Golem

 

 By Anna Stolley Persky

A girl has disappeared in the woods behind our house, that is a fact. I can guess what happened to her. 

The police officer stands solid at the screen door, asking my mom and me if we have any insight into the girl’s disappearance. He stares especially at me, probably because I am a teenager and, as a teenager, always suspected of doing something wrong. And my hair is longer than he likely thinks it should be, and I cast a rebel shadow over his feet flat law-enforcement stance. Maybe he thinks I’m hiding something. The truth is I am. 

Teri Lynn’s been gone since early this morning, off to play in the woods, maybe dip her fingers in the stream, like she’d probably done before, but maybe not on her own. She’s only eight years old.

The neighbors are flocking out of their split foyer homes. They call out her name, “Teri Lynn, Teri Lynn,” their flashlights dancing light across the sky. They gather in the middle of the street, gearing up to charge into the dark brush, onto the dirt path that snakes from our neighborhood to the next, and then the next. 

I think she’s gone. I think she’s been eaten, limb-by-limb. I think I know who did it.

#

It’s been six years since the rainy afternoon I created Golem. I wanted a protector from all the bad things in my life. My parents’ divorce. The kids that called me names and shoved me down at the playground. Deep in the woods, I formed Golem from desperation and dripping soil because that’s how magic works. I molded a round stomach, stump legs, holes for eyes, bulky arms, and closed fists for punching, but only if necessary for defense, of course. I gave him a gaping mouth, which meant he always looks surprised, maybe aghast at the world in which he was born. The truth is, though, he never protected me from anything. 

For almost a year, I hid him in the skunk cabbage and checked on him every afternoon, as he grew larger and larger, until he towered over me, although he could shrink down when he didn’t want to be seen. But he started talking, as magic creatures do, asking questions I couldn’t answer. 

Golem got hungrier and more resentful, and I shouted at him one day, repulsed, as a struggling baby fox dangled from his mouth.

“Put the baby down,” I said.

Golem kept chewing through a chunk of fur.

The next day Golem told me: “I have learned all I can from you. It’s time for you to leave my kingdom.”

“How can you do this to me? If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t be alive.”

“You think you created me?” Golem laughed. “I created you.” 

#

“Why don’t we go with them and help, Adam?” my mom says, as the officer turns from us and strides towards the search party, which is looking more like an angry mob. Mr. Wallace is saying, “It’s those damn immigrants that took her,” and someone else is saying, “Hell yeah,” and I am thinking about what Golem can hear and what, if anything, he will do when the crowd descends upon his territory, his kingdom. Even though I haven’t seen him in years, I have always felt him out there, lurking.

I wonder if Golem ate Teri Lynn in one slurpy gulp and then spat out her bones close to the path. Maybe her body parts will be strewn on the banks of the stream or in a sloppy pile by an ironwood tree. Maybe Golem swallowed her whole, a secret forever obscured by his belly. 

“Nah,” I say. “I’ll stay here. Maybe you should too. Who knows what’s out there?” I don’t really want my mom and Golem to meet, because if Golem is now taking to consuming humans, he might find her a tasty option. 

My mom looks at me with a frown pulling her wrinkles deeper around her lips. 

“I’m going,” she says. I can see she is in her own way as suspicious of me as the police officer was, and maybe it is worse, because she knows me at least a little better than he does. I let her go.

#

The searchers spend all night in the woods. They find nothing, no Golem, no Teri Lynn. The police comb the area the following day, and the day after that, until they are sure there is no trace of her, no DNA, no abandoned shoe. The prevailing theory is that a stranger from elsewhere lured Teri Lynn from the path and into a car, but the police check all the cameras and come up empty. 

My mom joins up with a neighborhood watch, cruises the streets to keep them safe from murderers. I start driving lessons with an old woman who chain smokes, throws her cigarette butts in the street while I am at the wheel. I don’t tell her to stop because I need her to like me, give me good marks so I can get my license.

On the morning of my final lesson, I open up the garage. There, in front of our Subaru, is a neat stack of thin bones and a child’s skull.

I don’t know if it’s a warning, a present or a reminder of something I don’t quite understand yet. I know the bones are impossibly white, licked clean.

