Winner (Stranger): Stranghers

Stranghers

by Sergio

Mawddach’s mouth’s port town. George’s froths blows bless ma own. Yards over years of free explores, discovery, works, steps, journs, life shares. Not alone, always someone around to be known. On the darkest, hopeless moments left behind, ever on own, even where deep felt so. Where there were no humen, an insect, a moth, a lifeform veiling own’s, upon Hers. Above, beyond any human judgement, law or God damned known. Airs, weathers, waters, fruits, life conditions fair shared with any life form around, arounds aware, fund else’s interests, subjected to fortune’s offers, wherever meant fighting, working towards next breathed ale.

With this philosophy worked out healthier lands and seas, wherever found among Hers, life itself, so worked own wisdom, sharp smart roused wits against. Known my roots: do own best, for ever better nexts. Got often over Death, as sciences advances, Her hopes and will remain. So believed, trusted and relied, deep rooted since before made, done, born and birthed in this human shaped and dressed form I’m homed.

Despite history, human empires, wars, conquers, fights… yet found Her, submitted, exhausted, rendered to our rage, sick, sad, undervalued, betrayed from most, for God damned’ s sake… too often, too long Hers dismissed, forgotten. Wards are meant to work healthier lands and seas, not to fight Her, but to work needs and meets, out of every single mistake, aggression, offence, harm, loss … Yet we learn to share our best by assuming us among, not beyond or above Hers. Not away, apart, unknown, or long kept lost.

Last 3 years went through Hell’s, saved a good friend’s life from death, after went deep involved in someone’s troubles. She got to accept, answer and deal with outer forces calls, so high were her needs, as got to know afterwards.

Learners, we’re all learners in this always changing world we share, using own senses, not abusing but ever abused from any else’s meanwhile, Wrong’s therefore… yet to find, judge, once found their own mistakes’s prizes. Strange to Hers, “Stranghers” around, among, amused, lost, framed & marked or not… behaving as they do, while finding pure acts of natural fair wild life forms… No ones but humen get lost among false wealth and luscious, money and power based on, polluted on polluting Hers… Sick & lost they get, to longer, shorter death… yet we find new ways to help, prevent and work new ways to save.

So inmared finds me an old met mare mate, a Northern friend, long met ago on else where’s port, under elsewhere’ s Moon lights and tones.

“Hi Gio, enjoying your drink? Good to meet yah, in this terrace, no longer vesseled, old sea journed?”

“No, Jon, left seas long ago, shared table?”

He agrees chaired bag and search for services. A waiter comes closer to note last order: “Sea & Lands Omn Home Meal served for  two, please, with whole bread rations…”

Sergio: Born in1974’s Barcelona, Highlanders’ s Grandson, having moved to the North after the last Spanish Civil War. Brilliant student, international works, green projects promoter, sailor… 

Our Reader said:

Immediately, I needed to know whose voice this was. Strange and stranger, nostalgic and matter of fact, sweeping and deep. This prose-poem, which flits around so many linchpins of whole lives and stories, so many snatches of truth and memory, leaves you no time for breath, no time for pity – only curiosity, only a thirst for life with all its cud and hardness and light.

Winner for March-April (Fundamental Change): It came from a far-off land

It came from a far-off land

Wherein covid-19 has reached the UK.

by Paul Chiswick

It came from a far-off land. Days after Christmas. You can’t see it, smell it, taste it. It can find you no matter where you are. It has a name, a name I’ve never heard before. One I will never forget as long as I live. If I live much longer. The experts who know about these things insist it is not to be taken lightly, not treated disrespectfully, certainly not ignored. The politicians (who are but children in the matter) sensing how headstrong Homo Sapiens can be, have instructed: stay home.

So I have. In my one-bedroom flat, high above the pitted tarmac and scorched grass. With my rescue terrier, Rambo, dodgy fridge, widescreen TV and Peter Kay. Lots of Peter Kay to make me laugh.

Now that I’m locked down, I’ve become more observant, taking time to enjoy what I see from my window.

Like . . .

The sky. Cloudless blue and intact. Normally it’s crowded with aircraft leaving a web of white cotton vapour trails. The nurse tells me she hasn’t seen or heard a plane in weeks.

The birds. Collared doves, blackbirds, magpies and ravens chasing each other, flitting from penknifed ash to wild hawthorn to twisted oak. They’re a rare sight on this estate. The nurse tells me she’s never seen them as bright.

