Short Stories

By: Ben Serna-Grey

Scott was an arrogant duck who liked to use ten-dollar words like cosmogyral and phantasmagoric to make himself sound smart and hopefully cover up the fact that he couldn’t play piano worth a shit. He was in the middle of accompanying Jonny, a young undergrad. He looked up from the piano toward Jonny as he played. He slipped up and Jonny kept playing, and he found himself unable to catch up to where Jonny was in the music, everything derailing into dissonances Schumann certainly didn’t write when he penned his romances.
“Alright, Scott. I have class in about twenty minutes so I think it’d be best if we ended now and I packed up, yeah?”
“Sounds good, Jonny. By the way, in the first ten bars of Romance One, I think you can be a little less rubato, as Schumann seems a little more . . . obdurate there.”
Jonny leveled a look at Scott from over his glasses, doing all he could to keep from rolling his eyes. “. . . Yeah, sure.”
“And also, that’ll be another sixty-five dollars for today.”
At this Jonny was pushed over his breaking point, all but screaming at the poor duck. “Are you fucking kidding me, Scott? You came to me ‘cause you wanted to play the Schumann romances. And you can’t even play piano all that well! Hell, I could go to Park right now and that kid would play piano eight times better than you at a quarter of the price! Who the hell do you think you are?”
Scott looked down at the keyboard and sighed, feeling a hot flush rise under the plumage of his face at the sight of the long feathers of his wings splayed out ineffectively over the keys of the piano. He knew Jonny had a point. He kept flubbing the part while Jonny was almost performance-ready. “You’re right Jonny. No charge for today. I’ll have this down better by next time, I promise.”
Jonny looked up, finished packing up his instrument and slid his sheet music into his backpack. “Yeah sure, Scott. I’ll see you later. Sorry for yelling at you like that.” He opened the door to the practice room, the muted cacophony outside becoming clearer and Park was heard down the hall banging out perfect Rachmaninoff before being cut off as the door closed behind Jonny. Scott sighed and pushed off of the piano bench, zipping up his jacket and putting his music into his messenger bag before slinging it over his shoulder. He pushed open the practice room door and stepped out into the hallway, looking around for a second before heading out of the side exit to the building and beginning his walk home in the chilly twilight.
As he was trekking down Maryland Street, he noticed an odd swirling in the clouds above the gas station a half a block ahead of him. He shook his head. It was probably due to some scientific thing he knew nothing about. Maybe he could use it to strike up conversation with people tomorrow. He pulled his mp3 player from his bag, shoving the headphones into his ear holes and setting it to shuffle randomly through his music collection as he began walking with a quicker pace, head bobbing in tempo with the tunes.
He looked up at the sky again as he came closer to the gas station. Inside of the swirling clouds was the biggest goose Scott had ever seen in his life, frantically flapping its wings and honking at him urgently though Scott could hear nothing but his music. He pulled the earbuds out with a pop! and looked back up at the goose in the sky.
“Yes?” said Scott, looking around, confused, noticing the street seemed to be oddly absent of any activity.
Scott again looked around before looking back up at the goose, fidgeting his wings together and waddling in place.
“Um. Okay?”
Scott nodded hesitantly. The spiral of clouds sucked in on itself and diminished to nothing, punctuated with a quiet ffp! at the disappearance of the cloud’s final bits. Scott once again looked around and the streets erupted with noise as life suddenly resumed. He shook his head and finished his walk back home, walking up the stairs to his apartment and opening the front door. He set his bag by the door and took his jacket off, hanging it on a hook before going into the kitchen and making a sandwich. He grabbed a beer and brought his dinner out to the couch, plopping himself down. He took a couple bites and turned on the TV, thinking back on the events of the night with a sigh. His thoughts wound their way back to the sky goose after a while, and his heart dropped, panic sinking into his gut.
The world was going to end tomorrow at midnight. Could he tell anyone?  Would it matter? He decided he would test the waters by telling Jonny in counterpoint class tomorrow, but ultimately deciding that if the world was to end tomorrow it wouldn’t matter whether everyone knew or not.
Scott had lost his appetite, throwing away the remainder of his sandwich and putting his unopened beer back in the fridge. He decided to take a couple of benadryl to make himself sleep, just in case this anxiety over the whole end-of-the-world thing would keep him up all night. He crawled into his bed, staring at the ceiling and feeling a deep drowsiness fall over him, eventually closing his eyes.
Scott jerked awake with a start, the image of the giant sky-goose still burned into his sight from the dream. He shook his head, rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked at the clock. 6am. He got up and turned on the water in the shower, stepping underneath the stream and basking in the warmth as it poured over him. He got out, shaking off his feathers and walking over to the kitchen, putting a slice of bread in the toaster for his breakfast.
He ate while watching the news. The weather report forecast clear skies and nice chilly Fall weather. He munched down his toast and shrugged on his jacket, slinging his bag over his shoulder and setting out for school.
When Scott got to class he found a seat next to Jonny, nodding toward him as the ancient and sluggish Dr Frankus walked up to the whiteboards in the front of the class. “Today, class, we’ll be going over third species counterpoint. . . .” The professor continued to ramble on monotonously without changing his pitch or rhythm of speaking, occasionally sitting behind the piano at the front of the class and fumbling out examples of medieval counterpoint at a heartbreakingly slow pace.
