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A Bridge For The Furies: A Bit Of Improvisation Never Hurt Anybody


Iria was on her feet when Cara suggested that they get out of there. Drea was one more glass away from alcohol poisoning, and Gloria struggled to control the pull that playing God had given her. Olivia was amicable enough, but that was down to a mild case of future shock. It might as well have been Heaven or Hell, for how disparate and alien it all was.

Iria had already been extensively modified before she started and joined The Church of The Leviathan. She came from a point in history where modifications were as mundane as piercings or tattoos. Before she left, the average teenager on the street had laser pointers grown in the ocular tissue, or one of those biological grafts onto their vocal chords that let them make hyena or gorilla noises. Which was great fun when you were having an orgasm, to start hooting like a silver back gorilla defending their offspring. Iria thought it was an amusing extrapolation. She had gone for the combat modifications, at first, then once she knew that she would be exploring deep space, basic survival modifications such as having a stack of bacteria in lieu of a stomach, oxygenated clay in the lungs to produce slow releases of oxygen and the solar wings that were housed in hollow apertures under her armpits, which extended to twenty feet either side of her, powerful enough to see her through the journey that led her, in an indirect way to here.

She raised her left hand, pulling her hand backwards as the skin around her wrist split open and a small creamy dart flew out with a wet spitting sound.

Cara did not hear it, but Drea staggering next to her, turned and plucked at something from the air with a nonchalance borne from equal parts earned bravado and awe-inspiring drunkenness. She turned it over, and Cara went to scream for them to drop but Iria had never been one to allow an opponent any time to act at all.

She emptied the reservoir of ammunition housed in her forearm, generated from the weird carbons that infested her bones, hollowed out to include a clip of custom ammunition loaded with a toxin that served to give a humanoid physiology an instant and lethal dose of rhabdomyolysis, which gives a cardiac arrest reserved for the perfect storm of viagra, elderly millionaires and escorts who can ride a man into Valhalla and chew gum at the same time. Either way, it was clean and quick so long as it entered the bloodstream.

Rather than being pinched between Drea’s callused fingers, which was what was happening. Not just once, but repeatedly and all of it done with an expression of bemusement as Drea set them down on the table next to her as though she were puzzling over a complicated knitting pattern.

Olivia had pointed her right hand towards Iria. She frowned and turned her right hand outwards, activating a secondary weapons system that had been evolved from jellyfish, specifically the cynidocytes, cells that produced the venom that made them such effective predators. Iria gave a thin smile which faded when she saw the gun that had appeared in Olivia’s hands, shining and eager to go about its work.

Iria raised her hand to whip the tentacle forth, aiming for the soft skin of the woman’s throat when she felt the air shudder around her, then looked and realised that she was not in the bar anymore. She looked down at the mud, churned and bloodied with whatever had occurred here. Then she raised her head, staring into the faces of bearded, vicious warriors with pitted, black metal blades that were pointed at her.

‘Halt, in the name of the Crow King.’

She whipped the tentacle around, its length slicing at the faces of the men before her, leaving deep cuts that flayed skin back to bone and left a payload of agonising poison wherever it struck. Too little reward for too much effort, she thought and used her enhanced senses to search for the four women that were her targets.

Nothing. She saw the stone building, read the inscription and grimaced with frustration as she saw that there were more men hidden behind the walls, and they would be as welcoming as the dead men at her feet were.

She sighed and started to walk towards them. A woman’s work was never done.


Olivia slid Walter back into the pocket of nothingness and adjusted the brim of her hat.

Cara stared at the three of them in awe.

‘Holy shit, that was amazing. We’ve had one montage and you were all just -‘

She made vaudeville kung fu moves and screwed her face up.

‘Think it’s a bit of shell shock?’ Gloria said to Drea.

Drea nodded and looked at the small shells on the table. She picked one up, the dental texture of each made her uncomfortable with how slick and warm they were.

‘I didn’t have time to freak out. Which is probably for the best, considering.’

Gloria pressed her fingertips to her eyelids and winced.

‘Think I can take these out for a while? They’re starting to burn.’

