The Mark

The Mark

by Anji Harris

Donna tightened her grip around the sticky cocktail glass. It was only one o’clock in the afternoon but the familiar taste of rum and coke helped to soothe her anxiety

Jeff stood in the patio doorway. “Would you like another,” said Jeff.

“Oh no, I’m quite fine,” she said, rubbing the condensation from the glass onto her soft woolen dress pants.

“Well, I guess we can go ahead and get started.” Jeff pulled out his tape recorder and a tattered notebook from his bag and placed them on the table. “Let me just turn this fellow on and you can begin whenever you like.”

There was a long silence before Donna spoke. Jeff was the only reporter who took her seriously. She had called nearly all the local papers in the county and was either laughed at or told that someone would get back to her and who never did. When Jeff asked to meet her in person, she didn’t know what to expect but decided to do it anyway.

Donna sighed. “Everyone thinks I’m crazy. Even my husband doesn’t believe me. When I told him that they had come and taken me again, he swore that it was not true and that I had been in bed all night right beside him.” Donna rolled up the sleeve of her black cashmere sweater. “See!” she said extending her arm out to Jeff. “They even left a mark this time.”

Jeff moved in closer to see the circular blotch on Donna’s forearm. “Do you mind if I touch it?” he asked, pulling out his wired framed glasses for closer examination.

“No. I don’t mind,” she said. Jeff ran his hand over Donna’s supple skin. The mark was the size of an old silver dollar. It was fresh, smooth, yet bumpy.

“It’s raised,” he said leaning back into his chair. “Almost like you were branded with some sort of iron.”

Donna’s eyes widened. “I know,” she said, as she rolled down her sleeve.

“What did your husband have to say after you showed him this?”

Donna laughed, as she smoothed her golden blond hair behind her ear. “I haven’t shown him. I haven’t told anyone. You’re the first.”

Jeff scribbled in his notepad. “When was your first encounter?” he asked.

“It had to be about six months ago.”

“And how often would you say you’ve had these encounters over the past six months?”

“A lot,” Donna said. “I know I’m not insane, but I’m starting to think maybe something is wrong with me.”

Donna covered her face with her hands and sobbed quietly. Jeff removed his glasses and put them into his shirt pocket. He stood up to console Donna, placing his hand on her shoulder.

“I believe you,” Jeff said.

Donna lifted her head as Jeff unbuttoned his cuff and rolled up his sleeve.

“You’re not alone, Donna,” he said. “I have one too.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Anji Harris
Anji Harris lives in Los Angeles, California where she is currently studying creative writing at Full Sail University. She has been previously published in her local city newspaper and featured as a guest writer on Art N Us Productions blog.

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Skipping Stones

Skipping Stones

by Jo Roscius

The tide lapped lazily upon the white sands of the shoreline. The slow rhythm unbroken only by the mild breeze carrying the sounds of distant gulls. The skies reflected a brilliant glory of a cloudless day, most unusual for the fog banked climate of this coast.

It was a day full of promise and wonder.

A small child stood on the shore staring into the horizon. The sun created a halo of light in his golden hair as his sea blue eyes gauged the distance. Like a trebuchet, he pulled back his olive arm, a small stone in his hand.

With a grunt, he threw it, pouring his infantile strength into sending the stone to the very edge of the horizon.

The boy watched breathlessly as it flew in a magnificent arc high into the sky. His hopes were soaring.

And then it dropped with a loud splash, punctuating the futility of the boy’s goal.

A small cry of frustration escaped his lips as tears began forming in the corners of his eyes. “I’m never going to make it,” he said despondently.

He stood there for a moment. Tears hitting the sand as they left a salty taste in his mouth. The boy was so focused on his failure, he almost did not notice the gentle hand that had been placed on his shoulder where only the sun’s rays had been moments before. He heard a gravelly voice, like that of his grandfather’s, “Never stop trying, my lad.”

Turning, the boy looked into the face of a white haired man whose wrinkles were without count. The sunlight caught a playful glint in the old man’s eyes as he smiled at the boy.

The boy, lifted the back of his hand to wipe away the tears as the man handed him a handkerchief. “But sir, I’ll never make it.”

The man stood, keeping one hand on the boy’s shoulder as he gently shifted his weight from a kneeling to a standing position. The boy had never seen a man as old as this one move so gracefully.

