakes hissed, and fangs sought flesh, but the congregation danced on, paying little attention.
Mesmerised, Rayanne watched the seething mass in front of her. Blood roared in her ears, and her eyes burned. Standing, she moved towards the pulsating pastor, unhearing of the words called out by her mother. She focused all her attention on the Copperhead. Its piercing black eyes seemed to stare into her soul. Spittle flecked its head, and its tail thrashed ferociously as she lifted her arm and gently took the creature into her hands.
Samson and Delilah
A short time after they met they were married. That’s when the trouble started. Samson had been at the club ‘earning’ he called it. The squared-circle, home of champions, chumps in yellow shorts and pink blouses. He’d turned them all purple and black with his fists and feet. Delilah, his missus, had watched it all, her green eyes glittered with gold - the gold they’d paid her for the information, the same gold that capped her teeth.
Every girl wanted to be his, Samson was a catch, a keeper, a true diamond. Delilah, well; tart in a tiara, only wore knickers to keep her ankles warm. Samson knew it, but what could he do? He loved her.
‘What’s your secret? How are you so good?’ Delilah pressed him every day, but he would not yield. He spun a couple of yarns ‘It’s me hair,’ he said. So she shaved it. The next fight was his fastest yet. He broke Jim’s face like a clay pot, one hit, shattered.
‘What’s your secret?’ Delilah coiled around him like a python.
‘The boots, they keep me grounded,’ he confided. There was a mysterious fire, and the boots went black as sin. Tony lives on a ventilator now.
‘How can you love me when you keep secrets?’ The icy tears shattered on the floor. ‘My friends think you cheat.’
‘I’m called, alright!’ Samson stood his ground. ‘God, what made me, gave me sight. I see things a moment before.’
Samson slept well that night. His drink was spiked. When he awoke it was dark. He rubbed his eyes - just empty sockets, nothing more.
She took him to the club, called out the whole gang. All the yellow shorts kicked him, and the pink blouses punched and scratched. Jim threw bricks and Tony, gas. Everyone took a swing while poor old Delilah sat counting her gold.
To this day, Samson sits alone. He stares at the wall and says not a word, not even to God who’s just waiting to hear.
I was super thrilled that day. I was going to see my first movie in a theatre without being chaperoned by mom and dad! Of course, my neighbour uncle, Ravi, was accompanying me, but still, a girl of just ten going to the movies without parents? I felt all grown up and important! The movie had one of my favourite actors, she was playing the part of super-cop - that was the icing on the cake! Brimming with excitement, I started getting ready.
I stood outside Ravi uncle's house, stomping my feet in impatience. Of course, I was ready before time. At last Ravi uncle came out and we started walking towards the theatre. It wasn't a long walk, may be about a mile or so. The movie was as good as I thought, and even if it wasn't, why would I care? The feeling of exhilaration hadn't ebbed one bit. In fact, it was at its peak - I was bursting to go home and share all the details of my "first-time-alone-movie-going-experience" with my mom.
The streets were darker and quieter now. We had been to the evening show. I was a little scared, but then Ravi uncle was there to take me home safely - that thought made me brave. We both started walking with quick steps towards home, making small conversation.
Suddenly I felt Ravi uncle put his arm around me. It didn't feel like a reassuring hug, though, now, I am sure he wanted to pass it off as one. I felt uncomfortable and was desperate to wriggle out of it. We walked a few more steps in silence. Then, while asking me if I was feeling scared, Ravi uncle, put his hands on my chest and started groping me. Again, I am pretty sure, he wanted to pass it off as a harmless touch. Today, I know it was not. At that time, I was confused. It definitely didn't feel good, but in all the innocence of a ten-year-old, I didn't understand the malintent. I tersely answered that I was not scared and hurried my pace. There were hardly any people on the streets, and even if there were, I doubt I would have approached for help. I wasn't even sure if I needed to, was this wrong? I only knew that I did not like it.
Finally, we reached home. All these years, I have been trying to brush this incident under the carpet. But it keeps resurfacing. After that day, not only did I avoid going anywhere close to Ravi uncle, but I started to subconsciously doubt every word, smile or touch, by people of the opposite sex. Are they yellow-bellied monsters, hiding behind the innocence of a child, like Ravi? I can't think of calling him uncle any more. That day changed me forever.
The tantrum the child was throwing in the confectionery aisle was so spectacular that I just had to stop and watch. I offered his mother to buy her son whatever he was after if I could film the meltdown. She told me to fuck off and wouldn’t let me explain what viral meant.
In the canned food section, I pocketed a tin of anchovies. It’s become a bad habit recently, especially as I don’t like fish. I astounded myself by nicking a jar of Bovril as well. I wondered where this could be leading.
I got what I really came in for and went to the busy checkouts.
I held the carton of semi-skimmed to my chest and cleared my throat. The woman carried on loading her weekly shop onto the belt, she wanted her moment of power and milked it. When she had finished, she asked the bleeding obvious.
‘Is that all you have love?’
To her dismay and my satisfaction, I refused her offer to queue jump.
The alarm went off as I was leaving. Had they tagged the Bovril? Security came over and I decided to throw my own tantrum. As I was screaming on the floor that I would bring all the 124 tins of anchovies back, I became aware of the confetti and applause. The store manager helped me to my feet and congratulated me on being their millionth customer. I was given a £500 voucher and a filthy look from weekly shop lady.
Symptoms Of A Male Pregnancy
The gynaecologist was confused when Najji entered his office unexpectedly and unaccompanied by a woman. The doctor asked what brought him in.
“I’m having pregnancy symptoms,” Najji said.
“What? What are you talking about? You’re a man. You must be joking,” the doctor scoffed.
“Believe me, Doctor, I’m not. I’m serious. Let me explain my case, and then you judge.”
The doctor sat to listen. He had to hear this.
“The first symptom is that my belly swells whenever high-ranking politicians promise to promote the general welfare. They talk of social justice, salary increases and improvements in housing and public transportation. When I hear these promises, I feel like I’ll explode from the excessive swelling.” Najji patted his rotund belly.
“That’s only swelling. That’s no indication of pregnancy,” the doctor said.
“I know that. I also feel the urge to throw up when I watch news on TV or read a newspaper report about the disgraceful state of our society. People are dying of hunger while others spend millions on trivial wedding parties without shame,” said Najji.
“That doesn’t indicate that you’re pregnant either,” the doctor said.
“I know that, but I also have these unexplainable cravings, namely for a beautiful country where people can live together peacefully without being driven to emigrate to other lands in search of a better life,” said Najji.
The doctor kept his legs crossed and quickly swung his knees outward and inward.
“Ah, yes… cravings. Anything else? Go ahead.” The doctor stopped himself from fidgeting.
“I have this unremitting dizziness every time I wake up,” said Najji.
“What else?” the doctor asked.
“I also feel these kicks in my belly whenever I hear about Gaza’s misery, the occupation of Iraq, and the Arab humiliation from begging Israel to accept peace initiatives.”
The gynaecologist laughed heartily at that. “If this is the issue, then all Arab men are pregnant, because they feel the same symptoms. However, you are not pregnant.”
“How can you tell? I was told I was pregnant.”
“Who is the idiot who told you that? I’m the specialist here and I can tell who’s pregnant and who’s not,” the doctor said.
“His Excellency, the President of our Republic, when he visited our factory yesterday,” Najji said.
The gynecologist bounded up from his chair and said, “If it’s the president, then you are indeed pregnant. In fact, you are going to have twins! Congratulations, sir!”
Written by Mohsen A. Al-Saffar - Iraq
Translated from the Arabic by Essam M. Al-Jassim – Saudi Arabia
Professor Dakshinamurthy stood at his doorstep fumbling for his keys, all hot and sweaty from his morning walk. He was a stickler for discipline and regime, but of late, the age and loneliness were making him forgetful at times. Finding his keys at last, Murthy let himself into his house. With clockwork precision, he hung the keys on their hook, washed up, changed into a fresh pair of clothes, discarding the sweaty ones into the laundry basket, and went to his "balcony garden" to tend to his green babies.
Gardening hadn't particularly been his passion until a few years ago, when he had lost his wife, his best friend and long-time companion, to a terminal illness. He had been broken, but his penchant for routine and his passion to teach, had slowly helped him to move on with his life. Soon, he had recovered enough to resume his after-school tuition classes for the neighbourhood kids. He had also put his heart and soul into gardening, which had been his wife's favourite pastime - she had had a green thumb and he was resolved to develop one, to make sure her garden thrived.
Murthy sat on the floor of his balcony, gazing lovingly at his babies. Each plant, though confined to its pot, stood its ground, flaunting its unique aura. Somehow, these plants brought back memories of the kids he had taught over all those years - those small impressionable, trusting minds, lending themselves unabashedly to his classes. "Rana...", Murthy whispered to the majestic sunflower - he could see the tall, lanky child with a bright smile come up before his eyes. Every plant in his garden reminded him of an old student of his, the tender flowers and tiny saplings were like the young kids he had taught in primary and high school, the larger plants brought back nostalgic memories of his days as a professor. Murthy would talk to each one of them every day, for hours, reliving his life's journey with a sense of deep satisfaction. He had nurtured those young minds then, and these plants were nurturing him now in his lonely days.
Rana would be a young man now, Murthy wondered, probably making his mark in the field of science. That child had a natural curiosity about everything around him, Murthy thought with a smile, as he stepped into the kitchen to make his breakfast.
