Online Fiction

The Ghost Penny Post

I hope London’s trust in me is not misplaced, thought Hewell as he sought his valise under roadside ferns. He spotted the leather case, still buckled, its sheaf of papers safe, and drawing it from among the fronds, climbed out of the ditch to stand beside the carriage. Always fond of a good puzzle, Hewell was none too keen on mysteries; and unfortunately, events of the morning suggested more of the latter were in store for his afternoon.

He offered the harried driver a hand strapping their trunks back in place. The man had finally managed to calm the more nervous of the two horses, understandably shaken after the affright, or attack, or whatever it had been. When the incident occurred, even though it was still shy of noon, Hewell had been dozing uneasily inside the compartment. His seat suddenly slewed, twisting him out of a restless dream, flinging him first against the door and then through it, onto a blessedly mossy embankment. The coach had very nearly toppled over onto him. Thank God for a skilled driver and at least one imperturbable horse.

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Wetherfell’s Reef Runics

The visitor drowned at Hollows Reef while Ambrose Sabala, mid-snorkel, was making a gleeful mental inventory of the morning’s haul—not of fish, but of books. Ambrose drifted over the dull, trampled coral beds with ears full of seawater, snorkel mouthpiece firmly clenched in his teeth, three-pronged pole spear dangling, and did not hear the sirens wailing louder and softer and louder again as emergency vehicles raced along the folds of the ocean highway. He had raided the Friends of the Library bin outside the Schefferville Library that morning, and with one ten-dollar bill taken away a stack of first editions in good and even mint condition. A Bret Easton Ellis, stowed in someone’s luggage, then unpacked and left behind—no doubt to make room for a resin tiki or a seashell mug. A biography of Robert Louis Stevenson, also unread. An untouched copy of The Marriage Plot, or anyway one that had been touched only in order that it might be used to flatten a dozen photographs of a bat mitzvah and family surfing lessons. Ambrose pulled his spear back taut on its rubber sling and released it halfheartedly in the direction of a triggerfish, which failed to react except to swerve away slowly from the empty triple threat of his barbed prongs.

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Stillborne

The pilgrims Plenth had been hired to entertain crossed the desert of Hoogalloor in caravans made of enormous dried-out caterpillars, tossed about the lightly ribbed interior with an assortment of carpets and cushions, peering out at passing cacti through portholes that had once been breathing spiracles. Other vehicles, more utilitarian and less appointed for comfort, had been fashioned from different stages of the same species’ life cycle. These included a pupal land-barge full of cookware and supplies, from which the cook emerged each evening and prepared a variety of dishes according to the complicated dietary regimes of the travelers; and a wingless chrysalis which the caravan’s guardians used as a mobile barracks, filling it with the racks of insect integument they’d fashioned into armor and arms. The beasts that pulled these hollowed-out vehicles of glossy chitin and dull husk were themselves a type of large, docile beetle, referred to as “Garden Variety” by Sister Quills, assistant to the caravan’s Drover-Abbess. Plenth had nightmares concerning the nature of that garden, from which she woke feeling thankful that her route across the arid northwestern wastes would take her nowhere near the humid southern quarters where such creatures freely swarmed. Quills, who spoke with a southern accent, retained the customs of her birthplace, which included smashing the flies that constantly beset the caravan and sucking them off her fingers with an ecstatic expression, confiding to Plenth, “The little ones are sweet!” Plenth understood that in this harsh environment, one must exploit every resource to survive; but one didn’t have to act so delighted about it. Thankfully Plenth had brought along her own food, which she ate sparingly that it might last until they reached Wumnal Wells.

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A Swim and a Crawl

A hundred yards out, the longshore current caught him. He stopped swimming and let himself be carried. Looking back, he no longer saw the deserted lifeguard tower. The steep green ridge above the beach grew black in the evening light, a shaggy silhouette that marked the end of the road. He spun slowly in the current, rounding the point. The clouds, clumped on the horizon like lint caught under a door, faded quickly from burnished copper to dull grey, and the small waves that bore him along kept pace with their transition.

