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Underwater: THE TULIP

Monday, December 10th, 2018

by Dina Toyoda

read it in the correct order

 

The feet churn the brown sludge that was once white snow. Bodies dodge each other. Among all of them I’m alone. Tiny puffs of smoke waft out of each mouth and disappear into the wet air. 

I imagine a high wire, stretching between me and where I’m going. Balancing on it, I carefully put one foot in front of another. Step, step, step.

A flash of color makes me step off to the side to stare. Dying on the ground is a small, red tulip. I can’t believe, no one else noticed or picked it up! Now it’s mine. I carry it by a broken stem, as I walk into a movie theater. Somehow, carrying this flower that no one gave me makes me feel even lonelier than before.

I watch the film. My shoulders press against the others. In the last moments the screen fills with a sea of red flowers, swaying in the field, and the story is finished. Wiping tears, I blink, as the lights go on. People file out of the doors. I sit still, peering at a miracle in my lap.

Where there once was a small bud, a glorious red blossom fills my hands! Did it bloom in the heat of the theater? Did it jump into my hands off of the movie screen? The tulip’s brilliant yellow heart smiles at me as if to say…

*****

-“She is crying, she’s crying, come, look, she must be waking up!”

The patient’s daughter pulls the nurse by the hand into the darkened room.

The nurse peers at a figure on the bed. It’s true, there are tears running down the patient’s face. The nurse checks her pulse, while looking at the monitor.

-“I’ll call the doctor” – she says and leaves the room.

 

 

 

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Underwater: SILVER BIRCHES

Sunday, December 9th, 2018

by Dina Toyoda

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We walk side by side on the path between the trees. Mama’s and papa’s arms are linked with mine. The silver birches drop their leaves – yellow, orange and red gifts, they cushion out footsteps. It smells like home, like autumn, like something that passed and will never come again.

At night we sit in a small room by the fire. My toes are cold. I take one foot out of a slipper. The big toe is sticking from a hole in a sock. I hold it in my hand. Something enters my mind then, some uneasiness. It sucks away all the warmth in the room. I realize, what it is: my parents are both gone, all I have is the memory of their faces, lit up by the fire.

*******

A white clad nurse turns to leave the room. It doesn’t look like this patient will wake up any time soon. She’s already been in a coma for more than a week.

One of the young woman’s feet is sticking out of the covers. It’s so white and fragile looking, the nurse presses it in her hand and tries to warm it up.

 

 

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Underwater

Saturday, December 8th, 2018

by Dina Toyoda

 

THE PAST

The water is so cold, it takes my breath away. I walk deeper into the waves. My companion is gayly splashing nearby, exchanging smug, meaningful glances and Chechen words with his friends. A few minutes ago we were together on my beach towel, hidden from others by a thorny bush.

I take another step, and suddenly can’t feel the sea bottom! I bob in the water only a couple of feet from the man, but can’t cry out for help, won’t cry out. When he was inside of me, I knew, some important part of me died, although I didn’t know why. What did it matter now, if I stopped existing all together?

He finally notices that I’m in trouble and pushes me toward the shore. I grab the towel with its tiny blood stain and run to my bungalow.

Later in the evening he finds me there. I resist, but he slaps me so hard, I see the stars, and he rapes me all night on the rickety bed.

******

Nurses quietly clean the hospital room, littered with roll-away equipment and empty medical packaging. A little while ago the patient stopped breathing, and it took some time to get her back. She looks so lost and broken! One of the nurses leans over and gently smooths the lines between the woman’s eyebrows. 

 

SILVER BIRCHES

We walk side by side on the path between the trees. Mama’s and papa’s arms are linked with mine. The silver birches drop their leaves – yellow, orange and red gifts, they cushion out footsteps. It smells like home, like autumn, like something that passed and will never come again.

At night we sit in a small room by the fire. My toes are cold. I take one foot out of a slipper. The big toe is sticking from a hole in a sock. I hold it in my hand. Something enters my mind then, some uneasiness. It sucks away all the warmth in the room. I realize, what it is: my parents are both gone, all I have is the memory of their faces, lit up by the fire.

*******

A white clad nurse turns to leave the room. It doesn’t look like this patient will wake up any time soon. She’s already been in a coma for more than a week.

One of the young woman’s feet is sticking out of the covers. It’s so white and fragile looking, the nurse presses it in her hand and tries to warm it up.

 

THE TULIP

The feet churn the brown sludge that was once white snow. Bodies dodge each other. Among all of them I’m alone. Tiny puffs of smoke waft out of each mouth and disappear into the wet air. 

I imagine a high wire, stretching between me and where I’m going. Balancing on it, I carefully put one foot in front of another. Step, step, step.

A flash of color makes me step off to the side to stare. Dying on the ground is a small, red tulip. I can’t believe, no one else noticed or picked it up! Now it’s mine. I carry it by a broken stem, as I walk into a movie theater. Somehow, carrying this flower that no one gave me makes me feel even lonelier than before.

