Angels can only see in metaphors, and this fact tends to be as inconvenient for the Heavenly Hosts as it is for the people we try to help. Each Angel has a unique interpretation of the world. Mine is beaded bracelets.
While I know life consists of far more complex things—falling in love, dealing with illness, achieving a dream or losing one—all I see are millions of people sitting calmly on the floor and quietly stringing colored beads on strings.
Here is a man making a bracelet of only one color. Over and over, he adds dark blue beads to the string. He doesn’t even look at the other beads lying in tidy piles around him. I think his true life must be repetitive and he is afraid to seek change. I kneel close and whisper, “It’s okay to try something new.” He strings another blue bead, so I try again. “Different doesn’t always mean frightening. See what else is out there.”
After looking at the colors suspiciously, he selects a green bead and adds it to the bracelet. He returns to blue after that, but I am proud of him just the same. I don’t know what that bead represents, but the experience wasn’t easy for him. “Good job,” I whisper, kissing his forehead.
I trust that God has a good reason for only allowing us metaphorical views of the world, but I still think it’s sad that my advice is so vague. I wish I could do more.
Here is a girl struggling to force a bead over a knot. This means that some obstacle is keeping her from having an experience she wants. She grinds her teeth and yanks at the bead, and I am afraid that the string will break and all of the previously ordered beads will scatter into chaos.
“Slow down,” I whisper, but she shuts out my words. “It’ll be okay. Just untie the knot.” But here I’ve made a mistake. To her, it isn’t a knot; it’s an injury or financial difficulty or unfulfilled obligation. I try again. “Take a step back. Trust me.”
She hesitates, but then pulls the bead off the string with tears hovering at her eyelids. “I know, Sweetheart. I know it’s frustrating. Let’s just look at the problem, okay? What’s the real reason you can’t move forward?”
I want to continue helping her, but I don’t know what that knot represents, let alone how to untie it. That is something only she can do. After a long time, she starts picking at the knotted string. I kiss her and say, “Well done,” and move on.
An old woman reaches out to me as I pass. Her eyes meet mine, so I know she is praying. “What’s wrong?” I ask. In response she holds out two beads, yellow and purple, begging for help deciding between them. These are the moments in which I feel most useless. How can I possibly tell her how to proceed without knowing what the real choices are?
“Follow your heart,” I whisper. She holds the beads out again, eyes pleading me to choose for her. I know she would follow my advice without question. Why am I here if I can’t answer the prayers of a woman with such admirable faith? “I’ll stay with you,” I say, because it’s all I can offer. She chooses purple, and I am proud of her, but ashamed of myself. I did nothing.
Then I notice a young man who hasn’t put a single bead on his bracelet. What could that possibly mean? “Are you afraid?” I ask, but he doesn’t hear me. “Are you lonely?” No response. I look at the string. “You’re empty, aren’t you?”
He whimpers softly in a way that tells me I’m right. He begins tying a knot in the string. “No… You don’t want to do that,” I say, hovering my fingers close to his and wishing I could touch him. “Please don’t. It will make life so much harder.” He seems to understand, and yet keeps tying the knots anyway.
I understand now that he is lost in depression. He eyes the golden clasp that can only be attached to the bracelet at the end of life. Normally God does that part, but he is thinking of doing it himself.
“Please don’t,” I beg him. “I’ll find a way to help you. Wait for me.”
He gives me fleeting nod, but his eyes are so glassy I know I must be quick.
I search for people with the same sadness. I see bracelets with little sections too knotted to hold any beads. Some just accept the gap and move on. Some become angry, looking at fuller bracelets and seeing their own as ugly and incomplete.
Then I find a woman with the answer I was hoping existed. Her string is filled with knots, but they are not merely hindrances to the beads. She found ways to make knots decorative. It was a much harder bracelet to make, surely, but it was beautiful beyond words.
I turn to run back to my sad boy, but then stop myself. How can I describe the woman’s life without mentioning bracelets? I look back to the lady as she weaves beads in with the knots, and I know I can’t teach him how to do that.
But maybe she can.
I bend close to her and whisper, “Will you come with me? Someone needs you.” She stands and follows as I lead her to the boy. I’m sure they talk in real life, but I can’t hear their words. Through my eyes, she sits down beside him, shows him the bracelet she is weaving, and he makes a hesitant attempt at copying it. It isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be.
And for once, I don’t resent only seeing in metaphors. I can see enough to know which people can help each other. That’s all I really need to know.
editorial by Camille Gooderham Campbell
From the Editors
So, did you notice anything different this past month? Yes, podcasts are back! We’re delighted to have Podcast Manager Alexander Jones working with us (check out his photo and bio on the staff page), and he’s doing an awesome job bringing you the fine weekly podcasts you’ve come to expect from EDF.
