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A Meditation

by Toni de Bonneval

When I was six, I gave up on the God stuff. My sister and I sat, knees clutched. We looked out from the stoop of Dad’s summer cabin, through the clearing to the far side of the valley, to a crouch of blue hills. “Faith can move mountains,” the priest said in the drafty church in the valley. In the kitchen, Dad made scrambled eggs. We sat on the stoop.

“Move.” We were polite, a request. They didn’t. “Move,” this time not so polite. We waited, but the hills didn’t get up, didn’t galumph in all their blueness up the cleared swale from their place to ours.

“Breakfast, girls.” We stood. A final shout, a challenge, “Move.”

After breakfast we went out back to work on our hole to China. We didn’t really believe that. If China was just below us on the other side of the world then people were either standing on their heads or they’d be dropping off.

The still air encloses. The trees are motionless. I’m frightened when that happens. The nothingness. A young plant stirs, tosses its leaves in childish glee. The aspen giggles, while the white birch bows. The old oak doffs its topmost branch. The hemlock shrugs its dolor and observes. I close my eyes and hear the shush of tiptoes in the uncut grass.

Give thanks.


Toni de Bonneval earns a living writing institutional histories and enjoys living writing fiction and short non-fiction.

Friend

by F.C. Malby

You used to listen to my questions, your mind racing faster than life itself. Your thoughts were sharp and fast. You asked questions: Thoughts about life, and God, and justice. You cared and you worked to help others. I used to look into your green eyes and wonder how we became friends; I, almost three years your junior, and far less cool and together; you, slim, sophisticated and ‘on point’ when it came to fashion. It was the eighties, then. I remember talking to you about school buses and timetables at the Girls’ Grammar. You wore a pale pink shirt pulled out over a slim belt, and a white, flowing skirt. Your lips were glossed and you sparkled. You were beautiful.

The years created a certain kind of cynicism in your mind. We talked about boys and future children, about passions and God. You became worn down with questions and I know you now have the answers. I go to pick up the phone when I want to talk to you or tell you something, a big event or a new child. I replace it and think back to what you might have said to me. I try to feel grateful for the time that we had, but life is cruel.

Then it came, the phone call – the first to tell me you had ten years. Those ten years were long. The second was unexpected. It was exactly ten years later but it was a surprise. They told me you were gone. I didn’t believe them, not when they called, not when I went to pick up the phone to call you, not when I stood and gave your eulogy in front of hundreds of people to tell then who you really were. I believed them, finally, as I walked up the hill towards your open grave. It was brutal, the shock, the tears, the feeling in my body that made my legs want to give way. I felt an arm around my neck and a voice telling me, “Take your time, it’s ok.” I broke at that point and hung back so as not to cause a scene. Emotions can do that, cause a scene that no one wants to witness.

I made it to the edge of the grave, sprinkled earth over your coffin, looked down and wondered when we would meet again. Life is cruel, it can be short, it can be a struggle. Yours was lived with grace, you handled pain and uncertainty with ease. You fought, but you also knew when it was time let go. I’m not sure that I ever have… let go, my friend. You are hard to replace.


F.C. Malby is a contributor to Unthology 8 and Hearing Voices: The Litro Anthology of New Fiction. Her debut short story collection, My Brother Was a Kangaroo includes award-winning stories, and her debut novel, Take Me to the Castle, won The People’s Book Awards. Her short fiction has been longlisted in The New Writer Magazine Annual Prose and Poetry Prizes by David Gaffney, and won the Litro Magazine Environmental Disaster fiction competition.
Find out more on her website and follow her on Twitter @fcmalby

Whispered Answers

by C. Joy

Dom knelt next to the broken body on the road. He wouldn’t need a medical examiner to tell him what he already knew. He had watched the blue mist of the guardian and light of the soul depart, one upward and the other not. There’s an advantage to knowing your guardian personally. His was named Arerial. As a hired contract killer, it was nice to know he still had one.

