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Stairs to the Beach
By Jessica Knauss
Josie had the tunnel-staircase built because the children were fed up with the clifftop ocean view and no easy way to get to the beach below. To the children’s uproarious approval, I proposed a slide, so they could zip down onto the soft shore and get all their energy out swimming, building sandcastles, and trying to run on the tractionless surface of the sand. Then they would have to walk a mile or so around the cliff, back to the house, and I wouldn’t hear a peep out of them the rest of the day, I was sure. I could practice the viola or watch films that weren’t oriented toward children whenever I wanted.
But Josie insisted on the stairs to avoid long stretches of time when she couldn’t see her adopted dependents. In the beginning, it worked fairly well. All ten children loved hiking down the tunnel to be greeted by their own private piece of ocean, and by the time they trudged back up several hundred risers, all the sand had been knocked out of their crevices, so Roxanne didn’t have to do much cleanup in the foyer. But once they’d had time to tone their legs and exercise their lungs, they were shooting up that long staircase so fast, the sand had no time to dry, much less to let go of their sticky skin and sopping hair.
“I can’t go on this way,” Roxanne told me. “As soon as I clean up the sand, another bunch of kids comes and fills up the foyer again.”
The look on her face called to mind Sisyphus at the bottom of the mountain, looking up. I patted her on the shoulder and went to Josie’s room to propose a system of automated hoses to blast the sand off as the children approached the foyer. But she preempted my feeble stab at preserving civilization.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” she said, turning from her giant desk in front of the picture window. Below, I could see all ten children running around on the beach, collecting shells, getting tangled in seaweed, and throwing balls at each other. Mercifully, we couldn’t hear the decibels of noise they must be making through the closed window.
“They need medical training in South Sudan,” she explained. “I don’t know how long I’ll be away. Will you and Roxanne be all right with the children?”
Of course we would, I reassured her. The moment I came back from taking Josie to the airport, I hunched through the tunnel and made an announcement with the water lapping at my toes. “Children, listen to me. You don’t have to come into the house any more. You can eat out here. You can sleep out here. If you need anything, just ask.”
The cheering went on all day, and at night they danced around a bonfire.
Roxanne and I drank chardonnay and ate, slice by translucent slice, the Ibérico ham Josie had brought back from her last layover. We brought three meals a day out to the children on a large serving platter. It always came back through the tunnel full of sand, but we dumped it at the door. We went out for groceries or to the cinema. Roxanne only had to clean once a week.
Once in a while, we looked out the picture window to see the children swimming or playing volleyball. When I witnessed one of them crack open a crab and suck out the entrails, Roxanne suggested we stop providing the food. “The feeding schedule is taking over our lives,” I agreed.
The day of Josie’s return came and went unremarked as the children built sand forts and played doctor. After four more months with no word, it became clear that Josie might not come back at all.
“I think one of the kids is missing,” said Roxanne, turning from the picture window, where instead of Josie’s desk, we had a couch and side tables.
“Just one?” I said. “How can you tell?”
“Didn’t there used to be ten? I can only count nine.”
“That’s odd,” I remarked. “I wonder if Josie would notice.”
A rogue wave whipped one of the girls off her feet and pulled her, gasping, into the wide, anonymous ocean. The remaining eight lobbed stones at each other and screamed wordless nonsense we couldn’t quell by shutting the windows anymore.
I don’t remember whose idea it was, but I was the one who placed the explosives at the bottom of the stairs and at the tunnel opening and pushed the button as Roxanne plugged my ears. Let them try to figure out how to get into the house now.
Like the tunnel-staircase, the children had been all Josie’s idea.
(Special thanks to volunteer readers Sarah McMullen and Ed Higgins for reviewing contest entries)
By Laryssa Wirstiuk
I was the adolescent girl in the waiting room of the tire repair shop reading Architectural Digest. Next, I was the schoolgirl on a field trip at the Metropolitan Museum of Art who refused to leave the Frank Lloyd Wright room. Then, I was the teenager at her part-time job working the front desk of a tennis and fitness club, fielding awkward questions from customers who couldn’t understand why I was wasting my breaks tackling The Fountainhead. Don’t you know Wright inspired the character Howard Roark?
Later, I was the young woman in Chicago riding the “L” to Oak Park, repeating to her lover, “We’re approaching the holy land.” Why did I almost throw up in Wright’s studio, in the building where he had lived with his family and worked for 10 years? Instead, I ran out of the house before the tour guide could finish and vomited in the restroom adjacent to the gift shop. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to visit Wright’s Fallingwater without feeling sick.
At age 17, I had wanted nothing more than to become an architect. I dreamed of designing buildings that melted into their surrounding environments, that honored natural, local resources. I applied to the 10 best universities for studying architecture, with the hope that at least one would accept me. While I waited for the news, I reread Rand’s bohemyth bestseller and spent weekends in Weehawken, on the bank of the Hudson River, studying the silhouette of the Manhattan skyline.
The only thing I can tell you about my 20s is that I visited Chicago, never earned that B.S. in architecture, and somehow instead got a degree in communications. I filled a resume with competitive marketing positions at Manhattan firms. I was making decent money and enjoying a stylish bachelorette pad with its living room littered with Wright coffee table books. Then one day, my boss asked me if I’d be willing to relocate to Los Angeles, to help spearhead a West Coast operation.
Sick of New York winters, I agreed but secretly worried about the new city’s lack of inspiring architecture. I knew about Ed Ruscha’s fascination with 1960s-era Los Angeles apartments and about Richard Meier’s Getty Center. Beyond that, I imagined mile after traffic-clogged mile of bi-level strip malls and fast-food restaurants adorned with sculptures of hamburgers and donuts. Only Wright’s “textile block” houses – his unfortunate attempt at breaking from Prairie School style—were located in Los Angeles County. But I did it. I packed up my life and moved across the country.
Homesick, I distracted myself by searching for the ideal place to park a beach blanket. I must have covered more than 70 miles of coastline seeking my sandy spot, and in the process I found myself standing at the bottom of a cliff, examining a cracked and moss-covered concrete chute that had once served either as an aqueduct or a water slide. At the top of the chute, a circular opening had been cut into the side of the cliff, making it seem as if water had once spilled from beneath the house and onto the deserted beach.
To examine the structure more fully, I walked toward the waves. Above the edge of the cliff I could see the tops of three palm trees and what seemed to be a Prairie-style roof: horizontal lines, overhanging eaves, natural stone, and windows arranged in horizontal bands. I was thinking of Fallingwater, the best example of how a modern person can live in harmony with the natural environment.
“But where is the water?” I shouted into the empty chute, my voice echoing back. “Where is the water?”
Milo and the Barbarone
By Katie Hufnagel
Milo had wanted to be a member ever since he could hold a crayon, and the whole village had been telling him just as long that if anyone could make it in, he could.
But still, on the day of the Sandcastle Ceremony, Milo couldn’t help but fear that there would be no sandcastle to represent him and his artistic achievements.
If there were a castle for him, he would join the other fourteen-year-olds (usually no more than three or four per year) and the rest of the prodigy teens from years past who were accepted into the mysterious stone loft in the palms which loomed over the beach: the only school on the island devoted to artistic study and creative expression, the Villa Barbarone.
He didn’t want to think about what his life would be like if he didn’t get in: he’d have to continue on with public school, probably give up drawing out of sheer embarrassment, and devote the rest of his life to selling lemonade to tourists.
Milo stole out of his mother’s hut and down to the beach just before dawn on the morning of the ceremony, to see if he could make out the silhouettes of the sandcastles in the grayish purple light. His mother would have come with him if she had heard him leave—but she was sound asleep in the sandy darkness, snoring away after another double shift cleaning bathrooms at the casino. She wanted Milo to get into the Barbarone even more than he did, he thought. All these years she had bought him pens and colored pencils, even totes of colored chalk to make murals on the sidewalks. If he didn’t have a castle sculpted for him on the beach, she would be even more let down than he was.
He crouched behind a terracotta pot, shivering slightly even in his dad’s old army jacket with its dozens of pockets—Milo wore it whenever he needed luck or lots of storage compartments. Today he’d need both. The sand blew over the beach and Milo saw the sand sculptors working with their smoothing tools, still preparing the surfaces—not yet making minor adjustments or the more intricate carvings which would let bystanders know who the winners were. Those details would come later, during the ceremony.
