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The Switch - Excerpt

Anais flicked the stovetop on with the kettle over it, leaning against the counter and listening to what was as close to complete silence as one might find in a city of nine million inhabitants. She could hear the clock ticking, the water roiling uncomfortably above the blue flames, the hum of her own breathing. She closed her eyes and she felt herself relax, her body releasing a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding all day.

“Hello, darling Anais. All grown up.”

Anais knew the voice before she saw the man it belonged to. She knew the voice even though she couldn’t remember anything he’d said the last time they’d met. It was a nice voice, an unplaceable accent hiding beneath certain syllables and a droll drawl that slung the words together.

He stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the sitting room. He wore a dark suit and those same dark shoes, with a thin black tie slicing him into perfect monochrome symmetry. Even his hair and his eyes were dark. He stood with his hands in his pocket and a slouched back, but not the kind that betrayed insecurity. His posture was casual in a way that told Anais that he was right where he was meant to be in that moment, and that she had no right to question him.

“You haven’t aged,” Anais remarked. It was true, and it was the first thing she thought upon seeing him. She would have placed him somewhere in his early to mid thirties, which was exactly where she would have placed him sixteen years ago.

“Mm. Aging, that was a bad habit. The trick is to nip it in the bud.” He flicked a finger towards the kettle. “Enough in there for me, I hope?”

“Should be. How’d you get in here?” Anais didn’t move as he entered the kitchen and located the tea selection without searching or scrounging; he moved as if he spent more time in this flat than Anais did.

She heard him tut to himself as he unwrapped a tea bag and dropped it into a seamlessly located mug. He turned to face her again, a distant cousin of disdain written across his features. “Honestly, of all the questions you could ask? I expected more of you, Anais.”

Anais crossed her arms, her eyes narrowing at the man. Perhaps he was on the run, just like everyone else. He probably wanted her to send him somewhere with her willful wishes.

“Are you running from the Angels?” She was almost nervous to ask the question, afraid she’d say it the wrong way or incite anger in the man. Maybe even summon the Angels, whoever they were.

He snorted. “No. They’re a dreadful lot, yes, but they know better than to go after me.” He leaned in, pushing his voice down to a stage whisper. “I’m too much fun for them to get rid of.” He topped the statement off with a sly wink.

There were too many questions, and each of them seemed to branch off in a different direction. Anais wanted to ask them all at once, inquiries falling to the floor and shattering into answers upon landing. He obviously knew about whatever side of reality it was that Anais occasionally brushed with. But it was him she was dealing with now, so it seemed best that she find out more about the strange man joining her for an impromptu tea time.

“Who are you?”

“You can call me Mr. Whimley. Fox, if the two of us get really close.” Another wink. He still spoke and stood with complete confidence, but he pulled the name out of the air just a breath too slowly. Anais didn’t think he had come up with it on the spot. Instead, it sounded as if he had scraps of paper tucked into his jacket pockets, ones with pseudonyms scrawled upon them that he chose from at random. Maybe Fox Whimley was a name he’d used before, and his memory hadn’t been as sharp as he’d hoped. Perhaps Fox Whimley was a name he’d been saving for Anais. It flew from his tongue with a flourish, his accent writing it in gaudy calligraphy in the air.

“You remember me, then?” he asked, beaming when Anais dipped in chin in affirmation. “Glad to hear it. I do love to make an impression.”

“You’ve been following me,” Anais said suddenly. The shock of his presence had faded ever so slightly, and past occurrences were demanding to be brought up.

“Ooh, good eye,” Whimley sing-songed, nodding his head appreciatively as he silenced the building whistle of the tea kettle. He poured the water into his mug and reopened the cabinet. “Any preference on mugs? And what kind of tea would you like?”

“I’ll get it myself, thanks,” Anais replied, biting out her false gratitude. He seemed unperturbed by her snapped reply, and simply backed away from the counter, moving to the other side of the kitchen and pulling a spoon out of the drawer.

“Have you been in my flat before?” Anais asked as she watched the water pass through her tea bag. “You seem to know your way around exceptionally well.”

“Perhaps not as good an eye as I’d hoped,” he murmured. Anais cast sideways glances around the flat, wondering if there was any indication of his presence there on days previous. She didn’t know what she should have looked for. It wasn’t as if there were footprints tracking their way through the kitchen or wayward ties dangling from window sills.

“But, yes, I have been keeping my eye on you for a bit,” he said, taking an experimental sip of his tea. “Ever since I met you, really. Do you remember that, when we met? Do you remember what I said to you?” He was speaking with sudden seriousness, as if the matter at hand had become the single most pressing issue the world had to offer. He waited, staring at Anais with a look of profound concern, as if a faulty memory might spell a doomed future for her.

Anais shook her head, hoping it would perhaps unearth those words he’d said to her, to no avail.

“Pity,” he breathed over the lip of his teacup, blowing at the trails of steam. His eyes emptied for a moment, as if he was watching a golden opportunity be swept into an unfathomable wind. Anais didn’t bother asking him if he’d tell her his words; he considered them lost, and so they must have been.

“What were you doing with my father all those years ago?” Anais said. A part of her wondered if her parents were in danger somehow.

“I was doing almost exactly what I told him I was doing,” he replied, snapping back to the present. “Him and I, we were making deals. I needed money, and his company had money. It was nothing underhanded, really. Admittedly, the money was going directly to me, not to another corporation as I’d told him. And I suppose I wasn’t entirely honest about what the money would be spent on after that. But, those things aside, it was all fair play.”

“My parents can’t remember any details of that night. They don’t know your name or anything you said. My dad can’t even remember what deals he made with you.”

“You’ve been asking around about me? I’m flattered.” He lay a hand to his chest to support the statement. “Yes, I can see why it’d all be a bit hazy in their minds. Ignorance is bliss, you know.”

Anais could allow his words from twelve years ago to slip away, but she didn’t like the crypticism surrounding her parents. “What deals did you make, and how did you make them forget afterwards?”

He breathed out a puff of laughter. “It’s alright, I didn’t harm them in any way. The deals I made were solely concerning money. They were unwise on your father’s part, yes, but you got over that little financial blip, didn’t you?” Anais tried to remember any economic discussions after Whimley’s meeting, but she would have been too young at the time to comprehend budgeting. She couldn’t even recall if things had seemed scarcer afterwards. “As for your parents’ memory problems, that’s just a trick of mine I’ve picked up. Like the aging thing.” He waggled his fingers, as if the ability to revoke entire lifetimes sat just below his fingernails. He stopped, pointing one directly at Anais. “And as I understand it, you’ve picked up a fairly handy trick of your own, haven’t you?”

“So they tell me,” Anais said. She thought this made it sound as if she was more knowledgeable on her ability than she truly was.

“Do they really? Who was the one to spill the beans on it?” He leaned against the counter behind him, crossing one leg over the other and balancing his foot on the toe of his shoe. They were the same kind of shoes he’d been wearing when Anais had first met him. Not so much as a speck of dust on them.

Anais shrugged. “I didn’t get her name. Some woman on the tube, about a year ago.”

“Blonde hair? Irregular gaps between her teeth?” he shot back, prompting her with two entirely unfamiliar characteristics when paired together.

“Brown hair, well-dressed, and no irregularities concerning her teeth, from what I could tell,” Anais said. She didn’t know much about what was going on with this strange man, but she did know she was out of her depth, and that was how he wanted it. She figured the best way to convince him that she wasn’t confused was to pretend she had heard everything he’d ever said before.

“Hm. I’m sure if you had a picture I’d be able to place her right away. No matter.” He gathered the mug up from where it sat on the counter and pointed in the direction of the sitting room. “Fancy a seat? Negotiations get so tedious, no need to stand all the while.”

“What are we going to be negotiating? And I hope you’re not expecting to take my memories after we talk.” Anais didn’t know what threat she was making if his plans said otherwise, so she imagined that there was a small yet efficient knife in her back pocket. If she could fool herself, she could fool him.

“We’ll be discussing your peculiar and particular gift, and how to best make use of it. And don’t worry.” He slipped his right hand into his pocket. “I wouldn’t dream of tampering with that head of yours.”

All of his smiles and winks were props, the hammers he was using to beat his point into place. Were Anais going solely off his voice, she would have believed every word he said. The only reason she knew he was lying was because he wanted her to know he was lying. The thought etched a crooked line across Anais’s lips; he was simply broadcasting how clever he was, but when he was truly employing his intellect for devious purposes, Anais would have no way of knowing.

“Lead the way, then,” she invited, motioning through the kitchen’s threshold. He chuckled to himself but didn’t object, making a show of walking in front of her. She watched the way his jacket moved, traced the outlines of his pockets for weapons. From what she could see, he didn’t have anything on him.

He lowered himself into an armchair Anais often did her work in, watching her as she settled herself into the crook of the sofa. He placed his teacup on the table between them, lacing his fingers together and fixing her with his dark eyes.

“So. What do you know?”

Anais didn’t have to ask him to specify. “I know that I’m called a Switch because of what I can do. I’ve only done it three times, and the last time was the only time I had any answers. It happened once with an older man when I was seventeen, once with two young children when I was nineteen, and then about a year ago with that woman I’ve mentioned.” She shrugged. “That’s about it.”

“And how do you do it?” he asked.

“I just have to touch the person who wants to go and will them away.” Anais looked down at her fingertips, then over at Mr. Whimley’s steepled ones. “Can anyone do it, if they know how?”

He laughed as if a young child had just stumbled over the punchline of a simple joke. “No, dear Anais. If only. What you can do is actually quite rare. I must say, I’m surprised you didn’t further pursue knowledge on the subject.”

“I did, at first. After a few days I lost interest.”

He frowned, his lips creasing downwards and his brows pulling inwards. “Lost interest? If that didn’t catch your interest, you must be an easily bored individual.”

“I wouldn’t say I am, no. I just don’t want much to do with it, is all.” Hearing it through someone else’s ears, Anais knew it sounded absurd. She knew she held something that millions of people would pay millions of dollars for. Not necessarily the power itself, but the knowledge of something more to the world that came with that power. It was a knowledge that keyed you into the shadows at the corner of your vision and the flurries of unexplained activity that you attribute to tricks of the light.

“Too tedious for you?” he said, his mouth splitting into a mocking little grin.

“Not tedious, no. It’s just not anything I feel I need in my life.”

“Easy money, though.”

Anais was about to agree when she thought back to the 100 quid that had been passed from hand to hand on the tube. She remembered squirreling it away, chipping away at its sum through book purchases and clothing purchases, occasionally using it to supplement her oyster card. She’d long since spent all of it, and she hadn’t told anyone of her acquisition of it.

“How did you know about that?” Anais asked. It felt redundant, sitting there and filling him in on her knowledge and the events of her life when it seemed he had them all on a transcript in his head. It was as if he was assessing her, waiting for her to give a wrong answer or slip into the cracks between details.

“I make it my business to know a little bit about everyone and everything. No need to worry about how,” he reassured her, taking another sip of his tea.

A silence grew between them, and Anais could tell that he was waiting for her to say something. As always, there was a correct answer stowed away just behind his lips, but he wanted to hear it from her first. She felt as if she’d been thrust into a complex dance with no knowledge of where she was supposed to move next, with her impatient partner awaiting the next spin or bow or dip.

“Your negotiations...they involve what I’m able to do, don’t they?” Her eyebrows tipped upwards, not for fear of his answer but for fear that her move had been miscalculated.

“Anais, do you know how many Switches there are in the world? That we know of?” He set his teacup down and watched her for an answer, his eyes narrowing and lines of concern cracking his facade.

“No. I haven’t seen anyone else do it. Then again, I don’t quite know what to look for.”

“Take a guess,” he said, tipping his chin forward in invitation.

Anais shrugged, the ballroom she’d imagined herself tiptoeing across transforming into a minefield. “I don’t know. Thousands. Maybe millions.”

“Twenty-seven.”

Anais blinked, betraying the highest degree of shock she was willing to reveal to him. “Twenty-seven?” she enunciated, disbelief chopping the syllables into terse, angled things.

Whimley returned with a single deep nod.

“That...that can’t be right. There must be more. Besides, I didn’t know until I was seventeen. I’ll bet there are thousands of others out there who don’t know what they can do simply because no one has ever approached them about it.”

“Well, that could most certainly be true, but if those people don’t know what they can do, what good are they to us?” He leaned forwards, lacing his fingers together. “You see, when someone wants to make use of a Switch, they first need to find a Switch. It’s quite the process, but, to make things brief, I’ll simplify it. Essentially, the stronger the Switch is, the easier it is to locate them. You said people have asked you for help three times, yes?”

Anais nodded, trying to pretend it was formulas or theories she was processing, not the ins and outs of something that ground the laws of physics into dirt.

“Of the other twenty-six Switches, only one of them has been approached about their ability twice. For everyone else, it’s been a one and done deal.” Whimley said. “Not only that, but the one woman who it’s happened to twice? Those two occasions were seventeen years apart. Once when she was twenty six, and once when she was forty three.” He leaned back again, getting to the part where he got to tell her why he was so immensely pleased with himself. “But you? You’re an irregularity. Three times in the past five years?” He widened his eyes and blew a breath out through inflated cheeks, shaking his head as if to wipe away the prospect of Anais’s ability. “You’re the strongest Switch we’ve seen in generations.”

Anais leaned her fingertips against her temples, tugging the skin there in circles and dropping her eyelids shut. The other times she’d made use of what she could do had made sense, in their own incomprehensible way. At those times, she was in control. Those people who approached her thrust robes and rosaries into her hands, naming her as their god and begging divine favors from her that she didn’t even know she could grant. The robes were uncomfortable and rubbed against her skin in the wrong way, and the rosary beads were nearly dribbling through her fingers, but those people hadn’t known that. In their eyes, she was a priestess, no matter how unsure or discombobulated she seemed. The trust they put in her gave her a platform to stand on, something solid and elevated that gave her a bird’s eye view of the twilit reality she had stumbled into. Now, she had nothing. She was being told that she was the most powerful in her field, and yet she felt parched, thirsting for rest and wine and a normal night followed by a prosaic day.

“What do you mean by ‘the strongest we’ve seen in generations’?” Anais asked, shaking her head as she pulled it up from her hands. “Who is ‘we’? And how long have you been looking for people like me?” Anais swerved around the word ‘Switch’. She hated its hulking capital S, the way it curved around her ankles and slithered down her throat, claiming her and marking her as an irregularity. She didn’t know what it was she could do, but she didn’t want to be a member of the club her ability defined.

“There are other people like you. And I don’t just mean other Switches by that. I mean that there are other people who don’t quite live in the same reality that everyone else does.” He swept his hands through the air, as if the entirety of the ‘normal’ human population stood beside him as an example. “It’s all very complex and uninteresting, but the ‘we’ I refer to is all of the people whose reality is ever so different. We keep track of Switches because they’re so rare.” He leaned back, settling into the armchair as if he was a king reclaiming his throne at the start of the new day. “And because they’re so useful.”

Anais drew a deep breath in. She knew that was why he was here. It was the only thing that made sense. And yet, she had hoped it wouldn’t be true, that’d he’d somehow skate around it until spiralling in on the topic of conversation and forgetting his purpose in coming here completely. “I don’t feel like offering my services to anyone, thanks,” she replied, clipping the sentence off in a way she hoped conveyed that the conversation was over and it was time for him to leave.

He sighed, dipped his hand inside his jacket, and pulled out a small silver revolver. He stuck his index finger into the loop of metal where the trigger teased and began twirling it around, watching his own dexterous movements as he did so. “I had so hoped it wouldn’t come to this,” he said, mournful eyes locked on the gun’s fluid rotations. Suddenly his finger curled around the trigger and the grip of the gun settled into his waiting hand. His fingers absently rubbed at the handle as he levelled it at Anais, his head tilting to the side and his posture wilting to something far too casual for someone who was brandishing a firearm. “But, hey. You can’t always get what you want.” The last sentence was sung in a nostalgic whisper, as if he was reflecting on the heyday of the Stones and not complaining about the labors of threatening someone at gunpoint.

Anais knew she should be maneuvering to a less vulnerable position, or at least displaying some variation of shock, but she couldn’t rouse herself to do anything more than regard the gun with disinterest. The ring of metal regarding her not five feet away seemed to be no more than a circlet silver. She wouldn’t be able to see its fatal potential until there was a curl of smoke drifting away and she was lying dead on the floor.

At the same time, she knew that her life was very much endangered. It was only because this wasn’t entirely unexpected from Mr. Whimley that she reacted so stoically. Despite his flamboyance and sociability, Anais sensed that he was a creature of calculation. And so she would be, too. The best way to balance her current equation was to recognize the danger, but remove the emotional reaction.

“What is it you’re going to ask of me?” Anais said, pushing the barrel of the gun out of focus and returning her gaze back to Whimley.

“Well, that’s all very complex. You see, it’s not just the Switches you don’t know about; it’s everything. I can’t even begin to explain it all to you, and I’m sure you wouldn’t be so interested if I was inclined to try. But for my situation, I only ask one thing, for the time being. I just want you to come with me so that we can discuss this elsewhere.”

Anais heard all of the packaging he wrapped around ‘I want you to come with me’, trying to bury it in innocuous statements before arriving to the final point. ‘I want you to come with me,’ always sounded like a threat, no matter who was speaking it and in what tone. Hearts race and palms sweat when those words are spoken. Anais felt her own heart rate kick up a notch when those words stood out of his meaningless sentences.

“Where?”

He chuckled and shook his head, grinning at Anais with amusement. “Pardon me for saying so, but I don’t believe you’re quite in the position to be asking too many questions.” He said it like a friendly suggestion, the gun wavering in his hands to back up his point.

Anais sat for a moment more, making peace with the fact that she would not be going to bed early tonight. “Fine,” she said, standing and putting her discarded coat back on. She waved a resigned hand at the doorway. “Lead the way.”

“Splendid.” He spun the revolver once more before tucking it back into its hiding place within his jacket. There was no indication of the weapon’s hiding place once it was stowed away.“We’ll be Switching.”

“We?” Anais questioned, pausing as she zipped her jacket.

Whimley looked at her with a misunderstanding vacancy before shaking his head with realization. “Oh, of course. Yes, you're entirely capable of Switching yourself along with someone else. Your friend on the tube didn't tell you that?”

Anais slowed her movements, the sudden implication of everything she now knew laying flat at her feet. “She failed to mention that.” The entire world was somehow just beneath her fingertips, and she’d never known it. All this time.

“Yes, well. You let me do all the work. I’ll picture the place we’re going, and you can just come along for the ride.” He stood beside her and offered a leisurely arm out. Anais looped her own arm through his, well aware that the very instrument he’d threatened to kill her with was stowed only a few inches from her elbow.

“Is it any different, Switching myself? I know I have to be in contact with you, but what about me?”

“You’re in contact with yourself all the time, aren’t you? No, all you have to do is will the two of us away.”

“Where are you taking me?” Anais asked, looking up at him, already unsure if she could trust his answer.”

“Does that really matter?” he said, patting the place where he’d hidden his gun.

“I suppose not,” Anais replied. She looked forward, wished to leave, and they were gone.

