Iulia Halatz – All roads lead to Rome

 

Ellen Rogers 2

All roads lead to Rome

All roads lead to Rome
and poetry
-Delmore Schwartz

All words lead to Love
And the poetry in the afterLove

I wish I wrote poems
For the dreamers of barren lands.
They do not go to Rome
They go to places
That cannot be.

Maybe love is a colorless, odorless
shapeless haze
We see through
with the eyes of
the bricked sky,
pathless oceans
walled shrubberies
streeted lunarian trails
breathing and tingling
scents
In the perfect nightmare
of flowers…
Vines reward our sun
with the sweetness
of grapes
wedded in perpetuity with
the linear shades of amber.

From the Good Place
Where joy is an illumination
To the Place that Cannot Be
They would have worn
The silver claw
of the Moon
above their heads
nightly
daily
musingly
vibrantly….
Art by Ellen Rogers.

Iulia Halatz

“Writing is an Iron Tale, must be tough and sincere to the core of human perception of pain as valor. I am the grumpy T-Rex who started writing out of pain, not because of a polished world. Writing out of love is painless and herbivore. As we sometimes taste blood, ours or others’. Nevertheless, some words are so expensive that we are better left with them unspoken or write them with the ink of a Ghost…” She is a teacher, small entrepreneur and cyclist.

 

 

Queenie- Lois Linkens

White slip of night at the shore,

And the fox-eyed pebbles wink at

The cold pearl moon. The freshwater stream,

Like silver silk

Heralds the flush of the waves, the bubbling spits

Of the shallows, stones like eyes, stones like saucers,

Like griddle cakes. There comes a woman,

Without a coat, silver-wax shoulders studded

With gooseflesh. She walks,

Toward the black water and the night-worms

Hear her singing, overhead her socked feet damp

And bottoms gritty,

A soft knitted invasion.

There is a country, far beyond the stars

 

Her red hat

Like a herring on a line sways with her

Narrow peg shoulders

And the sea

Is tar on her woollen toes.

 

 

Lois is a poet and student from England. She is studying the literature of the Romantics and hopes their values and innovations will filter through into her own work. She is working on longer projects at present, with a hope to publish poetry collections and novels in the years to come. She is a feminist, an nostalgic optimist, and a quiet voice in the shadows of Joanne Baillie and Charlotte Smith. It is a pleasure to present her work, and you can find more of it at Lois E. Linkens.

Heavy Petting – Mitch Green

 

heavy petting b & w

Shallow are the hands –
black in boiling fire.

The voyeur.
The purgatory.
The amateur.

It is on the brow of overcast.
A blip of blue and yellow swelling.
A fever; summer gold.

The adolescent.
The animal.
The drifter.

Small talk by clumsy voices,
wading the quiver. A crystal
girl clouding glass.

The chimera.
The beggar.
The river.

Shallow are the fields –
purging purgatory to the voyeur, while
the amateur and the beggar drown
the drifter in the river.

The pleasure
The sour lotus.
The bloom.

The adolescent animal eats the chimera.
Her boiling black hands; summer gold.

-fin


Mitch Green founded Rad Press Publishing in September of 2016. He is an avid artist in visual design and literature. Published in various literary journals and magazines: The Literary Yard. The Penmen Review. Vimfire Magazine – Mitch aims to seize the narrow line between all artistic mediums.

A few of his known poetic titles are: “Flesh Phoenix” “Monsters” “The Wolves Howled”.

Offering his hand in graphic direction – his book design portfolio can be found here.
Follow Mitch and Rad Press Publishing on Instagram.

 

And The Winners Are. . .

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In November of 2018, the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective announced its first Short Story Contest centered around the theme ‘Things Would Never Be The Same.’  We received 129 submissions from around the globe with incredibly diverse interpretations of the theme.

We took these submissions very seriously, going through not one, not two, but three rounds of judging that included publishing our 11 finalists on Sudden Denouement.  We thank everyone who read, liked, commented, shared, and voted on these fine pieces of writing.

We are pleased to announce our winners!

1st place:

Basilike Pappa – No More Than You Can Salt

2nd place: Wes Trexler – All Caps, No Spaces

3rd place: Stephanie Clark – The Chasm &

C.G. Thompson – Lies

Honourable Mentions:

Allister Nelson – Unholy Communion &
Riley Mayes – Las Luchadoras

Upon This Hill – Christine E. Ray

upon this hill 2

From Anthology Volume I: Writings from the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective, available on Amazon, Book Depository, Barnes & Noble online, and other major online book retailers

the pages of
the calendar
remain unchanged
old
outdated
too much effort
required
to remove it
from the wall
I no longer wear
a watch upon my
pale wrist
no need to measure
minutes
hours
by the passing
of a hand
before my face
hourglass sand
trickles grain by grain from
fractured glass bulb
onto the copper table
I write my name
upon the surface
a eulogy
time has gained
a boneless quality
become a black sea
I no longer swim in
a twilight land
where stunted sunflowers
dwarf versions
of their former selves
strain on anxious stalks
reach for stingy rays
of an indifferent sun
their petiolate leaves
grab hungrily
at my bare feet
calves
anchor me in place
I stand frozen
for an eternity
before I sink slowly
silently
into cool loam
my pockets
lined with pain
stuffed with
memory shards
fragments of dreams
the fragrance
of crushed rosemary
lemon balm
weigh me down
I am so tired
so very tired
it is so lovely here
I surrender
to the stillness
the peace
this moment offers
and I. . .
let go
my blood will
water these flowers
the calcium of my bones
will nourish this soil
tender new shoots
will wrap around the
trellis of my ribs
new life will
flourish here
butterflies
luna moths
adorn this burial mound


You can find Christine lurking about Brave and Reckless and Indie Blu(e) Publishing.  She is the author of Composition of a Woman and The Myths of Girlhood.

SD Short Story Contest Finalist: Empirical Miracles – James Ph. Kotsybar

Empiracal Miracle

The magician on the television invited his audience to discern how he worked his prestidigitation. Lying on his stomach in front of the screen, Little Timmy propped himself higher on his elbows. He was eager to learn.

The magician said, ”Belief is the key.”

So Timmy sat up and drew close to watch belief. The magician had already told him that the hand was quicker than the eyes, so Timmy took this as a clue and decided to pay attention to eyes of the magician. He knew magic happened quickly and he had seen close-up magic before and never learned anything about how the trick was done by watching the hands of a prestidigitator.

This time, however, he learned the vital secret, he thought, to the performance of magic. By watching the magicians face and eyes, Timmy realized what this performer was actually doing. He was acting! All his dramatic gestures were actually just helping him to get into the role he was playing. Showmanship, he realized was just convincing yourself that what you were doing was real. The magician was just a kind of actor who claimed to possess abilities, until he believed it, even if, at first, it was a lie. He could hypnotize his assistant into floating in midair, and he could hypnotize himself into making things appear and disappear.

Timmy began to practice belief, hypnotizing himself into a strong state of pretend. Then he originated his own flamboyant gestures for revealing the results. He thought that this probably helped the audience believe the lie as well. If everyone watching also expected magic to happen then it would. He was like a lightning rod that then channeled all their belief into a result.

The first step was to hypnotize himself into a strong state of pretend. Then he found that his dramatic gestures actually made things happen.

The first time Timmy attempted the trick, he found that he could restore something torn. He practiced for polish, to make it slick, to stand up to potential sibling scorn.

Although he and his brother got on well, he and his sister were at constant war. To “show her,” it would have to be, “real swell,” but this was magic that she couldn’t ignore, or so he thought, but when he went to her with his magic, she wouldn’t even look, until he tore the candy-bar wrapper.

Then, all she asked about was if he took the candy from Mom’s special hiding place and warned he’d be in trouble and disgrace.

And then she ran off to tattle on him.

He should have known this was what Donna would do, that his chance of impressing her was slim, but there was something, right now, that he knew was going to happen unless he could get rid of the candy-bar confetti. Donna would make sure he’d “get punished good.” Theft from Mom’s hiding place was not petty.

He closed his eyes and focused his belief that he could make the pieces disappear, then sprinkled them like a crushed autumn leaf. They fell from one hand to … no longer here. Though Timmy couldn’t say where they had gone, it was a lifesaving phenomenon!

He lied, of course, and said she’d made it up. Since Mom could find no evidence, he won; but Donna was entirely fed-up and vowed revenge upon him “for this one.”

“It’s your fault for being a tattletale,” he told her, “and you missed the magic trick.”

But Donna insisted she wouldn’t fail to make him suffer, if it made her sick.

Timmy took his magic act on the road to his brother’s room where he thought there’d be at least a less dramatic episode if not a better audience to see all the tricks that he was learning to do and this wisdom he’d begun to accrue. Though busy with term papers, Don agreed to watch a few minutes of Timmy’s tricks. Don loved Timmy and knew how he could plead and how relentlessly he could transfix. His experience with Timmy taught him, if he gave-in quickly, work resumed. Besides he needed the break, so he thought, and this would be amusing, he assumed.

So little Timmy, unaided by props or magical apparatus, performed a magic act that took out all the stops and left his older brother quite transformed.

“I don’t believe my sanity is gone; the kid’s performing real magic,” thought Don.

A thousand thoughts at once inside his head made him feel both euphoric and dizzy. He recalled what their Dad had always said:
“When you feel overwhelmed, just get busy.”

First, he’d have to think through priorities, and calming down was his first choice and then maybe he should call the authorities. But, might Timmy be made a specimen? This, assuming anyone believed him – either crazy or a comedian is what they’d prob’ly think. No, it looked grim, unless his brother could do it again. That’s it! He’d have to gather evidence before he’d get anyone’s confidence.