I watch the film. My shoulders press against the others. In the last moments the screen fills with a sea of red flowers, swaying in the field, and the story is finished. Wiping tears, I blink, as the lights go on. People file out of the doors. I sit still, peering at a miracle in my lap.

Where there once was a small bud, a glorious red blossom fills my hands! Did it bloom in the heat of the theater? Did it jump into my hands off of the movie screen? The tulip’s brilliant yellow heart smiles at me as if to say…

*****

-“She is crying, she’s crying, come, look, she must be waking up!”

The patient’s daughter pulls the nurse by the hand into the darkened room.

The nurse peers at a figure on the bed. It’s true, there are tears running down the patient’s face. The nurse checks her pulse, while looking at the monitor.

-“I’ll call the doctor” – she says and leaves the room.

 

 

 

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Echoes: Subplot

Friday, December 7th, 2018

by Tracy Davidson

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PC Oliver Jenkins grumbled under his breath as he made his way out to Henry’s cabin. Why did he always get the worst jobs? Not that there was anything wrong with Henry himself, he was a decent enough bloke, if a little odd. ‘Henry the Hermit’ people called him. No, it was having to traipse through the wilderness to speak to him. How could anyone not have a phone in this day and age?

Oliver paused for a rest. He was going to have a hard job passing his next physical at this rate. But then, being a PC in a quiet rural area like this didn’t give you much chance to get physical. Oliver couldn’t remember the last time he’d had to chase someone. Not unless you counted the time PC Daniels tried to nick his doughnut anyway.

The biggest crime they’d had around here lately was when the vicar’s bike got stolen. Midsomer Murders it was not. Not that Oliver wanted anyone to get murdered of course. For one thing, he hated the sight of blood. And for another, it would only bring the big city cops in, throwing their weight around and showing the locals up. No, investigating petty thefts and breaking up the occasional drunken brawl suited Oliver just fine.

An escaped mental patient was certainly different from the norm. Poor woman. Thought she was a witch apparently. Claimed her daughter was about to give birth to the spawn of Satan, or some such rubbish. She got committed for trying to poison her daughter. Said it was a ‘potion against evil’ rather than poison. Sad, really.

After walking for what felt like ten miles, rather than three, Oliver finally spotted the cabin in the clearing ahead. It was a pretty spot, nice and quiet, but Oliver didn’t think he could live out here. Too isolated. Too far from the nearest pub. Not to mention the nearest woman.

Oliver stepped on a dried twig which made a loud snapping sound. Ahead of him, he saw Henry fling open his front door and rush out, armed with a shotgun. Oliver’s jaw went slack when he realised the barrel was pointing straight at him. Thankfully, Henry lowered it as soon as he saw Oliver. It wasn’t like Henry to be so jumpy. Perhaps he had heard about the escaped mental patient too, despite not being on the grid.

“Hi Henry,” said Oliver, nodding at the shotgun. “Er, is everything OK?”

“Sure Oliver,” said Henry, looking embarrassed. “You can’t be too careful living out here. What can I do for you?”

“Just wondering if you’d seen any strangers out here. We’re looking for a woman in her 40s, fair haired, attractive.”

“Sorry Oliver. Haven’t seen anyone in days,” Henry said.

Reading people was not one of Oliver’s strong points, but even he could tell Henry was lying. Not only that, but Henry looked spooked too. Still, Oliver wasn’t about to accuse an armed man of lying. Especially not this close to knocking off time.

“OK, well, if you do see her, don’t approach her. Just let us know as soon as possible.”

“Sure Oliver, no problem.” And without another word, Henry retreated back into the cabin and shut the door.

And there was another reason not to live in isolation, Oliver thought. It didn’t do your manners much good. He’d come out all this way and didn’t even get offered a cup of tea. If the crazy witch lady did come here, she’d be in good company.

Oliver started to trudge back through the woods. As he got halfway to where he’d left his car, he heard the strangest sound, far off in the distance. A sound Oliver normally found appealing, but this one sent shivers down his spine. A sound that had him running the rest of the way to his car, at a speed that would have impressed the force’s medical officer. It was a baby’s laugh.

 

 

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Echoes: The Hermit

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

by Tracy  Davidson

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The usual sounds of early morning birdsong were interrupted by a loud, piercing, baby’s cry. The sudden silence afterwards was more unnerving than the unexpected cry itself. Henry tilted his head to listen for any further noise. But even the birds were silent now.

Henry shrugged. Perhaps his solitary existence was finally getting to him. It was probably just an animal, though it sounded like no animal he knew of in these woods, and he knew these woods well.

Another piercing cry made him jump. This time, the cries kept coming. It was definitely human, and distressed. Henry followed the cries down to the river. It was indeed a baby, newborn by the look of it, lying on a blanket. The infant – a boy – was naked.

A woman Henry judged to be in her forties lay a few feet away. Her eyes were open and fixed, clearly dead. Though from what, Henry couldn’t make out. There were no obvious injuries and she was fully clothed. If she was the child’s mother, she hadn’t given birth here. The expression on her dead face made Henry shiver. If he was the superstitious type, he would have said she’d been frightened to death.    

