The Halved

The only tree on the desolate Missouri prairie stood upon the only hill. It shook its top branches at me like a dog after a dip in a pond. As I drew closer, a smell overtook me, and I noticed something large hanging underneath it. I covered my nose and mouth with a handkerchief and steered my horse toward it. I recognized two long sacks hanging low to the ground and the graceful curls of deer antlers sticking out of the top. The antlers mimicked the archings of the oak branches above them. The sacks turned out to be bodies. No, that ain’t right. The sack turned out to be one body—a deer’s—hacked in two. Pools of blood had collected on the grass underneath.

Although halved, the animal was still intact, which was odd considering the thin frames of the settlers I had encountered on my journey. Being that no hunter would leave his food unguarded and no beggar would pass a free meal, I reckoned the carcass was a warning and a queer one at that. I left the deer where it hung, gathered my horse, and continued on my way.

Giddingstown was a small affair. Most of its residents claimed to be Iowans in the border troubles between Missouri and Iowa, but Lilburn Boggs, the fine governor of Missouri, had shown me the land surveyor’s notes himself, had read to me the President Van Buren’s decree defining the border between the two states. The town belonged to Missouri no question. Boggs had handed me a badge and a canteen for water that day. With a curt pat on the shoulder, the governor told me to ride north to Giddingstown to collect taxes. He said it as if his pockets were already heavy. That happened three weeks ago, and here I was now walking between the five buildings that made up the town.

I tied my horse to a post and stepped into the only shack that seemed lived in, which turned out to be a saloon. A stout, fiery-haired man stood behind the bar. He nodded his head when I asked for the owner, but did not meet my gaze.

“You might do well to take that badge back across the border where folks have more respect for it.” The barkeep’s voice was a pistol drawn.

“It’s just a hunk of metal, my friend.” I clinked a coin onto the counter and an ale appeared before me followed by a grunt.

The room was plain. A fireplace squatted against the wall opposite the bar. The nine patrons sat at ramshackle tables. Some scowled, some gulped from their mugs, but they all kept their eyes on the star decorating my chest. I was sizing them up when the light in the room changed. Three men entered the room pointing their rifles at me. The men at the tables remained still. The barkeep, washing mugs in a tin pan, wiped his nose on his sleeve and said, “Take him on over. Tell Stevens to write that letter we discussed.”

Two of the men, a young pup with barely a whisker and a short man missing a tooth, took my arms. Before they ushered me out of the bar, I called over my shoulder, “What’s my crime?” My own voice rang back in my ears.

The third man followed behind us shoving a rifle in my back. We walked to the next building, the jail, and they shoved me into the only cell. The door slammed behind me and I started carrying on, reminding them that I was one of the governor’s men, that an army would be after me. The men only scoffed. They eventually left me alone. The youngest of them came back with some gruel for me when the room grew dark.

“No one’s coming for you because we was his militia. Some of us was anyway. We been here so long no one remembers who’s Missouri and who’s Iowa. All we remember is they owe us money. We were sent here months ago, but no one ever bothered to tell us the war’d been called off.” He spat again. “Did you see the deer on your way in?”

I nodded. “Didn’t know what it meant.”

The pup laughed. “One side is Boggs. The other is Governor Lucas of Iowa. We shot them both and let them hang for the vultures. Tonight, we’re going to bury them. I expect we’ll have our money soon enough.”

Photo by Siska Vrijburg

The Invitation

My dearest,

I’m writing to ask you to my wedding on the 15th. Her name is Roslyn. You don’t know her. 

I don’t wish for you to receive this news as a rebuff. It is possible to be two things at once. Like you. What was that name you insist your mother gave you in that bleak time before we met? “Herve”? And yet will the Lord God judge me as a liar for calling you Harvey all these years? 

Two things at once.
Your Jonah

The Injured

The young man sitting next to me on the bench only stopped muttering to himself after a mewling came from the next car. A whimper, low at first, soon blazed into the telltale agony only a country doctor could rattle out of a man. The scrabble of people in the train car with me tensed at the sound.

