Vines Don’t Register – Gabrielle Griffis

Plastic bottles stuffed with sterile pills lined the shelves. Labels promised improved cognition, stress reduction, better sex. Plants extracted from their land of origin filled vegetable capsules. Goldenrod grew from the floors, yellow flowers cracked through linoleum.

Doris sobbed over the register.

“How do I get more customers?” She choked. Her cellphone sat on the counter. Social media pictures of yogis drinking smoothies and workers holding colorful produce lit up the screen. Blue skullcap blossoms curled around a rack of gift cards. Their purple cups shivered in the forced air. The store was being overtaken by greenery.

Millie bit her tongue and brushed her hair out of her eyes. Doris, with no experience running a business, inherited the natural food store from her mother. Millie watched the worker turnover rate grow. The store haemorrhaged money. Would-be clientele was comprised of former employees Doris had alienated from her business.

“If we don’t get our numbers up we’ll close,” she wailed.

Millie stopped mopping, and pushed a cluster of evening primrose to the side. The papery lemon flowers bowed on green stalks. Smells of citrus, sweat, and gray water suspended in the air. She adjusted her “Doris’ Market” apron in the dim light of the freezer.

Although she was standing there, she knew Doris wasn’t really talking to her. Doris didn’t really talk to anyone. Millie continued mopping, pushing water around a cluster of white yarrow.

As a seasonal worker, Millie was detached from her job. She didn’t need it, she just liked the free smoothies. She watched Doris fume each summer when kitchen staff didn’t work harder, all the while refusing to compensate them adequately.

Vegetation creeped into the shop. Goldenseal, milk thistle, uva ursi sprouted through the floors and foundation cracks.

It was as if Doris and her loyal customers didn’t see them. They preferred the aseptic herbs, processed and powdered in plastic bottles. In capsule form, they could be anything, sand, canola oil.

“What’s the difference between these?” An older woman asked, shaking a pair of bottles at Millie.

“I don’t know, I’d have to see what you’re holding,” Millie replied.

Customers asked employees for recommendations eager to purchase their suggestions.

“I’m not a doctor, so I’m not qualified to say,” Millie would tell them. A large number of people were willing to put their trust in a stranger and an ambiguous jar.

The dwindling clientele would describe their woes, low-energy, dermatitis, insomnia. Sleeplessness was common among coffee drinkers glued to their screens unwilling to give up caffeine and technology habits.

Millie read that a plant could only help if they were asked first. Judging by the labels, none of the plants had been asked, if they were plants at all.

Over the years different roots and shoots would gain popularity. Sales of ginseng, turmeric, and other spices rose and fell. Layfolk read about celebrity diets or an actress would describe her eucalyptus enema practice. Kits with smiling athletic-looking women promising to improve digestion and “boost” the immune system flew off the shelves. 

Demand for patchouli incense remained consistent.

Millie read the tabloids. Women came in asking for jade eggs. All the while slippery elm trees gnarled their way through the foundation, their pink flowers and sinuate leaves blossoming with spring. Doris didn’t see the advantage of the herbal cornucopia. Elderberry bushes grew over the pipes. Purple berries stained the floor.

“What do I do?” Doris cried. The boxes kept coming. Plastic containers full of flowers, vegetables, and nuts that had been dried, fried, and concocted into face creams were shelved by employees.

Millie shrugged. The trunk of a willow groaned outside. Its branches overshadowed the windows. She wondered what the land looked like before the downtown was erected. They were about to find out. Birds had started to roost in the boughs. Animals once eradicated were starting to return.

Even if Doris had to close the store, the local flora and fauna, many of which were on the shelves, would overtake the structure. It was better than sterility.

When the season ended, Millie would fly south and enjoy days in a warmer climate with her husband. She’d been around the store for over a decade, living off the inflated currency she earned in summer. She had dual-citizenship and a dispassionate attitude, watching capable employees shrivel and blow away.

