We are getting close to the end of the second Short Story Competition. Today’s round has some interesting stories as usual, so make sure to read them and cast a vote for your favorite one.
Every week only one story passes the round and gets promoted to the grand finale, where we will declare the overall winner and the three writers who will receive the prizes from WhiteSmoke.
1. The Dress by Varada Sharma
It was early summer. We were all gathered at Grandpa’s house at Manali, a hill station in the Himalayas, during my family’s once-in-five-years India visit. Dark, cold with withered paint and partially dilapidated furniture, the house looked as old as its owner and felt equally gloomy.
If one paid any attention to the ramblings of people there, fragments of hushed exclamations would be heard. “What a ridiculous dress for her age!”, said my aunt who herself was dressed in a white tee and beige cargoes which did little to hide tyres around her torso. “What was the old man thinking when he allowed such a thing?”, scoffed another gentleman, I had not met before. My parents, aunts, uncles, cousins all were whispering amongst themselves while sipping tea. I was rather confused about the whole affair.
In India, in spite of the wave of modernism, families like mine tried to stick to our pristine old traditions. All respectable ladies were expected to wear a saree. My grandma was a classic old Indian lady. She had refused to wear any other outfit when she visited us at Chicago last year. Even when it got too windy, she did not switch to something more comfortable like tee + jeans, preferring to wear a man’s coat or wrap a shawl around over her saree, if she had to step outside the house. What had changed now?
Amidst all the confused taunts and accusations over his sanity, my Grandpa (“Daddu” as I affectionately called him) looked sad, torn, yet determined to stay by his wife’s side. Being the pet of my grandparents, I decided to put things in place and save everyone the embarrassment when more people started walking in.
Putting a youthful, loving hand over his shoulders, I said to grandpa, “Daddu, people are talking about Grandma’s dress. Why is she wearing a red gown fit for a ballroom dance? Shall we drape a red saree for her instead? It will be embarrassing, you know… ”. My voice trailed off when Daddu looked at me with tearful eyes.
“Divya, your grandma and I were married when we were very young. She was 16, I was 21. I still remember how beautiful and innocent she looked in her wedding saree. She left behind her friends, playmates, studies, parents everything for me. As the eldest daughter-in-law she gladly embraced the responsibilities of me, my old widowed mom and young siblings. She loved theatrics, but had to give it up. She did not complain. While trying to meet the demands of my younger siblings and later on our kids, she always forwent her own desires. She did not ever ask anything for herself.
That day in Chicago, when we were passing by Macy’s, she found this red gown and was mesmerized by it. She stared at it so longingly that I could read in her eyes how much she liked it. It brought back memories of our younger days. On that last day of our Chicago visit, I secretly purchased this dress and packed it. When we reached home, I gave it to her. She had tears in her eyes. For the first time in her life, her husband had got her something which she really ‘liked’. She cherished and treasured this dress, affectionately fondling it now and then. Today when she has left me alone and is ready to begin her last journey of no return, I wanted her to carry this gift on her person. I was a very lucky man to have married such a loving woman. If we are ever born again, I want to entice her to come back to me”, said Daddu with a sad smile.
I felt humbled by their love and devotion towards each other. I could not withstand his pain. At a loss for words, I quietly hugged him. Together we picked one of the red sarees and draped it over the dress which was by now stained with our mixed tears…
2. On the Seventh Day by Steve Wade
While she scraped the razor down his cheekbone to his jaw, he tried to synchronise his breathing with hers. “I hate being awake,” he said. “I can’t make it through this, Ellie”
“Yes you can,” Ellie said, dropping the razor into the dirty water. “Look at me.” she cupped his half-shaved face in her hands. “You are not responsible.”
“What do I say to that woman?” he said. “And to the boy’s father?”
“They forgive you,” she said. “They’re religious people. Their faith is so strong.”
He didn’t want forgiveness. He wanted condemnation. Punishment. To run through marshy land at night-time, an angry mob and baying hounds closing, until he could go no farther, and the mob took from him what he had denied the boy.
“A child is going into the ground today,” he yelled at his reflection. “I killed that boy.”
“An accident,” Ellie said, clamping her arms around him. “People die in accidents every day.” She leaned back from him and shook her head. “So, enough, Gavin. Stop! Okay!”
No! It wasn’t okay.
Two days ago, just after seven in the morning, the boy passed away. Passed away, he thought. Euphemisms. The boy was dead. He ended.
