The Slice of Razored Wings


I lie on cool moss while the sky drips sun. The world brims with light. It stars my eyes until I see little more than a melted, gold-dust haze. But my ears are open and aware. My skin entangles the moment. For a pleasant fragment of time, my mind lies fallow.

Then something with razored wings slices through the stillness and savages my serenity. A kiss stings; a whisper bites. Thoughts and emotions bloom and settle, like bubbles on a slough. They are foreign, alien. I deny them. But subtle movements become a roil. Shapes rise, lift shaggy heads from the mire. They are draped in silken folds of weed and mud. Beautiful and repellant, they smile with bold teeth, they lick lips of glory.

The promises they bear are fanged and holy, like talons dipped in sacred filth. And now I can see the glitter of fatal edges even through my blindsight. Old scars fold open like the petals of rotted roses. Thoughts take wing, hateful raptors that slice through the ruby heavens of doubt. They shriek upon me.

To save myself, I lift the twin shields of kindness and cowardice. But they are worn and rusty. A sharp strike may shatter them and leave me defenseless before this predator. And so in desperation I call out the beast’s name. With hope of a reprieve, I plead for mercy.

From love.

 

~ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

Children of the Ovum White

The bells had been tolling for many hours after they caught the last resister and slit her throat. He had been chosen to carry the infant cut from her womb as they marched through the streets. The newborn squalled, its tiny limbs slippery with blood of the gutted resister. He clutched it tightly, chanting with the rest from Proverbs 24:12 in clipped unison, for it was cold. When they reached the Temple, a white robed nurse stepped out to take the child. Soon after, an Elder came to address them.
“Who brings this babe?”
“We of the Righteous, Sector Five.”
“Who carries the babe?”
“I, Holy One,” he stepped forward.
“And your name?”
“Peter, zero-sixty-five-oh-two, Honored One, sworn by birth to the genetic cycle eternal.” He was careful to modulate his voice in cadence as customary when speaking to Elders. No one spoke with inflection, for that in itself was blasphemous.
“Ah, Peter. I recognize you. You were –” the Elder smiled toothlessly, “one of my favorites. Very well, excellent.” He rubbed his hands, the palms stained with a garish orange, the mark of his status. “And what say the rest of you?” he asked, addressing the shivering throng.
“We are the spawn of the Ovum White. We copulate no more. We bow to the Sperm Bank and Ovum White. Pure is the Sperm Bank and Ovum White.”
In humility and thanks for another day of service to Truth, Peter led the others in the formal bow, lowering his forehead to the stones three times in succession.
Satisfied, the Elder snapped his fingers twice. Several robed priests came forth to mark faces with sanctified chalk. From behind the pillars, lutes played melodies of holy grace.
And Peter, who was to know no greater pleasure than this moment for the rest of his life, bowed again deeply, as the Elder sprinkled a few drops of placenta blood on his shaven head.
Afterwards, he joined the others from Sector Five as they formed lines to march homeward.

(To be continued …)

∼ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.

Service

I hear them coming, calling in their hunger-strained voices. They’ve sung for so long, a tune which brings melancholy drops to my eyes. I feel their inhuman pain, their longing for daylight. Though I am blessed by the sun, darkness is my only true embrace.

I know they suffer, for I was one of them. I’ve been above so long I wonder who truly accepts the burden of agony we all feel. They, who have suffered the same for ages, or I, who pains above, glimpsing the world we long for. I exist between. Not quite human, but no longer a monster.

My existence is sole to the needs of my original kind—to hunt beneath the moon and bring them sustenance. A gift in their eyes, for I get to see heaven; a curse in mine, as I witness it alone.

~ Lee Andrew Forman

© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.

Ask About the Sinners

“Do you believe in angels, Dr. Wells?” The rest of the therapy group rolled their eyes.

“There she goes again, on about those damn angels,” Randy growled. He crossed his arms and kicked at the floor, his metallic chair rattling against the tiled floor. “The girl’s got a fixation and I’m sick of it.”

“No, judgements, Randy. You know the rules.” Dr. Wells frowned at him and then turned to Cindy with a condescending smile. “Tell me about your angels.”