“He’s awake then,” my neighbor said, each word a valve opening. I had taken him for a cowhand when I first eyed him, but I saw now a reddened circle around his right eye and a ledger in his hand, so I did not know what to surmise. He wore a white hat, the likes of which I’d never seen, with a low crown that rounded off at the top and a considerable amount of material—was it netting?— tied underneath the wide brim.

Muffled groans seeped out from the other car for some time, and then I noticed water sliding down my neighbor’s cheek, sluicing through the stubble of his jaw, and plopping onto the pages of his ledger. Lacy sentences, not numbers, littered the page.

“Come now, son,” I said, putting down my newspaper. “Your friend will be all right.” I did not know if what I said was true.

The young man glanced at me and immediately recoiled, a reaction to which I have had decades to grow accustomed, but one that still bit just the same.

“A fire,” I began, referring to the scales and discoloration on one side of my face. “I like to think the devil licked me and decided I was too pure for his tastes.” His gaze returned to the book. The moaning continued.

“I can’t sit here any longer,” my neighbor said, and he was off. I returned to the article about Teddy Roosevelt’s return to the city. In minutes the young man returned more agitated than before.

“The doctor won’t let me see him. He’s put up a curtain, and he’s blocking the way.”

“Quite right. Your friend is too preoccupied at present to receive guests.”

At this the young man looked me straight in the eye. “But he is my brother, sir.”

“Oh. Well then, that is something else entirely. Come. We’ll try together.” I slid the paper under my leg and began to rise, but the young man stopped me.

“Thank you, Mister…how may I call you, sir?”

“Mister Bentley, will do.”

“Thank you, Mister Bentley, but that doctor is a mule.” He scratched his ear. “I did notice an empty spot on a bench nearest the curtain. Could I persuade you to…”

“Find a way to divert the good doctor’s attention?” I kept my voice low. The young man smiled so I continued. “You were fortunate to sit next to a man who had to employ devious methods to obtain even a biscuit for dinner when he was young. Go. Take the bench near the curtain. I will come along in time to give you the opportunity to see your brother. Does my plan sound feasible?”

“Yes, sir,” the young man said, and he was off again.

I waited some time before I began to cough. A little at first, and then with gusto. I hailed a whiskered man across the aisle who aided my tramp into the next car. I saw my young man’s odd hat straightaway, peeking above the heads of the riders. I made a great show of our procession; by the time I stood before the little doctor, I held the sympathy of the entire car.

“Thank God I found you, doctor,” I said through wheezes. “I’m afraid the catarrh has returned.”

“Please sit down. I am Doctor Fairchild. And you are?”

“Trent,” I squeaked before exploding in a series of powerful outbursts. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

The doctor listened to my breathing and felt my neck. Then he stooped to fetch something from his bag, I quickly peeked through the slim gap between the curtains. In the second I had I saw my neighbor whispering to the injured man lying on a bench. My neighbor’s hand was placed delicately on the other man’s cheek, but I could not tell if the injured man was awake. It was plain to me that the man was not aware of any world beyond his friend; his face was bright. His earnestness sent a wave of heat to my face and forced my attention return to the doctor who was still searching in his bag.

Drakkar (A Noir)

“Darling Jesse,” she says—her voice is a bassoonist playing in the back of a concert hall—and then she ashes her cigarette into a waiting urinal.  The wide brim of her sun hat and her five-o-clock shadow obscure her face, but I recognize the mole on her right bicep just below the hem of her puff sleeve. “Where’ve you been, lamb?”

Sleeping on dusty couches in basements. Imagining us on Jerry Springer: me with a chair raised above my head, you appealing to the audience, the cameras. “Around.”

The neon light from the Pabst Blue Ribbon sign in the window makes the sweat in the air glow cobalt blue, and the smell of stale cologne mixes with the smell of urinal cakes. Every kind of Lycra shirt slides by us on their way to the urinal or to hide behind a stall door, but my eyes stay on her mole.

