The Burn

July 14th, 2024

by Casey Lawrence

Niamh Kelly sure knew how to throw a party. Any occasion, any time of year: she was the one to call if you wanted to throw a rager. If Niamh was at your party, everyone was going to have fun, no matter what the mood was like before she got there. She was the only girl I knew who could turn a funeral into an excuse to get wasted in somebody’s basement. I watched her curiously, like a wildlife photographer lining up the perfect shot.

Observe, in her natural habitat,
the Domestic Red-Crested Extrovert.

Already tipsy, she was filling a line of solo cups for the first round of beer pong and explaining the rules loudly to a beefy dude in a hockey jersey. Brian, was it? We’d been introduced before, but Niamh’s friends were like migratory birds—they went their separate ways for months at a time before flocking together again for the next party, with never quite the same arrangement of people. Brian or whateverhisnamewas would be around for a weekend or a semester before flying the coop, like most of her admirers.

Boys can come and go but I would still be here, outlasting them all.

I’d known Niamh since Kindergarten. Our older siblings—Niamh’s sister and my brother—had dated on and off from eighth grade through college. Their breakups and makeups were the stuff of legend, and one or both of us was often enlisted in the revenge plot or the win-her-back grand gesture. Our friendship was inevitable, like a wave crashing into the beach. We fell into each other again and again, every time Erin and Dan split “for good this time,” until it really was for good. But by then, we were us, me and Niamh, in perfect symbiosis.

And then we got older, and I became that weird tagalong, following Niamh to parties and concerts and the mall when she hung out with the popular kids. I was the barnacle to her cruise ship, along for the ride. Although I sometimes felt invisible to everyone else, Niamh saw me; she understood me in a way no one else did. I liked to think I understood her too, though some things about her still mystified me after all these years.

I slumped against the wall, holding my untouched drink to my lips every so often so as not to appear prudish. Tonight’s party was courtesy of a Samhain—an ancient Irish tradition, Niamh assured me as we stood in line to pay for the beer. She was fond of proclaiming her pagan Celtic roots.

“It’s an ancient custom of the tribe of Kelly,” she had explained under the sterile fluorescent lights of the LCBO. One bulb stuttered and buzzed as she filled the basket with bottles of beer. “When the boundary between our world and the next grows thinnest, we must appease the fairies with offerings of food, drink, and hospitality. We light a bonfire to cleanse the world and send the fairies on their way.”

“And wear costumes and go door to door asking for treats—” I interrupted, suppressing a smile. She could call it Samhain all she wanted, but there was no denying the occasion.

Niamh had never been to Ireland.

She rolled her eyes but smirked. Her eyes sparkled with mischief and Nyx glitter eyeshadow. “Pssh,” she said. “It’s booze and a bonfire, need I say more?”

She paid for the beer with her dad’s credit card.

So here I was, babysitting yet another party. It was only nine o’clock, and the crowd was already growing restless and rowdy. New people arrived in droves. Some were costumed, others casual. Most carried paper LCBO bags or open containers of alcohol.

My nose twitched and I narrowed my eyes. Someone was passing around a blunt. I hated to think what the furniture would smell like tomorrow if these animals were left unchecked.

Taking my role of co-host very seriously—though no one had appointed me—I asked the smoker to please step outside with his contraband. For my trouble, I got a smoke ring blown in my face, but he did climb the stairs and let himself out back, which I considered a win as I pawed the smoke from my eyes.

“You’ll never have any fun with that sort of mentality,” someone close to my shoulder said. I jumped, feeling sticky breath on the back of my neck.

For a moment, I thought it was Niamh creeping up on me. Niamh lacked boundaries. She had always liked to startle me when we were kids. It had escalated over the years from jumping out selling “boo!” to a fly-by slap on the ass or even her hot, wet tongue invading my ear during a whisper, if she was drunk enough. Instinctively, I covered my ear with my shoulder.

The person who had spoken wasn’t Niamh, but one of her flock. She had blonde hair with pink tips and was wearing bright red lipstick that had smeared a little on one side. Her pupils were dilated. I raised my eyebrows at her and hmmed noncommittally, wondering what she had ingested to give her that unnaturally bright-eyed, but somewhat vacant, stare.

“Let me enlighten you,” she said, speaking far more articulately than I expected from someone in her condition. “When at a party, it is customary to consume the alcohol in one’s cup, rather than just pretending to.”

I felt the back of my neck flushing, unaccustomed to being called out so directly. Nobody noticed me at Niamh’s parties. I was a wallflower, silently observing, participating only when asked by the host herself. I liked to narrate the events unfolding as though doing a voice-over for a nature documentary. 

And now the young females are forming a dance circle,
the opening moves of a complex mating ritual in which
they must attract the attention of the fittest male.

To be looked at, rather than doing the looking, was a new one for me. I instinctively glanced across the room in search of Niamh, feeling a jolt of panic. She was laughing, touching Brian’s arm. His competitor sunk a ping pong ball into one of Brian’s cups and let out a drunken, victorious cheer. Brian maintained eye contact with Niamh as he tossed his next shot, which went wide and nearly hit the dance circle across the room. She didn’t have to do anything to hold his attention.

“I don’t come to parties to get drunk,” I said lamely as I lowered my gaze.

“No, I don’t suppose you do.”

I gave this girl a sharp look, then. She was wearing a mix of styles that clashed: a ratty vintage jean jacket over a shiny crop top, wide-legged plaid pants cinched with a chunky studded belt, and a glossy leather bag that, if I had to guess, looked like it cost more than my car.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

Someone turned the music up and I felt my voice getting lost under the bassline. She shrugged and took a sip from her cup, further smearing her lipstick. My automatic response was to reach out and correct the smudge with my thumb, as if she were Niamh, my closest friend, rather than some stranger.

I pulled my hand away quickly. “Your lipstick—” I explained, but she just laughed.

“Maternal instinct!” she said, getting close to my face, to be heard over the music. “You’re the mom-friend!”

I frowned. “I’m not the mom-friend,” I said.

“You are, though!” she said, gesturing to my full cup. “You won’t let loose and have fun because you’re too busy taking care of everybody and worrying about the furniture!”

I hated that she was right. She’d known me for all of a minute and had me completely figured out. My gaze strayed to Niamh involuntarily, to check that Brian wasn’t misbehaving. I was worried about the furniture. I did periodically check the bathrooms in case someone was throwing up or OD’ing in there. My nose was on high alert, waiting for someone to light up a joint so that I could tell them to take it outside.

Had I been Niamh’s uptight wallflower friend for too long? Was being the ‘responsible one’ holding me back from having a good time? I resolved at that moment to let go, at least a little. I would be a senior in college next semester, and I’d never gotten shitfaced at one of Niamh’s parties—it was a travesty.