Stretching her toes, Cindy softly hummed in time to the thwap of the ceiling fan. The scent of jasmine floated in the air, stirred from some forgotten corner. In the silence, she gazed at the white walls and watched the shadows dance, while tracing a pattern on the padded arm of her chair.

Finally, she spoke. “You must believe in them to see them. I mean really believe, not just Sunday-go-to-church conviction, forgotten on Monday. If you have true faith, they can help you.”

“Fat lot of good they did you,” Randy laughed. “You’re stuck in this loony bin with the rest of us.”

“Randy,” Dr. Wells stared with another disapproving look. “What did I tell you about that?”

“Not to call this place a ‘loony bin’.” Randy slouched in his chair and scowled.

“They did help.” Cindy’s voice interrupted and everyone turned to gawk. “The angels saved me.” She smiled, but wouldn’t elaborate.

Not until the next session.

The last to arrive, Cindy sat down, easing into her chair. She looked at each person and spoke as if no time had passed. “Not all angels have white wings, you know.” She hummed and gazed upward. “Some have black wings. They’re the ones who punish sins.”

“On about your angels, again?” Randy grunted. “They’re not doing a very good job. Plenty of sinners in the world.”

Cindy glared at him, raising an eyebrow and tilting her chin. “You have to ask them first. They can’t punish anyone, if you don’t ask.”

Dr. Wells cleared his throat. “That’s what you told the police, isn’t it? That you requested angels protect you from your parents? And the angels killed them, not you?”

Cindy turned her attention to the doctor. “Yes. I don’t think they believed me, because I ended up here. But it’s the truth.”

Dr. Wells smiled. “Truth can sometimes be complicated. You’re here so we can sort what really happened that night.”

“I told you. Not believing me doesn’t make it a lie.” Cindy laughed. “I’m not crazy. They’re real, and so beautiful. Ebony feathers, ethereal faces and shining eyes, with a radiant silver aura. And the loveliest things about them are their long blood-stained claws.”

“Claws don’t sound lovely.” Randy grunted into the conversation. “Your angels are just made-up monsters.”

“They are not monsters!” Cindy stared down Randy, and he squirmed.

“Stop looking at me like that. I ain’t done nothing to you. Keep away from me with your angel delusions.”

“You have nothing to fear from my angels. You don’t have many sins, even if you pretend otherwise. Dr. Wells has sins, though,” Cindy tilted her head towards the therapist. “Dark ones.”

“I’m a sinner, am I?” Dr. Wells chuckled.

Cindy nodded. “I know what you’ve done and so do the angels.” She leaned forward. “Time for you to pay.”

“Is that a threat?” Dr. Wells straightened in his chair. As he did, he felt something brush against his shoulder and smelled a hint of jasmine. A black feather fell in his lap. An invisible hand reached into his chest, and Dr. Wells felt the last beat of his heart before a force ripped the organ out of his body in a spray of blood, bone, and flesh. His corpse crumpled to the floor. Everyone but Cindy screamed.

And somewhere in the ether, a blacked winged angel feasted on the heart of a sinner.

∼ A.F. Stewart

© Copyright A.F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Cambion

“It started with your first cry,” the white-haired gentleman sitting next to me says.

“Moments after you were born your demon was as well, a microscopic creature that grew as you did.” He takes a sip from the glass of whiskey he got moments ago and sucks in a breath from the burn as it goes down.

“Melvin, honey, stop scaring the nice young man,” Barb, I think she said her name was Barb, says from the other end of the bar while cleaning glasses.

I look up from my rum and coke, realizing that the two of them are talking about me. “I’m sorry,” I say, looking around the small bar again. There are two tables with people at them but they are lost in their own worlds. I’m out of place here, a new person invading the regular’s sanctuary. “Were you talking to me?”

“Sometimes the truth is scary, Barbara. You know that.” Melvin points a crooked finger at her while still holding his drink. He winces after taking another sip. “He knows it too. Look at him, you know what his world is.” He’s still facing straight ahead, watching me through the mirror that is the wall behind the bar. “The doctors haven’t helped you, have they, son?”