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Trident Media Group is the leading U.S. literary agency and we are looking to discover and represent the next bestsellers. Share a sample of your work. If it shows promise, we will be in touch with you.
Written by BiteBack in portal Trident Media Group
The Switch - Excerpt
Anais flicked the stovetop on with the kettle over it, leaning against the counter and listening to what was as close to complete silence as one might find in a city of nine million inhabitants. She could hear the clock ticking, the water roiling uncomfortably above the blue flames, the hum of her own breathing. She closed her eyes and she felt herself relax, her body releasing a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding all day.
“Hello, darling Anais. All grown up.”
Anais knew the voice before she saw the man it belonged to. She knew the voice even though she couldn’t remember anything he’d said the last time they’d met. It was a nice voice, an unplaceable accent hiding beneath certain syllables and a droll drawl that slung the words together.
He stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the sitting room. He wore a dark suit and those same dark shoes, with a thin black tie slicing him into perfect monochrome symmetry. Even his hair and his eyes were dark. He stood with his hands in his pocket and a slouched back, but not the kind that betrayed insecurity. His posture was casual in a way that told Anais that he was right where he was meant to be in that moment, and that she had no right to question him.
“You haven’t aged,” Anais remarked. It was true, and it was the first thing she thought upon seeing him. She would have placed him somewhere in his early to mid thirties, which was exactly where she would have placed him sixteen years ago.
“Mm. Aging, that was a bad habit. The trick is to nip it in the bud.” He flicked a finger towards the kettle. “Enough in there for me, I hope?”
“Should be. How’d you get in here?” Anais didn’t move as he entered the kitchen and located the tea selection without searching or scrounging; he moved as if he spent more time in this flat than Anais did.
She heard him tut to himself as he unwrapped a tea bag and dropped it into a seamlessly located mug. He turned to face her again, a distant cousin of disdain written across his features. “Honestly, of all the questions you could ask? I expected more of you, Anais.”
Anais crossed her arms, her eyes narrowing at the man. Perhaps he was on the run, just like everyone else. He probably wanted her to send him somewhere with her willful wishes.
“Are you running from the Angels?” She was almost nervous to ask the question, afraid she’d say it the wrong way or incite anger in the man. Maybe even summon the Angels, whoever they were.
He snorted. “No. They’re a dreadful lot, yes, but they know better than to go after me.” He leaned in, pushing his voice down to a stage whisper. “I’m too much fun for them to get rid of.” He topped the statement off with a sly wink.
There were too many questions, and each of them seemed to branch off in a different direction. Anais wanted to ask them all at once, inquiries falling to the floor and shattering into answers upon landing. He obviously knew about whatever side of reality it was that Anais occasionally brushed with. But it was him she was dealing with now, so it seemed best that she find out more about the strange man joining her for an impromptu tea time.
“Who are you?”
“You can call me Mr. Whimley. Fox, if the two of us get really close.” Another wink. He still spoke and stood with complete confidence, but he pulled the name out of the air just a breath too slowly. Anais didn’t think he had come up with it on the spot. Instead, it sounded as if he had scraps of paper tucked into his jacket pockets, ones with pseudonyms scrawled upon them that he chose from at random. Maybe Fox Whimley was a name he’d used before, and his memory hadn’t been as sharp as he’d hoped. Perhaps Fox Whimley was a name he’d been saving for Anais. It flew from his tongue with a flourish, his accent writing it in gaudy calligraphy in the air.
“You remember me, then?” he asked, beaming when Anais dipped in chin in affirmation. “Glad to hear it. I do love to make an impression.”
“You’ve been following me,” Anais said suddenly. The shock of his presence had faded ever so slightly, and past occurrences were demanding to be brought up.
“Ooh, good eye,” Whimley sing-songed, nodding his head appreciatively as he silenced the building whistle of the tea kettle. He poured the water into his mug and reopened the cabinet. “Any preference on mugs? And what kind of tea would you like?”
“I’ll get it myself, thanks,” Anais replied, biting out her false gratitude. He seemed unperturbed by her snapped reply, and simply backed away from the counter, moving to the other side of the kitchen and pulling a spoon out of the drawer.
“Have you been in my flat before?” Anais asked as she watched the water pass through her tea bag. “You seem to know your way around exceptionally well.”
“Perhaps not as good an eye as I’d hoped,” he murmured. Anais cast sideways glances around the flat, wondering if there was any indication of his presence there on days previous. She didn’t know what she should have looked for. It wasn’t as if there were footprints tracking their way through the kitchen or wayward ties dangling from window sills.
“But, yes, I have been keeping my eye on you for a bit,” he said, taking an experimental sip of his tea. “Ever since I met you, really. Do you remember that, when we met? Do you remember what I said to you?” He was speaking with sudden seriousness, as if the matter at hand had become the single most pressing issue the world had to offer. He waited, staring at Anais with a look of profound concern, as if a faulty memory might spell a doomed future for her.
Anais shook her head, hoping it would perhaps unearth those words he’d said to her, to no avail.
“Pity,” he breathed over the lip of his teacup, blowing at the trails of steam. His eyes emptied for a moment, as if he was watching a golden opportunity be swept into an unfathomable wind. Anais didn’t bother asking him if he’d tell her his words; he considered them lost, and so they must have been.
“What were you doing with my father all those years ago?” Anais said. A part of her wondered if her parents were in danger somehow.
“I was doing almost exactly what I told him I was doing,” he replied, snapping back to the present. “Him and I, we were making deals. I needed money, and his company had money. It was nothing underhanded, really. Admittedly, the money was going directly to me, not to another corporation as I’d told him. And I suppose I wasn’t entirely honest about what the money would be spent on after that. But, those things aside, it was all fair play.”
“My parents can’t remember any details of that night. They don’t know your name or anything you said. My dad can’t even remember what deals he made with you.”
“You’ve been asking around about me? I’m flattered.” He lay a hand to his chest to support the statement. “Yes, I can see why it’d all be a bit hazy in their minds. Ignorance is bliss, you know.”
Anais could allow his words from twelve years ago to slip away, but she didn’t like the crypticism surrounding her parents. “What deals did you make, and how did you make them forget afterwards?”
He breathed out a puff of laughter. “It’s alright, I didn’t harm them in any way. The deals I made were solely concerning money. They were unwise on your father’s part, yes, but you got over that little financial blip, didn’t you?” Anais tried to remember any economic discussions after Whimley’s meeting, but she would have been too young at the time to comprehend budgeting. She couldn’t even recall if things had seemed scarcer afterwards. “As for your parents’ memory problems, that’s just a trick of mine I’ve picked up. Like the aging thing.” He waggled his fingers, as if the ability to revoke entire lifetimes sat just below his fingernails. He stopped, pointing one directly at Anais. “And as I understand it, you’ve picked up a fairly handy trick of your own, haven’t you?”
“So they tell me,” Anais said. She thought this made it sound as if she was more knowledgeable on her ability than she truly was.
“Do they really? Who was the one to spill the beans on it?” He leaned against the counter behind him, crossing one leg over the other and balancing his foot on the toe of his shoe. They were the same kind of shoes he’d been wearing when Anais had first met him. Not so much as a speck of dust on them.
Anais shrugged. “I didn’t get her name. Some woman on the tube, about a year ago.”
“Blonde hair? Irregular gaps between her teeth?” he shot back, prompting her with two entirely unfamiliar characteristics when paired together.
“Brown hair, well-dressed, and no irregularities concerning her teeth, from what I could tell,” Anais said. She didn’t know much about what was going on with this strange man, but she did know she was out of her depth, and that was how he wanted it. She figured the best way to convince him that she wasn’t confused was to pretend she had heard everything he’d ever said before.
“Hm. I’m sure if you had a picture I’d be able to place her right away. No matter.” He gathered the mug up from where it sat on the counter and pointed in the direction of the sitting room. “Fancy a seat? Negotiations get so tedious, no need to stand all the while.”
“What are we going to be negotiating? And I hope you’re not expecting to take my memories after we talk.” Anais didn’t know what threat she was making if his plans said otherwise, so she imagined that there was a small yet efficient knife in her back pocket. If she could fool herself, she could fool him.
“We’ll be discussing your peculiar and particular gift, and how to best make use of it. And don’t worry.” He slipped his right hand into his pocket. “I wouldn’t dream of tampering with that head of yours.”
All of his smiles and winks were props, the hammers he was using to beat his point into place. Were Anais going solely off his voice, she would have believed every word he said. The only reason she knew he was lying was because he wanted her to know he was lying. The thought etched a crooked line across Anais’s lips; he was simply broadcasting how clever he was, but when he was truly employing his intellect for devious purposes, Anais would have no way of knowing.
“Lead the way, then,” she invited, motioning through the kitchen’s threshold. He chuckled to himself but didn’t object, making a show of walking in front of her. She watched the way his jacket moved, traced the outlines of his pockets for weapons. From what she could see, he didn’t have anything on him.
He lowered himself into an armchair Anais often did her work in, watching her as she settled herself into the crook of the sofa. He placed his teacup on the table between them, lacing his fingers together and fixing her with his dark eyes.
“So. What do you know?”
Anais didn’t have to ask him to specify. “I know that I’m called a Switch because of what I can do. I’ve only done it three times, and the last time was the only time I had any answers. It happened once with an older man when I was seventeen, once with two young children when I was nineteen, and then about a year ago with that woman I’ve mentioned.” She shrugged. “That’s about it.”
“And how do you do it?” he asked.
“I just have to touch the person who wants to go and will them away.” Anais looked down at her fingertips, then over at Mr. Whimley’s steepled ones. “Can anyone do it, if they know how?”
He laughed as if a young child had just stumbled over the punchline of a simple joke. “No, dear Anais. If only. What you can do is actually quite rare. I must say, I’m surprised you didn’t further pursue knowledge on the subject.”
“I did, at first. After a few days I lost interest.”
He frowned, his lips creasing downwards and his brows pulling inwards. “Lost interest? If that didn’t catch your interest, you must be an easily bored individual.”
“I wouldn’t say I am, no. I just don’t want much to do with it, is all.” Hearing it through someone else’s ears, Anais knew it sounded absurd. She knew she held something that millions of people would pay millions of dollars for. Not necessarily the power itself, but the knowledge of something more to the world that came with that power. It was a knowledge that keyed you into the shadows at the corner of your vision and the flurries of unexplained activity that you attribute to tricks of the light.
“Too tedious for you?” he said, his mouth splitting into a mocking little grin.
“Not tedious, no. It’s just not anything I feel I need in my life.”
“Easy money, though.”
Anais was about to agree when she thought back to the 100 quid that had been passed from hand to hand on the tube. She remembered squirreling it away, chipping away at its sum through book purchases and clothing purchases, occasionally using it to supplement her oyster card. She’d long since spent all of it, and she hadn’t told anyone of her acquisition of it.
“How did you know about that?” Anais asked. It felt redundant, sitting there and filling him in on her knowledge and the events of her life when it seemed he had them all on a transcript in his head. It was as if he was assessing her, waiting for her to give a wrong answer or slip into the cracks between details.
“I make it my business to know a little bit about everyone and everything. No need to worry about how,” he reassured her, taking another sip of his tea.
A silence grew between them, and Anais could tell that he was waiting for her to say something. As always, there was a correct answer stowed away just behind his lips, but he wanted to hear it from her first. She felt as if she’d been thrust into a complex dance with no knowledge of where she was supposed to move next, with her impatient partner awaiting the next spin or bow or dip.
“Your negotiations...they involve what I’m able to do, don’t they?” Her eyebrows tipped upwards, not for fear of his answer but for fear that her move had been miscalculated.
“Anais, do you know how many Switches there are in the world? That we know of?” He set his teacup down and watched her for an answer, his eyes narrowing and lines of concern cracking his facade.
“No. I haven’t seen anyone else do it. Then again, I don’t quite know what to look for.”
“Take a guess,” he said, tipping his chin forward in invitation.
Anais shrugged, the ballroom she’d imagined herself tiptoeing across transforming into a minefield. “I don’t know. Thousands. Maybe millions.”
“Twenty-seven.”
Anais blinked, betraying the highest degree of shock she was willing to reveal to him. “Twenty-seven?” she enunciated, disbelief chopping the syllables into terse, angled things.
Whimley returned with a single deep nod.
“That...that can’t be right. There must be more. Besides, I didn’t know until I was seventeen. I’ll bet there are thousands of others out there who don’t know what they can do simply because no one has ever approached them about it.”
“Well, that could most certainly be true, but if those people don’t know what they can do, what good are they to us?” He leaned forwards, lacing his fingers together. “You see, when someone wants to make use of a Switch, they first need to find a Switch. It’s quite the process, but, to make things brief, I’ll simplify it. Essentially, the stronger the Switch is, the easier it is to locate them. You said people have asked you for help three times, yes?”
Anais nodded, trying to pretend it was formulas or theories she was processing, not the ins and outs of something that ground the laws of physics into dirt.
“Of the other twenty-six Switches, only one of them has been approached about their ability twice. For everyone else, it’s been a one and done deal.” Whimley said. “Not only that, but the one woman who it’s happened to twice? Those two occasions were seventeen years apart. Once when she was twenty six, and once when she was forty three.” He leaned back again, getting to the part where he got to tell her why he was so immensely pleased with himself. “But you? You’re an irregularity. Three times in the past five years?” He widened his eyes and blew a breath out through inflated cheeks, shaking his head as if to wipe away the prospect of Anais’s ability. “You’re the strongest Switch we’ve seen in generations.”
Anais leaned her fingertips against her temples, tugging the skin there in circles and dropping her eyelids shut. The other times she’d made use of what she could do had made sense, in their own incomprehensible way. At those times, she was in control. Those people who approached her thrust robes and rosaries into her hands, naming her as their god and begging divine favors from her that she didn’t even know she could grant. The robes were uncomfortable and rubbed against her skin in the wrong way, and the rosary beads were nearly dribbling through her fingers, but those people hadn’t known that. In their eyes, she was a priestess, no matter how unsure or discombobulated she seemed. The trust they put in her gave her a platform to stand on, something solid and elevated that gave her a bird’s eye view of the twilit reality she had stumbled into. Now, she had nothing. She was being told that she was the most powerful in her field, and yet she felt parched, thirsting for rest and wine and a normal night followed by a prosaic day.
“What do you mean by ‘the strongest we’ve seen in generations’?” Anais asked, shaking her head as she pulled it up from her hands. “Who is ‘we’? And how long have you been looking for people like me?” Anais swerved around the word ‘Switch’. She hated its hulking capital S, the way it curved around her ankles and slithered down her throat, claiming her and marking her as an irregularity. She didn’t know what it was she could do, but she didn’t want to be a member of the club her ability defined.
“There are other people like you. And I don’t just mean other Switches by that. I mean that there are other people who don’t quite live in the same reality that everyone else does.” He swept his hands through the air, as if the entirety of the ‘normal’ human population stood beside him as an example. “It’s all very complex and uninteresting, but the ‘we’ I refer to is all of the people whose reality is ever so different. We keep track of Switches because they’re so rare.” He leaned back, settling into the armchair as if he was a king reclaiming his throne at the start of the new day. “And because they’re so useful.”
Anais drew a deep breath in. She knew that was why he was here. It was the only thing that made sense. And yet, she had hoped it wouldn’t be true, that’d he’d somehow skate around it until spiralling in on the topic of conversation and forgetting his purpose in coming here completely. “I don’t feel like offering my services to anyone, thanks,” she replied, clipping the sentence off in a way she hoped conveyed that the conversation was over and it was time for him to leave.
He sighed, dipped his hand inside his jacket, and pulled out a small silver revolver. He stuck his index finger into the loop of metal where the trigger teased and began twirling it around, watching his own dexterous movements as he did so. “I had so hoped it wouldn’t come to this,” he said, mournful eyes locked on the gun’s fluid rotations. Suddenly his finger curled around the trigger and the grip of the gun settled into his waiting hand. His fingers absently rubbed at the handle as he levelled it at Anais, his head tilting to the side and his posture wilting to something far too casual for someone who was brandishing a firearm. “But, hey. You can’t always get what you want.” The last sentence was sung in a nostalgic whisper, as if he was reflecting on the heyday of the Stones and not complaining about the labors of threatening someone at gunpoint.
Anais knew she should be maneuvering to a less vulnerable position, or at least displaying some variation of shock, but she couldn’t rouse herself to do anything more than regard the gun with disinterest. The ring of metal regarding her not five feet away seemed to be no more than a circlet silver. She wouldn’t be able to see its fatal potential until there was a curl of smoke drifting away and she was lying dead on the floor.
At the same time, she knew that her life was very much endangered. It was only because this wasn’t entirely unexpected from Mr. Whimley that she reacted so stoically. Despite his flamboyance and sociability, Anais sensed that he was a creature of calculation. And so she would be, too. The best way to balance her current equation was to recognize the danger, but remove the emotional reaction.
“What is it you’re going to ask of me?” Anais said, pushing the barrel of the gun out of focus and returning her gaze back to Whimley.
“Well, that’s all very complex. You see, it’s not just the Switches you don’t know about; it’s everything. I can’t even begin to explain it all to you, and I’m sure you wouldn’t be so interested if I was inclined to try. But for my situation, I only ask one thing, for the time being. I just want you to come with me so that we can discuss this elsewhere.”
Anais heard all of the packaging he wrapped around ‘I want you to come with me’, trying to bury it in innocuous statements before arriving to the final point. ‘I want you to come with me,’ always sounded like a threat, no matter who was speaking it and in what tone. Hearts race and palms sweat when those words are spoken. Anais felt her own heart rate kick up a notch when those words stood out of his meaningless sentences.
“Where?”
He chuckled and shook his head, grinning at Anais with amusement. “Pardon me for saying so, but I don’t believe you’re quite in the position to be asking too many questions.” He said it like a friendly suggestion, the gun wavering in his hands to back up his point.
Anais sat for a moment more, making peace with the fact that she would not be going to bed early tonight. “Fine,” she said, standing and putting her discarded coat back on. She waved a resigned hand at the doorway. “Lead the way.”
“Splendid.” He spun the revolver once more before tucking it back into its hiding place within his jacket. There was no indication of the weapon’s hiding place once it was stowed away.“We’ll be Switching.”
“We?” Anais questioned, pausing as she zipped her jacket.
Whimley looked at her with a misunderstanding vacancy before shaking his head with realization. “Oh, of course. Yes, you're entirely capable of Switching yourself along with someone else. Your friend on the tube didn't tell you that?”
Anais slowed her movements, the sudden implication of everything she now knew laying flat at her feet. “She failed to mention that.” The entire world was somehow just beneath her fingertips, and she’d never known it. All this time.
“Yes, well. You let me do all the work. I’ll picture the place we’re going, and you can just come along for the ride.” He stood beside her and offered a leisurely arm out. Anais looped her own arm through his, well aware that the very instrument he’d threatened to kill her with was stowed only a few inches from her elbow.
“Is it any different, Switching myself? I know I have to be in contact with you, but what about me?”
“You’re in contact with yourself all the time, aren’t you? No, all you have to do is will the two of us away.”
“Where are you taking me?” Anais asked, looking up at him, already unsure if she could trust his answer.”
“Does that really matter?” he said, patting the place where he’d hidden his gun.
“I suppose not,” Anais replied. She looked forward, wished to leave, and they were gone.
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Chapter 11 of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Written by LewisCarroll

Who Stole the Tarts?

        The King and Queen of Hearts were seated on their throne when they arrived, with a great crowd assembled about them—all sorts of little birds and beasts, as well as the whole pack of cards: the Knave was standing before them, in chains, with a soldier on each side to guard him; and near the King was the White Rabbit, with a trumpet in one hand, and a scroll of parchment in the other. In the very middle of the court was a table, with a large dish of tarts upon it: they looked so good, that it made Alice quite hungry to look at them—‘I wish they’d get the trial done,’ she thought, ‘and hand round the refreshments!’ But there seemed to be no chance of this, so she began looking at everything about her, to pass away the time.

        Alice had never been in a court of justice before, but she had read about them in books, and she was quite pleased to find that she knew the name of nearly everything there. ‘That’s the judge,’ she said to herself, ‘because of his great wig.’

        The judge, by the way, was the King; and as he wore his crown over the wig, (look at the frontispiece if you want to see how he did it,) he did not look at all comfortable, and it was certainly not becoming.

        ‘And that’s the jury-box,’ thought Alice, ‘and those twelve creatures,’ (she was obliged to say ‘creatures,’ you see, because some of them were animals, and some were birds,) ‘I suppose they are the jurors.’ She said this last word two or three times over to herself, being rather proud of it: for she thought, and rightly too, that very few little girls of her age knew the meaning of it at all. However, ‘jury-men’ would have done just as well.

        The twelve jurors were all writing very busily on slates. ‘What are they doing?’ Alice whispered to the Gryphon. ‘They can’t have anything to put down yet, before the trial’s begun.’

        ‘They’re putting down their names,’ the Gryphon whispered in reply, ‘for fear they should forget them before the end of the trial.’

        ‘Stupid things!’ Alice began in a loud, indignant voice, but she stopped hastily, for the White Rabbit cried out, ‘Silence in the court!’ and the King put on his spectacles and looked anxiously round, to make out who was talking.

        Alice could see, as well as if she were looking over their shoulders, that all the jurors were writing down ‘stupid things!’ on their slates, and she could even make out that one of them didn’t know how to spell ‘stupid,’ and that he had to ask his neighbour to tell him. ‘A nice muddle their slates’ll be in before the trial’s over!’ thought Alice.

        One of the jurors had a pencil that squeaked. This of course, Alice could not stand, and she went round the court and got behind him, and very soon found an opportunity of taking it away. She did it so quickly that the poor little juror (it was Bill, the Lizard) could not make out at all what had become of it; so, after hunting all about for it, he was obliged to write with one finger for the rest of the day; and this was of very little use, as it left no mark on the slate.

        ‘Herald, read the accusation!’ said the King.

        On this the White Rabbit blew three blasts on the trumpet, and then unrolled the parchment scroll, and read as follows:—

‘The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts,

All on a summer day:

The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts,

And took them quite away!’

        ‘Consider your verdict,’ the King said to the jury.

        ‘Not yet, not yet!’ the Rabbit hastily interrupted. ‘There’s a great deal to come before that!’

        ‘Call the first witness,’ said the King; and the White Rabbit blew three blasts on the trumpet, and called out, ‘First witness!’

        The first witness was the Hatter. He came in with a teacup in one hand and a piece of bread-and-butter in the other. ‘I beg pardon, your Majesty,’ he began, ‘for bringing these in: but I hadn’t quite finished my tea when I was sent for.’

        ‘You ought to have finished,’ said the King. ‘When did you begin?’

        The Hatter looked at the March Hare, who had followed him into the court, arm-in-arm with the Dormouse. ‘Fourteenth of March, I think it was,’ he said.

        ‘Fifteenth,’ said the March Hare.

        ‘Sixteenth,’ added the Dormouse.

        ‘Write that down,’ the King said to the jury, and the jury eagerly wrote down all three dates on their slates, and then added them up, and reduced the answer to shillings and pence.

        ‘Take off your hat,’ the King said to the Hatter.

        ‘It isn’t mine,’ said the Hatter.

        ‘Stolen!’ the King exclaimed, turning to the jury, who instantly made a memorandum of the fact.

        ‘I keep them to sell,’ the Hatter added as an explanation; ‘I’ve none of my own. I’m a hatter.’

        Here the Queen put on her spectacles, and began staring at the Hatter, who turned pale and fidgeted.

        ‘Give your evidence,’ said the King; ‘and don’t be nervous, or I’ll have you executed on the spot.’

        This did not seem to encourage the witness at all: he kept shifting from one foot to the other, looking uneasily at the Queen, and in his confusion he bit a large piece out of his teacup instead of the bread-and-butter.

        Just at this moment Alice felt a very curious sensation, which puzzled her a good deal until she made out what it was: she was beginning to grow larger again, and she thought at first she would get up and leave the court; but on second thoughts she decided to remain where she was as long as there was room for her.

        ‘I wish you wouldn’t squeeze so.’ said the Dormouse, who was sitting next to her. ‘I can hardly breathe.’

        ‘I can’t help it,’ said Alice very meekly: ‘I’m growing.’

        ‘You’ve no right to grow here,’ said the Dormouse.

        ‘Don’t talk nonsense,’ said Alice more boldly: ‘you know you’re growing too.’

        ‘Yes, but I grow at a reasonable pace,’ said the Dormouse: ‘not in that ridiculous fashion.’ And he got up very sulkily and crossed over to the other side of the court.

        All this time the Queen had never left off staring at the Hatter, and, just as the Dormouse crossed the court, she said to one of the officers of the court, ‘Bring me the list of the singers in the last concert!’ on which the wretched Hatter trembled so, that he shook both his shoes off.

        ‘Give your evidence,’ the King repeated angrily, ‘or I’ll have you executed, whether you’re nervous or not.’

