Volume 1 Issue 32

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The saints surely have come marchin’ in with this issue. We have thirteen different stories from around the world, defining the word ‘saint’ from a wide spectrum of meaning. We see “saints” who beg, who suffer, who give everything away (including their last scrap of clothing…). It is a beatific collection to read this week, following on the heels of All Saints Day. In this issue, you will read the following heavenly stories:

(p. 2) Amazing Pleasure Kelli J Gavin
(p. 3) Sunil Sharma
(p. 4) Thomas McDade
(p. 5) Mark Kuglin
(p. 6) deb y felio
(p. 7) Louis Kasatkin
(p. 8) Riham Adly
(p. 9) Cary Crossen
(p. 10) Kathy Sanford
(p. 11) Karyn Powers
(p. 12) Debjani Mukherjee
(p. 13) Annie Bien
(p. 14) Karen Petersen 

Also, don’t forget that nominations for The Pushcart Prize are still being accepted until next week. Please know that the nominations are anonymous so if you happen to nominate yourself, that is between you and yourself. It is your opinion, after all.

The podcast for Issue 31 will be up later today and I will be contacting the selected authors for Issue 32’s podcast later very soon.

I am also working on the printed edition that will be released next month. It is coming together nicely and will include a Mercurial Stories tote bag. Very exciting (for those of us who collect tote bags)!

Also, I have an idea about putting together a bilingual/multilingual issue in the future. This is just a seed right now but if anyone is interested in discussing it with me, you know where to send your thoughts: mercurialstories@gmail.com


Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Volume 1 Prompt 32

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Have you ever known someone described (or self-described) as a saint? A holier-than-thou individual whom you could never warm up to, for some reason? Or maybe you have encountered a bonafide, no-cynicism-necessary saint, one that lit up the world with goodness. Or maybe we are discussing those who were officially declared saints, like Saint Ambrose, the patron saint of beekeepers, or Saint Bibiana who was abused by a lesbian and eventually killed by the Governor of Rome but died with a smile on her face. (In fact, there is a whole treasure trove of possible stories with just the Catholic saints alone because they were often canonized for weird feats, like causing their fathers to burst into flames postmortem- see Saint Barbara.)

This week, in honor of All Saint’s Day (11/1- when your stories are due), let’s bring out the saints in whatever form they appear. Include one character in your story who fits some definition of a saint.

As always, 500 words or less, due by 8 pm EST on Thursday. 

Also, don’t forget to nominate a story from the archives for The Pushcart Prize.

Volume 1 Issue 31

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When I was a kid, there were abandoned houses scattered throughout the woods surrounding our house. Most were forsaken when the head of a family died and the remaining children had no interest in living in the sticks. Eventually, the houses would be ransacked and occasionally attract squatters but there was one house that managed to escape such a fate. It was a small concrete block house, built by distant relatives on a front lot of some less distant relatives.

They were quiet people and had one child. They built a dock and hung a tire swing and sent their child to the local school on the yellow school bus with all of his varying degrees of cousins. One day though, he came home sick from school and he never left his bed again. It was a long, harrowing illness and in the end, he was buried in the family cemetery a mile down the two-lane road that ran in front of their house.

Their loss was devastating. One night, they simply got in their car and never returned. People assumed they would come back once they were finished grieving but they did not. Perhaps they never finished grieving. Regardless, the little block house they had abandoned just stood there on the side of the road, filled with furniture and clothes, toys and cutlery. For some reason, no one ever ransacked it, even though the door was unlocked. No one ever squatted there either, despite the comfortable furnishings.

On my twelfth birthday, I had some friends over for a slumber party. I am a late September baby so when they arrived in the afternoon, we had quite a few hours of daylight to kill before it was dark enough for horror movies and pizza. My best friend at the time suggested that we go to the little block house, having heard it was haunted. I protested, said we would get in trouble, and she taunted me by calling me Miss Pretty Pure. Of course, I relented and made a point of leading the way. I hated being called Miss Pretty Pure and she knew it.

Stepping into the house was like stepping into a time capsule. Everything was olive green, yellow, and orange- the tell-tale colors of the seventies. The shag carpet, the flower print on the walls, the rough velour armchairs: all details were bought before any of us intruders were even born. There was an odd juxtaposition of cleanliness and vines, thorny rambling vines that we had to avoid in order to explore the six rooms of the place.

All the interior doors were open except one and this was the one I was commanded to open by my friends. I knew it was the boy’s bedroom, the place where he had exhaled his last breath. There was a sticker of a baseball in the middle of the door with the name Scott written across it. Little Scotty is what everyone called him.

I took a breath, walked down the hall and opened the door. His room was small but welcoming with fading sunlight streaming in through sun-bleached blue plaid curtains. There was a bookcase with a row of dusty little league trophies and a stack of curling comic books by the bed. On the bed was a yellow chenille bedspread and underneath it, for just a second, was Scott. He looked at me then closed his eyes and vanished. I did not jump because I was not scared. Instead, I just stepped back into the hallway and shut the door.

