ISSUE 8, March 2017


Cover Art by Glass Valkyrie Studios

When the Last Petal Falls
By Cassandra Schoeber

​​“Raisa! Mom is going to kill you!” Scarlet slams the front door.
I jump up, snatch my leather jacket from the back of my chair, slipping it on. My packed rucksack is on the window seat. I grab it then slide the window open.
I don’t need to be told twice.
Scarlet appears, panting at the study door. Her face flushes a pretty pink, blond curls cascade down her back.
I’ll miss my little step-sister, but I won’t miss looking at her every day.
One end of my scarf falls. I tighten it around my neck, making sure only my eyes are visible.
She rushes forward, her small frame smacking into my chest, wrapping me in a hug. “Where are you going to go?”
I squeeze her tight, then push her away. “You know the plan.”
My heart races. I picture Kallyst stumbling out of the Iron Tavern into the empty street. She’s been dormant four years. I’d grown comfortable, naive, hoping I wouldn’t have to leave.
“The rose is my only chance, Scarlet.”
She squeezes my wrist, her grip stronger than when I was twelve years old. “I should come with you.”
“No.” My voice is sharp. “You need to stay.”
I hitch up my skirt and climb onto the window ledge. Water laps against the boats a level below. She tries to climb behind me. I shove her back inside.
“I need you to stay. To help me.”
She whimpers. Tears fall. “I’ll miss you, Raisa.”
“Next time you see me, I won’t be wearing this.” I point at the purple scarf and force a grin so she can see it in my eyes.
Bangs and clatters issue from the street. Then a shriek.
“Bye, Scarlet.” I kiss her forehead. “It’s going to be okay.”
I slide the window shut, grab the water drain. It creaks. I pray with each step down that the steel holds. My feet find the boat. It teeters as I sink onto the seat. One pull of the knot and I’m released from the dock. I paddle down the canal.
Lamps from the houses light up the path. I turn into the first alley, a back lane with fewer lamps. After dusk, the canals are less busy but I don’t want to take a chance. I wobble and splash myself. I haven’t been on the water in eight years, since Father last took me for a ride. I remember the finesse of the paddle and its turns, but my shaking hands send me carving side to side.
I hit a few boats and a couple walls as I navigate through the lanes, moving towards the open bay. My hope lies in Scarlet, the story we’d practiced dozens of times: sending Kallyst to search the mountains instead of the sea.
After all, only those with a death wish entered the fog.
The canal opens up. I paddle into the wide bay, passing others travelling close to shore – a few fishermen and merchants ready to bring their goods home. The darkness remains my friend, hides my passage straight across the water.
Ahead, the fog waits. With the moonless night, I’m unable to see where it begins. I pause, paddle hovering over the water.
The fog. Stealer of ships. Killer of men. Those who go in, never come out.
Father told me of the voices luring men to their deaths. Strange lights causing men to jump in and drown themselves. Everyone told the same story, though no one had ever met a survivor. But if a story becomes legend, Father always said, it is worth remembering.
And what I remember most are the Forsaken Islands where the Sapphire Rose blooms, a flower so magical that when the last petal falls, you are given a wish for whatever you desire.
I have only one wish. And it’s worth dying for.
My hands shake as I place the paddle in the boat and dig through my sack, finding two balls of cotton. I stuff them into my ears. Then I wrap white gauze over my eyes, tying it behind my scarf. I can see, but it’s blurry. If I have to, I’ll close my eyes.
The temperature drops, as if it will snow. I tighten my jacket. Paddle in hand, I venture into the darkness.
Sounds muted, I think I hear something, but I see only black.
I’m blind and deaf. The stupidity sinks in. I have no idea where I’m going, no idea what’s through the fog. I could miss the islands completely. Or worse.
My hand on my ear, I feel the cotton. I freeze. It was like a voice whispered to pull them out.
I resume paddling, pressing thoughts away about removing my guards. I keep my eyes squinted. Bright lights scan through the water, then disappear. They recur every few seconds. Perhaps from a building.
I peer over the edge, hoping to see land. But there’s something else.
Everything in my body tenses. I see myself. Without the scarf.
Hands at my face, I rip off the gauze and grasp the scarf around my neck. It tightens, suffocating. I scream and drop the paddle with a splash. My fingers dig into the scarf. The cotton balls fall out, a voice swoops in, breathing into my ears.
“Ugly.” Kallyst’s voice. I twist my head. Darkness. My hands tighten around my neck.
“Hideous.” Her voice grows louder.
“No!” I cry. Breathing laboured.
“Repulsive.”
I shake my head, close my eyes. Still I see the reflection on the water.
“Beast.”    
I jump to my feet. Unbreathing. Unthinking.
I try to step over the edge, but I trip.
Instead of water, my head hits wood. Finally, the image of my mirrored reflection turns to black.
***
“Is she okay?”
“I don’t know.”
“I think she’s okay. Where did she come from, I wonder?”
My temples ache. My neck burns. And the voices in my head won’t stop talking.
I blink. It takes me a moment to realize the blue above is the sky. I rock in the boat, water slapping. Behind my head, a grinding sound. Frowning, I rise.
Land. I’d hit land; gravelly pebbles on a narrow beach carved beneath a grassy hill. And towering overhead, a massive stone building, grey bricks spotted with green vines and thick moss.
I groan, standing. I avoid peering at the water’s surface. Leaving my rucksack, I scramble onto the beach.
Boat pulled onto the grass, I clamber up the hill. I shove aside the memory of the reflection and focus on the fact that I’d reached land – an island by the looks of it. If the fog and the island are true, maybe so is the Sapphire Rose.
There’d once been a dock, about twenty yards from where I beached, but the wood now hangs with black rot. The grass merges with a gravel path that leads from the dock to the building.
Though only two floors, its solid rectangle form is imposing and unwelcoming. The structure had been placed right in the middle of this small island, a warden upon the hill.
A sign swings in a gentle breeze, creaking. Etched into the wood, “Sparkwood Asylum.”
I frown, my chest tightening. I climb the stairs.
Father said there hadn’t always been the fog. He remembered a time when you could peer out across to the open sea, waves breaking on the edge of the horizon.
The fog had come overnight. Those who had been unlucky to get caught in it never returned home. That was when the stories began.
But he’d never mentioned an asylum.
The front door is two solid oak panels. The steel ring handle heavy, as I lift and push, expecting rust to impede my entrance. But the door swings open and I stumble into the hall.
“Hello?” Though I’ve seen no sign of life, I can’t help but feel I’m being watched. “Is anybody here?”
My voice echoes. The ceiling stretches as high as the entire building, though the hall is only half as wide.  A door to the right, next to the staircase, is open. I step through into the long massive room lined with beds along both the interior and window-lined walls.
Beds with metal frames painted white. Each blanket perfectly made, with a single pillow at the head. Halfway down the room, I notice the straps tied to the frame, hanging limp on the floor.
My neck feels cold. I search for an open window but all are shut, locked tight.
The hardwood creaks as I tread into the entryway.
I quickly check the three rooms on the other side. An office with towers of files, a private bedroom, and a communal bath.
The smell of mildew lingers after I shut the last door and peer up the stairs before I ascend.
Hand on the rail, I climb. My hand finds my scarf, the place on my neck where I’d grabbed my own throat. The skin still throbs.
The landing transforms into a long hall, doors on each side. There’s identical closet-sized rooms with a bed and boarded up windows. But the room across the hall is different. A chair punctuates the middle of the space, straps on the armrests, a table right beside lined with silver instruments - knives, scalpels, a pair of shears.
I shut the door, heart pounding. I should leave this place. But I need to be sure.
The last door is a darker wood, its handle pewter. In the center, a square has been cut out and boarded up.
I place a hand on the knob. My heart hammers.
The door. The handle. I’ve seen them before. Stared at them for four years. Same wood. Same knob. Same food slot.
This door is identical to the one guarding my old room.
I sprint down the hall and down the stairs, out the front door. Pushing the boat back in the water, I jump in.
Whatever horrors happened here, I want no part of it.
I ignore the memory of the door. Look for my missing paddle.
“Don’t go!” A voice calls.
I turn, blinking at a bright light caught in the rays of the sun. I trip and fall forward, catching myself before I hit the seat.
A laugh from overhead. I look up, into the wispy white face of a boy hovering above me.
I shout.
He laughs, spinning backward and holding his belly.
“Elian, stop it. You’re scaring her.” The same voice. A girl floats behind him, older, maybe twelve, though just as translucent and pale.
“You’re…you’re…” I rub my head. “You’re not real.”
The boy laughs again, but stops spinning. The girl pulls him down so his feet appear to be on the ground.
“I’m Veta. This is Elian.”
“Um, I’m Raisa.” I blink, grab the boat. “I have to go.”
“No, you mustn’t. It’s too dangerous. It’s a miracle you made it through the fog once.”
I pause. I place a hand on my neck. With a sigh, I pull the boat back onto the beach.
Veta claps her hands. “Come with us, come inside. I’ll make a bed for you.”
She floats ahead. I follow, curiosity spurring me onward.
“Just the two of you live here?” I linger over the word ‘live,’ as their transparency leaves me with only two explanations – I’m dreaming or they are ghosts.
“Yes, that’s right.” She leads me back into the hall. We stop before the private bedroom. “Elian paints. And I clean.”
She smiles wide. For the first time, I notice her eyes, the colour of cream-doused coffee. One of her eyes looks off to the left, the other straight.
The door swings open. Dust swirls and vanishes. The bed straightens, the curtain flies open.
Veta’s faint brown curls bounce. “I hope it’s to your liking. Come! I’ll show you the rest of the island.”
Staying is ludicrous. Yet, when I consider the fog, I’d prefer to wait before heading into it again.
“Hurry up!” Veta’s head appears through the wall.
I jump.
“Sorry.”
Her tour of the island doesn’t last long. Around the back of the building are three trees – walnut, apple, and pear. Vegetables grow in boxes strewn with weeds.
Elian hovers on the grass outside, near the edge of the beach. He has paper and what looks like red paint. He swirls it on the page – though never touching. The boy’s blonde hair falls over his eyes. He pushes it away. I notice several shadows on his skin. Like a puddle of mud splashed on his flesh, making some parts lighter, some darker.
Veta smiles. “He’s a good painter.”
I nod. Though all I see are shapes that look like blood splatter.
I excuse myself to use the restroom. Veta wants to follow but I convince her otherwise.
Back inside, I pause by the office door. Frowning, I step inside and knock a pile of files to the floor. The pages scatter. Documents and images jumble. I gather them, but a picture catches my eye. A photo of Elian in black and white, standing before the front of the building.
Inside the file are more pictures – Elian lying strapped to a bed, another of him sitting on the floor of the small room upstairs. The last one shows him in the chair, next to the table of instruments. Blood covers his face. Arms of another person wearing white sleeves appear beside him.
My hands shake. I glance through the other files, see photos similar to Elian’s. All children. No older than twelve.
And I see one file with the word ‘Veta.’ The photo inside depicts a frowning girl with brown hair, an eye looking left, the other straight. Stamped on top is Dangerous, with words handwritten below – Murdered Subject 4351. Burnt spark.
I drop the papers.
Veta hovers before me.
I step back, shaking. “Stay away.”
She pauses, glances at the file. For a moment, I’m reminded of Scarlet. They’d be the same age. So innocent and young. Except Scarlet had never murdered anyone.
“Is that why you’re here? Because you killed someone?”
Vibrations pulse from Veta like a heartbeat, the intensity burning. Her eyes flash red. Then she flies through the wall, disappearing.
I stare at the files. Thousands of papers stacked up, tower after tower.
“You hurt Veta’s feelings.” Elian appears at the door.
“Ghosts have feelings?” I bite my lip. But my body shakes. I can’t think clearly.
“You’re just like the others.” He disappears.
“What others?” I rush into the entryway. Sounds of crying come from the bed hall.
