Driftwood by Bill Stifler

Lost by Victoria Holt, 2017

We only think we remember the flowing current of our past.  Instead we remember eddies, that branch cutting the water, a mist-hung spider’s web limply swaying above long ripples.  There are no words for one yesterday distinct from another.  I try to remember–long days sitting in the sun, half-sleeping, lulled by the drone of locusts as evening slips in–weaving the past around me like a shawl to keep off the night’s chill–memory, fantasy, daydream blending into dusk.

Sometimes as I sit here listening to the river slip away, she comes to me. She never speaks, only stands smiling shyly at me as if waiting.  She wears the dress she wore the night of the flood, pale green like the first shoots of new grass.  I’m glad she comes, I think, but she frightens me.

It was summer then, too, July and sticky, the air heavy with heat, crushing us.  I didn’t want to go out.  I wanted to stay home, maybe read a book before going to sleep, but she was restless.

She drove.  She liked to drive, especially at night, running fast down back roads, the wind racing past us, and sometimes she turned off the headlights and drove with just the moon and stars for light.  At night she was like the wind.  I never watched the road, only her long black hair swept back, dark pools, hiding her face, defining it.  She drove more slowly as we came into Braddock, turning on the headlights, as though we were any young couple in from the country for a night on the town.

We ate, I can’t remember where or what.  I should remember.  It may have been Fortelli’s.  We often went there.  She liked Italian, especially the long Italian loaves of bread served with real butter, and she always wanted seconds.  The waiters all knew her.  They teased her about the bread, telling her if she kept eating it she’d end up looking like a fat Italian wife.  She smiled at them from under her long lashes, her head tilted shyly, seductively, her hair falling easily across her face, hiding her.  I can’t separate that night from any other.  All I remember is this image of her face above a candlelit table and soft music.

Afterward, we danced.

Sitting here by the river, I watch the swallows dip and soar above me.  They seem almost to fall into the river, then catch themselves and pull away, only to dive again, a constant rhythm of rising and falling blending with the rhythms of the river.

The musicians announced the last song.  Only a few of us were still dancing.  Sometime during the night it had begun to rain, and I remember hearing it striking the roof, steady and loud.  The doorman was drenched from helping people to their cars, and his shoes squeaked.

Driving home, I saw the river making its way across farms, at times crossing the road as if traveling with it.   Once, I glanced over at her.  She was sleeping, her arms stretched along the seat not quite touching me.

I might have stayed in town.

The road was bad, slick with mud.  Wherever the river crossed it, I’d feel the car slip for a moment with the current.  Then the car slewed one last time, the engine drowning, and the river was in the car.

I want to dance with her again, here, by the river.  Only, today, she doesn’t come, though the sky is bright, and the sun glints on the water like laughter.


About the Author:

Bill Stifler teaches composition and mythology at Chattanooga State Community College.  Originally from southeastern Pennsylvania, Stifler has lived in the Chattanooga area since 1972.  Stifler also serves as the webmaster for the Meacham Writers’ Workshop, a biannual event featuring readings, discussions, and group conferences by creative writers from around the world who share their experience and expertise with local and regional writers.

Three Poems by Francesca Crosby

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Children by Kasia Grzelak, 2018


Dusty village road strode thrice or more,

Though little legs tired less so then.

Us in our dresses and floral crowns,

Them in their suits wielding wicker crosses,

All travelling barefoot

down that village road.


Meandering streams and plump pear trees,

Severed grass and blooming carnations

All filled our senses with sweet things.

Though now all remains, a bitter perfume.


Vintage cars chug and trail along

Those familiar winding tracks

As bagpipe melodies swell the air

And keep the fading banner just afloat

Until Noon’s blistering sun lays low for another day.


Herded two by two to tea and cake,

The village hall always offered a warm welcome,

Though it was, as always, cold

And full of mould.

We didn’t care that the damp set heavy

Like a thick fog on our little lungs.



*Hark! The Herald Angles Sing,*


Every year on that Christingle eve.

While heavy chapel walls project the operatic symphonies,

We line up one by one, whispering childish chatters

And traverse the pews lit only by flame.

Community spirit at once all intertwined

By this annual affair that faith has defined.


