I turn another page. To an article. About the beach. Specifically, how to walk your dog. At the beach. Okay. This I know. Not about walking dogs. But the beach. That’s what I know. Now. But not always. When I left my husband. Ten years ago. When I got in my car and began to drive. Through one state. And then another. And another. And another. Driving, driving, driving. I finally reached the ocean. And that’s when I stopped. Not that the ocean was my destination. It wasn’t. There was no destination. Just escape. I stopped because I was driving a car. Not a boat. And cars don’t float. Actually, I’d never seen the ocean before. Or the beach. I mean, there isn’t an ocean or beach in Kansas City. And that’s where I’m from. But now I’m at the ocean. On the coast of North Carolina. Far away from Missouri. And my husband. (Thank God!). So I decided to stay. Here. In Wilmington. But just for a while. Not long. Just a little while. I found an apartment. And a job at a beachwear store. Selling bathing suits to tourists. Selling tacky souvenirs made from seashells. Selling t-shirts. And I still work there. Ten years later. Believe it or not. Selling beachwear to summer tourists. Selling golf paraphernalia to winter tourists. What can I say? I like it. It’s a job. It’s fun. And it pays the bills. Speaking of beachwear. And the store. We received a shipment of t-shirts this week. Lots of new designs. And one is a Chihuahua. Really cute. I’ve been pretending it’s Max. My imaginary dog. I should use my employee discount. Get some of those Chihuahua t-shirts. In different colours. One for every day of the week. Just for fun. To wear. To work. I mean, why not? They really do look like Max. And he’s such a good dog. My Max. My imaginary dog. Now I can pretend I walk him on the beach too. Thanks to this article. In this dog magazine. But okay. Enough of that. Enough pretending. My lunch break is almost over. Got to get back to the store. And selling, selling, selling.
Laura Stamps loves to play with words and create experimental forms for her fiction and prose poetry. Author of 43 novels, novellas, short story collections, and poetry books. Most recently: CAT MANIA (Alien Buddha Press 2021), DOG DAZED (Kittyfeather Press 2022), and THE GOOD DOG (Prolific Pulse Press 2023). Winner of the Muses Prize. Recipient of 7 Pushcart Prize nominations.
Amaya can’t suppress a wry smile. An item of gossip has reached her. It seems there are those intent on labelling her a witch. Such an archaic term, unused for centuries, its connotation pejorative. Amaya ponders that maybe it’s because she’s an outlier. During that unenlightened age, it was a convenient term for nonconformist women, especially those who, like Amaya, preferred to live alone.
She’s a curator; a purveyor of aesthetics. Her specialty is The Renaissance. For a modest fee patrons can roam her gallery of Caravaggios, da Vincis, and Raphaels. Bold work from over a millennium ago, the world still searching for an identity. Crossing Amaya’s palm with an elusive gold coin, however, will favour you with an altogether more unique experience in her gallery.
A gentle knock at the after-hours door in the rear. Amaya opens it partway, the orb in her palm chasing away the shadow from her cat’s eyes and long, greying hair. Cassian steps inside. The darkness is heavy, the air cool. Raising the orb, Amaya sees a man younger than her usual patrons, hair and eyes raven, brooding. There is an audacity about him as he presses the gold coin into her hand.
They stand before Cassian’s chosen piece: Botticelli’s iconic Birth of Venus. Amaya places a hand on its centre and it expands to fill the whole wall. She regards Cassian expectantly. Previously bold, there’s a hesitation. He appears about to turn away, but then takes three confident steps and leaps into the painting.
Venus is before him, an alabaster statue, hair to the waist. Zephyrus, clutching his nymph, propels her ashore, the ocean rising with his breath. On the sand the guardian Pomona waits, mantle ready to clothe the goddess. Materials in hand, Cassian sits and begins to sketch.
If Looks Could Kill
Perseus had been spending time in Sicily and the Italian mainland. Pasta, wine, caprese. When your father is Zeus it’s a filial duty to oversee operations in the Mediterranean. Not one to usually procrastinate, Perseus was wrestling with this latest assignment, the hit on Medusa. Since he was a boy he’d had an acute phobia of snakes, so that was going to be something of a problem.
Naturally, Medusa’s reputation preceeded her, so the inhabitants fled Karpathos for the neighbouring islands of Rhodes and Crete once word of her approach had been received. For five years now the small isle in the Southern Aegean had been hers alone. Walks on the beach, exploring coves, collecting shells, and a steady diet of olives, feta, and vegetables from her garden. Despite the seclusion, exile had its benefits.
