Leda’s Dream – Sarah A. Etlinger

I dreamed he had wings:
big, white, full wings
that he kept tucked
small, like a feathered backpack.

When he lay down
to me I slowly caressed
each weary feather
with my fingers,
my soft lips and hallow
kiss. Each sinew, spent
from flying and sore
saw breath
I didn’t know I had
and then he was inside me
and we flew
on arcs of whispers
that hold the night together.

When I awoke
he was there
with deflated wings
like broken kite ribs,
and torn, folded feathers.

As I stroked one
with my fingertip,
he turned to me
and with a blink
of sleep-drenched eyes,
he disappeared.

 

Sarah A. Etlinger is an English professor who is a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee and the author of 2 chapbooks (Never One for Promises) and the forthcoming Little Human Things. Interests include cooking, baking, and learning to play the piano. Find her work and follow her: http://www.sarahetlinger.com.

Image via Pixabay

 

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Pit Brow Lass – Christine Collinson

Beneath my shawl, my hair’s tidy and clean. Dark too, but not as pitch as the coal dust embedded under my nails. My lips are pressed closed, but I can still taste ash.

When he came home after a shift, he’d circle me with his arms and kiss my forehead, leaving a sooty smudge like a priest’s mark. It made me smile as I washed; I always needed to soap that patch over again.

My face is dirtier now. Me and the girls use clear jelly on our lashes to ease the rinsing, but even after a bath it’s still in the corners of our eyes. Little globs of inkiness. I wonder, if they tipped us up and shook us, would ebony particles descend unceasingly, settling like a smoke stain.

I’d worried about him being down the pit. All the colliers’ wives knew how men had been taken before. The dark belly of the earth was an unknown world where we wouldn’t feel the sun on our faces. ‘Don’t thee fret, lass,’ he’d say, ‘I’m not going off to war.’

Annie’s making us laugh again. Chatting’s not permitted, but you can get away with joking a little. She’s even chancing her luck by softly singing; strumming along on her shovel like it’s a banjo. But we’re all back to it before the last note; sifting with our bare hands through the coal-laden belt, deftly extracting dirt like flotsam in a black sea.

As I remove my shawl at day’s end, my glance falls upon his cap on the peg, still just where it’s been since then. My soot-stained fingers caress the coarse cloth. It’s something I won’t come to clean, in case the scent of him is forever washed away.

 

Christine Collinson writes historical short fiction. She’s been longlisted in the Bath Flash Fiction Award and by Reflex Flash Fiction.
Her work has also appeared in FlashBack Fiction and Ellipsis Zine. She Tweets @collinson26.

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Self Help, Self Harm – Rickey Rivers Jr

I saw him again today, outside in the yard, his head down, looking at the ground as if staring through it, staring at the devil from the Earth above. Who was he? He was me, a younger me, a childhood reflection.

I approached him today. The closer I got to him the more he seemed to fade away and almost completely vanish. It was as if we couldn’t fully be in the same place at the same time. At least not occupy the same physical space in terms of proximity. Think magnets, except one magnet would vanish if too close to the other, the friction visual rather than physical. Realizing this I kept my distance.

I stood several feet away and asked myself what was wrong. The kid me, as in he, looked up at me and said that he had skipped school. I asked him why. Kid me said he was being bullied. I asked by who but I already knew the name he’d say: Billy Borges. Hearing my childhood self say that name made my fist bawl up in thinking of all the times Billy Borges had tormented me.

I told myself that someone needs to do something about that. Kid me said that he told the teachers and his parents but none of them did anything about it. He said the other kids didn’t do anything either. They just laughed. I remembered that. I told kid me to stand up to Billy Borges. “Don’t let him push you around.” I told him to do something back to him. I told him it’s okay to defend yourself.

My kid self said he was scared. I know that feeling. Going to school, wanting to be left alone, wanting to get the day over with because you were forced to be there in the first place, being interested in learning but being unable to do so because some kid had to be there to stop you, to torture you, to be that speed bump in the road guaranteed to misalign you. Funnily enough he never did seem to skip school either. He was always there when I was, specifically there for me, to torment, to tease, and to make life that much worse.

