Thursday 31 August 2023

LODGE 1229 by Kevin Joseph Reigle, Coors Light or a Yuengling

 Trisha poured Coors Light into a glass of ice and placed it in front of the empty stool. Just like every night she worked; the glass would remain untouched as the condensation dripped onto the coaster.

            “Keith saw Ray last week,” Bobby said to Trisha as she handed him a bottle of Yuengling.

            “Yeah, I heard that. Did you know the state director saw Ray, too?”

            “Get out.”

            “It’s true,” Trisha said. “The director told Keith he saw someone over in the banquet hall. When Keith went to look, it was empty. No one was there. They came back over, and the director saw that picture of Ray on the wall from the softball tournament and said, that’s him right there. That’s the guy I just saw.”

            Bobby shook his head. “Jesus, and he never met Ray before?”

            Trisha grabbed a rag from under the bar and wiped a spill she neglected earlier. “No, Ray died before the guy took over as state director.”

            “I don’t know how anyone doesn’t believe Ray’s not haunting this place.”

            “Did you say Keith saw him last week, too?”

            “That’s what Keith told me,” Bobby said as he drained the bottle and looked down into the dissipating foam. “He was out back smoking.”

            “Who was smoking, Keith or Ray?”

            “He saw Ray smoking. You know Keith doesn’t smoke.”

            “Well, I didn’t understand why a ghost would be smoking.”

            “Because Ray smoked,” Bobby said. “Ray always smoked outside by the cooler.”

            “So, if you smoke when your alive, you smoke when your dead?” Trisha asked, unconvinced.

            “Of course. Don’t you know how any of this works?”

            “I guess not,” Trisha said as a loud buzz came from a speaker. She pressed a lighted button under the bar.

             The glass doors unlocked, and Andy entered the lodge wiping his nose with a handkerchief, his hands streaked with oil.

            When Bobby saw him, he patted the empty barstool. “I’ve been keeping it warm for you.”

            “I bet you have,” Andy said, sitting on the stool. “How the hell are you?”

            “I’m doing alright, how about you?”

            “I’m here, aren’t I? Keystone Light please, Trisha.”

            Trisha pulled a bottle from the cooler. Andy took out his wallet and tossed a blue chip on the bar. Trisha dropped it in a glass bowl next to the register. She pressed an icon on the POS screen and turned her attention to the ringing phone on the wall.

            Andy spun the bottle between his hands, examining the label. “Did I ever tell you about my ex-girlfriend that had gastric bypass surgery?”

            “I don’t think so. That’s where you lose weight, right?”

            Andy exhaled and leaned back stretching his arms down by his side. “Boy, did she ever lose weight. You could barely recognize her. I bet she lost almost two hundred pounds.”

            “That’s a lot.”

            “It sure is,” Andy said, sipping his beer.

            “So, what happened?”

            “She left me.”

            “I’m sorry. What’s her name? Do I know her?”


            Bobby snapped his fingers. “Didn’t her family use to own a restaurant, or something?”

            “Yeah, it was a little place down by the water.”

            Trisha came from the other side of the bar to check on them. “You guys good?”

            Andy looked over her shoulder at the rack of bagged snacks on the wall. “Can I get some chips?”

            “What kind?” Trisha asked.

            “Sour Cream and Onion.”

            “Good choice,” Trisha said, pulling the bag from the metal clip and laying it on the bar. “These are my favorite, too.”

            “Is it still open?” Bobby asked Andy.

            Trisha took out her cellphone and pulled over a stool from behind the register. “Is what still open? What are you talking about?”

            Andy opened the bag of chips. “I was telling him about a girl I used to date. Her family owned a restaurant down by the water.”

            “I know the place you’re talking about,” Trisha said, not looking up from her phone. “It’s over by the lighthouse.”

            “Yeah, that’s the one,” Andy said. “They ended up closing it, not enough tourists anymore.”

            That’s a problem for everyone, isn’t it?” Bobby stood and adjusted his jeans. “Nature calls.”

            “Hey, don’t fall in while you’re back there,” Trisha said, dryly.

            “I’ll try not to,” Bobby said as he went down the hall to the bathroom.

            He pushed open the door and stepped into the darkness. The motion sensing light popped on, casting a harsh glow over the grungy tiles and stained wallpaper. Bobby caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror as he stepped up to the urinal.

            While reaching for his belt, the light flickered. A chill floated across his neck. “I don’t have any cigarettes, Ray.”


About the author 

 Kevin Joseph Reigle’s short stories have appeared in Beyond Words, Drunk Monkeys, Bridge Eight, The Dillydoun Review, Pensworth, Prometheus Dreaming, BQW, Bright Flash, CafeLit, and others. He is an English Professor at the University of the Cumberlands. 
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Wednesday 30 August 2023

Once Upon a Gas Station by Emma Hirt, spicy ginger tea

 This is the story of how I almost die. But don’t worry, it’s actually quite good. As any good story does, it starts in a land far, far away. Far away from spicy kimchi ramen, hooded figures and traffic jams. In short, it starts in Suburbia. In a shitty Peugeot that smells like the inside of a Pringles can, its trunk stuffed to the brim with suitcases and cardboard boxes. The perfect noble steed to go chasing one’s heart’s desire, am I right? In my case – who would’ve guessed – the city! Bingo. Honestly, I don’t know what it is with honky cats and this strange, abstract concept that is The City. We don’t see the canal rats or drug addicts passed out in a subway station or dog shit in the streets. All we see is possibilities. Endless ones. It doesn’t smell like hot tar, it smells like freedom. Or maybe that’s just what freedom smells like to us. Either way, whatever our heart’s desire may be, that’s where we’ll find it.

            So there I am, perched behind the wheel, Mum beside the window, looking droopy like a crow at a funeral.

            ‘Are you sure you have everything you need, honey?’

            ‘I’m sure, mum.’

            ‘Oh Elsie.’ Mum dabs at her nose with a crumpled handkerchief. ‘Do you really want to go?’

            ‘Oh come on, Mum, don’t be so dramatic, for god sake.’ I reach out my hand through the window and brush it against her cheek. ‘You do know I’m not dying, right? Or going to Mars either. It’s just the city. What’s the worst that’ll happen.’

            The city. Finally. Mum is still standing on the porch, waving at me but I barely see her anymore, disappearing between the trees in my rearview mirror. Cinderella, leaving behind the cottage and the country to take up residence in her castle right at the centre of the kingdom and all its happenings.

