Due to personal issues this project and all others associated with Kind of a Hurricane Press are closed indefinitely. All work that has already been published will remain live on the site. All work that was accepted but has not been published is now released back to the author. All print copies and issues will remain available through their current sales channels.
Saturday, July 23, 2016
Monocle is for M
The little bell tinkles a half-tone brighter when Maximilian walks in. He dresses like an English gent, but his is not English. Nor is he wearing the monocle when he enters the tea shop. As if flourishing a cape, he strolls with drama, elongated arm swings aside his lengthy strides. He has no cape, but the finely-tailored suit would look so-much-the-better if he had. His crisp shirts are monogrammed on the pocket, an M bookended by fleurs-de-lis. There's even a special pocket in the pocket for the monocle.
Ask him his name and he'll answer it fully, neither Max or Maxi. Friends may call him M, yet he's never brought a friend to the tea shop. He leaves with one quite often.
He and I have a standing joke. It comes after I ask what kind of tea he wants. "Oolong," he says, rattling off the country of origin he prefers that day. M knows tea and the perfect steeping time fore each variety, but he loves this little moment. I'll ask him how many minutes the Shui Xian should steep? "Ooo. Long." He says and laughs his one loud ha.
Now the monocle. It glints from his pocket; the half arch of lens, ringlet and chain, protruding like a tethered sunrise. M sweeps his manicured pinkie under the slack of chain, then, reeling in his catch, pinches the ringlet at the apex of its arc. M holds the monocle in brief concentration to read the chalked list of fresh baked goods. Warm butter cookies are his favorite, and no other sweets seem to tempt him.
Except the ladies.
M sits at the tiny table farthest from the door, and adjusts the fold of the linen napkin. He moves the teaspoon, cup and saucer to their proper places and waits for the teapots. Two of them. At the very peak of steep, he strains leaves by pouring from one pot to the other. I can see his lips move beneath the pencil-thin mustache, a silent chant to accompany transfer of liquids. As the stream reduces to a meager trickle, his eyes close with reverence. To the empty pot he nods thanks, the same to the full. The sacrament closes with one last embellishment: M takes the monocle and holds it over the steaming pot of tea. With a figure-eight motion, which is either a sign of infinity or the most efficient method to fog the lens, he oscillates the eyepiece, and cleans it with his spotless handkerchief.
M twists the monocle into the squint below his bushy brow, and eyes the patrons in the tea shop, lingering on each woman. I quietly remove the empty pot and place the top on the full one. M rests his fingertips gently atop the vessel as one might the planchette of a Ouija board. A pleased grin curls his cheeks, his long lashes flick the monocle. The tea remains uncupped until one woman meets his eye.
Only then he pours.
DL Shirey has had several fiction and non-fiction pieces published, most recently in Zetetic, Unbound Octavo and The Literary Hatchet. He writes from Portland, Oregon, where it's now raining, most likely. You can find more of his writing at http://bit.ly/DLShirey.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
2 teens sneak into funeral home. Open caskets. Never return. Dead bodies didn't scare them. The live one with fangs did.
Denny E. Marshall has had art, poetry, and fiction published. Some recently. See more at www.dennymarshall.com
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Every day, it was eggs. Boiled eggs. Not scrambled, poached or fried, not even an omelette. Jerry could have dealt with that, but no. Every day, she ate boiled eggs. The pinprick in the rounded end, the fast boil, the perfectly timed three minute simmer. The unvarying, inviolate quality of sacred ritual. It made him nervous.
"I like eggs," she said, when he insisted on explanations. As if anything was that simple.
He became worried about the violence of it: the crushing of their flecked brown skulls with the back of her teaspoon, the deliberate picking away of their protective shell, the exposure of their soft inner flesh.
"Would you smash my head in like that?" he asked. "Sprinkle salt on my brains and eat them?"
She gave this some thought while yolk dripped from her lips and nausea tightened in his throat. "I suppose so," she said, "if I was hungry enough. We do whatever it takes to stay alive. And sometimes life demands sacrifices."
Jerry looked away. He didn't like it when she talked like this. She never used to. When he met her she was sweet and golden and pliable, and she looked at him like he was a hero. She told him her name was Iku. She said it meant "nurturing" in Japanese. He thought that was sweet, too.
"I think you were a witch in a previous life," he said. "Making voodoo dolls, souring milk and cursing your neighbors."
"A previous life," she said, and laughed. He didn't like it when she laughed at him. Especially when he couldn't see what was funny.
She didn't answer to Iku anymore, and she didn't treat him like a hero.
She put down her spoon. "The eggs are symbolic," she said. "I am consuming possibilities, filling my belly with potential. By making the egg part of my body. I am assured of regeneration. I am eternally fecund."
This is how she talked to him now. Fecund. Was he supposed to know what that meant? The word made him feel more nauseated than the eggs.
"What happened to you?" he asked.
She might have looked sad, but he might have imagined it. "What always does," she said.
You scare me, he thought.
"I know," she said, and cracked another egg.
Michelle Ann King was born in East London and now lives in Essex. She writes mostly speculative fiction and has published short stories in over sixty different venues, including Strange Horizons and Interzone. Her first collection, Transient Tales, is available in ebook and paperback now. See www.transientcactus.co.uk for details.
Sunday, July 17, 2016
It was a week after the house-clearers had done their job that Chirwell realized he had forgotten to remove Auntie Lenya's tin from under the stairs.
It was a biscuit tin, and once upon a time, in bright colors, had shown the inches-deep ford that carried the main street across a nineteen thirties' English village green. The colors had long ago faded and the tin was scratched and somewhat dented. The lid still fitted, with a little persuasion, but the hinges, thin strips of metal cut out of the lid and inserted through slits punched into the body of the tin, had given up the ghost.
It had been part of his fifties childhood. Hollow-cast toy soldiers made of lead had been billeted there. Farm animals had been shedded there, briefly, when the wars were over. Then, pens and pencils, and a pencil sharpener. It had followed Chirwell to university, and had been rescued from the wreckage of his first marriage, when little else was. For a short time it had served as a lunchbox. It had stood on shelves, mantelpieces, and coffee tables--still retaining, to the most sensitive nostrils, a faint tang of "certain substances" that had resided in it during the early eighties. It had passed into cupboards, and after that to the top of the wardrobe in the spare bedroom. Finally, it had been buried on the narrow ledge besdie the electricity meter beneath the stairs. Whey there, you might ask? There had never been any thought, in Chirwell's mind, of throwing it out.
It's a family heirloom, he told his wife. I can't just abandon it. Heirloom wasn't the word she would have used, but she understood.
The house was still empty, and still theirs. It was just a matter of driving over. They could make a day of it, take a picnic, visit the park they used to take the kids to. That was better, surely, than driving four hours, there and back, purely to retrieve an old biscuit tin.
As they drove down the motorway, Chirwell remembered the last time he had looked inside it. Lifting it down from the wardrobe, which was going to a furniture charity because they were having built-in storage installed. He had realized from the weight that there was something inside. He hadn't remembered putting anything in it when it had gone up on the wardrobe. Something had moved too, like nuts and bolts or screws maybe. He had laid it on the spare bed and prized the lid off.
