Issue No. 3, Winter 2012

Rocks, Water, and Moss, Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz
Rocks, Water, and Moss
Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz

Swimming with the He-Fish
Karen Resta

“Cara mia, para minha,” he had murmured. “I am a merman. Watch.” Cara lay in her steamy bath, arms floating on foamy white bubbles silverspun by candlelight. Vivid snapshots of memories rose in her mind as she lay half-awake, half-drowsing in a lavender-scented miasma of tired acceptance, remembering it all.

# # #

The thin ray of August sun struck a tremulous momentary balance on the delicately curved pink edge of the shell tangled in the nylon rope trailing from the side of the boat to the fish trap below. The shell was tiny enough to fit into the palm of a woman’s hand. Apart from the gentle pink flutter at its outside edge it was the color of the lustrous 24-karat yellow-green fabled gold of the Aztecs.

Cara noticed the gleam in the flat water of the harbor as she walked up the dock from shore. As she got closer to her boat the shape became clearer.

Nobody was around, apart from a boatyard worker walking along a distant dock. The city people with their strained, excited faces would arrive later in the afternoon, hungry for the carnival atmosphere of the huge seafood palaces and thirsty for the smell of diesel-laced ocean air.

Cara had built the fish trap herself from steel wire bent into the shape of a heart with chicken wire stretched all around, a bit of broken mirror dangling inside as a lure. As she pulled the seeping trap up onto the dock, the golden conch shell fell free from the rope, glittering down into the water till it disappeared from sight. The trap bumped onto its side, knocking off a miniature crab who dropped then ran with an idiot gait from the wire frame, scuttling sideways in its new, widened, oxygenated world.

A large ugly fish was crushed inside. The beast was about five feet long. It lay there curled in a half-circle, its body almost doubled onto itself. Unhinging the door from the side of the trap, Cara reached in for the tail fin and pulled, grasping the tail where it met the fish’s body as gently as she could. The creature seemed to be trying to help. With a quick muscular twist of its body, it pushed out through the door and landed on the dock right near Cara’s feet. An odd aroma, a blend of dying roses and sweat, filled the air for a moment then disappeared, replaced by yet another aroma.

Is that chocolate? Cara breathed deeply.

The greenish-grey fish with turquoise stripes shuddered, then opened its barnacle-encrusted jaw. Bits of dank seaweed trailed from greenish-ivory teeth. Its shape was that of a fish, but its head looked almost human.

Cara thought it might be a lizard-fish. But she realized this freakfish was too big to be a lizard-fish. Its rubbery lips stretched out then a creaking noise emerged from its gullet. It sounded like words, like the fish was speaking a language as it sat there dripping on the dock.

The words were Portuguese, the sounds like little kisses.

“I don’t speak much Portuguese.” Cara spoke each word precisely, looking into the beast’s flat eyes, feeling as if she just might be crazy.

“Eh, I can speak anything,” it whistled back at her through its green teeth. “Just name it. Portuguese is my native tongue. I forgot. You like English?” The scent of bittersweet chocolate grew stronger as he spoke.

“English is best, yeah.” Cara stepped around him then quickly bent to grab his head between her hands. Pinning him to the dock, she sat on him right below his gills, sidesaddle, much like a Victorian lady riding a horse.

Bending over his seaweed-entangled head, she dug her fingers into his gills. “What on earth are you, you disgusting thing?”

“Bellisima, I am a merman, one of a very few left of my kind. I’m more than just a fish. I have certain powers,” he answered, rolling his body sideways as he spoke. “You’ll understand, with a little time. I’ve been hanging around your boat trying to get your attention. Could you please take your fingers out of my gills? I need to ask a favor.” He exhaled, coughing out three miniature silver fish that jumped with surprise as they landed.

“Oh, c’mon – you’re kidding, right?” Cara laughed. She’d actually caught a merman. A merman! That’s the last time anyone tells me it’s stupid to live out here on a boat, she thought.

“No, I’m serious,” the merman answered. “I’m dying, and I need a home. I need someone to take care of me till my time comes. I’ve chosen you. I want you to make me your pet. At least for a while.”

Cara released his head and moved to sit on the dock, wiping the thick slime from his scales off her wet hands onto her jeans. The thought ran through her mind that if he was dying, at least he couldn’t be dangerous.

“You want to be my pet? Tell me about it. So do all the other stray animals. And how does a person keep a merman as a pet, anyway?”

He wiggled a bit, edging his head onto her foot. His black eyes were flat, impassive. Cara looked closely at the tiny arms extending from his sides. They reminded her of a child’s doll, beach trash, half-dead plastic left behind at low tide.

“I can be a better pet than any other stray. And besides, I need you to cook me.” He pulled himself a little further up her leg, grasping her knee with his strange claw-like hands.
“Ugh. Enough already. Back off.” Cara was repulsed.

His eyes started to change, first shifting from flat cold-blooded black to soft deep pools of midnight blue. They started to look almost human, except for the color, which had now become a blended purple and green with sharp lightning-like gold flecks running through the irises.

Two seagulls flew off the rigging of a nearby sailboat, landing so close to Cara their wings touched her thigh.

He looked directly into Cara’s own blue-grey eyes and spoke. His voice had become deeper. An image came to her of rushes along a riverbank, seagulls crying from afar. She heard overtones of the crashing roar of an open sea. His voice warmed her, pulling her mind toward his, in an insinuating undertow.

“Cara,” he said, “I’ve come to you for a few reasons. One, you’re known as the best cook around. All the creatures of the sea say so. None of them intend to be caught in this little fish trap you’ve built here. But they tell each other if it does happen, their ending will be fit for royalty. They wouldn’t end up the pitiful way so many do, greasily batter-fried then gobbled down with fried potatoes and cheap beer. And by the way,” he sighed then let out a small belch. “Excuse me, it’s been a while since I’ve talked so much.”

“Oh, yeah, right, okay,” Cara replied, turning her head away from the preposterous sight.”The creatures of the sea say they like my cooking, and you need me to cook you after I keep you for a pet for a while? What other bizarre reason do you have for hanging around here then swimming right into my trap?”

“Well, do you want to be my girrrrrrrl?” He rolled out his rrrrr’s as he spoke, seemingly pleased at the sound they made, then settled himself more securely between her calves with his elbow on her knee, his head propped up on his hand.

Cara had to laugh. He looked so bizarre. That fish body narrowing up to a small human neck and head above his gills, and those little arms so oddly tucked in under his pectoral fins. His head resembled a ventriloquist’s dummy – pale, ancient yet ageless. Long thin hair flowed over his back and face. The seaweed between his teeth was now gone and he’d chipped the barnacles off his chin by rubbing his head against the dock like a cat, grooming himself with hurried fervor. She fell back onto her elbows. This monster wanted to be her boyfriend. How did he think he could accomplish that?
She started to get up, pulling her leg away from the merman, but he held her knee tightly between his little hands. He was stronger than he looked.

“Cara mia, para minha,” he murmured, his words somehow melting into the atmosphere, “I am a merman. Watch.”

The air around him became brightened, then hard, shiny. She blinked in disbelief and in that instant he was no longer a strange little creature – he was a man. And a very well-made man, too. If you’d taken every idea Cara had about the perfect-looking representation of ‘male’, he was right here, right now, laying on the dock, gripping her knee. And he wasn’t wearing any clothes.
Embarrassed, Cara looked over at the two seagulls still perched close by. They watched the merman intently, nodding their heads up and down. She blushed, not wanting to look at the man stretched out on the dock. He was gorgeous.

“Please don’t say you’ve never heard of the beauty of my sisters, the mermaids! They, of course, are famous! They like to show off a bit. Everyone knows them. You know Nessie? The Loch Ness Monster? She is also my family – the poor thing is fat and tired now, of course.” He let go of her knee, but then lay his head on her lower leg. His cheek was surprisingly soft, utterly unlike the sharp slimy scales he’d been covered with moments before.

Cara didn’t move, there wasn’t any time to react before it happened. The merman hadn’t moved either, or at least not as a human would. He’d flowed up her legs and over her, down her arms and over her face, eyes, hair. He covered her from head to toe, in every part of her body, moving into every inch of her deeply. He was a man but not a man. She was clothed but not clothed. She was tossed as if by large embraces of tender waves, foam tipped, licking her ear lobes, her shoulder, curling into the curve of her neck. She was disappearing into a beautiful dissolution. Then there was the warm touch of his mouth kissing hers, just as if he were human.

“Sorry,” he murmured, with a quick apologetic laugh.

“What, exactly, just happened?” Cara slowly sat up. “I feel so odd, like part of my brain’s been erased. And so tired . . .”

He rose then dove gracefully into the water. Cara thought he might have decided to swim away. She wondered if this whole thing had been some sort of weird daydream, if she’d had too much sun today, maybe a case of heatstroke? But then his head broke the surface of the water five feet away.

“I’m more comfortable here, do you mind?” he asked. “There are many things I need you to know.”

Cara tried to stand but stumbled sideways a bit.

