A couple of people were already sending us emails asking where the third round was. Well, here it is! As an administrative note, expect the rounds to go live at around this time on Mondays. Early in the day we already the normal post from Maeve, so I figured that spacing it a bit couldn’t hurt, and you still have the rest of the week to read the stories so.
Last week’s round sparked a bit of controversy as some entries started pulling in a good number of votes (over 300 to be precise). Keep in mind that if a certain writer has a blog or a profile on some social network, it is fine if he or she decides to write about the contest there and ask his or her readers to check it out and come vote for their favorite story.
It is just a writing contest with a small prize, after all, so I expect that most of those people will come, take a look at the stories, and vote honestly for their favorite one.
Also, remember that we have 15,000 subscribers and over 7,000 daily visitors, so even if someone managed to get 200 or 300 friends to vote directly on his story, our readers should be able to out weight that. The grand winner of the last edition had over 1,700 votes, just to give you an idea.
Anyway, I am really liking the stories so far, and I hope you guys are too. Now to the third round!
1. Dixie Swing by Will McClain
Growing up I used to play with this neighbor kid from a couple farms over after Sunday church and weekday chores during the summers. His parents were Austrian immigrants and he would come over reeking of pungent ethnic foods that not even a mile walk in a stiff country breeze could subdue. This kid—Lukas was his name—he was one of those dusty brats who relished being away from his folks; he wasn’t the most fearsome brute I’d met, but he was forever nudging the boundaries when no adults were present to whip him. His old man must have had quite the vocabulary because Lukas loved to cuss—he’d curse his slingshot for misfiring or his parents for nagging or the preacher for being fat—and when he got to cussing, a growling anger behind his words threatened to burst his small body wide open.
Whatever the origin of Lukas’s demons, he exercised them during our weekly walks along the evergreens that shadowed our fence line. Though I was a hellion myself, earning my share of raw, pink backsides, the questionable undertakings in which Lukas participated disquieted me. No warning was too stark for him, no danger too delectable, no promise of injury too titillating. If anywhere there stood a September Elm ready to tip, he scaled it; if somewhere there lurked a hunk of granite poised to crush his legs, he gleefully mounted it; and if ever there was a rusty gasoline can, he aimed his rifle and shot. Given Lukas’s predispositions and my aversion to them, it is a testament to my astounding lack of good judgment that I followed him that amber October day.
Clarence Harmon’s farm was a fifteen minute walk due east, where it sat couched in a jumble of ancient deciduous trees at the elbow of our newly paved road. As younger children we’d been mesmerized by the two tire swings dangling like rubbery pocket watches from a large bough in Harmon’s yard; the farmer had expressly forbid us to ride them while he was away. As Lukas and I approached, I noticed one swing missing, a likely victim of Mr. Harmon’s son Johnny and his titanic mass.
There was no sign of the old man; either he was at the north plot or had driven to town for feed and perhaps a new length of rope. I stood under the limb, staring up at the spot where the jubilant pendulum had rubbed the wood to a patina. I recalled the times I used to push my kid sister too high in the swing and wondered if after that day we’d swing there again. As I peered beyond the limb into the borderless afternoon sky, Lukas called for me to follow and I ran to him. We paused for a moment, absorbing the magnitude of the desolate farm: the proud house wearing its faded brown paint and patched roof; the trusty John Deere whose greasy gasoline odor bit our nostrils; the towering old skyrocket that held the grain, and the world-weary barn that held everything else. That familiar sentinel had been marching in place for nearly a century before we’d drawn our first breaths.
“Stay close, damn it!” Lukas barked as we rounded the barn’s back corner.
I hastened grudgingly.
“I don’t know what you’re so keen on this for,” I challenged.
The dirty haired boy grinned over his shoulder, not bothering to look back at me.
“Ain’t nobody chained us together,” he said, daring me to leave.
