Outage by Mark McConville

Outage.

What if the power went out? What if hope crashed like an old computer? People would lose their minds. They would arm themselves with everything sharp and dangerous. Dangerous enough to cut through bone if needs be.  

It is cold here, so cold I can’t feel my toes. The attic, painted in vibrant colours looks mundane when the darkness shrouds them. All over the floor are empty wine bottles filled with wax to create a glint of light. We’re cooped up here to preserve our lives. Those down on the streets have turned into maniacs, stealing what they can. Through time, they’ve altered the look of the town. Once a bustling patch of hope is now a decaying, festering pit of despair.

Cutting into us are these freezing temperatures. During the day, the sun shines, but only as an aesthetic orb in the sky. We have covers, but they’re paper-thin rags that barely add effect. We will die through the night. I can sense the Black Death eating through the wood, complementing the insects. I can see through my own nightmares that my mother will die before me and I’ll be left on my own. She’s a saviour, but I feel I am weighing her down.

Her greying hair alarms me. Only a few months ago, her hair was brown. It must be the worry that is ingrained in her mind. She used to be courageous and flamboyant, a lover of a blank canvas and paint. Her workmanship unparalleled as she would sit and finish a painting with sheer elegance and flair. When problems surfaced, she’d count to ten and then fix it. She doesn’t talk much these days, she only utters the same name ‘’James’’

James was a man who brought shivers to her spine. A crutch, a father, a dreamer. He was killed by two assailants. Victimized in the dark streets, kicked and stamped on, savagely beaten. He was trying to get some supplies, but found himself caught in a war of words and pain. He must have felt pain pulsate through his body until the end. My mother is deeply enraged and at some points during the night, she hollers out for him and scorns the attackers. I have to nullify and suppress these outbursts so we don’t get caught.

We hear voices from under us occasionally. People rummaging around, taking things. We hear gunshots and grovelling. Raids are commonplace, death swarms like flies, and happiness is forever dead in the eyes of even the optimists. Desire to run overwhelms me too. But what would I do? I’d be killed in seconds, my blood would be smeared across the walls, my insides left for the dogs. Adrenaline courses through my veins, but I wouldn’t make it out alive.

I’ll grow old here, maybe. If the stock lasts. Tins of oranges stack up. They become lacklustre, but are the only foodstuff we have. I’ve read the same book over and over for two months. I’ve counted the marks on the wooden floor, I’ve walked back and forth to keep the circulation in my legs. These are what I’ve designed to kill boredom.

Night comes and the temperatures drop again. I hear a noise coming from outside. Screams of terror alert me to drift to the small window that leads to the roof. I open it softly and climb onto the roof and look down, there’s no one there now. I venture back in until I hear a cry. The cold chill bites into my skin but I persevere. I know I shouldn’t do this, but it could be someone needing help.

I whistle. I whistle again. Using the makeshift candle as a source of light.

Out from the shadows comes a young boy. He looks at me.

‘‘Don’t speak,’’

He nods at me.

‘‘Here’’

I throw him down a rope. My eagerness could cause harm. It could be a ploy to grind down our defences. If my mother was fully alive, she’d tell me how complacent I am being. He climbs steadily up and I push my hands out to grab him. He isn’t heavy. His frame is skin and bones. I close the hatch.

‘‘I’m so glad you…’’

‘‘Shh. My mother is sleeping. Talk quietly’’

‘‘Thank you. My name is Chico’’

‘‘I’m Clare’’

‘‘Your eyes they’re so beautiful’’

‘‘Thank you, I guess’’

His gaunt face is a reminder of the lack of nourishment. He shakes constantly. I grab onto his hand to try to stop the agitations. He lets me. There’s no warmth in him. I place my head on his heart. It beats fast and hard like it’s about to explode.

‘‘Your heart, it’s loud’’

‘’It’s been like that since I saw…’’

‘‘Saw what?’’

‘‘People being gunned down. Their hearts were on show. I could see them beat outside of their chests. It is graphic out there’’

‘‘Where is your family?’’

‘‘They’re gone, I think. They ran, but I fell behind’’

‘‘So it’s only you?’’

‘’Yes’’

‘‘You can stay for a while’’

‘‘Thank you,’’

‘‘Is she okay?’’

‘‘Yeah, she’s sleeping”

My nightmares never predicted this. There was no other person. There was only to be me and my mother. I relied on these dreams to give answers. They’re fake and I should have known it. They’re full of ghouls and ghosts. I shouldn’t have been naïve. The thunderous thoughts that rip through my mind have been stemmed by the introduction of a new ally.

Joy is still under the strain of dismay. We’re still stuck in this small space, hungry for freedom. Only now is there a person I can have a conversation with. He’s fully alive, not broken, not demented. His cute features are an attraction, his smile compelling enough for me to look at him frequently.

‘So how did you end up here?’

‘‘We escaped to the attic and have been here ever since’’

‘’Why?”

‘’My father was beaten to death and there was no other choice’’

‘‘I see’’

My mother’s eyes twitch. She opens them and screams at Chico.

‘‘Who is this?’’

‘‘It’s okay mum?’’

I console her, but she demands me to tell her who Chico is.

‘’He’s the devil’s child. Those eyes, he’s evil’’

‘’He’s not evil, he’s scared like us’’

‘‘No’’

‘Yes, believe me.’’

She opens up her dusty old purse and points a crucifix at Chico.

‘He’s demonic’’

‘Stop it mother, you’re tired, go back to sleep’’

The atmosphere curdles. The room becomes a place of friction.

‘‘Go now,’’

‘‘You will get us caught’’

The screams become louder and we hear commotion under us. We hear gunshots and people talking.

‘‘No’’

‘‘Now look what you’ve done’’

Bullets pierce the weak wood. Hope diminishes with every shot.

‘‘What should we do?’’

