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Description: Short Stories, poems and essays. Some are thrillers and chillers. Other are humorous and nostalgic. Guaranteed to entertain.

Winter Stories To Salt Your Icy Road January 2015 1 Join Us In Cyberspace pilcrowanddagger pilcrowdagger pilcrowdagger Pilcrow & Dagger January 2015 volume 1 No. 1 Editor LeeAnn Rhoden Editor A. Marie Silver Subscription Services Subscriptions orders and inquiries can be made at or by mail Pilcrow & Dagger PO Box 2261 Evans GA 30809 Include your address with all inquiries allow 6 to 8 weeks for delivery. Graphic Artists Sue Hymel Sarah Smith Advisory Board Christopher L. Silver Mack Rhoden Advertising Information Featured Authors Matthew Barker Laurie Blake Toi Buchanan Robert Crow Dick Falzoi Cam Flanagan Karen Goldner Fiona Hopper Karen Johnstone Kathleen Parrish Ann Graham Price Rehan Qayoom Vanessa Rodriguez Lorraine Samuels Stephanie Victoire 1 Direct all advertising questions for Pilcrow & Dagger to info Letters & Correspondence Please send all letters correspondence and feedback to info or Pilcrow & Dagger PO Box 2261 Evans GA 30809 Cover Art Melodija - Road In The Winter Time Photo Pilcrow & Dagger Tidings Tidbits & Tomfoolery For Writers Check out our website What s Hot About Submissions & Themes Video Previews Blog Swag Shop Podcasts 2 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger Editors Note Winter. After the holidays after three weeks of creative turkey leftovers after the caroling has stopped and the gifts have been given after Uncle Bob drank too much champagne and Aunt Daisy told embarrassing stories about her neighbors - that s when winter sets in. It s cold. It may snow. The roads may be icy. The power may go out and you ll huddle with your loved one in front of the fireplace for warmth rather than romance. This is the time you need a distraction a ray of sunshine in an otherwise grey existence. Sadly due to the credit card bills coming in from Black Friday shopping sprees that trip to the Caribbean is out of reach. You are not alone. Pilcrow & Dagger staff members are as anxious as you are to escape the frozen Hell blanketing most of the world. We ve counted down the days until spring 64 days to go in case you re curious. Until then we invite you to join us for an excursion from your Winter blues. Welcome to Pilcrow & Dagger s premier issue We received a total of 108 submissions from around the globe. These short stories poems and essays all with a winter element - were fantastic. That made our job of selection so very difficult. For this first issue we selected poems with a naughty twist (Gingerbread Man) and stories that will leave you with a frightening chill (What Lurks Beneath). Whatever your preference we hope these stories will be the wine in your glass the marshmallows in your cocoa and the antifreeze for your engine. And while we can t do anything about Uncle Bob s hangover or Aunt Daisy s gossiping at the very least this issue will give you a temporary reprieve from your cabin fever. - LeeAnn and A. Marie Editors Subscribe to Pilcrow & Dagger Choose Print 55.00 Digital 20.00 Annual Subscription Prices for 2015 Name ____________________________________________________ Address ___________________________________________________ City __________________________State _________Zip____________ Mail to Pilcrow & Dagger PO Box 2261 Evans GA 30809 You can also go online to subscribe 3 Table of Contents Short Stories Fiction May I Have This Skate Dear By Dick Falzoi Page.......................................................7 Winter Snow And Ice By Vanessa Rodriguez Page.......................................................13 You Will Like Your New Life By Matthew Baker Page.......................................................29 What Lurks Beneath By Laurie Blake Page........................................................34 The Ice Bowl Cometh By Robert Crow Page........................................................43 Animal Ball By Stephanie Victoire Page........................................................52 . Short Stories Non-fiction Roman Holiday By Kathleen Parrish Page......................................................20 4 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger Table of Contents Poetry Year End By Karen Johnstone Page.....................................................11 Gingerbread Man (or 50 Shades Of Ginger) By Fiona Hopper Page.....................................................19 Driving To Bryson City By Karen Goldner Page.....................................................28 Modern Snow By Rehan Qayoom Page.....................................................33 Ode To Effen Winter By Toi Buchanan Page.....................................................39 After The Blizzard By Ann Graham Price Page.....................................................42 Suburban Snowstorm By Lorraine Samuels Page.....................................................50 Essays Corn-pone Opinions By The Fire By Cam Flanagan Page....................................................40 5 Pilcrow & Dagger Tidings Tidbits & Tomfoolery for Writers Join us on our blog for fun facts and...well.....plain old fun Here s what you ll find. Forensics & Fiction Write What You Know Fiction & Phobias Grammar Tips Check out our Sunday Newspaper published on our blog every Sunday. It s a sassy satire with news stories pulled from our overactive imaginations. Guaranteed to keep you entertained Catch up on the round-robin novel from National Novel Writing Month Check it out for information entertainment & inspiration 6 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger http blo Dick Falzoi - Dick has been a serious writer for the past seven years after a career as a commercial fine artist. He has written numerous short stories and four novels one of which was published. He lives in Geneva NY and devotes his time to writing reading and music. May I Have This Skate Dear Mid-November and already our first heavy snowfall. This early morning I stood before the open drapes of the large picture window in our living room gazing out at the vast sheet of white that overnight had transformed the neighborhood from green lawns and curb-piled leaves into a wintry vista. Gladys come look at this I said ushering the invitation to my wife of forty years. Soon she was standing beside me. I wrapped an arm around her shoulder. Pretty isn t it I said. Very lovely dear. You know I was thinking. Well I was remembering when I was a kid and how the first big snowfall was so thrilling. Remember how we couldn t wait to get outside and do all those fun things we used to do in the snow Remember those days dear I do remember. Sledding snowball fights ice skating. Now we look at all that snow and think of shoveling walks and scraping car windows . . . frozen fingers and toes. And sore backs. Right from shoveling. Gladys like I said I ve been thinking as I stood here looking out at all that snow that winter has become nothing but an inconvenience to us. And I m also thinking that it just shouldn t be that way. We spend four months of the year just sitting around waiting for spring . . . for an end to the winter blues the depression. I drew my wife closer and looked her squarely in the face. Let s change all that this time. George whatever are you getting at When we were younger well much younger we didn t feel this way about winter. Winter was fun. The sledding ice skating building a snowman in the front yard and sticking a pipe in his mouth . . . you remember. Of course. Well damn why can t we do all those things again Sledding Sure. All of it. Where is it written that when you get older you have to give up having fun when the snow flies This is Saturday. Do we have anything planned for today We d mentioned seeing Sarah and our grandson. Yeah yeah. We can do that tomorrow. I again gripped my wife s shoulders firmly in my hands as I faced her. Gladys let s do it. Do what George 7 Let s make a day of it. Try to recapture some of the fun we used to have in the winter. Why not Are we too old for a little wintry fun There is that distinct possibility. Bullshit. I m tired of winter getting the best of me. By God I m going to fight back. Gladys I feel strongly about this. I say we set out to regain those good feelings we used to have about winter especially the first big snowfall. Are you game George you know I always support you in all your ventures no matter how lame. Uh huh. I ll let that one slide. Speaking of sliding don t we still have Sarah s old sled in the garage If I said no I think you would not believe me. Great. That s where we ll start. Come on Gladys let s get all bundled up. This will be a day to remember. Of that I have no doubt. The sliding hill was just outside town in the City Park. There was an easy slope and there was a bravado slope. Kids dominated the scene at various positions on the slopes while a smattering of parents awaited at the bottom. The slopes were already sufficiently utilized that the snow was packed hard and the sledding fast. I ll go first I said sorta break the ice if you will. I think you should have dressed warmer George. Nonsense. With the exertion I ll be over-heated in no time. Take the easy slope I ll just wait for you here at the bottom. The easy slope Hah Us true winter sportsters don t take the easy slope. You just wait here and watch my dust my dear. I attained the top of the steep slope the bravado course and hid my fatigue from the teens bunched at the top awaiting their turns. Hey pops. Where s your kid said one wiseacre drawing his hand across his runny nose. Can t he haul his sled up by himself I m the kid buster. Step aside. With that I ran a few steps down the slope and jumped onto my sled just as I had as a youngster. Nothing after that resembled my youthful memories. As I plunked down on the sled my breath was forced from me and as I gasped for air I lost control of the sled which became stuck in a rut that curbed sharply sideways throwing me from the sled and tumbling down the slope. I stopped at the feet of my wife. You all right George I stared up at her. Was she serious I sat up shaking from the misadventure and the cold. Possibly I should have dressed warmer. The City Park also featured an outside ice pond. Now that I could handle being an ice skater of repute from way back. We rented ice skates and when properly outfitted I extended a hand to my beloved. Shall we dear This is your day George. Whatever you say. The ice pond brought back warm memories. I was pretty good on blades-- skate backwards skate fast come to abrupt stops with ice particles spraying from beneath my skates. Always impressed the girls. I could handle this. Outdoor rinks were the best the chill in the air the snowy landscape warm fires and hot cocoa--the whole enchilada. Gladys and I skated leisurely around the pond joining the flow of casual skaters. The more experienced skaters were on the interior ice performing spins figure eights and other difficult maneuvers. Gladys allowing your pardon but this merry-go-round skating is boring me. If I may take your leave I think I m more suited to something more daring. I must join the inner circle. 8 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger Yes dear. If you must you must. I skated away from my wife away from the amateur contingent and joined the inner circle . I stepped up my speed and felt the thrill of the wind against my face the flashing ice beneath my feet. I came to an abrupt stop by slanting my skates perpendicular to my forward progress cascading a fusillade of ice particles from beneath the blades. Ah that felt good. I started out backwards this time and picked up my speed. Faster faster. I approached the outer circle of slower skaters and attempted to redirect my skates back toward the middle. I was going too fast and failed to make the adjustment narrowly avoiding the slower skaters as I shot through their ranks and sprawled into a snow bank. Everything hurt as I lay there. Oh the ignominy Gladys skated up to me. Trouble dear For our next venture I suggested something a bit less vigorous. We were now back home exiting the car. Gladys remember how much fun it was to build a snowman We can do that. We ll have the best snowman on the block. Of course we will dear. Was I being patronized Naw no way. I began to roll a small snowball into the packed snow. Gladys watched. The snowball grew quickly until I could roll it no more. Care to help me here dear. I seem to have locked up. You re doing fine dear. Maybe you should think smaller. I began a second roll destined to be the snowman s torso. I stopped rolling when I could no longer move the accrued segment. Now to lift it onto the bottom section. I couldn t. Gladys a little help here. Neither of us could lift it. Maybe it needs to be smaller said Gladys. I started another snowball roll something more suitable to our lifting potential. The snowman as tradition dictates needs three segments--a lower body an upper body and a head. Yet when our snowman was completed the upper body was the size of a basketball and the head the size of a softball--the best we could manage hardly the prize-winning masterpiece I had imagined. We didn t bother to complete the snowman the eyes nose pipe hat--all that. Rather I hacked it apart with a shovel and ran a snow blower over the whole affair before the neighbors could notice our paltry effort. Plenty of snow remained in our front yard. Gladys I said. Build up your arsenal of snowballs. What We re going to have us a snowball fight. Just a gentle confrontation. You at one end of the yard me at the other. C mon. It ll be fun. Yes dear. Fun. The snow was fluffy but not hard to pack. We faced each other our cache of snowballs at our feet. She threw first an anemic throw that barely reached my feet. Hah I commented you are outmanned my dear. I flung a loosely packed snowball as hard as I could. I covered but half the distance between us. Maybe we need to get closer she suggested. Youths from across the street had observed our battle scene. Hey they yelled a snowball fight. Redirecting my attention to them I lobbed several snowballs toward them which barely made it across the street way short of my target. Soon snow missiles reined upon me from across the road--only on me not my wife. I raised my hands in resignation feeling the sting of the bombardment my body struck many times. Oh sorry Mr. Lawson said one of the youths. 9 I sat. Don t worry about it Jerry. I invited it. Gladys walked over to me. The kids across the street had left. Had enough One more thing I said. Help me up. I led her to a part of the lawn that still was immune to the snowman and snowball activities--a section of snow that remained unmarred still intact. Snow angels I said clutching at one last memento of winter s past. What could possibly go wrong with making snow angels I flopped down on my back into the virgin snow arms stretched out to the side. I wind-milled my arms just as I had as a very young kid. I lay there inert. Snow had crept down my neck and into the small of my back. I cringed. Help me up Gladys dear if you would please. She did. What s wrong she asked. Nothing. Everything is fine. I think we should go inside now. I didn t tell her about the snow that had found its way down the back of my neck and now sent shivers down my spine. We went back into the house and changed into dry clothes comfortable clothes. We sat side by side in a love seat before the large picture window drapes still drawn wide a warm blanket covering our laps. Each of us held a glass of chardonnay and nibbled popcorn from a bowl set between us. Outside light fluffy snow was falling. A pretty sight don t you think dear I said. Lovely she said. Especially from this side of the window don t you think Yes George. Submissions We Accept Fiction Non-Fiction Creative Non-Fiction Main Stream Horror Humor Fantasy Science Fiction Young Adult Be sure to check the submission and theme requirements at We Don t accept Stream-of-Consciousness Fan Fiction Erotica Children s Literature Anything overly religious or political submissions 10 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger Karen Johnstone - Karen was born in Lancashire and moved to London after qualifying in Art and Design. In her spare time she enjoys walking in the country reading going to Theater and Cinema and discovering new writers and Literature. She loves the spoken word and experimenting with words. Year End The end of the year Clearly in sight I see puddles of gold Mirrors of light The Indian Summer Reflected bright Trees shed their treasure Red purple and gold Trashing the landscape Winter s got hold Trees are bare Remnants are there Of Autumn past Winter bites fast Adorning the trees In its solemn duty Glistening white magical beauty 11 Pilcrow & Dagger Swag 8GB USB drive swivel USB 2.0 flash drive 17.95 Pilcrow & Dagger watch 49.95 Planner 53.95 Pilcrow & Dagger T-Shirt 24.95 Longsleeved T- Shirt 24.95 Pilcrow & Dagger Hoodie 43.95 To see more really cool Pilcrow & Dagger stuff Tote Bag 20.95 Go To Pilcrow & Dagger Mugs 15.95 swag Or pilcrow_dagger Get yours today 12 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger Vanessa Rodriguez - Vanessa Rodriguez is a freelance writer primarily in Young Adult fiction but she also writes other genres. She s a member of the Burbank Wednesday Night Writers. Her latest project is a young adult contemporary thriller that she co-authors with a fellow young adult writer. Vanessa currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters. Winter Snow and Ice I kicked at a pile of snow with the toe of my navy blue boot watching the feathery white flakes scatter across the porch. Looking out at the houses that lined my street the driveways trees cars and roofs were iced in white making it hard to imagine that the grass would be green again in three months. My lawn was covered in a blanket of white as fresh snow continued to float down from the sky. This was snow angel snow -- soft pillowy and perfect for flapping your arms and legs about as the melting flakes soaked into the back of your jeans and coat. Not the dense kind that could be molded into snowballs which Rayne s sad little snowman was a testament to. Winter Hey Winter watch me Rayne called his skinny 5-year-old body stuffed into a puffy black snowsuit that resembled the Michelin Man. A smile touched my lips as my baby brother fell into a snow bank sending a dusting of white specks into the air. He popped his head up from the mound of snow and shook the flakes off his bright blue fleece beanie. I stuffed my mittened hands into the pockets of my gray Peacoat and let out a long exhale watching my breath come out in a cloud of white steam. January was usually the bitter cold start of winter which required layers upon layers of sweaters long underwear and a scarf beneath a heavy winter coat but due to weather conditions winter break had been