Sacrifice by Daniel Adler

Daniel Adler was born in Brooklyn, New York and has also lived in Portland, Oregon. He studied at New York University and is currently pursuing an MSc in Creative Writing at The University of Edinburgh. His fiction has appeared in BlazeVox, The Opiate, ThoseThatThis, Five2One, and elsewhere. 

 


 

 

Sacrifice

 

The man woke the child while the mother was still in bed. “Where are we going?” the boy asked, his voice heavy from sleep.

“We have a meeting, said his father. “I’m making breakfast. Get dressed and come downstairs.” The boy groaned and rolled over. “Come on,” said his father. The boy sighed and threw back the covers, swinging his legs onto the floor. His bones ached; he was growing. He picked up the pants he had left at the foot of his bed, put on yesterday’s t-shirt one arm at a time, and stood, the floorboards creaking under his weight.

The boy’s father stood over the stove. Eggs spat grease, a bowl of oatmeal steamed on the table. He slid an egg from the pan onto a plate and brought it to his son. The boy took the spoon from his oatmeal and dug at the yolk, letting it run over the white, brown at the edges.

“We have a long day,” said his father.

“Where are we going?” asked the boy again.

“You’ll see.”

The morning was still purple. Despite the boy’s coat, he shivered as he opened the car door and waited in the silence. His father slammed the door, blew on his hands, buckled his seatbelt, and turned the key in the ignition. At the light before the entrance ramp to the highway the boy reached to turn on the radio, but his father said, “No music. Too early.” The light changed; the car lunged and did not stop accelerating until the road was passing underneath its wheels at sixty miles an hour. The boy closed his eyes. When he woke large shrubs had replaced the forest, the sun was high and mountains stood on the horizon.

“We’re going to the desert?”

“We’re in the desert.”

“What are we doing?”

“Changing something.”

“What do you mean?”

“I–we have to change how we do things.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll see. Be patient.”

“Is it a surprise?”

“Yes,” said the father, but his gaze stayed straight ahead. The boy stared at his father, mouth ajar and then looked out his window.

Soon the car began to climb. The desert became a sandbox, the sky turned gray, and on the side of the road snow patches grew into fields of white, piles higher than the car. They slowed and crunched gravel on the shoulder. The father turned the keys in the ignition, clicked his seatbelt and opened the door. “Come on.”

The boy inhaled the cold air. His father moved to the backseat and the boy ran to a boulder and scuttled to its sloping crest. From here he could see the back of the mountain, a landscape of rock and hardy plants that gave way to more forest. He recalled a mountain goat he had seen once standing this way. When he turned, his father was at the foot of the rock holding a gun.

“Trust me, son,” said his father, cocking it. “We have to believe this is for the best.”

“What’s for the best?”

“The other night I had a dream. God came to me and said, ‘Take your boy into the mountains and sacrifice him to me. And if he believes, if he really believes, then you can point the gun at him and pull the trigger and everything will be made right. I will come to your aid and fix everything in my name.’ Now don’t be afraid. Just believe.”

“Believe what?”

“Believe that everything will be all right. That it will be okay, that God will make it right.”

“Does Mom know about this?”

“Your mother and I are being run into the ground, boy. Every month the bills come and we pay them with credit. It’s getting worse. We can’t feed you, we can’t buy you clothes for school, we can hardly live. But if you believe, if you really believe, then it will be okay. Now I’m going to come closer, so that when I pull this trigger God will have no objection, he won’t be able to accuse me, I’m not going to let anyone accuse me of not believing. Think–do you really want to go on living this way?”

The boy backed away.

“Please, son. Stop. Just trust me. Trust that you’ll be okay.” Tears of fear streaked the boy’s cheeks. “Don’t cry, don’t be afraid, trust me. Make it easier and get on your knees.” The boy backed up but there was nowhere to go but down. “Please,” said his father. “Nothing bad will happen if you trust me. I swear.” The boy looked into the gray sky, as if for an angel to come save him. His father was only a few paces away, the gun at his side. “Listen to me, it’s for your own good. It’s for our good.”

The boy gulped and wiped his tears with the back of his hand. “Okay,” he said, taking a knee. The stone was sharp through his jeans.