Milo’s stomach gave a low rumble, and silly as it was, he worried that the sculptors might have heard it from across the beach and would look his way. But they kept to their work.
Milo had spent his whole life wondering what it was like inside the Villa Barbarone—it was impossible to get in unless you belonged there, unless you’d been initiated: sandcastled in. If anyone tried to make an unauthorized entrance, they’d have to first climb the forty-foot stone slide (a nearly impossible feat on its own, and one which proved even tougher if the trespassers were bombarded with citrus fruits and coconuts on their way up, as they often were). Milo had considered trying it on more than one occasion—he had stealthy tendencies and thought it might be worth a good fruit pelting if he could just get a glimpse in the window of the Barbarone. But he never had—he hadn’t wanted to ruin his chances for acceptance. He hadn’t wanted to jeopardize this day, the one he had been waiting for as long as he could remember.
One night while he was at the casino, drawing sketches of the gamblers, he’d been approached by a man with a ratty pepper-colored beard who took up the stool beside him. Milo had been scared of the man at first, thinking he was another homeless guy just looking for handouts of free food or a recent winner to leech onto, but then he’d seen the gleam in the man’s eye when he saw Milo’s drawing.
“You’ve got quite the talent there, young man. You keep up with talent like that and you might just make it into the Villa Barbarone,” the old man said, and Milo had wanted to shrug it off, lighten the pressure—after all, people had been telling him similar things all his life—but this time, it was different. “I myself went to the Barbarone, you know.”
Before that night in the casino, Milo had never met anyone who’d made it into the Barbarone—it seemed that once they went there, they either kept it top secret or left town to move onto bigger and better things. Once in a while, someone stuck around to sell their crafts in the village, but even so they were always far more famous than the people Milo was used to talking to.
Milo had sat in the casino, gripping his pencil, desperate to have a tight grasp on something. “Tell me,” he pleaded, looking directly into the man’s slate-colored eyes. “Tell me what it’s like there.”
But the man hadn’t told him a thing about what it was like there, not a single piece of information about the décor or the sleeping arrangements, the lighting or the food selection. In fact he’d only said six words to Milo before shaking the coconut hairs out of his beard, pushing out his stool, and disappearing into the crowds of tourists bustling around the felt tables: “It’s just exactly what you need.”
Milo thought of these words again, for the ten-thousandth time, as he squatted behind the terracotta pot, watching as the sculptors, dark and huddled against the ever-changing vermilion and tangerine sky, worked their magic in the sand. His heart and pulse beat the words out in his head—just exactly what I need, he thought, ready now, more than ever. He was ready to claim his rightful spot in that stone loft he had longed after—that place which held the very fibers of his dreams.
By Caroline Hurley
August 20th 2014
I’m finally getting round to your email. It’s not like I was busy; bored mostly, tbh, except for last night. You’re not going to believe what happened. But first, hail fellow well met and all that. Glad to hear you’ve had a good summer back in Wimbledon. I’ll be home soon and we’ll catch up properly, what with another school year ahead. Mom scheduled the Wednesday flight, from Dublin airport. The journey’s bound to be easier than the one over. Nightmare; I felt more like cargo than person.
Thanks for asking about my leg. I’m able to walk again. I was useless with crutches, inching around the place like an over-sized slug for what seemed like forever. You’ll have to visit here sometime. It’s fairly awesome, once you take it in. My aunt’s house is a massive gaff, like a space research lab or something, all flat roofs, and windows overlooking the bay. She shouldn’t be able to afford it. She’s only a Montessori teacher. Mom said something about the divorce settlement. I guess it’s compo.
I still don’t know what’s in half the rooms. Therese says she rents them sometimes, but there’s not much demand here. She usually puts up Spanish students in the summer for a fee, but mom asked her to take me instead this year. She thought it’d be the ideal place for me to convalesce after the climbing accident. One loose stone was all it took for me to trip. You saw my bruises and the broken leg. I kept the plaster you signed before I left. It’s hardly worth carrying back with me though. I caught it on camera, a close-up, for posterity. I hope you’re not offended!
What have I been doing, you ask? What indeed! What could I do? I was fairly dependent, I couldn’t go anywhere without transport. The house is right by the sea, except it’s on a cliff, and to get on the beach you have to climb down steep narrow steel stairs. There was no way I could manage on crutches. I tried, believe me. Even up to a few days ago, looking down gave me the heebie-jeebies.
Don’t get me wrong though. There was a fear of me, as they say here. Therese stocked up on whatever food I wanted. She let me on PlayStation, and I could watch videos, whenever I liked. The garden’s shaded by palm trees and full of fantastic plants and features. If it was warmer, you’d imagine you’re in Barbados! Well cool, seriously. Although we couldn’t explain the feathers. A trail of white feathers, downy ones, and large ones too, like you’d get from an albino crow, leading to the cliff where it overhangs a dark plunging gulley. Seagulls, Therese suggested doubtfully, but we both knew it wasn’t. Her garden isn’t on their itinerary, not to that extent anyway.
Nearly every day, she drove me to the village where the land is level with the sea. The weather’s been decent, plenty of sunshine. I could hobble down the path, pick a bench and read to my heart’s content. Sometimes she joined me. More often she’d go shopping or visiting friends or whatever.
I liked watching the passing parade, kids and dogs playing, swimming, sunbathing and jostling for position at the ice-cream van. There was kite surfing and occasionally kayaking too, even horseracing on the sand. That’d mainly happen in the evening when the seashore was less crowded, only heedful walkers left. The fishing-boats would come in then, attracting squabbling seagulls. They freaked me out a bit, they’re so raucous and brash, but they were my signal that seals weren’t far behind. Beautiful creatures, bobbing to the surface, begging for the dregs of the day’s catch cast back into the water. I loved watching them. I hope that doesn’t sound too odd, bud.
I looked forward to seeing them, maybe because I was lonely. I’d no one our age to hang out with except the girl in the shop. She didn’t like the sea though. We had coffee twice, enough to find out we’d little in common. Fact is, one of the seals was prettier than any girl, with a white face and great big eyes. She often looked at me as if she was aware of my gaze. Sometimes she swam away from the rest towards shore, more and more every day, just floating and staring wistfully towards land. That’s what it looked like to me anyhow. She was something else.
Then a week ago, I saw her from my bedroom, gliding slowly past, completely by herself. She loitered, eyeing the house and grounds. The same thing happened the next evening, and the next. I was fascinated. It was like she was looking for something, maybe, I thought, even me. Since I’d just lost the plaster and the crutches at the medical clinic the previous morning, I decided to get down to the beach before she arrived, confident that without fetter, I’d finally manage the steps.
I could too. I took my time, clambering down like a centenarian, step by step. I trudged back, limping, towards the pier, and lay against the base where I had the house in view. Sure enough, at about 9 pm, with dusk settling, the seal returned, facing inland. Then she glanced up and down the beach. No one was near but me, hiding. She swam towards the house. When she reached the sand, she stood up. Or a woman stood up as something fell off her. She ran up the steps and out of sight. I jumped up, confused, stunned. Then I saw a swan rise from the garden, circle me twice and fly away.
Now I’ve told you, I realise how insane it sounds. I’d better not tell anyone else. Keep it to yourself please. It’s some memory. I want to preserve it.
Finally back on my feet again now, and dying to see you soon.
By Arpita Pramanick
She looked at the picture during the lunch break. A resplendent residential marvel, bordering on the extravagance of a resort. But what struck her was the cement structure having a hole at the top and sliding down towards the viewer. What was it, really?
She was clueless. The picture was the cue, and she wanted to write. But since January something had snapped. They have a name for it: writer’s block. But Sandra knew it was not that. With each passing day she was becoming more conscious of the growing hole in her once-energetic self. It was a pulsating, dark pit that sucked all her creative energy and thrived on it.
The world around her was in turmoil: terrorists were taking people as hostages and releasing videos of slaughtering them few months later. Women were being raped grotesquely. Scary diseases with scarier names were wiping out entire towns. She hated the newspaper office now. She hated the violence served each morning with the cup of tasteless coffee. She was looking for an alternate career.
Sandra closed her eyes and tried to picture herself in the place from the photograph. Where was it: France, Hungary or Germany? Or somewhere else, altogether?
The boy stirred in the hospital bed, trying to prop himself up. He failed and fell on his back. Pain twisted his freckled cheeks. His eyes went wide as he clenched his teeth and tried to raise himself once more. The vast network of neurons running down his waist to the limbs refused to obey.
