Sunday, April 24, 2011

Issue Twelve, Volume One

From the Editor's Desk,
     Hello and welcome to the twelfth issue of Larks Fiction Magazine. For this Sunday we are featuring women writers with uplifting tales of life, death, and family.
     We would like to thank Terri Rochenski for sending us a link to Steady Pen ~ Wandering Mind which recently ran a blog entry about Larks Fiction. We appreciated the review.
     To all of you who are awaiting replies to your submissions, I will be reviewing them in mass on Tuesday (April 26th) and you should be getting e-mails by then. I am ecstatic about what I have already read and eager to read the rest.
     Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy this issue of Larks Fiction!
Daniel J. Pool

My Second Death
By Farida Samerkhanova

Steve was sitting on the bench in the park and did not seem to notice anything around. All suicidal people are like this. Separation with his girlfriend felt like the end of the world. I was sitting beside him. He neither saw nor felt me.

People should not want to die. I died in the fall of 1974 in the Soviet Union. Now they call it Russia. I was a student and lived in the campus. The campus was ten minutes away from the University. I could make it in five minutes if I ran.

In Ukraine he used to be Stepan. His girlfriend has just been deported after her refugee claim failed. First they took her to jail. Then they put her on the plane. They sent her back to Israel after ten years in Canada. He could not stop the removal. No money to hire a lawyer. He would have followed her, but he was not eligible for travel. He was desperate, like only very young people could be.

When I died, I had just finished school. I came to study in a big city from a small remote village. I did not speak Russian. I only knew the language of my fathers. It was so hard for me to study, but I was doing my best.

The sun touched the horizon. Steve headed to the subway station. What was in his mind? The best thing for him was to have a good drink. I had never had alcohol in my life, but I saw in the movies that people drink when they are upset. They say it helps.

The deputy dean was very obsessed with discipline issues. His people searched students’ rooms for vodka. We did not have drugs at that time, but students liked wine and vodka.

Steve was a handsome man. His girlfriend was lucky. I had never had a boyfriend. I was seventeen. I never kissed. I thought that maybe I could fall in love with Steve. He stood on the platform looking at the rails. Trains kept coming. He was thinking. I can get human thoughts, but not always.

Only big cities, like Moscow and Leningrad have subways. We had buses and streetcars. There was a streetcar line on my way from home to the University. If I ran, it was two and a half minutes from home to the line and two and a half minutes from the line to the University, or vice versa.

Steve’s hands were shaking. He was scared. He was sweating. I knew what he was up to. He was standing at the edge of the platform. The trains emerged from the arch, moving very fast. Streetcars in my city also ran very fast.

All of a sudden Steve saw me. I knew he did. His eyes were wide open with surprise. I know I looked funny in my old-fashioned clothes. No one else could see me. Others passed through me, as if I was made of air. He knew I was dead.

The subway trains rattle like streetcars. Metal against metal makes a screaming sound. I was running my two and a half and two and a half minutes’ distance. I knew the deputy dean was at the entrance with his notebook, registering those who were late. Afterwards the notes would go to the students’ council. If I were late for classed, I would not get my scholarship. The screaming sound was softened with my flesh.

I threw myself between the wheels and the rails. It felt exactly like thirty five years ago. Before I died again I looked at Steve. Now that he saw me disfigured he would not jump.

He would go home and Skype to his girlfriend. They would figure out what to do. When I was alive, we did not have Skype. And computers were as big as a wardrobe.

About the Author:  
     Farida Samerkhanova lives in Toronto, Ontario. She is a graduate of Bashkir State University (Russia). English is her third language after Tatarian and Russian. Her work has been translated into Russian, Tatar and Serbian languages. Her letters to the editor have appeared in Elle Canada, Canadian Stories and Canadian Immigrant. Her poems, short stories and essays have been published by more than 50 literary magazines in UK, USA, Canada and Turkey--and Larks Fiction.
      She is participating in a documentary film titled “Her Choice – Hijab and Beyond the Dress Code”, which is currently in production. 

The Secret Chest
By Claire Englewood
    I am a teller of tales, guardian of my stories.  They are the jewels I hold dear, the treasure that entices the generations.  With each retelling, they gleam brighter in the sunshine of truth.  With each visit of my family, I open the chest to share the treasure and in the sharing, the wealth multiplies.  It was not always like this.  I kept the chest was locked tight, secured with a heavy chain of pride and reluctance.  Let me tell you how that chain was cast off.  

    All I expected from that day in 1947 was to redeem my bond coupons at the bank, when suddenly there were two strangers at my door. She was like a ghost from the past, with the broken English and an accent singing of Austria, and he had the bearing of a military man with a mission.  On my step I looked at Mr. American Husband and his war-bride, a proud peacock with his dull peahen.  I could see she was my grand-daughter; she carried the face of my Janika on her, the same look her mother had worn of a creature caught between two worlds.  She would throw him a furtive glance when she spoke, expecting to have her English corrected yet still holding herself tight within, hardly daring to breathe the American freedom. 

