Have You Seen Her?

by Karen Pullen

I remember every detail of that last morning. I’d fixed pancakes and bacon for the three of us. Our seven-year-old, Connor, rocked in his squeaky chair, humming, lost in his crazy-boy thoughts. When sunlight struck a crystal hanging in the window, scattering rainbow flickers around the kitchen, he reached out his hands to catch the flying jewels. He hooted his excited-monkey noise until I silenced him with the last piece of bacon.

After a twelve-hour patrol shift, Greg looked drained, even with the rainbow glimmering across his face. Budget cuts had reduced the police force, but not the workload. Just as many folks gone adrift as ever.

“I’ll take him to the beach park this morning. You get some rest,” I said.

Greg kissed my ear. “You’re a keeper,” he said, his breath sour and warm. He started loading the dishwasher but I shooed him out of the kitchen.


At the park Connor would swing happily as long as I kept pushing him, and though after the thousandth shove on his bony bottom I was exquisitely bored, it was a good day to be alive, to enjoy the ocean’s sparkle, the cries of gulls, the fresh iodine-smell of the sea.

We were alone until a girl sat on the swing next to Connor. Pleased at the diversion, I was a bit puzzled at her appearance out of nowhere; I hadn’t noticed her approach though the area around the swings was open space. Her golden hair was long, dirty and tangled. She wore a grimy white dress and black leggings with lace trim, and was barefoot. If cornered in a witness box I would put her age at ten, though she was slight and could be any age, even twenty. Alone, thin and dirty—at first, I felt a pang of sympathy.

Though she hadn’t made a sound, Connor twisted toward her, dragging his feet to slow his swing. He smiled. Was he smiling at her?

Then a miracle occurred. “Hi,” said my nonverbal son. “I’m Connor.”

You can’t imagine what joyful emotion flooded me at this instant as I realized that he’d spoken to someone. This girl had triggered something in him that a dozen therapists had tried and failed. He was being social.

She turned to us. Her features are hazy in my memory but there was something compelling about her and I stared at her until I realized what it was. Her eyes were solid black, reflective like marbles. Her eyes were all I noticed about her face.

When my gaze dropped to her dirty bare feet, my vision blurred. Were those claws? I blinked. No. Scaly, pointed toes. I felt pity, curiosity and revulsion, and hoped my feelings didn’t show. Though I was happy—and proud!—that my son had made a connection with another person, I had trouble believing what I saw—the strangeness of the girl’s eyes and Connor’s recognition of her were too far from my everyday normal.

“Can I go home with you?” she asked. “I’m hungry.” Her voice was low, confident and too mature for a child. As though she knew her eyes alarmed me, she half-closed them and looked away. A feeling of dread fell over me, my instincts whispered she is something other and I made a decision.

“No. Leave us alone.” I turned my back to her, tugged Connor from his swing, and trotted to my car. Usually he was limply docile, but he could be a handful when he was balked, and he struggled, kicked me and wailed. Adrenaline made me shaky and I fumbled as I buckled him into his seat.

The girl stood close behind me. “Please? Take me with you.” Her thin body drooped, her voice a hoarse whisper.

“Get away.” I slid into my car and locked the doors. She leaned towards my window, and her dirty gold hair fell about her pale face, framed her solid black eyes. As I drove away, I looked in the rear-view mirror, then scanned the parking lot and beach. Like that old cliché, she’d vanished into thin air.

Connor’s wailing intensified. He had an eerie cry, a high-pitched “eeeee” so painful you’d do anything to make it stop. He cried all the way home, where I had to hold him tight and rock him for almost an hour before he quieted down.

When I told Greg about the girl, he was skeptical and made jokes about broomsticks, aliens and spaceships. I brooded, wished Greg had been with me to see what I saw. I locked all the doors.


In the afternoon we took Connor to an appointment with his occupational therapist, where we watched him roll around in a ball pit, then refuse to button his shirt.

When we returned home, guess who was sitting on the porch?

