all content © 2013
One Year of Freedom Edition
Welcome one and all! to Beorh Quarterly, the Speculative Fiction magazine sharing with the world the very best stories out there!
In this fourth installment, we are proud to include “When Dead Men Dream,” a Sci-Fi piece by mystery aficionado Amy Pollard.
Following that master of the macabre, we are delighted to have Robin Wyatt Dunn aboard with his strange delicacy “Integration,” a brilliant work of dreamy weirdness that carries both hope and sadness.
J. S. Watts graces our pages in this issue with her smooth and thought-provoking work “The Painter and the Angel.”
I then bring you “Mariposa’s Purpose That Peculiar Day,” a tale which adds to the growing list of ‘odd children’ stories such as Jerome Bixby’s “It’s a Good Life” or the venerable Robert Bloch’s “Sweets to the Sweet” or Saki’s “The Penance” or William F. Nolan’s “Something Nasty.” This story is featured in my latest book Children & Other Wicked Things published by James Ward Kirk Fiction.
Renee Carter Hall evokes a world we all love—if we adore childhood at all, and long Summer nights, and electric dreams—with “The Longest Night of Summer,” a wistful and lovely tribute to all things speculative!
Scathe meic Beorh
When Dead Men Dream
a story by
No one knew the secret. No one had ever known. All this time, floating in the field of space, and no one had ever guessed it. Captain George Vladok smiled, peering at the champagne as it swished in his glass. It had been a wearisome twenty-six years of war, full of precarious battles and even more precarious treaties, but it was over now. It was over and still nobody knew the secret of The Avalon.
“To my victory!” he exclaimed, plopping onto the warm, plush couch in the corner of his room. Victory on the eve of the new year, 3001. How fitting. Gazing out the window by the control board, he lifted his finger as if to pluck each star that passed into view, glittering like diamonds set against black velvet. A drop of champagne spilled onto his velvet bathrobe; he stared incredulously at the dark blotch seeping over the cloth, only to sigh and nestle his head further into the cushion, letting the champagne course through him until his veins tingled. “To my victory,” he said, holding the glass to eye level before taking a sip. A harsh, rhythmic knock at the door jolted him. “Come in.”
Lieutenant Raza wore a frown as he marched into the room, the leather notebook tightly fixed between his arm and his side. “Reporting, sir!”
“At ease. Relax, for once,” Vladok said, stifling a yawn. “You’ve had a long day. Sit down. Pour yourself some champagne.”
“Thank you, sir,” said the lieutenant, falling stiffly onto a velvet-backed chair. He placed his notebook on the glass table, rattling the vase of electric roses, but did not touch the champagne. Instead, he sat on the edge of the chair, fidgeting with the hem of his jacket.
“Go ahead, Raza.” Vladok nodded toward the bottle. “You want some, don’t you? It tastes like it fermented in a rat’s nest, but it’s really all right—”
“Sir.” Raza’s face twitched. He cleared his throat. “It’s bad, isn’t it.” He nodded mechanically. “They think we’re going home, sir. They haven’t been told…” His cool voice struck the air as shards of glass on a cement pavement. “Soon enough, they’ll find out for themselves, like when we bypass Earth, and then—” His voice creaked. “Then we may have a mutiny on our hands, sir.”
“Well…” Vladok frowned as he rose from his couch. “We wouldn’t want that, would we, lieutenant? Thank you. I’ll see what I can do.”
As the captain’s gruff voice plummets out of the loudspeakers dotting the ship, I am standing with the other crew members, my stiff-collared uniform sticking to my skin like a bed sheet drenched in dog urine. Frank comes up to me; he slings his arm around my neck.
“Well, Duane, looks like the old man’s at it again. You can hear me, can’t you?” He gawks at my right ear, cocking his surly head to the side.
I cross my arms. “It’s the other one, stupid.”
“Oh…well, guess I should’ve known that,” he grunts. “Been in this hunk of metal too long, eh? Whatcha gonna do once we dock at home? I’m going to buy me an Italian ride and soak it up in a nice, bubbly Jacuzzi on an island somewhere.”
“Oh?” I tilt my head to hear the speakers better. The captain’s harsh, granular voice streams into my right ear. In my left one, only silence.
