Archive for the ‘!What’s New!’ Category

Snow

Sunday, July 25th, 2021

by Eris Young

Alexander Pines stamped into Louie’s Bar and Grill, shaking unseasonable snow from his Timberland boots, and exchanged a few quiet words with the bartender.

“Thanks,” he said, wrapping burning fingers around the steaming mug Louie set before him. He sat for a few minutes huddled into himself, waiting for the chill to fade, peering at neon beer ads and decorative singing bass, long since familiar to him.

“Cold winter,” said Louie, eyes glued to the massive paperback he was reading.

“The coldest,” Alex sniffed, taking a tentative sip from his mug, and leaned forward over the bar a little, “what’s that, Dostoevsky?”

“Mmhm.”

Alex nodded and waited for Louie to go on. He didn’t. It being Tuesday evening, the place was nearly empty, save for a white guy sitting a few stools down. Alex stole a glance. He was barrel-chested and bullet-headed. He swiveled his head in Alex’s direction. Alex flicked his eyes away.

“Buy you a beer?” The man held his glass up and Louie refilled it, eyes roving calmly between Alex and the stranger.

“I’m seventeen.”

“So?”

“I don’t drink,” said Alex, keeping his face neutral and his eyes on his mug.

“Everybody drinks. What’s that?”

“Tea,” Alex wondered if he could move to another seat without starting any trouble. This guy was over six foot tall. His hand wrapped all the way around his glass. Alex considered leaving, but he had half a mug of tea left and his feet were still pretty numb.

“You an eskimo?”

The question, though not unexpected, caught Alex wholly off-guard. He responded on instinct, without meaning to,

“What?”

“An Eskimo. Like an Indian.”

Alex closed his eyes, “I’m Tlingit,” he said it the American way, ‘tuh-ling-it’.

“Alright,” that seemed to satisfy the stranger, he stayed quiet. Gradually the tension that had caught Alex’s chest into a tight knot began to relax. He still wanted to be gone. He took a generous sip of his tea, burned his tongue and put the cup down. He hesitated before leaving it on the counter, and Louie took it from him,

“I got a thermos in the back-” he said, half getting up from his chair behind the bar.

“I’m fine, thanks Louie,” Alex zipped his parka and cinched up the hood, sidling past the stranger, who didn’t look up.

***

Half an hour later found him still on the road home. Ketchikan was a small town, the total distance from the docks to his house was a mile and a half, and took him thirty minutes on a bad day. Today was worse than bad. The wind bit through his clothes and the snow, which had been falling for hours, made the journey slow-going.

It almost never snowed in Ketchikan, they were too far south. The area around the city was closer to a rainforest than to the taiga of farther north, but an unexpected cold front had caught everyone unprepared. For the time being, the news had said, they’d have to start shovelling or the roads would become impassable. Luckily the city had its own plow and the road Alex was on had already been done, but if it kept up like this until morning, travelling would be difficult.

Alex was just out of sight of the lights of the town. There were trees to either side and it was almost pitch dark. He had to pick up his feet to keep from tripping, and every once in a while he would slide a little in the dirty slush that lined the edge of the road.

Alex walked most days because rain and old roads made biking dangerous, but at this moment he would have risked it to make the trip a little faster. His feet were going to be soaked by the time he got home. He wished to god he owned a car. He was considering going back to Louie’s and asking for an extra pair of socks or a thermos or a ride home when a pair of headlights lit up the road in front of him. Alex turned and stopped, momentarily blinded, as the truck pulled to a halt beside him. The driver’s seat was occupied, of course, by the stranger from Louie’s. The window slid down,

“Wanna ride?”

Alex hesitated, genuinely torn. He sighed, and jogged around the other side of the truck. He passed through the headlights, turned up too bright for the weather. The GMC logo glinted dully on the front bumper.

He climbed into the passenger’s side and found himself in a furnace. The heating was turned up full-blast and within minutes he was sweating. He took off his scarf and stuck his hat in his pocket, while the stranger played with the radio: static— after midnight; Out in the moonlight; Just like we used to do, I’m always—“-inds reported throughout the southeast, residents of Gateway Borough and surrounding area advised to stay in”—Anchorage six Des Moines zero— . The stranger left it there and it ebbed and flowed in the background like waves as service cut in and out and the truck rattled over bumps in the road and crunched through icy gravel.

“You at school?”

Alex rolled his eyes, face towards the window, “No. Yeah. I applied last fall,” please don’t try and start a conversation.

“I’m here for the hunting. Big game.”

“Uh-huh,” Alex looked out the window. He could see lights up ahead, “this is me,” he said it quiet, almost under his breath, and started to repeat himself, but the truck was already rolling to a stop.

“Here’s fine,” he hopped out and sucked in a breath as cold air hit him in the face. He started up the walkway and didn’t look back until the sound of the truck died away, the glow of the taillights just visible down the road until it faded into black. He’d left his scarf on the seat of the truck. Goddamnit. He let it go.

There were a few inches of snow on the concrete, but it had been shovelled recently. His mother was in the kitchen, washing dishes,

“Dinner was at six.”

“Hi mom,” he took off his parka and pullover and left them with his boots in the entryway, “I know, I’m sorry.”

“Yours is in the oven.”

“Thanks,” he kissed her on the cheek and took his dinner, salmon fillet and potatoes, out of the oven, “You shouldn’t have shovelled the walkway, mom. You should’ve waited til I got home.”

“I had to take out the garbage.”

“You shoulda left it until I got home, you don’t need to do that stuff, mom, that’s what I’m here for.”

Alex tried to keep his tone lighthearted but he felt a twinge of guilt at the words that hung unsaid in the air between them: he wouldn’t be at home forever. In fact he hoped he wouldn’t. His mother sighed and went back to washing dishes. Alex started eating, realizing with even more guilt that he was very hungry.

“Are these the frozen steaks? From Safeway?”

“Tatsuda’s.”

“They’re good.”

“Not as good as fresh ones, but pretty good. Boris is back.”

Alex noticed the extra place setting for the first time, “When?”

“Since one. If you’d have been at dinner you’d have seen him.”

“Where’d he go?”

“I don’t know, but he left his stuff in the spare room.”

Alex felt a familiar resentment surfacing, stronger than it had been since he was twelve.

“He says he’s got a new job.”

“Uh-huh,” Alex stared at his plate, having lost all desire to talk.

***

He opened his eyes to piercing, white sunlight. His curtains were thrown wide, and when he sat up he saw a thick blanket of snow covering the yard, the surrounding houses, the trees. He swung his legs out of bed and went out the front door. The light blinded him for a moment, and when his eyes adjusted everything was still a sparkling pure white. He couldn’t tell where the land ended and the sky began. He couldn’t hear anything, as if the heavy white blanket thrown over the land had been thrown over him as well. He called out but the air ate his voice, trapping it in his throat.

His boots sank into the snow, he dragged his feet to the end of the driveway. He blinked, he could see something in the road, where he knew the road to be underneath all that snow. It was big, it looked like an animal, had the hulking outline of a bear, or something else. But it stood on two legs and moved like a man. It was dragging something behind it. Big game.

Alex tried to look at the figure, and then what it was dragging behind it, but he couldn’t. His eyes wouldn’t focus. It left a solid red line behind it in the snow. It turned to look him. Alex felt a panic grip him, the world shook—

“Alex? Alex.”