*Glory to the New-born king!*


Each child has only one thing: An orange

Bound by red tape, impaled with cocktail sticks,

And ornamented with dolly mix.

One solitary candle  precariously teeters,

Dripping hot wax on little hands and cool stone paving,

Setting like moments of memories engraving.


A Part of Eden

Flowing just beneath the school-bus bridge

And stretching far beyond old Bluebell Woodland

Where the Swaledale field is your closest neighbour.

This is where we find you.


You offered endless laughter and provided-

Provided for man and woman, girl and boy and beast,

Creepy crawlies carved houses in your clay banks

Engorged with mellow waters.


Waters to wash the weary traveller horse

And suspend the clustered minnows on their path.

Lonely mudskippers glide on your slippery surface

Where the Sun reflects back and blinds itself.

About the Author:

 Francesca Crosby is currently studying first year English Literature at Newcastle University, opting for creative writing modules also. She grew up in the tiny rural villages of Warcop and Little Musgrave, surrounded by the Cumbrian countryside. While she now lives in central Newcastle for her studies, Cumbria is a special place for her and the traditions that it has are what these poems are based on.

The Baffling Case of Burgundy Lake by Mandira Pattnaik

Women by Victoria Holt, 2017

It is unlikely that you’d have missed the baffling case of the Burgundy Lake that hit headlines in the eastern part of the globe. The case was curious. It was the evidence of three pairs of eyes, who happened to present their account to me, against the School of Ichthyology, and the might of documented work and exhaustive taxonomy. That was—well, at best, extremely insufficient.  Yet it did generate a storm as all good controversies do, and in the light of the subsequent events, deserves to be further investigated.

Truth, however well reported, can sometimes be stranger than fiction.

When a hundred and ten girls, some as young as eleven years old, disappeared from their school in Dapchi, Nigeria, the narrative was worse than a poor fiction. The school was only 275 kilometers from Chibok, where Boko Haram militants had kidnapped nearly three hundred girls from their school just four years earlier. The evidence of the kidnapping was, at best, glaring. It was broad daylight, pupils and their teachers milled about, life was usual. Yet it happened. The world shook in outrage and disbelief. You wouldn’t have missed it either.

Living in disbelief in a dysfunctional world is a true commonality. When a loved one goes missing, entwined lives gasp for answers. The world, of family and friends, crumble. Is it not baffling? According to reports, each year more than 25,000 people disappear in the United Kingdom alone. Somebody I knew was one of them. Somewhere in the squirming ocean of humans, another person fell off the grid of relationships he was lovingly weaved in. There was no evidence.

Missing people are lost people—lost to the world and in lost to themselves. Authorities, often handicapped by resources and practicality, act as if it is a loss wished under the carpet.

When he or she chooses to disappear, all that are left behind, people like Sandra Flintoff, mother of Craig who went missing fifteen years ago, become bodies without souls—it means nothing to live or die.


When the trio set foot on Quattor Island on a shiftless evening, a steady twilight brooded over the jetty. Quattor means four-sided in Latin. It was never inhabited by any permanent residents; only six square kilometers of flat white sandy beaches, wild forests within which nestles the Burgundy Lake, and infinite serenity.

The regular holidayers religiously avoid it. One takes a forty-five minute ride in the lone steamer from Fraserganz, which pulls ashore first at Alpha Island— the larger one, then takes the scant remainder of passengers, to Quattor Island.

Most enthusiasts rent shacks on the beach where the sea recedes during tides. The rest move inland towards the Burgundy Lake and wait for its enchanting lore.

Is lore a true account? Or was it falsehood disbursed by unsuspecting people down the ages? By the mere repetition of that lore, the fiction transforms into an engrossing truth.

But what happens to evidence? And when there are none? What of the account of the owners of those three pairs of eyes?

Boko Haram, roughly translated from the Hausa language, means ‘Western Education is forbidden’. Dapchi residents like Ba’ana Musa live in the wilderness of anonymity. In the midst of a punitive land, the essence of a better life lies in education. Musa wouldn’t want to send his daughters to school again. The merchants of terror have succeeded.

Over the skies of Yobe State, Nigeria, Air Force planes had flown for over two hundred hours searching for the missing girls. It is not easy to reconcile with disappearances, where the fist of a recalcitrant tiny band is mightier than the collective strength of a nation.