A gust of wind mussed Lukas’s hair as he dropped to his knees near the red wall. “Stand behind me there, for the wind,” he instructed. I did my best to bulk up my ninety-five pound frame, though I didn’t give half a damn about blocking his wind. “Better?” I asked. “For now. Gimme the dang matches,” he snapped, flicking his fingers. I rifled through the deep pockets of my soiled overalls. I had half a mind to tell him that, sorry, I’d lost the matches along the way and we’d have to try again tomorrow. In the end, my shaking hand governed itself and awarded Lukas his prize. “Now shut up and try to keep a watch out,” he said as the match ignited. I caught a faint whiff of sulfur as he carefully cupped his hand around the match and guided it to a mess of old hay and twigs that lay like witches’ hair in the crook where barn met grass. Pale smoke from the pile became an orange flame that licked into the barn wall and began creeping as if trained by a force only Lukas could see.
When the police and the fire department roared up I was alone, rocking quietly on the tire swing. The way my folks tell it, the scene was like the second level of Hell, all blazing timbers, panicked cattle and falling ash. Apparently some fuel cans had exploded and gone soaring across the property, igniting a secondary blaze on the roof of the house. They say a flaming barn cat went tearing across the yard, the demonic sight of which sent Mrs. Anderson the neighbor lady into a faint. Mr. Harmon, who they’d fetched from Charlie’s feed store, simply cried. The next thing I remember was the town sheriff screaming at me from across an oaken table. Momma held my hand—daddy was in the lobby with his head between his knees—and I spoke in choking sobs.
I sometimes wonder what changed in me that afternoon, if it was the fear or the fumes or something else. I wonder what caused me to remain at the scene when even my halfwit friend had sense enough to use the legs his Lord gave him. What’s more, I wonder why I went along at all that day, and why despite my unyielding dread I stood up to those red-faced cops and took the blame, all of it, for myself.
2. A Blue Tuesday by Virginia Deaton
As human beings with some semblance of compassion we tend to use words like “mentally ill”, or “mentally challenged” to make the sad state of someone like Jimmy sound more politically correct, softer somehow, not quite as real. Jimmy is delusional, a simpleton, a half wit, not all there, and just plain old nuts. He spends his days on the streets collecting the color red because it reminds him of Christmas. Christmas is the one happy memory he has of “before” and he gathers all the red he can find to shelter himself in its crimson warmth. He is quite happy in his fantasy world, except on blue days. On blue days he hides in his cardboard house, huddled beneath a frayed red blanket, the one he found in the dumpster on 2nd street.
Jimmy lives under the railroad bridge on Salem Avenue in Dayton, Ohio. Dayton’s downtown rebirth plans didn’t include Jimmy’s house, the planning committee having equated the indigent population with the other no-see-um pests. The new cobblestone pavement and the quaint old-style trolleys run right beside the homeless shelter that has a new coat of don’t-see-me white and a black iron-railed fence with a gate that is locked 24/7. You have to call in advance to get in and Jimmy forgets to call most days, even if he has the change for the phone booth that day.
Jimmy lives in what could be called, on a good day, a cardboard house. He’d hunted for days for red Campbell’s soup boxes, and red Lava soap boxes. One of his happiest memories is the day he found the neon red paper that the printer over on 8th Street had thrown away. He spent all day gluing it on the outside of his house, in all the places that weren’t covered with his rosy preference. Red made him happy. Red wasn’t scary like most colors.
Today is Tuesday, and Jimmy is hunched in his tattered and faded red plaid coat, standing in line at the park near the library. The homeless shelter sets up every Tuesday at the park if the weather is good. It makes the handout seem like a picnic. Today they are serving chicken strips, mashed potatoes and new ball caps. The stack of caps at the end of the line is a rainbow of colors, baleful blue, yelling yellow and threatening green. The bright Santa-red ball cap with the see-through scarlet vinyl bill is a like an invisible hand, pulling Jimmy through the line. He dances from foot to foot and waves his arms to ward off anyone who might reach for his hat. It called to him, sang to him, and excited him with the flashing of its vinyl bill as it glinted in the sun.
Finally it was his turn to pick a hat. Normally he would have spent 5 minutes carefully transferring his food from the white paper plate to the red plate in his backpack. Today he didn’t even notice; the red hat was all he saw. He rushed to the nearest tree, sitting cross-legged in its patchy shade. He placed his food carefully on the ground in front of him and then looked at the hat. It was perfect. He held it up in front of his eyes and caught his first look at a world gone rosy as he looked thru the clear red vinyl of the bill. Lunch forgotten, Jimmy put the hat on his head, being careful to tilt the bill down over his eyes so that he could see through it. He stood and slowly looked around at this new world of Santa-red possibilities.