“Thank you,” sighed his father, the gun cold on the boy’s forehead. “Now I’m gonna count to three. Nothing is going to happen, I need you to believe that. Because if you don’t…” The boy could not control his tears and he quivered like a lamb. “Look,” said the man. “You gotta say it to believe. Say, ‘I believe I will live and everything will be all right.’ I’ll say it with you–”

“I believe,” said the boy but his voice trembled and cracked. “I believe I will live and everything will be all right.”

“Now really mean it,” said his father. “Say it again. Say ‘I will live and everything will be all right.’”

“I will live and everything will be all right,” said the boy.

“I will live and everything will be all right,” they repeated together.

“Okay,” said his father, “keep saying it.”

The boy went on, “…and everything will be all right.” And then his father pulled the trigger.


You can follow Daniel via his Twitter, @DanielRyanAdler.

 

 

Uncovered by Sheena Kamal

Sheena Kamal was born in the Caribbean and immigrated to Canada as a child. She holds an HBA in political science from the University of Toronto, and has most recently worked as a researcher for the film and television industry. Her debut suspense novel Eyes Like Mine has been sold in over a dozen countries and is published in the U.K. by Bonnier Zaffre.


 

Uncovered

 

They stared at the face, uncovered.

That’s her, said Esme.

Don’t be daft, said her husband. He walked away from the body on the slab.

Esme did not follow him. She confirmed her daughter’s identity to the police and got a cup of peppermint tea from across the road before going back to the car, where her husband waited.

The car ride back home was tense.

He made their afternoon meal, as he always did these days, but left the stir fry on the stove before she came down from her shower. Esme heard him in the basement, puttering around. He came upstairs with his golf clubs, announced he was going to play a few holes, uh huh, and left. Refusing to stay, refusing to grieve a daughter he didn’t want to say goodbye to.

She had expected something like this. He had been having an affair for three years now. She had become suspicious when he took up cooking and golf almost simultaneously. She’d canceled his golf membership after one year, and he still hadn’t noticed.

Nicole had told her that he was cheating, which Esme had denied, of course, because it wasn’t any of their daughter’s business. Besides, it was better this way. Imagine if he had taken up cooking and then stuck around to harass her each afternoon?

With Nicole gone, Esme was free. She loved her daughter, but when jewellery started to go missing, when her husband began sneaking money from their account to give to Nicole, when Nicole began running away from home whenever the mood struck, when Esme had come home early one day to find her teenaged daughter’s beautiful face buried in some jock’s crotch, her lovely dark hair held up in a sweaty male fist… it was all too much for Esme. Her life in this country was a joke. This was not the dream she’d had when she moved up here, at first taking a job as a maid. It had seemed a stroke of luck that she met her husband right away, in this very house. He had been married to someone else then, but he was open to straying and had never changed.

Esme got her suitcase out from storage and packed clothes that were lightweight, brightly coloured and in breathable fabrics. When the cab came to take her the airport, she made sure she had the deed to the land back home and all the proper information to access her accounts. She had always been good with money. So much so that her husband never noticed how much of his she took over the years. The sum was nothing to him, but amounted to a small fortune where she was from–and she knew how to stretch a dollar, especially on her island, where she could live like a queen.

She left, thinking of the young woman on the slab. Her husband was right. It wasn’t Nicole. But the life insurance company didn’t have to know that. Her daughter was still alive somewhere and, Esme knew, would come looking for her if she ever came to her senses. Maybe they could make new dreams together, if it wasn’t too late.


Sheena can be reached via her Facebook page.

The End by Samuel Best

Samuel Best is a Creative Writing graduate from the University of Strathclyde and has been published in British, North American, and Scandinavian magazines. His debut novel Shop Front was described as “a howl and a sigh from Generation Austerity” and he founded the literary magazine Octavius.


 

The End

 

We’re stood out in some field in the middle of nowhere, maybe a mile or so outside town. I mean, a mile isn’t that far, but tonight we could be on another planet for all the life around us. We’re sharing a bottle of rum, drinking it straight in mouthfuls that make us shudder. Above, the sky burns as meteors leave lightning trails. In the middle of town a crowd gathers; we might even be able to see them from here, if we looked. Your teeth chatter and I pass the rum over.

‘Will there ever be anything so beautiful again?’ you ask, letting the bottle hang from your hand.

I reach over, my fingers grazing your skin, and you go to pass the spirit back. I set it down amongst the grass and it tips over. There isn’t much left to spill.

