A Soaking Rain—Shelly Jones

The villagers used to call her a fool, gawking from their homes and storefronts as she stood arms akimbo in the rain. Waves crested over her cotton dress, hanks of hair clung to her face. They’d shake their heads, murmuring portents of chills in her bones, colds settling in the nape of her neck, her chest, her back. 

“She’ll be dead by winter.” 

But winter came and she stood firmly in the gale. 

Legs spread, she stood transfixed in the muddy field, her toes squinched in defiance as the rain soaked the earth, flesh, bone. Her skin puckered, fabric taut over her breast – a deluge enveloped her, delighted, entranced. The girl slipped the clinging dress over her hips and danced naked across the drowning crops, until the clouds thinned and she curled her body around the stalks of hay, her life sinking into the earth. 

Now they whispered a different word, a serpentine slur that slithered from the villagers. But they never uttered such slander except at night when they spat the word into their pin cushions, pricking the wool with their disdain. Or sometimes in the field, when their scythes hewed the brittle stalks, that bitter word might have tumbled from their dry mouths and drifted to the very bottom of haystacks with each churn of their pitchforks.

But they should have remembered the girl, the sparkle of her labradorite eyes, as they slipped beneath the mud. They should have expected her to sprout once more like last year’s bulbs, expected the root of her flesh to germinate in her lover’s arms. And in the night, they should have expected her breath: a torrent, piercing its way through the cracks of their houses, under door jams, sagging windows, uneven eaves – splitting the tenderest seams of their houses before devouring them from below.

Shelly Jones is an Associate Professor of English at a small college in the Catskills, where she teaches classes on mythology, folklore, and writing. Her speculative work can be found in PodcastleThe Future Fire, and elsewhere. 

photo by Emma Peneder (via unsplash)

Bone Dolls—S.E. Hartz

Baba would come quick after dinner, one crooked finger to her lips, and press my palm with a chicken bone. Father saw her once and told her to stop her old country witchcraft; after, she moved in secret. I wrapped the bones in cloth and hid them in my trunk, and when it was full, I buried them along the path to the forest.   

Baba’s husband was a hard man who died in the mines before I was born; her nose was off-center from the time he launched his lantern at her face. Father never hit. He said there were subtler ways to influence. 

“I don’t like to do this,” he would say each time he locked me in my room. “I’m a kind man.” 

The kind of kind who must remind you all the time. 

He was slim with a swagger, debonair and mid-smirk in his wedding photo. My mother was birdsong and honeycomb, until she grew sick and wasted away. It didn’t take father long to find a new wife. He looked at women like they were sculpted butter, fresh for him to spread as he wished, and the new wife melted under his gaze. 

The week they married he sent Baba away without warning, for his bride had two apple-cheeked daughters who deserved a playroom. They were slender and flaxen, braided and bright, and fixed by a mother’s gaze that hovered somewhere between pride and jealousy. He showered them with toys and dresses, rose-red and lily-white. Me, he kept in all black, for my mourning. 

“You’ll have your mother’s dresses one day,” he promised, “but I just can’t bear to look at them.” 

It was then he started to lock me in for days at a time. I would suck the old bones in the closet, tongue aching for marrow, and dream of them linking their cartilage into the form of a girl, one who lived just under my skin. In the dreams, I would give her cakes and milk, and would wake feeling nourished.  

Once, he left me for a week. When he let me out, bones tenting my black dress, he smiled and complimented my shape. 

“It’s good for the body and soul to want,” he said.

I knew want, and I wanted what my sisters had. Their beauty taunted me, as did the tales my father would tell of their trips to the lake, of pony rides at the rink near town. Next time, if I was good, I might get to go along, he said. I tried to stay golden in his gaze, to stay quiet and light. Though there was food in abundance when I wasn’t locked up, I could tell from his eyes when I wasn’t meant to eat. I fed the bone doll instead. 

