Off You Go, Martin!

“Martin! Martin! Urgent! Get over here!” Gordon screamed into the telephone. “Get over here now!” He slammed the telephone on to the receiver.

Gordon shook his arms violently. “This is big! This is big!”

The man facing him on the other side of the desk was smiling from ear to ear. “I’m glad that you’re so glad, Gordon,” he said. “I knew you’d be happy. I knew it.”

“Happy!? By Jove, I’m ecstatic! Just wait until Martin hears what you just told me!”

“Oh, Martin’s going to love it too, I’m sure.”

“Love it!? By Jove, he’s going to be out of his socks! He’s going to be out of his drawers! His coat will be out of the window, I tell you!” Gordon cackled mightily. “Ooooh!” He rubbed his hands together and puckered his lips. “This is big, Jeremy!”

Martin burst through the door, his suit jacket flailing around as if caught in a windstorm. “What’s going on, Gordon?”

“Martin!” Gordon’s bushy eyebrows were in his hairline. “Just listen to what Jeremy just told me!”

“What’s that, Gordon?”

“Just listen!”

Jeremy stood up from the chair he had just seconds before sat down in. He patted down his shirt. He brushed off his pants. He adjusted his cuffs, one after the other. A sheepishness had overtaken him. He looked down at the floor.

“Jeremy!” Gordon was jumping up and down in the air. “Jeremy! Tell Martin what you just told me!” He looked at Martin again. “You’re going to love this, Martin! Your coat’s gonna go flying out the window!”

Martin began taking his arms out of his coat. “What is it!?” He ran over to the window.

“Ooooh, Jeremy! Jeremy! Tell him!”

Jeremy sat down again, drumming on his lap with his hands. He was smiling so hard it was impossible. “Well, Martin…” His drumming was in triple-time. Gordon began to waltz. “I was just telling Gordon here…” Gordon screamed in the highest pitch he could muster.

“Gordon! I’m trying to listen!” yelled Martin, struggling with the bolt on the window.

Jeremy continued. “I knew Gordon was going to love this. I knew it was big. I didn’t realize how big, but the way Gordon is reacting, well, I guess it’s pretty big.”

“You better believe it! You better believe it!” said Gordon.

Martin had one leg out the window.

“Step down from there, Martin! Martin!” Gordon made a flapping, beckoning gesture with his right hand.

Martin looked down at his leg, and stepped back inside. “Sorry. I was trying to listen to Jeremy and I forgot what I was doing.”

“Screw your head on, Martin! You’re going to need your head for this. You’re going to need every neuron in that beautiful brain of yours. This is going to send you flying out the window! This is going to send you into the stratosphere! You’re going to be Halley’s Comet, Martin!”

Jeremy burst forth in a loud voice. He explained to Martin exactly what he had explained to Gordon, in twice as many words and twice as fast. It all came out in a single breath, and when he was done, he collapsed on to the floor, his eyes rolling back in his head.

Martin’s coat was floating down towards the busy New York streets. Gordon’s head burst through the floor of the conference room upstairs, startling a tableful of bespectacled men. Lava poured out of his ears. Jeremy lay perfectly still on the floor, white as a sheet. His face shew unparalleled ecstasy.

Aflame in the atmosphere, Martin reached speeds immeasurable.

Sheriff Hamhock and The Yellow Flash

A jolt of yellow light moved about the holster. The Yellow Flash had struck again. The twelfth bell sounded out from the clock tower but high noon had long since passed. Blood had already pooled out around the torso that had toppled and lay splayed in the dirt. The victor slowly sauntered across the beaten road that cut through the town. He was donned in gray from top to bottom which made everything else about him stand out that much more. His revolver was on main display, its handle crafted from a strikingly yellow wood. From that came his moniker. So fast on the draw it was just a yellow flash before it was all over.

He stood over the newly fashioned corpse, a lad no more than seventeen, mouth agape and eyes wide in horror. He looked down at the dead boy and tipped up his hat, exposing some of his dirty blond hair which was more dirt than anything. He put his hands on his hips and let out a theatrical sigh. “Late to your revolver, early to the grave,” the Yellow Flash bellowed, making sure that all the onlookers would hear his words of victory. He looked only to the corpse, he knew all eyes were on him, just as they had been for all of his victories. He fished into his breast pocket and plucked out a silver dollar. He flipped it in the air and caught it, “I suppose it just wasn’t your lucky day kid,” and placed the dollar heads up on the boy’s forehead, leaving his shocked expression as it was.

The Yellow Flash then reached over to the boy’s holster and slid the revolver out with ease. “Couldn’t even get it out of the holster when being stared down by a real man.” He stood and spun the revolver in his hand and whispered to himself, “little fool,” and jammed the barrel of the revolver into the chest of the boy. It messily sunk into the bullet wound, forcing itself into the hole that was too small for it. He withdrew the revolver and held it up to the sky as blood dripped down the barrel and fired it. The bullet that was meant for him launched into the sky, covered in his victim’s blood.

With his routine complete he sauntered on toward the saloon and the undertaker quickly moved to the boy and spoke a prayer under his breath. The Yellow Flash’s grin widened further and further as townsfolk ducked out of his way, a few looking on with reverence. He winked to beautiful women that he would bed in due time. He stared down others who dared to look at him with anything but respect. As he neared the saloon a glint of light struck him in the eye and his grin turned into a dark scowl.

The sheriff stood outside the saloon, his vest struggling to contain his portly belly. His badge was displayed prominently over his heart and it shone with a brilliance that rivalled the flash of the Yellow Flash. But that wasn’t the only thing that shone with brilliance. The sheriff’s hair was like golden hay and billowed out from his hat which itself was a brilliant white. His eyes were a deep black and his stare would cut into a man. He had the red nose of a drunk but never touched a drop. His mouth was small and his teeth gigantic in contrast. His most distinguishing feature however were the two golden shocks of hair that framed his face, a brilliant set of mutton chops that matched the colour of his hair exactly. From that came his moniker, Sheriff Hamhock.