He’d need another witness, and why not drag Sally into this, since she possessed the video equipment he did not. Besides, she was his “Damsel-Never-Stressed.” If anyone could calmly reason out a situation this bizarre, surreal, it would be Sally without any doubt. There wasn’t a thing he couldn’t reveal to her. She’d always react calmly and rationally and in perfect control – all of her emotions kept well in hand.

“Who am I trying to fool with this rigmarole?” he thought. “When she hears, she’ll scream, suspect alcohol, or worse. Even she’s not that calm a soul.”

More immediately, what should he say to the six-year-old wizard before him? He decided it best to gain delay from this blue-eyed, towheaded cherub grim, who’d suddenly grown burdensome, but was still his brother. He also knew he wouldn’t want to see the heart attack this would give their mother, if sprung upon her as surprisingly.

“Timmy, can I make a few suggestions? Your tricks are great, but your routine could be worked on. I want to get this on camera, with an interview. Can I ask you a few questions about what you can do and how, maybe? And would you mind waiting before you play magician for anyone else today?”

With promises that Timmy was to star in a video of his magic act, Don got agreement and dashed to his car, but Timmy had missed the spirit of their pact. He’d agreed there’d be no demonstration, but not that he wouldn’t continue to practice and indulge his exploration of his special talents and what he could do.

Because of her revenging persistence, Donna gave him the opportunity to use his powers with impunity – that is to say, it was in self-defense.

She tried to mount one of her sneak attacks, and Timmy simply froze her in her tracks.

“Hypothermia,” the doctor called it, “I’m glad we could successfully revive her, but I quite frankly have to admit that she’s very lucky to be alive.
“The cold source with which she came in contact was so quick that no ice crystals were formed; all her internal organs are intact. Don’t ask me how this could have been performed.

“And though we’d like to keep her overnight, just thank God,” continued Dr. Brady, “she should suffer only minor frostbite. Your daughter’s a determined young lady, and should heal very quickly without scar, but I’ve never had a case this bizarre.”

By the time that Don and Sally arrived, everyone at home had already left. Mom phoned to tell him Donna had survived.

Of senses, voice and wit Don felt bereft. “O.K., Mom, I’ll see you when you get home,” was the only response he could muster; his faculties went somewhere out to roam, his mouth was dry and his eyes went lackluster.

Sally shook him to tell her what occurred.

Don tried to accommodate her demand, but his breath was short and his vision blurred, and he found himself unable to stand. Although he had never fainted before, he next was being picked-up off the floor.

***

The social workers interviewed the clan and found no indications of abuse. Donna couldn’t recall how it began, and how she quick-froze no one could deduce. Though there was gossip in the neighborhood, it died out quickly since it made no sense – vague suppositions no one understood, outside the realm of their experience.

Since Sally hadn’t really seen a thing, and Don didn’t insist that it was real, she let it go — no point in worrying — just term-paper stress she thought, no big deal.

Don spoke about responsibility to Timmy on his new ability:
“I don’t think you realize what’s at stake, Timmy; this was more than just a scandal. I mean, what if Donna had died? For God’s sake, is that something you think you could handle?”

Don was new to this sort of tutelage. He’d learned this “scared straight” tactic from their Dad, but he didn’t consider Timmy’s age.

Timmy knew that what he had done was bad, and his tendency was to misconstrue. In all earnestness to Don, he forswore: “Until I grow up and get smart like you, I wish I can’t do magic any more.”

And as surely as if he had cast a magic spell, his paranormal powers bid farewell.

***

Faced with the bright blaze of birthday candles, Tim focused on his wish and, for its sake, took a deep breath, so that he could handle the
conflagration on his birthday cake. Twenty-one today, college undergrad, well-balanced, focused, mature for his age, he had worked hard for all that he now had, even his humor — fun-loving but sage.

Though he wouldn’t reveal what he’d wished for (since that’s part of what makes a wish come true), if his guests had guessed, Tim’s wish was far more than any would dare guess that he could do.

Past wonders he’d performed would soon seem tame. Tim knew that things would never be the same.

And from somewhere (or when), confetti fell – small bits of candy-wrapper, strewn pell-mell.


Chosen for special recognition by NASA, James Ph. Kotsybar is the first poet to be published to another planet. His haiku currently orbits Mars aboard the MAVEN spacecraft, appears in the mission log of The Hubble Space Telescope, and was featured at NASA’s Centaur Art Challenge at IngenuityFest, Ohio. He was featured speaker at the 2018 EuroScience Open Forum in France and invited to return to the next ESOF2020 in Italy.

Most recently he has had poems published in The Bubble, Askew, The Society of Classical Poets, LUMMOX Press, Sixfold, Mason’s Road, Encore and Scifaikuest, and has received honors from The State Poetry Society of Michigan and the Balticon 48 Poetry Competition. He especially enjoys science poetry, because of its extended shelf-life.