Walking without crutches was still painful. He welcomed the pain. The dazzling sunlight pounced on him through the opened front door.
Ellie helped him to the car.
“It’s exactly seven days,” he said after a few kilometres.
“Gavin, not now,” she said. “Please.”
“This is important,” he said. “ The boy was seven. The thing happened today last week. He died at seven o’clock and, well, it must be significant, right?”
“Why are you doing this?” she said.
“Sorry,” Gavin said.
“What?” she said, trembling, despite the suffocating heat in the car.
“Sorry,” he repeated.
“That’s the first time you’ve apologised since this thing began.”
“When I made it to the boy lying on the road, he said ‘Sorry’. I mean he, the boy I’d ploughed into. He told me he was sorry.”
“Stop, will you?” she said. “Just stop doing this!”
“And that’s what I said when the police arrived while we were waiting for the ambulance. I walked up to one of them. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, Guard’. Only I handed him half of the boy’s skateboard. I couldn’t find the other part.”
“Stop it! Stop it! Stop!” Ellie screamed.
“Sorry,” he said.
And stop saying ‘Sorry’!” she said, and then she sped towards a junction.
“Christ, Ellie, be careful,” he said when they were through. “The lights were red. Are you crazy?”
“Okay,” she said, wiping the corners of her eyes using the back of her hand. “Let’s both try and hold this together.” She shot him a glance.
“What you said before?” he said, using conversation as an excuse to study her face. “You said they were holy or something.”
She smiled. “We prayed together in the hospital,” she said. “The man made a cross here with his fingers.” Ellie reached sideways to make the sign of the cross on Gavin’s forehead.
He jerked away from her. “Ellie, the road, look it! That was the church. You missed the turn.”
A strange cry came from Ellie, a sound Gavin experienced as a wave breaking inside his stomach. “Hey, come on,” he said. “It’s alright. Just pull in when you can. I’ll twist it around.”
Gavin felt encased in something like a shroud of relief when Ellie affected a u-turn and insisted that he avoid the driver’s seat at least until after the funeral.
During the funeral mass, Gavin wanted to tell her what he was thinking. He would tell her later how he now realised that if he hadn’t returned to the store for the milk, he’d never have seen the advert on the notice board for the golf clubs, and wouldn’t have called the number. He shouldn’t have been in that neighbourhood. He wondered whose destiny it was, his or the boy’s. Could be that maybe another car might have hit the boy who skated down the steps and onto the road.
Waiting outside the church somebody said the parents had already left for the cemetery.
They got into the car and followed the cortege out of the town until they arrived at a small graveyard. They stood at the back of the solemn black crowd. The priest’s words were a faraway mumble.
“I’m sorry,” Gavin said when he took the mother’s hand after the graveside ceremony.
“Peter is our only child,” she said, making it sound as though he were still alive. “He’s a beautiful boy. A special gift to us at our age.” Her eyes jumped sideways to a tall middle-aged man next to her.
“I’m Ted,” the man said, extending his hand and creasing his large stature at the waist to shake Gavin’s hand. “I’m Peter’s father.”
“I’m so very sorry, Sir,” Gavin said to the man whose eyes were bursting with accusatory forgiveness.
“The Lord forgives you,” the boy’s father said. He smiled a warm smile that would never leave Gavin alone.
They watched the boy’s parents receive the offered commiserations of the dispersing crowd with the same graceful acceptance. Gavin allowed Ellie to lead him by the hand towards the car-park. At the car she passed him the keys without speaking. She got into the passenger seat and stared straight ahead. She seemed to forget that he needed help climbing into the car.
On the drive home, Gavin said, “That’s the only funeral I’ve ever attended where it didn’t rain.”
Ellie squirmed in the seat next to him and mumbled. She was sleeping.
He cast his eyes skyward through the windscreen. He could make out a few seagulls at a great height. The sky was an inverted bay, and the gulls gliding around it matched the mastery of fish swimming in water.
“Now there has to be something in that,” he said.
3. Elite Unit by John Stapleton
I wet my lips anxiously and keyed the mic.
“All units, this is Ops Delta Two, requesting assistance.”
After a moment I heard, “Delta 2, this is Recon Charlie Five, go ahead.”
“Recon Five, I have an inbound Hostile, codename Wombat, 1700 hours.”
Frank broke the long silence, “This is Nomad Foxtrot Seven, say again.”
I repeated the message and there was a pressing silence from my handset.
