March 2012

New Phantasma…

Ten Tumors by Gregg Winkler

The children’s cries bounced around the house, then, before long they were running through the front room again, screaming and wailing. Sandia laughed with them, holding up her hands at them, “Please, children, you’re going to wake the — ”

But it was too late.

A Family Tale by Ryan Rubai

When we were eight, we overheard our mother and father talking about us, in the kitchen. Gregory, we need to get rid of them, mother said.

Dearest Son by Graeme Penman

First and foremost, always wear your hat.

Dad by Jonathan Bird

His disapproving sneer simply lit up the room and made every occasion just what it should be.

The Burden of Gender by Abha Iyengar

But the scourge had changed her, too. She did not bear only one child as her mother had done. The next birth had been of twins, then of quadruplets, then eight kids. Each successive time, the number of babies conceived doubled. Each successive time, the babies were male, no girls were born.

And one more story, Winter Baby by Anna Caro

It was on one of these nights, when Jasleen was asleep with my arm loosely round her shoulders, that I saw the ghosts in summer for the first time.

Ten Tumors

by Gregg Winkler

1.

The woman was there to have a grapefruit size tumor removed from her abdomen. They were hoping to go in, remove the tissue, and begin post-operative treatment as soon as possible to prevent more tumors from developing.

But once the doctor had made the incision into her abdominal cavity and pulled back the skin, the light above the operating table fell upon the gray mass of cells, and it flinched. As the surgeon leaned in to begin severing the arteries that were feeding it, the tumor opened its gray eyes, looked up at the doctor, and began to mewl like a cat.

A nurse fainted. The doctor backed away from the patient, the scalpel trembling in his hand.

The nurse brought the woman back from her anesthetized slumber, her body still splayed open. She carefully explained what they had found growing inside her. As the nurse spoke, the thing attached to her intestine spewed something that looked like pus and slobber from its mouth.

Even without the drugs that they were pumping into her at the time, the woman later thought that she would have still made the same choice. After laying eyes on the life that was growing inside her, the woman didn’t feel it was right to kill it.

“Leave it,” the woman said.


tumor:  an abnormal mass of tissue that is not inflammatory and arises from preexistent tissue.
-Webster’s Dictionary

2.

In another hospital, a different woman was scheduled to have a tumor removed from the back of her neck, where it had begun to affect her pituitary gland and lymph system.

The girl was twenty-two years-old and only a year away from completing a bachelor’s degree in theater. She was hoping to move to Chicago and join the Second City troupe before moving to New York to try out for Saturday Night Live. Then the blackouts began, and the tumor was detected. It was basically agreed that she should have it removed, despite the risk involved. The girl figured her chances of making it on SNL were slim in perfect health, and nil with a tumor. She agreed to the surgery.

Amidst the pre-surgery paperwork, the girl signed a form specifying that she did not want to be revived in the event that the tumor was sentient. In later years, she felt tinges of remorse, but for the rest of her life, she believed that she had made the right decision.


living organism:  a thing that possesses the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body or inanimate matter — characterized by the capacity for metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction.
-Webster’s Dictionary

3.

Donald Hemple dreamt that he was in charge of a large catering service, and that he and his crew were about to serve scores of hungry dignitaries. The staff was separated from the guests by three twelve-foot doors. They stood at the ready. When the doors were thrown open, the entire team would spill out and begin dropping appetizers in front of the masses. In the back of the line were several stout men and women, each with a pitcher of tea in one hand and a pitcher of water in the other.   

“Okay,” Donald said peeking out of the door. “On three!  One!  Two!  Three!” 

The doors flew open and the wait staff marched out and began pouring drinks. Donald watched from the doorway, smiling as each patron was served a glass of water, a glass of tea, and presented with a beautiful garden salad. He watched as another waiter carrying one serving bowl of ranch dressing and one of Italian asked each person which they preferred. It was going perfectly.

And then the crying began. He wasn’t sure where it was coming from. Who in the hell brings an infant to an event like this?  Frowning, his eyebrows coming together above his nose, he looked up the rows of tables for the screaming kid.

Then the dream began to break up. The sounds of silverware clinking on plates and the chatter of happy, hungry guests faded away, and the walls began to melt into the blackness, and only the crying remained.

Donald opened his eyes in his bed, the crying still very much with him. He sat up and looked around his empty bedroom. “Hello?” he said. The crying intensified.

Donald climbed out of bed and wandered through his empty house. He stumbled into the bathroom, and looked at himself in the mirror. He glanced at the knot beside his ear. The crying was all in his head.


citizen:  an inhabitant of a city; a person who owes allegiance to a government and is entitled to its protection.
-Webster’s Dictionary

4.

“Mom?”  Alisia stared at the back of her mother’s head as she stood at the kitchen sink, washing dishes. “Mom, we need to talk.”