Just then a gust of wind barreled through the trees, lifting the tattered coattails of his fellow picnickers and snatching the hat from Jimmy’s head. It was hurled over the benches and past the trees into the street where the afternoon rush of traffic ignored its bright red promise. Jimmy turned to watch it fall under the wheels of the passing cars, crushed like the future he once had, before he lost his grasp on reality. His shoulders slumped as he watched it roll along the curb and disappear into the black hole of the rain gutter. He stared at the yellow curb. “No parking there,” he thought. Yellow was a sad color he decided.
No one in the park noticed the hat go sailing and the shelter workers had already packed up and left. Jimmy slumped to the ground and started transferring his lunch to the red plastic plate he carried in his faded red backpack. It was going to be a blue day after all.
3. Mad Dog by Charlie Rivera
His dreams had come more often lately. The uneasy feelings they produced had no name yet, but the boy understood his emptiness and pain were the result of something unnatural. His young life had thus far been a puzzle with one important piece always missing. The fact that this piece was just a room away made him mad with anxiety. The inferno burning so close provided a scent by way of muffled rage barely audible, but clearly understood. The fact that his father was arguing with his mother again was the mountain his small feet must climb.
So he waited. He waited and listened to the drunken curses of his father, as he stood by the white four-paneled door with a rusty brown doorknob as its sentry. Through the door, he could hear his mother accusing and crying, begging, and pleading. “Why do you have to be like this?” “Do you know you have a son?” Every word dripping with disgust. Her infamous anger revved the engine of hate these two made a sport. The child knew a beating would soon follow, and she would still not shut up. He knew this story well. The louder the screams, the bigger the mountain.
He couldn’t wait any longer. The fear of hearing his mother being slapped and punched temporarily froze the boy. His mind raced and scanned its short memory. The police, the violence, and those ugly handcuffs. He had to make a move. He knew that intruding on an adult conversation was prohibited, but if he could just swing the door to the left and stand in the doorway, perhaps they would notice, and invite him in. A bold move for sure, fraught with inescapable danger. At the moment the risk seemed worth the reward. The excitement of the possibilities roared from his head to his toes. Perhaps he could finally see his father, touch him, and feel whole. Perhaps he could look at his future and feel its common warmth. Perhaps the fighting would stop. Perhaps his dad would tell him he loved him. That had never happened before.
The door felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. He turned the knob, which was just above his head, and with his arms slightly raised he pulled with all his might. The door swung open about as slowly as one could, torturing him for his lack of strength, while slowly revealing the yellowish white light of the room opposite, which quickly filled the darkness he had been plotting in. He looked at the odd shape of the room, a bedroom mixed with living room furniture. He scanned the dirty cigarette stained shades appearing as if they were being held hostage against the cold window. A bottle of MD 20-20 stood tall on a small end table misplaced behind a plastic covered couch. Its orange ingredients radiated inside its rectangular decanter. As his father slowly raised the bottle to his mouth, his half closed eyes caught a glimpse of his son. His head quickly jerked downward as the sight startled him. This abrupt reaction caused a portion of the poison to escape his lips and slide down his chin landing on his shirt above a pocket whose material stretched to contain a package of Lucky Strikes. His stare began as soon as the cheap wine reached the back of his throat. After a slight cough, aimed at helping his body’s new entrant make it to its destination, the stare became intensified.
There are many parts to a man. When some parts break, it is always possible to pull from other parts to continue the journey. Men are built that way. The mission must go on. The most important part however, is irreplaceable. A man’s voyage is severely altered with this self-inflicted wound. It is said that the failure to care for your young haunts you in your sleep. It becomes your silent companion. Unshakable and raw is the wound that never heals. The burden can make the days become years and the weight of this failure unbearable.
His eyes had seen his failure. They were sad eyes when he looked at his son, downcast and sullen, green, and bloodshot. At that moment a sigh escaped from his chest and the boy saw words, the words of his dreams. I’m sorry I have failed you son. Tears were streaming down his father’s red cheeks. The boy remembered his father leaning over him once while he was half asleep. The dreams and the man were clear now.
