Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fiction #62

New fiction! Issue #62
Submissions now open for #63

Special thanks to all who have been submitting. Enjoy.

Fiction #62: Andrew Brobyn


~2014/10/13: Posted by ANOTHERLIFE in General, Love, Journal

I love this girl

I love her. I love her. I love her…
I fell into it—like a daydream, or a fever: like a life, or a life drawn to light…

I love everything about her. I can’t even remember existence before her. I don’t want to. I don’t want to imagine it. I never used to understand how old married couples always seem to die within months of each other. I studied a bit of biology in university so I couldn’t reconcile the reality of those stories with reason. But love—true love—I now know that has no reason; it’s a force, beholden to no higher power than itself. Love is beyond the trivial capacity of human reasoning to understand.

It’s like, you know how geniuses are always described as ‘eccentric’, and a lot of them are thought of as insane in their own lifetimes? It’s not that they’re crazy—they just think beyond the bounds of convention, of which normal people can’t even fathom, let alone cross. And (bear with me here), if God is omnipotent and omniscient, then how mad must Its ways seem to mere mortals? Well, this woman—my girl—she’s divine. And the love that she conjures in me is absolutely psychotic.
There’s no logic in the frantic, frenetic, furious frenzy of it: the passion, the overwhelming intensity of longing when she’s gone, the insane jubilation when she returns…even the willfully assumed pain that I glory in—a masochistic token of our unified soul’s harmony. It’s not just that I feel sympathy when I can tell she’s down; I feel empathy. I don’t even have to know what the source of her sadness is—it doesn’t matter where you start; what matters is where you end up, and how you get there. I can feel everything she feels, because we’re headed to the same place and we’re getting there the same way—together, as one.
            Leave a comment…
         • October 13th, 2014 at 3:45pm, golgothan said:   
lol QWEER. how can u b so disparate about sum bich?!? post a pic of her shes so hot. ill fuk her if ur 2 puss 2 lolol
         • October 13th, 2014 at 8:03pm, rafe said:
Yea, seek not the fool for the fool will present himself in due course. Haha, golgothan, you wouldn’t need a picture of his girlfriend if you could articulate (or have) original thoughts. Maybe then your dating profile wouldn’t be a barren cyber-wasteland. On the other hand, anotherlife, it’s cool that you’re in love and everything…just don’t go crazy over it. Congratulations and all; but, never think that anyone’s perfect.
         • October 14th, 2014 at 1:22am, psyche said:
Hey anotherlife, she sounds like quite a girl!! And I love the way you write. I feel like I’m right there with you… I wish I were as lucky as you in that respect…*sigh* Also, golgothan, I hope you have a box of tissues handy for your nightly emissions of loneliness…aka tears. Lmao!
          • October 14th, 2014 at 10:58am, anotherlife
Ahahaha. Wow, harsh… Well done though. And thank you. I’m sure you’ll find someone. The world has a way of working out, if you work with it    =)
          • October 14th, 2014 at 11:21am, psyche said:
 ;) Well put, sir.
~2014/10/15: Posted by ANOTHERLIFE in General, Love, Journal

Lessons in love language

I love her in every way it’s possible to love someone. A while ago, I read the Ancient Greek’s definitions of the types of love. And they’re all there…

Philia: She’s my best friend. I really believe that I could talk to her forever and never be bored (even if we weren’t together!) She doesn’t have to speak; just seeing her brings me comfort. She likes the same books that I do; she likes the same movies; she even shares my taste in breakfast cereal! This is crazy!

Storge: I saw her for the first time not even a month ago but I feel like she’s been there my whole life. I’ve always loved her. I just didn’t know she existed… The past few weeks have been amazing! I don’t even get irritated when she stays up late with the music on, or when her alarm wakes me up in the morning…they’re all just reminders that she’s here—that she’s not just a dream. Sometimes, I don’t even think of her as the opposite sex—as in, just another person I could satisfy my bodily and psychological needs with—I think of her as someone I can be a child with (sorry if that’s strange). The twin I never had. Someone to share innocent joys with: someone to grow up with, that I’ll always share more than just a past with.

Eros: She is my muse and my entire mind. She owns me. I want her to use me as she sees fit, to whatever ends she needs met.

Agape: She is my own, personal God. She permeates everything in this little world of mine and infuses it all with ineffable beauty: beyond just physical beauty, or the beauty of knowing something is true and good and right; she is beauty without borders. Infinite. I would do anything for her, even if I could only ever love her from afar in order to preserve her happiness. I know she deserves better than me. What she deserves is impossible though; only once could the universe, or even a multiverse of eternal recurrence, create something so miraculously perfect—she’s the only being that deserves to be with her. She’s too good for the base qualities and desires of anyone else. But, somehow, she’s here—in my life. I simply can’t express how much I love her. I just love her. That’s it.

Thanks for reading! Sorry if I’m kind of gushing…
Leave a comment…
        • October 15th, 2014 at 2:24pm, psyche said:
Don’t apologize at all! That was sooo sweet! If people don’t want to be reading about this, they don’t have to. I do want to read about this, so keep writing =) Even if I become your only follower, lol.   
        • October 15th, 2014 at 2:26pm, rafe said:
Those are some pretty intense feelings to have for anyone, let alone a girl you’ve only known for a month. Be careful. Don’t let your heart beat louder than your head speaks.
~2014/10/15: Posted by ANOTHERLIFE in General, Love, Journal, Poetry
Because I’m a cheeseball

So, right after I wrote that last post, I went out on my balcony to savour the waning summer. The weather’s glorious today; the sun is incredibly fierce (even through the quickly chilling breeze) and its brilliance conquers and consumes the sky. Even the windows of my complex are too bright to look at directly.
I was a bit dazed, and shading my eyes, when a thin, cream-coloured veil of clouds drifted with predestined determination, perfectly into place. I didn’t have to shift my focus at all: one second my vision was full of reflected sunlight from the sliding door, the next it was full of something far more powerful, more vital to life, and absolutely all encompassing. The sun may sear spots in your sight if you stare but my girl will be branded into your very being with one instantaneous flare. And I can’t turn my gaze elsewhere.

She was asleep, the sheets pleated by a Godsend of happenstance to caress and cascade across her body, like the life-giving swells of the sea. Watching her eyelids flicker open and blink, slowly, like they were breathing the beauty of this transcendent, immediate moment; that was exhilarating. There was a thick, warm glow all around her, sweet to my sight—she’s like a queen bee, bathed in honey that could quench a King Midas hunger. I’m enamoured by her every gesture. Even the way her laugh lines crinkle as she rolls out of bed and checks her phone is worthy only of description as Art. I wish I could paint, purely to paint her. But if I tried it’d probably end up looking more like golgothan than Gaia… (HA!) All I’ve really got to work with are words, so I’ll try to paint a portrait of this precise point in time with those (and sorry if it’s not amazing—I just needed to do this: no person, living or lost, could possibly do justice in capturing Paradise).
        Fluid as stained
        glass         flakes
                feeding a flame—

            a dreamer awakes
            as art flees
from its frame;

            a painter awaits
            as a dream
                plays its games;
            though the painter, with patience, renders
tamed.     He is bold as he moulds her,
                        she is told to behave;
                        but she lets him control her,
                        in servitude craved.