    “Gnadige Frau, Honored Lady, I am Thomas Marshall and this is my wife, your grand-daughter, Ella.  When you last saw her, she was a child of three years old on her way to Austria with her parents, Janika and Hannes Perliner.  We are here to ask for your help to bring Janika back to America.” he said.  His voice was mild, respectful, but his unflinching eyes told me he would be persistent in getting whatever he came for. 

    I drew in an agonized breath.  I could not let these strangers see my surprise to hear that Janika was still alive after the war.  I shook my head, crossed my arms, lifted my chin slightly.

    “There is little I can do to help you.  Do you know that I have already done this once before, bringing Janika to America? How do you know she wants to return?   Janika and Hannes believed they would be better off in Austria.  My husband, God rest his soul, claimed her as his daughter so that she could became a citizen through his naturalization. When she met and married Hannes, they returned to Austria despite my wishes.  Matthias’ good will, the good name of Planck, our money, was nothing to her.  Why should I pay to bring her to America once again?”  I replied. 

    “Grossmutter, Grandmother, please let us in.  We do not come asking for money.  We only need information for the American consul in Vienna to allow Mama to leave.” Ella stood a little taller now.  “Mama has lost her papers to say she is an American.”  Yet another surprise, they didn’t want my charity.  What was wanted though, questions about the past, steeled my heart against her. But I could not let them stand outside my home for neighbors to see, to wonder about or whisper behind their damask curtains.  Once America had joined the war in Europe, merely the hint of my Austrian accent had led my neighbors to pass me by in the shops, eyes looking elsewhere. 

    “Perhaps so, yes, come in.  We’ll have some coffee and see what it is you want.”  After all, I was now a lady of wealth and knew the correct manners to go with it.  There was a curious new little glow ignited in the corner of my heart at the news of my long gone, war gone daughter.  

    “So, Ella – that is how you make an American name from your birth name?  When I held you at your christening it was Elsabe.  How is it you have returned to America without your mother?”  I poured the strong Turkish coffee, one of the few remnants of Austrian life I kept in my house.   

    “Grossmutter, there is perhaps much to tell you.  Elsabe is too German, there is much bad feeling for Germans in America.  The way I speak is bad enough.  No one here knows that Austrian is not the same as German.”  Her gaze remained on the carpet and her shoulders dropped as she considered her new beginning in America and the world she had left behind.   “I was in arbeitsdienst, Hitler’s youth camp in Burgenland when the Russians liberated us.  Mama was in Graz, in the American sector.  But because I was born here, I was turned over to the Americans and they brought me back.  Tom’s last duty as a soldier was to escort a group of women with American citizenship back – that’s how we met.”

    “My commanding officer is still in Vienna, and he is trying to help us with Janika’s case.  But he cannot find any birth records for Janika Planck.  How is that possible?”  Tom put the coffee back down, too strong for his taste I supposed.  I was mesmerized by him, much as I had been by Matthias.       

    “You with your grey eyes remind me of my Matthias, and you may be as persistent as he had been in getting citizenship for Janika just to please me. I had been forced to leave my daughter in her father’s home when I immigrated.  What we went through to bring her here, endless letters to persuade her to come, months of meeting with government officials, the bribe money to make sure she was accepted as his daughter.  I did not know how it would go, if she would accept me as her mother after nearly a lifetime of separation.”  I did not realize I had spoken aloud, remembering that sorrow. 

    Janika had been as unlike me as it could have been possible.  Where I worked to earn and build security, she laughed and lived for the pleasure of each moment. As I lived my life here as an American widow, she never became more than an Austrian immigrant.

    “Your mother left my home not long after she arrived here, she could not leave behind the  German culture.   She met your father at an Austrian Social Club and they were two of a kind, always out at dances, drinking and laughing. But he developed zuckerkrankheit, sugar disease, started to lose his toes and could no longer stand all day as a butcher. In 1927 he decided to take his family back to Graz to claim his mother’s estate, for better doctors and the life of a vineyard owner.  According to her letters, things became as hard for them as they had been for me at the turn of the century, much hard work and little to gain. The letters stopped coming just after the crash. So life continues to repeat itself; here you are, attempting to begin again a dance with government officials who ask for papers to bring Janika to America.”  The blank stares, the silence we sat through, told me they did not see any difficulty ahead.   

    “Here you can see the number and the date of naturalization papers for me and Matthias, written here in the Bible. But you begin a chain of events you do not understand.   We swore many oaths and paid bribes to claim her as Matthias’ daughter.  What will happen when your army friends tell immigration officials find out our deception?  They must only know about her naturalization, not her birth.”  I laid the Bible in front of them and sat back, arms crossed over my chest. 

    Then just like Janika, she sat up taller, tsked through her teeth twice, and finally looked into my eyes.  “Grossmutter, I can see this upsets you.  But it must be so, tell me please who is my grandfather?  Mama would never speak of her childhood, and father’s family would have nothing to do with us after he died.  Do you not know who was Mama’s father?”  My spine stiffened as I heard the implied accusation.

    “Please understand, Frau Planck,” interrupted Tom, “My family has trouble accepting Ella with no family background to speak of.  They fear there may be inherited illnesses, money troubles, criminal charges, other problems they can only imagine.  No one in our family has ever been born without knowing their grandfather or who their family was.  As a soldier, I know what many women did to try to become war-brides.  Ella is so worried, she cannot sleep at night.”

