Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Silver
Laura Magalas

The Prypiat River and a part of the Chernobyl NPP
Photo Credit: Andrzej Karon

It’s her third trip in the last two months and I haven’t heard from her since she left. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind her going on trips. She goes on them all the time for work, taking water samples or pictures or whatever it is that ecologists do. She works with the water people in our more rural areas of New York, running tests and making sure that our water is just as bad as it is in Jersey and the other states around us. She’s gone to Washington to see how bad it is on the other side too. I don’t mind her work trips. It’s what she does.

I don’t mind the apartment being empty either. That’s the great thing about being a freelance writer. I make up my own schedule. And with her being gone, I don’t have to worry about whether or not the TV is too loud. I don’t have to worry about using up all the hot water. I don’t even have to track down a coaster to put under my beer (which I do anyway, what with self-preservation being very important to me). I don’t mind any of that.

What I do mind is that the trips seem to be getting more frequent. They also seem to be getting longer.

See, it used to be a weekend here or there. Then it was a few week-long conferences and lab trips once in a while. But over the last six months, it’s become regular. Once the month starts, she’s gone for the first two weeks of it. It’s not the fact that she doesn’t call that worries me. We call each other twice when we go on trips away from each other: once to say we got there safely and once to say when to be picked up at the airport. She hasn’t called me once in the last three months to come get her at the airport. I’ve just been sitting at the table or on the couch or in the kitchen when she walks in. Up until then I’ve been nervous or wondering where she’s gone now, but when she comes home weighed down with her gear and suitcase… everything else goes out the window. I’m just happy she’s home and we make up for lost time.

I’m such a goner.

“Still no word from Alexa?” asks my brother, Mike. I’m at his house for dinner. He’s at the sink trying his best to wash some salad without getting it everywhere. Most guys would have let themselves go by now, but not my brother. Divorce looks good on him. “I’m surprised she hasn’t called,” he says.

I tap my hands from where I’m sitting at the island in the middle of the kitchen. “I’m sure she’s fine.”

“You worried?”

“Why would I be worried?”

“I don’t know,” he lies. I’ve talked to Mike about Alexa’s trips more than once. He knows I’m worried. But it’s not her safety that has me concerned, and he knows that too. He’s just trying to be delicate, which is why he says, “Maybe she’s just out of reach.”

“Yeah,” I say, liking this game.

“Or maybe she’s just cheating on you.”

And just like that, my initial fears return. I look at my niece Cora sitting at the end of the island, clearly pretending to be doing her homework. She shrugs at me. “What?” she says. “It’s possible. I mean, Mom cheated on Dad, right? Everyone always thinks it’s the guy who does it. Girls do it too.”

“Enough, Cora,” says Mike.

Cora puts up the typical teenager defensive, but her affection for her dad makes her apologetic tone sound almost genuine. “What? I’m sorry,” she says before turning to me. “I’m sorry Uncle Nick. I shouldn’t have said that. My bad.”

She looks at me and all I can see is my twenty-three-year-old brother holding a pink-wrapped bundle in his arms. I give her a smile. “It’s okay.”

Her face lightens. “Besides, she has to come back. I totally hate having to do bio by myself.”

“Speaking of bio,” says Mike, making a brushing motion towards Cora’s books. He puts the food in the empty space. Within minutes our plates are filled with Caesar salad, steamed vegetables and some kind of cheese pasta that is so rich, it almost leaves our attempts at being healthy completely pointless.

“So how’s school going?” I ask Cora. She gives me her typical response of “the usual” and I try again. “Well, what are you working on in biology?”

Now she becomes more animated, and it’s not in a good way. “A report. They’re making us take our own samples of the river that runs behind the school and compare it to other rivers. I was hoping Alexa could give me a hand with it, you know, because of all the stuff she does.”

“Looks like you’ll have to learn to do it on your own,” says Mike.

Cora rolls her eyes playfully at her dad. “You think?” she says. “Maybe I was secretly hoping that Uncle Nick could help me with it.”

Mike shakes his head and I speak up. “Well, I can’t guarantee anything, but if you wanted me to read over your report and see how it sounds, I can do that. Give it a little edit, maybe tighten it up?”

“If it was any tighter, it’d be giving itself a hernia,” she says, before looking at me thoughtfully. “But that actually sounds pretty good. Thanks, Uncle Nick. I might take you up on that.”

Conversation turns typical after that, with father and daughter talking about their school and work days, enemies and allies and co-workers encountered, and articles that I have yet to write. I always enjoy Sunday dinners with them. They’re all the family I have left.

