Pantry Prose: The Man Who Shot Stonewall Jackson by Gary Beck

It happened once before, when I was a young man. The newspapers clamoured for war, self-appointed know-it-alls told us why we had to fight and everyone believed them, especially the youngsters like me who got all fired up to join the army. So now, when those big headlines screamed ‘Remember The Maine,’ there wasn’t any more doubt that there would be war with Spain. And off they went to enlist, just like they were going to a picnic, as irreverent and ignorant as we were back in 1861. My eldest son told me he had to join up and I tried to discourage him. I told him how crazy it was for two groups of men to stand and blaze away at each other, but he wouldn’t listen. All he said was: “War’s not fought that way anymore, Pa .”

So I held my peace and watched him go, like my pa watched me go. When he died of yellow fever, before he even fought in a battle, it was another terrible affliction that I had to accept. But I guess he was right about it being a new kind of war, because it was over pretty quick and we got all these new places; Cuba, Puerto Rico, The Philippines and Guam. I never even heard of Guam. So I kept on farming and doing my chores but I was pretty much empty inside. I had been that way ever since the surrender at Appomattox, which ended my daily suffering, but left me a hollow man. I went through all the motions of the living and tried my best to be a good husband and father, and I never told anyone how I felt. How could anyone who hadn’t been there understand? Sometimes, when I went to town and saw the few old hands who survived the entire war, like me, there was nothing we could say. We just looked at each other for a moment, nodded in recognition that we were still alive and moved on.

Then one day, long after Spain surrendered, I saw a soldier who had just come home from the Philippines. I was buying something in Dahlgren’s general store and his pa brought him in. He had that look that I hadn’t seen since the war with the Yankees. His flesh was sagging on his bones and his uniform hung on him like a scarecrow on a hard luck farm. He walked as if it was a great effort to put one foot after the other. Old Mr. Dahlgren kept prodding him to tell us what it was like over there, but he refused to talk, until his pa urged him. Then he looked at everyone for a moment and said coldly: “You want to know what it was like? I’ll tell you. I watched my buddies die in ambushes, or of tropical diseases, or in battles with savages who just kept coming at us, even after we shot them. I watched my friends butcher women and children!” A look of absolute horror ate his face. “All I saw was death and suffering. Is that what you wanted to hear?” Then he turned and walked out. I couldn’t get him out of my mind the rest of the day.

That night I thought about the war with the Yankees, which I had shut out of my life a long time ago. I remembered how I had rushed to join up that spring of 1861. I ignored Pa when he told me not to go, just like my boy ignored me. Then Pa told me how bad it was when he fought the Mexicans in ‘46, but I didn’t believe him. Everyone I knew was hurrying to the colours and I wasn’t about to be last. We were going to whip the Yankees good, then go back home with our chests full of medals. Once I was in uniform it didn’t take long for me to wake up. Almost half the boys I joined up with got killed or wounded in our first battle at Manassas. Maybe the Yankees finally ran off as fast as they could for Washington D.C., but not before they put up a mighty good fight. We fought up and down Virginia for the next two years and got leaner, hungrier, tireder and sicker. The more we ran out of ammunition, food, or shoes, the more the Yankees kept coming. We learned everything about the horror of soldiering the hard way.

One day we were camped somewhere near Chancellorsville, after a tough battle where we whipped the Yankees good. Of course it wasn’t like when the war first started. Then we knew we were better men then the city folk and immigrants they were going to send against us. Before First Manassas, most of us talked about beating them proper, then going home. If anyone thought it would go on and on for years, they didn’t say it where I heard. Anyhow, we had been resting because it had been a long, hard fight and these Yankees weren’t like the rabbits who used to run when they were beaten. When these Yankees lost, they retreated resentfully and we knew they’d be back. Then the word raced through the camp. Stonewall was dead. Rumours, like disease, travel swiftly in an army, especially when it’s bad news. This hit me and the old hands particularly hard, because we were the 31st Virginia and we were Stonewall’s men from the beginning.

We rushed to colonel Barstow’s tent, but he didn’t know any more than we did. Messengers kept arriving, each one with different news. The only thing they all agreed on was that Stonewall had been shot. The colonel finally got tired of our pushing and shoving at the messengers and he sent us back to our bivouac area. But he promised to let our company commander, lieutenant Rambeau, know as soon as he learned anything. We thanked the colonel, who was one of only three officers left in the regiment who had been with us from the start. All the others had been killed or invalided out. Colonel Barstow had started as a young lieutenant, full of fire and noble speeches. Now he was as old and tired as the rest of us. We snickered about lieutenant Rambeau as we walked. He was a moma’s boy, a blonde-haired stringbean with a mushy face that always looked ready to cry. He had reported to the regiment a few days ago, but he disappeared somehow before the fighting started. The joke going around the camp was who would shoot him first, us or them. Soldiers deserted other regiments before a fight, but not in the 31st Virginia.

We waited for news, but didn’t relax much. A couple of the younger boys babbled about beating the Yankees again, but the old hands quickly shut them up. By now we knew we could beat them and beat them, but they would still keep coming. We were sick, tired, cold and hungry and we didn’t have much hope left. The gossip around the campfire was no longer about victory. A few diehards still kept trying to convince the rest of us that massa Robert and ole Stonewall would find a way to defeat the Yankees. Most of us didn’t buy it. Now Stonewall was dead. One of the kids asked what would happen if General Lee got killed, but an old hand kicked him a few times and the kid slunk off, leaving the rest of us to brood about things. I couldn’t help thinking how lucky that kid was to get off so lightly. We had just lost our father and that dumb kid was talking about losing our grandfather. We didn’t need any more bad luck.

Later that night we found out that Stonewall wasn’t dead, he was just badly wounded. He had been returning from the battlefield in the dark and a nervous sentry, thinking he was a Yankee goblin or something, shot him. After two years of hurry up, then wait, it wasn’t a hardship to wait for news. We lost so many men at Chancellorsville that I guess they forgot about our regiment for a while, so we loafed in our tents. Once we packed up all the dead men’s belongings, they finally remembered us. They even gave us some food, probably pilfered from the Yankees endless supply of everything. Then the word flew around camp faster than wildfire. A new recruit named Billy Rawlins had shot Stonewall. They didn’t rightly know what to do with him, so they sent him home.

After Stonewall died, the war went on and on and the Yankees kept us on the run. When it was finally over, those of us who survived went back to our homes. I was one of the lucky ones. Pa had kept the farm going somehow, despite the voracious armies trampling back and forth across poor, battered Virginia. I had only been home for a couple of months when I heard that the man who shot Stonewall Jackson, Billy Rawlins, had hanged himself. It seems his pa kept telling him that he killed the man who could have won the war for the Confederacy. I guess the damned fool kid must have believed him, because he went into the barn, threw a rope over a beam and ended his life… But that was a long time ago.