Hamhock stared at the Flash. Hamhock held eye contact with him, boring holes into his face and spit at his feet. Hamhock’s badge caught the sun sending it right into the Flash’s eyes and he put up his arm to shade himself. “You get yourself and that damn badge away from me before things get messy here you cake eating bastard,” Flash spit right back at Hamhock’s feet, trying to still look tough while shying away from the badge’s glint.

Flash’s dancing as he floundered about the badge’s glint made Hamhock lighten his expression, “Ooohwee, look at you boy, can’t even stand the sight of a great lawman without cowering away! Ham ham ham ham ham,” he gruffly chortled.

“Now don’t you try and make fun of me fat man, don’t you see this?” Flash angrily lifted the bloodied revolver, “I’ve got dozens more of these, all covered in the blood of men that thought they could best me. Might be nice to add a lawman’s revolver to the collection.”

“I’ve heard word of you, ‘Yellow Flash’. Roy Bolton from over in Shadestone sent message just the other day that I would have a dandy to deal with. And well, here you are, Irvin Isaacs. One who fancies himself a top tier gunslinger but only deals in tricking young boys who’ve barely held a revolver in their hands to duel. Ham ham ham. It seems you ran away from Roy Bolton with your tail between your legs but you won’t get by me.”

Folk were gathered up in and outside the saloon, giving the two a wide birth and listening on with murmurs. Flash looked about at the onlookers, their expressions changing from fear to smugness. Their sheriff’s words had emblazoned them with more courage than they had had moments before. “All you filthy bastards think you could even put a scratch on me?! Drop your goddamn smiles before I put a hole in every one of you!” Some of the onlookers again shied away but some held strong in their belief of Hamhock.

“They’ll be no need for that boy. It’s going to be you and me. Tomorrow. At high noon. Just like how you like to do your killing with theatrics I myself am quite partial to a showdown with the sun high in the sky.” Hamhock shifted slightly and the sun glinted off his badge again right into Flash’s eyes, but this time he only winced and didn’t shy away.

Flash’s face was boiling as he got angrier and angrier. With his outfit he looked like a beet placed on a stone. “I’d love to oblige you, you old rat bastard! It’s a deal!” he roared. “Now leave me be for the rest of the night, I have whisky to drink and women that can’t wait for my talents. I’ll pop a bullet right through that badge of yours tomorrow,” Flash then leaned into Hamhock and whispered, “then I’ll have my way with this town as I see fit. That’s what they deserve for having a worthless sheriff.” Flash turned away without waiting for Hamhock’s reply, smashing his boot through the saloon doors. “Whisky, now!”

Sheriff Hamhock stood firm, chortling to himself at the Flash’s child-like attitude, “ham ham ham.” He looked about at the townsfolk he held a pledge to protect. “Don’t worry now folks, Irvin Isaacs will be swiftly dealt with tomorrow by none other than myself. Now if he gets up to a ruckus tonight, I’m not far away, I have my eye on him. Sleep easy folks, boys like him got no power ‘round these parts.” With a wink and tip of his hat, Hamhock turned away and made for his office.

—————

The moon hung high in the sky, unimpaired by any sort of cloud cover. Flash looked out the window of his rented room at the saloon, “Goddamn weather, where the hell are the clouds when you need ‘em.” He picked up his satchel and coat and made way out of his room, to the back of the saloon. He pulled his hat down and a bandana up about his mouth. His movements weren’t as swift and sly as he would have liked. With the bulk of his coat and his bags, he stumbled down the stairs. Luckily with all the drinking and singing about the tables and piano he had no trouble slipping away out of sight from the patrons and working girls. He sulked his way around the side of the saloon and peered out past the edge of the building to the main road. The few that would be out and about at this time of night were all already holed up in the saloon in a drunken stupor.

Flash sidled up along his horse and unhitched her, quieting her low whickers by patting her head. He hopped up onto the saddle and quietly began trotting off to the edge of town, away from the sheriff’s office. He made his way along without incident. None had even as much as peaked their heads out as he neared the edge of the town and he could gallop away without needing to worry about Hamhock. His horse trotted on, passing the last building along the main road when a door slammed behind him. The Flash looked back wild-eyed but saw no one. He turned back his head and there was Hamhock, atop his horse, rifle held in his hands. The colour drained from Flash’s face and he put on a gruff voice, trying to pull by the sheriff. “Watch where you’re going there friend, I nearly ran you down.”

Hamhock walked his horse forward, further blocking Flash’s path. The shocks of hair upon his face glowed with the moonlight, along with his badge. “I suppose they were right when they gave you the name Yellow, boy.”

The colour rushed back into Flash’s face so quickly that it gave him a head rush. Flash ripped the bandana down from his face, “What the hell did you just call me you pig suckin’, grease swiggin’, shit swimmin’ rat bastard?!”

Hamhock met Flash’s rage with complete calmness. “You heard what I said Irvin Isaacs. It looks to me like you were skipping town after I challenged you to a duel. So then it would seem you’re taking that name of yours and living up to its real meaning. The Yellow Flash, the man that runs from any fight faster than you can say his name.

“You keep those lies to yourself Hamhock! I always go out for a midnight ride to clear my head before a duel. Now I suppose it won’t matter what you say about me, by noon tomorrow you’ll be dead in the dirt with the filth where you belong!”

“Ham ham ham, oh yes indeed. As long as you stick around for it I’m sure it will be quite the duel Irvin Isaacs. Now how about I escort you back to your room. I don’t think the ride will do you much good this time around. There’s a chill in the air after all, don’t want you catching sick before your big day.”

Isaacs’ sneer turned into a forced smirk. “Yeah, sure sheriff, why don’t we both get some rest. Big day tomorrow with the funeral and the hiring of a new sheriff. Quite a lot of work to be done.” Isaacs’ turned away and let out a huge barking laugh before setting off back to the saloon.

