Short Stories and Poems
Bind up the broken hearted
set them at liberty
and free them
closing up the gaps
giving them beauty
complete without duty
but leaving them with maps
to not follow their snooty
and never go to elapse
or never condemn
but find the beauty
never to fall into traps
only to see the beauty.
From Time On
And then came the day when the Earth it
it was at that time that all the gods did assemble
Twas on the great mountain where they all did live
each with nothing or something they might want to give
If it was nothing they wanted you to learn
or it was something because you did yearn
There was nothing that was, that couldn’t be found
one looked to the mountain, or searched the lower ground
As they strut and fret of their power and control
they look down upon Earth and observe the toll
Not just for us with a Christian ideal
but also the thousands who make an appeal
It’s not so much the name given to your belief
in measuring vast time all of these are brief
At the dawn of man if thunder was heard
those down below they spoke not a word
It was the caves into which they did run
looking up in the skies pleading that this was no fun
The same thing for lightning, sleet and snow
why these happenings were there they did not know
Imagine an eclipse what fear that might have brought
no one was spared everyone was fraught
But that’s how beliefs and worshiping did begin
if you were satisfied then that belief was in
As time went on and more we did learn
we accepted the events with far less concern
Then myths and legends superstitions and such
for the learned societies they no longer meant much
But don’t sell them short for they are with us still
for in many parts of the world people have little free will
The mind must be taught for an understanding to begin
for it certainly could never come from within
The more we learn the more we learn
then it’s up to us whether or not to have concern
Treat gods myths superstitions and lore
with the respect they have earned
for without those understandings we might still be concerned
As we continue to explore we learn more and more
but it’s the primitive societies we should never ignore
For they are still lost in the lands as they were
where vampires and werewolves are always astir
And dragons to the village did come to feast
having their good times and not caring the least
What were the poor people supposed to do
if only they really, really knew
We must always reflect on times gone by
a difficult task but we must give it a try
For all that has ever gone before
has allowed us to open door after door
And through each passageway we have found
came great awareness both subtle and profound
We open up our minds to life ever reflecting on the past
in doing so we guarantee life will forever last.
Peter Cacciolfi 2016
Johnny went missing one night last November. Maybe a more likely scenario he died. Either way he never came home. The police did what they could with their dogs sniffing the grounds from where the traveling carnival pulled up stakes and left Harrow Falls. Even the Town Crier for days ran a photo of Ted’s little brother. Their mama said it was the good kind of wanted poster: it said how much they missed him and wanted him back.
Weeks after Halloween the woman died grieving. A broken heart, they said. She’d quit eating, cried most day and night, and in between called Johnny’s name like some desperate prayer. When winter came, just before Christmas, it brought with it the worst blizzard in half a century. The rest of Johnny’s family –– his daddy and Ted’s two sisters Jolene and Maggie –– died of a virus fever. Uncle Garrett took him in, but when November returned, the carnival where Johnny disappeared was back in Harrow Falls. Ted had last seen him heading toward the roller-coaster for one more ride.
Back then Ted had told his kid brother Johnny,“ We gotta get home,” but Johnny laughed. “Come on,” he said, “ride with me, Ted.”
Quick as he could shake his head, his kid brother was gone. Meanwhile, Ted waited for the roller-coaster to complete its wild ups and downs. Then together they could finally walk home.
Johnny was nowhere. At one point, Ted claimed he saw him disappear into one of the attraction tents. The same blue sweatshirt, the same baseball cap, but he wasn’t sure. He searched the carnival grounds close to an hour, then went home.
A year later now, another November, Ted was back at the carnival.
He stopped at the roller-coaster, hoping to jar his memory, grab onto whatever might reveal something about that night.
“Step on in, Son,” said the barker standing to his left in black tuxedo and top hat. “Pay your quarter, catch a glimpse of the Bearded Lady. See the world’s tallest man. Sights scarier than ever before.”
Ted gave the man a quarter and was ushered through a black curtain to the left of the center door.
It was dark. Here and there a candle flickered from the hollowed head of a Jack o’ Lantern. He walked small cautious steps towards where the barker was leading him.
Ted wondered where the Bearded Lady was and the tallest man in the world.
The barker let loose one of those put-on laughs, loud and eerie, meant to inject horror into the already eerie darkness.
Ted saw the shelves protruding from the makeshift walls along the narrow walkway.
Jars were lined up on these shelves and when Ted approached even closer to them, he saw human heads bobbing in a pale green brine. Each one open-eyed, hair fluttering like algae, swollen tongues lolling grotesquely.
When Ted reached the seventh jar, he felt the blood drain from his face. His legs trembled. Am I having a nightmare? He thought.
“Johnny! Johnny! Johnny!”
Then the barker tore away his human mask. Long and crimson, his serrated tongue slithered hissing from his mouth. The demon pressed it steaming against the seventh jar.
Still, Ted did not wake up.
“Cursèd boy,” the demon said. “From birth. His entire family.”
Teen-age boys don’t cry, but Ted dropped his face into his palms and wept.
“I called him home is all,” said the demon. “It’s my job.”
“My little brother,” he said, hardly able to speak.
“Yes, yes. Johnny in the jar.”
