Threshold Anxiety

Contributor: James Tressel

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She stands on the sidewalk and cranes her neck to see the third floor window where light flashes and stutters across begrimed glass. Shadows pulse to a dull beat there, but the people throwing them seem stilled.

She walks toward the front door through a colonnade of inky cypress. Tree to tree, a low shuddering darkness passes, and the trees shrink to shrubs. When she reaches the front door, she finds it much too small for her body. She retreats and begins to circle the building. Her eyes flicker over the graffiti gouged into its sandstone: names and accusations, the names of lovers crowding into each other.

Rounding a corner of the building, she catches an artist in the act: a little girl, braids like lengths of old rope, jaw wired shut. The girl drops her nail file to the pavement and runs. Our heroine examines what the girl had been writing. It’s another language – Letters like smashed bugs. She picks up the metal nail file. The warmth of the girl’s hand transfers to hers and, along with it, a sort of high-pitched vibration that filters through her hand like a flux of meal worms.

On her second approach to the door, our heroine finds herself crowded out: Footsteps coming closer, warm bodies approaching, low laughter, whispers. Many footsteps – warm bodies parting around her an unceasing flow of bodies parting around her as they amass on the front steps. They push her backward until she has to step down one two three steps she is no longer near the door. A pale hand reaches up and presses the buzzer.

A metallic hello comes from the speaker near the pressed button. A whispered response from the button-pusher. She faces a wall of hair – the backs of heads rise above woolen collars, long coats – those assembled on the front steps. Long lapse before the buzz. Long lapse before the click. Long lapse for her to face every one of those head backs. Noses and mouths grow from the hair. Eye caverns regard her. The smell of curling irons and alcohol and lavender. The door clicks. They pull it open and begin to flow through it. She presses towards it, but they press back crowding her out as more and more arrive, an endless stream with no place for her in it. As this progresses, the thump – thump – thump-y music billows out and buffets her ears.

She retreats again, finds a bar a few blocks away. It’s empty. Light from flaming sconces wavers on vaulted ceilings. The light is warm, but the air is cold. She draws into her coat, tries to gather nerve. No bartender to be seen at the bar, so she waits patiently, blowing on her hands. Strange place: no windows, oblong, hexagonal tables made of mahogany set in recesses around the room. All is quiet, or is it? A dim rustle of voices, whispers maybe. While she waits, she takes out the nail file and begins to gouge shapes into the pristine surface of the bar, shapes like smashed bugs. Presently, she hears footsteps approaching.

The little vandal with the wired-shut jaw appears. She’s carrying a pewter tray full of goblets of opaque, verdigris-colored liquid. She steps into one of the recesses and fumbles with the edge of the table. The top hinges up. The rattle of bones and the rip of cloth. She places a goblet into skeletal grasping fingers. Our heroine shivers and notices, for the first time, a phonograph set on the surface of the bar. Its needle bumbles about the slick space between the last track and the label at the center, a label emblazoned with a chitinous alphabet.

She runs back to the building and looks up at the window. Same oddly pulsating light, same motionless figures. Darkness smokes her approach, but she swims through it, finds the door, bores in on the button.

“Hello?” Snaps of thumping through the static. She says her name, but the door is already buzzing, breaking open. She is IN! The warmth of the hallway. Tasteful dim lighting. Heart-patterned wallpaper (crimson on gold). She walks up staircase to the second floor landing, and sees her shadow pulse as the thumping grows louder. She grips the nail file until her knuckles glow white. She is walking up the stairway to the third floor, toward the thump – thump – thump, cutting the space before her, laying a groove.


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James Tressel is the author of FURNACE (Turtleneck Press, 2011). He lives in Philadelphia and is an aficionado of weird fiction.
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The Thompson Room

Contributor: Damian Wesley Du Charme

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Jack looked to his wife and then to the leather satchel now sitting on the hotel room table: clasp undone and zipper unzipped, revealing its contents.
“Just call the concierge to come get it and let them call the police on whomever was previously in the room,” Sandy said.

“You know we can’t afford to do that Sandy. The police will want to talk with us even if we handed it over during our check out. We’ve been here 3 days and discovered the bag last night. That would seem very suspicious to the police I’m sure.”

Sitting back down, Jack and Sandy puzzled together. Then a rap whap tap sounded from their room door.
“That’ll be lunch,” Sandy said, pointing to the door.

