Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Guest Writer: Grey Johnson

A Body of Water Invites All Things

As I step down a grassy bank in a slow backwards tango toward a canal, I stumble a bit, laugh, and am not allowed to fall. The breeze is insistent, making twinkling quivers on the surface of the water, which has been fattened by recent rain. All around us are the gray and brown trunks of trees, slender and thickly standing together, their bark silently watching.
He leans me into the water, and as he holds me, I float on my back and talk to a hawk tracing circles between some clouds. My arms smooth the current and my hair comes to life, swimming away from my scalp. His hand rests firmly on my chest, and I feel smaller. I will myself to sink, and holding my eyes open, I cross into a hushed space filled with inky gray and honey amber. The light forms a cool bright sphere above my face, and I feel a garment I am wearing begin to flutter.
I am held, suspended sweetly. His hand moves to my forehead, giving warm, reassuring pressure, like a child might feel as her father checks her for fever. We press me tenderly down.
The water becomes full of nothing but me, and I know that if it pleased him, I would try to live without air, or sound. My heart becomes thin and wide and flickers like silver. Tiny bubbles wiggle up from me like bits of hope, and I do not move. I feel him smile, and it makes me proud to affect him so easily, just by staying still, and waiting.
As I rest there, we watch a transformation. I lose all my edges, and turn into the shadow of a mysterious and beautiful siren, capable of chasing light and lost souls, and of feeling the language between words. My resistance sublimates. There is a long instant of perfect relinquishment, in which I imagine droplets of water plinking into my lungs in a slow, musical fashion, like icicles melting in a perfect cave.
I cannot stay under without him, and he has let me up without warning. When I wipe my eyes and look around, I think he is gone. The air spanks my face, and I need my hearing back, although I do not want it. When I finally spot him, he is in the grass, resting on his back, staring impassively at the sky.

© Grey Johnson 2011

Grey Johnson lives in a small town in northeastern South Carolina. Her garden is very important to her, and so are her dogs. She reads and knits rectangles, but seldom knows what to do with them. She doesn’t have a blog or website, but writes some on the Six Sentence Social Network. You can also check out her brilliant little collections on Issuu.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Guest Writer: J.K. Davies

Foot & Mouth

Duane's grandmother called us to her to tell us a story about the last big breakout, from her chair in the corner of the room on that heavy afternoon when the adults had all left the complex, her cracked whiskery voice pulling us closer in, her flat unemphatic words were delivered in a staccato non-rhythm. The atmosphere of abandonment still felt temporary, we didn't believe the grown-ups would not come back, that they would, could leave us here. They would have to come back for Grandma as she couldn't get out of her chair by herself.
We crouched together on the bed to listen to her, a blanket around our shoulders now that the heating had stopped, imagining the disease stalking the land, a stick legged giant with a flapping coat of rooks wings pointing its myriad fingers at its myriad victims. We could smell the fatty smoke she described, and see her tongue lick around her dry old mouth when she spoke of the charnel stink.
"The pyres sent plumes up to Heaven," she'd said, and looked upwards, and we did too, wondering what we would see there, but it was only the wood-chipped ceiling.
"We had to shoot them all, even those who had no disease. The scientists, they told us it was the only way to rid ourselves of it. The fires, they burnt for weeks, turning the bodies to charcoal," and she rocked forwards, backwards, rocked again.
"Oh, that it should happen again in my lifetime," she moaned
We clutched each other in excited horror, two boys on the edge of an adventure, having heard the grown-ups whisper of foot and mouth and BSE and CJD before they went, wondering if we too would have such horror-tales to tell when we were old.
"But, Grandma," Duane asked, trying to putting the pieces of the puzzle together. "What are cows?"

© J.K. Davies 2011

J.K. Davies is a practised reader & practising writer living in Germany. She blogs mostly at practice makes perfect and has a nasty side at too much practice (

