Woodling Season

Woodling Season

by Rob Francis

Rupert bumbles into the sodden garden, yellow boots and jacket bright against the dripping plants. As usual, he is drawn to the messy patch at the bottom of the lawn, where the cherry trees stand amid long grass. He stares at the new ring of twisted brown and black toadstools under the tallest tree.

“Where have you come from?” he wonders aloud. A reply startles him.

“We come after the rains, child.” A quiet voice, but sharp. “When the season is right.”

Rupert scans the grass and trees for the mystery speaker, but sees nothing. When his gaze returns to the toadstools, a tiny man is standing within the ring. His skin resembles tree bark, cracked and patched with moss, his hair long and wiry like dead grass. He is naked and has sharp, pointed fingers and toes.

The little man regards Rupert with small black eyes, and then answers his unasked question.

“We are woodlings, child. Kin to the trees, we live among them.”

Rupert nods, but doesn’t understand. He’s never seen a woodling before, and wonders why his parents have never talked about them.

“You are sad, child. Why is this? You have a little sister now. That must be nice.”

Rupert is surprised that the little man knows about baby Sylvia. “How do you know that?”

The woodling’s face splits into a smile. “We can hear her crying at night. We can smell her new skin.”

“I hate her.” Rupert’s face flushes scarlet at the shame he feels, but he rejoices in the admission too. “Mum and Dad played with me before. We went to the park almost every day. Now they are just busy, and tired, because baby Sylvia is small and always cries. Last night I was frightened because of the storm, but they said I had to sleep by myself. In case I woke Sylvia.”

“Yes, child.” The little man nods, his expression all sadness at the boy’s story. “Parents always love their newer children more.” He stands for a long moment watching Rupert, while tears well in the boy’s eyes.

Then, gently: “Would you like it if baby Sylvia went away? Perhaps someone else could look after her? Some people ache for children that will never come, and they suffer terribly.”

Rupert is unsure. He remembers that his parents were happy when Sylvia was born, but are so tired and miserable now. He thinks of the fun they all had before she came.

“Yes,” he says after a long moment. “If someone else wants her and will be nice to her, they can have her.”

The woodling nods sympathetically. “I’m hungry now. Could you fetch me some bread and milk please?”

Rupert dashes to the kitchen to oblige. But when he returns, the woodling is gone. The ring of toadstools stands empty.

* * *

Rupert sits in his bedroom and listens to the muffled shouting from downstairs. Then the awful near-silence of his mother weeping. The policemen have gone. He thinks about the questions they had asked again and again. About why Sylvia’s bedroom window had been left open on such a cold night. He thinks of his mother telling them, over and over, that it wasn’t left open, it couldn’t have been. He remembers her shouting at the policemen, and his father hugging her tight to make her stop.

He wonders where baby Sylvia is, and if her new parents are pleased to have her. Wonders how long it will take before his parents are happy again.

* * *

Rupert runs into his mother’s bedroom, where she is lying on the bed and staring at nothing. His father doesn’t sleep here anymore. He stays late at work.

“Mum, I can see Sylvia’s yellow blanket in the cherry tree, in the garden. From the window, I saw it!”

For the first time in weeks his mother acts with purpose, rising from the mattress and running to his bedroom window. He sees hope bloom in her face.

The blanket is gone. His mother turns to stone, and the contrast with the wary excitement she held a moment ago makes her look so empty. The way she looks at him makes him feel cold inside. Her anger burns just below the surface.

“I saw it,” he whispers.

* * *

Rupert looks for toadstools in the garden, but he hasn’t seen any since the day the woodling man came, almost a year ago now. He hasn’t seen his father much since that day either.

Inside the house, his mother has almost finished packing for their move to a small apartment in the city. A removal truck idles on the driveway while sweating men carry cardboard boxes to it.

Rupert wanders through the house and into his empty bedroom. He takes an envelope from the window-sill and goes to the kitchen, where his mother has placed another envelope on the counter. She has written a welcome card to the family that are coming, wishing them well in their new home.

