Pantry Prose: Untitled by Mehreen Ahmed

Clouds trailed crisscrossed across a clear blue sky. A cotton candy man stood by a huge Ferris Wheel with his cart at a theme park showground. He watched the Ferris Wheel move slowly to a full circle. Maya Julian stepped forward with her five-year-old and joined the long queue to get on the Ferris Wheel. Tilting her neck, she put a hand across her forehead like a vizier to cover her eyes from the blazing sun. She felt that the wheel did not move much; almost too slow for the world to be defined from the top there. Her daughter, Saira, and her, perhaps didn’t look all that different from ants and moths, milling about haphazardly on the showground.

As Maya looked at the top, she didn’t see any trepidation in the children or the adults. All was shipshape. The candy man attended to the many children on the ground; adeptly adjusting the pinky floss around the candy stick, and handing them over the pink dandelions in a bouquet, as it were, with a benign smile.

Children couldn’t wait to mouth the pinky candy. However, the Ferris Wheel stopped moving for a while which no one else noticed except Maya, who felt nervous and felt she must alert the authorities for an alternate way to get those people down. They didn’t see it coming. They sat here without a concern. Maya gathered the reason for their placidness was perhaps they couldn’t see much from above.

The candy man looked up a few times like Maya. A frown appeared on his forehead too, which Maya saw, and wondered if he also noted that there was a problem. If the situation went out of hand, people could be in fatal trouble. Her daughter pulled her towards the candy cart, and they both came out of the queue losing their place in it. On her way to the cart, she saw people—mainly children with an older sibling or an adult jostling in the bottom of the wheel as they dribbled out of the lower cabins of the Ferris Wheel touching the green grass beneath. 

The ones at the top hung precariously, oblivious to what was coming next. The sky couldn’t look clearer. The clouds spread out like a fishing net through which no fish could escape. Trapped inside the net—not until then, not really until it happened that someone dropped a net into the blue bowled ocean and trapped all these frantic fish inside it; the net teeming with all the fish out of water when life was pulled out of this oxygenated cosmic ocean into the outer. Until then calm prevailed.

Those sitting at the top, were clueless, enjoying a breezy morning—chirping and laughing spring birds. Maya trembled in the fresh air as she took her daughter to buy candy floss. The candy man continued to look at the Ferris Wheel.

“Are you thinking, what I am also thinking?” Maya asked.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

“I think that the wheel is broken. Those who are at the top, are all stuck.”

“Hmm, that’s exactly what I was thinking too.”

“What now?” Maya asked.

“Someone must tell the manager of this theme park, I reckon,” replied the candy man.

“Do you know where his office is? I’ll let him know.”

The candy man looked over his shoulder and pointed toward a building at the far end of the park. Maya squinted to follow his directions. Then she took her daughter’s hand and began to walk toward the management building while the decadent candy floss melted in her daughter’s mouth. Maya looked at her and smiled. She smiled back.

“Where’re we going Mammy?” she asked.

“To tell the manager to fix the Ferris Wheel?”

“Why? What’s wrong with it?”

“It isn’t working well, darling. ”

“Is it broken?” she asked.

“I think so,” Maya replied.

“Will they all die at the top?” the daughter asked.

“No, of course not, the manager will ensure that,” Maya said.

The daughter kept licking the candy cane to its bare bone until the stick was fully exposed. She looked at it and gave it a long-lasting lick, top to bottom. The manager’s building was far, but Maya persevered. She stepped up, determined to stop the disaster at the Ferris Wheel at any cost. At any cost? However, when she reached the building, she found a big padlock at its gate. She pushed it and pulled the lock but it did not open. Lights in one of the rooms were on. She looked up and she screamed; strikingly close, not quite far enough. She looked around for an object and found a rock. Maya did the unimaginable. She picked it up and hurled it aiming higher at the glass window. It rocketed through the glass. Shards fell and hit Maya on her forehead.“Oh” she uttered and sat down.

The daughter looked up at the window and shook Maya by the shoulder. Maya felt an urgency in the shake and looked up too. Her jaw fell. At the window, there was a man, not even a full man, maybe a half-man and half-elf. He—it looked like a statue with inky tears running down its cheeks. This was a make-believe theme park. A rock came flying out of nowhere; it transpired into a piece of paper as it landed with just one word written—ignis fatuus

“What does this mean?” the daughter asked. 

Maya replied, ‘Illusion,’ ‘foolish fire’. 

“Isn’t that what your name also means?” 

The daughter wanted to know from a breathless mother.

Multiple contests’ winner for short fiction, Mehreen Ahmed is an award-winning Australian novelist born in Bangladesh. Her historical fiction, The Pacifist, is an audible bestseller. Included in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction Anthology, her works have also been acclaimed by Midwest Book Review, and DD Magazine, translated into German, Greek, and Bangla, her works have been reprinted, anthologized, selected as Editor’s Pick, Best ofs, and made the top 10 reads multiple times. Additionally, her works have been nominated for Pushcart, botN and James Tait. She has authored eight books and has been twice a reader and juror for international awards. Her recent publications are with Litro, Otoliths, Popshot Quarterly, and Alien Buddha.

You can find more of Mehreen’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Pantry Prose: Before True Rest Has Come: A National Train of Love: The House of Xmas Jocundity: Use of the Pane by Jim Bellamy

Before True Rest Has Come

That early evening, in September 1985, only one person was mad enough to light the lamps, and she was the cruellest. She behaved as a bore and did not like prosody. Call her Jasmine. She wore a strange suit that seemed washed by the tides. By her side there was a book and a phantom man and child. The moon was not yet out. I travelled home with a bag by my side. I bore an album too. I did not care for dancing.

Inside my home was a pair of tights that was torn down the legs. I padded barefoot to the parlour downstairs. Downstairs smelt weird. Pungent scents wafted from the cigars dad had smoked before today. I peeped noisily at the corners of my kitchen. It seemed as though the curtains there were forever drawn. My eyes were still heavy from a future dream. A dream of untouchable woman and I was falling, always. I heard my sister weeping. Beneath my larder, I sensed vegetables turn to utmost rot. Upstairs from myself, there was a family viewing the news. I closed the back doors: now there was nobody to disturb me.

But all the noises of the otherwise dead, darkened by mourning, intimated breathing on the mirrors in the hall. And the gaslight, gone, served as intimate relation to a past I had known long before this life had formed.

First there was a long strip of photos of my great grandmother. A professional dickybird with hood once snapped his way as he strode the vanished main streets, calling “Good morning” across the lanes where once shop-windows shone inside candle-light. And here I was, yet asleep, walking down the precincts. Here were the mendicant-blind and the cured killed. All I could do was to bleed into my own heart the peculiar fact that my life as an infant was now ended. But melancholy could not damn me. I was assured by sound of my own personal fate. And school is often spelt wrongly.

Bells rang in my ears. Bells rang at the heels of my school-mates. It was as if an earth of fear had been deposed to reveal a station with a train whose destination would appear neither hidden or absolved. I knew then that learning was to be my only future.

And here I was, running down the dead-ends of my childhood, stout, confident, in command. But I appeared to peek into the windows of forgotten stores. Buried in errands, stepping aside from the common kind , prying strange looks at the broken looking-glasses of furniture shops, my soul was photographed.

“Your image has been taken.” Immortality achieved in the space of one moment sent me skipping along the roads forever. And learning was to my immortality. With hairpins, buttons, screws, shampoo packets, knitting-needles. At nearly six-in-the-morning, I was hurried to awake for real.

The clock struck six. Daddy put his hand out and turned it askance. Then the whole of my life was dreaming but thence self-lead. The dog growled like a demon, and showed me his largest teeth. “Stay still, Stinker. Get back to sleep, boy.” I was yet too tired to speak with a slap. My eyes pulsed with a forgotten tiredness which was soon to permit for seven whole years of learned life. Most of the sheets on this table were dirty. A lump of coal from an open fire should somehow remark on the vandalism apparent thereupon. Foisted on the careful graffiti were drawings of legs and breasts which smudged out rude names and formless numbers. History is lies.

Now take the Jutes. Read ahead, read about King Charles. Move ahead, read about Prince Alfred. Discover who killed the headmaster’s daughter. Read about old Bennett and see him whipped down the corridors. See Liz stuffed with dates or dip a starched collar in the smirking inks as hammers smash teeth into a prim, bald, smirking head. Spiral away from Saint Nicholas and speak of his presence till gifts are stopped. Ride the piggyback of a drunken scream. Catch penny stains sketched as if silk garters. These tables are as true as History.

Upon the last sheet I signed my name several times with a pen which had no lead. I did not opt to scribble with the real. At a first glance there was no sign of interference. Thence I drew my eye to the coke inside its synthetic grate. Dust drifted up into a cloud, and then I settled down into my first true day. If only I could yell at the ceilings and trace dark circles made by former gas or crack into lines the figures and faces which danced and chased animals over hidden fields: Come, let’s look at Saint Joan who has somehow destroyed her parents’ house in Stephen’s Street, or else Staines Grove; he will never be allowed to come back. Mrs. Baker, have a peek now, perhaps, from under these cold sheets, at Mr. Baxter, who worked in the Post Office Tower.

“Be quiet”, I said to myself, “Surely I know nothing.”

Dad opened the gates of the pantry door. The worn best plates shone like fire. A pattern, akin to a willow tree, span round the cups and filled with flowers the fruits of the coiling texts. Jugs were piled up on one large shelf, on another the bowls, the soup-tureens, the toast-racks spelling Brighton, Hastings, Porthcawl. Then for the trifle-dishes. Thence the fitful afternoons when tea-service was brittle as biscuits but proud with gold-leaf. I cracked two saucers together, and the curved spout of a teapot came off in my own two hands. Inside five minutes I had perhaps smashed the whole set. May all the vices of Leicester Square bow down to see me as I whisper in this scullery: the spidery young girls who help at home. Calculating down this pavement where the rich-smelling shops, screwed up in their sensuousness, dry hair in the rooms to the side of this home. I blood off salt with the plant that’s grown. And I should have hopes that the office girls may knock at my door with the very stubs of their fingers. You can hear sex now gliding from the glass porch of this sealed room. “Oh yeah” I must have said, and the just male voices agreeing softly. “Shoo to them who snore in and out of Staines Grove”. I know that they are sleeping under vexed sheets up to the fringes of their grey whiskers. Meryl is marrying the Chamber and Mary is wedding to Lady Settee. I am breaking tureens in this bad cupboard beneath the stairs.

A metal plate dropped from out my hands and smashed to smithereens. I awaited the sound of my mother awaking. No one stirred outside. “Stinker is perfect,” I said aloud, yet the harsh noise of an inner mental voice drove pets in my world back to silence. My fingers became cold and numb for I knew I could not lift another plate without breaking it.

“What are you doing?” dad said to me at last, in a cool, flat tone. “Leave the Streets alone. Let them sleep.” Then I closed the pantry door. “What are you doing, raving away?” Even so the dog had not been awakened. “Raving away,” I said. God would have me hurt quickly now. The incident in the cupboards had made much of a trembling so much that I could hardly tear up the mess I had made inside the sideboards and the china that was scattered under the stairs was too difficult to destroy. The doilies and the patterned tea-cosies were still together, hard as rubber. I pulled them up as one, as if in a hope of wedging them up the chimney.

“These are such small things,” I said. “I should break the windows and stuff the cushions with this broken glass.” Dad saw his round soft face in the mirrors under the duplicate Mona Lisa. “But you won’t”, I said,, “Be afraid of the noise I have made.” Dad burnt away the edge of his mother’s guilt and shame and remembered to poke out his tongue to sap the tracks of my tears. “Still playing to cry,” he said. “Tears have salt and life is all salt. Just like the best of my poems.” Dad returned upstairs to the dark, with the light flailing, and seemed to lock the doors on the inside. He put out his hands and touched the walls by my bed. Good morning and farewell, Mrs. Barker. My window, facing his bedroom, was wide-open to the winds, but I could not hear the breathing of my mother. Most of the houses were still quiet. The main part of the street was a closed grave. The neighbours were still safe and deep in their separated silences. My head no longer touched its pillow and I knew that I should not sleep again. Dad’s eyes stayed closed.

Come down now into my arms, for I shan’t sleep. I know your rooms like the backs of my hands and I do not wish to sleep again. Tomorrow, today, I am going away by the 7.50 train, with five old pounds and an old suitcase. Lay your dreams against this bed for the alarm at six-thirty will hurry you back to the once drawn blinds where lit fires burn before true rest has come. Come with me quickly to where we may hear breathe the floats of the milk-men as they are waking.