Smidgen [a collection of Micros]
A dragonfly caught in a Yellowstone was in the national museum of Scotland. I was there, one afternoon, looking through the artefacts. A light emanated from it and I looked at it mesmerized. It transported me to the 17th-century Jacobite period. The fairies at the stone of Craigh na Dun had taken me there. This Yellowstone was mine; my rebel lover had given me. It was now 200 years old nearly; I still lived that memory — caught up in the past. The dragonfly was now a pinned showcased object — and I too was pinned forever to that living past.
Cordelia's sweet love for King Lear was full of salt. This paradox, salt, was disreputable for being for what was intrinsic to it, not sweet, yet sweet, and tasteless to the palette without it. It was a balm on a wound. A swim in the ocean took away the woes of many, because the salt soaked all the malady. Everyone knew it, but they could not make it sweet.
There was a village by the sea, over the mountain pass. A wedding feast was taking place. The feast comprised salt food only. There were no sweets. After the feast was over, guests waited expectantly for sweets. None arrived, because the bride’s father had no more money left.
The guests cried out. What kind of a feast was this without sweets? But the sweets were already in the salt, like Cordelia’s love. But the guests were inconsolable. They thumped their fists on the table, and demanded dessert.
This embarrassed the bride’s father to the hilt. But he couldn’t tell his guests that his sweet girl was enough. The feast they had, was just as sweet. Foolish guests called him a scrooge. They left in anger, and grief befell the house.
The night passed. In the day’s first light, all the brides-men woke up and looked enthralled at the gate. A golden unicorn stood with a handsome merchant who traded salt. He asked for her hand. As they wedded, the unicorn galloped away into the sultry syrup of a golden sun.
In a jaundiced sky, bats and crows flew amok in uncertain directions at dusk. The sky, a canvas of black jittery spots, to behold from the space above. Ablaze over the tall gum trees, was a tell-tale sign, suggesting the end of time. The fire grew. The forest, the possums, the dingoes, the denizens ran deeper around the bend. Distant cries of human voices carried distress. Trees and houses and the animal habitat, all burnt to a cinder. The fire burnt without ebb, without a reprieve. A permanent haze hung from the sky. The luminous fire sparked, but like ubiquitous fireflies bejewelled a feral frontier.
Two pairs of pants were swinging in the autumnal winds alongside the clothesline. It was above the red sprawling azealia bed. One was female and the other male pants. They were tightly pegged. The wind couldn’t move them from the waist. But fanned to wrap themselves around in the legs.
The legs couldn’t stay away. The stronger the winds, the closer they were. The male pants were over the female at one point. They were even close enough for a kiss. The female pants swung themselves higher and the male followed suit. They frolicked. The Azealia stirred. This moment underpinned by romance. The winds whispered to the pants that time was slipping away. The pants paid heed. They did exactly as they were told. It blew a little harder, the male pants got unpegged, it flew over and landed on the female pegs.
A magpie swooped in. It looked around with its sharp eyes, that no one came close to pull them off the clothesline. The bird was ready to gouge the eyes of whoever dared. The wind brushed the bird too. It took off to another clothesline on the opposite side. From here it had a better view of this sweet togetherness. This lasted a while. No shudders.
The pants stayed pinned onto each other until they were dry. The magpie sat sentinel. Its curiosity piqued; it trembled in the winds, regurgitated and beaked.
I woke up from a coma amongst the stars. I realised, I was trapped in a nightmare of a merciless world. Plunder and torture without care; closure and a renewal of a better life.
At midnight, someone was knocking on my window pane. It was a sinewy twig, wavering in the blustery winds. Knocks persisted. The window had fogged up from the recent cold waves. I walked up and stood before it. A coal spattered night, there was the twig rubbing itself on the fog. This reminded me of Grandma’s fantasy metamorphosis of the moon shadow; that it was a woman, sitting and spinning for a thousand years. Spirits breathed through leaves; grandma had often said before she passed away, now buried in a graveyard downstairs. What was it, the twig? It nodded and said something to me. The fog on the window cleared up, to be re-fogged. I kept looking at it until the twig left a sign on the fog, as though it breathed onto the windowpane. It stirred, I walked up to it and wrote the letter G. On the breathing. The twig stopped stirring. That was the sign; the windowpane was all fogged up, but not from the cold wave. The twig took roots where her body had lain; green leaves were her new veins. This metamorphosis through photosynthesis marked the cycle of an organic genesis.
Corn waving in the waning sun, breeze-brushing knees that wish to sink still further into nurturing Mother Earth, become at one with flow of landscape-changing year, each ear of wheat not knowing life is ending here. Swish. Eyes fix on distant hills, a single upright tree claiming a summit like triumphant flag – “This is mine” – daring me to conquer it. I don’t belong, it tells me loud and clear. A cock crows, signalling desertion, love denied in guilty swirling of long hair cascading down the back I turned. White clouds tease me with their scoot across the sky towards that other place, that other life I knew. White stones beneath my feet wonder callously where I’m heading, on this unknown path I’ve taken now. I grasp a nettle, growing by the drystone wall, clutching its pain as cooling balm for stomach jangling in a world I do not own. I left in sweltering heat, sweat pouring like the tears I dared not shed. Silently, I left them all behind. There were no hugs, no kisses, no comforting goodbyes. Not now. Decision made, each tyre-turning mile a move towards I knew not what or where. I came. I saw. I live. I have another cheek, to test what life will strike me with. There is no turning back, only striking out with knowledge of the past towards a future I must carve with care. My egg-timer is already set in motion. I must busy myself with sowing of new seeds to harvest in my autumn years. “Crack on,” says the bramble that thwacks my tired legs. “Your time is now, your future happening.”
Shadows Of The Darkness
Once it started you never know the end
That what they said when it started
The beginning of the ending
I opened my eyes on the darkest day of my life
No sign of life outside my house
Just sitting there trying to wake up from this nightmare
But it was all blurry yet so clear
No voices or noises
Just me and my bruises
We fought back yesterday and we lost half of us
Now we don't know which one is which
The creatures are pulling us to the darkest corners of the city
This city of ghosts that we try to survive its owners
We live a day thinking about the bright past because we can't see any future
They are consuming us one by one
They need our lives for them to live
They wait for us to fade so they can be here.
“Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen and welcome as you join us here tonight live - Bedside - for what promises to be a thrilling end to this evening’s entertainment. Our final bout of the night between two old favourites, Pillow and Tired Person.
Pillow, dressed in a simple one-piece white cotton outfit and weighing in at just under two kilos, technically not even a feather weight, is looking relaxed and has been on the bed for some time now, all day in fact.
Tired Person weighs in tonight on the bathroom scales at twelve stone two, but fans will know that superior weight doesn’t guarantee victory. And - yes - the main light’s just gone out, Ladies and Gentlemen, the signal for the start of tonight’s contest. Here’s Tired Person, trade mark two-piece costume, coming in fast. They’ve crossed the room and turned on the bedside lamp. No reaction from Pillow. Tired Person pulls back the covers, they’ve got a knee on the bed and - oh my goodness - Tired Person has just collapsed onto Pillow. Tired Person’s head has literally hit the Pillow - a tremendous blow. That’s followed by some rapid head poundings - but it’s having no effect on Pillow and boy, does that annoy Tired Person. More pounding straight into Pillow’s midriff. Pillow responds by shifting their weight to both ends. A classic Pillow tactic; stay still, absorb the blows, wear your opponent down. And…oh my word. Where did that come from? Tired Person has just unleashed a tremendous right, knocking Pillow completely out of shape. And Tired Person’s got Pillow up against the bed head now, there’s nowhere to go and - Tired Person has picked Pillow up, ladies and gentlemen. Pillow is up - they’re in the air, completely off the sheets and - wham - down goes Pillow and Tired Person follows up with their trademark ‘gruesome threesome’; chin rub, jaw swipe, head roll. But is it enough? No, not tonight as Pillow easily cushions the blows. Tired Person really wants to knock the stuffing out of Pillow tonight. Ouch, two quick right jabs straight into Pillow’s left side, forcing another weight change. Is that enough to ensure victory for Tired Person? - No. Once again Pillow takes it. Boy, can they take it.
And there goes the alarm. It’s all over. It’s time to get up and go to work which means no sleep for Tired Person for the third consecutive night. Let’s take a look at the score card. Tired Person thirty-four sleepless nights, which means Pillow leads with thirty six. There’ll be some celebrating in Pillow’s corner tonight.
That’s it for this evening Ladies and Gentlemen. There’s just time for me to thank you for joining us here tonight at Bedside. Be sure to tune in tomorrow evening for a special tag team event, two Pillows up against a newly married couple. Who knows what they’ll make of Pillow’s soft approach? Should be one hell of a contest.”
Margate, Kent, UK
Every government fences its highways to save reckless drivers from stray animals, and vice versa. There was a beautiful girl who went cruising in her father’s Jeep Wrangler. Somewhere along the way, she had gone off course. A stray cow emerged from nowhere. The impact left that brown skinned cow airborne. Gravity pulled it down head first. Both skulls cracked each other wide open at collision. Two lives lost. Two bereaved. The cow owner and the hunter reached the scene at the same time. Upon seeing his daughter’s fractured skull, the hunter’s pain left him speechless. He could not even shed a tear. The cow owner was aggrieved by his loss. He was shrieking like a hyena.
