love, short fiction, women

A Heart’s Nexum

He sat in the coffee shop, nursing an oversized black coffee with a medicinal dash of cinnamon, fingertips straying to pet his unkempt, winter growth beard as he wrote in longhand, pen caressing the thick, yellowing pages of the journal. He peered over his spectacles and stopped writing each time the doorbell chimes to announce another visitor.

 

When he saw Lily, his eyes watered. By the time she looked up, he was writing in his journal again but she felt a quiet jolt of surprise at the sight of him. Lily had experienced déjà vu before, but never with such a belief as she did in the moment.

 

He grunted and got up, left a twenty pound note on the table and walked past her and the child just as Ben shuffled in behind her. Jack let him step aside and hid the small smile when his wife looked at him.

 

Money well spent, he thought as she asked him if he had made reservations at the restaurant. He struggled to find a reasonable excuse, something to placate her, because after all he had taken steps to secure her for the future. He looked down at his son, ruffled his hair and grinned at him before looking into his wife’s eyes with a guileless innocence. To his delight, the ward held firm.

 

Jack did his better thinking outside, and all his melancholic pining had been for nothing. She had not recognised him, not to the degree he expected. The phone in his pocket worked, but had survived most of the trips he had taken to find her, or a version of her who would remember him. He dialled the number programmed into the phone and lit a cigarette as he strode away. His eyes grew wet again, but he blamed it on the wind.

 

‘She doesn’t remember me.’ he said.

 

The voice on the other end, altered through voice changing technology, chuckled and sighed with cruel indifference.

 

‘You’re chasing your tail, Jack.’

 

Jack stopped. The husband back at the coffee shop. Jack snarled and turned on his heel. Aleph warned him but the pain tugged at Jack from the inside, the patience and determination worn as armour to keep the small pieces of grief from tunneling through him and piercing his organs. There were no comparison between the two men, and not all of it Jack claimed as complimentary to him but he knew how she looked at him. His magic spoke to her, offered her a key to the gilded cage she found herself within. Incarceration did not suit her, but he re-framed the thought as more determination to dull the pain inside him.

 

He caught them as they were going back to the car. Lily was in the passenger seat and Ben had closed the door after strapping his son in. A shudder ran through Ben, like a sudden dose of stomach flu as he curled his hands into fists and stood his ground.

 

Don’t come any closer, sir.’ Ben said.

 

Jack chuckled and held the journal out in front of him.

 

‘I wanted to look you in the eye. I hadn’t seen it before, but a friend pointed out something.’ Jack said.

 

Ben looked towards the car, his family safe inside it as he took a step forwards. Jack chuckled and shook his head.

 

‘It’s not going down like that. Not in front of your kids, Ben.’ he said.

 

Ben ran his tongue over his lips.

 

‘You’re not taking her from me. We’ve seen to it.’ he said.

 

Jack smiled and opened the journal at a random page.

 

‘It was never about taking her from you. I showed her things could be different.’

 

Ben grimaced and huffed air through his nostrils.

 

‘You won’t take my family, you’re fucking done with her.’

 

Jack pointed to a particular passage.

 

”I’m thinking it is a ward. She sees me for a second, but then something overrides her reaction and she is hiding from me.’ I wrote it two weeks ago, after the fifth time it happened.’

 

Ben tried to speak, but it came out as a wet croak from the back of his throat.

 

‘I don’t want to take anything, Ben. I want her to have the choice.’ Jack said.

 

The night they had come to him, he struggled to remain upright as they stepped forwards. He could not quantify all the variations of him, some swollen with fat and riding mobility scooters, a few with lean, hard bodies from military service or life in dangerous realities and a great deal who had applied their need for Lily to direct their determination outwards.

 

He signed up on the spot. The memory burned a spot into his sternum and he shook his head.

 

‘Fuck off, Jack. It’s done. Move on.’ he said.

 

Jack blinked and straightened up. His eyes were cold with determination and his lips pulled back over his teeth as he put his journal back into his pocket.

 

‘Ask her who she dreams of at night, Ben. You’ve become a nexum and I know how to deal with that.’ he said.

 

Ben lifted his chin.

 

‘What if she’s smart enough not to want to break up her home for you?’ he said.

 

Jack swallowed and looked away for a second, his chest rising as he looked back at Ben.

 

‘If you have a way to get in touch with any of them, ask them what a nexus is. It might be something useful to know.’ he said.

 

He looked at the car and squeezed his hands into the pockets of his coat.

 

‘If it weren’t for the kids, you’d be a fucking dead man. She doesn’t deserve the light snuffed out of her, Ben. I will give her the choice.’ he said.

 

‘What if she chooses me?’ Ben said.

 

The ward was a set of instructions programmed into the operating system of universes, unrecognised commands to individuals or systems, purchased and deployed by the gathered group of alternative Bens. It avoided the question, because deep down, they all knew the answer.