Rupert saw the new family when they came to look at the house. A father, a mother, an angry little girl and a newborn baby boy. Rupert’s envelope contains a carefully crayoned picture of a small man with cracked, mossy skin, black eyes and sharp fingers. Underneath he has written in large black letters: KEEP YOUR BABY.

He places the envelope with his mother’s, and holds her hand as they leave home for the last time.

◊ ◊ ◊

Rob Francis
Rob Francis is an academic and writer based in London. He has published numerous scientific articles and books, and started writing short fiction in 2014. His stories have appeared in various magazines, including SQ Mag, SpeckLit, Swords & Sorcery Magazine, The Lorelei Signal, The Fable Online and Every Day Fiction.

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This is a True Story

This is a True Story

by Gerardo Posada

It is well known that Jesus had many followers in his time. That he also had plenty of imitators and fanatics. Men would let their hair grow shoulder length and also grow a beard, exactly like His. They would also wear white robes to look even more alike their Master. It is also widely known that his followers, his community of followers knew, about the rumours of their Master’s resurrection from among the dead on the third day after the crucifixion. Of course, all of them were present at that terrible moment.

Some of them fled to the desert; others, like the 12 disciples stayed in the city and mourned their Lord. One of them was running some errands when suddenly he came across a man who looked and dressed exactly like Jesus. The disciple fell on his knees and extended his arms towards the heavens: “Is that you, Master?” “Yes, my son,” the man answered. The disciple reached for his Master’s hand, and not feeling any scars left from the nails he got away and yelled: “Guards! This man claims he’s the son of God!” The synagogue guards took the man and shut him up, for good.

When the disciple met the others, he related his experience. One of them said: “The same thing happened to me with a man that had the same looks as our Master’s, and he even had the scars from hands and feet, but no cut on the side. The synagogue guards took care of him,” they all sighed.

In the evening of the third day, a man appeared at their door, it was their Master! This time it had to be him, he was the only one who could have an idea of their whereabouts. They always tried to keep this information away from the fanatics. They asked the man to prove he was Jesus, he showed and let them touch his wounds. They were real. While they touched his wounds, some tears came rolling down the man’s face. This time I went too far imitating the deeds of our beloved Master, he thought to himself, these wounds are killing me like a motherfucker!

“Look!” the disciples said, “he’s crying with joy of being reunited with us!”

After a night of intense celebration, their Master took leave from them, and while still full of the spirit they had been drinking during the night, they saw Jesus walking away from their hut in the desert. There was an incredibly wild sand storm outside, and thus, the Lord left wrapped in clouds.

◊ ◊ ◊

Gerardo Posada
Gerardo Posada born in Hell Salvador (El Salvador), raised to serve the machine, he escaped fate, at least part of it. At the age of 22 when he decided to become everyone and everything at the same time, carry a book as a sword, and fire words instead of bullets. He is based in London, searching inspiration wherever she may take him.

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The Legacy Left Behind

The Legacy Left Behind

by Annaliese Lemmon

My new neighbor was a time traveller. I could feel it every day when I passed him on my jog. The air around him vibrated softly with the energy left over from being thrown outside of his normal time. I wouldn’t have noticed it, except the vibration made the stump of my leg chafe inside its prosthetic.

It was an ache I’d grown familiar with during the war in China. When I’d lost my leg, the army assigned me to re-con with the time traveller spies. They came forward from the past to hear what the enemy was doing in our present. They then returned and planned accordingly. Their changes to the timeline never made any difference in my present. Scientists explained it by saying they created a parallel Earth when the past changed. So you could go back in time and kill Hitler, but that wouldn’t change anything in this world.

But that didn’t explain what this time traveller was doing here, now. I hadn’t heard that the tech had been released to civilians yet. Cale was young and his crew cut belonged in the military, but our suburb was far from anything of interest to military spies. A rich corporation perhaps? But he wasn’t going to find secrets in the sandwich shop where he worked.