Overhead, Venus still had the evening to itself. When he looked down, he was surprised to see his limbs appearing luminous against the depths. To anything gazing up from below, he would resemble bait. Darkness filled the ocean as surely as it filled the sky. He was caught between them, but on balance he belonged to the sea.

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KAPU

The moment he reached the edge of the shore, he felt the sand give way. It was fine and white above, coarse and black below. He stepped back quickly, before his wife and son caught up with him.

The waves crashed in, making a green roil from the horizon to the tumble of lava boulders that edged the cliffs slanting down from jungled peaks high above. Only this thin crescent of sandy beach remained untouched, and even that was being steadily carved away by the sea. It was vivid in every detail.

“The waves are a lot bigger than when we were here on our honeymoon,” his wife was telling their son, “but that was in the summertime. It seems like yesterday.”

He turned around and beckoned them closer, putting his back to the sea. The boy came up beside him and slid a hand between his father’s arm and waist, hanging there as if he were an ape about to start climbing. “There’s rescue tubes back there, Dad! And signs saying people get swept away here all the time! Kapu! Do you think that really happens?”

“They’re just being extra cautious,” he said. “That’s all ‘kapu’ means. Your mother swam here and it was just fine.”

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Liberty

Late in the overcast afternoon, they came upon a cluster of housekeeping cabins, otherwise deserted in this season between skiing and hunting. They were given the cabin farthest from the road. He could hear water through the trees as he followed her in with their luggage. She carried only the small white box. First she set it on the dresser near the TV, then she shifted it to the middle of the one small table, pushing aside an ashtray and ice bucket. He had dropped his overnight bag on the table, but when she moved the box there, he slid the bag to the floor. He told her he needed to check the car and went back out alone.

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Viewfinder

 

[Author’s Note: Some years ago, or decades rather, Larry McCaffery bemoaned the fact that while pop songs were subject to “covers” by a variety of performers, there was no literary equivalent. Larry planned to assemble a collection of covers of Raymond Carver stories, and solicited work from a number of writers to create a cover version of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The project was eventually nixed or otherwise cancelled, and I have no idea who else wrote stories for it, but I was assigned Carver’s story “Viewfinder”…and had forgotten all about the piece until I found it last week, among the scraps in a salvaged 5.25” floppy. Offered here merely as a curiosity. But if you read it, please don’t stop here. Go read the real thing. Go read all the Carver.]

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Viewfinder

(a “cover” of the story by Raymond Carver)

A boy with no hands came to my door to sell me a messed-up picture of my house. Except for the cool chrome hooks he was just a regular kid, about my age.

“What happened to you?” I wanted to know. Read More

Twisted

—Let’s go to the air now with Chuck “The Boz” Dickens in Chopper Five. Boz, we understand you’ve got the suspect in sight.

—That’s right, Sikes has just come into view. We’re all amazed to see him back in London, returning so soon to the scene of the crime. And what a brutal crime it was! The kind and sympathetic Nancy, adored by all fans of Oliver Twist, found dead on the hearth of Sikes’s shabby flat, her skull shattered by a blunt instrument. Police have positively identified the murder weapon as a heavy club which Sikes apparently tossed into the fire when his gory deed was done. No, the light of day has never seen such a gruesome, such a horrible— Read More

Bonfires

The shore was dark when we showed up, but it would soon be blazing, and that thought was all I needed to warm me while we built the bonfires. The waves slopped in and sucked out again like black tar, and I went along the waterline with the others, pulling broken boards and snags of swollen wood out of the bubbling froth and foam, hauling it across the sand and up to the gravel where the road edge ran.

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Forget You

She came into his life the way his cats crept into his lap. One day he was alone, had been alone for years, his life and his home empty of anyone but himself and a few friends who didn’t visit all that often anyway. And then at some point he realized she had been there for a while, in his house, in his bed, in every part of his life, having accomplished the transition so subtly that he could never say exactly when or how it had occurred.

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