JUNE 2015

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Blood is Not Pink by David Rix

Blood is Not Pink

by

 David Rix

“I believe my blood is pink,” she said brightly, “not red.”

Richard Jarvis, the English Gentleman, glanced at her with raised eyebrows.

“Yes?”

        “You know, the red comes from all that red meat you eat,” she explained.  “We vegetarians have pink blood.  Isn’t that great?  Much prettier.”

Richard stared blankly, unsure what to say.  Trying to work out if she was being serious or playing some kind of joke.  Peacock finally looked up from her book and also fixed her with a brief puzzled stare.  But here in the Yellow King cocktail bar, everything was comfortably quiet – too quiet for thinking up a response to something like that.  This place was a strange oasis from the bustle of Camden outside.  An oasis that Richard always loved.  The décor was a surprisingly effective yellow and black, with black wooden tables and soft, low-slung chairs.  Quiet classical music in the background and a drinks menu that went on for six pages.

Fortunately the slightly awkward silence was interrupted by Alice, quietly delivering the starter.  He focussed on the salad before him with some relief.  It looked tasty – packed with leaves, fruit and hot-smoked salmon in a nice seasoned yoghurt dressing.

“Alice,” he said.  “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Peacock shoved her book away and accepted a plate of antipasto with a smile.

“Princess?” he murmured.  “You sure you don’t want anything?”

“Oh no – thank you.  I am fine, really.  And you know, I really do have pink blood.”

Richard coughed and quickly snapped up a sliver of salmon.

“Um,” he managed.  “Really?”

Peacock absorbed a thin slice of Parma ham and smiled privately.

“Yes – really.  Hey – Peacock.  Those artichokes look great?”

“Uhuh,” Peacock said.  “Yes – marinated to perfection.”

“Hey – mind if I steel one?”

“Are you sure it won’t pollute that pink blood of yours?”

“No no – I’ll take that one – hasn’t touched the ham . . .”

        Before Peacock could respond, the artichoke was captured quickly and ferried towards Princess’s small mouth, which received it eagerly.  It squished in there with a waft of olive oil and she made a happy noise.  “Hey – these are good.”

Richard chewed salad and grinned.

“I am happy for you,” he said.

Princess shook her head.

“I would demonstrate,” she said enthusiastically, “but, well – you can’t can you.”

“I dunno,” Richard said.  “Got a knife?”

Peacock winced.  “No no – please.  Alice would not be happy . . .”

Princess gave a smug grin.  “Then you’ll have to take my word for it, wont you,” she cried.  “How’s the salad?”

        Richard sighed and pushed the plate in her direction.  She grabbed his fork and picked around in there for a moment before capturing a scoop that was safely fish-free.  Again that perfect tiny mouth absorbed it with an inbuilt smile.

“Hey,” she protested, muffled.  “I know what I am talking about.  My blood is pink.  End of story.”

        She swallowed.

“You don’t believe me – I can tell.”

Richard pulled a face.  “Well,” he said, “it’s just that prevailing scientific wisdom . . .”

“Fuck that,” she said.  “Scientists all eat meat as well.”

“Do they now?” he muttered under his breath, while Peacock coughed over a pickled mushroom.

        “After all,” Princess continued happily, “humans never evolved to eat meat, you know.  It was after the fall of the Roman Empire that the starving masses were driven to desperation and started to eat each other.  And since then we have never managed to shake off the taste for our own flesh.  Only now, of course, we are forced to use other animals as surrogates.”

Richard swallowed the last morsel of salmon, carefully saved until the end, and slid his plate aside.

        “Yes,” Princess continued.  “Back in the middle ages, the favourite dish of the lords of the manor would be a slow roast baby, not three days old, which the villagers were forced to provide as a part of the tithing system.  Roasted whole on a spit and with honey and spice.”

“Please,” Peacock said sarcastically, “You’re making me hungry again.”

“Oh tut,” Princess scolded.

        Just for a brief second something flickered across Peacock’s face – an almost invisible warning frown.  Richard coughed and glanced at her uneasily.  The salad was making him feel comfortable and relaxed though.  Relaxed enough for something to click in his mind slightly.  He leaned forward with an ever so slightly alarming twinkle in his eye.

“Ok,” he said smoothly.  “Lets get to the bottom of this.  You have some rather interesting theories there.  I always had the impression that the red had something to do with iron oxide, haemoglobin, something . . .  Um – you are offering to prove this pink blood thing I take it?  The essence of science is visible evidence and proof, you know.”

Princess gave him a startled look.  “What do you mean?”

“Pink blood,” he said with a happy smile.  “That is easy to prove, I think.”

Princess looked uncomfortable.

“You want me to cut myself or something?”

“Please,” Peacock said, “this is a high-class establishment.  If you want to cut yourself, do it in the ‘ladies’.”

Richard grinned.  “Not at all, hang on one moment.”

He hauled his case up onto the table and, while Princess watched nervously, began rummaging in it.

“Um – Richard . . ?”

        “Here we are,” he said, plucking out a green first aid box.  “And here,” opening it, “I happen to have a small hypodermic . . . and a sterilized needle.  I reckon that would be much more polite, don’t you?”

“Richard,” she said unhappily, “I promise you, my blood is pink.”

“Yes yes of course,” he said.  “I believe you.  But hey – I think Peacock is a bit dubious.  And seeing is the ultimate believing after all.”

“Hey,” Peacock growled, swallowing the last of her artichokes, “leave me out of this.  Richard, are you going to . . .”

“Hush,” he said, grinning wider.  “Princess, give me your arm.”

“No way,” she cried crossly.  “Here – give me that thing.  I’ll do it myself, if I have to.”

She snatched the hypodermic and turned away sulkily, rubbing at her arm.

        But then Alice arrived again, bearing plates, glancing rather curiously at the hypodermic.  Richard gave her a wink.

“One T-bone steak, rare,” she said.  “And a side order of our special croquettes.  And one Thai Prawns.  With jasmine rice.  Your friend is not eating?”

“Thank you,” Richard said.  “Um – no, I don’t think so.  You don’t want anything now?”

“Oh no thank you,” Princess insisted.  “I really am not hungry.”

Richard shrugged.

“Especially now,” she muttered, looking at his plate uneasily.  “I am a vegetarian and you order a rare steak?”

        Richard shrugged again and Alice withdrew.  “I like rare steaks,” he said simply, that twinkle still in his eye.  “No mystery.  And you know . . .”

He cut the steak, which bled red blood onto the plate.

        “You know, cows don’t usually eat meat – though it has been known – and yet the blood is still red.  That’s curious.  But anyway, you were about to demonstrate something I think?”

She scowled and turned away, trying to hide what she was doing from the rest of the diners.