Steeling my resolve like a soldier going off to war, I downed my warm drink in three quick gulps. I thought I heard the girl whistle, but it was hard to know for sure over the remixed pop song thrumming in my teeth.

“I’m not the mom-friend tonight!” I told her, as if I had something to prove. “I’m just Alex!”

“To ‘Just Alex’!” she said, raising her own cup to her lips and draining it. “Let’s get another drink!”

One more drink turned into three as we scavenged some beers from Niamh’s hoard behind the sofa. She told me her name was Clementine, then Sage, then Juniper. With every drink her name changed. Mine was always Just Alex.

When the song changed to something she found amusing, she pulled me away from the wall to dance with her. I met Niamh’s eyes near the bottom of my fourth drink. She seemed surprised to see me dancing and drinking. The emergence of this New Alex seemed to intrigue her—or perhaps annoy her. Even after all this time, I could never quite read her expression.

I turned away from Niamh’s probing gaze, burying my flushed face into Juniper’s neck. One hand holding a half-full beer (my fourth? fifth?), I pulled Juniper closer to me and began to sway unsteadily, completely off-beat with the music. Juniper laughed: I felt it in my sternum and throat. Being this close to her felt like indulging in a decadent dessert; the smell of her skin was sweet and made me feel intoxicated. Or maybe that was the alcohol.

Niamh announced that it was time to light the bonfire. The party began to migrate toward the backyard in anticipation, the current round of beer pong abandoned for the promise of fire and sparklers.

The flock moves as one, a coordinated murmuration
following the flight plan arranged by their leader.

Normally, I’d be the one filling a bucket with water, assembling a teepee of dry branches and wood from the pile behind the shed, adding a layer of dryer lint or newspaper for kindling, lighting the match, cupping my hands over my mouth to blow on a glowing ember, coaxing the fire to grow, gently but surely, into a size and shape safe for roasting marshmallows.

Not tonight. Tonight, my heart was leaping in my throat as Juniper’s fingers grazed the skin where the waist of my jeans met my t-shirt. Her touch was electric. Somebody else could light the fire. Somebody sober, preferably.

Eventually, the pull of peer pressure moved us toward the stairs. Juniper kept hold of my wrist as we moved among the last few partygoers in the migration from the basement to the backyard. Through the glass patio doors, I saw that someone had already set up the fire; it was burning low and slow, just as I would have done. Niamh was twirling a sparkler like a magic wand. Brian caught her waist and she shrieked with laughter.

I moved toward the door, but Juniper’s hand on my wrist pulled me in the other direction. I followed her lead without question, downing the rest of my drink and depositing my cup on top of the piano as we passed through the living room. The sounds of the party faded as Juniper walked purposefully through the house with me on her heels like an obedient dog.

We walked upstairs, the one area of the house completely untouched by the party. I trailed my fingers along the wall under the line of family photos, catching the corner of a frame as I stumbled up the stairs. The photo of Niamh and Erin swung slightly, hanging crooked as Juniper gave my hand a tug. I didn’t question it when she opened the door to Niamh’s bedroom and led me inside. Only when she had closed the door behind us did I stop to wonder what we were doing here; it occurred to me only vaguely that Niamh wouldn’t want us in her room.

“C’mere,” Juniper said, dropping my wrist in favor of grabbing the back of my neck with both hands. She pulled me into a kiss that tasted the way a distillery smells, like alcohol fumes and burnt sugar. My hands remained awkwardly at my sides as she pushed her body against mine, backing me up against the door.

Once my brain kicked into gear, I kissed her back. I resurfaced with a new clarity of mind. A girl was kissing me. A very pretty girl. A very pretty girl who smelled good.

The world fell away. Juniper kissed the corner of my mouth, dragged her lower lip across my cheek, and then latched onto my earlobe with her teeth. Her hands wandered all over me. There was no rhyme or reason to her movements. I tried to follow her lead, but I felt like she was following a script and I was a clueless understudy, thrown on stage without my lines.

I stumbled as she pulled me without warning away from the door and toward Niamh’s bed. I was a jumble of limbs, awkwardly flailing as she pulled me down on top of her. Our teeth clashed together. I winced. She laughed and wiped my cheek with her hand where what was left of her lipstick had been deposited.

She kissed me again, breathlessly and softly, before pulling away again the next second.

“You wanna…?” she asked, bumping her nose against mine.

“Want to?” I asked, trying to keep up.

She sighed dramatically and took my hand, moving it to her belt. “Sample the local cuisine?”

“Oh? Ohh. Um.” I fumbled at her belt for a second, feeling a rushing in my ears and blood rising to my cheeks. “Yeah. Yes. I haven’t—but yeah, sure.”

She grabbed my hands, which had just made it to the button of her fly, and looked at me seriously. “You haven’t done this before?”


“With a girl?”

“With anyone.”

It didn’t occur to me to lie. Juniper let loose a short bark of laughter, and then covered her mouth with both hands. “Sorry! Sorry. I just—a virgin friend of Niamh’s? You’re an endangered species.”

Trying to be suave, I raised an eyebrow at her in what I hoped was a seductive way. “Well then, put me out of my misery, Juniper.”

“Shannon,” she said. “It’s Shannon, actually. We shouldn’t—I mean, this isn’t really—and you should know my name if we—”

I kissed her, taking the lead. My head was spinning, but all I kept thinking was: if not tonight, when? The fact that we were in Niamh’s room—on her bed—didn’t occur to me. The sounds of the party in the backyard were distant.

Here we can see the Flightless Smallbreasted Virgin,
a rare sight in these parts,
as she leaves the nest for the first time.

There are moments in your life that you remember with the kind of clarity that makes all your other memories seem unreal and pixelated. I remember undoing Shannon’s leather belt with silver studs. I remember the way she shimmied out of her pants. I remember the smell and taste of her, the warmth of her skin, the pinpricks of pain in my scalp as she pulled on my hair.

Dizzy from the alcohol and excitement, I remember bumping my head against her knee as she slung her leg over my shoulder. The rushing in my ears dissipated, leaving in its wake the thrumming of my own heart, synched to match the beat of the music from the party below.

I remember her pulling me up by my hair to kiss her again. I remember her hand undoing my fly deftly, reaching her hand inside my pants and touching me with confident fingers.

I remember the word “oh,” leaving my mouth against her mouth, and then the wrong name coming to my lips: not Shannon or even Juniper, Sage, or Clementine…

So softly I hoped she hadn’t heard it, I said the name “Niamh.”

There was a flash from the window. It wasn’t like a camera flash, but a sudden warm glow and cascade of sparks against the black sky.

I remember that rush of pure adrenaline when I heard the first scream: not the woo of an excited girl when her song comes on, but a scream of real terror. The deep bellow of a man joined her voice. Others, yelling.

