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Sunday, 30 October 2016

The Cat

One night when Melody Bannock was five years old, she awakened from a deep sleep, cold, with a bitter post-winter chill creeping in through the broken bedroom window. Her big brother, Paul, had broken it while batting rocks outside with a slab of wood. That had been before Melody could even remember, but that was how the story went. Her daddy had said it had to stay that way but Melody heard someone say broken windows could be fixed. She didn’t see how; it sounded like magic to her and magic wasn’t real, and anyway, she believed what her daddy told her.

She couldn’t really remember the window, and her mommy said it made for nice sleeping in the summer when the breeze comes through the hole where it used to be. She was looking forward to that. Summer came after Spring, she knew, and it was springtime now, so summer would be the next thing. She was really excited about summer; she almost couldn’t take the anticipation. She got too excited about things. She knew that because everybody always said so. They said she was too hyper, too curious, and too impetuous. She didn’t know what most of those things were; all she knew was that she was scared a lot. Of everything, all the time.

And now, she was scared of her dad waking up in the next bedroom, and smelling what she had done: she had peed the bed again, and peeing the bed was wrong. It was what only babies did and she wasn’t a baby, and she knew she would be punished for being such a bad and stupid girl.

She was freezing from the waist down as the dampness of her body intensified the coldness of the room. She reached blindly for the blanket to cover her legs. It wasn’t there. Then she remembered her parents had taken it for the night. They didn't have a bedroom door so they always took her blanket to cover themselves whenever they wanted to play their kissy giggling grown-up game in private.

But there was a dirty sheet, at least, crumpled at the bottom of her mattress. She knew that would help a bit, and she hoped maybe it might cover up the smell too, so then her daddy would never know and then he wouldn’t hit her tomorrow, at least not for that. Then she nearly cried when she remembered the sheet was outside hanging on the line, after being washed because she had peed the bed last night too.

Frustrated, she sat up, and tried to focus in the dark. Of all the things that she was afraid of, the dark was the worst of them all. Because anything can happen in the dark. When she closed her eyes in the daytime, sometimes she saw hideous monsters floating there, reaching toward her, smiling and snarling, wanting to eat her. But she could open her eyes and they would all be gone. In the dark though, in the dead of the night, when she opened her eyes they were still there, laughing at her for trying to will them away. There was no way to turn them into nothingness. For Melody, nighttime was a very bad time.

Sitting there, freezing, listening to her daddy snore in the next room under her nice warm blanket, she became more alert, and knew she had to get the sheet. Outside, at night. She had never gone out at night by herself, not when everybody was sleeping. She wished Paul was there; he wasn’t always nice to her, but Melody knew he would protect her if he could. But he was always staying out with his friends lately, drinking beer and getting weird, doing just what her daddy did all the time. She sometimes wondered why Paul was starting to act just like Daddy when he said so many times that he hated the way Daddy was. So many things in the world seemed strange to Melody.

Then she considered waking her mommy, but that couldn’t be done without waking Daddy too and Mommy always just did what Daddy wanted her to. And she always felt like her mommy didn’t really care a lot about her anyway. She didn’t know why that was.

Melody was out of options. She was alone in this situation, and thought maybe she should just go back to sleep. Maybe getting Daddy mad in the morning wouldn’t be as bad as going outside in the dark. That thought began to seem like the better plan until she shivered again, and knew she couldn’t sleep while she was so cold.

She looked warily at the front door.

Slowly, she rose and began creeping toward it, hoping the squeaky floorboards didn’t rouse her father. Why was the floor so loud at night? she wondered. She made her way to the door, being careful not to bump into anything or step on any empty beer cans or whatever was in her path. She kept expecting a monster to jump out at her from the shadows and she whimpered at the thought as she found the door knob and began to turn it. It seemed to take forever for it to go far enough to open, but it finally did. It made a loud click and her daddy suddenly stopped snoring. She froze. She held her breath and waited, too terrified to do anything else. Then he made an ugly sound in his throat and the snoring started again. She exhaled and relaxed, but just a little, as she opened the door and peered into the vast and silent night.

There was nothing there.

She couldn’t see their nearest neighbour’s house, or the fence, or – or anything. She left the door open and began creeping along the side of the small home, terrified that someone, some thing, might grab her. She walked on, her bare feet felt the dew on the grass, and she wondered why it was wet even though it hadn’t rained. She didn’t understand, but she liked the sensation. It felt nice. It felt real, unlike the rest of this expedition. She tried to concentrate on that, instead of scary monsters, as she rounded the side of the house where the clothesline was.

The grass was taller there, even though it hadn’t had much time to grow yet, and she felt the blades of grass tickling her ankles. She could have giggled if she wasn’t so scared, and then a different feeling: she couldn’t describe it at first, but then the pain announced itself. Melody squealed and quickly moved her foot but the shard of aluminum embed in her heel stayed put.

She sat down hard on the damp lawn and grabbed her foot. She didn’t know what was stuck in her heel but it hurt, and it was making her bleed. She began crying and summoned the courage to pull it out. She threw it away but her foot was bleeding more now. She cried harder, louder, and rubbed her eyes, not realizing her hand was covered in blood. It stung, and she tried to shake away the blood that was now obscuring her vision, but without much success.

