photo of woman

Jezebel

by Jessica Hulsey

 

I look him directly in the eyes so
he thinks
I’m telling the truth.
He is everything and he is the world.
He is mine.
I am his.
I let him believe every word.
I’m a succubus who hunts
and devours the hearts of men.
I spare no one.

 

I know it is abominable as
I tell him of
my love,
of my heartache,
and then I make him feel it too.
He is mine.
I am his.
I’m a demon who hunts
and steals the souls of men.
I spare no one.

 

I let my lies captivate him and
fill him
with a false sense of passion.
I feel nothing as I turn him into
another secret
another victim
another broken man.
He is mine.
I am a vampire who hunts
and drinks the blood of men.
I spare no one.


In-Patient

by Jessica Hulsey

 

All I remember from the first twelve hours is

Crying

and bright white lights.
The fluorescent kinds that burn into your pupils
and make your brain feel like it is bleeding
and gnawing away at your skull.
All I could hear were my own screams
wanting desperately to be

Out

but longing to be saved.

Doctors asking questions but not

Listening

to the answers.
White coats
forcing me to disappear into myself,
a place I’m just as frightened to be.
Hollow and wasted,
they showed me my room.

Alone,

I showered among
white walls,
white floors
and those damn fluorescent lights.
I saw a girl in the mirror
with empty eyes.

Scared.

Cleaned of old makeup and tears
but not of my own

Shame,

I am brought through
white hallways
into a
white room
where I am met with a dozen

Stares.

Eyes devoid in a place
that terrifies me
and invites me into its arms.

Faces I’ll always remember
and never see again.
Names that escape my mind
to this day,
but faces that coaxed

Me,

cared for me,
saved me from being dragged

Down

into the darkness of my addiction.

They lived in a
white fortress
that grasped my fears
and made them tangible.
There was a palpable

Darkness

in me that had to be boiled
out of my core
so I could fill our eyes with

Light.

White walls
filled with trepidation
that I must conquer
before I could escape.


Smoke and Lemonade

by AJ Tierney

 

My grandma and I planned to run away together. We were going to live in a little yellow house, rock back and forth on the front porch in big, white rocking chairs while we sipped lemonade. Grandma wanted to escape Grandpa, and I wanted to escape my mom. After my parents divorced, my mom needed help raising four kids, so Grandma came to live with us. Grandma wasn’t in the best of health so as the oldest girl I got to sleep with her in case she needed anything. This arrangement meant I got to stay up late and watch Cheers and Night Court while Grandma curled my hair.

I smuggled in cartons of Kool 100s and Hostess Sno Balls in brown paper sacks, charged on her account at the pharmacy. After school, we’d play board games and cards. I’d tell her about school and the boys I liked who didn’t like me back. She had few words about boys, “There’s no shortage of ‘em.”

I’d tell her how I was afraid to tell my mom I didn’t want to do pageants or play piano anymore. I wanted to play kickball and read books.

It was during these sessions of playing games, her chomping away on sweets and blowing menthol smoke into the air, that we hatched our plan for a yellow house, rocking chairs, and lemonade. Every time my mom would yell at me or spank me, I held my tongue knowing that soon I would be far away with Grandma in our little yellow house, forever out of my mother’s reach.

But three years later, Grandma’s cough got worse. Doctor’s visits became regular occurrences. She came home with bruises in the crook of her arm and talk of treatment options.

The doctors said, “Radiation. That’s the way to go.”

The day before her first treatment in early April, the doctor drew three purple X’s down the middle of her chest; the places they would beam a magical light into my grandma and cure her. Within days, she was unable to eat. Her esophagus had been burned by the radiation.

The next couple of months, it seemed Grandma got worse by the day. They brought in a special bed for her covered in buttons and buzzers. Two, tiny plastic tubes rested in her nose delivering oxygen. I’d sit with her, but she couldn’t play board games or cards. She’d ask me for Sno Balls and cigarettes even though she could barely raise her arm.

On the 4th of July, Grandpa decided to move Grandma back home to their house. I wasn’t allowed to see her every day. My mom and Grandpa said it was for the best. Each time I visited she was asleep or staring out the window. She was thinner and by the end of August she was never awake, and her skin had turned completely yellow. Only my mom and grandpa were with her when she died.

My mom came home and said, “Grandma’s gone.” Then burst into tears and ran to her room.

