SAMHAIN AND THE RAT

by B. G. Wallis

The traveller was wading through a torrential downpour when he finally saw the faint oil lamp in the distance. His cloak had a healthy coating of freshly churned, earthy mud, compliments of having run nearly the entire way here; whether this was out of fear or excitement to repay his debt, only the mother knew. The traveller remembered what the old bird told him before he left to find it: under some trees and over some caverns and through some bogs and hidden in bushes.

“I’m an old crone, and have nothing better to do than spin tales and send people out into the world with nothing but vague direction and chills up their spines,” he mocked.

He smiled at his own humor, but pushed the thought aside, following the growing flicker of the Elderberry Cafe & Inn’s lamplight. Standing in front of this behemoth, he could see that its reach into the darkness was long and sullen enough to swallow the light from the wick of the lamp whole. Mother only knew how far its branches stretched into that darkness. Must be old, he thought to himself. “Hence, the name,” he said out loud, shaking off the night and stepping inside.

Bemusement over the simplicity of his trip thus far was thwarted by how eerily well-kept the Elderberry was. Candle-lit balconies seemed to go up for at least eight or nine stories, each carved out one by one. The ground floor of the inn was covered with an assortment of empty vendor booths, no doubt set up with varying wares, food, and miscellaneous tonics for travellers during the light hours. The floor was dry, cool earth, and the concierge desk was humble oak, with several columns of carved places for the keys stretching high and out of sight, along with a rolling ladder hanging off to one side. The cafe was off to the left and separated with a door containing several panes of not only glass, but varying sizes of paned colored glass at that, like platelets of a picked over rainbow that had been shattered.

“Can I take your cloak, dearie?” a small, Scottish-accented voice said from behind the traveller.

He turned. A small white field mouse behind him in a heavy cotton apron was standing at attention, and at almost a third of his size. She warmed the room with rosy red cheeks and good intent.

“Umm—no, thank you,” he said, pulling his hood back. The traveller revealed his two pointed, flicking ears, a long snout with a black nose at the end, forest green eyes, and patterns of burning red fur. “I’m looking for someone,” he said. “You wouldn’t happen to have seen anyone recent by chance?” The traveller could feel the vibrations of music, and chittering amongst commonfolk under his padded feet.

“Can’t say I have, dearie, but you should know that I don’t normally tend to the cafe there,” she said, pointing. “I’m the maid, greeter, and the front desk clerk as well. Although, they could have slipped by meh, y’know. You should have a looksee in there. The cafe is Randall’s cup’o tea, it is, and he’ll know whatever you need to know—if he knows it.”

The traveller snorted a laugh while the field mouse stood stolidly, waiting for the punchline of the joke she had told. The fox stifled himself. “Thank you for your help, mum,” he said with a grin, starting to walk away before the field mouse stopped him with a question: “What’s your name, dearie?”

The fox looked puzzled for a moment, and the mouse quickly took  notice. She added, “just a formality. It’s in case you decide to stay so I can have the paperwork filled out and the room prepped. If I’m being truthful, I’ve nothing else to do.”

“Samhain,” the fox replied with a reassuring smile, “Samhain Foxxin, but I can assure you that my stay will be brief; if you find yourself having to tend to another, don’t put off the party’s needs on my behalf.” The mouse gave an understanding grin and nodded, then she scurried away while Samhain made his way into the cafe.

If the plate glass on the inside windows of the place weren’t enough visual appeal for a weary traveller, the varying degree of collected things painting the walls certainly would have been. Whereas the lobby of the inn had been very tidy, the cafe felt more like home for Samhain as soon as he stepped through the door.

There was a mole in the corner sitting at a full-sized piano and pecking away at the ivory, injecting harmony to match the sights of hysteria, including the plethora of varying knickknacks all over the walls. Patrons of all species, shapes and sizes, alike and apart, covered the cafe. To Samhain, it looked more like a bar with discounted beverages, but alas, these animals were the same as many who had recently discovered that caffeinated dream and decided, quite wholeheartedly, that they didn’t want to do away with the odorous bean’s hearty juices any time soon.