Standing back up, I take your hand in mine and squeeze. Our eyes are still fixed on the sky, a hundred bone-white needles piercing the night. I don’t really know what to say to you, and that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’re here now, seeing this. The sky is on fire and there is no future beyond us. Our eyes sparkle and blaze like little stars, and when we blink the whole world goes black.


Samuel Best can be reached via Twitter, @samuelboag.

Where Was I? by Tom Gillespie

Tom Gillespie is a Scottish-born writer now living in exile in Bath, England. His debut novel, Painting by Numbers, was a Finalist in the People’s Book Prize for Literature, 2013. His short stories have been published worldwide. He is currently working on his third novel and also on a collaborative arts project with fellow Scottish writers and artists. He is a graduate of Glasgow University, and alongside his writing habit he works as an English Lecturer.


 

Where Was I?

 

That’s where ah wis but ah’m no there noo. Must be six months or mair. Keep up. Where the fuck’s yer heed? Ah’m oot at Struthers an’ Tipp noo, where Big John works. Oh come on, ye know Big John. John wae the dug wae wan ear. Whitshisname? The cunt that borrowed yer golf clubs an’ never gied ye them back. Him. Anyway. It’s no that bad up there. No a lot in it tae be honest. Ah’m oan wan o’ they new flexitime contracts where they can gie ye the shunt whenever it suits them. Ah’m no that bothered. It’s no like ah wis the fuckin’ CEO at ma auld place, an’ their pishy contract wasnae worth the shite it wis written wae. Who wur they kiddin wae their fuckin’ package o’ fuckin’ benefits shite? The work’s fine an’ the team ah’m wae ur awright. An’ at the end o’ the day, a blocked shitter is a blocked shitter. Com si com sa.

So where huv ye been hidin’ then? Huv ye been a naughty boy again? Mary said she saw ye in Asda wae anithir wummin. Ur you an’ Carol oan the scrapper? If yis ur, yer in big trouble, young man. Ye’ll be hard pushed tae land anyone else daft enough tae pit up wae your pish.

Did ah tell ye ah goat ma results back on Tuesday? The doacter says ah hufty cut doon on the smokes afore he’ll refer me tae the hoaspital. It’s anuff tae drive ye tae an early grave. He’s pit me oan they stupit patches an’ the gum, an’ ah’ve boat wan o‘ they plug in peace pipes but ah canny work the fuckin’ thing. Ah’ll be fucked if ah let that stuck up overpaid ringpiece tell me whit a should an’ shoudnae dae wae ma ain fuckin’ lungs.

Still, needs must an’ awe that.

That reminds me. If yer efter a bit o’ cash there might be sum work goin’ up at Struthers an’ Tipp. Don’t gie me that look. Ye don’t need tae know anythin’ aboot plumbin’, they’re always efter folk tae clean oot the tanks at their plant at Uddingston. If ye let me know where ye ur noo, ah kin pass oan yer details, if ye want me tae. Just gees a ring when ye get hame.


You can learn more about Tom’s work at his website, tom-gillespie.com. Tom can be contacted via Facebook, email (tom@tom-gillespie.com), and Twitter (@tom_gillespie).

The Cyst by Jenny Gray

Growing up in rural Aberdeenshire, Jenny attended The University of Chester to study English with Creative Writing. After graduating, she moved to Vancouver where she wrote her first novel, The Lightning Tree, which was shortlisted for the Mslexia Women’s Novel Competition in 2013. Upon her return to Scotland, Jenny obtained an MSc in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh. Her short fiction and poetry has appeared in a number of publications including Pandora’s Box, And Other Stories, Northern Renewal, Passages, and Glasgow Women Poets. Jenny lives in Edinburgh where she works as a copywriter.


 

The Cyst

 

It whispers to her as a friend might. She can forget it is there and then, just when she has lapsed back into her everyday life–perusing fruit in the supermarket–its voice creeps back into her head.

She remembers a story about a man who became horrified by his own skeleton. She pauses by the peaches. Her hand hovers over the felted fruit and she thinks: it’s not that.

No, agrees the cyst and then is quiet once more.

She isn’t like the man who hated his own bones. She has come to admire the cyst. Sometimes when she is lying in bed, caught in the fissure between dreaming and waking, she will run the palm of her hand over the bunched, distorted flesh, feel how the fat beneath the surface ripples away like water trapped in a plastic bag.