I didn’t have any tears, only anger. If Grandma was really gone, then we weren’t going to get our yellow house, or rocking chairs, or lemonade. She left me to fend for myself against my mother.

The doctors said it was lung cancer caused by smoking. I ran to our old bedroom and rummaged through her purse looking for her cigarettes. If she was going to leave me, then I was going to smoke all of her cigarettes and follow her. I stuffed the pack and a book of matches in my pockets and ran outside. I grabbed my scooter and rode away from the house as fast as I could. At the corner, I stopped, looked back at the house and tried striking my first match. Grandma had made it look so easy. After a half dozen tries I got one lit and held it at the end of the cigarette and puffed, and puffed, and puffed until I felt myself about to vomit. Then my mother’s voice screeched through the neighborhood, “Adri-ANNE! Adri-ANNE!”

I threw the cigarette down and hurried home.

Days after the funeral, I’d sit in our old room, curled up in her recliner and hear her house shoes scuff across the hardwood floors for a few seconds then they’d be gone. On the third night, the scuffing started again, but I also smelled her menthol smoke. I saw the orange glow from the tip of her cigarette floating above my head. The glow moved away from me, and I followed it down the hallway and into the kitchen. As I stood in the doorway, I watched it brighten and dim. I wanted to turn on the light and see my grandma sitting on her bar stool at the end of the counter, waiting for me to set up one of our games. Instead, I lay down on the kitchen floor, face pressed against the cool tile, breathing in the faint smell of cigarette smoke, and prayed for the sun to never come up again.

 

 

 


The Destrier’s song

by Sara Whinnery

 

‘Twas on a blue-skied cloudless morn

My good master, his sword in hand

Showed all his mettle to his band;

Easily was his armor borne,

Eager the heart that faith had sworn.

All peers, all men, in all the land,

Would count their lives as grains of sand,

When sounded him the battle-horn.

 

The morning had to noon-tide worn,

Our enemies all fled, unmanned,

But our great captain’s life fast waned,

And soon he lay there, dead, forlorn.

The air with hymns of   woe was torn,

As they bore him to the bright sea-strand,

From whence he sailed to Avalon.

 

Envoi

Though stabled here I eat my corn,

‘Tis glad I am that I was born;

Though little aid I gave my land,

I bore my king at his last stand.


Owl on the Side of the Road

by Pamela Chew

 

It is nearly noon and the sky is clear.

Like a vampire,

You are not to be out in the daylight

So I suspect the worst.

I wish that you were just sleeping

But your perfectly round head is facing me

As I drive toward the horizon.

Patterned feathers do not scatter

But defiantly remain attached

To your lifeless body on the roadside.

Your right wing and the delicate down underneath it

Rise up and gently float like a gauze veil toward your breast

With each passing vehicle.

It appears as if someone softly blows air from behind you.

Each illusory breath seems to fill your chest only to have it fall again.

Over and over,

As steady as the winter traffic

On this country two-lane.


Snowflake Kisses

by Brooke Passmore

 

A year ago, Jay Lewis moved back to Oklahoma to be closer to his wife, who had left him. But as far as he was concerned, he was still married.

Jay suddenly awoke one morning in bed. His stomach tickled with excited flutters that he couldn’t explain. Still in a twilight state of mind, he licked his mouth, tasting an icy liquid on his lips. When she still lived with him, Sarah told Jay all the time that he drooled when he slept. But this didn’t feel anything like drool. This was something else. It almost felt like he had been kissed by a snowflake.

He wiped the strange residue from his mouth and stretched out in bed, wondering what he would fix himself for breakfast. The thought of bacon and coffee made him forget about the strange way he woke up this morning.

Even though his room didn’t have any lights on, its walls were brightened up by the white shine from the snow’s reflection outside. Jay yawned, looking out the windows at the icicles dangling off the rain gutters. He sat up and lowered his feet to the floor, but he jerked his feet off the carpet when the tips of his toes brushed the floor’s surface. It was all wet.

“Dang it, Bandit!” Jay automatically assumed his dog had peed on the floor. “Bandit, get in here!” He pictured his cute little white dog slowly creeping into the bedroom with his back hunched and his ears sagging low—his classic tell for when he pooped or peed in the house—but Bandit didn’t show up. “Bandit. Come here. Bandit?” His dog always came when Jay called for him. This time he didn’t.