Blue skies, ocean salt in the air. Medusa finishes threading wire through the holes in the butterflies she’d inadvertently turned to stone that morning. Now it’s a wind chime. In her solitude she’d learned to control her power, but still had lapses. A large shadow passes across Medusa’s face, a bird of prey swooping in and alighting on one of the pine trees in the statue garden. One of Athena’s owls. A trusted companion of Medusa from when she was in service to the goddess. Since the banishment it has come to the island regularly.
Someone is coming for you, it says.
Medusa nods, trailing a hand over the owl’s feathers, damp from spray. A few of the snakes get too curious, the owl pecking at them. Perseus, it adds.
Medusa withdraws her hand. My half-brother Perseus? The owl confirms. His quest is to return with your head. The snakes hiss and snarl. Medusa allows a brief smile. It’ll be good to see him again. The owl hops onto her shoulder and they head out for a stroll along the cliffs.
Clear day, crystals of sunlight on the calm Aegean. Perseus has been rowing since dawn. Now he rests facing the island, the tide pulling him toward the beach. Crags scattered with vegetation rise up from the sand. Above, shielded by pine trees, Medusa watches her assassin. The snakes are restless, quarrelsome, as if they already sense his apprehension.
On the ascent Perseus’ sandals send loose rock and gravel over the edge of the path. Turned to scrub and grass at the clifftop, he steps over a fellow Spartan, entombed by Medusa’s gaze, sword and shield still at the ready. In front of him a small house fronted by a garden of statues, silent companions. A breeze stirs wind chimes. From the roof an owl watches Perseus’ cautious approach.
Perseus! Social visit? At her voice he whirls around slashing at the air with his sword, shield falling to the ground. He recoils, caught in her gaze. Paralyzed by his phobia, Perseus stands rigid, eyes closed. Close enough to smell her half-brother’s fear, Medusa traces a finger over his face. I’ve learned to control my power. She speaks softly. So you are not a permanent addition to the garden. Two of the snakes break free of the mass to menace the intruder. As they slither around his neck Perseus faints.
Medusa’s head looks defiant. Mouth and eyes wide open with rage, the snakes twisted and vengeful. Perseus places it in a sack and secures the opening.
You’re taking a risk. What if it fools nobody? Medusa is working on a plate of olives and cheese, holding up occasional pieces for the snakes to squabble over.
It will, says Perseus. It’s his fourth week on the island. His half-sister has cured him of his phobia. In return he has fashioned a reasonable facsimile of her from mud, clay, and pigments. He cannot return empty handed.
The owl will give me word, Medusa says, standing and pulling him into an embrace. Sinewy, the snakes burrow through his hair. They part and Perseus gathers sword, shield, and the sack. On the beach he places them in the boat and looks back up the cliff. Medusa raises a hand in farewell. He does the same.
Six in the morning, mist rising from the surface, the chatter of tropical birds and primates from the dense rainforest flanking their small boat. It’s long and narrow like a canoe, Elliot perched at the bow clothed in khaki, boasting zippers and Velcro and hidden pockets only an angler would wear. At the stern, hand on tiller, Santiago guides the craft through the still waters, as the old man has done for decades.
Santiago maneuvers them into a horseshoe pool off the main river. It’s sheltered by overhanging branches that shed pods into the water. It’s a feasting ground. Elliot baits his line and stands astride the bench for balance.
The first two times the bait is gone, either slyly taken or slipped off. Elliot packs it tighter around the double hook and casts again. This time the line goes taught, the carbon fibre rod doubling in on itself, threatening to snap. Elliot reels and pulls, reels and pulls. Mantenlo tenso, says Santiago. Keep it taut.
The fish is strong, angry. A fighter. It breaches in a commotion. Breathing hard, Elliot brings it toward the boat. Es piranha, says Santiago reaching for the landing net. But Elliot raises the rod too soon, the frenzied ball of muscle arcing at him. Instinctively he holds out a hand, Santiago’s ten cuidado, be careful, a fraction late. With the violent precision of a steel blade, the piranha removes Elliot’s index finger at the mid joint.
Elliot’s mind can’t process what he’s seeing, stalling the shock and pain. The piranha thrashes in the boat, gasping. The disturbance has caught the attention of an alligator on the far bank. Santiago watches it slide into the water. Mantener la sangre en el bote, he tells Elliot, wrapping his hand in a small towel. Keep the blood in the boat.