For a moment my body froze. Shannon’s grip on my hair slackened as she turned to the window, aglow with firelight.

We sprung apart. I stumbled to the window and looked down on the backyard. A column of smoke obscured the scene, but through the smoke, I saw a figure moving, robed in heat and light—

Someone was on fire.

With my heart in my throat, I backed away from the window.

No, I thought. That can’t be right. The fire was small. It was small and contained and someone sober was watching it—someone had to be in charge. Somebody had to—

Shannon had her pants back on before my body began to move again, to the door, down the stairs, into the kitchen. Robotically, I located the fire extinguisher in the pantry and followed the sound of screaming.

It had to have been only a minute, but felt longer, time crawling as I shouldered my way past the frantic, panicking bodies pouring into the living room, and out the glass door.

I pulled the pin and squeezed the trigger as I broke through the line and felt the heat on my face. A spray of white—what is it in a fire extinguisher, anyway? Foam? Carbon dioxide?

There were two writhing shapes on the ground, moaning. Who was it? Who?

Someone had grabbed a blanket off the couch and threw it over one of them. The flames were out but the air was so thick with smoke I couldn’t see. I remember the dull thud of the spent extinguisher hitting the grass as I let it go.

What do you do for burns once the fire is out? Why were there no sirens?

Clarity: the smoke cleared and I could see. What I could see, then, was that Brian had gotten the worst of it. I wondered, vaguely, if they’d be able to save his hands. He lay crumpled and whimpering, still conscious, holding out his hands. I turned away, unable to look.

“Call 911,” I said, but the smoke caught my voice. The music, which had somehow still been playing, suddenly cut out. I pointed to someone and repeated in a louder voice, “Call 911.”

Someone had already called: Shannon was on the phone with them on the landing by the crooked photo, not daring to come closer. Someone in the kitchen was sobbing into her iPhone. The boy I pointed to fumbled for his phone and began babbling.

I heard the words but only processed perhaps one in five: Bonfire. Gasoline. Explosion. Lakeshore Drive. Ambulance. Hurry.

I saw a few girls sitting against the fence, marveling at bright red patches on their hands and arms as I moved toward the second shape in the grass, a crumpled ghost. She was wrapped in a sheet, shivering, her eyes closed. Her lips were moving but no sound came out.

“I’m here,” I said, crouching beside her. I dare not touch her. “It’s Alex. I’m here.”

I almost said the words, ‘You’re okay,’ and ‘It’ll be okay,’ but they died in my throat. This wasn’t okay. She wasn’t okay.

I sat with Niamh until the ambulance arrived. Those three or four minutes passed the slowest in my life. Brian was unconscious by then: a blessing. His burns were significant. His hands and arms took the brunt of it, but his chest and one side of his face were hit too. Niamh had been luckier, had had a split second to turn away from the explosion and shield her face with her arms.

I sat in the grass until well after the ambulances had gone to the hospital with Niamh and Brian. A few other girls, with less severe burns, were driven to urgent care by a neighbour. The entire neighbourhood was lit up, craning their necks from the street to see the carnage.

I sat there in the backyard for a long time after they took her away from me. That was where we used to build blanket-forts, I thought hysterically, looking at the blackened grass. We used to sleep side-by-side under the stars here. It was now a crater of smoke and scorched earth. The smell of melted plastic, burnt flesh, and fear clung to my skin. 

Shannon found me and lowered herself beside me. The warmth of her bare arm against my bare arm seemed to burn, and I flinched away from her touch.

“This wasn’t your fault,” she said, as though reading my mind.

“No,” I said, not looking at her. “It was yours.”

I remember the sound she made. It was something between a sob and a laugh, a confusingly human sound. I would later regret saying that to her, when sobriety had cleared the cobwebs and I made sense of what had led us here. I had made my own choices. I had chosen to abandon the party to follow Shannon. It had been my decision too.

Brian had chosen to siphon gas from his car to make the fire bigger. He had chosen to pour the gasoline onto the fire, with the fumes of it in his mouth and on his hands.

His choices led to the explosion, not mine or Shannon’s. But I felt responsible. In my heart, I had always felt responsible for Niamh. At five years old, we’d held hands to cross the street when we walked to school.

Her scars would forever remind me of a broken promise. She would never blame me, of course. Niamh had never asked me to be the fire marshal or to stay sober to supervise. She never assumed that I would. She had been happy to see me enjoying the party.

But I would know.

I would know that her name had come to my lips with another woman’s hand in my pants. I would know that, deep down, part of me had wished it were Niamh that led me upstairs to her bedroom. I would know that the drinking and the dancing had been for her benefit, not mine, or even Shannon’s.

Notice me, my soul had screamed.

And when her eyes turned away and her hand reached for Brian—well. I would know that my judgement had been clouded. That I should have been there, as her friend, to have a water bucket beside the fire and to tell Brian not to fuck with gasoline.

If I had been braver…

Shannon stood and left without a word. I closed my eyes and felt the cool night air on my hot skin, burning with shame.

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In Hot Water

July 7th, 2024

by Kristina Totten

They looked down over the expanse of dark water, surrounded by sharply peaked mountains from the top floor of what had to be the highest tower either member of the investigation team had ever been inside. In all honesty neither had considered what would happen if they were to get stuck there. The tower was located in the middle of a lake accessible only by boat and as an archaic landmark it was not a place that people often visited any more. It was only as they ascended the staircase within the tower that they realized the staircase was the only way in or out of the tower. If they got trapped anywhere in it, that was it, they would be stuck and possibly done for.

Macey scowled out at the landscape, or more at the thought of how she would get back to the outside world from their current position within the highest room of the tower. On the other hand, Roque looked out serenely at the landscape flooded with moonlight and appreciated its beauty, even as he noted the sounds of rowing in the water below. Tonight was the night he would finally answer the question that had been plaguing him for the last decade or so of his life. He almost didn’t care at this point what the answer to it was, as long as he had it by the time he walked out.

“You better have a plan to get us out,” she threatened.

“I do. Just do your part of the job and I’ll get us out of here.”

Truth be told he hadn’t planned on getting caught in the middle of the lake. He hadn’t accounted for their only way out being a boat tied to the same dock that had just begun teeming with guards or some other group bent on what he didn’t know. In any case, it didn’t matter. They needed to be out of the tower before whoever it was came up to ‘greet’ them. Greet is, of course, used here as a euphemism for general unpleasantness of the variety that would either lead to their being arrested and incarcerated or being killed flat out.

“Roque, I swear…” she began as she started to weave yarn through her fingers in an intricate pattern.

He knew from working with her in the past that this was how she focused her spellwork. He just hoped the practice would keep her calm enough to work the spell they had agreed on her performing that evening. In spite of her focus on the task at hand, she heard the shouts of those on the dock below as they began to take note of the boat that she and Roque had left at the docks. She heard them calling for a full search of the tower for intruders.