“Oh no. This cow is all I had left.” Even kneeling with the cow’s head in his arms. The kind of gory scene experienced by he who lost a lover.
This did not go down well with the hunter whose question left nothing to be desired.
“That’s not how to mourn a cow!?”
Staring at the hunter’s feet, the farmer said, “How dare you pin this on me?”
The farmer shook his head, guilty, agonised in disbelief.
“You’re guilty, aren’t you?” The hunter asked, “Why do you have no shame?”
At this point, the farmer slumped down in shame.
“Do you realise she was only 15? I’m gonna punish you for what you’ve done.” He left his daughter’s dead body behind and went to the back of his car. He returned with an elephant killing shotgun and shovel.
With a fevered stare, the hunter said, “Dig a grave and bury them yourself.”
While the hunter took a smoke in his truck, the farmer was digging. The hunter kept making repetitive sharp gestures. His jutting chin and hard jawline could be felt in the darkness. Moments later, he left his car seat and went to stand above the two dead bodies. A moment of silence for the cow, before leaving two bullets in both the girl and the cow.
He then went over the grave and said to the farmer, “It’s all your fault.” After which he wiped fingerprints off the shotgun and threw it into the grave. By now, the grave was way beyond six feet. “How are you gonna get yourself out of this one?”
As the hunter stepped into his car, another car slowly drove to the scene. It parked as he drove away. It was the sheriff of the town. The sheriff and the hunter saluted each other. In the rear view, the hunter saw the blue lights flashing.
Denslow Christian D. Kisi
Excerpt from The Harvest
I breathed a sigh of relief as the morning sun rose into the heavens. What had happened the night before was honestly so unbelievable that I don't even know if anyone would believe just what I saw. But I had to keep going in the hope of attempting to rid myself of this damned place. Those in my hamlet of just what could only be described as a monster. I don't honestly know what she is, but I know that strange things have happened ever since she arrived. Small animals went missing, and the crops just on the outskirts of town slowly began to turn black and die off. It was as if we had been cursed by some biblical plague. But it did cause a few of the older churchgoers to act out and start preaching on the streets, rambling about how God had cursed the land and Satan is roaming about. But that was, for the most part combating the unknown illness that has plagued the land.
One night when Mrs. Gold arrived, a strange sighting of some beast roamed the fields at night. Many had believed it was nothing but the overactive imaginations of school children. Or perhaps those overindulging in too much rye at the only watering hole for a hundred miles.
But as the days grew longer, I found myself getting caught up with the local hysteria. Children would sneak out at night and, in the cover of darkness, go out to the Gold residence in an attempt to witness the creature that stalks the fields. Even the local Sheriff had to hire another deputy and, believe me, I'm thankful for the job. It was either being a deputy or working on the fields. With the fear of some strange creature mutilating animals, I think being a deputy is a much safer option.
But my favorite had to have been on my first day when I got the call to investigate what I was told was nothing but a missing person. Nothing but the odd call about a drunken husband attempting to start a fight with a flag pole. With the gossip that perhaps something mysterious had happened, I had to remind myself that these paranormal-type things aren't real. But my whole world was going to change, and just how I saw it. You know they never prepare you for just how crazy people can get, and it honestly just had to be on the day I was working.
The call came in around six o'clock, just as the sun was working its way down before the night arrived. It was a suspected sighting of someone lurking around the Wilson farm. The widow claimed to have seen someone in the cornfield and just wanted us to check it out. Probably kids just playing tag or Edgar, a notorious drunk who likes to drink himself into the stage of blacking out and wanting to get back to nature.
The Indigo Child
Kaveri lay on her back, gazing at the sky above. It was a beautiful, dark night, the clouds like blotches of mud on the satin indigo sky. The soft grass underneath her felt cool and cosy. The waters of the nearby river lapped gently against the banks, making a silent soothing noise, periodic and calming, like a mother's lullaby. Kaveri revelled in the harmony she felt within and around her - this was her best moments each day, the time when she almost believed that she was just another common little girl.
A cry from the priest of the riverside temple jolted Kaveri from her tranquil sleep. She got up with a sigh and walked towards the footsteps of the temple that was looming large and magnificent, against the pristine dawn sky. Her day of prayers, rituals and meeting with the thronging devotees as goddess "Kanya Kumari" would soon begin. It all started when, as a child, she was deemed to be different - more sure, strong-willed, intuitive and empathetic, than her peers. She was thought to have paranormal abilities - a few happenings in her neighbourhood, where she rightly predicted the future, only strengthened this belief. And before she knew it, she was elevated to the status of a goddess - the temple became her new abode, the devotees her family.
The initial few years were spells of deep anguish for Kaveri - she yearned for the secure comfort of her mother's lap, the soothing familiarity of her home. She was now resigned to her new life - maybe she did possess supernatural powers and could help those in need. But every night, as she lay on the river bank, gazing at the indigo sky, the little girl inside her, would wistfully wonder when she could be a little girl again.
"During the darkest indigo midnight, yet countless stars blossom.” - Dr. Sunwolf.
Kaveri waited for her starry night.
Excerpt from The Bat of Hardisty
Welcome to Hardisty:
It was a warm summer day in August on the cusp before the fall approached. It was thick like pea soup, and the land was something of a beautiful sight, something taken from an old painting hanging in a discount motel off a forgotten highway. Now, I'm not the kind of person who would complain about the heat. But just like the changes in the season, there is always something new that can come and change one's perspective.
I was born and raised in the small town of Hardisty, the kind of place where people work hard for what they believe in and enjoy a beer at the old watering hole. The history of this small slice of heaven was one of oil. Over the years, everything moved forward while the landscape stood perfectly still.
Not much has changed here except for the odd coat of paint and patchwork on the residential streets. But all that was about to change on that warm summer night when a foul odor was in the wind, and it started to make the water taste sour. Everything about what was on the cusp of our doors was about to change our lives forever.
I was living in a small two-bedroom house, a reminder of what littered the nation just after the second world war. You know the type of cookie-cutter place. It wasn't much to look at, but it was mine, and so I honestly loved the place. Though the pipes would rattle, and every so often, the lines would freeze. It was something I could call my own.
The old Hiller home had been vacant for the span of a year. It was a shame when they discovered the bodies on that cold winter day. Mr. and Mrs. Hiller were the kind of people that were considered pillars of the community. The type of people that would help anyone in a tight spot. The day their twisted and disfigured corpses were discovered was when all of us mourned. The official report was a gas leak, but I never bought the official report. There was something off about the explanation since their son, a trained technician, did all the work for them. He owned a small company that did that sort of thing, and since news got out about his parents. He was out of business the next day, and after he was cleared of the charges, he pulled up and moved out. Not much is known of his location now, but I figure he'll never be seen again.
But it was a big surprise when the place was sold for far below-asking value, but in these trying times, you take what you can get. Being a small town, everyone noticed this and waited with anticipation for who would finally call this place home. Many didn't want to buy the pace where people tied in such a horrible fashion. But as the moving vans rolled in and began unloading several dozen odd-shaped boxes. As the hours passed by and the eyes from the snoopy neighbors faded out of sight. With the sun setting and darkness soon approaching, I decided to head out for a walk to clear my head before having a late dinner.
As the crickets sang all the while, the Sun went down as the battered streets encircled the area. While the street lamps slowly came on, giving light to everything below them. It was a different world, the world of darkness. In a place like this, one can still feel completely safe even if one is afraid of the dark.
But that night was the last night one could feel truly safe in the dark. People rarely locked their doors, and if someone needed to use their phone if their car broke down, so be it. It was the kind of place where everyone got along, and fear was absent.
The Bat of Hardisty is available to read on Amazon Kindle:
Excerpt from Among the Gilded Vines
From the curvaceous silhouette of her body against the faded siding, Duck knew the visitor was a woman. A naked woman. From high on her head, a snowy nest of snake-like braids toppled from their perch, the last of the orange sun’s light speckling the midnight blue of her chest and shoulders. Like a soundless fish speaking Morse, the woman’s velvety lips opened and closed, her eyes trained on Duck’s torso.
“Oh!” Duck exclaimed, the sound of her own voice startling her just as much as the smouldering heat suddenly radiating from her front apron pocket. Unthinkingly, Duck plunged her hand into the smock, her fingers clumsily extricating the shell as staticky currents of light flickered along its striated pattern.
She was hallucinating. Probably leaked methane from the old fracking facility two towns over. These kinds of things didn’t happen. Not to her. Not to anyone.
Repeating her silent mantra, the edges of the woman’s eyelids crinkled as she stood, her skin glittering and dewy from the endless, invisible spring bubbling beneath her mane. Entranced, Duck’s grip on the shell tightened even as it grew hotter, the outer lip sawing into the meat of her palm, another line between life and fate.
“Who are you?” Duck asked, the stranger’s pendants crackling with the same radiant energy Duck now felt vibrating up through her fingers, the base of her hand, the joints of her wrist.
Though the air remained still, Duck heard a whisper through the branches behind her. A droplet of sweat trickled expectantly down the back of her neck. Chest aching, she realized she’d forgotten to inhale. Opening her mouth, she waited for the breath to rush in but something was wrong.
The air wasn’t moving, in or out. Contracting her diaphragm, she strained to expand her lungs, the pressure mounting in the back of her throat, her eyes, her temples.