It wasn’t unexpected. She’d been waiting. At first it was just small things, like water seeping through a breach. An occasional headache, clear bubbles moving across her cornea, shape shifting like a lava lamp. Later, her skin feeling loose and oily, like it wanted to slide off. Then the insomnia. Restless nights filled with echoes of her history. An accounting. Taking stock. Jigsaw pieces of her life falling like confetti into colorful prisms. That was when she knew. It was time to go to the woodlands.
A maze of primordial secrets, forests hold the keys to the truth. Givers and sustainers of life, their trees gatekeepers of the knowledge. She arrived in the northernmost woodlands, where the sky is a canvas for all things celestial; a glimpse of infinity. On a hilltop she looked out over the forest, the moonlight casting silhouettes in black and white. Silent, save for the occasional call of hunter and prey. She sat in contemplation.
The meadow grass was cool and soft under her bare feet. Movements assured and graceful beneath a long robe of sapphire, in her green eyes the wisdom of the gemstone and a promise of spring. Her black hair fell sleek and straight, the moon’s fingers combing it in satin.
Enclosed, she heard the murmurs of recognition, smelled the fragrance of earth and timber as the forest received her into its midst. She wove her way deeper into the interior, the path marked by a thousand fireflies and an owl swooping from branch to branch. They would lead her to the provenance.
This is the place, veiled by a patchwork of interlocking branches, ageless and sacred. The earth hugging her feet, soft as velvet. Above, wisteria vines in their thousands. Purple, pink, fragrance that can be tasted. Smiling, she reaches out her hands and bestows the gift of herself. A double helix hangs suspended, as if a lantern in the darkness. It starts to rotate, the stairways embraced in a dance of life.
With each rotation comes a spray of vivid, falling petals, each a recognition of a life lived; the entirety of her story. Here Ts’ai Lun who brought paper into the world, there Cornelius, final breath preserved by the ash from Vesuvius. And here Edmund, navigator on Drake’s wooden vessels, and there Natasha, swept up in an October revolution. Spent, the double helix dissolves into the night. All that remains is her robe on the forest floor.
It took fifty of the strongest men to pull the two-story structure through the western gate of Troy. The width had inches to spare but part of the ramparts had to be removed to accommodate the neck and head of the impressive wooden horse. The siege had lasted a decade, but now the Greeks retreated back to the fleet anchored in the Aegean, leaving the horse as an offering to Athena. The return of peace.
Jostling, shoving, Trojans thronged to see the powerful stallion, pride restored. They lit fires, cooked food. Wine flowed. The historical event too late for Homer and his Iliad, but a prize for Virgil’s later tales.
Night. Embers strewn like cat’s eyes, revelry now just echoes in the stone walls. Soft thuds as Odysseus and his men emerge from the low belly of the beast and drop to the ground, weapons drawn. Gates opened for the returned Greeks, deception complete. With awe two children are observing Odysseus, believing him to be an emissary of Athena. He approaches them, holding a finger to his lips, bidding silence. Kneeling now. “Can you keep a secret?”
A landscape of mud. Thick, invasive. Like a disease it spreads and clings, fueled by the autumn rains that have pummeled the endless fields of Flanders. Now, with the onset of winter, comes a hardening as the frigid air coats the mud with a shell, until the next thaw once more releases it.
Unforgiving, this landscape. Nothing to redeem the harsh shades of brown and black. Bruised and brooding, the low December sky rolls over the battlefields, resolute in its indifference. Wood frames and sandbags encased in grime as they give shape and symmetry to the network of trenches. Horses, limbs in a tomb of clay, stand forlorn in deep puddles. Just beyond the horizon the charred and jagged edges of Ypres.
No nature’s song here, the birds long exiled by artillery that has gouged the land into submission. Young men, adversaries in a conflict they don’t understand, dwell a hundred yards apart in deep man-made fissures. Tomorrow arrives a counterpoint to challenge the malevolence, the first since hostilities began. Christmas Eve.
Two privates from one of the Welsh regiments were the first to notice. Through the periscope they spotted dozens of small beacons along the top of the German trench. Candles, the tiny flames reaching out into the twilight. Word spread and soon the British trench is abuzz, soldiers queuing to look through the viewfinder with disbelieving eyes. The barrage ceased, a dissonant sound punctures the air. The Germans are singing carols.
