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Members' Choice Nominations - February/March

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Old 03-14-2008, 07:52 PM
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Default Members' Choice Nominations - February/March


All entries for the February/March Members' Choice contest will be posted here.

The first entry is:

The Man that Time Forgot - Lost Traveler

Jacques sat at the table, his eyes fixated on the candle at its center. His fingers drummed the beat to some song he thought he remembered hearing in India, or was it Mexico? He wasn’t sure. Whenever the door opened the candle flickered, nearing the point of extinguish, but continued to burn on.

-

Jessic Cavan opened the door to Lombardi’s Pizzeria on 32nd Spring Street in Manhattan and the smell of dough and beer caught her off guard. The place was an old renovated fire station with fire brick that lined the walls and glowed from the dimmed lighting. The scene reminded Jessica of a bar she used to frequent just outside of NYU. Actually Lombardi’s nearly mimicked University Brew in every attribute, the only difference was that the law students and the journalism students weren’t always competing to make it their stomping grounds. When her crowd, the journalists, finally won-out, the figured it was because the lawyers were running up too much educational loans.

Jessica’s eyes scanned the tables of Lombardi’s looking for someone sitting alone. Normally when she met contacts they were at nicer restaurants but he insisted on this locale. She wasn’t even sure what this meeting was about, really, or what it would amount to but she took it all seriously. Like all journalists she was looking for a big break. When she received a call about Virginia’s lost colony of Roanoke she quickly agreed to a meeting. She figured it would at least help put her on the map at the Times.

Her eyes moved from table to table and finally they rested on the one table that wasn’t occupied by two or more people. As she walked around the Hostess desk to seat herself she realized her contact wasn’t all what she expected. Instead of an over-the-hill museum curator-type she saw an early thirty-something with dark hair and a short cut, wearing what was probably an Armani.

“Hi, Mr. Vidaire?”

“Yes, hello, please have a seat.” He gestured toward the seat across from him. She hadn’t detected his French accent over the phone.

“Jessica Cavan, a pleasure to meet you.”

“Do you like Sundried Tomatoes?”

“Excuse me,” she asked.

“On your pizza, sundried tomatoes?”

“Yes, absolutely.” Not really.

She rummaged through her hand bag pulling out a pad of paper and a voice recorder she asked, “You don’t mind do you?” He shook his head and she said, “Excellent, let’s begin.

“Mr. Vidaire, what is your full name?”

“Jacques Antoine Vidaire.”

“And Mr. Vidaire, what is it that you do?” They were the text-book questions, the five W’s.

His eyes moved back to the candle. No answer.

“Mr. Vidaire?” She asked.

“Yes I am just trying to remember. Too many things to count.”

She wrote down “Job?” on her notepad. Clearly it was an evasion; probably a high-class black market art trade or something.

“Mr. Vidaire where are you from? Is that a French accent?”

“You can call me Jacques, and yes, Burgundy to be more specific. Don’t let my accent fool you, I speak 8 languages.”

“Did you study language in France?”

“No, mostly just the nations themselves, I traveled a lot.” In actuality, it was all he has ever done.

“Work related?” This was another attempt to penetrate the walls of the conversation.

“Yes and no, mostly for myself.”

She was getting nowhere fast so she decided to go for the throat, but before she could Jacques began his own interview.

“Cavan, what kind of name is that?”

“It’s Irish, but I’m Irish and Native American. Why?”

“Curiosity I guess.”

“Jacques, the reason I am here, why you called me here, is Roanoke.”

She thought for a second she had seen him smile, something she had not seen the entire conversation, but if it was there it was quickly replaced by the sunken eyes and frown.”

“Of course,” he said reaching into his suitcase pulling out bundles of papers and pictures.

“Are you familiar with the story of Roanoke?”

“Yeah, some colony off Virginia disappeared without a trace. No one really knows what happened. Became known as the lost colony or something, buried with the other mysteries of history. Rumor has it they assimilated with the Indians.”

“That’s the long-short of it. You’ve certainly done some research.”

“I didn’t want to sound like a complete idiot,” she paused. “What are you and anthropologist?”

He passed her a book bound in twine.

“What is this?” she asked flipping through the pages. Some pages were faded, other not.

“Careful, it’s the diary of a fur trader that lived in Roanoke selling fur to the English.”

“This is incredible; it must be over four-hundred years old.”

“Four-hundred-twenty-one years old.”

“What does he talk about? Does he say what happened? What really happened at Roanoke?” The French pages were all non-sense to her, she couldn’t read it. “Have you translated this?”

“Yes to all these questions.”

“Well? What does it say? What happened?”

“When you read a book do you go straight to the end?”

“No”

“Then let’s start from the beginning.”

“Fair enough,” she said conceding. Definitely an anthropologist.

“It seems our fur salesman came to Roanoke shortly after its founding and found a high demand for his goods. As a Frenchman and with the reputation preceding fur pelts, it was only a matter of time before he sold out completely. However, it wasn’t long before the tribe on the outskirts of the town began disturbing the villagers. Many people claimed experiencing night terrors. Gardens and crop fields were salted and symbols were being drawn into houses. Ultimately, the tribe resorted to kidnapping children and that was when the English attempted a peace offering. When the tribe came out of hiding they said the colony was living on sacred ground.”

“What, like Poltergeist?

“Not burial ground, sacred ground the tribes believe gave birth to their god. Their earthly deity.

“Of course the English tried to show them Christianity, but our fur salesman remained neutral because the Indians also purchased his pelts and he didn't fully agree with the English. Finally the day came when the Indians threats came to fruition and they attacked the village; murdering every last villager and taking the bodies with them. Luckily for our fur-trader they just kidnapped him. The English bodies were burned because of the sacred land that they had trampled, but our fur-trader was the center of a tribal ceremony, from what I could understand from the text here.”

“Amazing. So that’s why no one was found. But what happened to the fur-trader?”

“He fled back to France to his wife and child.”

“For the record what was his name?”

“Jacques Antoine Vidaire.”

“Wait what?” He pencil stopped scribbling.

“I am the author of that diary.”

She thought about turning off the recorder and leaving but she stayed. Probably against her better judgment.

“What do you mean you wrote this? So this is a forgery? I’m confused. Are you trying to get a novel published? I don’t do book reviews.”

“This is certainly not a forgery! I am this man. He is me. I was there. I was the fur-salesman at Roanoke.”

“Right so that would make you, what, four-hundred-twenty-one years old?”

“Four-hundred-twenty-one years, three months, 6 days. I’ve counted every single fucking one of them.” He still would not make eye contact with her.

“Funny, you don’t look a day over 30.”

The pizza arrived at the table.

“I don’t there is anything funny about it,” he says in a low tone so the waiter doesn’t hear him.

“Sorry, how am I supposed to believe that you, of all people, have been granted the gift of eternal life? There are no chalices or trees or gods in your story. You’re not a knight, a king, or Indiana Jones. Pardon me for taking all of this in with a grain of sand. I mean, you have to be honest with yourself. Do you think I am going to just accept this? I am more willing to accept that you are a lunatic.”

He reached into his dark suitcase pulling out more bound books. Each with a unique set of years written on the cover. He handed her a journal marked 1600 – 1650.

“Every year I’ve lived. Everything I’ve done. Everywhere I’ve gone. It’s all here. My whole life in these pages,” he says poking the covers of the books with his index finger.

She filed through the one he gave her; it was old but the condition was surprisingly pristine. The pages held names, dates, and symbols that were circled with arrows leading across pages leading to more names and cryptic text. There were words in English, French, and something she thought was Arabic but couldn’t tell for sure. As the pages progressed it became more free form and cryptic.

