Archive for the ‘!Short Story Contest!’ Category

Bearcat

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

by Lisa Clark

 

Brooklyn, New York 1927

“You want to be a little nawghty, right?” Marilyn said, holding up one of her own dresses in front of her niece. “This’ll do it.”

Helen turned toward the dresser mirror, tilted downward. She bit her lip.

“What’s the matter?” Marilyn asked, Brooklyn buzzing in every word. “Ya look gorgeous.” At twenty-five, she was only six years older than Helen; more like an older sister than an aunt. Helen had thought that leaving rural Ohio to visit her in New York City would be exciting. She hadn’t expected to feel so drab next to Marilyn and wasn’t prepared for a change this dramatic—or revealing.

“But this dress is so short.” Helen’s face contorted as though she were viewing a cow giving birth rather than herself in the latest style. “I’m sure Mom and Dad would never approve.” The state of Ohio wouldn’t, either. There, hemlines higher than seven inches above the floor were illegal.

“No offense, but your folks are appleknockers.” When her niece didn’t respond, Marilyn added in elongated syllables, “You know. Bluenosers. Hicks. Prudes.”

“I guess.”

“Honey, sit down.” While Helen took a padded chair, Marilyn plopped onto the bed. Even there she looked elegant. Her satin bathrobe matched her bedspread, which in turn coordinated with several floral throw rugs. The wallpaper, featuring diamonds made of tiny flowers on a dusty peach background, tied it all together. Sophisticated royal blue linoleum made Helen’s home seem positively dowdy. No; that wasn’t the word. Like a prune pit. That’s the way Aunt Marilyn had described Helen’s overcoat.

“Don’t look so glum, kid,” Marilyn said. “We don’t have to go dancing at all. I was only dolling you up because you said you wanted a little excitement before you marry that farmer fiancé of yours.”

Eugene. Helen twisted her engagement ring around her finger. Inside, her stomach twisted all by itself. What would Eugene think of all this?

“Listen,” Marilyn pulled one knee up onto the bed. The way her robe draped? Her pose? She looked like a movie star. “You can stay home tonight. No problem. I just got to get to a certain juice joint to hear the band play one last time.” Juice joint? Is was like Aunt Marilyn spoke a different language. She leaned forward. “Sorry, honey. That’s the way anybody who’s anybody talks around here. A juice joint is a gin mill, a speakeasy—you know, a club where they sell alcohol.”

With a quick lift of her chin, Helen said, “I know about speakeasies. I’ve read lots of confession magazines.” Finally; something she could talk about without sounding like a dumb Dora. “If you ask me, there’s nothing wrong with imbibing. The law says nothing about the consumption or possession of alcohol. Only making, transporting, and selling it.”

Marilyn stood to remove the clips holding the spit curls framing Helen’s face. “Good for you, kid. Glad someone’s up on the law. You oughtta be a trendsetter and go to law school. You’re brainy enough. Too bad you’re life’ll be over in seven months. Me? I’m not looking for a handcuff.” After meeting Helen’s gaze, she rolled her eyes. “An engagement ring, okay? Geez, you gotta get with it.”

“Eugene’s nice, Aunt Marilyn. He’ll be running his family farm soon.”

Marilyn huffed. “Sure, kid. Anything you say. Only don’t call me ‘aunt’ when we’re out together, all right? I don’t want people thinking I’m some kind of old maid.” She glanced at her watch. “Gosh. Time’s running away. Whether you come or not, I gotta get ready.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t go. I mean, would Eugene approve of this?” No. He wouldn’t.

“Yeah. All right. It’s your decision. I ain’t gonna force you.”

Helen watched as Marilyn transformed herself from everyday typist to femme fatale. With practiced strokes, she brushed on gray eye shadow, which she then highlighted with brown and the smallest smidgen of turquoise to hood false lashes. When she blinked languorously, Helen couldn’t help but giggle.

Next came face powder that concealed under-eye circles. “Even if you have a rotten week,” Marilyn explained, “you gotta hide it if you expect fellas to look at you.”

Marilyn penciled in thin lines above the natural brow before sloping dramatically in a straight line. “Ya gotta make ‘em think you’re hiding some sad secret that’s breaking your heart.”

“What kind of secret?”

Marilyn paused with a pot of rouge in her fingers, her lips pursing for a moment before she shrugged in a quick up and down. “You got me there. I guess it don’t really matter as long as you look good.”

Finishing her makeover with red lipstick and then quick pinches to shape the hair framing her face, Marilyn turned to the outfit she had laid out on her bed. “Now comes the fun part.” She rattled on as she donned each item. At the end, she twirled in her gold tissue evening gown, making the purple fringe on three levels of the skirt whirl out at a ninety-degree angle.

Helen slumped. She hadn’t felt frumpish in Ohio, but next to Aunt Marilyn, she felt like a square. While Helen wore bobbed hair, Marilyn sported the shingle cut, trimmed close to the neck in a V shape, like a boy’s. Though Helen had never held a cigarette, Marilyn had a special box for them and an elegant holder. While Helen’s only going-out dress covered her shoulders, Marilyn brazenly bared hers.

The memory of a confessional Helen had read recently popped to mind. A young woman left her husband and young child for life in the city. Her recklessness had led to despair for the entire family. Helen bristled inwardly. Of course the story had ended in misery. All the stories ended that way. Helen supposed they had to; who would buy a magazine that promoted licentiousness?

She was in no danger of becoming like the woman in the story. She’d never leave Eugene to pursue a wanton life of pleasure. The thought of such an unkind and selfish act repulsed her. But wouldn’t it feel lovely for just one night to find out what life might have been like if she’d grown up in New York City?

“Hmm.”

“What’s that, honey?” Marilyn said.

“Oh. Nothing.”

Marilyn returned to gazing in the mirror, fiddling with her beaded headband.

“Um,” Helen said.

Marilyn looked at her through the mirror’s reflection. “Yeah?”

“I’ve thought it over. I want to go with you.”

“Really?” Marilyn turned to face Helen. “Are you positive, honey? The joint I’m heading to might be… Well, it’s something you’re probably not used to.”

“Yes. I’m sure. I might never have a chance like this again.”

“Eh.” Marilyn scrunched her mouth. “I don’t know. Maybe you’d better not. There’ll be jazz and smoking and dancing. And of course drinking. You wouldn’t know what to do with yourself. Stay home. Tomorrow morning I’ll give you a little report about how it went.”

“No,” Helen said, stubbornness tinging her tone. “I don’t want to sit at home while you have all the fun.”