Someone was shaking him. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, reaching for his phone. 3:35 am, “Jesus, Boris, it’s early. What’s going on?”

“Nothing, man, I, uh, just got back, I wanted to say hi,” Boris crouched next to his bed. In the pale ray of moonlight seeping through his blinds, Alex could see Boris wearing a familiar smile, as if there was nothing in the world strange about waking your brother up in the middle of the night just to say hello.

And there wasn’t, really, not for Boris. He’d never had a regular circadian rhythm, and of course it didn’t occur to him that anyone else would, either. It wasn’t selfishness, exactly, but it was awfully close. That about summed Boris up. Not selfish, but close.

“Yeah, okay, I’ll see you tomorrow morning,” Alex rolled over to face the wall and said nothing. Boris sat for a few more seconds before leaving the room, shutting the door quietly behind him.

Alex shut his eyes but found he couldn’t sleep. He was still shaken from the dream, more-so than he wanted to admit. He felt a little sorry. Boris had done him a favor, waking him. He lay for a while, his thoughts edging carefully around the images the dream had left behind his eyelids, trying quietly not to think of any detail too clearly for fear of conjuring it up again.

Sleep must have found him again because he woke at eight to a voicemail from his boss. She had been snowed in and wouldn’t be able to open the store until later, and Alex should take the morning off. He shut his eyes, tired from a broken REM cycle, and went back to sleep. An hour later he was woken by a tapping on the window above his bed. Boris stood looking in, his face ruddy with the cold, grinning widely.

“Dude, snow!”

When Alex opened the front door his heart thudded. It took a few seconds to convince himself he hadn’t stepped back into the dream. Unlike the dream landscape, the scene before him was natural, imperfect. The trees, houses and cars all still had their color, only all half painted over with white. The road was thick and undefined under its coating of ice but it was dirty, foot-printed and tire-tracked into a sodden grey, not pristine like it had been in the dream.

“What a time to come back home, huh?”

Alex nodded. He smiled. It was good to see his brother again. If he’d have been asked the day before if he’d like to he’d have said no, but his heart fluttered at the sight of Boris perched on the picnic bench in the front yard, swept clean of snow and dead leaves. He had on his old olive parka from high school, and for a second he might have been the same older brother Alex remembered from half a decade ago.

But they were both older now, and the patina the years had cast over Alex’ memory of his brother was being rubbed off. Now Boris’ hair was shaggy, longer than it had ever been when he’d lived at home, and his jaw was shaded with a layer of stubble. He had dark circles under his eyes and Alex wondered if his irregular sleeping habits had begun to catch up with him. His smile was still the same, though, a kind of hungry grin that looked a little scary even if he didn’t mean it to.

They sat on the picnic bench for a while and talked. Impossible, though, to pack six years of conversation into half an hour. Boris was working for a startup company in Juneau. They designed and sold Native Alaskan art and clothing. Boris was visiting Ketchikan to talk to local artists.

“The yuppies like that stuff, huh?”

I like that stuff, Alex.”

“Sorry.” Boris was nothing if not sincere.

Alex changed the subject, “You still a vegetarian?”

“Vegan,”

Alex raised his eyebrows.

“-but I’m gonna eat whatever mom cooks. I’m not about to have that argument again.” Boris laughed softly and took a pack of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket. He put one in his mouth and offered the pack to Alex, who shook his head. Alex watched him as he lit it, cupping his hand around the end, a delicate gesture, almost tender. Boris looked at Alex, exhaling smoke, “What?”

“Nothing. Just- when did you start smoking?”

Boris chuckled again, “High school. I hid it pretty well, though.”

Alex felt again as though he were wiping dust off of the memory of his brother, revealing unexpected angles and imperfections. He thought he should feel disappointment but instead he felt relief. For years, he had thought about what it would be like to see Boris again, and he had dreamed up countless scenarios, fights, apologies, acceptances, resentments, but now he was simply happy to see him, to get to know him again.

“So you got a girlfriend yet?”

“No.”

“Boyfriend?”

“Nuh-uh.”

“You’re almost eighteen now, man. What’s the deal?”

“I don’t know, I just have other things to think about, I guess.”

“That never stopped me.”

“So you’re seeing somebody?”

“He’s Canadian.”

Alex nodded,

“He white?”

“Does that matter?”

“I guess not.”

***

Boris gave him a ride into town before noon. He rode a motorcycle now, and Alex was impressed. He sat behind Boris, wearing his spare helmet. Alex was still the taller of the two, but his brother had a solidness Alex lacked, a lower center of gravity. Alex felt he could ride behind Boris at eighty miles per hour—though they were only going twenty—without fear.

When they got to town Boris dropped Alex off at work and headed southeast on Tongass to talk to Mike Avery, an artist who lived in Saxman. Julia, Alex’s boss, had told him she was on her way, but she wasn’t there when they got to the shop. Alex didn’t have a key. He wandered across the street to the waterfront and sat on one of the floats low down, close to the water where the local boats were moored, bobbing gently. Translucent moon jellyfish floated idly near the surface, Alex watched them for a while, and as he watched more of them became visible, deeper down, paler spots against the deep green-black of the water.

“Excuse me,” said a voice behind him. He turned, startled, to see a blond man and a brown-haired woman standing above him at the top of the little gangway connecting the street to the float. They wore identical neon-green raincoats and greyish cargo pants.

“Do you live around here?” said the woman, leaning over the railing. He hoped she wouldn’t lean too hard, those railings never got repaired. He nodded.

“We want to go hiking, can you tell us a good spot?” She looked at the man beside her, as if for affirmation.

“Uh,” said Alex, thinking. He disapproved of tourists as a concept but confronted with one in person, out of season, caught him off guard, “you could take the Carlanna trail up to the lake. If you follow Tongass up that way you’ll hit Carlanna. Follow it away from the water and make a right- no, a left on Baranof. Follow that for like a mile, then make a right on Canyon and follow it all the way to the end.”

The man nodded, “Carlanna, Baranof, Canyon. Got it.” The woman typed something into her phone. She turned and spoke quietly to the man, who shook his head. Alex didn’t hear what she said but he saw her roll her eyes and put her phone away.

“And we had snow yesterday, so watch out for ice on the road.”

“Thanks,” said the woman, and followed her husband until they were out of sight. Alex hoped he had given them the right directions. If they needed help they could ask someone in town. He watched the jellyfish for a while longer, until a blue Ford 4×4 pulled up to the sidewalk above him. A grey haired woman stepped out,

“Morning, Alex.” It was Julia. They walked to the store together and Alex waited as she unlocked the door. It was freezing inside, and they kept their jackets on until the heating kicked in. Alex bustled around, dusting and straightening the displays of clothing, cultural artifacts, stuffed dead animals, more trying to warm himself than anything. He reorganized the front window displays, arranging pottery, jewelry, figurines and ornamental weapons according to culture; Iñupiat here, Tlingit there, Haida on the other side, and so on.

When he was finished, and Julia had opened the register, he flipped over the open/closed sign in on the door. There was no flood of customers, in fact no one came in for the first hour. No cruise ships came in in the winter, because even if it was warm enough for them to get to Ketchikan, it would be icy and impassable farther up the coast. Julia made cocoa, and a pot of tea for Alex. They sat and talked for a while as Julia went over the books.

Around one thirty Mike Avery came in with a collection of seascapes he wanted to sell at the store. Alex sat at the register while Mike and Julia went to the back gallery.