I’m enjoying myself so much that I almost forget the empty seat next to me and Cora’s earlier comment. Almost.

I think Alexa’s cheating on me.

This isn’t exactly something that has happened to me before, so I’m not sure whether or not this is a regular suspicion or something that I should be completely ashamed of thinking. But it’s the truth. I don’t want it to be the truth, but I think it is. I hope I’m wrong. If I’m right, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Alexa is what my father would call a “perfect catch.” When he wasn’t using the phrase to describe a marlin he almost caught once, he would use it to describe my mother: beautiful, smart and funny. Alexa has this way of always making you feel like who you are and what you do are the most important things in the world. I love it when she asks what I’m working on. She always reads my articles before they’re published. I came across a collection of all the magazine issues I’ve been published in when I was in her room the other day. This filled me with two thoughts. The first was that I don’t know half as much about her work as she knows about mine.

The second was that I’m having so much doubt about her going on trips for work, I’m reduced to going through her things.

Not that I’m going through anything serious. I’m not raiding her closet and digging through drawers. I’m just thinking about her. The next thing I know, I’m in her room. It just sort of happens. I end up in there every few days, just sitting. Her bed is creased with spots where I’ve sat, releasing an air of perfume—the raspberry scent that I bought her this past Christmas.

I sat down at her desk the other day. It’s an old, beat-up piece of oak with every available surface covered with all kinds of notes and papers from her work. The more I read, the more I realized how little I know about her work. I didn’t know what any of the papers meant. There were graphs and statistics, spreadsheets and reports. She is always so willing to hear about my work, about what I’m doing, that I haven’t thought to ask about hers outside of the usual “How’s work?” She sometimes goes into detail about the specific rivers that are being analyzed, but other than that, nothing. I always get lost in all of the complicated terms and language that she speaks. She notices and tries to summarize it as best as possible.

I’ll start researching biology now if it means she’ll come home.

It isn’t just the extra trips that are making me suspicious. It’s how she doesn’t want me to pick her up from the airport anymore. How she isn’t really sure where she is going until she reaches the airport. I’ve even noticed that she’s started taking a different bag during some of her trips. We’ve been living together for the last four years and I haven’t even met her parents yet. She has a brother who lives in Minnesota, but I only met him once when we first started going out.

Our first meeting was completely random. My car was in the shop. For the first time in forever, I took the bus. She got on the bus with crutches and I was the first person out of my seat. We started talking. We both missed our stops. Everything went from there. I found out about her work and she found out about mine. We talked about anything and everything, from how her Ukrainian parents hated her being out past nine o’clock to the guy on my little league team who terrorized me into quitting baseball. How I’d never learn the name of her hometown (something starting with a P that I wouldn’t be able to pronounce) and how she didn’t like any sport but soccer. All of the smaller details, the early days when we used to talk about anything and everything that crossed our minds.

Maybe she has someone else to talk to now.

I’m at Alexa’s desk when the phone rings. It’s been more than two weeks since she left. I’ve given up hoping that she’ll call. When she comes back (and I emphasize the ‘when’ in my mind for hope), I won’t know she’s coming until she gets here. I answer it on the third ring. It’s Cora.

“Is it okay if I fire off that report to you now? I’ve finished it and I need you to read it over.”

I smile. “Is that because it’s due tomorrow?”

There’s a beat on the other end of the phone, then: “So can you still do it or not?”

I tell her yes. She says that she’ll email it right now. She doesn’t say it, but I can hear her relief. As a writer, I know stress and last-minute writing when I see it. It’s nice to be on the other side for once.

I head over to my computer and check my inbox. Nothing yet. Waiting and not wanting to let her down, I log onto my real Facebook. When I first decided to write under an alias, my family was divided. My dad and I liked the fact that I could write something without anyone immediately knowing who I was (not that I write terrible commentary but people get offended by everything nowadays). My mother and brother thought that I’d do myself more credit using my real name. I’m not famous by any means, but I’ve never regretted my decision to write under a pseudonym. Under my real name, I have fewer than fifty friends (which by today’s standards, makes me a loner).

I check out Cora’s Facebook page (which makes me a stalker, apparently). Some girl named Kate is taking up most of the page with things like “OMG, no way” and “I hate this assignment” and “You sure I can’t steal your measurements?”. One sentence catches my eye. It says “4pH in our little river isn’t so bad. Could be worse… Could be Pripyat River.”