Even if Millie did offer advice, Doris would spit it back as soon as it left her lips. She’d seen it a thousand times.

“I think you should get some rest,” Millie replied, nodding and wheeling the mop bucket towards the hallway. She dumped the gray water. Purple echinacea spilled from the sink. Ghostly hummingbird blossoms reached through the eaves above a carpet of clover and mullein.

Millie clocked out and took off her apron. Scarlet bergamot petals fell from the pocket. As she walked along the refrigerators and out the side door she looked back at Doris. Her tear stained face was illuminated by her phone. Greenery curled around her, fungal hyphae had started to grow, ready to decompose an already rotten venture.

 

Gabrielle Griffis is a mutli-media artist and musician. She studied creative writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she has also worked as an affiliate of the Juniper Writing Institute. Her fiction has been published in or is forthcoming from XRAY Literary Magazine, Gone Lawn, Cease, Cows, decomP, Ghost Parachute, and Blue Lake Review. She works as a librarian on Cape Cod.

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The Cloud Forest – Michael Bloor

Two days after our landing party left the ship, we entered the clouds that we had seen from the shore. It was a relief at first: we mariners are generally ill-shod and not great walkers. We had grumbled as we’d sweated up that barren, rocky valley under the blazing sun, so it was sweet to step at last under trees and walk on the soft moss that lay over everything. But the relief did not last. The trees of the cloud forest seemed strange-looking, not like the oaks and pines of home: more than anything, they looked like giant heathers. The thick mist that hung everywhere in the forest was confusing: we could not navigate by the stars or the sun, and had to cut marks on the tree trunks or the mossy boulders in order to know our return route to the ship. Every hour of our march, the lieutenant called a halt and commanded Hando, the trumpeter, to blow a blast, whereupon the lieutenant would read a paper proclaiming that the island was now the property of the Emperor and the islanders were now his subjects. A futile procedure since the mist and the trees deadened all sound, and the natives who had first gathered on the shore, when our ship sailed into the bay, had quickly dispersed and had not been seen since. Still, we were glad of the brief rests.

There was discontent over the water supplies. The lieutenant insisted that we retain what was left of the drinking water that we had brought with us, saying we would need it for the return journey to the ship. There was no running water in the forest, but water could be squeezed from the dripping moss. Men grumbled that the moss tainted the water. Some men secretly continued to drink from their leather water bottles. The lieutenant noticed my brother, Odd, drinking from his water bottle: he hit him with the flat of his sword and then deliberately pierced Odd’s bottle.

On the evening of the third day, we came across one of our mossy marks on a large boulder: proof, it seemed, that we had walked in a circle. The lieutenant claimed it was a natural mark, made by a falling branch or a bird (we had seen no animals). Then Odd found a mark on a nearby tree and swore that he had made the mark himself yesterday. The lieutenant swore in return and drew his sword. Odd turned to run, and the lieutenant hacked him down. As the lieutenant stood over Odd, I ran the slayer through with my pike. The bosun carried an arquebus, but by the time it was loaded I had fled into the mist and the quiet trees.

*      *      *

I had escaped naval justice, but my case was not a happy one: I couldn’t return to the ship and so had to stay in this strange heathen place. Food was my immediate difficulty: none of the plants and shrubs in the cloud forest were familiar to me, so I had to proceed by trial and error. I made many errors and grew weak with hunger. Some berries I found had tasted sweet but proved poisonous. With my pike and knife, I had previously cut branches as a makeshift shelter from the constant dripping moisture. I lay there retching, and moving in and out of consciousness.

How long I lay there I do not know. Perhaps I would have died there, but I wakened to find myself bound and carried in a kind of litter. I was a prisoner of the elusive natives. When they saw that I was conscious, they fed me on a nutritious paste (made from the roots of sapling trees, I later discovered). Afterwards I slept, until we came to a halt among some huts on the edge of the cloud forest. My new life had begun.