Cara nodded, and gestured to the bar for a drink.

‘Yes, I’m guessing you did something to put her, erm, not here?’

Gloria pinched the lenses off her eyes in turn then set them back into the case. She sighed with relief and rubbed her eyes before plucking off the nails and replacing them alongside the lenses.

‘Yes, she’s now in my second act climax. Not sure who long it will hold her, but it was the best I could do in a pinch.’

Cara laughed and applauded.

‘That was fucking brilliant. I won’t ever be angry with a bit of improv now and again.’

Olivia glanced over the three of them, lower lip trembling and eyes damp with confusion.

‘Is there anyone who’s going to explain what that was about?’

Cara took in a deep breath and gestured around her.

‘No, which is probably not doing wonders for your confidence right now. It’s definitely not doing anything for mine.’




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A Visit From The Creatures of Necessity

Dear Sheriff,

My brother and I called to discuss a recent business matter. No one was home, but we thought it rude to not let you know that we were here. 

The alarm system is pretty good. The lock on the back door could do with a touch of oil. 

You have a lovely home and your wife photographs beautifully, doesn’t she? We were dismayed to see that there were no signs of children in the home, and we trust that this is simply a matter of free will rather than any other factor. Men can father children into their eighties, and she’s certainly young enough to bring glory to your bloodline, isn’t she? 

Please contact us. Your home is so inviting, it robs a man of his inhibitions. 

My brother’s more than mine, Sheriff. 

He folded the note and put it into his pocket. He drew his gun, kept it close to his side as he peered through the windows. He stepped away from the door and reached for his phone. She was number one on his speed dial, due to his profound enjoyment of playing the doting husband and how she would call him if she heard a noise.

‘Hey, baby, where are you?’

She chuckled and she heard the clink of glasses.

‘I’m at Robyn’s, it’s her baby shower, remember, I did say.’

He struggled to keep his voice even but he squeezed his eyes shut and willed himself calm.

‘Yes, yes you did. OK, just like it when you’re home.’

She giggled and cooed.

‘My big brave sheriff.’

There was a point, roughly between two and three glasses of wine where Turner would enjoy the virtues of a younger wife, some measure of damp, percussive pleasure to offset the tantrums and the dark moods. At that point, he was simply relieved that she was not in the house.

‘I’ll fix my own dinner. Call a cab, okay?’

She giggled and his lips went back on his teeth with distaste.

‘Honey, I can walk from -‘

He told her no. That she was to get a cab and his tone was the one that he used when describing how they were going to raid a meth lab. She knew better than to disagree with him when he was like this. An officer had been killed, and John had always fostered a closeness with his men that she envied sometimes. He ended the call and unlocked the front door.

He brought the gun up, smoothly arcing from corner to corner, muscle memory took over and he examined the house with a brusque economy. When he was sure that he was alone, he put his gun back in the holster and sagged against the marble kitchen counter. He put his hands over his face, breathed in to calm himself down.

Which was when his phone rang.


Garret’s cracked, ugly voice made the fillings in his teeth vibrate.

‘You stay away from my home, you fuck.’

Garret gave a reedy laugh.

‘Well, we had things to discuss and my brother and I are creatures of necessity.’

Creatures was the right word. John shut his eyes against the tight band of pain that had dug into his temples, each breath Garret took was another twist of the knife.

‘Yes, you are. I’ll meet with you. Usual place and time.’

Garret chuckled again. Disconnected the call.

The doorbell rang and John looked up. His phone rang again.

‘Let me in, Sheriff.’

John’s drew the gun as he walked to the door.

He opened the door and looked down at Garret, his broken dental work was rusted fish-hooks threatening to fall from infected meat.

‘Well, that’s no way to greet an associate, now is it?’

John had not raised the gun but he wanted to. He could taste the adrenaline in his saliva, muscles cramping with the need to react but he kept his demeanour neutral.

‘We don’t meet here, you know that.’

Garret cocked his head to one side and put his hands out, grinning like a child with a secret.

‘I know, but then I don’t be able to give you the information that you’re really going to be interested in.’