*   *   *

Anna Stolley Persky, a lawyer and award-winning journalist, lives in Northern Virginia. She’s pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at George Mason University. Her fiction has been published in Mystery Tribune, The Satirist, Five on the Fifth, The Write Launch, VOIS, and The Plentitudes. Her poetry has been published in the Sad Girls Club Literary Blog, You Might Need to Hear This, Washington Writers’ Publishing House, and The Closed Eye Open. Her creative nonfiction has been published in The Washington Post.

Weeds and Roots

Creative nonfiction

By Amy Wilson

After my husband yanked our newborn son from my arms in a fit of rage and subsequently hurled his Bud Lite bottle toward my head, and after he tried to kick my head during my game of solitaire on our living room floor, the thought crossed my mind that if I didn’t start appropriately using my head, then it would likely soon be smashed in. 

In consequence, I gathered my engorged breasts, several diapers, and one bag of animal cookies, and my son and I traveled to West Virginia, the place of my childhood. Since I found myself faced with the responsibility of establishing, from scratch, a safe and solid foundation on which to build our new life, it made sense to begin with the obvious, with what was familiar. 

That is how I ended up in the Bellview Cemetery, pulling weeds from among the long forgotten grave markers and spreading them, with the loosed dirt from their roots, underneath my bare feet. Weeds choke out the good, and it was good to pull them up and put them to use. The dead among the weeds, buried under the weeds, would not miss them. If the dead could talk – and likely they were that day – they might actually have thanked me for such a kindness. I did not hear them because this moment was for myself, and the seriousness of the weed project merited silent concentration, except for a distant lawn mower sputtering intermittently on Highland Avenue, which could not be helped.

“They are nothing but a nuisance,” sweet old Ruby Wise declared regarding the weeds, approving of my effort here in the cemetery, which happened to be situated against the property of the house she lived in when she was alive, the house where she served me coffee in a white Corelle mug trimmed in green after Sunday School. She would be 115 years old now.

Another corpse, anonymous, agreed. “They choke the grass, and the grass gives me pleasure.”

Another chimed in, critically, “What kind of messed up girl would want weeds to spread under her feet? Why not daisies or mums or petals from a rose? Why not Spanish Moss? Or bright purple Morning Glories?” This one was a poet at heart, back in his day.

Another pointed out, “Morning Glories are just as bad as weeds, so don’t even get me started.”

Then someone who once knew me as a child said, “That girl who is pulling them up from the earth – she is trying to fix her mess. She is trying to deal with the death and debris of the terror. She must start here, among the dead, pulling up what is left that still has a root to offer.”

Spanish Moss certainly would have looked better than the weeds I found, but that was no matter. I spread the weeds, the shaken-loose soil, and the roots of the weeds beneath me, and I stood straight and tall, my feet not moving as I absorbed the new earth I had created below me. Then, eventually, I sprouted, my own roots joining with the weeds, spreading and thickening, like the bold blue Interstate 79 line on the map, stretching up and down through West Virginia, up through Pennsylvania, and through the  of grave sites of my Grandma Greta, Aunt Ruth, and Molly, a local artist renowned for her silhouettes of kindergarteners, her laughter like a Miracle Gro, inspiring the proliferation of joy.

“Hand me my son,” I announced to no one in particular, feeling strong, my arms outstretched like the roots themselves, my fingers tingling, a Live Oak, building and growing and becoming green and budding with the possibility of a flower. It was Spring time, after all, and even though I strived for a bright orange hibiscus (unlikely in the West Virginia climate) I would settle for even a dandelion, any sort of proof of progress. I waited as the orange sun set, bright as the hibiscus I wanted to be that glowed neon against the backdrop of Waimea Falls where my son was conceived. It set over and over again, many evenings on end, my profile a silhouette that Molly drew from the ashes in her urn.

My baby attached himself to me. Who brought him? Brother Chapman from the New Life Worship Center? Jesus? The voices from the earth? Or, ostensibly, he swam to me through a canal of room temperature Chardonnay. Or was it vitamin B- infused amniotic fluid? Or blood? – and as he fed from me, he, too, began to sprout, developing roots and strength, and through my milk I imparted hope. 

