Natalia Godsmark; The Finale

The finale

 

Sarah

I sit in the waiting room, listening.  The cacophony of sounds resonates like a badly rehearsed orchestra:

The mezzo-piano hum of computers,

The strident tick-tocking clock,

The discordant phone ringtones,

The rhythmic banging of doors as doctors and nurses hurry through.

Every now and then the hospital receptionist softly calls out her melodic solo: ‘Mr. so-and-so please.’

 

When my name is sung I glide, andante, across to my husband, who looks lost and confused.  Music used to be his life.  I suppose it still is…in some ways. 

“All seems to be well, Mrs. Miller.”  The doctor addresses me, his tone implying finality.

 

I put my arm around Jonathon’s shoulders as I used to hold my cello.  He seems to have shrunk so quickly.  He was once a handsome man; his dark eyes so passionate; his hair so thick. And he held himself confidently.  Now, he’s like a frightened boy; his eyes wide and bewildered, his hair sparse and he hunches over.  I guide him down the corridor, his faltering steps out of sync with the hospital’s rhythm. 

 

The clouds outside are black and angry.  Thunder crashes above us before the rain begins to fall and my husband starts, his eyes darting around, seeing everything and nothing all at once.  They settle on me and I pull him close as we complete the short walk home.

 

Our house is warm and cosy when we enter and an expression of relief floods Jonathon’s face.  I sit him in his chair and he watches me, as though I am about to serenade him. I prepare our evening meal and he tunelessly hums an aria to himself. He once knew every word. 

 

Matthew lollops into the kitchen and pulls out a packet of crisps from the snack drawer.  His hair is unwashed and his clothes are scruffy.  He used to be such a happy child, always smiling.  Not anymore. He flits in and out of our world, his life contrapuntal to ours, perhaps like any 18 year old, though he seems even more distant since Jonathon’s rapid decline.  They don’t say a word to each other, and as I slice and rinse and boil, I sink into a melancholic state of lethargy, listening:

The metrical chomping of my son’s teeth,

The whine of the boiling kettle,

The popping of the bubbles in the saucepan.

 

Only my husband’s gentle refrain reminds us of how things once were.

 

Matthew
Mum and Dad are back from the hospital.  Good.  I’m hungry. 

My friends say I’m not, like, sympathetic enough. That I should spend more time with him, or I’ll regret it later. 

But they don’t know what it’s like. 

 

He used to be a cool dad.  A bit embarrassing at times with his unfunny jokes and, well, his random dress sense, but he was always up for a laugh. 

 

She used to be alright too.  Typical mum, telling me off and stuff, but I dealt with it.  Now she hardly ever says a word to me.  She probably thinks I’m, like, disloyal for not wanting to spend every minute with a man who’s losing his mind.  Who knows though?  It’s not like she ever talks about it.  She cooks for him, cleans for him, works 8 hours a day to pay for him and soon, they say, he may not even recognise her.  What’ll happen then?

 

I can’t – I don’t want – to cope with it.  And soon I won’t have to. Just got to get through the summer. Then I’m off to Edinburgh uni.  Get as far from London as possible.  She’ll let me.  She wants me to be happy, and that’s what’ll do it. 

 

He won’t even notice I’ve gone.

 

Jonathon

Ave Maria
Gratia plena
Maria …

I can’t remember what goes next.  Maria plena?  Is that it?  “Sarah what’s the next line? … Yes, I thought so.”

 

I don’t remember a lot of things anymore.  Don’t know –

 

We’re eating dinner now.  Sarah’s cooked my favourite.  I love chicken.  “Sarah, I love chicken.”  She’s smiling at me, nodding.  She takes my hand and rubs it. 

 

Loud noise.  Too loud.  Sarah says, “It’s ok, it’s just the doorbell.  Just the doorbell.” 

She says, “Matthew, go and answer the door.”  He does.  Sarah stays with me and rubs my hand.

 

Sarah

Matthew clomps back into the kitchen fortissimo, with his girlfriend Lucy at his heels.  She flashes an awkward smile at me and ignores Jonathon altogether.  The kids speak to each other about the coming weekend while Matthew shovels forkfuls of food in his mouth and chews with his mouth wide open.

 

Jonathon looks at me not saying a word. 

 

In a sudden movement that causes Jonathon to flinch, Matthew stands up, his chair legs scraping loudly on the floor.  “We’re off. I’ll be home around midnight,” he says. He doesn’t wait for us to respond.

 

Jonathon and I resume eating. When we have finished, I guide him back to his chair in the living room and it doesn’t take long before a piano calm fills the room interrupted only by his occasional snores.

 

And now I wander about my big, empty house; a house that once used to be so full of life, of energy, of happiness.  But more noticeable than the emptiness and worse, by far, is the

 

silence.

*

Biography

Natalia Godsmark recently resigned from her day job as a Compliance Officer in an Asset Management organisation (but she’s a much more interesting person than that makes her sound). She has a one year old and is currently trying her hand at writing flash fiction and short stories. In April this year, she was longlisted for the OhZoe Rising Talent Award with two children’s story manuscripts.

Róisín Power Hackett; A Sub-Sub Librarian

A Sub-Sub Librarian  

(A cut-up text using Hermann Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’)

 

I promise nothing complete; A dreadful storm comes on the world, a great hurricane, typhoon, blood and thunder for what seemed ages piled on ages. Afterwards the sun shining, steam smoking, melting icebergs. People were worried to death. Oh, the world! This system would not proceed, the ruins of burnt ground were lost, worn and wrinkled to the swelling flood. What a multitude of things, both large and small, were lost beneath the green fields gone, north, east, south and west devoured. All creatures were lost, lifeless, neither the unicorn, caterpillar nor butterfly were living, and oil energy, buried. Indeed, hundreds of men had been so killed. Thus, the breaking-up of iceberg, wrapped the outer world in water. There was nothing, nothing but water. Drowning mountains became island. Thus, poverty-stricken people, with disease and little or nothing, survived the flood, found ships and mountainous island peaks to pile themselves upon. After sunset the world was now wrapped in outer darkness. People proceed to curiously carve settlement, to set down a little domestic peculiarity on highland, making wigwam and hammock upon the hill-side blue, with a view of making the world a small degree civilised. Nevertheless, ere long, the divers went down under the sea, picking up whatever they could clutch. Thus, the earth puffed out great clouds of fire among the islands, the gold brow plumbs the blue in this practical world. All the candles that burnt round concluded in technical mechanical devices. Meanwhile, imperial island King Emperors conquered the watery world. The island people had metropolitan superiority over the sea-peasant. So, life dropped in to its place, the system returning. Consider all this, the masterless ocean overruns the globe, the sea’s landlessness, no shadow of tree, the watery loneliness of life, the continual repetition of fish as food, the fresh water low and consequently death from starvation, conflict with seas or winds, to live in the open air, that wild madness was life. So, man may brag of science and skill, and however much, in a flattering future, that science and skill may augment, the sea will insult and murder him. Yet we resumed business, the oil business of whaling. The Chief Harpooner reigned supreme. Civilised ocean kings and empires set up whale departments, wherein blubber-boilers, butchers and harpooners reaped harvest of spermaceti and ambergris.