The stereo is blasting Elton while, outside the day rushes by, lush greens slowly turning into shades of grey. As the late summer sun sets it is replaced by a warm haze of light reflected on the dark canvas of the sky ahead. That’s gotta be it. I check my navi. Only a half hour to go! A bubble dances through my stomach and I grin at myself in the mirror, my foot pressing down firmer on the gas. I can already smell the hot tar.

I gotta say though, it smells different than I’d thought. A lot more… burnt. No wait. It’s not hot tar. It’s the Pringles can. Behind me, a concert of honks and screeches erupts on the highway, lights flashing like crazy. The oil lamp glares red on my dashboard and a metallic stream of purples and greens trails behind me, cars braking and swerving aside. I knew Pringles would give up soon, but now? Come on. I’d do anything for a magic oil lamp right now so that I could wish myself invisible. I shrink into my seat. Get back, honky cat, Elton screams at me. Okay, stay calm. I run a hand over the sweat pearls beading my forehead to clear my thoughts. What do I do?

‘Hey, Missy!’ My head jerks at the raspy voice streaming in through the car window. It’s coming from a moustached man in a pickup in the lane next to me.

‘Take the next exit. There’s a gas station right up ahead!’ He points to a road sign, signalling the exit in 500 metres. Oh thank goodness.

‘Thank you!’ I holler back, my voice tinier than ever. He throws me a quick nod and a wink and speeds up again as I put on my blinker and creep to the breakdown lane in slow-motion, a flood of eyes and headlights burning into the back of my head.

            When I manage to reach a parking spot in the glaring orange light of the gas station, I exhale long as though I’d been holding my breath. The air inside the car tastes stuffy and burnt so I get out and scan the place for someone that looks like an employee. I finally spot a woman in blue work pants and a baseball cap.

            ‘How can I help you?’ she asks with a crooked smile.

‘Well…it smells kinda burnt and that oil lamp is blinking red.’

            ‘I’ll take a look for you. It’ll be a few minutes, go grab yourself a snack in the meantime, huh? You look a little pale.’

            She puts a hand on my shoulder and, catching a glimpse of my face in the wing mirror, I nod and head toward the little gas station shop.

            At this hour, the place isn’t very crowded. A group of people in leather outfits is standing outside, each a beer can in one hand and a cigarette in the other, talking loudly to each other. I walk by quickly and slip into the shop but none of them seem to notice me. The dull buzz of a radio fills the inside of the little shop, rambling about gas prices as I stroll through the candy isle. I pick up a small can of Pringles and a sparkling water and head up to the cash register when I notice another person inside the shop. A tall figure in a black Metallica sweater, its hood falling low into his face. Just as I catch sight of him, his gaze jerks toward the shelf in front of him and he picks up a can of antifreeze and examines it. Instinctively, I tug at the rim of my shorts and cross my arms, then quickly walk past him with steps that are too long for my legs, out of the shop and toward my car. My heart is pumping in my chest, petrol air flooding my lungs when I finally reach the parking spot. I throw a glance over my shoulder. The black hooded figure is leaning against the wall outside the shop with his phone in his hand, but though I can’t see his eyes, I still feel them on me. Okay, don’t panic. It could be a total coincidence. A pressing heat fills my chest and I fumble for my phone when the mechanic emerges from around the gas taps. Thank goodness. I feel myself relax a little.

            ‘Good news is, she’s not broken,’ she says and pats my car’s hood as though it was a horse. My noble steed. ‘But the bad news is, the leak needs to be fixed before you can drive again. She’ll be ready in two days. Do you wanna leave her here? You can pay once you come to pick her up.’

            Not seeing much of a choice here I nod, hand her the keys and watch her drive Pringles around the gas station building and disappear into a garage with a sign that says ‘service station’ above the entrance. Great. What now? Great freakin’ start. Stranded at a gas station in the middle of – I don’t even know.

At this low point of the story we’re probably all asking ourselves where the hell’s the prince? Doesn’t this story have a good old prince with dashing hair and spandex pants, riding up in slow-motion on a white stallion, and wouldn’t this be the perfect moment for him to swoop in? Plot twist – it doesn’t. Because apparently that’s not how real life works.

            Suddenly, I feel the gaze of the hooded figure on me again like two burning stings. For a moment I’d completely forgotten about him. I whip my phone out and scroll through my contacts to ‘Mum’. The signals beeping in my ear come painfully slowly. Come on, Mum. Please pick up. Another beep then the person you are trying to reach is not available… Of course not. And, of course, the hooded figure is no longer where I left him but walking, slowly, right in my direction. My heart’s in my throat, beating so hard I might just pass out. I start backing up against a gas pump and whip my head around looking for who knows what. Okay. This is how I die –

‘Hey Missy!’ The voice is familiar. I turn around. It’s the man from the pickup. Thank goodness. Finally, some luck. Up until now my fairy godmother must have been asleep on a cloud somewhere. I let my shoulders sag and the haze in my head slowly begins to clear.

‘Broken, huh?’

‘Yeah, they said it’ll take two days till it’s fixed…I don’t know what I’m gonna do…’ I throw my head into my neck, letting out a sigh.

‘Where are you headed?’ He flips a cigarette into his mouth and offers me the package. After this day, I could really use a smoke. I grab one and he leans in to light it for me.

‘The City.’

‘If you want, I can take you as far as the city boarder. You can get a cab or take the subway from there. Pretty girl like you shouldn’t be out here alone at night.’

Thank you, fairy godmother.

‘Are you sure? Oh, you’re a lifesaver.’

‘Of course, no trouble at all. Hop on in! I’m Jack, by the way,’ he says with another wink and gets into the pickup parked a couple spots away.


See, it’s not all canal rats and drug addicts and strange figures in black hoods out here after all, as I was starting to fear. I open the passenger door and step inside, when someone suddenly grabs ahold of my wrist and yanks me back out.

‘Hey –’

‘Hey, Lisa! Is that you, good to see you!’ Before I know it I’m being pulled into a tight hug.

‘What are the odds of running into you here! How’s  Joe, still playing college football?’ My brow crumples, thoughts racing to catch up with the swell of nonsense facts hitting me as the stranger shoves me behind him and pushes the car door shut with a pang.

