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Sep 19, 2018

In, flash please.


Sep 19, 2018

Fresh Flowers from an Early Spring
1848 words

Mark sat alone, at the small table, topped with white plastic and a chipped vase full of not-quite-fresh flowers. If the gas lantern had been on, he could have seen that the kitchen was tiled in cheery blue and yellow, but the only illumination came from the porch lights which trickled in through broken shutters. Two thin ribbons of light fell on Mark and the empty chair opposite him, while a broad swath of black covered the table. He drank a dark beer from a brown bottle, and relaxed in an easy, meditative way. The cabin was over fifty years old, and had barely seen enough renovation in that time to keep it from falling over. A friend had asked him to come out and do some more. Those porch lights, charged by solar panels during the day and turning on at night, had been the first item on the to do list, as they let Lorelei find her way home in the purpling early night.

His New Year's resolution had been to take up cooking and at the beginning of April he still enjoyed it. Cold bowls of chopped vegetables and meat sat on the countertop. Ramekins and jars of spices and sauces waited to be doled out. Lori was the only thing left.

If he had chosen what to do with two weeks off, he would have chosen to head south from the mine, not north. Early spring in Northern Manitoba was still achingly cold, but Lorelei had wanted to hike in the boreal forests and he didn't mind the extra money from fixing this place up. Also, once he had gotten up here, he saw what she did, even though things froze overnight and barely thawed during the day. The forest was ready, ready to turn forward to something new. To stand in that liminal time and watch the slow twist of Nature made his breath catch.

He took another sip of beer and stared out the small hole in the shutter. On a summer night he might have expected to see moths whirling around the electric bulbs on the porch, a maelstrom of confused insect psychology, but now it was only light. It was only unfettered brightness, hiding anything that might be waiting in the night.

A shadow passed between the light and shutter. It took Mark a moment to realize that it was a human shape before the kitchen door banged open, admitting a silent, windless cold and a silhouetted figure.

Lorelei stepped out of her snow-covered boots before shutting the door. Rather than fumbling with the lantern, she joined him at the table in the darkness. The exterior light still came only as two limited golden bands and it failed to illuminate her fully. The only thing Mark could see was her dark eyes and her dark hair. When she spoke, it seemed to come from all around, from every dusty corner of a nearly forgotten cabin in an almost forgotten stretch of forest.

“You should have come with me. There were so many things in the woods I found that I hadn't expected to.”

“Oh, I don't know, that nap was pretty great. I bet everything'll still be there tomorrow. You can point it out to me.” Mark couldn't see her mouth, but there was the sound of something moving across the tabletop in the darkness, and he felt her hands take his. They were warm, almost hot, as if she had spent two hours in a shower rather than in the twilight and early night.

He enjoyed the warmth of her hands for a moment in the quiet night, devoid of wind or bird calls before he released them and moved to stand. She rested a hand on his forearm, and the heat of her hand was faintly tangible through the thickness of his woolen sweater.

“No, no, sit down. I want to show you something I brought back,” Lorelei said, her voice shaded with tones of excitement and anticipation.

Mark sat down in the metal-framed chair, and ran a hand through his short curls. “Alright, but dinner isn't going to make itself. I'm hungry so I bet you must be starving.” He smiled, but she didn't smile back. He could see it in the space around her eyes.

She didn't respond, but left the hand on his arm, and used the other to rustle in the spaces and pockets of her parka. Something made a soft sound when she dropped it on the table, and Mark picked it up in both hands. He closed both eyes, and began probing it. He announced his thoughts in a fake stage voice.

“Ah, I see here we have some kind of plants that you found in our winter wonderland. Perhaps some unnaturally early flowers to replace the ones we brought with us? Oh, even better, what about some fresh herbs? I'm not sure what you could have found, but the stew could use them. Maybe even something to put in a drink later.” Mark cracked open one eye. She had leaned back in her chair, so that her eyes were now hidden. Her mouth was revealed, and a disembodied grin gleamed in the otherwise gloomy kitchen. He smiled to match and said, “Mmm, can't you smell them now, crushed sage and wild rosemary.”

He held the plastic bag up to his eyes and what he saw inside made his stomach lurch. He tried to focus harder in the thin golden light, but what he saw didn't change. He dropped the bag to the table and instinctively rubbed his fingers on his jeans, as if somehow some of the oils had permeated the Ziploc. There was a bitter taste on his tongue, even though the bag had stayed sealed.