It was jewelry. Not a treasure trove. Not even what you'd call costume jewelry. It was just old necklaces and beads, and bangles you'd wear on your wrist, or would have done a couple of decades before, if you'd been his mother. They weren't worth anything, he was pretty sure of that, but he could remember finding them in a cardboard tray that must have been the bottom of a box that something had come in. He'd been clearing his mother's house and had taken the tray home and had tipped the contents into the tin. And sitting on the bed in the spare room with the tin beside him, suddenly the recollection of sitting on the bed in his mother's empty bedroom was so strong he could feel it in his muscles, and he shifted himself into exactly the position he had taken then, twisting his left shoulder forward, and drawing his right leg up slightly, easing himself into the past.
They're not likely to have taken it, he said, meaning the house-clearers, meaning the tin.
They're not even likely to have seen it, his wife said. And they gave each other one of those looks that married couples have when they're making it up as they go along in front of children, or relatives, or friends.
But the house-clearers were professionals, and they had missed nothing. The tin was gone. He rang, of course, but it wasn't listed among the items set aside for auction. Nobody spoke the word landfill, but that, presumably, was its fate, contents and all.
The memory though, of sitting on the bed with the cardboard tray, didn't go away again.
Brindley Hallam Dennis is an English writer of short stories. He lives on the edge of England within sight of three mountain tops and a sliver of Solway Firth. He blogs at www.bhdandme.wordpress.com/ and can be found on Vimeo at BHDandMe
Friday, July 15, 2016
The Moon-Faced Girl
Maddy enjoyed her work in the cosmetics department of a large city department store, but her enthusiasm towards closing time that Saturday was already waning when she spotted a pair of women approaching her station. She guessed a mother and her moon-faced daughter.
"Helnnhho?" -- oh god, a speech impediment.
"Yes, how can I help you?"
"Itsth my daughter (nngh). Sthie's getting m-m-marjiennd n wantsth to loo'good."
"Well, congratulations. . ."
Maddy looked at the moon-faced girl, and the moon-face stared back vacantly. Brisk efficiency was the only solution, so she set to work.
"Ok. Looking at your complexion and face shape, I'd suggest something subtle--just to lift your color and make you look radiant. I would avoid bright tints and too much sculpting (or you'll end up looking like a circus clown, she thought to herself). . .Some foundation, a light blush, maybe some eyeliner to enhance your eyes. . ." Maddy reached down a selection of products ready to close a sale but, seeing a pair of blank looks, her heart sank. This would take more effort.
"Do you want me to show you?"
Nods of acknowledgment, and Maddy guided the moon-faced girl toward the make-up stool.
It was late in the afternoon, and the store seemed quieter than usual. Maddy glanced at her watch as she donned her latex gloves, hoping these would be her last of the day. She took out her selection of brushes.
"Do you have a good make-up kit at home?"
A shake of the moon-faced head was the reply.
"So, you'll need pads and brushes--we have all of those things here . . . Can you see in the mirror? So this is your foundation . . . Just applying gently to even out your skin tone . . ."
Maddy started work with her soft brushes but the moon-face had a large area to cover. She had to stifle a giggle, imagining herself having to call in DIY for a wide paintbrush or roller, but soon began to wonder if she would actually be able to finish before closing time.
How could she have underestimated the moon-face?
Maddy worked on and on, but her arms were beginning to ache. The make-up stool was already at its lowest setting but she was struggling. Maddy fetched the step on wheels that the cosmeticians use for reaching the higher shelves, but that forehead still seemed to be beyond reach. With as steady a voice as she could muster, she tried to keep everything as normal and routine as possible.
"Can you see how it goes on? Just gentle strokes . . ."
It was no good. Maddy would have to fetch the ladder from the stockroom. It seemed there was no-one around--nobody she could call for help. Her footsteps echoed on the shiny floor. She felt stupid and ridiculous, as if it was her first apprentice day on the job.
The ladder wasn't made for the shiny shop floor and it felt wobbly and unsafe, but Maddy persisted.
"You want to make sure you have a complete covering, otherwise you'll end up blotchy or with your make-up looking like a mask, and we don't want that . . ."
She was still having to reach upwards on that moon-face. It was a large store, but the space seemed to be shrinking in relationship to the scale of the task at hand.
"So, now you're starting to look radiant already . . ."
The moon-face shimmered, and the neon lights in the department dimmed. Little flakes of foundation were falling away from the moon-face, making it look rougher and more cratered the closer you looked. Maddy was a perfectionist and so this was intolerable.
"You might find there is some movement on the skin, so you can tidy up any imperfections with . . . a . . . smaller brush . . . See?"
She worked on. The shop illuminations around her shrank as the moon-face became ever more dominant. Maddy felt herself lost in a constellation of gently flickering points of light.
There was no longer any sensation of ground beneath her. The moon-face was her only place of orientation, but in engulfed her in its magnitude.
"Now, you'll want just a little bit of color . . . to lift . . . the look . . ."
But there was no color, just blinding whites and silvery edges. Motes of bright dust lay suspended in the air, their reflections competing with ever more distant starlights in their velvet infinity of blackness.
Maddy thought she heard a voice calling from the far distance.
"Don' forget tho do the Thea of Tranquilithy . . ."
Dominy Clements studied composition and flute at the Royal Academy of Music in London from 1983 to 1987, moving to the Netherlands in 1987 to study with Louis Andriessen at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague. His opera, An Enlightened Disciple of Darkness, was performed at the Nargen Festival in Tallinn in 2013, a work celebrating the life of Bernhard Schmidt (1879-1935), inventor and designer of a lens which revolutionized astronomy in the early 20th century. He is currently employed as manager Career Deveolpment Office of the Royal Conservatoire, works as a freelance writer, translator and musician, and has had numerous stories published as a writer of fiction.
Friday, July 8, 2016
A Grave Matter
"I got the job, Dad. I came here to tell her about it."
Dad gave her a hug. "Of course. She's part of the family."
They turned to go. As a small child Lucy had asked him what the mound in the field was, and why the tractors always went round it.
"It's Celtic barrow. A grave for an important person." Lucy knew about graves because of visiting Nana in the peaceful churchyard. She named the person in their barrow Izzy. As the summers passed, she sprawled in the grass that covered the burial chamber, and confided her secrets to Izzy.
She imagined Izzy no older than herself, asleep in the comforting dark, surrounded by homely belongings. Lucy kept her most treasured possession on her windowsill, a shard of Celtic pottery she had found in a newly ploughed field.
Dad told her more about the Parisi tribe. Hundreds of years before the Romans conquered England, the Celtic Parisi arrived from France, settling in the chalk uplands that edged the vale of York and the wetlands that stretched east to the sea.
One day Dad said, "When I'm out here on my own, I feel them keeping me company."
"Like ghosts, you mean?"
