Moira Peckham, BFR Editor

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              As I’ve gotten older, busier, and generally more stressed, I’ve noticed something sad about myself: I seldom read for fun anymore. When I was a growing up in the truly riveting hubbub of Morro Bay, California I would make a conscious effort to sit myself down and read a gosh darn novel or even just a few short stories every week. Eventually I didn’t even have to try because reading was the most wonderful thing I could be doing. There was nothing like getting lost in someone else’s world for a few hours and, to be honest, that’s still one of the most incredible things life can offer us. When I reached college, however, I found my time increasingly taken up by technical readings for my courses in anthropology, philosophy, or whatever I was taking that semester. And let me tell you, after a week of reading Marxist theory and critiques of cultural ecology, nothing and I mean nothing sounded less appealing than sitting down with and trying to actually understand the copy of Infinite Jest that’s currently collecting dust on my book shelf. And after several months of doggedly ignoring all the books I’d been collecting, I finally realized something: I would have to force myself to read for fun or face the reality that I would only be reading technical pieces for the rest of my life. And I was not cool with the latter option.

              The first strategy I utilized to make myself read for fun was by taking an English course. English courses are a lot of work and anyone who tells you differently is wrong and probably doesn’t know what they’re talking about. But in spite of the work (or maybe because of it), English courses are also unbelievably rewarding. English 27: Introduction to the Study of Fiction allowed me to read seven incredible novels that I would never have picked up otherwise (as someone who reads mostly science fiction it was a trip to actually have to sit down and read Heart of Darkness for a grade but you know what it was great). I got to read amazing books for units! And write about them, which is a reward in and of itself. It was so amazing to be able to read and critically engage with literature that I never would have looked at before. Had I not taken that English course, I wouldn’t have even discovered how much I love Thomas Pynchon. So that particular experiment in forcing myself to read non-technical writings was a complete success. But alas, the summer rolled around and with it the time in which I could take classes outside of my major came to an end, so I had to think of strategy number two.

              Strategy number two was less about clever tactical course-planning and more about brute force. Amidst the balmy days of summer, my favorite author published an 880 page hard science fiction space odyssey and I vowed to finish it that summer in addition to about five other books that were burning a hole in my bookcase. So the strategy was basically to utilize my summer months to read as many books concurrently as I possibly could. I failed. But, boy, did I try. I got through probably about seven hundred pages of literature by the time summer ended just by sheer force of will, but it took me until the end of winter break that same year to finish the space odyssey. But that winter break introduced me to strategy number three: power reading.

              My first experience with power reading was with Camus’s The Stranger. If you aren’t familiar with that particular title, all you really need to know is that The Stranger isn’t that long. Maybe 160 pages, tops. One night after Christmas, I decided to read The Stranger but given my track record with actually finishing the books I start I knew that I needed to finish it all in one sitting or I wouldn’t finish it at all. So that’s what I did. It took me two and a half hours of non-stop reading but I did it. And it felt amazing. And so, I decided to try this tactic with something a little longer over spring break. (In between winter and spring break I didn’t read a single book; it was really sad.) Over the break, I went on vacation to a place with no Internet and I attribute this in part to the fact that I finished a 660 page book in four days. I was a well-oiled reading machine. I don’t think I had ever read anything as quickly and as thoroughly in my entire life. This too, is more an exercise in brute force rather than in self-control and cleverness. As of right now, however, power reading appears to be my most successful tactic for dealing with the fact that during the school year I have less and less time and drive to read for fun.

              Other strategies I’ve not tried myself but have seen others successfully employ include but are not limited to: having a book to read on your breaks at work, reading books of short stories, reading just before bed (I have tried this and fall asleep every time but other people do not), joining a literary journal (I actually do this one but some people don’t consider work fun for some reason), read poems, attempt to substitute Netflix with books at least sometimes, and many, many more!

              And perhaps this issue isn’t as universal as I feel it must be given my complete and utter lack of interest in staring at more pages full of words after spending my week doing just that, but maybe someone somewhere is struggling with this is very same thing. And if you are, hi there. I am here for you. Reading is the best and it is possible to find time to actually finish books, it just might take more effort than you’re used to. But stick with it because one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is the ability to get lost, at least for a little while, inside someone else’s reality and to learn from it.