    Who is slave, and who master? Are both masterless slaves?

        He bleeds with each brushstroke,
        yet engraves her
with his name—

    but this peace, this is priceless, this is not sold:         it is saved.

            Behold, She is wholly
        otherworldly             and lonely, a halo
                        held closely,
                    the sheen of which shows me

                    there is in-
deed Heaven
in life        if you look:
        it is living itself,
            it knows its time
                is afoot.
Leave a comment…
         • October 15th, 2014 at 2:31pm, rafe said:
Hey man, nice work. Does it have a title? I don’t really get all of the spacing choices but I’m guessing this is a first draft? Some of the rhythm seems a bit off… Awesome building blocks though!
        • October 15th, 2014 at 2:34pm, anotherlife said:
Thanks. Yeah, it’s definitely not what I’d call ‘done’, or even ready to be abandoned yet. I want to make it absolutely perfect before I muster the courage to show it to her. This would be embarrassing in its current state. =p
        • October 15th, 2014 at 2:31pm, psyche said:
 Whoa. That was gorgeous… I’m speechless. Amazing =D
        • October 15th, 2014 at 2:36pm, anotherlife said:
Thanks again! I’m glad someone liked it. I don’t know if it’ll ever reach its intended audience though…
        • October 17th, 2014 at 9:49pm, psyche said:
Well, even if it doesn’t, it made me incredibly happy—and sad, but in a happy kind of way, if that makes sense… Thank you =) PS. Hope you’re alright!!
∫ 2014/10/15: PSYCHE sent a message to ANOTHERLIFE

Hiya =)
Hey!! Sorry if this is kind of weird but I wanted to tell you that I am really LOVING reading your blog. You seem like a really cool person and, well, I just felt like I should say ‘hi’ and let you know that you’re appreciated. Soooo…hi!! Lol =P
~2014/10/21: Posted by ANOTHERLIFE in General, Love, Journal

No rest for the wicked
Sorry I haven’t posted anything in a while. I haven’t seen much of my girl lately, and she is my muse. I don’t feel like I can write without her to inspire me. Whenever she’s been home in the last few days, she has people over—but she still seems morose and distant; or, if she’s alone, she just goes straight to bed. I’m kind of worried about her but I don’t know what to do…help?
Leave a comment…
        • October 21st, 2014 at 5:12am, psyche said:
I’m sorry to hear that =( Maybe she needs space? Have you talked to her about it? I’d like to help if I can!!! =)
∫ 2014/10/21: ANOTHERLIFE sent a message to PSYCHE

Re: Hiya =)
Hey psyche, I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. Thanks for liking my stuff…I just don’t really feel like writing much right now though. And I haven’t spoken to her about it; I can’t bring myself to. I don’t have anyone that I can speak to about this either. Nobody knows her. Nobody knows me. Thanks for offering help but I don’t know what you could do. Sorry again…
∫ 2014/10/21: PSYCHE sent a message to ANOTHERLIFE

Re: Hiya =)
No worries about the delay! I completely understand!! And I’m really, really sorry that you don’t feel like writing…I adore your posts, they make me believe in love… Seriously, if there’s anything I can do to help? You could talk to me maybe? I know how it is to feel alone…I moved to the city recently and don’t really have anyone. I could talk to her?? What’s her email? Feel better!! =)
~2014/10/31: Posted by ANOTHERLIFE in General, Love, Journal

The end…

I came home a bit early from work tonight, just in time to regret it. I was in the courtyard and I looked up to see if she still had the lights on. She was on the balcony having a cigarette, the smoke from her lips mixing with vapour from her lungs as it hit the ghostly-cold air around us, diffusing into the vacuum of the dry, dying night. The moon hung on her head like a crown, its sterling ray threads seeping down through her gown, around shoulders and hips, creating a silhouette of a spirit I would dare not wish to kiss—for fear she would, like the smoke, simply merge with the mist and be gone... She was so terrifyingly beautiful.
Then I saw a shadow behind her. The heart she’d stolen from me ceased beating, frozen in light of that phantom betrayed by moonbeam.
I couldn’t go upstairs. I waited in the courtyard for an hour before I saw him come out the door. I wanted to kill him. I wanted to torture him. I wanted him to know who I was. I wanted him to watch my eyes as I watched his try to stretch out the last horror filled moment of his miserable fucking life. I wanted to use him as practice.
But I couldn’t…
I’m sitting outside the lobby now. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what I will do. I have to do something. I wish that had been me on the balcony with her, holding her. She’s so small. I could lift her effortlessly. We could spend eternity together, entwined in an embrace with no borders…

 We would land right where I’m sitting.
                Leave a comment…
        • October 31st, 2014 at 4:08am, psyche said:
HEY! Please, please email me before you do anything. Is she there with you now?? Please tell me you haven’t done anything…
        • October 31st, 2014 at 4:23am, psyche said:
Why aren’t you answering my emails?? Come on! Talk to me, please!! This is really important!!!!!
        • November 5th, 2014 at 5:42pm, rafe said:
Dude. I hope you’re ok… That can be pretty rough, I know. Move on though, man. Plenty of fish to fry out there. She’s not worth the worry. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t beat her up either... I’m looking forward to reading some more stuff soon! Cheer up!
 ∫ 2014/10/31: PSYCHE sent a message to ANOTHERLIFE
Re: Hey =)
Hey, I know this is weird and awkward and fucked up and everything…I have no right to be interfering in your life…but PLEASE don’t do anything you’ll regret. You’re a great guy!! There are plenty of girls out there that would love someone like you. Don’t do something stupid just because of an immature girl who doesn’t know what she’s got right in front of her!!! Here, this is my number, text me as soon as you get this… 121-5225 I’m Chris…

∫ 2014/10/31: PSYCHE sent a message to ANOTHERLIFE

Re: Hey =)
I need to know that you’re not going to do anything. I can help you!! Please just talk to me...
§ 4:22am MSG RECEIVED: 913-4514
Chris, it’s anotherlife, thanks for caring but I really don’t want to talk. I’m going to do this. Please don’t try to dissuade me. She’s already done the worst she could to me, and now it’s my turn.
§ 4:23am MSG RECEIVED: 121-
You’re actually doing this? Are you fucking insane?!? Is she there with you? Just leave. Go for a walk. Clear your head!!
§ 4:25am MSG RECEIVED: 121-5225
Hello?!?! Where are you? What are you doing??
§ 4:26am MSG RECEIVED: 913-4514
I have to. There’s a thin line between love and hate, like life and death, or Heaven and Hell. They’re different ends of a current, or just two sides of a magnet. You can’t have one without the other. They’re the same thing…it’s all just a matter of perspective. I’m going to make her see from a new
§ 4:26am MSG RECEIVED: 913-4514
She was my muse, she moved my heart and my hands to create—but creation is a kind of destruction. She just inspired a new act of creation: my last and most lasting. Now she’s more than a muse…she’s my canvas.
§ 4:26am MSG RECEIVED: 121-5225
Where are you? I can come see you. I need to see you. I need to be with you and keep you safe: from her and yourself. It doesn’t have to end like this!!!! You can change your mind. I can change your mind…
§ 4:29am MSG RECEIVED: 913-4514
It’s too late. There’s no stopping fate. I’m going to do this. I’m so sorry but there’s no other option… It’ll be over soon—everything. She’s still awake. I feel so alive in this manic nightmare. I need to share it with her. I need her to experience this moment with me, this orgasm of comedic tragedy. Our lives will become our life, for one final forever.
§ 4:29am MSG RECEIVED: 121-5225
Wait!!!!! Please, God, wait!!! Tell me where I can find you. I’m coming right now!!!! Hold on, please.
§ 4:30am MSG RECEIVED: 913-4514
I’m sorry. I can’t. I can hear her through her door… It’s our time. Goodbye Chris.


