by Cath Barton
In the sweet warmth of the wisteria comes the humming. I close my eyes. I inhale the scent, I drink the nectar, I absorb the sound. The light through my eye lids is rosy. I feel the bees around me, cocooning me. Their little feet, their feelers, a gentle tickling. And all the time, the seductive swoon of the humming.
heavy tread, a hand shaking my shoulder, a voice in my ear, calling me back. But I do not want to return, not now that I have glimpsed the possible. I turn my head and they pass by. The humming pulls me towards a better place. I am being lifted. I am being carried to the place of the bees.
Now it begins. I am returned to the swaddling of infancy. I crave my mother’s milk. I open my mouth and the bees fly in and out. I want to sing but my throat is closing now. The light through my eyelids is fading to grey.
The bees retreat, their humming ceases and they wait.
On the street there is a hubbub, another kind of humming, a challenge. The swarm meets anger with anger. The bees reject their sheathed prize. It is no longer valuable. They unleash it.
The light is back, blinding me, the humming is pressing on my temples, from within. I am struggling with thought but I know I am moving. I try to lift my hands, to rub my face, to halt my descent. But my arms are bound, for I have relinquished power. It was my choice, my free choice.
I have given up my voice. The voice of the humming has taken over. But my own words still beat in my brain, crying to be heard, crying for a second chance.
by Jack Koebnig
They know …
He spun round, the heat of her whisper still warm on his ear. But she wasn’t by his side, squeezing his hand and telling him she was just pulling his leg, that is was just a joke. A shop assistant glanced up from a batch of cheese she was repricing (she looked grateful for the distraction) and asked if he was okay. His nod wasn’t convincing and she added: ‘Are you sure? You look …’ She paused. She was going to say: ‘You look like you could do with a drink.’ But said instead: ‘… a little peaky. Can I get you some water?’ He flashed an awkward smile and scrambled to the back of the shop – the place where the booze is stored in neat colourful rows. She knew where he was going and said: ‘Thought so.’ He claimed a six pack, paid and hurried towards the canal at the back of the shop.
The rain which seemed to have been falling forever (it was actually only since Saturday – the day she left) had finally stopped, and the sun was shining. The air thick and suffocating. He returned to his favourite spot on the bank, slipped off his socks and shoes, rolled up the hem of his jeans and submerged his feet into the cool water.
The first can opened with an attention seeking fizzzzzz! But there was no one around to send him a disapproving shake of the head. Hardly anyone came round here anymore.
He drained his first beer and as he opened his second he imagined her long curls, swaying beneath the surface, waltzing in the gloom.
They know what you did.
He smiled and brought the can to his lips. ‘Are you sure about that?’
The Trail in the Pines
by Jill Hand
When Danforth Frost bought the land, the first thing he did was refuse the cigar the realtor offered him. He would have accepted an Arturo Fuente, but the drug store cigar that the realtor proffered was to an Arturo Fuente what a ghetto hooptie ride was to a Rolls-Royce. Danforth declined it with a curt shake of his meticulously barbered head.
The second thing he did was bray laughter when the realtor, an old geezer named Charlie Applegate, warned him not to build across the Indian trail that ran through his newly acquired property.
When the old geezer told him why, Danforth brayed even louder.
“You’re telling me that something walks that trail, something that’s been there since before the Lenape Indians, and if I build across it, or block it in some way it’s going to get me? That’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. Tell your buddies down at the VFW that you tried to scare the fellow from New York City but he wasn’t buying it.”
Applegate shrugged his shoulders. He’d done his duty.
The property where Danforth intended to build a vacation home was deep in the Pine Barrens, the heavily forested area in southern New Jersey that was once the stomping grounds of the Lenape Indians. Now it would be the weekend stomping grounds of Danforth and his friends. Or so he thought.
They found him seated behind the wheel of his Mercedes-Benz SUV, stone dead, next to his wife, who was similarly deceased, as was the dachshund she clutched in her arms. The heads of all three were turned toward the old trail, where Danforth had begun to build a stone wall. Man, woman, and dog all wore expressions of absolute terror.
Little Red Door
by Wiebo Grobler
“What’s that, Dad?” Andy pointed to the small red door in the wall. It was just visible below the purple wisteria flowers covering the cathedral walls.
“It’s called a post box, buddy.”
“Does someone live in it?”
“Ha! No, pal. A long time ago, people used to write letters by hand. They’d place the letter into the post box and a man would take all the letters and deliver them to the right people.”
Dean smiled. “Yes, almost like Santa, but for everyone.”
“Do people still send letters?”
“No, we only email now, buddy.”