Five minutes later the bell tinkled and a large figure appeared at the door, silhouetted. Alex greeted the newcomer on instinct, but when he stepped into the overhead light Alex’s ‘good afternoon’ died in his throat. It was the stranger from the night before. If he recognized Alex he didn’t let on. He sidled between the displays with unexpected grace, inspected some watercolors, then some pottery animal figurines, and eventually stopped in front of the display of Native American weaponry on the back wall of the shop, across from the register. Alex looked down at his phone but watched the stranger out of the corner of his eye. What was taking Julia and Mr. Avery so long?

“What’s this made of, silver?” The stranger had taken a knife down from the wall. There was a Do not touch sign hanging nearby. Alex didn’t say anything.

“Yeah. It’s decorative. You can’t, uh, hunt with it.”

“How much?”

“$75.”

There was a pause, Alex held his breath, waiting for the inevitable tide of complaints. He would patiently explain about living expenses for artists and the scarcity of jobs and the cost of keeping a store open, culminating in the stranger setting the knife on the counter and leaving the store.

But, no, the guy had his wallet open already. He counted some bills and tossed four twenties onto the counter. Alex handed him his change and watched him leave, his hulking frame momentarily blocking the light from the door, throwing the store into relative darkness. He hadn’t asked for a bag or a receipt.

He left as Mr. Avery and Julia came back into the storefront, and Alex heaved a sigh.

“Who was that?” said Julia, leaning on the register.

Alex shrugged, feigning nonchalance, though his heart was pounding unaccountably, “Dunno. He said he was a hunter.”

“He buy anything?”

“Yeah, the silver knife. With the horn handle.”

She shrugged and went back into the gallery and Alex and Mike were left alone. Alex remembered what Boris had said to him that morning.

“Mr. Avery,” he said, a little louder than was necessary. He was still jumpy from the encounter with the stranger. “Did you see Boris?”

The older man’s brow furrowed, “Boris is back in town?”

“Uh, yeah. He said he wanted to talk to you. You didn’t see him?”

He shook his head, “You got his number?”

Alex hesitated, and realized he didn’t. Boris hadn’t had a cellphone when he’d left home. He surely had one now, but it hadn’t occurred to Alex to ask. He told Mr. Avery about the startup, and why his brother had come back,

“I think he’s staying for a couple more days, I’ll call you if he comes back to the store today. I’ll give him your number.”

But Boris did not come back to the store. At two thirty they decided it was time to close up. Julia offered Alex a ride home but it was clear out, and Alex preferred to walk.

***

Alex dragged his feet as the narrow road entered the woods, and allowed his face to contort into the frown he had been suppressing since that morning. The trees obscured sight and sound of the city and Alex was profoundly, peacefully alone. The misting rain had begun let up. It left a clinging fog on the ground and a sharp, wet smell in the air.

Something caught Alex’s eye, a splash of red in the filthy half-melted slush lining the side of the road, turning it into a pink slurry. This was the forest, animals fought and ate and died here, it wasn’t a shock to see a spatter of blood every once in a while. And another, a reddish smear clinging to the muddy bank that rose to Alex’s right. The forest itself began a few feet up it, a tangle of clinging vines and the trunks of trees obscuring his view after a few feet.

There was no path, no gap in the trees, but there were a couple of deep gouges leading into the underbrush, long and distorted, as though an animal had clawed its way up the bank. Alex saw no other signs of any struggle. There was no one on the road and if he stopped and listened carefully he could just hear the occasional car on the distant highway. He walked a few feet to where the bank dipped down, closer to the level of the road, and found a faint trail leading into the trees.

He stood for a minute, indecisive, and then climbed the bank. He followed the trail a ways in, scanning the ground, and headed back to his right, hoping to see more signs of whatever had left the blood. He didn’t know what he expected to find, the only dangerous animal around was the occasional bear, but the tracks, if that was even what they were, had been narrow and close together; whatever had left them was not a bear.

Alex walked a few more minutes, moving slowly on the uneven ground, careful not to slip in the sucking mud that caked the forest floor between patches of forest herbs. At first his eyes remained on the undergrowth but no spoor made itself apparent and his gaze wandered upwards. The sights and sounds and smells of the forest calmed him, as they had since he was a child.

He breathed in the scent of pine and muddy water, and something else, sharper, sour. He wrinkled his nose, looking around, his eye fell on a patch of wide green leaves with a few fleshy, wan-looking yellow flowers: skunk cabbage. Alex approached them, staying to the higher, drier ground at the edge of the patch, and the smell got stronger. It was sour, organic, a little greener than actual skunk, not altogether unpleasant. The flowers were strange, nearly the same color as the surrounding leaves, but cup shaped, with a nubbly stalk in the center. Most stood straight up, but some were bent to one side or lay flat, as though they had been trampled. The mud in the patch had been disturbed and off to one side was a little spatter of blood, half-folded into the marshy soil.

He found more tracks after that, and studied them more closely this time. They were sunk deep in the mud and ill-defined but he could see they were oblong and wider at the front, with long toes, though deformed by the mud. They were too big to be a raccoon or a fox, but maybe a big dog? Or a wolf? That gave Alex pause. He didn’t think there were wolves in the area, but he wasn’t completely sure. He wondered if he should turn back and tell someone, like animal control. His phone had no reception here, and for the first time since entering the woods he felt uneasy at the depth of his isolation. He stood still and strained and found he could not hear anything but the faint cries of distant birds and the dripping of water. He had gone in a fairly straight path and had a good head for landmarks, he thought he could still find his way back pretty easily.

Something made a noise behind him, the muffled snapping of a twig, a gentle splash a little more pronounced than the sounds of rain. Alex froze, sucking in a breath involuntarily. A nebulous fear came creeping in and he turned and started back the way he had come, his heart beating a little faster. It was getting hard to concentrate, to find features of the landscape he recognized. He slid in some mud and went down on one knee. He was breathing heavily now, and he could smell something now, a warm brownish tang that battered its way into his nose. The sounds of birds had ceased. Before he could identify the smell he saw its source: a body, rent apart and glaring obscenely red against the green and brown and gray of the forest.

It had once been a person, and recently too; it still wore a pair of dirty cargo pants and half a neon green jacket, and it was still steaming very slightly in the cold air, but it had no more identifying features. Its head and most of its torso was missing, and Alex could see viscera and white pieces of bone.

Alex was transfixed for a moment by the grisly scene, but the sound of something rustling, nearby, brought him back to his senses. He slid backward down the slope he’d been climbing and ran in the other direction, his breath coming in painful gasps, sliding in mud and clambering on hands and knees. He lost track of where he was going, clawing a new trail through thorns and hanging branches, unable to see for more than a few feet. He could hear nothing around him over the sound of his own feet, his ragged breath.

***

He awoke from a daze at the sound of a telephone ringing. He was sitting in one of a row of metal chairs along a wall, across from a desk where a female police officer sat talking on the phone. He looked down at his shoes, still soaked in water and coated in mud, they’d left smudges on the scuffed linoleum floor. He took a deep breath and held it. When he couldn’t hold it anymore he breathed out, counting to ten.

He could see “Saxman Police” emblazoned in reverse on the window behind the desk, above a shield backlit by the sun shining in through the window. There was a cup in his hand, it felt warm. He took a sip. Tea, long over-brewed. He got up and something fell off his back, a heavy plaid blanket. He looked at it for a second and then picked it up, wrapping it around his shoulders again.