 

Jack scratched his beard and smiled, his eyes shining with emotion.

 

‘Ask where the power to do it came from, Ben. You’re not a bad man, you’re weak. The weak which leads to an entire identity being caught in a nexum.’

 

Ben shook his head.

 

‘Different versions of me. One of them was a physicist. We figured it out.’

 

Jack laughed and pointed back at the car.

 

‘No, you have borrowed the power to do it from someone else. Something else, and they don’t play by the rules.’

 

Jack turned and walked away. He was almost flattered by the seismic ambitions allied against him.

 

A nexum was a contract where the debtor pledged themselves as collateral. The Bens had traded their identities in return for keeping Lily from recalling Jack at all, but the price would not be paid straight away. An entire line of identities kept some entities fed for a long time, but Jack knew whoever was behind this would not stay full. Children were acceptable too.

 

The war started in the winter. A series of unexplained occurrences, a lurid case of spontaneous human combustion, the sudden appearance of a grizzly bear in the Natural History Museum dressed in a suit and tie before it disappeared from the surveillance.

 

They happened in places we only visit in wistful recollection or sad imaginings, but some of them were close to you, but we miss the wonderful things around us all the time.

 

Jack found the letter from her tucked behind the seat at the coffee shop when he came back there one afternoon in April.

 

REMEMBER ME.

 

He folded it and slipped it into his breast pocket.

 

He sat in the coffee shop, nursing an oversized black coffee with a medicinal dash of cinnamon, fingertips straying to pet his unkempt, winter growth beard as he wrote in longhand, pen caressing the thick, yellowing pages of the journal. He peered over his spectacles and stopped writing each time the doorbell chimes to announce another visitor.

 

Maybe this time, he thought, maybe.

 

 

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short fiction, Uncategorized

Director’s Cut

His eyes were heavy lidded, the patches of beard, flecked with silver and his hair was a clotted lump atop his head. The single bulb overhead draped his face in unflattering shadows.

‘I’m sorry. I’m a repulsive human being.’

He lifted the gun to his head and cocked the hammer on the revolver.

The impact shoved him away.

He didn’t get up.

They cancelled the premiere of his film as a mark of respect.

 

2.

I don’t get out to the States much as I’d like. I’ve got friends there, but I’d spent a few days in bed with a woman. She had a whole other life to return to, so I found myself in Hollywood, California.

I was interested in what was going on. The wizard had not come out from behind the curtain and invited you to watch him masturbate. The horrible static of fear and anxiety isn’t pleasant, but it’s useful for a magician. I dealt with people who wanted magic or protection from it. There were people who dealt with Satan and tried to back out when the drugs wore off. Those people paid me to help them get out.

Mitch sent me a photo via an app through which you sent images and text for timed periods. He was frowning and holding up a black dvd case.

Want to see something cool?

I sent back a dollar sign and he replied with a thumbs up.

He sent me his address, but I knew it before. I play well with others but I like to know about them if things change. The tree which hung over his rear wall was a doddle to climb. His neighbours were senile with therapy and medication but I still took care to remain unseen.

He was flushed with drink as he answered the door.

‘You can’t watch this.’

I lit a cigarette and raised an eyebrow.

‘Fuck you, pay me.’

He shook his head, jowls flapping despite the trimmed beard.

‘It’s haunted.’

I pushed past him, snatched the case from his hand and strode through to the den.

‘How much have you watched?’

Five minutes. Too short to fear anything other than being disturbed by it.

Hollywood is a myth which keeps mutating. It provided meat for things which shouldn’t eat.

I told him to wait outside.

I shut the door and fished out a stick of chalk, drew a ward on the door to keep anything getting in or out and set up the dvd player.

He was too drunk and frightened to wonder why I knew the layout of his house.

I pressed play and sat down.

There was a swell of strings and a tracking shot of the Manhattan skyline in black and white. Pure award bait.

I took a deep drag on the cigarette and narrowed my eyes. I focused my attention between my eyebrows, visualizing an eye opening.

‘Hello.’

He sounded pensive and frightened. It used to be part of his act but he meant it now.

It was in the timbre of his voice, close like a secret.

‘For what it’s worth, I always liked your stuff.’

He sighed and thanked me. The film cut away to an establishing shot of the back of his head.

‘I thought this was heaven at first.’

He turned and looked into the camera.

‘It isn’t?’ I said.

From the right, the actress in the last superhero movie everyone went to, rushed in with a baseball bat and swung it in a smooth arc, connecting with the back of his head in a wet crack as he fell forwards. She leapt, full lips pulled back over perfect teeth in a snarl as she brought the bat down on his back over and over until the film faded to black.

After watching a fourth Oscar winner decapitate him, I moved to pause it. His severed head blinked at me as his tongue protruded between his lips.

‘It keeps happening and it gets worse every time. These aren’t even the women, you know?’