Sinking forward, Duck’s forehead pressed against the steering wheel as the murmur of the breeze returned, this time louder. Darkness looming from the margins of her retinas, she centered her gaze on the fist still resting in her lap, the shell no longer flickering but completely illuminated, yellow beams projecting between her fingers.
Opening her palm, the shell’s light cast Duck’s contracting body in an ethereal glow. Shoulders hunched, her spine bowed with hypoxia, she gagged as her chin touched her sternum, the rumble of wind growing louder. Louder. And suddenly, elucidated by a final surge of adrenaline, Duck realized it wasn’t wind at all.
The light fading rapidly, Duck held the shell against her ear.
“In this sphere, you are worthy,” a voice echoed from within.
Duck watched as the shell slowly tumbled through the air, a luminous blur sinking, sinking, the light fracturing into a dozen razors beneath the pedals before the world went black.
The shrill ring of the phone broke the busy silence of Arya's workplace. It was from Ayan's school, the principal wanted Arya to come over for a chit chat over Ayan's recent abnormal behaviour. Arya gave a sigh, directed, not at her son, but at the school authorities - patience, tolerance and acceptance seemed to be in the want these days.
As Arya drove to the school, her thoughts meandered to her own childhood. She was a timid boy on the outside, always the butt of jokes for her feminine air. As a child, she loved dressing up, playing with dolls, dancing, and would burst into tears at the drop of a hat - all of these stereotypical feminine traits. Those were confusing, in fact, traumatic years, her mind was in perpetual turmoil between what it wanted and what was accepted.
She remembered how her parents had loved dressing her up as a girl in her toddler years - she had saved every picture from those memorable times. Looking through them, even now, brought a smile to her lips. It was a brutal shock to her, when, as she grew older, suddenly the "dressing up" or dancing was no longer viewed as cute. Being just a child of six, Arya couldn't fathom the sudden shift in attitude. Her mom, who used to encourage her to prance around in borrowed frocks, now, showed disgust when she enjoyed playing with girls and dolls. School was another hell where she was constantly ridiculed for being a sissy. "Act like a boy," were the constant words that fell on her ears. She was crushed, the day she overheard her parents lying to their family friends about her, trying to portray her as a normal boy, albeit a bit timid. Arya couldn't decide which was more cruel - not understanding or not willing to understand. She felt as if precious parts of her life were blue-pencilled by the world around her.
Then, at college, she met Arnav. It was a huge relief to meet someone who was similar to her, one who could understand her psyche. Life didn't seem so bad after all. They decided to be a couple. After one last futile attempt at being accepted by her parents, Arya and Arnav started their life together in the US. What a cruel irony when the people and land that you view as your own do not accept you for who you are!
As Arya drove into the school premises, bracing herself for the meet with the school principal, she promised herself that she would not try to mould her son's life with a blue pencil. The sky was a pristine blue, reflecting the resolute calm running in Arya's mind.
He feels the familiar tingling in his loins as the engines pull up beside the blazing building. With growing excitement he watches the firefighters run out their hoses, ladders unfolding as they creep slowly up the side of the building. Then he sees a girl at the window, arms waving in terror as the flames lick hungrily around her pyjama-clad body. He moans as her terrified screams echo across the night sky. As his thrill heightens arms reach out to her, pluck her from the blazing ledge.
He scowls, his body stiffening then...nothing. There are fewer thrills now, it all ending too quickly as bodies are snatched from a burning inferno by this new breed of firefighter. It had been more satisfying once, poorly equipped engines, ladders and hose reels hardly able to reach the upper floor windows. He had watched with mounting excitement as bodies had become totally engulfed by the flames. But now he had his little machine. Now he could replay their drawn out, haunting cries of anguish. He had dozens of tapes, neatly stacked and labelled on the shelves in his poky little bedsit. He would sit with Patsy in the evening and listen to them, Patsy turned on by the blood-curdling cries. But now she was gone, lured away by the pervert Kenny with his chains and manacles. But he did not miss her. Alone he could take time to savour every moment, listen to every last thrilling haunting scream until there was nothing but silence to fill his tormented mind....
He watches again as the flames climb the building, white hot fingers reaching ever higher up the drab, concrete flats. He is about to leave, the sounds he so longs for becoming out of reach of his machine. But then something catches his eye, a tiny figure perched high on one of the narrow window ledges. He watches, fascinated as the firefighter calls out to her. He feels his throat contract, his body stiffen once more as she pauses for a second before...He moans with ecstasy as she falls, her body tumbling over and over like a broken doll, her cry bouncing off the concrete walls. He feels the tension ebb from him as she smashes in to the pavement below.
He is back in his dingy bedsit, grubby fingers sifting through his recordings, splicing and editing. He sees again the girl, hears her last despairing cries. He kisses the tape before placing it carefully back on the shelf. He is tired now, his body sated as he slumps gratefully onto his filthy mattress. Tomorrow he will start again, another carefully placed piece of kindling, a splash or two of fuel...
He sleeps deeply. So deeply he does not hear the siren, does not smell the smoke sliding beneath his door as it seeks to extract its terrible revenge.
Many years ago I taught fourth grade in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Some of the boys I taught at the Marie Roberts School (Lost Creek, Kentucky) were tough, and at times we had discipline problems. I recall in particular one small boy surnamed Noble, a common name there. One day he was especially rough and fresh with me on the playground. Somehow, an incident started - I may have had to break up a fight between him and another boy. We exchanged some angry words and he came back with something surly that was hard to ignore. As I turned away, the crisis over, I said under my breath, more to myself than anyone else, "Little bastard!"
Well, the little tough guy heard it and the next day his uncle, or was it his grandfather, at any rate, an elderly blind man with a cane was in the principal's office. I was summoned and had to explain myself to this relative, which I did, as best I could. I didn't deny what I had said, but I played it all down and the matter was settled between us. Other teachers later told me the man was prone to complaining in this way, but he was also capable of violence if he did not hear what he wanted to hear. He could come right across a desk, I was told, with that stick he carried and attack the offending person. In this case, it would be me. I think I decided at about that time, if not that very day, that teaching was not for me.
I sometimes wonder how that Noble boy made out in life. I recall one day on the playground he was suddenly surrounded by a group of boys, and I, smelling trouble, went over to investigate. But it seemed he was proudly telling the other boys a story about his older brother. He smiled as he told it, as if grateful for all the attention, including mine too, I suppose. He was recounting how his brother got shot between the eyes that very weekend, killed dead by some blackguard. I didn't smile though, but I soberly took in what the boy was saying about his brother being killed. He seemed proud to tell it, and I sensed the other boys were envious, that they would have liked to have been able to come to school and report their older brother being shot dead between the eyes. I never heard another thing about the death, who did the shooting, what the circumstances were, or if justice was ever served. Was the perpetrator caught and jailed? Was it a revenge killing of some sort, an eye for an eye? I was reminded - not that I needed to be by then - of just how violent a place it was I lived in.
Louisville, Ky. USA
I stopped at the chemist to buy some mints, hoping they might mask the twin evils of beer and onion. I was in enough trouble as it was. I stood at the lights waiting for the green man when I heard someone yelling. I looked in the direction of the noise and saw a girl in a red dress tearing down the library steps. No one seemed to be chasing her, but then she raised her arms spastically and ran toward me, straight onto the road. I opened my mouth to say NOOO, by which time all the metallic bangs and screeches had occurred. For the space of a sucked in breath, Macquarie Street was silent.
I had been working in the library, or more truthfully, I’d been flicking pages and doodling as I moped. Suddenly my phone vibrated. The text said ‘I’m staying. I love you’. I sucked in my breath and it stayed there, locked up. And then another text: ‘I’m across the road’.
I smashed everything into my handbag and raced for the exit. I shoved my way past the heavy front doors and ran out into the sunlight. He was there, at the lights, signalling to me. Nearly tripping over two people with their heads together at the bottom of the steps, I dashed to the street. I raised my arms above my head, waving like mad as I ran towards him.
Alicia's debut novel, 'Something Else', will be published by NineStar Press in October 2021.
Her website is www.efolio.com.au and you can find her at aliciathompsonauthor on Instagram and Facebook
It all went wrong after he had died.
He had led a very fulfilling and successful life. Born to two established Oxbridge academics, he had enjoyed a high flying, liberal education. This was followed by his own successful academic career. Not as stellar as his parents. Not even redbrick. More 1960’s concrete. But Norfolk had been a wonderful place to bring up the children. Marriage had been good. A couple of fleeting affairs but nothing that had disturbed the equilibrium.
He had been an atheist since childhood, following his parents lead. He had no time for any religion, but actively despised Christianity. He obviously admired Islamic architecture, found Buddhist philosophy thought provoking, and thought that Hinduism had a certain cache. But Christianity was simply vulgar.
So when he found himself on his deathbed, he was very much looking forward to taking his last breath, followed by the welcome relief of nothingness.
The Hollywood style pearly gates came as a bit of a surprise. The helpful “Saint Peter” lapel badge that the gatekeeper was wearing was a shock. The grim expression he noticed as the gatekeeper perused a big gold book did not bode well.
This nightmare couldn’t be death.
It was only when he followed the increasingly hot and cindery path that he was directed on that reality set in. He turned around, thinking he may be able to belatedly argue his case. But it was a lifetime too late.
The gates of hell banged shut on him.
