Makarelle Autumn 2021: Twisted Tales

Independent Literary and Creative Arts Magazine

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Cover Art: ‘ Whispers ’ by Erin Paton

Winner of the John Byrne Award in 2017 under the title ‘ Looking Away ’

Welcome to Makarelle!

I don’t know about you, but for me Autumn means the leaves changing colours, cosy open fires, friends and family around for hearty meals (fingers-crossed) and the telling of tall tales. Humans have always had an oral tradition of telling each other stories. There is nothing quite like it when the firelight is making dark shad- ows around you and a story is told in a quiet whispered hush. We all remember as children hiding in dens or under a sheet, telling stories with a torch be- neath our faces to give us a ghoulish appear- ance. I feel like when you read this you should be doing just that, wrapped in a warm blanket with a cup of hot chocolate with marshmal- lows. Halloween comes at the end of this month and along with it, pumpkins, the clocks going back and tales of vampires, ghosts, witches and all things that bump in the night. So, when we thought about a theme for the third edition of Makarelle, Twisted Tales seemed more than appropriate. We had submissions from all over the world for this edition and more than ever before. Our contributors have interpreted the theme in ways we could never have imagined and the weird and the wonderful has been fully em- braced.

The quality is, as always, outstanding. It has been an almost impossible task to decide whose twisted tale made it into the magazine and we thank everyone who submitted their work. We really enjoyed reading and seeing all of it. Because of our new administration fee, we have been able to pay a nominal payment for the first time to our featured writers and artists. This is great news and going forward we hope to continue this if we can. The art, stories and poems within this edition, are everything we believe a twisted tale should be. Some are surreal, others twist and turn to a surprise outcome and others are gentle tales with unusual endings. There is something for everyone. We hope you enjoy it.

Dini, Jane & Ruth

Content

Page 3 -Welcome Page 6- Editorial Page 8-The Night Listeners Page 9 - Mimba’s Hands

Page 11 - The Sting Page 12 - Mimicry Page 13 - Glimpse Page 14 - The Long Road from Babel Page 15 - ‘Tarosvan’or The Legends of Logres

Page 18 - The Linear Family Page 20 - Don’t tell the Priest Page 23 - The Wolf in the Bath Page 24 - A Bumpy Ride to Heaven Page 27 - The Art Lover Page 28 - Violation Page 29 - Twisting Shapes I Page 30 - The Jungbots of Frontier Scotland Page 33 - Bile Page 37 - The Tale of the Red Baron Page 38 - Eagle One, Eagle Two Page 42 - Movie Night Page 43 - The Strange Incident at Honeyman Cottage Page 46 - The Ghost of Fairfield Page 47 - Crumbs Triptych Page 50 - Abysmal

Content

Page 51 -I Love This House Page 54- Georgie Page 56-Pumpkin Page 58 - Twisting Shapes II Page 59 - The Mirror at Midnight Page 60 - Afternoon Tea

Page 61 - A Special Occasion Page 64 - Twisted Hatter Page 65 - The Inside Out Girl Page 67 - Twisted Politics Page 68 - Bridge Echoes Page 69 - Pitchfork Page 70 - Alec’s heterotopic dream -helmet Page 71 - The Worst Cyber Bully Page 72 - Hard Bargain Page 73 - Banshee

Page 74 - Abstraction Page 75 - Herculaneum Page 76 - When She Comes Home

Page 79 - The Lady Page 80 - The Visitor Page 83 - Midnight Service Page 84 - Biographies Page 85 - Meet the Editors Page 86 - Goodbye

Editorial by Dini Armstrong

Sir John Everett Millais - Ophelia 1851 - 2 Tate

When Gwendolyn, Finja and Anneke sent us their beautiful images, I hesitated. Yes, it’s twisted to see three young women play at being water- logged corpses. But wasn’t there more to it? I decided to do a little research – and stum- bled across a wealth of twists and turns. It seems pretty clear that the photographs have found their inspirations in the Pre-Raphaelite images of Ophelia, most notably those by Sir John Everett Millais. Let’s start by taking a look at the subject matter: Ophelia, a character from Shakespeare’s play ‘Hamlet’. Driven insane by the murder of her father by her lover Hamlet, she drowns herself. When we drown, water enters our lungs, we in- voluntarily hold our breath, we enter fight or flight, we sputter, we convulse; our bodies turn blue with hypoxia. Not Ophelia, however. Described as “one incapable of her own dis- tress” (Act IV, Scene XII), she picks flowers and slowly sinks to her death - singing all the while. Not one to make a fuss, that Ophelia. When the priest refuses to give her a church bur- ial, her brother is furious. He points out the ulti- mate twist: “Lay her in the ground and let vio- lets bloom from her lovely and pure flesh! I’m telling you, you jerk priest, my sister will be an angel in heaven while you’re howling in hell!” (Act V, Scene I).

And then there is the model for the painting: Elizabeth Siddall, famously chosen as an artists’ model for her plainness. Gwendolyn, Anneke and Finja subjected them- selves to the elements for this photo shoot, sub- merged in cold and filthy pond water for hours. When Millais painted Siddall as Ophelia, he at least allowed her to float in a bathtub indoors. He even tried to keep her warm by placing oil lamps under the tub. Unfortunately this did not always work and Siddall, taught not to com- plain, ended up severely ill with pneumonia. Her father sued Millais for the medical bills. Gwendolyn, Anneke and Finja are fine. Siddall soon found her own voice. She produced drawings, sketches, watercolours, even one oil painting, and wrote poetry. An important and influential artist, she was nevertheless silenced by Millais’ Ophelia - as she is remembered for not much else these days. Millais’ painting, produced before photography was invented, was hailed as incredibly detailed. The ultimate twist for me is that three modern young women, creative and determined, took their camera and matters into their own hands and, in pretending to be dead, breathed new life into the imagery of both Elizabeth and Ophelia.

