January’s Zeroflash Entries

23rd and 8th

by Jessica Bonder

 

Thank God for Fred, who saved my mother in the 23rd and 8th subway station, local stop on the blue line (C-E), train-struck Patricia Elizabeth might as well been, for all the fear in her eyes, looking like a trapped animal, steel-barred, turnstyle-stuck, swiping and re-swiping a single fare Metrocard, Fred coaching her from the other side, a train flying in and out in the meantime, my mother saying, I’m sorry, we missed it, I’m sorry, and Fred, another Fred (not my father), who long ago one might have called a gentleman, going, that’s okay, don’t worry, there’s always another.

Sprout

by Jeremiah Telzrow

Drawn by the light of a yellow sun and triggered by a positive chemical analysis, the seed vessel splits into pods that descend and burrow in the ground. Then the first spring begins, as it always does, with three green shoots that pierce the soil above the pods. Green absorbs the sunlight that is melting ice embedded in the soil and with those ingredients oxygen is released and tiny amounts of energy are gained and stored.

Slowly, slowly, slowly. Even when accelerated by bioengineered efficiencies and the careful selection of the site, the process is so very slow. Thousands of years pass by.

No matter. Many thousands more passed while the seed vessel was in transit. A few thousand more is a small price to pay.

 

When enough energy is gained the pods begin to wake the seeds.

The first seeds are the smallest. Tiny creatures performing tiny tasks at the speed of 5,000 generations per year. These go forth and are fruitful, and they multiply. Then the larger seeds emerge, and so on.

When it is time the caretakers are brought up from seed and infused with all the knowledge of those who sent them.

Six hundred per site. No more, no less. By this time spring comes on its own.

 

The very largest seeds are left for last. By then there are blue oceans, green forests, and endless yellow plains. The very largest seeds are made to occupy these spaces and inspire in their caretakers that elusive majesty that no program can imbue.

 

Away From It All

by Jade Mitchell

Samantha drifts through the kitchen, straightening tins on a shelf, wiping away imagined streaks on the refrigerator. It’s too late in the day for another cup of coffee, too early for gin.

She pours herself a glass of water, sits at the dining table, and checks her phone. The website only went live a month ago, and she’s only just started advertising. Things will pick up, anytime now.

She moves to the sitting room, then to the conservatory. This is nice, she thinks to herself as she switches from the armchair to the settee, and back again. Her former life as a financial journalist in London would never have allowed her this much time to think. Two months ago, she left CINCB’s pressure-cooker newsroom for the last time to fulfil her fantasy of owning a small― no, quaint― bed and breakfast in the serene Roseland peninsula. She’d discovered the coastal town three years prior, and has since worked relentlessly to afford her early, semi-retirement.

Now she’s living her dream. In a six-bedroom bungalow, whimsically named ‘Summer Nights’. She’s devoted many hours and all of her savings to furnishing and finessing each room. She’s picked a thoughtful selection of books and games for the common areas, and scented soaps for each bathroom. She checks her phone again. It is, she reminds herself, only the beginning of summer, and it is, she reassures herself, a brand new business. Things will pick up, soon enough.

And besides, the real point of moving out here was to start writing again. Really writing. To go on long walks. Maybe paint occasionally. She sets her phone on the table. Puts it back in her pocket.  Takes it out again. It’s so peaceful out here, away from it all.

She’s so very relaxed.

New Beginnings

by Leigh Whiting

The dew-soaked Spring grass poked between my toes as I walked across the park. It was softer than the hard earth, denser, springier and it felt wonderful.I could happily have rolled in it like a puppy, but I was on a mission.

Nature was busily renewing everything and there was an air of excitement, of new beginnings, new creations and I was part of it.

But first I had to find closure.

I’d paid dearly for my deed with the years that had taken away from me. But I hadn’t been able to move on. This was why I’d returned.

I recognized the tree immediately and could recall the blood splattered on one side of it and the dark, disjointed, patches of blood and the flattened blood speckled grass. Sitting down where it had happened I closed my eyes and travelled back through time, to that day.

Her blood was warm and red as it spouted out. It smelt sickly-sweet and almost sticky-like. Sitting there in meditation I tried to get a sense of the taste of it.