—————

The sun was high in the sky. The Yellow Flash rallied up himself and the crowd with his practised theatrics, spinning his revolver in his hand, the yellow handle ablaze in the light. “What you are about to witness here folks is the end of a worthless sheriff. One that spends more time with his hands in a pie dish than protecting his people!” Flash threw his revolver up in the air and caught it back on his finger and continued spinning it about. “This revolver right here has ended the lives of many a gunslinger. They were all at least twice the man than your so-called protector. And today I will rid this waste of space for you townsfolk. And maybe, just maybe, if you butter me up just right, I’ll step up and take the place of that man. And no outlaw would ever be foolish enough to challenge this town or its people ever again, lest they face off against the Yellow Flash!”

Hoots and hollers shot out from the crowd. “Yeah, you worry about yourself there first dandy! Hah hah hah!” Another called out, “That’s mighty fancy gun toatin’ you’ve got there boy, but it’s nothin’ against our Hamhock!” “Just run away with that yellow tail bet—“

A shot rang out as Flash fired his gun into the air, silencing the crowd. “No more words from any of you!” Flash screamed out. “Just you all wait nice and silent and watch that grease ball of yours as I end. His. Life!”

“Calm yourself now boy.” Flash’s head spun around to see Hamhock striding up to the centre of the road. Hamhock was donned in his full sheriff’s uniform, his badge impeccably shined and placed on his vest, right over his heart. His golden hair billowed out from his white hat and his finely kempt chops proudly sat upon his face. “No need getting your nickers in a twist. May as well show the people a little bit of courage before this is over.”

Flash spit toward Hamhock. “The same goes to you sheriff. Now will those be your last words or do you have some kind of wisdom you wish to impart upon these townsfolk here?”

“Ham ham ham. I suppose all I have left to say boy is prepare yourself.”

“Well then, by the time that clock tower strikes it’s twelfth bell you’ll already be in your grave.”

Sheriff Hamhock and the Yellow Flash placed their backs to each other. The sun hung high in the sky, again not a cloud in sight. The crowd was silent, along with the wind. The first bell rung out and both men took the first of their ten paces. With each strike of the bell they took another step forward. Their steps looked lazy but were held with deliberate focus. At the eighth bell the crowd tensed up. Flash’s stride was much shorter than his previous seven. Hamhock firmly placed his boot to the dirt, his brow furrowed.

The ninth bell sounded and Flash took a step shorter still and before the tenth bell rang out he turned, drawing his revolver from its holster, a flash of yellow. Hamhock turned with the tenth ring to see the Flash with his revolver trained on him. Hamhock spun his body and with a drop of his shoulder his badge caught the sun and it burned right into the Yellow Flash’s eyes. The Flash winced, squinting his eyes and fired wide. A split second later a second shot rang out, followed by the eleventh bell.

“Ahh!” Irvin Isaacs cried out, a wounded dog. He groped at his right hand with his left and fell to his knees. Blood flowed out of his missing pointer finger. Sheriff Hamhock sheathed his revolver, looked down at his badge, shined it with a handkerchief, and began to stride toward Irvin Isaacs. The twelfth bell rung out and the townsfolk erupted in applause.

“You goddamn slimy bastard! You cheated with that badge of yours, blinding me during our duel you sonovabitch!” Hamhock strode closer as blood rushed in Isaacs’ ears and out of his hand.

Hamhock stood over Irvin Isaacs. Isaacs head hung down as he stared at his hand. Isaacs’ left hand slipped away from his right and into his coat. He looked up at Hamhock’s chest with a wild grin and pulled out his hand. A third shot rang out followed by a second scream from Isaacs which silenced the crowd from their cheering. A second revolver, its barrel caked in blood spun out of Isaacs’ grip onto the dirt. Hamhock swiftly spun his revolver and sheathed it again.

“At the end of the day you couldn’t even look a real man in the eye.” Hamhock looked down at Isaacs. Isaacs sat there, crumpled into himself, his head buried down as he moaned and muttered, his two hands bleeding. Hamhock scanned the crowd and called out, “Doctor Abernathy, I’ll be needing your assistance here with Irvin Isaacs, it looks like hes gone and got himself a hole in each hand.” And from that, the moniker of the Yellow Flash was no more.

Love Letter

I had been struck by an angel. A radiant glow had entered my classroom which was stuffed with folk like myself; your average lot of messy hair, mismatched clothing, and average countenance. She was anything but. Her eyes shone with the brilliance of pure angelite which immediately drew my attention and was why I referred to her as such an ethereal being. Strawberry blonde hair was tied back into two beautiful plumes that shot out and dangled listlessly in the air, without a care in the world, but still holding the eminence of a princess. Yes, surely she was one. She had drifted to my own place of study, which was well below her station. Due to an unforeseen clerical error, for the time being she would study with us commoners until such paperwork could be sorted.

The Princess’ cheeks were rosy from the cold and brisk mid-October winds. The weather had quickly transitioned from an early autumn delight of coloured leaves flying through a light breeze to a frigid wasteland of crunchy leaves hurtling by with sharp gusting blows. Her pink winter coat kept all eyes on her. The hood was adorned with the ears of what must have been some sort of kingly bear, for I had never heard of such a thing as a pink bear in the parts of the world that I lived. The Royal Family’s Grand Master of The Hunt must have tamed such a magnificent creature who, upon seeing such a princess as the Princess, wished to watch over and keep her warm in the upcoming winter months. And there the bear must have transformed itself into a warm and cozy coat, the perfect size for all occasions. Her two mittens were also adorned with the visage of two red foxes who must have lent their wit to the Princess in the same manner as the pink bear.

I had been standing in the middle of the classroom, a wooden building block in my hand. I had been creating great structures for the better part of our late morning break. The rapturous laughter and good faith between my fellow craftsmen had been disrupted by that knock at the door. There she entered. When I claimed I had been struck by such a presence I had not been over exaggerating, as when she entered the room I found myself off balance by her beauty. I took a step forward, being pulled by her aura and lost my footing, falling forward. The block in my hand fumbled to the ground right where my knee desired to place itself. The blunder; an instant. The pain; absolute. Tears welled in my eyes and I began to cry out, my knee forming a bruise underneath my denims.