 

After half a century of cutting up the fresh blubber, spiralising and boiling out manufactured sperm oil and eating whale-steak you will find few whales in the lawless seas. Exploring expeditions happened. People dived and discovered, at the bottom of the sea, the Tuileries beneath the yellowish incrustations overgrowing the gardens of the deep, a marble sepulchre with the silken pearl coloured membrane, glossy as bridal satins. The curious internal structure was lung-celled honeycombs. The seamen swam through libraries through the long Vatican in the subterraneous monument, avenues of books, the ancient authors Ptolemy, Shakespeare, Spinoza, Goethe, Edmund Burke… Those who have written a book, spoken a speech, poet, philosopher and artist, bethink yourself between them. There’s all sorts, an inexhaustible wealth of spices, and silks, and jewels, and gold, and ivory, amber, antique crystal goblets, a bottle of Bordeaux, old Orleans whiskey, hermaphroditical Italian pictures, a great telescope, canes, umbrella-sticks, and handles to riding-whips.  There are mountains of these fine things, chambers of darkness, a hopeless, endless twinkling romantic landscape, the expression of the madness of men. Seal up any human thing supposed to be complete, retained in that reservoir of air, with all the paintings of Europe and Grecian sculptures. A gallery a thousand fathoms beneath the sunlight.

 

All those fine things, which to me seem important, were granted to the classic scholar, the Sub-Sub, who must catalogue them, to cultivate a historical record of mankind, the sub with an elated grandeur and hard work makes the basis for a regular system of all sorts of things with departments, subdivisions and folios to attempt a clear classification of mankind and nature and every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing. She lived and worked in the inglorious bowels of the earth at the bottom of the deep ocean. She penetrated far into the interior and found many a gem. Dwelling in the blackness, silent, with one candelabra soon leads to a white, silken creature whose lulled into such an opium-like listlessness. There’s no soothing touch of human being for her in the deep. Each sub remained in this situation until death. They then renewed their sub – one is subsequently brought down and adieu to you.

 

Meanwhile, the whale fishery was near out of oil and ambergris. The intense greenness of the sea, empty of whales, the fire burning low, tormented to madness, the whalemen, violently hunted the highly prized spermaceti, the universal commotion to secure the whale oil by every boat in hot chase was riotous. Thus, human bloodshed, was to take hold of the world, as people had the fear of death, as oil and bloodthirsty pirates chased, seemed only intent on annihilating. Every boat continued her cruising, but that common decency of human kind was almost wholly gone. While Imperial Emperor and King had ships of floating furniture, had their customary dinner of Persian sherbet, their ivory-inlaid table and Ottoman, could take a glass of wine, had gold and silver, royalty, grandeur, for some there is no life, except that rocking life imparted by the sea. To have whale-bone den, cod and mackerel, a candle, boat-knife, sea charts, compasses, rifles, to be alive at all events was great and suicides a not uncommon thing. Inward they turned upon the soul, to lose oneself in such inhuman solitude.

 

Threading its way out from among battle came the poet Star, sailing in the old craft, nimble as a cat, she is amphibious. She did not use whale oil, but blazes fire out of the branches she grows from the odorous cedar on her island, a few green sprouts, full of hope and fruition.  With concern for the great whales of the sea, keeping them living and breathing was her business. A poetical Pagan, purposely living green, and the soft feeling of the human sprawling about, sailing out, out, off from mankind to all the ends of the earth. Star would take care of earth and whale and endeavoured to prevail upon this system of the wolfish world. Thus, by day to be sailing through boundless fields of blue water in a new-made world, and when dusk descended, the starred and stately nights seemed the warmly cool, clear, ringing, perfumed, overflowing ball-room of the whole world. After several years dancing through a calm tropical sea, her boat and whales, tranquilly swimming through the water, she had explored seas and archipelagos. In representing the whale, Star was enemy of the harpooner. The evil-blazing continued more savage on a fierce run. Star sailing away, from the chase with the herd, the small tame cows and calves to the old South Sea. Every year she went to the lovely island, her Aoraki, by the vivid green of old Cockatoo Point. Star took care, planting a great tree or two, while taking wood. The harpooners, they were running, rushing through the water with a vindictive sort of leaping towards her on the old Zealand sea. Star parts eastward from the islands one transparent blue morning. I take it from the books, she kept account of sea-life. But ere long from the vivid sunlight, sat Star rocking beneath the counterpane lounging on the chair in her South American poncho she slid to a grand snoozing dream, ornamented at the edges with little tingling waves. The counterpane was of patch-work, full of odd little parti-coloured squares and triangles and this gown on Star, looked for all the world like a strip of that same patchwork quilt, you could hardly tell it from the quilt, they so blended their hues together. Thus, temporarily blurred, unseen, but this ignorant infernal harpooner, suddenly he came upon the boat full of the fire of the hunt. She saw and lightening-like in movements, swings the rifle from the wall. Still, she’s over-manned. Those butchers killed lifeless the only starry dream, quickly they toss Star overboard in that mid-day sea azure. These harpooners found log-books, they were submerged with me, the last person down, a sub-sub trapped, in this darkened labyrinth. They killed the herd of whales to yield good oil. But sooner or later inevitably the last drop was gone, and without any oil battle kept kicking at this world. Man was doomed and made mad, and cannibalistically developed.

 

The end of it, I do not know. As bubbles that swim on the beaker’s brim, a powerless panic methinks, the round watery world has become white, and that great mass of human death floats on and on. I say I, myself, will slid off into death. So, fare thee well and adieu to you.                 

*

Biography   

Róisín Power Hackett is an Irish visual artist, poet and art writer. She has a BA History of Art and Fine Art (Paint) and an MA in Art in the Contemporary World, an art writing masters, both from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. She has been published in The Runt, The Bohemyth, Rise and Repeal (Abortion Rights Campaign) MagazineThe Weary Blues, Glitter StumpPamphlet Magazine (Netherlands), Skylight 47, Mama Grande Press, Word Legs, Minus 9 Squared‘s Anthology, Minus Nine Squared. Róisín has also published essays, articles and reviews on contemporary art. More of her work can be found here https://roisinphackett.wordpress.com/

Christopher Branson; She Would’ve Been A Ballerina

She would’ve been a ballerina

 

In spite of everything they told themselves, from the day of her funeral to their final hours of old age, she never would have been a ballerina.  Her life wouldn’t have worked out like that.  It wasn’t who she was.    

It’s true, there was grace in those limbs, such elegant grace.  When she danced she was like blossom on the breeze.  Twenty-five kilos going on weightless.  And so delicate in her motion.  Every gesture soft as silk. 

Of all the bodies to be smashed by a truck.    

But what they couldn’t possibly have known is that this body was destroyed in its absolute prime, its season of greatest beauty.  Puberty would have been unkind, you see, hardening her frame, thickening its movement.  Caged its fluidity.  No more would those muscles melt into music. 

It’s true that she’d always loved to dance, and this love would not have left her.  A thousand times she dreamed of dancing the ballet with poise and abandon.  But she never could have made it.  She lacked the character, the blinkered discipline required for someone to break their body like that and turn it into art.  She was just too happy to dominate herself, too sunny and laid back and in love with her friends.  She never would’ve sacrificed the pleasures of her teenage years. 

And if she’d lived to see those years she would have rebelled soon enough.  Recoiled at the mean constant pressure, at her mother’s crazed dream of realising her own failed dream, and at her father’s dumb consent.  She would have broken with their wishes sooner or later.  One day the first crack would have appeared – a drag on a cigarette, maybe, or a mouthful of cider or a kiss with a boy – and the whole facade would have come crashing down.  There’d have been more cigarettes and a lot more cider, then vodka, and wine; in time there’d have been joints and pills, perhaps cocaine; and there’d have always been boys, a constant plague of boys throughout her teenage years, some treating her well, but most misusing her.  Nothing too unlike any other teenage rebel, all told, but her parents’ upset and admonishment and rage would have seethed and swollen, it would have festered until it became a rearing, unsleeping despair that would have antagonised her wildness still further.  And by the time she’d have reconciled with her folks, years later, the dream of the ballet would have long been forgotten.  All she’d retain from those teenage years would be a memory of failure and self-loathing that would haunt her for the rest of her days. 