Scott looked over at Jonny and leaned over to whisper at him. “Hey, Jonny?”
Jonny glanced up from his notebook where he was taking notes and occasionally doodling. “Mm?”
“I think the world may end today. At midnight. It will be cataclysmic.” Jonny looked over at Scott with a smirk and one eyebrow cocked up. “No really, a brobdingnagian goose in the sky told me.”
Jonny gave a loud snicker, causing Dr Frankus to look up from the piano. “What was that? Did someone have a question?” the class quieted down. The old professor looked around expectantly, smacking his lips. “No? Alright then.”
Jonny looked over at Scott, the duck waiting for a response. “Yeah, sure Scott. Thanks for letting me know.”
Scott looked down without saying anything, fidgeting with his wings and doodling in his notebook for the rest of the class. The duck trudged through the rest of the day in the same manner, barely paying attention in all of his classes and occasionally attempting to let the person he was sitting next to know that the world would end that night. He began heading home from his last class at 1pm. When he got home he slid off his bag and threw his jacket in the corner.
He turned on the TV and grabbed a beer from the fridge, opening his laptop when he had sat himself down on the couch. If no one will believe me in person, I should at least try and warn a few people on the internet, thought Scott, logging onto a few forums.
He made a post on one of the more frequently-visited forums he went on regularly, attempting to cross two of the feathers on his right wing for good luck before starting to type.
The World is Going to End Tonight
At midnight the world will end tonight, I know this because a goose in the sky told me and also told me to tell everyone about it please take this warning you guys this is a prodigious and terrible event, truly metamorphic for everyone
After he had posted Scott sighed in relief that maybe someone would take his warning seriously, and settled into watching the TV and waiting for a response. At the commercial he looked down at his browser and refreshed, noticing a few responses.
Thats fucking stupid. It’s already midnight in some places, so why isn’t the world over already? Go get some help, man.
Srsly? Go outside or something
Holy shit dude I think u need to get off the drufgs for a bit
Scott sighed and closed the laptop, setting it down on the coffee table and slumping down. He looked at the clock in the room. It was 5pm, which meant he had seven hours till it was all over. He got up from the couch, deciding that if the world was all going to end then he was going to spend his last dime on that expensive beer he liked down at the Funny Bog.
He walked down to the bar climbing up onto a stool at the bar. The cute bartender with her curly hair and button nose smiled, causing her dimples to show as she leaned over the counter to level a look at the duck. “Hey, Scott, what can I get you?”
“Let’s start with some of that raspberry LeBlanc I always get,” said Scott. “And let’s keep the tab open.”
“You got it,” said the bartender as she leaned over to grab a fluted glass, filling it to the top with frothy red beer and sliding it over the counter to Scott with a napkin. The duck gulped the drink down happily and let out a sigh and a small burp before motioning for another round.
“What’s got your wallet so loose tonight, Scott?” asked the bartender with a giggle as she refilled his glass.
“Well, a giant goose in the sky told me the world would end tonight, so I figured I may as well spend all my money on something I like. Especially if I can spend my money in the company of a pulchritudinous young lady.”
“Ah, I see,” she replied, playfully sliding the glass back to Scott and heading over to the other side of the counter as a customer motioned to her. A cheap action movie was playing on each of the TVs in the bar. Scott distracted himself by chatting about the goofy fight scenes with the girl. After ten glasses Scott paid his tab, leaving fifty cents to his name, and zigzagged out of the building and back home.
As Scott plopped down onto his couch he glanced toward the clock. 10pm. A wave of panic rose through the duck as he realized he had wasted so much time just drinking beer. He let loose a bewildered quack, his wings beginning to tremble. He opened his laptop again, checking his forum post and skimming through responses. No one believed him. He turned on the TV and flipped to the news, where nothing seemed to be going on. The weather forecast talked about how tomorrow should be surprisingly warm and sunny; a local philanthropist bought all-new textbooks and literature for two local elementary schools.
Scott was flipping his shit, waddling over to the kitchen as best he could and pulling over a stepstool, grabbing his roll of tinfoil from its customary place on top of the fridge. I don’t know if this will do anything, he thought, pulling out a length and crumpling it into a rough cone of a hat, placing it on top of his head.
A jolt ran through Scott as the image of the cosmic goose completely filled his vision.
“No, I tried, your . . . gooseness. They wouldn’t listen to me! I have tried to spread the word!”
Scott flung his head back as the goose spat out his final word, the tinfoil cap falling to the floor and the goose fizzling out of Scott’s sight. Scott began to shake at the knees, walking slowly back to the couch and checking the news. There was a piece about how a swat team helped a kitten get down from the roof of a house.
He glanced at the clock again and his heart dropped, racing erratically, a feeling of queasiness catching in his throat. It was 11:59, the second hand on the clock marching steadily forward. Tick. Tick. Tick. Scott’s eyes opened wide and he felt his bowels loosen in terror, small and quick sobs falling out of him. Tick. Tick. Tick.
The clock struck midnight.