How the fresh, green Spring smells on that day contrasted with the sickly-sweet blood smell; and the cool dew contrasted with the heat of her body, mine and of course the blood.

In prison I’d had to bury my pride and confess my guilt loudly and sing out about my shame and deep regret. Now I was ready to fully embrace my new life.

‘Della, I just want you to know that if I could travel back in time

 

 

I should have killed you when you first betrayed me and not waited. Now I am going to enjoy and appreciate every little thing life as it feels as If I have symbolically been reborn again.’

El Taco

by Leslie Bohem

I was a small part of the great Los Angeles Music Scare of the late 1970s, early 80s.  We were all just young enough to still have dreams and just old enough to have memories – a lot of the joy came from that.  We thought the music of our formative years was a million miles gone and really, it was just a (backwards) shot away.  We were discovering our roots and the commonalities of our youth all at once, on stages, in studios.  My fondest memory of that time is of a taco stand at a carwash on the corner of Sunset and Alvarado in Echo Park.  It had no name and was open until three or four in the morning.  We all just called it, “The Car Wash” and a lot of the bands would wind up there after gigs.  We all were very opinionated, but we had the night and the stages and our dreams in common, and, at The Car Wash, we would come together and talk about what we’d done that night, or who we were listening to, or what new guitar one of us had found in a pawn shop.  Years later, The Car Wash stand finally got a name.  They called it, in a fit of true inspiration, “El Taco.”  A short time after that, they tore it down.

Father First

by Alva Holland

A fine wisp of a draught passes over my Adam’s apple as I swallow my nerves and my throat gets used to being exposed again. Will people recognise me now? Have they only always seen the symbol?

Did they ever look past the insignia to see that my eyes are blue with a brown fleck, that I inherited my Dad’s fine brown hair with a white sliver in front? Kept short in accordance with the rules, it can now grow and fall in curls, just like the young men I tutored for years.

Do they know how much I envied their freedom, with all its problems and anxieties? I am one of them now, older but with the same issues. Today, I step out from behind that which has defined me. Today, I look at the world with fresh eyes.

I see old happiness and new sadness. Old sadness and new happiness. Both are out there for me. I will sing the same Gloria but with different love.

I hear footsteps behind me. I think of my mother. She’s long gone. Would she understand? Would she continue to love me or had she grown to love what I became? I love you, Mama, always.

The footsteps quieten and a slim hand slips into mine. I turn to smile at the reason for my decision. Two soft brown eyes dispel any doubt. Our new life awaits. I have so much love to give. I know now she is worth every moment of the anguish that led us here.

The spring flowers dance in the field. The sun shines on my mother’s headstone and I feel her smiling down at me. I hang my white collar on the granite, turn, and leave my old life behind.

I’m to be a new father.

Neon Nights

by Matthew Rooney

            We believed in nothing. Semantic argumentation could not have attempted to begin to capture the rapturous—impotent so at times—disquiet that presented us around the age of twenty-six. She—freshly divorced and with a dipsomaniac disposition—and I—whose romantic sentiments about the ideal outmatching the real only managed to inhibit subliminal pleasures—ran from hotel to hotel, skirting our rental responsibilities and allowing our phones to discharge into the abyss of discommunication. We sat on the edge of the bed, most days, clogging our pores with recognition of our campy, chemically-cleansed surroundings, waiting for the falling of the neon nights. She would stand only to offer me a mixture of alcohols she had concocted from the miniature bottles in the fridge.

            We spoke candidly about the condition.

                When night fell and the moon cascaded broadly over the city-scape, we would open the blinds to the undying light of the buildings and greet it with pacified eyes. One night in particular—the twenty-seventh of October, if my memory of those times can be relied upon—we had stripped ourselves of the slightest hint of fabrics and stood bare to the nocturnal grace of man’s advertisements glistening in the fallen leaves that lined the walkways. “The theory goes,” she said, “that to feel the slightest ephemera of the supposed sublime we must make ourselves receptive. We must allow the hues of night, to which our jack-hammered eyes have become accustomed, to envelop our selves entirely.” And so we stood.