The tears welled up. Overflowing, they burned Ted’s cheeks. He turned away from Johnny’s stare.
The cloven-footed beast draped his hairy limb around Ted’s shoulders. Ted felt the sharp talons dig into his flesh. Rivulets of blood coursed down to his wrist.
“Teddy boy, did I say, ‘cursèd’? Oh, yes. And you are the last, Big Brother.”
“Why? What did any of us ever ––”
“Why? For the hell of it, Teddy. Nothing personal, you understand.”
He thought he’d scream for help, but outside the demon’s horror tent, the screams on the roller-coaster would swallow his cries. Instead, he made a futile dash for the door. It vanished when he got there. In its place, cradling the empty jar, stood the demon.
Ted saw his life and the demon’s sword flash before his eyes.
Sal Buttaci writes flash fiction, poetry, and reflections every day. Two of his flash collections, published by All Things That Matter Press, are available at Amazon.com.
Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts. He lives in West Virginia with his wife Sharon.
NO ONE SAID GOODBYE
by Arnold Greenberg
While I was kissing you,
far away, a bomb came through the roof
where a family was eating soup
splashed blood against the walls,
along with bowls and spoons and bones
and splintered chairs,
and I was holding you beneath me,
while men and women ran down streets
away from fire, flying bricks and glass
and you were moaning,
reaching for my hair
and couldn’t hear the screams rising
through smoke and ash
while sirens shrieked,
and I was loving you,
our clothes thrown in wild abandon
while cries of madness came
from where a door once stood,
and when we writhed in passion’s wake,
no one moved on the kitchen floor,
no one said goodbye.
My Doctor the Imponderable
by Richard Steinitz © 2015
So ... I was in the supermarket with my better half, minding my own business
somewhere between the detergents and the sanitary products, when my phone
It was our family doctor, speaking even faster than she normally does, asking me
to come and see her as soon as possible. I told her I was in the middle of
something (a supermarket aisle), that I would be available in about one hour, and
would that be OK?
‟Yes, but you might have to wait a while. Don’t be late.‟
This might sound a) irrational and b) contradictory, and you would be right on
both counts. But I must digress and go back a few spaces, and explain.
Dr. Chernobyl is an excellent doctor, a first-rate diagnostician, our family doctor
for over 30 years, and totally hysterical. Hysterical not in the sense of ‟I can’t stop
laughing when I’m around her‟, but hysterical in the sense of ‟Oh my God, you
need to go to the ER immediately, and don’t worry, I’ll teach you how to live with
this!‟ which referred to my annual hangnail.
So, I moved on to the meat section where I met the other half, as previously
arranged, and told her that Dr. Death had called to tell me she wanted to see me
yesterday. Mrs. Otherhalf knows all about the good doctor, and has been saved
from impending doom by her on more than one occasion, but she still has not
learned to tell where the truth lies, somewhere between genuine impending doom,
and the Ukrainian style. She blanched severely, blending into the background of
the milk and cottage cheese section, but I managed to find her and pinch her
cheek, bringing some color back to her skin.
‟You know our dear Dr. Death, it’s nothing. Probably some mistake again, like the
time there was a speck of dust on your mammogram and she scheduled you for
an immediate double radial-mastectomy
This calmed her down a bit, but then she remembered the trauma associated with
previous incidents, like the great blood pressure rise of 1994 (due to running up
the stairs to get to her office on time), the sinister sugar levels of 2003 (birthday
party the day before, to say nothing of genetic tendencies) and the dust speck
incident, and her blood pressure rose immediately to astronomical heights. I
assured her again that it was nothing to worry about and pushed her rapidly
towards the checkout isle, lest I miss my life-or-death appointment with Dr.
As we ran for the car to load it with this week’s groceries, I remembered that I had
been for a chest X-Ray the week before, in preparation for applying for an
Australian tourist visa (which is a WHOLE different story) and my own hysteria
kicked in. Was this panic invitation from Dr. Death a result of this? Did I have
galloping pneumonia? Breaking-news bronchitis? Or something worse? It must be
something worse, otherwise the good doctor would not have called. (Had I just
forgotten recent history?)
A two-minute stop at the house to unload the perishables, reminiscent of the Pony
Express’s horse-changing maneuvers and we were off to see the Wizard of Woe. I
tried to persuade the Missus that she would be better off waiting at home, but she
would not hear of it. She wanted to be there when I passed out from built-up fear
and a sudden drop of blood pressure.
Of course, once we were at the doctor’s office, we discovered that there were 15
people ahead of us, waiting to be sentenced to medicines galore, and that the
Doctor’s office hours were over in ten minutes. Since there was no point in putting
off the inevitable, and being both armed with full lives of Candy Crush, we found
vacant seats left over from the Spanish Inquisition and waited for our turn. And
waited. And waited. Mrs. Otherhalf used her freshly sharpened elbow to wake me
up twice, claiming that my snoring had been blocking the receptionist from
hearing her phone ring.
When all the other 15 patients had been seen and sent on their way, the
receptionist looked up from buffing her nails and said: Oh, you’re ‟ still waiting. I’ll
see if the Doctor is still here, you really should make an appointment if you want
to see her.‟ I counted to 22, backwards, as my mother had taught me to do in
such situations and was on my third round of this exercise when the nail-buffer
told us we could go in.