The natives call themselves the Ku (which simply means ‘the people’ in their language). They are not unkind, though I am subject to some teasing. The teasing has its roots in what they see as my clumsiness and my ignorance: for example, I have no skill in constructing the marvellous nets they use for both trapping birds and for fishing, and I have only slowly learnt to recognise the edible leaves, roots and berries which form an important part of their diet. Initially, I had hoped that some prestige might attach to my ownership of the pike and my sailor’s knife, but the Ku have no concept of private property. None of their women have welcomed me to their bed. When I was younger, I used to help with the fishing and with maintaining the two cisterns where they store the rainwater that falls in their brief wet season. Nowadays, I’m only fit for gathering firewood.

Whenever I stepped beyond the cloud forest, I used to scan the horizon for a sail – another thing I was teased about. Now, after thirty seven years, a ship lies again at anchor in the bay. They tell me the Emperor is overthrown and the Sun Palace is a ruin used for storing dung. They offer me free passage, but I find I am content here with the Ku in the gentle cloud forest.

 

Michael Bloor is a retired sociologist living in Dunblane, Scotland, who has discovered the exhilarations of short fiction, with more than fifty pieces published in The Cabinet of Heed, Everyday Fiction, The Copperfield Review, Litro Online, Firewords, Moonpark Review, The Sea Letter, The Drabble and elsewhere.

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The Hole in the Wall – James Burr

Maybe it was because I had recently become a Buddhist, not just to impress the hippy yoga-bunny next door, I hasten to add – I really had been trying my best to eschew material possessions and to seek some kind of spiritual enlightenment that would be an added bonus to my getting in her knickers – but it was when I was nearing the end of my Master’s studies when the ATM refused to give me any money.

There was nothing unusual about that, of course. As a postgrad student, whether I would actually get any cash or an “Insufficient funds” message was pretty much a form of gambling, and I would often feel a slight thrill of expectation as the machine took my card and then pondered my request. But no, this time was different. After I had inserted my card and entered my PIN, the message “What thesis do you require? appeared on the grubby screen. At first, hungover and distracted, I had simply assumed it had asked what service I required, and I instinctively stabbed at the lower bottom button for cash, out of muscle memory. But when nothing happened and I re-examined the screen, scraping away the mottled flecks of dried vomit from the glass, I could see two simple options next to the uppermost button – Masters on the left and Doctorates on the right.

Confused, I pushed the button next to Masters and a further list of options appeared – “A deconstructionist critique of J.K. Rowling.” “An analysis of semiotics in Love Island.” “The works of Philip.K.Dick as postmodern predictor of intersectionality.” This final choice instantly grabbed my attention as this was in fact the subject of my own Master’s thesis which, truth to be told, I had been struggling with. Or I would have been struggling with had I bothered to start writing it at all. Slowly, I pushed the button next to that option and the machine whirred and the sound of motors and wheels and flipping paper came from within. Then my card was slowly released and, when I pulled it from the slot, the machine started printing off reams of paper, whirring and clicking as sheet after sheet was spat out. I grabbed a sheet at random and there indeed was in in-depth analysis of the works of Dick through a postmodernist lens.

While this was unusual to say the least, I was more glad to be relieved of worry about the impending dissertation deadline than I was about the nonsense of a ATM in the centre of a provincial University town proffering expertly written literary analyses for free. After returning home and checking that the machine hadn’t inserted too much idiotic Marxist analysis into the thesis, I spent the rest of the day getting it bound before submitting it early. After all, I wanted to be free of the worry of academic deadlines and get back to my main focus; drinking and pulling first year girls in Trixie’s, the tacky nightclub where there was more beer on the floor than in its patrons.

But in the following days I often stopped by the ATM to watch the queues of people stood disinterestedly in line before it, one after the other inserting their cards and taking their cash, no-one seemingly being offered postmodernist literary analyses. Once I stood there for a full hour, looking to see how the ATM could have done what it did. Was there some kind of trapdoor in the front where a miniature literature professor could have gained entry or hidden cameras beaming images to some control room somewhere where a team of academics examined users’ faces on flickering screens and doled out pertinent literary analyses? But instead, people simply stood in line like supplicants, only for their devotion to the machine in the wall to be rewarded with cash, nothing else, just crisp bank notes which were quickly gathered and then pocketed by the grateful flock.