International Women’s Day is March 8th. On that day, we’ll be featuring Denise Beck-Clark‘s story “Fender Bender”.
Since we’re graced with a Friday the 13th for the second month in a row, it’s only fitting to offer you a story about luck — “As Luck Would Have It” by Todd Thorne.
Sadly, we did not receive any pie stories for Pi Day, but we hope you’ll remember to eat some on March 14th anyway.
For St. Patrick’s Day, we have “The Don of the Dance” by Karl MacDermott. We hope you enjoy this story of lies, Mafiosi, and an Irish dancing teacher.
We still need some April stories — April Fools’ Day, Easter, Passover, US Earth Day, Administrative Professionals’ Day — so get those in to us by March 27th, please.
We’re also looking to fill some positions (editorial and interviewing) at Flash Fiction Chronicles; look for a post with more details coming up soon.
But for now, here’s what we’re bringing you this month:
March’s Table of Contents
|Mar 1||Olivia Berrier||The World as Seen by Angels|
|Mar 2||Joy||Right Angle|
|Mar 3||Colin Garrow||Collecting for Evie|
|Mar 4||Heather Morris||The Hair Club for Fairytale Princesses|
|Mar 5||Sarah Rachel Egelman||From the Canyon|
|Mar 6||C.J. Harrington||Why Did She Go Back|
|Mar 7||Benjamin Sixsmith||Between the Lines|
|Mar 8||Denise Beck-Clark||Fender Bender|
|Mar 9||Carie Juettner||The Wish|
|Mar 10||Frances Howard-Snyder||Late for Lunch|
|Mar 11||Peter Wood||You’re Not the Boss of Me|
|Mar 12||Alison Cooper||Pink Monkey|
|Mar 13||Todd Thorne||As Luck Would Have It|
|Mar 14||David R. Gilbert||Chained|
|Mar 15||Kendall Furlong||She Rounded the Corner Incautiously|
|Mar 16||Benjamin Langley||Ginormous|
|Mar 17||Karl MacDermott||The Don of The Dance|
|Mar 18||Rachel W.||The Little Wooden Box|
|Mar 19||Jeremiah Wolf||Eraser|
|Mar 20||Lee Budar-Danoff||Pioneer Possessions|
|Mar 21||Melon Wedick||Mirror in the Bathroom|
|Mar 22||Michael Seese||The Saving Breath|
|Mar 23||Denice Penrose||Shopping for Men|
|Mar 24||Robert J. Santa||One Twenty-Eight to Manhattan|
|Mar 25||R. Y. Brockway||They Keep Dogs|
|Mar 26||Stephen V. Ramey||The Tutor|
|Mar 27||Jeff Switt||The Refrigerator|
|Mar 28||J.L. Torres||Con Sorda|
|Mar 29||Kelly Ospina||Climbing the Corporate Ladder|
|Mar 30||Cathy S. Ulrich||The Fattest Dog in the World|
|Mar 31||Jamie McKittrick||Bite|
They started with our children. A shrewd move on their part. Many parents were glad when their child walked calmly into the centre of the flock, rather than chasing, limbs flailing. Some were perturbed that their little livewire now crouched and cooed gently rather than aiming kicks at moth-eaten tail feathers, but no-one suspected anything. It’s not as if mothers and fathers compare their children’s pigeon-kicking activities at the school gates.
When they targeted the elderly, the authorities assumed an environmental cause. Some long-dormant contaminant prompting unprecedented levels of dementia amongst our ageing population. Why should they even consider that the hordes of pensioners smuggling spotted dick out to the care home gardens were doing so at our feathered foes’ behest?
By the time pest control technicians started turning up dead, it was already too late. The first body turned up on the roof of the council house, surrounded by empty traps, skin purpling from ingesting his own poison. Suicide, they said. Nothing suspicious. Then another turned up on the multi-storey car park, another atop the university clock-tower, more on the roofs of supermarkets, shops and private residences.
We do not know whether their mind-control abilities are an evolutionary anomaly, or a man-made experiment gone awry. But if someone did this, if someone created this hell intentionally, we can only hope that they too now suffer in the pigeons’ employ, spending their days removing spikes from roosting spots until their hands are bloody and raw.
Lynda Clark writes strange sci-fi, fantasy and horror. Two of her stories have received Honourable Mentions in the Writers of the Future Contest. She can be found on Twitter complaining about video games and television as @Notagoth.
James pulls himself up, out of the heat and over the rock, and removes his fire suit. “I’ll be damned,” he says, slowly, repeatedly.
“This surprises you?” Antonio asks. Around him small clouds of sulphur, hot and wispy, float past. The stink is terrible.