“I’m so dizzy! What did you do to me?” She walked unsteadily to the prow of her boat. With the side of her foot she shifted the container garden with its pots of herbs and lettuces aside to make room to sit near him. She stretched out on the dock facing the water, propped her head on her hand and got ready to listen. The scent of a tomato plant she’d brushed against filled the air. The dusk was closing in on the edges of the sky as people emerged onto the deck of a nearby boat. The clinking of beer bottles put on ice carried over the water and flames of a charcoal grill sparked the darkness.

“I am Matsya,” he said. “Cara, I am so happy to meet you.”

They talked till the gleaming half moon settled in its place in the sky, mirrored in the gently moving water. Matsya told Cara his story, including the reason he’d come to her in the first place: he needed her to perform an ancient ritual, one that would bring him back to life after his death.

# # #

“You know how I became a merman?” Matsya said one night. He took another bite of fennel, orange, cheese and red onion salad – his favorite food – before continuing. He chewed slowly. Cara thought of a fish. He reached over to touch Cara’s hair. “It was a woman, with hair the same color as yours.”

Cara lifted a hand to smooth her strawberry-blonde hair.

“It was . . . a terrible mistake. I loved her. One day we had a disagreement. I was young, strong, impetuous back then,” he continued.

Cara wondered how long ago he was talking about.

“I hit her. I’d never hit her before, but she said something that was unbearable to me. I won’t tell you what it was . . . but my one blow struck the side of her neck and broke it. I’ve relived that moment many times, wished I could take it back. The woman, my lover . . . she was human, but the daughter of a god. When her father discovered my terrible crime, he threw me into the sea and made me half-man, half-fish.” He still held her hair, caressing it, his voice filled with a beautiful music.

“Cara, I’ve wanted to give this to you. May I?” he said, standing and pulling something from the pocket of the jeans Cara had bought him.

It was a necklace. He walked behind her and lifted her hair up from her neck gently with one hand while placing a string of thick, knotted seaweed over her head. She gazed down at the trinket dangling from the emerald-colored strand. It was the golden conch shell she’d seen twisted in the line of the fish trap, that very first day. She’d thought it had disappeared forever.

He killed her, Cara thought, and he was thrown into the sea.

And that’s as far as her thoughts went.

# # #

Cara listened to the sounds of the waves and wind, watching as the light through the portholes shifted from dusk to dark. She didn’t like what was happening. Matsya would disappear for days on end, refusing to tell her where he was going or why. She had no idea whether he was dead or alive.

Tonight she was making bouillabaisse, another of his favorite foods. The aromas of fish stock, rich tomatoes, wine and garlic filled the close quarters of the cabin. The varnished wood gleamed in the dimly lit space above the embroidered quilts covering the bunks, their colors those of a faraway forest embroidered with intense bursts of color like the bright wings of tropical birds. Cara squinted down at her chopping board, remembering when he’d first asked her to make him a fish stew.

“How can you even think of that?” she’d responded. “Eating your own kind? How disgusting!”

And he’d looked up at her, a small smile reaching the corners of his mouth. He stretched as he reclined there on the bunk putting the novel he’d been reading aside and rising to move toward her. “Disgusting?” He laughed. “Gorgeous Cara, I am a fish! Fish eat fish. We are cold-blooded creatures, remember?”

The golden shell Cara now wore all the time between her breasts on its seaweed cord pulsed with a heat so sharp and sudden it burned. She pushed at it then held it tightly in her palm. Cold-blooded. No, you can’t be, she thought. She shook her head. No, I can see you right there, and you’re not cold-blooded at all.

# # #

In the months since Matsya had moved in, Cara had become so different than her usual self she wondered if she were a myth, and he the real person. There was a form of self-erasure going on, and worse, it seemed like destiny.

She had cut back on the hours she worked – it was too difficult to go into the city. She didn’t know when Matsya was going to die, and he might die without her there. She knew that each day that passed brought her closer to the day he would ask her to cook him, to make a feast of his corpse so he could return to life.

I hate to cook, she thought. Why did he choose me? I hate to cook. For she did. She now hated cooking as she had never hated anything before. The thought of cooking anything at all filled her with dread. The ingredients seemed so real to her, so alive. Each meal she made felt like attempted manslaughter.

“But Cara mia, dear one, my love, you do it so well,” she heard him whisper through the light waves off starboard port. And then he began to sing, and once again, his song could not be resisted.

Matsya had told Cara he could live forever in his form as mythical being, but his physical form was not completely ageless. It would last beyond normal human expectations, but every hundred years or so he had to renew it through a magical ritual – the feast of his own flesh cooked by one who loved him.

And when the time came, he died without pain or struggle. His heart stopped beating then his breath quit altogether as he lay next to her one night in form of a human man. He’d looked into her eyes then had taken her hand.

“It’s time. Close your eyes.” And she did, because the shape-shifting this time, of man to beast right there next to her in bed was nothing she wanted to see.

Matsya had told her he’d not wanted to die then be tossed back into the sea. He’d also insisted he not be cremated, and he didn’t want to be put in a wooden box placed in a field of plowed earth, memorialized by an etched gravestone: ‘Here Lies Matsya Merman – Rest In Peace – We Loved You Well.’

Cara must cook him after he died, and to make of his form – the strange-looking fish form – a wondrous feast. If she would do that, he promised he would be back, the magic would work, the spell would hold true, he’d return to life and rise from the depths of the sea as a merman.

She lifted the knife. An image of a cathedral rose – staunch, forbidding, filled with numberless worshippers. The walls of stone tumbled sideways, cracking open as the sea flooded through them. Marble statuary punctured stained glass windows, burnished pews with silent people upended and a final crashing ring of a church bell dropped to a whispered delicate plea to spirits unseen.

The tip of her knife touched his gills, lightly.

Surely he was a fish, just a fish. But just as surely, he was a man – a human man. And one she knew very well. Her knife rose in the air. She breathed. The knife gleamed.

A wind rose over the boatyard. Rigging clanged viciously against the masts of the boats. Above the battering noise Cara thought she heard the sound of a conch shell being blown. First there was one, then there were more, the music of an orchestra of conch shells rose.

She opened the hatch and looked out over the water. It was filled with female heads bobbing up and down, their flowing long golden hair almost covering the surface where they swam.

Mermaids.

“What are you doing here?” she screamed out through the fracas of the storm.

The music of the conch shells stopped. A voice spoke directly into Cara’s mind as she stared at the mermaids and they gazed impassively back at her.

“You will have a child,” the voice said, a light, gentle female voice. “The rest of it . . . the story about cooking him, the magic it would create to bring him back . . . it was all lies. He tells stories, just as he sings. To seduce. He is the Encantado.”

“You will have a child,” the voice said. “And then, the magic will start. It will not be as you expected, nothing will be as you expected, but in a way, yes, you will see him again.”

The golden heads of the mermaids then turned away, swimming together out over the cloud-tossed sea.

“By the way,” she heard in a delicate buzz at the back of her mind, “He was 3,568 years old. That is many years, even for our kind.”

Cara watched the wave of flowing jewel-tones, their fins flashing, steel-like tails beating against the harsh waves. Then the winds disappeared, the boat settled. They were gone. All was silent. Two seagulls flew to perch just a few feet away from Cara as she stared out over the sea, where there was nothing. She placed her hand on her lower stomach, and the gull’s black eyes snapped and their beaks opened. They were laughing.

Cara retreated down the ladder to the cabin, slamming the hatch shut with all her strength. Go ahead, laugh, you silly gulls, she thought.

Back in the tiny galley, Cara lifted her knife. With professional ease born of having cleaned many fish for many meals, she started to get to work. First she gutted him with a small sharp knife. Chocolate, she thought. I’ve never known fish innards to smell like chocolate before. The scent was almost overpowering. Then, there in the recess between his liver and intestines, she saw a gleam. Pushing the mess aside, she stopped in shock. It was another golden conch shell, matching the one still secured around her neck. She pulled it out and set it aside. It sat there enshrined in the blood red of liver and his inner body juices.

Changing knives, she then filleted the huge ugly fish – his eyes still open, yet unseeing.

She put down that knife then picked up another. With her heavy cleaver she removed his head from his frame with three strong whacks then set it off to the side. Lifting his backbone and frame off the table, she broke it into four pieces. The bones were as sharp as steel needles, pricking her hands, drawing blood. She threw his frame and bones onto the pile on top of his head. The two large fillets she cut in half. The meat of the fillets was opalescent, with a strong aroma of dying roses and sweat.

Pulling the messy pile of bones, meat and unseeing head toward her and into her arms she clumsily climbed the ladder to the hatch. She stopped then turned back to take the golden shell covered in blood from the table, piling it into the wet gathering of flesh threatening to escape her grasp, then she pushed the hatch open with one sticky hand, dropping some of the fish as she did. Moving quickly to the side of the boat, she tossed the pieces of Matsya out into the chilly blue-black water.

The two seagulls watched from the stern, fluffing their feathers and staring at her, their grim cake-batter faces unmoving.

“You hungry, guys?” Cara called out to them. “Here, have some sushi!”

She tore the golden conch shell on its seaweed chain off her neck and threw it into the water and watched as it disappeared, blending into the chunks of fish and bone, glinting as it danced slowly down into the impermeable darkness.