Clasping each other’s clammy hands, we took a deep breath and entered. Dr.
Chernobyl looked up, in some surprise, and said Hello, Richy ‟ ‟ (which happens to
be my name), ‟What can I do for you?‟
Grinding my teeth to the tune of I can’t get no satisfaction, I managed to sputter
the words: ‟You called me and said it was urgent for me to come in immediately.‟ I
did this without screaming, as I know she is very overworked, very forgetful and
very vengeful with people that complain.
‟Oh‟, she said. ‟I saw your X-Ray, and it is perfectly fine. I just wanted to make
sure you get your pneumonia vaccination before your trip, so that it stays that
way. See the receptionist for the prescription and the nurse next door will
administer it. Have a wonderful time in Austria. Bye now.‟
With that she picked up one of the three telephone receivers lying on her desk and
resumed a conversation she had apparently been having with a patient suffering
from end-stage acne. Mrs. Otherhalf and I stumbled out, took the prescription
from the receptionist and went home. Plenty of time to get vaccinated before we
leave for Australia (not Austria) in three months.
The level in my whiskey bottle dropped dramatically that night, as did the
missus’s vermouth. We swore (again) that we would change to a different doctor at
the first opportunity, and never did. Who else would treat us with such loving care
and dramatic devotion?
If you enjoyed this story, you may want to read Richard Steinitz’s two novels:
Murder Over the Border http://www.amazon.com/Murder-Over-Border-Richard-
Kaplan’s Quest http://www.amazon.com/Kaplans-Quest-Richard-
A duel to end all duels.
A battle to the death.
The winds raise the waves
To heights of ecstasy.
They tease the shore
With their pounding fury.
The sand reduced to dust
From their unrelenting force.
I’m torn in half,
Tempted by the ice storm,
Where cold flesh brings passion,
And games are the rule of the day.
Heat still flows through my veins,
Drawing me back to the light,
Where human flesh brings love
And easement from the storm.
Wolf rises from the water,
His body melting in droplets.
He exists no more.
He has lost the battle.
How could I have not known?
How could I have forgotten?
The cold waits no more for me.
Emptiness fills the void inside.
I can still hear his voice,
Feel his presence in the wind.
His icy fury slices into the shore,
Calling for me to join him.
THE DEAD GAME
Everyone has had at least one close call in their life. You know, that teeth clenching moment when you realize you came only a fraction of an inch or millisecond away from facing your own death. If you were a baby that almost died from crib death, who nearly drowned in the ocean, or was prevented from walking away with a stranger, it might have occurred to you as an adult that you’re living on borrowed time. That you have a reason for still being here and interacting with the people in your life. Oddly, I have had more than my share of close calls – times when there’s been no explanation for why I was saved or why I’m fortunate in still being alive.
What if I had driven my car straight ahead instead of turning right and collided with that truck that ran the red light and killed that young couple in Seattle? What if I had been home when that burglar broke in and destroyed my apartment? What if I hadn’t caught myself falling asleep on Interstate 101 and was met with oncoming traffic? What if I’d taken United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston to Los Angels two days later, when it flew into the South Tower of the World Trade Center? As disturbing as those thoughts and memories might be, my most harrowing “near miss” was even more frightening because I had no idea that it had actually occurred.
It was a summer evening in 1978 and the muggy air had brought me into my parent’s kitchen for a cold glass of lemonade. My mother had just returned to her home on the Hood Canal after a rueful trip to Hawaii. Her four-day vigil consisted of waiting for her girlfriend’s passing from terminal cancer and participating in the odious job of sorting through a mountain of unopened mail. Surprisingly, not even my mom knew the severity of Erma McCumsey’s condition until a few weeks before her funeral, and they had considered themselves the best of friends.
During my high school years, I conversed with Erma on a handful of occasions – while she was visiting at the house, while standing in an aisle at a grocery store, and while relaxing in a lounge chair on the beach, wearing an oversized hat and dark sunglasses. She was a kindly, robust woman with a round, pink face and dark blue eyes. I witnessed her bragging about the orange pumps and green plaid, second-hand pantsuit she had purchased at a local resale shop, which explained the unconventional way she’d dressed. All in all, there was nothing particularly remarkable about this silver-haired, middle-aged woman. And as far as I was concerned, her life was a mystery that I had no interest in exploring.
I recalled, while talking to my mother, that I was rifling through a stack of bills four years earlier, trying to determine how my husband and I were going to make ends meet, when the phone rang in our apartment. It was Erma McCumsey, chatting away about all sorts of things – things that were of no interest to me. My college tuition was due in two weeks, and we had our first baby on the way. Stress was playing havoc on my marriage, and there was no doubt in my mind that my parents were aware of our problems…even though I had tried my best to hide them. Erma explained that a receptionist position had opened in her small real estate firm and she was desperate to get it filled. If I agreed to take the job, she’d cover the cost for my real estate exam along with my hourly wages. All I had to do was answer the phone in between homework assignments and while cramming for the test, which was three-and-a -half months away. The income would help to offset our expenses and provide a good life for our child. There would be some light filing and a few letters to type, but nothing major or particularly difficult.