So even after what had happened I was still a little surprised when the next time I used the ATM, after inserting my card, the simple message, “Do you want the truth?” appeared on the grimy screen, underneath it the options, Varnished or Unvarnished. But after I pressed the latter button and the machine whirred and then spat forth its slip of paper I read its message with a sense of profound awe as I saw the reality of It All.

The machine simply gave people what they wanted –advice, literary theses, existential Enlightenment; it was just dumb luck and limited perspective that meant that what most people who queued for an audience with it were interested in was money. So once I had seen the Truth, I sat on the pavement in supplication next to the machine, its disciple – no, its Apostle, giving it a voice beyond what could be expressed on the screen. And as pilgrims line up before it seeking a boon, I encourage them to seek more, to give up their devotion to worldly things, to expect more than just cold, hard cash, for they will receive it. I have been here so long now my sodden clothes are rotting off my body but still I urge the users of the machine to give away their money, even a pound, even a pound will do.

They glimpse at me with disgust before cold eyes stare ahead and they try their best to ignore me.

 

James Burr has had a couple of one-minute stage-pieces staged by SLAMX in London in February and had many short stories published in journals and anthologies, including Bizarro Central, Horror Sleaze Trash, decomP, Suspect Thoughts, Darkness Rising, Raw Edge, Ellipsis and Ideomancer. His first collection of short stories, Ugly Stories for Beautiful People was published in 2007 and his second collection will be published by Nihilism Revised in the summer.”

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The Visitor – Denny Jace

At 1am I’m in your bed.

You awake and we lock eyes. Panic clamps your vocal cords squeezing out a strangled howl. You fall to the floor, drag yourself backwards getting tangled in the curtain. It wraps tightly around you, a paisley print sari, a futile protective shield. A slice of light from the lamppost outside casts your shadow on to the ceiling, it quivers, grows and turns inside out… who’s the monster now?

At 2am you’re hiding.

Crouched behind the chair that wears your best jacket; on your haunches clutching the empty tweed sleeves. I hear your rapid shallow breath; a fist of fear squeezes your lungs wringing out wispy smoke trails, the warmth of life evaporating in the room’s icy chill. I roll onto my side, a domino effect; you adopt the brace position …what are you afraid of? What do think I will do?

At 3am terror twists your mind.

You are the third wise monkey, sitting at the foot of the bed; knees pulled to chest, shoulders hunched, hands clamped across your mouth …are you holding in a scream?

At 4am I beckon to you.

My palms upturned, fingers curled, pulling you closer, inviting you in. You accept and lay next to me and the mattress vibrates as fear rattles your bones. My presence here has made the bedding damp with cold; I watch the goosepimples race across your throat.

Face to face, heads on pillows, you are petrified still, not even a blink. And then you whisper, to me, your voice no louder than the beat of the butterfly’s wings; “What do you want?”

“To rest:” I tell you, my breath blowing icy barbs that sting your cheeks.

Your hand reaches for my face, that need to feel if I am real. Under your fingers I crumble to dust and ash that swirls and scatters, a former life, now dirty fairy dust.

At 5am I’ve found another resting place.

I pour myself through an open window and hover above the floor. The bed is tiny, but my bedfellow wears a huge smile and Winnie the Pooh pyjamas. He gurgles with joy, so happy to see me! I could be his new playmate, or perhaps his imaginary friend for years to come.

I levitate and swirl then blow icy kisses on his rosy cheeks; he chuckles for more, chunky arms reaching high above him.

I think I will be happy here.