I told myself to wait there. Then I went inside and into the kitchen. The whole time I thought about the pushing and the kicking and the spitting and the slaps to the back of the head. I thought about the name calling. I swear I could hear his voice again. I heard him tease me in that same snake voice, slithering insults, calling me those same names with that same lisp. Hate began to swirl inside.

I left the house with the device in hand. I couldn’t approach fully so I laid it on the grass, took steps back and then asked myself to pick it up. Wisely he asked what it was and I told him. The little black thing with the chrome siding was a tool, originally designed to burn and melt down materials. I told him to take it and point it at Billy Borges. Point it right at his face. Press the little button on the side and then watch him melt. Predictably, the eyes of my kid self lit up. He took the weapon and slid it into his pocket. Next he thanked me and walked off my yard. Then he was gone, faded away, I would have missed it if I blinked.

*      *      *

I heard sirens yesterday. A man came to pick me up. An obvious mistake, I thought so at least, because surely he didn’t mean to take me in. I didn’t do anything. I told him I didn’t know anything. The man said “your fingerprints were all over the weapon.” Well of course, I put the thing together. Then the man said something about mass murder and I thought to myself: geez, how many people did you melt? I assumed the laughing kids and the teachers, deserved though unnecessary. I guess even smart kids do dumb things.

Besides the bullying I wondered what prompted kid me to be at my home in the first place. And what was his mode of transport? My questions were not answered instead more were raised soon enough by the arrival of another me. This one outside my cell, this one looked to be me fresh out of high school. This me scolded me, then after, simply slid the device to me through the cell bars and left as quickly as he appeared. I took the device and melted enough bars so that I might escape, and I did escape.

My other self had already melted the security cameras and taken care of the guards. Good thinking me. I left my holding place and headed home. Upon arrival I noticed that my front door was open. Had I left it ajar? I entered my home slowly and checked around. Good thing it was dark already. Might I be able to surprise myself? I did. Upon reaching the kitchen the lights flicked on. An ambush, had they already known of my escape? No, an old man sat in a wheelchair before me. Something was in his hand. He and I shared faces. I thought fast and pointed the device at him. He laughed. I pressed the button. He laughed harder.

I said my thoughts aloud. “Why doesn’t it work?”

The old man simply said “Prototype.”

But that couldn’t be true. I looked down at the device. Sure enough, it was true. I hadn’t noticed. I’d been so desperate to escape that I hadn’t noticed the differences in design. It had been so long since I had used the prototype. It had a much weaker charge.

Old man me had stopped laughing now. He pointed what he had at me, the real thing. How did he get it? I didn’t ask. I only watched.

“Let me now rest in peace,” he said. Then I felt so warm all over.

 

 

Rickey Rivers Jr was born and raised in Alabama. He is a writer and cancer survivor. He has been previously published with Fabula Argentea, Cabinet of Heed, Back Patio Press, (among other publications). https://storiesyoumightlike.wordpress.com/

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our next nominee should remember- Michael Chang

ne-VAD-da
always moisturize
hand sanitizer is your friend
and clorox, for when you get to the oval office
check what city you’re in
never wrestle with pigs. you both get dirty and the pig likes it.
look out for numero uno
avoid kitchens
lose the friends from back home
fail often
the opposite of armor is curiosity
if you do the team of rivals thing, go all in
leave the gun, take the cannoli
if you do not ask, you will not receive
squeaky wheel gets the grease
two women on the ticket is a good thing
whatever you do in life, do it well
no one else can create the art you can
if someone says “would you rather i lie,” say yes
stop living other people’s dreams
don’t go to law school
play your opponent’s cards instead of your own
you come into this world alone and leave it the same way
time heals all
trust but verify
some things stick
when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time
the real applicants never fill out an application
kill your darlings
i really don’t care, do u?

 

 

MICHAEL CHANG once played the role of spoiler in an election for Student Body President. He believes that retweets do equal endorsements. Based in the NYC metro area, he is multilingual and holds a black belt in Taekwondo.