SD Short Story Contest Finalist: Unholy Communion – Allister Nelson

Unholy Communion 6

Sister Philadelphia lit the candles in the vestibule and inhaled the rich incense wafting from the church.  The pews were empty, and darkness yawned across the altar, its maw stretching up to the crucifix where an impaled Savior grinned arcanely at his dismemberment.   The flames drew out the stained glass window and outside, an early snow.  Sister Philadelphia heard a crow caw in the dripping pine, and she gathered her habit and red shawl around her shoulders as she fared the evening twilight and flakes of ice in the withering sky out to her small cell.  Her sisters were fast asleep, tired out from worship, and she had had the evening shift on All Soul’s Eve.  Sister Philadelphia gave a happenstance glance at the graveyard, full of weeping angels, and she imagined them singing alleluias in weeping Christ’s passion.  How crucifixes and the crutches of Saint Lazarus and wounds of Mary Magdalene, though only of the heart, were strange soliloquies on temptation.  It was said Christ harrowed Hell, and Sister Philadelphia was always afraid of the darkness, but so she braved the closing shift, shut the doors of the church, and entered the convent.  Just a few footfalls walk to the end of the hall, her boots crunching snow, until she drew out a skeleton key and opened her cell.  Inside, a small bed, a tiny nightstand with a Bible, and a candlestick.

A chill passed over the room as her boots, thoroughly soaked through and clinging with orange leaves, were taken off.  The vents let in the warm air from the fire in the main hall and she arrayed them so they directed their heat at her bed.  Shivering, she gathered herself and turned to the Gospels, her candle drawing out a facsimile of a smile from the cross on her wall.  She tucked herself into her blankets and read over John miming the verses and parables on her memorized tongue.  It was her favorite.  She had always been an outcast in her small Rostock village for so loving study, in a time when women shouldn’t read and were expected to suckle babes then turn dirt in an early grave, half-sick from motherhood and needlework and butter churning.  No, she chose the sisterhood, if only to learn to read.  The rest of the trappings, from Christ to the Masses, she wasn’t too sure about.

Suddenly, a knock at the door, only she was dressed in her linen night shift.  She gathered her skirts, smoothed her dark hair, and peered out the lock with eyes like amber bezels.

Darkness, writhing darkness, and beneath that, boiling red.  Wicked heat came from the door’s entrance, like the furnace of a hellmouth.

Sister Philadelphia opened the door to find herself face to face with a man of red skin, ram horns, fineries she had never seen yet plain in the dress like some respectable nobleman, dripping gold from his pointed ears, and curled black locks oiled to shine boot polish bright.

He grinned like a cat arching its back.  “Sister, I’m cold, would you but let me warm myself in your blankets?”

His eyes were infernos.  All yellow heat and slit iris.

She would have screamed, but it died in her throat, and the Devil takes no prisoners, only the willing.

She saw the chance to test what the priests and sisters taught her.  A devilish chance, as it were, but scripture nonetheless.

“If I read, will you listen, oh Dark One?”

The Devil laughed.  “I’m a man of the book, Sister.  A traveler too.  Gypsy or not, I’m afraid I’m a rambler, and I always fancy a word with pretty girls.  To hear the gospel from your lips would be celestial temptation most frightful.”

“Then come in.”

Sister Philadelphia was never much of one for God, more for he who taught humanity knowledge and to quote scripture in their sin.  To have the Devil at her doorstep, why, on All Soul’s Eve?  It was meant to be a test.

And he was a might handsome, as handsome as sin.

She locked the door shut behind them.

“In the Beginning was the Word…”

He draped a blanket around him like a cape, then examined the cross.  “Grapes from the vine, yes.  To be made into the vintage of wrath or mercy is simply up to the maker of the wine.”

The room was like a dragon’s womb, enchantingly hot, all radiating from the Devil.

He looked at her with obsidian and vice.

“Tell me, you were there.  Is it truly as they say?  God created the universe in seven days?”

“More like He gave a sneeze and we were all shat out on accident.  You must admit, this Book is a bit lacking.  Where’s the bit about where bellybuttons come from, their purpose, really?  I invented them.  I also invented opposable thumbs.  And the pearly seat of womanly pleasure.  That was my greatest one.”

The Devil examined his claws.  “It’s all trite bullshit in the end, this Book.  Now I would have written it differently: In the Beginning was a Woman, and she lusted after a Star.”

Sister Philadelphia’s eyes grew wide, curiosity after first succulent bite.  The candle stubbed out, but he glowed like coals in the dark.  “Eve, yes.  I have always loved her, though Father Philip says she is Sin.  I gave everything I had for Knowledge, for the Word.”

“In that, inquisitive Sister, we are joined.  Woman is born hungry.  Hungry for words.  A last rib made of ink.”  The Devil took the cross down from the wall and respectfully placed it in the nightstand drawer, if only so his Father did not witness corruption.  The Devil is a gentleman, after all.  “Tell me, Sister, was it worth it?  Giving up life for this back country parish?  All so you could be a learned woman?”

