“quick question hot shot when you’re a feature, how many poems do you read”
on asking melissa: wanna walk?
she says: “i’m knee deep in organizing my desk, do you ever work?”
on receiving a job promotion
boss asks, “do you own anything other than jeans?” I laugh, then say “no”
on telling Joseph Fulkerson about receiving scathing rejections because I title my haikus
he says, “of course people are upset, tohm… you’re challenging tradition.”
Tohm Bakelas is a social worker in a psychiatric hospital. He was born in New Jersey, resides there, and will die there. His poems have been printed widely in journals, zines, and online publications all over the world. He is the author of twenty-four chapbooks and several collections of poetry, including “Cleaningthe Gutters of Hell” (Zeitgeist Press, 2023). He is the editor of Between Shadows Press.
You can find more of Tohm’s work here on Ink Pantry.
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.”
“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?”
“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.
“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.
Like sparkles of dreamery – fantasy, born from hundreds of thoughts and from memories, you encompass the world of mythology. Here and there plenty of effusions.
Fairy – she-paramour of druids, priests, kiss a fairway of starlets and the moon! In you a hope of dazzling, wistful bards. Ancient is the myth like cave of Plato.
You go away and fly away such eagle. The mirror of ontology shows time. Your poetries so delicate such flax. Eudemonia will live softly in us.
You are autumn fantasy, born from oak. Like rain of demand you fill chivalry. Stars of non-destruction need your verdict. Thoughts with miracles – vast eternity.
The soft-mossy tombstones are only yours. Such rook you sing song – bards-desperados. I adore Kant’s heaven – it is my time. The bards honour the autumnal fairies.
Such refreshing yesterday-rain you are. You are inspired like dreamy Erlkings. You narrate myths, legends – having a glaive. You glare at a mirror of timelessness.
In clouds of homeland dreameries come true, when your romantic tear – fay-like tear-gem, becharms a world of the Morningstar – whole. Pixie, your canzone is crystal clear.
Midnight, the winglets of dreams carry you, when the thousands of kings of oaks wake up. Sparrows, magpies think of heaven – it’s blue, filled with comet-dust and star-dust of mine.
Monuments of distant and drunk nature, praise your meek, amaranthine liberty. You are sprite – she-guide of Nature-mother Through, like rainbow-shine, dreamed eternity.
glaive – archaic: sword
Paweł Markiewicz was born 1983 in Siemiatycze in Poland. He is poet who lives in Bielsk Podlaski and writes tender poems, haiku as well as long poems. Paweł has published his poetries in many magazines. He writes in English and German.
You can find more of Paweł’s work here on Ink Pantry.
The patio is open to the sky. A tangerine coloured sun singing The wakeful anthem, The lulling buzz of The mother’s song. Motes of emotions Resurfacing with The breeze of time. The mother’s song Performed by the happiest lady Of the world for her home Ticks and rhymes with the background Of an old Grandfather clock. The song speaks of heard future affections Which is shareable among her children. Butterflies rise close To the feathered approach To perform an unplanned Choir of life, The rising reflection—close to wonder. The air of spices In the open patio, Hullabaloo of children’s play. Every far crier must know that Voice is the genesis of performance. The children play with voiced joy. The sunflower is also a performer Outside the wooded window When it faces the sun. The window also performs to see Along with me.
Sushant Thapa is from Biratnagar, Nepal. He has published four books of poems: The Poetic Burden and Other Poems (Authorspress, New Delhi, 2020), Abstraction and Other Poems (Impspired, UK, 2021), Minutes of Merit (Haoajan, Kolkata, 2021), Love’s Cradle (World Inkers Printing and Publishing, USA and Africa, 2023). He is an English lecturer to undergraduate level students of BBA and BIT at Nepal Business College, Biratnagar, Nepal. He holds an M.A. in English literature from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. He has been published in print, online, school book and anthologies around the world. He also writes Flash Fictions, Short Stories and Book Reviews.
You can find more of Sushant’s work here on Ink Pantry.
You did remember you and I; we both took birth under the same sky.
And one day my shape was under threat; let the dark turn more dark to disappear my fate. What’s the fate? You wrote as per your choice. To kill my unborn child, to tear off my privacy, you went wild. I am also that mother’s daughter, a daughter who had to stand in fire. Let the fire raise, let my ashes fly in the same sky under which your mother was born. You tore each of my petals, my limbs and my soul too. But you forgot I can rise again from the ashes where you ended the lust of your dick.
I forgot we once took birth under the same sky. I only remember you tore my strap and left some pieces of brawn.
But I won’t pray for your mercy, I am not crippled any way; don’t expect any light from me- I chose to rebel in dark against your forcing rape.
Sonali Chanda is an eminent poet/writer/reviewer from Kolkata, India. She pursued her Post graduation degree in English literature and language from Burdwan University. At present ,she is pursuing her Phd in Post modern English Language, Indigenous Language of India, different usages of phonetics in Language. Her three books published and running successfully in Amazon and Flipcart Platform. She won the Nissim International award in 2020 for ” the excellence in Writing” for her Debut Travelogue Ladakh- Enroute Tibetan Taboos “.
“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. That’s 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 can’t 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.
“Don’t 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.
I am not the one To lead the herd, The one that chooses the path That leads to the cliff And the necessary fall And slaughter.