Andrew Brobyn is a Toronto based writer of poetry, fiction, criticism, and essays. He studied philosophy and natural sciences at the University of Guelph, then Creative Book Publishing at Humber College. Andrew is awaiting the cinematic release of his first feature-length screenplay, forthcoming in 2016, while studying for his LSATs, and, hopefully, law school.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Fiction #62: Rosalind Goldsmith


I took the bus to a school where I was scheduled to supply teach for one day, thank god only one, I thought. Hated the school I was going to, hated the crippled geometry of the neighbourhood, hated worse the bus that took me through it.


Hadn’t slept, was fogged up and bleary, my head infested and buzzing with undreamt dreams like fat squash bugs crawling up and down on the inside of my skull. I sat by a window, looked out at a brick gas station with a puke-yellow sign, closed my eyes. The bus was jammed – bridled kids going to school, catatonics like me herding off to work, three outsize strollers, a baby human puppy-wauling in what looked like an armor-plated dune buggy.


Four stops before my stop, a man and a woman climbed in. They had a mangy, mangy yellow dog who got squeezed by people’s legs. The couple pushed their way through the crowd in the front half of the bus.

“’Scuse me,” he said loud, while they shouldered through. They came to a halt close to me – close to where I was sitting.

“’Scuse US,” she said, “It’s US, ‘Scuse US!” It was summer and she was massive. Rolls of hot flesh gobbed over her bright blue shorts, bloomed out from her armpits, bloused down from her shoulders. He was a tough with a barrel belly and he was tattooed all over his arms – visions of chaos and Armageddon right there on his biceps. Biblical. Their scrawny dog scrunched itself small under my bench seat.

“Us,” she repeated, “When you say ‘’scuse’, you should say us not me.”

“Shut your face, bitch. I’ll say ‘t the fuck I want.”

“Shut your own face, asshole.”

“You call me that, I’ll flatten your face.”

“Threaten me, I’ll call the cops.”

“Fuck you.”

“Fuck you.”

“You’re a witch. You oughta be cremated alive.”

“If that’s not a threat, I don’t know what the fuck it is.” Squint.

Pause. “It’s a threat.”

“You just threatened me.”

Fuckin’ right.”

“You’re an asshole.”

“Shut your face.”


This exchange looped at high pitch and full volume for the next four stops. Traffic was solid, so that meant about over ten minutes. 


I was cowed by it, I thought that she, if not her, someone else might get hurt. When we crawled closer towards my stop, I stood up early and slipped past them, just as he yelled, “If you fuckin’ call me that again, I’m gonna fuckin’ smash on the back of your stupid fuckin’ head.”

I twisted my way towards the front, and I saw that not one person, not one, was paying a shrip of attention to the fight or even making any special effort not to pay attention to it – like looking away with that strain in the neck which is a deliberate strain. Everyone ignored it calmly like it was just not happening. The school kids scraped their teeth on chemical candy bars, an old lady smiled wide because a teenager stood up to give her a seat, even the yowling baby stopped yowling and started to squeach and drool while his mother leaned into his armored vehicle and shook a plastic giraffe in his face. All this was going on while the screaming couple went on screaming at high volume intensity without a pause, without even a break. Was I the only one hearing this, or what the - ?


As I sorry-sorry-sorried my way to the front door, it was the same all the way up. No one listened, no one made any comment, not so much as a “tsk”, or a “whoa” and no one bothered to even glance. I stood close by the driver, I was standing well past the white line of no crossing, but I considered my cause to be more than important enough to violate such a rule. The bus was edging up to my stop.

“Listen,” I said, “I think there’s a kind of a fight going on back there – it could get dangerous. I mean, he’s threatening her, and they’re screaming. It could get violent.”

The driver half smiled and looked at me sideways.

“Don’t worry about it.” The door whinged open. “Have a nice day.”


I got off the bus mad. What the hell. The driver didn’t even care. Somebody could’ve got hurt, seriously even. I thought I would call the Transit Office that afternoon to report the incident – and the driver, but the day got busy, I forgot about it, so I didn’t.


When I got home, I was truly, sackly leveled, slept ‘til eight when the phone rang. They wanted me to go back next day. What – One more day. Needed the money. Don’t be torn, I said in my head, don’t say no. Not too torn, I agreed. That night I slept the bad and “fitful” sleep, full of fits, like short fits of sleep followed by long fits of being awake. I was too alive to the knowledge that I had to return to the hated neighbourhood next day.


I got up, ploded in, at 7:00, made it in time to catch the bus. And it wasn’t déja vu like you know it, like you’ve seen it before, like the filing cabinet feeling; it was the same, the same exactly as the day before: I sat in the same seat. The cars on the street were the same cars, the buildings we passed looked distressed as hell, just like they looked yesterday. The same people got on the bus – students, stun-faced workers, the same three strollers. And


Four stops before my stop, the couple with the mangy yellow dog got on.

“’Scuse the two of us,” she yelled, and they shoved through the crowd of us, and their dog slunk and wound through all the human-smelling legs.

“Speak for yourself, bitch,” he jeered.

“What’d you call me, asshole?”

“Called you a bitch.”

“You’re fuckin’ gonna answer for that, asshole.”

“I already did answer. I called you a bitch.”

“I’ll call the cops.”

“’I’ll call the cops,” he copy-whined.

“Fuck you.”

“Fuck you.”


I settled in for the ride, the ride and the rest of it, staring out at the hairline-cracked windows, the boarded up store fronts by the hundred, and the concrete stacks of apartments with their cramped, scurrilous rows of moldy balconies, like teeth rotting from neglect and from the sheer putridness of it all.


Rosalind Goldsmith lives in Toronto. She teaches literacy and is working on a collection of short stories.

Fiction #62: Dave McGinn

Stepping Up

I want to explain what happened with your son because I don’t want Sensei Mike to get all the blame.

I know that I haven’t really earned the right to talk of the warrior code and all that stuff—I mean, I’ve only taken one class—but it wouldn’t be very honourable of me to say that what I did is all Sensei Mike’s fault. I’ve been trying to step up lately. That’s what my wife keeps telling me—“Jason, you need to start stepping up,” she’ll say, and so this is me stepping up. Although maybe considering what happened between your son and I it’s inappropriate to be talking in foot-related metaphors. I hope you understand that when I say I want to “step up” I only mean it as a figure of speech.