“Delta Two, 10-20 for extraction?”
For civilians reading this, “10-20” means, “what is your location?”
“Negative, Fox Seven, presence required by C.O.”
That means Commanding Officer.
“Ops, be advised, recommend consult with Tac One.”
Fox followed immediately with, “Concur, Recon, consult Tac One. Out.”
I flipped my comm over to channel eight, where Andrew usually was. I hit the call button, using the generic signal. He wasn’t usually on our main frequency unless something was going on. I waited about ten seconds, and then hit the call button again, before keying the mic.
“Tactical Alpha One, this is Ops Delta Two, copy?”
I tried to wait patiently. I waited at least 30 seconds, if not more. I could barely stand it. I was just drawing breath to call again when static sprang from the unit.
After a moment or two, I heard a groggy voice ask, “Dennis is that you?”
My eyes must have popped nearly out of my head. Not only was there a girl in possession of one of our comm units, but also she had completely neglected protocol and used my real name! Before I could fathom a response, the mic came alive once again. There was some static and sounds of struggle, then, “Sorry, Delta Two, left the comm out on the couch by Raptor.” In the background I heard something like, “I told you not to call me that!”
“Go ahead, Ops.”
“Tac One, C.O. has commanded negotiation to take place at Bravo Camp with Wombat.”
“1700 hours.” It was already 1550. I could all but hear him checking his watch. I pushed down my rising panic.
“Subject of negotiation is…?” He trailed off because we both knew what he was going to say.
“Roger that. One minute, Delta.”
The next 47 seconds remain on record as the longest of my lifetime.
“Delta Two, be advised: I’d like to read in a civilian.”
I had an ominous feeling that I knew the answer to, “who, Tactical?”
“Oh, man! No way!”
“Understood, Delta. Consider: who better for present dilemma?”
I grudgingly admitted that Andrew was right about his sister. She was a straight-A student, and would know what to do about my crisis.
“This goes against all protocol.”
“War is hell.”
“Delta Two, stand by. Back by 1630 hours.”
“Roger, Tactical One. Out.”
I was pacing my room for the 63rd time when my C.O. came in. He sat down with me on the bed, like he does when he wants to have a “serious talk.” The way he did before the sex talk last year.
“Son, we invited Mrs. Weatherby to dinner tonight, because we need to talk bout your grades.”
I nodded in a fashion that I felt was very encouraging.
“She’ll be here in less than an hour. Why don’t you put on some nice clothes for dinner.”
I thought my dad was crazy for thinking my clothes would matter in a dire situation like this one, but I liked for him to think he was doing well, so I gave him another of my best nods. He seemed reassured, so I left it at that. He did not bring up anything about my real problem, and that was enough for me. Just then my comm unit started squawking. “Ops Delta Two, this is Tac One, do you read?” I gave my dad a look that I hoped he understood; this was important business. He frowned a little and tried to look stern and generous all at once.
“No missions tonight, Dennis.”
I played it casual. “I know, Dad. Just some last minute business, that’s all.” He smiled and left my room.
I dove for the comm.
“Tac One, this is Delta, go ahead!” I blurted.
“Delta Two, I’ve got a solution… but you won’t like it.”
Boy was he ever right.
I put on my best pair of blue jeans, my button-up shirt, and a stuffy sweater-vest from Christmas. I combed my hair and brushed my teeth, and when the doorbell rang, I came within inches of my life running down the stairs to answer it.
“Hi, Mrs. Weatherby.”
“Can I take your coat?”
My Dad was coming down the hall, and I think he had a mild heart attack when I said that. He confessed to me at a later time that he was uncertain I even knew where the closet was, until that day.
At dinner, I was the picture of polite. I said “please,” and “thank you,” and paid attention to all the adult chitchat. I kept my elbows off the table, which was a point of contention with Dad.
Eventually the time came to discuss the real reason for the meeting. I could tell by everyone’s expression that we were about to “get down to business.”
“Mom, Dad, Mrs. Weatherby… I know why we’re meeting tonight, and I think I can help. See, I did this online test the other day, and I think I might be…”
I was a little shocked when my voice caught in my throat. Mom said gently, “go on.”
“I think I’m dyslexic.”
It took a few moments for everyone to process what I’d said. Mrs. Weatherby was first to get her feet under her.
“Dennis, I’d like to meet with you on Monday and do some testing. Would you be willing to do that?”
I nodded, relieved that she believed me.