Alisia watched her mother. She didn’t stop washing the plate in her hand or turn around or say anything, but her shoulders tightened. It was times like this that Alisia missed her mother. She wasn’t sure how they had grown so far apart in the last few years. It wasn’t that Alisia hated her mother, though she may have said that she did. And it wasn’t that her mother had done anything to deserve Alisia’s disdain. Alisia was just growing up, that was all, and that meant she was becoming independent. Sometimes nobody liked that.

For her mother’s part though, she thought they were bringing her up right. They sent her to the “good” school, joined a church, and tried to provide her with everything she’d need to fit in. And yet, despite all of that, somehow Alisia still managed to spite her mother whenever she could. She even had her navel pierced.

“Mom?” Alisia said again.

“What is it?”   

“I need to talk to you,” her voice quivered. She was nervous. It had been years since she had needed to talk to her parents about anything that was important. Other than to ask for money, it felt like years since she’d actually had anything to say.

Alisia’s mom dropped the plate she was washing into the sink and turned around. She had no idea what to expect from her daughter. It was like she didn’t know her anymore. She could remember a time when she could describe every freckle on her body, and now she wasn’t even sure if her daughter had plans to go to college. “What do you need to talk about?”

“Mom, I — ” Alisia stopped. She thought she could just say it, but the words stuck in her throat like a chicken bone. She looked into her mother’s eyes. The consternation was there. It was always there. They had built so many walls between them.

“Yes?”

“Mom, I have a lump. A tumor.”  There. The words were out. Alisia felt the burden of the words come off her chest. The weight floated in the air and landed on her mom’s shoulders.

Alisia’s mom’s mouth twitched, and she could feel heat behind her eyes.

“Mom, I’m sorry,” Alisia said. She didn’t know why she said it, but it came out anyway.

Alisia’s mom nodded, and without saying anything, she turned back to the dishes. Nice house, good schools, expensive clothes, bought the girl a car for her sixteenth birthday. A savings account in the bank for college. All of these things flashed through her mind, and underneath that, the words, my daughter has a tumor repeated.

“Mom?  Aren’t you going to say anything?” Alisia asked staring at her mother’s back. They stood that way for a very long time.


The P.E.T.T. (People for the Ethical Treatment of Tumors) was founded a year ago today. The organization’s mission is to advocate on behalf of the safety, welfare, and protection of tumors. P.E.T.T. rejects the idea that tumors are a “medical condition”…

5.

The seventeen year old boy sat in the bathroom, his back against the door, his chest rising and falling erratically. His hands were covered in blood, and now it was pooling out around him on the linoleum.

The boy’s name was Kyle Vanderboss. He was the quarterback for the football team, vice-president of the junior class, and had a damn good shot at being nominated prom king in May when he and his girlfriend, Faith Hammons arrived. Kyle had scored a 30 on his A.C.T. and was already receiving invitations to several colleges in the tri-state area.

Two years ago, however, he began getting migraines. He thought they had started from a concussion received during a football game. After a CAT-scan, the doctor informed him that he actually had an inoperable tumor on his brain. It was swelling against his skull which was causing an immense amount of pressure, which was what was causing his headaches.

So he took a pair of scissors and cut off his left ear. He sat with his ear in a bowl of ice next to his leg. Blood ran down his face in warm waves. He jammed his fingers into the hole, but he couldn’t find the tumor. He trembled and sighed. He was just going to have to go deeper.


In the case of Alexander v. Massachusetts, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the removal of tumors is permissible for any reason that a person chooses up to the point that a tumor can be considered “viable.”  Only if the individuals health is in danger by the tumor after viability is the removal acceptable…

6.

Sandia Brosset’s son, Andy, jumped up from underneath the kitchen table and scared his two younger siblings, Jennifer and Ben. They screamed and ran through the house with Andy chasing them making monster noises. Jennifer giggled. Ben ran behind her, a look of disinterest and snot on his face.

Sandia watched her children play as she reclined on the couch. She loved her children more than anything else in the world. She loved to hear their laughter. She loved the way the lights twinkled in their eyes. She loved the smell of their hair and the touch of their kisses. There was absolutely nothing in the world as precious as her babies.

The children’s cries bounced around the house, then, before long they were running through the front room again, screaming and wailing. Sandia laughed with them, holding up her hands at them, “Please, children, you’re going to wake the — ”

But it was too late. The tumor in her lap, the one that had started on her fallopian tube, was awake and fussy. “Mamma!” the tumor said in between its cries. It couldn’t say a lot of words, but it could say “Mamma,” and it infuriated Sandia to no end.

“Oh, go back to sleep!” Sandia hissed at the gray thing in her lap. It looked up at her with its potato eyes and cried, “Mamma, mamma!” 

“I said go back to sleep!”

The children continued to run through the house, the shrill joy in their laughter combined with the annoying sting of the tumor’s cries ratcheted Sandia’s anger to another level.

“Hungry!” the tumor said.  

“You just ate!” Sandia said.

“Hungry!” the tumor said. “Hungry, Mamma, hungry!”

“I’m not feeding you again!” 