It’s sometime around the sixth month of the year. Joseph wraps himself up and steps outside, just to get a feel. He doesn’t know when he last left the house, but supplies are running low and needs must.
The outside world will appear vastly different now. The trees are long dead, flowers no longer grow, the grass is brown and the buildings, including his own, are decaying but Joseph cannot see any of this because of the intense mist that surrounds him.
He is nervous, he can barely even see his own feet, but walks down the street, knowing his way from memory. Surely there are others. He knocks on doors and taps on windows, he waits for shadows or voices. He hears only silence.
He has waited too long, he was too comfortable with his supplies. He shouldn’t have been so complacent. It’s been the bane of his life. When he was much younger, he would put off his studies to the day before a deadline, confident in his ability, only to come across some unforeseen problem, which would soak him in anxiety. His work ultimately suffered, and though he would promise not to make the same mistake next time, he always did.
It was the same in adulthood. He would spend money without a care instead of budgeting like any other sensible person, confident he could win some money back on the football before his next wage. Yet he was a pathetic gambler who rarely won anything, and if he did, it would be a measly 20 or 30 pounds. He was often borrowing money as a result.
His stress levels are rising now, and before long he doesn’t know where he is, and turns to go back. He hesitates, all he can see is mist, and a faint yellow, circular glow where the sky should be. “Bring them back!” he cries. “Bring them back!”
He is answered by the gentle gust of a breeze as the yellow glow fades away.
An unnecessary necessary slab of torment and comfort,
making me feel guilty for the time I spend with her.
“Should I be feeling this way?” I ask.
“Yes,” she says.
She knows the answer to everything. Being ‘smart’, I suppose she would.
Black and bruised, cracked and hacked,
indented in my life, hand and jeans.
I feel lost without her, shackled yet free to leave whenever I want.
How did I ever manage without her, especially in my teens?
The keeper of all my memories and witness to private chat.
There used to be a silence between us but now she can talk back.
Just to me I hope, although I hear spies can listen in,
as long as it’s not my mother then I don’t really care… I think.
A friend and foe, an enemy of my time and a tunnel of escape.
The demon who trolls through my input and shows me lands far and warm,
she knows it’s wet and cold outside.
She’s seductive and clever and always on my side.
She’s a part of my body now, my hand face and ears,
a bit haggard and aged, a phone battling to keep its head high.
Her time has come and gone, been replaced and outsmarted,
a new one I should buy.
My relationship is one that if for one moment I think I have lost her forever.
I panic and get sad.
That’s how much she means to me,
yet I loathe her for making me feel so needy and bad
I dropped her once and spread the already webbed cracked screen.
On my laptop I searched for new models,
I’m not so stupid as to use my phone.
She would break her motherboard heart and would purposely wipe her own memory of me and that of her own.
She could live without me but not me without her.
We get along fine and, if I did not have one,
I would be frowned upon by society. I would end up having just real friends and not know the time or day.
I would book zero rated hotels and for train tickets too much I would pay.
I’d miss my birthday and that of others. I would not know how many times I am being liked.
I would not know if I should be building a nuclear fallout shelter.
Ok, yes, I admit it, I love my phone and most importantly, I can use it to see if I have spinach on my teeth or a bogie on my nose.
Luke was not a good guy, or at least that is what he thought. There he was, looking at her and thinking about what a good guy would say, but he could not think of anything. She was sitting next to him, he was sure there were a thousand things to say, but not even one that his brain could make his mouth formulate. The mere thoughts he had were vicious, her body, her smell, and his fantasy flew away. She looked at him, and he avoided meeting her eyes. When he got the courage to look back and ask a stupid question about the white noise from the radio channel, her eyes were not there, and the chance he thought he had gone forever. In his head, a line echoed ‘people come, and people go.’
Juan Moreno Diaz
Great Malvern, UK
Though she was in the next room, he laid me on the bed they shared and dressed me in her clothes. Listen, he said, and it was to the sound of her breath deep in sleep. Close your eyes, he said, and when I did it was to the dreams that she dreamed too, her hand in his, the touch of his lips, the words he whispered when they made love and the way he held her afterwards. It was the wash of salt water around her ankles, the rush of waves on a distant shore. Moisture in its continued absence, the tears he did not cry for her. Tell me, he said, and when I did it was of the feel of his lips on mine, his hands touching, holding me, eyes looking deep into my own. He ran his fingers through my hair. It smelt of spring and summer and of winter too. Tell me how it feels, he said, and I whispered in his ear and he gasped and said don’t stop. I told him that I would not. He pressed his thumb between my lips. Yes, he said, that, and when he was done we lay in each other’s arms. I listened to his soft breath, her sobs from the next room. Closed my eyes in the expectation of dreams but instead to an emptiness inside. I slipped from his arms and dressed in her robe. Sat at the dressing table and looked in the mirror and saw her face. Applied lipstick, makeup, perfume. Took the pillow and held it across her nose and mouth and pressed gently, lovingly. Eyes empty of all but the reflection of my own. I did not feel her struggle. Watched my own movements in the mirror and hers and his too. The space where I’d left him sleeping, the indentation in the pillow. Rain ran down the window pane, drops gathering on the newly budded rose leaves. I waited for one to fall, but was not sure that any did before the sun rose and burnt them away again.
South Wales, UK
We’re standing next to crashing waves. The sound of rushing water and the ferocious winds pushes against me, surrounds me, and leaves my heart beating hard. People say the waterfall is beautiful, but I’m small (no more than 4 feet) and all I see is an angry water monster ready to devour me. My little sister suddenly shouts--her hat has flown off her head and landed just next to the raging rapids. My dad runs recklessly after it, leaving me screaming in fear. I’m scared that he’ll be swept away by waves. I watch him climb down the slippery rocks and grab my sister’s hat. Then he climbs back up and laughs at my overreaction. My mom is recording. Perhaps now, 11 years later, I’m finally ready to go back.
Tales Of Mrs Magno
The other day it was my birthday. Mrs. Magno came to visit. It was a surprise and a strange occasion. She never comes on ordinary days.
No one knew, of course, that she was coming; that’s until I went out to share some of my birthday dishes, the buttered garlic shrimps and the pancit canton guisado with the pretty wife, our next door neighbor.
Mrs. Magno came down from the top floor, where her husband, Mr. Magno, keeps doves. I pretended I wasn't surprised. Our eyes met in an instant when she descended the stairs.
‘Hello, Mrs. Magno! I’m so glad to see you. It’s been too long since your last visit,’ I greeted her.
She stared at the plate of dishes I had given to the pretty wife.
I slowly moved closer to her and asked, ‘Would you like to have lunch with us? Ma’am Rachel is here. Please come. We will be happy to have you.’
‘Why? Is it your birthday?’ she answered.
I replied shyly, ‘Yeah, it’s my birthday. Let’s have lunch.’
‘Oh, Happy birthday, Lodit! But no, okay lang. Thank you, I can’t,’ she smiled, shyly refusing my invitation.
Instead, she ushered me to apartment number 1. She opened the door.
‘Why is the door open?’ I asked.
She replied, ‘Nakabukas eh? Look, how messy it is!’ she said.
‘Well, the kids are at work. All of them. No one stays here now. I never see them around,’ I replied.
‘Maybe you could to apply to be their house cleaner and get paid for it. Tell the occupants. I know you can do it, Lodit!’ She smiled like a witch.
‘Well,’ I smiled at her, ‘how about the both of us apply for the job. House cleaning is your expertise too, right? It will be fun working with you.’ I grinned back at her.
She was expressionless.
‘Lunch?’ I asked, breaking the silence.
‘No. Thank you, Lodit. Happy birthday!’ And she disappeared.
Sometimes, I take the role of a chef. Not the true chef, of course. Just a pretend chef to keep up my motivation with cooking. Pretensions are necessary for me to survive the challenge of cooking.
Yesterday, I had to fry around 3 kilograms or more of sea fish. My roommate had already marinated the fish with meager vinegar, kalamansi juice, salt, and umami. They were ready for deep frying.
I had to cook outside of our flat, next to the door opening, along the alley, going to the entrance downstairs, beside our little pots of the garden of greens. I cannot cook inside because the smell of the frying of fish sticks to the fabric. And that’s not good.
I brought along with me a little chair and a book; a science text entitled The Green Kingdom. I read while frying. Doing this meant that whilst doing a household chore I was also learning and entertaining myself at the same time.
While I was engrossed in reading and the fish were crackling in the frying pan, Mrs. Magno suddenly appeared.
‘What are you cooking?’ she asked.
‘Oh, Mrs. Magno, you’re here again. Where is Mr. Magno?’ I asked instinctively, out of astonishment.
‘He’ll be here soon when he recovers. He’s sick.’ She replied.
‘Covid case? I hope not.' Again, I could not contain my instinct.
‘Just your normal fever and body malaise,’ she replied. ‘Ano yan? Andami naman!’ she asked again about the deep-fried fish.
‘Yes, deep-fried fish. We bought it cheaply at the fish market this morning,’ I said, as I put aside the book I was reading.
‘How did you prepare it?’ she asked.
‘Ma’am Azel marinated it with vinegar, kalamansi juice, salt, and umami. Then I brought the cooking oil to boil before frying the tasty fish,’ I replied. ‘I’ve already cooked some. Would you like to have one?’ I asked her.
‘No, it’s okay,’ she smiled, ‘the smell is tasty.’
