From the editor's desk,
Hello all. I would to thank all of our readers. Thank you for helping this magazine to be better and better. I would also like to extend my apologies for a mistake I made this on the past issue. I (rather dumbly) did not post the last issue on time. So Issue Nine can be found here and will be re-posted at a later date, May 8th.
The theme of this issue of Larks magical realism. Places that seem real but with just a hint of the sublime. Good reading!
Daniel J. Pool
Dubious Gifts from the Magic Shop
By—William J. White
Petey stood by the front door, looking out the screen as his Uncle Sulley squeezed his kind-of-round body out from under the steering wheel of his vintage ‘clunker’. Sully was assisted in that endeavor, no doubt, by the use of some words seldom heard in Petey’s household. As his Uncle waddled his way toward Petey, the boy checked the lock “Hello,
“Uncle Sully,” he said, wishing he could have gone along with his mother to the store. But as Sully reached for the door knob, Petey really wished that he had gone with his mother.
“Hey, Petey,” his uncle remarked, trying to twist the knob with his stubby hand, “Ain’t you gonna let me come in?” His wide grin showed an uneven row of tobacco-stained teeth, causing Petey to shiver nervously.
“Can’t do it, Uncle Sully. Mom’s orders…”
“So she’s still mad, huh?” He wiped the sweat drops from his balding forehead, with an equally sweaty, and hairy forearm. “Boy, ‘neph’, for a widow raising a nine-year old kid, it must be the ‘rancid pits’, but… well, she just doesn’t know how to forgive. And I don’t know why.”
“Well, for gracious me, Uncle Sully,” Petey remarked, attempting to hide his sarcasm. “You don’t think it might have been the fountain-pen from your Magic Shop that you gave her; that shot black ink all over her new white rug…nah, couldn’t be. Maybe because you couldn’t stop laughing…”
“My sis-in-law,” he said, shaking his head slowly, “ just doesn’t have a sense of humor.”
“You know, Uncle Sully…I think you might be right. When you gave her that stick of gum that made her mouth turn green for two weeks, she didn’t like that a bit. From the Magic Shop?”
Uncle Sully and his yellow teeth grinned down at Petey. “One of our best sellers.” He wiped his head with a nasty-looking handkerchief, and said: “Sure is hot today, Petey. I guess since you won’t let me in to cool off, I’ll just have to take my Magic Shop’s gift to you back home and put it in some water.” He wrapped his fat fingers around the ‘kerchief’ and squeezing out the sweat, replaced it back into his hip pocket. “They need lots of water,” he said, turning to leave.
Petey waited until his uncle was near his car, than shouted: “Uncle Sully… What kind of gift?” The boy opened the door, leaving it to slam shut while he ran to his uncle’s car. “Can I see it?”
Sully reaching through the open car window, retrieved a shoe box which he held toward Petey. With a wide smile on his face, he pulled it back, opened a corner, and peeked in. Turning to his nephew, he said, “It looks thirsty, Petey. Why don’t you go fetch that wash-tub hanging against the house, get the hose, and fill it up…”
“Can I see it?”
Placing his sweaty hand on the back of his nephew’s head; tousling his hair, he said, “Not only can you see it, but when you’ve filled that tub, I’ll let you hold it.”
Petey was away in a flash, with his uncle waddling behind him.
While filling the tub, Petey looked up at his Uncle Sully. “It isn’t a snake, is it? Mom would never let me keep a snake…”
Peeking into the box, Sully replied: “Not a snake…”
“She might let me keep a goldfish, Uncle Sully. I’ve never had a goldfish before.”
“Petey, I think you have enough water, it’s about to run over…No, kid, it’s not a Goldfish. Come over here and take it out of the box.”
Rubbing his hands on his pants, Petey reached for the lid, hesitating for a moment to ask Sully: “It won’t bite, will it?”
Smiling down at his nephew, he replied: “Oh no, kid. He won’t bite…He might lick you with his tongue, though.” With that said, a few chuckles burst from his wide mouth. “Go on now, nephew. Reach in and grab him. When you have him tight in your hand, bring him out and put him in the tub, and hold him against the bottom.”
Reaching into the box, Petey felt something moving against his hand; something that kept trying to evade his searching fingers. “Gotcha!” Petey shouted, removing it from the box.