“We shouldn’t be here,” I said firmly and walked through the living room to the front door, giving no opportunity for taunting. I understood now why the house had been abandoned, why it was left as it was. I think we all understood for no one said a single word until we were in my backyard where my family was waiting for us with a cake and a stack of takeout pizzas. Scott had never seen twelve candles on a cake for him. This is what I was thinking as I blew them out, forgetting to make my wish. He was forever eleven and that was more haunting than the apparition.

The house is gone now, of course, along with the trees and palmettos and cousins. The family cemetery remains though with no one around to maintain it you can hardly see it from the road anymore. And as for Little Scotty, I am not sure what happened to him when they threw away his sick bed, his row of trophies and stack of comic books. Perhaps he is still there somehow but I know he is also here, in my memory forever. Little Scotty, my very first ghost.



And yes, that was a true story, or as true as a story can be when based on a twenty-seven-year-old memory. Isn’t that the way with haunted houses, that the ghosts are never as chilling as the truths of the living? More than the actual spirit, I remember the kitchen and the two cups sitting by the sink, white with a bold yellow stripe running around the middle. The disappearance of his parents breaks my heart even now, especially since I have an eleven-year-old, soon to be twelve-year-old, of my own.

This week, we have five tales of five different types of hauntings from contributors Kelli J Gavin, Sunil Sharma, Louis Kasatkin, Jean Wolfersteig, and Debjani Mukherjee. Very diverse in content but the common thread these five stories share is that ghosts take on all sorts of forms and can haunt a heart just as readily as a house.




The House Isn’t Haunted Anymore
Kelli J Gavin

He always knew it would be this way.  He spent six amazing months falling over every word she said.  He couldn’t get enough of her. Up late at night talking about all that they desired in the future. They spoke of past hurt and pain, the joy they experienced with each other and what they wanted from each other.  Every moment of every day, if he wasn’t with her, he wanted to be. He thought of her touch, the curve of her lip, the way she smiled when she caught his eye. He may have felt from the beginning that he loved her more. More than she loved him.  He was enamored with her. She may have cared for him, possibly even been entertained by him, but he never felt that she actually loved him. She was almost too good to true. She wasn’t particularly beautiful by today’s standards. Her hair didn’t shine. Her eyes didn’t glint in the sun. But she was funny, carefree and passionate.  She never did anything she didn’t want to do and she was good at everything.

When she left, she hugged him. Only a hug. Not a kiss, not a tight embrace, not a proclamation of another time and another place.  A hug. A simple meeting of bodies. She smiled yet her attention seemed elsewhere. Almost as if the act of saying goodbye to him was a chore and not voluntary. He tried to catch her eye to see if there was something more going on.  She wouldn’t look at him. She wouldn’t look into his blue eyes. Maybe she couldn’t. He wondered if she would have stayed if he had met her eye.

She now had been gone just as long as they had been together.  Six months together, now six months apart. He was convinced the home that they shared was haunted, mostly by her absence.  Little reminders of days gone by. An earring found under the bed. A whiff of her perfume even when he was home alone. He admired the way she folded the pillowcases in the linen closet. But then hated it at the same time.  He threw them on the floor and didn’t want to deal with the perfect folds at that time. Why did they have so many pillowcases? He found himself ordering pizza the way she liked it, then changed the order to something she would have turned her nose up at. He believed he could hear her humming when he came in from work each evening. He would stand in the dark back entryway of the home they shared and pray, that she would be there this time. She never was.

He wondered if there would ever be a time he could say, that it didn’t hurt so much. He prayed there would be a day when the house that they shared wasn’t haunted by her anymore.


Bio:

Kelli J Gavin lives in Carver, Minnesota with Josh, her husband of an obscene amount of years and they have two crazy kids. She is a Writer, Professional Organizer and owns Home & Life Organization and a small Jewelry Company.  Look for Kelli’s first book of short stories and poems in 2019. You can find her work with The Ugly Writers, Sweatpants & Coffee, Writing In a Woman’s Voice, The Writers Newsletter, Writers Unite!, Academy of the Heart and Mind, The Rye Whiskey Review, Spillwords, Mercurial Stories, 121 Words, Hickory Stump, HerStry, Ariel Chart, The Basil O’Flaherty, PPP Ezine, Southwest Media, Otherwise Engaged, Pleather Skin, Paper.Li, The New Ink Review, among others.                                                                                                                                                                   Find Kelli on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @KelliJGavin

Blog found at kellijgavin.blogspot.com



 

The Ghost of R. Kipling
Sunil Sharma

Grandpa was a great storyteller. Here is his favorite:

In Shimla, I came across a hotel with a large sign: Discover history.

—What is the historic thing? I asked the portly owner, Wilson, the last Anglo-Indian family left.

—The Kiplings used to stay here in summers. We rebuilt the property. The Raj connection.

—Rudyard Kipling?

—Yes.

—Why demolition?

—It was in ruins. Remodeled the old colonial-style bungalow. Kipling enthusiasts visit us for that feel.

—OK.

The city was crowded with tourists. All hotels were full except this one, despite its good location, tranquility, nice garden and cheap tariffs.

Puzzling!

