Loading...

“A Bird Before His Time,” by Phillip Sterling

Single Feather Sketch

When he arrived at the edge, it was nothing like anyone had predicted. The surface was ochre, sandstone-ish, worn to—as they say—“a dull sheen,” perhaps by eons of reluctant feet. Where the sheen leveled, a woman sat on one of two delicately scrolled iron chairs that flanked a small, round iron table. It was the type of furniture his mother had once called “ice cream” and repainted with Rustoleum in shades of Antique White.

The woman wore white as well. Chiffon, he’d have said, if he’d had any recollection of chiffon, which was before his time. She’d arrived before him, predictably. She was young and lovely, the grandmother he’d never met. She seemed to be waiting.

The sun behind him hung in the haze with the dull orange blur of a moth’s cocoon. Ahead of him, beyond the table (under which the woman’s shapely ankles crossed left over right), the sky appeared to be a soft gray hat—a felt hat, if he’d ever seen one—with a single white feather, reminiscent of a bird he could not recall the name of, a bird before his time. He took the seat opposite.

Have you brought the rain? she asked.

No, he said. I thought you were waiting for me.

For the rain, she said, her voice the sound of moisture.

I have brought no rain, he said. No rain is expected.

I have been waiting a long time, she said, without rain. I thought you would be rain.

I am not rain, he said. But I am tired from my journey, so I will rest and wait with you.

Thank you, she said, and turned to face the edge. His eyes followed, closed.

It is not what you expected, she said.

No, he would have said, it is not what I expected, but his voice made no sound, his mouth without wings.

About the Author:

Phillip Sterling is the author of In Which Brief Stories Are Told. His story “kidnappingtax.blogspot.gov” won the 2015 Monstrosities of the Midway contest.

Special Note:

This piece was selected as part of the “Dis/appearances” theme, guest edited by Matt Tompkins, author of Souvenirs and Other Stories and Studies in Hybrid Morphology.

Image Credit: © cat_arch_angel – stock.adobe.com

“I Will Light Your Way,” by Joe Baumann

Lamp Sketch

When Gala and I try to leave the hardware store, we cannot find an exit.

“I swear the doors were right here,” she says after we’ve paid, pointing at a long, creamy brown wall of concrete just past the cash registers. “This is where we came in. It should be where we leave.”

We sit down on some lawn chairs on clearance, oversized price tags dangling from the wicker like flattened Christmas ornaments. Other customers start to grumble about the missing doors, their arms weighed down by straining plastic bags filled with hammers and outlet covers and watering cans. One man wields a pair of fluorescent bulbs like nunchakus. A crowd begins to mass. Carts bump into one another. A woman holding birdseed sets the bag down, letting go too early. The bag splits, a mound of pellets tumbling across the slick floor like a field of flat marbles. She begins to cry, so another woman rifles through a leather purse and hands her a travel pack of Kleenex.

Gala holds up the small clay pot we have bought. We are going to start growing our own catnip. “What about home and garden? The outdoor section?”

She says it loud enough for those around us to hear, and we start an exodus for the other side of the store, Gala leading the way. When we arrive, she slumps down on a palette of fertilizer when she sees that those doors, too, have vanished. “We’re trapped,” she says.

“There are some vending machines by the not-doors. We won’t starve,” I say. “Or go thirsty. They have Coke products.” I reach into my pocket and jingle some change. “Let’s go get a Snickers bar to share.”

“How are you so optimistic?”
I shrug and look up at the high ceiling, the far away light glimmering against the chocolate-colored walls like the edges of a runway. “Why are you so worried?”

“Because there are no doors.”

An older couple is poring over garden hoses, seemingly unaware that we are trapped. I sidle up next to them and suggest the scrunchy kind because it saves so much time on rewinding. The woman smiles and thanks me for the advice, and the man tosses one in their cart.

“We just bought a house together,” he says. His hair is white and wavy, thin on the crown so I can see his mottled scalp.

“First time for both of us.” She squeezes his slouchy bicep and smiles, the wattled skin on her neck trampolining up and down. I nod and return the smile, and they continue their shopping, heading off toward the appliances, perhaps to look for a toaster or microwave oven.