Then, somehow, we survived.

                                           *   *   *

Amy Wilson is a mother, educator, and crisis hotline worker for her local domestic violence shelter. Her analyses of attachment and loneliness in the contemporary vampire story have been presented at academic and pop culture conferences throughout the United States. She is a sucker for love and banana peppers and writes for clarity.

The Dying of the Light

By Killeen Partridge

The shutter clicks and I hear Nathaniel wind the film. He says something I can’t hear, my back turned toward the horizon where the sun is falling into the ocean. I let my arm drop as a wave breaks against my legs and soaks the hem of my dress, toes digging into the sand to brace against the ocean as it washes away.

“Rose!”

I like the way my name sounds on his lips: fearless, confident — a stranger to the Rosemary I’ve always been.

“Rosie!”

I blink tears and take a breath, turn to reach a hand out to beckon him by my side, and the shutter clicks again. “Nat, stop…” My cheeks heat. “Please.”

Then his hand is suddenly warm in mine and I’m tucked under his arm, nestled by his side. Safe.

“When will you be back?” I ask.

“Not soon enough,” he whispers. A wave threatens to knock us down, but we are stronger together and it recedes.

“I’ll write.” A meager promise, but it’s mine to make.

“Every day?”

“Every day,” I say.

He squeezes me and I lean my head against his chest, close my eyes tight against the dusk.

“Rosemary?”

I open my eyes. Rosemary? His voice sounds different and I feel my heart skip.

“Nat?” My voice frantic as I look around for him.

“Rosemary, it’s okay.”

A woman’s voice? That’s not right. Nathaniel was just here, beside me. I heard his voice. Felt his touch.

“Nat!” A feeble attempt to cry out and I’m out of breath. How odd.

“Nathaniel is gone, Rosemary,” she says.

Her voice is condescending, grates against the panic that is bubbling up inside me.

“No,” I jab a finger to where she stands now. “He was just there.” The movement is sudden and she reaches out to grasp my elbow like I’m old and frail and about to topple over.

We look where I’m pointing. He has to be there. Has to. Just out of sight maybe.

“He’s not here, Rosemary,” she says, fingers clasped tight around my arm.

I jerk away, out of her grasp, and walk along the shoreline. I watch the waves wrap gently around my ankles, but I don’t feel them this time. My hem is dry and the ocean doesn’t tug me out to sea. I stumble.

“Rosemary, your cane,” she calls after me.

I pause, blink. Look down again at the sand no longer between my toes but carpet under my feet, flecked with blues and greens.

I don’t understand.

I glance at my hands, blood vessels clearly visible under paper thin skin. I shake my head, run fingers through my hair and twist some of it around and around, a habit I picked up as a little girl to cope with the worry. This can’t be right. He was here, just now, standing beside me in the ocean.

“Why don’t we go back to your apartment, Rosemary?” She’s back again.

And this time I nod.

I let her guide me to a room that smells like mothballs and disinfectant, and she moves items about, rearranging all my things as I watch. My fingers twist through hair and work overtime. I wish she would stop.

But when she leaves I just stand there, arms by my side. Still. Like a wild animal caught in headlights — too scared to run, too shocked to hide.

“Nathaniel?” I whisper. I wait for his presence to fill the space left in her wake.

Minutes tick by.

And then I feel it — his hand warm again in mine.

He leads me toward the bed where we lie down together. I turn on my side, feel his body curl around me, fill my nose with his scent of salt sea air and aftershave. Safe.

I let myself drift away then, carried on a decades-old tide, my breath rushing out with the water.

And only the ocean returns.

                                               *  *  *
Killeen Partridge is a high school Social Studies teacher and aspiring writer in her spare time. When she isn’t in the classroom, you can find her coffee shop hopping, riding her 1974 Yamaha TY250 in the forest, or catching the next flight out. Killeen holds a Master’s in Teaching from Virginia Commonwealth University and currently resides in Arizona with her retired show dog, Gunner. You can follow her on Instagram at @killeentravels.

Out of Clay

By Jerome Berglund

Vera cracked the egg on the counter with one hand, and out came a tiny man into the measuring cup. He was dressed semi-formally in miniature business casual attire, which became quite sticky as he splattered into the mixture of whites and yolks from the two more conventional shells which preceded his anomaly.