# # #

As she floated now in the heat of her bath, in her apartment on shore far away from the ocean, she placed the palms of both hands on her swelling stomach and thought of the child soon to arrive, and she remembered it all. “Cold-blooded,” she thought. “Yes. I don’t know why I didn’t see it.”

When the child was born she named her Maya, and she taught her to make the most delicious bouillabaisse the world had ever tasted, from every kind of fish in the sea, and as they sat together at the table to eat, she would always say, “This reminds me of your father.” And not a drop of the rich broth was ever left in the bowl.


Karen Resta is a writer who believes in fairy tales and in the power of food, not necessarily in that order. She lives in and writes from a small Appalachian town, but has always been a native New Yorker and apparently always will be.

Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz is a writer and aspiring photographer. Her work has appeared in various journals, online and print, as well as several anthologies. She blogs about the creative life at http://wwwonewriter.blogspot.com.

Issue No. 3, Winter 2012

The Dreaming Quilt
Amber Hollinger

Once upon a time there lived a mighty king. He was powerful and feared and terribly wealthy. From a tall castle atop a wide mountain, he ruled over a vast kingdom in the green valley below.

The people of the valley were a kind, hardworking people. During the day, they tended to their fields and traded their goods and taught their children. The people of the valley were a joyful people. During the evenings, they would dance and tell stories and smoke the dragon-flower.

But now, sad times were upon them. The king had started wars in faraway places and had sent many men and boys to battle. Although the king was very rich, the war cost him greatly, in coin and resource – similar to how it cost the people their families, but not quite the same. So to make up for the losses, he began taxing the villagers, by demanding eggs or bread or other goods from their cupboards.

Many moons passed this way. With men and boys gone to war, the women and elders of the valley had to work harder and longer tending the fields. They had less time to make wares to trade, so each had less and less. They had less time to teach the children, so the children became dim and wayward. They had less energy or care to sing or to dance. And instead of smoking the dragon-flower for hale and hearty relaxation, people took to drinking the potent nectar of the wocktoo, which was easy to forage but made them sick and melancholy. Seasons turned to years.

In his tall castle, atop the wide mountain, the king began to have nightmares. Awful, horrible nightmares that shook his body and rocked his brain. Nightmares of rabid wolves chewing through the walls of his chamber and through the walls of his flesh. Nightmares of evil elves with little weapons, chopping his body into pieces and flying him off to the four corners of the earth. Nightmares of his own insides coming alive, tearing free from the rest of him, and strangling him to death. Each night he tossed and turned and groaned in his great kingly bed.

True and pleasant sleep eluded the mighty king. And because he could not sleep, his mind and body could not rest, could not mend. He became groggy and grouchy. He became thin and weak. The king yelled for his honored men of science. After examination of his head and his heart, they concluded that they could not help him. The king yelled for his honored priests. After prayer over his body and his bed, they concluded that they could not help him. The king began to feel weaker yet and illness fell upon him. He seemed to age decades in mere months. Finally, one night the king snuck from the castle and went to the home of the witch.

The witch lived at the edge of the valley, surrounded by a beautiful garden and a yard with pigs and chickens. Like all good witches, she knew the ways of old, like how to summon the rains and how to read the wind. She knew about all the plants and creatures of the kingdom and how to employ and enchant them, knew how to trick them into revealing their secrets. She was a trusted advisor for many of the villagers, who came to her for healing herbs and magic stones and dragon-flower smoke.

The witch was not surprised to see the king. She invited him in and served him tea. He sank heavily onto a chair, gazing deeply into the fire.

“I am told that we are learning to leave the old ways behind us. Soon your ways will be lost to the past. But right now, I have no one else to turn to.”

The witch nodded and watched him.

“Am I possessed?” He asked her after some time.

The witch plucked a hair from his head and tasted it. “No, Sire.”

“Am I cursed, then?” He asked, hanging his head in despair.

The witch glanced down at his tea leaves. “No, Sire.”

“Can you cure what ails me? Can you… help me?” He looked into her eyes for the first time, desperate, feeling like a curious child in a foreign land.

She searched the palms of his now pale hands. “Yes,” she replied.

The witch told the king to return in seven nights.

Instead of sleeping, the witch rested on the ground in her garden, looking into the night sky. Witches tend to think more clearly in darkness. She studied the stars above, with the thin clouds sweeping by; she sniffed at the breeze. For a moment, her thoughts drifted to her husband – who was away at war and who had been missed as dearly as every soul gone from the valley. She thought and she pondered and she dreamed. By morning, she was ready.

The witch sat by the fire. She sat by the forest. She sat by the willowed lake. She sat in her garden. She sat and she sewed and she wove and she quilted: a beautiful, magnificent quilt. It would be a magic quilt, worthy of the king.

She quilted with fabric soft and warm as a mother’s embrace. She sewed in bits of earth and sky. She wove in the elements and she wove in dreams. She wove in love and joy and hope. And all other happinesses. For seven days and six nights the witch toiled this way, stitching with the silky threads of woodland spiders.

Her hands were tired and her fingers bloodied by the time the king knocked on her door. Neither the king nor the witch had slept since their last meeting. The witch placed the quilt in the king’s arms. Both were transfixed by its exquisiteness and its magnitude.

One side of the quilt was a swirl of deep blues and violets and blacks and silver, as though the night sky, the sea, and the moon were all dancing or making love. One side was a brilliant blend of reds and oranges and browns and gold, like the blazing sun, the earth, and the hearts of mankind were all struggling to outshine one another. It seemed to glow and dim all at once.

“This is largest, loveliest quilt I have ever seen,” marveled the king. “But how will it help me?”

The witch yawned. She told him, patiently, “Sleep beneath this quilt each night, and you will know sleep like you have never known before.”

The king looked into her eyes for the second time, feeling like a grateful child. “How will I repay you? I could give you coin; I could give you land; I could grant you nobility.”

The witch rubbed her aching neck with her aching hand. She steadied her gaze on his aged face. “Sire, I do not seek treasures in exchange for this quilt. Instead, I have two requests.”

The king, who was again entranced by the quilt, raised his heavy eyebrows.

“With this quilt you will have the peace and comfort each night that for so long had gone from you. Now, you must make peace where you have made war, and bring our people back to the valley so that they may have the comfort of their own beds. You are swaddled in gold and silks and more livestock than one man can count. No longer will you take the tax of eggs or bread or greens from your people who work so hard and have so little compared to you.”

The king sighed. He was already feeling pleasantly drowsy and weary, while he held the quilt. He looked into the quilt, with a contemplative brow.

He whispered: “If this quilt brings me true sleep, then that is a fair trade. If this quilt brings me true sleep, I shall grant your requests.”

And in that moment he meant it with all of his being, for with all of his being, the king wanted nothing more than to be asleep beneath the quilt. “You have my word.” And with that, he was gone.

The witch watched his silhouette shrink as it slunk up the wide mountainside. She eased herself into bed and into the gentle arms of a witch’s slumber.

The king returned to his bedchamber, feeling tired and hopeful. He lay atop his huge kingly bed and spread the quilt over him. Although he thought both sides were absolutely stunning, he was partial to the orange red side of fire and blood, trimmed in gold as it was. He turned this side toward his body, so that the blue-violate side faced the ceiling, reflecting the twilight. The moment he relaxed into his pillows of goose down, the king sank into a deep, deep slumber. One like he had never known.

That night, the king slept as the dead sleep – though perhaps even better. For in his deep, glorious sleep, he had the most beautiful, wondrous, tranquil dreams. He slept and he slept, lost completely to the world of sweet dreaming. And when he finally awoke, it was nearly time for mid-day feast. The king rose from his bed feeling… well, magnificent. As he stretched, his body seemed stronger, more agile. As he walked through the corridors, his mind seemed to clear and sharpen. As he sipped his tea, he felt healthier, younger. The king was himself again – though perhaps even better.

Many moons passed this way. And the king, remembering his promises to the witch, stopped taxing his people. This brought the people of the valley some relief and some ease.

But the king hesitated to withdraw his armies. With his mind and body so lithe, the king had become a true force to be reckoned with, and his sly military strategies kept him winning battles, and kept bringing him power and treasures. Just a bit more conquering, he thought to himself, and then I shall make peace.

Seven nights later, the witch awoke to a sensation of being stabbed. She placed a hand to her heart and wept and wept, knowing that her love had fallen in battle. She cried for her husband, she cried for all the lost souls gone from the valley, she cried until her night gown was soaked with tears. How awful it is to cry when you feel there is no one in the world to comfort you. She would be alone now.

Finally, the witch picked herself up and set about tidying up her home. For three days the witch did not speak a word, and she would not accept visitors. Instead she worked in her garden and waited. She waited and she waited for the king to keep his word. When it comes to matters of life and death, one last chance is one last chance.

But men do not always keep their word. And even great kings with great treasure do not always choose greatness – do not always turn from greed. The witch knew this, and she had prepared for these events.

One night, a blood orange moon rose high in the valley. The witch sat by her fire, stitching a widow’s gown. Just as your people continue to suffer true terror, so shall you, sire, she promised the flames.

