Circle of Fate

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Honorable Mention
S.K. Traheir


The Duke did not wed without the proper ceremony during the days leading up to the occasion. The whole of Kjalfsholm had been conscripted into the preparations for the wedding and the accompanying feast, though in the midst of all the labor there were whispers among the Duke’s subjects who doubted his choice of bride.

“What union is this, that increases neither his domain nor fortune? She brings nothing that is of any benefit to him at all.”

“And you deem yourself a fit judge of such matters? Ioannis Harthorne needs neither land nor riches. He is Naron’s own Champion and wants for nothing—power or possessions—in this world.”

“Still this infatuation is his weakness. She will make him forget himself, and it will be the ruin of us all.”

“Bite your tongue! He has chosen one touched by the Healing Hand, and respect is due to all servants of the Lady. It is a blessing on us.”

The dissenter scoffed. “An abandoned baby taken in by a priestess at Her sanctuary and given Her name. That is no sign that she was blessed by divine grace.”

*

Melhraina felt overwhelmed at the Grand Hall where the ceremony was to take place. The floor was covered in rich carpets, the walls and ceiling hung with banners of red and gold. Sina told her that the hall would be filled with prominent families and guests, and that she would be escorted past them by an honor guard of the Duke’s elite warriors. “That is unusual, of course. When the late Duke was wed, his bride came with a guard bearing her own family’s colors.”

Melhraina bowed her head.

“But you shall be part of the Duke’s family shortly,” continued the maidservant. “Why should you not go under the banner of Harthorne? You shall stand here, and the Duke here, before the druidess who has been chosen to join you.”

“It will not be a priest of Naron, patron of Kjalfsholm?”

Sina’s disapproval of the decision registered briefly on her face, but she explained. “That would be traditional, but the Duke did not wish to disrespect your faith.”

Ioannis was said to command one of the most feared armies in the known lands, yet he was so thoughtful of this detail.

“Tonight you shall be presented to the Duke,” continued Sina, “where he shall be petitioned to accept you as his wife, and afterwards part ways for the night, until the wedding. You shall pay a visit to the Seeress too this evening.”

“The Seeress?”

“Yes, it is customary to consult a Seer on the eve of a wedding. Come, I must make you ready for the presentation.”

*

In the throne room Melhraina stood stiffly in her brocade gown, a gift from the Duke. She felt constrained and exposed all at once.

The Duke of Kjalfsholm, standing beside Melhraina, took her hand and made a slight bow, but not toward her. “I will have her,” he said solemnly.

The handful of men he had been addressing bowed and stepped down from the dais, leaving the two of them alone.

Ioannis turned to Melhraina when they were gone, and his formal manner dissolved into an unguarded smile. “You look radiant, my love.”

“It is the gold embroidery that shines, no doubt.” Her wavering voice gave away that she was trembling.

“You did wonderfully,” he reassured her.

“This was simple, I only had to stand beside you. I just hope I do not forget my lines tomorrow. Ritual I am used to, but at the Sanctuary I had years before my initiation to learn my role…”

“Melhraina Elyraene,” he spoke in an uncanny imitation of the priest at her coming of age ceremony. “Soon you will trade the name for that of Harthorne, my beautiful Raina.”

“Before I met you, the only loving embrace I knew was that of the Lady.”

He pulled her close and took her into his arms. “But mine is warmer, is it not?” Seeing her expression, he became more serious. “It is all due to you, my angel. I would have died if I had not met you.”

The door to the chamber opened and Sina entered the room. “My lady, the Seeress awaits you,” she announced with a curtsey.

“Ah, now comes the one aspect of the proceedings in which I can play no part. Go, hear what she has to say of your fortune, and mine.” The Duke stood back and kissed her hand with a deep bow, then looked up at her with a wink. “Of ours together.”

*

Sina led her through the castle passages to the Seeress’s chamber. Melhraina stumbled, and Sina turned to see what was the matter.

“I am not—I am unused to this dress, such finery,” she excused herself.

The servant gave her an appraising look and seemed to find her wanting. “If I had more time than just a few days… But there will be seasons and years enough for you to become accustomed to your new position.”

Raina smoothed her skirt and followed Sina as she set off again. “My order… does not rely on Seers,” she confided. “I am unsure what to do.”