As one might imagine, I jumped on the opportunity to work and was excited about seeing my name on a check. Everyday I drove from the Highline Community College parking lot to the single-door office on Highway 99 to put in my time from noon until 7 PM. I would arrive just in time to witness two sales agents flying out the door to meet clients. The only way I could remember their names was by the engraved metal plates on their desks.
Exchanges with Erma were almost as rare and were reduced to re-invented recipes and vacation summaries. Being the only broker in the office, she was determined to garner as many listings as possible by driving around the city, following leads, and flip-flopping between three phone lines in the office. She often won over clients by smiling and telling them, “I’m the only agent in town that can do you justice.”
After working in the office for two months, I found myself watching her and questioning if I had the fortitude to convince qualified buyers that upgrades were necessary investments, even if their bank accounts were emptied in the process. Prompted by my conscience and growing disinterest, I closed the real estate exam book for good and focused all my energies on studying for my college finals and my expanding baby bump.
As if reminding me of my priorities, morning sickness became a reoccurring affliction and much worse than I had ever imaged. The smell from food cooking in the kitchen and motion sickness from riding in the car would leave me running for the closest bathroom. Yet somehow I managed to control the gut-wrenching sensation long enough to survive morning classes. With only a month to go before graduation, I was determined to get my business degree, hold onto a job, maintain a household, and be a great wife, in spite of opposing forces. Nothing was going to stop me from achieving my goal of being a super mom.
Miraculously, I made it to graduation. I stood on the stage and collected my diploma and gazed out at the audience to where Erma sat next to my family. She beamed with pride, as if I were her only daughter. It struck me as sad that she never had children of her own, and I promised myself to try harder to connect with this woman – to find more common interests and fascinating things to talk about.
Two days after graduation, I woke up feeling more drained than usual. I called the office and Erma graciously agreed to cover for me. “Take a few days off to fully recover,” she’d said. So I did exactly as she suggested. The next morning, I woke up feeling incredibly refreshed and full of energy. I realized the nursery needed to be finished, and there were dozens of preparations to be made before the baby’s arrival.
Time was running out and I needed everything to be in order.
“Don’t worry about me,” I told my husband, as he prepared to leave for work. “I won’t overdo it. I’m just going to tidy up a bit. That’s all.”
As soon as the door was closed, I set to work. I painted the nursey, hung curtains on the windows, put away toys, and stood back surveying my completed project. With less than two months to go, everything was in place for our new baby exactly as I hoped, and the world was a wonderful, exciting place.
I returned to the office and submitted my notice. After fulfilling my two-week obligation, I thanked Erma for the opportunity she’d given me. “I promise to stay in touch,” I told her. But as often happens to acquaintances in our lives, we never saw each other or spoke again. My mother would mention her name from time to time in passing, but never with the intensity she’d assigned it on that summer night in her kitchen in 1978.
“Erma had something important to tell you, but she didn’t want to upset you while you were pregnant.” My mother’s words and the glint in her light blue eyes drew my complete attention. “She moved away and got sick. And your life was so full. I guess she just didn’t see the point in saying anything to anyone until she realized her time was running out.”
“While I was pregnant?” I glanced into the next room where my four-year-old daughter had disappeared. She was planted on her grandfather’s lap, engrossed in the storybook he was reading. Below them, my husband was sleeping soundly on the brown shag carpeting, unaware of what was transpiring in the kitchen.
I turned back to my mother and asked, “What are you talking about? What could Erma have possibly said that would be so upsetting to me?”
My mother slid her weathered hands under her thighs. She leaned forward and the crease between her brows deepened. “On the day you were sick and stayed home from the office, Erma was working at your desk when a car drove up.” She paused and laid a hand on my arm. “It was a yellow Volkswagen and a man with a cast on his arm got out. He looked in the window and kept staring. Then he walked away and came back again. She said from the look on his face, he was surprised to see her instead of you at that desk. And something about him and the way he was acting made her real nervous.”
I glanced down, pondering who he could have been, and where this story was leading.
“Erma used to work for the post office,” my mother continued. “And she was licensed to carry a gun. She pulled her weapon out of her purse and set it on her lap right then and there. She told me that if he walked through the door, she was prepared to use it.”
I dropped onto a wood chair next to my mother and stared up at her. “What happened next?”
“Well, as it turned out,” she said, “he eventually got back into his car and sat there for a while. Erma got up and locked the door. She edged over to the window and wrote down his license plate number. Then she picked up the closest phone and called the police. She repeated the number to them, making sure they had it right. While she watched through the edge of the window, the guy drove off and the police told her that as long as he wasn’t threatening her, there wasn’t anything they could do. She wadded up the paper she’d written on and threw it in the trash. First thing the next morning, the FBI showed up. They asked her to recount her story over and over again. She retrieved the license plate number she’d written down and after making a few calls, they said she was real lucky to be alive.”
I swallowed hard before asking, “Why? Who was he?”
She reached for my hand and held it tight. “Ted Bundy.”