Jay got out of bed and walked over to the mirror to wince at his morning portrait. His bed hair spiked out in so many wacky directions, making him look like a bizarre anime character. As he combed out the mess with his fingers, he froze. His mind was struck with a sharp thought. Jay had forgotten something today. He had no idea what, but it was something important.

Opening and slamming drawers, he tried to find something in his room that could trigger his memory. The idea that he was forgetting something kept nipping at his brain. He closed his eyes and stood still in the middle of the room to think. Nothing was coming to mind. An aching, knotted up feeling burrowed in his gut. Even though he couldn’t put a thumb on what it was, he knew it was something that he shouldn’t have dared forgotten.

When Jay opened his eyes, he noticed a trail of small pools of liquid leading out toward the hallway. They were the same size as the puddle by his bed. “Bandit!” he yelled. “You pissed all over the house!” With another call of his name, Bandit still hadn’t made an appearance.

Jay grabbed a dirty towel that was hanging off the side of his hamper, so he could clean up all the pee. He lowered down to the carpet and, before using the towel to soak everything up, Jay studied the watery pools a bit more. Nothing was yellow like what he thought it would have been. It was all a clear liquid that had soaked into the carpet of his bedroom. The puddles eventually led out onto the hardwood floors in the hall. The hardwood floor showed off their true shape. They looked like footprints.

Jay craned his neck out like a giraffe to see if these watery prints continued down the rest of the hallway. They did. He stood up and followed their course into the kitchen. His eyes soon left the floor when he felt cold air lash at his cheeks. His focus soared toward the back door of the house. It was wide open.

He gulped, firmly remembering that he locked that door last night. If someone robbed his house they either did a crappy or excellent job—nothing looked missing and nothing looked stolen. If Sarah still lived here she would already be clicking the safety off on her handgun that they had hidden underneath their bed. She was the strong and brave one. Now that she had left him, Jay didn’t have a gun in the house anymore. Now he wished he did.

The watery footprints trekked for the door, looking more icy and solidified the closer they were to the winter wonderland outside. Through the open door he saw the most unusual snowfall he had ever seen. The quarter-size flakes looked like hundreds of white fairies waltzing in the air, disappearing like puffs of white smoke as they crashed to the ground.

He looked over the tracks in the snow outside. The footprints he saw were not left by shoes or boots. They were left by bare feet. He could see the distinct curve of the heel and the individual toes indented in the snow. “What crazy person would walk in this snow with no shoes on?” he asked out loud.

The footprints aimed into the woods behind his yard. And there by the tree line, not making a sound and sitting perfectly still, was Bandit. His white dog looked behind his shoulder at Jay, showing off the large black patch of fur that covered his eyes, as if he were wearing a robber’s mask. He soon whimpered that sad sort of dog sound that could easily make any human feel weak.

Grabbing his coat on the couch and stuffing his feet into boots, Jay met up with Bandit by the start of the woods. He kneeled down to rub his head. “Are you okay, Bandit?”

Bandit innocently blinked a few times before slowly starting into the woods along the same path the footprints were going. Jay immediately followed.

The woods sounded eerily still as they followed this secret trail. The snow didn’t even crunch under his boots. They had come to a small embankment when it hit Jay where he was going. His heart panged, wondering if this all was some unnerving coincidence. He didn’t think so.

The trees opened up to a beautiful white field of snow with tombstones perfectly in line with each other. A confused and wonderful feeling came over Jay as he and Bandit started to run to the end of the footprints’ trail. “I know where the footprints are leading us, Bandit!” He then began to laugh, feeling as if he were a kid about to get his first kiss on a Ferris wheel.

His heart was pounding as he approached the last footprints in the snow. Bandit had gotten there first. There it was. The tombstone.

 

Sarah Lewis

A Beautiful Wife

A Beautiful Person

January 27, 1985 – May 14, 2012

 

The mystery was unlocked. Today was Sarah’s birthday. It got to be an inside joke between him and his wife about him forgetting her birthday. Jay kneeled down next to Bandit by the headstone. He touched his mouth, remembering the feeling of a snowflake on his lips when he woke up. “She kissed me last night…to remind me that it was her birthday.”

A year ago, Jay Lewis moved back to Oklahoma to be closer to his wife, who had left him. But as far as he was concerned, he was still married.