“There is not much for you to do. She will see the question you hold in your heart, and you have but to answer any questions that she puts to you—but speak honestly, for she sees the truth.” Sina stopped at the Seeress’s door, and curtseyed peremptorily again. “She awaits within.”

Raina waited until she was quite alone in the corridor before raising a hand to knock on the door.

*

“Sit, child.”

The Seeress, with her head covered in a dark veil, sat behind a velvet-covered table and indicated a chair across from her, near the door. Candles were lit at the four corners of the table, and there was a fresh log on the fire in the hearth. Its smoke mixed with the incense in the air.

Melhraina took her seat hesitantly, feeling light-headed. In this brocade she felt the heat more than usual, and longed for the comfort of her own robes, for her own room in the Sanctuary, but that was on the other side of the Highmarch.

“You do not wish to see me. You do not want to hear my answer to your question.”

“I mean no disrespect, my lady, but I have not consulted a Seeress before.” She felt a flutter in her heart. “I am used to seeking answers in prayer.”

“And your Goddess gives you what you seek?”

“She does answer,” affirmed Raina. “She does guide. And when the Lady of Life remains silent—I have learned the wisdom of accepting that some questions should remain unanswered.”

“That does not mean that the questions have no answers.” The Seeress laid out three cards face down in a row on the table. “Most brides hope to see what their future holds. But for you, the past is your greatest mystery.”

“But no, do for me only what you would for any other bride.”

“It is all one thread—I read it all, and you listen.” The Seeress turned over the cards one at a time. “A fountain. You recognize the healing waters of your Lady’s sanctuary, yes? A book. The archives held records of history and the meanings of the old traditions, but of your own origins no trace. The Warrior-King. You came upon him by chance, and saw not a nobleman but only a stranger in need. And as for him, he thought of you not as an orphan but as his savior, and he gave you not only his gratitude, but his love as well.”

The Seeress looked at Raina as she dealt out three more cards. “But all this you know. It is your very beginning you seek.”

She turned over the first card. “The Manor. Your family had some standing. An officer in the guard, head of a guild, or even a Seer. If you had remained with them, you would be more at ease in that fine gown than you are now. And you were born under the eye of Naron, here in Kjalfsholm.”

“Begging your pardon, my lady, but I was found in Amarin, on the other side of the mountains, and raised in Elyria’s service at her Sanctuary.”

“I did not dispute that.” The Seeress turned the next card, and there was a slight pause before she spoke.

“It is Blood. It tells of a difficult birth. Your mother came to her death, or close to it.”

Melhraina went cold, as if her own blood had been drained from her all at once. The fire seemed distant; its warmth did not reach her and the crash of the logs settling in the grate sounded muted. She bit her lip to keep from fainting.

The voice of the Seeress reading the next card cut through to her consciousness. “The Hand, that lay judgment on you, banished you from the land of your home. If it were not for the mercy of your Lady’s priestess, you would not have lived. And were it not for the love of Ioannis Harthorne, you would not have returned to Kjalfsholm.”

She placed another card on the table, this time face up: a golden ring against a field of bright red. “Do you know what lies in your future?”

“I—I will be wed tomorrow.”

“Joining your fortune with the Duke’s, and his to yours. The bond will be forged by the powers of the earth and sky, stronger than either your Lady or Naron Himself.”

She set out another row of three cards. “Crossed swords: there will be strife. Some consider the Duke’s union with you to be folly. It appears as weakness, and one will have the daring to exploit it.” She turned the next card. “A withered rose. This is the curse that was set upon you at birth, that awakens now that you return.”

“But Ioannis, Lord Harthorne?”

“His fate will be tied to you.” The last card was shadowy, and Raina could not make out any clear image on it. “Darkness will fall.”

“No, it cannot! Naron will protect his Champion, and the grace of the Lady…”

“Melhraina Elyraene,” the Seeress recited her name coldly. “‘Gentle touch of the Healing Hand,’ that is what they called you. They did not know, or did not want you to understand. You learned their ways, and your touch restored life to the sick and wounded. But when you make your home in Kjalfsholm again, your touch will be death.”

Raina watched speechless as the Seeress laid down three more cards. “Most do not wish me to read their lives to the very end. I give you that choice, as well.”

“What more is there? You have seen death.”