extended and Rayne had practically dragged me and my jacket out the front door wearing little more than a long sleeve shirt. What was I supposed to do for the next few days snowed in up to my eyeballs Marcus -- Mom tsked at me every time I didn t call him Dad -- would be working from home and after seeing me veg out in front of the TV for an hour he d find some odd job for me to do around the house like alphabetizing the Blu-rays or rotating the canned goods in the pantry by expiration date. No thank you. I didn t think I could spend another day cooped up in the house with Mom either as she flounced from room to room in a thin lace-trimmed nightgown a lipstick marked coffee mug in one hand. For the love of all things holy put on some clothes. It s January. Even as a child -- man could she embarrass me and still did -- I could remember how Mom s carefree way about her sexuality made people uncomfortable. My friends thought she was cool while boys in my class would tell me how hot she was like it was a compliment or something. It 13 made me want to melt into the shadows. I won t even go into how other parents reacted. I once asked her how she came up with Rayne and Winter as our names -- big mistake. I will never ask my mother anything that revolves around her eccentric choices. Like she was deciding between the fish and chips or shrimp platter at King s Fish Fry she nonchalantly replied our names were reminders of our conceptions. Without skipping a beat she then went into horrific detail for like a second before I cut her off. Yuck Scarred for life. I wished I could go back to school tomorrow. The idea of walking to school in a blizzard was much more appealing than making up a few snow days at the end of my senior year during June in Indiana. I have one word. Humidity. Especially when you sat behind Carter Briggs in English -- Miss Kribble was a huge fan of the alphabetical seating chart -- who lacked the ability to appropriately camouflage his masculine scent. I wrinkled my nose -- I could smell the B.O. already. You know your face might actually freeze that way. I turned in the direction of the voice to find Ben my neighbor standing on his porch his hands stuffed into the pockets of his ski jacket. His thick dark hair neatly framed his face like it normally did when he didn t take the time to mess it up with gel like most of the guys at school. Only if I m lucky I shot back before returning my gaze to Rayne. Ben chuckled and then joined me in watching my brother try to catch snowflakes on his tongue. I glanced at my neighbor out of the corner of my eye. Hey I m sorry about Janie I heard the day before winter break started. Ben shrugged. It s no big deal. He continued to look out over the lawn as I studied his profile. It was over a long time ago. I opened my mouth to speak but it kind of hung open stupidly. I d known Ben a long time since we were kids we d spent summers playing in the yard as small children and went to elementary middle and high school together. We were really good friends - at least I thought we were. What do you mean I thought you really liked her. I do Ben said. He didn t look at me. I did. I tried to break up with her back in November - What Why didn t you tell me... Ben turned and stared at me. You d just started seeing Steven and... He shrugged. So. We re friends. I frowned. Why hadn t he told me Geez Ben you guys dated for like a year. That s a big deal. That s like a decade in teen years. Ben s blue eyes stayed on mine a moment before he turned back to witness Rayne dive into another snowdrift. I don t know. Maybe you re right. Janie did seem surprised by it. And then she did that girl thing... I raised an eyebrow at him. What girl thing Ben frowned. She started...crying. A small smile crept into the corner of my mouth. You re such a dick. I didn t think Ben could frown more than he had but the deep crease in the center of his brow looked like it was in steep competition with the turned down corners of his mouth. Really But...I didn t break up with her. I I said I d try to work it out -- I squeezed my lips together trying to suppress my smile but it wasn t working -- I was sure I was making some kind of weird face. For as long as I d known Ben he d always had a very cool and relaxed demeanor about himself. So watching him stumble as he tried to defend his decision to end it with Janie was a side of him I barely knew. And it was funny. Bringing my gloved hands up to my mouth I pretended to blow on them but my quiet laughter got in 14 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger the way of anything that resembled that. By the time Ben figured out I was messing with him I was almost choking on my own laughter. He returned to watching Rayne his expression still and serious. You re going to melt the snow with all that steam you re letting off I said biting my lip to keep any giggles from escaping. No response. I rolled my eyes. Guys were so much more sensitive than girls. I cleared my throat and said Janie broke up with you before you could do it to her again huh Isn t she finishing a semester early and going to DePauw in the spring Ben sighed. Yep. I m sorry I whispered under my breath. As if Ben heard me he replied Whatever. The last month was just a show anyway. The screen door creaked open behind me and Mom poked her head out into the January air wearing her usual nightgown plus a pair of fleece-lined boots. Yep those boots should keep the rest of you warm. I loved my mother but I just wanted her to be...normal. Why couldn t she come to open house night and do her grocery shopping like the rest of the moms in their mom-jeans and Go Cardinals sweatshirts Maybe it was cool that I could talk to her about anything - boys drugs alcohol and sex -- she didn t even flinch or bat an eye. But I didn t want to. I didn t even want to talk about it with my best friend Abby. And it didn t help that Mom talked about it making love as she called it as some beautiful art. It was embarrassing and awkward and stupid. Rayne baby come in for lunch Mom called leaning out the door seemingly unaffected by the cold. I guess those boots were working. Hey Ben she said spotting our neighbor standing on his porch. She sidestepped the screen door letting the old wood frame smack against the house knocking a few icicles off the gutters. Ben waved. A small icy breeze blew across our porch ruffling Mom s night gown so that it pressed against the curves of her body. Heat crept into my cheeks and burned my ears the chill in the air lost on me. I shifted back and forth on my feet as I looked at my snow covered boots hoping I blocked Ben s view of my half naked mother. I wanted to die. Rayne dashed up the front porch leaving a fury of flurries in his wake. I brushed my jacket off with my mittens but the soft white bits of frozen rain had already melted away. You know Winter isn t seeing that boy anymore Mom said. I closed my eyes and wondered if it was my turn to melt the snow off the porch my whole body felt on fire. She hadn t been fond of Steven. Truthfully Mom hadn t been fond of his mother Mrs. Burton after the woman snubbed her at the hardware store. C mon Mom I m hungry Rayne whined dancing around me and tugging our mother towards the door. Say hello to your mother for me Mom called to Ben as my brother dragged her into the house. I had never been more thankful to hear that wrenched door slam in my life. Ben and I stood on our porches the sound of winter so soft I could hear the snowflakes settle onto each other as they drifted down to the ground. You know my mom loves your mom I said my eyes still glued to my boots. That was an understatement. Mom loved the Thortons. She wanted Ben and me to have little Thorton babies. And Mrs. Thorton was the only one that got my mother. Maybe that s why I considered Ben to be such a good friend not because we d been neighbors all our lives but because he didn t act the way everyone else did around my mom. I guess that s why it hurt that he hadn t told me about his breakup with Janie. Knowing her she probably made him swear not to tell anyone about it so she could save face but I thought he trusted me. I wouldn t have told anyone. 15 I d crushed on Ben half of my eighth grade year and into the summer before we started high school hoping he d realize it and kiss me. But it never happened. And then he started dating Angela Castro when we went back to school who I knew would be totally wrong for him. By the time they d broken up my ego had been wounded and I was too stubborn to give him a second chance not that he knew he had a first one. Out of all of Ben s ex-girlfriends I liked Janie best. It d been so long since I d had that silly crush I wasn t even jealous. Much. It was more like this feeling of the person in front of you in the lunch line taking the last slice of pizza and not offering to share it with you. Hey Winter. I turned in time to meet face-to-face with a snowball its soft fluff exploding into winter dust as it made contact with my head. White flakes peppered my dark eyelashes and fell onto my shoulders as the snow found its way down the back of my neck and into my jacket. I could feel the snow melt while it ran down my burning skin no longer chilled by the icy temperatures. Did he really just do that I blinked the snowflakes from my eyes and stared at Ben in disbelief. I m going to kill you I said. Without a word Ben jumped over the rail of his porch and took off down the narrow space between our homes. You re lucky that snow was soft I bounded off my porch and after him stepping in his fresh prints that dotted the deep snow that separated our properties. The drifts were deep above my knees and I could barely make out his silhouette ahead of me in the spray of snow he d left behind. The icy air filled my lungs with each exhale producing a white cloud from my mouth like a smoking dragon as my breathing became heavy with exertion. My throat burned and my thin shirt beneath my coat stuck to my back from the cold film of sweat that had developed on my run from the front of the house. Boy I m out of shape. 16 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger I stopped and rested my hands on my knees - Ben was nowhere in sight. All the houses on our side of the street had long back lots that looked like an open field until it reached the woods at the end of the property line. Just like us our neighbors had oversized garages that were really large metal barns that could easily store three or four cars. I scanned the white wasteland before searching for movement. A snowball plopped down in front of me half of it disappearing in the air before it reached my feet. For someone who plays sports that require throwing balls you have sucky aim I called. Ben poked his head out around the corner of the barn. I didn t miss the first time. A huge grin spread across my face and I broke into a sprint towards the end of the garage trying to stay in the path my neighbor had made for me. Ben threw another snowball at me before he took off down the side of the building s metal frame but it fell apart above me and rained down on my head. I laughed as I rounded the corner and watched Ben stumble into a snow drift but he was quick and picked himself up before I could catch him. The wind burned my cheeks and I was sure my hair was a tangled mess of dark locks plastered to my head. But I didn t care I was having more fun than I had opening gifts Christmas morning -- and that s my favorite holiday. I was out of breath and started to slow down when Ben glanced over his shoulder and lost his footing. The snow had been shoveled to the side in the space between our massive garages and the wind seemed to whip down the large metal corridor that our neighboring buildings created. Ben reached his arms out to balance himself but his feet slipped out from under him leaving him sprawled on his back on the ground. Are you okay I asked stopping a few feet away. Yeah. He winced. But I think I broke my ass. I giggled and Ben shot me a dirty look. He was lying on a patch of ice that had frozen over from the water than had run off the gutters. Let me help you up I said extending my hand. No stay over there or you ll slip. This whole side is ice. He rolled to his side and struggled to get up on his feet. Up close I could see how slick and shiny the thin layer of ice was beneath the sprinkling of fresh snow. If I had been the one to take the fall on the ice I doubt I would ve been able to get up. Mom Rayne and Marcus -- err uh Dad -- would ve had to search for me and then defrost me. Ben managed to get up on his feet but he looked awkward trying to keep balance like one of those rat-looking dogs that didn t know how to move once their owners dressed them in those ridiculous winter sweaters. I bit my lip to keep from laughing but I couldn t keep the smile off my face. Would you stop trying to be a guy and just give me your hand Ben stood still silent like he d become a part of the frozen ground. The only sound that interrupted the quiet was our heavy breaths that slowed until our inhale and exhale matched. I would if I could Ben finally said. If I move I m going to fall. Ha. I told you so. Ben rolled his eyes. Whatever. Are you going to help me or not Oh now you want my help - Forget it Winter Ben said shifting his weight. I ll just fall and break my neck. Your conscience. Ughhh boys. I reached out my hand but there was a good two feet between us. Ben shuffled his feet across the ice towards me the worn bottoms of his Vans working against him. Who wears Vans in three feet of snow My impatience got the better of me and I placed one foot onto the glassy surface between us. Bad move. My boot slid across the ice until I was mid-split panic setting in I grabbed Ben s sleeve and he leaned back under my weight. We became a flailing mess of arms and legs struggling to stay upright before my feet slid out from under me and our bodies hit the ice. Damn that s gonna leave a bruise. Ben groaned as half his body came into contact with the frozen ground and I winced as the other half of him fell on top of me. Are you okay Ben asked. I nodded even though I could feel the slow burn of pain still receding from my shoulder and hip. Good thing you broke my fall. He grinned his blue eyes sparkling. If he hadn t been crushing my arm beneath his body I d have smacked him but instead I replied No wonder Janie broke up with you. Ouch. Low blow. Ben feigned hurt which made me laugh. It felt good to laugh to laugh like I used to with Ben when we hung out every day. Then he smiled and we were both laughing. The kind of laughing that you don t remember what you were laughing about but you can t stop your eyes water and you just feel...happy. And then Ben touched my face and wiped away an escaped tear. I stopped laughing -- I may have stopped breathing too. His smile faded but something in his eyes seemed to change like the color had deepened and it could swallow me whole if I fell in yet they were the same blue I knew. I could hear his breath even and slow and I could hear my heart pound until it drowned out my own breath perhaps I had stopped breathing. The back of my jeans felt damp where my legs covered the ice but I couldn t feel the cold. I felt something I hadn t felt in years -- I wanted Ben to kiss me. The young girl that I d left behind in eighth grade wiggled her toes and stretched her arms bringing butterflies whose wings tickled the inside of my stomach and nervousness that caused my body to tremble. Ben s eyes flickered to my lips and then met my eyes again. You must be cold he said 17 his breath warm across my numb skin. He pulled himself off of me and the cold air attacked the right side of my body he d been keeping warm. Kneeling on the ice Ben grabbed my hands and pulled me to a sitting position. We crawled to the snow bank and climbed over the shoveled pile of snow dense and crunchy beneath our hands and knees. My heart sank. It was Angela Castro and the first day of school all over again. I d buried the feelings I d had for Ben and now they pulled at my insides more fiercely than I thought possible. I bit back the disappointment and grabbed his hand when he offered to help me over the last mound of snow. Before both my boots sank down on the other side of the slope Ben pulled me towards him and his lips brushed against mine. Surprised my body tensed and I imagined I looked like a petrified soldier frozen before a battlefield. Not a good look. His soft warm lips moving against mine brought me back and I relaxed against him the space between us obscured from the cold. Ben touched the side of my face his hand unusually warm against my windchilled skin despite not wearing gloves. Every place our bodies pressed against each other felt like a summery blast of heat melting the winter away. I could taste the sweet cinnamon toothpaste that lingered on his breath that reminded me of churros that were sold at the carnival during the summer. Ben pulled away and rested his forehead against mine. I ve wanted to do that for a while now. My eyes closed I smiled. You re not the only one. Upcoming Events February 11 2015 Submission window opens for May June issue. March 1 2015 Second issue of Pilcrow & Dagger is published. March 1 2015 Submissions for April issue close. March 7 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger will be at the Augusta Literary Festival Augusta GA. March 22 2015 July issue submissions open. April 15 2015 May June submissions close. April 15 2015 April issue published. We will accept submissions for the May June issue in person at the Augusta Literary Festival Anyone interested must bring a printed copy of their short story essay or poem. All submission guidelines must be followed Times New Roman size 12 font one space after closing punctuation. Poems must not be longer than one page and should be double-spaced. A cover sheet with the author s name one paragraph biography email address and phone number must be included. Please note there is no guarantee or promise that works submitted during this event will be chosen for publication. 