Anne Woodborne

Evening falls on the Al-haktu oasis in the middle of the desert. A green alien with long antennae stands there, chewing the cud dejectedly. It stands on stick legs, wavering as its antennae twitch a handful of clicks and blips into the still air. ‘Where the kcuf am I?’ This universal expression of bewilderment exists as far afield as Verdigris Vertigo in the outer galaxy of Veridian from which our little alien hails.

Its antennae absorb the hot, dry feel of the desert and it grows ever more despondent. Its solitary eye scans the surroundings with 360° mathematical precision. The images are relayed to its perpetual motion mind machine – dry, gold sand dunes, blue fading to grey sky. The few leaves and grasses around the waterhole are green but in too small a quantity to sustain the lives of fellow Vertigians.Its inner mincers chew the remnants of its last meal back on Verdigris Vertigo –green filigree fillips – it has to maintain its mind machine’s output. The green juices send Omega threes and sixes to oil the myriad cogs, wheels and pistons and fire up the synapses of its think tank.

After some deliberation, its antennae jerk into action and fire off a series of beep-beep-blips through the stratosphere, into the ether. ‘Calling all Vertigians. Mission impossible. Destination error. Situation code black. Send new wormhole ASAP. Repeat ASAP to the source of this signal. BEAM ME BACK EITTOCS.’

The antennae stop relaying their fractured signals, the solitary eye waits, its lid half-mast, the inner munchkin-mincers still their grinding. Our little green alien waits on wafer-thin struts. As the evening darkens, its solitary eye notes the bone white of the round moon with deep cynicism – not even that is green. Whose supreme error of calculation was this? Eittocs? Then, after hours of contemplation, it senses a faint ripple in the atmosphere, a barely discernible movement of atoms but the solitary eye jerks open, the antennae begin to quiver. A portal is descending on the Al-haktu oasis. Alien hops, jumps, emits squeals and squeaks from its antennae. The whirling portal reaches the little creature, sucks it into its spiral, bleeps, then zip,zap,zing, our little alien whips through a timeless fast track back to Verdigris Vertigo, safe and sound, leaving a set of small blimp prints in the sand to confuse weary travellers at the Al-haktu oasis.

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Cynthia Mac Pherson

Red ball on a dark night

It’s five minutes before midnight on a long dark night in the lush rolling hills of the Natal midlands. Poised on a hilltop is a big red exercise ball, casting a long dark shadow, hysterically escaping the confines of the school gym, where a midnight feast is in progress.

The ball took her opportunity to inch towards the open gym door and out into the dark night where thunder roared across the heavens. She was elated by the slap of rain  on her shiny skin, like a face toning treatment, and by the prefrontal wind that gusted her across the rugby fields and under the posts, across the try line,  and now on her way to the Redemptorist monastery. She sees it  lying in the dark hollow below her. How is Brother Albernoni she wonders. Whoops – another gust, a squall of rain and down she speeds to nestle against the stone walls of the monastery. The wind swings open the chapel doors and along the carpeted aisle she rolls, chased by windswept spray. A solitary candle flickers at the altar of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the ball, in high excitement, zigzags from pew to empty pew to land at the heels of a dark figure, kneeling in prayer. She nudges his soles and he sits back and then with a sigh lies on the red ball, slowly deflating from her long ride over fields and brambles.

‘Come into my arms, Brother Albernoni,’ she murmurs. ‘I know you. Forget about core strength pilates exercises on my taut body. Just sink into my softening roundness and tell me your troubles. I am your mother of perpetual help.’

Karen Brooks

Frightened Angel

It’s 3:45 on a Wednesday morning in the middle of a shopping mall and the Angel is creaking in the cold, frightened.

But since when do Angels get cold or frightened? I watch her from my hiding place, beyond the dripping fountain, trickling drops like sour sweets run down my spine. In amongst the dirty dustbins I realize I am in more trouble than I thought.

I watch, my breath stumbling and stuttering in fearful asphyxiation, as she glides noiselessly, searching and keening through the dimly lit shops. A noise, off to her right and my left, startles us. Could that be him? I look towards the Angel, pleading begging eyes, emotions thundering through the empty, vacuumed mall. For a moment, she turns, staring directly at me but quickly looks away. She does not hear me.

The sound off to our sides repeats itself. Louder now, it sounds like the cackling of the deranged, and I shudder.

Lesley Cox

At noon in the parking lot, a surprised, threadbare teddy bear pirouetted on one foot.  He had just had news that this Sunday coming, was to be the Teddy Bears’ picnic in which every bear that ever there was, would gather at the park for certain, because they would have the time of their lives.

In the past the spread had been fantastic, with honey cakes, jars of honey, mead made from honey and every other delightful tasting substance imaginable.

He was ecstatic as life had been so mundane and depressing this year that he’d really felt like ending it, but had not really known how that act was to be achieved.

