Thursday, 16 August 2018

Ghenya's Freedom

by Rich Rurshell

chili beer 

"We're doomed!" cried the Innkeeper as he pushed past Ghenya on the walkway of the south wall. He ran down the steps to join the crowds of frightened citizens fleeing towards the north gates of the citadel.

Ghenya stood alone. She watched as Malum beat his great wings again, rising off the ground from amongst the dense clouds of smoke, only to blast the remainder of the citadel's soldiers into ashes with another stream of searing flame. She watched as the silhouette of the last soldier disappeared into the inferno that erupted from the dragon's mouth. Malum bellowed loudly into the air. That was it. The last of the citadel's defences. The real army had been wiped out earlier that morning. Some of the citizens had formed a militia. They were supposed to support the army if needed. Now they all lay dead, incinerated on the southern plain.

Ghenya descended from the walkway to the ground and made her way to the southern gates. There was no one guarding them now. Long had Ghenya dreamt of walking the plains, but had always been prevented by the guardsmen.

The plains are no place for a girl like you. Your place is in the laundry.

She had remained inside the walls of the citadel her entire life.

She lifted the heavy metal latch on the south gates and pushed them open. Before her, pacing back and forth on the southern plain, Malum searched for surviving enemies on the smoky battlefield.

Ghenya pitied those who had lost their lives to Malum, though knew the citizens of the Citadel had brought their fate upon themselves. Had they not have sought the favour of King Tyr and attempted to retrieve the long-lost Crown of Deus from Malum's hoard, the great dragon would still be sleeping within its lair inside Mount Skaal. Now, they must all seek the favour of the gods in the realm of the dead.

Ghenya slowly walked over the muddy terrain towards Malum. Used to the cobbled floor in the confines of the citadel, the soft ground felt completely new beneath her feet. Further across the plains she walked, getting closer and closer to Malum. The dragon paused briefly and stared at the young girl approaching through the haze. Emerging from the clouds of smoke, Malum charged towards Ghenya. She held her ground.

Ghenya looked up at the old dragon's face and reached into her tunic. She pulled out a flute made of bone. Malum's lips parted, revealing huge pointed teeth. Ghenya lifted the flute to her lips and began to play.

It was a tune her father had taught her. The Song of The Free Winds. There were a number of songs she had learned to play, but this was her favourite. She played it passionately, tears forming in her eyes as they always had when she had played this song. Malum stood and listened. Ghenya completed one round of the sombre melody and then went straight into it again.

Malum stooped down, bowing his head until his face was almost close enough for Ghenya to touch. A single, large tear rolled down the side of Malum's face and dropped off the end of his snout and soaked into the ground just in front of Ghenya. She stopped playing and carefully took a step forward. She gently stroked the large scales between Malum's nostrils, unsure if he could even feel anything. Malum responded by lowering himself down to the ground and making a low purring sound. Ghenya put her flute back in her tunic, then using his scales and frills, climbed up onto the back of the great dragon's head. Malum rose up back to his feet and with the beating of his mighty wings, lifted them up into the air.

Ghenya and Malum flew away across the southern plain, away from the empty citadel. Ghenya was finally free.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Your Turn to Bat

by Caroline Humes

a cup of tea in an old china cup

 