18 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger Fiona Hopper - Fiona has dabbled in creative writing for a few years now with short stories poetry etc. She is a member of both Creative Writers of Southland in New Zealand and Brisbane Writers Group. She has a Diploma in Creative Writing with the NZ Institute of Business Writing (with distinction) and has had poetry published in two community publications. She is keen to write a screen play. Gingerbread Man (or 50 Shades of Ginger) Bite me go on bite me Teased the little man of brown. His buttons looked enticing but not so much his frown. She s enough to melt my icing he suggested with a wink. You re not wearing any trousers and you really should I think Well drizzle me with icing do what you want with me I m a spicy little gentleman just taste me and you ll see. We could spend the night together count my buttons if you like... I m all the things a girl could want I m sweet I m rich I m bright. Well that s quite true I told him. I stared at him deadpan. But I m wanting something more than just a cookie-cutter man. 19 Kathleen Parrish - After 40 plus years as a nuclear engineer Kathleen is finally following her first passion - writing about the grand scheme of things. She started her engineering career after graduating from Kansas State University in 74 with a B.S. in nuclear engineering and a new husband (her high school sweetheart) waiting for her in Kansas City. She has two grown sons and she is now transitioning into a second career as a full time writer and currently serves as a co-organizer for the Writers Round Table critique group in Phoenix Arizona. Roman Holiday I scrolled through the checklist on my cell phone one more time before heading to the security checkpoint at John F. Kennedy International Airport en route to my first nuclear conference in Rome Italy. I had never been to Rome or even Europe for that matter. Two weeks ago I didn t even have a passport. Now my virgin passport itinerary makeup hairbrush credit cards and the inevitable stash of must have medication filled my purse to bulging. My conference materials and an oversized hardback novel fought for space in the laptop case rolling along at my heels. My suitcase and a week s worth of hastily purchased traveler s clothes lay somewhere in the belly of the plane. I tucked the cell phone away. I didn t want to be here. My husband Robert should have been with me on this trip. Other members of the conference team were bringing their spouses. However we hadn t planned on or budgeted for a trip to Europe. As a conference speaker my expenses were covered but the costs for Robert to accompany me and the lost income from his time off from work would have totaled over 3000. My going alone made eminent sense and we were sensible people. Still I d done years of solo business travel without this 20 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger odd hollow feeling. Perhaps the conference was simply too close to the holidays. The shopping wasn t even started the house wasn t ready for guests and the pile of unfinished work awaiting my return was dismal. Perhaps just this once I didn t want to be sensible. My plan had been to fly out of Phoenix International on Monday November 2 arrive in Rome and attend the pre-meeting on Tuesday do the conference on Wednesday and Thursday and fly back to Arizona on Friday. Get in get out and get it over with. My plan did not survive the first phone call from Tom Laubaum our conference manager. It won t do Kath. Fly in that late you ll still be jet lagged on Wednesday. Rome is ten hours ahead of Arizona and changing time zones will be harder for you than the rest of us. Most of the team would start their trip from the east coast. I can sleep on the plane I lied. I never sleep on planes and my stomach clenched at the thought of a night flight over the Atlantic. You need to fly on Friday October th 30 he insisted Phoenix to John F. Kennedy in New York then JFK to FCO the international airport in Rome. We ll arrive mid-morning on Saturday and Mel has three days of team building activities scheduled. He ll expect you to be there. Mel Arey was our industry chairman and the conference team leader. Why JFK I was curious. routed all my connecting flights through Atlanta. Because most of us are on the Friday afternoon flight from JFK to Rome. Mel wants everyone on that flight. He s arranged for minivans to meet us at the airport in Rome. Tom gave me the connecting flight number and time. Got your passport Not yet I admitted. Well get it as fast as you can he advised. You ve only got six weeks and you can t book a hotel room without it. That I had not realized and panic ensued. I found the passport application online and managed to fast track everything needed to get it on time. The panic now settled down to a roiling anxiety. Bad enough to be the only single woman travelling in our group our European colleagues expected a presentation team in formal business wear representing the best of America s nuclear professionals. Instead they d be getting a short overweight woman with only one engineering degree travel anxiety issues and nothing suitable to wear. I found two plus sized tailored business suits at one of the larger malls. My passport came through and I faxed the necessary pages to the Marriott Grand Flora in Rome. I would fly out of Phoenix at 6 15 am on Friday October 30 with the same connecting flight from John F. Kennedy to Rome as most of the team. Like it or not I was going on this trip. It took me three hours to pack the night before my flight instead of the usual thirty minutes too much dithering over what to take. I finally moved the suitcase from our bedroom to the dining room table to avoid keeping Robert up past midnight. Maximus our miniature dachshund spent the evening staring reproachfully at me. Maxi hates it when I travel and knows my packing routine that big red suitcase meant at least a week s absence on my part. Packing finally done I let him curl up next to me on the bed by way of apology for my imminent desertion and spent the next three hours trying to get some sleep. Robert never stirred. My well-rested husband delivered me to Terminal 3 at Sky Harbor at 4 00 am Friday morning. He could tell I was off my game and insisted of a last minute review of my checklist before we left the house laptop cell phone camera and cables adaptors for European power outlets passport with extra copies in my purse laptop case and luggage medication and emergency contact numbers for the conference team. He d made a copy of that last item for himself just in case. Next time you re getting your passport and coming with me. I don t care if we have to charge the tickets I said fiercely. Robert finally caught on. To him this was simply another of my business trips. Travel went with my job and I usually relished it. This time he could see it was a miserable chore. Robert opened the trunk and set my suitcase and laptop case on the curb. We ll do something special when you get back okay I nodded and hugged him and he gave me a thorough goodbye kiss that left me blushing as I walked into the nearly empty terminal. The blush faded by the time I reached the Delta ticket counter and handed over my e-ticket and passport. Vacation The ticket agent asked noting my destination as she weighed and labelled my suitcase. Business I said Just business this time. The quick check-in left me with extra time and a book at Hudson Booksellers caught my eye. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Seventeen hours of flight time and a three-hour layover at JFK lay 21 ahead. I bought the book wedged it into my laptop case and headed for the gate. Tom Laubaum and his wife Nikki met up with me at the international gate at JFK. I d met Nikki when she accompanied Tom to other conferences. Both were dressed casually for warmth and comfort and excited about this trip. Nikki showed me a paperback labelled Pocket Rome. It s a travel guide by Rick Steves she explained. He s great. We used his travel guides in London and Paris when the last two conferences were held there. I m using this one to plan our tours in Rome. Nikki s enthusiasm was a bit unnerving. You packed walking shoes I nodded. There would I supposed be time for a tour. I spotted Mel Arey who introduced me to his wife Kathy. Behind them came Tony Nowinowski our project office manager and his wife Dee. Like Nikki I d met Dee at other conferences. We d even explored the Pike Place Market in Seattle together at one of the few conferences where Robert had accompanied me. Everyone else in the group was excited about our upcoming flight and destination. None of them I thought grumpily had been up at 3 00 am to make an early morning flight. Rothfuss novel kept me awake most of the flight that and the solitude of a night flight over the Atlantic. The plane was halfempty and I had an entire row myself. Around midnight I moved to the window seat and peered into the darkness below. The lights of several cargo ships were visible through the thin whisper of clouds lit from above in the moon s glow. The ocean itself was a black mystery roiling beneath to the speed of our passage. I sat there my face pressed against the cold window and listened to the steady comforting hum of the engines until a flight attendant stopped by with an offer of coffee. We set down at FCO Rome s Fiumicino International Airport at 9 30 am on Saturday. I made it through customs collected my luggage and piled into the waiting mini-vans with the rest of the team and their spouses. I d now been up for 18 hours with barely three hours sleep. The Grand Flora Hotel was only 30 minutes away. I would collapse as soon as we got to the hotel and I made it through check-in and dragged body laptop and luggage up to my room. At least that was the plan. Our ride ended atop a massive hill that abutted the sprawling garden estate of the Borghese Museum. There the Marriott Grand Flora held court like some Grande Dame of the past century dominating the crest of the Via Veneto one of the most famous streets in Rome. I stared up at the neoclassic pink and white edifice and then looked across the road at the looming red brick wall perhaps 40 feet in height and all of 10 feet thick. Huge arches opened along its massive length allowing modern sports cars to pass below. Beyond the wall lay the garden estate that surrounded the Borghese Museum. According to Nikki the Borghese would be our first tour in the morning. We piled out of The Aurellian Wall and the Porta Pinciana Gate the vans in a bit of a daze. Mel tipped our drivers generously and one of them insisted on moving my suitcase to the hotel s entrance. I nodded at the wall. How old 22 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger The driver smiled pleased at my interest. The Aurelian Wall It was built in the third century but the road itself goes back before the time of the Christ. He pointed to one of the arches. That s the Porta Pinciana the gate that welcomed travelers back into ancient Rome. I stared at the old Roman wall reluctantly impressed. And the hotel The Lady Perhaps one hundred years. He gestured toward its upper level. There is no finer view. From the terrace along the restaurant You can see the Tiber and the Basilica. He rolled my suitcase into the lobby and refused an additional tip. I joined the conference team at the registration desk and thought briefly about heading up to the top level to check out that view before collapsing in my room like a dead woman. Mel however had other plans. After check-in he granted us a mere 30 minutes to settle into our rooms before reporting to the lobby. My room was actually a small suite with a tiled foyer opening into a bedroom on the left an elegant bathroom straight ahead and a wide mirrored closet on the right. The rich wood furniture was precisely fitted to the suite s small dimensions and the overall effect was warm and inviting. I unpacked and managed a quick shower before changing into fresh casual clothes and those sturdy walking shoes and reluctantly headed back down. Once everyone returned to the lobby and Mel eyed us like a general reviewing his troops. We re going to take a walk and grab some lunch along the way he announced then we re going to walk about three more miles. It will help us switch to local time. No one groaned quite. First stop is the Spanish Stairs. After that the Trevi Fountain the Pantheon and Mel waved his hands a bit maniacally and grinned. Other stuff He nodded to the Laubaums. Nikki s our tour guide Nikki dutifully raised her copy of Pocket Rome and at the end of our walk there s a little surprise. I quickly discovered why we needed those sturdy walking shoes. Most of the older streets and sidewalks in Rome are made of a dark volcanic rock carved into sharp-edged cube-shaped cobblestones and set just far enough apart to snag a dress heel or twist an ankle. I could easily tell the local women from the tourists they were the slim agile females navigating the cobblestones with surreal ease in 4 inch spiked heels no less Few of them smiled though navigation took every scrap of their attention. I studied my comfortable leather Nikes and found my mood lifting. I was in Rome and (according to Nikki) headed for the Trinita dei Monti Church and the sprawling Spanish Stairs immortalized in Alfred Bester s classic novel The Stars My Destination. With friendly familiar people. In sensible shoes no less. We reached the Stairs right before noon having stopped for Panini s and cold drinks along the way. The late morning sun flooded the plaza below us with light. To the west the Tiber River flowed along the borders of the old city passing smoothly under the massive arches of the Holy Angel Bridge sparkling under a vivid blue sky. Farther west St. Peter s Basilica rose above the walls surrounding Vatican City its great dome a rich pale grey. To the south I could glimpse the ruins of the Roman Forum the Colosseum and Constantine s Arch. I turned to Mel who was grinning like a kid. So. Tours I gestured toward the distance Colosseum. Oh yeah. He pointed back toward the hotel. We have tickets for the Borghese Museum right after breakfast. Breakfast I recalled had been included in our room contracts. It s only a short walk from the hotel he added. After lunch we ll head for the Colosseum and the Forum. There s a metro station near the hotel that ll take us 23 The artists plaza atop the Spanish Stairs there. Mel looked toward the church that held court above the Stairs. You might want some souvenirs. I followed his gaze to the street vendors who clustered before the church and the artwork on display. Gicl e canvas offerings and watercolor prints abounded and Mel s wife Kathy was already exploring the offerings. I moved toward some prints matted signed and ready for framing of the glorious vistas spread out before us. Sidling closer I gestured to the artist for permission to browse and pointed at a large watercolor of St. Peter s Basilica gleaming in the sun above the Tiber River. Thirty euros Senora. Kathy heard caught my eye and frowned. Thirty euros was a lot. I smiled at the artist and picked up a smaller print of the Spanish Stairs instead. Ten euros. I shook my head but set it next to the larger print. Next came a small print of the Pantheon. The artist said nothing only waited. Finally I picked up a small print of the Colosseum added it to the others and looked inquiringly at him. Sixty euros Senora. I sighed and began to walk away. Forty euros I turned back and rummaged in my purse for the envelope with my personal funds. I thrust forty euros into his hands and he bagged my purchases and passed them over. We smiled at each other in perfect understanding. Speaking Italian was easier than I d thought. Kathy peeked into the bag as we moved to join the others. Forty euros I do any street shopping you re coming with me The rest of our group began making its way down the Stairs. Mel looked back saw my package and gave a thumbs up. Kathy bounded ahead. I followed a bit more cautiously my steps quickening. The Trevi Fountain waited down there somewhere and the Pantheon and doubtless more ... stuff as Mel would say. Across the Tiber gleamed the dome of the Basilica. Below me lay the Spanish Stairs and more wonders within walking distance. I moved determinedly down the crowded stairs. Rome in all her glory awaited and that old Seals and Croft classic was true. We may never pass this way again. So don t waste it. At the end of our walk and the visual feast of famous statues buildings fountains and plazas we finally reached Mel s surprise the minivans waiting to haul our exhausted thighs and calves back up the Via Veneto to the Grand Flora Hotel. We ate together that night at a casual restaurant within a short walk of the Grand Flora and Tony Nowinowski s wife Dee introduced me to limoncellos by way of dessert and therapy for sore tired feet. The wait staff insisted on bringing us a round of traditional antipasto to start - cheeses prosciutto marinated mushrooms and olives. This was followed by warm fresh baked breads grilled steaks and pork chops and several wonderful pasta dishes all served family style. I considered the miles I d walked today and the tour planned for tomorrow and bid my diet a firm farewell for the duration. I studied the spousal contingent as I sampled the sweet lemon flavored drink. That five mile walk with this crew had done much to break down the sense of isolation I d felt traveling solo. Nikki was a short brunette like me (only skinnier) and Kathy an athletic brunette of medium height but Dee was a tall blonde slender woman 24 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger whose joie de vivre was highly contagious. All three had made a real effort to ensure I didn t feel left out. The whole group passed our cameras around and compared our digital bounty collected in the course of the day s walk judging from the pictures our first day s tour was a major success. The trick Dee said tapping her glass against mine is to have a great time in Rome take lots of pics to make Robert seriously jealous and get his passport ordered early next year so he won t have an excuse to beg off. Nikki and Kathy nodded in unison. We pay our share of travel expenses Nikki said but coming along on these conferences is our reward for putting up with all the guys other business travel. She rolled her eyes toward the male spouses and wrinkled her nose. Robert just needs a bit of prodding and you need to have a good time Next year we re in Barcelona. All three women looked at me expectantly. I nodded a little embarrassed to be read so easily. Thank you. We ll be there. I looked down at my camera but my heart was lighter now that I had something to work toward. I d also managed to snap over 300 pictures in less than four hours. Of the two of us Robert is the better photographer but some of these were actually frame worthy. I emailed a few of them home that night and refrained from adding any subtext. The pictures spoke for themselves. The next morning Mel rousted us up in time for an early breakfast and the walk to the Borghese Museum. The garden walkways led us under tall trees and past weathered statues of ancient Romans most of them missing their heads but regal all the same. The Borghese itself was an imposing granite building filled with brilliant marble sculptures and paintings that gave vivid glimpses into the intricacies and politics of 15th century Renaissance Rome. The Cardinal Borghese had built his palatial home to serve as an art mecca of the Italian Renaissance and had filled it with the best statuary and paintings the Pope s largesse and connivery could acquire. Dee and I spent some time staring at the magnificent marble sculpture La Dea Paolina Bonaparte a life-sized rendition of a wealthy