The following morning an impromptu and unauthorized gathering, as ragged and weary men from both trenches converge on the sludge and frozen earth of no man’s land. Many remain concealed though, distrustful, yet with an uneasy gratitude for the lull. Men roll cigarettes, make small talk. A German officer breaks open a bottle of Schnapps. Somebody kicks a ball high into the air and a disorganized game ensues. Laughter and handshakes as these men, thrown together as combatants on Belgian soil, cling resolutely to life.
The day after. No more gatherings, the carol singers now quiet. A steady rain has erased the candles. Officers in both trenches bark orders, using their boots to shake men out of reverie. The screech of ordnance as a shell hits no man’s land, sending shrapnel in search of targets. In both trenches young men press hard into the sandbags, their lives once more in the balance.
David Patten is an educator living in Colorado. He was raised in London, England, but has spent half of his life in the U.S. He loves reading and creating short fiction. He is hoping to increase the audience for his work.
Deep below the lake’s murky surface, there sits—in tact—a house. A two-story structure of Carpenter Gothic details like elaborate wooden trim bloated to bursting. Its front yard: purple loosestrife. Its inhabitants: alligator gar, bull trout, and pupfish. All glide past languidly: out of window sashes and back inside door frames. It is serene, and it is foreboding. Curtains of algae float gossamer to and fro. Pictures rest clustered atop credenzas. A chandelier is lit, intermittently, by freshwater electric eels. And near a Victrola, white to the bone, a man and a woman waltz in a floating embrace.
Change of Plan
Every time he checks the blueprints, something’s different. When he questions the architect, he sneers, as if to demand “What are ya talkin’ about bub; you were on board with the designs – just yesterday.” But upon today’s examination, the roofline has taken on a monstrous fortress-like appearance. Worse yet, each day, it continues to grow in strangeness. Now, as the house is complete, he does not question its organic shapeshifting. He lies in bed aware—as walls fold and floors slide around him. The house lives, takes on new forms, and against his will, locks its doors and windows.
Connecting Stars Like Dots
When I was a kid, I would sleepwalk. I remember having a recurring dream. Today, it seems to be such a mature dream, intuitive and analogous, for a boy of about eight years old. I dreamt I would slice an orange. And nature would whisper to me that when one slices an orange it displays 13 sections. Always 13. Only 13. But the orange I sliced had one section more—or less.
I would begin to sleepwalk, the gauze masking Lazarus’ eyes bound tight around my own: making me maneuver the furniture in our house as if by radar, blindly gliding past hard corners and pointy objects.
My siblings, Mom, Dad, were use to my meanderings. I would find a presence, sense a group of my brothers and sisters as they sat watching Johnny Carson, hee hawing at his stand-up comedy routine. I stood there, too, mumbling, asking them for help in a language only the desperate can understand. “Why,” I’d ask simply, pleadingly. “Why is my orange different? Why am I different?”
I would feel an arm drag me to the side or a kick in the butt almost take me to my knees.
“Go to bed, Keith!”
“Stop blocking the TV.” “Mom, Keith’s at it again…”
A hand, assuredly my surrogate mother, Kathleen, gently guided me on my precarious walk back to the orange grove and the knowledge even then, on some subconscious level, that all was not right with me; something was wrong, because my surroundings told me so. I was witness to Mom’s beatings on Kathleen. Just a kid, I was already sensing the dread to be caught up in Mom’s manic moods. I had begun wetting the bed and being punished sarcastically by Mom on each occurrence. And the dream came slice after slice after slice.
One night, it took me to the place of the big “orange ball” we kids played with… when around two in the morning, my twin Kenny awoke and went looking for me, finding me standing at the free- throw line staring blankly at the basketball hoop in our backyard.
I would surely shoot and miss.
I relate still to this image, me standing outside in the dead of night, head cocked slightly upward, blind eyes unlit by a phantom moon, while my mind connected stars like dots, hoping to map out the answer to my riddle through some astrological means. I could sense the half-horse, half-man archer, Sagittarius, lull me in my trance with the moral principles and laws of the universe… pointing his bow and arrow in the direction I was to follow, however far, however near.
Keith Hoerner (BS, MFA) lives, teaches, and pushes words around in Southern Illinois, USA. He is frequently featured in lit journals (75+ to date, including decomP, Fiction Kitchen Berlin, and Litro—to name just a few). He is founding editor of the Webby Award recognized Dribble Drabble Review, and his memoir, The Day the Sky Broke Open, is a recent Best Book and American Writing Award Finalist. A collection of short fiction and poetry, entitled Balancing on the Sharp Edges of Crescent Moons, publishes later this year.
