by Erica Verrillo ©2014



I’d been working at Shady Grove almost a year the morning Clarence moved in. It wasn’t a day I would have remembered otherwise, since it started fairly typically with Mama red-eyed on the sofa and Hector passed out on the kitchen floor. Nothing new on the home front. It was wall-to-wall traffic all the way up I-10, as usual. My AC was on the fritz, so the commute was literally hell on wheels, and the only thing my radio was picking up was ET trying to make first contact.

Beam me up, I thought.

No such luck.

After I’d changed into my uniform, Mrs. Jackson took me over to meet the new inmate.

“Mr. Savage,” said Mrs. Jackson. “This is Stella. She’ll be cleaning your room.” Mr. Savage bobbed his head at me. They were all polite when they first arrived. Once he’d gotten used to the place he’d be pinching my butt and hissing dirty jokes in my ear along with the rest of them.

“I’m so glad you’ve decided to join us, Mr. Savage,” I recited. “If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to call. We pride ourselves on prompt and courteous service.”

Mrs. Jackson beamed at me. It had taken her hours of hard work to get The Speech crammed down my throat. The fact that the janitorial staff was never needed for “prompt and courteous service” meant nothing to her. Neither did the Emancipation Proclamation or the Bill of Rights.

“You can call me Clarence,” he said. I expected that. While Mrs. Jackson always insisted that we address everyone by their family names so as to “preserve an atmosphere of propriety,” nobody else followed her example, especially not towards the staff. I was always plain old Stella right from the get go.

That morning I went about my normal routine. Cleaning up the public rooms came first, since most of the old folks slept in. I guess there isn’t much point to getting up early when all you’re doing is dying. I always started with the chapel. I enjoyed the quiet. There wasn’t much of that at home. Best of all it was cool. Hector was too cheap to put in central air, so my room was an oven in the summer even with the window unit, which hardly worked anyway. I liked to sit in the front pew for a few moments before I got on with my rounds, just to gather my thoughts. After the chapel was clean, I moved on to the public bathrooms, the dining room, the rec room, and the TV room. By then most of the old folks were tottering about, so I could start on their bedrooms. When I got to Mr. Savage’s room I banged on his door and waited. On my very first day of work at Shady Grove, Mrs. Jackson told me to always knock real hard and call out their names. She said we needed to respect the “members’ personal space.” I was much more concerned with my own. Some of the men had an uncanny way of popping up stark naked when you came in to clean. I hoped Mr. Savage wasn’t going to be one of those.

“Mr. Savage!” I hollered. I began counting to thirty before I turned the key. That would give him plenty of time to come to the door if he was still in there. I was pretty sure he wouldn’t be, since Mrs. Jackson liked to take her new “members” for a tour of Shady Grove the day after they arrived. She liked to tell them all about the “estate” and how it had been in her family for generations and all that la-de-dah. So it just about knocked my socks off when the door opened smack in my face. I hadn’t even made it to five.

“I can hear just fine,” he said. He was wearing a pair of khakis and a green plaid shirt buttoned all the way to the top.

“I’m sorry,” I apologized. “Some of the members . . . ”

“I understand,” he said. “You can come in.”

I peeked into his room. It was neat as a pin.

“I’ll only be a minute,” I said. Maybe less. His room was already so clean I probably wouldn’t have to do much more than mop. I waited a moment for Clarence to go away, but he just stood there holding the door open. As I angled past him I noticed that he didn’t smell like a shut-in. Old people, when they’ve been housebound for a while, start to smell musty. Clarence smelled like a man who worked with his hands. Clean and sharp. He watched me as I mopped the linoleum, which made me nervous.

“Y’all are gonna love it here. Everybody’s real friendly, and nice. And when the weather cools off all y’all can take a walk in the old pecan grove.” I tend to rattle on when I get nervous. “Y’all can even send some pecans home to your loved ones next Christmas. Everybody does.” I took a breath. Clarence was looking at me funny. I noticed his eyes were a clear gray.

All y’all?” he said. His face was round and pleasant when he smiled, but my feathers had been ruffled.

“You aren’t from around here, are you?” I said, real careful.

His face got serious again. “No,” he said. “I’m from Maine.”

I’d already taken him for a Yankee. His skin was too smooth for a Texan, even a transplanted one. Old Texans don’t have wrinkles, they have ruts. Still, my jaw dropped. Maine was on the other side of the world. I couldn’t imagine a farther place.

“How on earth did you get down here?” The question just fell out of my mouth. Then I realized I’d forgotten my manners, so I had to apologize again.

“No, no,” he said. “That’s a good question. We Yankees find Texas fascinating. It’s the lure of the Old West.”

Having lived in Texas my whole life, I didn’t see anything luring about the West, old or new. But I had a Texan’s pride in my state, which is to say, knee-jerk. The only real requirement for graduation in Texas is to remember the Alamo, which we did every spring, regardless of the fact that most of my classmates would likely have been fighting on the other side.

“See y’all tomorrow,” I said. His smell stayed with me all day. Like Christmas.

* * *

By the time I got home, Mama and Hector had made up and were watching TV on one of the velveteen couches. Mama has three of them. With Mama, everything is either too many or too much. Hector had one beefy, tattooed arm draped around her and the other wrapped around a six-pack. The two of them were drunk as two skunks courting in Kentucky.

“Yo, mamacita,” said Hector.

I hate it when he calls me that. In spite of appearances, and a lot of effort on his part, Hector doesn’t have a drop of Spanish blood in him. Mama, on the other hand, is a direct descendant of Don Quixote.

Hector tried to grab my butt when I walked by, but I was ready for him. My purse has a five-pound mini barbell in it. Mama never shifted her fake eyelashes from the screen.

“That’s disgusting!” she said. Some idiot was chowing down on a plate of worms. She took a swig of beer.

“There’s spaghetti,” she said.

Somehow, I managed to get back to my room without having to hit Hector again. The house was a classic “shotgun” with one long central hall going from front to back. It was a simple design, but whoever built it hadn’t been sober long enough to read a blueprint. There wasn’t a 90-degree angle in the place, and all the doors swung the wrong way; out instead of in. If you weren’t careful, you could brain someone, not that anybody around here had any.

I switched on the window unit, but all it did was bitch and moan. Just like an eighth grade boyfriend, all jaw and no action. I appreciated the racket. It blocked out the noises Hector and Mama would be making later on.

That night I dreamed about the Titanic again. I especially like the part where it goes down.

* * *

I liked Clarence. He never asked questions like didn’t I have a boyfriend, and how many boyfriends had I had, and he never, ever treated me like a servant. At first I couldn’t resist boasting. I’d heard Texas described a lot of ways, but never, to my knowledge, had anybody ever called it “fascinating.” As far as I was concerned, Texas was nothing more than a giant griddle, flat as a pancake and hotter than Hades. Of course, I never let on. The fact that he thought it was interesting made me feel good, like I was special too, somehow. And Clarence was a good listener. When he sat down and cocked an ear at me, it made me stand up tall. In fact, I got so high and mighty it took a couple of weeks for me to realize I didn’t know a thing about him, which was not the normal run of events. Usually, after two or three days I could recite an inmate’s life story by heart.

“What’s Maine like?” I asked.

“The interior is mostly woods,” he said. “But I grew up on the coast. In my younger days, I was a lobsterman,” he added. “Later on, I built boats.”

I should have guessed. That clean, sharp smell was sawdust. I could see him in a workshop, sawing something. Although, I have to say, I couldn’t imagine Clarence pulling those big ugly red things out of the water. With those evil-looking claws grabbing at you, how in creation did you get the hook out? You probably had to bash ‘em upside the head with a hammer, which I couldn’t see neat-and-tidy Clarence doing. Anyway, Clarence didn’t smell like the fishing type. Fishermen drank.

“I’ve never seen the ocean,” I said.

This time it was his turn to look surprised.

“Well,” he said. “It’s big.”

I knew what he was talking about. Texas is big.

“I know all about big,” I told him. “I could drive all day and never even make it out of this county.”

Clarence pulled on his chin and thought about that for a while. I could tell I’d impressed him.

“Ayuh,” he said. “I had a car like that once.”

Well, I just about popped my panties laughing.

“That’s a very old joke,” he said, shaking his head. “You must have heard it before.”

I hadn’t, but I didn’t want to be shown up by quiet Clarence. Besides, I really had seen big bodies of water. My entire tenth grade class had taken a field trip to the capital, and on the way back we’d stopped for a picnic on Lake Travis. I told him about it.

“The ocean is a lot bigger,” he said.

“Well, that may be,” I admitted. “But I’ll bet you dimes to dollars you couldn’t swim across Lake Travis.”

Now it was his turn to laugh, though I didn’t know why.

“You won that bet,” he said. “I couldn’t swim across a bathtub.”

I gave him a skeptical look. I was beginning to get the suspicion that he had been pulling my leg all along. “You said you caught lobsters.”