“Oh, dear God. That’s the girl from the park,” I said. “Don’t stop. Just drive off.”

“Naw, she’s a kid.” He pulled into the driveway, and I shrank into my seat.

She came to Greg’s side of the car. “I would like something to eat, please,” she said, in her strangely adult voice. She studied Connor, who was asleep, with her coal-lump eyes. “Just a little something. I like cereal.” She was so close I could see the dirt rings on her neck, her bumpy skin.

I grabbed Greg’s arm. “Her eyes, Greg. Put your window up and lock your door.”

Greg looked at me impatiently. “We can’t sit here all day. And what’s a little bit of cereal?”

He got out of the car and motioned her up the steps. When she followed him into our house, I slouched down and waited for my heart to slow its thumping. As minutes passed, I wondered whether I should check on them, but I didn’t want to leave Connor sleeping in the car. To be honest, I didn’t want to leave the car, period. The girl scared me. Greg feared very little; he was a big man, a cop, and didn’t seem to sense what I did. And he took care of people, that was his nature.

By the time Connor woke up, writhing to be let out of his car seat, I decided that maybe I was a neurotic mess, afraid of someone who looked a little different, a dusty homeless girl with an unusual eye disease. Maybe this was the breakdown the therapists had warned me about: a caretaker’s collapse, the result of ignoring myself for too many years. Feeling numb, I unbuckled Connor and took him inside.

The house was silent and cold. In the kitchen, a cereal bowl held a few soggy corn flakes and a trace of milk. I looked all over the house but they were gone. I tried to be calm, rational. Maybe she needed Greg’s help, or had something important to show him. Surely he would return soon.

Connor rocked and hummed, his chair squeaked. I paced, sat, turned the TV on and off. I had a bad feeling and it got worse as the hours passed. I fixed a simple meal of chicken nuggets and green beans, but I couldn’t eat, my stomach was like cement. Something had happened to Greg, but what? If I called for help, what would I say?

Darkness fell. When I pulled back Connor’s blanket to tuck him into bed, on his pillow was a scarlet splotch the size of my hand that looked like blood. And a coarse gold hair.

I phoned the police. They came quickly; Greg was one of theirs.


It was hard to keep an eye on Connor; the cruiser’s flashing lights lured him outside and he twirled around in the darkness while they questioned me. I was well aware the police didn’t share my belief that the black-eyed girl was an evil being, an other. I knew how it sounded—my husband had gone off with a girl half my age. I was describing her for about the twentieth time when I sensed a blur of motion along the beach path, a glimpse of white dress, and saw my son run, flying to meet her, disappearing into the black vacuum of an moonless night.

Screaming Connor’s name over and over, I ran after him, but in the pitch dark I tripped over a clump of roots and fell hard onto the sand, knocked breathless. Someone lifted me up. “My son,” I gasped, pointed, “out there.” They ran towards the beach.


I am alone now. I hate this house because she was in it, but I can’t move away because what if they come back?

Every day is the same. I fill a baggie with corn flakes, tug on my floppy blue hat and walk the narrow path that leads alongside my house, down to the beach where fishermen chat over bait buckets and the first beer of the day. Wave at the bowlegged, leathery jogger running barefoot along the tide line. Stoop down to pet the bulldog inspecting the spiked shell of a horseshoe crab.

The crystal hangs from my neck, sending rainbow flickers onto the sand, into the wind.

I walk. I walk for miles, past surfers, sunbathers and couples, under boardwalks, around sand castles and tidal pools. I’ve become a fixture on the beach, the woman in the blue hat who walks all day and into the evening, and sometimes people join me. I tell them my husband and son are missing, and show them pictures of Greg and Connor.

I ask if they’ve seen the black-eyed girl. My memory has a blank hole, her features elude me and I can’t tell you what she looked like, other than her solid black eyes, dirty gold hair and pointed, scaly toes.

But that should be enough.