He noticed her hands begin to shake at the pronouncement, but wasn’t about to speak up to try and encourage her in the middle of a spell. Interrupting a spellcaster in the middle of their work was liable to be as dangerous to them as whoever was searching the tower was bound to be.

Breathlessly he watched her place the final knots into her weaving pattern and light exploded around them. He was dazed for a moment in the sudden brightness, but the room around them came into much clearer focus in the light. Now there were other people, or the memories of them, held from time immemorial by the space within the room. These people were not flesh and blood like he and Macey were, they glowed and glittered with their own light and passed through and around them as if neither of them existed.

He carefully watched the people, lost in time, play out what had happened in the space of the tower throughout the years. Silently he hoped they’d get to the part they needed to before whoever was downstairs made it up to them. All he needed was one piece of information to steal and he could go back to figuring out how to get them both out of this situation alive.

Macey was just as preoccupied as he was with watching time play out around them. Her work here was essentially done, her spell knotted into her yarn, all she had to do was concentrate on the images brought up by her spell to keep it going. She had no idea what it was that he was looking for so she kept a watchful eye on everything going on around her, knowing that something she was about to see would be important. She knew that if she caught it too, she could leverage that information for something from someone. If Roque wanted it, there had to be others that would want it too. She was sensible like that in matters of business. The only thing she had promised him was that he would have first rights to tell his client what they’d found. She hadn’t promised anything else after.

Roque had stopped paying attention to Macey by that point. He had stopped caring where her eyes fell on the action around them. He was waiting for a familiar face in the fray of glittering images.  It was hard to believe that the moment he’d waited so long to witness was coming, or he hoped it would be.

Ah, there it is, he thought, leaning closer to a glittering figure as she whispered the name of the figure holding a sword over her head, as if about to strike her down. That was it, that was what he needed: the name ‘Cornwallis.’ Though even as he heard it he didn’t quite believe it. He moved around the figures, to see the face of the man with the sword, half hoping he hadn’t heard the name correctly.

As he passed behind the ghosted image of his mother his heart fell. He recognized the man with the sword, though at that point he wished he didn’t. Cornwallis, he thought, why would he do such a thing? Why would the man assigned to protect Roque throughout his childhood kill his mother? He couldn’t even imagine the man who had treated him with such kindness throughout his youth and even to this day being capable of this. He felt a strong feeling of revulsion at the fact that he had been on friendly terms with the man who killed his mother for all this time, though he couldn’t bring himself to anger at it. Sadness and betrayal were all he could muster, it appeared. He hoped the anger would come, that would make what he knew he had to do next much easier.

Roque knew that he might lose Macey’s partnership over this debacle, not just for the lack of escape route, but for the lack of honesty about why they were there. She didn’t know that he couldn’t pay her the fee he had promised her to get this information. She didn’t know this was a personal quest for him. She didn’t know that they were about to witness the afterimage of his mother’s murder. She didn’t know that his mother had been murdered by someone he’d called a friend for all his life. To be fair, he hadn’t known that last part either.

The sounds outside the room were becoming harder and harder to ignore. Apparently the troops below had searched every other room on the way up and theirs was the only one remaining. The images began to waver as Macey lost concentration. To his surprise, the yarn she had so carefully woven through her fingers had begun to disintegrate. Just as the glittering figure brought his sword down into the glittering woman the images around them disappeared entirely into darkness once more. It was a darkness split only by the sliver of moonlight let in by the window they’d been standing by. Her spell had ended and she just shook her head, “I hope you got what you needed.”

“I did.”

“Then get us out of here.”

“Well. I know one way out. I’m not sure if you’re going to like it though,” he deadpanned, gazing back out the open window.

He said it so seriously that she knew he wasn’t joking. Her anger flared at the fact that his backup plan was jumping out of the highest window in the tower, “we wouldn’t need a way out if your way in wouldn’t have been so flashy.”

“It was a nice boat,” he defended.

“It was also covered in a bioluminescent something or other and glowing bright blue,” she whispered dangerously.

“It was?”

“You couldn’t see it?” She asked, incredulous.

“No, I honestly had no idea,” he answered, scratching his head pensively.

“Unbelievable,” she muttered, shaking her head in exasperation.

Taking a deep breath and steeling himself for whatever the end result of his actions would be, he put a hand on her shoulder, squeezed it lightly in what he hoped would be a comforting gesture, and shoved her out the window.

“Sorry,” he whispered into the now empty air beside him.

His stomach began to knot up when she let out an increasingly creative string of curses.  It seemed to him like anyone and everything she could think of had become worthy of cursing in that moment. Though given the sudden weightlessness she was experiencing and the feeling of her stomach being caught in her throat that she was likely currently dealing with, it was hardly surprising. A small smile played across his features as she cursed him for what had to be the tenth time in an incredibly short span of time, before he too stepped off the windowsill and into thin air behind her.

She was even more infuriated when she watched him, ever-so-calmly, step off the windowsill he had just shoved her out of. If they survived she would have very strong words for him. Words she vowed would include the end of their working partnership. She was so done with getting stuck in situations like this… even if a small part of her had enjoyed the excitement of every life threatening situation they’d encountered- at least until now. It was that anger she tried to hold onto as her fall came to a sudden icy drop into the lake water below. She did her best to hold her breath, knowing that if she survived the impact she would need every bit of air she had to make it back to the water’s surface.

He heard her impact with the water before his own. His feeling of calm slipping into panic as he hoped beyond reason that she would still be intact after it. His own splash into the water felt like a thousand icy needles had found their way under his skin, but he recognized that any sensation he was feeling, pleasant or not, was a sign that he was still alive, so he would take it.

Her lungs burned as her descent into the water finally slowed and she began to force her way back up through it and towards the light of the moon, towards the air that her lungs so desperately needed.

As he surfaced he began thrashing around in the water, looking for her, waiting with his  heart in his throat to see where she surfaced; if she surfaced. Seconds strung out without movement in the water around him and his panic rose. Then he saw a surge in the water and Macey surfaced with a massive gasp for air. Her breathing was labored, but she looked, at least from the shoulders up, as if she were okay.

With what she hoped would be the final push upwards, she broke the surface of the water. At which point she could only cough and splutter out the water she had accidentally inhaled on her final ascent out of the depths of the lake. As soon as her breathing had settled she looked around her for Roque and it was with relief that her eyes landed on him.

“Thank the stars you’re alright,” he said, swimming over to her.

“I wouldn’t go right to alright, but I’ll survive,” she said begrudgingly.

To her surprise, he got close enough to lean in and kiss her as they both continued to tread water. As far as first kisses go, it was an awkward endeavor, though she readily returned the gesture. Neuter was sure if said kiss was the result of the heat of the moment or a long history of spending a great deal of time in each other’s company on other investigations. At that moment it didn’t matter and they didn’t care.