Guest Writer: Len Kuntz

Thunder Comes Around

We hide under the rusted hood of someone’s abandoned car that we’ve propped up over the lip of an outcropping rock, our makeshift tree fort on ground resembling a squatter’s shanty more than anything.
Rain beats on the metal, little thumps atop our heads. Our breath is cold and vapory.
I know my sister’s staring at me but I keep my eyes on the ground. She asks if I’m mad.
It was her idea to do it. She said he had it coming.
“Damn it, I don’t know,” I say when she asks again.
Hunters were used to coming down off the bluff and marching into the ravine where tall maples clustered and made it easy for deer to forage and keep hidden. Easy pickings. We’d hear their gun blasts on the weekends, hoots and jeers.
Our father was a hunter of sorts himself. In fact, it was his gun I used.
I knew the area the way a blind man knows his bedroom. I found the perfect spot with a boulder for both my perch and hiding spot.
My sister said to make sure I took him down, even if it meant several shots. I’d seen her frightened plenty of times, and many times angry, but never both emotions stirred up simultaneously.
“You sure?” I asked.
Her head nodded swift, like a guillotine.
When I shot him in the back, my father’s shoulders flew up like chicken wings. I hit him in the neck next. Before he could drop, I put three more bullets through his torso.
Afterward, I thought I heard the shots echo, but it was thunder that had come around, and then with it angry, unforgiving rain the size of coins.
He’s still out there in a heap, probably stiff as lumber by now. We brought two shovels, though, and a tow rope.
When I look over, my sister lifts her worried, wet eyes, but it’s the jaw marks I notice, the float of purple bruises tinted mustard. Her lower lip is split and one side is so swollen that it reaches up and curls around her nostril.
It used to be Mother that got his beatings, but she was smarter than us and left a long time ago.
When my sister blinks her eyes at me, I flap my hand, giving her a playful, invisible slap. “Nah,” I tell my sis. “It’s all good.”

© Len Kuntz 2011

Len Kuntz lives on a lake in rural Washington State with his wife and son. His writing appears widely in print and online at such places as Blue Print Review, Orion Headless, Heavy Bear and also at

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Guest Writer: Janet Yung

Emily at the Piano

Studying the color wheel, he tried to remember why he was here, but only grew more confused as he concentrated, one color bleeding seamlessly into the next. Somewhere, in the distance, he heard water running and he was overwhelmed by the image of Emily at the piano. A broken water pipe on the second floor had created a waterfall, cascading down the living room wall while Emily pounded on the keyboard, keeping time with her off-tune air.

“Excuse me,” someone said, jostling past him and he mumbled in response, anxious now to escape the big box, stifled by the limitless selection and cloying atmosphere. The paper dropped from his hand as the doors swooshed open, allowing his egress into the heat of the late summer morning.

“Could it be that easy?” he asked, the odor of hot asphalt filling his nostrils and lungs. Pulling out of the parking lot, it was impossible to absorb the images flashing around him, driving the side streets until he reached familiar terrain.

The building was still standing, listing slightly to one side, left to tumble in upon itself. Weeds sprouting in the bare patches where grass had once grown, a tattered curtain blowing slowly against a broken window pane.

Passersby stared at the stranger, parked along the curb, window rolled down, staring at what had once been a home, but he didn’t notice them, focused on the front porch, absorbed by what had happened there before.

“Are you okay?” An older woman stood next to him and he looked up, startled anyone could see him. He nodded, unable to articulate everything that needed to be said. “It’s awfully hot to be sitting out here in a car,” she said and, shaking her head, disappeared down the street as the engine turned over.

At home, he fumbled with the lock and inside the dimly lit front room, stretched on the floor, staring up at the ceiling, willing the waterfall to once again appear. Quiet settled over the space, cool air washing across his outstretched frame, as he closed his eyes, conjuring up the long ago and, half forgotten history, like recreating a rainbow with the garden hose.

Dozing on the carpet, he lost track of time, abandoning the outline for the day, along with simple chores and promises, ignoring the ringing phone, a well meaning someone checking on his progress.

The evening arrived as quietly and unannounced as reality imposing itself upon his life. When nothing more could be remembered, he stretched, and stood. Outside, in the garden, he studied the sky, waiting for the moon to rise, fireflies dotting the landscape -- the serenity he’d been seeking. Extending his arms, he took a deep cleansing breath, and for a moment, could feel the mist of everything that had been lost.

© Janet Yung 2011

Janet Yung lives and writes in St. Louis. Fiction has appeared in “The Shine,” “The Camel Saloon,” and "Fast Forward."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Guest Writer: Harris Tobias