The man spoke to the boy while staring at the coastline “My son was a lot like you when he was your age.”

When the man mentioned his son, his eyes suddenly turned distant as if his mind was no longer on the boy in front of him. “There was once a battle fought on these shores. Did you know that lad? The men here thought they were dying to stop all wars.”

“Did they win?” The boy felt himself pulled toward the words, completely forgetting his own failure.

The man shook his head, “No.”

There was a pause as the man drew a breath and looked at the boy.

The man smiled again, “But lad, look toward the seas. Look at those birds. Even the sunlight. They all are telling us to keep trying.”

Gesturing with his hands he spread them wide at the ocean, “‘All creatures of our God and King. Lift up your voice and with us sing.’ Isn’t that how the old song goes?”

“I’ve never heard it sir.” The boy’s eyes were squinted as he tried to remember.

“No matter, when you get to be my age your memory will be foggy too.”

“How old are you sir?”

“Too old to remember. But not so old as to never stop trying.” The man grinned to emphasize his repeated lesson.

“It’s only a small splash when I do try, sir. I can never make the stone meet the sky.”

The man gave him a quick pat, “But even a drop causes ripples. And maybe one day those ripples will reach the sky.”

The man picked up a stone himself and with a speed the boy did not expect, he skipped the stone over the surface of the water. It seemed to the boy the stone must have made at least seven jumps.

The boy bashfully looked from the sea to his feet wondering how he could attempt such a feat. A small, perfectly round stone was there beside him. It was odd, the boy did not remember it being there before. On an innocent impulse he picked it up and threw the stone as hard and as fast as he could muster.

This one flew in a stunning arc as it sailed further into the distance than any throw he had made before.

He jumped up and down with excitement as he turned back to the man, “It went further that time!”

But the old man was gone.

“Sir?”

The boy looked far and wide along the coastline but no one else was there. The only sound were those of the gulls and the tide.

Thinking the old man had returned to the village, the boy headed back up the trail to find him.

He passed an ancient wall of ivy, where his eyes were drawn to a slab of granite hidden beneath the vines. He must have passed by it a thousand times but this time he was suddenly drawn to it.

He pulled the ivy back and brushed the surface, finding old weathered writing.

The boy was not a proficient reader but even he understood the significance. It was a marker dedicated to the soldiers lost in the long forgotten battle.

Underneath the clutching grasp of the ivy, fresh white lilies surrounded the slab, and the boy thought he heard the whisper of a promise on the wind, “Never stop trying.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Jo Roscius

Jo Roscius is a new writer with a background in philosophy. Her favorite authors include JRR Tolkien, Brent Weeks, Ted Dekker, and Robert Jordan. When not focused on her writing projects she enjoys hiking and watching movies with friends. Her website is jroscius.wordpress.com.

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Nothing and Everything

Nothing and Everything

by Shannon Blackburn

I lied when he asked me if I had ever worked in a morgue. It slid off my tongue like honey, and he willingly licked it up as his eyes slid up and down the length of me. He asked me where I had worked before, so I slowly uncrossed my legs to keep him distracted and mumbled something about having worked in the next county over. It seemed sufficient, and he didn’t ask again.

And how did that make you feel?

Powerful, but also bored. I’ve seen his type before, so easily distracted and pliable like Play-Doh. That’s all he was to me, a big lump of Play-Doh that I could mold into whatever I wanted, or squash, if I felt so inclined.

Did you want to squash him?

Not yet, I needed him. I needed the job at the morgue, and he was my way in. He reminded me of the priest that confirmed me when I was seven. Not in his attitude, but something in his eyes, the way they crinkled in the corners, the wrinkles not yet fully formed, but the first signs peeking through, and in the way his fingers never rested. He fiddled with a pen, Father Connor’s his rosary beads, his collar, his glasses. Never still. I wonder if his mind was like that, always roaming around from one sinful soul to another.

Do you still go to church?

No.

Did you have close relationship with Father Connor?

No.

Tell me about your confirmation.