Edie Sussman, BFR Staff

The small bell above the door rang sharply as Dr. Magellan and an accompanying frozen breeze swept into the waiting room.

“Sorry I’m late, traffic was hell this morning.”

Her receptionist nodded knowingly. “Have they still not put out that fire out over on the 101?”

“Nope. The pyromancy department has its hands full dealing with it.” She hung up her jacket and scarf and took down a white coat. “Any messages?”

“Nancy Roswell. She wants to talk to you about seeing a specialist for her skin.”

“Who’s my first appointment?”

“Tommy Winters, routine checkup. Trish is in room 7 with him now.”

Dr. Magellan gave a thumbs-up and a thank you, poured herself a cup of coffee, and stepped into her office to pick up her patient’s file.

She sat at her desk, flipping through the reports from his last checkups. Nine years old, third grade, in general good health. He’d first come to her about five years ago, when the cats had started following him home from preschool. She’d diagnosed him with tendencies towards witchcraft and recommended adopting a familiar from a service animal agency.

“Dr. Magellan?” A nurse poked her head into the office, clipboard in hand. “Tommy’s all set to see you.”

“Thanks, Trish.” As she left the room, Dr. Magellan took Trish’s clipboard and started reading through the report.

When she reached room 7, a small sphinx cat was standing in front of the door, blocking her way. It gazed up at her piercingly, and she took a step back despite herself. Familiars were known to acquire magical powers of their own, and she still wasn’t sure what this one was capable of.

“Tommy?” she called out. “It’s Dr. Magellan. Can you tell Svetka to let me in?”

A faint voice responded from inside. “You’re not going to give me a shot, are you?”

Oh no. This again.

“Tommy, you’re due for a flu shot. If you don’t get it, you might get sick. You don’t want to get sick, do you?”

“I’d rather get sick than get a shot!” Tommy shouted back as Svetka hissed.

“Do you remember the last time you got sick, Tommy? You couldn’t play with your friends for a whole week. That was no fun, right?”

No sound came from inside the room.

“It’ll only be a second,” Dr. Magellan continued. “And you can hold Svetka if it helps you. You’ll barely feel a thing.”

Still, Tommy was silent.

Dr. Magellan sighed in frustration. “If you don’t get a shot, I can’t give you candy?”

Tommy didn’t respond immediately, but Svetka stepped to the side of the doorway and began licking a paw, which Dr. Magellan knew meant she was free to come into the room. She knelt to meet the cat’s eyes and whispered, “Don’t worry, I’ve got a treat for you too.”

Fifteen minutes later, Tommy was sucking happily on a lollipop as his father drove him away, and Dr. Magellan was in room 10 finishing her yearly check-up with the Nguyen family.

“So Pamela, how are you enjoying middle school?” she asked as she finished filling in the state immunization records.

Pamela sulked in her wheelchair and refused to answer.

“Are you still on the swim team?”

This time her mother answered for her. “They wouldn’t let her compete anymore because of her… advantage.”

Dr. Magellan shook her head in disbelief. “You should take that up with the school board. They can’t discriminate against merpeople like that. In the meantime, are you still swimming for fun?”

Pamela mumbled inaudibly.

“What was that?” Dr. Magellan asked.

“I said I want to do ballet.”

“Honey,” her mother interrupted, “we already talked about this. The ballet studio just isn’t ready for someone with your condition.”

Dr. Magellan frowned. “I don’t know about that, Amy. You know there’s a wheelchair ballet studio just a few blocks down from here? I could give you their contact info?”

“Well –“

“Yes! Oh please oh please oh please Mom, can I?” Pamela shouted, her face lighting up and her gills flapping excitedly.

“You mean instead of swimming? But is that healthy?”

“As long as she’s still taking a bath once a day and drinking plenty of saltwater, I don’t see why not,” Dr. Magellan reassured them.

Pamela looked up at her with gratitude in her eyes. “Thank you, Dr. Magellan.”

 

It was around 2:00 in the afternoon when a nurse rushed into Dr. Magellan’s office, wide eyed and out of breath.

“You need to come into the waiting room. Right now.”

Dr. Magellan shot out of her chair and raced to the waiting room, wondering what could possibly have been so urgent. What she saw stopped her in her tracks.