“Oh, it’s a bullfrog, Uncle Sully… Oh, I’ve never had a bullfrog before… thank you oh, so much…!”
“Hurry, nephew!” Sully said harshly, pushing the boy against the tub. “Get him under the water… Keep him there until I get to my car… I don’t want to scare him.”
While holding the frog--which seemed to be getting bigger…and stronger--Petey turned to watch his uncle scurrying to his car.
Over his shoulder, Sully shouted out some final instructions: “No matter what kid don’t let go of him.”
Even before Sully was able to manage himself between the car seat and the steering wheel, Petey’s hands were beginning to lose their hold. His pet was indeed growing at an enormous rate. By the time Petey’s hands were no longer able to encircle its body, its head was protruding above the tub; water was being sloshed all over his clothes.
In desperation, Petey grabbed his pet around its fat neck. In an instant, he was dragged off his feet, and finally losing his hold, fell backwards onto the ground, from where he could see large dark eyes blinking at him. Before he could move, the huge flat mouth opened wide, and he was snatched up by long pink tongue so sticky he was unable to unwrap himself. He only had time to scream, before he was whipped into darkness.
While good ‘ol Uncle Sully was speeding away, he was laughing so hard, the tears were spraying from his eyes. “Okay, Sis,” he said aloud, “I bet you’re gonna love that gift from my “Magic Shop!”
About the author:
William J. White is retired after working for twenty-seven years for the city of Cincinnati in Ohio. He and his wife of fifty-eight years built their home adjacent to Lake Cumberland in Kentucky. He has been writing since February of 2010 and intends to do so until his fingers drop off.
The Gator and the Ibis
By—Lewis J. Beilman III
Back then I used to escape to the Everglades. On my way to the old Aerojet road on the outskirts of Homestead, I’d stop at the Robert Is Here fruit stand, buy a mango shake and beef jerky, get back in my car and dust past the corrections facility. It was the same routine every time. Since the Aerojet road was gated to prevent people from driving in and looting the deserted rocket factory, I would park outside the gate and walk the road alongside the canal until I came to a narrow clearing a few hundred yards in. It didn’t matter whether the air wobbled with humidity, mosquitoes darted at my extremities, or a swift winter breeze kicked at me from across Florida Bay—I was there any time of the year, whenever I felt the need to leave the concrete towers and gated neighborhoods of South Florida behind.
Jack—at least that’s how I knew him—seemed to sense when I was coming and would greet me immediately. As soon as he saw me move through the clearing and cut down the bank, I’d hear a crackle in the sawgrass across the canal, see the sawgrass part, and catch him tumbling snout-first into the water. Sunlight glistened on his back, and his rows of white teeth contrasted with his black eyes and gray scales as he swam toward me.
Once he had crossed the canal, he’d use his stubby front legs to work his twelve-foot body up the bank and then, splaying his front legs out, adjust them one after the other to turn his thick body around and sidle up beside me. He loved to tell variations on human jokes, and the first one I remember him telling me was a bad rip-off of a peanut joke.
“What happened to the flayed piece of beef when it wandered away from the cow?” he said. I shrugged my shoulders. “It got a-salt-ed,” he continued, laughing. “Get it. Like a piece of beef jerky.”
That’s how I got the idea to bring him beef jerky whenever I came to visit. I’d break them into two-inch pieces and drop them in his mouth. His jaw would snap shut around the meat, and, with the upper row of his teeth exposed, he’d nod his head up and down, open his mouth again, and wait for the next piece. Then, after I was through feeding him, he’d tell a story. It was nothing too exciting usually. Mostly a recounting of his day. About how he wrestled with an upstart bull, bellowed at a female gator that swam by, or crushed a soft-shell turtle in his vise-like maw.
I didn’t say much. I knew he liked to get stuff off his belly, and his voice, which sounded oddly like Jimmy Durante’s, delighted me. Plus, not wanting to dwell on my quotidian struggles, I had little to say about my day. If I were to contribute anything, I would bring a book along and read aloud to Jack. Over the year or so we spent together, I learned that he enjoyed the classics and felt an especial affinity for Shakespeare and lyric poetry.