“Ok – now don’t look,” she said.

“Don’t look at your arm?” he asked, puzzled.

       “Don’t look at my arm,” she reiterated.  She didn’t even roll up her sleeve, simply felt about for a moment, then the hypodermic found its mark.  Both Richard and Peacock stopped eating, ignoring her injunction and watching curiously.

There was a flash of pink.

        Slowly, her blood coursed into the clear barrel of the hypodermic.  Richard and Peacock stared, eyebrows up.  In the light from the window, the pink liquid almost seemed to fluoresce – almost glisten and sparkle.

Then Princess whipped it out of her arm and held it up with a triumphant look.

        “Happy now?” she demanded, grinning.  Richard took it without a word, stared at it from several angles, then squired a tiny amount out onto his napkin and sniffed.

“Ok,” he managed.  “I am impressed.”

He vaguely reached for a croquette and bit into it, still frowning.

        Princess grinned happily.  “So what say?” she said.  “Are you interested? You can tell a lot about people from their blood colour.  If your blood is red, it is a sign of the impurities.  That’s why period blood always remains red.”

Peacock signalled urgently to Alice, who came over.

“A glass of Calvados please,” she said with a sigh.

“Yeah, I’m interested,” Richard said doubtfully, “Though I am still going to eat this steak.”

        Princess gave the meat a distasteful look.  “Look at it,” she said plaintively.  “Blood all over the place.  How can I try anything that has been on that plate?”

“Why don’t you order a meal?” Peacock demanded.  There was a glitter in her eyes and Richard hastily placed a hand on her knee.

“I shouldn’t,” Princess said.  “I don’t like to eat too much.  I’m on a diet.  Richard, you seem very naïve.”

“Naïve?” he cried, shocked.

“Make that two calvados,” Peacock called, and Alice signalled acknowledgement.

“Hey,” Princess cried.  “Can you make it three Calvados?  I’ll pay.”

        She sat back comfortably.  “Food and perversion are inextricably linked,” she said.  “From ancient times right up to that – that thing on your plate.  In 19th century France, young girls like me would be taken on the day of their 18th birthday – on the day their sex organs opened.  Their eyes would be put out and they would be kept in a dark box – and force-fed huge fucking amounts of sweet and spicy food.  Until they blew up like soft balloons.  And every night they would be massaged for three hours.  Then, after a couple of weeks of this, they would be trussed and wrapped and then roasted alive for the king’s banquet.  Served whole and basted in their own fat and seasoned by their own food.  That was the real delicacy of France.”

She shivered.

“We are a perverted species.”

Richard stared restively at the shimmering pink syringe.  “Yes – I have to agree about that,” he said gently.

Peacock drew a deep breath.  “Richard – whatever you are thinking, please don’t.”

“Hey,” Princess murmured, leaning forward.  “Those croquettes look good.  Are they nice?”

        Richard flashed her a look.  “They are great,” he said.  “The Yellow King really knows how to make its special croquettes, but . . .”

“Hey – can I try one?”

Richard hesitated.  “Well sure,” he said.  “But . . .”

“Richard!” Peacock hissed.

“I really don’t think you ought, it’s . . .”

        However, she had already speared one on a fork and swallowed.  She made a happy sound and a few more bites and it was gone.

“That’s fabulous.  What’s in it?”

Richard coughed.

“You . . . like it?”

“Yes – a very nice taste.  What’s in it?”

He sighed.

“Bacon, mostly.”

She blinked at him.

“You’re joking?”

“Uh uh – can’t you taste it?”

“I never t-tasted . . . before . . .”

        “Very finely minced and with a dash of smoked paprika – adds such a wonderful flavour to the potato.  I love these things.”

Then Princess was lurching to her feet with a clatter and a choked sound.

“Hey,” Richard cried, spreading his arms, “I was going to warn you, but you just took it . . .”

        But Princess was already heading across the room towards the ladies, blundering past a startled Alice and knocking a wine glass from her trey with a dismal smash.

“Richard,” Peacock wailed.

He glanced round at her sharply.  “What did I do?”

“You . . . she . . . agg, you did that on purpose.”

“No I didn’t,” he said dryly.

Peacock buried her face in her hands.  “That fruitcake is going to flip,” she said heavily.

        “Oh gawd,” he muttered.  “Yeah – I had better go and see.”  He scrambled to his feet and made to follow her, then paused and grabbed up the first aid box.

“Excuse me – sorry Alice.  Put that wine glass on my bill.”

“What’s happening?” she demanded.

        “Look,” he growled, “If a medical helicopter is needed, I’ll let you know.  I don’t think she likes your croquettes.”

“What?  But . . .”

        With Alice following close behind, he plunged into the sanctum sanctorum of the ladies room, looking round sharply.  It didn’t take long to find Princess, either through vision or hearing, for she was on her knees over the toilet bowl, dry-heaving noisily.

“Princess,” he cried.  “Take it easy.”  He hurried in and grabbed her shoulders, turning her to face him. He stared sharply – at her baggy top flopping open, revealing a glimpse of a small flat pouch strapped to the skin of her arm.  A pouch that shimmered a startling pink.  He stared at it a moment, then shrugged and fumbled in the first aid box.

“Here,” he said producing a couple of small pills.  “Take this – Alice?  Some water?”

Princess ignored him though and fumbled in her pocket.  He didn’t realise what she was doing until she had grabbed the straight razor and drawn it across her arm.

“What the hell are you doing?” Richard demanded sharply.

        “My blood,” she stammered, gazing at the red that flowed from her with huge eyes.  “It’s red – it’s fucking red.  I – I mean . . .”

“Of course it’s fucking red,” he cried.

        She gasped and spluttered, tears streaming down her face, and Richard held her shoulders.  “It’s ok,” he said gently.  “Hang in there.”

“Meat,” she stammered, cringing with some kind of ultimate horror – cutting again, deeper this time.  “I’m – I’m meat.”

“Princess, give me that thing,” he growled.  He finally got the razor away from her and held her face firmly.

“Open up,” he commanded.

“No,” she cried.  “You will feed me meat . . .”

“No I wont – these are just to calm you down.”

She blinked at the two white pills.  “Is there any meat in them?”

“No – no there isn’t.  Just herbs and things – and a little sugar probably.  They’ll calm you down.  Here.”

        Alice handed her a glass of water and at last the pills followed the artichoke, salad and croquette down her perfect pink throat.  And hopefully, unlike them, they would stay down.  She gave a splutter and clung on to him, while he and Alice struggled with bandages, eventually getting her slashed arm under control.

 “Alice – I think you had better call someone.  There’s going to be stitches here.”

She nodded and hurried out.