“I did,” he said. “Lobstermen can’t swim. The water off the coast of Maine is so cold, if you fell overboard you’d be dead in ten minutes.”

He swirled his tea, making the ice cubes clink against the sides of the glass. “It’s like ice,” he said.

“That sounds real good,” I told him. “I’d like that.”

* * *

It was May, and the heat was just revving up. You couldn’t fry an egg on the sidewalk yet, but you could probably poach one. Every morning I would arrive at work just itching to get Clarence into a conversation about that big old ice bath. I swear it made me feel cooler just to hear him talk about it. I’d lean up against the wall for a few minutes after I’d mopped (there never was anything else to do in Clarence’s room), and I swear I could feel that cool sea breeze blowing right over me. He had a way of telling stories that would make me fall down laughing, though I could never remember how he did it afterwards. He would just sit in his chair, pulling his chin. Maybe it was because he’d made me laugh so much that I forgot my manners one day.

“How come you don’t have any pictures on your dresser?” I asked him. Everybody else at Shady Grove had scads of family photos propped up on just about every surface. That’s why it never took me any time to clean up Clarence’s room. There was nothing to dust.

Clarence didn’t answer me. So I just stood there like a moron until it dawned on me that I was way out of line. Stupid me. I’d forgotten Rule Number One: Staff is Not Permitted to Make Personal Inquiries of Members.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I shouldn’t have asked.”

Clarence still didn’t say anything. He looked out the window to where the crape myrtles were blooming. Crape myrtles are perfect for this climate. They bloom all summer long and don’t mind the heat. I imagine that’s why Mrs. Jackson’s illustrious ancestors had planted them everywhere. On second thought, it was the gardeners who had planted them. My illustrious ancestors.

I was almost through the door when Clarence finally said something.

“My wife died a year ago last March,” he said. “We didn’t have any children.”

Now, I felt terrible. “Oh, I am sorry,” I said again. This time I meant it. Clarence looked so forlorn. All of a sudden I wanted to go over and hug him. Instead, I stood in the doorway like a fool, holding a mop and a bucket in my hands. Clarence shook his head and sighed.

“She was from Texas,” he said.

I stood there for a bit, trying to think of something to say that would cheer him up. “Did she say all ya’ll?” I asked. “Like me?”

Clarence looked me straight in the eye. “Just like you.”

* * *

Hector and Mama were going at it full blast when I got home. She was calling him an hijo de puta, which is the only thing she can say in Spanish, and he was yelling about somebody named Frank. I heard some thumps and crying. But it was 101 degrees and after spending an hour on the interstate, getting passed by suits yakking on their cell phones inside Audis that had frickin’ frost on the windows, I was in no mood to call the police. So I went to my room and turned on the AC as loud as it would go. I also turned on the radio for good measure. Then I stretched out on the bed, praying for world peace, for a sea of ice, for anything but this. I lay there for a while with my ears cocked, just in case things got really nasty. Then, in spite of the heat, Willie Nelson, and the sound of dishes flying around the kitchen, I fell asleep.

What woke me up was the quiet. The whole world was dead. I looked over at my clock and saw nothing. Outage. In the summer, with all of Texas trying to reinvent Alaska, the power frequently goes out. I got up and went to the window. There were lights on in some of the houses. Maybe it was just a blown fuse. I threw on a robe, since I wasn’t wearing much, and tried to remember where the fuse box was. Or did we have switches?

My door wouldn’t open.

I shoved and pushed and kicked, but it wouldn’t budge. Something heavy was blocking it. Finally I started yelling, but nobody heard me; Mama and Hector were probably out cold. Eventually, my brains woke up. I went back to the window and pushed out the AC unit. Even though it didn’t work, the thing still weighed a ton – kind of like Hector. Then I climbed out the window and hopped onto the lawn.

When I came around to the front of the house, I saw the door hanging open. Hector’s car was gone, so he must have stormed off after tonight’s fight, leaving the front door wide open.

Total idiot, I thought. Don’t y’all come back now.

The house was pitch black, but I knew it well enough to find what I needed. Neither Mama nor Hector had gotten around to opening any of the drawers in the kitchen, except, of course, for the one that had the bottle opener in it, so the flashlight was still where I’d put it when we moved in last year.

The kitchen was a wreck. But, that was to be expected. I hadn’t gone in there for a while, so there’d been plenty of time for TV dinner trays and dirty dishes to pile up. The cans were having a pow-wow on the floor with some broken plates and there was a bunch of empty bottles on the table. It looked like Hector and Mama had graduated to the hard stuff last night. Or maybe it had been that way all week. I hadn’t been keeping track.

I walked out of the kitchen and headed down the hallway to the back of the house. There was something heaped in front of my door.

“Mama,” I said. I shook her as hard as I could. When I tried to lift her, Mama’s head snapped back like a broken doll.

I called 911.

When the ambulance arrived, I still hadn’t been able to wake her. I hadn’t even thought about the fuses, so I had to lead the medics through the house with my flashlight. I was glad they couldn’t see most of it. But what they couldn’t see they could smell. They took Mama straight to the detox unit of the hospital.

The doctor who finally came out to see me looked harried. It was 4 AM.

“She’ll need to stay here for a couple of weeks,” he said, glancing at her chart. “Are you a relative?”

I said yes.

“Good,” he said. “You’ll have to sign some forms.”

“Will she be all right?” I asked.

The doctor finally took a good look at me. “You aren’t a minor, are you?”

“No,” I said. “I turned eighteen last August.” And if we’d been in China, that would have been God’s honest truth.

“Good,” said the doctor. “Go to the main desk. They’ll have the papers ready.”

He hadn’t answered my question. After I’d signed everything, the nurse told me that I should probably take a couple weeks off work. It might help Mama to have someone there for support. I asked her if Mama was going to be all right.

“That depends,” she said.

There wasn’t much I could say to that.

* * *

I called in sick and told Mrs. Jackson I needed some time off. She grumped about unreliable help, but didn’t say I was fired. Thank god for small favors. Then I went back to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. I felt like I needed to talk to somebody. I got into the car and drove to work, hoping that Mrs. Jackson wouldn’t catch me on the premises. I’d have a hard time explaining my miraculous recovery from the plague.

Clarence looked so happy to see me, I felt like bawling.

“I thought you were sick,” he said.

“No, my mother’s not well.” I said. “I’m going to have to take care of her for a couple of weeks.”

Clarence waved me into his room and shut the door. He pulled up a chair for me, and then sat on the edge of his bed.

“Is there anything I can do?” he said softly.

I just looked at him, sitting there in his green plaid shirt. Even first thing in the morning his eyes were clear and bright. He didn’t look like the sort of person who had ever gotten falling down drunk, or tried to pinch his step-daughter’s butt, or carted his mother off to detox. He looked like . . . Maine.

“No,” I said. “It’s nothing I can’t handle.”

Clarence sighed and nodded. He knew I was in over my head. And what made me love him is that he didn’t call me out on it. He respected my decision to keep my problems to myself. And I knew that whenever I wanted to talk, he’d be there. In the end that was all I really needed. Just knowing Clarence was there was enough.

We sat for a moment. Then Clarence got up and took something out of the top drawer of his dresser. He handed me a little box.

“Open it,” he said. “I was going to save it for Christmas, but now seems to be a good time.”

Inside the box was a rusty-looking thing with five points, like a star. The top of it was covered with tiny pimples. I didn’t want to know what was on the bottom. It looked like something one of those weirdos on TV might eat if you offered him enough money.

“It’s a starfish,” he said.

It didn’t look even remotely like a fish. But, then again, lobsters don’t look like anything you’d want to put in your mouth either.

“Did you used to catch these things, too?” I asked.

“There’s a note,” he said. “Underneath.”

I lifted up one corner of the starfish with tip of my fingernail and saw a small square of paper. A star for Stella, it said.

“Umm,” I mumbled. I wasn’t good at getting gifts.

“Make a wish,” he said. “It’s a star.”

“I don’t have anything to wish for,” I lied.

Clarence looked down at me. “Follow your dreams, Stella,” he said. “While you still have them.” He held out his hand for me to shake, and I realized he’d never touched me before. I said goodbye to him then.

Y’all come back now,” he said.

Ayuh,” I replied. “I’ll send you a post card.”




* * *

When I came back to work, I was excited about seeing Clarence again. Hector had disappeared and Mama seemed to be doing much better without him. She had lost that gray haggard look, and she’d even whipped up a batch of chicken fried steak on her first night home. But with Mama it was hard to get hopeful. Within a month or two she’d probably be slugging it out with her next Hector, or maybe the same one. Anyhow, I was glad for the peace and quiet, even if it was temporary. I’d bought Clarence a big Stetson, just for laughs. I knew he wouldn’t be caught dead in it.

It was early, so I put on my uniform and started on my rounds. The chapel was quiet, as always, but this morning it was filled with flowers. There was a casket on the dais.