“Mm hmm,” she says and blows smoke into my face. “You could have come by anytime. I don’t hold grudges.”

You stole money from me.”

“Borrowed. I borrowed money from you. I told you about it, didn’t I? You did get my IOU, yes?”

Yes. She’d only written four words to justify taking $1,000: MISS VEE HAS NEEDS. The block capital letters had reminded me of her past life as an architecture student.

“That was no IOU. That was a cry for attention.” The DJ punctuates my words with techno breakbeats.

“Maybe.” She slips the cigarette back between her lips. “Or maybe it was charity.” The beat of a Chemical Brothers song fades and a man’s voice rings through the building. Vee’s show was about to start.

“Right. Stealing money from me was an act of charity.”

“That’s right, lamb, because we both know you weren’t saving that money up to hand off to the nuns.”

“Still. You didn’t have to take my money and kick me out.”

She reaches an acrylic fingernail out to touch my collar bone, and drops her voice low. “You’re welcome back in my hive anytime you’re ready to follow the Queen Bee.”

The MC’s voice echoes down the hallway. “And now let’s welcome Miss Veronique Ahhhhhh to the stage.” The crowd roars. I hear the sizzle of embers hitting the water in the toilet bowl before she glides down the hallway to stand in a waiting spotlight.

The Luxury of Time

Margaret groped crusty tissues, two prescription bottles and a Katherine Porter novel to find her tortoiseshell frames. She knew the time of day only by the color of her bedroom; the angle of the sun hit different parts of the color-blocked curtains at different times of day. Orange meant early morning. Candace would need feeding and William will want breakfast when he comes home from his shift, but Margaret continued floating on the island of her mattress.


The diner was dark except for the green neon glow of jukeboxes peering from every tabletop. A woman stared at her across a row of cherry red booths, her hair pinned up so a single russet curl fell perfectly above her eyes. She smoked a cigarette as if she were thumbing through a magazine. The absence of waitstaff behind the long counter unsettled Margaret as she strode to join the woman who so obviously expected her. She wished the blinds in the windows were open, even knew it only looked out onto a parking lot and an expressway. Margaret heard the plugging sound of lips on cigarette.

“Well, someone call the press,”—plumes of smokes rose to the speckled ceiling as the woman spoke—“Miss Maggie Jane is in a place that serves Spam.”

“What do you mean? I eat Spam all the time.”

“Not out in public, you don’t. And you hide it behind the orange juice in the refrigerator as soon as you pull it out of the grocery sack.”

“How could you possibly know that?”

“Mothers know things.” After she said it, the shadows on the woman’s face fluttered like moths’ wings and Margaret recognized the curve of chin and the Jayne Mansfield-inspired eyebrows of the mother she’d only seen in photographs. In the silence after the woman’s quip, Margaret heard someone talking, the voice—a young woman’s—muffled by the closed metal swinging doors. A sign of life just beyond this room.

“You aren’t anyone’s mother,” Margaret said. There was a plate of French fries in front of her, but she couldn’t remember ordering or seeing a waitress deliver it.

“Boo hoo, missy. You know, there’s a reason why you only hear children saying “No fair” when the world doesn’t give them what they want.” The woman’s patent leather purse strap fell off her shoulder as she talked. Margaret watched her shake salt into her chocolate milkshake and stir it with her straw.

Maggie couldn’t taste her food; she was too distracted by the eerie quiet of the restaurant. No meat sizzling on a grill, no whir of a refrigerator engine, not even an Elvis song coming from one of the jukeboxes. The only sounds were the woman’s interjections whenever she took a sip of her milkshake—mmm. They grew louder the more of it she drank. Mmmm. MMM-mmm. By the time the milkshake was gone Margaret was relieved the diner was empty because the woman’s enjoyment verged on sounding sexual. The woman plucked several fries from Margaret’s plate, popping them in her mouth, all the while maintaining eye contact. The moans turned into half-screams as she chewed, subtle vowels entered the sounds. When the woman clearly screamed “Mommy,”  Margaret rolled her eyes, but then felt remorse when she grabbed Margaret’s hand and started bawling.