The vividness of the scene startled Sandra. The image struck her with increasing intensity whenever she closed her eyes these days. There was no Hungary, no France. She was stuck here: in the shit-hole newspaper office and beside the hospital bed after dusk.
She knew she needed to write. It was her only outlet. As the pen scribbled letters and formed words on the yellowish paper, her heart bled and told a thousand stories. She could be a writer. Only if she could leave this place! Couldn’t you turn into someone else by magic and live a different life starting tomorrow?
The idea struck her then. She took out the smart-phone from her purse and sent the picture to her circle of friends: friends with whom she talked on a daily basis, friends whom she had never met or talked with since she left college, friends who had slept with her once upon a time and others who used to hate her, but had always shown a polite side to her face. It was a whim. Before she could stop herself to think what she was doing she had hit the send button.
Daniel pinged, “Hey! From where did you get a picture of my house? Spying, eh?” Still that clown that he was in school! Sandra smiled and sent an emoticon. Thank God emoticons existed.
Julianna said, “What is it, a resort or something?”
Others asked if it was a private residence. Was she planning to buy it? John, the geek from school, mused it was probably a conduit. Maybe the drainage system connecting the sewage?
Sandra sighed and put the phone back in her purse. People had changed very little. Only her world had suddenly become a shadow.
Dusk fell. Sandra did not look at the March blossoms as she walked from the newspaper office to the hospital. All she could see was the grey building with a big, red plus sign painted on its entrance. That was her destination, every day now since January.
She sat beside the boy’s bed on the usual steel chair. The nurse smiled kindly like every other day. The green curtains danced with the distinct sameness from yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that.
“How are you today, baby?” she asked the boy. She held his hand in hers.
“Better, Mom.” He smiled the most exquisite smile she had ever seen. She could see George lurking somewhere behind that smile. Her heart froze.
“I have something to show you,” she said, flipping open her smart-phone. Her son loved the gadget. He loved buildings and structures better. He had once wanted to be an architect.
The boy stared at the picture. Sandra stared at him. She tried to gauge the changing emotions in his pallid face.
At last he said, “I wish I could slide down the slides again with you, Mom. I miss the park!”
Sandra understood. And she died once more inside.
The Biggest Water Slide
By Tyrean Martinson
Dry. It was dry. A hellacious drive from corn country to the west coast with a busted radio and her smelly armpit brother sharing the backseat with her the whole way, and the ocean—the supposedly mighty Pacific was dry. What the hell?
Jeanie’s dad was waving his hands in the air, swearing.
Her mom stood still, with one hand on the front of their beat-up truck, just staring at the dry, cracked earth of the ocean floor.
Freddie, his t-shirt sticking to his back with sweat—did he do anything other than sweat all day and eat disgusting corn chips?—held his chip bag up to his face and breathed into it.
Jeannie stood by the truck with her hand on the windowsill, watching them, and then she glanced at the hotel next to them. It looked abandoned, but it was the hotel that had drawn them here with its inexpensive prices and the “longest water slide into the Pacific Ocean.” She decided to check it out. I mean, what else were they going to do? They had to stay somewhere. She wasn’t sharing the back seat with her brother when perfectly good hotel rooms sat open for the taking.
As she stepped away from the beat-up yellow truck that had been her living prison for the last two days of endless driving, Jeannie took in a deep breath. She could smell something other than her brother’s sweat for the first time in forty-eight hours, it was … dust and salt, and dry plants. All the palm trees appeared to have had the moisture sucked right out of them.
Looking up at the palm tree closest to their truck, Jeannie hesitated. What had happened? And why hadn’t it happened to her or her family?
“Jeannie, where are you going?” Freddie said.
Of course, the armpit had noticed her movement.
“Jeannie?” her mother’s voice quavered. “You need to stay here.”
“Why?” Jeannie glanced back at her mom. “There’s nothing here to see. I’m going to at least sleep in a hotel bed tonight.”
“Jeannie,” her mother whined. “We don’t know what happened here. We don’t know where all the people are, or why the trees are dead, or where the ocean is.” Her voice spiraled upwards.
“It’s the end of the world!” her dad screamed. “It’s the end of the—”
Jeannie tuned out his swearing and started walking across the cracked pavement towards the hotel entrance. It was deadly hot, and she figured that there had to be shade inside.
“Hey, Sis, wait up.” Freddie wheezed as he caught up to her.
Jeannie sighed. She supposed it would be better to have someone with her than to go into an abandoned hotel by herself.
“Do you think they have corn chips in the vending machines?”
Jeannie rolled her eyes and glanced over at him. She could see the panic welling up around his eyes in little pools of moisture.
“Sure. I’m sure they have some corn chips in there, or at one of the empty gas stations we passed.” She chucked him on the arm with her fist, but gently. “We’ll be okay.”
“How do you know?”
“Because we will be. I mean, we’re okay now, right?”
Freddie crinkled his face at her. “That doesn’t really make sense.”
“Well, whatever happened to everything and everyone else didn’t happen to us, and we’re okay at the moment, so I’m betting on us getting through this.”
“Really?” Freddie held his bag of chips close to him like a stuffed animal and the chips crackled inside. “Okay. We’re going to be okay. I believe you, I guess.”
“Good.” At least she had convinced him, if not herself.
They walked into the entrance of the hotel and just stopped for a moment, letting their eyes adjust to the dark coolness.
Light poured towards them from another room, and Jeannie walked towards it, determined to find the source. Through a set of double doors, they entered the public entrance to the water-park section of the hotel. Big, plastic water slide tubes snaked out through huge windows, and inflatable rafts sat in one corner, along with some kiddie life vests for kids who were too young to swim.
A vending machine stood in a back corner, and Freddie jogged towards it.
“You were right, Jeannie! They have chips.” He smiled at her, and then he gazed past her and his look turned to horror.
Jeannie pivoted to look out a window by the slides. A giant wall of water, still several miles out, swept towards the shore. She realized she could hear it roaring dully in her ears.
Jeannie ran across the room, grabbed her brother by the back of his sweaty t-shirt and propelled him towards the kiddie life jackets. She grabbed two of the largest and shoved one into Freddie’s arms.
“Life Jacket—On!” Jeannie screamed at Freddie as she secured one of the jackets around her chest.
The small sound of the water’s return had grown to a roar that threatened to deafen her.
“Jeannie.” Blubbery tears ran down his cheeks. “I don’t want to die.”
“We’re not going to die.”
“No, we’re going to take the biggest water slide ever.” Jeannie grabbed a huge inflatable meant for two people with one hand and her brother’s sweaty hand with the other, and dragged them both up the water slide stairs.
When they reached the top of the stairs, the wall of water had started to crash down on itself, the white cap of the wave cresting somewhere over their heads.
Jeannie threw the raft down on the slide platform, threw her brother down onto it, and then threw herself on top of him, thrusting her hands through the handles of the raft.
“We’re going to make it,” Jeannie promised. She didn’t want to die, and she certainly didn’t want to die with her face in her brother’s armpit, so she held on tight as the water hit.
By Robert Walton
We died in blue fire and white fire and the burst of a molten sun.
But within a stone crust, within a crevice, sealed by something more than diamond, two bits of us remained and drifted, drifted for an age of ages before we fell.
A meteorite flaring, tumbling, falling, shattering, crashing into brown water; then rolling, rolling into a round tunnel, we at last slid down the storm drain beneath Herbert’s house. Unaware, not truly alive, we were memory, only a memory of Tiq, but we were enough.
Two homeless men picked us up. A wiry black man and a hairy white man picked us up and decided to visit Herbert.
A rhythmic, tapping noise, metal against wood, penetrates my sleep. I crack my eyelids slowly. Ambient light—the streetlight in front of my house and a full moon, now high—gives me a clear view of the doorway. A figure is standing in it.
Terror freezes me. I knew they’d come. Criminals, liberals, immigrants, gays, ghetto-leavings—all the same, all looking to steal my money and take my life.
The figure at the door taps something against the doorjamb.
Rage floods terror away. I’m ready for this. I ease my left hand beneath my pillow. My fingers close on my pillow gun, a Seacamp LWS.32 six shot automatic. Thank God for the NRA! I drop my right hand to the side of the bed where my magnetic flashlight is clipped. I grip it, point it and click it on.