“Not your death. Only the Duke’s.”

“That is enough.” She gripped the edge of the table and raised herself from her chair. “If our fates are joined, that is my end, also.” She fled from the room.

*

Raina’s gown for the wedding was even more luxurious than the one from the night before. It felt tight around her chest, but it did not seem right to complain. On the front of the dress the Harthorne coat of arms was embroidered, along with another symbol she did not recognize. “What is this crest, here?”

“This was the Duchess’s own wedding gown. There was not time to make a new one.” Sina put combs in Raina’s hair in preparation for the elaborate headdress she was to wear. “You are so pale, girl, you will disappear behind this veil.”

“You do not like me very much, do you Sina?”

The maidservant took a step back, and looked at her. “We do not know each other. It is not a matter of like. I have served in the Duke’s household my whole life, and I have no doubt that master Ioannis loves you with all his heart. Castle Kjalfsholm will be your home, and you our Duchess.”

*

Raina tried not to think of the hundreds of eyes watching them. Through the veil, she could only see Ioannis indistinctly before her. The gold circle felt heavy in her hand. She tried to draw breath and speak, “I— I, Melhrai—”

The ring slipped from her fingers and fell to the floor with a resounding ting.

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S.K. Traheir hopes she is better at writing fiction than author bios. She loves words and lives in Massachusetts. E-mail: sabeth[at]amergin.org.

Driving Directions

A Midsummer Tale ~ Honorable Mention
Jim Walke


An Excerpt from “Driving Directions”

Eastern Wyoming sloped. Sheer granite in the distance was a reminder of the true vertical crossed, but the highway unrolled across plains tilting east and down. The sun rose over the hood, blinding us to the expanse. We were lulled by the gentle descent, stupefied.

Twenty-four hours gone, the time spent along thirteen hundred miles.

Wham! Wham! Wham! The truck whipped across both lanes, both of us snapping awake. The hitchhiker banged on the back window again, the wind stealing his shouts. He pointed with one frozen claw at an exit sign: Spearfish. He hopped out after we slid to a halt, knees buckling when he hit the ground. He muttered thanks and trudged shakily up the exit.

“Nice guy.”

“I should have asked him if he’d seen the moose.”

“Hour to Rushmore.”

“Gonna be early.”

“Breakfast.”

Keystone, South Dakota was not yet awake. The signs promised the pleasures of a thousand family vacations, but most of the lights were off… most, but not all.

“Mini-golf?”

“No.”

“Ye Olde-Timey Photographs?”

“No.”

“Gun museum?”

“Oh, yes.”

Of course the gun museum was open at seven in the morning. It had a coffee shop. Either that or the coffee shop had a gun museum. I had blueberry waffles beneath a phalanx of bayoneted rifles. The salt and pepper shakers were shaped like little derringers, and were for sale.

“When is Mom’s birthday?” Sandy asked.

“Don’t even think about it.”

We paid our fee at the gates of the park and joined the pack of RVs and buses hunting the elusive parking space. A loose mob of senior citizens walked to the viewing platform and we trailed along, the youngest by fifty years.

A woman with Cheeto-orange hair clawed onto my arm as we walked up the slightest of slopes. She picked up a conversation we had never started.

“Of course we always went to Branson. Before my Glen died, we went every year. In the fall we went.”

“That’s nice ma’am.” I tried to get my arm free.

“I didn’t want to come on this one. My friend made me. Of course she just plays bridge on the bus, so what does she care? The restroom smells poopy. The Branson bus is much better. We sing.”

“Sounds awful, ma’am,” I said automatically. She had a grip like a gorilla. She barely came up to my shoulder and I could see Sandy over her head. He rooted in his rucksack and offered the panty rose to me. I mouthed bad words.

We reached the viewing platform. The four stone heads hung on the mountainside, poised to speak. A hush fell over the group.

“I thought they’d be bigger,” said Glen’s widow.

“Me too,” I said. The answer was echoed by others, but an elderly vet in his W.W. II cap focused his glare on me. Commenting on the former Presidents’ head size was unappreciated.

“Good likeness, though,” she added. “I saw Roosevelt when I was a little girl.” She repeated herself, louder. The white heads nodded in approval, and she released my arm to work her way to forward. They were listening to her now.

“I usually go to Branson,” she told them.