My mouth tasted of copper as an actress came up and stabbed his prostrate body with a carving knife.

You get the point here. I recognised the format, and the author of it.

He blinked at me. It was his stock expression, used to evoke laughter after heated confessionals. My stomach turned and I looked away.

‘Can you help me?’ he said.

I closed my eyes and pressed my fingers to my temples. I hadn’t wanted to see Erin after what happened in Burnley last year. My friend had traced the warm, pink scar running down my right side and telling her sunk me into a quiet melancholy.

‘I’m not doing this for you.’ I said.

He grimaced with a puerile warmth and I switched the television off.

The problem was a matter of infection. An idea fed on attention would spread through other recorded media. Imagine taking your kids to a movie and watching men being eviscerated whilst the talking dog and singing cat dance in the background. Reality takes a knee from time to time, and no one wanted something like this getting out into the world.

I told Mitch to double my fee as I walked out of the house. He was on the phone to the studio, barking at his director about the quality of the latest rushes. Mitch was on every big movie of the last ten years, it had given him two heart attacks and a desire to deal with things beyond his capabilities.

We did well from one another, Mitch and I. A perennial predator, but power got him hard in a way women never would. I was the bloke he called when things reacted to his actions. He held the phone to his chest and asked me where I was going.

I told him. He flushed red and shouted down the phone, jabbing the air with his index finger for emphasis. The ragged anger of his voice followed me out to the driveway.

Erin was an abbreviation and a pseudonym. Her real name disappeared before 400BC and her work keeps her young and mobile. It was obvious she had come to Hollywood, women’s anger was her meat and drink and the world was awash with it.

I worked a small charm in the front seat of the car. A small crystal suspended on a length of rawhide, pulling in Erin’s direction. She had rented a suite at the Everley and giving off waves of psychic energy which made my fillings hurt.

3.

The women in the corridor looked at me with a wounded malevolence as I stepped out of the lift. I strode down the hall, hands up and palms out as She opened the door and smiled at me, her canine face full with sharp, yellowing teeth. The snakes on her scalp twisted in the air and hissed at me.

I raised my hands as she stepped back into the room. I spoke to her in Mycenaean greek, which took concentration to remain fluent. It was a Bronze age language.

‘I come in peace. Whatever you’re doing, it’s working out for you.’

She waved me into the suite.

Erin was a bomb sight but every woman who had come forward provided the munitions. These things happened in cycles, but we were more connected now. When Erin came out to feed, it was a terrible harvest. Victimhood was like virginity, rare and often co-opted.

Erin. Abbreviated from Erinyes. She wandered the earth, feeding on pain, anger and vengeance. She fed on men who had given false oath, which was why I got the scar down my side.

‘I know you can tear me into chunks but I need a favour.’ I said.

She sat down on the couch, plucked a wet lump of something pink and glistening from a tray to her right, shovelled it into her maw and chewed. Her pointed black tongue licked at her teeth as she nodded.

‘You can’t put this stuff out there. You’ll be calling down things neither of us want sniffing around.’

She snorted and leaned forward.

‘It gives me permission to act as I see fit.’

I sat back, struggling to hold back my concern without angering her.

‘Unless you want to bring the Logos down on us, keep things quiet.’

She raised her muzzle and snorted.

‘I do not fear the Logos.’ she said.

I whistled under my breath and put my palms together, forearms resting on my thighs. I focused on my breath and felt the first curls of kundalini travel up my spine.

The Logos was the first entity to exist. It existed apart from nature, watching over the world with a stern, paternal eye. It policed those of us, gods, monsters and magicians, who risked pissing off consensual reality, and in return, we tried to keep things quiet. Erin was incoherent with power, at the point of the cycle where she was incandescent with rage, blind to sense and I had to make her see how much trouble we were in if she continued.

‘Erinyes, oh fury of the underworld,
you who has come from night,
Bathed in righteousness
I come not to deny
The rage which
Puts such light
In your eyes
As to blind me
I acknowledge
But the rage
Burns
Bites
Claws
And I ask you
To let it run
True to its nature
Not
Yours.’

The air crackled around us as she got to her feet. Her shadow thickened and crawled across the floor towards me.

‘I murder
Those who keep
Secrets
Let them
Hang
Witnessed
A literal
Falsehood
Metaphorical
Truth
It
Does
Not
Matter
I
Must
Feed.’

These negotiations were prone to collapse. The kundalini spread out to my limbs and I stood up, outstretched my arms and bared my throat towards her.

She smiled and came towards me. Her hot, damp breath brought blisters on my skin before she sunk her talons into my chest. I gritted my teeth and became the sacrifice she needed. She tugged at the muscles in my chest as pain made me seize and scream. My blood ran down my chest in hot showers, soaking through my shirt as I gave in to the scream.

Her fingers closed around my heart and everything went black.

4.

There was a swell of strings and a tracking shot of the Manhattan skyline in black and white. Pure award bait.

