Stories Page 2-Fall 2007
 
 
        ** Editor's 2nd place pick!!
 
 
LOCKED AWAY
 
 by Denise Jaden

In prison, there are two types of people: those who deserve to be there, and those who don’t. Would I be trite to claim that I am innocent? That this punishment isn’t mine any more than the next woman’s?

It’s not a typical prison. Sure, I get my three squares a day, brought lukewarm to my cell long after my hunger has subsided. Most days, it’s beans and rice, or rice and beans—always a surprise to find out which. Meat or vegetables out of a can. On a good day, overcooked pasta.

I don’t get out for an hour of daily exercise; in fact, don’t get out for an hour of anything. It’s not solitary confinement exactly. I get visitors, and they tell me how in the big scheme of things it’s only a short stint. Time will fly. I don’t say much in return. Grit my teeth. Thank them for coming. It’s something.

My Sentencer comes by weekly and reminds me of why I’m here, as though I’ve forgotten. Asks me how I am. "Fine," I reply, with all my heart in the ‘F’. But his eyes are serious and after he’s gone I’m more consumed with my confinement. Can barely leave my bed for the toilet.

I hear the latch rattle and know it must be dinnertime. My guard struts in, clunks my tray beside my bed as I pretend to sleep. After he leaves, I flip over and look. Macaroni and cheese. Oh blessed day! I want to tell him what kind of meals he’d get if the roles were reversed. But they’re not. So I don’t.

I’m not saying none of it was my fault, or that I didn’t expect some repercussions. But I thought I’d paid enough of a price the first time. And the second time. And the third time, definitely the third time. Oh, the abuse this body has taken. I went into this fully aware of those consequences. But why do I have to front it all? It’s always been one big game from his perspective. Again and again, he had me, his fun little romp, and yet he roams free, oblivious. Walks in and out of here without restriction. Everything about him makes me sick. His carefree attitude, the way he seems to rise above the basic laws of life.

I glance over at the calendar taped to my wall, mentally checking off another day. Can’t even remember how many it’s been. Two hundred? Maybe more? I pick up the book slung over the tattered bed frame, open to my page marker, read the first sentence five or six times before I decide to put it back down. Reach over and shovel up a spoonful of macaroni. Chew and chew and chew. Think about a second bite. Turn over and will myself back to sleep.

 

I wake up in the dark. It’s cold and quiet. The miniscule window high up the wall tells me it’s nighttime. My sheets are soaked beneath me and I groggily wonder if I’ve been tossing and turning. Then it hits me. I smile.

Time to get out.

I can envision it all now. I’ll yell. He’ll come and get me. Pick me up and haul me out, down the hall, while the others look on. Cheer. "Don’t worry," the one who’s been here the longest will say. And I’ll want to believe her. He’ll throw me in a car, probably in the back, watching my every move. The air will feel good, but I won’t tell him so. Won’t say anything all the way to the hospital.

They’ll cart me out in a wheelchair or on a stretcher and his eyes won’t leave me.

But wait. What if I need surgery? What if they wheel me straight into the OR? My Sentencer will reappear and make all my decisions for me. Then, "Six more weeks," he’ll say gravely.

I ball my fists under the covers and wait. But for what? I don’t have a choice.

"It’s time," I yell, echoing through the quiet.

I go over my plan again; the way it should work.

It won’t be surgery, it’ll be hard, but it won’t come to that. He’ll watch my anguish, my writhing and convulsing body, and he might even smile, sick bastard. But it’s the breathing that’ll really bother me; his methodic panting as he looks on without so much as a pinch to his own skin. I won’t care. Won’t even notice. It’s almost over.

I may cry out, I may not. But with one last excruciating, satisfying push, my sentence will be done. And he’ll be wholly taken with her.

Who am I kidding? I will be, too.

I’ll look over and see him studying her tiny fingers—hard to believe we’ve been here five times before. Remembering the dark hours in my bedroom, with only her tiny kicks and punches for company, I’m suddenly grateful. Those private moments won’t come easy from here on in.