“Listen to me.” Marilyn’s voice transformed, sounding more like Helen’s mother than her fun-loving aunt. “Where I’m going ain’t no playground. If you want, I’ll help you get dolled up and we’ll strut our stuff along some busy street tomorrow. See how many dandies honk their horns at us. That’ll be safe. Not tonight, okay?”

Helen stood. “No. It’s not okay. You said it’s my decision. I’m nineteen. I’m old enough to go out on the town. Besides, a few minutes ago, you were trying to convince me to go.”

Marilyn’s head drooped to the side like a wilted sunflower. “But I promised your mother I’d take care of you.” The bangles on her wrists tinkled as she planted her knuckles on her hips. “You sure about this? What about Eugene? What’ll he think?”

“He doesn’t even have to know. In fact, I have an idea. I won’t go as boring old Helen Rivers. Instead, I’ll be Fay Bow for the night.”

Marilyn guffawed. “Like a mixture of Fay Wray and Clara Bow?”

“Exactly.” Helen thrust her hips forward and began a small promenade around the room, tripping slightly on a throw rug, then swooping her arm around as though she’d planned the move. “Now,” she said in the affected tone she imagined a sophisticate would use, “please assist me in my transformation while we still have time.”

“You mean we have to get a wiggle on?”

Helen giggled. “Right.”

When Marilyn finished the makeover, Helen posed before the mirror, an empty cigarette holder between her fingers, her hand perched on a jutted hip. She liked the way the silk velvet dress draped lower in the back. Kind of a mini-train. She’d wondered whether the narrow tubes of fabric that made up the shoulder straps were too scandalous. But no; the dress wasn’t risqué at all. She’d seen pictures of other women with bared shoulders. She wasn’t a floozy any more than they were.

Marilyn whistled her drawn-out approval that started out high and descended two octaves lower. “What a bearcat you turned into!”

Helen glanced to the side and lifted her chin, gazing into the air like a movie star spurning a would-be suitor.

With a laugh, Marilyn said, “Yeah, you’re a fiery, hot-blooded baby all right.”

The sultry look flew from Helen’s face, replaced by a toothy grin.

By the time Marilyn latched and locked the door of her apartment, plain Helen Rivers from Ohio had disappeared entirely, replaced by Fay Bow. Her engagement ring remained on the dresser.

Fay carried herself more freely than Helen had ever dared, swinging her hips and allowing her skirt to flutter flirtatiously at the knees, where a glimpse of naked flesh occasionally peeked out.

She liked this emancipation from her normal, restrictive life. Like Aunt Marilyn had said, “Ya can’t do the Black Bottom or the Charleston all trussed up.” Or feel as alive as she did at that moment. Fay was ready to plunge herself completely into the role of a flapper.

Half an hour later, a brawny man admitted them into the club. With red lips puckered, the two passed between tables of laughing people. Ostrich feathers bobbed lazily as the heads beneath them bantered between puffs from long cigarette holders. Smoke rose in gentle swirls as the saxophone and clarinet took turns with raucous jazz melodies. Fay’s eyes widened at the stem glasses and tumblers filled with green, amber, and pink concoctions. She had no idea alcohol could look so tantalizing.

Stepping aside to allow a waiter to pass with a tray of half-filled glasses, Fay rammed into the chair of a woman wearing intense rouge whose drink slopped onto the table then dripped onto her lap.

“Hey! Whattaya think you’re doing? Why don’t you watch where you’re going? Ya know how much I paid to have this rag cleaned?”

Helen reemerged with startling speed, stumbling backwards. The room that, a moment ago, promised sophisticated excitement, now seemed suffocating. Was everyone looking at her? Accusing her? She was suddenly sure that her dress, the long strand of pearls draping to her waist, and her clownish make-up fooled no one. They could all clearly see that she was a bumpkin.

“Listen, she’s sorry lady, okay?” Marilyn said, pulling Fay back to replace Helen. “She’s new here. Give her a break just this once, willya?”

The woman’s eyes flashed beneath severe black lashes, but she turned away. Marilyn, grabbing Fay’s bare arm above the elbow, steered her toward a table where two young men sat.

“These seats taken?” Marilyn asked. “If they’re not, we’d like to rest our dogs.”

“Reserved for you two,” one man answered, his attention now on them instead of the nearby table, where four flappers postured. “Right, Chet?” He nudged the man next to him.

Is this what Aunt Marilyn did, Fay wondered? Approach absolute strangers and ask to sit with them? People didn’t act this way in Ohio. Then she caught herself. Cut it out, she ordered.

She forced a smile.

“Yes. Please sit down.” Chet stood to pull out Fay’s chair. He stood at least two inches taller than Eugene, and Chet’s dark hair, slicked back and shiny with brilliantine, was also thicker than her fiancé’s and his voice a tone or two deeper. In a blue double-breasted suit with pencil stripes, Chet looked classier, too.

Stop comparing him to Eugene.

“Thank you. I’m Fay,” she said, batting her eyes. She’d let Marilyn worry about Will or Bob or whatever the other man’s name was.

As they sat, Marilyn winked at Fay.

Their night had begun.

Until that moment, Fay didn’t realize that a saxophone could send shivers up her arms.

“Glad you sat down with us. Jim and I are only visiting.” Chet had a nice, friendly, lopsided smile that set Fay at ease. “Do you live in New York?”

The clarinetist rose to his feet and fingered out a sultry run, drowning Chet’s next words. Fay scooted her chair closer to him. “It’s hard to hear.”

“Yeah. Give us four Sidecars,” Jim said to a waiter who was balancing a tray above his shoulder.

“I hope that sounds good to everyone,” he said, meeting Fay’s eyes.

“Sounds great.” What’s a Sidecar, she wondered?

“This band is really good,” Chet said, leaning toward her ear. He smelled good. Fresh. Like a field in the spring. Different, better, than Eugene, who often visited her after milking cows. The barn scented his hair.

She angled her body toward Chet. “I know. It’s one of Au— Marilyn’s favorites.” Which she supposed was true.

Fay tried to catch Chet’s words while the music infused the room and its occupants with scandal. At the next table, one woman splayed her legs, baring her thigh high enough to reveal a red garter. Her companion ogled then pulled her toward him, chair and all. Another woman, who appeared no older than Fay, leaned her naked shoulder into a willing man, shrugged, and tilted her head backwards. Slowly. He obliged her with kisses on the shoulder, neck, and finally on her lips. Fay’s pupils widened.  People in rural Ohio did not behave that way. Especially not Eugene.