He ruffled her hair. "Nothing so dramatic, petal. They farmed here, just like me and your mum. Their kids helped with the harvest, like you and Tom. They probably grew wheat too." He gestured at the rippling hills that surrounded the village. "The Romans called this the breadbasket of the north."
"Did they eat sandwiches like we do?"
Dad considered. "I don't know. Maybe. People will always need to eat, so someone will farm this land in a thousand years' time. Someone will take a photo from the air and see the outline of our farmhouse. That means you and me, and Mum, and Tom, we'll still be here, keeping our descendants company."
"So I'll be like Izzy?"
"I reckon so, pet."
Madeleine McDonald is a Scot with a French passport. She plunders family life for light-hearted newspaper columns, and writes romance novels. Her third novel, A Shackled Inheritance, set in the turbulent years leading to Britain's abolition of slavery, was recently published by The Wild Rose Press and is available at www.amzn.com/dp/B01BBCBX38.
Thursday, June 9, 2016
Jack was never a joiner, but this day would be different. He'd left street life behind at the shelter.
Clippers snipped away now, stray hairs fell to the floor. Smells of crisp uniforms, leather boots and shoe polish swirled nearby.
Throughout training, he'd kept his cool as shots were fired, showed his sharp focus. Sarge had been impressed.
"Jack! Over here." Sergeant George's eyes lit up. "Come on, boy, let's show 'em what you got!" Sarge was one super guy. He patted the German shepherd's back with a firm hand.
They moved together as a team toward the waiting helicopter.
Theresa A. Cancro writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction. Her work has been published internationally in print and online publications, including Kind of a Hurricane Press anthologies and journals, Lost Paper, Haibun Today, Modern Haiku, The Heron's Nest, A Hundred Gourds, Presence, Shamrock, Chrysanthemum, Cattails, The Artistic Muse, and Leaves of Ink, among others.
Tuesday, June 7, 2016
A High School Reunion
It was her first time posing for our class. Other females had sat naked before us. This time was different. I knew the model.
Her name was Melanie, and I'd asked her out on a date our sophomore year in high school. She'd looked away and said she was busy. I never got up the nerve to ask her out again.
The kids in school thought she was anorexic. She was still skinny, her arms not much bigger around than the fat end of a baseball bat. Green eyes, pug nose, and thin lips created a distraction for me. She'd worn her hair longer in school. I liked the new pixie look. At least, new to me.
The instructor called time. Melanie stood and put on a robe.
I finished adding charcoal touches to the assignment, leaned back for one last look, and felt a presence near me. I looked over my shoulder to see Melanie, her head tilted to one side, perusing my effort.
"Not bad," she said, laying a hand on my shoulder. Before I could thank her, she said, "Would you like to ask me out again?"
My mouth became as immobile as the naked female on my easel, until, taking a deep breath, I managed to squeak out a yes.
Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. Jim's Six Questions For . . . blog (http://sixquestionsfor.blogspot.com/) provides editors and published a place to "tell it like it is." You can read more of his stories at http://ipharrington.blogspot.com
Sunday, June 5, 2016
Barry, my big brother, is darting around the house checking himself in mirrors. He swears he's getting different reflections. I tell him he'll always look like my dumb brother. He says he has the mumps and that I probably have them too. They're highly contagious. He claims that if one person in the family gets them, then almost everyone gets them too. I'm not sure where all this mump talk came from.
"Look," Barry says, pointing to a bump on his neck.
"Jesus," I go, "you need a doc pronto."
He points at my forearm. "What's that?"
"My left arm."
"Mind if I test?"
"Go ahead," I tell him.
Barry zeros in on my forearm. He pinches with thumb and index finger, raising a hunk of flesh the size of a large marble. When he quits pinching, the marble remains. My brother has given me the mumps. I run from mirror to mirror to see more and more marbles popping up. We convince our mother to get off the toilet and drive us to Doctor Drueker's. When we arrive, the doctor tells us we should cut way back on horror and sci-fi shows before our brains begin to swell. Barry chuckles. We watch Drueker walk over to a mirror on the wall and study a lump on his neck.
Kirby Wright's first play was performed at the 2016 One Act Festival at the Secret Theatre in New York. He's checking his blood sugar right now to see if he's normal.
Friday, June 3, 2016
Kitten of the Forgotten
Richard cradled the discarded kitten inside his coat that had seen better days ten years ago. He settled her in the inside pocket usually reserved for two packets of crackers he took twice a week from the soup kitchen and napkins they let him have. For now it was home to a kitten no larger than a hamster.
He'd found her in the dumpster next to a discarded donut box with two stale creamsticks. Richard squeezed the cream for the kitten, fed her from his finger, leaving the sandpaper tongue wanting more.
Snow fell on soft fur and Richard brushed it from her matted eyes. "Good kitty, good kitty, no one's going to take you. Richard's kitty now. Forever." he felt for his knife in the outside pocket. "No one's going to take you from Richard."
He remembered a puppy he'd found once, remembered how three boys had beaten her with bats and laughed when he'd cried and begged them to stop and one hit him, leaving a gash and the puppy's blood on his face. He still heard the echo of her cries and the silence, the deafening silence.
Richard patted his pocket. "Good kitty, good kitty, Richard's kitty now. No one's going to hurt Richard's kitty. Go to sleep, go to sleep." He sang his mantra patting the pocket, home to the matted eyed kitten he'd keep forever. Richard patted his pocket, sat down on a piece of cardboard and didn't notice the purring stopped.
Barbara Tate is an award winning artist and writer. Her work has appeared in StoryTeller, Arizona Quarterly, Santa Fe Literary Review, Modern Haiku, Contemporary Haibun Online, Frogpond, Cattails, Bear Creek Haiku, and Magnolia Quarterly as well as Switch (the Difference), Objects in the Rear View Mirror, Element(ary My Dear) and Happy Holidays anthologies. She is a member of the Gulf Coast Writers Association, Haiku Society of America and United Haiku and Tanka Society. She currently resides in Winchester, TN.
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
You’ll scratch the Urethane Right Off
“There’s not much of a crowd around noontime and they prefer it that way.”
Sitting in the corner was a man that Jack only sees now on occasion. The man was perched on a stool in front of the chessboard which was hand-burnt into the wooden top of the bar—sixty some squares charred and shaded, dark to light, and beautiful. The man was rolling something around in his hands.
“Put those rocks away, Brian,” Jack told him. “Hello,” Brian said, “It’s good to see you again, Jack. I just drank a beer.” “Did you, buddy?” he asked him.
Brian and Jack had grown up together. Brian lived only four houses down the street from Jack’s house, and his birthday was on the 6th of December, just eleven days after Jack’s. Brian, his mother, and his sister lived alone for most of the time that they all lived on Winston Street—the only exception was for a few months when Brian and Jack were seven-years-old, and his mother let her new boyfriend move into the house with them.
Brian’s mother worked in the utensil factory making spoons, forks, knifes, and scissors on the graveyard shift, and one night her boyfriend tried to drown Brian in an old washtub while she was at work. When she came home that next morning, the sun was beginning to rise and Brian was still alive but he has never been the same.
