“Seven Urns” Dark Fiction by Hayden Sidun

“Do you ever feel worthless?” the boy asked. He tugged at his father’s coat, the innocence of a young child exuding from his soul. His eyes, brown as mud and easy to get lost in, were drowning in tears, a trail of dried teardrops staining his cheeks. They were met by his father’s eyes, locked in a dazed stare, searching for the right words to answer the boy’s question as though those words were spelled in the boy’s eyes.

The father wanted to say yes because it was the truth. He was there when the fire occurred, standing on his half-cut lawn, sporting a horror-stricken expression, heat consuming his body, thick black smoke staining the baby blue sky. He did nothing when the first roof shingles caught fire, nor did he do anything when flames ate the rest of the house. What could he do? 9-1-1 had already been called, firefighters and paramedics dispatched, and he couldn’t be the hero of the story when he had a family in his own house to look after. So he stood on his property across the street from the scene, emergency vehicles flooding the street, the screams of painful death assaulting his ears, the smell of smoke billowing from the burning house filling his lungs, beads of sweat dripping down his face. When the fire subsided—or rather when first responders killed it—he stood there, his feet stuck like glue to the grass, watching paramedics haul charred, unrecognizable corpses out of what remained of the house.

Little did the father know that his son, only nine years old and still with little knowledge of what the world around him was really like, curious as any child (or any person, for that matter) would be, stood on a stool next to the window, watching in awe as his father did outside, sporting a horror-stricken expression as it struck his father’s, the windows hot to the touch. He couldn’t have known that his neighbors were burning alive in the blaze; his innocence let him believe that the blood-curdling screams he heard were only those of fear and maybe a little pain. But the boy’s interest subsided as the fire did, and as his father stood in the same place and watched paramedics haul charred, unrecognizable corpses from what remained of the house, the boy ran to his bedroom and cried into his pillow.

“Why would I feel worthless?” the father asked.

“We watched the fire, Daddy.”

The father looked toward the altar, where his neighbors’ urns were lined up on a cloth-covered table. The bodies were too charred, burnt enough in the house that it wouldn’t make sense to put them in caskets. Nevertheless, the image of their corpses stained his memory, even at the funeral and especially in the days before. It would probably be long before he forgot what the young couple and their plentiful children looked like before the tragedy, but alas, their remains embodied their legacy.

The father would often spend Saturday nights with his neighbor, and more often than not, they would shoot pool in his garage and listen to music that evoked nostalgia, both men always with a beer in their hand. The boy’s mother—she was probably talking to someone somewhere in the church—shared a similar friendship with the neighbor’s wife. The boy himself would often play with the five young children who lived across the street, enjoying himself and the time he spent with his friends and neighbors despite at times being outnumbered. The house that burned to the ground was the young couple’s first together, and that house was the only home their children knew. The father could still remember when the couple first moved into the house, and he remembered each time they brought a newborn home, but those memories burnt and collapsed as the house did.

“There was nothing we could do but watch,” the father told his son.

“Nothing?”

A tear formed in the father’s eye. He shook his head, wanting to hide the truth from his son, knowing he couldn’t. “Nothing.”

The father still couldn’t explain why he didn’t turn off the evening news that night. Perhaps he was curious about what the press had to say. The evening news had never been a pleasant thing to watch, and of all the house fires they’d covered over the years, he never expected one would be in his neighborhood, on his street, within eyeshot of his house. But he sat on the couch nonetheless, locked in a dead stare at the television screen as monotonous anchors told millions about the house fire that killed seven. He doubted that anyone cared or bothered to listen to the anchors, and maybe the anchors themselves couldn’t bother to care.

But he cared, as did the boy. He cared when the screaming replayed in his mind, keeping him awake in the darkness of the night. He cared when he finally closed his eyes to sleep, dreaming only of the horror he witnessed earlier that day. He cared when he, the most obvious witness and someone who knew the family well, was asked to identify the bodies at the coroner’s office and relived that day as he tried to recognize the seven bodies lying on a table. The coroner told him it was okay if he couldn’t identify the bodies, so the father walked out of the room. Looking up, he still doesn’t know who is in what urn.

“Do you think they’re alive somewhere else?” the boy asked, his tinny voice beginning to tremble.

“Maybe.” The father hung his head and whispered, “Probably not.”

“Why not?”