“I’ve lived through 30 or more wars,” he continued, “and been to 24 countries; some before they were countries. I’ve witnessed the invention of the light bulb, the phone, radio, television and plenty more I am sure I have forgotten. I’ve seen the evolution of transportation as you know it now; not to mention communications. Computers, give me all the time in the world and I still would not know how to use them. I fled France twice for both World Wars and was in Germany to see that wall come down. I was there on the executioners block while my fellow Frenchmen stood and witnessed the execution of Louis XVI and fought alongside my countrymen during The Terror. I have seen more in my lifetime than most would dare to dream about. ”

“So, an Indian gifted you with immortality? I’m not seeing the downside here. At least you didn’t end up like the English.”

“Death would have been a more just punishment. If I had the chance to turn back time; I would do it in an instant.”

“Why? Did you sell him a bad beaver pelt?”

“Why? Why me? How should I possibly know that? That question dominates the pages of these books. It’s my obsession; all my life has become, all I can think about now. Now tell me, does this sound like a gift? When the rich man asks Jesus Christ in Matthew chapter nineteen verse sixteen, ‘teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’ Jesus should have told him that the burden of eternal life was more than any of God’s children could bear.

“Imagine returning to France to wife and child whom you love beyond words
and would die for, and then watch your son grow up and have children. Watch your wife age, all the while you are supposed to be aging with her but instead watch her die, then watch your own son die because he is too old. Being too afraid to tell anyone because you fear you would be called a devil. So I don’t think you have any idea of what you are talking about.

“Worse yet I have no identity. I was there before birth certificates, identification, passports, all of it. I try to get some form of it, but I have no proof. I’m a man without a country, a universal illegal alien. The send me away, even the French, the country I fought for during the revolutions, tells me to leave. Traveling by air is impossible so I had to procure fake papers.” He digs in his bag again pulling out passports from Brazil, England, France and Canada.

Jessica checked her watch. She had another interview in another hour so she stayed, perhaps to humor him she thought, but in reality, she just wanted to hear more. She reopened the 1600-1650 journal and an image on the inside cover caught her eye. It looked familiar but somehow she didn’t know what it was. Maybe it was the geometry, or complexity, or the lack any sense of form, maybe it was all of the above, whatever it was she couldn’t look away. She wanted to follow the image but she couldn’t figure out where to begin.

“These books,” he said interrupting her gaze, “are all I have. They are my memories. Imagine not remembering anything about who you were besides what you had time to scribble down before you forgot. I can’t remember what my own wife looked like. All I have are the best descriptions of here to make the mental image in my head. She had hazel eyes, brown hair that went down passed the shoulders, a small mole at the side of her mouth, the face of an angel, petite figure; these are what I have of her, simple attributes, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, except not all the pieces are-“ He quickly stopped and glanced down at his wrist watch. The alarm was going off. As he turned it off, he reached into his suit case, once again, this time extracting three small bottles. She recognizes them as prescription pill bottles but could not read the label.

Pulling two from each bottle she realized that they were the same pills she had see sitting in her mother’s medicine cabinet. She even knew their names: Zoloft, Cymbalta, and Wellbutrin; antidepressants and in large doses.
He washes them down with his glass of water.
“What was all that about?” She queried. She looked back into the cover of the diary not dissecting it, but taking the entire image in.
“One of the last coping strategies I have left. Denial and anger only worked for the first two-hundred years. Sometimes, though, sometimes I get flashes, and I won’t remember what they are. Just images of things I may have done; I may not have done them, I don’t know anymore. Flashes of exotic places, people, names, numbers, and my mind can only store so much before I can’t take anymore. The Britannica would be proud.”

“If you are, as you say, immortal,” she said, “Have you though that perhaps God has another mission for you. Have you considered that maybe your mission, the one that he created you for, hasn’t been completed yet? That maybe you have unfinished business? Some sort of divine plan for you? Destiny, what do you think your destiny is?” She thought she could at least humor the situation before she had to or wanted to leave. He shot her another short smirk, but it didn’t last long.

“God? God has forgotten me along with the rest of the world. Long ago I sought God, well, all of them actually. I appealed to all of them and the men who were guided by them. I searched for faith and only found defeat, but while He may have forgotten about me, I have not forgotten about Him. I will do whatever it takes to be in the bittersweet embrace with death. Medicine cannot cure someone who is in good health, but God can cure someone who is wicked and cursed.”

“What do you mean wicked?”

“On my journey, I’ve been placed in situations that have forced me to do things where my will power and faith was tested. I can only guess what I must do to get in good graces with God again, and I am sure I have stepped over the fine line between his will and mine.”

“Then what’s the point in dying if you think you are going to hell?”

“Jessica, this is hell.” For the second time his eyes met hers. She quickly became uncomfortable as it seemed he was looking straight through her.

She averted her attention back to the image on the inside cover of the diary. She followed lines through other intersecting lines, through circled last names, first names, Gustav’s, and Caroline’s, Renee’s and Nicole’s. Each line had some sort of connection to one main pillar like branches to a tree. Some lines ended, but some grew out of more names, circled like leaves.

“What do you fear most Jessica? Death? Being alone?” He asked. She didn’t hear him; she was entrenched in the dimensions of the images.

Quickly her finger followed names, ones that looked familiar, tracing the lines that led to the next name hoping for some moment clarity among the maze, and then she stopped.

“What the hell is this?” She asked lifting her finger off the name ‘Jessica Cavan’ and under it ‘New York’. From what she gathered from the picture as a whole, she already knew the answer.

“Do you believe in destiny, or fate?” He asked seemingly ignoring her question.

“I said ‘what is this?’”

“Do you believe in destiny?” He asked again adding more emphasis to each word.

“Answer me Jacques; this is not a game.”

“You will get your answer when I get mine.”

She thought for a moment, and finally answered his question, “No, I don’t believe in fate.”

“I’m not the biggest fan of it either, but sometimes you have to wonder what your purpose is. In a situation like mine, there must be some sort of divine intervention. Otherwise, science cannot act as any arbiter to rule over me. Interesting that you would not believe in fate, yet here you are talking to a man who doesn’t age, claiming to be four-hundred years old. If that’s not-“

“Stop,” she demanded, “it’s your turn to answer.”

“Jessica, you know what that is. That is my bloodline, your ancestry, my lineage, whatever you wish to call it.”

“This is impossible, how did you find me?”

“I told you, I have a lot of time. I found you like I found the others whose names are circled; all it takes is dedication and plenty of time, but knowing the language helps too.”

“Why am I here Jacques? Why did you call me here? What do you want?” She couldn’t tell if her tone was angry or afraid, in actuality, it was a combination of both. Her mind: conflicted. Was she supposed to trust this man? She didn’t know what to think and absorbing everything that had happened at the table was, anyone could admit, was hard to digest.

“Please,” he said holding up his hand trying to stop her from continuing, “I know this all sounds as if it is contrived from some novel, but what I have experienced; it’s all very real. I have spent too long living, I need you to help me.“

“We’re done here,” she said and left the table. She stopped him mid-sentence, “thank you for your time, but I need to leave.” She still had plenty of time before her next interview. She could walk, she thought.

“Stop! Please! I need you to-” She couldn’t make out his last words as she walked through the door to the street. A gust of air blew her hair everywhere as she the restaurant behind her, as she left the pizza and Jacques behind.