There were 15 of us. All lined up like a pathetic sinless offering, but I knew we were sinful, even then. And to prove it, Christopher let out a squeaky fart that echoed through the church with our laughter. I wondered if it would reach heaven just like the incense during mass. Sister Mary shot us a menacing look that cut through our laughter even though we still convulsed with trying to hold it in, like a worm whose pieces still wiggle after it’s been bisected. After that it was all pretty standard. Father Connor confirmed us, and I continued going to mass until I was seventeen.

Why did you stop?

I went to confession, and I didn’t feel cleansed. I told Father Connor all about the trysts I’d had in various pickup trucks, the steamy windows and furtive gropings. We were in his office; I always gave confession in his office. I never wanted the anonymity of the confessional box, the dark hole that made it feel okay to whisper all your darkest deeds. I wanted bright lights and awkwardness. I wanted to see his face as I confessed.

Why?

To see his reaction, to witness his discomfort. I wanted to see if I could put a crack in this pillar of God. I imagined it started at his forehead, the left side where the first gray hairs began and then it worked its way down his sharp nose, to the right of his mouth, and through the sharp stubble on his chin. Every time I went to confession the crack got deeper and deeper until finally it split him in two, and that’s when I knew he was only human just like me.

Why did he split in two?

His discomfort at my confessions was palpable. I got to him. My sin bothered him. It leaked out of me and onto him, but he couldn’t handle it, so he split and I was left unclean. I stopped going. I didn’t see the point in continuing the charade, and I’m sure he was relieved to be rid of me.

What made you apply for the job at the morgue?

Curiosity.

To see if you could fake it? Deceive Mr. Play-Doh Man?

No, that was easy, I knew it would be. I wanted to see a dead body.

And did you?

Yes.

What was it like?

It was a man in his fifties, died of a heart attack. His body was limp, long past the stages of rigor mortis, and it felt empty, the whole room felt empty. He was a shell lying there on the table, there was nothing to him. I remember thinking how still he was. People are rarely still, even when they’re sleeping, there’s always something moving, even if it’s just the lungs filling with air. It’s unsettling to be around someone so still. I reached out and touched his hand. My fingers traced a path along the roughness of his cold palm. I stood above him, and my eyes searched out every inch of him, just like my new boss had done to me.

And how did that make you feel?

I felt nothing and everything all at once.

◊ ◊ ◊

Shannon Blackburn
Shannon Blackburn has a BA in English/Creative Writing and loves to write fiction and poetry. She is married, has three kids, and the world’s greatest cat.

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The Lord of Joggers Park

The Lord of Joggers Park

by Nidhi Singh

The dappled Lord raised his nose and inhaled deeply of the bracing air. He surveyed his realm and all of god’s wondrous creatures within it with approval.

The cooking fires hadn’t started yet, the traffic was still a trickle, the dawn’s quiet remained unbroken by the awakening of life, and beneath his feet, the grass was still moist with the dewdrops trembling on its blades. Peace reigned, business went on as usual, and the sun shoveled through the haze with resolve.

The lonely old man with the mask, usually the first to arrive, called out to everyone including the tea-boy: “Good morning! Have a cup of tea with me. No? Okay, have a nice day then.”

The stern school principal and her gaggle of friends had gathered around the holy basil tree for worship; the sweet scents of incense and ghee lamps mingled with basil leaves that grew in purple rosettes on the central stem purified the air and subdued baser tendencies in all creatures. Sweepers and guards sat on doorsteps and read fresh newspapers that had been dropped; before the sun rose, the doors opened and they went about their work. The slouching man with the overflowing beard and turban was behaving mysteriously again, clapping his hands, and laughing out loud in a shaded corner. It was supposed to be good for you—but when people did it by themselves, it disturbed the Lord. The woman in oversized breasts had made her entry, chopping the ground with her heels—some people were just not meant for the business of running. The man in oversized boots—his toes caught up each time his feet curled—with his small plastic bag of goodies shuffled about, chased by eager clients waiting for him to tire and seek out a bench where he could dispense his wares.

The Lord sat smack in the middle of the track, close to the park entrance: proud, calm, and still. He was tall and strong and felt taller and stronger. He was skinny and lonely and felt full and complete. So far, all was well: the sun had risen on the right side, the old man swinging his golf club hadn’t struck anybody yet, and the ground felt firm under his feet as he arched back, ready to spring at trouble. The Lord was known to be quick to settle an argument, with a guttural roar, or with a drawing of blood that made the other party see sense soon enough.