       “You’re ok,” he said, ruffling her shoulder.  “Nothing is happening to you.  We all love you . . . you make life interesting for us all.  Just take it easy – from the look of things, that croquette was only in contact with you for a minute.”

“But,” she stammered, “But – it’s all red.  I’m – I’m . . . red.”

He helped her up and finally supported the floppy figure of the Princess back into the Yellow King and back to a chair, where she sat looking blinky and unhappy.

“Thanks,” she mumbled.  She sat there in silence until some friendly people came in to take her away and patch her up – make sure that the red stayed inside where it should be.

Richard picked up the hypodermic and stared at it quizzically – then put it down again with a sigh.

“Fake?” Peacock murmured.

“Of course,” he said.  “Alice?  Any chance of warming this up a bit?”

“Sure,” she said, taking his plate with the almost untouched steak on it.

“Tell me,” he said wearily, “what would you say to serving braised Princess tomorrow?”

She nodded gravely.  “With ginger and crispy potato wedges perhaps?”

“Sounds good.”

“Well – it would make a change from the usual.”

“And don’t forget to serve it on a pink platter.”

 

Bio: David Rix is an author and publisher from the UK. He runs and does the design work for the specialist Eibonvale Press.  His published books are What the Giants were Saying and the novella/story collection Feather, which was shortlisted for the Edge Hill prize.  In addition, his shorter works have appeared in various places, including many of the Strange Tales series of anthologies from Tartarus Press and Monster Book For Girls, from Exaggerated Press.  As an editor, his first anthology, Rustblind and Silverbright, a collection of Slipstream stories connected to the railways, was shortlisted for the British Fantasy Award in the Best Anthology category.

Rapunzel by Jonathan Eaton

Rapunzel

by

Jonathan Eaton

After the tragic swallowing up of his wife by a puddle (reportedly an accident, rumored to be a suicide), John Poor was left alone to raise his infant daughter, Rapunzel.  With each passing year, Rapunzel grew more beautiful.  The day soon came when John Poor couldn’t help but notice the way Rapunzel gazed longingly at each cabbage they passed at the market.  Determined to provide for his daughter and protect her from harm, and knowing he was not the only parent so inclined, he transformed his small and barely profitable chastity belt factory into Virgin Containment Systems International, the world’s leading manufacturer of Ivorine towers, schizophrenic alarm clockwork watchdogs, and the new SECUR line of autocursing deathbolts.

John Poor owns all the land between Fort Worth and Denton, and apart from the single Ivorine tower, hasn’t developed any of it.  Recently I’ve heard rumors of plans for high-rise convents, which would be a shame, as I’ve always enjoyed the view on the way home from work – the meditating cattle, the faded and enduring sage, the mesquite trees posturing like players in a Greek tragedy on a stage stretching from horizon to horizon, and every once in a while, Rapunzel gazing at the sunset from the western window of her Ivorine tower.  Is it any wonder I fell in love with her?

One day, sitting in my cubicle at work, I realized I was so much in love with Rapunzel that I would die if I didn’t speak to her.  That very evening on my way home, instead of passing the Ivorine tower, I turned Ginger off of the road and into the long grass.  I jumped down and hitched her to a fence post.  Ginger was content to take a rest, eat some grass, and snort disapprovingly at some tumbleweeds which had gathered along the fence and were forming a committee to take action against fences.  I walked along the barbed wire tugging at it here and there until I found a place where the wire was loose as Hardy’s pants on Laurel.  I lifted up the middle strand, stepped on the bottom strand, and eased myself through, the top wire nearly knocking off my hat, a genuine 4X beaver hide Stetson.

I walked to the base of the tower and looked up at Rapunzel.  The clouds in the sky, blowing from west to east, created the unsettling illusion that the tower was falling on me.

“Hello!” I said.  “Can I come up?” I asked.

“No way!” Rapunzel said.

“Sorry,” I said, “I thought you might be lonely.”  I turned around and started walking back to Ginger.  Plan B was to make a deal with Honest Estes, the used horse lady.  I would give her Ginger in return for a little burial plot on her range.  The thought of Ginger keeping my grave trimmed up was comforting.  I didn’t have anyone else.

“Wait!” Rapunzel said.  I turned and looked up at her looking down at me.  She smiled.  My heart pounded.  “I didn’t mean ‘no way’ like I don’t want you up here, I meant ‘no way’ like there is no way you can get up here.”

“What about that enormous rusty iron door?” I said.

“It’s locked with our new SECUR line of autocursing deathbolts,” she said.  “You have to think of a nine digit number to open it.  Only my father knows the number.”

“Does your father have a favorite number?” I asked.

“Nine,” she said.

“Does he have any other favorite numbers?” I asked, “Bigger ones?”

“No,” she said, “I don’t think so.”

“Well, then” I said, “I’ll just stand near the door and think of every number I can think of.”  I walked up to the rusty iron door and closed my eyes.

“Stop!” Rapunzel cried.  “Don’t think!  If you think of the wrong number, you’ll go blind or mad.”

“Which?” I said, “blind or mad?

“I’m not sure.  It’s a new feature.”

I looked up at Rapunzel, her hazel eyes bright, her vast quantities of red-brown hair lit up from the red-orange glow of the sunset.  If I went blind, I would never see my Rapunzel again – but I would always remember her the way she was now – and that wouldn’t be so bad.  And I was already mad with love for her.  If her father favored nines, maybe he would favor nine of them.

I stood by the door.  It wasn’t going to be easy – I wasn’t used to thinking about a number for its own sake, much less nine of them.  I visualized one of those old fashioned typewriters with the keys on three levels, the kind where when you pushed down on a key, a tiny arm with a letter for a fist would swing out and smack the page.

My visualization kept getting blown to smithereens by the thought of John Poor finding me here.  He was an important, and therefore dangerous, man.  Some had taken to calling him Baron von Poor, though “Baron von” was strictly an honorary title.  He never went anywhere alone – he was always accompanied by plenty of muscle and magic.  “Concentrate!” I said to myself, but just when I was ready to mentally hammer a small, black nine onto the inside of my forehead, I heard Rapunzel’s voice again.

“And!” she shouted.

“And what?”

“And even if you think of the right number, there are nine flights of stairs up to my room in the tower, and each landing is guarded by a schizophrenic alarm clockwork watch dog.  Each dog alternates between wagging his clockwork tail, and foaming at his clockwork mouth.  If he’s wagging his tail, he will only lick your hand, but if he’s foaming at the mouth, he’ll rip your throat out.  Only at certain times during the day are all the tails wagging.  My father has a chart.  He had it reduced and laminated so he could keep it in his wallet.”

I walked around to the other side of the tower.  In a moment, I saw Rapunzel above me, leaning out of the eastern window.