Rounded tables and a bar with an espresso machine were the intended points of social engagement, but it seemed that the animals had played into an idea that the floor, or up against the walls, or even lying on the room’s piano, were as suitable place as any to enjoy each other’s company.

If they’re lucky, they’ll be dead soon enough. God help them if they live to see it, he thought, gazing into the muckery that was this “animals’ paradise.” Amidst the mug wielders and those shooting shots of high-grade coffee at the bar, Samhain noticed just who he had been looking for, but this didn’t mean he had to be happy about it. He treaded lightly, “like a fox,” his father would have said, as if to tiptoe around and leave the disturbances within the cafe to do their own disturbing. He only wanted to speak to the rat he saw at the bar. Nothing more and nothing less.

Despite everything you may have heard about them, rats weren’t all bad. They got a bad reputation because a few dozen were bitten by fleas during the time just before the black plague, and the rest is history. Before and now, most were kind and would even help the less fortunate animals nibble through the steel cable traps left hidden from the Long Ago, set by humans to catch whatever was left in the fleeting desperation of their last few years.

This particular rat, however, was not of the same sort. As Samhain had heard, this particular rat would have sold the snare back to the humans if he could have spoken their language.

The rat noticed Samhain seat himself two seats down at the bar and gave him a stinking eye’s worth of attention. Following this, his gaze returned and he continued to sip his beverage.

“So,” the rat said, turning his attention away to keep his eyes flat on the wall, “The Order are the ones who want the kettle so badly. I could’ve guessed—and did, but why on earth would they send someone like you to fetch it?” He spoke with a drawl that sounded like a proud southerner.

Samhain look down for a moment, but remembered more of his father’s words. He held his eyes at a steady gaze, but there was a kind of weakness in that look and the rat must’ve felt it. His words started slowly slicing.

“What? Think I didn’t know about you? Of all the sly, devious sons of bitches I could’a ran into, I happened upon the one and only Samhain Foxxin. Pity really, what happened to your folks. If you don’t mind my sayin’ so?”

The rat actually looked as if he could be remorseful for a moment, a true empath, but he  must’ve perished the thought because he continued not long after. “Things in the world happen for a reason, Sam. It’s up to the sly and witty to make them right again, wouldn’t you say? Can’t be sendin’ sheep to do a fox’s job, now can we?”

Samhain sat coldly and finally spoke after a few moments. To a creature like him, it was out of readiness to leave the Inn and be on his way, but to the rat, it sounded like someone who was upset.

“Do you have the kettle or have you pawned it already?”

“Pshaww, cherish the thought wouldn’t you? But, did you think I’d really let you just fly on by with it? No, you see, someone has to pay up for the little cast ironer, or you ain’t gettin’ nothin’.” The rat showed his teeth in a snakely grin.

“You’ve already received payment by The Order, rat,” Samhain said through teeth that were steadily clenching tighter.

“The Order,” the rat said, almost as a question. “Boy, you understand that all that prestige about them being the ‘one true power over all animal kin’, including the currency ‘round these parts, all went out the window once your daddy did what he did.”

His matter-of-fact tone was cutting deep and only refreshed old memories that Samhain had been trying desperately to forget as of late.

“It ain’t a wonder,” the rat continued, “why your mother was hung with him, seein’ as how she was helping a fugi—”

Within the midst of the ruckus, an audible click of a hammer backing on Samhain’s .45 Eagle’s Claw could be heard by the rat and the attendee at the bar who was walking by with a neat little white cup and saucer.

The attendee watched as Samhain leaned in and began to speak slowly. “You utter one more word, rat, and I’ll make sure your talker is nothing but a spigot for your brains to slide through while you try to regret it.”

The rat contemplated words, but withdrew them entirely. As much of a snake as he was, he knew when to duck under his rock and wait out danger.

“Forgive my friend,” the rat told the attendee with a sincere voice. “He’s been through a lot recently.” Samhain shot a grave look at the attendee, most of which was intended for the rat sitting across from him.