The Keeper of Teehees

by Alex Z. Salinas

@Alex_Z_Salinas

People’s opinions of Christians are unfair.

Hypocritical, self-serving, unfunny. These are all things I’ve heard said about them. But let me tell you, unfunny they ain’t.

How do I know? Because I went to Heaven, that’s how.

Of course the docs brought me back so I could tell this story, but not before I got a glimpse of the Pearly Gates.

It isn’t a pearly gate, actually; it’s a gigantic revolving door made of gold. Very Art Deco.

An old man with a long, white beard stood in front of the door. He was dressed as a bellhop, his uniform burgundy. Real cute stuff.

I was seated before the old man in a waiting room. The walls and floor were made of dark-green marble. Classy place. I was the only one there.

The man stood for what seemed like an eternity, not a care in the world. Then, he looked at his wristwatch and called my name.

I walked up to him. His golden name tag said Pete.

“After reviewing your file, there appears to be errors,” Pete said.

“Errors? What kinds of errors?”

“You really wanna know?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“Let’s just cut to the chase. You didn’t make it.”

“What?”

“Sorry, buddy. You didn’t make it in.”

“I don’t understand.”

“What’s not to understand? You’re not in. So go to Hell.”

Pete was stone-faced. Then, his eyes flickered, and he burst into a high-pitched laughter.

“The look … on … your … face!”

I waited for him to gain his composure.

“Sorry ‘bout that. Couldn’t help myself. Gotta keep things light around here.”

“So … I’m in?”

“Yeah, you’re in.”

“Really?”

“Hell no!”

He laughed like a hyena again, and then I came to.

They don’t tell you about old Saint Pete, the funny sunnuvagun.

But now you know.

Love Flies

by Mileva Anastasiadou

Our eyes have certainly met before, yet tonight, it’s as if I face him for the first time.

We hang around at the same old bar, in the same forgotten town, forgotten by God and its inhabitants, like those old and worn out relationships you hang to by habit. Our love has run out, when we ran out of fuels. We are now opponents, instead of partners, spending our time blaming each other.

Perhaps it’s the song that’s been playing while our lips collide; “love flies,” goes the verse and I imagine little insects, like kites flying through the roof, towards the sky, shaping hearts, which are blown away by the wind and then stubbornly get into shape again, resembling this old bar and my town and the old and worn out relationships and my life, sliding through my fingers, yet seemingly never-ending at the same time, until it’s over. The kites start spinning, confusing me, as my feet feel weaker and weaker.

Love is here. She wants to stay, but she can’t pay the rent.

His eyes are the first thing I see when I come round.

“One more drink,” I ask.

“We should go home.”

I return to the same old bar, the same town, the same old and worn out relationship. The love flies have vanished. The smoke dissolves the last heart dancing over my head. He kisses me tenderly on the forehead, while he helps me wear my coat. That old familiar comfort runs through my veins, pushing the liquor away.

“It’s cold outside,” he says, as he embraces me.

“Let’s start over,” I say.

“We always do,” he answers, staring at the void.

Love is here to stay; his smile is enough to refill the gas tank of our love.

 

No Home for Holly

by Alyson Faye

Holly had been searching for her mother for years. In every hostel, shelter and B&B she moored at she would investigate every room. The voices told her where to look and also when to leave. Though more often than not her relentless searching was the cause of her being evicted, again and again.

Holly had got accustomed to the name calling.

‘Crazy girl!’ ‘Fruity loops.’ ‘Holly’s off her trolley.’ These were among the gentler epithets.

The violence she experienced though always shocked her; disconnecting her from her inner radar. Leaving her anchorless.

Mikey wasn’t like that. He was both street wise and street damaged. The day he’d met Holly he’d disinterred her from the grubby bowels of the dumpsters behind Asda, where she’d fallen in. She’d been skip diving and while scrabbling to climb out had cut her leg. The gash was deep; this wound was visible.

The trip to A&E had been a savage assault on her senses- a white walled noisy hell. It hummed of antiseptic and old vomit. Holly had found it hard to cope. Shaking she’d clung to Mikey’s arm. He kept the voices at bay.

The hospital still had the remnants of some tatty tinsel up. Under the forgotten mistletoe twig in the A&E was where Mikey gave her their first kiss.