The instructor diverted her attention from the entrance of the Princess for my own wails. To this day I can barely manage to hold in my horror recollecting how I stole away the deserved attention of the Princess with my unkempt cries. Mrs. Bielenberg, whom we all affectionately called Mrs. Burger, rushed to my aid, and to my contempt, no matter her attempts my cries would not be quelled. And herein I remember that it must have been fate that I fell that day as the Princess herself began to approach. My cries began to die out as I noticed that there was a presence standing before me. I sat on the ground, my knee in my hand with a tear-stained face as I was to greet the Princess herself. In that single moment, all pain was alleviated from me. The Princess held a glowing smile on her face as she took from her jacket pocket a small parcel and held it out to me. On the belly of her fox companion laid a chocolate bar, Halloween-mini-sized, and she offered it to me with a slight gesture forward of her hand. All of my assumptions of her were affirmed. Indeed, she was a celestial deity that I had never believed to be of existence on earth.

I took the parcel and stared down at it in my palm. I would treasure such a gift for all eternity, a celestial treasure form the heavens itself. “Now what do we do when someone gives us a gift Jacob?” Mrs. Burgers voice penetrated my focus on the treasure. I looked back up toward Mrs. Burger, my jaw slack, my face dumbfounded. I tried to work out the answer to such a question but I was left with nothing. Deep down I knew the answer but with the current situation, my brain couldn’t work its way around such a thing. “Come now Jacob, say thank you to Marie for the chocolate.”

The Princess’ name – Marie. Lightning shot through my body and out my fingers upon hearing something so sublime. She was nothing like the rest of the rabble that I was so used to. So different from the three Annas, the two Jessicas, the Emilys and Natalies, the Carolines and Sarahs. This Marie was nothing of the sort. Her name must have stood for everything that was bright and good, I knew this at an instant. So caught in my awe of the Princess’ name I continued to sit in dumb silence. Mrs. Burger spoke up again, this time a little more terse, “Jacob, come now say thank you to Marie, don’t be rude.”

At the shock of being pulled from my thoughts I straightened up and looked toward the Princess, her kind eyes on me, a smile on her face. One shock turned to another as I was so taken back from her smile. I sputtered out, “Um, uh. Thanks…” Not as suave as I had hoped, but considering the situation, it was as good as I could manage.

“Good! Now was that so hard?” Mrs. Burger chimed in with her cheery voice but I barely heard it at all as I stared deep into those angelite eyes.

“You’re welcome! This is my fay-vore-it!” She spoke each word with a slight nod of her head, emphasis on each one. Each word felt as if it held its own importance beyond that of a sentence as she spoke in a strong and loud voice.

Soon after, Marie was introduced to the class by Mrs. Burger. She had hung up her companions on the hanger in her cubbyhole at the back of the class and was now wearing a gorgeous pink gown that exploded out at her waist with frills all about. I learned later that such an elegant outfit was referred to as a tutu, again showing how unique she was from the rest of us. Her family had just moved here, surely from overseas as she was the princess of a kingdom far away, and that was why she was joining the class later into the semester. She smiled widely at the whole room and in her way of speaking that held such import, she told the class her name was Marie, hiding the fact she was a princess from the rest of the students. I smiled in reply to hers, delighted that I was the only one that had figured out she was a princess.

The rest of that day was a blur. I watched Marie as we went through the usual activities. Her voice imprinted itself into me. Her laughter was angelic. I spent the rest of class that day barely listening to Mrs. Burger, or anyone else for that matter. I was simply smitten.

Class ended in a flash that snapped me out of my trance. Parents were already arriving to pick up the other children. I sat on the carpeted floor and watched as Marie gathered her animal companions along with her bag. Her mother arrived to escort the Princess home but before leaving, she turned around to me and waved, “Bye-bye Jacob!” and before I could reply she was out the door.

My mom arrived shortly thereafter, wondering why I was sat in the middle of the room and not dressed in my jacket for our trip home. All I could tell her was, “Uh… I dunno,” for she would never understand what had transpired that day and the fire that had lit in my chest.

At home, I played with my blocks, perfecting designs that I would show my fellow craftsmen at school the next day. However, I couldn’t focus. My mind was stuck on the Princess and it did not dare to leave such thoughts for a moment. The door opened, “I’m home!” a loud voice bellowed out from the entryway. I rushed over to my dad and wrapped my arms around his legs. “Hey buddy! How are you today?” He called out with an excited voice as he crouched down to rustle my hair.

“Good!” I replied. I couldn’t find the nerve to tell him that someone had taken his place as the most loved person in my life so I simply left it there. My dad picked me up in his arms in a hug.

“Welcome home honey,” my mom warmly called out as she rounded the corner to the front door. “You won’t believe what I found today in one of those old boxes when I was cleaning up in the closet.” She moved up to my dad and hugged him with me in between. This was my favourite kind of hug, a Jacob sandwich they would often call it.

“Mmm! My two favourite people,” he kissed my mom on the cheek. “What did you find honey?”

“It was some of your old love letters to me. I even found the one that made me fall in love with you in the first place.”

“Oh man, that’s kind of embarrassing now isn’t it? I don’t think I’d want to read a love letter that my younger self wrote.” My dad jokingly replied followed with a laugh and a pinched face. Their conversation continued but I had stopped listening. My mind began to run at lightning speed, was there really a letter that could make someone fall in love with you?

I interrupted my parents, “What’s a love letter?” They looked at each other, both smiling, something they often do in reply to one of my questions.

My mom was the first to answer, “Well honey, a love letter is something that you write to someone when you love them very much and you want them to know just how much you love them.”