‘I don’t eat meat, Mrs. Magno,’ I informed her.
‘Ah, kaya pala. That is your secret to why you look younger than your age,’ she declared.
‘You look younger too at your age Mrs. Magno, even though you’re a meat eater,’ I replied. Her face cheered up, pleased with my reply.
‘Here, take this one,’ I gestured to the fried fish, which her eyes were glued upon.
‘No. It's okay, I already ate my lunch downstairs at the eatery. I’m so full.’
She looked at the book I was reading.
I said, ‘Ah, this one here is like the book I’m writing - nature and stuff.’ I held up the book, showing the contents to her. Her eyes brightened.
Then she looked up at the walls of the apartment building. Her eyes seemed to focus on the black dust, probably coming from the smoke of vehicles. ‘It needs repainting soon,’ she said.
‘Hmm, and that means you will kick us out!’ I said, laughing.
‘No! You stay here in my apartment, Lodit, forever! Dito ka lang,’ she replied, smiling. That really surprised me.
‘Why can’t you stay here too. Couldn’t you build a new room on the top floor?’ I asked.
‘Yes, that’s my plan. I’m waiting for the money. Additional rooms for rent and a room for me,’ she said.
‘Wow, that is a nice plan,’ I replied, for the lack of anything to say.
‘You know, Lodit, you should find a partner and get married.’ I expected this prodding again from her. It’s one of her favorite topics with me.
‘I’m okay with being single again, Mrs. Magno. I’m already done with marrying and all that stuff. I’m happier now. I can do lots of things I want. And writing demands most of the time being alone. Besides, why are you encouraging me to get married again when you’ve had a hard time yourself with Mr. Magno?’ I quipped.
Mrs. Magno smiled and fell silent.
‘Fish? It’s tasty, healthy, and anti-aging!’ I said, Mrs. Magno never protested this time. I wrapped one big fried fish for her in an aluminum foil.
‘I’ll give you a present this Christmas, Lodit,’ she said.
Against his flanks the rider pressed his heels and the horse knew the urgency asked of him without further need of whip nor spur. There was a sudden tightness in the rider’s legs, a purposeful poise in the position the rider took in his seat, a balance to the rider’s weight, and in the way the rider’s head was held close against his neck so that he could feel the rider’s breath calm against him. The horse began to race, for race was being asked of him. And now he saw ahead their rival. A brutish thing with silver flesh and a great snorting nostril blowing plumes of thick steam into the air, protruding from the top of its colossal head, as the blow-hole of the whale but with far less grace. It moved so fast that its rising breath trailed behind it as wild as the horse’s tail flowed behind him. It gurgled and clattered along its path, its feet a system of struts and wheels, as of the cart. Its legs were hidden beneath its incandescent flesh. Then the horse saw that this brutish creature carried its own rider, and that this rider was gesturing at him and smacking his lips as if to laugh. The horse, indignant, snorted and pounded the ground harder – faster - until dust rose behind him as steam behind his vice. The horse drew level with the silver beast and matched for a moment its pace. His rider offered him only gentle encouragement. The horse felt his heart thumping and breathed heavily into his expanding chest. His muscles worked with a strength beyond him, for he was running now on his rider’s passion and his own thrill. On the memories of his forebears – of the two Arabians, or the Turk who stood as stud for their racing kind. The silver brute fell behind, chugging and coughing and polluting the skies with its breath. So raucous was the brute that it seemed it would never catch its breath again, but die desperately choking for air. The horse rejoiced, for he had won. But it was curious, he found, for when he came to a halt panting and cold with sweat, his mouth foaming and his blood a marching band in his body, that same silver thing came coughing along at the same determined pace, and it seemed not a bit fatigued. It went on into the distance and scarce seemed to worry. Once its bloated shape was out of sight its breath lifted over the horizon to tell of its going still. And then the horse worried. He worried that every rider might find such a mount, as chugs and chuffs and doesn't go as fast as a horse, but doesn't ever need to stop for breath.
His rider patted his heaving shoulder and spoke in his human tongue, with pride immeasurable apart from in sin: "Well Lad, you showed him," and turned the horse for home.
I could say that the reason I wear full upper dentures is because of my years as a boxer.
Or, as I was doing 120 on Sunset Blvd, that I swerved as to not hit a baby bird and went though the windshield.
Or, in my years with the NHL, NFL, and WWE, took its toll at my teeth booth.
But that would be bullshit.
Poor hygiene, but they are as white as white can be.
They are so perfect and white that they look phony and that’s the way I like it, uh huh.
Or I could say that my time in prison was because I was P.O.W.
That would another lie. Working with bad company while working in a bad company was more like it. No, not like it, that was it.
I would love to say that my lower than Whale Shit credit rating is because I financed a dear friends heart operation with all my credit cards.
That would be a load of Horse Shit.
It was because I had to do my own two flopped like a flounder movies with my own money.
If I ever get arrested for domestic violence, I could argue that I live alone.
The reason I have pockmarks on my face is not because I ran into a burning building to save orphans., although, I have alluded to that.
And what’s this I hear about my car and that a man of a certain age should have better.
I’d like to say that it’s my daughter’s car and I loaned her my Jaguar, so she could take my Grandkids to a birthday party in style, but that would be misleading as this car is mine for the last 18 years and no oil changes.
It’s incredibly thrilling to be at a smart dinner party and drop, ”I went to Harvard”, Yet, I must say I went to public schools.
Public Toilet schools.
My body, my heart, my hair, and my brain are working out and looking good So.
Having said that. I have at this point, must be honest with you.
You’re going to have to take me, as is, and never was.
The walls of the room I was waiting in were dark green; the ceiling a fading white. The single window was small and barred. It was quite dark inside, as not much light was let in; the darkness of dusk.
A painting hung on this wall. It was very large - nearly eight feet long and five wide. A soft light above it highlighted the details. It depicted a landscape and was so exquisitely wonderful that an effort was required not to reach out and touch the dewdrops painted therein. I took a deep breath expecting to smell the roses. I wouldn’t have been surprised if butterflies had flown out of it.
The landscape portrayed what seemed to be the corner of a large garden. There were beds of various gorgeous flowers there – red, white, yellow, blue.
The left side of the canvas was occupied by a tree. Its brown and speckled trunk and the vast expanse of leaves were partly seen. The green was greatly soothing to my eye.
It did not take a vivid imagination to picture the whole tree. On doing so, there was a distinct impression that it was very large. Under this partly seen mammoth, its fallen leaves were scattered on the new grass. A red flower among them rapidly drew my attention back to the tree. The flowers were seen on a closer look. They were nearly hidden by its dense foliage. I felt a twinge of regret along with a wish that the artist had set up his easel or his mind at another spot from where the flowers would have been clearly visible.
There was a pool, too. It was not too large. There were beautiful lotus flowers in it. They were pink and white.
As my eyes moved from the left to the right, the squirrel on a branch was not missed. The little fellow was perched up on its hind legs. It was holding something in its forelegs- a nut?
There was another tree on the lower edge of the landscape; a smaller one. What drew my attention to it was not its trunk or its leaves and flowers. It was the small boy who had climbed up and was perched on one of its stout branches. His fingers were curled into the shape of binoculars and he was looking through them. Going by his line of sight, he could have been studying the birds near the pool. He could have been drawn to something in the thicket; maybe, the birds or the flowers in the trees.
And while my mind was debating this, there was the sound of steps and the door leading to the interior of the house opened.
R G Kaimal
Caught In A Net
I was running, my feet pounding beneath me, the blood rushing through my veins. As I ran, I surveyed my surroundings vivid and slightly blurred by my speed. On one side of the path there was a row of trees and on the other below me was a river. As I ran further, a pool of rubbish caught my eye. It was moving. Moving but not in a normal way, not caused by current but by something underneath. I pulled to a stop and surveyed the writhing mass. Bubbles were coming up from underneath. I heard a gurgled cry and the blood froze in my veins; someone was stuck underneath.
Suddenly, the mass went still. I didn’t think; I just dived in ignoring the coldness of the water and diving under, my eyes open but unable to see through the grime filled liquid. I couldn’t discern anything; brown murk filling my vision. I moved forwards under the mass of plastic groping out in front of me trying to find the cause of the noise I had just heard moments before, trying to save whoever it was. My hands hit a mass. A body, a child’s body. I pulled at it but it didn’t move; it was stuck. My lungs were screaming at me for air. If I stayed much longer neither of us would survive. I gave one last tug and the child came loose. I battled my way to the end of the float of plastic, my blood singing in my numb ears as if crying out for oxygen. I pushed to the surface and gulped in the air a little boy now in my arms.
I struggled back to the bank, hauling the child up with me and collapsed. After a few seconds I had regained some of my senses. I turned over the child. He was small, probably 7. My breath caught as I saw him. He looked... no he couldn’t be. I pressed my fingers to his pulse but came back with nothing. “No,” I gasped, my eyes still stinging from the water flooding with tears. How could something so pure and innocent be dead? A beautiful angel ensnared in a net, a fish caught in a stream. As I pressed my hands to his wet cold temple, his wet blonde hair covered in mud and debris, I swear I saw scales augmenting his pale neck, glistening in the sunlight. He was just another fish caught in a net, a net of polluted plastic we put in place.
East Sussex, England
Learn To Love The Down
“Your drinking is getting out of hand.” But actually, I found I had begun to handle it quite well.