The river. Snaking through the nearby park, cutting it in two. A dumping ground for plastic bags and bottles, beer cans, crisp packets, sweet wrappers, and things too disgusting to mention. The nurse tells me she’s never seen it so clean, so self-healing.

Up here, the building has no opening windows. (The council fears the suicides, you see.) The air inside has become a little stale. I’d like to open the flat’s door, let in a little fresh air. Not for too long mind, you never know who might walk in. Not that anyone would now I’m self-isolating. The nurse tells me she’s never tasted such pure air outside.

I haven’t spoken to a neighbour for weeks. The nurse is the only person who talks to me. Short statements, simple answers. She’s from Glasgow. It’s hard to understand her through her white face mask. A bonny lass, as they say in those parts. A key worker.

Since it came, I’ve learned new words and phrases, ones that make me shiver with fear. I wish the nurse would put a reassuring arm around my shoulder, but she won’t. Not until the curve peaks.

Yesterday, the nurse said more that I have heard her say before. She said to every downside there is an upside. That this disease, terrible as it is, is giving humankind some overdue lessons. Vehicles have almost disappeared from the roads; children and parents are rediscovering each other; people are learning how to cook and entertain themselves; personal hygiene has become important; money and status don’t seem so significant anymore.

Then she coughed. A jagged, body-shaking cough.

She’s late. Two hours late.

I wonder where she can be?

Paul Chiswick: After two careers retired in 2009. Now writer of fiction and independent publisher helping others to publish their writing.

Our Reader said:

With the theme of “fundamental change”, it was not surprising to find so many stories expressing the one we are all currently living through. For me, this piece stood out among them as a gentle, understated snapshot of the story of the moment. We get a strong sense of the protagonist’s voice and their limited, second-hand experience through the eyes of the nurse.

Winner for Jan-Feb (cloud): a cloudy morning in the middle of June

a cloudy morning in the middle of June

by Hannah Oliver

she says, we have cherries today, arms wide, tossing them in the crate, up and down and rolling over one another like a tease. impossibly shiny, impossibly red. she isn’t saying this to me but I imagine that she is. I love the thought of their ephemerality, the very special today-ness of them, although I’ve never been here before.

one heavy layer of cloud, very low in the sky, is giving everything a close, dense feel, tinging the canal and the wood and the warehouses with a murky grey-green. and it is comfortably warm in the air, which after the winter even despite its increasing distance is still for me a constant wonder. sounds bounce back from the rippling water: the cherries, tumbling, the low thrum of the coffee machine. over my laptop screen, the people walking past are all walking alone, all without smiles but so languidly. it is an unusual sight for London, the slow-moving walk of the person with nowhere to be – head in the clouds, or relaxed in solitude

*

he says, here and my name as he pushes it to me, although he needn’t have, needn’t have remembered a name even, in my lone waiting state – the little glass tumbler of dirt-coloured liquid I have been listening to him grind effortlessly. and all the lacking smiles in the walkers-by are for the one he gives me as he does so. skewiff and chancing, for a thought we are both having, and both know will never be realised.

then he retreats back without looking, down the steps, wiping his tanned hands on the apron slung about his waist. back to the bar in the open air with its carefully waxed wood, where he will continue to use his hands all day.

*

and it feels so easy, suddenly, to be in the world. smells ripple out of the little café-kitchen with its hodge-podge shelves. abundances of eggs and spices and tomatoes on vines. she’s leaning over the blackboard where she handwrites, ‘cherries’. I imagine she is a hard worker, that she has a lot of stories, and is as tough and as soft as a nut.

what’s in the porridge?

walnuts, butter and muscovado sugar. she smiles as if she knows the onomatopoeic deliciousness of what she has just said; the lilting of her ‘butter’ as her tongue slides over her teeth, almost also melted.

I order the porridge. morning slots into itself like a series of jigsaw pieces, coincidentally and perfectly aligning, chink, chink, chink. if I came back another day, it would not be the same. everything hanging in the element of small surprises; the wonderfulness of not being in the office, unexpectedly feeling this in the exact, easy way that’s been yearned for. knowing that all the big moments and the little victories lead to this: being able to feel a fleeting contentness, on a warm Tuesday morning, in the middle of June.

Hannah Oliver works in TV and spends her spare time writing and going for “one drink”. Her writing has been featured in Crows Nest Zine, Northern Renewal, and the British Young Artists Association amongst others.

Our Reader said:

Why?
I was there.
In that café, on that morning.
By the third line I inhabited that wonderful, poetic, everyday world.
Gorgeous!