-----

He sat silently; his recent outburst had caused the other customers to eye him. He gathered the journals save one and put them back into his suitcase. Grabbing the diary he opened it and flipped through the pages looking for a specific one. When he found it he pulled a pen out from his pocket circling an address ‘513 2nd Avenue Apt. 20.’ He flipped to a fresh page, his newest entry, and began writing:


I am now an old man, but unlike Isaac, I know the day of my death. God will forgive me, hopefully, maybe, please. Please God forgive me. I do not regret what I have done if it brings me one step closer to my end, closer to her. Renée. Everything I have done I have done for you; so you can bring me into your eyes and free me.
My lineage serves me no purpose than to bind me to this world, these bonds must break. You must help me break them.


‘Jessica. I just wanted to prepare her; prepare her like the others. May these be my last words. The last words of a man forgot.’


He closed the journal and from under the napkin on his lap pulled a revolver checking the barrel. Fully loaded. Together he put them into his suitcase.


The door to Lombardi’s opened again and a the wind outside followed someone in. With a large erratic movement as if gasping for the last bit of air, seemingly struggling for life, the flame at the center of the table went out and Jacques began to weep.

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Old 03-15-2008, 08:02 AM
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Default Hiroshima Girl - starrwriter

Hiroshima Girl


I loved you at first because you were young and beautiful. When we met, you were afraid of me because I was an American soldier. I begged you not to be, but you trembled when I touched your hand. You said your name was Emiko and I shortened it to Amy. You had trouble pronouncing my name, Graham. You kept saying "Glaham," but I didn't mind. I thought it was cute.

I loved you because you survived Hiroshima. As part of the occupation force, I wandered around what was left of the city feeling ashamed of what I saw. You helped me get over the shame.

I loved you because you looked like a goddess naked. My breath caught in my throat the first time I saw you without clothes. You were so dainty with small breasts and tiny feet and the way you moved was so graceful I wondered if I was dreaming. You said I looked like a god, but my body was ugly compared to yours.

I loved you because you cried when I got sick. It was only a bad case of the flu, but you waited on me hand and foot as if you were afraid I might die. In my feverish delirium I thought I saw your soul. It was even more beautiful than your body.

I loved you after I was transferred back to the states. I wanted to take you with me as my wife, but your parents had been killed by the bomb and your uncle wouldn't allow you to marry me. He hated Americans and I couldn't blame him, but it broke my heart to leave without you.

I still love you nearly ten years later, even though your letters stopped long ago. I assume you are married by now and probably have children. I really hope you are happy because you deserve it. I will never forget you if I live to be a hundred. You were the best thing that ever happened to me.
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  #3  
Old 03-17-2008, 08:27 AM
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Default Hatter's Ridge - Queen of Wands

Hatter’s Ridge…. My posting here as the sole representative of the Acme Cleaning Solvents Company was diplomatically couched in the language of corporate responsibility. I was an up and coming young executive entrusted with the running of a vital and financially important linchpin of the organisation. The truth was rather more prosaic. My promotion was a skilful solution, punishment for a moment of madness that had unfortunately reached the finely tuned ears of our hypocritical company chairman. Influenced by a surfeit of cheap champagne and vodka martinis, I had attempted to seduce the wife of a colleague at the firm’s annual summer barbecue. Since we were caught with our pants down, literally, there was no point in refuting the charges laid against us. My colleague got a divorce, and I got a posting to purdah.


* * *


What is it about small town America that makes the people of those towns so small minded? The people who live in Hatter’s Ridge are your archetypal folk from nowhere; they’re born here, educated here, get married here, work here and, ultimately, die here. I have often wondered how such close knit communities don’t dwindle away, or at least come to the attention of the authorities due to a disproportionately large number of genetic throwbacks. I myself was born and raised in a large city and have never understood the attraction of rural life. Be that as it may, I now reside in Palookaville.


When I first arrived here the townsfolk gave me a hearty welcome. I suppose I represented the local equivalent of winning the gene pool, an outsider, not bad looking, with a fresh batch of chromosomes. Accordingly, I was invited around for Sunday suppers, especially when there was an eligible young woman in the house, and asked to judge church bake-offs and the elementary school’s Christmas art fair. All dull stuff to be sure, but it kept me from climbing the walls of my whitewashed clapboard prison.


And then that prissy little schoolteacher had the gall to call foul when things started getting serious. As if she hadn’t led me on with all those tired double entendres about teachers’ pets, extra homework and being kept after school for private lessons. Christ, did she really think she could hold out until I slipped a ring on her finger? Well, sorry, but this old shark has been cruising for too long to be caught by such stale bait.


Of course, after that my name wasn’t precisely mud, but the invitations to dinner dried up, especially if there was an eligible young woman in the house. So, bored by the less than infinite variety of public entertainment available in a small town like this, I took to drinking - in a big way. Hell, I could have captained the Olympic drinking squad. I was putting away half a bottle of scotch by the time I locked up the office, but as there wasn’t anyone around to report to our beloved chairman, I got away with it. Maybe, if I’d made an effort to redeem my worthless ass, I could’ve earned a ticket to civilisation, but I was feeling pretty sorry for myself still, and preferred the comfort of a full bottle to the notion of improving sales figures.


Most evenings I propped up the corner of the bar at Joe’s Kabin, a rundown dive situated at the rougher end of Main Street. The Lion’s Den was closer to home but the clientele were more upmarket types, which meant they owed their souls to the bank for the mortgage as opposed to living indebted to the council for their two-bit rent. On the way home, I’d grab a take-out from the Chinese or a pizza to soak up some of the alcohol before hitting the sack.


Weekends I was free to indulge my penchant for oblivion and I soon became a regular down at the beer outlet, picking up a couple of cases on Saturday morning to keep me company while I watched the football. Sometimes I’d go to Joe’s, mostly if I felt like having a bet on the game, or if I had a sudden urge to risk ptomaine poisoning from one of their rancid burgers.


After a while, the guys in the bar obviously decided I was all right for a city slicker, so they’d call me over to join them at their table, or to shoot a game of pool. They were hardly the sort I was used to hanging around with but they were easy company and, since I was getting the cold shoulder from what passed around here for high society, I didn’t have a lot of choice.


* * *


Al Miller ran a poker game every other Saturday. We met at his house, a four-room bungalow decorated with chipped furniture, broken lamps and whatever else he’d rescued from the county dump where he worked as a security guard. Strictly speaking it was men only, but the wives had a way of turning up for one thing or another. The excuses were always lame but they brought beer and pretzels and bags of cold cuts for sandwiches so Al let them stay providing they kept themselves to the kitchen. That was where I first saw her.


I’d gone to the toilet and was on my way back to the table when she bumped into me in the hall. Something about the way her breasts pressed against me told me that our collision was no accident, but I smiled and sidled past her just the same. When I got to the end of the hall I looked back to find she was leaning against the wall, mouth slightly ajar so that the tip of her pink tongue was just visible between the ruby red lips. Damn, what a sight! Her white blouse was cheap and thin, her jeans way too tight, but I hadn’t touched a woman since my banishment to Hatter’s Ridge and in that moment she looked like an angel to my sex-starved eyes.


"Evangeline," she said simply. "Remember the name."


Then Al called out that it was my deal so I headed back to my poker chips, but I made a mental note to find out all I could about Evangeline.


* * *


Evangeline Daisy Miller was Al’s sister, only she wasn’t Evangeline Miller anymore. Now she was Mrs. Clem Wilkins, wife of our erstwhile deputy sheriff and so definitely off limits. Problem is, when something is forbidden it always seems twice as desirable as it has reason to be, and Evangeline was no exception. I wanted her, and I wanted her bad. Bad enough to risk paying her a visit one afternoon, all the while silently praying that her husband was on duty down at the station.