Then there was Chet himself. Fay had heard the term “smoldering eyes” before, but didn’t think she’d ever met someone with them. Men with smoldering eyes probably didn’t spend their days in barns, tending to animals. Chet’s eyes, though, deep-set under heavy brows, definitely qualified. His longish lashes might almost have made her envious if they hadn’t added an extra, mysterious layer of shadow to his golden topaz eyes, rimmed black around almost luminescent irises. As he fixed his eyes on her, he squinted the smallest bit and his lips wore a whisper of a smile, as though being with her intrigued him.

Eugene never looked at her that way.

When the waiter plunked down their drinks, Jim hoisted his glass. “To a delightful night, where strangers become very good friends.”

Fay raised her glass with the rest of them before touching it to her lips. Her eyes brightened. The chilled glass was rimmed with sugar. Tasting the tiniest amount, she recognized lemon and orange peel and almost laughed. This is what the—what was Marilyn’s name for prudes? Oh—the Mrs. Grundys were so upset about? She sipped several times before noticing that Chet was watching her. She smiled, setting the drink down.

“You have beautiful eyes,” he said close to her ear before turning toward the stage, where the pianist was cracking a joke, something about gin being “still-born” that Fay didn’t quite get. Nor did she understand why a devil who’d lost his tail would go to a gin shop, where they retailed spirits; the rest of the crowd found the jest hilarious.

While Chet’s attention was on the band, Fay licked the remaining sugar from the rim and emptied her glass.

Chet caught her eye and they exchanged smiles when the pianist began a titillating rhythm that swung from high to low, soon joined by the drummer, who used some sort of wire sweep to create slinky slides. Something else she’d never seen in Ohio.

“Another round of drinks,” Jim called out to a nearby waiter. “Make it Barbary Coasts this time.”

Barbary Coasts? Didn’t that have something to do with pirates? Who named these drinks?

“Care to dance?” Before she could answer, Chet was on his feet, holding out a hand toward her.

You’re engaged, she told herself.

No, she countered, I’m Fay Bow, who is single. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with dancing.

When she stood, lightheadedness wrapped her briefly in fog. Odd. She shook her head and then, feeling as though she were watching herself in a dream, followed Chet.

A crowded dance floor forced Fay to squish in close to Chet. Fay took his proffered while he slipped the other onto her waist. With so many strangers hemming them in, she had to scoot in even closer. The spicy, warm fragrance of his aftershave made her wish she didn’t have to exhale. Chet was handsome and polite and, well, lots of things. All good. Best of all, he felt safe.

Soon the crowd was bouncing to the music, dancing their favorite steps in place. By the end of the song, Fay and Chet were laughing. He grabbed her hand to lead her back to the table, where their drinks, luscious-looking creamy concoctions, waited.

“Yum!” Fay said after a sip, instantly slapping her hand over her mouth.

“Good, ain’t it, honey?” Marilyn said with a lift of her brow.

No. Not good. Delicious. Fay let the smooth, thick liquid linger on her tongue. Why, she wondered, was the country so determined to ban liquor? Abolitionists obviously hadn’t tried either a Barbary Coast or… Or whatever that fruity first drink was.

A singer joined the band to belt out “Sweet Georgia Brown.” The music, the people, the sounds of clicking glasses and giggling girls, the scrumptious drinks, the remembered feel of her hand in Chet’s and his at her waist, his smell and steamy eyes made Fay wish she could wrap all of this up in a package that she could take home and open whenever she felt blue. 

“Another round,” Jim called out to the passing waiter a few songs later. After the drinks arrived, Fay sucked down a large gulp of yet another sweet concoction. The hazy, disembodied feeling that settled on her fit the persona she wanted to portray perfectly. She felt relaxed, free to be herself. Each sip made Chet more wonderful. How was it possible that such an urbane man, a student of Veterinary Science at Cornell, would be interested in her, a simple country girl?

Chet was talking about the Coney Island amusement park. Fay lifted her hand to her ear and he slid his chair so that it touched hers. When the singer took the stage again for a heart-wrenching rendition of “The Man I Love,” Chet’s fingers lightly stroked the back of Fay’s hand as it sat on her lap.

She wondered what it would be like to be in love with a man like this. Her insides ached thinking about it. Not in a bad way, but delectably.

How would it feel to nestle into his neck?

Chet lifted his hand to signal to the waiter, busy several tables away. While his attention was elsewhere, Fay slid her dress up a fraction. Would he even notice?

Turning to her again, his gaze dropped briefly to her hem. He noticed.

When his hand grazed her arm on the way to her neck, Fay felt a surge. Her breathing grew heavier as Chet caressed her neck with his fingertips before leaning toward her and touching her cheek with a light kiss that lit up her body and brain. At the same time, prickles of warning crawled up Fay’s arms.

She forced a smile and lifted an empty glass to her lips.

“We’ll have another round,” Chet said when the waiter arrived, his tray loaded with a large collection of empty glasses.

“Make it Gin and Sin this time,” Marilyn called out, laughing.

“Another dance?” Chet asked.

Fay was glad for slow music this time so she could lean into Chet. With her head resting on his shoulder and his hand low on her back, she felt woozy and tired and comfortable and happy. When the music stopped, Chet lifted her chin and brushed her lips lightly with his. The look in his eyes afterwards was intoxicating.

As they returned to the table, Fay ran her tongue over first her upper then her lower lip, recalling the kiss.

The cool mixture of gin, citrus juices, and grenadine in the new drink relaxed her further. She was enjoying playing the part of Fay, the bearcat. When she glanced at Chet, the intensity of his gaze made her gasp.

Chet played with the fringe of hair at the nape of her neck before letting his fingers slip onto her naked shoulder.

Fay was having trouble thinking straight.

She blinked back a wave of tiredness. If she could just close her eyes for a moment. Chet smiled and, with an arm around her shoulder, pulled her in snugly. She leaned into him and laid down her head, cozying into the soft hollow between his shoulder and chest. Her face warmed at her own boldness.    

When the piano player ignited the air with a sizzling chord progression, Fay wriggled up straight and, as nonchalantly as she could manage, set her hand on Chet’s thigh. Her heart raced. He covered her hand with his and pulled her toward him for a long kiss, sucking her lower lip. This man was making her forget her fiancé entirely.

“Four rounds of drinks is enough for me,” Marilyn announced loudly. Fay pulled back from Chet to look at her aunt. “Any more and I’ll be splifficated. We oughta get outta this joint and head over to my place where it’s quiet.”

“Whatever you say,” Chet’s friend answered, grabbing Marilyn’s hand.

Chet and Fay followed.

As they stepped out into the cool air, the world around Fay rolled like a wheat field in the wind. She leaned heavily onto Chet, depending on him to keep her from falling. He led her with an arm around her waist.

Being Fay was wonderful.