The father looked down at the boy and met his eyes once again. “Well, maybe they are. No one, not even the smartest of the smart, really knows what happens after we die; it’s the single greatest mystery of humankind. So we make an educated guess, maybe live our lives accordingly, and hope we’re right in the end.”

“Do you think they’re happy now, Daddy?”

The father shook his head. “Why would they be happy?”

The boy shrugged. “Because their pain is over now.”

Looking at the urns again, the father told his son, “They died in pain and long before they were supposed to. Those kids? They deserved to live long, happy, fulfilling lives, and their parents deserved to watch them grow and live out the rest of theirs. They’re not happy, son; they’re the farthest thing from it.”

“So they’re sad?”

“Yes. They’re very, very sad.”

“I’m sad too.”

“Me too, buddy. Me too.”

The father took his son by the hand and walked into the center walkway between all the pews. Together, they walked toward the door, saying goodbye to their deceased neighbors, taking a moment to remember them one last time. All the father wanted was to leave the events of that day behind, but the fire still burned in his memory, the screams still played repeatedly, and the air still smelled of smoke. He had a family of his own to think about, a responsibility that saved his life and kept him from running into the fire to save his neighbors, but something still nagged at him. He wanted to do something to save them and wished then more than ever that he had done something, anything at all, to save them, and as he walked out of the church with his son by his side, he felt more worthless than he had ever felt in his life.


Hayden Sidun is a high school student whose short fiction appears in The Dillydoun Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Literary Yard, and Button Eye Review. Outside of school and work, he is active in local politics and often finds himself surfing the Internet in the middle of the night. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, of which he is a proud native.


“Día de Muertos” Poetry by John Tustin

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Disturbing the bones of the dead
Remembering the torment best forgotten
Creating your narrative of persecution and innocence

Wearing a halo of flies
You natter about your village in exaggerated anger
You put chains on the slaves you maternalistically call a tribe

Tonguing the wounds you open
Skinning the corpse and wearing the skin
Bearing the gift of maggots

You return in the night to make subtle agony
You come to take her by infecting me
You are the living disease

You enter the blood through a parasite in the ear
Your eyes twinkle with malevolence
Your eyes narrow with underhanded intent

You yourself are the illness
You wear your scars inside still raw and pink
You break the bone and suck the marrow from a smile

Disturbing the bones of the dead
Feeding on those who live
You yourself are dead

You kill the sun
The floor slick with sadness you create
Snarling with your bloody teeth

Drunk on bigotry and madness
Creating a false family of zombies frightened of noise and shadows
Frightened of you who casts the largest shadow

But you are the mistress of this darkness
You ascend from the steps of hell
Emerging from your sepulcher like a spider 

Cascading up and down the wall
Such loveless fangs
Such a cold embrace

You bring your fog of evaporated tears
You bring your pestilence like rotting meat on a rusty hook
You attempt to give every day to the dead

You bring sickness as if it is medicine
You alone create tomorrow:
Día de Muertos

John Tustin’s poetry has appeared in many disparate literary journals since 2009. fritzware.com/johntustinpoetry contains links to his published poetry online.


“The Green Road” Fiction by John O’Donovan

     Come rain or sunshine, John Connors wore the same blue denim jacket to school every day. It was a gift from his father when he came home for a visit last Christmas. The jacket had an inside pocket where there was a letter inside an envelope. The address on the envelope: Mr. Joseph Connors, The Green Road, Ballysimon, Limerick, Ireland. On the back of the envelope, the return address: Mr. Michael Connors, 34 Weston Street #4B, London, England. His grandfather gave the boy the letter to hold it and fill his naive young heart with hope.

     “Grandpa, why does Daddy have to go and live in England?” the boy asked his grandfather.

     “Because that’s where the jobs are and he’s a fine, good carpenter with no work here abouts,” the grandfather replied.

     The boy didn’t know much about his mother. It was not talked. He only knew, “She ran off with the tinkers…too young, too wild.”

     The Green Road was named after the Green family; farmers who lived on that road years ago.

The square, two story house was still there, but abandoned, overgrown with vines of ivy, since old Mrs. Green passed away. Vandals had not yet discovered it. The front entry door, and windows shut down tight.  There was a gray stone wall to front, mottled white with lichen, and a large iron gate with plywood attached, to keep people from seeing in.  