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Loneliness – Eduard Schmidt-Zorner

taiga loneliness
nature pulls silence-blanket
over burdened hearts,
throws a net to catch star fish;
small moon casts eerie shadows

Early winter. I arrive in a region of the Taiga, which has the amenity of a great silence, where I can make my way with empty hands and without money, detached from material life, like the shaman, (or is he a monk?), who left his log cabin to me while he visits his mother near Arkhangelsk. Here is the loneliness, a seclusion which is desirable; where one feels in touch with primeval times. Not this loneliness caused by isolation among people surrounded by the background noise of a city.

He left me dried reindeer meat, cheese, a loaf of bread, dried mushrooms and tobacco.

New snow covers the tracks of the sleigh which disappeared in the distance, into the Russian vastness. This sealed my entry into loneliness, made it irreversible.

In this loneliness my thoughts and feelings sort themselves like the falling of loose sheets which miraculously settle edge to edge. It helps to gather me. I listen into a void, freed from the grinding din of civilization. I perceive now the melancholic tone of the ice wind resounding at the bottom of my heart where it dissolves, thaws.

An emptiness of sounds of a vast forest, reaching beyond the horizon, with millions of trees and thousands of miles. One can hear the silence, touch it, comprehend it.

Loneliness sharpens the senses and I see traces of wolves and foxes. They emit no sound, pass by, do not take any notice of me and are sucked in by the darkness of the forest. The fluttering of warblers and finches which pick the seeds from pine cones is the only agitation in a quiescent ambience.

Occasionally movements can be perceived when snow falls off the heavy loaded spruce branches and the branches spring back. The trees whisper to me. Late sun threads weave light into the night fall.

A few logs burn in the oven and the embers cast flickering light on the ceiling.

The room is filled with the scent of fir wood and resin, the smell of mushroom soup and fried chanterelles.

The saints on the icons on the walls look at me with a mild, reassuring smile.

I step outside the cabin and over me stretches the vast open firmament. Blue moon night. Volatile-transient.

Looking at the sky, I enjoy my forlornness, the freedom of seclusion, non-attachment and needlessness.

Suddenly a green curtain falls from the Northern sky and waves as if in front of an open window. Over the black, star covered sky, finger the green-violet streaks of aurora borealis.

I hear sounds —they appear to be generated in the air above the ground.

A weird surging hiss from this magnetic storm. Aurora whispers and there are clap sounds, crackles or muffled bangs, which last for only a short period of time. These sounds are soft and can only be discerned in the utter silence of loneliness. The voice of the aurora.

The polar light vanishes. Darkness takes over and I hear a distant signal of a train,

the lonely humming of a plane comes near and moves away again.

I go back into the cabin to comb through my thoughts to collect those combed words and line them up for a poem. Tobacco clouds hover over the writing paper, mysterious, like incense in front of an iconostasis:

Green curtain of the polar light
falls on boreal forests
so wide
the taiga, so infinitely far the horizon,
unattainable distance,
where a full moon is fixed on
a snow powdered canvas.

Sound absorbing forest soil
recalls feeling of feet on a carpet.
Quietly rustling heaps of leaves,
waft like turning newspaper sheets,
loaded with word heaps,
here useless, timeless distance.

Under aurora borealis,
the solstices as calendar,
a deserted landscape,
where thoughts emit melodies,
because they strike forest strings.

Memories no longer hurt,
because they dilute
in the vast expanse,
dissolve in nothingness.

Remembrance of a tender touch
is so far removed,
because it fell

 

Eduard Schmidt-Zorner is a translator and writer of poetry, haibun, haiku and short stories. He writes haibun, tanka, haiku and poetry in four languages: English, French, Spanish and German and holds workshops on Japanese and Chinese style poetry and prose. Member of four writer groups in Ireland and lives in County Kerry, Ireland, for more than 25 years and is a proud Irish citizen, born in Germany. Published in 69 anthologies, literary journals and broadsheets in UK, Ireland, Canada and USA. Writes also under his pen name: Eadbhard McGowan

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Perinthus, Uncovered – Lindz McLeod and Zebib K. A.

The Battle

Two children, born to two nervous mothers. Bells clamour for attention, alert to every change of breeze; dire warnings of terrible fates announced with tones of dread and certainty.