His eyes will move to her sweet face, where they’ll stay for the next eighteen years. But behind that smile I’ll see his weariness. See him drudging down the hall at three a.m. when our toddler has had another bad dream. See him begging his boss for an extra sick day when our five-year-old has the flu. See him running up the stairs to bring a bowl of Cheerios to my bedside before he races back to the office to work through lunch.

I’ll reach over and touch his hand. He’ll look over at me and whisper, "I’m so proud of you."

I’ll squeeze his hand and squeak out, "You, too."

And I won’t be able to wait to get back to my precious little helpers, suddenly transformed from their potentially stress-inducing selves.

I feel a warm tear brush my cheek.

Seconds later, he bursts into the room, flips on the bright overhead light.

"Are you sure?" he says.

I nod.

He lifts me up and cradles me, helps me hobble down the hall and out the front door. I look back at our home and see our oldest daughter waving from the upper floor. No metal bars, just the framed glass window. She opens it wide to call out one last bout of support.

We get to the car and he asks me if I want to be in the front or the back. I tell him the front. So we can talk on the way.

 

 Bio: Denise Jaden's writing has been seen in Mississippi Crow and Natural Bodybuilding and Fitness. She's a professional Polynesian dancer and lives near Vancouver, Canada with her husband and three year old son. www.denisejaden.com

 
 

Snow Drops
 
  by Maria Pollack
 
My grandfather helped me strap on the skis while my grandmother watched from the door.  “Karl,” she called out, “be sure not to tire her out too much.”
 
In reply, he waved to her but winked at me as if we shared a secret.  After he’d adjusted his own skis, we headed out toward the forest.  We were going in those same deep, dark woods where my grandmother and I had discovered the Snow Drops, delicate flowers heralding spring‘s return that hide among the shadows. 
 
That was on the very first day I came to live with my grandparents, and my grandmother had said finding the flowers was a good omen, that the war would be over soon.  But that was two years earlier, just after my ninth birthday.
 
Keeping my skis in the tracks my grandfather made, I followed him out across the fields.  Crystalline specks of the fresh snow sparkled in the sunlight.   The world was quiet, hushed as if all the creatures of that wild country--the birds, deer, foxes, and wolves--were keeping especially still, hiding themselves.  All we could hear was creak of our leather bindings and the sound of our own breathing.
 
We were on the lookout for the thief who had broken into the henhouse as the snow whirled down the night before.  When my grandfather took down his rifle from over the fire place and began to wipe it carefully with a polishing cloth, I asked him if it could have been a wolf that had taken the eggs.  
 
He shook his head. 
 
“You’ve been listening to too many of your grandmother’s fairy tales.  A wolf would have eaten the hens, not just stolen the eggs. This creature is far less noble than the wolf.”
 
“What is it then?  A fox?”  I asked.
 
My grandfather did not answer me. 
 
I looked over at my grandmother who began to assemble the ingredients for the strudel she’d promised we could make that day.  She set out a tin of flour, another of sugar, a bowl of eggs, and  a large cup filled with shelled walnuts on the kitchen table. 
 
“Emmie, why don’t you come here and help me?”
 
I turned away and pretended not to hear her.  I wanted to go with my grandfather, and he’d already promised me earlier when he’d come in from gathering the eggs and announced that the barn had been broken into again that I could help him track down the intruder.  At the time, I didn’t realize my grandmother was trying to protect me, to shield me from darkness.
 
“She’s to come with me,” my grandfather said as he loaded his rifle.
 
“But Karl…”
 
“Enough.  She should know what all this sacrifice is for.”
 
I felt my cheeks grow hot as I looked at my grandmother who shook her head and sighed.
 
It took us what seemed like a very long time to cross the open fields, and as we approached the woods, the wind picked up. Snow swirls danced before us.  The tips of my fingers and toes had already gone numb from the cold, but I didn’t complain.  I knew if I whined or protested by grandfather would turn around and take me back to the house and the blazing fire, but I also knew I’d never be allowed to accompany him to the forest again.
 
“There,” he said, pointing with his mittened hand. 
 
“The creature went that way.” 
 