The Land of Rainbow Greetings

By: Lorna Wood

            Rainbow Greetings wanted poems that “helped people express emotions they might not even know they had.” Writers were encouraged to imagine an actual person they were close to who was in whatever situation the card addressed.

Carl knew few actual people, yet his poems found favor in the eyes of Rainbow Greetings because he understood that his job was not really to help people discover their emotions, but to transform them into something they only wished they felt. People’s feelings were naturally muddled, mixed up and not entirely nice, and this was a big reason, Carl thought, to steer clear of people. On the other hand, Rainbow Greetings were successful because people didn’t want to be this way. They wanted to be honest and positive. They wanted poems that filtered and tweaked their feelings through an alchemical process into a pure golden stream.

So Carl’s birthday poems, for instance, found ways for card givers to talk about aging, lazy old bodies as if they were ennobling. The people his poems addressed didn’t get old; they “traveled around the sun,” like astronauts, only wiser. They didn’t sit around all day because they didn’t have the energy of youth or just didn’t give a damn anymore; no, they were “taking time to contemplate the world.” The pity or smugness the card givers might have felt when they set out to celebrate their target’s birthday was  transmogrified by Carl’s words into something beautiful.

When Carl finished a poem and sent it off, he always felt unburdened and light, so he would take a break, sprawling on his futon, sipping a light beer and watching basic cable. If he needed a change of scene, he went to the library and picked up a few mysteries. One day as he came back from with his books under his arm, he met Lea. They’d seen each other around the building but never really spoken. She was juggling two full bags of groceries while trying to get her keys out.

“Let me,” Carl said, opening the door.

