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“Prayer Group,” by Charlie Brown

Praying Angel Sketch

She came from Massachusetts. She looked different and we were worried. But we let her join our prayer group.

We made some conversation. We had our sharing time. There was coffee in the boiler, donuts in the box. But long it had been since we had somebody new.

We all sat in a circle and talked about the weather. She said she followed moon cycles as they connected her to earth. She was excited by constellations and, gee, the sky was so clear here. She said she was a Taurus. She ate a jelly donut.

We asked her for privacy and gathered by the coffee. We talked and thought about it. Massachusetts had Salem, and didn’t Salem have those witches? We knew nothing of astrology, and she was quick to bring it up. She had taken the last donut.

The reading for tonight was from the Gospel of John. She talked about the Greek, how it was written for the diaspora. When we asked of Massachusetts, she said the community was open minded. Ideas came up at prayer group where they interpreted the stories. They were not fundamental.

We looked at her in silence. We had let her into prayer group.

We asked her for privacy and gathered by the coffee. Witches came from Massachusetts, but did they go to prayer group? We tabled it right then and went back to the circle.

She talked while we all read. She had opinions about everything. She looked so at ease, while we were all on edge.

We asked again for privacy. She said that made her nervous. While we gathered at the coffee, she asked us lots of questions. Were we angry at her presence? Was it wrong to have opinions?

We came to a conclusion. She joined out of desperation. She was obviously possessed.

We turned just then and spied at her from the table. She smiled so weakly as she fumbled in her purse. She asked if she should leave. She removed her ring of keys.

We told her she should stay and surrounded her quite quickly. We found a jump rope and bound her. We gagged her when she screamed.

We decided to say a rosary. We chose the Sorrowful Mysteries. We prayed and laid on hands. It took fifteen minutes.

We knew about possession. A man had spoken at prayer group. The possessed would talk rapidly, looking stretched with few wrinkles. Her skin was already smooth, so we couldn’t be so sure. But she spoke very quickly as the gag was removed.

She apologized for her opinions and begged to go on home. She said her head was hurting and the pain was really bad. Another sign of possession.

We said another rosary. We chose the Joyful Mysteries. We prayed and laid on hands. It took half an hour.

She cursed us then to pieces, yelling we were out to get her. She was clearly paranoid. All signs she was possessed.

We went to the church and brought back holy water. We doused her by the handful. She screamed as the water hit her, but she was dry in ten minutes. We blamed it on the demon.

We started a novena and she got real silent. We laid on hands and felt the air chill. We all stood and chanted. We dribbled more holy water.

She wilted and then looked at us, her face shining with peace. She nodded, seemed renewed. We sang a song of praise. She asked to be untied after she sang along.

We drank a cup of coffee. We had a silent prayer. It lasted a full ten minutes and it filled us all with joy. We hugged and hurried home while she laughed, waving goodbye.

But we still don’t know why she never came back to prayer group.

About the Author:

Charlie Brown is a writer and filmmaker from New Orleans. He currently lives in Los Angeles, where he recently received his Masters in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California and also runs Lucky Mojo Press and Mojotooth Productions. He has made two feature films: Angels Die Slowly and Never A Dull Moment: 20 Years of the Rebirth Brass Band. His fiction has appeared in The Writing Disorder, Jersey Devil Press, The Menacing Hedge, Aethlon, and what?? Magazine and the forthcoming anthology The Portal In My Kitchen. He currently teaches journalism and composition at various community colleges.

Image Credit: © kuco / Dollar Photo Club

“Fish Head,” by Jinny Koh

Fish Sketch

The girl was born with a fish head. At first, the mother cursed herself for prodding too many fish at the market. This is my karma, she thought. Secretly, the father blamed himself for a previous affair. I must have caught some stupid disease, he suspected. Whatever the reason, the girl with the fish head was born and there was nothing they could do about it.

Despite the girl’s fishy origins, her parents loved her. They decorated her nursery with pictures of sea animals and anemone, brought her to the aquarium to show her that she was not alone, abstained from eating fish (although the father drove out once a week for a plate of crispy cod and chips on the sly), and even served her worms for dinner. Thankfully, the girl’s refined palate rejected them in favor of mac and cheese, burgers and fries.