Reader’s Choice (Leap Year): The Legs

The Legs

by Zoe Chater

As Essi takes another step, and another, she pats each thigh with her tiny hands, squeezes a little. Just to check.

“Nope!” she chirrups to herself, and, standing straight again, she plods a little further into the garden. Mums, following behind, share an amused smile and continue to talk. As the words jump forward to meet her, Essi only catches a few. “Funny.” “Mittens.” “Munchkin.”

Essi taps each foot down purposefully, making firm thuds with the soles of her wellies on the damp ground. “Nope!” No signs yet, she thinks, and treads more softly now, though still in bits and starts. She’s scanning the grass and borders intently, spotting little curious treasures. Fallen catkins from the hazel tree are funny, crunchy caterpillar-like things that fall apart when squeezed. She wants a few for the pocket of her grey bubble-coat. Blossoming snowdrops are lovely little lamps peering down into the soil, and she wants to pick off flower heads with delicate fingers. However, beneath yellow mittens, her hands can only settle for stroking her finds gently until little flecks of dirt catch in the wool.

“Hop! Skip! Jump!” Essi shouts suddenly, and starts to jump dramatically, nearly toppling over as she lands. Mums are laughing. Mums don’t know that Essi, still testing out her legs, is expecting at any moment to begin a magical transformation. This is, after all, her very first Leap Day. Mum Emma told her yesterday as she was tucking her in, and again this morning, Mum Alice was making breakfast and said “Happy Leap Day!” Essi has wild and detailed visions of what’s to come. She will, for one day, develop the great, strong, muscular legs of a kangaroo. Or, possibly, she will sprout funny spindly elbow-legs like a grasshopper. Or perhaps from the arches of her feet curls of springs will grow and she will bounce on them like Tigger’s tail. Soon enough she will bound up higher than the trees, the house, into the clouds, and look the birds right in the face.

As she nears the pond, her leaping vision is brushed away by a slight rustling sound. She fixes her eyes towards it, near the green fuzzy rock at the water’s edge. She spots a touch of movement in the greenery and lets out the tiniest “Ooh!” before instinctively muffling her mouth with the damp wool of her hands. Mums, too, stop still in mild anticipation.

The ferns waft and there is a wriggling from between the leaves. A muddy-coloured friend hops out into view and then again once, twice towards Essi, stopping inches from her feet. He has wet skin and bug eyes and a fleshy, throbbing chin.

“Aah!” she squeals into her glove, “A frog!” The startled critter propels himself off, displaying his magnificent hind legs and soaring into the pond with a splash. “Look, the legs!” It all makes sense now, Essi thinks, quite pleased with herself. She’s never seen a leap frog before.

Zoe Chater is a physics teacher by day, wannabe writer and mushroom enthusiast by night.

Our Reader said:

This story is very cute while also utilizing the title in a humorous and playful manner.

Reader’s Choice (Leap Year): The Deportation Letter

The Deportation Letter

by Kirtan Savith Kumar

Deportation Order

Issued by: Virginia General District Court
Date: 07-12-2019
Case Number: ZB 81-9268 H-09
In the matter of Pasha Geeta Kumar
A national or citizen of The United States of America
Country of Deportation: India

On the basis of evidence adducted from affidavits and recorded testimony, the above-named person is a member of a prohibited class described under Title 516, General Immigration Code, sections 8, 29, and 65. They cannot or do not fulfil or comply with the conditions or requirements of section B of the Regulations of Citizenship Act of 1997. The individual shall be scheduled for deportation on 01-03-2020.

 

*

I can’t bring myself to finish the letter.

Neither can my sister, Aditi. She storms off into the kitchen before I can finish reading it, her eyes brimming with angry tears.

I follow her in and perch on a barstool, still trying to calm my nerves, which flutter about like butterflies. I take deep gulps of air, trying to maintain my composure, but it doesn’t work. I know full well nothing will ever be the same again.

Aditi, meanwhile, can’t sit still. She paces about the kitchen frantically, the heels of her stilettos clicking angrily against the parquet floor.

Suddenly, she stops, and meets my eyes. “Is Mum an illegal immigrant?” she asks, the words barely above a whisper.

“No way.” The words come spilling from my mouth before I can even rationalise what I’m saying. “There must have been a mix-up.”

I don’t know if what I’m saying is true or false. It’s a poor attempt at trying to defend Mum, at making sense of what we’ve just read.

Aditi continues staring at me. “Aisha…” she says, almost pleadingly. But I don’t know what she wants me to say. Does she want me to admit the possibility that Mum was a stowaway? Does she want me to continue spinning lies to comfort her?