Something tweaks inside me. Before I can figure out what it is, a chat window pops up. Cora’s sent the report, and could I please not be “super mean.” I pull it from my inbox and read it over. I change a few sentences here and there, but my heart isn’t in it. The back of my mind is still trying to figure out where I know the name from. Overall, it’s a good report. I send it back to Cora and message her that it’s all done. She asks if I got lost in all the extra measurements and charts. I tell her that I navigated it pretty well. I’m about to tell her that I recognize most of it from the notes on Alexa’s desk.

That’s when I stop.

Alexa. Pripyat.

Pripyat is the name of the town that Alexa came from. It’s where she was born and raised. Waiting for Cora to respond, I type in the name of Alexa’s hometown to see what comes up. I freeze.

A lightning bolt could have struck me. I wouldn’t have felt a thing.

I say goodbye to Cora and she thanks me for reading her report. My mind is buzzing. Everything is slowly starting to make sense. Picking up my laptop, I take it to Alexa’s desk. I look through her paperwork again, only this time, I know what to look for. I do some web searching. She has electrochemical analysis readings of different rivers, pH measurements and charts. In a pile of papers, I find different readings. A non-science person wouldn’t have noticed the difference. By the time I’m finished researching and learning about Becquerel and Curie measurements and comparing them to her readings and notes, I feel like attending a conference. It all makes sense: why she doesn’t want me to get her from the airport, why I haven’t met her parents.

Why she didn’t tell me where she was going.

I’m still sitting at her desk when I hear the apartment door open. I hear her put down the bags, including the extra one that she’s started taking. The one that probably has some extra items. Gifts for her parents. Maybe even a Geiger counter.

She sounds tired from the trip. I would be too, getting off a plane and having to go through customs. Especially after coming from Pripyat. They probably checked her thoroughly. Since the nuclear reactor blew there, it’s been a dangerous place to visit. No wonder she didn’t want me to go.

She’s surprised to see me sitting at her desk. I’m happy she’s home safe. I watch her carefully, wanting to see the change in her reaction when she realizes I know where she’s been going.

“I missed you,” she says.

“I missed you too,” I say. “How was Chernobyl?”


Laura began writing stories on her grandfather’s typewriter at the age of ten. Since then she has continued to write and daydream excessively, feeding often on the support of her friends and family. She, like half the population of the world, is currently working on a novel. Email: atellix[at]

The Retrieval

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
Laura Magalas

“You’re not going, Fort.”

Xylan’s warning tone of voice didn’t seem to faze the youth, whose bright blue eyes still gleamed. Fort’s small green hand grabbed at Xylan’s belt and made a fist, tugging repeatedly.

“But I’m ready, you know I’m ready,” he said, straightening his posture and releasing his hand from the belt at Xylan’s strict glare. “How am I supposed to prove myself if no one will give me a chance?”

Xylan stared hard at him for a long time. Finally he grasped Fort’s hand and held it up in front of his face. “What color do you see?”

“But, Master Xylan—”

“What color, Fort?”

Fort shifted his gaze down to the dark tiles of the academy hallway. He sighed. “Green, sir.”

“Exactly,” said Xylan, dropping the hand, “Only those who are grey get to run retrieval missions on Earth. Blue for reconnaissance. You know this. Until you’re grey, you’ll have to be satisfied with running retrieval on Venus.”

“But the next Earth retrieval year doesn’t happen for another fifty years after this one! I can’t wait that long!”

“Fort, until you grow into an adult skin,” Xylan said firmly, “it will have to do. You know the rules.”

Fort stared up at Xylan for a long moment, his blue eyes dimming until they grew dark. Finally, he turned away and without saying another word, walked down the hallway, away from the loading docks.

Xylan watched him and tried to ignore the heaviness he found pressing on his two hearts, becoming heavier with each step that took Fort further away from him. He watched him turn the corner. He dropped his hands to his sides and his six fingers began grasping and releasing the trim of his robe, a nervous habit he had developed after leaving his home planet Falpor, as a child, for its academy. Times had changed since the academy’s inception, and rules were now rules, not recommendations.

He remembered what the academy was like when he first registered. The satellite for the academy had just been built, away from the distractions of the planet. Abduction missions were abduction missions and not “retrieval” missions. The name changed because the council (who never went on the missions anyway) thought that “abduction” invoked a negative image of the Falpians.

Xylan remembered when he snuck aboard his first abduction mission. He’d hidden in the back of the pod of some first runner named Tak who could barely navigate properly. He remembered what it was like to see that human come through the klystron tube, the expression on their face at what they saw and how calm they looked when they were put to sleep for the examination process. It was the best thing he’d ever done, experiencing it first hand, but it was only now, when he was older, that he realized how much trouble he could have been in had something happened while on board.