At some point last spring, however, Jack’s stories began to change. Instead of his normal tales of alligator bravado, he told darker, more introspective lays about things like a tree island piled with alligator bones, a bull who devoured his young, and the many doomed lovers of the animal kingdom. It was the latter subject that got my attention. Otherwise, I would have thought Jack was maturing and perhaps just worrying about the long-term effects of the recent regional drought on his habitat. But there was something else there.
At first I thought that a particularly ravishing alligator may have spurned his advances, but the way he talked about love and hopelessness made me think that there was more to it. Then, one day in May, he asked me if I wanted to see the woman he loved. I told him sure and began to follow him.
He splashed into the water, and I stepped ankle-deep into the shallows of the canal shelf. As I slogged along, he slid his tail back and forth beneath the water’s surface to propel himself forward and to stay close to the bank. He led the way south for about one hundred yards until he reached an area across from a patch of mangroves and stopped.
Jack pulled his head up and pointed his snout toward the opposite bank of the canal. “You see her over there?” he said.
I looked at the water in that direction, but didn’t see anything. “No, not yet,” I said. “Is she under the water?”
“No. Look higher.”
I scanned the sawgrass on the bank. Squinting, I struggled to detect a snout and black eyes peeking from between the stiff blades. “Maybe I’m missing something,” I said, “but I don’t see anything over there other than that Anhinga drying its wings.
“Getting warmer,” he said. “Keep looking…but higher.”
Puzzled, I peered up into the mangrove branches. What gator can climb a tree? I wondered. I became suddenly afraid, thinking that there might be swarms of gators less friendly than Jack lingering in treetops ready to pounce on unexpected wanderers. Still, I saw nothing other than a white ibis watching us from one of the mangroves.
“Jack, I don’t see anything other than the ibis there,” I said. “Am I missing something?”
Jack looked at me forlornly, or as close to forlornly as an alligator can look. “You see her then,” he said. “Isn’t she beautiful?”
I sat down on the bank, my feet dangling in the water. Screwing up my eyes, I said, “Are we talking about the same thing? Or are you pulling my leg?”
“I wouldn’t pull your leg about something like this,” he said. “She’s the bird of my dreams.”
With that, Jack turned toward the opposite bank, pushed off with his hind legs, and shimmied to the other side. He crested the bank and moved to the base of the mangrove in which the ibis rested. When she saw him come, she fluttered her wings and descended to the ground. She approached him and nudged her curved red beak against his snout. Although from across the canal I couldn’t hear what was said, Jack and the Ibis appeared to colloquy.
On occasion, Jack nodded his head and gestured toward me with his snout. The ibis would steal a furtive glance and look away from me quickly. After a few minutes of this, Jack turned, dove back into the canal, and swam over to me. The ibis remained on the opposite bank watching me.
“She’s scared of humans,” Jack said. “I told her you were OK, but she’s a little nervous.”
“Humans?” I said incredulously. “But alligators she’s all right with?”
“Go figure,” Jack said, shrugging his shoulders. “She loves me, though. Do I have your blessing?”
“Of course,” I said, “but you shouldn’t have to ask. If it works for you . . .”
“It’s just that I’m getting some flak from the other gators,” Jack said. “And her parents definitely aren’t happy about the arrangement. It’s kind of like the Montagues and Capulets.”
“What’s her name?” I asked.
“It’s a little hard to pronounce,” Jack said. “It sounds like ‘Urnk’ followed by a series of nasal squawks. I call her Juliet to make it easy.”
I nodded my head. “Juliet it is, then,” I said.
Over the next few months, Jack vacillated between the heights of happiness and the depths of despair. At times, he would meet me with his toothy grin and tell me how Juliet had rested on his back as he floated down the canal into Florida Bay, the seemingly endless River of Grass drifting by them along the way. He would tell me how at peace he felt with her when the breeze passed over his back and through her feathers on those languorous journeys.
Other times, he would meet me with vacant eyes and tell me how he went to see Juliet only to find her parents near their mangrove meeting place. Juliet’s parents would tell him that he should be ashamed of himself, lusting after something as lovely and white as a pearl. “Stick to your own,” they’d say, and, in the distance behind them, he’d hear the sad, nasal honk of Juliet’s sobs. Thwarted, he’d cast off to a tree island, scoop a hole out with his jaw, and bury himself in the muck until the morning.