        ‘I’m a poor man, your Majesty,’ the Hatter began, in a trembling voice, ‘—and I hadn’t begun my tea—not above a week or so—and what with the bread-and-butter getting so thin—and the twinkling of the tea—’

        ‘The twinkling of the what?’ said the King.

        ‘It began with the tea,’ the Hatter replied.

        ‘Of course twinkling begins with a T!’ said the King sharply. ‘Do you take me for a dunce? Go on!’

        ‘I’m a poor man,’ the Hatter went on, ‘and most things twinkled after that—only the March Hare said—’

        ‘I didn’t!’ the March Hare interrupted in a great hurry.

        ‘You did!’ said the Hatter.

        ‘I deny it!’ said the March Hare.

        ‘He denies it,’ said the King: ‘leave out that part.’

        ‘Well, at any rate, the Dormouse said—’ the Hatter went on, looking anxiously round to see if he would deny it too: but the Dormouse denied nothing, being fast asleep.

        ‘After that,’ continued the Hatter, ‘I cut some more bread-and-butter—’

        ‘But what did the Dormouse say?’ one of the jury asked.

        ‘That I can’t remember,’ said the Hatter.

        ‘You must remember,’ remarked the King, ‘or I’ll have you executed.’

        The miserable Hatter dropped his teacup and bread-and-butter, and went down on one knee. ‘I’m a poor man, your Majesty,’ he began.

        ‘You’re a very poor speaker,’ said the King.

        Here one of the guinea-pigs cheered, and was immediately suppressed by the officers of the court. (As that is rather a hard word, I will just explain to you how it was done. They had a large canvas bag, which tied up at the mouth with strings: into this they slipped the guinea-pig, head first, and then sat upon it.)

        ‘I’m glad I’ve seen that done,’ thought Alice. ‘I’ve so often read in the newspapers, at the end of trials, “There was some attempts at applause, which was immediately suppressed by the officers of the court,” and I never understood what it meant till now.’

        ‘If that’s all you know about it, you may stand down,’ continued the King.

        ‘I can’t go no lower,’ said the Hatter: ‘I’m on the floor, as it is.’

        ‘Then you may sit down,’ the King replied.

        Here the other guinea-pig cheered, and was suppressed.

        ‘Come, that finished the guinea-pigs!’ thought Alice. ‘Now we shall get on better.’

        ‘I’d rather finish my tea,’ said the Hatter, with an anxious look at the Queen, who was reading the list of singers.

        ‘You may go,’ said the King, and the Hatter hurriedly left the court, without even waiting to put his shoes on.

        ‘—and just take his head off outside,’ the Queen added to one of the officers: but the Hatter was out of sight before the officer could get to the door.

        ‘Call the next witness!’ said the King.

        The next witness was the Duchess’s cook. She carried the pepper-box in her hand, and Alice guessed who it was, even before she got into the court, by the way the people near the door began sneezing all at once.

        ‘Give your evidence,’ said the King.

        ‘Shan’t,’ said the cook.

        The King looked anxiously at the White Rabbit, who said in a low voice, ‘Your Majesty must cross-examine this witness.’

        ‘Well, if I must, I must,’ the King said, with a melancholy air, and, after folding his arms and frowning at the cook till his eyes were nearly out of sight, he said in a deep voice, ‘What are tarts made of?’

        ‘Pepper, mostly,’ said the cook.

        ‘Treacle,’ said a sleepy voice behind her.

        ‘Collar that Dormouse,’ the Queen shrieked out. ‘Behead that Dormouse! Turn that Dormouse out of court! Suppress him! Pinch him! Off with his whiskers!’

        For some minutes the whole court was in confusion, getting the Dormouse turned out, and, by the time they had settled down again, the cook had disappeared.

        ‘Never mind!’ said the King, with an air of great relief. ‘Call the next witness.’ And he added in an undertone to the Queen, ‘Really, my dear, you must cross-examine the next witness. It quite makes my forehead ache!’

        Alice watched the White Rabbit as he fumbled over the list, feeling very curious to see what the next witness would be like, ‘—for they haven’t got much evidence yet,’ she said to herself. Imagine her surprise, when the White Rabbit read out, at the top of his shrill little voice, the name ‘Alice!’

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Chapter 11 of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Written by LewisCarroll
Who Stole the Tarts?
        The King and Queen of Hearts were seated on their throne when they arrived, with a great crowd assembled about them—all sorts of little birds and beasts, as well as the whole pack of cards: the Knave was standing before them, in chains, with a soldier on each side to guard him; and near the King was the White Rabbit, with a trumpet in one hand, and a scroll of parchment in the other. In the very middle of the court was a table, with a large dish of tarts upon it: they looked so good, that it made Alice quite hungry to look at them—‘I wish they’d get the trial done,’ she thought, ‘and hand round the refreshments!’ But there seemed to be no chance of this, so she began looking at everything about her, to pass away the time.
        Alice had never been in a court of justice before, but she had read about them in books, and she was quite pleased to find that she knew the name of nearly everything there. ‘That’s the judge,’ she said to herself, ‘because of his great wig.’
        The judge, by the way, was the King; and as he wore his crown over the wig, (look at the frontispiece if you want to see how he did it,) he did not look at all comfortable, and it was certainly not becoming.
        ‘And that’s the jury-box,’ thought Alice, ‘and those twelve creatures,’ (she was obliged to say ‘creatures,’ you see, because some of them were animals, and some were birds,) ‘I suppose they are the jurors.’ She said this last word two or three times over to herself, being rather proud of it: for she thought, and rightly too, that very few little girls of her age knew the meaning of it at all. However, ‘jury-men’ would have done just as well.
        The twelve jurors were all writing very busily on slates. ‘What are they doing?’ Alice whispered to the Gryphon. ‘They can’t have anything to put down yet, before the trial’s begun.’
        ‘They’re putting down their names,’ the Gryphon whispered in reply, ‘for fear they should forget them before the end of the trial.’
        ‘Stupid things!’ Alice began in a loud, indignant voice, but she stopped hastily, for the White Rabbit cried out, ‘Silence in the court!’ and the King put on his spectacles and looked anxiously round, to make out who was talking.
        Alice could see, as well as if she were looking over their shoulders, that all the jurors were writing down ‘stupid things!’ on their slates, and she could even make out that one of them didn’t know how to spell ‘stupid,’ and that he had to ask his neighbour to tell him. ‘A nice muddle their slates’ll be in before the trial’s over!’ thought Alice.
        One of the jurors had a pencil that squeaked. This of course, Alice could not stand, and she went round the court and got behind him, and very soon found an opportunity of taking it away. She did it so quickly that the poor little juror (it was Bill, the Lizard) could not make out at all what had become of it; so, after hunting all about for it, he was obliged to write with one finger for the rest of the day; and this was of very little use, as it left no mark on the slate.
        ‘Herald, read the accusation!’ said the King.
        On this the White Rabbit blew three blasts on the trumpet, and then unrolled the parchment scroll, and read as follows:—

‘The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts,
All on a summer day:
The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts,
And took them quite away!’

        ‘Consider your verdict,’ the King said to the jury.
        ‘Not yet, not yet!’ the Rabbit hastily interrupted. ‘There’s a great deal to come before that!’
        ‘Call the first witness,’ said the King; and the White Rabbit blew three blasts on the trumpet, and called out, ‘First witness!’
        The first witness was the Hatter. He came in with a teacup in one hand and a piece of bread-and-butter in the other. ‘I beg pardon, your Majesty,’ he began, ‘for bringing these in: but I hadn’t quite finished my tea when I was sent for.’
        ‘You ought to have finished,’ said the King. ‘When did you begin?’
        The Hatter looked at the March Hare, who had followed him into the court, arm-in-arm with the Dormouse. ‘Fourteenth of March, I think it was,’ he said.
        ‘Fifteenth,’ said the March Hare.
        ‘Sixteenth,’ added the Dormouse.
        ‘Write that down,’ the King said to the jury, and the jury eagerly wrote down all three dates on their slates, and then added them up, and reduced the answer to shillings and pence.
        ‘Take off your hat,’ the King said to the Hatter.
        ‘It isn’t mine,’ said the Hatter.
        ‘Stolen!’ the King exclaimed, turning to the jury, who instantly made a memorandum of the fact.
        ‘I keep them to sell,’ the Hatter added as an explanation; ‘I’ve none of my own. I’m a hatter.’
        Here the Queen put on her spectacles, and began staring at the Hatter, who turned pale and fidgeted.
        ‘Give your evidence,’ said the King; ‘and don’t be nervous, or I’ll have you executed on the spot.’
        This did not seem to encourage the witness at all: he kept shifting from one foot to the other, looking uneasily at the Queen, and in his confusion he bit a large piece out of his teacup instead of the bread-and-butter.
        Just at this moment Alice felt a very curious sensation, which puzzled her a good deal until she made out what it was: she was beginning to grow larger again, and she thought at first she would get up and leave the court; but on second thoughts she decided to remain where she was as long as there was room for her.
        ‘I wish you wouldn’t squeeze so.’ said the Dormouse, who was sitting next to her. ‘I can hardly breathe.’
        ‘I can’t help it,’ said Alice very meekly: ‘I’m growing.’
        ‘You’ve no right to grow here,’ said the Dormouse.
        ‘Don’t talk nonsense,’ said Alice more boldly: ‘you know you’re growing too.’
        ‘Yes, but I grow at a reasonable pace,’ said the Dormouse: ‘not in that ridiculous fashion.’ And he got up very sulkily and crossed over to the other side of the court.
        All this time the Queen had never left off staring at the Hatter, and, just as the Dormouse crossed the court, she said to one of the officers of the court, ‘Bring me the list of the singers in the last concert!’ on which the wretched Hatter trembled so, that he shook both his shoes off.
        ‘Give your evidence,’ the King repeated angrily, ‘or I’ll have you executed, whether you’re nervous or not.’
        ‘I’m a poor man, your Majesty,’ the Hatter began, in a trembling voice, ‘—and I hadn’t begun my tea—not above a week or so—and what with the bread-and-butter getting so thin—and the twinkling of the tea—’
        ‘The twinkling of the what?’ said the King.
        ‘It began with the tea,’ the Hatter replied.
        ‘Of course twinkling begins with a T!’ said the King sharply. ‘Do you take me for a dunce? Go on!’
        ‘I’m a poor man,’ the Hatter went on, ‘and most things twinkled after that—only the March Hare said—’
        ‘I didn’t!’ the March Hare interrupted in a great hurry.
        ‘You did!’ said the Hatter.
        ‘I deny it!’ said the March Hare.
        ‘He denies it,’ said the King: ‘leave out that part.’
        ‘Well, at any rate, the Dormouse said—’ the Hatter went on, looking anxiously round to see if he would deny it too: but the Dormouse denied nothing, being fast asleep.
        ‘After that,’ continued the Hatter, ‘I cut some more bread-and-butter—’
        ‘But what did the Dormouse say?’ one of the jury asked.
        ‘That I can’t remember,’ said the Hatter.
        ‘You must remember,’ remarked the King, ‘or I’ll have you executed.’
        The miserable Hatter dropped his teacup and bread-and-butter, and went down on one knee. ‘I’m a poor man, your Majesty,’ he began.
        ‘You’re a very poor speaker,’ said the King.
        Here one of the guinea-pigs cheered, and was immediately suppressed by the officers of the court. (As that is rather a hard word, I will just explain to you how it was done. They had a large canvas bag, which tied up at the mouth with strings: into this they slipped the guinea-pig, head first, and then sat upon it.)
        ‘I’m glad I’ve seen that done,’ thought Alice. ‘I’ve so often read in the newspapers, at the end of trials, “There was some attempts at applause, which was immediately suppressed by the officers of the court,” and I never understood what it meant till now.’
        ‘If that’s all you know about it, you may stand down,’ continued the King.
        ‘I can’t go no lower,’ said the Hatter: ‘I’m on the floor, as it is.’
        ‘Then you may sit down,’ the King replied.
        Here the other guinea-pig cheered, and was suppressed.
        ‘Come, that finished the guinea-pigs!’ thought Alice. ‘Now we shall get on better.’
        ‘I’d rather finish my tea,’ said the Hatter, with an anxious look at the Queen, who was reading the list of singers.
        ‘You may go,’ said the King, and the Hatter hurriedly left the court, without even waiting to put his shoes on.
        ‘—and just take his head off outside,’ the Queen added to one of the officers: but the Hatter was out of sight before the officer could get to the door.
        ‘Call the next witness!’ said the King.
        The next witness was the Duchess’s cook. She carried the pepper-box in her hand, and Alice guessed who it was, even before she got into the court, by the way the people near the door began sneezing all at once.
        ‘Give your evidence,’ said the King.
        ‘Shan’t,’ said the cook.
        The King looked anxiously at the White Rabbit, who said in a low voice, ‘Your Majesty must cross-examine this witness.’
        ‘Well, if I must, I must,’ the King said, with a melancholy air, and, after folding his arms and frowning at the cook till his eyes were nearly out of sight, he said in a deep voice, ‘What are tarts made of?’
        ‘Pepper, mostly,’ said the cook.
        ‘Treacle,’ said a sleepy voice behind her.
        ‘Collar that Dormouse,’ the Queen shrieked out. ‘Behead that Dormouse! Turn that Dormouse out of court! Suppress him! Pinch him! Off with his whiskers!’
        For some minutes the whole court was in confusion, getting the Dormouse turned out, and, by the time they had settled down again, the cook had disappeared.
        ‘Never mind!’ said the King, with an air of great relief. ‘Call the next witness.’ And he added in an undertone to the Queen, ‘Really, my dear, you must cross-examine the next witness. It quite makes my forehead ache!’
        Alice watched the White Rabbit as he fumbled over the list, feeling very curious to see what the next witness would be like, ‘—for they haven’t got much evidence yet,’ she said to herself. Imagine her surprise, when the White Rabbit read out, at the top of his shrill little voice, the name ‘Alice!’
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Hello World of Words.

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God is dead?
Chapter 10 of Verbolution, A Prose Original Series: Season Two - "Suffocation"
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Hell, No.

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God is dead?
Chapter 10 of Verbolution, A Prose Original Series: Season Two - "Suffocation"
Written by A
Hell, No.
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Written by JeffStewart in portal Fiction

He couldn't die young

The key busted off in the lock. Twelve goddamned hours in the foundry, a written warning from the lead jackass, a flat tire on the bridge, and now a busted key. He stared at the stub sticking out of the keyhole. He could hear the television. The whole neighborhood could hear it. He banged on the door. He walked around the side of the house and saw Buddy playing a video game. He smeared a hole in the window with his sleeve. Buddy had gotten fat. The crack of his ass peeked out and the handles on his sides hung over his jeans. He watched him for a few seconds then banged on the window. Buddy tried the door but it was jammed. He looked at his father through the window. He threw his hands up at Buddy and pointed to the bedroom. Buddy sat back down in front of the television. He ran around the side of the house and broke the door in. He rubbed his shoulder and looked at Buddy on the floor. They had been close in the beginning. The boy wasn’t blood, but he’d raised him since he was three. He walked into the living room, what there really was of it, and turned off the television. Buddy sighed. He grabbed the controller from Buddy’s hand.

“Listen here, you little fuck. I bust my ass to keep you and your mother comfortable. And I ask for nothing back, not jack or shit. But I’m telling you now, you show me a little more goddamned respect. You got that, you little motherfucker?”

Tears welled in Buddy’s eyes. He looked at Buddy’s fat belly and felt horrible. He turned the television on and handed him the controller.

“Jesus. I’m sorry, Buddy. I had a hard day. You’ll find out.”

He sat next to Buddy on the floor. He grabbed the other controller. He nudged Buddy, “Alright, show me how to kick your ass, Buddy. I wanna be the yellow car.”

He began the course but ditched his car around every corner. Each time he wrecked he said, “Fucking controller,” and Buddy laughed. He tossed the controller on the floor and rubbed Buddy’s head, “Alright, Buddy. You took me down. We still pals?”

Buddy nodded at the television. He looked at the clock over the antenna, “Your mother been sleeping all day, Buddy?”

“Yes.”

“She been drinking all day?”

“Yes.”

He spun Buddy around to face him. He rubbed his eyes. Today had been worse than most of them. He stared across to Buddy, “You know I’m working hard to give you a better life than this, don’t you, Buddy?”

Buddy nodded.

“Shit, you already have more than I had at your age, Buddy. If I could find a better way to make some better money, I could spend more time with you. I really do love you.”

Buddy scratched his nose. He smiled at Buddy, “Well, don’t just sit there with your teeth in your mouth. Give your old man a hug.”

Buddy hugged him. Buddy was nine. He let go and rubbed Buddy’s head again, “Alright, that’s enough. You fag.”

Buddy laughed and watched him get up, walk into the bedroom and close the door.

***

He turned the light on. It smelled like an abandoned whorehouse. She groaned. He dimmed the light, “Son of a bitch. You been asleep all damned day.”

She rolled over. Her eyes were red. Her hair looked unwashed for weeks. He looked around, “It stinks in here.”

She sat up, “This town stinks.” She took a drink from her bottle and coughed. She’d put on some weight herself. He still loved her but not as strongly as he once did.

She lit half a smoke, “I fucking hate this place. I can’t get a job and I can’t stand television. I can’t get motivated, baby. We need to move, I want to move.”

He sat on the corner of the bed, “Where?”

“Back to Vegas.”

“Vegas.”

“This job is killing you. This town is killing you. And it’s making Buddy and me fat and boring. We moved here for your brother, but he’s dead now. I can’t do this anymore.”

He stared at the wall, “Vegas.”

She set the bottle on the night stand and put out her smoke. The smoke climbed the paneling and waited in the corner.

“How long has it been since you fucked me?”

He made a face and shrugged at the smoke, “I don’t know, a couple of weeks or so.”

“Four months and nine days.”

He thought about it. He looked at her. He was failing the only two people he had. He stroked her arm, “I’m sorry, baby. Jesus. This job is eating me alive. We’ll go to Vegas, we’ll move back.”

She got up and killed the light. Payday was in two days. She took off her nightgown and crawled into bed. He stood up and opened the door, “Buddy, you’re not going to school tomorrow. Turn that shit off and start packing your room. We’re moving back.”

Buddy turned off the television and ran to his room. He watched Buddy’s door close, and he closed theirs. He undressed in the dark and crawled into bed with his wife. He kissed her and ran his hand down her side. Outside two young blacks began to hot wire his car.

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Written by JeffStewart in portal Fiction
He couldn't die young
The key busted off in the lock. Twelve goddamned hours in the foundry, a written warning from the lead jackass, a flat tire on the bridge, and now a busted key. He stared at the stub sticking out of the keyhole. He could hear the television. The whole neighborhood could hear it. He banged on the door. He walked around the side of the house and saw Buddy playing a video game. He smeared a hole in the window with his sleeve. Buddy had gotten fat. The crack of his ass peeked out and the handles on his sides hung over his jeans. He watched him for a few seconds then banged on the window. Buddy tried the door but it was jammed. He looked at his father through the window. He threw his hands up at Buddy and pointed to the bedroom. Buddy sat back down in front of the television. He ran around the side of the house and broke the door in. He rubbed his shoulder and looked at Buddy on the floor. They had been close in the beginning. The boy wasn’t blood, but he’d raised him since he was three. He walked into the living room, what there really was of it, and turned off the television. Buddy sighed. He grabbed the controller from Buddy’s hand.
“Listen here, you little fuck. I bust my ass to keep you and your mother comfortable. And I ask for nothing back, not jack or shit. But I’m telling you now, you show me a little more goddamned respect. You got that, you little motherfucker?”
Tears welled in Buddy’s eyes. He looked at Buddy’s fat belly and felt horrible. He turned the television on and handed him the controller.
“Jesus. I’m sorry, Buddy. I had a hard day. You’ll find out.”
He sat next to Buddy on the floor. He grabbed the other controller. He nudged Buddy, “Alright, show me how to kick your ass, Buddy. I wanna be the yellow car.”
He began the course but ditched his car around every corner. Each time he wrecked he said, “Fucking controller,” and Buddy laughed. He tossed the controller on the floor and rubbed Buddy’s head, “Alright, Buddy. You took me down. We still pals?”
Buddy nodded at the television. He looked at the clock over the antenna, “Your mother been sleeping all day, Buddy?”
“Yes.”
“She been drinking all day?”
“Yes.”
He spun Buddy around to face him. He rubbed his eyes. Today had been worse than most of them. He stared across to Buddy, “You know I’m working hard to give you a better life than this, don’t you, Buddy?”
Buddy nodded.
“Shit, you already have more than I had at your age, Buddy. If I could find a better way to make some better money, I could spend more time with you. I really do love you.”
Buddy scratched his nose. He smiled at Buddy, “Well, don’t just sit there with your teeth in your mouth. Give your old man a hug.”
Buddy hugged him. Buddy was nine. He let go and rubbed Buddy’s head again, “Alright, that’s enough. You fag.”
Buddy laughed and watched him get up, walk into the bedroom and close the door.

***

He turned the light on. It smelled like an abandoned whorehouse. She groaned. He dimmed the light, “Son of a bitch. You been asleep all damned day.”
She rolled over. Her eyes were red. Her hair looked unwashed for weeks. He looked around, “It stinks in here.”
She sat up, “This town stinks.” She took a drink from her bottle and coughed. She’d put on some weight herself. He still loved her but not as strongly as he once did.
She lit half a smoke, “I fucking hate this place. I can’t get a job and I can’t stand television. I can’t get motivated, baby. We need to move, I want to move.”
He sat on the corner of the bed, “Where?”
“Back to Vegas.”
“Vegas.”
“This job is killing you. This town is killing you. And it’s making Buddy and me fat and boring. We moved here for your brother, but he’s dead now. I can’t do this anymore.”
He stared at the wall, “Vegas.”
She set the bottle on the night stand and put out her smoke. The smoke climbed the paneling and waited in the corner.
“How long has it been since you fucked me?”
He made a face and shrugged at the smoke, “I don’t know, a couple of weeks or so.”
“Four months and nine days.”
He thought about it. He looked at her. He was failing the only two people he had. He stroked her arm, “I’m sorry, baby. Jesus. This job is eating me alive. We’ll go to Vegas, we’ll move back.”
She got up and killed the light. Payday was in two days. She took off her nightgown and crawled into bed. He stood up and opened the door, “Buddy, you’re not going to school tomorrow. Turn that shit off and start packing your room. We’re moving back.”
Buddy turned off the television and ran to his room. He watched Buddy’s door close, and he closed theirs. He undressed in the dark and crawled into bed with his wife. He kissed her and ran his hand down her side. Outside two young blacks began to hot wire his car.
#fiction  #prose  #deadbirdshot  #culture 
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Written by alesper in portal Simon & Schuster

Ouroboricisms

I.