“Frankie? Honey, what are you doing here?”

Her daughter looked up at her from where she lay on the floor, curled up tightly into a ball. There were tears in her eyes.

“I… I don’t know, I was just in gym class and then suddenly it was so loud and bright and now I’m here and I don’t know why!” She began to cry again.

Dr. Magellan knelt to her daughter’s side and held her in her arms. “No, sweetie, you’re going to be ok. I’ve got you.”

“Is—is something… wrong with me?”

“Nothing is wrong with you, sweetie,” she said softly. “Teleportation abilities run in our family, you know that. Remember Aunt Susan? How she would always appear at your birthday parties with all those balloons?”

“I can…teleport?” Frankie choked out between sobs.

“That’s what it looks like,” Dr. Magellan said. She could see her daughter thinking over this new information, realization of a world of new possibilities dawning on her. She smiled. It would take some work for her daughter to be able to control her new powers, but that moment of realization—the sudden understanding that a child had been given a blessing and not a curse—that was why she was a pediatrician.

Yohey Cho, BFR Staff

A slimy, oatmeal-like, little blob is reacting to the edgy riff of the electric guitar. ”The very unpleasant little creature” from the Flight of the Navigator. Its cells are just beginning to awaken from their inert slumber as they begin to do little flips and contortions, throbbing together as they bathe in the fluid that is secreted from every corner around them. The rugged sound of my electric guitar fills the empty room. Leftovers of yesterday’s meal are standing there, smelling like a grimy drain and vegetables that are too green to eat. Today, I would eat an egg for breakfast. I fixed it and swallowed it down with some coffee made from deep-roasted beans. Inside the gooey stuff, a soul was pulsating. It was my soul. Satisfied with my breakfast, I played a few more cords. The goo inside me began to throb again. It was gradually growing, fusing with my body from inside.

There were trees outside. I and the goo had been walking under their needle-shaped leaves for a little while. These trees used to be different. Until the dictator put a spell on them. He took their personalities away and made them uniform.

The goo was expanding inside my body. I could tell that my membranes were being used by it as places for it to gradually siphon my bodily fluids into without interfering too much with the rest of my body.

Everyone knew that the dictator himself was just a spell. It was said that Someone, some higher being, was responsible for it.

We came close to the cliff. By then, I had turned into the goo. A waste pipe was opening up to the ground where we stood. It led along the side of the cliff to the top where the fortress stood. We went into it and crawled upwards for about half a mile. Inside, it was dark and gunky. A faint sound of music was coming from the direction of the cliff itself. As we went up, the music became louder and louder until it turned into the hum of a machine. We found an exit, and it let us into an enormous room. There were windows on all sides that were looking out onto the clouds. We walked around. Nobody was there. Just thousands of machines lined up all over the place. Some looked old and some new. Many of them looked like they were made of components from different ages put together. Others looked like they were ancient but with little fixes and extensions from all different ages. Someone had spent hundreds of years continuously adjusting and revising, probably as a way to deal with countless exigencies as they came up one after another. Some places were so covered with the footprints of fixes and adjustments they looked like the evidence of ages of sedimentations of minerals recorded in the cross-sections of land. It was hard to tell which parts were functioning. In the middle of the place, we saw a platform that seemed to be wired to the rest of the machines. It looked like a control deck. We walked up to it. There was another blob of gooey stuff. We fused with it and became rulers of the world.

Sean Dennison, BFR Editorial Staff

One day at the docks, a mermaid kissed a boy.

Here’s what happened: the boy was fishing there with his family’s pole. He was at the far end of the docks, the rich end, where fish gobbled up rich-people treats that got tossed from the more ornate vessels. He was thinking of ways humans could evolve to entirely eliminate from the diet those damn fish that he never caught, when he saw the mermaid.

She—he figured she was a she, she had breasts the boy guessed were the same size as his mother’s—broke the surface, covered in kelp but beautiful in ways the boy wasn’t used to. The tailfin, for example, was a rainbow limb. The sunlight hit the scales and waves of color undulated across her surface. The fin itself rounded out in a deep-cut crescent that looked like the fingernail moon.

“Hey,” she said.