But of course she died before any of this played out, killed one sunny morning on the way to school by an exhausted man driving a truck.  Gone like that.  Ten years old. 

Nothing can make sense of how she died, of course, but people can’t live with nothing.  They need something to go on with.  Some kind of story to tell.  At her funeral they were already groping for one, her relatives and friends and teachers.  They ate buffet food and drank tea and looked at each other out of sore eyes and hoped that something would come catch their falling souls.  And though there were no words to explain her death, they found they could at least dream on about the life she might have had, about where she might have studied and where she might have lived. 

As they talked over ham and cheese sandwiches and slices of quiche, their speculation over what might have been gradually condensed into a communal vision of what would have been.  The tale they were telling reverberated between them with growing conviction, hardening until at last it became a kind of truth, a description of who she really was.  So that, in a certain sense, she was reborn on that day of her burial, reborn into a narrow perfection she could never have embodied in waking life. 

She would have been a ballerina, you see, that’s what they all concluded that day of her funeral and then repeated to themselves again and again throughout the years. 

In time it even came to console her parents.  It’s what they always wanted, after all, what they’d dreamed of, though on the day of the funeral her they weren’t at all ready for this talk.  The abyss was too deep.  They couldn’t bear to take their eyes off the girl they’d kissed goodbye only a few mornings earlier.  As if she wouldn’t really be gone so long as they didn’t forget a single detail about her.  It was too soon to think about the future she’d lost.

Over time, however, that shattering, faithful image of their little girl became subsumed by something they could actually live with.  In those first weeks and months after her death, months of raw loss, a fragment of time would come rushing back to them, resurrecting her before their eyes as if from nowhere, and with tears they’d recall some glad moment of her life.  That’s when they began to say it to themselves, as the moment receded and they remembered she was dead.  She would’ve been a ballerina. 

And for years afterwards, when her mother or father were alone, and they’d find themselves sobbing without provocation, suddenly weeping at the sink or on the toilet or in the shower, they’d think about the ballerina she would have been.  They’d daydream about it going home on the bus. 

And above all it was something they said when they were all together, her parents and all of her family and friends.  They invoked it whenever her memory was conjured at a wedding or a christening or some other reunion, when a mention of her name lodged itself in the space between them so that silence followed and their hearts shivered at her presence.

She was a lovely dancer, someone would say.  What a wonderful ballerina she would have been.

And as her parents’ unconquerable sadness only grew with age, lining a million tiny folds inside their heavy hearts, and as their minds flooded with memory as they approached their death, the crutch of those saving words became relied on more and more.  They repeated them to each other night by night before the TV and, after her father died, her mother muttered them to herself as she lay awake in bed, she said them to every visitor she had, no matter how many times they’d heard it all before.  And when her own death drew near and she was moved to the hospice, she told all of the nurses there, too, she told them they reminded her of her daughter, Did you know I had a daughter? she’d say.  Only she wouldn’t have been a nurse, my Jane, she would’ve been a ballerina. 

Only the truth is, she wouldn’t have.  Her story was never going to turn out like that, which I guess is another way of saying that the story I’ve told isn’t hers at all.  Really it’s the story of how her true self was covered over and lost, how that deluded tale about the ballet came to conceal the person she was.  Although on the other hand maybe it tells you all you need to know about her.  About how she made people feel and what she meant to them.  And above all the love and levity she infused in them when they saw her dance, and the devastation they felt after she was gone.  And if the fantasy of the ballet helped them cope with her death, well, she would have been the last to want to deprive them of that.  She wasn’t that sort of person, you see.

*

Biography

Christopher Branson was shortlisted for the 2016 Impress Prize for New Writers and has stories published in The Ham and The Writing Disorder.  He is close to completingFool, a comic novel about a young man trying to recover from a profound love affair that never happened.  Prior to focusing on fiction, he wrote a doctoral thesis on Nietzsche.  He lives in London.  @tarkovskysdog

Marc Nash; Meditation Ex-Cathedra

Meditation Ex-Cathedra

When the levee of my mother’s natal waters broke; when the champagne bottle was dashed against her cervix and started my baby hull moving down the rollers of the birth canal; when HMS neonate me was launched into the world, it had no concept of its future obsolescence and scrappage. Of its down the line replacement by another in the lineage fleet, bearing the same name but managing only to serve in effacing the uniqueness of its memory.

It spent its early days all at sea trying to cohere the view through the telescope provided by the visual cortex and processing chip of a brain. These cozening forces of ordinate and abscissa, plotting the flat earth co-ordinates of reality as fixed and immutable. Freud of course would have it that one is also unwittingly consumed by the perspective rendered extant by the sextant; your personal parental poles of latitude and longingtude. From the antipodes of father and mother, when there is a whole host of the rest of the world to explore and chart. Further palimpsested by majusculed school and prescriptive religion. Establishing a moral foundation erected like a hollow Gaudi edifice, with the dislocating wind blowing up a maelstrom through the upright interstices.

Of the heritable venerable three questions for man, ‘Who am I?’, ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘What have I done?’, most who bother to interrogate themselves only get as far as grappling with the first one. The last is a matter for consideration solely on death beds and the second is forsaken because they fail to supply the context of their inevitable death through which all explorations would necessarily be refracted. They remain steadfastly progressively forward looking, rather than applying the singular teleological certitude to their thought processes. So inevitably they come to focus on their identities. The person they are during their brief sojourn on earth. Yet what is the point fixating on something that is ultimately perishable? They also reify love’s existence in order that they will not spend their sojourn alone, but again why would I devote contemplation on something equally fugacious?

Author I took the antipodal approach. Placed myself in the full-length mirror. Over time studied the maculations of the skin, burst blood vessels, the ossific curvature, the protuberances and the loss of sinewy definition. No looking glass could reflect the loss of suppleness, the fitful sleep, the arthritic joints. The physicians had diagnosed my corporeal failings, I was now trying to diagnose myself for my readers. To offer them a speculum into their own being. But stood there in the mirror, pressing and pinching the flesh to see if the nevus had regular contours or not, scrotal bobbins cupped in my hand feeling the spindle for noduled swelling, I have no idea of whether I am of any assistance to my would-be interrogators. As my words are released, I scrutinise them for their effect, but the letters are reversed in the mirror and illegible to me. The audience remains invisible, occluded by my eidolon therein the glass. The author dies twice over; once at the end of his life, the other every day in isolation.

*

Biography

Marc Nash has published 5 collections of flash fiction and his fifth novel will be published by Dead Ink Books in Autumn 2017. He collaborates with video makers to turn some of his flash into digital story telling. He lives & works in London.

Theresa Power; Dancing Shoes

Dancing Shoes

Mummy pretends to be happy but I know she’s not. Her smiles are just a trick. Same as her hugs.

‘Come here and give Mummy a cuddle,’ she says, and then she squeezes me so hard that I can’t move. Her eyes are closed but that doesn’t stop the tears. I want to scream at her to let me go but my mouth won’t work and the words get stuck. Daddy comes into the kitchen but he doesn’t look at us. I wish I was bigger.

‘We better get going,’ he says. Then he tells me to go and get a toy for the car. I gasp for breath when she lets me go and I run as fast as I can to my room.