The ouroboros is an ancient symbol of a dragon, or serpent, eating its own tail. With origins in Egyptian iconography, it has been adopted by many cultures, most notably in alchemy. It is a strange, persistent image. It continues, in today’s modern magical and mystical culture, to symbolize eternity, reincarnation, the eternal return; it is a continual never-ending recreation.

The snake consumes its own body.

I have found a funny sort of mimesis in the ouroboros, in the serpent – that continuous hunger. For me, the body of the snake is a traumatized body. It is the uncontrollable, unstoppable compulsion to digest one’s own past, the need to consume our own bodies. That exhaustive circling, that thoughtless shape of memory. There is a temporal space constructed by trauma and therefore understood only by those who have experienced it that is simultaneously physical, emotional, and spiritual. This space is generated through a particularly circular mode of remembering and re-structuring of memory itself. The life lived after trauma ceases to be linear – spanning simply from birth to death – and instead becomes ouroboric.

Were the serpent ever to succeed and consume himself, a decreation would take place. But it never does.

I look to the mystics.

I write a paper about Julian of Norwich, the medieval mystic who, on her deathbed, dreams that she recreates Christ’s wounds on her own body. Julian is 31 when she becomes ill and lies feverish on her bed, waiting to die. In her fever dreams, she sees Christ – graphic images of his crucifixion and death. She calls them “showings”; they restore her health. I ask questions about her mystical experience, her closeness to death. I ask: What happens when your traumatic life experience is death? What would a mimetic return to death look like?

I write a paper about Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Bronte’s narrative is a loop: different chronological spaces overlap and encroach on one another. Wuthering Heights, the house, the structure exists as a traumatized body full of ghosts. Everything is a loop: the two Katherines, the two timelines, the ghosts themselves. What is a ghost but a body that cannot help but replay its own suffering? Anne Carson writes “The Glass Essay” in which the narrator-body translates her own trauma through an exegesis of Bronte’s novel. Carson writes, “time in its transparent loops as it passes beneath me now.” She writes, “I feel I am turning into Emily Brontë, my lonely life around me like a moor.” She writes, “What was this cage, invisible to us, which she felt herself to be confined in?”

I write my thesis about Margery Kempe, another medieval mystic, who refers to herself only as “the creature” and cries uncontrollably in the streets. Her visions of Christ’s suffering consume her body and her mind like a possession. She doesn’t eat, she denies pleasures of the flesh; she has no body or self, there is only “the creature”. She meditates on suffering.

I write about Flannery O’Connor, that modern mystic, whose characters loved God so much they became mutilated, disfigured, and deformed. Flannery O’Connor writes, “in some medieval paintings…the martyr’s limbs are being sawed off and his expression says he is being deprived of nothing essential.” Flannery, who walks around on her farm among the peacocks, metal braces supporting her body, she writes, “I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.”

What is it like to disregard the body? How do we get around ourselves when we are always in the way? I wonder how badly the serpent wants the loop to end, to consume himself until the flesh is gone. Is that possible? What would that look like, that nothing-space? To complete the autocannibalism of revisiting one’s own trauma, for it to be over?

II.

Where do we find the secondary image of the ouroboros: at its center. Because while the serpent is so busy trying to consume itself, the empty circle it creates is there, containing nothing. The serpent creates a nothing-space and it makes me wonder if his desperate circling is an attempt to reach it. But there is no reaching the nothing-space, because if the serpent reaches it – thus disrupting the circle of its body – then that space is destroyed. It – the serpent – can only ever be nothing-space adjacent: circling, circling, circling. We want the nothing-space so bad, that circle, that hole. What happens there? Nothing! This is the place where the body doesn’t exist. It is so seductive, tantalizing. The eroticism of forgetting.

To the mystics again: In 1310, before being burned at the stake in Paris, Marguerite Porete writes A Mirror of Simple Souls. It signs her death warrant. Porete tells us that we can make ourselves so small that we disappear into the divine; she tells us that there is a union with God that destroys the self. She tells us about nothingness, how to get beyond ourselves. Her book is an instruction manual for getting around ourselves when we are in the way. I think about what is must have been like. Her body must have burned so slowly.

In New York City, Anne Carson teaches Maggie Nelson to leave a space empty so that God can rush in, a hole for the divine. In a different space, she writes about Porete, “He has burned me out of myself / absolutely.” In my room alone, I feel Flannery’s frustration: “Please, help me to push myself aside!”

III.

Six hundred years ago, Christ was a woman.

Julian, she knew this. Christ, who she called, “Our tender mother Jesus”. Julian lived her life sitting frail and cold in a tiny cell; Julian was enclosed. She had a little window, just wide enough to see the altar of the Church, and wide enough to confess. Across from that window was another, even smaller, from which she preached to the townspeople of Norwich. Julian, our mother, Julian who knew the truth.

God the Father, he punishes; Christ the mother nurtures and comforts. “And our savior is our one true mother…by whom we shall always be enclosed.” Julian, what is it like to be enclosed? Did you reach it – that nothing-space? Is it Christ, our tender mother, chasing his own tail, or is that absurd? I wish so badly that it were, but I’m afraid that I find the serpent more comforting – more relatable.

Nevertheless, the shape of the ouroboros is there in Julian, in her Revelations; it persists. Julian, reliving her near-death like her own personal rapture.

That stupid, silly snake circling ‘round and ‘round, so hungry. Why do I love to think about it turning when it sits so still on the page? Why do I write myself in circles? The truth of the matter is that I find comfort in the stories of medieval heretics, those fiery devout women, even though I have never received revelation and cannot feel the flames. Those women whose visions make lesser men flinch. Julian understood better than Caravaggio what it meant for Thomas to press the tip of his finger into Christ’s open seething wound, that warm sensual flesh. “Then…our Lord looked into his side, and gazed, rejoicing: and with his dear gaze he led his creature’s” – that’s Julian, our creature-mother – “understanding through the same wound into his side.” She puts her whole self into his wound! While the rest of us are condemned to simply circle around it!

I keep circling, myself (circling myself). I am so aware of that space I create, that nothingness, that possible solution or relief. The food of my own body is a circle of images and I keep eating and eating. I read Marguerite so that she can teach me to annihilate myself; I ask Julian where the flesh opens; I beg Flannery: “teach me how to push myself aside.” The serpent grins, always biting down.

References:

(In order)

Revelations of Divine Love, Julian of Norwich

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

“The Glass Essay” from Glass, Irony, and God, Anne Carson

The Book of Margery Kempe, Margery Kempe

The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O’Connor

A Prayer Journal, Flannery O’Connor (ed. Sally Fitzgerald)

Mirror of Simple Souls, Marguerite Porete

The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson

Decreation, Anne Carson

The Incredulity of St. Thomas (painting), Caravaggio

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Written by alesper in portal Simon & Schuster
Ouroboricisms
I.

The ouroboros is an ancient symbol of a dragon, or serpent, eating its own tail. With origins in Egyptian iconography, it has been adopted by many cultures, most notably in alchemy. It is a strange, persistent image. It continues, in today’s modern magical and mystical culture, to symbolize eternity, reincarnation, the eternal return; it is a continual never-ending recreation.

The snake consumes its own body.

I have found a funny sort of mimesis in the ouroboros, in the serpent – that continuous hunger. For me, the body of the snake is a traumatized body. It is the uncontrollable, unstoppable compulsion to digest one’s own past, the need to consume our own bodies. That exhaustive circling, that thoughtless shape of memory. There is a temporal space constructed by trauma and therefore understood only by those who have experienced it that is simultaneously physical, emotional, and spiritual. This space is generated through a particularly circular mode of remembering and re-structuring of memory itself. The life lived after trauma ceases to be linear – spanning simply from birth to death – and instead becomes ouroboric.

Were the serpent ever to succeed and consume himself, a decreation would take place. But it never does.

I look to the mystics.

I write a paper about Julian of Norwich, the medieval mystic who, on her deathbed, dreams that she recreates Christ’s wounds on her own body. Julian is 31 when she becomes ill and lies feverish on her bed, waiting to die. In her fever dreams, she sees Christ – graphic images of his crucifixion and death. She calls them “showings”; they restore her health. I ask questions about her mystical experience, her closeness to death. I ask: What happens when your traumatic life experience is death? What would a mimetic return to death look like?

I write a paper about Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Bronte’s narrative is a loop: different chronological spaces overlap and encroach on one another. Wuthering Heights, the house, the structure exists as a traumatized body full of ghosts. Everything is a loop: the two Katherines, the two timelines, the ghosts themselves. What is a ghost but a body that cannot help but replay its own suffering? Anne Carson writes “The Glass Essay” in which the narrator-body translates her own trauma through an exegesis of Bronte’s novel. Carson writes, “time in its transparent loops as it passes beneath me now.” She writes, “I feel I am turning into Emily Brontë, my lonely life around me like a moor.” She writes, “What was this cage, invisible to us, which she felt herself to be confined in?”

I write my thesis about Margery Kempe, another medieval mystic, who refers to herself only as “the creature” and cries uncontrollably in the streets. Her visions of Christ’s suffering consume her body and her mind like a possession. She doesn’t eat, she denies pleasures of the flesh; she has no body or self, there is only “the creature”. She meditates on suffering.

I write about Flannery O’Connor, that modern mystic, whose characters loved God so much they became mutilated, disfigured, and deformed. Flannery O’Connor writes, “in some medieval paintings…the martyr’s limbs are being sawed off and his expression says he is being deprived of nothing essential.” Flannery, who walks around on her farm among the peacocks, metal braces supporting her body, she writes, “I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.”

What is it like to disregard the body? How do we get around ourselves when we are always in the way? I wonder how badly the serpent wants the loop to end, to consume himself until the flesh is gone. Is that possible? What would that look like, that nothing-space? To complete the autocannibalism of revisiting one’s own trauma, for it to be over?



II.

Where do we find the secondary image of the ouroboros: at its center. Because while the serpent is so busy trying to consume itself, the empty circle it creates is there, containing nothing. The serpent creates a nothing-space and it makes me wonder if his desperate circling is an attempt to reach it. But there is no reaching the nothing-space, because if the serpent reaches it – thus disrupting the circle of its body – then that space is destroyed. It – the serpent – can only ever be nothing-space adjacent: circling, circling, circling. We want the nothing-space so bad, that circle, that hole. What happens there? Nothing! This is the place where the body doesn’t exist. It is so seductive, tantalizing. The eroticism of forgetting.

To the mystics again: In 1310, before being burned at the stake in Paris, Marguerite Porete writes A Mirror of Simple Souls. It signs her death warrant. Porete tells us that we can make ourselves so small that we disappear into the divine; she tells us that there is a union with God that destroys the self. She tells us about nothingness, how to get beyond ourselves. Her book is an instruction manual for getting around ourselves when we are in the way. I think about what is must have been like. Her body must have burned so slowly.

In New York City, Anne Carson teaches Maggie Nelson to leave a space empty so that God can rush in, a hole for the divine. In a different space, she writes about Porete, “He has burned me out of myself / absolutely.” In my room alone, I feel Flannery’s frustration: “Please, help me to push myself aside!”



III.

Six hundred years ago, Christ was a woman.

Julian, she knew this. Christ, who she called, “Our tender mother Jesus”. Julian lived her life sitting frail and cold in a tiny cell; Julian was enclosed. She had a little window, just wide enough to see the altar of the Church, and wide enough to confess. Across from that window was another, even smaller, from which she preached to the townspeople of Norwich. Julian, our mother, Julian who knew the truth.

God the Father, he punishes; Christ the mother nurtures and comforts. “And our savior is our one true mother…by whom we shall always be enclosed.” Julian, what is it like to be enclosed? Did you reach it – that nothing-space? Is it Christ, our tender mother, chasing his own tail, or is that absurd? I wish so badly that it were, but I’m afraid that I find the serpent more comforting – more relatable.

Nevertheless, the shape of the ouroboros is there in Julian, in her Revelations; it persists. Julian, reliving her near-death like her own personal rapture.

That stupid, silly snake circling ‘round and ‘round, so hungry. Why do I love to think about it turning when it sits so still on the page? Why do I write myself in circles? The truth of the matter is that I find comfort in the stories of medieval heretics, those fiery devout women, even though I have never received revelation and cannot feel the flames. Those women whose visions make lesser men flinch. Julian understood better than Caravaggio what it meant for Thomas to press the tip of his finger into Christ’s open seething wound, that warm sensual flesh. “Then…our Lord looked into his side, and gazed, rejoicing: and with his dear gaze he led his creature’s” – that’s Julian, our creature-mother – “understanding through the same wound into his side.” She puts her whole self into his wound! While the rest of us are condemned to simply circle around it!

I keep circling, myself (circling myself). I am so aware of that space I create, that nothingness, that possible solution or relief. The food of my own body is a circle of images and I keep eating and eating. I read Marguerite so that she can teach me to annihilate myself; I ask Julian where the flesh opens; I beg Flannery: “teach me how to push myself aside.” The serpent grins, always biting down.



References:

(In order)

Revelations of Divine Love, Julian of Norwich

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

“The Glass Essay” from Glass, Irony, and God, Anne Carson

The Book of Margery Kempe, Margery Kempe

The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O’Connor

A Prayer Journal, Flannery O’Connor (ed. Sally Fitzgerald)

Mirror of Simple Souls, Marguerite Porete

The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson

Decreation, Anne Carson

The Incredulity of St. Thomas (painting), Caravaggio
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Written by Lorelei54 in portal Simon & Schuster

All is Vanity

     I’m what they call a “lapsed Catholic. Hyperbolically redundant, maybe, but when you’re an Irish Catholic preteen girl in mid-century New York City, and a Kelly green Dodge Sportsman van pulls up outside P.S. 66, horn honking and driver gesticulating in your direction, it’s not unusual for your first thoughts to tend towards the persecutory.

     OhmyGodJesusMaryandJosephwhatdidIdotodeservethis?

     It was 1972 P.M. (Pre-Minivan), at least a decade before Lee Iacocca developed what would become the catalyst of many a midlife crisis. My father was in the driver’s seat after picking up the green behemoth from the dealership earlier that day. We didn’t have a lot of money, my father was a lieutenant in the NYPD’s Tactical Patrol Unit and there were four of us Dowd kids, so the purchase of our first new car ever was understandably quite the event. Dad was very proud of his Irish heritage and that pride was reflected in his color selection for The Van. I, however, didn’t share in his belief that our County Sligo roots should be represented by what I thought looked like a big, rolling, ball of snot.

     As if The Van’s color wasn’t distinguishing enough, my father had thought it prudent to add our last name to the driver’s and passenger’s side doors, using those lovely gold and black stick-on letters, ubiquitous to rural neighborhood mailboxes, but not exactly common on motor vehicles in Queens. I’m still not sure why he did it. Maybe it was to make it easier to differentiate ours from all the other Kelly green Dodge Sportsman vans one found in Richmond Hill, Queens, in the early seventies, but as I stood outside my elementary school on the verge of entering junior high school and looking puberty square in the acne-prone face, I was sure it was to embarrass the hell out of me and make my life miserable.

     Much like me at that moment, The Van had no options, and my father had to reach across the passenger seat to roll down the window and call me over. Apparently, he thought I’d have trouble locating my ride home among the other sedately-hued sedans and station wagons that lined the curb. Head bowed, I made a run for it, and immediately ducked down below window level once I got in and slammed the door behind me. With no carpeting, floor mats, or interior coverage of any kind to absorb the resulting noise, my actions produced a wave of sound and self-consciousness within that steel cylinder that resonates to this day.

     Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but The Van made quite the impression. I couldn’t prove it, but for the longest time I was positive The Van was the reason I didn’t have a date until I was a senior in high school. We were the Richmond Hillbillies, sans moonshine still and rocking chair, both of which I’m sure my father would have loved to bring along on his ecto-urban excursions if he could have found the room.

     Eventually Dad “finished” the interior with lovely particle board paneling; the thin, faux wood-grained segments, screwed in place on The Van’s side and back doors, reminiscent of Mike Brady’s den. Afflicted with adult ADD, my father either lost interest in the project or couldn’t figure out how to attach said panels to the ceiling without piercing the roof and turning The Van into a colander, so that’s how the van’s interior remained: an ode to a campy 1970s sitcom.

     No amount of refinishing could alter the placement of the engine, though, which sat between the driver’s and front passenger’s seats like so much gas-powered headland. I guess the Dodge engineers had yet to figure out that whole “force versus object” thing, because any frontal collision could have sent the plastic-hooded peninsula hurtling backwards, through two bench seats and the four children occupying them. And since the use of seatbelts was mere suggestion, their buckles and straps eventually disappeared into the seats’ sticky depths.

     The Van played a major role in every Dowd vacation following its purchase, and would be part of our family until I was out of college. We traveled en masse, the six of us “making good time” as my dad would say, by rising before dawn and hitting the road with us kids in our pajamas until we reached the first roadside rest stop, where we would change and have breakfast. These stops weren’t the monuments to modernity you now find along the interstate, and often consisted of a group of weathered picnic tables decorated by the local avian contingent, an anorectic brochure rack, and an outbuilding with a few utilitarian restrooms.

     After an appetizing trip to the facilities it was time for dining van fresco. Funds were always tight and there weren’t many fast food drive-thrus in the 60s and 70s, so we carried all our food in coolers and boxes which my mom would replenish as needed. I don’t know how she did it. Two weeks, feeding six people, from a cooler on the side of the road or a camp stove in front of a tent sounds like the secular definition of Hell to me. My mother was a magician and The Van was the top hat from which she produced nightly dinner.

     Motel stays weren’t financially feasible and Google had yet to become a verb, so our sites were campsites and our vacations planned with the help of the annual Rand McNally Campground Guide. Fueled by self-preservation and flashbacks of noxious near-misses, my siblings and I quickly learned the lingo and steered our parents away from the campgrounds boasting pit toilets as an amenity or offering “environmentally-friendly” showers-- camping code for putting quarters in a slot for five minutes of hot water while standing in a cement-floored, cinder block shower stall. Dowd Family Fun at its best; a dubious tradition which had actually begun before The Van entered our lives.

     On one pre-Van summer trip to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, my father parked our battered Chevy station wagon, pitched our tent on the shores of beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee, and my mother set up her transient kitchen, cooked dinner, cleaned up, and got us kids ready to roast marshmallows. I was one of three Dowd kids, then, who were six, almost five, and three years old and not exactly adept at handling sticks attached to flaming confections, so it shouldn’t have surprised either of my parents when my brother turned around and had a smoldering compress of molten sugar affixed to his left cheek.

     A flurry of adrenaline- and fear-fueled activity ensued, culminating in my brother being dunked in the cold waters of the lake, followed by the elaborate post-panic application of just about everything that came in a Johnson and Johnson First Aid kit, circa 1965. To look at the pictures of his smiling, gauze-swathed face, you’d think my brother was practicing for a Halloween stint as a mummy, rather than recovering from a lakeside baptism due to marshmallow-related fire.

     My mother was seven months pregnant at the time. In a tent, in the woods, with three kids under the age of six and a husband who, despite his Brooklyn roots, yearned to be the original Urban Cowboy; with a dash of Jack Kerouac, a soupcon of Jacques Cousteau, and a touch of The Great Santini thrown in for good measure.

     Consistent with my father’s Mitty-esque fantasies, The Van sailed the Bay of Fundy from Maine to Nova Scotia aboard a ferry called The Bluenose, a trip forever ingrained in my memory as my first time using a travel sickness bag. As if eight hours bobbing like a titanic cork on rough northern Atlantic waters weren’t bad enough, the experience was exacerbated by a breakfast of fried eggs and tomato juice. I just wish my mother had told me to open the bag before using it. After getting a handful of breakfast I decided to just cut out the middle man and hung my head over the rail for the rest of the trip.

     On the opposite end of both the geographic and the meteorological spectrums, The Van traversed the country to The Badlands, The Black Hills, and Mount Rushmore, in South Dakota. This we did in August. On vinyl seats. Without air conditioning, and with two parents who smoked, in the back of a van with side windows that only pushed out at the bottom to form slender acute triangles of ventilation, perfect for a dog to stick its snout through, but problematic for human children at risk of suffocation and secondhand smoke.

     I saw most of Custer State Park’s buffalo, bison, and wild donkeys from a horizontal perspective, stuck to one of The Van’s bench seats in the fetal position, after developing a kidney infection that wouldn’t find relief until my parents finally took me to a clinic in the Wisconsin Dells, about 600 miles away. It was a week before the vinyl seat’s cross-hatch pattern finally faded from my pale, sweaty, gasping face. Add the heat from the omnipresent engine and an AM radio augmented with a CB (pervasive in the pre-cell phone era of The Convoy) and I think I’ve found the impetus behind my PTSD and the reason I avoid saunas and eschew trendy technology.

     By then we’d moved-up from the tent and were pulling a Coleman pop-up camper and sometimes had a rowboat perched on The Van’s roof. On our way out west, my father had a momentary lapse and forgot the financial ramifications of fast food, so we pulled into a Bob’s Big Boy somewhere in Iowa. Unfortunately, he also forgot about the boat.

The banshee-like sound of its fiberglass hull making contact with the large pendant light fixture which hung from the drive-in’s cantilevered roof was followed by a shower of milk-colored glass, reminding my father of the vessel’s existence. After paying for the damages we left without eating, and he used the incident for years as justification not to eat out on family trips; as if the episode was a Dickensian harbinger of Vacation Mishaps Yet-To-Come.

