Issue No. 16, Spring 2016

The Boys in the Bluffs
Jennifer Todhunter

They were boys before they were bats. Three boys who would have cared about things like careers, and work, and any direction other than up, had it not been for their untamed hearts.

When they weren’t climbing, they were knocking back beers at the local bar, their hair knotted with wind, their hands calloused and coated with chalk. Each one would look you dead for rights in the eyes when he banked the eight ball in the corner pocket, having bet the boys’ bar bill for the night. And when the music was almost too quiet to hear, they would grab the hand of a girl sitting by herself at the back of the room or on a stool along the bar, and they would dance with her so closely she’d feel the muscles in their back and their earthy breath inside her body.

The boys would bring the last-call stragglers still wanting conversation or to finish their dance back to their cave in the bluffs. They’d light the night with headlamps, and pass around a bottle of rum stashed in a canvas bag behind a boulder. Their visitors would bring cigarettes, dark chocolate, and the occasional bag of mushrooms, while the boys told stories about places they’d been, people they’d met, and how close they’d come to dying.

 

Sometimes, before the sun rose, one of the boys would snake his body around a girl who’d made her way into his sleeping bag, and he’d remember what it was like to connect with something outside of nature.

During the winter, the boys brought blankets and bivy sacks into their cave, saving money they earned doing odd jobs for a few groceries and a six-pack most Saturday nights. They pulled themselves up ice walls with axes and crampons, and warmed their bodies around the fireplaces of strangers, sometimes tucking under their sheets for the night. When the temperature outside became too cold, and the trek to the bar too long, the boys hunkered in and slept, resting their bodies for spring. While they slept, their bodies worked, craving the movement that had become constant and necessary to their survival. The boy’s ears became more prominent beneath their unruly hair, their sinewy fingers longer, and a set of retractable wings grew under their skin.

The boys re-emerged that spring, rejuvenated and eager to climb. They aired out their cave, organized their gear, and loosened their muscles on an easy ascent. Their grins ran like winter thaw, fresh and fast, and when they arrived at the bar, you didn’t want to beat them on the pool table or keep them off the dance floor. You wanted to watch them win because there was something captivating about the way they looked without a want in the world.

They left the bar alone that night and bypassed their cave, heading straight up the main peak that overlooked town. They jammed their elongated fingers into hairline cracks, smeared their feet across the granite face, and rose with the moon. After assembling a portaledge, the boys leaned up against the cool rock and stared out at the view before them, until there wasn’t a noise but the owls hooting and the wind whispering in their ears. Then the boys hooked their wings onto their fingers and soared through the dusk-filled sky, gliding on wind currents and twisting their way toward the ground.

The boys didn’t head into town much after that, enchanted by their newfound ability. They spent their days sleeping in their cave, and their nights drifting on the breeze, competing to see which one of them could fly the farthest. Occasionally, a girl who’d shared one of the boy’s beds before their transformation would find her way along the trails and into the cave where their gear was neatly folded, and their scent remained strong. Sometimes, she’d stay there until daylight came, and the boys returned home, their cheeks flushed and their hair tangled. And sometimes, one of the boys would sweep her up in his wing-like arms, and hold her cocooned against him, as he hung upside down and slept.


Jennifer Todhunter is a number nerd by day, word fiddler at night. She enjoys dark, salty chocolate and running top speed in the other direction. Find her at www.foxbane.ca or @JenTod_.

Issue No. 16, Spring 2016

Circles of Ice
Kathryn Michael McMahon

For weeks, while her twins suckled in their den safe below the winter snow, the ice bear mother had dreamed of a third child. Though she could only hear the wind howling outside, a heartbeat drummed through the earth, rousing her.

Risking the lives of her hairless cubs, she pushed massive paws and a black snout out into the cold, finding, alive and alone, a human infant, pale blue and swaddled in wool. The mother hadn’t eaten in months, but the infant looked as feeble as her own cubs and, gently in her teeth, she carried it inside.

The baby fed from her. At first, she worried there would be less for her twins, but her new daughter drank little and, if anything, there came more milk. As winter cried outside their den, the ice mother spoke of things only ice bears know and sang melodies only ice bears hear. All three babes grew fat and strong with hair as white as their mother’s.

#

Spring thaw slicked the hunter’s house. He readied his shotgun. Soon, there would be bear cubs with fine furs for the taking.

#

Spring thaw dripped into the ice bear den. The mother pushed through the snow bank and her children saw sunlight and blinked at its newness as they tumbled into the softly mysteriousness snow.

Her third child had left her wool blanket in the den. With eyes like the night sky and skin the ancient blue of sea ice, she lifted the snow to her face and buried her nose in as if to inhale its purity. Gripping her mother’s fur strong and hard, she climbed naked up to sit on her shoulders. The bear bellowed and her twins followed them down the mountain.

Sometimes the cubs would join their sister on their mother’s shoulders, sometimes they would knock each other off into the snow. Though she tolerated the antics of her children, her stomach grumbled as they drank and drank. Down the mountain glittered the ice crust of the sea, beneath which swam blubberous seals.