 

My beautiful ballerina. Just a few twists and she is dancing again, round and round in her shiny pink dress. No one is speaking in the car and Daddy asks me if I want to be a ballerina one day. He doesn’t notice that I don’t answer or that Mummy is crying again. She is sniffling and sighing and every few minutes she lets out a little whimper. She is like a scared puppy and I want to reach out to touch her but I don’t. Daddy turns up the radio.

 

I don’t know where we’re going. I hope we’re going to see Jake. We keep going to visit him at the big garden but he’s never there. There are never any babies there. I whisper to my ballerina that everything is ok. Daddy says to shut that thing up so I stop playing her music in case they send her away too. I promise her that I’ll leave the box open. No more dancing though. She will have to be quiet.

*

Biography

Theresa Power studied English and Sociology at Maynooth University. Her work has previously been published in Spinebind. She lives in Dublin and is currently working on a number of creative projects.

Brian Dunster; The Tangram Enigma

The Tangram Enigma

(Part 3)

             Months could have passed for all we knew. At least, that’s what it felt like crawling through a maze of tunnel systems with very little rest and no food to fill our stomachs. The walls closed in the deeper we went, and our bodies found it difficult to squeeze through the tiny gaps that kept popping up. The Governingmen had sent their entire force after us after Master Morfran blew up a part of the Ministry of Stuff and Things. He had rigged the boilers to explode as a way of escape. He swears he was always on our side and that he only blabbed to President Comfort because he was afraid someone else might have found out. In other words, he was trying to protect us. Natsuki and I found it hard to believe but if he did do it to protect us then we knew we were in his debt. And he was the one guiding us through these tunnels, so we couldn’t be too picky about his intentions.

            “Quit your blabbering back there and keep moving before your legs fall off.”

            Master Morfran stood by his instinctual sense of direction. He explained how he traversed these tunnels as a child, trying to flee radioactive cockroaches and snapping dirt worms. He’d been through it all, or so he said. But his confidence and determination to get us away from the Governingmen’s clutches was undeniable. I couldn’t even imagine what they were going to do to us if they caught us. It was too terrifying to even comprehend. It was the main driving force keeping me going.

            “We’re not far now. Just another couple of turns.”

            Master Morfran believed there is an ancient order deep within Plana Petram called the “Enders”. They sounded pretty dire, but I’d been assured they were quite wise and had an abundance of knowledge not even President Comfort and his cohorts had at their disposal. Natsuki backed up his claim as she recalled a memo with references to the “Enders”, a sizable threat. She said that they were never dealt with and all records of them were destroyed and anybody who would bring them up was made to disappear unexpectedly.

            “Ah, for Goods sake!”

            A dead end. A wall of dirt and muck.

            “I swear it was right here. We took all the right turns… I think.”

            I collapsed to my knees and punched the ground. Tears started to well up in my eyes and it annoyed me because I didn’t have the water to spare for such a moment. Master Morfran paced back and forth and examined the blocked passage. Nothing to him made any sense. He started to scratch at the wall and chip away pieces of dirt and rock. His fingers bled as he continued to burrow. But he wasn’t going anywhere fast. The earth proved too difficult to penetrate with bare hands. He too collapsed to the ground and slumped up against the muddy wall – defeated.
         

“I guess that’s all she voted, folks. I’m sorry. At least I lived a life. Sucks for you kids.”

            Natsuki remained on her feet. She refused to give in to despair. It just wasn’t her style. She placed her hand on my head and it felt warm and comforting. She then moved to examine the dead end, grazing her fingers along the rim of the blocked passage. A sly grin rose on her chapped lips. She ran back to me and lifted me off the ground.

“When I was at my desk and I couldn’t find something I had a little trick to locate it.”

            Master Morfran, inspired by the tone in Natsuki’s voice, climbed up from the ground and rubbed up against us. It was the first time I realised that none of us had showered but that Master Morfran was definitely smellier than either of us. But I was too intrigued and infatuated with Natsuki’s chapped lips moving that nothing could have spoilt what she was about to say.

            “If something went missing the first thing I would do is look up. I had a terrible habit of leaving things on high shelves that I’d just look up and there it was.”

            Natsuki looked up and our heads followed automatically. Above us was hatch with the word, “Dead End” inscribed. Except the A and D of the word DEAD was scratched out and an extra E, R, and S was engraved on the word END. When we read it aloud it was clear we had found them. We had found the “De Enders.”

            On the other side of the hatch was a single room with a round table and four chairs. In each of the chairs there was skeletal remain. They had been dead for some time with no obvious cause of death. This was another disheartening blow for our morale. I was hoping, even if I didn’t fully believe in Master Morfran, to finally get some real answers. Not only answers, but a solution into our particular conundrum. Now where are we to go?

            “You don’t look like Manly Men…”

            A strange voice came from one of the skeletons. We approached cautiously and upon closer examination we discovered a strange glass lens in one of the eyes and a small speaker in the mouth. We leaned in and waited.

            “What do Manly Men look like?”

            I had to break the ice somehow. But it felt strange addressing a skeleton.

            “Not you, anyway. Hold on, I’ll be out in a sec.”
           

            The room shook and debris fell onto our heads. We thought the tunnel was about to cave in. But instead, a great steel door revealed itself behind the skeleton we had be conversing with. On the other side of the door was regular person, in regular clothing, if not irregular in manner. He smiled gleefully at us and threw his arms out wide for a hug. No one dared approach him. It wasn’t because we were afraid of ruining his well groomed attire after an extended period of crawling through muck. No, it was more of his over eagerness in his greeting. That, and we were still getting over the initial shock of finding a room full of corpses.

            “It’s great to finally meet some live faces. It’s been far too long.”

            The man before us was much older than me but somehow seemed younger. And I would consider myself quite young. But he had a way about himself that he seemed childlike. As if he wasn’t from this time at all. His grin never left his face. He just stared at us in pure awe and amazement.

            “Please, grab a seat. Don’t mind the skeletons. Just put them on the ground. They won’t mind. I’m sure they’ll like to stretch their legs anyhow.”

            We looked at each other and slowly took up his offer. We laid the skeletons on cold steel floor and sat down. Natsuki, always the brave one, spoke up first.

            “Who are you?”

            The man’s grin waned slightly. He reached into the back of his mind and pulled out an answer. But it was clear to us that he wasn’t convinced by his own memory.

            “My name is Bob. Bob Robert. The third. I am the son of Rob Robert whose father was, Robert Robert, the astronomer that discovered the comet. That’s him there.”

            Bob Robert pointed to the ground beside me. We didn’t know what to say yet we all had so many questions. But as if he read our mind he spurted out everything that plagued our thoughts. And he did so with the use of light and images which he called hollow projections.

            “So, in the beginning when the world, which yes, was round and voluptuous, a comet was discovered by my dear late father, in which the entire population voted on the worst possible solution to stave off total annihilation. But, of course, it inevitably led to the destruction of the planet and pieces were scattered about the solar system. But my granddad, who wasn’t as dumb as the resounding populace, devised a plan. He built a space station with the help of some very wealthy benefactors. We’ll get back to them shortly. Keeping up so far?”

            Our jaws were wide open. It could have been from the dehydration or lack of food and sleep, but in that moment I believe we were all in total disbelief.

            “Anyway, they built this massive station made from seven different parts to make one whole part and surrounded each section with a sizeable land mass. It was supposed to be the Noah’s ark of its time. The called it the Tangram Station. So, when the comet impacted and blew up the planet the space station flew off into space with a chunk of the Earth’s population. It was supposed to be a whole new beginning and utopia, blah, blah, blah. You guys thirsty?”

            Although we couldn’t get enough of his story our mouths jumped at the opportunity to quench our thirst. Bob gave each of us a small tin can and cracked the lid on top. The water fizzled and tickled our noses. But they tasted delicious.