Xylan released the grip he had on his robe as he slid down the hall towards the dorms. He glanced up at the door marked Beta and remembered when he often frequented this very room. He would always have to knock three times before Fort would answer and always answered looking disheveled and wide-eyed, as though when he wasn’t with Xylan, he was sleeping.

When he wasn’t sleeping, he was brilliant. He was the best student Xylan had ever had. Fort was always attentive and ready to learn, but always tried to ask and integrate his own questions into the lessons. And most often, those questions were about Earth.

He wanted to know what the species was like, what they ate, how they reproduced. How they managed to survive on a planet that was mostly water when they all seemed to be land animals. In the odd moments that he wasn’t with Xylan or sleeping, he was in the Academy’s library, reading everything he could on the residents of Earth. He often became frustrated with contradictory reports, and continuously begged Xylan to tell the story again of how he snuck aboard the “retrieval” pod (which had become a private joke between the two). It was then that Xylan decided to recommend Fort to the Board for training for retrieval missions to Earth, on the agreement with the council that he would not begin until he was old enough to do so.

At first, Fort had been thrilled, but as time went on, he realized how much more time he would have to dedicate to training before running missions to Earth. His first retrieval mission to Venus had gone off without the slightest error, and he had achieved the quickest turnaround time for the trip. But Xylan felt as though Fort was just going through the motions, doing whatever it was he had to do to ensure a place on the next retrieval squadron heading to Earth.

Xylan had gone to the council without Fort’s knowledge and requested that the age requirement on Fort be lifted so he could participate in the next trip, but the council refused. They claimed he was too headstrong, too focused and obsessed with only one goal, and in the event of an emergency, would be useless.

This had made Xylan angry. When the academy was first created, someone with as much talent and interest as Fort would have been guaranteed an early graduation and first choice of solo missions to any planet of his choosing, not dragged down to be suffocated under the average level. He remembered storming out of the assembly hall, the chairman still shouting after him about the strict rules and the changing times, but Xylan hadn’t listened. He remembered seeing Fort sitting down the hall, waiting for him. Still fuming from the meeting, Xylan had called Fort over. Surprised, Fort had come running. Xylan had sighed.

“I’m going to tell you something Fort.”

“What is it Master Xylan?”

Xylan looked down at the youth. “Sometimes you’ll need to listen to rules. And… sometimes you’ll need to break them. There will be people who’ll like you and there’ll be people who won’t. But the thing I want you to remember is to be true to yourself. Not me, not your fellow Falpians, not the academy. You. But always, always… be prepared for the consequences. A good explorer doesn’t just plan his trip. He anticipates the reaction of his return. And that is what you have to learn to do.”

Fort nodded his green oval head. “I understand Master Xylan.”

“Good,” he’d said, “Now let’s get you ready for your next mission.”

The two had walked back to the dorm room where Xylan now stood. Pausing as the memory finally passed and remembering the events that had happened this morning, Xylan finally raised a hand to the door and knocked three times.

No answer.

He frowned and was about to knock again as he heard the intercom spring to life through the static from the nebula near the satellite.

“Master Xylan to control, please. Master Xylan, to control.”

Making a note to speak to Fort later, Xylan swept down the halls towards the control center.

All eyes turned to Xylan as he entered the control station. “I was sent for,” he boomed. Within moments, a small figure turned away from the large window and came scurrying across the platform towards him.

“Master Xylan, thank you for coming.”

Xylan recognized the small horned figure as Hain, a Tarin from the Nars star and in charge of assigning missions to the students. He had agreed with Xylan about Fort’s skills, and had helped to get him on other retrieval missions as often as he could. Xylan looked down at him as he approached.

“What is it, Hain?”

Hain took a deep breath and released it quickly. “We received word that a storage unit was missing, and a ship that had been launched as part of the retrieval squadron to Earth was not responding to our calls to reconvene.”

Xylan stopped. He dropped to one knee, his full attention now on the Tarin front of him. “What are you telling me?” He felt every eye of every agent at the control stations trying not to listen.

“We believe that someone stole a ship and launched it with the rest of the squadron going to Earth to run retrieval missions. It’s the only one that didn’t return when called, and was still missing.”

Xylan’s caught the tone in Hain’s voice, and his antennas straightened. “Was?”

“Yes. We found him.”