Elian reappears. “The doctors. They poked us with needles. Veta too. Then she figured it out.”
“What are you talking about?”
He swishes a hand. The room shifts, filling with people. I grab my scarf, tighten it. But no one seems to know that I’m there. Adults in white jackets walk through the front door, heading into the bed hall or up the stairs.
“They cut us open.” He points at his head, at the jagged scar behind his ear.
“Why?”
Elian twirls his hand, painting the great hall. The beds fill with children, most with their wrists strapped to the frames. Some cry, some shriek.
“That’s Jeremiah.” Elian points at a boy struggling with his straps. Bloody wrists, mouth foaming white. His back curves, hunching forward
“They got it from him. And it turned him mad. Veta knew. She released him.”
The scene swirls. Veta lay in a bed, twisting her wrists, popping it and pulling her arm out of the strap. She sneaks out of her bed, needle in hand. She moves to Jeremiah.
He shakes violently. He looks at her, seems to nod.
She inserts the needle.
His shaking stops and the scene disintegrates. With each blink, there is something new. A nurse grabbing Veta, throwing her in the room upstairs, placing her on the chair. Veta screaming.
We return to the empty hall, fading light shines in from the open door. Veta floats through the wall. Tears sparkle on her cheeks.
“I don’t understand.” My voice softens. “What were they doing to you?”
“Trying to steal a spark.” Veta nears.
“What is that?”
“You know. You came searching for it.”
I frown. Searching through the blur of memories. I gasp. “The Sapphire Rose?”
She nods. “The spark of a marked child transforms into a Sapphire Rose.”
I laugh. Like a hyena.
“Are you sure Jeremiah chose her?” Elian whispers.
“That’s insane!” I screech. “A spark from inside a child. Turning into magic. There is no such thing.”
Veta tilts her head. “Are you certain?”
“Yes, I –” My gaze turns to the stairs. I feel the lure of the door at the end of the hall and follow it.
The door I’d been too afraid to open, now once again bars me entry. All I need to do is swing it open and find the rose.
Hand shaking, I place it on the handle, close my eyes.
Still, I see the door. I memorized its cracks long ago. Staring at it, pounding it, scratching it. Never allowed out. Never seeing the sky or the stars or the sun or the water.
Only the mirrors. The mirrors all around. No scarf to hide behind. No clothes at all.
Just myself and the mirrors.
One night, Kallyst came home, drunk. She threw my door open, kicked my naked body until every part felt broken and bruised. My nose burst with blood, matting my hair.
“I’m done with you!” She screamed. “Damn you to hell!” And slammed the door. A mirror fell, shattered.
I crawled to the door, leaned against it, raised a shard of glass to my neck. Fingers trembling, I willed myself to do it. I twisted the shard.
“Raisa?” A small voice on the other side of the door. Scarlet. She’d been little then. Only eight. “Are you okay?”
I froze, my hand shaking, tears falling down my cheeks.
The food slot slid open. A crack of light shone in.
“Take my hand.”
Blood dripped from the blade.
I couldn’t. I dropped the shard, raised my arm, and took her hand in mine.
“It’s going to be okay, Raisa.”
That had been the last day in that room. Without warning, Kallyst had let me out. But she never wanted to look at me. So I always wore my purple scarf. And I never went outside.
That had been my thirteenth birthday.
I blink. My finger on the door handle. Different place but it feels the same. How had I come back to here? Back to the room I’d left four years ago?
Scarlet’s voice plays on in my mind. I breathe it in. It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.
I twist the knob.
Wait for the mirrors. But there are none.
I blink. Gaze falling on the glowing blue light in the center of the room. The scent of peppermint wafts towards me.
On the table, hovering only inches above, is a rose – blue as a sapphire lit by an inner light. The colour vibrant and deep. The entire universe in a single bud. The magnitude of the heavens reflected in its petals.
A buzz radiates from the flower. I inch out a hand. As I near, the rose trembles. One petal falls. Then another. The light flickers. As the petal touches the table, it dissolves.
I speed down the hall, descend the stairs two at time.
“It’s true!” I grin. “The petals have begun to fall.”
Both Elian and Veta sigh.
“What do we do now?” I ask.
Veta shrugs. “We wait.”
But the rose does nothing again for hours.
We sit on the grassy knoll above the beach, Veta and I. She stays near me, like Scarlet used to. Elian sometimes comes over to play with the pebbles, but often returns to painting.
“Why are you still here?” I lean forward. “This isn’t a great place. And all of those awful memories.”
“It’s this.” She points at the fog floating over the water. It’s got a grey tinge. “We’ve tried leaving, but it always pushes us back.”
“And you can’t move on to…” Wherever.
She shakes her head.
“You must’ve been here a long time.”
“I don’t know. My memories, what Elian showed you, feels like it’s happening now. I see the sun come and go, but it all feels as if it’s in the same moment.”
Silence flows between us. The water splashes on the pebbles, ripples from some far off place, perhaps boats returning to the wharf across the bay.
“Why do you wear that?” She gestures at my scarf.    
My hand finds the ends, safely tucked in and holding fast. My chest tightens. I’d forgotten for a moment about my face. In the excitement of the rose, in the incessant waiting, I’d actually forgotten about what hides beneath.
“I’m sorry.” Veta’s whisper startles me. “My words upset you.”
I meet her gaze. I’ve grown used to her lazy eye. I hardly notice it. But something glows in her eyes. I feel warmth enveloping like a cloud around my arms.
I stand. “I’m going to check the rose.”
The land shakes. I stumble forward, spinning. “What was that?”
The fog swirls, darkening. Lightening glitters like a web and thunder cracks.
Veta hovers, stiff straight, floating backwards.
“Not again,” she whispers. A boat appears. A tall, thin figure stands at the helm, paddle splashing.
I freeze.
Out of the fog, riding up onto the beach, Kallyst chucks down the paddle. Her eyes find mine. They are the only visible part of her face. The rest is wrapped up in a white scarf, covered in red splatters.
“You bitch!” She screeches at me, jumping out and grabbing a sack from the front of the boat. The sack groans.
Scarlet.
“I’m sorry, Raisa.” She whimpers when she sees me. Her arm bleeds from a gash.
I am paralyzed.
Kallyst yanks Scarlet to her feet and drags her out.
“I should’ve killed you all those years ago.” She spits the words out, grabs my arm. I follow. No will to resist. Completely numb.
“You’re hurting me,” Scarlet sobs.
“Shut up.” Kallyst yanks us both through the front door. “I’ve done it before. I can do it again.” Kallyst rambles as she hauls us up the stairs. “This time…this time…they won’t blast us out. Yes. And if the first one goes, there’s always the second. Always the second.”
She throws me onto the chair and shoves Scarlet into a corner. A smack of cold air hits me across the face. I see a blur of white flash through the wall.
I twist, lurching. But Kallyst has my hands, her grip strong. She slaps me across the face, ties my wrists into the straps, pulling the table of metal instruments towards her.
Her eyes crinkle at the edges. “It’s good to be back.”
“You did this.” Blood fills my mouth. She grabs my scarf. “You tortured those children. You’re the one who created the fog.”
She laughs, gesturing around. “Don’t you love my masterpiece? Wishes for the taking! Everybody wants one. I thought you discovered that on your own.”
She finds the ends of the scarf. It unravels.
“Little Beast.” She grabs a handful of the thick dark hair that covers my cheeks, chin, and neck. “Too ugly to live.”
With shears, she cuts the strands. I scream. Pain shoots through my skin, rattling my bones. Burning, fierce fire.
“No, Mommy, no.” Scarlet rises, hand on Kallyst.
Kallyst raises a fist, smacks Scarlet across the face. The child crumbles.
“Move again and I’ll kill her.” She cuts another clump of hair. Electric fire sears me, down to my feet. Everything tightens. Tears slip out. I yank at the bonds.
“That’s it.” Kallyst soothes. “Let it all out.”
With every cut, I scream. The pain is too much. I want it to stop.
“Give up your spark, and it will be all over.” Her voice slows. “Let it go. All the pain will disappear.”
I shake my head. My face throbs with the electric current. The shears near. I cringe, sobbing.
“That’s it.” She leans in. “Break open and you will be free.”
Kallyst’s scarf tickles my face. I blink. Her scarf.
She cuts another piece of hair. Though I cry out, my gaze stays on her neck. I imagine pulling off the scarf, exposing her secret, whatever it is she’s hiding.
She cuts me again, the burning intensifying. My thoughts jumble. I gasp for breath.
Give her a taste of the pain and humiliation she’s caused.
I meet her eyes. Brown, like mine. Whatever it is she’s hiding, she’d rather hurt me than expose it. For a moment, her face shifts and I see myself, without the scarf.
And I cry. Not for myself, but for her.
She cuts again. There is no pain. Only tears.
My body relaxes. Tears pour out.
“What are you doing?” Her eyes widen. She cuts again, and again. But the pain is gone as my tears stream down.
Something touches my wrist. The straps loosen.
Kallyst grabs a scalpel, slices off a chunk of my cheek.
“Stop.”
My hand shoots up, grabbing her wrist.
“Enough!” She starts.
Blood seeps down my face, but I don’t care.
She furrows her brow, reaches with her other hand, but Scarlet holds her back. “Let go of me.” Kallyst pulls.
My grip tightens. A ring of white glows around my other wrist. There’s a flash of light and the second strap releases.
Veta materializes between me and Scarlet.
“Hello, Doctor.” Veta’s voice deepens.
“How? What?” Kallyst pulls back.
The sky darkens. Fog seeps into the room.
Kallyst’s eyes dart side to side. “Release me!”
“Like you released Jeremiah?” Veta floats closer.
My hand grows hot. Red marks appear on Kallyst’s wrists. She gasps.
“Veta, stop it!” I yell.
Veta’s eyes blaze with red light. Kallyst screams and I drop her hand, hot to the touch.
Veta flies at Kallyst, fiery coils exploding from her fingers, burning Kallyst’s scarf to ashes. Her hands find Kallyst’s neck and red rings appear.
Kallyst shrieks. I glimpse her mouth, the wide hole between her nose and lips. But her face had always looked so flawless.
“Veta stop! Look at her. She’s marked!”
Wind rises, knocks me back. I crash into the wall. Scarlet smacks her head against the floor. A swirl of fog surrounds the ghost and the doctor, red light intensifying within.
I scramble to my feet and out the door, down the hall.
One last petal on the Sapphire Rose. I reach out a hand, then pause.
Take it for myself. It would change my life.
But Kallyst’s face fills my mind. The gaping hole in her lip. How many children had she hurt so that she didn’t have to face herself in the mirror?
She must have felt so much pain to lead her to that point. A pain I know so well.
I close my eyes, hold out my hand. This rose is meant for one thing alone. The last petal falls into my palm, cool as rain.
“Set them free,” I whisper.
Nothing happens. My heart thuds loudly. Then Kallyst screams. The building shakes. I rush back to the room, ceiling tiles breaking loose and falling behind me.
Veta and Kallyst no longer there, I rush to Scarlet. I shake her, but she’s unconscious. Through the floor floats Elian. He holds out his hands. A red haze glows beneath her body and lifts her up. He floats her downstairs.
Another scream, from outside.
I blast through the front doors as Elian lays Scarlet on the grass. The fog swirls above in a dark cloud. Shingles rip off the roof, flying into the dark mass.
Veta and Kallyst fight on the beach, Kallyst grabbing for the boat. She screams, burns scaring her arms and face.
“Veta! Let her go!” I sprint down the hill. She turns, eyes blazing, blinks. Behind me, the house splits apart, vanishing into the cloud.
Elian hovers on the grass, his body fading. He looks at his hands, sparkling. A smile grows on his face. And he disappears.
“You’ve done enough.” I step forward. “Let go. Be free.”
She shakes, one hand around Kallyst’s neck. Kallyst gasps.
“She doesn’t have to hurt you anymore,” I whisper. “Let go.”
She trembles. Time suspends. A tear inches down her cheek.
She releases her hold. Her figure fades. She meets my eyes and waves her fingers. My purple scarf appears in my hand. She smiles and she’s gone.
It’s all gone. The house, the fog, the ghosts. Gone.
Kallyst curls into a ball, sobbing.
I watch the lights across the bay. The blue sea is expansive and open. I touch my face. Already my skin has healed. I expect the hair to grow back. Always, when I tried to remove it, it would return immediately, thicker than before.
But it doesn’t now. My cheek stays soft and smooth.
I stand up tall, let the breeze blow my hair, wild and free. And release the scarf to the wind.