I took a deep drag on the cigarette and narrowed my eyes. The director sat there, gasping as I lit a cigarette.

‘What have you done?’

I blew out a plume of smoke. If I had to spend time in Hell, it would be a beautiful version of it.

‘I’ve traded myself. The thing which did it to you, I gave up my body for a while to keep this from getting out.’

He smirked in a way which made me want to punch him.

‘Welcome to Hollywood.’ he said.

The shriek of fury echoed across the ballroom as Marlene Dietrich started the petrol chainsaw. I took a puff on the cigarette as the director stood up.

‘You deserve this, you fucker. I’m just trying to stop this from fucking over everyone who wasn’t involved at all.’

He glanced at me.

‘Do you think I did it?’

I shrugged my shoulders.

‘Does it matter?’

I told myself Mitch would pay triple as Sandra Bullock stepped out from the shadows with the crossbow held to her shoulder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard
beauty, short fiction, women

Captain Garrett’s Voyage

Alexandra Garrett, Captain of the dread ship Fish Tailed Bitch put her hands to her head as it throbbed like an abscess. She heard her first mate Oliver whispering her name. She moved onto her side and rasped for him to bring her chamber pot to her.

 

Oliver held it so she could vomit with the blithe ease of experience before she wiped her lips with the back of her hand. She reached under her pillow, uncorked the bottle of thick, red liquor with her teeth and slugged half of it down before rinsing her mouth out and spitting it into the chamber pot. She sat up as Oliver took the pot outside. When he returned, she had lit a cheroot and pulled her long red hair back into a loose ponytail.

 

‘Now what the fuck warrants a visit at this hour?’

 

Her voice was the crisp, nasal tones of a good education and breeding. It had the colloquial rasp of years spent traversing then conquering the pirate underworld but each time she spoke, Alexandra could see the light in a man’s eyes change. The other times she saw it was when she killed or fucked them, but it was always the voice that unmanned her efforts.

The previous First Mate, Leopold had learned that to his detriment when Oliver had summoned to her cabin five years ago. Leopold walked away, clutching his groin and weeping before being thrown overboard. Oliver had never asked what Leopold had done, and it had been the first of many careful decisions that had led to his tenure being without incident.

 

Until today.

 

‘We have a small problem, Captain.’

 

Another careful decision was that Oliver presented any problem to the Captain as small.

 

Attempted mutiny? Small.

 

Sightings of a leviathan or Raoul, the cannibal squid? Miniscule.

 

A dose of Galloping Cock-Rot that was making the crew eat one another? Tiny.

 

In three years she had gone from Captain Lithe-Britches concubine to captaining her own ship. Oliver needed her to come to the upper decks and see what had happened, but he did not want to die trying to achieve it. She had managed this with a permanent case of violent seasickness whenever she stepped aboard.

 

‘You had best lead the way, then.’ she said.

 

Oliver hid his relief. He walked as he heard her buckle her sword belt on and mutter to herself. His heart skipped a beat.

 

Captain Garrett would figure it out, he told himself.

 

She had to.

 

2.

 

Captain Garrett had faced down many threats and situations. She prided herself on her capacity to endure and thrive, to look Death in the face and keep going.

 

What she looked at now was her own reflection, distorted by the curvature of the solid wall of glass that stretched beyond the limits of her vision.

 

‘So, did we sail into this or did it appear?’ she said.

 

Her voice was playful, perturbed and curious about what had happened. She looked at her crew, some of the deadliest, most cunning pirates to set sail and not a single one of them had a clue.

 

Garrett sighed and shook her head.

 

‘I want cannons fired at it, Oliver. I cannot remain in one place, trapped inside whatever the fuck this is, understand?’

 

Oliver gave a small cough and asked permission to speak.

 

Garrett watched the shimmer of light on the glass, the lazy, sibilant slap of the waves against the curvature reflecting the sloshing knot inside the pit of her stomach. She paced the upper deck, swallowing the sour, hot acid of mingled nerves and excitement, head aching from dehydration as her thoughts grew sharp and ugly, dashing themselves against the inside of her skull.

The association made itself apparent, she fought the impulse to ask for a drink, instead walking repeated circles, looking at the huge translucent wall curved upwards. She plucked experience from the bone powder and blood meal fat morass of her memories, asides and inferences given new context with a blithe, intuitive lack of care. The poetry of a cannonball, the tang of smoke in her nostrils and the flight of splinters given terrible velocity by the precise application of force.

Men who had lived and died for her, without promise or expectation of reward.

 

‘If it’s too thick, it won’t do much but waste a cannonball, Captain and it might bounce back. Plus if we shatter it, then won’t it fall on us?’

 

Garrett gave a cold smile and winked at Oliver.

 

‘So, as things go, this is bloody strange eh?’ she said

She smiled, fighting a sudden bout of the crippling sea sickness which she passed off as accepted pirate behaviour.