The Nigerian government had released the names of all girls, reconfirmed from registers by the School authorities. Their identities—-contrary to all ethics relating to victim identities and conventions—weren’t kept anonymous.

Missing people are statistics on registers. Not all of them willed to be anonymous. Not the Nepali girls who ended up in brothels in Mumbai.

When a devastating earthquake hit the Himalayan kingdom, they were herded across the border into India with promises of a livelihood. The starving girls were made to disappear, silently, by design. The outrage of their families never shook the world.


Let’s keep the three Ichthyology students anonymous as they have requested; and call them by names of fishes they would have liked to be called by— Anchovy, Pilchard and Menhaden, given their deep love for all things fishy!

On the left was the broad stretch of the ocean bathed in ephemeral light and half invisible fishing trawlers in the distant grayness. To the right, between the dark mass of the low dunes and the white sands, dominating the whole view, were colossal trees, which stood heavy and dense, full of the brutal force of Nature left to itself, swaying to the irregular bursts of squalid air.

A dull golden dust hung over the calm bay. Leaving the rest of the group at the beach, the three carefully tread the mud path between the trees towards Burgundy Lake.

A monotonous hollow whisper of the crashing waves sounded feebler as they walked inland. And then— Burgundy Lake was in front of them.

Pitching their puny tents in the clearing, the friends worked towards making a meal on the tiny stove they had remembered to carry along. Beyond them, on the short patch of soft mud, were dirt footmarks of unknown people just visible in the fading dimness. Menhaden lit the portable light, which began to burn condescendingly. Near at hand were ghostly, stunted wild bushes, huddled together in ignominy.

It would be hard to convey the stillness of the place. The wind had stopped, the leaves did not move, not a living soul stirred, like the world had fallen silent, lifeless. Trees were frozen, the waters dense in anticipation, like holding the weight of an enormous secret in their bosom….it was the quiet that struck the trio, calmness—not of peace but of death!

Five girls from the Dapchi School were reported to have met death. Khadija Grema, one of the girls released later, revealed a secret burdening her soul—the thin line between life and death was demarcated by belongingness to a certain faith. It is intriguing how erroneous interpretation of religion can be.

Serenity in death, I believe, is a rare blessing—the finality of death in the contentment of a life well lived. But what of the families that live in limbo for decades in search of closure? About one per cent of missing people never return. The Police files remain open, the families are stranded in a morass of uncertainty, where the news of death would, against the grain of attachments, be hoped for, even welcomed.

The families of persons missing do not cry, instead they question—what went wrong? Through a thousand doors they rummage, through the postcards, flipping through images, through the snippets of memories…they seek answers.

I tried to reason too. I studied philosophy, read the cycle of inevitable repetitions, and prayed for the spell to be broken.


A blue haze, half-sand, half-mist, began to shroud the Lake, like the curtain had been drawn to begin the enchanting lore of the Burgundy Lake. The friends were under its spell.

In the pallid light, the Lake seemed to come to life, its banks outlined thinly by intriguing rare dots of burgundy light, bunched together in twos and threes, and then melting away, holding the friends in a mesmerizing trance. This was it! The dots sharpened into lasers streaming through the inky black darkness until the strange rays hovered over the entire lake in a halo of fantastical burgundy.

Next day, a gap in the dense circle of green marked the expanse of the slowly enlivening skies. The eastern corner burst into majestic carmine, in the faint light of which, the friends found, to their perturbation, that the waters were no longer of the vibrant shade of last night; it was in fact an intriguing grey-green, like frozen algae!

Humid air blew in from the sea side, creating alluring ripples on the surface of water; the feeling of mystery lurking, of a story not yet unraveled, hung over the discussions like an apparition.

One mother of a missing child I met, says, would she not know by instinct if her child was dead, taken away to the Heavens? It must have been terrifying to even imagine that, but she believes it is better than living like an apparition, dying a thousand deaths every day. But then, she also hoped her child would perhaps be spotted at a park in another country, perhaps forgetting all about her and happy, living with a kind family in another continent….

Oscillating every waking minute between hope and hopelessness, she said, she might be staring at insanity.

For the parents of the Nigerian girls, hope itself is luxury. So perhaps is insanity. In a world oscillating between starvation and jihadist militancy, life is resigned to destiny.