She tried to stand up; it hurt to put pressure on her bleeding foot but she limped on, toward where she imagined the clothesline to be. Then she saw the vague outline of the white sheet, rippling gently on the line. She was so excited to see it, she almost forgot about her bleeding foot as she hurried toward it.

It was then she saw the eyes, gleaming in the dark.

They were green, like little twinkling sparks, beside where she thought the shed probably was. The eyes might have even seemed pretty, if she hadn’t heard the deep, guttural growl that emanating from the same place, there in the darkness.

*

The bobcat had been hunting in the bush, just behind the Bannock family’s shed, when he smelled the blood. Curious, and hungry, he ventured forth, out of his protective bush, and hunched beside the shed. He wasn’t prepared, yet, to go into open territory, not until he was more confident.

Then he spotted his prey. It was much larger than some of the creatures he feasted on, almost daunting in its mass. But he’d fought and won against bigger prey than this, too. He watched the child rise and start heading generally toward him. He scanned the yard, neither seeing nor smelling any other of the creature’s herd. There was nothing that might impede his mission. The smell of its blood excited him. It was injured, and may be less able to defend itself as a result.

He slowly, cautiously rose and began creeping forward into the open, toward the creature, never taking his eyes from her.

*

Melody couldn’t tell for sure, but she thought maybe whatever owned those green eyes was moving closer to her. It felt crazy to her to run closer to it, but that’s what she found herself doing, as best she could with a bleeding foot, because she had to get that sheet.

It surprised the creature when she did so, and it sprang into action.

Melody snatched the sheet from the line and fled back the way she had come. Her eyes having adjusted to the darkness a little better now, she could see the shape of the house. She crumpled the sheet as she ran so she wouldn’t trip over it, and made a frantic sprint to the corner of the house.

The animal snarled, filling her with dread, as she heard it gaining on her. It moved so fast! She ran quicker than she had ever ran before. She thought maybe if she could round the corner, the creature might shoot right past, and she could be at the front and in the door before it could turn and catch her.

She was wrong.

By the time she reached the corner of the house, it was nearly upon her. She turned to run for the door, but the cat rounded the corner agilely, barely slowing its stride as it did so, and scratched at her heels when she still had some yards to go. She screamed, almost not even caring if it woke her Daddy—and then actually hoping it would. As mad as he would be at her, he would still save her. Wouldn’t he? She couldn’t be sure but she thought so.

She fell, and the bobcat was on her. She whimpered, calling for her mommy, in a reserved voice, still uncertain as to the wisdom of that. The cat pinned her to the ground and flipped her over so she was on her back. She found herself looking dead into its eyes. It was inches from her face; those eyes, green slits that glowed with intensity. She felt its hot, putrid breath on her face, and its saliva that dripped from its mouth onto her cheek. There was no doubt: she had been right about the dark. There were monsters in its depths, and they were intent on eating her.

Her mother never stirred. Melody began crying louder and louder, until she finally threw caution to the wind and began screaming for both her parents to rescue her from the beast. Still, neither of them moved but the bobcat looked to her as if it were getting madder. And hungrier.

Her parents had argued earlier while drinking, and then made up while drinking more. It had been a particularly nasty fight. Mommy will have raccoon eyes again, Melody had thought, so their making-up session went on very late, and now neither of them could be roused by the terrified squeals of their daughter in peril.

Melody realized she was as good as alone in the world. No one would be saving her from the beast. No one could. She would get eaten, or she would fight and maybe survive. She didn’t know where the strength came from amid the paralyzing fear, but she decided to fight.

She reached wildly and found an object, and grasped it tight. It was the wire coat hanger she had discarded earlier that day. The one she had bent out relatively straight and used to impale bread onto, for the fire pit out back. She called for her parents one last time to come and save her.

Nothing.

Her daddy’s snoring wavered a little, then found its rhythm again as he drifted back down to the depths of his drunken slumber. Melody gasped as the cat flared its nostrils and narrowed its eyes. If it noticed her hand moving, it didn’t react to it, instead keeping its eyes locked to hers. Melody intuitively maintained eye contact with the creature so it would focus on hers instead of turning to bite her hand.

She inched the hanger closer.

The cat growled, deep in its belly. Melody suddenly swung around with the hanger in her tiny fist. The wildcat pawed her shoulder, but didn’t manage to stop her arm’s momentum. It bit her then, sinking its fangs deep into her thin forearm, and she screamed, but refused to let go of her weapon. She cried out, and it tried to bite her mouth. It opened its own mouth wide as it launched. It snarled at her again, and Melody turned her head away as she shoved the hanger deep into the creature’s eye socket.

The bobcat slunk back, uttered a horrific, menacing sound and dug its claws into Melody’s thighs. It tore through her tiny legs like paper, and tried to reach higher; it wanted her throat. It began clawing its way back up her body, gouging her belly, her chest, her shoulders... Melody had never been so terrified, and in so much pain, but she refused to let up. She didn’t care how scary the monster was. She wanted to win. Maybe this is what impetuous meant. She knew as long as she held the hanger and wouldn’t let the creature get rid of it, that she had a chance of getting through this nightmare. The only thing that could save her, she thought, was herself, and her impetuous.