She leaned over and grabbed a gray roll of duct tape from the floor. She ripped off a strip about eight inches long and put it over the tumor’s mouth. It whined, and its eyes never left its mother’s face, but at least Sandia couldn’t hear its awful voice.

Sandia laid back against her pillows and watched her children play, while between her legs, her tumor cried silently.


From NPR News:

“The United States Supreme Court ruled today that William Ross, the man who murdered three federal agents including Samantha Weiss, who had unknowingly carried a sentient tumor on her right breast, will be charged for the deaths of four individuals…

7.

Dr. Andrew Winn’s hand trembled as he closed his cell phone. He was getting old — perhaps too old — to continue in what was a younger man’s profession; but he loved his job, and he loved helping people. He wiped his soft hands across his face, which had begun to take on more and more wrinkles. His eyes had bags under them.

The call had come from Dorothy Rainwater. Dorothy had been a patient of his for more than forty years. Before that, Andrew had been in love with her (though her name then used to be Dorothy Sternburg). Dorothy’s granddaughter had a tumor growing inside her. Dorothy’s granddaughter was only fourteen years old.

Dr. Winn took an oath many years before to do no harm. Never before had the distinction of “do no harm” been more muddled than now. For Dr. Winn, doing no harm would be to take this horrible toll of responsibility, this unwanted burden placed upon a child, this easily corrected accident, away from a little girl who could then go to high school without the long, late nights; she could get a driving liscense, she could meet a boy and get married. Someday she may want to have children. If this girl could just wait another ten years to have the responsibility of caring for another, everyone involved would benefit.

Besides, Dr. Winn could remember a time when tumors were just masses of cells that had gotten out of hand. They were the results of bad habits, accidents, a glitch in the genetic code, and just plain bad luck. And now that these lumps of cells could generate a nervous system, everything was different. Laws were rewritten. It was ridiculous.

Dr. Winn slipped his coat on, grabbed his car keys, and slipped into the night. He drove in silence to his office. He tried not to think about politics and religion, and tried to think only of Dorothy Rainwater and her granddaughter. When he pulled into the parking lot, they were huddled together underneath the awning over the front door.

“Where did you park?” Dr. Winn asked, looking down the quiet streets and then jabbing his key into the lock.

“We parked a block down, just like you said.”

“Good. Let’s get you inside, sweetheart,” Dr. Winn said to Dorothy’s granddaughter. She looked a lot like her grandmother had when she was a teenager. “We must hurry.”

The two women and Dr. Winn slipped into the office. He left the waiting room and reception lights off, and walked through the darkened hall to the last room. He turned the light on, pulled the shades, and then grabbed a gown from one of the cabinets. “Here, put this on,” he said to the girl. “Then climb up on this table and I will be right back.”

The girl nodded. Her face was frightened, her eyes red, her lips swollen. She was being strong though, and Dr. Winn was quite impressed by that. What she didn’t know was that he was just as frightened as she.

“Dorothy, can you help me?” he asked, and Dorothy followed him to another room where he put on a pair of scrubs and began to wash up for the operation. As he washed his hands and neck and face, he breifly gave Dorothy a run down of all the instruments that he would be using during the operation. They were laid out on the cabinet beside the sink. “That first one is a scalpel,” he said. “I will use that to make the incisions. If I say, ‘scalpel,’ I will need you to hand me that one.”   

Cleaned and prepped, they came back to the makeshift operating room. Dorothy squeezed her granddaughter’s hand as she lay on the table in the thin paper gown. “Thank you for doing this,” she said to Dr. Winn. He nodded, smiled with his eyes, and then began preparing the anesthesia.

The operation took two and a half hours. Dr. Winn was able to open the girl’s neck, locate the tumor, and remove it, dropping it in the pan beside the bed without any ceremony or comment. It writhed there, twitching and squealing. It was no bigger than a jelly bean. Dr. Winn stitched the girl back up and was allowing her to slowly come off the anesthesia as he washed up from the operation. Afterwards, he came back into the room to check on her. Her heartrate was good and her blood pressure normal. The girl was going to be fine.

As he sat in his office, leaned back in his chair, dozing a little, waiting for the night to be over, a knock came from the front door of the office. He knew what was happening. Nobody came knocking on a doctor’s office door at 4:30 in the morning. He thought about slipping out the back, but he figured there’d be men waiting for him there as well. Instead, he walked into the girl’s room, checked her vital signs once more; she would be just fine. Then he gave Dorothy a kiss on the cheek. “You stay in here,” Dr. Winn said.

Dr. Winn walked back through his office, the pounding on the door intensifying. As he came forward, he flipped on the other lights. There was no point of keeping his whereabouts secret. When he opened the front door, a police officer had a warrant for his arrest.

Dr. Andrew Winn was handcuffed and tucked into the back of one of the police cruisers. He was formally charged with performing an illegal tumor removal. He would never again practice medicine.