It was there he told her he’d got a spot selling the ‘Big Issue’. He’d help her try for the gig too. Put in a word. They could hang out together.

‘Just for now and the near tomorrows. If it’s what you’d like Holly.’

Holly put her hand in his and felt his scars rub against hers.

‘We could be each other’s home,’ she whispered.

We

by Robert Salinas

            I look over at her for a solid second that feels like hours, her image stuck on my brain as I try to focus on the open road of the Michigan autumn land. She has slowly become the answer to my existential nonsense that fully engulfed me during another time. Twenty-seven years of existence and here I am finding myself in her deep brown eyes, her comforting smile and soft gaze out into the open. She was astonished by nature and its beauty, and I understood it as I looked at her.

            Before we met four weeks ago, if someone told me I’d be married, jobless and on my way to the wild west of California, I would’ve laughed and asked what drugs they were on. I was a financial consultant and had no business in the world of adventurers and trailblazers.

Valentina was her name, as I found out after a few drinks at the local downtown watering hole in Detroit. She left her editing job in New York and made her way west, and that’s all I got. The rest was about me: my aspirations, my purpose, my goals. No one had ever taken interest in these aspects of my life, and yet her only response was, “You need to live.”

            I knew she loved me after the first night when she told me how she hated Detroit but proceeded to build a bank of endless nights with me in my apartment. I grew to also hate the city.

 “Let’s live,” I whispered to her one night in bed. The next morning, we were married in court. Afterwards, I filled up my gas tank that would aid our Manifest Destiny.

With every mile, we erase ourselves more and more, until we are just. Just we.

Only the Crows Know

by Tamara Miles

At harvest time, all six of the older Moon children scrounged off to the cotton field with their sacks and set to work in the sun and wished and wished for rain.  As Terry lowered his eyes, a shape caught his attention, coming across the field afloat. It couldn’t be, but there it was, a thing like a ghost or an angel; he gasped, “Look!” and all the children saw the angel-ghost coming.

“Children,” the stranger asked, “where are your parents?” Recovering a bit, the eldest sister, Faye, replied, “We have no father, and our mother is an elm tree.” Drawing from a pocket, the angel-ghost brought forth a letter in golden ink, addressed to their mother.

“I’ll go,” said Sylvia, glad to do anything to get out of the field, and Willie tagged along.  Down the road to the cemetery the two went, and came to their elm-tree mother, who said from the bark in a bitter voice, “Read the letter to me,” and laughed when Sylvia read in halted speech, “A co-cotton field is n-no place for child-d-ren. I ha-v-ve set them free.”

“What is this nonsense,” sang out the branching mother? “What good is freedom when you will have nothing to fill your belly?” And it was true, it seemed. They could not leave their mother and her roots, nor the field, nor the cotton; this was all they knew.

Returning to the field, the children were greeted by the open arms of the angel-ghost. “Let’s go,” the fair creature said, but “No, no,” said the children, and turned back to their work and closed their mouths tight.  When at last they looked again, the angel-ghost had turned into a scarecrow, already burning up. After this, the children sang no more.

Roll the Dice

by David Whitaker

            “Are you sure?” the Doctor asked, raising an eyebrow.

            The couple seated across from him seemed to wither under his gaze, beads of perspiration appearing on the man’s forehead and threatening to besmirch the gleaming surface of the Doctor’s mahogany desk at any moment.

            “We are,” the woman replied, her voice emerging from lips pale and drawn.

            The Doctor exhaled softly and leant back in his chair, the leather squeaking as it adjusted to his new position. “It could be a death sentence, you know?” he asked, after a brief pause.

            The couple shared a long look, but nodded.

            “We know,” the man replied, though a tentative edge to his words robbed some of the strength from the statement.

            The Doctor tapped his fingers on his desk, the clack of a gold ring knocking against the wood echoing harshly in the stillness of the room.

            “Cystic fibrosis, sickle cell, alcoholism, Huntington’s, obesity, idiocy, haemophilia, hemochromatosis…” he listed clinically. “Without basic genetic cleansing, your infant could suffer any number of debilitating maladies. Not to mention the risk of…” he resisted the urge to shudder, “ugliness.”