My customers knew I took lunch from twelve to one so slipping away was easy enough, but I had to take care no one recognised my car pulling up in the Wilkins’ front drive. Our company sold industrial cleaning products to more than a few businesses in the area but I had no justification for paying calls on housewives, especially housewives who looked like this one.


The front door, faded and chipped, was badly in need of a fresh coat of paint. I knocked. Realising that I had no idea what I was going to say, I was greatly relieved when Evangeline opened the door, looked me over and said matter-of-factly, "You’d better bring your car round. I’ll let you in the back door."


Once inside, things progressed rather faster than I had anticipated and it wasn’t until I felt the cold linoleum against my back a while later that I realised we’d never even made it out of the kitchen. Dumbfounded, I stood up and began putting my clothes back in order while wondering what I should say but, thankfully, Evangeline read the situation perfectly and took charge arranging our next meeting for later in the week.


From then on, I saw Evangeline two or three times a week, always when her husband was safely behind the desk down at the station house and her neighbours were out shopping or visiting. At first our meetings were nothing more than brief interludes of frantic sex, but after a while she began dropping hints, mentioning some little piece of jewellery or a dress she’d seen in a store window. They were small enough items, but then Hatter’s Ridge was hardly the sort of place for designer outlets and expensive shops. Wal-Mart was more the level of consumer interest in these parts, so I was happy enough to play the part of generous benefactor.


When she started asking for the money to buy the trinkets herself, I quickly agreed figuring that my frequent purchases of women’s attire were bound to raise questions of one sort or another, questions I was more than happy to avoid.


Looking back on it, I can see what a jerk I was and my only defence is that I was walking around half cut most of the time. The alcohol had dulled my senses to such an extent that I didn’t see the trap, even as I walked into it.


* * *


There were six of us playing poker at Al’s that night. Deputy Clem was on my left-hand side, at the other end of the table from our host. Mitch Adams sat to my right with Jeb Baxter and Bob Sherman opposite. As we cashed in our chips, Mitch brought up the subject of a hunting trip. Since my only memorable contribution on a recent fishing foray had been a spectacular display of seasickness I just assumed I wouldn’t be invited, an omission that didn’t bother me in the least. As I said before, I’m city bred so all this huntin’ and fishin’ and shootin’ is alien territory. But then I heard Jeb Baxter saying I can go in his pick-up seeing as my only mode of transport is a two-door convertible not fit for driving in the mountains. I started to make my excuses expecting a certain amount of arm twisting from the other guys, but then I heard Evangeline’s husky voice above the others.


"What’s the matter, city boy? Afraid the big bad wolf will eat you?" And before I knew it I was making arrangements for Jeb to pick me up on the following weekend.


By the next morning I’d forgotten all about the hunting trip but Evangeline reminded me of it during my lunchtime visit. I asked her flat out why she’d tried to show me up in the way she had, but she only laughed and pulled me back down on top of her, so I thought I’d leave that discussion until later. Of course there was no time later since I had to be back at work, and somehow we never managed to talk about it during the week either.


* * *


Mitch had organised the trip so that we all knew what provisions we were responsible for, which enabled us to head away as we were ready. That Saturday, Jeb picked me up at my place at five in the morning and we loaded the cases of beer and tinned food into the back of his truck. On the way, he explained that they’d talked it over and decided it was safer all around if I wasn’t given a gun since I was probably more of a danger to myself than the wildlife. Having never handled a gun in my life I was happy to go along with the general consensus and began to think the trip might not be such a disaster. After all, I could hardly humiliate myself unless I got too close to the carnage and did my Mount Vesuvius impression again.


When we reached the cabin we found Mitch on his own clearing the formica table of plates and coffee mugs. Apparently, he and Bob had come up Friday night after work to get the place ready, which explained the breakfast things still scattered on the counter. Al and Clem had arrived about an hour before us, and not wanting to waste time had already headed out to the woods with Bob. I suggested bringing in our bags and the box of food out in the truck, but Mitch said we could do that later. Besides the beer would be colder if we left it outside. So without further ado Mitch and Jeb grabbed their rifles and ammunition and we set out into the woods to shoot innocent animals.


I had assumed that hunting trips were all about bonding but Mitch and Jeb made it very plain that conversation was to be kept to a minimum. With the two of them busy looking for obscure signs around us that would reveal the presence of something shoot-able nearby, I soon grew bored and let my mind wander. Fortunately, I had plenty to think about but my primary concern was where to find five thousand dollars quick. For the past few months I had been subsidising my poker loses with bills for non-existent customers and forging the inventory records, but now someone was coming out from head office to look over the books. If I didn’t do something quick I would be looking at a long stretch in even less salubrious surroundings than Hatter’s Ridge.


I’d been walking behind the others, or so I thought, when I looked up to find myself alone. So I did what any reasonable city person would do if they suddenly found themselves alone in the great outdoors. I panicked. Turning around to see if maybe Mitch and Jeb were within sight, I shouted out.

"Hey!" When that didn’t get any response, I tried yelling louder. "Hey! Mitch! Jeb! Where are you?"


Stumbling around, heart pounding, I spun one way and another until I had no idea which way I’d been heading and which way I’d come. Eventually, and on the verge of losing it big time, I heard voices not far off. This time I bellowed fit to burst my lungs.

"Hey! I’m over here! Where are you guys?"


There was a rustling sound as the hunters approached. When they stepped into the small clearing where I stood it wasn’t the two I’d been calling for, but Al Miller and Clem Wilkins. Still, I was so happy to see them I could’ve kissed their big ugly faces.


"What’sa matter, boy? Gone and got yerself into trouble, did ya?"


There was something in the way Clem spoke that I didn’t like, but at the same time I was so relieved that I just laughed and did my best to look sheepish.


"I, uh, I guess I wandered off a bit. Have you seen Mitch or Jeb? I’m supposed to be following them."


"Mitch or Jeb, is it? I thought you might be lookin’ fer someone else." Clem spat a thick stream of brown tobacco juice at my feet and grinned.


"Who?" I stammered, starting to feel very nervous. "You mean Bob? Isn’t Bob with you?"


"Yup, he’s with us," Al answered, "just in there, behind those trees."


"Jeb and Mitch find anythin’ to shoot yet?" Clem asked casually, hoisting his rifle onto his shoulder.


"Uh, no. At least, that is, I don’t think so. Not before I wandered off, anyway."


"Pity," Clem said, still grinning. "Be a real shame if you didn’t see somethin’ get shot on yer first hunt. Wouldn’t it, Al?"


"Sure would," Al agreed laconically.


While I stood there, feeling seriously perturbed, a third figure emerged from the trees, but despite the heavy coat and baggy trousers it was obvious this person was much smaller than the ungainly bulk that was Sherman. As the figure came nearer I recognised the perfume I’d bought only a week ago, and the red lips I’d kissed so many times in the recent past.


"Hey, Bill, how you keepin’?"


Evangeline, out here in the woods. It didn’t make sense, but then nothing had made much sense since I’d left the civilised world behind in a cloud of disgrace. I turned to look at Clem as if I might find enlightenment but all I saw was his big gap-toothed grin. Panic returned, growing ominously until I felt the world tremble beneath my feet, only to realise seconds later it was me that was trembling.


"What’s all this about?" I managed to get out. "Clem? Al?" I looked at each in turn, but they just stood there mutely, stupid smiles plastered to their faces. I turned to where Evangeline had stepped into the clearing. "‘Vange?"


The last thing I remember is looking down the barrel of a shotgun, and Evangeline’s laughing face at the other end.