Hain said nothing. Xylan frowned. Realization dawned and he dropped his head. “Oh, please don’t tell me,” he said, knowing full well the answer. He stood up and brought a hand to his face, pinching the space between his eyes with his three fingers. A small smile crept across his face as he tried to smother a little feeling of pride that began to rise inside of him.

“I’m afraid it’s more serious than that,” said Hain, noticing Xylan’s smile. “Much more serious. But you are correct in your assumption. It was Fort who stole the ship. The code used to activate the ship was the same one that he had been assigned upon first enrolling at the Academy.”

“Well, where is he now? Can you get him on the inter-ship system? Order him back?”

Hain swallowed. “I’m afraid that’s impossible sir.”

“Why the suns not?”

Hain lowered his gaze before looking back up. “I’m afraid he’s… crashed… sir.”

Xylan stopped. “What?”

He looked at Hain, now trembling evidently. “He’s crashed, Master Xylan. The ship’s signal died not five minutes ago.”

“But where? How do we know for sure?”

“We’ve got a lock on the location,” said Hain, “But retrieving him will be impossible without the threat of interplanetary warfare.”

“Where has he crashed?!?”

Those who were casually eavesdropping from their control stations straightened up at the sound of Xylan’s shout. Hain winced evidently.

“Earth, sir,” said Hain finally, “New Mexico. A place called Roswell. It seems the engines…”

Xylan stared at Hain, but saw only his two mouths move without sound. His mind was racing, his two hearts beating out a drumroll. Soon Hain was quiet. Those at their control stations felt awkward at the silence, and many went back to as little work as they could, in case they missed something. Finally, Xylan straightened.


“Yes, sir?”

“The next retrieval year to Earth is fifty years from now, correct?”

Hain frowned. “Yes, sir,” he said hesitantly.

Xylan stared out the large front window of the control center. “Get me galactic control and assemble the council,” he said, dropping his hands and fingering the trim of his robe. “Let’s see if we can’t get it moved up a decade or two.”


Laura has finished her Honors B.A. in English and is enjoying the freedom of being able to write more frequently. She lives for writing and tends to daydream excessively. She hopes to one day have one good novel to her name. She is planning to do NaNoWriMo this year. E-mail: atellix[at]

A Shift in Balance

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Silver
Laura Magalas

Balance McKay was thinking. Deeply too.

She sat with one arm over the side of her chair, intertwining her fingers in the spokes of one wheel, eyes closed, the other elbow bent against the armrest, her fist pressed firmly under her nose. Finally, after a long moment, she sighed and sat back in her wheelchair. “Let’s go over it again.”

“What, all of it?”


“You’re kidding.”

She simply cast me a glance over the rim of her glasses. “Again, Jack.”

“This will be number four.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“I don’t think you’re paying me enough for this.” I was kidding and she knew it. As far as assistants go, I was one of the highest paid in the city. Because if you had a problem, and you had money, the only person you went to was Balance McKay. And as a result, when you worked for her, you were very well paid. That having been said, I can also say I’ve never been assaulted, beaten, or shot at more times in my life. Working for Balance attracts that kind of trouble. Of course, every time I begin to feel the need for sympathy, I get a good look at her wheelchair. Changes my mind every time.

Once I asked London, the butler, about how her wheels at her hips came about, but I didn’t get a lot because he started talking over my head. Something about her immune system. She can’t leave the premises or else she can get real sick. So when she needs to have something, she needs someone to get it. That’s where I come in. She’d had me run to Quincy Street and back. When I’d returned to her South Side apartment and found her in the sunroom, she’d asked for an update. And again. And again.

And now again.

So I let out a loud sigh of displeasure. She didn’t seem to care but it made me feel better. I leaned back in my white wicker chair opposite hers and started flicking a red flower on a potted bush nearby. “Michael King, twenty-eight years old. Lives on upper Patterson. No kin of any kind. Pays rent for his apartment on time, landlady says she’s never had a problem with him. Until the night of his suicide.”

I caught her glimpse and realizing my error, corrected myself, “Pardon me, the night of his death.”

She nodded and I continued. “At ’bout ten o’clock, landlady hears arguing. Swears she hears a woman’s voice. Minute later, it’s all quiet. Landlady hears someone start to leave, peeks out the door and sees a woman leave the apartment. Next day, someone comes looking for him.”

Balance suddenly let out a violent cough. Quickly reacting, I jumped to her; her body was shaking horribly. She held a hand out to hold me back, her glasses slipping down her face. After a few moments, she seemed to have control again and the fit ceased. She waved her hand and motioned for me continue. I stayed standing, and tugged a nearby rope that hung from the ceiling, a bell for London, before continuing. “Guy who worked with King, Derek Austen, finally got the landlady to open the door. Apparently he’d been trying to reach King. The two open the apartment door, King’s lying on the floor, dead as Shakespeare. Cause of death was an overdose of the drug opium.”