Margaret’s bedroom shined red, and on the other side of the door a man’s voice lilted above her daughter’s whimpering. The smell of William’s Brylcreem already permeated their small flat. She found her glasses resting on the duvet next to her hand and returned them to the nightstand. She picked up one of the prescription bottles and sprinkled a few over the duvet, careful not to make a sound. Her legs kicked off the sheets and blankets and her arms flung out to her sides, one hand still holding the bottle. She closed her eyes and waited for William to open the door.

The door finally creaked open a sliver, and then immediately closed. She heard William pick Candace up from her crib and walk into the kitchen. She opened her eyes again to the sizzling of bacon in a frying pan.

The Bedweaver

Last week, you came into my shop and told me you’d bought a fine new bed, and we agreed on a day and a time. That night I added up the sum total of our conversations, and determined that I had received more words from you during that conversation than you’d ever given me before. I slept tight in my chair with that fact over top of me.

Two days ago, I poured water into the washtub and let the sisal rope soak. The dog tried to harmonize with my humming. When I asked him to stop, I noticed he needed a washing, too.

Yesterday, I laid the sisal out naked in the June sun, wiped down the parts of my bed key, and then I scrubbed my nails clean and used the washtub for myself. Dipping my gnarled body into the water, starting from the corns on my feet to finishing with the grays on my chest. My shabby clothes and shabbier dog followed. After tossing the bathwater, I walked to Mrs. McLachlan’s garden and plucked some mint without asking. I asked the Lord to forgive my pride for not wanting her to know my intentions.

This morning, I will rush to your house. When you show me into your room, there will be on the floor your birch headboard, two posts, two long and two short support beams with a row of pegs like upside down thimbles on one side of each. I will drop my sisal and my key and get straight to work. As I assemble your bedstead, I will ask your thoughts of the new pastor. At some point, your children’s voices will run through the open window and around and between and through us. When the frame is at attention on the plankwood floor, I will say: My, but your bedstead is grand, Mrs. Putnam. You will smell mint on my breath and smile as you leave the room.

After I’ve woven the rope around each peg and used the key to pull slack from the sisal grid, I will tie hitch knots diagonally from the southwest corner to the northeast and slide your horsehair mattress over my work. I will make a point not to think of you as the Widow Putnam anymore, and I will tell you as I leave about the knots, how they keep the bed from sagging too soon. But, really, they are meant to remind you of my brief presence in your home, how well I fit there, and the comfort I bring.

I am a superstitious man and every little bit helps.

The Drowning of Vic Garland

Synopsis: Three days after the sinking of the Titanic a young nurse receives a meaningful package.


No further updates of the Titanic survivors have been wired.

The White Star agent stops hurling the sentence at the journalists long enough to check for my brother’s name. When he finds it printed on the original passenger list, he mumbles where on the wharf I can find the other families.

Pier 59 teems with thousands of anxious women in crumpled hats, somber gentleman with their hands behind their overcoats, and photographers documenting it all. Most everyone’s heads point toward the White Star pier where the RMS Carpathia broods, but I continue looking for the cordoned-off portion of the dock the agent told me about. I push forward until I find myself under the steel arch that reads “Cunard Line.” My confusion and the near-ice falling from the sky make my progress through the throng of people feel like a morphine dream.

Men use newspapers to shield their eyes; the names of the surviving first-class passengers’ names bulge from the front page. There is no word yet on the lower classes, but reports are grim. Images of my brother, poor darling Vic, drifting in a gulping sea float through my mind. I fear they will continue until the moment I see the ridiculous orange feather aflame in the band of his homburg.

A tall officer with a mustache like a push broom crosses his arms as he shouts, “This section is for families of passengers only, ladies and gentlemen. If you are not relation, please wait for the ship elsewhere.”