     On his way to and from school the boy passed, not seeing, until one day, the gate open just a crack. It called out to him… John, come visit. He squeezed through. There were out houses; stalls for horses, a hay barn made of four metal stilts with a rust ridden galvanized roof. All falling into ruin, but there was something else; something lives, something watching. His skin began to crawl. He backed away. He went to school.

     Inside the house the watcher watched. He watched the boy through the tattered curtain lace. He had been waiting for him. He set the trap. “He’ll be back.” the watcher said aloud  to the emptiness.

     A two room school in a one street village. The girl was there. When they passed, she smiled at him. Dolores, I would die for you, as her green-blue virgin eyes seared his virgin soul.

     Coming home from school, he came again to the Green house. The gate  still open, he entered. There was an old rusted milk tankard lying sideways. He sat on it, as if to ponder. On the floor of the yard, a large crack ran from the main house to a drain hole in the center. A cluster of dandelion grew in the drain hole, bright green leaves and yellow flowers in stark contrast to the gray-black cobblestone floor.

      He took the letter out, to read again. ‘Dear Father, I will be down in your country next week. I will stop in to see my son, for his  birthday, what is he now, twelve? My gosh, he’s almost a man. See you then. Love, Mike.’

     “To see my son,” The boy said the words aloud. “To see my son…I love her.” His words echoed all around the empty yard followed by a long silence. He felt a chill, like something cold caressed him. Suddenly, a wind came up as a large black cloud swallowed the evening sun. He got up to leave, to run…he heard a noise. Someone was in the house.

     Run John, run…but it was too late. An older man was at the back door. They stared at each other.

     The man spoke, “I don’t suppose you have a fag on you?”

     “No sir, I don’t smoke.”

     A small dog, a Jack Russell terrier, came bounding out and ran to the boy with great energy and excitement. 

     John Connors studied the man briefly. He reminded him of his Uncle Ned, his father’s older brother. They went fishing once, down in the big river.

     “’Tis a dirty habit, don’t be takin’ it up. He won’t hurt you, he’s only a puppy. Jim Gorman here, I’m thinking about buying the place, just checking it out,” the old man said.

      “There’s a girl in my school, I think I love her…and my father is coming to visit,” the boy said as he petted the dog.

     “That’s grand, what’s your name?” the man said, “Will you come in and have a cup of tea with me, looks like there’s a shower coming?

     John Connors remembered then, his grandfather’s dire warning, “Don’t ever take up with strangers, you don’t know what they have in mind for you. “ Yet, the fateful words escaped his lips: “John Connors, sure I will.”

     The old man gently put one hand on the boy’s shoulder and with the other, closed the door behind them as the first splatters of raindrops smacked the cobblestone yard.

      Four hours later, John Connors’ blood streamed it’s way along the jagged crack to the drain hole. In the red-black liquid, a crescent moon reflected, dancing with the ripples. Come daylight, the yellow dandelion flowers would be dead; too much iron from the blood.

     A worker found his body in the rock quarry, ten days later. He was naked except for his blue denim jacket. His genitals had been surgically removed and his eyes gouged out leaving two black empty holes. His lips were pulled back into a grimace, and the letter from his father; folded neatly between his young, near perfect teeth.  His father; the fine, good carpenter, had gone back to England. He never came home for the funeral.


John O’Donovan is an emigrant from Ireland to the U.S. He is a retired carpenter, living in Southern California with his wife and two small dogs. His short stories have appeared in Mason Street Review and Brief Wilderness.

Two Flash Fiction Stories by Thomas Elson

Not Yet

I had driven through the bleached downtown area battered by wind and dirt. Across the railroad track – once six tracks wide, now two, and the highway – once two-lanes, now four, I entered a neighborhood unseen in over fifty years. Not much had changed except the basement house on the corner was gone.

A few surviving elms overhung ancient sidewalks as brittle and cracked as when I, as a five-year old child played in the front yard during a time of unlocked doors. A time when screen windows stayed open, a time with no metal detectors to pass through before entering public buildings.

The slightest of winds caused the leaves of the few remaining elms to flatten casting shadows across the side and onto the house where my dog, Ikey, had frolicked.

I stopped the car, rested my chin on the steering wheel, and, within a moment I was at this very spot as a young boy squinting through the screen door of my parents’ rented house. A small child’s attempt to shut out his mother’s headaches and regrets and his father’s scatter shot venom, that constant burn of anger he carried his entire life.