Charlotte knelt in the attic among the sum total of her possessions, piled in boxes around her. Only now was she getting round to sorting through the items she'd carefully packed away before moving in with her partner, Henry, three months ago.
Henry's head appeared in the hatchway from the floor below. "How are you getting on?" he said. His wire-rimmed spectacles had slid down his nose and with one finger he pushed them back up.
"Dunno, I don't even know what I'm looking for really."
He climbed up to stand next to her. "I thought you were going to see how much you can get rid of. This is your home now; you don't need most of this stuff."
"A lot of it is Kyle's; old toys, sports equipment and so on. I don't want to let it go without asking him." Kyle was her fourteen year old son from a previous relationship. He was spending the night at a friend's house.
"Well you can mark it up and ask him tomorrow." Henry bent to examine a box. "Look, this one's labelled 'Kitchen cutlery and crockery'. Surely you don't need to keep this."
It was easy for him to say. He wasn't the one who'd left her home and security to take a chance on a new relationship. She'd only known Henry for nine months before she'd agreed to move in. She'd agonised over the decision but had done what she thought best. Henry was a good person, and stable too; a good role model for Kyle.
"It's just hard; I've got sentimental attachment to it all." She let out a heavy sigh. "Maybe this isn't the right time."
"You're not having second thoughts are you?"
"No, not at all. But there's no harm in leaving it up here for now, is there? It's not in the way or anything."
"We could make the attic into a room for Kyle. There's loads of space up here; he'd love it."
It was true; the house was a barn conversion and the attic was huge, with a high vaulted roof. But the comment struck a nerve. "That would get him out of the way, wouldn't it," she said, an edge in her voice. "He feels alone and uprooted enough, Henry."
She picked up another box and scrutinised the label, deliberately turning her back on him. A strand of brown hair fell forward over her eye and she tucked it back behind her ear. Garden tools. She wouldn't need these either; it was as if everything she'd worked to obtain was no longer of use, rendered irrelevant.
She glanced at Henry; his expression was confused and uncertain, his forehead creased in a small frown. Her anger evaporated. "I'm sorry," she said. "You haven't done anything wrong. I'm finding it difficult, that's all. I have to think about Kyle as well."
"I know."
She reached out a hand and he stared at it like he was unsure what to do, so she grabbed one of his and squeezed. "Everything will be fine," she said.
There was a noise at the far end of the attic, a scraping sound followed by a flutter.
"What's that?" said Charlotte.
"It'll be a bird, I should think," said Henry. "They roost under the eaves."
"Yes, but it sounded like it was inside."
The noise came again, louder this time, and a dark object flew out from the end of the room over their heads only to disappear into the boxes at the other end.
"I don't believe it!" Henry's eyes were wide. "It's a bat!"
"Well it looks..."
The bat, for that was clearly what it was now, flew out from the boxes and into the middle of the room where the roof was highest. It swooped high then low, setting the two lightbulbs swinging. Suspended as they were at the end of long cables, the room became a freaky homage to disco, with light and shade randomly alternating in every corner, casting an array of shadows from the piles of boxes.
The harsh fluctuating illumination made it difficult to see the intruder. When the bat swooped low again, Henry dropped into a crouch, hands over his head, waving them wildly.
"Keep still; you're frightening it," said Charlotte.
Her words fell on deaf ears. The next time the bat swooped, Henry jumped up and sprinted to the other end of the room.
"You're making it worse!" shouted Charlotte.
"They've got rabies! Get it away from me!"
Henry's voice was an octave higher than she'd ever heard it. She could barely see him, hiding behind the largest pile of boxes at the other end of the room.
In truth, the bat hadn't come close to either of them, and was clearly more concerned about getting out than terrorising the bewildered humans. Charlotte couldn't tell who was more panicked - the bat or Henry.
"It's looking for a way out," she said.
"How did it get in?" shouted Henry. Then a shriek of "Get it away!" as the bat swooped down again.
"No idea."
The bat continued to flutter from one end of the room to the other. Charlotte calmly sat on a box waiting for it to tire itself out, when without warning Henry shot out from his refuge and ran to the hatch, half-climbing, half-sliding down to the floor below. Charlotte watched with amusement, but it turned to disbelief when she saw the hatch slam shut and heard the bolt drawn across.
She walked to the hatch, bending low to stay out of the bat's airspace. "Henry?" she said. No answer. Louder: "Henry."
"What?"
"Open the hatch."
"Not until that bat's under control."
"Are you being serious?"
"They've got rabies. I can't afford to get bitten."
"So you shut me in here? Open the hatch."
No answer.
She sat on the box again. The bat was tiring now, and settled on a box nearby. The poor thing was panting hard, its little body shaking.
She knew that bats could carry rabies but the chance of encountering an infected animal was negligible. In any case, she felt an affinity with this misplaced individual.
Moving slowly and deliberately so as not to alarm the bat, she walked to the box marked Garden tools and opened it. After a quick rummage she found what she was looking for: a pair of heavy-duty gardening gloves.
She moved next to the creature and very gently picked it up, holding it firmly in both hands. Even through the thick gloves she could feel it quivering.
Crouched at the hatch she said, "Henry?"
No answer.
"Henry I've got the bat. I've picked it up with some gardening gloves. You need to let me out so I can release it outside."
She heard a scraping as the bolt was drawn back, and then the hatch swung down. It was a struggle to climb down the ladder with both hands holding the animal, but she managed it. The whole time, Henry was nowhere to be seen.
In the back garden, she stood in the middle of the lawn and took one hand away, leaving the bat lying on the palm of the other. "Please be OK," she whispered, willing it to recover and take flight. After a couple of minutes she got her wish and the bat took off, disappearing among the trees. She laughed, glad there was a happy ending for the little creature.
She looked back at the house and her laughter died. Clearly visible in the kitchen window, Henry had watched the whole thing. He moved out of sight and she waited for him to come out to the garden but he didn't emerge.
She found him in his study, sitting at his desk. At any other time, she would have found his attempt to look composed and important funny, the way he stared at his computer monitor over the top of his glasses; but she was too angry.
"What on Earth was that?" she said.
"What was what?" He looked down his nose at her.
"You know full well what." She waved her arms. "Ahhhh they've got rabies!" She used a high mocking voice.
"You seemed to have it under control."
"Do you think about anyone but yourself? You locked me in with an animal you thought might have rabies."
"Charlotte, you're making too much out of this. Everything turned out alright didn't it?"
She bit back a caustic retort and turned to leave, saying only, "I'm going to stay with my sister. Don't touch the boxes in the attic; I'll be needing them."