‘I never thought I could meet you again like this,’ Lu said to Mr. Ray. Her voice tried to control her agitation.
They both continued walking on a cemented pathway, heading to the community park. At a distance the Gumamela flowers greeted them in their full blooms in red and pink rooted on the side of the benches. It was the blossoming season.
‘At a certain point before this moment, I thought I must not see you,’ Mr. Ray replied. ‘I mean, as much as possible, I was of the opinion we must refrain from any crossing of our paths,’ his voice was steady.
‘I understand,’ Lu said with a sigh, ‘but at least let me tell you this. I’d like to express my deepest gratitude in favor of the people and the children you helped in my community. In the end, you stood beside them,’ her voice near to breaking point. Mr. Ray looked up at her intently.
‘You owe me nothing and the community. I just did what I needed to do,’ Mr. Ray replied firmly.
She continued, ‘I thought you were one of them. Those despicable business owners who only care for their greedy interests.’
Lu’s eyes, expressing humility, fixed on Mr. Ray.
They reached the benches and sat on one of them, silently for a moment. A huge Talisay tree provided a magnificent shade as the sun basked them at ten in the morning. A soft wind roused the leaves and the twigs to stir lightly.
‘I could have done that a long time ago, Lu. If that was what I call for and if I only pay attention to my interest.’
He paused for a moment.
‘Our family owns this place from way back in the Spanish era. And we have all the papers to back it up. Fortunately, I grew up in this place too,’ Mr. Ray said in a clear, light voice.’
‘Yes, you did,’ she said pensively. She stared at the Gumamela blossoms. Her memories flew back when Mr. Ray would fancy giving them to her when they were young.
‘I had a charming childhood in the community. I loved the neighbourhood, the people, the children, and the camaraderie,’ Mr. Ray recalled. His face was shining.
‘And I respect their tenure in this place. Most of all, I love your vision with them. That library and the little park. A little ideal Eden of yours, but I share with your vision, Lu.’
Mr. Ray smiled at her. Lu smiled back.
‘I thought your company already sold them to a new investor. That is why there was a threat of demolition against the community. And you were one of them. A notion I had before your cousin confronted me and urged me to encourage you to take your side with them. If not, the future of the community and my family will be most unfavorable,’ her voice rose mildly. She sighed and stared evenly at Mr. Ray.
Mr. Ray stood up and took a step from the bench.
‘It was the workings of other greedy relatives,’ he continued, ‘My cousin told me about your meeting with them. They said you were firm against your views on the community conversion into a highly commercialized area.’
His eyes were gleaming with admiration as he gazed at her.
‘Yet, instead of a feeling of displeasure with you, my other relatives became impressed and saw a refreshing and meaningful perspective about your vision,’ he expounded.
Lu recalled the engagement with his relatives. It was indeed intense. Yet, it unfurled her significant discovery and realization of the true character of Mr. Ray.
‘I never thought of that. I just wanted to say what I had to say. That very moment there was a great realization I discovered about you,’ Lu said. Her eyes bared with wonder as she glanced at him.
‘Yes, it gave me hope, Lu. I thought if you had turned down my interest with you, you could have told them about your disinterest in me. Told them you do not care about whose side I was with.’
He beamed and sat comfortably beside Lu.
They were a picturesque image of two contented souls.
Children came to the park.
Lu and Mr. Ray were jovial as they watched the children about to play hide and seek.
Lu envisaged the kids’ laughter seemed to revive the congenial wind to budge the branches of the trees and enthralled the Gumamela blooms surrounding the park to dance gently by trailing the rhythm of the wind.
Zea Perez lives in the Philippines. She writes children’s stories. But only now did she dare to share some of her writings. She has some pieces published at Flash Fiction North, Literary Yard, and soon at TEA. She also writes reviews for Booktasters and Goodreads.
Yu can find more of Zea’s work here on Ink Pantry.
The shrill ring of the phone broke the busy silence of Arya’s workplace. It was from Ayan’s school, the principal wanted Arya to come over for a chit chat over Ayan’s recent abnormal behaviour. Arya gave a sigh, directed, not at her son, but at the school authorities – patience, tolerance and acceptance seemed to be in the want these days.