When the kiss came to a natural end Macey tried to play it off casually by changing the subject, not wanting him to know how much she had enjoyed it, “So,” she began, “what next?”

“We steal a boat.”

“And then?”

“If you’re up for another adventure, it’s time to find Cornwallis and throw him out the nearest window.”

“Preferably one that isn’t handily located in the middle of a lake?” She asked.

“Preferably one located over some sort of rocky cliff, but we’ll see what’s available when we get to that point.”

“Cornwallis was the one who stabbed the woman in my vision?”

He nodded.

“Who were they to you?” She asked, with the inkling that this had been more of a personal quest for him than a job.

He sighed, “Let’s get out of here first and then we’ll talk about it.”

“Swear it,” she ordered.

Rolling his eyes, he agreed, “I swear.”

They made their way back to what he realized now was the faintly blue glowing boat that they had docked at the base of the tower earlier. Macey had been right about that, he thought, but at least she wasn’t rubbing his nose in it yet. Together they rowed their way out of danger, but not before they had capsized all of the other available boats so no one could give chase. They were onto their next adventure, even if Macey had sworn that their adventures together were at their end not ten minutes before.

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July 7th, 2024

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60 S, 150 W

June 30th, 2024

by Nick Young

“I tell ye, mates, somethin’ ain’t square with this ‘ere ship. It ain’t been so since we pulled up anchor in New Zeelie.” The man who spoke thus, his bearded face burnt nut-brown, his voice like weathered sail cloth, was known to all aboard the Ashokan as Tommy Flint, a salt who had been forty years before the mast.  Tapping the dead ashes from the bowl of his clay pipe and refilling it with fresh latakia, he squinted in the direction of his companions in the forecastle as the whaler pitched and yawed through the latest tempest to have thundered down on the ship. “Ye know I speak the truth to ye.”

“Aye, and I own to havin’ a queer feeling or two meself, Tom,” one of the others said.

The disquietude among the men had been festering like an infected sore each day since the Ashokan had crossed into the calamitous waters of the Southern Ocean.

“’e’s bound to ‘ave us drowned like rats,’e is,” groused another man astraddle his sea chest.

“No more’n the next captain,” refuted Tom.

“No? How do ye come to figger it thus?” Tommy Flint scratched a match across a rough beam and put fire to the dark tobacco, coaxing his pipe back to life.

“How? I’ll tell ye. Plain as the Pole Star it is.” The men braced themselves as the ship was battered by a cascading wave and rolled to larboard. Tommy resumed his pipe, puffing meditatively for a moment. “Now, I’ve shipped with this captain afore, and I can tell ye Obadiah Folger will sail to the ends o’ the earth if there swims whales a-brim with parmaceti enough to light the lamps on Nantucket. Aye. He that hired him, as tight-fisted a Quaker as ever drew breath, expects no less. And Obadiah Folger, him bein’ a master loyal to a fault, means to see to his end o’ the bargain. So mark, shipmates, we’ll prowl these waters ‘til the hold is full to the last thimbleful and weather be damned.” A third crewmember spoke up.

“If it ain’t the cap’n that ain’t square, then what, Tommy?”  The old sailor removed the pipe from his mouth and stared at it, ruminating for a long moment.

“Heave in close,” he said at last. The men leaned forward, attentive. Tom looked each in the eye before speaking. “It’s the new man, I’ll lay,” he said gravely.

“The FeeGee harpooneer?”

“Ye can claim my share o’ this viyage if ‘e hasn’t conjured a heathen spell on this ‘ere ship.”


Near to 550 days out of Nantucket, the Ashokan was buffeted by a hellish cyclone west of the Cook Islands that caused severe damage to her fore and main masts.  When the storm abated, Captain Folger set a course for the New Zealand whaling outpost at Preservation Station or, as the natives name it, Rakituma.  

Now, as ill luck would have it, the captain’s most trusted harponeer, a Gay Header named Tuspaquin, fell ill with a mysterious fever and died during the five days the Ashokan was laid up for repairs. This was a true dilemma for Captain Folger who was loathe to resume whale hunting with but two men skilled with the irons.  

Whether the captain, regarded as a devout master who studied Scripture assiduously, called upon Heaven to find a replacement for Tuspaquin wasn’t known. But on the fifth day there appeared on the wharf an imposing Fijian who announced,

“You need-ee harpooneer. Me bery good harpooneer. You hire-ee Nadrukuta.”   

Captain Folger quickly took the measure of the man before him. Standing well above six feet, Nadrukuta was a prime specimen of a Fiji Islander—sleekly muscled, his coppery skin, from face to waist, covered in indigo ink tattoos of the most intricate runic patterns. His deep eyes flashed black beneath scalp barren of hair save a topknot gathered with a scarlet bow. Around his neck hung an amulet of rough-carved stone, with a fearsome idol’s countenance. Over one shoulder was slung a weathered canvas seabag; over the other, a leather thong held a long and deadly harpoon. 

“And how did thee come to know of mine need?” Obadiah Folger inquired.

“You hire-ee Nadrukuta,” was the native’s only reply.

And so he was, for the captain viewed his appearance as a singular act of Providence, one he was in no position to reject.

The next morning, the Ashokan weighed anchor and put out to sea.   

Right from the start, the new man held himself apart, making no attempt to mix with his shipmates, and they were keen to take notice. He chose to sit alone, often taking up his native tomahawk, intricately carved, fashioned with not only a fine-whetted blade but a small pipe that he would fill carefully with strong tobacco and smoke.  Sometimes, especially during the middle watch, his meditative puffs would be interspersed with low, guttural incantations in his own tongue which none could decipher.

If Captain Folger marked his good fortune with the appearance of Nadrukuta, it was short-lived, for the mood aboard his ship was never the same since that day. The weather turned especially foul, unrelentingly miserable. In one of the gales, a young sailor from New Bedford, a favorite among the crew, was swept from the rigging and lost. Gloom settled like a shroud, deepened by the sighting of not a solitary whale in the two weeks since the Ashokan had sailed.

So it was when Captain Folger ventured to take the ship into more perilous waters in search of the elusive leviathan that Tommy Flint gathered his shipmates close.

“Mark me well when I say to ye that the heathen carries a devil inside him,” Tommy pronounced, attending to his pipe again as the ship rolled heavily to starboard. At that moment, the hatch just aft the forecastle burst open and Crook, the second mate, sang out for all hands on deck.

Captain Folger, one hand firmly grasping the shrouds against the wind and violent seas, had just given the helmsman the command to wear ship, when Tommy Flint and the rest scrambled up from below.