Dad was asleep with his hat on still, and his hands were clenched. My family awoke before cock-crow. At least, I thought I heard them. They would stand in their dressing-gowns, stale-eyed and with ragged hair. O, come with me quickly.

A National Train of Love

I sat in a state of privy, with a slag-heap sat beside me. In all the compartments of the train I travelled, there were lessons to be gleaned and learned.Time was dressed in a bland tweed suit. The apologies of god were leaden with shame. Galbraith  served my mind and still I danced inside my sullen body whilst love reared up from the chains of the happy-killed. O, my soul lay dented and Everyman reneged on my thoughts and stilled the veins of my brain.

“I saw you use the dance-floor,” taunted a woman in a state of obfuscation and the side of Her head damaged by way of dreaming. The lavatories of Hell lay opened. My dark side appeared to rape my Gem. The scented sentimentalities of the seats which rode were forced to swerve. Lust’s hands turned askance. “Heavenward for these pages you read,” spoke my tutor. The peacock quills of a former state denied my dreams as passion raided the sly scenes of my languid ear. Home and help were ended. The gardens of the thrilled children of life stabbed me in both cheeks of my bum and the guards of Christ’s subhuman Turin Shroud noosed my cries with Atheistic lies. “Jain,” said a second teacher. The hands of the clock on the wall caused words to repeat as if entertained by self-flagellating cries. The hole in my sex descried gloom. It was clear to me that girl kind should desert me. After all, my denial of sex-abuse had been all too apparent and I could not find the masturbatory words whereby I might at last indulge in a sensuous scream. The handle of love turned.

“I do not consider youth as a bed-wetter and I must presume that when I cross my legs the scars of the ocean make a way for plum-duff?!’

These words from a third tutor seemed remotely powered. I dared not understand what She meant. Now my use of the train was gaining swiftness. Running down its rails, the gurgling noise of fellow-passengers caused a hapless sensation of disquiet.

A cloud of people stood arguing with the north-wind. I was not too maddened to experience pain and the length down my leg was never real.

“My name is Dom Daniel. Can anybody tell me why elderberry wine causes trips?”

But Dom Daniel was not blessed. Clasped in His hands was a copy of The Times Chronicle. It was my opinion (for what it was worth) that time was a funnel with weird noises closed around it.

“Thus is the beginning of the end.”

But there is no tangible end. Time unravels into itself and causes mirrors to intertwine. What should I choose to do but fall head-first into a tunnel of papers whilst lessons shoot past me. How should I refine timed life except by living inside my own estranged beliefs?


Strangled rats strode beneath my feet. The face of my tutors seemed planed away by foundations but the glibness of cosmetics coughed up invisible bleeding as my spirit lay half-awake in a medical room which did not inspire any true state of sex-yearning.

“Did you try to speak?” asked a man who had a bizarre birth-mark. His face was perhaps a miasma of purple and it was not until I found myself laying prostrate on an impossible settee when I considered my own face as a blemish. There are spectacles on my face and a nose never dinted by amateur boxing. I imagine you know the unhappy scene? “I snapped at you and that means you must listen!”

Slang spilled from the walls where the bodies burned and glistened. Often, I had thought of burning sculptures and thence the wholeness of statues struck me dead.

Now, every table must seem spread. Cold, snubbed peoples killed for home-time and here lay dying all over mean floors. There were no carpets but rugs of magical importance strove to stuff our eyes with Aladdin and His insane lamp.

The train rode faster. A waitress with a scrofulous cold served meringues to sleeping women. The briefcases of the working hordes seemed to pleasure the passing hour. I could neither weep nor taunt.

“I saw you using a pen for no abundant cause. Your words are worth two-pence and cannot change anything!” trilled a bent prefect who surely believed that heaven was still alive.

The rest of my pages are picked to bits by the howling of strange birds. Glimpses of hedges light all lamps and the dishonest peoples cause hateful pain. “I who saw you dancing,” Love said but Love was locked the other side of its door and the bit of sex-business pissed into the wind as the cloaks of the caned scaled the walls of Judea.

“Did you try to speak” asked a premier of learning but her face was pale and guiltless and her sight impossible to bear. She was perhaps ‘pretty’.

The wheels of my train span into the sun. The pleasures of sleeping travel surged beneath its counter. I did not think that a choir of songs would awake me but it did and as I walked up the slope to an outside street, bottles span from my fingers. There was a girl with shells for her hair. In the space of the city, a sea of whales span round. I have never considered true life since spent candles burn more brightly. There are tocsins heard in towns which mean all and nothing and the oceans of this earth collide beneath fled flames.

I gave my home three knocks. “Mr Anodyne,” God said, and softly strode away.

The House of Xmas Jocundity (a response to Shakespeare?)

IT is a burnished transparent night in the better half of December. The bacchanal Babylonian fields are enshrouded in a sobering coat of turgid ice. Here and there, amidst these cruel Phlegethonian sheets, dunes of Hippolytian snows dance upon the feline wind, and scatter Seraphic, white blankets across Asteroth’s astir sky.

The Acherontic eyes of a Clown with a boy’s face are focussed on starry Empyrean quarters. He cares so much for what faith sees, and has no desire to pass beyond those Perian Memories of a Dulcinea, whose sweet farewell chiselled a Lacrymose hole in His Soul and submerged His veins in molten-ice. Tepid saline tides erode His wan alabaster mask. “Well, you saddened Maecenas of mine, it is Xmas Eve,” he mutters to himself, “A time when we all decide to live under the same stars without conflict. These basic annual vows shine upon many a civilisation. But what of afterwards? Shall we still drink from the honey-choked wells of truth? Shall we still imprecate Martian fists?”

Far away, somewhere behind the Nectarious, female scent of lingering rain-washed wood-smoke, a Rosary-Clad Congregation, wielding Prayers, reveres the dark Olympian night. O, Saturn plays the organ, plays it just for me and you, and the Cherubic cavatina of the Midnight Mass intertwines with the Moon; and the Choral-Lamps resuscitate dreams in Atrophosian tombs. Over Lucretian valleys, and along interwoven Sirian passages , drifts the Congregation’s chaste Hymns.

Asmodeusan, a stygian lodger from profligate Italy, has a penile light in his eyes; a penile light that compels women to flaunt livery and virtuous men to file for castration. He grasps a vintage cheroot from King Aphonus ‘ cigar-box and lights it with a Plutovian whisper. It will soon be morning, and he is preparing himself for the arrival of Myrtle’s sentient bine, Asphodelte. “She has Houri’s unbridled favour!” he spits salaciously. “Paphos never beheld such vestal dulcitude!”

A lark’s transcendent cantata bids Asmodeusan’s annulet an antiseptic morning’s greeting. No doubt each mellifluous staff of recalls his lickerish, hymen-spewed past. Even before God’s thick, hispid hair sprouted from Love’s mammonian face, and bibacious wine clung to His soul, Asmodeusan was intoxicated by vile lust. When he was eight years old, he made a laconic virtue of boasting about the adroitness of His masturbatory deviations. And, on one dull Apollyonian day, he plundered a Venusian’s world and stained several pairs of her dew-laced silken underwear.


The phoebian star dances on the pock-drenched roof of the House of Xmas Jocundity, and swims within and without its ghostly tiles. The life which lies within is slowly and dearly exiting from the wrecks of hypnotic motion. Life – dear depressing animation – is returning to its enchanted and ghastly inhabitants, and the phantom moon is fading and fades back; back into the deep, dark Prussian blue meridian.

What is to happen to Asphodelte, as she lies in the fairest eiderdown, far away from those free-falling cucumbers in eastern and western markets? What I to happen whilst King Aphonus, her Father, sleeps so long? Is Asmodeusan to gain that lithe and labial fortress? Or will it be Jureis Divinoan, that free and righteous fellow who sleeps on time’s timeless floor? Who shall it be? That is the Question; and nothing lies beyond it..

Jureis reeks of fulfilment, but what can he know? For the solar bowl shines down on Humanity, spilling forth its Omniscient Soul, as if it were the home of Antihodean Wholeness. It knows for certain that Life is never planned?

And Jureis and Asphodelte are free to feel whatever they wish, while Asmodeusan fishes for the largest of lustful fish. And I know, as well as the clown with the boy’s face, that death is as drunk as Pluto’s Jury. Death’s befuddlement will teach the ignorant world that Hell is a mindful dell. “Screw, fuck, lick, suck! Learn of Peace without constructs,” God mumbles to Himself.

Asphodelte is here, singing for freedom, Jureis is present, learning of Healing. The noblest of servants, Hesperion, is endeavouring to quell the panic. “I am here, with self made evident,” he yells. “Learn of freedom, learn of pain, crush oppression, yearn to be the same. This may be a dream, of this may be Life, but mislay anguish for she exudes strife. Love, love is the answer. Learn it before you squander your hours inside this Earth. Surely you understand that Sex is wonderful?”

A fantastic, adoring wind strikes the House of Xmas Jocundity as jasmine-sprinkled Asphodelte arrives in Asmodeusan’s realm. She smiles upon him and burns hole in his odious trance. “You, sir,” she says, “are an example of Satan’s partner, and I have no desire to brush my breath upon your jaded soul. What ho, Hesperion? What ho?”

Hesperion appears and Asmodeusan backs under. There is no freedom for sexual plunderers. I know what I speak of, I know what I see. Lust is obscene yet resides within us. Asmodeusan must learn to confine his lust to reclusive hours?


The House of Xmas Jocundity glows with the light of a deity. It conveys the spirit of peacedom. Liberty lies within its gardens. Therein, repression is Dead.

Asmodeusan’s heart is smeared with sulphurous clay. He envies Jureis Divinoan’s love-glazed eyes. A further cheroot juts from his face, and he feels His lungs rapture into Obscurity.

Hesperion calls for understanding, whereas King Aphonus and His Queen, Perfidene, build a wall between each other. Neither of them can comprehend their daughter’ love for Jureis Divinoan. King Aphonus cannot comprehend Women, and nothing lies beyond His confuted Thoughts.


The sun shines upon the House of Xmas Jocundity whilst the clown with a boy’s face cries. He is the master of this chaotic, obfuscated demesne.

Jureis Divinoan awakens. He is Jupiter’s protean servant. but he is drunk, too. They are all drunk. Asmodeusan, Hesperion, Perfidene, King Aphonus, and lovely Asphodelte. All have partaken ofd December’s truth-seeking waters. They are all lying on time’s timeless floor whilst Asphodelte weeps. Tears flow down her disillusioned face. She is the only virtuous virgin in his place. She cries for Jureis’ innocence as the clown with the boy’s face understands that churlish Asmodeusan does not stand a chance. He is the master of this obfuscated ball, and nothing lies beyond Him. “O, life is an intoxicating well of Evil,” God shouts, “Drink from it, and your stomach will vomit diarrhoea. O, why is it that Life is so ferine? Why can’t we all live together?”

As the needles fall from the brazen coniferous tree, Asmodeusan and Jureis Divinoan realise that Christ is an unending Requiem. How do they know? For they have realised that Jupiter has turned against them and all they have nothing to aspire to but DEATH, DeATH, DEATH!.. Pain, degradation, decapitation. Please understand. One day, in the not too distant future, everything will change. When? I cannot predict. O, let the change come now!”

The House of Xmas Jocundity knows what it is like to be free. Its creator is wandering over the Hills of Avalon and strolling through Mammarian Fields. Yes, it knows what it is like. Don’t you see? There are no more Precepts. The Governments of Eastern and Western Markets are dead. The free-falling cucumbers have been shot from out the sperm-clogged sky, and the House of Xmas Jocundity bathes its souls in the sun’s solution. The clown with the boy’s face has created paragon of Liberation and nothing lies beyond it.

Asphodelte wanders across the House’s Fields of green and greets Jureis Divinoan. They are all Life means. They understand the clown with a boy’s face. Jureis smiles, and yells, “My Dulcinea! You are Jove’s finest pearl!” The clown with the boy’s face understands Him and inflames Asphodelte with Love’s life-kissed comprehension…

And then, and most quintessentially then, the House of Xmas Jocundity embraces the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite. Perfidene, King Aphonus’s Queen, reels for death’s purgatorial union. She cannot face the glory of quintessential care, for she has chosen to fish for the largest of lustful fish. Asmodeusan is incapable of catching her tophetic desire. She screams in expectant agony and gives birth to a sperm-choked being and, as Aphrodite’s warmth wraps the House of Xmas Jocundity in idolatrous light. Perfidene places her last brick in the wall between herself and King Aphonus. Nothing of value lies beyond it. The sperm-choked being rises to His Charonian feet, and swallows his mother’s esculent heart, and Perfidene, Aphonus’s Queen is dead.