Frank jerks his head spasmodically. “Whatcha gonna do, once we dock?”
I turn on him with a scowl. “Buy a long, thick rope, hang it from a tree and wait for some ass to get tangled up in it.”
He starts to say something else but I tell him to shut up so I can hear the speaker. Not that our idiotic captain would have a thing to say.
“I regret to inform you, crew members of The Avalon, that we will not return home at this time. Earth’s atmosphere is experiencing a rapid increase in toxic gases that would prove detrimental to this vessel in mere milliseconds. I repeat, we are not returning home at this time. Lieutenant Raza will be accepting your money if you want to send a hologram home. Please know that all systems of our ship are under control and fully operational. A message has already been dispatched to Earth, announcing our intentions to orbit Mars until a solution can be found and we can safely reenter the Earth’s atmosphere. This broadcast terminates in three, two, one—over and out.”
Captain Vladok sank into his couch with a sigh. “There,” he exhaled, taking another sip of champagne. “That warning should be sufficient, don’t you think, Raza?”
“Indeed, sir,” declared Raza, gathering his notebook and rising from his chair. “If you would permit me, captain—”
“Yes, yes, lieutenant!” Vladok bellowed at length. “You are dismissed.”
The lieutenant turned, partially, only to halt at his captain’s voice. “Yes, sir?”
“Send for Private Tucker.”
“Yes, sir!” Raza replied. “Is that all, captain?”
“That’s all.” Captain Vladok watched the bubbles in his champagne glass fizz into iridescent foam around the lip of the glass. “Vladok, Vladok…George Vladok, you are a madman. You are a madman if you think you can pull this off.”
“Reporting, sir.” I raise my dirt-smudged hand in salute.
“Sit down, Tucker,” the captain grunts, pointing at a cushy chair.
I plop into the seat and sniff the electric roses. Wires…it’s always wires. Sighing, I lean back and wonder why I—out of all eighty-two electricians—had to be called. But even more mind-boggling is our avoidance of Earth. I know there’s something behind all of this. Something we haven’t been told. Not that I want to go back to Earth. I need this stale ship air. It’s the only thing to keep my lungs from getting all twisted from that smutty penitentiary air I inhaled so often back home. I frown when I think about the rest of the crew and how indignant they’ll be at the news that we’re not going back. They all have wives and children and space cars with their names on them on the home planet—unlike me.
The captain’s voice vaults me back to The Avalon. “Good, sir. All units are in top condition.”
“Tucker.” He punctuates my name with a chuckle and his eyes get all round, as if he’s talking to a goldfish in a bowl. “How many years have you worked the electrical unit—twelve?”
“Actually about nine years, sir.” I shift my position in the chair. He just sits and stares right through me. I hate it when he does that. Last time was just this past February, when I made some error with the hologram wiring. He lectured me for an hour about how the men missed their sweethearts and what right did I have, anyway, to spoil their relationships. I talked back and he got all red in the face. But he seems to have forgotten about that incident now—or, at least I think he has.
“Nine years…” He lowers his voice and leans forward on the couch. “I just hope this room isn’t bugged.”
“You’re the captain, sir,” I persist. “Don’t you have a say in what goes on?”
“Twenty six years…” he begins, slightly raising his eyebrows.
Oh god. Here it comes.
“Twenty-six years of scrapes and adventures with The Avalon. Some say that I have control of this vessel…and others say that I don’t. Maybe you’ve heard them talking. They’re saying it’s too much for an old crack like me, that I should just dock in the next port and get the hell out. But a secret keeps me here. A secret that they will never understand.” He rises to his feet, his brow furrowed as he concentrates on every word. The vase of roses seems to tremble. “When I was a young man, about your age, I fell in love. So heavenly, so beautiful a creature as Estrada never existed. Then war came. I was the first to be called away. Only a month after I’d been drafted, I found out she’d died in a space shuttle accident. I became full of rage—you know what I mean, don’t you.”