“Perhaps you could top me off and give my friend here a fresh cup as well. It might ease his head while we palaver,” the rat said. The Attendee nodded and walked on.

Samhain and the rat stared each other down for a good minute or so while the attendee

crafted the roast. He placed it in front of Samhain, topped the Rat off, and walked away, looking  wearily over his shoulder once or twice and hoping he didn’t hear any more noises that were more unnerving than that clicking of Sam’s gun.

“Do you know what the kettle is?” the rat asked. Samhain heard sincerity in his voice again and thought the rat was either clever to allow a semblance of trust between them to get what he wanted, or perhaps he was extremely stupid to let someone even this close after such an exchange of words..

“As far as I’ve heard, it’s only an heirloom,” Samhain replied.

“So what on earth would The Order be wantin’ with it, making you come out to the middle of nowhere to fetch an ‘heirloom’?” the rat asked, dragging a skinny finger around the rim of his glass.

“No idea, they’ve been doing a lot of that lately, dealing things about. You sound like you know something about it.”

“It’d only be a guess based on all the other evidence,” the rat said. Samhain gave him a go ahead look.

“My guess,” the Rat said, looking at Samhain with as much sincerity as could be written upon a rat’s face, “is that they are preparin’ a peace offering in preparation for what’s comin’.” The rat spoke with a grave and familiar tone. All the animals were aware of how they had gotten this way, and none were more excited to learn of their freedom than the other. But, some things come with a price to be paid. As the rumor Samhain had long heard tell of had it, the animals would have to pay a hefty helping of that price in due time.

“May be,” Samhain said, “but all I know is that my cog in this clock has started to grind. Best be getting on with it.”

The rat smiled. “I’m glad you brought your toy, young’n.” The rat opened his coat, revealing a letter as well as a pistol of his own, tucked neatly at his hip. “We’re both gonna need ’em.” Samhain opened the letter:

 

 

Foxxin,

 

The kettle was destroyed long ago, but its boil is still rolling over more and more as the days pass. The rat you’ve sought has answering to do for kin of his own. May the Mother have mercy on both of you.

 

The Order

 

Samhain looked up as the Rat began to speak.

“Well Foxxin, looks like we’re a pair now,” he said, tossing a letter of his own on the table and garnishing the grin of a madman. “Time to start shooting.”

Another chill found its way up Samhain’s back as noise all around ceased. The animals in the cafe were all at attention, looking at the two with caffeinated eyes and murderous intent. The field mouse that greeted Samhain at the door had placed a bar over the entrance and turned with a frying pan and a wicked grin.

Not long after, the shots began to ring out.

 

THE MUSINGS OF A BOY EATING PIZZA ALONE AT 3:30 IN THE AFTERNOON

by Arthur Harville

I’m usually very happy

A “literal ray of sunshine” my lover often boasts

But every now and then

I’m overcome by a soul crushing loneliness

Usually, I like my occasional solitude

But right now

Sitting in this empty restaurant

Eating a sad little pizza at a table for two

I feel so alone

I wish my darling was with me

If she were here

Sitting across from me

Than this place wouldn’t feel so empty

We would be the only two customers

And we could be ourselves with each other

But she is miles away

So here I sit

Alone at a table for two

At 3:30 in the afternoon

In an empty pizza parlour

Missing her like a fish misses the water

I guess there are some things that even pizza can’t fix

COMMUNICATION

by Arthur Harville

 