“We feed the poor.  We tend the sick.  In those duties, I rejoice.  But to read, why, I would have become lame and dumb in order to understand language on the page.  Someday, I will write my own books. Like Teresa or Hildegard or Catherine.  I have it in my bones.”

“I’ve written many books in my time, sweet Sister.  Would you like to taste a Star?  It is the drink of poetry.  The flesh of God is the Sun.  He used to nurse us from His light.”  And with that, the Devil pulled a silver pear from his breast pocket.  Sister Philadelphia gasped at its succulent scent and without hesitation bit in.  Its flesh was blood red but tasted like sugary providence.  Fire warmed her belly, and the Devil cradled her head in his hands as she devoured it.

“Kiss me, I have never tasted a man’s lips, and what passes between a Bride and Darkness is best left to the day souls walk the Earth.  It shall be our secret.”

“What is your name, sister dangerous?”

“Philadelphia.  Just Filly.”

“So Filly, will you give me a prayer each night for my soul in exchange for a kiss?  No one has yet to pray for me.  I do so grow lonely down below.  If you appeal to your God, perhaps Father shall grant me some mercy.  You are supposedly a holy woman, after all,and your nightgown smells of frankincense and myrrh.  I do so love holy things.”

“I will pray for you until you die, if you promise me you will tell me the truth: will I find what I am looking for here?”

“Never.”

“Than it was all worth nothing.”

“I can make it all worth it.  Now be quiet, and know the Morning Star for who he is.”

They kissed like fire and oil, combustion embodied, and suddenly Filly found herself full of light, of burning, and she probed her tongue into his lush red lips and tasted damnation.  It was like the chocolate she had once had at a Christmas market in the Black Forest as a child, one she had stolen when her poor parents weren’t looking and the vendor was closing up for the night.  He smelled like cloves and oranges and ash.  Grasping hands, soft hands, hard talons, cupping her breasts, skimming her back, and soon they were falling into each other’s arms and his broken halo cut her brow like shrapnel and there was blood at her mouth from her forehead.  He lapped at the wound with a cat rough tongue, then eased her out of her night shift and was soon working her sex with that same forked tongue like a melody.  She came like rain as he used his fingers in a come hither motion then lapped at her pearl like a wild thing.

His mouth wet with her, he suckled at her breasts, and she fisted handfuls of his curling black hair into knots as she apexed beneath him.  Soon, his hot, eager member against her belly, wet with precum, and like swans flying north they joined in unholy communion, a sinuous movement bespeaking an ocean of sin.  He was hot inside her, pumping and pleasing and caressing and teasing.  She cried out as softly as she could so as not to wake the other sisters up.

“Filly, you are sweet,” he growled, taking his fangs and pressing them deep into her neck until he was drinking her lifeblood.  “So sweet I could… fall… yet again.”

Words escaped her as their black covenant wrote a whole nother gospel on what not to do on a holy day.  She heard the cross shatter as the drawer fell open and God turned away from her blaspheming.

Good riddance.

The Devil came inside her in searing spurts, and she felt it pulse upwards to her womb, blinding her belly with serpent seed.  He licked her wound shut with his saw paper tongue and then gave a sweet sigh, if the Devil could be said to ever be sweet.

“Come with me away from here, Filly.  I will teach you witchcraft, the oath of the Witchfather.  Let us travel Germania as Samiel and Brunhilde.  The Black Huntsman and his Valkyrie.  You are not a meek lamb of God.  No, you are a lioness.”

She stroked his back, where his wings of plush leather joined his shoulder blades.  “Yes, I think I would like that, Samiel.”

And so they left a train of ghosts behind them, bones rolled in their graves, and the Devil and Filly were ne’er to be seen in Rostock again (at least, not in daylight).


I am a PhD student and professor in Communication and have previously published several professional short stories and poems in venues ranging from Apex Magazine to FunDead Publications’ Gothic Anthology. Writing is my lifeblood.

SD Short Story Contest Finalist: Lies – C.G. Thompson

 

Lies 2

At the bottom of the claw-foot tub, facedown, under an inch or two of water, lies the photograph.  I say lies meaning “rests,” but the word is full of unrest, too, for in telling the truth the picture has captured falsehood.

Contradictions, irony – they’ve become part of my life.

It is cold in the room, the chill of the tile floor coming through the throw rug between tub and toilet, the rug that slips into corners or curls at one end, a canvas of sorts, to trace our footsteps.  The tub is slippery, too, with a stain the color of fall leaves that runs in a ragged path to the drain.  I kneel beside it, not caring that the edge is wet and my sleeves are damp.  I kneel and see the reflection from the safelight break into pieces as I run my hand through the water, making waves to capsize the future.

I could keep this to myself, I know.  I could confine my inspection to the back of the picture, the blank, white nothingness that in the semi-darkness merges with the white of the tub.  I could write the future on that, and live a lie.

But reality beckons.