    At first, I could not speak for the rage within; how dare they demand to know my secrets, disturb my thoughts.  It was a typical American assumption, to suppose I had been a whore, a prostitute like the woman in that song the GI’s brought home to America, Lili Marlene.  

    But what’s done is done.  I took a long breath, poured myself another cup of coffee.  Isn’t this what Matthias would do, help with Janika’s return to America?  He had been the one to teach me kindness and forgiveness, what I had never known in my life before.  I thought, perhaps it is Ella’s right to hear this story.  Perhaps in knowing the truth of Janika’s birth, my grand-daughter will understand her good fortune to be an American wife.  Perhaps by telling stories of my life in Austria, any children they have will know to live well and be content here in America.

    “As I tell you, you must understand that it was a different time, my girlhood days in Emperor Josef’s Austria happened in a much different place.  You cannot expect that people in Austria then could live like people in America today.  There had been many food shortages; there was so little work for anyone. We were very poor; all of Austria was poor then, unless you were part of the nobility.  I left home at 14 to work at Castle Eggenburg in Graz as a servant.  There I slept on a real bed, had a warm room in winter; I ate better and had more than my mother could provide.  As I grew into womanhood I came to realize I had only traded being a farm slave for being a house slave.  I must every day keep my eyes on the ground, obey the Housekeeper, the Countess, and the Count.  But I also listened and watched well.  The Countess taught me how to stand, how to walk, how to speak the language of the city.  I remember her ways as I walk today among my American neighbors with my head held high.” 

    “In a year or so, I came to the attention of Ernst Krinner, who schooled and bred the famous lineage of Lipizzaner horses.  He was not a servant like me; he owned land and was paid to come in each week to oversee the workmen of the stable.  I thought if I could be his wife, I could become like the Countess, a lady with land and servants.  I had known from watching my mother who raised her family alone in poverty, that the key to a better life was owning land.  So when Ernst paid attention to me, I paid attention to him.  I did what any woman would do for a better life.  When I knew I was about to have a child, I went with him to meet his family with visions of taking my place in the new gentry.” 

    “Wait, you said Ernst Krinner?  I know this name.  Mama once took me to meet a woman named Marie Krinner … were they related?”  questioned Ella. 

    “Yes, Maria is his sister.  But he had lied about his holdings; his land was just a small patch, nothing to speak of, and his mother was as worn and tired as mine had been. She was cooking over an open fire in a 3 room hut with chickens running through it.  I had left this same life for the castle and I was not about to return to it!  So I returned that day and resumed my slavery – hiding my belly and not eating much, so as not to change dresses as my belly grew with your mother.  Ernst wanted me to marry him but I was determined I would not return to that life.  In the end, I had the baby at his house and gave my baby up to live with him and his mother.  She only knew that like many other children, she was fostered on a farm by a family who needed the help, and that her mother had to work elsewhere.”

    “You gave up your child?  Why would any mother do that?”  Tom sounded angry.

    “You see, you cannot understand.  I could not keep my child at the castle, and by then I had no home other than the castle. A mother alone with a child would be in poverty for the rest of her life.  And I had fallen in love with another man whose dreams of a better life matched my own.  There were only three directions for my life:  to be a single female servant at the castle, marry Ernst and live a peasant’s life, or join with Matthias to seek a new life.

     Here is a picture of my lovely Matthias.  He worked at the castle as a gardener and he wanted to be more than just another servant.  Matthias told me about America, where together we could live in a home of our own, where life was not dictated by the nobility who could tell you where you live or who you can be.  I wanted that kind of life so much, and I knew it was possible with Matthias.  My head and heart were filled with the desire to have for myself the kind of life only nobility live in Austria.  My child would bind me to the life I wished to escape, and so I left her with her father.  That is why Janika was born under my name, Janika Koniger.”  It was finally done; I had opened up that chest and handed someone else one of the jewels hidden inside, this one perhaps more like a piece of coal than a jewel.  I had finally told someone about my decision to put my own life ahead of the life of my child, and that decision still brought a lump to my throat.

    “Grossmutter, be calm.  This is not something only you had to do.”  Ella’s look at me was a look of acceptance, understanding and affection.  What for me had seemed a piece of coal, she smiled to accept a diamond.  “Mama had to do the same thing.  When my Papa died…”

    I interrupted, unwilling to hear what I had suspected.  “Did Hannes die in the War?  Did he join the Nazi Party? What happened?”      

    There were tears in Ella’s eyes as she remembered her joyful Papa and she had to resort to speaking in German.  “No Grossmutter, he died before the war from the blood disease after losing his leg. I was just a young child.  Mama lost the vineyard when he died and she could not keep us.  My two sisters were given up as fosters just after the Anschluss; one went to stay with Uncle Anton and one had to be hidden in a convent.  Mama is trying to find them again, to bring them with her.  I understand what you had to do; as you said, life repeats itself.   I can only pray it will never happen to my children.  Thank you.  Now that we know this, we can help them return to America.”