But now he could put all those morbid thoughts behind him as he had something wonderful to look forward to – a party, a picnic, a parade!

Lynn Carneson McGregor

Wave warrior.

6.00 on Friday morning. ‘Come amongst the kelp’ and the huge wave crawling ferociously. You see the wave coming from far away and although your friend is scared and goes back, you paddle furiously into the swell of the majestic brooding of the wave and duck under the emerald lift before the wave’s top folds and froths and then you stand up on your board and ride the elements for as long as you can before your wavesteed slows down and then, still standing, the wave deposits you on the beach. The sheer wonder of it.

Then off you are again, bobbing over rumpled water, watching and waiting for the seventh wave to call you to it, not knowing whether or when the wave will chose to carry you or not and then before you are too tired, when the storm clouds warn you to leave right now, you return to the beach to a towel and a hot cup of cocoa, ready for the rest of the day.

Christina Coates

pewter angel

It’s 5.30 am and I’m in the Gardens and there is a pewter angel sticking out of my mouth. It’s like she’s a fekking emblem on the front of a car or on the bow of a ship. Words, ideas explode in my head because I just can’t get them past her – she’s taken up residence, the bitch. I can’t say a thing. People stop and stare at me walking here in the Gardens – it is like I’m a bloody Rolls Royce or something. “That’s beautiful,” an old woman says and stops to reach to and touch it, I want to say, “Fuck off! Leave me alone!” but I can’t so I stare at her – stare daggers at her eyes until she says, “I’m sorry. I beg your pardon,” and slinks off. I’m walking around the tall pear tree – it’s Van Riebeeck’s blasted pear tree. Lightening should strike it down properly next time. A boy points at me and stares. I hiss – that’s a relief. I can make a sound even though I sound like a snake. He skittles off to his mother. “Mommy’s boy,” I hiss after him.

My heart is cleft in two. Half of it lies on the gravel at my feet. A trail of blood, like a string, pearls its way to me and everyone can see it’s my fault. I don’t know how I did it but I’m guilty as hell. There’s blood on my hands. People cluster around, One points at me and I hiss, steam escapes my nostrils. It’s a pressure release. He fucking left me and now it’s all my fault. My blood is what’s on my hands and I can’t even tell them what happened.

A policeman is coming – he parts the crowd like he’s fucking Moses. His arms are stiff wings and he takes hold of my arm making as if to lead me away but I buck like a fekkin bronco and he misses. He shouts into his walkie-talkie thing. Don’t they have cell phones these bastard cops? It’s the bloody 21st century! I wish I could scream that idea to him but my mouth is full of angel and it’s hurting my teeth, teeth I wonder about them. Would they have survived? I had nice teeth – the one nice thing about me and my sister was jealous. Her teeth were like bad mielie pits. But here’s the hero Moses again parting the waves and it’s fucking Joshua with him, they’ve brought their chariot and I suppose they will take me to fucking heaven now.

Sheri Johnson

its daytime … midsummer in the sea … the ant is walking through the swamp … very moved …

now you might be thinking … but that’s absurd … how can an ant be walking through the swamp in the sea … you see you are assuming that this is real and i am, of course, actually dreaming and therefore anything is possible … i mean this ant is actually me … a person, struggling in a swamp and a sea of emotions … now what of the ant? … well ants have the ability to be focused and work really hard … carrying loads seemingly larger than their size  … they also seem to know where they are going most of the time … so how does an ant feel when it finds itself in a swamp in a midsummer sea just hanging out away from it all  … completely disorientated  … i mean that ant knows something is up … the question is  … how long before it decides it’s time to get the hell out of there and get some sense of direction going again … aaahhhh …  the wisdom of dreams …

Sukaina Walji

It was dawn in the office and the teaspoon twiddled her thumbs ostentatiously. Twiddle this way, twiddle that. As she wiggled her body side to side, the ornate filigree carvings on the handles sparkled this way and that. When will he come, she thought? She meant HIM of course. The one. The chosen one. She lived for the moment when HE came over to make his tea. Choose me, choose me she willed, as after selecting his favourite mug, his hand would hover over the cutlery drawer. She was, by far, the most beautiful of the teaspoons, but sometimes he was distracted and picked one unworthy of him. Now there were only three teaspoons left, the others having been pushed behind the back of the drawer and having fallen to the depths of a cutlery afterlife, were destined to moulder unloved forever.

She rubbed herself on a kitchen towel to make sure she gleamed so he would pick HER. He was always in early, one of the first, so she had a good chance. She dreamed of the moment his warm fingers caressed her body, lifted her up and placed her into the sugar bowl. Her nakedness covered momentarily by a powdery mountain and then, as quickly, he unclothed her as the sugar slid into the hot tea. When he plunged her into the mug she was shocked, burned and then warmth spread through her body as he stirred her round and round. Dizzy with joy, she let all thoughts go, and then he withdrew her. Sometimes she rested, spent on the saucer next to his teacup. Once, gloriously, he had used her again to pick out a bit of biscuit that had fallen into his tea and she had entered his mouth, but she was so overcome with that memory she couldn’t think about it.