I grab the man’s arm and allow my fears to spill out. “My brother, sir, James Garland? He goes by Vic. He’s a salesman, hospital cots. Look at me. Please. I’m his sister. People say we resemble each other. Will you watch for him for me?”

The man’s sparse eyebrows rise higher above the thin bridge of his nose before he says, “Of course, my dear, but until he comes, wait with us. Take comfort in the company of others in your particular quandary.”

A woman standing nearby immediately starts complaining about the Cunard company’s decision to drop off the Titanic’s lifeboats before allowing the survivors to disembark. Others agree. A man with an aristocratic air announces that a few of the survivors with the most pressing medical needs have already been sent straight to hospital, that family members should check with a White Star agent for more information. A matronly woman takes my arm.

“I do hope it’s good news for your brother.” She pats my hand and her touch sets in motion a wave of unsteadiness. “This too will pass away, young lady. Chin up, now.”

Hollow words with good intent. Exactly what put my brother on that abominable boat. I think of the belongings he didn’t take with him, still piled high in one corner of my lodgings. He had asked his man Thomas to arrange the suitcases, boxes, and empty birdcages to look pleasant. When he saw Thomas’s work, he dubbed it the Eiffel Tower and insisted upon addressing every letter he wrote to Mademoiselle Garland.

“Would it help to tell me about him?” I feel the matron’s cool grip on my arm.

No, I think. I can hardly think of him without being reminded of our fight the day I sent him away. I can’t bear to remember the look on his face, hear again the apologies for his crimes, what the police described as “sexual perversions,” the schemes, the aliases, or the promise I extracted from him to leave New York. Searching for a safe topic, I blather on to the woman about his dog, who is likely curled on my kitchen floor, with an old nurse’s uniform of mine for a bed. I tell the woman he named the Boston terrier “Her Majesty” because it amused him to walk through the neighborhood calling it out. I tell her that he wore his dog’s collar around his wrist whenever he left home.

“He sounds like a nice man,” she says. I do not say otherwise.

The Carpathia eventually slides into port and dock hands carry the recovering survivors on stretchers down the gangplank. Everyone on the wharf jostles to see the precious cargo. Photographers flash their cameras. The matron eventually releases my arm when she spots her niece’s face.

Then the survivors who can walk proceed silently down to the waiting crowd. One by one the pale men and women find their loved ones, cries of joy and grief follow, until at last the end of the cortege proceeds up the wharf and there are no more survivors to be seen. 

I collapse into the officer’s arms.

“Come, miss,” the officer whispers. “I’m sure the agency has the finalized list now. Hope is not lost; perhaps your brother waits for you in a nice, warm room at the hospital.” The officer takes my arm, and conveys me to the shipping office. The same agent from before tells me that my brother’s name is still absent from the list, and I feel every vibration in my body—digestion, respiration, cognition—cease. I can hardly find my own hands inside my gloves; it takes the kindness of the police officer to deliver me at home.


In the confines of my parlor I unpin my hat and peel off my wet gloves, my coat. I am warming my feet by the fire when someone knocks. Her Majesty starts barking. I find Thomas, the valet Vic gave to me while he was away, standing on the stoop wearing a soot-stained coat and a cockeyed grin. He clutches at my wrist, behavior of which I would reprove under other circumstances.

“The German Hospital, miss. We’re to look for Ludwig Kranz.” He places something in my hand. I find a thin leather strap with three ornate bells attached. I call Her Majesty to me and refasten the collar around her neck.

Update: Feedback from the contest judges:


{1589}  I like following this young woman around as she looks for her brother–it’s tense. Nice scene witht the well-meaning old woman. Nice ending.

{1657}  Linguistically lovely! Well-balanced story: background, dialog, description, action. I was intrigued.

{1601}  Good use of specific detail to bring the reader along to the time of the Titanic. Excellent use of the mandatory elements (especially the dog collar) woven into the story. Excellent use of dialog as well.