The baby had stopped crying as soon as Henry appeared. Henry picked him up, rather awkwardly, unused to handling babies. The child stared up at him with an intensity Henry found unsettling. He didn’t think babies were able to focus this well.

The morning air was still cold, so Henry wrapped the child in the blanket and held him against his chest. There was nothing he could do for the woman, but the child needed warmth, and milk. Henry took the child back to his cabin.

It wasn’t much of a cabin, more a converted woodshed, but it suited Henry. A living room cum kitchen downstairs, a small bedroom and bathroom upstairs. No TV, no internet, no phone. He didn’t care that locals called him ‘Henry the Hermit’. He came here seeking a quiet life, and that’s what he got. Until today anyway.

Henry put more logs on the fire and heated up some milk. He dipped his fingers in the warm milk and held them to the baby’s mouth. The boy suckled them. He was strong, and seemed unharmed.

Henry didn’t know what to do. The nearest phone was three miles away, the nearest town ten. What would the locals say if he suddenly turned up with a baby in his arms, and a story about a dead woman? They already thought he was weird. Henry feared they’d think he was a murderer too.

Henry stroked the child’s head and the baby flashed a big smile at him, gurgling happily. Henry smiled in return, though it faded when he felt something under the child’s hair. Raised marks of some kind. Henry’s fingers traced them, and he frowned. What the…

A sudden knock at the door startled him. He usually heard any approach, not that he had many visitors. Henry laid the child down on a chair facing the fire, away from the door, and went to answer it.

A young couple were standing there. The girl looked pale and worried. The young man stared at Henry with the same intensity as the baby. He had the same eyes and features as the baby too. As though the baby sensed their presence, he let out another gurgle.

“Oh thank God,” cried the girl, slipping past Henry and running toward the chair.

“I don’t think God had anything to do with it,” the young man murmured, sounding amused. Something about the man’s gaze made Henry stand aside.

The girl cradled the baby in her arms. “Thank you,” she said. “For taking care of him. When we found my mother dead by the river…” The man held his hand up and she fell silent.

The man spoke. “My wife is understandably distraught. My mother-in-law had a heart condition. And a mental one, alas. She took our child without permission. Perhaps you’ve seen something on the news?”

“No,” said Henry. “I don’t keep up with the outside world. I keep myself to myself.”

“Good,” said the man. “Then we won’t bother you any longer. We’ll keep your name out of things. No-one will bother you Henry. Goodbye.”

The young man put an arm around his wife’s shoulder, smiled at his son, and steered them out. It wasn’t until they’d gone that Henry wondered how the man knew his name.

Then Henry remembered the markings he’d felt on the baby’s head. The raised numbers his fingers had traced, red hot to the touch. The numbers 6… 6… 6.

 

 

 

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Echoes: a Black Heart

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

by Tracy Davidson

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I am not an evil man, though there are many who would doubtless disagree. Including the young woman sitting on the rock in front of me. She has just refilled my goblet with wine. She thinks I am under her spell. As if I would actually drink a single drop of anything a witch put in front of me. Does she really think a man such as I could be so easily fooled? Perhaps my reputation has not yet reached these parts. I will have to rectify that.

She smiles at me, in what she assumes is a seductive manner. I am immune to her charms. Oh, she’s beautiful enough. If she were an ordinary girl I would have had her by now. Right here on these rocks. But she is not an ordinary girl. Witchcraft runs in her veins and I would not taint any part of myself with it. I am already tainted enough.

Those who are acquainted with my reputation call me ‘The Witchfinder’. I wasn’t sure about the nickname to begin with, but it has grown on me. For one thing, it’s certainly easier for these simple English folk to understand than my old title of Grand Inquisitor. And for another, it is what I do – I find witches. I have always been able to sense them, even as a child. It’s an instinct, a gift. I was born to hunt out the evils of magic and sorcery, to cut them from society. It is the witches who are evil, not I.

And I should know. For my mother was one of them. It is her blood that taints me. As a small child, I feared her, feared the potions she brewed, the enchantments she uttered, the way her eyes gleamed whenever she was plotting some new way to curse someone. As I grew, my fear turned to hate.

I was only ten years old when I killed her. It was quick and clumsy, done on a whim with no prior thought or intention. She barely had time to look surprised. Some instinctive urge took over me, made me hack away at her chest. When I exposed her heart, it was black. It crumbled away between my fingers. I had destroyed something evil. And in that moment I knew it was my destiny to continue destroying evil, wherever I found it.

Evil often hides behind pretty faces and comely figures, but it cannot hide from me.

The girl is still flirting with me. I pretend to drink from the goblet again. I could have had her arrested by now – my men are waiting in the trees for my command – but it amuses me to toy with her. To let her think she has me where she wants me. To let her enjoy one last bit of freedom. Before it’s my turn to have her exactly where I want her.