‘Let me think,’’

The inner sanctum of my mind-set is subsiding. The nightmarish ghosts are flooding the room. Beams of light shimmer through from battery fuelled torches. It’s time to die, I can feel it. Chico stands there, hopeless and unready for what’s occurring.

‘Your mother, she’s sputtering,’’

Blood spills from my mother’s mouth.

‘We need to leave. It’s our only chance’’

‘‘I can’t leave her.’’

‘We will die. She’s had a purposeful life before this, let her be’’

There isn’t a glimmer of hope to save us all. My mother will perish under the weight of her own ways. Guns and bullets will play their part. The foundation of love is breaking.

We climb upon the roof, and look down at the blood soaked streets. We wait until the rest of them enter the building. They carry weapons, spreading destruction. Their eyes terrified, but their cravings for food and control are bubbling inside them.

We hear three gunshots…

They’re louder than normal. Volatile, ripping through the skin and into important organs. I can picture my mother laying there. Bloodied up, but the pain has faded.

Her laced up mind, untied.

We rappel down the side of the house and run.

We have to run…

 

Skin And Bone by Mark McConville

Skin And Bone.

The skin draped over me, itches from the dust of this room. Picture frames hang sideways, and flakes of dry, old, white paint covers the carpet. I have been sitting here in old clothes, admiring the photographs of a woman of wonderment. A woman who chronicled through poems of love, our times together. She was a teacher to me, a spreader of truth and sincerity, who carried me through the debris of war. I have these poems in my aging hands. I read them, and I cry tears of sorrow, flipping notebook over to see the back. It reads:

‘’Follow your heart and the escape the pain of losing me, I am the angel in your dreams, the sun in your sky, the protagonist in every love story you read’’

This little note resonates with me profoundly as I wipe away the tears. I know she’s with me, in my dramatic dreams, on my shoulder fighting away the intrusive devil that tries to impose himself. I know my heart isn’t as strong as it once was, but inside it, there will be a place for her. Some hearts aren’t idyllic or full of love. I know a few people with hearts of stone. Some alive, some dead.

I stand and wobble a little. I haven’t been safe on my feet for years. Age has slowed me down, a curse in its process and progress. It has progressively pulverized all of my senses, my desires, and my thoughts. I have bad eyesight, my bones feel brittle, and the whole room doesn’t have padding to keep me from breaking into small parts. Dislodging myself from this room takes courage, as I usually sit around all day daydreaming and plotting. The plots in my head sound audacious and dangerous, but I used to be amid danger. Way back then, I thrived and fought for miracles and redemption. In this old shell, I’m waiting on the day that all pain fades.

I crave a resurgence occasionally, a new body, and a mechanical arm to lift my tea properly in the morning. This dreaming has been a mainstay since she departed this brutal world. Trying to think coherently, often muddles me up, like I’m on a landslide cascading into the mouth of a shark.

I sit back down and unravel a picture I haven’t seen in years. A blotted, stained photograph of me in my uniform. A uniform of grace and compassion. My smile masks the pain that we all endured in those days. A smile that fabricated the agony, the repent, the hazards. As I look at it, the whole story comes back into fruition. Those days I tried to mirror the best. I tried to become a leader. Be a behemoth amongst men. This photo has brought it all back. I still can hear bombs and lashings of rain, the thick accents of the enemy, and the cries from the dreamers.

And we scratched and shot guns, we scurried through fields of dirt and shells. The smell of blood on our uniforms made us heave, and we were chased through thorn bushes and tall grass. I can remember the sting from the thorns, the blood trickling down my arm, and all the raucous screams from the mouths of youthful men who had their lives cut prematurely.

We were stationed in blood. We were mismatched. Not all of us had the courage to dampen the war. Some men cried, others held their tears in. Some were heavily sick. It was chaotic, and it was vivid, but we aided each other in a pursuit for freedom. It wasn’t all for glory, it was for our homeland. And these flashes come fast. They’re swift and my mind is a book, a slideshow showcasing bloodshed and memories. It all comes to me. The day I was captured, thrown into a cage.

Inside the bowels of desperation, I sat for days crying and turning into skin and bone. Outside they smirked and laughed, their lives like heaven, mine like the depths of oblivion. I would stand up and feel dizzy as all my energy was sapped from me. All I had was cloudy water to drink.

Memories flooded my head in those days. I could also smell the distinctive scent of kerosene. A smell which ingrained my pores as a boy when my father used it to burn away the old wood in the backyard. I loved its potency and the way it would tear it all apart, the flames a show. I don’t know why I had those memories take hold of me, it might have been because my demise was near and I was reminiscing over the past.

And being stuck in that small compartment made me hallucinate. They were vivid delusions and visions. Rats bigger than people scurrying around, their teeth sharper than serrated knives, their eyes bold and black. I’d try to ward them off. I’d also see angels flurry through with their white wings and beautiful faces. I’d see blood surge up the walls, and entrails of fallen men.

The days had gone on slowly. I knew this, as there was a glint of light shining through the roof. When it dimmed, I knew night had fallen. And often, I would think why they were keeping me alive? What was their purpose in making me feel this overwhelming pain of being barely alive?

Their point in all of that I will never know? But, all I know, is I was saved by a soldier who ranked lower than me. A youthful fighter with tired eyes. His heroic hand pulled me out of this camp and my demonic dreams. When I departed, there was a release, a pulsation, a chance to live again. Skin and bone I may have been, but the freedom felt like a kiss from one of those angels that descended into my hallucinations.

When we walked that day through debris and bird picked bones, I knew I had a second chance. I knew my days of fighting were over. The kingdom of war had seen my best days, battling and prodding the under-skin of cruelty and insincerity.

Back in this room, I’m older than most. My eyes are tired, and my head is muddled. Through this aging process, I’ve learnt that the mind can dispossess its functions, but I will never, never forget her, and now I’ll never forget the days of darkness.