People often failed to appreciate the tough job he had of keeping order, though. Some waved at him, others evaded him: everyone kept a respectful distance. Before long, beauties, permed and pruned, their spindly legs sticking out of skirts wide as umbrellas flared in the rain, would be strutting around, casting their aromas in the morning air, sending strong signals to suitors that they needed sinning with. And then his work would start.

“Do not present your butt in that manner to me, for then I must needs smack it!” He would often call out to them to behave, but the preening coquettes, they heeded him not. And it was hard to keep off the slobbering playmates in fur coats who knew what to say to get into a girl’s panties for a bit of quick early morning bum sex. The king himself was a one-woman guy, though—his ladylove, Tiara, must be still curled up on a sofa waiting for the house to rise. He planned to start a family soon enough with her—soon as he got some quality time alone with her, for she was always surrounded by proprietors to her virginity.

Suddenly, what he’d feared most happened. The peace was disturbed, the calm broken, the mind frizzled. Men stood still, women ran, children screamed and smoke belched out of earthen stoves like little gray balloons. Loud yelps, blood-curdling cries, a chorus of pain rent the morning air. The café au lait tease in purple bows had strayed too far in the bush, and the amorous tykes, hot and heavy, had pounced upon her tender person. Soon, other freeloaders of the park, sensing an opportunity for a quick roll in the hay with the flushed buttercup, joined in the fray. Her ardor swiftly diminished by so many heaving and panting supplicants, she beat a hasty retreat, only to be rolled over and dogged by a square-headed, short legged brute who would have made quick work of her had not the Lord arrived on the scene in the nick of time and attached himself without formality to the windpipe of the attacker.

Meanwhile, people had rushed to the rescue of the distressed damsel with sticks, slights and slurs, convincing the villain, and his rascally associates to flee the slugfest. Their screaming, raging dash through the pristine environs at the ambrosial hour, however, upset many visitors, and a brouhaha ensued with everyone snapping and sundering, writhing and worrying, grieving and growling, raging and raving, howling and heating, and turning and twisting, around and around, with endless rebound.

The afore-mentioned snub-nosed squat villain appeared to be the mastermind of the uncalled for early morning donnybrook, and were he not to be brought down; the Lord predicted events would come to a dreadful pass. His brow narrowed and quickly he estimated the dizzying path the raging rascal was drawing through the greens, sending everything helter-skelter in his way. The Lord saw an opening between two still bystanders, who were eyeing him rather keenly, and made a dash for it.

Just as he passed between the two men, they stepped nimbly aside, and out of nowhere appeared a circle attached to the end of a stick. He felt a sharp tug as the noose tightened around his throat: had he not skidded to a halt on instinct, his head would have snapped off his body. He felt an explosion behind him, as the other man landed a crippling blow on his butt with his stick. Dangling at the end of a stick, hurt and humiliated, the Lord was dragged through his estate to a waiting, caged van where already many of his friends, their proud heads bowed in submission and shame, were immured.

“Look at him—eyes red like burning coals,” somebody shouted after him, as he looked upon his beloved park through the iron grille. Tiara, his dear Tiara was out there too, her sad eyes watching him through the wild mop on her forehead. “I’ll be back,” he growled, “and we’ll have a family of our own.”

“A menace!” remarked the turbaned man.

“This park belongs to us—these strays have taken it over!” The school principal admonished the animal catchers, waving a basil branch at them.

“Where are you taking them? Will you kill them?” Tiara’s owner, restraining his strangely agitated pet by a violent tug of the leash, asked the dog squad man.

“No,” said the man, “ we’ll merely spay them—that takes away the aggression. And then we’ll bring them back.”

“But we don’t want them!”

“Then don’t feed them,” he replied, eyeing the man with the plastic bag full of biscuits. “They’ll wander away, or starve.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Nidhi Singh
Nidhi lives near McLeodganj (abode of the Holy Dalai Lama) in the Dhauladhar mountain ranges with her husband. She attended American International School, Kabul, before moving to Delhi University for BA English Honors. When she has a bad dream she knows she’ll have a good story in the morning. Her short work has appeared in Liquid Imagination Online, LA Review of LA, Flame Tree Publishing, Four Ties Lit Review, The Insignia Series, Inwood Indiana Press, Bards and Sages Publishing, So To Speak, Scarlet Leaf Review, Bewildering Stories, Down in the Dirt, Mulberry Fork Review, tNY.Press, Fabula Argentea, Aerogram, Asvamegha, Fiction Magazines, Flash Fiction Press, Fiction on the Web and elsewhere.

