by Michael C. Keith
To err is human, not to, animal.
As Afra emerged from the woods, she encountered strange shimmering objects roaring past her. Not knowing what they were, she stepped into the clearing intent on reaching the pine trees on the other side. The peculiar moving forms confused and frightened her, but she forged ahead in quest of her missing fawn, Dympna. A few feet into the treeless area, she was struck with such force that she became airborne, eventually landing on the hard surface. Everything went black for a moment and then she regained consciousness. Her body was racked with pain the likes of which she’d never known––pain far beyond what she had experienced falling into a frozen pond or being grazed by a hunter’s bullet. The awful hurt was centered mainly in her right leg, which was snapped in half and resting inches from her bleeding nose.
While Afra lay gravely injured, she noticed that the passing objects contained what she knew as slayers of her breed. Some stared at her with mild curiosity while others ignored her entirely, continuing on their way. When she attempted to right herself, agony immobilized her. A second attempt to stand resulted in a shift in her position on the road and a near collision with another vehicle.
The wounded doe remained unassisted as the sun began to descend the western sky. She could feel her heartbeat slow and the pain ebb, as her body grew numb. She no longer felt the harsh blasts of wind generated by the migrating vessels containing the enemies of her species.
My child . . . my dear child, she moaned, fearing she would never see her only offspring again.
Was the father of her fawn nearby, she wondered? He, too, had been searching for their lost youngster.
Maral . . . Maral! Called Afra, but she lacked the strength to be heard beyond the immediate vicinity. Nonetheless, she continued her desperate summons. More than anything, she hoped the herd’s lead buck would find Dympna and escape with her into the deep forest where they would be beyond the deadly acts of humans.
From the corner of her eye, she saw a vessel stop and two humans climb out and walk in her direction. Hoping to ward them off, she tried to swing her head in a threatening manner, but her movement was slight and did not deter them.
“She got some life in her yet, but not much,” said one of the humans.
“Some nice meat there. She’s a pretty full cow . . . way too big to get in the car whole like that,” observed his companion.
“We can drag her to the shoulder and cut her up there. Take the good stuff. Got my machete and a tarp in the trunk we can wrap it in.”
“Better put her down before moving her. These things can be dangerous in that condition. Can kick you dead.”
“No biggie. Just slit her jugular and she’s a goner.”
A vehicle with flashing yellow lights pulled up behind Afra and the men.
“Damn! It’s the highway guys come to clear her off. They gonna’ want her steaks. Divide her up in the truck. Maybe sell the meat.”
As the men discussed the situation, Afra fought to remain conscious. At one point, a passing auto came to a near stop. For a split second, Afra made eye contact with a child sitting in the back seat. The small human’s guileless brown eyes reminded her of Dympna, prompting a mournful whine to burst forth from her damaged lungs. The hunters stepped back and were almost glanced by a van.
“Shoot, she ain’t that far gone!” observed one of them, as the highway officials approached.
“You boys best get off the road before you end up like this poor critter. We’ll take care of things from here,” said a tall figure in a bright orange vest.
“Okay, man. We’re gone,” replied one of the hunters.
“Yeah, enjoy the meat, fellas,” said the other, with a snide tone in his voice.
The banished men reluctantly climbed into their pickup and drove off, scattering gravel with its spinning tires.
“ Fools!” spit one of the highway officials, shaking his fist.
“Never mind them. Back the truck up a little more, Sid, so we can hoist her carcass onto the flatbed. I’ll dart her,” instructed the other road worker, aiming a pistol at the wounded deer and firing it.
Afra did not feel the dart strike her neck, but within seconds she could no longer hold up her head. As her world was about to go dark, she caught a glimpse of her precious fawn emerging from the dense brush. Terrified for its welfare, Afra willed herself to find the strength to warn Dympna against entering the hazardous clearance. Her admonition did not work, because the young animal wanted nothing more than to reach her mother.
The squeal of tires and a horrible thud were the last things Afra ever heard.
Bio:Michael C. Keith is the author of two story collections ––And Through the Trembling Air and Hoag’s Object.