*

Another young woman created the cover image - Erin Paton’s ‘Whispers’ inspired us from the second we laid eyes on it. In fact, I wrote a piece of flash fiction to go with it, and we would like to encourage you to do the same. If you like what you wrote send it to dini@makarelle.com and we will publish your piece on our website!

We also did not expect Makarelle to do so well so quickly. Since our website was launched in January this year, we have had over 15 000 visi- tors. Only about a third live in the UK, the rest found us in the US, Germany, France, China, Canada, Sweden, Belgium, Lithuania, Russia, Finland, Japan...the list is endless. We have a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, Pinterest and Linkedin. While the first issue was entirely funded out of our own pockets, issue two was boosted by do- nations. This issue was funded by submission fees, and for the first time we were able to pay our featured artists a tiny nominal sum. We were only able to select one feature per genre, so you can imagine how agonising this was, but here they are:

Short Story Fiction: I Smallhorne - Mimba’s Hands

Flash Fiction: Ben Lisle - Mimicry

Poetry: SA Pilkington - The Sting

Visual Art: Robin Adams - The Night Listeners

We plan to look for a sponsor or two, so we might be able to pay something more substantial for contributions to our winter issue. And there’s more exciting news - we are plan- ning to publish selected pieces from the first three magazines in an anthology before the year is up! In the highly unlikely event of any profits, we will split them evenly among all contribu- tors. If you would like to help, please use the donate button on our website www.makarelle.com. Every pound or dollar helps! Meanwhile - grab a hot drink, put your feet up, and enjoy our beautiful and free ‘Twisted Tales’ autumn issue of Makarelle.

Here’s my effort:

“ Born as a Jane, they called her tomboy, but when boy Tom emerged, he was kicked out of his position at the club, told not to kick up a fuss, eventually just kicked. Every microaggression ripped into his identity, slashed at his soul, caused wounds that festered; invaded, probed by dirty fingers until life itself was riddled with gangrene. Deadnamed already, time and time again, without con- sent, until metempsychosis seemed the only exit left, both he and she decided it was time. This body would be saved from its necrosis, not con- demned. And hand in hand they cut away all gender, snipped the snails and puppy dog ’ s tails, they did away with all things nice. They sprinkled eggs into their wounds, gave birth to larvae, and they fed the twisting, writhing maggots all the loathing, all the righteous indignation, until, each cell now free to heal, their final metamor- phosis began. ”

Warm hugs from cold Scotland,

Dini x

***

When Ruth, Jane and I decided to start an inde- pendent literary and visual arts magazine, we had no idea how much joy this would bring us.

Feature: Visual Art

The Night Listeners by Robin Adams

Feature: Short Story - Fiction

Mimba’s Hands

by Ioney Smallhorne

IMAGE: NEOSAM2021

At the start of hurricane season, when the sun sinks into the horizon, Mimba searches for her hands. Her arms bleeding at the elbow where Miss Violet’s cutlass amputated her crushed bones. Clean-clean, quick and sharp. The mill tek weh her hands but Miss Violet saved her body, bound her arms tight with rum to prevent infection. Mimba was a mill-feeder. She guided cane into the greedy, grinding mouths of the wooden roll- ers motivated by the whirring sails that re- volved; steady and constant proclaiming wealth and industry. Pushing and pulling cane back and forth extracting every last penny of juice. The skill was knowing when to let go, but skilled people get tired. Now, Mimba encircles the old mill, like how oxen once did; pulling treadmills in harvest sea- son to aid production when the wind was down, their hoofs a muted metronome beating the ground. The wind carries her voice as she laments the old cane cutters song;

Mi waan guh a river lawd, river run free, work never done oh lawd river run free cut t’rough eart’ and stone river run free flow and find its home Oh river tek me

Her truncated arms leaving a bloody trail, with a bullet lodged in her forehead, Mimba circles and searches, circles and sings. The other enslaved people on Pleasant Hill would leave kerosene lamps burning to help her search and cups of rum to ease her efforts. They did not fear Mimba, for she was one of their own. It was Overseer John who had to fear. “Old slaves weed the fields, picini slaves catch rats that eat the samplings, the strong plant and harvest, the skilled work the mill and curing house. What use is a slave with no hands?...” is what he said before shooting her; despite Mim- ba having his child, May.

Feature: Short Story - Fiction “ Mimba ’ s Hands ” by Ioney Smallhorne

The trouble started for him after Mimba died. Each time he rode his horse-drawn-cart to check field workers, he saw hands instead of cane. The long stalks like the bones of fingers; their knotted nodes like knuckles. The cane cutters chopping them, leaving short stubs and her blood would spill, over and over in his mind. Madness began to feast on him like maggots in a starved mongrel dog left out to rot in the day’s heat. He’d wake up in the dark belly of night digging with hoe, searching for her hands. Then, he started digging, bare face, in the day, under the ferocity of the sky’s fire, like a field slave. Mimba his overseer, and she mek him wuk. “...And I hear her singing, and the beat of the oxen hoofs, and the whirring sails... day and night they don’t stop...”

river run free cut t’rough eart’ and stone river run free flow and find its home Oh river tek me

He would cry to the Doctor, whose prescrip- tions proved no remedy for Massa John’s mind. Suspicious that May and Miss Violet were working obeah; he ordered fifty lashes for Miss V, and May was sold to the Doctor’s friend. Soon, he started to see Mimba’s hands on his plate instead of the nice-nice food he so accustomed to eating. So, he stopped eating. Until he was found dead in the mill with no hands. The old mill on Pleasant Hill, with time, disap- peared under creeping vine. Its stone walls crumbling; a fragmented structure, like passed down memories of home, like families of en- slaved people, like the languages they forbade us speak.