‘What’s that?’

Garret giggled and John recoiled from the sound.

‘Where my brother is, and who his fare is for the evening.’

(For previous episodes, visit Please leave comments, reviews and missives below.

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A Quiet Invasion

We sit over coffee

She looks at me wide-eyed

Tells me that New York is an alien city

I laugh, nervous,

Afraid to ask if she’s stopped

Taking the pills

But she smiles, almost nervous

Hear me out


Her use of the word is a songbird at dawn to me.

In love with her in a neutered, sorry way

Not like the guys she takes home

As small boned as she is,

She likes the bull, the bear

Dark with tattoos and beards

All my poetry looks weak

Compared to the sullen prose

Of her lovers

But New York, she continues to tell me,

Is an alien city

That what comes from the skies

Isn’t acromegalic heads and black eyes

Plants and insects

Mineral intelligences

Why not a city, she offers up,

The way it’s laid out

How we are when we’re here,

That’s every city though

A place for people too odd for their homes

An asylum and a carnival all at once

She’s been having dreams

Woke up three miles from

Her bed, she offers

And yes, she says,

She’s taking the pills

My love for her

Makes me vulnerable to her

It shouldn’t but it does

And so I kiss her

Dry on the cheek,

Close my eyes to the tremble

And I turn a corner,

She makes me wonder

Where it will lead

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A Mother’s Courage


Corrine awoke in a moment of panic. The straps held and she clutched at her rifle. It was a little after dawn, judging by the light and she forced herself to remain still.

She was eight feet above the ground, a fall like that would not have been a good start to the day. Strapped to the thickest branch meant that no one would stumble upon her with three belts arranged at her shins, thighs and around her chest. Her rifle, cradled in her arms with a round chambered.

The night had passed without incident and she remained still, taking in damp, chill breaths whilst her eyes adjusted to the gloom. A branch snapped and she turned, swung the rifle so that the butt sank into the perfect spot on her shoulder.

It was still wearing clothes, a pinstriped suit torn at the shoulders and it’s left cheek had been eaten, revealing a line of perfect even teeth. Black eyes stared out at nothing, and yet it raised it’s head. Her finger moved to the trigger and she took a breath, aimed down the front sight and slipped the bolt back slowly until it gave a solid click.

The shot blew out the back of it’s skull. lifted the scalp like a rug being shook out and it collapsed. She rested the rifle across her as she reached and began unbuckling each belt in turn. She reached for her backpack on the branches above and slipped it onto her shoulders then slung the rifle over her arm and began the careful, slow descent onto the ground. It was time consuming and fraught with danger, but it kept her relatively dry and the rats did not venture above ground. She resumed her walk.

After an hour, she heard a sigh, breathy and uncertain. She brought her rifle up and swept it around her. She knew that they did not breathe, but they somehow found the means to moan and rasp. This did not sound like them but she could never be sure.

She moved towards it, in careful strides, until she saw the woman’s body in the clearing.

The baby girl strapped to the chest, head turned to the side and looking at her. She waved a chubby hand,giving those breathy cries that could erupt into wails at any moment. She came forward, lowered the barrel of the rifle and looked at it. On the sling had been pinned a note, held at the corner with the safety pin.  Corrine peered at it, upper case printed letters, in a careful hand.


Corrine’s eyes went to the blackened patch of skin on her forearm, bitemarks weeping with infection and the skin mottled with decay. She looked into the baby’s eyes, the ruddy pink skin and the wet, pink mouth opening and closing.

Evelyn reached out and gurgled. Corrine’s eyes filled with tears and she slung her rifle over her shoulder, swept the baby up into her arms. She was shocked by the frangible wriggling energy of an infant’s presence. She sobbed at the fresh wonder of the baby’s scent and she let it come. Weeping for people that were gone now. She had gone over to the school, watched her son press his face to the window and then torn away by grey hands and glistening teeth. Cary with Olivia trapped on the highway, penned in and waiting to the end to come.

She kissed the baby again. Shushed her and unzipped her jacket to bring her closer to her skin. Already she had began to think about what was needed, what she would be risking to get this little girl through another day.