He wandered until he found a kitchenette, passing by a few rooms, some with blinds covering the windows. He passed a few policemen, a few people in regular clothes. None of them seemed to mind him, though a couple gave him worried looks. He poured out the tea into a metal sink. He reached up to one of the wood laminate shelves and his hand stopped, he saw the clock. It was four pm. It had been two thirty when he’d left work.

Distantly he heard a door slam shut, and quick footsteps, a familiar voice, raised in anger. Boris appeared in the doorway. Alex dropped the cup into the sink and ran to his brother, again grateful for his mass, his solidness. Boris wrapped his arms around Alex as deep, gasping sobs rent their way out of his chest.

The next couple hours were a haze. A detective questioned him, asked how he’d found the body. He told them he’d been hiking, didn’t mention the blood trail and the strange tracks. With a sickening jolt he remembered the neon jacket the corpse had been wearing. He gave halting descriptions of the couple he’d given directions to. The detective exchanged a look with another officer. Boris peered at them, tight-lipped, his arms folded,

“Look, officers,” he snapped, “I know you want to catch whoever did this, but my brother has been through a lot today. I want to take him home so he can get some rest. If you have any more questions you can call me.”

Alex was bundled into the the car Boris had borrowed from their mother. Boris looked very tired, his expression closed off. Neither of them spoke during the drive home. With a start, he remembered the strange hunter had come into the shop that morning. He thought uneasily htat he should have told the police about him, but the thought of returning to the station filled him with dread. He’d call the station tomorrow. Now, though, he felt bone tired. He closed his eyes, pretended to sleep.

Their mother met them at the front door, white-faced with worry, and took Alex’s coat. He took a hot shower, changed clothes without speaking to anyone, and fell asleep curled on the couch in the near-darkness of the winter afternoon.

He awoke, once, to the voices of Boris and his mother, arguing in hushed tones. He lay still, rigid, and listened, staring into the dark, his eyes not yet adjusted to the gloom.

“-again, isn’t it?” said their mother, her voice low but steady.

“I didn’t want to-” the rest of Boris’ response was too low to be heard.

“But you did. You can’t just ignore it, hoping it will go away. It didn’t work for your father, it won’t work for you.”

“I know, I just-”

“I love you.”

“Mom-”

“I love you, Boris, but this can’t continue.”

“Mom, help me.”

“What am I supposed to do? What do you want me to do? I have Alex to think of.”

He heard someone sigh, and the scrape of a chair on the kitchen floor, and then silence.

***

When he woke again it was after eight. He didn’t have his watch on, he realized uncomfortably that he must have lost it in the woods. He stood up and stretched and peeked out the kitchen window. He could see a dark shape sitting on the table in the yard. Boris. Alex pulled on his parka and snowboots and crept outside. When he was a few feet away Boris turned,

“Alex. You’re awake.”

There was a flatness in Boris’ voice that made Alex uneasy. It was winter, and very dark. It was windy, clouds scudded overhead, throwing them into periods of relative light and darkness. In the chiaroscuro of orange streetlights Boris looked very small. His parka engulfed him, and his hands shook as he lit a cigarette. The flame quivered, went out, and he let his arms fall to his sides,

“I have to leave—”

“Don’t go,” Alex blurted out, “not again. I can’t-”

“I’m sorry about what happened, Alex,” his brother’s voice shook, “in the woods. I didn’t mean for you to see-” he faltered. Alex’s stomach lurched with the understanding.

“Boris,” he said, slowly. It seemed to Alex, knowing Boris, that a situation like this one had been inevitable. Alex felt fear but not surprise. He took a deep breath, coming to a decision,

“Boris,” he said again, “whatever you did-”

“No,” Boris stopped him, “don’t do that. Listen to what I have to say, first. I left Ketchikan to get away from you and mom,” he paused, “to protect you.”

“Then why did you come back?”

“I need you to do something for me. I can only trust you.”

He took something out of his pocket. In the ambient light of the moon and streetlamps Alex made out small pistol and magazine. He could see a bullet peeking out of the clip, gleaming silver-white in the gloom.

“Boris,” said Alex again, pulling back instinctively.

“I’m serious. I tried to do it myself, but-” his voice broke.

Alex felt sick. He stood up and his eyes flicked from the gun to Boris, who had stood up as well. He crossed the space between them in a few quick steps and put the gun in Alex’s hand. Alex backed away, the gun limp at his side.

A shot cracked through the frigid air. Alex saw Boris stagger backward out of the pool of light, go down on one knee, his left hand showing palely over his chest. Alex still held the pistol but it wasn’t pointed at Boris, his finger wasn’t on the trigger. Where had the shot come from? The moon and stars were obscured, again, they were plunged into darkness. He went towards his brother but Boris put a hand out,

Stop,”

His voice was loud, clearer than it should have been for someone with a shot in the chest, and it had a deep, resonant quality that jarred Alex. He stopped. Boris let out a strangled cry and went down on his hands and knees. Alex took a step forward anyways.

Once, when Alex was fifteen, he had seen a raccoon get run over by a car. He’d been standing at the side of the road, near enough to hear the bones break. The popping, rending sounds he heard now, coming from his only brother, reminded him of that. He felt a gripping panic that drained the blood from his extremities. His legs felt numb, he tried to step back, to turn and run, but his feet wouldn’t move. He could hear Boris moving, shifting, but couldn’t see more than an outline in the darkness.

He heard movement a little farther off, not from Boris but behind him, approaching footsteps crunching on gravel and frozen grass. He saw a flash, the curve reflective surface of a hunting knife showing luminous in the dark, above where Boris knelt. Instinctively he raised the gun, took aim at the gleaming silver streak and pulled the trigger. He heard a cry, unmistakably human, and the light shining on the blade winked out.

Where Boris had once been was a black outline, carved out of the dark of the forest. A single, jaundiced eye snapped into view and then out again and he could see movement in the black-on-blackness, the suggestion of a hulking silhouette with a muffled, furred outline. Alex stood rooted to the spot, the gun slipped from his hand,

“Don’t leave me—” he said.

The thing that had taken the place of his brother let out a low resonant rattling call and slipped away into the forest.

end




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Variants on a Theme

Sunday, July 18th, 2021

by Liam Hogan

It was like living through a dream; a nagging, constant, vague sense of the unreal. The ninth time he was thrown (kicked, dropped, catapulted…) through a plate glass window, emerging dazed and bleeding on the other side, he wondered if, unbeknown to him, he was on some cosmic filmset, with a pernickety alien director shouting “CUT!” and demanding a change to the script (lighting, camera angle, background noise…), before they could run the scene again, and again, and again; the one constant: his clumsy defenestration.

Except this wasn’t some stuntman friendly environment, with sugar glass or other suitably weakened glazing. This was hard, and frequently jagged. Though just as often it shattered into a thousand tiny jewels–the advantages of modern safety glass.

Still hurt, though. Still left pieces embedded in his palms (knees, elbows, buttocks…).

He was vaguely aware, sitting there attended by a concerned delivery man (bicycle courier, store security guard, harassed mother…), dripping blood and waiting for yet another ambulance, that film lore claimed that certain takes by auteurs such as Stanley Kubrick were done over a hundred times; madness seeking perfection. But the comparison didn’t, couldn’t stand. Had it been the same plate glass window, in the same location, with the same audience of extras, then perhaps… A groundhog moment, repeated ad nauseam.