He heard shuffling outside the door as he approached and peered through the peephole. A tall, lanky man with giant aviator sunglasses and a strange hat peered back at him.

“This must be the bag’s owner,” Jack said to Sandy. “Can I help you, sir?” he asked through the door.

“My apologies, my name is Dr. Thompson. I actually had stayed in this room a few nights ago, and think I may have left my doctor satchel on accident” said this Dr. Thompson.

“Who did he say he was?” Sandy asked, now standing behind her husband.

“Dr. Thompson.”

Sandy glanced through the peephole. Her jaw dropped. She ripped Jack away from the door and sat him in the chair closest to the door.
“Do you realize who that is?” she asked, wide eyed.

“Some doctor…” Jack tried saying.
“Not just any regular doctor, Jack. That’s Hunter S. Thompson.”

Sandy zipped the chain over and twisted the deadbolt. She pulled the door open in a flash, to an empty hallway. Sticking her head out, Sandy looked in both directions of the halls. She came back in shutting the door softly, then looking to Jack in disbelief.

“Did that really just happen or are we both sliding into senility?” Sandy asked. Jack scratched his head, stood up, and opened the door to do the same cross glance looking down the hallway.

Nobody.

“Well it definitely happened. The question is: Where did he go so quickly?” Jack said.

The couple walked to the table with the bag atop it. Sandy put a hand in the bag, and pulled out a smaller travel bag. She unzipped it, revealing its contents.

Another knock. “Room service,” said the knocker.

“THAT will be lunch,” Jack said.
Tipping the waiter and shutting the door Jack set the tray of meals on the table next to the doctor’s bag.
“This explains the contents. What did he call it… a satchel?” Sandy said.

After they finished their lunch reminiscing about the things they’d read, and heard about Hunter Thompson, they made a unified decision to check with the concierge if Thompson might be in another room and return his bag. There was, to no surprise, no Hunter Thompson in any room.

“The two men that previously stayed in your room wrecked it to such a point nine housekeepers took three days cleaning it,” the concierge said.
Sandy considered asking if there was a Duke Raoul, but was afraid the concierge might make the connection of it being the same man she had just asked about.

Returning after dinner that night, Jack and Sandy lay together watching television. Sitting up in the bed Jack looked to the bedside clock; 1:11 AM. Jack heard a strange electrical noise. It started with a low hum, which progressed to a whirring and then a clicking sound. Realizing the sound was coming from the door, Jack moved towards the door, listening intently. Bright flashes of light from under the door stopped Jack in his tracks. The clicking changed to a clacking sound, like a hammer hitting thick metal.

“Jack what in the name of the lord is that?” Sandy asked.

“I have no clue, but I have a funny feeling something big is about to happen,” Jack said.


The door shifted and fell to the ground with a loud THUD. Jack noticed, however, the door opened from the hinge side and was pushed out of the deadbolt, hanging for a split second on the chain before landing. Thompson burst through the door, instantly looking from the couple to the opened bag on the table.

“We didn’t touch anything I swear to you,” Sandy said.

Thompson strolled over to the bag reached a hand in, and pulled out a small baggie of capsules. Handing the baggy to Jack, Thompson smiled.

“For your troubles and my thanks for not turning it over to the authorities,” Thompson said.
“What do you think the pills are?” Jack asked.
“Knowing that man’s habits I would say either mescaline or psilocybin caps.”


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I'm a multi-talented man with a strong and vivid imagination. I love to write, and have had a poem published in Timeless Voices. Currently going to Full Sail University for my Bachelor's Degree in Creative Writing.
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Double Vision

