epilogue – Issue Two

The wheezing generators
Smother Mother Nature’s own gasps,
The crickets and the cane frogs,
But tonight’s moonlight needs a boost
Out here far from the Stuart Highway.
We need the lamps to witness
This multi-drawered wonder,
To have light to read by,
These stories and poems,
Each in a numbered drawer,
While our shoes stain red
From the iron in the soil
Before The Cabinet teleports again.
These stories and poems
Exhaling light
For those who dare
This far from the road.


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Antifogmatic – Jamie Graham

He hands me a cup of thick, green liquid. It resembles that awful mouthwash from primary school, but he insists I drink it all down. It tastes odd, somehow futuristic.

A haze arrives slowly. I recognise the end of a knitting needle in his left hand, that little red top with an undecipherable number.

“Knit one, purl one,” my granny used to say.

I imagine her knitting in heaven, still watching re-runs of Murder She Wrote with that inane half-grin etched on her weather-beaten old face.

Gloom starts to exist, in stark contrast to the lush, life-affirming landscape. We stroll in a meadow that leads to an oak tree, my legs as sturdy as spaghetti as we sit beneath its imperious form.

Sky tears roll down and he chats of his love for the warm drizzle pitter-patter on crunchy, bunched up leaves, soon to soften under foot. They even smell brown, if that makes sense?

Comforting words tumble from his bright red lips as we hold wrinkled hands – an old American tale that he learnt from his father – fearless young cowboys with no moral compass – antifogmatic and an ace in the hole.

He hands me a piece of paper with random letters and a hip flask with a rusty lid.

“Wrangler juice for my vaquero,” he grins as I force down a swig. A cool kind of headache envelops my eyelids as I blink at his notes.

‘Rep. St. Rep. St. Rep. St.’

Something Street? No.

A flash of that little red top with what looks like a number nine, but could be a six. I grimace and think of brave wranglers as he drives it in without so much as a wince, and the first blood spurts right out of my thigh, high into the autumnal air like a fountain of horror.

I remember now. Repeat stitch. Repeat stitch. Repeat stitch.

Just one or two more, then hopefully I’ll pass out…

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JAMIE GRAHAM is a Scottish writer and Seinfeld addict on the wrong side of 40. He’d recently featured in Pop to magazine, 101 words and (b)OINK zine. Find him on Twitter @jgrahamwriter


Image: qimono

They Have Knives, Don’t They? – Christina Dalcher

I tell my girls when they’re young, because younger is better in these matters. Before their blood begins its monthly flow, before their breasts bud and the peach fuzz on their legs turns coarse, I sit them down for the talk.

“Never get into a car with a boy. That’s the only rule.”

“Why not, Mama?” Always the same question.

This is when I tell them about the people with knives.

“They hide under cars and wait for you,” I say.

“Like the monsters under my bed?”

“Worse than that.”

I’ve seen them, the ones with the knives. They lie under car chassis with long silver blades, waiting for a delicate ankle, a glimpse of bobby-sock or a seam in a silk stocking. Their noses twitch and wrinkle at the iron odor of blood. They are monsters, but they are real.

They do not take the unwilling; nor do they steal unripe fruit. Somehow, they know. Perhaps their acute sense of smell serves as a compass needle to guide them. Perhaps their ears prick at girlish giggles. Perhaps makeup, lipstick and rouge stolen from a mother’s vanity, makes their prey sticky. Magnetic.

“What do they do?” my girls ask.

I want to tell them truths, but truth is troubling.

“They’ll hobble you, my darlings.”


“With long, silver knives.”

This is a lie. They have knives, but not of silver.

“Where do they keep them?”


My girls batter me with one question, two questions, more questions I stumble to answer. Where is the hiding place? When do they take out their weapons? What does it feel like?

Protection is double-edged, like the knives that deliver pain, then pleasure, then pain of another kind. Like the knives that make promises, that retract, that leave traces in the shape of my twin daughters. Like the knives that give life and take it away. This is why I lie about the ones with the knives, saying only enough to warn, never enough to damage.

As I gather up unpaid bills, line the table with three place settings where there should be four, wash and iron clothes for tomorrow’s work, my daughters ask their final question.

“Did our father have a knife?”

“Yes. He did.” This is not a lie. Not really.

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CHRISTINA DALCHER is a theoretical linguist from the Land of Styron and Barbecue, where she writes, teaches, and channels Shirley Jackson. Find her work in Split Lip Magazine, Whiskey Paper, and New South Journal, among others. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents her novels. http://www.christinadalcher.com, @CVDalcher.

The Stranger – Drew Sable

He watched from the shadows as hundreds of bright colours swarmed past: reds, blues and greens mingled with the duller browns and blacks that were always present. Constantly moving, they weaved and swerved around each other to avoid collisions. Some moved in groups, some alone. The lone ones might be easier targets but for the fact that they moved quicker.

Flecks of white swirled amongst the colours and he shivered; he had been dreading their return. Every year it was the same. Before he’d embarked on it, he’d thought they would make his task easier, but actually they made it harder. The colours all moved faster when the flecks came.

With trembling hands, he pulled at his jacket, wrapping it around himself as tightly as possible. The cold had penetrated right through to his bones. He had been sitting here, hunting for suitable marks, for hours. He had found little success. He wished he could do this somewhere warmer, but he was known around this town. They would move him on or, worse, report him.

He glanced up at the clock tower across the street. It was getting late and soon the kaleidoscope of lights which fell on the street would begin to go out. As they did, the colours would thin out. Later they would intensify again, but then the lights would come from different buildings and the colours would be even harder targets.

Rooting in his pockets, he brought out the result of his day’s work. It wasn’t enough. He couldn’t leave yet; he still needed to get a few more of the colours to notice him. He shuffled forward slightly, trying to be more visible without exposing himself to the wind and the snow. It was a difficult balance.

He eyed a potential target. A lone red breaking the usual rule of sole colours moving quicker. Clearing his throat, he leaned out towards it. “Spare some change, please?” Two eyes swivelled towards him from the depths of the hood but the red didn’t slow, didn’t reach into pockets. Defeated, he stepped back under cover.

He tried a few more times with the same result. The colours didn’t want to remove their hands from the warmth of gloves and pockets for the likes of him. To most of them, he was invisible. Sometimes he liked it that way; today he just wanted one of them to give him enough for a warm drink or two to see him through the first night of proper winter.

The illusion of warmth left the air with the lights from the shop windows and he shivered. Before long the colours would be out again, in skimpier clothes and coats made of alcohol. They moved quicker at night and their reactions to him were even less friendly. He would need to find a place where he was out of sight.

As he curled up in a darkened doorway, he thought he saw a familiar face appear above him. The eyes, so similar to his own, were unusually warm and kind. The full lips formed a smile before opening to release two words into the air. “Hello stranger.”

It couldn’t be her. She had been dead for years; that was why he was here. He tried to reach out to her, but he found he couldn’t move his hands. “Mother?” he whispered, his breath billowing out in a white cloud in the chill air. She leant down and kissed him as his eyes closed for the last time.

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DREW SABLE has written for pleasure for the last twenty years. This year Drew branched out into longer pieces of writing and completed NaNoWriMo. Whilst working on revising and editing the resulting novel, Drew continues to write flash fiction and short stories.