From The New York Times:

…six people are dead in an explosion at a tumor removal facility in Worchester, Massachusettes. So far, no individual or group has taken responsibility for the blast. This has been the third such bombing this year…

8.

Jerry Chandler was a thirty-eight year-old man with a bitter ex-wife and three children that couldn’t care less about him. He used to be a man with a lot of promise and potential. He had a degree in physics for Christ’s sake!  But the booze and the bad attitudes and the lack of motivation all added up to the same thing. Now he lived alone in a little apartment outside of Cleveland, working on the night crew for Wal-Mart, and drinking in the mornings when folks were driving their children to school.

Well, he wasn’t completely alone. There was the tumor that had come up on the inside of his forearm. It had started as a mole, but it continued to grow until there was a knot there the size of a tennis ball. It hurt like hell to touch, and in the past week, it had begun to make noises and look around.

Jerry had called in to work. He wasn’t going to work with this thing on his arm. It whined all the time and looked up at Jerry with these black beady eyes, watching him, almost knowingly.

Instead, Jerry had a plan. He didn’t have health insurance, but he did have a physics degree, and he had a pretty good idea that he thought would work. So he spent about seven hours in the kitchen working and modifying and testing. Finally, around four-thirty in the afternoon, Jerry poured a large amount of alcohol down his throat, and put his arm in the modified microwave. He had cut a hole through the plastic door.

He set the timer for one minute and pushed start.

Jerry screamed in pain as the liquids in his arms heated and boiled. He screamed after only sixteen seconds, but the clump on his arm screamed before that.

After a minute, Jerry removed his arm. It was covered in blisters and burns. The tumor pulsed on his forearm, the eyes twitching back and forth, its mouth whimpering. It wasn’t quite dead.

Jerry put his arm back in the microwave and pushed the “Minute Plus” button.


From ABC Nightly News

Thirty-six protesters took to the streets of Washington D.C. today to protest against the raising of two tumors by homosexual actor, Clint Macmillian and his partner Jason Bainbridge. Spokesman of the group, Richard Standswell, declared that the tumors would be better off removed from the body and cast out of a moving vehicle than to live under the influence of homosexuality. This comes just two months after Rosie Degeneres was found to have two tumors in her lymph nodes.

9.

Doris Turk sat on her front porch everyday from sun up to sun down, smoking unfiltered Camel cigarettes. She waved at the kids riding their bicycles through the trailer park, and she passed a word with the men and women as they came home from work. Doris sat in the blazing afternoon sun without as much as a squirt of sun screen on her prematurely wrinkled, dark skin. Beside her chair was a coffee can full of butts.

At night, she slipped into her house and watched television while eating greasy foods and experimenting with an assortment of different drugs and medications. She was not married. At four-hundred fifty pounds, she didn’t see marriage in her future. When she was younger, she assumed that that meant she would never have a family, but she knew now that that was just wrong.

She sat in front of her television and lit another cigarette — her fiftieth or sixtieth of the day. She knew that she didn’t need a man to have a family. She glanced down at an encyclopedia she was looking at, turned to a page on “radioisotopes.”  Yes, she knew she didn’t need a man to have a family.


From The New England Journal of Medicine

…a new study has shown that scientists have isolated the gene that is responsible for the exponential growth experienced by tumors sharing the host body. This particular amino acid chain, found primarily in pre-viable tumors, may hold the answers to several cures for several degenerative diseases such as Lou Gehrig’s Disease and type II diabetes…

10.

Mrs. Rountree sat in the front row of the high school gymnasium. She was wearing her blue church dress and sat nervously, clutching a handkerchief to her lips as she listened to the commencement speaker finally finish his long speech. After he sat down, the superintendent stood up at a podium and asked the one-hundred thirty graduates to please rise. Then they began calling the names.

Mrs. Roundtree watched as one by the one, the students walked on stage to receive their diplomas. She heard the names that she had heard for the last twelve years and the applause from the families as they ran onstage. She couldn’t help but cry. It was the end of childhood. After tonight, they would no longer be their babies.

Mrs. Roundtree watched them climb on stage and thought to herself that she never really expected Travis to make it this far. It was a miracle in itself that he had survived as long as he had, but to be able to cross the stage with his other classmates was more than she had dreamed of eighteen years ago.

“Travis Rountree!” the superintendent said, and the gymnasium exploded in applause. Lights from dozens of cameras flashed as the gray mass in its large cap and gown came onto the stage, smiling out at the cheering crowds, its black beady eyes gleaming with pride. The superintendent leaned back over the microphone, “Congratulations, Travis.”

Travis waved his tentacle-like arm at the crowd, and then took his diploma. The entire gymnasium was on its feet, clapping and screaming Travis’s name. Mrs. Roundtree, hunched over to carry the seventy-pound mass on her back, bawled into her handkerchief. She was so proud. She was just so proud.

Dad

by Jonathan Byrd

My dad lived long enough to be ashamed of me.