“I guess it does,” says James. He looks back down into the pit he’s just climbed out of.
Antonio shrugs his shoulder, a typical gesture for so many Italians, as if to ask, what did you expect? Instead, he maintains a respectful silence. Senior academics, he long ago learnt, don’t like to be corrected directly. Especially not those who edit the journals in which one has to ultimately seek publication, and on which your own career depends.
Slowly, respectfully, he says, “It’s just a predictable process of evolution, I guess.” He gestures down into the crater below. “But I have a feeling: please don’t stand so close to the big pools, the deep ones.”
The Englishman looks down at the lava flow again. This is not a sudden, explosive rupture; rather a quiet, fiery seeping wound from the side of the mountain. “Did I really see what, you know… I thought I did?” he asks his colleague.
The Italian nods. “Shouldn’t surprise you, really. Didn’t we always know about … scusi, how do you say in Inglese? – extreme-ohs.”
“Extremophiles,” James corrects him. “Bacterium and other little critters in places we once thought life couldn’t exist. Radioactive sites. Toxic chemical environments. Volcanic vents. But still … ” he trails off in confusion. Sometimes an Oxbridge education will get you only so far.
The earth trembles briefly once more, a gentle nudge from below. Another small rivulet of lava breaks through the ground, this time just near their feet. Protected in their high-insulation outfits, they’re not worried that it might hurt them. Antonio turns and squints at the lava flow, gestures James over.
For a second time, James can see the small figures in the oozing red. Slivers of life, against the odds. He watches as first one, then another, and finally a whole swarm of the little black fingerlings move through the lava. Like a school of fish, they travel in a tight pack, dozens of them, stopping abruptly to nibble at some of those bacterium, turning suddenly to swim briefly back upstream for a while, then returning and milling around.
“Now you know what I wanted to show you,” says Antonio, “and why you wouldn’t believe my paper if you hadn’t seen it yourself.”
James nods. “First you get the little pieces of life, like bacteria. And eventually something emerges that feeds on it.”
Antonio nods his head. “Exactly. It is a predictable process of evolution, is it not?”
He continues. “For many years I hear these stories, from the people of these islands, but don’t believe them. And then I see for myself, and I begin to research this, describe it.”
And of course, reflects Antonio, there would be no better place, no more symbolically significant one, than here. He’s standing looking out onto the Aeolian islands, on the rim of the so-called gran cratere of Vulcano, the very first of all volcanoes, the one from which all others are named, as it has come back to life.
The side of the mountain shakes again, and more lava rivulets begin to open up around them. Now that he knows what he’s looking for, James realises that almost all of them are teeming with their own lava fish. What a publication this will make, he realises. Something to secure both of their careers, forever.
He wanders a little further along the flank of the mountain, finds another, much larger, deeper magma pool. At the surface, he can now see hundreds of these critters, swimming together in a tight, massive bait ball.
“Come, we should go,” says Antonio. “And I really don’t think you should stand over the big lava pools.”
James doesn’t hear him. He’s still standing there, gazing at the swirling school of lava fish, thinking of their discovery, when a much bigger darker shape emerges. It circles for the briefest of moments, as if sizing up its opportunities, then leaps up out of the lava and pulls him in. There’s no time for James to cry out, just a splash.
Antonio watches as the lava shark prowls briefly through the molten red liquid with its victim, then swims off, back into the boiling underground heart of Vulcano.
He sighs. James should have seen that bigger predator coming. After all, it too is just a part of the predictable process of evolution.
Michael T Schaper is currently based in Australia’s “bush capital,” Canberra, where he spends a lot of time fruitlessly looking for some surf. He is also an adjunct professor with Curtin University of Technology in Western Australia, and a keen reader of flash fiction in all its many forms.
My genius guidance counselor messed up my schedule leaving me two credits short for graduation. Thornhill’s journalism course is my only choice, so I take it, but I’m pissed. I don’t like news, or writing, or Thornhill.
Second class, Thornhill says, “Listen-up. Veterans’ Day is November 11th and…” The rest of his words are a lot of blah-blah about the power of story. Who cares? And where the hell do you ‘get’ a live World War II veteran to interview anyway? I want to strangle my frickin’ guidance counselor.
That evening, Dad says, “V.F.W. post has live veterans. Your grandfather is a member. He can introduce you to some of the old guys.”
“Old guys? You mean mummies.”
“Stop whining. Call your grandfather.”
I want to snap back but I need some cash for the weekend so I pull out my phone instead. A quick conversation and I’m set with Gramps.
For lawn decoration, V.F.W. Post 417 has a tank, and a weird wooden soldier that looks like a life-sized Ewok in uniform.