Image: Felix Mittermeier

Gran’s Biscuit Tin – Gaynor Kane

Borrowed from a cousin
hoping to add colourful leaves
to a bare tree, on the base,
Inglis Bakery claims creation;
a family bakery, bred locally.

Perhaps the crumbs
of the biscuits, eaten long ago,
dusted the lips, on faces
now nestled within
the tarnished silver lining.

Its sides are speckled
with rust, like the age spots
on her hands,
now passed away,
dots un-joined.

Lid trimmed at the edges
with dry, cracked, tape
curling like Autumn
leaves, in sepia hues,
as the photos within.

and topped with a scene,
not chocolate box cottage,
but a fishing village,
reminiscent of Clovelly,
Lynmouth or Hope Cove.

I look to the postcards
inside, try to find
a connection, discover
one from my Father,
a young man, on honeymoon.

They travelled to Dun Laoghaire,
not Devon, and from their room
in the Carney Arms
they watched snow,
falling like confetti,

become blurred with white sails
and sea spray in the bay.
I trace the signature,
follow the fancy scroll
of his T and V.

From my desk, it has watched
seasons pass by, old friends.
Now and then, I leaf
through the contents
hoping to put names to faces.

Examine expressions,
noses and chins, for family
similarities, then rescan
the back, still longing
for a lightly leaded name.

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GAYNOR KANE lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Mainly a writer of poetry, she has had work published in the Galway Review, Boyne Berries, Atrium Poetry, Light Journal and other journals in the UK, Ireland and America. In 2016, Gaynor was a finalist in the annual Funeral Services NI poetry competition.


A Private Inconvenience Among Fifteen Oak Trees – Alva Holland

Fifteen oak trees along, in the middle of a clearing, on a raised painted concrete plinth, a Tardis-like structure sits, its mirrored aluminium walls reflecting the muted autumn girdling greens of the woods. An electronic reader pad flares its infra-red beacon through the soft thicket.

An access card waved over the reader instructs the door to slide left into the mirrored wall. The enclosure claims another user until it ejects them into the greenery, the door closing automatically.

Sterile walls reflect. Water and waste recycle. Wash. Don’t touch.

No steps to descend, no latch to lift or drop, no graffiti to puzzle over.

Fifteen oak trees back, the bunker lies abandoned, brushwood enveloping its concealed secrets. Stories and history languish within – dormant. Faceless memories bleed through porous grout. Age-old graffiti scrawled across the dull ceramic wall tells of unrequited love and Kilroy’s presence.

Gangling weeds eke through hairline cracks in the uneven stone steps. An inky- black hole yawns upward in place of the massive hinged wooden lath door of childhood. The old door’s burnished metal drop-latch used to clang into a square hasp on the stone wall, the noise reverberating through the trees – an announcement of sorts.


Railings, once polished and shiny black, are now rusted through and spiked with split metal shards. A cast-iron sign suspended from the vertical bars back in the ‘60s is long gone, the jagged ends of two rusty nails jutting out in its place.

A mangled syringe lies half-buried by a blackened bloody cloth.


Only the permanently traumatised remember this place and what went on here.

A broken corner of a rusty sign peers from strangling roots.

‘Public Conven…’

Fifteen oak trees away, the aluminium enclosure’s access pad glows red.

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ALVA HOLLAND is an Irish writer from Dublin. First published by Ireland’s Own Winning Writers Annual 2015. Three times a winner of Ad Hoc Fiction’s weekly flash competition, her stories feature in The People’s Friend, Ellipsis Zine, Train Lit Mag, Firefly Magazine, Stories for Homes, and Microcosms Fiction.
Twitter: @Alva1206


Image: Markéta Machová



 The Empty Chair – Laura Pearson

Nobody thought he’d be stupid enough to actually jump. It was just a game. A dare. Kennedy came up with it, and we all laughed and jostled each other, encouraging. Only Jones looked a bit worried. But since when did anyone care what Jones thought?

All we ever wanted was for something to happen. So we told him we were all doing it, that we’d done it before, that it felt like flying, like being high. Better than sex. None of us had had sex. Not back then.

In the queue for the ride, our loud voices created a hum of energy. It kept us warm as the wind whipped at our faces. And then we were taking our places on those chairs with their flimsy chains, shouting and twisting ourselves around until the red-faced guy running the ride threatened to throw us off.

‘On three,’ Kennedy called, just before we were lifted off the ground. My breath caught and, for a moment, I felt like I’d left it all behind. Kennedy, Jones, him. The way we pushed and bruised him, made every day a kind of hell.

‘One, two…’ I thought about doing it. We unbuckled our seatbelts, like we’d planned. I looked over at him. I tried to tell him with my eyes. But even then, I didn’t think he’d actually jump. Nobody did.

‘Three!’ I watched him fall through the air, his limbs flung wide. I hoped it was like flying, or being high, or having sex. I hoped he felt wonderful for a moment, before he came down.

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LAURA PEARSON lives in Leicestershire, where she blogs and writes novels and flash fiction.


Image: Free-Photos 

Fur Trimmed Slippers Are No Match For Freshly Polished Cills – C.R. Smith

Everyone remembers a celebrity’s death: Elvis, Lennon, Bowie — in my case Mrs Milford’s. And, even though I was at school when she died, I take full responsibility for her death.

She was a formidable woman, the eyes and ears of the terrace long before Neighbourhood Watch, famous for holding footballs hostage in her back garden. All the local children avoided her, as did many of the parents.

I remember her wrinkly face, the grey curls escaping the confines of her hairnet. For some reason she always wore a red polka-dotted apron. It strained against her rolls of fat when she moved. The image is still ingrained on my memory even after all these years. Guilt won’t let me forget.

It was a school day. I was late. My parents were already on their way to work. As I left the house Mrs Milford called across to me asking if I could climb through her window and let her in — the front door had slammed shut while she cleaned her windows, locking her out.

Mumbling excuses through a mouthful of toast I edged away from her before legging it towards the approaching bus. I couldn’t be late again!

Once seated I looked back to see her scowling after me, knowing full well I would be in trouble when I returned home.

*   *   *

After school police cars blocked our road, plastic tape corralling the curious.

The corner shop was full to bursting. Squeezing inside to flick through the latest comics I realised something was seriously wrong when the owner didn’t issue his usual threat to charge me for reading them.

Customers gossiped in hushed tones about the day’s events. I listened intently trying to piece together what had happened, my blood running cold as it slowly dawned on me I might be to blame.

How was I to know Mrs Milford would try to climb through the window herself?

Those fur trimmed slippers of hers were no match for the freshly polished cills. One slip pitched her forwards shattering the pane, the jagged glass slicing straight through her neck.

Her head must have bounced.

They found it in the garden nestled amongst the footballs. Her back door had been open all the time but being a terrace she would have had to clamber over every garden fence to reach it.

The police were in and out of her house for the rest of the week. After a good hose down our footballs were returned to us. I never had the heart to play again. All I could see were bloody dots everywhere. I can still see them now.