     I sat there, drinking coffee with my grand-daughter and her husband and that small glow began to grow larger.  I began to imagine a new dream, becoming once again part of a family and telling my stories to Ella and her sisters, perhaps in the years to come their children.  This bright shining diamond sat between us, reflecting our faces and giving a glimpse of other faces hidden within.  As Austria was now trying to rebuild with American help, my stories could help the Perliner family rebuild in America.     

    “So, now you know.  Do you want to know more?  Come back another day, grand-daughter, I will tell you about the rest of your family in Austria.  It was not all heartache and sorrow.  You carry the blood of artists, of hopeful and educated men and women who lived well in the old days.  But first, together we must bring my Janika back home.”

The End for Now

About the Author:
     Samantha Jubilee has been a working mother, a human resources consultant, and a reflexologist.  She has been obsessed with genealogy and historical fiction for a very long time, and has now begun to give voice to the characters that have been speaking to her.  She has had one poem published in Mused, and this is her first short story to be published.

     Thank you again for reading. I hope you will join us in our next issue on May 8th. We will be reposting an issue whose run was cut short on accident and then on May 22th we will be featuring works of Post-Modernism. We hope to see you there!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Issue Eleven, Volume One

From the Editor's Desk,

     Hello and welcome to Issue 11 of Larks Fiction Magazine! In this issue we are featuring works of fantasy and science fiction from up-and-coming women writers exploring the what-ifs and could-haves.

     Just as a heads up the Larks staff and I attend the same college for the most part and the semester is coming to a close. If you have submitted a work to us it might be a little more than two weeks to get back with you. We hope to be back to normality by May.
     I hope you enjoy this issue!

Daniel J. Pool
LFM Editor

An Infinite Snare
By Terri Rochenski

Jed glanced over his shoulder at his best friend for what seemed like the hundredth time, his heart pounding.

“Go on!” Eli hissed from behind the bayberry bush.

Jed stuck his tongue out and turned back toward the enormous tree, his dark eyes traveling upward.   Its gnarled, leafless branches reached toward the autumn sky like the old healer’s bony fingers.   The door to her tree-hovel hung from sagging leather hinges on the wide trunk before him.

“What have I gotten myself into,” Jed muttered to himself.  He grasped the door’s wooden handle and pushed.  A bluebird squawked from the branches above.  The cry echoed between his ears.

The door swung inward and damp air wafted past his face.  It smelled of rich earth and decaying leaves.  Rock stairs led downward into the gloom.  He stepped over the threshold and waited for a blast of lightening to split him in two.  Nothing happened.

“Go on, coward!  I dare you!”

Jed glared at his friend.  Eli wouldn’t have gotten this close to the witch’s tree if he’d been the one to lose at tossing stones.

His leather boot scraped on rock as he stepped down.  Goose pimples popped all over his body.  With each step he expected to turn into a toad.  Or a rat.  Maybe he would hit an invisible wall and his body would disintegrate into a million gnats.

Nothing happened.

Maybe the witch didn’t put a ward over her tree when she left for the neighboring village yesterday, Jed thought.  He shook his head as the thought echoed twice more in his brain.

A dim glow of unnatural light emitted from the rock walls around him as he descended downward.  A cricket chirped.  Jed’s thumping heart skipped a beat.

Breathe, chicken-liver, he reminded himself.  

If a cricket was singing of his happiness inside the tree then maybe he’d be alright too.  Maybe the old village healer really wasn’t a witch; maybe that’s just what papas told their kids to make them behave.

A cavern spread open before him.  Pebbles crunched under his boots as he stepped onto the earth floor.  The scent of dried rosemary and lavender tickled his nose.  He wiped damp palms down the front of his tunic.

How can the old woman live here?  He thought as he looked around.  A sagging bed hugged the wall to his left, a patch-work quilt carelessly thrown over its straw mattress.  A straight-backed chair with a missing leg leaned against a wooden table on his right.  Amidst the bundles of herbs and clay jars on its surface sat a steaming black cauldron.

The blood drained from his face.  He swallowed.  Steam?  

His eyes shot overhead.  Roots dangled from the cave’s roof.  Water clung to some of the larger ones.  Jed’s eyes followed a droplet as it fell.  It landed with a soft splat on the hard-packed dirt floor.

He shivered.

A beam of sunlight cut through the unnatural light and settled on a white pillar at the cave’s center.  Jed blinked.  Had he dreamt this last night?  He blinked again.  He swore he’d seen it before somewhere.  Light gray and white streaks swept upward through the marble column.  An apple-sized orb sat on its square top.

Jed reached out with trembling hands then hesitated.  He shook his head, his eyes riveted on the globe.  He didn’t remember walking forward.

The silver orb sparkled as the sunlight caressed its surface.  His hands inched closer of their own accord.  An inner light glowed from the orb’s center.


His hands lifted the globe.  It was cool, smooth to the touch and yet it burned to the bones of each finger.

Its center liquefied and evaporated into white, swirling smoke.  He lifted it closer to his face and peered into the fog.  Familiar images began to form.  He screamed.

Jed glanced over his shoulder at his best friend for what seemed the hundredth time, his heart pounding.