She pulled the hanger out of the cat’s eye then, and blood squirted from its socket. The eye drooped, and blood oozed down its face onto Melody’s hair, her face, and neck. She wished she could aim, but couldn’t manage; the creature’s blood had sprayed into her eyes. She shut them tight and stabbed blindly at its body as it continued to screech and claw at her. She opened her left eye a little despite the sting of the bobcat’s blood in it, and saw the creature’s gaping mouth heading toward her neck. No! Melody screamed and jabbed the hanger far down into its mouth. She felt it stick into the back of the cat’s throat. It gurgled and spasmed and its one good eye opened wide in terror. Melody felt its claws contracting and she struggled to kick it off her body. She couldn’t have done it all by herself, but the cat obliged, turned and raced haphazardly from the property, away toward the dirt road and was swallowed again by the very darkness from whence it came.

Melody sat up, trembling, crying in pain, relieved to be alive... but dismayed. She wished she had killed it. She was angry now; she wished she had pulled the life from the monster, crushed it, so it could never come back and hurt her again. That would warn all the monsters to stay away too. But she had failed, so she knew there would be more.

She quietly made her way back into the house, limped to her mattress, and sat down. She stared blankly into the dark. The child was in shock. She held up her hands and looked at them curiously, as best she could in the dim room. Blood dripped from her hands onto her legs and mattress. She wasn’t sure if it was the cat’s blood or her own. She didn’t feel it was important to know which. Her legs stung really badly. She looked down at them, exposed from mid-thigh. They were red, swollen, and gouged from the cat’s claws. She stopped crying, and vowed she would be sure to kill the next one dead. She would kill all the monsters.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Books and beer on tap as Chaucer's adds library



http://www.ourlondon.ca/community-story/6763748-books-and-beer-on-tap-as-chaucer-s-adds-library/

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Divide and Conquer

Divide and Conquer



i

Remote Northern Switzerland – Autumn, 1837

Saffron’s body was still good and firm even though she’d been a fortnight dead. The weather had preserved her well, so although the old horse wouldn’t be pulling the carriage another yard, she was still pulling her weight by providing sustenance for the desperate party – who prayed her meat might outlast the storm.

The mid-October gale had caught them off guard; it howled through the already-treacherous Jura mountain passage, evening the landscape under a uniform cotton shroud and leaving the trail indistinguishable from its surrounding countryside. The terrain wiped flat — save where huge, swirling drifts rose and formed impassable barricades — it was all but impossible for the hapless group to continue navigating their way to the crossing point on the Rhine, still some thirty miles on.

The ferocious winds had tossed their carriage like a children’s toy, had flipped it effortlessly and weakened its frame upon landing it again. Their essential provisions having flown off and away, were scattered widely and then buried under a foot or more of fresh snow in the outlying fields. And during the long nights, wild beasts, better equipped for the task of scavenging there, made off with whatever edibles they could find. By the time the blizzard relented three days later, leaving frigid temperatures in its wake, there was precious little left for the family to eat, and old Saffron, having had enough, had simply laid down, died, and froze.

But Leopold Wyler was no grand butcher, so what might have been generous choice cuts, enough for a score of days, had been recklessly discarded with the actual waste during the butchering process. Unbeknownst to Leopold, of course, was that had that meat been saved, countless girls’ lives might also have been saved over many ensuing years; such is the way of fate.

Leopold’s young wife, Angelica, along with their unborn child, had been relegated to passenger status within the carriage while he, his sister Rebekka, and her husband Julius Frey, filled in for the late Saffron and slowly forced the carriage along the trail, through the heavy snow. Finding the trail ahead had become as arduous a task as traversing it now, as slipping off the edge could be detrimental to the carriage’s chassis; it having been compromised during the storm, and patchworked back together into a precarious state of functionality.

And then Julius was at the left rear, pushing and puffing, when the carriage slid into a rut and tilted wildly toward him. He stumbled and slipped into the rut himself, his foot being crushed before he had time and balance enough to pull it back. He cursed his maker as he realized he was pinned. Inside, Angelica had fallen across the seat and hit her elbow hard against a furious Fantôme, Rebekka’s cat, as the carriage had jolted and come to a sudden stop. She awkwardly pulled herself upright, and sighed heavily. Her baby kicked, as if it too were frustrated with this latest annoyance.
Angelica had enough of being coddled. “Stay,” she told Fantôme, who gazed back at her defiantly. She unlatched the carriage door and kicked it open. Fantôme dove out the door and nearly disappeared in the snow. She looked around, and then back at the door, as if having immediately regretted her escape. Rebekka immediately came to the cat’s rescue, rescuing her from the snow, and glancing hard at Angelica. 

Angelica paid her no mind. She looked around, assessing the situation as she climbed down. She slammed the door when she felt ground underfoot, hiked high her skirts, and made her way to the carriage’s rear center. Rebekka returned the grateful feline to the relative comfort and safety of the cab before following her sister-in-law.

“Pull...” Angelica began as Rebekka took up position beside her. “One, two, three, and... push!” Angelica’s shrill voice cut through the crisp air. She repeated the command several times, creating momentum in the carriage’s movement as her husband and in-laws abided on cue. And on the third push! the carriage escaped its hold and freed a relieved Julius from its grip. 

