Epilogue – Issue Twelve

If They have It under surveillance
With Their microphones in all there is
They must know
This wooden object d’art
Has been teleporting Itself
Or has had Itself teleported
Across the Earth
One solar year.
One interested may ask
Do milestones matter
To cosmic multi-drawered beasts?
Will It now
Twelve months completed
Vanish like before it arrived
Like the bird flying in
through one open window
And out another?
Will It now not exist
Or something other to occur
Or nothing at all
If a year means nothing to The Cabinet
Of Heed
As to everything else there is?


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The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 12 Ident

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Adrift – Mairéad Webster

Down and down I fall
Into your world of a different shape
Open to all who jump.
It’s scary for sure
These worthwhile things we do.
The water gushing within
That traps you
Tight against the cranial wall
Yet increases your domain
To swim against the tide
With limitless powers
Bereft from them long ago,
The snakes of the sea,
who wish to constrict
Your gift to amuse, to teach,
and more so far unknown,
From us who jump,
Who dive,
Daring to know you.


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St Louis Is Everywhere – Megan Pillow Davis

So I go to this conference in St. Louis, and my hotel is full of black people
dressed nice. The lady at the front desk whispers “they’re going to a wedding”

as if it’s a secret, as if black people dressed nice at a hotel need some kind of
explanation. Every time I call for an Uber, my driver is a white guy. In between

the “what are you in town for?” and the “have a nice visit,” white guy pontificates
on the history of race in his city, as if I can’t see all of the limestone we’re passing,

as if I don’t notice that St. Louis has lightened its buildings the way bleaching creams lighten the skin, and I get the message: whiteness is, after all, not just about beauty,

but the delivery of pain. My white guy Uber drivers think it’s safe to mention Michael Brown’s name in passing. His body is their punctuation mark – an asterisk, maybe a

comma – that gets crowded out by gossip about the latest Cardinals valuation. They drop me off at the conference hotel where all the white people like me wear name badges that

flutter like cattle tags. They shuttle me to bars where, somehow, all the white people are still laughing and drinking their IPAs, where the men tug at the waists of their women,

pulling them like taffy to their tongues, where the women heft the globes of their breasts
under the silver gazes of bathroom mirrors. Somehow, all the white people are still

singing and dancing to Taylor Swift as if the world has not thrown from its orbit and gone careening out into the dark of the universe, sizzling with light, the last firework

at the end of every Independence Day night that wobbles its way to the top of the hazy sky and then dies dies dies. Somebody told me about a pizza place on Washington Ave,

and this time I walk. Every black man who passes me slides his eyes away and crosses the street when I get too close. I pass a Latina with her two young kids, a teenager in

hijab. The four of them drain away from the city sidewalks like blood from an opened vein, like blood from a black kid shot twelve times and dying in the street. At the pizza

place, I order an IPA. The white man next to me reads my face as if I’ve just made him
some kind of promise. He smiles. “Sometimes,” he says, “you gotta shake things up.

Sometimes you gotta create chaos.” Behind him, above the door, is the photo of the man throwing a tear gas canister back at the Ferguson police during the riots that feel like

yesterday, like today. The canister is all wobbling, sizzling light. Behind the man, two others blur against the hazy night sky. The canister hovers just above the palm

of his hand, waiting to be thrown from its orbit, to careen to its death. Each time the door opens, my eyes find him again, a dark planet in the disquieted universe of white. I know

that man is Edward Crawford. I know I cannot talk about the people on the street as if they are pieces of scenery. I would name them now, but they have, understandably,

kept their names a secret because I am not to be trusted. I know that the world did not all of a sudden break from its orbit because the orbit was broken long ago, because this

chaos is old. But I underestimated the scope of this disaster. I should have shouted long ago that Michael Brown was not the only one left in the street to die. I should have

shouted about each every black body and brown body that has been bleeding its color
into the ground for years. I should have noticed long ago that St. Louis is everywhere,

the bodies are everywhere, every city in this country is a body dying on the concrete,
bleeding out to white. The only question left is, where do we put our hands to staunch the

bleeding? The only task: How do we put the blood back in?


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The Waiting Room – Amanda L. Wright

How many times have I sat here like this in variations of this same room? A million times? Two million? They always look the same. The faded wallpaper, the piles of dog eared magazines on the creaky coffee table. The one closest to me shows a very tanned woman with an impressively coiffed head of hair that works hard to look as if it’s not been touched by anything other than the light of day. Her mascara-ed eyelashes curl, her eyes are expertly made up, her red lips pout. I sigh. It all looks like a lot of work. I’m kind of hoping I’ll be able to give all that a miss.

The waiting room is crowded today. It was standing room only when I first came in. The door closed behind me with a quiet thunk of finality. There’s no way back now, no way out except the other door that leads to the corridor beyond. The door behind me only ever opens inward.

The silence in the room weighs on me as oppressively as a solid steel pillow pressed across the face. It’s only broken by tiny self-conscious sounds. Someone has a cough. Someone else asks a question of their neighbour in a whisper and the neighbour whispers back. Everyone whispers here. I don’t know what that’s all about, there’s no reason why they should but they all do it always. And always it fills me with the same mad desire to leap on the coffee table and sing at the top of my voice, to cancan amid the magazines and send them flying on the ends of my high kicking toes. But I never have.

Maybe one day though.

Maybe next time…

Name after name appears on the huge strip of luminescent ticker tape that runs along the wall. Their name and a room number. You’d think with all they have to get through they’d have more rooms. But resources are tight everywhere these days even here. One by one the crowd thins as more and more names are flagged up and they all disappear through the door and along the corridor to a room beyond.

I grip the edge of the seat nervously, feeling a sudden twist in my stomach. It’s Josef’s seat. When his name paraded across the wall I moved from my seat to his. It was still warm and I clung to that warmth as I always had, trying to hold onto him. But it faded, it’s gone now just like him. A minute was all we had, a minute in this crowded oppressive place. So much to say and only a minute and we couldn’t say anything. He took my hand and held it tight in his own and I leaned against him, unable to get close enough. Then his name and his room number and that anguished moment looking into each other’s eyes and knowing this was it. He stood up and kissed my hand and then he walked through the door and into the corridor. He didn’t look back.

No one ever comes back through that door either. When he walked through it he took a piece of me with him and I don’t know if it is a piece of me I will ever get back. Only time will tell I suppose.

There it is. My name marching across the length of the wall and disappearing only to appear again remorselessly. I take note of the room number and walk the short yet yawning distance to the door. There’s no security lock on this door. They’ve rarely been troubled with anyone trying to rush through it and it opens unresisting as ever under my hand. I hear it close quietly behind me as I continue along the corridor beyond. You’d think it would be all chrome and white walls but it’s not. It has a homely look with marginally less shabby wall paper and a number of dark wooden doors. Behind each one lies a new beginning.

I don’t want to do this again. Not again and certainly not so soon, Haven’t I seen enough? I’ve lived through democracy, fascism and communism and having seen all that they have to offer I’m in no hurry to go back to any one of them. I’m tired. I’m so tired. I only just got here and I went straight into that damned waiting room. No time to think. Barely any time to feel. Every time more rushed than the last. Every time things left unsaid, unresolved. I just want to stop. Even clocks stop. Why can’t I? Why can’t time freeze for me, allow me to be motionless?

The door opens behind me making me jump and a little man in spectacles and a shabby overcoat appears. He raises his hat to me nervously and carries on down the corridor, muttering his room number to himself as he scans the brass plates on the doors. It would never do to forget his number. Who knows where he might land up?

I sigh and coax my feet into life. There’s no sense in standing here I may as well get this over with. Very soon none of this will matter. I won’t remember any of it and I won’t remember any of what came before it. I won’t remember the songs I sang in the club to the notes of Josef’s piano. The bombs that fell by accident on Prague bringing a whole new interpretation to liberation or the tanks that rolled through the streets. I won’t remember the bullets or the blossom or the sickening fear that seems to have followed me for so much of my life. The little man in the shabby overcoat he knew it, I could tell. He’d lived it too; a life precious and fragile in the shadow of a human machine that could snuff you out in a heartbeat or crush the soul from you but still leave you breathing, still leave your heart beating. A machine so monstrous only man could have created it.

But though we shiver in the shadow of it the seeds we plant still struggle to grow, to find the light and the warmth. Josef’s piano…the touch of his hand…his mouth against mine… every thought in his eyes, every contour of his body. Our children growing inside me… holding them for the first time, seeing them laugh. No, I wouldn’t have missed that, not a moment of that. They stack up like a flood barrier those moments, all those moments against the tide of pain and loss, fear and oppression, sickness and loneliness and despair.

I won’t remember either the guilt and the muddy mixed up feelings of a reluctant betrayal, a desperate sacrifice to hold onto what I loved, to save what I couldn’t bear to be destroyed. All these years we never spoke of it and now we never will. Couldn’t I have had just a little more time? Couldn’t they have let me lay to rest this one thing that we so carefully swept out of sight and tiptoed around for twenty years Josef and I? Well perhaps it’s for the best. Perhaps after all there is a mercy to be found in forgetting.

My door is quite far along but I come to it at last and, my heart beating a little faster than it should I knock on the door and then open it and go in without waiting for an answer.

They’re very kind in a hospital corners sort of way. They always are. By the time they’re done everything is a pleasantly fuzzy haze, like drinking too much champagne. I must have drunk champagne once I suppose but I can’t remember it now, when it was or who I was with. I’m wearing a white silk dressing-gown. It feels very soft, very comforting. My clothes are gone like my name, like my life. When I walked in here I was…I was…there you see? It’s gone. Quite gone.