The End

About the Author:
Terri is a stay-at-home mother of two toddlers who enjoys an escape to Middle Earth during the rare 'me' moments her daughters allow. Her personal blog is at

Don’t Read the Books

By Gina Fairchild

E-paper. Well, there it is, if you want to know why I, Mrs. Edwina Hoffman, went down to the Hoffman Printing Press Museum and Library alone at night, after hours.

Go ahead and call me senile, but I tell you e-paper is an abomination. It’s everywhere on everything. I can’t open a can of soup without its label advertising all manner of faddle-fiddle I’ve no interest in buying, cooking, or eating. The world can thank my great-great-uncle Troy for the invention. We can also thank him for the resulting ban on tree-paper and the extinction of books.

So, that’s why my grandmother established the Hoffman Printing Press Museum and Library, one of the largest collections of tree-paper books in the world. Irony at its finest.

And that’s why I went down there, knowing full well I couldn’t read any of the books, knowing all anyone was allowed to do was stare at the spines, or two select pages from the few books set out in display cases like the Constitution.

Troy—the night janitor, mind you, not my dead great-great-uncle—was doing just that when I ambled into the building. Head cocked and slowly making his way along one bookshelf, he gazed at the spines, reading the book titles and author names, I suppose, all while absentmindedly pushing his mop along the floor.

 “Are you new here?” I asked. I’m afraid the poor man startled easily, stammering to regain his composure. “Well, speak up. I haven’t got all night.”

“You’re not supposed to be in here,” he said to me. “Museum hours are—”

“I can read, thank you.”

“Well, then you know you have to leave.”

I didn’t normally go around using my last name as a badge of authority, but he was making a nuisance of himself.

“Hoffman?” he asked. “You’re a Hoffman?” And then he proceeded to further freak out.

“Stop this groveling,” I told him. “Good gracious, man. Where is your dignity?”

The most amazing thing. He stopped right there and then, stood up straight and eyed me. I judged he was about six and a half feet tall, as I only reached his midsection. Yes, and he was well built, too. Imagine. I suddenly felt like the feeble little old lady I was.

“I mop floors for a living,” he said. “How much dignity do you think I have left?”

“Oh, well, I…”

“Rhetorical question.” He leaned on the mop stick. “Here’s another question. Just what are you doing here unannounced, after hours?”

“Hmph! You must be new here. I often visit after hours.”

“Not that new. I’ve been working here for the past three weeks, and I’ve never seen you.”

“Of course not. I come once a month, today being that day. See here. What right have you to question me like this?”

He raised his shoulders and showed his palms. The mop, caught between his thumb and forefinger, swiveled on its head. “It’s part of my job. My boss tells all of us to look out for strange characters.”

“Me, a strange character?”

He looked me up and down. “I’ve seen stranger, but you understand these books are very rare, Mrs. Hoffman. I don’t need to tell you how valuable they are.”

A bit too close for comfort, that, and I had to use a bit of deflection. “Speak plainly! Are you implying I’m here for nefarious purposes?”

He flashed a smile. “No, ma’am, just that I’m supposed to be on the lookout.” Tapping his finger to his nose, he winked at me, as if I were supposed to swoon like some easily impressed flibbertigibbet.

If I needed anything, he said, I should give him a holler, and then he went about slopping his dirty mop hither and yon. Damned if he didn’t ruin my evening thoroughly with his whistling and general bustling about the place.

When at last his distant whistling ceased, I ventured out from the aisle I’d been idling in. “Are you quite finished?”

 Troy popped his head out from an aisle several rows down. “Oh, no, ma’am. I’ve gotta do the carpets on the upper floors.” He jerked his thumb upwards, and I stared at the rings of floors overhead, whose railings provided a dizzying frame for the massive dome skylight.

I sighed in spite of myself. “Carry on.”

Being with books had always been synonymous with quietude and solitude. Not so, with Troy’s infernal carpet-cleaning machine whirring above. Why would he care how much racket he made? You couldn’t do any reading in the place anyways.

You couldn’t slide out a book, as they used to do, curl up and embark on an adventure to another world. You couldn’t stack them up higher than your head, and lose yourself for an entire afternoon. You couldn’t do that in the Library or, by the way, with one measly sheet of e-paper.

I’d browsed nearly a third of the shelves on the bottom floor before all went silent again. “Yoo-hoo,” I called out, hoping I was finally alone. “Are you there?”

“The name’s Troy,” his voice boomed from the end of my aisle.

I am neither fainthearted nor hearing-impaired, but I didn’t know how he snuck up behind me without my noticing, and that scared the Tale of Two Cities out of me.

“Don’t spring up on people like that,” I groused, putting a hand over my heart to steady it. “Troy, is it?”

He nodded. “Sorry to frighten you. Was there something you wanted?”

“Oh…yes.” I wanted him to disappear so I could get on with my plans. I asked, instead, “Where’s the restroom?”

One of his heavy eyebrows went up. “I can’t imagine they’d have moved since the last time you visited.”

“Don’t be smart with me, young man. I asked a straight question and I expect a straight answer.” Well, I gave him my best withering reprimand, and the glare to go with it, and it didn’t seem to make a dent in his disposition.

He actually smirked. “Make a left, head for the elevators, and you should see the ladies’ room to the right of them.”

Not fifteen minutes later, he knocked on the restroom door, asking if everything was all right and if I needed any help. I dare say I’d never been so insulted in my life.