 

 

           

 

 


Pursuit

by Mason Powell

 

Magic is the poetry I write in my sleep and cannot remember

A thread of words and phrases—incoherent, ambient

Babbling in tongues, caressing the letters we are made of

We talk of Michelangelo as we come and go—forgetful

 

Walking down an uneven lane

Past the squatting houses

Smoke ascends the cold air

Yellow window light falls

Broken by shadows  

 

Perfection is the supposed frantic shape of nature, intricate

She dreamt in black and white and red

Not in the floral paradise you so often see under sleep

Haunted by her grandmother’s dead siblings—fallen twins from the woods

 

Her shadow raps her windowpane

I help thee descend

Barefoot we tread in the snow

Leaving behind no footprints

As dead as the ghosts we run from

 

God is what binds everything together

Filling in the spaces where you claimed there was nothing

You say that dreams are just a taste of death

God evades us as we rouse—extant in our visions

 

She recites Dante and

Clasps my hand tightly

We hide beneath the streets

Watching them float by

From our grate and gutter

 

Music is the language of dreams, which we cannot speak in wake

A resonate realm of lost languages we have bastardized

Yes child, Angels sing but Devils too

Their orchestras battling in symphony while we sleep

 

As the daybreaks

The phantoms dissolve

Vaporously absorbed

We creep back into our bedrooms

Rousing as the sun is cast inside


The Lost Art of Ironing

by Jane Gibson

In 1951, Santa brought my first ironing board. Standing twenty-four inches tall on folding red metal legs, the muslin-covered board was just my size. The red metal iron’s black cloth-covered cord coiled gracefully at its base. Forget the doll, forget the other presents. I plugged in my iron, held my breath, and touched tentative fingertips to the shiny flat surface. Not hot enough to burn tender flesh, but hot enough to smooth a wrinkled doll dress. I was ecstatic. For weeks, my new doll lay in naked abandon as I repeatedly washed, dried, and ironed her tiny garments.

My iron and board eventually migrated to the back of a closet and then disappeared, along with the lonely Old Maid card and the fruitcake tin of broken crayons.

Embedded in my mind’s ear was the thunk-gurgle-splat of a water-filled pop bottle with its aluminum-and-cork sprinkler, shaken over a garment. Mama would put two napkins or handkerchiefs on the kitchen counter, give a couple of shakes, and repeat, until she had a stack of damp cloth pancakes. I begged her to let me sprinkle, please, please.

The moist bundle was folded in half, rolled, and plunked into a laundry basket. Shirts, blouses, and pillowcases soon followed. Moisture wicked into the fabric, marinating the mass to uniform dampness.

The full basket huddled under a tea towel and squatted on top of the deep freeze until morning, when the ironing had to be done, lest the dreaded black dots of mildew appeared. Those would demand the entire load be rewashed, re-dried, and re-sprinkled.

Mama decided I could sprinkle and iron when I was about eleven. I began with napkins, handkerchiefs, and pillowcases. “Flatwork,” my grandmother called it. Ah, but it entailed more than the name implied.

Pillowcases were ironed, folded end-to-end twice, ironed, and folded again in thirds. Daddy’s handkerchiefs folded toward me twice, edges creased with a swath of the hot iron, folded right-to-left, creased, then folded once again. Violá. A dapper look for his pocket. Everyday napkins folded once forward and once to the side. Company dinner napkins—huge squares of damask—were folded and creased into five inches of shiny elegance.

By the time I mastered flatwork and ironed three napkins at a time, Daddy bought Mama an IronRite Mangle. The name alone made me shudder. Set into a metal table, the machine resembled the top half of an old-fashioned clothes wringer, only larger and electric. The heating element was protected by a guard. Mama sat at the mangle next to the freezer and fed flatwork between the heated padded rollers. I wasn’t allowed to use the machine; I might get my fingers caught.

Mama didn’t like the mangle result on shirts and blouses, and continued hand-ironing them, suggesting I learn to iron them as well.

Shirts and blouses elevated my ironing education. Inside yoke, wrong side of collar, right side of collar, sleeves, left front, back and yoke, right front—swing your partner, do-si-do! Mama decided I could handle the mangle, and I gave thanks she didn’t iron sheets and pajamas.

The early ‘60s brought Dacron and spray starch. The ironing load dropped to shirts and an occasional tailored blouse. Daddy hired an “ironing lady” to come every Tuesday and do the shirts that he and my brother needed for the week.

