Mercy

There was a screeching, and a crashing of thunder, and a keening wail the likes of which Yan had never heard; still, his feet remained firmly planted while the terrified porters ran and jumped and tumbled down the hillside in an attempt to escape. He shouted into the swirling portal, “I hear you, Master, but I don’t understand. I fear you are in distress, but—”

“Oh, he is very much in distress.”

He turned to look. A girl had appeared, young, dressed in a bride’s robes, hair tied up in flowers and vines. Agreste. He shared the porters’ terror now, but there was no sense in running; the die was cast. “What have you done?”

“What I did, I did long ago, Priest of Troyal. He cannot be brought back in this way. All it grants him is pain.”

“Why…” There was another screech, short and knife-sharp. “…Why should I believe you?”

“You hear his pain. If you are truly faithful, you even feel it. The closer he gets, the more he is crushed.” She shuddered. “My brother’s punishment for opposing me was banishment, not this. Close the rift.”

Yan looked back into the swirling maw. “But…”

“For his sake.”

Ava

I only took one.

They said take half. Cut it with a paring knife, a sharp one, so that you don’t lose bits, put half under your tongue, put half in a baggie. I didn’t have a paring knife, who has a fucking paring knife? Your mom has a paring knife. I took it whole.

I didn’t want to deal with everybody else’s freakouts and bullshit revelations and unfortunate nudity. I took a walk. There was a path that goes along the fence and then down through the seawall to the beach. The evening sand was kind to my bare feet and the waves were politely hushed as they loitered near the shoreline.

I thought, I’ll watch the sunset. It’ll be pretty. That’ll be a good trip. But then the gulls were all over the beach, and then in my hair, and then in my head.

Just do half, motherfuckers.

In Cloudkey Town I Met A Girl

“I am a Princess.” She stared at him in shocked incredulity, as if his failure to recognize her station and act accordingly was entirely without precedent. “My father is your King.”

“I have no King. Down below…” He turned, gestured to the ascent balloon tethered at the edge of the floating city. “Down there we choose our rulers from amongst ourselves by a vote.”

“Barbaric.” She shook her head as if to dislodge an unwelcome thought from her mind; then she paused, regarding him, and continued with a more welcoming if haughty tone. “But you may approach.”

He grinned. “Gladly.”

Asylum

“Can you tell me your name?”

A mile away, the old hospital was burning, casting a column of black smoke into the sky to drift across the town and over the highway and then the river in its inexorable progress downwind.

“Are you hungry? Would you like a cheeseburger? Mack, draw some petty cash, go get her a cheeseburger, will you? And some fries.”

It had been closed for years, abandoned, surrounded by high fences with padlocked gates and ‘no trespassing’ signs.

“How did you get in there? Were you by yourself? Did you used to be a resident? …Is there someone we should call?”

There was a patient bracelet on her wrist, but they hadn’t been able to get close enough to read it. She sat with her knees to her chest, her feet up on the seat of the police station chair.

“How long were you in there?”

You Can Hold A Moment In Your Hand

“Jean?”

“Mmm.” She didn’t look up from her dog-eared paperback.

“How long have we been here?”

“What? Oh, dunno. Two hours?”

“No, how long have we been on vacation?”

“We left the day after Bridget’s wedding. You wanted to—”

“Yes, yes, but how long ago was that?” He shook his head. “I don’t know what day it is anymore. Maybe a month? Have we been here a month?”

“Don’t be silly.”

“I think it’s been at least a month. Maybe more. No phones allowed, no internet. They were supposed to tell us when it was check-out day…”

“You’re being ridiculous, it hasn’t been a month.”

“You don’t think so?” He grabbed the novel from her. “How many times have you read this? How many? What’s on page—” He flipped the book open to a later page than she’d been on “—page 342?”

“Emmeline kisses Randall, and then runs up the stairs just as the train comes. He doesn’t know whether to follow because—”

“What about page 76?”

“…It’s a description of Randall’s garage, and then the car, the blue Packard he rebuilt with his father. Then—”

“Page 402?”

“Emmeline and… Peter, what are you on about? Honestly. Can I have my book back?”

He tossed it to her. “You’ve got it memorized. You’ve got the restaurant menu memorized. I know all the waiters’ names—”

“You know all the waitresses’ names.”

“Fine, but I know them all.  I know their boyfriends’ names, or their husbands’. I know their kids’ names. I know Mei doesn’t like pineapple, she just pretends to in front of the customers. I know Cora is a dance teacher on the side. I know all the porters, too. Jean, we were only supposed to be here five days, and then back. What’s going on?”

“Do you really want to go?”

“No, but—”

“Then leave it. Look at the sunset over the water, isn’t that beautiful? Now let me read my book.” It was a different book, suddenly, with a different girl with differently-colored flowing hair and a different man wearing a police uniform instead of a bomber jacket. She opened it to the first pristine page.

He felt a cold chill. “Jean, are we not supposed to go home? You can tell me. I won’t say anything.”

“Peter, drop it. I’m not getting back on that plane and neither are you.”

“Jean… did something happen with the plane?”

The Lady Of The Lake

“She’s back.”

They turned to look at the source of the breathless words: a boy, standing in the doorway, one of those who had taken to sitting on the hillside and watching the water all afternoon as soon as their chores were done.

“Go on, son, go bother someone who—”

“Don’t believe me; but she’s there.” The boy turned and ran back towards the bank.

Tired old men and their tired sons exchanged shrugs and raised eyebrows. One got up, not afraid to look the fool, and then another, just for the hell of it, and then another, because he had nothing better to do.

They assembled on the bank and watched the woman in the water. Some called to her; one started to wade in, but was quickly pulled back by his friends.

“You don’t want any part of her,” he was sternly told, “lest you lose your soul”

Rc2#

“It’s almost Milton time,” says Gracie, and she’s already pulling on her shoes and her coat and looking in vain for her mittens; Paul is watching cartoons, and seems unconcerned, and has to be coaxed away.

It costs $5 plus the four-block walk, but Daddy pays. Most of the others won’t play kids, but Milton will play anyone of any age once, calls it ‘fishing’; he plays Paul once a week, and usually wins. Usually.

I didn’t play well as him, maybe ‘til I was twenty-five, maybe thirty. And I ain’t gettin’ no better. He’ll beat me often as not, he gets to driving age.”

Daddy asked Milton once if he’d like to come for dinner. Milton looked at him like he was crazy. Paul shakes Milton’s hand after every game, very grown-up, because that’s what you do when you’re part of that club and Paul is part of that club. Gracie watches the game, sometimes, especially if Paul is winning, but is sometimes distracted away by pigeons or dog-walkers. Daddy watches the game always.

On the walk back, Paul will talk about the game, if it’s close; if he wins, it’s a breathless torrent of excited recapitulation. If he loses badly, he doesn’t talk about it until bed-time, and then only in low, humble whispers from the under safety of his comforter, as Daddy listens and nods and pats him on the shoulder.

Sunday afternoons, spring, through summer and fall, and to the first snowfall at least, maybe longer.