I hadn’t thought about Billy Rawlins for many years. Seeing that soldier in Dahlgren’s store reminded me about what had eaten so much of my soul away. It all came back to me from a distance, like hearing a voice on that new telephone invention: the useless waste of young men, the suffering that devastated so many lives, the ease with which we forgot the dead. All I could think of was that if I knew then what I knew now, I could have gone to see Billy. I could have told him that what he did was just one more crazy mistake in a succession of terrible events. That Stonewall couldn’t have won the war. Hell, it was lost way before that. Only fools believed that we could win after the first year or so. The Yankees had everything. We only had pride and courage. Once they wore out our pride, courage just wasn’t enough. But my understanding of things came much too late to help poor Billy. I couldn’t help that trooper who lost his soul in the jungle. And I sure couldn’t help any of the other innocents who don’t start wars, only rush to fight them.

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 21 poetry collections, 7 novels, 3 short story collections and 1 collection of essays. Published poetry books include:  Dawn in CitiesAssault on NatureSongs of a ClerkCivilized WaysDisplaysPerceptionsFault LinesTremorsPerturbationsRude AwakeningsThe Remission of Order and Contusions (Winter Goose Publishing, forthcoming is Desperate Seeker); Blossoms of DecayExpectationsBlunt Force and Transitions (Wordcatcher Publishing, forthcoming are Temporal Dreams and Mortal Coil); and Earth Links will be published by Cyberwit Publishing. His novels include a series Stand to Arms, Marines: Call to Valor and Crumbling Ramparts (Gnome on Pigs Productions, forthcoming is the third in the series, Raise High the Walls); Acts of Defiance and Flare Up (Wordcatcher Publishing), forthcoming is its sequel, Still Defiant); and Extreme Change will be published by Winter Goose Publishing. His short story collections include: Now I Accuse and other stories (Winter Goose Publishing), Dogs Don’t Send Flowers and other stories (Wordcatcher Publishing) and The Republic of Dreams and other essays (Gnome on Pig Productions). The Big Match and other one act plays will be published by Wordcatcher Publishing. Gary lives in New York City.

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

Pantry Prose: The Meaning Of Life? Is There One? by Chitra Gopalakrishnan

It took just a few seconds and a knotty brain teaser in class five to awaken me to the potent scent of life’s absurdity. This at a ridiculously young age of ten.

A lion, a goat and a bundle of grass, said my teacher, her face like a shut gate.

A person has to ferry them across the river in a boat. As the boat is tiny, this person can only carry one other alongside.

If the person leaves the lion and the goat alone together, the lion will eat the goat. If the goat and the grass are left together, the goat will eat the grass, my teacher announced.

The glee on her face, the glint in her eyes were unmistakable.

She seemed delighted with the riddle’s cunning as much as on the torture it would inflict on us youngsters in the next hour. Oh, the secret villainies of teachers.

Why on earth would a person want to take these beings along with them, this strange assortment of creatures, in the first place? I thought perplexedly.

This even as something began to spiral within my insides in concentric waves like waves in water. Whatever it was, it was moving round and round and it smelt of sweat, a black reek. It came to me that my teacher’s puzzle was not only stupid, uselessly disturbing and an irrational poser but one that showed up life as senseless.

I lost interest in the puzzle.

Instead, within my head, a series of quick thoughts bubbled.

It came to me that we all live in a closed-looped universe. One that is utterly uncaring of people’s survival. If sitting on a boat with a lion and giving up boundaries was meant to teach us anything it was this.

What’s more, the meaning of the phrase the road to hell is paved with good intentions, something my father used repeatedly, but I never understood, exploded bright and clear at this moment. I mean, if one wants, from the goodness in their heart, to spend time, setting everything aside, in service of a bleating goat, a sabre-toothed lion and a bundle of coarse grass and risk being eaten, butted and stung by tiny insects, then what can I say other than the fact that you have self-deserting instincts.

The fact that schools teach children to think along these lines made me lose respect for this institution.

Surely, you can understand how it must have been for me. A girl who had her head in the clouds suddenly staggered with the truth of life on a normal school day.

It seemed unfair. Rather than pay heed to my age, my girlhood, and start small then tip-toe around a bit to reveal the not-so-appealing truths, these awakenings had got going altogether and gobsmacked me in the face. No warning.

My throat locked up, my stomach was in knots, my body turned sweaty and I felt nauseous. Whatever sense of promise, magic and wonder there was to childhood was shot to hell.

At least to me, at that point, it seemed like it did.

From this point on, for the next two years of my childhood, a kind of boiling high noon set in for me. That’s the best way I can describe my many subsequent stir-ups.

If I began to regularly catch on to the truth that everything in life is pointless, I also began time and again to catch on to another truth: the stupidest thing one can do is look for meaning in life.

Life, in short, I understood, is not all it’s cracked up to be.

I know you will say that at my age growth is meant to be more about gathering physical skills, coordination and muscle control rather than one with huge mental changes. That such odd rhythms are reserved for those hitting puberty, big kids or for grown-ups.

But what can I say other than wisdom happened to me really young.

That I went to bed normal one day and the next day was different.

That, at twelve, I use my glimpses of life’s absurdity as a way to be free. To be myself. To push against rules and directions. To laugh. Yes, and to enjoy life’s senselessness.

That I choose to not carry the lion, goat and a bundle of grass, this forced baggage, to not solve the absurdity of this puzzle, to not be part of this clueless, self-inflicted nonsense, these annoyingly active verbs.

That I am in a happy place, not the sad place I imagined I would be three years ago.

That I am in a place of my own where I need to just carry my flag. And grow as I see fit.

My teacher says I am a ‘young rebel’, my school labels me ‘a misfit’, some of my friends think me ‘an enormously bold girl for saying that there is no meaning to studying or to life itself’ and others ‘weird’.

I do not care much for any of their comments just for the fact that life is easier for me when I refuse to take things around me, joy and sadness, success and failure, loss and gain, personally.

Far too many things happen during a day, even during an hour, a week, a month, a year. One can fool oneself to believe they have meaning or a certain pattern but wait for something unexpected to happen then you know the opposite is true.

I have found a place of comfort between the universe and I.

It’s time for my friends get to their best living experience by setting out on their own adventures. Like nomads.

Their awakenings may be vastly different from mine yet it would have equal merit for it would be their truth.

Some might understand life to be sensible, reasonable. Full of colour, rich with promise, plump with rewards.

Others may find their awakenings to be frighteningly different.

I say it’s okay to let go of the normal, sometimes. For, after all, the definition of normal keeps changing. And really there is no one definition of it.

Chitra Gopalakrishnan, a New Delhi-based journalist and a social development communications consultant uses her ardour for writing, wing to wing, to break firewalls between nonfiction and fiction, narratology and psychoanalysis, marginalia and manuscript and tree-ism and capitalism.

Pantry Prose: The Real Homecoming of Mahua by Sunil Sharma

Dusk came rapidly, sliding over the rugged terrain in a few minutes, and settled down unobtrusive, like a curled-up cat. A cold wind, dagger-sharp, blew down the ragged hills, far-off, silhouetted against a darkened sky.

The rude camp was lit up by the open fires. Families sat around the open kitchens, awaiting a modest meal. Treetops swayed drunkenly in the wind. The camp was filled with smoke and the confused sounds of dogs and humans. Kids laughter trailed, punctuated by the crackle of the burning wood, the sound of the powerful wind that ruffled up the carpet of fallen-leaves in its wake.