One grew to believe, to see frightened rainbows hiding in the expected unknown; I am afraid she was right, one said, who can I trust?

One grew to disbelieve; she was wrong, one said. The world is beautiful. I am the danger.

Two warriors meet on the battle field. They exist in the glass globe of an ancient myth. We transmute through the glass, inside this world like clouds swirling in their orb, or into the mind of a hawk in their sky, or simply spat out like pale bone through the ancient atmosphere, settled into the dust of this scene. In this place, we can hear a wooden flute over the sound of the desert wind, the din of the distant city, the swarms of two armies, comrades-in-arms awaiting a charge. The two warriors, the two leaders, stand ahead of these armies, their ranks fanning out across the landscape. Hooves pounding dust, spears slowly rising through invisible molasses as many hands carefully point them ahead. The respective town blacksmiths shaped their iron and their brass, alchemical armor, and all these hand-crafted metals glint with fresh pride in the sun. The leaders gaze at each other from astride their horses. Seeing now, finally, into the eyes of the enemy, the stranger from another land come to invade. A figure floodlit by sun through a mirage. One warrior sees another warrior with piercing eyes, strong arms, grasping a horse’s reins with strength. One sees the moisture in moss-like eyes, the other sees a depth of dark brown iris. They stand before each other as long as they dare, then lead a charge to combat.

 

The Siege

Two teenagers, an ocean apart. Stamped and minted with ancient song; bagpiped wails and kebero heartbeats forging a crystallised crust. Hardness growing where softness should be protected. A wilder alibi guarding a locked castle door, where something blooms inside a bell jar.

They have fought well and hard, fought with an intimacy that neither one of them have known before. The aim is not to maim or kill, but to get close and struggle. As the armies tangle, the warriors strike and miss and collide. They dive, plunge, brawl with passion throughout the night, until daybreak. The sun rises around them as they come to a standstill; bloodied, tired, some near dead. Neither army has progressed an inch. Neither leader is willing to go. The warrior with the dark brown irises has to retreat back into their walls— their soldiers rain blood on their home soil, are too weary for sleep. The moss-eyed warrior steps back, and back, until their army spreads out on the top of a hill, overlooking the city they have come to destroy. This is a siege. They have food and water aplenty, the city and the invaders and each army leader are ready for a stand-off. Each ready, at first to fight, and now to wait, for something has paused the furious tumult forward.

The first warrior, pacing inside their city walls, stuck on those moss-green eyes, hopes the siege will never end. The warrior needs a dove, the one rumored to deliver secret messages to whoever your heart calls for. A dove bargained from the town sage, after some negotiating and a few gold coins. The sage waves leathery hands, billowy black robes, and promises one message. This dove will fly across in the dead of night, without flapping, without making a sound, to the other warrior, to deliver one scrawled note on parchment.

 

Laying In Wait

Two hearts; one opens nocturnal leaves for every second shiver, blooming solitude in the dark. A martian flytrap, accessed via the moon. One closes petals tighter every year, spindles waxed on her own curse. One angles her cheekbone to catch a hollow soul where it alights with feathered feet. The earth and blood tempo drums them forth to the watering hole, at separate times, farcical coincidence. An exhausted lioness, on the trail, picks up the scent of a floral gazelle. Loneliness is throat-sweet, the scene apparent to carcass-observers.

The other warrior receives the note, wakes up to the parchment sticking out from underneath their cot, under their blanket, in their tent.

“Across this field, my eyes have never left yours. Meet me tomorrow morning in the hills outside of town, after the salted lake. beyond the green frog with the red eyes. Near the rock, under the tree. Before the gods.”

The moss-eyed warrior does not question how this note arrived, or who sent it. The morning rises as the warrior steps quickly through the ranks of tents and poles and crates and horses, to the corner of the camp. Squints in the pinks and yellows of dawn.

 

The Triumph

The clock strikes thirty. Undress yourself, take off the skin that bound your thoughts together. Dig deeper still; hear the cosmic tick in the bones of your ankles. Unlatch your joints, fold them for the shelves. Unwind capillaries you held as hostages for so long. Scrabble with what’s left of your hands. Locate the place where the conscious weight exists, the sentient driver behind the eyes. It’s time to grow past the old ways. Post it, still-beating, to your lover (first class, tracked signature) who engraves a plaque with time and date, awaiting the delivery. A phalanx of our own flanks, the lover easing inside. Slick with confessions of ardour.