Cassandra Schoeber

Cassandra Schoeber is a fantasy writer but sometimes weirdness and horror creep into her stories, wreak havoc, and tend to end up eating people. When she dares to take a break from writing, she ventures into the outside world as a Strength and Movement Coach, motivating women to be confident and strong.
She has had one story published: “Let It Snow” in Silver Apples Magazine.


Silverhooves
By Clio Nima

1
Thousands of years ago, somewhere over Olympus’ hills, lived a mighty centaur with his son. They descended from an ancient bloodline that was rare to be found. Their coat was dark brown, not unlike any other centaurs’ that lived those days, but their hooves were pure silver. Father and son were envied and feared for both their strength, that surpassed any other centaur race, and their intelligence, which was a hard trait to be met among their kind.
          One afternoon, Polynikes, first of his name, looked for his son Krateus, who was nowhere to be seen. Under the last sunbeams, he found him lying on the riverbank. As he came closer, he faced his greatest nightmare: his only foal lying there breathless and cold, with all four hooves cut off forming a crimson pool of blood around him.
His screams made the back of the hills shiver and even Zeus himself turned his head towards the lifeless heir of the Silverhooves. Polynikes’ heart was ebony black and a fierce fury started to form within him. He who had done it shall face the wrath of the Silverhooves. He shall regret the very day he came out of his mother’s womb and into this mistreated world.
           The sight of Polynikes kneeling before his son’s dead body, holding the handsome head tight in his arms with a rain of silver tears washing the motionless face, touched a sensitive chord in Zeus’ soul, for he too was a father and empathized. So his will was done and a white falcon flew over the sad spectacle. The falcon talked in Artemis’ voice and said:
“The son you mourn is not your kin,
Someone should warn poor old Alkmin.”
Having said that thrice, the noble bird flew away, leaving the centaur stunned.    
2
Alkmin, an old witch who lived in a cave high on the Olympus Mountain, had found an ancient recipe to become immortal. She had spent the last fifty years collecting the ingredients and now, she was closer than ever before to the last one. This very morning she disguised herself as a beautiful young woman who sat on a riverbank and pretended to be seeking her beloved long lost brother. A young centaur was there and regardless of his scary figure, kindly offered his help. In order to thank him, Alkmin gave him a breathtaking kiss. Her lips were poisonous and Krateus should have died that very instant. Instead of death however, a deep sleep was what fate had in store for him. The witch, without hesitation, decided to cut his hooves off anyway, but it simply was impossible. No blade or spell could penetrate his skin.
Facing this misfortune, she killed another centaur and enchanted his face to look like Krateus. She chopped off his hooves and took the real Krateus back to her cave to figure out what was to be done, without the fear of Polynikes being anywhere near her.
Alas, the will of Zeus was different than her own; Polynikes was already galloping as fast as the wind and within seconds he was in her cave.
“Alkmin!” he shouted.
Not a sound did she make before he struck his hooves against her chest. The silver melted her heart at once.
Black smoke and dusty old clothes were all that was left of Alkmin, the dark witch who dreamt of being immortal and dwelling on Olympus' peak, among the gods.
3
Sophia was born and raised in an enchanted dungeon, deep in the bowels of Olympus Mountain. She was the only child of a treacherous dark witch whose only goal in life was to become immortal. Sophia’s mother, Alkmin, came from a long line of witches. Their devotion to good and evil changed from generation to generation. Alkmin was pure evil and when her benign mother died, she inherited an ancient secret recipe which revealed the ingredients of a powerful spell. Sophia was one of them and this was the only reason Alkmin ever produced the child. The crucial ingredient for the potion to work was a live heart, beating with the blood of the person who wishes to gain immortality. To sacrifice the child, instead of her own heart, was ingenious, but unfortunately, Sophia was a failure.
When Alkmin had seen the ingredients, she went to meet Polynikes. She soon realised that it would be impossible to steal his hooves away, so she seduced him. She slept with him only once and then disappeared in fear of him discovering her plans and ending everything.
The time of labor couldn't come soon enough. She thought that the child would provide more than one of the ingredients needed, a heart beating with her blood and four shiny silver hooves, but to her detriment, Sophia's legacy wasn't that of a centaur. She was born a benevolent witch, who was to remain in captivity until her mother killed her to complete the spell or until her own dying.
Now with Alkmin gone, she was finally free. Sophia ran towards the voices and what she saw took her breath away.
Polynikes was trying, in vain, to wake his son up, when the young witch approached. He stood up and raised his front legs to finish her too, when he noticed her silver hair and kind eyes.
           “I can help,” she whispered in a trembling voice.
Polynikes watched in agony as she leaned over Krateus’ placid face and gently touched her lips upon his.
Krateus immediately opened his eyes. He looked at the beautiful girl he had seen earlier that day at the riverbank.
“Did you find your brother?” he asked.                                 

Clio Nima

Clio Nima is from Greece and studied business administration, but dropped out before graduation. She also has a certificate of proficiency in English from Cambridge university. Nowadays, she works in the tourism industry but every now and then she publishes a short story.