The name sank in slowly. He was the convicted serial killer who everyone had been talking about for years – the one who had bludgeoned, raped and strangled countless victims. Photographs of college girls with long dark hair had been plastered on the front page of virtually every newspaper across the country, and several of them could have passed as my twin. My heart pounded wildly at the thought. A murderer had been watching me…following me to and from school, near the places where girls had gone missing and others were found dead.
He knew where to find me. When I would be alone. How incredibly naïve and vulnerable I was…at 20 years old. I drew a deep breath and fell back in my seat. Oh my God. What if I hadn’t been sick? What if I’d gone to work that day? Would I be alive today? Would my obituary be printed in those newspapers too?
Thirty-eight years have passed since my mom relayed Erma’s disturbing account, yet the story still leaves me contemplating the difference a simple choice makes. The questions will always be there, resting at the edge of my brain. Was it not my time? Did I have unfinished business in this world? Is there reason why I survived?
If fate hadn’t been in my favor, three talented young ladies would not exist today. I would never have had the opportunity to look into the innocent eyes of my beautiful grandchildren and realize how truly blessed I am.
Since hearing this story, I’ve come to the conclusion that each one of us has a purpose in this world. Strangely enough, Ted Bundy served a purpose in mine. My near-death experience opened my eyes to the fact that life is fragile and needs to be valued, not drifted through or taken for granted. I find myself praying everyday that my existence has meaning and worth – that I leave this world with the knowledge that I made a difference for others.
To this day, I know very little about Erma McCumsey, except that we crossed paths for a reason. For me, she was my guardian angel, a special woman who gave me a future. I will never have the opportunity to thank her personally, but the desire never goes away. Perhaps living my life to the fullest is all she would have wished for. Perhaps my ability to share my belief that one person is capable of impacting the life of another is the reason why I’m living today. This is the message I’m hope to convey through the telling of this story…the truth I hope others will realize. Never lose faith in the people around you or allow yourself to judge them as insignificant, as one day they may turn out to be your saving grace.
Kaylin McFarren, Author
If misteaks weren't made, what good would us English teechers be? Peter
Shadows of the Past
It is an enchanting afternoon that spring of 1203. Princess Tiara sits in an alcove of the Nasrid gardens near her palace. At the entrance to the garden, there are rows of majestic pines and hedges. These gardens are adorned with Myrtles and myriads of Roses in yellow, pink and red; the white Tiger Lilies, the unfathomable bushes of lavender Lilacs, the Carnations and the Scarlet Geraniums are some among the foliage. The most prominent are the Roses, however, flanked alongside and around the fountains of varied shapes and sizes; a posy of Roses, overlooking either the circular or the elongated basins, while the hedges at the entrance rise above everything else, setting boundaries between the several passageways.
The meandering mountain paths lead to the palaces of the great Moorish Emirates. Decked with luxurious charms, the scenery is largely beset with numerous homes built on the hilly slopes of the voluptuous mountains; visible also are the snowy peaks of Sierra Nevada, or the snowy range in Spanish, whose snows of spring still melt over the horizon. Quite severe for not being garnished with that many groves and forests perhaps, nevertheless, owing to the precipices, there is an inescapable look of sublimity to the landscape.
The air this afternoon is heavy with the seductive aromas of diverse oriental flowers, as the princess steps into the Jannat-al-Arif, the architect’s garden. She stands on its edge and takes a few moments, inhaling the fragrant air. Infused with the tranquil sound of cascading waterfall, the atmosphere is sensuous with perfumed flowers; the pregnant orchard is laden with oranges, lemons and pomegranates. Indeed the chirrup of a lonely dove is nothing but an expression of idyllic milieu, short of an oriental paradise. Wandering through these gardens and the many orchards, princess Tiara suddenly hears whispers. They ask her to walk straight ahead. The princess goes into a trance almost immediately. She stares. Her opal shaped eyes shut but wide open, looking more enchanting than ever before. That a Nasrid prince could fall in love with; her green swaying dress sweeping across as she walks by the leafy vines over the lofty, old Moorish walls. Beyond Torre de Comares, the highest tower, which houses the throne room against a backdrop of the court of the Myrtles, she plods heavily to make her way towards them. She walks with the full view of the hilltop of Assabica belonging to the rulers of the North African Nasrid dynasty, of the Middle-Ages Mohammad 1st.
However, today she drifts in a dream away from the King’s palace, through the Puerta del Vino, the wine gate towards Alcazaba, not too far from the gate of the wine, the old fortress of the Moors. The whispers stop. She comes back to her senses on her track and notices that she is in front of the Palacio de los Leones, the Court of the Lions near the royal apartments. She enters her rooms majestically. It has the sheer magnificence of decorations on its walls and the ceiling as though it is a work not of human hand but divine craftsmanship. She sits calmly at a corner of one of her rooms … the hall of Abencerrajes. Again, the very impressive ceiling is decked with a dome and a central star theme made of muqarnas prisms. The motif continues, and gradually merges into the square shaped grounds under the hanging muqarnas spandrels. As though bejewelled, these rooms literally shimmer down to the floor, speckled with pearls, pink rubies, white sapphires and sparkling diamonds in gilded silhouettes in an unrivalled beauty of an oriental fairy tale.