The Travel Agent

“Well, there’s no time like the present you know?” Lorna Trabish leaned on her desk for emphasis and opened the brochure. A full figured woman in her early sixties, Lorna looked the part of the eager to please travel agent. “We have tours to fit every budget and every activity level. She eyed the heavyset couple sitting across from her and gave them a dazzling capped tooth smile.
“You could visit the pyramids. We’re having a big promotion right now—two for the price of one. A tremendous savings. It’s filling up fast. You get to be a part of a slave gang and actually help build the pyramids. Just think of the stories you can tell your friends. It’s very exciting. We have a wonderful guide who will be your overseer. You get to live with a slave family and...”
“I don’t think that’s for us,” interjected Myrna Crump who had been leafing through the brochure during Lorna’s breathless pitch. “Lester doesn’t like the sun.”
“Perhaps something a bit more luxurious,” suggested Lester Crump who was trying to picture Myrna pulling a twenty ton block of sandstone across the desert in her high heels.
“I have just the thing,” chirped the irrepressible agent. “Have you been to Rome? I’m talking about ancient Rome. It’s part of our two week Classics Tour package. A week in Ancient Greece and a week in Rome. You get to hear some of the ancient world’s great orators—Seneca, Plato, Marcus Arelius. A day at the coliseum and a big Roman feast on the last night.”
“Mmm, I don’t know,” said Myrna. “Togas make me look fat.”
“And I heard about that Roman feast from our neighbor,” said Lester in his most confidential tone. “He said it turned into an orgy.” He gave Lorna a lascivious wink.
“Well,” said an embarrassed Lorna, “I hope that wasn’t one of our tours.”
“I think it was Tick Tock Travel.”
“Well, that’s a relief. They’re a low budget outfit and, like so much in life, you get what you pay for.” Lorna was relieved and recovered her poise. "I can assure you our feast is with a better class of people.”
The Crumps exchanged looks and silently congratulated themselves for choosing Temporal Tours even though it cost a good deal more.
“Are you interested in something of a religious nature?” asked Lorna hopefully. “We have a few openings left for the crucifixion.”
“We’re Jewish,” said Myrna.
“Oh. Well then how about joining the Israelites on their wandering in the desert?”
“What’s with you and deserts?” asked Lester. “We told you I can’t take the sun. I burn very easily then I peel.”
“It almost ruined our last vacation,” added Myrna. “We were watching the Aztec coronation in Palenque. We were standing in the crowd and Lester forgot his hat and all that sun. It was just too much. We had to leave and missed the whole human sacrifice and the party afterwards.”
“Maybe something a little more northerly, then,” said Lorna mentally scrambling for a cooler scenario. “I have just the thing,” she pointed to a page in the brochure. “The Camelot package. It’s perfect. Fourth century England, nice and cool. Lovely costumes. Atrocious table manners but that’s all over the ancient world. Let’s see, there are jousting tournaments, and combat for the men and wandering minstrels and a dance around the maypole for the women. Now doesn’t that sound exciting?”
The Crumps looked at each other and 32 years of knowing flashed between them in a glance. “Sounds good,” said Myrna, “tell us more.”
“Well, you arrive at the end of April for the wedding and participate in the festivities. You’ll be in period costumes, of course. We have an excellent guide who will explain the quaint customs. There’ll be lots of celebrating, music and dancing in the streets. It’s very exciting. You’ll be staying in a five star Inn that we’ve completely renovated to the highest local standards which will give you a first hand taste of life at that time— generally filthy, superstitious and brutal. I know you’ll love it.”
“Will we get to see King Arthur?” asked Lester who considered himself pretty knowledgeable on that time in history having once read an excerpt from the Song of Roland in seventh grade.
“We can’t guarantee you’ll get closer than 500 feet, but you’ll definitely get to see the royal couple at the wedding.”
“What about crowds?” asked Myrna, “I get claustrophobic in crowds.”
“Well, it is a popular destination. I dare say that half the people there will be time tourists like yourselves. There’s nothing we can do about it, it’s the peak season and the past is public property.”
“I wouldn’t mind something a little less public. I’ve heard about private tours,” said Myrna. “Surely Temporal Travel offers private packages.”
“Oh we do. Of course we do,” Lorna was happy to pitch private tours. They cost a fortune and the commissions were, how would you put it, huge. “They’re our specialty.”
Lorna reached into her desk and pulled out another brochure. It was bound in leather and was made to impress. “I have to warn you that our private tours set the standard in the time travel industry. No one does it better. Here, let me show you.”

After another grueling hour of suggesting and rejecting, the Crumps were ready to sign. With Lorna’s help, they had settled on a private tour to 18th century France. They would have a room at Versailles an audience with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Their personal guide would be a well regarded professor of the period who would make the whole experience even more real than it already was. The only problem was the timing. By their nature, private tours were not shared with the time traveling public; only certain dates in the past were available and most of them were already booked.
“We have an opening in July 1793. My book says it’s cutting things a little close with the political ferment and all, but it’s the only date still open. Besides, a little local politics might not be a bad thing. The French revolution was such an exciting time after all and I’m sure Professor Nichols will keep you safe. We’ve never lost a customer yet, you know.” Here Lorna gave a little giggle, “and we don’t intend to start now. If worse comes to worse your guide will have the latest in emergency extraction technology.”
Lorna flashed her white capped smile and segued away from the unpleasant subject of personal danger launching into a detailed recital of the beautiful clothing worn at court, the delights of French cuisine and the splendors of Versailles. By the time she was through, the Crumps were hooked and ready to leave right then and there.
“Of course you can leave at your convenience. Professor Nichols is available, let me see, pretty much for the rest of the month. So should I call him and book?”
Myrna and Lester exchanged looks. Lorna held her breath. “Okay, sure, let’s book it,” said Myrna.
“You only live once,” added Lester.
“Great,” Lorna exhaled and beamed.