‘Thank you, sir,’ he calls to Jack through the window, ‘Lisa won’t be needing a lift after all. I’ll take her home,’ he says and starts edging me in the opposite direction. It’s not before then I realise who this is. The tall shape. The Metallica sweater. The hood. My hands turn numb and shaky, my tongue furry and dry inside my mouth.

‘Hey, what do you – ’

‘Keep walking.’

 ‘I don’t know you! Let go, asshole!’ Frantically, I try to wriggle out but his grip is firm like a handcuff around my wrist.’

‘Just play along.’

The pickup stays parked a little longer but then the engine roars and it starts moving toward the highway ramp and disappears around a bend, along with my last chances of survival. This is how my story ends, book smashed shut in the middle of the action, no happily ever after for me. But as soon as the car is gone my kidnapper pushes me down on a metal bench beside the shop and – just like that – lets go of my arm.

‘Finally,’ he says and leans back, letting out a breath and running his hands over his face, ‘that was way too close.’

For a moment, all I can do is stare, dumbfounded. So does this mean I’m not being kidnapped? Story goes on after all? Whatever just happened, I should probably use my chance and bolt. But something, other than the sweat trickling down my thighs, keeps me plastered to the bench. Before I find the right words, the stranger next to me breaks the silence.

‘You didn’t know that guy, right?’ he asks, his voice now mellow like a harp.


‘Did he give you something? Drink? Food?’

‘Just this,’ I point at my cigarette and he flicks it out of my hand.’

‘Hey! I was still smo – ’

            Before I can finish the sentence the stranger suddenly grabs both of my shoulders and stares at me intently from under his hood.

‘Hitchhiking at a gas station – are you insane? Do you want to be kidnapped? Raped? Murdered? Sold on the black market? Cause that’s where you were headed. Jesus Christ, girl.’

            I feel myself shrinking under the grip, hot blood seeping into my cheeks. I’d been easy prey for Jack from the start. He’d known exactly where I’d be, alone, stranded, helpless. The passed out drug addicts and canal rats slowly shift into focus behind my inner eye again. Maybe Elton’s right. My legs begin to tremble. Maybe I’m not cut out for the City. A little lamb on a meadow, oblivious to the big bad wolf.

            ‘That creepy guy kept lurching around the gas station, just waiting for the right moment like a vulture,’ the stranger says, making a face as though having just bit into a grapefruit. ‘Disgusting asshole. Sorry if I freaked you out by being all stalkery, but I just didn’t wanna leave you out of my sight…’

            ‘Thank you,’ I breathe.

‘Of course. Come on, I’ll take you wherever you need to go.’

            ‘Wait a sec. How do I know you’re a good guy?’ I smile, squinting my eyes.

            ‘Seriously?’ he says mock-outraged and I can make out an eyebrow arching beneath the shade of the hood. ‘After I just saved you from certain doom? Also,’ the stranger flips back the hood of the sweater, ‘not a guy.’

Wait, what? How did I not see that? She quickly runs both hands through a head of short curls and flashes me a big white smile that sends a rush of awe through me. Who’d have known that in an urban fairytale, nice-looking men can’t be trusted to be princes and will probably turn out to be rats in disguise, while girls in black Metallica hoodies can be the knights in shining armou?. Like I said, possibilities. Endless ones. Maybe those are the kinds that I’ve come looking for.

‘You’re not from around here, are you?’ she says.

I shake my head. ‘I’m actually just moving to the city. Literally today.’

‘Wow, bad start, huh? I’m sorry.’ She threads her arm through mine. ‘But hey, consider this your City Lesson Number One – it’s also the most important one: Girls always look out for each other.’

‘Thanks,’ I nod, smiling at her, ‘I love that. I’m Elsie.’

‘Jess,’ she says and shakes my hand. ‘Hey, you must be starving. Let’s grab some food and then I’ll take you home. There’s a place nearby that has the best spicy kimchi ramen in the whole city. Trust me, you’ll love it. My car’s right over there.’

Except for the Pringles I haven’t eaten all day and my stomach aches like a hole in my gut, so even though I have no idea what kimchi ramen is, it sounds perfect.

‘That’d be great,’ I say and together we walk toward Jess’ car.

Overhead, the night sky is deep blue and starless. The road goes uphill for a bit, then an endless sea of lights appears on the horizon and it’s not long before we plunge in.

‘I made it. I’m actually in The City!’ I can’t help but laugh out loud.

‘Yeah you did!’ Jess turns up the radio and it blasts Empire State of Mind. She rolls down all the windows and reaches out her arm, letting the breeze curl around her fingers. ‘Breathe it all in,’ she says and inhales deeply.

The warm wind streaming in from all sides makes my hair whirl like crazy. I breathe in. It doesn’t smell like hot tar at all. It smells like fallen leaves, like slow cooked curry, like fumes and parked cars heated up by the sun, like cigarettes and left over pizza, like stale water, like dogs, like too many people. You’d need to smell it to believe me, but despite everything, it smells delicious.


About the author

Emma is a young creative writing student from Vienna. When not studying she spends most of her time in a coffee shop, either behind the counter making cappuccinos or at table three, reading or working on her latest story, fantasising about changing her job description from barista to writer. 


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Tuesday 29 August 2023

The Letter by Eamon O'Leary, one shot cappucccino, no chocolate

It’s years, maybe decades, since I last received or wrote a handwritten letter, so it was with great delight to get one from our grandson. He thanked us for having him, his Mummy and Daddy and baby brother for holidays.

He listed out the Top10 things he’d enjoyed most.

I’d have to reply and went rummaging for a pen. Although the recipient in this case was a 7 year  old, I believe that to give due deference, we must write a letter in ink. Real ink. Amongst a drawer full of biros, I found a Uniball Freeflow. It sounds like an unfortunate affliction but writes beautifully.

I made a start. I stopped. My scrawl, at an angle of approximately 30 degrees, looked as if a fly with dysentery had crawled across the page. The solution was simple. I’d have to practice, like being back at school.

The wastepaper basket was almost full before I managed something legible.

Hello Theo,

Me and Granny loved your letter, and we enjoyed the holiday as much as you did. And you had catching mud crabs in Drake’s Pool as your No1. Yeah, that was brilliant. Although we didn’t count, I’m sure you caught the most, and it was fun when you poured out the bucket and they skedaddled back into the water.