young noblewoman reclining on a cushioned bench. Gracefully undraped in a portrayal of Venus she held the apple awarded to her by Paris whose decision to take a bribe had destroyed ancient Troy. Nice boobs I finally commented but she obviously didn t do her Pilates. Dee turned beet red trying to strangle the laughter that threatened to erupt in the crowded gallery. It wouldn t do to be thrown out of the Borghese That afternoon we took the metro system to the center of Old Rome and wandered through ruins of the Colosseum all that bloody history had weathered and aged into a vast serenity. It was an oddly peaceful place filled incongruously with grace notes of verdant grass and wild flowers. From the Colosseum we hiked the short distance to the Roman Forum and wandered through stone ruins bereft now of the bright paint and red tile roofs that had been a hallmark of the place in its prime. Dinner that night was at yet another traditional Italian restaurant near the Grand Flora. Once more the staff refused to allow us to order from the menu. Instead we were treated to a culinary adventure antipasto selections (again ) followed by a selection of fresh baked breads and an assortment of tender steaks and seasoned chicken accompanied by herbed pasta and other local dishes served family style. Near the end of the meal a young troubadour joined our table and proceeded to serenade the ladies. I got my own special song a gift from my husband who d been too sensible to join me on this little holiday. Tony raised his glass in a silent toast to the performer s valiant effort to perform Windy 25 by the Associations - a special song from our high school sweetheart days. Each of the ladies received a rose. I eyed Mel and Tony with suspicion but they only grinned and signaled for the staff to bring the desserts. The guys had ordered two of each served family style my introduction to tiramisu. I took the rose back to my room placed it in a water glass and set it on the nightstand in my room. It was 10 00 pm in Rome but only 12 00 pm in Arizona and the caffeine in the tiramisu had me wide awake. Robert answered on the first ring. Maxi misses you he admitted. Is he okay Guilt swamped me. I hadn t thought of Maxi or Robert for most of the day. I took him to the vet. No fever he lost his appetite and moped around a couple of days. The vet said he s fine though. He spends most of his time on my lap when I m home. This was news. Robert and Maxi normally just tolerated each other. I miss you I offered. The image of Robert and Maxi sitting huddled on the couch in our TV room made me smile. I miss you too. Got your pictures. Send me some more okay Our third and last day of sight-seeing began with everyone meeting in the lobby at 6 00 am passports in hand for a van ride to the gates of Vatican City and an early private tour of the Sistine Chapel. The docent who escorted us waited until we stood beneath Michelangelo s greatest work before gesturing to the Swiss Guard in charge who smiled and said No flash. The prohibition on photography had been rescinded. We spent the next 45 minutes lying on the floor like children taking pictures of the Chapel s ceiling and walls. Tony and I both needed a little help getting back on our feet The rest of the morning was a guided tour through the museums and galleries of the Vatican until we finally found ourselves 26 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger standing on the steps of Saint Peter s Basilica. I hadn t known that Michelangelo s famous Pieta held court in the first chapel inside the entrance so finding her there was a bit of a shock. So was the huge bulletproof acrylic panel placed there following the statue s restoration after an attack by a mentally disturbed man in 1972. We also discovered that the huge paintings inside the nave and side chapels were actually mosaics done in squares of glass so tiny they created the illusion of oil paintings. The Church had our docent explained learned from the centuries of soot that had built up in the Sistine Chapel before its latest restoration an effort that took 20 years (1979 1999). The mosaics could be cleaned and looked as vivid and new as when they d first been commissioned. We wandered through the massive structure marveling at its incredible artistry and detail until Dee suggested the whole group walk up over 300 feet of steps to the top of the great dome. At that point my sense of self-preservation kicked in. I caught a taxi back to the Grand Flora for hot soak and an early dinner and spent the evening reviewing my presentations for tomorrow s conference and sorting through the pictures I d taken these past three days. I hadn t known the world was this big or that I was still this young for that matter. I called Robert and caught him before his afternoon shift and we spent an hour talking like teenagers both of us wishing he were here. I tried to convey everything I d seen so far in words. It couldn t be done. Next year I ll come with you he promised. And we ll go to Rome on our own or with a tour. I would hold him to it. The conference itself passed in a blur but Mel and the rest of the team seemed happy with my presentations. Several attendees spoke with me during the evening s reception. Next year s conference Rome again They seemed to think I had influence in the choice of our next conference location. Barcelona I think nodding toward Mel and Tony But I will ask for Rome for the following year. You ll present again My second surprise of the evening Our European colleagues had liked my presentations enough to want me back. Thirty-five years of experience had apparently given me a certain gravitas or at least a reputation for knowing my stuff. Yes. If I m asked I ll be happy to present again. They smiled pleased. My flight home on Friday wasn t until noon local time so I joined the team for one last breakfast in the Grand Flora s terrace restaurant. Dee Kathy Nikki and I all hugged each other. Next year Nikki asked. I nodded and gave her another fierce hug. You bring the Pocket wherever. And you bring that husband of yours I nodded again and wiped at my eyes. I didn t want to go. I headed back to the airport with two other members of our team who had obligations waiting stateside. The rest were staying on for three more days at their own expense to see a bit more of Italy. At FCO I checked in passed through Customs and Security and bought some Murano jewelry for my niece in a duty free shop before boarding the flight that would take me home. I browsed through Rothfuss novel while I waited for the call to board. One fable told in the first chapter caught my attention. He stepped to the edge looked down and without a second thought he stepped out into the open air... So Taborlin fell but he did not despair. For he knew the name of the wind and so the wind obeyed him... I d known after all how to make this journey. One step at a time open to possibilities despite that reluctance to step out of my door and on to the road to new places and experiences. I would not fear the wind a second time. Issue Release Dates January 15 2015 Premier Issue March 1 2015 April 15 2015 May 30 2015 July 14 2015 August 28 2015 October 12 2015 November 26 2015 Be sure to get every issue Subscribe today at 27 Karen Goldner - A lifelong flat lander Karen was raised in Nebraska and lived in Indiana until at age 49 she packed up her car and drove around America for six months. Driving from Asheville North Carolina to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park following a late winter snow inspired the attached poem. Karen subsequently returned to flat places and now lives in Chicago. Driving To Bryson City How can there be so many shades of brown And gray and black and deepest green Such a narrow palate and yet so rich Against the white of fresh snow Colors named charcoal and taupe and olive and moss and hunter and liver and sienna and Tuscan brown Yet no color chart truly illustrates the hues And how could it Subtle shadowed ever changing The road is lined with stark trees And the mountains ahead hold forests of them From my windshield they are silhouettes of brownish gray and grayish brown Brightened only by the occasional stubborn leaf from last year whose rusty brown would seem plain in any other season Pines are the neighbors of the leafless towers Of green so dark that it fades to black instantly as the sun begins its drop behind the mountains And where is blue today She has been overcome with a thousand shades of gray and white Alternately threatening and teasing As I drive toward the Smokies And gaze ahead In simple and complete awe. 28 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger Matthew Barker - Matt is a recent graduate from the University of NebraskaLincoln with a bachelor s in English. While in college Matt decided on a whim to declare Creative Writing as his focus he now lives in his own little world and refuses to leave no matter much his loved ones beg. He currently works at a daycare in Lincoln where he does a myriad of tasks from changing diapers to writing the monthly newsletter. When Matt isn t working or writing he can usually be found reading comic books or arguing with his girlfriend over if Superman could take on the Incredible Hulk. Matt hopes to move from Nebraska in the near future to work on a Sci-Fi graphic novel with his brother. You Will Like Your New Life Charlie O Neill frantically flipped through the pages of the leather-bound selfhelp book that he found in his father s attic. His heart sped up from a mere pounding to what felt like a steady vibration. A hazy curtain of darkness slowly began to envelope his sight as his fingers skirted along the pages. You Will Like Your New Life the final chapter of the book read-- Charlie knew the title was meant to be a suggestion but it felt like a threat. He traced his index finger along the seam of the yellowed pages as he read. Hello again reader. Welcome back. Just get on with it Charlie replied to the book knowing full-well that it was in his own power not the book s to get on with it. First take a seat. You probably need it. Charlie sat on the edge of his father s unmade bed. The tired old springs gave a sad squeak as his weight sank into them. But remember Sit up Posture is everything in breathing. Instantly Charlie puffed out his chest to give more room to his diaphragm. Now the book continued with your nose inhale for one count...hold the breath for two...and slowly exhale (through your mouth) for four counts. Charlie closed his eyes and followed the book s instructions. Inhaling his nose was overpowered by the strong scent of gunpowder and blood. As he held the breath for two counts Charlie began to ponder why blood always smelled so coppery. Especially before it coagulated. Repeat this step for the next two minutes. Again Charlie complied. After the first two breaths his vision began to return. After the first minute the anxiety melted away from his troubled mind. After the second minute his heartbeat returned to a calm thumping. Now go for a walk drive and think about your bright future. Charlie sat up and snatched his father s keys from the top of his dresser. They were lying under a few shards of glass in front of the broken mirror. As Charlie walked out of the house he double-checked each room to make sure there were no other messes to clean up. The bathroom was clean save for some aftershave and a toothbrush by the sink the kitchen he hadn t even set foot in so he 29 skipped it and the living room was always a mess. But he didn t cause that one. The door to his father s gray Ford Tempo squawked as he opened it--he made a mental note to oil it sometime in the near future. He turned the key and the engine began to purr. Icy winter air escaped from the vents and slapped Charlie in the chest. He turned the air down and slowly coasted along the driveway ice cracking and breaking under his tires. Charlie turned north onto the highway. His headlights illuminated a road sign in reflective green and it read Nemaha 11 Miles Indian Cave State Park 6 Miles. He sped up to turn on his cruise control and opened the book in his lap. He tapped on the overhead light and looked down at the old antiqued words. As you walk drive think about the past and how you are physically walking driving away from it. An asterisk by it marked a footnote at the bottom of the page. Before he could read it however a grey blob streaked across the highway. Charlie s head snapped back up and he caught sight of a possum crawling along the pavement--he had to swerve to avoid hitting it. He returned to the footnote. Think about those who have hurt you betrayed you or lied to you. Think about that waiter who got your order wrong. Think about your boss at the Taco Shack and the raise he didn t give you. Think about the bloody lips and black eyes your father used to give you for killing your mother at birth. Charlie looked up to the road and let the book s helpful words digest. From a half-mile behind him another car s headlights reflected off of Charlie s rearview mirror and into his eyes. All of that is behind you now as you walk drive away. The bright lights in the mirror were soon joined by flashing blue and red. Charlie s breathing picked up again and he slowly pulled onto the shoulder with his hazards flipped on. He reached over to his 30 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger glove compartment and opened it as the squad car pulled up behind him. He grabbed his registration and a silver revolver--one he tucked under his seat and the other he lay on his lap with his driver s license. The book he set on the passenger seat. A shadow waddled from the flashing lights and crunched through some snow. License and registration please a portly sheriff said. Charlie watched his breath disappear into the cool air as he spoke. The sheriff was short with a full peppered beard and red cheeks. The thick parka he was wearing made him look like a brown marshmallow. Charlie handed him his papers and the sheriff disappeared back into his squad car. While the sheriff was gone Charlie looked down at his revolver trying to remember how many rounds were still in the cylinder. Four the self-help book said to Charlie. Four bullets. It only took two for your father. Should only take another two for this pig. After a few minutes the sheriff returned huffing and handed Charlie his license and registration. Well Mr. O Neill I pulled you over because it seems you ve got a busted tail-light. Is that so Charlie feigned concern. These old Fords do this all the time the sheriff said. He put his hands on the door and leaned towards Charlie who instantly smelled coffee on his breath. See my kid had an old Pinto that we bought him in a police auction--it used to belong to a drug mule back in the day--anyways he had this old Pinto y see and it was a pretty good car. Didn t do too well in the snow and you couldn t get the smell of dope outta it not matter how hard you made your kid scrub the interior but it got the job done. Anyways one day this old Pinto s right blinker just quits working. Well I like to think of myself as a handyman of sorts so I decided to check it out. So I get in there and take it apart and you know what I find Charlie shook his head. A goddamn pound of marijuana the old sheriff said laughter reverberating from his jowly cheeks. There was a bag of it jammed in between some wires. Must ve knocked something loose when my boy was cruisin in town. Charlie began to wonder how many times this sheriff had told this particular story and furthermore what it had to do with his own car. As if to answer him the laughing stopped and the sheriff s expression became a mixture of confusion and suspicion. Charlie slowly reached for the revolver and felt cold metal against his fingers. Now you wouldn t happen to be smugglin drugs up the river would you the sheriff asked deadpan. Charlie slowly shook his head as his hand grasped the rubber grip of his gun. Two shots the book said. It only takes two shots. I didn t think so the sheriff said as he started laughing hysterically. You don t look the type Charlie began laughing with the sheriff his hand inching away from the gun. Maybe I should go ahead and search though the sheriff gasped between laughs. Charlie began to feel light headed from faking his laughter for so long. Eventually the sheriff caught his breath and said Well I been keepin ya for too long. You should probably get where you re goin before the snow hits. And I m gettin a bit cold. Got a thermos of hot coffee callin my name. Well ya can t beat that Charlie said politely as he slid the little laminated card back in his pocket. Jus make sure you get that light fixed the sheriff said as he began waddling away and laughing. Next time I ll have to take it apart myself Charlie started the Ford up and slowly pulled onto the highway. Even though the sheriff drove in the opposite direction Charlie still stared at the red taillights until they disappeared behind another hilltop a mile away. He inhaled deeply through his nose and turned the radio on. He skimmed through a handful of stations until he found one that wasn t primarily static. A man s voice deep like a country singer s but gritty like a rock singer s bellowed through the speakers accompanied by a piano. The song which seemed to be called Excitable Boy was catchy and Charlie found himself tapping his thumbs against the steering wheel to the beat. The singer told a tale of the Excitable Boy and all of the strange things he did as a child. Charlie was really starting to enjoy it until the man began singing about the Excitable Boy raping and killing a girl. Then he decided he preferred silence. A sign illuminated in the dark and told Charlie he would arrive at his destination in a couple miles. He turned the Ford east and began whistling Yankee Doodle but stopped when he smelled something. Copper. For a moment it was summer and Charlie was watching the back of his father s hand fly towards his face. When the slap finally connected Charlie thought he could smell his own coppery blood but realized he was just daydreaming and the blood was actually his father s. The smell must have penetrated the duffle bags in the trunk and seeped in through the backseat. Charlie gently pressed against the gas and felt the engine purr a little more. He then looked back down at the book which had appeared in his lap. Now as you walk drive think about the present. Think about your breathing. Coming over another hill Charlie began to see fewer and fewer country homes until he stopped right in front of a wooden sign as big as his car. Indian Cave State Park it read in carved yellow letters. Charlie drove past and followed a barelypaved road that cut through a thick forested 31 area. He continued to breathe through his nose. Think about where you are now. Think about the progress you ve made so far. Think about reloading your revolver just in case that pig sheriff decides to