When I executed my mother, all those years ago, it was messy and inept. I have substantially refined my methods since. It is not just enough to kill a witch. The evil living within her must be purged first, her black heart unblackened.

That is the reason for the torture. Inflicting pain is a necessary evil. What I do sickens many, even those who fear and or hate witches too. But there is no other way. The fact that I personally get great pleasure from it is simply a fortunate bonus. And one I keep all to myself.

The girl’s eyes have changed, grown darker. She mutters something under her breath. It is time. I give the command and my men surge forward. The girl tries to run but there’s nowhere to go. She’s surrounded.

She knows who I am now. I can see it in her face. She has heard of me then. Good. That knowledge only adds to the fear. And yet, there is defiance in her expression too. I sense a greater strength there than I’d previously given her credit for. She will not be easy, or quick, to break. Which is exactly how I like it. It is my turn to smile now. The next few days promise to be very satisfying.

“I am going to save you Rachel,” I tell her. “Save you from the creature inside. Rid you of your black heart.”

She glares at me. “You are the only one with a black heart,” she says. “And one day it will burn. Along with the rest of you.”

I continue to smile down at her. Even though something inside me now feels uneasy. My mother once told me I would burn. Not in this lifetime, but another, hundreds of years from now. At the time, I put it down to her madness and cruelty, but now I find myself wondering if it could be true.

I shake the feeling off as I watch the young witch get dragged away. I don’t care about things hundreds of years away. I only care about the present. And it is Rachel’s heart that will soon be burning.         

 

 

 

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Echoes: Rachel

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

by Tracy Davidson

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“So this is where it happened?”

“Yes.”

“This is where your mother killed my father.”

Rachel put a comforting hand on Guy’s shoulder. There was nothing she could say that would make this easier for him.

It was November 5th and a bonfire was raging in front of them. Exactly twenty years earlier Rachel’s mother, Marissa, had indeed killed Guy’s father, the reincarnated Witchfinder, DuPassant. Marissa turned him into a guy, effectively burning him at the stake, in revenge for him inflicting the same fate on so many of her kind.

Rachel grew up believing her mother did the right thing. Rumours that DuPassant had a baby son worried her as much as her mother. But their coven were never able to sense such a child, and the rumours died away.

Then, three months ago, she met Guy. There was an instant attraction between them. And, on her part, instant recognition. Rachel’s powers were greater than her mother’s. She sensed only goodness in Guy, he was nothing like his evil father, who Guy grew up knowing nothing about, his own mother having shielded him from the truth.

The truth came as a great shock. Rachel would have kept it from him if she could. But Marissa asked to meet the man her daughter had fallen in love with. If she recognised him too, Rachel wasn’t sure how she’d react.

“I don’t blame her you know,” Guy said. “In her place I would have done the same.” He turned towards Rachel, smiling reassuringly. “I love you. Nothing will ever change that. We are the present and future, not the past.”

Rachel returned his smile. He was right. They were the future. More than he yet knew. She could feel that first spark of new life within her.

“Let’s go,” she said. “Time to meet my mother. To finally put the past behind us all.”

At Marissa’s house Rachel held her breath when the door opened, but there was no sign of recognition on her mother’s face when she saw Guy. Indeed, she smiled warmly, shook his hand, even kissed him on the cheek in welcome.      

But everything changed when they entered the lounge. The temperature dropped, the lights dimmed. Rachel whirled around in time to see Guy’s eyes widen in alarm before he fell unconscious to the floor. Rachel tried to go to his aid but some force pushed her away. She looked up, saw her mother’s hand raised in her direction.

“Mother… what are you doing? Stop! You don’t understand…”

“I understand perfectly,” said Marissa. “I knew the rumours were true, knew one day he would come. For you.”

“He loves me. He’s nothing like DuPassant.”

“He’s using you Rachel. You can’t see it yet. But you will. He has to die. So does that ‘thing’ growing inside you. Oh yes,” Marissa said, seeing her daughter’s shock. “I sense new life in you too. Both must be destroyed before they have the chance to grow stronger.”

A sudden wave of anger, and hate, swept over Rachel. Feelings she’d never had before, and never expected to feel for her mother.

She raised her own hand. Marissa was violently thrown backwards against the wall, knocking her out. The temperature immediately rose, the lights came back up. Kneeling beside Guy, Rachel put her hand against his cheek. He opened his eyes.

“Hurry,” said Rachel, helping him up. “We have to get out of here before Mother wakes up.”

Guy hesitated when they stepped over Marissa’s still form. “I don’t want to come between you,” he said. “She is your family after all.”

“She was,” said Rachel. “But now you are my family. So is our child.”

Guy looked startled. “You’re pregnant?”

“Yes. We’re the future. Just the three of us.”

They embraced, then ran as quickly as they could, wanting to put distance between themselves and Marissa. Rachel didn’t know what their future held, but she knew she’d do anything to protect Guy and the baby.

In the darkness, she couldn’t see the evil gleam of satisfaction that filled Guy’s dark, and not-so-innocent, eyes.   