Contributor: Ava Wilson

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“Two beds? What’s with the two beds, Martha?”
“Just because there are two beds in the room, doesn’t mean anything, Joe.”
“I mean look in there, Martha. Even from a distance, the beds look like time-out corners, thought we were here to work things out.”
“We are,” she said.
Joe ran his hand over his slicked back hair, and plopped down in the fabric-covered patio chair. He leaned forward, sighed deep, and lowered his head.
“You flustered, Joe? Oh yeah, that’s right. Your version of working things out never involves any talking. Never does, Joe. We need to talk.”
“See now, there you go Martha, jumping to conclusions. I want to¬¬¬— talk.”
Martha squinted through the light-grey cloud of smoke, and tapped the train of limp ash from her cigarette.
“Want a drink, Joe? I’m having one.”
“No.”
“Suit yourself,” said Martha.
Joe loosened his tie, and sat even deeper in his chair.
“I just don’t see why you couldn’t get a different set-up.”
“We’re sitting out here, Joe, in the beautiful outdoors mind you: birds chirping, sun shining, nice breeze blowing the plastic, plant-like thingy in the corner. But what’s the first thing you start talking about, Joe, huh? The beds. What am I supposed to think?”
Joe motioned for a cigarette. Martha four-finger flicked the half-smashed pack to him.
“Just not right to start off a reconciliation with two beds, that’s all.”
“Says who, Joe? Where’s the rulebook on reconciliation? Let me guess, in your pants. Front pocket.”
“Now is that fair, Martha? Sheesh.”
“Says who then, Joe?”
“Says who? Says, says every man who…”
“Who, what? Thinks screwing is the relationship patch-up drug? Is that the ‘who’ you’re referring to?”
Joe fidgeted in his seat, cold cigarette in hand; mouth open for words, but nothing came out.
“You better light that thing, Joe, before it turns back into a tree.”
Martha gave him a light. Joe double puffed his cigarette, searching for the right answer before he exhaled. Nothing.
“Well, you have an answer? No? Didn’t think so. You know what, Joe? This little get-away wasn’t such a great idea. Why don’t we just leave things the way they are? You know, keep the bye, goodbye.”
“No, Martha, wait. I mean, just look in there. Now tell me, does that double monstrosity look like a picture of working things out to you? Not to me Martha, nope. Doesn’t look a bit hopeful, can’t wrap my head around it. There are— two of them.”
Martha stabbed out her cigarette, and took a full, deep breath.
“Joe, if you even had the brains of a cucumber, you’d think about the fact I booked a hotel room, two beds or not. Stop and think. If I planned an encounter by a cliff, or some train tracks, you’d have reason to question reconciliation practices. That’s the problem, Joe, you and your stupid one-track mind. One. Track. You never think past your—well, do I need to say it?”
“So, Martha, you’re saying we are going to sleep together, or no?”


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Ava Wilson is currently acquiring her BFA in Creative Writing for Entertainment at Full Sail University. She is also a published author and illustrator of the children’s book entitled, Crunky McBunky, a published poet and playwright, her plays include, For the Love of Friends, and Feathery Heights. Ava is a professional spoken-word artist, and actor of stage and film under her stage name, Nailah Blu.
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Feral Cats

Contributor: Sean Crose

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You can find them under, on top of, and around that small pavilion by the cove down in Milford. They all just hang around there all day, living their lives. Fishermen walk past them hour after hour, on their way to cast out for Stripers or Blues. Most of the fishermen stare at them for at least a moment or two before moving on.

At the end of the trail, right at the water, you can look across the cove and see 95 traffic coming and going. During rush hour you actually see the Metro Norths and Amtraks coming to and from Grand Central Terminal under the bridge below the freeway. It's cool standing at the end of the trail, actually. You, right there amidst nature – nature being the cove, of course – yet just beyond nature is the growl of the urban northeastern United States.

For the record, the cats never go down to the end of the path. They just don't seem all that interested in the water. Sure, one or two will head out on occasion, just like one or two will venture out to the gravel parking lot before the path. That's about the extent of the cat's travels, though. They seem either too content or too frightened to go beyond where they are.

Every day a woman comes and feeds these feral cats. I'm serious. She comes every day, twice a day, and feeds them untold amounts of dried cat food. She brings water with her, too. This woman, she cares for these feral cats, which is kind of nice, if you think about it.

Earlier today, some guy came and did the second feeding, the afternoon feeding, for her. I asked him what he was up to and he said he was taking care of the woman's chores for her since she was away for a bit. From the sounds of it she was probably on vacation.

This guy, he was in his 60s and drove a blue SUV that looked like it got washed at least once a week. It also had a license plate on the back that let you know he was a veteran of the armed services. “I don't know how these cats would survive without her,” he said of the woman. He wasn't there to fish, just feed the cats. I can only assume the same can be said of the woman herself – that she only goes to feed the cats who might well owe their survival to her generosity.

Perhaps that's why they stay around the pavilion. Some feral cats are better off staying put. Unlike humans, they have no need for freeways or trains that race in and out of Grand Central Terminal.


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Sean Crose teaches writing at Post University and Philadelphia University. He's also a columnist for Boxing Insider. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and Cody, the World's Greatest Cat.
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Wines and Sunsets

Contributor: John Laneri

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Before Sharon came into my life, I rarely traveled to New York City. The place was too busy for a small town lawyer from Texas.