“What happened to the post Santa?”
“He’s probably sitting on a beach somewhere.”
“Could I write him a letter and put it in the past box?”
“I don’t see why not, and it’s post box, not past box. Although…”
* * *
Andy spent all afternoon yesterday writing a letter for post Santa.
“Here we are, sweetheart. See the slot at the top? Just slide your letter in there and the postman will get it,” Kelly said.
“But mummy, who will take it to him? Daddy said he’s on a beach.”
“He has little helpers everywhere. They’ll make sure he gets it poppet.”
Andy nodded and slipped his letter through the slot.
“Let’s go honey, we’re meeting nanna for some tea and cake.”
Andy took his mums hand and left the post box behind.
Inside, amongst remnants of cigarette butts, empty crisp packets and spider webs, there was movement.
The wisteria roots slowly moved, entangling the letter. Rising into the air, they delivered it to a skeletal hand, covered in brown skin like old leather, trapped within the ancient stone.
From dark hollow eyes, the entombed creature read the letter addressed to him. Cracked and yellowed-teeth in a rictus grin.
by Alex Z. Salinas
The boy saw the bag of Almond Joy candies on the shelf and grabbed it, knowing this was it. They were her favorite.
The price said $6.04.
But considering taxes, he thought, he needed seven bucks.
He put the bag back and checked his pockets. He felt a few coins.
He left the store and walked to the bicycle rack near the entrance. He got on his yellow bike and rode away.
He pedaled quickly, lifting his butt off the seat, down the only busy road in town until he reached an old, dark one-story house. He set his bike down and walked to the door and knocked three times, hard.
After a while, the door opened. An old woman appeared with pulled-back white hair and a dark unibrow.
“Hello, William,” she said.
“Hi Mrs. Morris. Can I do some chores for you seven bucks.”
“Chores. Can I help you mow the lawn or wash dishes or vacuum or something? For seven bucks.”
“Well aren’t you particular? I have things that could use rearranging. Come in.”
After the boy finished, she pulled a ten-dollar bill from her purse.
“Just something extra.”
The boy rode back to the store and paid for the candy. He left the store and pedaled down the busy road past the walking bridge that led to the high school.
He turned on a street and approached a small light blue house. He walked to the door and knocked three times.
A thin woman with a pale young face and dark bangs answered.
“Billy,” she said, surprised.
“Hi Mama. I bought these for you. Happy birthday.”
The woman put her hand over her mouth and began to cry. She dropped to one knee and hugged him.
“Oh God oh God,” she said through tears.
by Lee Hamblin
In a nasal-pinched voice – and not for the first time today – Granddad called out, “Left hand down a bit.” His ensuing laughter punctuated by horse-like “phwar-phwar-phwars.” Neither Dad nor me got the joke, and thankfully he didn’t bother trying to explain it. I doubt it would have helped. But at least he was enjoying himself.
Dad was no funnier with his plummy-voiced “What ho! What ho!” that he dished out to every passer-by on the footpath, tipping his new straw boater and grinning toothily. Though I must admit it was funny when the vicar passing us nearly came a cropper on his bicycle. Granddad’s eyes ticked me off for sniggering though.
I made it four hours already by my watch, and could still see the big church where we started out from, and the more I checked, the slower time ticked.
Dad and Granddad seemed to be having fun alright, but I’d had enough ‘fresh air and countryside’ after ten minutes tell the truth.
I wanted to be back home, in my room, with all of its stuff and comforting stuffiness. I’d even left my books in the car with Mum, who’s not too steady on, or in, water, “Even if it is only a canal,” she said.
“Come here,” cried Dad, who was peering into the oil-smudged murky waters below. I scrambled along the narrow deck, and knelt down beside him. “Don’t follow the lights,” he said, rolling his eyes, in his spooky voice. I laughed then, cause I knew where he’d got that one from.
My mind became full of Frodo and dragons and orcs and…quests… and that was when I glimpsed something ink-black and slimy clamber up the side of the boat and heard Granddad shout out, “Ooo… nasty.”
by Craig McGeady
I walked with Mary hand in hand. A smile decorated my face and somewhere far off music played. Real or not it didn’t matter. I heard it and each step landed in time with its palpitating beat. The sun stretched long fingers across the path in front of us. A breeze lifted wisps of hair from Mary’s brow, exposing her undiluted mien. Rows of flowers nodded as if mimicking a cloaked choir.
‘Where shall we go?’ I asked. Praying that our feet would carry us beyond sundown.
‘How about over that.’ Mary replied, pointing at the wall running parallel with the path on which we walked.