 

 

 

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Echoes

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

by Tracy Davidson

 

Echoes

     The sound of screaming echoed in Marissa’s head. No sign of her inner torment showed on her face as she watched the bonfire’s flames slowly engulf the guy.

     She hated fire, feared it. All witches did. But that did not stop them using it, when the need arose.

     Marissa closed her eyes and took a deep, calming breath. She thought of her ancestors, and others of their kind, who had suffered in the flames so long ago. And all because of man’s ignorance. Witchcraft was not the devil’s work. It was not a curse. It was a blessing, a gift, heaven sent. But fear, misunderstanding and man’s determination to subdue their women, had led to witches hiding their gifts.

     If it were not for the Witchfinder, maybe in time there would have been understanding and acceptance. If anyone was doing the devil’s work, then surely it was he. DuPassant was pure evil. He took pleasure from other’s pain. It was said that before he arrived in England, he had taught the Spanish Inquisition a thing or two. Marissa could well believe it. For she, in a past life, had faced the man. She had been accused, tortured and finally killed by him.

     How well she remembered his instruments of torture, the days and nights she lay at his mercy, such as it was. And the flames, the feel of them as they slowly licked their way up her

body, the indescribable pain, the heat compressing her lungs. How well she remembered her

screams. But most of all she remembered his face. DuPassant’s eyes never left hers the whole

time. They burned her as much as the flames did. His cruel smile was the last thing she saw

before the darkness finally, blissfully, took her.     

     Marissa opened her eyes again. That had been over three hundred years ago. Her name

had been Rachel. She had died at just 21 years old. The same age Marissa was now. It was

fitting somehow.

     The flames had really taken hold while her eyes had been closed. The guy had shifted

slightly and was directly facing her. Another scream echoed in Marissa’s head. One only she

could hear. Only this time it wasn’t a memory. She stared into the guy’s black felt eyes,

willing him to see her as clearly as she saw him.

     Though the expression on his fake and featureless face never changed, she felt the

connection, the recognition. Rachel had not been the only one to be reborn in this century.

DuPassant lived again too. But not for much longer.

     It had been six weeks since Marissa first spotted him. He had been walking down the

street one day. She had recognised him instantly. It wasn’t just the resemblance in looks. It

was the aura he gave off. That same wave of evil. She could see it, smell it, taste it. She had

followed him that day, kept track of his movements since.

     It had not taken long to realise his hatred of women was as strong as ever. As was his need

to inflict pain, and his determination to hunt down witches. Marissa knew it was her purpose

in this life to stop him. For the sake of the current sisterhood, as much as for revenge for

those long gone.

     And so she had set about planning his downfall, building up her own power and merging it

with that of other members of her coven. After all, one witch on her own could not turn a

man into a guy.

     For that was exactly what Guy DuPassant had become. Guy by name, now guy by nature.

What other fate would have suited him better than to perish in what he used to call the

cleansing fire. Marissa wondered how ‘cleansing’ he thought it now.   

     DuPassant’s face melted before her. The screams in Marissa’s head fell silent.

     Marissa’s daughter kicked within her belly. Marissa sent reassuring thoughts to her, gently

stroking her swollen stomach. She felt her daughter’s power. It would only have been a

matter of time before DuPassant had felt it too.

     “You’re safe Rachel,” she murmured. “It’s your time now.”           

 

Rachel

“So this is where it happened?”

“Yes.”

“This is where your mother killed my father.”

Rachel put a comforting hand on Guy’s shoulder. There was nothing she could say that would make this easier for him.

It was November 5th and a bonfire was raging in front of them. Exactly twenty years earlier Rachel’s mother, Marissa, had indeed killed Guy’s father, the reincarnated Witchfinder, DuPassant. Marissa turned him into a guy, effectively burning him at the stake, in revenge for him inflicting the same fate on so many of her kind.

Rachel grew up believing her mother did the right thing. Rumours that DuPassant had a baby son worried her as much as her mother. But their coven were never able to sense such a child, and the rumours died away.

Then, three months ago, she met Guy. There was an instant attraction between them. And, on her part, instant recognition. Rachel’s powers were greater than her mother’s. She sensed only goodness in Guy, he was nothing like his evil father, who Guy grew up knowing nothing about, his own mother having shielded him from the truth.

The truth came as a great shock. Rachel would have kept it from him if she could. But Marissa asked to meet the man her daughter had fallen in love with. If she recognised him too, Rachel wasn’t sure how she’d react.

“I don’t blame her you know,” Guy said. “In her place I would have done the same.” He turned towards Rachel, smiling reassuringly. “I love you. Nothing will ever change that. We are the present and future, not the past.”

Rachel returned his smile. He was right. They were the future. More than he yet knew. She could feel that first spark of new life within her.

“Let’s go,” she said. “Time to meet my mother. To finally put the past behind us all.”

At Marissa’s house Rachel held her breath when the door opened, but there was no sign of recognition on her mother’s face when she saw Guy. Indeed, she smiled warmly, shook his hand, even kissed him on the cheek in welcome.      