“Have you got a rope?” I asked.

“No,” Rapunzel said.

“Blankets?”

“No.”

“No blankets?  Don’t you get cold at night?”

“I sleep under my hair.  I have a ton of it.  It’s never been cut.”

“Can I see it?” I asked.

Rapunzel pushed her hair out of the window – and it just kept coming.  It was red and brown and curly, and it fell slowly, drifting like a giant jellyfish, all the way to the ground at my feet.

I grabbed the hair in a bundle with both hands.

“What are you doing?” Rapunzel asked.

“I’m going to climb up your hair,” I said.  I turned the bundle around and around, probably a hundred times, until it was a thick, twisted rope.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” she said.

“Brace yourself,” I said.

Climbing the tower was slow and difficult work.  The Ivorine tower was smooth, hard and slick as a stick of margarine just out of the freezer, and the higher I climbed, the stronger the wind blew.  Several times a gust of wind forced me to stop and let go of Rapunzel’s hair with one hand so I could hold onto my hat.

A quarter of the way up, I asked Rapunzel what she did all day in her Ivorine tower.

“I have tutors,” She said.  “Math, Astronomy, Psychology, Literature, French, Biology.”

Halfway up, I stopped to rest.  Below me I could see the interstate, thin and straight, like the cement had been poured onto an enormous drawing of a prairie rather than onto an actual prairie.  Whatever else you may say about human beings, you have to admit we can draw a straight line on just about anything.

Three quarters of the way up, I asked Rapunzel how the tutors got up there.

“They don’t.  It’s all done via closed circuit TV.”

“That’s a relief,” I said.  “What subject do you like best?”

“Psychology.  I’m interested in the chemical reasons why people do what they do.”

I let go of Rapunzel’s hair and grasped the ledge of the window.  Rapunzel gave a “Whoop!” and fell backwards into her room.  I pulled myself in through the window, and sat on the floor with my back against the wall, exhausted.

Rapunzel sat on the floor opposite me.  She reeled in her hair and piled it up behind her.  She told me she had never seen a man other than her father, except on the closed circuit TV.  She asked me about current events, and I asked her what she did to pass the time in her room when she wasn’t studying.

“I brush my hair,” she said and she began brushing her hair.  The brush she used was the size of a canoe paddle, but she handled it deftly.  As she brushed, her hair changed.  It became longer, and there seemed to be more of it.  The color also changed, becoming a lighter and redder shade of red-brown.  Our conversation also changed.  We talked about hair.  We couldn’t help it.

“I brush my hair twice a day,” she said.

“Your hair is beautiful,” I said.  I felt a little silly after I said it.  “Is it naturally curly like that?”

“Yes,” Rapunzel said.

“And is that your natural color?”

“Yes,” Rapunzel said.

“I’ve thought about growing my hair long like that,” I said.

She grabbed a sheaf of her hair in her left hand, and began brushing the end of the sheaf with her right.  When she was done, she leaned her head towards me.

“Feel it,” she said.

I leaned forward and ran my hand over her hair.  Since her hair had fallen in front of her face, I also felt her nose, which surprised me.

“Oh,” I said, “your nose.”  She laughed.  Her hair was thick and a little rough, like sisal.  When I lifted my hand to adjust my hat, I could smell her hair on my hand.

“What is your hair like?” she asked, looking at my hat.

“It’s not as thick as yours, or as long, or as curly,” I said.

“What color is it?”

“Any color you can imagine,” I said.

Feeling strangely at ease with Rapunzel, I took off my hat – and I never take off my hat, except to bathe or sleep.  It’s vanity, I guess – I’m just not comfortable with other people seeing my bald head.  As for myself, alone, while there are some disadvantages to being bald, I feel that my baldness has given me something most people don’t have.  I know what my head looks like.

For a moment, Rapunzel stopped brushing.  This was the only sign she gave of any surprise at my hairless state.  Then she began brushing again.  I leaned my head towards her.  She put her brush down and put her hands on my head.  Her hands were warm and soft.  I remained still, leaning over, my head down, her warm hands on my head.  And she was also still and quiet.  It crossed my mind that she might be praying – maybe praying to cure me of my baldness.  She took her hands off of my head, and began brushing her hair again.

“You’re head is so smooth and round,” she said, “like a cabbage.  Do you shave your head?”

“I’ve been bald like this since the day I was born.”

“When I was born, I had such a head of hair that my father called me his ‘little Moor’.”

“Does your mother have hair like yours?”  Just as soon as the words were out of my mouth I remembered reading about how Rapunzel’s mother had died in a horrific puddle accident, and I felt terrible and I wished I could take the words back.  But the question didn’t seem to bother Rapunzel.

“I don’t remember,” Rapunzel said.  “She killed herself when I was six.  I suppose there are pictures, but I think my father keeps them hidden from me.  I don’t know why she killed herself.  My father said she had headaches.”

There was a fantastic amount of hair in the brush, and Rapunzel said she was worried too much had fallen out.  I told her I didn’t think she needed to worry.  After she pulled all the hair out of her brush, she balled the hair up by rolling it between her palms.  She set the ball of hair down on the floor between us.  It was as big as a basketball.

I picked up the ball of hair. It was stiff and springy.  Individual hairs shot out of the main ball in all directions, as if the hair itself were growing hairs.  If I squeezed it flat, it sprang back into shape.  If I set it down, the ball seemed to float a foot above the floor, supported by fine, almost invisible hairs coming out of it.  I touched my head, and compared its absolute smoothness to the sandpapery texture of the hair.

“You can keep it, if you want to,” Rapunzel said.  I couldn’t tell if she was serious, or if she was teasing me.  I felt ashamed of myself, making so much out of a ball of hair.

“Listen!” Rapunzel said.

“It’s started to rain,” I said.

“No—there’s something else.”

She was right, there was another sound, a faint rumbling from far off.  At first I thought it was thunder, but the sound was too steady to be thunder – more like an approaching train.

“My father is coming home,” Rapunzel said.

I looked out of the window into the blackness.  I could see nothing – but the rumble of John Poor and his posse was getting louder.  I barely noticed the rain falling on my head.  I knew that if her father caught me here, I would be banished forever (if I survived the curses and the beating), and I would never see Rapunzel again.

“Throw your hair out of the window, Rapunzel,” I said.

“It’s raining.  My hair will get wet.”

“This is no time for vanity.”

“I mean, it’ll get wet, and you won’t be able to hold on.  You’ll fall to your death for sure.”

I knew she was right, but what could I do?

“Where does that door go?” I asked.

“To the nine flights of stairs whose landings are guarded by the schizophrenic alarm clockwork watch dogs.”

“And then?”

“To the cold and rusty iron door that leads to the world outside my Ivorine tower.”