Oh, no, I thought. Mrs. Perkins has finally died. Delia Perkins was in her nineties and as fragile as a china teacup. We all expected her to go any minute.

I walked over to the casket and peered inside. Lying within the pale satin interior was a man in a suit and tie. He looked familiar.

“Is that really you?” I said. Some idiot had put glasses on his face.

“Oh, Clarence,” I whispered. “I bet you never wore glasses a day in your life.”

At all once, I had to sit down. I must have sat in the front pew for an hour. That’s about how long it takes me to make a decision. On my way out I gave Mrs. Jackson my notice. She didn’t look at all surprised. “You can’t count on young people nowadays,” she said.

When the chapel was opened for the service, the glasses Mrs. Jackson had placed on Clarence were missing. On his head he wore a big, black Stetson hat. A note was tucked into the hatband: Gone fishin’.

* * *

On Christmas Eve, a post card arrived at Shady Grove Estate addressed to a Mr. Clarence Savage. A box was kept in the main office for letters and cards such as these. In her spare time Mrs. Jackson would sit at her desk and inspect them for return addresses. She liked to write the letters of condolence herself. It gave Shady Grove that genteel touch for which it was so famous. She held the card a moment in her hand, automatically looking at the picture. Inappropriately, given the time of year, it was a photograph of waves crashing violently against dark, jagged rocks.

“Not very Holiday-like,” she murmured. Mrs. Jackson turned the card over. It was postmarked Southwest Harbor, Maine. There was no return address.

“Dear Clarence,” she read. “You were right. It’s bigger than Lake Travis. Wish y’all were here.

Love, Stella.”





7094134Erica Verrillo was raised in Syracuse NY, the daughter of classical pianist, Violet Silverstein, and noted psychophysicist, Ronald T. Verrillo.  At age seventeen Ms.Verrillo moved to England, where she performed in the Oxford Symphony Orchestra. On her return to the U.S. she attended New England Conservatory. She finished her undergraduate education at Tufts, where she majored in History.

After completing her degree, Ms. Verrillo spent two years hitchhiking through Central and South America, where she gained first-hand knowledge of the culture and politics of Latin America. Verrillo returned to complete her M.A. in Linguistics at Syracuse University. Soon afterward she joined SUNY Albany's Chiapas Project as a Mayan linguist. While in Mexico, Verrillo founded an aid organization for Guatemalan refugees, which she directed for ten years.
Ms. Verrillo has written three middle reader fantasies, the Phoenix Rising trilogy (Random House). She is the coauthor, with Lauren Gellman, of Chronic  Fatigue Syndrome: A Treatment Guide (St. Martin's) and author of Chronic  Fatigue Syndrome: A Treatment Guide, 2nd Edition. Her short stories have appeared in Million Stories, Front Porch Review, THEMA Literary Magazine, 580 Split and Nine.  Ms. Verrillo's first screenplay, The Treehouse, was completed in 2011. Erica Verrillo currently resides in Western Massachusetts. 

"Stella's Star Wish" was originally published in Million Stories.

Erica's website is Her blog, Publishing ... and Other Forms of Insanity can be found 
at as well.


Kenneth Harper Finton


© 2014 Kenneth Harper Finton

HOUSETake a boy of ten, a pleasant, smudge-faced little boy with dangling arms and freckles spotted rampant on his nose. He is wearing a red and white striped polo shirt––cool enough to eat. Then take a lonely old house on a windswept hill that looks down upon the main street of a small Ohio town like a melancholy illustration from a picture book of horrors. Then add to this an old woman existing in her lonely life by threadbare strands of memory. Lump the scene together. Let is simmer with the passing of time, with clocks that run backwards and a love that ebbs away to pity.

Thirty years ago, I was that boy of ten standing in the mist at the foot of Fowler’s Hill. I was about to earn my first dollar delivering papers on Sunday mornings. My…

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by Amy Skelton ©2014




Just in time for Halloween, a tale of night terrors, black magic, bondage and horror.


"O, I have passed a miserable night,
So full of fearful dreams, of ugly sights."
-William Shakespeare


Lindsay woke to find herself tied to a chair. Her wrists and ankles were bound with rope that was tied so tightly she couldn’t move. She struggled to free herself but knew it was futile. She looked about her. It seemed to her that she was in an unfinished basement. The walls were bare brick and the floor was cement. It was lit by a single bulb hanging directly above her that gave such a dim light that she could see very little. She could hear no movement, not even a breath stirred in the darkness.

Lindsay called out but there was no answer. She tried struggling again and suddenly a voice boomed out from behind her: “I wouldn’t bother with that if I were you.”

Lindsay started and tried to turn. The chair seemed bolted to the floor. She heard the faint sound of footsteps moving closer. She was still trying to turn, to see who it was, when suddenly the floor fell from around her chair. It fell down into an abyss of blackness and fire soared up from the depths to surround her. Lindsay tried bending her wrists and ankles, frantically trying to free herself, screaming for help.

She was sweating and exhausted when she woke up. Another nightmare shuddered through her body as she dragged herself out of bed. Lindsay didn’t know how much more of this she could take. She had been having these vivid dreams all week and her work was beginning to suffer. She took a long hot shower and sat down at her kitchen table with a cup of coffee. She tried to think of a reason for the nightmares. There must be something going on in her life that would trigger some of the most awful dreams she’d had since childhood.

When Lindsay arrived at work, Diane looked up and said, “Still no sleep? Girl you need to have a stiff drink before bed. That’s what I do. It puts me right to sleep.”

Lindsay replied, “Getting to sleep is not the problem, it’s staying asleep that I’m having trouble with.” She didn’t want to tell Diane about the dreams she’d been having. It seemed ridiculous and childish to be so incapacitated by a few nightmares. She didn’t want anyone to know what she’d been going through so she simply told everyone she was having a bout of insomnia.

It took most of the morning for Lindsay to wake up. Several cups of coffee and a few sugary snacks were required to get her going. Like she had told Diane, she didn’t have a problem going to sleep. She was only dreaming too vividly and struggling too violently. The effort was more tiring than a full day at the office.

After work, Lindsay stopped by the gym. She needed to keep herself grounded somehow and perhaps a vigorous workout would distract her and straighten things out. She signed up for a kick-boxing class that was soon to begin and hurried to her locker to change. The instructor was an enthusiastic, well-built man around Lindsay’s age. She admired his muscular frame and was completely taken in by his soft, sympathetic brown eyes.

He announced that his name was Greg and introduced her and another new person to the group. After a few warm-up exercises, he let the others pair off and approached Lindsay and Tom, the other newcomer.

Tom was a spindly young man with brown hair and a nervous stammer. Greg showed them some moves and watched Lindsay and Tom practice on each other. Lindsay was nervous about hurting Tom. He was smaller than her and looked so young and helpless. She felt she really needed to hold back and that the class would be useless to her if she had to spar with such a partner. She finished the class, though, and when she was about to leave, Greg stopped her. “I could tell you were nervous about hurting that poor kid and I’m sorry for having to pair you up with him. If you would like, I can do some sparring with you in between classes.”

Lindsay declined with thanks. “I’m really too tired for a hard workout anyway. I thought it would help me but I have changed my mind.”

Greg replied, “I can tell you aren’t up to it today, but I hope you’ll join my class again sometime.”

Lindsay smiled to herself as she walked away. Greg certainly was nice to look at.

When she got home, Lindsay put a TV dinner in the oven and collapsed on the couch. She was so tired her eyes felt like sand. She turned on her laptop, checked her emails and downloaded a movie to watch. She didn’t have satellite or cable, feeling that paying for hundreds of channels she didn’t want would be insane, but there was plenty of entertainment available online. After dinner she laid on the couch and watched the movie. Gradually she fell asleep.

Lindsay walked through corridor after corridor of what seemed to be a hospital. It was completely deserted, not a single voice nor the hum of a machine broke the silence. She was wearing nothing but a hospital gown and was becoming scared and cold. Her bare feet made a soft noise on the tiled floor and she could hear the beat of her own heart. It beat faster as she went on.

She began opening doors and calling out, wondering where everyone could be. Lindsay turned down another hallway and saw a strange blue light coming from under one of the doors. She ran to the room and looked in the window. What she saw terrified her. There was a huge room with hundreds of bodies hanging from hooks attached to long rails running the length of the ceiling. The bodies were motionless and the faces were blue with cold. She tried the door and found she couldn’t open it. There was a noise coming from inside the room. It was like the screech of nails on a chalk board but continuous and growing louder. She saw the faces of the bodies change. They were still alive and crying out. “Help, help us!” they screamed.

She pulled and pounded the door with her fist and she heard a booming voice from behind her say: “I wouldn’t bother with that if I were you.”

She whirled around and saw that the corridor behind her was dark. The darkness was palpable. It seemed to reach out to her with wispy tentacles. One of the smoky strands touched her arm.

The living room was dark and the movie was over when Lindsay woke up.