come sniffing your way again. The copper smell had grown and with it Charlie s nausea. He glanced at his back seat expecting to see the body just lying out in the open but was surprised to see it empty save for his father s rusty old hacksaw. The Ford continued down the icy patch until it came to a fork the right led to the cave and the left to a boat ramp in the Missouri River. Charlie chose the latter and the road turned to gravel. He drove a few hundred feet and stopped at the top of the ramp which had frozen all the way to the river. He knew if he tried taking the Ford down it he wasn t getting it back. Charlie killed the engine and exited feeling the chilled air surrounding him. The wind had picked up slightly and the moon was completely hidden behind a black ceiling of clouds. He prodded the icy ramp with his foot and felt it crack under his weight. He walked back to the car and opened the trunk. Immediately the copper smell slapped Charlie in the face and he dropped to his knees gagging. Should ve double wrapped him he thought to himself as he rubbed the tears stinging his eyes. Charlie lifted himself up and pulled his shirt s collar over his nose. After hoisting both bags out of the trunk he searched the ground for any stones. He managed to find seven each a little smaller than his head. Six he slipped in the duffle bags and the last he dropped in his pocket. The ice proved to be slightly more slippery than Charlie had expected so he sat and scooted down the ramp with the bags in his lap. When he reached the river he prodded the ice again with his foot. A crack had formed between the ramp and the river exposing a murky vein of water. He slid out onto the ice dragging the bags with him 32 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger until he was positive that the current was beneath him. Charlie dropped to his knees and took the stone out of his pocket. He smashed it against the ice--whack shavings of ice chips flew in the air whack more shavings whack a deep crack sounded and a white fracture line appeared. After a few more hits the ice opened up to him. In one quick shove both bags slid onto the ice for a few feet before dropping down into the abyss. Think about your future. Charlie jammed his numbing hands into his pockets and watched as the ripples in the water slowly became the current of the river. What will you do to improve your future Join a club Start a hobby Move to Mexico The ice began to shift under Charlie s weight as he shuffled back to the ramp. He eventually made it and quickly stepped onto land practicing his Spanish by whispering it into the dead air. Padre. Muerto. Yo. Vida. How is your life better now than it was when you began your walk drive Charlie plopped back into the Ford and sniffed feeling his heart leap in his chest. The copper smell was gone. Remember these lessons and what you did to take control of your life. Brandishing a new smile Charlie turned the key and the engine greeted him with a dull hum. Clutching the leather book in his lap he peered out and saw the snow beginning to fall. Gentle white flakes floated down and disappeared into the murky river. Welcome to your new life Charlie. Rehan Qayoom - Rehan Qayoom is a poet editor and translator educated at Birkbeck College University of London. He has featured in numerous literary publications and performed his work at international venues. He is the author of Prose 1997 - 2008 (2009) and 2 books of poetry After Parveen Shakir (2011) and About Time (2011 2012). He has also edited the prose and poetry of Morney Wilson published as Martyr Doll Remains and The Recordings (2011). Modern Snow So still so silent so serene so wan So deathly white as if all life had gone This dawn I see the snow has conquered Earth And thickened over all my soul with mirth Snow takes the life from where it falls away As it has stole from me my heart this day And left me to dictate my numbers plain My Muse s musings in my Muse s strain Its biting drafts in London s chaplets blow And forbid any Christian soul to go So they return not once throughout the year But I a Muslim struggle up to here Mute in this church now locked and bolted long No more whose spire invites the Christmas throng Wherein the poet Coleridge lies dead still Here on the southern slope of Highgate Hill 33 Laurie Blake Laurie Blake comes from London England where he read and wrote stories until he was old enough to call it his job. He likes rollerblading eating tomatoes and learning Japanese despite his dyslexia. Sometimes he combines these things but it often ends up messy. His main super powers include being able to improvise stories at any time reel off near endless amounts of puns and completely forget what he even came to the shop for in the first place. What Lurks Beneath The siren screamed above us the cramped cab of the fire engine quiet beneath its wail the tension high as it dodged between traffic. We were already suited up the reflective fireproof jumpsuits loose fitting but still uncomfortable. My hand rested on my helmet. Jake caught my eye and hinted at a smile. So whaddaya think stove left on One too many multi-sockets again Yeah I m going with electrical fire. It s always an electrical fire these days. Gareth raised his voice over the vehicles engine and siren Maybe one of those little heaters you know Jake paused. We all knew what was coming. Wanna bet Aw Jake for fucks sake... not everything s a competition. Ey ey relax. It s just a bit a fun that s all. At this time a year you might even be right Bit morbid though. I said. The siren took over as the engine lurched around a bend. There was a loud bang through the plexi-glass to signal we were nearly there. I put on my helmet the others did the same. Last chance guys I m giving three to one on electric heater. Jake drop it I told you last time to stop with this. Tch only cause ya lost. 34 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger We pulled to a stop and another slam on the plexi-glass signalled to us to get out. Jake opened the door and we dropped to the floor in turn. Tendrils of black smoke raced for the sky from open downstairs windows and Jake and Gareth rushed up the garden path. I was about to follow when the police car caught my eye its two officers talking to a man they had held against the bonnet. I jogged over and the woman turned away from him to talk to me. What s going on It s his house says he set fire to it. Shit anyone else in there She shook her head but replied He won t say. Goes silent whenever we ask. The man on the bonnet finally managed to twist himself around to look at the fire engine and began flailing under the policeman s weight with renewed vigour. No No no no You can t put it out You mustn t You have to let it die Let it burn Don t put it out I didn t have time to listen. Alright thanks. I said to the police woman and jogged back to the fire engine. Neil was hooking up the fire engine to the water outlet so I made for the house gas mask pulled down over my face. Smoke clawed to out of the open door and the world turned black as I rushed headlong into it. Fireproof suit or not the heat was intense. I could hear the pressurised force of an extinguisher and as I pushed through the smoke the orange flicker of flames began to reflect off the plumes tumbling across the ceiling. Gareth thundered down the stairs to my left and shook his head at me. Nobody upstairs. In the kitchen heaped against a door to one side were the crackling remains of a table several chairs a desk and what was left of some rugs and other material draped over the top. Jake was spraying it with his extinguisher white foam smothering the glowing embers. Gareth and I took our own extinguishers off our backs and in a few seconds more it was over. The original kindling was mostly gone but the door was still standing it s blackened frame little more than soggy charcoal. Jake checked the handle and pulled it open. Half way down the stairs he yelled up that it was clear. I nodded to Gareth and he went to tell the others. Man what a state. Blackened I asked from the doorway. Nah nah it s covered in mold down here. All over the walls. Disgusting. I glanced down the stairs but Jake was out of sight. I ventured down to take a look myself. Anyone down there Must ve been trying to burn something. Maybe he was a clean freak ya know This place is filthy. It was easily the worst basement I d ever seen. The carpet was dank and soggy brown patches here and there where the blue had bled away. The beams across the ceiling were thick with cobwebs clustered in the middle of the room and heavy with dust. The smell of must and damp congealed beneath my nose like a drop I couldn t wipe away but worst of all were the walls. Bare concrete covered with thick green-black mold that made the cellar look like it had a rash. It glistened and its clusters of small furry patches were hard to look away from in their hideousness. I guess it would be the quickest way to clean the place up... but the fire was upstairs so it would ve burnt half the house down before it spread properly in here. Yeah... Jake pulled up his visor and peered at the fungus. Well not our job anyway. He reached out and touched the mold. It crumbled under his gloved hand and he smirked. Leave that stuff alone. You re like some kid inspecting a frog. Come on we re done here. As I turned to leave I heard a puff. A dry sudden gasp like an old man holding his breath for too long. I glanced back and Jake took a step away from the wall the back of his hand rubbing at his face. Agh fuck. What Just blew spores in my face Urgh... It itches like mad god damn it. He turned towards me still rubbing away at himself as he walked back to the stairs but his grunting just got louder. Shit man it s really burning... Look come up stairs and wash your face. I walked back to take his arm If it s still hurting you can go get it checked out. As I took his arm he removed his hand to look at me. I baulked his skin was bleeding and as he saw my expression his own turned to panic. What What is it You re uh... you re bleeding. He was blinking quickly at the pain and another drop of blood ran from his cheek a sore rippling into being as more began to spread across his face. I tugged at his arm but he staggered voice high with surprise. God it hurts so much... He gasped What is this... He let out a low moan and I could feel his strength draining. He put his bloodied glove back to his face only to touch his own hand. The glove had a hole in it a small circle like a drop of acid had sizzled through the thick heat retardant 35 material. His fingertips touched his bleeding face and his eyes flickered with panic as his fingers started to bleed. A desperate fearful sound escaped him. I let go. I couldn t help it I didn t mean to but the instinctive animal part of me wanted to get away. It was contagious spread through touch and every part of my body screamed at me to back my way up the stairs. My mind was too afraid to let me look away some sick curiosity or maybe just needing to know where he was for my own safety. My humanity spoke while the rest of me ignored it. Jake Jake come on man you gotta get outta here. We gotta get you to a hospital. He seemed to remember me his bleeding pain racked face pleading to me as his trembling lips struggled to form a word. He dropped to his knees and toppled sideways. I froze for an instant before dashing back up to the kitchen and out of the front door. Call an ambulance I yelled out to them Jake s been hurt Quickly he needs help Gareth and the police woman rushed forward her partner grabbing the radio as Neil pulled out his phone. They pushed past me and ran for the kitchen and I tried to grab one of them before they got through the door. Wait Don t go down there I wasn t quick enough but I raced after them hearing them thunder down the stairs towards Jake s body. I stopped at the door the instinct to pull them back out and the fear of going down wrestling with each other in my head. Holy shit... Gareth s voice echoed back up the stairs and I hazarded a look down after them. The police woman had her hand over her mouth and Gareth was kneeling down next to Jake. What... what happened She forced out sucking in large trembling breaths. I 36 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger couldn t see Jake s body but I called down after them fear tumbling out with my words. It it s contagious You ve got to get out of there They both looked up at me. We can t just leave him He s bleeding badly and he s passed out I was about to reply about to tell them to run that it s the mold that its spores were what started it and even touching the infected parts could spread it but I froze. Above them the thick greasy fungus covering the walls began to peel. It sagged at the top as if too heavy to keep itself attached a single sheet of living greenblack wallpaper coming apart from the concrete. My mind raced to warn them but little more than a quiet whimper of horror escaped my lips and the sheet of mold fell an animal pouncing on its prey from above. The cloud of spores that rose behind it as it fell floated down after it like a miasma and the three people were enveloped entirely. I slammed the door to block out the screams and it took a few seconds before I realised the only one left was my own. I couldn t move. My whole body was shaking. A few spores had eaten away at Jake s face and torn through thick fireproof gloves... but an entire wall I took off my helmet feeling claustrophobic. Tears streamed down my face and I threw up on the floor my back against the door as if holding it shut would stop it getting me too. The police woman s partner came through the door his face telling me I looked at least as bad as I felt. What happened Where are they I whimpered it was all I could do. He made a start for the door and immediately I was on my feet hands clasping the door frame using my body to try to block him from going inside. No No I shouted before finally managing You can t go in there This only seemed to urge him on and he grabbed hold of me. With little more than fear inside me I don t know how I held on as long as I did but he eventually tore me from the door frame enough to push me away. I tumbled into what was left of the charred remains of chairs the ash that crumbled off them reminding me for a moment of the cloud of deadly black spores. No Please Don t go in I couldn t say it I couldn t tell him my mind was trying to block it out as if telling somebody would admit to myself that it was true that it had really happened. He pulled open the door and looked down the stairs. Blood pounded at my ears and he disappeared inside. I wept. I couldn t hold it in any more. What could you do against such a thing It eats through anything and it was alive. It had to be alive. It had swooped down on the three of them like a bird of prey and it had waited until they were all down there to do it. It could have done it when Jake was alone but it hadn t. It had waited. Nobody would believe me. How many would it eat before somebody noticed it How out of control did it have to get Even then how could it be stopped The burnt table next to me cracked under my weight and I scrambled up. Fire. Heat. It was mold. It was a plant. I had to burn it. It thrived down in those cool damp conditions. This winter had been cold and it must ve flourished. That was why the man had been burning his own house down. He understood. He had tried. It had to be stopped. Everything in here had been burnt already. I pushed myself out moving towards the living room. There had to be something in here. Something big something flammable. The sofa. It was a small two-seater sitting opposite the door into the kitchen. I picked up one end and slid it across the carpet the wooden frame inside lighter than I expected. With the kitchen table burnt and collapsed the sofa fit through the door and just about had room enough to be angled into the basement stairs. I swallowed and opened the door. Lying on the stairs trying to claw his way up was the police officer. Behind him on the floor of the basement was a large brown patch with metal parts left in the middle. Gareth and Jake s oxygen tanks the police woman s handcuffs and badge. Buckles from their clothes. Nothing else. Help... help me... I looked down at the policeman trembling myself the sofa poised to be pushed through the door. This stuff... it sprayed me oh god it hurts please... I backed away the kitchen counter stopping my retreat. I glanced around and grabbed a clear bottle of yellow liquid from the side. The stove lighter lay next to it. I m sorry... I kept repeating I m so sorry... I tipped the bottle over the sofa. The flower pattern wilted under the oil as it stained the fabric and I clicked the igniter willing it to light. A hand grabbed onto the arm of the sofa blood from the sore mingling with the oil and the policeman pulled himself up. He reached out trying to grab my arm desperation in every strained movement. Please... I need help... an ambulance... He groaned and doubled over the sofa chest heaving to stay alive. I kicked out at the sofa more to get him away from me than otherwise and with his weight on the far end it tipped up and began to slide down the wooden stairs. His weakened cry of anguish was somehow more horrifying than a scream even with the infection he was still human still a person. But it was still too late for him. I swallowed my doubts and clicked the igniter to life. Climbing down the stairs was the hardest thing I d ever done. The festering mold on the walls looked harmless if disgusting yet somehow that made it all the 37 worse. A creeping terror so harmless in appearance that nobody thinks twice about going close. You go to clean it off and instead it spreads to you. How long before it learns to lie dormant To only start infecting once its carrier is out with hundreds of others The delicate blue tooth of a flame wavered at the end of the igniter and I shared its hesitation. I forced myself down to the sofa and touched it to the yellow stain. It burst into flame spreading through the oil and feeling its way across the unsoiled fabric beginning its slow consumption of the sofa. I backed away and turned to dash back up the stairs. I didn t see it. It was impossible to. The space under the stairs was pitch black the gaps through the steps barely two inches wide. But I heard it. Poff . A tiny cloud of dust seemingly disturbed and sent out into the air flicked out into my face. The tiny dry flecks landed on my cheeks my hair my lips. It itched. (This story was originally published with the title What Lurks Below on Laurie s blog in January 2012) Attention Authors You ve written the novel of a life time. You ve chosen the absolute best cover for your book. It s been edited beta read blurbed synopsed and finally printed. Now what Market your book here Contact Pilcrow & Dagger for information and rates info Attention Editors You