The warrior thought of a plan on the spot. All the supplies were burned in the middle of the next night. The army rose in a panic, aghast, their long-held mission derailed, furious, determined to fight until the bitter end. The warrior sighed, feigned a heavy heart, and insisted the army head back home, across the mountains. No long battle, no revenge, no good long fight, as they all had hoped for. In this way, the warrior is rid of their own army. The warrior loves them all, has grown up on this life of battle, but times have changed, their heart now transmuted. The thought of one more day of this ritual of struggle sang out like a curse now, not the gods’ blessing of honor.

The warrior was not born from sea-going stock, nautai, but if they had been they guessed this moment would be like sailing across those long seas and suddenly seeing land. Not as the strong-armed rowing oarsmen on triremes, ready for descent and attack, but as a salty sailor, who had forgotten the land, forgotten the sight of thin green, glowing coast.

The same path back home would not do.

 

The Return Home

Shall age and experience make the same mistakes? Shall we forge a middle way, a way of moderation? Homeschool our children with homemade puppets; here is how to fear and not fear, how to trust and not trust.

Shall we set them free to search for their own treasure, sack their own cities, raze their homes to the ground?

Watch them from the shadows of the pyres? Atone and sing their wedding vows?

The two warriors met in the dust of midday, that secret spot, a large rock under the shadow of a desert willow, outside the city, halfway between the cheers, bells, and tambourines of the townspeople, and the burnt-out camp. They fell to the ground once their eyes met. What happens when two warriors attempt to tangle in armor? What starts and stops, what clanking, what rusty squeaks and grunts and sighs. What of the places inside where breathe hitches and snags? Pieces of armor fall and unfurl like petals. Halfway between the old town and the temple of the gods, near the rock under a tree, beyond the frog and the salty water, the warriors meet and kneel before each other. All had shifted. The light of this dawn contained the strangest, newest, most brilliant colors, to shine on both their sinewed bodies. Hearts uncovered.

 

 

Lindz McLeod is a Scottish poet and writer living in Edinburgh. Zebib K. A. is an Eritrean-American psychiatrist and writer living in New York. They are a queer, interracial couple, who enjoy combining their writing talents from time to time.
Lindz can be found on Twitter @lindzmcleod, and at https://lindzmcleod.co.uk/.
Zebib can be found her on her instagram @pegasusunder, and at https://medium.com/@pegasusunder.

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In The Footsteps Of Gods – Hannah Storm

Say we’d met on those steps a decade ago, on the stones worn thin by centuries of other lovers who measured their stories against the myths carved into the marble of the Acropolis, who ignored the warnings of hubris that had made legends of the men and women who tried to defy their fate. Say we’d met on the streets of your rain-slicked city, beneath the statue of Greyfriars Bobby, and you’d taken my hand and told me the tale of the dutiful dog who died guarding the grave of the man he loved, as you showed me the city that schooled you. Say we’d walked the canals, passed the painted houses with their tulips cascading from the windows with the promise of perpetual spring, and we’d smiled at the students getting legally high, knowing that no drug could ever make them feel the way we did. Say we’d met here in this city that never sleeps and we’d chosen to walk the streets all night, rather than it choosing it for us, because it was the only way we could be together. Say we had met at another time, in another place. Would you still come and lie flowers on my grave, your grey coat pulled high to hide your face from the wind or those wondering who you were and what you were doing here?