I first met her that afternoon at her firm's office where she represented legal council for one of my client’s business interests.

On entering her suite, I glanced about. The setting was impressive as were the impressionist paintings on the walls. From what I saw, I pictured Ms. Sharon Parker as a high priced, no nonsense woman who wore sensible shoes and trampled other lawyers for fun.

My first surprise came when I encountered an attractive woman wearing a fashionable suit accented with a white silk blouse and sexy, high heel pumps.

She rose from behind a large desk and extended a hand to greet me, her bright eyes and dark hair projecting an alluring presence, one reminiscent of a fine wine.

“Thank you for coming. May I call you Greg?”

I indicated yes, as I removed my Stetson and set it in my lap.

She glanced at the hat, seemingly amused, then she reached for a portfolio of papers. “I’ve studied your client’s proposal. It’s interesting, but there are several points that need further clarification.”

Her approach seemed a bit formal for what I was proposing, so I said, “My client’s intentions are sincere. He’s an honest small town boy trying to make the deal work for both parties.”

“I’m sure he is, but lets dig a bit deeper, shall we?”

We continued to discuss our differences for several minutes. Then, she asked, “Do you come to New York often? ”

“Only for business.”

She seemed surprised. “It’s a wonderful city. You really should take a closer look.”

“Perhaps later,” I replied, feeling a bit annoyed by her motherly tone. ”But now, I think we should amend paragraph five of section three.”

She sighed and glanced in my direction. “Is that really what you want?”

By then, I was beginning to wonder what made the woman tick. I was merely requesting simple clarification of a minor point. It was something that could have easily been handled on the phone, but she had insisted that we meet face to face, so I ended up half way across the country, sitting in her office arguing trivia.

A phone call interrupted us. She answered it then turned away, her manner conveying disgust. After a lengthy conversation, during which she walked to the far side of the room, her hands gesturing heatedly, she returned to me, her face flushed.

“Is everything okay? I asked.

Ignoring me, she paused to gather herself. Then forcing a smile, she again reached for her papers saying, “I understand you're from Texas.”

“Yes ma'am, I practice out of a small town west of San Antonio.”

“Do you have a ranch like most people from Texas?”

Surprised by her comment, I chuckled to myself and replied, “I manage to graze about five hundred head of beef cattle. I also do some farming to keep the acreage in use.”

She looked at me quizzically. “I can't imagine living away from the romance of a big city. We have everything one ever needs.”

“I manage to get by. It's not so hard once you get use to the clear skies and clean air.”

“But, don't you miss the city lights, the hustle and bustle?” she asked, her voice skeptical.

“No ma'am. I like the quiet. It gives me time to enjoy the sunsets while I sip my wine and kick off my boots after a hard day's work.”

She smiled, as if she had won a point. “I thought cowboys only drank beer.”

“When we're hot and sweaty, a cold beer is mighty fine. But in the evenings, I prefer the wines from my vineyards.”

Surprised, she asked, “Cowboys make their own wine too?”

“Yes ma'am, I have about a fifty acres for vines and a winery for my fermentation vats and bottling plant.”

“I'm impressed,” she smiled, as she seemed to relax. “Very impressed. You're a busy man.”

In an attempt to redirect her thoughts, I asked, “Have you made a decision as to my client’s position regarding paragraph five? It would definitely allow both parties to profit handsomely.”

We continued to discuss our differences for awhile longer, but she remained distracted and hesitant to concede any points, saying only that she would gladly pass my suggestions on to her client, so I suggested that we take a another approach.

“Another approach?” she asked, her eyes questioning to mine.

“Yes Ma’am... our differences are minimal. So, let's finish discussing them while we have dinner and share a bottle of wine. Later, if you like, you can show me around the city. Maybe, we'll even catch a sunset.”

She studied me for a few moments then smiling pleasantly, she set her papers aside. “I favor the wines from France. But, I doubt we'll see a colorful sunset.”

“Whatever you like. But I have to admit, the Texas wines are worth a look. Life is best appreciated when the spirit inside is unlocked and allowed to roam free.”

She pushed away from her desk, her features beginning to brighten. “Then, let's do a Texas wine. I'm ready to roam free for a change.”

And, that’s how it went. We had our night on the town. We failed to see a sunset worth mentioning. And best of all, we discovered each other.