My struggle with Dyslexia is another story altogether, but suffice it to say that I never missed the Honor Roll again.
4. On a Christmas Eve by Ignatius S. Boustin
Aghatha, my six year old daughter, once said, “Ours is a happy family, yeah mama?”
Today is weekend. I keep aside Friday nights and Saturdays for my two daughters, and Sundays for the Church and Linda, my wife.
Today being a Friday night, my daughters and I were playing. My favorite Spanish music, as always, was on full blast. Sitting on a 2-seater sofa with Aghatha and Arya on my lap, I strenuously moved my left and right feet in cycling motion, giving them a sense of galloping. Aghatha’s innocent laughter always leads and rya’s
full-throated laughter always follows rising up above all other sounds like the falling of a hale.
Linda feels a sense of joy at this point when this chorus of laughter and music brings about a sense of fulfilling a responsibility. Anybody entering our home at this moment always smiles from their heart, ready
to share their joy too!
“Come, let’s pray,” said my wife indiscreetly, but we ignored and carried on playing. After a while, she had finished cooking and reminded me about Aghatha’s exam on Sunday. Still, we carried on playing. At this point, Linda stomped angrily into the living room with Aghatha’s books. The music stopped. Aghatha’s mood shifted from playful to pensive with a shade of sadness and fear, which pissed me off.
The beast in me had been reacting to my wife’s mood swings for over ten years. I decided to defeat the beast and save my family.
I was born and brought up in a Roman Catholic family in a coastal village in the southern tip of Kerala. Idols in the Catholic church always hindered my faith from knowing the truth though I observed the rituals of reciting Angelus in the evening, family prayers at night, and Sunday obligations. I didn’t have any problem with my religious obligations as long as I followed them with closed eyes and mind. Every time I opened my mind to understand idolatry, it moved me to Atheism. However, deep inside I knew there is another life. For the time being, I decided to enjoy the freedom of not knowing the truth.
I married Linda. After seven years, we had a baby girl, my Aghatha. Our life went on doing a balancing act between God and the Devil until Aghatha turned three. A rare amebic dysentery struck her. It was so abrupt and eventful, my daughter lost seven kilos in ten days. At one point, even the doctor looked unsure.
This is when I told God I will go to Pottah, a prayer centre where, I heard, change happened to anyone who believed. In three days, Aghatha had returned to normal and I was flying to Pottah, some four thousand kilometers away from where we were living.
I believed for the first time in my life in Jesus that He was born two thousand years ago and that His words are still reaching every corners of the world and that His words are the only hope there is. I saw the deception of death: The convincing idea that death is the end, which closed the door to God and opened another – to a belief that heaven is on Earth, now and every moment we live. Our quest for knowledge blinds us with ego. I was stripped off my ego at this divine prayer center.
Jesus showed me knowledge without ego is life everlasting. I will never follow the heaven on Earth. I will not allow death to cheat me. I need to pray for the Holy Spirit to enter and protect me.
I began to discern guilt and anxiety of doubts, which has been tossing me about like a drifting log in the ocean. I understood all I need to do is to look up into the sky because one of the ways to God is to break free from anxiety of the future and guilt of the past. I believed Faith is leaving all worries to and believing in God because nothing is mine – nothing. In return, I get joy; this does not mean the Devil would leave me – the Evil One never stopped testing the Son of God till His last breath.
Being a believer in Jesus is being eternally happy; yes, a lot more challenging than being sad.
It was the Christmas Eve. I was rushing back from work all excited. My elder daughter had been calling me every ten minutes or so to check how far I was. Finally, I reached home. My two little angels and wife opened the door to a candlelit home, pleasant with soft Christmas music and gleaming smiles. I knelt down on the floor to hold them together in my arms. I saw a glimpse of my wife peeping out from the kitchen, the face strained, fragile and waiting to explode.
“I am sick and tired of this leakage,” (She was referring to the kitchen sink) “will you please close the main tap,” said my wife in an edgy tone. “Ok,” I said and abruptly left my children. “Have you closed it,” said my wife impatiently. “No,” I mumbled standing on my toes on a chair, straining to reach out one of the two blue taps above the false ceiling. “Closed?” screamed Linda. I was on the verge of retaliating. The beast is me was aroused. “Just a moment.” I said in a calm voice strange to me and my wife. “It’s the pain in my neck,” she said. In our ten years of wedlock, the Devil was defeated for the first time. It was a new beginning. A new hope. That was our best Christmas Eve.