Losing my Religion by K. A. Laity

“I could do it,” Tony said as I started the engine. “Believe me. Easy.”

I backed the Subaru up then eased away from the kerb. An old lady in a Ford pulled into the spot almost before I got out. Life in the congestion zone. “Might better open up a car park. You’d get rich a lot quicker. Especially around here.”

Tony shook his head. “A car park is a finite investment. There’s no end of growth potential for religion.”

“Growth potential? You’ve been watching those YouTube videos again.”

“Sidney, the knowledge of the ages is free for the taking if you know where to look.”

I checked the map and made a right at the corner. “What, Wikipedia?”

Tony sighed. He thought I lacked ambition. “You really need to develop your online presence.”

“I’m not getting on Friendface.” I shot him a look as we idled at the light.

“Facebook! Criminy, you don’t even know what it is. You might as well live among the Neanderthals.”

I shrugged. “I got plenty of friends. They drink at my local. Why would I need friends I can’t drink with?” A muffled shout from the boot made us both turn around. Some impatient stockbroker behind me tooted the horn of his Mercedes and I stepped on the accelerator.

“Think we need to pull over?”

“Nah, it’ll be all right.”

Tony turned around to face front again. “You might be content with your lot in life–“

“I am.”

“I’ve got ambition, Sidney. I want something better.”

“Your own religion?”

“Small investment, low overhead at the start then huge results.”

I laughed. “What about those vows of poverty?” The evening sky had that pink glow that never lasted for long but made the old city look new again.

Tony laughed. “That’s for the low level minions. You ever been to the Vatican? Untold wealth. Same thing for all major religions. Mecca. Taj Mahal. Crystal Cathedral. Scientologists.”

“They got a church?”

Tony shot me a look of withering scorn. “They’ve got the whole of Hollywood! Hands in everything. All those rich actors and directors — they’re all due-paying Scientologists.”

“Not Jason Statham.”

“Well, no,” Tony admitted, “but then he’s not really Hollywood is he?”

Another muffled scream from the boot, more of a sob really. “So what’s your religion going to be about?”

When he thinks he’s got a world-beater, Tony gets this smug look that begs for a punch to the kisser. “Happiness. What everyone wants and nobody’s got.”

“I got it.”

“You don’t count, Sidney. Most people are miserable. Hold out the possibility of happiness and riches and you’ll have people eating out of your hand.”

“You don’t say.” I looked at the map again as I found myself facing the wrong end of a one way street.  “You’re going to offer them riches? Won’t that deplete your own quickly?”

Tony sighed. He could sigh for England. “You don’t give people riches. You hold out the possibility of riches. Like car commercials that hold out the possibility of sex with supermodels. You ain’t getting it, but you think you might.”

“So you’ll be advertising?” I slowed the car, squinting into the thickening dusk.

“All modern religions advertise. I’ll have my own website, Facebook page and YouTube channel. I’ll be an internet sensation.” Tony looked properly smug.

“We’re here,” I said, turning into the building site. I pulled around behind a large skip filled with rubble. Old Bill said they would be pouring concrete in the morning. All seemed quiet.

“Looks wet.” Tony sighed.

“Well, let’s dig first, then see about the baggage after,” I suggested, opening the rear door to grab the shovels. I handed one to Tony who frowned at it. “They don’t come with golden handles, mate.”

He scowled and pointed. “Here?”

“Looks good to me.” The dirt was wet, but the shovels cut through it with ease. Nonetheless we soon sweated profusely. “Not so young anymore, are we?”

“Speak for yourself,” Tony retorted. “Prime of my life.”

“Think it’s deep enough.” I scanned the horizon. All remained quiet. People having their tea  about now, surely. “Let’s get the baggage.”

“So what was he?” Tony stared at the face without recognition.

“Someone who made a serious error in judgement. You want feet or hands?” We dragged him over and dropped the baggage in the hole.

“Face down so he can see where he’s going,” Tony snickered.

“Will there be a hell in your religion?”

Tony considered the thought, which meant he leaned on his shovel and let me do the work. “Carrot and stick really, eh? You need to have both.”

“Dig.”

“If there were no fear of punishment, more people would end up like this baggage. But you can’t have it too grim or people won’t be attracted. Gruesome punishments but easily avoided.”

“Like fairy tales.” I heard a sound and whipped round. The biggest dog I ever saw stood by the skip, hackles up, a low growl rippling from its throat. I lifted the shovel, figuring I could bash it with the blade. Tony stared.

The dog crept closer. I wondered if he were diseased or something. Tony joined me, keeping the corpse between us and the mutt. The dog lunged forward and grabbed the baggage’s hand in its mouth and started pulling at it, growling even louder.

“S’pose its his? Trying to rescue him?”

“Bit late.” At least the dog didn’t seem to want to attack us. Inspired, I leaned forward, brought down the shovel and sliced through the wrist. The dog, who’d shied away at first, made a lunge and sank his teeth into the hand. Then he turned and ran off with his prize.

I laughed until I cried. Tony scowled. “What are we going to tell Old Bill?”

“Nothing. He won’t mind him being a hand short. Or is that against your religion?”

“Maybe my faith needs a dog.”

“Well, dog spelled backwards –“

“Stop that.”

“Hand of glory –“

“Shut up and shovel.”

[Originally appeared in Spinetingler Magazine: 29 June 2012. Reprinted in Kwik Krimes. Ed. Otto Penzler (Thomas & Mercer).

hancocks-half-hour

On Being Fourteen Years Old and Loving Miss Perkins by Stephen J. Golds

On Being Fourteen Years Old and Loving Miss Perkins

 

Miss Perkins had been teaching at my high school for nearly a year and I was in love with her. It was a fourteen-year-old boy’s love for a personification of a wet dream twice his age, and I carried that love around in my chest like a loaded revolver.