And your number 2 was the day when it didn’t rain, and we went to Rocky Bay and Granny brought along a picnic and we had sausages and marshmallows on the little bbq and made thousands of sandcastles and tunnels.

Watching you climb the Acer tree was super, although I think Mummy wasn’t too happy when she saw you swinging like Tarzan from the top branch.

Thanks for helping me dig the spuds. They were lovely, weren’t they?

You’re definitely a big boy now, being able to tie your shoelaces, and after all the football practice you did in the garden, I’m sure you’ll be a star player.

I finished off by enclosing a few bob to start off next year’s holiday fund.

My letter will probably, in a few days, find its way to the recycling bin, but at the back of my mind, I’m kind of hoping that in 40- or 50-years’ time it might be pulled out from the back of some drawer or journal and bring back memories of holidays ’23.


About the author 

Eamon's short stories have been published in a myriad of anthologies. His latest highlight is reading a number of his stories on RTE, Ireland's national broadcaster. 


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Monday 28 August 2023

Bitterroot Butterfly by Michael Theroux, acerbic willow bark tea

Around my 21st year, I was working a-field by myself on botanical collections and plant community mapping during the day and living alone in an outlier trailer on the ground of the Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff. Following up on work I'd started under the watch of an experienced and careful teacher before leaving LA, I'd also been diligently working on memory regression and repair, gently teasing out those blockages and making significant progress. Ah, those divergent memory paths: two different memories of the same moment signal a "rock in the stream", behind which very interesting images lie hidden (usually, for good reason).

I was closing in on a continuous and unbroken memory-reading of my life, with the missing pieces falling ever more rapidly into place as when one works on a massive jig-saw puzzle, in the moments before completion. I was meditating with a candle flame between myself and a large mirror, usually getting lost in the reflection of my own eyes for two to three hours at a sitting. I found that I could set the bedroom clock radio to come on to my classical music station and effectively and gently bring myself back. I had long ago learned to keep a small diary with colored pencils handy, to record particularly vibrant impressions upon returning.

I'd been potching around in my second year's memory stock and stores, rather simple impressions but nice to get tacked back down in some semblance of order. Then there was a dramatic shift in what had been a relatively comfortable rattle of baby memories; in my sessions over the next week I began to get flashes of a deep, wooded valley called, I knew, the Bitterroot, a land much further north than Flagstaff - with summer winding down, with the scent of wood smoke, cooking, horses, leather, sweat, and worse ...

I was a young long-haired botanist / escapee from LA to Flagstaff, living alone and eating simple meals, completely absorbed in collecting and mapping Oak Creek Canyon for the Museum, damned and determined they'd see they needed to turn my summer internship into a full time permanent position...

I was French, in my early twenties, apparently a war trained medic / field doctor, living with an Indian woman in a small ramshackle hut, beside tents and wooden houses along a mud street, caring for simple injuries, illnesses, births and deaths using my surgical skills and her medicinal plant knowledge...

The older memories began to displace my newer realm and I found myself doing my field work in Oak Creek Canyon during the day without completely leaving the wooded northern valley. I got my work done furiously, worried about my ability to maintain but functioning both physically and mentally at a level I had not found possible before the shift. I apparently had begun to absorb and could apply much of an entirely separate set of skills and memories, routines and basic knowledge. It was at the same time terrifying and exhilarating. I also expanded my sessions, including brief moments during my field day when I could quite literally and consciously allow this other older persona to step forward as the dominant mind.

I knew already that dual memories, wherever I had unearthed them, formed shells around barbed cores, suppressed to protect the tender mental capacity at the moment of the experience from something too overwhelming to be fully comprehended and dealt with at that time. For the most part, later year's maturity compensated and I had successfully if painfully faced down each jagged disruption to continuous memory, reclaiming the central thought path and absorbing the experience. The magnitude of this present duality meant to me that whatever had occurred was so monstrous, so traumatic as to bridge an entire life cycle and I was quite honestly running scared with nowhere to go.

My rather visceral response was to accelerate the time sequence toward the cause of the schism, to get to and past the trauma, seeking again memory continuity. Images in sessions began to move by in clips; each quickly played suite of impressions followed by another along the time-line but now with gaps of hours or days. The summer was collapsing toward fall; rains increased to almost constant down-pour, and the Yellow Fever illness escalated throughout the valley, leaving the good doctor ragged, beyond weary, and rather desperate.

During one session, the pace changed and I found myself completely engaged in an evening of doctoring in the small wooden cabin, a line of mostly Indian folk waiting in the damp late evening outside my door. A frantic man suddenly burst past the others and into the room carrying a hugely pregnant woman, leaking fluids and clearly in dire straits. She was febrile, quite hot to the touch, flushed, screaming and delirious - and giving birth. I produced a small pipe, administered a mouth-full of warm smoke at a time, mouth to mouth, to the woman now sprawled across our one sturdy table in the center of the room, and coaxed the child from her body with some difficulty. The birthing produced an overly large baby, crying heartily but deformed, without fully developed legs. I remember handing the child off to my nurse / partner to wrap in a blanket. She hid the leg stumps in the swaddling and passed the wriggling bundle to the woman's family crowded into the small room, then I myself collapsed, unconscious.

As one does when surfacing occasionally from delirium my memories of the next time span took the form of water-color glimpses of faces and motion, followed by blackness. I do not know how long I was incapacitated, but understood that I had been ill with the same fever the woman and her infant had barely survived, the epidemic now abating in the Bitterroot Valley community.

After some time, I found myself propped up on pillows, with a feeble sun coming through the single window above the bedstead. A quiet cadre of elderly Indian folk first spoke to my mate, then approached the bed. The woman I had saved was child of a medicine man chief; the healthy although legless child was considered by the tribe to be a magical being. The woman's father spoke a great many words I did not understand, then bent down to softly blow a thin blue trail of smoke from a small bowl into my face. I relaxed and once again blacked out.

When I awoke, I quickly notice an irritating, sore patch on my forehead - my mate ran to stop me from rubbing or otherwise disturbing it and gently began to massage a soothing ointment into the coarse and scabbed skin with her fingertips. My hair had been shaved back from my forehead to perhaps the midline, ear to ear. Something had been done to my skin, something involving puncturing that had left a layer of stiff and close-fitting material affixed to the front of my scalp. As I began to panic, she again wafted the smoke from the same small bowl into my face, and I went out.