One day my father left, on business in the city. My stepmother let out a long, low sigh that ended in a smile, as she stripped off the corset she always wore and set oil to simmer on the stove. We would pay for it later, she said, as she boiled potatoes and pounded dough, but tonight we would eat like queens. 

That night the fog burned off in the sun of our satiety. They had been sworn to secrecy, my sisters told me, but each time I had been locked in my chamber, so had they in theirs. There was no lake, no town, beyond the dreams they were promised if they, too, behaved. My stepmother wept softly over her stew. She hated him but some food was better than none, and he told her no other man would deign to marry her, that she was lucky.

After dinner, my sisters grabbed my hands and brought me to the playroom he had made them in Baba’s old chamber, full of porcelain dolls and rocking horses and music boxes.  

“We get toys as long as we stay small,” my sister explained.

Their string was gilded, but they were puppets still. 

We knew he would be back, but until then we padded our skeletons and played with abandon. My sisters shared their dolls and we built castles from my bone collection. One day, when our food was running low, my stepmother sent us to town. But as we set out we came across a trail of chicken bones that beckoned us into the forest, and we followed.

The trail ended at a pair of chicken feet, foundation to a towering hut ringed with skeletal lanterns. We heard the bleating of goats and the clucking of chickens from the backyard, and herbs from the verdant garden teased our noses. My heart leapt when I looked to the doorway and spotted a crooked nose framed with wild white hair, and one bent finger beckoning us inside. 

“He cast me in the woods,” Baba told us, over sausage and cheese. “But I had bones to build my hut.” 

A fortress for her, like I had built inside me. 

“I’ve been watching, waiting. And now you’ll watch and wait for him, and bring him to me, and you’ll never be hungry again.” She crushed herbs with her mortar and pestle, for a potion we were to bring him. 

“Keep a chicken bone in your pocket, for luck.” She winked.

My stepmother took little convincing. And so, the night he returned, she showered him with her finest kiss and a final, glorious meal. We were quiet over dinner, barely touching our food as he drank his potion and we fingered our bones for luck. We would eat well soon enough.   After dinner, my sisters circled father’s legs with their arms. 

“Come, father,” they told him. “We’ve made you a surprise in the woods. Something to show how much we missed you, how much we need you.” Swaying on his feet already, he took my sisters’ hands as I trailed behind, giddy on the path to Baba’s ready hearth.  

Some children deserve to be eaten.

S.E. Hartz (she/her) is a fiction writer and environmental scientist living in Brooklyn, New York. She has work published in Lammergeier, LandLocked Magazine, (mac)ro(mic), and others, and she can be found on Twitter at @unsilentspring.

photo by Tim Foster (via unsplash)

Saving Yourself—Kim Malinowski

Sometimes you have to break out of dark towers with bread knife, tapping and sawing, until there is day and moonlight. Eat raw nettles for supper, then breakfast, tripping, tearing clothes through briars. Sometimes, you must whisper at footbridges, must in low hush sing to doorways—those nettles. The groom isn’t the prize. The prince didn’t save you. Freedom is worth blisters from knives more suited for butter than stone. Freedom is worth whispering and hush. And if you marry, thank the nettles, your handmaid, and the knife.

Kim Malinowski earned her B.A. from West Virginia University and her M.F.A. from American University. She studies with The Writers Studio. Her debut poetry collection is forthcoming from Kelsay Books 2021. Her chapbook Death: A Love Story was published by Flutter Press. Her work has appeared in Faerie Magazine/Enchanted LivingEternal haunted SummerGone LawnAHF MagazineIllumenDoor = JarMythic DeliriumMookychickEnchanted Conversation a Fairy Tale Magazine, and others.

photo by Mimipic Photography, John Hagan and Ave Calvar (via unsplash)

When It Comes—Sarah Muir

Our girl first notices the wolf on a warm summer day in Detroit. She is walking along the river, having wandered away from her friends at a local club for a cigarette break. Truthfully, she quit smoking months ago but still uses it as an excuse to duck out of social gatherings she didn’t want to be at anymore. The water is gently lapping away at the break wall, the only natural sound among the traffic and baseball game running late into the night.  She decides she is going to head home instead of back into the club when she sees him. 