The king, alone in his chamber, was preparing for bed and thinking. He was considering the best way to distribute newly gained land and power to his nobles. Who could he trust most, he pondered as he crawled into bed, spreading the quilt over himself as he always did – blood red side against his flesh. Oh how he would spend his new treasures, he marveled as he relaxed into his pillows of goose down.

And while he drifted into sleep, the colors of the quilt began to shift and churn and change, as they wrapped his kingly body. The quiet swirl of silvery sapphire violet faded to the bottom side and the vigorous carroty scarlet gold rose to the top, facing the ceiling and the sky. With his eyes closed, the king was unable to see what he and the other townspeople were missing in the heavens. As they slept in their beds, a crimson sky spread over the kingdom. It was a sky of a fiery blood-soaked blend, whose colors reflected those of the magic quilt.

Then, the king began to dream. And beneath the colors of the quilt, his dreams turned to nightmares like none he had ever experienced before. Awful, horrible, wretched nightmares that chilled his heart and gripped his innards and shook his body and rocked his brain.

These were terrors that he not only saw within his mind, they were terrors he could feel, at every level of his being. He dreamt of warriors fallen on the battlefield, and he felt their fright and rage as they fought, felt their bodies torn and crushed and burned, felt their final, painful gasping and choking. He dreamt of mothers and children screaming and sobbing in grief, and he felt their deep misery and profound emptiness, felt their souls wrecked with sorrow. He dreamt of a hot and dark and endless hell – of his place in it, and he felt himself being cruelly and mercilessly tortured, as punishment for his selfishness and wicked ways.

The king’s consciousness slowly dawned, and as he became more lucid with the light of day, he realized that he was not merely dreaming these new nightmares; he was living them. Finally, his mind cleared and his eyes opened.

With as much force as he could muster, he tried to bolt from his bed, tried to escape the quilt and its terrible torment. But, alas, he found himself caught beneath it. He could not move. And his limbs burned and ached, as his mind again became foggy with images of ghastly, atrocious things.

The king shrieked and bellowed in agony. His guards burst into the bedchamber and tried to cut him free with their powerful swords, but they found they could not help him. He yelled for his honored men of science, who ran to his side. But after examination of the magic quilt, they found they could not help him. The king yelled for his honored priests. But after prayer over the magic quilt, they found they could not help him. They watched, in turn, as he feverishly writhed in his bed. And, not knowing the origins of the quilt, they racked their brains for answers – but found none.

Finally, shaking, the king told his guards to bring the witch. And he told them not to hurt her. For the king knew, at every level of his being, that if any harm were to fall upon the witch, he would surely spend his remaining days, trapped and twisted, beneath the blood red side of the quilt.

The witch was not surprised to see the king’s men.

She followed them willingly up the wide mountain, to the tall castle. The king called her to see him alone, for he did not want anyone to know of their contract of magic. From his prison of anguish beneath the quilt, he looked into her eyes, feeling like a helpless child.

“What have you done to me,” he asked her weakly.

But in his heart of hearts he already knew.

It is, of course, the result of your own deceptions. The king saw these words form in his mind’s eye, but in his delirium he was not certain if the witch’s lips had moved.
“Please,” he begged, “release me. I will do anything…” He winced and moaned as waves of pain and terror gripped his body.

“You know what must be done, great king.”

The witch turned her face to the crimson dawn, and as she spoke, the king’s lips formed the same words in a hoarse whisper.

She said: “the men and boys will come home. There will be no more war without virtue.” She turned back to him, locking his tearful eyes to her own.

“And what of you, great king? Every night, you may enjoy a full and deep, restful and tranquil sleep beneath the blue-black heavens.”

But, each morning at dawn, before you may wake and rise with the day, you will live moments burned and cut and torn and beaten under the emblazoned blood-orange sky – lost to the very hell you once created – as the price of your own undeserved peace.”

The king nodded his desperate agreement. And in that moment he meant it with all of his being, for with all of his being, the king wanted nothing more than to be free from the magic quilt. “You have my word.” And so it was done.

And with that, the witch was gone.

In coming weeks, the king ended the wars in faraway places. The men and boys were reunited with their women and children, and the people of the valley rejoiced.

The king put his energy toward strengthening and improving his own lands, and in time he was seen as great once again. And every night he slept faithfully beneath his enormous quilt, although, for the life of him, he could not recall the circumstances surrounding how he came to possess the brilliant thing.

Still, the king never forgot the lessons of the quilt – as he was reminded at the crowning of each new sun.


Amber Hollinger hopes to contribute something good to the world by sharing her work. After a five-year writing hiatus, she returned to creating poetry and short stories following the loss of a full-time job last Spring. She has an MA in International Relations from the University of Sussex. She recently completed, and has been submitting for publication, her first poetry collection, (S)urge. She is currently working on two poetry chapbooks. She happily teaches dance, tutors/edits for wine money, and works for a nearby university.

Issue No. 3, Winter 2012

Tail of a Turtledove
Jenifer DeBellis

The message read: “Your principles mean more to you than money or success.” This once-in-a-lifetime discovery gave her nothing more than that. No note of instruction, no love letter, no recognisable message—just a folded fortune tag and a handful of sand tucked into an otherwise empty Jefferson Vineyards 2008 Viognier bottle.

Last year she found a balloon stuck to a downed tree. It was impossible to know how long it had been since it staked a claim on one of the lower branches of the birch—a birch that once stood strong at the inner curve of the river’s bend. By the time she found the balloon, the top half of the tree had snapped, and without letting go of the base, had toppled into the river. It pressed hard into the shallow water, splitting in half at the base and fanning out like two fully extended wings in flight. The deflated vermilion balloon bobbed in the current, a portion of its tattered pearly ribbon nothing more than the shadow of a trout pulling ahead. Tied to the neck of the balloon was a note in a bag. “Cast your nets to the other side of the boat,” it read, “and be prepared to receive extraordinary things.”

The day after she found this note the worst season of her life began.

“Tail of a turtledove,” were the words carved into the sand. Then the message faded from the shore before anyone else could happen by and see it.

She always noticed him farther down the coast, walking away from her—always walking away, never approaching. Yet, she could picture his knowing smile playing from his eyes as she read his messages.

“Wait!” she shouted, taking care to release the urgency of her request into the breeze being carried his way.

This time he stopped and turned toward her. And although she knew those eyes well, it seemed like he was looking at her for the first time. She began to question whether she was the one looking at him for the very first time. As the early evening sun cast certain shadows upon his features, she recognised him as the one who stood guard while she slept.

They slunk to the sand—legs crossed—and began watching each other. She was sure that as she saw through him, he was also seeing through her. Each time she latched onto one of his thoughts, she held it up to the setting sun and viewed it from every angle. The moment she tried tucking it into the place their memories belonged, the tide would wash up and draw it away from her.

While the last shreds of sunlight bled below the horizon, she sensed she was on the threshold of remembering. He had loved her once, had touched her where nobody else has ever managed. Yet, as she remembered, the distance between them—even now as they remained sitting upon the shoreline—grew.

No longer able to hear his thoughts, she focused on the contours of his silhouette now highlighted by the crescent moon. He swept his arm toward the eastern sky. Following his motion, she noticed a constellation that was reminiscent of a dove’s tail. Tail of a turtledove, she remembered.

When she looked back to where he was sitting, he was gone. At first, she thought her eyes were deceiving her. Yet once her vision readjusted to the darkness, she realised she was once again alone.

She looked for those all-knowing eyes everywhere. Not one passerby on the pier was a match. Nobody riding the bus into the city was an equal. Nobody in any given day was the same. She frequented the beach where she’d last seen him to no avail.

The yearning mounted along with her hopelessness. She began to lose touch with what she was searching for. A year had passed since that night on the beach. On her way to the bus, she noticed in curved, bold letters Tail of a turtledove written across a newspaper that was pressed up against the dispenser glass. Peering through the glass, she made out the headline the message was written over. “Life, in black, white and color.”

She purchased the paper and revisited that sandy spot she’d grown to find even in the dark. Digging her toes into the sand, she focused on his message, committing each curve and loop to memory. Beneath the handwritten words was a thin line. She pulled the paper closer to make out what it was underlining. “When two souls connect, neither life nor death can separate them. He talked about walking the spiritual shores, guarding the gateway . . .”

The wind picked up and she inhaled the healing scent of ocean air. Two turtledoves alighted near her feet. One purred toward the other before they took to flight again. Off in the distance something sparkled and bobbed in the approaching waves. She watched its mysterious dance—dipping and twirling as the water swelled and then fell away—and waited for it to wash ashore.

A surge of restless waves pressed up against the boulder seawall. Streams of water burst into bouquets like drowning arms reaching for something solid to cling on to. The dancing object continued on its course some feet away from the pier, oblivious of the threat of getting sucked into the swell of those volatile waves.

Several feet above the spraying water she noticed a familiar figure perched on the jagged edge of a boulder that was reminiscent of a half opened eye. An apparition or a silhouette? It was becoming difficult for her to tell the difference anymore. She was afraid to look back toward the object that was making its way to the shore, afraid that the moment she looked away he would disappear.


Metro Detroit writer Jenifer DeBellis is passionate about uncovering the heartbeat of humanity. She’s a 2012 Meadow Brook Writing Project Writer in Residence and is beginning Solstice’s MFA in Creative Writing at Pine Manor in January. Her work’s been featured in BAC Street Journal, Pink Panther Magazine, and Oakland Journal.