“Lori, where did you find these? Why would you bring them back?” He shook his head in brief disgust. “Oleander is pretty enough I guess, but water hemlock is basically a weed! And where would you even find nightshade.” He shuddered again and nearly gagged that the bag was so close to him. That he had touched them, practically. Mark had spent a lifetime being afraid of death, despite the fact that he had always known it was coming for him. As a teenager, he had memorized type after type of toxin and poison and horrible way to die, as if it the knowledge of a thing could somehow prevent its arrival.

He jabbed at the bag with the bottom of his beer bottle and it went off into the darkness. He tossed the bottle in the direction of the sink and barely noticed the crash and clatter that suggested he had missed and instead knocked over the large bowl of potatoes, onions and carrots.

Mark gripped the edge of the table and stared ahead. He breathed hard for a moment, but Lorelei's eyes pierced the storm that had gripped him, and blew it away. The slant of her eyebrows oscillated between frustration and sympathy, before settling on the latter.

“Oh love, don't you see? There's magic in these woods. I know you feel it. I know you saw it yesterday, when we stood on the frozen bank and listened to birds that should still have been asleep. There's power and truth waiting underneath the melting snow. Nobody's been up here in so long that the forest is overflowing with energy; we can take it and shape it to be what we want.”

Mark didn't want to interrupt her. The set of her eyes had shifted from understanding to hardness. Her eyes were just the same as the ones he had looked into a thousand times before, yet something was swimming in there that he should have seen moments after she had come home. He heard her elbows alight on the table and that eerie quality in her eyes gained an earnestness, a new zeal.

“But there are things that guard the magic. They haven't trucked or bartered with mortals in so long that they don't remember how fragile we are. All they know is the cold heart of winter and stretching summer days full of raging rivers. But they want shapers. They want people to use the beauty of the forest, to take the power and twist it into shimmering art.

“So they told me how we can be strong like them. They gave me the flowers. They whispered it to me in the hilltop wind and the dancing of the evergreens at sunset. To consume a thing is to have power over it. I know what you fear, love. To live forever, you must drink deep of death and let it pass through you.” Lorelei suddenly leaned forward and kissed him, then she stood, and walked over to where the bag had landed in the darkness.

Mark's gaze went through the pleasantly tiled wall of the kitchen. He didn't see the narrow spread that the porch lights still cast on her vacant seat and he didn't hear his fiancée making something in the murkiness by the sink and the stove.

What if she was right? What if she had found something new and yet ancient in the unwalked woods around the cabin? They had brought electricity out to a place that hadn't seen it before and maybe they had awoken something. He guessed that he always had thought there was something primeval in these vast forests of central Canada. He felt a more reasonable part of his mind buck at this suggestion, but he had been offered a way to shirk death. Offering this to him felt like offering a life preserver to a man struggling at sea. He would have reached for anything. He turned slightly in his chair and stared through the small hole in the broken shutters at the only brightness, the porch lights. They seared into his vision, until he felt like he was falling forward into a tunnel or a pit.

Lorelei sat down across from him, holding two somethings that made a hard sound against the plastic of the tabletop. She passed him one; it was a cocktail. Brown whiskey held two ice-cubes. A bouquet of garnishes floated on the surface. Lorelei held a twin. Purple and green spots lingered in the center of his vision. A wind began to blow just outside the kitchen, but if it was trying to communicate something to him, he couldn't discern what.

She passed her arm through his and held the glass to her lips, without drinking. Unconsciously, he mirrored her. Mark hesitated for a moment, before setting the glass down. He leaned forward and kissed her, just as she had minutes ago. He then raised the cocktail, still twined together. Mark drank it down in one long, choking swallow, and set it down roughly on the table. It was less bitter than he had thought it would be, but it wasn't sweet.

He stared into her eyes, still the only thing illuminated by the strip of light. Briefly, he wondered what she had seen while they had talked.

Sep 19, 2018

To the point of not editing the entry post, this is the flash photo I had:

Sep 19, 2018

In, sounds fun.

Sep 19, 2018

All the Neighbors Have Moved Away
1534 words

The figure of the poet stood by the bench where Iris and Dory sat, adding a cold gaze cast in bronze. The two women and the statue watched three children play in January snow, all of them young enough to be heedless of the anxiety that troubled the woman.

“I don't know where we'd be without you Iris. I guess it shouldn't be longer than a few weeks. A month maybe,” Dory said. She shook her head a little.