On the second or third day of this new routine, she handed me a prized possession new to our belongings: a small mirror held in silver with an ornate handle. I braced myself, and peered at my face. Centered along what had been my hairline, extending perhaps two inches wide by an inch high was a multi-colored tattoo in the shape of a butterfly, in colors of milkweed white, deep berry purple and the red of river rose hips.

I felt an electric jolt move throughout my entire body. I found that I was again sitting in my trailer in Flagstaff, staring at my face in the mirror, lit by the still flickering stub of a candle. The quilled butterfly was still quite visible, but it immediately began to fade. I quickly sketched the image in my diary, as accurately as I could manage while shaking from head to toe.

My own skills working deer and elk hide were well advanced at that time, as were my skills with nine types of porcupine quillwork I had mastered from studying museum pieces in the archives at the San Fernando Valley Indian museum. For Christmas that year, I crafted a vest for my father of elk hide, a beautiful piece of work still in my mother's closet that he wore to special occasions for many years. The vest has small fringed pockets on both sides in front. On each pocket is a quilled butterfly, faithfully reproduced in white, deep berry purple and rose, my mother's colors.


About the author 

Michael Theroux writes from Northern California. Michael is entering the literary field at age 72, seeking publication of two books and around 400 poems and short stories. Some may be found in Down in the Dirt, Ariel Chart, 50WS, Academy of the Heart and Mind and the Lothlorien Poetry Journal. 


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Sunday 27 August 2023

Sunday Serial: The Story Weaver and Other Tales by Sally Zigmond: LA MER DE GLACE, dry white wine



 The lobby grew cluttered with trunks and unclaimed luggage. Rats were leaving France as if it were sinking. Each day more rooms were shut up and shrouded; each meal an ordeal whispers among the polished glasses, the silver forks and starched white figured damask linen. Shadows crept to fill the empty spaces, silence muffled every corridor and staircase until two new gusts came down to breakfast one morning, the optimism of youth shining from their cheeks. A young man and a girl. Fair-haired and wholesome.

            Laura leaned towards her husband who was reading an old copy of the Morning Post. “They look friendly. Introduce us, please, she asked Charles.  He continued reading. She sipped her coffee.

            She summoned the waiter in her faltering French. At this, the new young man smiled from across the room. She should have looked away - she was after all, and married women had to preserve their dignity and reputation - but she liked his grey eyes too much for that, even she was a married woman and, after all, and married women had to preserve their dignity and reputation.  Only, the cloud of war that hung over them all was already rewriting the rules. She could feel the scratch of the moving pen on her skin.

            The young man turned to the window and the misted rooftops. His companion chewed her plait amiably. He reached over the table and slapped her hand at which she giggled and slapped him back.

            Laura stirred her coffee. “I can't quite make them out. What do you think?”

            Charles turned a page.

            Beyond the windows another summer's day was easing itself to its full brilliance. The glaciers were retreating, the meadows were scorched, their flowers wilted, but still the river thundered on. During the sweet, sticky nights when sleep eluded her, its constant chunter shared her insomnia.

            “Please, my dear. I'm trying to read a complex article about the Austro-Hungarians. I can't concentrate if you keep interrupting.”

            Laura bit her lip. When she first met Charles she had fallen in love with his calm reason. Having been brought up as the baby of a house that was never silent, a house that resounded to the petty squabbles of five sisters, she had been flattered by his quiet attention. But she'd already forgotten how to speak to him and he no longer listened. What she had learned was how not to make a noise when she cried.

            The waiter placed a boiled egg on the table. Charles folded his newspaper and picked up a spoon. “Your eyes are very bright today, Laura. Doctor Parkin was right to suggest the Alps. The mountain air suits you.” In fact, Chamonix had been Laura's idea. The doctor had recommended Baden-Baden, but Charles had put his foot down. And she wondered how much mountain air she had breathed since she wasn't allowed to leave the hotel. She had lost her delight in books; her delight in life. What was there to do but spend her days in their room, staring at the carved and painted furniture?

            “You'd think,” said Charles, “that a hotel of this calibre would understand the concept of 'lightly boiled.' This is concrete.”

            H pushed the plate away and picked up his newspaper. It was the first he had come across since they had arrived and he had pounced on it like a hawk on a rabbit. Laura poured more coffee from the pot and, inhaling its dark bitterness, resumed her observations. The girl was toying with the crumbs left on her plate and the man was watching her and jotting notes in his book.

“I know who they are,” she said. “Hansel and Gretel. He has worked out a plan so they won't get lost in the forest. He will drop the crumbs behind them to make a trail. But it won't work. The birds will eat the crumbs and the dark forest will close over them. They will never escape.”

            Charles threw his newspaper across the table. “Can't a man have some peace and quiet?” His egg and spoon clattered to the floor. “I don't know why I bother. This is such an old edition. We could already be at war.”

            Hansel and Gretel rose from their table. When they'd gone, Laura whispered. “I think they're German.”


            “Hansel and Gretel. The couple by the window.”

            Charles glanced about the empty room. “Are you sure you're not feverish again? Besides, there won't be any Germans here now. They'll all be back home preparing for war. They knew what was up the moment the Archduke was assassinated.”

            Laura laughed. Charles's features sharpened. “I fail to see any humour in the situation. I sometimes think your misfortune has affected your mind.”

            “You are right. It isn't funny. Nothing is funny any more.”  She forced herself to her feet. “I'm tired. I'm going to lie down.”

            Charles's manner changed on the instant. “My dear. You should have said before. I apologise for my earlier outburst, but it is the fault of the Kaiser.” He rapped the newspaper with his knuckles. “Impossible to believe he shares the same blood as our King. Let me take your arm.”


Laura had lied. She wasn't weary, at least not in her body. That fizzed and spat like fat in a pan. As soon as Charles left her to return to his breakfast she flung open the shutters and leaned over the balcony. The town was going about its business. Carts thronged the streets. Neighbours hailed each other across the river. Below her the crashing of pots and the hot greasiness of lunch being prepared drifted up from the kitchens. A boy was sweeping the flags of the hotel terrace, dragging out tables and chairs, brushing fallen leaves from the canopied swing-seat. He was whistling between his teeth. Behind him, the river tumbled over heaps of smoothed boulders. The colour and texture of onyx, it rushed on, never changing, ever moving. How long would it take before the water she could see poured into the Rhone? And how long before it disgorged into the dazzling blue of the Mediterranean? When a fisherman dragged his nets ashore in Corsica, when his gasping, silver treasure slithered into the baskets he would later carry to market, would he see that same water? And if some of that same water glistening on one fish's back later splashed on the market floor, how long would it be before the sun reclaimed it, sucked it up, to fall as snow on the peaks that now shimmered through the mist? For the journey did not begin here. It started up there in the ice that had creaked and cracked high above her centuries before; ice that had felt the weight of mammoths.