I grabbed my hat with one hand, and put Rapunzel’s ball of hair under my arm.  I twisted the knob on the door.

“Wait!” Rapunzel said.  “Even if the dog is wagging his clockwork tail, he’ll tear your throat out if you don’t call him by name.”

I opened the door a crack.  On the landing, I saw a small, cold, lonely, eccentric looking schizophrenic alarm clockwork watch dog.  He was wagging his clockwork tail.

“That one is named ‘Pluto’”, Rapunzel whispered.  “I hear my father call his name just before he opens the door.  But I don’t know the names of any of the others.”

I gave Rapunzel a kiss and promised to see her again (“next time bring cabbage,” she whispered).  I stepped onto Pluto’s landing, closing the door behind me.  From a distance, Pluto looked like a Dalmatian, but as I got closer, I could see the spots on his white plastic hide were actually protrusions of oily gears, which turned in time with the swinging of his clockwork tail.  When he saw me, he made a sound like someone had thrown a handful of sand into his works.  His mouth was a modified printout shredder, and the teeth whirred into action.

“Good boy, Pluto,” I said.  He licked my hand and sat down immediately, allowing me to pass.

The next landing was guarded by a giant blue dog.  He wagged his clockwork tail slowly, waiting patiently for me to call him by name.

“Mr. Neptune, I presume!” I said, hopefully.

Neptune sat and allowed me to pass, as did Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Earth, and Venus.  But Mercury, the small, hot, hard little dog on the bottom landing, was not wagging his clockwork tail.  Foam was pouring out of his clockwork mouth between the gears and razor-sharp blades of his modified printout shredder.  He smelled like rotten eggs.  He didn’t look like an automaton you could reason with.

“Sit, Mercury,” I said, without conviction.

I heard the shredder switch on, and the rows of gears, spinning inwards, sucked some of the foam back into his mouth between the blades.  I didn’t move.  We stared at each other – or rather, I stared, and Mercury’s eyeballs careened wildly around in their sockets, each independently of the other.  Mercury sprang for my throat.  I thrust my hat into his mouth.  The gears pulled 3X of my 4X genuine beaver hide Stetson through before the little dog jammed up.  His shredder mouth switched into reverse, and he spit an X or two back out in strips before he jammed again.  Then the overheat switch flipped, and Mercury collapsed on the floor, a hot and lifeless little schizophrenic alarm clockwork watch dog.  It was a typical western tragedy – he was dead and my hat was ruined.

I pushed my way out into the night and the rain.  I found Ginger by the light of her electric eyes and stuffed the ball of Rapunzel’s hair into my saddle bag.  I rode out of sight just as John Poor and his posse pulled up to the Ivorine tower, and for the first time in a long time, I felt the sting of raindrops on my bald head.

Please note: Ivorine and SECUR are registered trademarks of Virgin Containment Systems International.

BIO: Jonathan Eaton grew up in Texas and moved to Oregon where he writes about Texas.  He is old enough to have actually dialed a phone.  He keeps track of The Cowboys and the mars landers.  When he and his wife Cyndi are watching X-Files reruns, he listens for the bass clarinet riffs, because that’s how you know when trouble is coming.  He is out of a job, and if it wasn’t for Obamacare, he wouldn’t have health insurance.  When he was younger, he didn’t need glasses, but now he does.  He is honest with his dentist about his flossing habits.  He and his mother were once interrogated by Putin in East Berlin.  He can throw a Frisbee farther than you can.  He recently ate spittlebug spittle just to see what it tasted like.  He owns the world’s foremost collection of movie-theater popcorn bags.  If you give him a shovel and ask him to dig a hole, he will.  He has taken to wearing two pairs of socks recently — no one knows why.

The Traveler by PJ Dorantes

The Traveler

By PJ Dorantes

They never cared about her. Who could blame them? On the outside, she looked like an elderly woman who lost her mind and spent all day babbling about incoherent things, like aliens, UFOs and astral travelers.

Beneath of all that dirt, her wrinkled face still showed a few traces of what it used to be a beautiful lady. But no one was able to see it. They only cared about avoiding her, as if the woman were a rat infected with the plague.

Every day she felt their burning eyes over her, inspecting and talking about every single of her movements. Yet, she never cared about them. Those so called “human beings” could talk trash about her, laugh at her only sight, but they could never steal her true identity. Poor fools! If they only knew the truth behind about that dirty woman façade! Their hunger for plastic beauty left them blind, unable to see the true face of an astral traveler, who wanders the Earth on a mission to change the iron-like hearts of the earthlings.

Bio: PJ Dorantes was born in Mexico City, on November 23rd 1989. Her short stories have been published on anthologies and online magazines of Mexico and Spain.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/pjdorantes

Freedom by Hilary Spencer

Freedom 

by

Hilary Spencer

                Lunchtime. The best part of the day. The moment when the cruel hands of the clock line up in a rare harmony, temporarily freeing those who suffer inside the towering office blocks. The sweet air outside had tempted me all day, whispering through the windowscreen, and so I pulled open the office door, the scent of nearby flowers leading me to the city park. Gripping my lunch bag loosely in one hand, I headed for a nearby bench, settling at one end and observing the chipped paint adorned with layers of graffiti. Markings of the goings-on of the local teenagers; who blew, who was here, who loved who. Shrugging, I attended to my sandwich.

                The woman caught my eye as she slowly made her way down my path, and I watched. Her face was old, the last remains of what once must have been great beauty erased by the lines etched deep into her pale skin. Her blue eyes were dull, and I found myself wondering how she could see. A slight coolness on my leg alerted me to the mayonnaise dripping from my sandwich; by the time I wiped it with a napkin and looked back up, she had sat on the other end of the bench. Her head swiveled as she looked around with a sad smile on her face. I could see her shiver in the faint breeze, and wondered why she wasn’t wearing a warmer coat. Her silver hair cascaded down her shoulders, curling at the ends.

 “It’s always so beautiful here,” she said, noticing I was watching her. I blushed, looking back down to my sandwich.

                “I grew up in that house across the street,” she said, pointing to a low-rise apartment building. “Before they tore it down. All my children were born there.” She looked around the park, the same sad smile at the corner of her mouth. “My husband proposed to me right here in this park, fifty years ago,” she said quietly. She pointed to a spot a few feet from where we sat. Squinting, I saw nothing now but some yellow grass and a dead squirrel “That was long before the cancer. The doctors said I have to go to a treatment center in Boston, and I probably won’t come back.” Her hand slid inside the pocket of her light coat and rested there for a moment before emerging. I stood up quickly, recoiling from what I saw in her hand.

                The cold metal gleamed against the papery skin of her hand. There was the faintest clinking noise as the rings on her left hand pressed against the gun.