 

Denny Jace has been writing since June 2019 She writes Flash Fiction and Short Stories and is building up to her first novel. She lives in Shropshire with her husband and two (grown up) children. Most of her days are spent reading her stories to Maude and Stanley, her two faithful dogs. Her stories have been highly commended, Winner of Retreat West Micro Flash Fiction 2020 and published in Ellipsis Zine. Twitter @dennyjace

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Loons – Ron. Lavalette

He works the phone all morning, calling to remind his clients to take their pills and drink lots of water, and to reassure them that the voices aren’t real. Some of them he calls and calls again, hoping that on his third or fifth or eighth attempt they’ll give in, pick up, and maybe even recognize his voice, hear and heed his advice.

By noon he’s pretty toasted from the effort, buys himself a burger and a Coke and goes down to sit in the shade beside the lake, contemplate its smooth surface like it’s a giant crystal ball, and try to divine what comes next. The only other beings he encounters are a few ragged gulls scavenging the shoreline for scraps and a pair of loons forty or fifty feet out, bobbing and diving for whatever it is loons dive for. He watches them for the longest time, thinking about how quiet it must be just below the surface. He wonders why they come back up at all.

He can hear the snarl of a revved engine on the bank far off to his left, somewhere out of sight. He can’t tell if it’s a chainsaw or a dirtbike, only that it’s small and angry sounding. It echoes across the water and comes back at him almost a full second later, only slightly smaller but just as angry. When he can’t stand it anymore, he heads on back to the office.

When he gets to his desk, the phone is ringing, but he can’t bring himself to pick it up. There’s a meeting going on in the conference room; he can hear voices through the wall.

 

Ron. Lavalette lives on Vermont’s Canadian border. His poetry, flash fiction, and creative nonfiction has been very widely published in both print and pixel forms. His first chapbook, Fallen Away (Finishing Line Press), is now available at all standard outlets. A reasonable sample of his work can be found at EGGS OVER TOKYO.

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Stump – John Brantingham

You’re over at Drew’s house with Cyndi and your wife, during one of his I-might-just-be-the-wealthiest-man-in-town parties complete with a string quartet and catering staff and the most expensive booze you’ve ever seen which is why you’ve had your share and Cyndi’s too because what the hell, she’s too young to drink. You’re about to head for the bar to get started on your wife’s share when you notice Cyndi, glaring at Drew’s coffee table.

“What’s up?” you ask her.

“Can you believe this?”

“The table?”

“Yeah, look at it.” The middle section of a giant tree that someone put legs on and shellacked until it was smooth like marble.

“It’s a table made from a tree cookie,” you say.

“Yeah, a sequoia tree cookie.” You cock your head at it. It’s a big table, but it’s not sequoia sized. It’s not even redwood sized. Cyndi’s at that age when everything is an injustice that she must rail against, and you like that about her. She’s a good person and all of that, but on the other hand, she’s also kind of wearing you out with cause after cause.

On the other hand, you know that Drew’s always had kind of a thing for your wife, so you say, “Son-of-a-bitch, you’re right.”

“I don’t believe it. I thought these trees were protected.”

“Go grab your mother. We’re leaving in protest.”

Cyndi heads off looking for your wife while you slip over to grab one more drink. Drew comes up behind you and grabs you by the arm. “I wanted to show you something,” he says. He takes you into his study, which has been locked all afternoon, closes the door behind him, locks it.

“What’s going on?”

“I just bought something at auction the other day, that I think you’d get but maybe not everyone else would. You know about the Boer War, right?”

“I wrote my dissertation on it. I teach a couple of seminars.”

“Yeah, I thought so. Check this out. It came back to England with a colonel. He reportedly bought it during the campaign.” He hefts something that looks a bit like a tree stump and places it on his desk in front of you. “The man is supposed to have known Churchill.”

“Which one?” You ask, but his face scrunches. Then your face scrunches. You can feel it. “What is it?”

“Look closely. He turned it ironically enough into a footstool.”

You stare at the gray thing for a while until you understand. It’s the foot of an elephant, hacked off and preserved somehow. Once you understand you lose yourself a little. All you can do is stare. “You have a lot of money, do you Drew?”