Steam irons eliminated the damp bushel on Mama’s freezer, but she still had a small roll of sprinkled napkins and handkerchiefs in a tea towel. The mangle disappeared while I was away at college.

Today, napkins and pillowcases are folded right out of the dryer. The damask napkins are pressed for holidays. I touch up collars and hang-wrinkles, and iron the occasional white blouse for myself.

We send my husband’s shirts to the cleaners for heavy starch. I taught both daughters to iron, leaving no excuse for not looking presentable. One recently mentioned she needed to get a new iron. The other said she didn’t have anything to wear unless she ironed something. So I guess the art isn’t completely lost. It’s just wandering around waiting to be used.

I looked up my little iron and board on eBay. I should have kept it.

It’s a collectible. I could sell it to pay the cleaners.

 

 

 

 

 


Compassionate Acres

by Sarah Wagner

 

How does time go missing? How does someone we love just vanish without a trace? Living, physical bodies don’t just dematerialize, even if those inhabiting them are internally absent.

It was a bittersweet summer morning the day we had to put Mother in a home. She was only 68, but she’d been diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia and the symptoms were progressing rapidly. One day she’d be normal and the next she would suffer an acute bout of disorientation and confusion, which could last for hours or days. Hallucinations often accompanied these episodes as did frequent falls and drooling. She slipped out unnoticed a few times and wandered the neighborhood, wearing only her nightgown and socks. Once, a Silver Alert was issued. Fortunately, she turned up less than a mile away, but we got a good scolding from the police. It finally got to be too much for my siblings and me and off she went, to Compassionate Acres Health & Rehabilitation Center. We all knew there would be no rehabilitation for Mother, but the center had a four star rating and advertised updated facilities that even included a spa and a beauty salon.

At first, Mother appeared to adjust well to her new living space. Nestled in the lush bosom of the Ozarks, just outside of Hot Springs, Compassionate Acres seemed to have it all. The shiny brochure displayed picturesque shots boasting 23 acres of well-maintained grounds. The mission statement promised a high level of security. There were swimming classes and weekly events that kept her body moving and her mind active. Perhaps we were deluding ourselves. Within seven months, she started having spells more frequently and they were increasing in duration. She accused the staff of trying to poison her. Some of her personal items vanished; her dentures, a ring. She was adamant they had been pilfered by some other inmate, the ‘help’ or maybe an extraterrestrial. She soon developed tremors and urinary incontinence. I visited twice a week, when I could, but this got harder as her memory further declined and she often failed to recognize me, the eldest son.

The personnel at the center kindly assured us that this was normal for someone in her condition. They made her as comfortable as they could and provided a stable routine. It was a gentle environment, the caregivers were well trained. It appeared that she was in a safe place.

But then, early this morning, Mother escaped. She simply walked away.

She disappeared sometime very early in the morning, but it was after 9:00 am when my cell phone rang. It was Compassionate Acres calling to deliver the news that she was missing.

“She’s what?!” I almost barked with consternation, “Missing?” I worked in a cubicle at an accounting firm and I could feel my coworkers watching me. I glanced up to see my boss staring at me quizzically from across the room. I fought to lower my voice as I hissed “But how, for how long?”

“We’re not sure, sir,” the administrator on the other end replied reluctantly, “We’ve been looking. Any ideas where she might be headed? Can you come down here?”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” I answered with resignation. I hung up as my boss arrived at my desk. “I have to leave, it’s my mother,” I mumbled apologetically as I turned off my computer and reached for my coat. “Just keep me informed,” she said sympathetically. It wasn’t the first time.

Usually I found the drive to Compassionate Acres relaxing. The scenic highway wound its way through the forest, a visually calming landscape. On this morning I found the heaviness of the woodlands oppressively bleak, despite the sporadic greenery of the shortleaf pines. It was almost officially autumn and the bleary grey of the skies seemed to amplify the naked branches of the scrub oaks; a stark and desolate vista. I couldn’t help ruminating about my childhood as I drove the hour trip to Hot Springs. Mother had always been difficult. She held a multitude of grudges -- against the neighbors, the president, and certainly, her children. She had driven away the one man who loved her and this, coupled with her incessant complaints of government conspiracy, had further alienated her immediate family. Sure, we had birthdays and vacations, but growing up with our mother hadn’t exactly been normal. She claimed that as a young girl she had been abducted by aliens. For Mother, this was the seminal point in her life. As she endlessly recounted this tale, her eyes would glow with the fevered evangelism of the true believer. I grew up in the shadow of this delusion. Sour and paranoid, she gradually isolated herself from humanity. Me? I loved her. She was my mother, but I simply couldn’t live with her anymore. Even visiting once or twice a week for an hour, was mentally exhausting.