The Crumps and Professor Nichols materialized in a Paris Park. Myrna was dressed in the latest fashion. Her mousy brown hair piled under an enormous silver wig, her dowdy figure concealed beneath a magnificent silk dress embroidered with pearls— she looked like a countess from a remote province visiting the city for the first time. The men also wore wigs and with their powdered faces looked like caricatures of themselves.
“Well, here we are,” said their guide. “I suggest we stroll around a bit while I point out some of the sights.”
“I’d like to see the Eiffel Tower,” said Myrna.
“I’m afraid that’s two hundred years in the future,” said the amused Nichols.
“The Louvre?”
“I can try to get us in but it doesn’t open to the public for a couple of years.”
“Well, what else is there?” Lester wanted to know.
Nichols was looking around. They were the only fashionable people in sight and the local peasants were eyeing them with scorn. One fat peasant was hurrying toward them yelling “Allez!”
“I have a better idea,” said their guide, “ perhaps we can take a cab around the city and I’ll point out some interesting sights.”
Professor Nichols hurried his charges to the nearest exit, flagged down a cab and instructed the driver to drive around the city. The driver balked until Nichols gave him some additional coins. They all piled into the cab and, with a snap of the reigns, their tour of the city began. Behind them an overweight peasant halted panting in the road having failed to stop them.
“What were you arguing about?” asked Lester.
“With the driver? He said there were demonstrations all over the city. He demanded extra money to take us. It’s an old trick to take advantage of gullible out of towners. Don’t give it a second thought.” The Crumps relaxed and Professor Nichols pointed out the historic buildings and the famous streets of the city. The Crumps were interested at first but their appetite for architecture soon faded and they began to grow restless. Sensing he was losing his audience, Professor Nichols suggested they stop at a sidewalk cafe and have a bite to eat. He dismissed the cab and found them a table on a busy boulevard.
Lunch was disturbed by a mob of several hundred peasants carrying banners proclaiming Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. The boisterous mob surrounded the hapless Crumps. When Nichols attempted to explain that they were just visiting and had no political preferences, the peasants shouted them down and held them until members of the Paris Militia came and dragged the three away. They were accused of being anti-revolutionary. When it was revealed that the Crumps were foreigners, their fate was sealed. The militia escorted them to the hotel d’ville where a paranoid member of the Jacobin Committee of Public Safety charged them with crimes against the revolution, being monarchist sympathizers and spies for the English. It all happened so fast the Crumps thought it was just another exciting part of the tour. The crestfallen and worried look on Professor Nichols’ face quickly dispelled that notion.
“What’s wrong Professor,” asked Myrna, “you don’t look well.”
Nichols, lamenting the confiscation of his emergency retrieval device by the militia was quite beside himself. The prison guards ignored his demands for the device’s return considering it further proof of his monarchist sympathies. All he could say to the bewildered Crumps was, ”Be brave my friends.” Then he put his head in his hands and wept.
An hour later, the militia dragged all three to the guillotine where they were quickly and painlessly dispatched. It was a lot more local color than they bargained for.

When the Crumps and Professor Nichols failed to return, Lorna Trabish and the folks at Temporal Travel were forced to investigate. Theodore Wienstock, the agency’s portly owner, went back in time to look for them. He suspected that his clients may have been caught up in France’s revolutionary fervor. And so, dressed as a French peasant, he materialized in the same Paris park at roughly the same time as the Crumps. After a quick look around, he spotted them across the lawn. They were the only beautifully dressed people in sight. They were too far away to call so he hurried in their direction. He saw them turn toward the exit so he picked up his pace.
He ended up running and shouting in French for them to stop. “Allez, Allez,” he called but he watched them board a fancy cab and disappear down the street. He tried to run after them but was soon out of breath and forced to stop. When he tried to flag down a passing cab, the driver refused to stop. The next time Mr. Wienstock saw them, their heads were on display in the public square with a sign declaring them enemies of the revolution. There was nothing he could do but return to his own time and begin filling out the paperwork.

© Harris Tobias 2011

Harris Tobias was raised by robots disguised as New Yorkers. Despite an awkward childhood he learned to read and write. To date Mr. Tobias has published two detective novels, The Greer Agency and A Felony of Birds, to critical acclaim. In addition he has published short stories in Down in the Dirt Magazine, Literal Translations, Electric Flash and Ray Gun Revival. He currently lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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