I shift in my seat, glancing sideways at him. For a moment I let the question sit. Demon; I hear Melvin’s voice in my head. I decide to play along, “No they can’t. They say there’s nothing wrong with me. Not physically, at least.”

Melvin lets out a sharp laugh that turns into a cough. “Physically wrong with you? Oh, no, I can tell that just by looking at you. You are what, twenty-five, maybe six, I bet you haven’t been physically sick in years. We both know I’m not talking about those kind of doctors.”

“Melvin!” Barb says. “You stop that right now. Leave that poor boy alone, you’ll run off one of my new customers.”

He doesn’t move his body but he tilts his eyes up to Barb and then returns his gaze to me, waiting. No one in the room shows any reaction to the scene playing out between us.

“You mean psychiatrists? Yeah, I’ve seen my fair share,” I say. “Then they send me back to a regular doctor who then sends me to a different psychiatrist. But I gave up on that a while ago.”

He takes a long swig of his drink, finishing it, then swivels in his stool to face me. Barb comes over and refills the glass, standing next to him on the other side of the bar. Melvin brings up his hand and tilts his head. He’s looking at me but it’s like he’s looking for something. “You feel him, son. I know you do. You’ve felt him for years, inside you. He’s become more of you than you are of yourself.”

My stomach starts to churn and I put my hand on the edge of the bar to steady myself. Pain isn’t the right word. It’s not painful. It’s anguished emptiness. Working from my stomach out in all directions. Pushing through my veins, invading me.

“You’ve seen him,” Melvin says. “Behind your eyes when you look in the mirror. You aren’t crazy, son. You just weren’t meant for this world.”

I grip the edge of the bar tight. It’s there, I saw it the other night, behind my eyes, a creature made of black ink. A drip fell from it and a burning ache seeped through my body. I felt that thousands of times and I finally knew what it was. A hand forms and from the tips of its fingers come little vines slowly piercing my brain. I don’t need to see him to know he’s there, though. I’ve felt him for years. For as long as I can remember.

Melvin leans in and points his finger at my heart, almost touching my chest. “He’s never been there. You’ve fought him off. No one knows what you’ve gone through. The battles you fight everyday inside you.”

He’s right. Every word. In minutes, the old man saw me for who I am. My eyes start to fill with tears. My body feels heavy. I’m tired, so tired, from fighting. Holding the thing at bay as it inches closer.

“There’s much more to our world than where we live. There are millions of things that remain undiscovered to a person until they truly open themselves to them. Just because society says something is weak and cowardly doesn’t mean it’s true. Maybe it just means that they don’t understand.”

“I …I. It doesn’t hurt but it never goes away. Everything I do.”

“I know, son,” Melvin says in a quiet voice. “It’s okay. I promise.” His finger touches my chest and I feel it in my heart.

In one moment, years of defenses come down. My body. My mind. My soul. Exquisite peace.

“Thank you,” I say, as I stand up and walk out of the bar.

A minute later the sound of a single gunshot from the alley fills the bar. Barb walks to Melvin. “Don’t you dare tell me he’s in a better place.”

“He isn’t,” Melvin says. “But he’s in a place where he can fight. Where he can win, if he is strong enough.”

“Is he?”

“I hope so,” Melvin winces as another sip of whiskey burns his throat.

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

Black Wings

The first appears, then another. Soon the creatures are gathering; forming an indecipherable mass as each blends into the next. The assembly grows as evening deepens. They believe the shadow of late dusk masks their movement, but their eyes give them away – wet, shining, filled with hatred and unshed rage. One breaks from the pack, just one. It thinks itself brave as it postures for the others; foolish is a far more apt term. We stand at the ready, waiting for the melee to begin. As the first rock is hurled, the murder descends.

∼ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Pallor Mortis

“Hearts beat to Death’s rhythm,” that’s what Callie always said. “Life supplied the instruments, content to watch while Death conducted tremendous symphonies of decay. Life, you see,” she’d tell me, “is far more insidious than we’re led to believe.”