*  *  *

Sunlight slashed through the thin gap between Marilyn’s heavy curtains, jerking Helen awake. Beside her on the sofa lay a naked man. He was definitely not Eugene. This she knew by his face, not his body, for she had never seen Eugene in the altogether.

She bolted off the sofa, stumbling and slipping on an area rug and landing on her rump. The commotion woke the man, who was lying on his back. Helen grabbed something white that was draped over the arm of the couch, limp, like the body of a headless duck.

The man shifted her way, looked at her, looked at himself, then sprang up, snatching the closest loose bit of fabric nearby.

A breath later, the two stood face to face, she covered with his shirt, he with her dress.

Now she recognized him. He was the man from the speakeasy the night before. The one who looked so dreamy and sophisticated. He looked neither at the moment.

Then she remembered Marilyn’s last words before taking the other man—who was it? Bob? Jake? Jim?—into her bedroom. “We’ll be cuddling in the other room. You two just make yourselves comfy. See you in the morning.”

Next, other more intimate images flashed into her mind.

What had she done?

All of those puritanical, stodgy-looking women who waved signs demanding abstinence filled her brain, wagging their fingers in her face. They—not her flapper aunt, not the lewd and licentious patrons of the speakeasy—were right in their assessments. Alcohol was dangerous.

How could Helen have been drawn into such debauchery?

The five feet between her and the man—Chet, was it?—wasn’t nearly enough. She raced to the bathroom. Before she clicked the lock, Helen began to weep. She had saved herself for marriage. For Eugene, her fiancé.

Sitting on the edge of the tub, legs spread wide, Helen scrubbed away the sticky pink evidence of her deed until finally crumbling inside of the tub.

How could that man out there have taken advantage of her this way?

Miserably, she shuffled to the mirror. The mascara and eye shadow she had thought so fetching last evening smeared her cheeks in shameful shades of black, brown, gray, and turquoise. A false eyelash still held onto one corner of her eye like a spring that was bent and yanked out of shape.

She scoured her face clean with a washcloth, all the while thinking that no amount of soap could recover the innocence she’d possessed less than a day earlier.

Then she sat on the closed toilet seat, doubled over, and wept. What was she going to do? She couldn’t tell Eugene. She just couldn’t.

“Hey Hel… um, Fay.” Helen startled when Marilyn’s called through the door. “The rest of us would like to get in there, too, so get a wiggle on, would ya?”

When she emerged from the bathroom with one towel wrapped around her waist and another to cover her chest, she felt like a cartoon man she’d seen at the movies once who was stuffed into little boy clothes; flesh that should have been covered was bared for everyone to gawk at. Head down, Helen rushed to Marilyn’s bedroom

“Helen,” Marilyn said, cracking the door of the bedroom a little later, “are you okay?”

“Okay?” she snapped. “No. I’m not okay, Aunt Marilyn.” Every syllable was an accusation.

“Geez, I’m sorry to hear that. The fellas are ready to leave. You should come say good-bye.”

Helen followed her aunt, not knowing why. She had nothing to say to the man who’d stolen her chastity.

“I’ll be heading back to school on Monday, Fay, but we could still write,” Chet said. “Here. I jotted my home and school addresses down for you. If you give me your address and telephone number, I’ll get in touch with you.”

Under the name “Fay Bow,” Helen invented an address and phone number, feeling sneaky and vindictive and guilty and awful as she wrote.

She hadn’t been a bearcat last night. She’d been a fool. When Chet leaned in to kiss her good-bye, she pulled back as though he were about to bite her. She could see confusion in his eyes, but she didn’t care. 

By the time Marilyn closed the door, anger had risen in Helen like water in the Great Mississippi Flood earlier that year, which had flooded some areas with thirty feet of water. Whatever wasn’t washed away was destroyed. Just like Helen.

“How could you do that to me, Aunt Marilyn?” she spat out.

Marilyn pulled her head back. “Do what, honey?”

“Do what? Are you joking? You took me to that… that den of iniquity. You filled me with alcohol. And then you let that man…” She knuckled away tears.

“Den of iniquity? Where do you learn this stuff? Listen, sit down and tell me what’s bugging you.” Marilyn plopped onto the sofa directly beside the blood stain on the center cushion of the floral damask.

Helen folded herself onto the matching armchair opposite, still wiping tears from her face. “You shouldn’t have taken me there. You shouldn’t have dressed me up like some lady of the night or slopped your make-up on me. You shouldn’t have asked those men if we could sit with them—”

“Wait. Whattaya talking about? You’re the one who asked me to doll ya up, to take ya out. And you sure seemed to be enjoying your time with Chet. What’d you two do last night after we left?” She guffawed.

“Stop it, Aunt Marilyn.  It’s not funny. I only acted that way because of all those drinks. You’re the one who ordered that—what did you call it?—Gin and Sin. So tell me. Was it your plan all along to get me so drunk I didn’t know what I was doing?”

Marilyn’s eyes narrowed. “Now just a minute. I didn’t do nothing.” Now she sounded nothing like Helen’s mother. “That was all you, little missy. I saw you on the dance floor with Chet, the way you were encouraging him to touch and kiss you. Don’t you dare lay the blame on me.”

Helen dropped her feet to the floor heavily and leaned forward, her tears replaced with outrage. “You should have known what would happen. You knew about Eugene. Why didn’t you say something—do something?”

“Hey, I asked you if you were sure about going out with me. I even asked you to think about Eugene.” Helen had always thought of her aunt as pretty. At that moment, without her make-up and in the morning light shining in the window, she looked pale and ugly. No wonder she was unmarried. “You’re the one,” Marilyn continued, “who wanted to become Fay Bow. Or don’t you remember that little speech you gave about being nineteen and ‘old enough to go out on the town’?”

“But you saw what was happening at the club.” Helen’s throat was thick, her voice deep and severe. “And when we got back home, you left me. Alone in the room with that man. All night long.” She dropped her face into her hands and her voice broke as she wept. “I was saving myself for Eugene, for our wedding night. Not for some stranger who I’ll never see again.”

Marilyn was at her side, sitting on the upholstered arm of the chair, rubbing Helen’s back. “You mean you never…?”

She glared at Marilyn. “Of course not.” She looked over at the bloodied center cushion of the couch. “I’m not some quiff. Like you.”

Marilyn gasped.

“What’s wrong? Didn’t I get the right word? I mean slut. Whore.”

More than anything else, Helen was shocked when Marilyn slapped her cheek.

Standing, Marilyn said, “I think you better get out of here, Helen. Take your valise and puritanical views back to Ohio where they belong. You’re obviously not ready for the big city.”