Evenings are pleasantly cold in October. The gloom spreads out, blurring the edges of the hills, trees and the huts in the distance. All around trembles darkness-mellow, translucent and anonymous. Families huddle together and talk in low voices. A sad lonely night. A general depression grips the adults in the camp. The men watch the evenings and the early nights. The tarpaulin-n-sheet tents shiver in a rogue wind and a threatening gloom. They revive memories of a nightmare.

The rough shelters going up in crimson-hued flames, giant flames, hungry hissing leaping. The night sky filled up with the dancing inferno. Columns of smoke, spiraling up, stinging and choking and irritating. Within an hour, everything is burnt down, charred, beyond recognition. Angry ambers sizzling in the blackened earth, some stunted singed slender shoots moving obscenely in the air. The government trucks, 48 hours later, arriving and ferrying the wretched of the earth to a camp 12 km away, on an uneven ground, dumped as human garbage. Press, politicians, police-the same story, covering the quick “rehab” of the poor gypsies on the outskirts of Delhi, the capital of India, in an improvised camp, where these victims of the communal violence were assured of protection and meals by the state. The small tribe did not have any choice and stuck together as frightened children in the compound of the old building, watched by the cops; the outside civilization hostile towards these nomads, always on the move….

The government camp brings its own brand of solidarity among the survivors of the carnage. Folks unite and bond easily. Neighbours discover lost virtues. It becomes a large family, under a threat from an unseen force. As the evening advances stealthily, they discover the absence of Mahua, a de facto leader.

Where is he?

The men, in twos and threes, search the camp, nearly patch of forest, the far-off highway. The kids run across the camp, looking for Mahua, their uncle.

They could not find him anywhere.

Where is he?

Women got concerned. Men were anxious. Children remembered. The 80-year-old, strong as a bull, trim as a bamboo; the man was the best storyteller in the tribe and a respected senior. He would listen to their complaints and settle disputes. Play with the kids. Protect them as a grandpa. He told the ill-clad, barefoot, pot-bellied, swollen faced kids the story of the fish and the giant.

“You want a story, children?” he often asked the children.

“Y-e-e-s-sss!” they would shout happily.

“OK. Here it goes.” And he would begin in a rich voice, “Listen… Once upon a time, a giant lived in a castle. Interested?”

“Ye-ee-s!”

“The castle was near the river. The huge river flowed ceaselessly. The giant fish floated in the river. Two big trees-as big as the castle-took roots near the steep bank of the river. The trees grew and reached the topmost roof of the golden castle. The giant did not like this, he being jealous. One day he cut down the trees and burnt them in his fireplace. The smoke filled up the sky.

The big fish coughed up and said, “Selfish giant, selfish giant”.

The giant heard this and trapped the fish in his golden net.

“What did you say?” asks the one-eyed giant.

“Selfish,” says the fish.

“How?” he asks.

“You killed the trees.”

The giant smiles. “I am going to eat you up now.”

The fish smiles and says, “You kill me and you kill yourself.”

“Oh, foolish fish! Nobody can kill a giant.”

“Oh, foolish giant! You are ignorant. First you kill the innocent trees… then you kill me. You will die. I put a curse upon you!”

The giant laughed and killed the fish and ate up the hapless fish.

Then, you know, what happened, dear children?”

“No, Uncle!” the kids said in chorus, sitting under the banyan tree. “Tell us, please!”

“OK. The giant died soon.” Mahua said with a long sigh.

“How?”

“The curse wiped away the trees and dried up the river. The sands of the desert were waiting like a hungry wolf. They swallowed up his golden castle and a bald famished one-eyed giant in it.”

.

The men were moving in groups. Someone said Mahua was sitting sad and lonely throughout the last night and the full day. He remembered his grandchildren often who were the victims of an earlier violence. Above all, he remembered the place where we all had lived as a community. He had stopped speaking and grown sad and very quiet. Then somebody said, Mahua often talked of the huge banyan tree and his rude tent nearby, on the rising ground, where he had spent his last many years as a wandering worker.

His life was tough!

They all agreed. Two sons who drank themselves to death. Grandchildren charred to death. Daughters-in-law dead. Only Mahua lived on. He spent mornings fashioning iron tongs and hammers, afternoons hawking them in the small town divided by invisible borders and hatreds, evenings under the towering banyan tree, home to birds and souls of the dead. Camp life he never liked. The fenced-off area, away from his humble, makeshift hovel, put him off. He roamed the camp like a ghost, chatting up with the kids. Then he had gradually shut up within. He refused food. He did not talk. He just stared at the distant space, oblivious of the crowd near him, thinking of his home.

The poor soul! He just caved in!

How long can you suffer poverty, loneliness and soul-destroying pain?

Where is he?

Some younger women; the tea vendor at the highway; late-returning farmers confirmed seeing Mahua. He was walking like mad, striding down the highway, deaf to their greetings. He walked briskly like a guy possessed. He looked fixedly ahead, mumbling to himself, gesturing. The poor thing! The neighbours had cooked food for him but he had refused. Even kids could not coax a story out of the grey-bearded old man. He sat near the tent, under the yellowing sun and a warm wind, wrapped up in tight knots inside himself. Nobody dared disturb.

Towards afternoon, he saw a kid and said softly, “Where were you, Raj Kumar?”

The kid said, “I am Ramu, son of Itbari Lal.”

“No, you are Raj Kumar. My lost grandson. You always play pranks on me. Where have you been? I missed you awfully. Look, your grandpa has become so old, without you. Now, do not leave me. Come on, my son, come here!”

The kid, scared stiff, ran away. A young man, later in the day, saw him talking to air, calling out the names of his dead sons and his stray dog. He was talking to them softly, complaining about his falling health, recalling happy old days when they all lived together. Others said they overheard him talking about his hovel near the banyan tree, the open ground, the wind and the stars. He seemed to be trapped in the narrow, dusty, small and crowded camp. He did not like it at all. His home was beckoning him. That small patch of rough ground and that enormous banyan tree and the open sky.

Where is he now?

Ten-twelve men, young and strong, reached the vast ground where the nomads and other city migrants had lived for last many years. They carried torches and stout sticks. A large moon was shining in the sky. Stars were twinkling like heavenly lamps in the clear sky. The wind, cold and powerful, was moaning in the trees and shrubs that ran along the highway, pulsating like an overfed snake. The ground was deserted. A month or so had passed after the carnage. There was death lingering in the damp stale air coming off the river, a mile away, in the background. Smell of death, decay and burnt hovels! An eerie silence prevailed. The banyan tree stood tall and massive against a milky background. The deep silence was unsettling. The white moon had washed up the desolate wild landscape in silvery smooth light. The rising ground, the puddles formed on account of last night’s sudden heavy downpour, the wild grass and one or two surviving small Neem trees all looked deathly pale or unreal. The solitary ground was now a graveyard of mutilated, bloody memories. They negotiated the puddles, the weeds, the sharp-edge stones and other deadwood, and, reached the foot of the big banyan tree.

“He is dead!” someone said.

“Yes. He was crying before his death.”

“It seems he was praying and crying at the same time. He seems to have died some time back. We should burry him here.”

The old, wizened, bearded face showed peace and tears dried up.

The man finally had found home.

The wind howled, the moon showed a quivering and cold and desolate vast ground over run with weeds and garbage.