My husband told me to leave him to his own business. Still, I couldn’t help watching him during the neighborhood barbecue as I helped my three kids with their food. Always standing near the edge, as if unsure whether he belonged. Finally, the kids finished and ran to play with their friends. Now I could eat my cold burger while I figured out how to pull information out of Cale. I’d just taken a bite when Cale started moving directly towards me. My stump ached as he paused by the chair vacated by my daughter. “Mind if I join you?” he asked.

I glanced at my husband by the grill, but he was deep in conversation. “Go ahead.” Well, that solved issue one, how to start a conversation.

“Thanks.” Cale dropped into the lawn chair. “I’ve been wanting to ask, how do you manage, having only one leg and all?”

I shrugged. “It’s not that hard. With this prosthetic, I can do pretty much everything I used to do with two legs.”

“Did you always feel that way?” He fixed his eyes on me, hands tight against the table. He hadn’t touched his food.

I chewed slowly, so I wouldn’t have to answer right away. Most people just congratulated me on adjusting to my disability so well. That was fine, as I didn’t like explaining all the effort my recovery had taken. Most people didn’t like to hear how depressed I had been. “Why do you ask?”

Cale hesitated, then pulled up his pant leg. Around his knee, there was a line, like he was wearing knee length, skin colored boots. It was an impressive covering for a prosthetic, even if the lack of hair still gave it away.

No wonder I hadn’t ever seen him in shorts. The tenseness in my muscles faded away in empathy. “How did you lose it?”

“On tour in China five years ago.”

I raised an eyebrow. That was where and when I had lost my leg. I leaned forward. “Is that really where you lost your leg, or is it just a story to cover up your time travel?”

He glanced down, ears reddening. “It’s that obvious?”

I smiled. “Only because I used to work with time travellers. So, when did you really lose it?”

“2135.”

That was over 50 years from now. “Wait, you’re from the future?”
“Yes.”

“So, have you figured out a way to return to your world despite changes made in the timeline?”

“We have, though I’m told it makes the journey back much more painful.”

“Then what are you doing here?”

Cale sighed and picked at his potato salad. “I’ve been having a real hard time since the amputation. Mom said you were always happy with yours. I wanted some advice, since you aren’t around anymore.”

I gaped at him. I wasn’t around, was I dead then? And if I knew his mother… I studied his face. Now that I knew to look, I did see some family resemblance. “Which of my daughters is your mom?”

“Gemma.” He looked to the street, where Gemma was riding her tricycle with the other kids.

I looked down at my plate. I would have opened up anyway for a fellow amputee. But for my grandson, it felt like I’d failed him if he needed to travel across time to talk to me. I turned my left arm over, showing the curving scar on the inside of my forearm. “I wasn’t always happy. When I was recovering, I attempted suicide.”

Cale stared at the scar, then into my eyes. “How did I not know that?”

I folded my hands together. “I hadn’t really planned on telling the kids about it. I wanted them to remember me as happy rather than as someone who could barely respond to their needs.”

He looked down. My throat felt thick. It had seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but it had made Cale feel like he had to live up to an impossibility. At least he’d reached out, instead of succumbing to despair like I almost had. I leaned over and took his hand. “Come over tonight. The kids will be in bed by eight. We’ll have a long talk.”

He nodded. “Thanks.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Annaliese Lemmon
Annaliese Lemmon graduated from BYU with a degree in computer science. She lives with her equally nerdy husband and three children in Seattle, where she tries to write amid the noise. When not writing, she enjoys cooking and playing board games. Her favorite authors include Brandon Sanderson and Shannon Hale. Learn more about her stories at http://annalieselemmon.com

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The Devil and Johnnie Walker

The Devil and Johnnie Walker

by Cooper Anderson

Everyone’s got a story, I say. And working at the Eden, I’ve heard most of them. It comes with the territory of being a landlord. I pour the drinks and in exchange, people tell me all sorts of things. Husband’s run off with the milkman, dog was kidnapped then held for a ransom of two meatball sandwiches, or, my personal favorite, an artificial leg stolen by a roaming gang of alligators. I’ve heard it all before. There’s just something inherently trustworthy about a stranger handing you a frothy lager that makes you want to spill all your secrets to them. Which doesn’t mean you should. Especially in the Eden. We’re not that kind of establishment.