“You don’t know anything about hoses,” Gala says. “But that was nice of you.”

“They were cute,” I say. “And those hoses never kink or knot. You want that Snickers?”

Gala sighs and hops off the fertilizer bags. “I guess so.”

When we reach the vending machine, I pump in the quarters but let Gala press the buttons; she’s always mesmerized by the metal coils as they turn and release candy and chips and dehydrated fruit in wrinkly bags, pressing her forehead to the glass while the machine churns. It’s a fiery momentary panic, she says, when you wonder if you’ll be one of the unlucky ones where the machinery doesn’t work and your snack is suspended in front of you, mocking you.

But our candy bar thunks down with no problem.

We start a long, lazy counterclockwise lap around the store, passing the bored toilets and blazoned rows of lamps and ceiling fans. The flooring section is abandoned.

“I could use something salty now,” Gala says when we finish the candy bar.

“It had peanuts in it.”

“Let’s get some chips.”

Past the checkout lines where cashiers avert their eyes and count their cash drawers over and over, an assistant manager is trying to calm the crowd, whose rising panic is tangible, voices mingled in a grumbling, harsh wave. The store has grown humid and sweaty-sticky, peoples’ voices throatier and gnarled, the air tinged with the sour, rank smell of body odor and anxiety. Someone is yelling about their rights being violated.

“We’re working on it,” the manager says, his bright red shirt stained with sweat under his arms, his fuzzy army-cut blond hair matted and slick. “We’ve called the police and the fire department. They’ll get this figured out.”

“See?” I say, popping open our bag of chips and holding it out to her. She pulls out a handful of flaky crisps, shaking her head all the while.

“Shoot,” she says after she swallows. “The flower pot.” She holds out her hands, upturned palms shiny with chip oil, as if to prove that she doesn’t have it. I press mine to hers and feel the slick salt on her finger tips.

“That’s okay,” I say. “Let’s go find it.”
“What if the lights go out?”

“Why would that happen?”

“Why would the doors disappear?”

“Well, we can just get another one. Or maybe we could get a gardening hose. I could find those again, I bet, even in the dark.”

“Or maybe none of it will matter because we’re going to die in here.”

“We can always eat potting soil,” I say. “Or worms from the fishing department.”

“You’re disgusting,” Gala says, but she gives my hand a squeeze, and we march back to the home and garden section, the sounds of shouting, scared customers fading into a burble like a far off waterfall. I grab a cart that someone has abandoned in the paint supply aisle, filled with a pack of lightbulbs and a screwdriver and a brass bedside lamp. I wonder where its owner has gone, and what they had planned. Given enough time, I think to myself, I could use these things to turn that lamp on, push back the darkness, and brighten up our path, light our way.

About the Author:

Joe Baumann possesses a PhD in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His work has appeared in many journals, including Jelly Bucket, Cleaver Magazine, Tulane Review, Hawai’i Review, and others. He is the editor-in-chief of The Gateway Review.

Special Note:

This piece was selected as part of the “Dis/appearances” theme, guest edited by Matt Tompkins, author of Souvenirs and Other Stories and Studies in Hybrid Morphology.

Image Credit: © Perysty – stock.adobe.com

Themed Call for Submissions: Dis/appearances

IMG_0604Matt Tompkins’s Souvenirs and Other Stories hits shelves on June 15th.

To celebrate the book’s release, Matt Tompkins will be guest editing a special call for submissions. From June 1st to June 15th, submit flash fiction (1,000 words or fewer) centered around the theme “Dis/appearances.”

In Matt’s forthcoming book, the title story involves a number of souvenirs spontaneously appearing and gradually filling the narrator’s apartment. This call for submissions plays off that idea, but you can interpret the theme broadly. Your submission doesn’t necessarily need to be about the appearance (or disappearance) of objects, but the piece should include some form of unexpected arrival or departure.

Full guidelines will be posted within the next week or so. Start brainstorming now, and see if you can come up with a story that’ll knock Matt’s socks off. Hey, maybe you can write about disappearing socks?