Menhaden suggested a dip in the Lake. They descended the shallow waters, knee deep in the opaque grey-green fluid, almost like mucus in texture but stone-cold like the depths of the deep sea. The smooth pebbles weathered by immeasurable time felt smooth.

In the other-worldly silence, the little aperture of azure sky was stoic, and the wind from the bay stunned into silence.

Something stirred, black against the weltering waters; then the shriek of a man— deafening— like a life on the edge. All happened in a matter of seconds—lesser than the time it would take to read about it. There was a rattling sound as the snout of a Strange being peeped above the waters for less than a second, flashing a red light from its organ at the end of the long barbel that hang down from its chin revealing its teeth-filled mouth. In a moment it brought the six-foot tall Pilchard below the opaque surface of water with its long swaying tail and pinned him down. As the other two panicked, its stalked eyes gleamed, measuring the adversaries. Its back was corrugated, the rough scales standing on ends in the excitement of the battle. Pilchard got up and the managed a punch at its wavering mouth causing it to duck; but it raised again and the two wrestled once more. It was about two meters, an uneasy grey-blue on its skin, the lines of which were shiny in the mucus that it exuded. For once, it opened its mouth on the hinge at the back of its skull. It could easily swallow the man whole within that deep opening. In a swift giant stride Pilchard withdrew to the shoal dragging himself, but the fish hit the man with its diphycercal tail a second time, making him fall. Its barbel wagged languidly through the water, flickering on and off, to set off a trail of luminescent burgundy dots on the surface. In a frightful qualm, Pilchard turned. The evil eyes of the aquatic monster were wriggling on their stalks; its mouth was alive with the algal slime. Presently it descended on the man and sunk its fangs on his right leg as it tried to pull him deeper. Pilchard tried pushing its corrugated back with his free leg but it exuded such oil that it merely slid over its body. The anterior portion of its cranium swung upwards; the gape of its mouth was now large enough to pull a prey inside worth twice its size!

At this juncture, the other two returned to their senses. The man felt a massive surge upwards; his free foot being dragged over the cold pebbles and no sensation of the other foot. At the instant he fainted, one of his saviors hit the fish’s eyes with a dry log, repeating the effort countless times….

When the fish retired from the battlefield, an abominable desolation hung over the place. The injured man lay about on the sand; his mangled leg displaying a gashing wound with the ruthless imprints of the fish’s fangs.

It was, quite unambiguously, related to the Indiana Chalumnae, with its hinged skull and slippery body; a fish thought to have lived only in the deep seas where light cannot penetrate, and which last existed, back in the Cretaceous Period some sixty million years ago!

A year after he had gone missing, someone I thought I knew, returned.

None in the family, none of his friends asked any questions. He offered no explanations. We asked ourselves—who had let him down? Could things have been mended before they broke? The feelings rose, a gathering storm threatening to blow us all. We found ourselves breaking down often. It made us distraught. The fact that he offered no answers and remained in an impregnable bubble, made us wonder why he did not think it worthwhile to love us back? Why he did not care?


On the eighth day after the encounter, Pilchard called up his friend, Agatha, curator at the Museum of Natural History, to see if she had any answer to the description they could provide. For one, they now had a solution to the baffling lore of the Lake, and its curious burgundy color. The Chalumnae was known to have emitted a strange laser-like burgundy light from under its eyes to locate its prey in the dimness of the Deep Seas.

Agatha sounded convinced; whether as a friend or as a professional is another matter. But the problem began when Agatha, failing to find reasonable evidence from similar fossils collected from around the world, contacted the Professor Emeritus at the very School of Ichthyology where the three were students. The enormous anomalies—the fact that a creature of very Deep Seas was found in a Lake, whose burgundy color may, after all, be part of some spectacular imagination; the fact that it preyed on human when it was known to have survived in residual organic detritus; and finally, it was thought to have been dead millions of years ago— dismissed the case.

The International Journal of Fish Sciences published the finding, seeming to endorse the students’ views. The School of Ichthyology accused the Journal of ignoring the lack of any scientific evidence. Caught in the middle, the students themselves had to go undercover and have been nameless since.