     There were many other trips in The Van that didn’t involve property damage. We negotiated the Great Smoky Mountains en route to pre-Dollywood Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, circumnavigated both sides of Niagara Falls, and explored Amish country—more for its proximity to Hershey and its chocolate than for the cultural and educational experiences.

     Somewhere along the way the DOWD kids grew up. The Van ran out of gas and usefulness sometime in the ‘80s and eventually became a permanent fixture on the side of my parents’ house once they moved to rural Connecticut. While in college, The Van was the first thing I saw whenever I pulled up the driveway for a visit. Melanomas of rust and Bondo dotted his exterior and a family of chipmunks had taken up residence inside. I asked my father why he didn’t just junk the thing and he said he would get around to it eventually, and he did. On my first trip home after The Van’s demise I found I was a little unsettled to see it gone, and stared at the loamy, naked patch of driveway edged with burnt grass and metal flakes. The Van hadn’t gone quietly and I admired its tenacity.

     I realize now that no matter how much The Van had been an incidental bane of my pubertal existence, it represented something much deeper to my dad. As a cop, he’d spent five nights a week on the streets for twenty-three years and had missed most of what happened at home after 4:30 P.M. When he looked at The Van he saw his family’s history. He saw scenes of our collective childhood that he could relate to, and in which he had played a major role. The Van was a souvenir of all those trips we took together, before life intervened and the four DOWD kids went on to travels of their own.

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Written by Lorelei54 in portal Simon & Schuster
All is Vanity
     I’m what they call a “lapsed Catholic. Hyperbolically redundant, maybe, but when you’re an Irish Catholic preteen girl in mid-century New York City, and a Kelly green Dodge Sportsman van pulls up outside P.S. 66, horn honking and driver gesticulating in your direction, it’s not unusual for your first thoughts to tend towards the persecutory.
     OhmyGodJesusMaryandJosephwhatdidIdotodeservethis?
     It was 1972 P.M. (Pre-Minivan), at least a decade before Lee Iacocca developed what would become the catalyst of many a midlife crisis. My father was in the driver’s seat after picking up the green behemoth from the dealership earlier that day. We didn’t have a lot of money, my father was a lieutenant in the NYPD’s Tactical Patrol Unit and there were four of us Dowd kids, so the purchase of our first new car ever was understandably quite the event. Dad was very proud of his Irish heritage and that pride was reflected in his color selection for The Van. I, however, didn’t share in his belief that our County Sligo roots should be represented by what I thought looked like a big, rolling, ball of snot.
     As if The Van’s color wasn’t distinguishing enough, my father had thought it prudent to add our last name to the driver’s and passenger’s side doors, using those lovely gold and black stick-on letters, ubiquitous to rural neighborhood mailboxes, but not exactly common on motor vehicles in Queens. I’m still not sure why he did it. Maybe it was to make it easier to differentiate ours from all the other Kelly green Dodge Sportsman vans one found in Richmond Hill, Queens, in the early seventies, but as I stood outside my elementary school on the verge of entering junior high school and looking puberty square in the acne-prone face, I was sure it was to embarrass the hell out of me and make my life miserable.
     Much like me at that moment, The Van had no options, and my father had to reach across the passenger seat to roll down the window and call me over. Apparently, he thought I’d have trouble locating my ride home among the other sedately-hued sedans and station wagons that lined the curb. Head bowed, I made a run for it, and immediately ducked down below window level once I got in and slammed the door behind me. With no carpeting, floor mats, or interior coverage of any kind to absorb the resulting noise, my actions produced a wave of sound and self-consciousness within that steel cylinder that resonates to this day.
     Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but The Van made quite the impression. I couldn’t prove it, but for the longest time I was positive The Van was the reason I didn’t have a date until I was a senior in high school. We were the Richmond Hillbillies, sans moonshine still and rocking chair, both of which I’m sure my father would have loved to bring along on his ecto-urban excursions if he could have found the room.
     Eventually Dad “finished” the interior with lovely particle board paneling; the thin, faux wood-grained segments, screwed in place on The Van’s side and back doors, reminiscent of Mike Brady’s den. Afflicted with adult ADD, my father either lost interest in the project or couldn’t figure out how to attach said panels to the ceiling without piercing the roof and turning The Van into a colander, so that’s how the van’s interior remained: an ode to a campy 1970s sitcom.
     No amount of refinishing could alter the placement of the engine, though, which sat between the driver’s and front passenger’s seats like so much gas-powered headland. I guess the Dodge engineers had yet to figure out that whole “force versus object” thing, because any frontal collision could have sent the plastic-hooded peninsula hurtling backwards, through two bench seats and the four children occupying them. And since the use of seatbelts was mere suggestion, their buckles and straps eventually disappeared into the seats’ sticky depths.
     The Van played a major role in every Dowd vacation following its purchase, and would be part of our family until I was out of college. We traveled en masse, the six of us “making good time” as my dad would say, by rising before dawn and hitting the road with us kids in our pajamas until we reached the first roadside rest stop, where we would change and have breakfast. These stops weren’t the monuments to modernity you now find along the interstate, and often consisted of a group of weathered picnic tables decorated by the local avian contingent, an anorectic brochure rack, and an outbuilding with a few utilitarian restrooms.
     After an appetizing trip to the facilities it was time for dining van fresco. Funds were always tight and there weren’t many fast food drive-thrus in the 60s and 70s, so we carried all our food in coolers and boxes which my mom would replenish as needed. I don’t know how she did it. Two weeks, feeding six people, from a cooler on the side of the road or a camp stove in front of a tent sounds like the secular definition of Hell to me. My mother was a magician and The Van was the top hat from which she produced nightly dinner.
     Motel stays weren’t financially feasible and Google had yet to become a verb, so our sites were campsites and our vacations planned with the help of the annual Rand McNally Campground Guide. Fueled by self-preservation and flashbacks of noxious near-misses, my siblings and I quickly learned the lingo and steered our parents away from the campgrounds boasting pit toilets as an amenity or offering “environmentally-friendly” showers-- camping code for putting quarters in a slot for five minutes of hot water while standing in a cement-floored, cinder block shower stall. Dowd Family Fun at its best; a dubious tradition which had actually begun before The Van entered our lives.
     On one pre-Van summer trip to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, my father parked our battered Chevy station wagon, pitched our tent on the shores of beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee, and my mother set up her transient kitchen, cooked dinner, cleaned up, and got us kids ready to roast marshmallows. I was one of three Dowd kids, then, who were six, almost five, and three years old and not exactly adept at handling sticks attached to flaming confections, so it shouldn’t have surprised either of my parents when my brother turned around and had a smoldering compress of molten sugar affixed to his left cheek.
     A flurry of adrenaline- and fear-fueled activity ensued, culminating in my brother being dunked in the cold waters of the lake, followed by the elaborate post-panic application of just about everything that came in a Johnson and Johnson First Aid kit, circa 1965. To look at the pictures of his smiling, gauze-swathed face, you’d think my brother was practicing for a Halloween stint as a mummy, rather than recovering from a lakeside baptism due to marshmallow-related fire.
     My mother was seven months pregnant at the time. In a tent, in the woods, with three kids under the age of six and a husband who, despite his Brooklyn roots, yearned to be the original Urban Cowboy; with a dash of Jack Kerouac, a soupcon of Jacques Cousteau, and a touch of The Great Santini thrown in for good measure.
     Consistent with my father’s Mitty-esque fantasies, The Van sailed the Bay of Fundy from Maine to Nova Scotia aboard a ferry called The Bluenose, a trip forever ingrained in my memory as my first time using a travel sickness bag. As if eight hours bobbing like a titanic cork on rough northern Atlantic waters weren’t bad enough, the experience was exacerbated by a breakfast of fried eggs and tomato juice. I just wish my mother had told me to open the bag before using it. After getting a handful of breakfast I decided to just cut out the middle man and hung my head over the rail for the rest of the trip.
     On the opposite end of both the geographic and the meteorological spectrums, The Van traversed the country to The Badlands, The Black Hills, and Mount Rushmore, in South Dakota. This we did in August. On vinyl seats. Without air conditioning, and with two parents who smoked, in the back of a van with side windows that only pushed out at the bottom to form slender acute triangles of ventilation, perfect for a dog to stick its snout through, but problematic for human children at risk of suffocation and secondhand smoke.
     I saw most of Custer State Park’s buffalo, bison, and wild donkeys from a horizontal perspective, stuck to one of The Van’s bench seats in the fetal position, after developing a kidney infection that wouldn’t find relief until my parents finally took me to a clinic in the Wisconsin Dells, about 600 miles away. It was a week before the vinyl seat’s cross-hatch pattern finally faded from my pale, sweaty, gasping face. Add the heat from the omnipresent engine and an AM radio augmented with a CB (pervasive in the pre-cell phone era of The Convoy) and I think I’ve found the impetus behind my PTSD and the reason I avoid saunas and eschew trendy technology.
     By then we’d moved-up from the tent and were pulling a Coleman pop-up camper and sometimes had a rowboat perched on The Van’s roof. On our way out west, my father had a momentary lapse and forgot the financial ramifications of fast food, so we pulled into a Bob’s Big Boy somewhere in Iowa. Unfortunately, he also forgot about the boat.
The banshee-like sound of its fiberglass hull making contact with the large pendant light fixture which hung from the drive-in’s cantilevered roof was followed by a shower of milk-colored glass, reminding my father of the vessel’s existence. After paying for the damages we left without eating, and he used the incident for years as justification not to eat out on family trips; as if the episode was a Dickensian harbinger of Vacation Mishaps Yet-To-Come.
     There were many other trips in The Van that didn’t involve property damage. We negotiated the Great Smoky Mountains en route to pre-Dollywood Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, circumnavigated both sides of Niagara Falls, and explored Amish country—more for its proximity to Hershey and its chocolate than for the cultural and educational experiences.
     Somewhere along the way the DOWD kids grew up. The Van ran out of gas and usefulness sometime in the ‘80s and eventually became a permanent fixture on the side of my parents’ house once they moved to rural Connecticut. While in college, The Van was the first thing I saw whenever I pulled up the driveway for a visit. Melanomas of rust and Bondo dotted his exterior and a family of chipmunks had taken up residence inside. I asked my father why he didn’t just junk the thing and he said he would get around to it eventually, and he did. On my first trip home after The Van’s demise I found I was a little unsettled to see it gone, and stared at the loamy, naked patch of driveway edged with burnt grass and metal flakes. The Van hadn’t gone quietly and I admired its tenacity.
     I realize now that no matter how much The Van had been an incidental bane of my pubertal existence, it represented something much deeper to my dad. As a cop, he’d spent five nights a week on the streets for twenty-three years and had missed most of what happened at home after 4:30 P.M. When he looked at The Van he saw his family’s history. He saw scenes of our collective childhood that he could relate to, and in which he had played a major role. The Van was a souvenir of all those trips we took together, before life intervened and the four DOWD kids went on to travels of their own.


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Written by Rubrum in portal Simon & Schuster

ORACLES

A spectacular Armageddon it was as slumbering souls tranced within the confines of a wrong world. Guardians who swore with brine and betrayal in the presence of the heavens and a harem fled with Treasures older than their beats and words thicker than blood when they marched into misery. Yanked from the roots by dear hands that knew better and gluttonous hearts that journeyed over The Alps to offer the Apple of many eyes for sudden sufficiency and silver shillings. Coins that cut into their finger-bones as each shiny reflection captured the waxing watch in the big bright of the night, hitting them like bullseye through a fog of war which rolled along their terrains; hunting and haunting them. Graces of the grave itself grieved for them as they peeled the virulent vines of regret off their faces until the vinegar of rotting remorse spilled down their lungs, their lamentations falling onto the deaf ears of their dumb-drunk deities who sermoned with muted mouths. For crystal Crones had foretold with a hundred hemlocks a dawn of dues bathing with brimming ballistae under the phases of that lunation.

Before this dawn drew, days were when they lofted on garish heights with marked masters of sloven miscreants and slack-jawed jesters. Their sneering smiles widening below swine eyes, watching revolving doors of death that clip-clapped in harmony as they dined on dreams and wined on woes, shunning that they are but a small cog in the machine of their own malevolent machinations, even as the rusts of rewards adhered to their skin with a stench they could not wash away nor wake from their paper thin too-late-beds until it vaporized skywards into an opacus. It was those Cimmerian cloudlands that gathered a thundering of wire and water, gravel, and glass, into a harbinger halo which domed upon all that functioned and flourished in their homestead. It gathered until their tongues frothed with saccharine and satisfaction and their lips drooled of honey and happiness from mouthfuls of strength and savagery. It gathered, as the flame-cloths of their iniquities piled high and hazardous. It gathered still, as the sour strips of prevarications they chewed cheerily clamored to lodge in the burrows of their sodden skins, caving into the chatterings of atonement to defrocked demons who shied from their sides even as nails of frozen fright mauled the disheveled scales of their doting dragons, and teeth of lost labor tore the sins off their mediocre mercenaries to carve damned diagrams for the little lords in their basement shrines and barren tabernacles of dudgeon and dishonor.

Then, did a tormenting tempest reign upon them: subtly leaking through their roofs, tapping steadily onto their hateful heads, an unfamiliar entity noosing wreaths of wailings around their necks, as unfamiliar as the avarice that tugged their footprints into the dark at the end of the tunnel of trials they could not stand its test and truth. They laid shackled and hooked to strings of wandering wraiths clicked onto their conscience like cursed collars, twisted into the knotted cameos of exhumed effigies until the shallow ends of their nostrils clamped shut and the hollow sides of their eyelids filled with inferno. Banishing disquietude blew their disembodied breaths onto sepulchral sigils that branded holes not big enough to swallow their misplaced missteps. The skies shouted strongly as crackling limbs struck, serving portioned punishments onto their tarred tongues, and there laced and locked was the lethal lime of absolute, brewed with pungent permanence: a permanent cleansing that salted those accursed grounds with their blood and maligned their spirits with the very pinpoints that nailed hills of tender tales like tapestries onto iron walls. Through the crumbling cracks of those same walls, their screams slipped into their ill-makings. Their deeds drowned in the gallows of their turpitudes. Their sounds scattered behind the forgotten doors of silence.

When the Sun bled for a Rainbow-

Manifestations of signs beheld her praying to the Supreme for bestowing the privilege to have found him in this lifetime, too. Reverential on knees and anointing of feet romancing the precious prizes within prurient pleasures that would wring the worth of all possible pang from parting praise. Plump plucking lounged on porcelain platters as spilled oil of essences saturated white roses with hues, mirroring the very sheen of one he crafted around his ribs and named after her. Rising incenses licked red poppies kissing as their silky opium stems swam in a vase of liquid lure and light, illuminating the threshold which separated sanctuary and service. He tucked a rose into her temple with owning eyes of green gratitudes, their aquamarine outlines as lustrous as the edge waves clashing with gray matters, that which saw the dark and the divine of much that she was as each brave blinking dropped stars into her glassy eyes. So honest with care and covenant. So deep in the bonding solace springing into a Godspeed, for now, my beloved. A solitude serenade that linked itself to the substance of her serenity, found with the art of agonies, nestled in the atoms of awkward age. She vented her visions to surround him closer, capturing the love in longings to come and to be conquered, knowing he could never rewind the flushed garlands of her submission, nor refuse the girl in her smile, nor resist the goddess on his shadow as her mouth tucked him firm and full to the brim, draining minutes from the hallowed hour striking fate and free-will in its magnanimity.

She held fast the saline streams pleading to gather into lingering lust as pelvic pound throat through blunt lips of bare ink burnt with desires and distress. The crude in naked openness and the grit in ravish and relish; bending with forcible to brave the crucible of foresight. Her head fell onto his shaking laps to wrap voice and vessel around his legs, strumming to the seconds that saw him placing her upon his chest as she mimed the melodies of his heart: the depth of fulfilling flow when their love entwined her soul with his sage, even as valiant honor tangled them in the brilliance of thorns. Verily, when her pearl dips into the enchantment of his embrace, she will seize eight straining minutes to share eight sterling words, pumping heartbeats of pledges. Verily, it is his platinum head that will sprawl upon her blushed breasts with paean, caroling his last mortal "Mine", as it escapes into the passages of her pussy and onto the pyres of pain. The precious pain.

His: as his Others cradled in her womb and his Orders crooned in an urn. His: as she leaps stepping-stones of rousing rituals through decennial seasons. His: in thrashing throes of craving cries when her heart hurts and humbles and heals. His: the stigmata and the sacredness of all that she was-is-to be. His: walking through the craquelure of tomorrows' paintings, with pigments and fragments, with nothing and everything. His: as the russet runes of devotion crush the obstacles of hope. His: to fall into the ashes and fly through the aether of remembrance. His: sinking to rise to the surface while swim-slicing through the chaotic currents, for only the ones with will and measure can cross those tumultuous tides of life. His: when "Mine" strokes through radiant realms and the wonders of Elysian fields. His: as the lambency of passionate prospects esteem the mantle of veiled wishes. His: with the forgings of fortitude and courage charging through the dims. His: for her services and sacrifices were far from done.

Not a creature stirred as Magic moaned-

Moments clung to a paladin post pinned onto the archives of the past, like an anchoring, for that is where the mighty steps of those forward feet take leading tips. A memoriter of decrees spinning at shocking speed, punching hellish and hard to plant healing into the drought-drained dirt that drew breath and birth in its first blow. And there she crouched, in an audacious and voracious face-off between knuckles choking sands on the steady line and the unforgiving bruise to the bone of bowed knees, until the pain was nothing but fleeting gossamers of illusion. Charged emotions tumbled into the principal parts of a warrior's heart, of weak faith, in a worn body. Patience and perseverance became a powerful pair that knocked rapturously upon the gates of, "Escape from doubting bondage!" A most tangible Twain for the tranquil Twin that called him forth with prodigal pliancy. Stepping out from showers of suns, a shroud of moons, and shield of constellations: Oracle of orphans. Word of warriors. Miracles of moments. Goodness in odd things. Greatness in little ones. In his hands, chain-links of golden goblets and fathom feeding. In his trail, harp and harpsichord aired the sweet sirening of the Maidens of the seven seas and the Muses of nine; a conjuring communion of bloodlines’ breed.

He came when burning notes of numb murmured into his ears. He came when her fears hit him like tons of troubling and his palm caught a turbulent tear as it speared the flesh through. He came, alleviated her wounded and wasted, arrested her shattered and shamed; nuking all notions in the nobility of languor till her whole essence awoke to a meritorious clan that loved with lips of storms, and sunshine, sacrament, and songs. He fed her clues, mysteries she swallowed and settled inside as warmth and wisdom: like Phoenix and a pendant - a lamp and a map - clay and cowries - miracles and motion.

A transformative motion; the meaningful movements to keen the blunt balls of calloused soles for that secure stance, as renewed earth became alluring rivers of dancing blooms, even as sharp frost annihilated with white noises that faded to sheer, through the gentleness of wafting breeze from a silhouette shore tuning in calm witness: a sure contradiction to the embers now flaring into blazing diamond beasts in her eyes, as the summoning roared into a carnal centering primed for purpose. It begins.

Caressing like a lover’s leather lashing; sweeping sanguine-soaked flutterings as rivulets ran like wanton water to quench her parching pelt. Passion dripped from hair locks turned flame-fibers flailing wild and alive with abandon, whipping to commands in rapid rhythms that shot seductive spells from skin to spine. Vital and visceral. Intense and infinite. Core coating stunning in undulation. It was soothing and sublime, a solemn sauntering that swayed with celestial compositions and lifted by the eyelashes to raise her above the frore.

Her psyche began a fragmentation as unencumbered senses soared freely in what could be most likened to floating in the ethical creation of an apothecary, seasoned in the dialing doses of every drug ever god-grown or man-mixed, stripping away the unrepentant garment of burdens and adorning with a casting of bare electricity and elements of natural bent, until her pores opened into spectacles of glow. So wide open, fingers of force fields slid through layers of lush to seduce uncharted cells that pulsed at primordial pressure. Reverberating breathes ceased and released until the bold lines between inhale, and exhale bubbled and blurred. An emergence of lightness as prominent particles morphed into a solid thrust, the fluid ferocious fucking of wanting maestro and willing masterpiece; a compelling of combative climaxes that flogged with comfort and conflict in the same sequence. That which floods with an ardent ache, an insatiable intoxication and, a higher hunger past the proximities of primal. She was winds with flesh and soul of fire. Tornado and Thunder. Arisen ancient stronger than metal and shinier than magnet mating with the maddening moans of shooting sparks from star-crossed significants. Ignited wings spreading in magnificent ascension into the extraordinary: for none in her was ordinary. Nothing else will bend and nothing less will yield for the triumphant tomorrows - Revelations in the geneses of freedom and flight into the future.

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Written by Rubrum in portal Simon & Schuster
ORACLES
A spectacular Armageddon it was as slumbering souls tranced within the confines of a wrong world. Guardians who swore with brine and betrayal in the presence of the heavens and a harem fled with Treasures older than their beats and words thicker than blood when they marched into misery. Yanked from the roots by dear hands that knew better and gluttonous hearts that journeyed over The Alps to offer the Apple of many eyes for sudden sufficiency and silver shillings. Coins that cut into their finger-bones as each shiny reflection captured the waxing watch in the big bright of the night, hitting them like bullseye through a fog of war which rolled along their terrains; hunting and haunting them. Graces of the grave itself grieved for them as they peeled the virulent vines of regret off their faces until the vinegar of rotting remorse spilled down their lungs, their lamentations falling onto the deaf ears of their dumb-drunk deities who sermoned with muted mouths. For crystal Crones had foretold with a hundred hemlocks a dawn of dues bathing with brimming ballistae under the phases of that lunation.