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C.R. SMITH is a Fine Art Student whose work has been published in such places as 101 Words, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Train Flash Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk Fiction, The Horror Tree, Glove Lit Zine and Ad Hoc Fiction.
https://crsmith2016.wordpress.com Twitter @carolrosalind


Image: Didgeman

Will You Wait For Me? – Ksenija Perković

In a twinkling of an eye, severe lacerations
furrowed the magnificence of ornament of her ebony
to silence growth, quicken mortification,
write an elegy,
…exalt once born in a furtive agony.

Out of demolition, the ardent glove
arose and seized the skull of creature innocent,
to stigmatize its skin with a diabolical mark,
smother the will to struggle
in a vehement resistance until it gave in.

On a topmost step where continuance
derives from nothingness,
hardened to doubt, dissuaded from timidity of sin
…sparkles in the sand, a flickering laughter,
I shall be waiting to …again, become embodied.
Will you …
Will you wait for me?

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Image: Foundry Co

The Unraveling – Gaynor Jones

On the day that Derek’s body parts decided to leave him, it didn’t come as a shock.

His nose had had enough of sniffing and snivelling.

His fingers ached from all that scrolling and typing – reams and reams of vitriol directed at total strangers. They’d hated it.

His ears had never forgiven him for the humiliation of the great lost bud debacle of ‘93, sitting in the emergency room with all the other ears wiggling and sniggering on the heads around them.

His mouth – still hoping for a second kiss – couldn’t abandon him. It stayed put, along with his once kind eyes.

The feet longed to run, to hop, to skip – activities they barely remembered from his childhood. They itched to get off the couch, out through the door, into the great, wide world.

His arms wanted to leave but his hands begged for more time. Even fingerless, they felt they could still help him.

No one really cared about the belly button; tiny puckered thing. So it worked itself loose. Quietly. Methodically. It took a few hours, but eventually it untethered itself from the slack skin around it. Only, when it broke loose – so did all hell.

Blood. Intestines. A take-away engorged stomach. Slithering and splattering out onto the already stained couch.

The belly button blushed as the other parts stood and stared.

The fingers did a slow, sarcastic slap.

‘I didn’t know.’

His words fell on deaf ears. Literally. The ears were already out of the door.

The other parts had no choice now. One by one they abandoned post. Some elated, some wistful. All hopeful that their next host might take just a little more care of them.


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GAYNOR JONES is a writer of flash, micro and short stories. She has been published in Ellipsis Zine, The Occulum and MoonPark Review, among others. She tweets at @jonzeywriter


Image: Prawny

Never Not Wrong – Elise Blackwell

He was always asking what was wrong with her, but she didn’t understand why he asked when he already knew. He just wanted to hear her say it, she figured, though he didn’t really want for her to say the whys but just name the fact of her being wrong and never doing anything goddamn right. Never was the word he used, though even he had to know it was an exaggeration.

She’d heard older women explain that their men hadn’t always been the way they were now. “He was so sweet when we got started,” they’d say, or, ‘It was the disappointments that turned him picky and mean.” But Jeff had been a criticizer from the get-go. “Jeff-i-quette,” his friends explained when he tore someone a new one for letting half a can of beer turn warm in the sun. “It’s goddamn Sunday,” he’d yell. “There’s no more to be bought due to the goddamn blue laws in this goddamn place.” When he’d asked her out for the first time, he’d said, “But don’t wear those white shorts you got, because aren’t doing you any favors.” And: “Your hair looks better up than down, but not when the ponytail is too high.”

The reasons she’d gone on that date anyway, wearing her dark jeans and a low ponytail, didn’t require a psychologist to explain. Most of their town’s men went off to the Marines if not the Army as soon as high school was done, and most of them didn’t come back except to visit their mom and break up with their sweetheart because one or the other of them hadn’t stayed true. But not Jeff, who said he was too smart to let anyone shoot at him in exchange for promises that wouldn’t be kept.

When his Daddy died, he inherited the old man’s boat and got better than ever at making whatever money could be made in a town like theirs, still selling the same weed he’d been selling since middle school but also fishing and doing deliveries and the odd job. For awhile, he did, but after a few years the empty beer cans multiplied enough that she had to call into the county for an extra recycling crate. Soon those cans parked him in his recliner like they did most of the town’s men. At first she didn’t mind, thinking that someone who’d taken himself so low couldn’t spend his time finding fault with others. But when one of the older ladies told her she’d got herself an armchair quarterback, she replied that wasn’t even the half of it.

It wasn’t long after that the man with the accent had come up to her while she was cleaning out the boat that no longer went fishing. He had an accent that she knew to be European but otherwise couldn’t guess. He’d read something on the internet about their town, how it was off the beaten path, how it was more authentic than the known places. Authentic was a word he said a lot.

“I think you’ve been had by someone who’s never set foot here,” she said, “but I can take you out to see some gators.”

She taught the blond man the rhymes she’d learned to tell apart the friendly from the venomous, told him how corals couldn’t strike but had to gnaw you somewhere tender so were really only a danger if they got into your shoe or your garden bucket or your house. She took him down the narrowest slews and named the trees holding the Spanish moss that brushed their hair and shoulders. She maneuvered through a whole civilization of alligators and got one to snap at a stick she held over the bow. Later, after the man went home and wrote about her on his blog and the others came, she would bring a bag of marshmallows and let them hold sticks over the biting water.

When she put down a payment on a boat that could hold more than four people, Jeff told her that he’d never go in to debt to money-changers. When she came back from the parish office with a permit bearing her first and last name, he told her he’d never ask the government permission to make money just the same as he’d never ask the state for a piece of paper saying he could live with his woman, which is something she’d heard him say before. But when she took the branch library’s free classes in web design and small businesses tax law, he just asked her where she’d been. Looking at him in his chair, she remembered when one of her clients asked her why she used marshmallows. She’d told him that all animals are drawn to what is sweet and light, and he’d nodded reverently at what she said like it was precious and like it was true.

She knew that whether her business died to Jeff’s laughter or grew large to his envy, she’d never do what she sometimes imagined, which was to talk him out of the house and onto the boat, glide out to where a hundred hungry eyes broke the surface of the water, and tip the boat just enough that Jeff would fall to them if he couldn’t hold his balance. Even as she told herself it would be fate deciding, she knew it would never happen. So sometimes instead she imagined stepping lightly onto the back of the longest alligator she could find. Using its ridges to find a barefooted balance, she’d hold out her arms and ride all the way to the Gulf, where the water and sky would open like a thing of wonder.

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ELISE BLACKWELL is the author of five novels, most recently The Lower Quarter. Her short prose has appeared in the Atlantic, Witness, Brick, and elsewhere. Her work has been named to several best-of-the-year lists, translated into multiple languages, adapted for the stage, and served as inspiration for a Decemberists’ song.


Image: Photo by Trevor Cole on Unsplash

Animals On A Wire – Chris Milam

The window was stained with tobacco smoke and fingerprints. Outside, at least 50 blackbirds gathered on a power line. A funeral flock. If they were fried alive, he would pick the carcasses off the ground, take them inside, rip off the feathers, drown them in buffalo sauce, set the table for three, eat them, and wash it all down with a glass of sparkling water. His wife would remind him to keep his elbows off the table while his daughter laughed at his transgression. On the wall, the hands of a plastic clock would move as if coated in heavy syrup. Henry would collect dead animals from coast to coast if he could slip into yesterday and relive the past for a few minutes.