Asmodeusan’s mammonian face loses its phallic edge. Saline waves burst forth from his isolated eyes. He remembers now. He remembers that poor, vulnerable Venusian in her vulnerable Venusian’s world. How many pairs of her dew-laced, silken underwear did He pollute? If only Death cold recall the Number. O, Asmodeusan is no longer befuddled. He has caught the largest of lustful fish. Now Love’s stomach will vomit diarrhoea.

-Asphodelte and Jureis Divinoan arrive back at the House of Xmas Jocundity. Aphrodite’s ethos complements their Ethereal God, and nothing lies beyond them.

The sperm-choked being fends off the Goddess of Love. He is Perfidene’s catch; the largest of lustful fish. “Am I not the most swarthy of demonic princes? I, Belias!” he shouts proudly at Jureis Divinoan and Asphodelte and “Silenced!” Jureis replies. “You are little more than Jove’s maleficent cast-off; a cataleptic ejaculation. Die, as your perfidious Mother did before you!” And Jureis, wielding a timeless sword, without a minute’s respite, cuts off Belias’s head.

Jureis, King Aphonus and Asmodeusan lose their individual identities and become one Entity. Their cleansed souls intertwine and pass up, up, up, through the roofs of the House of Xmas Jocundity and on, on, on into the deep, dark Prussian blue Meridian. The effusions of their Yuletide characteristics dissolve into a prism of music and swathe this world in understanding and the clown with the boy’s face avows, that one day, in the not too mystic future, dead earth may change.

I close my eyes and wipe out god’s screen. The clown with a boy’s face passes back into my imagination, and nothing lies beyond it. And I am quite alone now, as I shall always be. My eyes are focussed on those starry Empyrean quarters, and I care so much for what I see. I have no desire to pass beyond those Perian memories of my Dulcinea whose sweet farewell chiselled a spirit hole in my soul and submerged my veins in molten ice. What did this all mean? Well, you saddened Maecenas of mine, it meant whatever life is meant to mean? Nothing lies beyond the House of Xmas Jocundity. Nothiing!-

Come back to me, my Dulcinea. Help me shoot those free-falling cucumbers out of the sperm-clogged sky. Come back to me, and together we shall drift over Lucretian valleys and along interwoven Sirian passages. Together, we shall become as one and roam through the vales of purest, mellifluous honey while skating across the thresholds of Hypnos and embracing magical, Morphean planes. Come back to me, my Dulcinea. Let’s tread upon the beds of the Future and sail into Paradisiacal realms where the Governments of Eastern and Western markets are dead. Nothing lies beyond this Empyrean gleam. Nothing at all except PEACE.

(Jim wrote this short story when still at school aged 17).

Use of the Pane

It was way into Christmas. The dyes of the outside trees had stained the texts of school with a cry of scalded birch. The yellowed fists of winter were delving sense because the lustful  eyes of one thousand boys were here encased in a room of thirty young people.

There was, on a shelf, the manual of my mind. I could hardly think because the sensual words of feline girls were shrieking from the sun Languid verbs foamed from the desks of vexed kids who appeared to know just how the humane human body worked and the routed shell of beaches out of bounds spoke to the seams of coal-country. Where softness dug, the miners of minors turned around and before rude sin had towelled sweat from the birth of ships gone out to sea, the privateers of life descried their decks.. Veiled with nails, crucified senses were burned to death.

The forests of knowledge dammed the brows of teachers and their misbegotten words.

Eyes swallowed from tendril-trees apportioned sightlessness because their buds of vision were wet with seed. The quietus of death’s storm awoke the dead with a myopic whistle which framed the lids of time.

I could not fathom when the rhythms of speech might darken the staffrooms. Where the battered books of one billion books reproached exams, the lines written by children in detention deadened a need for ills.

‘I have words at the ends of my fingers,’ said a male pupil whose use of poems was perfect. Verse emerged from riled heaven as the names of God teemed with one zillion chic rhymes.

There was a ‘reason’ for glad talk but this reason had invaded life and had made creation void. When I say ‘void’, I refer to the indolence of word-thieves. School is full of thefts and because of this all essays are rebuked by a method of marking which imposes a ‘metaphorical’ use of the cane and inside my head, beds were soaked with fear. Sweat oozed  from the skins of youths who could not fathom a need for truth but the distant cries of  abandoned cats  freed folks from the cob-webs of the vain and sheer.

Infamy must serve as an instance of tuition where the startled screams of woman get lost in a forest. Rape streams from out the conifers of the love-maimed and the dirty clothes of inchoate sex must die or else become a spurious porn magazine….

I looked at the tired and saw therein a horde of waiters. Inside this mind’s eye, there were courtiers who downed G-&-T from disembodied sources. As drunk as tailors, the unravelling spool of space milked ambrosia from the clouds.

‘I am not daunted by lies and if you cannot read, please say!’ preached a part-time Prefect. But her Incubus of sensual frowns burst the curls of love’s faith because the darkness of the Void allowed fools to dispute all romantic lunar-landings.

‘I am assured that Aladdin made touch-down!’

Smog cloaked the eyes of Christ in a veil of black-and-blue while the surface of the moon burnt  one’s soul with drills, deepening into the very soul of this earth. Can one be sure that UFOs do not emerge from this world’s infernal crust?

‘I had babes when too young and was then relieved!’

Speech such as these was ten-a-penny and moved the uniformed throes of immaculate humankind. The blasting noise of several million farts silenced the gene-pools of Nazism and Hitler lay drowned in a pond of skin-veined metal.

“Oh, but how terrible,’ A dauphin child spoke from out  a board-rubber.

“It’s very kind of you to say life is comfortable, but look at the confusion. Just to think of living here. There’s something around which cannot make me happy.”

But happiness swelled from the ground as school-yards shortened the scent of earth’s cruel smile.

As the night rose above the rooms of this school, the trades of perverts spat forth. The stars of Time noosed the Deities of light and dark and the cornucopia of sense loosed aliens against the coitus of the laid as ships, wedged in bottles, drove the dawn ‘west of Suez.’

Lives dwelt in their own framed ball-park. Students crossed the lines and died before born. The canes of the killed  thrilled as they crushed chiliads of moaning and weeping.

The clime of  stiffened throes entertained the tiles of  fear. Crying thrilled the chapel of flowers, smashed inside red rain.

 ‘I cannot breathe because I am too young,’ spoke lads where future suffrage blocked the outside loos.

And ripped to bits were the buttocks where the fields of  soul soaped to slits the sexist Harness of killed cries..

‘Can you suck the teats of life or else constrain the etchings of mankind!’

And the skies of mad and disclaimed boys danced  inside pictorial heavens as the Doctored scars of mankind felt bared breasts.

In this glib space, the tits of suitors swelled with the sperm of the tamed and thrilled. Hung up by the penis till pens died, the strangled cocks of wisdom spared spoiled genes and the swiftness of red seed dazzled fusion with the pared deeps of  sun-lit drains. Here, the homes of murders roamed and the surfs of the tangled tamed ran with silk as sinks thrilled with the spilt skins of the penitential dawn.

‘I do not wear a bra.’ Thus were the words spoken by a highwayman of a female Fm-Tutor.

‘I cannot cane you but I change you!’ Thus were the words spoken by the cold lips of an aged Head-of-Year.

And the dire fates of the learned delved the sums of time as triangular pentacles appeared written on gleaming desks.

The plugs were trapped and water ran away with the blisters of the inchoately praised. The dugs of pets back home shed milk and the dining-halls of frailty served strange foods to forgotten souls. I was made sanguine by the main-meals I ate, all of which contained French stews stirred into smashed potatoes.

The scars of the stars roamed the fields of the damned and I was spent because my train of thought appeared to drift away. And where the mourning morning awoke  stoned, there was a quay of calm situated somewhere out my front window. I could neither weep nor sleep whilst the coda of songs extended their tunes to the beat of alarms.

‘Oh, can you please leave welts where there was none!’

And words such as these swiped dregs from the bottoms of queer beer-glasses as the teetotal throb of this enervated life got spanked by the missions of a ‘tutored’ mind.

‘Several puffs from my pipe please!’ spoke a School-Premier and I was scarred forever.

Jim Bellamy was born in a storm in 1972. He studied hard and sat entrance exams for Oxford University. Jim has won three full awards for his poems. Jim has a fine frenzy for poetry and has written in excess of 22,000 poems. Jim adores the art of poetry. He lives for prosody.

You can find more of Jim’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Pantry Prose: Something Clicked by DL Shirey

Gershwin was not his favourite, but Blakey had no choice in the piece selected. Blakey’s job was to sit up straight and act like the music enthralled him. He kept his eyes closed to give the appearance of being spellbound, but in truth Blakey couldn’t bear to watch the hands at work.

Blakey’s arms swept back and forth across the keyboard, fingers landing on the black and white keys as if they had their own eyes, which could be true for all Blakey knew. He had no talent—whatever controlled his hands commanded movement. Blakey tried not to think of the hands as parasites, even though that’s the way he felt. The comparison wasn’t fair to his sister, nor to the legacy of music she gave to fans.

Endure one more performance, that was Blakey’s goal. And to do so, he let his mind wandered while the music played.

Just a few hours ago his sister, Eleanor, accompanied Blakey downstairs to wait for the towncar. The two of them sat in overstuffed chairs in the hotel lobby, wishing for a fire in the hearth, and held hands. They could have been mistaken for lovers. Blakey liked to eavesdrop on conversations and invent preposterous stories for Eleanor, trying to make her laugh; it helped him relax. When the car came, Eleanor kissed his hands and watched him go.

Attention made Blakey self-conscious, like when the driver opened the rear door for him. He felt the scrutiny of people’s eyes as they passed by on the sidewalk. Even with tint on the windows Blakey felt watched.

The black towncar left the hotel, turning from one busy street to another. He began to feel overwhelmed, so Blakey stared at the ornate braid of the woman driver’s hair. Eleanor often wore it that way. Blakey let the city streets roll by and focused on bringing Eleanor’s face to mind. And almost immediately, there was a click. Blakey couldn’t describe it any other way; something clicked, although it was more physiological than audible. In the early days of transfer, Blakey had to bring every ounce of concentration to click into Eleanor. Now, like muscle memory, it happened quickly: Blakey’s hands began to tingle, the pins and needles burning at first. Blakey flexed his fingers, balled them into fists. He flattened out his palms and rubbed them on the twill of his pants. Despite the discomfort, Blakey was relieved. He was always afraid the transfer wouldn’t happen.

Blakey made sure the driver wasn’t looking and turned his palms up. He watched the skin stretch smooth, creaseless for a moment. Then new furrows appeared in similar yet subtly different arrangements. Life line. Head line. Heart line. Fate line.

Someone in the audience coughed and it brought Blakey’s attention back into the auditorium. He couldn’t name the chord the hands just played. It sounded tragic and beautiful as it hung in the air. Next, a frantic pattern of notes searched the keys until a link was found to connect to the next big chord, this one soft and sad. Blakey knew enough about music to recognize the piece was coming to a close; a familiar melody returned in a joyful reprise.

But the only joy Blakey felt was in that long sustain that finished the piece, when hands splayed unmoving on the keys, when the breath of music lingered on the brink of silence, before the applause started.

Blakey opened his eyes, chin tucked down on his chest. Hands withdrew from the keys and rested in Blakey’s lap, changing back again. Life line. Head line. Heart line. Fate line. Calluses re-emerged from soft flesh; so did the scars from the automobile accident that started all this. He watched smooth, tapered fingers revert to ones that had healed bent and crooked.

Standing, hands behind his back now, Blakey bowed because that was expected of him. He left the stage quickly because he didn’t deserve the ovation. The sooner he exited, the sooner the applause would dissipate. Blakey rarely talked to the people at the venue, never signed autographs, and avoided interviews with the press at all costs. “He’s just that way,” they always said. “His music does the talking. Genius is like that. Runs in the family.”

Blakey had grown comfortable in remaining aloof. As long as his silence was interpreted as arrogance there was enough social distance to cope. Even if he could explain his newfound fame, no one would believe it: the auto accident, Eleanor’s career cut short, Blakey emerging with a prodigious talent even though he had sustained more grievous injuries than his sister.

Eleanor had recovered quickly with one small, but devastating, affliction that changed everything. But Eleanor worried less about herself than Blakey’s injuries. For a week he laid unconscious in the hospital, Eleanor at his bedside holding his hands. When he finally awoke, something clicked, and they discovered the gift they’d been given. There was no explanation or revelation how or why, just a car wreck, a before and an after.