Sandy and I drifted away.

“What’d you think?”

“I’ve seen it. I don’t have to come back.”

“Really moved you?”

“It’s your turn to drive.”


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Jim Walke is an actor, writer, and cubicle monkey. He lives in Virginia with his wife and two canine children. In his spare time he wanders the Appalachian Trail. E-mail: jaywalke[at]yahoo.com.

The Pride of St. Louis

A Midsummer Tale ~ Honorable Mention
Toriano L. Porter


An Excerpt from “The Pride of St. Louis”

The trip to Texas to take on the Dallas Diesel in a semi-pro football game had all the makings of a bonding outing for the St. Louis Bulldogs. St. Louis’s winningest minor league football team ever had struggled with their early pre-season games in 2005, losing the first three to opponents deemed very mediocre by Bulldog standards. The team was in the midst of a rebuilding process, having lost key members from the previous year’s 8-4 club, including the star quarterback, running back, and wide receiver.

The dwindling out of players and coaches caused a ripple effect for St. Louis, leaving them struggling to stay competitive in a fledgling semi-pro league.

Feeling a lack of cohesion on the part of the 2005 squad, Bulldog coach Greg Moore reserved a charter bus for the 12-hour ride to Dallas. The plan was to meet Friday, June 10 at 11:00 PM in the North Oaks Shopping Plaza, a local strip mall with retail stores and a bowling alley, and leave for the trip at midnight. St. Louis would then arrive to its destination by noon Saturday and have a few hours to eat a pre-game meal and maybe watch a movie at a local theater in Dallas. In typical St. Louis fashion, most of the team’s players didn’t arrive until well after midnight and Moore was peeved.

“Listen up guys,” Moore ordered as players milled around the parking lot for a team meeting prior to boarding. The chief of the Northwoods, Missouri police department, Moore was used to giving orders. What ticked him off were guys not following the procedure he’d laid out for them.

“Some of you guys don’t know the meaning of what it is to be a St. Louis Bulldog,” continued Moore, the Bulldogs’ veteran coach of thirteen years and minor league football Hall of Fame member.

Moore, all of five feet, six inches of him, was appalled. The three losses, even though preseason games, weighed heavily on him. He had scheduled the game against the Diesel thinking he’d have a squad that would compete for a national championship. Never did he imagine he’d have to go to Dallas with practically a rebuilt offense and minus several key defensive reserve players. He let the team know his feelings.

“We’re going down here to play one of the better teams in our league,” Moore scolded, “and we’ve only got thirty-something guys here.”

“Thirty-one, Chief,” tight end and captain Wendell Mosley informed.

“Thirty-one,” Moore corrected.

“Chief,” Mosley chimed in again, “we ain’t got to sit here and wait on none of these cats.” Mosley, along with Moore, offensive tackle Stan Johnson, and defensive end Fred Robinson, were the faces of the St. Louis Bulldogs. They represented St. Louis at most of the NAFL’s league functions, including all-star games and award banquets. Moore gave them a certain leeway other players couldn’t quite grasp. “Fuck ’em, let’s go. One monkey don’t stop no show.”

“Yeah, Wendell, you’re right,” Moore agreed, “but I hate to go down there with thirty-one players. We want to make an impression. We need all fifty of our guys—there’s power in numbers, boy.”

“Guys,” Moore said to his team, “get on the phone, call your buddies whose not here and tell ’em to get here. We need bodies. We need numbers, baby. Tell ’em if they’re having problems with the sixty dollar boarding fee, don’t worry about it, we’ll get it from later. Tell ’em to just come on.”

At 1:40 AM, St. Louis headed for Dallas with just thirty-three players.


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E-mail: torianoporter[at]yahoo.com.

In the Back of the Bolivian Bus with My Mom

A Midsummer Tale ~ Honorable Mention
Joanna Popper


 An Excerpt from “In the Back of the Bolivian Bus with My Mom”

All of a sudden we must have hit the Big Ditch because try as they would, these men couldn’t move the bus. Everyone got off the bus, all the passengers tried to push the bus together, and it wouldn’t budge. It was getting dark. We had been on the bus all day. I had no idea if we were close to our destination. A pick-up truck pulled up. Everyone watched to see if it could make it through the mud puddle and lo and behold, success. The more experienced Yungas passengers (or maybe those in a rush) ran after the truck, hopped on and fled in the night. Every time a pick-up truck passed, more people scooted off the bus and left with the truck. The man sitting on my lap with the pig departed. I looked around for the driver to remove our luggage from the top of the bus, but couldn’t find him. There was a tarp covering the top, so I couldn’t get to our bags.