Months later, buoyed by pressures created as a result of all the public debating, the School of Ichthyology decided to send a team for exploration. The team, a fairly competent one in my view, did not find anything amiss.

Do we publicly debate the growing statistics of people who go missing? Is it not a notion that somehow the family itself was responsible?

Between cursory references and total denial, we all live in limbo.

We are not used to uncomfortable truths.

Most of the Nigerian schoolgirls have been released. Some, it is said, have refused to reunite with the families that brought them up; instead, bearing children for their abductors.

Sometimes the extremes of truth are hard to believe.

Suffice it to say that the case of the Burgundy Lake was buried. At the peril of sounding alarmist, I shall only unfold the series of events occurring subsequently, ones that I have already alluded to. Three people disappeared at the Burgundy Lake— a young boy camping with his parents; another man, roughly the age and height of Pilchard, caught in a mysterious whirlpool and never surfaced. One British biologist, Jeremy Wade, who volunteered to capture the perpetrator after learning of the news, discounted the possibility of turbulence as the Burgundy Lake waters were infinitely dull. Instead, he theorized that a creature matching the description of the three friends, a coelacanth, could be responsible. With a hollow oil-filled notochord and hinged skull, one that had developed a taste for human flesh….

The final attack happened when a Nepalese man was swallowed whole by something his girlfriend described as an “aquatic giraffe”.

In each case, not even their bones were ever found.

Truth meanders; sometimes is trapped forever, gasping for a last breath.


About the Author:

Mandira Pattnaik is an Indian writer who lets her Economics degree gather dust while she word-weaves. Her writings have made their way into places like The Times of India, Bombay Literary Magazine, Gasher Journal, Commuterlit, Cabinet of Heed, Spelk, Star82, Lunate and (Mac)ro(mic), among others. She tweets @MandiraPattnaik


Electric Candle by Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi

Candle by Cinzia Piazza


Heart pumping faster than her legs, she feared she might kill her mother, feared her father would catch up to her.


Oh, no!  Daddy’s getting closer, she thought.  He’s s’posed to be sleeping.

Ignoring her father’s pursuit, Cora ran past the quiet houses lining the quiet street on this otherwise quiet night. Past the bungalow, home to Mr. King, who had dressed as Santa Claus one Christmas “’cause he’s too busy to do it himself,” Mr. King had explained.  Past Ms. Shelley’s dark, leafy lawn, where she hosted Easter egg hunts “‘cause the Easter Bunny’s too busy to hide the eggs himself, so I help out,” Ms. Shelley had assured.  Past Dr. Deaver’s home that doubled as his dental office, where he had presented five-year-old Cora with a dollar to commemorate her first lost tooth, because, well… “The Tooth Fairy’s too busy.”  Past the houses that remained dark, for their inhabitants had yet to be awakened by-

“Cora!”  A breath.  “Stop!”

Blazing through a dead intersection, Cora spared a thought for the archetypes on whose behalf her neighbours claimed to work during their respective seasons.  She wondered where they were: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy.  Wondered if they saw the X-ray, the way she had.  She wondered if they saw the lie.  Or-

Her heart stopped.

Her mother died.

Her father caught up to her.

Then a double crash against her small ribcage.

And another.


Her heart rediscovered its rhythm.

Her mother was still alive.

Her father—in spite of the closing sounds—had yet to catch up to her.

Cora’s heart had forgotten a pair of beats, one per terrible thought:

What if they knew about the lie?

What if they were in on the lie?  Them.  Mr. King.  Ms. Shelley.  Dr. Deaver.  Daddy.  The doctor.

And when she thought she couldn’t lose another beat:

What if mommy lied to me?



Though it was looking that way.

Cora didn’t want to think of her mother in that light.

All the more reason to run.


Too close.

He was quick for someone who was not only old, but had been asleep.  They had been watching television; he had allowed her to stay up as late as she wanted, a sort of gift—including all the junk food she could pack into her sugar-and-salt-coated belly—to celebrate her recovery.


The X-ray, she thought.  The lie.

The plan had formed during her time in the hospital, then solidified in her bedroom (after the doctor deemed it safe enough for her to return home) into something simple, doable.  Her footsteps were light, quiet—the coughing fits had faded to wheezes—and her father had taken to marathon sleeping in the wake of the loss of their beloved matriarch.  The cemetery was only seconds away, past Mr. King’s, Ms. Shelley’s, and Dr. Deaver’s.

