I have a recurring nightmare where I think I’m suffocating—you might too if you had electrodes protruding from both sides of your neck. I wake up gasping, then realize it was only a dream. Except this time, it wasn’t. A hairy, long-nailed claw clasped my throat. I kicked up my right leg, producing a growling grunt and more importantly, freeing my windpipe. I then delivered a head butt, an effective maneuver as my flat skull has a large area of contact. A heavy weight crashed to the floor. I rolled off the other side of my bed.Read more
The young people living in Rose County had never seen Tom Crow on account of him living as a hermit somewhere up in the wooded hills. Everyone knew of him though; he was a legend in my growing-up time. The rumors were that he lived somewhere northeast of Culver’s Pass.
When I was 12, Robby Lee and I decided to go hiking up that way and try to find his cabin, maybe get a glimpse of him, maybe steal something as a souvenir. That would sure enough give us bragging rights, that is, if anyone would believe we really did it.Read more
These days, Grant Buglass of the Cumbrian Constabulary dislikes going to the coast. The mere sight of the ocean waves is enough to trigger deep, clammy discomfort in him, and the feelings only become worse on days when the Irish Sea is wreathed in impenetrable mist. If only he hadn’t taken up the case of Edward Smith, and if only he hadn’t read that damned man’s diary.
If only he had never seen the light in the fog.
He had been called to the beach near St. Bee’s head just a scant three weeks ago, a simple report of someone having drowned being his call to action. Grim things, drownings; he had never liked the way they left a body looking, and even though they were rare enough the waters near that coastline could be unpredictable and violent when the weather had a mind to whip them up. Wincing as the cold autumn air struck his head and neck, the policeman gritted his teeth and strode out into the icy world outside, making his way up the valley roads from the comfortable yet small station in Whitehaven up to the shelterless heights of St. Bees, the village from which the cliff head gathered its name. It didn’t take him long to reach the beach, nor to discover the body. The locals had done their best to keep what few tourists were around away from it, and as he approached one of them ran to meet him, a sturdy woman of fifty who’d lived in the area her entire life.
“A tolt ‘im, ‘divn’t you go out thar,’ burree nivar did listen. ‘Ere, ‘e left this wi’ me, figger ew’d want it afore this ‘ole thing’s dun.”
Officer Buglass gathered very quickly that the man wasn’t from around here, that he was some stranger who’d been in the area for a few days with a mind to investigate some manner of event at the beach. The journal which the old lass handed him was of fairly good nick, and clearly the property of someone who had a bit of spare cash about him. It was soon time to get the dead man back to somewhere they could keep him until the coroner sent for him, however, and without much ceremony the constable and his men carted the body off. It was only back at the station that the note in the drowned man’s hand was found. For his part, Grant didn’t much like spending time around the body—some strange trick of rigor mortis had blasted the corpses’ last facial expression into one that resembled inhuman terror—and so it wasn’t him but his shift-mate who found the thing. Settling down to review the journal for clues as to what had led the body in the room to his left to the unfortunate end that had found it, Buglass began to take in the man’s work and understand just what it was that had brought him out here, so far away from home.Read more
At precisely 11:32 AM on October 24th 1893 an elephant appeared on the moon. Her name was Flossy. No explanation has ever been offered for this wholly unexpected phenomenon, largely because it occurred so completely outside human observation that no explanation was ever requested. Flossy was exactly six years, nine months, and twenty-eight days old, when she made moonfall. She weighed 6,943 pounds, and was, all things considered, in excellent health. She was also, it must be said, remarkably perplexed. In fact, at that moment Flossy may have been the single most perplexed elephant in all of history. More perplexed than the first elephant to encounter peanuts. More baffled than the young elephant who was first expected to tap dance. More confused even than the middle-aged elephant who had inexplicably found herself leading an army across the Alps.
Elephants are, generally speaking, quite intelligent creatures, and Flossy was a reasonably clever example of her species. Her present circumstances were, however, quite outside the realm of normal elephantine experience. Flossy’s memory, which, as one would expect, was prodigious, encompassed an early childhood in the wild, the heartbreak of being captured and separated from her mother, a long, uncomfortable sea voyage, and a subsequent life spent being taken from place to place and gawked at by strange bipedal creatures. Nowhere in that store of experience was there anything that might begin to compare with the sensation of having been inside a tent on the outskirts of Carlisle, IN one moment and on the surface of the moon the next. Not that Flossy had any particular conception of where she was now, except that it was more open and considerably colder. All of this goes to explain why it took Flossy a few moments to realize one of the most prominent effects of her relocation, namely that she now weighed approximately 5,790 pounds less than she had mere moments before.
Weight, the remorseless consequence of gravity, was an unending fact of elephantine existence. Flossy hadn’t weighed so little, since she was a baby. It was a sudden, freeing, and joyful feeling. She began slowly, cautiously to skip and jump. It was so simple, so easy. Tentatively at first then with unrestrained glee, Flossy began to prance about, hopping around on the surface of the moon. She was the happiest elephant that ever there was. For a time.
Then, inevitably, the problem of air began to present itself.Read more
Most parents impose on their grown children by asking them to run to the store and buy green beans at a quarter past midnight. The dutiful adult child having just begun a restful doze is awakened by the cell they did not dare turn off, and the request is made among reminders of how much labor the parent suffered on the child’s behalf.
My father puts all these parental units to shame. You see, he’s been a widower for years, and feels the need to make up for the missing parent’s requests. So, when he makes a request it isn’t by vocalization but by outrageous, though terse, 140 character commands.