“Uh, hey,” the boy said. Awe. When did he release the homemade pole? The one his father crafted after returning from the War, which he used to keep his family alive before the Cough got him? The one the boy now needed to feed the family? It floated away, toward the mermaid, who seized it. She came higher out of the water.

Humanoid. Her skin looked possessed by a spirit of metallurgy in gently oscillating liquid form. Her hair was wild, but the boy figured his uncles would still call her sexy. He also noticed a large starfish adorn her head.

“You know this kills right?” the mermaid said, waving the pole in front of him. Her voice: blue, mellow, but deep down, it had a colorless core that was terrifying and mysterious. It reminded him of the empty oyster shells that littered the town square during New Year’s.

“Hey, you know this kills, right?” she asked him, louder. “Kills fish?”

“No it doesn’t,” he said. “It just catches them.”

“Ah, you’re a sharky one,” she said, and smiled at him. The boy suddenly realized he might be in danger.

“I think you mean, snarky.”

“Nope, sharky.”

“Well, I don’t kill ‘em either,” the boy said. “Mom does, she cooks ‘em.”

“Ah, so that’s who the real villain is,” she said, smiling. “I didn’t even have to torture you.”

The boy gasped.

“Rather quick to sell out your mother,” she added.

“Wait, what are you going to do?” the boy asked, fearful.

“Avenge my brethren,” the mermaid said. She splashed the boy with her fin.

“Wait!” the boy said. “Don’t kill her. It’s me who kills the fish, for they drown in air when they’re trapped in the bucket that I, and I alone, throw them in. If you must avenge your brethren, strike upon me!”

The boy had recently gotten an A in drama class and hoped this was convincing form.

“I was only going to make her eat a poisonous fish, just have her get sick for a while, but death… I can work with that,” the mermaid said.

“Wait, dammit, no! You caught me off guard,” the boy said. And now he realized he wasn’t ready to die.

The mermaid extended her hand, and slapped the boy. He didn’t feel any pain; all his senses searched the mermaid’s extended hand. It hung over the water, wavering, reflecting light onto the ocean surface, dirtied with human refuse, and it made the boy think of dancing crystals.

“I have a request to make, before you end me,” said the boy.

“Please be serious,” the mermaid said. Her hand retracted and she pulled a crab out of her hair. “This is your end of life you’re using.”

The boy went for it.

“I would like a kiss.”

The mermaid shrugged, blasé as a sponge

“Anything else?”

The boy was a bit disappointed in her reaction. In his head, there was a comedic pause, then she burst out laughing, and he got his kiss. But more importantly, his charm and sass had so wooed her he also got his freedom.

“No, I guess not,” the boy said.

“Well, then,” the mermaid said.

“Yes.”

She floated toward him. He was still getting what he wanted: close proximity. He fingered Sebastian.

See, before the Cough had taken his dad, who fought in the War, the boy visited him in the hospital. His dad told long, bitter epics that made the nurses cry and doctors quietly close their office doors. He told the boy about Sebastian, his trusty switchblade that double-mouthed the necks of many an enemy. Before he died, he pulled the boy close.

“You’re a man now,” his dad said. He closed Sebastian into the boy’s fist. “Protect the family, avenge me,” Pa said.

“Dad, you’re dying from a virus.”

“It’s still a living—” he flatlined.

Now, the boy fingered Sebastian. The mermaid moved in; the boy got his kiss, then quickly stepped back, swinging out Sebastian. The blade ejected.

Mermaid blood is a lovely shade of turquoise that science tells us is due to both a magical diet and human pollution. However, it also has corrosive properties for human skin. The blood spewed on the boy, instantly devastating his throat and larynx. His final sound was a slight whistle of blood and air. The both fell: the boy collapsed on the dock, the mermaid floated near him.

The mermaid kissed the boy, but only the seagulls celebrated anything.

Moira Peckham, BFR Editorial Staff

Ernest edged out of the field and onto the bare, cracked earth. The grass rustled behind him as he left it in his wake. The stone river stretched before him; the bank on the other side, shaded by poplars, shimmered under the summer sun. He put out a foot to test the water. Hot.

Too hot, really, Ernest mused. But unavoidable. The river wavered in front of his eyes. He squinted at it, shifting his head from left to right before stepping out onto it, bare feet crying at the heat.