                 She pointed it, not at me, but at her own face.

                “I spent my entire life in this town,” her voice was still quiet, calm. “I’ll never leave it.” She smiled, glancing once more around at the faded grass. “Freedom,” she sighed. Her finger pressed down, and I screamed.

                The funeral was a week later. I don’t know why I went; call it closure. I met her husband, silenced by his grief. Her children couldn’t understand. It was as everyone was leaving when her oldest daughter beckoned me into the kitchen.

                “Did she say why?” She asked, the silent tears pouring down her face.

                 “She wanted to die in her hometown,” I explained. “She said she had to go to a treatment center in Boston, and the doctor said she wouldn’t come back.”

                The daughter’s breath caught, and her hand flew to her heart. She turned her back to me, searching for something on the spotless counter. Finally she located a plain white envelope, which she handed to me.

                “I insisted she get a second opinion when she got her diagnosis,” she said simply.

                 I opened it, scanning the first line of the paper inside, feeling my heart sink.

                 “Test results,” it said. “Negative.”

Bio: Future cat lady Hilary Spencer lives various parts of Maine. She can be found at http://nerdlylittlesecret.tumblr.com/

: a writer of nil repute by Rebecca Dempsey

: a writer of nil repute

By

 Rebecca Dempsey

This is an overview of the life and works of the writer                 . It was first submitted to, and is believed to have been published in, the first edition of The International Review of Literary Quantum Locking, which sadly is no longer available due to the very nature of its highly contentious subject area.

The works of writer                   are illusive and difficult to comprehend for most close readers; thus, little recognition has been given to              in her own country, Australia. However, certain European post structuralist feminist philosophers in the vein of Cixous and Kristeva have highlighted her achievements of late, while others see something of the school of Jacques Derrida in her works. Given               is a writer whose texts are quantum locked, in that her narratives and poems are only visible when not being read, her work is problematical at best and present especial impenetrabilities for translators. Post modernists agree her vision and creativity to be vast and entirely under-appreciated. Her admirers believe her output phenomenal, particularly considering her tragic personal circumstances as indicated in this account below:

While not considered a commercial success, the many works of                 have found favour with specialist or niche collectors. This, perhaps, is more out of an appreciation of their rarity rather than any literary or other merit. As objects they are difficult to identify and maintain given the inherent physical state but those who have copies have testified to their value.

The value of the works of                have also been measured through their academic worth. Recently, academics of the Kristevan school have chiefly found favour and been inspired by this exchange, below, from her first obscure novel:

For feminists,                     has come to symbolise the silencing of women in culture, and                  continues to be cited in discourses regarding the Freudian use of the term lack.  As a female author                      significance is enshrined by the absence of even her name, and so she comes to represent all female authors who have been silenced. So to             stands for all those historically outside the traditional understanding of the literary cannon and subsequently uncovered by academics such as Dale Spender. Forthcoming research should address                works as post-colonial constructs. Yet                 is also eternally current, as her enforced anonymity can be understood as a comment on the cult of celebrity and a further step beyond the Death of the Author, to the entire Absence of the Author. As, in the slightly more sophisticated later poetry, with this:

And numerous examples abound of                   eloquence in the face of immense odds. Yet the rarefied world of academia is bitterly divided on including her corpus of prose and poetry in the canon. Some have questioned her ability, and in fact have called into question                   very existence, comparing her to the infamous Ern Malley, a fictitious 1940s Melbourne poet created in Australia by poets James McAuley and Harold Stewart, the cause of notoriety for many in the Australian literary community. Some, indeed, have joked she is a Malley descendent. Others, avoiding such issues, focus on the works, and detect the influence of seminal Italian writers and academics Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco, and while it is believed she has offered some comment on her literary influences, in her limited edition collection of essays, entitled                      , this could be considered conjecture. Some followers remain intrigued by                  voice and discuss how her distinctive Australian style is conveyed and how well it is enjoyed or even understood in international circles.

For all her transparency, the author is chiefly concerned with language and ideological and philosophical barriers to communication – how words delimit meaning as much as they convey significance. Some more imaginative readers have compared               her works to that of Pink Floyd, and their construction of The Wall during their famed concert, hinting the very attempt at creation is one that simultaneously invites and alienates the audience. This is a theme that Feminists have also picked up on and it is also a paradox currently under examination by theoretical physicists.

Some post-Symbolists have considered the development of texture in her works, and have written extensively on the evolution from raw and angry ingenuity into something more considered, serious and layered, indicating a maturing in                  . This is hardly surprising, as the influences of her education seem to have been profound. Indeed, she is believed to have completed an Honours Degree in Literature, her thesis exploring the language of modernist poetry, this excerpt, below, seems to be a typical indicator of her later analytic style and of her influences:

has also written extensively on her educational influences, especially the inspiration she found from lecturers               ,                         and                              from                                                 . Her unique gifts seem also to have stemmed from her                    and                 , both accomplished artists in oils and sculpture (mainly wood and clay). Below are examples of their extant works, which, are also similarly affected by quantum locking.

This seemingly familial link between the creative output of the                        has fascinated geneticists, but also equally those interested in the role of environment in shaping lived experience. Others warn of the pathologisation of art and artists and the dangers of medicalising literary or artistic merit and creativity. Furthermore, physicists have expressed interest in conducting experimentation. This is in an effort to better understand quantum locking in addition to investigating some practical applications if it can be harnessed. There could be cause to explore whether her talents would be more usefully employed, in writing legislation, for instance, while others conjecture that she in fact has.

Among the scientific community there are those who maintain this phenomenon can only occur naturally amongst certain individuals involved in creative concerns such as the members of                    family.

Then there are those who are less interested in whether the author is real, than if her works actually exist, however, some recent analysis shows that what is present is more than merely blank space, but a creation devoid of any method of detection. Science is yet to catch up, as it were, to her works. At the same time, debate within theological circles has considered whether her work is a part of a Via Negativa espoused by mystics in various spiritual traditions, and as embodied, (no pun intended), by Meister Eckhart. There is some debate as to whether her influences extend to Eastern spirituality, such as that of Lao Tzu in that the way that can be spoken of is not The Way. In this way, works of       that can be read are not           works.

Another traditionalist group have considered whether she is a follower of Rene Guenon, who argued what is most important is inexpressible, or possibly be aware of his notions of selfhood influenced by Hinduism. Within this school it is contended she is a Nihilist or of the Absurdist School and her texts are a commentary on the futility of High Art and a kind of practical joke where all readers are emperors with no clothes. Many foresee the complex debate between linguists, physicists and mystics regarding her achievements continuing.