ve excelled in your English classes. You were a proofreader for your school newspaper. You beta read for a published author and opened your own editing company. Now what Market your skills here Contact Pilcrow & Dagger for information and rates info 38 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger Toi Buchanan - Toi is a resident of Minnesota who has been trying to escape winter for 30 years only to be seduced by beautiful summer days spent up North by the lake. Ode To Effen Winter My car s butt side to side it does switch Ice trying to throw my tail in the ditch Ha ha it looks funny but stay far back Because the insurance man don t play that. In the state somewhere DOT is plowing Not in my hood so I m allowing More time to safely get to work To avoid doing some scary road twerk. Someone croons Let It Snow over head in a store depot Oh yah it s beautiful from an LA recording studio Try shoveling it every day off the drive and sidewalk Hear that lovely singing turn into a kvetching squawk. What purpose has winter Why am I STILL here That s it I m done This is my LAST year For the entire season I ll grumble and fret it. Until summer returns Then like magic I ll totally forget it. 39 Cam Flanagan - For years Cam suffered from both insomnia and sleep apnea. They are treated now and under control and there is an upside to them Imagination his runs constantly. When he is able to focus his dream noise he creates whole universes in his mind. Dreaming movies songs stories poetry and alternative life often far more compelling than the one he lives. Cam feels that if he can continue to discipline this to his favor he can become a great writer and story teller. Corn-Pone Opinions By The Fire If Twain and I both lived today we would be friends sharing ideas scotch bourbon cigars debate and laughs while sitting by the fire pit in the backyard of his beautiful red-brick mansion in Connecticut. I would crack him up by saying Clarence I think today s media is the bacon grease poured on the nation s corn bread. (The literal definition of corn-pone) He would smile with his teeth clenched on his smoldering cigar his eyes twinkling in the firelight and bluster And Americans wonder why artists musicians writers fashions ideas and values come and go so quickly It s because our brains are cornpone wired to the damn media. The infernal TV radio and Internet are shifting our consciousness daily and distracting us minute by minute. It s here by a fire or in a room with a book or with a few friends and no boob-box that anything worthwhile is thought even if what s being thought are corn-pone opinions. Yes Mr. Twain I agree and right now I m thinking that we both need another scotch. There You see worthwhile thinking Clarence chortled as he downed the last gulp out of his glass handing it to me while I walked over to the cooler to get more scotch and ice for us both. Corn-Pone Opinions Mark Twain s little essay masterpiece infiltrated my conscious and perpetually pissed me off because I wanted him to be wrong and knew he was right. I needed to be unique and not just one of the cattle in the herd only to catch myself again and again grazing with the walking meat and suckling on the comfortable teat of conformity. The idea of corn-pone opinions came to my thoughtful friend when he was a boy listening to the sermons of a young gay slave who proclaimed that our opinions are never our own because we can t have ideas that interfere with our bread and butter. Twain took that idea and ran with it evolving it into Our opinions are influenced by our need for self-approval which is manipulated by our need for the approval of others. This makes nearly all if not all our thoughts not our own. Moo I blurted pouring the drinks. Clarence laughed. Still pissing you off is it Always and forever my friend Good when it stops pissing you off then you have a real problem. I nodded and smiled. I have an original idea I said handing my friend Mr. Twain 40 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger his scotch having noticed the rise of the intellectual in him in his posture and manner. Great Let s hear it Twain smiled and swigged. I think the reasons why so many thoughtful intellectual writers and philosophers have been gay or bi-sexual is because their situation forces them to stand outside society and look in as an observer giving them a more independent view. Twain made a smug intellectual face and nodded with approval. Then he turned back into Clarence and smiled. I had that thought decades ago. He smirked. Did you ever discuss it with me I frowned. Nope. Well then fuck you it s mine I blurted. We both laughed. Then Clarence noticing I needed a little guidance scooted up in his chair closer to me and Twain spoke. Look Cam we are what we are. People need each other s thoughts and ideas. This is only a problem when we let it go too far and we give up too much of ourselves. You made the right choice when you turned off the God damn TV started thinking for yourself and began writing. I see you day after day in the hot seat with your jaw clenched stubborn as a fucking mule furious with the world and daring people to turn up the heat. That s why you re here with me and not anesthetizing yourself with Internet and TV. You choose to THINK. That s why you and I are friends. I looked up at the stars felt the warmth of the summer night and the fire swirled the ice cubes around in my glass and thought yup all worthwhile thoughts happen at a place and a time like this with good friends and preferably a good fire. 41 Ann Graham Price - Ann is a freelance writer and English professor at Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend Indiana where she also serves as the writing center director. The founder of Michiana Authors a mutual support group for professional writers she has been published extensively in a variety of regional national and international publications. Many of her works have been translated into several languages. After The Blizzard An ermine robe from every rooftop beckons And Wexford fingers sparkle on the eaves Above a sky of finest Wedgwood reckons To light each windowpane where hoarfrost weaves Pure Irish lace. What care we then for riches When these from Nature s bounty are bestowed Come --- see how winter s barren haunts and niches Become a treasure land where it has snowed 42 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger Robert Crow - Robert Crow is the finest author of horror and speculative fiction in his condominium and arguably the entire complex. His stories have appeared in the anthologies Comfort Foods This Ain t Your Momma s Cooking Beyond the Skyline and the upcoming Nashville Gothic. His novella The Trail of the Beast is available on Amazon as an ebook and he is hard at work putting the finishing touches on his debut novel The Leaf. He lives just outside of Nashville with his wife and two daughters neither of whom are allowed to read anything he writes. The Ice Bowl Cometh Amen to that brother Jimbo thought watching the flat screen hanging above his hot tub. The man on the History Channel was saying Before Dante s Inferno Hell was thought of as a cold place. Satan was usually depicted as blue and his domain was a frozen wasteland... Jimbo hated the cold the way chickens hate KFC. He kept the thermostat in his house set to eighty year-round. A cold breeze would set his teeth grinding. He had a space heater a fancy one with a remote control just outside the hot tub aimed right at the mat to keep him warm in those horrible seconds between getting out of the tub and getting dried off. Jim Turino lovingly known simply as Jimbo was a great quarterback. Most of the time. Yes most of the time his fans and critics considered him a future Hall of Famer. Just not when it was cold. When his team the New Orleans Bishops played in The Dome their home stadium they were unstoppable. But let them get outside in the elements God forbid let the temperature drop below forty degrees and the wheels were bound to come off. That s why some fans didn t even care if they went to the Supremacy Bowl the year it was held in New York. Well okay the game was in New Jersey but it was the home stadium for the two New York Professional Football League teams the New York Pituitary Gland Problems and the New York Junior Varsity. Obviously nobody wanted to see a team named the New Jersey Pituitary Gland Problems. That would just be silly. But back to the Bishops. Everybody knows New York New Jersey is cold in January. Or hell February by that point. The game kept creeping along the calendar and eventually the snow would be melted and the birds would be chirping by the time some overpaid man-boy hoisted the trophy and thanked God and his mom and the Greatest Fans in the World. But not that year. This was an outdoor stadium in case you hadn t figured that out already. The finest outdoor stadium in the land they said. We should get to host The Big Show they said. The biggest television market in the country is what the league heard. Who cares if it s cold Corporate sponsors will pay millions anyway. Everybody knows that every last fan could stay home and the league would still make money. So why the hell not Fans and commentators raved about what geniuses they were to host the 43 Supremacy Bowl up North outdoors. Get back to football s roots they said. The Farmer s Almanac predicted a blizzard. Not the type of snow that folks in New Orleans would consider a blizzard which is any but the kind where people open their front doors and chill beers in the head-high wall of white. But they do it quick before the wolves can smell them. That kind of blizzard. But Jimbo and the Bishops insisted on winning anyway. They went 8-0 at home. They went 4-4 on the road losing outside winning inside. And in Tampa where it rarely drops below sixty never mind forty. Their only obstacle was a Seattle Glee Hawks team that had one more regular season victory than the Bishops giving them home field advantage. But in the second round some other team took care of that booting a last minute field goal in the wet chilly weather to end Seattle s season and sealing their own fate at the same time. Because nobody beats the Bishops in The Dome. One more Sunday afternoon and the Bishops paved their way to the Supremacy Bowl. They talked the talk sure. About how they would be prepared for the weather how they respected their opponents etc. etc. But Jimbo knew better. He knew they didn t stand a chance in the cold blizzard or not. Something about it his arm just didn t feel right. Like he was throwing underwater. No matter how many layers he wore or how much he stood by the heater on the sidelines when he wasn t on the field the minute the ball was in his hands...he might as well have been throwing a watermelon. A frozen watermelon at that. Old Chauncey knew too. Chauncey the team s aging equipment assistant helped out around The Dome and the team s practice facility. The old Cajun didn t travel or work game days because he couldn t make too much and screw with his Social Security but the players respected and loved him like he was one of their own. 44 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger Many times Chauncey would run into Jimbo in the hallway and offer advice. Watch ol 87 he gon shoot de gap tween Big Ben and Ateef on tird and long ever time. And sure enough that s right where number 87 would be and Jimbo would make sure to be elsewhere. Dey sceptible to a big play on de reverse he d say and Jimbo would bring it up to Coach like it was his own idea and sure enough they d go eighty yards and make the other team look like fools. On Saturday morning two days before the team s flight to New York (actually they were flying into Newark because the game...oh never mind) Jimbo ran into Chauncey on purpose in the tunnel hoping for some magical pointer something to help them win in the frigid weather. Instead Chauncey said Hate to see you boys work so hard get all dat way jus to lose in de snow. Like it had already happened. Chauncey there must be something we can do. Some way to win. Chauncey thought for a minute scratching his chin then shook his head. Nah twoudln t sit right wit cha. Notchu Jimbo. It should be mentioned at this point that Jimbo was considered the quintessential Christian in the public eye. Tall goodlooking athletic. Always praying in public and he really won them over by saving himself for marriage. The trade that brought him to New Orleans sparked headlines like Jesus Comes to Bourbon Street Never mind that if Jesus ever came to Bourbon Street he would probably wake up hung over in the back corner of an all-night bar off Chartres with lipstick on his cheeks that he could only hope came from a woman. You get the picture. But Jimbo pressed him on it because this wasn t just any game. Come on Chauncey don t hold out on me. What you got Well dere s dis lady... You re not about to send me to one of those voodoo shops down in the Quarter are you Not de Quata no. Dis ere lady she in Lafayette. Lafayette Ne mind. I tol you not fo you nohow. Okay look I m sorry. Lafayette is what three hours I can get there and back by dinnertime. Just tell me. Chauncey considered it again looking at the concrete floor of the corridor. Finally he raised his head and said Hokay. But dis ere lady she got some pow ful voodoo. You take what she give and you give what she ax fo and you don t mess round wit her. She turn you inta a frog or sometin you try ta play her Jimbo. Sure thing just give me the address. Ain no address. You look for de old fact ry off de Prairie Highway about two mile east o dere you see a dirt road dat ll be de lady s place. Factory Prairie Highway dirt road. Got it. Does the lady have a name We allus jus call her de lady Chauncey shrugged. Thanks Chauncey. You don t even know how much this means to me. Anything else I should know Take cash. She don take no credit card. The place was easier to find than Jimbo had imagined. There was only one old factory on the Prairie Highway and only one dirt road about two miles down at least that he could see. He drove up the road straddling the line of weeds that marked the center for about a quarter mile the road falling away to mud and patches of standing water on either side before he saw the old wooden shack. The boards were black with age. Chickens ran around the yard clucking alohas. Hello welcome to our yard. Goodbye because we re always one empty stomach away from the end. A flag on a plastic stick hung next to the door. It was the Bishops logo. Jimbo took that for a good sign. The inner door was ajar so he knocked on the screen. No answer. Hello he asked hopefully. Who it is came a timeless voice from inside. I m um...I came to see the lady Come in child. And make sure the cat don t get out. Jimbo stepped inside watching his feet. There was no cat. When he looked up he was staring into the face of a pissed-off bobcat and he nearly jumped out of his skin. Jesus he yelped and almost left the floor even while realizing the bobcat was stuffed sitting on a shelf. He could hear the lady laughing from inside the house. Dat jus my little joke she said. Come on in here. He stepped through the front room decorated with only a musty couch and a deep freezer and walked into the kitchen his heart hammering a little lighter now. Sitting at the table he saw the lady and she was just about two hundred years old. Her hair hovered around her head like a cloud that had just about lost all its rain and her skin was as dark as her hair was white. The light from outside didn t do anything to make her look less like a crooked old goblin. He was surprised there was no crystal ball no beads hanging in the doorway. No chicken feet nailed to the wall. Sit down Jimbo. I been waitin for you. How do you know my name De spirits tell me boy she said. Jimbo s eyes got wide until the old woman burst into peals of laughter again slapping her knee. I s just foolin witcha. I got TV boy. Been a Bishops fan my whole life. She smiled showing her five or six yellowed teeth. Oh he said and laughed nervously. Okay. I m here because... 45 Cause you cain t win a game in de col dat s why. You wanna see if de spirits can help way yo Jesus don t. I wouldn t put it that way ma am. Ms um... Ma am jus fine. Cain t do nothin fo ya tuhday. You needs ta come back tomorruh bring me two tings. First one de hard one. You bring me tree drops of a virgin s blood. Well that s no problem. I can give you three drops of my own. You tink I stupid just cause I m a ol lady You ain t been a virgin since what yo Auntie done back you was fi teen. Jimbo was shocked to his core. His mother s stepsister Clara an alcoholic and a whore had taken his virginity when he was a freshman in high school. He d never told anyone. Time a wastin boy. Don t go frettin over how dis ol lady know so much. I won tell nobody none yo secrets. Just go fetch what I need. Where am I supposed to get three drops of a virgin s blood You a college boy. You figger it out she said and handed him a test tube with a cork in the top. What was the second thing A tousan dollars. You good for it I know. Now go on. Jimbo stumbled out of the house into the fading sunshine. How could she know And what else did she know All his activities in the French Quarter were guarded like state secrets. He was an industry unto himself and there would be a lot of money lost if anyone found out the things he d been into down there. And where the hell was he supposed to get a virgin s blood New Orleans was out of the question and not just because finding a virgin there would be like finding a needle in a haystack. A hay-colored needle at that. He called Coach and told him he had something he had to do tonight he wouldn t 46 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger be making the team prayer breakfast the next morning which he usually led. Told Coach to trust him and he did. He went to the bank and got the cash first. That was the easy part. A thousand bucks was about a hundredth of a percent of his salary. He got a hotel room at the Sheraton about the nicest joint in the whole town as far as he could tell. Good service too because if they recognized him they didn t let on. Now for the virgin. It was Saturday night so he Googled all the Catholic churches in the area. Being who he was and his reputation as the Virgin King of New Orleans he always had offers from young ladies to be his first. Many of them would even agree to marry him to get the job done if he wanted. What they didn t know his aunt aside Jimbo was a long way from being a virgin. His weekly trips into the French Quarter He wore a disguise. A little extra green in the palms of the whores and they never told a soul. Because you got a good repeat customer built like a bull and hung like one too and he paid extra to keep your mouth shut You kept your mouth shut. But virgins That was complicated territory. But he had to try. This wasn t just any old