But every plate glass window was different; variants on a theme. Maybe because he avoided the scene of his previous accidents, as much as he could. Took alternative routes. To no avail. Even as he tried to steer well clear of any large windows (shop-front, panoramic, French doors), circumstances would force him towards them. A bus (camper van, garbage truck, ambulance…) would jump the kerb, and as he dived out of the way…

…he would find himself falling through breaking glass, the sound condensed into a sharp retort, reverberating around his ears, his hands lacerated and his clothing torn once again.

And then, depending on the severity of his injuries, he would stumble away, or an ambulance–another ambulance–would be called for. Lights would be shone in his eyes (blood pressure taken, grazes cleaned, bandages applied…) and, patched up, they would send him home. Or, sometimes out of an excess of caution, sometimes for more obvious reasons, he would be taken to hospital.

It wasn’t until the third time he found himself on the plastic benches of Accident and Emergency that anyone else spotted the trend. By his seventh visit, both the doctors and the paramedics recognised him and his name, with a muttered, incredulous “not him again?”.

They admitted him, for observations. Checked his balance; the workings of his inner ear (vision, nervous system, brain…).

Everything appeared depressingly normal. He was discharged, with a prescription to “be more careful”.

A police officer was called on his seventeenth defenestration, his eleventh trip to A&E, his fourth failure to “be more careful”. But there was nothing–nothing at all except the uncanny reoccurrence–to suggest it was anything other than the worst possible run of luck.

But what were the odds of that?

He’d long since taken to avoiding the high street, with its gauntlet of brightly lit shop windows. Not that that helped. On one occasion, the glass came looking for him, carried, comedy style, by two gloved workmen, presumably on the way to repair one of his earlier accidents. He wasn’t sure if it technically counted as a defenestration; did he go through the glass or did the glass go through him? Something for some other jobsworth to decide.

Gallery owners who saw him coming held their breath until he had passed by. Not today, they would sigh, though there was always his return trip. Shopkeepers cleared the space in front of their stores of any potential hazards. The council was busy repairing cracked paving stones and filling potholes.

Taking him out of the equation, accidents were down. But with him in the equation, all health and safety records were being broken, and not in a good way.

After the thirty-seventh time, on his return from the twenty-third trip to hospital, a local reporter showed up at his door as he lay groggy on the sofa, a bag of frozen peas (sweetcorn, chips, ice-cubes) on his purple-bruised knee.

The resulting article was an entire page, full of the gathered comments of witnesses, of shop-owners, of an upbeat glazier. There was a map, with a rash of bright dots, and a witty sign-off, from a reporter who bemoaned the effort the story had taken. So many people to talk to, a day spent traipsing endlessly around town. And the supposed meat of the piece–the only thing that could have elevated it above news-popcorn–had turned out to be a dull, far from conclusive interview with him, the hero (victim, unwilling pawn, villain…) of the piece, hopped up on painkillers and as confused as anyone, and a whole lot less coherent.

Despite that, there was the briefest of interest from the national media (The Daily Mail, Radio Five Live, Good Morning Britain…), but he ignored them, regretting having said anything at all to even the town’s free newspaper.

The interest fizzled out, not just because of his unwillingness to play along, but because that was his last defenestration. There would be no thirty-eighth. The newspaper story turned out to be a one-off, unsustained by the eagerly anticipated repeats. His accidents stopped happening as suddenly as they had started. As if, the world having taken note (via three columns in the local newspaper opposite an advert for the edge of town DIY store), it no longer needed to clamour so for attention.

It took him a while to believe it. A while to accept that the joke, if that was what this was, was over; done, no punchline to be discerned. Slowly, his scars healed, leaving white-line reminders on his arms and wrists, a livid criss-cross that people never asked about it, already certain they must be self-inflicted.

It wasn’t true, but only he knew that. Not that it mattered, nothing did. The fugue state had departed, but what life was left behind was mundane. Banal. Lacking in peaks and in troughs. For a time he had felt important, even if only as a plaything of some uncaring external power (god, demon, universe).

Only he knew how difficult it was every time he passed a plate glass window. How he felt the vertiginous possibilities, imagined a mutual attraction, and had to resist throwing himself through the looking glass, just to see what was on the other side.

Only he knew how tempted he was.

END




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Nukes for Breakfast

Sunday, July 11th, 2021

by Emily Martha Sorensen


[United Nations]
To the United States:
We have intercepted the nuclear warhead you sent to North Korea.  Please do not do that again.


[United Nations]
To North Korea:
We have intercepted the nuclear warhead you sent to the United States.  Please do not do that again.
Sincerely,
United Nations


[United Nations Dragon Riders]
You stupid idiots!  We’re just going to eat everything you launch!


[Group Comm]
Kathe, rider of Incineration:
Told you all those mutual defense pacts were going to be a problem.


[United Nations]
We now issue an official warning that World War III is attempting to begin.  Please do not panic.  The United Nations Dragon Riders have prepared for this day, and will prevent any damage.


[Group Comm]
Samesh, rider of Ignition:
I think they’re overestimating what we can do with only five dragons.


[Group Comm]
Alexei, rider of Conflagration:
Why didn’t we demand more in the Dragon Defense Pact?


[Group Comm]
Ekon, rider of Combustion:
The queen wouldn’t budge any higher.  I can’t say I blame her, honestly.  Volunteering five for permanent guard duty in our world was pretty generous.  All the dragons get out of the deal is to eat our spent nuclear fuel rods, and they know it’s toxic garbage we can’t figure out how to store safely.


[Group Comm]
Kathe, rider of Incineration:
Uh, speaking of which . . .


[United Nations Dragon Riders]
To all countries of the world:
Our dragons’ stomach capacities are not unlimited.  If too many nuclear warheads are released, our dragons will vomit.  We assure you, you do not wish to have nuclear vomit spewed across a major city.  Stop launching nukes.


[Group Comm]
Alexei, rider of Conflagration:
Two more got launched.


[Group Comm]
Kathe, rider of Incineration:
Guys, Cin’s full now.  Do I send him to Antarctica to vomit, or do I ground him?


[Group Comm]
Alexei, rider of Conflagration:
Ground him.  We’ve still got the capacity for another twelve nukes between us.


[Group Comm]
Samesh, rider of Ignition:
Make that ten.


[Group Comm]
Wang Lei, rider of Cremation:
Nine.


[Group Comm]
Ekon, rider of Combustion:
Eight.


[Group Comm]
Wang Lei, rider of Cremation:
Uh, guys, I’m not sure we’re helping anything.  I’m pretty sure the politicians with their fingers on the buttons keep assuming that we’ll eat anything they launch, so not launching nukes when everyone else is doing it makes them look weak.


[Group Comm]
Alexei, rider of Conflagration:
Well, what are we supposed to do?  Stop?


[Group Comm]
Samesh, rider of Ignition:
Yeah, about that . . . Ig’s full.


[Group Comm]
Wang Lei, rider of Cremation:
So’s Crem.


[Group Comm]
Alexei, rider of Conflagration:
Blast!  So’s Flag.


[Group Comm]
Kathe, rider of Incineration:
Want me to send Cin to vomit in Antarctica?


[Group Comm]
Alexei, rider of Conflagration:
Not yet!  Ekon, how’s Bust?