“What?”

“There is a point at which a man might have too much money.” You realize that you’re still at that age when so many things are injustices that you must rail against, and you like that about yourself, but it can be exhausting.

“What are you talking about?”

Cyndi and her mom come through the door on their quest to find you, and you turn to Drew, who is goggling at your wife and say, “Listen Drew, we’re leaving now, and until you can find some way to act like a human being and get that stump out of here, we’re not coming back.”

“What?”

“Seriously, man, what the fuck is wrong with you?”

And as you walk out your daughter beams at you for the first time in a long time and it makes you want to storm out, which you do, as well as anyone can storm and also stop off by the bar for one more glass of the good stuff.

 

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Today We Printed Out The Internet – Paul Thompson

Today we printed out the Internet.

All of it.

Boredom is the main obstacle. Paper jams welcome, our printer stopping on random pages, gasping for respite. Occasional network issues keep our minds sharp. And the trucks outside, delivering paper to our door, as we stack and carry into the warehouse.

Otherwise it is the mundane, the churn of the printer barrel, its friction melodic. We compose accompanying ukulele chords, playing our song during long periods of self-doubt. The information we print is sometimes distracting, sometimes worthwhile, infrequently enriching. Content we never knew of, its existence beyond imagination.

We abandon our plan for governance, the physicality overwhelming. Our original intention to create a structure, a manual index. Prototypes still on our walls, built with string and pins and photos, all now hopeless. Instead we have chaos – information random, back to its anarchic conception. We print, and stack, and store as we find it, building towers of content. Archways of A4, avenues of ink.

We try not to think of the trees, or the transport footprint, or the excess. Instead we focus on the greater good. How every individual, or society, or civilisation needs a backup. The inevitable collapse of infrastructure, and a world thankful for our save state. Everything recycled.

Our first query is from an old man who wears medals on his jacket. He walks with a limp and a small dog. He compliments our efforts, peering into our back-yard Internet. Paper blocking the horizon, changing perspective. A forest cut down and reassembled new.

Can I use your Internet, he says, The local library is closed.

He is a writer, researching bacteria types for a new poetry collection. We draw him a map from our collective memory. The information is to the west, far beyond the recent paper monoliths, sheets fluttering like the snow. He takes a compass and a flare gun, declining our offer of a guide, before vanishing into the web.

Buoyed by our good deed, we double our efforts. The final million pages, a period of reflection. Holding individual sheets up to what remains of the sun. Observing gaps in the fonts. Touching our favourite words. Smelling the ink. Consuming both the form and content. Leaving our fingerprint on every piece of information ever created. The printer thin and worn down, operating beyond its design. Stray pages on the carpet, information trampled and lost forever.

Late in the day, a query comes from the old man’s daughter, concerned by his disappearance. Several hours and billions of pages have passed.

He is easily distracted, she says.

We assume shared responsibility, having been equally distracted by our nearness to completion. Could we have boxed him in? Does he still wander without direction? His daughter demands to search with us, but we persuade her to stay. The landscape is organic and collapsing, shifting sheets forming curves and slopes. Instead, she will stay to maintain the printer, and wait for our return,

In our bag we pack a map and compass, and a box of matches, in case of emergency. Before leaving we document our efforts and intention, for the scenario we do not return. Upload our story to the web, hoping it will print out before the cartridge r

 

Paul Thompson lives and works in Sheffield. His stories have appeared in Okay Donkey, Spelk Fiction, Ellipsis Zine and The Cabinet of Heed.

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Forever Moor – Damon Garn

Crawling. Right hand digging into the dirt. He pulls, shoulders straining. Then his left hand, fingernails tearing on a rock. He pulls himself forward again. A sharp branch sears his ruined foot like a branding iron. He bites his lip against a scream. He is crawling away from the dark. Crawling.

Panting. His lungs fill. But not enough. Never enough. The exhale whistles and bubbles like an old teapot. Breath smells of blood.

