‘Rooftopper’ by Susan Grundy

Rooftopper.jpg

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

Liam was six when he started to shimmy up the doorway moldings. “Look Mom!” he’d cry from the ceiling. “No hands!”

Lena tried to discourage him. “Why don’t you play hockey or soccer like a normal kid?” she would ask, but there was no stopping the climb that carried her son through boyhood and adolescence, from doorways to signposts to the roof of their house and all the other roofs in their neighbourhood. The taller he grew, the greater the assent. The therapist said he would grow out of it. Lena was not so sure, but she carried on as single mothers do.

“I’m glad you’re here,” she confessed to the police when they came knocking on her door –– incriminating words that she later denied. Although she was angry with her idiot son, Lena had no intention of testifying against him. She claimed to be ignorant about his YouTube video, the one responsible for the new silver strands in her hair, the same video that had blown up on social media

The police forced her to watch the footage, all eyes upon her. “Do you recognize your son’s baseball cap?” they asked.

“No comment.”

“Does it bother you, what he does?” one of the cops whispered, hoping for a confession.

“Breaking into abandoned buildings, hanging off forty-story buildings? What do the kids call it? Urban exploring? Urbexing?”

Lena said nothing.

The police lingered for hours, waving their search warrant, checking every drawer, every closet. They confiscated cell phones, computers, camera equipment. Before leaving, they locked Liam’s wrists in handcuffs.

“Looks worse than it is,” Liam told her.

As Lena closed the door behind them, she heard the neighbours congregating on the sidewalk, her privacy now invaded on both sides of the front door. Her son had gone too far this time.

Liam returned home victorious, the evidence too thin for a conviction. Urbexing had triumphed over the legal system. It was clear to Lena that her son had learned nothing, and had every intention of carrying on as usual. The video of Liam, teetering on the edge of oblivion four hundred feet in the air, played over and over in her mind. She couldn’t sleep. But when she explained to Liam that his urbexing was slowly killing her, he simply took Lena’s hand, and told her not to worry. Lena stared down at the fingers she loved so much wrapped around her own, and the germ of an idea began to form.

At five o’clock on a Friday afternoon, Lena pushed against the revolving doors of the Imperial Bank Tower in Downtown Montreal, and made her way against the crowd of exiting office workers. The guard behind the security desk turned away to answer the phone. Lena waited for the elevator to be empty, and then stepped inside, pressing the top button for the 40th floor. As the door was closing, a tall man with a briefcase slipped inside, and studied the panel before retreating to the far corner of the elevator, diagonally across from Lena. He tapped his feet while they were hurtled upwards, his Louis Vuitton loafers gigantic next to Lena’s sneakers. She watched the numbers flash on the panel. When the door opened onto the 40th floor, Lena rushed into the hallway, tripping over the grey-blue carpeting. Her knapsack fell to the floor.

“Can I help you?” the tall man’s voice called from behind her.

She stopped and turned. The skin on his face was smooth and flushed. He looked young enough to be Liam’s older brother.

“I’m looking for Blake & Smythe.” She remembered the law firm’s name from a sign in the lobby.

“Their offices are on the 30th.” He eyed the backpack with either curiosity or suspicion–– Lena wasn’t sure.

“Your first time here?” he asked.

“I’m familiar with the building.” It wasn’t a lie. She’d watched Liam’s video at least fifty times.

He pressed the down button for the elevator, and showed no sign of leaving.

“Think I’ll take the stairs. I need the exercise.” Lena sprinted towards the flashing exit sign that she recognized from the video. Inside the stairwell, she steadied herself against the concrete wall, and studied the bright red steel of the rooftop door looming from the top of a narrow set of metal grated steps. The door appeared more intimidating than on film, and she considered that it might now be connected to an alarm. She pulled down on the metal bar, and then pushed. The door didn’t budge. She pushed harder. Nothing.

“You’ve got to be joking!” Lena hurled every part of her raging motherhood against the steel. The door yielded. Lena held her breath waiting for the deafening bell or shrill siren, but the only noise came from the high-pitched whistle of rushing air. She stepped outside and the door slammed shut behind her.

The force of the wind whipped Lena’s long hair in every direction, blinding her. She crouched down and pulled out a camera and a black ski mask from the knapsack. After adjusting the mask on her face and tightening the straps of the knapsack, she set out to follow the phantom footsteps of her son.

Later that evening, Lena wrote the first entry in her journal.

The rooftop swept away the anger towards my son, and the tedium of responsibility weighing on my shoulders. No longer playing the starring role, I graduated to a silent spectator. What a performance! Under the sky’s unfathomable vastness, the sinking sun illuminated the city with her fabulous golden light. Everything else paled in comparison. For a precious moment, nothing mattered.

Lena did not mention in her journal how the door had refused to open, that she was stuck on the rooftop, how she made an unforeseen phone call for help, and forty-five minutes later a pale-faced Liam had flung open the red steel door. She didn’t have to record any of this. It was all caught on film.

“See how it feels?” Lena asked her son through the lens.

Liam was quiet that evening. They ordered Indian food, and watched her video. Lena helped herself to seconds. Liam barely touched his plate. He asked his mother to swear that she’d never pull a stunt like that again, or post anything on the Internet. Lena asked what he would promise in return. Neither agreed to anything.

* * *

A year has passed. Last spring Liam graduated from college, and moved into his own apartment on the other side of the city. Tonight he treats his mother to dinner.

Lena checks the weather before changing her clothes and stepping outside. It is almost midnight when she crouches down on the gravel and grabs on to the gutter rail, expertly swinging her legs over the edge of the roof. Her dusty shoes dangle seven stories above street level. A bitter wind bites on the bare skin on the small of her back where the windbreaker rides up. She adjusts her ski mask. Breath softens. Heart calms. This is her favorite moment, the one that follows the inspiration, the planning, and the uncertainty of what might happen. She has arrived safely at tonight’s destination. Perched on this rooftop under the night canopy, Lena feels alive.

Clouds recede, the atmosphere clears, and shadows become transparent. Lena leans forward to peer down at the street. This is not the highest rooftop she has navigated, not even close, but the days are numbered for this abandoned building, once a garment factory. Tomorrow, it could be sitting in concrete rubble. Later tonight, while the details are still fresh, Lena will record notes in a journal for the book she will one day write. In the meantime, she reaches for her camera.

The sound of crunching gravel. Lena turns her head as the flash from a lighter reveals the faces of two teenagers. Confident the boys will keep their distance, Lena looks to the east where the full moon has paused directly above the Imperial Bank Tower; hovering like a luminescent large dot of exclamation. “Perfect,” she whispers, and takes a photo.

Lena looks to the north where Liam is fast sleep. She thinks of quitting her job, and exploring other cities. For now, she swings her dangling legs back onto the roof and brushes the gravel dust from her jeans. The two teenagers say nothing as she heads for the fire escape. They’ve heard the stories about a middle-aged woman with a black ski mask who never speaks. There’s a rumor among the city’s outlaw explorers that to cross her path on a rooftop is a sign of good luck, like receiving a mother’s blessing. It is the boys’ lucky night. They stand and salute her.

 


SUSAN GRUNDY recently changed paths, from marketing consultant to fiction writer. One of her short stories has appeared in The Danforth Review. Earlier this year, she completed her first novel, a story about a hard-edged Montreal architect who breaks free from a painful ancestral cycle. Susan lives in Montreal.

Copyright © 2019 by Susan Grundy. All rights reserved.

‘Wedding Pictures’ by Isobel Cunningham

Wedding Pictures

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

Hi, Honey! Oh, Granny is so glad to see you. I hardly ever get a chance to baby-sit now that Nanna lives with you guys. I can’t compete with her!

Oh, my. Look how you’ve grown. You’re a big girl now, five years old already! C’mon in, Granny has oatmeal cookies and milky tea just like the other time. Only don’t tell Mummy or you’ll never be allowed back! Just kidding, darling . . . wave bye-bye to Mummy in the car.

Yes, Granny’s been decluttering—throwing out old pictures and books and things. What, this big white book? That’s Granny’s wedding album. Pictures of the day Granny got married to Grandpa. No, Grandpa doesn’t live with Granny any more.

It’s a wedding, you know, the day people get married. Marriage. Do you know what that is? Well, maybe you don’t.

You’ve seen people riding around in big cars in the summer in white dresses or in a horse and carriage like last summer when my neighbors finally got that lowlife to marry their youngest . . . well, never mind. So, these are Granny’s pictures. From the olden days! D’you want to have a look?

Wait, Granny will just pour the tea and get the cookies and we’ll look together, OK?

Why do people get married, honey? Well, they love each other and want to promise in front of everybody that they’ll keep on loving each other, and stay together, and share everything and raise a family. It’s a lovely day. It was a lovely sunny day for us, I remember.

Well, no, Granny and Grandpa didn’t stay together for our whole lives, darling. Ten years was quite enough.

Lying? Of course not. How could we have known we’d get divorced?

I know Nanna always tells you that you should keep your promises . . . and not tell lies. Yes, she’s quite right.

It’s hard to judge though when you’re just a young girl. What’s that? Your Nana says you shouldn’t judge other people? Well, that’s easy for her to say. Her husband died young before he had a chance to go off the rails, poor guy. You see, there is such a thing as “Good Judgement,” and Granny didn’t have any of that when she married Grandpa.

Yes, we do all look nice, all dressed up and smiling. Except this old man? You’re right, he does look a little grouchy. That’s my Daddy, your great grandfather. He was pretty mad that day. He had to pay for a big party for the wedding and he didn’t like Grandpa very much.

So, why did he pay? Well, I guess he wanted to please me and my mom, to make us happy. No, I wouldn’t say he was a people pleaser. I know, Nanna says you shouldn’t be a people pleaser.

That man in the long dress is the priest. I’m sure you don’t know any men in long dresses like that. Your Nanna’s a Baptist, and they don’t go in for that, and I doubt your mother and that man of hers—yes, dear, Barry—have set foot in a church in twenty years.

That’s the priest blessing us. I don’t really know what that means, dear but he made a sign of the cross like this over us. No, you don’t need to make that sign at home…well, yes, maybe over the cat. That would be alright.

We went to church because it was the most important day of our lives. Not any more, only at Christmas and Easter. I go for the music.

Look! This picture shows the whole family. Nice, eh? People always come together for a wedding. That’s my older brother, James. Oh, I haven’t seen him for years. He took all your great grandfather’s money when he died, and didn’t give one red cent to me, his only sister, so we had a big fight and I haven’t seen him since.

Yes, I know I tell you not to fight with your brother. This was very important though, he —oh, well never mind. Have another cookie and we’ll turn over the page.