[Group Comm]
Ekon, rider of Combustion:
Getting pretty full.


[Private Comm]
Queen of the Dragons:
If you convince your leaders to open the portal, I will send more of my people to aid you


[Private Comm]
Alexei, rider of Conflagration:
And what do you want in return?


[Private Comm]
Queen of the Dragons:
I merely want to help.


[Private Comm]
Alexei, rider of Conflagration:
Baloney!


[Private Comm]
Queen of the Dragons:
You realize that we dragons have nothing to lose if your world becomes a nuclear wasteland?  In fact, we would benefit, because we can feed off nuclear energy instead of prey if needed, and that is much more convenient than having to hunt down puny creatures, so it would be a net gain.


[Private Comm]
Alexei, rider of Conflagration:
Except you couldn’t get here if we blew ourselves up, because we control the portal.


[Private Comm]
Queen of the Dragons:
I shall talk to your United Nations and see what they say.


[United Nations Dragon Riders]
To all countries of the world:
The next country to launch a nuclear warhead will receive a stomachful of nuclear dragon vomit upon their nation.  STOP LAUNCHING NUKES NOW.


[Group Comm]
Ekon, rider of Combustion:
If they don’t listen, we’ll have to follow through.


[Group Comm]
Kathe, rider of Incineration:
Oh, I’m beyond ready to.


[United Nations]
To all citizens of the world:
The Queen of the Dragons has offered us the protection another four thousand additional dragons.  She will explain what is needed to receive one stationed above your city.


[Group Comm]
Kathe, rider of Incineration:
Wait, what?


[Group Comm]
Wang Lei, rider of Cremation:
Four thousand?!


[Public Comm]
To all the people of Earth:
If you wish for permanent protection, you need only send up a firework or flare from your location.  Any area that does so will receive the protection of one of my dragons immediately, and need never fear a nuclear holocaust again.
Sincerely,
Queen of the Dragons


[Group Comm]
Samesh, rider of Ignition:
Uh, guys . . . I’m starting to think the Dragon Defense Pact was never to our benefit in the first place.  She knew that having shields in place would make our leaders more willing to use swords.  And she knew that if the shields were insufficient, our only choice would be to capitulate.


[United Nations]
To all citizens of the world:
The portal to the dragon world is opening now.  There is no need to fear.  We will all be protected.


[Group Comm]
Alexei, rider of Conflagration:
Get to the portal!  We have one shot to close it!


[Private Comm]
Queen of the Dragons:
Your human partners have outlived their usefulness now.  Eat them.


[Private Comm]
Conflagration:
Incinerate:
Ignition:
Combustion:
Cremation:
Yes, Your Majesty.


[Public Comm]
To all my newest subjects:
I celebrate your wise decision, humans of Earth.  We will now discuss the start of my reign.
Sincerely,
Queen of the Dragons and Sovereign of Earth





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Safe Air

Sunday, July 4th, 2021

by Mike Wilson

Gate Agent Alvin Merriweather’s voice was as smooth as a milkshake pouring through the public address system, like Morgan Freeman, but not as deep.

“Bigfoot, please report to the podium. Passenger Bigfoot.”

Alvin scanned the waiting area of gate B34. Passengers were studying their phones, staring into space with anxious expressions, or minding restless children. A woman in a business suit typed furiously on a device in her lap, putting out a fire or setting one, before embarking to her final destination for more important business or to escape business entirely on the beaches of South Florida. But a few caught the Bigfoot reference. They looked up at Alvin. He grinned. They realized it was a joke and grinned back.

For nearly twenty years, Gate B34 had been Alvin’s. He’d fashioned it into an oasis for air travelers. A bowl of candy or a rack of snacks. Free newspapers or magazines to read while you waited for your plane to begin boarding. All out of his own pocket. Booking snafu or flight delay? Alvin was quick to comp a ticket or spend Safe Air’s money if that’s what it took to make the customer happy. He was the Ellen Degeneres of gate agents.  Make everyone’s trip a happy trip. That was his credo. And what made Alvin’s departure gate distinctive, indeed famous, was his schtick.

“We are now boarding those passengers needing special assistance,” he said, leaning into the microphone so he could make his voice soft and breathy but still loud enough to be heard.  “Speaking of special assistance, does anyone know how to fly a plane? The pilot says he doesn’t.”

Most of them looked up, alarmed. Then they saw Alvin’s grin and the twinkle in his eye. He laughed and reassured them, reciting the pilot’s experience and safety awards.

“Just seeing if anyone is awake out there.”

His act had started by accident. One day, while boarding the many levels of Safe Air membership – the Gold, the Silver, the Platinum, on and on – he realized that all of it was just a caste system airline executives thought up to make money, so the Platinums could think they were better than the Golds, that Zone 1 was better than Zone 2, and that Zone 4 people were untouchables, lucky to be riding with humans instead of in the baggage compartment in the belly of the plane. The distinctions not only were absurd, they were hurtful. We’re all just passengers on the same plane. So, he began making up new categories. The Titanium Club. The Rubidium Club. Then he went through all the gemstones he could think of.

His co-workers had freaked, worried that Alvin had lost his mind, wondering whether to call the supervisor. But the passengers in the gate waiting area got it. They were laughing. Even the Zone 1 people. At the end of Alvin’s rant, everyone applauded. It had been amazing. And eye-opening.

“Now boarding Zone 1.”

Alvin had realized that every person was equally valuable and unconditionally deserved happiness. The other thing he’d realized was that laughter made people happy and laughter was free, so everyone could afford it. Alvin developed a body of material, like a nightclub comic, and worked his act every time a flight boarded, but not overdoing it – you still had to get the passengers on the plane.

Everyone in the industry knew about Alvin’s act. A website on air travel trivia had a page dedicated to Alvin with funny stories and some of his bits. A local TV station had profiled him, complete with testimonials from satisfied passengers. Safe Air loved it, because it made them look good, as if a corporation had feelings.

“Now boarding Zone 4. Hic –“

Nelly, who was scanning the boarding passes, grinned at him, thinking this was Alvin’s hiccup routine. But she was wrong. Alvin really had the hiccups. The phone line lit up. Alvin lifted the handset to his ear.

“Hic… hello, gate B34.”

“Alvin, this is Theo.”

Theo was Alvin’s wife. Her phoning him at work was not the norm. 

“Is everything okay?” he asked. “Hic…. Is Simone okay?”

Simone, their daughter, was in her first year of college, two hours away in a dorm.

“Simone’s fine,” Theo said.

“Hic…”

Silence. He waited for her to tell him why she’d phoned. More silence.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“I won’t be home tonight,” she said. “I found an apartment, but I have to move in today.”

“An apartment?”

More silence.

“I didn’t want to tell you like this,” she said. “I was going to write a letter and leave it on the kitchen table, but I didn’t know what to write.”

“A letter?”

“I’m leaving you, Alvin. I’ve found someone.”

Long silence.

“There’s leftover lasagna in the fridge.”

“Okay,” he said.

“You can keep Co-pilot,” Theo said. “I changed the litter box.”

“Okay.”

“Goodbye, Alvin.”