*  *  *

What am I going to say to Eugene?, Helen wondered as the train clicked and clacked its way to Ohio.

At one-thirty, she decided to say nothing to him. Why did he have to know, anyway? She’d figure out some way to hide the truth from him on their wedding night.

At one-forty-five, when she thought of Chet, she wanted to scream. This was his fault. What he did was wrong. She wanted to go back to the night before and tell him to go away, leave her alone, keep his closeness and hands and lips away from her. Then her body remembered how he’d made her feel. Staring out the window at the passing fields, her vision turned to him kissing and touching her. Her breath hitched as she remembered how wonderful his fingers felt on her bare skin.

The next moment her eyes teared at the wrongness of it. Stop it. Don’t even think about Chet. Not now. Now ever. Remember: you’re engaged. To a wonderful man.

She leaned back against the headrest, tired. Why couldn’t Eugene be a little more like Chet?

At two o’clock, Helen realized that it was she who’d brought all of this on herself. She was the one who had convinced Marilyn to take her to the club, despite her aunt’s protestations. She was the one who’d guzzled down not one, but four drinks. And enjoyed them. No one had forced her to drink. She’d been the one who teased and coaxed Chet to do things to her that she would never have asked Eugene to do, at least not yet. She was responsible for it all. She should have listened to those wise women who rallied against alcohol. Nothing, nothing, good came from imbibing. She’d been a flirtatious, foolhardy trollop and now she had to pay for it.

By two-thirty, Helen’s tears had dried. What if she did tell Eugene? No. He’d be so hurt. Instead, she’d be a loving and faithful wife the rest of her life to make up for what she’d done. He would never, ever, know.

At two-forty-five, she thought, what if I’m pregnant? She and Eugene’s wedding was planned for seven months from now. She squirmed. There would be no way to hide a seven-month pregnancy. Eugene—everyone—would know what she’d done. And she’d be discarded by him, her family, and society, forced to live the rest of her life in regret.

No. No! She wouldn’t think about that.

She picked up a newspaper someone had left on a nearby seat and read about plans for a new monument. Built into Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, it would feature the faces of four presidents. How interesting, she thought for half a second.

Her hands fell onto her lap and she leaned her head onto the window.

At three o’clock, she slept.

 

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Meet the 2017 !Short Story Contest! Finalists

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

Welcome– or welcome back–

to defenestrationism.net

 

We are excited for you to Meet the Finalists of the 2017 !Short Story Contest!

We ask our authors for photos in her, his or other’s favorite chair

resulting in some quite intimate portraits, both non-glossy and non-commercial.

 

 

 

Lisa Clark‘s work has appeared in various publications including The Alligator, The Gnu, Scarlet Leaf Review, and Best Modern Voices, v 2. She’s winner of the Glass Woman Prize for fiction and the Mia Pia Forte Prize for creative non-fiction. Bulgaria has been her home for over eighteen years. She’s currently working on a YA novel about AI sentiency.

 

 

Jessica Costello began writing when all her friends got too old to play make-believe and she still wanted to. At eleven she decided to try writing a novel, after she read Lord of the Rings and thought, “I can do that.” Though that first attempt was unsuccessful, she hasn’t stopped: throughout high school and college she wrote four unpublished novels, and is now working on her first novel to be published. Her flash fiction is available at https://funkyllamablog.wordpress.com/. Jessica is a recent graduate of Emerson College, where she earned her BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing, and is working toward her Master of Library and Information Science from San Jose State University to become a children’s librarian. Her stories have appeared in the online magazines East Coast Ink and the Merrimack Review, and she has reviewed books for Graphic Novel Reporter, Indie Reader, and The Horn Book, Inc. She lives in Los Angeles.

 

 

B. Craig Grafton‘s stories have appeared regularly in Scarlet Leaf Review. His story Misconceptions appears in The Prison Compendium a book if thirty three short stories. Two of his stories are in the book Tales of Canyon Lake and two in 100 Voices An Anthology one in Volume Three and one in the upcoming Volume four. In addition he has had nine stories published in Romance Magazine, one in Heater and seven in Frontier Tales and a few others here and there. Author is a retired attorney now living in Texas who began writing stories about two years ago while recovering from a broken foot.

 

 

 

 

In addition to writing fiction, Andrew Livingston writes and draws a daily webcomic at CrustaceanSingles.com. Back when he was a linguist, he wrote an extremely technical descriptive grammar of an obscure Polynesian language. He also co-authored What The French!?, a very non-technical textbook on French grammar. He subscribes to the notion that any window can be a door if you believe in yourself.

 

 

Isabella Hernandez is unemployed young adult of 19 reapplying for another try at college in the Fall. She hopes to be accepted into SUNY Delhi, where she will pursue an Associates in Culinary Arts; then later a Bachelors in Culinary Management in the hopes of owning her own fine dining restaurant, Arato’s. After that, she would like to continue studying culinary overseas at Tsuji Culinary Institute before gaining work experience and finally opening her place. On the side, she writes her own novel set in an alternate history WWII that while not changing the outcome, will offer a fresh new take on the subject that also shows the trials and tribulations of mankind from either side- moral, psychological, and physical. Aside from cooking and writing, she is also a massive history buff, and is particularly fond of the pilots who flew on regardless of their flag, the odds, and at times in spite of the horrid ideologies of their governments. The only other official contest she has won was an essay on Thanksgiving during 5th Grade which instead spoke out on the inhumane treatment of Native Americans. Ever since, she has continued to expand and improve her writing by first reading good books, classic or otherwise. She consistently scored extremely well in English class, and once achieved the highest grade on the English Language Regents exams in her first high school – a 95. She looks after her old dog of nine years, named Happy, on a daily basis.

 

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer who writes primarily in English. He has recently released two science fiction novels: Siege (2016) and Outside (2017).  He has nearly two hundred short stories published in fourteen countries.  They have been translated into seven languages.  Many of the stories are collected in Tenth Orbit and Other Faraway Places (2010) and Virtuoso and Other Stories (2011). The Curse of El Bastardo  (2010) is a short fantasy novel.  His website is at www.gustavobondoni.com.

 

 

 

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Announcing the 2017 !Short Story Contest! Finalists

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

We are honored to announce the finalists for

the 2017 !Short Story Contest!

only on defenestrationism.net

 

 

Now posting in order of first submission

“Bearcat”, Lisa Clark

July 9th

“Blank Faces”, Jess Costello

July 16th

“Lost in Defenestration”, B. Craig Grafton

July 23rd

“Delocation”, Andrew Livingston

July 30th

“The Hunter”, Isabella Hernandez

August 6th

“The Collector”, Gustavo Bondoni

August’ 13th

 

-Fan Voting is now closed.