Issue No. 3, Winter 2012

Untitled, Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz
Untitled
Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz

Destiny
Lesley Dame

In the forest there is a weathered shack, the graying boards leaking rainwater in fat drops. In the shack a baby sucks its small pruny thumb, desiring comfort. Near the baby, a mother cries, the long, gasping sobs of a broken spirit. Inside the mother, a heart breaks.

Helen didn’t know who her father was. Not in the sense that many young girls do not know their father, having only vague notions of his profession or the names of his friends, not knowing or caring much about his youth, how he was once a boy falling in love with a girl who would become a mother. No, Helen didn’t know the identity of her father, and unlike most girls, she was desperate to know everything there was to know about her father’s life. Where he was born. His favorite childhood game. How he and her mother met. How they fell in love. If he knew about his daughter. If he missed her. If he cared.

Since she’d been old enough to sense his absence, she’d been asking her mother questions, questions which she felt were both extremely justified and very easily answered. Her mother disagreed. Who is he? Is he dead? Does he have any other family? The answer to this last question was always the most important to Helen. If her father, whomever he was and whether or not he was living, had family, then Helen had family, too. She knew this question pained her mother the most, but she wanted the answer to be yes so badly she couldn’t help but ask.

“I am your family,” her mother would say, looking down at her needlework, deftly bringing the needle in and out as a simply pansy began to bloom on the cotton.

“I know, Ma,” Helen would say soothingly, “but we don’t have to be alone forever, do we? If we found Da’s family, they’d be your family, too.”

“You don’t know that, honey.”

Helen didn’t know, but she was determined to find out. It was summer, and her mother served as a laundress to wealthier families. She’d be gone from dawn to dusk, while Helen was supposed to be doing chores at home – washing and mending, cooking, picking berries and herbs to preserve for the winter. Their home was small, only two rooms, but Helen had the sense that her mother must be hiding something somewhere. There had to be a clue about her father in or near the house. Sparsely furnished with one shared bed, a few chairs, and a cooking pot, it didn’t take long to inspect everything. Of course, Helen was frustrated when nothing turned up, but she didn’t give up easily. She began carefully removing nails from floorboards, peering underneath them at wiggly bugs and spiders, meticulously nailing the boards back in place.

It took days, but she finally found it. In the corner of the main room, underneath a rotting board, there was a small blue satchel with drawstrings. Inside the satchel was a sliver of parchment. On the parchment was one word: Destiny.

Helen had been meditating on the word destiny for days. She’d casually slip it into conversation, seeking her mother’s reaction.

“Ma, I must get that lovely purple wool for my new winter blanket. It’s destiny, I know it.”

Ma didn’t flinch. “And who’s going to pay for that extravagance? You’ll do fine with the white yarn. It’s just as warm. Plus, you can dye it yourself if you like. We’ve plenty of berries.”

So that’s how it was going to be, thought Helen. No matter. She’d figure it out. Who puts a piece of parchment in a satchel with the word destiny on it and hides it under a house? Maybe it wasn’t her mother’s. Maybe it’d been there for decades. Maybe it meant nothing. Maybe.

But maybe meant that there was still hope. Maybe meant maybe not. She knew it was risky, but Helen left soon after her mother one morning and walked into town. She slipped quietly into the library, which was one room with a handful of rotting books and an aged bespectacled librarian behind a desk.

Helen cleared her throat. “Excuse me.”

The old man looked up and squinted. “Yes, dear? How may I help you?”

“I’d like to look up destiny, please.”

“Destiny? You require a dictionary?”

“Um, maybe. Yes. Please.”

The man rose from his chair and shuffled over to a dusty shelf. He peered at the bindings and eventually pulled down a large moth-eaten book with a green cover.

“Here you go, dear.” The man gestured at a rickety chair and said, “Please, sit here.”

“Thank you.” Helen sat and looked at the book in the man’s hands. He placed the book on the desk and opened it—a musty smell sharpened the air.

“Ah, let me see,” said the man as he carefully turned the pages. “Here it is. Destiny.” He turned the book toward Helen and placed a crooked finger on the entry.

Helen read out loud. “Destiny. Noun. Derived from the Old Language. Meaning: naturally occurring, inevitable fate, irreversible.” Helen frowned. This wasn’t very helpful. Everyone knew what the word meant. She sighed and was about to close the book.

“Indeed,” exclaimed the old man, followed by a phlegmy cough. “Read the next entry.” There was a second entry! In her excitement, Helen hunched over the book, almost rubbing her nose on the moldy paper.

“Destiny. In geography, Destiny is a small island off the Eastern coast of Namsinia. Destiny is sparsely populated and known for its export of fried fish and coconuts.” Helen frowned, unwilling to give herself over completely to this new thuddering in her chest. She’d never heard of this island before. Could it really mean something? Is this what the scrap of parchment referred to?

“Sir, do you know anything about the island of Destiny?” she inquired.

“Hmm. Let me see. I have an old atlas here somewhere.”

One cold autumn morning, as bright leaves dropped and danced, settling shakily on the ground, Helen slipped out of the shack in the woods with nothing but a small pack of dried fruit and meat slung over her shoulder. She was in pursuit of Destiny.


Lesley Dame is co-founder of and poetry and nonfiction editor for damselfly press. Author of the poetry chapbook Letting Out the Ghosts, her work has also appeared in many online and print journals. Dame happily lives, writes, and edits in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. For more information, visit her website, www.wix.com/lesleydame/poet.

Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz is a writer and aspiring photographer. Her work has appeared in various journals, online and print, as well as several anthologies. She blogs about the creative life at http://wwwonewriter.blogspot.com.

Feature: Snow White and Rose Red, Issue No. 3, Winter 2012

Call Me Red, Margo Valentine
Call Me Red

Come Closer, Margo Valentine
Come Closer

Poison, Margo Valentine
Poison

Take a Bite, Margo Valentine
Take a Bite

Tempting, Margo Valentine
Tempting


Margo Valentine (Rose White) and her sister Christina Nova (Rose Red) seek out magic in the every day, dancing and writing in Los Angeles, CA. Nova was always the star of Valentine’s videos and photographs when they were children, and she still is today. Nova most recently performed at The Magic Castle in Hollywood, CA with Sebastian Kraine, and Valentine was most recently published in Francesca Lia Block’s anthology, Love Magick.

Issue No. 3, Winter 2012

Last Spring in Dublin
Allie Marini Batts

There were fireflies embroidered
on the woolen lapels of your winter coat
For luck, you said, though three of the buttons fell off
that last spring in Dublin.

Lost among the cobblestones, the tarnish of your missing buttons
disappeared, so you bought new ones, too shiny.
I stitched them onto the smoke infused wool
and hoped you wouldn’t notice my careless stitches.

As you crawled into the tent, outside, glowworms emerged
from nowhere, drawn to your flashlight.
It was too cold for camping, damp and wet,
and I felt too American, shivering in the sleeping bag,
wishing for sunshine and fireflies tagging each other in the dark.

I had almost forgotten about your lost buttons,
but sometimes, when I zip up the mosquito net
to let the night breeze in, I fall into a dream of
warm winter coats in the Irish springtime, your missing buttons
borne back to me on the faint beating of insect wings.


Allie Marini Batts is an alumna of New College of Florida, meaning she can explain deconstructionism, but cannot perform simple math. Her work has appeared in over 100 literary publications that her parents haven’t heard of. Her chapbook, “With This Ring,” was a 2012 finalist for the Casey Shay Press annual Mary Ballard award. Her short story, “Two Pounds, Two Ounces,” was recognized as a Story of Distinction in the 2012 E.M. Koppel Short Fiction Awards and she is a 2012 poetry nominee for the Sundress Press “Best of the Net” Award. Allie lives in Tallahassee with her husband, where she feeds and befriends opossums and treefrogs. She is a research writer and is pursuing her MFA degree in Creative Writing through Antioch University Los Angeles. Allie’s publications can be found on her author’s blog, or to read her book reviews and literary blogging, visit Bookshelf Bombshells.

Issue No. 3, Winter 2012

The Loudest Lullaby
Joseph Dante

Ellena puts her striped baby to sleep. Despite the dimness of the room, she can still make out the tiger skin. Her friends have always treated the boy just like any other, but she can’t stop dividing the child into twins. She blinks, and there they are again: two sons that are somehow adjacent, yet never touching. Her color is there, running across a nose, but so are the streaks of blue that are almost grey.

She looks at all the stacks of paper she keeps in the bedroom. Most of them are tall and leaning like the accordion buildings from her dreams. It’s a silly habit to hoard so much, but at least she can remember what a city resembles, what a letter is. At least she has some kind of memory.

The window shows her the rest. The outside seems nearly smudged out. It shows her the pages of an old fairy tale book her grandmother would skip over because she was too young to understand. Is there a mythic hero that will come to finally trace the origins? When did her city’s calligraphy stop, and how did all the dark ink begin to bleed out into the sky?

The city and the colors, those she can stack on top of each other without even squinting. They would always rise up in defiance and she’d avoid them like the precarious pillars around her.