Better be hasty. Ernest hated this part of the season. Every year the river had to be crossed, every year it was almost too hot to bear. His feet had been used to the cool earth by the pond and the shade of the grass, but now the pond was dry again and he had to cross the river. But the first step was always the hardest.

With the first step completed, Ernest felt his confidence blossom. Oh yes, he thought. This will be my fastest year yet. The sun radiated onto the skin of his back. He could feel it drying. Better be my fastest year yet. A few more steps and he trod across a particularly blistering patch of the river. The sensation made him jump. I can’t do it. I have to turn around. It’ s too much. I’m too old. His feet were growing increasingly uncomfortable now. Ernest’s breath quickened as his muscles told him to turn back. He was itching to obey. Ernest looked up to gaze at the poplars, who were sighing sweet things to him. No. No matter. I’m almost halfway there anyway.

It was true. Ernest could almost see through the poplars to where the land dipped down to the creek bed. He could almost smell the water. His skin shivered at the thought of the cool liquid. The whisper of the grass on the approaching bank invited him to move more quickly into their embrace.

Ernest complied, feet protesting as he hastened his stride. He was nearing the opposite bank. Only fifty more steps to go, he reckoned. Once he got to the other side he would be able to rest before continuing on to his spot by the creek. He almost wept at the thought. His eyes strained against the sun.

The edge of the river was fast approaching. Record time. The river shook. The river rumbled. Ernest paused and a shadow fell over him. His feet stopped hurting. The shadow moved away.


Cathy turned around in the front seat to see what had jostled under the truck, but they were already too far away to see.

“What d’you think that was?” she asked. Marcus glanced in the rear view mirror.

“I dunno. Bullfrog maybe.”

Cathy frowned, “What was it thinking? Crossing the road like that?”

“It’s a bullfrog, Cath. It wasn’t thinking anything.”

Moira Peckham, BFR Editorial Staff

I often find myself wondering why I’ve come to enjoy the things that I do. The literature that I prefer to consume occasionally has acknowledgeable intellectual or literary merit, but more often than not, it is not “capital L” literature. It’s very lowercase L. It probably has elves in it. Or spaceships. And I’m not even a little bit sorry.

I don’t know which powers-that-be decided what writing is to be valued in the modern zeitgeist, but I doubt they would approve of my choices. In my experience, the science fiction tomes that I hold so dear seldom make their way onto the shelves of classic canonical literature. There’s a strange cultural stigma surrounding the genre, the likes of which I have yet to see affect other schools of writing and their consumers in the same way. Science fiction lovers, however, are hardly the only readers to get funny looks for enjoying what they do.

It seems that no matter what one likes to consume, there will always be someone else telling them that they are incorrect for doing so. People who like sci-fi are told that there is no literary merit in their favorite genre (sometimes this is true, I won’t lie). Those who prefer to read the classics or postmodernist works are called pretentious (I have done this and I am sorry; I see the error of my ways).

And yet, although there seems to be no escaping the scorn of others when being true to your own taste, I say ignore those people who scoff at your favorite book. Don’t let others make you feel guilty or unintelligent for following your literary heart. In the long run, it’s far more fun and satisfying to accept the styles of writing that you like and roll with them than it is to consistently force yourself to consume literature that doesn’t interest you.

This being said, there is, of course, an undeniable intellectual benefit in expanding your horizons and taking in the kind of writing that you would otherwise pass by. For me this meant making myself read Jane Austen, the Brontës, and, on a particularly dark day, some James Joyce. And it’s a good thing I did too because I now know that I definitely do not like Emma but that I did enjoy Wuthering Heights. I’m still mulling over the Joyce. Go figure.

There are absolutely times in which I can feel the weight of the literary world on my shoulders, letting me know that what I’m reading doesn’t “qualify” as great writing or as something worth consuming, regardless of the intelligence or creativity that went into creating it. I choose to ignore this in favor of a more optimistic sentiment: read what you like and like what you read, regardless of who tells you not to.

Georgia Peppe, BFR Editorial Staff

Sci-Fi.

An abbreviation that has the power to invoke utter joy or disgust given the beholder of the topic.