 

‘Hell of a way to go out, though, isn’t it?’ she said.

 

They went to gather the barrels of powder for the cannons.

 

Captain Garrett gave the order to fire.

 

3.

 

The concern was the behaviour of the round shots.

 

Much like herself, Garrett knew of how she could caper and flail, leading to a windage which had the potential of bouncing back to reward her initiative with further destruction. A lifetime spent amidst flame and ravage had prepared her to face the worst of the world with a smile and a plan beyond the initial disaster.

 

Strange, large structures presented a new challenge for her.

 

Oliver saw the trembling in her hands as she raised them for the cannons to fire and his heart fluttered with nascent sympathy. She had been wrong before, but they were always small incidents, embarrassment over anything lethal. He muttered a small prayer and looked away.

 

The sound of the cannons became a tangible bank of force, pinching and slapping the breath from their lungs, rocking them backwards on their heels as their ears rang and eyes stung from the acrid smoke.

 

Garrett peered through the smoke. She cupped a hand to her left ear.

 

What came back from the confrontation in the beginning was the percussive refrain where the shot reached and struck the glass, a sound more felt in the bone than heard in the ear. It echoed around them, making Garrett give a raised eyebrow to Sketchley, already loading another shot into the cannon to prepare for a further assault.

 

She narrowed her eyes as the echo faded.

 

The sound warped, moving from audition to vibration as the crew stood in a perfect, desperate silence.

 

Oliver watched his captain retrieve a small faded photograph from her breast pocket and pressed it to her lips. She squeezed her eyes tight and murmured a name underneath her breath before she replaced the photograph and lifted her chin upwards. She adjusted her hat, rolled her shoulders back and pointed to the curved wall of glass.

 

The cracks were silver, summoned by the force of Garrett’s will, condensed into a single assault and making themselves known in an air of subtle menace. They appeared, shy at first, before gaining boldness and depth as they fed upon the inviolate, impenetrable glass. The ocean streamed in, trickling before rushing in and sending up banks of fine spray which soaked everyone on the upper deck.

 

Garrett and Oliver looked at one another, eyes shining with fear and excitement as the cracks spread across the curved expanse and the world fell in around them.

 

4.

 

Kim looked up from her book. A sharp crack travelled to her from the back of the store.

 

Harold had called in sick so she had to unpack the inventory by herself. She did not complain because Harold never got paid for his time at All Kinds. He took whatever books he wanted, but they had thousands of them in the back.

 

Kim got up and walked through to the second room where they displayed the items that looked interesting. It ranged from hand stitched dolls of Japanese kitsune through to brass sextants. As she switched on the light, she heard the dripping of water and her heart sank, afraid that the pipes had given up and died on her.

 

To her mingled relief and regret, the jagged remains of a fish bowl laid there, the water puddled amidst the broken remains of the miniature wooden ship that had sat floating within it now splinters and lumps.

 

Kim looked down and sighed. She went to call for Harold, but then she remembered and trudged away, looking for a dustpan and brush.

 

Garrett, Sketchley, Oliver and Benjamin sat atop the constructed raft, looking up at the new world around them. Oliver cast a glance at Garrett who was looking up and grinning.

 

‘Oliver?

 

‘Yes, Captain.’

 

She looked at him and her grin widened.
‘This will be epic.’

Standard
short fiction, women

Black Eyed Angel, Smile With Me

My mother gave me an indirect, covert education. Our lessons were conducted in the wan light of country afternoon and the velveteen absence of light in her darkroom. Her photography bore the odd angles and blurred sun dogs of the enthusiastic amateur but she worked at it with a dogged focus that lent our lives an amiable chaos.

 

I was a quiet child, open to instruction and taking everything in with wide bright eyes that my mother stared into and declared luminous. I was trusted with handling the negatives, the tangible reversals of the fundamental.

 

Bleached, pure white.

 

Utter, relentless black.

 

We captured wilderness scenes, candid and unguarded moments which were fed into the darkroom and came out as photographs in the way that pigs went into abattoirs and came out as sausages. Her missteps were as fascinating as her triumphs but the lessons she passed to me were considered elitist and prosaic, a reality I had to go into state education to realise.

 

It was just the two of us. When her body started to prepare itself for the second and last living thing she would host, our roles were reversed. I cared for her, lifting and changing for me until she was an insensible abstract, a twitching nerve rooted in sweat and foulness.

 

She held me when I was helpless and I returned the favour. The funeral service was sparse and perfunctory as per her wishes. The idea that a single ceremony could put the loss of someone you loved into any context was like holding a shell to your ear and expecting to get wet.

 

I stayed on in the nest of my childhood, forever outside the eggshell and missing the kiss of mother’s beak.