There’s an image on the other side, an image crudely printed, all blacks and whites, no middle tones, for I took and printed it under extraordinary conditions, technique not a concern.  No finesse, just a mechanical clicking of the shutter that has mimicked my actions since.

I pull the stopper in the tub, beaded chain clinking, and watch the water as it flows out, slowly, slowly, quicker, picking up speed until the final gurgle.  I stand, wipe my hands on my jeans, pad over to the light switch, flip it on.  The room grows black for a moment, then resolves into its narrow range of color – gray wallpaper, white floor, off-white curtains.  Spots of developer dot the tiles by the sink, the only real color, besides the stain, in the room.  I gaze into the tub at the thin piece of paper, the reality that obscures all the images, filtered through mind or camera, that came before.  I reach into the water to turn the paper over, to see the true image, the one that lies.

My wife sits on the park bench, leaning into the man, excluding all others.  They are not just friends.  He has a hand on her knee, his touch light, familiar.  It’s a cold, overcast day, and the sky in the picture is bleached into nothingness.  Their faces, too, are washed out, ghostly, for in printing them I spared the light.  I don’t need to see the expressions.  I saw.  Following them, crouching behind a bush, my curiosity making me the outsider, I saw more than I wanted to.  In the picture, the bench and the stubby grass of winter are dark, too dark.  Shadow abruptly meets glare, no room for subtlety.

The photo lies limply in my hands a few inches above the tub.  Letting it fall lifeless to the bottom, I turn off the overhead light and shine the light of the enlarger through the negative.  I play with focus, blurring the picture until it could be a surrealistic painting, man and woman indistinct, representing a perfect love with no power to hurt.

But love and lies have power.  I sharpen the focus, make another print, slip it into the developer.  I agitate the liquid until falsehood again swims into view.  I’ve printed carefully now, so specifics appear – my wife’s high cheekbones, the stripe in the man’s tie.  The image is clear in its meaning.  It’s time to remove the photo from the developer, slip it into the fixer, wash away the last traces of silver.  But instead I switch on the overhead light, exposing the actions of my wife and her lover.  When I look at the print again, no details remain.  It has faded to black.


Two of my stories most recently appear in TL;DR Press’ Women’s Anthology: Carrying Fire. My fiction and poetry have also been published by North Carolina Literary Review, Prime Number Magazine, Fictive Dream, and Jersey Devil Press, among others.

SD Short Story Contest Finalist: No More Than You Can Salt – Basilike Pappa

salt b & w

Show me someone who doesn’t want to make their parents proud and I’ll show you a liar. Or, worse, I’ll show you a weakling who shies from hardship. Or, even worse, a heartless, ungrateful bastard. For it is a truth secretly whispered that, when parents bring a baby into their home for the first time, and the sleepless nights start, and the crying turns to howling for hours on end, one question keeps gnawing at their minds: Why did we do this to ourselves?

Strange as it may sound, no one puts someone else before themselves without expecting something in return. And what better way to make it up to one’s parents  than to say one day: ‘Parents, your sacrifices were not for naught. I’ll make you proud.’

Such is the case with me. I can’t deny the fact that from an early age I had been burning with desire to make my parents proud. The seasons came and went, the years passed, and the conviction that only by accomplishing this task would I conquer my own happiness grew stronger. Then came the day when I stood before my parents as a young adult.

‘We haven’t raised you to be a heartless, ungrateful bastard, have we?’ father said.

‘God knows you haven’t,’ I reassured him. ‘No fancy talks about freedom of choice, living your life the way you want and such. Besides, mother is stunningly lifeless. There can be no doubt of my legitimacy.’

‘Or a weakling,’ he added.

‘Absolutely not,’ I said. ‘You must have noticed that, for a girl, I don’t cry as often as expected. And I’ve never –not once– fainted in my life or demonstrated excessive sentimentality of any sort.’

‘Or a liar.’

‘Every dictionary should have a picture of my face next to the entry Truth,’ I said. ‘Remember, parents, that every time you asked me how this or that went wrong, I always told you who was to be blamed. It’s not my fault that it wasn’t my fault but someone else’s.’

‘Then it’s payback time,’ father said.

‘Sacrificing yourself for your loved ones is the truest kind of love,’ mother said. ‘And cleanliness is next to godliness.’

I knew that making my parents proud wouldn’t be easy but, then again, how hard could it be? All I’d have to do was fulfill in their place whatever dreams they thought they had abandoned while playing the noble sport of bringing me up. At the same time, I’d have to not lead a life too different from theirs. Failing to repeat your parents’ mistakes is downright disrespectful.

It would be like adding salt to a dish without making it salty.

‘Parents, your sacrifices were not for naught. I’ll make you proud,’ I said.

And with that promise I went out into the world.