Click. Alvin returned the handset to the phone base. He couldn’t think about this now. He scanned the waiting area of gate B34. All of the passengers had boarded and in minutes they would lift off on a Safe Air flight to Atlanta. In Atlanta, most of them would board another Safe Air flight that would take them to their final destination. The only stressful part would be making the connection in Atlanta – searching the departure board for the fated time and gate of their next flight, riding the plane train to get there, looking at their watches and hoping they were headed to the right place and wouldn’t be late. The Atlanta airport could be a booger.

“Alvin?”

Alvin realized that he’d been staring off into space. He looked at Nelly.

 “Do you care if I take lunch now?” she asked.

“The next flight is small,” he said. “I can handle it alone.”

 “Hey, your hiccups are gone,” Nelly said. “I thought I was going to have to sneak up and scare you. How’d you get rid of them?”

                                                #

Alvin spooned leftover lasagna onto a plate, put it in the microwave, punched in the time, then pressed start. He felt Co-pilot curling against his leg. Alvin picked her up and rubbed her ears and face while the lasagna twirled and time ticked down. When the microwave beeped, he put Co-pilot down and took the plate out, using a dish towel as a potholder. After the lasagna cooled, he would give Co-pilot a bite and hope she didn’t throw up, but even if she did, he wouldn’t mind cleaning it up because lasagna made Co-pilot happy.

 Alvin ate his dinner on a tray in front of the TV and watched Wheel of Fortune. Theo used to watch with him, but during the past year she’d disappeared to another room after dinner. Alvin liked to play along with the contestants. Tonight he just couldn’t. Even Vanna White’s cheery smile didn’t lift his spirits. He rinsed off his plate and put it in the dishwasher, thinking it would take a lot longer to make a load with Theo gone. He returned to the TV and tried to get into Jeopardy! but the questions all seemed harder tonight. Finally, he gave up, turning off the TV and opening his laptop.

He pulled up his fan page on social media, a sure-fire mood-lifter, and Co-pilot jumped into his lap and settled in. Alvin posted regularly. Tonight, he started with some travel trivia. What three countries have the most airports?  What is the busiest airport in China? He would post the answers tomorrow night. Then he uploaded the next segment of his three-part series on traveling with emotional support animals. Part 2: Have the Documentation. Most bad outcomes on domestic flights could be avoided if passengers brought a note from a licensed medical professional documenting the condition for which the support animal was required, plus certification from a vet that the animal was healthy and had rabies and DPT vaccinations. Then he went through comments posted about his essay on social implications of air travel and the mutual trust it entailed. He responded to each one, high-fiving the positives and offering hope to the negatives – he considered it a continuation of his work at Gate B-34 – and

ended every post with his credo – Make everyone’s trip a happy trip. It was the only way to travel.

But as he sat in front of the screen with a cat in his lap who loved him, Alvin was crying. Theo was gone. Closets and dresser drawers were emptied. So was their savings account. There’d been no flight board with a departure time, just that phone call. Alvin didn’t get it. 

“Come on, Co-pilot,” he said, wiping his eyes and picking her up. “Let’s fly off to dreamland.”

                                                #

Alvin hadn’t heard from Theo since the phone call, though it had been weeks. He assumed he would get divorce papers in the mail at some point. He clicked on the microphone.

“Now boarding Sapphire Club members. Please tell the flight attendant if you would like to sit in the pilot’s lap and steer the plane.” It was early, so there weren’t many passengers in the waiting area, but those who were looked up. Alvin grinned, and they grinned back.

Simone wanted her own place, so Alvin had leased an apartment for her near the university and he was paying the rent. He’d asked Simone if she was okay, and she’d asked if he was okay, and they’d both said yes, and it was starting to seem true. Alvin had bought Co-pilot a new collar and she strutted around in it like a queen. Life went on.

Alvin activated his iPhone and pulled up Amazon. He would surprise Simone with a study lamp for her new apartment. Good light was important, whether you were reading a physical book or a computer screen. He scrolled through offerings in a price range that was reasonable, hurrying to finish before boarding began. Just as he tapped Place your order he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Nelly.

“Is that your wife in the back row?”  

Alvin looked. Nelly was right – there was Theo in a sundress, a small blue suitcase at her feet. Alvin remembered buying that suitcase. Beside her was a man wearing a sport coat, no tie. I hope she remembered to use our Safe Air employee family discount. She flies free and can book a discounted guest ticket for him. Plus, Safe Air family members receive substantial discounts on airport car rentals with all major companies.

Theo must have felt Alvin’s gaze because she glanced up and, seeing him, her jaw dropped. She looked at her boarding pass, looked at the gate number, looked at her boarding pass again. How could she not know that B-34 was Alvin’s gate? Theo touched her man’s arm and said something. They both looked at Alvin. Alvin waved. They ignored him, looked at the boarding pass, looked at the gate number, looked at the boarding pass. No matter how many times they looked, the result was the same.

Alvin picked up the microphone and clicked it on.

“Now boarding, my wife who left me and the man she left me for, my wife who left me and the man she left me for.”

The passengers in the waiting area chuckled. Alvin clicked the microphone off and motioned Theo and her man to the ticket scanner. Theo glared at Alvin but stood and picked up her small suitcase. The man followed. He was carrying a laptop computer.

Theo started to hand Alvin her boarding pass, then reached to her left hand, slipped off her wedding ring, and thrust it at Alvin along with her pass. Behind the daggers in Theo’s eyes, Alvin saw shame. He didn’t want her to feel shame. He wanted her to be happy. He scanned Theo’s pass, took off his own wedding ring, and returned the ring to her along with her pass. Theo picked up her suitcase and turned to the boarding ramp. 

“Wait, Theo,” he said.

She stopped, turned back, and met Alvin’s eyes. She seemed to be steeling herself to absorb a blow.

“Your bag is too big for the overhead bin,” he said.

He took it from her.

“Let me check it through for you,” he said, marking the bag and putting it aside. “No charge.”

Theo’s man stepped up to the scanner. He handed Alvin his boarding pass and

looked away. Alvin scanned the pass and returned it.

            “When you board the plane,” Alvin said, “just stow that laptop under the passenger seat in front of you before take-off. Thank you for flying Safe Air.”

Alvin watched Theo and her man disappear down the passenger boarding bridge that led to the waiting plane. He hoped there was no rough air during the flight. When Theo and her man arrived in Atlanta, they would board another Safe Air flight that would take them to their final destination. The stressful part would be making that connection in Atlanta –  searching the departure board for the fated time and gate of their next flight, riding the plane train to get there, looking at their watches and hoping they were headed to the right place and wouldn’t be late. The Atlanta airport could be a booger. Alvin turned toward the passengers in the waiting area and clicked the microphone back on.

            “Now boarding passengers needing special assistance. If you need special assistance, please come forward at this time for boarding.”



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Contiguity

Sunday, June 27th, 2021

by Ale Malick

In a land, where everyone feared loneliness, no one stood, walked, worked or slept without grazing, pushing or hanging on to a neighbour.  No one moved unless in couples, packs, clusters, clumps.  In cars drivers were hugged from the back seat, with two people sat on their knees.  In the café, the shower, the operating room, dozens of bodies filtered across and around in close association.  The land of contiguity.  People in continuous connection.

But that is very silly I hear you cry.  You protest that no place could ever work like that!  Everyone needs their privacy.  We like to be on our own.  I am on my own now reading this book you tell me.  Everyone is out and I’m curled up by the fire.  And later, even if you are sat on a park bench in a busy part of town, if someone looked over your shoulder, to try and read these words, you would get very angry.  You would stop reading.  You would move away.  You might glare at them.  Perhaps you would even make a scene and a carry on, demanding some justice for this insult.  Only lovers, family, friends are allowed that close.  And strangers yes, but only when you are forced to on public transport.  You would add this caveat, to make sure I didn’t catch you out. 