Oh, there I am with my long veil and the train on my dress all spread out. You know, that was my grandmother’s dress. That’s why it has long sleeves and doesn’t look like a bathing suit or a chorus girl’s outfit, like the wedding dresses the brides wear these days. Maybe one day you’ll wear it at your wedding. Would you like that? It’s a tradition in our family. Even your mother wore it once.

I have to admit it hasn’t brought much luck the last couple of times it was worn, but maybe if you carry on the tradition – what’s a tradition? Well, it’s something we do over and over again. We like doing it, and it feels comfortable.

No, dear, not like biting your nails. That’s not a tradition.

Here we’re putting on the rings. Yes, I have mine somewhere in my jewelry box. You have to make your promises when you put them on in the ceremony. To love, honor and obey. That’s what I had to promise. They told you what to promise in those days. You couldn’t make it all up yourself. No, only the last part was really hard. I did love Grandpa and honored him like any other human being, but as for obeying some of the nonsense that came out of his mouth, well, really honey, there are limits. You’ll find that out as you get older.

I guess it is a silly idea if you think about it. Marriage! After all, imagine making promises about things you can’t be sure of.

Is there anything I’m sure about, honey? Not many things, not anymore, but there are still a few. I know I’ll always have milky tea, oatmeal cookies and love waiting for you.

Let’s put this old book away now. I think I’d like to paint a picture this morning. How about you? You can take it home to Nanna if you want, and she can do a critique. What’s a critique? Questions, questions! Go get the paint box.

 


ISOBEL CUNNINGHAM writes short fiction and poetry. Her poetry book, Northern Compass, appeared in 2015 and is available on Amazon. Her poetry has appeared in The Lake, Rat’s Ass Review and Silver Birch Literary Blog. Her fiction has appeared in Passager Journal and Dime Show Review. She is working on her first novel.

Copyright © 2019 by Isobel Cunningham. All rights reserved.

‘Tartes aux Bleuets’ by Sabrina Fielding

Tartes Aux Bleuets

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

April 7th, 1958
Dear Mr. Arthur Brenner, 

My name is Elizabeth Wellington. I’m writing to inquire about a matter that is both entirely critical and absolutely none of my business. I have mistakenly received a bill bearing your name for a purchase of 68 tartes aux bleuets from Lefort’s Bakery in Saguenay, Quebec. I want to be sure you are to pay for and receive your order in a timely manner, but I am ashamed to admit it was not my main incentive to write—and this is where the “absolutely none of my business” part comes in—I am curious to know what a single person could do with 68 blueberry pies. I’ve had good pie in my lifetime, but I cannot fathom eating nearly 70 of them myself. That was the other thing that intrigued me: why 68? Why not round it up to an even 70? Are you on a budget? Where would one store this much pie? 

I have far too much time on my hands. I am a twenty-three-year old English literature graduate, and I have recently returned to the small Vancouver suburb where I spent my childhood. I had hoped to return to a horde of publishers looking to print my work. Instead, I was greeted by my house cat Gerald who was twelve pounds fatter, and my mother, insistent I learn a “real” skill. She likes to say that it’s never too late to get a woman in the kitchen—as you can see, my future is promising. That is, if I don’t go mad first. 

I apologize for my nosiness. Please know that you are merely humouring a pathetically eager woman who could once list every work by Oscar Wilde, but whose apron-wrapped soul now wastes away in a casserole dish. 

I hope to hear back from you. 

Sincerest regards,
Elizabeth

***

June 29th, 1958
Dear Mr. Brenner, 

I am going to assume by your silence that you are either:

a. Too busy consuming the monumental number of pies you purchased, or

b. Feel it unworthy of your time to respond to such a foolish girl.

Out of respect for my own sanity, I shall go with the former. 

I woke up this morning with salt encrusting the corners of my lips, and that’s usually how I know summer has arrived. When I was a little girl, my mother allowed my brother and I to venture down to Kitsilano Beach to search for seashells in the evenings. She would allow an extra slice of rhubarb cake to the child bearing the most impressive seashell. It was always me, until I turned twelve, and she told me that boys wouldn’t care for a girl with the eating habits of a starving wolf. 

Sometimes I still feel like that—a starving wolf, that is. And not for rhubarb cake anymore. It feels as though there’s so much to know and so little space in my brain to know it all, to absorb it. Do you ever feel that way, Mr. Brenner?

I’ve been thinking a lot about your pie predicament, and since I have yet to hear back, I have drawn what I consider to be a very solid conclusion. I believe that you are a young man who spent his own childhood summers with his family in the east by the St. Lawrence River. Perhaps you have your own shell story to tell? You have a large family: there are seven or so of you . . . my regards to your poor mother. You’re a family of all boys, I bet. Boys with identical upward-curve noses, sand-coloured hair, and matching red-and-white swim trunks. I imagine you spent the days part human, part fish, your fingertips wrinkled, and your skin slowly deepening like golden pastry crust. At the end of the day, you would make a stop by Lefort’s Bakery for their world-renowned tarte aux bleuets, where M. Lefort himself would package up the pie and throw in a few Linzer cookies for good measure. Once you arrived home, you would eat the pie straight from the box, the blueberry filling warm from the sun, staining your teeth a deep purple. 

I imagine you grew up to be a businessman, a “mover and shaker” of sorts, the youngest CEO of some expansive, faceless corporation that you’ve managed to take under your wing. You are a bachelor with far too much expendable income, so when you received notice that Lefort’s was going under you did not hesitate to chip in in order to preserve this piece of your childhood. Perhaps exactly the price of 68 pies was all it took to bring the company out of bankruptcy, which would account for this seemingly random number. 

I’m sure the city of Saguenay thanks you greatly for your benevolence. 

Warmly,
Elizabeth

***

August 5th, 1958
Dear Mr. Brenner,

I have finally conceded that I shall most likely never receive a response to these letters, but alas! I am writing yet another one. When my mother saw me with my pen and paper at the kitchen table this morning, she asked me who I could possibly be writing to. I was slightly miffed that she assumed I had so few acquaintances that I hadn’t a single person to whom I could write, but I suppose I cannot really refute it as I am here, scratching out another pitiful plea for an explanation. 

I told my mother it was a boyfriend, and then felt a terrible guilt seize me when her face lit up and she said: “Oh, I’m just thrilled. You’re going to make a fine housewife.” 

I believe I have figured out the true reason behind your order of 68 pies. I’d thought it was an effort to save the bakery, but now I’m sure it must be something more. You are not a bachelor, as I once believed; you have been seeing a sparkly-eyed woman with colourful trousers and a knack for crochet, and after a year, you finally decided to marry her. It couldn’t be a run-of-the-mill marriage proposal, of course. Not for her, the girl who makes the world feel just a little bit sunnier. Perhaps blueberry pie is her favourite dessert, the dessert she made you share with her on your very first outing together. Maybe you met on June the 8th, and you felt the day should be commemorated by a plethora of tart. And then, surrounded by the pastries, you knelt down on one knee and asked for her hand. A lump gathered in your throat, but you tried to swallow it away as you thought about the rest of your life with her. 

She said yes, of course. Nothing says I love you like the sickly-sweet insides oozing from a pie. 

I wish the very best for you and your future wife. A lifetime of happiness and sweets, and all the lovely things. 

Yours,
Elizabeth

***

May 6th, 2018
Dear Ms. Elizabeth Wellington,

I apologize for the slight delay in response, and I hope you are well. My name is Gérard Larouche, and I am the administrative executive of Arthur Brenner Furnishing Co., supplier of all your furniture needs based out of La Malbaie, Quebec. As we are moving distribution centers, I was clearing through a few boxes of paperwork, and came across your letters. The former admin must have kept your letters out of amusement, so they have been sitting here in this office for the last 60 years. 

This may be a disappointment to you (although time heals all, as they say), but I’m afraid the Arthur Brenner you wrote to does not, in fact, exist. A.B.F. Co. was established in 1938 by Ronald Arthur and Edwin Brenner, a businessman and carpenter from Montreal, respectively. From what I am told, they started the company as a small passion project, and eventually became one of the top-selling furniture companies in Eastern Canada. 

As for the blueberry pie, I had to do a little bit of digging to figure that one out: after calling the former admin, and reviewing some archived orders, it appears that in order to celebrate their 20th anniversary, the company ordered pie from a bakery in Saguenay. Though the intention for the original order was for six blueberry pies to be delivered, a clerical error was made, and the number became 68 on the final bill.

I hope this finally answers any questions you may have had, and if you are in need of any furnishings, we would be happy to offer you ten percent off your first purchase. 

Sincerely,
Gérard Larouche, Arthur Brenner
Furnishings Company
249 Rue Montréal, Unité #3
La Malbaie, Québec

 


SABRINA FIELDING is currently studying education and French at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She is a writer for the Queen’s chapter of Her Campus and has had her short stories published in the on-campus magazine, Ultraviolet.

Copyright © 2019 by Sabrina Fielding. All rights reserved.

‘Child’ by Mark Towse

Child

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

There is an evil to him that goes beyond the worst I have read in books or seen in movies—an evil far more threatening than the shadowy figures I bring to life in my stories. The moments when I catch his eye make my skin prickle and my body shudder. It feels like he is running his fingers up and down my spine, and the coldness lingers deep inside me for hours afterward.

My fascination with dark fiction exposes me to all sorts of menace, but nothing ever comes close to the Man that only I can see. I was ten when the visions first started, and, as I got older, they gradually became more frequent. I am thirteen now, and, until the last week, I have been seeing him almost every day. In the beginning, he appeared as a blurry shadow out of the corner of my eye, but each day his presence has become more defined and lingers a little bit longer. I have seen him outside of the house, too. He’s at school, the supermarket, the park . . . everywhere. The same taunting smile greets me every time. He is always wearing the long dark leather trench coat that completes his ominous Manifestation.

Upon first glance, there is a handsomeness to him: pitch black hair, matching stubble, sharp features, a strong chin, crystal blue eyes that suggest purity. When he fixes you in his cold gaze and smiles, an innate ugliness consumes him. His eyes turn black and any humanity fades. It is more than a look of disdain, as though it is causing him pain not to reach inside your chest and rip your heart out. His smell is overpowering and lingers for hours after he visits—rotting meat doused with cheap aftershave.

I live in fear.

At bedtime, I don’t let myself relax, afraid that he might materialize from the darkness. My body lies rigid, eyes fixed on the corner of the room where the moonlight doesn’t reach, and I lay there praying for him not to appear. Eventually, I fall asleep, but sometimes he steps out from behind the closet and I run screaming into my mum’s room. The sound of his taunting laughter is not far behind.