‘It’s going to be okay, Evelyn, it’s going to be okay.’

She reached out a boot and placed the heel on the mother’s chest. She took an arm away from Evelyn and reached to the revolver on her hip. She looked down at the blank, beautiful face, pretty despite the decay and thanked her for her courage.

She showed her gratitude with two pulls of the trigger before she went on her way. She had a baby to feed. A mother’s work was never done.


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The Walk

He did not know he was the topic of disparate bursts of conversation. Walking his dog, shaved head swathed in headphones, eyes red with tears and smoking fiercely made him stand out. He made the effort to smile whenever he caught someone’s eye. Dogs made you gregarious by nature, and he understood, even welcomed the opportunity to stop and do that.

He would walk for hours, even after a day on his feet, resenting his name badge, being patronised by people whose eyes would shine with that malign cunning, returning items without a receipt and threatening to get the manager. He mostly gave into them, lacking the energy to fight a cause that treated him as meat in the aisles, invisible to anyone who didn’t need something from him. His time with the dog was where he went to breathe.

The latest blow had been the last two years, watching his grandfather transform from a kindly, vibrant patriarch into a twitching, disorientated nerve, speaking in the glossolalia of morphine. A year after that, keeping vigil on Saturday evenings, anaesthetising his pain with the determination not to let his grandfather down. Then her death, awkward and sudden as a surprise wake. He wondered how much more he could take, and each evening, rain or shine, the walk with the dog would find him weeping for what had been, and what had been lost.

He spoke less to his family, even though the grief and pain had brought them closer. It was a form of survivor’s guilt and it needed silent avoidance to maintain. He would watch movies of vocal family reconciliation and confrontation, bitter at the camp ease with which people expressed their anger and joy. It was not that he lacked the words, but the words he knew were fragile vessels for something truly gargantuan, a black monster that needed an ocean to hunt in. A dinosaur, long thought extinct, trampling through the forest of his heart, looking for meat to sustain it.

He learned to manage. On the walks, he found songs that helped crack the carapace of his insect heart, let the light in and the poison out. He would walk to the point of exhaustion, littering the streets and alleyways with his tears until there were none to be shed any longer.  He would never listen to Sometimes It Snows In April the same way, once it had slipped a blade of grief between his ribs, cut away the straps that kept him bound inside.

Someone suggested counselling to him once. He was not leaden or unsentimental, but he could not pass this over to a stranger, no matter how capable. This was, in the end, how he would honour his grandparents. His pain was nothing compared to theirs, but if he gave it, piece by piece, then he would someday wake up wistful rather than craven.

If he knew he were the topic of conversation, he would shrug and smile. A walk at a time, it came to him that it was better to drink of deep grief than shallow pleasure. His feet ached, the dog would scamper to the waterbowl and lick in gulping, breathy motions but both of them would be renewed in ways that only dogs and their owners could ever know.



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Two cups of coffee, one of them untouched.

Laura gazed through the plate glass window. His smile beckoned her. Her dreams of him had frightened her with their power. She took a deep breath, reached for the door handle.

Her phone rang.

A pleading husband.

A vomiting child.

She kept her voice bright, said that she would not be long.

Circumstance snatched her hopes away and she wept all the way home.

He waited through two more cups of coffee and another chapter of the book he wanted to give to her.

Part of his heart still waits.

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Great For Morale


They had all gathered in the parking lot just after dawn, driven for three hours and struggling to find the enthusiasm for the day ahead. Dressed in income-dependent variations on the guidelines sent in Times New Roman, littered with emoji like dead bugs on a wind screen. The tone aimed for friendly, but came across as written by a child dictator.

Judy was wrapped up in jogging pants that were translucent at the knees, sneakers with soles that had once been as thick as a childhood duvet but were now cracked and worn. She was swaddled in the sweatshirt that had been her evening and weekend uniform for years. She had scraped back her orange hair into a braid and worn little more than lipgloss.

Kandi had not gotten the memo. Kandi never did. Juicy Couture leisure suit and pink sneakers that looked like they had never left the box before today.