 

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The Creator of Tongues

by Kristine Ong Muslim

Death Wish Billy

His legs were cut short.
His stride, insignificant.
He would never reach
the end of this tunnel.
He would have disguised
himself as an orphan, a child.
He would knock on our doors
if only he had learned to curl
his claws into fists. He would
ask to be let in as his only source
of sky was depleting. But we built
our houses so that the facades
would not resemble houses.
We had to confuse him, to let
him enter the wrong doors,
to lure him to the basement
where the black mold
and old parchment paper
took on the wrong forms
and preyed on small creatures.

As a Child

Before we read his name in the headlines
and before half of the jury cried when his
only surviving victim was put on the stand
and before he was electrocuted so we could
forget about how he had used his hands,
he was a child once, lived in a small house
in a small town by the lake. Nobody abused him
no matter what his lawyer said. He crushed
butterfly wings while his little sister cried and
yelled for him to stop hurting, to stop hurting.
He used to cut his hands at night and watched in awe
how the blood turned darker when left to dry.
It was a sight he never forgot. The pain
from the wound never bothered him; pain was
a luxury, a gift. In church, he imagined his body
vibrating with the piano, understood the secrets
of tautly pulled strings and the keys that rammed
against them. He dreamed of strings many times
before he finally used one as an adult. Eighteen times.
Then they caught him. He used a knife that time.
It was an accident. He went to summer camp,
ate a bug when he thought nobody was looking,
but then a strange thing happened, and he watched
himself from a distance swallow the dry crackling
thing down, down his throat where he believed
all gods were smothered. He believed that a string
tied around the neck could free the god and save
the host from choking in the god’s  screams.
He did not tell anyone about that time when he suddenly
saw the utter clarity of things. Even the grass below him
breathed. He did not want people to think he was crazy.

At Seven

A handful of television static was not a bad thing.
He observed his mother in the kitchen today,
understood that knives depended on the hands
that wielded them. He let a fly settle onto his palm;
the creature fascinated him—it dragged morsels
of the dead in its tiny legs. His cousin shooed it away.

“You’re so weird, you know that,” his cousin said.
And he did not know. He did not think it was all right
to whisk the fly away. His mother told him to wash
his hands, and the water was cold and elusive—
always avoiding his grasp, always attracted to the throat
of the drain, that dark, filthy small town repository.

The next day at the lake, he told his cousin a secret:
the hinges rust every time you hold the door open
to strangers, but the rust gets scraped off when the door
is locked. His cousin laughed. “You really are nuts,”
his cousin said. And the lake before them was a sliver
of light. It heard his cousin’s laughter and became still.

He wanted to be like that—a surface of light that would
not flinch. Silent, silent beautiful film of light. He smiled
at his cousin. To facilitate drowning, he held his cousin’s
head down much, much longer than necessary until it was
all right to let go. Everybody believed it was an accident.

At Eight

Salt kept the wildness in check, reminded him of home.
He smeared a handful of salt against the crisscross
of superficial cuts on his palm, and he heard instead of felt
the pain spread across his arm. It was wildfire—the sizzle
of pain as it followed the axis signaling the vulnerable
hemispheres of the body. He would have to wash away the salt
before dinnertime. His mother had taught him that far—
to never talk to strangers, to never skip Sunday Mass,
to never slouch, to never ask for more than what was given,
to never tug at the tablecloth, to never forget to say grace
before every meal, to say “please” when asking for the potatoes,
to not partake of any variations of the same hunger.

At Eleven

Today, he heard the word autistic from his Aunt Marcia.
She was talking in the kitchen, and he understood
by the abundance of pauses and restrained gasps
that they were talking about him. Knowing which
of the steps creaked, he tiptoed down the stairs,
caught a glimpse of his mother. She was crying,
was making tattered roses out of the table napkins.
Did he do anything wrong? Did he let her down again?
He went up the stairs, followed the parallel paths of light
offered by the blinds onto the floor. He thought he saw
his bedroom door open on its own. Somebody wanted in.
Somebody was lost. Somebody wanted to be found.
When he closed the door, his hands started to shake.
When he closed the door, he dirtied the wood with his grasp.
A year later, he discovered how a knife could still his hands.