She shivered in the darkness and headed up to bed. She hoped that would be the only dream she had that night. The images bothered her and she was beginning to be terrified to go to sleep. She decided to call her doctor next morning. Perhaps he could refer her to a specialist or something.

Lindsay got into bed. turned on the light and picked up a book. She was reading a light romance novel that would not induce nightmares. She lay on her side and read forseveral hours, not wanting to fall asleep. Lindsay began to yawn. The words were dancing around on the page, so she gave it up and turned out the light.

She stared into the darkness, thinking about the dream she had. She tried hard to reason why. She could think of no situation in her life that could explain why she was experiencing such terrible night terrors.

She soon fell asleep.

Late at night, Lindsay got on a subway, not sure where she was going. She was dressed in her nightgown and it was incredibly hot on the train. She rolled up the sleeves and unfastened the top two buttons. She was completely alone. Lindsay sat in the car as the subway rolled on. It came to a sudden, jolting stop. There was no platform or lights that she could see from the window. It seemed like the subway stopped in the middle of the line for no reason. Suddenly, metallic clasps closed over Lindsay’s wrists and feet. She struggled to free herself to no avail. She pulled as hard as she could and heard a voice in the darkness boom, “I wouldn’t bother with that if I were you.”

Lindsay stopped struggling. She began to have a sense of familiarity with the voice. She took the advice given her and became calm and sat still. The clasps released and the train began to move again.

In some confusion, Lindsay woke. It was ten minutes before her alarm was to go off. She felt great for the first time in a week. She went to work happy and full of energy and her co-workers noticed the change. Diane said, “Finally got a good night’s sleep eh? Glad to see you’re feeling better.”

Lindsay smiled and went to her office. It was a productive day and she was glad to finally get some work done.

*   *   *

Lindsay went to the gym again after work. The kick-boxing instructor, Greg, was not there. She had a nice work-out then went home tired and happy.

She vowed that if she had that dream again she would listen to the voice and everything would be okay. Perhaps she would visit her doctor and show him her records of the dreams she had been having.If she were to see a psychologist. It would be useful to have these things recorded. At least they would know what the dreams were about and they could try to pinpoint their cause. She sat down at her computer and stared at the blank screen. She was surprised that she had remembered her dreams so clearly. She opened up her computer and typed them out what she remembered of the night terrors.

As she went to bed that night, Lindsay was confident she could overcome the nightmares she had been having. She thought that she had figured out what to do and she was, finally, not afraid to go to sleep. She turned out her light and snuggled into the covers and quickly fell asleep.

When Lindsay woke she couldn’t move. She was lying on a bed, her wrists and ankles bound with something soft yet tightly tied. She could smell a slight aroma of incense, probably cinnamon. She could feel a cold draft brushing her skin and suddenly knew that this was no dream.

She started yelling as loud as she could and heard footsteps running toward her. The room where she lay was dimly lit by a candle in a distant corner. She heard a booming voice from the darkness say, “I wouldn’t bother with that if I were you.”

Lindsay stiffened and went silent. How could it be that the same voice from her dream was now here, in reality? She remembered the last nightmare she had. She heeded the advice of the voice and tried to calm herself. Even knowing that this was an entirely different situation, she thought that she might have a chance if she did as she was told. “Who are you?” she asked.

The voice replied, “I am the voice of your nightmares. I am the fear in the darkness. I am your worst dream come true.”

The voice had been silent for some time. Lindsay heard a grinding noise and could smell something metallic.

“What are you going to do to me?” she asked, crying.

There was no reply.

She lay there for some time trying to remember how she had gotten there. She had no idea what to do but she was still trying to think of a means of escape when the voice came back. He said, “There is no use trying to think of a means of escape. There are none. You are mine now.”

She asked again, “What are you going to do to me?”

“I am going to show you what fear really is.” He slashed the bonds from her wrists with a long knife.

Lindsay was still confused, but she remained silent. She was angry with the man for thinking she would be so easily scared by vague, egotistical statements like the ones he was making. She remained lax and unresponsive when he tried to pull her up. She pretended she had fainted and waited for her opportunity to act.

The man carried her to another room and put her on the floor in the middle of a large pentacle drawn on the cement. She was in a basement, like in her first dream. He thought she was unconscious so he didn’t try to restrain her. Lindsay thought, “how stupid can he be?” and lay still.

He began some kind of chant in a strange language she had never before heard.

She opened her eyes and tried to look around without moving her head. There were some things on the floor by her side that she recognized: a piece of clothing, a lock of hair and a bottle containing a tissue with blood.

Now  she knew who the man was. All these things could only have been obtained at the gym.

She remembered having a nose bleed there a week earlier. Greg, her instructor, must have used those parts of her as a kind of black magic spell to infiltrate her dreams, she thought.

Greg was still chanting but he was no longer facing her. There was an altar set up against one wall and his back was to her as he spoke. Lindsay raised herself to her elbows and looked around.

There was a shovel in the area under the stairs. She jumped up and grabbed it, ran over to Greg and hit him over the head as hard as she could. He went down with a crash, jerked twice and was still. Lindsay gathered up all her things, including the clothing, hair and tissues and ran up to the main floor of the house. She bolted out the door and ran down the street.

Greg was not far behind her. He was a fast runner and caught up to her as she was rounding a corner. He grabbed her and pushed her down on the sidewalk and laid on top of her so she couldn’t move. Lindsay was panting hard and her heart was racing but she managed to gasp, “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Greg?”

He smiled down at her and replied, “I wanted you to know fear. I wanted you to be afraid of me.”

She lowered her eyebrows and said, “I don’t need you to show me fear and I am not afraid of you.”

She poked his eye with her finger and when he closed his eyes and let go of her to cover his eye with his hands, she rolled out from under him and got up.

Greg was on his back and she stomped on his crotch as hard as she could. He let out a scream that could been heard from afar. Another man came running from his house, a phone in his hand.

*   *   *

Greg was charged with kidnapping and aggravated assault and was sent to prison for twenty years.

Lindsay knew her nightmares were over. She never had another.

Amy Skelton was born in a small town in Ontario where she lived and grew up until she was old enough to move out on her own.  She had no trouble making good grades in school.  She wrote poems and stories when she was a child, but no one recognized or encouraged her talent until the 12th year of high school when she found an English teacher that was very supportive.

Amy has worked at many different jobs. She found all of them unsatisfying and dull.  She went to a university for a year and did not learn any useful information, so she dropped out. Like many young seekers,  she could not stand the thought of going thousands of dollars into debt for not learning anything that she could not learn on her own.

Amy lives in Ontario with not far from the St. Clair River and Lake Huron. She is a writer of novels, short stories and poetry, specializing in women’s issues and disturbing images.  She is the owner of the website and the administrator of the Facebook page Amy’s Tales and Poetrythat can be found at


by Julia Proud ©2014


“Come in,” Tamara uttered a bit startled.

The knock had shattered her brief reverie on the passing of time and she found herself grateful for the distraction, even if a little fearful that the company of the one stepping inside her room was not the one she desired.

And her fear became reality as her husband opened the door and entered with his lit ciggy between his thick dry lips and a glint in his eye telling of the few drinks he had probably already had that evening.

He closed the door behind him, smothering the music coming from the gramophone downstairs. It was one of her favorites, Paul Whiteman’s Whispering, a melody she had first heard, in 1920, only two years ago, before she had been married and stuck in Dallas, living with a man she knew nothing about.

Tamara turned around to look at herself in the mirror, trying to hide the disappointed look on her face.

Why couldn’t it have been her maid walking in, asking about dinner, offering little tidbits of gossip from town?

“You look wonderful, dear!” he exclaimed and blew the smoke toward the clear, untainted surface of the mirror, where her reflexion tensed at his approach.

She was seated at a large vanity table, her earrings in hand. She was about to undress and skip dinner that night, as she had been for the past week.

“Why not come downstairs?” he asked and put on a mocking expression of concern as he leaned to brush his cheek against her short golden locks; he then added lowly “Or are you feeling ill again, my dear?”

His gaze was fixed upon Tamara’s reflexion as he pressed his cheek against hers in a tender gesture that made her stomach hurt and her blood rush. So, she avoided his warm brown eyes and kept her head lowered, and her cold blue gaze upon the glittering jewel between her fingers.

“I’m not well. Yes. So, would you mind-”

“Matter of fact I would mind,” he uttered bluntly and took the earrings from her hand, rendering her speechless for the moment.

Couldn’t he just leave her be?

He put her earrings on, slowly and carefully, taking his time, and every touch of his fingertips on her ear lobes made her skin crawl.

Of course, he couldn’t just leave her be – he was her husband and had been so for over two months now. How long could she go on avoiding his company?

The first few weeks had been filled with wonder and a strange feeling of freedom, but only because he had been away on business. Tamara had had the large eight bedroom house to herself and spent most of her days in the large gardens, reading and listening to music – she had the maid bring out the gramophone whenever the weather allowed, and it allowed almost every day.