“Why are you out here?” his mother yelled. Glancing at her, the boy noticed the puffiness of her eyes, the hours of crying taking their toll. Her mascara had long since run from its home, finding a new canvas in the middle of her cheeks. At that moment his first step made a creak in the floor. He was walking without thinking. Ignoring his mother’s detestable stare, he continued up the mountain.
“He shouldn’t see you like this!” his mother screamed.
When he reached the summit, he grabbed what he could. His father’s leg was firm, and it was all he could reach. The father gently placed his hand on his son’s back, rubbed gently and said, “Yeah, you shouldn’t see me like this.” His face turned away from his boy, and he secretly wished he were somewhere else. The very presence of his failure immediately sank him. His breathing was shorter, his mind seeking distance.
“Go back to your room!” she hollered. The ice of her words sent shivers up the boy’s spine.
That walk of defeat would be one he would get to know well. As the white footsies of his one piece pajama outfit slid across the dusty wooden floor, he felt his heart beating through his chest as the bitter salt of his tears fought to reach the back of his dry throat. A lesson learned, but never understood. The top of one mountain will always be the bottom of another.
4. The Old Slab Hut by Bill Gallagher
It was a lonely and depressing place, derelict and abandoned. The low, two roomed hut in front of a larger building behind were roofed with a mismatched assortment of rusty corrugated iron, obviously salvaged from scrap when the original house was rebuilt. An old stove set in ant-bed, with rusty tin from a collapsed skillion lying across the cracked cook-top, sat next to an old ruined bush table. The remains of a rusted out hurricane lamp still hung from a twist of wire above the stove. The area in front of the buildings was cleared except for a few tussocks of tough looking grass that had managed to find sustenance in the hard foot-beaten earth. There were two wagon wheels with dented rims lying against the hut wall and a few old Pennant oil tins stacked in an open-fronted shed of sorts. The buildings were hemmed in on all sides by a dense wall of scrub. There were big old iron barks, wattles in bloom and bull oak growing in profusion; the ground carpeted with a layer of leaves and oak nettles.
After an initial feeling of oppressiveness, I became aware of the beauty enclosed within that dark and pressing wall of timber. I spared a thought for the previous occupants. There was bird noises everywhere; Lousy Jacks scolded and chattered as they squabbled and fluttered in the underbrush, honey eaters hung upside down feasting on the gum blossoms, a family of magpies, handsome in their black and white suits probed under leaves and sticks with their long bills while a flock of sulphur crested cockatoos wheeled overhead screeching their annoyance to my intrusion into their domain. Overall, was the pungent odour of the trees and the pine nettles. Spurred on, I ventured inside.
The floor of the main room was made of flat stones with well rammed ant-bed filling the spaces. The room contained two beds made of bush timber, each at separate ends of the hut. A high cupboard with hanging space stood beside one of the beds. There was a rude plank table, its sapling legs still standing in the remnants of jam tins, an old bushman’s trick, fill the cans with water to keep ants away from the tabletop. Shelfing made of packing case ran along one wall, scraps of yellowed newspaper lining remained, along with a few old bottles and rusty tins that still lurked there. A stack of empty Log Cabin tobacco tins and a broken clay pipe gave further clues to the former inhabitants.
A little lizard, started by my presence, scuttled over the scraps of newspaper with a swift rustle to disappear into a crack in one of the oak logs that formed the wall. A stunted geranium bush struggled for existence in one of the cracks in the floor, fed by the occasional drip of water from a leak in the roof. I marvelled at its survival prowess and couldn’t resist watering the plant with my own supply.
A low doorway led into a workshop added onto the back of the main hut. A work bench ran the length of the room; well lit by an opening protected from the elements by an overhanging awning. The room was light and airy and faced North; a great spot to be on a winters morning. Mounting holes in the bench top gave evidence of a pedestal drill and perhaps a small lathe as there was provision to one side for a stationary engine. Old files and rusted tools lay abandoned on the floor. Open tins of washers and bolts and old hand cut patterns, were nailed to the wall. On the windowsill sat a tobacco tin, nailed to the timber, still with the dark stains of crushed out dumpers burnt into its bottom. All the remnants gave evidence to a couple of miners scratching out a living in the tin boom at the turn of the century.