 

The house was swollen with emotional resonance for me but it had been built on a considerable amount of debt. Sentiment and sympathy held no import over the demands of my mother’s creditors so I was forced to start the process of clearing and selling the house. It was akin to being a stand in for the cancer, killing her memories rather than her flesh.

 

Any decision considered adult held its own agony. The ache came to me from the past, a child’s anguish fitting wrong in my woman’s body.

 

I had to sort through her things. She had laden the house with photographs, oddments and scraps that pleased her eye. Feathers from birds including some massive black variations that I had always held to be fake but she would never answer.

 

I found her journal, a patchwork quilt of concerns, lists and tentative explorations of her craft and her feelings towards it. She was her own cheerleader in so many things because she had to be. The words blurred before my eyes but I continued to read.  I had not known this woman, only the mother she became.

 

Her tone changed as her expertise grew, becoming more technical and impenetrable with each month that passed. Then one entry drew my eye for its lack of detail.

 

He landed at the bottom of the garden. He flew back before I could get the camera.

 

A chill prickled down my back and I read it again, tried to figure out what she meant.

 

A poem?

Code to avoid questions about her actions.

 

The next month’s worth of entries returned to the prosaic and technical.

 

He likes shortbread. Cries at the taste of tap water. He doesn’t speak English but I understand him perfectly.

 

A week later.

 

I can’t put down into words what his touch feels like. There is strength there, but he controls it. I know I shouldn’t. I don’t even know if he can.

 

The next entry was a drawing of a winged heart, done in HB pencil and shaded with red ink.

 

She did not mention him again. She began to talk about her body, the changes she was experiencing. It became as terse as her grasp of photography and the dates of the entries represented some interesting possibilities.

 

My intuition blazed into life. She would have photos of this man. I tried to stop flipping through the calendar in my head and actively looking for something would have helped me do it.

 

They were in a small album. Carefully pasted photographs and the negatives next to them. I tucked it under my arm with the journal and left the darkroom.

 

My life had never overlapped with anything uncanny or mysterious outside of the human heart or a good book.

 

The figure crouched, rendered indistinct by the bushes and shadows at the bottom of the garden aside from a pair of luminous eyes, open and soft like the cap of a mushroom. Black wings stretched out from his back that gleamed with oil, their dimensions softened by the night.

 

I put my hand to my mouth and the kitchen lights flickered. The album fell from my hands and I ran to the window. Night had fallen and the whole world was a darkroom now. I looked outside and wondered what might develop.

 

The windows rattled in their frames with the gust of wind that came. I opened the door with my heart thumping like I was running a marathon.

 

‘I know you’re there.’ I said.

 

I sounded frightened to my own ears but my nerves sharpened my senses and I saw him at the bottom of the garden, his wings tucked behind him.

 

‘Where.Is. Christina?’

 

His pronunciation was careful. Not someone speaking a language they lacked fluency in, but the care of someone whose voice was capable of great and terrible things.

 

He was taller than any man, with lean black limbs and a taut midsection. He carried a scent that combined leather, damp wool and incense. His face wore a perfect mask of surprise as he cocked his head and looked at me.

 

His lips curved into a smile, revealing perfect white teeth.

 

He bowed at the waist, the gleam of his bald head caught the moonlight like blood on glass. He looked up and his smile fell away.

 

‘When?’

 

His voice had become low, stretched out on the rack of grief.

 

I told him and when I had finished, he put his hand on my shoulder. It was difficult to breathe in his presence, the weight of faith made tangible pushed at me from every direction.

 

I reached out and put my arms around him. He held me with the detached care of a cowboy with a calf, a detached gentility that became more humane with each moment. He put his warm, dry lips to the top of my head and I closed my eyes.

 

When I opened them again, he was gazing at my face.
I had his eyes.

Standard
beauty, love, short fiction, women

A Brisk Walk To Clear The Head

Bette took off from the house at a brisk pace, headphones on and trying not to force herself to go back and see what was up with Kelly, trusting that Dave could handle things.

 

The woods invited her in and she came to them. Her heart pounded with excitement. She looked over her shoulder, trusting that there was enough light to guide her. She knew the way by heart, but she did not want to risk twisting an ankle or falling over.

 

Not that it would hurt for long.

 

She slipped off her headphones and switched off her phone. The air still held the bite of winter so she bit back a shiver as she undid her jacket. She knelt down, raking the leaves with her fingers to uncover the holdall, lined with clear plastic she kept there. She undressed, wishing she were not so pale before she zipped it up and slid it back into place.

 

She looked around, giddy with the thrill of being naked out here. In nature, she felt seen by everything and nothing. They had conceived Kelly on a camping trip, which Dave put down to neither of them looking at their phones and the fact  he’d been taking a zinc supplement, but Bette knew the truth of herself.

 

She dropped to a squat and raised her head to the purple sky and the red sun. It began as a shiver, like the onset of a delicious flu. Her sense of self went askew, then righted herself as she changed.