“I caught a butterfly today,” he said as he continued to move the five rocks around in circles that he had placed on the bar’s top. “Well done, Brian,” Jack told him, “Now put those rocks away.”
Brian placed two of the rocks into his right pocket, and the remaining into the other pocket of the gray cotton sweat pants he was wearing.
“Some are boys, and some are girls,” he said to Jack with a grin, “If I put them together they will make babies in my pocket.”
“Goddammit, Brian,” Jack said shaking his head.
“ANOTHER ROUND,” he shouted at Charlie.
“Can you handle another one, Brian?” Jack asked.
“Oh yeah, I mean yes, I mean sure,” Brian said, “Thirty percent, I like the thirty percent.”
“No,” Brian told Jack, “It seems that about seven out of ten times that I sit down on the toilet to take a poop, I get goose bumps on my thighs, and I don't like it at all. I don't like it in the morning time, I don't like it in the evening time, and I really don't like it when mom is gone to work.”
“You’re a fuckin’ nutcase Brian,” Jack said laughing.
“No. I am okay,” Brian told him, “I just really like the other thirty percent.”
“Okay, Brian,” Jack said as Charlie slid the drinks down the rail, “I think most people probably prefer the other thirty percent as well.”
“Thank you, Jack,” Brian as he said pulled the rocks out of his pockets once again.
Charlie walked over and sat down beside Brian. “I saw Margaret walking by about an hour ago, Jack” he said.
“I'm giving up on that woman,” Jack told Charlie.
“It’s about time,” Charlie sighed.
Jack finished his drink and then left. Brian and Charlie sat at the chessboard alone. “Put those rocks away, Brian,” Charlie said.
Selected pieces of Victor Clevenger's work have appeared at, or are forthcoming in Chiron Review; The Beatnik Cowboy; Dead Snakes; Blink Ink; Zombie Logic Review; Rat's Ass Review; Lady Chaos Press; Your One Phone Call; Bad Acid Laboratories, Inc; Horror Sleaze Trash; UFO Gigolo, among several others. His latest collection is titled, In All These Naked Pictures of Us.
Thursday, May 5, 2016
Accepting Defeat: For Small Pieces of My Dignity, I Do It
He met me at the front door and so did his small dog. Such an ugly creature, the man, not the dog--white hair tangled and matted, hanging long over his eyes and a crooked jaw from being struck by an automobile in a crosswalk accidental a few years prior. There was some form of arthritis that had set in throughout all the joints of Mr. Schlege, and he was now housebound. His dog was a small black haired terrier and she was the only thing keeping him sucking air and living since the accident.
"Take her down by that big oak tree on 40th Street," he said, "She always loved walking down that way with me."
"Sure thing," I told him, "but you got to start paying forty-five dollars a week, because this thirty-dollar shit is not cutting it; it is getting harder for me to drink a good hard drink these days and besides, Angella is about to throw my ass out."
"Just walk the dog and we will discuss all that payment jazz later," he said.
I took his dog and headed down the street in search of this big oak tree, knowing that in all honesty, once I turned the corner and was out of Schlege's sight, I was going to stop. We made the turn and were out of sight. I leaned against an old Buick that was parked next to the curb. I knew that the walk I had taken was much shorter than the walk that Schlege expected, so I lit a cigarette and started counting numbers in my head.
I made it to three-hundred before a swarm of tiny bugs began flying around my face, trying to land on my forehead. They were quick and stealthy; like tiny jet planes flying suicide missions. I swatted at them with my hands and connected with several; they fell to the ground and I knew that I still had not wasted enough time. I finished the cigarette and lit another one, swatted some more bugs and watched a woman through her open front window. She was brushing her long hair when the sky let loose with a loud roar of thunder. The thunder startled me, the dog cowered and the woman walked over to the window and shut it. The clouds were starting to darken and that was just the excuse I needed to take Schlege's dog back home to him. Walking back around the corner, I saw Angella's car turn north, heading away from my house.
Once arriving to Schlege's front steps, his dog ran into the flower garden to piss once again on a rose bush that was half dead.
"Goddammit!" Schlege shouted, "Don't let her piss on that bush!"
"It looks like it is too late; she's already finished," I told him.
"Clearly," he said displeased, "By the way, your landlady was just over there beating the shit out of your front door with a hammer." Old man Schlege opened his screen door which had no screen left on it anymore, it was just a door with a large square of cardboard pressed and taped to cover the opening; the cardboard was wrinkled and discolored, sun faded and dried from the weather. He handed me ten-dollar bills, three of them, and his dog ran back inside as he said, "I will not pay you one cent more than what I pay you now!"
"Okay," I told him, "Thanks, Schlege." I could have stood there and haggled with him, trying to push him for the other fifteen, but what good would it have done? I would more than likely still be leaving none the richer. Schlege is a troll, a long white haired troll. Anyways, the ten-dollar bills that Schlege was tossing my way, were the only thing being tossed my way as of lately, besides Angella's mind games.
Rapidly on the verge of grim, it had quickly become amazingly dark for the afternoon. You could smell the rain moving in as I walked down Schlege's front walk and headed back across the street.
Victor Clevenger spends his days in a Madhouse and his nights writing poetry and short stories from the kitchen table of his ex-wife's home in Missouri. Selected pieces of Victor's work has appeared at, or is forthcoming from, Chiron Review; Blink Ink; Rat's Ass Review, and Least Bittern Books, among others. His latest collection is titled, In All These Naked Pictures of Us.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
We'd giggle at the slovenliness of the dance costumes, she and I. We'd poke each other in the ribs and whisper: "Look, she's wearing underpants underneath and they show!" We'd nod our heads in united disapproval, even sadness, that the child's dancing teacher didn't have the standards the Miss Diedre did.
"Look," Shelley would say. "There are no sequins in back. They're just wearing the costumes the way they came out of the plastic bag!"
"Tsk tsk." I'd make those little scold noises with my tongue.
We were attending a dance recital where a friend of hers, another 4th grader, was performing.
"Their hair isn't pulled back," she whispered. "And they're doing ballet. It looks so messy." It was the next dance, just after we'd looked at each other incredulously in the semi-darkness: No tights. The group of girls sported bare legs with tutus, their hair hanging down or in pigtails.
We left the theater in roars of giggles.
"Did you notice how half of them didn't even try to smile?"
"And their toes weren't pointed. Look!" And she pantomimed an arabesque right on the sidewalk, leg extended, foot comically flexed.
Oh, we laughed. We were so superior.
"And they walked offstage, instead of running after their bow!" Shelly was having such a good time. The kids looked lost, lame, just wandering off, not purposeful the way Miss Diedre's students looked.
I'd made a good choice with that dancing school, I told myself. The training was good and the standards were high.