At Twenty

There was a time when he wanted to stop,
when no door was wider than the one he held
in his hand. He remembered the story
about the murderer who hid the bodies
under his tongue; those bodies did not exist.
At twenty, he still believed that he was
a lost fragment of a hate letter.
He knew how it was to love.

The Creator of Tongues

All tongues were grafted in places
where they could learn to deceive:
Voices, he told the jury. They made me
do it. And they believed him, sent him
to the asylum that was supposed
to end his corruption of flesh.
Snow existed only in his imagination,
but it chilled just the same. The orderly
complained about the draft in his room.
Nobody could find its source. Two days later,
he ate the heart of another patient.
Then he called his room a bone garden,
where a compass point dangled to his will.
You should have killed me earlier, while you
still could. The shackles held him for a while.
His cell was found empty the next morning,
the lock intact. And every Sunday, he brought
an offering to the mental hospital’s director,
placed it under the brass plaque: a handful
of seeds, fingers, grass, eyes, love.

 

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North

by Chelsea Eckert

The redshirts had started going through Uncle Fulton’s boxes. Not gently and with love, like a man with his wife’s antiques, or like Holly might have. They had found Fulton’s maps and grasped and pulled at them and were hollering about Rhodesia! Rhodesia, more like Ho-desia, ha ha ha. And now they had Holly’s favorite map, the one she meant to take home and pin above her bed, the one of the Arctic Circle with the smudged blue ink. The delicate thing ripped in their hands, sundering the image of the earth in two.

Holly said nothing and left the room, rubbing her eyes. In the guest bedroom, the perch stood where it always had, near the dresser. Uncle Fulton had birds when he was still around. Not neurotic cockatoos. Real birds. The last one she remembered was an Arctic tern. Its name was Voltaire. It had talked to her when she was little. But for the life of her she couldn’t ever recall what it had said.

Carlyle appeared next to her. He grasped her shoulders, hard, in a way uncomfortable for her and yet somehow protective.

“You know how they are,” he said.

She said nothing. The redshirts were two girls, two guys. Mia and Emily, Tim and Georgie. So-called because Holly’s Trekkie mom couldn’t distinguish them. They had overly-shiny fairy eyes and were probably lovely somewhere inside. Holly tended to look upon them the way you might look upon a toddler, in wonder at all the potential this undeveloped thing might have. But.

What had Voltaire said? The best of all worlds was this one? No. That was the real Voltaire. She had read his Candide in European History class at school. What did the Arctic tern say?

“Uncle Fulton is–he’s like–my Merlin,” Holly said. Three private investigators hadn’t caught a whiff of Uncle Fulton’s whereabouts in ten years. Didn’t surprise Holly. A certain movie star mystique surrounded him and always had. Her family had him declared dead just weeks ago, though death, really, seemed too small for him. They meant to sell this old Tudor now, despite Holly’s pleading. Aunt Deb had dusted it and everything.

“That’s your issue, Holls,” Carlyle said. “You don’t live in the here. You write a story for yourself and you don’t ever get real.”

“Okay.”

“Now go tell them you’re mad at them and grab shit by the horns for once.”

She couldn’t. Everyone had a story and conflict was not in hers. Carlyle patted her cheek, eyes ablaze. There were the redshirts and then there was Carlyle, all noise and light. He wasn’t really her friend but then none of them were. She just liked what they could be and what they were in her mind. And she had wanted to show them this place before it belonged to someone else.

One of the girl redshirts came in and said, “Carlyle, come see this. Come see what we found!” Her mouth hung open like a dog’s. Carlyle shrugged at Holly in a what-you-gonna-do kind of way.