Truth be told, after we moved to the ranch, she began to enjoy life again, as the wines and the sunsets set her free, then drew us together, captured our spirits and allowed us to become one.


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How the First Interview was Thwarted

Contributor: David Macpherson

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Disaster Doll the First was late for our interview where she was to discuss the history of roller derby. I was informed that she removed her feeding tubes, left her room and was up on the roof of the nursing home pitching donuts in a wheelchair she stole from the basement storage closet. How she got herself down the four floors to the basement and up to the roof froze the Duty Nurse with dread. “She should not be able to do this. She’s 97 years old.”

She was going to say more but was interrupted by an orderly who said, “Not 97. She told me she’s 108 this April.”

The Duty Nurse glared, “WHy are you correcting me with numbers and not trying to get her back to her bed. 108. She’s not 108. No one at the age of 108 is going to be drag racing a manual wheelchair on the roof.”

“And that’s an acceptable practice in someone 97? Also, ain’t she supposed to be vegetative after that last stroke of hers?” The orderly asked.

The Duty Nurse unstuck enough to point her arm up to the heavens. “You are talking and not going up and stopping her. For the love of God, stop her before she goes back to taking hostages again.”

The orderly ran to the stairwell, say me and my pencil scratching at my notepad and stopped. He said to me, “You need to write that last part down. About the hostages. She always returns them. Mostly. And the folks she takes, they swear its the most fun they’ve had in ages.”

“Go!” the Duty Nurse shouted and he headed out. She finally looked at me and said, “Now why are you here?”

I told her that I was to write about Disaster Doll the First and her century of experience in the roller derby. “It’s a think piece,” I explained.

She shook her head with weary resignation. “She never mentioned anything about roller derby. I don’t know anything about her and that. That’s a crazy sport. Only crazy people would do that and we have genteel ladies and gentleman in this establishment. You must be mistaken.”

It was a great joy then when we both spied out the window at the end of the hallway to see knotted together bedsheets fall down to the ground. Soon after a small emaciated elderly woman with full sleeves of tattoos and wearing a pink dressing gown slid down past the window and was soon gone from sight. Seconds later I heard an engine start and tires squeal. “She stole the ambulance. She always steals the ambulance,” the Duty Nurse said as she slowly reached for the phone and called the police. She gave me one final look to tell me the interview was postponed.

Before I left I went into Disaster Doll the First’s room. I wanted to see how such a legend lived. Her side of the room was neat and generic. The bed was unmade and the tubes on the floor, which was understandable due to her speedy exit. Taped on the wall was only one poster. In block letters, it spoke of the dramatic return of the only true Disaster Doll to the ring. It was ripped and yellowed. “Are you my son?” I heard a voice say.

I turned to see the other resident of the room, a small shriveled woman residing in a hospital bed. He hair was thin and she had no teeth. “Are you Richard? You my son come back to see me?”

I told her that I was a reporter wanting to know about her roommate. “Why you asking about her Richard? She’s a mad one. She never settled down. She never had herself a family. Not like our family. She wasted her time trying to have too much fun. That’s mad. So come and talk to your mother and don’t make me wait one more minute.”

I probably should have sat down and gave her my time. But I only considered deadlines and roller rinks. I had leads I could track down. I told her goodbye and that I still was not Richard.

When I got to the parking lot, I discovered that Disaster Doll the First had not taken off in the ambulance. She had hot wired my car. I sat on the curb, waiting for the police, staring at my notes in the belief that that would return us all to order.


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Morning Once More

Contributor: Tom Vinson

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The dishes were piled high and the kitchen smelled of wet bananas. The trash receptacle stood a foot and a half away; green smoke, revealing itself, thusly- ”Good afternoon” said the smoke, hat tipped. It was time to open a window, but the chipmunk, the one I thought I’d shooed away four hours prior, wasn’t having it.
I caught my reflection in the toaster. ”I don’t have a toaster” I said. My friend Garvy’s dad stood on my roof looking in. He smiled and waved. I waved back. Atypical, but I was having it. This is how it is .

Sometimes when you take a pee, it smells like certain things. This afternoon it smelled like the coffee I hadn’t yet drank’n.

