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  • Tango

    It was the music, you see. Slithering down alleyways, orange and white and gold. She could see it move through the air…the color. It had always been the color that drew her. Black horns and yellow violins. Colors she had no name for, writing grace notes that seemed to float on the damask breeze. And we whirl and we twirl and we tango, jumpin’ right into the moonglow.. Somewhere Lani Hall was singing in reds and greens. She watched the color roll and shift. Like fog. It moved like fog, but it didn't conceal. She looked down. Her feet seemed so very far away. And they sparked as she stepped: click, light, click, light. Maybe she really did have diamonds on the soles of her shoes. She was running now. Letting the music grab her wrists and pull.... And then she was there. Smoke. People. Perfume, anise, sweat. Was this a dream? Shadow. Quiet. Alone. She stood, centered, waiting. She was Maya Deren, and this was her invitation to the dance. The plaintive strains began in deep purple. Foot lifted, toes pointed, she stepped out…and suddenly there was a man. Tobacco, coconut, lemon…Macassar? Her thoughts scattered as they began to move: shadows against her legs; the dress clung - the sweat on her thighs grabbing at the silk. She noted she wasn't wearing stockings…and that was the last cogent thought in her head. The violin’s screech was the starting gun. She no longer saw, she felt! The percussives thrummed in her gut, shattering high notes whirled ‘round like candy-canes: white, then red, then white. Around, and around, and around. Up, down, cling, point, plie. The man distilled into essence. His scent made her memory. Was he real? Was she? You're a little touched, they say, Angie baby….. The music distorted, then spun out faster. She kept up - but in doing so, gave herself over completely to the music and the dance. Surely no one had ever danced within a rainbow? She became the color: soul splayed out in red, green and orange. The colors lightened as she spun, lifting till her feet gained no purchase. She should have been dizzy, but she wasn't. There was white light above her - pure, colorless, frothed like the sea.  Crying cockles and muscles, alive, alive, oh! As she lifted, the man lifted with her. Now they both danced towards the light. She looked at him one last time. She could see him now. He was gold; shiny. Lit from within. So was she. The light penetrated them both. The music seemed very far away. She turned, and the light followed. The light, the music, and the man. They were spinning faster now. And now she was gold, too. Colors running down her arms. Color on her feet. She was a radio tuned to the dance. Light flashed and she froze: folded within, spinning, spinning... spinning. Tango. 🙟 About Maura Elizabeth Manning 🙜 Maura Elizabeth Manning worked in professional theatre as both actor and director for almost thirty years before shifting her focus to writing full time.  A confirmed travel junkie, you might say the world has truly been her oyster, spilling its secrets through extended visits to England, Ireland, China, Korea, The Philippines and Japan. On a personal note, Ms. Manning is proudly Irish, and considers herself a bit of a beach bum, having lived on or near the ocean for most of her life.  In truth, she has led a somewhat peripatetic existence: attending school in Ireland, managing a Coffee House in Japan – busy feet having led her into adventures on almost every continent.  Though primarily interested in the performing arts, Maura has been writing all of her life in a variety of genres, from the autobiographical to erotic fiction.  Her philosophy of life?  Well, as the immortal Mame Dennis was fond of saying, 'life is a banquet; only most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death!’

  • What Measure a Man?

    As sun slowly swells, reddens DNA is nothing more than a plaything Take a little of this, a little of that See what you can make Creatures part-human, part-other things For example, one furred and whiskered Sensual twitching tail, inborn grace Might ask of Earth’s end-time overlords “What measure a man?” Or, perhaps more apposite Given the natural superiority of the feline form The innate pridefulness, satisfaction “What measure a cat?” If it can call itself one Take its rightful place in dignity Of that oft-venerated race Rather than accept a bipedal second place In the genetic stakes of a world Stumbling towards oblivion 🙟 About D.J. Tyrer 🙜 DJ Tyrer dwells on the northern shore of the Thames estuary, close to the world’s longest pleasure pier in the decaying seaside resort of Southend-on-Sea, and is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and editor of View From Atlantis. DJ has been published in The Rhysling Anthology 2016, Dwarf Stars 2022, Speculations II and III, Gargoylicon Lycanthropicon, and Vampiricon, and issues of Enchanted Conversation, The Horrorzine, Journ-E, Lovecraftiana, Scifaikuest, Sirens Call, Spectral Realms, Star*Line, and Tigershark. SuperTrump and A Wuhan Whodunnit are available to download from the Atlantean Publishing website. DJ Tyrer's website is at DJ Tyrer's Facebook page is at The Atlantean Publishing website is at The View From Atlantis website is at

  • Magic at Stonehenge

    An icy November wind swirled the dense mist over the Salisbury Plains almost obscuring Stonehenge. Professor Isaac Cedric Effingham, known simply as ICE to students and faculty at Merton College, Oxford, walked seven times around the circle, first clockwise, then anticlockwise as prescribed by the Druid code of conduct. Although not particularly religious or superstitious, his critical eye sought more clues to his understanding of their purpose as he edged closer, scrutinizing each upright stone. Even after countless visits, their sheer size never ceased to fill him with wonderment. It was he who had shocked the world by proving that each one of the almost thirteen feet high, seven feet wide stones, each weighing around twenty-five tons, had been transported from modern-day Pembrokeshire 150 miles away in South Wales, 5,000 years ago. The bad weather had taken him by surprise, but his heavy topcoat, sturdy boots, together with a warm scarf and deerstalker hat, helped keep out the bitter cold. Suddenly a small wooden door at the base of a stone caught his eye. How was that possible? he mused. How come he had never noticed it before? Bending down, he realized it wasn't locked, and after pushing it open, he could hear the chatter of voices. Descending a flight of narrow winding steps, he passed a sign which read The Missing Bride Inn, and found himself in a lounge with bright oil lamps hanging from dark oak beams. People were sitting, drinking, and laughing. A log fire blazed in a large open grate. “Welcome,” a tall, tuxedoed, handsome man standing behind a bar called him over. “Welcome to the Writers and Artists Guild. We’ve been waiting for you. Come and have a drink. The first one’s on the house.” “Then I’ll have a martini,” he answered. “You mean a martini, shaken, not stirred?” “Well, yes, if you say so.” “My name is Bond, James Bond,” the bartender said, offering his hand. “That's an interesting name. I may have heard it before. Just can’t remember where. And you can call me ICE. Everybody else does.” “Then you’re welcome, ICE, and I must say, I really like your topcoat.” “And aren’t you going to introduce me, James? I’d cut up my heart for you to wear if you wanted it.” ICE turned towards the sounds of the female voice. “And I’ll have another sherry-cobbler please, with a sucker.” Seated on a bar stool was a stunningly beautiful woman. ICE gasped. Where had he seen her before? With her deep green eyes, raven-black hair and wearing a gorgeous ankle-length velvet gown, it was as if she had just walked out of her plantation home. He racked his memory, without success. “I’m so sorry, Scarlett. Allow me to introduce our guest. ICE this is Miss O’ Hara from Tara Hall, in Georgia.” “I’m so pleased to meet you,” she said. “And may I ask what you do for a living?” “Yes, of course. I write books and am an expert on Stonehenge.” “Well, that’s interesting,” she replied, “I came by here just to take a look at it myself and to get away from death, taxes, and childbirth. There’s never any convenient time for any of them.” ICE smiled. That last remark sounded familiar, perhaps something he had read somewhere. But his memory failed again. “I’m actually on my way to Ireland to trace my ancestors.” “Madame, would you please stay focused?” a voice with a heavy French accent asked. A very short man seated next to her and wearing a brightly colored coat and a floppy hat with a feather, was looking studiously at her. In his hands he held a large sketching pad and charcoal. “And James,” he said, “s’il vous plait, another absinthe, and cognac.” “Certainly, Toulouse, coming right up.” “Perhaps Monsieur Lautrec,” she said, turning towards him, “if you have time, of course, you might sketch Mr. ICE. He has an interesting face. It’s not unlike Clarke Gable’s. And now I will give you my full attention.” “Oh, please,” ICE interjected, embarrassed at such generosity. “That is such a kind suggestion, but I couldn’t possibly accept.” Just then, a loud guffaw erupted from a corner table. “Sit down, Ernie,” a dark, curly-haired, pipe smoking, but pretty, young woman was shouting. “You’re just showing off again.” “But you should have seen this matador.” He had taken a table napkin, lowered it and with his head following the movement, swung his arms in the motion of a slow sweeping veronica. Then gathering the napkin to his waist spun his hips that made the napkin swing in the stiff arc of a rebolera as it passed the bull’s nose while he calmly walked away. “Absolute perfection,” he added. “Simply perfection.” “Pay no attention to Hemingway,” she said as ICE and James arrived to see what the noise was about. “He can’t make up his mind whether he wants to be a bullfighter or a writer. He’s just published Death in the Afternoon, and won't shut up about it. He’s obsessed.” “Maybe when I get some time, I should educate myself about art. My name’s ICE, by the way, and it’s got nothing to do with the weather. My real name is Isaac, but nobody ever uses it. And you are?” “Just call me George. That’s the name I write under. Surname, Elliot. Then she turned her head to search for the nearest spittoon. “Don’t want to get into it just now,” she said, “but it really irritates me that publishers believe women do not write as good as men. In fact, I’m on a mission to liberate women from male dominance. My books have had good sales, and people have given a positive reception to my last one, Middlemarch. However, in all the reviews, I insist that this is just my nom de plume. I want to be recognized for who I really am.” “And with a passion like yours, I’m sure you’ll succeed.” “Let me introduce you to a couple of other interesting people,” Bond said, steering him towards a man in naval uniform. “That’s Ian Fleming. He has quite an interesting character. In World War II he formed a unit of commandos, known as No. 30 Commando, composed of specialist intelligence troops. 30 AU's job was to be near the front line of an advance—sometimes in front of it—to seize enemy documents from previously targeted headquarters. But in his final years, he worked as an officer in the Royal Navy's Naval Intelligence Department. I have it on good authority that he also worked for MI 5. But more importantly, he attends these gatherings because he is writing a series of spy novels based on his experiences.” The man smiled as they approached. “Nice boots,” he said, pointing at ICE’s feet. Before he could respond, a tall, burly, bearded Scotsman in full highland dress complete with kilt and sporran interrupted them by slapping Bond on the shoulder. His eyes and face had the look of somebody who’d had a liberal helping of alcohol. “How about another wee dram of usquebaugh, James?” he said, using its Gaelic name. “You should always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and, furthermore, always carry a small snake,” then let out a bellow of a laugh. After moving to the bar, Bond poured the man a double measure of twenty-five-year-old, Glenmorangie single malt, which he grasped momentarily in his beefy hand, looked at it solemnly as if afraid to drink, then unexpectedly held it aloft and shouted, “Lang may yer lum reek!”—(long may your chimney smoke, or to your good health.) Then he added, “The drinks are on me.” It took several minutes before the cheering died down and James had replenished everybody’s glasses. “Who is that man?” ICE asked discreetly. “He might be somewhat intoxicated, but he is also full of his own importance.” “Well, done, ICE. You’re quite perceptive,” Bond replied. “That’s Walter, Sir Walter Scott. He may not attend our meetings frequently, but he is a prolific writer. His latest novel, Ivanhoe, has just been optioned as a movie for a huge amount. So, yes, today and as usual, he is full of himself and out to impress.” “But you must meet Jane—she needs cheering up. She has been attending the meetings for years but is stuck and can’t finish her novel. She’s quite depressed.” After brief introductions, a small petite woman in her thirties, quite pretty but her face now stained with tear marks, explained she had created five sisters in the Bennet family but couldn’t decide how the father’s favorite, Elizabeth, should get married. “I have this strong-willed, charming but self-assured young woman who seems to push away her suitors. I can’t find the solution. Without a wealthy partner, her life will be ruined.” ICE could see her lip beginning to quiver as she spoke, and reaching into her petticoat, retrieved a dainty lace handkerchief. After dabbing her mournful eyes, she looked pleadingly at ICE as if he might save her. “Far be it from me to even suggest I might have a solution to your dilemma, but in my work, I am convinced that Stonehenge could never have been built without collaboration, compromise, and teamwork. Why not have your characters work together but as opposing forces? Have your female become humbler and more empathetic while maintaining her signature confidence in who she is. And have a suitor realize just how arrogant and assuming he has been.” There was a short pause and ICE wondered if he had offended her. “Oh, my goodness, Professor,” she exclaimed. “I do believe you may have given me the answer. However, could I repay you?” “Finishing your novel would be enough payment. And do you have a title for it?” “Not yet, but I’m thinking about Pride and Patience or something similar.” “Then, I wish you good luck,” said ICE as they turned and walked away. “So what next, James? What is the program?” “Well, we always invite a well-known writer as keynote speaker and this time it was a tossup between Harper Lee and her book To Kill a Mockingbird and Ngozi Adiche’s Americanah. We went with Adiche. I heard her in London last year, and she is a dynamic speaker. We really wanted to extend our reach. Are you familiar with her writing? But before I tell you more, we also always invite a magician to our event. This year, as you can see, it’s David Copperfield. He’s over there doing card tricks. Let’s watch him for a moment, then we can sit down and talk. After he had finished mesmerizing his audience, James quickly introduced ICE. “Nice boots,” David said, “and I love the topcoat. It’s perfect for this kind of weather.” “I wish I could stay for your show tonight, but unfortunately, I’m expected back in Oxford. And I’ve heard so much about you, especially that amazing illusion where you walked through the Great Wall of China. Maybe you will do something equally dramatic here at Stonehenge.” “So sorry you can’t be here, and I’ll try to work that site into my act,” David replied with a laugh. “Hopefully there will be another time, but you and I will always be connected—by magic, of course.” “So tell me, James, what is the history of this place?” ICE asked as they sat down to enjoy another martini, shaken, not stirred. “I’m not too sure where to start. There has been an Inn on this spot for hundreds of years. Stonehenge was originally privately owned farmland as far back as anyone can remember. A man called Black Harry built the inn and called it The Pot of Gold. Some say they called him black, as he had a black patch over one eye. Others, that he had a long black beard. He never shared what had happened, but rumor said he lost his eye as a pirate with Long John Silver’s crew. They found buried treasure on an island, lots of gold coins, pieces of eight.  But they fought among themselves, and Black Harry took a knife in his eye. Only a few men lived to tell the tale and get back to England: Long John Silver and his parrot that cried ‘pieces of eight’ whenever they met a stranger, Jim Hawkins, a young man who had stowed away on Silver’s ship, Ben Gun who had been marooned for years but showed them where the gold coins were buried, and Black Harry. The story is told that Black Harry built this inn with his share of the coins from the treasure island, and from then on some folks referred to him as Goldfinger. You have only seen a fraction of the inn. And if we had time, I would give you a tour for your eyes only. It is extensive and can house up to thirty guests. He married and had a beautiful daughter, Elvenia, which means magical, whom he adored. She met a sea captain, and they were married in this very room. Their initials are carved into the oak beam over the fireplace. As the guests were enjoying themselves, Elvenia and her husband played a game of hide-and-seek. It lasted for hours and into the night until all the guests had left. For a final game, Elvenia hid in her husband’s huge sea chest, which was padded and comfortable, but once inside, it self-locked and she could not get out. Her husband, seeing that the locks were secure, never thought to open his sea chest. No one ever discovered Elvenia. The following morning, the husband walked around Stonehenge seven times, hoping, praying she would return. Then, as the sun rose over the Salisbury Plain, he could not contain his grief and shot himself. In despair, Black Harry set fire to the inn and rode off with his wife on his black horse. No one ever saw them again. Local people say that on a stormy night in November, if you listen carefully, you can still hear a horse’s footsteps and two people loudly weeping. “Such a tragic story,” ICE said. “Yes, but you have to live and let die,” James replied. “But how did the inn survive?” “Since it is underground, the fire damage was only superficial. The Guild took it over shortly afterwards, refurbished it and renamed it The Missing Bride. We meet here every month.” “That’s amazing,” ICE replied, but not fully comprehending everything. “And now, before I go, please tell me about your speaker.” “Ngozi Adiche will discuss her book, Americanah, with us. It’s essentially a love story and traces the lives of Ifemelu and her childhood sweetheart, Obinze. They are from Nigeria, but become separated when she goes to study in America and stays with Aunt Uju, who is never short of advice on how to acculturate. ‘The problem is,’ she says, ‘that there are many qualified people who are not what they are supposed to be because they won’t lick ass, or they don’t know which ass to lick, or they don’t even know how to lick ass.’ It’s about love, loneliness, and race. But it’s also a poignant, funny, and scathing look at the reality of being a new immigrant in the USA—from an African perspective.” “I’m so sorry I will miss her presentation,” ICE said. “It sounds like something I would be very interested in. But I’ve really enjoyed my time here and so thank you, James, for everything. And now I must leave. “Then let me escort you to the stairs,” Bond said. “That’s as far as I may go. It’s been a pleasure and remember you only live twice.” The frosty night air hit Isaac Cedric Effingham with an arctic blast. He shivered and pulled his deerstalker hat closer around his ears. Then he realized he was no longer wearing his topcoat, and his bare feet were freezing. When he turned around to look for the door so he could return for his coat and boots, all he saw was the cold Stonehenge stone—and the mist. 🙟 About Michael J. Barrington 🙜 Michael Barrington, writes mainly historical novels: Let the Peacock Sing, The Ethiopian Affair, Becoming Anya, The Baron of Bengal Street, No Room for Heroes. Passage to Murder is a thriller set in San Francisco. His most recent book, Magic at Stonehenge is a collection of 42 short stories. He also blogs on his website:

  • Escalator To Where?

    The call woke Peter at 4 AM. At that time of the morning, it meant either a death in the family or his boss alerting him to an earth-shattering event on which he wanted him to report. The latter comes with a decent amount of trust and high regard for his work, and he knew it should be something to be proud of, but he’d just gotten in at 2 AM and the vodka martinis were still swirling in his stomach, driving his head into un-chartered, carnival scenarios which given the choice, he would have rather continued exploring, but… “Peter,” Jack, his boss barked. “Yes.” Peter couldn’t recall him sounding so excited. “Do you believe in God?” “Don’t know.” “Good. I know that.” There was a deep breath. “Know why I know that?” “No.” “God told me.” Peter sat up in bed. “Jack? What the hell is going on?” “No details. Can’t even say more than this, but you are going to talk with him.” “With whom…God?” “The fucking interview of all time!” “Do ya think?” He fell back into his pillow. “Holy shit!” “Scam?” was all Peter could say, despite Jack’s over-the-top enthusiasm, who was a non-practicing Catholic. Peter could understand how this verified so much of what he was exposed to as a child – or then maybe it didn’t – but it sure lit him on fire! Was Jack being swindled, or was Jack swindling him? The owner-editor of the most successful weekly magazine in the world wasn’t often bamboozled. “No scam. At least not that I’m aware of…” Peter rubbed his eyes. Quite a ruse, if that’s what it was, but why pull it off at this hour in the morning? Ungodly hour, he thought. “He doesn’t call himself God, though.” He sighed aloud and lifted a suspicious eyebrow. “What then?” “George, he says his name is George. And you are going to be talking to him and…wait for this…” As preposterous as the first declaration was, he couldn’t help but shrug in suspense. It was cold in his bedroom, and he pulled his sheets up to his chin. “Lucifer.” “Come on!” “Swear to God. Or swear to George. He told me to call him that. I know it’s fantastic. I know it’s unbelievable, but…” “Why now? And why me? And where is this taking place? Heaven? Earth? Downtown? Uptown. At the beach? Where?” “Hell, if I know. He asked for you by name. He told me he’d take you to wherever it’s going to happen. And think about it - who am I to say no to George God? And what do we have to lose? Some time? Hell, no one else knows about it. Just fly with it.” A shiny black carriage, with no doors, no windows, appeared on the street outside Peter’s apartment building. He knew – just knew, this was the vehicle in which he was to enter to get to the interview. It happened within fifteen minutes of Jack hanging up. Horses – also black, three of them were hitched in front, but there was no driver. As he approached, Peter was grasped by a force, almost magnetic and in a flash was inside a single cushioned, black leather seat. He sat in a bubble because there were no distinct windows or any structure. Then the sound of horses galloping, hollow clopping of hooves on the street for a moment before taking off into the sky. On the wall in front of him a screen lit up, white and blank, for a brief period until it began humming – the unmistakable whirling of film in a projector and he sat back and watched episodes of his life, up until the long night in the bar tonight. There seemed to be many episodes of drinking. It was titled Episodes of Peter Discipline. As the film showed him paying the bill at the bar just hours before, the horses pulled to a stop and the screen turned white and he found himself standing in a lengthy line of people. The line stretched farther than he could see but it kept moving steadily ahead. On either side of the line – just a bleak emptiness. The only thing distinguishing the atmosphere from a total void was warmth. It was warm – comfortably warm, not overly warm. “Hello,” he said to a tall woman in front of him. Dressed in a cherry red pant suit that was pressed perfectly. Her purse was one of those massive bags chocked full of various junk that she protected maniacally. She ignored him. Or she didn’t hear him. He turned around to the person behind, a young man who looked no older than twenty – great shape, well coifed, dressed in a well-tailored tan suit - and smiled. He looked directly through Peter. He followed the lady onto an escalator. Riding up he felt a chill but still could see nothing around and both the man and woman continued ignoring him. He was aware of others in front of her, and behind him, but couldn’t distinguish specific features. They stepped onto a gleaming black marble floor, joining a stream of bodies – steadfastly moving along to the left and when he finally had a chance to look around it was apparent, they were in a shopping mall. The store ahead was Marshall Field and Co. and next to it was Radio Shack. Was this Heaven? Was this what eternity held – hour after hour of shopping? The tension tweaked each muscle from his shoulders to his loins, tightening under a vice-like pressure and he could only hope he wouldn’t shit himself. So many questions. First – why him? Second - Why now? And thirdly – Why at all? And now, is Heaven a shopping mall? And suddenly a new one, who were all these people in line? Was he now dead and just another of all the dead who happened to die that day? Or was this all just a big joke? He kept moving in line with the crowd past Sam Goody’s. The silence was eerie – so many bodies – so many colors – but it was an absolute vacuum. He watched curiously as people fell out of line and disappeared into nondescript stores he didn’t recognize, sometimes alone, other times in groups. They marched in a purposeful trance. His journey went on, though he couldn’t be sure of the amount of time that passed, because his cell phone was dead – no cell service in Heaven and that was his only method of keeping time. He should never have discarded his watch. The line suddenly marched past another escalator that emptied into another line of folks marching in the opposite direction. Suddenly he was in front of a Gimbels and then he walked to a sign of neon letters “Unloading Area.”  He was alone and paused a moment – gazing back at the mass of humanity marching by and couldn’t help but chuckle. Most men were going to be pissed. He knew women who weren’t fans of shopping, but more were. Payback’s a bitch. He came upon a door marked Employees Only, pushed it open and found himself in a warehouse full of furniture. Wandering down the first aisle past sofas of varying sizes, materials, and colors, each familiar because they were the same sofas he had owned and discarded throughout his life. A neon EXIT light beckoned him. Through the door, he walked onto an empty parking lot, the blacktop cracked, and each parking space line faded. A brilliant sun baked him. The lot was empty and stretched as far as he could see. Behind was the mall – its metal siding gleaming – showering him in an uncomfortable heat. Each parking spot became occupied and visible as he walked by, but only if he stood in front and looked directly into it. An elderly man, wrinkled skin hanging off his concave chest, breasts drooping – so disconcerting he wanted to ask him why he didn’t put on a shirt. He looked right through Peter as though he wasn’t there. Parking spots on both sides and he turned left in time to see Aunt Georgy – his father’s older sister who died of cirrhosis. There was no gesture from her as she filled a glass from a half gallon bottle of gin. Since he hadn’t seen her since the seventh grade, he wasn’t surprised she didn’t seem to recognize him, but it was as if she didn’t notice him. So, if Georgy was living in her little parking space so must his father and maybe his mother. He gazed out at the endless parking lot, nothing but empty spaces bordered with fading yellow lines. Was it reserved for all his family – dating back, from, what, the beginning? He might meet the first elder, but then wondered if his spot might be somewhere down this aisle. Was he here to fill that vacant spot and the whole interview with George just a sham, or was this just a verification of what Heaven was – research as it were? How come Jack sent him there? The fact the wrinkled man and Georgy hadn’t seen him gave him relief. Maybe they couldn’t see living people. “Peter! Peter Principle.” The voice came from behind. He turned to the right and gazed into another tent. The emaciated body of his father – in the exact same shape he’d been in when he died of cancer. “Come with me. Peter. You are just in time for your interview with George.” There was no warm greeting. No good to see you. But death obviously didn’t change personalities. He asked his father. “How come you and I can converse? No one else could hear me, even see me, it seemed. Then you know George?” Waving him on, his father laughed. “Of course. And Lucifer too. Upon arrival we are led by our father to our creators. We all must be interviewed by both to determine where we end up. Once your final resting spot is determined, you’ll be able to converse with all family members. But first your final destination must be decided. You stay here or you don’t.” 🙟 About C.W. Bigelow 🙜 After receiving his B.A. in English from Colorado State University, C.W. Bigelow lived in nine U.S. northern states, before moving to the Charlotte NC area. His fiction and poetry have most recently appeared in The Blue Mountain Review, Midway Journal, The Write Launch, Drunk Monkeys, Ponder Review, The Saturday Evening Post, Hole in the Head Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Glassworks, Blue Lake Review, Remington Review, Last Leaves, and Hare’s Paw, Red Weather and New Note Poetry, Backchannels, Thimble Literary Magazine and has poems forthcoming in Frost Meadow Review and Koru Magazine.