Across the street, he watched a tiny girl kick a soccer ball with her dad. It was sweet, the way he let her score a goal between two trees by just being out of reach from blocking the shot. Almost, but no save. The underdog prevails. Her celebration dance was wild and beautiful. Her smiling father didn’t need to relive anything.

The man decided to wash the dishes. It had been a few days. The sink was a menagerie of one: plate, cup, fork, spoon, pan, plastic bowl, lid. Water hot but not skin graft hot. He was done in three minutes. What now?

He sat on the couch and opened the laptop, took a stroll down social media avenue. Smiles brighter than neon signs. Trips to Disney World and the Great Smoky mountains. Love-dipped Melissa sipping on a fruity drink with perfect posture Stephen. Darlene splashing around in the kiddie pool in the backyard. Walking in the park, recitals, zombie costumes, laughing the way happy people laugh. He moved the cursor to the X in the right corner, pressed the pad. Too much, too fresh, too many triggers.

He pulled up an app and swiped left, swiped left, lit a Camel, swiped left. Refrigerator, bottle cap opener, lifted, tilted, swigged. Swiped left.

Back at the window, he squinted at the sun pouring through the glass. Burn everything I’ve seen, he thought. Or everything others have seen me do. Can you do me that solid? Henry opened his mouth, chewed some sunshine, swallowed, then forced it into his organs and bloodstream. He didn’t feel normal doing this.

The birds were still hanging out. He wanted to join them, spend the afternoon with them, just some animals on a wire getting to know one another, surviving together. But what if he was electrocuted and dropped to the ground like a singed cinder block? Would they grieve for him? Miss him? Share stories about the man he was, or the one he should’ve been? No, his new bird friends would see him as a meal, an opportunity, and peck away at his lifeless body until there was nothing left.

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CHRIS MILAM lives in Hamilton, Ohio. His stories have appeared in Lost Balloon, (b)OINK, WhiskeyPaper, Sidereal Magazine, Molotov Cocktail, Jellyfish Review, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter @Blukris.


Image: Edmond Berisha

When She Sings I See – Peadar O’Donoghue

Disused Cadillacs in the dust bowl,
doors open, mileage done,
twin halogen headlights outshone
by two hundred thousand miles
of nowhere and a billion stars,
all dying for another song on the radio,
young arms outstretched on the bench seat,
people always leaving, dreading arriving,
the open road was home,
the open road drummed hope
under white wall tyres,
vast continents lay behind,
and tomorrow was always
another day’s drive away.

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PEADAR O’DONOGHUE is an anti-poet, photographer, and co-editor of PB mag.


Image: Photo by Kevin Clark on Unsplash

The Lovely Brides – Cathy Ulrich

All the girls got married that week. Wore their best dresses to school, carried posies plucked from their parents’ flowerbeds.

Speak now or forever hold your peace, they said.

Jemma Lee from Class B was the first one. She married a jump rope named Bobo. Bobo had red plastic handles and was coming frayed in the middle. Before Jemma Lee from Class B, Bobo didn’t have a name. That’s how everyone knew it was love.

Jemma Lee stood behind the slide with the rest of the girls. Her best dress was navy blue with a Peter Pan collar. That’s what her mother said it was called when she straightened it for Jemma Lee that morning, pinched her cheeks for a natural flush.

You’ll be a lovely bride, said Jemma Lee’s mother.

Behind the slide, Jemma Lee clutched her bridegroom in her hands.

Oh, Bobo, she sighed.

The girl who was playing the minister had a math book instead of a Bible. It was the holiest thing the girls could find.

The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides, she read. Do you take Bobo to be your husband?

I do, said Jemma Lee.

When it was Bobo’s turn to answer, one of its red handles flopped up and down like the head of a snake.

Oh, it’s a yes, cried the girls, clutching their pilfered daisies, tulips, alstroemeria. It’s a yes.

Kiss the bride, the girl holding the math book commanded.

Jemma Lee brought one red handle up to her mouth, puckered her lips, kissed.

The girls threw their bouquets in the air. They shouted: Hurray!

They shouted hurray, hurray till recess was over and Jemma Lee wound Bobo around her waist, sighed at her husband’s embrace.

The other girls all decided to get married too. Stephanie Stieg married the pretty rock she’d been keeping in her desk, that sparkled when the light hit it just right. Erika with a K married her best library book, The Westing Game, left a lipstick print on its cover. Codi Schmieding, who dotted all her is with tiny hearts, married an eraser shaped like sushi. She tucked it into her pocket when the ceremony was over, feeling something like heat against her thigh. Jemma Lee watched them all, Bobo encircling her waist.

By Friday, all the girls were married and the boys held the school doors shut so they couldn’t get back inside after recess, till they had to empty out their pockets, leaving their new husbands on the sidewalk, on the grass. Stephanie Stieg kicked at her pretty rock, a little embarrassed that she had ever even wanted to keep it in her desk in the first place, and the boys let her in first.

The teachers thought they should stop the boys, but they mostly wanted the girls to quit marrying things. They watched from the second-grade classroom window as the girls put their husbands down, one by one.

Only Jemma Lee wouldn’t set Bobo on the ground, pulled him tight on her waist so she could hardly breathe.

He’s my husband, she wheezed. We made a commitment.

Some of the bigger boys let go of the door and started chasing Jemma Lee. She fluttered just out of their reach. Ran and ran from them, till she finally climbed the fence and disappeared.

Oh, said the teachers in the second grade classroom. Oh, oh.

The whole school went looking for Jemma Lee, even the little kindergarteners in their matching smocks, looked and looked and couldn’t find her.

The girls trudged back inside, feeling a bit guilty when they glanced at their husbands, piled haphazardly by the school doors. And when Jemma Lee came back to school the next week, none of them would talk to her, for their shame. Except Codi with her heart-dotted is, bravely whispered: Where’s Bobo?, but Jemma Lee wouldn’t say.

After the girls were all grown, they met once for a beer, leaving their children behind with their husbands. Husbands with beards, husbands with mortgages, husbands with cars that always leaked oil. Second husbands, the girls sometimes thought of them, though they never said.

They clanked their pint glasses together, complimented haircuts and flattering necklines, discreetly checked for crow’s feet.

Remember? they said. Remember when we all got married?

How young we all were then!

And they all turned to Jemma Lee in the corner, quietly sipping her water through a straw, Jemma Lee who had never married again, Jemma Lee with rope burn on her palms. Turned to her and waited, waited.

Yes, said Jemma Lee, twisting her red straw in her fingers. Yes, we were very young.

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Image: Bruno Glätsch

Rob. Gemma’s Husband? – Dominic Kearney

Being 16 when his father died gave him an opportunity to become angry and sensitive, to give up his paper round, to fail at school. He didn’t need a reason, to be fair. Michael was quite clever – above average for the country but no more than so-so for the school he’d passed his 11Plus to get into.

He didn’t try. He was lazy. Later he said he was scared to fail and that that fear had taught him a valuable lesson. There was some truth in that but not a whole lot. Mainly he was lazy and not that clever. Even if he’d tried his best, he wouldn’t have done that well. If he didn’t try, he couldn’t fail. That was another thing he used to say later, looking back, giving advice and the benefit of his experience, but at the time he didn’t really rationalise it that way.

Class clown. His teachers called him that. Too busy trying to make the other boys laugh. He liked that.