“Of course Dor, Tom and I couldn't let you twist in the cold. I'm sure the boys'll have a terrific time, just like an extended sleep over. It'll be sorted before you know it and you'll be off our couch and into a cozy new apartment.”

Without speaking, they watched the children make snow angels and build half of a snowman. Jamie, the youngest at five, tracked his way over to Dory.

“Mama, I wanna go home,” he said through chattering teeth, “and drink hot chocolate and read the new funny.”

“Go with Aunt Iris, little man, Mama has to go to a meeting. She's going to make you plenty of hot cocoa and cookies, but I'll see you before dinner, OK?” Mollified by the idea of treats, the boy nodded vigorously, and Iris stood to begin to gather the children.

“Is this the last meeting?” she said.

“Yeah. I want say goodbye if anyone is there, but I think Steve Linden is going to insist on making it a fight. I don't know if I want that, if I have the energy. Sometimes things die, even good things. Even if everyone in the neighborhood was staying in town, it still wouldn't be easy. Better to look at photos and remember what we had, I guess.” Dory shook her head in the same way as before. Iris responded with a small smile. It tried to convey sympathy and acknowledgment of Dory's situation and a bit of reproach at her apathetic approach.

Iris turned to the kids and began to usher them away, through the rut in the snow dug by hundreds of passing boots. She half-turned around and called to Dory, “Good luck at the meeting, if that helps. I'll see you in a few hours.”


The four of them moved away, and Dory regarded the nearly blank-paper landscape of the park. The bare maples were glazed with ice, and a quiet wind ruffled the white-dusted pines. A solitary figure trudged through the ankle-high snow, cutting a shallow path. The shape of the person was smudged by dark winter clothing, but they stood out clearly against a bare horizon of level white ground and brightly cloudy sky.

She sighed and left Wallace Stevens Memorial Park, bound for the warmth of Clover Street Coffee. Not many were on the streets, seeking instead the warm comforts of home. Dory wondered how long it'd be before she owned a house again. It seemed unlikely when she bagged groceries 40 hours a week for $2.10 an hour, when they had offered her barely half what the house was worth and when she looked after a 5 and a 7 year old by herself, or near enough.


The route from the park to the cafe brought her past the Cancio household, and for a moment she considered going by without knocking. A better instinct welled up and she rapped on the door twice. A red-faced woman wearing an flour-covered apron and a loose bun opened it; Maria Cancio wrapped Dory in a thick-armed hug that seemed to last for a warm eternity. When the embrace broke, Dory could see some disarray inside: partially packed boxes overflowed with summer clothes and a pile of appliances awaited sorting.

“So you're really going.” Dory said.

“Yeah. Paulo's brother owns a flower shop in San Francisco, North Beach. Our restaurant could do well there, he thinks, and we were having a hard time here. Oh, wait a moment!” Dory watched the other woman bustle back into the house, adding to the clamor that the family made with their packing. She returned a few minutes later with an envelope.

“It's the recipe for the mushroom and veal spaghetti your family loves so much.” Dory tried to demur, but Maria insisted. “It's for Jamie and Christian then. Make it so they'll remember the old neighborhood, ah?” She took the recipe and put it in her bag, then embraced the woman again. She said her farewell through the ache that she would never see the woman again. She walked along, and thought about a song. It promised that they'd see each other again, on some sunny day. It felt like a hollow promise, though. Sometimes goodbyes were all that there were.


When she arrived at the coffee shop, she ordered a coffee and took a seat. She was surprised to see that she was the last of only eight to show up, but Steve Linden was in full swing. In his leather jacket and with his short, wiry beard he looked the hero, and damned if he wasn't going to play the part. Dory put her hand into her bag and rubbed one thumb along the spine of a leather-bound photo album. She waited for him to wind down, so she could take it out and remember with her soon-to-be ex-neighbors.

“Dory, glad to see you make it. Take one of the folders on the table and listen up.” He gestured to a table with a few manila folders stacked on it, each full of black and white pages photocopied at the public library. She took one and looked through it while he went on. There was a form for lodging a complaint with the Hartford City Hall. There was a stapled packet of cases where eminent domain had been fought and won. There was another packet, detailing instances where Juniper Construction and Realty had failed to provide the higher tax revenue and services that they had promised. She looked at Steve and felt sorry that he had put all this work into something that would never happen. The city had already made up its mind.