Mi waan guh a river lawd, river run free, work never done oh lawd

***

IMAGE: Lalesh Aldarwish for Pexels

Feature: Poetry

The Sting

by S A Pilkington

Bright, hot summer’s day,

They sat out of the sun.

Snuggled together, daughter and mum.

Albums and books scattered around.

Radio playing familiar sound.

Told tales of what had been.

Of what was to come.

Looking at pictures, daughter and mum.

Grandad asleep Christmas hat on his head.

The cat and the dog asleep in her bed.

They laughed at the picture, Jack in the mud.

The cake and the time, did them both good.

They told of the future and summer in Wales.

Believing in fairies and other wild tales.

But the twist in this tale,

Brought a sting of great pain.

Her mother looked up.

IMAGE: Jane Langan

And asked, what was her name.

The horror of time dragged them apart.

Not merely breaking, but smashing her heart.

Bright, hot summer’s day,

They sat out of the sun.

Snuggled together, daughter and mum.

Feature: Flash Fiction

Mimicry by Ben Lisle

IMAGE: Pexabay for Pexels

It had seemed like such an amusing little jape. Buy a parrot, one with a real talent for mimicry, and teach it a few key phrases. " I m i s s m y h a n d s . " "Never break a promise to a witch." "Please, you have to help me." The young avian learned fast, motivated by a steady diet of praise and treats, and soon it would happily squawk out its party pieces with- out prompting. From its cage in the corner of the cluttered room, surrounded by mystic curi- os, the sound of its voice would startle and un- settle visitors, often leading to nervous laughter at the absurdity of it all. After all, it was just a mimic, right? No real magic here, no such thing. The sigils around it were fakes, and so what if there was a pentagram just visible at the bottom of the cage? The whole things was ab- surd. And yet… The experiment was a great success, a triumph of a prank. Each bonus de- tail added over time just increased the hilarity, and it wasn't as if the patterns and shapes did anything anyway. Unti l they did. You can't really remember how exactly it hap- pened. There had been a... book. And chalk, yes, tracing some new arcane rune. Something that had been in the paper, a new kind of sor- cery. It's so hard to remember now. No flash, no blinding light, just the space of a blink and now you were looking out of the bars. Your body had vanished, disappeared without trace. And now you were in here. You'd tried squawking, screaming at those who'd come. But they'd known the tricks you'd played and written your shrieks of panic off as a more advanced effort to get to them. Your disappearance was noted, and a detective had

visited once.

You'd screeched and flapped to get his attention until the world had gone dark when the cage was covered. You'd croaked your new voice to exhaustion, but no-one had cared. No-one lis- tened to a prankster's parrot. And soon after- wards you had been sold, sent away to live in a new house. Your owner had been warned about your heritage, and paid no heed to your cries for help, and soon you'd stopped trying. There was no point any more. And then there was The Bird. The Bird was al- ways there with you, scratching at your thoughts. The Bird wanted a peanut. The Bird wanted to play with the tinkly bell. The Bird wanted to imitate the dog because the sound confused the cat. The Bird wanted to be back in control. At first it had been easy to ignore it, to dismiss that part of your shared mind. You were still a person trapped in a mental net, one that you would soon escape. But as the months and years had passed your resolve had weak- ened, your confidence dimming with each new sunrise. The Bird would steer your thoughts, make you want what it wanted, to hit the bell with your beak so the Bird could listen to the ring. Slowly, you forgot yourself. Your friends' faces went, and now you wanted seed cake. Your schooling disappeared, and in its place you enjoyed a turn on your little swing. Your children's voices faded, and you learned to copy the telephone. You just want to hold your w i f e . . . Wa n t y o u r w i f e . . .Wa n t . . . Polly wants a cracker. ***

Glimpse by Jane Langan

I stare back at the old woman,

I glimpse in the shop window.

She is round where she was once flat,

slow moving.

Is she sick? Her face bloated.

She looks tired, her hair all angles,

sprouting.

No one sees her.

People bump and jostle.

She is like a stout bollard

all width,

in the way.

Eventually, she moves,

eyes down, floored,

knees aching, arms heavy,

carrying shopping not for her.

I move quickly to avoid my eyes, but then,

there is just a glimpse.

The Long Road From Babel

by Tai Galvao

‘Tarosvan’ or The Legends of Logres Creative Non Fiction by Ruth Loten

IMAGE: Ruth Loten

‘Are we nearly there yet?’

spent the last month driving between North Es- sex and Cornwall every week, taking deliveries, assembling furniture, cleaning and generally get- ting the flat ready so that we could actually use it over the summer. Doing that whilst still trying to ensure that everything ran smoothly at home had been ‘interesting’ to say the least and I was ready for a break. We decided that if we were going to make the most of both the flat and the area, we needed to learn more about Cornwall and its history. James and I both love the county and would love to move there eventually and we felt strongly that we needed to have as much of a sense of Cornish heritage as we could. Although it is part of England, there is also a feeling of separateness about it. It has its own language for a start, although we were both surprised and alarmed to discover that there are less than a thousand people who are fluent in Cornish and only a few thousand more who could have a basic conversation, or know the odd word. However, when you consider that the last per- son who claimed Cornish as their first language is traditionally believed to have died in 1777, perhaps it is more astounding that it has sur- vived at all and is now a growing language. James decided he was going to add to the num- bers, bought himself a book, downloaded an app and started learning basic words and phrases. I took on the task of learning about the history and folklore of Cornwall and this is where the twisted tales come in.