There he is, gigantic and black, standing still on the path in front of her, watching. Our girl stares back, a little unsure. Surely there aren’t wolves in Detroit, she thinks. It must be one of those stray dogs that roam the city, she decides. They stand there staring at each other, sizing each other up, for several minutes. Finally, our girl turns and slowly walks away. Each time she turns around, the wolf is still there. She never catches him moving, but he always seems the same distance away from her. Pinpricks of fear poke at her skin like icicles. She speeds all the way home, trying to shake the feeling of being followed. 

The next day at work, she sees him again. This time in the hallway, standing between the cubicles. Still just staring. Bob from accounting must have been able to feel the beast’s breath on his arm, but he never turns from his computer screen. Our girl tells her boss she’s not feeling very well and needs to go home for the rest of the day. When she catches the wolf in her boyfriend’s front yard a week later, she decides to pack her bags. She quits her job, breaks up with her boyfriend, and dumps her friends. She heads up north. 

Right before she crosses the Mackinac Bridge, she thinks she might see him standing in the median, but she convinces herself that she imagined him there.  She rents a small cabin in a place called Paradise. She goes for long walks along the beach and gets a part-time job doing things around the property for the owner. By mid-October, she’s shoveling the elderly residents’ walkways and drinking at the only bar in town. She even calls the old men she drinks with her friends. She keeps busy, learns how to play guitar and how to speak Polish, and it works! It works for a little while. She hasn’t seen the wolf since crossing the bridge. While she hears wolves sometimes at night, she knows it’s not her wolf. 

But then the winter comes, and she finds her routine to be getting old. She’s tired every day, and she feels his presence. She hasn’t seen him, but she knows he’s coming, and he is. She finds his tracks surrounding her cabin in the morning snow. Sees his claw marks etched in her front door. He howls every night outside her bedroom window, and she can’t take the sound. His lone howls against the sound of the rushing wind echo in her head till one night she opens the door and lets him in. She sits on the floor in defeat, and he curls up beside her, resting his head on her thigh, looking up into her eyes, and they scream. 

Sarah Muir is an emerging writer from Kirksville, Missouri who just graduated with her MA from Truman State University. Her work has been published in the Moon Zine and presented at the Missouri Folklore Society. She enjoys writing in the space where fiction and nonfiction overlap

photo by Andrew Amistad and Philip Macias (via unsplash)

The Crows Remember—JY Saville

Once upon a time a man had three daughters. No wife, not any more – he’d plucked her from the village like a delicate flower, and hill-farming’s a hard life – but she’d left him three bundles of laughter who chased crows from the farmyard and sheep across the fells. Eventually the two older girls began to chase shepherds instead, and first the eldest and then the middle daughter were carried off. One went far away, the other stayed close by on a farm where no love grew, and was worked into an early grave before two winters were up.

“I can’t lose you, my poppet,” the father said to his youngest daughter, the one who looked so like her mother it made his heart swell and then shatter ten times a day.

“I’m not going anywhere, Dad,” she said, and he knew she meant it.

He also knew about temptation, and he saw the looks his daughter got from the lads in the market.

“I don’t think you should leave the farm any more, poppet,” he said.

“Alright, Dad,” she said, because she knew the depth of his grief.

So she stayed on the fell. She missed the laughter of the girls down in the village, but she would never hurt her father by saying so.

One day in the yard her hair cascaded over her face as she bent forward.

“I wish I had a new ribbon,” she said, though only the wind and the crows were there to hear. Her father didn’t have time to buy ribbons, so she didn’t ask.

Next morning as she swept she saw something flutter past the open doorway, and when she went to look there was a velvet ribbon the colour of fresh blood lying on the flags. She stepped out and looked around but there was only a crow watching her, head cocked. 

“If that was your doing,” she said to it, “I thank you.” And she picked up the ribbon and plaited her hair.