My mum says it’s just a phase, like having an invisible friend, but she’s looked more than a little concerned of late. The interrupted nights and worry for me have depleted her to the point of exhaustion, and I feel guilty for that.

In a desperate attempt, she took me to see a psychiatrist a few weeks ago; a middle-aged lady called Doctor Roper. But, as expected, the Man appeared in the session. At one point he stood behind the doctor with his hands around her neck, mimicking strangulation. I was too scared to speak.

“Tom, take a lollipop and go and sit in reception for a few minutes please,” Dr. Roper said.

Five minutes later, my mum came out with smudged mascara and tears down her cheeks.

I love her. I know she must have been through so much after dad died, but that was so long ago now. It still feels like a dark cloud hovers over our lives. There have been a couple of men in her life over the years. Brian was the coolest, and I hoped he might become part of our family, someone I could perhaps call dad. Towards the end of their relationship, she started treating him badly and kept pushing him away. Eventually, he never came back.

Mum pretends to be strong, but I know it’s just an act. Sometimes I hear her crying in her room. I want to comfort her, but I don’t know what to say. If she is having a particularly bad week, I bring her breakfast in bed. She doesn’t even care when I burn the bacon.

I want to see her smile more often. It makes me feel warm inside when she does, but all I seem to do is worry her.

I often wonder what happened to my dad? How he died? I didn’t know him, and mum hasn’t told me much. If I even mention him, she shuts down. It doesn’t seem fair, but I don’t want to cause any more distress than I already have.

My episodes with the Man have put extra pressure on us. I try not to bother her with it, but his presence has felt more malignant of late, and that terrifies me. Last week when I sat at the kitchen table with my mum. He bent over and whispered in my ear that he was going to kill her and take her head back to hell as a trophy.

It’s hard to tell what’s real or not anymore.

Days have passed since that threat, with no sign of him. I try to convince myself that it was just a silly phase after all—a figment of my over-active imagination. Either way, the house is different without his presence, and things seem to be returning to normal. Last night I slept through for the first time in ages. Mum looks a lot less tired too.

Now, as I lay in bed, I am thinking about new characters for my next story. I even contemplate writing one about the Man that has been tormenting me, perhaps as a form of closure. That might be a bad idea, especially after the last few times. I get so engrossed in my stories that it feels as though the monsters might suddenly jump off the page. Sometimes I can smell them, and if I really concentrate, I can hear their low guttural growls as if they are with me. During my last story, I even thought that I heard footsteps approaching from behind, and I got so scared that I had to throw the pen down. I wondered if it is all just in my head, but that day I swore I felt hot air on the back of my neck. That’s how I know I am getting better at it.

As I am about to close my eyes, a scream rattles through the house. It’s unlike any of the movie screams I have heard before; this one is more of a howl, raw and pained, blood-curdling.

I jump out of bed and rush down the hallway into my mum’s room. The Man turns to look at me as I enter. He is straddling her on the bed with his hands wrapped around her neck. He smiles that signature smile, unveiling his perfect white teeth that only serve to emphasize the darkness of his eyes. He begins to howl with obvious pleasure, removing one hand temporarily to beat his chest in celebration.

I feel as though I might pass out and I lose all feeling in my legs. Frozen in place, all I can do is listen to my mum’s croaks as he continues to choke her, her hands flailing in front of his face.  She’s beginning to look like a blueberry.

Eventually, the room stops spinning and the dream-like sequence becomes all too real.

“It’s been a long time coming, child!” The Man screams.

I feel the warmth spread across the front of my pants and I know he sees it too.

“You’re next, piss stick.”

The mocking laughter that follows flicks a switch inside, and my anger erupts.

I close my eyes, and with the darkness serving as a suitable blank canvas, my imagination beings to paint the worst. The fear has left now. My body trembles with hatred instead, and it fuels my creativity. Soon the spine-chilling cries begin as the first few creatures take form in the temporary dungeon I have created. They are frenzied and starved, and there are sounds of tearing flesh as they begin to feed on each other. Bloody saliva pours from mouths filled with razor-sharp teeth.

As I begin to unlock their makeshift cages, the monsters roar and scream with anticipation; yet, they still feel two-dimensional—fine for my stories, but not good enough to save my mum. I will only have one shot at this. I need this creature to live, breathe, and feel. It must be authentic enough to be brought to life in this room. It needs desire; to be ravenous for murder and the accolade of most evil.

With my eyes still closed, I refocus. This is my last chance. I NEED to save her.

Then I am there, back in the darkness, but this is a new place—one I haven’t been before. There is a putrid smell of death here so strong it makes me want to gag. In the middle of the drab concrete floor, a dark green pool of viscous liquid angrily fizzes and bubbles away. And then the first green vine slowly breaks the surface and begins to dance erratically, as though feeling out its surroundings.

It feels much more real this time. I am its creator, and I have given it life and purpose.

“I demand your presence here with me!” I scream.

Before long, I hear raspy breathing in front of me, and the pungent smell of rotting vegetation fills my nostrils. The creature is born.

I hear a weak groan from the bed. Mum. I almost lose focus but keep my eyes shut tight and add the finishing touches to my creation.

Its green scaly exterior is fortified by hundreds of tendrils that are capable of latching onto their prey and holding them until there is no longer a need. The head is dark green and crowned with two large horn-shaped rocks. Its eyes are as black as coal and sit slightly above its oversized snout. Its nostrils searching the air for its first meal.

The elongated mouth opens to reveal layers of razor-sharp teeth, and its tongue drips with the green substance that hisses as it lands on the wooden floor below.

I open my eyes and watch the Man release his grip around my mum’s neck. He commands the creature to leave, announcing he is already doing the dark work. For a moment, I doubt myself and feel my legs start to go once again. The creature starts to fade, and the Man laughs and places his hands back around her neck. I briefly think that it might be too late.

“This is your fault, child!”

I stare at the scene with mouth wide open. My concentration has gone and with it my creature.

“She killed me, child – put a knife straight through my chest.” He says this as he opens his trench coat, exposing the two-inch wound.

“She killed your daddy, but I’m back now, and I’m going to take care of you both.”

I close my eyes again, and my mind explodes with confusion and rage. Soon the creature is back, but even more desperate and hungry. The roar is fiercer and more intentional this time. Its only sustenance so far has been the evil that I fed it, but it is present now in our world and with all the smells and temptations of fresh human flesh. The creature quivers as though it is all too much, and the tendrils start to dance in the air like kite strings. Finally, they start to work together and slowly pierce through the air towards the Man. He releases his grip and there is another plea for the creature to back down, but it doesn’t help him this time. The creature has fully crossed over.

The tendrils hover a few inches from his face, and although he manages to knock a few away, they keep on coming. The first few launch their attack, coiling around his neck like serpents, and the scream that follows is satisfyingly human. Slowly, they slither upwards leaving a sticky trail on his skin, and then the first one enters his open mouth. I see it visibly snake its way down his throat. Others follow, and soon the Man is clawing at his neck and gasping for breath. The ones not already in his mouth twist and writhe around his body in excitement and soon he is cocooned and incapable of movement.

As I finally open my eyes not wanting to miss the moment, I see the tendril’s hoist the Man’s heart from his mouth. The lifeless body falls to the bed, and once again the eyes fix on me. There isn’t a smile this time though, just a lifeless pose and an unnaturally swollen neck.

The creature roars once more and begins to feast on the heart.

I look towards the blood-painted face of my mum, unable to do anything but watch as my creation continues to dine on its prize. I can see she is starting to take in strained mouthfuls of air. In only a few moments, the Man is stripped of most of his flesh and his intestines lie glistening on the bed next to him. Once done, the creature begins to sniff the air again, ready for its next meal.

“Mum!”

The creature turns to look at me and bares its flesh covered teeth as it sends its tendrils towards me. I close my eyes again and vision the beast back to the place it came from, but it is strong and is not going without a fight. I feel one of the tendrils slide against my cheek, and then dampness around my neck as others begin to slither their way around me. The pressure around my throat begins, and as I begin to struggle for air, I hear the creature move in towards me. It doesn’t want to be locked away again. It has a taste for flesh now. All at once, I unleash the other monsters from their cages, but this time they feel even more real as though I have taken them to the next level. This is getting easier.

The green tendrils work astonishingly fast, pinning them against the wall and ripping them to shreds one by one. There are limbs and heads flying everywhere, accompanied by an orchestra of vicious snarls and pained whimpers. Then I bring a strategy to the savagery, and I begin to flank it from the left with my earlier creations. While it is busy making light work of them, my latest and worst rush in from the right. After a monumental struggle, they eventually manage to bring it down and drag it into its newly formed iron cage. The heavy gate falls behind it.

Finally, I open my eyes. Evil has left the room.

I run to my mum. She is in pain, but at least she is breathing. Her voice is hoarse, and there are red marks around her neck, but we hold each other tight in the knowledge we are lucky to be alive.

As she begins to recover, she tells me she has been seeing him too. Doctor Roper told her that it was just the guilt resurfacing – her brain playing tricks and projecting a physical manifestation of her inner turmoil.

“It wasn’t guilt,” she says. “I would do the same thing over again. Black and blue he used to beat me. That wasn’t the worst of it.”

She goes on to explain that if she tried to resist, he’d threatened to hurt the child. That is what he used to call me apparently, the child—not son.

“Something snapped inside him when he found out he was going to be a father. I refused to get an abortion, and that’s when it all started. He didn’t want to share me and punished me for loving you so much. We weren’t even allowed to leave the house. He said he would kill us both if I ever tried. One afternoon, I walked into your bedroom and found him holding a pillow over your head. That same night, I killed him. I took the largest knife I could find in the drawer and plunged it into his chest. . . and I am not sorry for that. He was an evil and manipulative bastard.”

I guess he even bargained with the devil for a chance at vengeance.

The bruises and cuts plastered all over her body were enough to convince authorities that it was self-defense.

I finally have my answers.

I understand now what made him so terrifying. This character was not a fabrication in a story. He was real—once human but with a soul tarnished by evil. His hate had continued to build even after death and was strong enough to bring him back into our lives.

I hope we have seen the last of him, but if he does return, I will be ready for him.

Evil lurks in the tunnels of my mind, too.

 


MARK TOWSE has only been writing short stories for five months now, but his passion and enthusiasm are unparalleled, and this has recently resulted in paid pieces in many prestigious magazines including Books N’ Pieces, Artpost Magazine, Page & Spine, Montréal Writes, Flash Fiction Online, a recent acceptance for The No Sleep Podcast and six anthologies.

Copyright © 2019 by Mark Towse. All rights reserved.