Like the waiting room I came from no one ever walks back out through the door of this room either. There’s only one way out of here and I’m gently led towards it. It gapes at my feet and I stand on the lip of the future, my future with no idea where, or who or when lies at the bottom of it. In spite of all my fuzziness a faint chill prickles faintly over me.

The woman who has my arm is a matronly sort. She pats me reassuringly and tells me I’ll need to take the dressing-gown off. Slowly, reluctantly, I pull the tie loose and ease it down over my shoulders, let it drop to the floor behind me. She clucks encouragingly but I don’t move. I’m still standing there staring into the darkness.

‘Sit down and do it. It’s easier that way. Just like playing on a slide really. Nothing to it.’

She steadies me as I get myself onto the floor. I’m sitting on the edge, my feet dangling in space. Don’t look down I’m advised. Close your eyes and push off from the side. Like pushing off from the side of the swimming baths. Can you swim? It’s like that.

I break off from my contemplation of the abyss to hit her with a look of irritation. How do I know if I can swim or not? There’s no point in asking me now!

Clearly, she gets the message. ‘Oh! Yes, Sorry, I forgot.’

‘You too? It must be catching.’

She laughs, just slightly strained. ‘Well, just in your own time…’

In my own time.

It’s still there somewhere, my own time, whispering just out of reach of my memory. But somehow it doesn’t feel like my own time. I have a feeling that I haven’t found my own time at the bottom of this darkness for a long time and there’s no guarantee I’m going to find it now. I edge my rear gingerly to the very lip but I’m gripping with my fingers so tightly that the knuckles are turning white.

I close my eyes, force myself to pull air into my tight lungs, over and over until my grip on the edge begins to relax. In time to this little ritual I remind myself that what lies immediately at the bottom of all this is safe, and warm, like floating in a warm bath. Nothing to be afraid of. Nothing to think about. Just floating and sleeping until the process is complete, until I’m ready to face the world again in a brand new tiny body.

Page after crisp white page just waiting to be written on, just waiting for me to leave my mark upon them, just waiting for another story to grow, for my voice to emerge once more.

I push myself into space and fall towards those open pages.


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Stars – Louise Wilford

Whatever happened to those knowing leading ladies,
who glared through the lens like a challenge to a duel?
They knew they were extraordinary – the Veronicas, Rosalinds, Ritas.
Call it chutzpah. Charisma. Pure blessed arrogance.

Love me , their mascara-ed eyes seemed to say,
or loathe me: you’ll always remember.
I’m lodged in your memory like a glamorous ear-worm.
conveying each nuance of passion
with simply a twitch of my cigarette holder,
a flick of my elbow-length glove. A glance.
Just put your lips together and – blow.

They stood straight, strode long – stiletto heels,
seamed stockings – tiny waists, huge brains.
Not always pretty – the Barbaras, Bettes, Joans –
but dames who got their own way, spun men
round their fingers like fidget toys
– unless derailed by love.

Diction polished and nonchalant, whether wise-acre quick
or sexy drawl, dropping bon mots like careless confetti.
O, those women! They’d survived life,
fur collars and diamond earrings intact;
they were unbowed, those femme fatales –
the Laurens, Marlenes, Marys – molls who packed a shooter,
businesswomen who cracked a whip,
socialites who played the field – til love struck like a gong
and they finally lost.

And, older, they were such villains.
Baby Jane dancing on the beach,
face a melting waxwork, grey ringlets, lacy frock.
Norma Desmond on the Boulevard,
trying to CPR her long-dead fame.
Or, at worst, the waspish older aunt of a fledgling ingénue,
uttering deadpan put-downs like a professional bitch.

O, those wondrous, wild-eyed women – the Glorias, Gretas, Genes –
women who knew their own worth,
who didn’t always smile, wringing their hands,
pouring tea, baking cakes, blending in.
They’d always ask for the moon:
the stars would never be enough.



Yorkshirewoman Louise Wilford is an English teacher and examiner. She has had around 100 poems and short stories published in magazines including Lyonesse, Pushing Out The Boat, The Stinging Fly and Agenda, and has won or been shortlisted for several competitions. She is currently writing a children’s fantasy novel, and is about to embark on an MA in Writing.

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Musings of Sewer Folk – M.S.

Lost and Found

I don’t remember time before the tunnel. We pocketed shards of light and scurried for food. We learned the language of gloom and made silence our second nature. You were the crazy one. “I’m saving myself for him,” you gushed reverently. I’d catch you among flickers, panting, your delicate arms dancing. I was afraid of you so I stayed away from corners that moaned. In your vibrant dreams, a giggling crowd threw rose petals at a stage. The man next to you kissing your cheek, smiling bright. You awoke to religion, convinced that you would marry the sun. I didn’t believe in saviors.

Ninja Days

We were five shadows once. Part of the dank walls that crept for miles. We threw plumes of smoke like shurikens and drop-kicked each other. Stealth mode was my forte; the downside was being designated hunter. “It’s a new kind of rat.” Overcome by anger, I’d mixed in sludge. No one knew the difference. Everybody had a signature look. Mine was a bandana given to me by Master Shan. He’d taught me everything I knew. On my darkest days, his sickly voice haunted me. During one such daze, you revealed, “I’ve been having weird dreams.” We became four shadows.

Master Shan

You were my diamond in the rough and I had vowed to be your protector. Nothing mattered except the world we built. Everything you did was beyond reproach, even your month long absences. “You can call me Meera, if you want,” she’d whispered across my chest before unzipping me. There were always others but you knew that. The tan lines gave you away before your swollen belly. I waited for you to push out the child that I would never call my own. With your last breath, you thrust your bandana at me as I watched your tan lines turn red.


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My Dyspraxia – Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon

Bruised from bumps, thumps delivered by inanimate objects
to thighs above my two left feet, unable to keep the beat
in life’s daily dance. Senseless rhythms, tune wreckers, heat up
my blood, blush my self-conscious cheeks as I collide, uncorrected
on my maverick trajectory. Even my fingers stumble, imprecise
in movement, unsure of what’s expected to complete a simple task.
Space separates self and other, I cannot judge the gap. I waver
too near, too far, tricked by poor proprioception. Clumsy,

I long to flow beyond ungainly knocks and breakage. Reach you
in a graceful twirl across the room, ballet steps in slippered feet,
aiming true, butterflied, to kiss, not miss, your mobile mouth.



Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, and writes short stories and poetry. She has been published in web magazines and in print anthologies. She graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle University in 2017.

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Last Game – Michael Bloor

There was a much-screened comedy sketch on British TV of a casting director for a ‘Tarzan’ film interviewing a hopping, one-legged applicant (played by Dudley Moore) for the lead part. The director says something like: ‘Your left leg would be great for the part. I’ve got nothing against your left leg. The trouble is, neither have you…’

That rather sums up my football skill-set: my right leg was effectively missing – I was hopelessly left-footed. I played for the Youth Club team on Saturday mornings. I sort-of-enjoyed it but, like a lot of stuff you do when you’re a child, I mainly turned up each week out of habit. Still, I might’ve stuck at it longer, if it hadn’t been for a Derbyshire Junior Cup-Tie we played. That game finished me.

We were drawn at home to a team from one of the mining villages. I’ll call ‘em ‘Bradgate Main’, just in case their Centre Half became a Queens Counsel when he left school. Our captain, Tony Mellors (centre-forward), was strutting about and holding forth, when he stopped in mid-sentence. We all turned to see what he was staring at: it was the Bradgate Main team – they’d arrived in a supporters’ bus! A double-decker. With scarves hanging out the windows! Unbelievable. Piggy Sowter (our left back) choked on his banana sandwich.

Their supporters, numbering at least a couple of dozen, started up a chant when Bradgate Main took to the field. A chant – unheard of! As they took up their positions for the kick-off, Bill Browning (inside left) muttered to me: ‘Bloody ‘ell. Look at the size of ‘em. They gotta be a couple of years older than us.’ Several of them looked to be fully grown. The centre half, in particular, must’ve been six foot, and hefty with it. He had one of those unintended, adolescent, whispy moustaches.

Five minutes in, Mellors and their centre half raced each other for a loose ball. There was a collision and Mellors stayed on the ground holding his ankle. The centre half trotted away from the resultant free kick with a secret smile. No substitutes back in 1961. Roy, the youth leader, examined Mellors’ ankle and switched him to the left wing – the traditional position for crippled passengers. Ordinarily, the switch would have been a source of quiet satisfaction to me. But not on this occasion. As I took Mellors’ place in the centre of the pitch, to await the free kick, the centre half towered over me. I felt his dog’s breath on my face as he whispered: ‘Burial or cremation, shit-face?’ Fortunately, the ball came nowhere near us. For the next five minutes, I wasn’t taking up positions so much as keeping out of the way.

Needless to say, the game was being played very largely in our half of the field. But although out-classed, we did have one secret weapon: our goalie, Pete Boulton, was a tremendous kicker of a dead ball. In those days, few thirteen year-olds, would have been able to lift that heavy leather ball past the halfway line. But Pete could do it with ease.

Eventually, we were awarded a goal kick. Pete raised both arms: his signal that he was going to slam it straight down the middle. Bradgate Main were unprepared. The goal kick soared over the halfway line. There were just me and Dog’s Breath underneath the ball, about twenty yards in. Dog’s Breath was a head taller than me: there was no chance of me being able to out-jump him. But I remembered a trick I’d seen Bill Curry, Derby’s centre forward, play on the colossus, Ron Yeats, Liverpool’s Scottish International Centre Half. As the ball plummeted down towards us, I sensed when Dog’s Breath was about to jump and backed into him. I caught him off-balance and he stumbled backward. I caught the ball on my foot (my left foot, of course) and flicked it first time over mine and Dog’s Breath’s left shoulder. I pivoted round him like he was a stone post, collected the loose ball and raced towards the goal, Dog’s Breath floundering in the middle distance.