And then fluffy clouds suddenly eclipsed the moon, sending the whole bitter landscape into darkness.

Dr. Sunil Sharma is a Toronto-based author-academic-editor who has published 23 creative and critical books— joint and solo. He is, among others, a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award 2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.

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

Pantry Prose: A Man is the Highest Created Being in the Universe! Earth is the Jewel, Masterpiece of All the Worlds by AE Reiff

You can say of Yeshua Messiah that he was made a little lower than the angels, however he was also in the beginning and without him was not anything made that was made. A man is the highest created being in the universe. What is man that thou art mindful of him? You can say Lucifer was the highest created being, but the covering cherub surrendered his position for the sake of himself, went after his own thoughts whose end is among the shells of the qliphoth, the end of death, from which there is no rescue as there is for the highest created being. You cannot even say angels are the highest created beings, even though they are more powerful in apparent dimensions, for of which of the angels did he say, thou art my son, meaning that where ever men turn, Yeshua Messiah precedes them. Those men made in the image of Yahweh take on the nature of the son, which is not to despise angels but not to worship them.

You cannot say the highest created being in the universe is the universe. Well you can say it, but you become an idolator. You cannot say that the highest created being in the universe should be amended to the highest created being in the earth, for remember, creating heaven with a touch, his fingers, he gave to man dominion of his hands. Everywhere you turn Yeshua Messiah makes Man the highest created being in the universe, and dignifies earth as much as Yeshua taking the form of a man dignifies a man. Sarah called him lord. Earth is his home, to be remade to suit him in his true state, this both at the end of Isaiah and Revelation, and everywhere between. The man remade inhabits the earth remade. The superficial evolved states of the biome are going to be redone.

Man is the highest created being in the universe.

Earth is the jewel, the masterpiece of all the worlds.*

There is a negative proof mentioned in all the attempts to neuter a man by science. Astronomy, mythology, every agency of civilization seeks to enthrone the demonic skulls. These forces have had their day. Approaching full flow they are to be dry as the Red Sea before they are engulfed. It is important to them to prevent the man from realizing he is the highest created being in the universe. A man’s enemies reveal a lot about him. Natively, it sounds wrong to say man is created highest because that title should be reserved for Jesus. But Jesus, blessed, is not created. Jesus, blessed, was the same in the beginning with Yahweh.  Putting him in the place of man promotes the man. According to his enemy, not the man but the universe is the highest creation and is creation itself.  More negation from the demonic skulls and their surrogates.

Man is a sculpture event. He is being fashioned as a man as we live. And what does that say about woman? How do you think he gets here! These sayings require a hearer. The first was said to Aeyrie after his two week tour of mid country, yesterday. When I heard it I was shocked. The corollary was said to Eden this morning in bed.

AE, Andrew Edwin Reiff works at Forms of the Formless Ceramic. He ran a Pharmacy garden for the U of Texas, taught at Fayetteville State University and again at Bishop College-Dallas, studied acoustic phonetics and took a doctorate in literature of the renaissance.

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

Pantry Prose: It Was Over Now by David Greygoose

It was over now. The moon had gone, back into the shadows where it hid.

The girl walked down from the top of the hill. She had been dancing all night with the hares and the ravens and all who came.

The low stone walls were dusty silver as she threaded her way along the lane and back to the silence of her cottage. She lit a candle and watched the thin line of its smoke rise slowly up the chimney and away to join the darkening clouds which rolled along the valley. They would bring rain soon enough and the rain would bring tears for the girl who had not cried since the last moon came.

She climbed the stairs to her bed and there she dreamed. She dreamed of the dancers out on the hill – how she’d seen them all coming, slipping out of their houses – and how they’d joined hands in a ring as the moon rose above them and seemed to shine, brighter than sorrow, out through their eyes.

But one boy did not come. He never came. He stayed in his cottage, locked behind the door, while thistles choked his garden and dull grey pigeons pecked at the thatch of his roof.

The girl set off down the lane to find him. Owls swooped low through the trees and dark water ran in the ditch.

She knocked on his door. She could see him sitting there in his room, the moonlight spilling through the window. He was weaving shadows between his fingers as if he was a spider.

She called out to him. She rapped on the glass with her knuckles. But he did not hear. He did not stir, just kept on weaving, twisting the shadows.

She climbed down the chimney. He did not turn his head.

“What are you making?” she said.

He looked up then and tried to smile, but his lips could not move. He had stared so long at his weaving, his face it seemed to be frozen.

A sea of shadows flowed from his fingers. The girl reached out to touch, but he waved her away. His lips moved slowly then and a sound came out, like the voice of a raven.

“The moon is full,” she explained. “You should come with us. Come to the top of the hill.”

The boy stood up. He let go of the shadows and the cloak he had woven slipped to the floor. The girl picked it up. This time he let her. She smiled and admired his handiwork. As the boy turned away, she gathered up the cloak and draped it around his shoulders.

He opened his mouth again and let out a great cry. Then he flung the cloak to cover them both, so that they were folded together.

And then they rose. Out of the cottage and along the lanes. Along the lanes and up to the hill. Up the hill till they stood at the top with all the dancers gathered around.

The dancers fell silent as the girl and the boy stepped from the cloak which slipped to the ground and blew away on the wind which parted the clouds – and there was the moon, staring down at them all.

And then it was gone. It was over now. The boy went back down the lanes to the darkness where he hid.

The girl walked back to her cottage and lit a candle. As she watched the thin line of smoke rise slowly up the chimney, she smiled – for she knew that next time the full moon shone, the boy would come again.

David Greygoose‘s published works include Brunt Boggart (Pushkin) and Mandrake Petals and Scattered Feathers (Hawkwood).

Pantry Prose: Shelter by Ian C Smith

We moved into a house within the grounds of a psychiatric hospital where the fine Australian poet, Francis Webb, was incarcerated many years earlier in rural NSW, its streets bordered by majestic European trees. My wife had accepted a key managerial position in the health service. I buzzed with a fervour to write, so preferred privacy, no next-door neighbours, while I looked after our toddlers, the terms ‘biological clock’, and ‘house-husband’ neologisms to me then.

Using a backpack and pusher, I took our boys for walks around and across the central golf course, balls sometimes cracking over our fence into the backyard, or under elms, past wards where a middle-aged man sat outside waving a grubby teddy bear, addressing us, voice guttural, unintelligible, his large pale penis erect as I increased the pusher’s pace.

Ominous resentment seemed to surround the hospital, miasmic despite the English village postcard effect. Motorised groundsmen stared from a distance. When I approached them about something they shared sly glances, monosyllabic, ignorantly difficult. I thought at first these sullen men meeting my politeness with antagonism were patients allowed to work, and I felt the presence of our laughing children exacerbated their pique.

Needing to understand the reason I became a bit paranoid in my sheltered world of the imagination. Was it my wife’s managerial position? Did they know I wrote, so the vanity of this? Was it about a man caring for infants, or the time we asked them not to spray weedkiller around the edges of our yard where the boys romped? I wondered if all these reasons became enlarged in their collective psyche. I also remembered tough times when their pleasant work would have been a godsend. My wife simply said it was because they had to go out to work and I didn’t.