5. There’s a Body on My Table by Ginny Deegeez
Paul unlocked, locked, unlocked, locked, unlocked, locked and unlocked the door before pushing it open. He took off his shoes, left one first, and laid them by the door in perfect parallel to each other.
“I’m home,” he called, and from the top of the stairs the fish in his aquarium burbled in response. He counted his steps to the kitchen – one, two, three…fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. He lined up his feet and looked at the digital clock on the microwave – 6:04. He waited patiently, watching, until – ah, 6:05. Letting out the breath he’d been holding, he turned to the kitchen table and-
Oh, God. Paul was suddenly acutely aware of his pounding heartbeat in his ears. He somehow managed to steady himself against the chair back and remain upright, but he knew he would faint if he couldn’t get himself under control. And he couldn’t faint. That wasn’t in the Routine.
He steeled himself and looked at the table again.
A dead fly on his kitchen table. And it wasn’t even centered! He felt his breathing growing panicked and focused on slowing it. What would he do? After a few minutes of thought with his eyes carefully averted from the table and its disturbing off-centerpiece, he went to the counter and picked up the phone. He listened to the dial tone for a moment, comforted by it, and dialed. The numbers were even on both sides – the only number he could dial that added up to the proper numbers in all the right ways. He’d never been able to find fault with it – it was the perfect number.
It rang a few times. He counted. On the fourth ring, she picked up.
“Jeanne!” He gasped, relieved, and there was a sigh on the other end.
“Paul? Oh, for God’s sake. Not again.” He could hear the exasperation in her voice, but he disregarded it. If she really, really minded she would have her number changed. He’d first called her two years ago, when he first moved into the house by himself. Before he’d just had others dial the phone for him, but it became unavoidable once he moved out. He’d tried to dial his therapist, but the number had too many problems. He finally just dialed the only number he could dial, and Jeanne had answered.
At first she’d just hung up, but when he kept calling her, she’d finally taken the time to listen to him and tell him quite firmly that yes, he could have four chairs at his table when there was only one person – of course! What would he do when he had company?
Paul knew that he never had company, and he told her that – he’d thus proven her theory null and he still had to worry about the chairs. But Jeanne finally promised that someday she and her two sons and her husband would visit and sit in his chairs. This had calmed him and he’d been able to say goodbye, hang up, and eat dinner (standing, of course, since there was no place to sit that would be even with four chairs).
“There’s a fly, Jeanne,” he said helplessly. “A fly.”
“Paul, please! This is not a good time. Can’t you just – deal with something by yourself for once?” Paul heard the edge in her voice and knew that something was going on, but at the moment nothing seemed more important than the issue on his kitchen table with six poky little legs and clouded, multifaceted eyes.
“On the kitchen table, Jeanne!”
“Please, Jeanne! What do I do?”
“PAUL! I can’t…I can’t deal with this right now!”
“I CAN’T EAT, JEANNE!” he wailed, knuckles white in his death grip on the telephone. There was silence on the other end, and he feared she’d hung up. “Jeanne?”
“Throw it away, Paul,” she said finally, and her voice was suddenly inexpressibly tired. “Just pick it up with a tissue and throw it away.”
“It’ll touch the tissue.”
“It doesn’t matter. You’ll throw the tissue away. It’ll never touch your hands.”
“The tissue is porous,” Paul added weakly, but he was caving.
“Wear your rubber gloves,” Jeanne suggested, and Paul managed to get his breathing under control. Everything would be okay.
“Thank you, Jeanne,” he said solemnly.
“Any time, Paul,” she replied quietly, and Paul waited until she hung up the phone to hang up on his end. He dealt with the fly as instructed. All went according to plan. He checked the clock.
He waited patiently until it changed to 6:55, and then he went to the refrigerator to cook his dinner.
The phone almost slipped as Jeanne hung it up, but she caught it just in time. She knew Paul waited until she hung up, and she didn’t want to worry him. She went to the sink to wash her hands, scrubbing until the water ran clear, and a little more besides, just in case. She glanced back at the phone, knowing that Paul would call within the next few minutes if he remembered something she hadn’t covered. The handle was slick with blood and she made a little face, reaching for the paper towels to clean it up. She looked into the kitchen, heaving a sigh.
It really hadn’t been a good time for Paul to bother her – she was busy trying to figure out what to do about the body. Her husband was bleeding all over her kitchen table. She reached under the sink for her rubber gloves.