‘Perspectives in White’ by Reed Stirling

Perspective In White

Illustration by Andres Garzon

It is a cold February day as the city labours through the aftermath of a blizzard. Predictions are accurate: sub-zero temperatures, winds out of the west, fifteen to twenty centimetres of accumulation.

Donna rubs the sleep from her eyes, moves barefoot across the chilling hardwood floor. Her toes knead the wool of the Cretan rug while her fingers lose themselves in her long, tangled hair. She breathes against the windowpane: a mirror to enter through to the outside world. A taxi under its quickly fading Yellow Diamond slaloms up Côte-Sainte-Catherine, and then the prolonged stridulation of soft rubber on icy, packed snow. A low sun struggles against the oblique whiteness. She shivers, but she knows that coffee will somehow warm up the day, and that Terry will likely bring her around.

When Terry joins her, and they have their coffee, and he wants to know what’s troubling her, she tells him an uneasy feeling can sometimes come upon her. Same as knowing that without actually throwing the clay on the potter’s wheel, intentions will break down no matter how caring she is. When he asks what’s really causing the frown, she reaches for her Emily Dickinson, turning to a poem that conveys it all.

There’s a certain slant of light / On winter afternoons, / That oppress, like the weight / Of Cathedral tunes.” Donna pauses here, and then carries through to the end of the poem.

“Worried again about my family’s pious prejudices?

“Not really, Terry. I trust your judgement in all of that.”

Cathedral tunes and Heavenly hurt. That stuff?”

“It’s not a reaction to religious bigotry, Terry. Or God’s design, if there be any. Just the human condition. What you said after the Christmas get-together about finding meaning despite the oppression—very heavy, all that.”

“Maybe so, but I think this poem means having knowledge of despair and death can bring you back into the light. Something like that anyway.”

“Could be it’s just that this kind of bleak winter day is the beginning of a painful transformation due me after so many months at the Veterans. I deal with death, and dying and despair on a daily basis. Attempts to alleviate the pain and suffering of old men telling sad stories seems futile at times, and frustrating, but I keep on doing it. And then this feeling comes over me, and when it comes, even the landscape listens. Take a look outside.”

“Your landscape sings other songs, Donna. I know now you’re beyond Cathedral tunes and Heavenly hurt.”

“Yes, you’re probably right. Up on the mountain. Parc-La Fontaine. Sometimes I just want to embrace the sun. Get a new perspective.”

Later, when Terry has left, Donna waits by the window, and watches the eaves for the sounds of sun melting snow. The orange light of the tow truck strobes the dim afternoon intersection as a Victoria Avenue bus in muted brown and silver slides to a stop against the hidden curb. Two people get off, soon to become hurrying shades against the whirlwind snow—one this way and one that way. She pulls the curtain and goes to put on her uniform.

***

Fearing the worst of the storm’s aftermath, Terry has left Donna’s earlier than necessary for the long drive out of the city even though he knows the main roads will be ploughed.

Streaks of pink in the late afternoon sky. Cold white sunshine furrowed in drifts.

Within an hour, the GM plant eventually comes into view, icy blue and metallic, like a castle set against a disappearing landscape. Hard, white, almost tangible billows of vapour rise from its spires and turrets.

Inside, the great beast of mass production lies motionless in an endless, labyrinthine coil, hissing, impatient, waiting for the signal to snake around its monotonously efficient course. Decked out in his paint shop garb, Terry prepares his gear. On the other side of the hanging four-door shell, his opposite number, Yves Laurier, stands and waits.

“Ça marche?”

“Ça marche.”

When the buzzer sounds, the line advances, and Terry, pneumatic gun in his hand like a wand, begins his job of sealing welded joints. This he will do for eight hours. The work both affirms and denies. For Terry, the mechanical hours free the mind to follow wherever the imagination leads. It leads everywhere, assumes all forms, shapes, and rhythms — bits and pieces of songs, free-associations that conclude in rhyme or in the creation of new dreams, and memories short and long—but mostly it leads back to Donna. She breaks his shift up into myriad images: some, singular in impression — the contour of her lips; others, extended reveries—the thought that there was something essentially luxurious and defiant about making love in the middle of the afternoon in the middle of winter’s grip. Difficult conversations are replayed with different words, but outcomes seldom differ.

She: Why don’t you just stay here? 

He: You know I have to get to work. 

She: I mean stay here day-to-day, night-to-night, week-to-week. 

He: My parents’ place is convenient, more direct to the plant, especially in winter.

This is followed by a litany of apologies that unravels like a coil of art nouveau. Then the voice in the on-going narrative fabricates a less conflicted, more pleasing scenario with the arrival of a two-door hardtop requiring a line of caulking in its trunk—a retiring red glow reaches across your lips when I move to you fallen with the music—and recedes, like taillights, towards the next of tomorrows. Whereupon Terry pictures himself sees chasing Donna’s long, shapely legs around the Beaver Lake skating pond on top of Mont-Royal. This evolves into an enduring fantasy where they roll together though snow-bound fields in endless ecstasy.

“Ça marche, mon ami?”

“Oui, ça marche bien!”


REED STIRLING lives in Cowichan Bay, BC. His work has appeared in Maple Tree Literary Supplement, Nashwaak Review, Valley Voice, Out Of The Warm Land II and III, StepAway Magazine, PaperPlates, Senior Living, Green Silk JournalFickle Muses, Fieldstone Review, Ascent Aspirations, Hackwriters MagazineThe Danforth Review, Filling Station, and Dis(s)ent In Words.

Copyright © 2019 by Reed Stirling. All rights reserved.

‘It’s Only Broken Glass, Baby’ by Elizabeth Ball

Broken Glass
Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

Because her self-appointed super-star lawyer husband traveled so much for work, Lucy spent a lot of time alone. In her room. Eating cookies. She’d moved to Montreal for a teaching job and met Guillaume quickly after that, so she hadn’t had much opportunity to make friends. Her colleagues were nice enough, but most of them were too organized for her liking, or talked about their families too much which made her miss her own even more. When she wasn’t working or in her bedroom stuffing her face, Lucy liked to bike around the city listening to music with her headphones on.

Sometimes she called Mom. Lucy didn’t want her to worry—she’d be on the next plane up, and Guillaume couldn’t stand her visits—so she made up all kinds of fantastic stories about her life in the big city. She didn’t hide the truth from Guillaume though. He knew she was miserable. But when she tried convincing him to move back to Saint John with her, he wouldn’t hear a word of it. “You can work anywhere, Chérie. But my work in Montreal is important,” he said. “Plus, Saint John is full of dirtbags.” Sometimes she wondered why he married her at all. She could tell that her moods and dirtbagness annoyed him. When she found out she was pregnant, she began to hope that things were about to change for the better. Guillaume sure seemed excited to be a papa. Perhaps he wouldn’t travel so much anymore. Perhaps she wouldn’t care.

Lucy had always cycled to work, but once she hit the third trimester, she decided to stop and take up power walking on her lunch break instead. Her second-graders thought it was hilarious to see her zoom around the school. There was a little group of them who liked to stand by the gate and cheer her on, throwing leaves in her wake. As they did, she blew kisses and pretended to walk like an overstuffed Santa Claus. Wobbling along, ho-ho-ing, and holding her big round belly as if she were coming home from a long night of merry-making.

One day, on her tenth lap, she stepped on a rather large piece of glass that her sneaker shattered. Nothing to worry about. She wasn’t hurt—her sneaker had a solid sole, and so, she thought, did she. It didn’t break her pace. It was just an innocuous piece of someone’s wine glass they’d snuck out from happy hour, maybe. Or a piece of a mayonnaise jar some kid had used for his bug collection. When Lucy was a kid, she had kept tadpoles in a pickle jar on her front porch. She was late getting back to class, so she didn’t stop to clean it up.

At four o’clock in the morning, however, the glass event popped in her mind and started to gobble away at her conscience as if she’d gotten drunk and stolen money from the Salvation Army to buy blow for her students. She imagined some kid stepping barefoot on the glass and bleeding to death. As a result of their unspeakable grief, the kid’s parents would fall apart and spend the rest of their lives in and out of prison, forced to leave their other children to grow up in foster care. She imagined an old man bending down to pick up the glass. He’d lose his balance and fall into the road. An oncoming truck wouldn’t have the time to stop before crushing the geezer’s head between the wheel and the pavement. She imagined a dog’s tongue sliced off as it tried to lick the glass. And it would all be her fault.

Lucy told herself they were the kind of worries that only happened in the middle of the night, or when you were high. And when you thought about them again during the day, you laughed because they were so cuckoo. Still, she couldn’t get back to sleep, so she ignored her baby’s kicks and Guillaume’s hard-on poking her backside, and slipped out of bed. She paced the living room. She paced the hall. She paced the kitchen as she stuffed her face with cookies. Guillaume was always giving her shit for eating while walking. “Only dirtbags do things like smoke or eat while they walk,” he’d say. But Guillaume wasn’t awake to give her flak, and the cookies were calming her down enough that she eventually came to her senses. People wear shoes, she told herself. Geezers get run over all the time, and it wouldn’t be her fault if the guy was stupid enough to bend down to pick something up when he his bones were as fragile as Lucy’s emotional state in the middle of the night. Dogs don’t eat glass. Only the baby is worth worrying about now. Then she told herself to back to sleep, and she did.

But the next night, she woke up with a similar feeling of alarm. Did she leave the stove on? Had she left the door unlocked? Did she forget Mom’s birthday? No. She remembered that she’d short-changed a waitress at the diner. Two weeks ago. The waitress hadn’t noticed, and neither had she until she looked at the crumpled bill she’d found stuffed in the bottom of her purse the next day. She’d told herself she’d tip extra the next time she went back, but she hadn’t returned. Not because she was a liar, but because she’d forgotten. At the time it didn’t seem like such a big deal, but at that moment, her mind was working in overdrive to convince her otherwise. An impatient voice in her head reminded her that she was the most selfish person in the world. Because of her, the waitress would be blamed for the till not adding up and would be fired. And then she’d lose her job, and she wouldn’t be able to pay her rent. And then she’d end up homeless. The tragedy of it all was too much for Lucy to bear.

There was a quiet, rational part of Lucy’s brain, telling her it was okay, begging her to go back to sleep, but she couldn’t. Whatever sense she’d once had didn’t stand a chance against her conviction that the fate of that waitress rested entirely upon her next move. So she got up, skipped the pacing, went straight to the bathroom—where she locked herself in with two baguettes and a jar of Nutella—and called the diner. Over and over again. She left three messages for the waitress, apologizing for her mistake, and then four more for the manager, begging him to rehire the waitress, in case the worst had come true. Each time the answering machine cut her off, she left another message. She puked up the baguettes and the Nutella.