But I enjoy the work, and I bloody well should. I am the owner after all. Inherited it from my father nearly eight years ago. God rest his soul. I’ve got a picture of him from when he first opened up the place. It’s hanging on the back wall next to our liquor license and the Help Wanted poster. A few weeks ago, my fry cook joined up with the Royal Navy but not the Royal Navy you’re thinking of and I’ve been desperate for a pair of hands on the grille ever since.

In the photo, my dad’s hair is all shaggy and mousy brown like mine is now. Not white and thin like it was in his final years. He’s got a well-groomed, decade appropriate, handlebar mustache and a smile that would rosy the cheeks of even the most frigid of housewives. People say I look like him but I don’t see it.  Besides, I’m older now than he was when the picture was taken.

He used to tell me things, my father. Little shells of wisdom that he acquired over a lifetime of serving brews. Things like: never bribe a health inspector with less than three hundred pounds or which booze works best for disinfecting a wound made by an oyster shucker. Things like that. He had a keen eye for business as well. My father knew the best place to build a pub is in the East End of London. That’s how we ended up in Whitechapel. Never a shortage of poor souls in need of a drink in Whitechapel. He’s been right so far. Never slow on a Friday night here.

You get used to people working in a pub. That’s part of the job as well. See, people rely on their landlords. We’re the sympathetic ear that listens, the shoulders to cry on. We are your therapist by trade and your pharmacist by profession. It’s a public service in its very nature. Cheaper than real therapy, too. The best example of this that comes to mind happened a few years back.

I remember it being a perfectly ordinary Wednesday night at the Eden. My nine regulars were chatting away about something or other and Chelsea were playing Man City on the tele. Then this old man in an ancient bomber jacket walks up to the bar. He tells me that he wants the best scotch in the house, runs a hand through his silver white hair, and cements himself on our least filthy bar stool.

“We’ve got Johnnie Walker Blue.” I tell the old man.

He tells me that’ll be fine and pulls out four very new, very crisp, fifty pound notes from his jacket pocket.

“Keep the change but leave the bottle.” He says in his thin elderly voice.

I hold the notes up to the light to make sure they were real. An entire weeknight’s earnings was just placed into my hand and I was going to be damn sure they were real. People who come to the Eden don’t carry fifty pound notes. Especially not four new ones that look like they were printed this morning. And even if someone did happen to walk in carrying four sequential fifty pound notes, complete with water marks and her majesty’s royal likeness on them, some upstanding citizen would come along to alleviate them of such a burden. I quickly stash the notes under the self-locking till before any of my regulars notice what I’m holding. I hand the old man a bottle with a blue ribbon drawn onto the label and a mostly clean glass.

“What’s the occasion?” I ask. Normally I wouldn’t. Asking questions in the Eden is like slathering your hand in honey then sticking it into an ant hill.

“I’ve just retired.” Said the old man. “Picked up my severance package today.”

He said this as if he’d just been given three months left to live. His accent isn’t a typical London accent. It’s too posh to be from Whitechapel and far too English to be American. It’s not Australian or Kiwi either but its close. South African maybe? Either way he’s from the empire and his money’s British enough so I stop trying to guess.

“Isn’t retirement a good thing?” I ask. “More time for fishing, or golf, or whatever it is that retired folks like to do with their newly freed time?”

He twisted off the cap of the Johnnie Walker and poured himself three fingers worth.

“Normally, yes. But it is a forced retirement.” He holds the glass up to me and says something that sounded like l’chaim, but it comes out all fuzzy like he’s saying through an old radio. But a good bartender always knows a ‘cheers’ when he hears it. So I nod out of respect. He drinks half the glass in a single sloosh and lets out a sigh.