            “Now, where were we? Ah, yes. The money men. They funded the whole project so naturally they secured a place on the Tangram Station. But they weren’t satisfied with just getting a seat, they wanted the whole place for themselves. Over time they schemed and bribed and murdered their way to the top and overthrew my granddad and his people. They were forced to flee and hide out in the ducts and passageways.”

            I don’t know what kind of water Bob gave us but suddenly I had a burst of energy. I could barely stay still. I needed to do something, anything to release this feeling.

            “Easy on the coke, buddy. Your body will take a while to get used to the sugar.”

            I had no idea what he was talking about but I suddenly felt the urge to rebel. Action was needed and it needed to happen right now.

            “There was one thing that the Money Men, or Manly Men, as they now call themselves, didn’t know. Each section could only support so many people. But when they took over they forced everyone to the top to do their bidding. And now it is collapsing and losing power. If it’s not separated within the next while the whole station will fail.”

            “What can we do to stop that from happening?”

            Natsuki was now feeling the same burst of energy that surged through my body.

            “I don’t know, exactly. Otherwise, I would have done it by now. You see, the Governingmen can’t announce it because they’ll have an uprising on their hands. If we were somehow able to tell the people the truth, then we could take down President Comfort and his regime. But that’s easier said than done. He has a tight grip on what people should and shouldn’t believe. Folks are too scared to oppose. They need solid evidence their lives are in danger.”

            I listened and listened and as I listened I drifted off into my own thoughts. A plan formed in my head. A reckless, stupid, insane plot that could, not only bring down President Comfort and his cronies, but save the Tangram Station and all of its inhabitants. All I needed was a skeleton.

            My heart thumped against my chest but my eyelids grew heavier. It must have been that coke drink from earlier. All the energy I possessed had somehow evaporated and drifted off into the cosmos. I should have taken another one for the road. It could have given me an extra little bit of encouragement I so desperately needed as I walked up to the front doors of the Ministry of Stuff and Things. This was my plan? My great idea? What the heck was I thinking?

            Upon arriving at the gates I was met by several guards who surrounded me immediately. It wasn’t a surprise. While coming here I was greeted by my face on a Most After poster pasted on every wall, window and dog. I had expected to be recognised.

            “Tell President Comfort I can fix the Tangram Station.”

            They threw me in a tiny little cell with no window. I wasn’t dead yet. That was a good sign.
Adrenaline began to soar through my body. Some would call it fear and they wouldn’t be wrong. But it’s a heroic kind of fear. The type of fear you have when you’re about to do something amazing. Or something that will get you killed. I’m hoping for the former. And as I sat there, contemplating the potential success of my plan, I sensed a presence. Standing on the other side of the bars was President Comfort. He looked even more menacing than the first time we had met.

            “You’ve had a busy week, haven’t you? Kidnapping a staff member of the Ministry. Destruction of Governing Men’s guards and property. Resisting arrest. Inciting rebellion. Spreading heresy. And now, saviour of Plana Petram and the Tangram Station? Tell me, how did you come by this information? Did you find Rob Robert and his stooges?”

            “Rob is dead. But his grandson, Bob, lives.”

            “I bet he’s as big an idiot as his grandfather. You know, I paid for this station. I funded the entire project. I saved humanity. That’s why I deserve to be on top. They wanted to let the people rule themselves. As if people are smart enough to do that. That’s what got us in this mess in the first place. People making the decision. Leaders not making the hard choices for them. Someone had to step up and carve a path to a new future.”

            President Comfort drew in heavy breaths. His face turned red and his lips puffed out to gather more moisture from the air. Bob filled us in on his condition back at the De Enders hideout. President Comfort uses a machine meant for long distance space travel to preserve his life. He sleeps in it everynight to slow the aging process. But it seems time is catching up.

            “Now, what do you know of fixing our little problem?”

            I walked closer to the towering monster, tilted my head to meet his stare, filled my lungs with as much oxygen as possible and thought of the plan one final time.

            “I don’t know how to do fix the station. I never did.”

            He did not look pleased. He grabbed the bars with both hands and leaned his face closer.

            “I wanted to know what you planned on doing about the problem. You’re our President after all. Shouldn’t you have a plan to help us?”

            I stood my ground and didn’t even bash an eyelash. president Comfort licked his lips and cracked his jaw over and over in several different ways.

            “Oh, I have a plan. You’re not going to like it, though. In fact, no one will. Well, except those lucky enough to be in my Ministry. We’re almost ready to leave for the land mass below this one. And once we’re safely secured we will jettison Plana Petram into space along with you and everyone else not worthy of our time.”

            There it was. The most powerful man brought down by his own hubris. He didn’t have to blab his entire scheme to me. It would have been better for him if he hadn’t. But he did. It was kind of easy, actually. I knew he would act all superior but I had no idea he would give up everything.

            I watched as his face grew worried as a long, hard earned grin lifted up my cheeks. The light from the cell gleaned off a glass lens in my right eye and President Comfort went from confused to terrified. The lens zoomed in as he backed away from the cell.

            “It wasn’t easy, getting this thing in, but worth it. You just told the entire Plana Petram who you really are and they’re going to be pissed.”

            I wasn’t sure if it was the coke or not, but something crazy hit me at that moment back at the hideout. How did Bob see and hear us when he was in another room? And what if we were to use that same trick to tell the people of Plana Petram the truth. It required the sacrifice of my eye, but I was more than willing to make it.

            Bob got to work on how to distribute the signal. He had, what he called TV monitors, at his disposal. With the help of Master Morfran and Natsuki they strategically placed the TV’s around Plana Petram, using the tunnel system, while I distracted the guards and President Comfort. It was only a matter of getting him to incriminate himself and the rest should fall into place.

            “We’ve got rioters at the gate!”

            An alarm sounded and the guards rushed to thier positions. President Comfort took one last look at me and scurried away. I poked my head out of the bars and watched as he disappeared down the corridor. It was the last we’d ever see of him.
            The guards quickly laid down their arms and surrendered when they realised the Manly Men abandoned them and fled in escape pods. Those pods, according to Bob, only have a week’s worth of oxygen. Who knows if we’ll ever see them again. But if they do return they’ll find things have changed quite a bit.

            We left Plana Petram behind and released it into space. The section drifted off and soon we couldn’t see it anymore. A new governing body was set up by Natsuki who had the most experience of us all to handle such a task. And for the first time ever, Master Morfran was able to work on the surface. He maintained the water for all our horticultural needs.
            Bob became our most popular celebrity. Once every full moon he’d regal us with his stories of the round earth and what life was like before and what people did for entertainment. It was fascinating to hear and at time, a little unbelievable. But who could question him?

            I couldn’t get my old eye back. It’s not a problem. It’s pretty cool actually. But it does freak Natsuki out. I’ve gotten used to wearing a patch over it. Bob keeps yelling, “arrghhh” at me. I have no idea what it means. But for the first time in my life I feel happy. No more repression, no more Ministry of Stuff and Things, no more Manly Men, and most importantly, no more President Comfort. The people are motivated and gleeful. There’s talks of a new homeworld in the fastness of space. Imagine, a whole planet filled with people. It’d be the most miraculous thing in the universe. And if I don’t get to see it, then I’ll be happy knowing that my kids, or my kid’s kids, will one day walk the circumference of a real world.