After the phone calls, Lucy spent the rest of the morning on the bathroom floor, head buzzing as if she were attached to an intravenous drip of caffeine, body shaking like she’d been locked in a deep freeze. When she heard Guillaume stir, she left the bathroom and told him a candy-coated version of what she was feeling. “I can’t sleep or stop worrying about people,” she said. But Guillaume just rolled his eyes, took her into his arms and patted her head. “You need to stop worrying about everyone else, and start looking after yourself and our bébé précieux,” he said, as he rushed to get ready for work.

Over the next week, while Guillaume was away, Lucy continued to spiral. After work on Monday, she turned her apartment upside down looking for a sweater she’d taken from a lost and found box at a skating rink the previous winter. She was sure the sweater’s original owner had caught pneumonia that day and had weak lungs ever since, while Lucy had been wearing it without a thought for the poor soul. When she couldn’t find it, she felt compelled to rush out and buy a similar one and trek across the city to bring it to the rink. Until she saw the receptionist put the brand-new sweater in the lost and found box, she felt like someone had a gun to her head. Part of her wished they’d hurry up and pull the trigger. She missed her five p.m. prenatal class.

On Tuesday, she spent her lunch break tracking down every person she’d ever lied to. She apologized profusely through labored breath, berating herself for being such a terrible person. She confessed to her seventh-grade teacher to cheating on an exam. She admitted to a childhood friend that she’d broken her favorite doll. She tracked down her Girl Guides leader and told her she’d once stolen a box of cookies. She didn’t tell anyone about her pregnancy; it didn’t seem important.

On Wednesday, she went home during her lunch break to pack up all the things she’d ever bought second-hand. She reasoned that if she hadn’t purchased these items, someone less fortunate would have. There was someone out in the world who, because of her, had missed out on cheap goods—a toaster, a pillowcase, a porcelain dog—and that was just too much. So she packed it all up, even the cutlery and the bedside lamp, and went up and down Ste. Catherine street giving everything away to homeless folk. She forgot to return to work.

On Thursday, the principal called Lucy into her office and questioned her about her disappearance the day before. Also, she said that the kids had complained that she was acting weird. She was talking fast, forgetting names and she even forgot to feed Snowflake the guinea pig. Because the principal liked her so much, she said, she thought it best for Lucy to take her maternity leave early. It was important for the baby that she rest. Lucy apologized and thanked her, blaming it all on baby jitters and lack of sleep, but her mind was elsewhere. She was champing at the bit to get home and remove an old knife she’d put in the garbage. The blade was blunt, but she had visions of the garbage man’s mangled hand. At home, she couldn’t find it in her garbage can, so she spent the afternoon digging through her neighbour’s. In the middle of the night, she walked the streets, looking for broken glass.

Lucy couldn’t sit still. She couldn’t stop eating. She was afraid that if she showered she’d be taking water away from her neighbours. Whenever she managed to sleep, she dreamt of giving birth to wild animals, like skunks and porcupines. In one dream, a beaver ate its way out of her womb. When she spoke, it sounded as if she were in a cave. Her voice was thrashing all over the place and nowhere in particular, like a confused bat. Every little noise made her jump.

On Friday, the midwife called to ask why she’d missed her appointment. Lucy told her she hadn’t been feeling well, and that thoughts of other people kept her up at night, making her do messed-up things. “What should I do?” she asked.

The midwife told her the world wasn’t going to stop if she slowed down a little. “Try yoga and Skullcap drops, and make sure you don’t miss your thirty-two-week appointment. And if that doesn’t work, find yourself a doctor,” she said before cutting her off to treat another patient.

Saturday morning, Lucy set out to find a doctor. The first drop-in clinic was full. The second had a four-hour wait, but a doctor could see her in a couple of weeks if she liked. If they noticed her pyjamas, greasy hair, and bloody fingernails, no one mentioned a thing. Lucy wondered if she needed to take a dump on the floor to be taken seriously. But on her way to the third clinic, she remembered that she had a library book from her hometown in her apartment that she’d brought with her by accident when she moved. Abandoning her plan to look for another doctor, she ran back to her place as fast as she could, given her condition, with the intention of mailing the book back to the library immediately, along with an apology note and a hundred dollar bill. When she realized the post-office was closed, she set the book on fire in her bathtub. If she couldn’t return it, it had to disappear. When she struck the match, the flame burned her fingers, and it felt good.

On Sunday afternoon, as she was adding to her to-do-or-else list, her blood-tinged water broke all over the white shag carpet in the living room. Guillaume was going to go berserk, she thought. He loved that carpet, and now it looked like a crime scene. But before she called him, or her midwife, or Mom, or the taxi to take her to the hospital, she called the school principal as she had some things to tell her replacement: Joanna didn’t like to be called Jo. Thomas M––not to be confused with Thomas J––had to pee before recess. Nora shouldn’t be forced to eat her entire lunch. Lucy had promised to give the parents a play-dough recipe. She’d promised to bring in her Rubik’s Cube—oh, no! The Rubik’s Cube! Lucy hung up on the principal and went searching for it. What kind of example would she be setting if she didn’t keep her promise to the children? They’d never trust anyone again. They’d spend their lives going from one toxic relationship to another. She found the precious object under the couch and called for a taxi. She’d swing by the school to drop it off on her way to the hospital. She left her apartment without her hospital bag.

While the taxi waited for her across the street, Lucy passed out in the schoolyard covered in blood and amniotic fluid, with her Rubik’s Cube in one hand and a play dough recipe in the other. Her eyes rolled back in her head, her skin the color of a foggy Saint John day. Dozens of hysterical children swarmed her before the adults herded them away. “Miss Lucy! Miss Lucy!” they cried. “What’s wrong with Miss Lucy?”

In the ambulance, Lucy moaned about kitchen utensils and library dues and something about a pink sweater. When the EMTs lifted her shirt to check on the baby’s vitals, they found she’d carved up her tummy with something sharp and jagged. Some of the cuts were superficial, but many were deep and infected, oozing green and gold pus.

The following day, when Lucy came to in her hospital room, a nurse was standing in front of her holding a baby who reminded her of everything she loved and hated most in the world. “Am I dead?” Lucy managed to ask.

“No, dear. You’re a mother now. Congratulations,” replied the nurse, as she shoved the baby in Lucy’s face. “Would you like to hold him? He’s perfect.”

Lucy nodded, and took her baby. But it had already started to occur to her that she hadn’t paid the taxi driver: What if she couldn’t find him? What if he lost an afternoon’s pay because of her? What if that pay was meant to be sent to his starving family back in his country of origin? Whatever the case, Lucy’s stapled-together-gut told her that the nurse was lying. She knew that at least part of her had died. The nurse knew it, the women in the posters all over the hospital walls holding their babies against their breasts knew it, and the woman screaming bloody labor in the next room knew it. All the mothers in the world knew it. Part of her had definitely died.

 


ELIZABETH BALL grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick but has been living in Montreal, Quebec, since 1998. Her writing has been published in Glass Buffalo, The Dalhousie Review, and Waxing & Waning.

Copyright © 2019 by Elizabeth Ball. All rights reserved.

 

‘On the Run’ by Judy Fischer

Dec Entires
Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

Exerpt From: Chronicles of a Young Immigrant Girl
Chapter One — On the Run by Judy Fischer

Budapest, Hungary 1956

It was toward the end of September 1956 when the leaves from all the inner-city trees had already fallen. The dead, brown foliage lay thick and heavy on the sidewalks of my home town. Those sweet smells of summer and the feeling of hope that accompanies the happiest season of the year was slowly coming to an end as the autumn of that particular year made its ugly appearance. It was showing signs of a more ominous and frightful season than those previously. A hint of terror hovered over the entire country of Hungary.

There was a cold nip in the air awaiting us as our tiny airplane landed at the local airport following a month-long trip to my father’s childhood home. The summer vacation to Bulgaria was my first trip abroad, and although at six I was indifferent to its significance, I did enjoy the trappings linked to the fun and excitement. Whether our trip was the result of something my father foresaw and feared, or a well-deserved vacation, I will never know. Too young to have recognized the political atmosphere of the time, the trip was just a magnificent adventure for me. My father was a man in his fifties who had out-lived many tragedies in his life. Having survived World War One by fleeing his birth country, and adopting a new language and culture in Bulgaria, my father must have known there was something terrible brewing in the wind. A longing to visit his parents’ graves possibly for the last time was his main reason for going. Arriving there was very rewarding, but returning home proved to be perilous.

School started before I came home. Though my first day of school should have been memorable, it was not. The grade one class had made their first day of school memories and friendships without me, and I arrived at their doorstep a stranger. The one month I remained in school was as traumatic as the month that followed. On October 23rd, a caravan of Russian tanks stormed into Budapest following a civil uprising and all hell broke loose. To squelch the revolutionary sentiments forming strongly in the hearts of many, foreign soldiers in full uniform arrived. Soon, chaos and fighting became an everyday reality. At the age of six, I knew little and understood even less, about war. The fear and terror written on the faces of my neighbors and strangers on the street was, however, the harsh lesson I soon learned.

After the invasion, the city became a war zone. My mother made an honest effort to keep me safe and to protect me from the harsh truth, yet she decided to take our afternoon walk, even though something ominous was happening in the streets of Budapest. She dressed me in a warm fall jacket, but without a hat to cover my blond curls. Even those fall garments could not protect me from the things I was about to see. While the cold was not the threat, the scene outside was. I was only six years old. Young children should only see the wonderful side of life, not the atrocities of war. Nonetheless, we walked through the crowds. There were people everywhere. Horrified, they staggered from place to place. But it was just another day for me, walking hand in hand with my mother. Around me, an era had just come to an end. People were running through the streets. Some were screaming, some were just making awful sounds, and others were staring up toward the sky. In the park, naked bodies swung from gigantic trees. They were on display for everyone to see. I couldn’t understand what was happening, and my mother’s answer was enough at the time. She told me that the men were being punished for the bad things they had done. That they were being displayed as examples to warn those who were thinking of doing the same bad things. I did not question it. She begged me not to look up. But how could I not? My young eyes had never witnessed such horrific sights. How was I supposed to make any sense of them? As we walked, there was a soft cushion under our feet. It wasn’t like the hard cement sidewalks that I recalled from our past walks. Upon a closer look we could see faded, muddy and shredded garments. But it was not the garments providing the cushion. It was the dead bodies of the people who wore them. There was an odor in the air, something heavy and indicative of blood and death.