“Oh that this too, too sullied flesh would melt . . .” Jack exclaimed once after recounting one of these somber run-ins with Juliet’s parents. I knew how he felt, having experienced something similar years ago, but all I could do to comfort him was to rub his snout gently and encourage him that things would get better, although I did not necessarily believe my own advice. Then, the tears flowed…and, if it is true that crocodiles shed tears to beguile relenting passengers, then alligators shed tears without ulterior motives, but instead with genuine sorrow.
The confrontations didn’t end with Juliet’s parents either. According to Jack, the torments came from other alligators too. Jack said one bull started in with him as Jack was sunning himself on the west bank of the canal. “What’s with you, Jack?” the bull said. “Alligators aren’t good enough for you? Next thing you know you’ll want to soar through the clouds instead of swim towards the sea. Don’t go chasing the feathers, buddy, if you know what’s good for you.”
“And I thought he was one of my friends,” Jack said. “We grew up together.”
Things got worse after that. The taunting from the other alligators increased, and Juliet’s parents prevented her from seeing him almost at all. Occasionally, she would steal away, and they would meet stealthily in a nearby road culvert, but those liaisons were few and far between. Then, Juliet disappeared. I’d ask Jack if he’d seen her, but he’d clam up. He’d lift his eyes in the direction of the bay, shake his head slightly, and sigh. “She had to go away,” he’d say, “but I don’t want to talk about it.” Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get anything else out of him.
Soon after, Jack lost weight, and his Falstaffian penchant for humor dissipated. He also stopped eating the beef jerky I brought for him. He still came to see me when I visited, but his heart wasn’t into it. At that point, his heart didn’t seem into anything. He would alternate between pining for Juliet and making bitter remarks about the futility of life and love.
One afternoon, as I settled down with him by the canal bank, I read to him from a book of Tennyson. Unfortunately, I went from The Charge of the Light Brigade into In Memoriam. When I got to the lines, “’Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all,” he looked at me and shook his head.
“Are you kidding me?” he said, screwing up his eyes and arcing back his head. “Did that guy really write that drivel? If so, he hasn’t loved, much less lost. If he were here right now, I’d take a chomp out of his lily-white behind. In fact, he’s lucky he’s dead—or else I’d teach him a thing or two.”
To keep Jack from getting too worked up, I grabbed a book of Coleridge and started reading Kubla Khan, which I rightfully figured was safe, and Jack calmed down, numbed by the opium-inspired words: “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/A stately pleasure dome decree. . .” I left shortly thereafter.
I stayed away for a couple of weeks, which was the longest time I had gone without seeing Jack since we had met. When I came back, he moped toward me from the far bank of the canal and stepped into the water. He took a while crossing and, at times, got swept off course by the slow current. When he reached the bank near me, I noticed that his normally dark gray scales looked ashen and his black eyes cloudy. He looked up at me, his mouth slack.
“So you came back,” he said, his voice trembling. “What for? To snatch me out of the jaws of death?” I didn’t know what to say and stood there silently. “Don’t worry about it,” he added and forced a smile. “Anyway, I’ve been working on something since the last time I saw you and I want you to hear it.”
Not knowing what to expect, I sat beside him on a shelf of exposed limestone and patted him on his scales. He cleared his throat, tapped his right front foot, and began. His tremulous tone grew stronger and rang through the crisp, dry-season air as he recited the following:
“’Why would you leave me, feathered friend?’
The gator asked the ibis.
‘I thought we’d watch this river wend
As life rolled slowly by us.’
The ibis craned her head away;
She could not face his stare.
She looked out over Florida Bay
And saw her life’s path there.
The gator sensed that she would leave
And shed a gator tear—
The gator had begun to grieve
His life without her near.
‘But ibis, dear,’ he croaked, ‘with whom
Will I wake early now
To watch the sun rise through the gloom
And light the morning clouds?
With whom will I share fish for lunch
Or lie out in the sun?
And when the thunder cracks its punch,
To whose side will I run?’
The gator dragged his stubby limbs
Up from the shallow glades
And pressed against one who—for him—
Had brightened life’s dark days.
The ibis nudged the gator’s brow
And shed an ibis tear.
She wailed and moaned and wondered how
She’d live without him near.
‘Will you please stay?’ the gator cried.
‘I know we’re different.