In school, teachers often asked the girl what type of fish she was. Some tugged at her whiskers and claimed that she was Catfish. Others squinted at her grayish complexion and insisted she was Artic Char. The girl could not answer them because she had no idea. Poring over dozens of encyclopedias, she found no fish that resembled her. “It doesn’t matter what you are,” the mother said after discovering the girl in her bedroom, books strewn everywhere. The girl’s gill covers flapped furiously, exposing the pinkish flare underneath. That was the only way to decipher emotions on her otherwise expressionless face. She did not have tear ducts and could not cry. The mother cupped the girl’s throbbing cheeks and said, “You are not a label. You are our little fish and we love you.”

Growing up, the girl realized she was not that different from her girlfriends who also wrestled with issues like body odor. On cool days the girl carried a sweet, salty scent of the sea. But under the sweltering sun, she doused herself with copious amounts of deodorant to mask her perspiration, a stench akin to rotten flesh.

She also had her own share of boy troubles. Friendly and beautiful, getting the first date was a breeze. The problem was always with the kiss. Some complained about her slimy lips when she got excited. Others said her tongue was too short. One boy left without a word after cutting his mouth with her scales. She concluded that love was not meant to be. I’ll be a nun, she thought miserably, a nun with a fish head.

One day, the girl found out that a swimming competition was going to be held at the beach in two weeks. Now, despite her fish head, the girl was not a good swimmer. Her hands and legs were clumsy in water, as if they could not catch up with her head that moved and breathed effortlessly. Friends often mocked at that irony. Here’s the chance to prove my worth, she thought, her gill covers flapping in excitement.

The girl practiced her moves at the public pool every afternoon to the point where she believed she could win.

The big day arrived. The girl wore her favorite bathing suit with bright yellow seashells and went to the beach with her parents. The judges took one look and disqualified her. She has an obvious advantage, they said, unanimously shaking their heads. “Please,” the girl begged, “I practiced really hard for this.” After much persuasion, the judges relented. But no tricks, they warned.

The girl quickly took her place in line on the shore. The goal was to swim to the lighthouse and back. “On your marks,” the judge said, “get set… go!” The girl swam as fast as she could, hands and legs in a flurry. But something was wrong. A school of fish was following her. “Go away,” she garbled, slapping their heads and tails. But the fish were relentless, forming a crowd around her. Soon, more fish joined them. By then, her competitors were far ahead. “Please, leave me alone,” she said. It was no use. There were hundreds of fish. They dragged her down into the sea, refusing to let her go.

Night came. The competition had ended hours before but no one had left the beach. They were looking for the girl with the fish head. The police scanned the waters until the sun rose. Turning off their torches, they sighed and said, “We think she might have drowned.”

“Impossible,” her parents cried out, “she has a fish head, for goodness sake!”

Days dragged to weeks. The mother stopped going to the market for fear of recognizing one of the fish heads for sale. Others might not be able to tell one fish from another but she would. She knew her child’s face like her own – those lopsided whiskers, blue-green eyes, gill covers where three beauty marks rested on each side. When the mother slept, the girl’s head kept swimming in her mind, and salty tears would drench her pillow beneath.

The father no longer went to the pier for his regular fish and chips. He had no appetite for any food, much less fish, and his heart squeezed whenever he received flyers from sushi joints.

Years slipped by and slowly, the mother and father moved on. It wasn’t that they no longer pined for their daughter. Instead, they have accepted grief like an old friend who would accompany them to the grocery store, join them at the dinner table, and share their sheets in the quiet of the night. They try to comfort themselves with the idea that their daughter had found new life in the waters. “Perhaps she is now a sea princess!” they said. Even so, hand in hand they would venture to the beach in the evenings and, standing on the dusty yellow sand, call out for their daughter to come home.

About the Author:

Jinny Koh, born and raised in Singapore, now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter. She was the Fiction Editor at The Southern California Review while pursuing her Master’s Degree at the University of Southern California. Her essay can be found on Role Reboot and she was a finalist for Potomac Review’s flash fiction contest.

Image Credit: © Tony Baggett / Dollar Photo Club