But the princess is not happy. To cheer her up, her palace maids organise a Flamingo near the fountain of the Twelve Lions. The palace comes to life. It becomes animated, with the tinkling of the princess’ laughter, in unison with the gentle water gushing out of the mouths of the Twelve Lions; this renowned fountain, mingled with the magical melody of the doves and the dances of the gypsies. In the midst of it, the ghosts of the past return. She feels their sigh encircled around the cold marbles of the pillars, within the Arabic inscriptions on the walls and over the intriguing mosaic of the halls; a sigh that is imbued in history.
She starts to tread softly down the wide stairs leading to many interwoven narrow pathways. Ahead of her lies hundreds of intertwining, never ending serpentine pebbled conduits appearing and disappearing into one another around the bend to meet the next one. Like a huge jigsaw puzzle, this place has an entrance, but hard to know where the exits are, not visibly linear anyway. The princess suddenly faints, and the voices abandon her.
“Is this disease in the head?”
The handsome psychiatrist of 30 years endeavours to find out, as the young princess of 18 sits up on her bed later. Looking outside at the melancholy sun-set, she decides that this evening is a reflection of her state of mind undoubtedly. Mourning becomes her as she looks out at Alhambra which turns red, and tetchy in the departing sun. Nevertheless, the nurse stands by her bed with a herbal concoction in a silver chalice, so she would take it. She takes the goblet and swallows it with water with a bit of water also handed by the nurse in a cup.
“These voices are driving me crazy,” the princess said.
“You might have to take more medicine. That’s what they are for.”
“No medicine has ever worked for me before.”
“They will work, this time. I’m sure of it.”
“Tell the voices to leave me alone,”
“Tell me more about them.”
“They call themselves the three sisters.”
“The three sisters?”
“Yes, that’s what they call themselves. The three sisters.”
“Why am I being haunted by these ghosts of the past.”
“You are unwell,” said a psychiatrist nonchalantly.
“I see three ghastly sisters dancing at sun down wearing blue, green and pink flowing robes each. I hear them each whispering to themselves and to me.”
“What are they whispering now?”
“Oh, about the same.”
“Can you tell me what these sisters are saying to you?”
“Oh, these are devils, ghosts, saying vile stuff.”
“They are here now.”
The princess spaces out. It clearly indicates that she is having another psychotic episode. The room is gradually getting darker, as the sun dips on the edge of the horizon. A kind of deathly light is cast slowly. It feels as though the princess is trapped between two worlds – the world of the living and the dead. She smiles an awful lot suddenly. And then she becomes grim. Hands on her ears; she shakes her head nodding it vehemently.
“No.No.No. Go away!” she screams.
The nurse tries to calm her down by putting a supporting hand on her and back massaging it slowly. But it doesn’t work. The princess is inconsolable. She shuts her almond eyes closed; silent tears ooze down her two temples.
“I cannot do what you say, I can’t kill them. You’re horrible, Pink. How could you?”
“Blue, is it true? What they say? Someone’s trying to kill the seven Nasrid princes’? Awful! It’s awful! Owwwww!”
“What’re you saying, Green? That I should pray, not take this potion? You say, do not take those pills. Push her away. Push the nurse away. Come, come away with us. We will show a new land... a land of wonders...”And the whisperings carry on.
The princess wails for a while and then she pushes the nurse. Suddenly, she is strong. Her delicate demeanour is replaced by a shade of purple unsightly colour. Her voice changes into that of a shrieking Nightingale. She pushes the nurse which causes for her to hit her head down on the cold marble floor. The nurse faints. The psychiatrist is met with the same fate too. They are no match for her newfound aggressiveness.
Stepping down from her bed, she prepares to follow the whisperers. She appears to be gliding in air as she tries not to lose sight of them. They take her through this passage. A passage hidden from the public eye for centuries and covered in green moss, wild ferns and wet vines creeping over an old Moorish wall. In the far corner of it, a creaky wooden door stands slightly ajar. Even the staffs here don’t know of its existence. The embodiment of the silent voices sail through as the princess follows them. They turn around when the princess stumbles on a dead log. She rises, but she doesn’t wake up from her sleepwalk. She follows them until they walk her through the great palace gates and to lead her further away and then deep into the garden hedges. She is tired by now. She lies down on the stump of a tree and slowly passes out. But she wakes up rapidly and finds herself here not knowing how she came. But she must hurry and return to the palace. The voices are gone!
At first she is disoriented. She looks around. Her whisperers come back abruptly. They egg her on. Before the minutes pass, a portal is opened and a shadow appears in the dark. It begins to walk towards a door. Gawking at the figure with tear stained eyes, her lips parted she clutches on to her shimmering dress of white pearls in a panic. The voices come and go intermittently.
“Come with me, princess,” commands a male voice.
“I ... I don’t want to,” she hiccups and sobs.
“Where’re you taking me?”
“Come. You have a mission to fulfil.”
“A mission to fulfil? What mission would that be?”
The male figure extends a studded sword of precious rock asking her to hold it. In the dark, she slips her tiny palm carelessly over the sword. She can’t stop sobbing. She wants to break loose, run as fast as she can. But her hand was now locked in the iron fist of this man on the sword; no matter, how much she squirms she can’t get out, neither can she stop those tears.