But everything changed when they entered the lounge. The temperature dropped, the lights dimmed. Rachel whirled around in time to see Guy’s eyes widen in alarm before he fell unconscious to the floor. Rachel tried to go to his aid but some force pushed her away. She looked up, saw her mother’s hand raised in her direction.

“Mother… what are you doing? Stop! You don’t understand…”

“I understand perfectly,” said Marissa. “I knew the rumours were true, knew one day he would come. For you.”

“He loves me. He’s nothing like DuPassant.”

“He’s using you Rachel. You can’t see it yet. But you will. He has to die. So does that ‘thing’ growing inside you. Oh yes,” Marissa said, seeing her daughter’s shock. “I sense new life in you too. Both must be destroyed before they have the chance to grow stronger.”

A sudden wave of anger, and hate, swept over Rachel. Feelings she’d never had before, and never expected to feel for her mother.

She raised her own hand. Marissa was violently thrown backwards against the wall, knocking her out. The temperature immediately rose, the lights came back up. Kneeling beside Guy, Rachel put her hand against his cheek. He opened his eyes.

“Hurry,” said Rachel, helping him up. “We have to get out of here before Mother wakes up.”

Guy hesitated when they stepped over Marissa’s still form. “I don’t want to come between you,” he said. “She is your family after all.”

“She was,” said Rachel. “But now you are my family. So is our child.”

Guy looked startled. “You’re pregnant?”

“Yes. We’re the future. Just the three of us.”

They embraced, then ran as quickly as they could, wanting to put distance between themselves and Marissa. Rachel didn’t know what their future held, but she knew she’d do anything to protect Guy and the baby.

In the darkness, she couldn’t see the evil gleam of satisfaction that filled Guy’s dark, and not-so-innocent, eyes.   

 

A Black Heart

I am not an evil man, though there are many who would doubtless disagree. Including the young woman sitting on the rock in front of me. She has just refilled my goblet with wine. She thinks I am under her spell. As if I would actually drink a single drop of anything a witch put in front of me. Does she really think a man such as I could be so easily fooled? Perhaps my reputation has not yet reached these parts. I will have to rectify that.

She smiles at me, in what she assumes is a seductive manner. I am immune to her charms. Oh, she’s beautiful enough. If she were an ordinary girl I would have had her by now. Right here on these rocks. But she is not an ordinary girl. Witchcraft runs in her veins and I would not taint any part of myself with it. I am already tainted enough.

Those who are acquainted with my reputation call me ‘The Witchfinder’. I wasn’t sure about the nickname to begin with, but it has grown on me. For one thing, it’s certainly easier for these simple English folk to understand than my old title of Grand Inquisitor. And for another, it is what I do – I find witches. I have always been able to sense them, even as a child. It’s an instinct, a gift. I was born to hunt out the evils of magic and sorcery, to cut them from society. It is the witches who are evil, not I.

And I should know. For my mother was one of them. It is her blood that taints me. As a small child, I feared her, feared the potions she brewed, the enchantments she uttered, the way her eyes gleamed whenever she was plotting some new way to curse someone. As I grew, my fear turned to hate.

I was only ten years old when I killed her. It was quick and clumsy, done on a whim with no prior thought or intention. She barely had time to look surprised. Some instinctive urge took over me, made me hack away at her chest. When I exposed her heart, it was black. It crumbled away between my fingers. I had destroyed something evil. And in that moment I knew it was my destiny to continue destroying evil, wherever I found it.

Evil often hides behind pretty faces and comely figures, but it cannot hide from me.

The girl is still flirting with me. I pretend to drink from the goblet again. I could have had her arrested by now – my men are waiting in the trees for my command – but it amuses me to toy with her. To let her think she has me where she wants me. To let her enjoy one last bit of freedom. Before it’s my turn to have her exactly where I want her.

When I executed my mother, all those years ago, it was messy and inept. I have substantially refined my methods since. It is not just enough to kill a witch. The evil living within her must be purged first, her black heart unblackened.

That is the reason for the torture. Inflicting pain is a necessary evil. What I do sickens many, even those who fear and or hate witches too. But there is no other way. The fact that I personally get great pleasure from it is simply a fortunate bonus. And one I keep all to myself.

The girl’s eyes have changed, grown darker. She mutters something under her breath. It is time. I give the command and my men surge forward. The girl tries to run but there’s nowhere to go. She’s surrounded.

She knows who I am now. I can see it in her face. She has heard of me then. Good. That knowledge only adds to the fear. And yet, there is defiance in her expression too. I sense a greater strength there than I’d previously given her credit for. She will not be easy, or quick, to break. Which is exactly how I like it. It is my turn to smile now. The next few days promise to be very satisfying.

“I am going to save you Rachel,” I tell her. “Save you from the creature inside. Rid you of your black heart.”

She glares at me. “You are the only one with a black heart,” she says. “And one day it will burn. Along with the rest of you.”