Unknown Adventures
By Claerie Kavanaugh

Jaycin took a deep breath and rolled her shoulders back before she approached the rusted iron gate. She took the bobby pin from her carefully styled curls. Her tongue slipped out of the side of her mouth and she bent down in concentration, intending to pick the lock. As it turned out, the worn instrument snapped to pieces in her hands as soon as her fingers came in contact with the cool metal.
She hesitated, surprised at how easily the gate came open. This was an old cemetery, or at least, the oldest within walking distance. It was constructed before she was born, according to its faded sign. Looking around now, she found the whole scene rather ironic. The grass was brown and overgrown, and the gate clearly hadn't been maintenanced in years. Yet, each headstone gleamed like new, thanks to the team of charity workers that cleaned them up every Sunday. A small smile curled the corners of the young girl's lips--  at least Kingston cared about its people, if nothing else.
She wove her way through the rows of memorials, until she finally found what she was looking for. Nestled in the very back of the plot was a small, inconspicuous little monument inscribed with the name Kenneth Beurlay. She walked over and brushed off some moss that had attached itself to the top of the stone.
“Hi, Dad.” The word caught in her throat and she fiddled with the rip in her tattered jeans.
It was the first time she had been here since he passed, a little over a year ago. She had tried many times of course, but could never quite work up the nerve. This old place had always given her the creeps, and she never would understand why her father requested being put to rest here, of all places. Lothbrok cemetery had been a rumored haunting ground for as long as it had existed. Her father never believed in ghosts, but he did love lores and legends. Jaycin had long suspected his passion for the unknown was what had led him to become the adventurer he’d been.
Over the course of Jaycin’s life, she had seen Kenneth confront and triumph over more daring feats than she cared to count. He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro when Jaycin was only three, skydived over volcanoes in Hawaii, swam in the Arctic, investigated the Bermuda triangle…  if it seemed impossible, he had probably done it.
Most people in Kingston thought her father was insane, but to Jaycin, he was a hero. Whenever she asked him if he was afraid, he would always offer the same hearty laugh and reply, “Honey, the unknown is just another chance for your next great adventure.”
Jaycin had always loved that saying, though she didn’t comprehend its meaning at the time. Since her father passed away, she’d been trying to embrace his words for all they were worth. It had become her motto, and his voice in her head was the only reason she’d made it this far with Randy. She only wished he could be here to see it.
“So… I have some news.” She pulled the modest engagement ring out of her pocket and slipped in on her finger, imagining him watching from somewhere high above the clouds. The ring was nothing elaborate, just a simple silver band adorned with a small sapphire, her birthstone, and engraved with infinity symbols on either side. It was perfect. “Randy proposed last night. We’re getting married next June.” Her smile faltered a little. She squatted next to the stone and continued tracing her father’s name with her finger. “I was so scared when I first saw him down on his knee like that. I mean, we’ve been together almost three years now, but… I only had the courage to say yes because of what you always told me. I’m starting my next adventure… I just hope I don’t mess it up.”
She took a deep breath and sat silently for a minute. A gentle wind whistled past her ears, and she could swear she heard his voice.
“You won’t, Jay Jay. Just have a little faith. I’ll always be with you, but now it’s time to follow your heart. I love you.”
Jaycin smiled and squinted up into the colorful sunset. “I love you too, Dad. Always.”      


Claerie Kavanaugh

Claerie Kavanaugh is a 22-year-old writer with a love for fantasy, historical fiction, and YA and NA contemporary. She has been writing seriously since her sophomore year of high school, but her love of words started as early as first grade. In May 2017, she will have a BA in English and a minor in Technical and Professional writing. She has recently discovered a passion for editing and helping other authors while working as an intern at a new independent publisher, Owl Hollow Press. She lives with her mother, and sister, and a very sassy cat. In her spare time, she works on her debut novel and writes  an author advice and flash fiction blog at https://claeriekavanaughblog.wordpress.com.   


Papier Mache Doll
By Amanda Staples

I pull my long, black woollen coat around me. Lennon lies quietly at my feet, the cold air teasing his fur. My sister told me it was disrespectful to take a dog to a funeral. I didn’t see why. It’s a woodland funeral. Dad’s in a wicker coffin. She didn’t like that either, Jasmine. God only knows how she turned out so conventional; so staid.
    Twanged notes play with the still air - Evan playing the five-stringed banjo. Dad’s banjo. He finishes the song, pauses, then throws the banjo into the grave. It thuds and gives off a final note. Jasmine pulls a face like she’s tasted something nasty.
    The grave looks like a white elephant stall. So far it contains – as well as dad – a flat cap, a scarf, a necklace, a coin, a crystal, a belt buckle, several CDs and photos, football programmes, a CND badge and the banjo.
    I finger my offering in my deep pocket. My sister steps forward and throws in a long-stemmed white lily. Very traditional. Very her.  From my pocket I pull my doll that looks like it’s been made and painted by a child. I’d stayed up until 3am trying to perfect one. Then I’d stopped. Dad wasn’t flawless, neither am I. Nor is dear Jasmine, much as she likes to think she is. So I picked the first one I’d made; the most imperfect. Dad would like that one best.
    We used to make them as kids. It’s my first recollection of childhood; sitting in our tiny council-flat kitchen making those dolls. We would get to take them, with whatever else we could muster, to Greenham Common. I didn’t understand the relevance of the place then. To me it was just like a big picnic on a huge campsite. We’d rock up in our VW van held together with rust, proudly displaying large CND symbols on either side – which always reminded me of a bird’s foot.
1981. I was eight years old when the protest march was organised. I didn’t witness it, but I imagine it was a phenomenal sight. I can’t imagine something like that happening nowadays; the march maybe, but not the peace camp. I loved it there. It got bigger each time we visited. It was such a unique atmosphere; more than community spirit. People gathered for a common cause. It was family. Jasmine hated it. She would’ve been twelve going on twenty; too old to play and too young to be taken seriously. Not that she was interested in campaigning. Heaven forbid she should get her manicured hands dirty. I often thought she was adopted. She should’ve been. She split our family more than unified it.
    Mine’s the last memento in the grave. For the wake I’ve arranged a picnic in the woods. Jasmine decides not to stay, mumbles something about work commitments. Doesn’t want to risk getting a speck of dirt on her Karen Millen or Jane Norman.  I don’t do designer. My clothes are mostly from charity shops. The coat Jasmine wore today probably totals the cost of my entire wardrobe. I’m not jealous. I just don’t get it. If I had that kind of money, I’d buy a piece of art from a local artist. Like me.
    We move away from the grave, Lennon at my heels, and settle in a beautiful spot. The grass is spotted with daisies. Tall trees surround the glade; their bronzing leaves rustle in the autumnal breeze. The odd acorn and conker lay on the floor. A low seasonal sun bleeds through branches, comfortingly warm.
    People unroll blankets and unwrap food. Bags and boxes of rolls, scones, cakes, samosas, cold pizza and stuff I don’t recognise are passed around. Beer is opened, wine uncorked, thermos flasks circulated.  Stories are swapped and memories shared accompanied by laughter. It’s not a jovial atmosphere, but it’s not sad either.
As the sun sinks, the chill in the air increases and people begin packing up and hugging goodbye. Lennon is sated and sleepy from copious titbits. His Dennis Healey West Highland Terrier eyebrows lift as movement disturbs him. I’m asked countless times if I will be okay, do I want a bed for the night, company, a lift home? I thank them all and politely decline.
    Lennon and I trail back to the car park with the last of the mourners and friends. I unlock my bike, take my gloves, lights and helmet from the pannier then scoop up Lennon. Wrapping his fleecy blanket around him, I clip him into the dog carrier on the handlebars.
    It doesn’t bother me going back to the empty house. I’d moved back in with dad when mum died of breast cancer. I’d had over a week now to get used to being without him. I had contemplated moving the furniture or getting rid of dad’s chair; the tatty armchair that he always sat in by the fire with Lennon at his feet on the rug. The chair I had found him in ten days ago. Dead.  A peaceful death, they said. Massive brain haemorrhage in his sleep. He was always nodding off reading Private Eye. I got used to leaving him there. He’d wake when the fire died down and he got cold, and take himself off to bed.
    Apparently they are more common than you think - aneurysms. Loads of people wake up next to dead people. That must be awful. That morning was bad enough. I remember seeing him as I got to the bottom of the stairs and chastising him for being there all night. I remember having a cold feeling in my stomach, knowing instinctively that something was wrong. At first I thought the dog was dead because he didn’t respond to my voice, didn’t lift his head.
“Come on, sleepy head.” I nudged dad. I remember simultaneously feeling relief and horror – is that possible? – as Lennon lifted his head and dad slumped forward, his lips blue. He was so cold. I sat on the floor with Lennon and held dad’s stiffening fingers. Eventually, through streaming tears I got up and unfolded a blanket from the back of the chair and tucked it around him. Stupid really.
    I phoned my sister. She was a big help. Cold, I mean calm - Freudian slip. I said, “Jas, dad’s dead.”
She said, “Call an ambulance, they’ll deal with it.”
“It?” I said.
She sighed. “Take him away.”
“I don’t want him taken away.”
“Oh for God’s sake, P. Grow up.” Then she went quiet for a bit and I tried not to sob audibly. Eventually, she told me she’d ring later, when I had calmed down, and check how I was doing. Perhaps she did her crying when she hung up.
I stood staring at the phone for a bit. Then Lennon nudged my leg. I had to think hard to remember the number for the ambulance; funny that 999 can be difficult to recall.  She was nice, the lady on the other end. Apparently, she’d woken up next to her dead husband a few years ago.
    Jasmine rang later to check on me. I was sitting in the dark on the rug by the fire with Lennon. Couldn’t bring myself to sit in dad’s chair.  She didn’t ask how I was or if it had been dealt with. She said something about assuming I would know of his funeral arrangements as he’d not discussed them with her, and to tell her when and where, she’d be there.
    I still can’t sit in that chair. It smells of him. Which is odd because I can’t say I noticed him smelling of anything specific when he was alive, except maybe Imperial Leather soap. The chair doesn’t smell of that though. It smells of comfort, love and tenderness and deep rooted principles and bucking the system. And contentment. It smells mostly of that; a life well lived.
***
I’m sitting on the grey-white sheepskin rug with Lennon when she arrives. I’ve just finished making paper knots and laying kindle. It’s oddly therapeutic, almost creative. I haven’t been creative since I found him. Didn’t open my stall this week. All I’ve done are those bloody papier mache dolls and I cocked that up.
    She gives her usual cursory distasteful glance of the place when I let her in.
    “Do you want a drink? I’ve no milk. There’s rum, and wine.”
    “I’m not stopping. Can you put a decent light on?”
    “Oh, come on, Jas. Why don’t you sit down for a bit?” I offer, switching on the standard lamp.
    She purses her lips into a pencil thin line as she takes in the debris of pottery and papier mache on the kitchen table.  It’s never been used for eating; we always ate off our laps. She almost sits in dad’s chair, but doesn’t. Clipping open her, doubtless designer, bag she pulls out an envelope.
    “I’m to show you this.” She clears her throat as she speaks and proffers the envelope, watches me tear it open.
    As I pull out the contents, I see the words Adoption and Birth Certificate.
    “So, you are adopted?” I speak before looking properly.
    “No.” She snorts. “You are.”
    I yank out the rest of the paperwork and skim it.
    She’s by the front door when she turns and concedes, “I can see why you’d think that.”
    Then I notice it, dad’s name on my birth certificate.
    “But…” I can’t find the words.
    “Dad had a fling. Your mum died after having you, some sort of complication,” she waves her hand dismissively. “My mum adopted you. Christ knows why.”
    “You really hate me, don’t you?” I whisper.
    She pauses, front door ajar. “No, Peony. I resent you. I hate him, and as for her…”
    “Hate is so harsh, Jas. You can’t mean it. You don’t come to the funeral of someone you hate.”
    Jasmine turns to face me, her expression hidden in the shadow of the doorway.
    “I’m so angry. I’ve been angry since the day you arrived. They doted on you. They were so protective of you.”
    “They would’ve doted on you, given half a chance. You were always so… unapproachable.”
    “I was pushed out. Maybe I am jealous, if I’m honest. There – happy? Look, I’ve kept my promise and the stupid secret. I’ve done what I said I would. That’s an end to it.”
    “You’ve known all this time and didn’t say anything? I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for you, and painful.” I reach out to her and she backs away.
    “Shut up, P. Don’t pretend you know me,” her voice falters. Then with renewed vigour, Jasmine flings the door open and cold air rushes in.
    “Jasmine, wait. Maybe we can…”
    She cuts me dead with a hollow laugh. “Oh, please don’t say start again.”
    “But we’re family. That matters.”
    “My family are dead. Keep the house, I want no part of it and have no reason to visit it.” She slams the door behind her.
I listen to her heels clip up the garden path, then she’s gone. Silence engulfs me.
    In a trance, I lay and light the fire; watch the flames dance and tease their way up the chimney. The fire cracks, jolting me back to reality.
I get up to fetch a drink. On the kitchen table lay four papier mache dolls. Scooping them up, I carry them to the fire. I lean over Lennon, catatonic on the rug, and line them up on the mantelpiece. Mum, Dad, Peony, Jasmine. Must make one for Lennon.
Tearing the adoption papers up, I throw them on the fire. We are family, whatever Jas says. So she’s angry. So she resents me. But she never said a word in all that time. We had some humdinger fights as kids. She’d had this ammo against me all that time and had not used it. Surely that must count for something. One day I’ll find out.