But there the story ends. I don't mean to end it there, but one wonders what happens to all the life lessons, what they all amount to. People say you build memories. People say that the value is in the experience. I suppose all that is true. But, haughty as we were back then, the superiority didn't get us anywhere. Shelley--and then I, with her--continued to take dancing lessons, in spite of the fact that she gained weight and I couldn't stop her and that was no standard at all. She pretended by the time she got to be fifteen or sixteen that she wasn't overweight. I referred to her as "chubby" or "a bit hefty" to myself or to my friends, unless I was really mad and then I'd scream at her: "You're getting fat! I'm not buying you costumes if you're going to parade around in that fat!" And she'd scream back and cry.
I pretend those scenes didn't happen, the dissolution of patience, of kindness. Shelley died--and she was overweight then--indeed she had only a few brief spurts in her life when she lost enough weight to measure up to standards I was insisting on and I swear, I swear, she had such power at those times. Why didn't she maintain it? Oh, who knows. It's an old story and the chapter is surely closed.
The irony is that Shelley thought she held on to the rules of the game as we learned them. Up until the time she graduated high school at seventeen--and was still dancing--we both were, together--she rigidly followed Miss Diedre's teachings, and later used her as a model of setting high expectations for her, Shelley's, own students. She continued to dress exactly, buy good make-up that she applied exactly, polished her shoes, had everything professionally dry-cleaned. She exacted standards I thought were expensive and unnecessary, but who was I to say? She was paying for it all, compensating, as far as I could see, for something that we also laughed at when we sat in those rows in a strange auditorium watching "another" dancing school's performances.
"Mom! Did you see that fat one at the end? She doesn't seem to go with the others."
"Well, she's trying," I'd say. "I think."
"I hope she doesn't do acrobat," Shelley would giggle. "That'd be really funny. Plop!"
She was in third or fourth grade. What did we know of life?
Do they mean anything, those high standards? I'm still aware of dancers; I study the professional ballet dancers through my binoculars, I wonder about what they wear or don't under their streamlined leotards, admire their lean muscular legs. And of course think of my daughter.
Death takes away the worry and the standards. She is not overweight; she is dead. Isn't that a relief? No, it is not.
But there were the good times.
Jackie Davis Martin has had stories and essays published in print and online journals including Flash, Flashquake, Fastforward, 34th Parallel, and Sleet. Her most recent work is in Enhance, Counterexample Poetics, Fractured West, Dogzplot, Bluestem, and Gravel. A flash won the Spruce Mountain Press Awards. Two stories are anthologiezed in the current print Modern Shorts and the new Love on the Road. A memoir, Surviving Susan, was published in 2013: all three of those are available on amazon.com. Two stories have been included in previous Kind of a Hurricane Press anthologies. Jackie teaches at City College of San Francisco.
Sunday, May 1, 2016
The Third Time He Died
Every morning we drank our coffees together over the phone. Neither of us had much money, so we each brewed our own. I made my strong coffee in a yellow Stangl coffee maker.
"How was your day?" he always asked me.
My two young children had gone to school and I took the phone, with its ultra-long curly-haired cord, into the dining room and sat down, arms on the table. On the wall I'd hung a huge branch from a tree, which I looped with white lace.
He had been to my place many a time and got along well with Sarah and Dan, doing some magic tricks for them.
I could not believe he loved me. He was a sculptor famous in our town, Chris Ray. On an unforgettable day in April, when the magnolia petals littered lawns and streets, Chris picked me up at my apartment and drove me in his blue Mazda truck to his Wissahickon Gate in downtown Philadelphia.
I still have a photo of the gate pinned to my bulletin board in my upstairs office. You can practically feel the cold metal as you view swirling designs he forged back home in his carriage house on Chew Avenue. Huge rocks stood in place forever, along with dainty leaves on stalks of iron and a creature he called "The Mansect," a combination man and insect. Chris was an optimist, believing ever one of God's creatures has a living soul. Who was I to doubt him?
He walked me along the downtown streets, a bearded man with sky-blue eyes, who word his trademark jeans and plaid flannel shirt as he showed me the iron gates of banks on Chestnut Street.
"These are some of the places my inspiration comes from," he said in reverential tones.
I grabbed his hand and held it to my heart.
Chris was a loner. Liked nothing more than staying home in his carriage house and forging his works of metal in the open garage. On the grass in his back yard were creations he hadn't yet sold. A huge red sculpture arched toward the heavens. I lay my head against the metal and wished he'd give me something. He never did.
My sister Amy was getting married at my mom's house. I persuaded Chris to attend the wedding. Amy and Rich were married inside the house by a rabbi clad all in white. Chris put on the black kippah or head covering.
I wore a twirly purple silk dress. It's still in my closet since I hope to fit in it again some day.
Quite simply, I was an attractive woman, with shoulder-length brown hair, threaded with gray, huge brown eyes and long eyelashes everyone commented on.
I never looked in the mirror. Couldn't stand viewing myself and still don't look in the mirror.
After the ceremony, Chris came up to me. He had loosened his tie.
"I'm not feeling well," he said.
"Oh no!" I replied and suggested he go upstairs and lie down. I walked him up the stairs to a bedroom on the third floor.
"Lie down here," I suggested, patting the bed.
He lay down in the lime-green bedroom, where we could hear the merry sounds of the party below.
My heart was pounding. I knew I was losing him.
The room began to swim. I had gotten drunk on champagne to quell the awful feelings that Chris was breaking up with me. It was our morning talks that hinted he might be seeing another woman.
Deirdre was her name.
The day after the party, the phone rang.
It was Chris. He didn't mince words.
"I'm breaking up with you," he said.
All I remember is falling to my knees on the kitchen floor, staring at the blue star patterns on the floor and sobbing.
My coffee spilled all over the floor.
For years thereafter, whenever I passed Chew Avenue, where he lived, my heart sobbed inside.
One day my friend Marcy sent me an email.
It was an obituary notice from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Chris Ray was dead from stomach cancer at age 63.
Now I had to mourn him all over again.
If I wish, I can open up a drawer in Sarah's old bedroom and look at his Polaroid photo. A bearded man in a plaid shirt, smiling at me.
All I could do was write a poem about him, which I titled "The Third Time He Died."
Ruth Z. Deming has had her prose and poetry published in lit mags including River Poets, East Jasmine Review and Hektoen International. A psychotherapist and mental health advocate, she runs New Directions Support Group for people with depression, bipolar disorder and their loved ones. She lives in Willow Grove, a suburb of Philadelphia. www.newdirectionssupport.org
Friday, April 29, 2016
Just one more he says. I rub my eyes and launch myself again. The waves lap against my side and my muscles ache in Spartan surrender. My personal best is so close.
I hear him scream and through red water I drill forward. My breath rattles in my lungs like a rock in a colander. Don't stop though, don't ever stop until I reach the target. So close now, so close to something special.
My arms are so heavy. The last stroke never arrives. Instead, I descend to the deep where I hide from coach's complaints about being a loser. I'm breathing somehow and about me, angel fish flicker left and right in a shiny shoal of iridescent light. I'm guessing this is death. I hear trumpets, divine music and below a golden light calls out to me.