“Uh… and it makes the other person love you?” I asked slyly, not letting any of my true intentions slip. However it didn’t seem to matter as my mom had mind reading powers that she had used on several occasions in the past. One such occasion was when I had accidentally knocked over a glass of juice, spilling it over the living room carpet. Somehow, she knew it was me even though I told her I had nothing to do with it. She employed these powers yet again as a wily smile came to her face.

“Well, let’s see. It doesn’t really make them love you but, if they already do love you then the letter might make them realize it. Does that make sense honey?”

In response, I wiggled out of the Jacob sandwich and made way for my work table. I grabbed a sheet of paper on they way and hurriedly sat down at the dark blue plastic station that I used to complete various works. It had been a gift from an older cousin whom had outgrown its uses and that now suited me greatly. I looked upon my collection of writing utensils, one that was not quite exhaustive, as I had to settle on sky blue. It was chosen for the closeness it held to the celestial shade held within her eyes that spoke of things beyond this earthly life.

I put crayon to paper and began to write. I felt my heart flow out onto the page. The letter was the whole amalgamation of all of my feelings for such a creature as the Princess. I only hoped that my words would pass to her as I had tried to express them. Time flew by as I filled the page, and soon, it was complete. I finished the letter by folding it in half and writing the Princess’ name on the front in bold lettering; “MARY.”

I steeled my resolve the rest of the night and the entire morning getting ready for school the next day. I ran through how I would give her the letter in my head, over and over. It had to be perfect, for a princess would demand no less than that. I dressed in my jacket and boots, my mom tying them up for me as I sat on the bench by the front door. Suddenly a thought came to me and I sprinted to the kitchen, one boot tied and the other not. My mom called out to me but I was already at my destination. I opened the cupboard and grabbed a Halloween-mini-sized chocolate, stuffing it into my pocket with the letter before returning to the door.

“What was that all about honey?” she asked.

“Uh… I just forgot something.”

“Okay, well are you ready to go now?” I nodded as she finished tying my other boot. We got into the car and I was on my way to see her.

She was already there when I arrived. I felt a nervous sweat encompass me and I tore at my jacket to try and get it off. My mom was already gone having said her good byes and I love yous. I was on my own. It was five minutes until class would start as I nervously walked from my cubby to the Princess herself. I held the letter and the chocolate in my hand, attempting to not crumple it. To my ultimate dismay, my nervousness pulled my hands into clenched fists and the paper crumpled with it. I stared at the letter in shock, the crayon-written ‘MARY’ now a creased mess, far from the perfection that a princess would desire. I decided that I would rewrite the letter and try again tomorrow when the Princess’ hand grabbed it out of my hands. I had unwittingly walked right up to her.

“Is this for me?” she asked in her emphasized speech, fit only for royalty. I was shaken to my core. Right after I had decided to write it again and try tomorrow, fate was chosen for me.

“Uh… yeah,” I got out, not wanting to look a fool. I held out my other hand with the chocolate in it, now slightly misshapen. “This too.” I said with my eyes unable to meet hers.

“Thanks!” she said, her face beaming. She unfolded the paper and began to read.

TO MARY

You are a PRINCES

Your eyes are ANGLE eyes.

Your smile is BIG! and NICE!

This is a LOVE LETER.

I LOVE YOU!

FROM JACOB

Marie looked up from the letter, her face still beaming, “Thanks Jacob! I love you too!” I looked back at her and all I could do was reply to her smile with my own.

Gulls

The sea seemed to erode my senses. I held my face over various spices, preserved meats, brick-like biscuits. Salt. It was always salt. The sea invaded my core and my daily smell testing of the provisions held no sign of being free from its maw. I placed the foodstuffs back into their holding cells and the ship shifted.

A pressure bore down on me. The walls were forced in. The boards bowed inward with the screech of a cart on rails trying to halt its progress. Before it became too much to bear, it ended with a crack as something spiked into my cheek. I stood there shaken, looking at the walls of the storeroom that held firm, steady as ever. I felt up toward my face. A wood splinter stood perpendicular to my cheek, slightly embedded in the flesh, like a flag propped up claiming this cheek as its own. I drew out the splinter, its tip dabbed in crimson. It had turned into a writing quill. One edge of the quill was finished, as was the interior of the food stores. The other was pocked, with nearly uniform little craters marked into the wood. I glanced about to look where it may have come from and could not quite spot it in the somewhat dim lighting. I pulled myself away from the disconcerting feeling and focused back on the ship shifting direction.

I made way for the deck and the navigation room to consult my charts and ensure we were still on course. I breached the lower decks and for the first time since the dreaded journey began, a scent of something other than salt met my nose. Decay. Almost the entire crew was hunched over the edge of the ship, peering into the waters. Dead gulls crowded the murky sea surrounding our ship as they slowly slipped away in the wake. This new stench was almost a welcome respite. The crew members stared, wide-eyed, mouths slightly agape. One of the fresh faced lads that had been fishing for a meal off the side of the ship jogged over, the dead gull in his hand held by the neck, undulating and flopping with every step.

“Looky here lads, caught m’self a gull! First time I ev—”

“Gods damn ye boy! Throw that blasted thing back in the drink! Ye’ll put a curse on this ship!” the First Mate yelled out, nearly hoarse in exasperation.

“But I just…” he began and trailed off as he looked over to most of the crew staring daggers into him. “Yes, of course sir,” he mumbled out, looking slightly shaken. He moved toward the edge of the ship as crew members moved back, as if repelled, not daring to get near the man who may have cursed their vessel. He dropped his rod, pulled back his arm, and with all his might threw the dead gull out to sea. It splashed into the water, far out from the ring of gulls that encompassed the ships base.

“Sir, I didn’t mean nothin’ by it. It caught on me hook and thought I’d show the men for a bit of a jape is all.”

“Boy, ye may have just doomed us, messin’ with the spirits o’ the sea. Yer either too wet behind the ears to understand or too daft to have given it a thought at all.” The First Mate’s voice turned from hoarse to gravelly and embedded me with an ominous notion even as a bystander. The First Mate stared him down as the Boy’s eyes flitted from crew member to crew member.

