She walks.

High overhead cirrus clouds lace the blue sky.

Grit pinches into the sole of her bare, left foot. She pauses and sweeps her hand from the ball toward the heel. Grainy pebbles scatter to the ground. She straightens, wipes her brow with the back of her hand, and breathes in and out deeply.

Ahead and to the right, a bird sings. Now two birds. Now a symphony choruses through the wooded glade. Thirty years past her father, an ornithologist, would have told her the names of every feathered musician…the robins, the jays, the chickadees, the sparrows.  She calls them simply: birds.

She turns toward the overgrown path winding through the glade and pauses again. She knows that if she follows it far enough, stepping over the tufts of sedge and between the upheavals of brickwork, she will come to a cottage. Small. Moss-covered. Roof sagging with age. If she pushes open the crooked, worm-rotten door, and makes her way to the loft, her father will be there.

Clarisse fled with the child when it first started. She doesn’t know where to, but there are no runners or couriers this deep in the reclaimed, even if she did.

She sighs. Someday she will bury what’s left of her father alongside her mother — alongside everyone else.

She nods to herself, turns away from the path, and moves on. She cannot stop. Winter here will be long, cold, and dark. She must get to the warm southland.

She walks on.

The Polite Commuter

I had a seat near the front of the bus. A good one – facing forward – and there was still one open in the sideways bench seats. I fished out my phone and started checking messages. The bus stopped again and an elderly couple got on. The man gave his wife the open seat, but he didn’t look too sturdy so I relinquished mine, walked to the open area by the back door and stood there. Almost fell when the bus jerked forward so I grabbed a pole then pulled out my phone again. The back of the bus was crowded enough that I had to move each time the drive open the rear door, but I was able to set backpack on the floor between my feet so that helped. I guess it wasn’t a big deal. I just couldn’t focus on my messages and ended up stuffing my phone in my backpack. A few stops later, the stop at the strip mall where the grocery store is, a woman got on with one of those double strollers with a toddler at the bottom and an infant on top. Plus she had half a dozen plastic grocery bags. The driver said they blocked too much of the aisle so she had to stand by the rear door with me. It was a squeeze. The carriage wheel pushed my bag so that I couldn’t reach it, but the mother said she wasn’t going far. When her stop came, the drop to the sidewalk was so steep that she couldn’t get the stroller off. I grabbed the front of the stroller and another guy grabbed the handle and between the two of us we got it off safe and sound, both kids intact and happy. The other guy shifted to one side so the mother could get off. She paused long enough to retrieve my bag with her foot and pull it back near where I’d been standing. I held my hand to help her down. She nodded her thanks and started to push the stroller down the sidewalk. Just as I reached to haul myself back up into the bus the driver shut the door on my hand. I dropped back to the sidewalk cradling my bruised hand and watched as the bus drove away.




My older sister was prettier, of course, with her black hair and shiny eyes, but I was the smarter one. I was always more subtle, sneakier, content to relish the small victories rather than indulge in the large, over-blown hoo-has and celebrations she liked. For instance, that house of hers. Which house? You mean you don’t know? You must have heard about it at some point. Gingerbread. In the middle of nowhere out in the woods. Children found it and killed her for it. If I warned her once, I warned her a thousand times. Don’t be so obvious, I’d say. Don’t let on about what you’re up to. Did she listen? No – and look where it got her. She took after our cousins in Scotland; I mean, good grief, they made an entire song out of it:

“Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”

Catchy – but not very secretive, you know what I’m saying. Alexander the Great, that was some of my best work; people have argued for centuries about him and they still aren’t sure. That’s how it’s supposed to be. Quiet. Discreet. Not all hi-ho-hi-ho and poison apples. It’s harder these days, of course, but if you know what you’re doing no forensics in the world will catch you. A dash of tainted salt left in a restaurant; a bit good mushroom mixed with the bad; a plate of chocolate candy on the counter for co-workers.