He walked backstage and out the exit, hands stuffed in his pockets. The driver was waiting, and she opened the rear door of the towncar. She took her place in the front seat and offered Blakey a bottled water.

“Yes, please,” he said. “Do you mind opening it for me?”

“I understand.” The driver cracked the cap. “If I had those hands, I wouldn’t let them do anything but play piano.”

Blakey accepted the water. “Thank you.”

The bottle was cold. Felt good between his hands. A performance always brought—not pain exactly—discomfort and restlessness. Blakey glared at his old fingers as if to quiet them. Then he realized the driver had said something.

“I’m sorry,” Blakey said, “I wasn’t listening.”

“I just wanted to thank you for letting me hang backstage. I was always a big fan of your sister. How’s she doing, anyway?”

Blakey had heard this question a thousand times. It made him feel uneasy, so he didn’t answer.

“Excuse me. None of my business,” the driver said. “I’ll shut up now.”

He felt shame warm his cheeks. The woman was only trying to be nice and the silence between them was forced and awkward. Blakey noticed how she tightened her grip on the steering wheel and used her side mirrors to avoid the rear view. She was trying hard not to make eye contact.

“Actually, she’s doing pretty well these days,” he finally said. “All things considered.”

The driver looked at Blakey in the mirror. “I never heard you play before, but I have to say, it really reminded me of Eleanor. I mean, like, a lot. Must be amazing, two great pianists in the same family. A thrill to play together, I’ll bet.”

“Unfortunately, her hearing hasn’t returned since the accident,” said Blakey. “In the meantime, I don’t mind taking the lead until she can return. While we’re here in the city, we’re going to see another specialist.”

“Well, I hope it works out. I truly do.” The driver leaned back and handed Blakey a card. “If you need a ride, don’t hesitate to call.”

They didn’t talk for rest of the ride, but the silence was comfortable. Arriving at the hotel, a doorman opened the car door. Blakey did not extend his hand to be helped out.

Eleanor was waiting in the lobby, reading Mrs. Dalloway by the fire. In the adjacent bar a raucous crowd had gathered, cheering at a sporting event on TV. Half a dozen fans spilled out into the lobby, drinking and laughing. Blakey skirted the hubbub and approached his sister.

She looked up and asked, “How did it go?” At least that’s what Blakey assumed. Since the accident, Eleanor couldn’t modulate her voice properly; she was hard to hear even in the quietest of rooms. But Blakey was getting better at reading her lips.

“Fine,” he said, “the audience seemed to enjoy it.”

Eleanor stared hard at Blakey’s mouth, shook her head and pointed at her ears. Blakey had to laugh at his oversight, reached out and extended his hand toward his sister. As their fingers touched, something clicked.

Blakey repeated himself.

“I’m glad,” Eleanor said, her voice now clear and loud above the noise from the bar.

Blakey helped Eleanor to her feet. Just then, the bar erupted with shouts and cheering. Eleanor swung her head toward the noise, startled by the volume. She clamped her hands over her ears and nearly lost her balance.

Blakey grabbed Eleanor’s waist to steady her, then pointed at the hotel’s front door. She retrieved the paperback and stuffed it in her purse. He didn’t touch her again until they got outside.

Blakey folded his hand around hers. “That’s better, too noisy in there. Feel like a stroll?”

“Actually, I’ve got a better idea,” said Eleanor. “How about we grab a cab and go to this piano bar I was reading about. I haven’t been out all day.”

“Can we walk there?”

“I don’t think so.” She dropped Blakey’s hand and opened her purse. “I’ll get my phone and find the address.” The volume of her voice had dropped precipitously.

Blakey couldn’t see her lips as his sister bent over her purse, so he shrugged and stepped toward the curb. He was always happy to acquiesce to his sister’s wishes, so Blakey waved at an approaching taxi three lanes over. The yellow cab accelerated and careened toward Blakey. It sliced through traffic cutting everyone off, receiving a trio of car horns and shouted expletives for the maneuver. The taxi was traveling too fast, and the brakes screamed as it fishtailed toward the curb.

Blakey lurched back beside his sister. He glared at the man behind the wheel.

“What?” the cabby shouted. Palms up, feigning innocence.

“It’s in here somewhere,” Eleanor muttered, unaware, face still buried in her purse. “There. Found it.”

She reshouldered her purse while her brother opened the cab door. Blakey helped her inside and never let go Eleanor’s hand as he slid in beside her.

“Where to?” asked the cabby.

“Melody’s. Lexington and 73rd,” said Eleanor.

“Promise me one thing,” Blakey whispered to his sister, “Promise you won’t make me play.”

Eleanor giggled. “Silly boy. If you borrowed my hands to play, whose would I hold to listen?”

DL Shirey‘s work has appeared in 70 publications including Reflex Fiction, Gravel, Confingo, and Citron Review.

Pantry Prose: Marlon’s Mint Choc Chip by John Caulton

‘Any sauce, sir?’ asks the ice-cream man.

Marlon shakes his head. He takes his ice-cream neat. All his dessert buddies know that!

Tub in hand, he spoons the mint choc chip into his mouth. Smacking his lips, he says to me, ‘Not bad, but I’ve had better. Remember that place in Frisco, back in ’54? Down on the waterfront. Damn, that was the best; a fine balance of liqueur crème de menthe and California cream.’

‘Spearmint, not peppermint,’ I say.

‘Correct, Doc. They had it just right.’

Finishing his first serving, he’s already ordering seconds.

‘Hey, fella! Two birthday cakes for me and my partner. And please, make ‘em doubles.’

‘Coming up, sir! Wafers too?’

‘No, thank you. Say, are you new here? I ain’t seen you around before.’

‘Yes, sir. I started a week ago.’

‘What’s your name?’

‘Romeo Ricci.’

‘Really? Sounds Italian. Is it Italian?’

‘I’m not sure, sir. I’m from Boise, Idaho.’

‘Well, you should know, Romeo Ricci from Boise, Idaho. All men need to be acquainted with the blood that runs in their veins. Here, get yourself an ice-cream, young fella. It’s on me.’

‘Why, thank you, sir. I’ll have a pistachio, if you don’t mind.’

‘I don’t mind at all, but I had you down for a tutti fruitti.’

‘To your health, sir!’

‘And yours.’

Marlon begins on the hard stuff: Neapolitan, rum raisin, and a pumpkin-watermelon twist.

I try my upmost to keep up, but the raspberry ripple leaves me reeling.

‘Think I need the men’s room, Marlon. I may be some time.’

‘That’s okay, Doc. I’ll partake in a triple cookies and cream. That’ll keep me good company ‘til you get back.’

When I return, fifteen minutes later, Marlon has moved on to a maple and oyster special. His eyes are bulging and there’s stains on his jacket. I pass him a napkin to wipe his chin.

‘You’re a wild one,’ I say.

Marlon smiles. ‘Romeo made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I’ve never had oyster ice-cream before.’

‘Any good?’

‘Stick to the bacon and banana, Doc. That’s my advice.’

Bud suddenly appears.

‘Hey, Bud, where the hell have you been?’ asks Marlon.

‘Stopped for a quick one at Sugar & Sprinkles, down on 37th. One became two became three. Y’dig?’

‘Sugar & Sprinkles? I thought the parlour on 37th was named Creamy Confections. Owned by what’s-his-name, Guisseppe. That’s right, ain’t it, Doc?’

‘Yes. Guisseppe Gentile and his brother Gerardo.’

‘Well, it ain’t now. It’s called Sugar and Sprinkles and run by some Sicilian named Stefano Savellini.’

‘Well, damn me,’ says Marlon. ‘That’s a lot of alliteration for one ice-cream parlour! Anyhow, what was your poison, Bud?’

‘I had me a cake batter chaser.’


‘Blue moon and then a bubblegum.’

‘You animal!’

‘Says you!’

Bud orders a round of butterscotch and is the first to wolf it down.

‘Ah, reminds me of Chicago in ’52. The Palmer House. Picked up a hot waitress called Katie in the Chin Chin Cream Club. Remember, Doc?’

‘Sure do. I spent the week with a German dancer named Gerda. You too, Marlon. You fell for that Irish singer. The redhead. Freckly face, long legs and swinging hips. That doll had it all. Was it Caitlin or Cliona?’

‘No idea, Doc. But I recall the Parmesan like it was yesterday. Never had ice-cream like it before or after. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it was flavoured with lemon zest, red fish eggs, chipolata infused olive oil, bitter artichoke and the finest Manzanilla sherry.’

‘No, you’re spot on, Marlon,’ Bud says. ‘And sprinkled with chive flowers.’

‘Heavenly blossom,’ says Marlon.

‘Say,’ says Bud. ‘I don’t know about you guys. But I’ve been over-indulging lately. I had my tailor let out my pants this afternoon. Too much of this creamy courage, I reckon. After tonight, I’m gonna abstain for a while. I don’t want to be no Jackie Gleeson.’

‘Or Raymond Burr,’ I say.

‘Oh c’mon, Bud,’ says Marlon. ‘Man up! Eat as much ice-cream as you damn well like. This is America. No one needs to be dieting in the land of milk and honey.’

‘But what about the work?’ asks Bud. ‘A guy needs to keep slim if he’s to get the parts, don’t he?’

‘Ah, you know the business,’ says Marlon. ‘Once a star always a star. You get fat, so what? You’ll get paid the same.’

‘Or more,’ I say. ‘Like Raymond Burr.’

‘Exactly, Doc, Exactly.’

An hour later, Marlon slumps over the counter.

‘You’re not looking too good,’ says Bud.

‘Like you got a mutiny down below,’ I say.

‘I’m fine,’ mumbles Marlon. ‘But maybe I shouldn’t have had that last butter brickle! It’s always the butter brickle that gets you in the end. Hey, Romeo!’

‘Yes, sir?’

‘I need one more for the road, but something unostentatious.’


‘Humble. Simple. Plain. Whaddya got?’

‘Just French vanilla, sir. You’ve tasted every other flavour.’

‘He hath eaten me out of house and home; he hath put all my substance into that fat belly of his!’ says Bud.

Marlon says, ‘Spare me the Shakepeare, wise guy.’

‘Maybe you’ve had enough ice-cream for one night,’ I say. ‘Don’t forget, you’ve got a shoot in the morning.’

‘I’ll call a cab,’ says Bud.

‘Where to?’ asks Marlon.

‘I was thinking of Maria’s Cheesecake Pantry on 44th.’

‘Cheesecake? Now you’re talkin’! Let’s go, boys! Sayonara, Romeo!’

‘Have a pleasant evening, sir.’

John Caulton is the editor of the website Flash Fiction North.

Pantry Prose: Toska by Robert Keal

– Must be.

– Seriously, Dad, there’s nothing in there.

– Ah, but what about that big rock that just moved?

– Whoa!

As soon as the colour-crazed Toonal TV logo and its accompanying laugh-track jingle both erupt in sync, and the Sock Puppet Squad whoosh on-screen with their googly button eyes and wide sticker grins, Joe Easton wakes up much faster.

“Quick, Mum – you’ll miss it!” he shouts through the lounge doorway, holding half a bowl of cereal under his already milk-damp chin.

10 minutes later…

It’s almost the break when she appears, still wearing her threadbare dressing gown. She doesn’t carry any cereal or toast. Not even a manky old banana from their fridge’s blue-tinted plastic drawers.

“Sorry,” she says, sitting beside Joe and making the tired sofa sag even more. “I dozed off again for a bit there. Right, what’s been happening?”

He shrugs.

She leans forward, peering across at him. “Ignoring me, are we?”


“So, spill then.”

“Fine.” He twists round towards her, his own seat groaning. “They keep rapping about kindness and how being kind’s most important when times are hard. It’s easy for them to say, though – they’re socks!”

“You don’t think being kind’s important?”

“Yeah, but not every single morning.”


Joe lowers his bowl.

“Oi.” Mum points at the glass tabletop. “You’ll leave a ring if you’re not careful.”

Except Joe’s not really listening anymore. Ads hopscotch on the telly, jumping across the screen one after another, each eager to show off.

Several slots in, that promo from yesterday repeats, all jungle backdrop and CGI vines, with some cartoon creatures lurking about too; not as realistic as they could be, but they’ll do. Letters golder than buried treasure reveal clear instructions while wild animal noises play on loop:




Contact details, deadlines, etc.

Soon followed by:



Joe presses pause on the remote, waiting for his mum to notice.

“Is this real?” she asks after a few moments.

“Seems it,” he says.

“OK, OK.” Now she’s nodding loads, reminding him of the bulldog bobblehead inside her car. “OK, we’ll start brainstorming today after school.”

Joe scoffs.

“And what’s that supposed to mean, young man?”