“I loved my job.” He says as if he’s mourning the death of a lost lover. “It’s who I am. Or rather, who I was. It was tailor made for me. And I was good at it, like really good at it. And now that I’m out, what am I? You know?”

“Not really. I’ve worked here most of my life.”

Which was true. My father opened the Eden back in 1984. The year I was born. I muddled about in school for a while. Getting into trouble every so often. Not a lot mind you. Well, not at first anyway. I would’ve been a model student if they didn’t make fire alarms look so damn tempting.

But after getting expelled from high school for the third time in two years, I decided that my career in the public education sector had come to an end and that I’d join the family business. Mum wasn’t too happy about it. But she eventually got used to the idea and liked having the extra pair of hands to help out in the back. Not that she’d ever admit it of course. And it’s not like I was dead weight back then either. I was the one who suggested the decorative umbrella stand by the door and the pool table in the back corner.

“But you can’t be a real English pub without a pool table.” I hear my sixteen year old self say. “It’s like sacrilegious or whatever.” That was nearly twenty years ago. God, I’m getting old.

“What line of work were you in? If you don’t mind me asking.” I say to the old man. I remind myself that questions like these are dangerous things and that I should really stop trying to nick the cheese before the trap slams shut on my throat.

“I was the Devil.” He said and took a sip from his glass.

“Sorry. It sounded like you said you were the Devil?”

“That’s right. The Devil. Otherwise known as: Satan, Lucifer, Abaddon the Accuser, Beelzebub, the Deceiver, the Bringer of Darkness, the Conjurer of…bad things. Honestly the title’s changed so many times I can’t keep track anymore. But yes, I was, for all intents and purposes, the Devil.”

“Are…are you having a laugh?” I ask him.

He shakes his head.

“Not at all. Here I can prove it.” And the old man reaches into the inside of his coat pocket and pulls out a red and black business card that, sure enough, read:

 The Devil

Beneath that it read,

Located at any crossroads when the hour strikes midnight.

Then beneath that in very small letters,

*Offer not valid during the Feast of Souls or on Boxing Day.  

“Well that settles it then, doesn’t it?” I say handing the card back to him.

He waves me off and tells me to keep it.

“You never know when you might need to sell your soul for something. I can still do the occasional deal in my golden years.” And he winks at me as if he’s offered me an insider trading secret.

“And what is the going rate for the average soul these days?” I say indulging the old man.

“Better than what the pound goes for. I’ll tell you that much.”

I notice that he’s half way through the bottle now which was strange because I only remember him having the two glasses. If the old man was drunk, he didn’t show it.

“Good money then? Being the Devil?” I say as I slip the red and black card into my trouser pocket.

“Oh, there’s loads of it. Tobacco sales, oil refineries, conflict diamonds, door-to-door salesman. You name it. There’s oodles of it out there. All for the taking. And I knew how to take.” And only then did he remember why he was there in the first place.

“And now it’s all gone. Done and over with. Forever.”

“Well, there’s still big tobacco and oil companies and all that. Are you saying they’re all just going to stop? Just like that?”

The old man shook his head. “They’re all run by the horsemen now. They’re all growing bigger and faster without me being in the way.”

“Horsemen?”

“You know, horsemen! Of the apocalypse. Book of Revelations.”

“Sorry, I’m not much for reading.”

The old man shrugged and said nothing as he threw back his current tumbler full of scotch and then poured himself another.

Now I’m not normally interested in the sad and sodden tales of the crazies that darken my doorstep. I barely tolerate them from my regulars. But he seemed harmless enough, which could mean a fatal mistake in the Eden. But I decided to chance it anyway as this man would have to be a special kind of bastard to harm a guy who’s serving you top shelf. Besides, Chelsea were three-one up in the first half and the old man was entertaining. So I asked him.

“Well, if business is so good, why retire at all?”