My vision blurs, and the odor of blood creeps back into my nostrils. Her blood. My body tenses. I was never trying to hurt Samantha. It was an accident. But there were no witnesses—in the end, they chose to boot me onto this cursed ship to get me out of the way, to make sure I didn’t “pluck any more lives” as that fire-mouthed judge put it. Why, the way they tagged and shipped me out here makes me look like some sort of foreign contaminant. I grimace and look up at the captain. He sees me. Worse than that, he sees right through me. Right through that dry, crusty layer of skin, to the cracked bones beneath.
With a sigh, the captain shifts his gaze to the crystal stars flitting by the window. “The war lasted only two months more. Then our enemies, from the Jupiter colony, surrendered their cause. But I was still devastated by the loss of Estrada, the only woman I’ve ever loved. My grief was so rabid that I searched the galaxy until I found an engineer who had the skills necessary to mold my conscience to the hull of this ship. That’s when the secret began. Any bit curious, Tucker?” His lips stretch into a smile. “That’s why I accepted your application for an orbit penalty. You seemed the resolute, headstrong type. Just like I was.” His eyes assume a wretched glow as they hone in on me. “But more than that, you and I understand each other.” He rolls up the sleeve of his bathrobe and brings his arm into my field of vision.
“Sir?” I see nothing but a man’s arm, flat and a little stubbly, desolate as a desert road. But I look again and see a tiny gray memory chip with a yellow blinker, wedged into a rectangular socket underneath his elbow.
“I’ve watched you, Tucker.” The color seems to drain from his face as he taps a finger on the memory chip. “These nine years I’ve watched and waited and dreamed. Now it is time. I have found you. My successor.”
“What?” A rush of blood surges through me, jarring my insides apart. “I’m an electrician, sir, not a captain! I could never—”
“This duty is not without rewards,” he continues smugly. “You will feel no anger, no pain…no sorrow, no grief…no shame, no despair …in fact, Private Tucker, you won’t feel anything at all.”
I gape at the little gray chip. All else flips to the back of my mind. “It can do that for you?”
“That, and more,” returns the captain. “Take it out, Tucker. Take it out and see what I’m truly made of.”
Never to breathe, never to feel. For years I’ve dreamed about it—about forgetting the scream, the gunshot, the smattering of blood on the wall. That freezing, blustery day outside the courthouse when I got the news about my orbit penalty on The Avalon. The moment the dogs shoved me into this rusty hunk of old metal and I never again saw sunlight. These memories will mean nothing once the chip is installed. No chip, no regrets. Only numbness, as soon as that gray chip is in me. This is what I want. This is what I’ve always wanted. My fingers trembling, I grasp the memory chip and slide it out of the captain’s arm.
Captain Vladok jerked sideways, tumbling onto the floor. His champagne glass exploded to bits. Fizz engulfed him in a stream of tears—or were they tears? Vladok winced, able to feel them now, grating against his pallid gray cheeks like slabs of rusty metal. His hands flailing ahead of him, he groped for support. His skin burned with Estrada’s touch, the gentle, silky hair between his fingers. Paralysis gripped his legs, rooting him to the floor. The badges on his suit clinked as he rolled onto his back, coughing loudly. For the first time he could see, truly see, what was around him. The private was hovering over him with a slight contortion to his otherwise stiff, rigid face. Vladok felt his arm loosen and he grimaced. Sorrow and happiness blended together in his mind, ebbing and flowing like the ocean back home. Home. He could see her, standing by the seashore, her hair braided and bowed. As the image dissipated, Captain Vladok stared up at the cold, callous face above him, his stomach churning. The buzz and commotion of the ship faded and his field of vision seemed to sift away, particle by particle, as ashes sprinkling into the sea, mixing with the foam and froth.
My jaw unravels. All this time, cruising the realm of stars, and I’d never really seen him till now. That gray, sickly bag of bones; that long, spiked nose and those peg-like teeth are all that remains of our captain. The memory chip moistens in my palm. Never to breathe, never to feel. I lift the chip to my arm only to pause. Is this truly what I want?