To make sure of this, he had himself frozen and arranged for his chamber to be placed in my living room.  There, I would be sure to see his disapproving scowl from all angles: when I come home from the job he disapproved of, played with the cats (who weren’t grandchildren), or had a fuck on the couch with my wife (who wasn’t the woman he would have chosen).

His disapproving sneer simply lit up the room and made every occasion just what it should be.  At Thanksgiving, his chamber would be at the head of the table, surrounded by mom in her jar beside me, my sister and her twelve kids (three sets of quadruplets), and my wife at the far end of the table.  Somehow, dad’s sneer was always my fault.

You push his buttons, my sister tells me as she puts mom back on the percolator in the kitchen.  The bubbles always help mom’s attitude.  You should try harder to make a connection with him: mom’s voice is garbled by the bubbling fluid in the jar.  It’s taken many years for me to be able to understand her, and even now I don’t catch it all.

Later, I push my wife’s breasts out of my face.  She continues to ride me on the couch while I look at dad’s sneer.  I can’t even fuck to his approval.  Can we go doggy style, I ask my wife.  I just can’t look at his face any more.

When I come home from work the next day, dad’s sneer is a lot worse.  I immediately think it’s the plastic coat.  He hates the coat, so I try to remember to take if off before I come in the house.  To everyone outside of the house, the coat is a sign of honor and respect: it is the coat of a professor.  To my father, it is the acme of all of my failings to become his son.

In the kitchen, I hear giggling.  Now I know what dad is pissed about: people have information that they haven’t shared with him.  That is always my fault.  The break down of communication in the house is something I’m supposed to work on.

In the kitchen I find my wife standing near my mother’s percolator.  Near them, the faded purple hologram of her mother flickers.  The projector near the refrigerator holds one of the brain cubes her mother is stored on.  They look up, see me, and start giggling again.

What, I ask.

They giggle again

Oh you didn’t wear that coat in the house, did you, mom bubbles at me.  You know how it upsets your father.

Oh mom, leave him alone.  My wife was trying to head off an argument.  The news she has must be something.

They giggle.  I hate the monotone, metallic giggle the projector emits and my mother’s giggles sound like a water cooler burping.

What, just tell me.

Well, alright, my wife giggles.  You remember that night you didn’t think you would come, but I made you come anyway, the night we did it doggy style?

The mothers giggle.  Her mother lets out a few metallic barks.  Those goddamn projectors are always developing personalities of their own, and they are never good ones.

Well, I guess the position worked, ‘cause I’m pregnant.

They all laugh at the news.

I reel.

Wow, I say after a few moments.  Do you know how many?

Three at least; the doctor thinks I might have another two hiding in there.

Wow, five.  Nice, normal number, nothing odd like Jason at work who had one.  Who ever heard of such a thing?

My mother’s jar bubbles.  Why don’t you go tell your father?  He’ll be happy with the good news.

I walk into the living room.  My father’s chamber has frosted over.  This always happens when he was extra-mad.

Dad, I’m sorry they didn’t tell you.  I know I’m supposed to facilitate better communication with you.

He sneers. I wipe away more frost from the chamber.

Well Dad, I’m going to be a dad.

His sneer darkens.

Yeah, my wife’s pregnant.  The doctor can see three and thinks there are two more in there.  I hope like hell there is.  I don’t want to think of how disappointed he’ll be if there are only three.

Yeah, so I’ll be a real good dad.  Teach them just like you taught me.  They’ll grow up right.

Apparently, this is the wrong thing to say for my father’s chamber frosts over completely.  No matter how much I chip at the ice, I can’t break through, but I know the sneer is there.

I wonder if I’ll live long enough to be ashamed of one of my children.

Dearest Son

by Graeme Penman

Dearest Son,

I have not a single doubt that you will promptly ignore anything I might say to you being the insolent and indolent child that you are, but still I feel obliged to give you some small pieces of advice to guide you through your life in whichever big city you find yourself.

First and foremost, always wear your hat. By all means, as you pass the young ladies I know you are imagining having passionate trysts with even now, tip your cap to them, show them all the respect and courtesy you would have shown me were you less spiteful, but don’t sweep it off in a gallant gesture befitting a musketeer. When a friend or acquaintance, should you acquire one, invites you into their home you will be expected to remove your hat, possibly hang it from a hat stand or a hook. You can try to avoid being invited into homes but then you will seem distant and rude, you can plead some injury to the scalp or head but this will only be effective once or twice. In fact the only way to avoid such a situation is to sidestep the issue of friends and acquaintances entirely, if no one knows you exist then you cannot offend them. You are well read enough to know that discretion is the better part of valour, I saw to that element of your education at least.

The second thing that you must remember, and this is probably of more importance than the first, in fact it is more important, mentally remove this paragraph and place it before the last. Anyway, the thing that you must remember is to avoid the Jews. Do not walk the streets of the Jewish quarter by day or by night, avoid them as if you were barefoot and their streets were paved with broken glass. Any lettering in the Hebrew tongue should ward you from a place, even if it is unlikely to have any Jews inside or nearby. Avoid the shops and residences of all goldsmiths, jewellers and moneylenders too as the Jews often hold those jobs. If you see men in the garb of Jews then cross the street to avoid his closer inspection. If you see a Rabbi, a leader of their faith, then run from him. Do not let his eyes settle upon you under any circumstances. I cannot emphasise this enough.