“We need to do something,” I say at last.

“There’s nothing we can do. Mum will…” Aditi begins, but she can’t finish her sentence. And neither can I.

We lapse into silence, the kind so profound and deafening it needs to be broken:

“2020’s a leap year, you know,” Aditi says suddenly.

I stare at her, baffled.

“It’s an extra day for Mum to stay here with us,” Aditi clarifies, “And then she’ll leave on March the first.”

I didn’t know that.

“That’s one good thing,” I finally say. “One extra day with Mum.”

“One more day to make memories with Mum,” Aditi continues. She takes the letter from my hand and reads it again.

“We’ll have to tell Mum, right? At some point, I mean.” Aditi whispers.

As soon as she says it, we hear the door creak open. Mum’s back from the wet market. She enters the kitchen, smiling blissfully. By then, Aditi has slipped the letter into her jacket.

“Any mail?” Mum asks, unpacking the groceries.

Aditi and I dart a glance at each other.

“Not yet.”

Kirtan Savith Kumar: A student of the Humanities Programme in Hwa Chong Institution, Singapore, Kirtan enjoys collecting vintage stamps in his free time.

Our Reader said:

The usage of “deportation letter” (that might or might not be real), along with the dramatic prose that follows it, creates a very dramatic written work.

Reader’s Choice (Leap Year): The Cycle

The Cycle

by Anthony Timofte

The flashing of the blue lights and the screeching of the sirens had already began to stir  up a frenzy between the doctors and nurses who were scurrying all around the theatre. Panic set in: they were working against time to help the young man fight for his life.

Ben Rogers, the young rider, had been looking forward to his trip on his new two-wheeled machine: he was going cross-country to visit family for the holidays.

Ben worked as a financial advisor in the city and had recently been putting in extra hours, saving up for his trip. He hadn’t seen his family in some time as the winter has made travel impossible. But now spring was nearly here: it was the end of February, and a leap year, no less. He felt hope for the year ahead, the budding flowers, the cycle of life just beginning.

He had always been a fan of motorcycles, from casual riding to racing. He had owned plenty throughout his life, the only difference now was that he’d got his current bike brand new: he had saved up for months to be able to afford his dream bike. And this weekend he had been looking forward to the 300-mile trip: he set off early on Saturday morning, with the sun breaking its first light.

He left home with a rush of adrenaline, and hit the highway with ferocious intent, his hand twisting this accelerator. The sun rose higher, and its warmth made the ride all the more enjoyable. It was almost lonely on the highway, Ben barely saw another vehicle for a hundred miles. But then, out of nowhere, a truck careered onto his side of road, and the head-on collision had sent Ben and his bike spinning into the air.

The paramedics strapped Ben to the stretcher and hurried him at speed to the nearest hospital. His family had been called and were on their way when things took a turn for the worse: Ben was in critical danger.

As the doctors and nurses continued their excruciating work, trying to stop his internal bleeding, life dripped from Ben. His unconscious mind swam, his emotions and memories seeping away. He saw a light, and he heard familiar voices, the voices of his family begging and praying for Ben to get well, to recover. But as the hours passed it was becoming clear that this was not going to happen: there would be no miracles.

Ben saw a white tunnel, and as he started to walk towards it the voices faded. The noises of the machines by his bed were nothing more than a dim beeping. He walked further into the tunnel, and then he heard sighing, crying, and voices loud with joy. The light came into focus. The doctor announced, ‘Congratulations, you have a healthy bouncing baby boy.’

Anthony Timofte: I’m not an author or published writer, I just wanted to enter the competition.

Our Reader said:

The plot is simple, but its simplicity makes it very quaint.

Reader’s Choice (Leap Year): Spaces

Spaces

by John West

It started when Neil took offence at yet another inane Facebook post. Something about the gender politics of midget mudwrestling. The instant he expressed his digital outrage, the shark took his face from eyebrows to chin.

That’s what we called them. Sharks. Not at first. At first, we stood wide-eyed and open-jawed, wondering where our friends’ faces had gone.

I believe Neil was the first. As his faceless body collapsed onto Delta Park’s disc golf course, bloodying the manicured green, I remember checking my watch and noting the time. Twenty-nine minutes past two. Of course, this was on the twenty-ninth of February, when the world changed.

*

Some say for the better.

But they only say it in private. Behind closed doors. Usually in the dark. With no cellphones nearby.