When her flatmate moves out she doesn’t think about getting another. The cyst is enough. She moves her things into the empty room, she takes the kitchen table through and pushes it against the long windows so she can sit and look out over the river and the park. She could use the rent; in the colder months she watches her breath plume out before her. When she was a child it was a playground game–pretending to be a dragon or a train. Now the breath hangs in the air, a reminder like the unpaid bills stacked up in the hall.

She finds she’s eating less. Hunger has slipped away with the leaves from the trees. Her clavicles are two razor clams trapped beneath the snare of her skin. She’s taken on new angles, her bent arm the sharp ‘V’ of geese flying southwards. In the soft hollow of her underarm the cyst stays plump and full of promise. The embryo of its essence hums to her as she lies basking in the sunlight that falls onto her unmade bed.

Don’t move, says the cyst. She doesn’t. Days creep away, folding into nights; they are short and hot and filled with carnival noises. Then suddenly they’re cooling once again. She dozes as fireworks pop in the sky.

The pressure is building. It wakes her in the night like labour pains. Her skin is hot and sticky and when she feels in that familiar place, the cyst is different, ruptured somehow. Hot fluid comes away with her hand and something else too. Something brittle. She sits up in bed, crosses her legs and looks down at her cupped hands. There, sitting in her palm, like some poor rescued insect, is a tiny woman. She’s fragile, her bones visible beneath her skin, the nails on her fingers and toes have grown too long, the ends of her hair are chewed dry. But there, in the hollow of the miniature right arm is that familiar bubble, swelling ovular beneath the tautness of her skin. She is exact and she is perfect.


Jenny can be reached via email, jennylindsaygray@gmail.com.

Pike Hill by Gordon Robertson

Gordon Robertson is a writer and filmmaker from Central Scotland. His work has appeared in Storgy Magazine, Ink Sweat & Tears, Negative Assets Zine, Shift Lit, [Untitled], Octavius Magazine, Short Fiction Break, Bunbury Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Fictive Dream. His latest short film, The Chair, has been screened in more than a dozen countries and has won a number of international awards.


 

Pike Hill

 

“You can see everything from here,” she used to say, as we’d stand shivering at the top of Pike Hill, our arms warm in thick, puffy jackets, yet still clumsily wrapped around each other like the teenagers we were. We craved the heat the other generated, irrespective of the weather. Heat hung from Kissy like a bedsheet over a balcony: thick and billowing, clean and enticing. I couldn’t get enough of it. And so, on Saturday nights, with both our part-time jobs newly done and an hour or so left before our parents could reasonably expect us home, we’d take the broken path through the darkening St George’s Park and climb Pike Hill, where we’d stand, glued together, Kissy smiling through the fullest, reddest lips I’d ever seen in all my fifteen years and saying:

“You can see everything from here.”

And we could. We could see the winking lights of High Ludditch over to the west–pubs and clubs and low-roofed houses, with the occasional late-closing betting shop still sweeping up, in more ways than one. We could see the floodlights at the four corners of Weams Park, where Weams Athletic went to great pains to lose gallantly once a fortnight and everyone went home proud as punch. The council allowed the floodlights to stay on after a game as it was cheaper than lighting the streetlamps nearby, or so they said. And way off to the east, following the snaking River Anson, we could see the high flats near Hinkton, where Kissy’s cousin Trish used to live, before her brother jumped off one of them and the entire school turned up at the funeral. Trish used to tell Kissy she could still hear her school-pals crying sometimes when she couldn’t sleep. The mum and dad divorced not long after and Trish went to live in Wales with an older sister. She manages a bingo hall now, last I heard.

Of course, it wasn’t real love, what Kissy and I had, although we thought it was. We were fifteen and we’d never touched a body other than our own before. To us, the fumbling and squeezing was an intimate miracle, a revelation, as though someone had lifted a veil or pulled aside a curtain and LOVE–in huge capital letters–had suddenly appeared, cocking its head and crooking its finger. “Come in, come in”, it seemed to say. And in we’d rushed, all guns blazing, tripping over arms and legs and sharing the embarrassment of nudity. I used to see lights in Kissy’s eyes when we kissed, and I’d wonder what worlds were in there–what she was thinking–where she was going in that moment. Me, I knew exactly where I was going: deeper into an obsession whose depths I still can’t fathom, twenty-five years later, long after Kissy’s death on the railway crossing outside Low Falkland the day after we’d rowed over something I can no longer remember.