Oh how I wish I could understand you

I know you’re trying to tell me something

I see your lips moving

I hear the syllables coming out

I recognize the sounds

I know these words

But I do not understand

Sometimes it’s like you’re not even speaking English

And the stretches of silence are deafening

My usually constant flow of words

Reduced to nothing in the presence of my confusion

I don’t know what to say

How can I respond to something I don’t understand

I must keep my confusion to myself

Because telling you I don’t understand

Well, that’s not even an option

You’ll only scream louder and grow frustrated

And that will only confuse me more

Until I’m in tears from my own frustration

I recognize your accusations

But I do not understand why you scream them at me

I must have done something wrong

But I still do not see what I’ve done

Your screaming doesn’t help clear the fog in my mind

It only makes me more frustrated

My mind clouds with emotion

My usually eloquent vocabulary

Has been reduced to stammering

My body shakes with the effort of remaining on my feet

My vision clouds with tears

I can’t stop the feelings from coming

This only makes you more angry

Your screaming increases

Your accusations

even more so

You think I can control this somehow

And I don’t understand

And you don’t care

And we both keep yelling

And crying

And screaming

Until you can’t understand either

And we are both lost in our frustration

TONIGHT I FOUND COMFORT

by Hannah Pickering

 

Tonight, I found comfort walking home in the dark.

Usually, it scared me, but this time, it did not.

Only the sound of the wind whispering quietly without care,

And the slivers of moonlight that danced through the air.

My feet carried me mile after mile,

Stopping to observe the twilight for a while.

Silently I stood upon a small hill,

Admiring the city below that slept so still.

And slowly Dawn appeared casting reflections in the fountains,

And chased Dusk away up over the mountains.

Softly she rose creating colors so vibrant,

Red, orange, pink, blue, and purple all became migrant.

Contentment filled me as I turned and walked away,

Far from the city, and far from the day.

I wandered down streets still covered in darkness,

And gazed as the shadows pirouetted so artless.

Finding comfort walking home throught the dark,

Usually it scared me, but today, it did not.

 

MY WALLS ARE BREAKING

by Hannah Pickering

 

My walls are breaking and I’m getting tired;

I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up.

This continuous motion on the divide between control and chaos.

My hands ache from holding the walls from caving in.

They ache from slathering mortar and placing bricks into the holes that are forming.

My arms feel like lead.  Strung out so far and so rigid they feel brittle

As if one misstep would shatter the bones that lie within.

My legs feel weak.  Knees locked in place

The numbness and tingling spreading farther and farther in all directions.

Oh, how easy it would be to just let it all go.To feel my brittle bones snap.

Pain? Yes, it will probably hurt.

But the relief of no longer having to struggle will be euphoric.

Alas, I can’t.  I can’t let it all go just yet.

I still have obligations big and small that require my attention.

I still have faith that I can make it.

That I can keep my walls repaired.

But my walls are breaking and I’m getting tired.

And I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up.

 

YOUR HANDS

by Hannah Pickering

 

your hands are not nearly as stained as your heart is.

how pitiful you are, with your bleeding organ.

cut up time and time again, but always going back.

you can’t resist it, can you?

the call of your lovers who are not yours.

you know they will never truly be yours, correct?

they will spend a few hours and like a thief in the night, slip back to their places in the morning.

it matters not how you wish to cry your love and devotion to them.

they would never give up what they have for anything you could ever give.

so continue on Harlequin.

keep going until your hands are stained with the same blood that flows from your heart.

your journey isn’t finished yet.

SUCH A TENDER LOVE

by Hannah Pickering

 

Such a tender love that flows through your veins.

Tender, but fiercely passionate.

I can feel it from the palms of your hands as they rest upon my back.

Your arms curled around me, act as a protective cage, shielding my winds as they rest.

And though the cage itself is not locked, your eyes have chained me in place.

They speak depths though your mouth does not.

Stay with me. They plead.  I will do anything, just stay.

The grip of your arms and hands tighten as I rest my head upon your chest.

I love this chest, and the heart that lies within.

A strong, pulsing heartbeat confines within a broad, proud chest.

I truly don’t know if I could ever stay in one place forever.

But if these arms are the cage and I am the bird,

Then I will gladly stay until my heart is content.

 

 

 

 

HOLD MY LOVE

by Hannah Pickering

 

Hold my love, wait a moment and see

The stars bursting and falling on dreams to be.

Here we lie on higher ground

The low huming you make, such a beautiful sound.

Hands clasped tightly together, holding us together

My love, I feel like a weightless feather.

Eyes staring, behold streams of silver and gold

The way you hold me is truly so bold.