“The voices will lead you from here on?”
And they do. Those apparitions return to walk her through a portal where all her seven cousins, the future rulers peacefully sleep. In a trance, she picks them up one at a time and through the portal brings them out near the fountain. With the sword in one hand, she holds their heads with the other, while they sleep standing still like babies on opium. Then with the incisive blade, she butchers them one after the other slicing through the neck. When all the cousins are dead at last, she comes back to her senses as the ghosts leave her to her memories. She looks at the massacre. Her opal eyes wide open this time. Streaming blood at the fountains of the Twelve Lions, the severed heads of the seven cousins lie amok on the paved path.
This disturbs her fragile mental balance. The princess loses consciousness and lies with her dead cousins. However, when she wakes up, she finds herself not at the fountain but in her royal quarters with the psychologist and nurses pouring over her with deep concern.
“What just happened?”
“You passed into a deep sleep your royal highness from the effects of the medicine. We couldn’t wake you up.”
“Did anyone get assassinated in the palace?”
“Not that we know of.”
“Oh! Thank God for that! It was all a horrific nightmare.”
“Was it? All of it?” the psychiatrist asked.
“No, some parts are true. I do hear voices. And I’m never happy.”
They sit looking at each other. The princess holds the young psychiatrist mesmerised who can’t take his eyes off her. After a while they both smile wanly. But then as the legend goes, those princes’ were brutally killed near about the same place and manner by unseen hands at some point in history, within the palace of Alhambra. It is not known even to this day how or why they were murdered.
Before men started shooting at him with 7.92 mm bullets Harry Burnside had been a singer. He stood in front of fifteen, twenty and sometimes thirty man orchestras and sang the Dorsey, Kenton, or Ellington songs or whatever else the crowd in front and the band behind wanted to hear. He had worked his magic in Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and his home town, Windsor, Ontario. Harry thought it was only right to use his natural talent, his voice to make at least part of his living. It had also been a great way to start a young life and learn the music and entertainment business from professionals. It was only incidental that it was the perfect place for a teenager to learn from the masters how to party.
Sometimes horrendous events are necessary to save a young man from himself. In Harry’s case it was the war in Europe that brought a young man’s party life to a close, at least temporarily. Of course it also accelerated the danger in that life.
Not that Harry rushed to a recruiting station in the autumn of 1939. Some of his young friends and even the older men he worked with certainly did. It was one of the older musicians who convinced him signing up for service was the thing to do.
“Folks ‘r sayin’ this here war is gonna be over in no time,” Marvin, a trumpet player said. “They is sorely mistaken. I bin readin’ up on these here Germans an’ they got ‘em an army. British ain’t got nothin’ an’ they’s gonna get whacked.”
“Are you suggesting we Canadian boys should go over there and get whacked, as you say, right along with them?” Harry asked.
“First off, I ain’t a Canuk, I’m a southern boy,” Marvin said. “Second, when things get tough they’ll be comin’ for us anyway. Might as well sign up for somethin’ you want t’ do instead o’ somethin’ the government thinks you’d be good at.”
“You’re country isn’t in it,” Harry pointed out.
“Not yet,” Marvin responded. “Now, you’ve been workin’ here an’ there along with singin’. I don’t got no income but my trumpet. A man signs up he’ll get three squares a day an’ a cot.”
Harry took a drink of his whiskey and water and cast his gaze around the musicians gathered in the late night or, to those who were not musicians, early morning booze hall.
“You know, Marv, I’ve always wanted to learn to fly a plan,” Harry said.
Marvin clapped him on the shoulder. “Now you’re talkin’, boy. Royal Canadian Air Force. What say we go sign up first thing in the mornin’?”
Harry looked at his watch. “Might I suggest early this afternoon? I might be awake by then.”
Somewhere between Windsor, Ontario and Ashford, Kent, Harry lost touch with Marvin, but not with men from the southern States. Almost half the men stationed on the airfield were Americans who had travelled north to Canada and signed on with the RCAF.
Though they wore Canadian uniforms and insignia they were technically in Royal Air Force squadrons. Their squadron commander was a British major, and Harry’s wing commander a Canadian Lieutenant. The other two Canadian pilots presently assigned to their understaffed wing were actually from Arkansas. In the two man barracks enjoyed by RAF pilots one of those southerners, Otis Tyler was Harry’s bunk mate.
“Ah hear we all getting’ new radios next month,” Otis said as the two pilots walked down the hall one early morning in late August.
Harry shrugged with one shoulder as he held the door open with the other hand and let Otis out into the humid dawn. “Be fine if they’re better than the T9. But if they aren’t, well, I’m starting to get used to being up there all by myself.”
“Mighty handy fur tellin’ somebody where you’s ‘bout t’ crash,” Otis noted.
“As long as they work and you’re no more than a mile away” Harry countered. “The T9 is good for about that far. You’re probably better off depending on a farmer seeing you go down.”
As they approached the mess hall their wing leader, Lieutenant Mapes reached the door and opened it for them.
“Good news chaps,” the officer said as the two non-coms passed through the door he held open for them. “Just spoke with the CO. We stand down today.”