But once he returned, her reign ended. Even if he spent his days at his Dallas office and came home in the evenings, there was no sense of freedom anymore, not even in listening to her albums, not even in reading her books.

She had refused him her company long enough, it seemed, and Jeremy would have her sit across the table from him and go through all the motions of gentle society conversation, about the weather, about the house, about his work, about whatever he, the man would choose to talk about.

Tamara had been brought up properly, to be a lady, even if she had gone to college, it had been only so she’d be educated enough for her to marry someone with class, of good breeding. Her father clearly had no idea that his little girl hadn’t been so little or a girl for some time.

Her college experience had been very enlightening, in the ways of men and women.

And so her father’s plans to marry her off to a good family, fell flat when she came back from Mount Holyoke College wearing the latest inappropriate fashions and with her hair cut short, like a boy’s.

Tamara had refused every offer for marriage: lawyers, judges a congressman even. But what she never refused was sex. It was all the more exciting if she didn’t know anything about the man.

And so, her reputation started to wither as the years past lowering her chances to marry well, or even marry at all.

But she believed she didn’t care. The man she had loved was lost to her forever and no other would compare to him. So why should she submit and suffer the company of anyone else, someone who she didn’t and wouldn’t ever care for?

Tamara sat at the table and sought to drown her resentment in wine.

She hated wine and she hated being a wife.

The only reason she accepted marrying this man was… Well, it was lost to her – she’d rather not admit to it, not even to a hint of it.

Tamara was just like any other woman, after all. Under the threat of ending up a sad old spinster, she yielded. She was now twenty-five – old enough to know not to trust a man’s words and old enough to understand her own limits. She was not the sort to grow old in the same house as her father, in that small, irrelevant little town. She wasn’t going to waste her youth trapped there, but she was too afraid to take flight, so, she decided she might as well spend the rest of her days in a cage fit for a canary like her, with a wealthy, snazzy man.

They ate and drank, and, as she had expected, the conversation floated from proper subject to proper subject, weaving a sense of civility into an otherwise barbaric situation.

Jeremy Tusk knew full well he had married a stranger for her pedigree and pleasant appearance. He took a nuisance off her father’s hands and, to sweeten the deal, he also opened a few doors in the southern trade for him. She had been sold by one man and bought by another.

The threat of silence set upon the table as they were almost done with the final course and so, she wandered over to the gramophone and revived Paul Whiteman’s Whispering.

Tamara wasn’t a prude, though Jeremy might have believed that. And, even if she would have never admitted to it, she wasn’t avoiding being alone with him out of a reluctance to give herself to him. On the contrary, she knew she wouldn’t be able to resist him – how else was one to vanquish loneliness?

But, she dreaded the idea of intercourse with her husband. It felt as if she would be sealing the deal, approving the trade, agreeing to the contract that had brought him and her together. She knew that, oddly enough, she’d feel cheaper after being with her husband than she had ever felt after being with men whose names she couldn’t even remember.

A giggle escaped her wine tainted red lips and she shrugged in response to Jeremy’s inquisitive gaze.

“Let’s dance,” she heard herself suggest and he obliged with a smirk.

The man knew how to move, and she found she was lost admiring his face.

He kept a thin mustache, like the actors in those moving pictures, and his eyes were beautiful, even if a little tired. With a long face and a straight, well-defined nose, he reminded her of the Portrait of a Poet by Amedeo Modigliani – she loved his works.

The tune came to an end and so did their evening together. She didn’t protest when his hand took hers and when his lips kissed her fingers.

But, despite her expectations, there was no attempt to kiss her, to enter her room or to persuade her to remain in his company longer.

She stood in front of her vanity table staring at her reflexion, puzzled by her husband’s gallantry.

The fact that he didn’t even allude to wanting to spend the night with her bothered Tamara more than she would have liked to admit. Was he actually being coy about sex?

But what irked her, even more, was that she wanted it now, so much so, that she had spent the better part of an hour staring up at the ceiling, in darkness, stuck in a cold large bed, trying to sleep.

So, she dared slip out of her room, wearing nothing but her silk white night gown. Her bare feet took her along the corridor toward his room, only to freeze at the sound of Jeremy’s voice coming from downstairs.

Tamara couldn’t make out what he was saying or even guess who he was speaking to but she assumed it was the maid, or the butler.

She approached the stairs quietly and took a peek in the entrance hall, just over the railing.

Tamara could see Jeremy’s shadow and the one he was now whispering to – a man. Someone she had never seen before, probably an employee from his cotton trading company; he was well dressed and young, maybe not even twenty – perhaps the son of one of his employees, come, in secret, at that late hour, to ask for a job, a favor, a…

They kissed.

She was sure of it. Jeremy had leaned in and kissed the boy on his lips.

No, no, surely this wasn’t what she had seen.

But, as the boy walked backwards toward the front door, seeking to leave, Jeremy kissed him again, this time, for a while longer, deeper and with an embrace.

She didn’t want to believe it, and for a few seconds she just stood there, staring at them. But once the shock faded, Tamara fled in silence, hiding inside her room.

There was outrage, then pure wonder, confusion and then revelation.

Tamara burst into laughter, covering her mouth, and trying to keep her chuckles in check for fear she might be heard.

All her avoiding, worrying and thoughts of self-importance had been for nothing.

Nothing was what it seemed, was it? You’d think that she would have learned that by now.

She continued to laugh under the covers of her cold bed and soon, her low snickers became quiet sobs.

There was nothing left for Tamara but loneliness and, for the first time in years, she had no choice but to feel it and let it swallow her whole.

Julia Proud is an animation artist and a storyteller. She has experience writing movie scripts, which most likely shows in her books by the manner in which she structures her stories and the way she chooses to walk the reader through a scene.

Actions, dialogue, and the characters’ interpretation of the world are important to her.

She is a firm believer that a story’s first job is to entertain, no matter the medium in which it presents itself. But don’t label her writing mindless fun – Julia knows that real entertainment is achieved by engaging the mind and tricking it, even for a moment, into believing that the story and its characters are real.

Julia is currently working on expanding the Jazz Noir Collection that she’s recently started with A Dead Man novella. The Jazz Noir universe is comprised of stories set during and around the Prohibition era, in the U.S. and Whispering Desires is part of that universe.


Kenneth Harper Finton



©2014 Kenneth Harper Finton


“When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.” – Mae West

The child and the boy that Adam used to be was so foreign to him now. Looking over pages that he wrote more, Adam barely recognized his former self as the person who wrote them.

Adam came from a conservative and opinionated small town in rural Ohio. Those who lived in his little town often claimed it was God’s country. Adam supposed that it might good for the spirit to be content and proud of your community. God’s country seemed to be a stretch, though. So many wonderful spots in the world better fit that description.

Life seemed to be so much more idyllic and simple then. Yet, it seems to Adam that this is never the case. Faded memories – the…

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Kenneth Harper Finton


Grandpa chewed on the butt end of his cigar as I read him my poem. His eyes rolled a bit beneath the thick wire rimmed glasses and the smoke from the cigar chaffed my nose.

“It’s a good one, son,” he told me, “but it ain’t much to my liking.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Poems were good in my day,” he replied. “You heared a lot of poems back then, The folks who wrote them did not indulge in themselves the way they do now. They didn’t cry over their spilt feelings so much. Your little story is about what you lost out on. Everybody loses out on something or someone. You can’t get through your term on earth less’n you do.”

He placed his cigar on the ashtray that stood on a pedestal near his chair. It raised waves of smoke, then went out.

“They told stories…

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   The Snow Field

by Mark Scheel  ©2007


                         A man said to the universe:
                         “Sir, I exist!”
                         “However,” replied the universe,
                         “The fact has not created in me
                         A sense of obligation.”
                                              — Stephen Crane


First one jungle boot, then the other. Slowly, in the blackness. Deliberately. His hands tap the rubber heel against the landing mat, then invert the canvas top. Empty. Both empty, of slitherings and crawlings. From beneath the poncho, turning, he inserts one naked foot, then the other, into the cool, damp leather. Stands. The olive-drab boxer shorts loose about his taut bladder. Then steps. Steps against the wet, resisting tropical air. Out from the dark, sandbagged metal walls into faint morning pinkness. Step. Step. The only sound a distant clanking of an armored tread along the berm. Then a sudden whine. And the white flash. And the ringing in his ears. All at once his shoulder is cold. And again the ringing. The icy cold spreading down his back. And the ringing! And he knows now he’s been hit.

He bolted upright out of the dream. Soft light from the window suffused the bedroom walls, early morning sun reflecting off snow. The comforter had slid partially off the bed and he felt cold. His shoulder ached. Then once again the ringing blasted in his ears—the phone on the letter desk in the adjacent room.