            So what then of the looming war? What did it mean to rivers, glaciers and mountains? And what then of the loss of one child, a child who had never breathed air nor drank water, compared with such enormity?

            Threads of mist lay in loose skeins across the valley and shawled the white Massif, but as she watched, the threads unravelled and the peaks revealed themselves to her. They didn't roar or splash like the river; they didn't chatter and clatter like the servants in the kitchens but they spoke to her.

            She only wished she knew what they were saying.

            The effort exhausted her. The moment slipped from her grasp. The mist closed in again. She shivered, closed the shutters and lay down on the bed.

            She must have slept. Sunlight striped the wall and Charles was leaning over her. “I'm sorry not have come up before, but I have met the most interesting fellow newly arrived from London. Morris - that's his name - says that if war comes, the British Army will soon trounce our enemies. He also says he can find me a suitable military posting so I won't miss the show. I suggested that he and I went for a stroll to mull things over. You don't mind, do you?”

            She closed her eyes. “Not at all.”

            “Splendid. What glory awaits us all. Something to tell the children, eh?”    

            “What children would these be, Charles? Dr Parkin told me . . .”

            “Doctors aren't always right, you know.”

            “Shouldn't you go down? You don't want to keep Mr Morris waiting. She sat up. “By the way. This war. It made you angry at breakfast. And now it's a glorious show. What's changed?” But he'd gone.

            She ran out on the balcony in time to see him striding out swinging his Alpenstock, in animated conversation with a squat man with no neck. “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war,” she muttered.

            It was only when someone coughed that she realised she’d been heard. Below her Hansel's tanned face peered up at her. He was then joined by Gretel who waved her straw hat like a banner. “My brother has ordered me to wear this to prevent . . .” She began in English but floundered.

            “Freckles,” said Laura. The girl giggled.

            “Eva and I are about to have lunch,” said the young man. “Join us.”

            “I can't.”

            “Are you a prisoner?” said Eva.

            “No, but I have. . .” She chose her words with care. “I have been ill. I need to rest.”          “You can rest here,” said Eva.

            “Indeed you can. It is most pleasant in the shade.”


After introductions had been made and hats compared, Laura found herself seated at a small table beneath a plane tree with a glass of wine before her and a cushion at her back. Hansel's real name was Theo Strauss. He was studying law, which he loathed. 

            “He wants to be a poet,” said Eva. “He and Papa had a row about it, but Theo will have his way. He always does”

            “Frau Thompson does not want to know that.”

            “Laura, please. You make me sound old.”

            “How old are you?”


            “I don't mind. I'm twenty five.”

            “Theo is twenty three and I am sixteen.”

            “Don't lie. You are fifteen and only just that.”

            Eva pouted. “You sound more like Papa every day.”

            Theo explained that his father had asked him to take Eva on a European tour to complete her education.” But she refuses to learn anything. She is hopeless.”

Eva pulled a face. She began to strip lengths of straw from her hat and drop them to the ground. Theo grabbed it. “I thought I told you to put your hat on your head, not your lap.”

            “Poof!” Eva snatched it back, stood up, slapped it down on her seat and sat on it.

            Laura was amused. “You remind me so much of myself. I was the baby of a big family so I got everyone's cast-off. I once threw a pair of perfectly serviceable boots to our neighbour's pig.”

            “What happened?”

            “It gobbled them up.”

            “I wish I'd thought of that.”

            “Don't encourage her,” said Theo firmly although he was not angry. “She already admires you too much.”

            “I'm very ordinary.”

            “Oh you are not ordinary at all,” exclaimed Eva, piling salad onto her plate. “You are quite beautiful. Theo said your hair is like golden thistledown and that you are a princess locked in marriage to an evil wizard.”

            “That is quite enough, Eva. And hold your fork properly. You are not a peasant.” Theo's anger silenced her and she said nothing more until the effects of the wine and food once more softened his eyes.

            When the meal was over, Laura and Eva moved to the swing-seat. The shadows of the plane-trees crept inch by inch across the terrace. A soft breeze rolled down from the mountains, rustling the dry leaves above them. Chaffinches pecked for crumbs at their feet. Two doves were calling to each other and bees lumbered through the heavy afternoon air. The seat creaked as it swung, its fringe rippled and Eva snored gently, her arm thrown across Laura's lap. Theo remained at the table, reading. Absorbed and without self-regard, he melted into the scenery. Laura looked past him to the mountains, their whiteness merging with the pale sky behind a veil of shimmering light. She fanned herself with Eva's flattened hat. “I feel like a Lotus Eater. Do you know Tennyson's poetry?”

            Theo closed his book. “Of course. 'On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind.' Shall I order tea?”

            “No thank you. I am sipping nectar.”

            He smiled. “Tea, Eva?”

            His sister moved her arm but did not wake. “She is fortunate to have you to care for her,” said Laura.

            “She doesn't think so.”

            “Where will you go when you leave France?”

            “We had planned to tour England. But that is now out of the question.”

            “The war,” she said watching a line of schoolboys march past.


            “If war comes . . . .”

            “It will come.”

            “Will you fight?” She had a sudden image of Charles and Theo rushing towards each other, sabres aloft.

            “I have asthma,” he said. “Eva does not know yet but as soon as war is declared I shall take her to Zurich. Our family is to gather there. And you? What plans have you made?”

            She shook her head. She couldn't think ahead nor imagine anything other than leaning back, suspended in the air, beneath the glittering mountains. She wanted to catch the butterfly moment in her hand and hold it captive, feel it fluttering until she chose to let it go. The purring of the doves, the flop of a leaf onto a table, Eva's crumpled hat, the rush of the river behind her, a hawk hanging above the valley, the sun on its slow decline, the scent of rain in the next valley.

            “When I first came here,” she said. “The mountains seemed too large. I was terrified they would crash down on me.”