As a consequence of                      work, the quantum locked literary movement has garnered sufficient interest to generate multiple theories regarding its place within the broader arts. See the list of texts below, which examine this phenomenon, and which will be examined in depth in further reviews.

There are those, too, who have sought to emulate the texts of                          , maybe seeking the elusive commercial success that               works failed to gain. Few, despite their efforts, have yet succeeded in achieving a comparable evocation of fragility and conflicted eternal temporality that remain the hallmarks of                                     works, if indeed that is their goal. Like so many imitators, they have employed similar devices, or attempted to address the same themes, or modelled their approach to their works in an analogous fashion, yet in this, come to act as only as conduits back to their inspiration,                                          the greatest writer of the early 21st century never to have been read                         .

Bibliography

The following is a commentary by the author:

Chicagospell A History by Jesse S. Mitchell

Chicagospell

A history

Jesse S. Mitchell

Some day, probably a Thursday, Charlie Bohl sat under a pagoda facing a river, a dark green-brown river, a ripply river.  How slow it moved, how slow, but it shimmered and it shined and it caught his eye.  Ping Tom Park and it was hot, hot for September, so Charlie had several arbitrary beads of hot sweat plaguing the upper part of his face, malicious things with a mad sense of wanderlust, they would fall like Bolshevikism- domino-theory, boom, blast, boom, war, collapse.  Here he was, covered in soft vulnerable flesh with sparkling shards of acid perspiration streaking down and the indignity stung his pores and eyes.  He would wipe them away.  He would sigh.  He would blink.  Cross and uncross his legs.  There is loads of pain in this existence.  Peace in that.  Never alone.  Not really.   He would smile sometimes, giving lie to the absolutist supposition that all the world is a crime, all life teeming over its surface a sin, this and this a corruption.

He would bow his head at times, like he was saying a prayer, supplicating toward the Dan Ryan, but he was not communing, he was imagining.  Perhaps the same thing.  His head went wriggling, and railing around, fast as light, thoughts beaming from one side to the next, a great blur under his sandy blond hair.   He thought about iron-red churches of Axum, about floating Buddha heads, migrating birds, shifting seasons, Brahmins to Shudras, untouchables, cast iron pans in the fire, glowing red, the heat, the untouchable heat.  Turn his head this way or that and look over what ever horizon that appeared, materialized.  Big Peterhofs, Versailles, Halls of Mirrors writ large across a creaking post-modern sky, everything with the bitter flavor of too much bloat, too much air, too much swell, dulcet the soft sounds that fling themselves through the shared wind.  Skyscrapers, mercantile banks, long stretches of lake front beach.  Everywhere he could see, when he could focus,  a whole world of nothing but convulsed earth, shifting planks, scorching measurements of supposed grandness.  The generous gratitude of an overextended human race.

So, Charlie sat there, wiping sweat away, guarding his view from glare, on top of the heap, the heap of bones and rumble rock that lay foundation for every modern urban daydream.  He could see everything.  Everything.  And he felt it too.  He could even feel the jealousy of the shuddering air around him, envious nature, resentful of his newfound abilities of introspection,  his dual gifts of sensation and reflection.  He was music. And he wasn’t going to give that up.  He knows what the world can do to you.  Best to have something to come back from, but what are we coming to?

He was everywhere and down deep inside it, boiling up and seeping out, touching it all.    He could tell it was all mist, all vapor and mist, and it all signified nothing, nothing but a dying planet’s vast indiscretions.

But that was all partiality, fondness for a mad strong hankering for the dystopian diamond (multifaceted) end.  His soul could cry out.  His soul could leak out.  Sweetly evaporate away.

His mind was at work.

But the biggest part of the superficial grey matter inside his bone rattly skull was leering down, searching for precious Rheingold, merfolk magical horde, deep in the river, some silver shimmer a dreaded bread headed titian slacked off, trinkets, baubles, a slight shine.

And it was this part of vital self that was startled first, he heard the voice before he saw any figure.

“You seem happy with yourself.”

He looked to his right, the direction of the sound, and there she was immediately materializing atom for atom in what had been empty space.  Inhabit all the spaces.  Come humans, come senses, hot burning bodies, fill up all the spots yearning for mass.  Green dress with little pale white flowers all over it, her arm stretched out along the back of the low concrete bench they shared.  Long black hair, tendrils and strands flying all around her head, in frenzied spirals and circles, little whips and lashes.  It seemed strange to him the way her hair moved, the breeze was light.  He turned back toward the river.

“I’m cutting loose.  I’m checking out.”

“What?”  the word burst out of her mouth

“Hmm.”  Charlie nodded.

“You mean, suicide?”

Charlie chuckled, shook his head, looked back at her and all her rowdy hair and hemline and billows of dress, “No, god no, you know me better than that, how I detest violence, no stomach for it.  Not even against me, one of my most unfavorite of persons.”

“Hmm.”

“Yes, one day, I will be blue and all bled out and gone, giving up the shallow ghost to the eternal vapors that surround but this is not that day and it will not be on purpose.  I swear.”

“So, what then?”

“I’m letting go.  I’m losing my mind.”

“Going crazy?”

“Um huh, completely mad.”

“And your job?”

“Never going back.”

“And your plays?”

“Ha! Fuck the plays.  Rambling rush of forced dialogue, elucidate the dying words of veracity once more, scrub away at the great dirty lie covering the deep down shine.  My god, how we all are little jewels underneath it all.  I can’t bear it.  It tears at me.  Injures.  I’m lying.  We are lying.  I hate that part of me the most.”

“Huh, it has always been one of my favorite bits of you.”

Without notice, Charlie continues, “So, I’m stopping.  I’m sick of it.  Had it to death and sickness with optimism.  Bite off a big chunk of reality and like a poison let its venom get fully in my veins, immersed in the deluge of it and let it carry off my pride and expectation.  A death, a death clearing out my mind of all ambition, sit around and drink, think about cleavage, yep, I’m just going to be here and I’m going to dream, dream great big lion-headed dreams.  Napoleon dreams.  Fredrick the goddamned great.  Superhuman hallucinations.  Bodhisattva-Boudica Bar Kochba dreams.  Have my revenge on reality.”

“Taste the blood in your mouth.”

“Right.”

“Finally do it in.”

“Yeah.”

The woman stands up and stands perfectly still for a brief second and then disappears but quickly reappears behind Charlie, standing with her right hand on his shoulder.  He reaches out with both hands and sweeps them limply across the horizon and all the cityscape disappears, folds up like a paper fan, a concertina squeeze.  The river drains slowly away and green grass creep up and over everything, small grey good natured stones randomly here and there, hills and knolls.  Charlie raises one arm up and a tree spouts and then another and another and fresh lime green leaves blossom out.

“How Mosaic.”