The LED reveals the intruder, a black man. He raises a blue steel combat knife with his right hand and grins.
Ice cubes slide down my spine. The knife is mine. It belongs in the table drawer next to my head where I checked it before I turned out the lamp. I snatch the .32 from beneath my pillow, aim and fire. The bullet smacks into the wall right behind where the intruder’s head just was.
I roll out of bed, keeping the .32 trained on the door. I sleep in the raw. I need to get my pants on, but my hideout machine gun comes first. I crouch and pull my MPT9K from its clip beneath the box springs. I drop the Seacamp and flip off the MPT9K’s safety and chamber a round. No time for pants.
I shift the MPT9K to my left hand and grip the flash in my right as I approach the door. I poke the light beyond the door at waist height and simultaneously duck my right eye out and back.
The black man is standing at the hall’s end. I step out, level my MPT9K on him. “Drop the knife!” Still grinning, he releases the knife. It thumps on the hall’s thick carpet.
Glass breaks behind me. I whirl. Another man, white this time and with a scruffy goatee, leans through my window holding a nickel-plated .45, my nickel-plated .45. It’s supposed to be under the front seat of my motor home. I fire from the hip. The crashing shots deafen me and the muzzle flashes are white lightning in the darkened room. My window explodes in shards. The second guy is gone.
I turn back to the first man. He’s aiming my kitchen gun, a .38 special, at my balls. I scream, “Die, you shit!” and fire another five round burst. The flashes dazzle my eyes, but I advance holding my MPT9K steady. I’ve got twenty rounds left. It’s a good thing I’ve got my high capacity magazine in this baby. Screw you, James Brady!
I hear sirens in the distance.
“Are you through with Herbert’s computer yet?”
The small black man looks up from the screen. “Just about. He had several accounts. His Cayman account will be useful to us once I change the password.”
He looks back at the computer. “The Visa should be good today.”
“Excellent!” The goateed white men grins without teeth.
The black man pushes back from the computer desk. “Well, that does it.” He slumps in the chair.
“What’s the matter? This operation went perfectly!”
“That’s the problem. It was too easy.”
Toothless goatee smiles. “We will soon have billions to squander on pleasure.”
The black man snorts, “What pleasure? Judging by Herbert’s place, this planet has execrable music, raw booze and bilious food.”
“The sexual pairings are simplistic!”
“Ah, but some partners are promising! Those Baptists seem enticing. And those Shiites! There could be stonings!”
The seated man rubs his chocolate colored skin. “There’s no challenge to it. Just this skin pigmentation drove Herbert into paroxysms of fear. He was naked and waving his machine gun around mindlessly when the police got here, but the swat team didn’t even shoot him.”
“What did you expect? This isn’t Ferguson and the guy is white.”
The black man sighs. “No blood. I like blood.”
The Wiry Goatee pats his partner’s shoulder. “Blood inspires official curiosity. Curiosity is bad for Tiq.”
“I know.” He looks up. “The Eloi were curious. Their star-police found Tiq and cast us into the super-nova.”
“They thought Tiq is a parasite to be exterminated.”
“No! Tiq is the universe’s greatest predator.”
“We cull every herd.”
“But Tiq must use the Eloi ships for transportation. Do you think a ship will stop here?”
“Perhaps. We fell through space for eons. Eloi might be dust now.”
“Bah, then we must hunt this world and hope for better.
Shall Tiq call a cab?”
The seated man nods. “Please.”
A squat, graying, blonde woman in a shabby housedress ducks under police tape just as a cab pulls up to the curb. She opens the door and slides into the back seat.
The cabbie turns. “Where to, lady?”
The woman holds up Herbert’s Visa card. “The mall, please.”
And Then She Was Gone
By Jennifer Erickson
Once there was sand, and a deck with heavy planters there. We lay on our stomachs on the warm boards and ate lemon creme cookies and drank cold juice from a thermos. I remember the smell of fish and the sound of gulls, and waves running at the shore. We whispered and giggled, and when Mom called from the top of the cliff we pretended not to hear.
At high tide the water would slap the cliff wall and splash our faces and retreat in shattered foam. We would laugh and collect our soaking towels, the picnic, our Baby-sitters Club novels, and retreat up the stairs to the house.
But one day I fell asleep with my book on my face, and I woke up out in the sea, choking and laughing and bobbing along with the juice thermos and Dixie cups. Cookies gone. Towels gone. Another swell slid under me to batter the shore. And then I realized that my sister was gone, too.
Room to Breathe
By Emmaleene Leahy
The sea charged towards them threateningly and then skulked back, before rushing in again. Waves cracked near the shore and broke in clouds of white foam all along the stretch of shore. The air fizzed with insects above bubbles of black seaweed that straggled from rocks. Scavenging seagulls wailed and screamed like banshees, with wings outstretched they glided and surged. This is where he visualised himself when he felt an asthma attack coming on, surrounded by the abundant powerful air of the ocean.
As they sauntered along the shore crunching seashells beneath their feet, Amy had sidled up to Sam. She laughed with her whole body and flicked her eyes. The wind took her long hair and whipped it against her cheek. Shards of sunlight crackled through the chalky clouds as they approached the bank fringed with tangled bushes.
They climbed the incline of the pathway worn into the bank. The wind had blown the clouds away and once again the world was veiled in golden light. Sam was still struggling to will his shyness away. He didn’t feel brave enough to look her in the eye. He knitted his fingers into hers.
They spread their towels on a plateau embedded in the summit concealed by grasses. They lay quietly beneath the sun as it crept across the sky of electric blue light. All of their muted passion was constrained by earnestness and anxieties. The air grew thick with heat.
“Come on, let’s go for a swim.” She stood and began removing her jeans to reveal swimming togs underneath.
“Ah … no thanks.” Sam faltered as he noticed her muscular thighs and felt daunted by their power.
“Why not?” she kicked her jeans onto the towel she had been sitting on.
“I … ah … just don’t feel like it.”
“Ah spoil sport, come on. The water looks lovely.”
“You go. I’ll stay here and mind the stuff.”
“Yea go on.”
As soon as she was in the water he pulled his inhaler out of his pocket and took a quick wheeze. Nervousness was making his throat dry. Taking in a deep breath, he watched her enter the ocean.
The sea folded over on itself in small waves. She splashed the frothy surface, as she skipped into the water. Every time the tide came in he took a really deep breath, inhaling slowly only to release it when the tide went out. He eventually felt relief as the tightness in his chest began to ease.
Isolated in a sea of blue that surged around her, Amy floated in the water and ebbed towards the navy depths where seaweed and fish lurked. Sam watched the motion of advance and withdrawal of the sea, in and then out, in and then out. This was a rhythm for him to hang the structure of his breathing on. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, and breathe out.
In Here, Out There
By N.D. Schreiber
No. No way. No siree Bob. That was not right.
There was a boat in his backyard, or better said, on his back beach. The boat, blindingly white externally and blindingly orange internally, was stranded on its port side, hull shining in the scorching sun, waves knocking on the starboard side, gently rocking it, tipping it towards him just enough to see. Was that hair? human hair? attached to, no it couldn’t be. It wasn’t.
But it was. Expletive, oath, expletive.
Well, that’s alright, Haggard Beard was probably just off on an adventure, having a day at the beach.
Directly in the back of his house.
The only house in a sheltered bay.
It was strange, but then again, the tightening in his chest and the increase of his pulse were also strange, and was he hyperventilating? Maybe.
Shut blinds, return to computer, move pencil to left side, breathe twice, move pencil to right side, breathe twice, move pencil back to left side, breathe twice, move pencil back to right side, breath twice, press power switch, wait for boot, fix bugs, answer emails.
Feeling hungry, back to kitchen, a little dark, open blinds.
He had forgotten about That.
Haggard Beard was out of the boat, lying listlessly on the sand, his posture the epitome of crime show chalk outlines.
Maybe he just wanted a better view of the house. George had seen the house himself from that spot fifteen years ago when he had bought it. He had to climb down the spillway, a concrete slide designed to protect the house from flash floods, because there were no stairs leading to the beach, a detail whose absence even the real estate agent had pointed out as peculiar. He had meant to build a staircase. Looking up from the sand the flat-roofed house perched upon the shrubbery-covered crag was beautiful, almost Frank Lloyd Wrightish. It was practical and simple, full of edges, ridges and windows.
Haggard Beard was probably admiring the architecture.