            The woman stared at her lap and her husband fidgeted. “We know,” he replied begrudgingly, “but the fact is we simply don’t have the money. After the cost of the permit, if we spent what we had left on even low-tier health modifications we’d not have enough for food or clothing.”

            The Doctor shrugged uncomfortably. “So you’re going to leave it up to the natural process?” he asked with disdain.

            “We might get lucky,” the man whispered, his voice optimistic. “Smart, tall, handsome, healthy… It’s possible, right?”

            The Doctor hesitated. With society in its current state, it was nice to see true hope for a change. “Sure,” he smiled. “Sometimes you’ve just gotta roll the dice.”

Rescue

by Allen Berry

I might’a known it would end like this. We both went into it with misconceptions about each other. She thought I needed fixing and I thought she needed rescuing. We were both right. And we were both wrong and neither one of us was able to anything about the other in the end. So here I am five years later going to collect the last of my stuff.

Back when we were in love, I loaned her my clothes dryer when hers broke and I moved away for a different graduate program and she started teaching. What the differences don’t kill the distance will and one summer, while I was in the middle of classes, she took off to Boston or some such place, and met a guy at a bar who claimed he wanted to be her friend. At first I was OK with it, because most of her friends were lousy anyway, and she needed someone worthwhile she could talk to. Turns out he had issues pretty similar to her own and they would talk all the time, with her trying to pull him out of his slump. She even started  talking on the phone with him during my weekend visits, me feeling smaller and pettier by the day. It worked in the end.

The last fight we had, she told me, “he just gets me.” And I came back with, “well he ain’t gettin” my dryer!” and hung up with as much force as you can muster pressing the “end” button. I felt impotent and useless, and hated her for it and hated myself for letting her see. You’d think growing up listening to Dr. Hook, I might have learned a thing or two about loving a beautiful woman. Lookin’ back is the quickest and awfulest way to cure you of any sense of your own intelligence.

Pulling into her carport at the end of that long gravel road, the dog we’d rescued from the interstate was there on the porch. I remembered how my ex complained, but the dog absolutely loved her. Followed her around everywhere and slept at the foot of her bed when she finally got tired of the howling and let it in the house. Thing is, she argued for leaving the dog on the side of the road, I was the one who kept telling her the dog’d get hit. It was my truck, though, so I won. Lucky me.

I called “here girl,” to the dog. It glanced up at me, snorted, then got up and went to lie down under the porch. “Women,” I muttered to myself, and knocked on the front door.

She was just as pretty as always, but the old ache I was expecting wasn’t there. Felt more like something familiar, but useless. I looked at her and felt about the same way I did when I opened the fridge and figured out the milk was about three days past due. Kinda disappointed, but resigned.

We made the usual small talk, and I told her she looked good, and she said thanks, and I got the hand-trucks out of the back of my pickup and started the business of hauling the last physical representation of the last five years out of her laundry room. She helped me as best she could, which made me feel even worse about the whole thing. I wanted to be mean and bitter for the betrayal and hell she’d put me through, but all I was was hot and tired. The only thing that could’ve made it worse was if the damaged Don Juan she cheated on me with was there to help load the blasted thing, but luckily he was living about three states away, which pissed me off even more if I let myself think about it.

Anyway, I finally got the dryer loaded up on my truck by dragging it out to the tailgate and through sheer force of pique, lifted it into the truck bed and strapped it down. I told her to have a nice life and pulled away before she could finish whatever it was she was trying to say to me. I watched her in the rearview mirror, standing there with her arms crossed, looking like some disappointed school marm, which I guess she was. I watched until the curve in the road took me and the last five years out of sight. “Now what?” I thought.

 I didn’t have an answer. I had a dryer.

Somewhere down that old country road that would eventually take me home, I was listening to some fading country station and feeling sorta dry inside, when I looked up and saw a kitten on the edge of the asphalt. As I got closer, I could see that it wasn’t alone. The little guy was standing over the corpse of his sibling.