His father’s death gave the lack of effort extra dimensions. It added poignancy. It let him be rude, and surly, and disruptive, even when he didn’t feel like it. He sometimes just went through the motions. Not an act, exactly, but…He always stood slightly to the side of his real self. He was always a little too aware of his actions and behaviour.

Michael wasn’t the calculating sort. He didn’t sit down and plot his response to his father’s death. But it didn’t come instinctively either. If he snapped at his mother, or answered a teacher back, or stormed out of the house or the classroom, there was always a moment, a fraction of a second, when he made the conscious decision to do so, when he could have decided not to. Messages would flash across his mind – I can get away with this because my Dad has just died. Or, This is how a boy whose father has just died acts. The latter more often, because it gave distance and made it impersonal, lessened the responsibility. He used it on girls too.

Yet though he was false, his falseness was true and honest. He always pretended with such heart and soul that he really meant it. He could – and it stayed this way into adulthood – convince himself most easily.

He remembered a different truth.

Sometimes, by accident, he remembered the wrong things. They never left his head.

Dry skin, psoriasis. Plaque psoriasis. Symmetrical. Get it on one elbow and you’ll get it on the other. On goes the ointment. Give up dairy. Become wheat intolerant. Take your coffee black, your tea with lemon. Another coat to his personality, another interesting quirk. A father who died when he was most vulnerable, a dying mother, a skin condition, a wheat intolerance. Could you call it glamour?

Michael McInerney worried very occasionally that he felt nothing, just what he was meant to feel, or thought it would make him look better to feel. And were his actions and responses and words and phrases genuine and pure? Or learned from films and songs and TV dramas and Latin phrases chanced upon and self-help books devoured?

Michael McInerney both worried about his health and ignored worries about his health. He kept both things to himself. To others, the front he presented was assured and confident, mature and accepting of the inevitable. Rational. Inside he pushed the inevitable away.

If he had an ailment, if something was bothering him, he would research it, find out the facts and opinions, and then tell others those facts and opinions. And he’d tell his friends and acquaintances to do the same.

“You can’t ignore it, mate,” he said. “Here, have a look at this website. Learn about it. Conquer that fear.”

He told the world that here was a man who acknowledged his own mortality, his own speck in the firmament, who harnessed his fears and overcame them with knowledge and understanding and assurance. He talked fluently and knowledgeably, handled technical language with flow and aplomb, and chided others who buried their heads in the sand.

“You can’t bury your head in the sand, mate,” he said. “It won’t go away if you ignore it. You’ve got to face it. I’ll help. I’ll go with you. I’ll talk to her, if you like. I’ll be there whenever you need me, whatever you need me for.”

(You can bury your head in the sand! Look at me!)

He told people of his intention to cut this out and eat more of that. He did neither. He proved conclusively that the doctors were wrong when they recommended this or that.

Late at night he ate heavily, takeaways big enough for two or three people, spooning the chicken fried rice and Singapore vermicelli into his mouth straight from the silver carton, starting to eat on his way from the kitchen to the lounge, fitting a spring roll into his fist and taking huge, devouring bites. He’d spread the cartons on the coffee table and hunch over them, the TV on with the sound down low so as not to wake Amanda, changing channels with greasy fingers.

His great fear was a stroke. He was haunted by a story Stella, his first wife, had told him. The husband of one of her colleagues had been away on business, Amsterdam or Brussels, somewhere like that. Anyway, one night he went to bed, same as normal, and during the night he had a stroke. God love him, the poor man. He was alone in bed, God love him, and it was hours before he was found, the poor man, God love him.

Stella didn’t know the woman well – she’d only just joined her work. Stella came home one night and told Michael the story while she was getting tea ready. This was going back a few years, the late 90s. Stella told Michael the story in a ghastly, shocking account, in a shivery, just goes to show you never know the moment, God love him kind of way. And then she carried on making the tea, singing to the radio, shouting the children to come down to the table, the story behind her, its effect deep but brief.

With Michael, though, the story stayed. He wanted to know more. (He wanted to know nothing, to erase it from his brain.) He wanted details, names, ages, places, times. Where was he? Brussels or Amsterdam or where? How old was he? What was his name? Was he my age? (If he was not Michael’s age, if he was younger, then maybe that meant Michael had escaped, that it couldn’t now happen to him, that Michael had won that round. But older? Just a year or two? Then that meant it could still be waiting for him.) What did he do for a living? Was he away on business alone?

(There was glamour here. Work took this man abroad. Maybe he normally would take a conference call but this trip was unavoidable because what was needed to be said had to be said face-to-face. Michael wanted such a trip. A hotel by the canal, some useful phrases in Dutch or Flemish or French, he wasn’t sure. Bicycles over the bridges, cars on the wrong side of the road, maybe he’d hire a car and take a trip, maybe to the battlefields of the First World War, just for a few hours after the meeting finished early. And the sirens on the ambulance, that continental bell ringing, that continental two-tone, thin, like a toy almost. Like in the films.)

One evening, he said to Stella, “How’s Rob?”

“Who?” said Stella.

“You know,” said Michael. “Rob. Gemma’s husband?”

“Gemma?” asked Stella. It didn’t click. Then it did click and Stella shrugged and said she didn’t know and why are you so interested.

“No reason,” Michael said. Certainly he wouldn’t have been able to say what the reason was, wouldn’t have been able to form the words even if he could have formed the thoughts. Stella had said his name was Robert, but he called him Rob, like he was a friend.

He created a narrative for him, a film Michael watched in his head over and over again, each time adding touches and flourishes. Rob and his colleagues in a hotel bar in Brussels. Not Amsterdam, although it had been Amsterdam to begin with. Brussels was more international, its buildings spare and universal, business-like, sharp. Their day of meetings was over, their meal finished. They’d thought of eating in the hotel, but one of them had heard of a restaurant around the corner that did fantastic moules frites and had a great range of beers, so they’d gone there.

Was their work in Brussels finished? No, tomorrow was the crucial day. So that changed the film. They ate in the hotel. The bar with the moules frites and range of beers, each requiring a different glass, would have to wait. Just one bottle of wine between the three of them. They discussed strategy, who would say what, how far they could go over costs, what they couldn’t compromise on.

An early night. There’d be time to celebrate if things went well tomorrow. Then they’d have a few of those famous Belgian beers, each requiring a different glass.

Good night then. See you here for breakfast, 7.15 sharp. The car’s here at 8.

In his room, Rob went over a few points one last time. Then he called Gemma and told her he loved her and asked how were the kids and no, he’d not forgotten those Tintin books she’d asked him to get, in French, good for the kids.

And then Robert, 37, went to bed and had a stroke. His body collapsed and froze, trapping him silent screaming inside a twisted, useless shell. Would he have woken first? Woken, and then known everything, all knowledge for a fraction of a second before his body and mind contorted and locked.

Locked in and locked out.

He pushed the story away. It never left him but it generally stayed hidden and forgotten. It tapped him on the shoulder at times, the dangerous times when he woke in the night, or the times when he and Stella, and later he and Amanda argued, and she went to stay at a friend’s, or with one of her grown-up children by her first marriage, or – as Michael sometimes wondered, even, sometimes, hoped – with her ex-husband.