When Holly went into the kitchen, the other redshirts were gathered around the window, curled among the yellowing, billowing curtains. They were murmuring among themselves, heads dipped in towards each other. At least–at least if they had become enamored with Uncle Fulton’s flock then they weren’t screwing with anything else.

“Now what,” Carlyle began, “the fuck are you kids looking at?” He pushed himself between them as he always did when they were all together, then let out a gasp. He gestured for Holly to come closer. Holly picked at her fingernails.

“Is it the birds?” she asked.

“You’ve seen this before?” one of the redshirts–Mia?–chirped.

Yes. She had. Pride welled up in her belly, as well as a hot possessiveness. If you looked out the kitchen window you would see–well. First Uncle Fulton’s pool, unused and uncovered, seven feet deep at the far end and filled not with water but with feathers. Just feathers, soft and downy and gray-white. Then.

Carlyle tugged her closer, pulling on the hood of her sweatshirt. She watched with the rest of them.

Then you would see all the birds. Arctic terns, all like Voltaire. A thousand of them, it seemed, all waiting around the perimeter of the pool, staring into it, talons grasping the edge. They stood sentinel all day, as far as Holly knew. They didn’t move.

“You done any investigating?” Carlyle asked her.

“I was–with my mom here, a few months ago,” she said. “That’s when I first saw them. I went out and threw a pebble at them. They just, sort-of. Shifted. To the side. To avoid it. Didn’t fly away. There could be–could be a dead body in there. Seriously.”

“Not totally convincing evidence,” Carlyle responded. “Though, I have to admit: this is definitely how Jack Ketchum novels begin. And you guys know how much I love those fucking things.”


They all followed Carlyle as he trotted outside.

“It doesn’t smell like a dead body out here,” Carlyle said. Though he really meant that Holly was a liar. She felt hot in the face when he got down on his belly to watch the troop of terns around the pool’s edge. The birds paid no mind to him.

“I wonder what dead bodies even smell like,” Mia mumbled. Holly glanced over at her, a little startled.

Tim, meanwhile, looked at Emily, and she at Georgie, and one of them said, “Other than the birds, I mean–this pool’s not so interesting up close.”

Holly only whimpered. This was her territory. She was Uncle Fulton’s heir. If only in spirit. They were insulting this place and so were insulting her. But.

Now Carlyle was rubbing her shoulders again. Standing behind her. Leaning too close. She tensed her whole body. It occurred to her that she didn’t know when she had started hanging out with Carlyle. Only that he existed in her social sphere, and existed hard and bright. A supernova of a kid. Too hot.

“I don’t like liars, you know, Holls. I’m gonna have to get you for this,” he said.

“Go–go in, then,” Holly whispered.

“What’s that? Go in? Did anyone hear her?”

“I did,” Mia said. She was grinning, biting her thumbnail. The other redshirts seemed horrified that she had spoken up at all. “But, if you don’t wanna, Carl, I mean–we understand.”

“Birds are dirty,” said a panicked redshirt.

“Yeah,” Mia agreed, “pick one up and these mite things crawl up on you. They get in your bed. All that stuff. So.”

“I don’t have to do shit,” Carlyle said.

“He doesn’t,” said one or all of the redshirts–except for Mia, who laughed. It was foreign-sounding, harsh, like jet engines roaring above a farm.

“I’ll do it, then,” she said.

Carlyle bristled, frowning grotesquely. He let Holly go and shoved Mia aside. A few terns parted for him as he approached. They moved mechanically, without fear. As if they were pulled along a track on some carnival ride. Not a sound rose from the redshirts, or Mia.

“It’s–really deep,” Holly said. Something inside failed her. It seemed like a good idea to walk away now. But–her territory. “I wouldn’t just–jump in.”

“Oh, the feathers will cushion him, I’m sure,” Mia said.