The following day, as we sat in our kitchen, the sounds of bullets echoed through the streets nearby and the sound was coming closer. They bounced off the walls under of our own kitchen window without warning. My parents grabbed me by the hand and hustled all of us downstairs to the bomb shelter. We ran with the other tenants to save ourselves. We huddled close together for safety, and to find a little comfort. No one really felt safe after those first weeks of the uprising while the Revolution of October 23 kept raging on. My parents quietly plotted our escape. I was too young to be included in the preparations.

My mother gave me a bag, and instructed me to fill it with a day’s worth of clothing and one of my favorite dolls. I wanted to take many more, but there was no more room in it. On November 20, almost one month since the beginning of the revolt, we left the comforts of our home with a small suitcase each by our side. It was my 7th birthday. I was abandoning my childhood, my innocence, my cousins, all my dolls and my favorite toys. But I had no inclination of what was happening around me. The disruption in my life was disturbing, yet through the eyes of a child, reality was tempered. The adults made all the necessary plans, children obeyed and followed. There was a definite advantage to being young and naive. To prevent a disaster, I was told we were going to visit my grandmother who lived in a neighbouring town. I used to go there often, but never by train. I was joyful about our unexpected trip. It was my birthday after all, so going to celebrate with my grandmother was not unthinkable.

The train station was jam-packed. It was noisy, and people were pushy. Hysteria. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry. I was just happy to be visiting my grandmother, and was telling anybody who stopped and listened to me. But they laughed at me. The train was not going to take me to my grandmother. It was taking me to a new life far away.

The train ride was quite uneventful. It was quiet and somber. Fear was written on the faces of each passenger. Unable to move, we all sat crammed together. The oxygen got thinner with each kilometer the train moved, and a few passengers fainted in the aisles. When the train finally stopped, the scene changed. People yelled as they climbed out by the windows unto the platform. People were acting like caged animals trying to set themselves free. The aisles remained crowded, and sweat dripped from everybody. My innocence was now stolen, and the hope of sharing my birthday with my grandmother had vanished. I could not ignore the fear in my mother’s eyes. I started to cry.

The border between Hungary and Austria was unarmed, and the border guards had abandoned their posts. The message as suggested by the news reports encouraged more and more people to seek asylum outside of Hungary. There was an urgency to get to the border before it would again be closed.  It was accessible, but far away from where the train could go. The rest of our journey had to be continued by foot, and in the dark of the night.

I turned seven. I was a cry-baby and complained from the minute we started on foot. It must have been terrible to travel such a dangerous journey with a young child. I complained about the blisters on my feet, about my hunger pains and about my fatigue. My father had sadness and uncertainty in his eyes and voice. We did not rest very often. There was no time to delay, for there was an urgency in every step that brought us closer to freedom. I remember taking refuge in a farmer’s house. We were there given hot food and the adults were treated to strong homemade brandy to calm their nerves. These good Samaritans opened their homes to all those needing some comfort and warmth. The quest for a better life became a monumental challenge my parents had not foreseen.

Our trek toward the border was also interrupted by one very frightening incident. On the road we walked on during the day, the anti-revolutionary movement had a pickup route. They travelled back and forth picking up stragglers, and collecting and depositing them into makeshift prisons. Nobody was legally allowed to leave the country. The trucks they were using were cruising the area at the same time we were on our last few kilometers. The anticipation of being caught made the journey more terrifying. We had joined up with a group of others who were also finding their way to the border. The group of travellers, made up of young adults, were compassionate, but travelling with a crying and complaining child tested their patience.  My father insisted that we stay at the end of the line. As we walked, a young man on a motorcycle pulled up beside us. He was heading in the same direction, and kindly volunteered to take me on his motorbike. He offered to deliver me to a milestone further up the road.  Without hesitation, my father agreed. Seeing I was having a difficult time keeping up, this was a very good opportunity. But the decision he made to keep me from crying and to make better progress on this last stretch of the road nearly separated us from each other. It could have been forever.

My ride up the road was memorable. I can still remember the cold breeze blowing my hat off my head, but the pain from my blisters was gone. I was focused on holding onto my escort with both arms, so looking back was impossible. My parents were too far behind. I felt strange without the security of my mother’s hand holding mine.  But sitting without pain was a welcome relief that outweighed the loss. We arrived at the checkpoint where we had agreed to reunite. The young man and I sat on the cold, damp grassy shoulder. Suddenly, the sound of a truck roaring in the distance brought my companion to his feet as he pushed me under a nearby bush. The engine’s thunderous echo came from the same direction as my parents. As it approached, my young escort seemed more agitated and motioned at me, signalling that I should remain in hiding and silent. The truck came closer and closer to where we were waiting. As it passed us by, I could see it was full of people standing close together. There were so many, there was no room for even one more person. My escort gazed quickly at the truck, and looked very worried. Then in the far distance, we saw the group of people I had been walking with, and I saw my mother and father leading them. Their faces of relief were obvious as they ran toward me. We were reunited. I didn’t know what all the fuss had been about. We were together and hopefully, I thought, never to be separated again. Little did I know that it was by sheer luck and good fortune that neither my parents, nor I became passengers on that prison-bound truck.

 


JUDY FISCHER is a Montrealer by love and choice. She is the author of He Fell From the Sky and Missy Loves René, two books published in the last two years.

Copyright © 2019 by Judy Fischer. All rights reserved.

‘Adam’s Eve’ by Michael Vincent Moore

Adams Eve

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

Adam, in a horrid state, rouses himself up and searches about, no one to be seen. He stumbles up from the patch of leaves he is laying on. Adam wanders, nude, distraught, seeking. He catches a glimpse of Eve in the distance, stretched out in the shaded grass next to a pond, equally nude. He joins with her. As Adam approaches, Eve looks up at him, and observes his discomfited nature. Before she can formulate a word, he attempts to untangle his disjointed thoughts.

“Eve, I, you.”

Eve, incapable of grasping Adam’s swollen and despairing countenance, nor of embodying his inner turmoil, barely glances at him before returning to her peaceful rest.

Adam, desperate to impress upon Eve the horrific images he has just perceived, proceeds with much effort to render in words his tumultuous tale. “You could not believe what I have just beheld; a dreadful event is poised to burst after us. Such horror, such hopelessness, beyond apprehension.” He lets himself fall next to her, in abject wretchedness.

Eve turns back to him, astounded. “What? Horror, here?”

“No, it was not within this space that I saw it.”

Eve, lost in thought, ponders his words for a moment, then focuses back on Adam, curious. “But we have never been anywhere else.”

Adam fixes his gaze to the crystalline reflections of the star’s rays upon the pond as he endeavours to understand this event. “I was here, then I slumbered, then I was there, and then I was here again.”

Eve raises to her side and leans on Adam’s knee, as the mystery of his experience captures more of her faculties. “Adam, are you implying that he brought you to another place?”

“I am not certain where I was, but it was not here that I conjured these things, this I know.”

“What things?”

“The most horrible things: Agony, decay, pollution, craving, sordid creations. So many people living in fear, living in torment of the worst sort.”

Eve caresses Adam’s flowing hair, attempting to assuage his ill feelings. “I still do not understand. What horrible place do you speak of?”

“It was called Earth, and its history was conferred to my existence in an unending succession of ghastly images. Part of me was there. Part of me endured all of it with them, through them.” He pauses, sorely recollecting those sensations. “A whole world. Inhabitants born, living short suffered lives. Inhabitants who then died of disease, lost hope, regret, hunger. Even murder!”

Eve freezes, her hand still intertwined in Adam’s hair. Her eyes widen. “Murder?”

“Yes, murder, and so much worse still.”

Adam looks at Eve earnestly, trying to gauge her level of discernment, of how far he should delve into the reality of what he has seen without compromising her innocence, her amity.

“Things worse than murder? How could such a place even exist?”

She resumes caressing his hair. Adam further contemplates Eve’s well-being and chooses to discontinue the elaborations of his descriptions.

“I have perceived things that I ought not repeat to you. I have seen what it is that some of these people have done to one another.” He temporarily interrupts his discourse, the painful images coming back to him in the moment. “It is so hideous that it induces a magnitude of displeasure to my being. Billions of people, struggling, over and over again. Life and death. No respite, no end.”

“My dear Adam, even though I am familiar with all these words you speak of, I am at a loss to comprehend the consequence of them, or to sympathize in any way.” As Eve speaks to Adam, she gently slides her hand over his arm in  tender affection.

“Be grateful of that,” Adam replies. “For I have felt their anguish, and I would spare you of it at any expenditure.”

“Was it all so evil? Was there not any redeeming attributes to this place you have sojourned to?”

“Some, but all far eclipsed by the governing perversity to which the beauty could be measured in drops, but the suffering, in oceans.” Adam shakes his head in a dejected manner.

“How can he have brought you there, and why?”

He contemplates Eve’s query, and a faint impression springs forth to him. “It was for a purpose, and,” Adam, arrested in mid-account, his eyes fixed to the ground, becomes exceedingly faint. “Oh, I saw how this place came to be.”

“How it came to be?”

A flash of horror thunders through his mind, and a subsequent expression of great heartache ripples across his facial features, distorting them to an almost unrecognizable form. Eve recoils in fright.

“It, it was because of us. We were responsible.”

Of a sudden, Adam obediently bows his head and shamefully shadows his appearance nether the veil of his consentient palms.

On hearing of Adam’s self-recriminations, of them being at the origin of this harrowing other-worldly disturbance, Eve overcomes her momentary displeasure to Adam’s harsh judgment. She becomes defensive and asks: “How could we be responsible for such a place?”

Adam is despondent and Eve pulls at his hands. At his grief-stricken expression, she grows concerned. “Adam, speak to me!”

Adam takes a few moments to constitute himself, and hesitantly proceeds with the account. “It was that which you were attempting to prevail over me. Us. Our parts, joining together.”

Eve wrenches herself away from Adam in consternation. “How can that have anything to do with this place you called Earth, where you witnessed countless people suffering so dreadfully?”

“I do not know, but he admonished us not to do certain things. He said that there would be grave repercussions.”

Eve cannot come to terms with this inference, this connection that Adam is implying, particularly not through any fault or influence of her own. “But how can there be such grave repercussions for anything we do here? This place is so idyllic?”

“Again, I do not know. But his essence left me somehow within that moment. I experienced darkness, loss of harmony, and we became them,  all of it was created from us.” Adam trembles as he unsuccessfully attempts to dislodge those impressions from his knowing. “Please do not try to persuade me again, do not even refer to it any longer!”

Having difficulty facing Eve and her insistence in the matter despite an admonition of this horrifying outcome, Adam turns aside in dismay.

Eve still contests Adam’s resolve. “But, Adam, I yearn for it in a way I cannot explain.”

Delicately resting her head on his shoulder, Eve proffers an embrace.