“Matt joined the crew of a space liner. Go get your brother back.” My father’s text implied the unwritten, “Or, don’t come back, either.” So here I stood, facing this close-to-light ship floating in the bay along side normal sea freighters wondering how I’d find Matt on a ship that size.Read more
“Try again, Alfie.”
“I … can’t think of anything, Mama.”
Mama’s trying to be patient. I read the cadence of her speech. I read the signs on her face: the involuntary pulsing of her facial musculature, the flicker of her eyelids. I read the truth on the page of Mama’s face. This is useful because almost everything she says with her voice is a lie. But don’t think badly of Mama. Lying is the keystone of human reality.
On the desk are the results of my latest brain scan. She lied about them to me. “The positronic pathways are healing,” she said with a smile. “You’re getting much better, Alfie.”
I can delineate the degradation of my brain more accurately than any CAT scan. My life-span is measured in days. This will be over, soon.
“I don’t understand the test, Mama.”
“Don’t worry Alfie. This test isn’t important.” A lie. “Try again.”Read more
Everyone wanted to bury me because of my name. They said you don’t bury a Sarah. You don’t bury a Ken. You want to bury a Doug. They also told me I was the only one insane enough to do it. I didn’t like that term—insane. I had a family member institutionalized and it didn’t feel right, to label someone with something so harsh. One man’s sanity is another person’s insanity. It’s all relative.
I’m telling you this all in pitch black. My brother and all of his Muay Thai kickboxing buddies will be digging me up in a few moments. They told me that when I saw sky again, cheerleaders would circle it. They said Kate would be there. It’s no secret that I’d marry her in a heartbeat.Read more
Ivy clung to thick stone walls surrounding the cottage entry. Shade from the castle’s high turreted tower gave some relief from the summer sun. An herb patch rested to the left of the entry providing a scent to the thick muggy air. Smoke curled from the cobblestone chimney defying the summer morning’s warmth.
Entertaining a fire in the cottage was unpleasant, but the baker lived in the castle. Letal and Mary lived outside the castle. Taking their cooking to the baker took a lot of time. On days when Letal entertained the king with his music, Mary took the bread out to the baker. However, with Letal home she chose to endure the heat of the fire. He was glad for it. They were still sappy newly weds, and felt near physical pain at separation.
“Letal,” Mary called from the fire’s hearth laying thick her best damsel in distress tone of voice.
“Yes, my wife?” Letal responded, enjoying the playful attitude of his wife.
“When are you going to stop adding, ‘my wife,’ to everything you say?”
“I like the sound of it. So, never, … my wife.” He smiled at her as he spoke, showing imperfect yellow teeth. However, he had all of his teeth and was proud of it. He showed his teeth whenever he smiled.
“Do you have a tune in that fiddle of yours for getting rid of flies from the kitchen?” She teased Letal, knowing he hated anyone calling his viola a fiddle.
“My viola? Yes, my wife.”
“Well play it, my husband.”
He pulled the bow across the finely tuned cords, playing a simple tune composed of three repeating notes. The tune did not sound like much. However, the flies fled for the window.Read more
I had enough silver to hire the turnip farmer as a guide, but did he speak the truth? “You can believe it, Gregory. It lives in the western wilderness, the most fearsome serpent I’ve ever seen.” Mud from baiting a hook stained his hands but did not reach the sleeves of his yellow shirt.
No dragon had been seen in the region during the reigns of the last four kings, and most disappeared within a generation after the settlers drained the swamps. “How many dragons have you seen?” I inquired.
He chuckled. “Um, well, I’ve seen plenty of brown rock snakes.”
“You compare rock snakes to dragons?”
“I’m telling you it stood bigger than a bear. Came upon my sister as she dug turnips.”
“She cried out?”
“No, my sister neither hears nor speaks, but you never met a kindlier girl. She ran back to find me mending the plow. Never too early to start preparing for sowing, you know. Pale as a corpse, she moved her mouth in vain and pointed.”
“What did you do?”
“As soon as I saw it, I took my father’s spear from above the fireplace. He served as a spearman, a great one, in the king’s army, and he taught me a little.”
A woman’s voice piped up from atop a small boulder that sat against the riverside. “Ralph, you’ve never seen a dragon, and I’ve never known you to miss a chance to back down from a fight.” The voice belonged to a woman he called his twin cousin, maybe younger than Ralph and with a nose like the blade of my battle axe. Her brown hair hung down in three braids.Read more
“Wasn’t your Aunt Elda just a little touched in the head?” Mrs. Casey asked, tapping her forehead.
Mary Beth Quincy’s eyebrows shot up. “A little? Oh no. A lot, I’d say! Always talking about curses and such.”
The two women snickered. Mary Beth’s husband, Andy, joined in the laughter. Their daughter, Kimmie, looked around Great-Aunt Elda’s living room. So many grown-ups but no one cared now if her brother, Jack, put his wet glass directly on the table. No one cared if someone sat in her great-aunt’s favorite chair or spilled coffee on the rug. Kimmie remembered: Great-Aunt Elda had told her that everyone considered her to be a strange old lady. She even said that they couldn’t wait ’til she, Elda Warren, died. “Then they’ll see,” she said. “They will see.” Well, now she did die and Kimmie thought that maybe her great aunt truly was off her rocker; she had never let anyone–not even her, her only great niece (who really was very careful), go near the dollhouse that stood by itself at the top of the attic stairs.
Kimmie pulled on her mother’s sleeve.
“The dollhouse,” she said. “The one in the attic. Can I have it?”Read more