For three years now I’ve been teaching boys like your son at a private school in Oakville. Before that I had a job at a moving company and played bass in a band called Death Slinger that I really thought was going to take off one day. Please don’t judge me by the name. Eric our drummer insisted on it.

And to be honest, I thought it had a pretty cool ring to it back then.

But when Sarah—that’s my wife—got pregnant, she said it was time for me to step up. She called in a few favours with her mother, who is on the board of the school and all kinds of charity organizations. And so that’s how I got the job.

I tried to step up and buy a car to get to work in but Sarah said we needed to save money for a house. So I take the train, which is usually empty when I get on after work but by the time it’s close to the city good luck getting on let alone finding a seat.

I said I teach boys like your son but it seems like Scott is a decent kid who really pays attention in class. He seems like a good kid. You wouldn’t believe what my students are like.

They sing this song about me. They don’t think that I can her them but trust me I can hear them all right.

A couple of weeks ago I grabbed Tom Sanderson that little shit and I yanked that smarmy yellow and crimson tie of his and I pulled his face right up to mine and I yelled, “I know who Mr. Balls is. Don’t think you’re fooling anyone one!”

You can probably imagine that did not go over well with Sarah’s mom or Principal Lahr or Mr. and Mrs. Sanderson for that matter. But after a lot of apologizing and repeated referrals to the fact that there has never been any inappropriate behavior in my employee file, well everyone decided to let bygones be bygones and water under the bridge just never let it happen again.

Ms. Berton, another teacher in my department who’s always been really kind to me, pulled me aside in the teacher’s lounge a few days later to confide that that Sanderson kid is a real piece of work and perhaps if I got a hobby it would help deal with the stress.

I turned down her invitation to play tennis because it doesn’t seem like my kind of sport. But I did think she had a point about finding a hobby.

What’s weird is that right as I was thinking this on the train is when I saw the sign for Sensei Mike’s dojo out of the window.

It wasn’t only weird as a coincidence but weird because in three years I had never noticed the sign before.

But there it was, the fading black lettering against a red backdrop in the middle of one of those strip malls that are everywhere along the train tracks. The sign was simple, not like some of those martial arts places you see that are trying way too hard to sell it. You know, with pictures of dragons and stuff.

It was close enough to a stop that the next day after work I got off the train and walked over. I knew Sarah would be a bit ticked off about my being home late but I wanted to check it out.

Through the front window I could see that a class was in session. Two rows of people in white coats and pants—technically it’s called a gi—punching and kicking in unison.

Sensei Mike was at the front of the room, walking back and forth, hands clasped behind his back.
He was wearing a white gi like everyone else, which I respected. Some of these karate teachers in movies will wear black or red to try to look special I guess but Sensei Mike didn’t have to bother with stuff like that.

I also liked that he didn’t acknowledge me standing there on the other side of the window, the parking lot behind me.

I knew he knew I was standing there, but he must have wanted it to be my decision to come in or not.

When I walked in Sensei Mike came over to talk at the front counter. Everyone else stayed in their rows doing punches.

That discipline was something I really admired.

Sensei Mike asked me a few questions. Had I ever done any martial arts before? What did I want to get from learning karate?

He talked to me about honour and discipline and learning to live by a code.

Did you want to purchase a gi? Because I probably should, he told me. But he could provide me with shorts for tonight.

He fished out a pair that had pictures of goldfish all over them and the top of a gi from behind the counter and told me I could get changed downstairs. The shorts didn’t look suitable for a karate class but what was I going to say?

When I got back up from getting changed the two rows of students were doing punches and Sensei Mike motioned for me with a nod of his goatee to join in the back row. The kid next to me sort of looked at me without moving his head but that was it. I was just one more guy in class, even if no one else looked older than 17.

But as Sensei Mike had said, we’re all equals learning together.

It felt really good. Most of the moves were pretty basic—low punch, front kick—that I really felt like I was getting the hang of it. I started to break a sweat and all the stress from my day was gone. The rhythm of the class really puts you in the moment. Side kick. Stress gone. “Hiya!” Stress gone.

Sensei Mike even gave me an approving nod that made me really proud. I knew that Ms. Berton was right. I did need a hobby, and this was it.

Right then Sensei Mike said it was time for sparring. It threw me to be honest because I was really feeling in the zone doing moves and now I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do.

So I just followed along. Everyone sat in a really wide circle around blue mats off towards the far end of the dojo. I nudged in next to a heavyset kid with glasses who gave me the side eye but I ignored him.

“Marcus, Eric,” Sensei Mike barked. Two boys maybe a little older than Scott sprang up from their knees. I actually flinched, I think because of how aggressive they shot up. I mean, why not just stand up, right?

Glasses didn’t even bother hiding his side eye.

Marcus and Eric were circling each other. I was trying to get Sensei Mike’s attention. I needed some sign from him about how I was supposed to fit in with this whole sparring portion of the class.

But he was completely focused on the two boys on the mats. He had one arm across his chest and the other was scratching his goatee.

“Good, Marcus!” he said when Marcus landed a swift kick on Eric’s shin.

Sensei Mike was walking behind us, hands now clasped behind his back.

“What is your best defense?” he shouted when Eric was pinned to the floor.

Eric couldn’t figure it out, so Sensei Mike called “Good job.” Eric and Marcus bowed at each other and returned their seats in the circle.

Sensei Mike called the next two names and both boys popped up off their knees just like Marcus and Eric had. As Sensei Mike got near my I leaned back to get his attention but he still ignored me.

I wasn’t really watching the second sparring round but it ended pretty quickly.

“Jason and Scott!”

A kid across the circle from me launched up and right when I was thinking there’s no way I’m the Jason he’s calling I looked up and saw Sensei Mike looking straight at me.

Everyone kid in the circle slowly followed his eyes to me. I was still thinking there’s no way he’s serious.

But he did mean me. It was obvious. I hurt my knee a few years ago helping a pal move a couch so I had to get up a lot more gingerly than the other students, although I tried not to embarrass myself too much by doing anything like groaning.

When I got to my feet I tried to get Sensei Mike’s attention but he was already walking around the circle and looking in to space.

I turned and looked at your son. His eyes were squinting and I could see his nostrils flaring in and out. He looked like a wolverine ready to claw my head off.

I was just about to say, “Okay, I don’t know if this is appropr—” when Sensei Mike barked “Fight!”

Your son came rushing at me. For what it’s worth, he seems like a fearless kid. I crossed my hands in front of me to shield me from the blows. It didn’t help all that much. Your son fights like a whirlwind full of forks. He punched me in the stomach, then chopped me just below the shoulder, then hoofed me in the shin. I was frozen when he backed away.

I could see the kids in the circle trying to stifle laughs.

Side Eye had has head down as if looking at the scene would make him explode.

Of course now Sensei Mike was making eye contact. He did not look happy.


Your son charged me with his little fists of fury act again. He must have known I wasn’t going to fight back because he unleashed every move he knows on me. He darted away and looked at his little twerp friends in their crisp white gis and they all laughed. But they shut up fast when Sensei Mike yelled for silence.