As Arya drove to the school, her thoughts meandered to her own childhood. She was a timid boy on the outside, always the butt of jokes for her feminine air. As a child, she loved dressing up, playing with dolls, dancing, and would burst into tears at the drop of a hat – all of these stereotypical feminine traits. Those were confusing, in fact, traumatic years, her mind was in perpetual turmoil between what it wanted and what was accepted.
She remembered how her parents had loved dressing her up as a girl in her toddler years – she had saved every picture from those memorable times. Looking through them, even now, brought a smile to her lips. It was a brutal shock to her, when, as she grew older, suddenly the “dressing up” or dancing was no longer viewed as cute. Being just a child of six, Arya couldn’t fathom the sudden shift in attitude. Her mom, who used to encourage her to prance around in borrowed frocks, now, showed disgust when she enjoyed playing with girls and dolls. School was another hell where she was constantly ridiculed for being a sissy. “Act like a boy” were the constant words that fell on her ears. She was crushed the day she overheard her parents lying to their family friends about her, trying to portray her as a normal boy, albeit a bit timid. Arya couldn’t decide which was more cruel – not understanding or not willing to understand. She felt as if precious parts of her life were blue-pencilled by the world around her.
Then, at college, she met Arnav. It was a huge relief to meet someone who was similar to her, one who could understand her psyche. Life didn’t seem so bad after all. They decided to be a couple. After one last futile attempt at being accepted by her parents, Arya and Arnav started their life together in the US. What a cruel irony when the people and land that you view as your own do not accept you for who you are!
As Arya drove into the school premises, bracing herself for the meet with the school principal, she promised herself that she would not try to mould her son’s life with a blue pencil. The sky was a pristine blue, reflecting the resolute calm running in Arya’s mind.
(First published by Flash Fiction North).
Naga Vydyanathan, a computer scientist by profession, is an aspiring writer. Being passionate about language and reading, it has always been a secret desire for Naga to be a writer one day. A thoughtful and deep thinker, Naga writes flash fiction, focusing on the minds and thoughts of her characters. Her debut flash fiction has appeared in Twist and Twain.
The cat came out of nowhere, jumping out of the bushes, hissing at the pit bull. “Poor Rocky,” Carol said, stroking his trembling ears. Dumped on the side of the road, battered, bruised, and left for dead. That’s how the dog rescue people found him. He was a bait dog that had outlived his usefulness. When the vet discovered rocks in his stomach, the rescue agency named him Rocky. A starving dog will eat anything. Even rocks. When he was ready for adoption, Carol applied. She’d never had a dog before. But she couldn’t resist his sad face. Pampering Rocky became her new hobby. She fed him premium dog food, dressed him in stylish sweaters, and walked him every evening after work. There was only one problem. The neighborhood cat. It loved to come out of nowhere and terrify Rocky. A timid giant, he never defended himself. His past had beaten the fight out of him. Carol could relate. She’d also escaped an abusive relationship. Therapy had healed her wounded soul. Maybe it could heal Rocky too? She decided to try. Every night before she went to sleep Carol would read empowering books to Rocky, his head resting on her shoulder. “We become what we’re attached to,” Carol read, turning the page. “You’re a survivor, Rocky. Attach yourself to courage, not fear.” Winter arrived, and Carol slipped Rocky into a warm red hoodie for their walk. On the street, the man came out of nowhere, hurrying toward Carol. “Why haven’t you answered my calls?” he demanded. Carol stepped in front of Rocky. “Our relationship ended six months ago,” she said. The man grabbed her arm, pressing his fingers into her flesh, bruising. “That’s unacceptable,” he threatened. The growl came out of nowhere. In a flash of red, Rocky moved between them. The man jumped back and ran away. Carol looked down at the leash in her hand. She was the only one trembling. “Let’s get a snack,” she said, stroking Rocky’s soft ears. “My treat.”
‘Attachments’ was first published in The Rye Whiskey Review.
Laura Stamps loves to play with words and create experimental forms for her fiction. Author of several novels and short story collections, including IT’S ALL ABOUT THE RIDE: CAT MANIA (Alien Buddha Press). Muses Prize. Pulitzer Prize nomination. 7 Pushcart Prize nominations. Mom of 4 cats. Laura’s Twitter.