The spinster was appropriately flabbergasted, at a loss for words as to what made this sample so different from the rest of its baker’s dozen confederates, counted the occupant fortunate he had not been among the trio preceding, destined not for beating for a cake but deposited directly onto her frying pan at breakfast. If that would have been a quicker and less complicated affair, though grisly of clean-up projectedly. This new addition to her humble abode was unexpected, indeed somewhat disagreeable…

Vera’s eyesight was not so good anymore, yet with effort she managed to fish the petite gent out from the muck, get his clothing peeled off and crudely laundered with dish soap and a toothbrush. His vocal chords seemed equally diminutive, for try as she might – she did not try too hard, either, honestly – the old lady could not rightly make out a word he uttered, shout himself hoarse though she discerned him do regularly attempting.

He therefore only succeeded getting her attention once in a while through a sort of merry jig he could effect when the spirit moved him to. More often it was she who sought her lodger out, for he turned out to be pretty handy when it came to spot-cleaning, she required a compact proxy to retrieve the earrings she was always dropping under furniture, or chase down stray root vegetables which went flying into hard to reach places.

The underside of the refrigerator, piano, behind her toilet had never been tidier. Otherwise, for the bulk of their days they each lived like a harried contractor in an open model office, assigned to different teams and unconnected tasking, rendezvousing by their peculiar water cooler at an agreed upon set hour of the evening around quitting time to digest the radio plays which Vera religiously made a habit of consuming, broadcast cracklingly over an ornate old-timey receiver on the kitchen counter. Grand dame and microscopic wretch both, in fact, proved proportionately captivated by the high drama, romance and parable these salacious sagas presented.

The old lady listened and imagined herself free and agile like their casts of maverick characters, chasing glory and adventure unimpeded against Technicolor backdrops, at liberty with a clutch at most to her person, skipping down yellow brick roads gaily, fates in her corner and necessary muses programmed in on speed-dial, awaiting her call on a dedicated landline. Vera’s shrunken guest, conversely, fantasized that he were writ as large and imposing, might proceed through the wide world and its tall orders as impactfully as the brazen heroes always appeared to: walking with footsteps audible—resounding even!—and keeping up with these giants who dominated the competition he’d been dumped into haphazard. The old maid wished she could see details through the cataract blur, hear without need of an aid cranked to its utmost volume.

The pipsqueak desired to get perceived and understood, similarly. But both, being hopeless in their own hearts’ desires, were placated slightly through vicariously thrilling in, finding soothing via proxies less unfortunate, not hampered by deficiencies in providence and privilege, confined by size or capability. The promise of pretending would have to serve for them both, and it did in a hollow, unsatisfying way. If at times the little man had a screaming desire to hit the bricks, hightail it, go live in a burrow. And Vera was half tempted to bake him in a strawberry shortcake as she had originally intended.
* * *

Jerome Berglund holds a film degree from USC, more recently has also worked as a commercial photographer and paralegal. He has previously published stories in Grim & Gilded, Stardust, Martian Chronicles, Propertius Press, and the Watershed Review, as well as a play in Iris Literary Journal.

Socials:
—————
TWITTER: https://twitter.com/BerglundJerome
BLOG: https://flowersunmedia.wixsite.com/jbphotography/blog-1/
INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/lespectrepoliteraryjournal/
FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/JeromeBerglundPhotography/

Sacrifice

By Tim Frank

“Are they still there?’ Katja said as she hid in the shadow cast by the bedroom door. Her husband, Maurice, inspected the elaborate folds of their bed’s headboard for bedbugs.

“Yep, they’re here,” he said, lip curled in disgust, “everywhere in fact.”

“Well, you have to sleep here tonight. That’s what they say, you have to sleep at the source, otherwise they’ll travel around the rest of the flat and get to me on the sofa bed.”

“Sure, ah, ok honey. I can do that.”

“Thanks babe, it means the world. They’re just so horrific,” Katja said, wringing her hands, her faced drained from sleepless nights.