The Bradgate goalie, startled out of his reverie, ran out to meet me. I shaped up to shoot and the goalie spread himself to make the save. But, instead of shooting, I took the ball round the goalie, spread-eagled on the ground, and simply side-footed it into the net (with my left foot). It was a sublime moment.

You know that phrase: the crowd went wild? Well, the Bradgate supporters gave that phrase a new twist: they were acting like a Wild West lynching-mob. As I trotted modestly back to the centre circle for the re-start, Dog’s Breath snarled: ‘I’m gonna rip your throat out.’

As a child, I was always sensitive to the moods of others. Suspecting that I might have become rather unpopular with the opposition, I thought it best to move out towards the left wing for a spell. Day-dreaming of succeeding Bill Curry in the Derby County attack, I was awakened from my reverie by a shout from Bill Browning: a loose ball was bouncing towards me and Bill was racing up-field looking for my pass. As I controlled the ball, I caught a glimpse of a Bradgate player bearing down on me. So I turned my back on him, shielding the ball while I measured the pass up to Bill.

Dog’s Breath slammed into my back like a runaway train. I was projected into the crowd of Bradgate supporters on the touchline. The force of the impact knocked all the breath out of me. I lay there, face-down on the muddy ground, unmoving, traumatised, arms out-stretched like a dead starfish. Then, in the meleé of crowding legs, someone stood hard on my hand.

It was a life-changing moment: by the time I’d struggled back upright, I’d decided to get a Saturday job.



Michael Bloor is a retired sociologist living in Dunblane, Scotland, who has discovered the exhilarations of short fiction. Recent publications include The Cabinet of Heed, The Drabble, The Fiction Pool, Ink Sweat & Tears, Occulum, The Copperfield Review, Scribble, Dodging the Rain, and Everyday Fiction.

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Lu and the Well – Keef

Lu was eleven years and six months old.

The grass behind the farmhouse was lush and soft on bare knees. Lu’s pajama-clad ribs were pressed against the cool stone walls of the well, and they were listening to the voice coming up from the water. Lu’s left arm dangled over the side, trailing fingertips through the reflection of the moon in the still water. Everyone else was asleep. Six feet below the surface, the darkness enveloped even the blue-gray color of the walls.

When Lu asked about the well, mama said the voices was just noises coming from the underwater spring. Daddy just laughed and shook his head, said “them womenfolk and their superstitions.” Meemaw said the whispers came from the ghost of a witch. Meemaw said her own great-gramma knew the witch:

“She was a nice lady, my great-gramma said. She always liked that well, and she lived with our family for a spell. She moved out East, and when she did, she said she hoped she’d come back to the well when she died. Six, seven years later, that well started talkin’, and the family knew it was her.”

Lu had a secret that mama never even knew. Lu could hear the voice clear as a church bell. It wasn’t a ghost. It wasn’t a witch. It wasn’t a person at all, alive or dead. It was something much older than any alive or dead person.

The voice in the well, eager for company, had been babbling since Lu was a toddler, telling and teaching, singing and preaching.

They had lots and lots of other secrets.

One day Lu come in from the well, three years old, singing an old, old nursery rhyme: “Who caught the blood? / I, said the fish / with this wee bone dish / I caught the blood.”

Well, mama asked where Lu heard it, and she didn’t like Lu’s answer. After talking with the voice in the well that night, they agreed it’d be for the best to not share anything else that came from those depths.

The voice in the well only told true things.

Sometimes the true things were nice. The voice in the well told Lu about how mama and daddy met and tumbled straight into love after a barn dance, even though mama was already engaged, and how she broke it off with this other fella to be with her true love. In the version mama and daddy told, there weren’t no other fella, but they thought that made it a little sweeter, like mama and daddy was meant to be.

Sometimes the true things weren’t so nice. The voice in the well told Lu how there’d’ve been an older brother from the other fella, and mama had to do something so there wouldn’t be. Mama wasn’t ashamed, and they drew strength from that. Another time, it told how daddy got the scar on his shin, and when they asked daddy, he said something about a coffee table in the dark, but he blushed fast enough that Lu knew the well was telling the truth again, like it always did.

Sometimes the true things were things about Lu, and Lu didn’t know the truths until the voice told ’em. When Lu was ten, the voice in the well said, “your real name is Lu,” and that clicked into place like an invisible missing puzzle piece, and they cried because no one else had ever known the true thing. When Lu was ten years and six months old, the voice in the well said, “your life shall be difficult, but you will be happy,” and that was a relief. When Lu was eleven years old, the voice in the well said “when you’re eleven years and six months old, you will dig at such-and-such a spot, and use what you find to get free,” and that was both an answered prayer and a sadness, because of how much they loved mama and daddy and wanted to stay.

The voice in the well sounded a little like a carillon.

Lu was eleven years and six months old tonight.

The dirt caked on Lu’s fingers drifted off in the well water and sank. The underground thing was a small wooden box, but it wasn’t even really a box anymore, just some splinters. Tucked in among the splinters was a ten-pound lump of gold coins, all fused together by time and rain. When they rinsed the lump off in the well water, little bits of gold and a few stray coins came off with the dirt and fluttered into the dark.

Lu’s parents weren’t bad people. Mama and daddy just didn’t understand, yet, and needed some time. “Your parents will understand,” said the voice in the well, “in eight and a half years.” Lu breathed a sigh of exhaustion and thanks.

“You will come back,” said the voice in the well, and that made them cry again, because it had felt uncertain; understanding and welcoming are two different things. “In twelve years, three months, and six days, we will talk again. Now, you will take your daddy’s hammer and chisel and chunk off a bit of that lump. You will ride your bicycle into town. You will arrive at sunup, and wait for the pawn shop to open. You will sell the chunk of lump. Then you will buy a bus ticket out West.”

“Thank you,” said Lu.


Keef lives and writes in Austin, Texas. He’s currently working on a
series of horrible little fables. Follow him on twitter @keefdotorg,
or on the web at keef.org.

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Because I Don’t Drink Tea – David Cook

Each morning, someone asks ‘Who wants a cup of tea?’
Everyone smiles and nods
And says: ‘Yes, please.’
But not me.
Because I don’t drink tea.

For some reason the first brew of the day is a two or three-person job.
The office empties as everyone squeezes into the tiny kitchenette.
I don’t know what you all talk about in there.
I’m left on my own at my desk.
Because I don’t drink tea.

Then everyone returns, clasping mugs to their chests,
Taking deep draughts and sighing with pleasure.
It seems you lot can’t do any work without it.
But I can.
Because I don’t drink tea.

At about eleven it’s the same again.
This time the new bloke makes the round.
‘Cuppa, mate?’ he asks me.
And I say no.
Because I don’t drink tea.

When this happens I always apologise, as if my dislike of the stuff is somehow offensive to those around me.
‘Sorry, I don’t drink tea,’ I say, and his brow crinkles with confusion as if I’ve said I don’t like breathing.
Then he says: ‘Coffee?’
And I say no.
Because I don’t drink coffee either.

‘Healthy type?’ he replies, and now it’s my turn to look confused, because my keyboard is half-buried in empty crisp packets.
I tell him I just don’t like the taste and he looks at me like I’m as barking as Battersea Dogs Home.
And then he goes to boil the kettle.
Everyone looks at me and I shrug.
Because I don’t drink tea.

‘It’s just not very British,’ Admin Jackie said this afternoon.
I suppose she has a point.
But I told her that I eat fish and chips three nights a week and have a commemorative mug celebrating every royal wedding since the fifties, so if she thinks she can out-British me she can fuck right off.
She asked: ‘Why do you have so many mugs?
Because you don’t drink tea.’

And she looked really bloody pleased with herself.
Now I’m back at home.
My colleagues are at the pub.
They didn’t ask me to go.
I don’t think they like me.
Because I don’t drink tea.

My sister said: ‘Not inviting you wasn’t because you don’t drink tea.
It’s because you’re so unbearably smug about it.
And telling Jackie to fuck off probably didn’t help.’
She’s right you know, but part of me does actually think I’m better than everyone else and it’s
Because I don’t drink tea.

But I do drink hot chocolate, on occasion.
So in the spirit of reconciliation, this morning I asked everyone if they’d like a cuppa, but they ignored me.
Jackie made the wanker sign in my direction.
So I made hot chocolate for myself.
Because I don’t drink tea.

Now no-one speaks to me.
They call me an arrogant fuckwit when they think I’m not listening.
So I sit and I type and I try to ignore the loneliness crushing my soul and I think how much I hate being here and also how much I hate going home to that horrid little flat I share with my sister and sleeping in my lumpy single bed with its grotty polka dot quilt.
I pull out the bottle of gin I hid in my desk drawer today, duck out of sight and have a quick sip. In ten minutes I’ll have another.
Because I don’t drink tea.



David Cook writes mainly flash fiction and has been published in Cabinet of Heed, Spelk, Riggwelter Press and more. 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. He doesn’t drink tea, but that doesn’t make this poem autobiographical.

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Islands – John Holland

‘Would you like a drink?’ I ask loudly because it’s heaving.

She turns.

‘Oh,’ she says. ‘I saw you over there.’

‘Yes, that’s where I was,’ I say. ‘And I saw you wearing this green dress. So I’m over here now.’

‘Do you like it – my dress?’ she asks.