“Excellent!” Harry said. “Now I can have some real breakfast and more than one cup of coffee.”
“Yuh all worry too much ‘bout that coffee thing,” Otis said.
“Quite good policy,” the Lieutenant said.
“Nothin’ to it,” Otis responded. “Yuh all just take a cola bottle up with yuh.”
“I say, old boy, a bit hard to pee in a bottle when one is trying to avoid the 109 that is glued to your tail. Not to mention that bottle flying around loose in the cockpit.”
“Yuh all make sure yuh strap it in so it don’ fly ‘round,” Otis said. “As fur takin’ a leak when Gerry’s on muh tail an fillin’ my magic carpet full o’ holes, why ‘bout then I don’ have no trouble passin’ water.”
Lieutenant Mapes laughed. Harry grinned and shook his head in resignation.
“Since we aren’t going up to be shot at, perhaps we could talk about something else?” Harry suggested.
“Our Calm Colonial boy is right once again,” Mapes said. “We have a day to repair gear.”
“And talk about new radios,” Harry suggested.
“There isn’t anything to talk about,” Mapes said. “I’ve heard the same rumours as you men. However, I haven’t heard anything from the Old Man and I haven’t seen any radios. Other than the 9 in my Spit that quit working entirely the last time I was up.”
Later that day, Otis asked Harry to join him and some other airmen to study and review the local ladies and pubs. However, Harry had grown out of the need to wake up with a pounding hangover. He had already had years of partying. Besides, bringing in bullet scarred Spitfires had made the drinking bouts seem very unimportant. His mates, often a year younger still asked him even though he seldom went with them.
An hour after the other pilots had gone into town Harry walked off the base and caught a ride into Ashford. He walked the streets for awhile admiring the buildings and the history.
Occasionally a Junkers 88 would fly across the English Channel very close to the water, start a steep climb to miss the Cliffs of Dover and release a bomb mounted to its belly at the end of that climb. The speed of the bomber combined with the force of the climb would cast that bomb for a very long way and it would land wherever the laws of physics, geology, and aerodynamics might decide and no man could say. On that beautiful day in late August, 1940 a building Harry had admired moments before and at that moment was no more than a block and a half away, disappeared in a cloud of dust, smoke and noise.
Harry Burnside had been flying over Britain for three months. He had been as far as France on a half dozen occasions. He had no idea how many dog fights he had been in but had shot down three Me 109s and crash landed twice. He had landed successfully in Spitfires that probably should have quit flying several minutes before. He had been scared out of his mind on those occasions but had worked his way through it.
That day, on the streets of Ashford, after the completely random bombing of a very historic building, Harry Burnside could not control the choking fear.
Looking around he saw the sign for a pub, the Anvil and Hammer. He stepped through the door and saw ale glasses stacked on the bar. He turned the pint glass over and said to the barman, “Whiskey.”
The barman could see by the look on Harry’s face that discussion might be dangerous. He poured a shot into the ale glass.
“Fill it,” Harry ordered.
The inn keeper complied.
Harry downed the whiskey and noticed only in passing that it was a smooth, single malt.
He put the glass back down on the bar and said, “Again.”
Once it was full, he downed the second glass.
He remembered opening the door to his barrack, but very little after that.
Much later Otis Tyler returned to find his bunk mate, the man who usually refused to go drinking with his mates, passed out on the floor.
“Burnside,” he said, as he picked Harry up and placed him on the bunk, “yuh all just like them travelin’ preachers back t’ home; Preachin’ hell fire an’ brimstone then next thing yuh got some farmer’s daughter out behind the tent.”
And that is how Sergeant Pilot Harold Burnside became known as “Deacon.”
Come back for December and another short story of his will be inserted.
south being a palm tree, a coconut concoction
of the heart
I want to ride on a music note that brakes
for the melodies of goldfinches,
a baby laughing in Marietta, Georgia,
the long line of cotton fields
smooth with old songs
I want to land on lilies & leap
frog the white quartz through wildflowers
When dusk is a plum sky of lovely shadows
and the indigo butterflies rise
I want to watch the lights of a riverboat,
dip once in the Mississippi, and linger
slowly in the warm breath of dusk
When the music note grows tired
we will land on the wings of a guardian -
One already accustomed to my attempts to fly
One aware of my weakness for a beautiful try
His days opening too early & no one to care
but Darling -
A lean stick herself now, and barely enough
hair to hide the pink
But he always saw red - the ravishing locks
of her loveliness flung over his face, over her shoulders -
Large green eyes in a thin face, and her lips
a lush smile, crooked and bold with humor
Now they were passengers stranded in a small
house - their party a success, all the guests
gone home, or some place God knew about
Two warm chairs & Darling laughing at the birds
Pointing from a crow back to herself
till he grinned despite himself
and shook his head at this crazy woman, boned
down to bruised beauty - that crooked smile,
those eyes! The fire of her - inside and out.
over the railroad tracks in town
He stands like words strung together too rapidly
The wind off the trains that lumber beneath him
urge his coat and his hair toward their destinations
He could be a scarecrow in his worn black boots
or a wind blown still life of himself
Up close his eyes shine like an open doorway
where he keeps a straight back chair
and a blue mesa of soft unspoken prayers