“Well, it’s you, isn’t it? Human beings. You lot either find a way to fix anything that I can stir up. What with your clean energy bills or your ethical trade laws, what have you? Or you think of something far more horrible than anything I could think of. Like Ted Bundy or ATM transaction fees. It’s pure genius. I can’t keep up anymore. I’ll tell you what it’s like. It’s like being a symphony composer in the 1700’s. You practice and you practice all you like, but all anyone is ever going to be talking about is Mozart.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, mate.” I tell the old man.

But he wasn’t looking at me anymore. He was looking down into his drink as if he could find his answers at the bottom of the glass. Then, for that briefest of moments, I saw him for what he really was. A sad old man who had seen the future become history before his eyes and had failed to grab on as it sailed past. He was alone, and with no one but a middle aged landlord with no O-Levels to spend his retirement party with. I almost felt sorry for him.

“I mean it’s not like I didn’t try to adapt in these new confounded technological times. I mean I invented buffering for internet videos for Antichrist’s sake. I made sure there was at least one crying baby on most airline flights. Hell, I even came up with that self-check-out line at the grocery store that never seems to work properly.”

“All that was you?” I chuckle at the man. “Anything else you can put on the old résumé?” It came out harsher than I intended.

He sat there and for a moment I thought I had offended him but then he said

“You know how sometimes your phone doesn’t get a signal? Even when you’re in the middle of the city?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re welcome.” He finished off his latest glass and filled it to the top once again. The bottle sloshed. It was nearly two-thirds of the way empty.

“So I tried. I really did. But you lot are too adaptive. Too persevering. Every time I try and unleash some new and terrible inconvenience upon the world, you have to go and think of a way to make life that much more tolerable. I create pop up ads, you invent spam blockers. I bring up the wait times at Disneyland to almost inhumane levels, you come up with Fast Pass. I make T.V. commercials twice as long as the shows they’re in, and you invent TiVo. I mean, what’s the point of me doing anything anymore if some punk from M.I.T. or Oxford is going to come along and fix it? God, I hate Oxford.”

“Yeah I usually bet on Cambridge myself during the boat race.”

He didn’t laugh at my joke.

“So what are you going to do now in your newly acquired retirement?” I ask him.

He sighed then. In the way that an old dog sighs on a hot summers day.

“I suppose I’ll find ways to keep myself busy. Sure I’ll do the occasional possession but that’s really just to keep up with appearances mostly. Corrupting members of the clergy was always fun but it takes ages. Not like with the politicians. But they’re more like fish in a barrel to a guy like me. No, I think I might just turn into the skid and head over to Florida. I hear they got some really nice condos now. Of course property taxes are through the roof. So to speak. Thieving bastards.”

“You’re telling me that the Devil hates taxes?” I jab at the old man.

“I mean, I know that I’m the Devil and all. But that’s just plain evil. Isn’t it?”

He picks up the now nearly empty bottle, swirls the last remaining ounces, and tells me to get another glass. Since there is almost a guaranteed spot in hell for those who waste expensive scotch, I obliged.

“What should we toast to?” I say extending my arm towards him.

He pondered it until, eventually, he said “To people. The cause and correction to all your own problems from now on.”

Our tumblers clink and it burns all the way down in the way that good scotch is supposed to. I try to remember the last time I had Johnnie Walker Blue and if there was always this smoky aftertaste that’s coating the roof of my mouth. Before I can think of the answer the old man, seemingly defeated by this brave new world of neon and L.E.D., shifts himself off the stool. He brushes some imaginary lint from his shoulder and a cracker of an idea plops into my head like a stone being dropped in a pond.

“Why don’t you work here?” I ask.

He looks at me with wrinkled eyebrows and I almost rescind my offer when he tells me…

“What kind of work you talking about?”

“Nothing too strenuous.” I tell him. “Kitchen work mostly, maybe the occasional drink pouring when I’m busy. My last fry cook up and left me about a month ago. Didn’t even take his last week’s pay. Just poof! Gone. It’s been a bit of a toss-up since. You up for it?”