The control board at the end of the captain’s quarters makes a faint clicking noise. I gulp and tell myself not to be a fool. About to fuse the chip into my arm, I freeze as the voice on the speaker blurts out, “Auto drive disengaged. Spacecraft to self-destruct in ten, nine, eight…”
It is now or never. Unless the memory chip finds a new bearer, The Avalon is history. I swallow. No more feeling for me. It’s all over. Already the numbness writhes up through my throat, making me choke. The ship sways and I almost lose my hold on the chip. As I squeeze my palm around it, I glimpse the captain’s body through the champagne bottle and I hesitate. Is this truly what I want? Is that who I’ll become? A dead man, bound to this ship for all eternity?
“Seven, six, five…”
The chip falls out of my hand and cracks on the floor. Dashing to the control panel, I bang on whatever buttons are the biggest and the brightest. I want to live. I want to breathe. I want to feel.
The buttons aren’t going. But the lights and speakers and everything else on this blasted ship is. The ceiling starts to crumble as the ship rocks side to side and rapidly changes speed.
Damn that voice! Why won’t it shut up? I make one last round of the buttons, a grisly, pulsating desperation tearing at me, but nothing happens. It is over. I am done for. The crew is done for. This whole godforsaken ship is done for.
A tear attacks my cheek. I curl up on the floor and cup my ears like a little boy hiding under the bedcovers after a nightmare. I’m not a religious man; I know I’m really scared once I start praying.
Let me live. Let me breathe. Let me feel.
“Spacecraft is go for self-destruct.”
My heart beats once, beats again. I don’t want it to stop. I want to live. I want to breathe. I want to—
Amy Pollard is a poet, writer, and student. Her poetry has appeared in publications such as Emerge Literary Journal, Eunoia Review and The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly. In her spare time, she drinks coffee, makes music and browses used bookstores. For more information, visit amyspen.blogspot.com
a story by
Robin Wyatt Dunn
Dancing is eternal.
Under the watchful eyes of their cacogen neighbors hovering above, the children dervishes whirled and smiled and laughed, their dresses spinning outwards like tops, white and red and yellow across the Plaza of the Divines in late summer, in the fifth year of the reign of the Raj Broadfort.
“They’re dancing!’ cried Meredith, her small face turned upwards towards the sky. And they were, spinning through the air along with the children.
“Hush!” said Evelyn, her neighbor. “Just be quiet!”
“Look at them!”
“They’re bad,” she said with a hiss.
Two adults watched, one in blue and one in grey, their eyes narrow and their bodies stiff. It was a like a wake.
Thomas whirled too. He whirled faster than the others. He whirled so fast that he was out of rhythm a little, or rather, his rhythm was syncopated. He whirled to fight away the whole city, to escape the coming civil war.
The man in grey took out a gadget and looked at it; it analyzed the childrens’ gaits, sorting malleable from non. Those who could work well with cacogens were his business.
“Beautiful isn’t it, Tepper?” he said. The other said nothing.
As the craft spinning above circled lower, towards the children, the small dervishes arced out in response, forming curved patterns that strung out from the locus of the craft, like petals of a flower.
“Don’t you want to meet them, Ev?” Meredith cried to her neighbor.
“Meet them, Ev!”
In truth the children were already firm in the convictions of their parents, like children everywhere and when, proudly offering up nativist and neo-interstellar arguments in class like the best of debaters, not knowing a word of what they said. But they knew it was serious business; that was enough.
Thomas whirled till the moment of touchdown and then he ran, lifting his skirts and sprinting towards the river. He loved the aliens but he hated the feeling he had now: forced to choose, he would rather swim, though it would mean he could attend school no longer.
The craft settled to the ground. All the children’s eyes were wide as their cacogen neighbors stuck out their heads and bodies, performing their centuries-old obeisances to the endoskeletal organisms, humans, that had dominated this planet.
All the children could feel the love of these ugly things, and each knew what they had to do: smile or frown, bow in welcome or cross their arms and turn aside, and so they did.
The adults watched carefully, noting the details of the ritual.
Tepper was crying.
“What is it, man?”
But he only shook his head and stared ahead at the children gathered around the landing craft. Finally he spoke:
“My grandfather fought them. He wanted them all dead. Still when I see them I want them dead too.”
“Why are you crying?”
“Because they’re beautiful.”
Evelyn stepped up the ramp of the ship, watching the huge grey and blue insect quiver with its huge eyes.