Of course, Cora had to be careful, for the last time she snuck out of the house she ended up in the hospital, where the lie had waited to be discovered.

Within her.

Tonight, not seconds but minutes ago, Cora had eased away from her father, uncomfortably sleeping on the other end of the couch.  She had tiptoed toward the front door, and after tense moments with the loud lock and creaky hinges, made her escape.  The cold air had stabbed her body, trying to get to that special spot into which it had settled three weeks ago, trying to send her back to the hospital. She hadn’t intended to run, though she knew she should hurry; there was no guarantee her father would remain asleep.

Down the front steps.

Down the driveway.

To the right, along the sidewalk that had lead her and her father from house to cemetery every day after their first, ceremonial visit.


Daddy’s awake! she had thought.  He’s coming!

Breaking into a sprint, the race for the cemetery had begun.

Now, finally, breathlessly turning into the cemetery, Cora kept an eye and ear out for zombies, though she couldn’t be bothered with them at the moment. Or any moment.

Now was her only chance to learn the truth.


She knew her mother’s name, but not the letters of which it was comprised.  She knew her mother’s headstone, but not in the thick darkness. She recognized the tree against which the headstone seemingly rested, and- Yes! Made out its twisted silhouette, shaped by the streetlamp from beyond the cemetery.

The frozen grass ended. The mound of earth began, a heavy blanket over her mother (if she was there), tucked in by the small yellow excavator that had patiently waited for her, her father, and the few mourners to leave before it could discreetly perform its job.

Cora dove to her knees, and began digging her short fingers into the cold dirt, yanking out pitiful handfuls. The small craters her fists made quickly filled in with seemingly more black soil than there had been. Determined, she thrashed at the dirt.

“What’re you…” Quick breaths. “…doing…” More quick breaths. “…Cora!?”

She continued the excavation as if her father hadn’t finally caught up to her, as if he wasn’t witnessing her apparent breakdown, too stunned to take the final steps to seize her, to stop her from spraying his pants with flung dirt. To stop her from disturbing the ground, his wife, her mother.

Cora dug harder, deeper, numbness creeping throughout her hands.

I gotta know! she told herself.

Ignoring her father, who knelt before her.

            I gotta know!

Ignoring her father, who took a face full of dirt.


He didn’t stop her.

‘Cause he knows I know! she thought.

Frozen razors cut hot tracks into her cheeks.  She used both anesthetized hands to investigate the conflicting sensation, but succeeded only in lodging clumps of cold, hard dirt into her teary eyes.


She was angry to had shed even one tear in the presence of her father.  She continued to dig, furiously, but the dirt stung her eyes.  She tried to ignore the annoying pain, but gave in to wiping her eyes, depositing more dirt within them.

Again, she tried to dig…

Again, she wiped her eyes…

Tried to dig…

Wiped her eyes…



With a scream of frustration, loud and fearsome enough to scare nearby zombies back into their graves, exhausted and defeated Cora collapsed onto her side, feeling nothing.

Except her heartbeat.

Many heartbeats—pounding her chest, neck, ears, pulsing throughout her tired legs, her unfeeling hands.

Another heartbeat joined her own. Slower. Calmer.

Too tired to reject him, too cold to admit her body needed his warmth, Cora wondered if her embracing father’s own mother or father or someone he loved, someone he trusted, lived in his beating heart. Or if they had lied to him, too.

Perhaps it was the cooing, coupled with the gentle rocking.

Perhaps it was the way her heart began to slow, calm, synchronize with her father’s.

Perhaps it was the pathetic progress she—a mere girl, not a professional excavator—had made, and knew she would never learn the truth, see it for herself.

Perhaps it was the way her father whispered it was okay, all okay.

“It’s not okay!” Cora blasted, elbowing his chest. His heart. She didn’t need the ambient streetlamp to illuminate her father’s stunned, hurt expression. “I wanna see Mommy!”

In the past couple of weeks, she had come to know what the beginning of her father’s crying sounded like: a hitch in his voice, as if he was trying to prevent a sneeze. She heard it now. But instead of speaking in tears, he spoke in words. “I… I know you do. I want to see Mommy, too, but-”

“ Where is she?”