I walked into the bright sun outside and could almost hear the sounds of activity that would have prevailed around this old, long deserted miner’s hut, the engine chugging away, the hollowed sound of an axe clunking into a fallen iron bark as man collected firewood. I gazed back once more, on that lonely geranium. The lousy jacks had already swooped down to fossick in the wet soil. Somehow it would survive I was confident of that. The cockatoos rose again in a screeching, protesting chorus but settled down once I was out of sight. Everything soon returned to normal. I was forgotten already.
5. I’m Here If You Need Me by David Rissik
When we meet for coffee, I know how it will be by looking at the stress lines
around her mouth. The dark eyes, too, become animated and turn a lighter shade
of brown. The room is crowded. “Can’t we have this argument later?” I
On summer evenings we sit out under the stars. We will put on music. If in the
mood she will tell me more about her life. It comes together like a complex
jigsaw puzzle, those ones in subdued colours and subtle themes. The edge pieces
are often missing and I am building it like a giant patchwork, but somehow to
forever to remain incomplete and incongruous. She effortlessly rolls her smokes
and draws deeply. Exhaling, she says, “So you see, I’ve led a rather messed
She was by all accounts a precocious child. “A precious, extroverted
child,” her mother once told me. And then things must have changed, fighting
for recognition and attention amongst four siblings, but frequently being put
down or simply ignored. The craving had nowhere to go but to seek solace in her
dreams and idealised reflection of self.
She got a college degree. Following parental denial to allow her to pursue art
and music in her teens, she simply let go and desultorily entered the main
stream of job seekers in dead end jobs. Family life became disconnected and
tension filled. Almost got married in her early twenties to a childhood
sweetheart, but probably knew that portended problems neither she nor he could
later face. She left her home town, moved to the coast, moved overseas and got
into the coffee bar drug culture of Amsterdam. She picked up live-in lovers
along the way. A fall from a second floor apartment (“Was I pushed or was it
a failed suicide attempt?”) put in her hospital and weeks of therapy before
making her way back home in a wheelchair and full leg cast.
It is winter. I watch her as she climbs into bed next to me. Her long brown
hair, freshly brushed, hangs over her delicate shoulders. I never fail to be
enraptured by the small of her back, the curve of the hips, and long thighs
accentuated under two-piece pyjamas. I cannot resist placing my hand on her
taut stomach, finger tips to palm nestled between raised hip bone, flesh on
flesh. We talk in the dark, the baby lying asleep next to us. She turns on her
side and I spoon up next to her for warmth, taking in her late night scents and
the long and shapely “V” of her back. We fall into slumber.
In the years after our first meeting, coffee shops became the focus of our
trysts. Snatched hours away from work or other family was selfishly consumed.
Cigarettes and cappuccino sustained us through solving the world’s problems,
or our own. Her narcissism I did not recognize at the time. I dutifully fed the
fire that raged in her. My gut wrenched with the frequent opening lines of
“…my mother…” There was never enough time to churn through the clutter
and chains of our lives.
The first few experiences of her vengeance on me I put down to impulsivity,
waywardness and her years of living a solitary life. I did not understand that
our moments of stolen intimacy and growing dependence created the perceived
threat of my leaving. She pre-empted this event and the pain of rejection by
volcanic explosions of emotion and refusing any contact. She moved addresses and
she regularly changed telephone numbers, almost as often as job changes. She
explored other unhappy avenues of social interaction, leaving her unfulfilled
and rootless. And yet as the tension subsided, and we reflected on our lives and
the void left by separation, we resumed our trysts.
On an autumn afternoon we meet again. She comes in from the parking lot, a
cold, dry wind sweeping the remnants of summer’s dead leaves across the
tarmac. I take in her poise and arresting southern European looks. Her dark hair
is vaguely tinged with grey. We talk the talk of lovers voluntarily separated.