“Feathers!” Carlyle said, peering into the pool. “Feathers! What the fuck.” He stepped back and, galloping horse-like, took a running leap over the birds. While he was suspended in midair he outstretched his arms and looked crucified there against the sun. Black-tipped feathers tumbled up above the rim of the pool when he landed feet-first. He disappeared into the rolling hills of plume and down.

Then–nothing.

Behind Holly, one of the redshirts started wailing that Carlyle was dead, he was dead, and what would they all do now that he was dead, and how could they go to college knowing someone was dead? And then Mia told that person to hush, that she would take care of them all, and that was if Carlyle wasn’t okay, which he was.

The feathers stirred. Some kind of chickenhawk flapped wildly up from the pool. It looked flustered and drunk as it landed on the lawn, opening and closing its wings repeatedly. The terns around the pool’s edge did nothing besides swivel their heads to watch.

One of the redshirts let out a squeal.

“Carlyle?” Holly said.

The hawk stumbled towards them all and outstretched his wings.

“He’s the bird,” Mia said. “Oh my God, I can’t believe it. He’s the bird.

“I don’t think so,” Holly replied. Her voice sounded disastrously small. “Could someone. Maybe. Go in and check to make sure Carlyle’s okay?”

The redshirts looked at one another, holding their elbows. Mia snorted, hard, hiding laughter behind a closed fist.

So Holly inched forward towards the hawk-who-was-Carlyle. Not that she believed that had happened. That would mean–magic, or something. That would mean something existed that allowed anyone, free of charge, without consequence, to rise above–things. Things like putting your faith in your uncle, and your uncle’s maps, because when you put your faith in actual people they became disappointments real, real fast. Could you rise above that?

No, there was no magic. But.

“I’m gonna help him,” Holly said.

“Aw, don’t,” Mia said. “Come on.”

Without struggling, the hawk–Carlyle?–shimmied and flapped into Holly’s arms. She held him by the sides, under the wings, as, she imagined, you might hold a chicken. He was a good person. Somewhere. Maybe not on the outside, but. He hadn’t ripped her maps and he hadn’t really done much of anything wrong. Except glow fiercely, sharply, like a window in the dawn.

She tossed him back towards the pool, where he fluttered and landed, again, in the feathers at the bottom. There he disappeared completely, engulfed. The terns did not stir.

Carlyle, the real Carlyle, emerged from the deep end of the pool. A mass of birds parted for him as he crawled up onto the grass and curled into a ball on his side. He seemed at peace. As if he had just watched a long-suffering grandfather pass away.

“Go in,” he said.

Holly said, “I don’t. This is.” It was Uncle Fulton’s. This pool. It was his magic, if magic it was. Maybe he hadn’t disappeared at all but had gone flying away somewhere. She wanted to laugh. She also wanted to cry.

But, in the end, Carlyle goaded the redshirts in. They leapt together, clutching each other. Mia followed, rolling her eyes before the jump. And then Holly went, finally. After all, she didn’t want to be alone there.

Behind her, she felt Carlyle jump again–


She emerged last. Before her, three farmyard geese and a shrike marveled at themselves. A dreamy lightness had settled in Holly’s bones. To go back to being a monkey, a dense and thick ape, for any long period seemed unthinkable. Strange that she had ever wanted to be human at all.

Something that sounded like Mia said, Are you a goose too, Holly? Holly focused her eyes. Mia was the shrike, and when the wind picked up, she held a wing out, and her voice emerged from somewhere around her. You look like one. Or you could be a swan, maybe. Can’t tell. All birds look alike.

The redshirt geese crowded around Mia. She preened them.


In time, they–the geese and Holly and Mia–floated towards the birch that hunkered over Uncle Fulton’s backyard. Carlyle-the-hawk was there. A dull animal expression had curdled in his eyes. One of the geese honked at him. Carlyle responded by pressing the goose (Tim? Georgie?) to the branch by the neck with his talons. Not to injure, Holly saw. Not enough pressure for that. Just to bring attention to himself.

No one else knows about this. I don’t want anyone else to know about this, Carlyle said in the wind.