I guess you could say that Hatter’s Ridge is a dead end kind of town.
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  #4  
Old 03-17-2008, 08:28 AM
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Default Once - Titania

You loved me
once.

Maybe it was long ago –
at the height of April
when the snows melted to spring
you loved me.

Did you?

Sweet bedtime stories whispered in the dark:

“I will come for you,” he said,
and she believed.
How she believed –
a child’s dream.
Alone…

The white horse comes,
ridden with disease.
A kiss on virgin lips
while hands take greedily
what pleasure they can have.

You loved me
once.

Didn’t you?

Such selfish pride –
such wild hypocrisy.
Sweet bedtime stories
with crisp burnt pages,
hope no longer legible
in my eyes.

I loved you.

Once.
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Old 03-18-2008, 08:12 PM
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Default Pieces - Titania

I tore up your picture today.

The old one – from
back when things were happy.
Or happier.
The one where I’m wearing
that red dress,
the dress you loved
more than you loved me.
The dress
you were so quick to remove.

I was smiling,
in the picture of you and me
that I tore up today.
A genuine smile
you coaxed from lips
as red as the dress
you were so eager to discard.

I discarded you today.

Three and a half months
after you found a new girl,
a new picture,
a new red dress
to rip off in the backseat of a car,
I tore our picture into pieces
smaller than the pieces
you left me in.
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Old 03-18-2008, 08:13 PM
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Default Devour - skhull

His hell bent horse
races to the horizon
where dazzling stars tryst earth
in haunted, silent knowledge.
Bisht streams behind
and snaps the air
with cerulean strikes of silk.
Hoof beats thrum resilient sand.

Asad, I’ve come back with thirst.
Impoverished of shadow and light,
I crave discipline for my eyes,
the savage vista
where you stalk hidden.

He urges flesh
perfect, sinewy and cut,
to storm the wind brushed dunes.
where he declares the icy night.
Sand becomes his seed.
He licks the stars.
Banshee screams soar like kites.
then slice to perfected silence.

Asad, if I am in your gaze
Fall me now. Fill yourself within
I’m swelled beyond teeth and talons.
I am home again. Our blood remembers.

The rider raptures. He swallows God.
Exhilaration burns him alive.
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Old 03-29-2008, 09:14 PM
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Default Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? - l33tm4s73rj03y

There I was, walking through the valley. It was a nice day. The sun was shining and there were a few, as I like to call them, marshmallow clouds scattered throughout the sky. The sun gave off a nice warm feeling and there was a small cool breeze that felt oh-so-good as it blew through my feathers.


The dirt was soft and when I looked behind me I could see a trail of marks that was comprised of four lines. One pointed the direction I came from and then then other three pointed to where I was going. They were, of course, my own foot prints. You see, I was on a journey. I fancied myself a rather intelligent chicken.


OH, I forgot to mention that didn't I? Well, I am sure you had figured it out by now anyway, I am a chicken!


Well, anyway, I knew most things chickens knew and many things that they didn't. However, there was always one thing that eluded me. I have spent years pondering it, but to no avail. But not anymore. You see, by then end of this journey I would have the answer. The answer that had bemused many people for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. Thats right, I was to find that answer!


So, I was on my way to were it all began. The place that started it all. It was my theory that, once there, I would be able to recreate the moment and solve the riddle.


I bet you are asking yourself right now, “What is the question that this here chicken was seeking to answer?”


Well, come on, it can't be that hard. What one question have people always sought an answer to, but could never seem to come to a conclusion upon? A question that involves chickens that is.


Anyway, I had finally reached my goal, the legendary place and it all began. As I approached the location that I had journeyed so far to find, I saw a large... well, a large thing, standing in the way. It was roughly, well, ah, in human terms, I am, hmm, how do you say? I am roughly one and a half feet? Yes, feet, one and a half feet in height. This, thing, was 5 of me and probably as large as a bull. I suppose you wish to know what he looked like.

Lets see, he had a bulls legs, with hoofs and all, but there was a skirt of hair hanging on them. His chest, was quite large and he had a patch of hair, almost like gorilla, only in reverse, you see. His arms where quite large and he actually had hands like that of a human, only the skin, and this goes for his entire body, as a matter of fact, was tough and gray like a rhino. His head was like that of a bull as well, the horns and all, but he had quite a large beard that hung down to his chest. It, as was the rest of his hair, was black and peppered throughout it was a very dark purple, almost indistinguishable to the eye, but my eyes are quite keen.


It was quite a fearsome beast, but I would not be turned away now, not when I am this close. So I continued walking. I was just going to ignore him.

“Yar! Halt there chicken. What brings such a small fowl to this place? What business have you here,” bellowed that large creature.

“Well,” I thought a moment, “I have come here to find an answer to the eternal question, of course.”

With a puzzled look on my face, I looked up at the creature standing in front of me “Who...and what are you?”


With a rather thunderous laugh, he replied, “I am the guardian of this here road,” and as he looked at me with a stern face he growled, “and I am to prevent those who have no business here from passing over the road.”


“Well then, is that all” I asked him. I was quite relieved and so I said to him, “In that case, you shall let me pass. For you see, I have quite important business on the other side of this road.”


“Is that so.” and with a look of amusement he let out a loud laugh, “HAR HAR HAR! Isn't that nice, the chicken thinks he has business here.”


With a look of annoyance on my face, I asked him, “Who are you laughing at and who are you talking to?”


“Well, I was obviously laughing at you little one,” he simply put, “and I was talking to, uh, well, myself. Hmf!”


“At any rate, I need to cross and you are going to let me,” and with that I proceed forward.


However, for as large as this creature was, he was quite swift and easily blocked my path.


“And were do you think you are going little one,” he asked.


“Now you listen here,” I started, now angry at the delay when I am so close to my answer, “I am here to answer the eternal question that has bothered humans and chickens alike for millennia! And you are NOT going to stop me, do you understand!”


Now that must've startled him. For after that he said nothing, yet he stood firm.


“I see your not going to make this easy.” I said to him. “Very well, if you must know-” and that is were he cut me off.


“If you seek the answer to whether the chicken or the egg came first, I am quite sure that crossing this here road shall not provide you with your answer.”


This threw me off for a moment. What was he talking about? “No, no, no, thats not its at all, of course the chicken came first! What kind of asinine question is that?” This behemoth was crazy.


“I beg to differ,” the thing started, “It is my theory that neither the chicken OR the egg were first.”


“What?!” Now this was ridiculous. “If it was neither the chicken nor the egg, then how would we even exist?”


“Well, you see, its like this,” he began.


Oh gosh, what have I got myself into. Is this thing ever going to shut up and let me pass? Well indeed he would, but not before he said, well, the stupidest thing I had ever heard.


“Before the chicken and the egg, came the ficken-” and that is where I stopped him.


“Are you serious!? Did you just say the ficken?! What in sam-hell is a ficken,” I couldn't believe it, he really seems to believe that too, “No, never mind, thats not even the question I am here for.”


And with a bewildered look on his face, he asked, “Its not?”


“No, I am here to find out,” and this is it, if you haven't figured it out, this is the question that the whole journey I was on was all about, “why did the chicken cross the road?”


Nothing, there was only silence. I thought maybe he had suddenly become deaf as well as dumb. And then...

“HAHAHAHAHA,” again, with the thunderous laughter.


Only this time it was a real laugh, he damn hear fell down laughing.


“Ha ha ha ha ha ha, you really came here to answer that question,” he finally asked me as his laughing subsided.


“Why, yes, yes I did.” I looked at him dumbfounded, “and why is that so funny?”