Maire Fisher

It’s the end of the summer weekend at the shark lookout point on Boyes Drive and the spider is snoring hysterically. ‘Sleep, sleep, sleep,’ she mutters and jerks, ‘weave … tangled web … dream … perchance to …’ She twists and turns and moans and cries out, ‘Penelope, Penelope!  weave … words, web of words, web mistress, me …’ Strands, silver and strong, stream behind her as she swings, leaving hexagons and diamonds of moonweb in her wake. Back and forth she scuttles and shuttles. Down in the bay all is still. Clouds mass on the horizon and under the quiet waters dark shapes glide.

WinnieThomson

Father Jack

This is a fairy story, because it ends happily and potential harm is averted.

It was midday in the parlour of St Mary Magdalene convent, and the cat was eating the food which the sisters put out for him. Sister Philomena entered the parlour to see that everything was in order for the meeting with the parents of the confirmation children. She shooed the cat out “Bad beast.  Beast of the devil! Get out!”

The cat slunk away. Sister Philomena and her broom were two things he feared. She straightened the anti-macassars on the leather chairs. Father O’Donaghue would be having tea before meeting the parents of the confirmation class at 6 p.m. With a storm brewing, Sister Philomena knew that Father O’Donaghue wouldn’t leave until the storm had passed.

“Blast the man,” she said to herself, “why can’t he be brave and face the wet like any other man?”

Father Jack O’Donaghue wasn’t like other people.

He was a dancer.

We now go back to when Jack O’Donoghue was about ten. One day, when Mrs. O’Donaghue had a moment to notice her eldest son, she saw that he had great trouble walking: he seemed to fall over his feet. Martha O’Donaghue acted quickly and told young Jack that he had to join the gymnastics class on Wednesday afternoons in the school hall. So on Wednesday, Jack arrived at the hall. He was a little surprised to see that he was the only boy, and that the girls were wearing skirts over what looked like pink bathing-suits. He soon found out that this was a ballet class, but he enjoyed his first lesson, and so continued to attend. He was popular in the ballet class because he was strong and could partner the girls in pas de deux.

He spent the rest of his time at school attending ballet lessons and even winning prizes in competitions.

After leaving school, uncertain about his career, he worked in a bank. He continued going to dance classes, but this time, they were ballroom dancing classes. His ballet training helped him: his movements were graceful and the girls in the class liked dancing with him, Latin being their preferred style of dance.

When Jack was about 30, a particularly emotive homily on the Prodigal Son, roused ideas he hadn’t considered for many years – perhaps he had a vocation to the priesthood.

***

After his ordination, he worked first as a curate and then later as a parish priest. Even in his busy schedule, in his own parish, he still found time to go to a ballroom-dancing school to continue his dancing. He would go, on his day off, to a remote suburb of a big city, he wore a wedding ring, and was generally evasive about questions about his job and where he worked.

This double life continued for many years Jack was well-liked:
He was a good preacher and sympathetic confessor. He was particularly liked by the younger members of the parish.  His classes with 16 or 17-year-olds preparing for confirmation were interesting and challenging as Jack gave the young men and women a realistic view of their faith. All went smoothly and Father Jack continued to dance.

Until that day in 2007- when Sister Philomena shooed the cat out of the nuns’ parlour. The confirmands were going to stage a variety show a week after their confirmation to thank the parish for their support. The only complication was that the date planned for the concert was also the date of a dance competition and for the first time, Tania- May had convinced Jack that they should participate and show off their spectacular Tango. How was Jack – or rather Father Jack – going to resolve this dilemma? He liked Tania-May and enjoyed dancing but he was a priest and his duty to the confirmation class was far more important.

Mysterious things happen in fairy stories and when they are allied to religion, miracles can happen!

And so one did. Four of the judges of the dance competition were all ill with a very bad dose of ‘flu and were unable to judge – so the competition was postponed for two weeks. This gave Jack and Tania-May more time to practise. Jack was tired of this “double life” so he suggested to Tania- May that they use the concert as an extra practice. In this way he could reveal his secret to the parish.

If the parish knew nothing of Fatter Jack’s dancing life, Tania-May did not suspect what her regular partner did when he wasn’t dancing. So she was somewhat surprised that the venue was a church and Jack – now Father Jack – was in clerical garb.

“Oh, yes, I meant to explain, but now I don’t have to- I’ve ‘come out’, as it were. But we’re still going to dance.”

“Dance?”

As in all good fairy stories, everyone lived happily ever after: Jack O’ Donoghue remained a well-liked parish priest; Tania-May met Jerome Flynn: it was love at first sight and they too lived happily ever after.

Indeed, Father Jack O’Donoghue was not like other people, or other priests!