ballgame. He casually pulled into the Sonic closest to Our Lady of the Blessed Heart Catholic Church shortly after Saturday mass was scheduled to let out. There were the usual high school kids hanging out sitting at the tables. Even in January the temperature was in the sixties just cool enough for the guys to show off their varsity jackets and for the girls to ask to wear them. These weren t the ones he wanted though. One girl off to the side in all black sitting alone. She looked sad. Perfect. She was pretty enough. Not the most beautiful girl he d ever seen but that was what he told her. She said she was eighteen and that was a relief. He wasn t asking for an ID though just to be on the safe side. Conscience-wise that is. He couldn t quite figure out how to ask if she was a virgin without making his intentions so obvious. She solved his dilemma for him when she said You know I m a virgin. Like you. They drove back to his hotel where they used the back entrance determined to rid themselves of their cursed virginity once and for all. It was as good a story as any. Tell an eighteen-year-old girl what she wants to hear she s going to believe you. Once in the room they started making out and he was trying to figure out how to get the blood. Once they started making out clothes started coming off and he was still trying to figure out how to get the blood. But once the clothes were off they started... Well then it was too late to get the blood of a virgin. She hadn t lied to him though. Desperate back to thinking with his other brain now that he d emptied the tanks he wrung blood from the sheet pinching it really while she was in the bathroom. He hoped it was enough. Blood was blood after all what did it matter if it came from a virgin The next morning bright and early the lady was sitting on her porch drinking in the morning sunshine which smelled a lot like bourbon. He held the tube out. I got the blood. I knowed you d figger it out. She took the tube from him held it up to the light. She removed the cork and sniffed it. She cocked an eyebrow at him. Dis virgin blood Oh God she knows he thought. Yes ma am he said. She replaced the cork and said Dat ll do I s pose. Now de money He handed her the wad of bills. This she also sniffed and nodded her head. You wait ri chere she said and darted like molasses into the house. He waited and waited. Finally he waited some more. He sat down on the edge of the porch and watched the chickens. He checked his phone but there was no 3G or 4G or any other kind of G that far out in the swamp. Just about the time he was pondering the propriety of asking a voodoo priestess for a refund and going back to New Orleans without what he came for she returned with another test tube this one filled with a milky blue liquid. It looked to Jimbo like Windex blended with milk. What is this Dat bayou antifreeze. Hep you trow in de cold. You drink it right fo de game de Bishops win. I gay-ron-tee. You re sure Oh dey win. I neva lie. Thank you. Go on now. De team need you tell em what to do. Supremacy Bowl Sunday was fast approaching. Their opponents the New England Pretty Boys were heavy favorites having played the majority of their home games in the kind of weather that leads most people to give up and die. Every night after every horrible practice after hearing every commentator on SportsCenter talk about how terrible he was in the cold Jimbo would take out the little test tube and look at it. Just a nip he would tell himself to see if there was any improvement when they practiced out in the cold. But no for a rarity self-control won out and he saved it for the big day. He was glad too. On Friday one of the worst snowstorms in a decade rolled in dumping forty-five inches on the stadium. Crews would spend all day Saturday and Sunday cleaning up while the Bishops and Pretty Boys would spend their days practicing in their respective hotels convention centers. 47 The big day arrived. Alone in the locker room bathroom Jimbo drank the potion. It tasted like Nehi Blue Cream Soda mixed with sweat but he instantly felt warmer. Stronger too. The wind chill was -6 degrees at kickoff. The fans and commentators howled about what bastards decided it was a good idea to play the Supremacy Bowl up North outside. Arena staff sold hand warmers like they were floaties on the Titanic. Everybody bought one for each hand and two more to stick in their shoes. Some genius vendor brought in battery-powered electric blankets and retired a wealthy man. Before halftime. Every player huddled around the big sideline heaters which looked like jet engines. Except for Jimbo. He stood bravely on the field throwing balls to some underpaid assistant coach who was thinking he would rather be next to the heaters himself Jimbo wearing short sleeves and no gloves. And he felt great. Virgin s blood my ass he told himself. He d tricked that old lady easy as pie. He could have brought her gator blood from down the road and had the same result. He was starting to think that maybe it was his own doing. He had prayed about it after all. Snow was still falling as New England turned their first possession over on downs. Every timeout guys in parkas would run the little machines out to clear the snow off the field lines. On his first snap Jimbo threw a thirty-yard completion to his star tight end. He felt like he was playing in Miami in September. It was glorious. It was still so cold and windy that kicking the extra point after a touchdown was impossible like booting a block of ice into a hurricane. By the end of the first half the score was New Orleans 26 New England 6. The sportscasters marveled at Jimbo s newfound cold-weather throwing proficiency. At halftime some musicians who should have hung up the tights and guitars twenty years ago warbled out a medley of 48 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger songs that sounded like the exact opposite of Kidz Bop (but not in a good way) while pretend fans feigned adoration next to the stage. Then the players trotted back onto the field. New Orleans got the ball to start the second half. The field was so sloppy at that point the strategy on the kickoff was to just fall on the ball. First play of the half Jimbo under center the air temperature had dropped into negative digits. The wind chill was -nobody even wanted to know. Jimbo took the snap dropped back to pass. He had a man open but his arm would not move. He dodged one rusher slipping right as the big tackle dove past and went sliding along the icy field. Jimbo tried to cock his arm to throw but his hands were stuck in front of him. He looked down and was horrified to see both his hands coated in ice. His whole arm had turned blue gone completely numb. He tried to run but his feet were frozen to the turf. He felt the pressure coming from his left and with all the strength in his huge thigh muscles he tried to run to his right. His leg came loose but he heard a sound like shattering glass. He looked down in horror to see that his right leg had broken free from his ankle his foot still encased in ice on the field. His left leg was frozen too the only thing keeping him from falling. About that time one of his pursuers broke free. Three hundred and twenty pounds of angry man wrapped Jimbo up snapping his left leg off at the knee before driving him into the ground his body shattering into a thousand bloody ice cubes. He could hear the fans screaming in horror at the frozen bloody chunks of flesh on the frosted white ground. They loaded Jimbo directly into an ambulance his body intact. He could hear the tinkling as they swept the shards of his body into the snow shovels. It took six massive linemen pushing just to get the ambulance off the icy sludgy field. He appears paralyzed the doctors say. But as far as we can tell it s all in his head. Physically there s nothing wrong with him. But he s completely unresponsive. What he hears the doctors say is His head is still frozen solid. That s the only thing keeping him alive. So he spends his days looking straight at the ceiling listening. So far the doctors have no plan to thaw him out no way to rebuild his shattered body. And he is cold so cold like a thousand frozen icepicks poking into his skin all the time. Out of the corners of his eyes he sees big blue demons moving around. He can t move his head but he can hear them talking. Sometimes they sound like Chauncey. She turn you inta a frog or sometin you try ta play her Jimbo. And sometimes they sound like the old lady. You bring me tree drops of a virgin s blood. Dey win I neva lie. The final score of the big game New Orleans 26 New England 22. Somewhere in the swamps outside of Lafayette an old woman shakes her head. Virgin blood my ass she says and turns off her new flat screen TV. Themes Pilcrow & Dagger is a thematic literary magazine. Be sure to check the theme before making a submission for publication. January Winter Stories March Spring Cleaning April Home Town Stories themes Be sure to check out the March and April issues Special author interviews March Amanda Harms April Liz Schulte Don t miss out. Get your subscription today. 49 Lorraine Samuels - Lorraine has been a short story and poetry writer all her life. In addition to teaching tutoring English as a Second Language (ESL) and studying voice acting Lori a newcomer to California (a New York emigre ) is also writing her first book of poetry as well as a novel. Her favorite poet Billy Collins. Her favorite contemporary novelist Jhumpa Lahiri. Suburban Snowstorm Oaks and maples shivering naked This night blossom leaves of white. Branches coated like yogurt pretzels Creamy fragile twigs mimic Ansel Adams black with white Sepia velvet soft darks in light. Harsh winds urge tree dancers to flail their limbs To toss free their encumbered arms of snow. White puffs land on my windshield their trampoline. Wiper blades push the bouncing troupe to and fro. 50 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger Pilcrow & Dagger Swag Mouse Pad 14.50 Sweatshirts 35.99 Pilcrow & Dagger Caps 17.99 Pilcrow & Dagger Pad Folio 28.50 Pilcrow & Dagger Spiral Notebook 11.50 Pilcrow & Dagger Tote 20.95 And many more items. Get your swag on at pilcrowdagger. 51 Stephanie Victoire - Stephanie is a 30 year old Londoner with a BA in Creative Writing. In 2013 she wrote travel articles and some travel fiction pieces for and under her previous surname of Sanassee. She finished writing her first novel this year and is now writing a collection of adult fairy tales. She is on the Almasi League Writers in Residency programme mentored by author Courttia Newland and she is also currently being mentored by author Kerry Hudson through the WoMentoring project. Stephanie writes full-time and is looking for agent representation. Animal Ball The invitation said Come one come all but what the hosts of the Barrington Masked Winter Ball meant on that sparkly piece of silver card was in fact you ve been chosen to attend because of your elegance and prestige. A beautiful iridescent paper snowflake sealed the carefully marked envelopes in which they were sent. Mrs Barrington had spared no cost for this event and she sought to dazzle her guests for one night during the gloomy dark winter when all had been spent at Christmas the New Year cheer was over and people had resumed to the dullness of their lives that seemed to be exacerbated by this cold bleak season. But for the ball on this night angels must have heard the request for enchantment because the whitest snow twirled down in little wisps making the Barrington residence look magical in the twilight. The invitation also specifically stated that all costumes were to be in the theme of animals and so bears foxes birds and all sorts of other creatures glided up the stone path in their flamboyant and decadent gowns and masks towards the promise of drink dance and other sociable delights with the added pleasure of a concealed identity. Mrs Barrington had decided to be a swan and her husband a cardinal. She had made sure that his scarlet red velvet suit fit just perfectly before she made the final touches to her own white du chin satin dress wings and mask. Mr Barrington gave 52 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger her a kiss before he put on his feathered scarlet cape and mask a small red beak attached to a blast of black feathers around his eyes cheeks chin and chest. Mrs Barrington was pleased with her swan wings which could have just as easily passed for celestial wings. And that s how she felt as she swept white powder across her cheekbones - celestial empowered and not of this world. And through the door to her own ballroom she entered making her appearance a little later than her guests so that she could hear all at once the gasps and marvels and wonder as to who this beauty was. Everything was frosted as if kissed by the Snow Queen herself. Servers sauntered around in white fur and glittered faces carrying glass platters of champagne glasses that were rimmed with sugar. The six dramatically large arched windows that ran along the length of the ballroom had their usual heavy velvet red curtains replaced with long white voile and teardrop glass ornaments hung from the ceiling winking light across the wooden floor as they gently twirled. There was a tower the size of a tent of macaroons which were peppermint both in colour and flavour and the ice sculpture centrepiece sat on a stage of its own and had everyone mesmerised by its craftsmanship. It was a scene from a fairy tale a castle towered over two misfit lovers who were holding hands frozen in their dance. And the most intriguing piece of all that had all the guests wondering how it was carved so intricately was the bell jar containing a single rose with its perfect petals thorns and all. The fox tried to touch it and was quickly reprimanded by a server passing by. There was a cellist and a violinist for entertainment and for a bit of fun a fortune teller dressed as a snow owl sat at her glitter glass table in the corner reading people s cards. The badger scratched his head under his puffy black and white mask when the owl revealed to him that someone he loved was keeping secrets. The peacock was told that she d soon come into good fortune and the lynx confirmed that there was in fact a baby on the way. As the champagne soaked its way through people s hearts the queue for the fortune telling snow owl grew longer. I wonder if she ll mention my wedding the racoon said to the toad. I wonder if she ll put my bad luck to an end the boar said low under his breath. In her cloak of black speckled white feathers and round moonlike fluffy mask the fortune teller looked like a figure of the divine herself the guardian of heaven s gates telling all their fates and dooms to the underworld you will go for your indiscretions you know what I speak of Some laughed it off to be hogwash some tongues were silenced with fret. And although it was the swan that felt she held the power here the snow owl seemed to be drawing all the guests into her spell. The cardinal and the swan didn t dance together at all but every now and again he d seek her from across the room. While he was in deep conversation with the rainbow fish whose mask was made of a thousand sequins from iridescent to yellow then orange then blue her dress very much the same with a tail to match the cardinal saw his swan gliding across the ballroom with purpose. She was looking about her left and right and then she disappeared through the door that led to the east wing of their home. The only thing in that wing was Mrs Barrington s studio where she kept all her wooden sculptures. It was a hobby that turned into obsession some years ago when she discovered she could trap spirits in wood . First it was a cat then a dragon then a gargoyle and then a fairy. His wife would sweat over her piece of sugar maple her fingers calloused and gripping tightly onto her gouge jaws clenched in focus. It perplexed him as to how a woman who enjoyed the graces and luxuries of a privileged life so much would want to work like a common labourer for hours in solitude. She d only ever shown her husband her pieces of work but she assured him that one day it would all be revealed to the world maybe she d still be alive when that happened maybe not. But she believed she possessed some kind of genius and Mr Barrington upon seeing what her self-taught skills produced didn t ever dispute that. The cardinal thought to follow her and was trying to break off rainbow fish s story about her young Dexter who would be starting his career as a cardiologist in the coming autumn it was interrupted by a server who came to them with a tray of mini white cakes decorated in edible glitter vanilla frost cake Madam Rainbow fish lifted her sequined mask and shoved two cakes into her mouth and the cardinal took that as his cue to excuse himself. He dodged the stag s antlers as he danced with the Persian cat spitting out some of her grey mink that flew off from her stole and into his mouth as she swished. The hare was laughing heartily at the ferret s jokes doubled over and clutching at his brown cashmere jumper the cardinal moved him to one side and then bumped into a squirrel who he was sure was his niece Eleanor. The auburn curls that peeked out from behind her brown velvet ears gave her away. She giggled and apologised for the collision and the cardinal would have stopped to speak with her delighted to be in the company of family but he was concerned about the swan and why she had left her ball. 53 Two hours into the party and the gentle melodies of the string musicians were swapped for bouncier tunes of a piano. A wolf sat at the black shiny grand his grey and black tail hanging out of his tux and over the stool he was sitting on. His mask was made of felt his furrowed brows made of fluffy wool and the snout was long and bulbous and it was a wonder that he could even see the keys over it. The dance floor thickened with more bodies limbs flailed and gowns spun. And in stepped a guest that the snow owl in particular was watching. She was taking a break from dealing cards and giving messages and was now stretching her legs by hovering around the white chocolate fountain sipping her champagne. A robin had come in from who knows where but she smiled at his appearance. He was wearing a brown tweed suit a white shirt and a stark red scarf. His brown mask had a petite beak the eyeholes were very small and he wore an oversized brown skullcap which covered his ears. His hands were covered in brown leather gloves this guest really didn t want his identity to be given away. The robin weaved his way through the dance floor his head very still and his body stiff he stepped this way and that to avoid the field mouse and the butterfly who were doing some sort of tango. Outside the snowflakes thickened and the sky looked like an enormous pillow fight had taken place icy misty feathers flew about in something slightly