What song would they make up about me here, I wondered.

I looked over at Sensei Mike who had a very pissed off look on his face. I wanted to ask, “What is it you want me to do here, man?” but it’s not as if I could do that in front of the kids. We just stared at each other and he nodded very slowly.

I knew exactly what he meant.


Scott came running at me with all the confidence in the world, fists raised high. I went in to a stance. Not the one I learned earlier in the evening. The one I was in when I played bass in Death Slinger—feet wide apart, arms out. And when he got near me, I kicked your kid as hard as I could right in the stomach. He folded like a chair at the torso and hit the mat like a bag of wet sand.
For a second there was nothing but complete stillness and the sound of wheezing for air. Then Sensei Mike and a few kids rushed over to your son, who was crying and gasping.

After the police arrived with the ambulance the whole thing obviously took a lot of explaining. Anyways, as you know, writing you this letter is part of my agreement with the court. You probably also know that I’m not allowed to attend any martial arts classes for six months while I do my probation.

The judge said that it was important to be honest and sincere in this letter—my apology must be from the heart, he said. So I want to tell you I am truly sorry for what I did to Scott. And in that same spirit of honesty I want you to know I promise to do better next time, and that I really can’t wait to see Sensei Mike again.


Dave McGinn lives in Toronto. His nonfiction writing has appeared in the National Post, Maclean's and The Globe and Mail, where he works as a reporter. He wants to be a stand-up comedian but is terrible at telling jokes. This is his first published short story. 

Photo credit is Siri Agrell.

Fiction #62: Bojan Ratković


It was the final weekend of summer and the next day I was heading back to Belgrade. I spent the night on the cobblestone streets of the old city, drinking and laughing. Sometime after midnight I said goodbye to my friends and started home, staggering as I went. I stumbled down the stone steps that curved toward the river, caught my balance at the bottom, then walked in clumsy strides along the walkway.

As I stepped forward, I felt a sudden punch in my bladder and I knew that I had to go. Had to go badly. I ran off the path and to a nearby tree. I tore the zipper open and then I just stood there with my pants down and my eyes closed, trying to get it done before someone came along and saw me. 

I heard footsteps. With my pants hung around my ankles, I shut my eyes tight and pushed to squeeze it out. Finally the stream weakened to a dribble and I shook myself dry. I pulled the pants up to my waist with one quick tug and did them up in a hurry. The footsteps were right behind me. I tucked the shirt into my pants then turned to face the music.

I saw the figure of a girl slowing to a stop on the walkway. My vision was blurry, but I could see the long black hair and the curves of her body.

“Stefan, is that you?”

I jumped. “Yuh—yeah.”

“What are you doing in the bushes? Are you some kind of pervert?”

“What?! No, I’m just….” I took a step forward, squinting to see who it was, and slowly her features came into focus. It was Gabriella, my neighbour from down the street. I’ve known her since I was five.

She stood there with her arms crossed and her eyebrows raised. Her eyes moved up and down. Then she laughed.

“Stefan, you’re drunk.”

I shrugged. “Nah, I didn’t drink much.”

“Of…course…not,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Don’t worry, you don’t smell like beer at all, and your fly isn’t halfway open.”

I saw her eyes dart to my crotch. I quickly turned and pulled it the rest of the way up. When I looked back she was smiling, and I felt my cheeks burn hot.

“Okay, I’m drunk. A little.”

“Uh huh.”

“So, where you headed, Gabbie?”

“Don’t call me that. I’m not an old lady.”

I laughed. “I know, I know, you like Ella better. Where you headed, Ella? It’s pretty late.”

“Yeah,” she said and turned away, “not that you would know. You don’t even know where you are.”

“I told you, I’m not even that drunk.” She shook her head at that, but then we got to talking. At some point we began to walk, following the course of the river. We talked about my school and her job—she was working as a bartender at the Gallery, a pub in the old city. I hadn’t seen her much that summer and her job was part of the reason.

“This is my first night off in weeks,” she said as we turned off the main path and onto a gravel trail that cut through the trees. She was wearing jeans that hugged her hips in a spectacular way, and her hands were stuffed into the pockets of her zip-up hoodie. It was warm out, but she looked like she was shivering.

“Oh, that sucks for you. I’ve just been relaxing since exams.”

“You’ve always been lazy. When we were kids, you used to kick my ball down the street and you wouldn’t even go get it. You made me go alone.”

“Really? I don’t remember,” I lied. I wouldn’t get the ball because she always wanted to race to see who could get it first. She was faster, and I didn’t want to lose to a girl. We walked and talked like that for a while, tiny flecks of moonlight breaking through the trees and swarming over us like fireflies.

Then I asked, “If it’s your day off, why aren’t you out with friends?”

“Because I’d rather spend the night with you, watching you mope around drunk and pee on trees.”

I laughed, but this was the second time that she refused to say what she was doing out so late alone. When we came out of the woods and the moon revealed our faces, I looked at her more closely. She wore a red headband that went over her hair and behind the ears. Her hair was long now and it kept it out of her eyes, and her face looked tanned and pretty as always. But I noticed then that one of her cheeks was red.

She turned to look at me, and I quickly turned away. People in our neighborhood said her father drank too much, and that he hit her mother. I heard him yelling at Gabriella once in a while. One night in particular, many years ago, the two of us were sitting on the steps in front of her house and she kissed me. He saw us through the window and stormed out screaming, calling me all sorts of things and threatening to snap my neck. I ran home after that, and I didn’t say anything to my parents because I didn’t want more trouble. But I remember how sad she looked when I left, right before her father grabbed her by the arm and threw her in the house like a broken old umbrella. We drifted apart after that, and it was my fault. I stayed away because I didn’t want to make trouble, so she had to deal with the trouble on her own.

“Your hair looks stupid, I hope you know,” she said with a smirk. “That’s way too much gel, you look like a porcupine.”

“No, it’s my style. Girls love it.”

“So I’m not a girl? Is it because I can kick your ass?”

I snorted.

“It is, you know it. Anyway, don’t be so cocky. I can smell your hair from here; it smells like mint and some kind of cheese. It’s terrible.”


“Uh huh, and if girls love it, where are they? I bet I’m the only girl you’ve talked to all night.” She said this as if she wanted me to confirm or deny, but I just shrugged and tried to look mysterious.
She gave me a “pfft” and we kept walking. We were right by the river now, with the town behind us and only the trees for company. I could see the old watermill across the river, no longer functional but still nice to look at. We stopped by some rocks that were big enough to sit on.

She leaned back on the rock closest to the water, placing her hands down on the stone and resting her weight on top of them. “Do you remember this place? We used to swim here as kids.”

“Yeah,” I said, “we liked it because there was no one around.” She closed her eyes and flung her head back, long hair flowing down her shoulders. My eyes explored her body, drinking in her curves and the way her breasts moved up and down as she breathed. Then I saw her cheek again and I felt guilty. 

“What is it?” she asked when she opened her eyes.

I took a deep breath. “Ella, you… you know that if something’s wrong, you can tell me.”