I’m married now, with three kids. I love my wife. We still hold hands when we walk and we say ‘I love you’ when one of us leaves the room. We’re going to be together until our deaths. But she’s not Kissy. She’s not the girl I stole a toy ring for, pretending it was real and we were engaged. She’s not the girl whose name I carved into my arm with a breadknife, before stumbling into the bathroom and sticking it under the hot tap, half-collapsing with the pain. And she’s not the girl I ran after through the rain one Saturday night, throwing apologies at, begging her to slow down, to stop, to come back. I’d screamed at her on the top of Pike Hill minutes before, accusing her of infidelity and threatening my own. I didn’t mean a word of it. I was lashing out. I’d seen her talking to a boy a year older at break on the Friday and it hurt. It hurt like the world had ended. I was being stupid and childish, because I knew Kissy would never cheat. But as I said, we were teenagers, and it wasn’t real love, or anything like it.

But my god, it felt like it was.


Gordon can be reached at his email address, gordon.robertson@rocketmail.com.

The Visit by Rosa Whelan

Rosa is a sociology student from Dublin who is currently on an exchange at the University of Edinburgh. She has previously had work published in Liberty Newspaper, Oscailt Magazine, and The Clock Tower Ghost and Other Stories.


 

The Visit

 

The whole place reeks of insanity, white tiles and fluorescent ceiling lights. I feel my mother squeeze my shoulder as we step inside, through the second set of doors.

‘Catherine,’ Granny says, when she sees me. She’s sitting alone, on a leather armchair by the window. There are no metal bars. I’m grateful for that at least. ‘Catherine, I can hardly believe it.’

I look at Mum. She smiles too widely, first at me, then at her mother. I try to do the same. I can feel the edges of my mouth falter, feel tears build up painfully behind my eyes. Granny’s not looking anymore. She’s watching the flickering black and white movie on the TV behind us. I can taste salt on my lips.

Another old woman stands up and clasps my arm. ‘Cheer up, pet,’ she says. ‘Cheer up there now.’

On the car ride home Mum apologises. I stare out the window trying to blink away the blurriness of the road.

‘Still,’ Mum says eventually. ‘I wonder who Catherine was. I don’t suppose we’ll ever know now.’


Rosa can be reached via email at rosa.whelan@hotmail.com.

Wise Old Owl by Paul Cowan

Paul spends his days working as a welder at home and abroad. This is where he collects most of his material–through the people he works with and day-to-day life experiences. Paul has had poetry and short stories published in magazines like Untitled, The Grind, Octavious, and an anthology called Alight Here by Alan Bisset.


 

Wise Old Owl

 

“How the fuck did Iain Banks create a world inside a bridge an’ dae it sae masterfully?” Del thought out loud as he dipped his brush into the red paint and stared out over the kingdom.

He looked over the edge and imagined being dead before hitting the water. The papers had stopped documenting most of the jumpers because there were so many nowadays. The rail bridge seemed to be a favourite diving board for the end-of-life club; they would get off the train at Dalmeny and sneak along undetected, then start the long upwards climb until the terminal tilt and final farewell to Edinburgh and Fife.

“Wit ye thinkin’, Del?” spat an elderly voice from behind. Del turned to see Gilbert Crow standing a few feet away on the scaffold, a fag hanging from his crooked gub.

“Jist the usual shit, Gil, ye ken?” Del replied. “How much money av no got, how long av no hud ma Nat King Cole, an’ how long it wid take afore ye hit the water below if ye ever took the notion tay take a brave step aff intay the thinnest ay air!”

Gil screwed up his eyes and blew out a puff of yellow smoke that was instantly kidnapped by the wind–a constant this far up. “Ah worry aboot you, Del, ah really do,” he said. “Folks come fae aw o’er the world jist tae spend a few moments takin’ in the spectacle ay Arrol’s bridge, an’ you’re talkin’ aboot how long it wid be afore ye hit the water! Deed that is, ya fuckin’ numpty!”

“Listen Gil, am no thinkin’ ay jumpin’, but loads ay punters must git these morbid thoughts noo and again, likes. Ah hink bein’ this high up does hings tay yer heed, ken?”

Gil put his hands firmly on the handrails and inched slowly towards Del until his knee was touching his shoulder. “Move o’er an’ move yer paint tin,” he said.

“Wit fur auld yin?” said Del. “Am tryin tay feenish this leg afore Hitler comes an’ bags me fur yappin’ tay you!”