“Hi!” she cried out, and it hummed back through its translator: “Hi!
Hi hi!” and Evelyn smiled. “What’s your name?”
Meredith’s mother had already come to collect her—taking her firmly by the hand, she led her daughter home. Meredith did not wave goodbye.
From above, the figures on the Plaza of the Divines described a wolf-flower, a plant native to this world whose spiral seeds could travel for a thousand miles on the wind. As the children scattered for recess like seeds, it began to rain.
Robin Wyatt Dunn lives in The Town of the Queen of the Angels, El
Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, in Echo Park. He is 33 years old.
The Painter and The Angel
a story by
J. S. Watts
There was a painter, in times gone by, but not so many times and not so long gone that his hopes and his dreams were that different from yours or mine.
He was a quiet man, his focus always on the line and the point of contact with the surface. Although still relatively young, he no longer had a wife; the one he did have having wandered off one day when he was focussed on the line’s perfection. It did not worry him unduly. The only thing that mattered to him was the truth and his ability to paint it. He had never felt the need to paint his wife and so her departure was less consequential to him than the sun going down. He spent many hours studying sunsets and sunrises in order to better capture the truth of their light.
On this particular day he was once again trying to find the right shade of light to wrap around an angel. He had been working on the angel for sometime. Indeed, the painting was well on the way to completion, but the light that he was seeking to do justice to the angel was eluding him. The dying notes of sundown were too melancholy for the hope he had painted in its eyes and he was struggling to find the right balance between the blinding purity of sunrise and the later clarity of a morning’s pure water light.
He stared yet again into the dazzling rays of the sun, searching for inspiration, when the sun, it seemed to him, stepped down from the sky and walked towards him. He blinked through watering eyes to find the face of his angel smiling at him.
What do you say to a descended angel?
“Hello to you.”
There was a deep silence that felt as if it was infinite.
“Do you want something from me?”
A further pause and then the angel spoke in a voice that sounded like bird song on an early spring morning.
“You called me.”
“The very act of creation calls us.”
“Elements of the Host.”
He didn’t, but that no longer mattered. He had his angel. He was seeing it with his own eyes. Now he could truly paint the truth of it.
“May I paint you?”
“If you wish” and he did.
The angel was patience and sat for the artist as if he was sitting for all eternity. At some stage she said,
“I do not wish to disturb your act of creation, but I am curious. If you can answer without ceasing your labours, will you respond to a question that I will put to you?”
“Surely. If I can.”
“You are poor and you hunger, not for the food you have denied yourself, but for recognition for your creations. If you had a choice, which would you rather have: acclaim and recognition only within your lifetime or the praise of ages, but only after you have died?”
“A combination of the two isn’t possible?”
“No. I think not. Fame in your lifetime will come quickly and bathe you in transient glory, but will fade like the wake of a shooting star. Recognition of your creations’ soul will take longer than you have to give, but will hang in the heavens for centuries like a burning sun.”
“So I have to choose. How hypothetical, or otherwise, is your question?”
“Yes you do and, I think, it is otherwise.”
The artist paused and thought. He was hungry, both for recognition and for the food he hadn’t eaten in days. He knew what he painted was good, but part of him yearned for the acclaim he had so far been denied and the money to buy food and life’s basic comforts that would go with it. He looked at the painting of his angel, over which he had sweated his soul. He wanted to hear its truth acknowledged, but he wanted, most of all, to spend yet more time on it, to make it perfect.
“What will happen to my work?”
“That will depend upon your choice. If you choose fame that you will know, the works you create will be bought from you by the fashionable and wealthy and will hang on their walls until after you have died. You will know happiness and success and die a reasonably wealthy man, but once you have died your paintings will fade into oblivion, just as your corruptible remains will crumble into the soil. Both will soon disappear from this world.”
“And if I do not choose to know my fame?”
“You will create nothing more after this painting. You will die just as you are now, unknown and in poverty, but as your mortal remains rot your reputation will grow and the truth of your work will finally be fully recognised. Your memory will be praised throughout the World and your paintings will last longer than the walls they first hang on.”
“But at least I will be able to look down on all of this from Heaven?”
“You will be dead and in your grave.”