“Could Austen account for his whereabouts during the time Michael King was absent?”

I nodded. “Much to my disappointment he informed me of a very solid alibi he happened to have, which you are going to love.”

“Enlighten me.”

I grinned. “He claims to have been with the same lady that was in King’s apartment. Justine Teller.”

“And you spoke to this Justine Teller,” she said expectantly.

“Yes. Says her purpose for being there was to break an affair with King. He got angry and threw her out. She left. Austen was waiting outside. They claim King was staring down at them from his balcony until they left. That was the last time Austen saw him until he found him. They were together the rest.” Thus concluded my fourth description of the case. I sat back in my seat and noticed London in the shadow of the doorway.

Balance spoke. “Where was Michael King’s apartment?”

“Place called Haddon Heights. Second floor, facing the street.”

“If you’re looking at the building, which side?”

I thought for a moment. “The right side. Above the door.”

“And the opium… was it taken orally?”

“According to Brandon,”—a coroner we were both familiar with—“he injected it. Liquid opium. Gave it another name though… something called—”

“—laudanum,” Balance finished. I saw her stiffen noticeably. Enough to make London take a step.


“In a minute,” she said, looking back at me. She started taking deeper breaths. “Any bruising on the body? Fingerprints on the needle?”

“Bruise at the back of the head, which Brandon says can be from falling after the laud… law… the l-stuff kicked in,” I said, “No fingerprints on the needle, but he was wearing gloves when they found him.”

London, who seemed to decide enough was enough, stepped forward. “Balance,” he said firmly, “it’s time for your dose.”

She sighed, frustrated, but gave him a nod. London approached, wheeling a small silver tray with assorted bottles on it. I saw the needle on the tray. So did Balance. She instantly looked away, holding out her bare arm perpendicular from her body. She gave a shudder and I stood.

“I’m fine,” she said. “Sit down.”

I stayed standing just to be difficult, then crouched in front of her to serve as a distraction. I took her hand. She didn’t comment.

“Do you know what it is that makes me react like this to needles, Jack?”

I shook my head.

“Aichmophobia,” she said. London injected her and she squeezed my hand. Tight grip for someone so fragile. She continued, “It’s a pathological fear of needles or anything sharp. My case is mild, so I can handle shots, but I wouldn’t be able to stab myself.” She heaved a sigh as London finished and folded her arm. “You know Doc?” she said, referring to her doctor, whose name I nodded at, “You get him drunk enough, he breaches patient confidence. Told me once he had ten clients who had aichmophobia like me in his clientele, and he named them.” She stopped to take a breath. “Michael King was one of them.”

I stopped. “So he couldn’t have—”

“—injected himself, no,” she finished. “If it’s the same Michael King. And one other thing,” she said, finally shaking my hand off, “I’ve seen Haddon Heights. Michael’s apartment shouldn’t have a balcony. It has a fire escape, but no balcony. Check it out.” She suddenly coughed violently but continued. “Call Doc. Get him to pull King’s file.”

“Won’t the cops and Eric have that?”

“No. Psychological information isn’t normally on their medical records. And tell Eric to haul in both suspects.”

I grabbed my hat from the chair and gave a wave. “Oh, Balance?”


“Try not to die while I’m gone.”

She gave me a smile, but I could see the hourglasses in her eyes. “Are you still here? Get going.”

I left.


Laura Magalas is finishing her B.A. in Honors English. She lives for writing and tends to daydream excessively. She hopes to one day have one good novel to her name. E-mail: atellix[at]

The Lamplighter

Dead of Winter ~ Third Place
Laura Magalas

The average light bulb in our house lasted six months. There were some exceptions, of course. Bulbs in lamps that were rarely lit, such as those that had their home in the guest bedroom, lasted longer. They were hardly ever on, as we hardly ever had guests to use them, save for the old sailing friend of my uncle’s here and there who was passing through.

Others lasted shorter amounts of time, such as the one that sat on the large oak desk in what was now my office, and was once my uncle’s library. I replaced the bulb in that desk lamp almost every three months, as my uncle had when he’d used it.

There was, however, one incredible exception. There was one bulb in our house that had never been replaced. At the end of the hall, above the front door, was a brass lighthouse. In that lighthouse was a bulb that my uncle had placed in it when he’d first mounted it to the wall. As long as my uncle lived, he’d never had to replace the bulb.