“I don’t think anyone should visit any more, poppet,” said her father, who had noticed the ribbon.

“Alright, Dad,” she said, because she knew how much he loved her.

So he locked the gates, and the girl stayed within the farmyard all summer. 

“I wish I could see the meadow,” she said, though only the wind and the crows could hear.

That afternoon it rained flowers. Crows dropped cottongrass, buttercups and campion, and the girl gathered the long stems into a jug.

“I don’t think you should go outside any more, poppet,” said her father, who had noticed the flowers.

“Alright, Dad,” she said, because she knew his heart was breaking.

So he shut her in with a heavy key and left it in the lock.

“I wish I could feel rain on my face,” she said to the crow at the open window. It flew to the door but couldn’t turn the key. The girl smiled her thanks but there was sadness in her eyes.

Later, the key turned.

“Dad?” she said, but when she opened the door there was a stick wedged in the iron loops of the key. A crow fluttered back as she stepped outside and lifted her face to the sky.

“I don’t think we can go on any more, poppet,” said her father, who had noticed the mud on her feet. The crows swooped as he raised his shotgun, but they couldn’t get in.

The girl’s bones were hidden long ago beneath ground that keeps its secrets, but the crows remember her still, carrying ribbons and wildflowers over the crumbling walls.

originally published as part of the 52 Crows project by illustrator, Bonnie Helen Hawkins (2018)

JY Saville lives and writes in northern England, and made it onto the first stage of the Penguin Random House WriteNow scheme for writers from under-represented backgrounds in 2017. Her short fiction has been published in more than forty places including Confingo, Ellipsis Zine and Untitled: Voices.

photo by Casey Horner (via unsplash)

How to Sort Through a Laundry Basket Holding Ten Years Worth of Single Socks—Jerica Taylor

First, do not get your hopes up. While statistically there are likely to be accumulated matches, lost socks have long defied established data.

Next, do not dump the whole pile out onto the floor. You will be flooded with the despair stored in the toes of every singleton, constricted in the rectangular prism of a holding basket. Start laying a few out at a time, like dealing a deck of cards.

In fact, consider acquiring a deck of tarot cards. Deal them and match the cards thematically with sock patterns. You will feel better as these purposeless items have found function in the newly invented approach to vestimentomancy.

If you have allergies, you may regret direct action. Dump the basket directly into the washer and call it a full load, but life is busy, and you risk returning the socks to the same basket unsorted and dooming them to continued dormancy.

Look deeply into the fact that you have waited ten years to deal with this problem. Consider the number of baskets of laundry you have balanced on top of this basket, compressing dust and socks and a singular handkerchief into metamorphic rock. 

You will eventually reach the bottom. Your problems transmute at the full exposure of that scuffed expanse of white. You must face that there are no more socks. Those unmatched remain unmatched. 

They must be discarded.

If you are the sort of person who associates memories with details as delicate as the fit of socks over the ankle of a loved one, you may frame one single sock in a shadow box. Prepare yourself for questions about it from guests. 

You will try to keep them for crafts, a patchwork quilt though you never made it past batting. Stuffies with buttons for eyes though you balk at the repetition of hand-sewing. Some unknown future possibility. All eventualities lead you to another container full of socks that you will have to sort through ten years from now.

If it’s too much, turn your face away. Decide to embrace the eccentricity of mismatch. Stripe with stripe, color compliments or color opposites. Close enough shades of black.

Once your task is complete, fill the laundry basket with something else immediately. Such an object will inevitably have taken on any latent accessory-related magic and in the vacuum may begin to attract single socks from neighbors. Now might be a good time to wash your curtains, or clean out the dry goods at the very back of your cabinets.

Prepare yourself for the reality that sock matches to the abandoned singles you have rid yourself of may appear. You could not have known or anticipated this outcome. Some may have been under a curse to only reveal themselves once they were sufficient distance from their mate. They do not want your pity. Banish them from your sight.

Face the loneliness. They were once together, worn together, folded together. They are no longer what they were. 