less than a blizzard. The cardinal had seen it when he made his way down the corridor of portraiture some paintings collected by his grandparents some by himself. He was heading in the direction of his swan s studio when he saw that to his right the side entrance that led to the orchard only ever used by Mrs Barrington was open. The wooden door was trying its best to resist the push from the frosty air and the cardinal thought it strange that she would go out into such weather all by herself. As he approached the door he thought he saw 54 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger something on the white ground outside. Even though his small eyeholes gave him very little vision there was definitely something there that shouldn t be. He bent down to pick up the ice rose that should have still been in the bell jar in the centrepiece of the ball. The petals had only melted slightly one or two of the thorns had broken off and where it had been snapped from the ice sculpture the end of the stem was sharp and was speckled with blood. This had been a weapon and the user most certainly thought that it would vanish into the bed of snow before it was found. The cardinal s breath grew shallow both from panic and from the winter air. He didn t think his wife could be capable of such things who would she have harmed He needed to confront her before anybody else found out. He pushed the ice rose into the earth with his shoe giving it a proper burial and went back into the wing in order to find the swan. The door to the studio was locked and his wife had told him she would keep it locked during the party in case of nosey guests but the cardinal had his own set of keys and quickly took out the bunch from his pocket and unlocked the door. The swan wasn t in there and everything seemed to look as it usually did when it wasn t in use the workbench was clear the tools were tidied away on the wall rack and all the finished sculptures were in their places all except one. His wife s latest masterpiece the life-sized man that she had worked on for months and was so proud of was missing. The cardinal remembered the day she had finished him she was walking around him in circles checking his proportions his legs were that of a man his torso was that of a man his arms neck and face everything about him was perfect. He had a relaxed expression but a gaze fixed straight ahead she d carved his hair thick and neat and had given him boots trousers a shirt and a jacket. Isn t he marvellous she d beamed and then tried a few names out loud for her sculpture for fun. Do you think he looks like an Oscar or a Paul or a Tristan Mr Barrington couldn t give her any names he was stunned by what he saw this wooden man was so lifelike. But now he was gone and the cardinal couldn t fathom how he needed to find his wife and speak to her about it. And just before he was about to close the studio door something caught his eye on the floor. It was a black feather that must have fallen from someone s costume. He picked it up twirled it with his fingers as if inspecting it like this would remind him of who could have been wearing feathers like this. And then his eyes fell to the door of the cupboard where the swan kept her varnishes and lacquers and felt compelled to open it. And when he did a raven fell onto him. In horror he threw the heavy body to the floor and jumped back. There was something dark and sticky seeping from the black-feathered cloak. The cardinal bent down to touch it it was blood. He removed the big Venetian style beak and inspected the face. He d seen this man s face before in a photo that his wife had tried to hide from him in the secret compartment of her jewellery box along with a letter that he d hoped he d never have to mention. Surely this man had never been invited to the ball. This man was his wife s former lover from many years ago and now he was dead. Dear owl tell me my fortune the robin said now standing with her by the white chocolate fountain. The bear was trying to lean across to dip a marshmallow in the fountain s flow but kept knocking over the ice-skater statue on the table with his large tummy. The snow owl stepped to one side to give him more room linked her arm with the robin s arm and led him to her table. Let s deal a card shall we The robin sat down and adjusted his shirt and jacket. Behind her mask he could tell she was smiling he caught her blue eyes sparkling. She slowly took her deck of cards and spread them across the table she paused looked up at him and then chose one card from the middle and slid it towards herself. Before she could turn it over the swan was by his side tapping on his shoulder. You re supposed to be gone she whispered her diamond drop earrings swinging as she spoke. Can t I enjoy the ball just for a little while he teased. Oh let him stay swan everything s all done now we can all relax the snow owl said and then turned over the card and clapped her hands together with delight at what she saw. Oh goodness it s the tower both the swan and robin looked at the picture on the card it was of a building collapsing and there was fire burning through each window. Something is going to come tumbling down. A figure of scarlet red flounced through the ballroom towards her her husband was coming right for her and she told herself to stay calm what could he know And then a white rabbit stopped him in his tracks Splendid garb Are you a parrot Oh no you can t be you ve got no blue or yellow on you the rabbit said almost sloshing her drink straight out of her glass as she gestured. She was wearing a short-sleeved white dress made of alpaca and wore silk white gloves and white satin heels. Her blonde hair was braided around her head like a crown and her rabbit ears seemed to have been custom made to match her dress. Her ceramic white mask only covered her eyes and was rounded at the cheeks her lips were painted a bright candyfloss pink. I m a cardinal bird the swan s husband replied a little too curtly. He then excused himself in a more polite tone and continued to avoid the swirling dancers a duck an otter a zebra and a goldfish were showing off their rather elegant performance of the waltz in pairs. I wonder if I could speak with you a moment dear he said in her ear trying not to give away his urgency. She followed him to the quiet far corner of the ball and stood by the wall of candelabras and paintings reminiscent of Degas. Could you please 55 explain why there is a dead body in your studio The swan was good at faking surprise but not good enough to pass her own husband s interrogation. He saw her neck vein twitch a little. Pardon she asked mocking shock. I want this tidied away as much as you do so please explain it so we can get rid of it all properly. The swan kept up her charade saying that she didn t know what he meant and then asked panicked questions about who could have gotten into her studio Only her husband had a key and perhaps someone was trying to frame her. Someone has been murdered and this someone was not invited to the party. I intend to find out who did it I ve got my eyes peeled for anyone looking suspicious he told her scanning her outfit for a speck of blood sweat or any sign of a struggle but she was spotless fresh and perfectly intact. She didn t do it herself but she knew something all right. Who was it that was murdered She asked. The cardinal said he d never seen the man before. She played with her diamond earrings and then said but my dear this is a masked ball. How on earth will we find the killer Perhaps they ve left already The cardinal muttered something about finding out from the snow owl and then headed back into the crowd. The swan looked over at the fortune-teller s table and saw that the robin had vanished. Oh dear The rose has gone the butterfly exclaimed her glitter mask flickering between pink and purple with her movements. She pointed to the empty bell jar and the panther and the swan who were in earshot came over to look. Who would take that the panther asked and shook his black suede mask one of his small round ears was slipping from his hair. The swan kept quiet. Shame it was so beautiful. And someone else obviously thought so too the toad interjected he d been gobbling some cake when he came over to marvel at the ice sculpture. Well they can t keep it for long it ll melt the panther said before leaving 56 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger them to find his deer friend the swan looked back out to the ball and thought how wonderful everything still looked. Do you know what has happened here tonight the cardinal asked the snow owl. He had waited his turn in the queue behind the dove and the stag. The dove was told to end her unhappy marriage and the stag was warned to be careful with his money. The wolf at the piano was slowing down the music now the tunes were becoming soft and romantic. It was a good thing too the cardinal thought this ball would soon be over. Plenty has happened here tonight the snow owl cheered the feathers on her broad shoulders swayed a little as she moved. You know what I mean he replied his body suddenly growing very hot in his velvet suit. He asked her who had been wearing the raven costume. I think you know she said slowly and shuffled her cards in her pale milky hands. So do you evidently he replied looking across the room again quickly for the whereabouts of the swan or for anyone who was behaving oddly. The swan was now dancing with the boar how could she still be enjoying herself so Tell me everything and whatever she s paying you for this evening I ll triple it he said low and clear. Would you like to hear a story Mr cardinal bird sir There once was a raven and a swan and a long time ago they fell in love. Now the raven had his own burdens to bear for he was committed to someone else let s call her the rat shall we She was a pest for the raven and swan they couldn t fully be together while she was around. The swan wanted the raven all to herself but the raven was weak and couldn t leave the rat but begged the swan to stay and love him until he could find his courage to end the situation. The rat grew suspicious and began searching through the raven s belongings to find clues of an affair. She rifled through his wardrobe checked the pockets of his clothes and then found a napkin tucked in between a book of poetry how ironic and this napkin was printed with a lipstick mark. The rat never wore such a shade of red but had seen that very colour on someone s lips before. She had met the swan at a dinner party that the raven had accompanied her to just before his actions became peculiar and his affections towards her cooled. The rat sniffed out the swan and visited her at her home. The swan offered her a drink before the rat could vocalise her accusations. The rat drank down her drink to calm her nerves and thus the rat was poisoned. The raven promised that he wouldn t utter a word about what the swan had done for them to be together and the official report goes that the rat had ended her own life. The body had been carefully moved back to her own home. It wasn t long before the swan grew bored of this hassle of a relationship the raven became more needy and his love for her was suffocating. She left him shortly after that and he tried to look for her but she was long gone. A year or two later the swan met a cardinal now I think you know what happens there but the swan found a way to calm her guilty conscience by taking up a hobby. The swan to this day carves figures from wood and her greatest treasure is a lifesize and very real looking man. Let s go back just a touch. The raven had managed to find the swan and sent her a letter of warning he would expose what she had done to his lover and ruin her. She fretted a little but didn t panic too much and decided to call upon a snow owl she knows who will be paid handsomely for this might I add and has magical powers beyond your wildest dreams. The swan asked her to cast a very unique and glorious spell. The swan sent a letter to the raven which included politely that she d like to talk with him and perhaps she had made a mistake in leaving him. She said she d missed him and would he come to her winter masked ball. It would be perfect for their discretion. She d wear all white and he must wear all black and acknowledge her when he arrived. Here s the part that s really interesting the swan hasn t missed him at all in fact she s been wanting to get rid of him and get rid of everything he knows. So the spell the snow owl can cast is very special as I say it can make inanimate objects animate. Perfect for a wooden man to turn human for a night or rather a robin dispose of the raven and then be back in his wooden lifeless form again before anyone would know. And if anyone did happen to catch the robin in the act who would believe them when they told the authorities that the sculpture was the killer It was just passed one in the morning when a few guests started to leave the ball and stagger their way out into the cold snowy night and waited for their drivers who would have some difficulty coming and going in this weather. The bear was holding onto the Persian cat whose legs couldn t find their coordination her mink stole was slipping off her shoulders and her grey cat mask was cocked to one side. The panther was waiting for the deer to say her goodbyes and join him by the front door the rainbow fish was finishing off the last of the cakes on the table as she hated to think that they d go to waste. The goldfish and the zebra were still swaying on the dance floor the sleepy song the wolf was playing was causing them to doze off on each other s shoulders. The squirrel didn t want her conversation to end with the charming badger who felt compelled to talk about his reading with the fortune-teller both of them sat on silver chairs facing one another in deep discussion. And even though the guests were fading the sparkles and glitter of the ballroom were not the ice sculpture to everyone s surprise showed no signs of melting it was still solid and beautiful but all agreed that it was still a great shame that the rose had been stolen. The snow owl began packing up her cards into her wooden box ready to see the night end. The swan went over to the wolf and told him that this song was to be the last and the cardinal started thanking the guests and informed them that the ball was coming to 57 an end. We had a lovely evening Mr Barrington thank you most of them said now knowing who he was. The cardinal disappeared before the wolf received his payment from the lady of the house and went on his way. The swan went over to the snow owl to explain that she d have her payment the next day as she didn t have any more cash on her. Oh no all that has been sorted with your husband she replied stroking the feathers of her cloak. What do you mean the swan gulped down the lump in her throat discreetly she thought but the snow owl saw it. I think you ought to talk to him about it. She found him waiting in her studio standing by the window with his mask gone his scarlet suit looking more like burgundy in the gloomy light. They all had a wonderful time didn t they darling he said to her. She removed her mask and went to take off her wings also but then she thought that they d give her strength in this situation somehow and kept them on. Yes they did. She stepped a little closer and looked at her wooden man who was back in his place where he should be. Her husband met her glance for a moment and then turned back to the window and giggled at the Persian cat drunkenly playing with the snow. Some jokes and cackles came from those still waiting for their cars to arrive. The snow was easing up now it would settle all would be calm soon. The snow owl said you ve taken care of her payment. The swan didn t know the tone with which she should be speaking and so it was coming out a little strangled. Yes I ve written her a cheque and have given her a very attractive sum for the revelations she s given me this evening. The cardinal walked towards his swan looked at her face for a moment and tried to remember when it was pure had it ever been Did he just think he had seen it before He watched her eyes flicker over to the cupboard where the raven was probably wondering if her husband had gotten rid of it for her. The cardinal brushed one of her 58 January 2015 Pilcrow & Dagger wings with his shoulder as he walked past her and headed for the door behind her. She turned to face him. I m just going to let you sit in here for a while and think about what it is your witch friend may have told me. Night night dear. The cardinal struck a match from the box he d pulled out of his pocket and threw it at the wooden man that was stood next to his wife it instantly caught on fire. The swan screamed at the sight of her masterpiece disintegrating in the flames. Oh and I spilled some lacquer all over your studio by accident earlier on sorry about that. And with those last words to his wife he left the room shut the studio door and locked it. He walked away hearing her scream and bang her fists on the inside of the door. Together the snow owl and the cardinal watched the Barrington residence get eaten by the fire room by room a bright orange glow making its way down the halls to the central staircase across the ballroom where they had all just been dancing the night away and then to the kitchen and up it would go until the whole building collapsed. The last of the guest s cars had pulled out of the drive before anyone noticed the smoke. What will you do now Mr Barrington The snow owl asked him now dressed in a white fur much like the ones the servers had been wearing. A fresh start I think. I m rather happy to let it all go it s all been tainted with secrets and murder. The cardinal slipped into a reverie for a moment of days passed that he had thought to be true happiness but had actually been lies. A loud noise broke him out of it then something popped from the upstairs window third from the right which sent balls of fire flying into the cold air. The snow owl s eyes widened at the display. You d better go home and get warm the cardinal said looking up at the indigo sky his eyes squinting from the snowflakes falling. The snow is starting up again. Author Information Stephanie Victoire Blog http Twitter stephysunkisser Fiona Hopper Website http Brisbane-Writers-Group members 12356909 Matthew Barker Blog http Rehan Qayoom Blog Robert Crow Blog http Twitter aircrow Ann Graham Price Blog http Cam Flanagan Blog http Vanessa Rodgriguez Twitter Married2ARod Laurie Blake Blog http Twitter LaurieJBlake This information can also be found on http 59 I Want To Be Part Of Pilcrow & Dagger And I Want My Name In A Literary Magazine But I m Not A Writer Don t be sad there are ways you can participate and help support and promote writers. 1. Purchase a subscription. 2. Buy some stuff. 3. 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