“Should I climb on the bus and get our stuff down?” I asked my mom.

“No.” My mother said. “It’s dangerous. Let’s wait for the driver to get it for us later.”

We stretched out in our seat. It felt very luxurious after the man and pig’s departure. There was nowhere to go and nothing to do and we were exhausted from the day’s activities. Eventually we fell asleep.

I woke up when someone yelled “Gringuitas, Gringuitas!” That was us, the “foreign girlies.” I looked up and someone said, “El Padre esta aqui.” The priest is here. Normally this wouldn’t mean anything to me since I am a non-practicing Jew. But it was the middle of the night, I was stuck in a bus with my mother in Bolivia in a mudslide in rainy season and a priest was calling for me. I got off the bus. The priest had come to get us. We were saved! Praise the Lord! I guess the nun took off at some point in the middle of the night and sent the priest back. I felt bad that I’ve always been so critical of organized religion.

The priest found the bus driver, got our bags and drove us in a pick-up truck to a small town on the edge of the river where we planned to embark on the highly anticipated boat excursion in the rain forest. Twenty hours later, but we made it! The priest led us to a hotel, woke up the proprietors, and arranged rooms. We were appreciative, exhausted, and happy to be off the bus. We were also covered with mud from our adventures and hopped into cold jungle showers and ran back to our room just as the town’s electricity went off for the night. We groped our way into bed in the dark. My twin bed felt abundant, so much room. No pigs. No chickens. No one to share with. I never felt so glad to sleep alone.

We woke a few hours later to the sound of the roosters. I rolled over and noticed a familiar image: blonde hair, blue eyes, a perfect smile, a not-so-anatomically correct figure. Barbie sheets. I loved Barbie throughout childhood. I may even still harbor a desire to be Barbie, with her great life, car, townhouse, wardrobe, and boyfriend Ken. She can do anything. Here I was in the middle of the Bolivian jungle sleeping on her sheets. I never had Barbie sheets at home. I was never even allowed to have the Barbie car or townhouse. This was true splendor.

“Look, Mom!” I exclaimed. “You never bought me Barbie sheets!”

She smiled and said, “Well, that makes the experience extra special now, doesn’t it?”


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Joanna Popper now lives in Miami, Florida, and mainly travels without pigs and chickens. She still hasn’t convinced her mother to get her Barbie sheets, the townhouse, or the car. She recently completed a documentary entitled The ABC’s of Eating Disorders. E-mail: Joanna_Popper[at]hotmail.com.

Are We Honest Yet?

A Midsummer Tale ~ Honorable Mention
Jenny Lentz


An Excerpt from “Are We Honest Yet?”

Everything began to fall apart that night.

Mom was irritated with Dad for a reason we had yet to learn, and instead of watching Rear Window with us in the hotel room, she went downstairs to the lobby to read. She later returned, still grumpy and angry, and revealed why she was upset: Dad was encouraging her to get a job now that she’d be empty-nested—she had been a homemaker our entire lives—especially to help pay for the increasing expenses of Kathryn’s psychotherapy. A fight erupted between Kathryn and Dad, because Kathryn was frustrated that he hadn’t kept her informed that his insurance did not cover her psychotherapy. Their heated argument was going nowhere, and Mom was near tears. I just lay on the bed with my eyes closed, trying to ignore the horrible events in the room.

Finally Kathryn said to me, “Jen, come with me. I need to get something from the van.”

As she and I waited for the elevator, Kathryn said, “I don’t really need to get anything. I just had to get out of that cramped hotel room and away from our parents.” On our way to the van, she began to cry in the parking lot. I just held her while she sobbed. We then sat in the back of the van and complained about our parents, about Dad’s obsessive, tightwad money issues. About how Mom is hypersensitive, manipulative, overprotective, hypocritical. How they drive us crazy and are screwing us up. How sometimes we find ourselves acting like Mom, dealing with things in her terrible, unhealthy ways, or like Dad, freaking out when things don’t go according to plan. Mom’s overanalysis. Dad’s self-absorption. We feared we would someday become them.