I groaned. Arthur was awake. ‘No, sweetheart.’ ‘How much longer will it take?’ ‘Would you like a bacon sandwich?’ My husband interrupted and I smiled gratefully at him. The offer was accepted, peaceful silence settled over the back of the car again and I re- sumed listening to Bill Bryson’s Notes From A Small Island. This was exactly why we’d set the alarm for 3am and begun the long trek down to Cornwall at 4 o’clock in the morning. We were well over halfway and our youngest son had on- ly just woken up. I calculated that once he’d eat- en the sandwich, we’d have a maximum of ninety minutes of him and Henry squabbling. You’d think that at sixteen and almost six there’d be enough of a gap for long car journeys not to descend into ‘stop poking me’, ‘keep it on your side of the car’ and my personal favourite, ‘Muuuuuummmmm, can you have a word.’ However, if you did, you’d be wrong! Most of our family holidays begin in this way and so we’ve learnt over the years that if we set off in the middle of the night, we stand at least half a chance of getting there without James and I needing to reach for the gin bottle the moment we arrive! This year, however, was going to be a holiday with a difference. A month earlier we’d completed on our holiday flat and this was the first time we were going to make use of it. I’d

CNF “ Tarosvan ” by Ruth Loten

Until quite recently, whenever I thought of Cornwall in literary terms, it was usually ro- mantic comedies set in quaint Cornish villages, Winston Graham’s Poldark or Susan Cooper’s Over Sea Under Stone and Greenwitch. I’d read Re- becca years ago but had no idea it was based on a real house in Cornwall. I stumbled across Jamai- ca Inn by accident when I was looking for an au- diobook set in the county – I did a virtual walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats and listened to books set in the counties I was walking through – and fell in love with it straight away. The haunting opening lines so perfectly captured both the scene and the essence of the book that I knew immediately this was an author whose writing I was going to adore. However, it seems that romantic as Corn- wall is portrayed – and it truly is – its real liter- ary heritage may lie in the slightly less prosaic ghost story. There are literally hundreds of these things, as I discovered when I bought Michael Williams’ Ghosts Around Bodmin Moor. ‘Did you know Jamaica Inn is meant to be haunted?’ James was reading leaflets in prep- aration for the ‘ flat folder ’ we were putting to- gether for when family and friends used it. ‘Pretty much everywhere in Cornwall seems to be haunted,’ I said, waving Ghosts Around Bodmin Moor at him. ‘And yes, everyone knows Jamaica Inn is haunted.’ ‘Well I didn’t,’ he said, looking a little put out. ‘It was on Most Haunted years ago. We should watch it.’ ‘I don’t like scary things, Mum.’ Henry suddenly took an interest in the conversation. I smiled at him. ‘It’ll be fine, honestly. Come on, it’ll be fun.’ He looked doubtful, but I found the epi- sode on YouTube and we settled down to watch it. It was hard to take it seriously when the me- diums generally just repeated the stories we’d already been told but with a few added embel- lishments. None of us completely dismiss the idea of ghosts, but it wasn’t massively convinc- ing. The only bit that was a little bit spooky was when they were in the boiler room and that was destroyed for us by the very northern accented exclamation of, ‘Something touched me side!’ before they all sprinted for the exit. The boys have always taken the mickey out of me for be- ing northern and this became the catchphrase every time we went to Jamaica Inn for a drink. Someone would get poked and have to exclaim, ‘Something touched me side’ in an exaggerated

northern accent so we could all fall about laugh- ing and pretend that we weren’t a little bit spooked by the fact we were in a place with such a ghostly reputation. ‘You know they do ghost hunting nights here?’ I said. Henry nodded. ‘I like the idea, but I think I’d probably be heading for the door as soon as there was a noise!’ Towards the end of the holiday, we de- cided to take a hike up Roughtor – a mere 400m climb over rocks to the top. ‘Why this walk?’ James asked. ‘What do you mean?’ I frowned, puz- zled. ‘All your walk suggestions have an ulteri- or motive. There’s always something you want to see, or a story you want to be at the location of. What’s this one?’ In fairness, he was perfectly correct. I dragged the family across Fylingdale Moor in pursuit of Dracula, we climbed up a huge hill in Bath because I wanted to walk in the footsteps of Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney, we’d visited Jamaica Inn more times than I could count simply because of Daphne Du Maurier and the last time we’d been in Cornwall I took them all on a very muddy route march around Frenchman’s Creek in search of La Mouette and her captain. Henry has still to forgive me for the loss of his Skechers in the mud on that walk! Roughtor was no exception. At the base of the Tor is the memorial to Charlotte Dymond, prob- ably one of the most famous of Cornwall’s ghosts. The eighteen-year-old Charlotte was murdered near Roughtor Ford in 1844, allegedly by her lover, Matthew Weeks. He was arrested and hanged for her murder. His conviction seems to have rested largely on his written con- fession. However, there is some doubt about whether or not it was actually written by him. Local people were outraged by this vicious at- tack on a young girl and collected the funds to raise a memorial to her, which still stands near to where she was found. The day of our walk was beautifully sunny with lots of people around. We saw the memorial, but couldn’t get near it as it was fenced off. It was hard to imag- ine such a brutal act taking place in this stunning location – whether Weeks was guilty or not, someone slit Charlotte’s throat that day – but I would imagine that in winter, at night, the moor might take on a different feel and Charlotte’s ghost is still said to walk the ground where she