As I’m about to reply, a guy – a big lad with a Smirnoff Ice and a face like a fist – walks up to us and pushes a drink into her hand.

‘Here’s your Tropical Reef, Hermoine,’ he says, and looks me up and down.

‘Excuse me, that’s not a reef, it’s an atoll,’ I say.

‘What did you say, mate?’ he asks, eyeballing me.

‘I said that in my opinion the drink you have just handed this young woman is more akin to an atoll than a reef, and you called it a reef.’

‘He likes my dress, Jed,’ she says.

Jed is starting to sweat.

‘I think you’ll find, mate,’ he says. ‘That, as everyone – except you – knows, an atoll is a type of reef – a circular one – so using the generic term is perfectly acceptable. Anyway, that’s what they call them at the bar. No one’s going to ask for a fucking Tropical Atoll.’

He pauses then adds, ‘So why don’t you piss off before I stick this Smirnoff Ice up your arse?’

‘Don’t mind him,’ Hermoine says.

‘Random fact,’ I say, as I turn to walk away. ‘The word atoll was coined by Charles Darwin in 1820.’

I feel a blow on the back of my neck. As I begin to fall forwards and lose consciousness I can hear him say, ‘Survival of the fittest, mate. Survival of the fittest.’

I wake in a hospital bed. My eyes slowly focus on someone sitting in the chair next to me. It’s Hermoine.

‘You alright?’ she says. ‘Don’t worry, you won’t see him again. As well as being a violent bully, he thinks he knows every bloody thing about islands, archipelagos and isthmuses. I ended it.’

‘You’re wearing a blue dress,’ I say.

She looks down as if she’s checking. ‘Yes, I am,’ she says.

‘I have something to ask you,’ I say, slowly flexing my neck. ‘What’s your favourite atoll?’

‘Jesus, you really are a man obsessed,’ she says.

‘Am I?’ I say. And I ask her again.

‘Oh, I dunno. Probably Bassas de Pedro in the Indian Ocean.’

‘Really?’ I say. ‘You prefer that to Maro Reef in Hawaii or Kaafu Atoll in the Maldives?’

‘Yeah, yeah, I do,’ she says. ‘Now let that be an end to your obsession.’

‘Of course,’ I say. ‘But if we go there – to Bassas de Pedro – together – would you wear your green dress?’



John Holland is a prize-winning short fiction author from Gloucestershire in the UK. He also organises the twice-yearly Stroud Short Stories event. Website – http://www.johnhollandwrites.com

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The Haddonfield Club – Irvin Chelsea

I wake up at one o’clock this afternoon, and it hits me; I don’t have any weed. There’s sweat on my forehead I see in the mirror when I enter the bathroom. I wipe it off and more sweat comes. I didn’t have weed yesterday and I ended up drinking too much. Ended up smoking the keef left in my grinder, looking for a feeling, and never got to it. I almost have enough money now. Made enough last night fishing out loose change from old coats in our basement. Found a five dollar bill in one of the pockets.

I can maybe buy an eighth today. I go to the bank and convert the change into cash. Walk away with sixteen dollars, and now I can definitely buy an eighth but I’ll be out of money for days. I can’t get to my drug dealer’s house. I woke up too late to bike there and back in time for my shift at work which starts at five in the evening. It’s a four hour shift at this coffee place where I just started working.

I’m sitting at the Starbucks in town drinking an iced coffee wondering how I can get to my drug dealer’s house and back before work. I can’t drive because of the DWI. I can’t pay for an Uber. I can’t go another day without smoking. I smoke a cigarette. I drink the iced coffee. I sit on the bench outside. Yesterday while I was sitting on the bench outside drinking an iced coffee, an older woman sat next to me and opened her laptop. Soon she turned to me and asked if I knew where she could find some bud. Funny, I said, looking past her towards the clouds, this is the first day I haven’t smoked in months.

This older woman texts me now. Her name is Jody. She says she’ll take forty dollars-worth if I can get some. I don’t text her back. I dictate the price, not her. She tells me she works on cruise ships all across Europe. Her husband is from Portugal. She is writing an article on yachting. She meets all these rich people. She tells me that yesterday while I’m drinking my iced coffee. Then I finish it and leave, telling her that I’ll get her some, but who needs it more.

I don’t have enough to buy extra. I want it. I call my mom. She’s having lunch with a friend but she can drop me off she says. She knows what’s up. She takes this liquid THC from Colorado that my dad sends her in the mail. But she doesn’t smoke. Smoking gives her anxiety. I say whenever you finish lunch. She says ok.

I finish my iced coffee and walk back home. I don’t live far away from the center of town, only about a ten minute walk. I get home and charge my phone. On my front porch I wait for my mom to get home from lunch.

It seems like an hour goes by. I text my drug dealer and tell him that I’m sorry but I’m going to be late. He doesn’t text me back. My drug dealer knows it’s hard for me to get around these days feeling like I’m stuck. He lives in Moorestown. He just moved to a new place right across from his old place. I say I hope to get there by three. Three passes, and then I text him three-thirty five. I call my mom. She’s fifteen minutes away. Fifteen minutes later she pulls into the driveway. She goes into the house to put something she got for my sister to eat in the fridge. Then goes to the bathroom. Then she comes out and we get in her car.

I keep flipping my sunglasses onto my forehead. It’s sunny but I can’t see clearly in them. I have a headache maybe. My mom is listening to NPR. There’s an old Fresh Air interview with Mr. Rogers playing. Terry Gross sounds young. The tape is from 1984. Mr. Rogers has been dead for years but they just released a documentary.

Isn’t he dead? I say, and my mom says yes, but they just came out with a documentary.

How did they do it? I say, and my mom says they must have collected old recordings.

Mr. Rogers says that according to their research, younger children respond more to scenes of his face while older children respond more to the make-believe of the neighborhood.

Terry Gross asks Mr. Rogers if he ever wishes to go back to being a child.

Yes, he says. Of course. But I wish I could go back knowing what I know now.

My mom smiles.

I give her directions to my drug dealer’s house. Get into this lane right here, I say, and she does. Make a left at the light, I say. Then a right at the next light. You can pull over here.

She keeps the car running parked in front of this Mexican restaurant. I jog across the street as cars are coming. I text my drug dealer that I’m here. He comes outside to meet me. We shake hands standing on the front porch, and he opens the door for me.

We sit in the living room. I like what he’s done with the place, and I told him last time. A guy named Justin is here. He has his money already out on the table. My drug dealer’s boyfriend is grinding up weed and loading a pipe. My drug dealer is talking about the World Cup and how he wants France to win. Bummed that Germany lost. Justin doesn’t know any of the teams but he’s seen all the games. I wonder what I should say but don’t feel like saying anything. My drug dealer’s black satchel bag is right over here by my foot. My drug dealer looks at an IPad that shows live footage of his front door and porch. Someone is here. Where is he? he says. Oh it’s Nick, he says.

He leaves the living room to let Nick in. I take the black satchel bag and look through it pulling out the plastic bags of weed with different names of strains written on them with a Sharpie. I recognize most of them. There’s Jack Frost, Northern Lights, Strawberry Cough, and a few more, and if I could I would buy them all. But I only have sixty-five dollars, and an eighth costs fifty. My drug dealer comes back and talks about how sixteen states have written into their laws that if Roe v. Wade gets overturned then abortion becomes illegal.

Can I get an eighth of Jack Frost, I say after a couple minutes pass. I refuse the bowl Justin passes me. He’s looking at a case of cartridges for vape pens. My mom is waiting outside, I say, and my drug dealer says she can come in. He weighs out the eighth and vac-seals it. I hand him fifty dollars which he counts in the kitchen.

I shake my drug dealer’s hand at the front door, and say that we should hang out soon. How are you doing he asks, and I say that I feel like I want to bang my head against a goddamn wall. But we should hang out soon. If you want to see any of the World Cup games let me know he says.

My mom is reading from her phone when I knock on the window of her car and she lets me in. She drives us home. I take a quick shower in my bathroom, get dressed, and am ready for work in twenty minutes. It’s ninety degrees out, and I can’t wear shorts to work, so I ask my mom if she can drive me to work and she says yes.

She drops me off seven minutes later. I order a macchiato and drink it before my shift. I clock in, and for the entire shift Matt the guy who hired me explains the closing duties and how to perform them. There’s a checklist to follow he shows me. Initial your name when you complete one. For example, cleaning the bathroom. I ask him and he tells me to clean the bathroom. Danny showed me how during my last shift. Danny is my friend from high school who helped me get this job. I’ve worked as a barista before, but they haven’t trained me on this espresso machine yet.

Matt and I are out of the door by eight-thirty. Matt has been working for the coffee place for four years. He’s become the manager now. He’s twenty-five. He lives with his girlfriend right around the corner from the coffee place and drives a Smart car. We bump knuckles and say peace. I walk home.

My mom hasn’t made dinner and she’s not going to she says. But we have leftovers in the fridge and I warm up a plate of pasta in the microwave and melt cheese on top. The sauce is pretty tasteless but my mom bought it from an organic grocery store. I eat half of the pasta watching the end of the Yankees-Red Sox game on TV and then I throw the other half away.

I go upstairs to my room and change my shirt. I put on a black t-shirt. I’m wearing cut-off jean shorts from Urban Outfitters. Drake has a new album out so I download it on my phone. I wait for my phone to charge and then I take it with me. I’m going out. I’m taking my backpack with me with the pipe loaded up in its case. I smoke on the walk to the bar and listen to the Drake album through these Beatz headphones.

