Lila’s parents didn’t know about this room, with its wet stone walls and cobwebs. They didn’t know she’d come down here; they were too busy shouting. Shouting because Katrina had skipped school again, and gone to the bowling alley with that boy they didn’t like.
She couldn’t understand why her sister would want to skip school. Maybe in high school, teachers threw children in an oven and ate them? Maybe they fed them to wolves?
Instead of listening to the argument, Lila had gone into the basement, and slipped through the doorway behind the old wardrobe. A hidden and secret door, which she’d found while exploring when they first moved in here. From this room, she could only hear muffled voices through the floorboards above. Katrina’s high pitched shrieks, their father’s bellows, their mother’s creaky crow caw, as if she’d been yelling forever.
Lila walked around the room, peered into the rusted bucket with dust and rocks in the bottom. Sometimes she played Red Riding Hood and used it as her basket of goodies. Or she pretended to be Cinderella, scrubbing floors while everyone went to the ball.
The yelling grew closer, and someone stomped right above her. Loud enough to wake the dead, as her grandma would say. It had taken Lila a while to realize she didn’t have to go around whispering for fear of waking dead people. They can’t come up from the ground, Katrina had said. All that heavy dirt keeps them in.
Lila pretended to be underground in a graveyard, where everyone had been awoken by the noise above. She went over to the wall, pressed her cheek against the stone.
“Hello?” she said.
“Hello,” said the person in the next grave. It sounded like a boy, no older than her.
“How did you die?” she asked him.
“A wicked witch ate me for supper,” said the boy.
Lila sniffed, proud of herself for catching his lie. “If she ate you, then how could you be buried here?”
“I got the last laugh,” said the boy. “I made her sick and she threw me right up!”
Lila giggled. She went to the wall at the back of the room, farthest from the door.
“Hello?” she said, leaning against it.
The Walrus Who Almost Starved
Once upon a time there was a walrus, who like all walruses, was born without tusks. The difference was, that even when he came of age, his tusks never grew in. Plus, he was tiny. At that point, the other walruses accused his mother of sleeping with a seal. She balked and sighed and wept because none of the walruses trusted her virtue. They barked at her day in and day out. Even her husband doubted her.
When the walrus was nine months old—around the time he should have already grown tusks—his father waddled up to a group of hunters without saying a word. The hunters immediately speared the father walrus and brought his massive body to their wives to dress. Not a single whisker was left behind. Exactly one month after that, the mother walrus threw herself to the same fate. And so the little walrus found himself an orphan.
Nobody loved the little walrus. The other walruses snubbed him, hoping he would die so his ugliness would no longer burden them. Yet the little walrus persevered. With no dignity to lose, the walrus sought no one's acceptance. He ate the other walrus' leftover fish, eventually taught himself to hunt, and learned to enjoy his own company.
The little walrus would sit out on the ice, in the sun, watching the gulls. He would spend hours trying to translate their cries. Other times, he would count the puffins until he knew not what number came next. After that, he usually fell asleep, even if the other walruses were still awake, laughing and playing. The other walruses made sure to make merry close to the little walrus, but not close enough that he might think he could join them. Many of the conversations centered on the little walrus and how ugly they thought he was, born without tusks. They said this loudly and often. Unfettered, the little walrus kept counting puffins.
When the other walruses realized that the little walrus did not fear their rejection, they hatched a plan. They dug a huge hole in the snow next to the little walrus while he slept. Then they pushed him in it. He instantly awoke upon hitting the bottom of the hole, but it was too late. The other walruses pushed a slab of ice over the hole, and waddled off. They cackled about how the little walrus could not dig himself out of the hole—not without tusks.
The Knockwood family appeared to be an ordinary family except for their daughter. The parents were starting to worry about her. She was nine years old and had never brought anyone to the house.
Layla was a bit eccentric. She was very bright. She didn’t watch TV. She was always reading or doing science experiments. That, or she was saying that she was bored, a phrase her mother heard too often.
The science experiments weren’t new to the family. Her father was a high school science teacher. People remarked to the Knockwood family about how brilliant their daughter was. They kept the other comments amongst themselves. How she had poor hygiene. Her teeth were brown. Her light brown hair was hardly ever brushed. Her tiny body often appeared dirty. She talked to herself sometimes. She was a pretty kid if you looked past those things, which few did.
Though Mr. and Mrs. Knockwood were proud of their daughter, they hardly spent any time with her. The mother was busy teaching high school English. Actually, that was where the parents had met—the high school. The mother would have to stay after-hours to grade the essays. The father had meetings, homework to grade. He hardly had time to look after Layla himself.