Down I go, ever down. I know my lungs have long since lost their power. I float onto a cobbled path and stand despite being so far from the surface. Everything about me is so clear, a stingray flies past my left ear and lets me stroke his left flank and he rumbles in happiness at my touch.
I exhale a flotilla of bubbles and ahead a great castle awaits me with a drawbridge slowly descending. My fatigue has been usurped and I am drawn to this wizard's palace. Step by step I advance to this blessed bastion and a girl bathed in flowing white robes beckons to me.
"He is waiting for you, quick, up the stairs," she says.
I take a grey mantle and the warmth envelops me in a cocoon of care. I am inside and the lady orders for the bridge to be raised. I ascend in moments, I am in a throne room with a man dressed in golden armor waiting for me. Great wings spray out from his back, he stands and embraces me when I am close.
"Stephen, I am so glad you have come. You have had a most wonderful life and now my friend, you can take a well earned rest. You have worked so hard."
I stare at him in confusion.
"I'm sorry, you're mistaken. My name's Nathan."
My host draws back, scratches his chin.
"That can't be right. You are Stephen Hope. I have no record of a Nathan."
"Stephen? Oh no, he couldn't come today, he felt a bit under the weather. Is there a problem?"
The armored figure claps his hands together. Immediately five winged young Amazons arrive at his side.
"This man needs to go back. He shouldn't be here."
I protest. I want to stay but the girls soothe me with their touch. I rise away from this perfect paradise. I feel my lungs burn and my arms reach out to find the touch of a pair of heavy arms lifting me up.
"You did it, you got your personal best. I'm so proud of you Nathan," roars my coach.
I can't speak. I'm so exhausted. He throws a towel over my shattered body.
"That's better, don't want you to catch your death of cold. It's just a shame Stephen wasn't here. Your training partner would be so pleased."
I nod, look out to the sea and witness a golden ocean shimmer beneath me. I hope Stephen doesn't swim tomorrow. In fact, I hope he never takes to the water ever again.
Gary Hewitt is a raconteur who lives in a quaint little village in Kent. He has had over 80 short stories and poems published and has performed to several live audiences. He enjoys writing prose and poetry. His style of writing tends to feature edgy characters. Some of his influences are James Herbert, Stephen King, Bulgakov, and Tolkein to name a few. He is also a proud member of the Hazlitt Arts Centre Writers Group in Maidstone which features an eclectic group of very talented writers. He has a website featuring his published works here: http://kingsraconteurswork.blogspot.co.uk/
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
A Love Affair With Verse
Turning it over, she smiled. It actually took her by surprise, but the black and white silhouette was unmistakably his. In recent years, she had made a habit of attending library book sales on Saturday mornings searching for collections of poetry.
She hardly ever wrote poetry except for a short spell in college. However, her literature professor, old Professor Parker, had ignited a strong interest in poetry which she had nurtured through the years. She laughed aloud when she thought about her faded memories of Professor Parker--his tweed jacket, his curved pipe spewing a cherry scent, his strange habit of dictating the syllabus, but mostly his love of his subject.
At 58, she found solace in poetry and had become a devout reader of any contemporary poet to discover new voices in this lyrical world. She had also thoroughly digested the works of Collins, Matthews, and O'Hara. And then there was Yeats, his obsession with Maude permeating his work. Yes, that is how she met Gary Snyder, Philip Levine, and Ted Kooser. It was interesting that she seemed to be attracted exclusively to male poets. Maybe they spoke to her intimately in their heartfelt images, or maybe she just thought they did.
Well, she mused as she read the back cover of this chapbook--
Phillip Connoly, recipient of the Gary Soto Award for poetry, earned his MFA in poetry at Vermont College and an undergraduate degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He is a professor of English at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
Phil hadn't changed much if the photo on the back cover was recent. Patricia smiled thinking it probably was an old photo. As her dirty blonde hair was now weathered with streaks of white, what were the chances that his hair wasn't thinning. Phil was two years older than her and surely at sixty, he had aged more than this photograph revealed.
Well, what difference did it make? Patty, as he used to call her, asked herself. They had dated in her sophomore year at Whitewater before his graduation. He left that May to take a position as a graduate assistant on the West Coast. She couldn't even remember the college. It was a letdown. She wanted commitment. She suggested that he find a job in the Milwaukee area. He indicated he really wasn't definite about his future. He might even enlist in the Air Force. He had a high number in the draft lottery, but his grandfather and uncle had served in the military. He felt an almost compulsion to continue this family tradition and go to Vietnam.
After graduation they exchanged a few letters, but the relationship faded like a field of summer flowers. She graduated two years later and took a job as a public relations specialist with a large insurance firm in Chicago. She loved the "Windy City," walking under the EL, and spending many evenings at the Art Institute on Michigan Avenue listening to readings by local poets. Carl Sandburg would be proud.
Because of a recent job transfer, Patty found herself examining the used book table at the Cambridge Public Library this morning. She wondered how far she was from the Boston College campus. What were the chances she would pass Phil on a street corner, sit across from him at Starbucks, ride the same subway and not even recognize him? It had been thirty-eight years. Her chances, she thought, approximated the odds of winning the lottery jackpot.
She put the book back down. "How foolish to even think of pursuing this thought," she admitted to herself. She picked up a collection of Yeats, reflected on the circumstances of his play, Countess Cathleen, wondered why Maud, for whom he wrote the dramatic stage production, haunted him until his death. Well, that certainly wasn't Phil's problem. He had drifted away like vapor trails in a summer sky.
She held the Yeats collection, and leaned across the folding table. Patty retrieved the Connolly poems, and approached the white-haired librarian with the change box. "I'll take these two," Patty offered. The librarian smiled as she checked the price tags. "Connolly's a great poet in the Irish tradition you know; he frequently reads in a coffee house in Harvard Square. You might take a listen some Saturday night."
Patty nodded. "I'll consider it! It's always wonderful to hear a poet speak his own words. It would probably help me understand his images, metaphors, and allusions."
Dr. Jim Brosnan teaches English at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island where he holds the rank of full professor. He has conducted workshops in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. He is a member of the Nomad Writers in Rehoboth, MA, the Maine Poets Society, and the Tidepool Poets in Plymouth, MA. Jim serves as the president of the Rhode Island Council of Teachers of English. He was named a finalist four years in NEATE's Poet of the Year competition, placing second in 2010. Jim's four books of poetry include Hints of Swallowtalk. His poems have appeared in the Naugatuck River Review, the Aurorean, The Teacher as Writer, Mad Poet's Review, Minnesota English Journal, The Leaflet, Poems of the Poppies (UK), and The Bridge. Jim's poems have recently been awarded First Honorable Mention by the Maine Poets Society and an Honorable Mention by the New York Poetry Forum and a Second Place by the Utah Poetry Society both of which were sponsored by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. His fiction piece, "Sunday Sabbath" was displayed at the Providence Public Library as part of "The Wonder Show" exhibit. Some of Jim's other stories have appeared in The Teacher As Writer.