 

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My Smile – Melissa Bird

My smile
I’d love to smile
Like when I was
Young and beautiful
When I was
Free and bold

Before the truth
Was innocent
Before the lies
Surfaced

Haven’t smiled
Without
Hesitation
Reservations

Soft lights
Hypnotic music
Swaying freely
Smiling sweetly
Whole hearted

To smile with joy
In my arms
My new boy

Full of fear
Nightmare
Self doubt
Begins
Will I be like her

Do I have the rage
Do I have
Deep inside
That coldness
It’s beginning to
Fill me

A sleeping demon
Must not
Can’t wake it
Protect him
A beautiful light
Life force

Not mine
To keep
He belongs
To someone
Special

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A Dream of Ovens – Paul Negri

For almost two decades, I have refused to talk about the incident with anyone unless compelled to do so and the number of people who could so compel me were very few. The police, of course. My analyst (yes, I must tell her everything). And now you. Well, you may say you are not compelling me, but who could ignore an abandoned daughter’s pain, particularly one whose long search for her birth mother has led to such grief? What I fear is that I will do nothing to assuage your grief, Miss Arden; I may simply bring it to full bloom. The truth will set you free, you say? Jesus told that to the Jews, didn’t he? It has always struck me odd how similar the phrase is to another piece of advice given the Jews: arbeit macht frei. You don’t understand German? Your mother spoke German perfectly. Something I was not aware of until… Are you sure you want me to continue? Very well. That German phrase means ‘work sets you free’ and Jesus, as a Jew, would surely have seen it had he been born in the right place at the wrong time, Miss Arden.

Yes, I will call you Ann, if you like; please call me Dr. Weiss. It will help me preserve my professional distance. That distance, always necessary to me in my psychiatric practice, has become absolutely vital to the preservation of my sanity since the incident almost twenty years ago, though, of course, I practice no more.

Mrs. Smith—I shall refer to her so, as I never once called her by her given name—was eighty when she came to me and despite her distress was plainly a formidable and robust woman. She was referred to me by her pastor, an old acquaintance of mine from our days at Princeton. He told me she had turned to him for help, but refused to confide in him the nature of her problem, except that it concerned her dreams. She seemed to believe he could somehow pray the problem away. It was plain to him that she was very afraid and in desperate need. Given that my work in dream therapy was considered authoritative in the field, he was eager to place her in my once capable hands. My gloves? Sorry, I know they must be distracting, but far less so than their absence would be, I assure you. Shall we continue?

In all I had just six sessions with your mother over a period of a month. The first four were fairly typical of a resistant client, that is, one who struggles to conceal what she so desperately needs to reveal. She talked about dreams and asked me general questions, to which I gave general answers, never pressing her about her dreams, as that would have only increased her resistance. There were many silences in those first sessions, but I knew they were productive ones, like a cough that brings up what needs to be expelled. Then tears, begrudged on her part, as if they were wrenched out of her reddened eyes. And finally, in the fourth session, a breakthrough in the form of a breakdown. She was at her wit’s end, a place to which I had patiently steered her. It is at that excruciating destination that the unvarnished truth can bursts through the most strongly constructed defenses. Or so I believed at the time.

Mrs. Smith informed me that for the last several months she had been sleeping less and less, not because she could not sleep, but because she would not permit it. She proclaimed her self-imposed insomnia an act of the will, one that was necessary for her very survival. She would not allow sleep to drag her back repeatedly to a nightmare which she had, she thought, long ago escaped and entombed so deeply in the past that it could never rise up again to torment her. Sensing the moment was right, I asked her what she dreamed. She rolled up the sleeve of her blouse and on her left wrist in ashen blue was tattooed A16642. She whispered the name Auschwitz. She stood up abruptly and fled, even though we had used less than half the time for that session.

In contrast to her former sessions, the fifth was marked by her extreme, nearly panicked recounting of her dreams, varying in details, but always with the same impending conclusion. She was in the camp trying to hide, wandering among the other inmates, who rather than helping her, seemed intent on her betrayal. Whenever she felt she had found a secure hiding place, she would be found, and the angry inmates—men, women, and even children—would seize her and carry her aloft, passing her from one set of grasping hands to the next, all the way to the crematorium, where they delivered her to the black maw of the oven. And this, she declared bitterly, without the benefit of gassing. She had always, through a supreme act of the will, awakened herself at the last possible moment before the conflagration could commence. But her will, she said, was weakening and she was terrified of the consequences.

Shall I stop, Ann? If not for your sake for my own. Since the incident I too have recurring dreams, not frequent, but insistent. I fear you shall have dreams of your own if I continue. Very well then. You will live with your choice, as must we all.