The bar is crowded because it is Friday. It’s around eleven-forty-five. I go to this bar a lot. I started going here when the bar where I used to go closed. I started going here a lot. I know the bartenders. A couple of them used to work at the bar where I used to go. Andrew worked there years ago. Keith worked there before it closed last July. It’s been a year since The Irish Mile closed. This bar is called Brewers. It’s farther down on Haddon Ave.

Bartending tonight are Kevin and Janine. I stand behind a guy sitting at the bar and get Janine’s attention. There are no open seats at the bar. I can’t find one. I keep looking. Janine asks me what I want and I say a Miller Lite. I don’t have much money left. Fifteen dollars. Enough for a few Miller Lites if I tip right. One costs $3.25. If I tip well then I’ll only have spent fifteen dollars. I give Janine a five and tell her to keep it.

I’ve been meaning to ask you, Shmiely’s older brother says when I walk up to him, where do you get your weed from?

We’re standing by the pool table. I’m still looking for a seat at the bar but there are none. Shmiely is playing pool. Shmiely also used to work at the bar where I used to go and so I know him. He works here sometimes. I don’t know his brother but have seen him here before.

I get it from the best guy, I tell Shmiely’s brother, and then I ask him what he likes to smoke. I tell him that my drug dealer gets exotic shit and a lot of sativa hybrids all from California. Driven cross-country to Connecticut. Then down to Jersey. Shmiely’s brother introduces himself as Mike. By the way he says.

I’ll take you next time I go, I tell him. I wait for Shmiely to make his shot and then I walk through everyone standing by the pool table. Then I walk past the bathrooms to the back seating area and put my half-finished Miller Lite on the table before the exit of the bar, and I go outside. I smoke a cigarette sitting on the bench around the corner by the side door of the bar. There is a group of young guys. One’s hitting a vape pen.

Those are blowing up here, I say. Everyone I see has one.

This guy is wearing a white shirt with a tattoo on his biceps and a cloud of smoke in front of his face. These things are great, he says.

I prefer flower, I say. But I agree.

The group of guys keep talking to each other and I smoke my cigarette. A blonde haired woman wearing all black walks in front of me. She smiles at me when I look at her. Later in the bar I see her sitting to the left of me. I’m on my third beer now. I’m waiting to play pool. I put my name on the board but they skipped over me when I went to go smoke a cigarette. I also finished the weed that was left in my pipe. I have some still left in my grinder and that’s in my backpack and that’s by my feet. That’s where it is. I look over at this woman. There are two guys sitting to the left of her but she’s not with them. There’s an open seat to the left of them. A whole row of them. The bar has emptied out. It’s around one-thirty. I take the seat.

The woman looks over at me when I sit there. She smiles again. I also see her smiling at one of the guys. There are two and she knows one. He’s with his friend. He says something to her when she gets up to go smoke, and she tells him to watch her drink. He nods. I watch the digital clock underneath the TV hanging. It reads 1:28. I tell myself that when it gets to one-thirty I will go outside to smoke a cigarette. I look over at the clock. I take a sip of my beer. I take another sip. I look over again and then I leave my beer almost finished.

I leave out the back door, but then I walk around the corner to the bench and the side door and the woman is leaning down, looking at her phone, smoking a cigarette and trying to tie her shoe. She ties it. Craig is here. Craig was going to be my partner in pool before they skipped over me. We’ve played together before. He’s always here playing. I tell him it’s hard to get on the table when he tells me he never sees me playing. Craig has a tan. I tell him I like it. He’s been golfing he says. I never figured out what he did after he quit his job as the manager of the restaurant but he’s been coming here more.

I talk to the woman about how hot it is. It’s fucking hot out even now.

Jersey feels like Florida, I say.

We talk about how our nights are going, and I ask her if she’s a bartender. She’s a server over in Philly but she didn’t want to go out alone in Philly so she came here. I ask her if she’s ever been here before. She has. But not often. She lives in Collingswood, which is the town one over. It’s the town three over from mine. My town is called Haddonfield.

This bartender is the worst, she says. He’s a jerk.

She’s talking about Kevin. I tell her that I used to think that, but now I just feel like he’s joking.

He’s a jerk.

She asks me if I come here a lot, and I tell her that this is my fifth night in a row.

She says don’t be a jerk, and I tell her that I’m not joking.

This is my fifth night in a row, I say.

Eventually she finishes her cigarette and goes inside to finish her drink and tells me that she’ll see me inside. I talk to Craig. I mention that I just got a job at this coffee place called Jersey Java. He tells me that he used to work there maybe ten years ago when it was called Three Beans.

I loved that job, he says. It was the best.

Craig explains how being a barista is just about talking to people and making them their drink. It’s the same as bartending. Except instead of alcohol you’re using shots of espresso. You have to be able to multi-task, and with how quick it moves in the peak hours of the morning, you have to memorize people’s drinks.

I want to get into bartending, I say. That’s where the money is.

Sure, Craig says. He tells me about how he used to work the six-to-three shift at Three Beans and would walk away with one-hundred and twenty dollars in tips. Plus the base pay.

But times are different, he says.

This was before the recession, he clarifies.

Craig and I finish smoking our cigarettes. When I first met him here months ago he was rolling his own cigarettes. Now he was smoking American Spirits. He took longer than I did to finish his.

Inside the bar I take my seat but Kevin has taken my beer away even though there was still some left. I buy another one and use my credit card. My balance is unbelievable. The woman is talking to the two guys. I leave to go to the bathroom and I take my drink with me. I come back to the bar and stand next to the woman and drink my drink. Soon she starts talking to me. She tells me that she doesn’t mean to be a jerk but she forgot my name. I tell it to her anyway. Her name is Nicole. It’s an inevitability that she’ll ask me how old I am. Women like to. I say how old do you think I am. She says twenty-two and I’m shaking my head. Still when she says twenty-four.

I’m twenty-eight, I say. How old are you?


That’s good, I say. Only a couple years.

She asks me what I do and I tell her that I just started a job as a barista. She asks me if I went to school. I say yes and grad school.

What are you doing being a barista? she says.

Wasting time, I say.

She’s a server and she makes house calls as a nurse. Smoking cigarettes outside the side door five minutes later she tells me that she used to be engaged. And the guy said he wanted to have kids. But one day he just changed his mind. And I told him it was over she says.

Have you ever smoked marijuana? I say.

Yes, she smokes, she says, and I ask her if she wants to smoke some.

Do you have some? she says.

What do you think’s in here? I say taking my backup off and unzipping it. We’re crouched on our knees, the both of us, resting against the side of the bar smoking cigarettes. The group of young guys occupies the bench. They’re getting ready to leave but they won’t. I wish they would leave. I open up my grinder and load up my pipe. It’s resting in my case. They won’t leave and I know they’ll ask for some. Cloud of smoke in front of their faces.

I wish they would leave, I say.

They’re the worst, Nicole says.

An older woman and man stumbles out of the bar. The woman stops by one of the guys and tells him he’s handsome. You know me, the guy says. My first name begins with Jake and my last name begins with O’Brien.

Who? she says.

Mrs. Madden, it’s Jake O’Brien.

Who? she says.

Mrs. Madden, Nicole says. Oh, Mrs. Madden. Nicole knows her apparently. When she passes by, she says hi.

Be careful, Mrs. Madden leans down and says.

When the place is finally empty, and Kevin leans his head out of the backdoor, I nod to him and lead Nicole to this open field behind the parking lot. I take the first hit, and she only has two hits, and then she says she’s good. I take a couple more. Then I put the pipe back in its case back in my backpack, and Nicole and I walk towards where her bike is locked up by a pole on Haddon Ave. She rode her bike here. She asks me if I’m drunk. She says she’s pretty drunk.

Hope I can ride my bike, she says.

We talk about hanging out sometime, maybe even going on a date, and I give her my number, and she texts me. I tell her the name of my favorite book. She says she’s going to read it but she gets the name of it wrong. We pass the two guys from earlier in the bar lingering by the front door.

Bye, Chris, Nicole says to one of them, and I forget your name she says to the other one.

When we pass them, she tells me there’s a reason you forget someone’s name, and I ask her what her name is again and then tell her I’m joking.

You’re a jerk.

You need to mentor me.

We’re going to whip each other’s asses into shape.

I want to say physically but I don’t.

We hug across her bike, and she tells me that she’ll text me when she gets home.

I walk home smoking the rest of what’s left in my pipe, and then I load it up again. Drake’s album is a classic I say to myself. Nicole never texts me back, and around four in the morning I fall asleep naked in my twin bed thinking about how hot it was today and how I’m going to make it through the next one.


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First World Problems – Dan Brotzel

And then Middle One came in and said she was feeling sick and you woke me up and asked me to move the bin nearer her as she was going to puke again and I was grumpy and you said you couldn’t move because she was tucked under your arm and then Charlie came in and started pumping everyone’s stomachs with his paws like he knew what was going on and was trying to help and then Middle One was sick and I took the bin to the bathroom and tried to slosh it all down the shower but it got stuck and I had to try and push it all down the plughole with my fingers and I complained about being woken up and you said if I didn’t want to be disturbed I could sleep in the middle of the bed and I said it was no use now I’d never get back to sleep and I made a big martyr thing of going down at dawn and we both knew that even though you’d got the bed you’d be the one that would have to actually look after her while I just sat with my cuppa flicking through Twitter and I knew when you woke up we’d have the usual passive-aggressive tussle about who would have to stay at home with her and about work-life balance and who has the harder time juggling stuff even though we both know that my work really don’t mind me working from home and you had that training thing for your new job so really there was no argument and I said that I’d had to fish out a load of tissue from the shower and you said are you sure the tissue wasn’t in the bin already and that it wasn’t you that actually tipped it in there in the first place and I was about to snap back at you but then I realised that this was actually a much more likely explanation especially as it was dark and I didn’t have my glasses on and then Younger One came down and pretended to be sick so he could have a day off too and I remembered how I had a long chat with him about Oldest One’s molar coming in and he kept looking at my neck and asked when did they appear on the neck like mine and only then did I realise that he thought I was talking about moles and even Older One was in a goodish mood and then I realised again that I love you and we are happy and so many aren’t.