“No, I do not need your help! Now, kindly leave me alone to finish my business.”

“Okay,” he said, and then assured me he’d be right outside, which was of no reassurance to me at all. If I stayed in there a moment longer, I feared he might come charging in and see me standing there, not with my granny-panties around my ankles and not using the restroom at all.

No point waiting around any longer. I pushed open a stall and waved my hand in front of the flush sensor. With another wave, I ran the faucet for a while, and then left the restroom.

As it turned out, stealing a book from my library was not as easy as I’d imagined it would be.

Mind you, I didn’t plan on sashaying into the Library, lifting a book from the shelves and moon walking out the front door with it. In the first place, the Library has a multimillion dollar security system, each bookshelf monitored by all kinds of sensors.

If you ask me, they could’ve saved themselves the money and locked the books in sealed cases, but, no, Granny Esther wanted to retain the “feel” of a library, instead.  She wanted the people to “feel” like they could reach out and take one of those books, except if anyone actually tried that, the motion sensors would set off all the alarms, the whole building would go on lock-down, and that person would find himself saddled with a hefty fine or jail time.

During business hours, of course, the motion sensors are turned off, what with hyperactive kids these days bouncing off the walls. Literally. My grand-nephew, Stephen, has e-wallpaper covering the walls in his room and delights in the fine art of scribbling, hand-printing, shoe-printing, and butt-printing the interior.

Stephen thinks everything he touches is interactive, so he ends up wanting to touch everything.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Even with the motion sensors turned off there was still the pressure sensor, which could detect if the total weight of the shelf and the books had decreased, give or take the margin of error, and each book was tagged with an isotope detectable by the screeners at every entrance and exit.

I was prepared for all this, but I was not prepared for Troy. I was under the impression that robots, not a live person, did the cleaning work, and I told him so.

He gave a chortle and opened the door to the storage room. “Maintenance cutbacks.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Means robots break down, and the cost of repair is too high. Means the management here is so cheap, it’s been two weeks, and I’m still waiting for the replacement for this clunker.” He kicked the lumbering floor scrubber crouched beneath a shelf of cleaning chemicals. “Sure, they spare no expense when it comes to the books, but one guy with a mop and free nights saves this place thousands every year.”

Troy laced his fingers, palms facing out, and stretched his arms forward until his bones popped.

“It seems like a lot for one man to do by himself,” I said.

Again, with his flashy smile. “I’ve got the whole night, and once I get into the routine, time goes by like—” He snapped his fingers, but his sanitation gloves stifled the sound. “Besides, I like working alone. Plenty of time to think in peace, no one to bother you. Usually.”

“Oh, am I bothering you?” I must admit, I relished the idea. He’d been nothing but a smug thorn in my side, a blabbering wrench in the works, the pebble in my shoe and the gum underneath it.

He leaned on the door frame, inclined his head, and regarded me. “Not so much. You’re a bit crabby, but I kind of like you.”

The nerve of the man! To call me a crusty old crab to my face. I plotted right then that the best means of getting him out of the way would be death by falling bookshelf. If not for my weak muscles and the shelves being bolted to the floor, I’d have done it.

There was also the small factor that he’d said he liked me, which, by the way, still means a lot to old fuddy-duddies like myself who don’t get visits from their children as often as they should, and when we take the trouble to drop in on them, they tell us to call first next time. As if to make an appointment or something. The very idea.

Having only the night to carry out my criminal activity, and faced with no immediate ideas on how to do that without Troy catching me, I decided to follow him until one came to me.

Well, of course, he found that odd. The man was going on his break, and I appeared to be stalking him.

“Do you normally just…wander the place on your visits?” he asked, slowing his pace so that I could keep up with his long stride.

“Sometimes,” I said.

“And your family knows you’re here?”

“I’m not senile if that’s what you’re thinking.” He denied it, and the way he grinned prompted me to issue a denial of my own. “And you’re not my type, so don’t get any ideas.”

He laughed and opened the door to his break room for me. “I give up. Why do you come here?”

“For the books, of course.”

The break room was smaller than my walk-in closet and not nearly as clean. After a cursory inspection, I took the most stable-looking seat at the small bridge table and set my purse down in front of me.

Troy retrieved a brown lunch bag from the mini-refrigerator in the room, sniffed whatever was inside, and, apparently, decided it was safe to eat.

“Turkey sandwich?” he asked, holding up the bag.

“And spend the rest of the night in the ladies’ room? No, indeed. I’ll have some water to take my pills, thank you.”

He nodded and went to the water cooler. “You can’t read any of them, though.”

“What’s that?”

“The books. You said you come for the books, but you can’t read them. What’s the appeal?”

“You tell me. I saw you gawking at them when I came in.”

He handed me my water and set his soda on the opposite side of the table where he took his seat. “Just curious, I guess.”

“Well, there you have it. Books are curious things, aren’t they? The thickness, the cover, the author, and especially the title.”

He smiled. “Green Eggs and Ham.”

“Dr. Seuss!” Imagine me, laughing for no apparent reason. “When I was a child, we had all his books.”

“We still do,” he said, taking a bite out of his sandwich.