She had written it, after all.

When Judy learned that Kandi failed beauty school, she had snorted dishwater coffee through her nostrils. The jokes had lasted right up until Uncle Alex put her in charge of the office, mistaking accidents of birth for demonstrations of virtue.  Louise had quit and Kandi had managed to gift Tito with the dubious honour of becoming the first custodian to suffer from work-related stress.

So here they were, in fifteen pristine acres of woodland, encouraged to cheer and chant by facilitators in olive polo shirts and cargo pants. Judy decided that even wiping spilled cereal off the counter was preferable to being a walk on part in Kandi’s bullshit.  Alex was home with gastric flu, but Judy guessed that it was the kind that required treatment over nine holes of golf and a leisurely lunch.

Then, they were introduced to the final exercise. An assault course, taken in pairs with the fastest time getting a ‘prize’. The facilitators paired them up and Judy wanted to weep as one of them brought over her partner, giggling and fawning at being the centre of attention.

‘So, I wanna win this, you’d better lean in, girlfriend.’

Girlfriend. Kandi never spoke more than two words to her. Except to steal her ideas and occasionally commiserate at getting the job that Judy worked sixty hours a week and weekends for a shot it.

‘Sure, Kandi, sure.’

They were not the first to go across, that was Mitch and Rachel, who trudged forward without enthusiasm or stamina.

Laura and Paula, cringing and desperate for the day to be over.

Judy looked up at the sky, dark and thick with clouds. The whistle blew and Kandi elbowed her, sharp enough to make her wince.

Judy burned with umbrage and powered ahead. She leapt at the first obstacle, a vertical rope that required a challenge to anyone’s lower body strength. Kandi could not gain purchase, the soles of her sneakers sliding off the damp wood with squeaking noises that made her jaw twitch with frustration and humiliation. Judy was at the top, and had her left leg over the other side.

She looked down, saw the pleading light in Kandi’s eyes. Kandi reached her hand up and glared at her, the eyebulging look that said please don’t embarrass me in any language. Judy took it and pulled her up, Kandi cackled with triumph.

‘Knew you’d take one for the team, girlfriend’

Judy continued to pull her up. Kandi scrabbled up and got her leg over. Judy huffed and raised her right hand for a high five.

Kandi wiped her palm on her thigh, low so that she thought Judy didn’t see it. She raised her hand to slap with Judy’s bringing both hands off the top of the climb. Judy looked around, saw that no one was watching, the facilitators ahead with the others, and gritted her teeth together.

She pushed hard.

Kandi fell.

Judy realised that today was going to be great for morale after all.



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The Sound of Running Water

Asra ran.

She heard the thump of hooves behind her. She checked the glaive was strapped to her back and focussed on her breathing. She had sheathed her scimitar in order to focus on making as much distance as possible between her and the Sisters coming after her.

The branches and leaves crunched beneath her heels as she slowed down, moving to avoid tripping over the thicker roots that would grasp her ankle and break it if she failed to take care. Her silks were damp with perspiration, and each breath brought the tang of her scent to her.

She stopped, scanning ahead to find her bearings. She sought to listen over the roar of her blood and breath. The sound was faint, but she gauged the direction of it and picked up her pace again.

These places, that she visited, once were merely entries, recorded by diplomats and transcribed for the interest of the Caliphate. This forest was once the sight of a great battle between Ser Rosey, The Drunken Poet and a bear that stole his last flagon of ale from his hand. Such was the viciousness of their battle that the leaves on the trees would turn red once a year in tribute. Asra’s education had disabused her of that notion, but she enjoyed the myth. Her lust for travel had been nurtured by those stories and had those been her only lusts, she admitted, she might have avoided such situations as this.

The sound of her pursuers grew louder. Five of them, holy warriors, much like the fedayeen of home, women raised from birth to kill in their Father’s name, trained in tactics and weapons. Asra had seen them from the hedgerow when they had first set out, five of them to begin with, asking at the inn for her. When they had decided to stay the night, they awoke to find two of them dead in their beds, blankets stained black with their blood and faces carved into expressions of mute agony.