I never understood what she was trying to say. It felt like almost completing a puzzle, but the box was missing a piece. Still, I loved to listen to her, no matter what she said—it always sounded smart.

We used to sneak out at night, riding our bikes as far as our legs and lungs would let us. She was my best friend, and when we were alone in the moonlight, I saw her face, the uncensored version. Callie was a sad girl who’d unlocked the secrets of the universe. She had tear stained cheeks and torn up lips that never had a chance to heal.

“Mila, it’s coming soon.” She whispered, “they think I’m almost ready.” A weak smile cracked her sullen face as she held my hand. “But don’t worry, it won’t happen to you.”

Her grip tightened and I tried to speak, but fell short. Although I didn’t know what she meant, and wanted with my whole heart to understand this time, a sudden mourning wrapped us both, and we sat in the tall grass till the sun rose.

I never saw her again. I missed my friend for ages and never stopped thinking about the finality of her last words to me. Each morning I questioned what she was protecting me from, and each night, I’d hope she was happier now. Tonight, was no different. I settled into bed with our childhood memories swimming through my mind.

“Mila.” A hushed voice called through the winds, “Mila.” Flurries of dried leaves blew through my window. It was Callie, I knew it was.

“The grass,” more whispering.

I raced to the window, breath caught in my throat, hoping I wasn’t imagining things. A woman stood on the sidewalk, her back to me. “The grass,” the woman pointed toward the thicket before her. She never turned to look at me, but I’d recognize those jet-black locks anywhere. Her voice carried gently in the chilly autumn air, “Milaaaa.” She headed for the wood, not waiting for a reply.

Goosebumps tingled as they formed over my body—something was wrong. I didn’t know what exactly, but something rotten was coming from the young girl I used to know.

I took a chance, throwing on whatever shoes were nearest and sprinted after her. She called my name again as she disappeared between the trees. She was guiding me to the place we’d last seen each other. While I knew where she was going, the path seemed darker than it used to. I held my arms close to my chest and stepped carefully, doing my best to avoid the littering of twigs and dried leaves. Making noise now felt wrong.

When I reached the meadow, I saw her standing impossibly far off. Her complexion lacked any pigment, as if she’d become translucent. Her frosted blue eyes glistened in the moonlight. They pierced through me, penetrating my mind. Callie didn’t speak, she didn’t move. My head felt fuzzy while she added the missing puzzle pieces.

Her talks became clear: all the warnings and sorrows.

I saw her nervously return home, greeted by her family who immediately whisked her to their self-made basement. They left her there, without food or drink for several days. My heart wretched; her panic consumed me. I listened while she sobbed, begging and bargaining for reprieve.

As the final morning arrived, they granted it. Her parents and siblings stood around her. Limbs tied and over extended with strange symbols drawn above them. They chanted in guttural tones, calling to sacred unseen forces. When Callie pleaded for them to stop, they chanted louder. Her face was beet red and drenched in sweat, she struggled against the binds to no avail. Hopeless, she simply wished for Life to let go. And let go, it did.

No more struggling, just quiet. The family’s erratic behavior stilled; they watched with baited breath while Callie’s chest ceased expanding. The youngest untied her wrists as he’d been told, while her sister released her ankles. Quickly they returned to their places among the others, continuing to await their master.

Callie’s fingers twitched; her light eyes flicked open.

I gasped, overwhelmed by the unfolding nightmare.

Her body rose, head hanging limply against her chest. “You called?” Different octaves of her voice sounded in unison.
Her father started to speak, he intended to be the first to address their Lord, but before he could utter a single syllable, he was cut off.

Callie spoke again, answering herself, “Ah, yes. I see. Consider yourself relieved.” Her neck snapped, jerking her head upright. Crystal eyes aglow and streams of blood leaked from the corners of her mouth.

The circle that surrounded her realized their mistake—they had been forsaken. Her mother was the first to attempt an escape, she was also the first to scream. One by one, they each cried out in pain—in fear, it didn’t matter anymore. Callie reveled in her shrieking chorus. Life had excused her from the torment she was undergoing, but Death, well, Death was ready for a new song.