“Well, first, I always thought the 'eternal question' was whether the chicken or the egg came first. Secondly, you shall never find an exact answer for this question either.”


Was he serious? Did he think I had traveled all that way only to NOT find my answer? Well, I shall prove him wrong, I will cross that road, and when I do and I find my answer, he will see.


“Yes I will,” I said to him, “you'll see, just let me cross that there road!”


“Very well, I shall let you pass, but you already have your answer.” He said, almost profoundly.


“Ha, I do not, I am here to cross the road to find out why the chicken crossed the road.” This guy is not too smart. “If I had my answer then why would I need to cross the road,” I proposed.


“Very well,” he said as he stepped aside, “have at it. But you will understand once you have crossed.”


“Indeed I shall, that is the purpose for which I have traveled here.” And with that I took my first step onto the road.


Actually, I narrated this part, as I took that first step, I said, “Well, here I go, I am taking my first step onto the road. Okay, there, I did it. Now I am going to take my second-” and yet again I was cut off by this very large, very rude creature.


Looking quite annoyed, he asked, “must you really narrate every step you take?”


“I guess not,” I replied. “I suppose I shall try not to, I'm just so exited!”


As I continued across the road, I continued to narrate, “I am approaching the middle of the road now. Any minute now, and...there I am now halfway across.”


“Congratulations, would you like a cookie? Just hurry up and finish,” the thing grumbled.


So I did, I finished crossing the road, and when I did I knew my answer was right there. But it wasn't. I stepped off the other side of the road, and I knew nothing more than I already had.


Quite disappointed and angry I yelled out, “NO! It must be here, I should know the answer now!”
I looked over to the beast across the road and I shouted out, “Why? Why didn't this answer the question? What am I missing? What did I do wrong?”


“Nothing,” he said, “you have your answer now, just as you did before you crossed the road.”


“Stop talking in riddles you monster! I don't understand,” I said and I sat down and began to cry. “Why didn't this work?”


“Answer me this, chicken,” the beast offered, “why did you cross the road?”


I looked up at him puzzled, “well, as I told you, I came to cross the road in order to find out why the chicken crossed the road.”


“And there you have it,” he said.


“Wait a minute,” I looked at him and thought a moment, “so what you are saying, is that the chicken crossed to road in order to find out why the chicken crossed the road?”


“Exactly,” he looked at me and smiled, “there for, one may never really know why THE chicken crossed the road, but only why THEY crossed the road.”


“So,” I began, “I really did have my answer the whole time, didn't I?”


“Indeed you did,” said the beast.


“So, I guess this is it. I guess I ought to go home then. But what do I have to bring back? Nothing, I gained nothing,” I said, quite saddened by the thought.


“Not true, you just experienced a spiritual journey and now you shall walk home and reflect upon that journey. Such is the way of life,” the beast said. Such a wise beast.


“Well, if you don't mind, I have a cat over yonder who is quite curious about the other side of the road himself,” and with that the beast walked down the road and seemed to just vanish.


That, my friends, is my story, now you go and find yours.
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Old 04-20-2008, 03:51 PM
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Default Soliloquy by Baron

Soliloquy

Impertinent prattle of poseurs,
preening in mirrors -
pretentious words flow unabated
- into a maelstrom.
Poets on pedestals
lift gilded pens to punctuate
visions, sacred to them alone
in the exposed arenas of thought.

Device
sacrificed to decay
on art’s destitute altar;
magic fires burn away the remains
of structured verses,
the incense rising
through ethereal clouds
of mourning.

Once,
a stroke of the pen
could forge a revolution;
tables turn violently
when putrefaction
becomes art.

So, who was it
that chose stardom,
listening to bard-birds sing?
Jingles on morning radio
shows feed their wisdom to the masses,
wash away discomfiture
to anaesthetise anxiety –
halt approbation.

Wilderness voices create
music that never travels the airwaves,
always held in abeyance
by accountants and market leaders
until the last
powdered piece of dung
is auctioned for millions.

Tomato plants grow out of sewage…
A single red rose binds a promise…
From an attic window
the artist views the circled square;
she paints her reality
with a purple orchid.
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  #9  
Old 04-20-2008, 03:52 PM
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Default Bones by Azmacna

Bones
part 1



Marmalade delighted at the feel of the stones beneath her bare toes as she walked the pathway home, the smell of the ocean in her nostrils. Her shoes – tied together with their laces and suspended from her neck – gently swung back and forth with the rhythm of an easy gait. Ginger curls bobbed like loose springs, stroking the edges of a smile as she turned slowly, enjoying the peace.

A flock of gulls sang, when she gazed up at the warm, blue sky and grasshoppers thrummed their heartbeat accompaniment, as she waved a grass baton plucked from the verge earlier. A butterfly whispered by, fluttering in syncopation as if it shared the melody in Marmalades ears.

Thin legs, which sprouted from beneath a pleated, green skirt, bore the scars of many excursions to the beach and neighbouring woods. Once again, she gazed at her closed hand thinking of the gift therein and said in a voice as soft as moss.

“Soon be home… soon be home… not long now.”

“Freak!” shouted a plump girl in pink, her frills an ugly irony. It was Susan, who was leant on a gate with her gawky friend. A grin of intent sparked fire in her cheeks. Ilene concealed her frailties behind Susan’s shadow, but struggled to make an impression on the floral dress she wore.

On seeing the girls, Marmalade put her hands behind her back.

“Freaky, freaky, Marmalade… freaky, freaky, Marmalade.” Ilene giggled at her own tuneful mantra. She rested her head on Susan’s shoulder and spoke through a pout: “What you got there? Can’t you share it with a couple of your best friends?”

“It’s nothing much,” Marmalade said, still lost to the music, “just a piece of grass.” She revealed the baton and waved it in a sideways figure eight. “See.”

“No, what’s in your other hand? Show us,” Susan said, her grin wilting.

“I don’t want to show you…”

“Ilene, she says she doesn’t want to.”

“That’s not very friendly of her, is it.” Ilene hopped over the gate and Susan clambered after. “You wouldn’t want to annoy Susan, would you?”

“Perhaps she does… perhaps she wants a fight.”

“No, I just want to go home.” She began walking away, discarding the grass. “I’ll bring it to school tomorrow and show you it then, okay?” The words were well chosen but delivered nervously.

“You’re not frightened of us are you?” Susan said, creeping closer.

Looking as resolute as she could, Marmalade turned and faced her tormentors. “I’ll show you tomorrow, now if you don’t mind I’ll be on my way…”

“Not until you show us what’s in your hand,” said Susan, who suddenly rushed forward and grabbed the back of Marmalade’s white blouse. Ilene was soon upon her too

“Let go of me.”

Marmalade twisted her fist, holding it high, away from the girls as their greedy hands clawed up her arm for the prize. An unexpected shove challenged Marmalade’s balance and she stumbled, pivoting on unstable heels and lurching shoulder first into the ground with a crunch. The impact winded her and loosed a tiny white object from her fingers.

“What is it?” asked Susan as Ilene bent for a closer look…

“It looks like an egg, I think.”

“Leave it, please,” Marmalade said and made to snatch it back.

Ilene quickly plucked it from the ground before it could be reclaimed. At first, she was puzzled, shifting her palm and viewing the object from all angles. It was not until she turned it with the fingers of her other hand, that she realized exactly what it was. She yanked her hand away as if the object had scolded her and let it drop.

“You sick little freak,” she said, a quake in her voice.

“What is it?” Susan repeated impatiently.

“It’s a starling’s skull,” Marmalade said, her eyes tearful, “I was saving it.”