Amanda Staples

Amanda Staples is a Clinical Hypnotherapist and Psychotherapist specialising in anxiety and depression. She is fascinated by emotions and the workings of the mind, and has a minor obsession with death. Amanda self-published a cook book in 2016 to help people deal with fatigue. She has had numerous short stories published, has a play going into production and writes the odd poem (often about death). She lives in Bristol, England with her husband and two anthropomorphised dogs. She is working on two novels, one of which has been longlisted in the UK International Novel Writing competition. 



Star Light, Star Bright
By Brenda Anderson

Madge sat down on her daughter’s bed. Sapphire edged away. As usual, Madge fought an impulse to shake her. Any minute now, Bill would join them.
Maybe tonight will be different, Madge thought.
If only Sapphire could respond to them, give them something: if not love, at least attention.
“It’s a lovely night, isn’t it?” she asked with forced brightness.
Sapphire turned away and pulled back the curtains. The night sky seemed to reach into the bedroom.
Finally, Bill came in, switched off the light and sat down beside them.
“Look!” Sapphire pointed. “There’s Xeem and Nutzi and Billaromp and …”
           Not this again. Anger welled up inside Madge. “Darling, that’s not their real names. We’ve told you that over and over again.”
Sapphire burst into tears. “How would you know?”
Madge put her hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “Darling, calm down. Look, we’re here for you.” They both tried to hug her but Sapphire shrugged them off.
“I hate, hate, hate this place!” their daughter shouted. “Why am I here?”
In the end, they tiptoed out. Another day, another failure.
Sapphire spent her days drawing stars and nights studying them through the window. At times, the gap between her bedroom door and the floor filled with light. They’d rush in. Sapphire would be doing star jumps on the bed, grinning from ear to ear.
“Watch me, I’m a supernova!”
They took her to see the doctor. He ran the usual tests, found nothing and laughed it off. “She’s made from stardust, you know. We all are.”
They remained sceptical. Sapphire preferred to be alone rather than spend time with them, and made no friends at school. She did her homework by herself and at meal times ate mechanically, as if it were a duty. Sapphire longed only for the stars.
“It’s your fault,” Madge sniffed. “Ten years an astronaut. Who would have thought it would get into your gonads?”
Bill got up and left the room.
A month later, they woke to the sound of shattering glass and rushed into their daughter’s bedroom. Fragments of glass covered the floor under a broken window. Their beautiful daughter had vanished.
They waited, hoped, even prayed, but she didn’t return. Though they posted photos of her on milk cartons, shop windows and Missing Persons websites, no trace of her was ever found.
Months went by and her birthday came around. They held hands and looked at her last photo. Fair hair drawn back, their daughter stared back at them, expressionless. When the year ended, they made up their minds to clear out her room. Afterwards, Madge went into the lounge-room and up to the window. That night, the stars were unusually bright. After a few minutes, Bill joined her.
Madge pointed. “She’s up there. I know it.”
Bill took a moment to reply.  “Empirically, that’s hard to prove.”
           Madge touched the window pane with her fingertips. “I used to feel guilty, like I was the worst mother in the world. It hurt so much.” She swallowed. “She never cared about us, you know. Not really. But I guess I always thought that someday she’d change, you know what I mean?”
She looked at her husband. Some emotion struggled to gain mastery of his face. For a moment, it looked like grief.
“Then I faced up to the truth, that she never belonged with us. It was like someone had exiled her here. Imagine that. We loved her so much, but she acted as if she were in jail.” Madge struggled to keep her voice steady. “To her, we were nothing but jailers.”
Bill cleared his throat.
“Remember the old nursery rhyme?” Madge went on. “Star light, star bright, First star I see tonight. Remember how it ends?”
Bill shook his head and looked away, but not before she saw tears well in his eyes.
In a sing-song voice she recited:
“I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.”
“What did you wish?” said Bill, gruffly.
“For her to be happy.”
This time, she didn’t look at him and instead, rushed on. “And there’s that other rhyme, too.  Remember Twinkle, twinkle little star? I added a line:
‘Think of us often …”
“Stars don’t think, Madge.”
Good old Bill. She smiled.
“… but stay right where you are.”  
For the first time in a long while, Bill gave his wife a hug. She clung to him and they both wept.
           “She’ll be fine,” Bill whispered. “It’s beautiful up there.”

Brenda Anderson

Brenda Anderson’s fiction has appeared in various places, most recently in Flash Fiction Online and Every Day Fiction. She lives in Adelaide, South Australia, and tweets irregularly @CinnamonShops.


Falling Apart
By Eddie D. Moore

The phone slipped from my hands and landed in the toilet with a small plop and a splash of water. Thank God I had already flushed it. It was only in the water a second, and I quickly wiped it dry with some toilet paper. I groaned when I discovered that the camera was on.
My hands shook as I sat in the stall avoiding sympathizers. I bit my lip until I tasted blood and then whispered, “What the fuck now?” I knew the phone was a trivial matter, but after losing my husband, John, three days ago, it felt like the world was crumbling to pieces around me. The stall beside me flushed, and a moment later I heard people talking in the hallway as the other occupant rejoined the others at the funeral. I slipped out of the stall.
           The power button on my phone was unresponsive, and the picture on the screen was a blurry mess until I held it out in front of me and saw John standing perfectly clear among the hazy background. I sucked in a deep breath and glanced past my phone to see him, but I could only see him on the screen. My heart froze as he blew me a kiss and mouthed the words, ‘I love you.’ The screen went black, and I slipped to my knees, fresh tears streaking my face, sobbing.
​​

Eddie D. Moore

Eddie D. Moore’s job requires extensive traveling, and he spends much of that time listening to audio books. His stories have been published by Jouth Webzine, The Flash Fiction Press, Every Day Fiction, Theme of Absence, Flash Fiction Magazine, and the Centum Press. Find out more on his blog at: https://eddiedmoore.wordpress.com/.