6. The Story from the Attic by Daniel Starr
The attic of each old house is a magic place. It’s a dark spot. A few broken tiles let some arrows of sun to pass through. Sharp shreds of light are cutting trough opacity pointing at things stashed or thrown away. Being old, the loft has many stories. Among them, the story of the grains of dust. You may find yourself thinking now what’s so interesting about grains of dust. What could grains possibly discuss, what thoughts, dreams, desires and deceptions they may have? What animates the life of tiny particles of dust? It all began with a great temblor, an earthquake so great that the grains thought about it as something of apocalyptic proportions.
* What’s happening? A little particle wobbles in the pitch of black around it.
* I don’t know anything, a voice resemble near; I was standing here thoughtless; when all of a sudden I was lifted up!
* I can’t believe this is happening to me!! Another one screams.
* Are we going to die????
* “Are we going to die” …come on, get a grip of yourself..!
* Still …what has just happened?
* Who cares? All that matters is that we’re alive. We’ll see what and how when it will be necessary.
The particles continued to float for a while, carried by the flow. Slowly, as the minutes passed, the noise got extinct and the silence was once more. The stream continues to see of his own work taking the grains far away in the attic. Randomly or not, the specks that talked earlier came across one of the tubes of light piercing the darkness, and for the first time in their life saw each other.
* Hello‘ a voice made itself heard.
* Hi, another answered.
* A .. aa … atchoo! ( sorry )
* Bless you! damn cold , continues smiling .
* Yeah …I hope I didn’t catch a flue \. Not that I would mind catching a cold, but it bothers me to get sick when everybody else does.
* Even if you would, you’ll beat it . Can you chose when to get sick? laughed the neighbor grain .
* Yes; at least that’s what I like to believe .
* Then choose.
They study each other carefully in the glow . Of different shape and sizes each carries the same aspect. Structural identical and yet with different shapes and trajectories. The existence of speaks is a paradox . But the rules of attraction and repulsion are the same all around. Even in the loft.
* I won’t laugh, maybe I’ll put a little smile.
* You’ll see that I’ll catch a cold in the middle of summer, specially not to get it now !
* It’s much easy to catch some during summer, said the other.
* I hate to be like others , but it’s quite hard to postponed a cold from January to June , oscillated the grain in the cone of light .
* Are you afraid to leave it over for long period of time ?
* I am afraid of time , but I also know that if I put my mind to something , eventually that something will happen .
* Is there anything that you truly wish for ?
* Yes I do . You don’t \?
* The question wasn’t also for me , chuckled the little particle .
* I was just curious …
* My answer is plain and simple : yes
* Then prepare yourself for that to happen.
* I am prepared .
* But ?
* Why is there always have to be a “ but “ in our conversation ?
* Because it’s normal to question everything, flew graciously then starting to describe circles in the air.
* What do you feel now ?
* Honestly ?
* Hmm …thought the grain why not ?
* I’m a little …sad.
* And un-frankly?
* No, no, no … it’s not even worth mentioning , I’m caught in the play of the “ herd” and …
* Tell me more about the “ mob “ said the other .
* Wish I could , but it’s not a game that I enjoy .
* Hey …we both dislike to be like others.
* What would make you happy ?
* The well being of my love ones ,the joy of seeing a peaceful future ahead and …love.
* It’s a mystery for me that you don’t have love ; you’re smart , beautiful , communicative ,
* Maybe that I refuse to myself this right or maybe I am afraid .
* You are afraid to be happy ?!
* You have a way of making me say things that I don’t want .
* You could have told me this sooner. I would had found a way to be…
* And become like the others?
The world of dust particles waves like dancing on a soft melody. It’s rhythm is so slow that is barely noticeable. Each grain perceive this music in it’s own way, following a complicated line in space. All are dancing alone , careful not to touch each other. If you go in an old attic stop for a little while and pay attention to the specks of dust . That’s the least you can do for grains . Approach to beam of light from the roof and look . Once upon a time , somewhere , somehow , in the world of dust two or more grains bond and spin together. Oblivion surrounds them while entering darkness but specks continue to be , somewhere in the loft , unknown .
7. Finding by Holly Carter
I began observing you, detached – and found that suddenly you interest me. In the parking lot today, I watched you try to get into your old beater: jiggling the handle thrice, then kicking the bottom of the door, cursing, and jiggling the handle once more until the door suddenly sprang open and hit you in the shin. I laughed out loud, realized my error, then ducked and giggled quietly. Strange how when we were married that damn car was so aggravating to me (“a grade A pile of shit,” I believe I called it), and I completely overlooked the humor of it all.