I stopped in my tracks, surprised, panicked.
‘What’s over there?’
‘I have no idea but wouldn’t it be exciting to find out?’ she coaxed.
I looked up at the wall. Solid stone, eight feet tall and draped in those very same flowers I had admired so readily moments ago.
‘I doubt we’d be allowed.’
‘Of course we wouldn’t but that’s half the fun.’ She stepped closer and placed a hand on its rough surface. Her fingers rising and falling with each undulation.
Jealously blossomed like a bouquet of hissing snakes. I quickly checked in either direction then started looking for handholds.
The gaps between stones were enough to carry my inexperienced weight and I was soon near the top. I parted as many of the plants as I could before pushing upwards. My body acting as clippers, buzzing over an unsuspecting clients scalp.
That’s when I heard it, as I was bent double, vulnerable. A tear shredding through the centre of my pants. On a day when I’d decided to go commando.
From below Mary’s laughter swelled, amplifying my shame. I pushed the rest of the way over and
by Alyson Faye
We were strolling around the cloisters when we first noticed the crow.
It was just perched on the stone wall with its head cocked. It seemed to be watching us.
A black garbed reminder of the legions of dead monks who’d prayed here.
“Shoo.” Mum flapped her hands at it.
Billy chucked a stone. Mum told him off. “Show some respect.”
Wherever we walked in the cathedral grounds the crow came with us. An avian shadow.
It made me feel goose bumpy and a bit sick. Billy of course made a game of it, talking about crow pie for tea.
We wandered inside to gaze at knights’ tombs and jewel like stained glass windows. Which was when I remembered Grandma telling me years ago, “The crows know.”
She’d been dead a little while by then. I had never really understood Gran’s sayings.
The memory grew and ripened though. That night while our little household slept I went to her wooden chest and unearthed her cloak of feathers. It was an heirloom; the birds’ plumages interwoven. Fabulously glossy light catchers.
The crow was waiting for me outside. I perched on the six foot garden wall, wrapped the avian mantle around me and took flight towards the cathedral spire.
It’s a family tradition.
by Phil Temples
The young boy joined the girl at the table.
“What’s for breakfast today?” he asked her.
“I don’t know. It’s some kind of fruit. It looks like a small watermelon, but it tastes like a pear.”
Thin breadsticks accompanied the fruit. There was also a container of water. All the items were placed neatly on the table.
Like the girl, the boy had no memory of where he had come from. Nor could either remember their own names, or how long they had dwelled in the house. The girl thought she might have come from a place called New York. Both felt like they had been brought here from far away.
Their meals always appeared on the table at regular intervals throughout the day. When they awoke, they found clothes laid out for them in their rooms. Eventually however, the two dispensed with clothes, for there were no grownups around to scold them for being naked. The clothes stopped appearing.
The boy and girl saw lots of animals in the fields, and in the nearby forest. There were cats, dogs, rabbits, and sheep, along with countless other pairs of animals–some of which they were completely unfamiliar with. One day, the boy thought he saw two lions at the edge of the field.
The boy and girl finished their meal.
“Ready to go exploring?”
“Yes,” she replied.
They headed out the door. A brilliant sunrise greeted them in the west. It washed out three large, crescent shaped moons hanging overhead.
The girl with holes in her knees
by Katie Lewington
I close the pub garden gate and wave at the window. Behind the glass is a man, who I had been flirting with for the past half hour. Only for a pint and packet of crisps.
The cathedral looms ahead of me and grows taller as I approach it. Its silent figure casts a shadow over me and I shiver, beating my hands against my thighs. I slide my palm along the brick wall, which is cold to touch under the light of the luminous moon.
I speed up my pace and, although I know it’s dangerous to take the canal path home after dark, I take it and bend down to pick up stones and throw them into the water. I watch them all splash and dive under.
My curls tangle in the loose strands of branch from the weeping willow and I wind myself around the lamppost that signals the end of the path.
I pull from my bag an envelope, crumpled like a ten pound note. Another manuscript to another publisher. I slot it into the red letterbox that casts some colour into the dark.
The ground slopes and I almost trip in surprise at its steep decline.
A small man, hunched over, sings. A busker, he uses the broken strings of his guitar to form a faint and rambling melody. ‘I know a girl with holes in her knees’ he wails.
‘A girl with holes in her knees?’ I query, stopping, my hand in my pocket for loose change. ‘Sure you got that right?’
‘Aye, aye’ he chuckles.
I laugh with him, throwing the change at his feet.
‘Nice you’ve got a sense of humour’ he calls after me. ‘Thank you very much’
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