Pre-emptive odors for a noon pee read the headline of the Yearly Shave. This is how it would be. I would not shave for a year. For it was Tight that told me that women like a man with facial hair. ”Never have a clean shaven face” he said to me. I continued to drink my beer. I poured it over Rice Sally, but then I asked for a cigarette. ”We can share one” I said. ”Have one of your own” she said back. I stood like a laughing Roman column and inquired about Rice Sally’s boyfriend, a bouncer at the bar we currently occupied; from the outside. ”It’s a funny story” she said and I told her I was in the mood to laugh. ”It’s not ha ha funny. Just sort of weird.” She told her story as we smoked our cigarettes.

Back inside, it was Brian with the tubes and the catheters and the what not up his nose. We stood in line for the bathroom. ”I don’t know what I’m doing” I said. He looked at me and said “You’re waiting for the bathroom.”

There it was just then; the chipmunk. I shooed it away from off the roof, but I felt bad. I leaned on the bathroom door and it opened and I was knocked on my side. Brian, his tubes dangling towards a hungry chipmunk that nibbled at a catheter, looked at me and said “There you are.”

The smell of the wet bananas, though. It was a distinct Harold. And yet, Connie…


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Primarily a theater writer in Asheville, North Carolina. Enjoys making something bizarre from the minute and something comprehensible from the large and terrifying.
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The Warrens of Virginia

Contributor: Cathy S. Ulrich

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Her daughter burned.
She was the youngest, Mommy’s Little Sweetheart. Her other children were nearly grown by the time the last was born, so they never knew that the youngest was her favorite: Martha, sweet Martha, the silent film star.
Oh, Mother, please. I’m not a star yet.
But they both knew she would be.
Martha in her first leading role: Not the vamp this time, but a lady, a real lady, wearing hoop skirts and all.
Martha could invite her mother to watch the filming; no one else could get away with it. Relatives, husbands, wives — all banned. Only Martha, tilting her head to one side, flashing that lovely smile: Please?
Martha’s mother sat behind the director and observed quietly. Sometimes she’d even bring cookies for the crew that would be devoured during the breaks.
Martha always came running to her mother when filming stopped.
Oh, Mother, how did I do? Was I very good?
There would always be one cookie left that the mother kept wrapped in a napkin in her purse, and that was given to the daughter, who would respond by kissing her mother on the cheek.
You’re the sweetest mother.
The sweetest mother and her daughter, beautiful Martha, who was joking about how dangerous the old-fashioned hoop skirts had been.
If a lady went to the docks and there was a gust of wind, it would lift her up, just like an umbrella, and deposit her in the ocean, Martha said. Of course, she couldn’t swim in a skirt like that, and would drown.
The mother didn’t think it could possibly be true.
It is! I read it in a book somewhere.
Smiling Martha, laughing Martha. The mother had never loved her beautiful daughter more.
There was a lit match thrown then — the mother swore later that it was a lit match, though the studio said it could have been Martha’s own cigarette, but my daughter never smoked! — and landed on the hem of Martha’s costume.
Martha at first laughing when the bottom of her skirt caught fire, trying to beat it out with her bare hands, then finally screaming as the flames engulfed her. The mother backed away as her daughter reached for her.
The leading man threw her to the ground, smothering the flames with his jacket. They were taken to the hospital together, leading man and leading lady, and the mother followed in the cameraman’s car.
She waited with the crew for word, and someone had thought to bring her cookies along, so the mother was chewing on one when the leading man was released. His hands were wrapped in gauze, and he’d been given medicine for the pain. He would finish the movie in gloves that clung to his lingering scars, and only the most observant fans noticed.
He wept: I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I tried, holding those ruined hands out to the mother, who couldn’t take them.
She could only swallow her cookie and shake her head: No. No, no.

For Martha’s funeral service, the mother selected a pink casket, lined with satin. The older siblings came along with their mother to the funeral home (their father had died not long after the youngest was born; of course Mother dotes on Martha, they said) to make the arrangements.
I want to see her, the mother said. I want to see my baby.
Her children tried to dissuade her, and the mortician too: You don’t want to see her like that.
But the mother was implacable.
I want to see my baby.
The mortician relented and led her into a room where the pink casket was laid out, flowers surrounding it. (So many people loved her, remarked the mother, didn’t they? And her older children agreed.)
He patted the closed lid reverently (I was a fan of her films myself, he revealed to the mother) and then left the room with the older children, so she could say goodbye in peace.
The closed pink casket gave the mother no comfort, for how could it possibly contain her youngest daughter, how could she know? Trembling, she undid the latch and opened the lid, so she could see her daughter — at peace now, her older children said, at peace — one last time. She’d had some favorite items of her daughter’s delivered to the funeral home to be buried with her, and they greeted the mother mockingly, from the otherwise empty casket.
Where is my baby? she wailed again and again until the mortician and her children came rushing to her side, pulling up short at the sight of the opened casket.
She’s not in there, she said bitterly. It’s empty.
No, said the mortician, she’s there, and pressed the mother’s hands gently into the casket, where she felt, under a layer of fabric and another of plastic, her daughter’s body.
Oh, said the mother, softly weeping, I see.
After the mortician had gone, and her older children too, she stayed like that for a while, stroking her daughter’s burned body with her unblemished hands.