A small cry from the crumpled car startled Dom as he rose up from the pavement. Not possible. Intel had the target traveling alone. A quick shot to the driver’s forehead had been the plan. Quick, and clean. But the shot had gone low and wide, shattering the side mirror instead. Instantly, the target was aware. Dom had dropped from the tree he was in, when the car suddenly spun, losing control and bee-lined directly for the very spot he was in. Another quick shot found its mark and finished the job, but left him directly in the path of the out of control car. Escaping a direct hit, the bumper had caught his hip and flung him to the pavement.

He was too old for this…then he heard a whimper again. His knee cracked as he quickly strode over to the car, glanced inside and inhaled sharply. A small girl, luckily still in her seatbelt, which was the only reason she didn’t resemble the body on the road. None of his targets were innocent, but this job had been compromised. Quickly calculating multiple variables, Dom reached into the car. He had a decision to make.

Dom started walking, away from the body and the wrecked car, carrying the small, delicate form. As he walked the quarter of a mile to his car hidden among the trees, small twinges of pain broke through the fog of adrenaline. Dom looked down. His arm was broken and he had torn something around his knee. He also suspected he might have a broken rib or two based on the tightness in his chest, but he would deal with that later. Gently and gingerly, he laid the child on the seat next to him, started the car with his one good hand and began the drive toward town. His focus: find a hospital.

As he drove, he kept constant watch around him and on the little blond girl laying on the seat. This job had come with too many surprises and he couldn’t afford anymore. And he recalled the hesitancy in Arerial tonight. Curious, since Guardians weren’t supposed to use judgment on if to save their subject of protection, but only on how.

Dom was well known for his human mercenary abilities, but secretly favored his supernatural ability. To see the light emitted from souls, alive or otherwise definitely aided with his occupation. But recently, his senses picked up other possible entities. The little girl stirred and whimpered again. Dom pressed down on the gas pedal.

It had taken him awhile to understand what he was seeing. In his line of work, being observant was the difference between job security or involuntary early retirement. Over time, he had noticed more. Blue misted guardians protected, helped find lost keys, whispered answers and gave inspiration to their charges. Shadowy tormentors, well, they were the snide thoughts of insecurities, nightmares and vicious doubt and they seemed to be multiplying.

Years ago, as he was piloting a soon to crash twin prop fireball at 15,000 feet after a sniper targeted his fuselage, Dom had dejectedly muttered “think this rides over, thanks for the good run”. Expecting silence, Dom had nearly jumped out of the burning airplane when he heard a soft, controlled voice whisper.

“It’s not your time”.

It was the only time. But he often wondered what happened to Guardians when their human charges passed on. Did they retire, or were they reassigned to incoming charges? Were they reassigned by lineage or was it a random draw?

The bright orange blinking arrow pointed toward the Emergency Department. Dom followed the sign, parked the car, and tenderly carried the girl toward the entrance. He could sense that Arerial was close, and he was comforted by it. Which is why when another, sharper pain coursed through his chest and took his breath, he was unsettled. It quickly subsided and was forgotten when Dom was overtaken by nurses questioning about the child in his arms. Quickly, they whisked her away with a flurry of activity and hushed voices.

It was ironic, that in a hospital, Dom felt safe. Spiritually, it was Grand Central for both tormentors and guardians, as regrets, hope and sorrows were abundant. Humanly, he was safe from other snipers as they preferred a much more secluded location.

Dom signed some forms before taken to an exam room. On the way, he watched a blue mist followed by a lighted soul rise from a curtained area down the hall. An old soul. Not the girl. Relieved, Dom let out the breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding.

Mistaking it for pain, the nurse left Dom in the room in search of morphine.

“We have done good tonight.” Dom stretched his neck, and looked for Arerial. But something was off. He felt…alone.

It was as if he was missing…something.

The pain hit him again, stronger this time and dropped him to his knees. He struggled for a breath. A heart attack? This wasn’t the exit he had planned. His chest exploded in another wave of pain and darkness began to close over him when Dom heard a familiar soft, controlled voice whisper.

“It’s time.”