Neither are you.

Jerica Taylor is a non-binary neurodivergent queer cook, birder, and chicken herder. Their work has appeared in Schuylkill Valley Journal, Postscript, Stone of Madness, and perhappened. She lives with her wife and young daughter in Western Massachusetts. Twitter: @jericatruly 

photo by Nick Page (via unsplash)

Solid Wall but the Wall Is Made of Hands but the Hands Are Made of Sheetrock—Sean Noah Noah

The girl named Minus can start hands with her fire. She strikes matches against her skin to light them. As they burn, the flames don’t sputter. They’re overconfident for their size, conical little jets of fire like what comes out of the end of a blowtorch. Minus holds these flames up against dry trees or pieces of paper or the side of the house she’s squatting in and the fire never spreads. Growths start. Spreading out from the point of contact: lumpy knobs that flatten out into palms, with knuckles on one side and heart lines on the other. The palms fold out into jointed fingers as she draws the flame back, reaching forward for the match, ending in nails. They never stop reaching when Minus takes the flame away, even after she blows her fires out, but they never grow wrists or arms. The hands aren’t flesh and blood, they’re the same material as whatever kindling they start from, but every hand is an entire hand. Some of them have knuckles raw with scar tissue. Some have long, perfect nails like acrylics. Some have hair that feels like real hair. Fingers splay out or curl slightly into a grasp, always reaching out, sometimes stretching or shaking as they grow. Minus records every new hand she burns into existence: left or right, young or old, fast or slow as it grows, how long it takes to turn still and solid once the flame is out. She’s compared her own hands to every single one of them, and she knows they do not belong to her.

Sean Noah Noah is a non-binary writer living somewhere in the American Northeast. Their weird fiction has appeared in Reflex Press, Eunoia Review, Bizarro Central, and Plus Literary Magazine. You can find them on twitter at @SeanNoahNoah.

photo by Sabine van Straaten, Danilo Alvesd and Annie Spratt (via unsplash)

You Keep Yourself Alive on the Moon—Jacqueline Xiong

hare.

You keep yourself alive on the moon by weaving cloaks of hare fur. 

When your hare was alive, it bounced from side to side at your feet, and you would always reach down to rub its head. The people on Earth call it yutu, Jade Rabbit. Just as they call you Chang’e

O moon goddess, they sing on the Mid-Autumn Festival, dancing around a table of pastries and fruits. O goddess, bless us with your eternal beauty, bless us with your powers of immortality.

Forget about elixirs of immortality; all you need is the reminder of a companion—and it is worth noting you killed your own companions. I mean that in plural form because you killed me before you killed your hare. 

sun.

You keep yourself alive on the moon by thinking about the husband you left behind. You have no choice but to think about him. You see the single sun across from the moon every day, and of course you’d think of the archer Yi—the archer who shot down nine of the ten suns that scorched the Earth. He kept the people from hardship, but it’s funny how he can’t keep the only person he loved from flying up to the moon. 

He often wonders why. He knows why you’re up there because obviously, you left him. But why did you do it?

No, you silly ghost. I’m not Yi.

Who am I, you ask?

Well… hush. We’re talking about Chang’e. 

But many years have passed—a thousand or something?—and Yi doesn’t lament over his losses now. He sharpens his arrows, angling them at the moon every night, imagining it going down like the nine suns lost in the distant past. 

heroics.

You keep yourself alive on the moon by regretting that you stole that flask of elixir from Yi. You wish that you hadn’t drunk it in a moment of greed, a moment where you were willing to leave your family in pursuit of immortality. You wish that you were back amongst the mortals so you won’t have to seek for life, but it would never be the same because a thousand years have passed and now the people pray to you for good fortune and eternity. Do you hold eternity in your hands? Or are you merely passersby in the folds of eternity?