As you pulled out of the parking lot, I caught the flash of your left blinker, so I followed: slowly, of course – not too obvious. You would be bewildered to learn I watch you now. I stay ten car lengths behind you, as they would in any movie. It’s not as if you’d recognize my car, anyway, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. And I would be sorry, too: to be known as a pathetic, stalking ex-wife.
* * *
“You are that crazy ex-wife!” Chris shrieks.
“No, I’m not,” I defend myself, “I’m just bored.”
“If you’re bored you read a book, watch a film, but you don’t stalk your ex,” he replied.
“He intrigues me,” I said with a shrug.
“You were married to the clown for five years,”
“So don’t you think it’s a little late to be learning about the guy?”
* * *
This past week I have followed Mike to the grocery store, where I discovered he’s been eating quite healthy since the two of us broke up. I also followed him to the gym where he played shirts/skins basketball with a few of his old buddies, and some new guys I didn’t recognize. Mike was a skin: looks like he’s been working on his abs a bit, too. I was impressed. I also followed him to the bookstore, where he picked up the Economist and two political books. He also flirted with the cashier a little on his way out.
It doesn’t look like Mike is grieving at all: no ice cream at the grocery store, no self-help books at Borders. In fact, I’m the one who looks pathetic out of the whole deal. How does that work? I broke up with him! What happened was I didn’t think I was happy. As a result, I thought changing my routine would change my outlook; I traded all my old furniture for new furniture, traded in my car, traded careers, and lastly, traded men.
The new guy, Nick, was fun and adventurous: for about a month. He didn’t care if he was late on his bill payments, and he didn’t limit himself to one vacation a year. He never talked to me about politics or goals. Some people might call this irresponsible and immature, but I found it to be so fresh and thrilling. A month later, my fling had ended (he never returned my calls), my husband had found out and had started divorce proceedings.
I’m feeling betrayed, I wrote into my journal one night. I guess I thought things would go differently: that Mike would beg me back and we could look back and laugh like it was some sort of experiment gone bad. Now I’m alone, with outrageous car payments, a job I hate, and a constant feeling of complete boredom.
* * *
“Real life isn’t like the movies, Jane,” Chris said to me, dipping his corn chip into our shared queso.
“I know that,” I replied, annoyed.
“I don’t think you do,” he responded: oblivious that his scolding was irking the hell out of me.
“You go around making rash decisions, not realizing that they will have consequences, and then expect people to feel sorry for you.”
“I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me,” I responded indignantly.
“Yes you do. Why are you here right now? You’re moping around that you threw out your marriage on a whim and that Mike isn’t going to come crawling back to you. You’re following him around hoping that one day you’ll get the courage to ‘accidently’ (yes, Chris did that finger quotation marks) bump into him and he will grovel and beg for you to take him back.”
“That’s not true,” I argued back, surprised when my voice amounted to nothing more than a whisper.
* * *
I did it. I “accidentally” bumped into Mike. He was leaving the gym at his regular time on Tuesday night, (9:30) when I had finally worked up the courage to confront him.
“Oh my god, Mike, is that you?” I feigned surprise after nearly hurling my body into his glistening chest.
“Jane.” He replied, emotionless. When I heard the period after my name, my heart sunk. I had to let go: it was over.
“What have you been up to?” I asked, flirtatiously punching his arm (like that would change his mind).
“Just working and living,” he said: cool, calm, and collected. It was as if he had been expecting this curious run-in and had planned exactly how to handle himself.
“Hey, I’d love to stay and catch up, but I’m kind of in a rush,” he added quickly, before I could come up with some witty banter.
“OK, see you around,” I mumbled to his back as he fled to his pile of shit car.
* * *
“I certainly am glad your stalking days are behind you,” Chris offered cheerily after hearing of my latest encounter.
“I guess I was getting pretty pathetic,” I murmured back: holding my gaze steady into my clam chowder.
“Hey,” Chris responded softly, lifting my chin with his thumb. “Not every love story ends up with the couple living happily ever after. You both have to appreciate each other – and in your case, it just took a little more time than you had.”