#

The sun ringed the horizon like a nervous skater. The hunter packed his shotgun and kissed his wife goodbye. A new pelt would put dinner on the table for the weeks it took for the ice to free his fishing boat.

#

Daybreak hovered, flirting orange. Hunger kicked at the bear mother’s belly even as her children squealed for food. Her third child grew taller by the day, bones longer and flesh temptingly firmer. But the mother could not eat something she had once fed.

They reached the foot of the mountain and the third child smelled her first whiff of salt. She threw her hands in the air and, tossing her head, her white hair grew past her shoulders and waist. She climbed off her mother and as her feet touched the ice, her limbs stretched. The ice girl danced. When she tired, she returned to her mother’s back and her long, white hair covered them both.

The sun flung its face at the sea. The mother struggled, reluctant to ask her ice daughter to walk. She stumbled and sank to the ice. The girl climbed down and stared into her mother’s black eyes splashed with sacrifice. She turned and drove her hands through the ice. She held out two fish and her mother took them. She plunged her hands in again and again and fed her brother and sister their first meal that wasn’t milk.

While the sun circled the sky and teased the mountains with night, the family slept full-bellied.

#

The hunter was lucky. There, over there, was an ice bear asleep with two cubs and… What was that? A hump on her back? No, an old woman, dead? A meal for later? His stomach growled as he lifted the shotgun and fired.

#

If an ice spirit thinks she’s about to die, be prepared because she can’t, though other things might happen instead.

The sun, which had been preparing to catapult itself into summer, saw the bullet and fled, tearing a hole in the sky. Night rushed in, giddy with stars.

Hearing the blast from the shotgun, the ice cracked.

As the bullet sped away, onto the hunter fell a spray of lead dust. Each hair it touched grew dense and black and as it touched other hairs, they, too, grew thicker and darker until the whole of him was fur pushing through clothes and boots until it split them. When he returned home, his wife screamed and shunned him. Cast out, the hunter wandered the desert of ice. No animal ventured close, so easy to avoid was he that hunger took the rest of his body, leaving only bones, boots, and a matted coat.

But long before that death, when the bullet struck the mother and the cubs tasted blood in her milk, they wailed and ran. One east, one west, both south to uncertain continents.

The mother saw her twins vanish into the white and caught the scent of her own blood before it filled her eyes. Her ice daughter took her long hair and wrapped it around the wound. Still, she fell to the cracked ice and it shattered, tumbling mother and daughter into the sea.

In the water, the ice girl squeezed her mother’s front legs and they shivered and turned to flippers. The ice girl took hold of her mother’s hindquarters and pulled and pulled until a great tail undulated where paws had been. She stroked her mother’s snout and the bones broadened and the teeth grew long and flat. The girl’s long, white hair brushed over her mother’s back and the fur fell all away. The ice girl kissed the wound. The bleeding stopped and her mother’s lungs inflated.

Into the sky, the ice mother blew air and blood and water.

Rejoicing at her new shape, she sang. The sound skimmed beneath the surface of the ice and rang through the sea. Other ice bears took to the water and lost their legs for the pleasure of the song. Their voices joined and grew into a melody only ice whales can understand.

Invited waves dissolved the ice spirit into a whisper of salt. As a whale opened her mouth, a mother swallowed what she had once fed.


Kathryn Michael McMahon lives in Vietnam with her wife and dog. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Devilfish Review, Wyvern Lit, A cappella Zoo, The Subtopian, and others. On Twitter, she’s @katoscope.

Issue No. 16, Spring 2016

"Swan Prince" -- Ruth Daniell
Swan Prince
Ruth Daniell

Spring Feature, 2016
Azrael: Year 7 by Luke Guidici
In the Shadow of Giants, photography by Fabrice Poussin

Fiction
Tony and the Apocalypse by Andrew Hogan
The Eclipse by Rebecca Harrison
Among the Phlox by Iva Levarre
To Sing Her Body to the Soil by Brigitte N. McCray
Forget Me Do by Sara Dobie Bauer
Fire at the Soul by Mary Anna Evans
The Seventh Swan by Gina L. Grandi

Flash Fiction
The Boys in the Bluffs by Jennifer Todhunter
Rosie by Jennifer Hernandez
Here There Be Giants by Cathy Ulrich
Circles of Ice by Kathryn Michael McMahon
A Small Evolution and A Pearl Bed by Melinda Giordano

Poetry
I am Waiting for You, an Ordinary Man and Mermaid on a Rock by Robin Dawn Hudechek
Double Vision by Anca Vlasopolos
The brave night blooms with broken teeth and Jaide by Emma Karnes
A goose observes a train at dusk by David S. Briggs
By Way of Water and Lover’s Autopsy by Lana Highfill
Mozart Effect by Virginia Konchan
Poetry is over by Charlie Baylis
Snow and the Lie by Lanette Cadle
In the Other Room by Len Kuntz
The Audition and Loon. Or by Gahl Liberzon
Magdalene by Alessandra Bava

"Leaf" -- Christine R.
Leaf
Christine R.

About the Contributors