Now pregnant, and about to become a single parent, she drifted some more. Found
some brief rapprochement with her parents and then, as quickly, again disowned
them. Motherhood for her, just before her fortieth birthday, came as a final
burst to fulfil a biological mission. Congruent therewith was an attempt at
redemption, making good, or so it seemed to her, her life and the early promises
After the child was born, she found the strength to complete her master’s
degree but couldn’t or wouldn’t secure work in the field which her
university education had prepared her for. She retained a therapist who became a
surrogate mother to her, helping to re-examine the vagaries and disappointments
of childhood, of a preferred childhood denied and of relationships to be played
out or repaired. Her demons continued to plague her. She had visions of a
charmed, carefree life and a career where the escape to art could be resumed
before the mediocrity of middle age consumed her.
It is a spring morning. We stroll in the park, the child between us, one hand
to each parent. The Egyptian geese on the lake make tentative forays to the bank
near us in anticipation of food. For the moment we set aside the hundred things
we would want to discuss and give our attention fully to the child. Arguments
deferred, decisions deferred and reconciliations to be examined. They will
I am here if they need me.
6. Species by Chetan Dange
Those who were always and entirely neglected even by themselves had started becoming manushri’s part of interest unknowingly. Staying in the area where humans are rarely seen among those so call ‘people’ who like wasting their lives on the streets fighting and abusing each other, manushri was a brave girl who never gave a second thought to protect the weak being hit by the cruel. The simple collage going girl belonged to the family of literates and hence was very enthusiastic and sincere about her career right from her childhood. Not only studies but her hobbies too had an important place in her life. She was just an ordinary girl who was special for herself in an extraordinary way. From the busy schedule of her job and studies she always managed to pull out a couple of hours to breath her passion of doing theaters.
As she believed, her mechanical life was just a step after which she was free to pursue her passion and no one could then point out her flaws that ‘she did nothing except her likings. At the same time she also wanted to be honest with her soul as it would too curse her if she would have only obeyed the regular system of living a responsible life. She just wanted to be complete even for the world and herself. She was also a keen observer of lost feelings; not of her own but of the people who consider themselves that they do not have right to feel.
It happened with her just the last monsoon when she was returning home from tiring working hours. The sky had turned blackish grey drenching her and the burning rocks with its wet waters. It felt like the sky was shedding tears like a small child as if no one could ever listen to it. The ground texture viewed rough as the lowing waters had taken away all the softness of soil leaving behind the trails of its sacred fragrance. Everyone was hurrying to their shelters. Manushri driving her way home began her usual practice to recollect the day and customize the people she met in the entire day. Suddenly on a turn in her way something made her stop. Disturbed manushri’s lips murmured something and she went her way ahead. Her curiosity made her look behind what stopped her and she saw a small boy struggling to pull a cartwheel, trying to climb a small slope. The merciless rain was making it even more difficult for him. Feeling sorry manushri turned back, kept aside her vehicle and offered him help.
“Shall I help you?”
The down headed boy bothered to give her a look. A look which needed help but still was firm for no help .A look which was happy that someone among the sound bothered for the ignored. The shivering voice quietly said,
“Can you help me push this to the light pole ahead?”
One of the best deeds of her life yet again paid the price when she saw the boy who without uttering a word left her alone in the chaos of raindrops and a smile in the middle of the road.
Approximately a month later when manushri was enjoying a break in a rehearsal of a play, someone ordered tea for everyone. Again the rain boy appeared to serve tea.
Someone dubbed him and manushri stood up. She recognized the boy, asked him his name and announced it in the practice hall.
“His name is Suraj and it would be very kind of you all if you call him by the same.”
The boy did his job and went downstairs and Manushri kept looking at him from the window. Everyday the boy used to come and go to serve peoples purpose of refreshment and to serve his purpose to earn his own existence of being ‘SURAJ,’ THE SUN. While coming and going for the rehearsals, manushri noticed him selling flowers on the streets after his working hours, cleaning vehicles and sometimes crafting a phony smile on his neutral face when he saw her. He was also rarely seen with one of his friend who appeared just like him but was untroubled by the multi faced humanity. As time passed by Manushri now could easily make out that the boy was too silent which made it even easier for the world to burry his identity.