“I will write to you,” he said. She rolled her eyes softly and replied, “What will you write?” “Answers. You have questions, don’t you?” he inquired, eye brows askew. “I do. Like, was it really love at first sight?” she said with a touch of nihilism in her tone. A lick of his lips and his response was quick, “It was and more. I saw the rest of my life flash before my eyes and every frame contained you.” Warmly blushing, she then asked, “Ok, what confirmed your attraction to me after that? What’s your validation?” With complete confidence, or as she would of said, utter cockiness, he wiped the corners of his mouth and dropped the napkin to his plate. Freshened her near empty red, with unfettered eye contact. Gripped raised and tipped his Scotch neat ladened tumbler, leaned back casually in his chair and began his response. “Your smile first caught my eye, it transformed that tiny dump of an apartment my friend then rented into just the humble, cozy type of place I hoped we could share as our first home.” He paused long enough to sip his Scotch and lean in. With a softer voice and louder smirk he continued, “If I may be a bit crass, as you headed for the door your round little…” ”Ask the waiter for the check, please,” she sharply interjected, cheeks fully blushed. Lips now locked in full grin. She playfully swiped her napkin at him before tipping her forehead to her hand in a giggle hiding salute. Regaining her composure, she looked at him, with his arrogant yet alluring simper and asked, “Now that you’ve told me this, of what will you write to me?” “I will write line after line, stanza after stanza, chapter after chapter, an endless saga about the wonderment of our love and lives.” ”For the rest of my life I will write solely of you. Only to you.” Then, blushing himself and as if frightened by his flagrant vulnerability he surrendered eye contact and lowered his gaze as he raised his Scotch and caressed the back of her hand with his free hand. “I will always love you,” she said with the hint of vibrato only held back tears of sincerity can induce. In an equally capricious voice he repeated, “I will write to you.”
Pandemic assents time and space for Drew to ponder. With stricter lockdown regulations and protocols, as Covid-19 cases soar to millions worldwide, Drew eventually finds comfort remaining home and works online.
Drew looks back to his younger days, remembering how he wanted to become an animator or illustrator. A passion meaningful to him than being an engineer. Ironic how the same youthful ambition keeps him going now.
At the start of his high school years, his family encouraged his options in a course that he did not particularly have a passion for, like law, business, or engineering. He could not forget the day the entire class laughed when he wrote to become an animator in his chosen career.
These encounters shifted him away from his formerly desired choice- and interest.
Eventually, he stopped doodling at the back of his notebook and filled them with formulas; filled them with scholarly words; filled them with the knowledge he did not find engaging at all. But everyone seemed to praise him for it. Although not the best, he tried to top the class each time. Acing his way through high school- but at the cost of his passion for the arts.
Forward some years later, in college, where he was taking up engineering. He sacrificed a lot already. He did his best- working hard for something that was not his joy. Drew ended up failing. Sure, he must sacrifice for it, but there is only so much hard work for him to do, at least for him. It honestly had not been working out for him since that college life. He succumbed to depression now and then, without everyone knowing.
At the moment, he seeks redemption through improving his art. He takes it seriously with enthusiasm and passion. He is making himself up for it because he knew people come and go. It goes the same for their support. He must learn to stand on his own. No denying people have been walking out of his life. If he turns back away from himself, it will be over. Young as he is, he has some handful of regrets in life, and the biggest one yet is not believing himself!
Not to mention the complexity of the current pandemic, politics, state of the entire nation, and the world. It prompts Drew to ask himself, what is to be my place under the sun?
That’s why he is clinging so hard to this career. It is quite a demanding job in terms of time and skills. Competition is tough. Drew doesn’t have enough income. But Drew hangs on and struggles for it because it’s like him telling himself not to give up on himself when everyone else does.
He feels delighted when somebody says they like his art. Or if they commission him. Or even if they request free artwork. Because then he acknowledges that there are still people who believe and fuel his hope.
Pandemic times are challenging enough. People all flock online to find jobs and opportunities, but Drew is fearless now. He is confident with some time he will improve and make that break as an artist.
Zea Perez lives in the Philippines. She writes children’s stories. But only now did she dare to share some of her writings. She has some pieces published at Flash Fiction North, Literary Yard, and soon at TEA. She also writes reviews for Booktasters and Goodreads.
Here lies Frank Ellis, ‘Who Died As He Lived: With Dignity.’ And not too far away is Gertrude Bishop, ‘The Devoted Wife Of Walter. A Long Life Of Loving And Giving.’
The town cemetery is full of these kinds of sentiments. It’s one of the main reasons I spend so much of my time here. Almost every day, I have my faith in humanity restored.
On the other hand, my religious faith, what little I had, has withered. One has only to walk around the Baby Memorial Garden to sense that a truly loving deity would not allow such tragedy. Such pain; such unnecessary pain.