There Holly agreed. That was the only way. She felt distant, suddenly. As if watching everything through a microscope.

Mia, next to her, dipped her gray head low. Like she was giving in. But she wasn’t. Wouldn’t. Holly knew that.

Are you all paying attention? Are you all paying attention to me? You know what I haven’t played in a long, long time? Carlyle asked. Tag. I’m it.


They fled.

The tree in which Holly hid was some kind of pine, thick and bushy. It would take an eagle-eye to see into it. And yet she felt naked.

She said to herself, It’s just a game.

She said, Carlyle is your friend.

One deep breath. Two.

Holly didn’t want to bleed. That was all. She didn’t like blood. Carlyle had chased all the geese down and taken them into his claws and grasped. Too roughly. He didn’t know his own strength. Gentle giant. That was Carlyle. He had said he didn’t mean it, and she wanted to believe him. But. He’d left deep gashes in the geese. In their bellies and necks. Gashes that, Holly supposed, would scar when the geese emerged as human beings again.

It was instinct, maybe. Carlyle was a hawk now and he couldn’t help but like it.

No sign of Mia. She’d gone the other way, towards the south end of town.

The poor geese.

Though maybe they deserved it. The maps. They had ripped Uncle Fulton’s maps, and so they’d ripped Holly’s maps. She would have used them to find him, and he would have taught her all about the magic. But. No.

What did Uncle Fulton’s tern used to say? What did Voltaire used to coo in her ear when he perched on her shoulder? You gotta be real. That sounded right. She wrote stories for herself and she never got real–

The boughs in front of her rustled. She hopped back, pressing against the tree, hoping, by the same kind of miracle that allowed the pool to exist, that she might blend into her surroundings. Disappear. She was good at being faceless. But then a shrike sidled in next to Holly and Holly relaxed.

I’m leaving, Mia said. I’m going to find your uncle.

Holly had to go back to Carlyle. Had to. He had always helped her, uncomfortable though he made her. Any alternative seemed unlikely. And anyway Uncle Fulton was anonymous as a pigeon now. He didn’t want to be found. Holly told Mia so.

Mia’s eyes, inquisitive and avian, seemed to plead with her. It’s like this time I was in my grandpa’s attic and I only found the corner of a group photo. And that little piece had my grandpa in it, but I wanted to know where all the other people were. There was so much that wasn’t him. And so much that isn’t me and isn’t you.

You ripped all the maps, Holly replied.

They can be taped together, Holly. And anyway. Look. Look down at the pool. You can see it from here, right? The terns are gone. You know where they went? North, I think. I think they went north. To your uncle.

A hard silence fell between them. And then understanding.

It just wouldn’t end well for me, Holly offered. I’m. I’m always making things up.

I see, Mia said.

Do you know where Carlyle is?

Up near school, somewhere. He’s been–chasing the geese.

With a finesse reserved for natural-born birds, Mia dropped from the branch and soared off, far, until Holly could not distinguish her from the cirrus clouds scattered across the horizon. Freedom. That was freedom, the kind you really thought about, the moment-of-silence-during-morning-assembly-kind. Intangible and abstract. Like the idea of finding Uncle Fulton.

She wanted to sing, but didn’t. She wanted to sing a hymn and have all the humans in town look up and wonder and then brush it off as coincidence. She wanted the world to be dripping down the sides with hidden magic. Just like that.

But she went to go look for Carlyle.

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The Bright and Morning Star1

by Alicia Cole

 
After the painting “Beloved” by Ray Caesar

 
15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers
and the immoral persons and the murderers
and the idolaters, and everyone who loves
and practices lying.

 
Tentacled wonder
from the depths of the hydran field.
Wriggling, never still; oh, Love
who lives in the heavens, thank you
for such a gift.

 
Inside: my bending weight
over the bassinette, his tentacular joy.

 
16 “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify
to you these things for the churches. I am
the root and the descendant of David,
the bright morning star.”