At such times the details of the story, the embellishments that he’d added, would herd round him, would drive him, butting him towards a point where he could keep his eyes squeezed shut no longer. He had to look. And the images and words of the film he’d made swarmed round him and stampeded over him and crushed him.

He imagined his body as having an outer shell that melted like a doll left too near the fire. Mouth drooping and dribbling unfelt saliva from a downturned corner, one eyelid toppled uncontrolled to near-shut, his flesh-smeared face and useless, lifeless limbs. Unable to move, unable to speak, but his mind working and his voice shouting and screaming soundless, unheeded, unheard. And he heard everything going on around him, too, the voices talking about him, unaware and not caring that he could hear them.

Could his mother hear? Lying there in her hospital bed? Could she hear his voice when he spoke to her when he visited? He didn’t say much to her, in truth. Too busy making calls from the bedside. Too busy looking busy.

He saw a programme on TV once about patients who had woken during their operations. The anaesthetic hadn’t worked properly, so they were aware of what was happening to them, aware of the pain, but unable to speak or let anyone know of their situation.

Michael McInerney hated aloneness. Not loneliness. He could just about stand that, so long as there were others around him.

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DOMINIC KEARNEY was born in Liverpool and now lives in Derry. He is the author of “Cast-Iron Men” and of “Ireland’s Beautiful North”, published by The O’Brien Press. He does freelance work for the Irish News, Culture Northern Ireland, BBC Radio Foyle, and BBC Radio Ulster.


Image: Pexels

Bittersweet Symphony – Jeanna Skinner

tronco e smorzando

Merda!” said my daughter’s violin teacher, his voice uncharacteristically sharp as the doorbell interrupted us. De-entwining our limbs, he ran his hands through his dishevelled curls and lunged for his jeans.

A hirsute, bespectacled young man, his proclivity for wild gesticulation amused me no end. I smiled, remembering the first time I’d been the cause of his signature gesture: glissando’d into his DMs, he’d called it, throwing up his hands in that peculiar fashion of his. Despite the age gap, we were good together, but I had to end it – and soon. He was getting too involved. I recognised the signs. I’d been here before.

“Merda!” he said again, meeting my tickled gaze. “Aren’t you even un po ‘preoccupato?”

I traced a lazy finger across his non-damask cheek. His puppy-like espresso eyes were, as ever, eager to please; a novelty dog in the back of a car. Funny how a beard and horn-rimmed glasses could belie such youth. He really was extraordinarily good-looking – beautiful, even, but so young. So naive.

“No,” I said, holding the single syllable like a semi-breve and scribbling myself a mental note to book a manicure, “but that’s why you love me. Hide in the bathroom if you’re worried.” I kissed him before he could light another cigarette. Scowling, I fastened my robe and headed for the stairs.

The doorbell rang again. Ignoring its urgency, I lingered outside my daughter’s room, observing my seventeen year-old’s cacophonic mess. Somewhere, obscured by the noisy medley of clothes, make-up, and magazines, were the floor, bed and chair. Neatly propped in one corner, a violin and music stand were odd, jarring notes in the chaos. Grace Chatto, the uber-cool blonde cellist from Clean Bandit, pouted at me from a poster above the dresser. I smiled back, pausing to asses myself in the dresser mirror: I was in good shape for my age. The first, tell-tale lines of autumn just visible as faint, papery creases in my skin; delicate as venation on a leaf. It was time. Time to tell The Violin Teacher, but first I had to deal with the door.


On the doorstep of our Bexley semi, was my daughter, Olivia and, behind her, my husband of twenty-four years, Sam.

“Did you both lose your keys?” My voice sounded alright. At least I think it did; it was hard to tell over the sudden snare drum of my heart.

“I forgot mine. Olivia’s lost hers. Or rather, she threw them away.”

“Yeah, because I’m outta here! I’ve had it with you ruining my life! I’m going, and nothing you can say or do can stop me!” She threw her father a foul, withered look, before flouncing up the stairs. Sam sprinted after her, leaving me to assess my capacity for concern. Time to face the music, I concluded, following them like a mourner at a New Orleans funeral parade.

“You can’t leave!” Arms folded across his chest, Sam barred the doorway to Olivia’s room. “You’re not old enough! Where will you go? How will you support yourself?”

“I’ll get a job – and…I-I’ve met someone. He has his own business. We’ll be fine.”

“Wh-what do you mean, you’ve met someone?” Sam turned to me with a look that typically said, ‘Do something!’”

“Olivia, hon. Dad’s right. Let’s talk about it. Sensibly.”

Olivia threw her hands in the air, in an unsettling refrain of The Violin Teacher and for a brief moment, I hesitated, stymied.

“Do what you want Mum, but I’m out of here. You say we’ll talk about it, but you never let me make any decisions. It’s always what you want. What you decide. He loves me. Why can’t you be happy for us?” Olivia shoved her father aside, elbows pumping like a majorette as she marched to the bathroom. My heart clawed at my throat, but I knew I wouldn’t, I couldn’t, stop her.

There was a strangled little scream, and then:

“You’re here? Oh, thank god, you’re here. I’ve missed you so much!”

“You?” My jaw dropped as they emerged holding hands. “You and Olivia? She’s seventeen!”

“Mum! He’s only six years older than me. I’m not a child.”

I couldn’t look at Olivia. I was willing The Violin Teacher to make eye contact, to confess to everything between us since that first night. What were we up to now? The eleventh? Twelfth? I’d lost count, but suddenly, it mattered. My daughter folded his hand in hers and stretched to kiss his beautiful face, and a scream of denial died on my tacet lips. Then Olivia snatched up her case and started plucking her way down the stairs. About halfway down, she stopped. Stung.


“But – wh-why are you here? You said you had a concert. In Slovenia, right?” Her face was a sinkhole of gaping eyes and mouth. The Violin Teacher dropped Olivia’s hand without ceremony, and I was sure now of how deftly he’d played her.

“Olivia. Mi spiace – I am sorry.”

Gone was the puppy dog. This Violin Teacher was all man, and boy, was his virtuoso performance attractive! I spared a glance for Sam, whose Easter Island silence had caused me to forget his presence altogether. The Violin Teacher left my daughter’s side, and re-ascended the stairs to where I waited above. Sam was behind me at the top, and I flashed on the four of us as crochets and quavers on a staff and almost giggled at the absurdity of it all. With each step, my heartbeat echoed in staccato. Did I really want this?


I extended my hand, surprised by the vibrato in it, and then recoiled, as The Violin Teacher reached past me

– to Sam???

“Arsenio,” Sam said sotte-vocce, embracing the younger man with unreserved and familiar passion. Cymbals crashed in my ears, and I glanced at Olivia as a foolish sob bubbled from her open mouth. Then Arsenio and Sam left together, without another word, in unmistakable and perfect harmony.


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Image: Maura Barbulescu

One Time – Mia Christina Döring

In the dead heat of a Berlin summer
I am drilling holes into sharp sheets of tin.

The thin tin wobbles
through hands clumsy in gloves
and I lean heavily,
hunched over,
finger on trigger,
pushing into the space between my knees.