 

Miss Perkins was a teacher at my school, but she wasn’t my teacher. If I had her as an educator, I might’ve learnt something (and not crashed out so spectacularly). I only snatched glimpses of her strolling to and from the faculty lounge, the sounds of her high-heels on the cracked concrete tearing into my adolescent hormonal heart like a power drill. Miss Perkins waltzing across the title screen of my ‘The Wonder Years’ to the soundtrack of ‘The La’s – There She Goes.’

There was a rumor floating around the school like a bad fart that she was fucking the geography teacher. I liked to think that the rumor wasn’t true. Kids made up a little song about it; “Perkins sucks Berkins.

Berkins licks Perkins.

Perkins fucks Berkins.

Oh yeah, baby, baby!.

Sometimes, spurned by the madness of the crowd, I would join in unenthusiastically with the chant, mouthing and mumbling the words like an atheist singing hymns at a distant relative’s funeral that they’d been obligated to attend.

I didn’t really like the geography teacher whose name was, as the song creatively suggested, Mr. Berkins. I think it would be more honest to say I hated him. He was skinny with brown moles all over his pink skin, his grey eyes bulged out of his head like two half-buried golf balls and he spat when he shouted at you for forgetting your homework or for being late. Long thick black hairs tangled out from his nostrils and when he breathed the hairs slithered and twisted like snakes in dry, black holes. Sweat was always seeping out of the large pores on his forehead.

Whenever I saw him with Miss Perkins, he would always be trying to make her laugh or trying to touch her arm or shoulder subtlety, the sly little prick. Always pretending that he was something special and not just some ghost of a robot. I knew his game. I was on to him. He wasn’t fooling me.

 

Miss Perkins looked like one of the women from the Victoria’s Secret catalogue that I kept stuffed underneath my mattress. Blonde, busty, beautiful, young, and probably intelligent too. Nothing seemed to touch her because she was above it all. Berkins on the other hand seemed old and crustified like a piece of dinosaur shit in the sun, even though I’m sure he was pretty young himself.

I remember one afternoon he sent me out of his class for swearing at this fat girl called Shelly. She said I pretended to drop my pencil on the floor, so I could snatch a peek up her skirt, when she had in fact swung open her fat white thighs like the jaws of a shark to show me her whirlpool-like snatch.

After the lesson had ended Mr Berkins called me back into the classroom as everyone was leaving and cross examined me with the eyes that looked as though they were trying to leap out of his face. He kept looking at me as the sweat slid down his shiny forehead and cheeks. Finally, he took out a white handkerchief from his V-neck sweater’s sleeve and mopped at his brow. I couldn’t believe he kept a handkerchief stuffed up his sleeve, to me it was surreal and ludicrous and justified all the hate I felt for him. He finished drying his face off, smiled a slick grin and asked me whether I would like it if he looked up my mother’s skirt. I couldn’t believe it. What kind of a question was that to ask a kid? I knew he was trying to beat me, defeat me. I didn’t know what he was trying to defeat me at, but I was sure I wouldn’t let him win. I licked my lips coolly and said in as manly a voice as I could force out of my shallow chest, without it breaking, that if my dad caught him looking at my mom’s pussy, he would kick the shit out of him.

As soon as the words snaked their way from my mouth and birthed themselves into the awkward silence, his eyes jumped from his head, all white and like lemmings at a cliff edge. He scratched at the bald patch in the center of his head and kept saying the word “quite, quite, quite, quite”, as he scratched, nodded, and stared.

Finally, he pointed a thumb towards the classroom door, telling me to get out and we both knew I had won something ridiculously small and worthless. I attempted some kind of a strut out of the classroom, almost feeling like the character McMurphy from ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and refusing to acknowledge the possibility that a woman like Miss Perkins could be interested in such a man as Mr Berkins. A loser pretending to be some sort of a hot-shot. A man outwitted by an always outnumbered and outgunned fourteen-year-old boy with dirty socks and holes in the soles of his shoes.

 

In her second year of teaching Miss Perkins handed in her resignation and disappeared from the high school and my life.

A very short while after Mr Berkins quit as well and for the first time I could almost empathize with him. Understand where he was coming from.

A little piece of the sunshine had been stolen from the school and it was now a lot darker and less fluid and more mechanical within the hallways and the classrooms. I supposed even though we were completely different human beings we’d both discovered a red rose growing out of a pile of horse shit and we both knew that with the flower gone, there was only the pile of shit left behind.

 

Much, much later, I found out that they had gotten married.

 

Mr. Berkins had won after all.

 

 

 

MARYLAND CRAB CAKES, BALMER STYLE by Stephen D. Rogers

MARYLAND CRAB CAKES, BALMER STYLE

by

Stephen D. Rogers

 

Somewhere east of the Jones Falls, hidden between Chase and Madison, is a neighborhood worse than most.  The crown in this jewel is a house that only two types of people ever visit:  the truly desperate and the uniformed servants of the very rich.

The servants in their pressed jackets and starched shirts are sent to retrieve completed orders of Fontanel crab cakes, not that they’re advertised by that or any other name.  As servants have always done, they blind themselves to everything but the task at hand.

Knock on the door.  Say the words.  Take the box wrapped in thick brown paper and butcher twine.

Bring the item back to the house, to the kitchen where one can shake off the chill.  Focus on the next important duty, perhaps polishing the chrome.

Cook has a million thoughts colliding within her brain, scrambling for supremacy, survival.  She has no time to dwell.

The master shivers with anticipation.

The desperate are drawn to that address from all over the city by the promise of money, the relief of a burden.

How many fixes will the man pay for?  How much sweet oblivion?  How much time before the burning claws twist and tear?

The baby will cry but the baby always cries.  A nuisance.  A problem.  A curse.

Clutch the money in trembling hands and hear nothing as you stumble down the broken walk.