“Saving it? Saving it!” Susan strode forward, and before Marmalade could negotiate, stomped her foot down on the skull. Once it had shattered, she ground it into the stones for good measure, all the while skewing her orange lips in disgust. “You should be playing with dollies like normal girls, not dead stuff.”

Ilene pointed down the pathway.

“Go on you twisted little girl. Clear off before we stamp on you.”

Without taking her eyes off the two girls, Marmalade struggled to her feet and backed away. When she thought there was a safe distance between her and Susan, she turned and ran, the laughter of the two girls fading with each stride. “Sorry,” she said as a brilliant day grew dark about her, the grass hissing, the sun burning, the gulls mocking. “Sorry.” Soon she could hear the growling of the tide, the rattling of tiny waves as they reached up the beach and then scrambled back into the ocean. Hope was there though.

Froth and brine sucked at the breaker that Marmalade sat upon. This was where she came to mend a broken day. The endless possibility of distance, the timeless lament of an ocean filled with memories, both deep and blue. Today the horizon was of little interest though; it was the ocean bed that she yearned for.

She thought of her father. He had run a hobbyist shop in the town square and specialized in model planes, which he also had a personal interest in. The family bungalow had been filled with all manner of flying machines from zeppelins to biplanes, some mounted on plinths, others suspended from the ceiling. She remembered sitting on his lap while he explained in detail about the history of each one. At the age of eight, there was no way that she could have understood it all, but he had a soothing voice. As he spoke, she would cuddle into him, feel the rise and fall of his chest as he took each breath and watch his lips form the words.

She recalled a day when she was playing with a spitfire in her bedroom, skimming her eider down, curling around her lampshade and dropping Lego Bombs on her Wendy house. All was well until it slipped from her fingers and crashed to the floor. For a nervous ten minutes, she held the broken wing to the plane as if it would fix itself somehow, but understood that eventually she would have to face her father.

Placing an ear to the bedroom door, she waited for a prudent moment. On hearing her parent’s laughter, she opened the door and carried the broken plane in carefully, a furrowed brow conveying regret. However, there had been no reason to worry, her father simply ruffled her hair and took the plane gently from her hands.

“It’s all right, there’s nothing a drop of glue can’t save.”

A thick wave heaved up beside her, its spray dousing the memory, but not the seed of a smile it had planted. She looked at the horizon now, her chestnut eyes soaking up every drop of inspiration, feeding off the unknown and wiping ‘what had been’ from her memory, like father wiped snot from her runny nose. The waves chuckled as she hopped down from the breaker, slipping up to her bare feet and kissing her heals goodbye. “Goodbye.”

On the short journey home, Marmalade thought she caught sight of Susan and Ilene coming up the pathway, but dismissed it in favour of thoughts of what lay in waiting in her bedroom. That was her vision, her sanctity, her womb. Nothing touched her there. It was safe. It was unsullied.

*

The door clicked behind her, the rattle of the loose glass emphasising the silence that followed. For a while, she stood there and gazed through to the living room. There were several pairs of boots and shoes in a pile by the front door in the lobby, each cracked, dried by the sun as it beamed in through the cracked window. A broom, leant in one corner, had not been used for months and insect had made it their home. A resident spider had grown fat on this larder, spreading its sticky webs up and across the ceiling, where dust had made lace from it. Marmalade walked through to the living room.

Her mother was sitting in the same place as usual: in father’s favourite chair. Just like the lobby, the living room was untidy and dusty. There were piles of rubbish, books and discarded clothes, all dirty, all stained from months of neglect.

“Hi Mum,” marmalade said and dropped her shoes on the floorboards.

“Hi Marmalade, you’ve been a long time.” There was little expression in the voice, as if distant. “Have you been to the beach?”

“Susan and Ilene have been bullying me again.”

“Ignore them, darling, they just don’t understand you.”

Marmalade nodded.

“Don’t let them know what you have in your bedroom.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t, Mum.”

“Could you do me a favour, please?”

Marmalade smiled, she knew what that favour would be.

“Of course, Mum, what is it you’d like?”

“I’d love a cuppa…”

Marmalade took the mug from the table beside the chair and glanced into it.

“You didn’t drink the last one.”

“Oh, didn’t I, I must have fallen asleep. Sorry.”

The tap spluttered as she filled the kettle and rinsed the mug out, the task made more awkward by the many pots and pans stuffed into the sink and scattered across the draining board. Marmalade let the kettle whistle for a while. She loved the consistent tone: if purity could make a sound, it would be something like that. After squeezing the tea bag against the side of the mug with a spoon and applying milk and sugar, she returned to the chair. Her mother nodded in thanks as Marmalade placed it carefully down.

“I’m going to my bedroom now, Mum.”

“Why did I know you were going to say that? Thank you for the tea.”

“That’s all right; I’d miss it if I couldn’t do things for you.”

“You’re such a sweet girl, goodnight, see you in the morning.”

“Goodnight, Mum.”

The bedroom door had been freshly painted, its panels decorated with many different coloured flowers – amongst these were butterflies, birds and all kinds of woodland creatures. Marmalade turned the handle and pushed. Joy reached out and embraced her. She closed the door too with her back and locked it, eyes hungry. On every surface, there was a plinth and on every plinth the skeleton of a different creature, each crafted into a natural pose. An owl, its head skewed to greet whoever entered, perched on an old, oak branch. Many chaffinches flocked about the dressing table, all static, as if caught by the snap of a camera. A heron darted its long beak into a painted blue pond on the wooden floor, where a dozen sticklebacks swam, a weasel looking on. A badger, rabbits… A fox skulked beneath the bed… The room was a menagerie of bone, held in a moment by glue and patience.

Marmalade lay on her bed and stared up at the gulls and terns suspended from the ceiling, while a kestrel looked on from atop the wardrobe, its wings spread, ready to pounce.

“Where’s my robin?”

Her eyes focused on a small skeleton on the top of the mirror. It instantly fluttered towards her, wearing feathers by the time it had landed on her outstretched finger, its song evoking the smell of deep, damp woods.

“Have you missed me?”

The song grew in intensity and breadth.

Marmalades dangling left hand suddenly found fur and the fox rubbed up against her wiggling fingers.

“Don’t you dare,” Marmalade said, spotting the intent of the kestrel as it positioned itself to swoop down on the robin. “We’re all family here.”

The room breathed, filled with the quick beats of a hundred tiny hearts, an orchestra of re-fleshed instruments, each complimenting each in an ensemble without score or rhythm, but instead organic and free. Nature had visited upon Marmalade and wrapped her in the softness of abandonment. She was weightless, a dandelion clock without time or wish, blown by the zephyr of her own imagination.

She propped up on her elbows and looked at the skeleton of a starling without a head. “Don’t worry; I’ll go by the woods tomorrow.” She sank back down again, her eyes growing heavy from the burden of bliss…

From somewhere, on the edge of sleep, Marmalade heard something. It was a casual, indistinct sound, muted by her slumber, yet threatening to bring her from it. Again, only this time she stirred, lids flickering. Again. Marmalade woke up. It was not dark yet outside, but the sun had given of its best and was retiring. Clunk.

“Marmalade!”

Blurry eyed, she approached her window and looked out.

“Let us in.” It was Susan and Ilene.

Marmalade undid the latch and lifted the window an inch or two. “No, it’s late,” she said, angry at the intrusion of her territory. Until now, no one had ventured this close. “Look, go away, I don’t want anything to do with you two, and besides I want to sleep.”

“It’s only 8.45.” Susan said.

“Yeah,” Ilene added, “you scared of your Mum?”