But there is nothing else she can see in the air. The birds had gone when she was a girl. All that is left is the sound of the word on her tongue and how quickly it falls from her mouth. She has almost forgotten what wings are for. There are no other living creatures except for the snakes that burn through the forests.

Ellena turns back to her son. Even if the city were still a cradle, the people would see the skin. They would cut him up with their eyes: how the brown-orange is hers and how the blue-grey is his.

They lay together once. But he’s gone now.

Learner is his name and she still laughs about that, even more than she used to. He was here when they could call it a cradle, where the babies could sleep when the day was winding down like a music box and the parents provided a circle. The skin colors were mostly solid like the other cities, but there was a presence of dots, splashes, and crescents. Nothing so divided as her baby, but brown-red and orange-red fingers intertwined, at least. There were young couples getting married where the sun could see them, the braided streamers like horsetails, all the swirled pudding and ice cream to celebrate the colors they had in common. And of course, there was more to the air.

But with everything bright enough to taste, there were less smudges to notice. She makes a confession: Maybe she read her grandmother’s skipped pages too early. The story arc was complete before Ellena was, and she would catch herself seeing eyes in the windows and walls. The circles made her turn and turn.

“It’s just your imagination,” Learner told her. “Have you been drinking all that tea again? You haven’t slept, have you? You’re seeing things. How much have you had today?”

There’s a pounding at the door and she jumps. It wakes the baby and he starts to cry.

Is he trying to bring back more of his color? She confesses something else, again: Learner still lingers in her bed. What more is necessary? Ellena sees him when she sleeps, dropping blue tar syrup on her eyelids. Heavy and slow, licking at her cracked lips. Turning into fresh streets that bridge the towns.

She dances around the buildings of paper and leaves the room. No more tripping, no more colors in her dreams. She promises.

But it’s only Chryssa at the door. All brown-orange like Ellena, save for a freckle of grey by the nose. Tiny as tear, but just enough to have to talk over the laughs from the courtyard when they were schoolgirls. The hushed curses from both of their mothers.

Today, the wrinkles are smiles around her eyes.

“A bomb hasn’t dropped in a week,” Chryssa says, and they embrace. She closes the door and her friend kisses the boy’s forehead.

“But there are fires burning everywhere,” Ellena says. “Can’t you smell it?”

“They’re going, they’re going. Forget that old smell. You can feel it.” Chryssa shakes Ellena’s arm like she’s trying to jolt her from death. “Let’s have something sweet.”
With that, the boy stops crying as if he understands. Ellena carries him around the house, shooshing and cooing.

“How about some chocolate?” Chryssa asks. “Some tea with honey?”

“I’m not sure we have any of that.”

Her friend searches the cupboards anyway and Ellena looks out the bedroom window again. She has already decided she would stop cleaning the sill. No matter what she does, the ashes from the fires carry to the house. She can’t stop it. Sawdust, beige, or bone-white?

No. Why does the specific name for its color even matter?

“There’s plenty of tea here!” Chryssa laughs. “Boxes and boxes. I think you may just have more than the rest of this godforsaken country.”

Ellena sets the boy back down while Chryssa makes the tea. She thinks she can smell it from the kitchen. How faint it is though. So soft and quiet, so unlike everything else that surrounds it. She wants to hold it close like the other son she’s always splitting.

Her real son is already fast asleep. It’s a miracle. There have been so many blasts so close to home and it’s never any trouble for him. Ellena had cried so many nights while he snored so innocently. But somehow, a knock on the door managed to wake him.

If he has to have a childhood, it will be sleeping to the music of explosions. He won’t have the words like she had, the paper, the pillars, the cradle. He’ll probably only need to know the names of his own colors.

Look at all the blue-greyness in there, she thinks. Statue colors. If they aren’t both killed by the wordless men, surely her baby will grow up torn by what is on him or the growing distances between the rubble left over.

Ellena lets out a loud cough while her friend talks to her from the kitchen.

“Perfect!” Chryssa says, her spoon clinking against the cups. “It’s just what we need.”

The boy doesn’t even have a name yet. There was never any ceremony to anoint him.

“It’s so white with all the ashes. But it’s perfect.”

She’ll name him Lethe, she decides.

“The fire is long gone though. No worries.”

Learner knows where they are. Maybe he’ll come and take them away. There has to be a place where they could sleep in the same bed again, their baby snoring softly between their colors.

Or maybe he’ll come back to kill them, his mask muffling any sound he lets out by accident. He’s one of the wordless already. Who knows what that could mean for them? She saw the collar and tattoos when he last returned, the only symbols left to replace all of the lost language.

Chryssa is still talking cradle-talk. “Just perfect,” she mumbles.

Ellena has already broken her promise though. The dreams are following her when she is awake too, and she accidentally bumps into one of the paper pillars. It collapses with a clap and the reams roll out like a river.

“Why are you keeping all that paper in here?” Learner would ask. “It’s useless to have it now. Except maybe for making fire.”

She never hallucinated, she didn’t drink too much of anything. She always had the right amount of sleep.

Learner is gone and she doesn’t know. He ran his thumb down Lethe’s lines and she doesn’t know. He may have sacrificed his own tongue to form an allegiance, to erect stronger pillars than her flimsy fortress. Or maybe the stripes tore him to pieces and he fled to save his own skin. But she doesn’t know because he never wrote. Before he lost his language, the last thing he mentioned was the paper. It stays with her now and won’t go because it is also the only thing left that stacks and reaches and acts as her own circle.

Looking around at the mess, Ellena has an urge to write. Even just her baby’s new name. If only she could suck all the blue-greyness out of him and use it like ink. She presses her cheek to the pages she picks up.

But she moves too quickly and cuts herself on what collects. Her blood dots the top page in her hands. There is no time, she thinks.

Taking what she has, she writes what she can.

Chryssa comes into the room with the cups of tea and watches Ellena kneel on the floor. “Oh!” she says.

Ellena stares at the first part of the boy’s smeared name—let—on the sheet of paper, and she knows it. The blood isn’t what matters. It isn’t the sounds that spit from her mouth or the real red words that fall to the page. This basic biology will always spill out.

It’s her baby’s pattern, the dip into language and symbols. She’ll always see the two boys pulling from each other and trace them with her fingers. From the eyes to the toes, they’re written and sewn.

She stands up and drops everything in her arms. She picks up Lethe again and hands him to Chryssa. She walks to the front door.

Again: “Oh!”

Ellena believes in O’s. She still believes in the circles, in the snakes that eat their own tails. The type that will fight against the others that burn through the forests. The type that held the parents together with their babies sleeping and told stories that didn’t make her turn and turn and dream with eyes pressed to the window.

The fight between the snakes will happen before either side has a chance to turn into dragons and swallow her baby like rodent meat. It will happen before the white-sawdust-beige flakes become a snowstorm and cover her house. It will happen before the wordless men break in and find her naming her son on the paper herself.

When it’s all done, a bird will return to roost and ruffle the ashes out of its feathers. It will be Learner’s greeting, Lethe’s yawn. They’ll sit together on the sill, wordless or not, and their ink will spill into each other and paint the house with the colors of their skins.

Ellena grabs the speckled handle and shoves the door like a shoulder, expecting the air to ring with her screaming. Screaming for the cradle and the city. Screaming for color or some ink.

But there isn’t enough time for that. Already there is a wailing that kisses all the ears left in the house, a prayer that tucks them all in like a blanket.


Joseph Dante is a writer residing in South Florida and a graduate from Florida International University. His work has been featured in Monkeybicycle, Paste, Foxing Quarterly, and elsewhere. He is an ongoing reader for Hobart. He hopes you have enough words and colors to recognize the stripes and won’t ever have to cut anyone up because of them.

Issue No. 3, Winter 2012

Silent Reading
Rick Marlatt

A freshly sharpened pencil
is jabbed into an unsuspecting rib.
From the back row
something vulgar is uttered.

Wadded papers float
through the air like small clouds
above the mountains
of over-gelled heads.

And bad cologne collides
with multiple coatings of perfume
while an iPod aims its bass
right for my temples.

The only silence
is in the books themselves,
lying face down and closed
like cold and lonely vaults.

Below the fray of pushing,
shoving, and swearing,
Shakespeare is kicked across
the floor.

Judging by the position
of the bookmark,
Romeo has just discovered
something awful inside the tomb

and is about to make
the worst mistake of his life.
I realize, too,
that he has much in common

with the scholar three seats across
who snaps the bra strap
of the blonde in front of him
and squeals gleefully with laughter.

The beauty of youth
is you don’t know you’re young.
And the beauty of passion
is you’re young enough to feel it.

Before I know it
I’ve ascended my desk
and am standing high above
the groundlings in the yard.

“Here’s to my love!” I holler.
And I slowly raise
the Charlie Brown coffee mug
to my lips.

My sip is well drawn out.
“O true apothecary!
Thy drugs are quick.
Thus with a kiss I die.”

What follows is nothing
short of miraculous.
The iPod takes a break to reshuffle.
Their lives kick back to neutral.

Their mouths hang open.
Their faces go soft,
their eyes glossed white with wonder.
Silent.