“Surely a ship here before us dumped some sour foodstuffs overboard and the gulls couldn’t stomach it better than you or I,” the stalwart voice of the Captain resounded from behind the crew. “Throw away your worries men, the only dangers in these waters is not doing your damned job properly!” he proclaimed, clearly annoyed to find all of his men huddled by the side of the ship, standing about.

“Ye heard the Captain,” the First Mate quickly followed up, straightening himself. “Now go and swab the deck and try to get some of the death ye brought on board off o’ this ship,” he grimaced toward the Boy.

With the demand, the Boy’s eyes locked back onto the First Mate and he managed out a “Yessir,” before grabbing his rod and jogging off.

The First Mate looked back toward the rest of the crew, “and that goes for the rest of ye too! Stop lollygaggin’ about and back to work men!”

As the crew slogged back to their positions the Captain moved alongside myself as he looked out to the sea. “I’ll be needing you Mr. Navigator, as well. I felt a shift in the currents, we need to make sure we’re still on course.”

“Yes sir, I was just on my way due to that shift but was held up by the morbid display about the near waters.”

“No more talk of that out here. To your charts and instruments, make haste, Mr. Navigator.” the Captain looked sternly toward myself.

I nodded with an “Of course sir,” and moved toward the navigation room, making my way inside. I took out my chart of the area and began to work out our position. My calculations came through and I couldn’t quite believe it. I began to make the calculations a second time when the Captain entered and sat in the chair across the table from me.

“Mr. Navigator, I must warn you to not play into these notions of superstition. Us sea folk can go downright mad worrying of such things. The best way to deal with it is to quell and discredit any and all superstitious worries, lest the crew begin to panic and commit any number of foolish acts.”

“Ah, yes sir, of course. I have never been one of the superstitious mindset. I like to place my faith in instruments and numbers. I must say however, that witnessing so many people reacting in such a way stirred up a slight bit of doubt in that regard. But of course you can trust me not to play into any of that folly.”

“Yes, well, you best remember it. How are the charts looking?”

“Yes, the charts…” I mumbled as I looked back down. “Sir, I’ve just completed the calculations a second time and that shift must have been quite monumental. We are currently sitting almost ninety degrees off of our trajectory.”

“What?” the Captain asked quite shocked. “Surely I would have noticed such an extreme change as that. The shift earlier couldn’t have been more than ten degrees, no fifteen at most. Run your measurements again!”

I ran the calculations a third time and came to the same conclusion, “Sir the ship has shifted some eighty-six degrees to the port side since the last I checked an hour ago. That shift must have been more than either of us had noticed, or it may have been something else.”

The Captain clicked his tongue, staring at the chart. “I’ll go and make the adjustments then. For the time being Mr. Navigator, double up on checking for course corrections. We can’t be wasting time going in the wrong direction with a crew that can’t wait to wash off this ‘curse’ in the dirt back on land.” With that the Captain rose and left. I soon felt the movement of the ship as he readjusted our course.

I looked out to the sea at the nearly setting sun to the starboard side of the ship and absentmindedly placed my hand in my jacket pocket, poking my finger on something. I pulled out the object and stared at it. The blood dry on the tip and the smooth side of the quill in drastic contrast with the crags found on the other. I became lost in reverie, the decay filling my lungs from the outside air, masking the stench of salt with another. Suddenly, pressure bore down on me and the walls shrieked as the boards bowed inward. I quickly stood up just as we hit something; the ships bow was thrown to the side and I fell along with it. I regained my composure, feeling pain in my palm. I had gripped the quill as we were hit and stuck myself with it, again drawing blood.

Cries sounding from the deck pulled me outside. As I opened the door I was met with calls of “Man overboard!” The crew were looking over the port side railing and I joined them. There was a man in the water with the gulls. His arms reached upward and feathers gripped his flesh, pulling him back down. He tried to keep afloat as gulls converged on his position. His cries for help muffled by the squawks of the dead. The stench of decay filled every pore on my body and I wretched overboard, into the mass of corpses.

The First Mate tied a rope around the waist of the Boy and ordered out, “Boy, climb down the side o’ the ship and get out to ‘im! We’ll pull ye’ back up! Now stop staring and get to it!”

The Boy, eyes wild, looked out over the side of the ship and after a moment of resolve, jumped into the water next to the man. He quickly wrapped the rope around him. The squawks turned to squeals as the First Mate roared, “Now pull!” as most of the crew tried to pull the two back up out of the decay below. I joined in at the end of the rope and pulled as hard as I could, the quill wound on my palm burning as I did.

Soon the Boy and the man crept up the side of the ship and desperately latched onto the railing, pulling themselves up. Gulls clung to the two, their lifeless bodies grasping with wings pasted across their arms, legs, and chests. The second their feet touched the deck they ripped the gulls from their skin with animalistic roars and threw them overboard to join their brethren. I fell to my rear, along with some of the other men, gasping for breath, wishing for that salty air to return but met only with rot.

“Did anyone see what hit the ship? Who was on lookout?!” the Captain called out from the bow, looking from the crew to out over the waters.

“Sir, there was nothing at all there, I didn’t take my eyes off the water for a second!” called one of the men.

The Captain stormed down each step to the main deck and shouted out, “Yes! Surely there was nothing. And you can hope those two men you nearly killed won’t have your head in return! First Mate, take the men and check the hull for damage and report to me immediately! Mr. Navigator, again we must make an adjustment. And Boy!” he looked over to the sopping pile of ragged breathing, “You just saved that man’s life, well done.”

The flustered First Mate collected himself and called out, “All right, no time for rest men, up and at em’, ye heard the Captain! Split up and check the lower decks. Lights fadin’ fast, if we be needin’ repairs lets make ‘er quick!”

The men wearily stood to their feet. The one thrown overboard moved to join the rest of the men. The Boy remained seated, glassy-eyed.