 

She clawed at her skin. It came away, ragged and bloody, revealing the furred muscle beneath as her bones knitted themselves into new shapes. Her fingers split open, the razored claws pushing like the alleviation of a deep cramp as she arched her back.

 

Dislocating her jaw was the worst part. Relinquishing the human she took a small measure of courage, but she had found a deeper pleasure in these times where she could be who she was. The unspoken parts of her that had accommodations made.

 

Her jaw hung open and she pushed with the last vestiges of her conscious mind.

 

She let the animal within her take over.

 

Your lungs are furnaces. Every muscle and nerve in your body sings with the pleasure of strength and use. The woods blaze by you as you gallop, inhaling all the colours of this other world you inhabit.

 

A short run from your other life.  

 

You sense the rabbit, turning your nose to breathe deep of it’s spiced, greasy fur. You charge after it, catch it between your teeth and tear into it. Blood and fur slides down your throat and you keep going, burning it for fuel as you charge forward.

 

You’ve killed larger prey too. You’ve been selective about it. The guy who lived in the woods and kept exposing himself to the kids at the elementary school. He might have made some questionable life choices, but he tasted good, right?

 

They blamed it on a bear; you read.

 

Here you have the throat of the world beneath your paw, and you piss on anything which impedes that.

 

You are alive. You are the terrible beauty of the animal that knows itself and does not apologise for it. There are predators and prey. You know who you are.

 

Your instinct for survival is such that you return to where you changed. Skin turning to pale greasy flakes. You dig your claws into the skin between your breasts and pull.

 

Bette shuddered her way through the ritual of dressing. It returned her to herself, stopped her growling at people or wanting to smell Kelly’s head, lose herself in the heightened olfactory bond, where your offspring became your drug.

 

She wondered about Kelly. Dave did not understand, but she wanted to know if it had passed to her daughter before she did. Still, the time had granted her a measure of serenity again. She could deal with anything so long as she allowed herself these walks. Kelly was ballerina costumes and trainers with lights in the soles but in time, she might change.

 

Bette hoped she would know when the time came.

 

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beauty, love, short fiction, women

Like The Waves

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(http://deepcoldwater.deviantart.com/art/Prelude-669736544)

I have stayed close. The smell of salt is in everything. I sleep with the muted roar of the ocean in my ears.

You sent me here. My first reaction was disgust. Their lives, their politics corrupted the water we breathed. I was your instrument of vengeance, burdened with purpose as I strode ashore.

My fingers traced the lines along my jaw where my gills had closed. My fingers lacked webbing and the changes to my anatomy appalled and fascinated me. I would sleep to the soundtrack of my new organs, gurgling and pumping with new life.

I lived under a false name, funded by the treasure which laid in piles amongst my people. My heritage was my sword and shield.

War and horror were my purpose, but it was her kindness which unmanned me.

She was in the supermarket, saying out loud how glad she would be when they delivered. Her blue eyes held a light like the photo electric displays tuna communicated with. Her blonde hair hung in loose curls around her soft face and her smile was a sunrise after a long time in darkness.
Her humanity was a barrier. We would say hello as we shopped, forming a line of communication from fragile asides and jokes. I had to watch television to get some of her references but she talked more so I listened and let my silence form her opinion.

She worked in an office, filing invoices and calling people. She did not like it but she talked about it a lot which was something humans did by design. I would check out the contents of her shopping, trying new things to understand the world she made for herself.

My senses gave me information about her. The imbalance in her endocrinology due to the medication she took. You would have dismissed her as weak, but I saw how she fought her invisible enemies and her sweetness proved beguiling.

I resisted the pull of her. It tugged at me, a new language of want and desire fed upon the smallest gestures and I hated how fluent I was becoming.

One night, I had gone to my car when I heard a scream and her voice, pleading in a pitched babble made me leave my bags and move towards her. It was a pleasure to be a warrior again, open and whole in confrontation.

He stood with a knife pointed at her. I struck him in the temple and he fell. His sweat was slick against my knuckles and his skin shone like the pelt of seals in the morning light. Maya dropped and checked his pulse.

‘What did you do to him?’ she said.

Tears welled in her eyes and I frowned. A thin, sharp stab of disappointment slipped between my ribs and bit deep enough to make me turn away.

‘He had a knife.’

Her eyes sparkled as she drew her hand away. The man’s chest rose and fell in the easy rhythms of unconsciousness.

‘He’s breathing though, that’s something.’ she said.

We stared into each other’s eyes.

‘I know.’ I said.

She tilted her head to one side

‘I’m freaking out a little but thank you.’ she said.

I walked away, but she got up and reached out, touched my shoulder as she brushed the hair from her face.

‘Brian.’ she said.

I had picked the name from a yellowed page of newspaper but on her lips, it made me wish it were my true name.

She leaned towards me and opened her mouth.

My first kiss.