“No offence, Mum, but you barely ever eat breakfast.”

She mumbles something about “not always my choice”, which Joe can’t quite hear.


– Looks sort of like your mum in the morning.

– I’m telling.

– Don’t you dare!

Their kitchen table is round, biscuit-coloured with brown flecks all through it; a large inedible cookie. Joe found this out when he was really small, and his teeth still hurt at the memory.

He sits there now, not tempted in the least, crushing A4 sheet after A4 sheet into compact snowballs, before letting them fly behind him – where the recycling crate lives. Whether against wall, floor or hard plastic, each crumpled projectile thuds weakly.

“Maybe we should have a breather.”

Mum rises from her squealing chair opposite.

“I’ve almost got it,“ Joe insists.

“Fair enough, but I need water. Do you want some?”

“No, thank you.”

“Suit yourself.”

She walks to the sink. It’s almost lunchtime and she’s still wearing her Do Not Disturb Before 10AM pyjamas. Outside, sunlight eggs the dirt-smeared windows while giant weeds grow taller between slate tiles.

Joe rubs ink-stained fingers across his closed eyelids.

“Why don’t we ever go to the zoo?” he asks, yawning. “Dad used to take me.”

Mum slurps, replying, “Because it’s too far and I’m not comfortable driving long distances.”

“We could ride the bus.”

“Why are you so fixated on the zoo all of a sudden?”

“Because I need a cool animal for this, and the zoo’s full of them.”

“So’s the internet.”

“It’s not the same.”

“It is cheaper, though. Go on, get searching.”

She hands Joe her phone while he’s still groaning; however, he soon relents, unlocking it and typing ‘weird wildlife’ into the top bar.

Results flood the screen like a pixelated Noah’s Ark.

Several taps later, he grins and reaches for his pencil again, plus some fresh, unballed paper.

Mum sits back down. “Find anything good?”

“Maybe,“ he says, doodling fast.


– Do you think he enjoys pretending to be still all the time?

– I would; it looks peaceful.

Its limp, grey nose reminds Joe’s mum of those old windsocks they have around airfields. She starts giggling.

“Why are you laughing?” he asks her.

“I’m not, just appreciating.”

Joe flips the page. “I wrote my reasons why he should win, see?”

Mum squints as she reads each scribbled bullet point aloud:

“1) He’s cute.”

“People love watching cute things on TV. It makes them softer.”

“OK, if you say so. 2) You probably haven’t heard of him.”

“Me and Dad didn’t until we saw one.”

“Hmm. 3) He really does live in the rainforest.” Mum nods. “Nice and topical. Or should that be tropical?”

Joe rolls his eyes.

“Tough table. 4) He could make people smile.”

“Not enough smiles these days.”

“5) I want him as a pet, but he’s too big for our garden.” Mum chuckles. “Don’t even think about it, mister. Has he got a name?”

“Crap, I forgot to add it!”

“Language, Joseph.”

“Sorry.” Joe reflips the page, writing rapidly in the top left corner. “Will you send it for me?”

Mum tugs at the edge of her pyjama top. “Yes, on my lunch break on Monday.”


– What is he?

– Name: Toska. Species: Malayan Tapir. Age: 7 years – same as you, mate.

– He’s a long way from home.

Two weeks later and Joe keeps running home from school. Always the route sweats his heavy breath right out of him, but he still manages a feeble gasp of “Any post?” after letting the door slam shut each time.

Today’s no exception – standing there in the hallway, fists clenched at his sides and jumper clung around him, a superhero’s fallen cape.

He peeks into the kitchen, but his mum’s video-calling on her laptop (at least she’s dressed for this one, he thinks). She waves him off sideways towards the living room.

When he enters, his tomato cheeks ripen into a smile. He attacks the big cardboard box faster than he can see it; ribbons of brown paper float like the remnants of long-dead fireworks, before falling slowly to the crumb-fed carpet below.

Joe practically sticks his head inside, grabbing the creased note from on top. Swallowing hard, he unfolds it and reads:

Dear Joe Easton,

Thank you for submitting to Rainfrosteds’ Next Mascot competition.

We’re pleased to inform you that we loved your entry and will be making Toska the Tapir our new spokesanimal.

Tune in next Friday after SPS Adventures on Toonal TV (7.30am) to meet Toska on the telly.

And don’t forget your free Rainfrosteds to enjoy while you’re watching.

Congratulations again!

Yours sincerely,

The Rainfrosteds Team

Joe’s chest constricts a little and he sends more paper dregs spiralling. They must just have forgotten the money, he tells himself, as Mum appears and asks, “What’s the verdict?”


– Says here he was born in the zoo.

– So, he’s never even been to Malaysia?

– ‘Fraid not.

“Listen here, sunshine.”

Joe’s mum practically spits into the speaker of her mobile phone.

“No, I’m sorry, you guys screwed up. We did everything right. Now what are you” – she uses that last word for target practise – “gonna do about it?”

It’s been over two weeks of this; her slippers have left tracks in the living-room carpet, and her voice is deep as Dad’s used to be.

Joe says nothing, watching CGI undergrowth stir once more on the telly screen.

“No, I didn’t check social media… Because I haven’t logged onto any accounts since my husband died, that’s why. Grief’s one way to keep you out of the bloody Matrix, let me tell you.”

Blurred around the edges, Toonal TV’s latest cool-guy presenter appears as if emerging from digitised bushes. He wipes invisible sweat off his forehead and keeps panting too loud.

“Hey, guys.” An exaggerated Australian accent makes Joe cringe; tapirs aren’t even from Australia! “I’m just looking for my new mate. You seen him?”

“The point is my son worked hard, won fair and square, and now you selfish people won’t give him his prize money. So, what am I supposed to tell him? That it was all for nothing?”

Joe braces himself as the final insult waddles into shot.

Identical to the updated cereal box perched on the table in front of him, Rainfrosteds really did turn his beloved tapir purple for some reason – with tiny white spots dripping like paint-splatter down his back and lime-green tufts of hair quiffing out of his head and tail.

Joe shivers, getting major supervillain vibes.

OTT again, the presenter cries out “Oh, there you are, Tim! Where were you hiding?”

So that’s why Toska hadn’t appeared on the box. But it’s only two syllables! If Joe can remember reading it years ago, Dad by his side trying his best to keep up and stay awake, then everyone else could understand it too.

Kids aren’t stupid, he wants to scream at the screen.

“Another free cereal? Are you actually serious? Fine, we’ll just see you in court. Goodbye.”

Mum jabs the button, then slams her handset on the table so hard the case cracks even more.

Right now, they can’t bear to look at each other, not with Tim the Tapir’s smug little grin, the colour of long-expired milk, all around them, and the creature’s high-honking laughter curdling in their eardrums.

Robert Keal hails from Kent but currently lives in Solihull, where he works as a copywriter. His recent fiction can be found in 100 Word Story and The Ekphrastic Review. He loves walking the tightrope between strangeness and reality.

Pantry Prose: The Visitation by Gary Beck

I was definitely feeling pleased with myself. I made it to the private clinic without the usual escorts, for a check-up that would tell me how to deal with my upcoming departmental physical. It was a rare treat to be alone for a few minutes without any responsibility. There was a knock on the door. I called: “Come in,” and a pretty, young girl entered.

“Good morning, sir. I’m Eva, from transport. These men are here to take you to x-ray.”

Two identical looking men, wearing blue jumpsuits, pushing a stretcher, came in. The only problem was that I wasn’t scheduled for x-ray. I lifted the sheet, grabbed my weapon, shot both of them, and they slumped to the floor. Eva froze, waiting for the lunatic to shoot her. Since she couldn’t run or hide, she tried to make herself invisible. Smart girl.

“Eva,” I said gently.

“Yes, sir,” she quavered.

I pointed and said:

“Give me that tray, please.”

She cautiously brought the tray. I put my weapon on it and told her to put it on the counter. She quickly rejected trying to use it on me, since she had absolutely no idea what it was, or how to use it. Smart girl.

“Give me your cell phone, please.”

She did. I called headquarters, apprised them of the situation, then waited for the police. A minute later a cop came in, weapon drawn. ready for anything. He quickly eyed the two bodies, the girl, then me. I read his nameplate.

“Sergeant Jefferson. Please search me, so you’ll know I’m unarmed.”

He approached carefully, as I slowly pulled down the sheet. He was thorough, even checking under the pillow and bed.

“What happened here?” he demanded.

“You’ll get a phone call in 30 seconds that will start a process. In the meantime, don’t let anyone else in, and if you can’t stop them, make sure they don’t see my weapon.”

He started to ask me something, but his phone rang.

“Yes, sir. Yes, sir. I understand, sir.” He disconnected and looked at me. “Homicide is going to be pissed when they can’t get in.”

“Sergeant Jefferson.”

“Yes, sir?”

“This is not an ordinary homicide.”

We waited quietly. Two minutes later the door opened and Parker and Lindner, my executive assistants/bodyguards, rushed in. Parker took in the scene at a glance.

“We have 10 agents deployed, air cover and a team is searching the building. A support team will arrive in eight minutes… Did you really have to go off on your own, sir?”

I ignored her and said:

“This is Sergeant Jefferson and Eva. They have been exemplary. They will be offered opportunities.”

“Yes, sir,” she replied. “Can we move to a secure location, so the containment team can get to work?”

“Sergeant Jefferson.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Is there anyone you have to contact until tomorrow?”

“Only my watch commander.”

“He, your Lieutenant and precinct Captain have been notified that you are temporarily assigned to a federal agency. Eva. Do you have to notify anyone?”

“I live with my sick father. I have to make dinner for him.”

“What if we send some good, Spanish speaking people to take care of him tonight?”

“That would be wonderful.”

“Then call him and say you’re spending the night with a girl friend. Take care of it, Lindy.”:

Lindner made a few quick calls, then said:

“Ready to go, sir.”

As we headed for the door, Jefferson asked:

“They aren’t human, are they?”

I just looked at him and didn’t reply, as our team guided us to waiting SUVs.

We raced, with helicopter cover, to a campus just outside Washington, D.C., and entered a special building through a series of well-protected tunnels. Parker arranged comfortable quarters for Sergeant Jefferson and Eva, told them to use the house phone if they needed anything, then informed them they would be interviewed at 7:30 a.m. Then Parker and Lindner joined me in my office.

“We have two questions to consider,” I said. “How did they find me and why didn’t they send a hit squad?”

Logical Lindy stated.

“You didn’t tell anyone you were going, so x number of people may have seen you leave the campus. I’ll check anyone who might have seen you go. We may be under observation. You may have been noticed in transit, or entering the clinic.” He looked at me and Parker “Have I omitted any possibilities?”

I couldn’t think of any, so I shook my head no, then nodded to Parker.

“The only thing that makes sense,” she said thoughtfully, “is that they didn’t have time to muster a strike force and took a chance on a simple snatch.”

I couldn’t think of a better explanation, looked at Lindner, who nodded agreement with Parker.

“Alright,” I mused. “We obviously have some work to do.”

“May I make a request, sir?” Parker asked. I knew what was coming, but nodded ‘yes’.

“Please don’t go anywhere again without us,” she urged. “We’ll close our eyes no matter what you do, we’ll look the other way, or oblige you any way we can. Let us do our job.”

We all knew it was more than a job, so I agreed.

“Shall we debrief you now, sir?” Lindner asked.

“Let’s do it after we debrief Eva and Jefferson.”

“Who first?” Parker asked.

“Eva. She was the eyewitness. Jefferson arrived after it was over. Be aware, I’d like to recruit both of them.”

“Eva’s a kid,” Parker protested.

“You’ll change your mind once you hear her account of the incident. Now. How about some dinner. I’m starved.”

When Eva entered the conference room the next morning, if she was intimidated by the people at the table, the video cameras and other recording devices, she didn’t show it.

Parker said crisply. “Are you ready?” Eva nodded. “Then please tell us everything that happened yesterday afternoon.”

She took a deep breath. “My supervisor at transport told me to take the two transporters to room 502 and bring the patient to x-ray. The two men were wearing some kind of blue worksuits, like plumbers or something. They looked a little weird…”

“In what way?” An Admiral asked.

“They looked alike, but odd.”

“Go on,” Parker said.

“I led them to the elevator, we went to the room, I knocked and a man said: ‘Come in’. I said: ‘I’m Eva, from transport and we were here to take you to x-ray’. The two men came in. The man on the bed looked at them, pulled out some kind of gun and shot them. I had no place to run or hide, so I made myself invisible and hoped the madman wouldn’t shoot me. Then he told me gently to bring him a tray and he put the gun on it and told me to put it on the counter. I knew he wasn’t going to shoot me, so I relaxed. Then he asked for my cell phone, which I gave him. He made a call, then the cop came in.”