When I passed professionals, easily identifiable by their smart appearance, they avoided eye contact. I dressed roughly, cut my own hair, knew they saw me as a trusted patient. I like being left alone, even ignored, so this guise both suited and amused me.

Passing the wards, 1930s brick softened by those trees austerely impressive, some closed due to asbestos, I heard eldritch screams, tantrums, saw damp bedding dropped from a high window, but mostly the loneliness of its eerie quiet chilled as every turn, every building, made me feel trapped in misery, even the neat collections of beer bottles and tops around bases of tree trunks. The more I walked, the more I sorrowed. The more I sorrowed, the less I wrote.

Not understanding future’s nostalgic gusts I searched for echoes of Webb, possibly Australia’s most spiritual poet, but felt only an absence of happiness, believing his melancholia would have become entrenched in wretchedness there. When the time came to leave, although glad, I also experienced a sense of loss accompanying the end of this, one of many periods in my strange life. Always finding endings difficult, I wondered if Webb, stubbornly writing, recalled hopes, wishes, happier days, ended.

Ian C Smith’s work has been published in Antipodes, BBC Radio 4 Sounds,The Dalhousie Review, Griffith Review, San Pedro River Review, Southword, The Stony Thursday Book, & Two Thirds North. His seventh book, wonder sadness madness joy, is published by Ginninderra (Port Adelaide).  He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island.

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

Pantry Prose: Postscript by AE Reiff

The Voyage

What’s there to transmit? I was dropped off by ship by St Branden exploring islands in the sea of fire. His  curragh was smoking. The leather boat hides stretched over the  frame of the boat smoked in the heat. The monk dips his blade in the sea. What does he say? “I am pleased with the smooth gentle motion of my curragh over the waves.”

Another image of the man alone, eternal before creation, made to feel the motion of the curragh. He floats before earth is made, in companies, ranks of fifty, the way the Lord sat them down on the hill to feed the loaves and fishes. Christopher Smart says, “the Lord Jesus made him a nosegay and blessed it and he blessed the inhabitants of flowers.” He called them herbs. As an herb on the hill the eternal waits birth, distilling with sun, blind for the Sun, rest surveying space, time and none, until he hears his name. So down into flesh.

You cannot prepare ahead for life. With no memory he goes in faith past the deities and sinks to a womb to enter the world where surfaces rule with no certainty what you are guessing. Everybody knows the nature of this voyage. To read about it you are on it. Not to tell, the thing is forgetfulness, waking up, falling asleep, thin on the ground. Just thinking about the sea causes air to disappear. The monk thinks that thinking about the flesh inundates spirit.

The Hat

Wind, water. So in transmission there is nothing at all. You’re here, then you’re gone. You might be remembered great or small. The people I speak of are small. Peasants, still talking. A mashed potato baby, burlesque of the eternal. That’s the danger of the voyage, the details are everything. The red wheelbarrow in the rain. Do your word. When the eternal subsumes in the working and immolates pleasure for the satisfaction of creation, the details are everything. The eternal is a hat in a closet. We think of it when the plane takes off, but it is in the closet.

Some feel they have lost the hat. Where did it go? Who took it? The youngest says he can argue either way that the man who fell relived his life in the moments of descent or at the exact moment of impact. But put the hat on before the event. Be there before arrival, greet the eternal again. With that same blindness return as when you came. Know nothing at all. Knowing is equivocation here. Faith is the only knowledge. Sense details mean nothing before and after earth. What matters is what you do with the spirit. It is no gnostic trip. No matter what Branden finds on the isles. It fills the time. You have your cake and eat it too. You can go to earth and remember the hat but not see it till after.

The Lady

So who do I write for but my subject to celebrate, pure and simple. It’s about the memory of innocence. I remember being innocent. I say, I remember. I do not remember being eternal. Memory and faith must have relation. Philosophy in her blue night dress, her fragrance, her touch, her bed, I remember feeling it compounded over years, but always I start with that first moment of peace or love. It’s better than that. It doesn’t stop. So it is like the hat. I carry that hat made of a thousand touches, more. I talk of eternal, but you are bored, to quote again my youngest in the car: “Carry your sorrow, bear your grief to one pierced breast of love, the Lord’s, and there we lie.” So I guess in addition to writing this for her I write it for him. That’s a good audience. He reads everything! What more can you ask? I want to make him smile. Whether this submission… no, he’s not an editor, nor a librarian, but a grandfather. Whatever I sent to my father during his life he kept. He didn’t always get it but he kept it. I think he was mostly amazed. The Lord I praise is smarter. Can you imagine actually being understood! Unalloyed tongue. Impossible. So I write to praise God.


The World

What do we see of the spiritual world? The foreordained! Moments of predestination. Not to speak it, but you can’t avoid it. That’s the way it seems later. Before, we knew nothing. Just like the voyage out and back. Afterward, compare notes. Before?  Forgetfulness. What voyage? Moments of ordination are like this. They present choice. Choice conditioned with grace. Good thing the mind prepared unknowing. Does the field know it will bear wheat? The mind prepared, the body is along for the ride. So float emotion out of stone. Sparks shower no matter what we do, but when remembered, fireworks begin. Creating heaven with a touch, his fingers, the moment is ordained. The hearts of the sons turn to the fathers. The sparks don’t stop.

I don’t know where that leaves those odd moments of Google search. Irrelevancies are possible. Snippets get picked up. Somebody’s search excerpted the St. Branden website for sure. What about the nieces and nephews? Before light dawned and I realized it went to all the world, inflicting one copy each would be enough to hide in the closet near the hat, in case somebody got bored. JAS III wanted it online. Aey will look someday at 40 and say…. I only care in the doing. A month, a year, a decade. It relives if someone discovers Homer again or meditates the past. For a guy on shore the moment lasts, then is gone. He puts out to sea. There are more isles.

The improbability of an unwritten ten generations capable of surviving, that someone could find evidence of with all that suggests of serendipity, we have to accept. We don’t ask why, only what. What is the case.? I set it out here, but not transmit. I set it out because it’s a puzzle unearthed driving blindly. Unearthed is a good word. It is a miracle not to understand the earth, incarnation, expression, image and all details. I consume with lightning and the sunlight falling, mystified with earth. That’s why we have wives, right?

Getting to ground, the endless conversations of my aunts and grandmother, remembered. Lib says I would come into the kitchen and say, “let’s talk.” The child is good, but the man is real. After I found all that out they told me, “oh, I knew that.” They knew but didn’t say. That resistance was a motivation to find out, just because it seemed, as coming in a Journey, all fresh. It is ineffable to me that all those linens exist after hearing all my life nobody knew anything of their maker because she and her sister were orphan girls. Little ones lost have been found ere this, now again. All the while the deeds, the artifacts, the linens were in that trunk.

I like to sail these seas but arrival is everything.

Arrival

I arrived that day after Christmas with Aey at 6 AM to snow covered streets and cold, went to the diner and had oatmeal before going to pack the remains of two hundred years. The greatest treasures were in the meanest places, signed German books in a case against the eaves of one window. I might have left them, but Aey insisted they go. Later I find all those signatures! Unbelievable. Talk about hiding the past, still feel like much was missed, but don’t know what. Sure the watercolour of Jesse was snatched and lost.