She just stared at me for a moment.

Before she could speak I jumped in again, “I’m serious, okay? I don’t care what it is. I’m here for you.” She didn’t say anything just then. There was only the ripple of water.

“Can you smell it?” she asked after a while. “It’s rosemary. They still grow here, up the hill beneath the trees. Winds carry the scent to this spot.”

“I remember.”

“My childhood smells like rosemary,” she said and smiled. Then she stood up. “Let’s go swimming in the river, like before. What do you say?”

I turned to look at her. She unzipped her hoodie and took it off, folding it over the rock.

“Wait, you mean now? It’s late at night, the water is freezing.”

“It’s a river, Stefan. It’s always cold. That never stopped us before.” She pulled off her top, revealing an embroidered white bra that had a small ribbon in the middle. I just stood there, torn between the urge to look away and the need to keep watching.

“Aren’t you coming?” she asked, bending down and slipping off her jeans. The underwear, smooth against her skin, matched the bra right down to the ribbon. “Or are you just gonna stare?”

“I don’t mind staring.”

She turned to the water. “Don’t be an old lady. Let’s go.” She stepped in, her skin tensing from the cold.

I tried to argue. “Come on, Ella, I don’t feel like freezing my balls off. We’ve gone swimming here a hundred times, what’s the point?”

She stepped in deeper, gooseflesh marking her body. “Stefan,” she shouted with a quiver in her voice, “don’t you remember Greek Philosophy from high school? Heraclitus said that you can never step into the same river twice. The river is always flowing, always changing. This is not the same river we swam in when we were kids―it’s not even the same river that was here yesterday, or an hour ago. I’m the only person to ever step into this river. It will never be the same again. Now hurry up or you’ll miss it!”

She turned to me and smiled, her eyes calling me. I stripped down to my boxers and stepped inside.
The water was freezing cold. Each step was more painful than the last, and when the water splashed up against my crotch I almost screamed. Gabriella just laughed and moved in deeper, forcing me to follow. When I was in up to my waist, my hands rolled into fists and pressed tightly against my chest, she stopped.

“Screw Heraclitus,” I mumbled through chattering teeth, “I like Plato better.”

“Oh yeah, I know. All that ‘cosmic order’ stuff. But you can’t just order your whole life. That’s boring! Sometimes you have to….” She paused and the corner of her mouth ticked up, then she dove in head-first. I watched her glide beneath the water, making her way around me. When she came up again, the headband was gone and her hair was draped over her body. I could see through her bra, and I felt a warm tingle in the pit of my stomach. She moved toward me until I could feel her breath on my chest.

“Sometimes you have to just dive in,” she said and stood on the tips of her toes so that her lips were almost touching mine. Then she closed her eyes, waiting.

I cupped the back of her head with both hands and pulled her lips into mine.

We kissed, our lips crashing against each other like storm waves. I grabbed her and held her tight, so tight we almost fell over. She felt cold against my skin but I didn’t care—I wanted to feel her, to breathe her in. We staggered out of the water, still clutching each other, still kissing. I savoured the smell of her, the fragrance of her hair.

She broke away suddenly. She took her clothes and laid them down between the rocks, then grabbed my clothes and placed them over them. Then she took me by the arm and pulled me down on top of her.

We kissed again, our noses touching, her eyes peering into mine. It wasn’t cold anymore. She locked her arms around my back and wrapped her legs around my waist.


When it was over we just watched each other—not saying a thing. She stroked my hair and smiled, and I smiled back. I can’t even remember who started talking first, or what we said. I remember one thing, though. At some point she asked if I was going back to the city in the morning, and I told her I was. She simply said: “Don’t forget me.”

I never did.

We dated for a year after that. She came to visit me whenever she could, and I always came home for the holidays. But the trip to the city was nine hours by bus, and in the end the distance pulled us apart. We stayed friends until a few years later, when she told me she was getting married. It was her manager from work, and this pissed me off because I thought that maybe she was already with him while we were still together. We stopped talking after that, and it wasn’t until she had her daughter that I finally got myself to call her and congratulate.

I don’t know if she really cheated, but I don’t think so. I think that I just needed some way to blame her for how it all turned out. It was easier to blame her than to admit that it was me—that I left her on her own again because it was too much trouble. I could have moved back and found a job in town, or I could have brought her to the city and away from her father. I could have been there for her, but I wasn’t, and someone else was.

I got married too, and I have two sons. I see Gabriella once in a while, and we always stop and say “hello” and talk about how our lives turned out. We agree they turned out fine.

But sometimes I walk down by the river and through the woods, to our old place. I go right up to the rocks, and when the wind blows you can still smell the faint scent of rosemary. I just stand there, looking at the water flowing, and I wonder: What if you could step into the same river twice? What if you could go back to that river—when it was just the two of us?

But the river’s always flowing, always changing. Still, I think one of these nights I just might strip down to my boxers and go swimming in the river again. I know it won’t be the same as it was back then, but the stars will shine and the water will be cold and the river will still flow along the same path. And I think this time I won’t go in slowly, step by step, shaking and dreading the moment when the water splashes up my crotch.

I think this time I’ll just dive in.


Bojan Ratković is a writer from Serbia, now living in Ontario, Canada. His work appeared in Every Day Fiction, Great Lakes Review, Fiction Vortex, and on the World SF Blog. He is pursuing a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Western Ontario. When not writing about fictional worlds, or the completely authentic and not-at-all-fictional world of politics, he enjoys challenging people to Japanese Anime-themed trivia contests. On Twitter: @Bojan_Ratkovic.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Fiction #61

New fiction! Issue #61
Submissions now open for #62!

Special thanks to all who have been submitting. Enjoy.

Fiction #61: Brooke Carter

The Kingdom of Smoke and Rain                         

The banana slug sizzles, pops and splits on the campfire grill like a small yellow breakfast sausage, all oozing juice and crisp edges. It curls inward on itself from antennae to tail, protecting its soft, sticky underbelly from the blue-tipped lick of the fire. Its skin blackens and peels, sends up flavoured smoke that smells like antiseptic mouthwash. I read that if you’re ever lost in the woods with a toothache all you have to do is lick slug slime and it will numb the pain. But I think if I had a tooth that ached, I’d just rip it out.

“Pea! What are you doing over there?” My mother calls from beside the picnic table. She’s washing the plastic breakfast dishes in a big blue tub, wringing her ratty washcloth free of greasy brown water.

I hate her stupid washtub. She always brings it when we go camping, along with nearly everything else we own. We’re here for three days and she brought a trailer full of stuff. Plates, pots, pans, bags of clothes, books, chairs, creams, lotions, cards, a portable shower we’ve never even used. I hate camping like this. I like the way my dad camps. I want to come with just a tarp and some rope and an axe and a fishing pole. I want to build my fire with sticks instead of lighter fluid. I want to catch squirrels and roast them on spits. I want to dance naked around the fire and cast curses on my enemies. I rub a charred stick in my hands and then wipe my face with them. Dirty. I want to be dirty.