- - -
Cathy S. Ulrich knows the difference between a casket and a coffin: It's in the shape.
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The Virgin Widow

Contributor: Bruce Costello

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“Sir, I just can’t walk any further!” the soldier cried out, his battalion exhausted from days of movement and fighting in the mountainous Cretan terrain.
“Get up, lad,” the officer said, kicking the sole of his boot. “You’ve been marching in your sleep the last half hour. Stand up, go back to sleep and keep walking.”
After digging in on the outskirts of a town recently captured by Germans, the men sat down to devour whatever rations were left.
When the officers weren’t looking, Privates Arthur FitzPatrick and Wiremu Parata went scavenging.
Arthur and Wiremu had been brought up on neighbouring farms on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island, and were scallywags together at the same country school. A week before the troopship sailed, Arthur had asked Wiremu’s sister, Moana, to marry him.
Wiremu found a tin of raspberry jam poking out from under rubble. He opened it with his bayonet and handed it to Arthur. The pair of them scoffed the lot, hiding behind a burned-out lorry that stank of roasted flesh.
At 1800 hours, two British MkVI tanks advanced along the main road into the town with the New Zealanders behind. Savage house to house fighting followed with bayonet and rifle butt.
A heavy machine gun hidden behind a collapsed wall sprayed them with bullets. One took out the side of Wiremu’s head and splattered his brain over Arthur’s face.
The Kiwis fought their way through to the town square where, totally exhausted, they encountered a concentration of enemy in the southwest corner. It was dark. The major decided on a bayonet attack. “Forward!” he roared and charged, but nobody followed. German bullets tore him apart.
Something stirred inside Private Arthur FitzPatrick and he heard the voice of Wiremu’s old Uncle Henare, who’d taught the boys skills in using Maori weapons of war. A savage chant welled up inside Arthur and brandishing his rifle like a taiaha, he ran screaming towards the Germans.
Yelling and shouting like devils, the other men followed him into a barrage of bullets.

* * *

Back home in New Zealand, Moana was knitting two pairs of socks, one for Arthur, the other for Wiremu. Moana was a small, pretty girl with light brown hair. She constantly wore a lovely smile that was tinged with sadness. Her father had died at Passchendaele and her mother had never fully recovered.
The local postmaster was a kind man with a limp and a big whiskery face, like a garden gnome. He kept his bicycle well oiled, because he liked to travel the winding, gravel East Coast roads himself to personally deliver the telegrams around what he called “my parish.” Some days he traveled big distances.
He held Moana as she sobbed on learning that Arthur was seriously wounded and Wiremu had been killed.
A month later he delivered the news that Arthur was out of danger and could rehab at home. They both danced with joy.
Moana and Arthur married, soon after Arthur’s return, despite his wound.

* * *

Sixty years pass.