After checking in, I had this sudden creepy sense— of being watched by an unseen figure.

Spooky!

Never believed in the post-industrial mythology of haunting but something was definitely odd.

What was that?

I could not figure it out.

The answer arrived soon.

.

After a light dinner, smoke and stroll, I went to my corner room for the night.

And discovered R Kipling sitting in the chair, as a special guest!

Wanted to scream!

The author commanded serenely: Welcome to this encounter of a different dimension.

—Thanks. Why this conversation at this unearthly hour? I asked.

—You taught me for long.

I nodded.

—Chance brought you this place. The adepts are chosen for such Shakespearean trysts.

I smiled: Or Dickensian. Real haunting?

Rudyard: Writers never die. They get reborn. Resurrected by readers.

—Yes. I confirmed.

—Once you wanted to probe me. Go ahead.

I paused and then said: Yes, I do want to question you.

—Please do.

—Why did you paint the natives badly? The binary of whiteness and darkness? Civilized and savage? So predictable and overstretched. This supposed racial superiority of the West! Apes in need of salvation and light?

—Is it so? Give me the lines, angry post-colonial reader.

—Sure. I quote from that pathetic apology to imperialism, called “The White Man’s Burden”:

Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
The savage wars of peace….

The ghost replied: What is wrong with that paean to the West and its civilization?

—Why not a Caliban in this insidious text? Counterfoil and argument?

—His trace is there.

—Very weak, in fact.

—Not everybody is Shakespeare. Besides, the age of empire is over.

—Sorry! The neo-imperialism is back and you are their latest icon.

He was mum.

I observed: Writers are either a presence or a specter. You have become a ghost that haunts the West and the East. Things change. The sullen peoples rising up against the empires everywhere. Half- devils against the full devils!

Silence.

—The country of your birth represented so poorly! Disgusting racialism!

He remained quiet.

—Savage wars, to be reversed. Retold. We reclaim, re-write R. Kipling!

He turned paler and then….

End it your way, reader!


Bio:

Sunil Sharma is Mumbai-based senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 19 published books: Six collections of poetry; two of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, eight joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.

Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA:

http://www.setumag.com/p/setu-home.html

For more details, please visit the blog:

http://www.drsunilsharma.blogspot.in/



Les Autres
Louis Kasatkin

The unexplained disappearance of the reclusive author had never been properly investigated, at least not to the satisfaction of his fans, his readers and most of all his adopted son, the wannabe reporter on the local rag.
For years this state of dissatisfaction festered amongst the interested parties, who if nothing else managed to commemorate the renowned scribbler’s vanishment with an annual pilgrimage of sorts.
Then one year with the weather being particularly inclement, even for the usually desolate Scottish lochs, only the reporter had made it to the venue, the deserted house. Whereupon finding himself alone resolved in an instant to make a foray into the abandoned domicile to perhaps in his own mind satisfy an unquenchable curiosity.
Nothing actually came of that quixotic foray, nothing that is apart from a chance discovery, in the drawer of an antique dresser of a manuscript.
A suicide note perhaps? maybe not. A last will and testament? no one, however, questioned its authenticity when it was scanned and reproduced in the local weekly under the adopted son’s byline. The absent author alluded to his own ineluctable disappearance in the form of a poem. Simply perhaps to add to whatever mystery was bound to ensue from his vanishment.

When winter’s cadence sounds,
burn their pictures
the photographs of the dead
burn them,
so that they shan’t
trouble you again
when winter’s cadence sounds;

the gardens are shrouded
in snow
upon which no earthly foot
will fall,
and the door chimes dormant
hang suspended by a thread
of your own disbelief;

an imperceptible menace
waiting for a breath,
a snap of cold winter’s
air to cut the thread
and send it crashing,

crashing onto the floor,
where you shan’t hear it
except in your imagination’s
ear firmly fixed on the
sound of winter’s cadence.


Bio:

Louis Kasatkin is Founder of the renowned U.K.based Destiny Poets and Editorial Administrator of http://www.destinypoets.co.uk. Other than that Louis is an inveterate blogger and polemicist, local community activist and has been described as a general nuisance to the status quo. The rest you can google for yourselves.



 

I MOVED
Jean Wolfersteig

You woke me in the middle of the night in my last year of college. Standing at the bottom of my bed – tall and blue with a bandage circling your head like a turban – you looked so real I thought I’d left the back door open. Then, you faded away. In the days that followed, I found the shower running, doors wide open, and knick-knacks rearranged when I returned home from my classes. The house was built in the 1800s, and no doubt its bones ached with some tragedy. I imagined you were angry you’d been seen.

I moved

to a trailer on the other side of the county where I’d found a job. I relocated from a liberal college town to a rural hamlet to work at the local psychiatric hospital. It was a huge culture shock. Woefully, when I came home at night, the doors I’d locked in the morning were open, the shower running, the knick-knacks shuffled. I realized you’d moved with me. I went on vacation. The landlord found the doors open, the shower running – and fifteen hundred feet of telephone wire missing from beneath the trailer. There was a cemetery across the street. What did you have in mind?