Silence from his silhouette.

“Where. Is. She?”  Three numb fists pounding against his chest.

Then it came: the not-quite sneeze, followed by the awkward sobbing. “I’m sorry, I…”  He swallowed the rest.

“You lied to me, Daddy.” Whatever tears she reserved, her father used. “You and Mommy lied to me.” Thinking about her mother as a liar had made her feel bad, guilty; saying it aloud made her feel outright criminal.

As she had in the hospital bed, then in her own bed, Cora replayed the lies in her exhausted, perplexed mind:

“No matter what happens, I’ll always be in your heart.”—her mother’s final words, the night before the surgery.

            “That’s just Mommy giving you hugs and kisses.”—her father, shortly after the funeral, clarifying what Cora took to be a ghost in her bedroom.

Mommy giving me hugs and kisses?

            How could that be if she’s s’posed to be in my heart?

            Sneaking out of the house after what her father told her.

            Standing in the windy backyard, receiving—and trying to return—her mother’s hugs and kisses.

            Her father discovering her weather-ravaged body the following morning.

            The doctor showing her the X-ray of her chest, where her new-moan-yeah no longer threatened.

“But Mommy wasn’t there, in the X-ray,” Cora said now, the tears brewing again.  “I looked and looked and I couldn’t see her.” A tear betrayed her. She didn’t bother to catch it, not if her father hadn’t seen it. “So if Mommy’s not in my heart, and mommy’s not the wind, giving me hugs and kisses,” she pointed a dirt-encrusted digit at the pile of disturbed earth, “then she’s gotta be in there. She’s gotta.”

What she took for yet another tear landing on her cheek was, in fact, one of her father’s.

“I saw Mommy in the coughing, and I saw them put the coughing in the ground.” She  pointed at the spot where she was certain her mother was buried in her coffin.

If whimpers were speech, then Cora might have understood what her father was trying to say.

“Mommy is in there, right?”

She tried to push against her father’s embrace, the only response he could muster.

“Right?” Cora managed, before giving in.




In spite of her father’s snug work, Cora still felt the breeze that wasn’t her mother’s hugs and kisses penetrating the thick comforter. He kissed each bathed cheek—one from him, one “from” her mother; they both knew, but never brought up—and left. Tomorrow they would have a talk about mommy. “True talk,” daddy had said.

The creaky hallway steps she had once thought belonged to a ghost disappeared into her parent’s bedroom.

Or’s it just daddy’s bedroom now?

            She didn’t know.

Her parents’—her father’s?—bed squealed, then silenced.

She hated to ruin her father’s careful work, but she needed to know.

Kicking away the comforter, Cora, aware of where the creaks hid among her floor, tiptoed toward the mirror sitting atop the drawer. After minutes of careful study, she saw that her father had lied to her again, in the cemetery: she saw not a single trace of her mother within her features.

“True talk,” daddy had said.


Navigating the creak-mines strewn about the floor, Cora returned to bed, turned on her side, and stared at the nightlight her mother had installed. In the shape of a candle, its flame perpetually ablaze, albeit with the help of electricity, the small beacon of comfort had defended Cora from an assortment of bumps in the night. No longer fearing those bumps, she reached for the nightlight, but stopped.

A new fear.

A fear of her own making:

If I turn off the nightlight, how will mommy know where I am?



About the Author:

Having spent the last decade writing an eclectic bibliography of award-winning and produced short and feature-length screenplays, Alfredo felt it was time to revisit and explore a childhood ambition: to share stories by way of short-form and novel-length prose.  The creative journey has been bountiful, yielding a modest crop of complete and in-progress novels as well as a collection of short stories.  Alfredo lives in Toronto, Canada, and is currently editing his latest novel, in addition to maintaining a minimum 1,000-word-a-day diet. He can be reached via Twitter @libraryscent


About the Illustrator:

Cinzia Piazza was born 34 years ago in Venice, Italy. Her real name is Cinzia but everyone calls her Ciwa, a nickname of unclear origins that fits perfectly. Following a university degree in biology, she fell in love with Bèzier’s curves and vector illustration, which has now become her profession.

website: http://cinziapiazza.it/

instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ciw_a