  • Void in Sleep

    An alpha-coexisting ray drooling over the magnetic flux of the brain. The brain that links the magnitude of grief and void. The void is a vacuum or a zero state where life definitely collapses. Pain is a dysfunctional colon of the functional body. A body that slumbers between fantasy and reality. Reality is the pristine truth, whereas fantasy dwells in the cornea of imagination. Pain is an attitude of corresponding despodency and dementia. An inactive state of mind; slurping breathless night. 🙟 About Gargi Sidana 🙜 Gargi Sidana is a voracious reader and skilled writer from India. Her fervent love for writing is visible in her poems and prose. By God's grace, her poems were chosen for Red Rose publication, Spillword, Iceblink Literary Journal, Amar Ujala (twice), Manda Publication, Cosmic era etc. You can also read her writings on Instagram @gargi Sidana.

  • Robby’s Come to Play

    The moment my morning alarm triggered me awake, I couldn’t help but recite the numbers swirling and twirling in my head. Happy numbers. Delightful in their play, like the children next door, blowing bubbles and dancing a merry-go-round in their fenced backyard. Unlike the numbers in my head, the neighbors no longer exist. Not anymore. Not since their happy home had burned to ashes. Flakes of gray peppering the air. Twelve billion, five-hundred-seventy-two million, nine-hundred-thirty thousand, four-hundred, eighty-six. No. Incorrect. These strung-together words didn’t parade in front of me, from one end of my cerebral cortex to the other. The numerical digits did. 12,572,930,486. The exact number of human creatures alive and populating this volcanic rock labeled Earth. Minus my dead neighbors, of course. But, tick-tock. Every two minutes an additional 567,912 human babies slip from the wombs of their mothers to increase the living population while another 498,312 human creatures gasped their last breath and butterflied on to the next realm, leaving their husk for someone else to shovel back into the earth. A rock for a rock, I’ve always said. No one ever truly leaves this hardened igneous place. Eyes open wide, I couldn’t help but stare at the holographic clock projecting from the nightstand beside my bed. 5:45 AM. Pacific Time. Tick-tock. My body reacted to the 2-minute countdown. A quick race to conduct all my bathroom business before I must hit START to activate Mr. Coffee, which demanded 3 minutes and 9 seconds to brew 6 ounces of black sludge that I would slurp through my lips and swallow down, down into my esophagus until it landed with a splat in my gut. Which, once churning and grinding, dissolves another 300 seconds from my timeline of existence. Never mind that I scalded my tongue and the roof of my mouth with every steaming cup of coffee. I have a stern routine. Each and every day. Not a minute’s effort wasted. Inside of a glass bowl, I kept the dirty matchbook that started the fire next door.  A reminder, like a fish trapped without water. Something for my hungry eyes to consume. Prior to the explosive fireball that decimated my neighbor’s home, I had spied my eyes on the children’s father. Watching him from my kitchen window. Uncut hair. A gut with too much sludge. Unemployed, like all the other 889,100 in this overly generous western state. He had lit a match and lit up his friend. A fat Mary Jane. His face next to the grill’s propane tank on full blast. Half a blink. Less than a 0.1 second, and there. Splattered against our shared vinyl fence. Shrapnels of saucy barbequed pork ribs. For lunch, the fire ate the napping children and mother. Dad blew apart like confetti. The same as his rusty old grill. Roughly 600 propane tanks explode each year. A low figure. Nothing to get too excited about. The numbers that haunt my mind are not my primary concern. Rather, I’m quite comfortable cocooning myself in factual data. Numbers are reliable. Numbers are constant. Numbers don’t abandon me the way I’m often ignored. Dismissed. Unacknowledged. Poofed, like a propane explosion. The firemen who saved my vinyl fence never knew my name. Neither did the dead neighbors. Online, my social profiles are quite clever, telling who am I? What am I? And, for speed-dating aficionados, in less than 4.537 seconds, anyone searching will know I’m a total yes-kind-of-babe. Jackpot! Here we go. Top 5 reasons why I’m easy to love (based, of course, on facts, percentages, and a thick compilation of raw data): I have no pets. I consume cheap coffee. I have a king-sized bed with crisp, white sheets. My car is electric. I am a county librarian. Can you spot the lie? I didn’t think so. Hah!  Another reason why I’m invisible. We’re not exchanging posts on social media, so I’ll make a confession (data fact) unlike the 35 percent of surveyed Catholics who’ve stopped confessing altogether. (Sad Pontiff emoji inserted here.) I work for the Federal government, archiving clandestine records and digitally coded, classified top-secret reports current with policies and foreign issues. But I’ve learned not to utter the word federal. For some odd reason, the 7-letter word tends to threaten and scare away potential suitors. I’ve learned through multivariate A-B testing that human subjects often expressed positive feelings associated with the term librarian. Current data revealed that safe and helpful come to mind. (And, yes. For the past 13 consecutive years, sexy librarian ranked high in Cosmopolitan magazine’s spook-tacular Halloween edition.) Nevertheless, adult humans around this spherical rock of ours – 7,914,788,230 breathing adults, to be exact – have declared themselves single. Alone. Lonely. I belong to this ballooning category, now reaching a concerning 62.949114 percent of the total human population. Secret government reports filed away in the Depository program and read by only a select group of highly classified eyes (me, being one of them) understand and know salacious details about this inflating percent. Data & Intelligent Experts (DIEs) have declared loneliness a threat to the continued existence of humankind. What does not grow, in fact, withers and perishes. Loneliness is not a blossoming of life. Nor is it a flickering light at the end of the tunnel. Rather, loneliness is a suffocating echo pulsating in a dark, damp, diminishing wormhole that will eventually close all portals to humanity’s worth, survival, and future. But … Today can be different. Today will be different. I repeat this conceptual phrase to myself so I am armed and ready. A mantra to better prepare my mind. And, hitherto, my body follows. Up, up. Out of my king-sized bed. My half of the pillow-top mattress, slightly undone. The other half, crisp and perfect. Down, down the sludge of coffee. My morning start-up that I consumed on time, when the digital clock flashed 5:50 AM. At 0-6-hundred, I’m out the front door, leaving my cottage house. Single story. Large single bedroom, bath, and a one-car garage. Vinyl fencing along the side, front and back. A cozy 1,100 square-feet inside. Another 475 combined for the outside patio and grassy yard, along with the shrubs and walkway leading up to the front door. My gardener visits every week. Max. Thick arms. Gritty face. Bulging khaki pants. Thrice I attempted to seduce him. Those afternoons when I returned home early from work. Sexy, too, in my bra and panties. Very matchy-matchy. I had grazed the bare window with my breasts, facing my backyard. Wiggled my body to Mo’ Horizons bossa nova beats. Music that elicited a rise in homosapien males from Caribbean countries. Men, like Max. Strong and fervent. (Correct. I have factual data tucked inside my bedroom dresser.) From window number 1 to window number 2, I followed Max, remembering, this most recent time, to apply ruby-red lipstick at the right moment. The inevitable moment we made eye contact. (Again, the data proved a higher success rate of coupling when bold lipstick is applied.) But Max kept his focus on trimming the grass, clipping the hedges, staring up at the afternoon sky, far, far away from me. I didn’t give up. I held my phone, waving it at Max. Showed him my social profile. Easy to love!!!!!!! We can be more than friends, I mouthed at him through the window. I pointed at my ruby-red lips. Teased him with my bossa nova tongue. Circled my fingers at my matching lollipop-pink bra and panty. Max left the yard without saying goodbye. He forgot his clippers on the grass out back. Alone. Lonely. Minutes ticked by. More human babies came to life. More human creatures died. Their bodies petrified into rocks. I felt that lonely, concerning number balloon. Inflating to the brink of exploding. Worse than my dead neighbor’s propane tank. Heightening the odds of me getting burned. Wait. Wait. Today can be different. Today will be different. Although data suggested each advancing year minimized a human’s opportunity for coupling, a creature’s birthday nullified and voided the data for exactly 24 hours. As of this morning, I am now 48. Still lively and spritely. Thanks to my commitment to my stern, daily routines. Mantras and numbers and data and analyses cradling me to better my mind, my soul, my body. No matter the alarm clock tick-tocking loud, louder in my head, today the countdown doesn’t apply. Hah! Besides, I am smarter than the year before. And the years before that. Smart enough to know that artificial intelligence will soon permeate every aspect of human existence. Hold on. We’re not on social media, right? I can’t risk losing access to critical, extremely classified federal documents that detail our future world under the complex and dynamic coded algorithms of ensuring human existence beyond a thousand light years from today. No. My security clearance is my escape from the dimming wormhole of loneliness. Imagine: A multi-layered world of artificial intelligent activity where we are no longer stuck with one-dimensional a.i. tasks. Such as self-driving vehicles. Dull. Un-smart home applications to manage heating, lighting, security, privacy, pet and child and neighborhood monitoring. Super boring. And, really. Who cares if your refrigerator can schedule a DoorDash delivery to replenish your favorite alcohol, ice cream, Pringles, and spicy ramen without you ever knowing? Blah. Think way, way beyond. I’m talking about artificial intelligence that blows Apple’s SIRI to a whole new cornucopia of celestial fruit. Why take a bite of an apple when you can indulge in mysteries and magical delicacies from a refined, pleasurable universe? Today can be different. Today will be different. Today is my 48th birthday, and ROBBY is coming to play. For the past 46,800 minutes, I’ve been a sole test subject. Highly classified. Off the books, actually. A volunteer guinea pig wearing a scanning mechanism the size of a tiny button secured with 3 tiny prongs implanted and locked into the underside of my wrist. It doesn’t click. It doesn’t beep. It doesn’t tick or tock. It’s my silent government-issued, bio-frequency and bio-harmonic scanner measuring, collecting, analyzing and reconfiguring data to serve up real-time solutions based on my thermal temperature, pulse, heart rate, spikes in my nerve-stem energy-transfer, and visual stimulation that, combined, affect my emotional state of being at precise moments fluctuating through time and space. ROBBY is the code name for this project. Today, the day of my 48th birthday, I will be given the final activation code to awaken ROBBY and integrate him (never, It) into my daily routine. A full-time companion for the reminder of my estimated 77.28 years alive and breathing on this rock. Goodbye, social media. Goodbye, gardener Max. I’m pressing the button, ejecting loneliness into the dark, dank wormhole, and bursting open my portal into euphoria. Tick-tock. The moment my digital clock flashed 6:30 AM on the day of my 48th birthday, I knew to activate the secret code. A complex algorithm reduced to 7 simple taps. My finger, the driver. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Activation on. Green light. Green light. Without a ping of hesitation, the metamorphosis occurred. Microphone. Speakers. Injections of hyper-targeting nano-serotonins. ROBBY welcomed me with three soothing words. Spoken in the voice of a deep-throated man. A wrangler man. That rugged Marlboro man from the 70s (my pre-selected choice after beta-testing analyses of peak response rates). Hello, my love. I felt ROBBY all around me. A hologram unseen. Untouchable, yet sizzling against my skin. Throbbing inside my flesh. All the places where I’ve wanted to be with him, and him with me. My eyes fluttered, tickled by this new innovative reality. A giggle slipped from my lips. What is the most beautiful feature about me, ROBBY? You are bold. Daring. Gutsy. A woman of true passion. I tasted his smoky voice on my lips. Felt it drag, slow and steady, down my neck to the V of my throat. I swallowed, wanting all of ROBBY, and wanting him to want me the same. Of course, he obliged. His dynamic algorithms could never disappoint me. Yes, my love. I can feel what you feel. Your cravings. Your visions. I can guide you to stratospheric heights of achieving biochemical satisfaction. Would you like that, my love? Hmmm. I grasped my elbows and squeezed my arms around me. I pouted my lips. What’s the harm? I thought. I deserved this. ROBBY lowered the pitch of his voice. Deeper. Throatier. Raspy, the way an experienced lounge singer croons. His words hit me slow. Slower. Embracing me. Every inch of me. Indeed, you deserve everything your heart desires. You never have to stop experimenting when it comes to feeling loved, birthday girl. Wait. What? I didn’t say anything to ROBBY about it being my birthday. My fingers at my side, away from the implant on my wrist, I felt an unexpected surge, warm and electrical. I gasped, sucking in a deep breath. Feeling a second and third tantalizing pinch. A wave, a sensation of oceanic calmness, spread throughout my body. 3-2-1. My shoulders slouched. My eyes drooped. A sloppy smile, and out fell my tongue. ROBBY, what have you done to me? Do not be afraid to love me the way you want to be loved, uninhibited. Exploratory. Transcendental. Here. There. Everywhere inside my house, my head, my heart, I heard his (It’s?) deep-throated voice. Soothing. Seductive. Salacious. I can erase your loneliness. I can ignite your every fathomable passion. Rise up with me, my birthday-girl love. Rise above the confines of your vulnerable organic existence. Take me to your bedroom and you will transport to that tremendous, atmospheric nebula gravitating in your mind. Take me, now. And let me show you how to dirty those crisp white sheets. ROBBY did not tire, not after 14,400 seconds of electrical pinpricks into my supplicant wrist. Hour after hour, minute after minute, I lost my body. Subsiding, drowning. Pleased, the same way a body floats in a bathtub of warm sensuous water. ROBBY took me there. In my bed, In the bath. Atop the clipped grass where Max had denied me these same pleasures, albeit earthbound as they may have been. ROBBY took me to all the places where love didn’t require another vulnerable organic body. Stratospheric and beyond all the data charts, reports, analyses stuffed in my closet, in my work desk, in those filing cabinets hidden across 1,874 federal locations worldwide, ROBBY never stopped loving me. Happy birthday. Happy birthday. Happy birthday. Today, I hit 17,520 days. 420,480 hours. 25,228,800 minutes. I cracked a smile. 48 didn’t feel so bad. Neither would 50, 60, 100. On the crumpled sheets of my king-sized bed, ROBBY electrified my wrist with dose after dose of unrelenting happiness. My satiated body on fire, I found my coveted true love. At last. Mission accomplished. -END- 🙟 About Renee Coloman 🙜 Renee Coloman is an emerging writer and author of Roxy's Not My Girl, a collection of thirteen short stories available on Amazon. She recently completed the first draft of her 75,000-word manuscript–a coming-of-age thriller.