“Hurrah!” said Leopold, from his position near the front. Rebekka and Julius joined the chorus but a piercing crack! cut short their ovation.

Leopold stumbled when the axle snapped and the carriage lurched. Again, it had come to an abrupt stop but determination and physics would not save the beleaguered party this time. They stood in silence for a moment, each of them shivering and feeling the full weight of this newest defeat. But none would call it that; it was as if admitting the reality would somehow allow them to succumb to it. Leopold moved to hug his wife. Angelica squeezed his hand in response. She peered through the now lightly-falling snow at the errantly-sloping landscape that had been their domain for the better part of a week. She scanned the immediate area: down along the bottom of a nearby dale the remains of a small forest, having burned down some years before, jutted up at awkward angles from the otherwise flat basin, like lost and disoriented soldiers in the aftermath of a fierce and pointless battle. 

“There,” Angelica said thoughtfully. She pointed, and the ragged family obligingly followed to where her shivering finger directed their gaze. “Do you think a new axle could perhaps be found down there? The newer growth will be too soft, of course, and the old, mostly bent and brittle but there may be one good old piece that’s long and solid enough for our needs, no?”

“Perhaps something,” Julius agreed, nodding. “Shall we go see what’s down there in the morning, Leopold?” He looked to his brother-in-law, but Leopold was already on his way, axe in hand, trudging through the snow. Julius limped after him, soon being led through a makeshift path the width of Leopold’s body, as the snow became deeper the further they travelled toward the skeletons of the old forest.

Rebekka moved to stand closer to Angelica and they watched their men for a short time until their backs were swallowed by the dark. “Back in the cab for you, young madam,” Rebekka said. “There’s nothing else we can do at the moment, except pray.”

Angelica nodded her tacit agreement, silently noting that a great deal of prayer had only managed to deliver them to their current predicament. But she climbed back in as instructed and attempted to soothe her child by gently rubbing her stomach and humming a lullaby she half-remembered from her youth. Having apparently forgiven her, Fantôme nestled up to her leg. The poor thing could use more meat on her bones, Angelica thought.

She unknowingly began dozing, dreaming of her family’s new life across the border, away from the strict rules governing Jews in their native Switzerland. She was preparing lunch on their farm; it was a modest one, but it was theirs.  Her child played carefree on the floor beside her, occasionally yanking at her skirt, babbling and giggling. They had decided to call the child Freddy, if a boy, otherwise, Frederica. In the dream, it was a little girl.

It was warm in her dream, and Leopold was there, walking back to the small home for a midday meal after working up a sweat, turning soil for the turnip and cabbage seeds to be soon planted. He was handsome and brawny, his muscles glistening in the bright sun. He waved and she pretended not to see him. He called her name and chased some fat chickens out of his path, off the lane that meandered up to the quaint farmhouse. Angelica looked around, in every direction save the right one, pretending to search for the source of the voice. She shielded her eyes from the sun and scanned the breadth of the property: there was no one at the eastern end where the sturdy new barn reached into the sky.

“Angelica!” he called. Again, she focused her attention the wrong way and tried not to smile. This time to the western orchard, where red apples hung temptingly from the trees there, approaching their peak ripeness…

“Angelica! Oh my god, Angelica!” 

It was Rebekka. Angelica stirred, quickly regained her bearings, and snapped the curtain back to look through the crudely-cut window at the stark grey sky of the present.

“What’s wrong, Rebekka?” she asked, weary dread rippling her words.

Rebekka pointed to where the men had gone. Angelica couldn’t get a proper view from her vantage point and hurriedly exited the cab. She tried to focus in the dark and saw Julius running and stumbling and waving, making his way up the hill toward them. He was severely agitated. He yelled something but neither woman could make out the words. There was no sign of Leopold, and Angelica’s heart sank. She felt nauseated. 

“W-where’s Leo though?” she vaguely heard herself ask Rebekka, but she knew the question was pointless; Rebekka couldn’t know. When Julius got near enough that they could see the stark severity of his eyes, they finally understood the words he had been yelling: wolves. Wolves, he was yelling, and Leopold.

Angelica started running down into the forest valley, circumventing Julius but he grabbed her and stopped her from progressing. She beat at his chest, screaming for her husband, but Julius held her firmly, silently weeping at her shoulder. Rebekka joined them and the three huddled there for a considerable time until the madness had subsided from Angelica’s eyes and the tears finally came.




ii

They had fled from Angelica’s home of Endingen, in north central Switzerland some five weeks prior. Leopold had been raised in nearby Lengnau and spent the days labouring on a farm there alongside Angelica’s father, Samuel Bollag. A reserved soul by nature, Samuel had disliked his boisterous fieldmate, and that was incentive enough for the man’s daughter to take a romantic interest in the lad. Once she did, she had been surprised to find she was very fond of him and, after a long while, worked up the courage to tell her father so.

“Bah,” Samuel had said. “Don’t be foolish, girl.”

“He’s clever, Father, and funny, too,” Angelica had said in Leopold’s defence.