By lying face down in the sand.
Oh God, back to the desk, do the pencil thing, breathe, oh God, breathe, do the pencil thing. Had he closed the blinds? Even if not, it would be okay, he was safe In Here, and That was Out There, and Out There was of no concern of his. Move pencil to left side, breathe twice. Still, he should let someone know. Move pencil to right side, breathe twice. Vince. Yes, Vince would be the right person to call. Move pencil to left side, breathe twice. Vince delivered his mail and groceries once a week. He could trust Vince. Move pencil to right side, breathe twice, pick up phone, press call.
-Hello, Vince, it’s George.
-Yes, everything is all right with me.
-I know that I am breathing hard.
-It’s fine. I was just wondering, if it’s not too big of a fuss, could you stop by today to check out an irregularity.
-Oh out of town?
-When would be the next time you could stop by?
-Yes, next Thursday at the regular time would be fine.
Except Thursday would most definitely not be fine, by then That Out There would be beyond any help, he could hear desperate moans through the window. But still, there was no reason to be contrary. Contradiction meant he was unable to control the situation, and if he was unable to control the situation … better not to think about it. Back to work, fix bugs, concentrate.
Maybe he should call the police.
No, not the police. They would want to investigate, maybe come In Here. Having police come In Here would be unacceptable, they might ask questions or argue in his sanctuary or take things for evidence like his computer. He needed his computer to work, to live.
Oh God, move pencil to left side, breathe twice. No police. Move pencil to right side, breathe twice. How long had it been since he was out there?
He wanted to call Steven, his brother, the doctor. Steven would know what to do in this situation; he always knew what to do in every situation. Move pencil to left side, breathe twice. But Steven would advise him to … No, he was not going Out There. Haggard Beard had gone Out There, put himself in a situation that he could not control, and look at the predicament that he was in. Out There was loaded with all kinds of trouble, like storms on the high seas and terrorists and criminals and mutagens with the potential to turn his own body’s cells into traitorous malignancies. And, if there was trouble Out There, no one ever helped.
They had not helped Steven.
Hundreds of people downtown let a gang of delinquents kick his face into an unrecognizable stew of features, and what was his last breath worth? the twenty bucks in his wallet, a fleeting moment of superiority for the delinquents, and an interesting sympathy story for the spectators.
“Let me tell you about the time I saw a guy beaten to death.”
The spectators, the frightened sheep, surely there had been enough to prevent It from happening, but they stood gaping with effigy eyes on concrete feet. Indolent humanity could burn. And …
Expletive, oath, expletive.
He was sitting on his concrete tush, ignoring trouble like a frightened sheep while a man died of dehydration on his beach.
Now he was standing with a bottle of water in his hand, staring at the door, trembling like a frightened sheep.
Now he was turning the door handle.
Now he was stepping into the sun and hearing the waves, the warmth and the fury reaching him unimpeded by glass for the first time in fourteen years as he stumbled down the spillway like a drunken fool.
And, oh, how magnificent it was.
By Nathan Alling Long
Every family has secrets. You can’t exactly hide them by living away from others, building a house on the edge of nowhere, rocky outcropping on one side, seaside cliff on the other. Even with land all around you, eventually someone will see something, be curious.
You can tell everyone you are a family that prefers being alone, a father, a mother, a son. No visitors, only immediate family. You keep to yourselves. You like the house quiet. And perhaps you successfully ward off anyone who might visit.
But I was patient, inquisitive. I lived in the small house down shore. I grew up fishing off your shore, my father before me. As a child, I wanted to find buried treasure, a wrecked pirate ship. I was small when this house was constructed. I watched them build that strange concrete chute running from the lower level, dropping down the cliff to the ocean, wondering if it was for sewage or storm water. And for years afterward, as I boated out to sea and back every day with my father, I would look at the house and wonder who was it that lived there?
When I turned twenty, I felt wild and free. I wanted the kind of adventure that the sea no longer held for me. I thought of the house. It was like a buried treasure in plain sight, a castle I dreamed of one day entering.
One evening, after storms kept us from fishing for three days straight, I was going stir crazy locked inside our small house with my father, who reeked of fish and beer. I walked out into the storm, and down along the shore, though the waves were high and dangerous. I broke through the barrier that separated our property from theirs. I felt ecstatic and ran across their virgin sand. High above, the house loomed, its floodlights warning people away, and that strange chute, full of rain water pouring into the sea. How strange it looked.
I leaped over the stream formed from the chute and walked past the house, determined to step on every inch of beach, knowing the rain would wash away my footprints. I was not far past, when I thought I saw something behind me, coming out of the water. Some dark form—a fish tossing itself within a wave or perhaps a dolphin beaching itself in the storm. But when I looked, nothing was there. And then I thought I saw it again, making its way up the beach, running against the flow of water draining from the chute. Then it became lost in the rain, if there was a thing at all. I ran up to the chute and stared. Was that some dark form under the cascading water, somehow scurrying up the steep concrete chute?
I wanted to chase it, but I wouldn’t have been able to climb five feet without slipping and being swept halfway to the ocean. I stared up at the house. A light appeared in the lower level and the outside floodlights switched off.
In the dark, the sound of the waves and the rain hitting the wet sand suddenly grew loud, almost deafening. I returned home.
The next day was sunny and clear, but I was pale and sick. I had gotten a bad cold. Before he left, my father grumbled about having to hire a friend to take my place. I lay in bed alone in our tiny house, half thinking, half dreaming about the night before.
Had there been something there? My dreams seemed to confirm it, and my waking mind churned over it, that shadow in the water.
I got better fast, but feigned sickness, enduring my father’s grumbling so that once he left, I could dress and return to the chute.
As I stood at its base, now sunny and dry, I knew I had to climb it, to see what was in the house.
It was hard work; the chute was almost vertical, the rough concrete hard on my hands. I should have brought gloves and rope. But I was a fisherman’s son. I had held onto the ship rails in sixty-mile winds, in storms that filled the deck with rain. I was convinced I could endure anything. And hadn’t that figure climbed the chute in the pouring rain, water rushing down over it? Or had I dreamed it all?
It took several hours, inching my way up. I’d paused to catch my breath and turned to look over the sea, the beach far below. I thought I saw my father’s boat, a small speck on the horizon.
Then I returned to climbing. When I reached the top, I looked and listened for any sign of life, but the house seemed quiet and still. I rested, my arms shaking from the effort. The lower portion of the house was set back and made mostly of glass. I walked up to it and peered through the glass at the giant pool within. It was filled with pristine water. Did they use the chute to empty the pool when cleaning it? The house, with its concrete and glass, suddenly felt non-mysterious, not an impenetrable castle. It was just a home of a wealthy private family who liked to swim. I started to laugh, thinking how I had imagined a creature crawling up into it that night. Perhaps I already had had a fever, or was it simply the cabin fever?
I headed back to the chute, but something made me turn back, for one last glimpse. That’s when I saw her, their secret daughter, her body darting through the water, that long shining fin.
And the rest of the story you know, how we fell in love, how I moved in.
Listen, all families have secrets. This is ours. This is why you cannot let anyone visit. This is why you cannot tell anyone, my son.
By David Wing
I used to love sitting on the cliff top and staring down at the waves. The dunes would wisp and dance when the wind picked up. Sometimes the sand would venture as far as our house, a small hill rising against our walls. I’d make sandcastles and watch as the waves and the wind alike sent their armies to invade; my fortress eroding.
It was lonely there, barren and stark. The sea came and went as she pleased. When there weren’t better places to be, other shores to visit, she’d stay here. The wind was similar in his whims; often a trip to be taken.
We’d planted palms around the house when we first built there and now they towered over us, arching and aching towards the roof, shedding fronds as they pleased. The sand that made-up the window panes all but called to the shore; to the sea and each year the cliff-face creased a little more. His demeanour once so proud, so bold, now shuddered and huddled as best it could from the other elements.
He’d be home soon and he was scared.
From time to time I’d hear cars speed by on the distant highway, its tarmacked black visage shifting and trying ever more desperately to hold fast to the deserted landscape.
I wondered if it was them, but knew it wouldn’t be.
Once in a while, when the tide lapped below I’d take to the slide. I’d turn on the pump, the sea abducted from the ocean. I’d sit tight and hold the inflatable and count to five.
I’d be gone by three.
Whoosh to the base and off!