This was not the first such case I’d encountered in my practice. I had treated others who were convinced their dreams would prove fatal, which, I persuaded them, was not possible. Dreams, no matter how distressing, are the safest places in our lives. Even if we do die in our dreams, we always wake to live on. I proposed to Mrs. Smith that I treat her with one of my tried and true methods. I would induce a state of sleep in her by hypnosis, a sleep over which I would have absolute control, and accompany her within her dream state. Together we would confront the phantoms that tormented her and lead her to the oven’s door, where, with my help, she would slam it shut and having thus exerted her control over the situation, nullify its power over her. She was extremely hesitant to allow such a procedure, but using my considerable powers of persuasion, and my assurance that it would very likely end her torments, she consented.

On the appointed day—it was our sixth session—she arrived burning with dread and hope to my office. I had her lie on the couch, which was more or less a prop I rarely used, and after some difficulty, induced her into a state of hypnotic sleep. I sat in a chair by the couch and informed her that she was back in Auschwitz but that I was standing at her side. She immediately displayed the most terrified look I have ever seen on anyone and I found myself uncharacteristically shaken. I reassured her that she had no reason to fear, that she controlled everything that could possibly happen, and that I was there to protect her. I could see her straining to wake herself, but I commanded that she remain asleep and work her will within the dream, that indeed she was master of the situation. Instead of lessening, her fear crescendoed. Her face was contorted by the most hideous grimaces, her eyes opened, and she stared into mine filling me with a dread I had never known before. She spewed a venom of words in German, so hysterical and full of invective that I could barely understand them. She sprang up on the couch and was immediately pulled back down as if by invisible grasping hands. I commanded her to wake up—but she did not. I commanded again. I seized her hands and felt as if my very soul was yanked from my body.

I found myself standing in a terrible room of brick and mortar, dark and smoky, stench-filled and suffocating, amid a howling mob of skeletal forms, animate corpses. And there beside me was Mrs. Smith, but not in the rags of an inmate, no, in the green-gray uniform of a guard, flailing at the encroaching mob with a bloody black baton. I stood and watched in horror as they pushed her forward toward the gapping oven door, lifted her as she screamed, and forced her headfirst into its black sooty heart. They slammed the door shut and its thunderous clank woke me, delivering me back to my office, where I sat dazed and sweat-drenched in my chair. I stood and looked down at Mrs. Smith. Her eyes were grotesquely wide opened, her mouth frozen in a soundless scream. I felt a rush of heat. She burst into flames, yes, actual searing flames, the flames soaring upward, roiling over her in waves and leaping to the ceiling, until only her outstretched hands were visible. I grabbed those hands and tried to pull her out of the inferno, pulled and pulled, until the hands came away with me, my flesh melded into them, my dripping hands charred to the bone. I mercifully lost consciousness, gladly falling into an abyss of death-like calm and release…

When I came to I was sitting in the chair. There was no sign of fire or damage of any sort, but the air was thick with the smell of burnt flesh. On the couch was the charred corpse of something which had once been a woman, blackened and twisted in a fantastic shape, with dreadful open eyes. I could not take my eyes off them, my vision growing more and more dim, until finally I had no vision at all.

I was a suspect, of course, but a thorough investigation revealed nothing to incriminate me. The coroner found that her body had been consumed by a conflagration from within, a spark inside her that had raced outward like a fiery tide. A case, he said, of spontaneous combustion, if ever there was one. Why it consumed only her and nothing around her, he could not explain.

Yes, she once had made her escape, and assumed the guise of a victim, even tattooing the telltale number on her wrist. But no one escapes from themselves forever. Not even the devil.

I do not have to see you, Ann, to know you are weeping. Weep. I only wish I could weep with you. But my eyes are stone and have vision only in my dreams, where they see one thing alone: a pair of horror-filled eyes, still smoking in a steaming skull.

 

 

Paul Negri is the editor of several literary anthologies from Dover Publications, Inc. His stories have appeared in Reflex Fiction, Into the Void, The Penn Review, Jellyfish Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, and more than 40 other publications. He lives in Clifton, New Jersey, USA.

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