He stands there, sort of shocked or angry. Like I’ve just told him his mum was the best shag of my life. Whether it was genuine offense at my asking or just Mr. Walker’s liquid courage finally kicking in, the old man responded with: “I”—he says a bit more dramatically than I think he meant too—“am the dark lord of creation. I am the shadow that mirrors the sanctity of life. I tarnish the souls of the innocent and claim them for a kingdom of which I rule absolute. I have waged war against the creator and crashed into the gates of paradise. I questioned ineffability and tore the plains of Purgatory asunder. I strike fear and hate into the hearts of holy men throughout reality. I am the harbinger of calamity and the reckoner of the apocalypse. I am evil incarnate. I am the Devil.”

“Yeah.” I say. “But how are you at frying up chips?”

“I…I mean…I’ve never…well, how hard could it be?”

“Exactly. A smart fella like yourself, you’d pick it up in no time.”

His mouth wrinkles itself into a corner as he mulls over my offer. He starts to fiddle with the zipper on the end of his bomber jacket.

“When…when would I have to start?” I hear him ask almost sheepishly.

“You could start right now if you like.” I motion in a general direction around the Eden. “Still got mouths to water and bellies to fill. If you’re not busy of course.”

There’s a pause in the air as the old man takes one final iota of time to make up his mind but I know what his answer is already. I can see it in his eyes. I throw him a folded up apron.

“Come on.” I tell him. “I’ll show you how everything works round back.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Cooper Anderson
Cooper Anderson currently lives and works in Japan teaching English as a second language. He grew up in rural North Carolina. He doesn’t own a cat, but a cat owns him. Cooper has also been published in The Odyssey.

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Dad Always Said

Dad Always Said

by Ryan Kelly

Mom made him go to his room and closed the door behind him. She said she and Dad had to have a talk and that he couldn’t leave. He guessed that all those papers in her hand had something to do with it. The only other time he’d seen someone with that many pieces of paper was Ms. Collette when she passed back everyone’s spelling quizzes.

He thought about assembling his new Lego set. But he had already told Sammy that he’d wait for him to build the spaceship pictured on the front of the box. Dad always said that a promise is a promise and that you need to keep a promise to a friend. And besides, now was a perfect time to finish the drawing.

On his knees he scampered to his bed and reached underneath the box spring. He pulled out a long, white piece of construction paper and one of Dad’s old shoe boxes that rumbled with loose pencils of various colors. He dumped out the contents of the shoe box and laid down on his belly with his drawing before him. Mom was doing most of the talking in the other room.

Don’t try and apologize now, Carter…

He hadn’t finished the robber yet. He reached for a black pencil and started to create arms, and then a body, and then a neck. The robber had to be next to Dad so that Dad could put the handcuffs on him and take him to the jail. But he didn’t have a silver pencil for the handcuffs so he decided the handcuffs would have to be blue. He thought that Dad wouldn’t mind blue handcuffs if he explained the situation. Mom was talking louder.

You’re not the man I married anymore…

He always was so eager to tell his friends that Dad was a policeman. Dad even let him bring his badge in to show-and-tell once. Some of the other kids tried to say it was a fake but he told them that it was the real thing, and he let them hold it as proof. When he told Dad about it that night, Dad said that those kids were just jealous and wished their fathers had cooler jobs.

I’m begging you Rebecca, please don’t…

The last time he made a picture for Dad, Dad brought it into the police station and kept it on his desk. It was of a police car, and Dad said his boss thought it was the best one he’d ever seen. He gripped the pencil tighter at the thought. This new drawing would have to be even better.

Stop lying to me…

Dad was going to be so excited when he saw it. The drawing was of the first bad guy Dad ever arrested. He had heard the tale a hundred times before. But he loved to watch Dad tell the story, because Dad would always smile from beginning to end.

I don’t give a damn what other cops were doing. How could you take that money?

Finished. He sat up and held his drawing close to his face for a final inspection. This was probably the best drawing he had ever done. It was all there: the flashing lights, the robber, and most importantly, the bag of stolen money. He hoped Mom and Dad were done talking soon so he could show it to Dad. But Mom was screaming now, and it caught his attention.