Breaking Ahab
By B. Michael Stevens

His eyes were two gunshot wounds. Puffy, red and expressing a pain seldom felt by others. The pain of having your love ripped away, right in front of you, out of your very arms. His tormented eyes stared through a cold, small, double-pane plate of glass and watched three figures approach his wharf-cabin. Although the approaching figures’ visages were obscured by the fog of trapped moisture between the panes and darting rivulets of melting runoff, he could recognize the uniforms belonging to the Haines, Alaska Sheriff’s Department, and knew the two folks that belonged to those uniforms. The third figure, the one in front, walking with some trepidation down his slippery driveway, the suit, that one was a stranger. Strangers were never welcome, even before the incident.
He watched the stranger, the Sheriff and the Deputy (he had no doubt of their identity, any local worth his salt could recognize Deputy Laurie's rotund outline and Sheriff Robert's walrus mustache, their tell-tale uniforms besides) make their way onto his pier. The suit appeared to be relieved to be on stable ground once again, leaving behind the canyon-like ruts of a driveway, unkempt, unplowed and driven through during daytime thaws and nighttime freezes.  
The man behind the wounded eyes made no attempt to move or call out. He watched the trio shuffle down his pier, wet with today's drizzle, yet free of the snow that still clung tenaciously to the land. He watched with as much disinterest as one possibly could, not even tracking them with his pained gaze when they moved off the pier proper and onto the deck that wrapped around his cabin.
Even the knocks, when they came, did not alarm him. But he did turn his head, as slow as the snow melted in Alaska's spring, to the audial intrusion.
“Tom! Tom, we know you're in there. Look, we need to talk. Open the door, Tom.”
Tom did not rise, but his chest did as he inhaled deeply and sighed.
It was Sheriff Robert Wall speaking. Figures. Tom had grown up with Bob, even gone to school with him. His cohort, Deputy Laurie Jones, was a transplant, but no cheechako. She had transferred into Haines from Fairbanks or some such place about nine or ten years ago. She wasn't local local, yet she was local.
“Come on, Tom. We got a man here from Juneau. He needs to ask you some questions. Let’s just do this the easy way, OK, bud?” The Sheriff sounded like he was trying to convince a toddler to stop throwing his food, more exhausted and depleted than angry. A year ago, hearing Robert sound so awkward would have made Tom smile. Not now. Not ever again. Another volley of knocks. No doubt Robert's meaty, hairy fist doing the dirty work. “Tom! Come on, Tom!”
Tom slowly stood up and grunted, loud enough for the trio to hear, went to the door and unlatched its brass chain.  
He opened the door and squinted at the diffused grey light of a melting morning. The three visitors stood under his wrap-around deck’s covered awning, their coats still dripping from the drizzle. Tom saw Sheriff Robert exhale a sigh of pained relief, but his eyes were fixed on the stranger. The one dumb enough to wear a suit in the slush and go without a hat. The man in the suit's ears were as crimson as the spider-webbed broken blood vessels in Tom's eyes and he shifted his weight back and forth, from one foot to the other, while vigorously rubbing his hands together. The overall result made him look like he had to use the little boys’ room badly and yet appeared to be washing his hands as if he had already finished his business.
‘T ain't cold anymore. This city slicker would've died a few months back. Tom held the door between most of his body and the visitors, saying nothing.
“Tom, we need to talk.” Sheriff Robert broke the uncomfortable silence. His voice was full of heartbreak, his eyes, sympathetic. He looked like a man who needed to put down a beloved dog. “Mind if we come in?”
Tom made no move to widen the passage.
“Who’s the fucking suit?” His voice croaked.
Laurie Jones’ (deputy by day, mom by night) eyes widened at the brazen display of hostility. Sheriff Robert however, turned his face down slightly and closed his eyes, as if the question pained him. Robert raised his head and opened his mouth, along with his eyes, and was about to answer when-
“My name, Mr. Moore,” The ‘suit’ spoke up, matching Tom's piercing gaze with his own bright blue eyes, “is George Brister. Detective George Brister.”
Tom saw in the detective's blue eyes a fierceness, a specific passion, often only seen in youth and true believers. He had no respect for such zealots, especially ones so young and ignorant, but he knew enough to know what lengths this slicker would go to get his answers. Tom scowled and stepped back, disappearing into the shadowy hallows of his cabin and let the door slowly drift open behind him.
The officers stepped in, following Tom, their eyes adjusting to the dark.
The room they stood in nearly matched the outside footprint of the building. Only two small sections were cordoned off, presumably the bed and bath. The rest was open floor, living, dining, cooking, and storage all in one. Whereas the architecture of the square home was Spartan at best, the clutter inside the square would have put Tom in the semi-finals for a hoarding contest. Piles of papers avalanched off one side of the dining table, while small hand tools and fishing lures in various stages of assembly and disassembly covered the other half. One entire corner of the cabin was filled with a Gordian knot of fishing lines and nets, small floaty ovals interspersed throughout, like chunks of meat in a cheap, mostly rice stir-fry.
The kitchen, if it was in fact there, looked like a pile of wreckage from some post-apocalyptic nightmare. Tom's cooking and cleaning habits made even freshmen college boys look like OCD museum curators. The smell of stagnant water and old food mixed with the ever present brine of the sea, creating a miasma that made Detective Brister dizzy and caused Laurie to stifle a gasp, covering her mouth and nose simultaneously.
"You want a drink?" Tom offered, wading out of the kitchen/dining area, weaving around piles of rubbish and boat supplies. He approached his visitors with a bottle of cheap rye, a quarter filled, no glasses.
“It's 10 am, Tom.” Sheriff Robert said.
“And we are on duty, so it doesn't matter.” Detective Brister frowned.
“Suit yourself.” Tom gestured to two chairs and a small couch. All but one were unusable, buried in what looked like dirty laundry. Tom uncapped the bottle of rye and said, “Just push that shit on the floor.”
Detective Brister did just that, Sheriff Robert followed likewise, while Laurie hesitated, flustered.
“I'm sure worried about you, Tom.” She said, holding her body awkwardly, looking around at the mess.
Say it, Tom thought, taking his first swig of the day. That it's gotten bad since Brenda died. I know. I don't care.
Once the chair was clear of laundry, Detective Brister scooted it across the floor, accidentally bunching up the carpet rug that helped to warm the wharf-cabin’s old wooden planks. Ignoring the wrinkled rug, Detective Brister sat down in the chair, directly across from Tom and stared at him.
Sheriff Robert, now seated on the small couch, leaned forward, his hands clasped, in a sort of Buddhist Warrior-Monk prayer fashion, and spoke.
“Tom, I know we've been through this, but it has become far bigger than just you and me, OK? Detective Brister here has been sent by the big dogs in Juneau. I can't help you anymore unless you help us, OK? What I would like to see happen is-”
“Thank you, Sheriff, but I can handle it from here.” The young Detective held up a hand. His eyes never left Tom and a slight grin was threatening to form on the edges of his thin mouth, like the first hints of a storm at sea, far off on the horizon.
“The Sheriff is right about one thing, Tom, can I call you Tom? Good. This situation has become ‘big.’ You see, we in the Field Office do not agree with Sheriff Wall's report of what happened the night of March 3rd. I have it on good authority, experts in the field from UAA all the way down the coast to San Francisco, that there are no giant squids in this part of the Pacific. None. No sightings ever. Ever.”
Tom listened and took another sip of whiskey.
“So what does that tell you, Tom?” Detective Brister's threat of a grin had matured and was now showing. The winds had picked up, it was raining lightly.
Tom said nothing, only took another sip from the bottle. Laurie shifted uncomfortably.
“It tells me,” The Detective continued, “that your story of the giant squid is just that, a story.”
“Bullshit.” Tom frowned, a dribble of booze ran down his chin in perfect imitation of the snow melt outside.
“Bullshit?” Detective Brister raised an eyebrow.
“What about all the sightings in Japan?”
“We're not in Japan, are we Tom?”
A heavy silence filled the room. They could hear their own hearts beating in rhythm with the lapping waves and the dripping snow outside.
“So why don't you tell me what really happened that night?” The young Detective leaned back in the chair, his grin triumphant, the storm now a squall, in full force and upon them.
Tom was still looking in the direction of the Detective, but his eyes were unfocused, adrift on the open sea of his wretched memories. He saw in his mind's eye his wife, his beautiful, beautiful wife. Her curly red hair being whipped by the wind, tangled. Her ruddy, burnt cheeks, dotted with as many freckles as there were waves upon the ocean. His boat bobbed up and down, yet stayed its course. She asked him to take her to their favorite harbor.
What a silly girl. As if we weren't out on the water enough during the fishing season, she wanted me to take her out for fun. She loved it out there.
She did in fact love it out there, more than most anything. And every time, without fail, being upon the waves would make her green eyes shine with a brilliant delight. But that night, her emeralds had dimmed. She had said that she wanted to talk, that she needed to talk.
Nothing good ever followed that statement. Ever. That night there was a sadness in her eyes. What was it dear? What was it you wanted to say?
“I...I shouldn't have let her talk me into going out at night. I'll give you that much. So if you want to charge me with something, charge me for being a damn fool.”
“No one is talking about charging you with anything,” Sheriff Robert tried to comfort him, his voice soft.
“Actually, that is not true. I am very much looking to bring charges on Mr. Moore here.” Detective Brister studied Tom. “And I will, as soon as I have the proof. I will get the proof. And you will get what is coming. Now you can make it easier on yourself and confess, tell us where you dumped the body so we can send divers and give your poor wife a proper Christian burial, or-”
“You son of a bitch! Get the fuck out of my house!” Tom spat whiskey flecked saliva into the air. “If you had anything, I'd already be in jail! But you don't! And you won't! 'Cause I am telling the truth! That goddamned squid killed and ate my wife!” Tom's chin trembled like the Great Alaska Quake of '64. Tears formed in the deep wells of his gunshot eyes and rolled out, bleeding down his wrinkled face and disappearing into his salt beard like streams into the sea.
In the silence that followed, the sound of the waves took center stage once again; this time sounding off beat, for everyone’s hearts were pumping as fast as a marathon runner’s.
Detective Brister stood, his smirk only fading slightly.
“Tom, you don't know me, but let me tell you right now. I am very good at what I do. I will find the proof. Here,” he paused and reached into the folds of his khaki long-coat and produced an envelope. He wiggled it back and forth for a moment and then dropped it into Tom's lap unceremoniously. “You didn't think I'd come unprepared now, did you?”
Tom ignored the envelope. Other than his still trembling chin, he made no move at all. Although far from weeping, hot streams of saltwater continued to bleed from his wounded eyes as he stared through the young Detective's legs. A frown tattooed his face.
“It's a warrant, Tom.” Sheriff Robert stood up too, and lay his giant paw of a hand on Tom's slouched shoulder. “I'm sorry. He wants to look at your boat, your shed, everything. You best just stay out of the way and let the man work.”
“Can I... can I at least go get a drink?” He held up the bottle, showing them it was now empty.
“Sure pal. Go ahead.” Robert nodded.