I moved

to a tiny house on a hill with a bathroom bigger than the bedroom, living room, and kitchen combined. I lived there happily for a few months. All was quiet. I thought you’d found your place in that cemetery and finally left me to my own life. Until one night while I was sound asleep in the darkened room, my cat flew through the air, screaming and scratching at my arms and face. The air was heavy and drenched in evil. I hurried outside and waited on the stoop for the sun to rise. The cat took off for good.

I moved

to an SRO at the psychiatric hospital where I worked. It was a strange place to live. Long hallways lined with single rooms and communal bathrooms, occupied by poor people doing shift work. Food service workers. Housekeepers. Ward staff. Cooking meals illegally on single burners in their rooms. Buying and selling drugs in the common areas. Telling stories about crazy people. Trying to feel better off than patients, as if they weren’t imprisoned, too. I kept to myself. Ate packaged soup and crackers. Showered while others were not around. Read. Went to work. I couldn’t feel you anywhere. I supposed I’d finally found a place to live where you didn’t feel welcome. But neither did I.

I moved

to a lovely little house in another town, less isolated, more tolerant. Almost perfect. No more anxieties about fitting in. No more worries about your ghostly presence. But something isn’t right. The air goes cold, ruffling the hair on my arms and the back of my neck. And there’s a bad smell in my shower drain, like ammonia and rotten eggs.

Maybe it isn’t the house that’s haunted.


Bio:

Jean Wolfersteig retired as CEO of a psychiatric hospital in upstate New York and turned to writing fiction and teaching yoga. She is currently looking for a home for her novel, The Room Where the Elephants Go to Die. Her short fiction has appeared in the Akashic Books Mondays Are Murder and Duppy Thursday series and will soon appear in their Fri Sci-Fi series. She lives in the Mid-Hudson Valley, and, in the tradition of her beloved Catskill Mountains, thrives on ghost stories.



Haunted House
Debjani Mukherjee

Titli kept running up and down through the spiral stairs of her new house. She just loved her new house. Before they used to stay in a flat where there was hardly any place to play but here in this big house with so many rooms Titli is very happy to fly around. One by one she checked all the rooms and selected the one in the southwest corner of the house, the one which has the biggest window of all, opening to the garden.

The whole day went in unpacking. Her parents took the room at the opposite side of the long hallway joining both the rooms at both ends. Titli unpacked all her toys and arranged them on the shelves beside the bed. Put all her clothes in the closet and arranged her little bed with a pink bed sheet. And then she hopped to the garden. She just loved the garden with so many trees. In Kolkata, there were very little trees planted only by the side of their building but here she got a whole garden to play in. She was no more sad about leaving her friends in Kolkata. She actually started loving her dad’s transfer here.

After dinner, Titli kissed her parents good night and went to her room. The big jalousie wooden window on the garden side was kept open. Titli slipped in her bed but couldn’t sleep. This was her first day in the house so she felt a little uneasy. She went to the window and closed it as she was unfamiliar with the solid darkness of the countryside. She didn’t remember when she fell asleep but woke up in the middle of the night by a whistling sound. It was coming from the garden. Titli tried to sleep ignoring it but the sound kept growing and after a while, it became so clear that she felt like it was coming just from the other side of the window.

She got afraid and hid her little body under the bed cover. But the sound kept growing even louder and this time she felt that it was coming right from under her bed. She shivered in fear and clutched the pillow hard pressing her face into it she wanted to call her parents but the room was too far and she knows her voice won’t reach to them. Suddenly the whistle stopped Titli slowly pulled down the cover from her head and looked around the room. There was no one in the room and just then the bed moved. Titli screamed like mad but no sound came out from her throat. She screamed again but only a silent gush of tears spilled through her eyes.

The bed stopped moving. She sat up on the bed bathed in her own sweat. Collecting courage she stooped down the bed to see what was there under the bed, but there was no one. She felt a little more courageous and stepped down the bed to run to her mother. She sprints to the door only to find it closed. She kept the handle twisting but couldn’t open it. She screamed in horror and banged the door vigorously but no sound came out at all. She felt her heart in her mouth and fell down on the floor and there it was written clearly with blood “Turn around I am just behind you.”


Bio:


Debjani Mukherjee
 is a MBA in applied management and also a poet and a writer. Her poems, short stories, and articles are published in several international anthologies and magazines.




 

Volume 1 Prompt 31

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It’s time to get spooky, dear writers. Set your ghosts (and imagination) free with your best short tale of a haunted house.

(I recommend Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House but if you don’t have the time for a novel between now and Thursday, a little Netflixing might be in order.)

Volume 1 Issue 28: Fire

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We have five elemental stories this week, each ablaze with intensity and searing with imagination. This week’s contributors include Kira, Sunil Sharma, Jenna Mason Stay, Kelli J Gavin, and Francine Witte. Warm yourself with these glowing stories of passion, loss, adventure, connection, desire, and fear.




Fire Fall
Kira

Have you ever felt like one of your dreams was real? I hadn’t, until then.

I was wandering around in a forest nearby. Fall had started its work: a fiery red was now slowly making its way into the woods, replacing the lush green I had started to get used to.