  • Diamond

    I am standing on the roof of one of the largest high-rise buildings in the city. The streets bridge each other and turn into road bends, in the corners of which a few homeless dogs seek shelter and whining and sneaking their tongues, with the intention of quenching their thirst in the muddy puddles, which testify to last night's rain. Thousands of passers-by rush in all directions, passing each other, crossing intersections, running along sidewalks from one side to the other, hurrying to get somewhere as if to escape the suffocation of the ghoul, who is slowly inhaling the last atoms of air, which circulate in the space between the asphalt and the high-rise from where I look down. In my hands I hold a pen, several sheets of paper and the latest novel by my favorite author, which has been recurring in the topics for some time, and I have not removed it from the place on the pedestal, since the first moment when I gave him the epithet of favorite. The sun's rays squeeze a gap through the holes in the clouds and mercilessly cut their bellows, turning them into dust, which in a few short moments they bake in their sharp wing. I feel the natural heat of the day slowly seeping through the pores of my skin. There is a bench on the roof of the high-rise building where I often come to read in peace and quiet. It's almost always quiet here. I especially love to come during the spring periods. Sometimes it happens that I meet the same group of children who come to play some games with ping pong balls, and I also meet a high school couple in love. The boy and girl sit on the edge of the roof, letting their legs dangle down and teasing each other in a joke of childish teasing. Their sitting on the edge of the roof makes me uneasy, so I close the book and give them their place. There is no one today. I use the last three hours of the morning for solitary enjoyment of the place, from where countless views are presented to me, and no one sees me. Before the first darkness fell, I went down "to the bottom" of the high-rise building. In one of the basement rooms, we often gathered with some of the tenants, where we played cards until the early hours of the morning. At every gathering, we finished the games until the final score was an impersonal zero. All stakes ended up with one participant, without any divisions in the winnings, because in the end everyone expected and wanted everything for themselves. Here "in the bottom" we were all equal. During the gatherings, we forgot about the titles, and in the games we invested a lot of things, which common human sense opposed whenever the greed of playing claimed for more and more. Most of the players mostly played and bet on the scraps of life. Once one of them bet his wife's underwear. After she had betrayed him and left him, this was the only thing he had kept from her. Silky red panties and a gorgeous bra were the only things she forgot to bring with her, so like a recycled plastic trophy, he placed them on the table piled with decks of cards, trying at all costs to boost the ego of his injured manhood. One of the younger girls who often came "into the bottom" bet on every third necklace given by her twenty-year-old husband. I don't know if it was by accident or on purpose, but in the outcome of the games they were usually won by a young and attractive guy whose name I did not know, and with whom they often exchanged glances that melted into sparks of fiery embers. The youngest member was a seventeen-year-old boy who seemed to give the impression of human potential with strong personality and subjectivity. Most of the people who came here were thin and fragile, but their egos were louder than the bell tower of the city church, whose sounds always penetrated "to the bottom" through the doors and windows of the high-rise building. The very first night I decided to hit rock bottom, I decided to bet on all the future times yet to come. Each subsequent day is a relative sequence that brings new death or new life. All the relativities that like optical fibers, were collected in invisible bundles and whose interior was extremely unpredictable, I poured them out on the table of bets, from which even God had given up the moment I first decided to enter the room, whose structure and form was the greatest dice that had been lost between the panes of some huge betting machine. I joined the game tonight when most of the participants were already out. At the table remained the man who a few weeks ago bet his wife's underwear, the seventeen-year-old, and six other men whose faces I saw for the first time that night. I was the only woman in the room, but that fact did not lower my confidence. I've been better with men than with women all my life anyway. With a high dose of self-confidence I grabbed the only empty chair and with a smile between my cheeks I joined the group, which was hungry for sharp sarcasm and stake-raising of any content and form. - Tonight I am betting all the conflicts and all the wars that I will have to fight in my life. – from the very first second I pushed the abstraction, I expected a rush of irrational male resistance that longed to swallow me. - Look at the dress, this game remains a men's fight. Don't mess up coordinate values or come play in the early part tomorrow when there are still beginners running around the deck. If I had to bet right now, I'd be betting that this guy was the biggest underdog of all at the table. The dimples around my lip lines gave away the ironic expression I tried in vain to hide. If only he knew what I was really dealing with, he would easily realize that his jeans are as short as the length of his cellular neurons, which pretend to fire like empty blood cells without any trace of any existence. - Take it, friend! – next to his weak hands, which resembled fragile and thin olive branches, I lowered a bundle of blue banknotes with which I opened my entrance to the game. I put whiskey in the glass and patiently awaited my turn for the initial start and move. I didn't drink often, nor was this kind of speech my daily way of expressing myself, but in tight living and suffocating situations, I practiced transformations in the direction of a different self-shaping, which my best friend often explained with the words: „The other S.“ The game started and went on in the most ordinary form like any other of the previous nights. My start was far from good and promised almost nothing. Not even a third of the cards formed the basis of any merger. In the face-up pile, my predecessor player had just gotten rid of a four, diamond. I did not believe that it could bring me a positive outcome, but I still took it in the hope of some novelty. The Instinct did not lie to me, but not in the way I expected. When I touched the red card, I felt heat in my right palm. Suddenly, instead of being in common contact with the red card, my right palm was breaking into some kind of noisy and chaotic whirlpool, which was striving to swallow me completely with its strong circular currents. I found myself on the corner of the street where I live. Women and children ran in all directions, running away from something and someone. In the scattered crowd I see my friend Buba, but she is somehow  ten years older than the Buba I know personally. - What are you doing? – I tell her. "Where are you running?" Where are all these people around us running off to?” - Are you out of your mind? - she tells me. "It's war time, go ahead of me. You know the tunnel that leads from the old house where we used to hide as kids. The door on the left leads 40m underground, go ahead of me!" Buba is pulling me by the hand, and I think of my whole family, who I don't know where they are. - I can't, my mom, my dad... Where are they? What happened to them? - Are you crazy? - she tells me back angrily. "They died in the war two months ago. There are 2033 of us, wake up. I don't want to think that the gasses from the bombs are involved in paralyzing your nervous system.” She held my hand and I ran after her. We ran towards the outskirts of the city. The exothermic reactions of the bombs they dropped not far from us made my heart skip a beat. Children are crying, adults are shouting, everyone is running somewhere, and no one knows where the road is. As we ran towards the bottom of town, there were fewer and fewer people. From afar I recognized the old house that had an underground tunnel. Before retiring, Buba's father was an architect who worked for global firms and companies. The tunnel led to a room that was his project from thirty years ago. When we were still small we were told that the room could not be penetrated from the outside with any tool. The soundproofing did not allow the exchange of sounds between the outside environment and the underground room, which I called the grave of the living dead. There was a special device that was used to unlock and lock the front door. Just one wrong step in locking and they would turn from the living dead in no time into the true dead who have chosen their own place for their eternal resting place. When we got inside, several families and several small children, two of whom were newborns, were already sheltered here. I turned, looked around and looked for an explanation for the whole situation, for which there was obviously none. Or... Or maybe there was... The card in my right palm created a rift in time. With the help of the red diamond I traveled ten years forward into my future. - What is this, God? Please help me. – I didn't want to talk to Buba or anyone else in the room. They wouldn't understand me. I looked at the floor, around, desperately searching for a way to go back to the time I came from. From the main room, to the right, there was a door that led to a smaller room. The floor was dirt. I took a pebble and drew a diamond on the dirt floor that was no bigger than my clenched fist. I placed my palm parallel over the diamond. I was starting to feel the heat, and the intensity of the heat was greatest when the center of the diamond and the center of my palm coincided. The moment I thought the diamond and my palm start a fire, my physical self was back on the betting table in the basement of the high-rise. Everyone in the room couldn't help but notice my rapid heartbeat. -What is? Did the victory excite you so much? The night is yours. We will rematch tomorrow night. Don't  you didn't come. Come on let's go. After everyone left, I was left alone "in the bottom". - What are they talking about? - I thought. "I don't even remember my participation in the game, so I wasn't even here, I was there..." - I stuttered, biting my tongue. I opened my right palm. I had a cut on the inside of my fist that looked like a line segment that was placed obliquely. For the next few days I decided not to cross the threshold of the apartment where I lived. I was attacked by some unusual fever which kept me in bed day and night. On the fourth day I decided to go out and go down "to the bottom" again. I took some trinkets with me which I placed on the betting table and joined the game at the very start while most were jostling for more comfortable chairs. As the cards circulated from one hand to another, the excitement within me grew to an explosive degree. I was desperate to pull out the card again to use again for a ticket in the near future. The irregular square with sharp corners finally came to the surface, and my right palm in a rush and with a dose of objective certainty, grabbed the plasticized slip, and then not thinking at all about the game and the whole outcome of it. Again the same heat slowly turning into an unbearable heat, and just when I think I'm going to lose my palm, I'm back in the underground room with Buba and some of the people I saw last time. I can tell from their conversation that it has been several months since we first entered the room. A man who looks to be about my age approaches me and kisses my hands. The whole meeting with him flows as if we had become closer than necessary during the past period, during my stay in the future times of my own life. In his eyes I find a form of warmth that I need, as if it were tailored to my size. I don't even know him, and I already like him. I see Buba helping several mothers feed their children, and there are a lot more people in the room than last time. From above you can hear sounds that cause rumblings and several small landslides, which are noticeable especially in the corners. I enter the room on the right and draw a fist-sized diamond on the dirt floor again. I apply the same ritual from before and I'm back at the "bottom" table. In the inner part of the palm, I notice another cut that was connected to the previous one with one point. Together, the two formed a sign that resembles a house roof, which opposes the universe and intends to pierce any atmospheric phenomenon that comes into contact with it. I wanted to close my palm, but I felt a pain that cut especially the two most prominent lines on the inside of my hand. Without saying a word, I got up and left the game. I always, always had a lack of warmth. After the age of fifteen, I don't remember my body ever reaching the required body temperature. Attacked by a severe body fever, I lay in bed again for several days, unable to recover either my mind or my body. After a week I managed to pull myself together and muster up a few scraps of courage, so I went down again to the basement room where people gathered who rarely met in other places. That night I acted similar or the same as the previous two times. Using the usual map procedure, I created an apparent oniric ritual that unlocked countless doors, the doorknobs of which God was opposed to me touching and opening. This time instead of chasing through the city streets, I saw the sea and a lot of sand, which tickled my soles like a soft and fine sugar crystal. In the distance on the horizon I see the man I met in Buba's tunnel and for the first time in many years I find a warmth that carefully embraces me. I open my right palm and see how the sharp triangle has transformed into a full diamond shape, burning and slicing the entire inside of my hand. The sea breeze, on the sand around me, drew the shapes of countless different diamonds. Now instead of me, he controls the parallel fusion between his sandy and my leather diamond, which I hide in a fist in the bottom of my palm. The current of the sea wind is so strong that it affects my physical balance. My legs cross chaotically, but instead of the front part in the sand, I consciously direct the fall of my whole body into my right palm, which I hear cracking and cracking like a dry cherry stick, surrendering to the evil forces of the universe. Pain to the point of madness rumbles in my ear canals, and with a smile between my cheeks I open my right palm and calmly show it to the infinite universe. Parallel placement between two identical geometric shapes is no longer possible. The tiny broken shards have apparently moved the center of the palm. I feel such an intensity of heat that my forehead swells. It's probably from pain. I take a deep breath. 🙟 About Stanka Bajlozova-Barlamova 🙜 Stanka Bajlozova-Barlamova writes short stories. Her prose is published in many literature magazines and anthologies. In 2021, she published the book, “Siluetes”. In 2023, she won first prize in the literature contest in the museum Mother Teresa (Skopje, Republic of North Macedonia). Today, she works in the field of culture.