{1589}  Give me placement of our narrator at the very beginning, a sentence or two about her.  How would she know what a morphine dream was like?  The fight she had with her brother is not clear. What does she think about this fight? Is she sorry? How does this event affect her?

{1657}  Consider restructuring the story, or refocusing it, to capitalize on the mystery. At present it doesn’t come into play until the very end (and feels a bit forced).

{1601}  I think it might strengthen the story a little if the narrator elaborates a little about her brother’s crimes.

The Horologist Waits For the Pendulum To Swing

Alone in the cellar and without smokes, Mariusz builds sculptures from his collection of broken clocks. Soon a twitching army of snuffling pigs and pecking chickens surround him. The whirr of their oiled gears almost blocks out the blasts of bombs above.


(photo credit: Matt Katzenberger on flickr)

La Dauphine

They stand at the water’s edge staring at us. Thirty people barely clothed, but unembarrassed. An animal skin circles each hip, and a long plait of grass holds it in place. The wind plays with the pelts that they’ve tied to the belt. The man wearing  a garland of crimson feathers holds a spear out to this side, a signal to the children behind him.

Our ship, La Dauphine, would be one of many in the harbors of London or Lisbon, but here it towers over the ghostly white-barked trees that surround the savages’ village. A shadow in a bright pool. My shipmates and I are ordinary Frenchmen, a few Portuguese. The more experienced men assured me that the work on caravels headed to the New World was no different than those headed for Africa or Cathay, which proved to be true. But our reception in this place is silent and fragile.

Captain Verrazzano points to a group of men on the port side, me included. We are to go ashore. The others scatter to prepare the smaller boat and fetch vessels to collect fresh water, but I am singled out and told to fetch a box of gewgaws. I try not to think about my fear as I pad down the stairs to the hold. Tempted by the boxes of salt cod, I consider staying here until the boat leaves—no one would notice a missing dockhand—but I remembered my goal: to collect stories. These are the days I will tell my village about for years to come. I have already practiced the story of how the captain brought a few of us ashore, let us explore the land with its strange trees and birds. He picked a few red berries and told us to eat. Each man laughed as they made our cheeks pucker.

I trudge back upstairs and load the small wooden box into the boat.

Some of the natives walk back to their village after seeing our approach. The captain’s second-in-command, a man named Leclercq, gestures to the ones who stay. He holds his hands out, then brings them to his chest. He means it to look friendly. A few of the men sitting near me tell a story about the rogue waves that lash this shore. Like a blacksmith pounding iron, they say. Funneling my strength into rowing, I think only of the relief I will feel when I am paddling back to La Dauphine, back across the sea, back to my family. Then I feel a tap on my shoulder.

“Boy, swim to shore. Offer them the box,” Leclercq shouts from the front of the boat.

I hesitate only a second, then scoop the box up and dive. The cool water washes months of dirt and sweat from my body. I feel a wave lift me up as I kick and chop the sea. The little box stays tucked in my breeches. Eventually, I can stand on the ocean floor, just my head poking above the surface. Dark eyes watch me. I throw the box toward them, see the small mirrors and bells scatter onto the sand, and turn back toward the boat.

Moments later, a large wave catches me off guard. I swallow seawater. I swim up, only to be pushed sideways and thrown onto sand, sputtering.

I feel hands grab my limbs and drag me onto the beach. A woman tears my shirt and a man pulls my shoes and my breeches off. I am soon naked, still coughing. I hear the whooping of my shipmates some four fathoms off, but I cannot stand, cannot run. I hear stones scraping together; a flame ignites near my head. I hear myself yelp, believing I’m about to be roasted alive, but the woman is talking to me in her strange language. Her words are smooth. The native woman shifts me toward the fire and hugs me to her side. I am shivering; she is warm.

After a while, I stand and wave to the men in the boat. Leclercq no longer stands at the front. They have not paddled closer to save me. The native woman shows me six red berries in her palm. She slips one in her mouth, makes a face. I bow as I put one in my mouth. I am familiar with their bitter taste. I smile back at her.

