Behind the Wainscot #2
A Walk in the Snow
[ Marie Prior ]
I tested the weight of the spare manacle, offering a silent apology to Bob. It had taken most of the night to get the irons off his legs. It was a good job he'd been dead so long, or we'd never have managed.
Paul said, "It'll be a picnic. A walk in the snow."
I shook my head. It had been a walk in the snow that had got us caught. There was no trial, not for us political dissidents. Just a short, cold future in the grey stone of the Spire.
I glanced up at our one narrow window. It was unbarred, but at this height that hardly mattered. The faint winter-pink sunset filtered through a cloud of iridescent shining-sharp bubbles. They floated ever upwards, a pale sparkling hoard of them. We'd taken turns to watch them; in three months they hadn't stopped. Every so often it would snow and the bubbles would gain their own little white peaks, like mountains.
They were just another part of the prison; it wasn't wise to watch them for long.
"He's coming," Paul whispered, nudging me in the ribs. "Picnic, remember?"
"Yeah, walk in the snow," I replied.
A whistle was blown, food was coming. I really needed to eat, but just thinking of our night's work with Bob and that half a wooden spoon put me right off.
The door opened, and the jailor entered, food first. Paul struck, winding his half of Bob's chains around the man's legs. The jailor fell, and I slammed his head against the bare stone floor. Paul flashed his grin again—he never thought of the impossibility of it all—and went for the keys.
Even without our irons, we still hobbled, wasted muscles making long work of the even flagged floor. Paul paused at a stairwell, wheezing. I must have shook my head, got turned about or something, but there was another window.
The sky, pink and blue and dotted with the suspicion of white cloud, came to me through a craze of refraction. The bubbles were streaming faster than I'd ever seen them, straining up and further up. I must have reached out.
"Think of Bob," Paul managed. "Remember what happened when he ate one?"
I was about to answer, but the panorama of iridescent, translucent spheres sucked at my eyes and drew them upwards into a sky I could hardly see. There were new noises behind me, the clank and clatter of fresh iron on the stairs, hoarse shouts of the guards and the oh-so-quiet protests of Paul as he tried desperately to grab my attention.
I could smell the cheap beer, the filth and sweat of the guards as I tipped us both over the sill. The bubbles caught us, lifted us, little mounds of snow melting through our clothes.
After a moment, and with a vertiginous elastic lurch, I got to my feet. I pulled Paul up beside me. He grinned.
"Walk in the snow?" I asked.
Marie is a trainee art historian in the third year of her PhD at York (UK), where she teaches undergrads and helps to run Creative Writing Group. Her work has appeared in Dark Tales magazine.
[ Adrienne J. Odasso ]
There have been strange whispers on the sea of late. Ariel has ignored them for many a month, chasing Iris through the island glades and singing his taunts to the old pine at sunset. For a place so small and wave-locked, the world has yet to lose its wonder. By night, he sleeps in the sand and dreams of a painted, windswept dawn.
One morning, a storm woke Ariel, scattering his bed with driftwood and sea-reeds. It had not been long since his master's departure—nay, not half a century—and such a storm was not unheard of in the pages of Prospero's memory. He brushed the stuff away and told the tide to tell the duke-magician that he would have to do better than that.
For long months, Ariel's days passed in frolic, and the sea brought no answer.
Iris says that the sea is restless now because Ariel has pelted it with one too many white pebbles. Ariel tells her that what he does to the sea is no sprite's business but his own. She skips away down the strand making bird-sounds, laughing and mocking. Ariel pitches another pebble and tells the sea that he cannot hear her.
For amusement, there is also the witch's freckled bastard, who has taken to hiding now that he, too, is free. Prospero had little choice but to bind him there, and being bound to an entire island is better than being bound to a tree. Ariel hovers about the caves, murmuring this into every mouth. Sometimes, the creature answers with a snarl, and sometimes, garbled words echo back from the shadowed depths: names and incantations and familiar charms, all twisted into the vilest of curses. Ariel curses, too, and flees.
After dusk, asleep in the sand, he dreams of pearls and a gentle voice.