Winners now announced

 

 

keep surfing through, all summer long

Meet the Finalists— photos, bios and more

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Judges confirmed for 2017 !Short Story Contest!

Monday, April 10th, 2017

Welcome to defenstrationism reality.

 

We are honored that our four returning judges have confirmed their availability for our 2017 !Short Story Contest! panel.

 

Submissions are rolling in, and the competition is already fierce.  Once finalists are chosen, we publish one story a week, then open the polls to fan voting for at least two weeks; this counts as an additional judge vote.  Judges cast their votes by Labor Day weekend, US, and winners are announced Labor Day Monday, US.

 

Meet Judges Christian, Moet, Glenn, and Suvi, here.

Guidelines for our !Short Story Contest!

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Fan discussion forum: 2016 !Short Story Contest!

Monday, September 5th, 2016

Winners now announced.

To comment, please Sign-in, screen left,

or simply email PNRENTERPRIZES@gmail.com

that’s PNRenterpriZesATgmailDOTcom

Opening Questions

Billy Luck:

-How do nuanced depictions of unorthodox lifestyles and/or marginalized body-types, (Carnival workers, Side-show workers, Little People) broaden all readers’ of this story understandings of such life-styles and body types?

-In what ways does Daisy’s gender, femaleness and womanhood effect the story?

-Does a story with such confrontational Otherness (or minority status) necessitate that the author be of such a minority?  In other words, should it matter if/ that the author is or is not a little person, and should this or should this not effect our reading of the story?

By the River:

-How does humor and the most light-hearted voice of this contest effect our reading?  This story demands to be taken seriously, how does humor force us to think twice about Capitalism, human kindness, pregnancy, human intelligence (“too valuable to lay off”), and the disastrous effects of lottery jackpots?

-This author is published twice on defenestrationism.net .  In what ways does Post-modernism demand readers take this author seriously, when the material is so light-hearted, humorous, and seemingly flippant?

-Did the speaker of the story actually win?  Does this matter to the story, to the character, to the author, or to the reader?

I’ve Got You:

-Is this story a work of fiction, or creative non-fiction?— in other words, did it happen in history?  Do such distinctions matter?  Why or why not?

-Early 20th century air-combat may be the most dynamic, picturesque, difficult, deadly… and awe-inspiring form of warfare in human history.  What could this specific form of warfare symbolize in the story, and how so?

-How do multiple cultural references (songs, to name but two) effect the story?  These references are so important to the author that it features in the very title, WHY THAT SONG, so specifically?

Circe’s Bicycle:

-What an incredible title— sorry to devote so much time to it, but we’re a bit obsessed with titles, here at defenestrationism.net.  What the foosball does this title mean?  Who was Circe?  Why doesn’t she appear in the story (at least, if read in this way, why does the Homeric Circe character not appear in the story)?  If the bicycle of the title is read as nothing more than a circular object that spins and takes you somewhere, what does that mean?

-Unicorns, insects that grow large, islands of the dead: is this a realistic story or a dreamy story?  Put differently, does the mother character die to achieve these unending visions?  Or a dream that never ends?  If either, then prove it with quotations from this text.  There is a difference between dreams and death, what is it?

-Importance of gender and gender roles in this story: discuss.  How does gender tie into motherly roles, daughterly roles, back to that dang Circe of the title, and bodies (or lack-there-of) in the story?

Surveillance:

-Is the speaker being spied upon?  What difference does that make to the story and characters in the story (the fiction), the political statement of the story (the authorial meta-narrative, if you allow us to still use the term), and to the historical reality of the present?

-The internet is crucial to this story.  In what ways do the give and take of internet publication (on facebook, but also comments on defenestrationism.net) effect the story, the message, and historical reality?

-How is internet publication a dynamic movement away from the literature of the CODEX (or book with pages) and how does this tie to the change from the literature of the MANUSCRIPT (or pre-modern scrolls with no pages)?

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Winners now announced for 2016 !Short Story Contest!

Monday, September 5th, 2016

We are pleased to announce the winners for the

2016 !Short Story Contest!

 

 

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Last weekend for fan voting: 2016 !Short Story Contest!

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

Thanks to all who have commented, this year, we are pleased to be hosting a discussion forum thread on Labor Day Monday (US), to dissect all the nuances of these compelling and diverse stories– of course, only AFTER the Winner and Runner-ups are announced!

 

!This is the final weekend for fan-voting, so have your final say before Sunday!

Looks like we have one clear fan favorite with over 40% of votes (NO HINTS, don’t ask), but the second fan favorite is so wide open that hyperbole does not do justice to how close this contest is…

!VOTE NOW!, only at defenestrationism.net

 

and remember us next time, lovers of literature,

read all the stories of the 2016 !Short Story Contest!

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Surveillance

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

By Don Noel

Ernie’s first awareness of the government’s spying was through the late news.  It disturbed his civil libertarian sensibilities, but not his slumber.  The government was monitoring people’s e-mail.  Outrageous.  Still, not a personal concern:  He and Susan had agreed from the start never to e-mail each other.  There would be more detail by morning; he punched off the television and spooned up next to Penny, who was almost asleep.

He thought of himself as an ordinary man.  Happily if not always faithfully married for twenty years; two ordinary teenagers; an ordinary law practice in wills, trusts, real estate; occasional pro bono work for the American Civil Liberties Union.  An ordinarily busy man:  Too little time for morning newspapers, relying mostly on National Public Radio news during drive time.  Occasionally, if something awaiting attention at the office demanded thought, he tuned instead to classical music.

Next morning, it was exactly eight when he backed out of the driveway.  NPR devoted a whole five minutes to the eavesdropping, a report apparently drawn from a Washington Post blockbuster.  Secret data disclosed by some former CIA operative.  It wasn’t only e-mail they were prying into:  text and telephone, too, focusing on communications to and from other countries.

That got his attention.  He stopped at the commuter-station newsstand, bought the Times, Journal and Post, drove a few blocks to the park and turned the radio off to read.

It was worse than he’d first thought.  The Fourth Amendment — to be secure against unreasonable searches — suddenly became intensely personal.  The government was looking for patterns of contact between Americans and people overseas.  Not reading or listening, officials insisted, just looking at something called metadata — unless a pattern was detected.

He and Susan posted Facebook photos occasionally, sharing with each other by sharing with the whole world.  They scrupulously refrained from ‘liking’ each other’s posts.  Carefully discreet, unlikely to attract attention.  Their guarded, long-distance correspondence and conversations would heighten the physical explosion when she came home on leave in a few months.  They would find ways to spend a secret night or afternoon or morning together now and then. He felt himself aroused just thinking about her body.  He willed himself to stop. 

