This Thing Holds Love

Human hearts are so depressingly empty.

Take this one: it fits neatly in my two palms, the dark red-grey of aging beef, smooth and glistening under its layer of epicardial fat. No arterial stenosis. No calcification. No visible defects at all. Perfect, healthy, normal.

And empty.

He looked so surprised when I thrust the chef’s knife into his chest. A soft huff of exhaled breath but no cry, no words, not even resistance; the carbon steel had just crunched right through his sternum, and slid through membrane and muscle like they were softened butter. 

Just a widening of his eyes, a flare of pupils, a second’s trickle of red starting at the corner of his mouth. Then I pulled the knife out, a wrench I had to put my whole arm into, and he dropped straight to the kitchen floor.

He moved a little then, tried to get up, lips working around the crimson bubble slipping out between them. So I pushed him down, straddled him, shoved the blade down into his abdomen and dragged it up.

It was cruel. He screamed beneath the noise of skin and fat ripping like a torn bedsheet. But I had to do it. I had to get him open. I had to know.

Because he said he loved me, and I needed to find it.

I think it got out, though. I think the love got out somewhere. Maybe in that last long exhale, or in his heart’s final dying-butterfly twitches, or in the blood rolling out of him onto the smooth ochre tiles he helped me pick out. It must have escaped, because I put my finger into the wound the knife had made and felt the layers part around the intrusion, felt the sweet clean division in the septum, and then I pulled my fingertip loose and cupped his heart in one hand to cut the wound deeper; but I sliced the arteries and veins loose and splayed the heart open and there was nothing in there: atria and ventricles and the last of his blood and so, so much empty space.

But no spark, no passion, no love. Nothing of what he said he felt in there.

I have to find it. I have to study it. I have to capture it.

I have to make someone else love me, so I can try again.

~Scarlett R. Algee

© Copyright Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.

All Hallows

It was the end of October. The summer season was over in the sleepy seaside village of Foreness. Chris checked his watch. Four fifteen. He had driven from the final, insane argument with his now ex-girlfriend, stopping only to pack a small suitcase before he left their home for the last time. He walked down the promenade towards the pier, but it was closed.  Standing on the edge of the promenade, his hands resting on the green painted metal fence, he looked out to the grey ocean. He was totally alone and that suited his mood. The whole town seemed deserted, with ‘Closed’ signs up in most of the shops, arcades and hotels on the front. He hadn’t seen a single person since he had arrived. Lost in his own brown study, he remembered he had been brought here by his parents three times in his early teens. He had loved those holidays in the dim and distant past. Holidays that seemed to last forever, full of adventure and joy. And now he was back. He needed somewhere to escape and he had instinctively chosen Foreness, this place of childhood happiness, memories of a time when there was no pain, no sadness.

He walked down the nearest steps down onto the beach, finding a discarded deck chair to sit on. Sitting near the concrete wall, he looked out to the sea as darkness fell.

Waking with start, he rubbed his eyes, not quite believing he had managed to fall asleep. He checked his watch. It was seven thirty. He supposed he better find somewhere to sleep for the night. Climbing the steps from the beach to the top of the seawall, he was amazed to find the promenade was crowded with people. There were about fifty, all staring out to sea. It was an incongruous sight. There was no buzz of conversation, no-one was talking.

He walked up to the nearest person, a man of around fifty years old.

“Hi. How are you doing?”

The man didn’t immediately respond, his attention focused out to sea. It took a few moments for the words to register.

“Um, yes. Hello. As well as can be expected, I suppose.”

“I’m Chris.”

“Philip.”

“Nice to meet you Philip.”

Philip was staring back out to sea. Chris did the same, trying to work out what these people were looking for. He couldn’t see much, just the beach and the edge of the sea. After that the darkness was complete. Away in the distance he could see a tiny speck of light from a fishing boat.

“Can I ask what you are looking for?”

Philip looked at him in amazement.

“What?”

Chris was suddenly aware he had said the wrong thing.

“I thought you were one of us.”

“No.”

“It’s normally only this group who come here on this night. The locals leave for the night, to give us space.”

“I’m not local, I just arrived this afternoon.”

“That would explain it.”

Philip lapsed into silence, continuing to stare out into the darkness. A few moments passed, then Chris knew he had to ask.

“Why are you all here then?”

Phillip spoke without taking his eyes off the shoreline.

“Have you ever heard of the H.M.S. Forstall?”

“No, sorry.”

“No surprise. It was sunk by a U-boat in 1942. All hands went down with her, a total of two hundred and thirty-four souls. October the 31st, 1942.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Seventy-four years ago tonight. And it happened just out there, just off-shore. It’s a war grave now.”

“And you’re here to mark the occasion.”

Chris glanced at the other people. Some were old, some were young. Most were middle aged. Chris guessed they were the families of the lost sailors.

“I am the grandson of one William Henry Partridge. Able Seaman, aged twenty-five years old on the night the Forstall sank. My mother’s father. She is getting too old to make this pilgrimage, so now I do it. My boy will take over in a few years.”

Suddenly there was a shout from further down the line of people.

“They’re here!”

The people starting moving, down the steps to the beach. Philip turned to Chris.

“You may not want to see this.”

“Why? What’s happening?”