Do not get into a situation where you have to eat or drink in company, if you follow my prior advice about the acquisition of friends then this should be quite easy to accomplish, being the wilful creature that you are, my prior advice will have been discarded out of hand and you will be drifting back into the realms of daydream by this point. Your mental stamina is pathetic. Claim that you have already eaten, that a physician has prescribed you a special diet that cannot be catered to in restaurants or common household kitchens, claim an indisposition, a prior appointment, a prior dinner arrangement even, one that you had forgotten up until this point. Do not try to eat in company, do not try to sip cocktails in a public house, you will probably regurgitate anything you swallow immediately but it is possible food will settle in some crevice of your innards and decompose making you smell even less pleasant than you do at present, you will embarrass yourself terribly and draw varying degrees of unwanted attention. Too much attention will lead to an abrupt end to your newfound cosmopolitan life.

Try not to submerge yourself in hot water, wash your odours away with a splash of cold water in the morning and an application of some inexpensive perfumed powder. Oil your hair so it is not obvious that you do not wash it, trim it into whatever fancy style you like, preferably one with a generous fringe so that your hats become less necessary. That mark on your head does nothing to change what you are made of boy, don’t forget that. Boiling water will slough the half-rotten flesh off of your bones faster than you can check your pocket-watch. In the same way, try not to spend too much time basking in the sun, I know that the temptation will be to spend every moment spare absorbing that warm glory after getting out of this abysmally dark house but it will make you smell foul to be overheated. I kept you in the shade for good reasons.

I know that no small part of your leaving is rooted in loneliness. I know you shall be searching for intimate company immediately upon arriving in the city, possibly even a mistress. I never thought that I would abdicate the taking of any human life, my sole obsession for these last few years has been the voiding of such actions, the creation of life. Still I find myself loving you to the exclusion of all others as only a parent can and so I must direct you thus. When you take a woman to your bed, endeavour to make sure she will not be missed. Lay with her as you will, loose all of the frustration you have felt while stranded here with me, but afterwards be sure to take her life, gently, in her sleep if you can. Dispose of the body in any way you can, try to ensure it will not be found until the worm has done some of his masterful work upon it, in this way the doctors of your city will not find the cause of her death or any signs of your involvement. Let no-one see you disrobed and live, this is vital. Remember this as you carry out that work, despite all the moral education I tried to provide for you, for all the sermons I memorised on a Sunday morning and repeated to you verbatim in the afternoon. You are a creation of the hand and the mind of man, not a man yourself. You have no soul to lose to perdition, no hope of salvation, there will be no resurrection of the spirit for you, only the press of ages on your worn flesh. “Thou shalt not kill” is the law passed from God unto man and while I have tried to impart the same guidance to you as your creator you cannot truly sin against me the way I have sinned against the Lord in creating such an abomination as you. Kill and live without the eternal worry that some woman of loose morals will pass on a tale of a strangely scarred man with a word written upon his head.

You may not be flesh of my flesh or blood of my blood but remember this my golem, my son, there will always be a home here for you when you tire of the city, a place where you need not deceive anyone, a place where I will care for you as I always have, with love, with understanding. Even if you cannot abide to rest another night beneath my roof or spend another evening in my study enduring our murmured debates, even if you never bring yourself back through these hills again, send me some sign or letter from your new home.

Let me know that you are well.

Winter Baby

by Anna Caro

We knew our homes to be haunted from such a young age that we never feared it. At the end of the year, when the snows thawed and beams of sunlight shot through between the mountains, we offered thanks to them for their protection over the long fallow season, for the summer that had at long last arrived and the world they had left us. On the long stone tablets we laid out offerings from our dwindling supplies of flat bread and frozen fruits, and satisfied with their offerings, they absented themselves for the one moon of summer as we furiously ploughed, sowed, watered and harvested our crops. We heard nothing from them as the men and women met each other at sundown each night, knowing that only this season was a blessed time for a baby to be conceived. Those born in winter would be pale, sickly, perhaps walk with a limp or have shortness of vision, sometimes die in childhood, or have some impairment that would only materialise as they grew.

Like me.

For the summer I was nineteen, my partner – we did not strictly couple as we did during the six winter moons, but the establishment of pairs, if with some fluidity, made things easier– was a girl one year my senior by the name of Jasleen who had already birthed two children, both healthy.

The decision was based primarily on reason. Summer pairings were focused on the creation of offspring, winter ones on friendship and romance, domesticity, the ability to put up with each others’ day to day faults, and yes, even love. For a few these were the same. But for most their summer partners were chosen on a flash of physical attraction that they claimed indicated a biological compatibility.