He pushed the sheet back and swung his feet onto the chilly hard-wood. The alarm clock showed 6:45. Rising, he sensed immediately the pressure to urinate. Goosebumps formed on his arms as he walked across the throw rug and out into the dining room. With an urgent persistence the phone rang once more before he could lift the receiver.

“Yeah,” he mumbled, still clearing the fog of sleep from his head.

“Did I wake ya?” his father’s voice asked through the earpiece. There was a worried edge in the old man’s tone.

“That’s okay,” he replied, after a pause.

“Well . . . I got some trouble out here.”

“Trouble? What’s wrong?”

“You know that spotted heifer? Started calving last night. I checked’er this morning and something’s hung up. The calf’s not coming.”


“There’s a foot showing. That’s all. An’ I called awhile ago and Doc Grimsley’s outta town.”

“Who? Oh, the vet.”

“And I was wondering . . . when do you teach that class up to the college?”

“What time? Three-thirty.”

“Maybe you oughta come out. I think we’re gonna have to pull that calf.”

“Yeah . . . sounds like it.” He paused, trying to focus everything in his mind. Trying to assess the situation. Then, “How much snow did we get last night?” he asked.

“Well, now. There’s another problem. It ain’t the snow, it’s the ice. It started with freezing rain and we got power lines going down. The electric’s been off here for an hour.”

“Yeah? Well. Okay. Give me a few minutes to eat and shave. I’ll be there.”

“Take it easy on the roads. Don’t know what you’ll run into.”


He replaced the receiver in the cradle and paced back through the bedroom straight into the bathroom. Standing in front of the toilet bowl, he could feel a cold draft drifting up against his naked calves. He washed his hands and threw some water on his face, then stepped back into the bedroom. The dull ache in his shoulder was growing stronger, and he reached up and rubbed the puckered shrapnel scars. Damn, he hated cold air!

* * *

Stepping down off the back porch, his overshoes crunching the icy crust, he was surprised but undeterred by the world that met him. The chill, bright, white silence. The layer of snow like granulated salt topping the ice-glazed landscape. Spirea bushes bowing to the ground. Limbs drooping leadenly from all the trees, some broken and dangling, some lying below. The rays of sunlight keen off the crystals like a laser.

He took a few steps toward the garage. The cold air stung his nostrils. The snow was no more than an inch deep, but the walk beneath was solid ice. Luckily he’d pulled the car in last night.

The old Chevy Bel Air started with no trouble, and he cautiously backed it out into the alley and pulled ahead toward the street, the rear wheels spinning at the slightest overacceleration. As he swung onto Twelfth Street, the car spun out and slid across the lanes, the tires nudging the opposite curb. He muttered to himself, righted the vehicle and edged on ahead. All along the way, the scene was the same—limbs lying broken, overhead lines drooping precariously. At least, he mused, the traffic was sparse.

When he reached the highway heading north, he was relieved to see that it had been plowed. But the glassy ice patches on the blacktop still looked treacherous. He held his speed down to 20 miles per hour. When he came to the steel bridge across the river, he slowed a little and nearly coasted across. It looked as though it had been dipped in clear, shining syrup and dried hard.

He remembered driving this highway every day last summer when the heat had baked the foliage brown and dust-coated the weeds in the ditches. Driving on the way to the nursing home where, standing in the small room by the air conditioner, the cold air freezing the metal in his shoulder, he would look into his mother’s face, hoping to see some remnant there of recognition. Some momentary retrieval of the linkage to “son.” But the quiet process of the malignancy had kept doing its work, honey-combing her memory, appropriating every last familial connection. Until, near the end, in one last mocking gesture, it would leave her a babbling infant, holding out her arms to the white-uniformed aide and crying, “Mama!”

He looked in the rear-view mirror and saw a red pickup truck coming up rapidly. It caught up to him as he reached the first of the rolling hills, then began to tailgate him impatiently.

He slowed further as he approached the next crossroad and signaled right, edging over to allow the truck to pass. It sped by with a roar, fishtailing as it steered back into the right lane, and vanished over the next hill. On these roads he wouldn’t chance that speed on a bet—and in a pickup yet! As he passed the crossroad, he looked both ways and saw the telephone line running beside it had snapped. The snow on the roadway was still unbroken.

He held his speed steady and topped the next rise and there down below was the red pickup, slid rear end first down into the steep ditch. The driver’s door was open and a man in a jean jacket and Levi’s was climbing out. It didn’t appear anyone was hurt. He contemplated the mishap as he drew even with the truck. A heifer in distress, he told himself, should take priority over a damn fool any day. He continued on up the next rise.

* * *

Turning into the barnyard, he spotted his father standing by the corner of the cow shed. He pulled the car up beside the corral, shut off the engine and got out. The black and white heifer stood in the middle of the lot, equidistant from the shed and the perimeter fence, watching the two men suspiciously. Clouds of condensation rose from her nostrils; a single small hoof protruded from beneath her tail.

“Looks like nothing’s changed,” he commented to his father as he walked in and shut the gate.

“We’re gonna have to try an’ rope her, then see what we can do.”

His father lifted the lariat off the fence post and opened out the noose. They began ambling toward the heifer, the frozen crust on the mud cracking and breaking with every step. The heifer tossed her head back and bolted for the opposite fence.

The two men followed, spreading apart, moving methodically. Trying as best they could not to spook her further. The old man held the rope, loop at the ready. “Here bossy. Here bossy,” he coaxed gently. The heifer started and ran down the fence line past them, back toward the shed. They hurried across the snow after her, angling for the far corner.

She ran into the corner by the gate, then spun around to face them. Eyes wide with panic. They caught up and stopped a few yards away. The heifer lowered her head.

“Move up on her slow,” the old man said. “I’ll try to rope’er when she comes out.”

“I think she’s gonna charge.”

“Naw. Move up slow.”

He began moving ahead in a semi-crouch, arms out. The heifer charged. He turned sideways to avoid the blow. Her shoulder caught his chest as she passed. His feet slipped out from under him, and he went down hard in the snow. Lifting himself on one elbow, he saw that his father had dropped the loop over her head, but the force of her motion had jerked the rope from his hands. Now the heifer was running away toward the other end of the corral trailing the lariat in the snow.

He got to his feet. His father was starting to chase after the rope. “Dad! Wait a minute,” he shouted. “The last damn thing you need is a busted hip or a heart attack. Let me.”

The heifer spun around when she reached the far corner, then darted down the fence line past the water tank. As his father tried to follow behind her, he struck out running at an angle he hoped might head her off into the shed.

She followed the fence line out from the corner and broke across in front of the shed. Then turned, just beyond the middle support pole, and retraced her path. He plunged forward and grabbed the trailing rope and got it half-wrapped around the pole before it jerked tight. He dug in his heels against the pull and held it until his father drove her back. She ran into the shed, and he quickly took up the slack and wound it onto the pole. When she ran out on the other side of the support, they had her fast.

More pulling and shoving and maneuvering got her head near the pole, and they tied her there securely. His father brought a second lariat from inside the shed, and, standing one on each side, they began lacing it around the heifer’s midsection and back to her hips. That done, together they pulled on the end, drawing it tighter and tighter against her flanks until the paralyzing squeeze collapsed her legs. And she went down on her side.

“Now, let’s see what we got,” his father said, moving around and squatting by her rear. “Well, judging from the foot, at least it ain’t breech.”

They tied the loose end of the second rope to the small foot, hunkered down in the snow with their feet against the heifer’s rump and began to pull. A sharp pain stabbed down his arm and he caught his breath.

“That shoulder?” his father asked.

“It’s okay.”

After several minutes of effort had yielded few results, his father stood up and dropped the rope. “What we need is a come-along,” he said. “Maybe that old wire-stretcher with the pulleys will work. Get that and the tractor an’ bring’em over.”

He walked over to the shop, fit the drawbar on the tractor, hung the wire-stretcher on the lift lever, and drove the tractor over to the corral. He backed it up behind the heifer, and they rigged the wire-stretcher to the drawbar and the calf. Then his father began to crank the tension. Gradually the calf’s leg extended further. Then a second foot appeared.

“Now we’re gettin’ somewhere,” his father declared.

They transferred the wire-stretcher to the other foot and pulled that leg out. A nose appeared. Next they tied the wire-stretcher to both legs and applied more tension. The heifer had relaxed and was intermittently straining on her own. “If we can just get the head out, we’re halfway home,” his father said. They cranked once more and suddenly the line on the pulleys snapped and the wire-stretcher collapsed in the snow.

“Damn that rotted line,” he said. “And we were getting close.”

“Yeah,” his father replied. “But you smell that stench? That calf’s dead. And been that way awhile.”

“Probably swelling up. Maybe that’s the problem.”

“Well, we’re down to savin’ the heifer now. Gotta make room for that head.”

“How we gonna do that?”

“I saw a vet do this once. I’m gonna try cuttin’ one leg off the calf to give clearance.”