The day before we left I contracted a serious cold, the airport there was said to be closed. Temptation was great not to go. Overcoming by a hair we went. Entropies were strong, determination strengthened by knowing what happens to estates after decease, what happened to my grandfather’s  furniture made with his hand, copper kettles, carvings, hand forged fireplace tools. That auction was held over that Christmas before in his house on a rainy night. Few came. What a steal. I was poor then, no transport, no storage, no nothing would be reserved. You can try to save the body. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. If the body is rejected, what of the manuscript? After every proper noun and name is searched strangers will come in the night and read, amazing from every country of the world. In the end it is like the beginning, the disposition of events, the purpose that preceded them before. Before life, after life, in between. The doing is in the doing. What is the being? Keep moving. Believe everything and nothing. The bards are going in that direction. 

Attic and Basement

The attic is like the hat, temporal to eternal. What I assume you shall. All visits to that attic are nothing to the time I stayed there as a boy, cot at one end, my brother’s at the other near the books. I was over by the paintings. The impressions layer each other into one large experience to enter whenever I want. The attic has many pretensions, leads onward, oils stacked, surrounded like providence created by the generations before and passed down to inhabit. They were not then revealed. This is not just metaphor. The linens and blankets, the doll clothes and the dresses. I wish I had the dress she put on at moments at the end. It is only a metaphor now.

The body, the body. Things mean the most on earth. I go in and stroke the walnut chest. These many days I take out the pewter coffee pot used on the wood stove in old Philadelphia, turn of the century, brought along in 1944. Some cookware remained, stored in the attic. The stove itself was in the basement, but we have not got there yet. A large pot of boiling water with a swivel top and wood handle, this coffee pot with a mesh insert holds coffee. Its lines get me, the black painted handles. I don’t know what it means, it’s just there as a habitation, the hundred details together mix on top of every surface, pots of the present and past, statues and sculptures, bowls and plates, for all three of my mates are potters, but in the case rests the old pot from early on, too beautiful to behold. So the attic was filled and the boy drank from that well.

Should we have spent more time in the basement, not counting the floors between? I like the basement, but never lived there, thought about saving the old claw foot table, but didn’t. The rush was too great. Really the basement is an exile from the attic. It just works like Jake’s old wood cabinet that he made “just to prove he could,” now on my porch housing pots. Household cleansers were down there, washing machines, prose stuff, except for Marvin’s rocks and jars and fossils. He got nothing into the attic, but of course Aey and Andrew spent their visitations down there with him and the rocks for hours. He had his tools there too, the old wood handled planes and clamps. The basement? I don’t figure to spend much time when all is said and done. There is more dancing to be done. Planets are waiting. Earth reviving. Who shall deliver me? Start looking in worlds without eyes, houses, hills, flame. I build a name out of none of this, but wear it and put it over them, without which I am none. With it, well you see what it brings. It is as said, believe in the name of the son of God and believing have life in his name.

Works Cited

Christopher Smart. Jubilate Agno.

AE Reiff has written The True Light That Lights (Parousia, 2020).  He has a debt to the living, to the dying, and to the dead, all with whom we have to do and which enter this writing, poetry dressed as prose to encourage the living to catch, to lodge, to give a breath, a healing, a peace. So see further, Unconscious Origins and Archives,  The Library of Elisabeth Bechtel 1852-1885, and Images of Paradise.

You can read more of AE’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Pantry Prose: To Die For by Balu Swami

Amanda was holding Brad’s hand when he breathed his last. For almost an hour before he died, he kept saying, ‘I don’t want to die,’ and sobbed uncontrollably. Each time, she coaxed him, saying, ‘It’s for your own good, it’s the best way to end your pain and suffering. If you carry it through, you’ll make me proud.’ On a couple of occasions, when he refused to take any more pills, because he was afraid of death, she showed irritation. ‘You promised me you’d do this. If you back out now, I’ll never speak to you.’

Brad was 18 and Amanda was 21 at the time of his death. Abandoned by his dad, abused by his grandfather, Brad had grown up a depressed kid in a dysfunctional family in desperate straits. Amanda came from a wealthy family that had made its fortune in real-estate. He was an ice-cream scooper in a creamery in the tony town where her ivy-league school was located. She was attracted to his shy smile and vulnerability and had made all the moves in their slow-developing relationship. Once he started having feelings for her, he attached to her like a leech. Once he fell for her, she became a mean girl. She was alternately kind and cruel. She openly kissed other boys in front of him. When he cried about the hurt she was causing him, she became solicitous and comforted him.

After Brad had stopped breathing, the reality hit her. She called her dad who called the family attorney who, in turn, called the cops and the nation’s top defense attorney. The public prosecutor charged her with involuntary manslaughter. The defense attorney put Brad’s grandfather on the stand who testified how suicidal Brad had always been and even expressed satisfaction that his pain and suffering had finally ended. There were reports that Amanda’s family had handsomely rewarded him for his testimony. The attorney also brought in psychologists, psychiatrists, euthanasia experts, forensic toxicologists, addiction experts and had the jury so confused that it failed to reach a decision.

A year later, Amanda met Hugo in the library. She immediately fell for his shy smile and vulnerability. Hugo was actually Hernando, dubbed “timido asesino (timid killer)” in his native town in Jalisco, Mexico. He was a sicario (hitman) in the Nueva Familia cartel until one early morning – a day after his seventeenth birthday – he walked into the drug lord’s mansion, killed his boss and everyone else in his family. He fought his way out killing several sleepy guards and surrendered to the local police chief, his uncle “sin miedo (fearless)” Salvador. In the court, Hernando sat with a shy smile on his face and hence the sobriquet, “timido asesino.” When security for the timid killer became practically impossible, his uncle arranged for him to be smuggled into the United States where Hernando became Hugo and the timid killer became a bookish dweeb. Following his uncle’s advice, he stayed away from the Hispanic community where ever he went in the US which forced him to learn English in a hurry. In a remote area close to the Canadian border, he had found work as a farm hand in the local pastor’s ranch. He lived in a shack on the farm that had a bed and a stove and nothing else. Hugo wanted a TV by his bed but the pastor told him TV was forbidden on his property and there were none in his house either. Instead, the pastor gave him a bunch of religious books to read. The books helped Hugo build a good enough vocabulary, but no TV meant he was cut off from the happenings in the outside world during his stay on the farm. Since the books were religious, his vocabulary included words like catechism and armageddon and messianic and salvation. He sprinkled these words in odd places in odd sentences he wrote in a notebook in an effort to self-educate. Impressed, the pastor’s wife home-schooled him along with the town’s other kids that were half his age. Once he felt Anglo enough, Hugo left the ranch and found work in warehouses, bars, retail stores and restaurants. He signed up for online courses offered free by top universities, including ivy-league schools. That’s how he ended up in the library in the college Amanda went to.