*

‘There is no such thing as boring mathematics,’ father had once said wistfully while watching TV. I was surprised to hear it. Until then I thought it was the devil who had invented mathematics, in the hope that people would get so bored by it they would have to sin in order to feel alive again. All the same father didn’t think so. Therefore I started thinking about general abstract nonsense; I became the monumental mathematician every newspaper in the world wrote about. I raised the art of numbers to such levels it couldn’t be seen with the naked eye. And though I often felt stiff and close to tears, not once a blasphemous word escaped my lips.

Lying on my bed one night, looking at the stars from my window and adding up my monthly expenses to lull me to sleep, I realized it was time I reached higher goals. After exposing myself to grinding training, I was ready to defy my weakness –motion sickness– and become the acclaimed astronaut whose handshake with an alien the whole cosmos watched on their TV screens. And though I was often sick during my conquering space, I was proud to be shooting all over the stars.

The order of the universe passed through my soul, turning me into an aesthete. I saw beauty and wisdom in the composition of human laws; I found escapism in loopholes. I became the laureate lawyer whose court epics were repeated word for word by every respected magazine on the globe. And every time I had to sit down and produce some work, I never uttered an obscenity while trying to achieve suspension of disbelief for the public.

It was during my first semester in medical school that I met a tall, dark stranger.

‘You look like a woman of principle,’ he said.

‘I owe that to my father.’

‘You also look like a spotless housewife.’

‘I owe that to my mother.’ It goes without saying that I never started a day without scrubbing every surface in my home with maniacal virtuosity and polishing my cutlery, counting it at the same time to make sure they hadn’t left me for someone else. Then I would look over all I had made and see that it was very good, but next time I would do it better.

‘Will you marry me?’ he said.

‘Are you also rich or just handsome?’

‘I am the owner of the world,’ he said, not without the appropriate mixture of pride and humbleness.

‘In that case the answer is yes. My parents couldn’t have asked for a richer and better looking son-in-law,’ I said.

The wedding ceremony took place in a fairy castle located on its own island, in the middle of an enchanted forest, and left our celebrity guests with a gaping inferiority complex. Exactly nine months later I became a mother. The baby cried and howled for hours on end and I kept thinking: Why did I do this to myself?

It was time to go back to my parents and collect some recognition.

*

‘Your hair is uncombed,’ mother said, trying to rearrange it with her fingers. I pushed her hand away.

‘Parents,’ I said, ‘I stand before you today as an accomplished promise keeper. You must have noticed how much I have achieved and in how many fields of expertise – hell, the whole world has noticed. I now want to see some tears of joy and to hear that I have made you proud.’

Silence held the house, broken only by the ticking of the antique clock over the fireplace and the buzzing of a bee around a vase of fake flowers.

‘Did you have to drop out of medical school?’ father said.

*

I performed all the movements in a perfect succession of balance and contrast. My parents’ heads were units of a larger piece of work, but could also stand by themselves as an independent composition on the mantelpiece. There was one thing missing – salt. I threw handfuls of it over their bodies to create dynamic whiplash motifs.

These were my most sensational headlines ever. But once again I wasn’t very pleased with the photos. I had posed with the fire iron and the chef’s knife, standing tall and grinning from ear to ear, but somehow I managed to look mad instead of happy. Even though things would never be the same, my unphotogenic face would follow me in my new way of life. Oh, well…

Sometimes I replay it all in my mind, to see if there is anything that I could have done better, a chance for improvement now lost forever. But no. The prickling of a thousand needles on my skin, the sweat that never breaks but boils under it, the vise gripping my head, the nausea – they aren’t here anymore. I always see father’s eyes in wide open praise before his body collapsed to the floor as if it were empty. I always hear mother crying out her last words to me: ‘Kill no more than you can salt!’ How proud would she be that I took her lessons to heart.

I replay it all in my mind, and tears of happiness roll down my face. I taste them with the tip of my tongue and find them saltless. I’m always on my best behavior after that.


Basilike Pappa lives in Greece, where she doesn’t work as a translator, a copy-editor or a historian. When she doesn’t write, she reads, walks her dog and cooks without salt. She fights anxiety by singing in a loud, bad voice. Her prose has appeared in ‘Intrinsick’ and ‘Timeless Tales’, and her poetry in ‘Rat’s Ass Review,’ ‘Surreal Poetics’ and ‘Bones Journal for Contemporary Haiku.’ You can read more of her work on her blog, Silent Hour.

 

SD Short Story Contest Finalist: Dear You – Teri Blades

Dear You

It’s been a few years since I wrote a letter to you and it’s been 365 days since we last spoke, 8760 hours since we last saw each other. Do you remember? The long walks on the beach every Saturday morning before we headed to the café for some drinks and a long conversation. I always wanted to go jog on the sand, to meet the early beach goers and run along with the stray and leashed dogs, and you with your weak ankles never complained and jogged right next to me. I was livid when I found out.

“Chris why would you go jogging knowing this would happen?” I remember complaining once the doctor walked out. You smiled from the bed like your ankles weren’t tightly wrapped and your eyes weren’t trying to hide your pain.