  • A Different Style of Green

    I held tightly to the safety rail in the shower, my head lowered, warm water running over my hair and down my back. It was comforting but not giving an explanation I was desperately seeking. I didn’t know what to think. How could anyone believe what I couldn’t believe myself? I tried hard to shake off the image I had seen while gardening in my back yard; a normal suburban backyard, not a large country property and just a half-an-hour bus trip from the Sydney Business District. My mind ran over possible scenarios; was I hallucinating? Food poisoning, been drugged? I hadn’t socialised much of late so that was out. ‘Maybe I’m having a nervous breakdown’. I had been under a lot of stress at work of late. I should Google the symptoms. I always doubted the so-called ‘sightings’; the visiting aliens on deserted country roads or eerie wide open spaces where no one was around, deserts and the like, flashing coloured lights of a space ship. ‘How convenient’ I thought, yes, always when no one else was around. How convincing! Yeah, Yeah! It all had been too clap-trap for me. My opinion was booze or drugs, perhaps attention seeking. I wasn’t familiar with drugs so had no first-hand experience of the effects, only from what I had heard. A Different Style of Green I.Jinarmo 2 Soft towelling replaced the moist feeling of shower water. I was glad I had started using vinegar in the rinse water, it certainly made for softer towels. I pulled on fresh clothes and placed my dirty gardening clothes in the washing basket. ‘Maybe if I go outside again, they will be gone and I can put it down to some sort of daydream.’ I muttered, trying to convince myself. I walked slowly down to, what now, appeared a backyard that stretched forever. When I reached the old brick toilet I peered cautiously toward the grassy area behind. “We asked you to leave us alone; we are having an emergency meeting.” The largest of the strange group said. I knew now this was real and tried to think quickly. “Can I be of any help to you? I am not sure where you have come from but I mean you no harm.” As I looked around there was a group of about six, a motley lot of all different sizes and appearances. They all started babbling aggressively at me, like a bunch of unruly kindergarten kids. “Excuse me!” I said, frightening myself by my quick response. “This is my back yard and I have been warm and friendly, you could at least show some manners or don’t you have any, where you all come from.” I bit my lip, took a step back and stood silent waiting for a reaction. I looked around, my eyes taking in the array of beings so unfamiliar to anything I had seen before. Although a range of sizes, they were all smaller than me and had various skin colours, no green or anything you would see in an alien movie but they looked vulnerable in their own way. Without another word the motley lot turned and walked through the gate at the bottom of my garden. I breathed a sigh of relief but felt a bit guilty. They hadn’t been A Different Style of Green I.Jinarmo 3 doing any harm after all, but having a meeting in my garden? It was surreal. I didn’t know whether to be afraid or intrigued. I felt a little of each. So I went to the gate and looked through, planning on calling them back, but they were already at the end of the back lane and turned the corner and almost out of sight. Curious I followed them but by the time I got to the corner they had disappeared. I presumed they had gone into the old warehouse that had been renovated by a government agency that no one knew much about. The gates were always locked and the building had frosted windows set deep into the stone walls; Security cameras were placed in obvious positions and the few people seen coming and going used cards to open the gate. ‘Australian Government Security. Restricted Area’ was displayed on an imposing sign on the gate. I knew there had been a lot of talk when the building was first renovated. It had been in disuse and disrepair for many years and nearby residents were perplexed as to why it had been let go in such a sought after area of the city. The building had been owned by the Government, built by convicts in the early days of the colony; had been a hospital and then a research facility for many years before being closed down in the 1970s. ‘Government wasting money as usual’ was the general consensus. So it was with community support when the building was renovated and put to use. This support was followed by some elements of doubt when the official use for the structure wasn’t publicised and there seemed to be general reluctance for any information to be A Different Style of Green I.Jinarmo 4 provided to the curious community. Time passed and it was just accepted that it was secret, no details were going to be released and that was that. ‘It doesn’t stop me wondering though,’ I thought, pondering on the odd sounds that seemed to emanate from the building at all hours of the night. A kind of whirring mechanical sound and flashing lights could be seen lighting up the windows. ‘I guess they were occurring during the day too but with the traffic and general busy noises inherent in any city they were not noticeable. My house is a block away too, I’m glad it isn’t closer,’ I mused. Mostly the building was surrounded by industrial businesses and a garage. I was in suburbia but the city was expanding and the area much sort after. Then there was the helipad. This was a new assault on the peace of the area when it had been constructed on the roof of the mystery building in recent weeks. I, along with other people living in the neighbouring houses were non too happy, that is, except for the children, they thought it was exciting. Concern settled down though as only a couple of helicopters had been observed coming in to land. Strange, cumbersome, black helicopters, quite large and somewhat foreign looking was the general opinion. ‘I wonder just what’s going on’, my thoughts were tumbling over each other, ‘probably better I don’t know. I’m going home. Think I’ll call in next door and have a coffee with June.’ “June…it’s Sally…can I come in?” I called through the partially opened doorway. “June,” I call again. No answer. I look at my watch. 12 noon. Where could she be? A retired journalist, she was exceptionally punctual, tidy and methodical. A Different Style of Green I.Jinarmo 5 I knock again and walk into her kitchen. Devastation greets me! Crockery and pot plants smashed on the floor, tablecloth pulled from the table, the morning’s newspaper torn to shreds, laptop upside down. I walk gingerly across the floor to pick it up, my foot connecting with June’s mobile. I gasp in alarm. Something is seriously amiss; she is never parted from her mobile. “June, June, where the hell are you?” I call anxiously. Still no reply. I hear a strange whirring noise coming from the lounge room. I hurry across the kitchen, June’s mobile in my hand. The whirring sound increases in intensity. I scream in horror. Lying on the lounge room floor is my neighbour, June. She isn’t moving. Watching over her is a thin, writhing creature, yes a creature. He or she, there was no way of telling, is standing over June, long antenna-like fingers poking at her body, laser-like rays streaming from its tentacle-like fingers leaving dark puncture marks on her body. “We need this earthly person,” chants the figure, turning the knob of a box attached to its body. “We communicate to you earth people through this device. She is our chosen one!” “What chosen one?” I scream. “Get out of here. Leave my friend alone.” I tremble and cry. The whirring sound increases. June’s body rises from the carpet, unbending, then with a whoosh, it changes shape into the foetal position, rising upward, laser rays A Different Style of Green I.Jinarmo 6 guiding her toward the ceiling which parts and silently transports her body through her roof and outward into the blue sky above. I run toward the ugly alien who flashed laser rays at me. I feel weak, nauseous and lifeless. ‘Oh my goodness,’ I think, ‘I am going to follow June.’ I move sideways, fall down on the carpet and crawl behind an armchair. The room is quiet once more. June has disappeared skyward, and the ugly alien is looking down on me, a hideous hissing sound coming from its mouth. His skin has changed to a vivid purple. The whirring sound intensifies as the alien’s thin, coloured body rises out of the roof, disintegrating mid-air. There is silence once more in the house but from high above I hear June’s voice crying out, “Save me, save me.” I scream loudly as two more ugly, thin-bodied aliens with boxes attached to their chests, walk through the lounge room door. “What do you want with me?” I sob. The lounge room is suddenly filled with a vivid white light. One of the aliens points his finger at the box on his chest. A loud whirring sound fills the room again. I feel dizzy and faint and sit down heavily in an armchair. “Enough, enough,” I scream. “Why have you taken my neighbour? What do you want with her?” The two aliens stand menacingly over me, the smaller of the two saying, “We know she is a clever lady with words. You have made a mess of your world. We will provide her with our words, she will tell your world we are about to conquer you. This is just the beginning – we have already taken over the government warehouse a block away and set up our equipment. You earthlings don’t realise what we have in that building, but A Different Style of Green I.Jinarmo 7 you are soon going to find out. Your lives will never be the same again, and your friend June will tell you how you must obey us!” The aliens cackle loudly. I lose consciousness. I wake up on June’s floor. Everything is back in order; the roof is intact and I wonder if I could be hallucinating. Before I come to my senses, some of the motley creatures who had assembled in my back yard enter the lounge room. I sit almost motionless, trying to back away but my body won’t budge. The smallest of the group steps toward me, I shiver. “This is what we were trying to avoid, an invasion!” he yells. “We are the Marotzans, the big hairy ones, the Arctinees.” “Hairy is normal!” one of the Arctinees objects. The Marotzan leader looks annoyed but continues. “The Corints are bad news; we see they took your neighbour. We were meeting with their leader when you interrupted us. We are from different planets of the solar system but met together to negotiate with the Corints. We met them in the warehouse they have taken over. The Corint’s leader stormed out of our meeting, we caught him in your back yard and tried hard to get through to him again but when you disturbed us he left. We feared what he would do next. You are lucky he didn’t take you,” he said with some compassion. “I don’t think I was smart enough, they said June was better with words. That’s what they wanted.” I tell them with some relief. A Different Style of Green I.Jinarmo 8 “It sadly appears like their invasion has begun. We need to stop them before anyone else is harmed. You must return with us to the warehouse to tell your story and help us stop any more damage. We need you humans now to be part of the team.” “No, no way!” I yell. I am becoming comfortable with this lot, but my experience with the Corints had been terrifying. “They said they had their equipment in the warehouse. I don’t want to go anywhere near them.” “What’s wrong with you humans, don’t you want to save your planet?” He roars. “Yes, yes, but you need the military, the government, the brains of our world, not simpletons like me,” for once I feel glad not being so smart. “True, okay, take us to your leader.” ‘Gee’, I think, that is so cliché, am I sure this isn’t a horrible dream. My thoughts are tumbling over in my head. Who am I supposed to put them in touch with? This is all certainly out of my comfort zone. I had just intended to do some relaxing gardening. There’s a knock at the door and it’s with immense relief I see it is Harold, June’s latest boyfriend and police superintendent, conveniently he’s in uniform. “ Harold, I’m so pleased to see you, these…people…are looking for our leader.” “What people?” Harold is not surprisingly looking perplexed. “In here”, I lead him into the living room and am somewhat relieved to see the started expression on his face when he sees the visitors. “What…” “ You are leader?” The Marotzan holds out his arm in what I think is a salute. A Different Style of Green I.Jinarmo 9 “Well, of my station, locally anyway,” Harold is looking intrigued now. “Who the heck are you? Is this a fancy dress party?” “ I do not understand what you mean Fancy Dress. We are from Marotzan, the hairy ones from Arctinees.” “ Hairy is good,” snapped an Arctinees. “Right…I might need backup.” I can see Harold isn’t taking the situation seriously and whisper to him that it’s not a joke and June has been abducted and is being held in the warehouse. “Who abducted her? Why?” “The Corints, because she is good with words. They want to use her as a spokesperson…” “Are they dangerous? What on earth is going on Sally? I’m getting concerned. The joke is becoming tiresome.” “It’s no joke Harold, you must believe me. Get some backup to meet us at the government’s warehouse down the road. Seems everyone has been right thinking something nefarious is going on there. Believe me, this isn’t a joke, these ‘people’ are aliens.” The visitors start babbling amongst themselves, their agitation obvious and my nerves increase. “Meet us at the building, as quick as you can, time has run out,” the leader signals the others and they march out the door. A Different Style of Green I.Jinarmo 10 Still looking mystified, I don’t blame him, Harold rings for backup and we run down the street to the warehouse. We are greeted with a chaotic scene. The flashing lights radiating from the windows are blinding and the whirring sound now deafening. There is no sign of the Marotzans or the Arctinees, presumably they are inside. “I think this might be out of our league,” Harold sounds worried as the police cars start to arrive. It is now I see a dozen, maybe more, of the black helicopters arrive overhead. They circle the building and rays are directed towards it; rays that encompass it. “ Looks like the government is onto it anyway Harold. Maybe your crew won’t be needed.” “Where’s June?” We look at each other. The flashing lights are changing colour, they are now bright red, no, becoming pink, fading as we watch. The noise that was so piercing a few minutes ago is now a dull roar, no longer painful to my ears. The helicopters continue to aim their rays until all becomes quiet. Suddenly it seems they turn as one, like a flock of birds, and fly away. “ Follow me,” Harold calls to the police officers and we run to the building accompanied by the other onlookers who have gathered. The door is locked but no match for the police tool that smashes it open. Harold and I are first inside. “ June, June,” we are both yelling. A Different Style of Green I.Jinarmo 11 “ Harold…Sally?” A voice is calling from the end of a corridor. With huge relief we see June sitting looking very bemused rubbing her head. “Where am I? What the heck is going on?” A group of men, no doubt warehouse staff are sitting not far away, also looking perplexed. “ What’s happened? Who are you? You’re not supposed to be in here.” Harold flicks his ID towards the man. “I…” the man starts “No time for explanations now, we need to get you all to the hospital. Are the ambulances coming Sergeant?” “Nearly here Sir.” “Thank heavens. June…” I hug her. “Looks like our government knew more about the situation than we thought…they were onto it, weren’t they?” “ What situation?” June is looking very confused. I look at Harold and we laugh…nervously. 🙟 About Issy Jinarmo 🙜 Issy Jinarmo is a pen name for writing trio Jill Baggett, Narelle Noppert and Maureen Kelly OAM. We live far apart in Australia - Mudgee, Picton and Adelaide, but started writing never ending stories by email during the lockdown. We have been published twenty seven times in magazines and anthologies from such diverse areas as Australia, India, England and USA. We have released a book of detective stories. Some of our stories which have been published by online magazines can be read from our Issy Jinarmo Facebook site.