CNF “ Tarosvan ” by Ruth Loten

told her he’d seen a figure in the doorway when he’d been on his own in the church, not far from where I’d felt the cold. I’m still not con- vinced, but it was an uneasy feeling to hear the coincidence in the location. The most interesting thing for me about all these ghost stories, is that in the summer hol- idays I always know I ’ m not going to get any writing done. It’s just too difficult to find the quiet time I need when all three of my boys are at home and wanting my attention. This sum- mer, although I didn’t get any actual writing done, I did make copious notes about ideas for new stories and novels based in Cornwall and using many of the ghostly tales I’d read about as a starting point. I reckon I’ve probably got enough for a collection of short stories and at least three novels, which should keep me going for a while! All I need now is to find the time to write them all, which reminds me of a conversa- tion James and I had on the car journey home at the end of the summer. ‘I’ve managed to sign Arthur up for Kid’s Club, so if we need to use them before or after school now, we can.’ ‘That’s good,’ he replied absently. ‘Does that mean we’ll be okay for when you go on the writing retreat in March?’ ‘Yes.’ I paused a moment. ‘Of course… you do realise it also means that if I want to have a few days to crack on with some writing in peace, I can book him into it and go down to the flat on my own and have my own mini re- treat.’ Out of the corner of my eye, I swear I saw his skin go a shade paler and a slight sheen of perspiration cover his face. ‘Erm… are you planning to do that soon then?’ ‘Not really, it was just a thought. Why?’ ‘Arthur.’ The boy in question piped up from the back of the car. ‘You said my name. Did you want me? ‘No, darling. You carry on watching your film. ‘OK. Are we nearly there yet?’

was murdered. The impact of this tragic tale is still felt today – as recently as 2015 locals raised money to buy a headstone for her and the trial of Matthew Weeks is one of the star attractions at Bodmin Jail, where visitors get to vote on his guilt. Over the holidays, we had several more encounters with supernatural – or at least with stories of it – including at The Cathedral of the Moor in Altarnun. I’d wandered away from the boys to have a look at the graves and ended up inside the church on my own. I’ve been in a lot of empty churches over the years and generally they’re quite peaceful places. In this one howev- er, I definitely felt the weight of history pressing down. I had the distinct feeling that it was wait- ing for something and although I wasn’t aware that the church was haunted – I thought the ghost was in the old rectory which we’d yet to locate – there were patches of the church that felt much colder and when I stood at the back I felt decidedly odd – as though both the church and I were waiting for something to happen. It’s not a feeling I’ve often had before. The sunlight outside was a welcome relief and I was greeted there by an incredibly friendly local who took me round the churchyard and pointed out the graves of the vicar and his servant, who she told me are said to haunt both churchyard and old rectory. Her son, who like her is a sceptic, once

Bibliography

Williams, Michael Ghosts Around Bodmin Moor, Bossinney Books

The Linear Family by Ken Smith

IMAGE: Jane Langan

I can’t remember when I first noticed them. I see them from my first-floor window: The Lin- ear Family. Always they walk in line, a thin, jagged procession; each member several yards apart, forming a broken column. Always at the head is the mother: a short woman in too-tight clothes. She walks quickly, an expression of ur- gency on her face, suggesting that it’s important for her to be in control of what follows her and of where she’s going; and that she’s afraid that control will slip away. She leans back a little, as if an unseen hand is pushing into the middle of her spine, propelling her onwards. Behind come four small girls in identical pink dresses and oversized spectacles. They follow their mother in descending order of height and seemingly age. They run to keep up, a mixture of cheerfulness and despair in their voices as they call out their thoughts and enquiries about the world and their eager requests. Once or twice, their mother twists back towards them and shouts a brief response; but mostly they are ignored as she determinedly leads the way, set- ting out the trajectory they must follow. At the end of the line walks a tall, lean man, roughly textured like sandpaper, carrying a heavy bag in each hand. Their reluctant father. His hair is cropped and his nose sharp. On his face is a half-smile, making him appear cheerful- ly distracted, though it’s a smile that tells you he is someone it’s best not to cross. He’s nervous.

Behind that smile, he balances on the edge of anger. Around his left arm a dragon tightly winds itself, painted in green and burnished brown, hungry like a devouring charm. Every day through the year, in the late after- noon, they come. The seasons change around them; but their procession never ceases – the Linear Family. I can’t say if they are on their way home or looking for a new destination. They pass out of view, behind a tree that stands at the roadside a little way down the street, from which they never emerge. I tell myself that I am getting used to seeing them and to seeing them disappear, but I never quite manage to forget them, never quite get used to their fleeting ap- pearances. Expecting them, watching them, is unsettling, like waiting for a broken clock to stop. Every day they come. And as the seasons change, so the light of the day dims earlier and earlier, until they process along the street in darkness. And as the darkness transforms what was afternoon into evening, I notice how the Linear Family takes on a curious luminosity, more than the light given to them by the street- lamp under which they pass. They seem to glow and in the dimly shining spaces between them, I can see now that they are not alone. Entwined among them, but unseen by them, walks a second procession, formed of skeletal figures. Each of these figures wears a costume,