Before this dawn drew, days were when they lofted on garish heights with marked masters of sloven miscreants and slack-jawed jesters. Their sneering smiles widening below swine eyes, watching revolving doors of death that clip-clapped in harmony as they dined on dreams and wined on woes, shunning that they are but a small cog in the machine of their own malevolent machinations, even as the rusts of rewards adhered to their skin with a stench they could not wash away nor wake from their paper thin too-late-beds until it vaporized skywards into an opacus. It was those Cimmerian cloudlands that gathered a thundering of wire and water, gravel, and glass, into a harbinger halo which domed upon all that functioned and flourished in their homestead. It gathered until their tongues frothed with saccharine and satisfaction and their lips drooled of honey and happiness from mouthfuls of strength and savagery. It gathered, as the flame-cloths of their iniquities piled high and hazardous. It gathered still, as the sour strips of prevarications they chewed cheerily clamored to lodge in the burrows of their sodden skins, caving into the chatterings of atonement to defrocked demons who shied from their sides even as nails of frozen fright mauled the disheveled scales of their doting dragons, and teeth of lost labor tore the sins off their mediocre mercenaries to carve damned diagrams for the little lords in their basement shrines and barren tabernacles of dudgeon and dishonor.

Then, did a tormenting tempest reign upon them: subtly leaking through their roofs, tapping steadily onto their hateful heads, an unfamiliar entity noosing wreaths of wailings around their necks, as unfamiliar as the avarice that tugged their footprints into the dark at the end of the tunnel of trials they could not stand its test and truth. They laid shackled and hooked to strings of wandering wraiths clicked onto their conscience like cursed collars, twisted into the knotted cameos of exhumed effigies until the shallow ends of their nostrils clamped shut and the hollow sides of their eyelids filled with inferno. Banishing disquietude blew their disembodied breaths onto sepulchral sigils that branded holes not big enough to swallow their misplaced missteps. The skies shouted strongly as crackling limbs struck, serving portioned punishments onto their tarred tongues, and there laced and locked was the lethal lime of absolute, brewed with pungent permanence: a permanent cleansing that salted those accursed grounds with their blood and maligned their spirits with the very pinpoints that nailed hills of tender tales like tapestries onto iron walls. Through the crumbling cracks of those same walls, their screams slipped into their ill-makings. Their deeds drowned in the gallows of their turpitudes. Their sounds scattered behind the forgotten doors of silence.

When the Sun bled for a Rainbow-

Manifestations of signs beheld her praying to the Supreme for bestowing the privilege to have found him in this lifetime, too. Reverential on knees and anointing of feet romancing the precious prizes within prurient pleasures that would wring the worth of all possible pang from parting praise. Plump plucking lounged on porcelain platters as spilled oil of essences saturated white roses with hues, mirroring the very sheen of one he crafted around his ribs and named after her. Rising incenses licked red poppies kissing as their silky opium stems swam in a vase of liquid lure and light, illuminating the threshold which separated sanctuary and service. He tucked a rose into her temple with owning eyes of green gratitudes, their aquamarine outlines as lustrous as the edge waves clashing with gray matters, that which saw the dark and the divine of much that she was as each brave blinking dropped stars into her glassy eyes. So honest with care and covenant. So deep in the bonding solace springing into a Godspeed, for now, my beloved. A solitude serenade that linked itself to the substance of her serenity, found with the art of agonies, nestled in the atoms of awkward age. She vented her visions to surround him closer, capturing the love in longings to come and to be conquered, knowing he could never rewind the flushed garlands of her submission, nor refuse the girl in her smile, nor resist the goddess on his shadow as her mouth tucked him firm and full to the brim, draining minutes from the hallowed hour striking fate and free-will in its magnanimity.

She held fast the saline streams pleading to gather into lingering lust as pelvic pound throat through blunt lips of bare ink burnt with desires and distress. The crude in naked openness and the grit in ravish and relish; bending with forcible to brave the crucible of foresight. Her head fell onto his shaking laps to wrap voice and vessel around his legs, strumming to the seconds that saw him placing her upon his chest as she mimed the melodies of his heart: the depth of fulfilling flow when their love entwined her soul with his sage, even as valiant honor tangled them in the brilliance of thorns. Verily, when her pearl dips into the enchantment of his embrace, she will seize eight straining minutes to share eight sterling words, pumping heartbeats of pledges. Verily, it is his platinum head that will sprawl upon her blushed breasts with paean, caroling his last mortal "Mine", as it escapes into the passages of her pussy and onto the pyres of pain. The precious pain.

His: as his Others cradled in her womb and his Orders crooned in an urn. His: as she leaps stepping-stones of rousing rituals through decennial seasons. His: in thrashing throes of craving cries when her heart hurts and humbles and heals. His: the stigmata and the sacredness of all that she was-is-to be. His: walking through the craquelure of tomorrows' paintings, with pigments and fragments, with nothing and everything. His: as the russet runes of devotion crush the obstacles of hope. His: to fall into the ashes and fly through the aether of remembrance. His: sinking to rise to the surface while swim-slicing through the chaotic currents, for only the ones with will and measure can cross those tumultuous tides of life. His: when "Mine" strokes through radiant realms and the wonders of Elysian fields. His: as the lambency of passionate prospects esteem the mantle of veiled wishes. His: with the forgings of fortitude and courage charging through the dims. His: for her services and sacrifices were far from done.

Not a creature stirred as Magic moaned-

Moments clung to a paladin post pinned onto the archives of the past, like an anchoring, for that is where the mighty steps of those forward feet take leading tips. A memoriter of decrees spinning at shocking speed, punching hellish and hard to plant healing into the drought-drained dirt that drew breath and birth in its first blow. And there she crouched, in an audacious and voracious face-off between knuckles choking sands on the steady line and the unforgiving bruise to the bone of bowed knees, until the pain was nothing but fleeting gossamers of illusion. Charged emotions tumbled into the principal parts of a warrior's heart, of weak faith, in a worn body. Patience and perseverance became a powerful pair that knocked rapturously upon the gates of, "Escape from doubting bondage!" A most tangible Twain for the tranquil Twin that called him forth with prodigal pliancy. Stepping out from showers of suns, a shroud of moons, and shield of constellations: Oracle of orphans. Word of warriors. Miracles of moments. Goodness in odd things. Greatness in little ones. In his hands, chain-links of golden goblets and fathom feeding. In his trail, harp and harpsichord aired the sweet sirening of the Maidens of the seven seas and the Muses of nine; a conjuring communion of bloodlines’ breed.

He came when burning notes of numb murmured into his ears. He came when her fears hit him like tons of troubling and his palm caught a turbulent tear as it speared the flesh through. He came, alleviated her wounded and wasted, arrested her shattered and shamed; nuking all notions in the nobility of languor till her whole essence awoke to a meritorious clan that loved with lips of storms, and sunshine, sacrament, and songs. He fed her clues, mysteries she swallowed and settled inside as warmth and wisdom: like Phoenix and a pendant - a lamp and a map - clay and cowries - miracles and motion.

A transformative motion; the meaningful movements to keen the blunt balls of calloused soles for that secure stance, as renewed earth became alluring rivers of dancing blooms, even as sharp frost annihilated with white noises that faded to sheer, through the gentleness of wafting breeze from a silhouette shore tuning in calm witness: a sure contradiction to the embers now flaring into blazing diamond beasts in her eyes, as the summoning roared into a carnal centering primed for purpose. It begins.

Caressing like a lover’s leather lashing; sweeping sanguine-soaked flutterings as rivulets ran like wanton water to quench her parching pelt. Passion dripped from hair locks turned flame-fibers flailing wild and alive with abandon, whipping to commands in rapid rhythms that shot seductive spells from skin to spine. Vital and visceral. Intense and infinite. Core coating stunning in undulation. It was soothing and sublime, a solemn sauntering that swayed with celestial compositions and lifted by the eyelashes to raise her above the frore.

Her psyche began a fragmentation as unencumbered senses soared freely in what could be most likened to floating in the ethical creation of an apothecary, seasoned in the dialing doses of every drug ever god-grown or man-mixed, stripping away the unrepentant garment of burdens and adorning with a casting of bare electricity and elements of natural bent, until her pores opened into spectacles of glow. So wide open, fingers of force fields slid through layers of lush to seduce uncharted cells that pulsed at primordial pressure. Reverberating breathes ceased and released until the bold lines between inhale, and exhale bubbled and blurred. An emergence of lightness as prominent particles morphed into a solid thrust, the fluid ferocious fucking of wanting maestro and willing masterpiece; a compelling of combative climaxes that flogged with comfort and conflict in the same sequence. That which floods with an ardent ache, an insatiable intoxication and, a higher hunger past the proximities of primal. She was winds with flesh and soul of fire. Tornado and Thunder. Arisen ancient stronger than metal and shinier than magnet mating with the maddening moans of shooting sparks from star-crossed significants. Ignited wings spreading in magnificent ascension into the extraordinary: for none in her was ordinary. Nothing else will bend and nothing less will yield for the triumphant tomorrows - Revelations in the geneses of freedom and flight into the future.
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Juice
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Simon & Schuster is one of the world’s leading publishers and we are always looking for fresh new voices. Write a story, chapter, or essay about whatever you like. The 50 best entries will be announced by Prose and read by our editorial staff for consideration.
Written by ErrBane in portal Simon & Schuster

The Black Orchid

Ch 1: A Seed is Planted

Blackened reeds bow to a gentle breeze. An emerald sky, rife with dark clouds, looms above. The stench of dried blood clings to the air—the hill is going to get another sacrifice, and it is glad.

The Dark Hill sits on the outskirts of the city of Arcana, its once vibrant veldt now a dreary shell of its former self: weeds choke the life from every tree and shrub, withering them away to nothing more than feeble stumps; blood spilled upon its once fertile soil has seeped into the ground, staining the grass black and the earth red; the melodious ditty of a hundred woodland creatures has been snuffed away and replaced by the faint shrieking of restless souls.

Along the crest of this dark, dreary hill is a very decrepit house, Mildred Manor, a thing made in the old Victorian style with broken shutters and crumbling steeples. From that home, that magnet of the macabre, comes most of the Dark Hill’s fetid food, the crimson elixir that smirches its once pristine grounds. Over the years, the house, cursed as it is, has become a nexus for grisly actions, each more gruesome and sinister than the last.

Every night, as the sun surrenders the skies to the moon, warbled screams, like some terrible lullaby, escape from the awful house. Many believe the sound to be a desperate call from the lonely manor, a dreadful bugle call only those with ill intent in their hearts can decipher.

On this terrible night, lonely and cold, as the sun’s final rays retreat into the horizon, one such soul heeds that call.

Cloaked in tatters as black as the grass upon which he walks, he carries a large bundle wrapped in dirty, yellowed sheets. This bundle, tightly wound, contours around a very human shape.

Up and up and up the hill he goes, coming to a stop in front of the mold filled door of the manor. He looks up at the broken steeples and the shattered windows. He takes a professional interest on the mark above the front door, the mark of Everything You Touch, the sign of the curse that plagues Mildred’s Manor—a decrepit, hovering hand with jagged lines radiating from it, and covering the whole exterior of the house.

With undue brutality, he kicks the front door, shattering it. Splinters fly in all directions. Upon entering, he staggers momentarily, as the cursed floor slants awkwardly to the left. Regaining his footing, he moves towards a vast, empty room on his right.

Awkward angles fill the room as the doorframe, fireplace, and windows are all slightly crooked. On the ceiling hangs a gangly, crooked mess of speckled bronze, a chandelier. Plumes of dust erupt every time the man takes a step.

Disgusted by the thing he carries, the man drops the bundle at his feet. From his pocket he removes a crystal vial, the liquid contents of which are suspended one over the other, orange and black, like water over oil. He shakes the vial until the contents fuse together. A bubbling sludge forms within the vial, and this the man pours over the top end of the bundle. Bubbles quiver and explode, others percolate through the dirty cloth. The man waits for some moments, making sure that the whole mixture soaks into the grimy sheets. When this is done, he exits the room.Ancient planks groan as he steps out of the room and throws away the vial in his hand. With a loud crash, it shatters upon a wall.

Once outside, the man reaches into his pocket and pulls out a gem in the shape of a tiny lion. With the gem in hand, he starts to swing his wrist, like a cowboy about to rope cattle. With each revolution, the gem fills with a dim, silver glow. The man raises his arm over his head and, with a snap of his hand, causes a flurry of silver flames to erupt from the crystal. The flames do not burn the mildewed wood of Mildred’s Manor—instead, the silver sparks seep into every wall, every window of the house.

The man flinches as silver flames make the crystal vibrate in his hands, breaking with an audible snap. He begins to massage his hurt hand, but he quickly forgets his pain. He takes a few steps back to survey his work.

Like a shattering clock revealing all its gears, the house creaks and cracks, its bricks, wood, and glass all suspended in the air. Each of its pieces begin to shuffle around in a blur of motion. The house seems to breathe as all the debris expands inward and outward. Suddenly, as though nothing has happened, each segment falls back into place. Every piece lays peacefully at rest for some moments. But as the man begins to walk away, the house once more splits into its component parts, caught in a never ending loop.

Inside the shifting walls of the house, the bundle begins to move. The dirty sheets peel back to reveal a naked man. Save for the fact that his eyes are missing, there is nothing to indicate that the man is dead. Indeed, the squirming in his throat, making his head move as though he were having a nightmare, gives a distinct impression of a man asleep. Only when his mouth peels back, revealing his chattering teeth, does anything appear to be amiss. With incredible force, the teeth, like tiny, white bullets, begin to shoot out one by one, as gray roots erupt from the man’s throat.

Like some great, molting insect, the man’s skin adapts a grey hue and starts to dry up and slip from his body. His veins, no longer red, look like pulsing rivers of lava, orange and hot. The veins convulse violently, their contents gush out and leak into the mildewed floor.

CRACK.

The man’s jaw breaks as a large plant slithers out of his mouth. Five stygian petals, like the limbs of a man, bob up and down. The black flower dances upon the chest of the dead man and the Dark Hill, after months of starvation, is finally satiated.

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Simon & Schuster is one of the world’s leading publishers and we are always looking for fresh new voices. Write a story, chapter, or essay about whatever you like. The 50 best entries will be announced by Prose and read by our editorial staff for consideration.
Written by ErrBane in portal Simon & Schuster
The Black Orchid
Ch 1: A Seed is Planted

Blackened reeds bow to a gentle breeze. An emerald sky, rife with dark clouds, looms above. The stench of dried blood clings to the air—the hill is going to get another sacrifice, and it is glad.

The Dark Hill sits on the outskirts of the city of Arcana, its once vibrant veldt now a dreary shell of its former self: weeds choke the life from every tree and shrub, withering them away to nothing more than feeble stumps; blood spilled upon its once fertile soil has seeped into the ground, staining the grass black and the earth red; the melodious ditty of a hundred woodland creatures has been snuffed away and replaced by the faint shrieking of restless souls.

Along the crest of this dark, dreary hill is a very decrepit house, Mildred Manor, a thing made in the old Victorian style with broken shutters and crumbling steeples. From that home, that magnet of the macabre, comes most of the Dark Hill’s fetid food, the crimson elixir that smirches its once pristine grounds. Over the years, the house, cursed as it is, has become a nexus for grisly actions, each more gruesome and sinister than the last.
Every night, as the sun surrenders the skies to the moon, warbled screams, like some terrible lullaby, escape from the awful house. Many believe the sound to be a desperate call from the lonely manor, a dreadful bugle call only those with ill intent in their hearts can decipher.

On this terrible night, lonely and cold, as the sun’s final rays retreat into the horizon, one such soul heeds that call.

Cloaked in tatters as black as the grass upon which he walks, he carries a large bundle wrapped in dirty, yellowed sheets. This bundle, tightly wound, contours around a very human shape.

Up and up and up the hill he goes, coming to a stop in front of the mold filled door of the manor. He looks up at the broken steeples and the shattered windows. He takes a professional interest on the mark above the front door, the mark of Everything You Touch, the sign of the curse that plagues Mildred’s Manor—a decrepit, hovering hand with jagged lines radiating from it, and covering the whole exterior of the house.
With undue brutality, he kicks the front door, shattering it. Splinters fly in all directions. Upon entering, he staggers momentarily, as the cursed floor slants awkwardly to the left. Regaining his footing, he moves towards a vast, empty room on his right.
Awkward angles fill the room as the doorframe, fireplace, and windows are all slightly crooked. On the ceiling hangs a gangly, crooked mess of speckled bronze, a chandelier. Plumes of dust erupt every time the man takes a step.

Disgusted by the thing he carries, the man drops the bundle at his feet. From his pocket he removes a crystal vial, the liquid contents of which are suspended one over the other, orange and black, like water over oil. He shakes the vial until the contents fuse together. A bubbling sludge forms within the vial, and this the man pours over the top end of the bundle. Bubbles quiver and explode, others percolate through the dirty cloth. The man waits for some moments, making sure that the whole mixture soaks into the grimy sheets. When this is done, he exits the room.Ancient planks groan as he steps out of the room and throws away the vial in his hand. With a loud crash, it shatters upon a wall.

Once outside, the man reaches into his pocket and pulls out a gem in the shape of a tiny lion. With the gem in hand, he starts to swing his wrist, like a cowboy about to rope cattle. With each revolution, the gem fills with a dim, silver glow. The man raises his arm over his head and, with a snap of his hand, causes a flurry of silver flames to erupt from the crystal. The flames do not burn the mildewed wood of Mildred’s Manor—instead, the silver sparks seep into every wall, every window of the house.

The man flinches as silver flames make the crystal vibrate in his hands, breaking with an audible snap. He begins to massage his hurt hand, but he quickly forgets his pain. He takes a few steps back to survey his work.

Like a shattering clock revealing all its gears, the house creaks and cracks, its bricks, wood, and glass all suspended in the air. Each of its pieces begin to shuffle around in a blur of motion. The house seems to breathe as all the debris expands inward and outward. Suddenly, as though nothing has happened, each segment falls back into place. Every piece lays peacefully at rest for some moments. But as the man begins to walk away, the house once more splits into its component parts, caught in a never ending loop.

Inside the shifting walls of the house, the bundle begins to move. The dirty sheets peel back to reveal a naked man. Save for the fact that his eyes are missing, there is nothing to indicate that the man is dead. Indeed, the squirming in his throat, making his head move as though he were having a nightmare, gives a distinct impression of a man asleep. Only when his mouth peels back, revealing his chattering teeth, does anything appear to be amiss. With incredible force, the teeth, like tiny, white bullets, begin to shoot out one by one, as gray roots erupt from the man’s throat.

Like some great, molting insect, the man’s skin adapts a grey hue and starts to dry up and slip from his body. His veins, no longer red, look like pulsing rivers of lava, orange and hot. The veins convulse violently, their contents gush out and leak into the mildewed floor.

CRACK.

The man’s jaw breaks as a large plant slithers out of his mouth. Five stygian petals, like the limbs of a man, bob up and down. The black flower dances upon the chest of the dead man and the Dark Hill, after months of starvation, is finally satiated.
#fantasy  #fiction  #mystery 
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Written by Adamotaur in portal Trident Media Group

Wild

Officer Cash knew next to nothing about the Bailey case when he pulled up to the tiny house at the end of the gravel road. The social worker was already there, a thirtyish woman almost as tall as he was, with straw-colored hair pulled into a sensible ponytail. Knowing CPS folk were invariably overworked, jaded, and hated to waste time, Cash didn't want to make her repeat herself. He took quick notes on his phone as she gave him a rundown of the case.

Owen Bailey was not quite three years old. His mother, Kara Lee Bailey, was still a teenager. Tansy Bailey, a grandmother at 35, was considered the legal guardian. Both women were known to police, and CPS had been building a file on Owen since he was born in the backseat of a 1989 Corolla out behind Liquor Larry's. Premature, undersized, and showing signs of partial FAS, the infant was destined for assorted developmental delays and disabilities, but Kara Lee, well known in the community as a "party girl", had nonetheless decided she wanted to keep him, and, with her mother's support, nothing could stop her from doing so.

Reports from neighbors and acquaintances suggested that Tansy Bailey was not sufficiently present in the home, and that Kara Lee was not responsible enough to look after a small child, particularly one that might have special needs. There were reports that Owen was left alone with the family dog for hours at a time from the age of two, and that he was often filthy and bruised. Other reports claimed Owen was left to wander the neighborhood with the dog. It seemed a clear case of neglect, and Jill Mullins, the CPS representative, was anxious to intervene before Owen was seriously injured or went missing.

Cash could tell that Mullins was a fearsomely determined lady, and her principal reason for requesting a police presence for today's visit was not for her own protection, but to give her potential legal grounds to take the child out of the home immediately. Normally a court order would be necessary to seize a child, but, according to Mullins, that would take "too damn long", and she trusted Cash would back her up with an exigent circumstances report. She was aware her actions today could put her at risk of a lawsuit from the family, but there was no hesitation in her step as she slogged through the unmown grass toward the front door, stepping over beer cans and dog shit on the way.

A disheveled young man in rumpled boxers opened the door a few inches, squinting at the late morning sun.

"What's this about?" he demanded in a weak, hoarse voice. "We're not making noise, and we're not doing drugs."

"Sir, I need to speak with Tansy or Kara Lee. Are either of them home?"

The man glanced over the woman who addressed him. "You're not a cop," he realized.

"No, I'm with Child Protective Services," Mullins replied.

The man's guarded expression weakened. He glanced back over his shoulder before dropping his head and slinking out onto the front stoop to join them. "This is about Owen," he mumbled. His eyes flicked up, cutting between the social worker and the cop. "Look, Kara's not going to win any Mom of the Year awards, but she's not a monster. I know you're probably gonna take him away from her, and please don't tell her I said this, but it's for the best. Just don't arrest her, okay? She's got her problems, but that kid... there's something seriously freaky about that kid."

"Sorry, who are you?" Mullins demanded. "The boyfriend?"

Rubbing the back of his neck, the young man once more dropped his head, avoiding their gazes. "Well, sort... uh, yeah, I've been seeing Kara. I'm not Owen's dad, if you were wondering. It's not real serious. We argue a lot. About Owen. I'm James. James Rucker."

As Cash continued to record information, Mullins scrutinized the young man. "Did you call in a report to CPS, Mr. Rucker? I have a record of an anonymous tip from a male caller making claims of some pretty worrisome circumstances within this household. This individual would have had to be in the home observe these circumstances."