I felt sorry for the little feller. The world is hard on small creatures, and old habits die hard and I thought maybe I could save the little guy, seeing as it was too late to do anything for his litter mate. I figured, maybe my old grimalkin cat might like some company.  I rolled to a stop a short distance away and slowly got out of my truck.

I talked all quiet and friendly to it, but it stared at me all suspicious. I was no more than five feet away when it bolted into the weeds. I watched after it, for a bit, but it was gone. I looked down at the sibling lying on the asphalt. The kitten had been hit by a car, but the damage was from the kitten nibbling on his little brother’s carcass. I’d interrupted dinner. I stood there for about a minute then went back to my truck. I fished an old hiking pole out of the toolbox and pushed the body off the road into the weeds. It was the best I could do for him.

In My Dreams

by Kareem Shehab

In my dreams I always wonder about those who are ignorant. Those who refuse to understand. I think of them as nothing. Like all the other nothings in the world. They take space, but are useless. Less than nothing. They cause trouble and pain. They cause damage. They are the evil  of this world. And I learnt to be one of them. I become a leader in bad times. Bad times like this one. As we travel what is left of the world searching for shelter. Before a nuclear storm hits back the few rest of people alive. On and on we walk. We take what we find and work out a way to make it last. We run from nuclear winds. Some of us don’t make it. We share what we get equally; some times not fairly, so, I try to show them how to care; how to fight; how to build; how to survive; and how to depend on each other when they can’t do it alone. I teach them a way to recreate what was destroyed by our ignorance. But they don’t listen. And I’m still hoping that one day, oneday they will.

Falter/Father

by Jesse Bradley

I tried adding the car we made you into the Museum of Broken Relationships but the police took away what was left of it as evidence. This isn’t the audience I had in mind, I wanted to say but remembered what I learned from your mother about the masonry of silence.

When you’re old enough, I’ll confess to you over the best beer I can afford how we mistook you for spackle. This could be you if you aren’t careful, my mugshot would say for me as the wet sand expands between our ears. She would have already taught you the manufacturing process, the ways you can stop it until you’re ready. I imagine the phone call she’ll get when you’re in seventh grade after you tell your friends.

Thaw 
by Katie Lewington
She glances at me. She reckons I am not watching her, but I notice. How can I not?
The snow is ten inches thick, the cold attaches to our every breath and this makes it visible, like fairy dust. She is wearing denim shorts, with an oversized sweater.
She struggles to light her cigarette with the dying lighter that she has. Sparks flutter and singe the tip, blackening it.
I have mine, a 3D rectangle in my pocket. I offer it. She pouts, puts the cigarette to her mouth and takes it.
The thaw has begun.

Dynamic Pressure

by Steve Lodge

@steveweave71

The airport shuttle bus dropped me in the town square of Ponte Alvarecchio Calvatore Tiramisu Parklife. My cap was clamped on my head, preventing it from blowing off in the wind, my pipe was clamped between my teeth and a grin was clamped to my mouth.

This was the beginning of my long break away from the grimy, dark walls of academia. I’d completed my thesis on thermal imaging and underwear and the publication of my long-awaited breakthrough paper on thermal flasks and trousers. I needed rest. I felt physically and mentally drained even though I was still technically quite young.

I had accepted an invitation from an old friend, Bill Trail, who had set himself up in a bar here on the sun-drenched Mediterranean. Bill’s invite was a blessing. My pocket was dangerously short of even coinage and I had started dabbling in more research, into the arena of the alchemy of time and captured rotation in search of space, with my mentor, Borneo Steve, but the sheer complexity of the subject matter made my nose bleed. Then Steve had left to look for Mandalay Mike, his friend, missing while on a secret mission for the British Government. Instantly my nose bleeds stopped.

I had no way of knowing at the time that Bill was in the employ of the dastardly evil and wicked mastermind, Grubby Statellite Perdudu, whose plan was to steal my thoughts, ideas and experimental data on the possible use of thermal bulletproof trousers in conflict zones, through serums injected into my breakfast bacon focaccio, my lunchtime G&T and my evening soup, which I tried to chew! If Borneo Steve hadn’t returned and rescued me, I suspect Perdudu’s insidious plan may have worked. I still have trouble sleeping at night and I cannot face mozzarella cheese.