“Pea, stop rubbing soot on your face! Everyone will think you’re a dirty little boy.” She’s always saying people think I’m a boy because my hair is so short. I’d rather be a boy anyway. All my friends are boys. I tug on the gold studs in my ears. They still hurt. I didn’t want them but my mother did. She told me if I pierced my ears I could get a Green Machine Big Wheel like my friend Konrad’s, but she got me the pink Powder Puff girl one instead. She’s a liar.

A soft brown bubble grows from the hole I poked in the slug’s side with my sharp exploring stick. It looks like guts. I take a small splinter from the pile of kindling and poke it into the bubble. It doesn’t pop. The splinter just sticks out, twitching like the second hand on a clock. I time it on my fake Swiss Army watch. Almost two twitches every second. I wonder if the brown bubble is the slug’s dark heart trying to escape and force its way out. Maybe its body means nothing. Maybe it can live without a body.

I give the splinter a tug and the bubble grows. I pull harder and soon another bubble appears, a purple one. I keep pulling and pulling and all these colourful connected bubbles and strings tumble out, until I have one big long string of slug insides hanging from the splinter. How could all of that fit inside such a small body?

“Are you alive?” I whisper. The guts are still twitching.


I could hear Dad whistling from the laundry room. He was back from catching muskrats in the big ditch at the end of our street.

I walked into the hall and saw a growing reddish brown puddle traveling across the linoleum. I walked up to the wooden track doors and pushed one aside.

Tiny skinless bodies hung from clothespins on a line of twine. They dripped blood and watery liquid from their open mouths. They still had eyes and claws. Their flesh was golden brown flecked with red, like slices of pizza without the cheese.

Dad slid open the other door. He was wearing his barbeque apron and had his hunting knife in one hand and a half-skinned rat in the other. He held it out for me, and pried open the slit in its belly with the tip of his knife.

“Look here,” he said. “You can see the heart.”

He had blood on his lower lip.


Kara shrieks as Ron pours a bucket of water over her. They’re making a big sand castle. I am floating out on the lake on a big log. I watch as they create a moat around their masterpiece, carefully reinforcing the walls with wet sand.

I wish I were out on the ocean. I could drift off and no one would ever see me again. I trail my hands in the water, looking down into the darkness, wondering what lies underneath. If this were the ocean there would be whales and sharks and creatures no one has ever seen before. But it’s just a lake, and there’s nothing down there.

I lean back and look up at the sky. It’s pale blue and cloudless. I want it to turn gray and stormy, want torrents of water to rain down on their stupid castle and wash it away. I wonder if I try hard enough, can I make lightning come down on their heads?


It was early morning and the dew was still a cold white coat on the lawn as Dad pulled up to the driveway in his big white Chevy van. I watched from the kitchen window as he got out and circled the blue Malibu in his parking spot. He looked in through the windows and tried the door handle. Locked. He looked up at me for a second, smiled, and pus his finger to his lips. Shhh. He walked toward the house, the heels of his boots knocking on the cracked concrete. I heard the front door open slowly, and then the soft click of it being shut. Quiet creaks on the stairs. I pictured each footstep falling on the green shag carpet.

I heard my mother’s bedroom door open and I peeked into the hallway to see. 

“Motherfucker!” Dad lunged into the room at Ron, who was buttoning his shirt. He scrambled over the bed and out of the room, his eyes wide and surprised.

“John, No!” My mother screamed as Dad threw his fists at Ron. Ron stumbled backward and put his hand to his mouth. When he saw the blood he put his hands out in front of him and shook his head. When I saw the blood I got a rushing feeling in my chest. I wanted to yell to my Dad to do it again. Ron wouldn’t fight, and so it ended.


Later that day I found a small crow beside the tire swing during recess. It was lying in the soft mulch, kicking its feet and making slow, sick cries. I had scooped it up in my hands.

It was smelly, and when I looked at its feathers up close I could see hundreds of tiny bugs crawling all over it. I dropped it, and then picked it up again.

A pale orange fluid ran from its beak. It was sticky and got all over my hands. I could feel the bird quivering.

Some of the other kids crowded around, wanting to see. They got too close to me and I got a dizzy kind of feeling behind my eyes, like there was soda fizzing around in my brain. I dropped the bird again. Darcy, one of the fifth-grade boys, tried to grab it.

“It’s mine!” I shouted, and snatched it up again.

“You should take it to a teacher. Maybe they can cure it,” said Darcy.

“Are you stupid? This bird is done for. I’m going to bury it.” I marched over to where the prickle bushes met the soccer field, and held the bird out high and proper.

“But it’s still alive!” Darcy whined.

I dug my hands down into the muddy earth, pulling rocks and clumps of grass away until the hole was deep enough. I took the bird, still squeaking out its death song, and pushed it down into the hole. All the kids around me were silent as I packed the dirt down on top of it.

I looked at Darcy. “Now it’s dead,” I said.


Weeks before, in the stairwell, as I looked up at the navy nylon duffel bag hanging on the banister, I could see that it wasn’t very full. I could tell there were some clothes in it, but the edges were still baggy and the zipper was easily closed. Maybe a couple of shirts. No jackets or shoes. Maybe a shaving kit.

I could hear her crying again, but I didn’t have to see. I knew she was sitting on the brown Formica kitchen counter, her bare legs dangling from cutoff jean shorts. She held an old Super Mom coffee cup with fuchsia lipstick stained on the rim.

He was casting that old spell on her, trying to win her again, the way he did with everyone. His dark blue eyes would burn cool into you, and then he would catch you in his magic. He was saying those same words again, rhythmic, confusing, going over and over in circles until she fell in love all over, even if she didn’t want to.

I heard her voice, low, thin. It said, “No.”

A spoon dropped. I heard it twang against the vinyl flooring.

“You’re weak,” he shouted, and I heard him stomping toward the stairs.

I saw his fingers round the corner first, all stained with grease from working on his van. Then his hands, the skin thick and scarred with cuts that looked more like dents.

He shouldered his duffel bag, ran down the stairs, grabbed me and squashed my head into his chest in a rough hug. My face was pressed hard into his leather jacket, and all I could think about was the smell of it and Old Spice and the blood coming from my nose.

“Goodbye Penelope. I’m leaving. This is the last time you’ll ever see me.” He pushed me away from him and ran out the door.


“I want her! I need her!” Dad was crying, begging on his knees in the downstairs rec room. I watched through the sliding glass doors from the backyard as he held his head in his hands. It had only been days. I knew he would come back.

My mother was standing on the couch with Kara behind her.

I walked back and forth on an old fence plank beside the spare woodpile.

Dad ran out of the house. I heard him fire up his van and peel off.

My bare foot hovered over a loose nail. I stepped down, fast. The nail plunged into the arch of my foot. It didn’t hurt. It just felt like something hard and cold was pushing its way inside. It felt right.

“Your mother lies, you know. She said I took all those pills but I didn’t. I just got sick and had to go to the hospital, that’s all. They gave me medicine and now I’m better.

“Don’t I look better?” Dad leaned back in the faded brown leather booth at Murphy’s restaurant and chugged back his coke, smiling. He did look better, and it was nice to visit with him.