Sprawling. Face laying in the soil. One eye pressed closed against the ground. One eye open, tear-filled and wide. He sees decayed leaves and a horse’s skull. He lays there too long. Too long.

Listening. The air presses itself around him. The beginning ends. His ears pull in the sounds of the terror-filled darkness approaching.

Is that it?

Can he hear it?

No. A beautiful silence. A sweet silence. A silence he can live in.

Remembering. A fool to come out here alone. The brochure had advised against it. The locals had shuddered and shuttered themselves in before full dark. His new bride laughed at him as he carried her into their room. Dared him to be a man for her.

Moving. Has to keep moving.

*      *      *

Crawling. Left hand digging into the dirt. He pulls, shoulders straining. Then his right hand, digging like an undertaker’s shovel. He pulls himself forward again. Another desperate handspan closer to nowhere. He bites his lip against a sob. He crawls through the dark. Crawling.

Panting. His chest rises just a little less than last time. Never enough. A bubble fills his mouth like a sail. Pops, and smells of blood.

Sprawling. Face laying in the soil. He twists, there on the ground. Something primitive urges him to look up into the night. One eye closed, blood-crusted and dead. He sees the starry sky and a mourning moon. He lays there too long. Too long.

Burning. His foot is burning. The frantic mind-voice urges him to look. The logical mind-voice warns him to not. Stomach roils at the sight of twisted white bone. Red life-blood. Pink muscle. Green pus. Black rot. Clear venom.

Scratching. His nails leave a bloody track on stone. A big stone. A huge stone. A standing stone. A stone standing with its fellows in a circle of lintels and the living night. A darkness is approaching.

Is this it?

Can he see it?

No. Beautiful stones. Deadly stones. A sight he can live with.

Remembering. A fool to come out here alone. His gut had cautioned against it. The locals had locked their eyes on their doors and locked their doors behind them. His new bride laughed at him as he stepped into the night. Dared him to be a man for her.

Moving. Something else is moving on the Forever Moor.

*      *      *

Crawling. Talons digging into the dirt. It crawls, straining toward him. His shoulders ache with his petrified stillness. It pulls itself forward again. The cold standing stone holds him like a dead lover. The dark crawls closer. Crawling.

Panting. His lungs pulling in their last sweet air. Not nearly enough. Not nearly enough again. The inhale gurgles and crackles like an empty percolator. Breath smells of blood.

Sprawling. Face laying in the soil. Mouth pressed open against the ground. He tastes sweet sticky moss. A line of spit tangles back in his hair. He lays there too long. Too long.

Listening. The fog rolls in and slams shut above his head. The end begins. His ears pull in the sound of the hate-filled darkness approaching.

Is that it?

Can he believe it?

No. A long quiet. A quivering quiet. A quiet he can’t live in.

Remembering. A fool to come out here alone. The moor itself had warned against it. The locals had made the sign against evil and he’d signed away his soul. His demonic bride laughed at him as she stepped out of the night. Dared him to die like a man for her.

Moving. Finally stops moving.

 

Damon Garn lives in Colorado Springs, CO with his wife and two children. He enjoys hiking, writing, and annoying his neighbors with mediocre guitar playing. He writes in the fantasy/sci-fi/steampunk realms, experimenting in flash fiction, short stories, and a novel. Follow Damon on Twitter: dmgwrites or at https://dmgwrites.wordpress.com/find-my-stuff/

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Alison’s Ex is a B*tch – Nadia de Castro

Alison wanted to order champagne which to Frances seemed a little over the top for the occasion. The occasion? Meeting Vivienne, Alison’s ex.

In the two years Frances and Alison had been together, she had heard a lot about Vivienne; the stories were usually followed by words like b*tch or c*nt. Frances couldn’t understand how Alison had stayed with her for half a decade, and above all continued to be friends after, but she had gotten used to the follow-up to the b*tch/c*nt stories which were always redemption ones; justifying why Vivienne had done what she had done, saying how great she was really, how when Alison needed her she had always been there… Frances suspected Alison had some form of Stockholm Syndrome.