Asra always looked to take opportunities wherever she found them. The simple coincidence of two of them in the same room, a door left unlocked by a tired innkeeper, a maid with a candle, all of them woven into a single, shining moment. Sharp as the blade that she drew across their throats.

Three, she corrected herself, three of them now.

She ran onwards.

The waterfall announced itself through it’s perpetual industry, the noise of pouring water was overwhelming, a voice in nature’s chorus and she smiled with delight.  The perpetual mist was cool against her perspiring skin.

Until she looked down.

Too wide to cross quickly, too long to go around without being caught and so she looked down. The water looked deep, and she gave a small prayer to the God that she figured was no longer talking to her. She looked for higher ground that she might defend herself, but remembered the longbows that each Sister carried and kept returning her attention to the river below.

It led to the east, far enough that she could find passage back to Petra’s Plait, get a ship from there back to the Caliphate, hide out for a while and count her blessings.

Or it would break her legs and back, rush into her lungs and leave her as meat for the animals, rotting into loam at the side of the water.

She shut her eyes, put her arms down by her sides and thought of the maid at the inn, her coppery hair and green, shining eyes. If it were her last memory, she wanted it to be a warm one.

With that, she stepped out.



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On The Bridge.

Benny kept looking at the ground, how small the trees were from up here. The wind was loud, roaring like something angry and feral. He gripped the rail and looked around him. It was quiet here, high and cold and lonely.

He figured that it was better than being found by anyone.

He took a deep breath and climbed over. His nerve failed him and he sat there, shaking with the static tension of holding onto the rail. He heard the car come across the bridge before he looked over his shoulder as it came to a stop. The car door opened and he heard the clap of footsteps.

‘Hey buddy.’

The voice was loud, a hint of Southern sweetness beneath the rough burr of too many cigarettes.

‘Don’t come any closer.’

The man chuckled.

‘Hoss, I was jus’ driving from one place to another, saw you sat there thass all.’

Benny lowered his chin to his chest. His arms hurt from the effort of holding on. Much like his heard had.

‘I won’t be much longer, if you came to watch.’

The man gave a slow whistle and Benny heard the snap of a lighter. The smoke came over to him. Good weed, one of the things that she’d nagged him into stopping. It made him sad all over again.

‘No hoss, I’m juss seein’ a man who could use a friend about now.’

Benny looked over his shoulder. He could not make out the finer details of the man’s face beneath the brim of his hat but he smiled and his teeth were white in the twilight. He exhaled a plume of thick smoke and Benny’s mouth salivated.

‘Want a hit? Helps me think on occasion.’

Benny nodded and the man came over to him. With a trembling hand, Benny took the joint and dragged on it quickly. Beneath the scent of the dope, he thought he caught the scent of wet pennies but the smoke bit deep and it was nice.

The man leaned on the railing and shook his head when Benny passed it back to him. He adjusted the brim of his hat and looked down.

‘Woah, long way down huh?’

Benny’s stomach lurched and he bit back a sob.

‘Sounds like my fucking life right now.’

The man chuckled and gave a solemn nod of agreement.

‘And this is you taking charge of it, hoss. I respect that.’

Benny took a halting drag off the joint. He worried that the dope would make him lose his control, the trembling in his arms and thighs had become almost unbearable. He looked to his right and saw the man appraising him carefully.

‘Hoss, if you’re not doin’ it right now, why not come away for a spell. Ain’t like there’s a queue.’

Benny gave a shaky nod and with the smouldering joint beneath his lips, came back over.

Benny got to his feet and looked at the man. The man came over to him, smiling gently and he opened his arms.

Benny had not been held in a while.  His coat was heavy with the scent of damp metal and ash. Benny put his head on the man’s shoulder and began to weep with relief.

‘Was it a woman, hoss?’

Benny tried to tell him but his anguish and relief robbed him of that.

‘Hey, it’s going to be okay. Y’all need a ride somewhere?’

Benny shook his head. Asked if he could keep the joint and the man clapped him on the back.