I preferred red. Red was fire and passion. Fight and fire.

I took a red leaf in my hand. Contemplating it made me feel powerful. Energy coursed through me, I felt invincible. I started to get worried when I felt a burning sensation going from my head to my arm, but it also felt familiar, like an old but impulsive friend.

Hi, anger.

A sharp pain, gone in an instant. The leaf caught fire, immediately destroyed.

And then, I blacked out.

I woke up in the middle of red maple leaves. Still groggy, I got up and resumed my walk. How come I had fainted so suddenly? I started hobbling, unsure and confused. I probably needed some rest. The flush of energy was gone, I wouldn’t be able to try my magic for a while.

Exhausted, I arrived in a clearing. It truly was a beautiful place: the sunlight was shining upon a red carpet of leaves. It was noon. Soon, the forest was bathed in a bright red light, so much that I couldn’t see the trees clearly anymore.

The forest was on fire, and it was magnificent.

This vision made me feel so much better. The bright light was comforting, the wind was blowing softly, ruffling through the leaves, making some of them fly away. Fall was here, softly announcing the Earth’s coming slumber.

Small issue: I didn’t see the arrow pointed at me on time.

It went through me, stuck itself into a tree behind me. A sharp, piercing, short pain rushed through my entire body. Blood came out, my face was twisted in surprise. I collapsed, then felt nothing.

I leapt to my feet, alarmed and confused. No time to be tired. I was still in the forest, lying in the middle of red maple leaves. I was fully awake this time. I was in danger. The dream felt so real… It had to become true.

A shot of anger pulsed through my veins. They had transformed me, and now they wanted me dead?

I was going to burn them all. It was a kill or be killed situation.

I dashed towards the clearing, hid behind a tree, sneaked a peek towards the general direction the arrow had come from. I couldn’t see for sure…I would have to lure them out.

Desperate for a solution, I lit up a stick and threw it towards the middle of the clearing, then rushed behind another tree. Three arrows missed me. I heard ruffling noises in the shadows. I was surrounded.

They were in for a world of pain.

I’m not completely human anymore. Remember that next time you try to fire anything at me.


Bio:

Kira is a writer and blogger as well as a languages teacher. She creates short stories and flash fiction, and is in the process of writing her first book. She also writes about mental health, video games, teaching, and likes to show off her photos.

All of this, because she aspires to make a difference to those who stopped seeing the beauty in this world.

Onwards to her writer’s den!

www.jackofwritingtrades.wordpress.com

www.facebook.com/JackofWritingTrades



The Campfire
Sunil Sharma

—There!

Silhouettes.

Sounds—growling, howling, roaring, barking, laughing—enough to unsettle urban imagination fired by a mysterious forest, on a wintry night. The campers, huddled around a merry fire, shivered by the strange.

Part of the Gothic Trail, they were there seeking adventure.

—Where? I cannot.

Rahul said, the usual skeptic.

—There.

Said the guide.

—Yes. I can see. Said Reema, adding:  Glowing eyes. Edge of the lake.

The fire was continually fed. It leapt up high. The twigs burnt up fast in its yellow belly; the fierce flames, insatiable; warmth, comforting.

The bonfire lent a golden tinge to the faces. The shadows cast by the blaze were menacing.

—Look!

An outlined figure, shimmering.

The campers experienced a chilling sensation.

—Who is it?

The guide declared: Princess’s Ghost!

—What?

—Yeah.

—Ghost?

—Every jungle has got dark denizens.

—Hmm. Do not believe.

Rahul said.

—I believe.

Said Reema.

Many colleagues nodded: There are dark forces.

Rahul smirked: Imagining things!

—You should not have joined the believers.

Said Reema: eyes red, speech, bit slurred.

The all-young corporate group from Delhi was getting excited slowly. The brooding forest and the strong wind added to the Otherness.

The lake glittered.

—Wherefrom comes the ghost?

Reema asked the guide.

—From the 18th-century fort.

—Why does she roam the night?

—She wanted to marry a commoner. When her lover was killed publicly, she jumped into the lake and died young and unfulfilled.

Rahul exclaimed: How romantic!

Rajesh countered: No. Real. These things happen.

—What about her lover?

Another camper asked.

The guide was silent. Then: Some folks have seen him also. Two separated lovers in different locations, on full-moon nights, pining.

—What if she pops up here?

Asked another woman.

—You will die of fright!

They laughed.

—Haunting in the outdoors!

Exclaimed Rahul.

They drank and ate supper. The moon shone on the trail leading to the fort. Trees swayed like drunken giants.

Wolves howled somewhere deep in the tropical forest.

—I can feel the spirits of the jungle.

Reema said.

—Oh! Revisiting the Sea of Trees?

Teased Rahul.

Rajesh replied: Even Aokigahara is real. There are realities outside human ken. We should not be dismissive.

—I am not disrespectful. Just stating my view.

Argued Rahul.

—Do not spoil the show! Rajesh admonished, every inch his senior in the office.

—Hush! Exclaimed Reema. I saw the spirits hovering behind the campfire.