The little blonde girl lay on her side and watched a second bright light receded down in the hall. She wasn’t alone, even though she had heard the nurse whisper to the Doctor she was. But she wasn’t scared. She felt…safe.

“You’ll stay now?” she asked softly. A small blue mist had settled next to her.

Understanding, she whispered “Thanks, Arerial.”


A reading gypsy, C. Joy enjoys traveling and people watching, finding inspiration in both.

Dear Santa, It’s Alfie

by Chantel Sandbach

Dear Santa,

It’s me, Alfie. At fifteen, I probably shouldn’t be writing to you. Or believing in you at all. Truth is, I spoiled it for Denny last year when he overheard me talking to a couple of kids at the bus stop. Since he was only nine, he still believed. Boy, he was upset! Mom had to go get him from school because the teacher said he cried and told her he “wasn’t buying what” she “was selling” when she told him to pick up his art supplies – said he knew the truth, and wasn’t going to be “jerked around, anymore.”

That’s why I am writing to you, sir. I want to show Denny that there still is something magical about Christmas. I want him to believe, a little longer. See, it’s been a rough go for awhile, even before I opened my big mouth at the bus stop last year. Mom and Dad decided that they couldn’t be married anymore because Mom needed to “get to know herself”…while Dad said he already knew her, and didn’t like her much, anyway.

So we actually have two houses now, and it’s not so bad – it means two Christmases and less fighting between the parental units, ya know? Heads-up though – only Dad’s condo has a fireplace, and I’m not sure if there’s an actual chimney attached. Mom’s place has baseboard heat, so not ideal at all, Christmas-wise, but I know you’ve got alternative plans.

I guess I am supposed to tell you what I want – about how good I’ve been or whatever. But considering the whole “he’s always watching” thing…you and I both know, I haven’t been the greatest this year. I’m sure you saw me pull Jeff’s chair out from behind him when he was singing the anthem, and when I forgot to do my homework and blamed the dog (as you know, Blackie’s been gone since I was ten). Also, there was the time I intercepted Brandon’s love note to Kelly and then I got to be the one to kiss her behind the jungle gym. There were all those times Mom asked me to take out the garbage and I never got around to it…and of course, I’m sure you watched me hide Dad’s cell phone every time he’d had a “few too many” and wanted to text my mom. I wasn’t sure whether his texts would be mad or sad, but either way, Santa, I did what I thought I had to. Sometimes parents need to be taken care of, too. It’s better now, though. Mom met a man who she goes to yoga with and who tries to feed us weird food without any meat in it, but he’s nice enough. Dad is doing okay too – he started going to the gym and quit drinking and started getting emails from e-Harmony.

Denny doesn’t like it much, though. He’s been trying to act tougher since the divorce. He got into a fight at school and quit doing his schoolwork for a month straight! He could have failed but Mom told them about the “situation” and they cut him some slack.

Anyways, I found him writing something a few minutes ago. I thought maybe he was drawing dirty pictures so I took it from him and held it above his head until he quit jumping for it, and looked to see whether he was drawing boobs or writing swear words, but it was neither. It was a letter – to YOU. He started squawking, said he wasn’t actually going to send it. That he knew you weren’t real and he wasn’t a little kid, anymore.

This is where I have to tell you, sir – my last transgression this year was a swear and a lie. “Are you shitting me, Denny?!” I said. I told him that last year at the bus stop had been me trying to look tough, and that I was worried that because of it, I wouldn’t be getting ANY gifts this year. I told him that I was in the process of writing a letter to plead my case.

Denny started looking hopeful. He asked me to pinky swear (the next thing to a blood oath, Santa, in case you aren’t familiar with the term). He smiled and said “I believe you, Alfie.” I let him take his letter back. I didn’t expect what he did next. He’s smart kid, though. He tore the letter up. He told me that since it was MY mistake that led to his disbelief in the first place, I owed him AND you an apology and therefore he expected that my letter would contain an explanation, contrition and HIS list. That any gifts I received would be shared with him. Sir, I don’t think I have to tell you that he had me by the short and curlies at that point.