***Keith was Greensilk Journal's 2010 short story nominee for the Pushcart Prize for 'The Steaks of Wrath'.
A LONG RIDE HOME
by Linda Thornton Peterson
The first letter had come to her a few days ago. That was when she knew she had to return home to New Orleans. She had been taken in by the promise of a story, one that she couldn’t pass-up. As a writer, ideas for stories were given to her all the time. Why did she listen to this letter and what it promised? Usually, she trusted her gut—not this time. Ignoring her feelings, she flew in and took a cab to Oak Street, per the letter’s instructions.
The letter said that she would be met by a man in front of the Oak Street Dime Store. As soon as she got out of the cab she recognized the store where she’d spent her dimes as a child. She looked in the store window at the collection of made-in-Japan trinkets and saw the reflection of a man in brown slacks and shirt standing behind her. Without bothering to introduce himself, he told her, “Take the streetcar to Canal Street. Wait until you’ve passed The Crepe Myrtle bed and breakfast on St. Charles Avenue, then read this second letter.” He folded the envelope, handed it to her and said, “That’s when you’ll know.”
“Know what? ... Are you sure about this?” she asked, tucking a limp strand of dark hair under her white beret.
“I’m sure,” he said. Then he quickly walked towards Carrollton Avenue and the big purple sign of the Katz and Besthoff Drug Store.
It had been a long time since she had been home and even longer since she had taken the streetcar. She slid onto the smooth wooden seat and hung onto the back of the seat in front of her as the car rocked along. The city was quiet on South Carrollton Avenue, but activity picked up as the streetcar followed the river bend and headed onto St. Charles Avenue. They would pass by Tulane, Loyola and Audubon Park; places she knew well. The trees were green and the moss was thin, but no one on board noticed—they were used to them.
She leaned close into the window and looked out hard as her world passed by. The moss thickened and trees grayed. Now the trees hung closer to the streetcar and created a gray-green tunnel as it sped along. Nothing looked familiar.
She passed The Crepe Myrtle bed and breakfast. Unnerved, she looked in her bag for the letter and further instructions. She pulled out the folded envelope while trying to keep from being tossed off her seat. Passengers, the few that there were, now watched her and then moved to seats close to hers. Clutching the envelope, she tried to open it and hang on at the same time. She needed two hands to do this, but finally she got the letter out. They watched, almost hovering over her. She ignored them as she scanned the letter.
“Get off—get off quick before the next stop!” she read. “Off—before the next stop!” it repeated.
What! What the… How was she to do that? There was no emergency cord. The streetcar continued speeding into the gray-green tunnel. Then she realized she might insist that she had to get off—that she was sick or some such ruse to make them stop in the middle of the route. With no time to lose, she cried out as if in pain and held her stomach. The passengers surrounded her. She screamed at them, “I have to get off now, quick, right now! I have to get off here—before the last stop!”
They ignored her. The conductor paid no attention either. On and on the streetcar went, picking up speed. The moss was so thick now it clung to the power-lines overhead that guided the car along the tracks. Sparks cascaded over the streetcar like Mardi Gras sparklers.
She knew she was not going to get off now, no matter what. This was the story she was meant to know.
The faces around her came in closer. Sterile face-masks were removed. They looked at the clock and noted the exact time. Out came the tubes in her arm, mouth and chest. The doctor took off his rubber gloves and said, “It was a long ride home for her.”
He’d known her all her days, all the sick days and the well days, too. There were not many, maybe enough for a novella.
Bio: Linda Thornton Peterson retired from Northern Illinois University as a psychotherapist and teacher. Two of her short stories and a poem have appeared in The Green Silk Journal. Her poems have been published in other literary journals including The Hanging Moss Journal. She founded a local writer's group that also welcomes artists. As a former art teacher, she continues to paint as well as write.
ANOTHER NEIGHBORLY WAVE
by Paul Beckman
I’m not unfriendly. I nod hello to my neighbors and wave or smile when they wave or smile at me as I’m driving by their houses or they mine. I’m invited to the neighborhood picnics every year but always call in my excuses. Laura hated that about me. It’s not why she left me but it’s symbolic of our problems she’d tell me. You’re symbolic of our problems I’d say back to her and she’d go silent on me for a couple of days. That was at first and then it became a couple of weeks of silence after one of our spats. If it weren’t for our spats we’d have had no communication at all. Spats were the glue that held our marriage together for the last couple of years.