For others, though, for those such as myself and Jasleen who felt attraction only to those of our own genders, it was a weighing of facts; not only did we share a friendship, but an averaging of our heights would put a child slightly above the norm and our bloodlines were sufficiently distinct as not to cause concern. More importantly, she dismissed the concerns of others that the inverted joint in my left wrist and my shorter left leg would have any bearing on our child.

“Not unless it’s a winter kid, like you,” she laughed.

That is not to say that we found summer a hardship. While I will confess to the occasional stab of jealousy when I saw Lett – my partner of the last winter – walking down the field with some girl, our coupling was simply another necessary chore on top of the many that needed completion, a chore eased by the strength of friendship and the comfort of another body and the intoxication of sunlight. In one or other of the curtained nooks set aside from the cave complex, and lying on cushions, our tunics hung neatly on hooks, our duty would be followed by an hour or more of conversation, then, perhaps, one of us would take some quick sleep, exhausted from the day’s labour and secure in the knowledge that here we would not be disturbed.

It was on one of these nights, when Jasleen was asleep with my arm loosely round her shoulders, that I saw the ghosts in summer for the first time. I was not alarmed at first; after all, I had grown up with the dancing of fire on the walls, the faces of a strange race in the shadows. Indeed, it took me a few minutes to realise where I was; I was used to seeing them dancing on the wall of the rooms I had shared with Lett for six months, or those of the child centre or my parents where I had lived beforehand – not here.. I sat up in the interrupted darkness.

“Who are you?” I asked into the air. Jasleen stirred, looked up at me.

“Just a dream,” I said, and the ghosts disappeared, but not before Jasleen noticed the dying flicker of a flame.

“Was that…?”

I nodded. “I think so.”

“Why are they here? Did we do something wrong?”

I had never thought of the ghosts as malevolent, but they always had an authoritative presence. The legend was that they were the first inhabitants, the architects of this city and many like it spread throughout the planet, they who carved out the homes we now inhabit. By the time our ancestors arrived – political exiles abandoned on this strange planet with none of the technology that brought them there – the ghosts (the term referring now to the original race as well as their lingering remnants) had long gone in their physical form. Yet there was always a persistent feeling that we were just borrowing their homes, and that they were watching us, judging our every action.

We held each other lightly, enough to give comfort without admitting our fear. Though we had no reason to believe harm would come to us, we both knew that something was very wrong. This seeming jolt to the natural order of things made me nauseous and Jasleen anxious and on edge. “I need to go,” she said, throwing her tunic on backwards in her haste. I waited for a few minutes, staring blankly at the wall, then dressed myself, slipped on my clogs and made my way back to my quarters.

I pulled aside, one after another, the three thick furs which covered the entrance way, keeping out the snows and chill winds of winter. Inside I sighed, irritated with myself and took them down, as I should have done at the start of the season. In their place I hung a sheet of linen, lit a candle and clambered to the high ledge of rock where I slept. In the glow of the candle was a room that, though small, was half empty – clothes, tools, dice games had been carried to the dwelling where Lett would spend his summer, a room he would share with his cousin. I stayed here alone, more from apathy than design. I had my own space, at least, and I would never bring Jasleen here though she was one of my oldest friends. Not now.


The ghosts returned most nights from then, growing stronger, their features more defined. When in the mornings I would take Jasleen’s hand in mine as we walked down to the fields and we set to work thinning the bushy green vegetables, plucking out weeds, fertilising the soil, I felt unease, but also began to adapt, until I felt that their presence in summer was inevitable, even though I wasn’t sure why.

Weeks later, Jasleen met me with the news; she was at last with child, and so we joined the other couples who had concieved, one growing group of friends as if we were children once again, laughing and hanging out, telling stories over beer after the day’s work was over. Lett and the girl he was with did not join that group though – this was her first summer to be paired, so hope was far from lost, but I would still sometimes see her looking unhappy as she walked past.

And so, as the cold winds that indicated that winter was just around the corner, and we worked furiously day and night to stockpile grain and firewood, to pack fruits underground where the cold preserved them, Lett caught hurried words to me over the food we were on a short break from stacking, leaning against a fence with tin mugs of sweet tea in our hands. He was young enough that his face had changed noticeably over summer, filled into the structure that had been there all along. The sun had bleached his hair to the colour of straw.

I was wondering. His hands shifted uncomfortably, clutching at the fabric of his tunic.

We’re young. I meant he was young; I was two summers older. Things might have changed.

Do you know they have?

I shook my head. Then I reached my hands to the back of his head, rubbed them gently through his hair, then brought his lips up to mine. We can try and see.

Our liaison was brief and electric, covert; it was not yet winter, not yet our time, and it left me aching for more. But all the while the sun’s passage was getting lower in the sky, til it reached the point where it would barely rise above the horizon each day, sending only a cool glow across the snow covered land.