Rick Marlatt’s first book, How We Fall Apart, was the winner of the Seven Circle Press Poetry Award. Marlatt’s work has appeared widely in print and online publications including The Ratting Wall, New York Quarterly, and Rattle. Marlatt writes poetry reviews for Coldfront Magazine, and he teaches English in Nebraska, where he lives with his wife and their two sons.

About the Contributors


Two Trees
Zeina Makky

Tina Barry is chipping away at my M.F.A. in creative writing at Long Island University in Brooklyn, NY. Her poems and short stories have appeared in Elimae, Fractured West, Pear Noir!, THIS Magazine and other online and print publications.

Allie Marini Batts is an alumna of New College of Florida, meaning she can explain deconstructionism, but cannot perform simple math. Her work has appeared in over 100 literary publications that her parents haven’t heard of. Her chapbook, “With This Ring,” was a 2012 finalist for the Casey Shay Press annual Mary Ballard award. Her short story, “Two Pounds, Two Ounces,” was recognized as a Story of Distinction in the 2012 E.M. Koppel Short Fiction Awards and she is a 2012 poetry nominee for the Sundress Press “Best of the Net” Award. Allie lives in Tallahassee with her husband, where she feeds and befriends opossums and treefrogs. She is a research writer and is pursuing her MFA degree in Creative Writing through Antioch University Los Angeles. Allie’s publications can be found on her author’s blog, or to read her book reviews and literary blogging, visit Bookshelf Bombshells.

Laura Beasley, the Mother who Tells Stories, has lost 190 pounds and lives beyond cancer. After raising three children in California, she and her husband live with their whippet in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Troy Blackford, a 28-year old office worker with eight published short stories – ‘Birds on Glass’ in the September 2010 issue of Black Oak Presents, ‘The Days of a Driveling Instruction are Departing’ in the April/May/June 2012 issue of The Storyteller, ‘Now for the Sunbeams’ in the Spring 2012 issue of the Avalon Literary Review,,’Seeing the World for Pennies a Day’ in the October 2012 issue of Epiphany Magazine, ‘Whalesong’ in the October 2012 issue of Inkspill Magazine, ‘A View of the Park’ in the October 2012 issue of Roadside Fiction, ‘Object’ appearing in an upcoming issue of Garbled Transmissions Magazine, and ‘Hearing Voices’ appearing in an upcoming issue of Bewildering Stories, lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and two cats.

Ryan Bollenbach lives, writes, and noodles on his guitar in Tampa, Florida. He is a fan of poetical mysticism and cinematic minimalism. His poetry can be read at Prick of the Spindle, and is forthcoming in Brevity Poetry Review. His editorial work can be read at www.sweetlit.com.

Jennifer Carson is an award-winning fantasy artist and author. Her publishing credits include two children’s novels, To Find A Wonder (2009) and Hapenny Magick (2011), and a short story in Timeless: An Anthology of Young Adult Romance (2012). To Find A Wonder was also scripted and produced as a musical in 2010. Jennifer is currently working on a sequel to Hapenny Magick titled Tangled Magick. She holds a Bachelors in Creative Writing.

Jess Cording’s work has appeared under several names in various print and online publications, most recently Extracts, Knocking at the Door: Poems About Approaching the Other, Whistling Fire, Squid Quarterly, Otter Tail Review.

Lesley Dame is co-founder of and poetry and nonfiction editor for damselfly press. Author of the poetry chapbook Letting Out the Ghosts, her work has also appeared in many online and print journals. Dame happily lives, writes, and edits in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. For more information, visit her website, www.wix.com/lesleydame/poet.

Joseph Dante is a writer residing in South Florida and a graduate from Florida International University. His work has been featured in Monkeybicycle, Paste, Foxing Quarterly, and elsewhere. He is an ongoing reader for Hobart. He hopes you have enough words and colors to recognize the stripes and won’t ever have to cut anyone up because of them.

Metro Detroit writer Jenifer DeBellis is passionate about uncovering the heartbeat of humanity. She’s a 2012 Meadow Brook Writing Project Writer in Residence and is beginning Solstice’s MFA in Creative Writing at Pine Manor in January. Her work’s been featured in BAC Street Journal, Pink Panther Magazine, and Oakland Journal.

David Dickerson is a regular contributor to This American Life, and his work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Gettysburg Review, Camera Obscura, and Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror.

Colin Dodds grew up in Massachusetts and completed his education at The New School in New York City. Norman Mailer wrote that Dodds’ novel The Last Bad Job showed “something that very few writers have; a species of inner talent that owes very little to other people.” Dodds’ novels What Smiled at Him and Another Broken Wizard have been widely acclaimed by critics and readers alike. His screenplay, Refreshment – A Tragedy, was named a semi-finalist in 2010 American Zoetrope Contest. Two books of Dodds’ poetry—The Last Man on the Moon and The Blue Blueprint—are available from Medium Rare Publishing. Dodds’ writing has also appeared in a number of periodicals, including The Wall Street Journal Online, Folio, Explosion-Proof, Block Magazine, The Architect’s Newspaper, The Main Street Rag, The Reno News & Review and Lungfull! Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife Samantha.

Donelle Dreese teaches literature, creative writing, and composition at Northern Kentucky University. Her fiction has appeared in the Journal of Microliterature, Sunsets and Silencers, Postcard Shorts, and Gadfly Online. Other publications include two chapbooks of poetry and a book of travel writing, America’s Natural Places: East and Northeast, published by Greenwood Press in 2010.

Jeannine Hall Gailey is the Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington, and the author of Becoming the Villainess (Steel Toe Books, 2006) and She Returns to the Floating World (Kitsune Books, 2011). Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in journals such as The Iowa Review, American Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. She volunteers as an editorial consultant for Crab Creek Review and currently teaches part-time at the MFA program at National University. Her web site is http://www.webbish6.com.

William Wright Harris wakes up for poetry. His poetry has appeared in twelve countries in such publications as The Cannon’s Mouth, Poetry Salzburg Review, Ascent Aspirations, generations and Write On!!! A graduate from the University of Tennessee- Knoxville, he has studied poetry in workshop settings. As a hobby, he collects places he has been published.

Penny Harter is published widely in journals and anthologies. Her books include *One Bowl* (2012); *Recycling Starlight* (2010); *The Night Marsh* (2008); *Buried in the Sky* (2002); *Lizard Light: Poems from the Earth* (1998); and *Turtle Blessing* (1996). With her late husband, William J. Higginson, she co-authored *The Haiku Handbook* (25th Anniversary Edition, 2010), and her illustrated children’s alphabestiary, *The Beastie Book*, came out end of 2009. A Dodge poet, Harter read at the 2010 Dodge Poetry Festival. She has received three poetry fellowships from the NJSCA, the Mary Carolyn Davies Award from the PSA, and a January, 2011, fellowship from VCCA. For more information, please visit her web site: www.2hweb.net/penhart.

Amber Hollinger hopes to contribute something good to the world by sharing her work. After a five-year writing hiatus, she returned to creating poetry and short stories following the loss of a full-time job last Spring. She has an MA in International Relations from the University of Sussex. She recently completed, and has been submitting for publication, her first poetry collection, (S)urge. She is currently working on two poetry chapbooks. She happily teaches dance, tutors/edits for wine money, and works for a nearby university.

K. Carlton Johnson is an artist.

Deda Kavanagh grew up in Redford Michigan and lives in Bucks County Pa. Her poems have been published in U.S. 1 Worksheets, In Gear, Paterson Literary Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Freshet, Kelsey Review, and Lehigh Valley Literary Review.

Sandi Leibowitz lives in New York City and teaches in New Jersey, hence she spends a great deal of time suspended in the air on bridges over water in a contraption with a combustible engine. She is therefore very much a creature of all four elements, and afraid of trolls. She writes fantasy, mostly based on myth and fairy tales. Her poems have appeared and are forthcoming in magazines such as Mythic Delirium, Apex, Strange Horizons, Niteblade and Silver Blade. Her stories may be hunted down (and hopefully not killed but served a tasty brunch) in Jabberwocky, Mirror Dance, Shelter of Daylight, Cricket and Shining Cities: An Anthology of Pagan Science Fiction.

Zeina Makky is an award-winning newspaper designer who also likes to take photographs in her spare time.

Sharanya Manivannan is the author of a book of poems, Witchcraft. Her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Drunken Boat, Hobart, Wasafiri, Cerise Press, Killing The Buddha, Monkeybicycle, The Nervous Breakdown and elsewhere. She can be found online at www.sharanyamanivannan.com.

John C. Mannone has been nominated three times for the Pushcart and once for the Rhysling. His work appears in literary and speculative fiction venues, such as Vermillion Literary Project, Conclave, New Mirage Journal, The Pedestal, Star*Line, Paper Crow, Enchanted Conversation and many others. He is the poetry editor for the literary fantasy magazine, Silver Blade, an adjunct professor of physics in east Tennessee and serves as a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador. Visit his blog, The Art of Poetry: http://jcmannone.wordpress.com.

Rick Marlatt’s first book, How We Fall Apart, was the winner of the Seven Circle Press Poetry Award. Marlatt’s work has appeared widely in print and online publications including The Ratting Wall, New York Quarterly, and Rattle. Marlatt writes poetry reviews for Coldfront Magazine, and he teaches English in Nebraska, where he lives with his wife and their two sons.