One fine day she made an effort to talk to him. She desperately wanted to know his helplessness that made him work day and night like animals. It was not her curiosity but was now her need that made her do this. As the boy headed his way after serving tea as usual, finding his way among the defined crowed of the civilization, she stopped him and asked about his family and background and came to know that the 12 year boy heads from Assam. Working here in different places and also on his uncle’s tea stall he is saving money to enjoy his own birthday with his only friend here and want to give him a treat in a roadside hotel.
After all this conversation with him, chocked manushri dint weep, sky had already done the needful for her. The boy went his way down.
Suddenly a teammate of her came running at the door and asked her,
Has the boy left?
Manushri nodded ‘yes’
“This boy is such a pain, I am so tired and this guy served me tea in this dirty cup. I tell you these species are a menace to the society.” She kept aside the teacup and went off.
Manushri’s unmovable eyes started searching for her own existence besides the mudded footprints of the boy on the empty stairs running down the dramatic hall. With the lightning in the sky showing yet newer ways to the raindrops and refreshing the earth, she picked up the dirty cup of the warming tea and took a refreshing sip.
7. I Live In A Coffin The Size Of A Two Bedroom Apartment by Joshua Shelley
I spend all of my time six feet below the earth’s surface. Actually, it’s only sixty-two inches below the surface. I had it put in my will; my nose was to be above ground if I was to stand up in my grave. It’s kind of silly, but I always had this fear of being buried alive. I thought that 10 inches closer to the surface would be a safe bet.
I spend a majority of my time decorating the coffin and making sure my fingernails are at perfect soil digging length. I spend the rest of my time thinking of the woman I left behind and writing down my memories and dreams for her.
I had a dream about us last night. We were just hanging out and goofing off. It was nice to see us back to how we were in June . . . even if it wasn’t real. We went to the local university and walked around for a bit, telling stories, wearing our sunglasses and begging for time to stand still, if only for a few hours.
We had only been together a week at that point, but we both knew it was love. It was more than a mere puppy could understand. I had never felt anything like that before and I was enthralled by it. By her. I sat on the bench in the shade. She danced in the fountain in front of me, her shoes on the rim and my heart in her hand. The wind came by and carried a cool mist from the soaked strands of her black hair away from the fountain and kept me cool while I fell in love.
I counted our footsteps back to my car and kissed her once for each one. My mouth was dry afterwards so we walked from my car to a building on campus. It was the Art and Architecture building and the doors weren’t locked on the weekends. It was dim in the building but it felt good to be out of the sun for a few minutes. I reached across the concession counter and stole a drink while she used the bathroom. I assume dancing in the fountain had caused her to have to go. When she came out of the bathroom I woke up, still alone.
It’s dreams like that that I will never be able to shake. They were so real, so perfect and so simply unforgettable. And it’s that girl that I will never be able to forget. Her kitten smile, her smell, her laugh. How she always embarrassed me when we went places. I miss watching her put on makeup. I miss seeing her face light up when she saw me. I can’t forget all the times I surprised her. I can’t forget anything about this girl, but I’m not sure if she can even remember me.
I leave off my return address when I mail her stuff. She knows where I’ve always been and if she wants she can find me. I died the day she sent me away. Car wreck. Crossed the median with my arms spread out, ready to fly. Ready to die.
I need something to fly over my grave again and let me know that I could be alive, to someone. I was buried with my lioness in my heart or at least my loneliness.
Coffins should come with better ventilation systems. It’s hard to bear smoking a cigarette when plush, silk pillows surround you. I could really use another cigarette right now. My heart sometimes sinks down to my stomach and the smoke helps to push it back into place.
I’ve been in here just short of five months. She’s the only thing I dream about and the only thing I miss. Well, to be completely honest, that first part could be a lie, but as far as I know it’s more honest than George Washington is on the one-dollar bill. I’m sure I’ve had thousands of dreams but the only ones I can remember are the ones where we’re together again. But we aren’t together again at the end of the week. I’ll pass out tonight and dream of her smiling as she covers her mouth with her right hand. I’ll pull out a camera and try to snap a picture. But she disappears before I can push the button. Besides, pictures tend to fade away over time, but memory is forever.
Perhaps she’ll stay in my crosshairs someday. Maybe another guy will kill her and we can be together. Or she’ll come back and decide dating someone who was once deceased isn’t so bad and try to make it work. She’ll save all of the letters I write her and cry to herself at night. I pray that I haunt her dreams, both day and night.