My grandfather quickened his pace and I tried my best to keep up.   I felt my heart pounding in my chest and it hurt to breathe.  I didn’t see any recognizable prints--wolf or fox--in the snow.  I didn’t see anything at all until we were upon our prey.
 
My grandfather stopped suddenly.  I moved to his left and that’s when I saw the little boy.  He wore no coat.  Dressed in an old moth-eaten sweater, a pair of tattered pants that seemed far too small, and a grown man’s boots, he stared back at us with the darkest eyes I’d ever seen.  He was probably only about nine years old, yet he didn’t cry out when my grandfather lifted his gun. A shot rang out, echoing through the dark wood. The boy fell backward into the snow.  The winds calmed, and silence fell around us.
 
I watched as the blood from the hole in the boy’s chest soaked the surrounding snow a bright red.  It turned what had once been an immaculate whiteness a deep crimson.  The boys’ eyes were still open, staring up at the sky, but no longer seeing anything, and his arms, with their palms turned up, rested at his side.  I saw the black number tattooed on the pale white skin of his forearm.
 
I looked up into my grandfather’s eyes and recognized, for the first time, that they were the same pale blue color as the scrim of  ice which formed on the inside of the windows in my grandparents’ house on the coldest winter nights after the embers of the fire burned out.
 
 
 
BioMaria Pollack has had short fiction published in The Detroit Jewish News, The Little Magazine, The Loyalhanna Review, Wings, Quantum Tao, Art Times, Urban Desires, Lily, The Angler, The Green Silk Journal, The Picolata Review, Word Riot, EMG-Zine, Blue Print Review, Chick Flicks, Boston Literary Magazine, The Late, Late Show, Bent Pin Quarterly, Shine!, Dark Reveries, and The Ghost in the Gazebo:  An Anthology of New England Ghost Stories.  She is an Assistant Professor of English at Hudson Valley Community College, Troy, New York.



 

 

Dark Psychiatry

  by Ann-Marie Spittle

 

It was her silent affirmations that kept her from going completely insane. Stopped her from fading away into the nothingness, of the room around her.

“I am here. I am here,” she repeated over and over, “I think, therefore I am”.

The darkness had overtaken her once or twice, once, “He of the outside” administered the syringe. He’d said it would help her mind relax. Allow the dark feelings she had to surface, in the safety of the padded cell.

The first night she’d shredded the walls down to the metal, and left claw marks deep into the plaster. She’d been moved quickly to “a sturdier confine,” as he had put it. She’d only reached the metal casing this time, long serrated tears in the metallic flesh, leaving her hands bloody and sore. They had bandaged them to sounds of new nurse gasps, and old nurse tutting.

“Right down to the bone”, she heard them say. She returned to her haven of blackness.

She awoke, tried to move, but the jacket restricted her, and made her feel like a half-finished silkworm. She decided to contemplate her surroundings, and stared at the ceiling. The dark shadows played hide and seek with the stark light of the bulb, and its wire covered lampshade. One shadow looked at her, and started down the wall. Slowly it slithered, its black oozing shape, getting closer and closer, gaining solidity and definition, until it resembled a leathery old man.

“Why are you here?” it asked, “You do not belong here. You are one of us, not a prisoner.” It touched her on the arm. “Let go this material prison and be free.”

She wrestled with her bonds, as she tried to move away from him, but they became tighter, cramping her breathing, until she felt the darkness take her again. When she awoke, a creature she had not seen since childhood stood staring at her from across the room.

This was a dream. Gargoyles didn’t really exist. Her mother was right. She was MAD!

The Gargoyle moved around her, making a sound like an old leather couch her Grandmother once had. Wings beating gently, allowing a horse saddle smell to waft over her, and large, bush baby eyes, swivelled this way and that. He pulled and prodded her, sniffed and stared. Long claws brushed through her hair gently, and his smile was like a face full of broken plates.

“Become substanceless, and you will be free from here.” He beat his wings, and waited for her on the ceiling. She tried to let go. Return to the darkness. The safe place, but he wouldn’t let her go so easily.

 

“Not like that,” it hissed, “Be light, be shadow, be substanceless,” it showed her by becoming a wisp of smoke, and was gently pushed around by the airflow of the air conditioning system.