My feet would fly first, daring the wind to take me. My chest would strain and miss a beat or two until I sank below an oncoming wave. My eyes would smart against the salt and my legs would flap and flail and force my body to the surface. My arms reached for the dingy, but it would be gone, a gift for the sea. I’d make shore, sand clinging to me, and watch as my multi-coloured travel companion swam for pastures new, wishing I were still on board. I would miss him.
Later, the tide would abscond, only a damp patch remaining to say that she had even set foot on the dry. The Sun would beat ever so hard, hit after hit, and then she was truly gone. He’d go soon after, the dark ever encroaching on the day and while I might want for more, want for company and want … they would never stay together, could never stay and here I was, a part-time child split between.
By Josh Turner
They tumble from the shadowed tunnel mouth and down the slipway like neon penguins, tripping and falling and laughing as they spew out onto the sand.
Jane is the first, face covered in glittering pink paint. “I call this meeting to order,” she yells, giggling as she chokes on a gulp of Prosecco at the end of her cry. “Whence goes the sun, comes the party!”
The crowd screams their agreement, corks and party ribbons bursting into the air in celebration. They rain down a moment later amidst the painted party lit by glowing fluorescent jewelry.
José jumps onto the edge of the concrete lip, the tip of a manmade tongue that reaches out from the house to scrape against the sand. He raises one hand, perched precariously on the edge above the beach. The crowd falls silent, thirty pairs of eyes staring at the single upraised finger. The wrinkles almost sparkle in the moonlight.
It waves once, twice, twists a full circle in the soft night air. The finger dances another pirouette, then points back up the slipway towards the house.
“Now,” the mouth above the shoulder at the end of the arm that leads to the tip of the finger announces.
A solitary trombone toots once. Then down the slipway on great, wheeled platforms a full brass band rolls into sight. A piano leads the musical army, rolling slowly down the slope attached to a heavy, clanking metal chain. Behind it on taut steel wires a line of trombone players play their entrance, polished black shoes perched upon a selection of battered skateboards.
Jane claps her hand, jumping up and down next to José. “I love this bit. I love it!”
José grabs her arm, turns her beneath his own and kisses her gently on the cheek. “There’s so much to love!” he cries.
With a creak of metal the piano comes to rest just before tumbling over the lip and onto the beach. The trumpets line up behind, smiling happy faces engorged with air that toot a merry hello. The cornet players roll in behind, handkerchiefs flapping in the top pockets of their dinner jackets as the wind of their music swirls beneath the moon. Finally the horns fall into place, side by side with the euphonium, dragging a large, empty carriage behind them.
The crowd goes silent. Among the milling flare of neon paint and happy smiles a single finger stabs at the sky once more.
“Shhhhhhhhhh,” they whisper. And shhhhhh they do, stepping back to form a circle around an open patch of sand in their centre.
José stares the length of his arm, the tip of his finger tickling the side of the large, full moon. The waves lapping against the beach play the chorus of their pause, the soft swish of water running over sand. Once. Twice. Thrice.
Muttering starts in the crowd, Jane turns, staring over at Norman. He’s always the first to start muttering.
José waits until the silence falls again.
Then the finger drops.
From the dark tunnel at the top of the concrete slope a deep, long note leaps from the shadows to echo in the warm night air. A single trumpet raises up, catching the glint of moonlight as it replies with two short blasts from the bottom of the slope.
He emerges with cheeks puffed wide, a soft, low sigh of music streaming from the tuba before him. Great ribbons of silk trail from his arms, tied to the sleeves of his immaculate tuxedo. The ribbons dance in the air behind him as he picks up speed coming down the slope. His ankles tremble as the wheels of his sequined roller-skates bounce over the wrinkled cracks of aged concrete.
The band kneels, and with a heave, lift the empty platform behind them to their shoulders. The night is filled with the echoing cry of the trombone, whipping about in the air as the lips that play it bounce down the slope.
The crowd below start to clap, a steady beat that mirrors the waves lapping against the shore. Clap. Clap. Clap. Jane and José stand arm in arm, her right hand clapping against his left.
The note is growing closer, louder, more excited as it trembles in the air. Then it’s the end of the concrete and the brief, smooth motion of wheels over wood. The trembling stops, the sound reaches out above the crowd, caressing them. It turns, full circle in the air, a note of pure happiness as the trombone player turns head over heels. And at the moment the first, leading wheel touches against the soft sand. The note stops.
The night waits. Swish. Swish. Swish.
And everyone begins to cheer!
“Wooohoooooo!” Jane yells, jumping up in the air, spilling prosecco to be swallowed by the sand.
The crowd surges towards the trombone player, clapping him on his back, screaming their thanks.
Then the band strikes their tune. The neon party goers each grab a partner and turn around beneath the stars, leaving trails of pink, red, green, yellow beneath the sky.
The dawn finds them like that, sunlight peaking over the horizon. It catches on the colours, drawing the brightness away and back into the sky as it slides up above the ocean. It creeps across the sand, a warm morning embrace that gathers up the revellers and welcomes them to the day.
The sunlight glistens in their silver hair, highlighting the shadowed contours of their smiles as the wrinkles gather up beneath their eyes.
José levers himself up to the concrete tongue once more, ignoring the pain in his hip. The hand is raised. The band stops. The party looks on.
“Best we get back up, before the nurses come looking for us!”
The whole party laughs, tired faces and lively eyes caught in the dawn. And just like that they head back up the giant tongue and into the darkness of the tunnel, to be swallowed for another day.
Blood In Blood Out
By James Freeze
After passing through a pocket of flat farmland, the characteristics meandered and switched to where mountain back roads took over. Views of commanding summits dominated much of the landscape. Like a large degree of this part of the country, it was a paradox. Around one curve I spotted a nineteenth-century farmstead worthy of Grandma Moses’ brush. Around the next I came upon a modern home perched precariously on a denuded hillside by the sea.
This modern home was immediately familiar to me. I remembered reading about it and the owner a number of times. I remembered the owner’s name as Don-something, his last name slipped my mind. He was described as being around fifty-five years old, tall, dark hair, with a face like a hawk, and a determination to get the best of everyone around him.
As I drove closer to the house I noticed a small sign that read Open House. Curiosity got the best of me so I stopped to take a tour.
I was greeted at the door by a man named Harold, a fair, short, timid man, who blushed easily but seemed glad to see friends and strangers alike. After a short conversation I learned Harold was Don’s older brother. We seemed to hit it off comfortably, to the point we sat down at the breakfast table and enjoyed a cup of coffee along with our conversation.
Harold, for whatever reason (I have yet to figure out why), began to open up about the relationship between his brother Don and himself. Harold told me, “I trusted Don completely, admiring him and his success. Because of that I never suspected that Don would take away everything I had—my home, my savings, my self-respect—and leave me with a sense of inadequacy.”
“Then what I’ve read about Don was quite accurate,” I commented.
“Pretty close,” Harold responded. “Some people never die and some people never really live; you can find Don in there somewhere.”
I felt like I was going from nothing, to conjecture, to knowing. I was struck by the magnitude and irony of the moment. This man sitting across from me was struggling to tell his story between the absolute and relative truths. Harold looked at me and said, “This is what I do now, since I ran out of tears.”
“Would you have a problem telling me more about Don?” I asked.
“No, not at all,” Harold replied. “Temptation was the only thing that Don could not resist. He was a cynic who knew the value of nothing while at the same time the price of everything. He lived in constant fear of betrayal. He eventually was driven by desires and bad habits.”
“Did he have any idea of what was going on around him?” I queried.
Harold answered with, “It was difficult for someone like Don, a man in a powerful position, to avoid the malady of self delusion. He was always surrounded by worshipers. They were constantly and for the most part sincerely assured of his greatness. Therefore he lived in an artificial atmosphere of adulation and ex-alternation which in the end impaired his judgment. Grave dangers surrounded him as he became careless and arrogant.” Harold continued, “Don told me once he had put his blood into this house but he would never get it out because he left it (I later found out) mortgaged to the hilt; no way to get rid of it without paying someone to take it. This was the only thing he left to me in his will.”
“Let me get clear on what you’re saying, Harold. You mentioned ‘in the end’ and then the only thing he left to you in his will. Are you saying Don is dead?”
“Oh yes,’ Harold answered. ‘Don is very dead and if I might say so his new silence speaks volumes to me.”
“I’m so sorry,’ I stated. “How did your brother pass?”