I’d though it was as ugly as sin the first time I saw it. I had been eight and had come home from school to see my uncle up a ladder, fluidly twisting a screwdriver in his hands.

“Whatcha doin?” I asked, shrugging off my heavy winter coat.

My Uncle Silo had been a tall man, thin with a well-built frame. The guys he had grown up with in the shipyards had called him Slim, an evident crack at his lack of appearing as strong as he was. I’d often heard the term “hidden strength” thrown around later in life, mostly in reference to an intellectual or emotional prowess that only emerged at certain times. With my uncle, it was true. I often suspected that pure lithium flowed through his veins, titanium deposits in his bone marrow. He didn’t show muscle, but he was strong. He was the sole reason I never in my life judged people by their appearance. He often wore an old cap, the kind that Jack Kerouac probably sat around smoking in. Kerouac would have worn it low like my uncle, just above the eyes so you could peer out at others from under the black fabric. His eyes had peered down at me like that from under the brim of his cap at the sound of my question.

“I’m putting up a lighthouse here, Eddie boy!” he’d said, putting down the screwdriver into the toolbox that sat on the top step, motioning to it with a proud thumb.

What my uncle poorly described as a lighthouse was a triangular lantern that had a lighthouse moulded on two of its three sides, the third used to secure it to the wall. It was a simple design as far as lighthouses went, with a triangular base that moved upward into another rectangle. The light was supposed to shine through this small opening in the fashioned brass mold, past small bars positioned across it to make it look like a window. A semi-circle that was presumed to be the dome was above it. I’d frowned at it.

He’d scratched at the little grey tufts of hair that peaked out from under the sides of his cap. “Something wrong, Eddie?”

I’d shrugged. “It’s not so special.”

My uncle had smiled, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He’d held out a hand to me. “Pass me that bulb in the box, would you?”

I’d looked down at my feet to see a small cardboard box. I’d opened it and pulled out the white bulb. He’d taken it from me and carefully reached over the two conjoined lighthouses, sliding his hand behind and twisting it slowly. Finally, his hand had come back without a bulb attached, and he’d stepped down from the ladder.

It wasn’t until that night that I’d understood the twinkle in my uncle’s eye. Appearances were deceiving. The lighthouse had seemed like nothing in the daytime, just a couple of bent up pieces of faulty brass. But as I’d walked past the hallway that led to the front door, the brightness of the bulb caught my eye, and I’d turned.

The lighthouse was majestic. I stood in the hallway right now as I had when I was small, simply staring at it, glowing with ethereal light. The light shone out of the windows bright and beautiful, providing just enough illumination to protect the hallway from the night’s dark cloaking powers.

As I stood there admiring it, I heard my uncle’s voice echo in my head of what he’d said the first time I’d seen the lighthouse illuminated. “You know what a lighthouse is of course, don’t you Eddie? It was used to protect sailors and their ships on the water. A lamplighter would go up and light the lamp in the top of the tower. The light would show them where the rocks and crags were in the water, so they’d be safe. It would help guide them all home. All day and all night it stays on, just like it does in this house.”

I’d frowned up at the lighthouse. “You mean it never goes out?”

He’d looked down at me from under his cap and had given me a wink. “Well, maybe when all the sailors are safe. When all of the ships and sailors come home safe to the harbor, the lighthouse’s job is done. Only then will the lamplighter extinguish the flame.”

His voice faded from me as I heard the sharp ring of the phone in my ears. I turned to the sound, stunned for a moment from my memories and trying to get my bearings. I turned and headed for the kitchen. As I started to turn the corner, I was suddenly plunged into darkness.

I turned. The hallway was dark.

The lighthouse had gone out.

The phone stopped ringing. Time seemed to halt entirely.

I felt my chest lock, my gaze frozen in place. My eyes were still adjusting to the sudden loss of light. Even though I couldn’t see it, I knew it was still there. I half expected my uncle to come around the corner and comment on the lighthouse, and could I get him the ladder from the closet. I could almost feel his hand on my shoulder, when he’d placed it there a few weeks ago.

“You be sure to take good care of the house for me while I’m gone,” he’d said, his other hand clutching worn out handles on a bag that used to contain his fishing gear.

I’d given him a big smile. “I’ll try my best.”

“That’s my boy,” he’d said as the front door opened. An old friend whose name had escaped me leaned in, a large coat to best the frigid winter outside wrapped around him tightly. “Let’s go, Slim.”