“Funny and clever? If you mean cocky, then, yes, I agree. But cocky doesn’t put soup in the belly, my dear,” Samuel said, as if explaining to a child. “Sweat does. Keeping quiet, with your mind on your work, that’s what builds a home and a secure family.”

“He’s ambitious too,” she offered, and immediately knew that was about the worst thing she could have said.

“Ah, ambitious, is he? The most dangerous of all traits.” Samuel smiled without humour, his eyes remaining hard. “Ambition will get a Jew’s throat cut quicker than anything else, except, perhaps, being funny and clever.”

“What should he do, then, Father? Accept his fate, and that of his future children, and that’s that? We’re forbidden from nearly every kind of decent, honest work! What can we do? Sow the seeds for Protestants and Catholics to reap? Trade tattered rags for nearly nothing on the pitiless streets? Where can we live, Father? Tell me! Here, and in Lengnau, and nowhere else? What life is that, Father? Forbidden to live in all but two towns in all of the cursed land!”

“It is a life, yes. As opposed to a death,” Samuel said. “I’m glad you’ve finally come to your senses and realized that.”

“Play with my words if you wish but Leopold has dreams, and I do too. Together we can work toward the change our people need and deserve. We deserve it, Father!”

“Of course we deserve it!” Samuel slammed his calloused palm on the table and Angelica tensed. “But deserve and expect are not the same, Angelica. Deserve and receive are even greater strangers. That’s a difference you stupid young people need to learn before you get hurt, and get others hurt along with you!” he roared. And when he saw his daughter’s tears of frustration commence, he calmed considerably and made to comfort her. “That’s what this is about, my child. I’m so afraid that Leopold’s high and mighty ideals will deliver you to a life of misery, or to no life at all. Don’t you understand that? His kind… his kind,” he shook his head sadly, “they never persevere.” Samuel reached across the table and took her trembling hand in his. “I have seen their fates, my dear. The dismal fates of a dozen Leopolds, maybe a hundred of them.” He patted her hand. He got up, blew out the candle, and left her alone at the table. From the other room he added, “There’s no shame in a hard day’s labour, Angelica. He just needs to get used to it. His childish fantasies will subside with time. They do for all of us.”

On a logical level, she knew her father made sense. But someone had to make the change, she thought. Why not Leopold? She knew her stance would not waver, and neither would her father’s, but peace would have to be made, somehow. 


*

Samuel had been mortified on that late afternoon when Leopold had come to dinner and announced his intentions toward Angelica. He decided then that Leopold was an evil, treacherous rat who had tricked his naive child into romance. This was a notion that his wife Alina, scoffed at, and one that Angelica found highly offensive. She refused to speak to her father for days until he apologized and accepted Leopold into the family, however grudgingly. 

Contrary to the common mores of the local Christians, Jewish women had never acted subservient to their men and had never allowed themselves to be treated as lesser people simply due to their sex. Wiser Jewish men, for their part, knew they daren’t even try.
Leopold, then, was welcomed as Samuel’s son-in-law. Because Samuel knew he had no choice.


*

He never did come to view the situation quite as his daughter and her husband did, or agree that leaving the country was the best thing for her, but Samuel knew that he must accept it. Sombrely, he had helped them load the carriage on that late-September morning when they departed and, as a show of love and support, offered them his trusty horse, Saffron, in trade for the thinner and weaker one Leopold had planned on using for the journey. “If you are to make it,” Samuel had assured them, “it will be with the help of able ol’ Saffron.”



iii

Angelica looked blankly at the greying horsemeat in her lap and forced herself to take another bite. As long as it still hadn’t turned, she needed to consume its nourishment for the sake of her child, whether she wished to eat it or not. Mechanically, she chewed and tried to find the will to carry on.
It had been three days since Leopold’s death. She took turns, along with Julius and Rebekka, guarding the carriage with an old shotgun; the onslaught of wolf packs had become a very real threat with the aroma of meat roasting over the fire. Night and day, the small troupe kept vigil but the wild animals never returned. Julius eventually got the axle replaced and they set off once again, slower than ever, one man short, and with a rapidly declining source of food. On the seventh day, the last sad remains of Saffron were divided up, cooked over a small fire, and dished out. And then it was Fantôme’s turn, but she only lasted a day.

After four more days as the hunger became unbearable, Julius forced himself on a foraging expedition early in the day and not returning until dusk, acting sheepish and peculiar when he did. He had with him, wrapped in his jacket, a piece of meat he said he found jutting out of the snow, just beyond that old forest where the new axle was found. 

“It’s the thigh of an elk,” he said, “It was quite a stroke a luck to come across it.” He avoided the women’s gazes and cooked it behind the carriage in lee of the bitter northerly winds. The smell was glorious to the ravished threesome as it began to sizzle. Fearing the scent would attract predators, they remained on guard as they salivated and impatiently waited for it to be thoroughly cooked. Julius scraped off the first piece for Angelica, who took it reluctantly but then gorged herself on it, chewing and swallowing faster as the taste became more palatable. She thought she could feel her child being satiated as her own hunger subsided for the first time in days. 

Was elk the best he could come up with? she thought. It wasn’t nearly the right shape for elk, nor an appropriate length.