*

Biography

Brian has an itch… A mighty big itch. But it is no ordinary itch, oh no. It’s an itch for storytelling. Brian creates for a living. He can not see himself doing anything else. He has spent the last ten years building a portfolio of work, producing short films, music videos, and short stories. Brian studied film and television in IADT Dun Laoghaire and since graduating in 2011 has been evolving and honing his skills ever since.  He has won awards for his work, winning Best Student Film at the Kerry Film Festival ion 2011, and has showcased several other projects in numerous festivals across Ireland, including the Jameson International Film Festival and Cork Fastnet Film Festival, to name but a few. Keep up to date on his Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/dunsterpictures and check out some of his work on Vimeo – https://vimeo.com/briandunster

Mitchell King; The Fairy With The Turquoise Hair

The Fairy With The Turquoise Hair

(Part 3)

Here is the dream. It is always summer in this dream. I have known this dream all my life. I am at a party in the backyard. Everyone is happy. Everyone is there. This is the dream. I see someone at the far end of the table. I get up to hug them because I haven’t seen them in a very long time. They look happy to see me. I am happy to see them. This is a dream. I go to hug and I wake up.

I wanted to show you everything in the world and I told you I had missed you and the fairy and our father weren’t awake yet and I asked you if you remembered me and—
“Why is your hair blue?”
“Dreams. You know how it goes. I’ve missed you so much.”
“Did you Dream me this dress?”
“Yes.”
“It kinda bunches up—is it my birthday or something? Why did you Dream me a present.”
“Because I love you.”
“You’re such a freak.”
You hadn’t noticed some of the other things that I dreamed that weren’t part of your person in this world, but you hadn’t seen a mirror yet, so how could you know your hair kinda glowed like halogen tubing in the dark morning. Maybe you were always like this and I just haven’t seen you in a while so it seems new and strange. Maybe I remembered you wrong—. The whole morning I suppressed tears.
“Is it spring outside?”
“Yeah, you’ve been gone for months.”
“Weird.”
“Yeah.”
“Why am I in your room?”
“We have a fairy living with us and you were gone so dad gave her your room.”
“Let’s make breakfast.”
“Yes.”
I can only appreciate the gradient of sunrise when I am happy. When I am full of light and joy, I can name every color laying horizontally as beautiful. This whole family of color with the same surname—beautiful—pink beautiful, red beautiful, orange beautiful, blue beautiful, turquoise beautiful, navy beautiful, yellow beautiful. On happy mornings it is a family I could believe I have some relation to.
“We should have a party.”
“We should have a party!”
“Yeah?”
“Yeah! A ‘hey I’m back let’s dance’ affair. Maybe this weekend? We could have it in the
backyard.”
“Like a garden party?”
“Exactly! How do you always know what I’m thinking?”
“Well this time of year and all—“
“Just call it twin-telepathy and make me happy.”
“It’s twin-telepathy.”
“Totally twin-telepathy.”
“Totally twin-telepathy.”
“A garden party! A perfect thing. But we’ll have to get rid of that compost heap in the backyard—
not my style.”
I turned my head to a loop to look at the heap of hands in the sunrise and the bricks of
light rising up it revealing more and more and—
“That thing smells terrible! I can’t believe dad put that up.”
And then you headed to the back door. And then you headed off the porch and down the stairs. You walked right up to it. I was behind you. I felt my stomach turn to stone.
“What is this?”
“I’ve been having bad Dreams and we couldn’t—“
The angle of the sun kept rising. The oak tree was bathed in light. The heap of blurring hands were bathed in light. One of them was twitching. One of them was twitching. One of them was twitching and you saw it twitching and you looked at your own hand and your other hand was shaking and—
“I was dead.”
…….
“I am dead.”
…….
And you turned and you looked at me and you cried. And you were shaking so hard that all the hands in the pile started shaking in too. They shook and shook so hard that their molecules began to blur and I could see them blurring and they blurred and shook and then they effervesced into a north wind.
And so did you.
You were dead again.
You were dead again.
You are dead again.
Dad told me the fairy vanished too but left strands of blue hair like cotton candy in an envelope in your room.

*

Biography

Mitchell King is a runaway witch living in Kansas City. Someday he hopes to colonize the moon.

Fiona Perry; Circumnavigation

Circumnavigation

(Part 3)

The subtle tapping sounds were gradually giving way to a deafening humming as if transmitted through loudspeakers. Against this wall of sound, in a sudden moment of crystallised clarity, the purpose of the wasp’s flight pattern was revealed to me.

            The wasp is mapping the nest in minute detail to ensure navigation home.

            I listened to this thought repeat itself in a loop in my head many times before setting it free in a whisper towards the dark corners of the attic. Pins and needles flooded into my hands, bursting like fireworks, and a wave of goose bumps swept down my back. I slowly descended the step ladder and wandered, stunned, towards the kitchen. Lorcan had arrived home and was chatting to Geraldine.

            I slurred, “There’s an enormous wasp’s nest up there,” just before the right side of my mouth froze.

            Geraldine gave a nervous laugh and said, “Oh Jesus, have you been stung on the face?”

            I tried to say, “No” and shake my head but the humming sound was swelling through the attic hatch door and travelling towards me, swallowing words before I had a chance to form them and infusing my hair, bone, blood and brain with vibrational energy as if I were a giant tuning fork.

            “Oh God, Daddy she’s having a stroke!” Geraldine shouted.

            Lorcan lunged in my direction. The torch dropped out of my hand and bounced on the carpet. I had lost all movement in my right arm. Next I remember lying on the floor with Lorcan           kneeling beside me.

            Secrets, voices, thoughts? Cosmic ciphers were rapidly decoding in my mind; glimmers of truth I had known since birth but for some unknown reason had forgotten. These strangely familiar convictions took smooth flight within my consciousness:

 

“The boundary

between skin and

air is an illusion

touchable

shape

epoch

breath into dust

space are merely sacred segments

capable of

convergence, you

the human body                                                                                              are a source of light unbroken

animals shimmer too

but we are only visitors

here                                                                                                    

all the love you have ever received or given

 

shadows you.”

 

 

            In my ecstasy I struggled to tell Lorcan and Geraldine these things, to bring peace to their distraught faces.

            But from the outside, my body was immeasurably still. And the last thing I saw was Lorcan praying over me as he smoothed my eyelids shut.

 

*

 

Now I am here. At this time. And I carry the hum within me.

            From beyond the bedroom door comes the sound of someone padding down the corridor followed by the steady splash of a running shower. It’s time to leave.

            I glide towards Geraldine and touch her hand. As I do so, the humming comes to a startling halt.

            With her eyes still closed she whispers, “Human love. Imperfect but profound. Is meant to be that way.”

            My body brims with brilliant light, buoyant and expectant.

            Released, I swim away to the sound of a baby crying.

*

Biography

Fiona’s short stories and poetry have been published in The Irish Literary Review, Spontaneity Magazine, Into The Void, Dodging The Rain and Skylight47 amongst others. She grew up in Ireland but has lived most of her life in England and Australia. She currently lives near a volcano in New Zealand. Follow her on Twitter @Fionaperry17.

Rachel Stevenson; Play Dead

Play Dead

Everyone was in mourning. Everybody grieved for our golden boy, our North London lad who had made it big in Hollywoodland, starring in a franchise of action movies that the intelligentsia liked for their “psychological depth” and the plebs for their chases and crashes. But now he was dead, killed where he was born, in London town.

            Immediately, a shrine was set up at the side of the road where his car had smashed. There were round the clock grievers, like the paid mourners in Victorian times – the chain coffee shop next to the site had received good publicity for distributing free lattes. I was a bit concerned for their lungs given they were at the side of the North Circular in Hendon.