The brush of her soft, warm lips made me strong and weak. Every fibre screamed for a discipline of self which disappeared with each contact. This was my need made manifest, potent in its heady impact and the first battle since my ascent.

I lost.

I won.

When we drew apart, the man on the ground groaned with a dull anguish.

‘What was that for?’ I said.

She giggled and the music twisted within me.

‘I’m a little freaked out, but you saved my life and I wanted to kiss you.’

She touched my cheek, a gesture like the play of light on water but its implication knocked my beliefs to the ground. She leaned into me again.

‘More than once.’ she said.

The second kiss broke my bond to you without effort.

I followed her home. Our third kiss was as sweet as the first. Her apartment was full, awash with bright colours and half-completed art projects and her kitten hissed with envy until she put it into another room.

She broke and renewed me. It was nervous, awkward but sublime in ways which made me question all I knew. It annulled my reasons for being here and replaced them with something sweet and fragile.

Something human.

My doubts haunted me. She held me without asking and I became intoxicated by the buttery texture of her skin. It was medicine for a quiet, ugly grief which sought to spoil the pleasure of the surprise. She stroked the cleft in my chin and ran it up to my lips.

‘It’s okay, Brian.’ she said.

I reached out and held her tight.

I chose her, father.

This will be my last message. Once I have placed it in the bottle, I will toss it into the ocean and hope it finds you.

Your response will be terrible.

She is asleep. I will tell her who I am and why I was there. Her rejection terrifies me more than your displeasure but I will remain calm in the face of whatever happens.

Like the waves, I will return to her.

Like the waves, I have ebbed from you.

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beauty, fiction, short fiction, women

5 Voices

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(http://www.deviantart.com/art/Bird-of-Ill-Omen-671706447)

 

‘We’ve been on earth all these years and we still don’t know for certain why birds sing.’
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim At Tinker Creek.

Their songs are strongest at dawn. They appreciate each day, compelled to displays of delight common to the devout or the drunk. My work invites my attendance, but it is one of the most exquisite experiences I have known.

Isn’t it beautiful?

Now this murder have been useful. They are not shy in offering their opinions. Take care when trading with crows, they’re quick to take insult and slow to ask forgiveness.

Toss them a handful of the rye, will you? Thanks

Now close your eyes. Feel their song in your body. It is a hum, so concentrate on it. The excitement you get when you meet a lover or get a good hand of cards.

What is it telling you?

Their syrinxes produce eighty notes a second, composed of two thousand elements and you hear it every day without giving it the slightest thought beyond the romance. It is a language we hear but ignore, although it is all around us, subtle and discursive.

OK, I will translate.

They use a warehouse. It’s in the industrial end of Yarmouth, where Nelson’s Column stands. Now, wait a minute because there is a lot to take in.

We must intuit, read them like soul braille. It resembles the structure of a raga.

To Sa Me Yi Wu La Hu Nu Gu Pa.

Keep your eyes closed.

You’re seeing it, aren’t you?

The additional frequencies resonate in the visual cortex.

That’s where they take the dogs to fight.

To Sa Me Fu Wu Nu Pa Ro.

I know how clumsy it must sound, but those root notes and words are the keys to power.

Saying them stabilises the connection. Keep doing it whilst we head to our next meeting.

Chuck them the rest of the bread.

We need more information. No, put that away. This is something far beyond the internet in scales of information.

Passerines are the best informants.

They’re prone to juvenile expression but they collect a lot of information in a short space of time.

Small brown birds that live near the ground. Sparrows, wrens, blackbirds.

They’re more focused than corvidae.

Crows. Jackdaws. The crows provide a stronger gestalt of information, an outline that the passerines fill in by sheer volume.

It is a different song. They have five different song, but we only need two for our purposes.

Aggression.
Alarm.

To Sa Mu Yu Wu Lo Nu Do Pa

Throw the bread. Keep the song inside. Let it ferment in the chambers of your heart. You have tapped into the most powerful network of intelligent information ever composed so pay it some respect.

You could try whistling but I prefer the fundamentals. It denotes respect.

You can see the men. Hear their voices. Their phones seep information and electro-magnetic energy. Packets of data that the birds collect and store without analysis.

Get out your pen and notebook. Write from what brews in your heart.

A name.
Names.
An address.
Addresses. Phone numbers. Email addresses. Passwords.

People believe themselves invisible. It is not God who watches us, but the Universe through a million pairs of eyes and in a million songs. They have taught me things.

The right questions to ask.

A right measure of persistence.

The right song to sing.

These four men are the organisers. They have dogs fight to the death and make money from it. We know where they are, and we know their names.

Ducks? Please, they’re worse than useless.

We have two choices.

You can use the phone and call in an anonymous tip to the police.

Or.

We can visit a group of animals who would relish the chance to punish such cruelties.

So glad you agree.

Now we need to stop at a butcher and a tobacconist. Get the car.

I want to stop and talk to my friends a little longer.

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