“You look great, Daddy.” Kara smiled at him, her dimples reflecting his.

“Penelope…” He spoke to me, but he was watching Kara. “When exactly did that guy move in?”

I swallowed a bite of my burger. It stuck in my throat and my voice came out strangled. “I don’t know.”

Dad stretched his arms up and back behind his head and laced his fingers together. With his old brown leather jacket on he blended right into the booth, his face and hands the only alive parts of him. Then he picked up my burger and finished it off.

“Listen,” he said. “If you ever call him Dad I’ll kill myself and never speak to you again.”

“We won’t Daddy,” Kara’s mouth quivered. Dad smiled.

Then he looked at me, right into me with his dark blue eyes and his way of hypnotizing me so I can’t move or think. I could feel something come over me, like a big dark tidal wave, a black shadow of dread and fear. I could hear my heart beat, feel it skip in my chest. The air in the restaurant got all thin and grainy and I could see it with my naked eyes, see all the millions and millions of atoms and molecules floating around, invading my body. I didn’t like it, didn’t want that speeding up feeling, and that feeling like something behind my eyes was melting. I wondered if that was how he felt sometimes, if that was what Mom meant when she caught me daydreaming and then said I reminded her of him. I didn’t want it.

“We won’t,” I said. “I promise.”

He smiled.


I’m sitting on my log throne by the fire and watching as they all make potato chip sandwiches. Mother, pretend father, daughter. They look like a family, but they’re just faking.

“Pea, what do you want on yours?” My mother holds up two pieces of white bread and motions to the ketchup and mustard bottles.

“I’m not hungry.”

“Are you sure? Can I make you something else?” She’s always trying to feed me. That’s all she knows how to do. Feed and eat. Eat and feed.

I shake my head. “No.”

I turn my head away and watch the fire. I love the way it eats wood up and makes everything glow. It’s like a wild animal, one that feeds on air. I wish I could live on air alone. I think I’m going to try it.

“Well, I’m going to go get some water for the washing up.” My mother grabs her blue washtub and lumps off to the community tap down the road, her fat thighs rubbing together in her gray University of PEI jogging pants. She never even graduated from high school, so I don’t know why she wears them. Dad says you just have to talk to her for a minute to figure out she never went to college.

“Kara, can you help me sort out these ropes?” Ron tosses some confused yellow bundles to Kara, condiments still alive on his upper lip. I feel like gagging.

Kara slowly unravels the rope, walking backwards towards me, towards the fire.

Ron throws stuff around in the cooler looking for a beer.


As she gets closer, I stare at the back of her head and start to hate it. As she takes another step backwards I pick up a small log and toss it behind her feet. She trips on it, stumbles, arches back, and falls. Ron turns around at the last second, but it’s too late. Kara falls ass-first onto the pointed corner of the fire pit, impaling her soft right butt cheek on the hot metal. She screams.

For a second I almost get up and help her, but then I see the tears coming down her face and her crying sounds make me sick.

“What happened?” My mother runs into the campsite, the blue basin empty and slapping against her legs.

“Kara fell on the fire pit and she’s cut!” Ron picks her up, turning her over like a baby, and my mother gasps.

Her jeans are split open in the back and she’s bleeding. I walk over closer to look at the wound. A two-inch cut in her butt cheek gushes blood, and all the yellow, lumpy fat pushes out through the opening.

Ron puts Kara face down in the back seat of the Malibu. She’s still screaming. Mom climbs in after her, pressing a washcloth against the wound.

Ron sticks his head out the window and looks at me. “We’ll be a few hours. We’ll have to go into town to the hospital. Watch the stuff, okay?” They zoom off, the tires spitting gravel.

After they’re gone, I lay out the long trail of slug innards on a piece of newspaper, careful to keep all the parts together. I wish I had a ruler to measure the length with. It must be at least seven inches, almost the size of my foot.

I go get a bone-handled steak knife from Mom’s clean dishes bin and place the specimen on top of another log. I wish I had a microscope.

I slice into the purple bubble. I bet this is the brain. I thought there might be some kind of goo inside but it’s all solid and mealy looking. I must have let it cook for too long.

I’ll have to kill another one to be sure.

When they come back it’s dark and Kara wants to roast marshmallows. We all sit around the fire, me on my log throne, all three of them in lawn chairs. Kara’s sitting on a plastic blow-up doughnut pillow, her eyes still red from crying all day.

The gray smoke separates us, screens us from each other. I squint my eyes at them, pretending like the smoke is really some kind of time fog or barrier between dimensions. I remember what my Dad said about things being so small you can’t even see them, and how maybe there are even big things that are so huge you can’t see them either. I wonder if they think I look big or small through all this smoke?

They’re far away now, drifting off onto another planet. I exile them in my mind, give them nothing more than the flaming treats on the ends of their roasting sticks to survive on.

I’ll stay here alone in my own kingdom, I think. A kingdom of smoke. I’m better off.   

At bedtime I get the small tent to myself because Kara wants to sleep with Mom and Ron in the big blue tent. I can see their shadows jumping across the glow of the lantern and hear them get comfortable and snuggled up in their sleeping bags. Soon, the rustling stops, and I hear Kara’s quick breathing, and then Ron’s deep snore. Mom is a quiet sleeper, just like me.

I wait until I think they’re all deep into dreams before I slip out of my tent. I take my sharp exploring stick and my flashlight and walk down the slope to the place where the gravel of our campsite borders with the green moss of the forest. I stand there for a minute under the moonlight, my flashlight off and hanging from my belt. I don’t need it. My eyes feel extra sharp, like some layer or veil has been peeled back and now I can really see.

It’s cold enough that my breath puffs out in front of me. The air feels charged and damp, like it does right before it starts to rain. I look up into the sky and wait for it. There are no stars. Black wisps curl around the moon. Then I feel the wetness on my face. Soft at first, like an almost-dry kiss from a tiny being, and then wetter and wetter until fat drops of rain are falling into my eyes and mouth, rapping down onto the tarps and tents, and making cold rivers in my hair. My kingdom of rain.

I step forward into the forest.

I am no longer on earth. I am not an earthling, not human. Time stretches on, long and slow. This place looks like a forest but I know better. Behind every tree is magic and danger. Under every stump is a poison threat. Next to each log lies a bloodthirsty foe. I hold my stick like a spear, ready. Was that a whisper?

And then, a distant shout: “Penelope, where are you?”

I ignore their questions from far away, their voices coming to me through years and worlds. I close myself to them, close my mind, and close my heart.

The wet ferns will hide me. The ground is soft and cold. I am enclosed in earth and plants. I am a part of the forest now. My arms and legs are heavy like fallen tree limbs. Deep roots wrap around me and pull me down close. Perfumed water drips from the leaves above my head, washing my face clean like the blessed water they use to christen new babies.

But I am no one’s baby, not anymore. And they won’t ever find me here.


Brooke Carter’s poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction have appeared in EVENT, More Magazine, Vancouver, and several others. She completed her MFA at UBC and is currently working on a novel and a poetry collection. In 2015 she launched the speculative fiction journal UNBUILD walls.