‘Thass the spirit. Y’all have a sweet evening, brother. Tomorrow is a new day.’

Benny drove back to the bare apartment. The letter from the pound lay on the table atop the note from Lucy telling him what she had done to generate the letter from the pound.  He slept with his jacket for a pillow on the living room floor and woke up sore but happy.

It was a week later when he was in the coffee shop, trying to eat scrambled eggs without getting any on his tie. A new job and happier on his own than he thought possible.

He saw the photo of the man.

His mugshot smile was fixed in black and white, Benny read about the bodies he’d left behind.  He breathed in, recalling the scent of wet copper and put down the paper. Looking around, he enjoyed a surge of gratitude strong and sweet for everything in his life.


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Mostly Right, According To The Math

North America, USA, Hawaii. Sand castle (Newscom TagID: ddpphotos265576) [Photo via Newscom]
Sissy sat beneath the parasol, chilled cerveza dangling beneath her fingers, watching the  man draw out lines in the sand with a length of dowelling.  He moved and pondered like he was taking a brisk autumn walk.

The man was wearing a battered, floppy sunhat, streaks of factor five million warpaint across the bridge of his roman nose and cheeks, a t shirt faded grey from black and shorts that clung to thick thighs. She liked the hair on his legs and arms, couldn’t see his eyes beneath the sunglasses but he would look at her every so often before continuing to draw lines in the sand.

It looked random at first. The beach drew strange like it did seagulls, but as he carried on, she remembered the blueprints that Drake would draw up on his computer, hastily so she could pretend she hadn’t seen the overlit, dangling uncut cocks and taut tanned asses that he kept up in an incognito browser.

He had stopped to look at the moleskin notebook making small adjustments with a pencil when she leaned forward and lowered her sunglasses down the bridge of her nose.

‘Excuse me, are you building something?’

He turned and smiled at her, showing even, white teeth.

‘Yes, ma’am.’

She did some mental arithmetic, figured the dimensions out and decided to let her curiosity flap her tongue some more.

‘It’s kind of large, don’t you think?’

He walked a few feet over to her. He took off his hat, shaved head gleaming in the sun. She noticed the hitch in his step, busted hip like her brother had. He removed his sunglasses.

‘It is kind of ambitious, but the math is right. It’ll mostly be digging down but it’ll work.’

He had brown eyes, burnt caramel and the suncream gave him a disarming goofiness. Square, raw features that revealed nothing but a primal peace.

‘Lot of work for a sandcastle, if you don’t mind me saying.’

A spasm of anguish escaped his control and she winced at her choice of words. People had their reasons for doing things. If you were not on the receiving end of them, there was never a need to judge them.

‘That was always my excuse. One of them, at any rate.’

He had crouched in front of her. Sissy had fought off gigolos, philandering, desperate dads and this was the first man who had passed her bitter bitch shield since she got off the plane. She glanced at his rough, dark hands, teeming with grains of sand. The pale band of skin on his left finger and the gelid scar on the inside of his right elbow did not make her look away.

‘It’s like what John Lennon says, ‘life’s what happens when you’re busy making other plans.’ she said.

He opened the notebook, took out the folded piece of graph paper, torn from a schoolbook and offered it to her. She put her beer down, wiped her fingers on a towel and took it from him. Uncertain pencil strokes, careful blocked out cursive, a plan that seethed imagination and enthusiasm. What I Will Build With My Dad When We Go On Vacation.

She folded it in the right places and handed it back to him. The muscles in his jaw spasmed and he put on his sunglasses, then his hat and got to his feet with a harsh grunt to acknowledge the effort. He began to walk back to his plan when an impulse grabbed her.

‘Listen, that looks like a lot of work.’

He stopped and she saw him lower his head.

‘Not to me, not any more.’ he said.

She got up off the lounger and padded over to him. She touched his arm and he shuddered, but accepted the gesture.

‘How can I help?’

Later that night, in the bar, she learned his name. The names of his wife and child. The blood alcohol level of the driver in the opposing lane. She learned his surname.

Five years later, she would take it as her own.