I shook my head. “It isn’t the same—and take your elbows off the table.”

He obliged. “The stories have gotten an upgrade, I suppose.”

“Animations and sound effects, an upgrade? Hog swill! Kids these days don’t have to use their imagination anymore. The e-paper does it all for them. Once upon a time, you could learn something from the back of a cereal box. Today? Interactive games. You should see how many boxes my grandchildren jab to death each month.”

He chuckled. “Stop the presses. E-paper heiress despises the source of her family’s fortune.”

“There aren’t any printing presses to stop now, are there? E-paper is to blame for that, and for why we can’t read any of the books in this sham of a library.”

He cracked open his soda with a pop and a fizz, didn’t say anything for a moment, just looked contemplative. “So, you’re just a little nostalgic, then.”

Yes, I was. I was an insatiable bookworm, loved to turn the pages as my parents read to me at bedtime, went through my father’s entire private library at least three times over, and always looked forward to returning there on holidays from college.

Then he up and donated the whole shebang to the Hoffman Printing Press Museum and Library. My favorite book in the whole world and the memories it carried, gone, locked away in some underground vault, only to be seen once every blue moon when management rotated the books on the shelves.

I told Troy all this, but I doubted he’d understand. I suppose it was just my defeatism talking.

“I didn’t grow up with books,” Troy said, shifting the can on the table. “They’ve always seemed like museum pieces, ancient artifacts that once meant something to a lot of people, and now are only prized by a few. Without books I’d currently be out of a job, but that’s about all the value they hold for me.”

I expected no less from the e-generation. They’d never seen a real book much less held one in their hands, felt the smoothness of a glossy paperback or the texture of a leather-bound hardcover, never smelled that fresh scent of brand-newness bursting from the fluttering pages.

After chugging his cola, he wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “Um, so, which is your favorite?”

 “Goodnight Moon,” I sighed, as I dug through my purse for my pills. “It’s a children’s…”

That’s when I saw it. In the clutter of prescription bottles and vitamins in by purse, I saw my sleeping pills. Fast-acting and long-lasting, one quick-dissolve tablet was the prescribed dosage, but two or three in Troy’s drink would solve all my problems.

I must say I handled the execution quite expertly. A little clumsiness with my purse knocked over my drink and had Troy fetching me another cup. With his back turned, I dropped the pills into the can, but I didn’t expect the cola to fizz so much. By the time he returned to the table, his drink had settled again.

“Thank you,” I said, receiving the cup of water. “As I was saying—”

“What are the pills for?” he asked.

“These?” I almost had a heart attack when I looked down at the bottle still in my hand. Of all the lame things to do, I forgot to put the sleeping pills away. I laughed it off as best as I could. “Good gracious, me. Wrong bottle. Still early for these, yet. I have so many pills in here it’s a wonder I haven’t mixed them up before.”

“You’re too sharp for that, Mrs. Hoffman,” he said and winked.

I chuckled, albeit nervously. From there, all I had to do was make small talk, while he sipped at his drink. I was afraid his break time would be over before the pills took effect, but he finally slumped onto the table and drifted off.

He was just as noisy asleep as he was awake. I don’t know how his wife put up with such ghastly snoring, if he had a wife. I decided I’d find out the next time I visited. Yes, and I’d learn more than just his first name, too, where he was from and how he came to work at the Library. It seemed absolutely selfish on my part that I failed to get to know the man better, but at the moment I had a book to read.

I patted his head. “Goodnight, Troy.”

The security system for each bookshelf could be shut down from the main computer in the security room, or from their individual access panels. I won’t say from whom I acquired the codes, but I did, and I had no trouble accessing my quarry, save for securing a step-stool to reach it.

I gazed at the bright red spine for a moment, reading two words I’d read so many times before. Gently, I fingered the top of the spine, pulled back and pinched the book then tugged it from its spot. It slid free and the vibrant cover came into full view—red, green, yellow, blue, the striped curtain and cow jumping over moon!

Imagine. Me, a septuagenarian, giddy as a toddler on Christmas morning. This wasn’t the larger sized, thin sheet version. No, indeed. This was the small, thick board book of my fondest childhood memories. It went everywhere my blanket and I did. I loved this book.

I shut my eyes, running my hand over the surface, feeling for the dinged and worn edges, and found it in better condition than I recalled. When I lifted the cover, I brought the book close and inhaled the scent of…


“E-paper?” I opened my eyes.

E-paper! An inch of e-paper with miscellaneous content stuffed into my Goodnight Moon! I thought I might faint. It couldn’t be. Every book in the Library was a real, live tree-paper book donated or otherwise acquired.

I snatched up the book that had tipped over in the empty slot. E-paper. The next book? E-paper. The next shelf? E-paper. The next row? I was devastated.

By the time the police arrived, beaming their flashlights in my face and barking who knows what, I was in a daze and in a pile of fake books. Torn sheets of e-paper carpeted the floor in a disorienting, flashing mess.


You can imagine the skepticism in the room when I finished my account of the eventful night. The two detectives who’d hounded me with questions looked positively incredulous. So did Charles, my lawyer—and son, by the way.

Detective Winslow leaned onto the metal table with his knuckles. “And what happened to Troy?”