Flayed alive; layers removed in coils, stripping the meat from their bones. They watched. They begged. They created new sounds that Death had never fathomed, and Death had heard them all. When there were no other ghastly chords to extract from the participants, Callie vanished. Her family left to decompose in their dank cellar; spoiled cadavers trapped with eternal screaming.

The smell of wet grass thrust me back to the wood. Callie was closer now; I could see her flesh cracking, and smell the odorous sludge as it dripped from her festering maw. She grimaced; her jerky movements frightened me. “Callie?” I murmured.

She gripped my shoulder tight, her slender fingers dug deep into my bones. My eyes watered from the sting.

“Callie, please.” I whimpered.

My friend had been gone a long time; it seemed Life and Death were craving another melody.

∼ Lydia Prime

© Copyright Lydia Prime. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 45

DW_45

Drops
Nina D’Arcangela

With each tear that fell from her cheek, another drop of laudanum fell from the pipette. Chewing her lower lip, she wondered if the choice she’d made was a just one. Closing her eyes, she drew forth a fond memory of her once vital son laughing as he played – a sound she’s not heard in some time. Her knees buckled as her resolve strengthened. A few more drops and his pain would be ended. Climbing the stairs, the glass of apple juice trembling in her hand, she choked back her own wail of agony.


Elixer
RJ Meldrum

The last tank was empty. The desalination plants were redundant, there was no seawater left. The humidity collectors had been scrapped, the air was too dry. It was over.

The vial was found in a storage room in an abandoned hospital. Five milliliters of distilled water. It wasn’t enough to share; it was too much to waste. It was a token; it wouldn’t prolong anyone’s life, but before the end came, it was decided to allow one lucky person to have it. A lottery was held.

It was a public event. The winner was paraded on the stage; they were to drink the contents in front of everyone else. It was partly because the elders wanted to share the moment with the community, partly because they wanted to make it clear that it was over, that their world would soon end. They wanted to calm the population, force them to accept their fate calmly. It failed.

As the winner ascended the stairs to the platform, the crown surged and stormed the stage. The vial, the last water on Earth, was knocked out of the winner’s hand, the fragile glass smashing. As the contents drained away, the crowd, the last remnant of humanity, destroyed each other.


Just One Drop
Marge Simon

Dr. Wang Yin Ho, MD, MS, HPLC

11287 47th St. N.E.

Ste. 334

Laurel Canyon Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90046

Dear Dr. Ho:

We are pleased to inform you that your Agent DK-45 has passed rigorous testing and is fit for distribution. to the masses. Just as promised, no other drug has proven so effective and easy to administer. Moreover, only one drop mixed with extender has proven sufficient for hundreds of inoculations. With support from Senators Epstein and Bortz, the FDA has approved it to be processed and sold by a pharma company of the Party’s choice. 

Congratulations for formulating a cure for all viruses, even if they mutate. Equally important, the side effects are crucial to preserving the interests of the Party; after immunization, citizens will believe whatever is told them by the current Party President. As specified, injections shall be given directly into the brainstem.

It is regrettable you were unable to come forth with an antidote, “just in case”. In compliance with the fine print in your contract, you are to be manually terminated within the next twelve hours. Kindly use that time to settle your affairs.

Your heroic service is much appreciated.

Vladimir Naronkov

Nikolas Obanovitch

Polymorph Analysis Specialists


Treatments
A.F. Stewart

He moaned as the syringe plunged into his arm, as the chemicals pumped into his veins. Pain cycled through his body again and his muscles spasmed. The murmur of the doctors drifted against the whir of machines monitoring his vital signs. Part of him wanted to laugh hysterically. ‘Treatments’ they called these daily sessions, essential to his rehabilitation.

Torture, he called it. Brainwashing.

As the drugs coursed into his blood, into his brain, he tried to hold on to his memories, to his resolve. To the brief, bittersweet liberty he had known. For a few weeks, he had been free to view the world as he saw fit, not how the world government dictated. Before they discovered his secret and dragged him here.