Rucker's face and neck flushed nearly crimson. "Fuck. If Kara knew..."

"She doesn't have to know," Mullins assured him.

"Thank you!" Rucker exhaled, and raised his eyes once more. "They're not abusive, Kara and her mom. Yeah, they're not watching him 24/7, but what parent can even manage that? I swear, there's something seriously wrong with this kid. I said when I called that he eats and drinks out of the dog dishes, but don't take that to mean he doesn't get fed or whatever. He goes around with the dog and does what he wants to do. You can talk to him, and he hears, but it's like he refuses to acknowledge people exist. He's just off in his own world. Dog world. But not just dogs, either. He brings all these critters inside."

Mullins paused to glance over some paperwork, and then narrowed her eyes at the young man. "There's mention in the report of a coyote having been in the house at some point. Are you sure it wasn't just one of the neighborhood dogs?"

"Lady, I know it sounds like bullshit, but I used to work for Animal Control. I know the difference between a dog and a coyote. It doesn't make any sense according to coyote behavior, but I got up one morning and there they were--Owen, the dog, and this fucking coyote, running around the living room like three puppies. This coyote looks up at me for a sec, and dashes out the backdoor. It wasn't crazed, or rabid. It was just... playing. I told Kara, but she acted like it was nothing weirder than a raccoon passing through the backyard."

The front door swung open to reveal a teenage girl with mussed, bleach blonde hair and dark hollows around her sleepy, bloodshot eyes. She wore nothing but an oversized tee-shirt, and had obviously been wearing makeup yesterday that hadn't been washed off. "What's in the yard...?" she slurred, the final word transitioning into a loud yawn. When she noticed the visitors, and specifically Jill Mullins, her eyes widened with recognition. Much more alert now, she took a step back from the doorway and turned to go back into the house, yelling, "Owen! Bucky!"

Rucker hurried in after her, followed by Mullins and Cash. They converged in the living room, where no one was watching a nature program playing on the television. Kara Lee turned it off and once more screamed for Owen and for Bucky, who Cash assumed was the family dog.

"The fucking backdoor is open," Rucker pointed out, flopping down onto the sofa with a sigh. "They've wandered off again."

The girl wrung her hands and looked up at the social worker and the cop, her mouth working to form syllables. "I swear to God, he was just here!" she exclaimed, breaking off with a sob.

"Kara, look at me," Mullins said in a clear, authoritative voice, standing directly in front of the crying teenager and attempting to make eye contact. "Are you under the influence of anything right now?"

"No, I swear!" the girl burst out between heaving sobs. "We had a few drinks last night, and I'm hung over, that's all. Why do you always think I'm a fucking crack whore or something?"

"I don't think that," Mullins replied, keeping her tone calm and steady. "We have spoken several times about the necessity of keeping a close eye on your son, but your mother is his legal guardian. Where is she now? Working?"

"Yeah," Kara Lee said in a thick, husky voice as she wiped her eyes, smearing yesterday's makeup. "She gives him his cereal in the morning, and puts on Animal Planet for him. Then she wakes me up and I watch him while she's at work. I must've fallen back asleep."

"And how long ago would that have been?"

"Like, just before eight."

Cash winced and glanced at his watch. "That's more than three hours ago. I'm gonna go look for the kid while you guys talk."

Mullins nodded her approval, and Rucker offered to help once he was dressed. Cash walked a circuit around the small house, and then poked around the backyard until the young man emerged fully dressed.

"Do you have any idea where he's likely to go?" Cash asked him.

"Sometimes he goes to neighbors' houses, and sometimes he goes a little ways into the woods."

Cash studied the remains of a fence that was mostly blown down, and looked like it had been that way for years. The kid could have gone in any number of directions, and he was considering going to visit the neighbors and sending Rucker to check the wooded area behind the house, but as he gazed out toward the trees, he spotted a flash of white.

"What's that?" he wondered, hopping over a tangle of fallen fence posts and jogging over to the object.

It was a recently discarded diaper.

"Goddamn," Rucker sighed. "Kid hates to say dressed."

The pair split up, taking different routes through the woods and staying within earshot of one another as they called for Owen and whistled for Bucky.

Cash was analyzing the situation in his mind, trying to work out how much ground a naked toddler could cover in three hours, when he heard Rucker's call:

"Over here! I think I see him! There's Bucky, and...."

Cash broke into a sprint, leaping over roots and fallen branches. Rucker's abrupt, mid-sentence silence had unsettled him, causing his heart to quicken. "Is he okay? Where are you?"

"Here!" Rucker called, and, a moment later added, "Holy shit!"

The hysterical tone of the exclamation tightened Cash's innards into painful knots. He increased his pace until he'd burst through a knot of ferns and into a clearing, where Rucker was standing frozen. Cash slid to a halt, nearly losing his balance and grabbing hold of the other man's shoulder for purchase.

"What...?" he gasped, and stopped when he pointed his eyes in the direction Rucker was staring. As he caught his breath, the steady humming noise reached his ears.

At first, all he saw was bees. They swarmed around a half rotted stump that was lined inside with honeycomb. The dog, some sort of spaniel mutt, appeared from behind the stump and romped in cheerful circles, chasing the bees and showing no sign of acknowledging the men's presence. Cash blinked several times, studying a shape next to the hive, something that looked like a small shadow at first. When it moved, the shape became clearer. It was a naked baby, covered head to toe in honey bees.

"Holy shit," Cash whispered. The words trembled as they came out. He felt as if he'd just had a bucket of ice water poured over his head.

"Yup," Rucker agreed.

Deciding he had no option, Cash took a step forward.

"Are you crazy?" Rucker hissed. "That many bees could kill you!"

"I'm a little more concerned about the kid right now," Cash muttered. He moved forward with slow, cautious steps. "Owen? Can you hear me? I'm a policeman, and I'm here to keep you safe. Owen... move very slowly, and come this way."

"He's not gonna listen to you," Rucker objected.

Cash ignored him, and continued approaching the boy. The humming of the bees set his nerves on edge, and he felt phantom tickles all over his body, imagining the tiny, sticky legs of honey bees crawling across his skin, but not a single one had touched him. As he approached the hive, Cash saw the boy more clearly. He was small for an almost-three-year-old. His head was crowned with a mess of auburn curls that had never been cut. One chubby hand was reaching into the hive with a careful delicacy unusual in a toddler. Instead of grabbing at the golden comb, Owen gathered a droplet of honey on a tiny fingertip, and licked it.

"Owen," Cash exhaled. Shivers crept across his body in all directions as a few bees landed on him. He stopped moving. "Owen... it's very dangerous here and you need to come with me."

Silent and tranquil, ignoring the police officer, the toddler reached for more honey. The hundreds of bees crawling across his vulnerable baby flesh seemed likewise untroubled. Bucky, meanwhile, had come over to flop out at Owen's bare feet.

Cash stood paralyzed with disbelief as the boy squatted down to pat the dog's head. As he did so, the bees, in near perfect synchronicity, rose into the air and swarmed back to the hive. Moments later, it was as if they had never been there at all.

Taking his opportunity, Cash dropped to one knee next to the boy, looking him over. He didn't appear to have a single sting on him, although he had a few minor scratches and was in need of a bath. He reached out to take the toddler's arm and tried to turn the boy to face him. "Owen, look at me," he whispered. "Are you okay?"

The toddler's hazel eyes were bright, yet did not appear entirely focused. He looked off into the distance, avoiding Cash's gaze as he tugged feebly to free his arm from the man's grasp.

"I'm a policeman," Cash reiterated, though it was obvious that Rucker had been correct about the boy not listening. "I just want to make sure you're safe. I'm going to pick you up now."

Owen uttered a tiny grunt of protest, but did not cry out when he was gathered into the officer's arms. The dog leaped up and circled around Cash's feet, whining. Cash struggled not to trip over him as he walked over to where Rucker still stood, and together, they returned to the house.

Cash hadn't had the opportunity to hold many children, and therefore could not have identified "normal" behavior with any surety. Nonetheless, he immediately sensed there was something not right about this one. Owen did not relax in his arms, nor did he exactly struggle. Not once did the boy try to look at who was holding him. He was preoccupied with his surroundings, sometimes looking at the trees above, but otherwise looking down, reaching out for Bucky, who loped along at the officer's side, watching the child.

Mullins hurried out into the yard as they arrived, and took Owen from Cash, giving him a lookover. "Well done. Where was he?"

"Out in the woods, raiding a beehive," Cash explained, pulling out his phone and stylus with trembling hands to take more notes. "Covered in bees, and not one sting."

Mullins quirked an eyebrow, concerned, though not quite surprised.

Inside, Rucker comforted his girlfriend as she sat weeping on the sofa.

"Please don't judge me!" she wailed. "You don't know how hard it is! I tried. I fucking tried. My own kid hates me. Maybe it's my fault? I didn't even know I was knocked up until seven months! Oh god, I'm so sorry! I thought I wanted to be a mom, but it's been a nightmare. I try to love him, but he doesn't love me back. He doesn't love anyone but the fucking dog! He won't even look at me!"

Mullins and Cash made no response, allowing her to say her piece while they cleaned the worst of the dirt off of Owen and got him dressed. The silent, detached child was now putting Cash in mind of a windup toy. He didn't make a struggle, yet was ready to crawl away the moment they let go of him, as if on autopilot. For a minute, Mullins let him go, and they watched him hurry over to the dog. The child had an unusual, loping gait, not walking perfectly upright but partially on all fours, chimplike.

"What do you think is wrong with him?" Cash wondered.

"If I were to guess, some severe form of autism," Mullins suggested. "Possibly reactive attachment disorder. So, are you agreed we've got a case for immediate removal?"

Cash sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "Well, 'exigent circumstances' would have to involve imminent danger of serious bodily injury to the child, and based on what I saw out in those woods, especially with the foreknowledge that this sort of thing has been a regular occurrence... yeah. Absolutely. This kid's been damn lucky, and I wouldn't risk the time it'd take to get a court order."

"That's all I need to know."

The boy's mother had calmed by the time they were ready to leave. She stood by, tears still streaming down her flushed, makeup-smeared cheeks, but she looked resigned. Cash watched Mullins cradle the boy and try unsuccessfully to make eye contact.

When Bucky tried to follow them out the front door, Rucker grabbed him by the collar to hold him back. It was only then that Owen made any noise. He stiffened in Mullins's arms and released a piercing scream, reaching out both of his little arms for his pet. Rucker wrestled with Bucky, who had begun to cry like Cash had never heard a dog cry before. It was an eerie, high-pitched noise that gave him the same cold dread he'd felt at the sight of the boy with bees crawling all over him. Rucker's earlier words echoed in his head.

There's something seriously freaky about that kid.

"You have to let him take Bucky!" Kara Lee screamed, sobbing again as she wrestled the dog away from her boyfriend. "He'll be fine without me, but he needs the dog! Can't you see he needs him?"

Released, the dog streaked after Mullins and leaped at the shrieking boy, trying to lick him between urgent yelps. Mullins appeared uncertain, but did not protest. She strapped Owen into a carseat in the back of her vehicle, and as soon as Bucky was allowed to leap in and settle beside him, both were quiet. The toddler's arms wrapped around the dog's neck, and in moments, both looked ready for a peaceful nap.

* * *

Jeff Goring hated his foster brother. They were the same age, fifteen, and he knew mom and dad expected him to be kind and helpful, but the guy was mentally challenged, and even more than that, he was freaky. It had been nearly six months, and Jeff still got teased at school over the "creepy retard" his parents had taken in. Owen had come from some kind of institution, and he didn't do regular school. He got some tutoring, but mostly worked with dad at the vet clinic. Dad said Owen was "gifted", and while Jeff could admit the guy was good with animals--freakishly good--"gifted" seemed overly generous considering he was totally vacant and didn't even talk to people.

It was Jeff's friend Carl who came up with the idea of making good use of the weirdo. Carl had aspirations of becoming a great trophy hunter, and what he wanted more than anything was to bag a bobcat. Bobcats were known to inhabit the wilderness on the outskirts of town, though they were rarely seen anywhere near civilization.

On a warm Saturday morning, Jeff and Carl packed up a few things and trailed Owen up into the hills where he spent a lot of his time when he wasn't working with Dr. Goring. He wore only an old pair of shorts, and his auburn hair was long and trailed wildly down his back.

"Who does he think he is, Tarzan?" Carl whispered.

Jeff shrugged. "Hey, Owen! Wait up!"

The two boys jogged to catch up with Owen, who paused his steps but did not look at them.

"We need you to help us, Owen," Jeff said slowly. "Like you help dad. This is my friend Carl. We're doing a project for school. A photography project, and it's for, like, wildlife conservation. You understand what that means?"

Owen's eyes shifted to the bundle of equipment Carl had slung over his shoulder.

"This is my photography equipment," Carl said, smirking. "We want to take pictures. Of a bobcat. Do you know bobcats around here?"

"Yeah," Jeff added, "we want to photograph the biggest, most beautiful bobcat, so everyone in town will see what cool wildlife we have, and want to help them. You want to help, right, bro? Can you bring us to one?"

Owen paused a while, as if thinking, but Jeff wasn't sure "thinking" was something the freak did much of. Abruptly, Owen took off into the trees. Excited, the two other boys hurried after him.

After a couple of hours of brisk hiking, Owen stopped and stood still. Jeff and Carl froze behind him, panting. Unlike the two boys, Owen didn't seem at all winded. He was lean and rangy, as any young man might be who spent as much time running, swimming, and climbing as Owen did.

"Oh my god," Jeff whispered.

Ahead of them, there was shadowy movement between the trees. A shape became distinct as the shadow emerged, padding toward them in perfect silence on large, furry paws. Owen squatted, holding out a hand to the cat, which was about half the size of a mountain lion, but to the other two boys, accustomed to house cats, it was enormous. Golden in color with dark spots, russet highlights, and a pale underbelly, the cat was striking, and looked upon them curiously with wide amber eyes. It struck a stately pose several paces ahead of them, as if inviting appreciation of its beauty. Consumed with need to possess it, Carl was already unpacking his rifle.

Jeff cut his eyes between the bobcat and Owen, praying the boy wouldn't turn around. He pushed his fingers into his ears in anticipation of the gunshot. It did little to dampen the noise, and when Carl pulled the trigger, Jeff was nearly as startled as Owen was.

From there everything happened so quickly, and with so much screaming, that Jeff could not even put together what exactly had occurred until later, in the hospital, after he'd had some time to think things over.

Carl was in surgery. They said he had lost an eye. Jeff was heavily bandaged and had needed plenty of stitches, but wasn't nearly as badly wounded as Carl was. He told the story as best he could to his parents and the police officer who had showed up at his bedside.

"The first shot didn't kill it," he whispered, and was ashamed to find that he was crying. Tears soaked into the bandages wrapped around half of his face. "Owen just went... berserk. As if he was the one who got shot. I thought I'd go deaf with the way he was screaming, and I just told Carl 'shoot again, you have to kill it, you have to kill it!' So he shot the cat dead... and everything was quiet for a second... and then like, out of nowhere, there was the bird."

"Bird?" the police officer repeated, leaning closer to the boy in the hospital bed. "You're sure it was a bird that attacked you?"

"I think it was a hawk," Jeff said hoarsely. "A fucking huge one. Huge talons. Like razors. It grabbed onto Carl's face, and he was just screaming, and there was so much blood. Then it came at me, and...." He broke off with a sob, and a hiccup. His mother squeezed his shaking hand.

"It sounds crazy, but I know he did it," Jeff sobbed. "Owen. He made it happen."

* * *

Sergeant Cash had never forgotten Owen Bailey, though it had been over a decade since the day he'd helped remove the toddler from his mother's home. He'd seen pieces in the news about Owen now and then. There were pictures on the Internet of the boy at various ages, covered with birds, surrounded by deer, and even one of him playing with a pair of black bear cubs while mama bear looked placidly on. Most people who saw and shared those pictures cried "bullshit", but Cash remembered the bees, and knew better.

He was visiting the Goring house now, where Owen had been locked in his bedroom by his foster father. Cash had a long talk with Dr. Goring, who was torn in the wake of the incident. He'd cared deeply about Owen even though the boy had never shown any sign of attachment to other human beings. He had tried to understand Owen's special needs, and to nurture his gifts. Although there was very little Goring could honestly say he understood after six months of trying to parent the boy, he'd at least been sure that Owen wouldn't hurt a fly. Now he wasn't so sure that Owen wouldn't hurt a person.

When Cash entered the bedroom, he found Owen curled into a fetal ball on his bed. The boy's bare back was to him, every knob of his spine visible.

"Hello, Owen," Cash whispered. "I'm Sergeant Cash. I remember you, from a long time ago. I'm going to sit down next to you now."

He sat. Owen made no movements.

"I remember the bees. Do you remember that? You weren't even three years old. You were all by yourself with your dog, Bucky." Cash winced inwardly, regretting mentioning Bucky at all. Certainly enough time had passed that the dog had to have passed on.

Cash noticed a book, something like a small photograph album, lying on Owen's bedside table. Dr. Goring had told him about a "communication book" Owen had, of the sort used by people with speech impairments and other disorders that affected their ability to vocalize. Supposedly Owen wasn't nearly as "retarded" as people assumed, but he only communicated when and how he chose. Cash flipped open the front cover of the book. It was a small binder packed with laminated pages. The first proclaimed, "MY NAME IS OWEN BAILEY. I HAVE A DISABILITY."

Other pages detailed where he lived, and who to contact in an emergency. There were pages of common phrases, and one that was just letters and numbers. Most pages were covered with pictograms paired with words.

Cash was startled when Owen grabbed the book out of his hands. He hadn't noticed the boy sitting up. Owen's overgrown hair formed a screen around his face, obscuring Cash's view of his expression, but he saw a few clear droplets spatter across the laminated pages of the book, and knew Owen was crying

"Can we talk about what happened in the woods?" Cash whispered.

Owen flipped pages, and tapped the word "YES" with one knuckle.

"Did those boys lie to you?"

Again Owen tapped, "YES", and then flipped to the pictograms until he'd found a picture of a camera.

"That's right. They told you they wanted to take pictures of the bobcat, yeah? But that wasn't really what they wanted to do."

Owen rocked back and forth a few times, tense with anxiety. He flipped more pages, and tapped his knuckle against a pictogram showing various weapons.

"Yeah," Cash sighed. "Owen, tell me something. Did you want to hurt those boys?"

Owen rocked, and more tears dripped onto his book. At last, he indicated, "YES", and then, even more vehemently, "I'M SORRY", which he rapped several times. Cash was unsure what to make of this situation. No court would implicate a handicapped kid in a bird attack. He wasn't even sure why he was here, but, as when the kid was being removed from his mother's home, he knew he had some responsibility to intervene, to do what might be best for the boy as well as the family.

Owen was flipping pages again. He gestured to the phrase, "I DON'T UNDERSTAND", followed by the pictogram for "people".

"Me neither, buddy," Cash admitted.

After a brief phone chat with CPS, Cash once more found himself removing Owen Bailey from his home. He was to be returned to the institution where he'd spent most of his childhood. Cash had gleaned enough from his time with Owen to know that being locked up in an institution was the last thing the boy wanted. He felt like a monster, shutting the silently crying boy in the back of his cruiser.

After a few minutes of driving, Cash pulled over to the side of a deserted road, alongside the woods where Owen preferred to spend time. He turned around to look at the anxiously rocking boy in the backseat.

"Owen," he said, "I always wondered whether I'd done the right thing, taking you away from your mom. Maybe I did, but I think I did it for the wrong reasons. When I saw you with those bees, I saw you as a child in imminent danger. Now, I think you might have been the only one of us who wasn't in any danger."

Cash sat in silence for a few minutes, thinking about doing something he knew was likely to get him into some very big trouble.

Making his decision, he got out of the car, glanced up and down the road, and pulled open the rear door, gesturing Owen to exit. Owen scrambled out, still dressed in nothing but his shorts. He looked up into the hills, and then down at the officer's boots, hesitating.

"Go," Cash whispered. "Be where you belong. I'm going to have to report you missing, but I'll give you as much of a head start as I can. Run fast, and run far."

Owen raised his head. The messy strings of auburn hair fell back, and for the first time, two brilliantly alive hazel eyes locked on the man's. The contact only lasted a moment before Owen streaked off, quick as a rabbit, and disappeared. It was all the thanks Cash could have wished for.

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Wild
Officer Cash knew next to nothing about the Bailey case when he pulled up to the tiny house at the end of the gravel road. The social worker was already there, a thirtyish woman almost as tall as he was, with straw-colored hair pulled into a sensible ponytail. Knowing CPS folk were invariably overworked, jaded, and hated to waste time, Cash didn't want to make her repeat herself. He took quick notes on his phone as she gave him a rundown of the case.

Owen Bailey was not quite three years old. His mother, Kara Lee Bailey, was still a teenager. Tansy Bailey, a grandmother at 35, was considered the legal guardian. Both women were known to police, and CPS had been building a file on Owen since he was born in the backseat of a 1989 Corolla out behind Liquor Larry's. Premature, undersized, and showing signs of partial FAS, the infant was destined for assorted developmental delays and disabilities, but Kara Lee, well known in the community as a "party girl", had nonetheless decided she wanted to keep him, and, with her mother's support, nothing could stop her from doing so.

Reports from neighbors and acquaintances suggested that Tansy Bailey was not sufficiently present in the home, and that Kara Lee was not responsible enough to look after a small child, particularly one that might have special needs. There were reports that Owen was left alone with the family dog for hours at a time from the age of two, and that he was often filthy and bruised. Other reports claimed Owen was left to wander the neighborhood with the dog. It seemed a clear case of neglect, and Jill Mullins, the CPS representative, was anxious to intervene before Owen was seriously injured or went missing.