It took a long time for people to accept that, the cellphone connection. I mean, it was obvious from the start. Take offence, let something trigger you, and before your friends had a chance to dislike your comment you’d be bleeding out into your milky latte.

Emotions attracted them, you see. Particularly outrage. And indignation.

When the news broke, it went viral. In the farthest corners of the internet, people took offence to having their faces ripped off by invisible inter-dimensional predators.

Ouch.

The sharks launched a feeding frenzy that left most under-thirties unidentifiable and no longer capable of expressing outrage, digitally or otherwise.

*

Those of us still alive by the third of March had developed a more tolerant attitude online. With the odd messy exception, we were no longer triggered by anything we read. Not even the government’s complete failure to prevent or even explain the attacks.

Small groups of survivors around the world communicated calmly amongst themselves, often dictating their messages from a distance.

Then the second wave hit and put an immediate stop to that.

*

We called them space beasts. Spaces, for short. Not because they came from outer space. We had absolutely no idea where they came from. But we knew what summoned them.

Spaces. Unnecessary spaces at the end of sentences, normally left after accepting a predictive text suggestion. Double spaces between words were just as bad.

If grammar Nazis had a face, it was blank and cross-eyed. Those of us who survived those first three days were understandably shaken. Anyone still determined to use a cellphone was not fully focused on spelling or punctuation.

The Spaces came as soon as messages were sent. Senders had a chance to edit them, to use the backspace key first. But years of sloppy typing habits took a toll.

People would be smiling, chatting, then the blank look crossed their face, and their eyes, and they dropped. Comatose. Brain-dead.

Took our brightest minds a few days to figure this one out. Most of us had already stopped using cellphones completely. The extremists even took a stance against writing, in any form. But then we’d be unable to pass this on, as a warning for future generations.

John West: Born in Scotland, I now spend my days managing client finances, writing novels and short stories, and growing old disgracefully.

Our Reader said:

This work of prose is effective because it references historical events to remind readers to learn from the past while also striving for a brighter future as well as enjoying the present moment.

Reader’s Choice Winner for December (Leap Year): Déjà Vu, February 29, 2020

Déjà Vu, February 29, 2020

by Karla Linn Merrifield

At the confluence
of past and present
a shame-free woman
is poised: hands on hips,
legs astride the streams of Time,
one foot planted on the stone
of eager youth, the other
upon a slab of urgent maturity.

The boy who grasped her ass,
hard-pressed her closer,
shaft firm against her pubis,
trembled when she gasped
in surprise between bumbling kisses.
Soon comes a wise unabashed man
to her opened door, readied bed, bearing
seeds of adolescence to spume
in their ripest imaginations.

She’ll lean into the imperative
current of unadulterated waters.

Karla Linn Merrifield‘s 2018 Psyche, Scroll (Poetry Box Select) is the newly released full-length book Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North from Cirque Press.

Karla’s poem, Self-Realisation at the Library of Congress was published in our ebook and print anthology Museum Collection in December 2019.

Our Reader said:

I like this poem because it deals with tough subject matter in a subtle and compelling manner while also addressing the theme of the competition that is both indirect and effective.

Winner (shiver): My First Ice Cream

My First Ice Cream

by Shalom Jacobs

Mum once said ice cream tasted like dreaming: sweet as the moment before bad things happen. But ice cream was always three food tokens too expensive when I was little. So I never got the chance to eat ice cream and didn’t get what she meant.

I’ll never forget how it tasted the first time I finally had it.

I was ten, tall for my age. I had a splash of freckles that I hated because Dad would tease me by playing dot-to-dot on my cheeks whenever I was concentrating on the wireless.

That day, school let out early. They said on the wireless there might be an air raid later, so our teacher said we should go home. I didn’t though. I know I should have. But really wanted to hang out with Carrie, my best friend, at Mr Lippy’s grocery store.

Anyway, Carrie and me were flicking through magazines when the bomb hit my street.

Everyone heard it.

When I got home, my bedroom was burning. Loud, screechy sirens bellowed out from nowhere and everywhere at once. Our roof, which Dad was always fixing up, had crumbled in on itself like a deflated balloon.

I found something shiny and warm in the rubble, something that reminded me of Mum. It was sticky, and it smelt like burnt roast dinner. The smell made me retch a few times, but I couldn’t let go—so took it and walked away.

Mr Lippy brought me inside his shop when he saw me coming. He tried to take away my horrible treasure when he realised it was dripping on his floor. So I slid Mum’s special ring off her finger first.