Saturday, March 5, 2016
Gilda, Guardian of the Green
Gilda, a 13-foot alligator, practically filled the stagnant pond just past the children’s park. No one knew where she came from, or even how she got her name, but they all knew her toothy smile.
Gilda liked children. She had little desire to eat them as her pond was well-stocked with frogs and other random reptiles. She just liked to watch them. She would sit on a log or some rocks after her morning patrol of the waters. As the algae baked into her scales, she would watch the children play on the swings and slide, made mud pies, dug in the sand. She never left the confines of the tall grass that acted as a fence between the two worlds, until last summer.
The drought had been rough. Almost two full months without rain, and the heat had turned almost everything that was green a straw-like tan. The kids actually crunched across what no longer could be called a lawn to play. Dehydrated brush had been sparking into fires for about a week, dislocating the local wildlife.
It was almost noon when the bobcat crept from the wooded perimeter of the park. Parents, unused to such dangerous felines, never bothered to look up from their cell phones and paperbacks. The bobcat was just a few yards from the playground when Gilda erupted from grass. Jaws slammed, claws slashed, a horrible screeching echoed through stunned silence. As Gilda dragged the carcass of the dead bobcat back to her log, mothers and fathers gathered their children, headed to the safety of air-conditioned rec rooms for the rest of the afternoon.
There was never an official acknowledgement of Gilda’s heroism, but from that day on, an anonymous chicken or two arrived monthly on top of her log.
A.J. Huffman has published twelve full-length poetry collections, thirteen solo poetry chapbooks and one joint poetry chapbook through various small presses. Her most recent releases, Degeneration (Pink Girl Ink), A Bizarre Burning of Bees (Transcendent Zero Press), and Familiar Illusions (Flutter Press) are now available from their respective publishers. She is a five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, a two-time Best of Net nominee, and has published over 2500 poems in various national and international journals, including Labletter, The James Dickey Review, The Bookends Review, Bone Orchard, Corvus Review, EgoPHobia, and Kritya. She is also the founding editor of Kind of a Hurricane Press. www.kindofahurricanepress.com.
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
River of Time
Sean is lost somewhere in the wilderness. He always wanted to visit a national park but getting lost wasn't on the agenda. It is his sixth day lost in the woods. Sean was smart enough to pack extra water and food and had some of both left.
Out in a clearing he can see a river. Upon closer inspection the river is shiny, the water crystal clear and clean. No wildlife is present in the river in Sean's location.
Sean looks up and sees a man walking up the bank towards him. The man is old, tall, and has on a long green robe. He is wearing brown shirt, pants and shoes.
Once the man reaches him Sean said, "Boy, am I glad to see you. I am lost and need your help." The old man looks at Sean and said, "My name is Yaq, and I am the sentry of the River of Time. I can't help you. The only thing I can do for you is present the River of Time. If you go upstream you will be in the future, downstream you go into the past. Remember time travel is not what you think. The river will show you. Yaq walks on the water, turns into water droplets and is gone.
Sean walks in to the shallow waters of the river and heads upstream. The river current is fast, so the going is tough. Sean stumbles and falls, the swift current sweeps him downstream quickly. Sean can tell his body is that of a teenage boy now, he is getting younger. Soon he is a young boy. Sean fights the current and is finally able to stand back up and travel upstream. Sean is afraid if he goes to far downstream he will not be born. Is that what Yaq meant in his message.
Once Sean reaches the spot where he started, he stops and ponders his next move. Well, getting older did not appeal to Sean so he did not go upstream, although seeing the future would have been nice. Going too far upstream, he might die since he did not know the date of his death.
Maybe Yaq was trying to tell him you couldn't go past your own time, at least in this river anyway. Or maybe something as simple as the River of Time was built to help the lost hiker.
Sean walks downstream very slowly until he reaches the time right before he got lost.
Denny E. Marshall has had art, poetry, and fiction published. Some recently. See more at www.dennymarshall.com
Sunday, February 28, 2016
Staff removes all file cabinets except third to last in each room of the 30-story building. Later ET recoups the x files.
Denny E. Marshall has had art, poetry, and fiction published. Some recently. See more at www.dennymarshall.com
Friday, February 26, 2016
When the Jellyfish Rule the Oceans
Dreaming, Aurelia spends an eternity in formless darkness, long after the voices have faded. No sound but for the roaring in her head, the musty smell of pent-up clothes: hangers ruffled with her mother's dresses, jackets, scarves.
She puts her hand on the door, pushing ever so slowly, opening up the world. Her parents' bedroom, curtains drawn, a bright sky beyond. They are there, both of them, and the smell is overpowering. In evening formal wear, Mother in a green satin gown, Father in a purple-tied tuxedo. Holding hands, but only because she, Aurelia, has posed them like that.
In her mind's eye, Aurelia sees it happening again, the harsh voices of the men barking their commands. Mother crying, pleading with them. The first shot impossibly loud, and then the second, Aurelia trying to make herself invisible, infinitesimal.
If they open the cupboard door . . .
But they do not, they did not. This really happened, but days ago. She doesn't want to leave them, their soupy, meaty smell, growing ever more pungent. But there's a clarity in her head that's been lacking, a vector leading through the bedroom door.
It's bright in the house, every blind thrown open, every room in disarray. But she will not replace a single cushion or right a single upturned stool. She takes water from the faucet and a packet of crackers from the pantry, puts them in her backpack. Goes out on her voyage without even a jacket.
Vista of the sea below, almost never as radiant as it is today, incandescent. The sheer cliff-face, the salty spray, deep cracks in the mansion's foundations where lichen grows. Running her hand along the coarse rock-face, she spies a splash of color, a hoppity fluttering, the erratic flight of an azure-colored not-bird. It descends the rock wall and lands on her outstretched palm. "Where are you going, little one?" Aurelia asks it, but of course it cannot answer. More than a phantasm but less than a flesh-and-blood thing, the not-bird fills her with an alien warmth. Perhaps it intends to accompany her.
The vector leads over the precipice.
Terror grips Aurelia, pushing her down to hands and knees. Good dirt, black dirt. The not-bird seems to taunt her with its nonchalant hopping, bringing it ever closer to the edge. Aurelia crawls, listening to the muted boom of breakers on the rocks below. She peers over the lip of the chasm. It's unusually calm down there, the angry waves for once quieted.
There's a stone staircase carved into the rock, rarely used by anyone and never by her. Dangerous in all weather and suicidal in some, the zigzagging staircase is slippery and slimy with moss. Aurelia sits on the top step. The rush of air is invigorating and the not-bird seems to be waiting. She can do this, not spindled on rickety legs but sliding, inch by inch, on her rump.
It's surprisingly tiring, this undignified progress. Reach, slide, plop down. Reach, slide, plop down. Her pants are rubbing and the steps are only getting wetter and slimier. Salt fills her nostrils, stings her eyes. By the time she's a third of the way down, she's having second thoughts.
Reach, slide, plop down. The barnacle line comes and goes, the steps now more green than black in color. She's getting cold despite her exertions. In her struggle to stay warm, she speeds up, scooting down the furred steps to the quickening beat of some inner drum. The not-bird remains forever one step ahead, apparently impervious to wind and splash and spray.