His father took out his pocketknife and opened up a blade. Then he knelt down and worked his fingers into the birth canal, feeling for the shoulder. And with his other hand he inserted the blade and began slicing.

Squatting beside his father, the odor of death in his nose, he studied the old man’s motions. “Don’t cut her,” he cautioned. “And watch your fingers.”

After a few minutes, the leg pulled away, and he took it from his father and placed it to the side.

“Now,” his father said. “I think she’s dilated good enough. We’re gonna have to try an’ use the tractor. You start it up. Go real easy on the clutch. I’ll work down here. We don’t want to tear her rear end out.”

They looped the rope over the drawbar and tied the end to the foot. Then he started the tractor, shifted into low gear and gently eased ahead. The rope went taut. The heifer moaned. “Easy on that clutch!” his father warned. She slid a little in the snow, and his father checked the rope around her neck. “Easy,” his father called out. He edged further ahead. Suddenly the calf’s head emerged, and the shoulders followed and the body, wet and mucus-slippery, slid smoothly from the canal out onto the snow. And there the small, black, lifeless form lay steaming against the white earth.

He shut off the tractor and got down and walked back to where his father stood. “Well, we saved the heifer at least,” he said.

His father took out his red bandanna and wiped his hands. Then he stepped around and loosened the rope from the pole. All at once the heifer shuddered and strained again and began to expel a watery, bloody, fleshy, membranous mass. As they watched, it kept coming, spewing out, almost as large as the calf had been.

“Oh, no!” his father exclaimed.

“What the . . . ? That’s more than afterbirth!”

“The stress was too much. She’s expelled her uterus!”

“Her uterus! Son-of-a-bitch! Now what?”

“We’ll have to put her down.”

“We can’t shove it back in?”

“Naw. She’d get infected. There’s nothin’ more to do.”

He looked at his father and then down at the pool of flesh and at the heifer gasping for air. So, she must have known all along, before they had, what the outcome would be. That she carried the seed of death wrapped in her belly, and no matter how fast and far she ran, there’d be no escape. Still, she fought it to the end.

His father walked to the shop and got the sledge hammer and walked back. He stood, feet apart, by the heifer’s head. “Sorry, bossy,” he said, “we done what we could.” And he raised the sledge hammer high in the air and brought it down hard between her eyes. She jerked and trembled and her tongue flopped out the side of her mouth. A tricklet of blood traced down the white hair of her nose and dropped onto the snow. And she lay still.

* * *

“The dead wagon ain’t gonna come out in this weather,” his father said. “An’ we sure can’t bury her. Guess we might as well drag’er up on the pasture hill and leave’er to the coyotes.”

“That’s the best we can do,” he agreed.

They unwound the ropes and wrapped a log chain around her hind legs and fastened that to the clevis on the drawbar. His father spread a burlap sack across the tractor hood, and they heaved the stillborn calf up onto that and headed out.

Standing on the drawbar behind his father, holding onto the fender, he looked back at the thin trail of blood in the snow. They drove past the feedlot, where the other cows peered out curiously, down the slope and over the creek crossing and back up by the edge of the ice-coated woods. Birthing a calf, he thought to himself, should be a simple thing. Like a new moon or the opening of a flower. But there were times when in a godless universe nature got crosswise with itself. When the intentions of the process all became tangled, and the only way for it to right itself again, to get going straight, was for something to die.

He’d known that was so since that morning years before when he’d parted the vines with the barrel of his M-16 and discovered the dead Viet Cong. Ants were crawling all over the tattered black cloth; the exposed bone was bleached white as polished rice. The back of his head had been blown away, the empty eye sockets staring skyward. And a sprig of green vegetation had taken root, sprouting up out of the gaping mouth toward the sun. Growing as if from a planter.

Nature didn’t entertain pleas. Nature didn’t bargain or compromise. Nature simply took what it needed for the process and moved on. For a long time, he’d known that was so. Yet he still felt a stab of resentment deep in his gut each time he saw it happen again.

When they’d abandoned the carcasses at the crown of the hill and started back down, his father turned half-around and called over his shoulder: “Ya know, it may be awhile before we get the electric back. Maybe you could help me move the old stove in from the woodshed. I can cook off of that if I have to.”

“Yeah. No problem.”

It wasn’t quite noon yet. He had only four student papers left to grade before class. There was still time.

The sun was intense and directly overhead now. They parked the tractor in the shop and walked up the lane toward the house. The ice on the trees had begun to melt and break loose. Crystalline shards were falling beneath the trees like hail, and the snow in the lane was beginning to turn to slush.


THE SNOW FIELD  was initially published in a different version in Swill magazine. 



Mark Scheel was born and raised on a farm in rural, east-central Kansas. After graduating from the University of Kansas in 1967, and spending a period "on the road," he served overseas with the American National Red Cross in Vietnam, Thailand, Germany and England. He later took graduate studies and taught at Emporia State University. More recently he was an information specialist with the Johnson County Library in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. He now writes full time and has served as a volunteer on the editorial staff of Kansas City Voices magazine. His stories, articles and poems have appeared in numerous magazines such as Kansas Quarterly, The Midwest Quarterly, Cincinnati Poetry Review and The Kansas City Star, and he is coauthor of the book OF YOUTH AND THE RIVER: THE MISSISSIPPI ADVENTURE OF RAYMOND KURTZ, SR. His most recent book, A BACKWARD VIEW: STORIES AND POEMS, won the J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award from the Kansas Authors Club. He is presently a member of the Kansas Authors Club, National Writers Union and The Writers Place as well as a charter member and officer in 5th Street Irregulars writers group and a former member of the Board of Directors of Whispering Prairie Press, 2005-2006 as well as Library Liaison and member Board of Directors of Potpourri Publications Co., 1991-1995. His bio appears in the Directory of American Poets & Fiction Writers; International Authors and Writers Who’s Who; Two Thousand Notable American Men; Who’s Who in America; Who’s Who in the World and Who’s Who in U.S. Writers, Editors & Poets. He has conducted numerous readings, media appearances and book signings, 1988-present. Selections from his writings appear on and as well as other Internet sites. 
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by Kenneth Harper Finton ©2014

Across the street in the cool of dusk it came, absorbed in the dirty air with the fumes from the refinery, the exhaust vapors and the laundry lint. A song in the twilight, a gentle ballad of people forgotten except in song – sung with the grace and feeling of a girl who has known life and the odious emotions of men.

Harry Johnson sat at the table sipping his coffee as the song slipped through the open window to his ears. He called to his wife with the voice of a bear, but entwined with the song it was the voice of a lamb. He didn’t notice the coffee stained table and the barren floor, the curtainless window and the peeling paint. He listened to the song, each painful note slapping his ears, the melancholy words playing on his upper lip.

His wife Marge was a big-hipped woman and the floorboards creaked as she entered the kitchen. “What now?” she asked.

Harry Johnson looked at his wife – her hair, once wind-swept lovely – was done up in a twisted knot, her face, once painted up with care, ashy and melted.

“That song.” he said. “Where does that song come from?” he asked, pointing to the window.

“How should I know? Am I supposed to he a mind reader or something?”

“It sounds like it comes from across the street,” Harry said.

“Might be. I heard we were getting new neighbors. It’s about time, too. It hasn’t been rented since the Talberts moved out.”

“Listen to the song,” he said. She listened with a wrinkle in her brow as the song blew in the window window with the sounds of passing cars, listened until it stopped and the sounds of the street were the only sounds.

“She’s got a good voice,” Harry said.

“She must be young,” his wife said. “No more than fifteen, l’d say.”

“It sure carries,” Harry said. “All the way over here from across to street and it sounded like she might have been sitting here at our own table.”

“You could have bought that house, you know,” Marge said. “How would you like to be raised up in this place like Carolyn? How would you like it if you didn’t have a yard or trees or a house where you could stretch out and live? You could have given us something decent to live in for once. You could have bought that house, Harry.”

Harry’s face reflected thoughts and longings that ran deeper than his mind. “I know,” he said in a husky voice.

The cool of the evening was streaming in the window. “It’s probably the night that makes her voice carry,” Marge said, sensing Harry’s feelings. “Voices carry along towards night.”

“That must be it,” Harry said.

But now the song is gone and Harry notices the coffee-stained table and the drabness of the room. He was glad that it was Friday.

“Tonight’s bowling night,” he said. “Where’s my ball?”

“In the closet.”

Harry knew that the ball was in the closet. He always know where it was, yet every Friday evening be would ask, “Where’s my ball, for that was the way he asked if he could go bowling; and every Friday evening Marge would say, “In the closet,” for that was the way she would tell him he could go.

He went to the closet and picked up the brown canvas bag that felt heavy and worn in his big hands. He slipped on his jacket, for the night air would be cool. After he was gone he looked back at his apartment from the shadowed street, then looked over at the house across the street – the house he should have bought. It felt good to be away from the apartment.

Harry Johnson saw his three friends waiting for him at the intersection. There was no use catching a bus for is was only seven blocks to the bowling lanes and it certainly was a fine night.