            I took a quick photo on my phone and uploaded it to twitter. Many other people were doing the same, the site had become a tourist attraction, like Jim Morrison’s grave: people wanted to witness the Steve Evans mourning experience – I was there. I was part of history. One girl was prostrate on the pavement, crying her eyes out. The Samaritans had set up a special number.

            I spent twenty minutes there and then, bored, decided to take the tube down to Tottenham Court Road and do some shopping. I popped into a café and ordered some lunch, but stopped chewing as a man walked into the caff. He had the hood of his top pulled down low and was wearing sunglasses on an overcast day. He had the definite look of someone trying to remain anonymous and failing. I walked over to the man’s table and without asking, sat down. He lowered his menu, looked at me, then raised it again.

            ‘Are you a professional Steve Evans lookalike?’ I said. ‘Is that why you’re trying to remain incognito?’

            ‘Look, man,’ the man said, ‘I’m just trying to get some food here.’ He sounded like an English person doing an American accent. ‘I’ll take a coffee, black, and lasagne,’ he said to the waiter, who was hovering nearby.

             ‘You are him, aren’t you? Steven Evans?’

            ‘He’s dead, man, don’t you read the news?’

            ‘You know, there are already conspiracy theories about your death. That it was the studio head that did it. After your last stretch in rehab, they said that you needed to quit Hollywood.’

            ‘Look, man,’ said the man again, ‘I don’t know who you’re talking about.’

            The microwave in the back pinged and the waiter brought over a plate of lasagne. ‘Coffee’s on its way,’ he said.

            The man picked up his fork and started to eat his pasta. He chewed with an increasing look of horror and eventually spat it out into a serviette.

            ‘Not good?’ I said.

            ‘It tastes fucking appalling,’ he said, in a London accent.

            ‘Let’s see,’ I said. I used his fork to try some. It was fine.

            The waiter brought the coffee and the man tried it, spitting it out into his cup.

            ‘Everything tastes like dust,’ he said. He took off his sunglasses and looked at me. He had a mole on his cheekbone that I’d never noticed in the cinema. Perhaps they airbrushed it out. ‘I don’t know what to do. I’m not hungry or thirsty or tired or happy or anything. I’m just here.’

            ‘A crash like that must have affected you very badly.’

            ‘I remember the crash,’ he said. ‘It’s afterwards I don’t recall. I remember the lights and the fear and the krang of metal. But then, I was walking away. I don’t remember getting out of the car, but I was on the sidewalk and I was walking up the road. I went home and I passed out.’

            ‘Your body was identified by your mother,’ I said. ‘She couldn’t get it wrong, surely. Is the gossip true? Are you trying to leave Hollywood?’

            ‘I like Hollywood,’ he said, ‘I like being rich and having a big house. I came back here to see my mum. I was only in rehab because the studio made me. I threw up at a party – to them, that’s alcoholism. Puritan nation, you know?’

            He tried his coffee again, making a face.

            ‘What happened after you got home? Did you see yourself on the news?’

            ‘Not at first,’ he said. ‘I think I just slept for days. Then when I woke and checked my messages, well, there weren’t any. Nor emails. I tried to ring my agent, then my mum, but I couldn’t get my phone to work. But then I saw that I was dead on the news. I thought maybe it was a hoax by the studio to promote my new film. I saw a picture of myself that the paps took, covered in blood with a big wound through my chest. But that could have been faked. Couldn’t it?’

            Would they go so far as to kill a lookalike, I wondered.

            ‘The thing is,’ he said, ‘I do have a big gash on my chest that wasn’t there before. But how can I be alive if I’m dead, if I’m in the morgue?’

            ‘A case of mistaken identity?’ I mooted, ‘have you been to see your mum?’

            ‘It’d frighten the life out of her. She has a dodgy ticker.’

            I felt awful for him. I reached out and put my hand on his. It was stone cold and I pulled it straight back.

            ‘What’s wrong?’

            ‘You’re freezing.’

            ‘Well I’m dead, aren’t I. Corpses are cold.’

            ‘Show me your gash,’ I said, and then blushed.

            He smiled and unzipped his hooded top, then undid the buttons on his shirt. The wound looked awful, as raw as a butcher’s window.

            ‘May I?’ I pressed my fingers against the scar, which was cold and hard. The waiter, lounging at the counter, regarded us with interest.

            ‘Come on,’ I said, ‘let’s go somewhere else.’

            He left some money on the table for his meal and we went out into the rain, walking up the main road to Warren Street tube. The leaves were mulchy under our feet, reminding me of the time I stood squishily on a dead rat whilst taking a short cut through the cemetery.

            ‘Where do you live?’ I asked.

            ‘I’ve an apartment in Highgate,’ he said.

            ‘Shall we go there?’

            We had to wait five minutes for a High Barnet train, during which time he paced the platform like a polar bear.

            ‘I feel like I should be glad I’m alive,’ he said, ‘but I just feel…uneasy.’

            His flat was beautiful but sparse, no books in the bookshelf, no photos.

            ‘This isn’t my real home,’ he said, looking at me looking around. ‘My home in the hills is where I keep all my stuff. I used to stay at my mum’s, but my agent suggested property investment, what with the London market the way it is.’

            ‘How are you feeling?’ I asked.

            ‘A bit dizzy.’ He sat down on the white sofa, staring straight ahead at nothing. ‘You could ring my agent for me,’ he said, and he pressed some digits on his phone before handing it to me. ‘Go on.’

            ‘What’s his name?’ I whispered as the phone rang.

            ‘Her name’s Jennifer.’ A hoarse voice answered. ‘Yes, what is it?’

            ‘It’s Steve,’ I said, ‘I mean, I have Steve Evans here, to talk to you.’

            ‘What the hell is this?’ said the voice. ‘It’s 5 a.m. What kind of sick fuck prank calls people about their dead clients at five in the morning. Are you insane? How did you get hold of his phone you sick bastard, I’m going to – ‘

            I clicked off.  ‘She doesn’t believe it’s you.’

            ‘She’s a hard cow. We’ll try again later when she’s had her coffee.’

             ‘This is shit, isn’t it,’ he said suddenly, angrily. ‘I’m alive and dead. I’m a survivor of a fatal car crash, I’m Jimmy Dean, I’m Jimmy Dead. I don’t know. If I’m alive, I’ve cheated death, I should be happy, but what’s the point in being alive if I can’t contact anyone, I can’t be in films, I can’t have my life? I could go to the press – ta-da – scoop of the century, but what if there is a body in that morgue, what if they prove it’s me? What then? How could I get a job now, the story’d be more interesting than my role, I’d be forever the guy who came back from the dead. The first zombie filmstar. I’m a ghost, a phantom, a fucking nothing. My career’s done. I’d never be seen as a great actor. It’d be nice for my fans if I came back from the dead, wouldn’t it? But am I really here? You see me, don’t you? And the waiter, he saw me. What if I take a picture and upload it to twitter – a spectre selfie? Here, you do it.’

            I snapped him on my phone but when I tried to look at the picture, there was nothing there.         

           *

Biography

Rachel Stevenson grew up in Doncaster, South Yorkshire and now lives in London, UK. She has contributed to Smoke: A London Peculiar, Here Comes Everyone, A Cuppa And An Armchair book (Createspace Publishing, 2011), The Guardian travel section, Are You Sitting Comfortably podcast, and her work has been made into a short film for the Tate website, narrated by Christopher Eccleston. She completed an MA in Creative Writing (Middlesex University) in 2012, and was longlististed for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2015 and the Royal Academy/PinDrop Short Story Award in 2017.