That night Maurice helped his wife unravel the sofa bed, align the topper mattress and arrange the duvet. When he heard her deep forceful snores, he rolled off his bed, tiptoed to the back door and let himself out into the backyard. He sat on the soft turf in the garden – the full moon high in the sky like a spotlight illuminating a stage.

He chain-smoked a few Marlboro reds, coughed up some phlegm, and hawked it into the bushes. He became so drowsy he ended up asleep on his side in the foetal position. But after an hour, he lifted himself to his feet and sleepwalked around the garden. He bumped into the fence and his plaid bomber jacket got tangled in the rose thorns. He was dreaming of being trapped in a maximum-security prison, dodging gunfire and rabid dogs.
After a while though, he became aware enough to know he was lost, and as he spun around with his arms outstretched, he called out to Katja to help direct him to freedom. Katja had seen it all before and she wasn’t surprised to find Maurice rattling about in the garden shed, face covered in cobwebs. 

He whispered to her conspiratorially, “Maurice didn’t sleep in the bed because he wants the bugs to get you.”

“Is that right?” she said.

Maurice placed his finger to his lips.

“Secrets,” he said.

In the morning the bed bug exterminator arrived with a steamer and her patented organic pesticides. She had a mouthful of blackened teeth, a leathery face and manly hands with painted fingernails. She was called Julie.

“Out of ten,” Julie said after she’d inspected their ground floor flat, “I’d say your infestation is about an eight. Either one of you been sleeping on the master bed?”

“Yes, I have,” said Maurice.

Katja gave Maurice a contemptuous glare and said, “It’s not true, he’s lying.”

“Now,” Julie said firmly, planting her hands on her hips, “I’m going to need you two to be completely honest with me, otherwise I refuse to help you.”

“If you want total honesty, Julie, that could be a problem because my husband’s a compulsive liar. Mostly about all the women he’s slept with. I know because he told me in his sleep.”

“At least I didn’t shag that stinking rat, Simon, from two doors down. I know this, Julie, because my darling wife told me while she was wide awake.”

“This Simon you’re talking about, his name isn’t Simon Jenkins, is it?”

“That’s right. You know him?” said Katja.

“Yes. Yes, well, look guys,” Julie said, taking a seat on the sofa, looking pensive, “normally I respect the privacy of my clients, but Mr Jenkins is a special case. Honestly, his place is as bad as I’ve ever seen. He’s a menace to the neighbourhood and I strongly urge you not to go near him if you want to beat the bugs.”

“Great, my wife’s a whore and Simon Jenkins probably gave us bedbugs.”

“Don’t you dare …!”

“Enough!” cried Julie. “Both of you take a seat and listen to me before I crack your heads together like a pair of milk bottles. The only way to regain trust is to win this war against the bugs, because they will strain the best of marriages. Now, I want you to give each other a kiss.”

Like guilty children, Maurice and Katja gave each other a thin-lipped peck and Julie clapped her manly hands once in delight.

Before Julie left, she insisted at least one person sleep in the infested bed so the bugs wouldn’t spread. Then she handed over a thick folder, jam-packed with instructions about bedbug etiquette. She called it The Bible.

That night, Maurice promised Katja he would remain in their marital bed. He wanted to resolve their issues even though he knew it was probably too late for that.

Under the covers, Maurice couldn’t sleep, unable to get the image of Simon Jenkins bearing down on his wife’s naked body, bedbugs crawling out of his ears and mouth like a dried-out scare crow. But Maurice was determined to stay put and as he tossed and turned, he recalled the women he had slept with in this very bed as his wife worked endless night shifts in Tesco. He saw images of the women’s eyes flashing in wild ecstasy, and as bugs scuttled over his body, he felt maybe he was making amends — his sins being cleansed in atonement.

Katja and Maurice finally fell asleep in their separate beds and their dreams were as bleak and empty as the night. Julie had warned that the bugs were almost indestructible. It would only be in the morning that they’d discover what was left to endure – whether Maurice’s sacrifice had paid-off, or it was just another futile attempt at saving their marriage.

                                                                     *   *   *

Tim Frank’s short stories have been published in Bourbon Penn, Eunoia Review, The Metaworker, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Menacing Hedge, Maudlin House and elsewhere.

He is the associate fiction editor for Able Muse Literary Journal.