“Didn’t I tell you? When I went back to the break room, he was gone. He never drank a drop of his spiked cola.”

He smoothed his mustache, a bit of a nervous tick, I presumed, and his nose made this irritating wheezing noise as he exhaled. “We ran the soda can for fingerprints, Mrs. Hoffman. Care to guess what we came up with?”

“Zero matches, I’d imagine. He was wearing his gloves the whole time.”

“And you didn’t think it was strange for a guy to eat a sandwich with gloves on?”

“I didn’t notice at the time.”

The detective threw up his hands, and his partner, who’d been jotting things down on her e-pad, or playing solitaire for all I knew, finally looked up.

“Ma’am, do you know how much jail time you’re facing?” she asked. “Breaking and entering, theft, destruction of property…” She let her list hang, as if she could go on, but only decided to spare my delicate sensibilities.

That’s when Charles jumped in. “My client didn’t break into the Library, Detective Barnes, she’s allowed in. Unlawful entry is the appropriate term as regards her accessing the security systems, and she’s prepared to pay the fine it carries. She didn’t steal anything, and I seriously doubt any judge would haul a senior citizen off to jail for tearing a couple pages out of worthless, counterfeit books whose proprietor, by the way, is not the Library.”

I must admit I preened a little.

“Proprietor,” mumbled Winslow. “Technically, those e-wrapped paperweights belong to that Troy guy and whoever hired him to pull this heist, but thanks to you we can’t find either one!”

“Speak plainly! Are you implying I aided and abetted the thief?”

Detective Barnes put up her hands. “All we know, Mrs. Hoffman, is that in three weeks, Troy managed to switch out hundreds of very rare and valuable books without raising any suspicion. I mean, he had to fabricate detailed e-copies of the original covers, get the weight measurements exact, somehow circumvent the isotope labeling, and then completely erase the security video drive. He must have had help.”

“Well it wasn’t me. Without me, you wouldn’t even know about all this, you wouldn’t even have a name.”

“A fake name,” gritted Winslow, his mustache twitching.

Barnes had the nerve to snicker at my expense, or maybe she was half-watching some mindless video on her e-pad. “Troy, the Trojan horse,” she said.

If those two detectives were any sharper, they might’ve been able to cut butter. It seemed perfectly apt to me that the thief chose the name as a reference to my great-great-uncle, but why quibble? He was still a conman, and I still felt like a fool.

With nothing to hold me for and no further questions to answer, I was released, and my son drove me home. He gave me a good scolding on the way, though, as he couldn’t imagine what possessed me to do such an illegal and stupid thing as steal a children’s book.

“I wasn’t going to take it out of the Library, Charles,” I muttered. “I just wanted to read it.”

 “What’s wrong with the deluxe, special edition e-version I got you for your sixty-fifth birthday? Digitally re-mastered and annotated with the history of the book and author, special references, and original literary reviews. Good gracious, it’s even fully animated! This is why we don’t come around anymore, because ever since Dad died, nobody knows how to make you happy.”

Charles deposited me in my big empty mansion, and told me he’d have everything sorted out by morning, reminding me to take my pills before bed, warning me to stay out of any further trouble.

I sat up in bed that night, fiddling with Charles’s gift. The sheet of e-paper weighed less than my nightgown. I don’t know why they made the things clear. I nearly went cross-eyed trying to focus on the button images instead of the filigree pattern on my down comforter.

Once I figured it out, the page filled with an image of the front cover—red, green, yellow, blue, the striped curtain and cow jumping over the moon. It wasn’t the same, but just seeing that picture, again, brought back so many memories, old and new, and they made me smile.

I tapped the arrow pointing to the next page. With another tap, the text enlarged to a comfortable size, so I set my reading glasses on the nightstand next to the half-empty glass of milk and plate of cookie crumbs.

The dancing mascot on the cookie box still insisted the cookies were best only with an affiliate brand of milk, the little liar. They tasted just fine with the store brand.

I sank into bed and read aloud, whispering the rhymes I knew by heart. I bid goodnight to the red balloon, goodnight to bears and chairs, to clocks and socks.

“Goodnight comb,” I sighed, my eyelids drooping, sleep washing over, “and goodnight brush…”

I’d like to say that sometime after I fell asleep, Troy stole into the room from the window, the moonlight stretching his six-and-a-half-foot figure into a shadow giant across the room. I’d like to say the dancing mascot wet himself and ducked for cover.

Clad in black, Troy would’ve crept across the room to my bedside, lifted the e-paper from my limp hands and slipped the real book, my book, in its place. Then he’d kiss my forehead and whisper, “Goodnight to the old lady with a heart of mush.”

He’d leave, as nimbly as he arrived, without even so much as a stir from me. Imagine my surprise, my absolute elation, waking up the next morning to find that treasure in my hands and a warm glow in my heart that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

I’d like to say all this, but my lips are sealed.


About the Author:
Gina Fairchild is an aspiring writer living in the Deep South, USA, who writes when she’s not reading, reads when she’s not writing, learns whenever she can, and hopes it all results in stories with character, heart, and a sense of humor.

Thank you for reading this issue of Larks, we hope to see you back here April 24th for Issue Twelve.