I’d been at the steel factory for about eight months when I collapsed from acute liver failure.
My supervisor came over with my timesheet, asking the guys what time I caved, so he could clock me out. Then he called the ambulance.
I woke up prepared for panic and tears but all I got was, “I told you that you had a drinking problem, you said your piss was the colour of cola”
“No, I don’t and that was the one time.”
“Well, you drank that wine at eleven in the morning, didnt you? And now look at you!”
“But it was Valentine’s Day.”
It was already too late. “Your’e in denial,” she said.
“No, I aint!” And a doctor was nowhere in sight.
They were going to carry out blood tests but then the nurse couldn’t find my mainline.
He slapped my arm and after several attempts my skin bruised purple and little holes filled it.
“You’ll probably be fine anyway,” he said.
“Yeah, it’s one of them, aint it?”
The morning after, my Irish friend came in to see me. He mentioned we’d have coffee and I got my hopes up. But then something about a “moral compass kicking in” had made him leave the hipflask in the car. I’d already dropped the coins in by the time I noticed the coffee machine needed stocking up - and so we drank decaf.
Three days of daytime telly passed, when a nurse came into the room and handed me a letter addressed to my name. It read that I had to return and work off my four week notice period or else they wouldn’t give me my money. Next time, I’ll have to sort myself out and try harder - at least pass out after payday.
Light Of My Life
Five Years Ago
Five years ago, I had a heart attack and almost died. Home from the hospital, I got into the cozy bed my dear wife had made with many throws and pillows and went to sleep. In the middle of the night, I changed position and my arm rested on her waist. She snuggled up to me and we spooned. I said, “This feels good.” She answered in a language I did not understand. Eyes still shut, I asked, “Why are you babbling?” She answered in that weird language again. Startled awake, I sat up and looked at her. She wasn’t there. I muttered to myself, “What a weird dream!” and went back to sleep.
I recounted the dream to my wife the next morning. She laughed and said, “Honey, we haven’t slept together in the
same bed for years. The pain killer is having a weird effect on you.” Moments later, she asked “What language was I speaking?” I said, “I don’t know. It sounded like Russian.”
A Year Ago
A year ago, I had my second heart attack and almost died. Home from the hospital, I got into the cozy bed my dear wife had made with many throws and pillows and went to sleep. In the middle of the night, I changed position and my arm rested on her waist. She snuggled up to me and we spooned. I said, “This feels good,” and remarked she had a tennis player’s body. Turned on, I turned her head around to kiss her lips. There was no face. All I saw was a bright light where the face should have been. But the rest of the body was lithe and toned and tanned - Anna Kournikova in her prime. “What the fuck?” I ripped the sheets off and sat upright. No Anna, no nothing.
I recounted the dream to my wife the next morning. She laughed and said, “You always had a thing for Anna.”
Last night, I had my third heart attack. In the middle of the night, I changed position and my arm rested on her waist. She snuggled up to me and we spooned.
“Рад, что ты наконец-то здесь (Glad you are finally here),” she said.
“Я рада, что я здесь (I’m glad I’m here),” I said.
“хотел бы я видеть твое лицо (Wish I could see your face),” she said.
“побалуй себя (Treat yourself),” I said and turned her head around so she could see my face.
“Без лица. Просто яркий свет (no face, just a bright light),” she said.
Buckeye, AZ, USA
Abebe wanted to be a poet. Poetry speaks of flowers, she told her mother who smiled and went back to preparing the wat. She wanted to give her voice to the meadows. The meadows were alive with flowers after the months of rain. The world was alive but it couldn’t tell anyone because no one had given it words to speak.
When she was a small child, there was an old man who would sit in the shade of a large tree near the well and sing poems. There was nothing she would rather do than sit and listen to his voice. Her mother told her she was being useless and wasting her time, but the inflections rising and falling made her feel as if she was riding on the clouds.
One day he asked her what her name was.
“Abebe,” she answered. “It means rare flower.”
“I know that,” said the old man. He began a song about a mountain flower that was more beautiful than any in the world. A young man sought it out, not to pluck it, but to lie down beside it and inhale its perfume. But to reach the flower on the mountain, the young man had to endure many trials and tests.
Before the poem could end, the old man vanished.
Long after the village had been torn apart by warring factions, and after her mother wandered off into the sand to find help for her young brother and never returned, and after the flies had closed his eyes, Abebe made her way to a camp where an Irishman bandaged her feet. He sent her to a place that was so cold the constant rain ate into her bones.
Her teachers did not take her poetry seriously, especially when she wrote about a doll she owned. Her mother made it for her. The rag baby was dressed in flowers, and though it always appeared dead when someone else held it, Abebe knew it sang to her in whispers.
“Do you still have it?” the teacher asked.
“No,” she said as she wept. “Only its words.”
He feels the familiar tingling in his loins as the engines pull up beside the blazing building. With growing excitement, he watches the firefighters run out their hoses, ladders unfolding as they creep slowly up the side of the building. Then he sees a girl at the window, arms waving in terror as the flames lick hungrily around her pyjama-clad body. He moans as her terrified screams echo across the night sky. As his thrill heightens arms reach out to her, pluck her from the blazing ledge. He scowls, his body stiffening then… nothing. There are fewer thrills now, it all ending too quickly as bodies are snatched from a burning inferno by this new breed of firefighter. It had been more satisfying once, poorly equipped engines, ladders and hose reels hardly able to reach the upper floor windows. He had watched with mounting excitement as bodies had become totally engulfed by the flames. But now he had his little machine. Now he could replay their drawn out, haunting cries of anguish. He had dozens of tapes, neatly stacked and labelled on the shelves in his poky little bedsit. He would sit with Patsy in the evening and listen to them, Patsy turned on by the blood-curdling cries. But now she was gone, lured away by the pervert Kenny with his chains and manacles. But he did not miss her. Alone he could take time to savour every moment, listen to every last thrilling haunting scream until there was nothing but silence to fill his tormented mind...
He watches again as the flames climb the building, white hot fingers reaching ever higher up the drab, concrete flats. He is about to leave, the sounds he so longs for becoming out of reach of his machine. But then something catches his eye, a tiny figure perched high on one of the narrow window ledges. He watches, fascinated as the firefighter calls out to her. He feels his throat contract, his body stiffen once more as she pauses for a second before...He moans with ecstasy as she falls, her body tumbling over and over like a broken doll, her cry bouncing off the concrete walls. He feels the tension ebb from him as she smashes in to the pavement below.
He is back in his dingy bedsit, grubby fingers sifting through his recordings, splicing and editing. He sees again the girl, hears her last despairing cries. He kisses the tape before placing it carefully back on the shelf. He is tired now, his body sated as he slumps gratefully onto his filthy mattress. Tomorrow he will start again, another carefully placed piece of kindling, a splash or two of fuel...
He sleeps deeply. So deeply he does not hear the siren, does not smell the smoke sliding beneath his door as it seeks to extract its terrible revenge.
To the Wild
“Fucking gross,” he muttered about the hair in his soup, which was otherwise comprised of water, spinach leaves, various spices, and the charred mutilated remains of a creature that several days prior had been enjoying the soft tingling sensation of a warm current, and though it may not have had the means to fully understand what it felt, had surely felt it. That should count for something, she thought. She was no vegetarian, but she did sometimes wonder if it was only because there were limits on the amount of suffering the human mind can fathom. Someone dies every second. Feet can crush bugs in a grassy field, you kill little bacteria when you shower, your cells are perpetually dying and being replaced. Life is an endless parade of invisible funerals, empathy has its limits - like now, she thought to herself as he somehow continued to complain. His hair had a bucket of gel in it; she wondered if it would upset a shark’s digestive system. She imagined how he would fare as a hunter-gatherer (not well). To distract herself from his next rant, she bit on her tongue and tried to taste it, and after, wondered what his would taste like. Deep-fried. Animals, she thought, both of us, just animals until the day we die - but what would it mean to live?
In that moment, it began to take root. She was human, but she wanted to forget it for a little while. She wanted to roam free among the wild fields and lush forests and the unyielding parade of life and death. She wanted to feel like the animal she was. There, on that hectic New York night, she began to seriously consider living in the woods.
First, though, she had to interrupt him and go the restroom, which actually meant leaving. Nature is cruel.
On the way out, she passed the lobster tank. Sad little captive aliens, claws bound, awaiting harvest. She gently pressed the tips of her fingers against the glass, and looked into the beady little eyes of the closest one. She hoped all the wants and desires of their little crustacean brain had been satisfied by life up to that point, even if an undignified demise was inevitable. You matter, she thought, little sea monster, you matter.
His evening wasn’t as transformative. He waited ten minutes, paid the bill, thought about the shocking number of freaks in this world, and returned to his modern life.
The Vanished Half
If I held my breath for you, I would have died a thousand times. If digging were to show you, I’m sure I’d have hit bedrock by now. A blend of condensation and cigarette smoke billows from my mouth and drifts upward towards the moon as I stand knee deep in snow. I would have moved mountains to keep your lips from that sharp kiss, on thigh and wrist. To be gone only 3 hours and to return to emptiness, to nothing. I search for you without searching, hoping not to find you in bars and restaurants, but in the deepest reaches of my mind. Once found, I’ll cut you out, I’ll plunge a knife into my skull, and roughly outline you, like removing a tumour, I’ll carve out the infected area and discard it. You left me with a curse, of memory, of concern. Where are you? Our vow of eternal life was said to one another, without you I am half of a whole. I’ve already waited for two hundred years for the vanished half. I can’t wait any longer.