About the author 

Always an avid reader, Caroline’s passion for writing ignited five years ago and she hasn’t looked back. She lives in central Leeds with two cats. 

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Unlike Romeo and Juliet

by  Iris N  Schwartz

sparkling white wine 

 
I didn’t tell you this before? You’re sure?
 
At 5:00 p.m. every Friday, after slogging through his civil service job in Manhattan, my father would ride two subway trains and one bus to South Brooklyn. At about 6:30 p.m. he would open the front door to our home.
 
On this particular Friday he stealthily crossed the linoleum floor toward my mother.
 
Mommy didn’t hear him. She faced the kitchen sink and was running hot and cold water, scrubbing and butchering five to ten reasonably priced whole chickens, the parts of which she encased in plastic bags for storage in the freezer.
 
Daddy pantomimed shushing me and my sister Rochelle, holding one index finger in front of his pursed mouth. He tossed his trench coat over the back of a kitchen chair. I don’t know if my sister noticed that Daddy was carrying a pocket-size box in his right hand.
 
You would have seen it. You spot details.
 
I watched as he — then his lips — neared the back of my mother’s neck; she spun around so swiftly he had to step back from the cleaver she wielded. My father stumbled and almost fell, but righted himself and managed to capture the little box, too.
 
I lifted my chin in Rochelle’s direction, pointed at the domestic drama in progress; she shook her head back and forth, raised both palms. Returned to her textbook. (Unlike me, Rochelle spent considerable time studying. Which is why she garnered high 90’s or 100 percent on most exams. Which is why I didn’t.)
 
Yes, I know. Focus: father, mother, sister, Brooklyn kitchen, gift.
 
I heard Mommy chide my father: “Louis, not in front of the kids, please!” So he didn’t kiss my mother then, but he did open the lid of the tiny box to show her what was inside.
 
“Oh, Louis, you shouldn’t have!”
 
I think my father was still smiling.
 
“This must have cost a small fortune. Why did you spend so much money on me?”
 
Daddy’s mouth: a straight, horizontal line.
 
Later that night I examined the present where Mommy had left it, on the living room coffee table: it was a pin consisting of multicolored gemstones atop long gold “stems.” This bejeweled bouquet didn’t look expensive to me. It was, however, very pretty. I passed the box to Rochelle, who waved it away in order to concentrate on homework.
 
One Saturday afternoon not long after the flower pin debacle, the four of us sat in foldable chairs on our front porch. My sister was taking photos of Mommy and Daddy. One week later as we passed the pictures around I noticed that my mother’s hands were entwined with my father’s.  
 
I must have told you this: the first time I lifted my face to yours and closed my eyes, nothing existed but your lips and mine.
 
Maybe it was like that for my mother and father – when Rochelle and I weren’t around.

 About the author 

Iris N. Schwartz's fiction has been published in dozens of journals and anthologies, including Anti-Heroin Chic, Five-2-One, Jellyfish Review, Litro, and Spelk Fiction. Her short-short story collection, My Secret Life with Chris Noth, was published by Poets Wear Prada and nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. Shame is her latest collection.

 

Monday, 13 August 2018

Karma

by Jacqueline Harrett  

double espresso

I've been watching you. Waiting. One day soon I'll have my revenge.

At first, I wanted you dead. I followed you and thought how easy it would be. One simple push and you'd be under the train, your brains splattered over the tracks.

Did you know? Were you aware? Could you feel the hate wash over you like spikes of glass? Sometimes, I thought you knew I was there, even though I've become an expert at disguise. The old woman bent over her shopping trolley; the smart executive with her long hair, high heels and briefcase and the street-sleeper staggering and shuffling alongside you.

I didn't recognise myself some days.

But I watched. I waited for you to make another mistake. The inquiry said it was an error; a series of circumstances; unfortunate.

I blame you.

Are you able to sleep at night? Do you think about changing your career? If only you'd listened to me. I told you something wasn't right with my baby. If you'd listened I'd be taking my little girl to nursery now instead of visiting a grave too small to hold my precious bundle.

Still I watched. Waited. It won't be long. You're near your time. A girl, I'm sure. When you hold her will you remember mine?

One day. One day soon you'll know. You'll look at that empty cradle and feel my pain.