Fiction - “ The Linear Family ” by Ken Smith

at the extremities of which protrude the fleshless bones of feet and hands and neck and skull. They are dressed as priest, policewoman, barris- ter, soldier, nurse, some in less formal clothes that suggest other humbler or more ambiguous- ly defined occupations. As they become more visible, I can hear a very faint music, fracturing the winter silence, to which they skip and gy- rate. Together they form a random sample of privileges, aspirations and misfortunes that con- vey, in the mix and struggle of their dance, a sickening futility. Seemingly infected by the motion of the inter- weaving figures, the Linear Family starts to sway. Mother, girls and father begin to dance. Perhaps they have always been dancing and I’ve just not noticed before. The light they shed shines on their skeletal companions, whose darkness draws out their light and sucks it

away, so that all the figures start to ebb and flow in and out of visibility. Next to the mother an- other skeletal form appears, in bow tie and tails, waving a baton in the air to mark the time. He is joyful and laughing and urges them all on. The sound of the music brings back a childhood memory, of pipes and drums, another unnerv- ing procession seen through a different window. As I watch them, time becomes for me at once halting and endless, uncertain, circular, mon- strous. They dance briskly, the Linear Family, in their ever-repeating procession, oblivious of un- claimed futures and mislaid pasts, always re- turning; they hurry towards their inexorable, unknowable fate – just like us all.

***

Don’t Tell The Priest by Jonathan Willmer

IMAGE: Jane Langan

‘Who did you tell?’

n’t find you on the fields so I thought you must be here.’ The priest’s voice was assured and kind. ‘I’m concerned.’ ‘He knows we’re in. Smoke’s coming out,’ Loren whispered. Isaac walked over the hard mud and straw and pulled the door open. After the dark of the hut, the white daylight around the priest made him look holy. Isaac blinked and squinted. ‘Father,’ he said. ‘Isaac.’ The smile on the priest’s fat ruddy face was broad. ‘I was starting to think you did- n’t want me here.’ The priest laughed.

‘No one. You said not to.’ There it came again, the rapping at the door. Louder this time. Loren shrunk away from it, to the wall at the back, where the light from the fire didn’t reach. There was light there, but only in thin shards, in the gaps between the tim- bers. It was the only sign it was day. Isaac’s eyes drifted again to the thing in the corner of the hut. Every time he looked, there was the same shock as the first time he saw it. It never got nor- mal. ‘Might be Peter,’ said Loren. ‘Might be Carol. Carol said she’d be bringing some onions round.’ ‘It isn’t Peter or Carol,’ hissed Isaac. ‘It’s the priest.’ Loren flinched at the word. ‘I never told the priest.’ ‘You said you never told no one.’

‘Oh no,’ said Isaac. He looked down at the

floor. ‘No, not that.’ ‘Well?’

Isaac looked up at the priest. ‘Will you let me in?’ Isaac tried to smile but he could only gri- mace. He stepped back into the hut and let the priest pass. The priest stood in front of the fire. The fire was in the middle of the hut, under the hole in the roof. Not all the smoke got away through the hole. The hut was smoky, and the light did- n’t get all the way to the corners. There was no need to panic. The priest wouldn’t spot the thing in the corner. Isaac wanted to say so to Loren, but he couldn’t with the priest there. He won- dered what the priest knew. Isaac was still standing near the door. He wondered whether he should go and stand right

Too long passed before Loren said any-

thing, so Isaac knew.

‘Doesn’t matter who you tell,’ he said.

‘People talk.’

Third time now, the knock came. ‘Why must it be the priest then?’ ‘It’s the tapping. It’s a ring or a staff on the wood, it isn’t skin. Peter or Carol haven’t any rings or staffs. It’s the priest.’ There came his voice now, through the wood. ‘Isaac? Loren? It’s Father William. I did-

Fiction “ Don ’ t Tell The Priest ” by Jonathan Willmer

in front of the thing in the corner, to block the priest’s view of it. Or whether he should stand across the room from it, to draw the priest’s eye away. For want of deciding, he didn’t move an inch. Loren came forward from the back wall and into the light. ‘Hello Father,’ she said. ‘Loren! I haven’t seen you around the vil- lage lately. You’re all right I hope?’ ‘Yes Father. I’m well enough.’ Maybe he knew nothing, maybe that’s all

The priest started to make a very slow cir- cuit of the hut. He walked around the fire, but his attention was on the walls. Isaac watched the priest. There was a chance he would walk past the thing in the corner without seeing it. There was still a chance he didn’t know. ‘Long time to go without milk. Henry’s had calves. Month or so ago. He’s been looking to get get rid of a couple.’ ‘Not looking at the moment.’ ‘No? You’re looking thin.’ The priest paused his circuit to look at each of them in turn. ‘You’re both looking thin.’ When the priest came round to Loren’s side of the fire, she saw that his heavy black robe was crusty with mud from the knees down. The fire showed up in the fat gold ring on his right hand, so it looked like his finger was ringed with flame. And on top of his head, his thinning white hair thrust away in all directions. He looked frightening, and Isaac had told her he was a dangerous man, but when he spoke, his genial baritone still put her at ease. ‘I spoke to Henry as well. Week or two ago.’ The priest paused, and when he wasn’t speaking, there was only the cracking of the fire and the soft shuffling of his feet on the mud and straw. ‘Said you took one of his calves. Week after it was born.’ ‘Ah,’ said Isaac. ‘Ah, yes. We did. Had to give it back.’ ‘He told me that too. You know it died?’ ‘Ah. No, Father, I didn’t know that.’ ‘Never the same, so Henry said. Wouldn’t eat or sleep or sit down even. Henry says it wouldn’t blink. Died a few days later.’ ‘I am sorry to hear that.’ The priest stopped walking and then there was just the crackle of the fire. ‘Is this where you kept the cow?’

he came for.