* * *

“Here, take this rifle,” Arthur had said to Moana, just before he died the previous year. “Keep it loaded, close beside you in the bed, once I‘ve gone. I won’t be around anymore to protect you and there’s funny people around these days, perverts who break into houses and do unspeakable things to women.”
It’s 2am and there are noises in the next room. With a toothless smile, Moana quietly picks up the rifle and points it at the partly open doorway. Her finger is firm on the trigger.
I’ll not hold back. I’ve nothing left to lose. Arthur’s gone. I’m over ninety years old. No reason to hold back. Nothing to fear. Not even death. I’ll meet up with Arthur again. I’ll come to you intact. No pervert’s going to get me, my darling!
She grins, and glances towards the pillow where Arthur’s bald head used to lie.
How’s that for a thought, eh, Arthur? Are you proud of me? I’ll protect it for you. Nothing to worry about.
Moana presses the rifle butt firmly into her bony shoulder. “Kia kaha, Sis!” She hears her brother’s voice. “Be strong! Kia kaha!” A picture of Wiremu flashes across her mind, his arm around Arthur’s shoulder, leaning over the railing of the departing troopship, calling down to her.
In the next room, Jason Stubbs is going through drawers. He’s sixteen years old, a big lad, doing his first burg.
Should be a piece of piss, Jason’s mates had said. Old lady, shit, she’s about 95! She’ll be deaf as anything, sure to be snoring her head off and if she does happen to wake up and see ya, well, she’s not gonna know who’s behind the balaclava is she? Ya just get ya arse outa there real quick. What are ya, a girl or somethink?
Moana fires at Jason’s crotch and he falls screaming and writhing on the bed. Then, reloading with the speed of many years practice on rats in the barn, she sends a second bullet through his head.
Within minutes, Anaru Te Whaiti, waiting with the full moon for rustlers on his sheep station in the hills behind, arrives on horseback.
“Kia kaha,” he says to Moana, hanging up the phone and wrapping a blanket around her as they begin the long wait for emergency services to travel the long road from town.
“Yes, I killed him!” Moana exclaims, gripping Anaru’s arm. “Bulls-eye! Got him! I don’t care what happens to me. I shot him and I’m glad. Arthur would be pleased, I know. Arthur was a good man. Fought for the country. Saw Wiremu get his head blown off then got so mad he turned into a ruddy hero and got himself shot! Why should some pervert rapist get what Arthur could never have after a bullet blew off his willy?”


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New Zealander Bruce Costello semi-retired from his profession in 2010, retreated from the city of Dunedin to the seaside village of Hampden, joined the Waitaki Writers’ Group and took up writing as pastime. Since then he has had fifty short stories published in literary journals and popular magazines in six countries.
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The Farmer and Toulouse Lautrec

Contributor: Donal Mahoney

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Technology is wonderful, especially in medicine, Elmo told Opal, the day their son Brett called to tell them the good news. The doctor had told Brett and Debbie their first child would be a boy, according to the machine in the doctor's office.

Elmer never trusted machines other than the machines he used on the farm and Opal didn't either but they were happy to hear about their first grandchild.

"It's wonderful news," Opal told Brett over the phone. "Your father and I will have two cups of cocoa tonight. It's as cold as you probably remember growing up in North Dakota. I know that teaching at the university means you and Debbie must live in Florida but your father and I miss you."

Six months later, Brett called again to say the same machine in the Doctor's office now showed their grandson would be a dwarf. Brett and Debbie had seen the baby on the screen. But this was the first baby they had ever seen on a machine like that so they had to take the doctor's word that the boy would be a dwarf. All they could see was a tiny shape pulsating in the midst of a blur.

"Mom," Brett said, "Debbie and I don't now if we want a dwarf for a son."

Opal was stunned by the news about a dwarf grandchild and began to cry before handing the phone to her husband.

Elmo commiserated with his son as much as he could. But Elmo too was at a loss for words. Finally he mentioned to Brett, a professor with a doctorate in French art, that it was lucky doctors didn't have one of those machines before Toulouse Lautrec had been born.

Lautrec, of course, had been a dwarf and his work and his life had both been influenced greatly by his short stature. Elmo couldn't remember for certain but there may have been some deformity involved as well. That kind of thing can happen with a dwarf.

Brett's doctoral dissertation had been on the work of Lautrec. Elmo remembered seeing prints of Lautrec's work around the house and pictures and drawings of the artist as well. He found both interesting and disturbing.

Nevertheless, Elmo, a farmer in North Dakota for almost 50 years, had come to love the work of Toulouse Lautrec, having seen so much of it in books and slides when Brett was writing his dissertation. His son hadn't married Debbie yet and he had come home to finish the paper for his doctoral degree.

After finishing his conversation with Brett, Elmo hung up the phone and sighed. Then he sat down at the kitchen table and scratched his head while Opal poured two cups of strong coffee. It had been kept warm on the stove since early morning.

Finally Elmo said, "Opal, who knows what kind of boy that grandson of ours would have been. He'd have been a dwarf, yes, but Lautrec was a dwarf, and he did wonderful work. I don't know if anyone ever asked him if he would have been happier not to have lived. I know our grandson wouldn't have been able to ride any of the horses but we could have bought him a pony."


- - -
Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri.
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