“Look, its only mid-January,” Steve said. “We have until March 15th to fight this. Other cases similar to ours have been won in less time then that, you can look in the folder and see for yourself. We don't need their so-called 'economic development.' We need homes and businesses.” Evidently he was looking past the fact that many of the homes were boarded up, and some were already prepared to be knocked down. Dory glanced at the others. They were just the same as her; they regarded the speech with hearts of winter, not nodding or smiling. As soon as the notices and official letters had shown up in their mailboxes they had ruminated on their bad luck and started to move on.

Steve seemed to sense the feeling of the others, because he fell into a more intense conversation with Charlie Bridgman, trying to persuade him on action. One or two others spoke up, halfheartedly engaging with him, but Dory didn't. She sat and twisted the strap of her bag, wondering why she had come. No one was talking about old memories, about the good and bad times they had had growing up and raising families and heartbreak together.

She saw Mrs. Jensen, eighty-five if she was a day. She didn't know much about her, other than that she had a son in Florida or Georgia who never called and a husband buried behind the church. And now she never would. Briefly, very briefly, she considered asking the old woman what she was going to do. It was better though, to not know than find out that she had no idea where she was going. Dory couldn't offer her a spot on someone else's floor, especially not when three kids were staying there as well. Better to not make the thing more painful than it had to be.

People started to stand up and file outside, heading in different directions. Steve said he'd be here next week with an update, but she didn't think anyone else would come back. Dory traced a careless shape on the photo album that was still in her bag.


She was back in the park, watching the sun set over the bare horizon that that dark figure had walked across before. She sat on the same bench as earlier in the day, her only companion now the unspeaking metal one. Dory let the winter into her heart, into her mind, to numb the loss. The shaking of her body let her shake loose the not-yet-formed friendships she would have made at the coffee shop or the corner drugstore. She sat in the hush of the snow and still trees. The clumsy dissolution of what she had known was just something to see and observe, not a role to act in a play. Now it was nothing, and so was she.

Snowflakes started to drift down. She sat for a while and watched them fill in the path that had been newly made, earlier that day.

Sep 19, 2018

In with a flash, please

Sep 19, 2018

In with a ::toxx::

Sep 19, 2018

The Right Path
Word count: 1554

The door to the garage was rolled down, but a thin layer of snow had blown in through the inch-high gap between the pavement and the metal. Where it mixed with puddles of oil, the snow made a ragged line of gray sludge, but everywhere else, except the center of the room, the scuffed and stained gray of concrete showed. There was no car in the room, but buckets of shims and screws and clasps and pins were stacked on shelves along one wall. On the bottom shelf sat cans of motor oil and lubricant, the painted exteriors colored bright red and yellow by the strong light of the overhead bulb.
Several of the cans had been knocked to the floor, but one had cracked open and rolled to rest against the object in the middle of the room, leaving behind a thin trail of grease as it. Hanging from hooks along one wall were tools, dulled from use, in a dozen shapes and sizes. One of the hooks was empty.

Opposite the roll-down door was a large sign that said Ed’s Garage in faded white and blue paint, and next to the sign hung a set of stained cover-alls with the same name embroidered, with the right leg partially torn and hanging loosely. Next to the coveralls was a door leading to an office, painted brown but heavily nicked and smeared with black grease. The glass window was shattered and the thin wood around the window had been splintered and bowed in.

Against the object in the middle of the room rested a broken half-bottle of whiskey, the splintered edges of which were covered with a fine layer of blood. The bottle lay in a pool of whiskey and blood, but the volume of whiskey was less than a third of a full bottle and the volume of blood was much greater.
The object in the center of the room was the fresh corpse of a man. He had a squat, round frame and in his face, laugh lines were the only prominent mark. Flowing from numerous small cuts on the man’s scalp, blood formed a halo surrounding his head. His suit had once been indicative of a refined taste: three pieces with embroidery and a gold watch-chain, a crisp linen shirt and tie and pocket square cut from richly dyed silk.

Now it was stained with blood and the cloth over the abdomen was a ragged mess of viscera and strips of cloth. The man was clean shaven, except for a distinguished and well groomed mustache. The left temple of his skull had been caved in, and fragments of bone showed white through the mess. His eyes remained open, staring at the ceiling through wire rimmed glasses.

In the office a second man sat at a desk strewn with receipts and invoices. Leaning against the desk was a bloody hammer. Several buttons had been torn from his frayed canvas coat, and blood had sprayed across the front of the coat. His hands, however, were freshly scrubbed, wholly clean of both blood or oil. He held a letter in his hands, written in a sloppy script.