I continue to smile down at her. Even though something inside me now feels uneasy. My mother once told me I would burn. Not in this lifetime, but another, hundreds of years from now. At the time, I put it down to her madness and cruelty, but now I find myself wondering if it could be true.

I shake the feeling off as I watch the young witch get dragged away. I don’t care about things hundreds of years away. I only care about the present. And it is Rachel’s heart that will soon be burning.         

 

The Hermit

The usual sounds of early morning birdsong were interrupted by a loud, piercing, baby’s cry. The sudden silence afterwards was more unnerving than the unexpected cry itself. Henry tilted his head to listen for any further noise. But even the birds were silent now.

Henry shrugged. Perhaps his solitary existence was finally getting to him. It was probably just an animal, though it sounded like no animal he knew of in these woods, and he knew these woods well.

Another piercing cry made him jump. This time, the cries kept coming. It was definitely human, and distressed. Henry followed the cries down to the river. It was indeed a baby, newborn by the look of it, lying on a blanket. The infant – a boy – was naked.

A woman Henry judged to be in her forties lay a few feet away. Her eyes were open and fixed, clearly dead. Though from what, Henry couldn’t make out. There were no obvious injuries and she was fully clothed. If she was the child’s mother, she hadn’t given birth here. The expression on her dead face made Henry shiver. If he was the superstitious type, he would have said she’d been frightened to death.    

The baby had stopped crying as soon as Henry appeared. Henry picked him up, rather awkwardly, unused to handling babies. The child stared up at him with an intensity Henry found unsettling. He didn’t think babies were able to focus this well.

The morning air was still cold, so Henry wrapped the child in the blanket and held him against his chest. There was nothing he could do for the woman, but the child needed warmth, and milk. Henry took the child back to his cabin.

It wasn’t much of a cabin, more a converted woodshed, but it suited Henry. A living room cum kitchen downstairs, a small bedroom and bathroom upstairs. No TV, no internet, no phone. He didn’t care that locals called him ‘Henry the Hermit’. He came here seeking a quiet life, and that’s what he got. Until today anyway.

Henry put more logs on the fire and heated up some milk. He dipped his fingers in the warm milk and held them to the baby’s mouth. The boy suckled them. He was strong, and seemed unharmed.

Henry didn’t know what to do. The nearest phone was three miles away, the nearest town ten. What would the locals say if he suddenly turned up with a baby in his arms, and a story about a dead woman? They already thought he was weird. Henry feared they’d think he was a murderer too.

Henry stroked the child’s head and the baby flashed a big smile at him, gurgling happily. Henry smiled in return, though it faded when he felt something under the child’s hair. Raised marks of some kind. Henry’s fingers traced them, and he frowned. What the…

A sudden knock at the door startled him. He usually heard any approach, not that he had many visitors. Henry laid the child down on a chair facing the fire, away from the door, and went to answer it.

A young couple were standing there. The girl looked pale and worried. The young man stared at Henry with the same intensity as the baby. He had the same eyes and features as the baby too. As though the baby sensed their presence, he let out another gurgle.

“Oh thank God,” cried the girl, slipping past Henry and running toward the chair.

“I don’t think God had anything to do with it,” the young man murmured, sounding amused. Something about the man’s gaze made Henry stand aside.

The girl cradled the baby in her arms. “Thank you,” she said. “For taking care of him. When we found my mother dead by the river…” The man held his hand up and she fell silent.

The man spoke. “My wife is understandably distraught. My mother-in-law had a heart condition. And a mental one, alas. She took our child without permission. Perhaps you’ve seen something on the news?”

“No,” said Henry. “I don’t keep up with the outside world. I keep myself to myself.”

“Good,” said the man. “Then we won’t bother you any longer. We’ll keep your name out of things. No-one will bother you Henry. Goodbye.”

The young man put an arm around his wife’s shoulder, smiled at his son, and steered them out. It wasn’t until they’d gone that Henry wondered how the man knew his name.

Then Henry remembered the markings he’d felt on the baby’s head. The raised numbers his fingers had traced, red hot to the touch. The numbers 6… 6… 6.

 

Subplot

PC Oliver Jenkins grumbled under his breath as he made his way out to Henry’s cabin. Why did he always get the worst jobs? Not that there was anything wrong with Henry himself, he was a decent enough bloke, if a little odd. ‘Henry the Hermit’ people called him. No, it was having to traipse through the wilderness to speak to him. How could anyone not have a phone in this day and age?

Oliver paused for a rest. He was going to have a hard job passing his next physical at this rate. But then, being a PC in a quiet rural area like this didn’t give you much chance to get physical. Oliver couldn’t remember the last time he’d had to chase someone. Not unless you counted the time PC Daniels tried to nick his doughnut anyway.

The biggest crime they’d had around here lately was when the vicar’s bike got stolen. Midsomer Murders it was not. Not that Oliver wanted anyone to get murdered of course. For one thing, he hated the sight of blood. And for another, it would only bring the big city cops in, throwing their weight around and showing the locals up. No, investigating petty thefts and breaking up the occasional drunken brawl suited Oliver just fine.