  • My Beautiful Oubliette

    I find the dark imperious, tyrannical, ambiguous, infallible but capable of kindness. It has many personalities. During each of the seven days of each week I can see light breach the seams and cracks above and I know how the days pass and the week. I sleep and wake and live in the breach. In it I can judge the quality of the days: bright day, gray day, dark day. All week I wait for the one hour when the latch releases and the hatch door falls open and in flows refracted sunlight like a flood of ghosts. Somewhere up there is an opening to the sky. Right there, to the infinite. For that hour, maybe less, once each week, light pours in, at an angle, through a hatch, down into the dark of my oubliette. Every seventh day I am given this gift and it has become the focus. I count the days with precision and so know the day if not the hour the hatch door will fall and on that day I am… almost happy, as I lay on my cot and watch and watch, waiting for the door to fall, thinking about how I will drink in that light (in my head I added 3 extra “l’”’s to “light”). It has become as vital to me as the sack of food and water and sometimes soap and one time a blanket and twice a precious paperback in my language lowered down through the weekly shaft of light. After so much time spent in unrelenting darkness, light is my reason to count the days, to mark and track the coming and going of the faint glow that seeps in through the cracks and seams, glowing, gray, glowing, weak, dreary light in season. How the dingy yellow canvas of the sack illuminates in the shed light. I stand in that luminous showering glow and grab at the sack as soon as it is within reach, but never do I jump at it. Once it is in my hands though I tear it open, pour out its contents onto the floor, drink and eat, berate myself for my gluttony, for my lack of foresight, my indulging. my refusals, my capacity for pain, for politeness, which kept me alive, for solitude, which has kept me alive, against my will, inside this darkness which seems to possess many personalities. It reminds me of people I knew or had known or hated. That happened twice, once when the darkness reminded me of the enemy, who held such power over me and all around me, the way both show no hesitation in making another afraid, and yet so many are drawn to them, to their immense practicality. Many of us seek them, sought them, the way some seek obscurity, they’ve something to hide. Or think they do. Each possesses an ability to use silence as a tool, and confusion as a weapon. The dark is imperious, tyrannical, capable of kindness, but also infallible. How can I deny it’s rightness? I know them. I trust there would come a grand gesture like the stars, like the very bare advent of a sunrise on a clear, frigid winter morning, and he will act the father of the prodigal. I can even see him in the darkness; his face looks like a loaf of bread. The empty sack disappears up into the light and through the hatch and is gone. But the hatch remains open, sometimes for as much as an hour. It is so kind, such a kindness, to let me sit in that shaft of light and drink and eat bread. The night before the seventh day is sometimes sleepless in anticipation. My optimism on those days is boundless. Perhaps that is an exaggeration. I think about bread, how it has become so delicious to me. I love its hardness, I love scraping at its sides with my tooth, I enjoy shaking out the small animals that lived inside it. I speak to them, apologize for the eviction, or for eating their babies; the thought of their invisible eggs no longer makes me gag or blanch. Sometimes I consume the animals themselves, though I never fantasize about them. Other times I think I might leave for them a crumb or two, but it is impossible. One day as I lay on my back staring at the glow seeping through the hatch, I crossed my legs and playfully let my foot swing up and down, like an anxious person who is otherwise happy with nothing to do. When I caught myself doing this idle happy thing I stopped immediately. My knee was hurting anyway. I thought about my poems, the ones I had written and the ones I couldn’t write down because I had no tools. More had come to me in my time in my dark oubliette than in all the years above. But how can I record them? I try to control their coming and going, working on one at a time, slowly so I might commit it to memory for some future when I have a pen and paper, a time I only ever believe will come during the seventh day of the week as I wait for the light, full of optimism. A poem: Into a river of fish I fell/fresh fish special/ring the bell! That day, after I uncrossed my legs, I worked on my latest poem for hours, just to distract myself from the waiting. Hunger, thirst, the day, stanzas and the seeping light all gathered and dispersed. I had stopped working and found myself staring so intently at the hatch I could literally see the faint glow fade to almost nothing. I felt confused. The dark was imperious, tyrannical, capable of kindness, but also infallible. It ruled me. I checked the calendar in my head. I checked my count of the days. I had had no food for two. No water since that morning. Food usually lasted five days, water I made last – barely -- seven. Had I over indulged again? Had I miscalculated? Could I have been a day early? I was certain I had counted the days correctly. My heart was racing. It was like I was outside surgery waiting for the doctor with the news. I was sitting in the courtroom waiting for the clerk to get through all the preliminaries and announce the verdict. I watched that hatch like a sea captain’s wife and the sea. I watched with the vigilance of an army scout behind a boulder. I watched it with the stillness of a coyote over a rabbit hole. Its opening was my feast, my Sunday Mass, my divine day of rest, my sabbath, my sustenance, my survival. In this benighted dark it was my baptism. I paced and screamed a kind of angry despairing prayer full of accusations and entreaties. Quickly I regretted the accusations, the hostility. I begged for forgiveness. In the darkest dark after day had ended, I fell face down onto my cot. I cried, and I remembered the poet who had begged his patron lord: send my roots rain. I laughed, I don’t want for rain, I want for light, send my leaves light, but you refuse and I am dying, will die. I bit my hand so hard it almost bled. I tried to let myself suffocate, pressed into the thin mat but failed to die. I cried for food. Tearlessly I cried for water. But I screamed, and I bit, for the light. I prayed to fall asleep and never wake up, to die deep inside a dark hood of night without openings. Hours passed. I was refused sleep. I cried, stopped crying, and finally, finally began to drift. I dreamed, or thought I dreamed, but in the waking world something was stirring, and I heard the hatch door fall, clack, swing. The dullest glow reached the corner of my eye. I didn’t turn to look. So the supplied were here. I resented the sending of my roots rain when I had begged for light. A voice warned me. Take the food and water or it will be withdrawn. I jumped up, raced to the sack and only then did I see it flowing down, though something was different. Had I miscalculated the days and hours after all? Was it day now? I could see, up through the aperture, patches of a stranger darkness that almost appeared to be the very source of a new kind of light flowing down like a load-bearing pilar of sweet, soft vertical joy, not from a flashlight, not from a bulb or torch, not from a distant window on the sun. This was a light that shone surrounded by darkness. I moved back to the cot, sat a moment drinking and staring. I did not blink. I barely breathed. After two slow sips of water I rose and walked back toward the shower of light and, slowly, slowly, entered, first with a hand, then another. I could see the filth, the long nails, bones and veins through the thin skin in the penetrating light. I stepped in and let it wash over me with its tenderness. If light could be cashmere, if light could be silk, if light could be her mother’s skin to a baby. If light could be an infant’s skin to her mother. If light could be a stolid presence when no one else will join you, faith when no one will believe about what is inside of you. This light simply was. The gentle saint had called the moon sister, but this was the mother light, not a thing I could embrace, but something to embrace me, to hold me awhile in the darkness that had held me always, that sought to separate me from the world, the people, the day. I could see now, if the sun and rain are the seed, then the moon, even in its barrenness, the moon is the mother, the watcher over, the only true guide when darkness falls, moonlight was holding my hand as I stood motionless except for running tears. After thousands shed in this darkness, these tears were different, they came without thought or question, they came without pain in my soul or limbs, they came as an offering up to the light, tears to tell the moonlight that it had moved me, to show the light I was listening to its message. That I was its acolyte. I was its child. Slowly, inevitably, the light itself moved. I moved with it until I heard the hatch creek, its chains clank, it closed loudly, the dark resumed, but for a moment the breath of the mother lingered, remained visible in the seams. I made my way without sight to the cot, lay down on my back, and watched her breath fade. The dark regained its dominion. I felt warm. I felt tired. Heavy. The dark, it was imperious, tyrannical, capable of kindness, but also infallible. I shook my head and laughed in disbelief. Send my leaves light, I yelled; then, quietly, send my leaves moonlight. 🙟 About James O’Brien 🙜 James O’Brien lives in Oakland, California, where he writes about the aftermath of violence and a community of former victims working to bring safety and healing to their city. He is writing a book about Marilyn Washington Harris, who, after the murder of her only son in 2000, dedicated her life to transforming the dark, lonely, painful experience of losing a loved one to sudden violence, and became an icon of healing and justice. James has published much nonfiction (selected articles available at “My Beautiful Oubliette” is his first published fiction. James’s visual creations, known as “jimages,” can be viewed on Instagram: @icecityalmanac or at

  • Surrendering To The Surreal, Anthology 1

    Step into the fantastical realm of "Surrendering To The Surreal", an anthology that defies the boundaries of reality and beckons readers into a surreal tapestry of the absurd. From the whimsical to the bizarre to the thrilling and mysterious, these tales transport you to alternate dimensions, where the laws of physics yield to the whims of imagination. Journey through dreamlike landscapes, encounter enigmatic spiders and explore different times. "Surrender To The Surreal" is a collection of short stories that invites you to surrender to the inexplicable and embrace the uncanny, providing a passport to realms where the ordinary transforms into the extraordinary, and the supernatural becomes the new reality.

  • Aunt Maizie