The morning arrives both windy and beautiful. There's been a storm overnight, a fierce one, and the beach is strewn for the first time in decades with wreckage. The island-nymphs are already rummaging through piles of broken timber and tangles of fishnet, curious. Ariel creeps from his rest and lights upon a scrap of sail, its red-dyed insignia faded to fine coral. This is not a new wreck, for the water has had its way.
Not far off, in the surf, a pale thing rolls to rest and glistens.
The skull is tumbled white, wondrous without eyes. Ariel takes it in both hands and lifts it from the sand, for a moment flesh enough to hold the thing that was so lately flesh. As he kneels, wet dark hair hanging in his eyes, he touches the ridges where the cheeks would have been and knows that the absent tongue still speaks.
"Come, master," he whispers, and draws the pearls out of his dream.
Adrienne J. Odasso is currently in the first year of her interdisciplinary Ph.D. at the University of York Centre for Medieval Studies in York, England. Some of her poetry currently appears on Strong Verse and has been published in Aesthetica magazine.
[ Nancy Jane Moore ]
High wind warning from noon til night. Please secure loose items and watch for flying debris.
Mostly cloudy thunderstorms expected in the entire district. A two-inch period of rain is predicted. Local areas may vary.
The late evening visibilities in spotty locations will be near zero. Please take protective actions.
The Innocuous Inspection station will be opening and closing from 5am until 1pm. Inspections are mandatory. No one will be admitted during closing. Violators will be prosecuted.
The Department of Designation will be beaming a white memorial light skyward in a vertical manner from dark to dawn on two successive full evenings only during the hours of darkness. Over the weekend DoD will be installing the light beam, so you may also see it then. This is not a test. Do not be alarmed.
Prepare for this potentially dangerous situation by removing possessions from inside and out and by informing your friends, family, and co-conspirators of this alert.
The ban on liquids remains in effect.
Nancy Jane Moore's novella Changeling is part of the Conversation Pieces series from Aqueduct Press. Much of her work can be found in anthologies, including Polyphony 5, Future Washington, and Imaginings. Her short fiction has also appeared in magazines ranging from Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. In January 2006, she spoke at the Library of Congress on "The Resurgence of Feminist Science Fiction."
[ Jason Erik Lundberg ]
These steam-powered mechanical legs of mine itch like a swarm of a dozen dozen fire ants, feasting on the stumps that end just above the knees. Not indignity enough that I am become a cripple, unable to walk under my own power, but that I needs must rely on these monstrous appendages, wheezing, hissing, drippling fluids, as if I were a clanking beast from legend.
Tan Ai Ling, my saviour, my lover, my brilliant thaumaturge, she will not reveal how she constructed my peripatetic apparatus, cobbled together from a bricolage of machinery, some delicate as the gears of a pocketwatch, some as clunky as the steam chamber from a railway engine. She is a genius, and had she not been born into poverty, I am confident she might have become one of Her Majesty's finest engineers. As it is, we suffer an existence of legal impropriety, acquiring pirated silks, spices, and takar kenangan, and then selling them, discreetly, to the foreigners who visit our shores, all while staying beneath the notice of Captain Keppel, who is determined to rid all of Singapura of those who would flout the authority of the Crown.
I make my deals, trade my wares, and continue to live, rarely venturing outside to expose my lurching gait, relying on Tan Ai Ling for support, for sustenance, for a reason to continue. Never did I thank her for my current limited ability to perambulate through the rest of my days, so ashamed am I. One day, I shall overcome my pride and do so. One day.
Jason Erik Lundberg is the co-author of Four Seasons in One Day, and the co-editor of Scattered, Covered, Smothered and the forthcoming Field Guide to Surreal Botany. His solo work has appeared in over two dozen venues in the US, UK and Serbia, including The Third Alternative, Strange Horizons, Fantastic Metropolis, Infinity Plus, and Electric Velocipede. His short fiction has been nominated for the Fountain Award and honorably mentioned in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. With his wife, artist-writer Janet Chui, he runs Two Cranes Press, a critically-acclaimed independent publisher in North Carolina. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop and the M.A. program in Creative Writing at North Carolina State University. Lundberg maintains a website and blog at jasonlundberg.net, and produces a literary podcast called Lies and Little Deaths: A Virtual Anthology.
Farrago's Wainscot is an exhibition of weird, strange, bizarre, interstitial, or otherwise liminal fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and experimental forms.
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