Circumspect.  Seeing the kids through to adulthood was important.  The last time, Penny said she’d dump him in a minute if he strayed again.  And he loved her, really.  Wouldn’t want to hurt her.  Let alone provoke a messy divorce.

But he and Susan talked almost daily.  Never landline calls: always on Skype, from his office computer after his secretary left for the day, calling her cellphone at daybreak in Hong Kong.  A pattern that must surely have been noticed.  Intimate calls.

Would the government listen in on longings, on loving words?  In J. Edgar Hoover’s day there would have been a file on him.  Liberal lawyer, fancies himself a civil libertarian.  Indiscretions?  Put ‘em in the file.  We might someday want to persuade him to back off a case.

Who was to say there weren’t such files nowadays?  He put the newspapers in his briefcase, tuned to classical music, got onto the highway.

They would have to stop calling.  How to tell her?  Not by phone:  One more call could be the straw that broke the camel’s back, triggering devastating attention.  Not by e-mail or text, either.  Still, he must explain a sudden silence, lest Susan try to call him.  That could be really disastrous.

Facebook.  Some veiled posting only she would be able to translate.  By the end of the day, he had it:  Begin an innocent-sounding trivia quiz for friends.  He Googled.  Perfect!  “What Gershwin song,” he posted, “did Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers make number 34 among all-time film hits?”

By the next morning, his old college roommate Warren had posted the answer: “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”

Anything on her wall?  He checked. Yes.

“What 1964 song,” she’d posted, “reached number 9 on Billboard?”

It took him less than a minute to find the answer:  “It’s Over.”

Damned government spies.

–End–

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Circe’s Bicycle

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

by Tara Campbell

The moth came one night in October. Mallory still isn’t sure where it came from, not that it matters anymore.

That night she awoke to a fluttering in her ear. Her fingertips brushed against a tumble of wings and she jolted awake. The streetlamp shining through the window illuminated a tiny blur of grey over her bed. The moth (which had been right next to her ear, she thought with a shudder) stumbled through the air, evidently knocked out of its path by her waving hand, and landed on the hill of her husband’s knee under the blankets.

She thought about the wool suits in the closet.

Her husband snored.

Out the window you go, she thought (to the moth, not her husband), and inched her legs toward the edge of the mattress. The moth flitted back into the air. She slid out of bed and slipped into her fuzzy pink house shoes, which were a little goofy, but she wore them because her daughter Amy had picked them out. 

Mallory stepped to the window and opened it, then turned to look for the moth. It fumbled above the bed, fat and woolly, flashing grey to white to grey again as it lurched across the grid of lamplight shining through the windowpane. She crossed to the bed and swatted at the hairy insect, not wanting to actually make contact. She waved currents of air in its direction, trying to sweep the grape-sized menace out the window.

The cold floor chilled her feet through her slippers. The soles were getting thin after a few years, but she wouldn’t throw them out. They were the last present she would ever get from her daughter. The car had struck Amy on her bike a month after Mother’s Day. She was almost seven.

Mallory’s husband snored on.

She pursed her lips. None of their battles were shared. She was still trapped in the wreckage of Amy’s bicycle. It had pink tassels and a unicorn painted on the seat. She and her husband had widened their eyes at each other when their daughter had picked it out, silently asking each other, So girlie; where did she get that from? Mallory still pushed and bled against twisted metal in her sleep. Her husband slept the night through.

Mallory thought it was just her imagination when the moth grew to the size of an egg. She could almost hear the thrum of its wings from across the room. But those could only be the tricks of a tired, frustrated mind, like those nights after the funeral she thought she heard her daughter’s footsteps between her husband’s snores. Months after she stopped waking her husband to hear better, she still stayed awake to listen.

Amy had been riding just outside the house. Mallory had only turned around for a moment. She’d gone to get the wrench to take off the training wheels. Amy had finally decided she was ready to try riding without them.

Mallory stopped swinging when the moth grew as large as a grapefruit. Its fluttering wings pushed riffles of air toward her face. Her skin prickled. The insect developed black and yellow stripes, and a stinger, and an insistent buzz.

Her mouth opened, silent and frozen.

The bee—it was definitely a bee now—kept growing. Its wings thrummed. The window rattled in its frame.

She wanted to whisper to her husband, she wanted to wake him up, she wanted—

The bee, now fat as a watermelon, extended its spindly legs and picked her up. It lifted Mallory from the floor, its tiny claws hooking into her nightgown. With a thrust, it carried her toward the window. She was still too shocked to scream as it dragged her over the windowsill and launched into the night air.

The bee latched on to her nightgown with all six legs, suspending her parallel to the ground like a hang glider. Mallory wriggled in the giant insect’s grip until it let go with one leg, swinging her off-kilter over rooftops and trees. She held still, and the bee grabbed the loose end of her nightgown once again.

The bee flew across the neighborhood and into the fields. Mallory dangled below it, shuddering in the cold night air and shielding her eyes from the rush of wind in her face. Moon-silvered grass and trees flowed below her. Hills rolled up toward her and down again, until they finally reached the coast.

They flew out over the ocean. Mallory looked down over chopping peaks of white froth against inky black water. She felt a jolt and her stomach flew toward her mouth. She was falling. The bee had released her, all six legs at once.

Mallory slammed through the surface of the water, a rag doll thrown through a plate glass window. Icy seawater needled her skin; her nose and mouth filled with brine. She flailed against the waves and swallowed another mouthful of ocean. Her stiff limbs chopped through the surf, which gathered itself and pushed back. She couldn’t stay up.

Later (she would never know how long it had actually been) Mallory awoke to something prodding her shoulder. She didn’t want to open her eyes. She was warm and dry, and was lying on her side in what felt like sand. Something shook her shoulder again.

A little girl’s voice whispered, “Momma?”

Mallory’s eyes sprang open to reveal a blurry, sideways image of a little girl squatting next to her. Recognition shot through her body like lightning. She raised her head and blinked.

Amy?

“Uh-oh, Momma,” laughed Amy. “Watch out for your horn, you almost got me.”

Amy? Baby? Mallory struggled to sit up, her four hoofs pawing at sand and air. Her daughter backed away from the flying sand, giggling and brushing off her dress.

Mallory looked down at her body. She was a white horse.

Amy reached toward her again. Mallory’s eyes followed her daughter’s fingers to the tip of the golden, spiraled horn sprouting from Mallory’s forehead. Her vision blurred, this time with tears, as her daughter drew closer. She closed her eyes as Amy carefully stroked her cheeks. Her heart swelled when Amy slid her arms around her neck. She breathed in her baby’s sweet warmth, turning her long neck to pull her daughter even closer.