“I shot him—first in his gut, then in his chest, and lastly in his forehead; and it may sound crass, but I found the experience to be quite pleasant.”
I was completely caught off guard at what Harold had just told me, and he was able to say it with an easy grin on his face. At that moment Harold became quite disturbing. The remedial influences of this simple human relationship Harold pretended to be developing with me were winning his soul from its narrow existence. Many of the most elementary instincts were rushing through my body trying desperately to figure out what to do or say next.
Harold again began to talk, “I never in my entire life received the gift of attention which I later believed was more of a habit, but the knowledge of that encouraged me to live a simpler life and not to go out with a bang like my brother but with a whisper.”
Harold got up from his chair and stood by the fireplace as I began to jockey for a way to leave the house. I noticed a large caliber revolver laying on the fireplace mantel where he was standing. I looked at Harold and sheepishly commented, “I think I’ll be leaving now Harold, if that’s okay with you?”
Harold picked the gun up from the mantle as he was saying, “You know, Don mostly declined to help me but when he did, you’d see him count out a few small bills for my daily subsistence while he hoarded a bankroll.”
His eyes roamed aimlessly; obviously in his own mind he was the only person in the room. He suddenly grew silent and then abruptly stopped talking as he stuck the barrel of the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. I stood there for the longest time before calling the police. Oddly, my only thought was, “You never know when a man is going to need the comfort of his maker.”
By Dylan Davis
“After Krakenler died we kind of just—let it go to shit, I guess,” Moon-Prayer said. Cranberry sighed as she looked up at the dormant house. Moon-Prayer had taken her to where she had spent years testing drugs for Krakenler. It was a house that rested on a bench of land overlooking an oceanfront. The house had sharp, modern edges and big windows that could frame the rising sun in the morning and the moon at night. There was a gigantic deck that ran straight through the middle of the house. There were many memories of parties on that deck that Moon-Prayer could recall on hand, but they all blurred together in a psychedelic fervor and restrained her from accessing them completely.
“It looks like it was a beautiful place,” Cranberry said after a shared moment of silence between them. The house was empty and unkempt now. What used to be the comfortable deck, now looked like a minefield for splinters. The windows were clouded and as rotten as glass could look. What was the basketball hoop was then just a white pole. The years of vacancy and bad vibes turned it into an abandoned symbol for addiction. The painful memories of those days coalesced into a stern look of solitude on Moon-Prayer’s face.
“It was, most of the time,” Moon-Prayer said. They walked to what looked like a stone slide that jutted out from the hillside that the house’s foundation was built in. The slide was actually an old staircase that had eroded so much it was smooth. The bottom of the staircase would rest in the ocean at high tide. At the top of the stairs was the mouth of a tunnel that led into the basement of the house. At first, it was supposed to be a cleverly designed way to get to the beach faster during one of the shugwagundi rituals Krakenler had invented for the tribe. At the end it had appropriated itself as an emergency escape hatch in the case of a raid or execution. Moon-Prayer bit her lip as she eyed the behemoth.
“Do you want to go inside?” Cranberry asked. She played with her bikini top and moved the straps around.
“It looks steeper than it used to. Do you?” They looked at each other closely.
“We don’t—I mean, I know why and totally get it if you don’t,” Cranberry said but Moon-Prayer cut her off.
“No. If that’s why you don’t, then we are definitely going,” Moon-Prayer said. They put their sandals back on and began to climb from the base of the stairs up to the tunnel. With each step, Moon-Prayer had non-sequitur pieces of memories return to her consciousness. She fought herself so as not to break down in terror or angst or sadness. They reached the top and stared into a cylinder where light only reached a few feet inside. Beyond the edge of light was unadulterated darkness. Moon-Prayer, for the first time since they had arrived a few hours prior, wished that the tunnel was vertical instead of horizontal.
“You sure?” Cranberry asked. Moon-Prayer glared into the black. She reached out and took Cranberry’s hand into her own.
“I’m sure,” she said. With hands held, they let themselves envelope into the darkness. Neither of them wished to speak or even breathe. Moon-Prayer didn’t remember the tunnel as dark. It used to be lit by a long string of Christmas lights they had stolen from a Walmart. They would snake across the ceiling along the length of the tunnel. A repeating gif like image repeated in her brain of Krankenler frantically ripping the lights out of the ceiling as they both ran toward the beach. The sounds of boots and yells thundered the enclosed space and seemed to knock Moon-Prayer from her feet. The boots surrounded her but their owners did not step on her or even look at her. Moon-Prayer looked between the legs of her captors like living prison bars and saw Krakenler sprinting toward the opening. Then the most deafening sound erupted.
“Christ,” Moon-Prayer said as she collapsed onto her knees. It was as if she heard it again. She started to cry and ripped her hand from Cranberry’s so she could cover her gaping mouth.
“What’s wrong?” Cranberry asked.
“I can’t do this. I can’t do this,” Moon-Prayer gasped between choked breaths. Cranberry kneeled down and hugged Moon-Prayer.
“Let’s go back. I don’t need to see anything, babe,” Cranberry said.
“I know, it’s just—it’s was one of the most transcendental experiences of my life and I wanted to,” Moon-Prayer snorted and wiped her eyes, “wanted to show you some of it.”
“I bet. But let’s just not do it and say we did. I’d rather go make new transcendental experiences with you,” Cranberry said. Moon-Prayer returned the hug and then stood to leave. A tiny pinhole of light greeted them. The memory concluded over and over again as they walked toward the exit. Krakenler’s body violently shook from the impact of the bullets and hit the ground. Moon-Prayer couldn’t hear his body hit the ground because of the ringing in her ears.
“Am I crushing your hand?” Moon-Prayer asked. She feared she was too frightened to notice her own strength.
“Yeah, kinda,” Cranberry said.
By Kevin Hopson
“What is that?”
Glen aimed the flashlight, tilting it higher as he followed the path of the man-made structure to its source. Stretching a good thirty feet or so, it looked like a huge slide, the bottom half resting at a forty-five degree angle while the top half went straight up along the cliff side. Glen stepped back to get a better view of its peak, the damp sand squeezing up between his toes. A hole, about three feet in diameter, disappeared into the rock wall. It was an entrance to a passageway, but he couldn’t see inside.
“It looks like a storm drain,” Glen said.
Brian seemed to mull Glen’s answer before looking off in the direction they were originally headed.
“That’s probably them down there,” Brian said.
Glen turned his head, spotting a glow in the far distance. “Yeah. The bonfire, most likely.”
“Is William coming?”
“I don’t think so. Said he had to work.” Glen paused. “Emily should be there, though.” Despite the darkness, he could see the grin on Brian’s face.
A light breeze brushed up against Glen’s back, the sound of gently breaking waves echoing behind him. He breathed in the saltwater air, ready to continue their trek, when a clamor from above caught his attention.
“Rats?” Brian questioned.
“You heard it?”
The rodents were notorious for staking claim to the city’s underground labyrinth. Glen didn’t detect any high-pitched noises, though; only the reverberation of something, possibly large, rubbing against the concrete surface. The scraping continued, gradually growing louder. Like someone putting nails to a chalkboard, the sound became uncomfortable to the ears. Glen pressed the button on his flashlight, but no illumination came.
“Can I see your flashlight?” Glen said.
“Sorry. I didn’t bring one.”
Glen unscrewed the end of the flashlight, removing the battery and inserting it again, hoping the issue was nothing more than a bad connection. Putting a thumb to the button, he dropped his shoulders and exhaled.
“Damn thing,” Glenn said.
Brian grabbed the flashlight from him and shook it, his method failing just as miserably. “Don’t worry about it. Let’s just go.”
“You’re right. We’re late for the party anyway.”
Glen started to walk, glancing back at Brian to make sure his friend followed. He caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye. An object fell from the sky, creating a monstrous thump as it hit the storm drain about halfway down.
Brian flinched and spun around. “What the hell?”
The vertical incline lessened along the lower end of the slide, so the object’s momentum slowed, ultimately coming to a halt at the bottom. Glen backed up and felt the pulse in his throat as he stared at the mysterious piece in front of them. A massive zipper bag, one big enough to hold an artificial Christmas tree, rested on the flat landing.
Glen pointed a finger. “Is that a body?”
“Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Glen knew he should agree, his survival instinct screaming for him to run, but curiosity overruled that decision. He maneuvered past Brian, coming to a stop near the unknown object.