‘Good. Good.’ The priest looked into the fire for a long time. He didn’t move. He looked like he was deciding how to say something. He drew a breath. He held it for a moment before he spoke. ‘I was talking to Ruth yesterday.’ He said it like it was only small talk. Isaac looked over at Loren. Of all the peo- ple in the village she might’ve told. ‘I said to Ruth I hadn’t seen you in a while. Said I was worried. And Ruth said she’d seen you, Loren. Said she talked to you not long ago, at the well.’ The priest looked through the fire at her. His face, through the flames and riddled with grog blossoms, looked perfectly red.

‘Said you’re in a bit of trouble.’ Loren didn’t talk and neither did Isaac. ‘Something I might be able to help you

with.’

The priest looked about the hut. Casual, like he was looking around for a child who was hiding out of shyness. ‘I don’t know what you mean, Father.’ Loren couldn’t keep her voice breezy like the priest could. It wavered a bit above a whisper and it didn’t fool anyone. ‘Haven’t seen your cow out on the pasture for a while, Isaac.’ ‘Cow died two months back.’ ‘Ah yes. I remember. Good age, wasn’t she?’

Isaac couldn’t get a word out. Instead he

did a sort of grunt.

The priest looked into the corner for a long time. Isaac and Loren looked too. Because they were used to it being there, they knew what to look for. It took the priest longer to make it out, in the darkness.

‘Decent. Twelve or so.’ ‘Hmm. Two months.’

Isaac could only see the back of the priest,

Fiction “ Don ’ t Tell The Priest ” by Jonathan Willmer

but it was enough. He saw his shoulders arch, and he saw him step back a pace, and he knew that the priest had seen it. The corner was dark, but the shape of the dead cow was black. It was black even at night, when there was no light at all, so that Isaac and Loren had realised they had never seen black at all, before the cow died. They should have killed the cow a year before, when its udders started to dry up, but Loren was attached, and so was Isaac, if he was honest. So they left it, and they woke up one morning to find it dead in its bed in the corner. There had been no confusing it for a sleep- ing cow. It was twisted and contorted. Its neck was thrown back. Its eyes were wide and its mouth was open. Its front legs we thrown for- ward and its hind legs were splayed, and its back was arched terribly. It looked like it had died violently, but nothing had woken Isaac or Loren in the night. The two of them had carried the dead cow out into the grey dawn. It was stiff like it was frozen. They buried it in the copse. There was something about the cow they didn’t want any- one in the village to see. When they came back to the hut, the cow was not gone. ‘My God,’ whispered the priest. His voice now was neither kind nor assured. He looked round at Loren, and then at Isaac, and then back at the black form of the cow. It was the shape of the cow when it died, but all black, not like a shadow, but an imprint, like the cow was stamped on the air. Neither of them had slept much since. Loren said she was scared of it getting inside her. Isaac said what will it do, go up your nose? Neither of them had laughed. The priest moved a step closer to it. ‘Devil’s been at work here.’ This was why Isaac wouldn’t tell the priest. Maybe the priest could get rid of it, but he knew he’d say they were devils and witches, and they weren’t. They farmed their patch, like everyone else. The priest turned away from the thing in the corner. His head span between both of them, and his face, already red from the heat and the light of the fire, looked crimson. Isaac

thought that it would certainly explode.

‘Devil’s work,’ the priest said again. The compassion in his voice was gone. There was only fear and anger. Fear and anger, sitting one on each shoulder and whispering one in each ear. It was what he spat from the pulpit at every Sunday sermon, and it was just behind every kind word he spoke. ‘I never thought it of you, Loren.’ He turned to Isaac. ‘And you,’ he said. ‘Harbouring a witch.’ Neither of them said anything. There was no point defending themselves. No point telling him they had nothing to do with it. The priest’s mind was made up. Loren had tried to bring the cow back from the dead, and it went wrong. People in the village had been drowned for less. A good priest would have tried exorcising the thing in the corner. But theirs was a bad priest. He preferred to use his power on people.

He looked at Loren. ‘You’ll be hanged,’ he said. He turned to Isaac. ‘Both of you.’

The two stayed quiet. The fire cracked and threw a cluster of sparks into the room. At the noise, Loren lunged forward and pushed the priest with both arms. She wasn’t strong, but the priest wasn’t ready for it. He didn’t fall, he only stumbled back a step. Not even a step, but his right foot landed squarely in the black form. He stood there like that for a second, one leg behind the other, his right foot lost inside the black gloom. His eyes opened wide and he drew a breath sharply. He shifted his right foot out of the black. The black swirled around like it was mist, and settled back as it was. It had done the same when they tried to put the new calf there. The priest stood straight. He looked dead ahead. There wasn’t any fear or anger in his eyes any more. There didn’t seem to be much of anything. ***

The Wolf in the Bath

by Robin Adams

A Bumpy Ride to Heaven

by Alain Li Wan Po

IMAGE: Fabian Wiktor for Pexels

The one-line cryptic WhatsApp message read, ‘Have you heard about Paul’s wife?’ No, I had not heard about Virginie! When I did, I needed fresh air, time to recover, time for reflection. It was about 5.30 pm that October day when I walked down the concrete steps that led straight to the beach from the Mauritius villa where I was staying. The sun, which had lost its searing daytime fire, wrapped its balmy arms around my shoulders as if to say it’ll be alright. The sun worshippers had mostly decamped to get ready for dinner. Those left were waiting to see the final crescent of the sun dip into the shimmering sea against the psychedelic orange of the sky; a sight to stir the soul. Here and there were people praying, some to the sun, others to gods or spir- its, some alone, others in small groups. ‘I saw Jesus rise in the horizon in a bril- liant white silver- lined shroud,’ my friend Paul told me once. The last time I visited the island before the WhatsApp’s message was a year earlier. I had come to act as best- man for Paul’s wedding to Virginie, a mutual friend, one of the prettiest girls on the island. They were well matched; both intelligent, both in well-paid jobs, both with inherited wealth. There was a nice, beauti- fully located, freshly redecorated and spacious house, ready for the groom to take his bride across the threshold. At the wedding there was an embarrassment of good things to say about them. There was no need to invent, no need to