There's a bright orange door in the cliff-side, hidden from view until now. "Is that where I'm headed?" she wonders aloud, the only answer a howling tempest. The door is almost down at the wave line. The wind is fierce, the ocean broiling, each boom quaking her core. She's wet through, tremoring with cold. The door's surface is made of some plasticy material. Even if she had a key there's no keyhole, no handle at all, but the not-bird won't go any further. So she knocks, pounds with puny fists, sobs. The not-bird tweets in a peculiar manner--
The door opens inward and Aurelia tumbles into darkness, the door closing behind her with a clang. The blackest pitch, a suffocating silence.
But then a miracle, light--
The not-bird's olive eyes have turned a gossamer gold, illuminating the tunnel ahead. And it's warm air rushing toward her, blessedly so. Some earthy smell, like ancient peat. Aurelia stoops, watches her head, shuffles along like that. The tunnel veers once way and then the other, never allowing her to see very far ahead. The not-bird eyes play a dancing light onto the flickering, rough-cut walls. The tunnel's getting hotter, more suffocating, her clothes plastered to her skin. She stops for a drink of water and to catch her breath. A loamy, decaying stench invades her nostrils and there's a distant, intermittent hissing, like an inhalation and exhalation of breath.
The tunnel widens into a small chamber. Sunlight shafts in from a crack in the earth above. Something's crunching underfoot. Aurelia looks down, sees that she's standing on a bundle of bones and torn pieces of fabric. The hissing is getting louder, the stench more caustic.
Something's alive down here and it isn't her.
She can follow the tunnel further or she can attempt to climb. The not-bird scoots up onto a ledge. Aurelia levers herself up and the not-bird shows her where to step next. Then the not-bird flies up and hovers some distance below the crack. No more footholds. She can see tufts of green, but it's far too high to reach. The not-bird's trying to show her something, a black rope almost invisible against the wall. She touches it, recoils. It's gristly, like a string of meat. She gives it a tug, sees if it will hold her weight. Apparently it will. But the wall's so smooth that there's nowhere to gain leverage. Aurelia doesn't have the strength, her feet scrabbling uselessly against the wall.
The rope goes taut and she hangs on. Inexorably, she's being lifted, but by whom? Up, up. Aurelia breaks the surface, brushes herself off and looks around. The pile of black rope lays unattended, her helper having vanished into the mist. Her hands are chafed and the sun's disappearing over the ridge. She's in a sheltered cove, cliffs rearing up on ever side. A small tugboat is moored down by a narrow beach of black sand. The not-bird zooms off in that direction and Aurelia follows in its wake.
the tugboat looks damaged, bent like a half-crushed can. It's cold here, a stiff breeze coming in off the ocean. She's damp and shivering, so she steps aboard and ascends the ladder to the wheelhouse. There's no one at the helm, no one on deck. She finds a heavy jacket, takes off her shirt and wrings it out, puts on the jacket and zips it up. Then she stares at the consoles. The not-bird flutters up to a particular panel, upon which there's a button marked AUTO. Aurelia presses the button and the tugboat's engines thrum to life. The tugboat begins to power away from the shore. She hunts in her sodden backpack for the crackers, finds them, but they've disintegrated to a pasty mush. She goes onto the deck and flings them over the side, wiping her hands on the jacket.
The sun is setting, but there's a yellow moon rising out of the ocean. Aurelia makes her way up to the prow, holding the rail while she tries to find her sea legs. She gazes at the moon, transfixed by its ghostly glamour. The tugboat's slowing down. The engines are straining but the boat's almost come to a halt and the water is gleaming in an unnatural manner. Something gluey and clogging has them entrapped. Seaweed? Oil slick?
A million bobbing globules, refracting the yellow light.
Jellyfish, a toxic plume of them, like a gigantic frog spawn. She goes back into the wheelhouse, beseeching the not-bird for help, but it's motionless, powered down. The engines are whining and the cloud of jellies is only getting thicker, coagulating around the boat as though it's a precious nectar.
If the engines fail, what then?
The consoles mean nothing to Aurelia. She is, after all, just a child. She can use just one button marked AUTO and she has just one helper with nothing further to add. She presses the AUTO button and the engines cease. Now she will drift with the jellyfish, come what may. Stars reveal themselves and the moon climbs high.
There's another light, winking in, winking out. A lighthouse. She's been there before, long ago. It seems to be calling, tugging, or perhaps that's the tide and the rocks she'll be dashed on soon enough. The clot of jellies is starting to break up in the waves, their ethereal body subdivided. She considers turning AUTO back on, but look--there's a darkened pier, a moonlit beach. If she's lucky, the tugboat will wash right up on the shore. Maybe there's a keeper at the lighthouse, some savior.
Cacophony, chaos, the tearing of metal. The deck lurches, Aurelia falls and hits her head. The tugboat has struck a reef and now it's sinking. There's a row of lights at the end of the pier. It isn't far. Aurelia scrambles to her feet, unhooks a life-ring, before toppling over again. The life-ring cushions her fall, bouncing her clear of the stricken tugboat into the icy black. She tries to swim but the jacket's too heavy, she can't lift her arms, but somehow she still has the life-ring. Sea and sky are intermixed and she's half-choked by the time she washes up on the beach, too weary to lift her head, let alone try to stand. But she'll have to or the waves will claim her back.
She's tangled, trapped. She manages to unzip the jacket, crawls half-naked and mostly frozen beyond the tide-line, but she'll die right here if she can't get dry. In the moonlight she can see waves washing over the side of the derelict tugboat.
Something shoots clear from the water, like a meteorite ascending to the sky. The thing curves around and beelines to Aurelia. It's the not-bird, awoken from its reverie. Now it hovers above her, spotlighting her with its golden eyes, its light warm, benevolent. She drags herself to her feet. Her legs are leaden, her energy sapped. She tumbles--
and it catches and holds her in some invisible grip.
Aurelia levitates, rising in some invisible bubble, by some hitherto unknown means of conveyance. The not-bird's taking her to the lighthouse. Aurelia will live on, thanks to it. She's warm now, her skin molten in the not-bird's light. It deposits her with infinite gentleness at the doorstep, and already she misses the cocoon of its protection, vowing to commit to memory exactly what that felt like.
"Do you have a name, little one?" she asks it. "How can I ever repay you?"
"Yettobe," the not-bird croaks tinnily in reply, but Aurelia never discovers which question it was responding to, for the not-bird leaves her, cavorting into the night.
Bereft, Aurelia knocks on the heavy lighthouse door.
Doors, forever opening, open for her once more.
Guy Salvidge is a Western Australian teacher and author of the dystopian novels Yellowcake Springs and Yellowcake Summer. His short fiction has been published in Tincture Journal, The Great Unknown and The Tobacco-Stained Sky. His story "Frank" recently won the City of Rockingham Short Fiction Award. Visit him online at guysalvidge.com or guysalvidge.wordpress.com