“But then I will be in Heaven? There is an afterlife, isn’t there?”
“I could not say.”
The artist paused thoughtfully for a very long time. The angel sat on. Eventually the artist said,
“What you say confounds me. I do not wish to understand it. What I do wish to do is reveal your eternal truth on this canvas. I know nothing beyond that.”
“Then that is what you shall do”, she said and he sat on some more while the painter continued to work the painting to such a degree that it seemed as if the birds sang within it, as on an early spring morning. When it was finished to the painter’s satisfaction he knew he had created a masterpiece and became light headed with pride and said,
“I want the world to love this painting as much as I do and to see your truth within it. I want generations yet to walk upon the Earth to know you.”
The angel said,
“Amen” and he rose with a cavernous clap of her wings into the dazzling fire of the sun. The painter watched until he could watch no more and then lay down exhausted at the foot of the painting.
They came too late the next morning and found his cold and wasted corpse still in the same position. He looked as if had not eaten for weeks rather than days.
They took his body and buried it in an unmarked pauper’s grave, but they were moved to tears by the pity in the eyes of the angel and could not bear to part with the painting. They hung it on the church wall to marvel at and, in due course, others came to marvel too and also at his other paintings. Time passed and the wall on which they first hung the painting crumbled, but the painting was rehung as often as need be and the look of pity continued to burn in the eyes of the angel upon the passing generations that came to look upon it.
J. S. Watts lives and writes in the flatlands of East Anglia in the U.K. Her poetry, short fiction and book reviews appear in a variety of publications in Britain , Canada, Australia and the States including: Abandoned Towers, Danse Macabre, Mslexia, Silver Blade and Visionary Tongue and have been broadcast on BBC and Independent Radio. A poetry collection, “Cats and Other Myths” and a pamphlet, “Songs of Steelyard Sue”, are published by Lapwing Publications. Her first novel, “A Darker Moon” is published in the US and the UK by Vagabondage Press. Further details at: www.jswatts.co.uk
Mariposa’s Purpose That Peculiar Day
a story from ‘Children & Other Wicked Things’ by
Scathe meic Beorh
When I saw Mariposa swinging around the light pole in the grassy median of our neighborhood avenue—being nothing more than a narrow Victorian street made even narrower with the addition of the attractive median—I didn’t take much notice of her. She had gone out to play an hour before, and I assumed that she had found an absence of neighborhood girls who were likely out with their parents to shop or picnic—it being a gorgeous early Autumn weekend—and had decided to play alone for a while. Usual. I did that all the time as a kid. She was within range of my voice. Too, being a median-split dead end, Avery Circle was about as safe as a street could be. Satisfied about our daughter’s wellbeing, I focused my concern elsewhere, and soon had the beginnings of a new painting on canvas. After another hour, I again looked out the front picture window. Mariposa was still swinging around the light pole, clockwise, smooth, unhurried, smiling—her eyes closed. I thought it might be a great time to step out and check up on our ten-year-old.
“What are you doing, sweetheart?”
“Making this lamppost disappear.”
“Oh,” I said, amused. “That sounds like a good plan for a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Getting hungry?”
“No thanks. Breakfast is still in there.”
“Oh I see. Alright. Well, come inside when you get hungry, and we’ll have burritos.”
“Where’s dad?” Mariposa said as she continued her swing around the light.
“Wondering where you are, I imagine.”
“Oh. Well please tell him that as soon as I’m done with this pole, I’ll be in and help him edit his magazine or something. Will you? It shouldn’t be too much longer now.”
For some reason I took a good look at the pole to see if Mariposa was indeed wearing it down to nothing as she swirled, but then I got hold of myself, laughed off the neurosis, and went back to work on my painting.
An hour later, I looked out again, this time at the front door. Somebody was barbequing. The scent was delightful—almost intoxicating. Mariposa was still swinging around the pole. Alright, I whispered to myself, enough’s enough.
“Sweetheart!” I said in a loud enough voice for her to hear me across our yard and into the middle of the street. “Darling, why don’t you come in now? I know you’re having fun, but…”
“Mom! I’m almost done! Look at the clock and give me five minutes! Five more minutes is all I need!”