8. For Gorlak by Joshua Francis
The sky parted with a terrible roar as the lightning bolt tore downwards, cleaving a mighty oak in two as if it were a small piece of firewood. Raglan smiled a self-satisfied smile. He had done it. He had finally mastered the Lightning Spell after 9 long months of study and sweat. He had been apprentice to Gorlok since he was 5 years old – a promising child, with a great natural ability for magic. The old wizard had spotted him one day, all those years back as he shopped in Tondara Market for ingredients for his spells. The young Raglan had been juggling fruit, but not with his hands – with his mind. Gorlok smiled as well. His young pupil was coming into his own very quickly.
Raglan had been preparing for this moment his whole life. This was the Grand Kea-ho-kea-lee – the test by which all apprentices become wizards.
Raglan raised his arms above his head, about even with his shoulders. He chanted the next spell under his breath as Gorlok turned back to the Elders.
Suddenly, the oak that had just split began groaning and shaking. The small fires that had started when the tree fell were now puffs of blackish smoke. Raglan raised his arms higher as the oak began to bring itself back into one piece. If Raglan could make the tree seal back as though the lightning spell had never been spoken, he would be a wizard.
Gorlok looked on in indifference but he was silently hoping young Raglan had mastered the spell. If Raglan was indeed made a wizard today, he would be the youngest ever, at twenty eight years of age. It took much training to become a wizard. Gorlok was not inducted until he was forty four, a full thirty years ago.
The oak continued groaning as sweat broke out on Raglan’s face. He knew how important this spell was. There were currently only seven wizards in the kingdom, and four of them, including Gorlok, were nearing The Age of Regeneration. Once wizards were seventy four, getting very close for Gorlok, they were regenerated. Quite simply, they were slain and buried in the fields, to fertilize the food for the kingdom.
Gorlok had his eyes closed and was thinking about how close his time was when the Elders began cheering. Young Raglan had mastered the spell!
Raglan ran to the large wooden bench that seated the three elders. They were ancient, all of them at least one thousand years old. T hey had been alive when the kingdom had been established. They wore their traditional robes of rust orange, with hoods drawn over the tops of their heads before standing.
The middle one spoke in the scratchy, deep voice of one who had lived one thousand years.
“Congratulations, young Raglan. The Board of Elders hereby accepts you into the Legion of Wizards. Hold your title in high regards. Very few have ever achieved it and you are the youngest yet while the kingdom has been alive.”
With this, the three Elders left the small wooded area where the testing was held.
“Gorlok, we did it!” Raglan said.
“No, my boy. You did it. And now, it is my time.”
Raglan looked at Gorlok in surprise.
“You mean… But you’re only seventy three, are you not?”
“Young Raglan today was my birthday. Tonight, when the moon reaches its highest point, I will go to the Elders to be regenerated.”
With that Gorlok walked down the same path the Elders had followed.
Raglan stood in the testing area, unsure of what to do next. With some hesitation, he ran after Gorlok.
“Gorlok! Wait! Wait!”
As Raglan ran, he realized the moon would reach its highest point in just a few minutes. He picked up his pace.
As he rounded a curve, he almost ran into Gorlok.
“Gorlok! How can I do this without your direction?”
“Do what, my boy?”
“Why, fight the dwarves and protect the dragons and defeat the Armies of the East with the other wizards! You have oft told me of these things I will face, but I thought most assuredly that you would be here to guide me and train me.”
Gorlok stood looking into the sky.
“Raglan, you have done in twenty eight years what it took me forty four to achieve. Relish in your victory tonight, for tomorrow you will join the others and begin battle with the Armies of the East.”
Raglan began crying.
“How can I do this without you, teacher?”
“Raglan, you have made it thus far. You will be fine. Just remember the things I taught you. But now, I must go.”
Gorlok walked into a section of the forest that was protected by a large fence with guards standing every ten feet. The structure had to be massive but Raglan couldn’t tell through the dense trees.
Raglan heard the chanting associated with regeneration. He had heard it before, but never was it his teacher, his mentor, his friend.
The next day, Raglan rose early to do battle. He found the wizards at the battle grounds.
“Ah, young Raglan. Welcome. I am Rictir, the Supreme High Lo-kea of the Legion of Wizards. And what do you have to say for yourself?”
Raglan looked at the older wizard and wondered how close he was to the age of regeneration. Raglan took notice of his long, blue robe, worn and tattered from many battles.
“Well, young wizard? What words have you?”
Raglan withdrew his sword in one hand and ran to the battle field, shouting.