“Eve, I beg you. After what I have been through, I would as soon tear it off and burn it to ashes before I would even attempt such a thing with it, the consequences are far too important, just because of this, union, you yearn for.”

“Adam, do not be so hurried to settle your judgment. Please, consider my feelings further.” Through the sensations they are communing by their corporeal link, Eve feels Adam draw back. She reasserts her longing by keeping to him in a more coercive clench.

“No Eve, my word is final. There is nothing additional that you can do or say to convince me otherwise. I am going to Father now, to impart to him what I have witnessed. I will make him aware that he can rest assured, never will I be betrayed to go against him.”

Forcefully parting with Eve, Adam stands. “He will be disappointed of hearing about this deception that we have considered, our contemplation of going against his word. But he is forgiving and will be reassured of my renewed convictions and obeisance.”

Adam distances himself, as Eve, disheartened, sulks into the ground.

 


MICHAEL VINCENT MOORE is a social science writer and lifelong meditator, with extensive studies on human behaviour and dream research with over 30,000 reviewed dreams, and an active dream journal spanning over two decades. Fascinated by the potential of dreams and consciousness and their connection with our ultimate reality, he has devoted much of his time attempting to unravel the mysteries they contain through himself and others. Much of his insights and findings are translated into both his fiction and non-fiction writing. He is also the founder of TheOneHumanProject.com, a global initiative with a mission to scientifically prove that we are all connected.

Copyright © 2019 by Michael Vincent Moore. All rights reserved.

‘Never Born to Run’ by Hunter P. Thompson

Never Born to Run
Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

I love my family–don’t get me wrong. They’re great and all and I know how much they do for me…. I just wish I had my freedom.

Being seventeen years old is not at all like it is in the movies. I don’t have a car; I can’t even drive for crying out loud! I can’t leave the house because it appears my life is so important to everyone else. My parents ask me every single detail about my day: Where are you going? Who are you going to be with? Are they good students? When are you going to be back? It’s all just so annoying. I want to have a life like all the other teenagers in the world. They get to hang out with friends and ride in the back of trucks while I sit inside bored to death. I want to take an epic day off school like Ferris Bueller. I want to go van surfing like in Teen Wolf. I want to go to an awesome party like in Risky Business. Why can’t life be easier?

“Jan, dinner!” Mom calls from downstairs, breaking my train of thought.

I exit my room and, on the way down, my eye catches the family portraits. Mom, Dad, my sister and, me. Now really, what I hate most about my sister being away for college is having every single dinner conversation being centered on me. Like, if we’re going to do that, let’s make it fun and talk about Back to the Future. But no, we have to talk about college crap and grades, and whatever else my parents think teenagers should be talking about. It always ends up the same way–with me in tears.

I walk into the kitchen and sit down at the dinner table. Mom puts the plate of food down right in front of me–chicken and vegetables. A dreadful meal for the dreadful conversation that’s yet to come. I dig my fork into the mushy vegetables as she sits down in her chair.

“So, are you going to tell your father your marks?”

“I got a B- on my biology exam,” I say quietly, staring at my dad across the table. My mother cuts me off.

“Just tell him the final marks,” she says.

“I finished with a C+ in English, a C+ in biology, an A+ in gym and a B in marketing.”

“Oh well you didn’t get a B in English, so I guess you’re going to summer school then,” my dad says as he cuts into his chicken.

“But you said I had to get a B on just the summative.”

“No, a B in the class.” He says as he leans down for a bite.

“I could have sworn you said a B on the summative.”

“A B in the class. You’re going to summer school!”

“No! I’m not going!” I slam my hand on the table and watch as the cutlery jumps.

“Fine. But if you don’t go to summer school, you can forget about getting your license.”

“That’s the only thing I want in life right now!”

“Well you have no one to blame but yourself,” Mom says jumping into the conversation. “You didn’t do the work and you got caught lying, so now you have to pay the consequences.”

“But that’s not true!”

“Don’t lie.”

“But you don’t understand! Ugh!” I throw my hands in there air out of anger. “You’re ruining my life!”

And just like that, I run out of the kitchen and head straight upstairs to my room. I feel the tears start to run down my face. I mean, a C+ isn’t even that bad in the grand scheme of things. I’ve seen movie characters get C+’s all the time. Besides the point though, you see, my sister got a D- in math last year, and you know how they reacted? Nothing. That’s not even the worst thing. Last year she got caught plagiarizing and my parents didn’t go all gung-ho on her either. Like seriously, they really didn’t have to make it that obvious that she’s their favourite. God.

I decide to get up and take my suitcase out of the closet. I throw what I can in the bag, including my clothes and my laptop. You never know when movies will be useful! Let’s just hope the bus transportation system has Wi-Fi.

I open up my window, toss my bag down, and begin the climb down the water pipe. Once I reach the ground, I grab my stuff and walk off down the dark street. The bus stop isn’t that far away; I’m just hoping there’s a bus that comes at this time of night. The walk isn’t too long though. Right now, I’m just glad that Mom and Dad didn’t hear and come running out to get me.

I reach the bus stop and take a seat on the small bench next to an old man reading the paper. I mind my own business as the stop fills up with more and more people. My mind grows bored as the night moves on.

It’s around two am when the bus shows up. I take out the measly three dollars I have in my pocket and pay the driver, before going to take a seat in the back. Everyone seems to settle in, and we drive off.

My suitcase fills the empty seat next to me and I take out my laptop, popping my earbuds in as I open the screen. I’m just glad there’s a signal to help pass the time. I go onto one of my usual movie sites and start watching a rerun of The Breakfast Club. I feel a sort-of connection between myself and the characters. I mean, they’re trapped in detention and can’t escape. I sometimes feel like that at home.

As the night grows on, I feel my eyelids begin to grow heavy and the credits start to roll. Before I know it, the sun is rising, and the bus comes to a stop. I pack up my things and disembark. The cold morning air creeps up on me and the first thing I do is check my bag for my jacket, but I come up empty handed. I forgot it. How stupid of me.

My stomach growls, and I decide to walk into the old building directly in front of me. It turns out to be a dying soup kitchen. Must have been running since the Great Depression. I bet it doesn’t get much business nowadays. It’s all wood with a roof that looks like it would leak. There are long tables along the sides of the walls, and a few sitting in the middle. There are, however, no windows. The place is mostly empty except for a few scrawny people in tattered clothes. They give me a good stare but I ignore them and walk up to the counter. The worker puts down his newspaper and glares up at me.

“Um, can I have a bowl of soup?”

“We’re a soup kitchen. What do you think?”

He sighs, getting up from his chair to go over to the boiling pot of soup. He opens it, scooping some into an old wooden bowl. Then he throws in a spoon to go with it and pans it down the counter like someone in a fifty’s diner would do. Ignoring me, he takes his seat and goes back to his paper. I grab the bowl and sit by myself at one of the tables against the wall.

I stick the spoon into the gross looking bowl of liquified week-old cabbage. I got to give them some credit though, they’re here feeding poor people. And me. I decide to stir it around a bit, avoiding eating it despite the fact that I’m starving. Kind of like school, I don’t seem to care right now. Then, out of the corner of my eye, someone comes up and takes a seat next to me: an old man with brownish-grey hair wearing an old windbreaker jacket. He looks better than the rest of the soup citizens.

“What are you doing here?” He asks.

“People need to eat, don’t they?” I continue to stare down at the gross slop in front of me.

“A suburb kid like you? Now, you should be in school.”

“Well I’m not now, am I?”

He sighs. “Where are your parents, kid?”

“Home.”

“Where you should be.”

“Well I’m fine here now, and it’s not important.”

He continues to glare down at me as he doesn’t take the hint that I don’t want to talk.

“So, I take it you ran away from home then?”

I squint my eyes at him. “You a cop?”

“No.”

“Then yeah, why do you ask?”

He seems to sit up straighter. “Why did you run away?”

“None of your business,” I snap.

“Why?” He asks again.

“Because I felt like it.”

“You felt like it?”

“I just wanted freedom, okay?”

“Well what do you mean you wanted freedom?”

Damn, does he have to question everything?

I turn towards him and sigh. “I wanted freedom but my parents wouldn’t give it to me. Now I’m on my own. I’m free. Get it?”

“What’s the problem with your parents?”

“That’s personal!” I exasperate much more than I really need to.

“I bet it is. Listen kid, I can’t help you if I don’t know the whole story.”

“I don’t need your help.”

I run my fingers along the dusty-wooden table as he continues to talk.

“Well you don’t seem to be helping yourself either by running away.”

“I just wish they’d let me have more fun, you know?”

He blinks. “What kind of fun?”

“You know. Go out, down-town and dance on a parade float! Go back in time! Ride on the back of cars!”

“You’re like what? Seventeen? No one does that.”

“The teenagers in Dazed and Confused stayed out all night at an awesome party!” I shout.

“That’s a movie.”

“So?”

“That’s fantasy. No one does that.” He says matter-of-factly.

“People do that all the time! Are you kidding me?”

“You watch way too many movies.”

Who cares? You see, it’s more like a drug. It draws out the miserableness of normal life. But I can tell he’s waiting for a response. Instead I just sip the crummy soup.

“I’m telling you kid, you’re not missing anything.” He says, finally.

“Well what did you do as a kid?” I look back up at him.

“I had a job. I worked.”

“No, I mean, what did you do for fun?”

“Well I hung out with some friends. Just talked, nothing special.” He shrugs his broad shoulders.

“Really?” I raise an eyebrow.

“Yeah. You’re not really missing much.”

“Well my parents don’t even let me do that!”

“I’m sure they would let you.”

“You don’t know my parents.”

“Well what are they like?”

“If I want to go out, they ask me tons of questions. And I mean tons!”

“That’s expected.”

“What do you mean?” I prop up my chin with my elbow on the table, actually wanting to listen for once.

“Well they care about you, you know? They just want to know you’ll be safe.”

“I know other people who don’t get the third degree.”

“Well you should be glad you do. It shows how much your parents love you, and how much they care about you.”

“It’s a strange way of showing it.”

“You say you’re unlucky, you say you don’t have any freedom. Let me tell you, I think you’ve a very lucky girl.” He points his finger at me to get his point across.

“You do?”

“Sure. You’ve got a roof over your head, you’re fed every day, you’ve got clothes on your back. Most of all, you’ve got two parents that love you. You love them too, don’t you?”

“Well yeah, but-”

He cuts me off.

“There’s no but about it. You’re a hell of a lucky kid.”

“I want my freedom.” I take my hands away from the table and sit up straight.

“You still want freedom? I’m telling you, you don’t even know what freedom is. I mean, there are people in this world just struggling to make a buck. They should be in school, but here they are working hard to support their families.” His eyes do most of the talking as I see he’s beginning to lose some of his patience.

