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The Green Tunnel

The Green Tunnel originally appeared in LampLight – Volume 7, Issue 1, edited by Jacob Haddon

 

I leave the Volvo at the Springer Mountain Trailhead, keys underneath the seat. Walking away, new red backpack heavy on my hips, I realize I never want to see the car again. When I come out the other side, I’ll report it stolen, and cash out more of the settlement to buy a new car with fewer seats.

The new boots wrap my feet like second skin. I’d broken them in on day hikes in the winter, testing each bit of gear as it arrived. I made sure I could pitch the tent in the rain, strip the stove to clean each valve, patch the ultralight air mattress in the dark if it sprung a leak. I packed food into parcels — dehydrated meals, rice, and protein bars — and mailed them to post offices along the route. I have no intention of dying on the Appalachian Trail, no matter what my friends assume.

The thrum of cars gives way to the whisper of wind through spring buds and the crunch of snow underfoot. The sweat on my back cools in the morning chill. With the anxiety of planning and preparation behind me, there is only the fixed certainty of the next six months ahead.

I am each step, and then the next, and nothing more. I am the smell of Georgia pines and melting snow. I am sunlight on cold skin. Rising to the peak of Springer Mountain, I descend the other side without stopping to sign the register. On the first day, as I’d hoped, I lose myself in the immediacy. The sounds of rushing air and shearing metal that I’d lived with for a year slides into the background.

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The Shrike

The Shrike was first published in audio on Pseudopod

 

By the time she’s thrown herself upright and grasped for the remote with shaking hands, it’s too late. She’s seen it. She’s heard the words. Instead, she stumbles for the kitchen sink, feeling her throat clench with acrid, stinging horror. The vibrant green and brown hues of the nature documentary wash the inside of her darkened apartment, sonorous tones of the narration hanging in the air. She tries not to listen as she hunches over the filthy, dish-choked sink, retching and gasping for air, but the words still come. Thorns. Impale. Butcher.

Coupled with ambien and supermarket gin, the nature documentaries had been the only thing that helped her fall asleep for the last month, but that’s over now. Ruined in a single fusillade of frames and words. She shuts her eyes tight, presses her face to the cracked tile of the kitchen counter as sobs rock her wasting frame. Behind her eyelids, she sees what she always sees. Trinity on the spike, wide and terrified eyes going glassy with blood loss as her little mouth struggles and fails to form a plea for help. But now the jagged spar of rusted iron in the little girl’s throat has a name, christened by the late night documentary on the cruel hunting habits of predatory birds.

Shrike. It repeats in her ears, a ringing bell striking midnight. Shrike. In the cold clarity of the moment, she feels a silver thread of relief. She knows the name of the thing, now. It is no longer just a factor, one link in the chain of her fatal, unforgivable mistake. The Shrike is an entity. It is something outside herself she can blame. Something she can hate.

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Last Halloween

Last Halloween was first published in FLAPPERHOUSE #19

On the last morning I will have with my son, I make him pancakes with fresh blueberries from the community garden mixed in the batter.  When the Patels from down the street heard the news, they brought us a flask of fresh maple syrup from the trees in the western woods, and I’ve chilled it overnight in the fridge. Butter from the community farm sizzles and spits on the griddle as Malcolm drags his feet down the stairs. Outside the kitchen window, perched on the skeletal frame of an old oak, the crow gazes at me. Its head crooks to one side and beetle-shell eyes flash in the October sun, fixed on mine. I look away.

“Morning,” I grunt, trying to keep the desperate quaver out of my voice. “Thought maybe you’d like to try some coffee with breakfast.”

He narrows sleepy eyes, skeptical of the offer, then shrugs. “Doesn’t it, uh, stunt my growth?” I wince, but he doesn’t notice.

“I think maybe one cup is okay.” I set the chipped, steaming mug down in front of him with the first batch of pancakes. “Just don’t tell mom.”

He tries to play it cool, like it’s no big deal, but I can see the excitement in the corners of his smile. He wraps his small hands around the mug, half covering the Notre Dame crest, and sniffs at the steam. I realize that I’m staring at him, so I look out the window again. The crow catches my eye and nods, then takes flight in a burst of sparkling black feathers.

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