Now you’re a heroine. Now people praise you, dance for you, sing for you before their shrines. Now people remember Chang’e’s husband as only Yi and no longer the legendary archer who saved the people from hardships. Sometimes he wonders if anyone knows that he was rewarded the elixir of life and that he would be the one on the moon if it wasn’t for his tether to his wife. But no one remembers.

He’s not even sure if he remembers, himself.

sacrifice.

You keep yourself alive on the moon by gazing at Earth. 

You find life during the Mid-Autumn Festival because a huge part of this festival is dedicated to you. I would call it narcissism, but when I was honored by the people, I did the same. 

What? When did I say I’m Yi? Don’t be foolish.

Did I say that the people honored me? You must have heard wrong.

All kinds of sacrifices are made for you. Cakes, wine, fruit. People gather around you in hopes you will bestow anything upon them. Poets recite the tale of how you stole my elixir to become a goddess, but they fixate more on your beauty instead of your crimes. Dancers twist their bodies so they can mimic you, but I know for a fact you don’t dance. Musicians sit under the moonlight to play pipa, guzheng, flute. 

The bones of your children—that you left behind—lay scattered around the land, buried deep beneath layers of soil. Has it been five thousand years already? Perhaps enough time has passed. Perhaps I’m ready now. 

What am I ready for?

Tonight, when the moon is a full circle, I’ll offer my sacrifice.

arrow.

You keep yourself alive on the moon by pretending you are.

My arrow is sharp. A long, hazy time ago, I had ten of these arrows, but they have long sunk into the horizons. Now only one remains. Blazing with flames, polished to a gleam to rival your moonlight,  aimed directly at the pearly plate you live inside.

But you don’t live inside. You’ve never lived inside, never fully, and even if you had, I will take that last bit of life away.

The ghost of the hare you killed for warmth bites the hems of my hanfu, refusing to let go.

We have accompanied each other for five thousand years, hare.

Ten thousand? Well, it’s more of a reason for you to let go.

Let go now.

When the ghost doesn’t move, I banish the ghost.

life.

You keep yourself alive on the moon by vanishing.

Where is my arrow?

Where are you?

Where are you, Chang’e? Where are you, hare?

Maybe you aren’t alive anymore. 

Maybe the only figure dancing on the moon is my own ghost, taken down by my own arrow.

Jacqueline Xiong is an emerging Chinese-American poet and writer. She is currently attending Franklin High School, and is an editor of The Paper Crane Journal, an online literary magazine that can be found on Twitter at @journalcrane. 

photo by Uomo Libero and Luca Bravo (via unsplash)

The Guilty Pleasure of Parthenope—Kathy Hoyle

He wakes, pushes himself up to rest on his forearms, his pale shoulders jutting like scallop shells. He blinks against the blur– blue water, to no avail. Everything moves in flux, rippling in slow time. Whispers dance around him, muted echoes ebb and flow. He blinks again, tries to focus, but the world remains a curved and fluted half-dream. 

He stands up, takes slow and buoyant steps toward the cavern where she sleeps. He is curious about her secrets. Standing before the ink-black mouth, he is hesitant. He peers inside then blushes, ashamed that he’s afraid to enter. He wants to call her, but when he tries to remember her name, it slips from his mind like shifting sand. 

‘Parthenope,’ she whispers.

Tiny bubbles of her ripple out from the cavern. He breathes them in. His lungs fill, his veins flood with her memory, sharp and clear. Her touch, insistent, her tongue, salt-tanged and probing, his entire body, powerless, awash with her lust. 

He wants her, wants more.

When she emerges, he steps back, delighted, as she shimmers around him in playful circles. Her flame red hair fans out in delicate wisps, caressing his body. She winds her way up, up, up, to his mouth and fixes him with ocean green eyes. 

‘I’m awake,’ he says, heady with joy. 

‘Not quite,’ she answers, ‘not yet.’

She brushes his lips, replenishing his helpless lungs.

‘It is time,’ she smiles, ‘time to decide.’

He watches as she recedes back into the darkness, leaving only the faintest imprint of her tail in the ochre silt. 