An escaped mental patient was certainly different from the norm. Poor woman. Thought she was a witch apparently. Claimed her daughter was about to give birth to the spawn of Satan, or some such rubbish. She got committed for trying to poison her daughter. Said it was a ‘potion against evil’ rather than poison. Sad, really.

After walking for what felt like ten miles, rather than three, Oliver finally spotted the cabin in the clearing ahead. It was a pretty spot, nice and quiet, but Oliver didn’t think he could live out here. Too isolated. Too far from the nearest pub. Not to mention the nearest woman.

Oliver stepped on a dried twig which made a loud snapping sound. Ahead of him, he saw Henry fling open his front door and rush out, armed with a shotgun. Oliver’s jaw went slack when he realised the barrel was pointing straight at him. Thankfully, Henry lowered it as soon as he saw Oliver. It wasn’t like Henry to be so jumpy. Perhaps he had heard about the escaped mental patient too, despite not being on the grid.

“Hi Henry,” said Oliver, nodding at the shotgun. “Er, is everything OK?”

“Sure Oliver,” said Henry, looking embarrassed. “You can’t be too careful living out here. What can I do for you?”

“Just wondering if you’d seen any strangers out here. We’re looking for a woman in her 40s, fair haired, attractive.”

“Sorry Oliver. Haven’t seen anyone in days,” Henry said.

Reading people was not one of Oliver’s strong points, but even he could tell Henry was lying. Not only that, but Henry looked spooked too. Still, Oliver wasn’t about to accuse an armed man of lying. Especially not this close to knocking off time.

“OK, well, if you do see her, don’t approach her. Just let us know as soon as possible.”

“Sure Oliver, no problem.” And without another word, Henry retreated back into the cabin and shut the door.

And there was another reason not to live in isolation, Oliver thought. It didn’t do your manners much good. He’d come out all this way and didn’t even get offered a cup of tea. If the crazy witch lady did come here, she’d be in good company.

Oliver started to trudge back through the woods. As he got halfway to where he’d left his car, he heard the strangest sound, far off in the distance. A sound Oliver normally found appealing, but this one sent shivers down his spine. A sound that had him running the rest of the way to his car, at a speed that would have impressed the force’s medical officer. It was a baby’s laugh.

 

 

 

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To Fly Through: the Failure of Poetry

Sunday, December 2nd, 2018

by K. McGiffert

read it in the correct order

 

My favorite poem is “A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts,” by Wallace Stevens. I don’t know what it means. A potentially dangerous cat shrinks to a “small green bug in the grass” while the rabbit grows monolithically in front of the moon. It is summer, fragrantly hot, and the powerless becomes like a god this one night. That poem was a favorite of my friend, Ben, too. Ben took English classes on break from the psych ward where we were living. Living was hard for him. One night, he went home to his mother on a pass, shut himself into the bathroom and sliced both wrists. He was saved, but now his fingers were each threaded through a brace fixed to the bandaged wrists, in order for his tendons to heal back into useful things. I tied his shoes for him; he said I looked good in jeans. One evening, we were talking about poetry. I quoted Stevens, saying, “I love the sound of ‘his fire-fangled feathers dangled down’.” But he didn’t pick it up. He said “I just wish I could step away for a while. Sleep in the air. Just sleep there for a time, weightless.” I nodded and said little, a good listener, like a therapist, feeling myself large with understanding and kindness. The next morning, Ben left the ward, climbed the many stairs, and with his tied fingers ripped a fire extinguisher from the wall and shattered the window. And then he was gone. The sleep—I hope it felt long and deep and that he was the “nothing that is” by the time he reached the parking lot. I failed to save him, didn’t come close. I became the tiny cat-bug and he’s still the dark ghost, eclipsing the moon.

 

 

 

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To Fly Through: Learning Skulls

Saturday, December 1st, 2018

by K. McGiffert

read it in the correct order

 

He had an arrogant tilt to his head when he spoke. “No, that is not a rodent’s skull” he corrected, “it’s a rabbit’s.” “How can you tell” I asked because I really wanted to know. “Oh, various features” he said, impatiently. I continued to stare up at him. “Well,” he sighed, tinkling his drink, “See, there are little extra incisors behind the front set—here’s the diastema, but rodents have that too. And, of course, the rabbit skull is fenestrated.” I could see what the diastema was when he pointed, but I wasn’t sure about fenestrated. I looked at him, waiting. He sighed. “Lots of, kind of like honeycomb, little windows.” And he turned away to the couple next to him. I reached up to take the skull off the mantlepiece as the party buzzed around me. I loved the idea of someone’s skull having little windows. And the network of windows looked made of spun sugar. In the delicate sugar was a secret of rabbits. I loved rabbits, their vulnerability, the way they kicked playfully in spring twilights, the long tender ear to stroke. But then he came back to me, saying “The skull is from a rabbit I shot and ate. Then I boiled it and gave it to dermestid beetles to clean up for me.” He was proud, I could see. I looked into the spun sugar until it hardened to bone.

 

 

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