I sense that most people these days feel the same. You don’t see much of this kind of thing in the newer plots: ‘His death is but a shadow cast across the walkway to the Lord.’
No, you’re more likely to find a simple commemoration like, ‘Irene Murdoch: A Genuine Lady. A Loving Mother And Good Friend To All.’
Bless you, Irene, though I never knew you in life. I hope I’ll be remembered in such a temporal and kind way. It saddens me though, to see that none of your loved ones lay flowers on your grave anymore. Everyone eventually becomes forgotten, I suppose. Time passes and the dead cannot mourn the dead. But don’t worry for now Love, I’ve brought you daffodils today. Sheila, your neighbour, is getting pansies. Sheila who was, ‘The Heart And Soul Of Her Family. She Filled Every Room With Warmth And Laughter.’ Ah, each time I read that, it tugs at my heart strings and brings tears to my eyes.
Of course, the cemetery can make you laugh as well as cry. That’s another good reason for coming. Check these out:
‘I Was Hoping For A Pyramid.’
‘Here Lies An Atheist. All Dressed Up And No Place To Go.’
‘Thanks For Visiting. Pardon Me For Not Rising.’
What a lark, eh? Cheeky devils!
However, my favourite headstone is one that poetically reminds us that there will come a day when leaving the cemetery will not be an option:
‘Remember Me As You Pass By As You Are Now So Once Was I As I Am Now So You Will Be Prepare Your Way To Follow Me.’
Nice. I do like a piece of verse. The ones in birthday cards are delightful but it’s hard to beat rhymes of remembrance.
All this talk of the life eternal might make you think I’m the morbid type; but no, not me. Not like Albert, over there, who visits his plot-to-be twice a week. No, I’m all for the here and now. I enjoy visiting my family and friends; and every Sunday an old acquaintance of mine comes round to the bungalow and we make merry, or whatever you want to call it, for an hour or two.
It’s just that the cemetery helps to keep me happy in the meantime. The positivity of the dead improves my daily living.
john e.c. is the editor for Flash Fiction North, which is devoted to publishing shorter fiction and poetry.
feet tall and full figured, Lena is all stature and curves.
Punctuated by stiletto heels. She sips her iced tea and sways to the
music, watching lithe bodies aglow beneath spinning black lights.
shifts in the club as the bartender announces last call; strangers
begin the distilled process of coupling for the night. They suss out
their options and then dangle the bait.
I buy you a drink?
you here on your own?
you need a ride home?
turns around to settle her bill and discovers a torn slip of paper
tucked between two twenties. A proposition, of sorts.
for the lovely view. Drinks on me. Meet you by the coat check in
feels almost giddy – once again the bashful schoolgirl passing
notes in math class, butterflies floating freeform in her stomach.
occurs to Lena that she is playing a dangerous game, inviting
disaster. What would people think if they could see her now? Clad in
low cut halter and tight pleather pants, smoky cat eyes accentuated
with red lips. Of course, she knows enough to be discreet, unlike
some of her daft colleagues, posting pictures of themselves half
naked and properly smashed.
quick stop in the loo to refresh lipstick and plump cleavage, and she
is ready to make her appearance.
beside the queue is a bookish fellow with light red hair and horn-
rimmed glasses, more akin to giving advice at the pharmacy counter or
approving loans at the bank; his distinguished appearance entirely
out of context in these surroundings. She smiles in approval as he
takes her hand and presses it to his lips.
there, gorgeous. I’ve never seen you here before. Do you live
just passing through, actually. Only here for the night. You can call
me,’ Lena pauses to select her handle ‘Veronica. Veronica
to meet you, Veronica. You remind me of a busty Cleopatra,’ he
winks ‘I’m whoever you want me to be.”
further preamble, Lena follows him to his car in the parking lot and
wordlessly begins to undress him. She attempts to manoeuvre within
the confines of the backseat, feeling like an aging contortionist
while still assuming the appropriate sounds and expressions of
desire. How did she ever do this in high school? He continues to
adjust positions, narrowly avoiding death by stiletto on more than
one occasion. They make forced love in record time.
they both sit in silence and light up. Another dirty little secret.
She hears a tropical ringtone and swipes to retrieve the text on her
pumpkin,’ Lena exhales ‘looks like we’d better head home now.
The sitter expected us hours ago, and Max has soccer in the morning.”
dear,’ agrees her husband, rubbing his aching back ‘and next
time, let’s just book the hotel instead.”