“I don’t like either of you, now go away.”

“We want to see what you’ve got in your bedroom,” Ilene said.

“Nothing, just go play with your other friends.”

“We’ll have words with you at school,” Susan said.

“Whatever.” Marmalade yanked the curtains too and crept tiredly between the sheets, regretting the way she had spoken, but not fully appreciating the problems it may cause her the following day.

Part 2

She was awoken by the sound of jackdaws outside her window, the caws a welcome reminder that nature was unbiased. Because she had fallen asleep fully clothed, there was little to do but get out of bed, wash and clean her teeth. Once that was done and she had said goodbye to her animals, she left the bedroom, closing the door reverently behind her.

“Good morning, darling,” her mother said, sounding drowsy. “Did you have a good nights sleep?”

“Apart from Susan and Ilene paying me a late visit, yes.”

“What are those two devils doing coming here?”

“I don’t know, they must have followed me home.”

“Be watchful at school today, they may hold a grudge.”

“Don’t worry, Mum, I’ll be extra careful at playtime.”

“Could you do me a favour before you go?”

“A cuppa?”

“Yes, a cuppa.”

“But Mum…”

“… I know, I know, I didn’t drink the last one.”

Her day at school began on a high note, after Marmalade discovered that Susan and Ilene had decided to take the day off. With any luck, it would be an illness that would take longer than a day to cure. However, the sameness of daily routine and the imposed symmetry of bricks and mortar soon had her longing for the beach or the woods. For a good ten minutes she watched the seconds hand of the clock in her maths lessen; that is, until a piece of white chalk clattered across the table in front of her and on looking up, saw a disgruntled Miss Witherspoon, arms akimbo.

“Finished answering the questions already? We must have improved greatly over the last week.”

“No,” Marmalade said, not daring to look Miss Witherspoon in the eyes.

“No, you haven’t finished or no, you haven’t improved?”

“Both.”

This brought a few sniggers from the other pupils, which Miss Witherspoon immediately stopped by slapping her palm on the table directly in front of her. Marmalade was not that concerned by the reprimand, it had become part of her own personal curriculum; what did concern her though, was the ammunition it provided her classmates for break.

“Go stand in the corridor.” On seeing Marmalade’s slothful response, she added for impetus, “Now!”

And so the day unfolded, in much the same way as every other. She stood in the playground, bearing the jibes with her usual fatalistic air; sat in the dining room alone, using the knife and fork as silently as possible; walked cat like through the corridors, avoiding eye contact, and only ever looked up to check she had reached the right classroom.

There was only one other sound that Marmalade loved as much as the kettle whistling, and that was the four o’clock school bell. On revitalized limbs, she sped from the building, hitting the street at a sprint, her head filled with the possibility of finding another skull for her starling. Instead of heading down the coastal path, she moved inland, over farmer’s fields waist deep in shimmering wheat, the shushing of ears the applause of a million tiny hands. Soon she could see Dewberry Wood looming on the horizon, its fir fringe disguising an oak tree heart.

Once she was safely within its embrace, she settled by an oak tree, and sat there for a while enjoying the solitude. A light breeze ruffled a sea of bluebells surrounding her, with foxglove sentinels watching over, the weight of an industrious bumble bee making one nod at Marmalade, before passing that privilege to another. Above, the branches ground out mournful yet comforting sounds.

She could have so easily drifted off, but she had come here for a reason and that motivated her to stand and begin the search. Her search would be methodical as usual, zigzagging over a large area, turning every possible hiding place over and raking through fallen leaves or beneath ferns. Patience was something Marmalade had in abundance. She could never decide whether the searching had given her the patience to create, or that creating had given her the patience to search. One thing was for sure though, she would not stop until she had something.

Her mind drifted, back to her father. This time though, it was not such a happy thought. He had been diagnosed with throat cancer and eventually got so ill, he sold the shop. It was as if a shadow had fallen across him, his once mellifluous voice, rattled like the window in the lobby. His fingers, always fidgety and busy, grew still, the longing to build dying as his muscles withered. Now the planes were cruel reminders of better days and so he had asked Marmalade’s mother to remove them.

Three weeks before the funeral, Marmalade sat by her father in the hospital bed. The disease had stripped him of his strength, his skin a parchment that barely hid the skeleton within. As the last breath hissed from his sinking body, her mother fell across him, cuddling him and stroking his forehead. Marmalade backed away from the bed, finding a seat where she could feel alone.

Just a handful of dirt: that is all Marmalade could offer as a last goodbye, before the grave was filled. There were many mourners there that day, and one empty child…

Marmalade suddenly felt a chill. The sky had grown dark above the woodland canopy. The bluebells and foxgloves had been swallowed by a thick gloom and there was the first drip as rain came. Forgoing her search, Marmalade made a quick exit from the woods and began traversing the wheat fields, the cloud’s fat underbelly ready to unleash a torrent. Then it came, a wall of rain and the first rumblings of thunder. Soon she was soaked, her curls wet and clinging to a flushed, grimacing face. Only one thing spurred Marmalade on, only one thing made it possible to ignore the stinging in her lungs, the complaints from heavy legs. Her sanctuary, her friends…

Marmalade slammed the door behind her, the glass shattered and fell onto the steps outside, jangling amid the thrashing rain. Ignoring her mother, she rushed through the living room, eager for her bedroom and asylum. But after she turned the handle and shoved, the whole room screamed.

All of her labour lay smashed about the floor. The terns and gulls had been ripped from the ceiling and thrown against the walls, the fish had been ground to dust, the robin crushed beneath the plinth of the heron and the heron shattered beyond repair. Not a single creature had survived the attack. What was once a zoo, built by enterprise, was a bone graveyard. Across the back wall, written in black paint was one word: Freak. Now she knew why Susan and Ilene had not been at school today. They were busy killing years of work. Silently, she closed the window and made her way into the living room, an inner rage making claws of her fingers.

“Mum,” she said, water running down her face.

“What, darling?”

“Susan and Ilene have broken my pets.”

“They are very nasty girls those two, how did they get in?”

“Through the window.”

“I didn’t hear anything.”

“You wouldn’t have heard anything though, would you Mum.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing…”

“Could you do me a favour?”

Marmalade walked through to the kitchen and leant against the draining board, watching the storm swell above, feeling the lightening inside. From a small cupboard just beneath, she took a claw hammer and then returned. Her mother was sat there motionless, a full cup of cold tea beside her on the table.

“You never drink your tea, Mum.”

“Yes I know, I’m sorry, I will this time, I promise.”

“No you won’t, Mum.”

“I will, you can sit here and watch me.”

“You can’t drink your tea…”

With that, Marmalade raised the hammer above her and struck down at her mother’s head. As the hammer drew closer to the soft pink skin, the blue eyes, red lips and glossy blonde hair, the image fractured like ink in a puddle and bled away, revealing the skeleton of Marmalade’s mother. The hammer shattered the skull, sending fragments down onto the ribcage and pelvis. Over and over, Marmalade bore down on the skeleton, until, exhausted from the effort, it lay in pieces.

“I’m sorry I had to kill you Mum, but that was my hug you stole at the hospital. I did try to put things right though. Like dad said: There’s nothing a drop of glue can’t save.”

She pondered her two best friends, Susan and Ilene. Perhaps she had been a little hasty refusing to let them in. Given time, she was sure they would get along, after all, they were the same ages and they were probably right about playing with dollies. Wednesday would be a good time for them to visit. Time to tidy up and make the house look presentable… and besides it would take her a while digging the two holes… and she would need more glue if she was going to make more friends.
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