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The Faithful

The Faithful

by S.E. Casey

I should be thinking of her and only her, but I can’t help searching the crowd for someone I don’t know or for someone crying a little too hard.

Today is Friday, five days after the chandelier at church finally had had enough. Its timing was terrible, during the sermon in a service especially well-attended due to the rain.  Amazingly, there were only three casualties in the crash zone that encompassed five sets of pews. Equally amazing, all three were killed instantly.

Those pronounced dead at the scene were Alice Bier, Hank Putesky, and Lenore Warner, the last, my dear wife. The crashing brass and glass octopus struck hard, but its many tentacles failed to hit their mark excepting Mrs. Bier and Dr. Putesky.

Although overshadowed by the deaths, there were many astounding close calls.  Ms. Streithorst who sat directly under the chandelier’s lethal finial was in the bathroom, her breakfast not agreeing with her usually iron stomach.  A broken stem speared into the back of a pew momentarily vacated by Timothy Cottard who was bent over picking up a piece of candy he spied under the seat.  The youngest of the Mason boys was pinned between two arms that missed him on either side by a hair’s width. Once he stopped his wailing, he was wedged out with nary a scratch or scrape.

My wife too avoided the initial barrage of arms, spindles, dishes, and scrolls. However, the trailing canopy that had unfastened itself from the ceiling provided a secondary menace. The attaching chain slackened as it fell before gravity pulled it taut again.  Like a medieval flail, the heavy canopy cleaved a sinister path.  It could have taken out an entire row with its whip, however, it struck only my wife, splitting her head in two.

There was no time to say goodbye.  She was lost in an instant.

Given the setting and nature of the accident, perhaps the conspiracy theories of God’s vengeance and similar nonsense were inevitable. Indeed, Alice and Hank’s promiscuity, longtime fodder of town gossip, was theorized to be a factor in their demise.  There had even been a recent rumor of a tryst between the two that further fuelled the slander.

In fairness, the stories of infidelity were all hearsay, nasty small town scuttlebutt.  Neither of the deceased had ever been separated or divorced, both married with children. Indeed, they were sitting side-by-side with their significant others that tragic morning, the spouses left unharmed despite the raining metal and glass.  Both families wept for their loss with tears genuine and heartfelt. If the rumors surrounding the deceased were true, the unsuspecting better halves were robbed of any silver lining.

However, these displays of grief didn’t stop the whispers of divine justice.  Perhaps it was in the reminder of mortality that they sought fulfilment in something greater than life, to believe in some meaning to the universe.  Still, I would have no part in the ugly and cruel rumors.  I wonder if the others had lost someone that they would find any objective worth in the innuendo.

Of course, the conspiracies of God’s wrath failed to account for my wife, we happily married twenty years. However, the church-goers were so eager to find reason in the chaos that they choose to ignore this fact.  It was a short-sighted lack of faith in the randomness of the design that closed their minds, an irrational corruption to which I would never submit.  I should have confronted the misguided fools, but any murmurings of heavenly judgement were silenced whenever I approached. Deep down they knew better than to share their callous blather with a widower at his wife’s funeral.

And I should be thinking of her and only her, cherishing our memories together, but I can’t help searching the crowd of mourners for someone I didn’t know or for someone crying a little too hard.

◊ ◊ ◊

S.E. Casey
S.E. Casey grew up near a lighthouse. He always dreamed of smashing the lighthouse and building something grotesque with the rubble. This is the writing method for his twisted, weird stories published in many magazines and anthologies that can be found at secaseyauthor.wordpress.com

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Cry Wolf

Cry Wolf

by Colin W. Campbell

An unseen and unknown place where once a family lived and laughed and cried.

Alice and Bill seldom returned, especially at night.

Even the light of the moon turned its cold face against the deepest shadows. A chill breeze stirred the floor for a moment to lift a dance of old newspapers and unpaid bills.