How had the wolves managed to leave an entire thigh behind? she wondered, but she couldn’t ask. To ask would be to break the communal lie. She closed her eyes and tried to think of elk meat as she chewed the bit of flesh she had just torn from the bone with her teeth. Still, despite Julius’s crude fabrication, she was grateful to him for allowing her – for allowing all of them – to pretend it was something other than Leopold’s leg they were dining on; it helped to make it just a little more tolerable.

But it wasn’t a full two days later when the hunger had returned worse than ever – and there would be no more Leopold legs to feast on. On the sixth day thereafter, without a scrap to eat since, the three sat in the cab in silence. Julius and Rebekka huddled together on one side, Angelica spread out on the other. She appeared to be asleep, but remained very much alert.

Because she had heard the whispers in the night, and she was hearing them again now.

She couldn’t make them out, yet knew exactly what they meant. Despite their misgivings, her travelling companions were planning to kill her and eat her; it was the only logical conclusion they could come to. Someone had to be eaten for the others to have a chance at survival. Rebekka and Julius never slept at the same time anymore. One of them always remained awake. Why? Was it to ensure she couldn’t get them before they got her? Angelica toyed with the idea that hunger might be making her paranoid, but she soon discarded the notion; her mind was all too clear. The body of a woman, with child, could feasibly supply enough energy to help the couple make it to the Rhine, at least if there was to be a mild break in the weather. It was two against one, Angelica thought. Or, perhaps, against one and a half.

She feared sleep but she was so desperately tired. If not today, then tomorrow it will happen. It will be soon when they kill me in my sleep and begin feeding on me and my baby. Angelica’s mind raced. She pitied herself and her insane predicament. How can I save my child? She hadn’t the strength to fight off the two of them, she was sure of it, not even if she wasn’t weak and nearly eight months pregnant. That was out of the question. She would have to somehow outsmart them. And fast. Emperor Napoleon, who was sympathetic to the Jews, she recalled, had often outwitted stronger, more powerful enemies – and enemies were what her in-laws now were, she had to admit. Adversaries in a life and death struggle. What would Napoleon do? she asked herself.
The answer came to her almost immediately: divide and conquer.



iv

The whispers stopped when Angelica opened her eyes — stopped too abruptly, it seemed to her. Rebekka and Julius both smiled meekly at her. She smiled back. 

“I’m going out to melt some snow for water,” she said. “Unless there’s some to drink in here?” she asked, knowing that there wasn’t, since no one had left the cab during her supposed nap.
“Sorry, I should have gotten some for you,” Julius offered. “Let me get it now.”

“No, no, it’s fine. I need the air. It’s a little milder this day, no?” she said. The Freys uttered vague agreements. Angelica hobbled out, closed the door behind her, and filled a tin pitcher halfway up with fresh snow from beside the trail. “Oh, perhaps you could start the fire for me, Julius?” she called. Moments later, he was out there with her, struggling to ignite a flame without much in the way of kindling. He muttered something unintelligible but it didn’t matter; she replied with a loud giggle, one sounding flirtatious, she hoped, to Rebekka from inside the carriage. Julius gave Angelica a quizzical look, laughed awkwardly in return, and went back to concentrating on the fire. “I’ll just go back in, away from the wind, until it’s going well, alright?” she said, hoping Rebekka had heard Julius’s laughter as well as her own. He nodded, but she didn’t notice, as she had already climbed back inside.

“The baby okay?” Rebekka asked.

”I think so. It seems a little better than yesterday even,” Angelica lied.

“That’s surprising, but certainly a good thing.”

“Yes, it may have been Julius’s comfort during the night. You’re so lucky to have him, Rebekka. He’s truly a wonderful man.”

“Comfort?” asked Rebekka.

“Yes, and body heat. I loved how he rubbed my belly and... well, elsewhere... to help keep me warm and comfortable. I was truly relaxed for the first time in days. It made quite the difference.”

“Oh, I…” Rebekka tried. “I wasn’t aware he did that.” 

“Yes, he said it was important to protect the child. He does love children so much, doesn’t he? It’s a shame you’ve never been able to give him a child yourself. So sad, for both of you.”
Rebekka had no reply.

Angelica had been aware that, even this far along in her pregnancy, Rebekka felt inferior to her, as a woman — as a sexual being. She knew Rebekka was a little jealous of her, her looks, her manner, and especially of her unborn child. It was something that never would have been an issue under regular circumstances, but something Angelica felt she may be able to leverage now, during this desperate time. It was cruel, and devious, and the only thing she could think of that might help her live throughout the night.


*

She played the charade out subtly for the rest of the daylight hours, feeling the tension building between the couple, with poor Julius oblivious to the cause of his wife’s consternation. Angelica forced herself to stay awake despite crippling hunger that begged for a reprieve through at least a short spell of unconsciousness, until just past dusk when she finally allowed herself to lie down. Rebekka now believed, Angelica was certain, that Julius was planning on killing her, so he could survive with Angelica and help her raise her baby.