Even more so, I hope that she is happy without me. She deserves it. She deserves everything that we had those first two months and everything more I didn’t think I could give her.
The rain comes three times a week to wash the soil away. I’ll make sure it takes me with it next time.
8. Smith’s Prowess by Ndifor Eleves Funui
Detective Smith jumped out of his bed as soon as he heard the noise. Someone must have jumped over the fence, he told himself. His hand went straight for his gun and he crawled out of his bed making sure he did not wake of his wife. There was a strange smile on his face as he quietly opened the window and stepped out of the house into the darkness of the night. He was naked but for his pant. He went round the house towards the main entrance, peeped but saw nobody. The smile on his face disappeared. He quickly looked around but the night was too dark to see beyond twenty metres and he thought his operation was going to fail. He wanted to put an end to the shame he still felt after what some few days back.
Five days ago, an armed man successfully introduced himself in Detective Smith’s bedroom at 3 o’clock in the morning. That was on Monday. The detective and his wife were fast asleep in each other’s arms when someone poured cold water on them. They reluctantly woke up and found a man wearing a head mask holding a gun in both hands. Detective Smith did not need someone to tell him that one of the guns was his. After threats at gunpoint, the stranger took away some money as well as some jewels and later on, Detective Smith found his gun on a sofa in the sitting room. He swore to himself that he was going to do everything he could to arrest this criminal. He could not admit the shame of seeing himself, a law enforcement office being robbed in his own bedroom and with his own gun.
One thing he could not understand was how the thief managed to introduce himself into his bedroom without forcing the doors or windows. He concluded that he must have forgotten to lock one of the doors that night before going to bed. There was nothing on earth that could make him think that his own 18 year old daughter was part of this theft. On her boyfriend’s advice, she had left the main door open that night after her parents had gone to bed. Her boyfriend and her needed money for a birthday party they wanted to attend on Saturday and this was the only solution they had to make money. They got about six hundred dollars from that operation. Detective Smith could never know that the enemy he was looking for was in his own house. He forgot the old adage which says “before you complain that there is a bad odour in the room, make sure you verify if the odour is not coming from your mouth”.
Smith’s daughter was not a bad girl but her father’s strict rules forced her to always do extreme things whenever she wanted to behave like girls her age. As a clear example, Smith made it clear to his daughter that she was not allowed to go out at night unless she was accompanied by one of her parents and she was obliged to always do everything she could to attend even a friend’s party.
Smith went to the back part of the building to verify it was clear and he saw what he was looking for. He saw somebody moving his daughter’s window slowly. His first intention was to arrest the criminal alive because it could also help him to get the promotion he had been looking for. As he moved towards the criminal, he noticed that the criminal had something in his hand- probably a gun and this discouraged Smith. This meant he could not easily arrest him alive for fear of being killed. The criminal cautiously went towards Smith’s daughter’s window and opened it. When he was about to enter the room, Smith fired his gun and saw the criminal fall from the window. He ran into the house and phoned his colleague that was on night duty.
“Hi Harry, it’s Smith.” He said in a shaky voice.
“I know. What gets you out of your bed at this hour on a Saturday night?” The other asked.
“Sorry to disturb you, Harry. I just killed an armed man who was about to enter my house. Could you come over to my place for necessary formalities?” Smith asked.
“Just relax yourself. I will be there in less than ten minutes, okay?” Harry said from the other end.
Smith brought out a bottle of whiskey from the cupboard and emptied part of it in his throat. Some minutes later, Harry arrived some minutes later accompanied by a female colleague. This was the hour Smith had been waiting for ever since he became a law enforcement officer. He wanted his colleague to witness his prowess that night. He led his colleagues to where the corpse was lying and they were all shocked when they noticed the criminal was a girl and was not armed as Smith had claimed on the phone. It was her shoes she had in her hands and not a gun as Smith thought. They both bent over the corpse to get a closer view of the criminal’s face. Smith jumped suddenly and gave out a sharp cry when he got a closer view of the criminal’s face- it was his own daughter he had just killed. She had just come back from the party she and her boyfriend had robbed her parents just to attend.