The trouble began when Layla's father noticed the human skeleton was missing from his classroom. At first he thought that another teacher might have borrowed it. But a week went by and no one said anything to him. It was then that he blamed his students.
Mr. Knockwood told them that he wouldn’t punish the culprit. He just wanted the skeleton back. The students looked at him like he was crazy. A student even told him, “Why would anyone steal that?”
In quietly precious moments,
that pass almost unnoticed,
except for an unexplainable
feeling of bliss,
we betray those better beings
we are so keen
Sara fights all the time.
She calls her Radha names.
She pulls her hair and slaps her
till both of them cry.
But when the girls, all of them,
are dancing in a circle,
look at Sara grip Radha’s hand,
watch Radha grip her
The careful looseness of that
hold makes me love Sara the way
she does not like to be loved,
The hold says:
Fly away from me,
fly away all you want,
sweet bird of my dreams,
I’ll come and find you,
when you need me.
My Sara loves my Radha
Adreyo Sen, based in Calcutta, India hopes to become a full-time writer. He did his undergraduate work in English and his postgraduate work in English and Sociology. Adreyo Sen has been published in Danse Macabre and Kritya.
The Mangrove and the Manatee
Many suns ago in a crystalline grove swam Miriam the manatee, a creature often mistaken for a mermaid by sailors. It was not that she was beautiful or had a scaled fin; only that the lovelorn sailors were taken hostage by their own imaginations at the mere sight of Miriam bobbing in the distance. Her eyes became glorious moons and her bald head suddenly grew a long mane. Her whiskered lips blossomed into luscious roses. And so Miriam was transformed in the men's minds.
Miriam, meanwhile, suffered her own case of lovelornness, for she loved a mangrove tree. But the mangrove tree mistook Miriam the manatee for nothing.
Everyday Miriam's fin brushed against the same mangrove root beneath the brackish waves. The sensation of the bark's ridges touching her skin made her blush. Miriam had never been touched by anything before, except the water. She had never even seen another manatee, other than her mother, who was now dead.
Translate the Utterances
By Christine Stoddard
Time whispers answers, but I do not pass the notes, knowing not how to read music.
So my adult game of Telephone turns into a call ad with all the wrong social cues.
I'm tune-deaf to destiny and I can't trade in my ears for a new set of aural oracles.
Choices are invisible, like rhythm and blues and beats, beats, beats are invisible.
Throw out your hand, touch a drum, hum, hum, hum, but the notes are invisible.
Keep whispering, Time, but I'll never pass the notes, I'll never get the message,
I'll never have a set of ears that see and eyes that hear because I am no oracle.
How the Snake Bird Learned to Dry His Feathers
By Malcolm R. Campbell
On a long-ago summer afternoon in the land between the rivers, Tcheecateh was enjoying a long, cat-like stretch of a nap on a fallen sabal palm until the snake bird created a raucous spectacle by running, splashing and wing flapping across the previously calm water of the swamp. Although the blissful quiet returned when the bird finally became airborne, the panther kitten hissed at a blowing leaf out of frustration and stood up to see who else was awakened by Chentetivimketv’s noisy takeoff.
Weehatkay, the kitten’s cynical water moccasin friend, lay in a disorganized coil at the far end of the log. As usual, his white mouth was hanging wide open in a rather permanent yawn.
The kitten hissed again, pretending a bear hid behind Grandmother Cypress.
“There’s no need for the pretense, Tcheecateh, my nap also came to an abrupt end.”
The moccasin’s yellow cat-like eyes focused on the young panther’s indigo eyes with a rare trace of humor in them, though Tcheecateh thought the flickering shadows from the feathery cypress leaves might be playing with his imagination again.
“Chentetivimketv can soar with eagles,” said Weehatkay, rattling his tail in the leaves for emphasis, “but when he’s too wet to easily find the wind, he exhibits less grace than a feral hog.”
“Feral hogs are tasty, but I’ve never seen one fly.”
“My point exactly,” said the snake. “While I’m dispensing wisdom, I might as well tell you my snake brothers and I don’t think Chentetivimketv looks snaky enough to be called a snake bird.”
“That’s Fuswa’s name for him,” said the kitten, wondering if the old Limpkin was listening from the pickerel weed.
“I have never seen a snake with a yellow bill for a mouth,” said Weehatkay.
“Me neither,” said Tcheecateh. “Look, here comes Ahkoluhfutcho. He can leap into the air from the water’s surface without any fuss and bother. Perhaps he knows what’s wrong with Chentetivimketv.”
“I doubt a showy duck with a green neck and orange legs knows about anything other than preening and looking at his reflection in puddles.”