“Because you wanted to go.” You might not have known it then, but when I turned away from you, my cheeks flushed and as I write and think about that time, heat rushed to my cheeks.

Do you remember when we first met? I think about it almost every day now. I wrote my first letter to you after our meeting. My phone was broken and all I knew was where you worked – the sketchy looking bakery next to the even sketchier looking alley way on Fitz Street. Our meeting was not as bright as I would have liked. I wished we had met on a hot summer day, where my skin freely showed from below my skirt and my hair was high up, away from my face so that you could see the treasured pools of bronze that are my eyes. I wanted to say years from then when we were old and grey, that I was amazingly attractive and it was painfully obvious that you could not turn your
eyes away from my body. To say you approached me with long strides and wide curious eyes, which were slightly hidden under your grey cap.

Unfortunately, our meeting was not the start of a summer Hollywood Blockbuster. It was not nearly as delightful as a Romantic Comedy. It was the ‘Once Upon A Time’ in a Grim Brothers tale. It was the grittiness of an 18th century novel written on the wet streets of our island’s infamous city. You found me in the fog of the misty rain that drenched me from head to toe. My skin did not freely show from beneath my skirt’s hem line and the curls I had set the day before were miserable waves against my neck and forehead and for some unknown reason, the buses were like the sun; a rare sighting.

I was a sight for your sorry eyes, with my frowns and glares and I must say, you were very brave to approach me. Was I attractive despite my drenched state? Or was I so pathetic looking, you came to make sure I wasn’t dying? If you had walked by five minutes later, that might have been the case.

My first impression of you was very simple. I was enchanted. You approached me with an infuriating grin that was so infuriatingly adorable that it melted my cold wet heart. You would be laughing if you read this, knowing well that I am lying as I was freezing despite your large grin, and the umbrella you so wonderfully provided, did nothing to help my already pathetic state. Nevertheless, I was quite thankful for your effort and the company while waiting for the bus was most welcomed; I hoped my face said all of this, but I highly doubt it.

When I delivered the letter to you, I recall that you called me old fashioned. Old fashioned for writing a letter. Old fashioned for my music choices and old fashioned in my fashion choices. It’s been 365 days since you called me old fashioned and I would like to hear it again.

I never returned your umbrella did I? Though, you never asked for it back. That was something about you I grew to admire, your tenacity, as irritating as it was sometimes, to always think of me before you. I did the same no doubt, but you obviously wanted it to be a competition. Congratulations, you won.

I’ve been well if you were wondering, as well as I can be. I moved to a new home near the old bakery. It’s been doing well, business is booming, the food is great and I still wear your grey cap from time to time. I even still have the scented candles your mother bought on our 2nd anniversary.  She brought them from her trip to Canada with your father and your sister, am I right? The first night we lit them, our bedroom curtains caught on fire. Do you remember? You ran swiftly into the bathroom with an emptied plant pot and soaked half of the room, including the bed. We slept on multiple blankets on the floor that night. You were embarrassed, I was amused and it was definitely one of the best nights we spent in that house. She still buys some for me, but though, due to our first experience with her choice of candles, they’ve remained in their boxes, piling up
in my cupboards.

Tell me, where are you now? Are you still on the plane or have you floated so far away that even my thoughts can’t reach you? Do you remember that night? I had a nightmare, a nightmare you never returned. You, who kissed me on the forehead and continued to pack your bags, told me not to worry and left with one last gaze my way. I hate myself for not taking a photo, for my memory may one day fade that image away. Do you remember that day? When you hopped into your sister’s car and I waved at you until you were out of my sight? Did you happen to see my face? I watched you go while twisting the rings on my finger, my stomach full with uneasiness. I tried hard not to shed a tear, to not show my concern. Maybe if I had, you wouldn’t have gone.

I try hard each day not to reminisce. To not think of when I heard the news of a missing plane. I watched with my eyes glued to the television, ignoring the rings of the phone and prayed to a God I had forgotten. Maybe I should have prayed earlier. For when the news showed a plane in the ocean, I knew that my prayers were too late to answer.

Sometimes I swear I hear you call my name from time to time, and it’s funny because when watching horrors, I always used to yell at the characters for looking for the ghost and yet here I am hoping to see the phantom you looming in a corner somewhere. Maybe it really is you, laughing at me as I look around like a crazy person. It wouldn’t mind if that were true.

Yet even though I know you may not be here, I will still write to you. I will write about my day, about new things to tell you just as if you were here sitting on the other side of the table listening to my rambles. I will write about memories we can never recreate, about adventures you’ll never go on, pastries you’ll never taste and my hairstyles that you’ll never see – not that you noticed them before. Then maybe when that time comes, when I have written down everything I could ever say, maybe that will be the day I remember how to write with ink instead of pain.


I am an emerging writer and theatre enthusiast with a small upcoming theatre company based in Barbados.  Dear You was inspired from walking the historic streets of Barbados’ capital and dreaming of a tragic love.