“Ye men,” the captain cried over the shriek of the tempest, “aloft with ye. Look to the canvas and be sharp about it, d’ye hark?”As swiftly as they were able on the pitching, slippery decks, the sailors ascended the ratlines to furl sails lest they be shredded.  The men went about their work with diligence and urgency as the Ashokan plowed on. All the elements conspired against the crew—howling wind, monstrous waves and the bitter cold. For many minutes the life-and-death struggle played out, building in ferocity to a point where the fate of the ship and its complement of souls appeared to teeter on the brink.

Then arrived a moment of transcendant eeriness.

From below decks, Nadrukuta appeared and strode, impervious to the raging elements and tumultuous motion of the vessel and planted himself firmly in the center of the quarter-deck.  Facing toward the bow, his fierce countenance—eyes burning black as the night that pressed in—glared upon the crew. In his right hand he gripped his stout iron and, upon raising it toward the heavens, bellowed a string of words in his heathenish dialect that none could discern.  Whatever their content, the effect was singular, for in an instant the wind commenced to abate; the wild seas tamed and the Ashokan at length ceased its perilous fight for survival. As this unfolded, the men on deck stood in awe of the Fijian. Those sailors aloft, as if in a trance, began descending from their perches. Even the helmsman drew nigh. Captain Folger reacted with alarm and anger, raising his voice in order to reassert his authority.

“Avast! I say avast, ye!”

But no order that issued forth altered what was transpiring.  The weather continued its moderation as Nadrukuta kept his harpoon raised on high. And though none could translate his tongue, it seemed as if his loud incantations alone were mastering sea and air.

Several more minutes elapsed until the ship rode much more easily on the ocean swells. Overhead, a fissure widened in the forbidding inky canopy of clouds, and while all aboard stood transfixed, as still as stone statues, there descended tendrils of the purest bluish light, snaking through the firmament, twining until they became as one and drew to the tip of the ship’s mainmast. And from this apex, the eerie illumination swiftly shimmered deckward, fanning, until it had suffused the whole of the Ashokan’s rigging.

“St. Elmo’s fire, it is!” cried Trumble, the first mate, as the crew shrank back.

No sooner was every spar and sheet alight than the mystical emanation shot like a bolt to Nadrukuta’s upraised iron, causing it to pulsate as if it were a brandished torch. The heathen took this as a sign to redouble his impassioned speech. As he did, his eyes seemed to smolder with an inner fire as incandescent as that which enveloped the ship. The crew continued to gape in awe while Captain Folger was struck mute. Then, with a dramatic flourish, Nadrukuta lowered his harpoon and swung it ‘round until its glowing tip was leveled directly at the master.

“You kill-ee Nadrukuta people!” he shouted, then swept his iron over the sailors, crying, “Rape-ee women! You pay-ee Lord Rokola!” Then, with his left hand, the harpooneer plunged into the canvas bag slung across his chest and in the pulsing glow which changed from icy blue to a deep scarlet, withdrew as hideous a sight as any among the men aboard had ever beheld.   For there, in his tight fist, dangling from thick, twined strands of hair, hung the grotesque shrunken heads of a dozen men, faces twisted,  withered and blackened, eyelids roughly sewn closed, as were the grimaced lips of each.  Nadrukuta, lapsing once more into his own tongue, resumed his imprecations, voice rising anew as the wind began to stir afresh and the sea churn.  And as he raved, he thrust out his hellish bundle until the blood-red witchfire surrounded it and seemed to set it ablaze. 

Rokola koya na nona cudru!”

Above, the banks of clouds closed one upon another again and the deepest night descended once more.


 Three days later the whaler Wauwinet, three hundred eighty-eight days out of Nantucket, was on a course south by southeast at 600S, 1500W when Captain Josiah Creen was summoned from his cabin at two bells of the morning watch. 

After an uneventful night, when the ocean had fallen into an uncharacteristic calm, through the thick fog that hung like a pall over the watery world as the new day dawned, the foretop lookout had descried the spires of another ship. 

Upon his arrival on deck, Captain Creen called for his glass and turned its focus off the larboard bow where the other ship was beginning to come into clearer view.

 “My trumpet, if you please, Mr. Bellows,” Creen ordered.  Once the first mate had complied, the captain raised the instrument to his mouth and hailed the other vessel repeatedly without receiving a reply. “Most curious, indeed,” he muttered, then issued a command to “lower away the jolly boat.”

Accompanied by Mr. Bellows and two members of the crew, Captain Creen traveled the cable’s distance and, failing to raise a response yet again, boarded the ship.

What he recounts next he was at pains to disclose in the pages of his log.

“Upon alighting on her deck and seeing not a soul about, I called out loudly again—once, twice, thrice—still without a reply.  Mr. Bellows remarked to me that he had a decidely unsettled feeling, an expression which I could not myself gainsay. I instructed the two crewmen,  Silas Biggins and Jonathan Groome, to go below and investigate in the belief that—unlikely as it may have been—perhaps all aboard had been stricken with a malady and rendered unable to manage the ship.

The two men were gone but a short time, long enough to open the fore hatch, descend and return to report that while they had found the effects of the crew in the forecastle, not a single person did they encounter.

“There seemed nothing remaining to do but to go aft.  This we did, reaching the poop deck as thick waves of fog rolled about us, obscuring virtually everything not within a few feet. 

We were there but a short time before we encountered a scene of the most horrifying sort, one that is entirely without precedent in my thirty-one years in the fishery and, God help me, one I never hope to witness again while I draw breath, for we discovered the answer to what had become of the ship’s company,  revealing itself in the most grotesque manner.   

“The fog which had theretofore enwrapped the ship almost to the point of invisibility commenced to dissipate, allowing the rigging to slowly emerge. When he turned his gaze skyward, Mr. Bellows was the first to descry that from the mizzen yard there hung, from port to starboard—as the Almighty and those who accompanied me are my witnesses—the shrunken heads of twenty-five men. 

“As the fog continued to clear, I discerned that the heads, dangling as they were from braided strands of their own hair were akin to those possessed by the cannibals of the South Sea islands—the skin dessicated and blackened, with distorted features that bore the agony of their final moments.  And each had the lids of their eyes and their lips crudely stitched together with a rough thread.

“Upon examining the documents in the captain’s quarters, we determined the cursed ship was the Ashokan and learned the names of her doomed crew. As to how they met their horrible fate,  that we were never able to ascertain.

“Having ordered the ghastly heads brought down, I did what I felt my Christian duty to be—consigning the remains to the solace of the deep with what comforting words I could summon from the Book along with the fervent prayer that Heaven above would never allow such a horror to befall any other seafarers ever again.”


On the quay at the port of Avarua on the Cook Island of Raratonga, an imposing figure stepped aboard the deck of the whale ship Constellation, which was being refitted after losing her foremast in a gale that also swept away two of the crew.  The figure stood before the captain and declared:

“You need-ee harponeer.  Me bery good harpooneer. You hire-ee Nadrukuta.”