Then it was Rebekka’s turn to force away sleep. Angelica had no idea if she could outlast her. She had her doubts, but the survival of her child was a powerful incentive. She felt like squealing with delight when, finally, she heard Rebekka lightly snoring. She waited an agonizing ten minutes more before motioning to Julius to come over to her side of the cab. Seemingly bewildered, he yawned and obeyed. She whispered to him that she was cold and asked if he could he rub her belly for a few moments. The notion of touching her seemed to rattle him a little, and Angelica suppressed a sly smile. But he reluctantly obliged; he couldn’t say no to her, and when his hand was particularly low on her stomach, Angelica coughed loudly and laughed, arousing Rebekka on the opposite seat. 
Rebekka immediately assessed the situation, noting that her husband had his arm around Angelica instead of her, and his other hand had been suspiciously out of sight and doing god knows what down there before he quickly removed it, looking guilty. Rebekka screamed with rage and rummaged through her possessions quickly, finding the handle of the cast-iron frying pan, and swinging it wildly into the side of her husband’s head. Julius had tried to speak just before the impact shut him up and rendered him unconscious, leaving slouched against the side of the cab.

Angelica didn’t miss a beat. The moment the pan struck Julius, she pulled the butcher knife from her left coat pocket and reached across, burying it deep in Rebekka’s belly, and then yanking it up tight to the woman’s sternum. Rebekka gasped, her eyes widened in disbelief, and she instinctively used both hands to try to hold her guts in place. Her effort was admirable for a short time, until she fell over on the seat, with her dead eyes staring uncomprehendingly toward Angelica, and her innards escaping down the seat and creating a mound on the cab floor. 

Julius began to regain his senses. He moaned and held his forehead where the pan had struck. He groaned, and moved to push Angelica aside when he saw his wife was in some sort of medical distress. But he wasn’t quick enough, not having the comprehension and clarity of the situation as Angelica had. She acted fast while she had the upper hand, quickly pulling the knife from Rebekka’s midsection and swinging it over and backhanded across Julius’s throat. That attempt merely grazed him, so she tried again, deeper, more determinedly, more accurately, and with more success. The dullish knife gouged, more than cut, his throat and Julius slouched once more, but remained upright as the blood poured from him, and Angelica watched his life drain with it. She tried to get away from him, but weak, tired, and frantic, it took her a few almost-comical manoeuvres with her large belly before she managed to get released from his grip, and outside into the brisk evening air.

She leaned against the carriage trying to catch her breath, to breathe the fresh air deeply, and then she bent over and tried to be sick. But nothing came. She dry heaved for a long time, worrying how her child was faring with the physical and emotional distress on their systems. But then the nervous convulsions thankfully subsided. Angelica stared up, emotionless, into the night sky.



v

The only dry matches had been in Julius’s pocket. Soaked in blood, she allowed them to dry for two days before attempting to use one. During that time she had cleaned out the cab and cut the meat from the bodies of her in-laws as best she could. Starving, she was desperate to get the fire started and to get some protein into her for her child’s wellbeing. When she finally tried, she found the matches useless. Despite desperate hunger, she waited another day until she was quite certain the matches were as dry as they could get. She even tried to delicately scrape some of the dried blood from the sulphur tips of a few of them, but that failed too. Something about the blood, she surmised, had made the matches ineffective, so they could not ignite. 

There would be no cooking of the meat.

Over the next few days Angelica tried several times to eat some of her in-laws’ raw remains that she had managed to keep from freezing. Each time, she vomited violently immediately thereafter, rendering the attempts futile – and the meat wasted. She kept trying, however, and once in a while tried another match until they were all so torn and scraped up that they wouldn’t have been able to ignite in the most pristine of environments. Eventually, she had to admit it was pointless, and she broke down sobbing. She could feel the essence of her child waning.


*

A week later, feverish, half-crazed, she looked wild-eyed to the vague distance, screamed to it, and smashed the skull of Rebekka—the part of the body she had first discarded as useless. The bloated purple face cracked and Angelica turned that side down into the snow so she wouldn’t have to look into its cold, accusing eyes. Then she broke away the thick bone and cupped out the woman’s brain. It was cold, of course, but remained just soft enough to eat, thanks to its cranial insulation. Without hesitation, she took a deep bite into the front of the left hemisphere. 

And it was good. Palatable, at least. She could almost feel her child’s gratitude with every bite.
As the weather finally cleared and the snow began to melt, Angelica felt stronger, rejuvenated, and she decided she was now healthy enough to head out on foot. There wasn’t much of Rebekka’s brain left, but Julius’s head was in her sack, and that gave her comfort as she headed east with the brilliant morning sun splashing her face with glorious warmth.


Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Updated Reviews

Selected Praise

During those moments that I feel inadequate as a writer, I like to glance over these reviews of my work. They're nearly all written by strangers, which makes their words feel more sincere. You can't trust family and friends when they compliment you; they nearly always ask you to help them move something heavy immediately after.