“Good, Eva,” Parker said. “We’ll stop here for now, but we’ll talk to you again in an hour.” Parker signaled an agent. “Take Eva to breakfast, please.”

When she left, the group discussed her statement and agreed she handled an extremely challenging situation with exceptional poise.

“What do you think, sir?” Parker asked me.

“We’ll discuss that after you debrief me. Now let’s have Sergeant Jefferson.”

An aide brought Jefferson in and I saw him quickly scan the room, noting the high-ranking military officers and the cameras.

“Good morning, Sergeant Jefferson,” Parker said. “Will you please tell us aobut your response yesterday.”

“I was passing the clinic in my patrol car when I got a report of some kind of disturbance on the 5th floor. After a brief search I found the room, drew my pistol and entered cautiously. There were two bodies on the floor, a girl was standing in the corner and a man in bed said: ‘Come search me. Sergeant Jefferson, so you’ll know I’m unarmed’. I approached carefully, made sure there were no weapons, and he said: ‘You’ll get a phone call in 30 seconds that will tell you what to do.’ I saw a strange weapon on the counter, but before I could look closer, he said: ‘Don’t let anyone else in the room. If they do come in, do not let them see the weapon’. Just then my phone rang, my Captain instructed me to cooperate with the agency taking charge and disconnected. I told the man: ‘Homicide is going to be pissed’. He said: ‘This is not an ordinary homicide, Sergeant Jefferson’. Then two agents came in and took charge.”

“Thank you, Sergeant Jefferson,” Parker said. “We’ll talk to you again in an hour.” She signaled an aide to lead him out and he turned to me.

“Question, sir?”

“Of course,” I replied.

“Will I be allowed to leave?”

“Certainly. You’re not a prisoner. If you wish, you can go after the next meeting. However. You might want to talk to me before you go.”

“Thank you, sir,” and the aide led him out.

Parker looked at me quizzically, and I said:

“We want to hear their opinion and perception of what happened. Then we’ll analyze the incident.”

We listened to Sergeant Jefferson’s and Eva’s account of what they thought happened. They were thorough and clear on what they did and didn’t know. I met with them, one at a time, Jefferson first, Parker and Lindner sitting in as I reviewed his record.

“You’ve been on the force for five years, two years of army service before that. You have several commendations, one for a shoot-out in a deli that saved civilian lives. You are respected by your superiors, especially your watch commander. You are going to night school for a law degree. I offer you the following choices: You can return to your precinct with commendations that will put you on a fast promotion track. You can join our agency and we will train you in counterterrorism and other skills, and fast track you for a law degree in the area of your specialty. You would be working for a clandestine government agency, with many responsibilities and benefits.”

“Do I have to decide now, sir?”

“No. We’ll give you a contact number if you opt to join us. However. There is one stipulation. You cannot discuss or tell anyone about the events of the last two days, or mention the agency, under any circumstances.”

“What if my watch commander asks what I’ve been doing?”

“Your chain of command has been informed you helped federal agents subdue two men who attempted to kidnap a government witness. Parker will give you an outline of the incident that will satisfy any inquiries. Lindner will arrange to have you driven home, or to your precinct. Good luck, Sergeant Jefferson.”

Thank you, sir. One more question?”

I nodded and he asked:

“What kind of weapon was that?”

I just grinned and Lindner summoned an aide, who led Jefferson out.

“What do you think, sir?” Parker asked. “Will he be back?”

“We’ll hear from him tomorrow. Let’s see Eva.”

An aide brought her in and seated her.

I nodded, then reviewed her background.

“Eva Rodriguez, age 19, graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School, 4.0 grade average, ran track, scholarship offers, including one for track. Father became ill and you had to go to work at two low paying jobs. We can help you get a better job and arrange a medical policy to take care of your father. Or you can go to work for our agency, take special training, then attend college part-time in preparation for a medical career. We would provide assistance to your father while you were in training.” Before I could continue, she said:

“I would like to join your agency, sir.”

“Why?” Parker snapped.

“I know enough to realize something very important is going on and I would like to make a meaningful contribution. I also want the educational opportunity.”

“Lindy. Have someone drive Ms. Rodriguez home. Eva. You cannot discuss the events of the last two days with anyone, not even with your father. Unless you change your mind, a car will pick you up at 7:00 a.m, and take you to a training facility.”

“Thank you, sir,” and an aide led her out.

“She’s awfully young, sir,” Parker commented.

“She’s smart, tough, has good sense and good judgment. In her way, not unlike Jefferson. We’re facing a dangerous menace that we don’t understand and we seem to be learning everything the hard way. We need people who can rise to the challenge. As you both know, they don’t grow on trees. We have to find out what we’re confronting and need all the help we can get.”

Parker moved closer, recognizing a real opportunity to question me.

“Who do you think we’re facing, sir?”

“Looking at this logically,” I replied, which made Lindner grin, “there are two alternatives. Either a powerful cabal has made incredible scientific advances in producing some kind of android that can almost pass for human… Or there has been an alien incursion that for what purpose has not yet been determined.”

“Which theory do you favor, sir?” Lindner asked.

“There isn’t enough evidence to reach a conclusion, but I would prefer an earthly conspiracy, to an alien visitation… Do either of you have an alternative theory?”

They shook their heads and Lindner said:

“Better a human conspiracy. At least we’ll be able to figure out their motives.”

Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theatre director and worked as an art dealer when he couldn’t earn a living in the theatre. He has also been a tennis pro, a ditch digger and a salvage diver. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines and his published books include 39 poetry collections, 14 novels, 4 short story collections, 1 collection of essays and 8 books of plays. Gary lives in New York City.

You can find more of Gary’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Pantry Prose: The Stone Man by Jeremy Akel

“It’s not something most people know. Hell, I bet you don’t know it yourself.”

Clinton was a big man, with a tangle of black hair just covering the tops of his ears. He stood in the doorway of the small cabin, swallowing the space around him.

“Know what?” My focus was elsewhere, inside. The cabin was tidy, its furniture well kept. There were no signs of a struggle.

“The mountains. They’re old.” Clinton paused, scanning the area outside. “Older than the trees. Older than the animals too. Hell, the Smokies, they’re even older than the Atlantic.”

I turned and regarded him. Clinton, a Gatlinburg police officer, wore his uniform loosely. “You’d never guess it, right? Appalachia was here even before there was an ocean.”

“You’re right, I didn’t know that.” It wasn’t quite dusk yet, and I could hear the trill of a finch just outside the cabin window. I recalled a saying, something I heard once: “If you want to learn, make friends with smart people.”

Clinton snorted. “Will Rogers. And you got the quote wrong.” He looked at me levelly. “He was Cherokee, you know. Will Rogers.” I waited for him to complete his thought. “Just like Appalachia. All of this, everything here. At one time, this was all Cherokee.”

It was getting late. I wanted to secure the cabin before nightfall; the roads on the mountain can be treacherous during winter. I turned back towards the room.

“What do you make of all this?” I gestured to the sofa, the cedar ottoman. Whatever happened to Anna didn’t happen here, but I was curious to hear his thinking.

“You know exactly what happened. She planned this. She closed her bank accounts, sold everything she had. She didn’t even tell her roommate she was leaving. And Boston’s not a short drive. We haven’t been able to find a crime anywhere, much less a victim.”

Clinton breathed out, slowly.

“Sometimes people just want to disappear. It’s happened before, on occasion.”

Maybe he was right.


Twenty years ago, Elkmont, Tennessee was a ghost town. Even today it barely registers. Aside from a campground, (“Temporarily Closed”), and a turn-of-the-century cemetery, (“Most Haunted in the Smoky Mountains”), a traveler could make his way from Gatlinburg to Maryville and know nothing about the town or its history.

Recently however, the National Park Service had taken an interest in the area. It had been decided, by someone important, that the town, situated as it was at the base of the Smokies, would make an ideal vacation spot for well-heeled urbanites. That decision, more hopeful than sensible, explained the current and incomplete restoration of the town’s several cottages, (excepting the Wonderland Park Hotel, which collapsed in 2005), and also my lodgings in the historic district, near the bank of the Little River.

It was morning now, the next day, and I took my field notes to the Appalachian Clubhouse, a short walk from my cabin. I was greeted by a stocky woman in her early forties, wearing a checkerboard apron.

“Either you’ve got good timing or good luck.” She poured a cup of coffee and set a place for me at the table.

“What do you mean?” I felt I’d had neither recently. The past few days had been a slog. I was in law enforcement, an investigator with the National Park Service. When I was sent here, to what was essentially a ghost town, it felt like a punishment. It was almost Christmas, and I missed my family.

The woman smiled. “A small group is renting the Clubhouse tomorrow. Normally the town’s closed, but for these kinds of things I make my way from Gatlinburg to help out. It’s easy money. You want breakfast?”

I did want breakfast, actually. Something about the cold always roused my appetite. “What’s good here?”

She laughed. “Everything. I make it myself. You wait; I’ll bring you something you’ll like. My name is Daisy, by the way. You need anything, you ask for me.”

Daisy was right. The breakfast was delicious. She brought me a fried pork chop smothered in white gravy and a biscuit stuffed with pimento cheese.

I wondered, is this what Anna ate the morning she disappeared?

“Well? Was it good?” Daisy had returned and was refilling my coffee.

“Very good.” I motioned for her to sit with me. I figured she wouldn’t mind; we were, it appeared, the only people in town. “Do you know why I’m here?”

She laughed again, a short staccato. “Yes, I do, Mr. Agent. Small towns have big ears. And you can’t get much smaller than Elkmont.”

I smiled and showed her a photo of Anna. “Have you seen this girl?”

“Hard not to. A single girl, traveling alone? Traveling here? Of course I saw her.” Daisy paused a moment then, thinking. “But I’m not sure she wanted to be seen. You get a sense of people, you know? Like how I knew you wanted company the moment you walked in. This girl…” Daisy hesitated, “…she was solitary.”

“Was she with anyone?”

“No, she wasn’t.”

That was it, then. Clinton was right. I started to gather my belongings. Daisy stopped me.

“I said she wasn’t with anyone. I didn’t say she was alone.”

I looked at her, puzzled. Daisy fidgeted in her chair. She seemed self-conscious.

“I don’t know how I feel telling you this, Mr. Agent, but I think it’s something you should know.” Daisy was quiet for a moment. “You’re going to think me silly.”

I sat back in my chair. I waited.

“I’ve lived here all my life. My parents too. When I saw her, this girl, I saw someone else. Something else.

“There’s a story, an old Cherokee story, about a stone man. You know it?”

“No, I don’t.”

“He’s a monster. He looks like a man, but he’s not. He…” Daisy looked away, then. “He’s a cannibal. He hunts children. And then he eats their livers.” She turned towards me. “You can’t kill him. His skin. It’s hard, like stone.”

It might have been the look I gave her.

“I know what you’re thinking, Mr. Agent, but I don’t care. Thats what I saw, when that girl hiked to her cabin on the mountain. She was with the stone man.”


My investigation was complete. I looked forward to going home.

I’ll tell you a secret, something everyone in law enforcement knows. Eyewitness testimony is unreliable, notoriously so. Whatever it was that Daisy saw that day, I thought no more of it.

In truth, I wanted to see my family. This case, my time on the mountain, it was affecting me. When I thought of Anna, I thought of my daughter. I missed her terribly.

Another thought occurred to me then, a memory. It surprised me that I should think of this now, but I did. I recalled a conversation I had with my father several years ago. It was the last time we spoke.

We were alone that evening, my father and I. I was in his apartment, a sparsely decorated two-bedroom unit not far from the local middle school. He was sitting in his recliner. I was standing. Looking back now, it seems odd which details held meaning for me, that I was able to recollect same with such certain clarity. For example, that recliner; I remembered it clearly.

It was a deep burgundy, almost the color of walnut. Over the years, however, it had become faded, and compressed as well; the padding had compacted, and over time slowly had become worn. This was his chair, in the corner of his apartment, and growing up I was not permitted near it. Next to his chair was a tray table, and on a coaster on that table was his drink, a tall glass of Coke spiked with fernet. My father was wearing a wool cardigan, and somewhat incongruously, a pair of brightly colored golf pants decorated with a harlequin pattern of red and green diamonds.

I was never close to my father, but not by choice. He just seemed to recede, especially in those later years. The man kept his secrets.

This is what he told me: “Whatever it is you heard, it’s a damn lie. I was nowhere near that girl.” I remembered looking at my father without speaking. The silence was stony. “For Chrissake, my bus stop is right outside the school. How the hell else am I supposed to get to work?”