He stands behind me
leaning on the door
in a grey t-shirt,
the one he wears for messy work,
bald head reflecting the sun,
eyes on my back,

He watches with folded arms as sweat gathers under my arms and between my breasts,
as it runs down my temple and plops with purpose onto the tin.
He watches as the drill gets stuck and bits of frayed metal spin into the dirt.
He watches as I lose my balance and waver, hand flailing, sudden jump in my throat.

He watches until the job is done.

And then he walks away.

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MIA CHRISTINA DÖRING is a writer from Dublin, Ireland. Her fiction and poetry has been published in Vias Poetry Journal, Litro Magazine and Headstuff. Her novel Falling was long listed for the Mercier book deal competition in February 2017. Her non-fiction has been published in Headstuff, The Journal and The Huffington Post.


Image: Michael Schwarzenberge

The Flying Boy – Anita Goveas

The storm has passed. The lightning did not strike. The smell of iron is still in the air. This is the day of triumph, of achievement, of realisation. She will complete her quest by herself.

The last item of furniture to be removed from her cell is the bed. The wood is rough against her hands but light. It takes no effort in transit. The last item of importance is the sulphur globe. She scavenged sulphur from the apothecary and the metal rod came from a fireplace. It is the only thing that belongs to her.

She places it by the flowering cherry tree she sees every day through her barred window. She walks past to her tools. She spends time cleaning the trowel, the hoe, the rake until they gleam. They are elements of creation. They should be immaculate for the next person. The first bell rings out and dies away.

She hastens to the lake. The light races across the turquoise water. The three boys are waiting. The tallest with the limp. The middle one, the oldest, with the brown hair and the crooked ear. The shortest, with the strongest hands. She has traded apples, carrots and sweet perfumed strawberries from the garden for their patience and co-operation. The middle one shows curiosity and returns often without expecting trade. He has already placed the frame with its silken ties. They all raise their hands to be the conductor. She chooses the one with the chestnut hair, like hers.

The boy is fixed securely around the chest, with his arms free and his feet entirely off the ground. They have practised sufficiently. They are waiting for the audience.

Michael the treasurer walks past on his usual brisk walk to the kitchen. She waits for the look of disapproval and holds the spinning globe against the feet of the suspended boy. His feet begin to glow. It smells of fireside and approaching storm. The virtue is transferred. Michael falters, a never before witnessed occurrence. He stiffens, turns and walks in the other direction. As expected. She waits now for the confirmation. The second bell rings out and dies away. The echo is louder by the pond.

When Michael returns with Thomas the apothecary, the acknowledged man of science, the shortest boy is holding an open book balanced in his strong, sure hands. As the suspended boy reaches out the pages of the book begin to turn. The boy is laughing, waving continuously, the pages surrendering under each pass. The watching men turn and walk towards the largest building. They will return. This is the day of triumph.

They wait now for the testimony: she, the suspended boy, her fellows in experimentation. They are elements of creation. They will be the things she will regret once she has succeeded. Once she has achieved.

Matthew the leader approaches, bringing men with tools in work-roughened hands. These tools are not for creation. She holds the sulphur globe against the feet of the suspended boy. The feet glow. The tallest boy moves forward to stand on the mat of twigs. Perhaps the lightning remains in its surroundings.

The suspended boy reaches out to the tallest boy and the spark leaps between them. It leaps between them and then to the silken ties. The boy with the chestnut hair and the crooked ear is still laughing as he floats away, feet first towards the incipient lightning.

She walks back to her room. The third bell rings out as she is trapped in the passage between the garden and her destination. The echoes swell in her ear.

She lies down on the stone floor, positioned to observe the cherry tree in the garden. She will leave the sulphur globe for the boy with the chestnut hair and the crooked ear. They will come for her now. This is the day of triumph.


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ANITA GOVEAS is British-Asian, based in London, and fueled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. Her stories are published and forthcoming in the 2016 London Short Story Prize anthology, the Word Factory website, Dodging the Rain, Rigorous, Pocket Change lit, Haverthorn, and Riggwelter.


Image: Public Domain

The Cult of Weight – Mark Sadler

Newbon Manor occupies a lonely vantage point on north Yorkshire moorland, overlooking the hamlet of Little Sarling. The building is orientated peculiarly; it stands half turned away from the settlement, wilfully aloof amidst matted continents of dismal, aubergine-coloured heather that soak up the shadows of the passing clouds. The desolation of the surroundings is mirrored in the stark appearance of the hall itself; the sheer stone walls, blackened by centuries of windblown peat, and the austere, vacant windows, which reflect portions of the leaden skies and confer upon the property the forsaken air of a derelict.

The architect, Anthony Tyte, is a distant ancestor of mine. When I was a child, his portrait, evidently painted when he was long past his prime, was a disquieting presence in the residual gloom of the wood-panelled hallway. After dark I did my utmost to avoid moving unaccompanied within sight of its sunken, hollowed-out gaze. Under daylight, flared markings, resembling the beginnings and endings of engraved lettering, were visible upon his bare arms, which he had posed crossed over against his chest. It was my grandfather’s assumption that these vestige characters had once formed part of a family motto, perhaps applied to the painting after it was finished, and long since flaked off.

While studying divinity at Findlay College, in Oxford, I was surprised to encounter Tyte’s name recorded in a bound registry, held in the library collection at Christ Church Cathedral. Here he is listed as a founding member of a defunct order of stone masons and church builders known as The Cult of Weight, whose activities are briefly summarised in an accompanying footnote. Further illumination on the order has been provided to me by my mentor, Professor Victor Weston, to whom I wish to extend my deepest gratitude.

The sect first appears in records dating from the late 1600s. Most likely it was formed between 1672 and 1675, apparently in response to the discovery of a substantial stone relic that was uncovered following a landslip, outside the village of Woolweir, in the county of Devon. The find was described by an early eye-witness, Father Martin Ward, as a hollowed-out cone of calloused, coarse-grained marble, eleven yards long, the outer surface bearing a mottled pattern of worn-down bumps that were uniform enough in distribution to have been the work of a craftsman. A subsequent report, again originating from Ward, observed what appeared to be a garland of overlapping angel wings, carved close to the base of the object where it emerged from the mud. This had only been revealed after a heavy shower of rain. News of the discovery reached the ears of the church who thought it of enough note to warrant a visitation by a delegation of senior clergy, headed by an envoy of the Bishop of London. Among the party was my ancestor, Anthony Tyte; a man of puritanical zeal who claimed that, on multiple occasions, he had been taken from his bed by an angel and carried up to heaven. He had made attempts to replicate elements of the celestial architecture he had laid eyes upon, in the designs of a trinity of churches constructed in the capital, on the south bank of the river Thames. Sadly none of these buildings have survived into into modernity.

The landslip had covered a seldom-used cart track that ran along the foot of a steep natural embankment, and connected a pair of outlying farms with the village. From the top of the mound of disturbed earth and uprooted trees, the stone object projected like a spire on an upright slant. William Docking, who was steward to the Bishop of London, wrote in a letter to his master:

‘The farmer who showed us the way was keen that we should help him to free his wagon, which was trapped beneath the deluge of loose soil. Alas, when we uncovered it, the conveyance was crushed beyond repair under the weight of all that had come to rest on top of it. Laying eyes upon the wreckage, the man begged that alms be provided by the church as charitable restitution for the act of god that had deprived him of one of the tools of his livelihood. Some form of recompense was agreed upon, under condition that he would assist in the removal of the object when the time came.”