Hugo couldn’t believe his luck. This was his American dream come true. La nina fresa, this preppy strawberry girl, was head over heels in love with him. All she wanted to do was have sex – between the book stacks in the library, under the stairwell, in the copier room, and, of course, in her bed in the high-ceilinged brownstone house on a leafy boulevard in a swanky neighbourhood. When they were not having sex, she was by his side as he walked to his work, as soon as he got off work, when he went grocery shopping, and when he made his meals. She even insisted on being with him when he wanted to pee or take a dump. At work, the only time when he was not with her, he wondered if it was really him – was Hernando a different person? His memories of gang life were starting to fade really fast. He was amazed at the speed at which he was turning into a guero (whitey) not just in looks but in thoughts as well. He had nothing but disdain for immigrant-looking Hispanics. Latin pop that he used to enjoy now sounded jarring coming from cheap speakers at construction sites. “Hello” took the place of “Hola” and “motherfucker” replaced all the madre insults.

That gringo world came crashing down when Amanda ghosted him not even six months into the relationship. She was with him when he went to work that morning, but when he left work she wasn’t out there waiting for him. He texted, then called and then showed up at her door. There was no answer. Radio silence. Was there a family emergency, he wondered. Or was she abducted? She hadn’t introduced him to any of her friends which didn’t seem odd to him since he did not have any friends himself. He didn’t want anyone to get to know him or his past. Of course, he couldn’t go to the police; so he suffered in silence.

A week went by. He couldn’t stand the sadness, the slow descent into madness. He quit his job and camped outside her house. Past midnight, a sports car stopped in front of the house and he saw her step out of the car. He started towards her and froze when he saw the driver, a tall, blonde guy emerge from the car and embrace her. Blood rushed into Hugo’s head as he saw the two lock lips. When they disengaged, she saw Hugo from the corner of her eye. She grabbed the blonde guy and tongued him harder all the while looking at Hugo. She then disappeared into the house dragging the blond guy with her.

The next day, she answered his text and agreed to see him at her house that evening. Dishevelled, distraught and defeated, he showed up at her door. Teary-eyed, he begged her not to dump him. She led him to the bedroom, laid his head on her bosom and tried to comfort him. She gave him a pill and told him, “Take this. It’ll calm you down. You are too agitated.” He said, “I don’t need a pill. I need you.” She said, “Take the pill, then we can talk.” He lifted his head up to take the pill and his spine stiffened. Her eyes had a killer’s intensity! He had been a sicario since he was 12, so he knew a killer when he saw one. He sat straight up and noticed an open purse next to her. He grabbed the bag and dumped the contents on the bed. A number of pills spilled out. He grabbed her by the throat and said, “why don’t you take the pill?” Frightened, she said, “No.” He pulled a knife out of his pocket and stuck it at her throat and said, “Take the pill, bitch!” He forced several pills down her throat. Soon her body went limp.

He made an illegal crossing into Canada and checked into the first motel he could find. He turned on the TV and, sure enough, Amanda was one of the top stories. After Hugo had left, she had regained consciousness and had mustered enough strength to keep banging on the wall. An alert neighbour had called 911 and she had been rushed to the hospital in a comatose state. News reports were calling it a suicide attempt – an unfortunate act to make amends for assisting in a young man’s suicide several years ago.

Lucky break, he thought. Looked like nobody had noticed him enter or leave the house. But he knew, pretty soon, there would be another breaking news about an “Hispanic male”. Now he had a decision to make. Either sneak back into Mexico and face certain death or get arrested in Canada and tried in the US where Amanda’s family money would ensure that he got the maximum sentence possible. He decided to wait for the Canadian police to show up. He felt good about his decision.

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: Graveyard Bet by Ahmad Hassan Nadeem (14 years old)

The greatest regret of my life is to have accepted that stupid, devastating, and chaotic bet. But who could have ever thought, in their right minds, that something so bizarre could actually ever happen? We were a group of six buddies ever since school. We went to the same high school and even college, hanging out at bars, each other’s dorm rooms, and university cafeterias. College was ending; we were going to be mature adults soon, with proper jobs and responsibilities. Some of us were even engaged. Instead of easing into this new way of life, we thought that carefree, goofy, and leisurely days would soon be behind us. Something began to stir in our group, an aching desire to do reckless things, perhaps one most small adventure in stupidity, just to feel alive. It was in this spirit that the fateful bet came into existence, one evening.

We had a whole crate of beers with us at night as we went to our usual ‘adventure meeting’ spot in the city’s outskirts. It was a clearing in the woods, where we lit a bonfire and drank beer cans while sitting on our car hoods. Laughter hung in the air…but then haunting demons were soon summoned with the conversation that followed. There was a graveyard nearby, whose cemetery groundskeeper, Mr. Hudson, would often join our festivities. That night was no different; he must have seen the firelight from a distance. He was a nice old man, friendly and convivial. We all liked him and were respectful towards him. However, that night he came with a different expression than usual. He looked gaunt, and his face had a grim look. We asked him what was wrong, and he said that some wretched spirit had come to haunt his graveyard.

We secretly sniggered behind our hands. Mr. Hudson was deeply steeped in the macabre, which never surprised us, considering his job’s nature. On many an occasion, he would tell us stories about ghosts and spirits. He told us stories about how the human soul’s imprints were often left behind, usually because of deaths under unhappy circumstances. Ghosts of those murdered would weep on graves, silently murmuring their plights into the night.

You get used to it after some time. This job requires an acceptance of the afterlife. He often said.

Obviously, we never took him too seriously. We thought that living in such an eerie place and knowing so many death stories had produced in him a strong imagination for the paranormal.

That night, he told us about the new grave.

It belonged to a very evil man, he said. Ever since he had been buried, a thick mist had permanently settled over the cemetery. All kinds of nasty worms and insects were being attracted to the area, and once or twice, Mr. Hudson had come into contact with the evil spirit itself.

For the first time in twenty years, I am actually scared.

We asked him who was the deceased person.

A soul viler than any demon in hell was all he said, with an edge to his soft voice we had never heard before.

He said that he had come over to warn us to stay away from the woods at this time.

It’s no longer safe in these here parts, boys. So please, leave for your own sake! Come visit during the day; I will have the missus brew a lovely tea for you all.

We really respected him, so we agreed to go away and bid him a good night. I wonder how different things would have turned out, how much psychological suffering and trauma could have been avoided if we had done just as Mr. Hudson had said.

As soon as we were at the periphery of the woods, the old argument broke out. At the time, only Jimmy believed in the paranormal and things like ghosts. We were all skeptics, especially Zack, who was particularly dismissive of such a supernatural phenomenon. He and Jimmy got into a pretty intense argument, which ended with the offering of the bet.

Jimmy said that he would pay for the entire group’s dinner if Zack would climb the cemetery wall, go inside and plant three tent pegs close to the new grave (Mr. Hudson had talked enough to let us know crucial details about the grave).

Zack’s eyes had flickered with uncertainty. His instinct was not in favor of doing this. But, as so often happens, our egos take control of our gut feelings and reason. And so, Zack accepted the challenge. The group was thrilled; they wanted someone to make a video of his journey into the cemetery. Unfortunately, no one volunteered, so Zack decided to do it himself.

We waited outside as he climbed the wall and went in. The graveyard was engulfed in thick fog blankets, and the whole place had an eerie feel to it. Several minutes passed as we loitered around a large birch tree, talking and chuckling. Then…a scream rent the air asunder. We all thought that it was Zack who was playing some sort of a prank. The second scream, however, took away all our doubts. Someone was hurt and in great pain.