Is it-? My imagination? Is that him?

I called out. “Mr. Childress. Are you-? Waiting for me? Is it time?” He was an old man about the age I am now.

The back door led to my father spewing anger toward whatever was in his line of sight while slopping aluminum paint onto an old garbage can. The front door led to a walk with Mr. Childress.

I heard my mother’s voice. “Your father wants you in the backyard.” My father wanted me to paint the inside of the trash can, but mostly he wanted to clamp his teeth, rip his glasses off, press his forehead against mine and yell. Even at the age of five, I had tread that path a few times too many.

“Okay,” I said, and walked out the front door straight to Mr. Childress so he could take me on another trip.

“Good afternoon, young man.”

“Hi, Mr. Childress.”

I looked straight at his face as he bent to shake my hand.

“What happened to your nose?” I asked.

“Something grew there and needs to be taken off.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Not yet.” He smiled and asked about school, my dog, and what I planned to do that day. Then he took me on trips from the Populist Party of Jerry Simpson and Mary Lease through the heady days of the Roaring 20’s, and into Prohibition, introduced me to Al Capone, and took me on a car ride with Bonnie and Clyde.

We talked the next day too, but Mr. Childress had to go home early. “Got a doctor’s appointment tomorrow so I need to rest up.”

I did not see him for a week. Then one afternoon he was waiting on the sidewalk wearing a wide brimmed straw hat. The bandage across his truncated nose was dotted with specks of black and dark red.  

“What’s that for?” I asked. “Where’s the rest of your nose?”

He grinned and said, “They kept it at the doctor’s office.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Not yet.”

“Is it time for you to die?”

“Are you going to die?”

“Not yet.”

He smiled and patted my left shoulder.

#

I did not see him after that – until today, fifty years later, when he stood in front of that old house – waiting. I saw us walking – his nose restored, wearing his hat, and still with me. I waited until we turned the corner and watched as I held onto him. I heard myself ask, “Mr. Childress. Is it time?”

He smiled and patted my left shoulder.

A Cell in Motion

Why am I here?

Alone each day for eleven years, I – an erudite man of immense education, considerable charm, and the unique ability to twist everything I touch into something illegal – rise, lean my forehead against the door, and stare at a wall six feet away.

The sound of metal beating against itself batters my ears minute upon minute with no moment of peace, nothing to look at other than what others have written on the walls. I step back, sit on a tattered exercise mat that doubles as a mattress strewn across the metal frame embedded into a concrete wall painted institutional green, look at the door, then close my eyes.

When my eyes open, the door has solidified, and, within moments, splits into fractals, divides, then explodes forming a cloud emerging from the center. Walls dissolve. Sink and shower bleed onto the floor, then coalesce into the ceiling.

The single overhead light casts shadows across the hallway floor. Parallel tubes expand – vertically, horizontally – from the solid plate where a key fits, when, once each day, a uniformed man delivers my food.


Thomas Elson’s short stories, poetry, and flash fiction have been published in numerous venues such as Calliope, The Cabinet of Heed, New Feathers, Pinyon, Lunaris, New Ulster, Lampeter, Selkie, and Adelaide. He divides his time between Northern California and Western Kansas.    

“The Returning Visits” Poetry by Janice Gomez

In a cold

dark room

she sat silent

on concrete

looking down

at the space

between her toes

rocking back and forth,

to many triggers shots

stealing time preoccupying

her mind 

she reached maximum capacity.

"Talk to me," I whispered.

She looked at me once

and turned her face.

Golden droplets

leaked down her

shaking pants leg

to the ground.

She parted her dry lips

to bite her fingernails,

shaking her head

side to side,

her swollen eyes

looked into mine

she said,

"I want to be erased, kill me now, or I will myself, no matter what it takes."

Slowly walking towards

her we embraced.

Four knocks...

guards open large

metal door.

Stepping out of the threshold

she yelled, "I love you girl, don't come back to My Hell. "

the door slammed closed

for seventy-two hours

and three minutes later,

she was pronounced dead...,

never forgetting

a moment

because

she visits in my head.

JGomez is known for her words deep and heavy in her dark poetry. She grew up in Boynton Beach, Florida, where she has seen and been through a lot to convey the realness of “real life” in her writing. 


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