“You two ain’t joinin’ us!” One of the more weathered crew called out to them. “You stay the hell away, keep that damned gull curse to yerself!

“Aye!” Another called out. “And don’t even think of sleepin’ near us neither!”

The Boy, stuck in a daze merely stared off the side of the ship, out to sea.

“Aye lads, the two of ye jus’ keep watch for now. And keep a damned good grip on those rails.” The First Mate turned and along with the rest of the crew, disappeared beneath the deck.

“Well then Mr. Navigator, again to your instruments, make haste.” the Captain prodded me along, snapping me out of my preoccupation with the crew’s superstitions. As the Boy stood and moved toward the bow, I turned to head to the navigation room.

Again I triple checked my calculations. Again I was left shocked and even more-so disturbed by my findings. One hundred and eighty degrees. The ship had turned right around. Surely it was impossible, even with the jarring shift from that collision with whatever it may have been. I found myself absentmindedly tapping the quill on the charts, staring at the pocks, the dried blo— I jumped up out of the chair, the quill shined, wet with red ink. My eye pulled to a dark red ring staining the chart as the ink bled outward. Blood dripped from my hand, my palm steadily trickling from the quill wound I thought insignificant. A twinge of pain came from my cheek.

The door flung open as the Captain made his way in with a gruff sigh. I wiped my cheek with the back of my hand. Embarrassed at my own shock, I quickly sat back down. “Looks like just some minor damage thankfully. It was nearly patched up by the time I was down to check. At least they actually move when their own hides are at risk.” The Captain drooped into the chair. He looked to the charts, and then to me. I stared back.

“Well, lad? What of your calculations?”

“Ah, yes, sorry.” I was shaken and needed to compose myself. “Well, sir, I don’t quite know what to say. I can’t really believe it myself, it would be hard t—

The Captain slammed his hand down on the table, rattling the metal and glass devices strewn about. “Out with it! We need to get back on course.”

“Oh! Yes, sir, of course. Well shockingly, it seems, sir, that we have been spun all the way from fore to aft. An entire one hundred and eighty degrees, sir.”

“What the hell did you say?” the Captain asked with a snarl as he moved past me to look at the horizon. The sun was nearly underwater, now to the port side. “How is this possible?” the Captain wearily mumbled. “I’ve never seen something like this in all my days out at sea.”

I returned to tapping at the charts with my quill, the ink now dry again. “Sir do you think that this could have something to do with the gulls about the base of the ship? Could they be getting in the way of the rudder, or maybe…”

The Captain moved to stand across the table from me. “Mr. Navigator, I told you to dismiss such thoughts from your head. The true danger of superstition comes from worry and the stress it bears down upon you. A man is more liable to make a mistake, and at sea more likely a deadly one, when he’s worrying about every little bad omen about. Now I’ll go adjust the ship, I’ll make sure the helm is manned all night and that we double our watch for any possible… debris we might have in our way. Now get to rest, I’ll see you at first light.”

I left the room and walked to the port-side railing. The gulls suffocated the ship at the waterline. Bloated corpses bobbed along with the movement of the sea. Another wave of decay filled my nose and I forcibly held down what was left in my stomach. The gulls began to caw to one another. A loud slap came from down below. A wing stuck to the base of the ship. Slap! Slap! Slap! More and more wings came up out of the water and clung to the side. The ship tried to cut through the water as it was used to but it was pulled and dragged by the grasping wings below. The caws grew to a horde of shrieks drowning out the slaps as the wings pulled the ship down into the sea. I placed my hands over my ears but it was still to much. I began to feel faint. I stumbled backward and was stopped by a hand.

“Get to bed, Mr. Navigator.” The Captain’s solemn words pierced through the shrieks and suddenly, it was silent but for the sound of the sea.

I looked toward the Captain and humbly made out a, “Yes, sir,” in a hoarse tone before he angrily made way to his cabin. I quickly peeked back down over the edge. Lifeless bodies floated alongside the ship. I turned and spotted the Boy, standing at the bow, peering out to the sea. For a moment I watched him standing perfectly still, until I made my way down to my bunk to rest. I quickly fell into a deep slumber.

Some hours later, in the middle of the night, I woke to the smell of decay so palpable I could taste it. I groggily stumbled my way down to the storeroom, begging that the salt come back to me. Lighting the lantern, it cast a warm glow across the storeroom, creating dark and murky shifting shadows as the light wobbled along with the ship. With a practised hand, the tops of barrels and containers freed their goods. The spices and dried meats lent no help. I looked to the biscuits and stared in horror. The head of a gull poked out, its body sunken within. I ripped through the dried meats, pulling out a gull by the wing. I dug through the spices and found a webbed foot before falling back in shock.

I burst from the storeroom and made for the Captain’s quarters. Breaching from the lower decks I paused and looked about. There were none on the deck. No lookout or helmsman, save for the Boy standing stalwart at the bow. It was completely silent. The sails laid lazily, no wind to pull them taut. The ship was frozen in place. I ran to the Captain’s door and banged with my fist. “Sir! The ship has run to a halt and there are none watching the helm! I feel that something is quite amiss!” I heard rummaging through the cabin and banged again, “Sir!” I looked back toward to bow and saw the Boy.

The Boy stood with his arms outward, looking over the sea as bulbous corpses slowly rose, waterlogged wings slapping against the air. Not even able to get out a scream, I rushed to the port-side railing of the ship. Gulls swarmed the waters, stretching out tens of metres into the distance. Wings rose to the air and flapped sluggishly, heavy with seawater, dragging corpses along with them. I retreated from the railing as more and more gulls took to the skies.

“Yes! Take me!” the Boy screamed out as his head snapped back looking up to the sky which was slowly becoming blotted out by the gulls.

The gulls replied, beginning to squawk and shriek. The cacophony of noise poured into my head. Rotted seawater rained down on the ship as the dripping corpses jerkily rose and sunk in the air. Encapsulated by noise and drenched in decay, I fell to my knees. My senses were overwhelmed. The Captain’s door burst open and wrenched me from the dizzying gulls. The Captain looked at the crazed boy standing at the bow as gulls encircled overhead.