“What are you doing?” Brian said.
“I have to know.”
Glen reached for the zipper. As he went to grasp it, a humming noise approached from behind. He turned and noticed a swelling light on the horizon.
“Quick,” Glen said. “Behind the fence.”
A wooden barrier, about knee high, branched out on both sides of the drainage structure, helping contain fallen rocks from the cliff. Attempting to clear the fence, Glen nearly twisted his ankle on the scattered rocks. He heard Brian grunt a few feet away as his friend made it over the wall.
Brightening, the single speck of light split into two, resembling cat eyes in the night. The buzzing escalated. Within a minute, an ATV towing a mini trailer pulled up in front of them. On his knees, Glen continued to peek over the barrier, his t-shirt sticking to the sweat on his back.
The headlights went dark, and a man emerged from the driver’s seat. Glen couldn’t make out any distinguishing features other than the man’s burly build. The stranger threw the bag over his shoulder and carried it back to the trailer. A bang erupted as something inside the sack, something heavy from the sounds of it, hit the metal bed of the trailer. Surveying the area, the man’s gaze eventually stopped in Glen’s direction.
Glen held perfectly still, but he sensed slight movement to his side. Brian shifted behind the barrier. Out of Glen’s peripheral vision, the stranger took a step forward, bending over to look. Glen put a hand on Brian’s shoulder, gripping it hard. Brian seemed to take the hint. He ducked, freezing in place. The stranger stood, still gawking at the cliff behind them, but eventually turned and walked back to the ATV.
Glen took a much-needed breath as the ATV roared to life. The headlights flipped on, and the vehicle steered toward the water. The man appeared to be circling around and heading back where he came from. Glen glanced over at Brian, but his friend continued to track the stranger’s movement.
“What’s he doing?” Brian said.
Glen swiveled to look, his body tensing again. The ATV had looped around but, instead of traveling the opposite way, the vehicle was on a collision course with them. Nearly blinded, Glen raised a hand to shield his eyes from the approaching lights. He heard the ATV come to a stop and then the weight of feet in the sand.
“I know someone’s there,” the man said.
Off to the side of the trailer, the bag rested along the ground, split open at one end thanks to the man’s reckless driving. A head hung out. Glen held his breath.
The stranger stepped in front of the headlights, finally revealing himself.
Glen barely managed to swallow, his throat muscles constricting. “William?”
By Nick Wilford
The trapdoor called to Henry like a portal to another universe.
He’d been expressly forbidden to come down here, of course. But at ten, his mother had deemed him old enough to be left on his own while she went to the market. His dad worked long hours and was rarely home. That was the reason they had been able to get this big fancy house on a cliff in Trinidad in the first place.
It had taken some time to find the key, but eventually he had found a rusty old key ring at the back of a closet. All the keys looked at least a hundred years old. After a bit of a struggle, the door had eventually yielded.
A wave of musty old air hit him in the face and he coughed. No light switch, which he discovered after a few moments of fumbling along the wall in vain. He had to wait until his eyes adjusted to the gloom before going down the rickety wooden stairs.
There wasn’t much to see down here. What had he been expecting?
There was just the trapdoor.
A heavy iron ring was set into it. Just how far down did this place go?
With some effort, he lifted the ring, but it wouldn’t budge. He dropped it and it hit the door with a thud, deafeningly loud in this claustrophobic space. Jumping, he looked around, fearful his mother had returned. But no other sounds came.
He hunkered down and peered at the door more closely. That’s when he saw it, too, had a keyhole. Trying all the remaining keys, he fumbled in the gloom until one of them worked.
Grunting, he pulled the door up, while another wave of stale air hit him from the space revealed. When was the last time anybody had been down here? Or even in this basement, for that matter?
Well, he wasn’t going to back out after coming this far, no matter how dark it was. Henry grinned, a surge of bravado overpowering the trepidations he felt. Maybe there was a hoard of pirate gold, buried in the cliff hundreds of years ago. His parents wouldn’t want him to find it.
Then he remembered the stone chute running down the cliff from the house to the beach. He’d tried to get up onto it when they were down there, but of course his mother had forbidden that as well, warning him he was going to end up with a broken neck. The cogs whirred together in Henry’s mind. That must have been how people got to this space before the house was built. A place for smugglers to stash their loot, perhaps.
He peered into the abyss below the trapdoor, but couldn’t make out a thing. Reaching out his hand, he encountered a ladder. The wood had holes in it … woodworm? Henry feared the ladder would disintegrate if he put his weight on it, but if he walked away now, he knew he would be back here the first chance he got. He would have to try at some point and it might as well be now.
Gingerly, he lowered himself down and felt his throat constrict as the ladder wobbled. It was pitch black, darker than he ever thought possible. What was he doing? He really ought to go and get a torch. But there was no time. His mother might be home any minute.
Henry made his way carefully from one rung to the next, half expecting one of them to be broken or missing. He kept a count as something to focus on apart from his heart trying to beat its way out of his chest and the blood pounding in his head. Seven. Eight. Nine.
After fifteen, his foot touched another packed earth floor. He’d been too busy concentrating to focus on anything else, but now he looked up and saw the square of light high above, the only illumination in the entire place. It didn’t do much.
He took a few steps away from the ladder, and his foot hit something solid. He made out a dim shape rolling away from him. This wasn’t gold. Squinting, he made out a pale, rounded object that seemed to be staring at him although it had only holes where eyes should be.
“Who disturbs my old bones?”
The voice felt like it had risen up from the earth. Henry shrieked and grasped wildly for the ladder, shooting up it without a second glance back down.
The disembodied spirit watched him go with resignation. He hadn’t meant to startle the boy. He’d been on his own down here for over two hundred years. That day, he’d made his way into the house the usual way—or tried to, anyway—up the stone chute from the beach where he was forced to sleep in all weathers. But the trapdoor was locked and all his hollering and banging had been in vain as no one came to help him. Returning to the chute door, he’d found that locked too; his owner or someone else must have snuck up after him.
He knew why this had happened. His master had suffered a burglary, including several priceless paintings. He had tried in vain to explain he had no interest in material possessions, and only wanted to serve his family. Mr Fanshaw had ordered him to leave, but he stayed put, hoping to clear his name. Despite his master’s shortcomings, he liked working here and he liked the children. As a slave, life wasn’t too bad. Until he’d been left to die in a deep, dark hole.
He’d been so excited when someone had entered this space—now his tomb—after two centuries, but he’d gone about his greeting the wrong way. Would the boy return? It was doubtful. He’d never wanted to disturb anyone, which was why he’d stuck to haunting only this damp basement. But it would be nice to have someone to talk to.
By Andrea Dehnke
Ten years was a long time to be gone.
It was a warm, clear day in Montecito, and the new moon had pulled the waters back from the sand to make an extra wide beach. Charlie pushed through the overgrown path leading down to the ocean, her footsteps following a long-forgotten dance. She kicked off her flip-flops as soon as she reached the sand, and buried her feet with an ecstatic sigh. The rhythmic pulse of the waves filled her ears, and her eyes were filled with cerulean sky.
Charlie looked to her right, knowing the house wasn’t a far trek up the coast. She walked slowly, and still reached the drain in no time. She stood at the mouth, running her hands over the warm concrete sides and looking up at the cliff it leaned against. It was as dry as the beach she was standing on. You would never have known that Charlie and her friends loved inner-tubing down the drain when it was raging with water. The kids used to have makeshift barriers of wooden boards and stolen construction signs, and would use them to hold back the water flow. When released, the rider had an extra surge to make their trip down to the brackish estuary twice as exhilarating.
Today, the drain was a concrete skeleton of its former self. Charlie pulled herself up onto the suspended outlet, her feet dangling off the ground. She watched the ocean for a while, afraid to walk up to the top of the cliff, and see what else had changed in the house looming on the other side.
6 thoughts on “PHOTO PROMPT – CONTEST RESULTS”
Reblogged this on emmaleene and commented:
I am delighted to be long listed in Brilliant Flash Fiction’s Photo Prompt Contest with my story “Room to Breathe”.
Coming Home strikes a chord as the tubing down the drain reminds me of times gone by.
Reblogged this on Author • Educator • Mountaineer and commented:
I’m pleased to have my story achieve the shortlist for this competition. I had a lot of fun writing it and hope readers will enjoy it at least as much as I did!
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