“You mean they can’t even watch movies?”

“Movies are nothing. You know what I see? You’re an extremely privileged kid and here you are being ungrateful.”

“That’s not true.” I cross my arms over my chest, somewhat annoyed.

“Like I said before—Someone like you doesn’t belong in a soup kitchen. You should be in school.”

I raise my voice a little too loud. “I don’t care about school! At dinner last night, my parents completely blew up at me for just a couple of bad grades!”

“They just want you to succeed.”

“Well they shouldn’t be so hard on me!” I throw my arms in the air.

I’m not getting anywhere here. I may as well be having this conversation with my parents.

“They’re hard on you because they care about you. They want you to be the best that you can be. If they weren’t as hard on you, you wouldn’t have the motivation, you see?”

I take in a breath. “Okay, maybe you’re right. Maybe I have been a little selfish lately.”

“Well selfish isn’t the word I’d use, but you get it.”

“Well thanks uh, Mr.…”

“Dupé. Mr. Dupé.”

“Right.”

I shake his hand and get up from the old wooden chair. Not bothering to finish the bowl of soup, I grab my stuff and walk out of the deserted kitchen, going back to wait at the bus stop.

This time around, there’s not a lot of people here. Not even a few minutes into waiting when the bus arrives. I hang around for a second, digging through my bag to come up with some cash. Finally, I find three and a half dollars. I get on the bus and, pay the driver and head to the back again. This time I don’t feel like watching a movie. Mr. Dupé’s words repeat in my head. He’s right—I really do watch too many movies. What I really need to do is get my head out of the clouds and dive into reality.

As I glance out the window, I notice the stop from last night. I jump up from my chair and hop off, heading down the chilly street.

When I approach my house, I notice my parents’ cars in the driveway. They didn’t go to work today. I walk inside and there they are: standing together, waiting for me. I can tell my mom’s angry. She looks like she’s about to scold me and tell me I’m grounded or something. But before she has the chance I wrap my arms around her and my dad, pulling them close.

“I love you guys,” I say.

It takes a second or two, but eventually they hug me back.

My mom kisses the top of my forehead and whispers, “We love you, too.”

 


HUNTER P. THOMPSON  is a writer from Oakville. She has a huge passion for it and has been writing since she was a child. Hunter aspires to write screenplays in the future. Her work covers a variety of genres including comedy, drama, science-fiction and, horror.

Copyright © 2019 Hunter P. Thompson. All rights reserved.

‘Before I Confess’ by Ian Kent

before i confess

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

I confess it again and again. What does it look like to always come back to this same pew, this same church, staring ahead to the altar, but glancing at the confessional door, week after week, confessing the same thing, never changing? Is cyclical forgiveness still forgiveness? The woman beside me just smiled at me. Did I just sin again? At least I think she smiled at me. Her hair is tied up in a bunch at the back of her head, and her hands are resting on her knees. I know her. I’ve met her before—at that singing thing. God, I’m a shitty singer. Did I just sin again? For saying God like that? I went to the singing thing because I don’t know many Catholics, and I want to meet more of them. They were all there after Monday Mass, even the priest, which I wouldn’t have even gone to if I hadn’t had the need to confess right after paying that woman for, God, I don’t want to say it, even think it—it is too difficult to admit even to myself. It was last week, and it was sunny. Sitting on the beach felt good until I got tired. Now, I’m not tired. I’m nervous. I’m not staring at the altar anymore. I’m pretending to stare at the confessional door, but really, I’m staring at her.  I wish she’d let her hair down so that I could touch it. Did I just think that? Do I actually want to touch someone’s hair? Is that my fetish? Should I confess that? God, what does it matter? After what I’ve done, losing all that money in that place simply because she said so, that longer would be better, she’d do everything, but it wasn’t longer, it wasn’t better, it wasn’t everything. We couldn’t even finish because cops surrounded that barren house because someone was abusing some dog. With crack? Was I going to be arrested? Were my desires finally to be chained? I had to leave. I had to get to work. When I went outside that cop said make better life choices and I lied to him saying I just got them McDonalds and he wanted to know about the dog, and I didn’t know and I just left. God, I wanted to kiss her. I even paid her way more just for that, but she wouldn’t let me. She wouldn’t let me. I just want someone who will transact a kiss. Will I ever stop desiring that? Should I confess that never-ending desire? If the sin is every inch of you, do you confess your very being? The sin of inches. I can be funny sometimes. Actually, I can be funny a lot. Even cruel. Too cruel. That’s why I said what I said on the beach; I wanted to be funny. To show how funny I can be. But I ended up being cruel. Their reactions were probably the funniest thing about what happened. No one laughed, except for me and that other guy. Some of them gasped and some of them looked sad and that priest just went on and on about clichés and how they are important. Grounding truths. Cornerstones. She’s looking at me with those eyes, blue like the sky even though it’s raining today, and she laughs. Did she just laugh? It sounded like laughter, and I laugh… because that man from the beach who told that horrendous joke is right beside me staring past my eyes to the confessional door. I remove my hands from my knees and lightly brush my hair bun that I so delicately tied. I stare at the door too. That door is mesmerizing. It’s so polished that it shines. Or glints. There is a thin window at the top of it that tapers into a cone. Neither the Priest nor the confessor are in its view. It’s a soft laugh, so I’m not sure he hears it. I confess that my cheeks are red. They’re whispering. Should I confess that? It’s eavesdropping. That’s a venial sin. The confessional isn’t traditional. You sit right beside the Priest and you look him straight in the eye. Even as a Catholic woman, I’ve never been afraid to look them in the eye. I’ll just tell him the confessional needs better sound proofing. Father Samuel is in today, I think. We met when I hosted that pro-life workshop for the Catholic kids at the high school. His voice was so soft. It charmed me. He wanted me to do more talks. Perhaps even to the adult parishioners. Yes, maybe. Maybe I can do that. Am I nice? My friends say I am. They also say I’m driven. Ambitious. Can kindness and ambition go together? Or do they clash? Should I confess that? Must I always confess it? How many times? Seventy times seven? That sounds tiresome, so I lie to him, my boyfriend, my betrothed, instead. Is the secret a sin? I lie. I don’t love. I don’t. Am I the only one who sins? Have I been staring at that man beside me the whole time? He requested we sing Hallelujah at the beach, and we sang it. I think he liked that. Then that young woman said that cliché “Jesus loves us this much,” and she stretched out her arms as if she was on the cross, “and died.” And then that man who is now beside me on this pew made that joke. God, she didn’t have to say it. It doesn’t matter if it’s true, or if it’s only true on some level. I gripped the sand and groaned when she said it. I shouldn’t have done that. It probably encouraged him to say the joke. On the beach his hair seemed pristine, untouchable. Now among the beauty of the church, the iconography in the window of Jesus crumpled under the cross, his hair is so messy. I bet his house is as messy as his hair. Clothing on the floor. Dirty dishes in the sink. Dust everywhere. A house needs to be kept in order. I have to be comfortable within my living space. He’s cute and his eyes change colour. That’s fascinating, isn’t it? He’s looking at me too. I blink. I’m so tired, and I rub my forehead… like I’m thinking, but I’m not really thinking. I’m a priest and I’m just trying to listen. There’s two others waiting outside in the pews. I’m hidden from them and exposed to this man who confesses to me. I’ve heard this confession before and respond with worthless platitudes and maybe the parishioner feels better, maybe he feels forgiven. Maybe not. I should be hidden from him. It is easier to accept forgiveness from a mysterious voice. Should I renounce my priesthood? Should I confess that? How innocent is that thought? Is that the first time I’ve thought that? I’ve certainly felt it for a long time, but duty breeds you past the feeling. You hope that it’s just a cyclical occurrence of emotion, that it will go away. That you are happy, that you enjoy your work, that you find it fulfilling. Still, how innocent am I? Did someone just scream? I ignore the confessor and open the door. He’s shocked and stumbles over his words. I don’t care. Someone screamed. It’s…what’s her name? She has her hands on her lips. Anne? Anna? No, it’s not that short. But someone called her Anne, I swear. It’s something longer. Anastasia. No, that can’t be it. I’m close though. Oh, and that guy. The jokester. “Jesus only loves you this much?” he scorned after that woman said that wonderful cliché (yes wonderful!) while stretching out his arms maliciously, “That’s not that long. It’s not that far. Only that much love? He only loves you that much?” I understand it’s a tiresome cliché and everyone says it, but did he have to make a joke about the length of God’s stretched out arms? Clichés can be grounding truths that hold us up like a cornerstone. And yet, we still reject it. The image works on so many different levels, and not only plays with length as a mathematical concept, but plays with it metaphysically as well. Length going beyond itself: mathematically metaphysical. So, really, it’s not a cliché. Annalise! There we go. That’s her. She listens. She really listens. Maybe I should tell her. I’ve got to tell someone. I’m not sure I can tell another priest. I’ve told one already. He’s back in the confessional, was just confessing to me, everyone confessing to each other—who forgives? It won’t matter. Even if he hears it and jokes about it, it won’t matter.  Men are usually a bunch of contradictory ideals, and I think he knows that, so he’ll understand. After all, I’m the one who will forgive him. He has no reason not to forgive me. Do I still have that power? If I want to leave, have I already left? Has God already left me? I reach out my hand to Annalise but that malicious jokester beside her on the pew reaches for her hair as if to touch the tips that curl over her forehead. But, he does not touch. His fingers suspend in unbelief. “Oh lord I believe! Help my unbelief.” She grabs his fingers and propels them into the braided bun at the backside of her head. It’s a swirling temple. His fingers scrunch against it and he yelps. Their lips mangle into each other—I wouldn’t call it a kiss, but I’m not sure what I would call it. Should I leave the cloth? It’s a sucking and a crinkling. A nervous chewing. Their lips smother over their teeth then smash into their cheeks and slobber onto their chins. She pets his eyes. It’s grotesque. She screams again. He slides off the pew onto the floor. She makes sure her hair hasn’t fallen loose. Then, she rests her hands on her knees. I cross myself. “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” Holy Ghost? Ghost? Who said that? I turn—

 


IAN KENT wrote, produced and directed the play “Abattoir Morning” for or; theatre (ortheatre.com). In India, Ian taught Shakespeare to Tibetan artists in exile and edited and contributed to Contact magazine. His poems have been published in Quills Canadian Poetry Magazine, The Prairie Journal, Scrivener Creative Review, Rhubarb and Contemporary Verse 2. His fiction has appeared in The Prairie Journal. His non-fiction has appeared in Rhubarb.

Copyright © 2018 by Ian Kent. All rights reserved.