These are the people that visit the house in east Baltimore, direct descendant to the Block.  Prostitution can be considered a victimless crime only to the extent that it eventually kills off everyone involved.

The basic recipe for Maryland crab cakes reads thus.  Mix one cup of breadcrumbs, one large egg, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.  Add one pound of Chesapeake Bay blue crab after removing all cartilage and shell. Mix all ingredients taking care not to reduce the crab into mush. Form into cakes and fry until brown in oil, butter, or margarine.

Derivatives and embellishments include but are not limited to onion, parsley, yogurt, lemon juice, Old Bay seasoning, capers, tarragon, jalapeno chilies, shallots, lime, paprika, horseradish, zucchini, Tabasco, crackers, celery, mustard, milk, cornmeal, white wine, and thyme.

The very rich, their taste refined and then bored by easy access fueled by unlimited resources yearn for something different, something unique, something special.

Balmer Merlin is the consuming hunger.

Balmer Merlin is the monster that hooks into a back with long, sharp claws.

Balmer Merlin is the man who buys sexual release from zombies.

Balmer Merlin is the unwanted baby.

Balmer Merlin is the person behind the door who wants it nonetheless.

The Chesapeake Bay blue crab is renowned the world over.  During the stage after molting, when they are soft-shelled, they are considered a particular delicacy.

The skull of a baby is not of a single piece.  Instead, it consists of eight bony plates that slowly fuse together between birth and the age of two, the separations known as fontanels.

Balmer style.

BIO:  Stephen D. Rogers is the author of SHOT TO DEATH and more than 800 shorter works.  His website, http://www.StephenDRogers.com, includes a list of new and upcoming titles as well as other timely information.

The Song of Spring by Sebnem E. Sanders

The Song of Spring

 

Belma

Belma watched over the crowd gathering in the courtyard of the mosque. On the altar, stood a coffin. Draped over its raised head, a muslin scarf with a crocheted edge, and a small wreath of white and purple freesias placed upon it. Her favourite flowers. The men were lined up before the altar and the women, their heads covered, assembled on both sides. Belma scanned their faces. They all had tears in their eyes. She recognized most of them. Friends, relatives, colleagues. Someone must have died, a woman. She saw her mother, her best mate, and her cousins. Her eyes searched the congregation. Where’s Aila? She jabbed a finger at her mother’s shoulder and whispered in her ear.

The sweet aroma of the freesias reminded her of the Song of Spring she used to sing to Aila when she was a little girl, and how Aila accompanied her, trying to remember the words. That song was theirs, mother and daughter, the lyrics etched in their hearts. It gave them comfort in moments of pain and sorrow.

Belma hummed the melody as the imam began his prayers. She raised her voice and sang in a high soprano tone. She could hear the orchestra playing in the background, as the images in the courtyard blurred.  Little Aila’s voice joined her in the chorus, transporting her to another place, one of tranquillity and lightness, away from the chaos.

 

Aila

Aila gazed through the small opening and glimpsed the night sky beyond the bars. A crescent moon complemented by bright stars illuminated the darkness. A beam of light filtered into her chamber, landing on the single bed. She watched it linger on the white sheets as the wind howled, swaying the branches of the barren tree outside the window. Shadows of monsters played tricks on the walls. She sat on the cold floor, her back against the wall, eyes glued to the gap that gave her access to the world outside. Aila sought comfort from the faint light seeping into the pitch darkness of her surroundings, and rocked, playing the scene over and over again, in her mind.

The wind stopped. Silent, powdery white specks dotted the patch of sky behind the bars. Gradually, the snow muffling the sounds coming from the other cells, decorated the branches of the tree. She imagined a white blanket covering the dismal surroundings with its magic, making everything clean, pure and innocent.

Aila remembered playing in the snow with her mother in the garden of their suburban two-storey house. They gathered the snow, shaping it into balls, and rolled them across the lawn, buried under the deep, crunchy whiteness to make a snowman. A carrot, a scarf, a hat, and pebbles for the eyes. Recalling the Song of Spring they sang, she began to hum it, her mother’s smiling face completing the picture.

The scene rewound in her mind and she wept.

“Mum, I need cash.”

“Why do you need cash, sweetie? You have your credit cards.”

“They don’t take credit cards everywhere. I need cash.”

“Let me see how much I have. Will a hundred do?”

“I need a thousand.”

“Aila, you know I don’t carry that much. Tell me truth. Why do you need so much?”

“I owe money.”

“What for? You haven’t, not again?”

“Just shut up and give me the cash or something valuable I can trade.”

“Why, Aila, why? You know how long it took for the treatment. You were dying of hypothermia and ended up with pneumonia. Remember the days in the hospital and the trip back home? I’m so glad to have you here. You went to rehab willingly and suffered through hell trying to deal with the addiction. Why, sweetheart, why?” her mother asked with tears in her eyes.

“Don’t call me, sweetheart, you stupid bitch! Your world is fake, perfected with your silly dreams and illusions. You think you can make everything right with your Pollyanna approach. You dream of happiness, but you’re not happy either. You stink of self-delusion and lies.”

“Not again, please, Aila. I can’t deal with this anymore.” Belma threw herself onto the settee, covered her face with her hands and sobbed, her shoulders shaking.

“Give me the money. I’ll go and never come back.”

“I can’t. I won’t. I cannot help you kill yourself.”

“I need a fix. You will or I’ll kill you.”

“Do it then, Aila. Do it, and end my pain. I can’t take anymore. I’m done.”

Something flipped in Aila’s mind. She leapt towards her mother and struck her in the face. Blood trickled from Belma’s nose and her broken lip, mixing with the tears running down her neck. She screamed and howled, trying to fight back. Aila picked up a cushion and pressed it over her mother’s face, with all her might. Belma resisted, her arms flying through the air in helpless struggle, her voice now muffled under the weight on her face. Aila pushed, harder and harder, until Belma’s limbs stopped moving and her legs dangled limp from the side of the couch.