***
 "Brimming with well-observed critiques of modern life, Victor of Circumstance has some laugh-out-loud moments and satire reminiscent of John Kennedy Toole."
~Mark A. Rayner, author of The Fridgularity
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Eerie, sad, dark, liberating, redemptive, all of it. Great story! There are so many good things going on with this one that I have to try to put them into a succinct fashion.
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Man, I got chills.
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This piece of art is absolutely phenomenal. Good. Freakin'. Job!
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Well done. (And you've just acquired a new fan!)
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Great piece
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I really loved the intensity that just exploded off the page
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The story is real and the subject matter is so relevant it's terrifying.
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I enjoyed this short story very much!
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You really nailed this one.
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A wonderful job. You get all A's from me. I have always enjoyed your stories. I look forward to the next one.
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You did an amazing job capturing a very difficult topic.
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wonderfully written.
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Wow! Bravo!
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...but one, like this one, comes along with the deep underlining theme of atonement and love and forgiveness that warms the heart and brings an awe of the author's talent.
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I can’t begin to explain the many different levels of excellence I find in this piece.
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This story had me bawling! I don’t like to cry but I loved this story. You did a great job in building sympathy for the main character and in slowly revealing his story.
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Great job!!
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The story has some truly heart rending scenes. The author very effectively, and at the right time, reveals to the readers what is driving the main character
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Wow. This is one of the best stories on here! There are so many important aspects of life described and you are drawn in to an amazing, realistic journey. I highly recommend this story and hope the author continues to write.
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This is a beautiful story. Beautiful, despite its horrors.
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You  clearly have the gift of observing and drawing on real life to write compelling stories with a very strong hand.
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Very Powerful
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I was strongly affected by this story. There were parts that brought tears to my eyes; parts that broke my heart; and parts that disturbed me. Good job!
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What a terrible, utterly realistic tale.
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The way you described things was painfully real. You did an excellent job capturing the hatred and the fear and the helpless feelings that surround that type of situation.
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let me say this about the story; it is superb
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truly a marvelous, gritty story, a well-described, sometimes harrowing, sometimes funny, but always engaging story.
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Wow. This was a very, very good short story.
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I enjoy dark, alternative, and unique stories, so this was a good read for me.
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Great Storytelling - It comes through loud and clear that you're a gifted storyteller. I've reviewed literally hundreds of works and yours was one of only a handful where I turned the page, not because it was assigned to me, but because I was genuinely engrossed.
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I consider this a first class effort.
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This is a well written gritty dramatic piece
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Emotionally charged and well contrasted story
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the message in this story is beautiful. I think you really are a talented writer.
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This was a long short story, but I enjoyed every minute of it, well thought
out, and structured just so sweetly. a good story, very well told.
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This is a well written, fast paced read. The story that was told is a real tear jerker. The situation was real and the telling was real.
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I got comfortable with my special reading glasses a cup of tea and my comforter, and anticipated a great treat as the writer’s reputation preceded him.
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This was an excellent character study. The subtle, emerging portraits were especially well-written. Very good writing!
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Thank you for the opportunity to read this fine piece. The writing flowed easily and the word choice was quite pleasing.
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What a wonderful,wonderful slice of life. You've captured a mood and a moment here that is both moving and recognizable to anyone who has ever been in a difficult relationship. This is a very nice piece of work.
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stands out with the best I've read.  I find so well written that I'd like to strangle the author out of sheer jealousy!
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What a lovely and touching story. You did a wonderful job capturing the initial loneliness and hurt. I empathized with your character, there were times I even felt his pain. Your imagery was beautiful.
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Terrific. The setting is fantastic and worked well in this story.
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thoughtfully beautiful - I did truly enjoy this short story. It was beautifully descriptive, not only in actually describing things, but for the level of how the reader can feel this man's pain, pride, sense of accomplishment and regret.
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A really lovely story - The story kept me reading the whole way though
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very well done. Bravo!
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A nicely constructed, thought provoking, very enjoyable read.

A pleasure to read a piece that shows an apprecation for words, sentences, paragraphs and grammar. Beautifully done, thanks for a clear, bright, shining picture.
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Well, the end brought a tear to my eye, so it must be good! Very good read :)
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A fine effort at existentialist literature.
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What a touching story! The structure was superb as well. Great job!
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Good job - this story rocks. I love the word choices and how they are used.
There is no dull moment. Starting from paragraph one you know this is going to be good. You keep going and it keeps getting better. I totally ate this story up. Thank you for the great story.
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a neatly told story, quite impressive indeed
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Exceptional. There is something special about this short that certainly struck a chord with me. I’m sure there are others who will be touched by it. Your writing is punchy, colorful, and creative. The visuals are striking and carry a double meaning that’s apparent on first reading. Truly an enjoyable read.
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This story had such a great feel to it. The reader experiences a real empathy with the writer. well written clear and evocative. Well done thoroughly enjoyed it.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Fiction

             


       Charlie y la Compesina Incauta 

          a love story between the proletariat and the master

     

        Rivers

          a man struggles to survive, plagued by overwhelming guilt 

     

        Kat

          at which point in a person's life is the correct time to judge their being?

     

        The Second Thirteen

          finding your moral code without positives role models

             - published 2013 in "13: The Anthology", Project 13 Press 

     

        Restoration

          when you can't reach conclusions, they must reach you 

     

        In A Yellow El Camino

          coming of age the hard way 

     

        Living The Life of Riley

          a boy's admiration of his father knows no bounds

             - to be published 2015, "Saints & Sinners", Project 13 Press

     

        Revolting Subjects

          how long can a kingdom's subjects take injustice before they revolt? 

     

         Ann-Margret-Private Dick

            the origins of cal chayce

 

    Novel: 

       Victor of Circumstance

          - to be published 2015, Forest City Pulp