I personally used to be one of the blind that discredited this genre as gimmicky and meritless. Though I appreciated the concepts and imagination, I never considered anything even faintly classified as science fiction to be “literary” or of “literary merit.”

That was until my mother put Pastoralia, a collection of short stories by George Saunders, in my lap. Tenth of December soon followed.

These anthologies had no boisterous, graphic design cover art or obsequious font, so I doubted that this was in fact science fiction.

What I like specifically about Saunders-esque science fiction is its subtlety; how the science fiction aspect of his writing does not come from blatant exhibitions of, or references to, subjects preordained as science-y.

His literary trick is best described as continuous discontinuities. For Saunders this manifests in some of his short stories in an extremely unnerving manner.

The difference is this:

In most science fiction, the reader is presented a fictional world where everything is different. It is garnished with flying cars, dinosaurs, etc. There are innumerable rules governing the world and not all of them are cohesive when put in place next to each other. How this world exactly works gets confusing because the ambiguity surrounding what is different about this world is not consistent. Too many extrapolations, additions, twists, and throw away, last minute explanations that shoddily fill in gaping plot holes. In other words what is different about the world from ours, the discontinuity, is not continuous.

In Saunders’ worlds, it is typically difficult to first perceive the slightest difference between his literary world and our own. He chooses and places perversions of the expected in a setting the reader is all too familiar and comfortable with: a world without flying cars or dinosaurs, a world that is otherwise their own. Except for the twist.

I personally prefer Saunders’ more subtle approach, but, subtlety aside, even mainstream action-centric science fiction could stand to observe his skill.

A Saunders’ twist is the discontinuity, and this discontinuity is continuously integrated into the world it inhabits, creating a new world for this fiction to take place in. It is an eerie alteration of what we know so well. Though it is not as outrageous a presentation as mainstream science fiction, it leaves much more room for metaphors and allegories, but most of all, a real fear of that world which is only a slight deviation away from our own.

Continuity is crucial to world building. But of course we all knew that.

What is even more crucial is the continuity of a discontinuity. Being meticulous about your representation and presentation of an aspect of your world that defines it and distinguishes it from “reality.”

You, as a writer, want this discontinuity so well integrated that your reader is taken aback when it surfaces, when they finish your story and are left with a discomfort,  an eeriness regarding how clear and permeating that world felt.

Madeline Johnson, BFR Staff

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Oh what soft sweet merriment

That carries with it such a beauteous glint

In the hearts of all those who feel its wonder

To cross their paths to make them ponder

On the love that dwells

In their souls as deep as wishing wells

Upon silken soft delight

Oh these creatures of the light!

Reflected loveliness

Within those fledgling nests

Bedded down amongst the downy feathers

Shed by loving mothers and fathers.

Protection sweetness love and wonder,

Dwells within the heart and yonder.

The soul that carries such a beauteous glint

Oh such soft sweet merriment.

Alagia Cirolia, BFR Editorial Staff

Ritsa watched the witches gather.

The yew forest behind the hills bordered an absurd shade of green and were scattered with wildflower growths from the spring, which trilled with laughter in the warm dusk breeze. In a small valley within it there was dirt—a great brown clearing of soft decay that felt the absence of roots. The witches trod in all manners down to this nothing-patch, where a great yellow bonfire was stoked by the diligence of the dryad crones. Most of the women, age notwithstanding, pranced in unrestricted nudity down the hills. Some adorned their nakedness with a purple mud. Some kept the golden jewelry on their arms and ankles. Some simply sported antlers, tails, teeth. Cloaks and capes lined the forest like flags as the crowd grew. No witch need worry about her possessions, her enemies or alliances, her lineage. Tonight was Beltane.

The ash drifted over on the wind, the warm musk of dead branches casting a great cloud of heady perfume that settled on Ritsa’s wool skirt as she stood in a dense copse of pines upwind. She tugged at the neck of her dress, a dark pink shift coloured by the red berries that grew on the outskirts of town. She was nearly sweating, as if she could feel the growing heat of the fire beneath her. She swept her hair, a heavy curtain of wet straw, up into a bundle with a brown cloth ribbon she had tucked inside her bodice earlier that morning. She’d probably be in great trouble if Mam knew she’d left the Old Weaver’s house, and stolen ribbons at that. But she’d seen the specks in the sky—little black dots, hiding behind clouds in the distance like inverted stars. It was the Old Weaver’s fault, really. She’d spun enough tales, and now Ritsa believed them.