Following a careful inspection of the carvings on the stone, Tyte declared it to be a fragment of the celestial masonry that had tumbled from heaven to earth during the great battle between good and evil, that climaxed in Lucifer being cast down into hell. He ignored the locals who insisted that you could find stones of similar size and shape, and with similar markings, strewn throughout the region.

At this time, the foundations for Barnstaple Cathedral had just been put to ground. Tyte was friends with the principle architect, John Brightwell, and convinced him to incorporate his new-found holy relic into the bell tower as a steeple.

He remained on the site of the cathedral throughout the summer of 1672, and possibly all the way through to 1675. During this time the cult assembled around him, Brightwell, and another man named Neville Drewer, drawing its ranks from the masons and carpenters who were working on the building. Their stated intent, documented in a damaged copy of their charter, was to restore stone and metal objects, thought to be of divine provenance, to their rightful positions in the heavens, by incorporating them within the upper echelons of places of Christian worship.

The cult grew quickly, spreading rapidly across England, its members distinguishing themselves from the disparates ranks of artisans who converge upon any large-scale architectural project. Acolytes of the order were well-versed in the practicalities of structural engineering. They were renowned crane builders, meticulously crafting winches carved into the detailed likenesses of angels, upon which every filament of each feather was individually etched into solid oak. During a construction, these cranes ascended along with the rising walls; the pathways of their upward journeys having been pre-determined by the architects in their plans. At a point where an angel had scaled to the zenith of its usefulness, it would be incorporated into the walls of the cathedral, with the winches facing either internally or externally, according to the design. Henceforth, they might occasionally be deployed in the transportation of heavy loads into the upper reaches of the building.

As engravers, the cultists worked at such a frenetic pace that the ends of their chisels would glow red hot from the friction. Every so often a tool would ricochet from the stone and burn through clothing to brand the skin of an arm or a leg. This is the likely cause of the markings in Tyte’s portrait, his body having been permanently scored with the off-cuts of the sentences he had engraved into the walls of churches and cathedrals.

In exchange for their materials and services, the masons requested that burial chambers be built within the eaves and spires, where members of the sect could be interred upon death. When Anthony Tyte passed from this world in 1733, his earthly remains were lain to rest in a lofty crypt of his own design, sequestered within the steeple of Barnstaple Cathedral; the holy relic that was the foundation stone of The Cult of Weight.

Two decades prior to his demise he oversaw the construction of my childhood home on the site of Barnley Manor, which had been destroyed by fire. Its successor was deliberately rotated upon the old foundation, a few degrees towards the west, banishing almost from sight the nearby village of Little Sarling, which Tyte believed to be over-run by impious souls. In 1757, the population was almost entirely wiped out by an outbreak of pneumonic plague and the settlement permanently reduced to no more than a quarter of its former size, comprising no more than five cottage dwellings.

The Cult of Weight, latterly known as The Worshipful Company of Weight, disbanded abruptly in 1849. A brief disclosure announcing the winding-up of its affairs was posted in the business pages of The London Fairlead, but no further explanation was given.

In the same year, a journal article by John Hammerton, who was Anglican Bishop of Masham, observed that cathedrals which had assimilated pieces of divine masonry supplied by the cult, appeared more prone to drawing down unfavourable weather and suffering from structural damage. Hammerton was a rational man and attributed the phenomenon to quirks in the architecture influencing weather patterns “perhaps by the shaping of the winds that continually buffet the upper extremities of these prominent buildings.”

In October, 1987, a hurricane rampaged across Great Britain. The gusts caused catastrophic damage to Barnstaple Cathedral. Eye witnesses claim to have seen the stone spire wrenched clean away from the bell tower and lifted high into the air where it was swallowed up by the roiling clouds. In the aftermath, no trace of it could be found.

I visited the cathedral in 1993, while on holiday in Dartmoor. It was not long after the unveiling of the new bell tower and steeple. While I was there, I spoke with one of the volunteer guides and asked him his opinion on the fate of the missing original.

He replied that it had most-likely been torn apart in the storm and the pieces scattered by the winds along the bed of the River Taw.

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Image: Bernhard Stärck



Oil – David Cook

As the factory was built, the town hummed with expectation. This was big news. Employment was scarce here. Many families were living cap in hand, and they were thought to be the lucky ones. Some couldn’t even afford a cap in the first place.

Shortly after the final bricks were placed, a finely-dressed gentleman appeared in front of the factory gates, clutching a loudhailer. ‘Attention townspeople!’ he hollered. ‘Your prayers have been answered. There is plenty of work available here!’

‘Hurrah!’ roared the townspeople.

‘This,’ he told them, ‘is a vegetable oil factory. In return for working here, all I ask is that you grow produce in your gardens and bring them to me. We will turn that into oil and sell it around the globe. And you will all be paid well!’

‘Hurrah!’ roared the crowd again, although some were unsure about having to hand over their carrots and potatoes, and others were confused because they didn’t think these were the sorts of vegetables that actually went into vegetable oil.

But they stopped questioning the man when what he said came true – the factory’s oil was sold all around the world and the workers were paid well. If the cost of being able to afford warm clothes and a few luxuries was giving up a few spuds each month, then that was okay with them.

Then another factory was built.

The finely-dressed gentleman appeared at its gates with his loudhailer. ‘Attention townspeople!’ he hollered. ‘Those of you who were unable to gain work at the vegetable oil factory, listen to me. More work will soon be available here!’

‘Hurrah!’ roared the townspeople.

‘And this time, we will be making sunflower oil! To work here, all I ask is that you grow sunflowers in your gardens and bring them to me. We will turn them into oil and sell this around the globe too! And you, like your colleagues at the vegetable oil factory, will all be paid well!’

‘Hurrah!’ roared the crowd yet again. Some of them had to borrow money from their neighbours who worked at the other factory so they could actually buy sunflower seeds, and others were confused as to why they actually had to grow them when it was only their seeds that go into sunflower oil in the first place, and weren’t vegetable oil and sunflower oil basically the same thing, anyway? But they stopped questioning the man when what he said came true – the factory’s oil was sold all around the world and all the workers were paid well. If the cost of being able to afford warm clothes and a few luxuries was looking after some sunflowers in their gardens, then that was okay with them.

But still some townspeople were without work, so when a third new factory was built they became very excited. Shortly after the final bricks were placed, the finely-dressed gentleman appeared in front its gates, again with his loudhailer. ‘Attention townspeople!’ he hollered once more. ‘Those of you who were unable to gain work at the vegetable oil factory or the sunflower oil factory, listen to me. More work will soon be available here, but this is the final factory I will build! As ever, I will require you to bring me the raw materials, and with them we will make and sell the finest of oils.’’

‘Hurrah!’ roared the townspeople yet again, and eagerly awaited the news about what sort of manufacturer this would be.

‘This,’ shouted the finely-dressed gentleman,’will be a baby oil factory!’

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DAVID COOK’s stories have been published in a number of places online and in print, and he was once nominated for the Pushcart Prize, which was nice. You can find more of his work at http://www.davewritesfiction.wordpress.com and say hi on Twitter @davidcook100. He lives in Bridgend, Wales, with his wife and daughter.


Image: Silke

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