Without her, his lungs begin to tire. His body starts to twitch and buck. His heartbeat quickens and a cold fear clutches him. He pushes himself up, sand grains flying from his feet. He thighs ache with effort as he surges toward the light above. He pierces the surface, heart hammering, and pulls in great lungful’s of glass-sharp air. 

He bobs gently in the water until the panic subsides, then heaves himself up onto the side of the ocean to rest. 

He looks down at his feet, dangling in the water, refracted, ghost-like, as though separated from his body. The scent of death floats on the breeze. A rotting carcass, pungent, ripe fish, the taste of melted plastic, oil, and fish guts fill his mouth. He gags and salt-water spills down over his chin. 

He leans back. Above him, a dappled osprey soars then dives, squabbling with a rival over whitebait. He takes in the great expanse of the turquoise, cloud-flecked sky. The space engulfs him. The huge bleached sun feels hotter than he remembers. It scorches his skin. He longs for the cool, womb of the ocean. 

He hears his mother’s voice and turns to see her standing on the shoreline. She is calling to him through megaphone hands. She carries the remnants of his old life in a lobster basket. Everything he knows seeps through the net. He shivers. 

Far below, Parthenope strums her Lyre with a mollusc pick and begins to sing.

The music rises, drowning out his mother’s cries. Suddenly, it is as though he is newborn. He feels all things stir within him. His mind fills with unwritten poetry, his hands long to sculpt. He hears the sweetest melody. I have been gifted by the most glorious muse, he thinks and his heart soars.

Parthenope smiles. Let him have hope for a moment. This one pleased her, more so than others. She leaves him awhile, pondering the choice he thinks he has, until finally, she tires of waiting and purses her lips. She blows sweet promises through a conch, marvelling, as always, at man’s arrogance. That he thinks he should be worthy of her gifts. 

He feels the crescendo of her notes rise through his body and answers her call. I am yours. I surrender.

Once it is spoken, it cannot be reversed. 

He watches, mesmerised, as his feet web then shimmer in the dappled water. He closes his eyes, takes his last breath and plunges forward into the depths of the ocean. His mother cries out to him from the shore, but her words are lost on the breeze. 

Parthenope emerges from her cavern, glistening with promise. He swims into her arms. 

‘I’m awake!’ he cries.

‘At last,’ she whispers, smiling as delicate bubbles rise from her mouth. 

He waits for her to brush his lips. Instead, she pulls him to her and begins to bind. Around and around, she twists, red tendrils of hair gripping tighter and tighter, fingers of kelp curl and knot around his body, tethering him to her. 

He gasps for air. The gifts she gave him seep from his mouth. She laughs, low and melodious, then swallows them all. He struggles, his eyes large with fear and longing. 

After a time, he succumbs, like the others who came before.

Parthenope smiles. 

Everything begins to move in flux, rippling in slow time. Whispers dance around him, muted echoes ebb and flow. He tries to focus, but the world becomes a curved and fluted half-dream. 

Parthenope hums to him gently, until his eyes grow dull.

Kathy Hoyle loves to write Flash Fiction and Short Stories. Her work has appeared in a variety of literary magazines including Spelk Fiction, Virtualzine, Ellipsizine, Lunate, Cabinet of Heed and Visual Verse. She has been both long and shortlisted in competitions such as The Exeter Short Story Prize, Reflex Fiction, Fish Publishing Short Memoir Prize, Flash 500, The Strands Flash Fiction Competition and Retreat West Novelette-in Flash Competition. Recently took Third Prize in the HISSAC Flash Fiction Competition. She is a 2019 Pushcart Prize nominee. 

Kathy is currently working on her first novel powered by tea and chocolate biscuits. You can find her on twitter @Kathyhoyle1

photo by Tim Marshall (via unsplash)

Likeness—Jane B. Parker

Kate and I don’t go down to the village very often, we have everything we could want here at home and could have anything delivered. But when she becomes so restive it virtually causes the air to hiss, I give in, and we cut what should be a three-hour drive across the dusty plain down to one. 