“Oh, Tom?” Detective Brister added, as he systematically began to put on a pair of blue nitrile gloves, “Don't leave town.”
***
Tom pulled his old Chevy into the only open spot, in between where the plow had pushed the year’s accumulation of snow and a newer model Dodge pickup with a bumper sticker that read “Haines, AK: A quaint little drinking town with a fishing problem.” Yuk Yuk.
He shoved the rusty door of his truck open and stepped out into the dark early evening and immediately discovered why this parking spot was empty.
“God dammit all.” He cursed under his breath as he hustled and hopped to get his left boot out of the cold, ankle-deep slush it had found itself in and spare his right boot the same fate. A moment later and Tom was on high ground, teetering on the ridge of compacted snow and ice that had formed and grown over the long winter as sheets of fresh powder had fallen off the pubs slanted metal roof. Already a veritable mountain range, complete with peaks and saddles, the ridge now came with an added hazard; a layer of slick ice encased the berm, formed nightly from the dropping temps that caressed the days melt back to sleep.
Tom haphazardly made his way across the ridge of ice, reaching out and balancing himself on the hoods of the trucks that filled the lot of ‘Pete’s Watering Hole: Best place in town to get a burger and a drink.’
Unless it was tourist season... It would be several more months before the ferries and cruise ships arrived, bringing the double edged blade of tourism with them. The influx of strangers brought a much needed supplement to the otherwise poor fishing and logging community, but the tourists were often rude and messy, and they clogged up the place. Turning my salty acre of paradise into the goddamned Vegas strip.
A moment later, Tom was sliding down (still on his feet) the ice berm and pushing open the heavy wooden door, leaving his curmudgeonly reflections outside in the growing dark, and heading into warmth, familiarity, and sweet, blissful liquid painkillers. Tom had been coming to Pete's since before it was called Pete's, since before Pete was even born. This was his Cheers, and yes, everyone did know his name. Up until now, that had always been a good thing.
The ambient noise in the establishment dropped decibels as quickly and wholly as the metal roof above shed its slabs of snow. Tom felt the eyes of his neighbors, fellow fishermen and even a few of the loggers who lived down the road a ways, on him as he stood in the warm glow of the entrance. The music was still playing and now everyone could hear just how incongruous it was that a Taylor Swift song would be playing in a place like this. Anger boiled up inside him like acid reflux, but Tom just twisted his mouth as if it were a wet rag he were attempting to wring out and turned his back to them, making a bee-line straight to the bar and Pete, the man behind it.
Tom sloshed through the sawdust and peanut shells and pulled up a stool when he got to the counter. Pete watched him approach, drying a mason jar (that’s all they served beer in) with a small towel.
“Whatcha doing in here Tom?” Pete asked as he reached up and placed the jar out of sight.
Tom was stunned. He had always been welcome here.
“Et tu, Brute?” Tom said the words like venom falling from exposed fangs to the sawdust floor.
“What?” Pete squinted at Tom.
“You too? You believe I killed her?” Tom felt his nostrils flare out.
“Now Tom, I didn't-”
“How the hell can you even think that? Huh? About me? About Brenda?”
The Watering Holes’ patrons again paused in their buzz when Tom raised his voice to Pete. Tom could feel their suspicious gazes, stabbing him in the back.
That's what they are! All of 'em! Backstabbers!
“I don't, Tom.” Pete swallowed hard and shifted his eyes. “It's just… It's just that having you in here right now isn't good for business. There's a lot of people talking right now. You know? Seeing you will just make them upset. Brenda was well loved-” Pete cut himself off and just stood there, as frozen as the berm outside, his mouth hanging open.
“I get it.” Tom's shoulders dropped two inches. “Just let me at least get a goddamned bottle to take home with me.”
***
The ruts cut by the day’s traffic through the melt had completed their nightly re-freeze and now violently grabbed and pulled Tom's Chevy back and forth as it crept down his driveway. The beams of light bounced along with the truck, jostling all over the woods, the pier, the wharf-cabin and the dark granite colored sea beyond. It was chaotic, but it proved to be enough for Tom to see that the cops had all left. Just for the night? Or for good?
He grabbed his brown bag and the elixir of forgetfulness inside it and got out, making his way down the bank. He was just about to step inside when he paused. The wind was warm tonight and it ruffled his beard, like Brenda's fingers often had not long ago. He closed his eyes and listened to the night, to the wind, to the waves, not too choppy, lapping at the shore behind him and against the wharf-cabin and pier’s foundation posts. Something called him.
The sea…
Tom had always felt a connection to the sea. He grew up on it, working his father’s boat since he could walk and talk. It wasn't so much a call to adventure, no, he had after all lived his entire life in little Haines, never leaving anywhere but the open waters, and had been happy.
Oh, so happy. Brenda… No, it was more a connection type of call. A sense of belonging. Like having one's other half in the same room. She called to you with her presence alone. Asking nothing, offering everything.
But tonight's call was different. He wasn't quite sure how so, just that he knew it was. Without knowing or asking why, he turned from his front door and walked along the wrap-around deck.
He stopped when the kitchen window was at his back, and Chilkoot Inlet's narrow channel was at his face. The moon was only just past full, still offering enough light to see the rippled surface of the now black water and the dark navy hues of the partially snow-clad mountains beyond.
“Tom… Tom, come to me. Come to me my love.”
The sea pulled him as strongly as the moon ever pulled the sea. He felt ethereal strings reach from every wave that traveled across the obsidian surface attach themselves to his very heart and yank at it, ceaselessly, tirelessly, like the tide.
Tom stood there for what seemed like an hour, till his feet were as sore as his heart. Then,
“Fuck you, and fuck the sea. I want my wife back.” Tom spat out into the water, frowned and turned to go inside and drink himself into oblivion.
***
Tom shut the door behind him, trying to put some distance between him and the sea, but his demons followed him inside anyway. Everything he saw, everything he looked at, reminded him of her, of it. He scowled at the pile of fishing nets and buoys in the corner, the ship in a bottle on the shelf above the fireplace, the slick orange overalls hanging on the peg behind the door and the rubber boots halfway hidden under them. There was no escape, save one.
He brushed past all his things, shrugging off the ghosts and crashed into his kitchen, flinging the dirty dishes around, breaking more than a few before finding what he was looking for. At last he held in his hand the prize, an over-sized, square tumbler made of thick glass.
A brush of his tumbler clutching fist and another haphazard pile of clutter was swept off the counter. He nearly slammed the tumbler down in the freshly made clear spot, such was his frenzy. He had reached emotional muscle fatigue and his spiritual legs were shaking, about to give out.
One quick twist and the top of the bottle was ripped free from its mooring and the sweet amber nectar inside was cascading down into its receptacle until it overflowed.
“Tom… Tom, come to me. Come to me my love…”
He grunted with effort as he set the bottle down and clutched the tumbler once more, lifting it as if it were as heavy as his heart. His lips parted, and he drank deep. He stopped only to catch his breath after the tumbler had been emptied. He gasped, less for air and more to coat the burn in his throat. A familiar warmth spread through his chest and into his limbs and he closed his eyes in relief. His breathing slowed, his shaking settled. He calmly opened his eyes and went to repeat the ritual. He got as far as finishing the pour and raising the glass, this time with ease rather than effort, and saw her. He saw her and stopped dead in his destructive tracks.
There, in the burnt honey waters of the whiskey he saw the sea; in the sea he saw his wife, calling to him.
“No!” He screamed and flung the glass and its contents against the nearest wall. Surprisingly, the tumbler did not break, though the whiskey covered the wooden panels like arterial spray at a murder scene. Tom flew into a rage.
Tables (both kitchen and coffee) were overturned, objects were kicked and thrown, a tool of some kind was used in baseball bat club fashion and Tom proceeded to attack and destroy two of the kitchen cabinets entirely before turning his blows against the mantle and the bottled ship upon it. His berserker rampage finally ended when he tried to wrestle the pile of net and buoys out the door and became tangled in it, tiring himself out, just like a suffocating fish for which it was originally intended to hold.
He lay on the floor, wrapped in tangled mono-filament, gasping for breath, strong vapors rolling off his mouth like the night's fog outside, creeping over the waters of the inlet, until after a spell, he succumbed to exhaustion and passed out.
***
In his dream, he was with her. With Brenda. In his dream, he was at peace. For a while.
They were together. They were on his boat. They were on the sea. Everything was perfect. Fifty some odd years together and everything was still perfect.
In his dream, he was at peace.
For a while.
Then he noticed it, at first it was just on the edges, the outskirts, but it was there. Anxiety. Worry.
Something was wrong.
They were on the boat, and they were at sea, but it was night.
Why are we out at night? He wondered. Brenda… Brenda wanted to and I said yes.
Something was wrong.
Brenda's eyes were normally so bright, but tonight they hid a sadness, a regret.
“I need to tell you something.” She had said.
What was it my love? What did you need to tell me?
Something was wrong.
This was the night Brenda died. Must I relive it again? Every goddamned night?
He slowed the boat and set about setting the anchor. They had at last come to Brenda's favorite spot. A small harbor, deep up the inlet, hidden away from the men of Haines. Tom watched his oblivious self work like he were Scrooge, visiting the past.
Pay attention you old fool! Something is wrong! Can't you see?
“They're going to arrest you, Tom.” Brenda smiled at him as he returned from the cabin with a lamp.
“That's great, hun.” Tom smiled back and sat down across from her near the bow of the boat, placing the lamp next to him on the raised lip of the deck’s walkway. He wondered where the wine was.
It was cold. Really cold.
“Why are we doing this Brenda? It's freezing out. Let’s take this inside the cabin, huh?”
“You're dreaming love.”
“Uh huh. That's great.” Tom smiled.
You old fool! This isn't right! This is not how it happened!
Something was wrong.
“They are going to arrest you, unless you come to me. I'm waiting for you. Please.”
What did you want to tell me, baby? What was it?
The world shifted, but they stayed the same, only different.
“I have something to tell (show) you.” Tom heard her say 'tell' and 'show' at the same time.
The dream was wrong.
He stared into her sad (oh, why were they sad?) green eyes. He returned her warm smile with his own, masking his confusion.
“What is it sweetheart?” He asked.
That's when it happened.
That's when Tom's world was ripped from him.
The boat lurched. The lamp fell.
Something was wrong.
Water splashed. It was dark.
I can barely see!
It was cold. He was wet. He heard something sliding over the deck.
Brenda! Where is Brenda? Tom moved over the rocking and heaving boat to find the lamp.
“Tom!” Brenda's voice called out. More splashing, more heaving.
He caught his balance and turned, raising the lamp.
Brenda's green eyes. Water, black water everywhere, coming in, or was she going out?
Oh my God! She's going overboard! But-
Something was wrong.
His face was white, stricken with horror.
In one horrific glimpse, delivered to him by the light of a pale lamp in the dark, he beheld his world's end. He beheld that which broke his mind and his soul.