“Boy..? Navigator, what the hell is this?” He stumbled forward, shock on his face.

“Sir, somethings wrong with the Boy!”

As if in response, the Boy began to scream out to the gulls. The Captain strode forward but was cut off as gulls broke from formation, diving down toward me.

A wave of corpses sloppily cannon balled into me from all angles, ricocheting onto the deck with heavy thuds. My arms moved to defend myself, taking the brunt of the blows from the front. Even still, I was being thrown around, barely able to stay on my feet from their barrage. The gulls thrown to the deck began to creep forward, their wings slapping down on the wood, pulling their bulbous bodies in tow. Wings wrapped around my ankles and shins, holding me in place. Ripping at their wings to no avail, I was encircled by gulls.

Between a flurry of feathers, I could make out the Boy slowly advancing in my direction. He called and gulls shot out from their encirclement, beak and claw at the ready. One by one, gulls flew toward me, ripping at my face and right hand. I flailed about, battering into them. Each connection with their bodies like slamming into liquid tar. I screamed as they ripped at my cheek and palm. Digging into my pockets for something to defend myself with, I pulled out the quill and wildly stabbed at the air. It found purchase, embedding itself into the stomach of an incoming gull. I pulled back, releasing a spray of dark red ink. It weakly cried out and fell to the deck.

“No!” the warped voice of the Boy shrieked out, sounding less and less of a man.

Wings began to detach from my legs, turning toward the downed gull. The surrounding gulls shifted focus, bearing down on their fallen brethren. Beaks and claws struck at the gulls stomach. Rotted flesh and seawater ruptured from the belly as they continued to rip and tear the body asunder.

The Boy breached the encirclement of gulls, staring me down. His face a pale white in shocking contrast to his eyes, now a murky gray. His mouth opened wide and he shrieked as he charged to tackle me. Free from the gulls, I sidestepped at the last moment. He stumbled forward and I struck down at him, planting the quill deep into his back. He fell to the deck, face first, sliding into the mess of seawater and flesh.

Wings slapped the deck, pulling their bodies toward the Boy as he struggled to stand back on his feet. The encirclement again began their barrage, throwing themselves into the Boy and knocking him back to the ground. The wings reached the Boy and gripped him from all sides, holding his legs and arms in place. I watched in horror as the Boys back was ripped to shreds, his shrieks mixing in with the gulls until there was no discerning a difference. They ripped deep into his back, pulling out viscera as blood joined with the rot and disgust already on the deck.

My adrenaline left me and I began to dizzy. I fell to my rear and looked to my mangled hand. My cheek burned, exposed to the open air. With the gulls focused on the Boy, the Captain broke through the encirclement. He grabbed me by my armpits and dragged me back to his cabin, barricading the door with a chair. He wrapped my wounds with cloth as I faded in and out of consciousness.

“Stay with me, Mr. Navigator, we’ll reach shore yet,” he cajoled me to life as I sank into sleep.

I woke to a start in the physician’s quarters. A dull pain held steady in my hand and face. I called for the physician and demanded to speak with the Captain. He checked my wounds before leaving to retrieve him. Moments later the Captain burst through the door, a warm relief on his face.

“Mr. Navigator, I’m glad to see you well.”

“Yes, well… if that is what you can call it.”

The Captain quickly shifted to a solemn expression and tone. “Mr. Navigator, what happened two nights ago, it is not for us to speak of.”

“What? But… how could you say such a thing, after seeing what we’ve seen?!”

The Captain let out a deep sigh, “Indeed, Mr. Navigator. What we saw was otherworldly. Ruminating on it will only bring madness and speaking of such things will spurn others to think us crazed.” The Captain turned, looking away from me. “The Boy lost his mind, attacking the lookouts and helmsmen during the cover of night. After discovering his atrocities, he attacked you. Luckily, I heard your scuffle and together we threw him overboard. When asked as to why we did not restrain him, it was because we had no choice. He was wielding a blade and was crazed.”

“Such a simple story for what all of that was… What of the foodstuffs? Corpses of gulls were stuffed into the barrels and crates.”

“Yes, but only some of them were tainted. We will have enough to get by, as long as we ration. Our journey was nearly at its end before all of this business took place. Now I still need you to look over our charts. Get to it, and then back to rest, Mr. Navigator.”

I sat, contemplating the Captains words, when the strong odour of salt filled my nose. “Yes, sir. Let us be done with all of this.”

Two weeks later, we docked. I walked straight to solid earth, slightly rickety, attempting to readjust to my ground-legs as I went. I reached a patch of soil and dropped to my knees, rubbing dirt between my fingers. I looked back to the ship. The Captain stood at the bow, watching me as I cleansed myself in the soil. I vowed to never venture into that wasteland of salt ever again.

Toshikyu Railways Bicycle Parking, Office #73

Hidetaka worked at Toshikyu-Chuo Station on the Toshikyu Railways Green Line in Kanagawa, Japan. The station was in the suburbs, and only local trains stopped there. Most people rode their bikes to the station, took the train two stops north, then transferred to a rapid express that would take them into their offices in southern Tokyo much more quickly. Because of the sheer number of daily commuters, the eastern edge of the train tracks at Toshikyu-Chuo Station was sided with rows upon rows of bicycle parking. Bike racks were stacked on top of bike racks, each adorned with a number.

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The Formidable Expressions of Harold Leblanc

Harold Leblanc was a fellow of unique mannerism for he rarely, if ever, spoke. Rather, Harold would fully converse via facial expression. From minute to exaggerated movements, he was able to convey perfectly what he wanted through his countenance alone. Despite apprehension for most of hearing such a farcical story, upon meeting Harold, all thoughts of poppycockery, joke-making, and frustration would withdraw. For they would be met with a face of sublimity and wholesome welcome. In turn, they themselves would quickly melt into a friendly reception.

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