Cash could tell that Mullins was a fearsomely determined lady, and her principal reason for requesting a police presence for today's visit was not for her own protection, but to give her potential legal grounds to take the child out of the home immediately. Normally a court order would be necessary to seize a child, but, according to Mullins, that would take "too damn long", and she trusted Cash would back her up with an exigent circumstances report. She was aware her actions today could put her at risk of a lawsuit from the family, but there was no hesitation in her step as she slogged through the unmown grass toward the front door, stepping over beer cans and dog shit on the way.

A disheveled young man in rumpled boxers opened the door a few inches, squinting at the late morning sun.

"What's this about?" he demanded in a weak, hoarse voice. "We're not making noise, and we're not doing drugs."

"Sir, I need to speak with Tansy or Kara Lee. Are either of them home?"

The man glanced over the woman who addressed him. "You're not a cop," he realized.

"No, I'm with Child Protective Services," Mullins replied.

The man's guarded expression weakened. He glanced back over his shoulder before dropping his head and slinking out onto the front stoop to join them. "This is about Owen," he mumbled. His eyes flicked up, cutting between the social worker and the cop. "Look, Kara's not going to win any Mom of the Year awards, but she's not a monster. I know you're probably gonna take him away from her, and please don't tell her I said this, but it's for the best. Just don't arrest her, okay? She's got her problems, but that kid... there's something seriously freaky about that kid."

"Sorry, who are you?" Mullins demanded. "The boyfriend?"

Rubbing the back of his neck, the young man once more dropped his head, avoiding their gazes. "Well, sort... uh, yeah, I've been seeing Kara. I'm not Owen's dad, if you were wondering. It's not real serious. We argue a lot. About Owen. I'm James. James Rucker."

As Cash continued to record information, Mullins scrutinized the young man. "Did you call in a report to CPS, Mr. Rucker? I have a record of an anonymous tip from a male caller making claims of some pretty worrisome circumstances within this household. This individual would have had to be in the home observe these circumstances."

Rucker's face and neck flushed nearly crimson. "Fuck. If Kara knew..."

"She doesn't have to know," Mullins assured him.

"Thank you!" Rucker exhaled, and raised his eyes once more. "They're not abusive, Kara and her mom. Yeah, they're not watching him 24/7, but what parent can even manage that? I swear, there's something seriously wrong with this kid. I said when I called that he eats and drinks out of the dog dishes, but don't take that to mean he doesn't get fed or whatever. He goes around with the dog and does what he wants to do. You can talk to him, and he hears, but it's like he refuses to acknowledge people exist. He's just off in his own world. Dog world. But not just dogs, either. He brings all these critters inside."

Mullins paused to glance over some paperwork, and then narrowed her eyes at the young man. "There's mention in the report of a coyote having been in the house at some point. Are you sure it wasn't just one of the neighborhood dogs?"

"Lady, I know it sounds like bullshit, but I used to work for Animal Control. I know the difference between a dog and a coyote. It doesn't make any sense according to coyote behavior, but I got up one morning and there they were--Owen, the dog, and this fucking coyote, running around the living room like three puppies. This coyote looks up at me for a sec, and dashes out the backdoor. It wasn't crazed, or rabid. It was just... playing. I told Kara, but she acted like it was nothing weirder than a raccoon passing through the backyard."

The front door swung open to reveal a teenage girl with mussed, bleach blonde hair and dark hollows around her sleepy, bloodshot eyes. She wore nothing but an oversized tee-shirt, and had obviously been wearing makeup yesterday that hadn't been washed off. "What's in the yard...?" she slurred, the final word transitioning into a loud yawn. When she noticed the visitors, and specifically Jill Mullins, her eyes widened with recognition. Much more alert now, she took a step back from the doorway and turned to go back into the house, yelling, "Owen! Bucky!"

Rucker hurried in after her, followed by Mullins and Cash. They converged in the living room, where no one was watching a nature program playing on the television. Kara Lee turned it off and once more screamed for Owen and for Bucky, who Cash assumed was the family dog.

"The fucking backdoor is open," Rucker pointed out, flopping down onto the sofa with a sigh. "They've wandered off again."

The girl wrung her hands and looked up at the social worker and the cop, her mouth working to form syllables. "I swear to God, he was just here!" she exclaimed, breaking off with a sob.

"Kara, look at me," Mullins said in a clear, authoritative voice, standing directly in front of the crying teenager and attempting to make eye contact. "Are you under the influence of anything right now?"

"No, I swear!" the girl burst out between heaving sobs. "We had a few drinks last night, and I'm hung over, that's all. Why do you always think I'm a fucking crack whore or something?"

"I don't think that," Mullins replied, keeping her tone calm and steady. "We have spoken several times about the necessity of keeping a close eye on your son, but your mother is his legal guardian. Where is she now? Working?"

"Yeah," Kara Lee said in a thick, husky voice as she wiped her eyes, smearing yesterday's makeup. "She gives him his cereal in the morning, and puts on Animal Planet for him. Then she wakes me up and I watch him while she's at work. I must've fallen back asleep."

"And how long ago would that have been?"

"Like, just before eight."

Cash winced and glanced at his watch. "That's more than three hours ago. I'm gonna go look for the kid while you guys talk."

Mullins nodded her approval, and Rucker offered to help once he was dressed. Cash walked a circuit around the small house, and then poked around the backyard until the young man emerged fully dressed.

"Do you have any idea where he's likely to go?" Cash asked him.

"Sometimes he goes to neighbors' houses, and sometimes he goes a little ways into the woods."

Cash studied the remains of a fence that was mostly blown down, and looked like it had been that way for years. The kid could have gone in any number of directions, and he was considering going to visit the neighbors and sending Rucker to check the wooded area behind the house, but as he gazed out toward the trees, he spotted a flash of white.

"What's that?" he wondered, hopping over a tangle of fallen fence posts and jogging over to the object.

It was a recently discarded diaper.

"Goddamn," Rucker sighed. "Kid hates to say dressed."

The pair split up, taking different routes through the woods and staying within earshot of one another as they called for Owen and whistled for Bucky.

Cash was analyzing the situation in his mind, trying to work out how much ground a naked toddler could cover in three hours, when he heard Rucker's call:

"Over here! I think I see him! There's Bucky, and...."

Cash broke into a sprint, leaping over roots and fallen branches. Rucker's abrupt, mid-sentence silence had unsettled him, causing his heart to quicken. "Is he okay? Where are you?"

"Here!" Rucker called, and, a moment later added, "Holy shit!"

The hysterical tone of the exclamation tightened Cash's innards into painful knots. He increased his pace until he'd burst through a knot of ferns and into a clearing, where Rucker was standing frozen. Cash slid to a halt, nearly losing his balance and grabbing hold of the other man's shoulder for purchase.

"What...?" he gasped, and stopped when he pointed his eyes in the direction Rucker was staring. As he caught his breath, the steady humming noise reached his ears.

At first, all he saw was bees. They swarmed around a half rotted stump that was lined inside with honeycomb. The dog, some sort of spaniel mutt, appeared from behind the stump and romped in cheerful circles, chasing the bees and showing no sign of acknowledging the men's presence. Cash blinked several times, studying a shape next to the hive, something that looked like a small shadow at first. When it moved, the shape became clearer. It was a naked baby, covered head to toe in honey bees.

"Holy shit," Cash whispered. The words trembled as they came out. He felt as if he'd just had a bucket of ice water poured over his head.

"Yup," Rucker agreed.

Deciding he had no option, Cash took a step forward.

"Are you crazy?" Rucker hissed. "That many bees could kill you!"

"I'm a little more concerned about the kid right now," Cash muttered. He moved forward with slow, cautious steps. "Owen? Can you hear me? I'm a policeman, and I'm here to keep you safe. Owen... move very slowly, and come this way."

"He's not gonna listen to you," Rucker objected.

Cash ignored him, and continued approaching the boy. The humming of the bees set his nerves on edge, and he felt phantom tickles all over his body, imagining the tiny, sticky legs of honey bees crawling across his skin, but not a single one had touched him. As he approached the hive, Cash saw the boy more clearly. He was small for an almost-three-year-old. His head was crowned with a mess of auburn curls that had never been cut. One chubby hand was reaching into the hive with a careful delicacy unusual in a toddler. Instead of grabbing at the golden comb, Owen gathered a droplet of honey on a tiny fingertip, and licked it.

"Owen," Cash exhaled. Shivers crept across his body in all directions as a few bees landed on him. He stopped moving. "Owen... it's very dangerous here and you need to come with me."

Silent and tranquil, ignoring the police officer, the toddler reached for more honey. The hundreds of bees crawling across his vulnerable baby flesh seemed likewise untroubled. Bucky, meanwhile, had come over to flop out at Owen's bare feet.

Cash stood paralyzed with disbelief as the boy squatted down to pat the dog's head. As he did so, the bees, in near perfect synchronicity, rose into the air and swarmed back to the hive. Moments later, it was as if they had never been there at all.

Taking his opportunity, Cash dropped to one knee next to the boy, looking him over. He didn't appear to have a single sting on him, although he had a few minor scratches and was in need of a bath. He reached out to take the toddler's arm and tried to turn the boy to face him. "Owen, look at me," he whispered. "Are you okay?"

The toddler's hazel eyes were bright, yet did not appear entirely focused. He looked off into the distance, avoiding Cash's gaze as he tugged feebly to free his arm from the man's grasp.

"I'm a policeman," Cash reiterated, though it was obvious that Rucker had been correct about the boy not listening. "I just want to make sure you're safe. I'm going to pick you up now."

Owen uttered a tiny grunt of protest, but did not cry out when he was gathered into the officer's arms. The dog leaped up and circled around Cash's feet, whining. Cash struggled not to trip over him as he walked over to where Rucker still stood, and together, they returned to the house.

Cash hadn't had the opportunity to hold many children, and therefore could not have identified "normal" behavior with any surety. Nonetheless, he immediately sensed there was something not right about this one. Owen did not relax in his arms, nor did he exactly struggle. Not once did the boy try to look at who was holding him. He was preoccupied with his surroundings, sometimes looking at the trees above, but otherwise looking down, reaching out for Bucky, who loped along at the officer's side, watching the child.

Mullins hurried out into the yard as they arrived, and took Owen from Cash, giving him a lookover. "Well done. Where was he?"

"Out in the woods, raiding a beehive," Cash explained, pulling out his phone and stylus with trembling hands to take more notes. "Covered in bees, and not one sting."

Mullins quirked an eyebrow, concerned, though not quite surprised.

Inside, Rucker comforted his girlfriend as she sat weeping on the sofa.

"Please don't judge me!" she wailed. "You don't know how hard it is! I tried. I fucking tried. My own kid hates me. Maybe it's my fault? I didn't even know I was knocked up until seven months! Oh god, I'm so sorry! I thought I wanted to be a mom, but it's been a nightmare. I try to love him, but he doesn't love me back. He doesn't love anyone but the fucking dog! He won't even look at me!"

Mullins and Cash made no response, allowing her to say her piece while they cleaned the worst of the dirt off of Owen and got him dressed. The silent, detached child was now putting Cash in mind of a windup toy. He didn't make a struggle, yet was ready to crawl away the moment they let go of him, as if on autopilot. For a minute, Mullins let him go, and they watched him hurry over to the dog. The child had an unusual, loping gait, not walking perfectly upright but partially on all fours, chimplike.

"What do you think is wrong with him?" Cash wondered.

"If I were to guess, some severe form of autism," Mullins suggested. "Possibly reactive attachment disorder. So, are you agreed we've got a case for immediate removal?"

Cash sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "Well, 'exigent circumstances' would have to involve imminent danger of serious bodily injury to the child, and based on what I saw out in those woods, especially with the foreknowledge that this sort of thing has been a regular occurrence... yeah. Absolutely. This kid's been damn lucky, and I wouldn't risk the time it'd take to get a court order."

"That's all I need to know."

The boy's mother had calmed by the time they were ready to leave. She stood by, tears still streaming down her flushed, makeup-smeared cheeks, but she looked resigned. Cash watched Mullins cradle the boy and try unsuccessfully to make eye contact.

When Bucky tried to follow them out the front door, Rucker grabbed him by the collar to hold him back. It was only then that Owen made any noise. He stiffened in Mullins's arms and released a piercing scream, reaching out both of his little arms for his pet. Rucker wrestled with Bucky, who had begun to cry like Cash had never heard a dog cry before. It was an eerie, high-pitched noise that gave him the same cold dread he'd felt at the sight of the boy with bees crawling all over him. Rucker's earlier words echoed in his head.

There's something seriously freaky about that kid.

"You have to let him take Bucky!" Kara Lee screamed, sobbing again as she wrestled the dog away from her boyfriend. "He'll be fine without me, but he needs the dog! Can't you see he needs him?"

Released, the dog streaked after Mullins and leaped at the shrieking boy, trying to lick him between urgent yelps. Mullins appeared uncertain, but did not protest. She strapped Owen into a carseat in the back of her vehicle, and as soon as Bucky was allowed to leap in and settle beside him, both were quiet. The toddler's arms wrapped around the dog's neck, and in moments, both looked ready for a peaceful nap.

* * *

Jeff Goring hated his foster brother. They were the same age, fifteen, and he knew mom and dad expected him to be kind and helpful, but the guy was mentally challenged, and even more than that, he was freaky. It had been nearly six months, and Jeff still got teased at school over the "creepy retard" his parents had taken in. Owen had come from some kind of institution, and he didn't do regular school. He got some tutoring, but mostly worked with dad at the vet clinic. Dad said Owen was "gifted", and while Jeff could admit the guy was good with animals--freakishly good--"gifted" seemed overly generous considering he was totally vacant and didn't even talk to people.

It was Jeff's friend Carl who came up with the idea of making good use of the weirdo. Carl had aspirations of becoming a great trophy hunter, and what he wanted more than anything was to bag a bobcat. Bobcats were known to inhabit the wilderness on the outskirts of town, though they were rarely seen anywhere near civilization.

On a warm Saturday morning, Jeff and Carl packed up a few things and trailed Owen up into the hills where he spent a lot of his time when he wasn't working with Dr. Goring. He wore only an old pair of shorts, and his auburn hair was long and trailed wildly down his back.

"Who does he think he is, Tarzan?" Carl whispered.

Jeff shrugged. "Hey, Owen! Wait up!"

The two boys jogged to catch up with Owen, who paused his steps but did not look at them.

"We need you to help us, Owen," Jeff said slowly. "Like you help dad. This is my friend Carl. We're doing a project for school. A photography project, and it's for, like, wildlife conservation. You understand what that means?"

Owen's eyes shifted to the bundle of equipment Carl had slung over his shoulder.

"This is my photography equipment," Carl said, smirking. "We want to take pictures. Of a bobcat. Do you know bobcats around here?"

"Yeah," Jeff added, "we want to photograph the biggest, most beautiful bobcat, so everyone in town will see what cool wildlife we have, and want to help them. You want to help, right, bro? Can you bring us to one?"

Owen paused a while, as if thinking, but Jeff wasn't sure "thinking" was something the freak did much of. Abruptly, Owen took off into the trees. Excited, the two other boys hurried after him.

After a couple of hours of brisk hiking, Owen stopped and stood still. Jeff and Carl froze behind him, panting. Unlike the two boys, Owen didn't seem at all winded. He was lean and rangy, as any young man might be who spent as much time running, swimming, and climbing as Owen did.

"Oh my god," Jeff whispered.

Ahead of them, there was shadowy movement between the trees. A shape became distinct as the shadow emerged, padding toward them in perfect silence on large, furry paws. Owen squatted, holding out a hand to the cat, which was about half the size of a mountain lion, but to the other two boys, accustomed to house cats, it was enormous. Golden in color with dark spots, russet highlights, and a pale underbelly, the cat was striking, and looked upon them curiously with wide amber eyes. It struck a stately pose several paces ahead of them, as if inviting appreciation of its beauty. Consumed with need to possess it, Carl was already unpacking his rifle.

Jeff cut his eyes between the bobcat and Owen, praying the boy wouldn't turn around. He pushed his fingers into his ears in anticipation of the gunshot. It did little to dampen the noise, and when Carl pulled the trigger, Jeff was nearly as startled as Owen was.

From there everything happened so quickly, and with so much screaming, that Jeff could not even put together what exactly had occurred until later, in the hospital, after he'd had some time to think things over.

Carl was in surgery. They said he had lost an eye. Jeff was heavily bandaged and had needed plenty of stitches, but wasn't nearly as badly wounded as Carl was. He told the story as best he could to his parents and the police officer who had showed up at his bedside.

"The first shot didn't kill it," he whispered, and was ashamed to find that he was crying. Tears soaked into the bandages wrapped around half of his face. "Owen just went... berserk. As if he was the one who got shot. I thought I'd go deaf with the way he was screaming, and I just told Carl 'shoot again, you have to kill it, you have to kill it!' So he shot the cat dead... and everything was quiet for a second... and then like, out of nowhere, there was the bird."

"Bird?" the police officer repeated, leaning closer to the boy in the hospital bed. "You're sure it was a bird that attacked you?"

"I think it was a hawk," Jeff said hoarsely. "A fucking huge one. Huge talons. Like razors. It grabbed onto Carl's face, and he was just screaming, and there was so much blood. Then it came at me, and...." He broke off with a sob, and a hiccup. His mother squeezed his shaking hand.

"It sounds crazy, but I know he did it," Jeff sobbed. "Owen. He made it happen."

* * *

Sergeant Cash had never forgotten Owen Bailey, though it had been over a decade since the day he'd helped remove the toddler from his mother's home. He'd seen pieces in the news about Owen now and then. There were pictures on the Internet of the boy at various ages, covered with birds, surrounded by deer, and even one of him playing with a pair of black bear cubs while mama bear looked placidly on. Most people who saw and shared those pictures cried "bullshit", but Cash remembered the bees, and knew better.

He was visiting the Goring house now, where Owen had been locked in his bedroom by his foster father. Cash had a long talk with Dr. Goring, who was torn in the wake of the incident. He'd cared deeply about Owen even though the boy had never shown any sign of attachment to other human beings. He had tried to understand Owen's special needs, and to nurture his gifts. Although there was very little Goring could honestly say he understood after six months of trying to parent the boy, he'd at least been sure that Owen wouldn't hurt a fly. Now he wasn't so sure that Owen wouldn't hurt a person.

When Cash entered the bedroom, he found Owen curled into a fetal ball on his bed. The boy's bare back was to him, every knob of his spine visible.

"Hello, Owen," Cash whispered. "I'm Sergeant Cash. I remember you, from a long time ago. I'm going to sit down next to you now."

He sat. Owen made no movements.

"I remember the bees. Do you remember that? You weren't even three years old. You were all by yourself with your dog, Bucky." Cash winced inwardly, regretting mentioning Bucky at all. Certainly enough time had passed that the dog had to have passed on.

Cash noticed a book, something like a small photograph album, lying on Owen's bedside table. Dr. Goring had told him about a "communication book" Owen had, of the sort used by people with speech impairments and other disorders that affected their ability to vocalize. Supposedly Owen wasn't nearly as "retarded" as people assumed, but he only communicated when and how he chose. Cash flipped open the front cover of the book. It was a small binder packed with laminated pages. The first proclaimed, "MY NAME IS OWEN BAILEY. I HAVE A DISABILITY."

Other pages detailed where he lived, and who to contact in an emergency. There were pages of common phrases, and one that was just letters and numbers. Most pages were covered with pictograms paired with words.

Cash was startled when Owen grabbed the book out of his hands. He hadn't noticed the boy sitting up. Owen's overgrown hair formed a screen around his face, obscuring Cash's view of his expression, but he saw a few clear droplets spatter across the laminated pages of the book, and knew Owen was crying

"Can we talk about what happened in the woods?" Cash whispered.

Owen flipped pages, and tapped the word "YES" with one knuckle.

"Did those boys lie to you?"

Again Owen tapped, "YES", and then flipped to the pictograms until he'd found a picture of a camera.

"That's right. They told you they wanted to take pictures of the bobcat, yeah? But that wasn't really what they wanted to do."

Owen rocked back and forth a few times, tense with anxiety. He flipped more pages, and tapped his knuckle against a pictogram showing various weapons.

"Yeah," Cash sighed. "Owen, tell me something. Did you want to hurt those boys?"

Owen rocked, and more tears dripped onto his book. At last, he indicated, "YES", and then, even more vehemently, "I'M SORRY", which he rapped several times. Cash was unsure what to make of this situation. No court would implicate a handicapped kid in a bird attack. He wasn't even sure why he was here, but, as when the kid was being removed from his mother's home, he knew he had some responsibility to intervene, to do what might be best for the boy as well as the family.

Owen was flipping pages again. He gestured to the phrase, "I DON'T UNDERSTAND", followed by the pictogram for "people".

"Me neither, buddy," Cash admitted.

After a brief phone chat with CPS, Cash once more found himself removing Owen Bailey from his home. He was to be returned to the institution where he'd spent most of his childhood. Cash had gleaned enough from his time with Owen to know that being locked up in an institution was the last thing the boy wanted. He felt like a monster, shutting the silently crying boy in the back of his cruiser.

After a few minutes of driving, Cash pulled over to the side of a deserted road, alongside the woods where Owen preferred to spend time. He turned around to look at the anxiously rocking boy in the backseat.

"Owen," he said, "I always wondered whether I'd done the right thing, taking you away from your mom. Maybe I did, but I think I did it for the wrong reasons. When I saw you with those bees, I saw you as a child in imminent danger. Now, I think you might have been the only one of us who wasn't in any danger."

Cash sat in silence for a few minutes, thinking about doing something he knew was likely to get him into some very big trouble.

Making his decision, he got out of the car, glanced up and down the road, and pulled open the rear door, gesturing Owen to exit. Owen scrambled out, still dressed in nothing but his shorts. He looked up into the hills, and then down at the officer's boots, hesitating.

"Go," Cash whispered. "Be where you belong. I'm going to have to report you missing, but I'll give you as much of a head start as I can. Run fast, and run far."

Owen raised his head. The messy strings of auburn hair fell back, and for the first time, two brilliantly alive hazel eyes locked on the man's. The contact only lasted a moment before Owen streaked off, quick as a rabbit, and disappeared. It was all the thanks Cash could have wished for.
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Juice
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