Gil moved the paint and slowly slid in beside Del, putting an arm across his shoulder as if to steal some of his heat. “Av been watchin’ ye over the last few months, son, an’ ye’v no been yersel,” he said.

Del was a little suspicious of Gil’s voyeurism. “Wit day ye mean ye’v been watchin’ me, ya auld perv? Are you yin ay they predators thit linger aboot in online chat rooms?” He noticed Gil’s hand and nicotine fingers, and wondered how many fags he’d eaten to do such a professional paint job on that skeletal skin. There must have been at least ten different shades of brown crud stacked up against his sabre-like finger nails.

Gil’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Av been aroon’ a few years longer thin you, son, an’ am no a bad judge ay character. How long huv us two been up here on nights, an’ how many blethers huv we hud?”

Del smiled a little and leaned into his colleague. “Must be close tay two an’ a half thoosand blethers at least, auld yin.”

“Aye, it must be aroon’ that figure,” croaked Gil. “When two folk work the gither for as long as we’ve worked the gither, then a hink that qualifies yin hof ay oor partnership tay rise up above jist being his brother’s keeper an’ notice if somethin’s wrong.”

Del grinned. “Thanks fur yer concern, Gil, but am fine. Ah honestly am. Am a grown man, thirty years auld. Ah dinny need the world’s auldest baby sitter oan ma case!”

Gil laughed and pulled himself up to a standing position in three short, painful instalments. “Auldest baby sitter? Ya cheeky wee shite! Av got lunch boxes in the hoose aulder thin you!”

Gil idled over the scaffold planks towards the works canteen and looked back at Del. His young colleague was staring down through a gap in the boards at a passing tanker heading for the BP in Grangemouth.

“Am gon tay check the urn tay see if the water’s boiled fur oor coffee!”  Gil shouted, his voice battling against the howling gusts that swirled and roiled this high up.

Del didn’t look up. “Nay bother, Gil!” he shouted back. “Jist mind an’ check they mince pies on the lid in the broon bag!”

“Aye son, ah’ll dae that!” replied Gil. “Soon as av done a pish!”

Gil disappeared down the ladder and into the canteen. Del glanced up to make sure the coast was clear. Satisfied, he pulled out the letter from his trouser pocket and turned it over. It was still sealed. He looked back up towards the ladder.

“Wise old owl,” thought Del out loud, safe in the knowledge that he wouldn’t be heard. Then he lifted the envelope that held his goodbye words, ripped it into a million pieces, and sprinkled it down onto the welders crackling like brittle firewood below.


Paul can be reached via email at tampoh1234@gmail.com.

Four Senses & Fukushima Rice by Karen Ashe

Karen Ashe is a writer based in Glasgow. She writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry and is working on her first novel. She was awarded a Scottish Book Trust New Writer’s Award in 2016 and has been published in Mslexia, and was highly commended in The Bridport Prize.


 

Four Senses

 

The bell above the door tings. I hear the hiss of rain, then air rushes in, laced with donkey-shit, dim-sum steam, fried-noodles. Carts rattle, drunk men squabble, mahjong tiles clack against the table top. The door closes, trapping us in silence like flies in amber.

The workroom is separated from the shop by a row of lattice-work panels, draped with sweet-smelling blossom that keeps us hidden from view. I sit close behind it, so close I can hear the rustle of the ladies’ Cheong-Sam, the soft brightness in their voices, the slide of the notes being folded into the money drawer.

The shift in the air stirs the scent of the flowers, brings memories of my village; the sound of my mother singing, the gurgle of the river in spring, the haunting call of geese on the move. Apple-pears sliced in a bowl. The sun on my face.

The needle stabs the tip of my thumb. I bring it to my mouth to check for bleeding, but thankfully there is none. I cannot damage this suit. The squelch of the tailor’s sandals grows louder, closer. He halts somewhere behind me. My heart beats so fast I can barely hold the needle. Did he see me stab my finger? I will my palms not to sweat. I cannot drop the needle. There is a slap and someone further down the row cries out. The sandals squelch on.

The tailor employs an unusual training method. Boys are locked in the cellar in total darkness until they can sew straight lines of the tiniest stitches. If they survive that, they are brought to the workshop, where they must sew with their eyes closed. If their eyes flutter open, he threatens to stitch them shut. When they pass this test, they may open their eyes, but must only look straight ahead. Forget that you have eyes! You have only four senses now. I was his best apprentice; it came naturally to me.