“Oh!” Lea gasped. “You really don’t have to—arrgh! I had a feeling that was going to—Oh! Please don’t bother—I can pick it all—well, thank—actually, if you haven’t eaten, would you like—but if you have other—”

They were at the door of her apartment. Her speech trailed off, and Carl found himself caught by her kind brown eyes, which said, much more clearly than her words, “The door to my heart is open. / Come and go as you choose. / You are welcome.” Carl stepped inside, with the words she had not said, words he had actually written in a recent poem, vibrating in his mind.

Carl helped her put the groceries away. There were a lot of them. Before the bags were even half emptied, Lea asked, “Do you like Three Dimensions?” and before Carl could say he didn’t think so, she ran off to the living room, and a minute later a soulful wailing filled the air.

“It’s about fate,” she explained, returning. “Do you believe in it? I don’t know if I—Hey! Want some wine?” Again he was caught by those eyes, alight with optimism. She had a generous smile, too.

They sat on opposite sides of the breakfast bar and lifted their glasses. “Cheers,” she said.

“To unexpected friendships,” he found himself toasting in return.

She set her glass down, impressed. “You really have a way with—” she began. Then, leaning forward, she asked, “Do you write or something?”

He explained what he did.

She didn’t exactly gape, but her lips parted appealingly, and her eyes bored into him with an unspoken sentence he might have written: “You tick all the boxes under ‘soul mate.’”

“You changed my—” she said aloud. “I never looked back.” She took a gulp of wine to steady herself. “Somebody sent me a Rainbow card. After I tried—well, I was in the—at my lowest point. Something about angels. Did you—? Anyway, it helped me understand I had a—we all do, really, even if we don’t always know what it is. So in a way, I owe you my—just like an angel.”

He set his glass down, and she grasped his wrist tightly. Tears brimmed in her eyes, magnifying them. He cringed inwardly, remembering one of the angel poems he had written:

                                    Listen to the angel wings moving through space.

Open your heart to feel their warm embrace.

                                  Open your eyes and see a friend’s kind face.

                                 Open your soul: fill it with hope and grace.

Yet it was all real to her. In a way, she was his perfect complement. He supplied words for her feelings. More than that, she was proof that his words mattered. He had transformed not just her feelings, but her whole life into an unbroken string of golden moments. He covered the hand on his arm with his own while she wiped her eyes.

The oven beeped. “Oh!” she exclaimed, jumping up. “I have to put in the—It’s a special occasion tonight,” she continued, as she got out foil-covered pan and popped it in. “Mother’s birthday. I still remember the last Mother’s Day card I ever sent her—one of yours?” Lea stood straight and tall in the middle of her tiny kitchen to deliver the lines.

We may forget the kisses, the homework help, the worry,

                        We may forget to say “I love you” when we’re too much in a hurry.

                        But we remember where we came from and who made that place a home,

                        And who is always there for us, wherever we may roam.

Carl nodded. It was one of his. He had always thought of his poetry as at best a slightly ridiculous bandage stretched over the gaping wound of human need. But perhaps he was wrong and she was right. Anyhow, it was pleasant to think so, and pleasant to think of what it would be like to hold her soft warmth next to him all night and wake up with the scent of her hair on his pillow. He was beginning to enjoy himself.

She raised the wine bottle. “Another glass while we’re waiting? Mother would want us to enjoy—”

“Why not?” said Carl.

While she poured, he went to use the bathroom. On the back of the bathroom door, Lea had hung a car air freshener shaped like a rainbow, and underneath the arc she had taped a line from one of Carl’s cards written in calligraphy: “Chase the rainbow / not the pot of gold.” Carl had just turned from this to the toilet, with its pink carpet seat cover, when he heard the groaning. It was a sepulchral sound, somehow grotesquely consonant with the strivings of Three Dimensions wafting from the living room.

Fighting the urge to run, Car strode briskly back to the kitchen, where Lea was setting napkins and silverware on the breakfast bar. “Somebody’s moaning,” Carl said. “I think they might need help.”