 
Intertentacular, the orbits of aprocyphon
and reportage.  The living saint
on the corner, murmuring crepe-paper
flowers from his sleeves,
begs to board with us.

 
Pater eius: my husband’s mustached frown,
tentacles writhing through his fingers.

 
17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let the one who hears say, “Come.”
And let the one who is thirsty come;
let the one who wishes
take the water of life without cost.

 
Awash in light, the singular light of gnosis:
this child, unique and luminous starform.
Many come to visit us.  We are “in the habit
of meeting on a certain fixed day”2.

 
Ante lumen: singing our hymns;
subtentacular, the son rattling along.

 

1. 22 Rev. 15-17 New American Standard Bible.
2. Pliny, Letters, transl. by William Melmoth, rev. by W.M.L. Hutchinson 
   (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1935), vol. II, X:96, cited in Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 199.
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Spring After Rain

by Tantra Bensko

The lit-up boy came crying down the stairs covered in footsteps ringing through night-gardens. Only in that moment could we change who we were, and who we ever would be. Evaporation misted toward the stars.

The lanterns fizzled out. The stone walls wept. Moss grew. More than anything, I wanted Nothing, its teeth tearing me apart, howling all the grace notes of silence. I wanted to die and disappear, to have no soul.

The boy wafted his vaporous hand through my neck. My scream moved through his mouth and out the other side. I closed my eyes; I stopped breathing. My sister, Ellen, breathed instead, moist against my face. “You are not the answer we were asking for,” she told him. “You can go away now, little ghost-boy, thank you.”

“No one living knows the right question,” he said. “It’s not like you think, being dead.” Behind my eyelids, I could see; I pressed my hands against them. He started purring. The vibration jiggled the rain water cupped inside the tulips, making the moon inside them scatter. A bee flew out of one, tipping it over, and water dripped onto the ground. The bee purred too.

I wanted to dig down in soft loam, covering myself with Always. I wanted to no longer exist, to have an ending. Ellen fluttered her eyelashes against my cheek. We were too young for mascara, so the softness felt like flight. The boy said: “There is no Nothing for you.” I cried tears into his voice. It ate the tears up. His voice licked me clean. “You will become your father. And your mother.”

I twisted my DNA into a dream. Ellen and I coiled backwards. The ground trembled loud.

The boy became naked before us. His skin glowed like a swan in moonlight. I reached out to touch his hip bone curving forward delicate. I turned into song, sliding along it, until I woke from so much pain of beauty. To be perfect must burden. To be so thin one must be cut by everything. By every word, and song and breath alive.

My lips so dry I pressed them to the wet stone wall. I drank moon from tulips. I squeezed moss into my mouth, and kissed him.

“I am already my father and my mother,” said Ellen. I turned to look at her, standing straight, my hair echoing in the archway. “I feel I am in a stone well, looking up. You can send down the cup, and take part of me at a time, and drink me. If you do, you then can be our parents too.”

I threw back my head, my chin strong, my hair long. The strands of it could have been a woodcut. “I don’t want to be them. Or you to be them, either. Let’s you be you, and me be me, like it always was.”

“It wasn’t.”

A songbird curled the air. Leaves shimmered. My legs gave out beneath me, and I fell farther than I expected to. My voice grew cold around me. My hair made a nest.

The boy smiled, and the darkness whirred. I reached out to grasp the dark, to hold it to me, to make it mine. My hand lengthened, my skin aged, my father’s wedding band on my finger. I was becoming my father. I shook my head and yanked my hand back, as if catching a violent fish. It was smooth and small again. And the boy held the ring.

The bird flew from my hair, its wings thrumming. Ellen tapped her foot in circles and plucked a sprig of wild onion from between the mossy stones, eating it and spitting out the pulp. The boy dropped my father’s ring in the well, the splash bright. The sound devoured the boy. When I looked in the well, he was the moon’s reflection.

My sister and I left each other there always. We had nothing else to say.

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