Dear Mama,

I have sorry news to tell you. I have sinned again, and I fear that it is my lot in life to maintain this path, despite the abundance of goodness that you poured into my childhood and the reprieves granted me at every turn by man and society alike. Even so, I will struggle against my nature.
I will not give you any details lest a policeman use them against you as a means of misguided leverage. Let me only say that I will seek a place where I will be far from drink and temptation both. I believe it is liquor that is my undoing, yet recognizing a flaw does not set one on the path to remedying it. I would join the Teetotalers in their brigade, if I thought I could stand to spend my time picketing in a city without slipping away to a whiskey house or some such.

I will not throw myself on the mercy of the law as no outcome can be satisfactory. If I am sentenced to prison, I do not think that my soul could countenance a return to that foul place. I will not speak on it longer as any description would only twist your heart, reminding you of the years that I have already spent there.

I am not ready for the other option either. I wish yet to live. Even knowing myself, I think that I can be of use to the world.

I must end every letter to you in the same way, Mama. I didn’t mean to do it, not really. My dearest wish in the world is to look on your face again, but the sight of the scar would turn my joy to something dark. I think that you spoke honestly when you wrote to me last and said that you had forgiven me, but you have not seen me of late. Still though, look to the future. If I can change I will find you.

Hope for me,

September 22, 1905

With his thick fingers, Arthur folded the paper into thirds along imperfect lines and, after rummaging in the desk drawers for a few moments, found an envelope. He placed the letter into it and made a motion as if to put it into his coat pocket, but regarded the bloodstain across the front. If he would change his soul, he would have to begin by changing his clothes. Not only were these drenched in the life he meant to leave behind, he would be stopped by the first person he met.

He set the letter onto the desk and walked into the empty garage, simultaneously understanding what he had done while also telling himself that he would and could change. He took the coveralls from their hook by the sign and quietly fingered the tear in the right leg. Arthur patted at his pockets until he found a spool of cotton thread. It was white, and would stand out against the blue denim, but it was better than letting the pant leg dangle.
He fetched the chair from the office and set it facing the body in the middle of the room, and began stitching.

“I am sorry I have forgotten your name, friend. Perhaps if I remembered it, I could address your soul properly, and it would forgive me. As it is, let me give you a bit of advice, albeit a bit too late.” Arthur paused, as if expecting a response from the corpse. None came, and he was silent for a moment longer.
“You were celebrating, and chose the wrong barroom for it. Every man there has nothing to his name but misfortune. All they could see in you was an injustice. You had and he had not. I must confess that those were my feelings as well. I figured that you could be liberated of your winnings and to our mutual detriment I was correct.” Arthur was quiet again, while he corrected some wrongly placed stitches.

“Don’t worry though. The money in your pocket will be put to rebirthing a man. I was dead before, but I will live again.” He finished the repair and began to change into the coveralls, leaving the worn-out jacket in a heap on the floor.

“Let me leave a memory with you. I mean it that way, I want it to remain here and no longer burden me. When I was in prison last, we were set to work building a road. Each day but Sunday, before sunrise, a pickup truck would come for the men, to drive us to the section of road we would work on that day. At sunset it would return to drive us back to the camp.

“I was useful, I worked hard on that road, and I’m proud of it. But seven years of seeing the same truck come without respite will wear a rut in any man’s heart. I once had the chance to work in this very garage, but when the first pickup rolled in, I dropped the wrench and walked out the door. It’s strange, isn’t it, that we can be bound by something other than chains.” Arthur nudged the jacket with the toe of his boot.

“In any event, thanks for the cash.” Arthur crossed the garage, and rolling up the door, strode out into the night.

“Arthur Clarence Hargrave, do you have any last words?” said the grim-faced prison guard.

“Yes. I think you will do both me and the world a grave injustice when you pull that lever. I recognize that switching operator at the trainyard was not the right job for me. I had thought that isolation would suit me, but it only wore me down until I broke, and Alicia Jackson’s blood will always be on my hands. But I think that the right job for me exists, and if I had been shown clemency, I could find my path, and put my muscle and thought to adding to the industry of the world.”

“So noted.” Arthur closed his eyes, and before the power surged, he thought of home and his Mama.


Sep 19, 2018

In, with a :toxx: for the toxic wasteland

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