I remembered trying to control my voice, unsuccessfully. “I don’t want you anywhere near my family. Near my daughter. We’re finished.” And we were.

Two months later, I saw my father on television after his arrest. He was smiling.


It was evening now, and even the finches had gone quiet. Most people who come to the Smokies do so in the summer, when the lightning bugs are active, and the crickets sing to the stars. Not so in the winter; it was quiet now, and Appalachia was hibernating.

I readied myself for bed.

And then, I began to dream.

I saw myself, not as myself, but as a spectator to my own life. Looking down, past the spruce firs and pine oaks, I saw that I was sitting with Daisy on the porch of my cabin. She wasn’t stocky now, but beautiful, and I thought of my wife in a way that I hadn’t in years.

She spoke to me.

I wasn’t completely honest with you, Mr. Agent.” Her voice wasn’t staccato now, but lyrical, and hearing it, I saw myself as a young man. There is a way to kill the stone man, a way to banish him forever.

I can tell you how. If you want me to…”

I was dreaming, and I wasn’t. I didn’t know what Daisy was offering, not really, but I knew that I wanted it badly, whatever it was.

Please.” I spoke to her above the treetops, but she was looking at me on the porch, her hands in mine.

Blood. From a woman. The stone man cant abide it.

“This is how you kill him, the only way. When it’s their time, the women surround him on the mountain where he lives. And then the stone man is banished, and he can never return.”

I heard a rushing sound then, like a rising chorus, and I knew my dream was ending.

Dont forget our conversation, Mr. Agent…”


I didn’t forget.

It was colder now, the next morning; the winter frost had begun to settle on the ferns and evergreens outside my cabin. It was of no matter. I had come to a realization—I wasn’t investigating a disappearance. I was investigating another, older crime.

I needed to return to the mountain.

The cabin was as Clinton and I had left it. A wool blanket was neatly folded on the sofa. The cedar ottoman was set carefully atop a braided rug. I was unsure exactly what I was looking for, but I knew that once I found it, I would know.

I wondered whether Anna had a sister. I hoped not.

At first I didn’t see him.

That’s what strange about mountains; they hide the smaller things. It’s the immensity of it all, I suppose. Maybe he was there all along.

He was tall, taller than a man, and he carried a cane with a crossed wheel at the handle, and three feathers attached at the collar. His skin was a dusky gray, the color of shale. He smelled of ammonia.

He smiled at me.

I wasn’t Anna, however, nor was I a child. I knew the stone man wouldn’t touch me.

I thought about my daughter.

Gathering my courage, I approached him the only way I knew how, with my 9mm pistol held before me. I slid closer and closer, until the sharp tang of his scent almost overwhelmed me. As if in a dream then, I began to hear a rushing sound, rising in volume, while the world before me emptied. But still, I could see him there standing, the stone man.

And all he did was smile, smile, smile, smile, smile, smile, smile, smile, smile, smile.


I awoke the next morning in my cabin. And I knew. I found what I was looking for.

I’d seen a smile just like that, years ago.

I placed a call to the Boston Police Department. I had nothing more to offer than when I had arrived, but I had to make the report. I asked them to investigate.

At least they were polite.

I thought once more about Anna, about Daisy, about Appalachia. I remembered what Clinton told me: that the mountains were here before the trees, and would be here, I knew, even after the oceans had boiled, and the land turned to ash. And then I thought about my family.

In two hours I would be on a plane heading east.

And then, God willing, I would be home.

Jeremy Akel is an attorney. He received his Juris Doctor from the University of Florida, and his Master of Laws from George Washington University. As an undergraduate he attended Vanderbilt University. Jeremy also teaches Aikido, a Japanese martial art, and is certified by the United States Aikido Federation as Fukushidoin. His work has been published in Altered Reality Magazine, Rue Scribe, and Sundial Magazine.

Pantry Prose: The Elf and the Bullies by Sally Shaw

The swings were removed in 1976, after the laughter dissolved, like the rice paper skin of a flying saucer, when sucked, and before Connie and Ruth realise they’d never see each other again. The swing carcass, displays its paint, peeling back like scabs from a child’s knee. Connie remembers the day the council worker unclipped the swing chains and ripped-off the last of the Police tape that coiled down the frame-legs like slithered socks.

Today the scabs have been picked off. Furrows hoed into the tarmac, by Mary-Jane sandals proclaim the narrative. Connie steadies herself as adolescence imagery collide and swirl bashing into her like school bullies. Her olive splattered hands cling to the once friendly frame. She scrunches her eyes shut, listens to the squeak, scrape, squeak, scrape…thud. Pink varnished nails pierce the peach flesh of her palms. She sways like a Weeble. Her childhood mind recuses her. Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down, reverberates in her head. She blinks, disentangles her grip and twists around, staggers to a slatted bench that links the grass to the tarmac. She’s unable to leave.

Connie plonks down, grateful the slats haven’t fractured. She sighs with relief, and as the whisper of her breath escapes her head, the squeak, scrape starts again. She gazes toward the swing frame there are two girls each on a swing. They appear as if she is peering through the crinkly orange cellophane, from a Lucozade bottle. It evokes a vision of her child-self and Ruth holding Lucozade cellophane in front of their faces, giggling, trying to make the black and white television into colour. Connie smiles, aches to have Ruth sat next to her now. The girls on the swings scream out with delight as their tummies summer-salt the higher they go. She rubs away teardrops as they prickle her cheek. She sees the girls clearly, there’s a slither of orange cellophane beneath the swing, it pirouettes with each whoosh. A tidal wave of tears water-log her perception, until soaked away by a tissue. It’s not just two girls. She’s observing herself and Ruth.

Connie and Ruth become friends on their first day at infant school. Ruth sits with her legs wrapped around the speckled painted chair limbs. Head resting upon folded arms on the tabletop, the perfume of home consoles her. Her emerald cardigan shrugs with each sob. Connie skips into the classroom, cardigan hanging off her shoulders, one sock up, one sock down, a splodge of Weetabix, like a winner’s medal on her chest. Graham Stott and Snotty Stanley are pulling Jessica Mee’s pigtails. There’s no space at their table, Connie glances to check if there’s any other children from her street. She spies an empty chair next to a girl she’s never seen before not even at the launderette. The girl is scriking, like when Connie’s Mum rattles the back of her legs, the bare bit between socks and dress. It normally happens when her Mum is at the end of her tether. Connie plonks down in the chair next to Ruth who sits up rubbing her nose on her cardigan sleeve. Connie smiles at her whispers she’ll be her friend if she wants. Ruth nods and the teacher shouts “Shush” the only sound a last snurch from Ruth.

At playtime Connie peels off the medal of Weetabix and eats it, which makes Ruth giggle. Ruth is smaller than the other children. Everyone’s small at the start, by first year junior Connie has grown, Ruth remains elf-like. Whenever Connie and Ruth are together, Ruth is safe. Connie’s’ outgoing personality builds a fortress around them.

In class, a pea sized eraser shot at the back of Ruth’s head, a foot tripped over on her way to the front of the class. A group of tittering girls, in the playground as Ruth catches up with Connie. Always just out of earshot or sight of the best friend. Danger lurks around the corner of the alley where Ruth goes left, and Connie turns right.

“On your way to the shoemakers Elfie?” Jessica Mee hollers from above Ruth’s head. Her and Snotty Stanley jump down from Jessica’s backyard wall, landing in front of Ruth. Ruth steps to the right they step to their left. They snigger, as they form a barricade. Stanley leaps behind her. She’s trapped. Jessica prods Ruth and she stumbles backwards. Stanley’s arms lock around her, pin both arms to her sides. Ruth wriggles, as she does, he squeezes her to him and his knuckles ram her tummy button. The force steals her voice and breath. She crumples over the balled grip.

“Hold her still, Snotty.”

Jessica snatches Ruth’s head back by her hair. The sting of her enemy’s palm belts out a scream.

They snigger at Ruth face down on the cobbles, hands pressed against her front were her shirt tucks into her skirt. Back on top of the wall, the racket of their snorts of triumph rebound and chase Ruth as she scurries away.

Jessica and Stanley continue to torment her throughout junior school. Ruth tells no one and never retaliates.

The end of the last year of junior school, and the summer holiday. Ruth and Connie write a fun list. They start with number one and two on the first Saturday of their six weeks together. Meet outside Miss Daisy’s sweet shop. Miss Daisy’s, is the best shop, the girls love the white chocolate mice and flying saucers. Each of these last for at least three minutes when sucked. Ruth is the best at making a flying saucer last the longest.

Miss Daisy is relieved to see Ruth and Connie when the ding of the bell alerts her. They’re not like the other children who open and shut the door repeatedly before stomping in like herds of wild animals.

“What will it be today, girls?”

“Hello Miss Daisy, five-pence worth of white mice and flying saucers please.” Ruth answers and asks how Miss Daisy is today.

“Happy to see you pair. Although I’m not sure chocolate mice are the best for today, it’s going to be a hot one, the weatherman says.”

“Shall we have a bag of crisps each, Ruth?”

Ruth nods and Miss Daisy places the jar of mice back on the shelf, next to the pink shrimps.

As they turn to leave the shop, the bell dings, bobbing above the head of Jessica as she jams her foot between the door edge and frame. The door held open; her mean stance blocks their way out.

“Hi, Connie.”

Connie smiles, Jessica steps to the side and holds the door. Ruth, follows, bites her lower lip in response to the jab between her shoulder blades.

“She’s always trying to be our friend when her little mate is not about. Come on Ruth lets run so she doesn’t see us.”

They dash off challenging one another to race, to the Pelican Crossing opposite the park.

Connie wins the race; she doesn’t notice her friend glancing over her shoulder to check Jessica isn’t in pursuit. There’s a lady pushing a buggy with bags hanging from the handles and a toddler sat chewing on a Rusk. A red Cortina stops when the Pelican chirps telling the girls its safe to cross. As the car drives on Ruth notices two faces peering from the rear window.

The swings are empty when they get to the park. There’s a group of kids from school sat on the bottom of the slide, drinking Tizer and passing a cigarette around. Ruth’s not bothered by them as they don’t take any notice of her. The roundabout turns, a long-haired boy lies with his head hanging down, intermittently pushing against the tarmac with the tips of his fingers. His hair sweeps up litter with each circle turned. They dash over to the swings, each jump like jumping jacks as their thighs catch the heat from the black seats. Skirts pulled down they hitch up back onto the swing. Tip toes push backwards, legs lifted straight, lean forward, the feet push again. Ruth glances over to Connie, they swing in tandem, higher, and higher, a wave of joy rolls in Ruth’s tummy. The joy rollercoasters to concern as she spots the red Cortina parked, and then to fear as she recognises the two that climb from the back of the car.

Ruth slows to a stop. Connie slows to a stop.

“Phew, its hot, look the tarmac is like treacle.”

Ruth raises her foot onto her knee, the soles of her Mary Jane sandals splattered with black, like squashed liquorice Nipits.

“Hi Connie, Are you going to let me, and Stanley have a go?”

“In a minute.”

Jessica grabs the chains beneath Ruth’s hands, leans in close to the side of her cheek. Ruth’s knuckles speckle pink and white with determination to hold on.

“Laugh and smile like you’re enjoying this Elfie.”

Jessica backs up releases the swing, Stanley pushes the seat of the swing from the rear.

Ruth laughs, louder and louder, she thrusts her legs backwards and forwards. Screeches “Wee, wee, wee.” Each time she soars forward, her sandals scape against the body.

Ruth glides higher and higher her screeches morph to screams of delight as she tips the bag of flying saucers. A rainbow cascades. She’s still, arms linked around the chains and tiny hands grip each other. Swing slows. The only sound squeak, scrape, squeak, scrape, until the Policewoman catches hold of Ruth’s fists. The flying saucers polka-dot Jessica’s face.

Connie plucks out a paper bag from her coat pocket. She pauses, untwists the white paper bag and peeks inside like a kid. She places a pink flying saucer onto her tongue and sucks. The rice paper case dissolves, releases the bitterness of naivety and decomposes the image of her and Ruth.

Sally Shaw has an MA Creative Writing from the University of Leicester. She writes short stories and is currently working on her novel based in 1950s Liverpool. She sometimes writes poetry. She gains inspiration from old photographs, history, her own childhood memories, and is inspired by writers Sandra Cisneros, Deborah Morgan, Liz Berry and Emily Dickinson. She has had short stories and poetry published in various online publications, including The Ink Pantry and AnotherNorth and in a ebook anthology ‘Tales from Garden Street’ (Comma Press Short Story Course book 2019). Sally lives in the countryside with her partner, dog, and bantam.