The Interview

by Stephen V. Ramey

He arrives wearing a yellow t-shirt with the slogan: I’m so gay I cause local flooding. His resume’ consists of one page of part-time jobs with titles like Litter Manager, Spiritual Bookmark Designer, Catastrophe Coordinator.

“Thanks for this chance,” he says. I doubt his cargo pants have been washed since they were bought for him.

“Have a seat,” I say. “Tell me,” I say. “Why should I hire you as Director of Diversity and Inclusion–” I glance at his application “–Anatole?” Really?

“I love,” Anatole says.

“And…?”

“I live,” Anatole says.

I sigh. “You’re going to have to give me more than that.” His gaze is so open. I feel the warmth of him. I wish he had some qualifications to go with it.

“Why did you leave your last job?” I ask.

“Ah,” he says. “That’s a story. They wanted me to dole out FEMA funds like some sort of king.” He dons a voice much like mine. “You may bow. You may kiss my ring. Filleth outeth this form and we willith processeth it forthwith. I gave my allotment to the first family to rebuild a treehouse.”

I glance at my desk, papers stacked, flat screen begging for Alt-Ctl-Del. “I’m afraid you are not qualified for this position.”

Anatole squats. “How about this one?” He laughs. “The kid had this treehouse. It got knocked down by the storm. Now it’s rebuilt. Isn’t the world a little better?”

I stare, dumbfounded, as he shakes my hand.

“When do I start? I’m anxious to make a difference.”

Setting Sun

by L.S. Engler

            When they told her that she had only twenty-two hours, barely a full day, she could only feel relief. She didn’t feel like a person with death looming at her shoulder, but she felt ready. Ready for closure, ready for it to end, a solid answer after months adrift in a sea of questions.

She only told her mother, who promised (promised!) to hold the secret for as long as she could, which wouldn’t need to be long. She couldn’t bring herself tell anyone else, though, not her friends, not her boyfriend. Not even her faithful dog Rudy, though she honestly felt that Rudy already knew.

What are you going to do with your last day? The question on the lips of every doctor, nurse, and patient in the hospital. She didn’t have a good answer for them, but her answer was good enough for her. The only people who would understand had ticking clocks over their heads, too. She wanted to leave these antiseptic halls and stale pastel rooms, but not to spend time with her loved ones. She just wanted to walk in the woods; she wanted to stay out there it was time. By her watch, it would be right around sunset when the final hour arrived. She’d climb up to the top of a hill somewhere and watch the spectacle as her last breath slowly faded with her final day.

To her surprise, they let her go, and she spread out a pale blue blanket on the grass. The sun responded by spreading its own blanket across the sky: a purple and orange bedspread as it settled in for the night. She closed her eyes, but she continued to breathe well past the final hour. In a way, she was almost (almost!) disappointed.

Pretty Blue

by Sandra Arnold

First the phone rings. One minute to answer it. Less than a minute. Then back outside to hang out the washing. Inhaling the freshly laundered smell, the scent of apples on the hot summer air. Smiling at the birdsong, the bee drone, the golden tassels of the corn she planted in the spring, the ripening tomatoes and green beans, the polished sky as blue as her baby’s eyes.

The distant revving of an engine. Next door’s dog barking. Creeping silence. Sheets falling to the ground. Fanned fingers on the empty air. Sprinting towards the hedge where the ladder blocks the gap until the gate is finished. Hurtling up the driveway to the empty street that leads to the busy intersection. Neighbours’ front doors slamming open to see who is screaming.  Men, women and children charging out onto the road to join in the search. In and out of gardens, garages, woodsheds. Calling. Calling. Repeating to each other, to the mother, “Don’t worry. She’ll be all right. She can’t have gone far.”

Someone remembers the swimming pool installed last week further down the street. Filled or not filled? No one knows. The mother’s legs are jet-propelled. She gets there first. The neighbours are close behind. Down the drive, scrambling over the fence to the back of the garden. A woman stares out her window, mouth open, eyes popping.

The mother’s jagged breathing. Her heart bursting. Teetering on the edge of the pool, both hands reaching out to touch the sparkles on the water. The child’s wispy voice: “Pretty. Pretty. Pretty blue.”

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