“Got any beans?” the voice rasped from behind a shadowy alcove in an empty shopfront.
A year ago, I might have thought I was hearing a hungry vegan begging for a few lentils. That was before an Amazonian tribesman announced at the United Nations that the development of coffee plantations was killing the rainforest. Soon after that a social media movement called #banbeans had sprung up. It not only argued for the banning of coffee to save the rainforests but also argued that its effects were addictive and making people sick causing anxiety, insomnia and heart issues.
When once you could strike a business deal or start your day with a cup of freshly ground, people were now afraid to admit that they ever drank it. Of course, this didn’t affect the drinkers, it just drove up prices and drove us all underground. Since the illegalisation of coffee, and the almost simultaneous legalisation of marijuana, “a kilo of Columbia’s finest” has taken on a whole new meaning.
Just for the record, I’ve never taken anything illegal in my life. But I’ve been drinking coffee for as long as I can remember. I certainly never meant to become a dealer. I stocked up as soon as the ban was announced, and very soon friends knew that I had a pantry full of instant. Some of them told their friends and before I knew it strangers were offering to buy jars of coffee at ridiculously inflated prices. At the same time, I found myself out of work and unskilled. After all, there’s not much call for baristas these days.
My circle of friends and acquaintances quickly grew. It wasn’t long before I was sought out by some coffee growers from the country who had the product, but not the contacts. They hadn’t intended to get into this game either. They were just farmers who suddenly found themselves with a hillside of illegal substances. Or so they said.
One contact called Rod didn’t exactly look squeaky clean. He introduced himself to me in an email, saying he was a grower and suggesting that we meet face to face. He nominated that we meet up in a tea house. I can’t stand the stuff but went anyway. Rod wore a leather jacket, rode a Harley Davidson and bore a scar down his left cheek which was partly covered with stubble.
This wasn’t so much a business transaction as a warning to get off his patch. Rod was setting up shop and he didn’t want any competition. Seeing a sudden flash of a knife blade under the table while sipping on a cup of Earl Grey was enough to get me worried. I was forced to give him the names of my most regular customers, just to get out of the tearoom in one piece.
So, when a raspy voiced stranger asked me if I have any beans, the safe answer would have been “no”. Even though I have a shed full of the stuff in the backyard. But, when you’ve got commitments to buy a constant supply of beans, your customers keep shifting to the competition, and there’s bills to pay, it can be tempting.
You never know who you can trust nowadays.
“Have I got any beans? Yeah, sure. How many shots do you need?”
Apart from Myself
Apart from myself, who am I? Trying to pull myself forwards, while all the time pushing myself back. Who can blame Orpheus for not doing what was easier said?
I tread on and on, trying to look forward, being drawn back on myself. Is it sentiment? This longing that short changes me?
I tiptoe through life, routine after routine, instead of chasing after it. Letting it get away from me. Disconsolate with consolation. I’d love to lie down in the centre of an artic desert, reading the constellations, but I couldn’t bear the cold. I’d love to stand at the precipice of a mountain and take in the air, but I couldn’t stand the heights. I’d love to fly into space and see the world from above, but I’d be too claustrophobic.
I’ve no destination in life. I just drift from day to day. But I can’t even do that without steadying myself.
The stairs become harder. As if my very density’s dissuading me. I climb one-foot-in-front-of-the-other. Slowly reaching the top. Gravitating towards the dark cavernous opening, where I wade towards my bed and collapse into it. Setting myself adrift. Drifting apart from myself. All at sea. Swaying on the sheets. Tossed by my squalling consciousness.
Apart from myself I’m no-one. Just me. On my own. A lighthouse. Searching. My thoughts orbiting. Fast, then slow. Fast, then slow. Decoding. Dot, dash, dash. Dot, dash, CRASH. The waves crash against me. Unprovoked, but against me. I stand defiant. Taking whatever it throws. Then settling. Settling. Sleep takes me. Then takes me apart.
Apart from myself. Who am I?
These few things. Light that shimmered in a heat haze as if in its falling dappled through the trees it had become less real, how it danced over the still flowering bluebells, dandelion seeds that drifted in clouds through the still, warm air. The tumble of water over pebbled stones, a sky that was always clear, steps taken until the count of how many became as if an abstract thing. The colour of her hair which was as dark as her skin was pale, eyes that might have been blue or green or emerald or sometimes all at once. It was the cool of her touch when she took my hand and led me through first shocking and then deliciously cold water. Days that were warm, days that were more so, though it was impossible that there could have been so many. The stove on which we baked Welsh cakes, bread, warmed beans and vegetables and stews. Daisy chains worn as if we had some claim over the small world we inhabited, though ever in thrall to the changing weather, the ebb and flow of the seasons. Despite that it was always spring and there were always bluebells budding, dandelions and crocuses and tulips. When the moon filled the sky we danced in the meadow, afterwards so tired that it would feel as if it had been forever. When I drifted off to sleep the divide between waking and sleep would be as if a very fine thing. When she whispered her name in my ear it was because now I would forget. But listen, she said. Feel, and placed a hand onto a belly that registered just the faintest ripple of movement. The ghost of what had been, the memory of what would. Still, she said, still, although I had been, because I would not. Listen, she said, listen, though I did not know to what. The rush of the wind through the trees. The meaningless chatter of water in the stream. The cry of a songbird that had once been beautiful but now just marked the violent demarcation of its territory.
South Wales, UK
Making Peace With Dandelions
Leaving the house after so long, I can't shake the feeling I have forgotten something. I rummage through my bag, but all the important things are there, purse, keys, spare mask. Good to go then.
As I start the car, the low fuel light comes on, and then the low tire pressure light, alternating in flashing neon, like the start of a migraine. I realize I will have to sort it out now, and this starts the tears again. The radio is tuned to your favorite station, the BBC World Service; a deep voice speaks over my whimpering, "A song can make you an alcoholic or a revolutionary." This is so preposterous I let out a bark of laughter, and I'm shocked by the sound.
I change channels, a bright female voice says, "Dandelions get a bad press. In fact, they are spectacular. Their petals--a lion's mane roaring, magically turning into fairy wings as...". A man with clipped tones interrupts her, "Very poetic, I'm sure, but they do ruin your lawn." And immediately you are back from the dead—fighting the dandelions, spraying poison like a demented monk sprinkling holy water. I tried to get you to be more environmentally friendly, mixing up a solution of water and vinegar. It proved ineffective, and it left behind a lingering smell of disappointment that, with all your chemicals, you couldn't banish. Looking over at the grass now, I know you would be proud--it is a green carpet, lush, and oh so dull.
For the last forty years, I have never gone anywhere without my hand in yours. But thinking about it now, your fingers were always cold in mine, dampening me down.
I feel skittish like a horse without a bridle as I get out of the car and walk over to the verge. I select a giant dandelion clock and wish as I blow away the tiny, white parachute seeds. They dance like the blessing of a new beginning before settling all over your perfect lawn.
Wilton, Connecticut, USA
An 11-Part Mini Saga of the Girl in the Box
Week 1 (Introduction)
In some distant far-flung land lived a girl in a box...
The girl hardly remembered her parents or how she ended up in a box. Every time she asked, she was ignored or rebuked. The only people she knew were her caretakers, but she never saw them since they dwelled outside the box. Under their special attention, the girl thrived and bloomed.
Life inside the box was dark and lonely. She was deprived of human touch, love, and companionship. Once she attempted to lift the box cover, only to find it sealed tight. That’s when she learned that leaving the box was forbidden. But why was it forbidden?
Every day, through a little hole in the box, she would peep and conjure up imaginations and fantasies of the world outside. The girl would imagine herself romping along the verdant hills, gazing at the clear azure sky above. She would think about seeing the flamboyant colors of cities, the aromatic smells and tastes of palatable dishes, the noisy sound of chattering humans, and most of all, she pondered whether she would be welcomed. She knew she was different. The mere thought of acceptance both captivated and terrified her. Her desire to leave was almost upon her, when she remembered her confinement.
Curiosity was the girl’s most prominent trait.
“You will soon know,” they said.
“She is a special girl,” said her caretaker.
“Her deeds will make history!” cried another.
“She will be famous and people will remember her,” concurred a third.
This mysterious conversation puzzled the girl. She had never done anything worth acknowledging. What could they be talking about?
The girl did not have to search for an answer. A day after she overheard the conversation, she was told that she was allowed to go outside. The girl’s heart leaped for joy. Now she had the opportunity to explore the world. This was the most exciting moment of her life.
The girl was released in the woods. While she explored, she stumbled upon a village. She entered the village and received a warm welcome. She mingled with the villagers and spent the night there.
The next morning, the girl discovered carnage. She fled in terror. She sought shelter in a nearby community only to find death the next morning. The girl could not understand.
The girl roamed far and wide in search of food and shelter. Many times she was turned down and she knew no reasons. She longed for her box. However, she forgot her way home; now she is lost and all alone.
Disillusioned, the girl wanders the ends of the earth claiming lives without remorse. She has realized her purpose and has become good at it. People will remember her as a scourge that plagued the world. This is her new life, the crowning glory of Veerus, the girl in the box.
Stefanie Kate Watchorna
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
Great Malvern, UK
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
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.