Time stopped. She didn’t know how long she pushed until her arms gave in and she lifted the cushion. Belma lay lifeless on the settee. Beneath the blood and muck staining her fine features, an eerie purple whiteness began to spread, her sightless eyes staring at Aila.

Aila held her hand. “I’m so sorry, Mum. Please wake up.” She shook Belma in vain. Nothing changed. She kissed her face. “Forgive me. Please, please, forgive me. Oh, God, what have I done?”

She sat by her mother and shivered, her shoulders rocking with tremors, teeth chattering. She wailed and hugged her mother, burying her head in her bosom.

The Song of Spring flashed in her mind. She rose in a trance, picked up the phone, and called the police.

“I … I killed my mother.”

 

 

First publisted at Twisted Sister Lit Mag, then in my anthology, Ripples on Pond, this story is inspired by true events. All details are imaginary.

 

Short Bio

Sebnem E. Sanders is a native of Istanbul, Turkey. Currently she lives on the eastern shores of the Southern Aegean where she dreams and writes Flash Fiction as well as longer works. Her stories have appeared in various online literary magazines: the Harper Collins Authonomy Blog, The Drabble, Sick Lit Magazine, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Spelk Fiction, The Bosphorus Review of Books, Three Drops from the Cauldron, The Rye Whiskey Review, CarpeArte Journal, Yellow Mama Webzine, Punk Noir Magazine, Flash Fiction Offensive, The Cabinet of Heed, as well as two anthologies: Paws and Claws and One Million Project, Thriller Anthology. Her collection of short and flash fiction stories, Ripples on the Pond, was published in December 2017. More information can be found at her website where she publishes some of her work:

https://sebnemsanders.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

Ripples on the Pond

 

 

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17427985.Sebnem_E_Sanders

https://Facebook.com/sebnem.sanders

https://Twitter.com/sebnemsanders

https://Instagram.com/sebnemsanders

Harsh Rain Falls On Holy Stones by Mark McConville

Harsh Rain Falls On Holy Stones.

She pulls the cover over her eyes and embraces the darkness. From now on, she’d like to conceal her face and body. Over these past few years, love has been strained, life has been a mammoth task. Smoking cigarettes and drinking cheap vodka delivers the only real pleasure, speaking to anyone other than the cat takes courage. All over this wooden floor lies empty bottles and written letters to someone she wholeheartedly adored. His name is secretive, a code. In full bloom, he was a handsome eccentric, a poet, a charismatic believer in hope. His dazzling features kept her glued to him, but it wasn’t only that, his intelligence intensified the relationship.

These days building social empires isn’t on the agenda. Crossing off days on a calendar keeps her heart fulfilled. Maybe one day she’ll venture beyond the walls to seek aid, and trap those demons in a web of fire in her sophisticated mind. Trapping those voices which tell her she isn’t worthy, would take a pill or two and determination. Hardship exists and while she drinks the last of the vodka under the cover, she unwraps herself.

The girl playing with her own sense of self pulls down the cover and watches the cat drink from the tap. By looking on, as the tap drips, her standards have slipped. Neglecting a cat is one thing, but neglecting herself is dangerous. Not eating, not dreaming must take its toll, and it has. Grubby hands, dirty nails, unkempt hair, all on show.

Since his departure, moments of solitude have overshadowed glimmers of hope and clear-cut clarity. Love must answer the questions? But it can’t, it doesn’t have a beating heart, a skull, a brain, a tongue, or a mind. It is what it is, a showing of joy and connection. Disconnection overwhelms her life. Discontent also digs deep into the equation.

She rubs dead skin from her face. She has to leave the isolation. Today is a big day. A day of peace, a solemn day. For her, it will be a struggle. An endless exertion of her social capacity. Firstly, her reclusive nature hinders everything. Hopelessness may derail all moments of normality.

Makeup does the trick. All greyness has been dissipated and covered. Exuberant she is not, but the mirror, if alive, would not recognize her. Pulling over a white shirt onto a skeletal structure almost feels like a waste. She is wasting away, slipping away, peeling away. Underweight and fading, but reluctant to die yet. Before all that, there’s a place to be.

Dressed in black. Lipstick ready. The girl takes a deep breath. Ankles twitching, hands sweaty, equipped with a speech for the ages. Only one thing is missing, the man of her dreams. In hindsight, he probably wouldn’t want to see her like this. Broken and malnourished, enraged by the world and its feeble defenses.

A black car arrives outside her one-bedroom house. The driver opens the door. The seats offer comfortability and the car offers a shield, a sheet of armor. Vodka drunk, hiding it will take imagination and restraint. It could go two ways, a drunken daze could take hold, or revelations could spark unrest?

The driver speaks about the weather. It’s cold outside, people shiver and splutter. It’s been colder this year than before. The girl is still under the influence, looking at shiny buttons on her blouse, seeing floaters in her eyes. She’s tired and aching for another drop of alcohol to infuse her body, but a liver can take only so much. She feels stranded in this life. No one visits. On her way to the place of reckoning, fake people will scatter, they’ll say sorry, but then they’ll disband. Family values are sacred to some.

The car stops outside the church. Miserable weather impedes. A hopeless feeling churns her stomach. Harsh rain falls on holy stones. She retreats from the car. No umbrella to cover her long, frayed hair. Still drunk and angry at the world, she turns and stares at the flock of people walking into the church. A cigarette sounds about right, but she can’t mar fresh air.

There’s no strategic plan to how this will unfold. The inner sanctum will be teeming. Her nerves at breaking point, her heart pumping at a dangerous tempo. Time is precious. Inside this room, people read eulogies of how they knew and loved the deceased. Her speech could be misconstrued, subjected to ridicule, deemed unworthy.