add fiction to reality. My only slight embarrass- ment was when I was standing in church wit- nessing their exchange of vows in the name of God, in whom I had long stopped believing. From the intensity with which they looked at each other, it was clear that Paul and Virginie were deeply in love, that any god and any spirit would look after them, and that they would have an idyllic life together, and they did, at least for a while. The sojourn in heaven can be transient sometimes. Paul and Virginie were readying themselves for their first wedding anniversary, planning a long overseas holiday including visit- ing me in England, when tragedy struck. Sudden death, the coroner said. Young women do not die of heart attacks. Virginie did. Paul became unhinged. He was naked and had a distant stare when he opened the door to the ambulancemen. They helped him dress. He refused to return to his house, once of idyll, now of too much pain. He would not allow any- one to intrude, locking his house up for good. He rented a small cottage, perhaps better de- scribed as a wreck, not too far from the villa where I was staying. ‘We sometimes see him. He refuses to speak to us, and does not even seem to recognise us,’ one friend said. ‘Scruffy looking, and so sad,’ said another. ‘You’d think he was one of the beggars in town near the marketplace.’ Di-

Fiction “ A Bumpy Ride to Heaven ” by Alain Li Wan Po

shevelled and almost emaciated, Paul would sit staring out to sea in a fathomless world of his own. My emails remained unanswered, as did those of my friends. As I was walking along the beach on this second visit, I was gripped with a sudden desire to see my old friend. Lonely pensive walks do such things to you. I cut my walk short and jumped into my car heading for his cottage. It was no more than ten minutes away but as it was set back from the road, I had to walk anoth- er five minutes before I saw the hut, much shab- bier than even I had imagined from my friends’ descriptions. The wooden battens that served as a door appeared unhinged, and the thatch had slid down to the ground in some places. ‘Paul? Paul?’ I called, some ten yards away from the door, hesitating before I proceeded fur- ther by slow steps. I looked through the gaps be- tween the loose battens. It was dark inside, dark- er than the dusk that was closing in. When my eyes adjusted, I saw some matting on the floor, an old wicker chair, a DIY pine table with two dented and encrusted aluminium pots, a chipped enamel dinner plate, a pock-marked metal mug, and a half-stick of bread.

of such terrifying repute that even burglars had kept away from it. On the paradise island, emp- ty houses were ransacked within days. Paul’s had been unvisited for four years. Believing in neither god nor ghost, I would have gone to Paul’s house that evening, but it was dark, and the house was a good hour and a half drive away. The following day, I set off after lunch when the traffic was less dense as I needed to cross the capital, Port-Louis, before reaching the house in Rose-Hill in the middle of the island. It was three o’clock when I got to the gate, once painted in shiny black enamel, now chipped and rusty. The path of granite blocks was overgrown with weeds and the two patches of lawn on ei- ther side had merged with the flower borders. A rose bush with hips of many a year was defiant with its fungus-infested leaves and thorny, bendy stems. Dandelions were juggling for space with nettles and brambles. Some of the wooden tiles had fallen off the roof to beat down the weeds. Threatening Black Widows were spin- ning their webs on the thorny blackberries and flashing their shiny, black, red-spotted bulbous bums. Layers of paint, once brilliant white, now mossy brown, black and grey, were flaking off the frames of the door and windows to leave cracks that sank deep into the bleached wood. A huge badamier with its large leaves shaded the house to add to the gloom. Hitchcock would have been happy with this setting. As I un- latched the gate, a neighbour poked his head out of his stone-walled gate some twenty feet away but immediately rushed back without saying a word or waving, as if I were a ghost. I slid the key into the lock, surprisingly still smooth as I twisted, but the door was jammed. The frame had swollen with the moisture that had seeped into the naked wood. I push hard, once, twice. It yielded on the fourth heavier shoulder. It was dark inside. All the blue velvet curtains were drawn, and the side windows were shut closed with both layers, the outer usually only when cyclones threatened. I still remembered the lay- out of the house from my previous visit in happi- er times. The living room came first. The sofa was still as I remembered it, but the leather was dusty and had cracked and lost its shine. Cob- webs were in all corners. Two empty cups and Albert Camus’ La Peste were on the teak coffee table. The musty smell was invasive, an odd mixture of mushroom and sawdust. It was then that I sensed the sepulchral chill of the room.

‘Hello. What are you looking for?’

The voice that came from behind startled me. I turned and saw Paul, haggard, dirtier, face un- shaven for long, clothes tattered, but him for sure, flesh and bones, mostly bones. ‘Paul!’ I exclaimed, loud enough to scare the whole neighbourhood of tropical birds, as I rushed towards him, but then stopped abruptly for fear of knocking him down to the ground as he showed no reaction or sign of recognition. He had none of the smile that used to lighten his face permanently when I saw him at his wed- ding five years earlier. He had aged fifteen, maybe twenty, years with thinning grey hair, almost bald. He lifted his right arm slowly and placed it on my left shoulder. ‘I am glad you came. I have a favour to ask. I have been waiting for four years.’ As there was not enough sitting room in his hut, we sat on a log just outside. He stood up again almost immediately heading for his hut. ‘Would you go to my house and pick up something for me?’ he asked. ‘You were my best man.’ I promised to go the next day. Friends had told me that his house was haunted, so spooky and

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