We talked for over three hours, expressing the concerns and atrocities we’d both been struggling with in terms of our parents. We loved them so much and knew they meant well most of the time—but the bottom line was that they were not perfect parents and often made us—and each other—miserable.

We talked about how Mom and Dad were in denial of how dysfunctional our family was, how in all the time we spend together acting like we’re close-knit, we actually don’t communicate much at all.

We talked and vented and probably could have said much more—but then Mom came out to the van because she couldn’t sleep without us in the room, worrying about us not returning safely, even though we were just in the hotel parking lot. She came into the van with us, and as we talked with her a while, she burst into tears about how insensitive Dad could be. We knew that, facing an empty nest, she feared being alone with Dad and finally having to face the imperfections in their relationship, without the distractions and joys of having her children, who had always been her career, with her.

I had always hated to see my mom cry; it affected me in a way no other person’s crying ever did, as if some foundation were crumbling and something inside me was breaking down. She was still supposed to be the strong and supportive one, not the weak and hurt one who was weeping rather than comforting others and distributing Kleenex.

Kathryn asked her, “Are you glad you’re married to Dad?”

Mom replied, “Sometimes.”

Kathryn asked her which outweighed the other, the times of happiness versus the times of unhappiness.

“I don’t know,” Mom said.

Then Kathryn said, “It’ll be okay with me if you decide to divorce Daddy.”

Kathryn was serious and calm. Mom just sniffled.

I didn’t feel the same way as Kathryn at all. I knew that Dad was in love with Mom and that he would be absolutely devastated without her. Even tonight he would have done anything to make things up to her; he was desperate to restore her happiness. He was simply clueless as to what she wanted, and she would never tell him but then would get angry that he was clueless. But I knew he absolutely adored her. Mom’s adoration of him was far less evident, and if she would truly be happier without Dad, then I would have been okay if they divorced, although I knew for a fact that it would shatter Dad’s heart.


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Jenny Lentz holds a BA in English and Creative Writing from Bryn Mawr College, attended the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts in Creative Writing, and works in human resources by day while fervently writing by night. Her short fiction has won awards in the Women in the Arts Annual Contest, Skyline Magazine’s Annual Short Story Competition, and The New Writer Annual Fiction Contest, and has appeared in a various small print and online literary magazines. E-mail: jennylentz[at]earthlink.net.

Make Me Laugh

A Midsummer Tale ~ Honorable Mention
Catherine Lanser


An Excerpt from “Make Me Laugh”

Poker made the miles fly by. We played it for hours, exchanging real quarters, dimes, and pennies. We were no longer kids held captive by a road trip, but Vegas high rollers. Every hand made you want to play another. We were so embroiled in the game that we didn’t even notice that we had pulled off the road. I held my cards tightly to my chest, making sure my opponents to my left and right couldn’t see them. I glanced up briefly, saw a parking lot, and looked back down at the game.

“Let’s go, we’ve got to make this kind of quick,” said Dad. “That stop earlier put us a little behind schedule.”

We didn’t budge.

“Let’s go,” said Mom, opening her car door and stepping out into the parking lot.

We continued playing.

Dad exited and walked around the front of the car. Mom’s head appeared through the open front car door.

“Let’s go,” she said sternly.

We looked at each other and then at her. We didn’t know where we were and we didn’t care. All that mattered was winning this next hand. We were addicted and that’s why Tommy said what he did next.

“We’re going to skip this one, we’re in the middle of a game here.”

It was brilliant; he had said exactly what we were feeling. Why should we get out and see one more boring tourist trap when we were having a great time here? After all, didn’t Mom just plan these stops to give us a chance to get out of the car and not get on each other’s nerves? Since we were getting along right now, what did she care? She and Dad could enjoy it without our bickering.

“Yeah, we’re having fun back here,” I said.

Pattie nodded. We were all in agreement. This was one monument we would skip.

Mom’s head disappeared through the passenger door and she slammed it behind her. She stepped toward the back seat, where Tommy sat, and pulled on the handle. It was locked.

“Open that door,” she said through the glass.

Tommy reached over and rolled the window down a crack.