“What’s with that soldier statue?” I ask.
“Charlie Jay, the chainsaw artist, made it. Thing was supposed to be a bear cub on its hind legs. The saw slipped. Sorta looks like a one of them troll dolls in uniform, huh? Charlie donated it. Can’t say no to a chainsaw guy.”
“Ohhh-kaaay,” I mutter, as we cross the parking lot.
Inside the building, Gramps hustles me over to a small booth. Sitting alone is one mummy-looking guy—with buzzed-cut white hair—staring at a Pabst Blue Ribbon can and a bowl of pretzels. Introductions are made then my grandfather heads for the bar. I slide in opposite Fred Logan, and put my recorder on the table between us.
“Thanks, Mr. Logan, it’s great…” I start, but he interrupts. “Look, Jerry, there’s one word for war,” he says, then holds up his fingers in air quotes, “stupid.” He pauses, then says, “I mean, Christ, today, the Krauts and Japs are our friends. Stupid. Call me Frank. I’m talking to you because your grandfather’s a class act.”
“Uh…it’s Jordan, not Jerry. Okay…stupid…got it. I just need one war story, that’s it,” I say turning on the recorder
Frank studies me. I study Frank. “How old are you?” he asks.
“Almost eighteen, why?”
“What do you know about World War II?”
“Not much. History isn’t my thing.”
“Yeah, not mine, either, until I landed in it. Turned eighteen in London right before D-Day. Celebrated at a pub with my pal, Brownie. We called him that ‘cause he was small like one of them little people in fairy tales. Built good, just not much of him. Anyway, it turns out the Brits don’t like us much. Thought Americans were, you know, upstarts.”
“Really? I heard we were allies.”
Frank leans into the table. “Listen, smart guy, history books leave stuff out. They hated us ‘cause all the English tootsies fell for Yanks.” He sticks a finger in the pretzels and pushes them around. “Anyway,” he says, “at the pub it’s all friendly on the surface but tense underneath. Too many cocky, boozed-up guys all nervous, and mouthy.
“Brownie was sweet-talking a waitress when some Brit bumps his shoulder and says, ‘S’cuse me, Yank, didn’t see ya’ down there.’ I think, Christ, we’re cooked. Brownie is Irish, see, despises Brits on principle. Always called ‘em ‘Limey’ whenever he could. Brit makes a crack about his size, look out.
“So, Brownie hollers, ‘Hey, you Limey asshole,’ and kicks the guy in the shin. ‘Better down here, now,’ he says. Place is dead silent…then, wham. His majesty’s finest grabs Brownie and off to the races. Whole joint squares off. Fists fly. Waitresses scream. It’s a goddamn free-for-all. I’m thinking, shit, I’m gonna die in a stinking bar on my way to the war. When Brownie goes down, I head for the exit.”
“You left Brownie? That’s cold,” I say, and lean away from the table.
“Naw, I didn’t leave him. ‘Brownie went down’ means he dropped to the floor and crawled under the flying bodies. I followed him. We got to the door then ran like racehorses just as the MPs arrived. Weren’t no heroes but we sure got laughs telling the tale.”
I’m thinking, holy shit, just my dumb luck. Need a war story, get a bar brawl. So I say, “Uh, Frank? My grandfather said you were in some big battle and got a medal.”
“Oh, yea, almost forgot.” He leans back, and pulls a small leather case out of his pants’ pocket.
Opening the lid, Frank puts the box on the table. I pick it up. On white satin sits a bronze cross with an eagle in the center and the words, ‘For Valor’ engraved on a tiny scroll.
“Wow,” I say. “Sweet.”
“Distinguished Service Cross. Killed a lot of Krauts at a village called Bastogne. More of them than us. What a mess. Kiddo, just remember, no matter what side you’re on, being a combat hero is all about getting your ass out in one piece, even it means killing everything in sight. It’s the Brownie story that matters.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Listen, in war, somebody fires at you, you fire back. I had a machine gun. No valor, just reaction. Getting out of a bar brawl in one piece without hurting anyone because you stick by a mouthy, bonehead friend who likes to fight — well, that’s valor. Think about it.”
Frank eats a pretzel, gulps his beer, and slides out of the booth. We’re done. I hand back the medal and stick the recorder in my pocket. Collecting my grandfather from the bar, we head out. Once in the car, I start texting.
“Kids,” Gramps mutters, “not even a hero beats technology.”
“Breaking a date,” I say, without looking up, “and she’s gorgeous.” Glancing at him, I wink, then add, “Thought tonight, I’d interview you about ‘Nam. Did I ever tell you about Thornhill?”
JB Smith is a freelance writer. Her fiction has appeared in various online and print publications.