He’d slid on his parka and turned to his friend. “All right, Pat,” he’d said as my gaze had drifted to the illuminated lighthouse above his head, now glowing brighter with each passing moment in the early dimming, wintry evening light. First appearances had been deceiving, all right. And to think I’d thought it ugly at first.

“She’s a beauty,” I’d found myself saying aloud, coming back to reality upon hearing the sound of my voice.

Pat had gone and so had my uncle’s bag. My uncle had smiled at me and looked over his shoulder at the lighthouse. “It’s not so special,” he’d said with a smile and a wink, “but you be sure to take care of it.”

I’d nodded. “I’ll be sure to keep it lit until you get back safe, I promise.”

“Good boy.” After a warm embrace and a promise of our reuniting soon, he had been gone, venturing out into the snow that swung on the wind, and as the door closed behind him, I had stood by myself. I stood by myself again now, only this time, I stood in near-darkness. Time seemed to start again.

The light in the lighthouse was still out. My eyes adjusted a little more now, and I could make out shapes in the hall, slowly becoming illuminated by the rising moon. As I debated whether or not I should attempt to replace the bulb, I heard the ring of the phone again. This time, I made my way to the kitchen and successfully answered.



“Yeah, who’s this?”

“Eddie, it’s Pat. Slim’s friend. I tried calling before.”

“Sorry about that. What can I do for you?”

He sounded like he was shifting his weight on the other end. “I was wondering if you’d heard from your uncle. He took off a day or so ago, said he had somethin’ to do, and I ain’t heard from him since. Not that I’m worried or nothin’, it’s just— it ain’t like him to be gone this long. You know what I mean?”

I frowned. “No, I haven’t heard anything. He hasn’t called me.”

He made a request and I obliged and said I would call him at the number he provided if I heard anything from my uncle. I had only taken two steps after ending Pat’s call when the phone rang again, seeming louder than before. Being closer this time, I grabbed it on the first ring.



I knew the voice, but its return after a long absence made my heart clench. The last time I had heard it was from another room.

“I don’t know what to do,” the voice had said.

“I’ll tell you what to do,” my Uncle Silo had answered, “You leave him here with me, and you go. Hell, he’s spent half of his twelve years of life here with me anyway. Won’t be that much of a change for him.”

“But I don’t want to put you out.”

“Baby sister, you know damn well that what I just said is what you were hoping I’d say. Now I’ve said it, so you go on now. You go and get yourself fixed up. You’re in no condition any more to care for that boy. When you’re ready, you send word and I’ll come down and see that you’re better.”

The voice had let out a sob, just as it did now on the other end of the phone in response to my questioning tone. “Mom?”

She let out another short sob. “I’m so sorry, Eddie.”

“Mom, what’s wrong? What’s the matter?”

“It’s all… my fault, Eddie, my fault. He was— he was coming here,” she somehow managed to choke out.

I took a step, the cordless phone tightly pressed against my ear. “Mom, it’s okay. What’s wrong?”

I heard her voice crack on the other end. “Eddie… Eddie, there’s— Eddie, there’s been an accident.”

She attempted to stumble over the details, but I didn’t hear her after the next group of words she managed to struggle out. “Eddie… your Uncle Silo… He’s dead, Eddie. I’m so sorry.”

I turned to look down the barely illuminated hall, swimming now in shades of blue from the curtains filtering the moon. I saw it clearly from where I stood. The lighthouse, no longer lit, now seemed to have sunk to the bottom of the ocean as waves and shadows of blue and grey drifted across it. A ship gone down with its captain.

A lighthouse gone out with its lamplighter.

“Eddie? Eddie!” My mother’s voice said, growing frantic. “Are you okay? I’m sorry I had to be— to be the one to tell you.”

“No no, it’s okay… Actually, you didn’t,” I found myself saying, my eyes never leaving the end of the hall. I watched my Uncle Silo again ascending the ladder, ready to put into the lighthouse the only light it would ever need in his lifetime, throwing me a familiar smile. I suddenly warmed. “Don’t worry Mom… he’s safe.”

I heard her pause on the other end of the phone. “How— how do you know that? How can you be so sure?”

I watched as my younger self carefully reached up and handed him the bulb. “Because he already told me.”

“Who did?”

I watched again as he headed out the door for the last time, out into the swirling snow, his retreating back slowly fading and disappearing among the flakes. I felt a tear slide down my cheek.

“The lamplighter, Mom, the lamplighter told me.”


Laura Magalas is currently working on her Honors B.A. in English. She enjoys writing in her spare time and tends to daydream excessively. E-mail: atellix[at]