We sit in our long rows like stitches in a seam, working long after the tailor turns the lock on the door and the blinds rattle down the windows. The assistant gathers the work, the needles and thread. I hear the key turn in the padlock then the tailor loads the bobbins of thread into the wooden cabinet. They must be protected from the rats. A bowl is placed on the ground in front of me. I bring the spoon to my mouth, eat till it scrapes the bottom.

It is 22 steps to my bedroll. 300 stitches in a sleeve, 749 in a trouser leg. At home, it was 472 steps to the well, 115 to the apple-pear tree. I knew night was falling by the rising of the birdsong. Could sense snow coming by the smell in the air. I learned from my mother to turn my head towards my father’s voice, to smell before tasting, brush the walls with my fingertips. Keep my face to the sun. Follow the sound of her singing.

*

 

Fukushima Rice

 

Shizuka’s back is aching. She rolls onto her side on the tatami, feet searching for her slippers. She gets up, slips on her yukata, trying to stretch out her back, but her growing bump pulls her forwards, always forward. Her belly is a tight ball; how quickly it has grown from seed to watermelon. It kicks in response to her touch, and she smiles. If only this silent conversation were enough, she would keep it inside forever, but she so longs to see its face.

She sets the water to boil for tea, opens the back door and stands in the warm spring sunshine. The lumpy hills are purplish in the morning light, unchanged since her childhood. The air is fresh and cool on her cheeks. She kicks off her slippers and wades out into the field.

She will be no use if the baby does not come before harvest; she can barely bend. Reaching her hand into the murky water she can smell the earth beneath. She stretches her fingertips to feel the root, pulls hard. It comes away with a small tearing sound.

The sheath is green and plump and when she parts it with the nail of her thumb she is barely breathing. The sheath splits down the centre and there, like a row of baby teeth, pearly white and gleaming, sit the little beads of rice. It is not yet ready. Soon.


If you would like to know more, you can contact Karen via kazashe@outlook.com. More of her work can be found here.

Battered Moon & Map by Karen Ashe

Karen Ashe is a writer based in Glasgow. She writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry and is working on her first novel. She was awarded a Scottish Book Trust New Writer’s Award in 2016 and has been published in Mslexia, and was highly commended in The Bridport Prize.


 

Battered Moon

 

Even from a distance, with the naked eye on a dark smoky night, without the aid of a lens and magnified, you can see it. Battle-scarred, world-weary, battered moon.

In the early phases it’s not clear, not in the hairline fracture of the first waxing. But as her profile emerges, the damage is evident. Gouges, bruises, blackened eye, cracked tooth. Clouds gather round her like curtains round a hospital bed. But this warrior moon rides without rest, bareback towards the dark side.

She turns her face in shame, or maybe it’s indifference, with a last glimpse, making way for the pampered pretty-boy Prince Charming sun. But floating over fields in the blue of days is easy. Ride the black night over the chants of a million witches, the stares of a thousand sailors, lay yourself like a balm over a sea of ink, rock the tides to sleep. Then call yourself traveller.

*

 

Map

 

How to make a map of the sea? Endless blue, wave upon wave, shoving at the ship, covering everything in a crust of salt.

He’d managed a map of the stars, easy enough to look up, make a mirror image of the night sky on the parchment. Of course, the next night it would be different again.

A flotilla of gulls bobbed on the horizon. Or at least appeared to. Everything played tricks on your eyes way out here; the sun with its dazzle, the constant blue sea, the faultless sky. He made a few scratches with his pen on the straight line across the paper. They’d only burn it in the morning, but if he didn’t do his best they’d beat him first.

They said they were going to cross the horizon, go beyond the Earth’s limits, peel the sky from the sea like an eyelid and sail on through. But however long they sailed they never got any closer. That was fine with Joseph; he had no desire to drop like a coin through a slit in the Earth’s skin.

His mother planted a coin once. At least she said she did. Now he was older, he could see there may have been some sleight of hand involved. She covered it up with a handful of good soil, spat on her palm and pressed it to the ground with her eyes closed. She made him do the same.

You watch. It’ll soon grow, just like you and your brothers and sisters. At harvest time we’ll shake it firm and gold will rain down on us like God’s own blessings.

The boat swayed and rocked. From overhead a cry of Land Ahoy!


If you would like to know more, you can contact Karen via kazashe@outlook.com. More of her work can be found here.