It was mid-morning before I arrived at the ornately gilded outer gates of Compassionate Acres. I always felt guilty when I came here and I chastised myself as I buzzed in through security. It was my responsibility to take better care of Mother, but life was a difficult balance between home and a paycheck. Even though I made good money as a CPA, the monthly bills for her care were exorbitant. True, part of the reason I paid so much for the luxury of this place was to assuage my conscience for putting her here. I wish she could have stayed with me, but she was estranged from my wife for some past, unknown grievance and she terrified our two children. It wasn’t just her cronish appearance or her persistent forgetfulness; it was the chronic, disquieting tale of her close encounter. She might have forgotten our names, but she remembered that experience like it was yesterday. Dammit! I mused as I pulled my Camry into a parking spot in the front lot, next to an empty Mustang with ‘Police’ emblazoned on its side. How could this happen? What the hell are we paying Compassionate Acres for? Maybe she has been found and this is all a mistake. It all seemed like a bad dream.

The main entrance to the facility was brightly decorated for the coming holidays, in stark contrast to the mounting, black dread of uncertainty I was feeling as I entered. Where are the police? I wondered. The director met me in the lobby and steered me quickly into his office, shutting the door.

“Look,” he said contritely, “We’ll find her. She couldn’t have gotten far. We’ve checked the whole building. We’re still checking the grounds.”

“Have you notified the police?” I asked. “Has a Silver Alert been issued?” I tried to keep my tone optimistic, but I was really starting to worry. I fought the urge to go outside and call for her, but I doubted that she would recognize my voice or even remember her own name.

“A report has been filed, they’re reviewing the security tapes,” he glanced down at his notes. “At 6:39 this morning, she went out the side door by the chapel—“

“But, what about the security doors?” I interrupted, my pulse pounding in agitation.

“Unfortunately, the alarms were turned off, due to a three month routine maintenance check,” he continued smoothly, as if absolved of all blame.

“I was here for a visit barely a week ago—“

“19 days,” He interjected.

“Yes, 19 days,” I responded robotically. 19 days? That couldn’t be right. “She seemed the same,” I covered lamely, “she just kept pleading to go home, but that’s Little Rock, almost 60 miles away. Of course, she was babbling away about alien abduction, as always, but what’s changed since my visit?” I swallowed hard. 19 days? I couldn’t account for it. How does time just disappear? I felt a sharp twinge behind my left eye as if a migraine was coming on. The air was charged with a sharp odor I couldn’t define. I was beginning to feel dizzy with anxiety, but he didn’t seem to notice.

“I reviewed her chart,” he continued authoritatively, “She’s had some trouble sleeping and she’s been hoarding food from the dining room. With these cases, it’s hard to predict.”

“What’s next then?” I asked, feeling helpless and bewildered.

“The police, they’ll want to speak with you. This way,” he motioned me out into the hall, “they’re out back, by the pond.”

Our footsteps echoed eerily along the corridor as I followed the director to the side door that led to the back grounds. Mother had been in this same hallway, just hours earlier. I had a vivid sensation of déjà vu that coincided with a sudden metallic clicking in my ears. It stopped just as abruptly as we passed through the security doors, out onto the meticulously kept lawn. In the distance, I could hear people and dogs; the search and rescue team. The dreary gloom of the clouds and the chill wind mirrored my mood. How could Mother have simply disappeared? We hurried toward the throng of S & R volunteers. I was desperate to join in the search.

The highway patrolman in charge was an older guy, with the fatherly demeanor of a country doctor. “With these situations, we usually find them,” he said impassively, “but if it’s been over 24 hours, chances are 50% that they may be injured and most likely dehydrated. The fatality rate is 25%.” He paused to let this fact sink in. “It’s amazing how some endure the experience though,” he continued. “Hell, there was that fellow over in Bentonville last month. Survived for four days in the woods. Alone. When we found him he was buck-naked and eating bark,” he declared incredulously. “They sometimes try to elude us, ya’ know? Passive evasion. ‘Cause they know we’re authority figures, scares ‘em. There’s been cases where they never turn up, but not in Arkansas,” he nodded reassuringly. “We’ll find her.” My heart sank. She had been missing for over five hours.