Philip smiled. A dark smile without happiness or humor. He gestured at the other people.

“We come here, on this night, not just to remember, but to meet them. The crew return to shore, once a year. Every year, on the 31st of October. I think it’s because they died on All Hallows that they are able to return the world of living. After all, this is the night when the veil between worlds is the thinnest, when the dead can return. All we, the living must, be here to greet our families and pay homage to their sacrifice.”

“That’s not funny. What a horrible thing to say.”

Philip smiled the same smile.

“Why do you think the town is deserted? On this night, the dead return and we must be here to greet them. Come with me, if you think I’m lying.”

Philip walked down the steps. Chris stared at him for a moment, then followed.

Later on, in the daylight and well away from Foreness, Chris tried to piece together that night. Those few hours when he saw the dead emerge from the sea to be greeted by their extended families. But it wasn’t a complete picture. His mind had blanked out a lot of what he had seen, almost as if he had been drunk or drugged. He retained some memory, but only brief flashes. Memories of darkness, of white faces, of naval uniforms and of figures stumbling through the waves back onto the land. Memories of the dead returning from the sea. He didn’t remember making his way back to his car, after, but he guessed Philip had helped him. He vaguely remembered driving out of Foreness, tears streaming down his face. He remembered begging his girlfriend to take him back and she agreeing, just as tearful as he was.

As he grew older, he always remembered the night at Foreness on the 31st of October. Those broken fragments of memory never lost their clarity. He always wondered if those families still met on the promenade to greet their long lost relatives. He guessed they must, but one thought often kept him awake at night; what would happen on the night when the families no longer gathered to greet the crew of the Forstall? When the new generations of the families simply forgot or no longer cared or believed. What would the sailors do, where would they go, when that day inevitably came?

~ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

Savior

            I sip the mint flavored mocha that Maryanne set down in front of me moments ago. As always, the drink was exquisite. She has been a part of this earth almost as long as myself, and I’ve only been outlived by the man sitting next to me. No matter what certain books say, I was number two around these parts.

            Drizzle patters the window in front of us, typical for a Portland morning. Relatively few people are out on Saturday compared to the bustle of a weekday. None of that matters in here though, most people walk by without giving a second glance, just another tiny, local coffee shop.

            “It’s coming,” I say. “Each day I feel subtle ripples rooting deeper amongst them.”

            The man next to me looks exhausted. His eyes sink in slightly to his gaunt-skinned face. Even his close cropped white hair and beard seem ragged.

            He takes a sip of his half-empty cup of black coffee, an odd choice for him, and stares out the window. I wonder if he heard what I said.

            “It’s here,” he replies. “You were right.”

            I savor the mint-chocolate, a favorite combination of mine for ages. You were right …his words reverberate inside me. If this were a game he would’ve just conceded. I wasn’t right though, not fully. He had to see that. Didn’t he? He looks awful. Defeated. Broken. He can look like anyone or anything, just like I can. But neither of us can look strong when we aren’t. For century upon century the struggle for power has ebbed and flowed between us. Neither one giving up the ghost, as they say. He’s baiting me, that must be it. But why? What’s his angle?

            I bite, “I’m not right, and you know it. There’s far more good left out there.” I motion to the window giving me time to enjoy more of my drink. “Let me rephrase. I’m not right, yet. It’s coming but there’s still time for change. As much as I feel the swells of power taking hold there are branches of light. And they are powerful.”

            “They aren’t light. It just seems so amongst the darkness. I’ve never seen you as vibrant as you are now. You wear it well.”

              He’s right about that part, I’m practically radiating energy these days. Power surges through me and I can wreck havoc with the flick of a finger. And my suit, well, I do look good in that. Perfectly tailored to match my current flawless body.

            “Amongst the darkness?” I say. “That’s always been the case. What gives? What’s wrong with you?”

            God finishes his coffee and looks at me, “Moderation is dead. Extremism has taken hold and will never let go. Even those in the middle believe they are totally right in whatever topic is at hand.”

            “Extremes always take the lead. Without them nothing would ever change,” I say, somehow finding myself trying to defend the humans like God’s done so often. I open my mouth to continue but nothing comes out, my mind drawing a blank.

            “It’s time,” he says and stands up. “Your reign begins now. But, you cannot rule alone. You need to find someone to stand at your side as you did with me. I almost feel bad for them with what I can imagine you’re going to unleash.”

            I finish my drink and stand as God did. He looks at the matronly owner of the coffee shop, “Maryanne, thank you for everything. Keep an eye on Luce for me.”

            Maryanne nods with a soft smile on her face and God walks past me, opening the door. The sky is clouded, the street damp. God brings his foot up to take a step outside. I grab his head, twisting it violently. A crack of bone sounds like a gunshot to me but is probably barely audible to Maryanne. I push God out the door as his lifeless body falls in a heap. He looks like a homeless man asleep in front of the door and a moment later a person walks by, paying him no notice.

            “What are you going to do first?” Maryanne asks.

            “Have another drink, of course,” I say still looking outside. I turn and face her, “But that’s not what you mean. The first thing I’m going to do is …nothing. I’m going to watch the humans suffer until they realize what they’ve done. Then I’ll show them what real hatred and evil is. And I will laugh as they call out for the savior they murdered.”

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.