I turned to the grandfather clock in our foyer and noted the time. “Alright, Mariposa. Five minutes and counting!”
And then the world I had always known, had always believed to be reality, was distorted into something new… and terrible. My legs turned to dry twigs. I fell hard to my knees, my eyes riveted to our daughter and the light pole in the median sprinkled with gorgeous October leaves. As Mariposa swung around and around, the object of her intense concern began to shake, as if it were a blade of grass in a breeze, or maybe a stick somebody had stuck only a little way into the ground. I tried to call for Elgin—my husband—but the sound that came out was like a scream underwater, and clearly only heard by me because our next door neighbor Mr. Akins was raking leaves on our shared property line and didn’t look up, and Mariposa kept swinging—something I know she wouldn’t have kept doing if she heard a scream. The light post continued to quiver, and then it began to vibrate and thin out until it looked like a giant toothpick. “Mariposa!” This time I made no sound at all. I felt hot tears running down my cheeks. I could see that our daughter was in no danger, but the idea that she had somehow developed the power to affect a lamppost horrified me. I felt icy all the way to the center of my body. I felt as if I would pass out any second, or even pass away.
“Mom! See? I told you! Look at the clock! Is it five minutes yet?”
I couldn’t turn my head. I didn’t want to anyway. All I wanted to do was stare at the place where the light had been—the solid, sturdy place in the middle of the street just one plot down from ours and directly across from the Johnson’s front yard.
“Mom! Now I have a light pole for my dollhouse! Tomorrow I’m going to find one of those beautiful Rolls Royce cars, and next weekend I need a dog. Maybe a sheepdog. Do you think a sheepdog would be nice, Mommy?”
Scathe meic Beorh is the author of Children & Other Wicked Things, a new collection of stories published by James Ward Kirk Fiction, 2013.
The Longest Night of Summer
a story by
Renee Carter Hall
The mechanic is slender, with skin the color of smoke, and he smells of oil and hot metal. Greasy rags hang out of every pocket, and there is no name stitched on his coveralls. His step is light, but his eyes are solemn. He looks like the sort of man who might whistle as he walks through the carnival grounds this night, when all the rides are dark and silent. But he is silent too.
He passes the kiddie roller coaster that was rattling on the far turn today. It’s none of his concern. The swing with the grinding gears doesn’t merit a glance. His gaze is fixed on the painted horses of the carousel, on the OUT OF ORDER sign hanging on the chain across the entrance. He unhooks the chain and passes through. When he sets his toolbox on the platform, a hollow clank echoes. He doesn’t open it.
Now his eyes are alight, eager, and he walks from one horse to another, speaking softly, a language of murmur and whisper, touching a nose here, a flank there, running hands down the carved legs. From far beyond the grounds, far beyond the night, come echoes of whinnies and stamping hooves. He speaks their names to them again: Alidor, Fleethoof, Wind’s-heart, Keshla. Under his hands, the wood shudders, like the fly-twitch of a horse’s hide, but that is all they are allowed.
He polishes their saddles and bridles, the paint brightening under his rag. He feels them soothe again, for a while. It’s hard on all of them, hardest on him. Only when they have circled a thousand times a thousand will they be free again, and that is many years away. For now, they will run and leap on their poles, snort and prance only in the fancies of their riders.
“Patience,” he whispers, stuffing the rag back into his pocket, “patience,” the word a comfort, a benediction.
He unhooks the OUT OF ORDER sign and places it carefully aside. The night smells of mud and metal and frying oil, popcorn butter and burnt sugar, but for a moment the breeze carries the scent of flowers that bloom in an endless spring, of sweet grass in sunlight and rich, ancient earth.
“Patience,” he whispers again. He picks up his toolbox and walks back through the grounds. He still looks like the sort of man who might whistle, but the night is silent, and so is he.
Renee Carter Hall works as a medical transcriptionist by day and as a writer, poet, and artist all the time. Her short fiction has appeared in a variety of publications, including Strange Horizons, Black Static, Daily Science Fiction, and the Anthro Dreams podcast. She lives in West Virginia with her husband, their cat, and a ridiculous number of creative works-in-progress. Readers can find her online at http://www.reneecarterhall.com/