by Christopher Walker

My daughter listens to trees. She always has. When her legs ceased to buckle and she could toddle freely about, she’d find her way across to the Silver Birch in the playground and hug it like she would my leg. I thought she was giving it a kiss, but then I saw her ear pressed to the peeling bark and I slowly came to understand.

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Caroline via Creative Commons

She’s seven now and she can tell all the trees apart by their whispers. I humour her, taking her on trips to the botanic gardens so she can listen to the Cambridge Oak (“sounds like grandad!”) and the Holford Pine (“it’s calling to the pine cones, saying take care!”) and the sprightly Persian Ironwood (“I can’t make sense of it but it sounds like singing!”).

One day I made a mistake. I didn’t notice the parasitic mistletoe growing high up on the bare branches of her favourite Silver Birch. She came back in tears. “He’s dying, he’s afraid, and he’s alone,” she sobbed. I didn’t know what to say. All I could do was hug her like she did the trees, and listen to her rattling heart beating fast within its cage.


Christopher WalkerChristopher Walker is a writer and English teacher based in the South of Poland. His work can be found at www.closelyobserved.com.

by Pamela Hobart Carter

One morning, it’s quiet.

One morning, he isn’t down first, brewing the sputtering espresso, opening and banging doors and drawers for newspapers and spoons.

One morning, you’re first.

You don’t understand until you check the clock on the stove, the clock on the microwave, your wristwatch, and add all the numbers for the same result.

Your heart hammers, your feet pound up the stairs and race to his door—shut, and darkening the hall. (Only half-awake, you missed this on your way down, the too-dark hall. He likes to air his room and let the day circulate.)

The Handle Comet

Scott Robinson via Creative Commons

Hand-on-knob, you hesitate. He’s just sleeping in.

For the first time ever?

He was tired last night.

Too tired.

The soft noises from the other side of his door may be a sleeper’s long breaths or the curtains luffing in the morning breeze.

You draw your hand away, step backwards a couple of paces, turn, and walk to the kitchen where you linger over buttered toast and a hard-boiled egg. The house has a lovely stillness. It smells of singed crust and newsprint. The Times is entirely your own. It is possible to savor your coffee in this solitude.

One morning, you’re first, and too happy to understand this is how death sounds.


Pamela Hobart CarterPamela Hobart Carter has worked as a geologist and teacher before becoming a writer. A few of her short, short plays have been produced in Seattle where she lives. More about Pam and her writing is at amazon.com and notalkingdogspress.com.

by Christina Dalcher

Gran’s tattoo might have been beautiful. On her, it was a desperate grasp at youth, an atrocity, an embarrassment. Ugly.

“You could have that removed,” I said on a Saturday after Gran returned from wherever she went on Saturday mornings. “There’s a place in town—”

Gran silenced me with a wave of her stupidly paisleyed left arm.

Watchtower Concentration Camp - Buchenwald

Alexander Steinhof via Creative Commons

We’d attempted this conversation before. It always ended on the same note, but now Gran elaborated. “I got this after leaving Budapest.” Her eyes crinkled in a rare smile as she nodded toward the strip of curls on her forearm. “From a man.”

“A man,” I repeated. I supposed even in 1940 men operated tattoo parlors. Or maybe she was one of those ‘types,’ as mum might say.

“I don’t want to erase him.”

And I didn’t want to think about Gran having a lover.

She died the following Saturday, and two strange old women came to bathe her withered body. They saved Gran’s left arm for last, stroking it gently, muttering foreign, guttural words.

I got one last look at the ugliness of colored ink on pale, papery skin before mum dressed her, and I saw the unspeakable, forgotten ugliness hidden inside each paisley teardrop: A-13968.

Beautiful, Gran, I thought when we buried her.


Christina DalcherChristina Dalcher is a linguist, novelist, and flash fiction addict from The Land of Styron. She is currently matriculating at the Read Every Word Stephen King Wrote MFA program, which she invented. Find her at ChristinaDalcher.com or @CVDalcher. Or hiding in a cupboard above the stairs. Or read her short work in Zetetic, Pidgeonholes, and Syntax & Salt, among other corners of the literary ether.

by Alex Creece

Vitality slipped from his dark, calloused fingertips. Blueish, purpleish, and then grey. Stigmata once throbbing raw with rot blackened to an impenetrable void. His palms were a purgatory of coagulate crust. The eyes of the all-seer shrivelled upon the salvationless silhouette of the boulder which obstructed his portal to the next life.

He was dead. Or dying. Or definitely, definitely dead.

Crack

Kenneth Lu via Creative Commons

He stared at the boulder for hours on end, blinking less and less until he no longer felt the need to scrape his sleep-starved lids against eyes so dry and devoid of sight. Rocks and rubble etched secrets and scripture into his back, and eventually he was comfortable enough to settle into his Grotto of Eden as he awaited his exile into a new existence. His nerve endings had ruptured—their own rapture, perhaps—so he no longer felt the searing necrosis of his physical form, nor did he choke on the stench of his own decay. He welcomed rigor mortis eagerly, allowing it to exorcise him of a life left.

A couple of days later, a crack of light seeped through the edge of the boulder. It caught his vacant eyes and singed his peeling flesh. But he remained staunch. He had found his way through days ago.


Alex CreeceAlex Creece is made of dirt and determination. It’s the latter which laces her lungs with grit.

The End

Oliver Hammond via Creative Commons

There are no other endings. If you follow a story long enough, the final sequence is never not a death scene. Cut away before that point and you only pretend you’ve reached the end. In the twin faces of comedy and tragedy, one is the truth and the other is the lie. Comedy is a shared hallucination waved away with the nonsense phrase as dependent on magic as the stories it spawned from: “happily ever after.”

In a story a person is born, they live to some indeterminate age. Their childhood is depicted to give a sense of where they come from, and it tells you something about them: how they see the world perhaps, or whether they can believe in love. When they reach the story’s age, something happens to them. They want a thing, but there are obstacles in their way. Either they obtain their wish or they do not. This cycle will repeat.

And then at last they age to the point where they will die. All challenges fall away and they meet their certain doom; it may be heroic, it may be tragic. Maybe it is a relief.

Every story ends this way.

Except one.