The doors open and she walks into a cathedral populated by a sea of black. They’re all singing a verse. She feels like a sardine, a small object in a box of hammers. Fabricated under stress, demented, and monitored. Under scrutiny, she sings also, trapped in this room. After voices dissipate. The young girl who is damaged, disturbed, and misunderstood, stands at the front of the sea of black. Her freckled face on show. Her vulnerability on edge. Eyes fixated, in the line of sight.

‘‘In time I will meet you again. Through the light I will go. Up there, angels surge through the sky, and I hope they’ll pick me. You were my warrior, a pillar of strength. I’m lost in a whirlpool of alcohol and despair. Forgotten by people who once tended to my grazes. I am tainted, dripping in rain and poison. I wish you could aid me in my pursuit in trying to rebuild my life, but impossibility strangles all hope. To you I praise, to you I send love,’’

If the ground could swallow, she would ask it to devour every piece of her. Through the middle she walks with her head down. Sparks fly in her head, memories of a joyous past swirl through the raging blaze. She isn’t settled, the cloud is still swollen, but a sense of calm has momentarily been instilled.

       

London Bridge Railway Station, Please Mate by Stephen J. Golds

London Bridge Railway Station, Please Mate.

 

I’ll tell ya summin the wevas fuckin shit today, innit mate? Still good ole English weva though.

Ya wotchat show with wos ees face on the tube las night? Whata proppa pila shit that wos. The morra watch that flickerin pissa shit called telavision, the morra feel like climbin a clock towa or summin an snipin people.

Na kiddin, mate.

I’m not fucked in the ed or anythin like that, I’m jus sick an tired of bein forced fed all this crap that is on nowahdays. Yanno wottamin? I don even pay fer ma telavision license. Issnot worth it. Issa fuckin ripoff, that’s wotit is. In the past, telavision ust’a be good, ya were actually entatained, ya actually learnt summin. Y’ad that Attenborough geezer crawlin through undagrowth, watchin lions an shit. Y’ad that Krypton Factor, Master Mind, even that Crystal Maze was arf good. The shows that were menta be funny, actually were funny, ya didn’t get nunna this canned laughta bollox that ya do taday. I fuckin ate canned laughta. Tell ya summin, I would prefer ta piss fuckin razar blades then sit throuwa show with canned laughta. Yanno Wottamin?

Seriously.

An reality telavision, that can jus fuck orf. Fuck right orf. Few yearsago when the first coupla reality shows came out, it was arf good, it was new, entatainin. Lookatit na. I’ma as bin celebrity put me outta my shittin misary. Big Brotha? More like Big puddla piss. Yanno wottamin?

I can piccha the produsas of these telavision shows satin their big meetins na,

They rather liked the first ten series, they’re going to like the next ten. Who cares if it’s getting old, the public are too stupid to notice.

an

One has a rather brilliant new idea for a show, ten contestants in a house with cameras watching their every move, it sounds like all the other programs on television but it’s not. The difference is, they are all going to be ex-child stars and we shall give them loads of contraceptives and alcohol so they have loads of sex and then our ratings shall go up”.

 

Torkin jus like that. All toff like.

The only telavision they make nowah days is aimed attha perverts, the bloody nonces, the joeys, an the tossers . Innit mate. yanno wottamin?

An don’t get me started on nonces, the bloody lotta em should av their balls cut orf an fed ta em. There wossis one nonce livin near ma gaff got an axe in the ed, there was claret everywhere. An axe right inntha kissa. Geezer ooh done that deserves’a Victoria Cross, medal of honour or summin, yanno wottamin?

The thin that pisses me orf the most about watchin the old lizer, is the poxy daytime shows an the other thin is ma girlfriend gets brainwashed by all that shit. She actually sits there an bloody watches it. Y’ave Trisha, This Mornin, Loose Woman an that fuckin Jessica  wosser face, the big nosed cow. It does ma bloody ed in. She can’t keep er chevy shut either when she does watchit, the missis, she keeps onanon bout it.

“Doncha talk ta me lika pissa shit, I won’t stand farit, I deserve betta, I seenit on Trisha.”

All uppidy, like that.

She seenit on the Trisha Show, that’s what she says, innit. Every time. I tell er ta get offa er arse an clean the ouse or summin. Yanno wottamin?

Woman does ma bloody ed in, all she cares about is er air an bloody diets an that. Diet. Diet. Ya can’t even turn on the tube without earin the damn word. Everybody’s too ealth conscious nowwa days, I tell ya. Wotever appened ta drink, eat an be merry. I don’t wanna turn on the tube ta ear sum old geezer yappin onnat me that smokin’s bad fer ya, drinkin’s bad fer ya, even eatin a fry ups bad fer ya. Jus fuck orf, fuck right orf. Stop tryin ta brain wash me, ya cunts.

Ya see the thin is, the people tryin to force us ta live like em, don’t work in a job like mine, six daysa bloody week, do they? When I finish my shift, the first thin on ma mind is ta go down the local, av a few jars an get rat’ed, wind down. Yanno wottamin?

I see these sorta people, uppa class ponces, like I see on the tube, waltz inta the pub like they own the bloody place. Wearin their suits an their fancy watches, playin golf on the weekends, cushty nine ta five jobs an all that malarki. We’ll sit an watch em, then when they’ve finished orf their gin an tonic or

woteva, we’ll follow em outta the pub an kick fuck outta the cunts in the car park. Trust me, they

aint so big an smart when they getta fist in their gob. Scream an whimpa like little gels, the

majority of the time.

 

Anyway, looks like the rains gonna stop inna bit, good old English weva, eh?

Do ya want me to pull over ere on the left, matey?

Righteo.

That’ll be fourteen quid fifty, please boss.

Nice talkin ta ya.

Take it easy, mate.

Ave a gud un.