—Where? Asked Rajesh.

—There.

They peered.

Fleeting figures in the damp air.

A piercing cry.

Blood-curdling!

The group fell silent. The fire crackled. But the air underwent a change. Most felt evil lurking in the shadows.

—OK. I will check.

Before others could stop, Rahul ran down.

They waited.

his loud scream echoed; desperate, chilling.

The men took up torches—to chase the scream, near the lake…


Bio:

Sunil Sharma is Mumbai-based senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 19 published books: Six collections of poetry; two of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, eight joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.

Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA:

http://www.setumag.com/p/setu-home.html

For more details, please visit the blog:

http://www.drsunilsharma.blogspot.in/



 

The Fire-Handler
Jenna Mason Stay

She watched the flame danced across her fingers—the sparks, the colors of the flames. Most people thought of fire as yellow or maybe orange, but fire was red and blue too. It burst with bits of green or blinding white as it caught trace minerals on her skin. It was both loud and quiet, like the moment before sunrise, before the world turns back on again. It was sweet and tart, hard and soft, a study in contradictions. It was life.

The flames tickled, and she brushed it back down from its subtle creep up her arm. She liked it best when she held it in her hands. She could turn it and turn it, roll it from her palm to the back of her hand and back again.

No one wanted to join her. She couldn’t understand that—the way they stood back and watched. They were fascinated too, she knew it, but no one approached. Were the flames really so frightening?

She shrugged and stomped out an ember that had landed in the dirt. So be it. They wouldn’t know the glory of the flame, and she would not have to share. As long as she held the flame, she would be alone, but that was enough.

And then.

A figure stepped from the crowd. He was tall, and his face filled with fascination as he approached—cautiously, as if she might bite. When he came close enough, the light of the flames reflected in his brown eyes, and she felt the beckoning call from a fire that for once she did not control.

“What’s it like?” he asked, almost reverently.

“Like the world,” she said. “A tiny world, burning in your hand, and all the comfort and warmth and discovery and joy you will ever know, all encapsulated in one spot.” She held up her hand, and she watched him watch the flames dance, swirling around her hand like the sand on the beach.

Mesmerizing.

He looked at her then, and his face glowed. “May I try it?”

She blinked. No one had ever asked this. Hadn’t she thought—known—that no one else would ever join her? “You … want to hold the fire?” she asked, and she could not restrain the surprise.

“I’ve heard said it can be done, even by those without the gift.” He shrugged shyly and looked away. “I hoped you might teach me.” When his eyes returned to her, they held back nothing, and his tone was confident, certain. Warm. “I want to know.”

He was right. It could be shared. Even now she felt the fire aching to grow. She smiled. “Yes, I’ll show you.” She reached out her hand, and his joined hers.

They touched, and the fire flowed between them, the flame lighting both their hands, bursting into sparks of brilliant light. Her smiled widened. This was how fire was meant to feel—strong, powerful, true.

And oh, how it burned.


Bio:

Jeanna Mason Stay does most of her writing in fantasy and fairy tales, making up new ways to look at old stories. Occasionally, though, she hears a siren call from some other genre. Jeanna’s most recent fairy tale is “Breadcrumbs,” the story of a post-traumatic Gretel searching for healing, published in Unspun: A Collection of Tattered Tales.

Jeanna loves fireflies, serial commas, and her husband and children. Not necessarily in that order. She dreams of one day owning a herd of Chia sheep. You can find her at calloohcallaycallay.blogspot.com and www.facebook.com/JeannaMasonStay/.



 

Burn
Kelli J Gavin

I catch fire more often than I care to admit
I catch feelings that fan the flame
I wonder if others burn the way I do
I wonder if they have pulled all the alarms
You can only fuel the fire for so long
You can’t watch from afar

I burn up rather quickly
My throat tightens
My hands wring
My eyes wince from the smoke
I wipe the soot from my skin
My feet tread carefully

Not sure where to turn
Not sure if the floor will hold
The beams crash behind me
The flames shoot up each wall
Five alarm fire I am afraid
No one cares to respond

The flame is extinguished
Usually by me creating distance
The ruins are all I have left.
The embers continue to smolder
I have to work at regaining my composure
I don’t have anything to cling to

It must be obvious
I sweep up the remnants
Nothing left to piece back together
At  least the walls have been scrubbed
New rugs have been laid
All prepared for the next time I burn


Bio:

Kelli J Gavin lives in Carver, Minnesota with Josh, her husband of an obscene amount of years and they have two crazy kids. She is a Writer, Professional Organizer and owns Home & Life Organization and a small Jewelry Company.  Look for Kelli’s first book of short stories and poems in 2019. You can find her work with The Ugly Writers, Sweatpants & Coffee, Writing In a Woman’s Voice, The Writers Newsletter, Writers Unite!, Academy of the Heart and Mind, The Rye Whiskey Review, Spillwords, Mercurial Stories, 121 Words, HerStry, Ariel Chart, The Basil O’Flaherty, PPP Ezine, Southwest Media, Otherwise Engaged, Pleather Skin, Paper.Li, The New Ink Review, among others.                                                                                                                                                                    Find Kelli on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @KelliJGavin

Blog found at kellijgavin@blogspot.com





Woman, Man, Fire

Francine Witte

Woman

I’m saying this because. I need to live same as you. I gave you my heart. It was plump and red. I had a photo of it. You even took it. But then you started saying busy and work. Now that photo is blackened and curled. The fire started as quick as love. As wrong as love. I don’t even think you are listening.