We haven’t spoken since two months before our separation and divorce. She just moved out and had her lawyer send the sheriff to my office with papers. That was well over a year ago. So when she called one day out of the blue and I didn’t recognize her voice she gave me an attitude that I didn’t deserve. If you’d been silent on the phone I would have said hi Laura, how’s it going? I’d for sure recognize her silence—certainly more than her voice.
She wanted to come over and see me she said. Finish up the unfinished business that I didn’t even know we had. Suit yourself I said and there was a familiar quiet on the phone line and then she hung up.
She showed up Saturday morning. I was raking the leaves and waved to her as she went by me heading for the driveway. I didn’t know it was her I was waving to—I assumed it was one of the neighbors.
You thought I was a neighbor when you waved didn’t you she asked? Maybe I said but what brings your chatty little self out to the house? I could see her jaw tighten and she knew I’d catch that so she relaxed her jaw and asked can we go sit down and talk?
I’m moving into the neighborhood she said and I told her it was okay by me and she said she was getting remarried and I said that too was okay by me and I wished her luck and stood up but she wasn’t finished. I’ll be living two doors down she said like it was an apartment building. I’m marrying Tommy Grints. Which side of this house two down is Tommy Grints I asked and she told me that his wife had died a couple of years ago and I said sorry to hear it but which house and she pointed out the blue cape and said that he’d been living there before us and I should’ve known his name by now and I said okay.
Grints is a funny name I said are you going to take his name? We haven’t talked about that yet she told me and I said you’re starting off just like us not talking about things. She didn’t try to untighten her jaw as she silently left the house. We didn’t wave to each other as she drove away which got me to thinking about whether I’d have to wave to her every time she passed my house going to her Grints house and maybe I should just stop waving to everyone to save on all that communication with the ex.
Her first note came as a ‘dear neighbor’ invite from the newly married Tommy and Laura Grints inviting one and all to a meet the couple barbeque. I tossed it. When people started filling up the backyard of the blue cape I happened to be outside planting a new flowerbed and every time I looked over that way someone was waving to me and finally a couple of guys with beers walked across the neighboring back yard and handed me a beer and introduced themselves. It’s criminal to refuse a beer so I thanked them and started to go back to my garden when they began chatting me up. The next thing you know I was in Grints backyard being handed a hotdog from the grill. I went and sat down on the stoop to eat and not minutes later Laura joined me and told me she was glad I could come to her first party and then she handed me a real estate card with her picture on it and told me to call if I or anyone I knew could use her services. She never told me she was selling real estate or if she did I must have tuned her out. She left me and I watched her mingle and pass out her cards all the while smiling and talking. I walked back to the grill and pointed to a burger and the guy in a tall white hat slipped one on a roll and put it on my plate. There you go neighbor he said and I walked back to my house but I should’ve stuck around for another because it was a damn fine burger.
Later that month, I got a do you know how much your house is worth card from Laura and it suggested I call for a free no obligation market analysis and she had written in that she’d call me because we both knew I’d never call. I was kind of curious so when she called I asked her how much and she said that she’d have to come over and look at the house in order to do a proper job. But you lived here for twelve years I told her and she said that was different and she now has real estate eyes and would have to see the house for herself so I said why not and let her set a time.
She walked around the house asking dumb questions like do you have a basement and how old is the roof both things she new but had to hear with her real estate ears. How much? I asked and she said that she’d have to come back after doing her paper work to figure out a price. You act like you’re in a hurry to move she said and I said that I wasn’t but if I were I’d certainly consider her services and she walked out but not before handing me another business card on the way. I put it on the counter with her other card.
Laura called two days later and told me that she worked up the market analysis and could she come over to present it and I asked her why she couldn’t just give me the how much over the phone. She said because that’s not how it’s done and in her field and she’s known for being exact and on top of things and even though I wondered how long she’d been in her field I kept it to myself and told her to come on over and she told me that she was busy until Wednesday and was that okay for me and I said sure.
On Wednesday she insisted on sitting at the kitchen table and going over her entire report before she got to her price. Well what do you think she asked when she finished and I said I was impressed by Real Estate Laura and she said that’s nice but what do you think about the price and I told her that if I decided to sell I’d consider both her and her price. She stood thanked me shook my hand and then reached into her blazer pocket and pulled out another business card attached to a calendar and slapped the magnet on the refrigerator. Thank you for your time she said and walked out the door got into her car and drove two doors down.