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A War Story – Chris Espenshade

I had heard through the grapevine that my old friend Will E had been making some money working as a duck-hunting guide for foreign dandies. This was done in partnership with Rollo, another old coot who lived even further off the beaten path than Will E. I thought that communication must be an issue as Rollo is very much off the grid (and probably off the charts as well).

Will E explained their system. “Now, Rollo doesn’t have a phone or a computer. So, I set these Day Glo milk cans out on that hump of dirt next to the hog pen to let him know we have a hunt booked for the weekend, and where to meet me and the clients. He can see down here from the clearing on the ridge road that leads to his place.”

“But how do the cans tell him where to meet?” I asked.

“Well, if I just put out a single can, it means we meet down at the boat ramp near the real estate office. You know, Hickerson and Associates. They have that billboard We Buy Land.

I just nodded.

“If I put out two cans, it means we will be leaving from the landing down there behind that cheap pizza place, near the ball fields.”

“So, one if Buy Land, two if by Cici’s?”

“That’s what I said. You having ear issues?”

“And let me guess, these clients would be British?”

“No. A lot of them used to be, but they are English now. You know, the whole BREXIT thing.”

I realized that I lacked the time and desire to straighten out Will E’s misconceptions regarding BREXIT. “So this system works?”

“Mostly. There have been a few times when Rollo doesn’t make it up the ridge to the clearing, and then he relies on his son, Paul, to deliver the message. Paul lives about five miles beyond Rollo. There was one Friday that Paul saw the one can, in the morning on his way to work. Well, there must have been a sudden spike in the demand for sofas, because his foreman made Paul stay for a double shift. By the time Paul got home and ate some dinner, he had almost forgotten about the message.”

“So Paul works down at the furniture plant?” I inquired.

“Yep, he’s guy that makes sure the wooden bits are perfectly smooth.”

“Oh, a finish sander?” I asked.

“No, he’s American. He gets rids of all the burrs and splinters. He’s quite good at it, and they all call him a sliver smith.”

I just nodded.

Will E continued, “Well, Paul had also forgotten to park on Battery Hill. “

“Battery Hill? I thought that was near Boston.”

“Not that one. You know Paul drives that old International Scout, and the alternators on those things are a known weakness. Living alone, it was a challenge for Paul to bump-start the vehicle when the battery went dead. So, he built a mound out next to the barn, and he almost always parked his Scout so that it was facing down the slope, allowing him to bump-start it on his own. His Dad named it Dead Battery Hill, and it got shortened to Battery Hill.”

I just nodded.

Will E continued: “Now, Paul had forgotten to park on Battery Hill, and, of course, the Scout chose this night to have no charge. Paul had to take a horse to cover the miles back to his Dad’s place. It was threatening rain, so he put on his favorite cap, that one he won at halftime of the basketball game for sinking that shot from outside the arc.

Away he rode. And he almost didn’t make it. Just as he was coming through that little saddle, a buck jumped out on the right, and Paul had to zig to miss it. That put him on the very edge of the opposite side of the road, and there was a timber rattler in the grass there, and Paul had to zag to miss it. It took him quite some time to settle the horse, and they slowed down after these near misses. It was almost 12 o’clock by the time the son got to his Dad’s place.”

I could no longer maintain my silence: “Okay, I have to say this all is vaguely familiar somehow. Having seen the lone signal on the sty pile, understanding one if Buy Land, after pulling on his three-pointer hat, Paul (the sliver smith) had to veer and re-veer during a midnight ride from Battery Hill in order to spread the message the British are coming, the British are coming.”

Will E thought a second: “When you say it that way, it does sound familiar. Maybe I told you this before . . . Anyhow, it all worked out, and we met up at the appointed hour, and had some good shooting that day. I believe we killed a bunch of red-heads.”

I just nodded.


An archaeologist, Chris Espenshade began creative writing in 2017. Thrice Fiction, The Paragon Journal, Agora Journal, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature accepted his work. He was a finalist in the Micro-Madness Contest for National Flash Fiction Day New Zealand, and second in a Brilliant Flash Fiction contest.

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Rhetorical Questions – Adelaide

What is it to sit with the tide?
The surf is not—is never a murmur.
It is a solid, constant statement, repeated and varied.

Perhaps sitting with the tide is a chance to know myself?
To understand fear—the wisdom in it.
To gain perspective. Realize my potential for change.

maybe it’s just escape

Why do I squirm inside, walking the rocks?
Is it the memory of the dog pack nearly setting on me last weekend?
Is it the spider-like quality of the crabs scuttling into cracks?
Is it the slimy shine of the things that cling to moist rocks with front legs, then flip and snake into the brine of tidal pools with their sleek hind tails?
Or is it only the fear of the surf?
The reality of the tide’s power?
The unforgiving consequences of a rocky shore?



Adelaide lives in the Midwest with a golden lab named Sam and spends time teaching English as a Second Language to more recent arrivers at an adult learning center.
Adelaide’s poetry and fiction have appeared in publications including New Mystics, The Enchanting Verses, Truck, Bindweed, Pangolin Review, and Westview Journal.
Sometimes Sam does consider getting on a plane.

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My Wife – Riham Adly

On Our Five Year Anniversary: A Rose

My wife has kohl-rimmed eyes, snow-flake braids, and a scarlet mouth that falls open every time I say something stupid. She thinks she’s a rose. I disagree. My wife’s no rose.

I let out a stunned “Aaaagh” when I wake up to over-sized thorns digging into my palm.

She looks up, her branch of a hand finally letting go.

From my haunch over the kitchen table I stare at her. Somewhere under those petals she lifts a taut brow then frowns.

“What do you want for breakfast?”

“The usual.” I lean forward to catch a whiff.

She serves freshly backed wafers.

At night, the emptiness she usually creates when pushing herself to the farthest side of the bed is, now, occupied by her thorny stalk, and her leafy branches. Her petals taste like earth, tears, and bark, and those freshly baked wafers. I eat the shadow of her. She might just taste better inside cream puff filling, the perfect place to hide a corpse or a rose, but my wife’s no rose.


On Our Ten Year Anniversary: The Krivopeta

My wife’s a book-gawker not an avid reader. She stares at the same lines in the same book every day. Fairytales. She believes she’s otherworldly. I disagree. My wife’s no goddess, not even a she-demon.

There’s a storm outside. I wait for her to come home. I’m hungry.

The doorbell rings. I peep through the spyhole but no one’s there. The doorbell rings again.

She looks like a yogi, only one in a reversed lotus position. She crawls in, her hands fanning about like a swimmer. I stand tall over her. My neck hurts when I look down too much.

She serves me mushroom soup without mushrooms, hides my shoes in the cupboard. Tells me where I left my glasses last year, not last night. I ask her to forward my work emails to clients, she sends them to my mother.

I have to disembark and go round to her side to see her face. My neck hurts again. She takes up more than half the bed, her feet filling the emptiness now. They smell like my favourite Gorgonzola. We do it reverse brute-style because she thinks she’s otherworldly, a goddess, a she-monster.

But she’s not.


Three decades into this marriage: A Bird.

She looks outside the window. Her blank stare is cheery.


I swing my focus to where she’s pointing. I can only hear the watery sounds of our old pipes.

“Did you know a worm had five hearts?”

Another one of her non-sense antics.

“Damn you woman! Go cook us some lunch!”

My wife’s like that candle-lit chandelier in the hall. They call it antique. I think it’s just useless.


The Ghost

I let out a sigh the color of our moonlit kitchen. I’m tired of gazing into mirrors, tired of having to cook my own lunch. Nothing fills the emptiness in bed except the broken arpeggios that bounce off her grand piano. My wife never laid a finger on the damned thing, and now it won’t stop. I close my eyes and lean into the tune. She’s talking to me, as theatrical as ever. Will she ever stop? I stare at the corner of the ceiling expecting to find some sort of answer. A bird swoops in right past the wide-open window landing on her purple Limoges plate. I wonder if there’s a worm somewhere.


A Letter


Don’t let the sink fill up with dirty dishes.

Don’t drink straight from the bottle.

Don’t chew too loud when you eat and don’t forget to feed the cat—yes we have a cat.

Don’t forget to renew our Netflix subscription.

Don’t rub your eyes much, and wash your hands before you eat.

This feels good. I know that now you cook for a party of one and that you’re not used to it. I was never really there for a twosome. You made sure of that.

I hope you’re enjoying it,

Now let me introduce myself, for all our years together, I believe I’ve never had the chance.

I’ve always been a tea-tiny girl, an interesting cry-baby with a mango heart who often took the longest shortcuts and believed the future can never be real.

But in the end, I turned into everything you called me:

An unnecessary expenditure.
a monster,
a nuisance,
and an Oh-My-Blimey inflatable orchestra.



Riham Adly worked as a volunteer editor in 101 words magazine and is currently a first reader/marketing coordinator in Vestal Review magazine.
She is also a creative writing instructor with several short stories published in literary journals such Vestal Review, Page&Spine, Café lit, The Ekphrastic Review, For The Sonorous, Fictional Café, Paragraph Planet, Visual Verse, Spillwords, with forthcoming stories in Connotation Press, Writing in a Woman’s Voice magazines, Carp Arte, and Soft Cartel.
Her story “The Darker Side of the Moon” won the MAKAN Award in 2013 and was published in an anthology by the same name.
Riham lives with her family in Gizah, Egypt.