Brenda's green eyes, her beautiful, sad green eyes. Water, cold, black water. Flowing red hair, wet and tangled. Her outstretched hand, reaching to him. Her legs.
No!
Her legs were gone, underwater perhaps, or… Tentacles. He saw the tentacles.
Oh my god! No!
“Tom!” Brenda called to him. She reached for him, wanting him, needing him.
Frozen, like the winter world around them, Tom stood petrified in disbelief and watched his wife disappear into the sea.
“Noooooooooo!”
***
Images of the giant squid still seared his vision like a retinal burn. Tom slowly opened his eyes. He was panting, exhausted, dehydrated and lying on the floor of his cabin, tangled in fishing nets.
Brenda. Oh God, Brenda.
He forced his heart rate down, and then slowly began to free himself from the webbing.
What time is it? He wondered to himself, and strained to see the clock on the wall from his prone position.
Midnight. Not that it matters anyway.
Once free, Tom stood and examined the damage.
“They are going to arrest you.” The voice of his dream wife echoed in his mind.
His eyes spied the bottle of whiskey, still half full. He strode to it, stepping over the mess of broken things and picked it up. He lifted it to his face and examined it like he had never seen a bottle before.
“Hmpfh.” He grunted and proceeded to pour the rest of the bottle into the sink, filled with plates and bowls.
They won’t stop until I prove it to them. Everyone in this whole goddamned town. And- He scanned the mess of his house once again and stopped when he caught the bitter, broken reflection of his leather face in a bronze platter Brenda had mounted on the wall. -And I will never have peace till I kill the beast that took you from me.
***
A pair of eyes hiding behind binoculars watched Tom untie the rope from the pier, throttle up his boat and begin to sail off into to the moon-lit ocean. Glasses lowered, hands fished a cell-phone out from a pocket.
“Detective? Yes, I'm sorry, I know what time it is. Just thought you should know. Mr. Moore has left his home again. Yes. No sir. No, he left in his boat. Yes, yes sir. He is headed up the inlet, away from the mouth, yes. Yes, I think so too sir. Sir? He is armed. I saw him take a rifle with him. Yes. Yes. OK. Yes, I'll stand by. See you in a few. Yes, you're welcome. Thank you Sir.”
***
The midnight winds of March cut through Tom just as his boat cut through the icy waters and caused his eyes to water; each involuntary tear ran sideways to his temples, but never made it to their destination before freezing solid. Tom made no move to brush them away; his only focus was what lie ahead, and what he needed to do.
He maneuvered his boat up the inlet in blackout, with no running lights on. The light from the slightly waning moon was enough for him to see the coastlines on either side and besides, he knew the spot well.
Brenda's spot.
With all the determined acceptance of a dead man walking, Tom steered the boat on through the night, till only the softest hint of deep purplish-blue began to appear from behind the Eastern Mountains overlooking the water. Arriving at the secret harbor, snuggly tucked away under the bosom of the same mountains now glowing faintly with proto-dawn, Tom cut the throttle and drifted silently.
“Tom… Tom come to me… Come to me my love.”
“No!” He shouted, forcing the voice from his mind. The pull was strong, incessant. “I can't take it! Come on out you spawn of hell!” Tears formed again, this time not from wind, but from grief and rage.
“Tom… Sweetheart. I'm here. Come to me…”
“Come on god dammit!” Tom shrieked, shaking his fist at the wind over the waves. He turned from the wheel and dropped the anchor off the side, just as he did the other night three weeks ago.
“My love…”
“Show yourself you son of a bitch! Come on!” He pulled his rifle out from under the bench and made his way to the bow of the ship and waited, trembling.
The surface of the water was a mirror that had been painted black, smooth as liquid marble. Like the proverbial abyss, Tom stared into it and it did indeed, stare back. He felt he was losing his mind, what was left of it. It called to him. It called to him the way the spike calls to the junkie, the way the wind calls to the caged bird. Both the lure, the sweet song of the deep and the rippling obsidian surface of it hypnotized him; hypnotized his active mind, his drive for revenge and release, and for a moment, hidden things inside ruled him. They ran through the dusty corridors of his mind, opening every door they could find, letting bedlam out to play.
I could just jump in. I should just jump in. It won't hurt. I will be with my Brenda again that way. My sweet, sweet Brenda.
His grip on the rifle slacked and the weapon slid down his lap, coming to rest between his leg and the wall of the bow. Unknown minutes passed with Tom contemplating suicide, held fast in the grip of the sea's hypnosis. Suddenly new, different ripples appeared in the water, the black mirror reflection of the water’s surface shattered into a million pieces and something appeared from behind it.
“Tom, my love… Come to me…”
So entranced was he that Tom failed to register even a hint of anger or rage at the sight before him once it appeared. Where a second before there was a cold sheet of rippling black satin, there was now a writhing mass of sucker-dotted tentacles. In the center of this nest appeared a beak, the size of Tom's head, opening and closing slowly.
I could just jump in. Let the beast take me and be with my wife.
“Yes, Tom. That's it. Come to me.”
Somewhere in the periphery of his thoughts, Tom registered the wet thump of one of the giant squid’s massive club tipped feeding tentacles come over the bow of the ship and land inside. Yet, he did not snap out of his haunted reverie until the appendage made contact with him, wrapping itself around his thigh like the urgent caress from a lover in need.
The spell was broken and Tom issued a heaving gasp. The squid seemed not to notice Tom's change in demeanor, and continued to writhe seductively and reach out to him with its other tentacles. Tom jerked his head down and saw that the creature had a grip on his leg. In a white flash, Tom lurched forward and picked up the nearly forgotten rifle. The tentacle around his thigh relaxed and began to remove itself.
“Tom, my love!”
“No! No! Noooo!” Tom cried and chambered a round in his old bolt-action.
“Tom!”
“Die you fucker!” Tom leapt to his feet and pointed the rifle into the open mouth of the giant squid.
“My love! Please!”
A squeeze of the trigger. The crack of a gunshot echoed out over the icy dawn waters and mountains beyond.
Its longest tentacle still draped over the bow of the boat, the squid lulled and turned, floating on the surface of the water.
The beast rolled over, its beak and the river of black blood issuing from it disappeared under the waves, while the oblong shape of the squid’s body came up.
A single beautiful emerald eye, with sadness deep inside it stared up from the water into Tom's bleeding gunshots.
The call stopped. The voice stopped. But there was no peace to be found.
Like a deflated inner-tube, the strength went out of Tom's arms and the rifle lowered under its own weight and dropped to the deck, spilling out of Tom's limp hands.
“No. Oh no. Oh god.” His body trembled, his poor mind crumbling, Tom watched in disbelief as the squid shifted and blurred. A wave washed over its carcass and when it had passed, only the pale, naked, and bleeding body of his wife remained.
“Oh my god! No!” Tom willed his arms, now nothing more than sacks of ice water, to reach over and pluck her from the sea before she sank. He struggled, grunting, whimpering and crying, racking sobs, as he pulled her into the boat and then collapsed. He held her dripping, limp and lolling head to his chest and squeezed her tightly.
His mind rebelled. Everything broke. And while he lay there, cradling his dead wife, free at last from the prison of illusion his mind had conjured, he remembered.
“Tom, my love. Take me to the secret harbor.”
“Why? It's dark already, and cold.”
“I have something I need to show you. Please. Let’s hurry.” Uncharacteristic sadness in those emeralds. Where did that come from?
“Hmmph. You're a funny girl. OK.” A wry smile. The soft shake of a head.
“I love it when you call me a girl. Makes me feel… young again.”
The slip of a boat through the water. She stared out over the bow the whole time.
“Here. Here is good. Now, come.” A sad, apprehensive smile, the pat of small hands on her lap.
“I have to show you something… My time is up.” Confusion.
“I want you to come with me. Come with me, my love. Please.” Confusion turning to fear. She stood, she jumped overboard.
Oh god. I see now. I couldn't see before! Faithless! You old fool! Grief. Grief unimaginable.
Her legs disappeared. Like a mermaid. No! Like a siren! Her legs were gone, in their place, a web of tentacles.
“Come with me, my love. Just jump in. We can be together, forever.”
I couldn't see it! I just couldn't see it! Oh god.
The sound of an approaching boat pulled him from the past.
Tom opened his bleeding eyes and saw the light of a boat approaching. A spotlight was waving back and forth, bobbing in time with the coming boat. The light cast from the mighty lamp connected with Tom's boat and halted its scan.
“There he is!” Tom heard a voice call out.
It was the voice of Detective Brister.
Tom looked down at his poor wife’s dead body in his lap.
“They're coming for me baby. No way out of this one.” He looked up and watched the boat slow as it got nearer. He could see the multiple silhouettes moving about on its deck.
“I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I wasn't strong enough to believe it. I screwed up, babe. Please forgive me.”
“That's him! He has the body! Holy shit!” Brister was shouting, the boat was close.
“Tom! Tom! Put your hands up where I can see them! Tom, Goddammit!” Sheriff Robert added to the shouting.
Tom rolled his wife's body off him as gently as possible and reached out a hand to brush the tangles of wet red hair from her face. He then leaned down and kissed her forehead one last time.
“I'm sorry. I wasn't strong enough to join you in life. But we can still be together in death. I'm sorry, my love.”
“Tom! Hands up. Now!” The police boat pulled up alongside Tom's and he heard the engine revving as whoever drove her slammed the engine in reverse to bring about a quick stop.
Never taking his eyes off his wife, Tom reached down to the deck and grabbed what lay there. The rifle needed to be re-chambered before it could be fired again, but they don't know that.
“Hands up! Now, Goddammit!”
“Sorry, Bob.” And with that last whispered statement, Tom stood up and raised the bolt-action towards the blinding light.
Multiple echoes of gunshots rang out over the icy harbor. They could be heard as far away as Haines, which was just then waking up. Tom didn't even feel pain as the half dozen bullets ripped through his chest. He smiled, relieved, and collapsed on the deck. Although the sun was rising behind the nearby mountains, his vision was fading to black. He managed to crawl the foot or so necessary to lay next to his wife, side by side, with his arm over her, as they had so many times before. All the pain, the anguish and the questions faded with his last breath. He had at last, found a small peaceful harbor in which to anchor his boat.
I'll see you soon, love.

B. Michael Stevens

B. Michael Stevens writes science fiction, fantasy, horror and weird fiction when he isn't busy working on his global escape plan. He lives in Texas with his wife and son in the Stevens House of Wayward Animals. He is currently in the rewrite phase of his first novel, book one of the No Gods, No Masters trilogy of future fantasy. Visit his website for updates at bmichaelstevens.com.


About the Editor:
Madeline L. Stout

Madeline L. Stout started writing when she was a little girl and completed her first full-length novel at the age of 15. Mostly, she loves creating fantasy worlds filled with beautiful creatures and strong heroines. When her husband insists she takes a break from writing, she enjoys reading and gaming. She started Fantasia Divinity to give back to the writing community and to help spread great stories. Madeline is the author of the children’s series Once Upon a Unicorn. Volume one will be available January 20th, 2017.

Visit her website to check out her latest projects.


Want to know more? Madeline is featured in an interview by Cathleen Townsend, where she discusses the magazine and her writing.