But take a leap, a risk.  You are reading; but in a library this time.  You drop a book and three people lower themselves with you to pick it up.  Accidentally one of your close companions kicks your book further under the shelf than is comfortable to reach.  Lie down and stretch your arm out.  Three others lie on top of you.  The book can only be grasped by nudging and shuffling a couple of fingernails under the hard plastic cover and flipping it on to your slightly hooked fingers.  With careful, controlled balance you force it into the light again.  But it is not your book.  And it is very dusty.

The mass you are with moves on to fiction.  You cannot control them, so accept the new book. 

There is no space to read it until you are all perched or pressed into a family sized chair. (You see there are adaptations to make this world work.) It is not like any of the other books in the library.  It is an old, old picture book, titled Heroes of Our Age, and every page has men, sometimes women, posing in moments of glory.  A person standing by a flag on the Moon, a woman sitting in an ancient aeroplane, a man blocking a line of tanks.  Imagine you have never seen these pictures before.  You have never seen anything like them. 

Who they are is not important.  You do not bother to read the captions because all you can see is that they are on their own.  No one else in the picture. 

What a discovery!  What a revolution!  You stretch over the woman squashed to your right to put down the book on the reading table.  You gently move the man fastened to your left hand side so you can stand.  They all stand with you, taking their books; and they keep up with you as you head for the tiny balconies that overlook the town square.  You open the glass door and with a deep breath of satisfaction you step out on to one of them.  There is no room for them to follow you here; and you shrug off the woman’s hand on your shoulder, as she tries vainly to make sure you stay connected.  You stand alone.

One person in a group crossing the square points and the dozen he walks with stop and stare at the apparition on the balcony.  Everyone halts to look.  The children are the first to copy you and run from their parents as if fleeing ghosts.  Adults try to stop them but packs don’t move that fast and individuals are forced to break free to pounce on their wayward sons and daughters.  But once they have lost that bodily contact, they no longer feel the need to berate their children, because they understand them.

In hours people are walking and eating and swimming on their own all over the city, by nightfall, the whole world.

You have watched all this unfolding from your balcony, all day and all evening.  You are a hero.  You have made all life free.

But night has brought a chill and you miss your companions dreadfully.



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Finalists for the 2021 !Short Story Contest! Now Announced

Thursday, June 24th, 2021



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Strong Traffic, with the Submission Deadline Looming

Thursday, June 3rd, 2021


Greetings from Defenestrationism Reality;


With the deadline for submitting to the 2021 !Short Story Contest! only a weekend away– we will accept submissions until it is no longer Monday the 7th of June anywhere on Earth– we have experienced some exciting traffic numbers.

Since the opening of the submission period in May, we’ve had just over 4,000 visits from just over 2,000 Unique IPs. It seems many of you illustrious Lovers of Literature are sticking around to explore the site– about 2,500 of those hits were beyond the contest-guidelines-related pages.

This is relieving, after the low numbers for our inaugural Lengthy Poem Contest (don’t worry, Lengthy Poem Contest, you’ll always be special to us).

So keep surfing through, Lovers of Literature–
for another fantastic contest on Defenestrationism.net





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Judges Confirmed for 2021 !Short Story Contest!

Friday, May 7th, 2021


Judging Process:

Our contests are judged by a four Judge Panel, with two weeks of online Fan Voting counted as an additional Judge vote. 
In the event of Judge Votes and Fan Votes being equal, the fan-vote becomes a tie-breaker.
One Grand Prize vote counts as two Runner-Up votes.

Meet the Judges:

Suvi Mahonen is a freelance writer based in Surfers Paradise on Australia’s Gold Coast. Her non-fiction appears on many platforms including The Weekend Australian MagazineHuffPost and The Establishment. Her fiction has been widely published in literary journals and anthologies including in The Best Australian Stories and Griffith Review. A portion of a longer work-in-progress was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Follow Suvi’s Journalism at
youtube.com/c/suvisjournalism

Glenn A. Bruce, MFA, was associate fiction editor for The Lindenwood Review. He has published nine novels and two collections of short stories. He wrote Kickboxer, episodes of Walker: Texas Ranger and Baywatch, and was a sketch-writer for Cinemax’s Assaulted Nuts. His stories, poems, and essays have been published internationally. He won About That’s “Down and Dirty” short story contest and was a two-time finalist in the Defenstrationism annual short story contest. He has judged film contests, art shows, and short story contests. He was the final judge for Brilliant Flash Fictionin 2015 (which has included one of his stories in their first print collection) and currently for Defenstrationism (2016-2021). Glenn left 12.5 wonderful years of teaching Screenwriting at Appalachian State University to concentrate on fiction.

Lady Moet Beast, the Beast From Southeast. What can’t be said about this interesting lady? Godmother of D.C. Rap, multi-genre lyricist, producer, poet, musician, writer, singer, actress, and the list goes on. Performing live since the age of 5, determined to be heard, adored and admired, Lady Moet Beast has performed all over the U.S. for the past 25 years. Not your average HipHop Femcee she has grown along with her husband obtaining her own band The Cruddy Crankerz, Beast & Monster Ink,  Drama City Records/Draztick Measurez., Cruddy Rite Publishing, Cruddy Rite Radio, Monster Graphix, and Lioness Filmz. Lady Moet Beast has set a lot of trends from green dreadlocks to hardcore femcees in Washington, D.C. and abroad. CruddyCrankerz.com

Aditya Gautam is a writer from India who believes very much in the power of fiction beyond entertaining—for instance, in throwing people out of windows. Among the many things he loves in this world are roasted peanuts, the sound of rain, thick books, toy trains, and weak sunlight. 
His short stories and poems have been published in Singapore, the USA, and the UK.  A speculative short story by him was included in the Best Asian Fiction Anthology, 2018 by Kitaab, Singapore. Most recently, he has been published in the June 2020 issue of The Bombay Review. 




Guidelines for the !Short Story Contest!
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Defenestrationism Family Update

Thursday, May 6th, 2021

We are extraordinarily pleased to announce that
two-time finalist in the Defenestrationism.net !Short Story Contest!

DC Diamondopolous

has published a book of short stories, including
work first available in the 2016 contest

Billy Luck

That was a very fine vintage for the !Short Story Contest!
Check out the rest, here,
And do not hesitate to purchase

Stepping Up




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And the Winner of the Inaugural Lengthy Poem Contest is…

Monday, May 3rd, 2021



We are pleased to announce that the winner of the 300 dollar grand prize
for the Inaugural Lengthy Poem Contest is

Napping Nathan” by Mark Henderson.

The contest received almost 1,450 visits from 70 unique IP addresses.
between April 5th and May 2nd.

Fan voting wasn’t that popular, though, we only had 11 votes–
last summer we had over 5,000.

All eleven went to Napping Nathan, so
the Fan Favorite of the Inaugural Lengthy Poem Contest is also,
Napping Nathan” by Mark Henderson

Congratulations to all our finalists–
check out the entire contest, here.

And to all our submitters, I’ll hear from you next year, I’m sure.




Best,
Yours, Paul-Newell Reaves



More contests
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