“Now you try. Let go and fly.” He became solid again, and leaned over her in expectation.

She relaxed, felt her body start to break up, as one does when you meditate. She felt herself float free of the straight jacket, fly up to the ceiling, and float gently along it to the light bulb. An affirmation got in the way, “I think, therefore I am” made her crash to the floor, and set off an alarm.

Worker ants rushed through the door, in a swarm of white, grabbing, binding, strapping, tightening, and bruising. She lay there in acceptance. “Why try, why bother. Accept. Accept.”

The workers left, and she rolled back and forth. She wondered if she made herself sick enough could she cover the cell with vomit. “Give them something to do that was worth their time and effort.” She rolled back and forth to try, but felt giddy again, and blacked out. She was getting used to this state of affairs. Try too hard and you blacked out. Try to escape and the workers arrived. She sighed in acceptance. Acceptance was always expected.

“You cannot get well if you do not accept,” the doctors said. The doctors said, the doctors said. She wished she could pull off their big fatheads.

The door creaked, and the gargoyle slowly opened it, letting in a soft light from outside.

“Come. It is time for one as you to be free. The Higher ones will it.” She rolled towards it, trying not to make too much noise.

The gargoyle turned, and with a swoop of a clawed hand, the jacket fell to the ground. Her legs betrayed her for a moment, but the creature was not giving in that easily.

“Become as smoke, become as me.” she tried again, and this time she kept her form. She followed the soft billowing cloud that was the creature. Slowly they drifted past the nurses, up the fire escape to the roof. Standing on the edge of the cold concrete ledge, she looked at the creature, and prepared to leap.

It was then she realised they were not alone.

“Sadie, come down, dear. You know it’s dangerous near the edge. You might fall, and where would you be?” the cold unfeeling voice of her mother reached her, over the whipping winds of the rooftop.

“I’ll be free of you,” Sadie said. She turned towards the creature, smiled, and sprung off the roof like a flying squirrel.

The onlookers screamed. Sadie fell. She plummeted further, and further, gaining speed. “Be like me,” came the voice, and she became smoke. Sadie’s heart soared, and suddenly she changed again, growing white feathers. She found others like her in the trees around the hospital, and joined in with the soft melodious coo of their voices.

She had found peace at last.

The authorities searched for her body for days. No trace was found, not even a stray hair off her head.

 “It was as if she had faded into thin air,” the doctors said. “A fall like that should have shown some evidence”

The creature stretched and looked out into the city. There was his perch calling to him at the other side of the cathedral. “Job well done,” he thought. “Another saved from modern science and its soulless religion”.

The gargoyle settled down, and a dove landed on his head, softly cooing as it turned and weaved, and finally fell still. He fell asleep to the bird’s soft call.

He would be called forth again, to save God’s children, but not right now. Now was a time for rest. Sadie danced across his eyelids, and cooed softly on his head. He smiled. After all, Heaven and Hell were in the mind of the beholder.

    "When we come to the edge of all the light we have, and we must take a step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe one of two things: Either we will find something to stand on, or we will be taught to fly." – Anonymous

Bio: Ann-Marie is an ex-British Army Lance Corporal who served 9½ years as a WRAC (Women's Royal Army Corps) military Clerk. When the Corps was disbanded and the ladies were integrated into the Regular Army regiments associated with their respective trades, Ann-Marie served with the Adjutants Generals Corps. She quips that she joined the Army because the rest of her family were members of the RAF (Royal Air Force) and she "likes to be different."She is currently studying for a BA (Hons) in Humanities with English Literature and Language, and later hopes to teach creative writing in college. Over the past 20 years, Ann-Marie has written all styles of poetry, and short stories, mostly war and spiritual. One of her poems ‘The Eternal Soldier’ is being recited in Sydney, Australia on 11th November 07.She has been published in anthologies and magazines such as Anchor Press, Distant Echoes, Lavender Mist, Crannog, Poetic Hours, and on poetry websites such as International War Veterans Poetry, Forces Poetry, and War Poetry. She had recently self published her work on Lulu.com as separate anthologies.