“Get out of this car, right now,” she said, her voice low and primal, putting her fingers through the window and doing her best to drag Tommy through it by the ear.

“Open this door!”

He put his cards down on the pillow that we used as a table and opened the car door.

“Let’s go,” she said pulling him out by his arm, leaving a trail of cards and coins behind him.

For a second I wondered if she just meant him, but realized the seriousness of the situation when her face appeared again in the open doorway. Pattie and I put our cards down and had barely exited the car when Mom started down a path. We tried to catch up, hobbling as best we could with our tired legs. About halfway down the path we looked up and saw four humungous, very serious, faces carved in the mountain. I made a mental note to imitate them later if we played another game of Make Me Laugh.

When we arrived at the overlook we turned around, put on our best fake smiles, and posed for a few pictures with Mount Rushmore hovering above us. After that we took a quick spin through the museum and were back in the car, just under a half an hour later.

“I can’t believe you guys wanted to miss that,” said Dad when we were back in the car. “You don’t know how lucky you are to see all the stuff we have.”


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Catherine Lanser is a writer who lives in Madison, Wis. She grew up in a small town, the youngest of a big family, and enjoys writing about this time in her life. E-mail: catherinelanser[at]yahoo.com.

I Talk the Talk, He Rides the Bike

A Midsummer Tale ~ Honorable Mention
Ellia Bisker


An Excerpt from “I Talk the Talk, He Rides the Bike”

The next morning the sky threatened rain and we were anxious—rain was dangerous on a bike, not to mention penetrating and unpleasant. If it rained we might have to wait it out and then head back to Nimes. But after breakfast the skies cleared and we hit the road, all optimism and pleasantly aching legs.

When we hit the Pyrenees it suddenly occurred to me to be afraid. There the road began to climb up and wind around the mountains, suddenly becoming a series of swooping blind curves around a cliff face, which offered us the most magnificent view yet, of the heart-stopping drop to the rocky sea where we could, quite conceivably, fall to our deaths.

If we crash, I thought, if some car flies around a curve and knocks us down the side of this mountain, no one will even know we were here. It was a sobering thought: our broken bodies tumbling down the mountainside like rag dolls, punctured by the lovely grapevines, crushed by the bike.

I gritted my teeth and white-knuckled it the whole time Seth was negotiating the bike through the turns, my mouth as dry as paper. At the Spanish border we flashed our passports and were waved across without a fuss, and, in spite of my apprehension, we reached Portbou without incident.

Portbou was a bright, quiet fishing town on a serene blue harbor that seemed to be populated entirely by old men and their dogs. After buying a postcard depicting the Benjamin memorial, I approached one of the old men and said, “Scusi” (this, Seth later pointed out, was Italian), “donde està—” and pointed to the card.

“Ah,” the old man said, nodding. Did we speak Catalan, he asked.

We shook our heads.

Spanish?

No Spanish.

He shook his head in bemusement or pity at our ignorance and motioned for us to follow.

Faced with the old man’s gruff silence, I racked my brain’s store of Spanish and came up with a sentence to offer him: “Bueno perro,” I said. Good dog.

The old man nodded, unsurprised. Of course it was a good dog.

Exhausted of vocabulary, I followed.

The monument was lonely and ineffable, a mute object. It was in the form of an angular metal tunnel leading down from a clifftop toward the sea, where it dead-ended at a wall of glass inscribed with a quote from Walter Benjamin about the forgotten of history and pocked with a couple of what looked like recent bullet holes, the noise from which must have been deafening to whatever vandalizing teens had shot them.

We paid our respects, took some photographs, and then, just a couple of hours after reaching the town we had worked so hard to get to, we eagerly got back on the bike.

This time as we made our way around the series of treacherous curves, fear didn’t twist my gut up in knots—maybe because we had already survived it once, or maybe because we had achieved our halfway mark and everything was going to be downhill from here on out. Or maybe it was just clear that Portbou had become our pretext, not our destination.

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Ellia Bisker has worked at a children’s publishing house, an independent bookstore, a New York City art museum, and a small circus; currently she is pursuing a degree in Arts Administration. Her writing has been published in Pif magazine, Brooklyn Inside Out, ReadyMade, the Utne Reader, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. She also writes and performs country songs, much to the surprise of her Yankee parents. E-mail: ellia.bisker[at]gmail.com.