That autonomy was over now. It was only a matter of time. The drug regimen would erase his thoughts, his memories, his will. Soon he would be a good citizen once more, the perfect slave to society.

He moaned as another needle slid into his arm.


Miracle
Mark Steinwachs

A miracle drug. Aren’t they all? Science is wonderful but it doesn’t mean shit in here. Or at least it didn’t until the scientists figured out that this magic potion determined if you were a good or bad person as it sent you to your death. They told us about it, not like we understood all the fancy doctor speak. They wanted it to go over our heads. We don’t matter in their eyes. Anyway, it was something about brainwaves and happiness or terror as the person died. Our days were numbered at that point. If we died happy then we were better off than wasting away here. If we died in terror then we didn’t deserve what little we had.

My cell slides open, an officer and a death dealer walk in. None of us resist, it’s pointless. I lay on my bunk. I know what I am, and where I’m going.


Reflections Within
Charles Gramlich

In the slow drip of heavy water, the eye of God reflects the face of the demon in my mouth.

All gangrenous lips and bright teeth, he shreds throats to the arteries. He melts bone to fluid.

In the vacuum, from the absence, I call to the light that screams for release, that begs to fall.

Only in the slow drip of blood am I alive.


Banishing Monsters
Scarlett R. Algee

I should be off work—it’s two days before Christmas—but instead I’m dosing inmates. It’s better this way, the warden says. It gets “the unpleasantness,” as he calls it, out of the way.

The door separating my office space from the infirmary is steel, but the prisoner screaming in that next room may as well be in here for how loud she is, the weighty metal chair she’s strapped to scraping the concrete floor despite the sedative I’d administered before the serum. Turns out even propofol won’t stop the howls or the thrashing; I can practically hear her vocal cords tearing, her bones breaking and shifting as the serum makes them reform themselves. I don’t have to look through my door’s observation window to know that by the time her transformation’s exhausted her, she’ll be a limp, gaunt, nearly lifeless thing: four-inch talons projecting from her toes and fingers, two-inch fangs breaking through her upper lip to overlap the bottom.

I don’t have to see it in this one, because I’ve seen it in the others. Eyes with newly-slitted pupils glazed over by agony. Hungry mouths spilling saliva, but too weak to feed. Easy to deal with, this unpleasantness: easy to drag them outside. Even in the weakest winter sun, it’s over in five minutes. The warden has, at least, justified it to himself: we’re banishing monsters. Nobody can call it murder if we’re not killing humans.

My office is older than the infirmary itself: the staff door opens directly outside. I unlock it and shove it ajar. This vial of serum yields one last dose into a syringe, and on the threshold, I shove the needle into my neck and plunge the liquid home.

Then I stumble out into the sunlight, and wait for the pain to come.


Drink, Drip, Dibble
Lydia Prime

‘If you violate the deal in anyway, he’ll have never known, nor loved you.’ Niustafa’s words echoed inside Kevin’s skull.

Kevin sipped the clear liquid; it didn’t take as long as he’d expected. Seamlessly, he was standing over himself, watching while the alternating shades of blue danced across his features. His mouth leaking acidic foam. Well, that’s attractive… he thought; his right arm dangling out of the porcelain bath, barely clutching that freeing glass vial.


God Bless Us Everyone
Ian Sputnik

I tapped on the bedroom door, used my back to push it open, and entered carrying the tray. I wished Mum good morning, and she wished me a merry Christmas. As she sat up, I put the platter on her lap and bent to kiss her forehead. She asked when Gemma, my sister, would arrive. I told her soon. She smiled and took a sip of tea before tucking into her marmalade-on-toast breakfast.

“Time for your medication, Mum,” I said as I counted the drops from the pipette onto her tongue. She complained of being tired and wanted a few more minutes rest, but demanded I didn’t let her oversleep, as there was so much to be done in preparation for Christmas. I tucked her back in and kissed her head again, knowing Gemma would not be coming.

Her and her husband had been killed by a drunk driver seven months prior. I’d tried to explain it to Mum, but each day it grew more difficult. Every morning was Christmas to Mum. Every morning she awoke excited with the expectation of seeing Gemma.