            “And now?” asked Theo batting a fly from his face.

            “Like they want to embrace me and keep me safe. Like a mother folds herself over her child.” A sob caught her by surprise. Theo leaned forward in his chair, not questioning but giving her space to speak further and before she was aware she was doing it, before she had time to regret her indiscretion, she was telling him about the miscarriage and the doctor's fear that she would never have another child.

            “I detect your loss has left a shard of ice in your heart,” he said

            Had it?

            Mountain weather is volatile and clouds were now rolling through the valley. Thunder growled. Wind rattled the trees and lifted the leaves from the ground. The birds had stopped chirping but the river tumbled down to the Rhone, to the sea, to the sky to fall as rain, to trickle, splash, rush, pour and tumble again and again and again. And here she was.


            And there was Charles. He took her arm and with a cold nod to Theo, pulled her from the seat and propelled her into the hotel, up the stairs and into their room. “Have you taken leave of your senses? Here we are on the very precipice of war and I find you intimate with Germans.”

            Laura gripped the bedstead. “At breakfast you said there were no Germans here. Don't you remember? All Germans are at home preparing for war.”

            Charles raised his hand. “Morris says there may well be spies working here.”

            An explosion of mirthless laughter ripped through her. Charles shook his head. “You are such an innocent, my dear. By the way, I have asked him to join us for dinner. I want you downstairs by eight. And wear your pearls.”

            Laura couldn't move. Her limbs were lead weights. A ball of ice was swelling within her. She felt both very small and as mighty and implacable as the mountains over whose heads, inky rags of cloud were now pouring. If she chose to she could rip the paper from the walls, claw the paint from the wardrobe, shatter the windows and leap to the ground and run through the streets, a screaming harpy. Instead, she had to pull each frozen word from her mouth. “No Charles. I will not wear your pearls and I will not come down for dinner.”

            “If that is your decision, I will respect it. Morris will understand. I have already informed him of your misfortune.” 

            “Our misfortune.”

            “Indeed, Laura. Our misfortune.” He patted her arm. She shook the gesture off and he left her.

            She shrank to think that Charles could freely dispense private information that had taken a pair of soft, grey eyes to extract from her. “My wife is a semi-invalid, you know, since she lost our first child. That's why I brought her here despite the imminence of war. Physically she is recovering but I am somewhat concerned about her mental state.”

            Damn him! She slammed the window against the rain that was now sheeting across the town. The terrace was water-logged; the swing-seat rocked like a ship at sea. Rain lashed the flagstones and the wind's teeth shredded the sodden ribbons of Eva's hat that lay abandoned on the seat.


The rain fell all night and on and off for the next three days as July became August. Bloated clouds filled the valley, blotting out the crags and peaks. The river rose and spilled into cellars and kitchens, but Laura, curled up in her bed, knew nothing of this only that she was living up to Charles's stereotype of a weak and silly woman. She hated herself for it, but couldn't see how to stop until one afternoon—she didn't know what day of the week it was—Eva knocked and entered. She flumped down at the foot of the bed, chewing her plait.

            “Are you very ill?”

            “Not at all.”

            “Theo and I miss you terribly. We have been worried.”

            “There was no need.” She felt ashamed of their concern but at the same time she tingled in its glow. Suddenly, bored with the role she had imposed upon herself, she finally became aware of how others might see her. She touched her hair. It was thick and matted. Her nightdress clung to her, grey and crumpled. Medicine bottles cluttered the mantelpiece and discarded clothes were strewn across the floor.

            “Theo says you have an illness of the heart.”

            “Did he? Then he is wrong. There is nothing wrong with my heart. It's more simple than that. My husband says I must not speak to Germans.”

            ‘I see.’ Eva opened the shutters. The clouds had gone; the sky was a sheet of blue. The mountains remained.

            “Theo thought as much,” she said. “Tell me. If your husband knew I was here, would he kill us?”

            “Charles?” The very idea of her husband, of all people, bursting into the room armed with a gun, sword or even his Alpenstock was so ridiculous that she giggled. Eva joined in and the more they did so the more ridiculous her prolonged sulk was. “Run downstairs,” she said when she had regained control. “Tell Theo I shall be on the terrace in fifteen minutes.”


It wasn't difficult. She didn't have to lie. Charles was so regular in his habits that she knew he and Morris wouldn't return to the hotel until four-thirty by which time she was calmly seated alone on the terrace, reading a novel. And if her cheeks were more flushed than usual, and even if Charles noticed, she could put it down to the alpine air.

            She, Eva and Theo soon established a routine.  Lunch on the terrace, tea on the swing seat followed. Their conversation was mainly about music and literature. Laura was ashamed that, despite Theo's low opinion of Eva's learning, she knew far more about them than she did. Theo recommended books for her and she read thirstily. Her French improved and she asked Theo to teach her German. She was no linguist but when they were apart, how she longed for the joy of sitting next to him with a pile of books between them, watching the changing emotions in his eyes as she stumbled over his language, sensing his closeness, stealing herself for his warm breath on her cheek, the brush of his hand against hers.

            The only thing she dared not do was leave the hotel. Petty acts of defiance were easy enough; blatant disobedience was quite another matter. But when Eva mentioned that she and Theo were planning to walk up to the famous Mer de Glace the following day, she knew she had to be there with them. 

“We shall walk,” said Eva. “But there is a new railway to the glacier. You could manage that, couldn't you?”

            “I don't know. I will have to ask my husband.”

            “Poof. I will never marry if I have to ask permission to do what pleases me.”

            “That is enough, Eva” said Theo. “You know nothing.”

            “And you're horrid.”

            She stomped over to the river. “She is disappointed,” he said watching his sister hurl pebble after pebble into the river. “She never knew our mother. I wish you could come on your own.”

            “Is it for Eva that you ask or for yourself?”

            “Laura,” he said. “False naivety is not becoming.”


Charles was pleasingly relaxed over dinner. Laura suspected that he and Morris had shared more than animated conversation and had themselves decided to see this famous ‘meteorological phenomenon’. The excursion by train to the glacier was easily decided on. He had patted her arm and said how relieved he was that she was almost back to her old self. Only Morris, too, was to be included.


The carriages soon filled. Laura hadn't been aware that so many tourists still remained in the town. She had assumed that there carriage would be half empty but she found herself glumly wedged between Charles and a Belgian woman who, clearly expecting a famine, was distributing lumps of bacon and bread amongst her offspring.