But we should not toss love aside
Before it has been spent.’
Her tears slid down her crescent beak
And rained upon his snout.
She mumbled as she tried to speak,
But still the words came out:
‘I love you, gator dear. My heart
Is yours and yours alone.
But I must leave, and we must part,
Although it pains me so.
You have rough, dark-gray, scaly skin
And I have feathers fine.
And—though it hurts—I must begin
To live life with my kind.’
With those words her wings cleaved the air
And she hurled toward blue skies;
And left the gator standing there
With tears welled in his eyes.”
“Well, what do you think?” Jack asked. “I call it The Gator and the Ibis. The title’s a no-brainer."
My cheeks were wet and I pressed my body to his. “It’s beautiful,” I said, and I asked him if he could read it to me again so I could write it down. I transcribed the verse on the back cover of a copy of Hamilton’s Mythology.
“Let’s take a walk,” Jack said, and we trudged through the brush beside the canal. “I want you to know that I’m going away.”
I asked him where.
“To the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns,” he said.
“But you have so much to live for,” I said. “Look how you turned your sadness into a work of art. You could use it to create something good.”
“Listen,” Jack said. “I know you mean well. You’re my best friend, and you don’t want to lose me. But I have to live with this every day…and I’m tired. Now come on. . . Let’s rub noses and be done with this.”
Our eyes had tears in them as I bent down to rub his nose. Afterwards, he turned away and plunked himself into the canal. His last words to me were “Adios, pal. Parting is such sweet sorrow.” With that, his tail propelled him out of sight, and I turned toward the old Aerojet road and didn’t look back.
I returned to the spot a few weeks later on the off chance that Jack had had second thoughts, but he was nowhere to be found. I called his name. . . No answer. I called once more. . . Still no answer. Once again. . . Still nothing. I knelt down, bowed my head, and left a dozen white roses on the side of the canal bank. I made a cross out of two pieces of beef jerky and set it down next to the flowers. Jack was gone.
Back in Miami I learned to live with the traffic, concrete, and bluster. I settled into my studio apartment with its view of the downtown skyline and never returned to the old Aerojet road. Instead of walks along the canal bank, I walked along Brickell Bay Drive and let the salt breezes clear my thoughts. I was back in the world, as they say. I went about my daily life, until, one day, I ran into a friend who worked as an editor for a small literary magazine. I saw him at one of the readings at the Miami Book Fair and told him I had a poem I wanted him to see. He agreed to meet me for a beer later that week.
We met at an Irish pub in Brickell, where I don’t think a single Irishman lives—but that’s beside the point. I read him Jack’s poem, and he said he liked it. “It shows promise,” he said. “A little archaic, but I think I could do something with it. What else you got?”
“That’s it,” I said.
“You mean that’s your first and only poem?” he said.
“No, it’s not mine. It’s a friend’s.”
“What’s his name? He may have a future.”
I told him that the poet’s name was Jack Gator, and that he had no future anymore, that he was dead. But my friend just laughed.
“Are you telling me the guy who wrote a poem called The Gator and the Ibis is named Jack Gator?” he said. “That’s a hoot.”
“It gets better,” I said. “Jack Gator was an alligator.”
My friend spit out his Guinness and slapped his knee. “Jack Gator—a real live gator and poet. That is a hoot. And I thought you were too serious to make up something like that. A real, scale-and-blood, lyric-writing gator. Now that’s a story.”
“I guess it is,” I said. I finished off my beer. My friend paid the tab.
“I just might use that poem,” he said as we rose to leave. “And I’ll even attribute it to Jack Gator, if you’d like. In the meantime, show me some more of your stuff if you’re still writing.”
I nodded, and we walked out and stood beside one of the towers that had sprouted up on South Miami Avenue. My friend shook my hand and took his leave. I lingered for a moment on the sidewalk. I looked up at the sky, cloudy on a moonless night. It was black, like an alligator’s eye.
About the author:
Lewis J. Beilman III lives in Salem, Massachusetts, with his two cats, Elvis and Rico. When he is not working at his day job, he writes short stories and poetry. In 2009, his sonnet, "When They Leave," won first prize in the Fred R. Shaw Poetry Contest.
Thank you for reading and we here at Larks Fiction hope to see you all back here on April 10th for female writers of fantasy and science fiction.