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Nothing Is Immutable – Cath Barton

As the heat continues, colour drains from the land. Grass turns to straw and in the kitchen garden pea pods hang, swollen but useless, on twisted desiccated stems.

The colour moves indoors. Anything exposed to sunlight absorbs the greens, so the curtains are drawn across the tall dusty windows. In the now-shaded rooms of the house dark paintings absorb hues of carmine and ochre. The garments of people painted centuries ago become as new, the nap of velvet raised and vibrant; complexions plump up and the old grow young and rosy-cheeked.

As the oils softens in the heat those people begin to step out from the scenes in which they have been confined inside the frames. They dare not venture outside for fear of melting completely, but roam through the rooms of the house, turning over curiosities and tinkering with machines, eliciting half sentences and provocations from things which turn and whirr, stutter and stop.

At night there is no respite from the heat and everything that lives in the house is restless. Only a frog, chased at some distant date into the corner of a cupboard by a cat, is still, its skin stretched over emptiness.



Cath Barton is an English writer who lives in Wales. Her novella The Plankton Collector will be published in September 2018 by New Welsh Review. Cath is on the 2018 Literature Wales Mentoring programme, working on a collection of short stories inspired by the work of Hieronymus Bosch. https://cathbarton.com @CathBarton1

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When They Hose You Down, Make Sure You’re Clean – Marissa Glover

Three drinks into our thirty-year reunion at a Springfield Suites event room twenty miles from the jock-sweat halls of Chamberlain High School, I decide to tell you the truth. You’re drunk and won’t remember—and, so what if you do? You live your happy life with your happy wife, three kids, and a poodle two thousand miles away, so what’ve I got to lose?

No, I haven’t forgotten you. You were the reason I dated Andrew first year of college, and the reason I let him kiss me anywhere but on the mouth. You were the reason Tim—with his soccer legs and English accent—found his way to my bed faster than he should have, and stayed longer. I hear you in Hall and Oates, wear you in Wayfarer sunglasses, and taste you in every single stick of Juicy Fruit. You are the reason I practiced kissing my arm, why I break up with boyfriends before they break up with me, and why I’m not smiling in my senior picture.

My therapist says I suffer from a bad case of imprinting and suggests exposure therapy, so here I am huddled around a high top holding a rum and coke in a cup nowhere big enough in one hand and a prosciutto-wrapped cucumber in the other. The sweaty DJ serves up Boyz II Men, and suddenly it’s prom night all over again. You lip sync “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” with a smile—your haircut and the song both now decades out of style.

My feet hurt from teetering in heels and the years spent tip-toeing around your temper. The ridiculously expensive full-body spanx force me to decide between breathing and laughing at your jokes. It’s never been an easy choice. You tell me about your hobbies and I listen with evergreen ears. Turns out, you’re here alone tonight, asking to dance, asking to make it up to me, asking is there any way we can go back in time and start again. Then you show me pictures of your family and that’s when EMDR therapy and the open bar finally kick in.

You can keep playing your Fender Jaguar, learning bluesy chords to every song Townes Van Zandt ever sang. You can keep chewing Lorazepam every night, puttering around in your underwear eating cheese puffs. You can keep claiming your wife is too cold to notice you pounding your pud to lesbian porn on her hand-me-down desktop she keeps paying the neighbor man to fix because she’s too cheap to buy a new one. But you can’t text me at two in the morning and you can’t keep telling me you love my face.



Marissa Glover teaches writing at Saint Leo University, hosts Friday Night Open Mic, and shares her thoughts more than necessary, which she considers a form of charitable giving. If it counted as a tax deduction, she’d be rich. Follow her on Twitter @_MarissaGlover_.

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Speak Upon The Ashes – Kaleb Tutt

Heavy eyelids flutter
Wings of weary hummingbird
Tattered sanatorium gown
Eaten away by boxelder bugs
Wrinkled skin shrivels at the
echoing clumpclumpclump
of resentful obligation

I unhinge my lower jaw
As the slithering serpents taught me
Jam the prevaricator’s boot down my esophagus
Tuck my withering, wrinkled body away
On the backend of a dusty corner shelf

Legion of demons trumpet their arrival
Wrapped in grave-clothes and cerecloth
With nebulous eyes and angel breaths
They do not request admittance
Demons never do

They seep in through keyholes
Cracks, crevices, fractures, fissures
Riotous, amorphous souls
Spiderweb the windows
Startle foundation unsteady

Honey-eyed do-gooders
Ones who promised to
Protect me
Leave me

Finger-tap, shatter glass
In shriveled cerements
Demons and I
Depart upon celestial serpents



Kaleb Tutt is a writer from south Louisiana. He plans to become a narrative designer. Find him on Twitter @KalebT96

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The Killing Floor – Kerri Ward

Seb inspected a pheasant, pulling one limp wing back carefully with his arthritic fingers. The birds were leaner than he had hoped they would be. Matt was lifting wild turkeys from the van by the legs and slinging them carelessly onto the cart. Seb absent-mindedly stroked the wattle of the largest turkey with his thumb and from the corner of his eye caught the look Matt cast him.

‘I’ll be in Alabama soon,’ Matt said. ‘Lot of wild dogs up there, if you want me to trap you one. I’m going for hog, and any quail I can get. I been told it’s slim pickings, but I won’t charge you any more than I did last season. We’re friends, after all.’

‘Sure.’ Seb licked his lips, which were suddenly dry. ‘I’ll take some quail.’

There was silence again, punctuated by the padded thuds of birds landing on the cart.

‘But why you think I want dog all of a sudden?’ Seb asked. ‘You think my boudin’s got dog meat in it? ‘Cos you know it don’t.’

Matt shrugged. ‘I think you have your reasons,’ he said eventually, wiping off his hands on his corduroy pants.

‘What fuckin’ reasons?’ Seb asked indignantly. He was surprised by the tremble in his own voice. ‘What the hell are you talking about, Matt?’

Matt slammed the door of the van and looked him square in the face, which never failed to make Seb feel uneasy. Matt had strong, pleasant features – a full, carefully-clipped moustache and powerful brow – but one of his ears was slightly higher than the other and his thick-framed glasses sat permanently askew across the bridge of his nose, giving Seb the idea that Matt was always looking at him sideways.

He gestured toward the superette with his forehead. ‘You got time?’ he asked.

Seb dragged the cart round to the back door. The squeals of the pigs grew louder as they passed the slaughterhouse, then died down again as they entered a rear door to the market where the freshly-slaughtered meat was prepared. Seb had just put new fluorescent bulbs into the fixtures overhead, and the steel counters gleamed coldly in the hard, clean light.

Seb began lifting the turkeys onto hooks. His face was drawn tight.

‘You want to tell me what this is about?’ he asked eventually.

‘Aw Seb, come on,’ Matt looked away, embarrassed. ‘You know what it’s about. Half of Eunice knows. Hell, half Louisiana probably knows by now. You went and got some creole voodoo shit into your head when you was in New Orleans, didn’t you?’

Seb was silent. The birds were lined up along the wall now like a firing squad. He crossed to the rack, plucked a cleaver from it and began to sweep the blade back and forth across a whetstone. The knife winked brightly at him with each movement of his wrist.

‘I went to New Orleans to see a doctor,’ he said.

‘People talk, Seb,’ Matt said, ‘and they been saying you’re gone strange. Half a dozen people saw you burning some awful, stinking heap of crap in your backyard…’

‘That was just garbage,’ Seb interrupted, his voice rising above the high-pitched shick of steel on stone.

Matt ignored him. ‘And Alf’s wife said you had so many candles lit one night she honest to God thought the house was burning down. And others say they come in here and you look like you ain’t sleeping or eating. You’re like a zombie, Seb. I can see that with my own two eyes.’

‘I don’t know what any of this has to do with any dogs.’

Matt sighed in a wounded way and drew his hand over his moustache.

‘Aggie saw you kill that little stray, Seb.’

Seb dropped the knife on the counter with a clatter that resounded off every surface in the room and left a ringing like tinnitus in Matt’s ears.

‘I don’t know what the hell Agnes was doing hanging round the water two in the morning,’ Seb mumbled.

‘That ain’t the point. The point is that she saw you cut that mutt’s throat in the woods by the lake all alone in the middle of the goddamn night. Now you tell me, why would a man who never hurt so much as a mouse in his life if he could help it go ahead and do a thing like that? Unless you’re starting to lose your fuckin’ mind. And as someone who cares about you I hope that is not what’s going on here.’

Seb’s long, sinewy arms hung heavily at his sides. Arthritis was beginning to draw the fingers of his right hand together, and he knew that one day his whole hand would contract and his fingertips join over the palm in a useless claw because he had seen it in his father. It was with this hand that he reached into the pocket of his butcher’s apron and drew out a small, leather-bound book. He placed it on the counter and slid it across to where Matt stood.

Matt picked it up gently and turned it over in his hands. It was a combination of French and some other language he didn’t recognise and couldn’t decipher. There were stains here and there and strange pictures on some leaves and much of it was written in a long, looping cursive. When he riffled the pages with his thumb they smelled of Cajun spices, and smoke, and death.

‘Well, shit.’ Matt tossed the volume onto the table and stared at it. The leather left a kind of unpleasant oily film on his the pads of his fingers, like the grease on turkey feathers. He rubbed them together idly.