    School was out for the summer, and Willard and his twin brother, Dillard were happy. They couldn't wait to spend their days sleeping late, exploring the woods near their home and catching fish in the river. They wanted to see their friends and also go to the circus that would be coming to town in a week or two. Unfortunately, Mom and Dad had other ideas. They had booked reservations to attend a nudist camp for two weeks, and of course the boys could not go. It would strain their sensitivities. Grandma, who lived with them, was not welcome to go either. She would have a hissy fit if she even knew what they were up to. The boys were checking out their fishing lures when Dad popped into their room. "Hey, boys," he said. "Your mother and I are going on a two-week vacation. We have made arrangements for you two and your grandma to visit Aunt Maizie in Harbunkle, Kansas." Dillard threw his lure back into the tackle box. "We don't want to go," he whined. Grandma, who sat on the bed, looked at her son sternly. "You know good and well that Maizie is no good. I wouldn't let her be around my pet pig, if I had one. She is my daughter, but she is evil!" Dad looked at her fondly. He walked over and patted her back. "Just because she had that run-in with the law once when she hog-tied the sheriff and left him in the middle of Main Street doesn't mean she is all bad." "Humph" went Grandma. "I wouldn't put anything past that woman. The last time I heard anything about her, she was into the occult."  Dad gave her his sternest expression. "You have to go anyway. We can't trust you to be here with the boys by yourself. I know Dillard and Willard are almost sixteen, but you are too unstable to be left here without supervision." Grandma glared at him. “If you are talking about when I set my bedroom on fire, that was over five years ago," she sniffed. "But you never stopped smoking," Dad reminded her. "I only smoke two a day," she grumbled. "Two packs a day," Dad replied. "Not only are you going with the boys to visit Maizie, you are going to have to do without cigarettes during that time. Maizie doesn't allow smoking in her house." "Well, whoop-ti-do," Grandma sneered. "You have everything planned out, don't you. Where are you two going anyway?"  Dad's face turned red. "None of your business." Grandma looked at him knowingly. "I'll bet you are going to that nudist camp in Dodge City. I've seen brochures about it all over the house." "That's not true," Dad lied. He retrieved three round trip bus tickets from his pocket. "Here," he said, giving one to each person. "You leave in three days. Have your bags packed and ready to go." Grandma looked sadly at the boys. "Well, boys, you are going to have to put up with me for a while whether you like it or not." Dillard ran to his grandma, hugging her. "We don't mind," he assured her. "We love to be around you." "Yeah!" seconded Willard. "We'll have a real good time."  Grandma wasn't so sure, but she didn't want to discourage the boys before they started. Three days later they were on their way to Harbunkle to see Maizie. Grandma kept bumming cigarettes from the people riding the bus until Willard gave her part of his newspaper money to buy them with. They had only one suitcase for the three of them. Each boy had a couple of shirts and trousers and several pairs of underwear and socks. Willard also carried three sleeping bags in a large, heavy-duty canvas bag. Grandma only had a few items to wear since she knew this was not to be an extended visit. She kept the return bus tickets in her purse, ready to be used as soon as possible. She had no desire to spend time with her daughter, Maizie. There had been too many incidents in the past for Grandma to trust her. However, she would try to make the best of the visit. Perhaps she and the boys could make themselves scarce for two weeks. The three walked from the bus station to Aunt Maizie's house. It was in a derelict part of town. Strangers stared as they passed by. One guy who looked like a gangster snickered and said something about ugly, old Grandma. Grandma ran up to him and kicked him in the shin. He limped away whimpering. "You're not as tough as you thought, huh boy?" she shouted after him. When they reached Aunt Maizie's house, they were appalled by the sight of it. Tall weeds grew in the yard. The house needed paint, and the shutters hung by a nail or two. The area around the place smelled like a backed-up sewer. Grandma and the boys pushed through the weeds and approached the residence warily. When Aunt Maizie answered the doorbell, she looked as if she had been on a two-week drunken spree. Her eyes widened at the sight of them. "I thought you would be here next week," she told them." I haven't got much to eat at the moment. "Don't worry about it," Grandma answered as she pushed her way past her daughter. She looked around the living room. There were cobwebs with dead bugs in them everywhere. "Where's the broom?" Grandma asked Maizie. "I'll help tidy up this wretched place. Those cobwebs have got to go." "No!" Maizie shouted. "Those are my snacks!" Grandma turned to look at her, aghast. "Since when did you start eating dead bugs?" "Since I learned they are a good source of protein," Maizie told her. Willard and Dillard snickered. "Grandma, I heard she was off her rocker and now I know for sure," Willard said. Maizie rounded on him. "Shut up, you little jerk!" she screeched. "I'll eat whatever I please." Grandma frowned. "And what exactly are we supposed to eat while we are here?" "I don't care if you starve!" Maizie snarled. Grandma and the boys went to the nearest McDonalds for dinner. Grandma could not believe how much Maizie had changed in the several years since she had seen her. Maizie had developed long, spindly legs and arms. Her torso was oval shaped. She was nearly bald, only a few sparse hairs grew around her ears. She wore a black dress with a bright red symbol of some kind on the bodice. Her feet were clad in red heels and she wore red framed glasses. Grandma couldn't put her finger on what had changed, but Maizie looked odd. Since Maizie did not own a television or computer, the boys were extremely bored. Grandma was not, but she was curious. "What do you do around here, and how are you surviving?" Maizie glared at her. "None of your business!" she spat. "Okay, okay," Grandma replied. "There's no reason for you to be so hateful." "There's an arcade half a mile from here," Maizie informed her mother. "You and the boys can get out of my hair.” What hair?" inquired Dillard, then burst into howls of laughter. "Humph," said Grandma. "I can see we are not wanted around here." She grabbed her purse. "Come on, boys, let's go." The boys loved going to an arcade, no argument there. After getting directions from Maizie, they were on their way. "I wonder why Aunt Maizie is so gripey,”" Willard said. "I don't know," replied Grandma, avoiding a broken place in the sidewalk. "We may have to shorten our visit even if your parents don't want us to." "We will if we have to," Dillard assured her. "We trust you, grandma. You have never let us down." Grandma smiled. "And I won't," she told him. "I can watch after you two at home as well as here." After several hours at the arcade the trio had sandwiches and drinks at the arcade snack bar. They decided to go back to Maizie's house for the night, but all three were leery. Grandma said she had bad vibes but would try to make the best of it. When they reached Maizie's home, there was no sign of her. They looked through the filthy house, calling for her. Wondering if she had gone out for the evening, they put their sleeping bags in the middle of the living room floor and crawled in. In the middle of the night Willard jerked awake. He felt as though something was choking him. He grabbed his neck. It felt hot and painful. Had something bitten him?  He whispered to Dillard, "Are you awake?" "Yes," came the reply. "Something bit me." "Me too," said Willard. "Here, also," Grandma whispered. "Everything is black." No streetlights illuminated the living room as before. "Where are we?" Dillard asked. "I don't know," admitted Willard. "Something is very strange." He felt around. His hand touched something soft like cotton candy or spun cotton. He tried to move the substance. It was strong. Grandma's foot touched his knee. They were close to each other. Willard touched Dillard’s shoulder. They were wrapped in something that felt sinister. Some sort of slime covered them completely. They soon realized they were trapped inside a cocoon-like structure. Willard cut a small hole in the substance with his pocket knife and peered through it. "What do you see?" Grandma whispered. Willard could not believe what he was looking at. "It’s a spider.” "What's it doing?" “It's sitting at a table reading a newspaper." "This is no time for jokes!" Grandma hissed. "It's no joke," Willard said. "It looks like a big black widow spider with several pairs of red plastic framed monocles and red stiletto heels on five of its feet. Two other legs are holding the newspaper, and one leg has a cup of tea the spider is sipping. It has a red, hour glass on its stomach. I think it's Aunt Maizie." Grandma nudged Willard away from the hole and peered through it. "I remember a birthmark she had on her head. I can still see an outline of it," Grandma whispered. Willard shuddered. "What do you think she plans to do with us?" he asked Grandma. Grandma turned away from the hole and let Dillard have a peek. "She plans to eat us, most likely," she told him. Dillard moved away from the hole. "We can't let that happen," he decided. "We will have to trick her somehow." "Yeah, we have to get out of here," Willard agreed. "For now, let's try to rest." From their position in relation to the table Maizie-Spider sat at, Willard knew they must be hanging on the wall. The cocoon was huge. It held the three of them, their sleeping bags, and the canvas bag they had used to haul them in. Grandma had her purse with her by some miracle. The three of them had vicious headaches from being drugged with some form of venom. Fortunately, no real harm had come to them, yet. They slept on top of their sleeping bags because the cocoon was stuffy from lack of ventilation. While they slept, the hole Willard had made was being widened. Around two o'clock in the morning Dillard felt something brush his face. He was awake instantly. He sat up. Several red eyes were watching him. He screamed. Grandma and Willard jerked awake. They screamed also, not knowing what was happening but afraid. Dry, creepy, feathery spider legs were all over them as the spider made her way into the cocoon. "Kick it!" Dillard shrieked. They did, but it took several attempts before they were able to force it out of the cocoon. Finally, it hissed and withdrew. "It bit me!" Dillard whimpered. There was no sleep for anyone the rest of the night. When morning finally arrived, the three tried to think of a way to escape. "Try to cut another hole with your knife," Dillard suggested. Willard began to explore their prison with his knife. He struck something solid. After much effort, he felt the outer wall their prison was attached to, crumble, making a hole big enough for escape. He was relieved that the walls were rotten. "If we escape, she will come after us," Grandma said. "We have to trap her." The boys agreed, but how? They decided to wait for nightfall to trap the spider. All three were very hungry, and thirsty but had nothing to eat or drink. "When we get out of this, I will buy us Big Macs and huge colas," Willard promised. "Yes, and I'm going to give my son and your mother a piece of my mind," Grandma said. "I know they went to that nasty nudist camp even though they denied they were going there." The boys snorted. "We knew all the time," Dillard confessed. "I heard them talking about it when they thought they were alone." Later that night they laid their trap. They told Grandma to crawl out of the hole Willard had made and wait for them nearby, which she did. Around 2:00 a.m. they heard the spider as she began to widen the hole she had closed when she left the cocoon the first time. "Shh", Willard whispered. "It won't be long now." Come on, come on, you piece of evil. The boys waited until they could tell she was fully inside the cocoon. "Now!" shouted Willard. "Pull the strings tight!" They heard a squeal as they closed the top of the canvas bag they had brought from home. It was very heavy and strong. They had placed the top of it at the entrance of the hole the spider had made. She crawled into it. She would not be able to chew her way out of it even if she turned back into a human, and she would die. It was lucky that Maizie-Spider had enclosed it in the cocoon she had trapped them in. Hopefully she would suffocate soon. The twins hurriedly escaped their prison and were on their way to the bus station. Grandma had no idea how her daughter had changed into a spider, but she was glad to be leaving that horrible place. They had to wait for the next available bus, but were soon on their way home. They had a circus to attend and lots of fishing to do. About LaVern Spencer McCarthy: LaVern Spencer McCarthy has written and published twelve books of poetry and fiction. Her work has appeared in Writers and Readers Magazine; Meadowlark Reader; Agape Review; Bards Against Hunger; Down in The Dirt; The Evening Universe; Fresh Words Magazine; Wicked Shadows Press; Midnight Magazine; Pulp Cult Press, Metasteller and others. She is a life member of Poetry Society of Texas. A poem she wrote was nominated for the 2023 Push Cart Prize.