We decided to start afresh on new territory. We negotiated a new room, roomier than the previous winter’s but three levels up, accessible only by a narrow pathway down the cliff face, or through long corridors of communal areas. As the ice set in it was the latter we were forced to use, and so often it was easiest to keep ourselves to ourselves in that little room, until one of the elders passed comment and we were forced to admit that the stories and music and blazing fire in the largest room held a strong appeal.

The first few weeks of winter passed quickly, with repairs to curtains and double, triple checking the stockpiles with an anxiety that was almost comforting by its regularity. So much was it so that it was a while before anyone noticed. But Telta was the eldest of our number and when he moved to speak the whole room fell silent.

“Those who once were with us,” he croaked, “are no longer”.

There was anxiety, turning of heads. It was true that it was not news to us, but we had barely noticed the absence of the ghosts. Now it had been drawn to our attention everything seemed uneasy, our world altered. From then we were distracted, edgily looking round for them, wondering what had caused their demise – and whether it was our turn next.

I visited Jasleen not as the father of her baby girl – that would not have occurred to us then, even as a concept – but as a friend. Her dark hair was drawn back, her face drenched with sweat while her partner, blond, tall, her own belly swollen looked on proudly. Throughout the complex, new babies were being born everywhere and with none of our own we took up responsibility with the elder children, older men and women and the infertile, running round gathering food and taking messages, taking poultices from the medicine workers – often tending to their own new ones – to those who fell sick in childbirth.

As Lett and I grabbed some quick rest – not sleeping, we figured a little sleep would feel worse than none at all – we each saw something blurry our of the corners of our eyes. Flames flickered and danced round the corners of our room. I felt a reassurance which bore little relation to what was to come.

“They’re back,” Lett whispered, and I nodded, gazing round the room. We walked and the passageways were alive with light, and everywhere we could hear sighs of wonder. Jasleen grinned when I came to her, her baby gurgling and seeming to glow.

“It’s like,” she whispered. “It’s like they’ve come to put a blessing on her. They’ve returned to watch over their children.”

And there, staring at Jasleen and Lett, the two people in the world about whom I cared most, there was nothing I could do but agree. At the naming ceremonies not only the babies were named, but the ghosts – so often talked about in euphemisms – were officially named as Tasim. Those Who Protect. No more would we keep them in the shadows, but embrace them as a real part of our every day existence.

And so Lett’s comment, lighthearted though it was, carried with it an uneasy irrevence.

“There are so many more of them. Do you… do you think they’re breeding.”

Other things made me uneasy too. Faces formed in them, faces not too dissimilar from those of our people. They took form, ghostly, semi transparent, not yet tangible and yet taking our shapes, walking amongst us.

They showed us how grain could flourish all year round, how certain combinations of plants warmed the ground and, though the sun was just an orange glow and two layers of furs were needed, the children could run round outside all year and we could travel to other parts of the world.

One of them saw my crumpled hand, my limp, and suddenly there were five of them around me.

“Because I was conceived in winter,” I explained, and they shook their heads sadly, in a gesture that did not seem quite natural to them. They they told me they could fix it, and I guess they did, but so accustomed was I to using the hand I was born with that I struggled to eat and to pick up objects – I had to learn from the beginning, like a child.

With the distinction between summer and winter blurred, they said we could reproduce all year round, that there was no need for us to break our summer pairings. Around us our whole society seemed to be disintegrating. The seasons may as well not exist any longer.


I shouted in the air that echoed round the caves, bouncing from the rocks. “I’m a winter baby!”


With bags made of skins and flax strips bound around our feet, twenty six of us, plus children, made our way across the hills. Some of us, like me, were running to save their love, others, traditionalists, their culture. For five months we camped on a plain and dreamed of founding a new society here, like our old one but better, stronger, truly our own. But food was scarce and when illness struck we were weaker than expected, several died. At a meeting those with children were encouraged to return; only Jasleen and her partner refused.

Several months of walking later, and we were down to eleven adults and Kala. Our feet were bleeding and sore and we took food from plants that had not grown near our home, using only guesses and instinct as to what was safe. Eventually we found a complex of caves that though much smaller than the one we had left behind, seemed to consist of chambers and connecting corridors in a similar fashion. Here we took refuge and divided up our little remaining provisions, occasionally venturing out for more plants and to gather water from a spring not so far away.

I held Lett, his body thinned so his bones protruded. His hair had grown long and the damaged ends glinted in the candle light. I wondered how long we could keep going, and thought of those left behind and those fallen on the way.

One day Jasleen suggested we explore the caves. If our suspicion they had once been inhabited was correct, who knew what we might find? So by flaming torchlight we wandered through the rooms, finding only empty caverns. We might never have found anything at all had not Jasleen let Kala crawl on the floor for a few minutes while we talked. Her foot wenth through a narrow crack and the floor started to open.

We fell into the cold flames below.


We are preserved here, just like the Tasim were for centuries. One society is over, another has begun, and there is no place for us there. But there are other ways of fighting, and one of them is by haunting, a constant flickering reminder of our existence. And so we will wait. For winter.