When they had discussed the reasons to move to London “We’ll be close to Vivienne!” was always in the pros for some reason. They had some minor arguments about it, and on more than a handful of occasions, Frances had found it unavoidable to ask if Alison still had feelings for her. Alison laughed out loud every time as an answer. Well, she must’ve thought that was an answer because she’d never say anything after. It didn’t feel like an answer to Frances, but what could she do? Their relationship seemed just one big fight away from perfection, which Frances thought any relationship should have to pass the test of seriousness. The big fight did happen, eventually; it wasn’t about Vivienne so Frances took that as an answer and married Alison quickly after.

They had been sitting at the restaurant for half an hour. Vivienne was late. Charming. Frances hadn’t considered the restaurant was going to be this fancy; she had only put a coat over her favourite jogging bottoms which the Maitre Di scoffed at. She felt utterly embarrassed and couldn’t believe they had left the dog home alone for this.

When Vivienne finally appeared, she was wearing a white dress that seemed tailor-made to her incredible body, she might as well have been a Hollywood star; frosty, decadent, shameless. They got up to say hello, well Alison did, she just followed. Vivienne kissed Alison’s cheek and then hers. She smelled so good, the b*tch. The first words she said to Frances: “I read somewhere sweats are the new black!” The c*nt.

Vivienne then turned to the waiter and asked him to send her hellos to Antonin, who Frances later learned was the chef, and then she ordered a whiskey, neat (so now they’d have to drink the £90 champagne bottle just between the two of them. Great. Frances hated champagne as much as she hated Vivienne). Also, who orders whiskey to drink at dinner?

After the tiny starters, before the ‘Pork Jowl with Langoustine’, Alison got up to use the loo leaving her alone with Vivienne. Trying not to look up at her, Frances noticed the pattern on the marble table looked like a vagina and she thought of mentioning it to Vivienne but it didn’t seem like she’d laugh. Vivienne asked Frances what kind of art she liked, Frances wanted to answer, to seem just as cultured, but the only painting she could think of now was the portrait of her dog that she had gotten from a painter at Leicester Square years earlier when she never thought she’d come to live in London.

Vivienne quickly realised Frances was lost and said: “That was a stupid question, the last thing I want to talk about now is art!” and she changed the conversation to: “Alison sent me a picture of your dog. She seems lovely. Next time we’ll meet at mine so you can bring her” followed by: “Have you spotted the vulva on the marble? I’m yet to find a table here that hasn’t got one.”

And all Frances could do was laugh. So they laughed together and toasted to vulvas. Suddenly Frances felt better in her own skin than she’d ever felt before. When Alison joined them it looked like she had been gone three decades and Vivienne and Frances had been friends that long.

As the night continued she couldn’t take her eyes off Vivienne, they all kept laughing together; Vivienne was doing this thing where it seemed her and Frances had lots of inside jokes. How was she doing this? They’d only met an hour earlier.

After the cheese selection, the petit fours and the Port digestif, Vivienne asked for the cheque and paid for dinner—as an apology for being late—and somehow it didn’t feel awkward.

Saying their goodbyes, outside the restaurant, this time Frances offered her cheek willingly and kissed hers back. She did smell wonderful; Jasmin and spices; daring, refined, erotic. Then Vivienne got in her Porsche and they waved her goodbye. She waved them back with the promise they’d meet again soon and then drove off into the London night to the sound of Kim Carnes “Betty Davis Eyes”.

This woman had broken her wife’s heart and here Frances was, thinking she would probably let her break hers too.

 

Nadia de Castro has written and directed short films (fewer than she thought she would) and designs logos for a living. She is inspired by women’s lives, cultural clashes and tv shows about lawyers. She lives in London with her wife and their dying plants.

Cabinet Of Heed Contents Link 36

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