How could you do this to us? To your son? You’re looking at ten years, Carter…

He placed the drawing in his lap. What was Mom yelling about? Could it be those papers? He imagined Ms. Collette bringing Mom a stack of his spelling quizzes with red marks all over them, and the trouble that awaited. He crawled over and put an ear to his bedroom door.

Please, Rebecca. Just let me talk to Matthew. Let me tell him what’s going to happen.

Oh no. When Mom is angry and sends Dad to talk him, that’s when he’s in real trouble. But Dad wouldn’t be mad, not after he showed him the drawing. He was sure Dad would love it. He made it just for him.

Five minutes in there, then I want you out…

Footsteps in the hall shuffled in his direction, but stopped when they reached the door. With his ear still pressed against the wood, and the drawing in his hand, he could hear Dad mutter something about God and a word Mom said to never say at school.

◊ ◊ ◊

Ryan Kelly
Ryan Kelly is a graduate student living in Boston, MA. Previous short works of his have been published in Flash Fiction Magazine, Sirens Call eZine, and Beyond Imagination.

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This Was My Plan

This Was My Plan

by Nathan Alling Long

I would come out to my fundamentalist family just before catching a plane to Bangkok.  I’d saved up for three years so I could drink Mai Tais, snorkel, and sunbathe, while I let heated feelings cool back home.

In Bangkok, I went to a few nightclubs, but for a small town boy, they were too noisy and crowded.  The beaches down South were better, but I soon got bored.  Then one night I overheard some travellers talking about a monastery up North that taught insight meditation. Their faces glowed.

I figured I could use insight before returning home, so I took a night train north and the next morning I stood at the golden monastery gate.  A tall shiny white stucco fence surrounded the compound, and within were several temples with pointed, jagged roofs. I decided then for sure that this was where I needed to be.

A young monk named Lek appeared and introduced himself.  He showed me around, explaining the practice.  We meditated together, and after, he invited me to lunch.

Under a banyan tree, we sat in silence, eating rice and curries prepared by nuns.  Then Lek took my hand and held it a long time, touching each finger.  “So large,” he said.  “So beautiful.”

I felt my throat knot.  It was the first time a boy had held my hand.  We looked at each other, and I knew. Then I looked down and noticed tiny X’s cut into Lek’s arms.

“What are those?” I asked.

“When I’m bad,” he said, releasing my hand, “I make a mark.”

“Is that Buddhist?” I asked.

“No, it’s my way.”

“Why?”

“To stop thoughts,” he said.  Then he stood up and looked away.

“You okay?” I asked.

“I should go,” he said and led me out.

 * * *

The next morning, I returned, I couldn’t find Lek at first. Then I caught him exiting the temple.

“I’m here,” I said.  “To stay. To meditate.”

“Sorry,” Lek said, looking down.  “There’s no room.”

I wanted to tell him that I’d also come to be with him, to spend the afternoons together, to find some private place beyond the stupa where we could kiss.  How could the Buddha be against love?

But I could see the stubbornness in his eyes.

“I have to go,” he said.  “May you have good luck.”  He turned and began to walk away.  He was not even going to lead me to the gate.

It was then I saw a new X on his arm, just below the others.  I knew I was the cause of it, which was worse than any of the words I’d hear back home.

◊ ◊ ◊

Nathan Alling Long
Nathan Alling Long lives in Philadelphia and teaches creative writing at Stockton University in New Jersey. The recipient of a Mellon Foundation Fellowship, a Truman Capote Literary Trust Scholarship, and three Pushcart Prize nominations, Nathan has work in various journals, including Tin House, Glimmer Train, The Sun, and Indiana Review.  His collection of short stories, Everything Merges with the Night, was a finalist for the Hudson Book Manuscript Prize and is currently seeking publication.  For more information and other stories and essays, please visit http://wp.stockton.edu/longn/.

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