The Music of Love
By Tala Bar
He was a young prince who grew up in comfort and luxury and was nurtured on learning and beauty. He was handsome enough, with warm brown eyes and hair, and he looked favorably at the world around him. How was he to know anything about life?
One day he sat in the meadow near his father's palace, trying to make his lyre produce some music his mentor was attempting to teach him. It was not going very well, and he laid the instrument by his side with some disgust and looked around him; Argos, his dog and constant companion, looked at him with disapproval.
It was spring time, and the green meadow was covered with a motley of flowers. There was nothing new in this sight itself, but today something was happening on the meadow. A woman was dancing among the blossoms, and the prince thought he had never seen such a beautiful sight in his life. Her bare feet hardly touched the ground and she seemed to be floating with the light wind that was blowing. A flower garland encircled her golden hair which shimmered in the bright sun, flying off her head and revealing a very pretty face with shining blue eyes. She wore a transparent, rosy garment that made her look like one of the flowers on the meadow.
Unaware of what he was doing, the prince picked up the lyre he had laid down, held it right and hit the strings. A new music emerged he had never known before. His hand glided easily on the strings as he played to the girl's dance.
The girl seemed to have heard the new sound, as she made changes in her dance in accord with the music. She twisted and twirled, moved her arms and worked with her legs. Her bare feet caressed the blossoms with their light touch. As she turned her head here and there, her hair flew like a golden stream. In her dance, she now came closer and closer to the player. His eyes followed her every movement and his fingers flew over the strings as if by themselves.
At last, the dancer was so close to the musician that instead of dancing in front of him, she began dancing around him. He could barely follow her with his eyes now so he closed them, as if seeing her in his mind's eye. The music and the dance merged together, getting swifter and swifter, turning to sound more like the beat of a drum than the flow of a tune, until nothing was left of the music but a series of strong beats. Suddenly, they stopped, and the girl fell at the prince's feet with her head and half her body lying in his lap.
He opened his eyes to look at her face that was turned up toward his own. Both of them gasped for breath. Slowly, breathing more calmly, the dancer moved, her motions flowing and graceful. She sat up across from him and looked at him with a half-smile.
Eat Your Family's Food
By Eric Nelson
It was sometime after 1 a.m. Outside of the veterans’ hall, red party cups and roman candle shells littered the parking lot, still full of cars and trucks. A plastic banner, reading “Happy 3rd Birthday Missy!” dangled over the doorway.
Boots crunched on the gravel parking lot. The autumn moon hung heavy over the woods alongside the interstate, the children already put to sleep, either driven home by aunts and grandmothers, or put down in the backseats of cars.
People were screaming over the music, shouting at each other inside the hall. A dog barked in the distance. The sound of a glass shattering was close. Wayne spat on the ground and unlocked the Ford pickup.
In the glove compartment was a Walter P22 and clip, amidst other bric-a-brac. He went to close the door, remembering the passenger-side door never caught the latch.
The quarter keg that had been purchased was nowhere enough beer for both families and friends of Frank and Donna, celebrating their daughter’s birthday. By 9 p.m. the beer had run out, along with the extras people had brought with them. The music had changed, as had the overall mood.
When Donna’s father Frank scratched the side of his truck against the disc jockey’s Charger backing out, even he admitted it was clear someone else would have to drive. He was shorter than most of the men present, mustachioed with wide shoulders and a left eye that wandered on its own, more so after heavy drinking. His wife Donna, a taller, slender blonde, saw it moving before most people.
The couple had married relatively young by a Baptist minister, with everyone but Donna’s older brother and parents present. Donna, barely 20 at the time, had recently lost her father to Miners’ Lung, while her mother abandoned the family years before, leaving her to be raised primarily by her brother and aunt. Frank was only a few years older and came with a fully extended family, many of them cousins whose actual genealogy was now a blur. With her settlement from the mining company and his job at the tile wholesaler, the couple was relatively comfortable compared to some. Neither had many relatives who lived past their sixties.
By Amanda Gaye-Smith
Tobacco, burnt, smells like rotting--
wise logs, nails stained. Teeth bluing at the gum line.
Many rings, many wives! The old pine bends and sloughs.
Oh, a fire here:
a bad year for bark-bound parasites. Lush and bursting
pillows which close over my boyish heart--
“How are your hearts?” a friend asked, as if I am an earthworm.
“I never cared for pink or yellow” I replied
In three days I realize while pissing at work that if I drink enough
coffee, I still smell like you--
one year later.
In April 2011 Amanda-Gaye Smith was broke and desperate for adventure. To ease this she left the Blue Ridge Mountains on a Virginia Creeper-like path around highway overpasses down the Southeast coast for the swamps and cypress knees of Gainesville, Florida.