This story is based on the letters of the explorer, Giovanni da Verrazzano.


DUSKAT DUSK THEY COME ALIVE. Or rather, I bring them to life. Every night, as I open each of their little hatch doors with the hook at the end of my lighting spar, I imagine them bowing slightly, offering their waxen hearts for me to relight so they may carry on with their duties. If you have walked down President’s Way, then you know their helpful gaze. Of course to them you are no different than the surreys that glide down the broad street like debutantes down a grand staircase. I’ve always admired that of my sentries: their easy way with people. How they give each citizen a gift and allow them to keep it even after the people ignore them and pass into the care of one of their brethren. No jealousy lies between the posts, only slabs of sidewalk. They are as comfortable in their role as the city’s night watchmen as I am in being their keeper.

DUSKSince the very night I finished my schooling years ago, I have walked to the department an hour before twilight, surrendered a plaid coat of one size or another to the gray embrace of a locker, inspected and maintained my spar; and then, when satisfied, lit its wick and walked the streets of my neighborhood nudging my charges awake. My friends call me The Peacock, after the olden bird—long extinct—that, to impress a mate, unfurled a bright tapestry of feathers behind its head. But I am not as proud a man as all that; I only want to do good for my children, my wife, my friends. That is what is important.

DUSKThe other night, about halfway through my rounds, I came across a policeman—a novice, judging by his triangular cap—hunkering at the base of a lamppost near the yawning garage door of the firehouse. The novice seemed very sure of himself for someone so young . . . nimble, determined; I decided to watch him for a while before I approached.

DUSKHe held wire cutters in his left hand, and in his right I saw black wires that led into the post’s casing—you may not know, but those wires feed lecktricks to the bulb atop each of the streetlights. They’re used so infrequently I often forget that they’re there myself. Government workers, like that novice, have lecktrick devices, but they know about as much as I do on the subject of how lecktricks work. Few people are allowed to know about the science nowadays: the sons of the rich, certainly, a few poor young men who stumbled upon a secret of the President’s. In my time as lamplighter, I have only met two workers who’ve learned. One of them told me that in olden years people had many lecktrick machines in their homes, they watched them after supper—although I can’t imagine what a lecktrick would do to keep people’s attentions for too long—they used them in the afternoons to plow the fields, they even had lecktricks to wake them up in the mornings. Just imagine that: a lecktrick that shook you plum out of your bed! Ah, but the novice. . .

DUSKRemembering my duties, I checked the top of the post to verify that no warning box hung over the avenue. None did. That was good; no one would perish because of malfunction. As eerie as I find the boxes’ green, yellow, and red lights when they shine during Superstorms, I know we’d suffer greatly without them.

DUSK“You…novice. What are you doing there?” I said. The shine from the man’s cutters blinked out of sight.

DUSK“Hello, Uncle Jessop, hello.” It was Fowler, my niece’s husband. He had shaved his dark beard into a V since I last saw him; its point pinched his chin, its arms slashed across both cheeks. It stretched and shrunk as he spoke, “I was wondering when you’d be about. I saw a rat scurry into this post. I was looking for it just now. I felt it necessary to make sure nothing was severed inside. Since I know this is your route, I wanted to tell you.” He pulled out his police-issued selfone and tapped the face of it, apparently to report the damage to his sheriff. I knelt at the foot of the post. Fowler offered me more excuses, but his words floated above my bare scalp.

DUSKNothing was cut, but the insulation around the wires was indeed nibbled away. The shreds were not the fine dust I am used to seeing whenever rats have made work of the wires—it was coarser, like the size of sleet that falls in May during Alninyo years. I looked up after I asked him about his wire cutters, sensing that my words had not found any ears.

DUSKI was right; my nephew was gone.


This story is very much inspired by Anthony Doerr’s gorgeous novel All the Light We Cannot See. I highly recommend it. Also, this is my practice writing genre stories for the upcoming NYCMidnight short fiction contest.