“It’s probably—I mean, why spoil our—” Lea began, going on with her place setting, but Carl took her hand and led her firmly to the door just past the bathroom. “I hope we don’t regret—” she was beginning, but Carl had thrown open the door and switched on the light.

There, in an adjustable hospital bed, sat the ugliest person Carl had ever seen. Her spine curved against the upward tilt of the bed, shrinking her form and making her head appear disproportionately large as it seemed to thrust directly from her sunken chest. She seemed to have several disfiguring skin conditions, and strings of limp gray hair hung down on either side of her face, cascading over her arms. The flesh on both her arms and face was abundant, as though she had once been plump, but now it hung in sagging, shriveled folds.

Yet despite her advanced decay, she seemed alert. Her birdlike eyes blinked against the light, then settled into an expression of pure malice.

“Hello Mother,” Lea said, entering the room.

Carl hung back. It seemed clean, but an overpowering odor of urine warred with the harsh stench of disinfectant. “I thought your mother was—” he began, but was interrupted by a torrent of abuse from the bed.

Lea closed the door with a pained smile as her mother called her a “filthy slut.”

“Her caregiver will be here soon—from Healthcare at Home—to look after—”

Carl had already collected his library books from the corner of the breakfast bar. He ran down the hall and took the stairs because they were quicker than the elevator. He was horrified by the old woman, but even more by his own vanity. how flattered he had been, how proud of making Lea’s life better. How ridiculously he had hoped he might be fated to improve his own life with the kind young woman who had found herself in his words. How foolishly he had grasped at the golden dream she lived in, when really everything was blackness and lies, and the blackest lies of all were his poems.

When he had exhausted himself with self-loathing, he lay on his futon trying to forget the old woman’s ravaged face until he lost consciousness.

The next morning, he found a card shoved under his door. He wanted to rip it up or burn it unread, but rejected the melodrama of such a gestures. Others could live their lies, but he, Carl, would revel in reality, no matter how harsh.

The card was one of his. The outside was a round picture of a globe with a woebegone face. Inside, it said only, “Your friendship means the world to me. I’m sorry!” Under this, Lea had written, very small and with many cross-outs, “Sorry Mother was so—how she was. She has trouble showing her feelings—I think she likes you! Your devoted fan, Lea.”

In spite of himself, Carl laughed. The lie was outrageous, but the affection was real. He set the card on the table next to his laptop and sat down to work.

Not Another Duck!

By: Mark Patrick Lynch

For three weeks in a row it rained. Grey clouds lowered the sky, and lines of fine silver liquid fell out of the air and turned paths into streams and roads into rivers. There was no sign of the sun. I could see from the way things were going that the world was likely to drown if things didn’t change. In the back of my mind, I wondered if someone was building an ark and if there were any places going spare.

The downpour continued. Everyone’s faces turned glum. Even the weatherman on the news got fed up with announcing there would be more rain. He said if it didn’t change soon they would sack him and replace him with repeats.

During this time Horatio and I stopped going for walks. It seemed the sensible thing to do. We didn’t like getting wet and overall the whole exercise was no fun. Horatio was having to swim as much as walk, and swimming is even more difficult than walking when you are short a leg. We had food, we had books, we had a rope with knots and plastic sausages on it. Of such things, for a man and a dog at least, happiness is made.

I sat in the top window with Horatio and we watched people going by in deep Wellington boots and yellow plastic macs and hats. Parents held their children by the hand as they walked to school, in case they got washed away. Cars moved up and down the streets like speedboats, spraying water in their wake. Sometimes they broke down and just stayed there or got washed away.

One day a man in waders and fishing slickers stood in the middle of the road and whipped a rod back and forth, hoping to catch fish.

Although we watched him for most of the morning, we didn’t see him snag anything. When we came back upstairs after eating some beans on toast for lunch, the man was gone. We didn’t know where.

Some of the local children built a raft on one of the weekends. They fitted a white sail that looked like someone’s bedding and sailed past us. One of them saw us at the window and waved.