I'll be cradling my baby girl; far away from here.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

On Time

by Lisa Williams

a double brandy

The scream ceased after sixty seven seconds. The memory of it went on forever for all those that heard it.
The precise moment it began her life ended. As she watched her only child rise up into the air. Like the weightless astronaut he dreamt of being.
Those dreams finished then with the dull bump that shattered the windscreen. The thud they all relived over and over. If only she hadn't shouted for him to hurry up. If just once she'd let him be late. Then her thoughts turned to sobs and she crumpled in a heap on the pavement.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

The Driving Range

By Niles Reddick

weak tea


            Once the last freeze of winter had passed, my friend Kevin and I decided we should practice golf at the driving range. We cleaned up our golf shoes, loaded our bags into the back of my truck, and drove across town. We were both surprised how crowded the parking lot seemed and supposed our great idea wasn’t a singular or brilliant one as we imagined. Fees paid, we took our gear and buckets of balls to an uncovered part of the range, finding two slots next to each other.
            Kevin had always been good at golf. He was taller, in better shape, and younger. His swing was excellent and he’d been playing since he was a child. I’d never had golf lessons, had picked it up late and practiced or played sporadically, and had coaching or tips from Kevin.  I had always been a quick study, so it didn’t take long for me to figure it out, but no matter how much practice, or how well I hit the balls, they never seemed to go far. Whether it was the lack of upper body strength or my hitting like I was hitting a baseball on the ground, I don’t know. I watched Kevin, and sure enough, his first drive went off without a hitch, the ball speeding through the air, and hitting the sign. “Kevin: great hit. I even heard the ball hit that Boo sign.”
            “What?” He laughed. I noted the guy in the next lane chuckle, too. Even his elementary-aged children asked him where the “Boo sign” was.  Kevin signaled me over and said, “The sign reads 100 yards, not Boo. When’s the last time you had your eyes checked?”
            Well, I’d be the first to admit that I needed to go.  Seemed like people were always sharing on Facebook or Instagram they’d put off their eye doctor or dental appointments and the next thing you know, their teeth were rotten and they had coke bottle glasses. “Man, I didn’t realize it was that bad. I canceled the past couple of years, thinking they just wanted my co-pays. I’ll call next week.”
            We kept hitting balls and Kevin began to send directions my way after each hit: “Wrap that thumb, change your hand positions, or feel the flow with your back and bend your legs.” It was frustrating, annoying, and didn’t help. It made me more nervous than anything, and I closed my eyes and swung as hard as I could. When I looked out, I didn’t see the ball at all, and I heard Kevin laughing. The ball was still there, but a chunk of the grass and dirt had flown several feet.
I knew I would not go back to buy another bucket of balls, and with only three left, I decided to do the best I could.  The first one wasn’t bad. It was straight and probably landed about thirty yards out.  The second one, however, was the worst. I didn’t see it either, but that was because it was like one of those fly balls in baseball. It went straight up, seemed high, and then picked up speed coming down. It hit the guy next to me in the head and knocked him out cold.
            His kids were screaming and someone yelled to the manager to call an ambulance. I had already grabbed my clubs, noted he was breathing, and headed through the concession area to the parking lot. Kevin followed behind, and as we got in my truck, we could hear a lone siren in the distance. I felt bad for the fellow, but there was nothing I could do for him or his children, and I feared a lawsuit. I never saw anything in the newspaper, so I assumed the fellow had been okay. I hoped so.
The next few times Kevin called about going to the driving range or playing a round, I had other things to do. I had all but given it up and my bag and clubs became a place for spider webs, dust, leaves, and anything else that made its way into our garage. Next time we had a yard sale, I decided to put the clubs out there to see what I could get. 



Friday, 10 August 2018

These Hands


by Kim Martins 

vodka

It was 3.00am when the call came through. I’d been waiting for it. Come to the hospital, they said. I couldn’t sleep anyway.



I arrived to a room full of people I didn’t know. I craved a cigarette, wanted to step out into the corridor, but they whispered - we’ll leave you alone now.



She was tucked into starchy sheets, razor-thin arms folded across her chest. Her eyes were closed but she wasn’t sleeping.



She knew I was there. Her hands sought mine. I ran my thumb over the splatter of freckles across her knuckles, traced her almond-shaped nails and thought - our life together is in these hands.



I brushed the tip of a scarred index finger. Nearly sliced off when jam sticky fingers slipped on a kitchen knife. I imagined the familiar turn of a wrist when she threaded her fingertips through my hair, her laughter hot against my bare shoulders. Her gentle stroking of our newborn’s flushed skin.



Those moments. Unhurried Sundays curled on the sofa. She turned the eggshell pages of a book while I read the newspaper. Nervous palms held by some fortune teller who didn’t want to say what a faint life line meant. That night we ran barefoot and drunk along the beach. She smelled of coconut cream and sunshine and I tasted her salty fingers. The time she waded through a rock pool and cradled small shells in sand-encrusted hands.



These hands have mapped our relationship from the start. I drew them to my face. They were cold to the touch, light as bird bones. Like a fool, I thought we’d always be together.



I watched her lips.



She said: I’m ready. But I was not.



She almost appeared to be smiling.



I let go of her hands.



Turned off



life support.