David Massengill lives in Seattle. His short stories and works of flash fiction have appeared in numerous literary journals, including Eclectica Magazine, Word Riot, 3 A.M. Magazine, Pulp Metal Magazine, and Yellow Mama, among others. His stories have also appeared in the anthologies Gothic Blue Book: The Revenge Edition (Burial Day Books), State of Horror: California (Rymfire Books), and Long Live the New Flesh: Year Two (The New Flesh). Read more of his fiction at www.davidmassengillfiction.com.

Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz is a writer and aspiring photographer. Her work has appeared in various journals, online and print, as well as several anthologies. She blogs about the creative life at http://wwwonewriter.blogspot.com.

Rosalie Morales Kearns is a writer of Puerto Rican and Pennsylvania Dutch descent, with a short story collection, Virgins and Tricksters, just published from Aqueous Books. One of the stories in the collection received a Special Mention in the 2013 Pushcart Prize collection. Her poems and short stories have appeared most recently in Prime Number, Witness, and The Nervous Breakdown, and she has essays and reviews published or forthcoming in Necessary Fiction, Her Kind, and Fiction Writers Review. She earned an MFA from the University of Illinois, and has taught creative writing at Illinois and SUNY-Albany.

Robert Moulthrop’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including Berkeley Fiction Review, Confrontation, Eclipse, The Griffin, Harpur Palate, The MacGuffin, Old Hickory Review, Portland Review, Prime Number (a one-act play), Quaker Life (non-fiction), San Jose Studies, Sou’Wester, twenty-four hours (e-zine), Reed Magazine, Rio Grande Review, River Oak Review, and Willard & Maple.

In March 2011, he was awarded an e-Chapbook publication of a collection of seven short stories (“Grace”) by Wordrunner; and in 2010 he received first prize in the Literal Latte fiction contest; he has also received a grant for prose fiction from the New Jersey Council on the Arts. In 2005 he was awarded the New York International Fringe Festival’s Outstanding Playwriting Award for my original full-length drama, Half Life, about what happens to a family and community when dad—a convicted pedophile—comes home from prison. A second play, T. L. C., garnered the 2006 Fringe Outstanding Performance award for the tour de force 80-minute solo turn by its actress. In 2008, nytheatre.com called his Fringe play Lecture, With Cello “a tantalizing puzzle of a play … a remarkable feast for the intellect, brimming with ideas that help us look at what we take for granted in art in new and compelling ways.”

Cate Mullen’s work has been published in numerous online and print zines. Her play “Stolen Fire: A New Version of an Old Tale” was recently picked up by YouthPLAYS.

Jennifer Reimer’s fiction and poetry have appeared in a number of journals, including Our Stories, The Denver Quarterly, The Berkeley Poetry Review, The Chaffey Review, 580 Split, Tinfish, Puerto del Sol, Weave, Zoland, and 14 Hills. She has an MFA from the University of San Francisco. Her first prose poetry book, The Rainy Season Diaries, will be released in early 2013 by Quale Press. She is the co-founder and co-editor of Achiote Press (www.achiotepress.com). She is an Assistant Professor of American Culture & Literature at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.

Karen Resta is a writer who believes in fairy tales and in the power of food, not necessarily in that order. She lives in and writes from a small Appalachian town, but has always been a native New Yorker and apparently always will be.

Jay Rubin teaches writing at The College of Alameda in the San Francisco Bay Area and publishes Alehouse, an all-poetry literary journal, at www.alehousepress.com. He holds an MFA in Poetry from New England College and lives in San Francisco with his son and Norwich terrier.

Amee Schmidt, a flash-fiction writer, aspiring novelist, and occasional poet, holds an MA in Creative Writing. In her spare time, she is Owner/Editor/Publisher of One Wet Shoe Media and Associate Editor of Mayapple Press. She is co-editor of and contributor to Greenhouse: The First 5 Years of the Rustbelt Roethke Writers’ Workshop. Her work has also appeared in Cardinal Sins and The Ambassador Poetry Project.

Mandy Taggart lives on the North Coast of Ireland, and is inspired by the folklore, ancient and modern, of her local area. Her story, “Ways Of The North,” was the winner of the 2012 Michael McLaverty Short Story Award, and her short fiction has been published widely in print, audio and online. She is supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Savannah Thorne graduated from the University of Iowa where she studied in the Writers’ Workshop. She also holds cum laude Master’s degrees from De Paul University in Chicago and Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont. Her poetry has appeared in over a dozen literary journals. Most recently, her poems appeared in Handful of Dust, Meadowland, Extracts, Silent Revelations Press, and Linden Avenue. She is a finalist in the Mary Ballard poetry contest. She was delighted to be published in Conclave: A Journal of Character in its inaugural issue in 2008, and is excited for the new opportunities of becoming Conclave‘s managing editor. In her brief time as managing editor she has drastically changed the magazine while remaining true to its original focus. She has worked with several literary agencies and is currently marketing novels of historical fiction.

Margo Valentine (Rose White) and her sister Christina Nova (Rose Red) seek out magic in the every day, dancing and writing in Los Angeles, CA. Nova was always the star of Valentine’s videos and photographs when they were children, and she still is today. Nova most recently performed at The Magic Castle in Hollywood, CA with Sebastian Kraine, and Valentine was most recently published in Francesca Lia Block’s anthology, Love Magick.

B. A. Varghese graduated from Polytechnic University (New York) in 1993 and has been working in the Information Technology field ever since. Inspired to explore his artistic side, he is currently working toward a degree in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida. His work is forthcoming in Apalachee Review. (www.bavarghese.com)

Scott Wiggerman is the author of two books of poetry, Presence and Vegetables and Other Relationships. Recent publications include Spillway, Contemporary Sonnet, Comstock Review, Assaracus, 14 x 14, Southwestern American Literature, Naugatuck River Review, and Hobble Creek Review, which nominated “The Egret Sonnet” for a Pushcart. A frequent workshop instructor, he is also an editor for Dos Gatos Press, publisher of the annual Texas Poetry Calendar, now in its fifteenth year, and a book of poetry exercises, Wingbeats: Exercises and Practice in Poetry, co-edited by Wiggerman and David Meischen.

Angela Maria Williams is an indie bookseller, most recently at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C. She studied poetry at Sarah Lawrence College and other equally useful subjects (namely the breakfast burrito) at the University of New Mexico. Her work has appeared in Fickle Muses, Contemporary American Voices, Sage Trail and Conceptions Southwest.

Martin Willitts, Jr. retired as a Senior Librarian and is living in Syracuse, New York. He is currently a volunteer literacy tutor. He is a visual artist of Victorian and Chinese paper cutouts. He was nominated for 5 Pushcart and 3 Best Of The Net awards. He has 13 poetry chapbooks and his 3 full length poetry collections are “The Secret Language of the Universe” (March Street Press, 2006), and “The Hummingbird” (March Street Press, 2009), and “The Heart Knows, Simply, What It Needs: Poems based on Emily Dickinson, her life and poetry” (Aldrich Press, 2012).

Ellen Roberts Young, a California native who spent almost 40 years in Pennsylvania, is now part of the writing community in Las Cruces, NM. Her chapbooks Accidents (2004) and The Map of Longing (2009) are published by Finishing Line Press. Recent journal publications include Common Ground, Slant, and online journals Melusine and qarrtsiluni. She blogs at www.freethoughtandmetaphor.com.

Issue No. 3, Winter 2012

In That Far Haven
Penny Harter

In childhood, I often visited a village at twilight—
a village twinkling in the gloaming sky, floating there
like some far haven of the fae come down to bless us.

I was welcome then, invited to a feast set out on silver
plates, and sat at table with the rest—cloaked like them
in strange diaphanous and haloed flesh.

Mild-faced wolves, curled like faithful dogs at our feet,
laid their silky heads upon our laps as we slipped them
roasted scraps of a wild beast brought in from the dark

uncharted forests far beyond us. Some sacrament was
being acted out in those hallowed rooms, some festive
celebration of the bond between us all—and I, the guest,

craved to stay among their kind, to live forever in that
sphere of light and laughter, drinking ambrosia with the
ancient ones who’d come here long ago—ancestors of

earth, air, fire, water, who deign to come among us now
and then, crossing the threshold of our mortal coil; who
kindly let me join their festal rites—and taught me well.


Penny Harter is published widely in journals and anthologies. Her books include *One Bowl* (2012); *Recycling Starlight* (2010); *The Night Marsh* (2008); *Buried in the Sky* (2002); *Lizard Light: Poems from the Earth* (1998); and *Turtle Blessing* (1996). With her late husband, William J. Higginson, she co-authored *The Haiku Handbook* (25th Anniversary Edition, 2010), and her illustrated children’s alphabestiary, *The Beastie Book*, came out end of 2009. A Dodge poet, Harter read at the 2010 Dodge Poetry Festival. She has received three poetry fellowships from the NJSCA, the Mary Carolyn Davies Award from the PSA, and a January, 2011, fellowship from VCCA. For more information, please visit her web site: www.2hweb.net/penhart.