We dashed off to the cemetery door, peering through the grills. The haze was simply too dense to allow us a peek. Then, something happened that will haunt me for the rest of my days. A figure materialized from the fog, making a segment of it swirl. But, we only saw the silhouette of something inhuman. A burst of laughter, most cold and raspy, reverberated in the air. My blood ran cold, many of the guys backed off. Then…a rectangular object was tossed in our direction; it sailed over the arched gate, softly landing on the muddy ground. My hands violently shaking, I bent down to pick it up. The screen showed a picture of Zack…his temple lodged with…a tent peg. They told me I was still screaming in the ambulance until they gave me an injection to neutralize me.

Police investigated and never found the body. After several questions and inquiries, the case was closed. All of us lost touch with each other…it has been many years since we talked to each other. Heaven knows if we ever will.

A very literary individual, Ahmad Hassan Nadeem is a 14-year-old Pakistani published author—with several publications in renowned newspapers and magazines, such as Dawn, The News International, and TRT, to name a couple. Especially apt in storytelling, he is based in Islamabad.

Pantry Prose: A Quiet and Restful Place by Robert P. Bishop

Harvey Floyd sat on a bench, feeding kernels of wheat to the pigeons that clustered and cooed around his feet. Car horns blared and buses rumbled down the streets. Vibrations from the constant traffic rattled Harvey Floyd’s bones. He twitched and grimaced from the irritations and exhaust fumes swirling around him.

“I need a quiet and restful place,” he said aloud. “Someplace where there is no noise.”

One of the pigeons near Harvey Floyd’s left foot stopped feeding, cocked its head and stared at him with one shiny eye. “Why don’t you move to Spelsbury?” the pigeon said.

“Where is that?” Harvey Floyd asked, not at all startled by a talking pigeon.

“It’s in England.” The pigeon pecked at some wheat kernels by Harvey Floyd’s left shoe.

“How do you know?” Harvey Floyd scattered another handful of grain.

“I just flew in from there a few moments ago.”

“Ah, that explains your accent.”

“Quite so.”

“What’s special about Spelsbury?”

The pigeon hopped up on the bench and sat next to Harvey Floyd. “It has a twelfth-century Norman church with a beautiful square tower and a lovely cemetery. The village is so small you hardly encounter anyone. You will like it there. It is quiet, very restful. No cars or buses. I am sure it is the perfect place for you.”

The pigeon hopped off the bench and wandered away down the sidewalk.

Harvey Floyd went to Spelsbury and with good luck managed to rent a small stone cottage right next to the churchyard. The pigeon was right, Harvey Floyd concluded several days after moving in. Spelsbury was indeed quiet and restful.

Harvey Floyd became a fixture, wandering around the tiny village and taking his daily tea in the Rose and Thorn pub. In the evenings he treated himself to two pints of ale and an order of fish and chips. The patrons he encountered in the Rose and Thorn soon learned of his desire for solitude and said very little to him, which pleased Harvey Floyd enormously.

The cemetery, grassy and green and shaded by old oak trees, thrilled Harvey Floyd. He spent his afternoons walking among the gravestones. Many of them, tilted at precarious angles and covered with mosses and lichens, were hundreds of years old. Harvey Floyd could still read the names engraved in many of the weathered marble markers.

After many months in Spelsbury, and for amusement, Harvey Floyd began making up stories about the people buried in the cemetery.

He found one stone with the following epitaph engraved on it:

Here Lies John Nately Spakes

1620 – 1644

A damned highwayman was he
Hanged by the neck
From a stout oak tree
Never again to rob
Either thee or me.

The engraving struck Harvey Floyd as particularly intriguing. On sunny days he sat on the grass, leaned against the headstone and made up swashbuckling exploits of the handsome young brigand. He imagined beautiful and aristocratic ladies swooning with the vapours, and their male companions trembling with fear and impotence, when the highwayman stopped their coaches on the King’s Highways and robbed them of their jewels and money.

One day as Harvey Floyd lazed against the highwayman’s headstone in the warm summer sun, making up a great tale, John Nately Spakes spoke to him. “I am going to rob the coach of Sir John Wilmot, the Second Earl of Rochester, this afternoon and you will accompany me,” said a voice from deep within the ground.

Harvey Floyd felt something grasp his ankles and pull. He began to disappear under the ground. Soon he found himself astride a snorting stallion by the side of the King’s Highway. Another man astride a similar horse rode out of the surrounding oak trees. “Who are you?” asked Harvey Floyd. His voice cracked and trembled with fear. “Are you John Nately Spakes?”

“Aye, that I am.” John Nately Spakes grinned savagely. “Here,” he said, handing Harvey Floyd a large and clumsy dragoon pistol. “The Earl is a bloody rotter. You may have to shoot him if he refuses to give up his purse.”

“Oh,” Harvey Floyd stammered, “this is not at all what I wanted. I seek peace and quiet. Oh, no, this simply won’t do.”

“It is too late for you,” roared John Nately Spakes. “Your swaggering tale becomes your life. But look! Yon comes the Earl’s coach!”

Harvey Floyd looked down the road. A coach, pulled by four horses with flaring nostrils and hooves hammering the road’s surface, thundered his way. The driver snapped the reins over the backs of the horses, urging them onward.

Before the coach reached them John Nately Spakes spurred his horse into the middle of the road. He brandished a pistol. “Hold! Hold!” he shouted and aimed the pistol at the driver. The driver pulled on the reins and put his weight on the footbrake, bringing the coach to a stop. Clouds of dust boiled around it.

John Nately Spakes swung his horse round to the coach door. “Out, out with you! Be quick about it,” he commanded. Two women and one man tumbled from the coach. “Well, now,” said John Nately Spakes, baring his teeth in a vicious sneer. “If it isn’t the Earl of Rochester and his harlots. Give up your purses!” ordered Spakes, waving his pistol in the air.

“Never!” bellowed the Earl of Rochester over the shrieks of the two women. “Driver!” he shouted. “Shoot this blackguard at once!” The driver stood and aimed a pistol at John Nately Spakes who fired his own pistol first. The driver dropped to the coach’s footwell and lay still.

The loud pistol shot startled Harvey Floyd’s horse. The horse reared violently. Harvey Floyd toppled off and landed on the top of his head. He heard the bones in his neck snap and break then blackness closed over him.

The groundskeeper found Harvey Floyd the next morning lying against John Nately Spakes’s gravestone and called the local constable who called the coroner. After a brief examination the coroner determined Harvey Floyd died of a broken neck.

How, asked the villagers, did Harvey Floyd break his neck in the cemetery? The coroner shrugged. Some things, he said, cannot be explained. The villagers buried Harvey Floyd in a secluded corner of the churchyard and forgot about him.

Several months later a pigeon flew in and perched on Harvey Floyd’s gravestone. The pigeon surveyed the cemetery, noted the oak leaves twinkling like emeralds in the afternoon sun as a soft summer breeze swept over them. “I see you have found a quiet and restful place,” murmured the pigeon. Then he flapped his wings and flew away.

Robert P. Bishop, a former soldier and teacher, lives in Tucson. His short fiction has appeared in The Literary Hatchet, The Umbrella Factory Magazine, CommuterLit, Lunate Fiction, Spelk, Fleas on the Dog, Corner Bar Magazine, Literally Stories, and elsewhere.

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