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June 23rd, 2024

by Alexandra L. Burris

His predicament was becoming ridiculous. To think he had been relieved no longer to live as a savage – how eagerly he had anticipated his return to England all these months – and now this! This was his welcome. It was a humiliation. He, who had been decorated by the Royal Society, trapped inside a museum, contemplating the indignity of sleeping upon the floor!

He was due to give a lecture the following morning at the Society of Venerable Adventurers. Thanks to the stupidity of the clerk who had locked him in, he would not have time to go home and dress, and was beginning to contemplate the likelihood of not being able to attend at all. Every hour he was expecting his wife to come and fetch him, and every hour growing more vexed that she did not. The wretch could not be unaware of his absence. She must be deliberately ignoring his predicament.

To break a pane of glass and climb out would be the simplest thing in the world for a man of his active habits, and yet it was out of the question. He could do nothing that might embarrass or anger his patroness. His position with her was already precarious. 

A harridan who had lately taken up speaking against the wearing of feathers, Lady Braithwaite had, before the setting off of his latest expedition, offered some strongly worded remarks on his practice of collecting animal specimens. This impudence in itself, the sheer presumption of it, would have been almost unbearable.

But what was worse still, she demanded a thorough inspection of the Ajax on his return, to see that he had followed her orders. He had been obliged to descend to subterfuge, stowing his treasures in the hull of the vessel (Lady Braithwaite being too stupid and ignorant to know that such a compartment existed) which in addition to being humiliating had compromised the quality of the specimens.

He had also been obliged to tell the museum that his prize specimen from the expedition, an exceedingly rare leopardus guigna that he had meant to make his career, was left over from a previous expedition, which made it appear that they were not his first choice. They had been offended, as he had known they would. This was not to be borne.

The damned woman did not understand that without specimens, the profession of explorer was not sustainable. He depended on the partnership with the museum for the furtherance of his reputation, for contact with new patrons – and to quit the profession was unthinkable.

He must have an active occupation. He must range far from home. It was essential. To remain was intolerable. He was not a man inclined for domesticity. He had been bound, by an act of indiscretion, to a wife he barely knew. His sons had, of late, become interesting to him, an unexpected occurrence which mitigated the disappointment somewhat.

They bore the handsome features of his line and were beginning to show a strength and forthrightness that promised well. He felt a sense of pride when he looked at them. Any consolation to be found here was diminished by the knowledge that they would be the last, however.

After Lady Martin’s confinement, the physician had cautioned that it would be absolutely impossible for her to bear any further children. Sir Walter, who had been depending on at least three sons, was angered beyond description. It was impossible to love such a useless creature. She could do less for him than any dead specimen. He had made his displeasure known to her.

“Why don’t you kill me like one of your cats?” she had demanded. “I am less useful to you than they are – and they, at least, do not eat.”

He had been obliged to make her see reason with the back of his hand. Home life was unbearable, he lamented to himself again. Everything was against him.

The leopardus guigna ought to do something about that, at least. His luck may be turning at last. The deserving would get their reward. His superiority would be acknowledged at last.

To view it again ought to provide some consolation, he reflected, and quit his useless pacing of the building. At night, at least, he could remove the dark glasses that he was obliged to keep on at all times during the day, due to sun damage sustained to his retinas during his time at the Equator. With his pale eyes thus unencumbered, his view of the guigna was better. Standing before the creature, he felt a renewed satisfaction.

Specimens of the guigna been collected before, but not of the rare melanistic variety. His was a creature composed of pure night, black of fur, small and sleek. Finding it had been a boon, there was no denying it. He could publish. There would be a lecture tour, interviews in select periodicals. There might be a line or two in the Times, if he called upon the right people. One had to be judicious about using such favors, but every instinct told him that now was the right time.

In a further piece of good fortune, there had been two kits as well. He was, of course, not one to defile the beauty of nature callously and for no purpose – he had preserve for transportation, as any decent man would do. But the success of this had been diminished by the manner of their disposal. His remaining supply of cyanide had not been sufficient to dispatch with all three. 

It was vexing. He could not club the kits, for the attempt would crush their skulls beyond repair. He had been obliged instead, therefore, to turn them onto their backs and slit them up the gut. Their cries were unpleasant, and the adult cat, objecting, had inflicted a wound upon his hand with its teeth. He had dispensed with it more brutally than scientifically, which annoyed him.

Nevertheless, it had all come right in the end. Despite its unfortunate beginnings and its journey in the hall, the specimen had turned out remarkably well, better than he could have anticipated – a fine example of the taxidermist’s art. He viewed it for some moments with the pleasure of the conqueror. It looked well, in its glass case, snarling as it had in life. There were those who thought the guigna a delicate and innocent animal, soft as a housecat. He knew better. It was a creature of rage and rebellion, of wilful, wanton independence.

For some moments he did not move. He felt transfixed, recollecting the event. The wound upon his hand stung, and he felt, all at once, the impression that the creature was observing him.

A sensation of unutterable dread possessed him, which he could not reason himself out of. Resolving to banish the unpleasant feeling by vigorous exercise, as had been his habit in the past when in the grip of some undesired emotion, he resumed making a circuit of the museum.

As he walked, Sir Walter became aware of an overwhelming sensation that he was again being observed by a black cat. Darting to the nearest window, he looked out frantically. He saw nothing. This did little to lessen his unease, however, for it was night, and every shadow might have contained within it the spectre of a feline shape.

He resolved to look out the window no more, and resumed his tour of the gallery. Here were specimens from around the world, wildlife, art, relics of lesser civilizations. All seemed to him to have assumed, in the night, a sinister and frightening aspect. He had the sensation, too, of being accompanied, though he knew himself to be alone.

He walked faster, without admitting it to himself. Out of the corner of his eye he seemed to see shadows moving when they could not be. Eventually he rounded the final corner of the museum block, and was faced with the prospect of again confronting the cat.

To turn back was impossible – to do so would be to admit his fear. He must go forward. He steeled himself and strode up to it. The corridor seemed to grow longer with each step, but eventually he was before the specimen once more. Its expression, caught forever in a snarl of rage, appeared still more sinister than before.

Suddenly he grew angry.

“I would do the same again!” he cried in defiance, possessed by a dark fury, pounding upon the case. “I killed you once and if I have to do it a second time, I shall!”

Whatever he had hoped to accomplish with this proclamation, he was unsuccessful. His dread increased. The dark olive eyes bored into him. Staggering back, he ranted and raved like a possessed man, calling down curses upon the cat, upon the whole of its species, upon nature as a whole.

At length he stumbled and fell backward onto the floor. He did not move from that spot, in the gaze of the black cat, for the remainder of the night. At length, sleep or unconsciousness claimed him.