‘I don’t know what that book’s been tellin’ you,’ Matt said, as gently as he could, ‘but it won’t bring her back, Seb. I promise you, it won’t. Louise is gone.’

‘I know that,’ Seb snapped. ‘I just wanted to see her again. Just one more time. But in any case it don’t work.’ He turned away so Matt wouldn’t see the fat tears rolling down his face. He swiped at them with the sleeve of his white coat.

‘Killing that dog was the hardest thing I ever had to do,’ he murmured, ‘but I’d do it again to just be able to talk to her. I’m losing my mind without her, Matt – matter of fact I think I might already have lost it. But I would kill a bear with my own two hands to see her. If there was even a small chance.’

‘What about a wolf?’ Matt asked quietly.

Seb turned around and met Matt’s eye through his crooked glasses.

‘What did you say?’

Matt crossed to where Seb stood and handed him back the book.

‘Now look,’ he said, ‘I’m not saying I believe in this crap, but I do know a little about it, don’t ask me how. And I just thought, shit, a pig probably wouldn’t do it, but a mutt can’t be much good either. A wolf’s got to be better than a dog, right? I got a friend who traps in New Mexico, and he owes me a favour. He can get one, if anyone can.’

Seb drew his arthritic hand across his stubbled head, closed his eyes and thought.

‘How much?’ he asked.

Matt shook his head. ‘I’m not doin’ it for money.’

‘Then why are you doin’ it?’

‘Just promise me,’ Matt said, placing his hand tentatively on Seb’s vast shoulder, ‘that if the wolf don’t work, you’ll stop all of this, and just let her go.’

Seb’s fingers ached. He massaged them with his left hand.

‘All right,’ he said, finally. ‘All right.’

Seb’s wounds kept him awake at night. They were turning from wounds into scars, and the slow healing process, the growing-over of new skin, drove him crazy in the darkness. He lay awake, tried to ignore the relentless itching, and thought.

His life had been predictable until the day Louise died. Louise was tough as old leather and loathed complaining in both herself and others, so she didn’t tell anyone she was in pain until the pain had spread throughout her entire body and she could no longer walk. The cause of the pain was an aggressive and rare kind of bone cancer which, in just under two months, ate up almost everything that was left of her. Seb watched his wife of thirty years transform overnight into a strange, wasted creature he didn’t recognise, and then he watched her die. It was July when Seb first noticed his wife struggling to get out of her easy chair, and by late September and the start of deer season she was dead.

Seb had not gone to New Orleans seeking a witch doctor. He had gone to see a spiritualist, a man who said he could communicate with deceased relatives and friends. He wanted to ask Louise why she had not told him about the pain when there was still time to do something about it. He obsessed over this in the dark. If he had not ceased to touch her, would he have felt lumps or swellings? If he had still sometimes seen her naked, might he have noticed the increased prominence of her ribcage, the way those malignant bones jutted out beyond the confines of her skin as if proud of the mutiny they were committing? He was tormented not by Louise having died, but by the idea that he could have saved her life.

Seb’s mind grew foggy. He was clumsy in work. He worried about losing fingers to cleavers and machinery, and longed to lose them at the same time. He hallucinated, sometimes seeing Louise in her easy chair when he went downstairs in the night for a glass of water, sometimes in bed next to him when he rolled over at dawn, sometimes standing in the door to the slaughterhouse as if it were the gate of heaven itself. Finally, Seb decided to take the trip to New Orleans. He had, in some secret part of himself, hoped that he would find personal healing. Perhaps he would even find God.

He did not find God.

It was in the early hours of Sunday morning that Matt came. Seb sat up in bed as headlights illuminated the room and instantly recognised Matt’s van idling in the driveway. He dressed, tugged on his shoes, grabbed an old duffle bag by the bedroom door and was outside before Matt killed the engine.

He climbed into the passenger seat of the van and peered through the cage into the back. It was too dark to see.

‘It’s sedated,’ Matt said. There was a long, uneven cut extending from the corner of his mouth up to his ear. He looked exhausted. ‘You wouldn’t believe what I have been through with this fuckin’ creature.’

Seb’s hands were shaking. He fumbled with his seatbelt.

‘We have to go the cemetery,’ he said.

‘Are you fuckin’ nuts?’

‘I don’t know that it’ll work anywhere else and I only have one shot.’

‘How about the lake?’

‘I was seen there last time,’ Seb snapped, ‘by your dumb-ass sister.’

‘What if he escapes?’ Matt touched the cut on his face gingerly. ‘I mean, Jesus Christ, we can’t let this bastard loose on the town.’

There was a heavy silence.

‘All right,’ Seb said, finally. ‘Take me to the superette.’

By the time Seb had unlocked the slaughterhouse the wolf was awake and thrashing groggily in the back of the van.

‘I don’t want any part in this,’ Matt insisted, ‘but no way in hell can I leave you here alone with this thing.’

Seb cast a large circle on the sawdust-covered floor of the slaughterhouse with preserving salt. Matt looked on with a mixture of curiosity and disgust as Seb fished a long, unwieldy knife, and the leather-bound book, out of his duffle bag.

‘Shit,’ Matt said, ‘this is for real, isn’t it?’

As Seb spoke the words of the incantation for the final time a profound sense of calm came over him. It was strange, but he suddenly felt that if he lay down he would sleep deeply and soundly, right there on the killing floor.

Matt re-appeared, dragging the trussed and tightly-muzzled sacrificial animal by a length of rope. It was smaller than Seb had imagined it would be. He had never seen a wolf up close, and he had imagined it as a majestic beast, but it was a mange-ridden thing with sunken yellow eyes. Seb felt the same nauseating wave of pity he had felt toward the dog. He forced it down inside himself.

They tethered the wolf to an iron rail. It growled and thrashed and threw itself against the rail and its hind legs buckled repeatedly. Eventually, Seb drew the knife and began to roll back his sleeves.

‘You can go,’ he announced.

Matt didn’t move.

‘You have to leave now,’ Seb said, baring his scarred forearms.

‘I can’t,’ said Matt. He was pale.

‘Go!’ Seb shouted.

Matt looked from Seb back to the wolf back to Seb.

‘Fine,’ he said, eventually. ‘But I’m waiting in the van.’

It was cold in the slaughterhouse and Seb’s arthritic hand ached. With some difficulty, he pushed the blade into his left arm. It went deeper than he had intended. Blood came forth in a hot gush. The blade slipped from his grasp, and as he bent down he saw his own blood forming puddles at his feet, clotting in the sawdust. He struggled to pick the knife back up.

A constant, low growl rumbled in the throat of the wolf. Seb took deep, gulping breaths, then seized the rope with his blood-slicked left hand and gripped the knife in his throbbing right. The animal tried to snap at him, but the rope that bound its jaws held fast. Then, as if it had changed its mind, it began to whine pitifully. Seb silently begged its forgiveness and the forgiveness of whatever God might still deign to listen to him. But it was time. Summoning all his strength, he thrust the knife into the wolf’s throat.

Blood shot forth from somewhere deep beneath the fur. The wolf’s eyes bulged and it juddered, then fell. An awful, gurgling moan filled the cavities of Seb’s skull.

He waited. He felt lightheaded and hot. He was still bleeding, but this mattered little. The seconds ticked by and the wolf continued to cling to life. He waited.


Seb’s heart stopped. It was Louise’s voice. He twisted painfully round, seeking her, but the slaughterhouse was empty.

‘Louise?’ he called, panicking. ‘Where are you?’

‘Seb?’ Her voice rose toward him again. He felt sick.

‘I don’t know where you are!’ Seb shouted, suddenly furious. Tears were pricking his eyes.

‘I’m right here, Seb.’ The voice was close – too close. Seb’s felt suddenly cold. He looked slowly back to the wolf. It was still alive, and its burning eyes were fixed on his. They were human. They were his wife’s eyes.

Seb frantically loosed the rope around the wolf’s jaws. Its tongue lolled out over yellowed teeth. It panted weakly.

‘Louise?’ Tears rolled from his eyes. ‘Is that you?’

‘Where am I?’ the wolf whimpered. It spoke in Louise’s voice.

‘I need to ask you something,’ Seb said urgently. He was holding the wolf’s head tenderly with both hands. Blood poured from its throat over his trembling arms and across the floor. ‘I need to ask you about the pain.’

‘The pain,’ Louise repeated, faintly.

‘Why didn’t you tell me about the pain?’ Seb urged. He could feel the animal dying in his arms. He pressed his face into its neck, inhaling the scent of ammonia and rotted meat. ‘I could have helped you.’

‘No, Seb,’ Louise whispered. ‘You couldn’t. There was nothing you or anyone could have done.’ The wolf’s eyes rolled in their sockets, then shut. Seb buried his face in the burning fur and sobbed.

Dawn reached them, then. A grey half-light crept across the floor of the slaughterhouse and entered the salt circle, and Seb felt suddenly as though he were outside his own body. His forearms ceased to itch, and the pain in his arthritic hand fell away as water slides off bird feathers. He tried to sit up but found he could not. He tried to flex his fingers but found he could not. His tongue lolled from his mouth and his abdomen loosened as his whole body went suddenly slack. It was like the nerves that tethered his body to his brain had been cut. He watched the tide of his blood advance slowly across the slaughterhouse floor and felt a sensation of weightlessness that he had never known before.

Finally, when Seb knew for certain that he was dying, the wolf spoke again. It drew up its long, matted head and unhinged its jaw. The movements were jerky and unnatural, like the twitching of a marionette. Like something possessed. And whoever now spoke to Seb from the throat of the dead beast, it was not Louise.


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