“You know me, I always go for the classic stuff.  Yep, I’m going to be here, you see.  Dreaming my Icani dreams, feeling so enchanted, made of nothing but hungry flesh and blood.  Let it all die away from lack of care, total lack of any care, neglect it to death, at the expense of my sanity but to the benefit of reverie, pure foolishness.”

Without his noticing, while he spoke, the woman walked out from behind him and vanished, she could be seen walking slowly around the trees and threading around behind them, her hair and clothes still billowing and  cascade-careening.

“And I am not going to mind at all. I’ll just sit here, all alone if I have to, under my baroque old stars, too yellow for illumination, perfect for infatuation.”

The smell of sweet smoke hit his nose, tobacco, cigar smoke.  And slowly emerging from the vapid air was a tall man in olive drab fatigues, medium length hair, unruly, beard, black beret with a dark red star patch.  He holds his hand out to Charlie in a gesture to help him stand up.  Cigar smoke bulging ballooning all over the place, filling in every spot.

“And if I do get up, I’ll get up and walk through all these silver maples and cold mountain cedars.”

He takes the man’s hand and he stands up.  The man grins.

“And I’ll go off on my own, my own way, searching for sweet water springs, elixirs, fountains of youth, Ansu, old fashioned Sumerian strolls, fight some monsters.  And goddamnit, never do a thing other and never spend a dime or have any need for one.”

“How revolutionary.”  the man says.

“Tell me about it.  And you know where I learned it.”

The man nodded and walked in front of Charlie as they made their way past the old river bed and into the wooded grove.

“You know I’ve always been a Marxist.”

The man nodded.

“And it has never really been because particularly interested in economics or wealth redistribution.” Charlie struggled to say, his black necktie too tight around his throat now that he was up and moving around.  He loosened it.  The man shrugged and took a long hard drag off his cigar and blew out a ton of fragrant Cuban smoke.

“More it was that I found myself no believing in anything, not being a part of anything.  That’s an uncomfortable feeling.”

“It is.” the man agreed between iron breaths of smoke, his teeth clinching around it, trying to clamp down on it, hold it.

“And I have this steel-atheist mind, won’t brook any bending, any gust, any zephyr, so I found the great big soft breaded arms of Marx to be the most amiable, the most easily acceptable.  I don’t give a damn if it works or not.  I don’t give a damn if it ever takes the world by storm or not.  I’m only in it for the fashion, for the space, for the place to be.”  Charlie found it hard to walk, hard to keep up with the obviously fit and trim disciplined man in fatigues, it was hot and he was wearing down.  He took the powder blue blazer, worn at the cuffs of the sleeves, off and let it drop on the ground behind him as he walked on.

Charlie stopped walking.  He stood perfectly still and watched the man walk on without him.  He was suddenly gripped with a fanatical contemplation.  He felt like a burnt match, black withered tip, all graceful smolder and dark scented, slightly bend, threatening to crumble.  He watched as the women with wild black hair circling the trees greeted the soldier as he passed by, slowly melding with the thick atmospheric horizon between the trees.  Everything was so slow.  So slow.

He looked down at his feet and saw he was standing in sand.  Sand was far as the eye could see, yellow gold and white each grain a tiny sparkle.  He turned to look behind and were he had dropped his blazer, the long long open stretch of  sea.  The ocean.  The surf was pounding in on the beach, sounded like drums, wet slosh of primitive rhythm.  He heard a little voice, a child voice, coming up from the beach, not far from his ankles.

“But you know, you needn’t be confined to reality.  That is your point after all, isn’t it?”

Charlie looked down and saw a small girl in a bright red sundress playing in the sand, building castles, little structures, pinching up bits between her fingers and scattering it around, at times tossing up into the air and letting fly.  Like some spell, some esoteric, magic, enchantment, but that is how Charlie always viewed engineering, architecture, something beyond the pale of normal human understanding.

“Hmm?”

“Well, I for one, see no reason why you should ascribe to a largely discredited and at times mindlessly violent political ideology just for the tiny benefit of feeling like you belonged.”  the little girl reached out her hand and toppled over one of the tallest towers.

“Yeah.”

“I mean, if nothing in world spoke to you in the way you were seeking, you simply manufacture your own salvation.    That is the mind’s purpose.  Sincere sincerity, the unfathomable unplumbable depths  of human creative psyche.  You’ve done it before.  Remember?”

“Hm?  Oh the cults, the solar systems, the bestiaries, that is what fantasy is all about, that is where they hide the truth you know?”

The little girl nodded.

“November sixteenth, that was the day I created the cult of Figgishand, the canned tuna god.  That was a blast.  Boredom never treated me any better.”

Again she nodded and with both hands piled more sand up in a loaf shaped mound and begin making designs, long designs on the top with her fingers.

“And the ends of reality, beyond the edges of certainty, out beyond the limits of our universe where there still exist a people called , the Krekel, unfettered and not tethered to any planet or rocky terrain.  They live in pure space and build their hive like lives there, eating total air, and surviving in part on our indifference, disregard.  They worship a benevolent Jerusalem cricket named Yu, underleggs jammed full of eggs and life and wonderful gifts.”

“Now that is imagination!  That is life, freedom.”  the little girl piped up.

“Well maybe, I had been reading a lot of Douglas Adams at the time.  Certainly he deservers partial credit.”

The ocean contuied to roll it, the tide swelling.  Sunlight glinting as the sun dropped steadily lower.  Charlie looked back down toward the little girl but she was gone, castle gone, and as he was watching, the beach was gone and Charlie found himself standing, inexpertly, in the middle of the pure blue ocean, water up to his ankles and creeping up, all alone.  It was apparent he was sinking.  He would soon be swallowed up by the water and he would drown.  As soon as panic struck him and he was about to fling his arms and legs around in what would certainly be a mortal disaster, he saw come rising up over the sloping horizon, a small wooden boat.  It was nearing him fast.  He could the splash of the oars beating the surface and in a split second it was pulling up right next to him.  The wild woman, the long ferocious black hair twisting and waving and fluttering around the both of them, her long dress flapping and snaking around her body.

“Get in.”

Charlie just stared at her.  The surprise to much for him, he didn’t notice the blue-green salty water was making its way up his body, to his waist now.

“Unless you want to drown.”

“Huh…aaa, um, no.”  He climbed in the boat.

“Start rowing.”  She barked.

“How?  never mind.”  the awe wearing off, Charlie never had much patience for astonishment, he kept his wonderment to himself.

“So, how does the ocean make you feel?” the woman asked, a slight grin creeping over her face.

“Um, lonely, yeah, lonely, helpless, I guess, but…but still it feels alive, right.  What an odd sensation.

The black hair woman nodded.