It was a little tricky because her wrist was now a bit burned and swollen. Bits of bone poked through the skin on some of her fingers too, like little whitish-red splinters. But I managed to twist the ring around them somehow.

Mr Lippy wanted to clean me up, but he couldn’t unclench my hand from around Mummy’s ring.

He didn’t understand, I didn’t want to open my hand, not even to wash the blood off. My palm had this warm and itchy tingle. It felt as if Mum had been holding my hand before, instead of me holding hers, and she still was.

I didn’t like it.

To open up my hand, Mr Lippy gave me an ice cream. He pushed the pointy tip of the cross-patterned cone into the curl of my fist. It dug in and slowly forced a separation into my fingers. The ice-cream poured a chill into my palm.

That chill replaced the tingly, itchy sensation in my skin and chased off the sticky heat that wouldn’t go away until I couldn’t feel Mum’s ghostly warmth in my hand anymore, just icy numbness.

Eventually I stopped feeling altogether and just ate my ice cream. It tasted like before the sirens.

After, Mr Lippy took me home to stay with him and Mrs Lippy while the authorities searched for Daddy.

Shalom Jacobs is a creative writer with a love for stories in all forms: be it words, drawings, drama, poetry, etc. A new girl on writer’s block with a 1st class degree in creative writing, she’s worked as an English teacher and in digital marketing. Now she hopes to return to her creative craft, plant roots and grow.

Our Reader said:

This story stayed with me long after I’d finished reading it.  The horror is underplayed, the description of it using child-like language entirely appropriate to the character. A well written and haunting story.

 

Reader’s Choice Winner: Flower Princesses Really Aren’t as Lovely as They Seem

Flower Princesses Really Aren’t as Lovely as They Seem

by A.E. Stoffers

The imprint of identical, pale teeth flash against her eyelids each time she closes her eyes; her body involuntarily shivers at the memory of crooked, knobbed hands sharpening their owner’s teeth with a file, drawing each pearl to a razor-sharp end; her mind rolls over the same three ideas as it always does, waiting for her life to begin again.

Stay quiet.

Stay hidden.

She’ll come.

She squats in a muddy alcove behind a waterfall. Eating nothing except pillow moss endless day after endless night, her attenuated skin stretches across her body in a way that reveals each bone like a fossil in the dirt. Bloodshot eyes look through the cascade of water to the valley beyond, always watching. Each pulse of her heart is magnified by the sugar rushing through her veins, keeping her alive, feeding her hunger for revenge.

She’ll come.

Years ago, she frolicked in that valley, unabashedly chasing her brother in circles, squealing with glee. Their greedy hands uprooted as many daisies as they could reach, and their filthy feet crushed spongy ferns as they danced around the clearing, pretending to be the Flower King and Queen.

Of course, nobody bothered to tell her that rulers could be overthrown.

As such, she and her brother graciously welcomed a beautiful, white-gloved stranger into their kingdom, offering to make her the Flower Princess, making it official with a crown.

“Every Flower King and Queen needs a castle,” her sultry voice invaded their ears and put them at ease. “Follow me, children.”

She and her brother eagerly followed the Flower Princess back to their promised castle. Her heart rushed with adrenaline and happiness at the sight of the gingerbread doors, candy cane windows, and chocolate bricks.

Bile rises in her throat, but the memories continue to poison her mind.

Images of dirty cages.

The sickly sweet scent of sugar.

Her brother’s body.

A red velvet cake.

Something salty leaks into her mouth, and she realizes her eyes are leaking. Angrily pushing the water off her face, she reaches for another bite of moss. Her desperate fingers grasp bare stone, and she looks away from the water for the first time since she last saw her brother.

Gone.

The moss was gone.

Her mind flashes through a dozen scenarios as her heartbeat quickens. She can feel herself growing weaker–the sugar that once intensified her focus is now draining away.

Right when she reaches the edge of panic, the water itself turns into liquid sugar, pouring from the sky like a blessing from above. She takes large gulps, consuming as much as she can, thanking whoever is up there.

Then, stilted, whimsical laughter echoes through the valley.

The Flower Queen finds herself trapped under the water, feeling every wave crush her bones until they are white grains indistinguishable from the sand at the bottom of the river.

The Flower Princess’s sharpened teeth smile at her from above the water. She throws a clump of crystalized sugar-moss at the Flower Queen.

A.E. Stoffers is an undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, studying English and Spanish.

Our Reader said:

This brutal modern fairy tale is not something I would usually read, but I was captivated by the skilful prose from the outset. Heady, and an attack on all senses, this was masterfully done.