You can find more of Sally’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Pantry Prose: The Jungle by Balu Swami

The year was 1520. It was a frenzied time. A decade earlier, Rafael Álvares Avila had set foot on a distant land at the edge of a dense forest and befriended members of a hunter-gatherer tribe whose existence was hitherto unknown in his part of the world. When word got around about the exploits of Avila and his band of intrepid men, every Grandee, no matter the pedigree, declared himself an explorer. Rumors of bountiful riches hidden in the dense forest and of bare-chested tribal women prompted all stripes of rascally men – marauders, privateers, freebooters – to line up for commission on expeditions announced by noble and not so noble men.

Brother Juan, already struggling with his spiritual formation, was having bouts of anxiety about what the future held for him. He wanted so much to be a part of Father Miguel’s mission to spread God’s word among the tribal folks in the newfound jungle. It had been several months since Father Miguel had sent his entreaties to the Pope seeking his blessings. The Pope, however, had not yet ordained the project. Brother Juan had learned from traders and venders that Prince Manuel da Lopez’s expedition was all but ready to leave. He liked the prince. Prince Manuel was honorable and respectable. Brother Juan wanted the church mission to be a part of Prince Manuel’s expedition. He wanted no part of expeditions in search of El Dorado, of which there were many. Parishioners had come to him with stories about a gilded king whose subjects tossed ornaments made of gold, silver, and emerald into a mythical river in the jungle to propitiate the gods. He had cautioned them against falling for concocted stories and legends. He had also heard horror stories about atrocities committed by Iberian mercenaries and sailors in the jungle. Priests who had been part of earlier expeditions had recorded instances of massacre, torture, rape, and slavery – sexual and otherwise. The conquering colonials had looted local treasures and made the enslaved indigenous people carry the loot to the waiting ships.

The friars eventually received the long-awaited benediction. Shortly thereafter, Prince Manuel’s fleet set sail amid much fanfare and solemn ceremonies.

The first night at sea, Brother Juan dreamed the decapitated head dream. This had been a recurring dream ever since he was eight. In the very first dream, his decapitated head was singing, laughing, and playing with his embodied friends. When he told his parents about the frightening dream, they took him to the parish priest who told him that bad dreams were the devil’s doing and that he should put his trust in the power of prayer. No matter how hard he prayed, the dream kept recurring. Sometimes the head was sad, sometimes happy, sometimes angry. That night on the ship, the head was bobbing in the middle of an ocean. Initially the head resembled his, but it slowly transformed into a ball of strings and the strings slowly turned into snakes. He shared his dream with Father Miguel who laughed and said maybe he was possessed by the spirit of Medusa. He then proceeded to tell him the story of Medusa.

Medusa was one of three daughters born to sea deities Keto and Phorcys. Since Phorcys happened to be Keto’s brother as well, he was Medusa’s father and uncle. Medusa had live serpents in place of locks of hair. It was not always like that. She once had rousing golden hair. The serpents were the result of a curse by Athena, the goddess of wisdom and warfare. Medusa had made the mistake of copulating with Poseidon, the protector of seafarers, in a temple dedicated to Athena. As a punishment, Athena turned Medusa’s golden locks into live serpents.

Unbeknownst to Medusa, a plot was hatched in a faraway land to murder her. Acrisius, the king of Argos, believing an oracle’s prophecy that he would be killed by his grandson, deposited his daughter, Danae, and her pre-teen son, Perseus, in a wooden chest and cast it out to the sea. Mother and child washed ashore on the island of Seriphos whose ruler Polydectus took a fancy to Danae. Perseus disliked Polydectus, so he plotted to kill him. He had heard of a Gorgon named Medusa whose gaze turned people to stone. Aware of Athena’s curse, he sought her help in finding and killing Medusa. With Athena’s assistance, he went in search of Medusa, found her, and beheaded her avoiding her gaze. He brought the decapitated head, which retained its ability to turn onlookers to stone, to Polydectus and declared, “Here is your gift, my Lord!” Polydectus looked at the gift and was turned into stone.

The references to sea, sea gods, and seafaring in the story were not lost on Brother Juan. He was shaken by parallels between his dream and the fable. Snakes in place of hair? He reflexively touched his head just to make sure. He asked Father Miguel if there was a moral to the story. Father Miguel told him that the myths were created by pagans a long time ago when polytheism was predominant. Enlightened humans like him and Brother Juan knew that there was but one God and by trusting Him, all humans would attain salvation. That explanation – more of a pronouncement – did nothing to settle Brother Juan’s feeling of unease.

After over a month at sea, the fleet commander announced that they would be making landfall in a couple of days. That night, a severe storm hit the ocean. Giant waves tossed the ships this way and that. Two of the ships sank taking the sailors down with them. The other ships managed to stay afloat despite hours of non-stop rain, turbulent waves, and whipping winds. However, the commander was unable to establish the coordinates and the sailors had no control over the direction of the ships’ drift. When the storm finally died, they found themselves in unchartered waters. The usually composed prince was tense and agitated. There was very little food left since food rations were in one of the ships that sank. After a few more days of delirious drifting, one of the sailors spotted seaweed. The commander knew land had to be nearby. The ships followed the floating seaweed and soon there were other promising signs: birds circling overhead, musty odor of mangrove swamps, and distant roar of surf. Finally, they saw land – more precisely, thick vegetation.

The prince picked a landing site and rode a canoe towards it along with five sailors. There was no sign of human or animal life where they landed. They marched inland, rifle at the ready. Once they reached the edge of the jungle, there was nowhere to go. The vegetation was so thick and the canopy so dense, it was hard to see where one was going. They drew their swords and cut an arduous path looking for anything that looked edible. They found some berries at the base of a tree. After taste-testing, they went looking for similar trees. As they got deeper into the jungle, they heard movements in the treetops. They could vaguely see the outlines of a creature that leapt from one branch to the next. They assumed they were monkeys which did not interest them. They were in search of more edible animals – a squirrel, a rabbit or even a snake. They came upon another berry tree and were inspecting the fruit when figures emerged from the shadows. They were surrounded by short men armed with spears. More men dropped from the trees and soon there were scores of them. The men talked among themselves and inspected the visitors. One of them touched a sailor and withdrew his hand quickly. Another leapt up to touch the face of a tall sailor. As the native men got bolder, the sailors were beginning to lose their nerve. When a native pinched the flesh of a sailor, the sailor shouted “cannibals!” and shot the offender. Within minutes, the prince and the other sailors had been speared to death.

The waiting sailors heard the shot and feared the worst. As the sailors stood on the deck watching the shore, one of the sailors dropped dead felled by a poisoned dart. The sailors moved the cannons on the ships in position to aim at the landing site. When the natives gathered on the beach to look at the ships, a cannon ball took out half of them. The natives made a hasty retreat. When there was no movement or activity for a long time, Brother Juan offered to go ashore and make a peace offering. He rode alone in a canoe. As soon as he reached the shore, he was set upon, dragged away from the beach and beheaded. The natives stuck Brother Juan’s head on a gold-painted pole and placed it on the beachfront as a warning to intruders. When Brother Juan did not return, Father Miguel went ashore looking for him. Blinded by the shiny pole on the beach, he rode the canoe in the general direction of the beach. As he was pulling the canoe out of the water, he saw Brother Juan’s decapitated head. The moment his eyes caught Brother Juan’s eyes; he was turned into stone. From that day on, Brother Juan’s head sitting on a golden pole kept all intruders and invaders away from that part of the world.

Balu Swami lives in the US. His works have appeared in Ink Pantry, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Flash Fiction North, Short Kid Stories, Twist and Twain, and Literary Veganism.

You can find more of Balu’s work here on Ink Pantry

Pantry Prose: The Room Was Bright and Laughing by Sean Cahill-Lemme

He put his hand over mine and it looked so old. “No one will even want them,” I said,

“They’re dated”. He said that wasn’t the point and walked over to the white dresser by your bed.

“Let’s start with her shirts,” he said, and I told him your shirts were in the tall dresser by the window. He put a shaky hand on your bed for support, and I could hear his knees creak as he stood. The last time we were in your room together he could have carried your dresser over his shoulder.

“The top drawer?” he asked.

“No,” I said, “the third down.”

He opened the drawer and pulled out a neat pile of tiny shirts that were so colourful. When he took the shirts out of your drawer, the room changed. It wasn’t how it was the last time you were in it, and so it wasn’t really yours anymore. I started crying, and he came over to me with your shirts and sat down. He said, “We knew this wasn’t going to be easy, Elle, but you’re doing a great job.”

The shirt at the top of the pile was yellow with a little smiling duck on the front. I thought, if only this duck knew—everything in your room seemed so unexpectant of tragedy.

I could see your dad looking at me out of the corner of my eye. He had that same look when he found me with the pills in your closet. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Elle, she’s not here.” He took your shirt from me and went to put it in a black garbage bag.

“No, Christ, no,” I said, “I brought boxes, they’re downstairs.” I went to stand up, but he offered to get them. He left the room and I listened for his footsteps to reach the bottom of the stairs. I stood up and walked to the door and locked it.

On your bedside table there was a framed picture of us. I picked it up and saw from the dust that it had been moved. I heard him coming back upstairs, and then I heard him gently trying at the door handle. “Elle,” he said from behind the door, “come on, let me in.”

“So,” I said, “you have been in here.” He didn’t say anything at first, and I waited for him to deny it, but then he said,

“Once, when I was drunk, but I didn’t take anything.” Then he said, “Elle, you told me I could keep the house if I promised to keep the room just as it was, and I did, I have.”

I knew he was telling the truth because the rest of the house had gone to shambles. There were cracks up the walls, the wood floors were black and warped, a musty smell was coming up through the vents; the whole house was falling apart except for your room. This room was the same, even structurally, like the house was helping to keep his promise too.

I picked up the picture and looked at us. “Hi, sweetheart,” I said to you, “beautiful, beautiful little sweetheart. I never stopped thinking about you for one second,” I said. “I just couldn’t come back here, you know? But I never forgot, no ma’am, and when your dad said that I had moved on, baby, that wasn’t true. I didn’t move on, I just kinda’ kept on surviving. I met another man, I did, and it wasn’t your daddy, I know, but your daddy wasn’t the same after, baby. And this new man, he was as nice a man, as nice as they come. And he gave me your sisters, and all growing up they asked about their big sister, and all growing up I told them about you. Well, they’re a lot older than you are now, and have babies of their own, but you’re always their big sister watching over them, protecting them, I know”.

I put the picture back down. I heard him from behind the door again.

“Elle,” he said.

“Just one more minute,” I said.

The sun was coming through the window, which was strange, you know, because whenever I pictured your room, it was shrouded in gloom. But that’s not how it was, not with that eastern-facing window. The room was bright and laughing, and I remembered how I chose the colours for just that reason.

I opened your door to let him back in. His eyes were red and he kind of shrank away from me. “I’m sorry,” I said.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. He had the boxes folded flat under his arm and said, “It took me a while to find these, flat boxes.” He smiled a little, that crooked smile that you both have. He put the boxes down in the centre of the room and started putting them together. “All to Goodwill?” He asked.

“No,” I said, “but I’m going to mark each of them.” I was staring at the door frame where we had marked your height. I followed the notches inch by inch, and when they stopped at three and a half feet, my eyes kept climbing.

“Okay,” he said, “they’re ready”. He pulled one of the boxes next to the pile of shirts and sat back down. I joined him on the floor, and he said, “So, how far away is Tessa and…” He tried to remember my son in-law’s name. I told him that I didn’t want to talk about anything else outside of your room. He nodded and reached for your shirts, but I stopped him. “Elle,” he said. And I said,

“Can you put them back just how they were? Just for a second, then I promise we will pack everything up.” He nodded and got up and then I said, “Sit down with me after.”

He put your shirts back where they were and stepped away from the dresser. He grunted a little as he squatted down next to me. I took his hand in mine and held it. And the two of us sat there, for a while, in your unchanged room.

Sean Cahill-Lemme was born in Park Ridge, Illinois—yes, he does consider that to be Chicagoland—to a family of raconteurs, the Northside descendants of Erin. He has no problem admitting he’s not the best storyteller in his family (you wouldn’t either if you ever shared a pint with his gramps), but he does believe storytelling can be more than just entertainment after the real work is done.

He has always been hesitant to share his stories, but encouragement from an incredible culture of Chicago writers has convinced him otherwise.

When it comes to writing, Sean puts truth above all else—if readers walk away feeling something real, he will have done his job. Beyond that, he hopes that readers enjoy his stories as much as he has enjoyed writing them.