I wasn’t sure if it was her I was releasing from the ongoing nightmare, or myself. But I couldn’t break the news to her yet again.


Vial Pleasure
Lee Andrew Forman

I cherish these drops of pain and sorrow. True pleasure lies within, deep inside the elixir — a fine-tuned concoction of select donors that appease my taste. Each was extracted with care, distilled with precise cruelty; a cruelty that sweetens the flow. A not-so-gentle stab of the heart, harsh words rasped on whispered breath, a length of hemp knotted and coarse. Extreme cases demand shivs of metal, a sharpened tool; whatever it takes to enrich the aquiline ecstasy. My tongue grows hungry for more, slaps the roof of my mouth with greed as the next is harnessed to satiate the damp organ that roams my mouth.



Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2020

A Single Breath

A whale surfaces. Exhales. Foul air spumes thirty feet high. The droplets fall, winking with sunlight beneath the blue sky. The whale draws a fresh breath. It flows crisp and cool into his lungs before he slides back beneath the waves. He doesn’t dive, just lets himself slowly sink, using his flippers and fluke only for balance.

This whale is old, tired. He hasn’t eaten in a while. He wants to rest. No other whales are around. He’d been swimming with a small pod but had fallen behind. That doesn’t seem to matter.

The water is a clear and diffuse yellow here just beneath the surface. It glows warm from the sun and the whale wants to hang onto that warmth. But the effort required to do so is tremendous. He sinks a little further, his flippers stroking fitfully at the water.

Yellow light turns green, then turquoise. The water cools a little. It’s like a vast liquid gem, flawed with bubbles and whorls of current. There are no fish, no krill. He is at the center of the turbulence. Then the turbulence dies away. The green water darkens toward emerald. He sinks.

How much farther does he need to travel to reach the krill fields? Will there be anything left when he arrives? Will any of the other whales still be there? His flippers stir, then still.

He sinks a little more. The water is purple now, like twilight at the surface. But unlike at the surface, there is no wind, no roughness of waves. The ocean has a silken stillness to it. A memory comes. His first mate. Her flank brushed his, sometimes as silken as this ocean, sometimes so barnacled-rough that it scratched his flesh.

The memory passes. The ocean darkens. He drowses.

The world is black when he awakens. He drifts through a formless void. A faint pressure in his lungs lets him know that he will need to rise soon. He will have to breathe, and the surface is a long swim away now.

Then light distracts him, glittering, dancing light. He recalls youthful nights, broaching beneath a festival sky strewn with stars. A song stirs deep within but does not pass his throat. These lights are not stars; they are luminescent plankton stirred by his decent through their level. And he is not young. There is no song left.

The moment is here. He must swim now or never swim again. The surface is far away; his lungs begin to strain. Working his fluke and flippers, he begins to rise. Then he stops. The plankton have drifted away from him. He is in blackness again. Alone. The water is cold, cold.

All tension bleeds from his body. He sinks. Deeper and deeper. At some point he exhales. And the bubbles rise. In a while they will burst on the surface, and there will never be more.

~ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

October Ceremonial

We recline on velvet cushions on this, our most sacred night of the year. You wear your ceremonial robe of dark scarlet. I’ve donned my star-milk gown. The sickle moon is risen, bone bright in the skies, and the Nightbird sings of death.

A minion has been chosen to bring the hallowed chalice. Beside it on a silver tray, the knife. Without further ado, you slit his throat. And the blood flows, filling the vessel. We toast the creatures lining up as the drums begin a steady beat. A fiddler joins the drummer, and the rhythm picks up, fast & faster still! Massive bodies twist & turn. Indeed, it is a frenzy to behold! At a wave from you, the music ends. Eyes wild, bodies slick with sweat, they turn our way to bow.

I clap my hands, “Begone my lovelies, this hallowed night is yours!” One by one they fade to shadows. As the moon approaches its zenith, you draw me close for a long, sweet kiss. We drink an analeptic toast, satisfied our children will carry out their sacred task. Soon enough, they’ll sate their hunger on the costumed urchins in the streets, this last night of October

~ Marge Simon

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