Sheelagh Russell-Brown; A Room Full of Clocks: A Tale of Time Found

A Room Full of Clocks:  A Tale of Time Found

            He didn’t know how the name was born.  Neither, so they told him, did his parents.  He imagined it coming to them one hot and humid summer afternoon as they lay panting upon the sweat-soaked sheets of the bed on which they’d made him.  His mother’s rounded belly, full almost to bursting with the bones of him, maybe it was the catalyst.

            “Egbert!” his father exclaimed.  “Egbert Eddington!”

            It had a certain ring to it, perhaps they’d thought, a certain wry cleverness.  So he became “Egg,” just like that.  The wry cleverness, the whimsy, was all at his expense.  It held inside its fragile shell his life unlived as yet, only unhatched potential.

            He didn’t know where the ticking came from, the ticking inside the Russian clock shaped like an egg.  It was his first, standing on two thin golden columns, no thicker than a sparrow’s legs, its delicate blue and gold holding inside a rhythmic scratching like the sound of a tiny chick’s ineffectual escape.

            It was his first, and more would follow, until the din within the shop became an assault on all ears but his own. But still they came, the customers, those wanting an artifact of time, a way of touching minutes and days and years long past. 

            “Egbert Eddington, Timepieces,” the sign above the thick blue door cried out.  Pieces of time for sale or rent. 

            No windows giving a glimpse into the space, each corner filled with booms and chimes, with creaking doors opening onto cuckoo’s calls, a rotund man, a Humpty Dumpty man with sparrow’s legs, all dressed in blue and gold, set all the life inside to ticking.  He pulled up chains, wound little dials, set weights into position.  Each hour he checked that all were primed to tell their time.  He waited for the man, the woman, the child whose history was kept inside the ticking chambers. 

            Perhaps a tearful girl of nineteen or twenty might ask to see a watch like that her soldier lover had, returned to her when he did not.  He’d search inside the glass case, listening to the whispering that told him all the lovers’ tales, finding that one that suited.  She’d hold it, smiling, to her ear to hear once more her soldier’s soft endearments.

            Perhaps a mother, now middle-aged, came looking for the nursery clock, shaped like a bunny or a butterfly, that stood beside the nightlight by the crib of a now-grown son whose voice she seldom heard these days. 

            Or an old man, still dapper, a much-polished gold watch and chain hanging from his vest, would pay to spend some time beside a tall grandfather clock.

            “Just like the one that chimed the hours in the hallway outside the room where my own mother died the night that I was born.”

            He’d put his arms around the polished wooden case and croon the soothing words his mother whispered to him only in dreams. 

            For some he’d charge a weekly or a monthly price of admission to the time preserved inside, never more than they could afford.  For some he asked no price at all.  The men and women who had long abandoned present days to dwell forever in the past.  They slept in doorways or in underpasses beneath the rhythmic clatter of trains on tracks above them.  They brought their bags, their baskets, their cardboard mattresses with them, each choosing a piece of time whose bygone sounds would silence for a while the noises in their heads.

            And so years passed.  The room filled up with clocks, with watches, with sundials, and with hourglasses.  He heard each grain of sand falling through the narrow channel, and when all had settled in the depths, he still could hear hushed whispering—“Is it time yet?”  “And now how much longer?”  “Should we begin again?”

            No rays from windows fell on the sundials.  Yet through chinks in door and walls, a tiny beam would move to touch the stone, inconstant as the clouds that masked and then revealed the sun.  As the stone warmed, it gave off a subtle humming, and if he listened closely the voices spoke in unfamiliar words and cadences.

            But all this time he’d never found the clock that spoke to him alone.  He was a part of every other life, of every piece of time that came inside and then departed.  But no life was his own.  In the glass cases of clocks and watches, he saw reflected his egg-like body and felt as if inside a shell of rock-hard crystal.  He could see out, they could see in, neither touching the other.

            One day when all the clocks were clamouring for ears to hear them, a woman entered the empty shop.  Her face was veiled in gauzy black that streamed below a black velvet headpiece.  On each few inches of the veil a tiny spider was embroidered.  He could see from her hands and neck emerging from her black dress that despite the ancient clothing she was still young, perhaps no more than thirty.  She pulled behind her a wooden box on wheels, painted with nursery scenes like those he could remember in his own childhood home.

            He asked her business there.  She raised a hand and took out of the box a clock unlike any he’d ever seen before.  It seemed made by a madman, with bits of this and bits of that, of clocks and watches, sundials and hourglasses.  It was a giant egg with crystal shell and all the workings of life inside, open to view.  At first, its voice was rusty, as if from long disuse, but when she turned a wheel, pulled up a weight, and wound it up, it sang.

            It sang a song like the one the waves make breaking on the shore and running back out again.  It was the tune the moon croons to the stars as they cross paths in the dark skies above.  It pattered like the rain on roofs, lulling those inside to peaceful sleep.  It whispered like the wind in the bare branches of the elms, roared like the gales that bring them down.

            She left as quickly as she’d come, and left the clock behind.  Throughout the day and into the evening, it sang, it roared, it whispered.  But no one but himself seemed to hear its voice as the customers returned. 

            A man had found a clock upon the wall shaped like a little lapdog, with wagging tale to mark the seconds out.  He put his ear against its face and smiled a little, recalling his lost childhood playmate.  A child of nine or maybe ten, thin face ravaged by signs of long sickness, stood before a schoolhouse clock, stern ticking sounding out the passing hours while her classmates longed to be set free.  The voices of the schoolroom came to her, the teacher’s kind and loving hand upon her shoulder, and she not there to share it.

            But no one seemed to hear the clock the woman brought.  None remarked upon its presence on the counter.

            Throughout the day the strange clock sang, slowly and more slowly as the hours passed.  Into the evening it sang, until he turned a wheel, pulled up a weight, and wound it up again.

            It sang until the glass upon its face grew dusty, and he grew dusty with the days and years that passed.  A room full of clocks with this, his prize, that spoke and sang to him alone.  Although at first it soothed him to sleep with the voice of his mother, long forgotten, he now remained awake lest some sound slip by unheard.  Its voice became the only voice he noticed until at last, though they still came, the other listeners paid less and less, and he lived on, not caring much to press them for their fees.  Some even took away with them their timepieces and did not return.

            He sat upon a chair, his spindly legs thrust out in front of him, above the unswept floor, his ear against the crystal egg, and smiled with love on those who entered.  He’d long gone deaf, but still he heard the songs for him alone and trusted that the others heard their own as well.  Some brought him food from time to time, and sat with him to while away the hours, nodding in rhythm with the beating of their hearts.  None knew what songs he heard, but still he smiled.

            He smiled at songs his mother sang, at songs his father had sung to her, even the teasing songs they’d made at school to mock his name and body.  He marked out time in swinging of his legs, now fast, now slow, and then more and more slowly till the crystal face of his strange clock cracked into a thousand stars.             

                 And so he did not notice when living had become the past tense of life in a room full of clocks.           

*

Biography

After having taught at an international high school in the Czech Republic for seven years, Sheelagh Russell-Brown is now a lecturer in English literature and a writing tutor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.  Her research interests are in nineteenth- and twentieth-century British and European literature, the portrayal of the Roma in art and literature, and the foregrounding of marginalized female roles in neo-Victorian literature.  She has been published in The Fem e-magazine, in Abridged poetry and art magazine, and in Tales from the Forest e-magazine, and will have a short story published by TSS in November of this year.  She has also won second prize in the first Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Short Story Contest, and was shortlisted for the second Irish Imbas contest, as well as for the 2016 Fish Publishing Short Memoir Competition.  She is a contributor to Backstory e-magazine, to Understorey e-magazine, and to Historical Honey.