“I missed you, Momma.”

Mallory tried to answer, but her reply came out as a whinny. She grunted a couple of times in frustration.

“It doesn’t matter, Momma. I still love you.”

Mallory nuzzled her daughter.

# # #

She and Amy explore the island every day now. They eat juicy red fruits and coconuts that Mallory cracks open with her hoofs. She speared a fish with her horn once, but Amy was too squeamish about gutting it, so that was that.

Mallory has lost track of how long she’s been gone. Her husband must have filed a missing person report; there must still be a search. Once in a while they hear an airplane and run, giggling and neighing, into the trees to hide until it passes.

Eventually, she knows, there will be a funeral. Her husband will move on. The moth will return to his bedroom in the form of another woman. Perhaps the moth will lay her eggs next summer and bear him dozens of beautiful children. That wouldn’t bother Mallory; she’s with Amy. She’ll see her grow up. Or maybe, on this island, she won’t grow up at all.

Mallory can hardly wait to find out.

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I’ve Got You

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

by Chad Ehler

Flight Lieutenant Mills never imagined that a member of the Royal Family would be giggling with glee on his very lap.  Never mind having to explain to his squadron commander how the entire situation had unfolded on an early spring day in May, 1940.  And that was assuming he got to keep his wings. Mills knew he broke the rules by landing his Spitfire in occupied France. But he didn’t care since it had to be done.  And he’d do it again.  Well done” they’d say. Perhaps there might even be a medal in it for him. Now, an eight year old boy named Edward, tenth in line to the British throne, sat happily strapped to Mills’ parachute harness with a stout canvas pistol belt.

“She’s a loverly kite and not a bleedin’ Jerry crate,” Edward said. He fidgeted for a better view forward as he sat between Mills and the Spitfire’s control column. Mills chuckled. He improvised a few bars of a Cole Porter tune:

I’ve got you . . . under my skin. Jerry’s crate . . . isn’t so great. Cause in our Spit . . . we’re going to win. I’ve got you . . . under my skin.”

Sure, it was tight quarters for the short journey but better than leaving the boy stranded behind enemy lines. And Edward was loving every fast mile of the ride home.  Just a few minutes and we’ll be home free.  Relief overcame Mills as the white chalk cliffs of Dover loomed large in his windscreen. My God it was beautiful.  With his guns empty, he was thrilled to be within sight of safety. Good ole Blighty. She’s always there when you need her. His airfield was visible in the verdant sanctum just a few rolling hills and two forests away.  Mills inched the throttle lever forward to put the big expanse of blue-green English Channel water behind them. 

But Mills’ stomach sank as a black speck appeared like a cancer in his rearview mirror. He had strafed all those Nazi planes in a French field as they sat like sitting ducks in a row.  But as the speck grew larger so did his fear.  Had he missed one? Mills altered his course left and gained speed, and as the blackness grew, its cockpit glass glinted in the high sun. Was it friend or foe? The glare blinded him even through squinted eyes.  Damn.

But then his left bank lit up the distinctive bright yellow propeller boss of a Nazi Bf-109. Holy crap. The yellow nosed bastard bobbed up and down in the mirror, now clear as day.  Mills hammered the throttle lever forward as hard as he could for more speed.  He felt the lurch in his arm as a brass wire snapped flooding the Spitfire’s thoroughbred engine with high octane fuel.  The engine growled with the violent admixture of 50 extra galloping horses. The sudden acceleration pinned him to his seat.

Red and orange filled Mills’ mirror as the 109 spat short bursts of white hot incendiary bullets.  Fiery tennis balls zipped the air overhead striking the mirror, disintegrating it into silver pixie dust.  Mills flinched.  He heard the sharp pings of Nazi pig iron bouncing off the rear armor plating of his seat.  The oil gauge needle went spastic.  A burst of 7.62mm incendiary rounds shredded Mills’ lower oil radiator.   He pulled back the spade grip to jink upwards into the sun to blind his pursuer but Edward’s body blocked his motion. Mills felt the sickening vibrations as 20mm cannon rounds ripped into the coolant tank under his engine.  Those same rounds smashed control wires in the tail and rattled the fuselage.  The rudder pedals went slack under his boots.  Intermittent puffs of fluffy white glycol smoke belched from his exhausts. The acrid, throat-closing stench of burning rubber flooded the cockpit.

The 109 screamed past them at high speed, and peeled off in a vertical victory roll.  Mills slid back his canopy hard for fresh air. A bizarre chiaroscuro of black and white smoke billowed from his Rolls-Royce engine.  It was at once beautiful and horrifying. Their Spitfire was a flaming cotton candy streamer of gliding death dropping 32 feet per second.

“Hang on as tight as you can. We’re hitting the silk,” Mills yelled. 

Edward turned and clung to Mills like a newborn koala with eyes as big as black olives. The blue canvas belt dug into the small of Edward’s back.  Mills felt a comforting warmth on his thighs as the boy lost his bladder.

“Ups a daisy.” 

But with 55 pounds of young boy on his chest, Mills struggled to gain a foothold up and out of the cockpit. He hooked his boot heel on the landing gear lever and the wind did the rest. The 100 mile an hour slipstream caught them both and sent Mills scraping back-first along the flaming fuselage.  Tumbling end over end, Mills’ flying boots went sailing into the ether.  He pulled the metal ripcord D-ring unfurling the white blossoming silk from his seatpack. The chute slithered open then deployed with a loud POOF BANG jerking them upwards. Mills felt the pistol belt go slack. He watched in horror as it twisted and fluttered away towards the Channel.  Edward remained with his arms and legs entwined inside Mills’ sturdy harness. The boy buried his small face into the warm sheepskin fleece of Mills’ flying jacket. 

Their fully engulfed Spitfire continued its odd and insistent smoky path to the white cliffs ahead with its waggly rudder and deployed landing gear.  At 1000 feet high, air rushed up Mills’ pant legs turning Edward’s clammy uric acid into stinging goosebumps.  They descended way too fast for comfort and logic.  But it wasn’t the boy’s extra weight.  Mills looked up to his canopy to see that two of the 28 wedge shaped panels were gone, devoured by hungry burning petrol.  Their downward speed increased as the licking flame gobbled its way through more fresh silk.  Without a reserve chute to deploy, Mills hugged Edward with all his might as they twisted and dropped into a fluttering freefall.

“It’s OK,” Mills said closing his eyes.

“I’ve got you.”

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