Grins full of mirth and locks of long hair

Two hearts combined and stripped completely bare.

I don’t know what will come when dawn rises

But I know what this night is to us and what it symbolizes.

So stay with me now and wish upon falling stars

And maybe, just maybe, they’ll say we were lovers in our memoirs.

Time to Go Home

By Nathan Lewis

Chapter One

It was a cold and cloudy October day. William Johnson was on his way home from work in his maroon Chevrolet Malibu. The sun was going down behind the clouds. William was very delighted that he didn’t have to ride home with the sun his eyes. Today was a struggle for William. Business meetings are his least favorite part of his job as a Manager of the Amazon production factory in Phoenix, Texas. Production was slow this week and the Amazon staff were concerned, specifically the president of the factory Andy Anderson. The production rate had decreased by three percent over the last month and Andy was furious. “I will start laying workers off left and right until I can get employees who I can trust to get the job done,” he said during the meeting.

Those words rang through Will’s head for the entirety of his ride home. How does he think laying people off will increase the production rate? he thought. Does he not realize that his methods include decreasing rates even more significantly to reach the production rate that he wants? William was studying the situation carefully. He was still clueless. Nobody had any idea why the factory was losing production. Not even the lower-wage employees. The only evidence was that after each month the quota of materials required wasn’t met and Andy was looking for someone to blame.

William wanted to put today’s disaster behind him. He just wanted to get home and see his wife and his kids – well, at least the kids, Lily and Isaac. His wife was another story. William and his wife Janie were going through some struggles. Janie had mentioned divorce several times, but William didn’t want any part of it. He didn’t want Lily and Isaac to suffer like many other kids did. He knew that putting children through a divorce is probably the most terrible thing you can do to your child as a parent. Isaac was an average 12-year-old. He went to a public middle school; therefore, he knew about divorce. Many of his friends at school had parents who were divorced and some even remarried. They talked about it all the time like it was no big deal and Isaac had started to believe them. That was, until he heard that his parents might get divorced. It affects a child much differently than it does an adult.

All these thoughts were rushing through William’s head as he pulled into the driveway. Here we go, he thought to himself with confidence, but also a slight shiver of doubt. Time to forget what has happened today and enjoy my time with Lily and Isaac. You can do this. Move on. You have a family. That’s something to enjoy. This thought had become a regularity whenever he had a long day at work.

As William walked through the door, Lily, who was sitting in the living room playing with her Barbie, heard the door open and instantly knew that her daddy was home. “Daddy!” she screamed, “Daddy’s home, Daddy’s Home!” The flutter of excitement from his baby girl always brought a smile to his face whenever he came home at night. Lily at age 5 was her father’s biggest admirer. She looked up to him and was always the most excited to see him when he got home. Every time he got home he would set his suitcase to the side and await a jump into his arms from Lily. She loved it when William would throw her up in the air and catch her. That was both William’s and Lily’s favorite part of him getting home at night.

“Hey dad,” Isaac said, while playing with the beagle puppy, Baxter.

“Hey Isaac, what have you been up to? Having fun with Mr. Baxter?”

“Yeah. He learned a new trick today. See, watch!” Isaac stood up and held his hand straight out from his body. Baxter saw his hand and stood up, wagging his tail quickly. “Sit!” Isaac said with a slight sound of authority in his voice. Baxter heard him and instantly sat down, his tail still wagging. Isaac smiled, as did William who was still holding Lily in his arms. “Good boy, Baxter.” Isaac pulled a treat out of his pocket and tossed it to the patient little puppy awaiting his award.

“Hey honey,” William yelled from the living room.

“In the kitchen,” he heard Janie say with an irritated voice. “Hey Lily, I need to go talk to your mother. Go upstairs and pick out a story you want me to read and I will be up shortly”.

“Okay daddy. Can we read Snow White again?”

“Of course, sweetheart. Now get upstairs.”

Lily headed up while William strolled into the kitchen where his impatient wife was cleaning off the table from dinner.

“You’re home late tonight.” William could sense annoyance in her voice.