That night on the news we heard that the raft had been caught midstream in the river, where the current was strong and fast, and that the kids had travelled twenty miles before they were rescued. Horatio wagged his tail when the helicopter was shown winching the children to safety.

“Hell of an adventure,” Fat Person said.

He’d been staying with us for the last few days, though none of us including him really knew why.

“Maybe we should build a raft,” I said.

“Nah,” he said, and that was that on the raft front.

Horatio was the first one to notice the ducks. As we were sitting in the window one morning, watching people pass by in shallow-hulled boats or in inflatable dinghies, he began to growl.

“What’s the matter?” I said.

He nodded and I followed his gaze up the road.

A fleet of small yellow ducks was bobbing its way down the middle of the road. There were hundreds. That’s an estimate, because I didn’t count. I’m not great at maths. But there really was a lot of them. Some were upside down, but most were right ways up. Not many pointed in the right direction, with their yellow heads, orange beaks, and painted black eyes facing forward. They spanned the road, from one side to the other, like a carpet made out of beads that hadn’t been threaded together right.

“I wonder where they come from?” I said. I called Fat Person to come look, but he was in the living room watching one of the Hellraiser films, number eight or nine, I’m not sure which, and said he was busy.

We watched the ducks swirl and turn, and carry on along their way. Some snagged on hedges, others bumped into cars, still others just sank. But most carried on, a great yellow mass disappearing down the road.

Later Fat Person asked me, “Why’d you call?”

“There were some rubber ducks going by.”

“Yeah? Plastic ones or real ones?”

“Plastic ones,” I said. “I don’t think there are any real rubber ducks.”

“Damn,” he said.

“That’s right,” I said.

“Wonder who put them there?”

“I don’t know,” I said, which was the truth. “Film any good?”

He shrugged. “I should get moving,” he said. “Work. You know?”

I nodded as if I did.

He went to the window and looked out. It was still grey. It was still raining.

“Wet out there,” he said.

I agreed that it was.

“But I should go,” he said.

He went to the door. Horatio and I went with him, curious to see what would happen. He opened it. There were sandbags wedged there and they seemed to be doing their job. Some men from the council had turned up and done it. I offered them a drink of tea but they looked me up and down and glanced at each other and then said no, as if they were telepathic and thought they could read a bad thing in my mind.

The water on the other side of the sandbags was quite high. Fat Person eyed it warily.

“Where did you park?” I said to him.

“Down the road.”

“The water will be deeper down there.”

“Yeah. That’s what I was thinking.” He looked serious. “But I should go.”

“Yes,” I said. “Work.”

“Uh huh. That’s right.” He made a sniffling sound with his nose, brushed it with finger and thumb, then said “Dog,” to Horatio, nodded at me, and stepped over the sandbags.

After he’d waded a few steps into the murk we closed the door and went upstairs to watch him move downriver. We waved. He waved back.

That night, while we were in bed, we listened to the rain pattering on the roof. I wondered if it would ever stop. Horatio whistled “Raining in my Heart” by Buddy Holly and we went to sleep.

The next day we woke up and looked at each other. Something was different. It took us both a moment to realise the constant tap-tapping of the rain on the roof and the drips falling from the gutters had stopped. We pulled the curtains aside and saw that the sun was out. The sky was blue. People were venturing out of their houses as the water drained away. Most were smiling. Some cheered.

Over the next few days the weather returned to normal. The weatherman on TV got his job back and looked relieved he could pay his mortgage again. People went about sorting their gardens out, letting water drain from their cars, and removing the trash from their rubbish bins. The yellow ducks kept popping up everywhere, the only real reminder of the time it rained for weeks non-stop. For the rest of the year, one of the most repeated phrases we heard, as we walked the village, was “Not another duck!”

There sure were a lot of them, that I can’t deny. But I’m not sure I know what happened to them. I suppose people threw them away and a lot of them went to be recycled. I honesty don’t know. Despite there being so many of them, neither Horatio or I ever found one. I like to think that maybe the one that would have been ours turned into a swan and flew off somewhere beautiful. But I have no proof it ever happened.


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