The incoming flurry of women dwindled, the surrounding forest left a spiderweb of abandoned clothing that seemed to make the bonfire brighter. Even naked, it was obvious who were sisters. Though dispersed, a taller bunch all had wild raven hair, decorated with sprigs of crimson berries that looked alarmingly familiar. They seemed strong as tree trunks, wise as old willows, regal and flexible as they stood unabashed. Ritsa felt she could see the glint of their luminous onyx eyes, searching for her. The older ones who stoked the fire were a merry, sinister bunch, a microcosm of mischievery composed of the oldest hags from each clan. Their skin hung like carpets of rotting leaves from frail branches, and yet they hefted logs from various piles in some chaotic dance, occasionally stopping for a brief bout of bickering over whether the next sacrifice should be Oak, Birch, or Holly. Another few were bulbous; all soft, spilling bellies and swinging breasts. Ritsa could almost hear them despite the distance, their words popping like sonorous croaks, laughter like muffled brooks bubbling over smooth boulders. These ones all wore streaks of brown dirt—the one closest to the fire had two long trails of mud, a sister’s palms dragged down her back, and close to Ritsa garbled one with brown hand prints pressed onto her chest, as if some sooty moth hand perched in her grand cleavage.

Ritsa watched the witches make rounds, a great circle of fire-tinted flesh joining and pulling apart. They had a peculiar way of greeting; one would take the palm of the other, face up, and the other would respond similarly, until both had one arm stretched out, one hand cradling the other’s palm, and with perfect synchronicity they bent to press their lips into them as a brief kiss. Ritsa’s skin grew flushed with jealous admiration from watching the women move around each other so fluidly, imbued with such enviable elegance. The sun had begun to drift below the line of trees behind her, soon to dip all the way under the ridge of hills where her village lay just outside the forest’s western edge—and still she felt smoldering, as if a million little embers had lit under her skin until her neck and cheeks and thighs felt aflame. It must be the magic, she thought, blinking hard, stumbling in a moment of dizziness. She couldn’t think, not when she was inhaling all the heat of their Beltane fire, letting the smoky sweet yew fill her lungs and flood her brain. She’d already rolled up her sleeves, feeling sweat collect in the creases of her elbows. The witches began the ceremony. The crones, each with a different branch, exotic boughs from their home forests, held them aflame in front of them and gave a yip, shriek, chatter, as the witches began to surge forward. Each stopped in front of their older sister, cupped her hands, took a bit of the Witch’s flame, which seemed to alight in her hands like a flickering sparrow, and douse herself, letting the fire roll like water over her neck, shoulders, breasts and bottom, until it slipped over the tips of her feet and disappeared into the brown soil, leaving her glowing.

At this, Ritsa was scorched. The wool was determined to suffocate her until she was gray, her bodice scratching heavily against the delicate skin of her shoulders. With a startled cry, she lifted the dampened cloth up over her knees, hips, back, until it was merely a dusky rose flag, caught on a branch, blending into the night.

Elva Bonsall, BFR Staff

woods

While it’s easy to forget stories, their details, characters, and perhaps even the imagery so painstakingly created for the page, it’s unnervingly difficult to forget the impression it leaves upon you. Cold, slippery, and often creeping into your thoughts long after the story itself has been filed away and stored in memory, old emotions from stories often appear to the reader in different forms.

Miserable, lost, and fed up with underpowered technology, I once happened upon this little house, deep in the woods somewhere in a countryside far away. There’s no joy in being lost. Nothing wonderful about being late and out of place, either. And while consumed with hunger, disorientation, and a general aura of grumpiness I stumbled halfway up a muddy hill and found this tiny, tiny home.

While it’s easy to forget stories, it’s hard to forget the emotions behind them; what first connects someone to a page. Seeing this tiny house, I was no longer miserably lost but in one of the fairytales that was read to me as a kid. A sense of place from a small piece of literature I had read long ago made finding a random shack, far away from my intended destination, a magical and special happening. My emotional connection to this sense of place from a story meant I was no longer lost, and instead needed a picture to remember it by.