I figure it’s too late in life to learn Spanish so Kate handles all the interpersonal interactions. She could be telling the shopkeepers anything about me while I keep my hands in my pockets and nod along. She’s so popular, a comedian in any context. Always determined that we use cash so there are pennies for the street children. 

While we’re in the neighbourhood Kate makes me go see Dr Raul for a quick check on my heart and hypertension and insists on hearing the results herself, because as she tells him, “my husband could have a broken leg and I’d be the last to know it”.

Afterwards we walk along the boulevard and have a beer at our favourite little tin roofed dive. Or I do, Kate doesn’t drink and says, “I don’t know why you do either, it goes straight through you”. 

Arriving back home tonight, feeling a little tipsy and sunburned, I sense a soft presence under my foot as I open the door. What kind of mail, more threats? Despite our best efforts someone determined enough can find us, Likeness™ has always been a leaky ship. This here however is just a print, quite artfully made, silver gelatine I reckon. It’s a family portrait; the family is holding a sign that reads ‘you brought us together again’. 

Yes, even after all this time, I can still feel touched by such news. And of course I feel appalled by the opposite sort, when I hear of someone using Likeness™ for fraud or abuse. 

“It was only a matter of time before the nexus of holograms, AI and data banks was worked into a consumer product. And ever since the code was made public domain in my last will and testament we have really no control over what people are doing with it,” is what my Public Relations Likeness™ has been telling people for years. 

But of late less bad news has been reaching us, perhaps enough safeguards have been worked in by now, I don’t know. I don’t control the updates any more. I have lost touch. I’m not even one hundred percent certain what year it is, those facts can be easily manipulated. 

In the morning Fernanda arrives, she’s a tour de force. Can get through the housework, maintenance the solar panels, and check us over for glitches all in an hour’s work. We used to have great laughs with her, but now her friendliness has a formal edge and I can’t always prevent her from being alone with Kate. 

“You’re going to cost that girl her job, if you keep asking to be erased,” I complain. But I know this fixation was inherent in my wife from the beginning, it can’t be altered. 

“You’re so naïve, you think everyone is human,” she replies.  

Indeed, I hadn’t thought of that. So now that I can’t find the will to think up jokes to tell Fernanda even the mornings are quiet. And I have writers block.

I’ve gotten to the point in my auto-biography when in my late years I willed my Likeness™ into perpetuity. But it’s a difficult phase because although I have all the data, my memos, my tapes, even the health of my REM cycles and heart rate, I can’t for the life of me remember what I was thinking or why I did it.

Though what keeps me up nights, staring into the flat blue vista of the desert, is whether I should tell the truth about Kate. What she doesn’t know is how having died so young we didn’t have much to work with, had to exercise some creative licence. At first I was delighted with these inconsistencies and thought they made her seem more alive, but now I see how she suffers I know she wouldn’t have chosen it. 

Going to town to dawdle like tourists and make believe at living is the only thing that will animate her now; but going out so often that it arouses suspicion is just about the only thing we can’t afford. 

The nights after these day trips she’s tired out and will sleep in the bed, which I appreciate, but otherwise she sleeps outside in the hammock at the furthermost point from the power grid.     

“Aren’t you afraid of animals, snakes? You hate spiders,” I protest.

“You should try it yourself,” she says. “When I can just look at the sky, with air underneath me like I’m floating. But the daylight comes so soon. You could ask them to make me an update like that, couldn’t you? Or maybe you could have, before they forgot all about us. God I would be so much happier…”

When she complains she’s so much like herself can’t help but I think, I really did do some incredible work in my time. I brought us together again.  

Jane B. Parker is a writer and photographer from South Africa. Her creative writing and reviews have appeared in Badilisha Poetry X-change, the Silver Birch Press blog, The Poetry Pea JournalDream Journal, and The Poetry Question. She can usually be found tweeting haiku and micro-poetry @nowiammyself.

photo by Radek Grzybowski (via unsplash)