            The little engine nosed the carriages up the winding track. One moment she had a fleeting view of the valley and the next the train plunged her into dank blue forest and dripping tunnels before once more bursting out into the light. The air grew increasingly chillier and she felt thin and stretched, distant from reality.

            And yet, even here, the talk was of war. The word scuttled up and down the carriage like a rat. Morris had no other topic of conversation. In order to catch what he was saying over the snorts of the engine and the rattle of the carriage, Charles had to lean away from her across the aisle to where Morris perched, his Alpenstock gripped between his tweed knees.

            The train lurched ever upwards. Women crossed themselves, silent lips moving; children screamed and gasped as the incline steepened or the track seemed to cling to the very edge of a precipice. Morris had finally run out of war platitudes and was reading aloud from his guidebook. “The Mer de Glace, or rather, Sea of Glass.” He nodded to Charles. “—Although  River would be the more appropriate word, but that's the French for you—is more than eleven kilometres (what on earth is that in miles?) in length and moves at a speed of . . .”

            Laura turned away. The train slowed to negotiate a viaduct before levelling out alongside the Montenvers Hotel. Its terrace was already dotted with fashionable hats, their brims competing with the table parasols. The engine chugged into the station and wheezed to a halt. Its passengers stumbled out onto the platform, huddling into their coats and blowing on their hands, exclaiming at the sharpness of the thin, icy air, hovering, uncertain what to do.

            Charles took her arm and led her to the viewing platform overhanging the glacier. Morris scurried off, pushing past others to secure the services of a guide who, with his ladder and thick socks for hire, was shouting his prices.

            “I think it would be best if you wait here,” Charles said banging his hands together, his breath clouding around his face. “Retire to the ladies' waiting-room if you get too cold. We will meet you at the hotel for lunch. Shall we say in half an hour?”

            Morris bowed and he and Charles made their way down the steps cut into the rock.

            Laura felt light-headed, like a kite tugging on its string. Perhaps it was the altitude. It wasn't the sight of the glacier. She had expected a field of diamonds but it was a dirty blanket of icy grit. Tourists were moving aimlessly on its surface. With their ladders and lengths of rope, the scene resembled a game of snakes and ladders spread out below her. Behind her, the train driver and his companions were passing round a bottle of beer and exchanging desultory remarks and short grunts of laughter as they stoked, watered and polished the engine. Wafts of sulphurous smoke drifted down and melted in the milky blue of the mountains that guarded the head of the glacier. She checked Morris's guidebook he had left behind. They were called, 'Les Grandes Jorasses.'  She didn't know what the name meant but it sounded suitably lofty.    

            “You came, then?” Theo sat down beside her. He slipped his haversack off his back

            “Did you doubt me?”

            He considered her remark. “No, but I …”

            “Charles is playing snakes and ladders with Morris.”

            “I see,” he said but clearly didn't.

            “What does 'Grandes Jorasses' mean?”

            “I don't know.” He was out of breath and distracted. “Does it matter?” Why was he so brittle? Had the altitude frozen his friendliness?

            “I suppose not.”

            They both pretended to admire the view; she looked left; he right.

            “Where's Eva?”

            He pointed to where she was crouched on the snow, plait in her mouth and a pencil and sketchbook in her hand.

            “Laura,” he began. Then stopped. He reached out his hand. Instantly she was elated and deflated by the banality of his gesture. Was this what she had come here for? She didn't know but their hands didn't touch. Instead, a babble of voices broke out around them. One of the railway workers had left his fellows and was pushing his way towards the hotel. Another began to slide and slither down the steps towards the glacier, shouting and gesticulating. Soon the whole mountainside was stirred up as if an ant's nest had been poked by a giant stick.

            “What is it? What's happening?” Theo was now on his feet, struggling with his haversack, calling to Eva.

            Charles returned. She held her breath, bracing herself for his anger but he merely bowed to Theo. “It would seem that your country has declared war on France. It will not be long before our countries are enemies.” He held out his hand.

            “Indeed so.” Theo took the hand but looked stiff and uncomfortable. He then turned to Laura and bowed. “Goodbye, Mrs Thompson. My sister and I must leave for Switzerland immediately.” Helping Eva to her feet, he guided her steps over the ice towards the track that led back down to the valley.

            She took a step forward. “Wait!” she cried stupidly without knowing why. Her voice rang around the rocks, before fading away. Eva turned her head briefly but Theo didn't hesitate or turn round

            “It's time we went home,” said Charles softly.  He paused before whispering, “You are so, so lovely. I had not seen it until now.”

            The platform was already crowded with ashen, silent faces peering at the sky in the expectation of thunderbolts crashing down from the blue or at least something more significant than a little toy engine with its comical funnel and scarlet carriages.

            And then she noticed something else. “Where's Morris?”

            “We had a small difference of opinion down on the glacier. When he heard the news, he said that if he had a pistol, he would have shot every German in sight without compunction. Man, woman or child.”

            “And what did you say to that?”

            “That he was a pompous ass.”

            They both smiled. He took her hand and folded it in his. Theo and Eva were out of sight and she would only retain scraps of them in years to come. She knew they would prosper. Like raindrops on the ocean, nothing left a mark on people like Theo. But what of Charles? And the moment she posed the question, the mountains and the ice melted away, and she saw him in a ditch, splattered with blood-streaked mud, his eyes wide and staring, seeing nothing. She clutched her fur collar and stumbled.

            “Are you all right?” he said and she was. And so was he. The mountains glittering in the brittle sunlight could teach her nothing. “Let us not take the train back,” she said, tugging his sleeve. “Let's walk.”

            The snow kicked up by their boots circled them in luminescence until they entered the shadow of the pines leaving the sea of glass to itself.

About the author

Sally Zigmond's dream always was to read and write.When her sons were occupied during the day with full-time dedication, she attended various adult education classes run by the local government.She eventually stumbled on "Creative Writing for Pleasure and Profit" and she was hooked.  Her commercial fiction has been published by The People’s Friend, My Weekly, The Lady and Woman's Weekly. Her more literary fiction and has won prizes and competitions and much has been published in QWF - Quality  Women's Fiction.  
Hope Against Hope a Victorian novel was published in 2011 and Chasing Angels, a novella in 2019