I would rather be the one Who stays At the edge of the herd Watching and worrying About the wolves, And the men dressed in hides That set fires, and fan the smoke. No. I am not the one to lead. I am the one to start to fight, Or try to change the direction Of the wind.
The Gospel of the Delivery Man
Pizza I give you, And cash you give me, Hopefully more Than the price of the bill.
There has to be A tip in there somewhere. My wages are low And barely cover The cost of gas.
Someday with luck And lottery tickets, I will have a nice house, Like you do, And be able to send out For food as well.
Until then, I shall dine On oatmeal for breakfast, A free hoagie For lunch, And the cheese fries I forgot to give you And you failed To mention.
Not Your Stooge
No. I will not be Your stooge. I will be My own buffoon,
Without need Of eye pokes Or theatre Or television Audience.
The pratfalls Will be real, Known only By those Who chance To be around.
The laughter, If any, Will be gathered And kept in a can To be served later Along with Cold duck soup.
The Hare’s Lament
No. I can not do it, Fulfill the expectations Required of me To exist.
All this breathing In and out, Foraging on all fours, The fear of things With sharper teeth or beaks And claws.
There has to be A better way, A life one could Truly live.
I sense it out there, Somewhere, A different incarnation Worth living Or dying for.
Poetry is one of the ways I delay dealing With reality, All those duties And responsibilities.
Who needs them And their Anxiety ridden Timetables?
The poet revels In the now. In the moment All is glorious.
Let’s not talk About later. Later will be A mess,
But possibly Another opportunity For poems if we’re both lucky.
That Ego Of Yours
It is an ugly monster, larger than your shadow. It won’t stay behind you. It wants to walk up front. It obscures your vision and the path you travel.
You wish you could get rid of it. You have tried. You can’t.
Exorcised, it returns. It only takes a single compliment to grow from nothing to a looming mass taller than the Statue of Liberty.
When will you learn? Never it seems.
“You could be so nice if you weren’t such an asshole.”
I do not fear the shadows. That is where I hide best. I watch the world of sunlight And know it is not mine. I dwell where the others are, Vacant but not alone. Where we are is where we must be For our faces seem Too horrible For those who walk in the light, But, as for ourselves, We know we have value And beauty of a kind. Maybe the many Cannot appreciate Who or what we are, But the strange Will know the strange, And recognize them As kin, No matter where they are Or what their particular sin.
Joseph Farley has had over 1350 poems and 140 short stories published. His 11 poetry collections include Suckers, Her Eyes, Longing For The Mother Tongue, and Yellow Brick Pilgrim. His fiction books include Labor Day, Once Upon A Time In Whitechapel, Farts and Daydreams, and For The Birds.
You can find more of Joseph’s work here on Ink Pantry.
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. Weebleswobble 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.
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.
It is unsaid, this night, tongue crushed, silence crawling out of its hole and into the moonlight, the salt air. I am a history of silence, with you, with anyone of the past, the present, the future. You wait for my commencement, its following, but how to reckon truth eludes me. My speech instead decides on agitated mumbling on the dark inexorable, the universe unbelievably immense. I cannot speak of all that terrifies me so nothing is said, to you, to someone, but to you above all others. I’m the winter sky frozen with stars, on the beach, clung to footprints, and the ocean listening, seething and heaving
We’re down here concerning ourselves with pitiable stuff like did I ogle that woman who just passed by or why did you buy that new microwave oven when the old one still works fine.
Meanwhile, the sun is slowly burning itself out.
No knowledge of our lives. No familiarity with our emotions.
Someday, it will cave in, fold up in one almighty bang. We’re out of its league with our modest implosion.
The Losing Game
He lost money on the prize fight. And the poker game. And the roulette wheel at the casino.
He lost money through the hole in his pocket and the woman he gifted a fancy bracelet to who never afterward returned his calls.
He lost money on the stock market. Then he lost money on the church that he tithed to his entire life that left him as nothing more than a body in a hole in the ground.
Tree roots benefited from the minerals in his rotting corpse as did the weevils and the worms.
But, as far as I know, no money changed hands.
Her Man Returns
A small blue Japanese car pulls into her driveway.
It’s as thrilling as the rose she planted in early spring that’s now blooming in the height of summer.
Though not blue. Though not Japanese. And, of the bees that buzzed away from its bud, not one knocked on her door.
The Current Occupant
In this room are some who will never be again.
One is sitting on the bed. Another pokes in the drawers. A third interrogates closets. The flightier kind gravitate to the ceiling. The dour, the funereal, lie down in the dust.
Ancestors? Most likely. They resemble me and yet are remnants of other lives.
They’re cursed with hands that don’t touch, mouths that can’t speak.
Yet, I dread the feel of them. I fear what they have to say.
In one house, the attic window is a long, painful cry.
And that cry passes through glass and darkness, treetop and streetlamp, shivers the sidewalk below.
It resonates with the primal dynamo from which everything comes but also the fear, that all living matter must now come to a stop.
A woman’s face, wide mouth pressed against the pane. upholds this dichotomy.
But then two bodiless hands squeeze her white throat, cut off all sound at the source.
The street now reflects the silence before life, the silence that comes after.
As the only witness to this frailty of life it’s a struggle, on my part, to be anyone.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Sheepshead Review, Poetry Salzburg Review and Hollins Critic. Latest books, Leaves On Pages and Memory Outside The Head, and Guest of Myself are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Ellipsis, Blueline and International Poetry Review.
You can find more of john’s work here on Ink Pantry.