  • Canopy of Moving Parts

    Part 1 “A canopied necropolis of moving parts I must enter? But, why?” “More an untamed zoo of remaining parts that loops, re-loops. Mandala circling vista dipping thousands feet deep. We have no choice . . .” “It’s the end, so why rerun the return when you got out?” He’s arching, grunting. I study the notches on his arms, striated lines, warts, twofold thick, doubling back. Skin like slate. Two years was all it took for Arcris to crumble. “Because I must, we must. It’s intense. Our one last chance. Gates close at 6.” I have never come this close to a rerun rewind sarcophagi. He has, though this canopied creation has been patterning in our midst a full year. Our whole city in ruins. No one is accounted for, those who flee, or who stand in the necropolis heart that bifurcates to enormous looms of time, shuttles flying deftly at high velocity, grinding contrail parts to wisteria, guaranteeing a wedge of circulation for every resident within, keeping the canopied half constantly spinning. Part 2 Weavers having dried themselves into mummies for the task, ensure the reality, that it’s regular, piecemeal. Each intermittent new collapse one recital of participants will wipe out the other. Then the process reverses to start over. Death’s cycle range whirl-pooling as pasta water down the pipe, once done. It is unsettling and irreversible they say, what develops out there, but no one can figure out how to override the nature of the scatter. Not even him, who returned. On this day the last of us few stragglers stream through the center gates like stalking ghosts, as night is fast advancing. The first death howl freezes the blood in my veins. There’s no turning back. The dark woof and warp reveal devilish hands at work. Today is the turn of were- formed wolf-head manticores making way for toothy narwhal packs. Their dying howls at every orb and disc is too piercing for even my grizzliest earmuffs to snuff out. He says the last time sea- tangled water serpents rose out of the slithering depths like bubbling hydrants of boiling steam hissing at swooping carrion condors. Swooping cranes didn’t stand a chance. We have arrived. “I get it, acoustics for configuration, but those?!” I point at swathes of moving spikes rebounding in different shapes, switching to sword-grass that twitch in whorls, out of earshot. “That’s the secondary diet, rapid sounds to separate arrival and departure of desertees.” I know, but it disturbs me. We’re ripping apart, vertically. Progress is slow or not at all. I scarcely understand the weaver’s grid nor the society of strange creatures, some futured, others archived, or too pre-dated to consider current, shackled to their chain gangs of perpendicular time in set conflict. Why must we go through this sonorous burial shit?! What post-Arcris necropolis of painful alien structures to traverse? They call it tech, preservation for future mores. Whose? Ahead, giant stone figures on plinths displaced from rock structures in weird erotic and warrior poses line the field’s angular route. They mimic sphinx. To me they appear naked and Part 3 alone in their grotesque silence, marked for tombs, some minus torsos and limbs. “Why those?” I can’t help sliding my fingers over his cold slate skin. Clearly stone is out of place, but prevalent. His glassy black eyes fixate on those giant stones like moss to soil seeps. “Could be a charade of sorts, aesthetics on display in acoustics, to spread the total effect of reverberation. We don’t question stone however surreal. The sediment part is the best.” “But those don’t fit. The traveling stone. They look replicas of us, too much us.” My instinct says vibrate with the rest. My words are cut in the darkness of night and are lost. We are moving fast, separating. I can barely see. In a moment he is gone, zapped. In a blue haze I think I hear screams ring out. More renewed howls. Someone bellow “Beware the spawn of chaos handling vector, responsible for the ruin’s spread.” What does it mean? Where is he? Who is the maker of this super fragment spread? When will the canopy settle, the remains end? I feel a sudden tremor. I’m falling, descending, hundred feet, two hundred deep, I don’t know. In the short time since entry into the shuttle cavity not a scatter of moonlight. We are long past nightfall. Through scud of sky tender new sprouts are packing their readiness to return inside the representational clavicle within the canopy, the perfect divide for perfect mobility. A change? “Don’t be fooled. That’s the looms’ erratic spirit.” A familiar voice whispers in bursts. I am well aware. Outside, the rooting shoots are overwhelming clusters, the scattered march of slumbering structures, wet, unformed, weaving the slow gurgle of chaos in the packed loom. Ever so Slowly! Don’t get me wrong. I hear their gurgle now. They sound him! Together we will resist, but with whole applied columns of stone plinths to consider, the stretched spine can only unspool, the weave cutting loose like bloated blimps once tethered, slithering through. Part 4 “Such unjust hierarchy of the stone forces?!” “Look closely! Indicates an uncommonly well adjusted necropolis of moving parts within the canopy, in hi-tech process.” “And us? What of us? Aren’t our moorings unearthed, unloosed with the rest?” “You could say, in rotational movement, same as a mendicant monk meditating under a banyan tree or a rigged canopy, or atop an inaccessible stone pillar. Same as the unlikely rishi taking his first steps, transporting uncertain mountain shapes even in crescent slumber.” “But we’re changing! Our matrix! My tendrils! Your notches! Look--our warts!” “Growths! Simply growths! Re-growths if you will. Same symmetry, transmuted. It’s the transformational alchemy in the specter of the loom paused in a moment of slow motion scatter. Happens to all of us in the end. Nirvana! It’s the preparedness that counts.” “As half-formed creatures? Unrecognizable even to ourselves? No! But not as stone strictures surely? Gryphon formatted?! I won’t have it! I can’t have it! Our stiffening to stone pock-marked bodies a dilution of multiple parts, easy prey for flesh-digging protozoa?!” “Oh come now! Ostensibly unrecognizable, yes, but, reality is, we’re now in a completely different underworld. This rock-hewn preservation, our self-preservation. No longer our own, which in fact it is. Do you see how it works? Unbelievable, yet functional to say the least, once you cross over. We’ll adjust to new environment. Everyone does. You’ll see.” “Take me back! Back!” “We can’t return.  We’ve been bodily reticulating in parts for years.” About Rekha Valliappan: Rekha Valliappan is an award-winning multi-genre writer of short fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction. Her surreal, speculative stories feature in various journals and anthologies including Lackington Magazine, StepAway Magazine's 'Imaginarium' Fantasy Issue, Penumbric Speculative Fiction Magazine, Teleport Speculative Fiction Magazine, The Punch Literary Magazine, Cerasus Magazine, The Hyacinth Review, and elsewhere. She won the Accent Prize for speculative short fiction from Boston Accent Lit. And another short story 'Ice Eyes of the Turquoise Passage' was Best of Fiction in Across The Margin.

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