Man

Trouble is I am listening. Listening when I should be walking away. I saw your troubled heart, your broken photo heart. I knew it needed fixing and I couldn’t. I’m glad the photo burned. The house, the shrubs around it. I worried about that stove. I can always smell the future, the burn of it. Trouble is you didn’t listen.

Fire

First of all, I need to live. I need to eat in order to jump into my full yellow, blue hot at the base. The two of you so tasty. How could I resist? Started with dry and brittle love. Forget about the stove. The spark of romance out long ago, but this burned better. Woman still holding on. Man over. Out of balance works just fine for me. I can clean a mountain of its pine trees, leaving nothing but scraggled hands. Your love was an easy meal.  


Bio:

Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbooks and two flash fiction chapbooks. Her full-length poetry collection, Café Crazy, has recently been published by Kelsay Books. She is reviewer, blogger, and photographer. She is a former English teacher. She lives in NYC.



 

Volume 1 Issue 27: The Voice

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It is a slightly disconcerting sight to watch a larynx at work. It reminds me of a sea urchin’s mouth instead of the feature that enables (some of) us to sing L’Orfeo. Consider how glistening vocal cords create sounds that our minds, upon receiving the vibrations, subjectively interpret as haunting or irritating, alluring or threatening. It is a rather bizarre but charming process.
The talented contributor Sunil Sharma came up with this week’s prompt and four writers responded: Sunil SharmaDebjani Mukherjee, Leslie Crigger, and KiraEach writer’s own ‘voice’ is distinct as well as the voices they write of in their respective stories. I hope you enjoy reading the stories and ‘hearing’ these unique voices as much as I did.

 



The Baritone
Sunil Sharma

Love and its obsessions.

Narcissus transfixed with his own image.

The new-millennium world is image-driven.

Nina Ganguly, too, adored images. At 30, she was a self-declared Alice in search of wonderland.

She did not have to wait long.

The Alice-moment arrived, on a Sunday afternoon, in an unexpected manner.

.

Nina got electrified by a voice on the podcast.

Transported.

Entranced by quality.

The voice was like the rumbling that convulses the earth.

Strange feel and texture: Akin to the wind whispering in a remote Alpine forest, on a crisp summer morning.

Divine!

She was overwhelmed by the tenor and intensity—and its ability to move the listener to the core, the way you get enraptured, watching the Everest summit, first time.

The masculine voice triggered some long-forgotten sensation.

Jouissance—blogged thus:

pure bliss this, like the first rain drumming on the corrugated sheets or tiles of the mud houses in the small village on the edge of the river…the big drops creating a symphony odd…the grey curtain travelling fast over the plain and the meadow, drenching the trees that dance in the strong wind…kids screaming in joy and splashing in the brown puddles, a woman singing a song in a Kolkata home, a child trying to capture the diamonds from the dark skies in outstretched hands and the manna sliding down the fingers, and, some death chant in a mourning family, the light-n-dark blending in that specific instance

She fell in love with it!

She went on playing the podcast and felt uplifted.

Every time, the baritone opened up secret passages inside a heart long suspected to be cold, clogged.

A lightness of being similar to listening to Zubin Mehta or viewing Mona Lisa.

.

The folksy song done in a soulful voice ran:

This spring I will not be home

I will miss the beauty and the splendor

Of a rural scene

That breeze

That murmuring of bees

And waters of the river

And the song of the fishermen

And toiling boatmen

I will miss out all these

And your smile and love

Stuck up in this city of concrete!

You ask me to return

But I cannot

There are huge debts to be paid

But remember sweet-heart

The moon unites me with you all.

.

It was a podcast made by a young researcher on a local tribe and their dying oral culture. In her intro, she had talked of a gifted singer who narrated the agony of the uprooted.

His name was Mehto. Sans surname.

Anonymous. Last time, she met the famished singer, he was admitted into a municipality hospital.

I lost him from there. Concluded the researcher.

Nina fell in love again, this time with a popular image—an obscure singer; impoverished worker; a homeless migrant, untraceable, in the big, bad city of commerce.

She could understand the dualism of art — the simultaneous presence and absence of the creator.

An unseen artist becoming real through a distinctive voice.


Bio:

Sunil Sharma is Mumbai-based senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 19 published books: Six collections of poetry; two of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, eight joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.

Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA:

http://www.setumag.com/p/setu-home.html

For more details, please visit the blog:

http://www.drsunilsharma.blogspot.in/



The Lost Poem
Debjani Mukherjee

The yellow streetlights flood the empty roads. The car is running on the chest of the sleepy city, playing hide and seek with light and shadows. It is a cold night outside the glass window, reflecting the series of yellow lights on its surface. Here and there, a few souls are sitting around the fire trying to cut the cold chilling their bones. Riddhi doesn’t know what they are discussing, nor can she guess; it may be life, it may be failures of the government or it may simply be bread and butter, who knows!! Who cares!!! Nowadays nobody cares beyond themselves; she doesn’t either or does she? Does her heart still beat? Still feel? Still cry for the cold growing on the bones of humanity? For a moment she wondered what would happen if she sat beside those men tonight? Spreading her hands to the fire, feeling the warmth inside her heart and asking them how are you? How is life?

But the car neither noticed the fire nor the people around it. The wheels kept rolling on the streets glimmering with halogens. She turned up the radio; the magnificent voice of Lata Ji singing the words of Gulzar. “There must be a road that will go to you from the bend of this lane” Her eyes are sleepy, the song ended and she changed the channel.
A lovely, soft feminine voice was rendering a poem. The beautifully expressed words were vibrating with life. Riddhi wanted to remember the poem but couldn’t except a few lines ….
“The heart knows the sun will again rise/ again the night will fade but it’s hard to keep forbearance till then/ what is this patience? Where could I get it from?/ no shop ever sell it though.”
It was R J Sayema with one of her daily poems. Riddhi’s heart grew sad: she lost a poem. A poem of which she couldn’t know the beginning, a poem of which she couldn’t remember the end. Just a few lines got embossed in the mind, keeping the hunger alive. She wanted to capture the poem in the pages of her diary but they were lost in the twilight of the road. Much like life, a little under your control, a little wayward like a wild horse. Riddhi took a deep breath in and looked outside the window. A moment she loved is now a moment she lost and on her bed tonight her heart will moan. Moan for the poem, moan for a love that she lost forever.


Bio:

Debjani Mukherjee is a MBA in applied management and also a poet and a writer. Her poems, short stories and articles are published in several international anthologies and magazines. 



A Gentle Voice
Lesley Crigger

Thoughts scatter like Skittles from an overturned Easter basket. Bright and dazzling, they spin and skitter out of control. The display of new thoughts entices the mind at first, but the stimulation approaches too quickly and becomes overwhelming. A cry escapes my puckered lips.

Shh, shh, shh.

The chant rolls in on a tide of molasses- calm, sweet. Her voice, the eye of my intellectual hurricane, wraps its soothing extensions around me, well before her arms do.

Her feet shuffle along the shag carpet creating a familiar pattern as the plush piles are parted with each step towards me. A tranquil ritual in its own right but the ceremony has just begun, and I match the pitter patter of her feet with soft whimpers.

 Shh, shh, shh.

She croons, to reassure me her presence. Silky arms dotted with the finest brown hair swoop in to rescue me from my bedchamber, a high-walled prison of sorts. The place of slumber is no match for the giantess. I nestle into her plump, predictable embrace. As she walks toward her throne, she continues the chant.

Shh, shh, shh.

A hint of stale milk lingers on the air. Anticipating my needs before I can, she lifts her shirt to allow me a deeper nuzzle into her chest. On a raft of lullabies, I drift past consciousness. Soothed by the greatest voice my infant ears will ever know- my mother’s.




I met you
Kira

Finally, I heard your voice.

I had known you for a year, and then suddenly realized I had never heard your voice before.

You, in turn, had never realized I had never told you my real name.

Before meeting you, I had frantically looked you up on every social media account I could find, looking for videos of you. Obsessed. Whether you would be talking, singing, screaming, it wouldn’t have mattered: I just wanted a sample of your voice. I wanted to feel like I had met you, before I really did.

You’re the only one I wanted to meet so badly.

Then, I got lucky. I was on holiday, and you asked me if I would be interested in spending a few days at your place. I brought a friend, in case you were a weirdo.

My friend and I got lost in the city, arrived late, and you came to pick us up. You tried to make conversation and were adorably awkward. I don’t remember any of it. All I remember is that you still didn’t know my name at the time. I didn’t correct you. It was okay to be someone else for a little longer.

We arrived at your apartment, were impressed by the space, the view, then settled in. At least, tried to. You wanted to lend us your printer, but it wouldn’t work. You had food delivered for us, but spilled some of it. You tried to heat something up in the microwave, but it wasn’t ready to cooperate. It shut down, never to function ever again.

I was so anxious to meet you, but this was my way out. In order to lighten up the atmosphere, I jokingly asked: “Well, I guess you haven’t been here in a while. Everything tends to explode around here?”

In an undertone, you answered: “Oh no, I blew up this microwave.”

To this day, it makes absolutely no sense. I still have no idea why, but those words still echo in my mind. Suddenly, the world stopped being white noise. I was left troubled for a while.

Interesting to think that such random words, with your deep, husky voice, could be mesmerizing. You managed to make blowing things up very appealing.

You were the best kind of weirdo I could ever imagine. My kind of weirdo.

Finally, I met you.


Bio:

Kira is a full-time dreamer who just started her journey as a writer. She aspires to make a difference to those who stopped seeing the beauty in this world.

www.jackofwriting.wordpress.com

www.facebook.com/JackofWritingTrades



 

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