Monthly Archives: February 2016

A Jaundiced Light at the End: Brian Sammons

“Billie, just keep talking to me,” Frank said into his headset as he cracked open another Mountain Dew while watching the Lakers game on the muted television to his left. “Come on, you called because you wanted to talk, right?”

Billie was one of the regulars at the suicide prevention hotline Frank volunteered at. He usually ended up talking to the perpetually depressed seventeen-year-old girl two or three times a month. She never seemed sincere about taking her life, just very sad. Still, it was hotline policy to never, ever ask anyone who called if they were serious about suicide. Everyone had to be treated like they were literally out on the ledge at the moment of the call, even if most of them, like Billie, were just lonely and desperate to have someone listen to them, if just for a little while. Still, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Frank knew all about sorry.

He shot a quick glance at the black rubber bracelets on his wrist as he pulled the can of Dew from his lips. He felt too old to still wear such gaudy things, but they did a decent job of covering up the scars.

A soft, wet sob came through Frank’s headset and that caused him to stop drinking the sugary go-juice mid-swallow. While Billie always sounded sad, she had never cried before.

Better safe than…

“Billie? Talk to me, girl, what’s got you so upset?”

Low sobs was all he heard.

“Come on, no matter what it is, if you talk to someone about it, you’ll —”

“Bullshit.” It was a thick, phlegmy word.

“What’s bullshit, Billie?”

“All of it. Everything. Life,” Billie said and then snuffled.

“No, life is not bullshit, Billie,” Frank said, the hairs on the back of his neck starting to rise. Is she for real this time? he asked himself, while he continued, “life is all we’ve got and it’s a beautiful thing. So whatever—”

“Oh bullshit! You don’t know. You don’t know where I’ve been, what I’ve seen.”

“No, no of course I don’t,” Frank said on autopilot as his mind raced behind the scenes. She sounds really bad. Do I hit the panic button and let the cops handle this?

All calls to the suicide hotline were routed to the volunteers at their homes from a central hub downtown. There was no office where people went and took calls at a switchboard. Not in this modern, wireless, and always connected age. Everyone who helped out on the hotline had a laptop provided to them, and the calls were sent through it. At a press of a button, Frank could send the caller’s phone number directly to the police where they could hopefully trace it back to an address, or use the cell phone’s GPS, if they had one. Frank was only supposed to hit this “panic button” if he felt the caller was beyond being talked down from the metaphorical ledge. Since he had started volunteering on the hotline over a year ago, he had never had to press the button.

Shit, what do I do?

“See, you’re not even listening to me,” Billie whispered.

The Viking in Yellow: Christine Morgan

Gulls cried faint and unseen through a heavy morning mist that cast all the world in damp and dripping grey. Distant waves rushed foaming upon the pebbled shore, filling the cool air with scents of salt and brine. Here, where the river widened to meet the sea, the waters mixed in eddying whorls. Ripples lapped the muddy banks. Splashes sounded where fish leaped, or struggled in the nets and traps.

Wigleof led the way from one spot to the next. His little sons followed, lugging the baskets that would soon be filled with this day’s rich catch. They whispered to each other, joking, teasing. They were good boys and dutiful, twins, sturdily built, curly-haired like their mother. He loved them well.

At their home, a small thatch-roofed hut walled in wattle and daub, Wigleof’s sweet-natured wife Aelda would be hard at work, helped by their daughters and tending the baby. Perhaps later, she’d walk to the village by the abbey, to trade smoked fish for milk, eggs and honey.

Or she might send Aeldwyn, their eldest, who greatly admired the nuns — Sister Gehilde most of all — and spoke of joining their order. Wigleof had no objections to this, though he held a private measure of doubt for her reasons. If Aeldwyn thought the life of a nun was nothing but restful prayer, candle-making, clean robes of soft wool and hymn-singing, he suspected she might be in for a surprise.

He chuckled to himself as he hauled up the first wicker-woven fish traps. They were well-full with sleek silver-scaled bodies that flapped and flailed, gulping. The boys chattered eagerly as they opened and loaded the baskets.

Then they hushed, frowning.

“Father,” said Leofric, his tone unusually subdued, “what happened to this one?”

Wigleof looked at what the boy held in his small hands. The fish did not flail, flap or gulp. “That one’s dead,” he said.

“But what happened to it?” Leofwald asked, his tone also subdued.

Expecting to find nothing out of the ordinary, Wigleof took the fish, and frowned himself. An odd oiliness sheened its skin, and its flesh felt strangely warm. He had never pulled a warm fish from the river, or from the sea. Its eyes bulged, yellow-white and murky, rather than shiny black. It might have already been partially stewed.

Upon a closer-yet inspection, he found that its fins and tail were tipped with fine barbs curved like cat’s claws, and in its mouth were not teeth but stringy tendrils. Something about it struck him as altogether loathsome, unnatural, and vile.

Lights Fade: Laurel Halbany

Julia’s reflection raised its arms. It rippled in the yellowed, uneven glass of the mirror. It turned slightly at the waist and gestured at something unseen to its right. It took a half-step, awkward and hobbled, a bird with an injured wing, and then Julia’s foot twisted under her. She flailed into the heavy wooden frame of the standing mirror and knocked it over, landing flat-out across the glass. She looked down at her reflection; for an absurd instant she worried that it might be hurt. A dull bead of blood dripped from the point of her chin and splashed the mirror.

Someone shoved the heavy back curtain aside and the other actors of the company crowded into the space. Nicole, the tallest woman in the group, did not so much shove them aside as move them by the aura of her angry presence. She looked down at Julia. “What happened?”

Julia awkwardly rolled over and sat up. “I was doing warm-ups in front of the mirror—”

“You’re not supposed to be practicing your dance,” Nicole said, practically hissing the last word. “You should be practicing your lines and practicing them sitting down until your ankle heals. We are putting on this play with a skeleton crew and nobody has time to be your understudy. Is that clear?”

Nicole spun and stalked away without waiting for an answer. The other actors milled around, avoiding her eyes. Only Kai stepped forward, regal, beautiful Kai, helping Julia to her feet.

“Sorry about that,” Kai said. She smiled an apology. “Jarré hasn’t sent any new pages of script in days and Nicole’s very upset.”

You don’t have to apologize for her just because you’re sleeping with her, Julia thought, but did not say. She mimicked a smile back, and nodded, and said nothing at all. She resisted the urge to go back and check on the mirror before she left the theater.

————

Julia spent the next two days sitting down. She didn’t bother to practice her lines, because there were only two. She passed the time re-reading Abelard Jarré’s other plays, the ones she had hunted down in the basements of used book stores and read to tatters when she was a drama student: Memorial Sand, Anticlast, Hour of the Oxen, even Indolence, his first and least-regarded play that was nonetheless her favorite. In the thirty-five years since releasing Manifenêtre, Jarré had written nothing. He gave no interviews and appeared in public rarely; many speculated that he was dead. Through some chain of friendships or remote relation that seemed hazy to Julia, Nicole had gained his rare favor, and Jarré picked her tiny, all-woman theater company to stage his new play Carcosa.