I’m in a Thursday night bowling league. Most of the teams are comprised of people who work together but mine’s made up of guys from my chess club and while I’m not the best I sport a one seventy-four average with a high game of two forty-three. I’m a consultant so I don’t usually work in a place long enough to form bowling team bonds although I have filled in several times in different places. I’m a rocket scientist and what makes the jokes even worse is that I’m a freelance rocket scientist. I travel mostly in commuting distance to my Connecticut base but every once in a while I take a job out of state and once spent a three month stint at very high pay in Japan.
Truth be told I’m not a top-notch rocket scientist—a NASA type, but I am good enough to make a decent living as a Rocket for Hire type guy. At one time I wanted to have business cards printed with HAVE ROCKET WILL TRAVEL but decided it was too frivolous for the type work I do but that doesn’t keep me from saying it and getting a chuckle every time I use it.
I usually get home from bowling about ten thirty and there’s always a light on at the Grints’ house and cars in their driveway. On weekends they party up a storm with barbeques, bocce and badminton or anything to keep active. This is the life that Laura wanted and never got from me but she never said anything about it maybe because when she thought about it she was in the middle of giving me one of her silent treatments. I wonder how she treats old Grints when she gets pissed at him.
Laura knocked on my door one Tuesday and I said hello and let her in and she went into the living room and took her old chair and sat quietly reading a magazine she’d brought with her while I watched the tube. I asked her if she wanted a snack or something to drink and she just gave me the look like she used to when I was getting the silent treatment and went back to her reading. After an hour or so she got up and let herself out without a word.
This has been going on for three months now and I’m worried that Grints is going to think there’s something being rekindled with Laura and me but there’s no kindle to re but appearances and all that so I broach the subject with Laura. She refuses to talk about it or even talk to me those nights at all so I stopped asking but I’m not all that comfortable and have actually gone out to the movies on a couple of Tuesday s to avoid Laura’s silent visits.
Come celebrate our first anniversary with us the festive card read. I threw it away but it had an RSVP date on it and Laura called two days after that and asked if I was planning on coming to their party and I said you know I don’t like to go to parties and she said well then I’ll put you down for a yes because not only should you get out more often but there’s going to be a couple of single woman here and we need some single men. All the more reason for me not to go I said and she said nothing but didn’t hang up the phone. Finally after about three minutes of the treatment I relented and said I’ll come and she said nothing but hung up.
It was about an hour into the party when Grints looking not too happy walked over and asked might he have a word with me and I knew the dreaded confrontation moment was coming so I nodded and figured we ought to get it over with. We sat outside on the stoop and he thanked me for letting Laura come over. The first time Laura gave me the silence it threw me for a loop because, Emma, my late wife and I talked constantly and never went to bed angry. The next time it happened I told her why don’t you go back where you came from because I won’t put up with a woman who don’t talk to me so she said okay and walked over to your house. It felt kind of strange not having Laura here to talk to and knowing she was just two doors down and at the beginning I was tempted to walk over and drag her back or call and tell her to get home where she belongs but I’ve kinda gotten used to having a little quiet time and I thank you. Grints stood and stuck out his hand for a handshake and I looked at him and left him on his stoop with his arm outstretched and went home.
About half way to my house I turned around to look and he was still on his stoop. He waved a goodnight neighbor wave and without waiting for my return wave walked back into his party. The next night I called one of the divorcees I met at the party.
Bio: Paul Beckman is a real estate salesman, a writer, snorkeler, traveler and photographer. He specializes in the short story, flash fiction & briefs (stories under 50 words). Some publishing credits:
THE CONNECTICUT REVIEW, THE NEW HAVEN REVIEW, ONTHEBUS, SHORT STORY LIBRARY, THE WRITER’S VOICE, PLAYBOY, 5 TROPE, OTHER VOICES, THE SCRUFFY DOG REVIEW, FICTION WAREHOUSE, WEB DEL SOL, JEWISH CURRENTS, LONG STORY SHORT, MONKEY BICYCLE, PITTSBURGH FLASH FICTION GAZETTE, RIVERBABBLE, EXQUISITE CORPSE, COLLECTEDSTORIES.COM, OPIUM, CLEAN SHEETS, THUG LIT & THE VIEW FROM HERE.