By the time I joined the search team, it was well after noon and there was still no sign of Mother. The authorities had thoroughly checked the acreage and had expanded the search area into the forest, which bordered the property. As I trudged through the grass and shrubs of the woods, I thought about those 19 days. I usually saw Mother at least every weekend and I was certain that I had set out to visit within the last week. The thing was – I couldn’t remember ever arriving. It was corporate tax season at work, so I’d been under more stress than usual. In fact, I had been working at least 60 to 65 hours a week for the past month. Earlier this week, I had quarreled intensely with my wife. She suspected that I was having an affair because I wouldn’t account for my whereabouts over the past weekend. The terrifying reality was that I couldn’t explain where I’d been. I had laughed in reproach, to cover my fear, pointing out that I was a balding, middle-aged man with a paunch. Who was likely to have an affair with me? The entire argument was preposterous. She was the love of my life! I had simply been visiting my mother and had also put in extra hours at the office. But had I? 19 days…I struggled with my memory, but it was all the explanation that I could muster.

As I wrestled through the cedar and wild blackberry bushes, I suddenly realized that some time had passed and I no longer heard the sounds of the rest of the team. No voices, no dogs bellowing on the scent of a fresh trail, no shrill burst of a whistle to announce she’d been found. Had I become separated? Am I lost? I wondered? Except for my thrashing, it was unnervingly quiet. I pushed on through a thicket and found myself in a clearing. Not even a bird was twittering in the brush.

My nose was bleeding. Had I bumped it against a tree? The silence felt overwhelming, as if it were a force itself. Mother, where are you? I pulled out my phone to check my coordinates on the GPS. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, it showed that I was in Reykjavik and then seconds later, in Islamabad. But I’m in Arkansas! I wanted to shout. The metallic clicking in my ears had returned as had the sharp, undefinable odor I had noticed earlier. Nauseousness rolled over me in shivery waves, making my head spin. My clothing was damp with the cold fog that was coming down off the mountain. The temperature seemed to be dropping rapidly.

“Hello?” I called out, “Hello?” My voiced boomed across the silence of the glade.

And then, this roaring sound of color and ecstasy, pain and compression descended upon me, the weight and the brightness of a jillion tiny lights pressing me down. I screamed and screamed, squeezing my eyes tightly shut against this onslaught of beautiful terror. This did nothing to shield me from the images and memories that assaulted my senses. I flashed back to my childhood, to my mother before I could have known her and these images swirled across my eyelids in a barrage of strange and vibrant impressions.

I don’t know how long this lasted, seconds? Hours? It seemed like forever, but when I opened my eyes Mother was there. She cradled my head in her lap, wiping my tears and blood away on the hem of her nightgown with those strong, compassionate hands I knew from my childhood. Mother, my eyes said. Did you see that? My mind was in a state of rebellion.

“Yes, son,” she answered, as though reading my thoughts. Her grey eyes held mine for a long moment with an unwavering clarity I hadn’t seen in years. She knew me.

“But how?” I asked weakly as I sat up. The normal sounds of the forest washed in gently, birds chirped, the wind rattled the skeletons of the trees. In the distance I heard dogs barking, the sounds of men.

“Shush,” she answered sweetly, soothingly, as she reached for my trembling hands. “They’ll be coming soon.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Old Woman Four Rows Ahead

by Jenna Buschmann

 

We are the daughters of the Amazon

The sisters of Aphrodite and Athena

Warrior’s blood rushes through our veins

The breath of goddesses in our lungs

Our eyelashes hold constellations

Our bones contain galaxies

We are born of fire and sea

We are derived from ancient magic.

 

Yet I can see from here

How our skin crumbles to dust

An old woman rocking in her pew

Her lips moving back and forth

Shaky and silent with hollow eyes

She, the ancestor of the earth

Whittled away to scraps and slivers

A ghost wrapped in a milky white

Liver-spotted quivering sheet.

 

We are women full of stardust

We are females forged from iron

But time turns a blind eye to greatness

The clock’s cold hands touch all

Reducing titans to tinder and

Condensing gods to glue.