He was glad to get away, glad to leave the apartment. He had always felt like a prisoner there with the dingy rooms and the burdensome voices and the evening when there was no peace. He would have bought the house across the street, but the neighborhood was becoming shabby and Harry was afraid he would lose if he invested.

“Hello, Harry.”

“We’ve been waiting.”

“Hello, Art, Dick. Joe.”

They walked down the street toward the lanes. Art Richard was a tall man, half a cracker thin. He held his hands against his sharp and jutting chin. “Hear the news?” he asked.

“What news?”

“About the new neighbors.”

“Across the street?” Harry asked.

“Oh, you know then.”

“Know what?”

“They’re niggers.”

Harry looked hard at the tall man with the sharp chin and a mouth that spoke lies. “That’s nothin’   to joke about,” he said.

Their strides quickened as though they wanted to leave a place where dirt and scum flowed into the gutter. “Moved in today,” Dick Marcus said. “A whole family of them.The nigger’s got a wife and two kids.”

“It can’t be,” Harry said.

“The whole neighborhood will go next.” Art Richards said, “I saw it happen over on 42nd Street. One nigger moved in and the rest started to come. It won’t be safe to step outside if we let them stay.”

“That’s a fact,” Dick Marcus said.

“We can’t let them get away with it. We gotta drive them out.”

“The way I look at it, we don’t have any choice,” Dick Marcus said. “We have our families to protect. Don’t you think so, Harry?”

Harry was thinking of a little Negro girl with a dark face, a song floating from clipped white teeth into the dark of night. “Sure,” he said. “Sure. It’s the only way.”

None of the men bowled well that night. There were plans to make and wrongs to right. As the balls spun down the alleys and the pins clattered and the beer foamed in their throats, they talked.

After the match they stopped at the bar. Their voices stilled and they were silent. The bartender’s bald head glistened with as he asked them what was wrong. Still, they were silent.

Then they walked down the street. The night air was getting cooler. Art Richards pulled the zipper on his jacket clear up to his pointed chin, but the chill stayed in his spine. The city was enveloped with a hush that could only be surpassed by the silence that hung over a little town called Bethlehem, so far away and so many centuries ago. With the silence came a fear that that sliced the night.

Harry Johnson felt the fear, felt it crawling is his spine, felt it twisting is his stomach, felt its  macerations in his knees.

“Isn’t anyone going to do it?” he yelled. “Here, should I throw the first stone?”

He picked up a stone from the deep, silt-filled gutter and hurled it with all his might. The crash of breaking glass slapped his ears. He dropped his arms and his mouth hung open wide. Suddenly, everyone was throwing rocks and stones end shouting curses, yet the house stayed dark and quiet. The air was heavy with an oppressive blackness.

After it as all over, Harry Johnson stood at his kitchen window in his underwear looking out across the street at to house that he should have bought. He saw the yawning blackness and the broken panes, noticed that there was one window still unbroken, one window reflecting the twisting flames of the burning cross.


Tomorrow morning came as tomorrow mornings have a habit of doing. The untried light from the liquid sun found four men standing at a bus stop, waiting. Thee refinery was to run overtime today. The four men men were happy to make some extra money for themselves and their families.

Art Richards whispered – for he didn’t want the world to hear, “We sure got them last night, didn’t we?”

No one said a word.

“They had it comin’. Just wait ’til tonight if they’re still there.”

“I don’t know if I want to do it again,”Joe Gantner said.

“For Chrissake,” Harry said. “You don’t want your kids to grow up with a nigger for a neighbor, do you?”

The words came out of Harry’s mouth, but he did not know why.

“No, but still…”

“Still hell,” Art Richards said. “We’ve got to get rid of them, that’s all.”

The bus came out of the morning and the four men went to work.

That evening after the factories closed and the men poured out like ants from their threatened castle. Harry Johnson sat over his supper of meat and potatoes, but he only picked at his food.

“Did you hear what happened to our new neighbors, Daddy?” Carolyn Johnson asked.

“Yes, I heard.”

“It serves them right,” Carolyn said. “Imagine the gall of them moving into an all white neighborhood. They have a daughter my age, too. How creepy!”

“That’s enough,” Harry snapped. “I don’t want to hear any more about it.”

He looked up at his wife’s face and saw the smirk on her lips. She knew.

After the last cup of coffee had been downed, after the dishes had been cleaned away to the sink and Harry Johnson was left alone with the falling sun, the song began. It was the same song, but ever so more haunting than before, scratching on the window, begging to penetrate the walls and bound into the heart.

He got up from the table and went to the window. Nothing seemed important except the song, for the song was life and life was important. But after the song ended, Harry felt the emptiness that he had felt before, for the song had lifted him to places he had never been before.

He went into the bedroom and took off his dirty work clothes and threw them on the bed on top of the sheets that looked like dirty handkerchiefs. He tried not to think.

“Going out?” his wife asked, as he walked toward the door.

Harry shook his head.

“Do you want your bowling hall?” 

“No, I don’t want my bowling ball.

He opened the door, but behind him were words: “Harry?” He turned around. “Harry, be careful.” The look in her eye said ‘be careful’ and the sound of his heels on the steps rang out in his mind like a solemn chorus whispering the words ‘be careful’.

Dick Marcus was already at the bar. They sat at a little table in a darkened corner and nobody saw them. In an hour there were six of them. They were Art’s friends. Harry didn’t care to know them.

He sat fingering his drink, but finally drank it. It felt good and warm in a hollow stomach. He had another and another, then another until he was dizzy and weak and nothing mattered anymore – not the blacks across the street, not the apartment, not his wife or daughter of the house across the street.


It was nearly midnight when they walked back, the six of them. They thought they were an army. Six thousand strong they might have been and they could not have felt stronger of more fearless. They walked down the street on this Saturday night with Sunday morning a haze in a crystal ball. They walked under the stars that were blinking in the sky, under the moon that was an ocean moon like the ones that Harry had known and loved on a battleship is the South Pacific so may centuries ago.

Then they were is front of the house with the shattered glass. “Hey, you in there. Hey, niggers,” Art yelled, the liquor warm in his stomach. “Hey, you goddamned black-eyed son-of-a-bitch. We’re gonna get you. We’ll come back ’til you’re gone! You hear that niggers. Until you’re gone. Every goddamn night ’til you’re gone. We’re gonna get you, niggers.”

“Get their car,” yelled one of Art’s friends. “Get these black sons-a-bitches.”

The little army ran to the old, shabby car. One of Art’s friends drew a hammer and the glass was smashed. The tires were cut end the six were able to turn it on its side so that it lay dead with its tires spinning.

Somone had phoned the police and they heard the sirens cutting into their backs as the big black man and his daughter came running from the house.

“Get away,” the man yelled. “Get away from my car. Get away from my house.”

“You black-eyed son-of-a-bitch,” yelled one of Art’s friends. “You black scum of the street, we’ll show you.” Four of them grabbed the big man and left him bleeding on the walk.

“Get away from Poppa,” yelled the girl, pulling on Art. “Get away!”

A fist to the face sent her reeling on the walk, her night dress was up to her waist.

“Get her.” screamed the night. “Take her away,” but no one could tell who was doing the yelling. Harry saw two of them pick up to girl and run down the street under the street light and into to dark. “Run, you fools. Can’t you hear the cops?”

They ran into to alley and up to block. The sirens stopped, but the red lights flashed and shone orange upon to house across the street.


Harry awoke to to rattling of coffee in the percolator and to pungent odor of frying bacon. He could hear the floorboards creak as his wife walked over to to bed. “Harry?”

“Yeah, I’m awake.”

“Get up. You’ll be late for church.”


“Get up. It’s Sunday morning.”

He opened his ayes and looked into the face of his wife, the ashen face with wrinkles he had never seen before.

“I don’t want to go to church,” Harry said and closed his eyes. He could feel her staring at him and he opened them again.

“The girl, Harry. What about the girl?” There were tears in his wife’s eyes.

“What about her?”

“What did they do to her?”

“Oh, hell, I don’t know. There were these two friends of Art’s. 1 don’t know.”

“They raped her, didn’t they, Harry?” she said. Her voice was coarse and cracked.

“I don’t know.”

“I’ll bet they didn’t stop there, Harry.”

“I don’t know.” He saw the tears stream down her cheeks and reached up to brush then away with the back of his hand. “Do you really think I ought to go?”


“To church.”

“Sure,” she said. “Oh God, yes. Oh, Harry…”

Harry stood at the window and looked down upon the street before he put on his woolen suit and the snap-on bow tie. He saw the broken glass and the blood on the walk, the peeling paint and the broken shrubs.

He thought of a song, a song in the dusk and the voice of a maiden ringing out like a bell in the twilight – a voice that made him forget. He looked around the room that was more dismal than it. had ever been before and he knew that he would never forget again.

Not ever.