I’m writing you this letter while Denny sits across from me, watching. He’s going to follow me out to the post office once I’m done. Probably put it in the box, himself. At least I was able to convince him that letters to Santa have to be private between the sender and the recipient, so he doesn’t know what this says.

So – Denny’s list is attached and I would respectfully inform you that he’s ALWAYS been a faithful believer and any appearance to the contrary is no fault of his own. It was all me, Santa. Whether I believe in you or not, is irrelevant.

I don’t know if this letter will go anywhere after we post it, but it is enough that it made my little brother smile again.

Sincerely,

Alfie

PS – No matter what the list says, Denny DOES NOT need a real crossbow – items 1 through 12 are probably fine, though.

PPS – In the unlikely case that you ARE real, I’m truly sorry for my lack of faith – and I could make good use of a new skateboard.

PPPS – Merry Christmas, sir!


Chantel Sandbach’s job is a prison, literally. She’s a parole officer in a federal penitentiary by day, out of necessity, and a writer by night (and day, and on weekends and holidays and anytime the inspiration strikes her), also out of necessity; the soul-fulfilling kind of necessity. She still doesn’t know what she really wants to write when she grows up, but has had her flash, fiction and creative non-fiction accepted for publication by The Flexible Persona, The Passed Note and The Same online literary journals. Follow her on Twitter @SandbachChantel

The Naming

by R. M. Fuller

Once there was a child, pure and good. A child no more than five, with eyes like the ocean and hair like pale fields of wheat. More than anything, this child loved to create. He’d spend hours under the warmth of the sun, building castles in his sandbox and people out of mud.

His elders, no longer interested in such things, would smile sweetly at him or pat him gently on the head as they walked by. But, the child paid them no notice. He was busy, doing the things that little children do.

Out of happenstance, one day, a group of elders strolling through the gardens where the young boy played paused to smile at the youth, as they contemplated their latest dilemma.

“It’s very small and very new.” The matron of the group said. She was the only lady among the five, and she was the eldest and most esteemed. “I do not know of anyone who would take it.”

One of her companions nodded in agreement. “It is true. Our kind is too old, too set in their ways for such a task. There’s really no use holding a counsel for such a matter.”

“But, a counsel must be held, nonetheless.” Another remarked. “We cannot simply ignore this.”

There was a collective mumbling of reluctant agreement, to his statement.

“Should we force it upon someone?” Yet another elder asked. “Trick someone into taking it?”

They looked around at each other and shrugged.

The matron shook her head and rolled her eyes. She only half listened to her four companions, as they continued to debate and disagree. Instead, her attention was drawn to the little boy playing in the sand.

She watched the boy for a long time. The way he lost himself in his own imagination, not sparing a single glance to the elders around him. The boy was curious, inventive, and, most of all, focused.

“Here, give me the thing.” The matron said to her companions, holding out her palm. “I have an idea.”

She took the object and walked over to the little boy playing in the sand and mud. “Child?” She asked, smiling sweetly at him and holding out her hand. “How would you like something else to play with?”

The little boy looked up at her with his curious blue eyes, then down at her hand. His chubby little fingers wrapped around the object she held out to him.

“You can do with it as you like, my child. All you have to do is give it a name.” The matron told him.

He looked at her again, his eyes wide and excited, then back at the object. It was small, like a marble, covered with blue and green. He noticed, somewhat nervously, that the others she was with had come over to watch.

The matron waited as the child looked the object over, turning it around in his fingers and holding it up to the sun. Until, finally, his piercing blue gaze met hers.

“Have you given it a name?” She asked.

The little boy nodded.

“And what shall your world be named, little one?” She smiled.

“Earth.” He answered, smiling. Then, went back to his creations.


R.M. Fuller is a mother, a coffee-a-holic, and spends far too much time inside her own head. She goes absolutely nuts for hard-boiled P.I’s, and mythology in all its forms! Follow her on Twitter: @Author_Fuller