“Pity it’s not a proper full moon and then we could be really scary,” said Alice. She let out a long wolf howl that cut through the cold night air. It came back with an echo that made them both jump.

Then, more softly Alice said, “We didn’t come here to scare ourselves. We need to be quiet. They might be here any time. We should hide.

It was not themselves they had come here to scare. They had come for the silly Ghost-Hunters. These had told anyone who would listen that they would spend a whole night in the old haunted house. They seemed fair game, a bunch of rich kids who were just asking for it.

“It’s good to do things like this together,” whispered Alice, unexpectedly.

The Ghost-Hunters were easy to spot from far off. They had flash-lights with new batteries and loud voices. They carried more warm clothes than they could ever need and a folding table with chairs. Once inside, they were soon busy to setting themselves in a tight circle around the table.

One of the Ghost-hunters looked some years older than the others. She carried an air of knowing what she was doing in a loose flowing robe with a home-made look about it. Clearly enjoying a sense of occasion, she spoke slowly with self importance.

Alice whispered partly to herself and partly to Bill, “Just listen to Madame. Knowledge is power.”

As they watched, Madame solemnly directed the way the table was to be laid out. She wished to be seated facing to the east. The table was properly aligned using a small compass set into the end of her flash-light. The table was draped with a white cloth embroidered with strange symbols. A single white candle was solemnly lit dead center. Seats were taken and the Ghost-Hunters were directed to put out all their flash-lights. Now it was time to link hands in the flickering candlelight and to be sure to keep the circle unbroken until all was done.

When everything was ready, Madame read aloud and at length from a bundle of old papers that looked like photocopies of photocopies. Reaching the end of the last sheet she raised her voice and brought her incantation to a close with the solemn words, “Grant us this day a visitation.”

Quiet in his hiding place, Bill said nothing but nudged Alice with his elbow, knowing she was determined not to laugh.

Alice called loud and resonant with just a single letter ‘W’.

Perhaps it was the acoustics of a building with no soft furnishings. Perhaps it a sense of occasion. Whatever the reason, it came out barely human.

From that point on there was little danger of the Ghost-Hunters’ circle becoming broken. By now, they were holding on to each other very tightly in the light of the single candle. One girl closed her eyes tightly. Other kids looked around not at all sure what they wanted to see.

To her credit, Madame gave no indication of being frightened or even surprised. “Thank you,” she said, “you have given us a ‘W’ what more do you have for us?”

After a painfully long wait, a next letter ‘O’ followed from Alice. Allowing plenty of time for dramatic pauses, she followed up with ‘L’ and then ‘F’.

“WOLF, you are welcome to our circle,” Madame spoke now with the confidence and authority of someone who had once been doubted but had now been proven right.

“Do you have something else for us?”

Bill and Alice looked at each other and nodded. Oh yes, they had something else. Alice let out her very-best-ever wolf call. It was like before but more. This time it echoed all around from the darkest corners with a very real sense of evil.

For the Ghost-Hunters it was a moment in time that could never be undone, never be forgotten. Bill thought one of the younger ones looked as if he might have wet himself.

But even now, Madame calmly carried on. She called out gently, “WOLF, you are a troubled soul. Don’t be afraid. Go to the light and be at peace.”

“Look for the light”, she called again, louder this time. “Trust me, it is there for you. It’s there for all of us. It is always there, you only have to look for it.”

“I feel strange about this now,” Alice whispered.

Bill reminded her that the silly Ghost-Hunters deserve what they get.

“No, it’s not that, I can see a light.”

At first it was only Alice that saw this. Soon, Bill and all the Ghost-Hunters could see it too.

This light grew in strength until tightly closed eyes could do little to keep it out. Along with it came a bone-shaking rumble, deep down on the lowest threshold of hearing.

Bill wanted none of this, but for Alice this was something she must do. A time to go. Her time.

So Alice went to the light and then she was gone.

At once, Bill knew she was gone forever. Now, he had never felt so very alone in all of his life, or indeed in all these strange and troubled times that had come after it.

◊ ◊ ◊

Colin W. Campbell
Colin W. Campbell writes short fiction and poetry in Sarawak on the lovely green island of Borneo and faraway in Yunnan in southwest China.
www.colincampbell.org and www.south-east-asia.asia

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