When he woke, the explorer was lying before the glass case, with a startled-looking young clerk staring down at him.

“Sir!” he said, as the explorer came round. “Allow me to apologize! I had no idea you were-”

“-Ah, was it you who locked me in the museum last night, then, Kitt?” The explorer put a hand to his eyes to ascertain that the dark glasses were still in place, then sat up.

“I fear I may have, sir,” the young man stammered, looking surprised that he had remembered his name. “I cannot think how I…”

“Not at all,” the explorer said. “You weren’t to have known I would remain there so late. The error was entirely my own. I am a damnably stupid fellow.”

“Lady Martin has come in search of you,” said the young man, gesturing behind him to where a slight, frightened-looking woman stood.

“Ah, I am glad!” said the explorer. “My dear. What an adventure this past evening has been. Is all well at home?”

She spoke rapidly, not seeming to have heard him. “I am terribly sorry, husband, for not coming to find you! I entreat you to forgive me. We retired to bed early last night. The children are not at all well. They have had splitting pains in their stomachs all evening- Til this morning we had not the smallest idea that you were not-”

“-Never mind,” the explorer said hastily, not wishing to further discompose a woman whose life was marred with such difficulties. “None of these events have been your doing.”

“Really?” The fear began to recede from her dark grey eyes, though uncertainty replaced it.

“You weren’t to have known, Lady Martin,” he said.

“Oh.” This thought seemed not to have occurred to her. “But I ought to have-”

“-Nonsense. Let us think of the matter no more. Come, my dear,” he said briskly. “You have not seen my kodkod.”

“What is a ko…?”

“-The cat,” he said, gesturing to it.

“Oh, the leopardus gui…?”

“Something like that, yes.”

“It is a pretty creature,” she said, looking at the still figure, which looked, with few alterations, much the same as it had the month before, when it was prowling the rainforests of Chile.

She could say no more, venture no disapproving remark before her husband. It was forbidden. But the explorer observed the sadness in her eyes. He felt, to his own surprise, a moment’s regret that she had been touched by these affairs. “Yes, it was. The kits were playful and remarkably affectionate.”

“Oh,” she said sadly.

“It was a wrong to kill them,” he said. “An unforgivable wrong.”

“You regret it, then?” she said in surprise.

“There is nothing for me to regret. I have only done what I must. But let us have no more gloomy remarks!” He stepped toward the case and pointed. “I am particularly proud of this specimen, my dear. The large one.”

“Oh?” said Lady Martin.

“Do you see what is particularly unusual about it, aside from the dark fur?”

She looked unsettled. “No, my dear.”

“No kodkod has ever been seen with blue eyes before,” the explorer said triumphantly. “It is unique in the world, the only one of its kind. I can say that with certainty.”

“How remarkable!” she said, looking at it with fascination and a kind of horror she could not explain. This was wrong. Sir Walter ought to have left well enough alone, she thought.

The explorer smiled. “Indeed.” What a terrible fate, he thought, to be trapped in a glass case forever.

He quit the museum shortly afterward, bound for home. The Society of Venerable Adventurers was expecting Sir Walter, but they would have to be disappointed.


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2024 !Short Story Contest! is Live

June 23rd, 2024

go straight to the contest,

Posting every Sunday throughout the Summer,
with two weeks of Fan Voting at the end of August.

Winners announced Labor Day, which is September 2nd.

go straight to the contest,

Or, use the permanent link on
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Winners announced for the 2024 Lengthy Poem Contest

May 6th, 2024

What an awe-inspiring Lengthy Poem Contest

Never one to wait a moment,
the winner of the 2024 Lengthy Poem Contest is:

The girl with the red stroller
by Ana Reisens

read all the 2024 Lengthy Poems
meet the judge, Paul-Newell Reaves

With over 90% of the votes, our Fan Favorite is also
“The girl with the red stroller”
View the Fan Voting results

Surf back through next Spring,
we do this every year
only on

We will return to weekly publication
at the end of June with
the 2024 !Short Story Contest!
(submission is now open)

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Fan Voting for the 2024 Lengthy Poem Contest

May 2nd, 2024

— Three days only—
May 3rd – May 5th

Vote for your Favorite Lengthy Poem
without sharing any information at all

in the Fan-Favorite Prize
only on

You may vote as often as you please.

Vote here

Read the Lengthy Poems:

The Song of Ishtar by Blessings Oziama

Reflections of an Ant-stronaut by JL Maikaho

The girl with the red stroller by Ana Reisens

Vote here

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Concept Albums Explained: Frank’s Wild Years

January 17th, 2024

by Paul-Newell Reaves

You think you know weird?  You don’t know weird till you’ve heard the albums from Tom Waits’ Island Records period.

Famous for his raspy vocal delivery, Waits was mostly a piano-based lounge act before the 1980s.  His lyrics have always been exceptional– on par with Bob Dylan and Patti Smith– and his 1974 concept album “the Heart of Saturday Night” will be covered in another article of this column.

When he signed a recording deal with Island Records, however, he took his music in a very, very different direction.   “Frank’s Wild Years” is the third of five albums recently remastered and re-released by that company, and it  features obscure instruments– a Mellotron, for example– intense rhythmic patterns, and bizarre harmonies and chords that put the most experimental prog bands to shame.

How weird?  We’re about to find out.
(read more)

Winners of the 2024 FLASH SUITE Contest are announced

More Concept Albums Explained,
including The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,
and Bob Dylan’s Highway 61, Revisited

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Winners of the 2024 FLASH SUITE Contest

January 15th, 2024

Never one to waste a moment on ,

the Grand Prize winner is:
Half-Life Connections

However, there is a tie for Runner-Up,
so Fan Voting becomes the tie-breaker (see below).
Eking ahead is:
Three Tales of Rapture

And the Fan Favorites are:
Top Hat
Fragments of My Father

Here’s How the Judges Voted:
(each Grand Prize vote is worth two Runner-Up votes)

Glenn A. Bruce
Grand Prize: “Half-Life Connections”
Runner-Up: “Good and Faithful Servant”

Lady Moet Beast
Grand Prize: “Three Tales of Rapture”
Runner-Up: “Final Stop”

Aditya Gautam
Grand Prize: “Good and Faithful Servant”
Runner-Up: “Crow”

Allison Floyd
Grand Prize: “Half-Life Connections”
Runner Up: “Three Tales of Rapture”

Fan Vote (click here for all Voting Percentages)–
Grand Prize: Top Hat (35.38%)
Runner-Up: Fragments of My Father (25.94%)

Tie-Breaker Fan Vote:
Three Tales of Rapture” (1.65% total)
Good And Faithful Servant” (0.94% total)

!What a close contest!

Keep surfing through
for more of our Winter publication schedule.

Re-read the 2024 FLASH SUITE Contest
Meet the Judges

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