“We had a business meeting that got nowhere,” he said, trying to avoid causing Janie any further annoyance. “Production rates have gone down three percent this month and Mr. Anderson was not happy.”

“Sounds like you had a long night then. Hungry?”

“Starving,” he said, surprised at her reaction. Sitting down at the table, William dove into his plate of meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green beans. He loved Janie’s meatloaf.

“So, I have been thinking.”

These were the words that William dreaded every time he heard them. Every time, it seemed to him – every time she uttered that phrase nothing good came out of it.

“About what?” he said, with anxiety in his voice

“Well, I know we haven’t been getting along well the past few weeks. I’ve concluded that a divorce would be the best thing for us. For you, for me, and for the kids. We put them through so much already with school and our money situation.”

Janie had obviously thought about what she was going to say to William all day. William half-expected that to be her answer.

“Which is exactly why we should stay together,” he retorted.

“Excuse me?” she replied with annoyance.

“Don’t you see? We can’t get a divorce. The kids are struggling to make friends at school, and a divorce would just make things much worse on them. We are our kids’ only friends that we know of right now. They shouldn’t have to be lonely like that. Now is the time we need to be there for them.”

Struggling to come up with an answer, Janie slammed the dirty plate she was cleaning into the sink. “Why can’t you agree with me for once? Tell the truth. You wanted this divorce to happen ever since I got laid off from the hospital.”

William was getting worried. He didn’t like Janie’s tone. It wasn’t pleasant. William knew instantly that this wasn’t true. When Janie got laid off from Phoenix General Hospital a month ago, William wanted to comfort her and help her, not disregard her and her desires. Working at Phoenix General as a surgical assistant was her dream job. She was always good with her hands and she had a steady right hand – perfect for precise incisions during surgery. Janie had lost her job due to the shortage of funding the hospital was receiving. The hospital had been forced to lay off over two hundred employees. Despite working there for seven years, Janie had to let go of her dream and move on to something a little less dreamy, stocking shelves for the local Walmart. When Janie started working for Phoenix General in 2008, she was scared and nervous. She had never actually seen a person die. She had never seen real people suffering from accidents such as house fires, car accidents, shootings, and many others. It took her over a year to get over her squeamishness, but once she did she was one of the best surgeon assistants in Phoenix. She became very popular among the medical staff earned a decent reputation at the hospital.

“You know that’s not true. I have been nothing but nice to you ever since you lost your job, and I am willing to do more if you would just be patient.”

“I don’t believe you,” she said, a tear running down her cheek.

“Well, I’m telling the truth. Whether or not you believe me is up to you.”

“I’m done talking about this. I have had enough of you for tonight.”

William didn’t say anything back. He wasn’t in the mood for her anymore either. He had a bedtime story to read to Lily. That was a much more pleasant topic for him to think about. He adored his little girl. He could imagine Lily sitting down on her bed with her stuffed friend, Bob, waiting for her father to come read her a story that she’d picked out. That thought brought a smile to William’s face.

As he walked up the stairs to Lily’s room, he began to wonder what would happen if Janie went through with the divorce. How often would he get to see Lily and read her a bedtime story and kiss her goodnight? How many times would he get to take Isaac out on Saturdays to play basketball at the park? Would he ever enjoy the presence of his wife again? Would Janie ever enjoy seeing him again? All those questions weighed his shoulders down like a ton of bricks. He wasn’t ready to go through all of this. Neither was his family.

FIREFLIES (A SONNET)

by Powell Franklin

 

Shall we go chasing fireflies tonight?

I’m sure there’s nothing I would rather do

Nostalgia fuses with a fresh delight

When I share memories with you.

 

On not so distant evenings ago

When I looked at at the world through younger eyes

The seasons moved serene and very slow

And I myself went chasing fireflies.

 

The twilight’s come, the dew is on the grass

You run across the yard in just one shoe

How quickly now the seasons seem to pass

I cherish chasing fireflies with you.

 

The jasmine blooms, the evening looms and then

Tomorrow we’ll chase fireflies again.