Cracked Roads by Mark McConville

Cracked Roads.

Last summer we spoke about moving away. Paradise beckoned, hope was infused in our alcoholic bloodstreams, but we were steady on our feet, paying our dues and searching for a utopian bubble we could laze around in. Departing this ruined sanctuary, where blood was scrawled in unruly text across walls and doors, kept us awake for days. Chances were scarce, finding work even more of a challenge. In time, we would have died and been thrown into unmarked graves.

We were the voiceless and the disenchanted blots on society. Under scopes, under scrutiny, packed like tins of sardines in a one-room apartment. No clean water, no heating, but plenty of thinking to do. Thinking? It made us go manic, mania hitting against every receptor in our brains, every core of our minds. We were the unlucky few, as they danced in their expensive robes, drinking ancient whiskey.

Cutting away the sinew of hatred would have taken years. As outcasts, we had to leave the regime. Penniless and hopeless, we still could breathe and walk and talk. Being alive may have been treacherous in these callous times, but at least our bodies had heat and our feet weren’t broken or snapped or skinless.

We set out on a day the sun beamed on cracked roads. We had flasks of water and bravery. No food for ravished stomachs, but enough motivation to create a better world for ourselves. The road was straight forward and long. Beside it there were rotting pastures and reactors. These reactors powered the electricity into the homes of the elite. For us they were monuments of greed. They never impacted our lives. They stood there, ugly and grey.

We walked for hours, afflicted by sun burnt skin that peeled. Hunger also took hold of us. Back in that town, we ate scraps. On that road, there wasn’t any sheep or cattle, only dead flowers and weeds. At one point, we felt overwhelmed, drawn to death. Being drawn to death frightened us, it made us reflect on what we were doing. Leaving the blackness of home-life felt good. It felt like a unanimous decision.

I looked at her as she slowed down. Like an over-worked animal. She swayed side by side, talking to herself, and then screaming out for hope to shine upon her. God was nowhere to be seen as she kissed her rosary beads. She turned to me, her eyes half shut, begging me to tell her everything will okay. I had no answers; we were out of our depth. Dying per minute, bellowing out for someone to save us. The heat tortured us, sunk into us, laughed at us.

I would be hours before sunset and we were walking towards nothingness. And then, at the corner of my eye, I saw a man holding a skinned animal. It looked fresh and edible. All I needed was to start a fire and cook it. I sauntered towards the man. He smiled at me, and then laughed. I placed my hand out to take the animal from his grasp, but it fell right through, and he turned to dust. My mind played a trick on me, the heat a culprit. And I was on my knees. She was next to me, laying her head on my shoulder. All of our worth was sinking deeply into the void, an abyss darker than closed eyes.

It felt like a split second, but we must have been sleeping for an hour at least. I opened my eyes and heard someone speak. She wasn’t beside me. I looked at their badges. They were the runaways, the pact, and the scavengers. They spoke and spoke, committing sin as they did so, hatching plans, dreaming up situations in their bespoke minds.

I shook, my hands shook. My dry mouth unbearable. I wondered where she was. After they spoke, they turned their attention to me. They brutalised me. They kicked as I screamed. They drove away as I shouted her name.

Hours after, I was next to a burning fire. A man with a thick beard was praying to God. It was night; the sun had dissipated. The pain, it was gone. I still had the bruises, but I felt no discomfort. The man told me, to settle. To breathe easily, softly. I asked him why he saved me. He said knew I had reasons to walk upon the cracked roads.

I looked up at the stars that night and wondered if she was still alive. I also knew I would endure sinister nightmares until my heart resisted its valves.

Come Get Me by Robert Ragan

Come Get Me

An artist, I draw guns on small time dealers making their little re-up. Stuck up assholes, treating their friends like shit until they’re crying to their buddies saying, “Fiends pulled a stick up on me.”

Even with drug problems, I’m dressed nice. Still with money in my pocket and my ears to those places decent people won’t go.

I always hear so and so is talking shit. Someone sent word, said tell me my name tastes like pussy in their mouth.

“Sending word back,” I said, “Tell ‘em soon it’s gonna taste like blood.”

THC gangstas, Dirty White Boys. Anybody can get it if they’ve got it and I want it.

I’ve been lucky so far. Running into bitches not willing to die over their product.

Great! Cause I swear I don’t want to hurt anybody. Get my ass whooped almost every time I fight.

Anyone else with a gun on ‘em would smoke somebody first. Not me, but the way things are going, I’m gonna have to pull the trigger.

My name is on a lot of people’s hit lists. Just the other day someone warned me to stay away from a certain part of town. Said if I get caught out that way, I’m getting my head busted wide open, if not something much worse.

Little no name gang at least put out a warning. Some people claim it’s going down on site if they spot me anywhere.

Motherfuckers act like I’m a recluse in isolation. Terrified to come out. Hell no!

So, tell whoever’s talking shit to come get me! I already know it’s inevitable. So, who will be the first to make me pull the trigger? I’ve gotta do what I gotta do.

Started out breaking into the dope spot. Flipping everything upside down. Sometimes we found drugs plus cash and guns too. Other times we didn’t find shit.

When I say we, well, back then there was my partner, his girlfriend and me. Marcy was a thieving bitch, but once we introduced firearms to our game, she wanted out.

Lester couldn’t let her go, so I told him to go back to playing middleman and cashing bad checks.

Those two will still be breathing once I‘m buried and covered with worms.

I know it’s coming. When my time does come, whoever it is better be ready.

I’m always watching my back; a scared man is a dangerous man.

They better remember to watch their back!

They’ll see me face my fears if I go broke.

So fucking real, they can’t stop me. That’s why those cowards make threats. I hear ‘em all, even pick it apart when they try to say something slick.

If they’re ever brave enough to do all the shit they talk about, I’ll be ready.

received_693844004723804